Monday, October 31, 2011

The Month of Terror FINALE: The Devil's Advocate (1997)

Director: Taylor Hackford
Starring: Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron

“I'm here on the ground with my nose in it since the whole thing began. I've nurtured every sensation man's been inspired to have. I cared about what he wanted and I never judged him. Why? Because I never rejected him. In spite of all his imperfections, I'm a fan of man! I'm a humanist. Maybe the last humanist.”

This isn’t so much a straight-up horror movie in the traditional sense, but I thought it appropriate to review anyway, because really, how can you have Halloween without the lord of all darkness himself in the mix? You can’t. So let’s dig right into the Al Pacino classic The Devil’s Advocate.

This is a very big, sprawling film that reminds me of something like a John Grisham novel by way of Rosemary’s Baby or maybe Angel Heart or something. It’s a classic, slow-burning tale of getting what you wish for, of messing with things you can’t comprehend and of the temptations to evil that people in power straddle the line of so dearly. Keanu Reeves stars as Kevin Lomax, a hot shot lawyer who gets a chance to come to New York and defend high profile clients. He has a hot wife (Charlize Theron) and a doting Christian mother (Judith Ivey). His boss is Milton (Al Pacino), a wily, slick and egregious old fox who seems to have everything under control…but when things go wrong, who is really to blame?

Really this is a great movie for its huge epic scope. It pays a lot of attention to detail and builds every scene off the one before it, allowing for a real sense of completion once it ends. Each scene adds to the story, and the arc of the characters is nice and palpable. The scares are blended in seamlessly so they actually surprise you when they show up – the movie is so low-key that you don’t expect to see a nasty, Satanic face jeering at you out of a mirror or something, but then it does show up, and it works. There are no cheap thrills here or pandering moments at all; you just get a good, solid story unfolding over a long run-time – long enough, perhaps, to really dig into it.

Cinematography is excellent; check out the scene where Reeves and Pacino are standing on the odd water-top roof at the beginning, or when Reeves walks out into the street at the end to go confront Pacino, with the buildings framing him and the wind howling. Not to mention the numerous awesome, fiery shots in the climax. All of these shots really add to the overall effect of the film, like icing on the cake. Excellent stuff.

The acting is OK, with Pacino probably doing the best job. He just seems to be having so much fun that you can’t deny him at all. He’s constantly got this carefree smile on his face and this merry twinkle in his eyes, and his lines are just excellent. “In spite of all his flaws I’M A FAN OF MAN!” Great stuff. Reeves does a pretty decent job for his standards, although for the most part he’s still pretty goofy. But he does get better later on, and when the movie really calls for it, he delivers OK. Theron is decent too, although sometimes she gets a bit too over the top too fast – if she’s really that much of a spaz, the movie should’ve built it up more that way. It just seems like she loses it too quickly into the film.

And I’m gonna talk about Theron’s character for a bit now. Her arc is actually one of the more interesting ones in here – sort of a reverse Rosemary’s Baby situation, where she buckles to the pressure much faster than the heroine of that film did, and the focus is not on her but on Reeves instead. We never get to see her worst moments – we only see her telling us about what happened for the most part. One of the best scenes in the film is with her and Reeves in the church when she tells him about her afternoon rendezvous with Milton. “He was with me in court ALL AFTERNOON,” Reeves shouts – and then she reveals the bloody scars on her body…

The other main talking point of the film is Milton and Reeves spouting off at the end. It’s got great cinematography, some excellent special effects and of course the awesome dialogue between the two, which touches on many religious subjects I’m sure will piss some people off. But they’re really quite well done for a theatrical effect, which is really all I’m looking for with this, just theatrical, big and epic fun. Both actors really go at it, give it their all, and hey, you even get some naked chicks and moving statues and such to boot. I’m not going to spoil too much of this scene – go see it for yourself.

In fact, go see the whole movie. This is just awesome. It’s not the most groundbreaking ever and it won’t really change your perspective on its genre, but The Devil’s Advocate is a ton of fun to watch, and kept me hooked for a solid 2.5 hours with its sleek visual hooks, snappy dialogue and clever pacing. I couldn’t turn it off. It might not be as artful as Near Dark or as depraved as Session 9, but it is a great, hammering beast of a film that will entertain and captivate. And that’s all I really need sometimes. Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Month of Terror: Dracula III: Legacy (2005)

Alright, I did the other two Dracula borefests with all their illogical plots and ridiculous acting, what’s one more? I might as well finish off this horrific waste of time series so I never have to deal with it ever again! Then I will be RID OF THIS CRAP FOREVER! Hallelujah! I cannot wait for the day! Let’s get this monkey excrement over with for good.

Director: Patrick Lussier
Starring: Jason Scott Lee, Jason London

The film begins with superfluous and idiotic opening credits interspliced with flashbacks from the second film, which aren’t even in the chronological order the movie played them in. Amazing attention to detail there you goddamn idiotic mongrels. Then we get to see our two favorite characters ever, the wimpy guy from the last movie and the Slow Walking Priest! Wimpy Guy gets knocked over by a few vampires and pinned down when Slow Walker appears and…walks slowly.

At least his character is consistent. More than you can say for anything else in this damn series.

Seriously, man? YOUR PARTNER’S LIFE IS AT STAKE. RUN FASTER. HOW HARD IS IT? His flair for the dramatic is reaching parodic levels. He kills the vampires unfortunately before they kill Wimpy Guy. And I say unfortunately because Wimpy Guy’s dialogue in the rest of the movie is, shall we say, special. Not to mention his acting is about as convincing as a camel with syphilis.

Slow Walking Priest talks to Roy Scheider from Jaws, reprising his amazing role as the father of whatever random church they worship at, and is told he cannot be a priest any longer because he’s trying too hard to be Bruce Lee I guess. So now he’s not even a priest anymore. He’s just a slow walking idiot.

