Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tourist Trap (1979)








DIRECTOR: David Schmoeller

WRITERS:

David Schmoeller
J. Larry Carroll

CAST:

Chuck Connors
Jocelyn Jones
Jon Van Ness
Robin Sherwood
Tanya Roberts
Dawn Jeffory
Keith McDermott
Shailar Coby

PLOT:

When a group of friends becomes stranded when their car breaks down. They met an older man by the name of Mr. Slausen. He offers to help them fix their car. He invites them back to his house to grab his tools. Soon the group of friends realises that they are in lots of trouble and something is off when they arrive at his house and its filled with creepy and realistic mannequins.|







Coming to the end of my seventies slasher retrospective. I was happy to finish with a movie such as Tourist Trap. This is one of those horror movies that I've always known about due to its creepy VHS cover but never actually seen. So to finally get to the end of the seventies and finish on such a mysterious film that has always been in the back of my mind. I was excited to witness it. I went into this one expecting a masked killer but that was the extent of it. Boy did this one surprise me.

Going into Tourist Trap. I had no idea that this was a film that dealt with mannequins. I just thought it was a creepy masked killer movie. So when the movie began and we have that first death scene. I was immediately creeped out and put on edge. When a room full of eerie, lifelike mannequins come to life and objects in the room start flying around and end up impaling a guy. I was left a little surprised and shocked. Straight out of the gate, I was already enjoying this weird little oddity of a slasher.

Seeing this movie only now. I couldn't help but draw comparisons between Tourist Trap with House Of Wax and Psycho. An abandoned and once popular attraction that fell into obscurity and disrepair when a highway is built drawing traffic away from it. This, in turn, has left the brothers who own it with a business that no longer makes money and they've had to close it down. This movie felt so similar to House Of Wax that I have a feeling that the remake of House Of Wax took major chunks of Tourist Trap and paid homage to it.

While the story has beats that feel very similar to more current movies that I may have seen before this one. I can't deny that this tries to set itself apart from other slashers by delivering just a little bit more insanity and weirdness to all the horror proceedings. What we have here, is a movie that while giving us slasher elements tries to throw in a bit of the supernatural to keep audiences on their toes. Here we have a heaping of 'Carrie' like Telekinesis which feels like it tries to add something a little bit different to the slasher movie.

The biggest problem that Tourist Trap faces in trying to add Supernatural elements to the story is that they don't really ever work or get explained in the end. I can admire the attempt at giving us a masked serial killer who has the ability to kill with his mind and control things. But if you plan on doing that, try and explain how he has come to gain the ability or at least try and give us a reason. I'm all for leaving things up to an audience to question but a dead wife and a failing business aren't enough to warrant complete lapses in logic and story.

When it comes to the killer reveal. I thought it was pretty predictable, to be honest. They try to throw the audience off with little hints that there is a brother character who was the creator of all the mannequins. A couple of red herrings are chucked into the ring but once the reveal takes place. We the audience are aware of what's going on straight away. It's never hard to guess who the bad guy is here. You won't be all that shocked or surprised come the reveal. Chuck Connors does deliver a pretty crazy performance that is worth highlighting.

The death scenes in Tourist Trap are actually pretty entertaining. The first death scene with the impaling is the standout here. The rest while not being violent or bloody still delivers on being utterly bonkers. A lot of death scenes feature mannequins and flying objects which only makes the scenes all the more strange. At times, I wasn't sure if what we were seeing was real or who was the killer. It's all a bit of a mindfuck here. Which is a reason why I think I enjoyed this movie even if at times, none of it really makes much sense when it comes to the narrative.

Lastly, it has to be mentioned that Tourist Trap delivers on its mood and atmosphere. This is a genuinely creepy film. Being that everything feels strange or odd, it elevates the creepiness. I don't think the movie has any jump out of your seat scares but you will be on edge with all the bizarre reveals of horrifying mannequins who start lunging forward or start laughing. I think what makes it work is that you never know if a real person is hiding behind these figures. It always keeps you guessing if this next reveal may be human or not. For that, I liked the tension.







DEATH TOLL: 6


BLOOD AND GORE:

- A man is impaled with a metal pole.
- A woman is choked to death with a scarf.
- A man is hit in the neck with an axe.
- A man's arm and head are pulled off and smashed on the ground.
- A woman is stabbed in the back of the head with a knife.
- A woman is suffocated when her face is covered in plaster.








Tourist Trap is not a perfect movie. The movie has several problems. We have some supernatural stuff that's added to the story which makes this film appear bonkers and weird but doesn't do much for the plot when it comes to logic or trying to explain said supernatural elements. What saves this movie is that we have an extremely creepy setting, some great atmosphere, and some decent performances from the cast. If creepy mannequins are your phobia, this movie should make you shit your pants.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Driller Killer (1979)








DIRECTOR: Abel Ferrara

WRITER: Nicolas St. John

CAST:

Abel Ferrara
Carolyn Marz
Baybi Day
Harry Schultz
Alan Wynroth
Maria Helhoski
James O'Hara

PLOT:

Reno is a struggling artist who is living in New York City. It doesn't help that he lives with and is trying to support his two female roommates while struggling to pay all the rent and bills. He is also struggling to finish his long-delayed masterpiece. Due to his loud next door neighbours who are practicing punk band and little to no inspiration. Reno beings to slowly go insane and he begins killing vagrants with a power drill.







