October 31, 2013

Happy Hallowe'en 2013!

It's here! It's Hallowe'en 2013!

The big non-event has finally arrived on a Thursday when nobody can do anything for it.

I'm completely burnt out by horror this month anyway, so I'm going to have a long hiatus. There are no new theatrical releases on my radar until at least March 2014, and I'm bored with these lacklustre straight-to-DVD horror movies and "hobby horror" crapfests.

I was going to write about Empire Pictures and Full Moon, but I can't be bothered to do it anymore. In fact, I can't be bothered to write reviews of anything. After over 2000 reviews, and more online "fights" over them than I can remember, I think I've finally grown out of it.

We only had one theatrical horror release in October, and it was that soulless "Carrie" remake. I think that's what finally killed the genre for old school horror fans such as myself. Let the new kids on the block gush over their slew of shitty movies which I'm never going to watch. I'm not going to waste any more of my time.

No more remakes, sequels, and clones for me.

As far as I'm concerned, horror is dead.

No more Twitter, no more Facebook, or any of the other social networking sites which don't send any traffic back to Blogger anyway. The internet "horror community" (what a joke!) is too full of cliques of cyberbullies and trolls all fighting among themselves, and I'm leaving them to it. The internet is not the fun place it used to be where you could make a few pretend friends and hang out when you were bored.

I'm done with it.

October 29, 2013

Solo (2013)

"A teenage girl is terrorized when she spends two nights alone on a remote island as part of her camp counselor [sic] initiation."

My second movie today is this extremely generic Canadian "Friday the 13th"-esque clone.

Don't watch the trailer because it gives away all the good bits!

"Solo" is typically Canadian with better acting than it deserves, more clichés and borrowings mixed together with a big paddle of predictability, and no chance at ever getting a higher rating than "just average". The main character's backstory provides some originality, but as it's lost in favour of a traditional "kidnap, escape, and chase through the woods" third act, it's hardly worth mentioning.

Nothing much happens horror-wise until the end, and the gory money shot is far too short, but everything looks okay. Decent production values, competent camerawork (albeit sometimes shaky), and solid acting tend to cover a multitude of sins in the pacing, lack of atmosphere, and script.

Annie Clark is satisfactory as the lead, and the bad guy gives a damned good try at being nutty as a fruitcake, but neither performance is outstanding or very memorable. As usual, I have no idea if anyone involved in this production is famous in other respects such as TV, and I can't be bothered to look them up.

One thing I picked up on is that all the male characters smoke and don't seem to be able to get through a scene without lighting up. It's not important to the story in any way, just a theme which runs throughout. Maybe there's an in-joke there which someone can explain to me later. As a smoker myself, it amused me that I was puffing away along with them.

Unfortunately, "Solo" isn't very scary. I had hopes that more would be made of the ghost story about the island being haunted, but alas, it was not to be. It's a mystery thriller with some horror elements, and only a minor upgrade from Syfy Originals and other "filler" genre movies.

I have a feeling that "Solo" is pretty much a directorial debut. Sometimes I tend to be more lenient with new talent, and there's enough talent involved in this movie to make it watchable. If you want something more exciting, however, I recommend one of the earlier "Friday the 13th" movies or "Sleepaway Camp" instead.

October 28, 2013

We Are What We Are (2013)

"The Parkers, a reclusive family who follow ancient customs, find their secret existence threatened as a torrential downpour moves into their area, forcing daughters Iris and Rose to assume responsibilities beyond those of a typical family."

I'm just going to do a couple of quick reviews today to get them out of the way. To be honest, I've found it a bit of a struggle to fill this month with something horror-related every day, and I'm looking forward to my time off on Hallowe'en.

The first of today's movies is Jim Mickle's reimagining of "Somos lo que hay" (2010) with the genders changed of the protagonists for no good reason whatsoever. Changing the sons from the original into daughters and having the mother dying instead of the father doesn't add much. Actually, it downgrades the social commentary of the original to such an extent that there's nothing here which you haven't seen before in any generic American horror movie from the last 3 years.

In many ways, "We Are What We Are" reminded me of "Flowers in the Attic" (1987) although its story is closer to being a non-comedic version of Jack Hill's "Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told" (1968). As with all new horror movies, some scenes are very formulaic, and because this is only a special kind of remake anyway, its borrowings are fairly obvious.

Julie Garner and Ambyr Childers.

Decent enough cinematography and above average acting are becoming de rigueur in remakes, and are the reasons why I'm not going to pan this one completely. It's always nice to get a movie which looks like a real movie. I was impressed by the camerawork in the opening scenes, and that was enough to hook me into watching the rest of it. If "We Are What We Are" had looked like another low-budget nasty, I would have ditched it after 5 minutes.

