FINAL DESTINATION 5 (2011) Review


Directed by Steven Quale
Written by Eric Heisserer & Jeffrey Reddick
Starring Nicholas D’Agosto, Emma Bell, Arlen Escarpeta, Ellen Wroe, Jacqueline MacInnes Wood, P.J. Byrne, Arlen Escarpeta, David Koechner & Tony Todd
Starts today in theaters!

Before I jump into this, I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of the FINAL DESTINATION franchise. I understand the appeal of the Rube Goldbergian scenarios. I loved seeing them in those TOM & JERRY cartoons as a kid. But after a discussion with @$$Hole co-editor Sleazy G after watching the film last night, I started understanding why the films are so popular. See, SAW and FINAL DESTINATION are the FRIDAY THE 13th’s and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET’s of this generation of young movie goers. I remember fanatically going having to see the latest F13 or NIGHTMARE every time they hit theaters, which back then was an annual thing just as FINAL DESTINATION and SAW have become. As much as I scoff as the popularity of those films, a part of me feels that by doing so I’m giving in to my inner old man and not understanding that, as vapid and one note as these movies are, there is an entertaining factor at play here.

With this understanding, I have to say I came out of FINAL DESTINATION 5 last night thoroughly entertained. Do we go to see rich character development played by Oscar worthy actors? Hellz no. We go because the kills are fun and cartoony. And you know what? The kills WERE fun and cartoony. Every kill was as complex as they come, but also had a factor of gallows black humor that made it a blast to experience, especially in 3-D, as chunks and body parts are tossed in your face at a rapid pace.

The plot of the story is paper thin and simply a different scenario in which a kid predicts the death by catastrophe (this time it’s a bridge collapse) then one by one, the survivors are killed off because as the series only returning character played by Tony Todd states, “Death cannot be cheated.” There’s also a subplot where the lead kid wants to be a gourmet chef and must decide whether to stay in the states with his girlfriend or go to France on an internship—blah, blah, blah. None of that shit matters though. FINAL DESTINATION 5 is just shit getting fucked up in graphic, complicated and anus puckering ways. Though he doesn’t get too deep or spend much time letting the audience get to know these characters, director Steven Quale takes full advantage of the 3rd Dimension and fills this movie with one wince inducing moment after another—be it a nail into a bare foot or a laser to an eyeball.

But who’s looking for character and subtext in a FINAL DESTINATION film? It’s a visual smorgasbord of easily digestible food. You can like your heady, Cronenbergian, foreign horror all you want. I love those films too. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for lowest common denominator, in your face schlock too. FINAL DESTINATION 5 slops around in the red stuff like a fat kid in a mud puddle. Even the opening credits, which is basically just five minutes of shit comin’ at you, most of the time on fire (I swear, there was a barbed wired log on fire slamming in your face for no reason whatsoever) goes for the cheap in your face thrill that was the reason 3D films were made in the first place. So even though it will never stack up to the thrill I had every Friday the 13th when a new Jason flick was released, I understand the appeal of films like FINAL DESTINATION 5 and recommend you go see it this weekend.

THE CORRIDOR (2011) Review


Directed by Evan Kelly
Written by Josh MacDonald
Starring Matthew Amyotte, Nigel Bennett, Stephen Chambers, David Patrick Flemming, James Gilbert, Glen Matthews

Find out when and where to see this film on THE CORRIDOR website!

There are a lot of films out there today dissecting what it means to be a man in this day and age. From buddy comedies like STEPBROTHERS to dramatic feats of cinema like FIGHT CLUB, modern man has been cast as nothing more than a grown up child—gorging themselves on life’s treasures and throwing tantrums and acting out when life serves up lemons. THE CORRIDOR looks at similar themes as a quintet of college friends get together ten years after one of them has a mental breakdown. For much of the movie, the film focuses on the initial event and the power of the relationships these men share despite the fact that they haven’t seen each other in years. Then for the latter half of the film, the focus is on completely and utterly annihilating those relationships. Though it’s obviously filmed on the budgetary low, it’s this attention to the rise and fall of this relationship between these men that makes THE CORRIDOR one of the most terrifying new films of the year.

A trip to a cabin in the woods seems like a good idea for these five guys. It’s a chance to shoot the shit, play football, watch football, ride snow mobiles, complain about the wife and kids, and pound brewskis. Director Evan Kelly is patient with tossing out the weirdness right off the bat and instead focuses on the strengths and insecurities of these guys, but not in a way that makes it obvious that these insecurities will be played upon later in the film. And these guys are a pretty likable bunch, making it easy to forget this is a horror film, but when the crew stumble across a strange energy field in the middle of the woods, the viewer is quickly reminded that this is a horror film.

The horrifying last portion of THE CORRIDOR mixes modern pop psychology with the darkest of humor as these men are reduced to monsters tearing each other apart. The film not only scares but makes you think about the fragility and maybe the futility of male relations by showing man at its most animalistic. Not the feel good film of the year, for sure, but THE CORRIDOR definitely is a small indie film that packs a wallop with an ending that is both heartfelt and melancholy all at once. THE CORRIDOR is making its way around the festival circuit. Find out when and where to see this film on THE CORRIDOR website!

DEADHEADS (2011) Review


Directed by The Pierce Brothers
Written by The Pierce Brothers
Starring Michael McKiddy, Ross Kidder, Markus Taylor, Thomas Galasso, Ben Webster, Greg Dow, Natalie Victoria, Eden Malyn, Harry Burkey, and Leonard Kelly-Young
For more info on where to see DEADHEADS check out the film’s website here and Facebook page!

