September 30, 2012

Dredd 3D (2012)

"In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO."

Since Sunday is the most boring day of the week, I have decided to move my irregular "Sci-Fi Saturday" feature to the day which complements it the best. Sci-fi bores me to tears and "Dredd 3D" was no exception.

The thing is, although I was a regular reader of the 2000 A.D. comic right from the first issue with the free "Space Spinner", I was never a fan of Judge Dredd. When he appeared in the second issue, I didn't really understand what the story was about or care much for the character. I always preferred "Tharg's Future Shocks" and "Flesh" so I always skipped the messy artwork of the three or four "Judge Dredd" pages to get to the good stuff. It wasn't until Forbidden Planet started selling the Dredd stories as graphic novels in the early '80s that I started to get into them and then it was only for "The Cursed Earth" and "Judge Caligula". I always wanted the "Judge Death" editions, but I'd grown out of it all by the time they appeared.

Back in the day, everyone expected that there would be a Judge Dredd film starring Clint Eastwood, but of course, it never happened. When the 1995 movie came out starring Sylvester Stallone, I wasn't too impressed as I already had an idea in my mind about how Judge Dredd should be and, quite frankly, Stallone wasn't it.

A helmet without a chin strap is just a hat.

The new Dredd, played by Karl Urban, doesn't really improve things all that much. He is too robotic in a lot of ways and even delivers a line like Robocop at one point, "You have 20 seconds to comply!" In fact, I think Stallone had more charisma and was a lot more entertaining in the role. Like I said, I never really liked Judge Dredd in the comics anyway, so maybe I just didn't get it and the performance was spot on. I'm willing to be wrong about this as it's been nearly 30 years since I last read any kind of comic, 2000 A.D. or otherwise.

One thing which I really hated was the look of the new Dredd who could have just been any cop in body armour and a badly-designed motorcycle helmet. I'd guess that the director, Pete Travis, was trying to copy Christopher Nolan's "Batman" films to some extent by making things look more realistic rather than comicbook-like. Even with $50,000,000, "Dredd 3D" still didn't have a big enough budget to be larger than life so I can see why it was done the way it was. Some of that approach works and some of it doesn't, but I'll say more about that later.

Aren't you a little short for a Judge?

Teaming Dredd up with a rookie, in the form of Olivia Thirlby as Cassandra Anderson, was a nice idea but a wasted opportunity by not going with the "Judge Death" story which she first appeared in. Dredd could have been partnered with any number of non-psychic female judges and the film would still have the same overall effect. Her specialist powers are used a couple of times, but I really don't think they add anything much.

What is far more interesting (in another negative way) is the tower block that nearly all the action takes place in. The megablocks were envisioned as small self-contained cities in their own right due to Mega City One having 800 million inhabitants. The one in this, "Peach Trees", is strangely sparse in the hustle and bustle that I would have expected. I know the budget probably didn't stretch to it, but it should have been like an out of control mental asylum inside with all kinds of bizarre-looking characters and robots running around. Instead, it's just rather grubby and ordinary.

Bang bang bang... bang bang!

I won't say that rookie-judge Anderson is grubby-looking or ordinary since she was the only reason why I wanted to watch "Dredd 3D" in the first place. Having seen the trailer and Olivia Thirlby's previous performance in "The Darkest Hour" (2011), I was intrigued by how she would look as a blonde. Call me shallow if you want, but really that's all there was to it. I misjudged (no pun intended) that she had a Sharon Stone quality to her in the trailer which turned out to be non-existent in the film itself. Her comicbook character, incidentally, was based on Debbie Harry from "Blondie". I think she pulled that look off well enough.

The action scenes are what this film is supposed to be all about so I need to say something about them. Although the gun battles and explosions are decent enough, I actually got a bit bored around the 45 minute mark and, apart from one very nice head shot, I felt that things didn't really pick up again until the final 10 minutes. There wasn't enough characterisation to keep me all that interested in either Judge Dredd or Anderson, and I started to hope, albeit vainly, that the bad guys would win.

Why so serious?

Even though Lena Headey, as Ma-Ma, is made-up to be quite ugly with all her scars and skanky tattoos, I was still more on her side than on the side of the judges. I've never been all that keen on the police anyway nor, in case you wondered, have I ever been into gangs and drug culture, so I was forced to choose the lesser of two evils. It's kind of an annoying trope that the bad guy (or gal) has to be disfigured while the hero (or heroine) had to be all blonde and "apple pie", but that's the way with the movies. Stuff like that is as predictable as disposable black characters, and there are quite a few of those in this film too.

The biggest problem with "Dredd 3D" (other than the fact that I didn't actually watch it in 3D) is its predictability. There is never any chance that the title character is ever going to be in any real danger and his blonde, super-powered sidekick isn't exactly likely to be raped, skinned, thrown over a balcony or eaten either, more's the pity. I wish that Mega City One's cannibalism problem had been mentioned, but maybe, if there's ever a sequel, that will be dealt with next time.

For a non-horror movie, there are some nicely done gory bits and, due to my problems with vertigo, a few too many aerial shots with people falling from great heights (à la Christopher Nolan) made it a source of future nightmares for me. I had weeks of plummeting to my death just as I started to drift off to sleep thanks to "The Dark Knight Rises" and cheese sandwiches before bedtime.

Because "Dredd 3D" doesn't belong to my favourite genre and isn't exactly brilliant as an action movie either, I'm going to rate it as slightly below average. There are some good bits, but it's just another mindless and clichéd cop movie overall.

As a reboot (or re-imagining) rather than a sequel to "Judge Dredd" (1995), "Dredd 3D" felt like an expensive pilot for a TV series rather than a theatrical movie to me, and by trying to be too realistic rather than futuristic, it isn't all that memorable.

September 29, 2012

Nailbiter (2012)

"A mother and three daughters get caught up in a tornado and take shelter in a storm cellar. While trapped inside the cellar, they quickly discover that they are not alone."

Never mind how I saw "Nailbiter" since it isn't even out on DVD yet. If I was one of the privileged sycophants who praise everything just to get a free screener, I would have had whoever was responsible for this piece of crap falling over themselves to send me one. As it is, I'm just too honest, which is why, even though I've been doing this far longer than any other specifically horror movie reviewer on the internet, I'll never be a success compared to the big name websites. Mind you, it all depends on how you measure success because at least I will always be honest.

This terrible movie was absolutely one of the worst I've seen this year (or last year, or even the year before that). I'm still in total shock that anyone could make something this bad, not realise how bad it was (or even care), and hope to get a distribution deal for it.

What made it even more disappointing was that it wasn't all bad. It had quite good production values, started off well, the tornado effects were nice, the acting was mostly acceptable, and the mother of the three girls was kind of hot. She was certainly a lot better looking than her daughters anyway. I have no idea what her name was, but I'd guess from the IMDb cast list that she was played by Erin McGrane. If the IMDb have got it wrong (as there seems to be some confusion on there about this film) then I may have incorrectly named one of the ugly little girls in the film by accident. At this stage of the night, I don't even care.

With hardly any gore or action, "Nailbiter" was so shit that I'm going to give as many spoilers as I can just so you never have to watch it, and, hopefully, it never gets a DVD release. You know why? It's not that I mind anyone having a go at making a horror movie, but I've had enough of bad ones to last me a lifetime. This was the final straw.

The story was absolutely ridiculous with more plot contrivances than a 12-year-old would come up with for a school play. Basically, there was a mother and three daughters trapped in a basement during a tornado (and subsequent storm) who were too feeble between them to push open the basement doors, or use any of the numerous jars of inflammable moonshine to burn the doors open, and escape. There may have been some weird, mutant humanoids outside, but nothing a good hard kick in the goolies couldn't have sorted out. I know American horror movie characters are often pretty dumb, but this film was an insult to the intelligence of any viewer stupid enough to watch it. It didn't even have the decency to try to be a comedy!

The "storm creatures" (AKA werewolf ripoffs) were crappily done, made no sense (except that the storm was said to affect them all differently), and didn't appear on screen for more than a couple of minutes in total. The first one was apparently green in colour like a reptillian-zombie too just to give you an indication of how little thought went into this.

Honest to God, I thought I'd seen it all until the uglier of the two younger daughters got bitten on the arm (ON THE ARM!) and then, despite being full of energy before, fell into some kind of coma for over half the film! When the mother got scratched and collapsed in a similar way before eventually blowing herself up for no good reason, I was almost bald from pulling my hair out. Why did she do that? Couldn't she have thrown the jar of moonshine at the still which they'd moved under the basement doors and ran away quickly? It made no sense unless she was supposed to have died from having a couple of scratches on her belly.