The biggest problem is that "We Are What We Are" is extremely slow over the ground and plays as a drama/thriller until the final scene. Mystery elements including a decoy murder and a doctor working out that the family are cannibals by looking up the symptoms of Kuru (or spongiform encephalopath for the more medically minded) are added to pad the running time, but a lot more gore spread throughout would have been better. I don't mind a languid pace in some movies, but this one made me want to scream, "Hurry up and do something!" at the screen.

The ending finally brings the much needed gore to the table (literally!), but it's so over-the-top and from out of left field that it completely ruins everything which preceeds it. The gore effects themselves are nothing to write home about either.

Worth a rental, I suppose, but neither of the "We Are What We Are" movies are as shocking as Pete Walker's "Frightmare" (1974).

I liked the setting with all the rain.

October 26, 2013

The Good Witch Marathon

No exciting horror movie review today because I've been watching "The Good Witch" marathon on the Hallmark Channel instead.

The new one—"The Good Witch's Destiny" (2013)—is on at 9pm.

In case you wonder why I watch these TV movies, here are some lovely pictures of Catherine Bell.

4 days left until Hallowe'en!

October 25, 2013

Vincent Price died 20 years ago today

Vincent died on October 25th, 1993. Can you believe it?

He died before most of today's horror fans were even born!

I recommend buying one of these if you aren't familiar with the great man's work.

The last one is cheapest in Target.

October 24, 2013

My Top Ten Witches' Cats

Only a week to go until Hallowe'en! Time for some cats!

Here's my top ten list of the most well known familiars.

1. Salem Saberhagen from "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" (1996)

2. Grimalkin from "Night of the Demon" (1957)

3. Kit from "Charmed" (1998)

4. Miss Kitty Fantastico from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (2000)

5. Vesper from "The Witches" (1966)

6. Adams from "The Legacy" (1978)

7. Tansy Taylor's cat from "Burn, Witch, Burn" (1962)

8. Vivian Sotherland's cat from "Midnight Offerings" (1981)

9. Moira's cat from "Spectre" (2006)

10. Baba Yaga's cat from "Baby Yaga, Devil Witch" (1973)

Bonus: Cordelia Foxx's cat from "American Horror Story: Coven" (2013)

Can you fill in the missing names?

For more horror cats, please check out http://horrorcats.blogspot.com.

October 23, 2013

Grave Halloween (2013)

"An American college student studying in Japan risks her own life to save the spirit of her dead mother, who killed herself in the notorious Suicide Forest."

Have you heard of Aokigahara Forest before? No? Me neither. Apparently, it's the trendy place to go if you want to commit suicide in Japan, and there's a famous book about it from the 1960s called "Black Sea of Trees" by Seichō Matsumoto. It's also the setting for Steven R. Monroe's vengeful ghost movie "Grave Halloween".

Since Hallowe'en is a Western custom, if you're now wondering what Japanese ghosts have to do with it, remember that this is a "Syfy Original" movie. Even the most tenuous links will suffice when Syfy are putting titles together for their "31 Days of Halloween" month. The Japanese may not celebrate Hallowe'en as such (although many of them are aware of it), but this movie is primarily about a group of American and Canadian exchange students who decide to film their investigation of the haunted Aokigahara Forest on Hallowe'en anyway. Additionally, it was all shot in Vancouver.

Director Steven R. Monroe is, of course, famous (or infamous) for the "I Spit on Your Grave" remake, its sequel, and nearly a dozen more cheap and nasty Syfy Channel movies. Basically, he's a professional director for hire rather than an auteur, but he usually manages to slip a nice bit of gore into his movies as a kind of trademark. Thus, "Grave Halloween" may surprise a few people with the level of gore in a made-for-TV movie. There's a stick through the throat, an "Evil Dead"-style pulling of arms and legs off, and a fairly realistic broken leg among the effects. Obviously, there's no swearing or nudity this time because "Grave Halloween" is another hypocritical MA-14.

Canadian Kaitlyn Leeb and a taller American guy.

Fans of Asian horror will certainly find something to enjoy in this movie even if it's only to ogle half-Chinese Kaitlyn Leeb (the three-breasted woman from the "Total Recall" remake). Her character, Maiko, is the one responsible for everyone going to the forest due to her birth-mother's suicide there and having received a mysterious box of trinkets through the mail which she wants to use for a Sadake (or blessing/atonement) ritual. If you aren't down with the kids who all seem to be obsessed with Japan these days, or have never heard of "Sadake" before, simply replace the word with Sudoku because it's only a MacGuffin. The students never get to perform their ritual or play Sudoku because they're too busy getting killed by long-haired ghosts!

Ignoring the Japanese elements, "Grave Halloween" is essentially a backwoods slasher which homages "The Evil Dead" and "The Blair Witch Project". Unlike the latter, however, it's not a found footage movie, just one that's quickly filmed with slightly shaky handycams. It's bickering "teenagers" getting bumped off, one by one, by various ghosts (some of which look a lot like zombies) with all the usual clichés and tropes.

