October 31, 2010

Happy Hallowe'en!

If you are thinking of seeing "Saw 3D" tonight then you might want to read my review.

I'm going to be watching anything but horror films for Hallowe'en because that's how I roll. I might go out "Trick or Treating" later though because I just can't get enough of stale dollar store chocolate or apples with pins in them.

Happy Hallowe'en, everybody!

October 30, 2010

Saw 3D (2010)

"As a deadly battle rages over Jigsaw's brutal legacy, a group of Jigsaw survivors gathers to seek the support of self-help guru and fellow survivor Bobby Dagen, a man whose own dark secrets unleash a new wave of terror."

"Saw 3D" is here at last. After six years of grumbling and complaining about each instalment in the series, it's finally over. Of course, there is every possibility that this might not really be the end but it damn well should be after all the publicity confirming it.

I've never really liked the "Saw" movies and have actually refused to review parts III to V ever because I just couldn't get into them and they bored me rigid. Last year's "Saw VI" was a lot better and, fool that I am, I was really hoping for more of the same from "Saw 3D". I haven't seen that many 3D movies in my life so, even though I know that it's just a superfluous gimmick most of the time, I was also hoping to see something amazing featuring this new technology too. The bottom line is that I went into "Saw 3D" with as much of an open mind as possible and was fully prepared to be entertained.

The 3D thing is what I'm sure will divide most people whether horror fans or not. While it's technically good in "Saw 3D", it doesn't really add much to the film at all but at least it doesn't hinder things in a forced "look at me, I'm a clever piece of 3D" kind of way except with some of the more explosive traps. Love it or hate it, it's there and there's nothing you can do about it. There's a lot more going on in "Saw 3D" anyway.

I didn't count them but it seems that there are more traps used in "Saw 3D" than ever before and they are all as particularly brutal as the ones used previously. Possibly one of the problems is that I've got so used to these traps over the years that all I want to see is their victim's fail to get out of them and get horribly mutilated. If that's all you really want to see too when you go into a "Saw" movie then you can consider your wish granted. The gore is most certainly here even if the traps are a little bit dull and unimaginative. Maybe it's just me but, at times, the effects looked a bit too obviously fake. Short of actually killing somebody for real in one of these films, that's only to be expected.

The plot itself is the film's biggest weakness. Everything feels very uneven throughout and it just screams of being rushed at the end. Some people love the chaotic editing but I find it very unsatisfying and I've felt that way about every "Saw" sequel anyway. Although "Saw 3D" tries to wrap up as many loose ends as possible, there are still some massive questions left unanswered.

Yes, we do finally see what happened to Dr Gordon (Cary Elwes) as was publicised back in April this year but he doesn't get that much time on screen. Tobin Bell has even less time but, since John Kramer died four films ago, it's Costas Mandylor who is now the real star of the show anyway. If you are a big Hoffman fan then you will most certainly not be disappointed. He's even more menacing and badass than in "Saw VI". In fact, Hoffman was the only character I felt any sympathy for and I was on his side all the way through. In some ways, he's become like a thinking man's Freddy Krueger but without any of the humour or iconic appeal.

The acting is, for the most part, average. Some of the performances are a bit weak and inconsistent but I think everyone did the best they could. Sean Patrick Flannery should stick to "The Boondock Saints" but was acceptable as Bobby Dagen even though I didn't care about him one way or another. Some pretty weak dialogue is obviously the fault of the script rather than the delivery of the lines although there are at least two actors in this who stand out in a very bad way.

Overall, I was disappointed. I didn't expect "Saw 3D" to be the best horror film ever made especially since it's the seventh film in the series but I was expecting it to really go out with a much bigger bang. If you want to be overly cynical, you could just put it all down to bad writing in the first place since everyone knew it was a mistake to kill Jigsaw off in "Saw III" and nobody has known what to do about it ever since.

Well, that's my review of "Saw 3D" and I've tried to keep it as spoiler free as possible. No matter what I write though, this is the only horror film worth watching theatrically for Hallowe'en and those who have made it an annual pilgrimage for the last 7 years are still going to see it anyway. More discerning horror fans will probably wait for the DVD.

October 25, 2010

Paranormal Craptivity 2 (2010)

"After experiencing what they think are a series of break-ins, a family sets up security cameras around their home, only to realize that the events unfolding before them are more sinister than they seem."


Basically, there are five cameras which alternate like a poor man's version of "Big Brother"...

Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... nothing.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... dog barks.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... nothing.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... frying pan drops.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... nothing.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... baby cries and gets lifted up by an invisible ghostie.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... nothing.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... cupboards burst open.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... nothing.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... dog barks and baby cries.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... nothing.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... fat older girl gets dragged by an invisible ghostie (using the same effects as the first film).
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... nothing.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... closet door opens, fat older girl is seen walking into the living room and back out again.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... nothing.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... slim girl finds scratches on closet door.
Kitchen, hallway, living room, nursery, pool... nothing.

I think you get the idea. Nothing interesting even happens for an hour and five minutes. There is one of the shortest attempts ever at an exorcism (which fails) and the fat girl grabs the baby and heads down to the basement.

Then for the last ten minutes with a shaky handycam just so you can't see what is going on...

