STRIGOI-THE UNDEAD (2009) Review


Directed by Faye Jackson
Written by Faye Jackson
Starring Constantin Barbulescu, Camelia Maxim & Catalin Paraschiv
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Though many won’t have the patience to sit through this somber little vampire film, I was fascinated at the way STRIGOI: THE UNDEAD shed light on a culture that I am completely unfamiliar with. Though we all know that Dracula comes from a setting much like the Romanian township featured in this film, his trek to England is what folks remember most about Stoker’s classic piece of lit. STRIGOI peels away all of the Hollywood glamour often attributed to the modern vampire and tells a straight up tale of the undead through the eyes of the extremely traditional and superstitious population of modern Romania.

I was fascinated by the traditions followed involving death and dying observed in this film. Though set in the modern day, STRIGOI is a somewhat timeless piece of cinema. The horror is almost secondary to the age-old rituals and mores observed by the town. Often played for its ludicrousness; such as sitting with a corpse for a fortnight drinking vodka to make sure the body does not rise as a vampire, the tradition is scoffed at by our protagonist Constantin (played by the deadpan Constantin Barbulescu), but writer/director Faye Jackson never makes fun of the culture. Her lens focuses on the intricacies of this culture’s superstition and how important it is within their day to day life.

This story of a couple murdered by a lynch mob who raises from the dead to enact revenge is a subtle slice of Romanian culture, and thus different than most vamp flicks out there now. STRIGOI: THE UNDEAD isn’t explosive or over the top. The gore isn’t in your face and the actors don’t ape for the camera. But it is an effective little horror film, destined to be overlooked unless you want to take a chance, heed my advice, and check it out.

EXIT 33 (2011) Review


Directed by Tommy Brunswick

Written by Mark Myers & Norman Koza

Starring Kane Hodder, Antoinette Nikprelaj & Jerry Reid
Find out more information on the film’s Facebook page!

The acting is pretty amateur. The budget is low. The production is too. So why is EXIT 33 worth checking out?

Because it’s got Kane Hodder in it, that’s why.

Now, if you don’t know who Kane Hodder is, I want you to go right now and do your horror movie homework. The man is somewhat legendary in horror circles as THE man behind the mask, one of the only actors ever to play Jason Voorhees more than once and the man who brought his own distinct style to the role. Hodder is usually covered in make-up and prosthetics in his films, so any time the guy gets a break in a film without having to cover his pie hole, its ok by me. Here Kane actually does a great job as a murderous gas station attendant with an eye for pretty eyed girls.

No, Kane won’t win any nods from the Academy with this role, but for someone whose face is usually covered in latex, the guy seems pretty comfortable and confident in front of the camera. He gives a sullen and twisted performance here and even has a chillingly pleasant voice to boot. I’ve met Kane Hodder at a few cons in years past and every time he’s been a gentle giant, always looking to talk and shake hands with fans. He couldn’t be more different than the monsters he plays on screen. EXIT 33 is a bit rough around the edges and by the book when it comes to slasher films, but the gore factor is prominent and convincing throughout and the ending is actually pretty chilling. But it’s Hodder’s performance proves that more folks should give this guy a chance to act without his face covered by sports equipment.

GOOD NEIGHBORS (2011) Review


Directed by Jacob Tierney
Written by Jacob Tierney
Starring Scott Speedman, Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Anne-Marie Cadieux, & Micheline Lanctôt

This thriller from the land up North may not be the cup of tea for you gore hounds out there, but for fiends of all things Hitchcockian, GOOD NEIGHBORS is a can’t miss. This film totally took me by surprise by the depths it goes and the twists it unleashes. Writer/director Jacob Tierney (who previously unleashed the unconventional comedy TROTSKY with Baruchel and the homosexual reinterpretation of Oliver Twist in TWIST) does a fantastic job of reeling in the viewer with a trio of interesting characters, then throwing all expectations for a loop as to how far these three will go. In many ways, this is the polar opposite of all of those feel-good twenty-something neighbors in the same apartment films like SINGLES and WITH HONORS. In those films, the actors meet, get to know one another, and then get into each others lives which in the end helps them with whatever issue each suffers from. Here, three folks meet; they get into each others lives, and then try for the rest of the film to get out of them, though their lives are destined to intersect. What this says about modern society and how hard it is to trust one’s neighbor is beside the point. What matters is that Tierney has pulled off a fantastic game of whodunit with GOOD NEIGHBORS, a serial killer thriller worth seeking out.

