Wednesday, December 7, 2016

SiREN (2016)

Director: Gregg Bishop
Notable Cast: Hannah Fierman, Chase Williamson, Justin Welborn, Michael Aaron Milligan, Hayes Mercure, Randy McDowell, Lindsey Garrett

The segment known as Amateur Night in the original V/H/S film was easily one of the highlights of that horror anthology and when it was announced that it was being developed into a full film, I was all for it. Adding to that hype was getting Gregg Bishop to direct it, who was easily one of the names to watch after the hilariously fun Dance of the Dead back in 2008. The only thing that killed some of my excitement was that it was being made by Chiller and really, I did have some worry that it would be made for TV quality. While the film, going under the name SiREN (and yes, it's spelled that way officially), does have some issues with its budget, the results are still surprisingly fun and refreshing as it continually world builds and adds in a level of thoughtful writing and execution to the gimmicks of the short film it was based on.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Party Night (2017)

Director: Troy Escamilla
Notable Cast: Tommie Vegas, Billy Brannigan, Destinie Orndoff, Ryan Poole, Laurel Toupal, Drew Shotwell, Candice D’Meza, Lawrence McKinney, Jimmy Phillips

There is a moment in Party Night where the small group of teen friends find a VHS player in the secluded house in the woods in which they are staying. Next to it, a stack of old school slashers like Halloween. One of the teens in the group gets excited, talking about growing up with the films and his love for them. Proclaiming at one point that their post-Prom little party needs to add a viewing of The Mutilator to the agenda. This moment is a key point at understanding the approach and heart that Party Night brings to the table. The film is flawed, obviously restrained by its limited budget and eager learning talents in front and behind the camera, but there is a youthful excitement in its unabashed throwback 80s style that is paralleled by this teenage character and his oddly specific reference to a cult classic like The Mutilator. This film is not perfect, but it has a meta style quality in this moment that threads through most of the film that may strike a chord with slasher fans that are looking for a film that wants to recreate the style and approach to those ultra-low budget slashers of decades gone…warts and all.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Blood Splatter: 2016 Horror Vol. 5 [I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, Clown, Ava's Possessions]

I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House (2016)
Director: Oz Perkins
Notable Cast: Ruth Wilson, Paula Prentiss, Bob Balaban, Lucy Boynton

Haunting and poetic, I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House is not at all a film for most mainstream horror fans. Instead of a haunted house film that's full of tricks and things flying around like 2016 seems to have been full of, this is a film built on the nuance of character and an atmosphere so subtle in its crafting that often enough it never must show anything to get under the skin. It's driven by what amounts to 80% monologue from our lead actress and it hammers down on the simple horrors of its tale instead of the big jump scares the haunted house genre is known for. It uses its narrator to balance out its slow burn visuals and is very much driven by the nuance of its language – words and visuals – to deliver the atmosphere. Considering its plot about a young nurse taking care of an elderly horror author, it’s a fitting way to tell its story.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Sword Master (2016)

Director: Derek Yee
Notable Cast: Kenny Lin, Peter Ho, Yiyan Jiang, Mengjie Jiang

There are a lot of emotions that I had before I even started to watch Sword Master that I had to take into consideration to give this film context. Sword Master is a remake of the overlooked and underappreciated Shaw Brothers wuxia classic Death Duel, a film that easily makes my list for best films from the iconic studio, and it also marks the first collaboration between two powerhouses of Chinese cinema: director Derek Yee and producer Tsui Hark. Even before this film was released, the combination of these facts made this film an emotional roller coaster for me. Derek Yee knows the original material, he was the lead actor in Death Duel, but Tsui Hark has been notorious for over producing films into a sort of CGI nightmare that has undermined plenty of fun films (including the Detective Dee films and the horrendous misfire Flying Swords of Dragon Gate). So even sifting through the context of expectations for Sword Master was a complicated matter, but I kept my hopes up thinking it could end up being the next great wuxia film.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Driller Killer, The (1979)

Director: Abel Ferrara

Notable Cast: Abel Ferrara, Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day, Harry Schultz II, Alan Wynroth, Maria Helhoski, James O’Hara, Richard Howorth, D.A. Metrov