Light, dark, light, dark... growling.
Light, dark, light, dark... swearing.
Light, dark, light, dark... baby is found.
Light, dark, light, dark... lots of screws bouncing up and down with loud noise.

Since this is a prequel, everything skips forward three weeks with some scenes to tie it into the first film followed by some written words about found footage and it ends.

I don't know the names of any of the characters or actors in either of these films and I don't really care. It's also supposed to be improvised to make it look more real so I can't say if anybody was acting or not. One of the girls has enormous boobs but you don't get to see them even when she takes a bath.

Yeah, I know this isn't much of a review but "Paranormal Activity 2" isn't much of a film.

Don't waste your time or money on this utter crap! Watch "Saw 3D" instead.

October 21, 2010


A couple of days ago I had the bright idea to delete all my blog posts from MySpace and move any of the interesting ones over to the "Notes" section of Facebook. What I didn't realise when I started doing this was that since the beginning of 2006, when I started my blog on MySpace, I had accumulated over 1000 ramblings. Because of the nature of the now useless (category less) MySpace blogging system, I had to delete each post individually and confirm, "Are you sure you want to remove this?" every single time. I'd already added the horror movie reviews to Blogger so I was just looking for anything else I wanted to save. Apart from a few lethally hot curry recipes, I didn't find much.

Basically, it took me almost a whole day to delete all the now uninteresting (to me) and outdated junk featuring YouTube videos which no longer even exist, surveys which nobody ever read, and a lot of bitching about everything from how various versions of Linux didn't work too well for me to how I just got ripped off yet again by ebay sellers.

But then I got addicted to deleting everything in my path. I got rid of all the stupid apps and games which I never used, all the obviously non-celebrity run "official" celebrity profiles, and, in total, about 87,000 "friends" who I've never even heard from apart from seeing them spam the bulletins section.

So, anyway, I finally ended up with just 40 real friends left on MySpace, updated my profile to version 3.0, and changed the layout of the modules so that only my Blogger updates are being posted via Twitter.

Now that I've cleared all the detritus, I actually really like MySpace again and I've always preferred it to Facebook. I used to love the bugs in it which caused the bulletins to all magically go away if you had over 1000 friends and how you could just about tweak anything. All that is due to change though as a new MySpace is coming soon and I have a horrible feeling that it's going to involve WordPress just like Microsoft are doing with their Live Space pages. Yes, I have one of those too which I never use.

Why am I writing about this on a horror movie blog? Well, we all use these social networking sites and it's funny how the same people turn up everywhere. I'm sure there are really only about 2000 hardcore horror fans who use the internet regularly and, out of those, only 500 or so who actually contribute anything whether it be a website, blog or just posting on message boards.

What social networking sites do you still use?

October 18, 2010

My Top Ten Favourite Horror Films

I often get asked, "Dr Blood, what are your favourite horror films?" and I usually just give the reply, "It changes depending on what I've just seen or re-evaluated," but now, during this hiatus before yet another slew of remakes hits the cinemas, I think it's time to give my definitive answer.

I'll do my list in reverse order too just so you have to read all the way to the end.

10. Jaws (1975)
I wasn't allowed to see this when it first came out in spite of having only a PG-rating but I read the Peter Benchley books and it wasn't too long before it got shown regularly on TV. I can't remember when I first saw "Jaws" exactly but I know that it gave me a dread of sharks or anything underwater ever since. I do remember how it scared a lot of people at the time and it even affected holidaymakers who were too scared to go back in the water during the hottest ever British Summer of 1976. It's funny how they could even believe that there might be Great Whites off the coast of Devon and Cornwall but they did! Even in 1983 when I brushed a Basking shark with my foot while swimming in the North Sea where it joins Norfolk, I almost soiled myself! Yeah, I could have gotten such a nasty suck from that thing! Since then I've been scuba diving and seen sharks of all kinds in aquariums all over the world and they still terrify me. That's the impact of the movie more than any logical reasons whatsoever. As for "Jaws" now that I'm an adult, I am still in awe of the opening scenes and the great performances by everyone involved. Bruce, the fake shark, looks worse every time I see it but it's still a work of genius and very believable if you don't allow yourself to scrutinize every frame. Steven Spielberg got very lucky with "Jaws" and so did we.

9. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
This used to be my number one favourite horror film for years and years because I've watched it so many times. Although John Landis directed it (and David Naughton and Griffin Dunne star in it), it still feels like a very British horror-comedy. There's just something cosy about it. Yes, it's a predictable werewolf story but you still can't really fault Rick Baker's special effects. Seeing Jenny Agutter nude in the shower scene is also icing on the cake as well. It all just takes me back to a time when things were a lot more innocent and there were still things to look forward to. So it's a nostalgia trip for me. I know there are more brutal werewolf movies out there now and some people even prefer "The Howling" for reasons I can't even begin to understand but I still give it 10 out 10. It's just not my "all time favourite horror" anymore though.

8. The Haunting (1963)
I think of this Robert Wise film as being the quintessential ghost story. It has all the elements you need to make a ghostie film scary apart from one thing - there are no onscreen ghosts! Everything is done with camera angles and noises plus a lot of tension. It's very character driven too and you get caught up in their story even though the dialogue is very dated and often embarrassing to listen to nowadays. The four stereotypes presented, from sceptical professor to frustrated psychic spinster, have been used over and over in every "team investigates a haunted house" film since and that makes it a classic.

