Review: The Signal (2007, POP Films)




Category: Anthology, Sci-Fi, Viral
Directed by:
David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry

Written by: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry
Starring: A.J. Bowen, Anessa Ramsey, Justin Welborn
Music: Ben Lovett
Cinematography: N/A

The past few movies I’ve watched have been pretty lackluster. None of them good or bad enough for me to even want to talk about, they just bored me. I needed to get out of this rut, I thought the ridiculousness of Dead Sushi  would entertain me but I wasn’t feeling it. Then I found this in my library so I put it on and finally found something refreshing. Taking an interesting approach to film making; writers/directors David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry each direct a segment, called Transmissions, of this fairly linear story, each adding their own style and approach to the storyline while fleshing it out from different angles. Having different directors handle the same characters and story could have led to a disjointed and messy film but they were able to effectively work together to make a very cohesive movie.

On New Year’s Ever a mysterious signal broadcast across various media devices invades peoples’ mind and turns them into violent psychopaths. Caught up in this madness is Mya (Anessa Ramsey), her husband Lewis (A.J. Bowen), and her secret lover Ben (Justin Welborn). The opening sequence establishes these characters (and shows a cool clip of a splatter film that’s on the DVD) before we jump head first into hell with the Transmissions. Transmission 1 is basically Mya’s story. After leaving Ben’s place she arrives to her apartment complex, dodging people running rampant in the hall, opening her door to her husband and friends trying to fix their TV. He’s suspicious of where she’s been, as they were unable to contact each other due to phones being down throughout the city. She goes to take a shower but before she gets the chance Lewis starts to beat one of his friends with a bat. She hauls ass to the hall where all of her neighbors are killing each other, the rest of the Transmission concerns her escape. Transmission 2 takes a break from the tense tone of the rest of film, presenting us with an off-kilter black comedy. Anna (Cheri Christian) is getting ready for a New Year’s party, oblivious to the chaos going on outside. After getting attacked by and killing her husband, her landlord Clark (Scott Poyress) arrives with a variety of other characters showing up. With this segment Dan Bush begins to delve deeper into the mind of these crazies, showing how they think and struggle with fight between their own humanity and the signal’s mental infection. Lewis gets most of the limelight in this segment. Transmission 3 is more or less Ben’s segment. Returning to a more serious, albeit trippy tone, we are again shown more of how the signal effects these characters’ minds. Ben teams up with Clark to try and find Mya before Lewis does while struggling with the ever looming effect of the signal.

Transmission 1 is shot in a pretty straightforward fashion, it’s gritty, dark and tense. The tone reminds me of 28 Days Later. Transmission 2 as aformentioned is mostly a dark comedy, featuring some over saturated colors and quirky acting. Many of the characters seem totally unaware of the effects of the signal. Transmission 3 is a bit of a combination of the two segments, featuring an oddly funny scene involving a decapitated head, then some eerie, mind bending hallucinatory scenes. Despite changes in tone the performances and story flow consistently. All of the acting is great, I’m a big fan of A.J. Bowen so I loved his character. One of the unassuming party guests, the mustached Jim (Chad McKnight), provides some excellent comic relief with his grossly sexual quips. Some of the scenes in Transmission 2 are pretty absurd and do take away from the tone of the overall movie, but I liked this intermission from the tension of the rest of the film.  I could see how some people would be put off by it. I really liked the film’s approach to showing how the signal effects people from their point of view, they’re not mindless psychopaths like in Cell or 28 Days Later, there’s still humanity struggling to overcome this affliction.

There’s plenty of blood in this film, although the gore isn’t necessarily explicit. The film was shot very well in that it feels so much gorier than it really is, other than seeing a head getting beat in, it’s mostly just plain old blood being thrown around. The film was on a fairly small budget although it doesn’t feel like it thanks to the great cinematography and direction. I think it added to how dark the film was, a big budget could’ve really brought it down. The score is pretty good too, featured throughout the film is Ola Podrida’s cover of “Atmosphere” by one of my favorite artists, Joy Division.

