Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Movie Review: American Mary

 I first saw only bits and pieces of this film (no body-mod pun intended), and was intrigued by whatever it was I saw going on there.  Was it radical surgery run amok?  Body-modification taken to a new level?  It wasn't until tonight that I had a chance to actually watch the film, almost a year later, and I am more than a little disappointed.

 Do not get me wrong, American Mary is a cool film.  The acting was great, the story for the most part was impressive.  It is just one of those films that kind of falls flat.  It starts like it is going somewhere, loses its way about two-thirds through, and just stops for no particular reason.  Not every story needs to come with a comfy bow of closure at the end, but when you try to bring it all to a close and fail, it is glaringly obvious.  

Surgery in lingerie, cause why not?
 Mary Mason is a college student studying surgery and struggling to pay her bills.  She is already a brilliant surgeon with a great deal of promise, but because of her financial woes she has trouble staying focused.  Desperate, she applies for a job at a strip-club and presents her resume to the owner,  Just as the owner was about to audition Mary (coerce her into a sex-act) there is an emergency, and the owner turns to the one surgeon on-hand to suture up an associates heavily damaged face.  For the effort, Mary makes $5000.  This leads to another surgery removing a woman's nipples and fusing her labia to make her more doll-like for $12,000 ($10,000 for the surgery and $2000 for just showing up to hear the request). Her sudden financial windfall does not go unnoticed by her professors, who assume that Mary is working as a prostitute, making her fair-game for one of their sex-parties where they drug and rape co-eds.  Mary enlists her new friends at the strip-club to help her get revenge, and becomes a hit in the body-modification community for her skills at performing extreme mods.  

Ruby Realgirl removed those...
... and these.
 That is the set-up.  It gets progressively weirder as Mary finds herself becoming every more detached from her emotions, suspected by the police for the disappearance of her professor, and engaging in ever more odd body-modification requests.  Then, the films seems to get lost.  It is not clear what Mary is dealing with the direction she is heading, or what threat is eminent.  The movie remains visually interesting until the ending, which was moderately foreshadowed in the first half of the film, brings it all to a screeching halt.

Boundary issues.
 The special effects are all top-notch, while also being understated.  For example, when we see an amputated torso hanging by hooks from skin on its back, the effect is completely believable, but the camera does not linger on it.  The film also boasts the display of several actual body-modifications.  Visually, the film is a real treat.  

 American Mary is not much of a horror film.  It has some blood and gore.  There are some twisted concepts touched-upon, and there is the indication of a psychological downward spiral, but nothing is explored in any depth.  It is a great concept, just poorly executed. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Movie Review: V/H/S

 I do not believe I can overstate this.  I enjoy anthologies.  Whether on film or in books, the "short-story" is something I almost always find entertaining.  In horror films, the formula for an anthology is fairly simple; present an over-arching story in which the characters are somehow introduced to or involved in a series of stories within the story.  These stories need only be related tenatively; ie they are all collected in one book or witnessed by one person, etc.  V/H/S follows this formula in a manner that is a little hard to swallow.  A group of thrill-seekers who are more than willing to flaunt the law are hired to retrieve a VHS tape from a house.  When they get to the house, they find a dead old man and literally hundreds of VHS tapes.  They are not certain what they are looking for, so while they explore the home for clues, some of the crew watches the tapes.  

 That is probably the only ham-handed aspect of this film.  If you have the means to move all the tapes (as it appears during the film they do), then move all the tapes and get out of the house.  Let the person who hired you figure out which tape is which, just get paid.  However, if they did that, we would not have much of a film.

 So, while the thieves try to find their tape, we get to watch along with them.