7. Halloween (1978)
This is the only slasher which makes it onto my list simply because it was the first other than "Fright" (1971) where the formula was laid down once and for all. It has everything from teens with bad morals getting stalked and killed by an unstoppable force to huge amounts of tension and jump scares. Even watching it 30 years on, it never gets old.

6. The Exorcist (1973)
Because it was banned in the UK for blasphemy against the Roman Catholic church, I didn't get to see this until I was a 19 year old student. I watched it in a cinema with about half a dozen other people and was totally blown away by the whole thing. Everybody was and we all left in stunned silence. It was one of the last horror movies to ever give me the "post film adrenaline rush" that I've been chasing ever since. For me it was the story of good versus evil and evil actually winning that got to me. The peasoup vomiting and Regan's outbursts are now quite comical though as I've become increasingly more warped with age.

5. The Wicker Man (1973)
Now this is a very odd film. It has a lot of the elements that I dislike in horror movies including musical numbers and a really downbeat ending but it does them all so well. While I love Christopher Lee in it, I really hate the inflexibility of Edward Woodward's character. He's a policeman and a zealous Christian so what is there to like? The way he is though is there for a reason and I can appreciate the movie a lot more now as an adult than when I first watched this back in the early '80s (yes, it was on TV a lot!). The whole thing is like a journey into a world of complete lunatics and yet it all makes sense too. Because I'm British, I know all the pagan folk customs are stupid to most people and even to me. But when you put all the weirdness together to show how a whole insane religion could be, it really does make a great horror story. Gerald Gardner did the same thing with his books on "Wicca" during the '60s and look at all the nutters who bought into that complete nonsense too.

4. The Omen (1976)
Another very British horror film but again with an American director, Richard Donner, and, of course, Gregory Peck as an American ambassador. It's still set mainly in England though and filmed quite close to where I used to live. I think it must be the very believable Christian subject matter that makes this such a classic. If there is indeed going to be an anti-christ then you can just see it happening this way. I suppose it depends on your religious viewpoint and belief in the supernatural in general as to how scary you find this but for me it really works. Damien is such a scary looking little kid that you start to look at all children as being evil incarnate afterwards... which Biblically they are as well!

3. Salem's Lot (1979)
Ok, so this was a TV mini-series really that was trimmed into a VHS "feature length" release and given a higher rating for some reason. When I first saw this on TV aged 10, the scenes of the little Glick boy scratching at the window scared me more than anything I've ever seen before or since. I can still barely watch it now! I upgraded from the "movie" version (which was the only version available in the UK for almost 17 years and bought the full two-part miniseries on DVD back in the late '90s and it's even more terrifying than I originally remembered. Lance Kerwin's character still makes me want to slap him, Barlow the vampire is underused, and some of the story is (just like the original Stephen King novel) a bit drawn out but, in my opinion, this is still the best vampire movie ever made.

2. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
Now I know it's bizarre to rate a sequel higher than the first film in a series but while I found the original "Hellraiser" (1987) impressive, it wasn't until Clare Higgins came back as the skinless Julia (albeit with a body double) that I really felt that true horror had been achieved. It's a pity that all the other "Hellraiser" films are so appalling compared to this as if they'd continued to get more brutal and surreal then I think a lot more people would be buying into them today rather than discounting "Hellraiser" as a franchise which has outstayed its welcome. Every actor in "Hellbound" gives an outstanding performance which is only possible because they are all what I term "real actors". Apart from Doug Bradley and Ashley Laurence, none of the actors were known to me for doing horror and it was quite a shock to see the calibre of Kenneth Cranham, Clare Higgins and even Imogen Boormen (also known later for being the lead in the BBC's "Iphigenia at Aulis") in something like this. The surrealness of the monsters and the effects used to create them in "Hellbound" really make this extraordinary.

1. The Thing (1982)
A lot of people class this as sci-fi and I can see their point but I think of it as horror and absolutely love it. It's funny that a remake is number one on my top ten when I usually hate every remake with a passion but this is one of the few good ones. I also like "The Fly" remake from 1986 but not enough to include it here. The thing is (lol) that John Carpenter didn't so much remake "The Thing From Another World" (1951) but completely reinvented it as a practical effects laden gorefest. The alien creature effects truly are the star of the show but there's still the tension and paranoia of the original. When I first heard about "The Thing" it was while listening to trailers for it on the radio. I could only imagine what it looked like because I was too young to see it at the cinema but a couple of years later it was on TV completely uncensored (because British TV is always good like that) and it was exactly as I expected it to be. When VHS came along it was one of the first I bought and I've watched it more times than just about any other movie in my collection. There's just something about being trapped in a hostile snowy environment with a shape-changing alien who could be anybody (or anything) that ticks every box in the "survival horror" category for me.

There you have it. These are the films that define horror for me.

What are yours?

