Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Masters Of Horror: The Damned Thing - 2/5

Directed by Tobe Hooper (if you don't know who this guy is by now you need a proper schooling - for those who need schooling he did "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Poltergeist" to name two)

A middle aged cop in a small Texas town (Flanery) with his own marital problems and significant amount of paranoia begins to witness the townsfolk do strange things. Like killing themselves in massive rage. After what happened to his family years prior, he begins to suspect that something is controlling everyone...some damned thing that is out to get him.

Tobe Hooper's career has, let's just admit it, tanked in recent years. The films he has been doing aren't bad by any means, but they are rarely good which is the same plague that riddles "The Damned Thing". It's an intriguing idea about this force from beyond our own understanding (that's somewhat linked to nature as hinted by the plot) who holds a massive grudge against people, but the episode seems content at focusing down on some boring cliche characters instead of giving the proper plot treatment. The casting is solid enough (with a special treat of Ted Raimi as a priest), but its writing is hit or miss at building the characters while the 'invisible beast' is far more interesting. This of course is somewhat ruined by the ending of the episode and its awful special effects before it somewhat redeems itself with a final twist. "The Damned Thing" is just an odd mixture of good and bad that makes the whole thing mediocre overall. It's got moments, but seems so cliche at times that its hard not to be bored with it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Vampires: Los Muertos (2002) - 1/5

"Vampires" might have won its way into my heart with extensive violence and charm, its way ward sequel won its way into my ire with a cheap look, horrid cast, and a bare bones story. When its only redeeming qualities are that it is produced by John Carpenter and it stars Jon Bon Jovi (who will be referred to as Jon Jon The Bon Bon from this point on because I feel like it) then you know that you are getting the real deal when it comes to vampire franchises.

Derek Bliss (Jon Jon The Bon Bon) is a freelance vampire hunter in the southwest and his life has, to this point, been fairly lucrative. Now an unknown buyer wants him to put together a team of slayers to hunt down a rogue pack of vampires who are making their way across Mexico with unknown intent. With a trail of bodies left in the master's wake, Derek will have to rely on a rag tag group to help him stop the vampires before they uncover a secret that hasn't been revealed in like...four years...or something.

The connections to the first "Vampires" are loose including an awesome cop out scene where the priest from the first one ends up being dead in a graveyard and the general same plot of a monstrous vampire looking for the fabled Black Cross so that vampires can walk in the day. These loose connections do let the film do its own thing (which it really doesn't) while still making franchise fans happy they could continue on the story (which it doesn't) as it heads on a path of similar style. Unfortunately, the writing for "Los Muertos" is about as incompetent as can be. The plot is formulaic and forgettable, the characters cliche and often silly in their motivations, and the dialogue atrocious. With foundations like this to build on, you know you're in for a rocky film ride.

It doesn't get better from there. Wallace tries his best to work the severely low budget (are those sets?), but the made for TV special effects and the horrendously acted cast don't do it any favors. Didn't know that Jon Jon The Bon Bon was an actor? He still isn't. It must have been in his contract though to have people worse than he is to be in the supporting roles to make him look better. Our half-vamp female hero is simply awful to watch and she makes the underused and boring villain look like she's running acting circles around her. It's laughable more often than not.

Here's the low down: if you liked "Vampires" and have an itching to see what else that universe has to offer than catch "Los Muertos" on cable. Don't bother paying for it unless you are a glutton for the franchise like we are. It's not worth the "bite" on the wallet.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, January 30, 2012

Executioners From Shaolin [Executioners Of Death] (1977) - 3/5

Although the film is significant as being one of the handful of kung fu films to feature the illustrious Pai Mei as a character in its ranks (most of you reading this will probably remember Pai Mei as The Bride's kung fu teacher in "Kill Bill Vol. 2"), "Executioners From Shaolin" is far from being one of the best that either the Shaw Brothers studio or Kar Lau Leung had to offer. It's a fascinating multi-generational revenge flick whose story stands out as a high point, but the film itself is so choppy and awkward getting there that it ruins the entire flow of the film.

When Pai Mei betrays the Shaolin temples and helps the Qing Dynasty begin to tear apart the order of trained martial artists, a handful of escaped students vow revenge against the bushy eyebrowed villain. Hong and his fellow Shaolin students begin to wander the landscape, originally as a troupe of actors/comedies, training for their day of vengeance. Hong meets up a Crane style trained kung fu expert Ying Chun and together they start a life of low key living and raise a son, Wending. Now father and son must combine their wits and decades of training to challenge the all powerful Pai Mei. 

There is a great and clear cut villain/hero relationship in this film that I appreciate. A brief appearance by Gordon Liu in the opening fight sequence adds a great start to this film too. It sets up the classic vengeance formula with a strong lead and a vicious villain (who has the ability to pull his private parts up into his body...that's a little odd, but whatever). Even the fight sequences are pretty impressive, it is directed by Kar Lau Leung, as we see the father grow stronger in his Tiger style over time and to see the combination style of the son in the many fights they have with one another as it builds to the final two fights against Pai Mei.

The fights and the main story though can't save the film from feeling a bit awkward when it comes down to how it goes about its storytelling. The film is massively choppy, leaping in time periods of odd structure to get from the beginning to the love story to the son to the ending in a strange chunking pattern. This doesn't allow a lot of time to get situated with each moment as the it rushes through the love story and the training sequences to fit it all in.

"Executioners From Shaolin" is a fun film and seeing the villainous Pai Mei is worth its cost to watch even if its a strangely developed film that suffers from its poor structure (and a very awkward ending moment). Fans of kung fu cinema should see it for its historical context more so than because its a good film. Definitely not one of my favorites, but fun nonetheless.

BONUS RANT: Seriously Dragon Dynasty fucked up with the box art for this film. Originally they misspelled the title (as in the picture above), they had a guy with a sword on the front (there is only one sequence of swordplay and its with a long blade), and on the back it has Pai Mei in a samurai like uniform (of which he never wears in the film). It's like they really wanted to trick those who don't know...

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cowboys & Aliens (2011) - 2/5

Even though people consistently told me that I would dislike "Cowboys & Aliens", I wrote them off. I'll have low expectations going in. It's got some great talent. It will have its moments that will make one look over the faults. Whatever excuse one could think of came up to justify its existence. Unfortunately, no matter what excuses one can manifest to fight for this genre mix-up film the problem remains that it just doesn't work. Ironically, nothing in the film seems to work to its potential. When you have a big budget action film of this caliber miss target...its certain to be one hell of a miss.

Jake (Craig) must have had one crappy day. He wakes up in the middle of the desert beaten, bloody, and wearing a fancy metal bracelet with no memories of who he is, how he got there, or where he is going. After meandering his way into a small town, Jake discovers he's quite the outlaw and a cattle man with a vendetta (Ford) is ready to give him hell...that is until some alien spaceships decide to shake things up. Now these two hardened loners will have to join sides (along with bandits and some Native Americans) to retrieve some missing kin and give these rustling aliens a one-two punch they'll never forget.