Maybe the old man went for a beer.
 Tape 56

 This is the book-end story arch of the film.  A group of young criminals film themselves while committing crimes, including assaulting women for "reality porn".  They are offered an opportunity to upgrade their criminal efforts, and are hired to steal a VHS tape from a house.  Inside, the discover a dead old man and hundreds of unmarked tapes.  While they look for clues as to which tape they were sent to retrieve, some of the crew sets to watching the tapes.  While they watch, things begin to happen.  Members of their crew turn-up dead.  The corpse of the old man vanishes and re-appears.  Instead of getting out of the house, they soldier on, and continue to watch the films.  Of all the stories in the movie, this is the least satisfying.

Something crazier than normal with Lily.
 Amateur Night

 Three friends are out to make an amateur porn in a motel room with a special pair of glasses fitted with a hidden video recorder. Clint, the man selected to wear the glasses, is not as enthusiastic about the effort, but the three manage to pick up two women, Lisa and Lily.  Lily acts a little oddly, somewhat reluctant and almost naive about the proceedings at the bar where she is picked-up by the trio and saying little more than "I like you." to Clint.

When they get to the motel room, things begin to get even weirder with Lily, who is obviously more than what she seems.  Her oddness quickly goes from being neurotic to something horribly alien, and we are treated to a first person view of the nightmare made manifest.  

See through is spookier than just a mask.
 Second Honeymoon

 Sam and Stephanie are going out west for their second honeymoon.  They are filming one another as they visit the Grand Canyon and take-in the sights.  One evening at the hotel, a girl tries to convince Sam to give her a ride the next day, which he refuses.  Later, someone is seen breaking into their room and stealing money from Sam's wallet.  Sam initially accuses Stephanie, but it later becomes clear that something else is stalking them.

 This story had no supernatural elements, other than a mechanical fortune-teller predicting that Stephanie would soon be reunited with her love.  It was a very well done psychological twister.

A monster that makes you think your DVD player is broken.
Tuesday the 17th

 Wendy invites three of her friends on a camping trip, when at the campsite she informs them that the woods surrounding the site have a reputation for mysterious disappearances and murders.  At first they think she is just trying to scare them until something attacks them. The "Glitch" cannot be filmed as anything more than a "tracking error" on video, though it seems to have a human figure using a knife.

 Wendy had been to the woods with friends a year before, and was the only survivor of the attack.  She has returned to kill the monster that killed her friends, using her new friends as bait.  She has laid a number of traps in the woods, and desperately tries to film the creature as it tries to kill her.

Darwin Award Nominee.
 The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger

 Emily enjoys video-chatting and sex-camming with her doctor/boyfriend, James. Part of their discussion involves a mysterious bump on her arm that is similar to one she had when she suffered an accident as a child.  Emily believes her apartment may be haunted as she begins to hear and see strange things.  When she attempts to make contact with the entity, it attacks her and knocks her unconscious. 

 The reality of what is going on is far worse than she imagined.

Hopefully the tenants can get their deposit back for this.

 A group of friends out in costume on Halloween Night are going to a party, but end up at the wrong house.  When they discover that the house may be haunted, seeing strange phenomenon, they decide to just go with it and explore it further.  In the attack, they discover a group of religious fanatics apparently attempting to exorcise a woman tied to the beam there.  When they join in with the chants of "Cast you down!", they fanatics attack them.  The poltergeist phenomenon becomes more violent, and the group decides to rescue the woman, facing both the fanatics and the powerful poltergeist.

 Despite the issues with the book-end story, V/H/S was incredibly well done.  Special effects are all top-notch, the writing and acting were excellent, and the viewer is drawn in to each story thanks to the various ways each incorporate a first-person perspective.  Each story also has a twist ending, leaving you wanting to know more and asking questions.  Definitely worth seeing.

Movie Review: Wishmaster

 Wishmaster is like an ode to 80s horror films.  Wes Craven's association with the film probably did more to sell them film than anything creative.  The potential for something different is there, but the film proceeds to be a moderately done gore film.
This film is a great concept, but the execution leaves something to be desired.  

