Friday, September 28, 2012

Movie Review: The Gate

 I have no idea where the hell I was when this came out in 1987.  I had been seeing bits and pieces of this film for years, and of course the imps and other images have been a part of horror pop-culture ever since.  I think the reason that The Gate has managed to resonate with horror films is its innocence.  It is a dark fairy-tale, the last hoorah of our 80s childhood before the 1990s would turn us into the jaded adults of the 21st Century.

 Glenn, his sister Al (Alexandra), and his best friend Terry all live in a quite suburb in the heart of America.  The old tree that has always been in their backyard has been taken down, revealing a gaping hole, from which Glenn and Terry extract a massive geode.  In the process, Glenn pricked his finger on a splinter, leaving a small amount of blood in the hole.  This begins the process of accidentally fulfilling a ritual that will release the Old Gods back to our dimension.

Aww... They're so CUTE!
 When Glenn and Al's parents leave for the weekend, things just continue to escalate.  Terry, a fan of heavy metal, eventually pieces together what is going on through a band who's lyrics are supposedly derived from the "Dark Book", a grimoire for summoning the demons.  Unfortunatley, the chain-of-events has already been set in motion, with one accident after the next completing the ritual until the Old Gods return to bring hell-on-earth, at which point it is up to Glenn to stop the demons and close the Gate.

 The beginning of the film is almost dripping with 80s naivete.  Glenn and Terry are about to stop being kids and start being young-adults, and Al is already a teen concerned about socializing and impressing boys.  The hook in the story is Glenn and Al's relationship.  It is clear they were once close, but age has caused them to begin to drift apart.  Their common interest, model rockets, has taken a backseat to Al's social life.  The story is well written, having a Goonies sort of humor and fun to it.

This is going to make masturbating difficult.
 The special effects, while not cutting edge for their time, were wonderful to behold.  The demons were achieved with stop-motion animation, this probably being one of the last films to use that technique with the advent of CGI.  When the main demon touches Glenn on the head, it seems to be almost loving, only to reveal that he was marking Glenn as he would mark all humanity as his own.  The eye in the hand is easily the most creepy thing about the film.

 The film draws heavily from Sumerian mythology, especially in the manner with which the demon is summoned and eventually dispatched.  It was great to see a film done where the production team and writers knew a little something about the occult, as well as the classical hero-myths, which added greatly to the film's impact.

 More fun than frightening, The Gate is still worth the watch.  By the way, that is little Stephen Dorff playing Glenn, the same actor who would later make Blade tolerable as Deacon Frost.

Movie Review: Hellraiser Revelations

 The ninth installment of Hellraiser isn't bad for a direct-to-video offering (as the last few films of the franchise has been).  I divide the Hellraiser films in two categories; films that develop the mythology of  the Cenobites (the creatures that come from the other-world to collect those who solve the puzzle) and films that depict a Hellraiser story.  All films have some overlap into each category.  The first film in the series establishes the story-type model.  The second film is the first to truly explore the mythology.  With two types of Hellraiser films, you naturally have two types of fans.  I strive to appreciate both types of films for their particular nuances.

 The ninth installment is definitely a story-type Hellraiser.  A couple of young men travel to Mexico to party, and get more than they bargained for.  After struggling with the loss of their sons for months, missing and assumed to be dead, the families of the sons are shocked when one of them appears at their door-step, a bit worse-for-wear but alive.  Not everything, however, is how it seems.

Does this dress make me look fat?
 Like the first film, the story is more about the human-characters than the Cenobites, who are little more than a plot device.  In fact, the problem is that the film is almost too much like the first film; an unsavory character cuts a deal with the Cenobites, is taken to the other-world, escapes, then assumes the identity of someone else.  The Cenobites track down the escapee, with a young female character being the impetus of his downfall.  There are some additional twists, but the story follows the model of the original too closely.  Past story-type films provided a different spin, whereas this one does nothing really original with the model.  

Now we don't have to pay her.
 The special effects are great, and the acting is fair.  I was disappointed to hear that Doug Bradley would not be reprising his role as Pinhead, but the replacement did a good job.  Not as good as Bradley, but good enough.  The first-person POV shots were interesting at first, but soon became annoying.  My understanding is that this installment came about when the remake of the original fell-through, so it is expected that this would be a hack-kneed job.