Love him, hate him, used to love him and currently hate him, it all comes off as a bit irrelevant now because Abel Ferrara is a film maker who has made his mark on the industry. Whether it's his version of a science fiction classic like Body Snatchers, his acclaimed grindhouse flick Ms. 45, or even any of his documentaries and/or music videos, he has touched on damn near every genre of film, so it was a treat when Arrow Video decided to give his early grindhouse horror flick The Driller Killer a wonderful new release. While the grindhouse classic mad artist flick rarely gets mentioned as one of his best, which is what happens when you have so many great films to your filmography, this new Blu Ray release is a prime opportunity to look back at this punk rock fueled spin on the social disconnect and appreciate it for the aggressive boundary pushing that it attempts. Like its director, it can be a love it or hate it kind of film, but it is hard to deny that this film doesn’t lay a lot of the groundwork for a ground breaking artist like Ferrara.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sky on Fire (2016)

Director: Ringo Lam
Notable Cast: Daniel Wu, Zhang Ruoyun, Joseph Chang, Zhang Jingchu, Amber Kuo, Fan Guang-yao, Wayne Lai, Philip Keung, Cheung Siu-fai, Ying Batu

Despite mixed reviews, Ringo Lam’s comeback action thriller Wild City was still a decent return that showcased a director who was trying to blend his classic Hong Kong action chops with a slightly more modern approach. When it was announced that his next film would be Sky on Fire, going with a title scheme that would indicate a throwback to previous films from the golden age of Hong Kong cinema like City on Fire, Prison on Fire, or School on Fire, there is obviously a lot of expectations that come with that. Partner it with some solid marketing and Daniel Wu to anchor the lead, this film had momentum to go with those initial expectations too. So perhaps it’s not all that shocking that Sky on Fire comes off as disappointing in the end. Sure, this is a film that attempts to recreate the Ringo Lam style of yesteryear with its plentiful action and design, but it’s a film that ultimately rings off as a hollow recreation rather than a film that belongs in the same echelon. There are moments, sparks if you will, where one can see it start to reclaim the style, but it doesn’t have enough emotional resonance and effective narrative flow to make it work.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hidden Power of the Dragon Sabre, The (1984)

Director: Chor Yuen

Notable Cast: Derek Yee, Ti Lung, Alex Man Chi-Leung, Cherie Chung Cho-Hung, Ku Feng, Lo Lieh

During my recent Shawtember binge that saw a serious round of Derek Yee Shaw film consumption (ultimately leading up to my article over on the Celestial Pictures site HERE), I ended up reviewing the first two Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre films. While neither film necessarily blew me away, falling to be some flawed films in the usually fun and dynamic filmography of director Chor Yuen, they were still decent films that got better as they went. The third film in this franchise, called The Hidden Power of the Dragon Sabre because I guess that Heaven Sword was not worthy of making it into the title this time around, comes six years after the first two. Six years doesn’t seem like a long time for many franchises, but in the realm of Shaw Brothers this meant a huge difference in tone and style. Hidden Power doesn’t necessarily work all the time, it fixes a few issues from its predecessors and falls into a few new traps, but it is perhaps the most entertaining of the three films just in sheer outrageousness.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Call of Heroes (2016)

Director: Benny Chan
Notable Cast: Sean Lau, Eddie Peng, Louis Koo, Wu Jing, Yuan Quan, Jiang Shuying, Liu Kai-chi, Berg Ng, Sammy Hung, Philip Keung, Xing Yu

From the time that it was announced, under the title The Deadly Reclaim before it was changed to Call of Heroes, there was a lot of hype behind this film. Between the stacked cast of current A-list actors, the legendary Sammo Hung as action director, and Benny Chan behind the director’s chair, this film was going to have to live up to a lot of expectations. With a concept that can be described as a wuxia western, Call of Heroes lives up to a lot of those expectations in many surprising ways. The film is one that had to sit with me for a while before writing this review because many of its themes and approaches were ones that didn’t necessarily strike home initially, but blossomed over a bit of time and reflection. Call of Heroes is not a film for everyone, particularly those who are unable to jive with modern Chinese cinema’s use of spectacle and CGI, but for those looking for a solid entertaining time with some shockingly creative results than this film fits that just fine.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Flag of Iron, The (1980)