The biggest problem that "Cowboys & Aliens" faces is its 'too many cooks in the kitchen' talent pool involved. A great cast, a surprisingly solid director in Favreau, a massive budget, and a concept that really hasn't been looked at since the underground film "Oblivion" all make this film a potential cult classic in the making. It all seems to...become an abrasive nature for the film. It loses focus on trying to get all the cliche things in and not enough on just letting it be what it is. A massive B-grade action film.

Despite an early start that plays up western motifs and gives Craig an odd modern Yule Brenner feel, the film decidedly tanks from there. It tries to throw in too many characters we're supposed to like (giving Craig some awful "aw shucks, that's charming" moments that goes against what we are initially fed) that the great cast can't save and then follows a mainstream formula while trying to hide it in massive special effects that are decent, but nothing we haven't seen before. It's as if the whole thing is watered down for mass consumption to the point where it doesn't feel filling at all.

Of course the film has its moments, its introduction to the character Jake is fun and gives a great anti-hero vibe and the action set pieces (while still very much run of the mill) are fun when not illogical in there placement.

"Cowboys & Aliens" suffers from an unfulfilled potential that crafts a sub-par action film who haphazardly throws about western and science fiction details. Perhaps fun to take it for what it is, but beyond that the film just meanders like the many western anti-heroes it tries to recreate - never finding its direction before dying a slow death from creative starvation.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hostel: Part III (2011) - 1/5

Firstly, since I have no reviews up for the previous two, let it be known that even though the "Hostel" films have their charms I still think they are overrated. Didn't stop me from submitting myself to the direct to DVD third entry. A third entry without Eli Roth at the helm and a story that's a horror version of "That Hangover". Yeah, this one was a real good time, let me tell you.

Scott (Hallisay) is going to be taken out for his bachelor's party by best friend Carter (Pardue) to Vegas for a good time. He objects, but peer pressure obviously wins out even for adults. They head out to have a good time, but when one of the other friends goes missing the next morning they set out to find him. Only to find that the secret society "Elite Hunters" has established a group in Vegas...and bets are due.

Unfortunately, most of the problems that arise in "Hostel: Part III" are due to budget constraints and a script with poor execution. The film has a decidedly cheesy look to it and a script that heavily borrows from "The Hangover" in structure. It lacks a cohesive nature to it as it seemingly meanders through the motions to get to the one true twist in the film that seemingly works for about two seconds before dive bombing into ridiculousness again. Spiegel tries to work some magic with how he goes about things (the intro is a nice little homage to the first two in style), but in the end its simply watered down.

And speaking of being watered down, the essence of the original "Hostel" films were that they were modern Grindhouse flicks - with gratuitous nudity, gore, and asshole characters. This film only has asshole characters. It tries to sell off some of the gore and nudity by going halfway there (shots that only show glimpses of the silly torture sequences and plenty of hinted at nudity), but it simply feels like it halfasses the grindhouse effect of the previous films. Something that will be certain to piss off fans of the franchise. The worst torture this film can conjure is watching it.

"Hostel: Part III" is nothing more than a cash-in on a franchise that became a hit when it was probably better off in the underground. It has a few moments, the opening sequence for example, but it's ruined by poor character development, poor kills, and an ending that's incredibly cheesy and idiotic. A sequel that earns its direct to DVD merits of not even coming close to the first two in quality.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Legend Is Born: Ip Man, The (2010)

Director: Herman Yau
Notable Cast: To Yu-Hang, Yi Huang, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, Fan Siu-Wong, Rose Chan

Although it has no affiliation to the other two massively successful Ip Man films (which to this day are some of our two most read reviews), this prequel of sorts goes back to the beginning of Ip Man and his life of martial arts training before he became the teacher he was. Hence why it is called The Legend is Born: Ip Man. It doesn't have quite the charm or quality of the other two unaffiliated Ip Man films, but it certainly does stand on its own nicely with solid fight sequences and a film with a bit of heart set to the time period.

Growing up in a school of Wing Chun with his adopted brother, Ip Man (Dennis To) has adhered to the teachings all his life. He still craved more. After studying in Hong Kong and learning a variation of the Wing Chun style from an outcast man, he returns home to find himself slightly at odds with everyone except for the woman whose heart he stole. When a mysterious Japanese investor shows up and things start to go south, Ip Man might be the only one with the smarts and the skills to stop it before it rolls out of control.

Although its hard to take any film that deems itself 'based on a true story', The Legend Is Born: Ip Man does play off the historical elements nicely into the martial arts plot formula. It's got a great aesthetic to the picture with some solid enough costume and art designs. This is held together by a strong lead performance from To as Ip Man whose subtlety is a nice contrast to that of the main supporters. Even the fight choreography is strong with lots of great hand to hand combat sequences (although sometimes the settings need a more dramatic effect to spice it up) that blend some realistic fighting and over the top moments.

The film does suffer from feeling like two separate films. The first half is certainly a film that sticks to the growth of Ip Man as a person and setting up his training sequences while the last half ends up throwing a ton of cheesy evil Japanese characters and an odd 'whodunnit' political murder mystery that fails to play out to its full potential. It's kind of an odd shift that pushes out of the blue in the last half. Yes, it does give us a 'proper' villain for our hero to go against, but it ends up rushed with its characters and doesn't fulfill what it could have.

As is, The Legend Is Born: Ip Man is still a strong modern martial arts film. It has a great lead who holds his own (he's no Donnie Yen, but he gets it done) with solid martial arts choreography and the underlying love story is well played as a subplot. It is flawed in its structure and attempts at making itself more 'epic'. Still The Legend Is Born is a solid film and worth the watch - especially for fans of the other Ip Man films.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) - 3/5

After the repetitive if not mildly clever "Paranormal Activity 2", my excitement for the franchise was decidedly lessened. The original one was expertly executed and the fan in me wanted to see that return while adding something new to the "mythology" of the series. "Paranormal Activity 3" does give the series a new life by adding in a few new twists and turns that will have fans perking their ears even if it is rather hit or miss with its scares and thrills by a style running thin.

In 1988, a young family with two cute daughters Katie (Csengery) and Kristie (Brown) move into a new house with high aspirations. The boyfriend of the mother Dennis (Smith) is a video wiz with his VHS tapes and works at home cutting videos together. When strange happenings at the house begin to stir his curiosity, Dennis begins to record everything he can to decipher if the daughters 'imaginary' friend Toby is only a figment of their imagination.

As the series moves in the backwards direction (this one is a prequel to the previous prequel sequel), one has to hope that it plays enough interesting connections to the previous entries to keep us occupied. We know how it ends...right? That's what makes "Paranormal Activity 3" such a solid watch. You're not really sure how it will end. We basically know, but the way that the film plays out with its low energy writing and long builds it makes us question what we do know about the franchise. This is a trick that makes the film work so well as we try to remember what happens to this characters from hints in the previous entries.