Working in a video store during the VHS era. There wasn't a day that would go past where I would be putting movies back on the shelf in the horror section and see the horrific VHS cover art for Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer. The image of a power drill boring into someone's skull with bright red blood gushing from the wound was one that inspired disgust and repulsion from a teenager who wasn't all that crash hot on horror when he started working in the video store.

Seeing that VHS cover art for years on end. I never felt the need to watch the movie. As my love for the horror genre grew. I just never went back to give Driller Killer the time of day. It was one of those infamous movies that I've always been aware of but it just sort of sat on the back burner. It wasn't until I decided to spend an entire year focusing on slasher movies from the seventies and eighties. Finally reaching 1979, it was time to bite the bullet and watch The Driller Killer. I wasn't sure what to expect for my first Abel Ferrara film but this was something.

I think going into The Driller Killer with the image of the VHS cover burned into my psyche. I expected this movie's reputation to proceed it. I expected this absolutely blood-soaked bloodbath. I expected a video nasty of the nastiest sort. I expected a killer with a drill murdering people. Not knowing what to expect from Abel Ferrara's style, I think after viewing the movie. I was left ultimately disappointed. Maybe I had expected too much after years of hearing fellow horror fans talk about the movie and what my mind had conjured up.

First and foremost, I want to talk about the style of the film. This is some low-budget, guerilla-style filmmaking. This is gritty and dirty. It feels like Abel Ferrara didn't have a permit to shoot this on the streets of New York. So he'd grab a cameraman, give his actors a run through and they'd shoot in the dead of night. As an Australian who has visited New York City twice. This is not the New York I know. This is the mean streets. This is the dark and scary New York of the seventies. I sort of love this time capsule captured on camera.

The biggest disappointment that I have with Driller Killer is all the long uninterrupted takes in this movie. There are countless scenes of this punk band who are practicing which becomes tedious. Once or twice was enough. Not every fifteen minutes. Plus the music is terrible in the film. Maybe if I enjoyed seventies punk, I could've gotten into it. We also have these long lingering shots of girls in the shower. I think a lot of the style of this film felt grating. I really struggled to enjoy a lot of what I witnessed in the film. There felt like a lot of nonsense here.

The movie takes close to forty-minutes before getting to the horror. We have a really uncomfortable scene involving a skinned rabbit early on that just left me feeling really grossed out but once we arrive at Reno who is losing his mind and suddenly goes on a rampage with a drill. I was totally on board with the film now. I enjoyed the second half of Driller Killer a lot more than the first half. This turns into something extremely gruesome and mean-spirited. Reno is never a likable character but when he starts to brutally murder homeless people. He becomes one of screens most unsettling killers.

When it comes to the performances. I can't fault Abel Ferrara as Reno. He really is unhinged in this film. It's hard to be critical of his performance when he is playing a serial killer that is so unlikable. Where some films based on killers have the audience torn with how to feel about the killer's actions, here I wasn't conflicted. I really didn't like the character. Reno is no Patrick Bateman. In saying that, though. I can't fault the performance because Abel Ferrara is really disturbing. I have to wonder how close the artist is to the man himself as this is also very eccentric.

Lastly, I have to talk about the violence. When it comes to the gore and violence. This is brutal to the point that it feels mean-spirited. I think what it does successfully is it makes violence ugly. There is nothing that feels glamorous here. The gore is horrific. The makeup effects are decent. The scene with the infamous drill to the skull is just grotesque. I have to wonder how it was filmed as it's all done on camera. It looked excellent for having such a low budget. While a lot of the gore is not really shown, it's a case of less is more.







DEATH TOLL: 10

BLOOD AND GORE:

- Multiple homeless people are drilled through the back.
- A homeless man is drilled through the forehead with a drill.
- A man is stabbed in the back in public in broad daylight.
- A woman finds a man's guts and organs in a trash can.
- Multiple homeless men are drilled through the stomach.
- A skinned rabbit is carved up and repeatedly stabbed in the head.
- A man is seen being sprayed with blood.
- A woman is shown with no eyes and bleeding from the sockets.
- A man is drilled through the throat and stuck to the door.
- A man is drilled in the back with a drill.







The Driller Killer has left me torn. On one hand, we have this mean-spirited and ugly horror film about a man who goes on a rampage with a drill. The violence and gore is disturbing. This has exploitation written all over it. On the other hand, we have this odd psychodrama about a struggling artist that feels like a lot of nonsense. Lingering scenes with terrible punk music feels like it brings that side of the film down. I think all the years that I avoided this and had preconceived notions about it just didn't live up to what I had expected from it. An unhinged performance from Abel Ferrara and some sleaziness can't save this one. 



Monday, May 29, 2017

When A Stranger Calls (1979)








DIRECTOR: Fred Walton


WRITERS:

Fred Walton
Steve Feke

CAST:

Carol Kane

Charles Durning
Rutanya Alda
Carmen Argenziano

Kirsten Larkin
Ron O'Neal
William Boyett
Colleen Dewhurst
Tony Beckley

PLOT:

When high school student Jill Johnson is babysitting a couple of sleeping children. She begins to receive creepy phone calls from an unknown person who is asking her if she has 'checked on the children lately?' After she calls the police to complain about being harassed. She receives a terrifying call back telling her that the calls are coming from inside the house. Seven years after the traumatic event, Jill is again menaced by the killer who plans on finishing what he started.