Then we get some witty banter from our two main piss-stains that basically amounts to this:

WIMPY GUY: Blah blah blah, I’m trying to lighten the mood but failing horribly!

SLOW WALKING IDIOT: Blah blah blah, having my sunglasses on all the time means I don’t actually have to emote at all, because I’m just that cool!

They start driving to the border of this military sanctioned area I guess, where they’re then told they have to wait for the captain. He pulls up in a jeep with some stuff obviously covered up for a reason, and so instead of doing the logical thing and talking to him like normal human beings, Slow Walking Idiot just walks right up and looks at the dead bodies in the jeep. Doesn’t that breach some kind of security protocol? To hell with that! Slow Walking Idiot does what he wants!

Some guy does try to stop them, but then the weirdest thing happens…Slow Walking Idiot turns around to face him and then the guy shoots himself in the head? I really don’t get what this is supposed to be, and since it’s never brought up again, I’ll just assume they needed to pad out the running time – because that’s what you’ll be seeing a lot of in the next few scenes too.

It's never explained, does he have psychic powers? Was the other guy just suicidal? Ugh forget it.

They come across some burning crosses with pumpkin heads on them, cool! Might as well have just put signs on ‘em saying ‘WE DIDN’T HAVE ANY IDEAS.’

Then they find a bunch of terrorists taking some people hostage and stop despite Slow Walking Idiot’s better judgment. Look at the leader; it’s like a combination between Harvey Keitel and Fabio by way of Gary Oldman:

And more slightly obscure pop culture/cinema references!

Some more pointless stuff happens and through a truly weird chain of events, their car gets blown up! And the terrorists get away…well, glad that was in the movie. Seriously, what was the purpose? They didn’t meet any new characters to take with them, the story wasn’t advanced in any way…it was totally pointless! Dracula III, you are a complete failure on every level.

After that, our two morons come across a circus that has been burnt to the ground and everyone in it slaughtered. They also meet this chick named Julia, who doesn’t really do anything and who the filmmakers apparently think is important. She’s a journalist, and her companion, who should probably be in a comedy flick instead of this. But sadly he ended up in Dracula III, so all we can do is have him kidnapped by vampires and turned.

While that boring garbage is going on, we see Slow Walking Idiot fighting against…

Vampire clowns. You’re seriously giving us VAMPIRE CLOWNS.

No! Don't kill Snooki!

My God that’s silly. I don’t even know what to say about it other than I’m glad we’ve finally returned to the ridiculous corniness from the last two movies. I was really getting bored. I’d talk about how stupid it is that he kills the first one by sheer luck when its stilt-leg gets caught in a sewer grate, but frankly I don’t want to complain too much right now. Beggars can’t be choosers.

But since the film actually catered to what any normal human being would want out of their entertainment – i.e. something entertaining – they decide to backpedal fully after that and deliver nothing of worth. Like the very next scene of the characters trying to act romantic and coming off more like a bunch of socially awkward Big Bang Theory rejects.

Actually Big Bang Theory is miles better than this tripe even at its most pandering and low-brow comedy...

Seriously, it’s bad. I love how Julia goes back and forth between these two morons like the writers couldn’t decide whose love interest she was. I love how she tells Slow Walking Idiot off for saying good morning (because the previous night was so hellish) but then is perfectly fine with Wimpy Guy’s terrible horse-spewing jokes that sound like lines even Dane Cook would fine puerile. I love how they kiss and then she takes off his sunglasses and just says sorry. Then he should have said, “Whoops, forgot to mention if we kiss then you turn into a vampire too!” It didn’t happen. And the movie was all the duller for it.

So they split up. Then we get another wonderfully plot-advancing scene where Slow Walking Idiot lets Wimpy Guy drive and – surprise – he stops at the side of the road to help a woman with a baby. God, this guy is stupid. You might as well just staple ‘IT’S A TRAP’ in bright red lettering to the top of that woman’s head. And whaddya know, it IS a trap, as she throws him the baby and it turns out to be a bomb. Slow Walking Idiot knocks it away just in time and mercifully, Wimpy Guy’s life is saved. I’m so glad…oh wait no I’m not. Then they both get kidnapped by the terrorists from earlier! Oh the humanity!

So this is what happens to toys rejected from the Toy Story series for malfunctions...they get put in crap Z-grade horror flicks with bombs strapped to them. What a shame.
Because explosions always make a movie good!

But seriously, what was the idea behind this plan? Did they…anticipate him knocking the bomb away in time to save his friend, or was the kidnapping just plan B? This makes no sense! They try to kill them first and it fails, so they kidnap them? It’s like a plan hatched by people in different rooms.

Anyway they get taken to some ridiculous underground lair that looks more like something you’d see on a Looney Tunes Halloween special or something. Some stuff happens but frankly, it’s not that exciting. We find out that Julia betrayed them to get a story, although this will never be brought up again and has no relevance to the actual plot. Must be more of that padding this movie is so good at! And by good at, I mean terrible at.

Our lovely main characters all escape unharmed. God! Does anything in this movie have any connection to anything else? I mean, at least they managed to keep the basic plot consistent with the previous film this time, unlike the transition from the first to the second movie, but in doing that they’ve uncovered a whole new level of sucking! This whole movie is just a collection of random scenes that have nothing to do with the previous ones. It’s a new record for padding! Half of the movie is just filler!

Oh, and don’t you just love how we’re an HOUR INTO THIS DAMN MOVIE AND WE HAVEN’T SEEN HIDE NOR HAIR OF DRACULA??? I mean it’s in the title! How would you feel if in the new Avengers movie, you don’t get to see any of the Avengers until the 45-minute mark, spending most of the runtime with accountants and lawyers? Yeah, ripped off, right?

We do eventually see that Dracula is played by Rutger Hauer in this movie…what a waste of talent. Some more stupid long drawn-out bullshit happens, and the movie even manages to make an orgy of half-naked vampire chicks uninteresting with its very poor editing and writing:

That takes TALENT man.

