MEDIUM RAW: NIGHT OF THE WOLF (2010) Review


Directed by Andrew Cymek
Written by Andrew Cymek
Starring William B. Davis, John Rhys-Davies, Brigitte Kingsley, Andrew Cymek, Mercedes McNab, Boyd Banks, Jason Reso, Landy Cannon
Available on DVD now! Find out more info on the film’s website!

Man, I would have loved MEDIUM RAW: NIGHT OF THE WOLF in middle school. In fact, I think I wrote a script once taking place in an asylum back in the day (I’m sure there are those out there who would testify to the same). The thing is, looking back on that dream script now after growing up and having actually worked for four years in an inpatient psych ward in a hospital known for extreme cases, the comic booky scenarios and psychoses I thought were so dark and edgy were actually so off base they’re offensive to read now. The reason why it was so bad? I didn’t do a shred of research, just pulled a bunch of crazy stuff from all of the comic books and movies I’d seen and put them into one story. MEDIUM RAW: NIGHT OF THE WOLF reads somewhat similar with every inmate being able to be summed up in a catchy ominous one sentence descriptor: foot fetishist, psychotic who hates the color red, god complex guy. I’d call it comic booky, but seeing as my other gig at AICN here is to cover comics, I don’t want to put down that genre by comparison.

The main problem in MEDIUM RAW is that it represents what a lot of people think is comic booky and what people think is what a mental institution is like without reading a comic or stepping one foot in an institution. The one note bad guys…the one note everybody in this film; the warden with issues of his own, the driven cop, the naïve nurse, the child brought into a hospital for extremely mentally ill patients (ok, that last one is just plain stupid)—with little or no explanation or depth, these madmen are seen as just that, not people suffering from mental disorders. It’s psychological fetishism where the patients are their psychoses in the broadest sense of the word.

Lack of authenticity aside, MEDIUM RAW is a somewhat slickly directed and produced piece of fluff. There are a lot of decently shot and lit scenes as the maniacs shamble through the halls and though the dialog is about as predictable as it is bad (I found myself mouthing the lines before the actors even said them and if you’ve seen enough films, I’ll bet you will too), it all looks professionally done. As I said above, there’s not a lot of logic in this one. Apparently, it’s ok to bring a child into a hospital for society’s worst madmen. The inanity of this plot point will make you slap your head so hard you may have the benefit of being knocked unconscious until the credits roll. MEDIUM RAW: NIGHT OF THE WOLF is basically a night in Arkham Asylum without the Batman, and unfortunately, without the sophisticated comic book storytelling that is abundant in that medium these days.

THE CLINIC (2010) Review


Directed by James Rabbitts
Written by James Rabbitts
Starring Tabrett Bethell, Freya Stafford and Andy Whitfield

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much going into this film. I hadn’t heard anything about it and the cover of the DVD, reminiscent of INSIDE, didn’t seem like it was very inspired. So color me shocked when I witnessed a really engrossing thriller unfold before me with not only a gripping premise, but fantastic performances to boot. THE CLINIC is one of those under-the-radar films you’re sure to stumble across on cable and wonder why you hadn’t heard of it before. Well, consider yourself warned because THE CLINIC is a film in need of being seen.

Cameron (SPARTACUS’ Andy Whitfield) and Beth (Tabrett Bethell) look to be a perfect couple, about to be married and expecting their first baby. When their car is run off the road by a frantic trucker, they decide to call it a night and find the nearest motel. When Cameron decides to go out for a midnight snack, he returns to find his wife missing. Beth wakes up in a tub of ice with a scar on her belly and her baby missing. One would think, given Whitfield’s star status from SPARTACUS, he’d be given the brunt of the action, but it’s Beth who has the most interesting arc here as she desperately searches for her baby. Encountering a pair of other mothers with similar scars, Beth finds her baby along with the others locked in cages. What unfolds is a twisted reality contest. Each baby has a colored tag. Sewn inside of each mother is a tag matching the one on one of the babies’ foot. And there’s a mother out there who is willing to slice open the rest of the mothers to find out which baby is hers.

The premise is simply badass, right?

With a mother stalking the rest, all of the mothers’ maternal instincts kick in to fight for their babies lives. What I thought would be a by the numbers medical thriller turned out to be so much more. I won’t reveal anything else, but THE CLINIC pulls no punches and offers up characters you actually care for. Writer/director James Babbitts shows skill with the camera with gritty scenes of action along with surreal and unsettling fever dreams of the mother of a baby in a pool of blood. Not to be missed, THE CLINIC is so much more than one would expect.