October 16, 2010

The Descent: Part 2 (2009)

(AKA "The De2cent")

"Distraught, confused, and half-wild with fear, Sarah Carter emerges alone from the Appalachian cave system where she encountered unspeakable terrors. Unable to plausibly explain to the authorities what happened - or why she's covered in her friends' blood - Sarah is forced back to the subterranean depths to help locate her five missing companions..."

Well, what can I say? I hated the first film and, with this being a sequel, I didn't expect much of "The De2cent" at all. It's just the same stuff all over again yet even weaker as if that was even possible. I'm glad that I only rented this one through Netflix and didn't buy it.

I know I'm going to get branded as a "Negative Nancy" over my recent batch of reviews even though it's not as if I hate everything but, honestly, this was truly awful. At least there was some sense of reason, slim as it was, to the first film but nothing in the sequel made any sense. Why was Sarah (yes, I got her name now!) taken back into the caverns which she escaped from? Don't you think she would have spent a considerable time recovering in hospital and suffered from post traumatic stress disorder for the rest of her life if any of this was real? And why was this all based on the American theatrical ending rather than the British version where she never escaped the caverns in the first place? I was expecting some big twist like another dream sequence at the end to finally wrap this up. Maybe having Sarah in an asylum like the girl from "High Tension" or even taking her right back to the white water rafting accident and having her wake up from being knocked out to discover that everything was just a nightmare would have worked. I think I need to become a screenwriter as clearly nobody involved in this shoddy production had a clue.

As much as I really want to do nothing but tear this film apart for all its plotholes, feeble dialogue, lack of atmosphere, credible sympathetic characters or pathetically unrealistic special effects, I'll leave those things to anybody who even cares. What disturbed me the most about "The De2cent" was the reappearance of the annoying Juno character (not Ellen Page) who miraculously survived being killed by hordes of CHUDs in the first film to become a completely different kind of badass character altogether. You can imagine the obvious expletives which I let fly at the TV screen at that point but suffice it to say that the acronym "WTF" will do. I'm over it now because at least she was the best looking female in either film even if she never delivered the goods in the way I would have preferred.

As a Classically trained movie reviewer, I'm always looking for consistent characterisation, unity of time and place, and any kind of catharsis. "The De2cent" had even less of these things than "The Descent"! If you try and watch both films back to back as I did then everything falls apart completely. "The De2cent" is supposed to be a continuation rather than a sequel but it disregarded so much of the first part that it felt like a vastly inferior remake. Even with Sarah suffering from amnesia her actions made no sense whatsoever and, as much as I paid attention, nor did anyone else's. For instance, why could three grown women not manage to pull the Colonel Sanders lookalike back out of the hole instead of chopping his finger lickin' hand off? Was it just to add some more unrealistic gore to an already totally implausible story? Funny coloured blood and multiple hacks aside, I did somewhat enjoy that moment though.

There were some things that I liked about "The De2cent" but they were very few and far between. The jump scares varied from irritating to effective but the gory set pieces seemed to work. It was just a pity that the rest of this story was wrapped around them. I'm probably a complete contrarian because I preferred the abundance of light in the new cavern set to the darkness of the old one. It's nice to be able to see what's going on and I hate watching anything that leaves 90% of my TV screen completely black. The supposed claustrophobia which lots of people felt watching the original didn't work for me anyway especially as I watch everything on a massive widescreen LCD TV in the first place.

One thing that's puzzled me about the CHUDs (or "crawlers" as they are called in the credits) is how, by relying on all their senses other than vision, they can tell the difference between themselves, noises made by each other, and anything else which screams laziness on the part of the writers. I remember from the first film how one of them had his hand right on the head of one of the girls and didn't notice yet all anyone has to do is make a small noise and dozens of CHUDs appear. Why don't the CHUDs attack each other if they are so stupid? More importantly, why do I even care? Perhaps it's because they have no real backstory. Since I don't believe in evolution, I'm tempted to think that they are creations of some sort and, furthermore, some kind of scientific creation which will have more light shed on it in the next sequel. Oh, yes, there will be a "Part 3". According to the forum on the ultra-reliable IMDb, it's already been filmed.

If "The Descent" doesn't actually turn into a trilogy then the ending of "Part 2" made absolutely no sense at all especially if you try and tie it up with its own beginning. Of course it could just be completely ignored like they used to do with the cliffhangers of RKO serial plays back in the 1930s especially as that's exactly what happened with this sequel. I don't really care one way or another. If I had my "drothers" as they say in New York, then this series would end right here but I fear the worst is yet to come.

Anyway, I've spent far more time on writing about this drivel than I wanted to and I need to get back to watching some decent stuff again. Even though my own Halloween viewing is going to consist of watching "Bring It On", "Clueless" and "Legally Blonde" while I take a break from watching nothing but horror movies for the rest of the year, there are still two weeks left for me to try to find enough good horror films to write about to keep my new October readers happy. Somehow I expect to be pretty quiet on here until "Saw VII".

October 15, 2010

The Descent (2005)

"A caving expedition goes horribly wrong, as the explorers become trapped and ultimately pursued by a strange breed of predators."

Since I'm just about to watch and review "The Descent: Part 2", I thought I'd pull the "Original Unrated Cut" of "The Descent" out to remind myself of why I didn't like it and hold no real hope for the sequel.