I can barely even bring myself to talk about the eldest daughter's use of a nail-gun instead of a real weapon. They don't fire nails through the air, you know! You have to physically press them onto a board before the nail will come out. It's a little thing called a "safety mechanism" to stop dumb people from getting all Lone Rangery with the things and ending up in the emergency room.

I'm almost certain that the eldest daughter was played by Meg Saricks (pictured above with a real pistol), but I'm not 100% sure. She did okay with what she had to work with. Unfortunately, this was one of those films which was directed by nobody you've ever heard of, and starred even more people who you've never heard of and probably never will again.

It doesn't matter anyway because everybody died in this film even the cleverer of the ugly daughters. You could tell she was clever because she was wearing glasses and knew how to read! Oh, Christ-on-a-bike. She wasn't clever enough to recognise moonshine in a jar though. No, the mother just had to be a recovering alcoholic so that she could tell everyone what that was. Speccy-four-eyes was only in it to inform us of the background story to the creatures by finding a load of old newspapers full of headlines about storms, mutilations and weird numbers of babies being born because, clearly, somebody didn't know how to write exposition properly.

And, of course, it just had to end with a set-up for a potential sequel which promises to be even more lame. Oh great, next we can have the father of the girls being a military badass along with the big-nosed, nerdy boyfriend who must also have read the delayed text messages, as they wipe out the whole town of mutants. Or not, as the case may be.

How can anyone sane like or praise a movie like this? I know there's still a trendy, hipster movement which keeps hyping intentionally bad horror movies over any actual good ones, but the times are a-changing. Most people are sick of these amateur horror films now, and I'm proud to be part of the backlash.

September 28, 2012

Upcoming Horror Movie - Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

"The film takes place five years after Paranormal Activity 2, which ended with Katie kidnapping Hunter. It follows the life of Alice, her boyfriend Ben and her mother, as paranormal activity starts to occur in their home when Katie and Hunter (now called Robbie) move into the neighbourhood. A laptop is one of the techniques in the film, as well as the Kinect as seen from the trailers. After Katie goes to the hospital Alice's Mother takes Robbie (Hunter) in, which leads to strange occurrences around the house." (from Wikipedia)

Much to the delight of everyone who likes boobies, wobbly camerawork, and horror movies with only three strategically placed jump scares, Katie Featherstone will be back in "Paranormal Activity 4". Let's face it, she's the only reason any of us will watch this except to bitch about it, right guys?

You know I'm not a big fan of the "Paranormal Activity" movies. Basically, when "Paranormal Activity" replaced the "Saw" franchise as the must see Hallowe'en movie every year, it was the beginning of the end as far as the brief reawakening of the horror genre was concerned.

Even though I'm not privileged (or sycophantic) enough to have already seen a workprint of "Paranormal Activity 4", I can already tell from the (possibly misleading) trailer that it will be one of the most disappointing things this year, I'll still be right there with you (in spirit) watching this feeble alternative to a physical "haunted house" though. It's not yet rated, but it's bound to be another PG-13 so it won't be any worse than the last three in the series, will it? Ugh!

According to the official website, "Paranormal Activity 4" is due to be released on October 19th, 2012. You have been warned!

RIP Herbert Lom

Herbert Lom died last night. He was 95.

Most people will be writing about how famous he was for his role as Dreyfus in the "Pink Panther" comedy movies, but I don't particularly care about that.

Herbert Lom was much better known to me because of his horror roles such as Sam Weizak in "The Dead Zone" (1983), Henry Fengriffen in "And Now the Screaming Starts!" (1973), Prescott in "Dark Places" (1973), Dr Byron in "Asylum" (1972), Abraham Van Helsing in Jesus Franco's "Count Dracula" (1970), Lord Cumberland in "Mark of the Devil" (1970), and even "The Phantom" in Hammer's version of "The Phantom of the Opera" (1962).

I watched all these movies as I was growing up, and Herbert Lom was always an instantly recognisable face in movies and on TV.

With 113 credits to his name, Herbert Lom was certainly prolific but never really became such as big star as many of his contemporaries. Nonetheless, he has left us with a fine legacy of his work to enjoy. May he rest in peace.

September 27, 2012

Big Lots Hallowe'en Horror DVDs 2012

I went to Big Lots again yesterday. I was going to buy a new fan heater, but the day was so warm and humid that I decided it could wait a while longer. Since I was there and the Hallowe'en displays were enticing me, I had a look through their latest DVDs so that I could report back about anything good.

As you can see (above), I found "Frankenstein: The True Story" (1973) and "Teeth" (2007) for $3 each. A couple of years ago, I bought "Terror of Frankenstein" (1977) in one of the "3 for $3" packs by mistake and was horrified that it was such a boring piece of crap. I really wanted "Frankenstein: The True Story" all along. and now of course, I have it.

Although I reviewed "Teeth" a couple of years ago too, I didn't have a copy of it before. I almost bought it from FYE's "sidewalk sale" for the same price, but I'm glad that I saved my money. I'd rather spend my money in Big Lots than FYE anyway after being charged rip-off prices by them in the past. plus I have issues with their current management which goes back to how they were so greedy that they put their entire staff in danger by not closing during a "State of Emergency" three winters ago. Was it worth it to stay open for another four hours with no customers around or to lose a customer who was spending over $200 every week in their store until that time because their greed disgusted him? I think not. I still look in FYE occasionally, but that particular store will never get another penny from me.

Anyway, I suppose you want to know what else Big Lots had in their orange "Halloween DVD" boxes? I made a list just for you:

30 Days of Night - $3
Boogeyman - $3
Boogeyman 2 - $3
Black Xmas (remake) - $3
Blood & Chocolate - $3
The Car - $3
The Creeping Flesh - $3
Christine - $5
Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 - $3
Club Dread - $3
Dawn of the Dead (remake) - $3
The Exorcism of Emily Rose - $3
Final Destination - $3
Final Destination 3 - $5
The Final Destination - $5
Forever Knight (The Trilogy: Part One) - $5
Frankenfish - $3
Frankenstein: The True Story - $3
The Frighteners (Director's Cut) - $5
The Forsaken - $3
The Funhouse - $3
The Grudge - $3
The Grudge 2 - $3
Halloween II/Halloween III (double feature) - $5
Hostel - $5
I, Madman - $3
I Know What You Did Last Summer (Special Edition in a slim case) - $3
I Know Who Killed Me - $3
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer - $3
It (Stephen King's It) - $3
Jason X - $5
Konga - $3
Lake Placid 2 - $3
Land of the Dead - $3
The Lost Boys - $5
Lost Boys: The Tribe - $3
Mega Python vs. Gatoroid - $3
Mother of Tears (R-rated version) - $3
My Bloody Valentine 3D - $5
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge- $3
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors - $3
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child - $3
The Omen (Collector's Edition) - $3
The Orphanage - $3
The People Under the Stairs - $5
Pitch Black - $3
Prey - $3
Prince of Darkness - $5
Prom Night (remake) - $3
Psycho II -$3
Psycho III - $3
Pulse (remake) - $3
Pumpkinhead - $5
The Reaping - $3
Resident Evil: Extinction - $5
Rest Stop - $3
The Return of the Vampire - $3
The Revenge of Frankenstein - $3
Saw IV - $3
Seed of Chucky - $3
Silent Hill/The Dark (double feature) - $5
Splice - $5
Sssssss - $3
Tales From the Crypt: Bordello of Blood/Tales From the Crypt - $5
Teeth - $3
Tremors (the complete 16 episode TV series) - $5
Trick 'r Treat - $5
Twice Told Tales - $3
Undead or Alive - $3
Urban Legends: Final Cut - $3
Vacancy - $3
Vacancy 2: The First Cut - $3
Vampires (John Carpenter's Vampires) - $5
White Noise 2 - $3

Thus, there were some bargains and some not-quite-so-good bargains. There weren't a lot of newer horror movies, as most were restocks of DVDs which they had before. Some were only the old full screen versions, so you have to be careful.

If you have the "Nightmare on Elm Street" 4 film packs for $10 each from Target then the single disc versions aren't really worth having. "Hostel" was overpriced too, since it was previously sold in Big Lots for $3 not very long ago.