All three of the main actors (Scott Speedman,Jay Baruchel, & Emily Hampshire) deliver fantastic performances and up until a point, it could be any of the three who are doing the rape/killings that are terrorizing a specific neighborhood in Montreal. Speedman’s Spencer is a surprisingly menacing performance which reflects a suppressed anger that comes from being stuck in a wheelchair and out of control in a world he seems to long to master. Baruchel’s Victor seems harmless, but events occur mid-film indicating that he is somewhat delusional and obsessive. Is he the killer? Or is it Hampshire’s Louise who is fascinated with the crimes and definitely playing with the emotions of both of her neighbors for her own amusement. Tierney’s script pulls you in at first as these three exchange pleasantries, then pulls back the curtains and shows how twisted friendships can often become. The explosive climax is filled with one back stab after another until you don’t know who is telling the truth.

Tierney patiently unfolds the mystery and though I guessed it somewhat early on, he keeps the twists going that everything doesn’t hinge on the identity of the real killer. Instead he focuses on strong character and taking full advantage of the cold winter landscape that is Montreal. Through numerous musical interludes, Tierney explores every inch of this expansive apartment complex through the eyes of Louise’s two cats, which factor greatly into the overall plot. GOOD NEIGHBORS also goes for twisted comedy as well at times in which some of the most macabre moments are looked at through an absurd lens. One might overlook this film in this summer of overblown blockbusters, but when you’re finished with all the fluff, GOOD NEIGHBORS is a truly unique twisted little mystery that is sure to be remembered.

SUPER HYBRID (2010) Review


Directed by Eric Valette
Written by Benjamin Carr
Starring Shannon Beckner, Oded Fehr and Ryan Kennedy

Now, I know there will be those who scoff at this film as soon as they hear the premise: a car that thrives on blood is trapped in an impound garage and stalks the employees one at a time until they join forces and fight back!

OK, I know, the premise is goofy. And believe me, there are a few scenes where folks are hiding behind parked cars and stone columns in the garage that are a bit humorous, but if you’ve seen films like CHRISTINE, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, the underrated THE CAR, and of course DUEL, you know that there is an awful lot of fun to be had with this premise. In this day and age where folks are busting their asses trying to invent a car that runs on just about anything other than oil, it’s not too far fetched that a vampire car would be made, now is it?

Yeah, I know it is, but still, SUPER HYBRID is a hell of a good time. The premise is so simple, but Eric Valette adds a lot of claustrophobic scares by setting this one in an abandoned parking garage. Anyone walking around at night in one of those multi-level underground garages knows it can be a creepy place. Valette does a great job of making the best of the tight spaces and twists and turns. He also does a great job with an obviously limited budget, never shooting for the stars and keeping the horror right in the garage for most of the film. Valette also probably saved some dough by giving the car the ability to morph into any kind of car, so this creature is some kind of automobile version of The Thing with folks not knowing if the car next to them is real or a monster out for their blood.

Contrived? Yes. Goofy? Yup. Fun? You betcha. I wasn’t expecting much from SUPER HYBRID and was thoroughly surprised at the restraint the director had to keep the effects believable and looking good. Oded Fehr turns in a fun performance as a dick mechanic, and the rest of the cast (though unknowns) do a pretty decent job as well. I also loved the fact that little to no explanation is given as to what the car exactly is or where it came from. Is it a product of a vengeance-mad Al Gore still sore about losing the election? Is it a four-wheeled death machine from the stars? Who knows? Scoff all you want, but this is a fun little fright fest that has seen all of those killer car films of the past and builds off of it.