Overall, I really loved this movie, I can’t think of anything that I don’t like about it. I could see how the somewhat slow pace and weird quirkiness of some scenes could put some off. I loved how off-beat this was though, it gave this movie a unique voice without coming off as totally ridiculous. It’s engaging, tense, funny, and the changes in pace keep things interesting. I highly recommend this to an open-minded film fan.





Faceoff: The Hills Have Eyes (1977 v. 2006)

Remakes have become a very touchy subject amongst horror and even film fans in general over the past few years. The term itself has become a dirty word in our nerdy lexicon. Some are downright against them, some open minded, others are somewhere in the middle. I guess I’m in that middle category, I’ll always check out a new “re-imagining” and I’ll try to keep an open mind, but some movies just should be left alone. These aren’t anything new; many classic, cult favorite horror flicks are in fact remakes such as The Fly (1986), The Thing (1982), and even Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972) to a certain degree. Then in 2003 Platinum Dunes put out The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which was well received and after that Hollywood took notice and started putting out more takes on established horror films; re-doing classic like A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead, the aforementioned Last House on the Left, as well as every Japanese horror film ever made. It’s been ten years since this remake craze started and it’s snowballed out of control with announcements made every other week it seems of new modernized versions of our favorite films being put out. Theaters have already been graced with the new Evil Dead, Maniac, and Texas Chainsaw 3D with Carrie and Oldboy coming out soon, and a slew of rumored remakes on the horizon; everything from Child’s Play to Gremlins to Mad Max and even another Friday the 13th reboot. Just hit up Google and there’s an insane amount of movies supposedly in the works. As much as I’m not too optimistic about the new Maniac movie, I’ve been wanting to check it out to see how it holds up to the original, but I ended up watching the original Hills Have Eyes the other night and decided to start my new set of articles comparing the new and the old on a positive note.

As much as I can be kind of a horror snob sometimes, some remakes do actually pan out. Some of them I even get excited for. I was there on opening night with some friends to watch the new Evil Dead with high hopes. Unfortunately that was shortly before I started this page, so I’ll have to rewatch that for the next Faceoff article. Alexander Aja’s 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes was one of those movies I was excited for. I had seen Wes Craven’s original, and it was just another horror film, not a bad movie but not one of my favorites. I honestly didn’t remember too much of it when I went to see the new one, and didn’t watch it again until the other night. By the way I watched Aja’s version immediately afterwards so everything was fresh in my mind, I always listen/to watch something shortly before I review it, even movies I’ve seen a hundred times since I like to nitpick every little detail.

Aja’s storyline (and the whole movie in itself) holds very true to the original. The Carter family is taking the scenic route through the desert en route to California. After stopping at a sketchy gas station they head out, take a detour then crash their whip. Everyone’s okay, but their car is totaled. Big Bob, the family patriarch, heads back to the gas station to phone for help, while the nancy boy son-in-law Doug heads the opposite way to see if the road leads anywhere. The rest of the fam: Ethel, her kids Brenda, Bobby, Lynn, and Doug and Lynn’s infant daughter Catherine plus the family dogs Beauty and Beast try to make the best of the afternoon. They set up camp, make some grub, and try to be optimistic. The dogs are clearly wigged out by something, when Brenda accidentally lets Beauty out of the trailer the german shepherd takes off with Bobby heading out to retrieve her. He starts to realize that they’re not alone in these desert hills. After that shit hits the fan pretty hard.

[There will be spoilers from this point on]

The Carter family is pretty much the same in both movies, the difference is that in the 2006 version we have better actors. Big Bob is much more likeable being played by Ted Levine than by Russ Grieve, plus he’s more of a boss. Emilie de Ravin’s Brenda is nowhere near as annoying as Susan Lanier’s portrayal, the same is the case with Bobby’s characters. Ethel and Lynn’s counterparts are pretty similar, the modern versions being a bit more reserved with their acting, although I do love Dee Wallace as an actress. Doug’s character is still kind of meek, and dorky in the remake but his transformation into total BA is much better character development than in the original. In the original Doug goes to get his daughter, fights Mars and by the end of the fight goes a little nuts and stabs him repeatedly until the screen freezes and fades to red in classic grindhouse style. It all happens so fast though that you don’t really appreciate his change of character. In Aja’s version he’s passive aggressive towards Big Bob (who shits on him all the time) and even points out that he’s doesn’t like guns. Then when he sets out to get Catherine that dude goes through the ringer for about 20 minutes, getting the snot beat out of him and even losing some fingers and by the end of it he’s totally ruthless.

