Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Movie Review: Resident Evil

 This film does it right in so many ways.

 My first introduction to Resident Evil was while walking through the mall.  It was 1998, at the time the game system I had at home was the Sega Genesis, which had what I thought was an impressive graphics-engine.  KB Toys had their display-unit of the Sony Play Station right out in the walkway in front of their store, and the game in the system was Resident Evil 2.  I was blown-away by the system's graphics and the game itself.

 We were playing the game at home that night.

 Resident Evil, the film, came out in 2002, and like anything Hollywood tries to adapt into a movie I was expecting the worse.  Milla Jovovich, who's breasts I remembered from The Fifth Element (a great movie), hadn't hit my radar yet as someone worth paying attention to.  The only glimmer of hope I really had for the film was in the news that Marilyn Manson was involved with the soundtrack.

I hate waking up naked and not knowing who I am.
 I saw the film originally in the theater.  From the opening sequence, I knew this was going to be something special.  Milla, who plays Alice, is nude in her opening scene... and it just gets better from there.  Nothing but love went into this film from the entire production team; love for the video-game franchise, love for the horror-film genre, love for a level of detail that borders on obsessive, and love for making a thrilling film. 

Alway bad-ass.
 As an example of the level of detail that went into the production of the film, Umbrella, the series's antagonistic organization that developed and deployed the T-Virus (which re-animates dead tissue resulting in flesh-eating zombies and worse), sends in a tactical assault team to enter "The Hive", the underground facility where the T-Virus was being developed.  Each member of the team initially appears clad like high-tech ninjas; gas-masks, full head cowls, uniforms, body armor, and high-tech gear all black.  Each uniform and set of equipment, however, is actually slightly different for each member of the team, specialized based on their particular function.  You barely notice it while watching the film, but the costume department, armorers, and FX folks considered it a must. 

You're all going to die down here.
 The tension is high in the film and established almost immediately in the opening sequence.  My gut still churns thinking about the elevator-scene.  This is only assisted by the soundtrack, engineered by Marilyn Manson.  The soundtrack is often carried by digitally-synthesized, hard-edged and militant guitar riffs, but is also marked with a barrage of strange electrical noises and sounds that are sometimes barely audible.  The intent was not simply to create a musical score, but to use sound to enhance the visual stimuli and create an environment.  Listening to this portion of the soundtrack in a dark room can be creepy all on its own.

 Speaking of the soundtrack, Resident Evil also makes use of some of the best music from the top industrial and metal bands of the time, being one of three movie soundtracks drawing from the industrial and techno scene that I recommend owning (the other two being the soundtracks to The Matrix and Queen of the Damned). 

 The one flaw in this film is the obvious CGI nature of the Licker.  Had this creature's digital representation been better executed, I would have nothing to complain about with this film.  This visuals and environments are rich in their detail, borrowing heavily from both the Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 games.  The acting is superb, with wonderful performances from all involved, including Ms. Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, and Colin Salmon.  The writing is fast-paced, often humorous, and offers enough twists to keep you on your toes. 

 And, the film is nicely book-ended with a second, full-frontal nude scene.  Milla just likes to get naked!

 Resident Evil has spawned a series of films, and though most of them have been great (the second film being a possible exception), none have been as good as the first.  Resident Evil is also probably my favorite video-game adaptation, with Doom being a close second. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Movie Review: Doom

  In 1993, when the original Doom PC video-game was released, I was 2 years into my 4 year tour with the Army in Germany.  No one in the barracks had a PC, and the "hot" gaming system was the Sega Genesis.  I played Doom at a friend's house in Germany, and while it was a cool game, when you run around on a regular basis with a real assault rifle going through actual military drills, the game isn't as impressive.

 I was more impressed with the flurry of news stories and media attention that surrounded Doom.  The technology was cutting edge, the marketing revolutionary, and the violence and imagery controversial.  Doom, as far as many special interest groups were concerned, was an evil akin to heavy metal music a decade earlier.  For a while it seemed like every week a new story was coming out about how some kid did something stupid and claimed he was influenced by the game, culminating with a group of idiots who went on a killing-spree at Columbine High in 1999.

 All that media attention will either repulse or attract further interest.  I represent the latter, and based on the success of the Doom franchise, I can say that I am not alone.

 By the time I had my own PC, Doom was old news, and a number of slicker, more violent, and gorier games had hit the market.  Doom, though, was the grand-daddy of all first-person shooter, the standard by which all others are compared.  When word reached my ear that Doom was being made into a movie, I had yet to play the game entirely, but my first thought was "great, Hollywood prepares to take something wonderful and screw it up."

 I am happy to report that I could not have been more wrong.

 I knew the film would be promising when I read that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson would be in a leading role.  I have been a fan of The Rock since his days in the WWF, and have enjoyed everything I have seen him in.  Granted, I refuse to watch Tooth Fairy, which makes making that statement easier.  Karl Urban also was a welcome edition, although he seems to always play the same character (John Grimm, Vaako, and Eomer are all the same troubled by honorable warrior).  The entire cast delivers in this film an impressive performance, with each character being made interesting and believable, hooking the audience's attention quickly in what is a very fast-paced film.