The main actors are a mix of bit part players from American and Canadian TV, but they do okay in their poorly differentiated and two-dimensional roles. It's not worth mentioning their names because nobody has ever heard of them. One of the more obnoxious Americans says, "That's super comforting!" at 42 minutes in, and if you already know my feelings about this bloody annoying valley girl intensifier, you'll probably be surprised that I didn't switch the movie off right there and then. But I made it to the end (with my teeth-clenched in fury) just so that I could pan it some more.

Apart from being predictable, the worst thing about "Grave Halloween" is that the backstory is more interesting than the mystery which unfolds or the creepiness of the setting. The details about Japan, its laws and customs, and how ignorant gaijin (foreigners) often behave like disrepectful assholes (and deserve to be cursed) are spot-on, but for all the positives, too much relies on xenophobia. Maybe that's a good thing, though, if it keeps people away from the real Suicide Forest.

October 22, 2013

I have over 400,000 pageviews!

It's an omen!

Although I often half-joke about nobody ever reading my blog, and of course, my haters always claim that I'm somebody they've never heard of (even though they obviously have and they're jealous as shit), my stats indicate that I'm doing quite well. Thank you, whoever you may be and wherever you are, for reading.

To all the people who've purchased things from my affiliate links, I thank you even more. My cats are going to enjoy the bag of treats which I can almost afford now.

I'm hardly the best writer in the world, and most of my older reviews are utter crap with grammar and punctuation errors all over the place, but I'm working on tidying them up whenever I get the chance. I think I've improved slightly as a writer since I moved everything from my old website and MySpace to Blogger in 2010, but I'll never be famous for doing this. It's just a hobby, and I certainly don't want to write for any other site or magazine. I don't have any ambitions as a writer because, basically, this blog is just a blog, and it's what I use to keep track of what I've watched or highlight anything else that interests me. If it interests other people, for any reason whatsoever, it's a bonus.

Judging from my traffic sources, most of my hits tend to come from people looking up horror movie titles, so you can ignore that idiot (whose blog is all written with centred text like a poem) who often claims that horror movie review blogs are boring. If you also write horror movie reviews, I'm sure you'll have just as many hits (or more) as long as you stay current.

While I was checking my stats, I saw that a few hits were coming from Horror-Movies.ca, which is weird because we don't have anything to do with each other. Their forum is full of all those "hugs you" and "twirls you round the room dancing" thread-crappers rather than discussions about horror movies, so we haven't seen eye to eye for over six years. I'm not even going to hyperlink their address because they don't deserve the reciprocal traffic.

On further investigation, a link to one of my more viral posts, namely "Who are the Horror Lamers?", had been reposted recently in their forum by one of my jealous haters who thought she'd have everyone on her side tearing it apart. Unfortunately for her, it didn't quite turn out that way, which I find ironic and hilarious in my own special way.

I must be doing something right because one of the posters on that forum had this to say:
"I don't know this guy, or the history, but I actually loved that article. It started off as elitist, but then I realized he managed to knock pretty much every horror fan in a sarcastic way that had some honesty to it.

The 'Other horror cliques online' part at the end was nothing short of brilliant. Yeah its fairly extreme, but there is a thread of truth in all of it. The 'Horror Haters' and 'Horror Contrarians' in particular are very much dead on. I laughed out loud reading that section."

Nice! Thank you, whatever your name is. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I always get a kick out of people who find my articles funny (especially as I have no sense of humour).

In other news, it's nearly Hallowe'en!

That means that I only have to write a few more new reviews about shitty new horror movies, and then I'm done with all that nonsense. Nobody reads anything to do with horror after Hallowe'en anyway.

Carrie (2013)

"A reimagining of the classic horror tale about Carrie White, a shy girl outcast by her peers and sheltered by her deeply religious mother, who unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far at her senior prom."

What can I possibly write about this remake that hasn't been said before about every remake which doesn't match up to the original? If you avoid the notorious shill reviewers, you can pretty much pick any negative review of "Carrie" (trust me, 99% of them are very negative!) and they will all say exactly the same things as I want to: This remake of "Carrie" is a soulless and generic cashgrab.

If you've done the same thing as me and rewatched Brian De Palma's 1976 version recently, comparing the two movies is a bit like explaining the difference between Coke and Pepsi to other fizzy cola drinkers. Both use the same source material, but the American classic is bolder and more effervescent than the flatter and milder newcomer. The allusion is a good one, but it has to end there because some would argue that it's about taste rather than universals and discernment. If you don't know what those are, it's time for you to go back to Aristotle and re-aquaint yourself with basic aesthetic criticism. Some dramatic elements can be qualified, others not so easily, but at the end of the day, it's all about how the combination of elements evokes emotion and the catharis of emotion.