At the time it was released, I remember how I really wanted this to be good. Lots of claustrophic action and pretty women potholers menaced by CHUDs was something that I could definitely be entertained by but alas it was not to be. I didn't care about any of the overly feminist characters and just wanted them to be eaten as soon as possible especially when it didn't turn into the "boobs and blood" fest that I expected it to be.

Anyway, I watched it all again to see if any of the girls were less butch or annoying the second time around (or if I could understand any more of what they were mumbling to each other without using the subtitles). I think I gave it a fair chance even though I was still dreading the ridiculous non-ending which should have been chopped off it.

There were one or two good action scenes but the acting was appalling and the plot ran out of steam once the first CHUD was revealed. I mean, what's the point of watching any more of it after the surprise is given away? It was just another slasher movie from then on and I found it boring.

I still don't even know the names of any of the characters or actors except by looking them up on the IMDb because absolutely anybody at all could have been in their roles and it wouldn't have made much difference. Nobody stood out except the Irish lesbian with big teeth and that was only because of her enormous gnashers. There was just nothing here to sympathise with and that was a massive flaw. Unless you are into potholing or spelunking (or whatever the hell the correct term is), I don't think it's even possible to empathise with the situations presented here.

"The Descent" reminded me in places of the Denis Leary and Emilio Estevez film "Judgment Night" (1993) but set underground with CHUDs (instead of gangsters) and the most un-cavewise potholers ever to enter a cave (instead of the un-streetwise yuppies). I know that nothing is ever very original when it comes to the horror genre but the similarities in this case were far too many for me to put it out of my mind.

It wasn't the setting or the plot though but just the bad characterisation and silly monsters which ultimately ruined this film for me. I still can't get my head around how this made Neil Marshall famous for five minutes or why it still has such a high rating on the IMDb.

October 14, 2010

New Horror DVDs at Big Lots!

I just got this in my email so I thought I'd share. Click the image for a PDF of the titles available.

With any luck it won't just be a restock of my Big Lots $3 Horror DVD Master List and there will be something new at last.


I have now checked and unfortunately there will be hardly anything new apart from a couple of ropey old B movies from the '50s and some horrible Sci-Fi channel dreck. A lot of the films on the Halloween list aren't even horror.

You'd think that they would fix the typos before sending something like this out too, wouldn't you?

October 13, 2010

Devil's Playground (2010)

"As the world succumbs to a zombie apocalypse, Cole a hardened mercenary, is chasing the one person who can provide a cure. Not only to the plague but to Cole's own incumbent destiny. DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND is a cutting edge British horror film that features zombies portrayed by free runners for a terrifyingly authentic representation of the undead."

Call me shallow but the only reason I wanted to watch "Devil's Playground" was because I saw a picture of Jaime Murray on the IMDb and wanted to see more of her. She's been in quite a few horror genre films including "Botched" (2007) and "The Deaths of Ian Stone" (2007), but I think most people would know her from the "Warehouse 13" TV series. Unfortunately, she was very underused in this, and I still didn't get to see her naked.

Anyway, "Devil's Playground" is yet another apocalyptic virus/zombie movie with a huge amount of similarities to everything in the same subgenre from "28 Days Later" onwards. It's British and set in London with lots of fast running not-really-zombies who jump up walls and through open windows every chance they get.

The zombies are the only things that are fast about "Devil's Playground" as the pacing is ridiculously slow. Everything feels like an episode of "Torchwood" but with no comedic aspects whatsoever apart from the cast of Mockneys all being unable to pronounce any words with "th" or "ing" in them. The usual suspects are all here including Danny Dyer, Craig Fairbrass and Sean Pertwee all posturing, dropping their aitches and saying, "Nuffin'" and "Summink" every couple of lines just to show how "London" they all are. Apart from all the gratuitous swearing, gore and violence, it could have been a Hallowe'en special of "The Bill".

I didn't hate it any of it particularly except that it was the same old stuff that I've seen hundreds of times before but with different people. As a longtime consumer of Monster energy drinks, it did amuse me slightly that the virus that mutates people into zombies was, in this case, caused by an energy supplement injection.

As you can expect, the plot consists of a group of survivors trying to keep out of the way of the zombies but with some of them getting infected along the way. Of course, they go through lots of bouts of fighting among themselves too and there are the obligatory, and clichéd, suicides/self-sacrifices just to give them even more to woodenly act their way through.

MyAnna Buring from "Lesbian Vampire Killers" plays the lead female role of Angela who just happens to be immune to the virus and carries the antidote in her bloodstream. You may also remember her from "The Descent" (2005), but maybe not as she has no screen presence whatsoever. Bearing that in mind, it's no wonder that she is rumoured to be playing the part of Tanya in the the next installment of the Twilight Saga. I suppose she's pretty enough if you like blondes, but I prefer brunettes, so I didn't care about her character in "Devil's Playground" at all.

Mockney staple Danny Dyer has a backstory as a policeman who just got out of prison for shooting a kid and has all the guilt associated it, but who cares? I used to like Danny Dyer as an actor and he's still good, but honestly, he's not action hero material, and I wish he'd do better films than this. Maybe he'll be good in the remake of "The Asphyx" coming next year, but I doubt it.