So its a step up in writing quality, which is one of the reasons the repetitiveness of "2" was so daunting. Unfortunately, it still feels very formulaic in its presentation. Although the 1980s kick of VHS should make for some different takes on the film, it follows the same guidelines. Yes, the hauntings might differ slightly (with a definite highlight being a scary "Bloody Mary" sequence in the bathroom), but overall its mostly shit flying around like same old same old and it lacks some of the surprise it should have had.

To be honest, the franchise is still a lot of fun to see what they come up with next to make it different without changing too much to piss off the fans. This one takes it a bit farther than the previous sequel and it works in some very cool moments (the missing kitchen is quite the sequence) even if it still runs very much by the numbers. It's a fun entry, but still far from the revival that some claimed it to be. Curious to see where "Paranormal Activity 4" goes now that we've hit the 1980s...can't go much farther back than that!

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cave In! (1979/83) - 1.5/5

Producer Irwin Allan gave the disaster film genre the blue-print it needed with his big budget, all star releases "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno" in the early 70s. By the late 70s, Allen was still riding the disaster film craze that he helped create long after it puttered out by regurgitating the same ideas for television films with low budgets and second rate casts. Films like "Flood!" and "Fire!" were minor television successes with "Cave In!" being the third of the three that is the most forgotten as it was made in 1979 but not aired until 1983. This my friend, is NEVER a good sign.

The title says it all as a cave in traps a group of tourists and guides get trapped in a cave after a few collapses. In order to get out they have to predictably beat numerous obstacles including a madman with a pistol hell bent on getting out.

"Cave In!" is as predictable as television disaster films come. Cookie cutter characters, including a down-and-out cop (Leslie Nielsen), an overbearing father (Ray Milland in a tamer version of the sadistic character he portrayed in "The Attic") and two old flames who cross paths again. All these characters are given back story with dreadful flashback sequences complete with the film going out of focus before and after they kick in.

The overall look of the film is nothing better than a television episode at the time and the cave obstacles look no more dangerous than cheap funhouse gags. Rickety bridges, swimming under rock walls, and other dull threats.

This is strictly cheap, dull television material here with boring characters and predictable plot points. Everything you've seen in other disaster films is thrown in with only the stereotypical pregnant women missing from the mix. It's not surprising the televised release of this was postponed and it never got a VHS release. I picked this up used as part of Warner Brothers made-on-demand DVD-R program and it's hard to believe people would actually pay $20+ brand new for such a forgettable, blah film. Only for the most hardcore disaster film collectors.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Tucker & Dale Vs Evil (2010) - 3.5/5

Horror comedies are either really awesome or extensively crappy. Not a whole lot of middle ground included in this genre. Which is why my hesitation towards "Tucker & Dale Vs Evil" made its payoff even better than expected. An ironic take on the slasher genre, "Tucker & Dale" understands why slashers work, pokes fun at it, turns it on its head, and then runs like its own fire. A system that works with relative effectiveness to get the fun and comedy to blend with the gore and kills.

Tucker (Tudyk) and Dale (Labine) are two hillbilly best friends out to go fishing on their newly bought woodland property and shack. The random college students who are out to go camping down the lake shore from the vacation shack don't seem to trust them. In fact, these hyperactive college kids take them for serial killers when the two hillbillies rescue their friend (Bowden) from drowning. Now the kids are out to stop the inept hillbillies before they all get killed...

The twist that makes "Tucker & Dale" worth its weight really does carry throughout the film. Our cliche serial killer hillbillies are the heroes in a case of mistaken identity while our normally heroic teen heroes end up being the villains. Normally this kind of gimmick would invoke some serious eye rolling and scoffing, but the writing and performances contained in this horror/comedy sell it so insanely well that it never feels like the gimmick it really is.

The writing understands all of the hillbilly serial killer slasher elements and throws them into the film as well. So not only do we get the silly jokes about hillbilly best friends and ridiculously asinine college kids, but it gives us the horror elements needed for a slasher. Gratuitous gore, ridiculous kills, and an over the top villain. It does it in spades. We even get a cop with a board and nail jammed through his skull who walks for twenty yards (to an amazing quote about how he might walk it off) before dying. The film simply does it well.

Although the villain isn't quite as clever as it could have been considering how upfront it was on how it would be (when he gets half fried though - that's classic), "Tucker & Dale" stick to the slasher formula while using its clever writing and strong leads to sell the gimmick. It really does work too. It's fun with the kills and gore and fans of horror will get the jokes more so than those who aren't slasher fans. That's why it get's a solid Blood Brothers approval!

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Masters Of Horror: Imprint - 4/5

Directed by Takashi Miike (known for a lot of cult shit, but specifically "Audition", "Ichi The Killer", and "One Missed Call".)

A wandering journalist (Drago) stumbles upon an island of courtesans in Japan while looking for the woman he swore to save and bring back to America. There he meets a disfigured prostitute who claims to know what happened to his lost love. The story she tells beginning with her own life is one of horror and betrayal...but how much of what she speaks of is the truth? What would she hide?

"Imprint" is one fucked up episode. It's fully understandable why it wasn't aired with the rest of the series. "Imprint" goes all out to shock and disgust with its tales of macabre, but at the hand of the brilliant director Miike - its a visual feast whose artistic value makes up for some of its intense shock factors. It's a odd bird as an episode as it jumps time periods and settings rapidly (even though it makes sense with the tell tale structure of the film) and invokes the oddities of an island of courtesans with some hit or miss performances that seem over the top, I'm looking at you Drago, but its strange ability to blend extreme moments of violence and terror with subtle dialogue shifts and atmosphere is makes its flaws seem like afterthoughts of misunderstanding. It's not an episode for the faint of heart as the torture sequence makes "Audition" look tame and its themes very controversial, but once one gets past all of that - the art of filmmaking shines through.


Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011) - 4.5/5

Being a fan of this franchise since childhood (back when video stores existed...oh those were the days), the reboot of the series that was Tim Burton's atrocity certainly seemed to bury it in its grave. I didn't expect it to come back...not even a decade later. This is why when "Rise" was announced, as a loose remake of the film "Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes", the skepticism poured out. Now after watching "Rise", it has to be admitted...this is how a reboot for a classic franchise SHOULD BE DONE. It homages the original series in a multitude of ways all the while creating a new way to view the series that brings it up to date.

Will (Franco) is on the breakthrough of a lifetime. His work to cure Alzheimers has created a drug that can repair the brain. His testing on chimpanzees has produced a strange side effect...it increases the intelligence of the primate by multitudes. The one chimpanzee he raises at home, Caesar (Serkis) shows an innate ability to be smarter than the people around him. That's why when he is torn from his family and forced into a primate home, he plans an escape...that includes bringing all of his fellow apes up to par in intelligence with him.

There is hardly enough room to praise this film in the ways I would want to. As a fan of the series, "Rise" was everything I could hope for in a reboot. It takes the series in some new directions focusing primarily on making Caesar the true protagonist of the film and it does so with such vigor and craftsmanship that by the end of the film I would have joined the damn apes in tearing that whole fucking city down. This new attempt at really bringing the humanity and characterization to the apes is how the original series ended up - but it does it in a way that makes them seem like true characters we can relate to. A brilliant move in writing that hits the heart of the franchise home.

