The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

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806257Prior to seeing this for the first time, I had only heard of Clive Barker. I had mild association with the Hellraiser film, again, only hearing stories about the man behind the Pinhead.

I had not seen this film prior to purchasing it on Blu-Ray, but my gut told me to get it. It was a complete impulse buy, and, for once, the impulse was one of the smartest things I’ve done.

The film revolves around a not-yet-successful photographer Leon and his slow descent into madness and irrevocable fate that waits for him at the end of the descent.

This is truly a mind-blowing movie, whether you like it or not. It is directed by Ryûhei Kitamura, who also directed the ridiculous Godzilla: Final Wars, but don’t let deter you from this amazing effort and first-time Hollywood film for a foreign film-maker.

Of course, the story is an expansion of one of Clive Barker’s short stories and, while I haven’t read the story, this holds up very well on its own, but add the almost-anime look to the film it makes the film much more enjoyable and atmospheric.

The performances are all solid in the film, including Bradley Cooper pre-Hangover fame and Vinnie Jones as the very creepy and monstrous Mahogany, the person Leon becomes obsessed with. This is the first film I’ve seen Leslie Bibb in where she’s had a substantial role (I have seen Talladega Nights and Iron Man, but those weren’t as big a role as this was). She radiates off the screen as the concerned girlfriend and seeing her, also, get sucked into this descent was unbearable because she was so likeable!

Brooke Shields turns in a deliciously bitchy performance as artist Susan Hoff who turns Leon onto the darker side of New York City and starts this madness-driven story. However, her character, while an important aspect to getting the gears of the story working, has no satisfying end and, while it would have distracted from the course of the film by having her randomly showing up to finish her character’s arc, her character is never satisfying at the end of the day.

This isn’t a mindless movie, while most advertising will have you believe, and is much more deeper than “Vinnie Jones killing people on a train at midnight” (Fun fact: most of the bad train trips on which the murders occur actually occure after or around 2am in the morning!).

In the last ten minutes of the film it takes a complete diversion from what it loosely is (a slasher) into completely “What the hell?!?!” territory. The characters are deep, and resonate and actually react to the events happening around them realistically, despite the heightened subject matter. Bradley Cooper works well as Leon, starting off as a normal photographer, and balancing the harsh and out-of-character elements that symbolise his turning into something different by eating meat (his character doesn’t eat meat before he becomes obsessed with Mahogany) and a vicious and brutal sex scene (it isn’t sexy, trust me) between Leon and Bibb’s character, Maya.

The story is interesting, and quite different from a lot of films, and that’s why I like it. I always like something that’s different. Sure, I like the same-old, same-old more often than not, but throw something different into that to spice things up and I’m a happy camper. After this film, despite the fact my heart was beating quite fast, I was a very happy camper.

Even if the story doesn’t interest you at all, see this purely for its visual resonance, especially those who wish to be photographers or cinematographers or storyboard artists or anything of that ilk purely because of some perfectly composed images and shots. There are so many scenes that look beautiful and amazing. There is one death that is a bit over-the-top, but Kitamura has established a somewhat heightened version of New York from the start, so it doesn’t really matter, although it may tick some off purely because how artificial it looks (it’s the first reveal of Mahogany, and it’s total badassery). The deaths are amazing and visually stunning and the film as a whole looks absolutely beautiful, especially in high definition.

The picture is clear and crisp despite heavy grain in some scenes. There are hardly any digital artefacts (at least I didn’t see any), and it just looks beautiful. I wouldn’t hesitate this to use as a demo disc (although some scenes may turn some people off during demonstration!)

The sound is only supplied in one choice: DTS-HD 7.1, despite the back saying 5.1 DTS HD as well (or it might be the other way ’round). I only have five speakers, but when I watched it on my brother’s system all speakers seemed to be in use (he has six speakers set up).