Then we get the end of the movie where they cut Dracula’s head off unceremoniously (because the best way to end a trilogy is killing off your main bad guy in an unimpressive and anti-climactic one-second death scene) and the Slow Walking Idiot becomes the new Lord of Evil, through more poorly explained plotlines.

And that’s it, the LAST Dracula movie in the series. It leaves the ending open for more sequels, but I’m going to go ahead and speak for the world when I say PLEASE don’t make another one of these! This movie is horrible. It’s not even funny like the other two were at times; it’s just horrible. It’s trash-cinema, people; the kind of scum you only find in the lowest, most despicable nether regions of SyFy. It’s seriously up there with movies like Croc and Bear for purely low-rate garbage with nothing redeemable. The only legacy Dracula III will leave behind is one of shame and disgrace to mankind’s creative powers!

The Month of Terror: Scanners (1981)

Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Stephen Lack, Jennifer O'Neill, Michael Ironside

Scanners isn’t so much a horror film as a sci-fi one, but it’s really just splitting hairs as it’s a pretty decent movie all the same. Directed by the ever-idiosyncratic David Cronenberg, this is one of those movies that you don’t get every day. The concept is about a race of psychics called Scanners, who are in some kind of underground war as a deranged leader tries to either assimilate them to his dark cause or kill them off. The main character is a guy named Cameron Vale, who doesn’t know he’s a Scanner until he accidentally makes a woman break out into a fit in the middle of a populated mall. Seeing potential in him, a doctor sends him out to try and stop the evil Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), who is growing in power every day.

First off, I’d like to thank Scanners for providing the Internet with a timeless meme and a useful expression for those moments that quite frankly blow your mind:

This happens, out of nowhere, like 15 minutes in; maybe less. It's seriously a shocking moment and really starts things off with a bang, getting you really excited for the movie to follow. What's gonna happen next? How can they follow THAT?

Sadly I really think this is a bit of an uneven film. The first half is absolutely wonderful, with a great build up, an intriguing sci-fi world which draws the viewer in and tons of suspense. Watching Vale go on this fantastic adventure is just great, as he meets several characters and discovers new plot elements with every scene. The whole thing just unravels, though, with the second half, which is just slow and weird. I guess it’s not actively bad or anything, but it’s just so lackluster and so meandering that it just doesn’t work. Protip, guys: A climax with two guys just staring at each other and screaming didn’t work for Dragonball Z, either.

Third, the acting is a bit wacky. Stephen Lack is not a very good actor at all, as he has precious little charisma or emotional range at all, and mostly just sticks to a cardboard monotone the entire time. They really couldn’t have gotten anyone better for this role? The main chick is alright I guess, at least compared to Lack. Michael Ironside is fun, but he doesn’t get much screentime. What gives?

So yeah, a great premise and build-up soiled by a lackluster climax and third act in general. Scanners is an OK movie, and it’s definitely got its good points, but I’d recommend going for Videodrome instead.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Month of Terror: Dracula II: Ascension (2003)

My only explanation for this movie is that the people who made Dracula 2000 looked at their movie and said, “Hey, this isn’t near nonsensical, stupid and silly enough yet! Let’s see what we can do about that!” And thus THIS.

Director: Patrick Lussier
Starring: Jason Scott Lee, Jason London

Really, I’m at a loss for words. Dracula II, the movie that even Gerard Butler was too good for, is just a spectacle of horrible characters, ridiculous story elements that come out of nowhere and a lack of any logic. It’s a movie that would crumble at the first sign of any kind of logic. Does that sound good to you? I’d rather be eaten by a WALRUS than watch this garbage again so you know it’s going to be an interesting ride…

We start off with a lady in the Czech Republic doing one of her nightly ‘run around in a fancy white gown for no reason’ sessions. She’s getting chased around by the master of walking slowly, this Bruce Lee rip-off!

Doo dee doo...just taking a stroll out here; not like running would get my goal accomplished faster or anything! Pfft. Jogging is for losers!

No, really, he’s a Bruce Lee rip-off. Sounds like a stirring resume to me, too; stick him in the movie for the rest of the runtime!

So it turns out she’s a vampire and also has a clone of herself, and they both bite him a little before he kills them, thus setting up the central conflict for this oh-so-endearing and deep character…yeah, not really; we just switch to a scene with this cripple named Lowell giving the shortest speech ever delivered in a college classroom about how death is inevitable. I guess he’s famous for 5-second speeches…

Then we get some more amazing character development as our heroes, among them a chick named Elizabeth, who is dating Lowell the crazy cripple man, a black guy named Kenny and his girlfriend, Not-Paris-Hilton. She probably has another name but that’s all I’m calling her.

Yeah I buy this about as much as I buy...well, any other obvious chick only with a guy for his money.

After that we see Elizabeth working at the hospital with this guy Luke, played by Jason London. I don’t really have a joke about him, but rest assured, he’s a terrible actor, and five minutes into this performance and you’ll want to shoot him. They’re concerned because a body came in, burnt and scarred to all hell after being hung from a cross at dawn. His organs are white, and even though there are plenty of other explanations, Luke says he thinks it’s a vampire. At first it seems like he’s joking, but no; he really thinks it’s a vampire right off the bat. Was he just waiting for some opportunity to spout out the most ludicrous conclusion he could think of? It’s like some dumbass kid in elementary school who just talked for the sake of talking. This movie’s dialogue is on the level of annoying kids prying for attention. I’ll let that sink in for a second…aaaaand done.

So while in the real world this would have been met with derision and scorn from all parties, luckily Luke has found the dumbest person in existence with Elizabeth, as she just eats it up and goes along with it. She gets bitten by accident and doesn’t tell anyone, probably because she’s an idiot. Then Luke gets a phone call from a “mysterious third party” offering them a lot of money for the body. Lowell for some reason, can’t imagine why, says it’s a good idea that they take it. Can’t possibly be that he wants to heal his crippled body, can it? Nah. Luke freaks out and gets Elizabeth to help move the body in secret, because that’s really legal, right as the slow-walking priest/Bruce Lee rip-off comes and tries to find it.