 In 12th century Persia, a sorcerer narrowly prevents his patron from destroying the world through the completion of a prophecy involving a Djinn, a being of fire created before mankind who desires to bring his ilk from the spaces between worlds to rule over the Earth.  The sorcerer traps the Djiin in a fire sapphire.  In modern times, the stone is accidentally released from the statue it was hidden within, and winds up in the hands of an auction appraiser.  While studying the stone, she accidentally releases the Djinn.  The Djinn grants the wishes of the random strangers he meets in exchange for their souls in the most gruesome fashion possible.  Once he accumulates enough souls, he need only grant three wishes to the one who woke him to release his brothers from their prison and rule the Earth.

Mr. Englund happily not covered in latex and make-up.
 So, what we have is an opportunity to explore an ancient myth, putting a dark spin on a fairy-tale.  Ancient Persia was full of monsters and demons, worthy of a few nightmares.  This Djinn is meant to be evil incarnate, an ancient genius of immense power.  The goal it needs to accomplish is relatively simple, but instead of simply pursuing the goal, he toys with his victims and tips his hand to the end-game he is playing.  The film is far less about the concept which attracts our attention and more about one gory wish-fulfillment after another.

 Wishmaster is more of a playground for the special effects team.  The special effects are some of the best of what was being offered in horror-film production of the time, mostly old-school effects with a minimal mix of CGI.  The script is is decent, despite the direction of the story.  The actors are all top-notch, including Robert Englund and Tony Todd.  That only adds to the disappointment of this film; all the elements are in place for something special, but Wishmaster is mediocre at best.
You could have been a contender!

 Wishmaster has some decent moments, and frequently salutes its horror-film roots.  Horror writers are honored with character names like Finney and Derleth.  The statue of Pazuzu from The Exorcist is featured in the art gallery of the collector who brought the statue that housed the Fire Sapphire.  It is a fun romp into b-horror gore, but doesn't explore the depth of potential that it has.    

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Game Review: The Doom the Came to Atlantic City

 If you think board games are just for kids, think again.  A booming table-top gaming industry has grown recently, with niche-shops opening in many major cities.  Old favorites like Monopoly are still played, as well as numerous specialty games catering to every interest and geared toward adults.  Game nights bring together friends and enthusiasts who connect in a way that video-games simply don't allow for.  

 I discovered The Doom that Came to Atlantic City while visiting one of these stores with my daughter.  We sat down at a table and played the "demo" set the store made available for just that purpose, and had a blast.  I knew this game would be a hit in my house and with my friends, and ordered my game that same week.

 In The Doom that Came to Atlantic City, you play a Great Old One from the stories written by HP Lovecraft.  The game is set on a board that is a replica of Monopoly, however, instead of buying properties and building them up with houses and hotels, you destroy houses and resorts to destroy a street and create a Gate.  If you can create six Gates, you bring doom to the world and win the game.  

 Game-play is much faster than Monopoly, with a game taking about an hour to play.  In addition to the goal of getting six Gates, you can also win the game by completing a "Doom" mission randomly assigned at the beginning of the game.  The game involves building up power by collecting "Cultists" and destroying houses, each of which are used as currency that you spend to enact powers and "Chants" which change the play of the game.  While you are striving to build your Gates and complete your Doom mission, you must also foil the efforts of other players.  You gain Cultists by completing a circuit of the board and by engaging your fellow players in combat.  Getting around the board is harder than it sounds, as rolling doubles too many times and landing on certain spaces can result in you being "banished" until you have sufficient cultists to re-enter the game.

 The game includes eight amazingly detailed markers representing the Great Old Ones; Azathoth, Shub Niggurath, Hastur, Yog Sothoth, Ithaqua, Tsathoggua, Nyarlathotep, and of course Cthulhu.  Each starts out with a "Providence Trait", a power which modifies the way the marker moves or interacts with the game.  As you play, you can gain additional modifiers and change the modifiers you have (as well as have other players steal or change your modifiers).  Two sets of cards, "Providence" and "Chants", modify game play. Providence cards tend to be lasting effects on the game, while Chants are held by the players until they need to be used and generally have an immediate, one-turn effect.  In addition, destroying street and creating Gates give you additional abilities, with the maximum effect of these abilities being achieved if you manage to destroy an entire "region".  In addition to standard play, several modified versions of the game include additional modifiers like Tome Cards, which give your marker added abilities.  