There are scant few features on the disc, but they are all quite interesting, if not made for repetitive viewing. First is the audio commentary hosted by director Kitamura and Clive Barker, and both supply good company and the commentary is informative and good listening for those who want to delve deeper into the story behind the story, both Kitamura and Barker provide some good anecdotes and truly stick to their vision, which I am a huge supporter of when it comes to film (I hate companies screwing around with films for theoretical profit). Clive Barker: The Man Behind the Myth featurette blew my mind. Barker is so open with his homosexuality and amazingly artistic and creative and very aware of his frailties as a human being, and this is one of the most realistic and amazing features I’ve ever seen put onto a disc, and made me an instant Barker fan purely because of how he handled the entire thing; a camera following him around his house and him telling stories or sharing his opinion on matters pretty much sums it up. Mahogany’s Tale is a featurette, obviously, about Mahogany and quite interesting watching if you don’t think you got the whole story during the film. Anatomy of a Murder is a step-by-step process of how the scene on the train (you know, with Sam Raimi’s brother) was done.

The film is no-holds-barred and very out-there and not for the faint of heart. I loved it, every minute, and whenever I am in the mood, I’ll definitely give this a long consideration, if not a viewing. I truly loved it and the Blu-Ray edition is a perfect exhibition of the film and the features supplied. I highly recommend this to those who want their horror smart and out-there and completely different from most mainstream horror films. It’s one of my favourite horror films. Four stars.

4

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The Strangers (2008)

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802775Lock your doors. Pretend you’re safe. Newcomer Bryan Bertino delivers a very solid, although not flawless, debut film.

Kristen McKay and James Hoyt arrive at James’ family’s summer home after a wedding reception and a not-as-planned wedding proposal. They arrive, take a bath, have some ice cream. Everything’s a bit tense. They begin caressing each other passionately when: KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK. Someone’s at the door asking for Tamara. No, she’s not here.

Are you sure?

What proceeds after this stray visitor is a vicious mind game, using the summer home as Kristen and James’ prison.

There’s no doubt that this will have “traditional” horror fans angry with its silence, and hardly any gore whatsoever (there is a bit of blood at the end, only staining clothes and on skin, nothing too grotesque). It focuses on these two characters, Kristen McKay and James Hoyt, two people who love each other but have just hit a hump on their relationship road, with Kristen not feeling ready for marriage just yet.

These aren’t traditional, well, let’s just use it for argument’s sake: slashers. These “strangers” don’t go around killing teenagers. They’re playing games with this couple, and it’s a frightening prospect, even if you don’t jump at any “scare” moments.

Bertino has handled the story with grace, making sure his film is not influenced by goregasm movies that plague cinemas and TV screens these days. As much fun as those are, this is a much more psychological horror film, if you call it horror at all.

I mentioned earlier that all is not well in terms of a debut film (as far as debut films go). Though the film isn’t horrible as a whole, there were some parts of the film I felt seemed too stretched out, just to pursue a 90-minute running time.

The Strangers are creepy people, and their motives are never explained in detail or why exactly they do what they do. It’s a concept that works quite well, if not 100%, by connecting the audience with the two main characters that makes the experience more frightening than someone jumping out of the shadows and stabbing the character with a knife.

The Strangers aren’t ones for hiding (unless it serves what they want to do). They make themselves very aware and wander around the house in a very eerie fashion, looking left to right, taking in everything, even sitting down for a rest.

The film, actually, doesn’t, in any way, feel like a recent film, in the way its shot and the story is handled. It feels, very much, like a film from the 70s, albeit a more classy and more sophisticated 70s film. Whilst the characters do use mobile phones in the film, I standby my observation purely because the way the film looks and the way the entire film plays out, so that scores two thumbs up from me.