If this jackass walked any slower he'd be going backwards. Christ.

And seriously, how does this guy arrive on time for anything? He walks SO DAMN SLOW. It’s just nuts. He’s worse than Michael Myers and Jason combined. All the other characters are doing stuff and running around like mad, and this guy is just kind of walking around slowly, like he doesn’t even know where he’s going. Kind of hard to take that very seriously…

Meanwhile, Luke, Elizabeth, Kenny and Not-Paris-Hilton are transporting the body to Lowell’s parents’ old house, which is big and gothic-like. Like any sane person would do, they put the body in a bathtub of blood and expect it to come back to life. Is this sounding like your last really screwed up house party in college yet?

Not-Paris-Hilton's real line here is "Maybe it needs to be virgin blood?" God,  the way these people think scares me.

So yeah it eventually DOES come back to life, despite all evidence to the contrary that it would probably just be an insane pot-fueled idea that even Jay and Silent Bob would blush at, and we get the ensuing garble of incoherent scenes:

Nope, sorry; not buying her falling out the window like that. She was barely even shoved at all. Did the floors just get polished with grease beforehand?
Looks like they're trying to give Grandpa a bath never works out the way it's supposed to, dammit!
Take THAT bathtub!

Oh and then this guy shows up! Who is he? I don’t know. He says he’s the money!

Oh yeah, well...I'm the ATM.

Pardon my French but WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON? And I don’t just mean this action scene; I mean the ENTIRE GODDAMN MOVIE UP UNTIL THIS POINT. It’s like they just threw out ten pages of the script explaining this spastic gibberish and just left us to pick up the pieces! How did they know what to do with the vampire? Did they really just have all these specific rituals waiting for the very, very specific off-chance they could bag a vampire? For that matter, why would they just jump to the conclusion that the dead body they found was a vampire? Remember, this takes place only a few hours after the first movie ended. Vampires were, as far as the viewer has been led up to this point, not a common phenomenon. It makes about as much sense as a character randomly deciding she fully, seriously believes in Bigfoot; you might as well just make that into a movie next.

Not to mention the whole subplot with Christopher Plummer’s daughter becoming a vampire hunter or whatever. Where did that go? It’s completely ignored now. What’s the logic with this? Did the writers just decide they didn’t like their own movie? What? WHAT?

After that they move Dracula to another location where they all start doing experiments on him, draining his blood only to find out he’s severely dehydrated and is running out.

This was actually how the new movie 'The Debt' was supposed to turn out. But the filmmakers quickly decided it was such a stupid idea, they sent it back to the past apparently, and that's why we now have this pile of heinous vampire-droppings here.

Wait a second, didn’t Christopher Plummer in the first movie drain Dracula’s blood for YEARS even though Dracula was all but mummified? And now like an hour of burning in the sunlight and he’s suddenly drained entirely? WHAT SENSE DOES THAT MAKE. This is seriously mind-numbing. What other contradictions are they going to throw at us? Let’s just get them all over with now.

Okay, so there’s this one part where a priest played bafflingly by Roy Scheider from Jaws (what a career downgrade!) tells him that Dracula has to be forgiven by God, although in the other movie it was the exact other way around…ahh, continuity errors, what a surprise from this movie. You can’t see my face right now, but it’s forever in a mask of stoic unimpressed-ness while watching this.

Now that that’s over with, we can get onto more important things like watching Kenny inject the vampire blood into himself even though a) he was never shown to be a power-hungry or mean-spirited character before this and b) it turns him evil automatically, which never happened in the other movie…OK, OK, done ranting about continuity errors; both of these movies suck anyway. He goes out and mugs at the camera a lot:

Save it for the Fright Night remake...

…and then bags himself his first vampire whore!

Just to add 15 minutes of runtime to the movie, I suppose...

Some more stuff happens, and we find out that the vampire chick killed her own cat. Well now that this movie has animal violence I just can’t stand behind it anymore. I declare that this movie now officially sucks!

So she gets killed and then Kenny gets killed too…ah just play it:

After that? Time for some good old hallucinations! Although this time they’re more like rejected Twilight scenes rather than Tim Burton rip-offs. At least director Patrick Lussier is experimenting more! We also hear Dracula’s stunning monologue skills as he lists off all of his various names: Nosferatu, Judas, Vlad Tepes, El Hazarid, and other stuff that I'm sure they spent a lot of time on Wikipedia looking up.

Peter Griffin, George Carlin, Snoopy, Bill Cosby, Ozzy Osbourne...

It’s revealed then that Lowell was fooling them the whole time into thinking there was a third party who wanted Dracula when really it was just him wanting to heal his crippled body…I don’t even get this subplot; what difference does that deception make, anyway? We’re supposed to be surprised that the cripple who’s been ordering everyone around the entire movie and has the most direct, clear-as-day motive for experimenting with unusual medical practices, actually wants Dracula for himself? I thought that was just a given. But I guess that means I don’t have the intellectual prowess necessary to enjoy this masterpiece. So for the rest of the review I will now be praising this film.

No real reason for posting this except that it's yet another Funny Face in a Horror Movie.

We see the movie’s undying devotion to bloodcurdling terror as Dracula slaughters Lowell and that weird British guy, even ripping off the latter’s face whole! But it’s OK, as he comes back as a vampire somehow despite that. I’d say the following image is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life, but that wouldn’t even come close to doing it justice. In fact, it’s downright poetic:

.............well I think that speaks for itself.

Isn’t that just a peachy image? And what’s this – they’re defeating him by shoving a water bottle of holy water through his facial opening? How inventively creative and fresh! And I don’t just mean fresh as in, it was incredibly fresh water either!