This of course is matched with top notch special effects and action sequences. Casting Serkis as Caesar was a brilliant move as he brings the humanity to a completely digital character, while the action scenes (although at times seem a bit forced like the neighbor attack) are well paced and expertly cut to give it some urgency. Although the action is mostly subdued by character development and story telling, don't expect it to be ripe with over the top sequences that the trailer liked people to think. It's a thoughtful film that happens to have a few placed in for story work.

Don't be afraid because "Rise" allows those unfamiliar with the films to jump right in while giving a TON of little details that homage the series (names, newspapers, and repeated sequences for example). This is one of the best films of 2011 as it blends a plethora of different genres together into a fantastic reboot for a series that desperately needed it. It's everything a fan could ask for. Blood Brothers approved!

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Colombiana (2011) - 2.5/5

Luc Besson is an essential part of a balanced action film fan's meal. I might even go as far to say he's at the bottom of the of the proverbial action food pyramid. This, partnered with a script co-written by long time partner in kick ass Kamen, are the main reasons why "Colombiana" was a must see on my watching queue. This is also the reason why "Colombiana" was a complete and utter let down. The film is unoriginal and despite numerous attempts at crafting an artful and emotional side to the tale of an assassin with a grudge, its boring and leaves no impact. Not something I expect from the folks that gave us "La Femme Nikita" and "Taken".

Cataleya (Saldana) watched her parents brutally murdered in front of her by Don Luis (Benites) and his villainous right hand man Marco (Molla). With the help of her uncle (Curtis), she trains her entire life to become one of the best assassins in the world...with only one goal in mind. Finding Don Luis and bringing him the grave she escaped so many years ago.

Coming out as a combination of the previously mentioned "La Femme Nikita" and the ridiculousness of "The Transporter" series, "Colombiana" has a ton of potential. It starts off that way too. It builds this great action story about a young assassin looking to take down some drug lords by leaving a marker on her hits to get his attention to make him come out. Sounds fucking awesome! There are a couple problems here though and the potential seems to slowly circle the drain of the film until the finale.

The first issue of "Colombiana" is director Olivier Megaton. "The Transporter 3" director ruined many of the great moments in that film and he does so here. His complete lack of focus for action sequences and desperate attempts at throwing in "cool" shots completely pulls away from the interesting sequences. A hand to hand fight in a bathroom between our heroine and the sinister henchman is edited so shitty, rarely does the audience have time to discern what the hell is actually happening. He does this throughout the entire film! He does succeed at many of the cut and run sequences, but its not enough and his modern techniques just become an irritating trend.

Secondly, this little film tries so hard to be so serious at times and then goes completely the opposite direction. Random scenes of outrageousness don't fit the vibe of the first three-quarters of the film as it builds this heroine to be the emotional attachment to the audience. "Colombiana" can't find the balance between art and action (like "La Femme Nikita" did in all of its brilliance) to make it work. So by the time the falling action occurs after the action packed finale - we really feel unfulfilled by how it ends. 

Luc Besson might still remain a staple of an action fan, but this is one of the few times a film with his name attached is a miss. Really, its not his fault. It's an overrated director and odd focus for the film that undermines any of the strong elements in it. Luckily, I won't disregard my favorite Frenchman for this film. It's just disappointing considering how strong this could have been.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, January 16, 2012

Scream (1981) - 1/5

I am not a personal fan of the post-modern slasher era of films jump-started by Wes Craven's 1996 hit "Scream" so it would give me great gratification to tell people that a little seen 1981 slasher that shares it name sake is much better... but I would be lying. This "Scream" is wretchedly written and filmed stalk and slash that I would even go as far to say is the worst slasher from the golden era of the genre that I've seen, even eclipsing such turds as "The Forest" and "Don't Go in the Woods".

We are introduced to a group of hikers canoeing to an abandoned ghost town where they decide to spend the night. Since we know this is a slasher it's safe to assume a killer starts knocking them off one by one.

"Scream" was originally filmed in 1981 as "The Outing" but didn't get wide release until four years later under it's rechristened title. Why is this? Could it be that it sucks? Well if you guessed that then you hit the nail on the head as "Scream" is a horribly written and directed by Bryon Quisenberry who's effort gives the impression of just 'winging it'.

First of all the characters are never established or developed and make some of the most insane, unorthodox decisions known to man. If there's a killer stalking the group then why do they all seem to wander out alone in the middle of the night? Brian Quesenberry also gives the film a slow pace with silted editing and long, boring panning shots. To top it off he never reveals who doing the killing or the motive behind his murders. He tries with a lame potential explanation given by stranger Woody Strode, who wonders into town, but his explanation falls flat and is completely pointless.

With all this other crummy film-making gunking up the screen, at least the film would have slasher essentials like gore and nudity right? WRONG! All the killings are nearly bloodless and most are even off screen. Boobs, another necessity of slashers, are also in zero supply.

"Scream" has a reputation for being one of the worst slashers from the golden era and it lives up to its dire reputation. At least "The Forest" had unintentional laughs and "Don't Go in the Woods" had gore and nudity. All of those ingredients, along with proficient film-making, are lacking in "Scream" only making it extremely boring and overall poor excuse for a horror film. Only watchable for the most hardcore slasher fans. Also released on DVD in a double feature "The Barn of the Naked Dead."

Written By Eric Reifschneider

After Midnight (1989) - 2/5

"After Midnight" was one of many horror anthologies that were regurgitated out of the mouth of horror in the 80's and out of this storm of anthology films "After Midnight" seems to be relatively unknown.. and for good reason. I'm not sure why but it seems most anthologies released in the 80's fail to be good. Don't get me wrong as I am not against horror anthology films. The first wave in the 70's (mostly by Amicus studios) were great. "Tales from the Crypt", "Asylum", and "The House that Dripped Blood" are all classics. The second wave in the 80's started strong with "Creepshow", a great film, and like any popular film it "inspired" many films to take it's mold that never came close to measuring up to it's own greatness.

"After Midnight" actually starts off interesting, opening with a group of students going to a class about the "psychology of fear". The best part is the teacher is bat shit crazy, I am not kidding! He takes out a gun, threatens a student with it, then puts the gun in his own mouth and pulls the trigger! After blood spurts on the wall he reveals to the class it was just a stunt to prove his point about fear. This scene would never be filmed today! My jaw hit the floor and for a split moment I thought I was in for a unseen classic. Sadly after the opening the film's wheels come off as the students are required to go to his home (as he is no longer allowed to teach on campus...hmmm...I wonder why) and they all share scary stories.

The first story is a throw-away one in which a couple's car breaks down and they end up breaking into a haunted house for help. The second story tries to generate fear but fails when a group of teens car breaks down in a bad part of town and a killer pack of dogs. The third is when the film picks up as a killer stalks a phone receptionist (Marg Helgenberger in an early role). This story actually almost made the film worth-while.