If you are thinking of buying a lot of these titles and have a Big Lots loyalty card, it might be wise to wait until the next "Friends and Family" night on October 7th, 2012, to save yourself some more money.

September 26, 2012

Sad day. One of my fans died.

Today I lost a very dear friend to me. In spite of a valiant effort to remove the chill from my office space this morning, my little CZ40 fan heater finally burnt out.

My CZ40's birthday was in September 2008 according to the manufacturer's label. I'm not sure how long $10 fan heaters are supposed to last, but I got a lot of use out of the little bugger. We've survived terrible winters in two apartments and my current pigsty of a house, but, alas, there will be no more cosy times watching horror movies together.

I took my CZ40 apart and cleaned it out (with a paintbrush and a can of compressed air) in an attempt to revive it, but now it just smells like burning plastic and switches off again after less than a minute. It's horrible. I'm almost beside myself with grief. I loved my little fan heater.

Although the tragedy is hard to bear, I suppose I'll just have to go to Big Lots or Family Dollar and get another one later.

JJAMZ made a horror video!

Did you know that there's going to be a new MySpace? Neither did I until yesterday when an article on the BBC news site encouraged me to click this link. That was where I heard "Heartbeat" by JJAMZ for the first time, and, I have to say, it was the most appropriate song MySpace could have ever chosen for their promotional video.

Because I liked the music (and had never heard of JJAMZ before), I really wanted to see if the lead singer looked as good as she sounded. After a quick Google search, I followed JJAMZ through to YouTube where I found their "Official Music Video" (above).

You cannot possibly imagine my delight when I found that the lead singer, Elizabeth Berg, was absolutely gorgeous, and they'd turned "Heartbeat" into a little horror movie! Too many good things in one day!

Elizabeth "Z" Berg, the former lead vocalist of the indie rock group "The Like" (nope, never heard of them before either), not only ticks every box for me as the kind of singer who I like, but she's beautiful enough to be a real scream queen too. Based on this video, I wouldn't mind seeing her in a full length horror movie one day.

September 25, 2012

The Haunting of Whaley House (2012)

"A tour guide at a notorious haunted house gets more than she bargained for during an unauthorized ghost-hunting session with friends."

As someone who gave up on ever seeing anything good come from "The Asylum" a very long time ago, I was in two minds about hiring "The Haunting of Whaley House". On one hand, it had a couple of my internet friends in it, but on the other, the closest "The Asylum" ever came to making a decent horror movie was "Paranormal Entity" (2009), and that has been turning on up in those pitiful Echo Bridge DVD compilations ever since. I wanted it to be okay, but I feared the worst.

I'd never heard of the Whaley House in San Diego or any of the true ghost stories surrounding it so, of course, I Googled it. Although the Wikipedia article was a bit brief, I also found another one from the Los Angeles Times which was obviously the inspiration for part of this film. Trust me, it's better if you read both these articles after watching "The Haunting of Whaley House" rather than before.

Apart from "Coolduder" (Shawn C. Phillips) who had a couple of amusing minutes at the start, and, of course, the very recognisable Maria Olsen who played yet another creepy character, I didn't know the names of anyone else in the cast. The truth is, I don't think many of them had ever been in a movie before, and it showed. The acting was inconsistent at best (and non-existent most of the time), but it was never so completely horrible that I wanted to stop watching. Against my normally better judgement, I actually found "The Haunting of Whaley House" to be quite enjoyable for a B (or even C) grade horror movie.

Although Stephanie Greco was the only one who stood out in a very good way, it wasn't just because she was the prettiest. Compared to the other cast members, she could definitely act a bit too. I sort of liked all of the actors/characters really apart from the psychic, Keith Drummond (Howard McNair), who got on my nerves at times with his "ITV agony aunt" style of speaking.

One major flaw in the whole production was that it started off too light and schizophrenically alternated between trying to be a serious ghost story and a comedy from then on. "The Haunting of Whaley House" needed to be one thing or the other as, despite some creepy moments, it was a bit of a failure as far as scares were concerned. It had a very '80s feel to it at times, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing especially if, like me, you don't think much of most '80s horror movies in the first place.

The set design for the Whaley House was very well done, and I have a feeling that was where most of the estimated $115,000 budget went since none of this was filmed in the real Whaley House. I'd also guess that a lot of time went into the make-up effects which were above average for this kind of thing too. The ghosts really were quite terrifying to look at during the far too few occasions when they were seen.

Overall, I was very entertained by "The Haunting of Whaley House". Even though I'd rate it as well below average when compared to a classic haunted house movie such as "The Haunting" (1963), I liked how it cleverly worked all of the true Whaley House ghost stories into its plot, and so it gets a recommendation from me.

September 24, 2012

The Devil's Curse (2008)

(AKA "Credo")

"A modern supernatural horror film that explores the dark side of the human psyche, and the terror in facing up to one's darkest fears."

While hunting for something to half-way decent to watch, I remembered that I bought a copy of "The Devil's Curse" from my local pawn shop way back in June and still hadn't opened it. From the trailer, it looked as if it was going to be something shit-yer-pants scary and supernatural so I was really looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, it was another low-budget, Lionsgate distributed title which, in terms of disappointment, turned out to be just like "Spirit Trap" (2005) all over again but without Billie Piper.

MyAnna Buring, who you may know as Sam from "The Descent" (2005) and Lotte from "Lesbian Vampire Killers" (2009), was the big name in this although Colin Salmon had almost a minute on screen as a professor of psychiatry. Colin Salmon's role was so small that I'm surprised he was even credited, but his name was right at the top of the DVD artwork as if he was one of the stars.

Another blink and you'll miss it "star" was the late Stephen Gately, the famously gay member of the Irish boyband "Boyzone", who died in 2009. This was supposed to have been his acting debut, but he only had a couple of seconds sitting round a Ouija board at the beginning. If that was acting then every extra can now claim an IMDb credit. Actually, I think they already do.

I didn't and still don't know the names of anyone else involved in this, but I think the token obnoxious American character wasn't really played by an American. I'd hazard a guess that they were all bit-part actors from various TV shows which I've never seen because "The Devil's Curse" had that vibe to it.

While it was refreshing to hear British voices in a horror movie again, one girl (whose character's name was Timmy) committed the crime of saying "uz" (with a "z") instead of "us" at one point. That nearly made me pull the DVD out and snap it in half! I hated when that Northernism got popular in the South of England back in the mid-2000s almost as much as I now loathe how Americans are hellbent on replacing every instance of the word "very" with "super" in a way that makes them all sound like affected rejects from "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin". There are now certain blogs and YouTube channels which I can no longer bear to visit because of it.

Anyway, "The Devil's Curse" started off okay, had some interesting if not very likeable characters, and seemed to be on track to be a pretty good "haunted house" kind of deal. I could tell by the sparseness of the sets that my initial feelings were going to be dashed to pieces, but I suffered through the boredom of the story in twenty minute stages during the day just so I could say that I'd seen it.

The funny thing is, I think I have seen "The Devil's Curse" before and probably on "Netflix" when I still had it. It all seemed very familiar and not just because the scenario was so unoriginal. If I had watched it before, I didn't make it all the way to the end. I barely made it all the way to the end this time either.

The main problem was that the script wasn't very good, the story was overambitious and tried to be a thinking man's "psychological horror" with a twist which didn't make a lot of sense, and the pace at which it unfolded was slower than a snail crawling through treacle.

The acting was okay with MyAnne Buring carrying most of the film, but there was hardly any depth to the characterisation. The camerawork was above average too with none of that shaky nonsense going on. It was just so boring without any jump scares, gore or nudity that I have no idea how it even got an R-rating. Maybe there was some swearing which, since I'm English, I didn't even notice.

If the story had been more shocking or, at the very least, scary then it could have been a pretty decent little film. As it was, I didn't get anything out of it.

September 23, 2012

Dark Shadows (2012)

"An imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection."

There are some films which you have to be bored out of your mind to watch, and, unfortunately, I was that bored enough today to see if I could find anything enjoyable in Tim Burton's version of "Dark Shadows".

I'm glad that I have no sense of humour because "Dark Shadows" failed completely as a comedy. It also failed to be anything other than an all-star cast playing dress-up. If the intention was simply to destroy any nostalgic admiration anyone could have for the original Dan Curtis series with a load of silliness and superficiality, it certainly succeeded there.