That ought to be in a Zephyrhills ad or something. "Zephyrhills Crystal Clear water! It kills mutated and deformed vampires!"

Then we get some truly awesome battle scenes between Dracula and the slow-walking priest, who finally caught up to the movie I guess, but it’s OK since they were just building suspense. It doesn’t matter that it was completely silly – I was just missing the point before. We get some stock footage from the first movie and somehow that really pisses the slow-walking priest off, perhaps because he never liked the first film either. Clearly this one is superior in every way.

So yeah, all in all, I liked Dracula II. The characters were wonderfully colored, the storyline was only confusing if you’re an idiot who needs everything spelled out for you and the acting was unparalleled. So all in all, if you didn’t like this movie, you clearly have no idea about anything good in cinema. After all, if a guy with no face with a water bottle stuck in his head isn’t art, WHAT IS?

…now that I think about it, this was a pretty dumb movie after all.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Month of Terror: Near Dark (1987)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen

"You see those stars up there? They'll burn out in about a billion years. And you know what the sad thing is? I'll still be here when they do. In a billion years."

Artful and atmospheric, this is a great flick that I am sad I hadn't seen already. Near Dark is one of those old 80s classics that just gets everything right, with a hearty blend of horror, romance and vampire mysticism coming together for something sorrowful and bleak, but also quite beautiful.

Most vampire movies just go for gore and cheap smut, but this one actually takes the time to have some awesome directing that unfolds into an incredibly captivating story. I love how it just jumps right into the action from the start, without really any build up at all, and just keeps you hooked with every turn. Finally we have a movie that doesn’t feel the need to oversaturate us with pointless drawn-out crap introducing everything. Sometimes just jumping in is the best way to go – same as swimming. He’s on the road, he picks up the girl, and the movie gets going. Nothing else is necessary here.

At first it's a rather sad romance that turns twisted when the girl impulsive Caleb picks up bites him, but as the film goes on it cycles through several other emotions and movements from scary to action packed, all while flowing so well that it feels like half its actual runtime. The trials Caleb has to take to prove himself to the vampire cult can be taken as some kind of coming-of-age message, but it's not forced and is actually relatively in the background, so you can enjoy this just as a great vampire story or as a meaningful, implicating tale.

Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton kick up a storm as the two main antagonists, and by contrast, Jenny Wright is captivatingly beautiful and heartachingly tragic. The characters are all really well done in general. You don’t ever learn about any of their backstories, but you really get a sense of them through their expressions, actions, etc., and it’s all very powerful. You can see a ton of pain and longing in Jenny Wright’s eyes – you get the sense she’s a character who’s had a lot of terrible things happen to her, lost a lot of people, doesn’t want it to happen again, despite her natural urges. Very human, very intricate.

I don't know how this will hold up on future viewings, but as it stands, Near Dark is a great film, running the gamut of emotions and crafting a unique and thought provoking movie out of a subject that was already rather trite even back then. The characters are interesting even though you know almost nothing about them, the directing is incredible, the setting is awesome with the whole dirty, run-down Western feel (wish more movies would do this in modern settings), the action is cool…it’s just an all around winner of a movie. This is up there with Let the Right One In as one of the best vampire movies ever. Go see it if you haven't. This is probably the most poignant and meaningful movie I’m going to review this month. A horror movie for the ages.

The Month of Terror: The Gate (1987)

Director: Tibor Takacs
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Christa Denton, Louis Tripp

A shlocky, corny 80s horror-lite that I found rather's one of those movies where you get a bunch of kids fighting off an evil force that somehow makes all the coloring bright, nightmareish neon. It's the kind of movie only the 80s would ever give you, and for what it is, I liked it. It was goofy at times, but the acting was OK and the story was well told, as simple as it was – a tale of two kids who find a hole that leads to Hell in their backyard amidst trying to launch bottle rockets and bratty teenage sisters and their bratty friends.

This is a movie with a very clear Nightmare on Elm Street-esque atmosphere that creates some pretty damn good scares, spreading them out so they're much more shocking and visceral when they hit, amidst the normal scenery and pleasant suburban life of the film's set-up. The characters are simple and broadly drawn, but there are little subtleties like the main character's relationship with his sister, or the other kid and how he changed once his mother died, and so it's never quite one-dimensional.

The climax gets darker, and showcases some truly bleak and hopeless imagery that will leave you wondering if this is going to have a happy ending after all. Like this one scene, where the monster finally comes out. They have a staredown and the monster touches the kid on the head, and you think he just let him off easily…but then when he opens up his hand, he sees a great big eye looking back at him! The whole climax, with all its reds and blacks and howling wind, is just aching with despair and hopelessness. Really unexpected from the rest of the rather upbeat, campy film, and I was impressed. The Gate is a worthwhile and workmanlike 80s horror-fest that you should see if you haven't.

It sees you!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Month of Terror: Dracula 2000 (2000)

Amazing, a movie that actually manages to screw up the Dracula story even more than the 1991 version with that ridiculous Gary Oldman costume. I didn’t even think that was possible. Yes, Dracula 2000, brought to you by the genius minds that brought you sequels to White Noise, Pulse, Children of the Corn and Hollow Man, is another gem of a movie that you just can’t describe in a short review…so I made a really long one again, happy?

Director: Patrick Lussier
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jonny Lee Miller, Justine Waddell

"Don't ever fuck with an antiques dealer!"
-Jordan Chase

Our movie begins quite beautifully with scenes of London in the 1800s, with a bunch of dead people on a ship. I’d say these scenes had a point, but really I just think the director wanted to take a vacation to London, as we flash forward unceremoniously to the present day, without any kind of transition. Then we see Christopher Plummer and Jordan Chase from Dexter talking about some stuff in a room. Chase proceeds to flirt with the token attractive woman in this unnamed and vague company, who turns him down like a bad grade on a math test. Burned, Chase! Burned!