When I first witnessed When A Stranger Calls as a teenager, I just wasn't impressed. I was a nineties kid who grew up loving the Scream franchise. A movie that I'm now well aware was somewhat inspired by this movie with its opening sequence. Over the course of my seventies and eighties slasher retrospective, I'm discovering lots of films about the terrorized babysitter or creepy unknown caller. This follows Fright and Black Christmas and again, was a pretty enjoyable experience on my second viewing.

The first twenty minutes of When A Stranger Calls are some of the creepiest minutes that have ever been committed to a horror movie. While it isn't flat out scary or have you jumping out of your seat. The film successfully builds tension until it reaches that breaking point when the police phone Jill back to inform her that the calls are coming from inside the house. Some of the most perfect tension building in a horror film. The reveal of the killer at the top of the stairs and the confirmation that he murdered the sleeping children is pretty horrific.

The second act is where the movie has a few issues and looses points with me. We learn that the killer has escaped from a mental asylum after being committed for the murders of the children. Here we are introduced to our killer. The second act feels like a completely different movie because instead of following Jill as she recovers from the traumatic event. A good chunk of this film switches gears and we now follow the killer as he stalks a woman. If I have anything positive to say about it, it certainly throws out the formula of what I had come to expect.

We have a few scenes in the middle of the film that feel like they drag on
. There is a scene in a bar and a few very long-winded moments where our private eye is trying to hunt down our killer. While they are not out of place or feel like they don't offer anything to the story. Some of these scenes feel like they kill the vibe of what starts out as an extremely intense horror film. The scenes that are most uncomfortable in the second act is our killer just entering a woman's home and not leaving. This scene makes for a pretty intense sequence. I was on the edge of my seat.

When A Stranger Calls also has a pretty fun chase scene towards the third act of the film. When our killer ends up attacking the woman after she is used as bait to try and capture him. We get a pretty awesome chase scene. What I think I enjoyed so much about When A Stranger Calls is that it never feels like it follows a formula that I have come to expect from watching a lot of seventies slashers. Compared to movies like Fright and Black Christmas, this feels like it sets itself apart just enough to be fresh when it comes to the stalking babysitter and creepy unknown caller tales.

Now the third act of the movie is where things pick back. We return to a now adult Jill. She is a happily married woman and has two beautiful children. When she and her husband go out for the night to celebrate a promotion, she receives a call that sends her into a panic. The caller asks her if she has checked on the children? Once again, we are right back into the intense stuff that made the opening so promising. The final few minutes are utterly creepy. I have to also hand it to the director and writer for giving us such a dark ending. This isn't a happy one and I think it would have alienated some audience members back in the late seventies.

When it comes to the acting, I think the movie has some solid performances. Carol Kane as Jill Johnson is fantastic. When the second act or entire middle part of this movie does away with her character. I actually missed her performance. She opens and closes the film and delivers a great performance. Tony Beckley as our killer also delivers a solid performance. He plays a psychopath very well. I felt uncomfortable several times throughout the film. Charles Durning who plays our detective also gives a great performance but I think is overshadowed here by both Carol Kane and Tony Beckley who have much more to do here.

Lastly, we have the suspense and scares. While the film isn't exactly scary. It's pretty intense. The opening sequence is one of the creepiest I've seen in a slasher film. The film sort of loses its way during the second act of the film. The tension sort of fades out and comes back when we are again introduced to Jill as an adult. The film gets a much-needed boost of tension in the final few minutes. The scene in the restaurant with the call and the closet door and the killer talking to Jill are both really creepy moments. For the most part, it delivers the chills.








DEATH TOLL: 4

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A man is beaten up in a bar fight.
- Two children are murdered in their sleep.
- A man is seen dead on the floor.
- A man is shot and killed.








When A Stranger Calls is an incredibly enjoyable seventies slasher. While the movie has a few problems that fall back on the second act of the film. I have to admit that the way that this film plays out, it doesn't follow the normal formula and feels fresh even if the creepy caller and babysitter alone in the house story had already been done several times before. Bookended by incredibly creepy moments and some solid performances from our three leading characters. When A Stranger Calls is one of the better horror films to come out of that decade.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The X-Ray Fiend (1897)








DIRECTOR: George Albert Smith

CAST:

Laura Bayley
Tom Green

PLOT:

A flirting couple has an x-ray machine turned on them that reveals their insides.








After delving into my first couple of Georges Méliès short films. I've decided to tackle a short film from George Albert Smith. In some film circles, he is considered to be the English Georges Méliès. 
Like Georges Méliès, he is considered to be a movie pioneer. I get the comparisons of these two film pioneers after watching The X-Ray Fiend as this short feels very similar to Georges Méliès work. Both in tone and feel.

The X-Ray Fiend runs at a short 45 seconds. As with the other shorts I've reviewed. This doesn't feel very horror. For the late 1800's, this was never going to be a short film filled with scares and blood. That's to be expected. Audiences back then would have sat and watched these short films in amazement and astonishment. Just the visual tricks of a couple turning into skeletons would have been enough to frighten viewers back in that period.

