Thursday, October 27, 2016

Initiation, The (1984)

Director: Larry Stewart
Notable Cast: Daphne Zuniga, Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, James Read, Marilyn Kagan, Robert Dowdell, Patti Heider, Frances Peterson, Hunter Tylo, Paula Knowles, Trey Stroud, Peter Malof, Christopher Bradley, Joy Jones, Mary Davis Duncan

Like many of the slashers in the 80s, The Initiation desperately tried to set itself apart from the rest of the pack by using gimmicks and marketing ploys to its benefit. With the title, posters, and slogans, The Initiation plays up the idea of college sorority pledges and uses a lot of cult like symbolism to sell its slasher as something more than just a hack n’ bleed college kid slaughter. The plot does center around new pledges to a sorority, but it’s hardly a film that the marketing (looking back at least) makes it seem like. No, The Initiation is more or less your standard slasher that introduces a variety of topics to give it a unique spin on its competition in 1984 and the resulting film is scattered and often unfocused. For every idiotic piece though, there is a bit of style or thoughtful tidbit that balances it out. However, despite some decent efforts at being a memorable little horror film, The Initiation just comes off as uneven more than anything else. Occasionally charming, worthy of some of the cult status it has achieved over time, but hardly one of the genre’s best.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

Director: Mike Flanagan
Notable Cast: Annalise Basso, Ellizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas, Parker Mack, Doug Jones, Kate Siegel, Sam Anderson, Lin Shaye

I disliked the original Ouija enough that I refused to even write a review for it. It was critically panned across the board (I made a funny!), but that didn’t stop the film from garnering some serious box office cash and getting a sequel green lit. Normally, I wouldn’t have given this sequel the time of day based on my opinion of the first one, but when Mike Flanagan’s name was attached to it the film leaped to the top of my list to see. Flanagan is one of the iconic directorial voices in modern horror, thanks to films like Absentia and Oculus, and his inclusion in this sequel made it one of the big question marks for the year. Strike that question mark out of the equation though because Ouija: Origin of Evil is not only superior to its predecessor, but it’s one of the more stylish horror films of the year. It’s a film that embraces its limited, mainstream structures and delivers enough Halloween scares to pull in audiences this October with pizzazz.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Blood Feast (1963) / Scum of the Earth! (1963)

Directed: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Notable Cast: William Kerwin, Mal Arnold, Connie Mason, Lyn Bolton, Scott H. Hall

As a film that essentially kicked off the entire "splatter film" movement for horror films and cult cinema, Blood Feast is definitely ahead of the curve. It uses its crisp color schemes and bright red blood drenched death sequences to surprising effect to pop right off of the screen. It's ambitious for its budget, made with a strong sense of heart, and it occasionally goes artsy enough to sell itself as a piece of cinema that isn't completely in on its own gimmick. This last piece includes the infamous tongue sequence that is preceded by a longer set of soundless takes to set up the tension. The film is a tight one as it spends very little time really building up many of the characters and instead focuses on moving the plot along in a speedy and efficient manner. In many ways, the structure and tone of scenes would seem to be heavily pulled from the styles and structures of classic Universal Monster films, although Blood Feast only sparks some semblance to The Mummy at times with its actual plotting and modernizes things beyond that. The film, in the end, was much more effective than I expected going into it.

Truthfully, the acting can be horrendously hit or miss and the narrative flow is staggered a bit too much from a director that was finding his voice. The editing can be a bit off-putting and the conveniences the plot takes to keep up the pacing can be occasionally eye rolling so keep that in mind when going into the film. However, the 'out of the box' thinking of its spin on the murder mystery and genuine intent for the film cannot be overlooked. Blood Feast is a film with rough edges, but when it works it's a splendidly campy good time with just enough thoughtfulness that shines through to make it resonate. Not to mention, the version available on this latest Arrow Video release is a pretty stunning new restoration that brings out some of the best elements that the film has to offer visually. 

Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis (as Lewis H. Gordon)
Notable Cast: William Kerwin, Allison Louise Downe, Lawrence J. Aberwood, Sandra Sinclair, Mal Arnold, Craig Maudslay, Jr.

Released the same year as the fun and quirky Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth! is a film that struggles to find the one key component to sell its story: the tension. Instead of a splatter film that Herschell Gordon Lewis was known for later in his career, Scum is a film that features a weighty and dramatic tale of a young woman coerced into a pornography ring and the various characters involved with her nightmarish decent. While the story seems simple enough and one that might be featured on television now in a show like Law & Order: SVU, Scum goes to take the exploitative elements of its concept and give it a sad and dramatic undertone. Think of it as a film that aims for the Jack Hill approach to exploitative filming, but Lewis is not nearly as talented as a director or writer to pull it off.

This leads to the overall approach and tone that can be a bit scattered. For a film that’s dependent on the audience to connect with the characters and the gray areas that they exist in, the acting and the editing can undermine a lot of the flow and tension needed to build in the film. There are moments, William Kerwin as the camera man Harmon shines here in the film and gets many of the key pivots of the script right, but overall it falters in being nearly as interesting or as effective as it potentially could have. When compared to Blood Feast, Scum does showcase the diversity of Lewis as an exploitative film maker in his earlier career, but this film lacks the budget and tight execution needed to elevate its concept to the next level. It’s ambitious and respectable there, but it’s hardly as good as it could have potentially been.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, October 21, 2016

Dark Water (2002)

Director: Hideo Nakata
Notable Cast: Hitomi Kuroki, Rio Kanno, Mirei Oguchi, Asami Mizukawa, Fumiyo Kohinata, Yu Tokui, Isao Yatsu, Shigemitsu Ogi

Ghost stories have always played a large part of the Japanese cinematic world and the boom of the J-Horror craze in the late 90s and early 00s was only one of the more recent examples of its popularity. A big part of the explosive rise of the genre was director Hideo Nakata and his Ring films which launched an endless tide of modern Japanese ghost stories and some mixed Hollywood remakes alike. However, one of the best J-Horror films to come out of this wave was Nakata’s return to the genre, Dark Water. The weird need for American audiences to be ‘scared’ by horror films means that Dark Water is a film that gets massively overlooked due to its more dramatic narrative and slower pacing, even if it was remade just a couple of years after its release by Hollywood. This ghost story not meant to be as unnerving as Ring or as dreadfully suffocating as Ju-On, but it’s a film that really works a magical system of layering symbolic pieces into a more traditional Japanese ghost story. Dark Water may not have a ton of jump scares a lot of unique gimmicks to its name, but it’s easily one of the most emotionally effective and thoughtful horror films to arrive in the last 20 years – which is why this latest Arrow Video release is a grand reminder of a film that too many horror fans are missing out on.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Phantasm: Ravager (2016)

Director: David Hartman
Notable Cast: Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Dawn Cody, Angus Scrimm, Kathy Lester, Daniel Roebuck, Solly Duran, Daniel Schweiger, Gloria Lynne Henry

At this point, I feel like I’ve lost all sense of time when it came to Phantasm V. It was almost like living in the nightmare logic of the film series as the fifth entry had been rumored for what seemed to be eternity with promises and whispers on the wind that it was coming. Truthfully, I had resigned myself that this film would remain as rumors and never come to light. Even when the first trailer dropped a little while ago, I was almost hesitant to get my hopes up until I saw the film for myself. Now that Phantasm V is released, under the title Phantasm: Ravager, I’m kind of glad I never really got my expectations up for it. While this horror film series has almost always been a part my favorite ones, this fifth entry is…well, it’s kind of shitty. As a longtime fan, this latest picture feels more or less along the lines of a fan film versus one that officially sits as part of the Phantasm canon and it’s horrendously low budget and messy narrative hurts it exponentially as a film that could sit on its own. For those long time fans, there are some bits and pieces in the film that will make them smile, but the rest of it just feels like a mess and it can’t even use the series’ nightmare logic to overcome its issues.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Deep Red (1975)