I've only ever seen a few episodes of the TV series and one of the films (I forget which one), but they were a lot more entertaining than this hack job. Although Johnny Depp was slightly comical, Eva Green was sexy as Hell, and I now know what happened to Jonny Lee Miller, it was just a lot of high production values layered over a weak script.

Having watched a lot of these over-produced and under-written movies this week, I'm beginning to wonder if this is the thing now. Nobody seems to care about providing any kind of engrossing or cohesive story as long as they can stick a few big name actors in costumes up on screen and grab some quick cash from the kids who don't know any better.

Even if I was the right age to be part of the targeted PG-13 audience, I'm sure I would still have been disappointed with "Dark Shadows". It started off too fast, then wasted a lot of time on unnecessary details and characters who didn't really do anything, while, at the same time, it badly mixed fish-out-of-water, "Austin Powers"-style humour with a feeble attempt at a Gothic love story.

After sitting through nearly two hours of this dreck, I really don't want to waste any more time talking about it. "Dark Shadows" looked extremely good, the 1970's music was better, the couple of surprise cameos were okay, but it was a whole load of nothing really.

September 22, 2012

Dr Blood's End of September Outing

Contrary to what a Kentucky-based, former horror podcast which hardly anyone ever listens to anymore might like you to believe, I'm one Englishman who doesn't live in a dark basement surrounded by horror movies. Occasionally, I even leave my bright three-bedroomed house to work and buy things rather than ponce off my parents or welfare like they do.

If you don't know what any of the above refers to, never mind. I only know what was said through hearsay too. I have no time for the two talentless "Laurel and Hardy" wannabes who thought they'd be the new voice of horror way back in 2007 (although they always add a least one extra year onto the time they've been around), but, having failed miserably, now just take jealous potshots at other horror fans who they don't really know to claw back some credibility as "shock jocks" or something.

Did any of what they said bother me? No. "Dr Blood's Video Vault" has been around over a decade longer than they have and will continue to be long after they have disappeared back under the rock which they were stupid enough to crawl out from. They did give me something amusing to start this post off with though.

Anyway, yesterday, I had another long overdue "Big Day Out". I'm sure my last one wasn't when I went to the County Fair over a month ago, but it certainly felt like it was. The seasons have changed, there's new stuff in the stores, and there were even a few things to buy at my local pawn shop.

Finally, "The New Daughter" and "Orphan" turned up! I'd already hired them from Netflix and reviewed them favourably so I just had to have them. I'd never even seen "The New Daughter" for sale anywhere before but had picked up (and put back) "Orphan" several times in Target. At $2.50 each for immaculate DVDs (apart from slight security tape damage to the "Orphan" artwork), this was a done deal.

Then to complete the "4 for $10" ritual, I saw that "Van Helsing" and "Whiteout" were still on the bottom shelf so I grabbed those too. I know they weren't exactly brilliant movies, but I'm going through a phase of Kate Beckinsale idolatry right now which, hopefully, these will dissuade me from.

That wasn't all there was to my "September Outing" either. Once I discovered that I had more money in the bank account than I realised, I was off to "Dollar Tree" to check out all the Hallowe'en decorations and buy some of the foods I like which even dogs can barely stomach. I love their McRib clones!

I didn't buy any of the neat Hallowe'en stuff since every day is Hallowe'en for me anyway, but I did get three books which I had no idea about. I'm not much of a reader, but I'll give them a go eventually. I've looked them up now and I know I'll be disappointed, but for $3, it doesn't matter.

Here's a kind of collage of most of the things I bought from Dollar Tree:

I also bought more chocolate and a pound cake, but I'm sure none of that interests you.

I've bought enough snacks, drinks and sandwiches to least me for a little while now so my next "Big Day Out" will undoubtedly be just before Hallowe'en when my Aldi's $1.99 pizza supply runs out.

Now it's back to the dark room that I allegedly sit in all day being very English and watching 3D movies. That's much better than wasting a fortune on non-celebrity autographs at horror conventions or trying (and failing) to sell poorly-designed t-shirts and lame movie commentaries to some braindead podcast followers, right guys?

Total Recall (2012)

"A factory worker, Douglas Quaid, begins to suspect that he is a spy after visiting Rekall - a company that provides its clients with implanted fake memories of a life they would like to have led - goes wrong and he finds himself on the run."

Due to my current Kate Beckinsale addiction (and growing disinterest in reviewing nothing but horror movies), I watched the "Total Recall" remake yesterday. It was certainly a lot different to how I imagined it would be.

While not as entertaining as the original "Total Recall" (1990), it was visually superior in nearly every way. With an estimated budget of $125,000,000, it had to be as spectacular as "Blade Runner" to look at. I was amazed at how the action scenes were done, and, willing suspension of disbelief aside, I couldn't even get my head around some of them.

I think a lot of the problems people have had with the remake were caused by nostalgia. Of course, Paul Verhoeven was at the top of his game back in 1990 and Len Wiseman is still regarded as a hack, but neither film is perfect. I always thought that the Martian terraforming stuff in the original "Total Recall" was very derivative of too many other sci-fi movies, and, if you watch it today, most of the effects haven't stood the test of time. Even the updated "girl with three breasts" was more realistic in this remake.

Having said that, Colin Farrell lacked the charisma of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his version of Douglas Quaid wasn't a character that I particularly cared about. As an action hero, he kind of sucked, and, as a top secret agent, he wasn't very convincing either. Let's be honest though, Arnold Schwarzenegger was hardly an Oscar winner, but he just fitted into the overall campiness and excessiveness of Paul Verhoeven's vision.

As an upgraded version of Sharon Stone's character from the original, Kate Beckinsale wasn't bad. Nobody could ever surpass the sexiness which Sharon Stone exuded in that role and, to her credit, Kate Beckinsale didn't even try to. She was a lot colder, a more professional killer, and, ultimately, she was just a slightly more dislikeable version of Selene from "Underworld" in a different costume.

What made the new Lori Quaid less interesting was that Jessica Biel as the new Melina really eclipsed her and everyone else. In the original "Total Recall", Rachel Ticotin's Melina was quite annoying and I really wanted Sharon Stone to beat the crap out of her. Somehow, probably by just being a better actress, Jessica Biel turned out to be one of the highlights of this remake, and I was mostly on her character's side even though she had poor taste in men.

This "Total Recall" also lacked the magnificence of Michael Ironside with its conflated version of Richter and Edgemar played by Bokeem Woodbine. That was a shame although there was a certain creepiness to Richter and Lori's relationship in the original which turned my stomach. I didn't miss that at all, but had the same thing been done here, it might have given their characters more depth.

There were no "larger than life" characters in this at all other than the "Star Wars"-style stormtroopers which just had to be robotic to get the PG-13 rating. The original Cohaagan, played by Ronny Cox (who was, basically, reprising his Dick Jones character from "Robocop"), was one of the better action movie bad guys, but Bryan Cranston will always be the father from "Malcolm in the Middle" to me. I thought he was completely miscast as the more one-dimensional Cohaagen, but his age has made him look like a politician.

With the setting changed to Earth, there were no stupid-looking mutants so Kuato wasn't needed, and, as another example of Len Wiseman's nepotism, Bill Nighy was cast as a new rebel leader named Matthias for all of five minutes. Apart from wearing Selene's RAF greatcoat from "Underworld: Awakening" to appear more "military", he might as well have just been named "Cipher" for all that he brought to the part.

I didn't completely hate this "Total Recall" remake, but it was mainly style over substance, had no depth to the characters, and simply wasn't very memorable (no pun intended). The twists and turns involved in Quaid's identity were done much better in the original, the pay-off lines were delivered better before, and it didn't have any "popcorn flick" fun to it. If anything, it was all a little bit soulless and far too serious.

September 20, 2012

Underworld: Evolution (2006)

"Picking up directly from the previous film, vampire warrior Selena and the half werewolf Michael hunt for clues to reveal the history of their races and the war between them."

Apart from being overloaded with continuity errors, plot holes, and other goofs, "Underworld: Evolution" at least attempted to flesh out the story created in "Underworld" and retroactively turn that film into part one of a greater epic. Unfortunately, it also added some new characters who were even more one-dimensional than the first lot.

If I had been looking for any character development in "Underworld: Evolution", I would have been sorely disappointed. It was just more of the same with everyone being underused as ciphers between the spectacular CGI-fuelled action scenes. I must admit that I really liked the action and tried to just enjoy it for what it was rather than scrutinize it too closely. Realism and the laws of physics have no place in these movies.