 The game-play moves fast, with players taking actions to change another players turn and thwarting their efforts.  This makes it difficult to achieve any of the goals of the game; from destroying a region to just making a circuit of the board.  Making things even more interesting are "Event" cards sprinkled throughout both the Chants and Providence card-sets.  Event Cards are played immediately and impact the nature of the game itself.  

 The Doom that Came to Atlantic City is beautifully crafted, including amazing art.  The game rules are simple yet wickedly designed, with the game being as much about thwarting your fellow players as achieving your own goals.  In a word, the game is simply "fun"!  The price-tag is a little on the high-side, with the game going for $60-$75 depending on where you buy it.  The different variants and special cards in the game means it will be a long time before you play the same game twice.  Definitely invite some friends over, order some pizza, and destroy Atlantic City.  The Doom that Came to Atlantic City is a hit.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Movie Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

 Freddy's Revenge is not bad as a sequel.  This is before the writers just went full-on camp with the Freddy Krueger character.  He has some lines, but not the cheesiness that comes to be Freddy Krueger in later films.  Freddy's Revenge is about the gore, pure-and-simple, and is a nerdy kid's revenge-fantasy come to life.  

 The protagonist, Jesse, is a spazz.  He is just hip enough to be accepted by his classmates, but he has some issues.  He is often sullen, suffers from nightmares, lacks confidence with women, but is generally harmless enough to be likeable.  In other words, he is akin to about 80% of The Nightmare on Elm Street viewing audience.  Ends up that Jesse and his family moved into the Elm Street murder house (dad got a real bargain for it), and Jesse is having some issues as a result.

Let me get that booger for you...
 In the first film, Freddy was frightening not because of the claws or the scars, but because if you went to sleep you were his.  In Revenge, that is taken away from him.  Freddy instead possesses one kid and then goes after than kid's enemies.  Is Freddy using him, or is Jesse using Freddy?  Let's think about this for a second.  Freddy's victims include Jesse's kinky gym teacher who antagonizes him, Jesse's bully and bro-crush, Jesse's snobby frat classmates who looked down on him, and almost Jesse's intimidating love-interest.  Jesse, it seems, isn't killing for Freddy as much as Freddy is killing for Jesse.  

That's why the girls like him!
 Speaking of frat classmates, what is up with Freddy when he attacks the Lisa's pool party?  Did they find the shortest stunt actor in Hollywood to play Freddy?  How intimidating is the diminutive troll that dances around the pool slashing at people?  And, why are the kids running right into him one at a time?  Why not just stay the hell away from him or team-up with the other jock-douchebags and rush him? Freddy is no less pathetic than when he possessed Jesse.  Personally, I blame Jesse.
I know too many girls who find this hot...
 The special effects in this film where good.  The tongue scene, easily done, still haunts my memories.  I could have done without the pool pyrotechnics.  Exploding hotdogs just don't do it for me.  The end scene, meant to make the audience question everything as it did in the first film, just doesn't have the same impact.  Of the series, Revenge is probably the one you could do without. 

Movie Review: Fright Night

 Before From Dusk Til Dawn, Lost Boys, and Vamp, there was Fright NightFright Night defined vampire-cool in the 1980s, with a minimum of whining about being a tortured soul and absolutely no sparkly nonsense.  The vampire, Jerry Dandrige, revels in being a vampire and the power it gives him.  He is a charismatic, charming, brilliant, and truly evil monster.  That is just one of the things that makes this film so great.

