SON of HALLOWEEN HORROR MOVIE CHALLENGE [7-12]

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EVIL DEAD [2013]

I had fairly high hopes for this one. Since Evil Dead II and its follow-up Army of Darkness largely indulged Sam Raimi’s love for slapstick comedy, it’s easy to forget that the original was a legitimate stab at making a hair-raising horror flick (the cheesy acting and budget-conscious effects weren’t exactly intentional). And so, I welcomed the idea of a fresh start, done with Raimi’s participation (along with original star Bruce Campbell, both serving as producers here). Thankfully, everything is played straight, though there are some sick laughs to be had. The violence is cranked to 11, the blood comes in buckets, and the score is fantastic and even a bit unsettling. So what’s the problem? Well, after a nice buildup (the movie at least tries to get you invested in the characters, even if they’re still just caricatures) things begin to quickly unravel for these people, but what follows isn’t very scary, and actually becomes monotonous after a while. People become possessed, commit all sorts of random violence to one another (and themselves, and in one instance, an animal), then repeat. There’s very little tension, and since the supernatural element is downplayed a little (perhaps to avoid making things too cheesy?) people basically just turn into zombies. The movie wisely avoids trying to replicate Bruce Campbell’s Ash character, instead settling for an equal group of people, with no clearcut “hero” among the bunch. The downside to this is that there’s no one to really root for, so you end up not really caring about any of them. It all boils to a finale that literally rains blood yet still seems pretty mundane, including a rather forced callback to Ash’s chainsaw-hand from Evil Dead II.  2.5/5

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THE LAST EXORCISM PART II

The Last Exorcism Part II is sorta like Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, in that it follows up a faux-documentary/found footage horror flick with one that’s shot like a regular movie. And, sorta like Blair Witch 2, it’s pretty goddamn terrible. It may also remind you of Exorcist II: The Heretic – another winner – with its shades of voodoo (the action moves from the backwoods of Louisiana to New Orleans) and the plot in general, where we follow the previously possessed girl from the first movie, seemingly normal this time though we all know the shit’s bound to hit the fan once again. What could have been a perfunctory but serviceable sequel, though, just ends up being a limp and utterly boring continuation. Hollywood screenwriters have clearly run out of things for demons to do – and so this demon’s tired bag of tricks includes flocks of birds flying into a church, prank calls to our heroine, and – oh my – that chick is totally levitating on the bed, you guys! Give me a fucking break. The demon also inexplicably appears from time to time dressed in jeans with a hoodie and a Mardi Gras mask, looking like some skate punk who’s begging to have his ass kicked. The ending, of course, is centered around an exorcism, led by two morons whose big plan is to transfer the demon out of the girl and into a caged chicken. Scary shit, people. The final shots, which are supposed to signal the beginning of the demon’s destruction of Earth, are undone by some laughably bad CGI flames, proving that a lack of budget could hurt a demon more than any exorcism could.  1/5

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V/H/S

Horror anthology-type movies are usually pretty uneven affairs, and V/H/S is no different. Even though the found footage subgenre has seemingly beaten that dead horse into dust by this point, it arguably remains a necessary route for filmmakers without much of a budget, and so V/H/S rubs our faces in it until we’re ready to puke from too much shaky-cam. The slight gimmick is that it takes place in the late-90s, as a way of explaining why the scumbags we’re introduced to at the beginning would care about breaking into someone’s house to retrieve a missing VHS tape (but why exactly, I’m not sure – either it was never explained, or I just missed it). After breaking in, they find the owner’s corpse in a chair facing a stack of televisions and VCRs. This provides a loose wraparound story, as these guys begin searching through a handful of tapes, “discovering” the several segments that follow. While seemingly unrelated to one another, one common thread throughout these segments is that there’s hardly a single likeable character in any of them – they range from merely annoying to downright despicable, deserving of their eventual demise. While not every horror story needs a hero or heroine, this approach grows stale over the course of nearly two hours. (And that’s my next complaint: at that length, losing one of the lesser segments would’ve made this an easier pill to swallow.) There are some flashes of creativity here, but too much of V/H/S consists of ideas (and scares) we’ve seen before, proving that found footage can be as confining as it once was liberating. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself wondering why these guys don’t simply fast-forward through each tape instead of sitting around watching each one. And if you’re like me, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do the same with this DVD.  2/5