Before I begin my dissection, let me remind you that I'm not a nostalgist. I am just as willing to accept a new movie as I am an older one as long as it's good. I'm certainly not going to buy into the bullshit about a remake being better and more suitable for the younger generation than the original unless there's been an improvement. Sadly, the new version of "Carrie" adds a couple of extra scenes, removes a few others, and doesn't improve on anything.

"Plug it up! Plug it up!"

The first problem with the new "Carrie" is the age of the actors. In Brian De Palma's version, everyone was older playing younger. Sissy Spacek (the original Carrie White) was 27 years old at the time, not 16 like Chloë Grace Moretz. I'm not sure who the youngest cast member was in the original, but it's probably a toss up between John Travolta and Michael Talbott who were both in their early 20s. Consequently, they had a certain physicality, presence, and expressiveness about them which these younger pudgy-faced actors don't.

I know that if you use Nancy Allen as an example, things tend to not match the pattern, but despite only having two screen credits to her name before "Carrie", Nancy Allen (a 26-year-old) playing the bitchy but sexy Chris Hargensen was from a different world and fleshed out her character with natural charisma. Her replacement, Portia Doubleday, even though she's 25, is not only plainer but would be completely miscast if she tried to pull off the same role. Substantial changes to the character have made Chris Hargensen more cowardly, deceitful, and unlikeable, but turning her into little more than a stereotypically bully is at the expense of what made Nancy Allen's performance outstanding.

The same is true of every re-imagined character in this remake. The characters in the 1976 version simply have more depth to them which comes from who is playing them more than what they do or what comes out of their mouths. The originals have a look, an attitude, and vitality which the newcomers don't. The casting choices for this remake are okay-ish, but there's no star potential here. The cookie-cutter actors and actresses are as bland as the ones from the "trendy teen" slashers of the '90.

"Eve was weak! Eve was weak!"

Chloë Grace Moretz is a tiny, pretty girl, but she's not convincing as Carrie White. Her portrayal has no change from ugly ducking into a swan like Sissy Spacek's, and she only turns a pretty girl into a vengeful witch who can make CGI things float in mid-air and Hulk-stomp cracks into the road. The new Carrie doesn't sparkle with delight at the prom or make you want to fall in love with her when she smiles. Sissy Spacek nailed that role, and Chloë Grace Moretz is like a reject from "Charmed" in comparison.

Carrie's relationship with her mother is much the same as in the original, and Julianne Moore is occasionally better as a religious nutjob than Piper Laurie, but they don't resemble each other physically. Perhaps that's why a birthing scene was added to stop any speculation about whether the new Carrie might be adopted because, lamentably, there really are people who haven't seen other "Carrie" movies or read Stephen King's novel. As I'm not in that category, all I noticed was that Julianne Moore has the freckliness about her which would have made her a good match for Sissy Spacek, but if you tried to do the same thing with Chloë Grace Moretz and Piper Laurie, the mismatch would be more ludicrous.

The scenes between Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore are the best in the movie, give or take some stupid CGI levitations which aren't as good as the more realistic effects from the original, but they still feel like parody re-enactments when compared to the powerful and iconic performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. Judged on their own merits, they work.

The next problem is the pacing. Everything seems to be much faster, although if you time it, the acts are almost the same length. So what went wrong? The most obvious answer is the additional scenes of Carrie's birth and the posting of a YouTube video of Carrie being bullied in the shower. Neither of these scenes add anything to the story, and the latter isn't made as much of as it could be in light of recent media attention about bullying cases involving the internet. It's a contemporary update which some kids can relate to, but Carrie doesn't know about it or have any reaction to it, so what's the point? Adding these superfluous scenes just shortens the time which should have been used on better characterisation.

"They're all gonna laugh at you."

For something which is mostly a scene-by-scene remake in other respects, the new "Carrie" reveals some bizarre directorial decisions in what it ignores from the 1976 version. Admittedly, the scene with Tommy (William Katt) and his friends renting tuxedos (which is harshly remembered for the silly speeding-up in the middle) isn't very important apart from creating some comic relief, so I'm kind of glad that it's gone, but it did show that Tommy was just as happy to hang out with the nerdier kids as he was with the popular ones. The new rich kid, limo-hiring Tommy, played by Ansel Elgort, however, doesn't seem to have any friends!

In fact, the same could be said of all the kids in this movie. There's no rhyme or reason why any of them would want to know each other except for going to the same school. None of them are very friendly, and they don't behave like mid-teenagers normally would. They are so poorly differentiated that there's not one who you can care about either in a good way or a bad way; most only exist to fill space on the screen. Maybe it's because of the notable loss of lingering shots on the actors' expressions which makes the kids in this look like a bunch of console-gaming Aspies who don't have any contact with other people in the real world, or maybe it's bad acting, but there's no chemistry between them.