With a budget nearly twice as big as that of the original "Underworld", the effects guys created some quite exhilarating and gory sequences in a few places. The werewolves, or Lycans as I should call them, were some seriously nasty-looking beasts and, of course, the Marcus bat-creature stole the show completely with his wings.

Marcus, as played by Tony Curran who I remembered most as Lenny from season two of "This Life" (back when BBC2 dramas were still good) and for being a very Scottish viking in "The 13th Warrior" (1999), was really impressive to begin with, but then turned into yet another overacted villain with about as much menace in human form as an angry rice pudding. It was a shame really because the opening scenes promised so much more in terms of kingship and his more regal nature.

Kate Beckinsale, on the other hand, was exactly the same as before which pleased me for purely sinister reasons. I appreciated the nudie bits and her slickly choreographed athleticism. I wish I could say that I cared about her character, but, unfortunately, there was nothing there to care about other than the way she looked. As an immortal vampiress, Selene just wasn't all that interesting until about five minutes before the end.

I don't have much to say about Michael (Scott Speedman) either. Once again, he was just sort of there in the background until it was time for him to get his ass kicked by something meaner than he was. He was kind of like a more supernatural version of Xander from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in that respect but without any charisma or a sense of humour.

One character who I think needed more screen time was Tanis as played by Steven Mackintosh. I suppose he did all he needed to do in the story by revealing the necessary information about the key and William the werewolf's dungeon, but it was almost as much of a waste as casting Sir Derek Jacobi as a far less impressive Corvinus than the mythology up to that point had me expecting.

Apart from having an almost Biblical unwillingness to control his offspring, the only thing Corvinus did was turn Selene into a super-vampire who could eventually do the thing which he wouldn't. Not to spoil it for you if you haven't seen it (even though you've had six years to do so!), the final battle was nicely done but very predictable.

According to the IMDb, "Underworld: Evolution" initially did only slightly better than "Underworld" at the box office and then was lucky to get its money back. I don't remember the reviews at the time, but I have vague memory that "Underworld: Evolution" was considered a bit of a turd. Since 2006 was a pretty bad year for films anyway, I didn't bother watching it or anything else at the cinema apart from James Bond. Having only ever seen "Underworld: Evolution" on DVD, I think I might have enjoyed it slightly more as some mindless entertainment on the big screen.

As a sequel which tried harder than most to be a real part two rather than a recreation of the same story, I don't consider "Underworld: Evolution" to be a complete waste of time, but I probably would have been better off watching some blue and black paint dry.

Too many upgrades

Well, they finally did it to me. After nine months of getting away with still using the old interface even though they kept saying that it would be upgraded, Blogger updated the Dashboard against my will. I'm not happy.

I like to compose my posts with the HTML editor, and now it doesn't insert the line breaks automatically. Unless I want everything to come out as one huge paragraph, I have to use the "Compose" feature which I hate. As for the rest of it, I suppose it loads faster, but I can't find anything now. As much as I may want to, I'm not going to jump ship to Wordpress because I can't understand a damned thing on that site anyway.

Just to add insult to injury, Photobucket also joined in this madness by updating their site design (which is also still optional for a while) with a dumbed down but, paradoxically, less easy to navigate mess. Now my images all upload with an underscore and a load of random numbers and letters after them such as "underworld_zps2b76599e.jpg". That really annoys me! I tried to change the filenames, but then the images disappeared from my blog posts. Maybe it's time to look for a new image host or just not use any more pictures.

Finally, Twitter has a new official widget which is now the only one available on its site, but it doesn't work yet! I deleted the old version to put this cool-looking but useless thing in the sidebar, and was stupid enough to not keep a backup of the code. Thus, I've been forced to put the amateur-looking but still functional one from the gadgets directory at the bottom of my sidebar instead.

Why can't the developers ever leave good enough alone? This reminds me of how I used to love MySpace until they ruined it with all the streams and a load of widgets which slowed it down to a crawl. YouTube has also become even more irritating to find anything on since that all changed and they removed the labels feature. As for Facebook, why did anyone think that the timeline would be a good idea? It's made me not want to use Facebook at all anymore. What's next?

Even my current operating system, Ubuntu 12.04, is only still acceptable by using the Gnome "fallback" mode. I can't get on with Unity, Gnome 3 or KDE, and I certainly don't want any of those rough-looking lighter desktops. With a new Ubuntu only a month away, I might have to go back to using Windows. Well, unless that means Windows 8. If I have to use that crap, I might as well give up completely.

Are all these changes just to give people something to do or to satisfy the latest smartphone users? It doesn't do me any good. I loathe smartphones and only have an old Tracfone. I don't even use it all that often to make any calls and haven't got any credit on it at the moment. I couldn't imagine typing in my blog posts by pressing the same keys a hundred times over with my thumbs. Christ! What a world we live in.

For years everybody was quite happy with Firefox and all its plug-ins but, noooo, now all the kewl kids have to use Chrome (which you can't add anything to) because it's easier and they either can't think or don't have to think about it. Look at the Google search engine and how it wants to fill in everything for you (unless, like me, you've turned that infuriating "instant" nonsense off and removed the "safe" filtering). No wonder nobody ever leaves the social networking sites to look at anything else. It's like being trapped by AOL's custom interface all over again. How is any of this supposed to make using the internet more enjoyable?

Technology is conspiring against us. I never thought I'd see the day when all the changes right across the board would actually make things less usable than before, but it's happening.

September 19, 2012

Underworld (2003)

"Selene, a beautiful vampire warrior, is entrenched in a war between the vampire and werewolf races. Although she is aligned with the vampires, she falls in love with Michael, a werewolf who longs for the war to end."

After much deliberation (not to mention procrastination), I decided to rewatch "Underworld" and its first sequel again to see if I liked them any better now that several years have passed since I first saw them. I did this for two reasons: one, I'm pretty sure that watching so many lame movies in a row has rotted my brain to the point where I can barely tell the difference between a good movie or a bad one anymore, and two, I couldn't remember a damned thing about any of them except that they were all in blue and black.

I was talked into buying the DVD of "Underworld" when it came out by a workmate of mine. He was slightly obsessed with it (plus "The Matrix" trilogy and all manner of other embarrassingly dull sci-fi movies). Somehow he wore me down enough to buy it first, knowing full well that I'd end up giving it to him once I'd watched it. I was glad to get rid of the thing because it not only confused me but almost bored me to tears in places. We both worked in Woolworth's at the time so I got it cheaper by using my 20% staff discount card. It was no great loss to give a DVD away to someone who seemed to genuinely appreciate it.

Having now acquired copies of the first three "Underworld" films from my local pawn shop just to complete the "4 for $10" deal when I couldn't find anything else which I wanted, it seemed silly to not revisit them all back-to-back especially as I've written a review of the most recent one, "Underworld: Awakening". I'd already reviewed "Rise of the Lycans" a couple of years ago too so I knew I wouldn't have to write anything about that ever again.

Anyway, as things turned out, I'm slightly ashamed to say that I kind of enjoyed "Underworld". I'm not sure if it was just because I couldn't take my eyes off Kate Beckinsale or if I genuinely got interested in the story. If I had to put money on it, I'd go with the first of those answers because, honestly, I could barely understand what was going on.

Okay, so I got that Kate Beckinsale was supposed to be a vampire and a stone-cold werewolf killer, and Scott Speedman was the last of a bloodline of humans who could become a hybrid of a werewolf and a vampire, but I still don't know what the point of either of them was. Was there supposed to be some horror involved in their relationship? Was it just another story of star-crossed lovers set against a background of war in a fantasy version of Czechoslovakia? Where was the focus?

I understood that Michael Sheen was only a superficially righteous werewolf leader called Lucian (mispronounced as "Looshun") who was trying to create this hybrid. But to what end? Was the hybrid a weapon, an ally, or just another immortal monster with no purpose?

Bizarrely, for those of you who don't know, Michael Sheen was the real life father of Kate Beckinsale's daughter even though this was the film in which she first met and started to fall for the director, Len Wiseman, who, of course, we all know she later married. Showbiz people have the weirdest relationships, but the stuff which must have been going on behind the scenes just made me scratch my head in disbelief. Just add the fact that both her ex and her future lover were watching her pretending to be attracted to Scott Speedman's character, and I'm surprised that the amount of conflicting emotions didn't end in some terrible tragedy. I never thought that Kate Beckinsale was a very good actress before, but knowing the back story, I now think she must be one of the most professional in the business. To give even more credit where it's due, everyone involved in "Underworld" must be like that because it turned out to be a very high quality production.