While I have enjoyed the last couple of short films that I've watched. I think The X-Ray Fiend is neither here nor there for me. I didn't love it nor did I hate it. I couldn't fault it for the sheer fact that this is one of those early pieces of cinema that paved the way and for that, I have to respect it. But when it comes to the idea and visuals, it feels a little less impressive than 
Georges Méliès short films. Still, I admire all of the history behind this short film.

Following only a year after a couple of the short films that I had already seen, it feels like this falls short and is a step back in terms of cinematography and visuals. George Albert Smith coming up after 
Georges Méliès feels like there is talent there but for my first short film from him feels a little gritty and less polished. This is all very grainy in terms of aesthetic. I know this all falls back on the period but for some reason, I think this felt a lot more simple.

Lastly, when it comes to the acting. It's hard to review or even be harsh on the acting as this short is another silent film. There is not one bit of dialogue. No subtitles. All of the acting all feels very theatrical or like a play. This is in the vain of a pantomime or comedy show. For that, the two actors deliver lots of charm and have a lot of fun with their performances. It takes a lot of talent to give a good performance with absolutely no dialogue and only expressions.








DEATH TOLL: 0

BLOOD AND GORE:

- There is no blood or gore in this short film.








The X-Ray Fiend deserves a watch just for the simple fact this is one of the earliest pieces of horror cinema. While I personally don't class this as horror and more of a comedy, the addition of a couple of skeletons lends itself to the genre in that sense. With two very charming performances, this feels very much like a pantomime. I think following up after two 
Georges Méliès shorts, this feels a lot more simplistic in terms of story but I can't be hard on it when it runs at a very bare forty-five seconds.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

200 Degrees (2017)








DIRECTOR: Giorgio Serafini

WRITER: Garry Charles

CAST:

Eric Balfour
Kristin Cochell
LaDon Drummond
Chris Palin
Larry Wade Carrell
Johnny Sinclair
Joe Grisaffi

PLOT:

Ryan Hinds wakes up to find himself locked in a sealed industrial kiln. As Ryan comes to it, a voice appears over the intercom. The voice begins to tell Ryan that he has two hours to transfer a million dollars to a specified bank account. Every several minutes that he doesn't receive the money, the temperature will rise by three degrees. It will be a race against time to come up with the money. If he doesn't secure the requested amount, he must just end up getting cooked.








As I sat down to watch 200 Degrees. I knew this was going to be one of those films that was set in one location and it would basically be an hour and a half of one man being tortured under a set of heat lamps. I hadn't watched the trailer before sitting down to witness the movie, in hopes that I would be surprised but just going off the poster. I knew exactly what I was in for with movie but still held out hope that this would deliver some solid shocks.

With a movie that spends a an hour and a half with one actor and in one location. You have to cast an actor that can carry a film. Eric Balfour is a solid actor in my eyes. He will be most well known to people for being Jessica Biel's unlucky boyfriend in 2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. He also does drama and action very well. He had reoccurring roles in Six Feet Under, 24 and Haven. He even bared all in the very graphic and sexual drama Lie With Me. This guy is talented so I expected to be drawn in by his performance.

For the first act of 200 Degrees. I was right there with Eric Balfour's Ryan. I actually felt sorry for the guy. He spends the first act pleading for his life. We see him slowly adapt to the nightmarish situation he has been thrust into and I was totally onboard and on his side. So for that first act, we are just getting to know the demands of the unknown and unseen voice and a terrified Ryan. The first act is where the film is the most interesting and most intense. After that, things fall apart.

The second act of the film shows Ryan trying to do anything possible to save his own life. He also breaks the rules several times. He makes calls to his police officer brother who tries to track his cell phone to no avail. He begs his parents for cash that he gave them. During the second act is where I caught onto the inevitable twist and eventual reveal. The movie only has a couple of characters who are unseen. You can see that Ryan is a man who has wronged or disappointed everyone he loves. It's not hard to guess. I'm shocked there is no curveball here. It all feels too easy.

Another problem with 200 Degrees is that as the film slogs along. We come to realise that Ryan isn't a very likable character. He steals money from his client, he takes back the money that he has given to his mother that pays for his sick father's care and he also cheats on his wife who he has a child with. So everything they've built in making us want to see this character get out of this situation alive is thrown out the window immediately. I no longer cared for his character or if he got out of this situation. I couldn't care if he burned to death.

Once we get to the third act of the film and the twist is finally revealed. I knew who it was as I mentioned above. So there was no shock or surprise here. When the reason behind why the villain(s) have done this to Ryan, it is just so ludicrous. The motive is ridiculous. I almost laughed when they were trying to tell Ryan why they have done this to him. The movie also tries to then lay another twist down on top of the already silly twist that shows Ryan getting the upper hand and I was done at this point. I was just happy to see this film end.

Sadly, 200 Degrees isn't very intense. A movie where the only possible way of dying is being boiled and cooked to death. It really doesn't offer much else in terms of it delivering many original ways to hurt Ryan. I think this movie loses steam after the first act. Once we see the temperature rising, it becomes rather boring watching him race against time over and over again and seeing the villain try to scare him. After the first or second time, it really doesn't pack much of a punch after that.

Lastly, the film on a visual level is rather dull. There really isn't much of a visual flair here. This is one location that features a rusted and metal industrial kiln with lots of heat lamps. This movie just looks boring. This is a lot of browns and reds and they don't do much with the location. Minus a few split screens or a camera angle in the corner of the kiln. This is nothing to write home about in terms of creativity. In saying that though, this could be due to being lower budget and for that, I can't be too hard on the filmmaker.







