Friday, February 27, 2009

Cat O' Nine Tails (1971, Dario Argento)

After watching Four Flies on Grey Velvet, I knew I needed to see more of Argento's early work. I've been seeking out more giallo films and I figured this would be a good addition. This is Argento's second film as a director and second film in his "animal trilogy".

A blind man (Karl Malden) and his niece recognize a man at the scene of a top secret research lab break in shortly before he "falls" in front of a train. They go to a newspaper reporter, Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus), to see if they are sure the death was accidental. As it turns out, the death was no accident and soon everyone who tries to help solve the crime ends up dead. Can they solve the crime before they end up victims?

Cat O' Nine Tails fits in nicely with Argento's other early giallo films (Four Flies on Grey Velvet and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage). It keeps you guessing while adding lots of great characters and blood-soaked deaths. There are some slow parts in the second half but the first half of the film is excellent.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971, Dario Argento)

For any of you Argento fans out there or fans of long lost horror films, you may have heard of Four Flies on Grey Velvet. I came across this film a few times on lists of "films that need to be released on dvd". This is Argento's third film and the third in his "animal trilogy" of giallo films (the first two being The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Cat O' Nine Tails, respectively). The film is finally available and I couldn't pass up the chance to check it out.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet begins with Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon), a drummer for a rock band. He confronts a man he notices has been following him and accidentally stabs the man to death. As this is happening, he sees that someone is photographing the whole incident. Soon, photos of the accidental killing start popping up for Roberto to see - leading him to believe he is being blackmailed. Soon, people in Roberto's life start ending up dead.

I must say, that this film was worth the wait, at least for me. I've only been waiting about a year for this to come out though. Not sure if I had been waiting 38 years for it to make it's North American debut on home video, but I don't think anything could live up to those expectations. I can say though that this film is fantastic. One of the best giallo films I have seen, in fact. The story grips you from the first scene and doesn't let go until the end. Argento proves himself as a master director here. Some of the shots he uses are like nothing I've ever seen before. The cast is good, there are some great characters thrown in to help ease the tension and the mystery is top notch. Some real tense scenes here. If you're looking for a perfect representation of a giallo film, I would definitely recommend this.


Monday, February 23, 2009

A Woman Under the Influence (1974, John Cassavetes)

How do I follow up the trashy classic Trip with a Teacher? Well, in my (warped) world, a classic is a classic. How about a Cassavetes film? Hey why not? Blasphemy you say? Perhaps, but that just makes this blog more fun. I am too self centered to care about what the readers want. I review what I want, when I want and if you don't like it, you can go pound sand. Just kidding folks. I love you all.

A Woman Under the Influence follows Nick (Peter Falk) and his eccentric wife Mabel (Gena Rowlands) through their day to day routines. Nick has to work late so Mabel goes to a bar and brings home a man, has some neighborhood kids over for a disastrous birthday party, embarrasses herself and her husband when he brings his co-workers home for a nice meal, etc. You know, the usual. Nick soon realizes that his wife is crazy and has her committed to a mental hospital for six months. It is up to Nick to now take care of their three kids and keep the family together despite all they are going through.

This film is truly like no other. Everything I have read about Cassavetes basically says the same thing: his movies are like no other director's movies. To me, they are more like watching real people going through real life situations, so intense and uncomfortable that you forget you are watching a movie. You start trying to identify with the characters and ultimately feel sad for their lives and emotional struggles. One thing I know, though I am far from a film expert (look at most of the trash I review), I can tell an important film when I see one. And this is it folks. Brilliant, moving, yet not really fun to watch. Most of the scenes in this film seem to go on forever, though you can't help but watch every second. Watching this film seemed more like work than enjoyment, but when it was over, I definitely felt like I accomplished something. I know what you're thinking, that I am full of crap but I ask you to just watch this film and see what you think. You may agree...or you may hunt me down and leave a flaming bag of poo on my doorstep.