MALEVOLENCE (2007)/BEREAVEMENT (2010) Reviews


MALEVOLENCE (2007)
Starring Samantha Dark, Brandon Johnson, Heather Magee, Richard Glover, Courtney Bertolone
BEREAVEMENT (2010)
Starring Michael Biehn, Alexandra Daddario, John Savage, Nolan Gerard Funk, Spencer List, Brett Rickaby, Peyton List
Written and Directed by Stevan Mena
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There are those who poo poo the slasher film as one of the lowest common denomenators in horror. I’m not one of those people. I grew up watching FRIDAY THE 13TH’s and HALLOWEEN and loving every single frame. The problem with those films is that the early ones were made by masters of suspense, amping up the fright of being stalked by a lone, unstoppable madman who continues to advance on you no matter how much you fight back, but the latter ones were made by folks who weren’t as skilled or smart at making a film that gives chills and focused more on showing the killer in plain sight and focusing more on gimmicks than scares. And it appears that writer/director Stevan Mena feels the same way. Mena, in two films, has revitalized the slasher film by doing two things; moving forward and moving back.

With MALEVOLENCE and BEREAVEMENT, one can literally note the forward and back momentum in that the narrative leaps from present day in the first film (MALEVOLENCE) to the past in the second (BEREAVEMENT), but this attention to pushing forward and moving back can also be applied to the films when talking about them stylistically. MALEVOLENCE, in many ways, is an old school slasher yarn. Mena channels early Carpenter in many ways; placing his masked stalker in the background while the unknowing victims talk in the foreground a la Michael Meyers. Focusing on the weapon being used rather than the killer itself is another motif that occurs frequently in the film. The POV shots follow the victim rather than the killer in order to influence the viewer to identify with them rather than the usual focus on the anti-hero common in late eighties/early nineties slashers. Even the music is a throwback to Carpenter’s synth score. Mena’s music (an unholy union of Manfredini’s iconic FRIDAY THE 13th orchestra and Carpenter’s synthesizer) shatters out of nowhere signifying and often intensifying what we are seeing on screen.

In the same sense, in the narrative of BEREAVEMENT, Mena pushes our understanding of the slasher forward by giving a reason why these guys can’t be killed. Early in the film, the mother of the child who grows up to be the killer in MALEVOLENCE explains to a babysitter that her child is special. His brain doesn’t register pain, so he literally keeps on going even though he may be mortally wounded. In that tiny bit of exposition, ingeniously worked into the script in a functional manner, Mena explains why his killer (if not all of these cinema slashers) seemingly cannot be killed or hurt. This sophisticated way of storytelling elevates this slasher film above the rest by explaining something common in all of them.

The story is pretty simple. In MALEVOLENCE, the story begins with a young boy being guided to witness a ritual style killing. The story bops forward to the present, where a quartet of crooks plan a robbery. When the robbery goes bad, the quartet takes a mother and child hostage and retreats to what looks like an abandoned slaughterhouse, but the house is not empty. It houses a man who relentlessly stalks and kills them one by one. It’s nothing new, but done so in a manner that shows that Mena has done his homework. The scenes are gritty and tense. The chills are real. The scares aren’t false. And the killer is a relentless one. In the end, Mena turns in a straight up, unapologetic slasher, intelligently crafted and a worthy successor of both FRIDAY and HALLOWEEN films.