Let's also not forget the more "adult" stuff such as the opening shower and locker room introduction from the original with all that lovely nudity! That's gone due to a combination of Chloë Grace Moretz's age and what some might say is prudishness by a woman director. I'm not being misogynistic about it, it's a fact. Based on this director's grittier previous work, however, I suspect a lot of producer interference. You can clearly see for yourself how more "politically correct" hypocrisy is responsible for giving short-shrift to Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan's memorably fiery relationship from the original "Carrie", and it's turned their new versions into two-dimensional bullies with no motivation for what they do to Carrie White other than being bullies for the sake of it.

Time of the month?

I'm not going to go into any great detail about the prom scenes and the ending because you'll go to see "Carrie" no matter what I say, and I've given you far too many spoilers without warning already. Suffice it to say that there's no heart involved in the scenes between Carrie and Tommy, and you won't feel Carrie's joy or see Tommy's temptation turn into wish-fulfilment. They don't even dance to a song with words which complement the moment! There's beauty and depth (and lots of flute music) in the original which you won't find here.

When the action kicks off, some of the stunts are rushed and others are too drawn out, but as the original "Carrie" is flawed with dated split-screen effects, the final third may seem cleaner overall. Because of test screenings, the much publicised additional scenes from Stephen King's novel were left out of the theatrical release. Hopefully, they'll be on the eventual DVD and Blu-ray, but they'll probably be as "Special Features" rather than a director's cut if they get included at all.

At the end of the day, this is a remake which replaces subtleties and characterisation with spectacle, so I'll concede to personal tastes about that. I didn't care for it—too many punches are pulled horror-wise to make it satisfying for me—but your mileage may vary.

Nice poster.

October 20, 2013

Amy (2013)

"With the psychic power of clairvoyance, an extra-sensory perception, Amy starts witnessing haunting visions as her entire Amish village begins to fall into demonic control."

Although "Amy" is typical of the low-budget awfulness which I usually tell people to avoid, the Amish setting is rather fascinating. There aren't many horror movies with the Amish in them that I can think of other than "Deadly Blessing" (1981), and apart from "Witness" (1985) and a couple of episodes of "Friday the 13th: The Series" involving a possessed quilt, the Amish haven't really been a source of entertainment for me at all. Consequently, as I don't know much about the Amish way of life except that they are a Christian sect who have chosen to separate themselves from the rest of the world (and have taken John 17:13-16 very literally), the novelty value sold this to me.

Having said that, I've been to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where "Amy" was filmed and can tell you that the Amish people depicted in this movie are more like Mennonites. Mennonites are the ones who don't mind using a bit of electricity or modern tools to get their jobs done. They also run a lot of stores where they sell baked goods and some quite outstanding gummy worms, which is the only reason I've ever had any contact with them. Truth be told, as much as I admire their simple lifestyle, I find them all to be a bit creepy.

Playing up the creepy factor of their otherness, however, is not this movie's intention. Instead, the agenda is something which you will either find absolutely hilarious or very insulting depending on your point of view. I don't want to get ahead of myself and spoil the ending for you because the way it's delivered is supposed to be a surprise which is impossible to guess before it actually happens, but suffice it to say that there's only one infamous '80s slasher movie I know of where the villain has the same motivation. I'll leave a clue in the labels below this post.

"I see possessed people."

Because I misread the synopsis, I half-expected "Amy" to be a "Carrie" clone, but it isn't. It's a tale of demonic possessions in an Amish village which only one girl, Jessica DiGiovanni as Amy, has the power to see. She isn't believed even when people start dying, which strains her relationships with everyone around her, but then Christopher Atkins conveniently shows up as a magician/exorcist to help her save the day. That, give or take some cheap CGI effects, is as good as the story gets. Remember Christopher Atkins from "The Blue Lagoon" (1980) with Brooke Shields? Even if you do, you'll barely recognise him 33 years on. He's really aged, but unfortunately, his acting hasn't improved to go with it.

Despite "Amy" being a serious (but poorly made) horror movie, there's some amusement to be had around 40 minutes in when Christopher Atkins is speaking in his normal American accent and Amy exclaims, "You're English!" I know the real Amish are a bit cut off from us "fancy people", and some of them speak with a strange German accent, but that's just ridiculous in the context of this movie. Amy doesn't have any accent but an American one either, nor does she do any of the stereotypical Old English "thees" and "thous" which you might expect from religious folks. Thus, I don't know how and why that line was left in when Christopher Atkins clearly had no intention of ever trying to do an English accent. Maybe it's because Indian writer/director R.P. Patnaik (better known for Bollywood movies) was unable to tell the difference.