 Doom is extremely well written, building on the familiar story set by the video games.  The discovery of an alien instantaneous transporter which creates a gate from Earth to Mars has lead to the exploration and colonization of the planet.  The exploration is focused on learning as much as possible about the humanoids that left the technology and Mars behind thousands of years earlier.  It is discovered that the aliens were human in almost every way, and were enhanced by the addition of artificial chromosomes.  Experiments on modern humans leads to an emergency situation, and a Marine Rapid Response Tactical Squad is called in to eliminate the threat, secure the facility, and retrieve the facility's research.

 The CGI and special effects are seamless and impressive, and the film is shot beautifully.  The monsters are freakish and sometimes amusing (Pinky), and the film gets the mix between stings and gore just right.  Several scenes and elements are taken directly from the game itself, with the film adding its own twist to each.  Unlike House of the Dead, which clumsily interjected scenes from the video-game into the film, Doom even provides a welcome first-person shooting sequence, using the special effects and high production values of the film to give fans an experience like playing the game itself.  The film also keeps your guessing, providing an interesting lesson about human nature and what resides within each of us.

 Doom is one of the best video-game adaptions to date, second only to the first Resident Evil in my opinion.  After seeing the film, I purchased and played the original game, and was not disappointed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Movie Review: A Nightmare on Elms Street (2010)

 At first, I was willing to give this movie some allowances.  It is a remake, or rather what is referred to as a "reboot".  The premise is roughly the same as the original, but aspects of the story have been altered.  While I can applaud the effort to make the film different, grittier, and more modern, the result leaves something to be desired.

 My biggest criticism is the change in the premise which paints Krueger as a child-molester instead of a child-killer.  There is enough innuendo in the original series of films to suggest that Kruger did molest and torture his victims, but his prime motivation was killing them.  Krueger was a sick individual who was acting against the world he hated by destroying that which was most innocent and precious (and, if you follow the story-arch in the film, children where the necessary victims which gave him his powers).

 A child-molester is a much more realistic, but also more common monster.  This portrayal diminishes the character, taking him way from the fantastic and making him cheap.  I would have much rather seen a Freddy Krueger who was born in the circumstances we are familiar with (a nun raped by 1000 maniacs and raised by a sadistically abusive family), nurtured by the demonic voices in his head leading to the secret to a kind of power and immortality.  That Freddy Krueger is maniacal, driven, and frightening.  The remake is shabby by comparison.

 Modern special effects were an improvement over the original film, but while the first film earned its R-rating, the remake does so just barely, completely avoiding any nudity (the original kept the nudity to a minimum) and being more suggestive about violence than actually presenting violence.  While I can understand that the characters were supposed to be dazed and tired, the acting was still flat.  The writing and plot seemed confused... unsure of where it was going even though everyone in the audience already knew.

 All in all, the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street was a disappointment.  Given the choice, see the original.

 The Walpurgisnacht release date was a nice marketing touch.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Movie Review: Boogeyman

 Tim is a troubled young man.

 He has spent his life in-and-out of asylums and homes.  His mother is in an asylum, and his father disappeared under mysterious circumstances.  Tim believes that his father was killed by the boogeyman, a childhood monster that lives under beds and in closets.  Years of therapy have provided Tim of semblance of normalcy; he sleeps on a mattress on his floor and has no closets in his home.  A premonition of his mother telling him that he needs to return to the family home prompts him to check on her, only to discover that she has died.  He visit the ward where she was located and where he grew up, only to also discover that the children there are being threatened by the boogeyman.  He returns to his home to determine if the boogeyman is real or just a fantasy... and if real to try to stop him.
The bath is not a safe place in any horror film.

 Boogeyman has some strengths.  It has a high production value, creating just the right mood and tension throughout the film.  There is also enough misdirection in the plot to get the audience thinking that Tim or another character might be the killer, and that there is no boogeyman.  The film relies mainly on visual and audio "stings" for its scares, but they are well done and there are not too many of them.

 The film has two main weaknesses.  The first is the creature itself.  It is apparent that a lot of money went into the creature's CGI presentation, but in my opinion it is poorly designed.  It just looks like a bald, gray, old man in tattered clothes made of smoke... not very impressive and kind of a let-down.  The film might have been helped if the boogeyman was never fully revealed. 

You'll wish this guy would die.
 The second weakness is the PG-13 constraints.  The PG-13 rating keeps the blood and gore to a bare minimum, which takes away from the film.  It also means that while we get to see a girl drowned in a tub, there is no nudity.  This just reminds the audience that they are watching a film and takes them out of the story instead of drawing them in.
 The only other issue I had with the film is Tim's character.  I had trouble empathizing with him.  Tim just kind of comes off as a loser who is not only mired in his victimhood, but drags other people down with him.  If Tim had a little bit of a spine, perhaps with a brain attached, the film would have been better for me.