But with BEREAVEMENT, Mena takes it to a whole new level. We go back in time witnessing the killer as a young boy, who turns out to be the right boy for Sutter, the slaughterhouse owner and serial killer himself, to kidnap. Although he doesn’t know it, Martin cannot feel pain, a trait very useful in the killing trade. Sutter trains Martin to be the perfect killer in some extremely graphic and disturbing scenes. Again, Mena focuses on the victims. Here he works with a much talented cast, making it much easier to identify with them. Alexandra Daddario is amazing as a city girl forced to live with her overprotective uncle, (played by Michael Biehn, who gives a strong performance here). The stuff Mena puts Daddario through in this one shows that this actress is one to watch out for. In the end, BEREAVEMENT is stronger knowing what Martin will become. It’s sort of what STAR WARS EPISODE I should have been.

I saw MALEVOLENCE and BEREAVEMENT out of sequence, but I don’t think that much matters, given that both are powerful films by themselves. I can’t wait to see what Mena has next. Given his talented camera and the intelligent twists and turns he takes, Mena has both honored and redefined the slasher subgenre with these two gripping films.

FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)/FRIGHT NIGHT (2011) Review


FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)
Directed by Tom Holland
Written by Tom Holland
Starring Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, & Stephen Geoffreys

FRIGHT NIGHT (2011)
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Written by Marti Noxon (screenplay from Tom Holland’s story)
Starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, & Christopher Mintz-Plasse

The original FRIGHT NIGHT was an ode to every horror fan. It presented Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale), a normal, somewhat nerdy teen, in love with horror films, but not so much that he’s a social outcast. Seems he even has a girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse later known as Marcy Darcy from MARRIED WITH CHILDREN), who is toying with the idea of sleeping with Charlie, but isn’t sure if she can do it or not. Enter Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) who moves into the abandoned house next door in the middle of the night. Soon all of those years watching Fright Night, a horror movie TV show hosted by Peter Vincent (Roddy MacDowall) make it pretty obvious what’s going on. All signs point to Jerry being a vampire, especially when Charlie catches Jerry leading a girl into his house. In a bit of fun voyeurism, Charlie, hormones high from Amy blue-balling him, at first thinks he’s going to see something naughty, but he catches Jerry bearing his fangs and ready to chow down—that is, until he sees Charlie watching him. What transpires is an instant classic vampire yarn with bits of vampire stories tossed in, but modernized to the 1980’s enough to be called an original, as Charlie enlists his best friend Evil Ed and Peter Vincent to help protect himself from a vampire.

On the surface, the remake is quite similar. Charlie (Anton Yelchin) is a semi-nerdy kid, but somehow is able to get the attention of smokin’ hottie Amy (Imogen Poots) who wants to bone the hell out of Charlie but he’s hesitant to do so. Charlie is avoiding his former friend Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who has suspicions about the guy who moved in next door to Charlie, Jerry (played by Colin Farrell). Soon accusations of the toothy kind are flung and Jerry starts to make Charlie’s life hell, as he did in the first film.

As I said, on the surface, these films are very similar, but the more you get into it, the films begin to distinguish themselves. Changing the character of Charlie is the main difference here. I understand studios don’t think that the audience identifying with a total nerd is going to fly with the cool kids who they hope to attract to the film, but making Charlie into a Ronald Miller-type, trying to fit in with the cool kids and shed his nerdy roots, made me immediately kind of dislike Anton Yelchin’s character. Yelchin is an extremely talented actor and I’m sure will be a megastar some day, but here because of some initial decisions in the script, he has no choice but to be the guy trying to be someone else than who he is. Pressured at every angle (horny girlfriend, creepy ex-friend, the cool kids at school, nosey mom) from frame one, New Charlie is a person pulled in many directions even before the vampire shows up. His hesitancy to make any decisions at all until it is too late is a character flaw that is tough to look over.