Director: Chang Cheh

Notable Cast: Phillip Kwok, Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng, Lung Tien-Hsiang, Chan Shen, Wong Lik, Yu Tai-Ping, Lam Sui-Kwan, Wong Ching-Ho, Wang Han-Chen

Remakes might dominate many of the discussions for cinephiles in many social circles, but it’s not like they are a new concept by any means. For as long as film has been made, remakes, reboots, and reloads have been an option for film makers and studios to employ. However, it wasn’t necessarily as common during certain eras. The Shaw Brothers era of Hong Kong cinema was one of them where remakes were rare. They did exist though and The Flag of Iron is one of them. The Flag of Iron is a remake of the widely praised Ti Lung and David Chiang film The Duel, but this time around it’s not the more dramatic and political aspects that take the center stage. No, this is a Venom mob film and that means even more gimmicks and cheese. Fortunately, the film keeps a lot of the key plot elements that made the story effective and it’s certainly entertaining, but it’s hard not to see the glaring flaws and lack of dramatic heft in this version.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril (1972)

Director: Buichi Saito
Notable Cast: Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akhiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michi Azuma, Asao Koike, Hiroshi Tanaka, Tatsuo Endo, Asao Uchida, Shin Kishida, So Yamamura

Is it that strange that director Kenji Misumi would want to take a break from directing Lone Wolf and Cub movies after making three of them in one year? Not at all, but the fourth film in this acclaimed franchise could have used his talents in executing its concept. Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril is easily the weakest of the films in the new Criterion box set thus far, continuing a downward slide in quality for the series since the second one, and it sincerely misses a lot of the artistic merit that Misumi would have brought into the fold. The film is still outrageously entertaining, almost to the point of reaching new heights of silliness for the ultra-violent series, and deserves some credit for making a lot of its flaws into enjoyable tidbits of grindhouse fun, but it suffers greatly from an overly complicated plot and lacks the focus to drive home its better concepts and characters.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Gruesome Twosome (1967) / A Taste of Blood (1967)


Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Notable Cast: Elizabeth Davis, Gretchen Wells, Chris Martell, Rodney Bedell, Ronnie Cass, Karl Stoeber, Dianne Wilhite, Andrea Barr, Dianne Raymond, Sherry Robinson

One of the bigger issues that can plague a horror comedy is how the genre lacks the insight to make them work TOGETHER. While The Gruesome Twosome might earn a few credits for being one of the first to attempt blending the two genres, it doesn't necessarily do them well. The film tends to have a funny scene, followed by a horror scene, followed by a funny scene, followed by a horror scene, etc. It doesn't do both at the same time. It just trades off on slapstick basic comedy and then HGL's brand of splatter horror. While there are moments that work, not all of them do and when they don't, like the opening sequence of two wigs talking to one another about the story that is about to unfold (?!), it fails miraculously. Not only that, but the film seems very hesitant to even work any deeper plot than the basics into the film to get those scenes to flow together outside of the specific moments.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Blood Splatter: 2016 Horror Vol. 4 [The Invitation, What We Become, Martyrs]

Director: Karyn Kusama
Notable Cast: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard, Michiel Huisman, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lindsay Burdge, Jordi Vilasuso, Mike Doyle, Jay Larson, John Carroll Lynch, Karl Yune, Toby Huss, Michelle Krusiec, Marieh Delfino

This review will seem irrelevant to the experience that The Invitation gives its audience. While there is a love it or hate it kind of approach to this film, which I have been so graciously made aware of, this is a film that is meant to be experienced and its slow burn abilities ensure that. There is an overpowering sense of unease that bleeds into a paranoia which impeccably drives the narrative, punctuated by phenomenal performances and an atmosphere of complete engagement with the audience. The setting, the lighting, the score, the pacing - they are all lavishly simple and viciously effective in their execution from director Karyn Kusama and I was engrossed from the opening scene until the hollowing climax with one of the best final visuals I have seen in horror all year. The Invitation is one of those films that simply takes its simple idea and layers it so densely with subtle details that I was easily drawn into its melodramatic tones and huge credit has to be given to the film for that.