Trip with the Teacher (1975, Earl Barton)

You may have been wondering how I choose the movies I review here. Actually, you probably weren't but I'm going to tell you anyway. I use a complex strategy involving formulas and those little metal compass thingies with the midget pencils that make perfectly round circles. Ok, you got me. It's a little more random than that. It depends on what movies I happen to be watching at the present time. That's it. Sometimes though, I come across a film that I feel I must review right away - a perfect example of the type of movie I am talking about is Trip with the Teacher.

Trip with the Teacher is the story of a group of girls who are sent away to by their parents to go camping in the desert with a teacher. While on their way to their destination, they stop for gas and meet up with three bikers. One of the bikers, Jay (Robert Gribbin - don't worry I've never heard of him either) is actually just a nice guy who had some time off from work and decided to take a little motorcycle trip. The other two bikers though, a mysterious pair of brothers, seem to be up to no good. When the girls' bus breaks down, the three bikers offer to help tow them to an open field up ahead - and this is where the story starts to get juicy. The two brothers tie up Jay and take the girls captive, using them for their own sadistic and sexual urges. After a few failed attempts at escaping, the remaining survivors must stick together to try and outsmart the brothers before they are all killed.

Quentin Tarantino, eat your heart out. I have seen some similar films to this but none of them have proved to be such a perfect example of a real "Grindhouse film" as Trip with the Teacher. Everything Tarantino was striving for in Death Proof is right here, only done more naturally. Not to discredit Death Proof (which I really enjoyed) since Tarantino was obviously paying homage to this type of film, but Trip with the Teacher is the real deal. Sleazy, brutal, low budget, trashy and fun. The acting is not that great, with the exception of Zalman King as the more insane of the two brothers. You can tell that the character was inspired by David Hess' Krug from Last House on the Left (as is much of the film), but King does a great job at coming across as a psychopath. He has a penetrating stare and randomly hums to himself, making the character that much scarier. There is also a really great motorcycle chase as well. Though not a perfect film, I'd say that it is a perfect example of a Grindhouse/Drive In Classic.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Rosemary's Baby (1968, Roman Polanski)

Rosemary's Baby is one of the most memorable movies I have ever seen. Not just because it in such a classic, but because it was the film that my wife and I watched on our first date. If that doesn't say a lot about a couple then I don't know what does.

Rosemary's Baby is the story of newlyweds Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes) Woodhouse, who move into an apartment with a long history of terror and witchcraft. Rosemary gets pregnant and Guy's career as a struggling actor starts looking up, as if by some fluke. After a strange dream where Rosemary is part of satanic ritual, weird things start happening. Rosemary starts to think that she may be surrounded by a group of satanists and that her terrifying dream was real. Is she being paranoid or is Rosemary and her baby in real danger?

As I said before, Rosemary's Baby is a classic horror film like few others. There is some really creepy atmosphere and scary scenes. The cast is great as is Polanski's nerve-wracking direction. The first time I watched the film I was disappointed by the ending but after watching it a few times, I realized that it was perfect. Make sure you watch this one with your blanky.


The Descent (2005, Neil Marshall)

I recently read in a horror magazine that this film was the best horror movie of the past 10 years. That alone is enough of a dare for me to see it. I am a sucker for reviews that refer to films which include the words "best" (though they frequently don't live up the expectation). And though I'm not sure I agree that this is the best horror film of the last 10 years, it was a "unique" experience, to say the least. Read on and I will explain.

The Descent follows an adventurous woman who's daughter and husband die in a freak accident. Her thrill-seeking friends invite her on a trip to explore some caves in the middle of nowhere. Things start to go to hell though when the group get trapped in the caves and it is revealed that one of the friends purposely led them into an undiscovered cave. This means unless they find a way out, their chances of being rescued are almost non-existent. To top it all off, they soon discover that they are not alone in the caves.