Director: Dario Argento
Notable Cast: David Hemmings, Daria Nocolodi, Maha Meril, Clara Calamai, Gabriele Lavia, Eros Pagni, Giuliana Calandra, Piero Mazzinghi, Glauco Mauri

A couple months ago, it was brought to our attention that despite our continued efforts to cover cult cinema – and my own personal quest to dig into more giallo this year,  that we have not given Dario Argento nearly enough love on this site. Low and behold, this sentiment is true and looking at the various coverage we have developed we have not given Mr. Argento nearly enough coverage. For cult cinephiles, this is probably not an issue because his work is widely known and his innovations as a director in the 70s and 80s have made him one of the cornerstones of genre film making. However, upon request, let’s take a look back at some of his films. For starters, I decided it was high time to go back and revisit one of my favorite Argento films, Deep Red. While Argento would be known for a lot of various things throughout his career, Deep Red is perhaps one of his strongest and most cohesive pictures. At its foundations, Deep Red works as a murder mystery, but it’s the director’s style and often nightmarish moments that define the film and give it a narrative life worthy of much of the praise it has received decades down the road. Deep Red is a tight and effective film that balances a lot of smaller pieces into a much bigger film whose whole is greater than its parts.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Shin Godzilla (2016)

Directors: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi
Notable Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara
AKA: Shin Gojira, Godzilla: Resurgence 

After Godzilla got the American reboot a couple of years ago, it stirred notions in the water that Toho was interested in trying to bring the Big G back for their own franchise. This, of course, causes both excitement and panic in the fan base and there seemed to be as much hesitation as their was blind faith in the project from fans. While the newest American film has garnered its own share of mixed feelings (you can read my positive position on the film HERE) there were enough rumors and speculation about what the film would be that it was easy to lose sight that we were getting a new goddamn Toho Godzilla film. Even better? After its release in Japan to some solid critical acclaim and box office numbers, it was purchased by Funimation for distribution in the US and it would even get a limited theatrical run. Not only were we getting a new Godzilla film, but it was getting a release in the United States. After seeing the aptly titled Shin Godzilla (bless Funimation for going with this title instead of Godzilla: Resurgence which wouldn’t make sense at all in the film), it’s easy to see why it’s making such a huge mark in Japan. This is not only a fantastically executed rebirth for the character and franchise, it’s one that knows its roots and homages the original in so many effective ways while maintaining its own style and approach. Shin Godzilla is the best of both worlds and it comes as a spectacular surprise.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Vamp (1986)

Director: Richard Wenk
Notable Cast: Chris Makepeace, Robert Rusler, Grace Jones, Dedee Pfeiffer, Gedde Watanabe

Throughout the various groups and circles of cult cinema fans that I find myself included in, it was very rare that I would hear anything about Vamp. If I did, it was usually in a context of comparing it to Fright Night, another 80s vampire comedy that has earned a significant cult status as time as passed. Nonetheless I was excited when my copy of Vamp arrived, a newly released Blu Ray version via the Criterion of cult cinema Arrow Video, and I was eager to sink my own fangs into this highly overlooked piece of comedic vampire film. While it is easy to see why Vamp does come in as a similar and slightly inferior film to Fright Night as so many acquaintances had stated, Vamp is also a film that deserves a much larger fan base than the one it has as it blends the horror, humor, camp, and quirks in a lot of ambitious and often surprising ways. How wrong can one go with a film about college guys who wander into a strip club full of vampires? Certainly not wrong enough to be as shockingly overlooked as Vamp seems to be.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Lisa and the Devil (1973)