Movie Review: Abomination

 Abomination is apparently a sequel to The Evil Maker, but watching it there really is no indication of this being a continuation of another story.  In fact, because of the way the film is shot and the shoddy writing, it is hard to recognize a coherent story-line in this film, let alone trace it to another.  It is not that the film is difficult to follow, it is that the film simply does not make sense.

 The gist of the film is that the heroine is investigating a family incident that involves some supernatural activity at a cabin deep in the woods.  In the process, she attracts the attentions of demonic forces who go after her little sister.  The little sister might be possessed, or she might have a demonic doppelganger... or both.  It is difficult to say.

 The production value, even for an independent film, is awful.  The film is grainy and poorly lit.  You get the impression that the actors were handed their scripts just before shooting their scenes.  Special-effects are done in a rudimentary manner, mainly glowing eyes and such.  There are a couple of topless scenes which do nothing for the film.

 The title is appropriate.  This film is an abomination.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Movie Review: After Sundown

 In doing my research for this review, I discovered something interesting about this film's production which is definitely more interesting than the film itself.  Texas, in particular Austin, is becoming the Mecca for independent film-makers.  After Sundown is one of those independent films.  It seems that there are actually two versions of this film.  According to someone claiming to be the "Executive Producer/Writer/Director and Editor of After Sundown", Christopher Abram...

 "This is the better version of After Sundown and actually no other version should legally exist. What does exist is an unauthorized illegal version of the movie that the co-director put together with the the D.P. without my knowledge and began to distribute. The co-director did not follow the directions given to him and he was trying to create his own version of the movie and wouldn't listen to the person who invited him in on this project. Thus having a huge conflict in pacing, acting and all around plot. The co-directors version was the one sent to distributors and was promptly turned down due to lack of horror elements, bad music and a convoluted ending."

 Chris goes on to make excuses for the plot-holes, bad acting, and questionable special effects.  I find myself wondering which version of the film I saw, although I have every indication that I am watching the "better" version.
 The film still sucks. 

 Here's the premise.  Back in the Old West, a young lady is engaged and married to an eccentric cowboy.  Daddy had some initial misgivings about his son-in-law; he only comes around at night, he doesn't eat food, he has an off-pallor, etc.  The astute father only makes the connection that his son-in-law is a vampire AFTER the marriage when his daughter gives birth to a demonic baby with claws and pointy-ears!  The townspeople form a posse and dispatch the vampires, burying the three bodies in the desert.

 In modern times, the bodies are discovered when the patch of ground they are buried in is being changed into tract-housing.  The local funeral home takes possession of the woman and child, and the male vampire awakens on his own to go after them.  It is up to the heroine and mortician, Shannon, Mikey the goofy assistant, and Benjamin the tightwad funeral home director, to deal with the vampires. 

 There are several problems with this film.  First of all, it breaks from accepted vampire mythology.  The male and female vampires use their blood to revive corpses who become zombies.  In reality, zombie-making vampires are the norm in fiction, but rarely are featured in films.  In After Sundown, the zombies infect others in the same familiar manner, soon over-running the small town.  Despite the story being about vampires, the film looks a lot like a poorly budgeted zombie-flic.

 The budget restrictions are painfully obvious.  All the special effects are old-school, but lack the creative genius of Evil Dead which took cheap materials to pull-off great effects and instead appear to try to use the best their money could buy ineffectively.  Most of the FX budget for make-up seemed to be put into the male-vampire's costume and face.  The zombies and blood are shoddy by comparison. 

 The plot is full of holes.  The modern-world characters apparently exist in a world where the idea of a vampire is an almost completely alien concept.  A character trapped in a closet uses his cellphone to call someone to call the cops... What, does her phone only dial one number?  The guns all have seemingly unlimited ammunition.  Sunrise and sunset seem to happen at an accelerated pace.  They pay an actress to get topless on screen and only show her back!  She was apparently a modest zombie.

 And those are just some of the highlights.

 The acting is weak, the production values almost non-existent (the DVD cover appears more professional than the film), and at times it seems like the writers and directors are telling the actors to just wing-it.  The cover claims that this is "this year's Dusk 'til Dawn"... but it is a blatant lie.     

Friday, November 4, 2011

Movie Review: The Thing (2011)

 My girlfriend hates horror films.  She doesn't like the gore, the violence, and the often poor production quality, writing, and acting.  Despite all of this, for our anniversary (October 31st), she took me to see The Thing at the theater.  I am a huge fan of John Carpenter's original film, and even enjoyed the video-game "sequel", so she knew I would look forward to this.

At some point, sanity just takes a back-seat.
 One of the issues I think we should get out of the way is how this film is evaluated.  I think it is unfair to hold this film up to the standards set by the original.  The reason that the production team opted to do a prequel was because they considered the original "perfect".  While the prequel has superior special-effects and is as a production equal or superior to the original, it lacks the impact because the concept is not novel and the audience knows what is going on.  The original had the advantage of presenting a new threat which it revealed slowly to the audience, building the suspense.  Not having this advantage, the prequel had to get to the action of the film as quickly as possible and rely on its CGI effects and stunning visuals to carry the film.