The Descent was a very effective horror film with lots of scares, gore and suspense. Like I said, this probably wouldn't get my vote for best horror film of the last 10 years, it was definitely one of the scariest and most original. There was one thing that really set this film apart from any other film I have seen (of any genre). When the group is climbing through the narrow tunnels of the cave, the atmosphere was so claustrophobic that I almost had to turn the movie off. I literally had to stand up and walk around because I felt like I was having a panic attack. It felt like the camera was closing in on you. I can only imagine what seeing this film in the theater must have been like. It was a unique feeling that I've never felt watching a film before. So in that aspect it was very scary and is not a film I will forget anytime soon.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Viva Django (1968, Ferdinando Baldi)

Last year I began to explore the wonderful world of the Spaghetti Western. For anyone who isn't familiar with this term, it is basically a genre of Italian westerns that emerged in the 60's. These films are generally known for being more violent than most American westerns, to the point that some are lumped under the exploitation genre. When you think about it, Spaghetti Westerns were mainly used as ways to exploit the popular westerns from the U.S., a practice the Italians used for many different film genres. As with any genre though, there are many films under the Spaghetti Western banner that not only rose above the copycats but became huge successes, both at the box office when they were originally released as well as for inspiring many films to come.

Viva Django (aka Preparati la Bara! aka Django Sees Red aka Django, Prepare a Coffin) follows the Django character which was first introduced in Sergio Corbucci's 1966 masterpiece Django, played by Franco Nero. This time around, in one of the many unofficial Django sequels, Django is played by Franco Nero-lookalike, Terence Hill. After Django's wife is killed, he becomes a hangman for hire and puts to death many innocent men to cover up a local political boss' attempt at gaining their land. But we soon find out that the mysterious Django is not really killing these men, he is saving their lives in return for their loyalty and help in getting revenge on his wife's murderer, whom Django later learns is in cahoots with the political boss.

Viva Django is a good example of a classic Spaghetti Western. Not the best film of it's type out there but definitely not the worst. The cast is great (especially Terence Hill) and the revenge story has some clever aspects to it. Then there's the end which echos back to the original Django and proves a perfect resolution to Django's painful tale. There were some slow parts but overall I would recommend it to those who want to delve further into the genre.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Final Destination 3 (2006, James Wong)

Another 3 years, another Final Destination film. I was excited about this one too though I really thought this time they would have run out of ideas. I was intrigued by the ads I had seen showing something bad happening on a roller coaster.

A senior class trip to an amusement park seems like a perfect way to end the school year. Fun, friends and scary rides. But when one of the students (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has a vision that the roller coaster she is about to get on will fall apart, she and a few of the other kids get off. To their horror, the roller coaster does break and all of the other kids die. Wendy, the girl who had the vision, and the boyfriend of her best friend (who died on the ride) team up to try to save themselves and the other survivors when death starts knocking them off one by one.

Final Destination 3 is just a great movie. The roller coaster scene in the beginning of the film (like the plane crash and car crash in parts 1 and 2) is very exciting and terrifying. This film definitely has some of the best deaths of the series and the relationship between Wendy and Kevin is great. This one is actually as good if not better than the first.

By the way, a fourth Final Destination film is slated for release this August called Final Destination: Death Trip 3D. Can't wait!


Final Destination 2 (2003, Ali Larter)

I remember first hearing about Final Destination 2 and being glad that the series was back. I was curious to see how the story of cheating death would continue and honestly didn't have my hopes too high.

This time, a young girl named Kimberly (A.J. Cook) is driving down the highway and witnesses a disastrous multi-car accident. As it turns out, Kimberly was actually daydreaming. She stops traffic, believing that it was a sign just as the accident she envisioned happens. Soon after, everyone whose lives she saved start dying. She learns about a similar occurrence that happened a year before and seeks out the only survivor, Clear Rivers (Ali Larter). Together, they try to cheat death before it is their turn to meet the reaper.