 If you have never seen a Hellraiser film, then this movie might be enjoyable.  Fans of the franchise, if they can forgive its many flaws, might also appreciate the film.

And this will put some real color in your cheeks.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Movie Review: The Relic

 The Relic is a monster movie, and it doesn't really have any delusions about being something else.  It is, however, founded on an interesting premise.

 John Whitney (an 'n' from being "whitey") is an anthropologist studying a newly discovered indigenous tribe in South America.  He imbibes some concoction during a ceremony, and freaks-out from the hallucinations he has.  A short time later he is desperate to have some crates unloaded from a ship in Chicago, but is told by the Captain that it is too late to unload.  He sneaks onto the ship only to discover that the crates he seeks are no longer on board.

 Weeks later, Detective Vincent D'Agosta is investigating the disappearance of the ship's crew.  At first, it is assumed that the missing crew is somehow related to a drug-deal gone bad.  The detective then discovers the bodies and decapitated heads of the crew in the ship's bilge.

It was the soup or sleeping with that native girl that did this.
 Meanwhile, at the Museum of Natural History, Dr. Margo Green and her mentor, Dr. Frock, open Whitney's cases and find leaves with a strange fungus along with a statue of "Kothoga", a forest monster.  The  strange fungus, which is later discovered to be loaded with animal hormones and have mutagenic properties, transforms a beetles into a much larger and different creature.

 Fred Ford, a security guard at the museum, is killed and decapitated in the same manner as the crew of the ship, and Detective D'Agosta is called in to investigate.  The museum is preparing for a major gala and opening, funded and supported by the Chicago's elite.  The gala is allowed to go on, despite the murder, and Detective D'Agosta and Dr. Green discover that a monster has been set loose in the museum which feeds on a hormone produced in the hypothalamus of its victims.  They must discover the nature of the beast and how to stop it before it snacks on the high-society of Chicago.  

Who hasn't thought about this happening to them?
 What is interesting about the premise is the monster's origin.  The tribe discovered by Whitney has survived by unleashing a genetically manufactures monstrosity on its enemies.  They perceive the incursion of "whitey" into their territory as a threat.  As we push deeper and deeper into the last remaining wilds on our planet, are we prepared for what we may find?

 The best part of this film for me was not the special effects, which were well done, or the story, which managed to put a decent spin on the monster-movie, it was the dialogue.  Like this nugget:

I've seen enough hentai to know where this is going...
 Dr. Zwiezic: "Seven decapitations in one week. Don't you just hate killers, who take head and never give it?"

 HILARIOUS!  Tom Sizemore, who plays D'Agosta, is in his element as the hard-nosed tough, and gets the bulk of the best lines. The film is shot almost entirely from the museum, which also proves to be a strength, containing a variety of creepy environs and weird places for characters to wander.

 The Relic is a fun romp, especially for those who prefer that their horror not be too serious.  


Movie Review: Daybreakers

 Daybreakers presents an interesting extrapolation from the vampire concept.  In 2009, there is a plague caused by a vampire bat which turns the majority of humanity into vampires; they can be harmed or killed by sunlight but are otherwise immortal and impervious to damage or disease.  The down-side is that the need human blood to survive.  Many people who were not victims of the plague initially underwent their transformation voluntarily to avoid dying of some illness like cancer.  As the vampire population became the majority, humans began being rounded-up and harvested for their blood, but still not enough human blood existed to feed the vampires.  As vampires experience blood-starvation, their minds and bodies transform, becoming less intelligent and more bat-like, attacking human and vampires alike.  

 While the government struggles to manage the society, hunt for humans, and control the "subsiders" (vampires who have been effected by blood-starvation), the Bromely Marks Pharmaceutical Company is counting on the brilliant yet somewhat squeamish Edward Dalton, a hematologist, so create a viable synthetic blood.  He has been promised by the company's CEO, Charles Bromely, that the creation of a synthetic blood-substitute will not only save the vampires, but will also end their dependency on human blood.

Being Vampires has also made being Amish very chic.
 Dejected by his own failure to find a viable substitute and the knowledge that the current blood-supply will not last a month, Dalton accidentally runs another vehicle off the road, only to discover that the occupants are human.  Dalton, knowing that the approaching authorities will capture the humans and place them in the blood-harvester, hides them in his car and tells the police that they ran off.  The leader of the humans, Audrey, gets Dalton's name and occupation from his ID badge before driving away.