With that slight digression and praise out of the way, I still didn't really like the story. I found all the stuff with Bill Nighy as "Viktor the vampire" particularly confusing, couldn't work out who was a good guy and who was bad guy, and whatever was going on between Lucian and Kraven (Shane Brolly) looked as if it was actually a good thing. Wasn't their deal supposed to lead to a peace treaty of some kind? I couldn't figure out how turning Scott Speedman into a hybrid was supposed to achieve that, but never mind. Somehow reanimating Viktor before his time made a mess of everything and, presumably, that was all there was to the plot. It was all secrets and lies, fighting for the sake of fighting, and it didn't seem to matter which side anyone was on because everyone thought they were doing the right thing.

I know that "Underworld" wasn't a box office success and I can see why. The film looked fantastic (albeit in only two colours most of the time and sometimes in three or four), but it was ultimately a character based story with no great depth to any of the characters.

The action scenes were incredibly stylish, the CGI was state of the art at the time, and all the effects (including the make-up and creature designs) were great. But what actually happened over more than two hours other than setting up a fantasy world in which a lot of one-dimensional but extremely well-acted characters got killed off?

Nearly nine years on from when I first watched "Underworld", my opinion hasn't changed that much. Although I was more entertained this time and could recognise the effort that went into making the film, on both emotional and intellectual levels, I still wasn't satisfied by it.

September 18, 2012

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 (2011)

"The Quileutes close in on expecting parents Edward and Bella, whose unborn child poses a threat to the Wolf Pack and the townspeople of Forks."

I wasn't going to review "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" until the final installment was also available to me on DVD since I wanted to watch the two of them back-to-back, but with "Part 2" so close now, I couldn't hold out any longer. I've now watched "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" four times, and I have to say right off the bat that Bill Condon made the best sequel in the series.

I was undecided about the whole breaking movies in two trend, but, even though the cynic in me thinks that it was only done to get fans to pay twice over to see the end of the story, there was probably no way that everything from the last book could have been included in one film.

Like all the "Twilight" movies, "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" took its sweet time over seemingly unimportant details. For most people the preparations for the wedding and the wedding itself could have been dealt with in a quarter of the time, but you have to bear in mind that the core audience is still made up of impressionable little girls who want to see all that stuff. As a fully grown man with no romance left in my soul, of course I thought that Bella was beautiful, but I was still glad when it was over.

Basically, I just wanted to see Edward and Bella getting down to some rumpy-pumpy. After about half an hour, I wasn't disappointed either. Although there was some obvious pulling of punches, it was all refreshingly adult, and the devastation of the bed showed that it must have been extremely rough sex too. Poor Bella.

She likes it rough.

The honeymoon period was, sadly, short-lived once Edward realised that he couldn't handle bruising Bella every time he diddled her, and then, of course, the inevitable pregnancy put the kibosh on them just enjoying their holiday.

Once again more time was spent on the details of the pregnancy than was strictly necessary, but it was still something else to behold. The transformation of Kirsten Stewart from beautiful to haggard was quite an achievement, and she really looked like a vampire baby was sucking the life out of her. Pregnant women absolutely disgust me anyway so seeing Bella almost turn into an anorexic-looking, walking corpse with a distended, fat belly is high on my list of the most revolting things I've ever seen in a movie.

Even worse was to come with the Caesarian section birth which was only partly achieved with a scalpel. I've watched the gruesomeness several times over and I'm still not entirely sure that Edward didn't chew Bella open to get the baby out. There was definitely blood all round his mouth and probably more blood in that scene than in all the "Twilight Saga" movies combined. It was lush!

Incidental to all this was Jacob being all moody as usual, a few fight scenes between werewolves, and a lot of other stuff which I had no great interest in. I can't stand Jacob or the CGI wolves anyway. His imprinting on Bella and Edward's baby to save it from the other werewolves was a half-expected surprise (since I've never read the books), but, alas, that means that there'll be even more of him in the next film.

As for the vampire baby itself, who cares? I'm looking forward to seeing her all grown up and pretty, but, unlike the Volturi who appeared during the credits, I had no interest in something that looks like a potato.

With the promise of a lot more trouble heading for the Cullens, I've included the trailer for "Breaking Dawn - Part 2" below. I can't wait!

Things I do on my blog which piss people off

As a kind of follow-up article to "Things movie bloggers do that piss me off", I decided to indulge in some self-criticism and point out a few things which I'm sure drive the other bloggers who read my blog absolutely mental.

1. I intentionally leave grammatical errors in my posts.

Although I have been known to occasionally go back and edit some of the more ridiculous mistakes, I don't really care if my grammar is 100% correct. If I get the point across then it doesn't matter anyway. The real reason why I do this, of course, is to prevent copyright theft. Finding reposts of my badly written reviews is a lot easier with Google search when people are that lazy to copy them without reading them properly.

2. I don't link to bigger versions of any image I use.

This really happens because I don't use the built-in image uploader which automatically links to a bigger picture. In the past, I found that using the uploader and repositioning images to the right or left made such a mess of the text that I stopped using it. Now I manually put an image right in the middle of each post to satisfy my readers who don't read anything other than the title and only visit my blog to look at the pictures and steal them for their own projects.

3. I don't always have HD trailers at the start of each post.

The thing is, since I don't make any money from this blog, I actually go out of my way to find uploaded trailers on YouTube which aren't monetised and have very few views. Why should anybody else make money from my reviews or someone else's trailer if I can't? Although I try to get the best version of each trailer possible, I'll always choose one with no or less adverts in them in preference to any other. If that trailer isn't in HD, too bad.

4. I don't always respond to comments.

Why should I? I've said what I had to say in the post. This is a blog not a forum. If you've only posted a comment to disagree with my review (even though you are wrong and have no taste) then I might reply if I can be bothered.

5. I delete the old comments.

There are no prizes here for having more comments than anyone else, and, once I've read them, I simply don't need them anymore. In a lot of cases, they are misspelled, irrelevant, or just contain links to other things which I have no interest in, so good riddance.

6. I often change my layout.

Why shouldn't I? It's my blog and I can do what I want to. It's only the main RSS post feed which counts anyway. All the stuff in the sidebar is just eyecandy on most people's blogs, but my current design is actually supposed to make navigation a bit easier. If it doesn't then you obviously have bigger problems with basic computer skills than you realise.

7. Sometimes I post things which have nothing to do with horror.

Sue me. You get all this for free and if I choose to write about something else between horror movie reviews that's my prerogative. I try to limit it, but if I'm going through "writer's block", absolutely anything could turn up. If you continue to read my blog, be prepared for a few random surprises.

8. I don't swear all over my blog like other horror bloggers.

I'm not consciously censoring myself or lame enough to write "f**k" and "s**t" as if that fools anyone. I swear enough on Twitter, my podcast and in real life to qualify as a truck driver so I simply don't feel the need to by the time I come to write my posts.

9. I hate a lot of horror movies.

Yes, I do. The point of my blog is to find good ones to put into "The Vault". If they aren't good enough and waste my time, I'm going to hate them. That doesn't necessarily mean that I hate the filmmakers or actors involved, or that I even hate the people who do like those films. It just means that I hate bad movies.

10. I even hate some of the good horror movies.

No movie is ever perfect so there will always be something to dislike in all of them. Also my taste has changed a lot over the years and, in some cases, a once objective appraisal doesn't matter any more. I'm still always completely honest in every review, and I'll let you know in the post itself when things are just my opinion.

If you are guilty of any of the same things or can think of anything else I do which really pisses you off, leave me a comment below.

September 17, 2012

Blood and Chocolate (2007)

"A young teenage werewolf is torn between honouring her family's secret and her love for a man."

Before "Twilight" existed, there was "Blood and Chocolate", and teenage girls went crazy for the book by Annette Curtis Klause. When the movie came out, it was to mixed reviews. Fans of the book hated the changes while the not-quite-intended "horror-lite" audience thought it was mediocre.

With nothing else on my watchlist, I thought it was about time that I gave "Blood and Chocolate" another try. I'm glad I did because, even though I'm neither the right age or gender to fully appreciate it, I came to realise that Katja von Garnier actually made a very good werewolf movie indeed.