 When not measure by those standards, the prequel is wonderful, although the pacing mentioned above might be disconcerting for those unfamiliar with the original.  The audience is given just enough information to establish the personalities of and make a minimal connection with each character.  The alien attacks come much more quickly than the first film, with enough misdirection to throw the viewer off the scent and keep the audience guessing.  The film ends with cut-scenes leading to the events which start the original film.

I wonder if Pinhead promised to keep these two together.
 The special effects are top-notch, seamlessly blending CGI with the real environment, making for horrifically convincing creatures and displaying an impressive alien vessel trapped in the Antarctic ice.  The acting is also excellent, although the characters do come off as slightly one-dimensional (the tough-guy is tough, the heroine is witty and heroic, the damsel is in distress, etc).  This is attributable entirely to the films pacing, which must be what it is because the audience already knows what to expect.  The only problem I had with the story was that the the characters make some incredible and speedy leaps in logic in order to piece together what they are facing.  The clues are there, but are pieced together in a rapid fashion that is difficult to imagine.

 I thought it was an excellent touch for the Norwegian Base to be modeled after the base presented in the video-game sequel, down to in many instances the damage and ruins.  Having spent many hours running around that base while playing the game, it was nice to be in familiar territory.

 All-in-all, this was a worthy predecessor to the original, in my opinion.

Inter-species sex can get a little messy.
 John Carpenter's The Thing is my favorite horror-film, the first film to really frighten me as a kid.  One of the things that bothers me about this film and its prequel is the concept of the alien.  An invader that attacks the body cell-by-cell to become its prey was a novel concept.  However, the method of predation doesn't seem to be very realistic.  It is unnecessarily violent.  The alien tries to attack its victims when the victim is alone, but a violent attack draws unnecessary attention.  As has been demonstrated in the film, casual contact with the alien can result in infection.  Based on the alien's use of technology, we can see that it has extremely advanced intelligence.  The inefficiency of its mode of attack should be apparent.  A more effective mode of attack would be through casual or sexual contact, with the victim not knowing they had been infected until it was too late.  (In the original, the casual contact method was also used as a means of infection).

 A reason for a violent attack could be that the alien simply needs to eat.  They victim is not only infected and invaded, but is also partially consumed, providing energy for the entire bio-mass.  In both films, cells from the alien are demonstrated consuming and then replicating the cells of the host on a 1-to-1 ratio.  The process of consumption and conversion, while providing some energy, would still require more energy than is consumed.  Thus the alien is in a constant state of starvation, and each replicated being needs to absorb more bio-mass in order to sustain itself.  This might account for the violence of its attack; if each cell is a distinct being, and each being is starving, then it would need to rapidly consume its victims.  Still, this remains inefficient.  It is difficult to imagine such a creature ever being able to sustain itself, let alone develop into a star-faring species. 

 This leads to another issue. It must be assumed that each cell possess the sum intelligence and memories of the original alien bio-mass... which is demonstrated to be considerable.  In the first film, the alien is in the process of creating a small craft from gathered parts stolen from the scientific base.  While it is plausible that a significant amount of information might be carried by each cell, is it plausible that the entirety of the bio-mass's intelligence and memory would also be present?  I suppose one could argue that the information is stored in the larger masses and transmitted to added mass once it is formed vs. being carried in each cell, but no other psychic talents on par with this transmission of data were demonstrated by the alien. 

 These questions about the alien take nothing away from the films.  They are questions I ponder more than 20 years after seeing the original, but while I watch these films, I am totally engaged.  The questions are merely the meanderings of a sci-fi deep-geek. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Movie Review: Unnamable II

 The Unnamable II caught my attention for two reasons; it is based on a story by HP Lovecraft (as it turns out, actually 2 stories) and it features Julie Strain, a B-Scream actress who I am a fan of.  Julie is visually a 6' 1" goddess who was Penthouse's Pet of the Year in 1993, a frequent model of illustrator Olivia and other artists, as well as a star in several b-horror films and some porn.  Ms. Strain is often featured as a BDSM Dominatrix, but in this film much of her beauty is hidden under the demon-costume she wears throughout.

 Unnamable II is a sequel to Unnamable, and picks up right after where the first film left-off.  The police have arrived at the Winthrop House along with EMS.  Howard, wounded from his encounter with the unnamable demon, is being wheeled to an ambulance, and Tonya is in a police cruiser.  Randolph Carter, the protagonist of the film, has spirited away Joshua Winthrop's book of spells, which he gives to Howard for safe keeping.  Lovecraft's story, The Statement of Randolph Carter, actually was written by Lovecraft before Unnamable, but for this film the two tales are neatly woven together.