Final Destination 2 is a solid follow up to the first. The deaths are great and there is a lot of suspense. It is good to see Ali Larter back and the car crash in the beginning of the film is mind blowing. There are some aspects of the story that get a little contrived, but overall it's a solid film.


Final Destination (2000, James Wong)

Another teen horror movie from the "Dawson's Creek era" (including a cast member from Dawson's Creek). This one I remember seeing when it first came out on DVD. The story sounded intriguing and original, not just your typical killer hunting teens. This time the killer was death itself.

High School student Alex (Devon Sawa) is about to go on a trip to France with his French class. Before boarding, he falls asleep and dreams that the plane is going to blow up. When he wakes up all of the occurences leading up to the plane crash start happening. Alex, one of his teachers and some of the students get off the plane just in time to watch it explode. The survivors then start dying horrific accidental deaths. Are these accidents just a coincidence or has death come to claim the lives of those who cheated their fate?

Final Destination is a clever, fun and scary film filled with gory deaths and lots of surprises. The cast are all perfect and the set ups are well thought out. The thought of death itself being the one in charge of the deaths is really frightening and different.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Scream 3 (2000, Wes Craven)

The Scream trilogy comes to an end with Scream 3 (duh, its a trilogy). By this time, the horror market was boiling over with Scream ripoffs, spoofs and even veteran horror series making "Scream-like" sequels (for instance Halloween H20 - even the poster made it look like a Scream film). When this film came out, I really had no interest in the series anymore so it wasn't until very recently that I watched it for the first time.

Scream 3 again follows Sidney Prescott, who is now living in seclusion due to her past run-ins with psycho killers. She is called upon when the cast members of a film based on her life start popping up dead. Along for the ride is the deputy from Sidney's hometown (David Arquette) and the reporter/author (Courtney Cox-Arquette) whose book the cursed movie is based on. Can Sidney finally stop the killings once and for all?

Scream 3, though not a bad film, is basically just more of the same - with lesser results. The new characters (mostly portraying actors in the film within a film) are boring and don't carry the story very well (I wanted to stab Parker Posey about 5 minutes after her character first appeared). Only the returning characters are worth the watch. One last thing I'd like to mention is that Courtney Cox-Arquette's haircut in this film is one of the worst in film history - tied with Harrison Ford in Presumed Innocent and Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men.


Scream 2 (1997, Wes Craven)

Due to the success of Scream, a sequel was not only inevitable, but hungered for by a whole new generation of horror fans. Wes Craven was back again, as was writer Kevin Williamson and most of the survivors from the first film. The only question is could they pull off the success of the first, in terms of dollars and quality?

Sidney Prescott - now attending college, finds herself once again as the target of a killer. This time though, a film is being made about the killings in the first Scream, which seems to be inspiration for the new murderer. As with the first, there are several suspects - a new boyfriend, a mysterious classmate, as well as Sidney's father and Cotton Weary, the man she wrongfully accused of killing her mother.

Scream 2 proved to be a decent follow up to the first, providing lots of tense moments and gory kills. The opening scene, which takes place in a movie theater, was especially scary (even more so when you see it on the big screen, as I did when it first came out). It was definitely a step up from most of the other Scream ripoffs at the time but fell a little short of the original's creativeness.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Scream (1996, Wes Craven)

The time span from 1986 to 1996 was (in my opinion) relatively dull for horror. The genre had changed from the low budget, sex filled gorefests of the early 80's to a new breed of hi-tech, fantasy-based, special effect-laden horror. For the most part, horror was pretty much dead at the box office, with countless sequels polluting the big screen with half baked attempts at originality. Then out of nowhere, the creator of one of the most popular horror series of all time, made not only his biggest comeback, but one of the biggest comebacks for the horror genre. The man - Wes Craven. The film - SCREAM.