Making Charlie the one who is hesitant to do the deed with Amy is also something that’s hard to overlook as well. Her hotness aside, Charlie doesn’t really present much as to why Amy would want to be into him other than the script tells her to do so. In the original, up until Jerry’s fangy voyeur scene, Charlie is the one who is frustrated because Amy won’t put out, and then as she offers herself to him, he is distracted by Jerry’s presence and shows more interest in Jerry than her. The scene is mirrored in the beginning when Charlie is distracted by Peter Vincent’s horror show instead of continuing to make out with Amy. I don’t want to get too much into some of the homosexual overtones of the original (Jerry has a man-servant that he is pretty chummy with), but Charlie’s interest in Jerry over Amy is a running theme throughout the film, only resolved when Charlie must kill Jerry in order to get the girl. The metaphor isn’t too shrouded here.

Of course, hardly any of that is even present in the remake. Farrell’s Jerry lives alone and oozes sexuality towards Amy and Charlie’s mom (Toni Collette in a wasted role), serving more as eye candy for female viewers than a challenge for Charlie’s manhood. Yes, when Jerry makes his move on Amy, he is pretty blunt about making out with his girlfriend in front of him, but these broad strokes moves come late in the film. Seems director Craig Gillespie wasn’t as interested in exploring this challenge too much.

The main problem with the remake is that the pacing of the entire first half of the movie is off. Instead of playing up multiple subplots, director Craig Gillespe handles each one as if checking off a checklist. Clearly he is more interested in the triangle between Charlie/Amy/Jerry and rushes right to that, hurrying past the story between Charlie and his friend Ed in the first twenty minutes.Christopher Mintz-Plasse does a nice turn as a modern version of Evil Ed, but doesn’t have that hurky-jerky-ness of Stephen Geoffreys’ take on the character that made his small role so iconic in the original. The almost Riddler like manic laughter made Geoffreys’ Evil Ed stand out as someone to be pitied and fearful of. Mintz-Passe is good at what he does, but lacks any of that in this role. The fact that he’s not seen as a friend but more of an annoying reminder to Yelchin/Charlie’s uncool past makes him even less likable. And Farrell’s speech about being an outsider, which was absolutely perfect in when Serandon delivered it to Geoffreys in the original, feels more like something that the director knew needed to be said, but he didn’t know how or why it was important and rushed right through it.

Farrell is one of the best aspects of the film. Although vastly different from Serandon’s performance, at least it seems Farrell is having fun with the role. Though the elegance and complexity of the character is completely lost (Farrell’s Jerry almost immediately reveals to everyone that he’s a vampire, while Serandon’s Jerry toys with Charlie more through most of the film), I found myself liking Farrell’s great white shark of the suburbs performance quite a bit. Farrell’s performance is less nuanced, but he does have an animalistic snarl throughout, playing up his sexuality towards Amy and Charlie’s mom and marking his territory every time Charlie is around.

Crucial to both stories is Peter Vincent. Roddy McDowall delivers his role passionately in the original, giving the character power and weakness as we see the former great cinematic vampire hunter growing long in the tooth and being written out of his own show. McDowall offers up a fantastic presence here as he slips in and out of his on-screen persona while encountering the real monsters. McDowall channels all of the good Van Helsings in movie history with all of the power, cheese, and grit that comes with the character he has formed his life around. Though not an awful performance, instead of basing his character on Van Helsing, David Tennant seems to be channeling Aldous Snow and Chriss Angel; two characters as less powerful as they are interesting in the remake. On paper, the conflict is still there with Tennant struggling to care about Charlie’s predicament, then finally embracing his monster hunter roots. Played out, it pales in comparison because you just can’t fuck with McDowall’s performance. Putting eye shadow and tight leather pants on Peter Vincent is like flames on Optimus; unnecessary and only for show.

One of the coolest aspects of the original was that not only was it a fun story filled with fun actors, but it was also a showcase for some of the best practical special effects of its time. The original used everything from puppets to animatronics to gobs of make-up and goo for its gore and scares. People melted, bats flew through windows, werewolves morphed, crosses burned into foreheads, and fangs were bared a plenty. All filmed right there in front of the actors. Now I’m not a CGI prude, but when its unnecessary, I take offense. Look at Farrell’s CGI-ed face compared to Serandon’s make-up effects. One gives you nightmares, the other is a mushy mess of a nightmare. Serandon’s acts beneath all of that make-up. Farrell isn’t even there anymore when his multiple layers of teeth are bared. Serandon’s presence in the scene is what makes it scary, even though it was a bit hard for him to talk in those giant choppers. Animating over Farrell’s head immediately makes it less effective.