Then we see that this attractive woman is actually a part of some gang of robbers planning to break in and steal stuff. They find a secret passageway, a dungeon full of skulls and smoke and a big coffin, and, being idiots of the highest order, think that Plummer decorated the place like that to scare off thieves:

Looks like a rejected Buffy the Vampire Slayer set.

Come to think of it, why did Plummer decorate the secret passageway like that anyway? He’s clearly keeping the Dracula-coffin down there to keep it safe, so what’s the logic in decorating the place like a cheap haunted house? Why go through the trouble of putting up all those skulls and everything when he could have just put it in a room and locked the door? Not like anyone would see it if he was just using it to keep the thing in. I guess he’s just got a flair for the most ridiculous and over the top drama.

So yeah, the robbers activate a bunch of traps that were rejected from Indiana Jones 17 and a couple of them get killed off and impaled on stuff, which shocks the surviving robbers about as much as getting a letter in the mail. They just kind of shrug it off, take the coffin and go. This gets Plummer and Jordan Chase mad, as you can clearly tell by the way they scream every other line as if they’re in a terrible soap opera. Because that makes it dramatic! About as dramatic as a bunch of kids fighting on a schoolyard anyway…

We also get introduced to Mary, who has dreams apparently directed by Rob Zombie, although I would also accept ‘dreams directed by Tim Burton’ if you please:

Stop tormenting me, strobe lights and quick cuts!

She lives with her friend Lucy, they talk about boys (because that’s all girls ever do when they’re alone, you know), and that’s pretty much it. BACK TO THE ROBBERS!

They’re on a plane transporting the coffin back to wherever the hell they came from, and they all pick on this one guy for no reason except that he’s white and has a dorky Jew-fro style haircut that just begs to be made fun of. He opens the coffin after whining and complaining to himself, and is suddenly engulfed in a cloud of pot-smoke that I think was used by the writers to create the script!

Look at that hair; it's practically its own meme.

Actually it’s Dracula, played by Gerard Butler. He then proceeds to hide and wait for more idiots to come out. Which they do, leading to several long, drawn out minutes of those terrible ‘stop kidding around man!’ scenes you get in every terrible horror movie. Joy. But then using his incredible 'appearing ominously in doorways' power (which is pretty much all he does throughout this movie), Dracula turns everyone into vampires and crashes the plane.

But the wonders don’t end there, as then we get one of the strangest hallucination scenes ever as Dracula and Mary see each other through the door of the plane somehow? But one side of the door is the cockpit of the plane, and the other side is her room…and then he goes into her room, and attacks her until Lucy walks through him like a ghost? It’s hard to describe, but that’s because it’s just visually confusing as hell! I get what they were going for, but seriously, what kind of insane brain-cobble produced this anyway?

Well, I guess David Lynch was called on set to direct a scene after all...

After that, we get the BEST NEWSCASTER EVER as she wears a skimpy dress and talks incredibly dramatically about the robbers’ plane, which crashed in a lake. I mean really, saying things like ‘this is a lake of death and doom today’ is just silly. And I love how the camera-man is drooling over her the whole damn time. “I’m just recording this for my own jerk-off sessions later tonight, thanks!” But then Dracula just kills them, although even THAT is rendered incredibly silly by the fact that you see it through the camera so you can’t actually see him doing it:

"And tonight on National Enquirer News, we have a newscaster who they probably picked up from a brothel down on the bad side of town..." 
"...and flying men propelled by their own farts (that are actually vampires killing them; but that's just a conspiracy theory)!"

So then we get some exposition from Plummer on why Dracula is so evil: he hates Christianity. Yup, that’s it; just like any common acne-ridden 14 year old internet troll! Dracula’s just angsty! Oh, and apparently Christopher Plummer is actually the real Van Helsing, who kept himself alive by injecting himself with Dracula’s blood over the years just to make sure he doesn’t get out of his prison. And while doing THAT, he apparently also had time to father a daughter! And that daughter was Mary! See? It all makes sense now…except it really, really doesn’t. Let’s take a closer look at this ridiculous subplot:

First of all, how did he know that Dracula’s blood would give him any kind of special powers anyway? He’s counting on them to let him live forever, but how can he possibly tell that would work without some kind of problem occurring? Second of all, how did he know he wouldn’t run out sometime in the 100 years since he killed Dracula? What would’ve happened if he came in one day and tried to drain the blood but found out there wasn’t enough? “Whoops, my bad! Guess I should have just left it to my descendants or something, like any other sane person would have!” Third of all, he really had time to father a daughter? So much for devotion to the cause. You’d THINK a guy smart enough to figure out a way to live forever would be smart enough NOT to have sex with someone with that demonic blood in his veins! But I guess stupidity is necessary to move the plot forward!

Also I really like the Michael Jackson dance moves the hot vampire chick does in the science lab where she’s being held:

You could have at least put in "Thriller" or "Smooth Criminal" at this point...might have made the movie better...

And then we get another fight scene with some of Dracula’s goons, full of Matrix-style wire-jumping, terrible one-liners and implausible set-ups…and where are they supposed to be, anyway? Could they just not afford a real morgue, and so they had to film in a high school auditorium-slash-gymnasium?

After that, we see Dracula approaching Lucy at the video store where I’m sure they have much better movies than this one available. She decides to take him home, because I guess the creepy guy in the black trench coat who approached her in the video store is a good enough catch for her standards, and surprise surprise, he kills her soon after. Mary discovers that Lucy went off with some guy, and, jumping to the most bizarre conclusion possible, she of course automatically suspects that it’s Dracula at work. Because a hot blonde girl like this:

…couldn’t POSSIBLY have gotten a date otherwise, right?