One thing that annoys me is that each story ends on an abrupt note. It works in the third story but fails in the first two. The film also fails to generate any suspense or scares, that is until third story which I highly recommend. Hell I recommend people to fast forward to it after the kick-ass psychotic teacher opening to this story and say hell with the rest. Overall I have to say give this anthology a pass and go rediscover the classic Amicus anthologies instead...

Written By Eric Reifschneider

I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006) - 1/5

The long awaited trilogy is now complete. Hold on. It wasn't long awaited and it hardly completed shit! So what the hell is "I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer" even doing here? That's honestly a great question that I have trouble answering even after watching the film. Seemingly a 'transition' film to kick the series off in a 'new' direction, "Always" hardly does so as it completely rehashes the original plot line from the first film and does as about a shitty of a job as possible doing so. A few new things are thrown in here and there, but really its a complete suck job of being a slasher with its modern tendencies and lacking slasher elements. A very disappointing entry that lacks in every element.

Amber (Nevin) and her friends in a small town of Colorado have the greatest prank ever. They fake the return of the fisherman killer at the July 4th carnival only to have the dumbass stunt go horribly wrong and kill one of their friends. So they vow to cover it up and never tell anyone. A move that brings out the "real" fisherman killer a year later to stalk them and viciously take them out one by one. Can Amber figure out who the killer is or could it possibly be the resurrected Ben Willis of lore from two previous crappy slasher entries?

Yawn. Same old story as the first film except this time it makes even less sense. This almost deserves a standing ovation itself considering how little sense the first two films made. A fisherman in Colorado? Not like rain slickers and giant fishing hooks are all too common here. The connections to the first two films are weak at best (look its a scrapbook they made!) and its "who done it" plot progressions are about as by-the-numbers as possible. That is until the finale when they add in the only real new twist into the franchise which makes about as little sense as possible, but does open up the possibility to franchise the hell out of the villain. At least they tried to add something new at all...

Well if the story blows, let's hope it kicks ass at being a slasher. Yawn. I'm going to go with a 'no' on this part too. Our idiotic teens rarely spark chemistry or fun in their run of the mill stereotypes while the acting actually gets worse than Jennifer Love Hewitt. The red herrings and side characters are silly and obviously red herrings. While the kills are basic and give us nothing to hoot and holler over with little gore or cleverness. Not a single gratuitous element to be found here in this slasher sans stupidity.

This is all rolled into one hair-pullingly silly modern directing style. Crappy quick edits plague the actual kill scenes or tension of the film while the the awkward flashes of white and sepia tones of the film make it feel like a crap home made movie. A warning to upcoming filmmakers: quick edits, flashes of white, and random shots fast moving images do not replicate tension and excitement. It just makes your audience ADD.

Even if you enjoyed the first two, skip "Always". It's completely redundant, a horrible film at being a slasher, and when it does throw in something worth its weight in film as a twist - it comes off as a cop out to keep the franchise cooking. Not a whole lot worst paying to see here. Sorry modern slash junkies.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Black Hole, The (1979) - 3/5

After the world domination of "Star Wars" every production company was jumping on the 'space race' bandwagon. Hell even super spy James Bond went to outer space! It was only a matter of time before Disney attempted a special effects laden space epic and in 1979 their bandwagon effort arrived in the form of "The Black Hole", a mixed effort from the company that appeals to the science fiction nut in me with its dark, moody approach but at the same time much of the plot ends up being just as big of an enigma as the astronomical theory that provides the title of the film.

The plot is essentially "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" in space with a large dose of "Star Wars" and a sprinkle of "2001: A Space Odyssey". We have a research vessel discover a large survey ship that's been missing for over twenty years dangerously close to a large black hole (which is a large compressed mass that occurs after a dead star collapses). They board to find that a creepy scientist, teetering on the edge of genius and madman, and his army of robot drones (similar to Storm Troopers) have plans to ram his ship deep into the black hole.

The biggest draw of "The Black Hole" is the tremendous practical special effects. They are jaw-dropping and bring back lots of nostalgia from my childhood. The matte paintings, model and visual effects are just stunning and thankfully since George Lucas had nothing to do with this space opera we are safe from the filmmakers ever going back and adding crummy CGI into the mix. My personal favorite effect is a meteor that crashes into the ship and chases our escaping heroes down a corridor. It's like the bolder scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" just on a much larger scale!

Sadly the effects are somewhat belied thanks to some sub-par scripting. All of our characters are rather stiff and our mad scientist is nothing more than carbon copy of Captain Nemo. This is also a shame as the film boasts a great cast, if atypical for a Disney production (Anthony "Norman Bates" Perkins in a film produced in the great place on Earth... who woulda thunk it?). Even with this great cast they are all easily forgotten thanks to the bland writing and characterizations. The "2001" inspired abstract ending is a visual feast, but it doesn't make any sense and I doubt even the filmmakers can make heads-or-tails of it either.

In an attempt to have cutesy robot chanters ala R2-D2 and C3PO, our filmmakers include two silly robots voiced by Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens who provide some minor laughs. It's not their characters, it's their appearance that annoys me as they are too damn kiddy looking with their big eyes to be in such a dark and depressive science fiction film.

I avoided "The Black Hole" for many years as it was produced by Disney, a synonym for my cult film loving mind as "wholesome family fun - stay away!". Other than the cutesy appearance of the robots, "The Black Hole" doesn't feel like a Disney film at all with its dark, brooding atmosphere. This rather non-Disney approach to the subject matter is actually what I like about the film and this approach no doubt aided to the film's disappointing numbers at the box office. Overall I liked "The Black Hole": the amazing special effects, the moody atmosphere and the epic crestfallen score by John Barry really appealed to me. Perhaps with tighter writing and more interesting characters I would have LOVED it instead of settling for LIKING it.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Not of this Earth (1988) - 2/5

Jim Wyrnorski rivals Jeff Burr and Brian Yunza for the sheer number sequels and remakes they direct. "Not of this Earth" is not a sequel, but a remake of Roger Corman's 1957 no-budget classic (the first remake of several more to come that Corman would finance). Wyrnorski thankfully doesn't make a shot-for-shot update but makes it his own with his own touch of quirky humor that sadly gets overshadowed by the mega-low production values and rushed production schedule.

The plot of the original mixed the vampire and alien genres by having an extraterrestrial visit earth in order to gather blood for his dying race. The basics of this 80s update are the same with our peculiar alien visitor (always wearing sunglasses) hiring the receptionist of a hematologist to administer his blood transfusions. It's not long before she starts to suspect that her new boss is 'not of this earth' as she sees lots of lovely women check in, but not check out.

The main attraction of "Not of this Earth" is not for the fact it's a remake, but he the lure of its controversial star, ex-porn performer Traci Lords in her first legitimate film role. Wyrnorski has always cast attractive women in his films and with the all the attention Lords was getting at the time it was a no-brainer to cast her to cause some media buzz. To my surprise she isn't' half bad, managing to be likeable in her sassy and saucy nurse role. She's also a real looker and her fans need not to worry as she gets neeked and also parades around in a mouth watering blue bikini.