Director: Mario Bava
Notable Cast: Elke Sommer, Telly Savalas, Sylva Koscina, Alessio Orano, Gabriele Tinti, Kathy Leone, Espartaco Santoni, Alida Valli

Throughout his career, Mario Bava tried his best to be diverse with his films even if he always brought his own unique flare to each one of them. It didn’t always work, but his attempts at branching out are appreciated from a fan’s perspective as it gives us some distinctive things to look at in his filmography. Of the more ‘classic’ horror films that he directed, Lisa and the Devil comes up as one of the hit or miss entries from fans depending on who you ask about it. Before seeing the film, I received a variety of opinions on the various versions (which will be touched on briefly below) and it would seem that it could be viewed anywhere between his best and his worst, given the various fan approaches to it. When the credits finally rolled on Lisa and the Devil though, I had to admit that I found it to be one of his best – an often too overlooked and misunderstood artistic and surrealistic horror film filled to the brim with approaches that leave it open to interpretation. It’s understandable why the film would generate such diverse reactions though, but for my money it’s a piece of Bava cinema that is just boiling with flashes of brilliance and an artistic approach that allows it to be seen in so many different ways.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Pink (2016)

Director: Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury
Notable Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, Andrea Tariang, Angad Bedi

I went in to Pink with reserved expectations. I knew it was a film that would be serious and I had heard very high praise for Amitabh's performance as the lawyer working with the three young women involved in a violent incident. That being said, Indian cinema is something I am still new to and I think the number of good and great films that aren't goofy Bollywood affair coming from the region are new to the movie goers there. That aside, Pink is one powerful film and will without a doubt make it into my Top 10 of the Year list for 2016!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Vampyres (2016)

Director: Victor Matellano
Notable Cast: Veronica Polo, Anthony Rotsa, Victory Vidal, Fele Martinez, Marta Flich, Almudena Leon, Caroline Munro

As I’ve said before in various reviews, I’m not inherently against remakes. Really, I’m not. In the case of many low budget or older films, there are ways to modernize or change a film without deterring from its core intentions and that breeds some creative material in many ways. Vampyres, a modern day Spanish remake of the 1974 exploitation cult film, had a lot of potential to raise the bar on the original and it was obvious that the director and producers had a lot of respect for the films of exploitation past – when one looks at all of the cameos from cult character actors that appear in this film. So it’s an unfortunate turn of events when this updated sensual vampire flick rarely embraces its own artistic hints and simply goes for the simple solution. For those looking for a film with gore and skin, it will certainly fit the minimum requirements of entertainment as a modern day exploitation film. For those hoping for a little bit more, i.e. me, Vampyres is a lackluster horror film with little outside of the basics to appease a growing appetite for better films in the exploitation arena.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Operation Mekong (2016)

Director: Dante Lam
Notable Cast: Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng, Carl Ng, Ken Lo, Pawarith Monkolpisit, Jonathan Wu

Many of the early trailers for Operation Mekong made the film look something like a military action thriller, powered by a dramatic ‘based on true events’ plot, and packed with big name stars throwing their best performances to earn awards. In many ways, yes, this is the film you are going to see with Operation Mekong. It’s certainly all of those things to an extent. However, that’s not all it is either. There was a certain expectation that went with the tone of the trailers that seemed to mix Platoon with a more modern day Lone Survivor spin and Operation Mekong is a bit more than that…and a bit less. Dante Lam’s latest action extravaganza is more John Woo and less Oliver Stone in its approach to the story, blending in high octane block buster action sequences with military dramatic touches. So it is less, in the idea of an impactful and emotional punch categories, but it is certainly more in the insane cheesy action categories. Operation Mekong ultimately comes off as a slightly mixed effort in its writing and characters, but it makes up for a lot of its larger flaws by being skull shattering action packed and tense. When it’s boiled down, this is really the film I should have expected and I still enjoyed the hell out of it, even if it doesn’t quite match the dramatic heights that Dante Lam has reached in previous films.