HOLLOW (2010) Review


Directed by Michael Axelgaard
Written by Matthew Holt
Starring Emily Plumtree, Sam Stockman, Jessica Ellerby, Matt Stokoe, Simon Roberts
Debuted at FanTasia International Film Festival. Find out more info on the film, when it will be released, and where you can see it here.

”Found footage” films are my guilty pleasure. I know folks may be getting sick of the genre, but I get sucked in every time. I love the way the handheld camera literally places me in the film and since I am a moviegoer who strives on being able to be transported to another time and place, the genre gets me every time. HOLLOW is a new film making its way around festivals this year and if you have a chance to catch it, please do so because it is an engrossing and effective little found footage gem.

The film follows two young couples with a complex relationship. The success of this film rides on the relationship between these two couples, which become more complicated and enmeshed as the film goes on. One couple, played by Emily Plumtree and Sam Stockman, are set to be married. The other is a more strained relationship with the male played by Matt Stockoe harboring a crush on the female in the other relationship. The four venture into Dunwich to visit Emily’s childhood home, a trip she is not all too excited about. The film starts off as most found footage flicks do–with a lot of day-to-day stuff of couples having fun, trips in the car, casual conversation, and a lot of shaky camera work. Things get ominous very quickly, though, when they pass a tree that Emily claims is haunted. Legend has it that couples have hanged themselves from the tree’s branches and that it’s haunted by a hooded figure. The tree is spooky as hell, yet the couple find themselves drawn to it throughout the film, ending in a climax that takes place in a car in the dark that is absolutely terrifying.

As with most found footage films, the limitations to what we see cause the most unease. The poor lighting and unfocused camera only intensify the frights. The couples do a convincing job acting as if they are not acting here, though at the end they do make a couple of dumb decisions to move the plot along. And though it is somewhat predictable how these couples are going to end up given the history of the haunted tree, director Axelgaard and writer Holt make the journey there a haunting one with scores of scary imagery and atmosphere to enjoy. Comparisons to THE BLAIR WITCH are inevitable, but this is more akin to the feel of THE WICKER MAN (the original) than anything else. AS I said, I’m a sucker for found footage films, so this was right up my alley, but if you’re looking for a clean resolution and a steady cam, this might not be for you.

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
Find out more about these films here and on the Facebook page!

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.

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!

DINOCROC VS SUPERGATOR (2010) Review


Directed by Jim Wynorski
Written by Jim Wynorski, Mike Maclean
Starring Keith Carradine, James C. Burns, John Callahan, Lisa Clapperton

DINOCROC VS SUPERGATOR is the third “Roger Corman presents” / ScyFy film I’ve reviewed in this column. The first two, DINOSHARK and
SHARKTOPUS, I chided for wasting my time with terrible acting, hokey scripts, and god-awful CGI. I was expecting to go three for three in hating these films, but turns out DINOCROC VS SUPERGATOR is actually pretty fun. For the most part the acting is decent, the script is energetic, and most importantly, the effects are the best of the bunch.

Oh yeah, and David Carradine is in it too, which automatically makes it cool.

Don’t get me wrong, DINOCROC VS SUPERGATOR ain’t Shakespeare. It often goes for the lowest common denominator when it comes to humor. But whereas DINOSHARK and SHARKTOPUS seemed to just show one scene of the monster attacking someone or something after another, DINOCROC VS SUPERGATOR at least attempts to tie things together and have more to it than just random monster attacks. Those attacks occur, mind you, but they are more effective and more entertaining when the stuff in between actually makes sense. A lab accident lets loose both a giant crocodile monster and a giant hybrid between an alligator and a T-Rex. Humanity gets in the middle of this battle between the monsters. What makes this story fun is that two teams of totally different people are after these beasts. It’s almost like two different movies are going on in tandem as a science team is after the SuperGator while a mercenary team is after the DinoCroc. Not until the two monsters meet do the teams collide and converge.

As I said above, all of the same elements in SHARKTOPUS and DINOSHARK are present in DINOCROC VS SUPERGATOR, but because of the punchy story, some decent acting, some moments of fun sprinkled in (the monsters eat elderly folks, pervy photographers, ditzy bathing suit clad beauties, and other morons), and effects that aren’t as painful to watch as in the other films, this film turned out to be surprisingly digestible. Not sure why I liked this film better than the rest. Maybe I was just in a good mood while watching it. Maybe it was Carradine hamming it up. Who knows? Nevertheless, I’d recommend a lazy Saturday afternoon viewing of DINOCROC VS SUPERGATOR. It’s a good way to waste an hour and a half. Maybe there’s hope for these “Roger Corman Presents” ScyFy films after all…