DEATH TOLL: 2

BLOOD AND GORE:

- We hear someone burn to death on the other end of a phone call.
- Someone is shot in the stomach.
- Someone is shot in the head.








200 Degrees is a movie that has a decent leading performance from Eric Balfour. The first act of the film is pretty interesting and I was on board. After the first act, it sort of loses steam. The premise feels repetitive. The twist is also predictable. Where the movie also loses points is that it builds us up to feel sorry for a character and throws it all away then try to redeem him and it all feels a little too little, too late. The one location premise has been done more successfully. Watch Phone Booth, Saw or Tape.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Unforgettable (2017)








DIRECTOR: Denise Di Novi

WRITER: Christina Hodson

CAST:

Rosario Dawson
Katherine Heigl
Geoff Stults
Isabella Kai Rice
Cheryl Ladd
Alex Quijano
Sarah Burns
Whitney Cummings
Robert Wisdom

PLOT:

Julia Banks has had a bad run of things. Her previous boyfriend was abusive and she managed to escape with her life. She is now off of all social media and keeping low in hopes that she is never found by her ex-boyfriend. Julia is also in a new relationship. She believes that she has met the man of her dreams and plans on marrying her new boyfriend David. There is only one problem, he has a daughter with his ex-wife Tessa. Tessa is still not over David and plans on ruining Julia's life in hopes that she can win David back and have their family reconnected.







It's been established that I have a thing for thrillers that deal with obsession. I don't care if it's a crazy ex-boyfriend or a one night stand gone wrong. I really just revel in the uncomfortableness of watching someone being watched and stalked, having their entire life turned upside down and then that inevitable final showdown. These movies really do follow a pretty tired formula that I've seen a million times already but I can't help myself, I still enjoy watching these obsession based thrillers.

Going into Unforgettable, I was well aware of what to expect from this movie. Here I was hoping that having Rosario Dawson in the lead and Katherine Heigl as the villain that I'd get to witness some campy enjoyment from the two actresses. At least one or two glaring bitchy stares and a nice violent showdown at the end. For the most part, we get exactly that. But Unforgettable plays like a Lifetime television movie and not a film that feels very cinematic.

What Unforgettable does right is that it gets to the uncomfortable stuff pretty quickly. This movie wastes no time in building up characters or giving us much backstory for the two ladies. We are dropped right into the middle of their drama. We can see that Rosario Dawson is covered in bruises, blood, and scratches. We quickly learn that she has apparently been sending provocative photos to her abusive ex-boyfriend. Right away, we know that Katherine Heigl is really messing with Rosario and we haven't even been introduced to her yet.

The movie takes us back into the past. I assume it's a few months at most. We see that Katherine Heigl is immediately unhappy that her ex-husband has found love with another woman. We see that her character Tessa is very elegant, dresses well, and is also very strict and controlling. She puts up a front that shows she is very strong. She has a dark side though. We watch as she quickly tries to destroy Julia. Creating her a Facebook profile, stealing her mobile, sending photos to an abusive ex-boyfriend, and even undermining Julia at every step of the way when she is around Tessa's daughter. This all happens very quickly.

The best element of the movie is that it never really stops or slows down. The entire movie feels very brisk in terms of these two women coming to blows. In saying that, though. The movie rarely gives us anything new or surprising. If you've watched any movie that deals with obsession, you have seen this film beat for beat. It builds up to the final showdown and while we get one of those, it all feels very quickly resolved. It is over and done with as soon as it starts. The final showdown is all of two minutes of these two woman meeting one last time. It's all very anticlimactic.

The biggest upset in this movie, that will likely anger a lot of viewers is probably the ending. The film has a child in the middle of these two warring women. The ending is one that leaves a daughter without a mother but she now has a stepmother. We are meant to take away that because one woman was strict and wanted to see her young daughter succeed that her death was easier to forget? It ends abruptly and we are all meant to assume this young girl is okay with not having her real mother because she was tough on her. This didn't sit right with me. They quickly try to build that Julia the stepmother is nicer so all is forgotten. Not buying it.

When it comes to being a thriller, Unforgettable is not very thrilling. The film is barren when it comes to suspense and tension. While briskly paced, which is a plus, the film is not at all great as a thriller. There never feels like any danger. There isn't any real shocks or surprises. Minus the ending, this feels very light. For a theatrical release, I am surprised they didn't take this into a darker territory or give us something more bloody. This would have been perfect for Lifetime. Any soap actress could have done this film and tackled these underwritten characters.

Lastly, we come to the acting. Rosario Dawson is a solid actress. You can witness that from dozens of movies in her career. Her she is upstaged by a darker Katherine Heigl. This is her show. If you've ever read the press and how they love to slander Katherine Heigl and label her a bitch. She is giving it to them here in her role as Tessa. She was the most enjoyable element of this movie. Cheryl Ladd is sadly underused here and Geoff Stults is given nothing to do here. He is probably the weakest character in the film. He's pretty but given nothing to do in the movie.







DEATH TOLL: 2

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A woman is seen with bruises and scratches all over her face.
- A woman pulls herself onto a knife.
- A woman is punched in the face.
- A woman has her face smashed into a glass picture.
- A man is stabbed in the leg and heart.
- A man is hit in the head with a fire poker.