The biggest role goes to the biggest (at least the tallest) actor in this, Craig Fairbrass, who always looks the part but hasn't really developed much as an actor since he was in "Eastenders". He seems to always be typecast as either a hard man or a soldier (or both) and it isn't doing him any favours even if it does pay his bills. His action scenes range from unintentionally comical to downright brutal but, without giving too much away, the chainsaw-wielding ending which I was hoping for didn't happen. He used to be a lot more charismatic but he's still no leading man material either. I just didn't warm to his character at all and the motivation behind his actions was questionable to say the least.

It's not that any of the actors should have lacked chemistry because they all seem to live in each other's pockets with all the projects they are involved in together, but they just did such horribly routine performances here that I really don't want to see any of them in anything ever again. Some people might argue that horror films don't need strong characterisation, but I disagree with that entirely, especially when it comes to groups of zombie survivors who you are supposed to feel something for.

I'm not sure if it was the low-budget ($3,000,000!!!) or just inept filmmaking, but "Devil's Playground" really dragged for me. At just over an hour and a half long it felt more like three hours in spite of some quite good action scenes. Like I said, I didn't totally hate it, but there was just nothing new or inventive here, and I got a bit bored waiting for the formulas to work themselves out.

Somebody left me a comment recently telling me that if I'm that bored with zombie movies then maybe I shouldn't watch any more of them. The trouble is that if there's nothing else available in the horror genre to watch then I still have to watch them, don't I? I don't regret seeing "Devil's Playground", but it could have been a lot better. Fans of "28 Days Later" and "28 Weeks Later" will undoubtedly love it.

October 12, 2010

The Loved Ones (2009)

"When Brent turns down his classmate Lola's invitation to the prom, she concocts a wildly violent plan for revenge."

I have to admit that I'd never even heard of "The Loved Ones" until my Australian friend started posting things about it. In my defence, I don't think Australia has ever been known for a producing a lot of horror films and even Wikipedia only lists forty-four of them (some of which aren't really horror at all). When Australia does horror it can either be very bad or very good unlike Canadian horror, for instance, which dips and rises just around the average level every time. If you've never seen an Australian horror film before in your life then, firstly, shame on you, and, secondly, prepare yourself to either love it or hate it as there really is no inbetween. Aussies, in general, have a similar sick sense of humour to Brits which is often quite a brutal surprise to Americans. I also don't think I've ever seen an Australian movie of any kind yet which conforms to Hollywood derived formulas.

The only recent movie that I can think of which has a similar look and feel to it as "The Loved Ones" is the British "Mum & Dad" (2008). Both were funded with some kind of arts grant and so you can be sure that the creativity involved far outweighs the budget. Even so, neither of these films suffer from the piss-poor shaky-cams of low-budget American independents and have very high production values. Basically, "The Loved Ones" is all about having a good story with lots of tension and decent practical effects. Yeah, old school horror movie making at its best.

The only thing which "The Loved Ones" shares with the American nasties is that you won't have heard of anyone involved in it. Unless you are a Twihard then Xavier Samuel, who plays the lead here, won't even be familiar to you as Riley from "Eclipse". In fact he looks so completely different that you won't even think it was the same actor anyway. The rest of the cast have all been around the Australian TV circuit including the soaps, so you won't know who any of them are either. I find all this anonymity very refreshing, but I don't think Robin McLeavy, who plays Lola, will stay hidden away for much longer. She's fantastic.

The acting is incredibly well done overall. Although all of the characters are either a bit quirky or just downright demented, I didn't spot a weak performance anywhere. It's all played reasonably straight even if there are quite a few intentionally amusing moments and the whole thing is a very black comedy anyway. "The Loved Ones" has a slightly lighter feel to it than "Mum & Dad", but it's still pretty gruesome and twisted. It really is difficult to place into a niche as it isn't as ridiculous as any of Peter Jackson's stuff (and, yes, I do know he's a Kiwi), but it's not as mean-spirited as Sam Raimi's earlier work either. Some scenes do homage both these directors, although it really is an homage and not a blatant rip-off.

I'm sure there'll be a few people who will claim "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" inspired a lot of the scenes too and I can agree with them to a point. If you are going to have any kind of twisted murderous family set-up in a movie then obviously there will be similarities to others in the same subgenre. But just as "Mum & Dad" had more in common with the real life serial killers Fred and Rosemary West than "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" so, too, "The Loved Ones" has undoubtedly been inspired by some of the even more incredible true crimes that have been revealed in the last few years. Abduction and torture are nothing new to the horror genre anyway. No matter how much "torture porn" you've seen, "The Loved Ones" is still something a little bit different.

Before I give away the plot even more than the trailer already does, I need to mention a couple of specific things that stood out for me. The first is the sex scene between Xavier Samuel and Victoria Thaine. If you've already seen "The Loved Ones" then you'll understand exactly where I'm coming from with this. All I'm going to say is "moles" and "razor blade round his neck". To those of you who haven't seen this yet but have seen a certain "Austin Powers" movie, just have a nice long twig at the ready. Yes, I found this scene very distracting but not in the way it was probably intended. If the words, "Bite it off!" escape your lips at any point then you are coming with me straight to Hell, okay?