Visually speaking, the Blu-Ray disc is clear, although it’s the first one I’ve noticed that has quite a few events of digital artefacts within the film. It doesn’t ruin the image, it’s not a horrible picture, as I said, it’s very clear and crisp image, but there was one aspect of blur in the film and a few aspects of bleeding of colours (well, bleeding of black, blurring the distinguishing lines between, say, a face and the very dark wall behind that face). It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the film looks quite nice on the old LCD, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use this as a demo disc. The sound is even, despite the fact the dialogue is quite quiet and there are loud scare moments, but it is in fact a very even soundtrack and makes scare moments work well.

There are two features (excluding BD-Live) offered on the disc: unnecessary deleted scenes, and a very by-the-books featurette that you might see on Showtime or some movie channel in-between movies. Very short, not very sweet in a mundane presentation.

The film is a fantastic debut and I look forward to seeing more work from Bryan Bertino. I recommend this disc to anyone who may want a little something more out of their horror movies. Three-and-a-half skulls.

3.5

An American Werewolf In London (1981)

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792803Beauty and the beast.

Two Americans are hitch-hiking through England and end up at a pub called “The Slaughtered Lamb”. They notice that a pentagram is carved into the wall and the folk in that pub aren’t the nicest of people.

After leaving the pub, both guys are attacked by something unseen. Perhaps a wolf? Three weeks later, one wakes up in hospital to hear that his friend has died. Only, he hasn’t…Jack appears to David telling him to kill himself to let all those David has killed while he is a werewolf rest in peace.

This film is an odd little gem that may have aged over the years with some ideas being lost over time. John Landis, in one of the features, says he doesn’t classify this as a comedy despite hoping people find it funny, and I think the horror element has been lost in time and it’s more of a comedy than horror. What the horror element has been replaced with is the cool element, as most horror elements are moments showing David either transforming into a werewolf or David as a werewolf, all of which are magnificently awesome, despite not actually being frightening in the least.

The story is a classic story, as Landis says, and in the final scene, with Alex Price running to the werewolf David, I leant over to my brother, who I was watching the film with, and said “King Kong.” It has elements of that, and in this, beauty definitely gets the beast killed.

It’s not unenjoyable, nor is it one you would immediately head towards if you’re after a werewolf movie, but it’s certainly not a horrible film seeing as it has some delicious comedy moments to relish throughout the film, like a scene taking place around a zoo involving bare skin, balloons and a woman’s jacket.

The effects are outstanding for the time, and even I asked myself during the Piccadilly Circus sequence “How the hell did they do that?!” The porno theatre sequence, as well, is fantastic and absolutely hilarious, and ranks in one of my favourite scenes in any movie ever made ever.

Elements of the film are stupid, but elements are also very cool and the entire film ends up being an enjoyable horror-comedy heavily influenced by the original Wolfman in 1940 (setting in England, werewolfism, etc). The scenes in which Jack appears, with each appearance being more decomposed, breathe a great aspect of life into the film and lift those scenes above a lot of other scenes.

The HD DVD disc shows a good, albeit very aged, image with decent sound. The extras, I’ll admit, I haven’t watched all of them. Of the ones I have watched are very generic; the “Interview With john Landis” shows him to be a bit of an eccentric but spritely fellow and providing some insight into how the story was created and stories from behind the scenes. I found “Rick Baker of American Werewolf In London” featurette much more informative and entertaining purely because of the explanations of how the did the effects, and went into deep detail about one of my favourite scenes in the film: the elevator scene. The original featurette provided shows an interesting and bland view of how films were advertised upon their original release and provides an interesting insight into the past.

Commentary with the two Americans of the film, David Naughton and Griffin Dunne (who played David and Jack respectively), with a featurette entitled “Casting of The Hand”, Outtakes, Storyboards and photograph montage are also offered on the disc.

The film is fun and silly and hasn’t really aged well, but is a very enjoyable and silly film to watch with a few horror-fanatic friends of yours to do a Mystery Science Theatre 3000-type screening at your house. It’s silly, funny, and quite self-aware, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Three-and-a-half skulls.

3.5

A new Blu-Ray release entitled the “Full Moon Edition” has recently been released with three new features from Universal.


Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007)

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802348People are strange (when you’re a stranger). When a company announces they’ll remake an original film from just under three decades ago: uproar from the original film’s fans. When it’s released, those Uproared Fans go see it anyway. Then go into an uproar about how much it sucked.

You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

In a world where the slasher has a particular mould, Rob Zombie has completely turned that mould onto its head with his remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Zombie has acknowledged he did the movie somewhat haphazardly, unsure of whether or not to stick to the original story (like most remakes do, ending up with carbon copies of the originals – ending in uproar from fans) or completely re-imagine the film (usually to the uproar of fans). Zombie has done both, and, surprise, surprise, there was uproar from fans.

The film is pretty much two films. The first half in a completely Zombie creation, whilst using the character John Carpenter and Debra Hill created, he’s created his own sub-film within the remake focusing on Michael’s murders of his family and his growing up in Smith’s Grove sanitarium. In the original, not much was explained about The Shape, as he was called (and credited) in the original film. It would make sense that this is the area Zombie would have a field day, creating a fractured relationship between Michael and his mother after the murders (I love Sheri Moon, and yes, Zombie puts her in all his movies, to which there is uproar, but has anyone actually seen Kevin Smith’s movies from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back onwards? I’m sure there are others but hating a film-maker for him putting his wife into his film is an idiotic reason to hate a film), and also just creating this soul-less and mindless monster.

There are elements in the second half, which is more of an amalgamation of Zombie redoing the original film than a shot-by-shot redo, that work excessively well, using the plot point revealed in the second film (the original second film) that Laurie Strode is, in fact, Michael Myer’s sister. By simple misunderstanding, Laurie fights this Shape thinking he just wants to kill her.

This remake was the first time I had realised the simple idea of Michael using the Myers headstone and placing it near one of Laurie’s friend’s bodies to symbolise he had killed his sister but wasn’t going to kill Laurie.

True, there are lots of hits and lots of misses in this, and this isn’t a slasher film in the typical sense. It’s nasty, and angry, and unforgiving, and, ironically, refreshing from most dross in the horror genre.

Scout Taylor-Compton has proven to be a fine young actor (now in Zombie’s Halloween II and the upcoming Runaways biopic) and handles the part with a weird unlikeable connection. It’s hard to describe, but she isn’t necessarily likeable nor is she a character you love to hate, nor is she a character just there. Hopefully she has more room to roam in the sequel, which is yet to be released here in Australia.

Tyler Mane is a force to be reckoned with as The Shape and gives a (while not necessarily frightening) lingering and eerie performance. Malcolm McDowell isn’t a likeable Dr Loomis, whereas Donald Pleasance was. I like McDowell, but his performance as Loomis was a bit off for my liking. He came off more subdued crazy than full-on crazy that Pleasance portrayed.

While I have mentioned a lot of negativity about this film, I’m still a strong supporter of Zombie’s vision purely because it’s different. It’s not a slasher. It’s a crazy and disgusting little family reunion. Try to watch this and the original film and not find yourself saying “totally” more than you usually would!

The Blu-Ray disc features two discs. On the first disc, obviously, is the film looking gritty and clear in high definition. The sound is crisp, but not necessarily surround-sound demo material, but gets the job done. There is a commentary with Zombie which surprised me how knowledgable and intellectual he is and how much passion he has for old films, as well as old horror films, which he is obviously emulating with this film. He’s a guy I wouldn’t mind having a beer with! There are deleted scenes with optional commentary, alternate endings with optional commentary, bloopers rounding out things about the film. Leading behind-the-scenes stuff is “The Many Masks of Michael Myers”, Re-Imagining Halloween, Meet The Cast, Casting Sessions, Scout Taylor-Compton Screen Test, Theatrical Trailer and BD-Live. All are pretty self-explanatory from their respective titles and aren’t fantastically put-together or features you’ll watch repeatedly, but do give important insight into aspects of the production.