The hill people and their unwilling accomplice Fred, the gas attendant, are a bit different. In Craven’s movie Fred, an angry curmudgeon, has clearly had enough of luring travelers to their doom and wants no part in it, he even tells the Carters to stay on the main road. In the remake he seems miserable and helpless, he’s said he’s had enough and even heads out to tell them so, but returns to his home to find the belongings of the last group of victims waiting for him, mostly jewelry but also a severed ear in a Styrofoam to-go container. The Carters arrive as they did in the original, and Lynn runs to retrieve one of the dogs as it ran into Fred’s shack. She kind of pokes the satchel of remains open but doesn’t see the contents. Noticing that his satchel was disturbed he appears to worry that she might’ve seen what was in the bag so he runs out and tells them to take the detour, leading them to the hill people. When Bob returns to his gas station in the 70’s, he saves Fred from hanging himself, who then tells him the origins of the hill people before Papa Jupiter pounces through the window F13: Part II style and later kills him. In the remake Fred is clearly distraught over all the blood on his hands and blows his dome off.

The hill folk are far more menacing in the remake than in the original. In Craven’s film, they’re merely a tribe of inbred hicks trying to survive in the desert hills. They kind of looked like deranged Indians, with a few of them suffering from some kind of mental handicap. They get quite a bit of screen time, almost as much as the Carters. They also get a fairly fleshed out back story. All the suspense is sort of lost since you see them so much, and you know when they’re going to strike. I think the antagonists are more menacing the less you know about them, which is why they’re so much more intimidating in the remake. We see some newspaper clippings about miners refusing to leave their homes when the government decided to test their bombs on their hometown, so we can conclude that they’re the deformed offspring of these survivors. That’s about all we get for back story, nor do we see too much of their side of life like we do in the original. Also the modern hill people are much more brute and animalistic in behavior, displaying much less humanity. Papa Jupiter, who gets a good amount of dialogue throughout the original barely says anything but “Daddy” creepily in Aja’s film. His role is actually very much downplayed which is unfortunate. Pluto on the other hand gets a much larger role. Michael Berryman’s Pluto, while the actor actually suffers from hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia, giving him a very odd appearance, isn’t very intimidating in the original. He’s rather thin, appears to be mildly retarded, and spends most of the moving getting fucked up by a dog. All he really accomplishes is kidnapping Catherine. Pluto in the remake is a fucking beast. He very much resembles Sloth from The Goonies, and has that childlike disposition mixed with wild, psychotic rage. He’s a terrifying juggernaut of destruction and he has a pretty rad fight scene with Doug where he fucks shit up. Mars and his modern day counterpart Lizard are similar in character, both are agile, sadistic warriors and the main antagonists of both films. Ruby’s character is about the same in both movies as well, albeit with no dialogue in the remake, a young member of this clan who wants nothing to do with their violent, cannibalistic behavior. The scout for the clan, originally named Mercury is a severely retarded goon who wears a large chieftain headdress with a goofy, upbeat disposition is much more well played in the new film as Goggle who merely acts like a wild animal, although neither of them get much screen time. There’s few new mutants in the remake, the most notable being a wheelchair bound hydrocephalic called Big Brain who seems to be running the show.

The reason I think Aja’s version of the film is so much more powerful is because of a sense of tension and suspense he adds to it. Plus the focus is on the Carter family, not everyone, so we connect with them more. The film is pretty true to the original, spiced up with better effects, loads more gore, and more terrifying antagonists. We also get to see Doug’s journey to the dumping grounds that he finds, plus his venture into the hill folks’ home turf is much more interesting and fleshed out, with more fight scenes with other mutants added in. This gives him enough time to go from a snide, melvin to a badass hellbent on getting his daughter back by any means necessary. The gore is gratuitous and well done, I was very much satisfied with it. Aja has been accused of turning this movie into a torture porn; while being plentiful, I think the gore was appropriately done. The characters weren’t sacrificed for the sake of blood and guts, I think the character were actually handled much better in the remake. Also I preferred Aja’s ominous ending.