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THE WOMAN IN BLACK

From a newly resurrected Hammer Films, The Woman in Black misfires right out of the gate, by casting Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe as a widowed lawyer with a four-year-old son. Radcliffe, 21 at the time of filming, gives it his all but inevitably looks way too young for the role; look no further than an early scene where he’s talking to his kid, and he looks like a teenager talking to his kid brother. If you can look past that (I tried my hardest), this is a thoroughly, often painfully old-fashioned ghost story, helped along by its stiflingly strong Gothic atmosphere. Harry Potter is sent to settle the estate of a recently deceased woman, who conveniently lived in a creepy old manor separated from its neighboring town by marshlands. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Potter to start digging up things that were meant to stay buried (literally and figuratively), as every malevolent ghost must come with an unsolved mystery. Unfortunately, even when the pieces of this puzzle begin falling into place, not everything makes complete sense. Still, I found myself surprisingly on board for this one.  3/5

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EYE SEE YOU

Released outside of the US as D-TOX (take your pick as to which shitty title you prefer), this mediocre thriller was filmed in 1999 and then shelved when the studio lost all enthusiasm for it, before being dumped out by a smaller distributor sometime in 2002. I’m including this because it’s the closest Sylvester Stallone has come to making an actual horror movie, not to be confused with unintended horror fare like Rocky V or Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. (Coincidentally, 1999 was also the year of Arnold’s doomsday horror flick, the thoroughly shat-upon End of Days.)  Eye See You is as preposterous as it sounds, but what makes it interesting is that it’s a trashy b-movie thriller that somehow accumulated an impressive cast. While you would expect Stallone to be appearing alongside a bunch of nobodies, instead he’s joined by Kris Kristofferson, Charles S. Dutton, Tom Berenger, Robert Patrick, Stephen Lang and Jeffrey Wright – none of which are adverse to picking up easy paychecks and/or hamming it up like there’s no tomorrow, but they still class this up a little bit. Stallone plays an FBI agent who sinks into an alcoholic depression after the serial killer he’s been chasing kills his girlfriend, and is sent by his friend/supervising officer to a rehab facility in a snow-barren Wyoming exclusively for members of law enforcement. When people start showing up dead, it doesn’t take Stallone long (and takes us even less) to figure out that the killer is among them. So it’s basically Ten Little Indians merged with a standard cat-and-mouse cop thriller, taking place in a setting that’s more than a little reminiscent of The Thing. Stallone’s career started to nosedive in the late ’90s, and it’s choices like this that certainly had something to do with it. By the time this was half-heartedly released in 2002, Stallone’s career was on life support, not to be jolted back to life until 2006’s surprisingly good Rocky Balboa.  2/5

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THE LORDS OF SALEM

Now that Rob Zombie is finished with his trailer-trash science experiment that was his two Halloween movies, he’s free to continue making his own bizarro horror flicks without the hassle of stepping on an already established franchise. The Lords of Salem is basically about a coven of witches, executed in 17th century Salem, who seek their revenge (300+ years later) on an indie radio station DJ, the last living descendent of the guy who led the witch hunt. I think. While Zombie continues to have a flair for interesting visuals, he’s his own worst enemy when it comes to writing, and the various cuts and reshoots that occurred (Zombie regulars like Sid Haig, Clint Howard and Udo Kier are nowhere to be found, despite each filming scenes) muddles the barely coherent narrative even further. This is without doubt a style over substance movie, and while some critics have pointed out the various similarities to The Shining, this is really Rob Zombie doing his best Argento impersonation. He does manage a couple of good scares, but otherwise this plays like something that would better serve as background visuals for a really weird Halloween party.  2/5

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