Second, although I can almost tie up the subplot with Richard Wilson and hot goth chick Jessica McNamee as a kind of nicer parallel to the more horrific events that were going on, I wanted all the characters to come together at the end and I was waiting for something that never happened. The more I think about it, the cleverer it all gets because the story didn't take that too predictable route but maybe it should have done. If there is a flaw then that is it but without the subplot there wouldn't have been some important details filled in either. I'm still undecided on whether it really worked or not.

Anyway, I actually think that "The Loved Ones" is one of the best Australian horror movies that I've seen for a long time. Don't even try to compare it to the crap that was "Wolf Creek" because you don't have to wait until the film is almost over for the action to kick-off here. When things start happening they don't really let up. The "torture porn" elements are far more brutal than anything in the "Hostel" movies, even if most of the real grisliness occurs off camera.

I'm happy to rate "The Loved Ones" as a definite 8 out of 10 based on nothing but the sheer pleasure it gave me to watch it. I always feel that it's a bit of a cop out when people say things like, "Yeah, it was bad but very entertaining" and rate an utterly worthless film higher than it should be just because they have no taste or discernment. "The Loved Ones" is not in that category at all, even if it is a teeny bit superficial. "The Loved Ones" is a film that horror fans will really enjoy because it's actually good, is very well made, and is a quality product all round.

Incidentally, God only knows how Bloody-Disgusting got a mention on the trailer as "The Loved Ones" is a good film, has nothing to do with Platinum Dunes, and doesn't deserve that kiss of death at all. If you've started to ignore recent releases because of biased internet reviewers then stick with everyone in the Horror Blogger Alliance. None of us are paid to review horror movies, we just do it because it's our passion.

I can't honestly say that "The Loved Ones" is particularly scary, and I must admit that I fancied Robin McLeavy a lot more than I really should have but, for the sheer harrowing and inventive brutality, I absolutely loved it. It's not going to make me scared of visiting Australia (the enormous deadly spiders they have there is already enough!) in the way that the "Hostel" films tried to make everyone xenophobic about Europe, but it's certainly going to make me keep an eye on the Australian horror movie scene in case another gem like this ever pops up in the future.

October 10, 2010

Horror Websites Who Endorse DVDs

Seriously, how pathetic does your horror film marketing have to be for you to have to resort to using lines taken out of context from online reviewers to endorse the sleeve or slipcase of your DVD?

Ever since the overhyped and absolutely awful French "Inside", I've had a very healthy distrust of this method of using complete nobodies from the internet to recommend products. "One of the scariest movies I have ever seen in my life." Puh-leese. Give me a break!

For a start, most of the original reviews go into far greater depth than "It's two thumbs up from me!", but that'll be the only part which ever gets reprinted. One line or some exciting and alliterative words tell me nothing about the film at all.

Looking through my DVD collection, I've noticed a bit of a trend with the "Thumbs up!" business from Roger Ebert too. He may be a "real" film critic, but you'd think he could give a horror film a few words every now and then rather than just parts of his anatomy. I must have over 50 DVDs now where all it says is 'Two thumbs way up!" I can tell you where to stick those thumbs too, Roger, especially after watching the films.

Similarly, what's with all the "one of the best films of the year" nonsense? According to my collection I now have titles ranging from "one of the best" and "best in a long time" to "absolutely the best you will ever see". Depending on the date of these movies, I do of course take it all with a huge pinch of salt.

Some of the more embarrassing quotations though have always come from "Bloody Disgusting". For instance, on the back of "Hatchet", Brad Miska says, "Amongst the greatest slasher flicks of all time". Are you kidding me? I can name about 100 slasher films right now and "Hatchet", entertaining as it was, wouldn't be on that list. On "The Ruins", another great Miska quotation consisting of nothing but a short series of adjectives - "intense, disturbing and gut-wrenching" - does little to inspire confidence about what I know is on that DVD, especially as, in my opinion, it is none of those things. I'm sure if you look through your own DVDs, you'll find quite a few of these comments which will amuse you.

I suppose I shouldn't be too harsh about all this useless promotion. Most people rarely look at the sleeves anyway nowadays and just grab the latest thing whether it's good, bad or totally insipid. For a certain demographic, the words "must see" are just what they do anyway and are totally without any weight whatsoever. If you rent from Netflix, you'll never encounter an original DVD case. It's only when you are buying movies for your own collection that what's written on the back may even matter.

I have learned my lesson by believing some of the hype in the past though. When Fangoria used to tout certain movies as if they were the second-coming in plastic, I got burned a few times too. I still can't believe that I watched "Brainscan" and even more that I actually bought "Seed of Chucky" (albeit for $3 in Big Lots!).

I've seen comments on films from TV stations I've never heard of, websites that don't even exist, and newspapers that I can't ever imagine having a circulation to more than a dozen people, yet for some bizarre reason they still stick them on the DVDs. I'm pretty sure that somewhere out there there's probably some obscure title that has put my web presence as an endorsement. If you should ever see one with "Two Thumbs Up Your Arse! - Dr Blood's Video Vault" please be aware that I had nothing to do with it and you shouldn't buy that film ever!