Unforgettable joins the long line of 'obsession' based thrillers. Sadly, it offers nothing new to the subgenre. Minus a questionable ending that is sure to upset some mothers out there. This is all pretty straightforward when it comes to its premise. If you have ever seen one of these types of films, you will know what's coming beat for beat. The standout in the film here is Katherine Heigl who seems to be relishing her chance to deliver a darker role and move away from those cheesy romantic comedies she has been now associated with. Only watch if you enjoy obsession movies like I do and make up your own mind about it.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Phoenix Forgotten (2017)








DIRECTOR:
 Justin Barber

WRITERS:

T.S. Nowlin
Justin Barber

CAST:

Florence Hartigan
Chelsea Lopez
Luke Spencer Roberts
Justin Matthews
Clint Jordan
Cyd Strittmatter
Jeanine Jackon
Matt Biedel
Ana Dela Cruz

PLOT:

When some mysterious glowing lights appear and disappear over Phoenix, Arizona. It happens only once in which they are never seen again. The US government also tries to cover up the lights by calling them a hoax. When a teenage boy who witnesses the event becomes obsessed with it. He and two friends head out with their cameras and into the desert to see if they can document the lights and see if aliens really do exist.







I'm someone that believes in the supernatural. I also believe that it is pretty ignorant to think that we are the only people or life in the vast reaches of space. With so many stars and planets out there in the solar system. I really do believe that we aren't the only ones. I have also always been very intrigued and fascinated with the notion that our government does have secret bases that are there to try and cover up alien life and sightings. They are there to keep it secret so we don't have mass panic.

Going into Phoenix Forgotten, what initially caught my eye about the film was the fact that Ridley Scott was a producer on this film. I thought with his involvement, we may actually get a really solid take on the alien abduction movie. If his trust was placed in filmmaker, Justin Barber to give us something special. All my trust was in Ridley Scott being on board this film. His name alone sold me on checking this one out. We know his record with alien cinema.

Over the last few years, I have grown really tired of this whole found footage genre. Some are over zombies, some were over the whole American adaptations of Japanese supernatural films. For me, it's the found footage movie. We have had a few excellent films that have come out that use the technique but a vast majority of the movies in which I've seen have been less than stellar. Sadly, Phoenix Forgotten hasn't changed my opinion in regards to how I currently feel about this subgenre of film.

The film feels like it can be broken up into three acts. The first act is the Phoenix light incident. We see our two main characters of the sister and brother as children. I really enjoyed the setup. I liked the whole lights over Phoenix scene at the family barbeque. I thought it was creepy enough. I'm well aware of the original footage of the event. I find it inherently eerie that it's never been explained. This opening created a sense of foreboding dread and for that, I think the movie deserves a couple of points.

The second act of the film is where it drags. We follow the now older sister. It sets up the two-time lines for the movie. The present and the past. We learn that her brother and two of his friends had headed out into the desert to find answers but they never returned. The second act is the sister interviewing people and trying to find answers to what happened that night and to her brother. It actually killed the vibe of the film. It feels like it's added to stretch out the running time for the movie. Without it, this would've been a much tighter short film. The second and third act almost feels beat for beat like The Blair Witch Project.

The third act is where the film picks up the pace and we find evidence that there are indeed aliens out there. We see what happens to the three teenagers. I found that I enjoyed the build-up to the alien abduction scene. I thought they managed to ramp up the tension. Where it felt like it loses steam is the final few minutes. I felt like I'd seen this type of ending a dozen times in these found footage films. It feels like they added nothing new here in that final few minutes. It moves from point A to point B which is fine but there are no subverting expectations here. There are no shock or surprises to be found in the movie.

When it comes to the alien action in the film. We get all of two minutes. If you go in hoping to see any alien lifeforms, you'll be sorely disappointed. It's all erratic camera footage, screaming and running through the darkness. While we see bright lights and people being sucked up into the sky, we don't see any aliens here. It all sort of feels like a very long-winded way to get to two minutes of action. The final shot of the film where the camera falls back to Earth was a nice touch though. I can't fault that final visual in the movie.

Lastly, we have the performances. The standouts in Phoenix Forgotten are the three teenagers. We spend most of our time with them. They are given the most to do. The sister character played by Florence Hartigan who gets the entire second act, plays a tough and resilient woman who is trying to get to the bottom of her younger brother's disappearance. While she is fine, here part of the film is what feels like filler. It's the three actors playing the teenagers that are standout here. So I can't fault Chelsea Lopez, Luke Spencer Roberts, and Justin Matthews.







DEATH TOLL: 3

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A lot of dead rotting foxes are shown in the desert.
- A guy is seen getting sucked up into the sky.
- A girl is sucked up into the air by an alien ship.
- A woman starts bleeding from her nose.
- A guy disappears after blood starts pouring out of her nose.







