Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Directed by Michael J. Gallagher (2012)
Plot: Type "I did it for the lulz" three times while talking to someone on Chatroulette, and a disfigured serial killer will appear, murder that person, then come after you. Supernatural killer? Urban legend? Hallucination of a troubled young coed? Either way, no good can ever come of being on Chatroulette.
Comments: Remember back in the good old days of the 1990s when you just had to say "Candyman" five times in front of a mirror to summon a monster to brutally kill you? Now you need a high-speed internet connection, a webcam and the willingness to use the word "lulz." Kids today, amiright?
Anyway. Smiley's a fairly frustrating movie to sit through. A good plot, decent cast and a great twist ending can't make up for a story that slowly meanders along without anything really interesting happening until the last five minutes. Which is a shame, because with a little more attention paid to the middle of the script, Smilely could have actually been a pretty good film.
That's not to say that there isn't stuff to enjoy here. The design of the killer is excellent. I'm not sure it makes a whole lot of sense--maybe the backstory behind the face is explained, but if so, I missed it--but again, this is a film primarily centered around the phrase "I did it for the lulz," so I guess such details don't really matter. Michael J. Gallagher also does a great job of creating an atmosphere of dread where it seems that something terrible is about to happen in any given moment. (The problem is that nothing terrible ever really does happen, and when it does, it's just a hallucination or dream sequence.)
And that's my biggest problem with the film. As I see it, horror movies are allotted a certain number of fake scares. The heroine hears something...but it just turns out to be a cat. Or you see someone slowly stalking her from behind, his hand outstretched...but it just turns out to be her boyfriend touching her shoulder. That sort of thing. This allotment isn't set in stone. Maybe Film A only gets two, while Film B gets four or five. It all depends on how cheesy or clunky a scene is. Smiley has about a hundred fake scares, each one cheesier and filmed clunkier than the last. Okay, a hundred is an exaggeration. But not by much. It seems like every time Ashley, our plucky young coed heroine, turns around or dozes off, she comes face to face with Smiley, only to quickly wake up just in time to come off like a raving lunatic to whoever she happens to be in proximity to.
I won't give away the ending, but I really enjoyed it. In fact, it almost redeems the film all on its own. In retrospect, though, I'm thinking that the movie might have been better served if the big revelation had come earlier in the film, and the rest of it had progressed with the audience now in the know. If nothing else, it's a concept that I wouldn't mind seeing explored in Smiley 2, should it ever happen.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Directed by Douglas Schulze (2013)
Plot: Several strangers awaken in a familiar-looking setting, and realize that they're starring in a real-life snuff film remake of Night of the Living Dead.
Comments: I will give Mimesis this much: It has a fucking great concept. Seriously, who would ever think to make a movie that's essentially a love letter to another movie? Sure, we've had films like Scream and Behind the Mask that were clearly affectionate towards the horror genre as a whole, but this is the first time I can remember something like this.
As for the actual execution...well, it kinda works and it kinds doesn't.
One thing I appreciated was that Mimesis doesn't try to be Scream. It's a homage, but not a self-aware one. Most of the characters are fans of the horror genre (although, only one or two seemed to have actually seen Night of the Living Dead, which is a bit odd), but the film doesn't hit us over the head with commentary about horror movie rules, genre conventions, and so on. With the resurgence in zombie movies over the past decade, I wouldn't necessarily mind a self-aware, Scream-esque zombie film that compares old school Romero films to the contemporary stuff, but that's not what Mimesis was going for, which is fine.
The main problem with the film is that there are long portions where it's just plain dull. This is where a tad more self-awareness might have been a good thing. After all, from an audience point of view, it's not terribly entertaining to plunge the characters into a Romero simulation if most of them don't seem to be familiar with what's going on. At that point, we're basically just watching yet another Night of the Living Dead remake. This wouldn't have bugged me so much, except that several of them are supposed to be hardcore horror fans. What kind of horror film buff doesn't go, "Oh, duh...we're in Night of the Living Dead" after, like, five minutes?