Wyrnorski, after directing the somewhat straight laced "Big Bad Mama II", gets back to more of his self here by making this film absolutely silly and tongue-in-cheek. Quirky camp exploitation films are the name of his game and he does it well as he loads "Not of this Earth" with dorky laughs and lots of beautiful women. What hurts this Wyrnorski effort is the quick production schedule, which was due to a bet Wyrnorski made with Roger Corman that he could make his remake in the same or less time it took Corman to shoot his version (which was a measly 12 days). This is not a good bet my friend! He won the bet by filming it in only 11.5 days and the final results show as the overall product is hindered due to this so-called 'bet.'

Another problem, which plagues many Wyrnorski and later era Corman productions, is the extremely cheap production values. The sets are cheapjack not to mention the props, some which appear in more than one scene and in different rooms. The quick production and low budget also cause a lot of continuity errors, like Tracy lords wearing high heels while nude in one scene and in the very next shot she's not. The film is also LOADED with stock footage from other Corman productions. The opening title sequence is nothing more than a clip show of the more memorable scenes from such films as "Piranha", "Humanoids from the Deep", "Galaxy of Terror", "Forbidden World" among others. Other stock scenes are even worked into the film itself and they stick out like a sore thumb with the newly shot footage.

"Not of this Earth" is an enjoyable camp remake that includes all the Wyrnorski cornball humor one comes to expect from his exploits but it does suffer from a low budget and a quick shooting schedule that all stems from a lousy bet he had with Corman. Traci Lords is uber sexy but I would have definitely liked the film more if more time was put into the final product and if they dropped all the damn stock footage. Stock footage sucks! Corman would later remake the film again in 1997.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Monday, January 9, 2012

Scorpion King, The (2002) - 3.5/5

I might be the black sheep on this one, but "The Scorpion King" is a fucking riot. Of course the film isn't all that great, its plot is often silly, the humor is cheesy, and its main attraction of acting is The Rock. That doesn't stop it from completely embracing the tongue-in-cheek formula and piling on the action sequences which benefits the film in loads. "The Scorpion King" is a film where either you get it or you don't. Luckily, this reviewer gets it and eats it all up.

Mathayus (The Rock/Dwayne Johnson) is one of the last of his Akkadian brethren. His assassin clan has all been wiped out by the vicious King Memnon (Brand). When he and two of his kin are hired to assassinate Memnon's sorcerer (Hu) and the attempt goes drastically wrong, Mathayus finds himself alone with only vengeance against the skilled warrior king to fulfill.

Although "The Mummy Returns" was definitely a let down of massive proportions, it did intrigue with its villain. Thusly, this spin-off series was born turning our poorly constructed CGI villain into a heroic protagonist. Although the film rarely answers questions left by "The Mummy Returns" it does spur a great sword/sorcery flick not unlike that of a new "Conan". With its muscle built hero, large sword ridden battles, and an epic plot to overthrow a tyrant king this film plays the entertainment levels to it's heights. It has a charming and cheesy hero that we root for despite being an ass, it has massive action sequences of ridiculous nature (a sandstorm assassination battle, gun powder explosions, a damn catapult escape sequence, and a flaming sword fight), and it has a slew of cheesy lines. What B-action film fan isn't going to love this?

On the down side, some of the humor is completely amiss (particularly when it comes to cheesy sidekick character of the horse thief) and many of the plot progressions seem very by-the-numbers. It's a predictable story and rarely does anything to venture from the path that's laid out from the first ten minutes. This leaves little room for any true artistic room to wiggle for the film (sans the stylish modern action directing) and gives the secondary characters little time to get the depth they needed.

Although its cheesy and often times predictable, its hard not to be charmed by the wiles of The Rock and "The Scorpion King"'s entertain first kick ass second attitude. Yeah, the film is not going to blow you away with artistic ventures or surprise acting, we know that. Take it for what it is, a modern sword and sorcery flick, and run with it. Enjoy it for what it is.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Night of the Demon (1980) - 2/5

With a title like "Night of the Demon" one would assume that the film is about... well... a demon, as in a spawn from hell. Hard to believe that the film is actually about Bigfoot! Similarly titled films like the 1957 British horror film "Night of the Demon" and the 1988 American film "Night of the Demons" got it right as they had... well... demons. Despite the questionable title I do have to admit that "Night of the Demon" is one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures as not only is it a bigfoot film, but the goriest bigfoot film ever made making it a bona fide slasher that rivals the likes of "Friday the 13th"!

The film opens with a man badly burnt in the hospital telling authorities about the horror he went through that he barely survived. This predictably sets up the rest of the film in flashback mode and if you hate flashbacks then you are going to find yourself hitting your head a lot as there are even flashbacks within flashbacks. It seems that he almost died after taking a group of students into some remote woods to look for bigfoot, who has been tied to multiple brutal murders in the area. As you can guess... they find the thing!

The title sequence sets the film up perfectly with our bigfoot tearing off a fisherman's arm and his bloody stump bleeding out and filling one of the monsters footprints. This lets the viewers know this isn't going to be your average Sasquatch film along the lines of "The Legend of Boggy Creek" and "Creature From Black Lake." This is the 1980s and our filmmakers knew bloody slashers were making money at the box office so they wisely decide to gore the film up making bigfoot a backwoods slasher killing people in such awe dropping bloody ways that they would even impress the likes of Jason Vorheese. I'm talking about limb rippage, axes to heads, pitchforks through torsos and impaling sleeping campers by throwing their sleeping bags onto sharp sticks (reminiscent of John Frankenheimer's "Prophecy"). The killing that takes the cake however and the one that made this a cult favorite is a kill in which our bigfoot rips off the dick of a biker taking a leak on the side of the road. Seriously, I can't make this shit up!

The gory killings are a lot of fun but sadly the rest of the "plot" is novice at best. Lots of bad acting, lots of mundane narration, lots of people talking in lumberjack shirts and lots of disjointed flashbacks. Thankfully the gory killings are spread throughout the film to keep the viewers interested. The picture does rear its ugly head into disturbing territory when we learn about a young girl who lives out in the middle of the woods with her bible thumping father that gets raped by our hairy fiend and actually gives birth to a bloody human/bigfoot hybrid!

"Night of the Demon" is Z-grade horror entertainment but at least it ENTERTAINS unlike many Z-grade horror films. Despite the disjointed flashblack plot flow and bad acting, the ultra violence and gore is enough to keep any fan of early 80s slashers and/or bigfoot horror films entertained. For that element alone this obscure, bizarre and mistitled bigfoot slasher is well worth hunting down and Code Red released a wonderful edition transferred from original 1" tape masters as the original prints and negatives have been lost.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, January 7, 2012

BKO: Bangkok Knockout (2010) - 2/5

Thai filmmaking has come leaps and bounds in the last decade, but their action films (which are probably their best known genre thanks to Tony Jaa and director Pinkaew) continue to thrive in the B-grade status. Let's take a look at one of the latest ventures of Thai ass-kicking known as "BKO: Bangkok Knockout". Directed by the man that brought us classics like "Born To Fight" and "Ong Bak 2" and "3", "BKO" pushes the action to random extremes. With little to no story, poor characters, and some of the acting so bad it makes Tony Jaa look like Academy Award material this film flounders outside of its stuntwork. Won't lie though...still had a blast watching some of the fight sequences.