Christopher Plummer goes to Mary’s house too and gets killed off easily by Dracula. So much for the great Van Helsing, right? Ho hum. So then we see some more of those wonderful schizophrenic editing in the Rob Zombie style as Mary returns and starts seeing things in the house. She fights some of Dracula’s posse, including the news-lady for some reason, and then runs away only to find Jordan Chase outside! They run away and go to a church, because…I guess the director felt like he hadn’t ripped off The Crow enough with all the shots of Gerard Butler wearing black perched on top of roofs, and had to compensate for his own insecurities.

Through more fight scenes that not even 4th graders who like The Matrix would find endearing and lines so stupid that I’m surprised the actors willingly said them, the movie pretty much gets nowhere. However, there is one line so over the top and so silly that it actually makes the movie worth it…for a few seconds, anyhow. It’s when Jordan Chase is fighting off the vampire chicks. He beats them down and then screams “DON’T EVER FUCK WITH AN ANTIQUES DEALER!” at the top of his lungs, like some kind of battle cry. Yes. I believe we have a new indictment into the hall of absolute AWESOMENESS. No other line in this movie touches this level of over the top cheese.

But yeah, after that it pretty much produces nothing of worth, and I’m almost positive the writers ran out of ideas after that too, because the movie can’t even hold my interest for two seconds anymore. Jordan Chase chases the vamp-chicks around and Mary is kidnapped by Dracula and blah blah blah. They fight on the roof until it’s revealed that…DUN DUN DUN

Somebody call Mel Gibson, I think we have a new movie idea: Dracula and Jesus Christ!

No. No, you can’t be doing this, movie. You seriously can’t!

No, what are you thinking, movie? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Dracula is Judas? What? Why? What was wrong with the original story so much that you had to add this religious crap into it? It makes zero sense at all and just turns the whole thing into an even bigger joke. This isn’t Dogma or some nonsense where you can just make stuff like that up! At least in that movie it was played for comedy and satire. Here’s it’s supposed to be serious! Ugh. Let’s just finish the damn review.

So Dracula turns Mary into a vampire and tells her to bite Jordan Chase, but in a VERY SURPRISING TWIST she fakes it – didn’t see that one coming, did you? It’s only been used in EVERY OTHER MOVIE EVER MADE after all! Then he throws her off the building but she wraps some wire around his neck before she falls…and wait a minute, wouldn’t the fall barely hurt her anyway? I mean it’s been shown in this movie itself that vampires are almost invincible, so…what? Dracula burns up, Mary turns back into a human somehow, becomes a Buffy the Vampire Slayer rip-off and then we mercifully get the credits!

Phew. So in case you couldn’t tell…this was stupid as hell. It made as much sense as the ramblings of a fever-ridden fourth grader on a sugar high, the acting AND writing was terribly over-done and over-dramatic, the story was a pile of clichéd horse crap and the characters weren’t very interesting. I will say it was at least entertaining, but it was entertaining in spite of itself rather than for any actual merit. And that’s never the way to go.

So are you guys ready for the sequel?!?!? I am!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Month of Terror: House of Wax (2005)

Well, I knew it would come to this eventually...reviewing the movie that everyone knows not for its ridiculous plot and contrived story, but for the fact that Paris Hilton had a supporting role in it. Yes, House of Wax! And you'll be surprised to know, if you aren't familiar with this ridiculous carnivalesque sideshow of fecal garbage, that the fact that Paris Hilton is in this movie is the least silly thing about it. Yes, the least silly thing, indeed. Intrigued?

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Paris Hilton!

The film starts off in the best way possible, with a flashback! We see a woman making wax sculptures, and then a guy dragging his kicking and screaming son into the room, despite the latter’s attempts at fighting back with everything he has. You know it’s good to see such good taste even in little kids – even at age 3 he knew he didn’t want to ruin his career by being in this movie! Maybe he’ll go somewhere, someday.

So on Bland White People Horror Movie News, we flash to the present day, where a bunch of ignorant jackasses are undergoing the epic journey of going to a football game! Enthralling! They’re hanging out at a gas station and we learn that Elisha Cuthbert’s character Carly has a boyfriend, Wade (Jared Padalecki) who really doesn’t like her brother Nick, played by Chad Michael Murray. We also learn that Paris Hilton is Paige, a girl who doesn’t want to tell her boyfriend Blake that she’s pregnant. Tune in for more Bland White People Horror Movie News in…well, probably a few seconds.

"By golly, this is the FIRST time I've ever been caught on tape doing anything!"

Ha-ha! She looked like she was getting a blowjob in the car but really she was just getting her keys...right…sure...exactly.

Aaaaand after that quick break, we’re back to Bland White People Horror Movie News! So they camp out and whine and moan about stuff some more, and Nick and Carly fight some more, to which we learn that he was arrested for stealing a car and blames her for not covering for him…so glad this guy is one of our heroes, right? Carly talks to Paris Hilton (yes, I know she has a character name, but I’m just going to call her that anyway) some more about the pregnancy thing. By God this is bland! The uninspiring-ness is just off the charts with this! Bland White People Horror Movie News is going to be the most popular news station ever at this rate!

Oh, and for some reason the camera switches to a home-video style camcorder…why? There’s really no reason for this, aside from a throwaway gore moment way later on in the film. Movie, having a point isn’t that hard. Why do you try to make it look that way?

So not to break from the cuh-raaaazeee fun we’ve been having, but the plot crashes in to ruin it when a big truck drives up and sits there staring at them for pretty much no reason. Nick throws a rock at it, and…it drives away. Hmmm. Then they go to bed until Carly wakes up and thinks there’s something out there, only to find out that it was just her boyfriend Wade doing a stupid jump scare to pad out the movie. Aren’t you glad the 2-hour, yes, 2-hour, runtime included important and vital scenes like this?

"Didja like that? How I snuck up on you from behind and scared you in the middle of the night like a common creeper? I'm just preparing you for defending yourself. Yeah that's it."

