Friday, March 30, 2012

Rabies (2010)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Country:  Israel
Availability:  DVD

As the very first horror movie to come out of Israel, Rabies (or Kalevet), has been highly anticipated in the horror community since it's extremely successful debut at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. And there's so much shit clogging the horror pipes these days that I get extremely excited for any flick that's well reviewed, so my expectations were high. However, I didn't know this was a slasher movie going in, and with a name like "Rabies" I was expecting some kind of virus movie. Boy, was I wrong. The movie is essentially about various normal people who get stranded in the same area of woods, which we soon discover is littered with active mines, and they all make really poor choices which mostly end with Murder Death Kills.

The movie is actually quite strange at times. It's kind of all over the place and while you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop you're surprised that when it does, it wasn't exactly the shoe you were waiting for.

The actors were all very good and I was pleasantly surprised (as I always am when I make this observation), that the script was very well written with moments of bizarre conversation, humor and heart. There are small side stories that we glimpse of but never explore, and a supposed serial killer who we never actually see kill anyone. And whereas in most horror movies the line is clear between the good guys and the bad guys, here the lines are blurred so it's strange when you're not actually for or against anyone.

The one real complaint that I had with Rabies was that I thought it ended abruptly. I guess I just felt there was still more story to tell and was disappointed by all the unexplained motivations of certain characters.

Still, Rabies was a fun little blood-fest, so grab some friends and a bottle of wine and mock the inexplicable reason for a group of tennis players in uniform to be lost in the woods.

3 out of 5 stars

2012: Zombie Apocalypse (2011)

Genre:  Zombie
Director:  Nick Lyon
Country:  United States
Availability:  Netflix Watch Instantly

I'm actually quite conflicted on 2012: Zombie Apocalypse. There are so many redeeming elements to this low-budget zombie feature that they almost make up for the really bad elements - which are mainly really shitty zombies and the casting of Taryn Manning, who is fucking horrible.

We'll start with the good so I can sufficiently get your hopes up, and then end with the bad so I can adequately squash any dreams you may have of there finally being another good zombie movie out there, because naturally you dream of such things, as do I.

The movie starts with a thorough playback of the fall of the world due to a virus that turns every living thing into, that's right, (really shitty) zombies. These quick snapshots of a world falling to pieces gives us a solid feeling of desolation and despair. We're then quickly introduced to our main players, first to the three individuals who have spent the last 6 months in hiding and who are ill-equipped to deal with defending themselves against zombies, and then to the four individuals who swoop in and save their dumb asses. The story continues like most zombie apocalypse stories do, the group of survivors band together and travel the dangerous roads on a mission to find that "safe zone" that everyone hears rumors of. They take refuge in various abandoned buildings, some of our players die and we're introduced to new players, and there is always the scene where their beloved friend turns into a zombie and someone has to shoot him in the head, female crying ensues.

The casting of our characters was actually solid picks, these actors work hard to pull their weight in the face of some truly dorky dialog ("There was a zombie, so I killed it.") and of course there's Ving Rhames (wielding a sledge hammer for the whole movie, which he only puts down once in order to wield a fucking CHAINSAW) who should be in every zombie movie ever made. Ever.

The wide shots of the city our characters are travelling through is actually quite effective in helping the perception that the world as we know it is dead and gone. The city that they show is grey and abandoned, smoke hangs in the air everywhere from the fires burning out of control in various neighborhoods. There's no sound, no movement... just a stillness that is only broken with, ZOMBIES!

The script actually introduces us to some fun zombie labels, some of them we were already are privy to thanks to the Dawn of the Dead remake, like "runner" and "twitcher", and others have been used in the likes of The Walking Dead comics, like "packs" and "hordes", but the few I hadn't heard before were "newborns", "rotters" and "burners" (zombies you set on fire that then attack you, so now you're not only still being attacked by a zombie but now it's a zombie on fire).

There were nice homages, a strong black female character wielding a samurai sword (The Walking Dead), a zombie cheerleader still holding onto her pom-pons (Romero's Land of the Dead), a mention of a dead guy named Kirkman (creator of The Walking Dead), the concept that the zombies are learning (Romero).

But have I mentioned the zombies are shitty? They SO are. First off they are completely inconstant with each other in terms of appearance. I'm pretty sure they had an open casting call for zombies and told everyone that they were in charge of their own makeup. Some of them look like their faces are covered in white paint with some blood around the mouth, some of them aren't in any makeup at all and just have blood around the mouth, and some of them are in like, monster movie style "What the hell is that thing supposed to be" kind of makeup. They don't even resemble zombies, they just look like fucked-up creatures who look like they're either burn victims or demons going to a KISS concert. And none of them act like each other. Some of fast runners, but like normal chasing your dog down the street kind of running and not like, I'm going to eat your fucking brains kind of running. And others, I shit you not, act like gorillas. Some are doing that lame limp and drag your leg thing while others are just slowly lumbering with their arms outstretched like they're The Mummy. This movie was in desperate need of a Zombie Coordinator because the zombies, well, they're supposed to be the best part. Their name is in the title. Their name is the name for an entire genre of movies. Without them, it's just people running around an empty city looking for something to be afraid of.

Speaking of being afraid, this movie was not scary at all. The kill scenes looked like they were happening in a video game - completely fake CGI awfulness. The movie takes place mostly during the day and mostly out in the open so you rarely ever have that claustrophobic feeling of being trapped with zombies and no way out.  And for a world overrun with zombies there are surprisingly few of them when, for 80% of the movie these people are walking the empty streets of a city and no zombie is in sight. The zombies don't wander off alone so you never have just random zombies filling up the background, instead they're always in hordes and they're always attacking you like some crazed football team, running together full charge ahead. Ooooh, scary.