A group of various friends/fighters win a competition to head to Hollywood as a fight squad. After their massive celebration though, the entire group wakes up in an abandoned complex with a few members missing. It would seem they are trapped in a massive game where international betters look to make money as the kids fight their way out.

Combining elements of "Mean Guns" and a massive tournament style fighting film like "Enter The Dragon", "BKO" is not even as close to being as good as either. The plot is about as thin as the paper characters that litter its half assed settings. It's silly most of the time and when its not silly its completely ill developed with poor romantic subplots, betrayals, and bottom of the barrel acting. The over the top villains, lame heroics, and poor team chemistry plague this film from minute one with B-grade action film cliches and certainly sink this film to the bottom of the sea of bad films.

Who are we kidding though? Who the hell is going to watch a film like this for its character developments, smart plot moves, and great writing? Not this guy. I'm fucking watching it for its sick stunts and kick ass fighting. Of which "BKO" displays in nonstop fashion for about two-thirds of its play time. If it sounds ridiculous and random - its probably in this film. Let's hit the list: motorcycle fights, armored cars driving through walls, relentless head kicks, cage matches, every style of modern martial arts known, multiple crotch kicks, leaping wall climbing, fights on semis, pipe fights, gun matches, and to top it all off - a flaming iron masked villain wielding an ax. I shit you not, "BKO" has a quantity of stunts that would make an action fan's jaw drop.

"BKO: Bangkok Knockout" is not a good movie. It's story is awkward, the acting more so, and characters that no one would really care for. It is also so bad, that its awesome. This includes the extreme amounts of ass kicking that are included in its hour and a half play time. Bad action movie fans may enjoy it for its unintentional hilarity, but more respecting foreign film fanatics need not apply. That being said, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Martial Arts Of Shaolin (1986) - 2.5/5

First things first, I have yet to actually watch the first two films in this franchise. Hell, I didn't know this was the third one until about 20 minutes into the film when I decided to research the film a bit after sitting in massive confusion. Didn't matter though, as "Martial Arts Of Shaolin" does a decent enough job at crafting its own film that rarely requires the need of research to enjoy it for what it is. Beyond that the film wavers in quality losing its focus too often for the sake of comedy or visuals to properly give its tale of love and revenge the needed punch it desperately wanted to have.

Zhi Ming (Jet Li) has studied and trained very hard at this school of shaolin. Raised there as an orphan, he learns that the man responsible for his parent's death has returned to rule over the land. Now he must team up with two other shaolin students from a different school (Wong Chau-yin, Hu Jianqiang) and find a way to escape from his school to take vengeance on this evil tyrant.

"Martial Arts Of Shaolin" is a Shaw Brothers film to its bones. Story about brotherhood, shaolin schools, and revenge? Yeah its not anything all that new. Directed by Kar Lau-Leung it also has a tendency to blow out the martial arts sequences to the max which is, of course, the highlight of the film even if this is far from his best work. Plot wise, it can be a very awkward film as it forces some of its plot progressions and throws in some strange humor. I swore I would never see Jet Li in drag again after "Fong Sai-Yuk" but here I am...watching him throw a temper-tantrum  in dress about sheep. Yipes. It does recover a bit in the last half of the film as we finally seem to get a direction for the film to get going, but by then its a bit of a lost cause.

The film does succeed with some of its action sequences though. As I mentioned prior, its definitely not Kar Lau Leung's best effort (the assassination attempt drags on way too long with the dance sequence) but the finale on the boat is wicked fun to watch with small boats and massive sword fighting. It's also very cool to see the young Jet Li do his thing (he has some wicked cool stunts in it) and for that "Martial Arts Of Shaolin" is worth the watch.

It's not near one of the best Shaw Brothers, Kar Lau Leung, or Jet Li films out there, but its place as the only film to combine all three makes it a kung fu fanatic must see.  It's got a couple of great fight sequences and some fun chemistry on screen, but beyond that its just simply mediocre.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Masters Of Horror: Haeckel's Tale - 1.5/5

Directed By John McNaughton (who gave us "Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer" and randomly "Wild Things")

Late in the 19th Century, a man desperate to be reunited with his dead wife approaches a necromancer to solve his problems. She says she will do it as long as he listens to the tale of caution. A tale about Mr. Haeckel whom on his way to visit his sickly father stumbles upon a family who are plagued by zombies after dabbling with necromancy. Can the tale of Haeckel sway the young man?

This episode of "Masters Of Horror" had two things going for it. It's about zombies. It's based on a short story by Clive Barker. Neither save it from its awkward demise. The main issue of "Haeckel's Tale" is not its quality of special effects - which are impressive to say the least - nor is it the casting which is solid enough. It's simply the silly way that it goes about telling the tale. The tale within a tale structure makes the "twist" ending obvious about half way through. The way the story seems intent on wasting time with Haekel's medical mishaps and long winded skepticism of everything. Even when he finally gets to the house to discover the necromancy in action, it seems to love to spend way too much time in details that seemed irrelevant. This episode would have been much better had it trimmed the fact and focused down.

It has some moments here and there (particularly the special effects), but overall the script is just downright silly in all the worst ways. Logic never seems to rear its head in how the plot progresses and its obvious that McNaughton wanted to focus on elements that would pull in audience members (mainly boobs and zombies) rather than getting the deeper thoughts of the story across. At this time, this is easily my least favorite "Masters Of Horror" episode.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Grave Encounters (2011) - 2.5/5

After seeing a bootleg trailer for "Grave Encounters" months ago, my interest in the film was perked. Looking like a cross between "The Blair Witch Project" and "Paranormal Activity", the Canadian/American found footage film seemed to invoke some great scare moments to match its creepy atmosphere. To say that the actual film was quite a bit less intriguing than the trailer is an understatement. It is, in fact, a fairly close combination of the above two mentioned films, but it rarely invokes the realism of the former or the creepiness of the latter - leaving a film that sort of dabbles in mediocrity despite some interesting ideas.

Grave Encounters is a reality TV program dedicated to investigating the paranormal hotspots in the world. Host/director Lance Preston (Rogerson) is skeptical of the entire thing, but knows its going to make him a shit load of money. That is until they film episode six. Locking themselves into a massive abandoned insane asylum for the night, the crew of Grave Encounters is out to find proof of the reported hauntings - only to discover that the ill intents of past residents have other things in mind for them.

The "House On Haunted Hill" premise might not be original nor its found "real" footage style, but "Grave Encounters" does invoke some interesting aspects that make it worth the rental at least. The first act of the film is an obvious knock on the "Ghost Hunters" reality series that has been so popular and in many ways this skeptical look at a 'behind the scenes' of the scare tactics these shows use is pretty funny. Witnesses are paid off and locations picked for eerie atmosphere rather than legit reports. Of course, when the film goes into full on scare mode it can be hit or miss.