Scream is the story of a town being terrorized by a killer in a ghost faced halloween costume. High School student Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) finds herself the target of these killings and starts witnessing her friends and classmates being butchered. Could these killings be related to her mother's murder a year before? Who could be behind these killings? Sidney's mysterious boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich)? The man she accused of murdering her mother, Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber)? Her father who seems to have disappeared?

To say Scream revitalized horror is a gross understatement. Reinvented is a more appropriate term. Scream combined everything that was great about the old slasher-whodunnits of the early 80's (gore, scares, mystery, sex) with the popular (twenty-something) teen actors of the time and an important new ingredient - humor. The film is more than just a self aware spoof of the genre, it became the genre. As with most defining films of any genre, a buttload of copycats appeared almost instantly, very few of which came anywhere close to the originality or creativity of Scream.


Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999, Kevin Williamson)

I recently had some strange desire to revisit a very peculiar time in film history. I like to call it the "Dawson's Creek era". This span of time from around 1996 to somewhere in the early 2000's gave birth to a whole slew of films aimed at teens featuring many of the (20 something) teen actor's from Dawson's Creek and other popular hour long prime time TV dramas. I was first introduced to this sub genre with Scream in '96 and before I knew it, these films were multiplying faster than a wet mogwai. Teaching Mrs. Tingle is a prime example of this type of film.

Leigh-Anne Watson (Katie Holmes) is a poverty stricken student who needs a certain grade to become valedictorian and therefore get a college scholarship. But when she is erroneously caught trying to cheat by the wicked Mrs. Tingle her future looks bleak. She decides to visit Mrs. Tingle at her home, accompanied by the school bad boy Luke (Barry Watson) who was responsible for her getting in trouble and her best friend Jo Lynn (Marisa Coughlan) who has the hots for Luke. One thing leads to another and they end up holding Mrs. Tingle hostage in her house with a crossbow. Wait...WHAT? You read it right. Don't ask me, I didn't write the script.

That's about the whole plot right there. Yeah, a little wacky (and stupid) if you ask me, which is surprising considering it was written and directed by Kevin Williamson, the creator of Dawson's Creek and writer of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. I thought the film was actually hard to watch, mainly because the characters were unlikable and annoying. Helen Mirren as the wicked Mrs. Tingle was the only really entertaining thing about the movie, but even she couldn't save this offbeat snoozefest.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday the 13th (2009, Marcus Nispel)

So last night I was fortunate enough to see the midnight showing of the new re-imaging/remake/reboot/re-whatever of Friday the 13th. The theater was about 3/4 full of mostly eager teens excited to see the newest installment of one of the most popular horror franchises of the last 30 years. As the lights went down after the seemingly endless barrage of previews, the momentous occasion began.

Friday the 13th begins in 1980 with a killer running loose at a summer camp. It is soon revealed to be Pamela Voorhees who is avenging the death of her mentally retarded son Jason caused by the negligence of a group of camp counselors. After one of the counselors kills Mrs. Voorhees, we discover that young Jason is still alive. Now it's his turn to get revenge. After years of living in the woods surrounding Camp Crystal Lake, Jason emerges and attacks a group of teens in search of a huge crop of weed hidden near the camp. Soon after, another group of co-eds come to stay at a nearby cabin and one by one they start getting knocked off by Jason. Can the brother of one of Jason's supposed victims be their only hope?

Well Jason, it's good to have you back. The biggest complaint most people will probably have is that the film is just more of the same. Jason stalking promiscuous teens in the woods. At the same time though, that is what the whole series is and that's what makes it popular and so beloved by fans. Without that basic outline it just wouldn't be a Friday the 13th film. Marcus Nispel's direction serves the film very well, not too far off from his ultra-gory Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake from a few years back. The film is very dark, there is lots of gore, T&A, and best of all - legitimate scares. The cast all do a decent job and the dialogue is surprisingly funny. It would have been nice if there were a few twists and it wasn't completely predictable, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see what direction the series goes.