Somehow Alexander Aja has found a way to make a cult classic feel new and fresh without having to alter the movie too much. With that said, I don’t think he really made it his own movie, like what John Carpenter did with The Thing, but his trademark gritty, gory style does shine through and the movie was done very well. I think that’s another thing that made this remake work where others haven’t. So many look very modern, slick, and clean with attractive, young, model-esque actors, movies that are all about looks and lacking substance whereas this film still has that gritty feel and the family feels like a real, typical American family. While Wes Craven’s film is good and a classic staple in horror history, I think Aja’s film trumps it and still remains one of my favorite films since I first saw it when it came out. So therefore, Alexander Aja comes out the victor, in my eyes at least.

Which film do you prefer and why? How do you feel this wave of horror movie remakes?


Review: The Hills Run Red (2009, Dark Castle Entertainment)




Category: Slasher
Directed by:
Dave Barker

Written by: John Carchietta, John Dombrow, David J. Schow
Starring: Sophie Monk, Tad Hilgenbrink, Janet Montgomery, Alex Wyndham, William Sadler
Music: Frederik Weidmann
Cinematography: Ilan Rosenberg

I was feeling the need to watch a good slasher today and this looked like it would satisfy me. Unique killer, typical “kids go to the woods and get killed” format, and a metafiction storyline. Alas, I was ultimately let down. After watching this I feel like my review of The Shrine may have been too harsh, I can be a bit of a horror snob from time to time, sometimes it takes a really shit movie to set my perspective straight.

The story is that some dude, who’s played by that super douche-y guy from America Pie: Band Camp, is on a mission to track down a horror movie titled The Hills Run Red that disappeared (along with the director and cast) after it was removed from theaters in 1982. Him, his girlfriend and best friend head out to find the director after they track down his daughter who agrees to help them. They end up getting caught in the filming of his latest movie hunted by the very real slasher, Babyface.

Right off the bat my hopes dropped for this movie once I realized who played the main character, something about that dink just bugs the hell out of me. He’s a shitty actor, as is most of the cast. At one point Sophie Monk’s character, the director’s daughter Alexa, talks about how great of an actress she is and it made me chuckle. Oh the irony. Along with the acting being poor all the character’s are super lame and two-dimensional. Alexa, who’s a drug addicted stripper (portrayed poorly), has this almost laughable, corny detox scene (also poorly portrayed).

The missing movie is hyped up to be the most disturbing movie ever made, but the trailer shown in the beginning just doesn’t help support this. It just looks like any other slasher from the 80’s except with some really bad CGI thrown in here and there. Although I admit that the killer does look cool, he’s still kind of lame. A kid whose father slashed his face up sews a doll’s face to his own to feel better about himself, when he’s about to kill you, you’ll hear a baby’s rattle. Seriously?

Is there at least some sweet gore? Nah, not enough to save this film at least. Some decent practical effects, and then there’s some bad CGI. The filming itself is average, nothing noteworthy though, it’s shot like any slasher with a decent budget.

The concept of someone filming a slasher with a real killer and death scenes as a premise would be really cool if it lacked everything else that this movie has. I feel like a movie like that has already been made, I just can’t think of it. Not Cabin in the Woods, because well it’s more complicated than that. Anyways, this movie was lame, I can’t say I recommend it, I’d watch something else instead.




Review: Inbred (2011, New Flesh Films)




Category: Cannibal/Backwoods Horror, Horror-Comedy, Splatter/Gore
Directed by:
Alex Chandon

Written by: Alex Chandon, Paul Shrimpton
Starring: Jo Hartley, Seamus O’Neil, James Doherty, James Burrows, Neil Leiper, Dominic Brunt, Emily Booth
Music: Dave Andrews
Cinematography: Ollie Downey

This has been on my list for awhile but I’ve been a bit apprehensive to watch it due to poor reviews. Then I caught the full trailer for it looking for a preview of The Shrine, so I finally watched it this morning before work. I should know better than to take horror movie reviews seriously from general or critics reviews.