Going into Phoenix Forgotten, I was pretty excited. I've been aware of the lights over Phoenix incident since it first happened back in 1997. I've always been fascinated with alien films and the whole government conspiracy side of things. So when it was announced, I was excited to see what Ridley Scott and Co. would deliver. Sadly, this feels like a missed opportunity. A found footage movie that doesn't take any risks and follows The Blair Witch Project formula pretty closely. While we get a few moments and tension and a committed younger cast. This feels like a case of seen it all before.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Berlin Syndrome (2017)








DIRECTOR: Cate Shortland

WRITER: Shaun Grant

CAST:

Teresa Palmer
Max Riemelt
Matthias Habich
Emma Bading
Lucie Aron
Christoph Frankin
Elmira Bahrami

PLOT:

Clare is an Australian Photojournalist who is holidaying in Berlin. One day while out exploring the city, Clare meets Andi. He's good looking and charismatic local. After a night of partying, they end up going back to his place and sleeping together. When Andi goes to work in the morning. Clare tries to leave his apartment and realises he may have accidentally locked her in. Clare will soon discover that she was locked in the apartment on purpose and has no intention of letting her leave ever again.








As someone who has an insatiable appetite for traveling the world. The plot for Berlin Syndrome is a scary one for me. It hits me on an emotional and personal level. While I never went through what Clare does in the film. I've felt the isolation and fear. While traveling through Greece. I was drugged while out on a night of clubbing, then driven to a deserted location, attacked and left with nothing but my shirt, undies, and high-tops. My passport with my new UK Visa in it, mobile phone and wallet were stolen. To come to it in the dark, while in a foreign country. It was terrifying.

I went into Berlin Syndrome completely blind. I hadn't seen any promotional material for this one at all before going into it. But just going off the title alone. I had gathered that this movie would be about someone who falls in love with their kidnapper. Berlin was going to be the location and this title was clearly a play on the whole Stockholm Syndrome condition. I wasn't sure what route this movie would take but I got a pretty good idea of what this would be like on a tonal level. But boy was I very wrong.

I'm a fan of the film's director, Cate Shortland. I'm pretty familiar with her work being that she's an Australian filmmaker. I was a massive fan of her first movie Somersault. It was a very dark drama that showed a sixteen-year-old girl who runs away from her home and starts up a relationship with an older guy. It dealt heavily with her sexual awakening. It was also the first time I witnessed the brilliant Abbie Cornish outside of a comedic role and where I first took notice of Sam Worthington. So I had faith Cate Shortland could give us something special again.

Berlin Syndrome is a movie that was a bit of a mixed bag for me. While I quite liked this movie, it's hard to say that this is a story that a lot of people will walk out of and love. Berlin Syndrome is one dark and unpleasant little movie. This is not a very nice experience. While the first fifteen minutes of the movie provides the audience with a sense of wanderlust and hope. That is quickly dashed when we start to get a sense that our lead character may have gotten herself into something that she can't get out of. The next hour and a half, while not harrowing is still uncomfortable to watch.

For most of this movie. We witness a woman who is confined to an apartment, which appears to be in an abandoned building and she is emotionally and physically abused. Her identification and her passport are taken off her and she is left to basically suffer with a man she trusted. What I think the film gets right is the tone and atmosphere. Being that we are stuck with her as the outside world moves on, I felt they captured the isolation well. I sat there wondering will her parents back in Australia try and find her? Will they call the authorities? But we never see that happen.

Another element of the film that I really enjoyed was the cinematography and visual aesthetic. For a film that is so dark in tone and themes. I thought that Cate Shortland and her crew brought a very dream-like quality to it. Just like Somersault, there was still beauty to be found in such darkness and brutality. There is a scene towards the end of the film where Andi and Clare are in walking in the forest and it was gorgeous. The seasons of Berlin are captured so beautifully. The visual works as a way to tell how long she has been left in this apartment.

The acting is also top-notch in Berlin Syndrome. Teresa Palmer is an actress that I've been watching for years. I think this may be her most brave role yet. Not only is she completely open when it comes to the sexuality side of the film, she is also brave as some of the things she goes through are pretty horrific. Max Riemelt is also great in the movie. Probably the darkest character that I've seen him tackle. I really grew to hate his character. They both do their respected roles justice. It was great to see both delve into such dark characters.

Where I think Berlin Syndrome goes wrong for me is that the movie suffers from so many stupid character decisions. I can totally believe that after spending a night with a guy, he locks you in his apartment and you think nothing of it. There is a sense of trust there. Even on the second day, I would start to panic and realise something isn't right. After that, I'd spend the entire day trying to escape while he's at work teaching. She had and wasted so many opportunities to escape while he was gone for days on end and she just didn't try hard enough. This becomes seriously frustrating to watch as an audience member. It happens over and over again.

The movie also has a ton of things that made me really annoyed. There is one scene where she has her mobile early on and there is no SIM. I'm under the understanding that most if not all mobile phones now have the ability to call emergency numbers even without a SIM or no signal. The entire apartment looks made up to not allow women to escape like bulletproof glass or doors that are locked and reinforced. With eight hours to spare, she could have escaped over and over. I keep coming back to the point because I really felt they didn't show her trying enough. After three days she just gave up and subjected herself to his abuse.

Lastly, we have several subplots that end up going nowhere like one that involves a previous victim that doesn't get resolved or have much light shed on it. I thought the ending of the film while a happy one, felt like it just ended. After sitting through close to two hours of such darkness, I'd have liked a more well-written ending and another one involving Andi and his father. I know it's meant to lead Andi and tip him over the edge on making a decision that he was not sure about but it felt like a lot of that stuff could've been left out and it wouldn't have hurt the film.
 