Blaming the rest of the movie's inadequacies on R.P. Patnaik's nationality and an imagined language barrier which may never have been a problem is the only way I can explain how a production with an alleged $2,000,000 budget turned out to be so horrible. I have no idea what really happened, but as that's twice the budget which The Asylum normally use, I'd guess that the real budget was a lot less. "Amy" looks like something you'd find buried in a Pendulum Pictures or Echo Bridge multipack, and with so many one-off actors and actresses in it, it's more like a $2,000 movie (plus whatever Christopher Atkins' fee for the day might be).

"God - He can't find us any better than Santa Claus."

Apart from Jessica DiGiovanni trying her hardest with a terrible script, everyone around her is either wooden or embarrassing to watch. I'd like to say that the older Amish women are the worst, but they're clearly amateurs and Christopher Atkins is not, so his performance wins a special booby prize for cringeworthiness. Runner-up is Kurt Mason Peterson as Amy's boyfriend Robert because he's so inconsistent. His prize is that he got to kiss and fondle Jessica DiGiovanni in the least erotic way possible during a scene on a bench which looks as if it lasts from morning until evening.

The passage of time is the biggest problem in "Amy". While I don't often tear a movie apart for breaking the Aristotlean rules about unity of time, there's no way I can overlook the mess that's been made here. I have no idea if the events are supposed to take place over a couple of days, a week, or a month. One very noticeable mistake is how Amy's visits to Chris' magic circle in the barn don't match up to the dusk and dawn rules which he explains to her either, but there are plenty more like that if you look for them.

On the plus side, the storytelling isn't too bad, and I'll give everyone credit for trying to make something a little bit different. As ever, it's the execution and production values which let things down, but "Amy" is still worth a rental if you have nothing else to watch.

Haunter (2013)

"The ghost of a teenager who died years ago reaches out to the land of the living in order to save someone from suffering her same fate."

Remember Vincenzo Natali the director of "Cube" (1997) and "Splice" (2009)? Well, he's back with a supernatural mystery which is available via VOD just in time for Hallowe'en. Don't get too excited, though, because "Haunter" tries to be more cerebral than scary and fails at being either.

The biggest problem is that "Haunter" is another typically Canadian remix of over half a dozen already extremely well known movies and at least two recent TV shows.

The first things I thought of when I started watching it were "Groundhog Day" (1993), "The Lovely Bones" (2009), "Voices" (1973), and "Lady in White" (1988), but there are also some quite blatant borrowings from "The Others" (2001), "Marchlands", and "American Horror Story". Throw in a few tiny homages to "The Collector" (1965), "The Matrix" (1999), and even "Dark Skies" (2013), and you have your movie.

If the wind changes, you'll stay like that. Oh wait...

As "Haunter" is essentially a ghost story, there are bound to be some formulaic similarities to previous ghost stories, but that's still no excuse for all the cloning. It's laziness for the most part, although it's dangerously close to plagiarism in others. I've only read parts of "The Lovely Bones" novel and have never seen Peter Jackson's movie adaptation, but if I can see the resemblances, I'm sure Alice Sebold will!

I'm not saying that "Haunter" isn't fairly enjoyable or well made. The cinematography borders on beautiful, and atmospherically, it's not a million miles away from Spanish thrillers such as "The Orphanage" (2007) or several of the more "girlie" Asian horrors. The acting is competent too, apart from Abigail Breslin who only has one big-eyed expression and is prone to sighing, gasping, and breathing heavily to compensate. Consequently, there are more close-ups than are strictly necessary, but that's a minor niggle.

The three time periods of 1985, the present day, and the late 1950s look the part as far as I can tell. As somebody who has no idea what Ontario looked like in the main 1985 time zone, I assume that kids were into much the same things as I was, but I'm a bit dubious about the Atari games console or Siousxie and the Banshees still being popular in the mid-80s rather than 3 or 4 years before. I've always imagined Canada as being a few years behind everyone else, so maybe it's spot on. My Canadian readers will have to let me know.

Overall, "Haunter" is a decent but very predictable PG-13 ghost story with no scares, no swearing or nudity, and very little violence. It's an upgrade for teenage fans of "Goosebumps" or "Are You Afraid of the Dark", but it's far too kiddified if you're an adult. I'll give it an extra point because it held my interest to the end.

This poster sucks! Why is she in a jar? Why?

October 19, 2013

Gravity (2013)

"A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space."

I don't know about you, but the thought of being stranded in space gives me the heebies. The mixture of claustrophobia, agoraphobia, and vertigo would drive most people insane, and let's not forget about the possibility of being captured and tortured by aliens! Unfortunately, "Gravity" doesn't go into those areas, so it's not very satisfying for horror or sci-fi fans.

"Gravity" is a disaster movie for science nerds who love movies such as "The Right Stuff" (1983) or "Apollo 13" (1995) and believe that there really are space labs orbiting Earth, Man landed on the moon, and all that other rubbish. It's not another "Event Horizon" (1997), "Mission to Mars" (2000), or even "Armageddon" (1998), except for some very superficial similarities and, of course, being set in space. Thus, if you're expecting something other than a potential Oscar winner, look elsewhere.