 Carter seeks out Professor Warren, who is sympathetic to Carter's interest in the occult.  They gather Howard and head to a tunnel wear they find the demon from the first film trapped in the roots of a tree.  Following up on a theory, they inject the demon with insulin, which causes it to go into a coma and transform into a beautiful (and fully nude) woman.  Carter and Warren free the woman from the roots.  The woman, Alyda Winthrop, was used by her father to summon the demon.  She is feral but also strongly attracted to Carter.

 Warren discovers in the tunnel some writing which he translates.  He thinks the writing has something to do with quantum physics, but also discovers that freeing the girl also released her demonic aspect... just before the demon kills him.  Now the demon is in pursuit of her human half, killing everyone that gets in her way.

 Maria Ford plays Alyda Winthrop, and spends most of the film completely nude while clinging to Carter, fighting with other women, or trying to get frisky.  She has to be coaxed into clothes, adding some humor to the film (which has several moments of levity).  Julie Strain's ponderous breasts are also a featured part of her demonic costume, so for those who want some nudity with their gore there is plenty. 

 The films is an excellent B-movie.  Its one flaw, which was intentionally ridiculous, is its 1920's academic stuffiness.  Carter and crew are almost unbelievably prim and proper, even with a beautiful nude girl who refuses to get dressed in their midst reflecting Lovecraft's social ideals even though the film is set in modern times.  The demon effects and gore are wonderful.  Unnamable II is a horror romp, more fun than frightening.  It is easily one of the better Lovecraft adaptations, and far superior to the first film.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Movie Review: Witchcraft

  Witchcraft is the first of a series of films that has spawned 13 sequels (to date), which included a run from 1990 to 1998 of a sequel being released each year.  Of the series, the first is probably the tamest, with future films evolving into more of an "explotation" type production, focusing on nudity and gore.

 This means that I am disappointed with the first film.

 The film opens with a good old-fashioned Colonial burning-at-the-stake.  The execution makes up cut-scenes interspersed during a sequence where a woman in modern times is giving birth.  The couple being executed was convicted of witchcraft.  This burning scene will be one of the few consistencies in the plot in future films.

 Grace Churchill, who moved from Poland after her mother and father died in a murder-suicide, has landed one of the wealthiest men in the state (John Churchill), and has moved in with his mother in a massive house.  John and his mother are a little ecentric.  While the home is lavishly decored and furnished, some of the rooms are dusty and furnishings are covered with sheets.  Certain rooms and sections of the home are off-limits to Grace.

 Grace begins seeing strange things in the house.  A mirror shows scenes from both the past (like the Colonial executions) and the future.  She finds what she believes is her mother-in-law engaged with two others in some kind of ritual, and sees blood dripping from her mother-in-law's mouth.  Attempts are made to explain these things away; Garce is in a new and unfamiliar environment, her husband is not around much, the stress of having a new baby is affecting her, and she was a former junkie all suggest that she might be just hallucinating. 

 When Grace's Priest shows up to bapitize the new baby, but instead has a vision of flames and becomes ill, Grace becomes convinced that something is not right with her new life.

 While the film gets some credit for its production quality, but the acting and plot leave something to be desired.  I have a feeling that the film is trying to achieve an air of mystery, but suffers from giving away the ending (the film is called Witchcraft so you expect there will be something to do with witches and magic), and being too much like Rosemary's Baby (which, by comparison, does not reveal the key component to its plot in its name).

 The series is known for its erotic-horror, boardering on soft-core porn.  There is no nudity in this film, and not much gore.  Witchcraft had some moderate success when it was released, which probably helped spawn its next sequel and give the production company more freedom to push the limits.

 If you are interested in the series, then you want to start with the first film, which lays some of the foundation for the second.  Most the rest of the series is made up of films that stand on their own.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Spook House Review: The House of Torment

 Halloween is easily my favorite holiday.  I grew up in the 70's and 80's, when it was still common for kids to wander their neighborhoods with no concern about their safety.  Trick-or-treating was something that you perfected into an art form by the time you were 12.  I love horror films, ghost stories, monsters... and Halloween was a celebration of all the above.

 One of the Halloween Traditions that I have always enjoyed is the "spook-house".  In fact, when I go to carnivals, theme-parks, or festivals, if they have a spook-house, I check it out.  When I was a kid in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the best spook-house for years was the one put on by the local Boy Scouts at an old church; the Haunted Castle.  They still put it on every October, but the church has since been demolished.  Back then, spook-houses were usually put on by a local group trying to raise money for their organizations.  Now, franchises have stepped in with a goal of making a profit, for better or for worse. 

 The House of Torment is one of those franchise spook-houses.

 As an adult, my love of things scary has been shared with my daughters.  My eldest daughter is 17.  Next year, she might be busy with classes, busy with college, or would prefer to go with her friends.  I saw this year as possibly being the last year that she and I would be able to share in this tradition.  It had been a few years since we last went to a spook-house together (not counting the one at Six Flags and the one last year at the Texas Renaissance Festival), so I made a special point of going this year.