For the cost of a cup of coffee, you could feed a starving subsider for a month.

 Dalton is sympathetic to the human cause, and is contacted by Audrey who makes an interesting proposal; she may have a way to make him human again.  She introduces Dalton to Lionel "Elvis" Cornack, an auto-mechanic who claims to have once been a vampire when due to a freak accident which exposed his full body for an instant to sunlight made him human again.  The three make a break from the authorities, including Dalton's brother, and are in a race to duplicate Cornack's accident and find a cure for vampirism, which would be bad business for a powerful pharmaceutical company and those who benefit from being vampires.  

No job, no bills, BDSM, no worries!
 The film is well-done all-around.  The acting is solid, with Ethan Hawke, William DeFoe, and Samuel Neil.  The concept is intriguing and the story is well written.  The special-effects are top-notch, but also minimized, with the subsiders being an effective mix of traditional special effects and CGI.  The film provides some laughs and includes enough traditional vampire lore to keep fans feeling they are in familiar territory while adding some new and modern nuances (blood coffee, cars with opaque windows and digital displays for day-time driving).

 Even if you are not a horror film fan, this movie is worth watching.

Movie Review: Howling 3: The Marsupials

 I love the concept of the werewolf; half-man, half-wolf, harbinger of incredible destructive power and chaos often born as both a gift and a curse.  I have enjoyed werewolf films since Lon Chaney Jr.'s The Wolf Man.  Unfortunately, few werewolf films have lived up to the potential of the concept.  

 The Howling franchise has been interesting.  It introduced the idea of werewolves as not just monsters, but as another species living side-by-side with our own.  The series begins with the first two films being celebrated for their special effects, story, and gore.  The Howling 3 appears to have been a victim of the ratings crack-down on horror films; the special effects are toned-down and there is virtually no nudity and minimal gore throughout the film (whereas both were common place in the last two installments). 

Looks like the pig-mask from Saw.
 My first complaint is that the film feels choppy.  In order to set the stage, the film has to introduce several plot-keys in quick succession; there was once an apex-predator in Australia called a Tasmanian Wolf or Tasmanian Tiger, though it has no actual relation to either animal.  It was a marsupial, meaning that it carried and nursed its young in a pouch, and it was able to open its maw to an unusual extent (120 degrees).  The animal appears to have been extinct since the 1930s, although reports of the creature occasionally are made to this day.  Professor Beckmeyer has been fascinated by the Tasmanian Wolf since he was a boy.

Goofy in a nun costume.
 Meanwhile, Jerboa is a female Australian werewolf who runs away from her clan to avoid an arranged mating.  Her clan lives in the Outback in a primitive manner, complete with a tribal leader who has nearly indisputable authority over the clan.  Jerboa is found by Donny, a young man who happens to be working in a werewolf film called Shapeshifters as a member of the film-crew.  Donny falls instantly in love with Jerboa, and convinces her to join the film as an actress.

 During a party, Jerboa is exposed to strobe-lights and begins to turn.  In a panic, she runs into the night with Donny on her tail (not literally yet), only to see her get struck by a car.  Professor Beckmeyer is called in when the doctors at the hospital discover Jerboa's striped back and pouch.  Before the government can get involved, Jerboa's sisters arrive, claim her, and kill the unnamed attendants holding her.  Beckmeyer, and Donny track Jerboa back to Flow, her home town, with the government hot on their heals.

Even with the hair and the pouch, you'd still hit it.
 It gets even more ridiculous from there.  Like, say you were a military commander and you needed to hunt and kill a predatory human species in the Outback.  How many soldiers would you send in, even special trained soldiers?  Hopefully, your answer is more than two, which was the total contingent of the Omega Team sent in to hunt werewolves.  Or, hey, you're a super-model werewolf who has been to several film-shoots while hiding your identity from the world.  Strobe lights force you to transform, yet it isn't until an awards show that while being photographed on stage that you wolf-out.

 Howling 3 lacks the innovation of the first installment and the over-the-top punch of the second. The story is weak and confusing, the acting is fair, and the special effects are so-so. It is at best an interesting off-shoot of the series. 

Movie Review: Hardware

 Uhg... Hardware.

 The cyber-punk geeks rave about this flic.  I looked forward to it because the soundtrack featured Ministry and PIL and Iggy Pop plays a role in it.  I found the film choppy, the acting poor, the writing moronic, and the special effects lame.