Two caseworkers take four troubled youths out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere for a vacation and team building activities. Turns out that the creepy, deformed townsfolk don’t take kindly to outsiders, and start to kill them off in a deranged circus sideshow-like event. The gang must work together to escape.

This is a delightful gore fest! I’ve been wanting to watch a super gory flick for the past few weeks and after quite a few flicks I was finally rewarded with this. Tons of gruesome kills, with a healthy mix of practical effects and CGI. Limbs sawed off, heads blown apart and someone even explodes spraying their guts everywhere. Gorehounds won’t be disappointed by the slew of creative death scenes. It’s shot very well too, great look and feel to the movie as well as excellent camera work. The setting truly makes you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.

The actors portraying our main characters are all great with really well written dialogue. They’re all likeable and believable. There are some moments where you want to yell at the screen for them being stupid, but it’s forgivable. Most of the movie makes their situation seem completely hopeless, the odds are really stacked up against these guys. This is supposed to be seen as a horror comedy, but it’s almost so bleak and you like the protagonists so much that it’s kind of a bummer to see them killed. I still couldn’t help but laugh when someone got butchered (well I even do that when it’s not a “comedy” themed movie) but I was still rooting for them, hoping that the freakish inbreds were on the receiving end of the violence more often. But then again, I would hate to have such well put together characters left underdeveloped for the sake of making the body count more comedic. As for the locals, they’re all truly demented but some are almost cartoonish and a bit too ridiculous to be believable, although I guess this movie is really meant to be over the top.

This was a very fun watch, I highly recommend it. The main issue is that the tone is a little muddy, it’s not funny enough to be a horror comedy but it can’t be taken too seriously either, otherwise it’ll just seem too grim. I can see why some people gave it a bad review, it’s not a cookie cutter horror flick, it breaks some rules associated with typical cinema format, but I think that was a plus since you had know idea how shit was going to go down. I’m going to keep an eye out for Alex Chandon’s next movie, I have high hopes for him. If you love gratuitous gore and can stomach watching some likeable characters suffer then definitely check this out.




Review: Holla If You Hear Me Kill You (2009, SRS Cinema)



Category: Slasher
Directed by:
Mark Harris

Written by: Mark Harris
Starring: Cyn Dulay, Lorenzo Hunt, Revelation
Music: Edgar Artek Sinio
Cinematography: Ricardo Islas

A classic styled slasher with some whodunit elements thrown in there, the story concerns a group of recording artists and their friends who start getting picked off one by one by a masked assailant. It’s clear that whoever is doing this is someone close to them so everyone becomes a suspect.

My main gripe with this movie is the characters, everyone is  pretty much a total douche. Even though getting hacked up is a focal point in slashers, it’s nice to have characters you like because there’s a decent amount of the movie where you have to deal with them being alive. There’s a lot of dialogue in this movie and not much of it is good. Everyone is a stereotypical ghetto wannabe thug and they spend most of the movie trash talking each other and it gets old quick. Plus these guys are supposed to be homies but they turn on each other almost immediately after the first victim dies. I know the filmmaker was trying to create a sense of confusion amongst his characters, but it didn’t pan out too well.

This flick has a decent body count and some good gore. The special effects aren’t insanely elaborate but there are some creative kills. It’s a low budget movie so the production isn’t amazing and the acting is pretty cheesy. Director Mark Harris did do a good job of keeping you guessing who the killer is, I was surprised by the ending.

More likeable characters and a tighter script would’ve greatly improved this, but it’s not that bad for a B-movie. There’s plenty of kills and a decent storyline, enough to be entertaining. Check this out if you want to watch a bunch of hoodlums and hoes get the shit murdered out of them.




Review: The Shrine (2010, Brookstreet Pictures)




Category: Religious/Occult, Paranormal/Supernatural
Directed by:
Jon Knautz

Written by: Jon Knautz, Brendan Moore
Starring: Aaron Ashmore, Cindy Sampson, Meghan Heffern, Trevor Matthews
Music: Ryan Shore
Cinematography: James Griffith

I’ve heard some good things from people I know about this movie, and I’ve seen it flipping through Netflix and the poster art looked pretty cool. It’s taken me over a year to get around to it considering my already massive list of to-be-watched movies.