  The House of Torment probably has the largest advertising budget in our area.  They advertise on billboards, in radio and television spots, and have deals worked out with local businesses to give their customers discounts (I received a coupon from Sonic for $2 off my ticket price).  The local House of Torment is in a building that was formerly a movie-theater at Highland Mall.  This has been their site for several years, and they have permanent structures in place.  This tells me either they are making enough money to cover their rent of the site for the year during the season, or that the property owners also bought into the franchise.
 Either way, the House of Torment is the big money-maker among the seasonal spook-houses in Austin. 

 I was leaning toward going to the House of Torment simply because they are right down the road, they are the most visible, and their advertising suggests that they are the best in the area.  One ad claimed that they were rated as the #2 haunted house in the nation, and another placed them in the top 13.  Word-of-mouth, though, had not been in their favor.  I did some searches on-line, and found both positive and negative reviews, with a few complaining about how the crowd at the site were made up of "thugs and gang-bangers" and that the employees acted disinterested and bored, including the costumed actors.

 Still, I decided to give them a shot.

 The tickets were about $20 each, and paid for both "shows".  My Sonic coupon took $2 off each ticket, but had I planned this out a little more in advance I could have taken advantage of a Groupon purchase of about $15 for the VIP passes (normally $30 each).  I purchased my tickets on-line for the second show (7:30) on a Saturday.  We arrived early, expecting (correctly) a line, at 7pm.  Corrals were in place for each 30 minute showtime, and we were first to arrive for the 7:30 show.  Two different kinds of employees greeted us outside; guides in "House of Torment" t-shirts for crowd control and taking tickets, and actors in costume who entertained the crowds while they waited.

 The actors were very engaging, making jokes, acting spooky, and posing for pictures.  The costumes were impressive.  There was a girl (I am assuming it was a girl) dressed as a demented female robot.  Her costume had lights and made strange noises, and she would occasionally stop and "spit" a black fluid from the masks "mouth" onto the ground.  She walked in a stiff, mechanical manner and creeped people out.  Another actor was dressed as a pirate, spoke with kind of an Irish brogue, and cracked jokes as he worked the crowd.  The guides were polite and friendly... nothing like the negative reviews I had read.  The crowd itself was a diverse mix.  Highland Mall is in or near "da hood" and is the "bad mall" in Austin, but that was not reflected by the crowd that night.

 The spook-house itself was impressively decorated.  The lighting was minimal, foggy, and carried the sounds of creepy music and noises marked often with the shrieks of pre-teen girls either ahead or behind us (while waiting in line, a gaggle of 12-14 year old girls shrieked there heads off every time a costumed actor came near... who they thought they were putting on a show for I have no idea).  The costumed actors inside went out of their way to be creepy, and were all convincingly attired.  There were several animatronic characters, including a couple of massive demons, a flayed dog, and other strange beasts. 

 The House of Torment had several obstacles common to other spook-houses.  There was a rickety "bridge", an air-jet, a tilted-room, and one walk-way that was lined with air-bags, forcing you to push your way through the tight space.  There were no options on the path, you simply walked from area to area, with different spaces having different themes (one show was a burned-out future city, the other a pirate/jungle theme).  The lighting was consistent throughout, so no attempt was made to change the ambiance or using the lighting to frighten you.  

 The actors also only had really one trick in their bag.  The floors in most areas were smooth boards, allowing an actor with knee pads to slide suddenly at you after just a short run.  This might startle you the first few times, but after the 12th or 13 time you simple expected it.  It was the same in both shows.  The second show also ended abruptly in the gift shop.  I expected to be deposited there at the end, but not in half the time it took to get through the first show.

For an extra $5, you could shoot at pop-up zombie-targets at a paint-ball shooting range.  We passed on that.

 While the House of Torment was not the scariest spook-house I had been in, it was impressive.  As to it being worth $20 a ticket, well, it was worth it to spend the evening with my daughter.  Otherwise, probably not.  No doubt there are other spook-houses in the area that are less expensive and probably are more exciting.     

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Movie Review: The Pyx

 I picked up The Pyx simply because it features Karen Black and has something to do with Satanism... although it seems like many films that have something to do with Satanism The Pyx has more to do with the Catholic Church.  Set in Canada, the film starts with a woman falling from a building to the streets below.  She is wearing a gown and has with her a cross and a "pyx"; a small metal conatiner which is meant to allow the eucharist to be carried from the church to a person who is too ill or infirmed to go to mass and receive communion.  These items with the body suggest that she may be a suicide, but one of the detectives suspects otherwise.

 With surprising speed, the detective discovers that the victim was a prostitute and heroine addict.  It also appears that she may have been involved with some kind of Satanic Cult, and that her involvement with that Cult may have lead to her demise.  The rest of the film basicly tells the victim's story, leading up to the detective tracking down and confronting the leader of the Satanic Cult. 