But! The end is pretty amazing in a so bad it's good kind of way. "Here kitty, kitty."

Despite my better judgement I still liked 2012: Zombie Apocalypse and recommend it to any of you who are hard up for a zombie movie. But it's not a good movie. And it's got really shitty zombies.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  Tobe Hooper
Country:  United States
Availability: DVD

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - for a film that is now 38 years old its reputation for being brutal and horrifying still precedes it. The history of the horror movie genre is just as long and as rich as any other genre in movie making.  There have been scary movies that have tested the tolerance of its audience since the silent film, and the controversies surrounding their violence, gore and gratuitous sex and nudity are just as old still. Thousands of movies have been made under the blood-soaked umbrella of the horror genre and yet to this day there remain very few that are remembered past their shelf life. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one such movie.

The first scene that we're introduced to is completely surreal. We're forced to look at a decaying, gooey corpse posed awkwardly atop a tombstone in midday as we listen to a radio broadcast play. The unsettling part comes in when you realize that you're so caught up with listening to what the broadcast is saying about the recent brutal murders and the discoveries of bodies that you forget that you're staring at this horrifying, unwavering statue of death and decay for over a minute. And for all of you horror movie buffs out there you'll note that the opening sequence of the photographs being taken introduce us, perhaps for the first time ever, to that creepy camera sound effect (later to be reused in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake as well as other slasher flicks that follow).

The movie setup is one that is tried and true - a carload full of friends on the road to somewhere end up in the middle of nowhere and soon after tragedy befalls them one by one. The characters aren't particularly remarkable, nor is the dialog, but the places where TTCM shines makes all the difference - like the gritty home video feel; the complete helplessness and clumsiness of the wheelchair-bound brother; the utter unpredictability of the hitchhiker; the atmosphere of all of the buildings and so forth. And that's all before we even get to Leatherface. The terror truly starts when Leatherface makes his first appearance, bursting through the rusty metal door like some faceless Frankenstein's monster, swallowing you up before you've even had the chance to scream. The violence starts from there and while it's horrific it's practically bloodless, your terror is born with the endless screaming and flailing and running and ... screaming. There is a lot of screaming. Let's talk about the screaming.

The performance given by Marilyn Burns, who plays Sally - the main female character, is unrelenting and intense and one of the most remarkable elements of the movie. She goes from zero to one hundred in moments and never stops, never lets up. Her fear and her reaction to that fear just grows and becomes more manic and desperate, in the end she more resembles a tortured, mad, blood-soaked wild animal than anything resembling a person.  And the final scene is so iconic in horror movie history that even if you haven't seen TTCM you're probably familiar with the image of Leatherface standing in the road, chainsaw raised over his head as he spins wildly in circles. To this day, 38 years later, TTCM is still regarded as one of the most important and influential horror movies ever made. And having only just seen in for the second time in ten years, I might just have to agree.

5 out of 5 stars

Near Dark (1987)

Genre:  Vampires
Director:  Kathryn Bigelow
Country:  United States
Availability:  Amazon Instant Video

It seems like every time I watch Near Dark I have a completely different opinion about it. The first time I saw it, some 7 or so years ago, I actually turned it off about an hour in - I was bored and the movie was terrible. I gave it a second chance last year and I think my expectations were so incredibly low that I actually found myself enjoying the movie and walked away giving it four stars. Having recently purchased Near Dark I was looking forward to rewatching what I remembered to be a gritty, gory vampire movie that lacked all of the cheesy romantic melodrama that most vampire flicks drown themselves in. Before I go any further let it be said, here and now, that I have a terrible, terrible memory when it comes to movies. It's one of the reasons why I tend to rewatch them so many times because I genuinely don't remember much about them.

So imagine my surprise when my expectations were yet again thwarted and I found myself, mouth agape, at the absolute horrific dialog and over-the-top acting and ridiculous plot. Once again, like in so many movies that want to fit a romance into the story but don't want to dedicate the time to make it realistic, a boy and a girl meet and fall in love in a matter of hours. She turns him into a vampire and he doesn't want to be one. Then her crazy friends come into the picture and things go from bad to worse. And by worse I mean Bill Paxton. I don't doubt than sometime in the 90's Bill Paxton hired an acting coach and became somewhat competent at his craft, but in the 80's he had the power to single-handedly ruin an entire film just by being in it (see Aliens). Then add that dorky strange kid from Teen Witch, Joshua Miller, and you have downright unwatchable scenes throughout much of the movie.

Vampire movies tend to run in trends. Right now the trend seems to be smart, sleek, dangerous and gory. The trend in the 90's was sex, lust and partying. The 60's and 70's seemed to be gothic, mysterious, frightening and ... lesbianism. But the trend in the 80's? Awful. We had vampire comedies and rebellious, rowdy vampires. But what The Lost Boys got right with their rowdy vampires, Near Dark got all wrong. These vampires are not only rowdy, they're obnoxious. They're the loud frat boys at the party that you're constantly muttering "douchebag" to behind their backs. They aren't funny or sexy or charming. In fact most of them don't seem to shower. They're like a pack of wild dogs eating and humping their way across the land. And what's with them constantly losing track of time and then having to race against time to beat the impending sun rise? Seriously, after being alive for hundreds of years you'd think these guys would get their priorities straight and invest in some serious timepieces. And the ludicrous ending was just the icing on the roadkill.

One of the fun things to come from Near Dark (aside from my constant heckling) was that during the bar scene I noticed what eerie similarities there are between The Vampire Diaries vamps Damon and Stefan and the Near Dark vamps Severen and Caleb.

2.5 out of 5stars