The premise is that a reporter (Cindy Sampson), her jock chodebag photographer boyfriend (Aaron Ashmore), and a girl she works with (Meghan Heffern) set out to Poland to investigate the disappearances of tourists near a remote village. Once they arrived they also discover a  stagnant fog that looms over one part of a forest. Turns out the townsfolk aren’t down with them sticking their noses in their business so they must sneak around them to investigate further.

I went in with high hopes but I was seriously let down. Right from the beginning I felt like this movie was going to suck, but I’m a trooper and stuck it out. It didn’t get any better though. The acting is really lame and over dramatic. Everything was such a big deal to these characters, with a constant look of shock and awe on their faces. They’re in a rural village in Poland and the lead chick freaks out because a butcher is slicing up a pig. The whole group is shocked to see a procession of villagers leave a church and bow to their religious leaders. These people are supposed to be reporters, there are much more disturbing things going on in the world other than well, normal things. They then discover a tomb containing the remains of kidnapped tourists, which they’re not too shaken by. And of course stupid characters making cringe-worthy stupid decisions, but that’s the screenwriter’s fault not theirs. I’ll forgive Meghan Heffern’s acting though since I’m a fan of Blue Mountain State.

Other than the acting, this movie just got kind of boring after awhile. There are certain parts that are paced very poorly, like when Sampson’s character gets lost in the fog for 10 minutes and nothing really happens. I felt like this movie wanted to be a dark and eerie thriller, but it wasn’t shot that way at all. It’s very crisp, modern and generic looking. A more suited DP was needed. Ryan Shore’s score got nominated for something but I don’t know why, nothing stuck out to me about it. Not really a bunch for good gore either. The best quality of this movie is the twist, which is poorly executed though.

This movie just didn’t do it for me, I would’ve rather spent that hour and a half watching a low budget horror flick or staring at my wall. It’s not even bad in the good way, just bad. It’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, it’s just boring.




Review: Thirst (1979, F.G. Film Productions)




Category: Religious/Occult, Sci-Fi, Vampire
Directed by:
Rod Hardy

Written by: John Pinkny
Starring: Chantel Contouri, Shirley Cameron, Max Phipps, Henry Silva, David Hemmings
Music: Brian May
Cinematography: Vincent Monton

In anticipation of the upcoming Patrick remake I busted out my Aussie Horror boxset to rewatch it and realized I never even watched one of the movies in there. I was pleasantly surprised to see this ozploitation film take a cool twist on the often stagnant vampire subgenre, especially back in the late 70’s. Not only is there the vampire aspect, there’s also occult and sci-fi elements. The well off Kate Davis (Chantel Contouri) is out of the blue kidnapped by the sanguine seeking Hyma Brotherhood. Apparently she is the direct descendant of serial killer and supposed vampire Countess Elizabeth Báthory and the organization wants her to join them and have a royal union between vampiric families.They run a highly organized and well funded laboratory where they harvest blood from a”farm” of drugged human hosts. Despite polite suggestion from Dr. Fraser (David Hemmings), Kate’s not super into this lifestyle so she’s given hallucinatory drugs and psychological suggestion by some bitchy doctor whose name escapes me (I watched this last week and I have shitty memory). I can’t really go any further without ruining the movie.

This was shot in the 70’s so it obviously looks dated and the sound editing isn’t perfect but the production is pretty good regardless. The acting is good across the board, Contouri provides us with a strong, believable main character. This isn’t just a typical horror flick, there’s not a ton of gore or being chased by the boogieman, this is paced kind of slow and focuses mainly on Kim trying to deal with and escape the situation she’s been dragged into. The ritual and hallucinatory scenes are really well shot. There’s a cool scene where Kate is tripping balls and her house is falling apart around her with some kind of creature trying to bust its way in.

I really liked how director Rod Hardy and writer John Pinkey decided to take a vampire movie and make it there own. Sure there were other movies about underground vampire organizations but most of them came after this. The thought of vampires being a rich, organized secret community following some crazy ritualistic philosophy with all sorts of scientific degrees is a more unique concept than most of the vampire movie crap that’s come out in the past few years.