Friday, June 15, 2012

Madison County (2011)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  Eric England
Country:  USA
Availability:  Redbox; Amazon On Demand

Madison County has all the fixin's of a mediocre yet enjoyable slasher hick movie. There's the group of beautiful young friends who are fun and in love! There's the road trip to the middle of nowhere. There's the lack of cell phone signal. The creepy locals. A killer with a fucked up mask. A dirty half naked girl who's been captive for days. And the woods. And yet somewhere down the road Madison County goes from potentially good, to unremarkable. I'm not sure if it's a lack of truly interesting characters or a lack of creative or gruesome kills. Maybe it's because the movie takes place in complete daylight, a brave decision for a horror movie but not really an effective one. Either way, the story is too straightforward to standout among its countless peers, and although I enjoyed Madison County for what it was, I'm pretty sure it's going to fall into that forgettable horror movie abyss that hides in the recess of my mind.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Wreckage (2010)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  John Mallory Asher
Country:  USA
Availability:  Redbox; Amazon On Demand

Wreckage. A movie so ridiculously bland that the only remarkable thing about it is its tagline - Beware. The spare parts may be your own.

Get it? Spare parts? Like a car! Because it's called Wreckage and they need spare parts... ha! Ahem.

So this was a movie. And bad things happened. The worst of which was me having to watch it. Ba-dum-ch!

But seriously folks. Wreckage is a movie that suffers from too much plot, if you can believe it. If the movie was done better then these little side stories would flesh out the film and make it a rounded story. But it's done so poorly you just sit there wondering why Wreckage isn't just a movie about a crazy killer stalking people in a junkyard. The kills are, for the most part, pretty dull. And the acting is just... wow.

It's a testament to Redbox and whoever chooses these horror movies to be carried in their kiosks because without them these low budget flicks would probably never even make it onto my radar. Sometimes there's nice surprises, like Die and Mother's Day. And other times you're sitting there wishing for your dollar back.

2 out of 5 stars 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Roost (2005)

Genre:  Creature Feature, Zombie
Director:  Ti West
Country:  USA
Availability:  DVD

The night that I finally decided to watch The Roost I was feeling particularly unenthusiastic about horror movies. I've watched a lot of terrific horror lately - The Theatre Bizarre, The Cabin in the Woods, Chernobyl Diaries, The Divide, The Loved Ones - and the burden that comes with an overabundance of unique and original horror movies is that it heightens your cravings for something great, while at the same time lowering your tolerance for the standard, mediocre drivel.

I'd started my night out on Kill Katie Malone, a thoroughly boring and sophomoric effort in horror making, and was on the hunt for something reinvigorating. I scoured Netflix Streaming and Amazon On Demand and Redbox and remained uninspired. Sometimes the time it takes me to choose a movie is time I could have spent actually watching one. But the pleasure that comes from a quality horror movie night is the very reason that my excitement for this genre exists. And on certain nights, when my mood is finicky and my expectations are high, the process of picking a movie takes time.  

So I abandoned my online queues and lists and revisited my personal collection of DVDs. This special mood I was in required that I watch something new but I was out of ideas so I thought my collection might inspire something. That's when I saw, The Roost. I'd purchased The Roost a while ago, spotting it at CD/Game Exchange for only $1.00 and knowing it was Ti West's first film there was no question that it was going home with me. But it's been sitting among my DVDs, unwatched, for nearly a year. When I initially brought the movie home I looked up reviews and watched a trailer. The reviews were poor and the trailer looked kind of... bad. So there it sat.

But when I saw it there, all unwatched and mysterious, there was no hesitation - I put it on.

Right from the beginning I knew I was in for something special. The movie opens in black and white with a slow panning across fake tombstones and cardboard cutout trees, finally setting on a charcoal sketch of a spooky mansion on a hill. It cuts away and we are then introduced to an imposing man dressed in a suit and holding a lantern - The Host of Frightmare Theatre!

When I was a kid I used to stay up late and watch  Elvira's Movie Macabre and Joe Bob Briggs's Drive-In Theater. They would introduce b-movies and make commentary on kill scenes or nudity. It was hilarious, it was raunchy, and the movies were always b-movie gems. So when The Roost opened as a macabre TV show that introduces b-movies, I was in love.