Then the next morning they wake up and Carly and Paris Hilton smell something awful right on the other side of some trees, which turns out to be a giant landfill full of dead animals. Yeah, pretty sure they’d be able to smell that from their campsite, movie. What, do the trees just block out the smell entirely? And then Carly succumbs to the hallowed ‘Lake Placid 2’ method of standing up, and falls right down the hill and into a pile of deer droppings. I haven’t been this endeared by a battle of man VS nature since Jack London’s ”To Build a Fire.” Glorious.

So yeah, then we get this guy, who picks up a plastic hand in the dead animal remains and says “Need a hand?” I’m so glad we have writers on the same level of comedic talent as Mel Brooks and the Coen brothers…oh wait, today ISN’T opposite day.

"I'm shooting for a Comedy Central spot next time!"

He takes them to fix Wade’s car or something, only they get freaked out and walk the rest of the way, offending him. Again, such endearing characters! I like them as much as I’ve ever liked any characters in a slasher movie…which is to say, about as much as being forced to eat horse manure. And if you think you’ve seen this kind of character, this seedy country bumpkin crazy character, in every single Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie before, and if you think that means this movie has no originality or shame, well shut up, your opinion isn’t worth anything here!

So then they decide to go explore the city’s wax museum, and for some reason Wade is really excited by this…I guess he’d be excited about anything at this rate. Hell, he’d probably react with just as much enthusiasm if you told him you were taking him to a museum of fly excrement. They walk around and talk about dumb stuff to pad out the movie some more. They run into a guy named Bo, who I’m sure doesn’t raise ANY SUSPICION by being the only normal, living person seen in this town – oh no, nothing strange about that at all…but of course the characters buy it, being raging morons.

While going to the bathroom before supposedly leaving, Wade gets killed and taken to an underground wax factory to be turned into a human wax sculpture! Of course! The prime motive for ANY serial killer! I mean, wow; that’s pretty frigging creative, don’t you think? Most other movies just have the killers torturing and raping their victims, but not these guys; oh no. They go full out and have all this complex machinery around to turn their victims into wax sculptures and everything. I mean, Christ, that’s really specific stuff! It should probably be put on one of those abstract fetish websites or something. Tell me you’ve found a weirder premise for a slasher movie and I’ll sell you my dog.

...I think the pictures speak for themselves. The SAW movies look positively bereft for ideas in comparison.

Somebody give these guys a gold star for creativity. I mean, they already found a way to mummify people perfectly in wax just by spraying it on them enough, and they go even further by wiring them up to gears to make them move, having them sit in a movie theater playing an old movie that nobody watches anymore, and all kinds of other nonsense. Hell. The only thing they don’t do is kidnap women in parking garages in extremely contrived schemes that…OK, I’m getting over it.

But yeah, that’s the big plot behind this – a crazy family kidnaps unsuspecting roadside victims and does gory stuff to them. If you think that sounds like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, well, you’d be right. It’s like Texas Chainsaw Massacre except…well, no; there is no difference. This is about as blatant a ripoff as you can get. I’m surprised they didn’t just rip off the logo, too.

And look at our killer!

Does he look familiar? Hmmmm? That’s right – Michael Myers. It’s ripping off the plot for Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the image of the killer from Halloween. Christ. This is like watching a third grader’s bad fanfiction. Here’s a hint for you: just taking random stuff from totally unrelated franchises, and adding an infamously slutty actress that nobody will ever take seriously, isn’t exactly the path to a great horror flick. You might as well have just thrown in a bad comedian while you were at it. I mean, you had every other damn cliché in the book.

So meanwhile in the actual film, Bo ties up Carly in the basement of his gas station and actually goes so far as to glue her lips shut. Why he didn’t just use the tape…ooooh, shock value, shock value! That’s about all you need. But meanwhile her brother and his friend find the town and split up, cause that’s the smartest thing to do in a horror movie, and the friend gets killed almost immediately. Surprise, surprise; the random character who did nothing else in the entire movie got killed off…can you feel my excitement emanating through the screen?

The brother has a little more luck though, as he finds Carly! But not before Bo cuts her finger off with a small tool. No, sorry; not buying that one. It wouldn’t just snap off like you’re cutting a twig in half. It would also be very noticeable to the guy standing right behind you, who you don’t want to find your captive. But he does find her, and they escape! Bo chases them around for a while, but they shoot him with a few arrows, so it’s all good.

Meanwhile, the other brother, the Michael Myers-mask-wearing killer, somehow finds the other two characters that never even made it to the town. Why? Because we need more body count, and with Paris Hilton being a part of it, you know it’s gonna be good. All I have to say about this part is, if Paris Hilton can almost outrun and put up a better fight than you…you need to get on the Stairmaster more than once a millennium.

You know, I could make so many jokes. But I bet they've all already been done anyway...

Then inside the house, Carly and Nick find some old photos of the two brothers as kids, because that’s the only way the writers could think of to pad out the movie some more. Then they get chased around some more and start a fire in the house, and since the house is made out of all wax, it starts to melt into…one of the most original and unique ending scenes I’ve seen in a horror movie lately.

I can’t say I like it – it looks something like Paris Hilton’s plastic surgery factory caught on fire – but it certainly is interesting. It goes on a little too long, though. I mean, there’s really only so much you can do with shots of a whole house of wax melting in flames…it’s a pretty specific phenomenon. So they make it out and all, only for the police to find out that the creepy guy from the beginning of the movie was also a brother of the two wax-idiots…which doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Where was he the whole rest of the movie? Is he just the odd man out that neither of the other two like or include in their plans? Why didn’t he help them at all?

Yeah, this sucks. The characters are cardboard cutouts that somehow manage to be extra annoying, the plot is stupidly specific and there’s just no logic to any of it. Some of the visuals were creative and every once in a while I got a sense of real fear, but it was just so bogged down in stupidity and lameness that I couldn’t forgive it. So with that, I banish House of Wax to the incinerator!