The latter half of the film does play up some clever ideas. The way that the building seems to shift its hallways (including a very cool scene where they try to bust down the front door) and the weird lapses of time make for some creepy tense moments, but the obviously J-Horror knock off ghost designs lack the necessary smarts to match the idea for the film. It really tries to build tension with character disagreements and odd plot progressions (many of which are ill explained and lack the logic to not delve into cheese mode - like the asylum patient wrist bands for example), but a lot of it is forced and ineffective.

Fans of the previously mentioned films will find elements to like about "Grave Encounters", but the hype surrounding the film once again creates a void for the viewer. It has some great moments, but the film itself is only mediocre.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) - 3.5/5

With the high quality of spy games and action that "Mission: Impossible III" brought to the table, this fourth entry into the series (subtitled "Ghost Protocol" if you didn't already know that) came with some high expectations. Some expectations that were met and others that were not. "Ghost Protocol" is a visual feast though with some stunningly effective action set pieces, even if its missing some essential "Mission: Impossible" elements that would have kicked it up to the level that part III achieved.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has to be busted out of a Russian prison by a field team (Pegg and Patton) when a botched mission loses some nuclear codes into the hands of an end-of-the-world visionary codenamed Cobalt (Nyqvist). This is over sighted when the same madman bombs the Kremlin and IMF is blamed. The President invokes ghost protocol and the entire team is disavowed. Now its a race against time for Hunt and his team to stop a nuclear war from breaking out without the back up they could always depend on...

It's hard not to compare this fourth entry with the low point of the franchise that was "Mission: Impossible II". Brad Bird (in his live action film debut as director) ably layers on the style playing the visuals of the film and action setpieces to their maximum effect. He pummels the audience with enough mission tension and visual scariness (damn that glass climb in Dubai had me dizzy in the theater) to get the point across and his use of visual effects is obviously top notch. This is partnered with some great chemistry between our heroes as Cruise continues to own the lead role and newcomers Pegg and Renner steal many of the scenes they are in with quirky humor and well placed banter. In this sense with all of the intense action sequences, "Ghost Protocol" is a riot to watch and works some serious magic.

On the down side as with "M:I II", the plot is so ridiculous that often enough it feels like an Amercianized James Bond film. Nuclear secrets stolen and a looming nuclear holocaust between the US and Russia? Assassins paid in diamonds? Even the actions set pieces are a bit out there with the Dubai climb and an extensive level leaping finale in an electronic car garage. At times its almost too ridiculous to be believed even if its fun to watch.

My other issue with this latest "Mission" is the lacking presence of a villain. When I learned that Nyqvist was set to be the villain of the film - I was stoked. Great foreign actor that could own the role. Turns out he is rarely in it and the film focuses more that "time" is the true culprit of the film rather than Cobalt - which is really disappointing to me.

All in all though, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" is still a great action film. It's got (almost) all of the necessary elements plugged in with some heart stopping stunts and great actor chemistry. It's not quite to the effective blend that the third film nailed, but I had a blast watching it anyway.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Vampires [John Carpenter's Vampires] (1998) - 3.5/5

John Carpenter's quality of work might have been on a fallout in 1998 (after the ridiculous "Escape From L.A." and "Village Of The Damned"), the over the top violent and western themed "Vampires" renews a bit of faith in the cult filmmaker. It's not a great film as it tends to play up a few cliches too much and often has to blaze through the plot twists to get all of the necessary moments into the film. On the other hand, its cheesy and very violent fun. That is something that doesn't go unnoticed here.

Jack Crow (Woods) runs a band of vigilante vampire hunters that work for the greater good of God in the church (and a little money on the side). When their latest hunt goes terribly wrong and he loses almost his entire team, Crow will have to team up with a new priest, a bitten prostitute, and his right hand man to bring down the father of all vampires Valek (Griffith) before he is able to complete a long forgotten ritual that will allow vampires to walk in the sun.

Hope you aren't easily offended, because the abrasive nature of "Vampires" with its brutality, religious toned plot, and fairly offensive characters is more than likely going to offend a lot of people out there. Which is also one of the reasons that this film is so much fun. James Woods owns the role of Jack Crow with his balls out attitude towards the church and the undead while the mixture of western motifs and brutal modern horror style blends impressively well. "Vampires" is certain to shock with its grotesque gore (seeing a man cut in half with a karate chop highlights some pretty intense violence in the film) and its guns blazing style only heightens this.

Although the mixture of western cliches and modern horror does create a great cocky atmosphere for the film, it does leave some room where the film falls flat. The characters are all rather unlikable and do some asinine things (the weird love subplot with the prostitute and Daniel Baldwin is ill developed) and the film tends to follow a very predictable structure through to the very end. Once again sort of undermining the very cool concept a bit.

Cult film fans will love "Vampires" for its hilarious one-liners, violence, and ridiculous characters, but outside of that circle film fans will call it out for its simplistic by the numbers storytelling and hit or miss character development. It's not John Carpenter's best work by far, but its better than the direction his material was heading at the time - and its still a blast to watch.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, January 2, 2012

Barracuda (The Lucifer Project) (1978) - 1.5/5

"Aren't you, Barracuda?" - Heart

I have seen "Jaws" rip-offs of all shapes and sizes from all over the world. There have been rip-offs from Italy ("The Last Shark"), Mexico ("Tintorera: Killer Shark"), Philippines ("Up From the Depths") and homegrown here in the states ("Orca"). Some stick to the killer shark routine but a number branched out and replaced the shark with piranha, killer whales, giant octopuses and even a fucking grizzly bear. Out of all these different man-eating animals the barracuda seems to be, I don't know, the least lethal and most boring. Guess what.... the film is too.

A chemical plant in a small coastal town is dumping toxins into the ocean which is causing the local barracuda to become man-eating killers. A local marine biologist (Wayne Crawford) and sheriff (William Kerwin) team up and uncover that there more to the story than just chemicals, it seems it's part of a bigger plan called "The Lucifer Project", an experiment overseen by our lovely government.

Though a low rent "Jaws" rip-off, I will give the filmmakers credit for adding more to the plot than just a simple story about killer fish. The cover-up, government experiment subplot is interesting it's just a shame it's handled so poorly in our novice filmmakers hands.

The plot flow is slow and the acting is passable. Wayne Crawford as our 'hero' may very well go down in film history as the most boring, lifeless and asshole protagonist in a horror film. His character treats people like dirt and he's wishy washy about the research he's conducting and doesn't act like there's any hurry to the matter until the very end. Where's Richard Dryfuss when you need him? Cult actor William Kerwin (popular for his work with gore director Herschell Gordon Lewis) seems bored with nothing to do other than to look confused.

Though the plot has potential with its government experiment subplot, "Barracuda" ends up being one of the least entertaining "Jaws" rip-offs I've seen. Hell I even find more entertainment value in silly crap like "Up From the Depths" than this. The effects are decent with some bloody barracuda attacks but fans of these water monster films are better off checking out films like "Piranha" instead. Released on DVD by Dark Sky films as a double feature with "Island Fury".

Written By Eric Reifschneider