 The only real negative about this film is the protagonist, Charley Brewster.  Charley is what I like to call "the King of Betas".  He is a nerdy, whiny kid who can be distracted from his nerdy girlfriend's boobs and willingness to put-out by horror films and his neighbor's strange nocturnal activities.  This kid has some how hit the perfect, non-existent balance between being a horror-nerd yet still being relatively popular at his school.  I mean, look at the car Charley drives!  Such a juxtaposition of trendy cool wrapped around a geek is rare indeed and hard to believe in a horror film.  

And this isn't even my final form!
 Now, while you are rooting for Jerry and hoping that Charley bites it (sorry about the pun) in some pathetic fashion, his friend "Evil" Ed is a piece of work we can all relate to.  Probably a deeper geek than Charley (as demonstrated by his advising Charley on how to deal with vampires), Ed is also less popular than his friend (loathing the "evil" nick name he has been given for his interests) but also seems less concerned about the opinions of his peers.  Ed becomes another character you will want to root for.
Marcy from "Married with Children"

 Amy, Charley's girlfriend and Jerry's love-interest, is your typical victim.

 Unfortunately, this is an atypical vampire film built on a typical vampire-film frame.  That is, the monster must be vanquished and the hero must save his girl.  After an hour-and-a-half of Jerry demonstrating just how cool, powerful, and intelligent he is, he blows it all in the final confrontation with rejects from Mystery Incorporated.  Still, Fright Night is a fun romp, bringing the right mix of sexy and scarey to the vampire portrayal and setting the standard for several vampire films to follow.
Your "heroes".

 The story is well written (minus the few plot-holes I mentioned above) and the dialogue is funny throughout.  Special effects are very well done while remaining old-school; lots of blood and slime to keep gore fans satisfied.  The word that keeps coming to mind is "fun".  Fright Night is fun throughout.  It is truly a classic horror film.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Movie Review: From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter

After how bad From Dusk Till Dawn 2 was, it appears that the production teams learned a few things.  From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter, is an enjoyable film.

 The film begins with this interesting factoid; In 1913, Ambrose Bierce, a famous journalist and war-hero from the late 1800's, went to Mexico to gain first-hand experience of the Mexican Revolution and was never see or heard from again.  The film catches up with Mr. Bierce in a small town in Mexico, where he is awaiting a stage coach to travel south.  At the same time, Johnny Madrid is about to be hung for his crimes.  At the last moment, a bullet from a wanna-be outlaw cuts the rope and Johnny escapes with the Hangman's Daughter, Esmeralda.  A posse is formed to track down Madrid, lead by the hangman, while Bierce, a pastor and the pastor's bride board the coach south.  The outlaws, the posse, and the wayward travelers all eventually find their way to run-down bordello in the middle of the desert, La Tetilla del Diable (The Devil's Nipple).

 From there, things go badly.  

American bad-ass.
 In my opinion, this film has far more depth than the original.  The characters, save possibly Bierce, are all more than they appear.  Bierce is just an old bad-ass, but mixes his contempt and disdain with practical wisdom.  He appears more as an observer of the events as they unfold.  The story is a commentary on fate, and whether it is worthier to embrace your fate or struggle against it.

One bad day after another for this guy.
 The production quality is on-par with the first film, as are the special effects.  The Hangman's Daughter does rely more on CGI, and while not seamless it is subtle enough not to be a distraction (other than the cobra... what's up with that?).  The only problem I found with the film is that the characters are not really that likable.  They are just interesting enough to carry you through the film, but not so much that you root for any one of them.

Better off as a vampire.
 From Dusk Till Dawn 3 is a worthy prequel to From Dusk Till Dawn.  The requisite effort was put into writing a good script, production quality, special effects, and quality players.  The film provides the origins of the vampire Satanico Pandemonium.  Unlike the sequel to From Dusk Till Dawn, The Hangman's Daughter is it's own film, with a different style than the original.  It is a good mix of Spaghetti Western, Mexican Soap Opera, and Vampire Horror film.