The score that runs throughout the whole movie is reminiscent of classic b&w horror with a touch of the '70s and '80s more energetic style.  And once we begin watching The Roost you'll notice that the film is grainy, like you're watching an old movie on VHS with occasional tracking blips. This is the third Ti West movie I've seen - the writer/director that gave us House of the Devil and The Innkeepers - and it made me realize that the man has a definite style that has been apparent in all of his movies. For one, he loves a silent slow-moving scene. There are moments of glacial pacing and spatial silences that fill the flashlight illuminated darkness. For two, he loves flashlight illuminated darkness. He also seems to pick very "real" kind of actors. That is to say, no one is too beautiful and they all seem to have a raw, basic quality about them that is instantly relatable. The characters are never your cliche "slutty blonde", "grounded brunette", "asshole jock" which are the standard horror movie fodder. And one of his strongest attributes as a filmmaker is his true understanding of the genre. He not only knows how to build tension and create atmosphere, but he has an eye for framing, in almost, dare I say, a Hitchcockian way.

However, for as creative and original as The Roost may be, it still maintains a b-movie, low budget feel with cheesy looking special effects, mediocre acting and over-the-top moments. Combined with its rather straightforward plot and slow pacing I fear it's not a movie that a broad audience would appreciate, and perhaps instead one that only a true connoisseur of the horror genre will love.

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 4, 2012

Kill Katie Malone (2010)

Genre:  Supernatural, Ghosts
Director:  Carlos Ramos Jr.
Country:  USA
Availability:  Netflix Streaming

I knew going in that Kill Katie Malone was going to be a low budget movie with subpar acting and bad special effects.  I've certainly watched my fair share of low budget horror movies and am not opposed to them by any means, but I can think of many better ways in which to spent two hours of my time so the movie in question has got to be compelling enough for me to give it a shot, and my mood has to be just right. Usually I'm drawn more to low budget zombie movies. There's something charming about the amount of genre-love it takes to put on really bad zombie makeup and wander around moaning and feigning threat. Most of these movies come off more like a student film than anything resembling a real movie, but sometimes that just adds to the appeal. And sometimes you get lucky and find a real gem buried there - like Zombie Town.

Kill Katie Malone was no such gem, but it wasn't terrible either. I enjoyed the premise of the movie: buying a ghost on Ebay (called "Ubid" in the movie) and then  having that ghost "do your bidding" (pun probably intended) as it starts picking off your enemies one by one until it sets its sights on you. But aside from some cool imagery closer to the end, and a long scene shot mostly in the dark, the movie was neither gory nor scary. Aside from simply knowing that people were dying, and that dying is bad, there was no discernible tension or feeling of genuine menace. And the acting was just okay, there were times that it felt labored and fake,  and other times where it was convincing enough that I forgot they were Actors!, but the characters themselves  were generally lacking anything remotely compelling. Overall, I just kept getting bored.

2.5 out of 5 stars  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Die (2010)

Genre: Slasher
Director:  Dominic James
Country:  USA
Availability:  Redbox

Die really reminded me of Saw, even though I've only seen Saw I and Saw II and it wasn't really like either of them. Still, you have a group of people selected because of some bad thing that they've done and miraculously they're all connected to each other and being held against their will by Mr. Bad Guy who wants them to suffer for their sins because he has, you know... issues.

It may sound like I'm poking fun but Die was actually a pretty good movie. While we're introduced to our players before they wind up in cells, and we see and hear of their particular faults beforehand, we never truly know how they're connected until the bitter end. There's a detective running around in the streets of the city trying to draw the clues together to solve a few cases that appear linked, and it's here that we learn of our killer, his motivations, and the scale of what's going on. Throughout the movie we have flashbacks of the characters in their normal lives - giving us glimpses of the clues that may bind them. These characters, though fitting into their roles appropriately as The Doctor, The Whore, The Politician, The Gambler, The Cop - all felt complex and interesting enough that it kept me wanting to explore their stories.

While the kills weren't too terribly creative they didn't really need to be, gambling for the lives of strangers and knowing full well that your turn will eventually come was interesting enough. I enjoyed the proper level of confusion and terror that each one of our players possessed. No one seemed to be ruining the show with yelling or freak outs, while it's true that those are somewhat plausible reactions, they're not too terribly enjoyable ones to have to sit through. And our Bad Guy was interesting, too. Not only was he somewhat charming, but he also appeared to be a sympathetic and levelheaded host. There were times where it almost seemed to pain him to do the horrible things he was doing, and this made him likable despite his role as the villain.