 Yeah, I know, tell you what I really think.

 So, alright, the nuclear apocalypse has come and gone, and people are scratching out a living while struggling to find clean food and water and where radiation is as much a common concern as rain.  A scavenger wandering the wastes comes across a dismantled robot and drags it into the city to pawn it.  Instead of the pawn shopkeeper, he runs into a fellow scavenger who takes fewer risks, Moses Baxter (or, Captain Swagger).  Moses is "dating" one of the last hotties in civilization, an artist who keeps herself locked away in a secure apartment building in town and uses a network of loser-friends to run her errands.  Moses buys what he thinks is an inactive robot, surmising that his girlfriend will want to use it as a part of one of her sculptures.  

If the film had been about this guy, it might have been cool.
 Of course, it is not inactive.  As soon as it is near a power-source it begins to regenerate, using the many found items in the girl's studio to put itself back together as well as calling to its other parts left at the pawn shop.  When assembled, it does what it was designed to do, kill humans.  

 The movie poster says "The best science-fiction/horror film since Alien".  The movie poster lies.

Not just a pervert, a LO-REZ DIGITAL pervert!
 I give it props for what it did accomplish with such a low-budget.  That said, the writing seemed like it was done on-the-fly.  The characters are all stereotypes that have been over-done.  The pawn shopkeeper is scuzzy, the swashbuckling hero is extra-swashy, the tough-yet demure heroine is tough-and-demure, the silly side-kick is silly, etc.  The special effects were probably wonderful, all kinds or techno-garbage laying about, but you wouldn't know it because the film was so badly lit most of the time that you couldn't see anything.  If the robot weren't so badly done, I would have rooted for it to win.

 Just imagine Han Solo and Princess Leia living in a junkyard and meeting the Terminator's retarded cousin.  That will save you from wasting an hour-and-a-half of your life.

Movie Review: I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

 I Spit on Your Grave is one of those iconic horror films that I had always heard about, but had never actually seen.  It is a sex-and-gore exploitation film, cut from the same cloth as Last House on the Left and I Drink Your Blood.  In these films, there are no "monsters", nothing overtly supernatural, just the potential depths of brutality and depravity of the human psyche being displayed on film.

 In 1978, when this film was released, it was probably difficult to sit through.  By today's standards, it is brutal, but no more and less than what rates an 'R'.  Jennifer Hill is a young author leaving the hustle and bustle of New York behind to spend some time in the country writing a book.  She runs afoul of four local hooligans who stalk, rape, brutalize, and humiliate her.  They fail, though, to kill her, sending in the village idiot to do her in.  Despite his being a participant in the raping and beating, he cannot bring himself to plunge a knife into her heart, telling his friends who waited outside her home that the deed was done.  When Jennifer recovers, she sets out to hunt and kill each of her attackers in as sadistic and brutal of fashion she can devise.

So much for a relaxing summer vacation...
 The story is well done, with only a few leaps of logic to get the viewer into the film.  Jennifer demonstrates, for example, that she is an idiot.  She is a city girl who drives into the country to a summer home in the middle of nowhere, a place we have every indication she has never been and has no familiarity with, yet in the first 10 minutes of the film she strips nude and goes for a skinny-dip in the river by her residence in the middle of the day.  Later, two of her victims are so overcome with there lust or confidence in the prowess as men that they think that Jennifer's seduction means that the rape and beating was forgotten and forgiven, allowing themselves to be lulled into a vulnerable position that results in their demise.  Finally, one of these country bumpkins, who has lived near the river we can assume all his life, never got around to learning to swim.

This man is an idiot...
 There wasn't much required as far as special effects were concerned.  I hope that the mound of pubes you see throughout the film was a merkin and not Camille Keaton's (Jennifer) natural state.  The bathtub scene was done effectively, although I was under the impression that she had cut his femoral artery, and not that she severed his penis as I would later read.  The axe scene was clearly a fake back, but was a quick enough shot that it doesn't take away from the film.

...and idiots get their wangs cut off.

 The acting was well done, with the characters being believable, if not sometimes over-the-top.  Robert Ebert considered this film the worst ever made, and it has the notoriety of having the longest rape scene filmed (25 minutes).  For fans of exploitation horror, this is a must-see.