To say that I wasn't impressed by "Gravity" is the understatement of the year. I was, by turns, bored out of my mind, nauseated by the shocking waste of money that went into something which the BBC could have filmed for the price of a couple of bags of prawn cocktail crisps back in the days of "Blakes 7", and because it's hard to tell what's going on unless you have some kind of astronautical doctorate degree, I was even more confused by all the confusing things which Sandra Bullock was confused by. Basically, I hated it.

Maybe it's also because I read Ray Bradbury's short sci-fi story "Kaleidoscope"—which everyone claims isn't the inspiration for "Gravity" until they are blue in the face (even though it clearly is!)—when I was a teenager, and it stayed with me. Or maybe it's just because I can't abide movies about astronauts in the first place. Either way, I felt like I'd seen the best and worst parts of it before.

Here come the spoilers!

What a load of Bullocks!

I have no idea how much of "Gravity" is CGI or filmed against a green screen, nor do I care about the smoke and mirrors behind the scenes. The result is very clever, and with such great effects now available, I'm sure we'll get a fake Mars landing from NASA eventually. What I do know is that Sandra Bullock is hot for her age, and her 3D acrobatics look cool, but neither is enough to make any of this movie exciting.

Using the "running out of air" trope is the closest that "Gravity" gets to having any tension, and a couple of dead astronauts provide the only horror. If only Sandra Bullock could've been persuaded to strip completely like Barbarella rather than just down to her t-shirt and underpants like Ripley, it would have perked things up a bit. Alas, this is a PG-13, and she doesn't do anything particularly sexy apart from grunting, groaning and gasping. Okay, so she also barks and howls like a dog at one point, but you have your fetishes and I'll have mine.

What really pissed me off, however, was the lack of scientific accuracy about how things work in space. Not only does the whooshing and swooshing make no sense in a vacuum where sound doesn't carry, the biggest cock-up is that Sandra Bullock could have just given George Clooney a little tug (no, not THAT kind of little tug!), and there would have been no need for his predictable self-sacrifice. I've seen this cliché done to death (quite literally) in American movies so many times that it's guaranteed to make me cringe and grind my teeth in anger now. In this case, it's also a terrible waste of George Clooney!

"Look, Mom, look! A falling star!"

Frustratingly, George Clooney doesn't ever get to finish his Mardi Gras story about the "hairy guy", although I've got a feeling that the punchline would have involved some kind of monkey. I just thought I'd throw that in here because I'm sure everyone else with a normal brain felt cheated by the lack of closure too. I even Googled it to see if it was an old joke by a comedian who I've never heard of, but I couldn't find anything.

Nerds will probably love "Gravity" for the various spaceships with their big boards of switches and flashing lights, but I couldn't make head nor tail of which was which or how they are supposed to work. Apart from the Cyrillic in one and Kanji in another, everything looks the same to me. You also have to laugh at how years of training and millions of tax-payers' dollars are proven to be completely wasted when Sandra Bullock makes her "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe" choices. I guess that NASA will be changing their astronaut training program accordingly, unless of course, that is their astronaut training program already. Mind you, it's not as if man (or woman) has ever managed to leave this planet in any way other than a coffin, so it's all bullshit.

My biggest complaint about this whole boring mess, however, is that there are no apes riding horses and catching humans in nets when Sandra Bullock finally gets back to Earth and crawls out of the lake. I'll never understand why they left out that very important detail, but hopefully, it'll be available as an extra on the DVD and Blu-ray later.

The alternative DVD ending.

As far as anything called "Gravity" goes, I still prefer Zlata Ognevich's sexy Eurovision video.

October 18, 2013

Ghost Team One (2013)

"Two roommates deathly afraid of ghosts both fall in love with a girl who believes their home is haunted."

I don't know why everyone is calling "Ghost Team One" a "comedy". It isn't funny, and it doesn't even have a particularly happy ending. What it does have is lots of awkwardness and the same atmosphere as the American version of "The Office" (which also isn't funny), and of course, a hot chick (or two) to ogle.

"Ghost Team One" is essentially another completely unneccessary "Paranormal Activity" parody which brings the number of such abominations up to an unlucky 13. How and why this has become a subgenre in itself is undoutedly due to the YouTube generation who can't seem to get enough of webcams, shakycams, and mediocrity. For those of us who prefer a real movie, these faux found footage movies are mostly an annoying waste of time.

There are a couple of neat effects in "Ghost Team One" which you don't often see in a glorified YouTube video like this, but it isn't a horror movie by any stretch of the imagination either. In fairness, though, I don't think it was ever intended to be. It's not "found footage horror" per se that this movie is lampooning but the whole "amateur-looking footage" subgenre in general. Even YouTube gets targetted!