Heading over onto disc two is a four-and-a-half hour (!) documentary entitled “Michael Lives: The Making of Halloween” starting from the early seeds of production to the end of production. This disc is one reason for budding horror film-makers to buy this, irrespective of whether or not they enjoyed Zombie’s vision. It portrays more depth of the production of the film that the featurettes on disc one do, and it isn’t sugar-coated, either. That’s probably why I like it as well, it shows some aspects of production where Zombie gets a bit pissed-off or something going wrong, which is true to life, as no film production ever goes 100% smoothly. It’s deeply insightful and one of the best extras I’ve ever seen purely because of its length, but as previously said, it’s amazingly informative and definitely worth a watch for budding film-makers and worth the cost of purchasing alone.

I respect Zombie’s vision and, while it certainly doesn’t hold a candle up to John Carpenter’s original film, it’s definitely worth a watch if you want a different perspective on things, and definitely worth a buy if you want to get into the film industry. The film itself is pretty much a three-and-a-half film, but the Michael Lives documentary is absolutely fantastic.

3.5

Black Christmas (2006)

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black_christmas_ver3I’m slowly (but surely) making my way across a year celebrating the holidays with a good horror movie. Well, a horror movie, at least, with a holiday themed…theme…

Black Christmas was one I watched recently. It’s the remake, not the original (which I have on the way from Amazon – hopefully it will be a good purchase for $20 all up).

It’s like what I imagine Sorority Row is like at Christmas. That sums it up.

Sorority sisters are being knocked off one-by-one by an unknown assailant(s) on Christmas Eve.

Like all slasher movies, there is a backstory that happened years before the kills we’re going to see, teenagers getting offed in brutal ways, etc, etc.

For a slasher, it’s pretty average, really. I hear nothing but how much the original outshines this remake and I’m truly looking forward to watching it (it has Superman’s girlfriend in it, kids!)

The problem with this, besides a very average and predictable script, is that the killer(s) don’t have anything iconic unlike Michael Myers (Halloween), Freddy Kreuger (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Jason Vorhees (Friday The 13th), even Harry Warden (My Bloody Valentine). It’s just deranged escaped mental institution patient(s) with orange overalls and pretty ugly faces.

What’s with that skin condition of Billy’s? That didn’t really add anything to it either…

I like watching Michelle Trachtenberg and Mary-Elizabeth Winstead on film, and having them in a film together, nay, a slasher film together has its rewards for me, but it’s nothing really Oscar (or even Razzie) worthy. It’s just very mediocre.

The kills aren’t very graphic, although there is a lot of eye-gouging, but be warned: there are “skin cookies” that actually did make me feel  a bit sick inside, and are making me feel a bit nauseous at the moment as I think about it. If there is a consistency to the killer(s) in this, it’s the way people die. All die from suffocations and have eyes ripped out. That’s pretty consistent.

The characters and their stories – none of them are really likeable, nor are they explored in vicious depth. You just find yourself staring blankly at the screen – not wondering who will be next, but more wondering when it will be over. You know, like when you’re around people you feel really uncomfortable around? That kinda feeling.

I’m sure as sheep that the original will be a lot better than this, but I still don’t see a problem with this remake. Maybe if you absolutely need it to complete your complete “Slasher Holiday” collection, other than that, give it a rent if you feel the compulsive need to watch it, but let me tell you right now: you ain’t missing out on anything. Two-and-a-half.

2.5

Dead Silence (2007)

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deadsilenceposterWhen I saw the trailers for this film, from Leigh Whannell and James Wan, Aussie natives who also wrote and directed Saw (well, Wan directed this and Saw with Whanell writing with Wan), needless to say, I was excited to see it. Why not? Supporting Aussie talent behind the camera, horror, sounded like a dream come true.

It sort of was, and to quote Eric Forman, “a really mediocre dream” come true.