DEATH TOLL: 2

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A woman is held captive.
- A woman is dragged along the floor by her hair.
- A man's head is bashed in with a crowbar.
- A little boy is shown with a bloody leg.
- An old man dies of natural causes.
- A woman is hit in the face.
- A woman's fingers are broken when slammed in a door.
- A woman stabs a man in the hand with a screwdriver.
- A woman is seen covered in bruises.







Berlin Syndrome started out giving me a sense of wanderlust. It actually made me miss traveling. This film quickly becomes a dark and at times unpleasant experience. It's not an easy movie to watch but I think it has enough positive elements to get it over the line. Solid performances, some really beautiful cinematography and a few really nasty moments should keep genre fans happy. Where the movie loses points is unresolved subplots, silly character decisions, and an unsatisfying ending loses the film points. I think this film will alienate and leave a lot of viewers cold but I think it's still worth a watch.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Black Butterfly (2017)








DIRECTOR: Brian Goodman

WRITERS:

Marc Frydman
Justin Stanley

CAST:

Antonio Banderas
Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Piper Perabo
Abel Ferrara
Nicholas Aaron
Vincent Riotta
Randall Paul
Katie McGovern

PLOT:

While a small mountain town is grappling with a series of abductions and murders. Paul is a reclusive writer and recovering alcoholic. After the death of his wife, he is holding up in this rural cabin in hopes of writing a screenplay that will put his career back on track. When a drifter helps him during an altercation at a roadside diner, he offers to give him a place to stay and help around the cabin. Soon things start getting strange when the drifter shows signs of paranoia.







I went into Black Butterfly completely blind. The only thing about the movie that had caught my eye was the poster art for the film. Going off the poster, I was aware that Antonio Banderas was headlining the film and Jonathan Rhys Meyers was also starring in the movie. The poster also felt very reminiscent of Mike Flanagan's moody, familial, supernatural fable, Before I Wake. The use of the entire butterfly motif and the blood had me very intrigued to give this one a watch.

After watching Black Butterfly, I was torn on my viewing experience. I waited almost a week to write my review for the film because I wasn't sure how I felt about it. Right after the movie had wrapped up, I was on the fence still. As the week had gone on, I decided an above average review for the film felt acceptable. While this movie has its fair share of problems. I think the third acts first twist alone, pushes it just over the line and into positive territory.

Early on in Black Butterfly, I thought I was pretty on the ball with where this movie was heading. While watching the movie, I even had one of those moments where I shouted at the television and stated that I knew exactly what the twist was going to be in the movie. It turns out that I was actually right for once. I did end up guessing exactly what the twist was going to be. But here is where I have to give the movie a few points. I had guessed the third of three reveals in the final act.

The movie contains a really solid second reveal that completely blindsided me. I was so wrapped up in what would come to be the third twist that I didn't see the second one coming. It's a twist that I don't ever remember seeing in another movie. Here it felt entirely fresh and original. While the most solid twist in the film is book-ended by two twists that have been done before. I was still completely blown away by it. This for me was enough to win me over after sitting on the film for a week.

The rest of Black Butterfly sits somewhere between a hostage/captive film and a slow burn psychological thriller. The movie doesn't really start to pick up the pace until we see Jonathan Rhys Meyers character start to descend into this paranoid drifter who I believed may be responsible for all the abductions and murders. Once we get to his character starting to show signs of a darker nature, this is where I thought the movie really picked up speed. The first act of the film is rather slow. Once we get past the earlier scenes, the film is pretty fun.

The entire time that I was watching this movie. I kept thinking to myself how closely this resembled the Stephen King film adaptation Secret Window. A lot of the stuff in this movie felt very similar to that film. Sadly, just not as well acted as that movie. I thought the rural cabin, the reclusive writer who is trying to write his next novel or screenplay. Even one of the twists here felt very similar to Secret Window. It's also the twist that sort of diminishes the impact of the first and second twist in the film. It's a case of seen it all before.

When it comes to the thrills in this movie. I didn't find Black Butterfly all that thrilling. A lot of times in the movie when they try to build suspense. It feels like they go and ruin it with lots of silly character decisions. This clearly falls back on the screenplay. It just seems redundant to build up the suspense and throw in characters being run off the road or tripping over while they are trying to make an escape. They kill it as fast as they try to build it. Doing this also seems to hurt the final twist which makes me wonder how bad of a writer Antonio Banderas character is in the film.

Lastly, we come to the acting. Antonio Banderas is fine in his role. He does losing his mind well enough. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is his usual self. The guy always looks really creepy in movies. He has a habit of not blinking and it works for his character in Black Butterfly. Piper Perabo is completely wasted in this film. She is barely in it. She comes back towards the third act but I felt she was underused here. This is the Antonio and Jonathan show so it's understandable but I'd have like to see more of her as she's a pretty fun actress to watch.







DEATH TOLL: 2

BLOOD AND GORE:

- A woman is taken and presumed murders while on a picnic.
- A man is smacked in the face with a rifle handle.
- A man is stabbed in the back with scissors.
- A woman is seen lying on the floor while bleeding from her head.







Black Butterfly all hangs on the three twists and for me, it worked well enough. The second of three twists knocked me for a six. I didn't see it coming at all and for that, I think it deserves several points. While not thrilling or psychologically damaging, I still think once we start to see cracks in Jonathan Rhys Meyers drifter, it's where the movie picks up the pace. The acting, for the most part, is solid and while similar to Secret Window, I think this movie is worth a once off watch.