There are a great many factors that will sell a DVD to somebody including the cover art, the content and, ultimately, the price. But recommendations from websites? You have to be joking.

No matter who you are, whether "Bloody Disgusting", "Dread Central", "Shock Till You Drop", "Ain't It Cool News", "Arrow in the Head" or just Tom, Dick or Harry (Knowles) from any number of online blogs and forums, do you really think that anyone cares what you have to say about anything now especially when the same tired old lines could be attributed to anybody at all? How can you sell out that little bit of credibility that you could have had? Was a free DVD really worth it?

I have an idea for the DVD distributors though which may change all this. Why not have the reviewers write the DVD description honestly? Now that would be an original concept. Imagine next time you pick up "Monster Venus Flytraps From Planet Lesbian" and it says, "In my opinion, this film has an amusing title but no content worth watching..." Wouldn't that be wonderful? It would save us all loads of time and we wouldn't need to blog about all the wasted hours we've spent sifting through movies which no-one in their right mind would want to watch just to find a few good ones to write about!

Well, that's my October rant over. Leave me a comment or two and let me know what you think of the skillfully designed marketing prose and pull quotes on the back of your DVDs.

October 7, 2010

Case 39 (2009)

"A social worker fights to save a girl from her abusive parents, only to discover that the situation is more dangerous than she ever expected."

I don't know why it took until October 1st, 2010 for "Case 39" to be released in America as it was made in 2006. The UK had it theatrically and on DVD back in 2008. I remember the same thing happened with "The Descent" from 2005 as well. I suppose it makes a change for Britain to get to see films before America but I'm not going to dwell on it. I really don't care that much about release dates or corporate decisions and I'm pretty fed up with reading other reviewers that have spent half their time working out of the intricate details of how "Case 39" was shelved for so long when it clearly wasn't.

The most important thing that you need to know about "Case 39" is that it's nothing more than a polished turd. It's not unwatchable by any stretch of the imagination unless, like me, you find Renée Zellweger quite horrific to look at but it isn't a very good film at all. Some people have compared it to last year's "Orphan" and I can see where they are coming from. Jodelle Ferland (who plays Lillith) is good but she's no Isabelle Fuhrman.

The best comparison you can make is to the "Twilight Zone" episode called "It's a Good Life" (which was also redone to some extent in "Twilight Zone: The Movie") and I'm surprised that nobody has picked up on it rather than going down the "it's just another evil kid movie" route. I actually read the short story of "It's a Good Life" back when books still held any interest for me and it was far more chilling than the TV episode. For those of you who don't know, the story was about a little boy who controlled a whole town because they were scared of what he could do with his telekinetic powers. "Case 39" just swaps the gender of the "bad kid" and turns her into a demon for some inexplicable reason. It's not original and it's quite disappointing to have a non-twist like that.

Anyway, not only was Renée Zellweger horrible to look at in "Case 39" but I hated her performance in it almost as much as I've hated her in everything else she's ever done including "The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre". Yes, she's no stranger to the horror genre but nor are any of the other big players in this film. Ian "Lovejoy" McShane, who plays some kind of cop in "Case 39", has been in quite a few weird things including episodes of the "Twilight Zone" and "Chiller". Bradley Cooper, who doesn't get nearly long enough on screen and dies by CGI bees, was in "The Midnight Meat Train" (2008) of course, and even Callum Keith Rennie and Kerry O'Malley who play Lillith's parents have been around the horror TV genre for a while too. It therefore comes as no surprise that they all know what they are doing as actors and do the best they can even if every single one of them apart from Bradley Cooper was horribly miscast. Honestly, who in their right mind would try to pass off Renée Zellweger with her little girly voice and great big face as a social worker? I didn't buy into it at all. All I could think of was those horrible "Bridget Jones" films and how she's managed to slim down everything but her enormous head since. I'm sure she's a lovely person in real life but, as an actress, she just doesn't do anything for me. It troubles me greatly that I can't ever work out if she's supposed to be pretty or not and the amount of extreme close-ups of her fizzog didn't help.

I wish I had something more profound to say about "Case 39" rather than some superficial ramblings but it was a very superficial film and doesn't really deserve it. I suppose I should congratulate whoever wrote the script for a good first half and an atrocious second. Once Bradley Cooper's character dies, everything goes downhill. It's not like I have a man-crush on the guy or anything but that's just the point where you can feel the film change for the worse. Even Kerry O'Malley, who is actually very pretty without the haggard looking make-up, can't save the story with her pathos inducing performance. I think hers was the only character I even cared about in the whole thing.

"Case 39" could have been a really scary tale of the supernatural but it wasn't. If you really have to watch a humans versus a demon film then "Fallen" (1998) should still be your first choice. Perhaps if "Case 39" had gone for a similar downbeat ending rather than the one it has then it would have worked better but then I would have sat here moaning about that too.

I'm not even going to mention the gore since it was so sparse that if you blink you'll miss it. Horror doesn't need to be all about the gore anyway but it certainly does need to have a good story. Just throwing the occasional grisly moment in is just lazy and, unfortunately, getting too predictable. All "Case 39" needed was a cat jumping out of a closet and a lot more loud noises and I could have written it off yet another complete piece of formulaic crap. Actually, even without those elements, it still is.