It was nice to see them work outside of Jigsaw’s territory, but it was also a half-hearted film as well. Almost like they would make money no matter what as long as “Saw” was somewhere on the advertising material. And it wasn’t because there was no gore (unlike its relatives the family Saw where gore splashes the screen every minute), I truly appreciated the creepy nature they were going for, but the problem simply lies with the script and how half-baked it was.

The film is about a man (another Aussie, Ryan Kwanten) goes back to his hometown after a doll named Billy (similarly named to the doll in the Saw films) is “following” him after his wife’s death. A detective (played by Donnie Wahlberg, who was also in Saw II) is following him, thinking he is the murderer of his wife.

Nothing really builds up to a horrifying climax or anything like that. All the lines never really intertwine well enough. Nothing is explained 100% (refer to the ending).

A very cool thing about this was whenever Mary Shaw (the villainess) is about to attack, the audio becomes silent. It was a cool use of the surround sound but wasn’t creepy enough to make up for the rest of the film.

One problem I had, and I was probably the only one, was Kwanten’s character just dived straight into the “mystery”. With things like this, it needs to constantly be there and torment and torture the character’s sanity before they dive into the mystery.

Donnie Wahlberg’s cop was completely unnecessary. I enjoy watching him more than his little brother Mark, but his character was just there and never amounted to anything by the end. It was almost like he was just there because he was a friend of Whannell’s and Wan’s. I can appreciate that, but make an actual fitting and more sense ending to his character’s role in the story.

The aspect that it was a ghost story plaguing childhoods in the film was very cool (when I have children, I’ll make sure to tell them, when they see a decomposing old woman, not to scream!) but the whole pay-off for the film was very uninspired, no matter how unpredictable it actually was.

I can appreciate what my favourite Aussie Horror guys tried to do with Dead Silence, but I can’t appreciate what they ultimately ended up doing. Two stars.

2

Skinwalkers (2006)

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skinwalkersWhere the hell does one begin for this?

I’ll give you a starting point: This sucks. It’s extremely half-arsed attempt at a werewolf movie (if you want to call it that).

You see, two warring factions of werewolves: those who want to stay as werewolves and those who want to go back to humanity, are fighting over a little kid who has the power to end the “curse” of lycanthropy.

What this film never explains, however, is why this child has the power to end the curse. It doesn’t explain why the moon is red over the course of the film. It doesn’t explain why everyone has fifteen various guns (at the least; turning one scene into a modern western with good ol’ grandma weilding a shotgun…or two hand-cannons…I can’t remember which).

Oh, don’t forget the obligatory and unecessary sex scene about twenty minutes in that *really* furthers the story.

This is one of the worst films I’ve seen in quite a while, even by genre standards. I can get into a werewolf movie, honest, but I could not get into this by the slightest, with the exception of the “pretty colours” on screen.

The effects in this seem to have been done by houses that do effects for Sci Fi Channel movies because they were very blatant matte paintings. I’m glad they got Stan Winston’s effects house to do the werewolf make-up. But not all is good in the Land of Stan: the werewolves move like humans.

What?

What is the point in transforming humans into human-looking werewolves when all they will be doing is walking like villains from a poor eighties film?

There’s nothing in this, with the exception of Rhona Mitra (who plays the mother who knows nothing of her “late” husband’s child’s half-arse destiny), that pays off for you watching this. I enjoy watching Rhona act in films but even in this it seems either she re-recorded all her dialogue after the fact as every line she said, the audio seemed to be slightly behind, or they got another actress to record over her lines.

It’s a poorly written, half-heartedly executed film that isn’t even “so bad it’s good”. It’s just bad purely because it takes itself too seriously and one event at the end makes no sense whatsoever.

I can’t recommend this to even the most completist of werewolf movie fans as it’s just not necessary viewing. Go watch Ginger Snaps or something. One star purely for Rhona Mitra, shame her performance was pissed on with poor ADR dubbing and the simple fact she was in a film with a half-baked script.

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