There are other parts that don't really work either. There's a Sid Haig cameo for no apparent reason other than to have a Sid Haig cameo. The motivation of the killers could have been fleshed out a bit more. I mean, granted, who doesn't love a good snuff film? But it's still an awful lot of trouble to go through. Given that the audience knows the whole time that the whole thing is the set-up while the protagonists are still figuring it out, it might have been nice to spend more time with the killers before the third act, and get into their heads a bit more.
In spite of all this, Mimesis is easily one of the most original horror films I've seen in a long time. If you're going to spend a lot of time and money to make a film that worships another film, there are worse choices than a classic like Night of the Living Dead. More importantly, there's probably an argument to be made that this deserves to be considered the definitive Night of the Living Dead remake, as it's head and shoulders above the attempts at actually remaking it over the years.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
All Superheroes Must Die
Directed by Jason Trost (2013)
Plot: A villain captures four superheroes and subjects them to various death traps and bad jokes.
Comments: There's a fantastic issue of Starman where The Mist, an aspiring supervillain, lures the newly-formed Justice League Europe into a museum where she proceeds to pick them off one by one. And by "pick them off," I don't mean subdue them in order to make off with some valuable trinkets. I mean brutally murder. Granted, we're not talking about A-list heroes here--Crimson Fox, Amazing Man and Blue Devil--but they were established characters, and seeing them taken out in various gruesome ways was both cool and more than a little disturbing.
That's more or less what I was hoping for from All Superheroes Must Die. And to a degree, it delivered on that, but not enough to where it can be considered a good film.
Had this been a big budget affair, we probably would have been treated to four superheroes with awesome, CGI-ed powers, and spiffy costumes. But unfortunately, this film is strictly low budget, and most of that probably went towards paying James Remar's salary. To compensate, when the four heroes--the surprisingly-not-terribly-named Charge, The Wall, Cutthroat and Shadow--awaken in an abandoned town wired as a death trap by villain Rickshaw (played by Remar, whose involvement with this film is probably a pretty good story), they've had their powers removed via some sort of super power-removing injection. I dunno. It's a cheap cop out, but understandable, given the circumstances. The costumes, while nothing that Bruce Wayne would ever be caught dead in, actually aren't bad.
The film gets off to a pretty good start, as Rickshaw (think a cross between the Joker and Toyman) gives the heroes their marching orders via closed circuit TV, forcing them to put themselves at risk in order to save innocent hostages. Luckily for the budget, the hostages are all wearing hoods and held in groups of three, allowing the same three actors to play all the hostages. Two more villains are introduced, and one of the heroes is quickly dispatched, and you start to wonder, "Hey, maybe all superheroes really must die!"
Then, suddenly, it all goes off the rails. Through flashbacks, we find out more about the four heroes. Their personalities, how they became superheroes, a dumb love triangle, and so on. And it's...all...so...dreadfully...boring.
Here I should point out what's probably the film's fatal flaw: Jason Trost, the director, also happens to be the writer, producer and star. No one person should wear that many hats in a film, as there's no one around who can say, "Hey, this is all a little self-indulgent, isn't it?" And make no mistake, All Superheroes Must Die is, at its core, little more than an exercise in self-indulgence for Trost. As Charge, he gets the most screen time, the best lines, the love interest, and so on. Is it possible that would still be the case if he wasn't also the director, writer and producers? Sure, but since he is, it's especially glaring.
If there's a positive lesson that could be taken away from All Superheroes Must Die, it's that superhero films don't necessarily have to follow the same tired superhero movie formula. It's entirely possible to tell a horror story using people in gaudy costumes with special powers. Or for that matter, a drama. Or a romantic comedy. (Okay, fine, we've already had My Super Ex-Girlfriend, but I mean a better romantic comedy). Or whatever. But we can definitely do better than this.
Friday, February 8, 2013
The Dead Want Woman
Directed by Charles Band (2012)
Plot: In the 1920s, famous silent film actress Rose Pettigrew is fired by her studio because her voice is unsuitable for "talkies." So naturally, she has an emotional breakdown, kills her friends in the middle of an orgy, then herself, then wait for two beautiful realtors to show up 90 years later.