 The film lacks in every way that you would think it should have strengths in.  It is billed as a "horror-thriller", but it is neither horrorfying nor thrilling.  Actually, it is kind of boring.  It is a story about a prostitute, but there is no sex and only a brief bit of nudity.  The prostitute is a drug-addict, but she only actually shoots-up once in the film.  There is a Satanist Cult, but there is next to nothing demonic or intimidating about the cult. 
 You basicly watch the movie anticipating something happening, but nothing ever does.

 Perhaps if the film had been billed as a detective mystery, I might have appreciated it more.  My understanding is that the US version does not do the original production justice, and the cinematography was considerably better.  I doubt seeing slightly-improved production value would make the film any more entertaining for those expecting horror.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Movie Review: The Legend of Hell House

  I am a little torn on this film.  The Legend of Hell House was released in 1973, and suffers from some of the limitations of that time, technical or otherwise.  Even as a fan of old horror films, though, I have trouble giving this film a good review.

 I would like to.  The story is interesting enough; an eccentric millionaire sends a team of paranormal researchers to confirm or disprove the existence of life-after-death.  Physicist Lionel Barrett and his wife, Ann are recruited, along with spiritual minister and mental medium Florence Tanner and physical medium Ben Fischer, to explore the Belasco House.  The Belasco House was the home of Emeric Belasco, the "Roaring Giant", a millionaire, sadist, and possibly murderer who stood 6'5".  The house is considered the "Mount Everest of haunted houses", and Fischer is the sole survivor of the last team to investigate it.

 Barret is a scientist with a logical mind.  He believes that all spiritual phenomenon is a matter of unfocused electromagnetic energy, and is skeptical about the abilities of the mediums and Tanner's Christian beliefs.  Barret had brought with him a device which he believes will rid the home of these electromagnetic energies and end the phenomenon.  Tanner's abilities manifest in unexpected ways, with physical attacks on Barret even though she is not a physical medium.  Fischer, knowing the danger from his last encounter, avoids opening himself to the forces of the house, for which Barret considers him a fraud.

 Ann Barret, suffering from a lackluster sex-life, begins having erotic visions in the house.  She makes sexual advances to Fischer, apparently under the influence of the energies of the house, stripping naked and demanding sex at one point (Fischer slaps her which brings her to her senses).  During another of her advances, her husband catches her in the act but becomes angry with Fischer, and accuses him of not having any psychic abilities.  In response, Fischer drops his psychic defenses and is attacked.

 Florence Tanner becomes convinced that the energies in the house are that of the spirit of Daniel Belasco, Emeric's son.  Her intuition leads her to a skeleton hidden and chained behind a wall.  The group take the skeleton onto the grounds and bury it, with Tanner performing the rite, hoping this would put the spirit at rest.  When it does not, Tanner offers herself sexually to the spirit, hoping that this will sate it.

 Barret gets his machine assembled, and Tanner, possibly or partially possessed, tries to destroy it.  When her efforts fail, she makes her way to the houses chapel to warn the spirits of the house, only to be crushed by the giant crucifix.  In her own blood, she leaves a clue to what energies are really effecting the house.  Barret's machine seems to work initially, with Fischer declaring the house clean, only to have an even more violent assault kill Barret.  Fischer decides to have a final confrontation with the energies of the house and Ann, not too distraught about her husbands death, follows.

 Fischer goes into the chapel, the dark heart of the house, and calls a challenge to Emeric Belasco, mocking him, calling his renowned height a fraud and him a son of a whore.  The psychic energies are enraged and begin pelting Fischer with objects, but he continues.  Eventually, the assault cracks the walls and reveals a door leading to a lead-lined room.  Seated in the room is the mummified corpse of Belasco, who must have drawn the same conclusions as Barret about the electromagnetic nature of the spirit and constructed the room to trap his own soul.  With the room open, it is a simple matter of Fischer reactivating the machine and dispelling Belasco's spirit.  Fischer and Ann leave the house behind them to live out their lives.

 The story sounds great.  There is a murderous ghost of a sexual deviant, and a house that he would have designed to sate his twisted desires.  You have psychics with unusual powers, a scientist and his incredible device, and two honeys who get naked and have sex with the dead.  Unfortunately, the film only hints visually at most of this.  The special effects are limited and not very convincing.  The acting is wooden at times... all the characters are fairly shallow.  Even the opportunities for some TnA are glossed over; we get to see Ann's naked back (not even her ass) and Florence's face as she is either having some rough or some amazing sex (maybe both).  

  Unfortunately, this is a great story that has been lost in the translation into film.  If the writers, the director, the producers, and the actors had been willing to take a few risks, this film would probably be a cult-classic.  Perhaps one day we will be treated to a remake that does the story justice.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Artwork by Jason Sorrell: Beloved Dead

You know, I admittedly play at this art-thing.  I consider myself a fair draftsman, though I like to think I am getting better with each attempt.  Artistically, pencil-drawing has always been my first love, the media in which I think my skills are most honed.  I enjoy portraiture, and have even been commissioned to create portraits now and then.  