This disconnect not only occurs when Farrell fangs out, but when the rest of the vamps do as well. The CGI use overall is pretty uninspired in the entire film, resorting in gobs of blood splashed in our faces to amp the 3D effect, which by the way is completely unnecessary in this film. For most of the film, there is hardly a need for the 3D, with the 3rd dimension only utilized when blood is thrown at the camera, and that blood is CGI-ed in. If you have to see the remake, see it in 2D and save your money. The 3D option doesn’t enhance this film a tick.

I don’t want to completely pan the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT, although I’m not a fan of remakes in general, I’ve definitely seen worse. With a rushed narrative, unnecessary and ineffective effects, missed opportunities as revisiting interesting themes, it definitely pales in comparison to the original, though the cast is very strong with Farrell’s performance (albeit ultimately different from Serandon’s take) leading the pack. In the end, the main distinction between the two films is that FRIGHT NIGHT 2011 is an ode to a better film from 1985 while FRIGHT NIGHT 1985 is an homage to all of those horror films we all loved as a kid.

TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL (2010) Review


Directed by Eli Craig
Written by Eli Craig and Morgan Jergenson
Available on VOD now and in theaters September 30th!
Find out more about the film here!
Starring Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons

The horror comedy is very difficult to accomplish. Too much comedy, it softens the horror and makes it all pretty ridiculous. Also there’s a factor of the comedy actually being funny, which is harder than usual to play off. Too much horror, and the comedy fails. But if you go too far over the top with the horror and gore, then it overshadows the comedy or negates it. With the genres seemingly at odds with comedy reliant effortlessness and improvisation and horror being so meticulously framed and acted out, one wonders how any horror comedies ever worked. I can name only a few that have been totally successful; EVIL DEAD 2, MOTEL HELL, ZOMBIELAND, maybe the original SCREAM, but that’s more of a spoof of the genre than real horror (I know that’s debatable). There does seem to be a trend these days with mixing horror and comedy. I think it’s a coping mechanism for most. Rather than tackling a subject head-on. The safe way to approach things is to make fun of it, which often times lessens the impact of the horror. While I wax on and off about horrors and comedies and their kooky relationship, consider TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL.

Never in danger of taking itself too seriously, TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL walks that precarious line between horror and comedy and comes out a winner. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine play Tucker and Dale respectively. Like a classic comedy team, the two play off of each other with Tudyk being the surly straight man to Labine’s innocent naïveté. There’s a deep friendship between the two of them which is apparent from their first moments on screen and Tudyk and Labine but enough sincerity and heart in the characters to show that they are taking these two dolt hillbillies seriously, even if the story is ridiculous.

And the story is pretty ridiculous, but genius too. Instead of focusing a group of pretty twenty-somethings, the narrative focuses on Tucker and Dale, two hillbillies who just want to own their own home and fish all day. When that simple dream becomes a reality, a group of kids stumble upon them and mistake them for DELIVERANCE-style hillbillies. A series of ridiculously hilarious events occur to make Tucker and Dale look responsible for the kids’ deaths and all hell breaks loose. Everyone in this film is an idiot, but fully committed to their idiocy. It works amazingly well.

Writer/director Eli Craig pulls off the impossible here, making a genuinely funny film with over the top gore. TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL touches on all of those clichés we’ve come to love and grow tired of in the horror convention, but does so with a fresh perspective and with a cast (most notably Tudyk and Labine) that is truly exceptional. By the end of this film, I could see this being a franchise with Tucker & Dale facing off against all types of evil!