Comments: When I stumbled upon this film on Netflix, two things immediately drew me in: The fact that it was produced by Full Moon Entertainment, and the words "Directed by Charles Band." The only question was, would this be a Full Moon/Charles Band production similar to those I devoured as a teenager--like Puppet Master, Subspecies, etc.--or something closer to their more recent output, crap like Gingerbread Man, Evil Bong and Dangerous Worry Dolls. In truth, it's probably somewhere in between, but closer to the former. Which is to say, it has good production values, better-than-average acting, and a minimal level of camp.
The opening reminds me a bit of the underrated Ghost Ship, where a horrific bout of violence sets up a modern-day haunting. Considering the budget, Band was able to come up with a fairly faithful reproduction of 1920s Hollywood. A few hundred square feet of it, anyway. There, we meet soon-to-be-ghosts Rose Pettigrew and her archetype actor friends, Tubby, Erik and Sonny, the last of whom is played by Eric Roberts, whose financial situation must be truly dire to be in something like this. Roberts may not have been embarrassed to be taking part in a weird, uncomfortable orgy scene, but I was plenty embarrassed for him for both of us. I mean, the guy was just in The Dark Knight. Worst. Agent. Ever.
Before long, they're all dead, and haunting the home where two blonde, perky realtors show up to fix the place up for a mysterious buyer and constantly marvel at how no one has bought the place (or apparently even bothered looting the valuable vintage furniture) over the past several decades.
It's all very by-the-numbers, and yet, the weird thing is, it kind of worked for me.
This might be one of the rare horror film where the performances manage to elevate an otherwise unremarkable film. Jennifer Morris does a fine job as the heroine, and since she's marginally more famous than her costar, she gets to keep her clothes on. Roberts seems surprisingly into the material, so much so, that it wouldn't surprise me at all to find out that he was drunk while filming his scenes. And J. Scott arguably steals the film with his Lou Costello schtick, which it turns out can be oddly menacing under the right circumstances.
The Dead Want Women (terrible title, by the way, even if it's 100% accurate in the context of the film) isn't a great horror film or a great ghost story, but there are worse ways to spend an afternoon than "partying like a Pettigrew."
Monday, February 4, 2013
Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation
Directed by Jeff Broadstreet (2012)
Plot: In an apparent prequel to the wretched Night of the Living Dead 3D, a twisted mortuary owner is keeping a terrible secret in his crematorium. The secret is zombies, in case you haven't put that together.
Comments: In the alternate universe where the original Night of the Living Dead didn't fall into the public domain, we're all undoubtedly better off, because movies like this which are trading on its name, don't exist.
Before I get to trashing it, though, let me say what a real pleasure it is to see Andrew Divoff actually act. Between the Wishmaster films and his various TV appearances, I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever seen him not laying it on thick as the bad guy. I mean, he's still the bad guy. But a considerably less cartoonish one than usual. His performance is pretty much the only enjoyable aspect of the film.
Not that there's much of a film. Divoff's character owns a small mortuary where the dead have begun to rise thanks to some toxic waste. I'm not entirely sure why he decided to keep this a secret instead of, I dunno, killing them or running away or whatever. But instead, he keeps them in the crematorium, thus depriving his business of some much needed revenue, and there's a zombie baby in a mini-fridge next to some bottled water, and...whatever. Full disclosure: I dozed off for about ten minutes in the second half of the movie, so maybe this is all explained to everyone's great satisfaction, but I kinda doubt it. It's a terribly boring zombie film, which is pretty much the worst thing a zombie film can possibly be.
As bad as the film is, though, along with Divoff, the supporting cast, many of whom are low budget horror film vets, is surprisingly solid. Jeffrey Combs (heh. Re-Animation. Get it?) as Divoff's brother; Sarah Lieving and Robin Sydney as mortuary assistants, and Denice Duff, who I haven't seen in years, as a Sarah Palin parody, who was apparently just tossed into the film for no particular reason, other than that Jeff Broadstreet wanted to have a Sarah Palin parody get killed by zombies.
Had the film taken this cast and these story elements and gone in some weird, batshit crazy direction, Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation might have been a fun, wacky horror flick. Unfortunately, it's all played completely dry and straight, and thus plods along and is mercifully over before it ever really gets started.
I don't know if these new Night of the Living Dead films are blatant money grabs or if Broadstreet thinks he's somehow honoring George Romero's work. But at this point, it seems like the most respectful thing he could do is to just stop making them.