 I also love horror films and the female form.  Thankfully, I am not alone in this.  The horror film industry has provided a plethora of female imagery to gaze upon with wonder.  There is a tantalizing juxtaposition between the sensual and the sinister.  It is this juxtaposition that currently attracts my attention.

 These pencil portraits take days each to create.  The drawings alone for each of these spanned a period of four days, working admittedly only a few hours each day on the images.  My schedule prevents me from producing such works at the pace that I would like, but it gives me some time to decide what monsters I will add next to my collection of beloved dead.

 When Return of the Living Dead 3 came out in 1993, I was 20 years old, and freely admit that the image of a punk-rock pierced-up zombie-girl was titillating (ha!) on a number of levels.  I really dug the first film, I don't even remember the 2nd, but the 3rd film really stuck with me.  As you may recall, Julie was infected with the zombie-toxin, and in order to stave-off her hunger for brains she had to pierce herself with a variety of objects (nails, glass-shards, metal rings, etc).

 I created this image from the film were Julie emerges after her self-piercing session.  The camera pans up from her mid-drift to her face.  The problem was that I didn't get it all in one shot; the camera panning up is followed by a shot were she raised her face to the camera.  To get the above image, I had to go back-and-forth between different frames of the film until I got the posture and expression I wanted, and then used several stills for reference, especially for the variety of chains she wears.

 And now you know.

 The Angry Princess from Thir13en Ghosts presented her own set of problems.  If I remember correctly, Dana was a girl who over-indulged in plastic surgery, seeing imperfection whenever she looked at herself.  A self-inflicted operation to remove an imaginary blemish resulted in her loosing an eye, and she committed suicide with her butcher's knife in a bathtub.  The actress is not nude in the film, but is instead wearing a body-suit.

 Still, it's very convincing.

 There is a classic image of the Angry Princess as she rounds a corner, her knife jutting out in front of her.  Do a Google-search of "Angry Princess" and you will see what I mean.  I thought about that image for my representation, but decided it was too common.  Instead, I used a sequence of images right after she witnesses the lawyer being cut in half but before she hers the people upstairs and vanishes.  Again, I referred to several stills from that sequence to get the posture and expression I wanted.  Next, because of the low-light, I had to refer to other images to get the cuts on her body correct.  The expression seems a little off to me, but I am pleased by the whole.

 So, now I am thinking about who will be next.  I have in mind the Bride from The Bride of Frankenstein, the Wire-Twins from Hellraiser: Inferno, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, the nurses from Silent Hill, and the female alien from Species.  I am racking my brain trying to come-up with other candidates.  I decided to pass on Trash from the first Return of the Living Dead because I don't like her zombie make-up, but I have been thinking of doing a water-color painting of her infamous graveyard strip-tease. 

 Your suggestions would be more than welcome.  Just drop a comment below.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Memorabilia Review: Freddy Kruger and Jason Vorhees Prop Replicas

 I have picked up some odd bits of horror film memorabilia over the years.  Two of the best pieces I have acquired relatively recently.  Both are replicas of actual props, built to the same standards or nearly the same standards as actual props used in the films themselves. Both are iconic items familiar to every horror-fan.

 The first prop is a replica of the hockey mask which has become the iconic symbol of the Friday the 13th franchise, even though the mask itself did not appear until the third film of the series.  Jason Vorhees, the maniac-killer of Crystal Lake, wore this mask to his his facial deformities.

 This prop is made of a hard-plastic resin, closer to ceramic than plastic in feel.  It has metal fasteners for the straps attached, and the head-straps themselves are artificially-aged.  The straps of the mask are not sized to fit a regularly shaped head properly.  Rather, they are stretched and adjusted to fit over the misshapen Vorhees mask.

 Oddly enough, I picked this item up, which clearly says "This is not a toy" on its box, at Toys R Us.  I have a feeling it was an oversight on the part of the office that does ordering for their company.  I have yet to see a return of this item or anything like it at that toy-store... but that is not surprising.  They used to be THE source for McFarlane Toys, and not all you can ever find their are sports or military McFarlane Figures.

  The next prop is much more impressive.  It is the glove of nightmare slasher Freddy Kruger from the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.  Child-murderer Kruger killed his victims, both before and after he died, with this glove; a work glove modified with blades on the end of each finger.  

 I had two options from the same company when I picked this item up.  One option, for about a third of the price, was made of plastic.  It was very convincing in appearance, but not nearly as convincing as the more expensive model I picked up.  This glove is made of actual metal; copper and pressed-tin.  The blades themselves are blunt, but it is still an imposing looking prop.  The local trick-or-treaters don't know what to think when they see it.

 This piece was picked-up at a Halloween-shop... one of those places that opens just for the season, and then usually turns into a Christmas decoration after Halloween.  They actually only had a couple of these at this shop, and it is another item I have not seen in a store since, although they are now going for as much as $100 on some Internet sites.

 Both props are of the highest possible quality.  I figure if your going to have something like this, you might as well have the best.