It’s been a while since I have seen a horror film that actually warms my cold dead heart. Ok, it’s been a hell of a long time. That is, until I had a chance to see this film. DEADHEADS is a lighthearted comedy about two strangers on a roadtrip. One is a wise-cracking slacker who goes where the wind takes him. The other is a dedicated nice guy, in search of his lost love. Along the way, these two gents encounter forces of all kinds that work against them achieving their goals, but love won’t stop these two from pressing on. Oh yeah, these two guys are zombies too.

Though THE DEFILED (a film I reviewed earlier this year and one I whole heartedly recommend) is one of the first films I’ve seen with a zombie protagonist, that film was a relatively wordless film, since the zombie star was your typical Romero zombies. The tone is dire and the story is bleak. DEADHEADS is the polar opposite. Due to a scientific experiment, Brent and Mike have become conscious zombies; zombies who retain their minds, though their bodies are rotting. Sure there are Romero zombies shambling around too, but Brent (Ross Kidder) and Mike (Michael McKiddy) are unique. They’ve escaped their lab after being experimented on for three years and now the lab wants them back. Mike, on the other hand, just wants to find his girlfriend. So Brent and Mike set out to do so, teaming with a mindless but lovable zombie they name Cheese and an elderly old man who doesn’t give a shit that they’re zombies as long as he has someone to talk to on the road. The quartet face scores of zombies, a government hazardous material disposal unit made up of a sensitive scientist (Greg Dow) and a gung-ho meathead who talks like a descendant of Macho Man Randy Savage (Ben Webster), and a survivor deputized by the government to track them down.

DEADHEADS shines by incorporating grossout humor with horror standbys seamlessly, but doesn’t forget to make you actually care about these characters. There are a lot of laughs to he had, taking full advantage of the fact that these guys are the undead with pieces of them falling off and being used as props no live character could do. Writers/directors the Pierce Brothers have turned in a punchy script that goes into the realm of sweetness without the sour aftertaste, most relationship comedies often leave you with. When can you say you left a zombie film feeling pretty good? DEADHEADS is an energetic horror comedy mash-up that leaves you with that very feeling.

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.

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.

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011) Review


Directed by The Vicious Brothers
Written by The Vicious Brothers
Starring Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko, Mackenzie Gray, & Merwin Mondesir
For more info check out the film’s website here.

My guilty pleasure is GHOST HUNTERS and all reality TV like it. Give me a night vision cam wandering a dark hallway and my ass is glued to the couch and my eyes to the TV. So I’m the right audience for GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, a “found footage” film about a paranormal investigation team; one of the first, according to the producer’s intro, and the tapes found inside of a haunted sanitarium which were never released. The producer at the beginning assures the viewer that nothing has been altered in these tapes and that the only edits were for time constraints. With that set up, the film ominously starts and we are introduced to our host (Sean Rogerson), the occult specialist (Ashleigh Gryzko), the sound guy (Juan Riedinger), the cameraman (Merwin Mondesir) and the medium (Mackenzie Gray). What stars out as a routine investigation by a bunch of jaded “investigators” gets real really quick and soon this team who don’t really believe in ghosts encounter something real and scary.

And GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is really scary. Do you know those moments in GHOST HUNTERS when the camera is tracking through corridors and over the shoulders of the hosts and you’re just waiting for something to jump out or happen? Those shows live on that anticipation, since, let’s face it, nothing ever really does. In GRAVE ENCOUNTERS, shit actually happens on screen, but done so in a way that doesn’t seem staged (at least for the most part). At first, this film plays it by the book, investigating the grounds in the daylight, interviewing eyewitnesses, but soon the moments in between takes start to show up as the host is filmed giving the groundskeeper twenty bucks to make up a scary eyewitness account and talks of shots that amp up the scares for the audience are discussed. This is well paced and patient, relying on the age old set up technique for these shows which tells the backstory of each location, with the audience knowing full well that this will be the spot shit goes down later. When over-the-top medium (Mackenzie Gray) shows up to chew the scenery, you almost believe him, until the host yells cut and they laugh at how inane his “contact with the dead” is. In showing these scenes, writers/directors capture how different these characters when the camera is rolling than they are in real life, but when stuff starts moving on their own, that gap lessens.

The performances are actually pretty well done here with host Sean Rogerson playing both a convincing talking head as well as a scared as shit victim of the whole situation, often flip flopping between both in the same scene. One of the challenges in these faux reality shows is that the actors must seem natural in front of the camera and lines don’t seem scripted. The entire cast does a damn fine job of doing this throughout.

The other challenging aspect of all found footage films is finding a reason to continue filming when the shit goes down. Here, that moment is sold with Rogerson’s orders to keep rolling despite his crew rebelling against him. But when stuff starts going completely off the reservation, you soon stop questioning why the camera is rolling and just roll with it because the locale and the situations are too creepy to care.

The last half hour of GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is a funhouse ride with shit jumping out at you every other second as the crew wander around in the dark. I watched this in a dark room in the middle of the night by myself and, I’m not too ashamed to admit, I was scared shitless a few times. Yes, a lot of these scares have been used in previous films and most of the scares are due to a loud burst of volume or shit rocketing toward the camera out of the blue, but there’s a carnival haunted house feel to GRAVE ENCOUNTERS that makes it stand out from most of the GHOST HUNTERS knock offs out there. Convincingly acted and filled with jumps and jolts, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is everything you wanted to see in all of those reality shows, but never do.