The downfall with this, however, is that "Ghost Team One" is as tame as its targets when it comes to the adult situations: Punches are pulled everywhere, e.g. pornographic images on a bedroom wall are pixellated, and the "jokes" (if you can call them that) are little more than schoolboyish. Think Benny Hill but less creepy with it. For a movie which uses the promise of "horny ghosts" as its selling point (especially as the only ghost in it is supposed to have been a Vietnamese prostitute!), it's very disappointing.

Two guys I've never heard of and Fernanda Romero.

As I have no sense of humour when it comes to comedy-horror movies, spoofs or otherwise, I hate to say it, but I was slightly entertained by "Ghost Team One" in a low-rent "Men Behaving Badly" (British version, naturally) way. It's well written, the drama is nicely done, and the characters are stupidly amiable but harmless enough. Once you get used to the awful camerawork, the whole purpose of "Ghost Team One" is only an excuse to lust over Fernanda Romero anyway. If Fernanda wasn't in it, I doubt that I would have made it to the end.

Fernanda Romero (who keeps her real first name and clothes on throughout) steals every scene she's in to such an extent that "Ghost Team One" is best described as her "vehicle". If anyone else involved in this movie is deluded enough to think otherwise, they need to grab themselves a reality check next time they go to 7-Eleven for their taquitos and slushies, and understand that, apart from a few infantilised adults (who were born in the '80s and '90s) and their friends, the majority of people who will eventually buy this movie on DVD or Blu-ray are just going to skip to the parts with Fernanda in and crack open another box of tissues. Yes, she really is that hot!

Putting the novelty value of "Ghost Team One" as a "latino" movie aside, since I often tend to overrate any kind of Spanish or Mexican movie even when they are filmed in Los Angeles, I don't recommend this one. I'll give everybody credit for having a go, but "Ghost Team One" would have been better as a series of webisodes.

Fernanda Romero is the centre of attention.

October 17, 2013

The Monkey's Paw (2013)

"Jake is given a monkey's paw that grants three wishes. After the first two wishes leave his friend Cobb undead, Cobb pushes Jake to make a final wish."

Oh great! A generic re-imagining of W.W. Jacobs' classic short story—a more horrific re-imagining of "The Three Wishes" by the Brothers Grimm—which has very little to do with the original other than having a wish-granting monkey's paw in it. If you think you've seen it all before, you probably have, especially as the first movie version of "The Monkey's Paw" was made way back in 1915 and remade more than a dozen times since.

"The Monkey's Paw" has also been used as a theme so many times that it's hard to keep track of. Just off the top of my head, the "Wish You Were Here" segment from "Tales from the Crypt" (1972) is one of the more well known variants, "Deathdream" or "Dead of Night" (1972) puts a Vietnam war spin on things, and even "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" reworked the core of the story into an episode called "Forever". Thus, it's only logical that, sooner or later, someone else would realise that "The Monkey's Paw" contains a certain element which is very popular at the moment, and decided to make another bloody zombie movie out of it!

In fairness, the resurrection of an already decomposing corpse is the scariest part of W.W. Jacob's story, and Stephen King also ran amok with its idea of the dead coming back wrong for "Pet Sematary", but did something which you can read in under 10 minutes really have to be dragged out for another feature length movie?

With the first two wishes granted in less than 25 minutes, this Chiller Films version of "The Monkey's Paw" takes far too long to tell a story which could be wrapped up in 5 more. In fact, around 50 minutes in, Gillespie (Daniel Hugh Kelly), the previous owner of the paw, retells the original story as exposition in a lot less time than that!

"I wish I was still on Harper's Island."

Apart from a ton of padding (including a police investigation which only exists to give Charles S. Dutton from "Halloween H20" a cameo), the plot of "The Monkey's Paw" is mostly "Ugh, I'm a psycho-zombie, look at what you've done to me! Give me my wish or I'll kill everybody you know!" for over an hour, and it soon gets pretty boring. It's one cliché after another, and towards the end, it almost becomes another "Friday the 13th"-style slasher to make sure that the machete kills homage absolutely everything in the horror genre which director Brett Simmons has watched.

The cookie-cutter eyecandy provided by C.J. Thomason from "Harper's Island" (for the girls) and Michelle Pierce from "NCIS" (for the boys) does nothing to redress the balance after turning Stephen Lang (a real actor) into a soulless zombie, but I suppose that's Chiller for you. As usual, there's no nudity or swearing because Chiller are hypocrites and those things are far worse than showing violence. Oh, and they just had to set the story in New Orleans because everybody (including "American Horror Story") is trying to make Louisiana the cool place to be creepy again this year.

While the acting is okay, and the gore effects aren't bad for a sanitised TV movie, there's no "oomph" to this: There are no scares and no chance whatsoever of a memorable punchline. Well, not when you already know exactly what that punchline will be anyway. Watch the 1948 version instead.