As you know, I have a thing for Agnes Brucker. It's called "Percy" and it lives in my underpants. Thus, when I saw a copy of "Blood and Chocolate" in the DVD section of my local pawn shop a few months ago, I just had to have it. It was still sealed and I could tell that it came from Big Lots due to the price sticker still being on it. That reminds me that I haven't been to Big Lots for ages. I really need to see if they've got any new $3 horror DVDs.

Anyway, for the $2 I paid for it, I ended up with a beautifully shot film which held my interest all the way through. "Blood and Chocolate" certainly changed a few of the more commonly used werewolf tropes and wasn't at all formulaic. Apart from one dirty dog, these loups-garous were more like a peacekeeping force and protectors of Bucharest rather than the more vicious lycanthropes from classic horror movies.

As far as star-crossed lovers go, the parkour-loving, chocolate-maker, Vivien (Agnes Bruckner) and the overly pushy, comicbook artist, Aidan (Hugh Dancy), had enough problems even without the werewolf element, but they overcame all that to generate some of the best chemistry that I've ever seen in a screen relationship. Although it may be some kind of heresy in certain circles to suggest such a thing, they were actually a lot more convincing than Bella and Edward, or even Bella and Jacob for that matter.

With the bulk of the story being taken up by their romance, there was little time for a lot of werewolf action, but it was nicely done when it did happen. The first chase scene which involved Pete Lee-Wilson as a drug dealer who had fallen foul of the loups-garous' private version of the law was very nicely put together.

There were also none of those painful "An American Werewolf in London"-style transformation scenes since the werewolves in "Blood and Chocolate" had a more magical shape-shifting ability which turned them, via only a tiny bit of CGI, into real wolves. I thought that was much better than watching them sprout hair and turn into bad computer game effects.

Everyone did a great job, but the standout in the film was, of course, Olivier Martinez as Gabriel. He was very convincing in his slightly menacing role as an over zealous and not entirely unselfish leader. When he turned up riding a motorcycle at one point, I was amused by the '60s pop song reference as he truly was the "Leader of the Pack".

I'm glad that the DVD had subtitles though because Agnes Bruckner was a bit mumbly at first, and I found Olivier Martinez's accent to often be quite unintelligible. As an aside, no wonder Olivier Martinez's relationship with Kylie Minogue didn't last as, apart from all the other things which went wrong there, she probably couldn't understand half the things he said either (and vice-versa).

Although everything was played straight, there were a few subtle "in-jokes" (for lack of a better term) for werewolf aficionados to pick up on, but I won't spoil any of them for you apart from Aidan's final words which I feel need a little bit of explanation. Because "Blood and Chocolate" was filmed on location in Bucharest, Romania, the "Paris" reference was only a half-nod to "An American Werewolf in Paris" (1997). The replica Arc de Triomphe which they passed through was built in 1922 to honour the bravery of Romanian soldiers who fought in World War I. I know such facts aren't important to the story, but I just thought I'd share that anyway.

Apparently, "Blood and Chocolate" was by the producers of the "Underworld" movies, I didn't know that until I looked it up as, fortunately, there were no similarities in style or mythology other than the "Antigen" pharmaceutical which they must have placed in the latest "Underworld: Awakening" to neatly pull "Blood and Chocolate" into the same universe.

As "Blood and Chocolate" was an exceedingly slick and entertaining movie which had a lot of originality, I'm going to add it to "The Vault". It wasn't exactly full of horrific and bloody slaughter, but I liked it.

The Haunted Airman (2006)

"An injured RAF pilot, confined to a wheelchair is committed to an eerie hospital where he starts to lose his mind"

Based so loosely on "The Haunting of Toby Jugg" by Dennis Wheatley" that it turned out to be another story entirely, "The Haunted Airman" has become a minor curiosity for "Twilight" fans who want to see more of Robert Pattinson before he was famous for being Edward.

I originally saw this when the BBC Four showed it on Hallowe'en way back in 2006, but I wasn't exactly impressed by any of it. In fact, I found it extremely boring and, short though it was, I still didn't make it to the end. There wasn't a lot of attention payed to Hallowe'en by any of the main channels that year, and I have a feeling that I just went to bed rather than look for anything else to watch at the time.

I had actually enjoyed reading the novel many years before and always felt that it represented the best of Dennis Wheatley's work. In comparison, "The Haunted Airman" did little more than use the names of the main characters and Toby's hallucinations of spiders. The rest of the plot involving Satanists who were attempting to drive him insane and cheat him of his inheritance was completely ignored. Toby still was in a wheelchair after being injured in the war, had his letters intercepted, and went mad, but the location had changed and everything was done for different reasons.

Having now rewatched "The Haunted Airman" on the DVD released in 2009 which was designed for Twihards (but one of them must have got fed-up with since I found it in my local pawn shop), I have to say that it was slightly better than I remembered. At least I made it to the end this time.

Robert Pattinson's Toby Jugg was extremely laconic and spent most of his time between being massaged by lighting and smoking cigarettes until he ran out of matches, but he wasn't exactly horrible in the role. As a traumatised and crippled World War II airman, he fitted the part. Maybe he could have added a bit more emotion to his rather blank expression other than occasionally glowering in anger, but he did enough.

Julian Sands as the renamed character of "Dr. Hal Burns" (instead of "Helmuth Lisicky") wasn't quite so credible as a psychiatrist or Julia Jugg's new love interest, but, to give credit where it's due, I don't think anyone else other than maybe Richard E. Grant would have been better. After being in "Arachnophobia" (1990), there was too much of an in-joke when he played with a spider, and I couldn't take him seriously after that.

The story started off okay, it was nicely filmed with only occasional lapses into obviously handheld territory, and it was getting increasingly creepy until Julia Jugg (played by Rachael Stirling) turned up. Then, in spite of the opportunity to ogle a very sexy example of wartime female beauty, everything got really confusing. I couldn't tell which parts of the story were dreams and which were reality. I'd guess that the intention was to convey that Toby Jugg couldn't tell the difference either, but it didn't work so well. This was the point at which I gave up on the film six years ago.

The ending, such as it was, made hardly any sense except to confirm that Toby Jugg had indeed lost his mind completely. The jury is still out on whether that was Hal Burns' intention all along or if it was the accidental result of his inept therapy. Without the bigger occult/communist plot of the novel, Hal Burns' motivation wasn't clear. He had nothing to gain from sending Toby Jugg right over the edge unless he was just some kind of psychopath himself.

At just over an hour, "The Haunted Airman" almost worked within its made-for-TV limitations and internal logic. It definitely succeeded as a standalone movie in its own right, but it was hardly Dennis Wheatley's "The Haunting of Toby Jugg". For a BBC Hallowe'en special, it was more of a wartime drama which dealt with post traumatic stress disorder than the ghost story which a lot of people were expecting from the title.

Whistle and I'll Come to You (2010)

"After placing his ailing wife Alice in a care home elderly academic James Parkin goes to stay at a wintry out-of-season hotel which they used to visit together."

As you can see, I couldn't find a legitimate trailer for the BBC's 2010 remake of their classic 1968 ghost story for Christmas. I also couldn't find any version other than the overpriced Michael Hordern one on Amazon to link to in the affiliate box either so I assume that this still isn't out on DVD anywhere yet. Since it was little more than a TV show rather than a movie, I don't expect it will ever be on DVD on its own anyway.

I don't often do this, but due to being in America and having missed "Whistle and I'll Come to You" when it was shown on Christmas Eve two years ago, I couldn't stand it any longer and had to watch it online. I've always loved M.R. James' ghost stories and the BBC adaptations of them so missing out on what was potentially another good one had been eating at me ever since I first heard about it.

Unfortunately, despite superb direction by Andy De Emmony, this more modern adaption was virtually a rewrite of M.R. James in a bad way. Although Neil Cross retained the core components of M.R. James' short story in his screenplay, he lost all of the legends and most of the mystery which made the original so good. It didn't even have a whistle in it!

Watching this on my own at three o'clock in the morning with the lights off, I was still genuinely creeped out by the whole thing, but not entirely for the reasons anyone intended. Suffice it to say that during the hour when statistics say that most people die, I started thinking about a lot of things which I shouldn't.

