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.