Die doesn't exactly fit into any genre neatly. It's not torture porn, as my previous comparison to Saw might have suggested, nor is it truly horror. But it doesn't really seem to be truly crime thriller either. I think it is perhaps a smattering of all of those genres, and in this way Die seems more fulfilling than most.

3 out of 5 stars

Spiderhole (2010)

Genre:  Slasher
Director:  Daniel Simpson
Country:  United Kingdom
Availability:  Netflix Streaming

It's been a long time since I've watched a horror movie that was so bad that it sucked all of the fun out of watching bad horror movies. So, way to go Spiderhole! You did... something!

Usually when I rate a horror movie 2 stars there's a part of me that still enjoyed watching it. Take Hell Night for example. It wasn't a so bad it's good movie, but it was still fun to make fun of. I gave it two stars because it was a shitty movie, but I still enjoyed watching it. Spiderhole on the other hand, was a truly unsatisfying experience. Instead of cheerily proclaiming the idiocies of the characters, I found myself angry at their ridiculous situation. I couldn't stand to watch them overreact and flutter uselessly about instead of getting their shit together and being proactive. At 81 minutes Spiderhole ran about twenty minutes too long.

So, the movie is about some art students that squat in a gross, creepy mansion for the summer so they don't have to pay rent anywhere, right? And instead of bringing things that they might need when living in a gross, creepy mansion, like a first aid kit and a tool box, maybe a crowbar or a sledgehammer, they bring throw pillows and knick-knacks to make the place homey. And instead of exploring the place to make sure there are no psychos lurking around (oh hello pile of bloody clothes) before bolting themselves into a place that seems to have sheets of metal covering every window and door, they break in, take one look around a few rooms and proclaim "home sweet home".

It really just goes from bad to worse with every scene as this group of sprightly twenty-somethings can't seem to fight back against an old man in scrubs. I would have much rather watched actual spiders coming out of holes in the walls while frantic teens scurried to smash them all like some kind of gross whack-a-mole.

2 out of 5 stars

Mother's Day (2010)

Genre:  Home Invasion
Director:  Darren Lynn Bousman 
Country:  USA
Availability: Redbox, Amazon On Demand

I'm not generally the biggest fan of home invasion movies. They fall loosely under the Torture Porn umbrella, a gratuitous and violent subgenre that I rarely get any enjoyment from and so I generally ignore them. But how can you say no to Rebecca De Mornay playing a polite but sadistic villain in a loose remake of the 1980 schlocky B-horror movie by the same name? The answer is, you don't.

The majority of my familiarity of Rebecca De Mornay is from the 1995 thriller Never Talk To Strangers. It's a potent Who Done It thriller with Antonia Banderas's bare ass, Rebecca De Mornay's boobs, and some pretty awesome cage sex. So my expectations were mildly confused with Mother's Day, as I didn't understand how they were going to work De Mornay's boobs into the movie. Sadly, they didn't even try. Quitters.

Fortunately, Mother's Day soldiers on without them as Rebecca De Mornay proves that just because you're a middle-aged woman, doesn't mean you can't be a commanding, sadistic, twisted bitch. Yay, girl power!

Usually when you watch as many horror movies as I do you get familiar with the faces that continuously pop up in the genre. Mother's Day was a mecca of random horror movie actors that you've seen in Burning Bright, Kill Theory, Sorority Row, Pick Me Up, Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Saw V, Saw VI, Land of the Dead, The Tripper, Frozen, The Ruins, My Soul To Take, and more. Normal people would probably recognize the majority of these actors from television instead, but considering I don't have television I had to consult IMDB to learn that these stars played in popular shows such as Battlestar Galactica, 24, True Blood, Smallville, CSI, Prison Break and other TV shows I've heard of but never seen.

This is all to say that the acting in Mother's Day is superb. These people really sold the show. It was an intense and unpredictable little romp through one night of hell that nine friends go through at the hands of a crazy-ass criminal family. It will satisfy the gorehounds and the torture porn lovers alike without being gratuitous with either. And it's got a nice twist ending that, while I saw it coming, it was still nice that they went there.

4 out of 5 stars