Seeing Gemma Jones (who you might know as Madam Pomfrey from the "Harry Potter" movies) playing the part of an old woman with dementia reminded me of how my grandmother ended up. The old people's home (or whatever politically correct term is in vogue now), reminded me a lot of the horrible asylum which I saw my grandmother get put in only a few months before she died. All the people sat facing each other in silence with one or two or them occasionally crying out was some kind of Hell for sure. I hope I never end up like that.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I also had Lesley Sharp as my carer since I've found her strangely attractive ever since I first saw her in ITV's "Afterlife" series. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, that show also gave Andrew Lincoln from "The Walking Dead" another big career boost after his stint in "Teachers" and "This Life". I was actually quite surprised at how warm and toned-down Lesley Sharp was in "Whistle and I'll Come to You" as she couldn't act very well at all in "Afterlife". She only delivered one line during a telephone conversation badly, but even that was down to the script rather than her ability.

The other notable actress in this who I racked my brain trying to place was Sophie Thompson. Although she was also in a "Harry Potter" movie, she is much more famous for playing the quite unbalanced Stella in "Eastenders". Maybe it's my age, but I thought she was very pretty from certain angles too. Her character came across as quite nice but a little bit dim which is always endearing.

John Hurt turned in a routine performance as James Parkin, but even at his worst John Hurt always eclipses other actors who are trying their hardest. The man has always had a natural talent and charisma which transcended his looks and, of course, his voice is legendary.

Having said that, I didn't really like his character all that much, and the "haunting" (whether triggered by guilt or having a far more supernatural purpose) turned him into a jelly far quicker that his scientific background should have allowed. One scene was so blatantly borrowed from "Poltergeist" that the result made him look quite childish. Given the two adaptations, I think I still prefer Michael Hordern's version of the same character.

The sparseness of any incidental music, which left the soundtrack comprised of only natural sounds such as seagulls and wind effects, made "Whistle and I'll Come to You" eerier than it could have been. That silence contributed a lot to the isolated feeling and emptiness of the beach scenes in particular.

I was a little bit baffled as to why they chose Kent instead of the usual Norfolk Broads for the location, but it still worked in spite of the electricity-generating windmills. I supposed that the contrast between the new and the old was there to continually highlight that John Hurt's character was coming to the end of his time just like his wife. If that was the reason, it was messily done as both the hotel and its receptionist still looked like they belonged in the 1940s Give or take a couple of clocks from the '70s and John Hurt's very modern anorak, the story might have worked a lot better as a period piece, but, apparently, nobody wanted to retread the same ground as the previous M.R. James adaptations.

Anyway, "Whistle and I'll Come to You" wasn't a total disaster, but it was disappointing in its failure to stay true to the original story. I didn't expect it to be quite as short as it was either and had assumed that it was going to have the ninety-minute length of a movie rather than be a measly fifty-minute TV episode with a new ending.

If you feel like tracking this down online, its still worth a watch, but you'd be better off reading the original story instead.

September 16, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

"Alice fights alongside a resistance movement in the continuing battle against the Umbrella Corporation and the undead."

After watching "Underworld: Awakening", it was only fitting to finish off my Sunday with another pointless action-horror which looks like a 3D computer game. At least "Resident Evil: Retribution" has the excuse of being based on a computer game series for its impressive visuals and, once again, the complete lack of any coherent plot.

If all you want from a movie is to see lots of fighting and things getting blown up, "Resident Evil: Retribution" is the film for you. Occasionally, I also like to watch those very things and have always thoroughly enjoyed Milla Jovovich getting physical so, although I'll try to be objective, my review is undoubtedly going to be biased.

Even though Milla Jovovich's Alice lacks the grace and more feline attributes of Kate Beckinsale's Selene, there's little difference between them in terms of female badassery. Milla Jovovich has slightly more tomboyish looks, but it's hard to choose between which heroine is the sexiest. Why choose anyway when you can watch both and have neither in real life?

One major style difference is that the fight sequences in the "Resident Evil" series have never been quite as smoothly choreographed as the ones in "Evolution". Both originally owed a lot to "The Matrix", of course, but the "Resident Evil" fights have always seemed rougher and bloodier. Some people prefer them for that very reason.

Alice hates cosplayers!

As far as the fights in "Resident Evil: Retribution" were concerned, I thought they were quite weak at the start with Milla Jovovich being a lot slower and more awkward than usual. As the movie progressed, her skills improved until her final battle with Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) turned out to be everything a girl-on-girl fight in one of these things should be. Not to be too much of a pervert, but it was definitely the ultimate battle of the latex catsuits.

The various CGI monsters were much the same as before and as close to the ones in the console games as I remember them. I started playing the games when they first came out on the Playstation back in 1997, but, as I haven't played one since I came to America, I honestly can't remember what the last "Resident Evil" game or its monsters looked like. I'm sure the latest versions have been upgraded to be more like the movies and create a more effective tie-in though.

I'm not going to say a lot about the acting as it was perfectly acceptable. Everyone was overly stressed-looking and angry as usual with only a few chances to show more depth due to the flashbacks and clones. Michelle Rodriguez stood out the most in that respect and even managed to inject some humour into her brief alternative role.

Let's face it, the characters don't really matter all that much anyway. At their best, the "Resident Evil" films are only meant to be some fast-paced, mindless fun. In this case, the non-stop action really made things fly by, perhaps a little bit too quickly, but nothing was spoiled in the process. It was certainly a lot better than "Resident Evil: Afterlife" from two years ago.

Everything looked great, the various sets of different "holodeck"-style cities were very well done, but there was still no resolution to the story which looks as if it might just be coming in the next sequel. From previous experience, I doubt that even the next "Resident Evil" movie will be the last.

Underworld: Awakening (2012)

"When human forces discover the existence of the Vampire and Lycan clans, a war to eradicate both species commences. The vampire warrioress Selene leads the battle against humankind."

Apart from creating the opportunity to ogle Kate Beckinsale, I've never understood the appeal of the "Underworld" movies. The plots are weak, the mainly blue and black colour schemes are annoying, and the CGI always looks like something out of a computer game.

Thus, I wasn't expecting a lot from the latest installment, "Underworld: Awakening", which was just as well since it turned out to be only more of the same but with two extra colours added to the palette. Golden lights and more human flesh tones abound, even though it was, yet again, mainly all in blue and black. There's even a lot of blood this time which almost completed a reworking of the old newspaper or dead penguin joke about being "black and blue, and red all over".

True to form, the best part of the movie is Kate Beckinsale, who manages to get completely naked at one point without showing any of the bits which the boys want to see. She's so thin and flat-chested that I don't really think there'd be all that much to see there anyway. She's coming up to forty years old now so the appeal of seeing a nude middle-aged woman isn't that great even if it's Kate Beckinsale. I'm sure she's still got a couple more "Underworld" movies left in her before she has to start playing mothers for the rest of her career though.

You're fooling nobody with that old NES Zapper, Selene.

In spite of not really having a story which goes anywhere or any characters other than the regulars whose names are spoken enough times to know who they are, the action sequences are top-notch this time. The opening escape sequence from the Antigen building is the best, although several of the fights with Lycans are quite spectacular too considering that the Lycans are generated by a computer and Selene's weapons can magically reload themselves. You have to forget any attempts at realism with these "Underworld" movies anyway.

A couple of once big names, Stephen Rea and Charles Dance, join in the fun and games this time, but only Stephen Rea has much of a part. He's pretty good in it too. The barely recognisable Charles Dance is only a kind of substitute for Bill Nighy, since he's from that age group of actors and they look a bit similar to each other now. If you've ever wondered if all old people end up looking the same, your question has been answered.

"Underworld: Awakening" is mainly a comicbook-style action movie which just happens to have vampires and werewolves as the main characters. I don't really think of any of the "Underworld" series as being true horror films any more than I would count "Resident Evil" or "Twilight" as being anything other than very fringe members of the genre.

I'm not sure who the target audience is meant to be for "Underworld: Awakening", but the inclusion of a hybrid vampire/werewolf child suggests that this was meant for children who like to identify with the younger characters. I don't get how that is supposed to work as, bizarrely, the whole series has been R-rated from the beginning. None of the "Underworld" movies have ever felt like they were meant for adults (or even older teenagers with any taste) so I'm at a loss to explain how "Underworld" managed to reach this third sequel. From the way it ended, I'm pretty sure that there will be another sequel eventually too.

Even though sexy Selene is the most badass that she's ever been, I'm still going to have to put "Underworld: Awakening" back to sleep in "The Dungeon". Personal taste aside, it just isn't a very good film.