BARE BONES: THE SHORTCUT, DEAD SOULS and TAMARA

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THE SHORTCUT (2009)

After putting together my Halloween Hotties post about up and coming scream queen Katrina Bowden, I became intrigued by her first horror and thought I’d take a look. Sadly this moderately budgeted fright flick, produced by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions… redubbed Scary Madison… and released straight to DVD, is a very pedestrian and only minimally entertaining tale. PG-13 horror focuses on new kid in town Derek (Andrew Seeley) investigating a shortcut through the woods, with a bad reputation, and a mysterious and strange old man (Raymond J. Barry) who lives on a secluded property that the shortcut leads through. His interest provoked after his little brother (Nicholas Elia) is frightened by the man and his apparent murder of a dog when dared to take the shortcut by schoolmates. Along with new friends Mark (Dave Franco), Lisa (Shannon Woodward), Taylor (Josh Emerson, who played basically the same character in Jennifer’s Body) and romantic interest Christy (Katrina Bowden), they unravel a history of death and missing persons and decide to check out the man’s home for clues… bad idea. This film is directed as by-the-numbers as you can get by Nicholas Goossen and from a script that is far too sloppy to work by Dan Hannon and Scott Sandler. There is just too much predictability and far too little of the suspense and scares one watches this kind of flick for. And it’s TV movie style works against it, as does the neutered shocks to get it’s PG-13 rating. Not to mention, characters doing some really stupid things and making some really bad decisions to move the plot along and put themselves in needless danger. The cast go from bland to adequate with Bowden’s Christy being the liveliest of the characters though, one of the least used. The film also takes far too long to really get going and once it does, it comes to a climax we saw coming for at least an hour before. Sad, because the basic story had potential. Also stars X-Files‘ ‘The Smoking Man’ William B. Davis in a small but, crucial role.

2 star rating

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DEAD SOULS (2012)

Dead Souls opens with a disturbing ritualistic murder/suicide of a family by it’s minister patriarch, Benjamin Conroy (J.H. Torrance Downes) with only an hidden infant spared. We then cut to that infant now grown (Jesse James) and living with his aunt (Geraldine Hughes), who the re-named Johnny Petrie, believes is his mother. But, Johnny has just turned 18 and the Conroy estate is turned over to him and he goes there to oversee the property’s sale and to find out about his newfound family history. But, as Johnny decides to stay on the property, he finds he has inherited not only a possible nightmarish past but, some very present and not so friendly spirits. Together with a pretty squatter (Magda Apanowicz) found living in his new house, Johnny attempts to get to the bottom of what happened to his family but, something may equally be out to get him as well. Director Colin Theys does manage to give this film some atmosphere and there are some spooky sequences along with some disturbing scenes such as the opening slaughter. But, John Doolan’s script, based on Michael Laimo’s novel, is a bit too convoluted for it’s own good and the last act just get’s silly with it’s re-animated, possessed corpses. The film’s first two thirds were subtle and spooky but, the more you find out, the sillier it gets, till we arrive at the spirit possessed corpses climax that, in itself, has a silly denouement. The cast, including horror favorite Bill Mosley, are fine but, the material just goes from spooky to silly at a point when it needed to be at it’s most effective. It’s a moderately entertaining watch and there is some solid spookiness early on but, ultimately gets a little too wacky to do anything but, disappoint. Too bad, there was a good movie in here somewhere and Theys had enough skill to deliver it, had the script not gotten so ludicrous.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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TAMARA (2005)

The Craft meets Carrie in this completely derivative high school set horror about a bullied girl who gets revenge on her abusers through witchcraft. Tamara (Jenna Dewan, who is now Mrs. Channing Tatum) is a shy, introverted plain-jane student, with an interest in the occult, who gets picked on constantly. An article she writes for the school paper about steroid use on the high school’s athletic teams catches the angry attention of jock Shawn (Bryan Clark) and his crew and a cruel prank is plotted that goes horribly wrong and leaves Tamara dead… but, not for long. The next day Tamara returns to school despite being buried deep in the woods and is now quite the sexy seductress. And soon Tamara is using her natural charms and dark magic to avenge herself on her wrongdoers and win the teacher she crushes on, Mr. Natolly (Matthew Marsden). Horror flick is competently directed by Jeremy Haft, though without much style or atmosphere, and the script by Jefferey Reddick basically bludgeons us with ‘been there, done that’. There is barely any originality in the story of embattled nerd turned hot supernatural avenger and what little gore there is in her vengeance is adequate but, nothing special. The cast are actually fine but, the film itself is so forgettable and cliche’ that it’s rarely spoken of, if ever, in horror circles or otherwise. It received a small under the radar theatrical release in 2006 before going equally quiet to DVD. Not much to recommend, as there’s not much the film has to offer except the future Mrs. Tatum looking quite fine.

2 star rating

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FAREWELL AND R.I.P. TO THE GREAT BOB HOSKINS 1942-2014

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Sad news comes to the film world today as we learn of the passing of the great Bob Hoskins, a virtual living legend in the acting business. Hoskins was a versatile British actor known and celebrated for roles in films like The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Hook and his most recent and final role, Snow White And The Huntsman. The world renown actor died yesterday after a struggle with pneumonia. A great talent who will be sadly missed by film fans and his show business peers all around the world. Farewell and rest in peace, Bob Hoskins!

source: the Internet

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HALLOWEEN HOTTIES: KATRINA BOWDEN

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This newest installment of Halloween Hotties takes a look at a fairly new cutie to catch the eye of horror fans, the lovely and talented Katrina Bowden. Most people know her from her 7 year stint on the hit show 30 Rock as Cerie but, horror fans took notice of this gorgeous Jersey girl… oh yes, she is from MonsterZero NJ’s home state and you know I love me my Jersey girls… in the fun horror/comedy Tucker & Dale vs. Evil and we’ve kept our eyes out for this easy on the eyes scream queen ever since and, so far, she hasn’t let us down…

(Click on the highlighted links or on the movie posters to read a review of her horror film’s that I’ve covered here previously. )

KATRINA BOWDEN

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The horror hottie and Jersey girl at a more relaxed moment then she usually gets in her fright flicks.

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Bowden got her start acting with a brief role on the long running soap opera One Life To Live in 2006. She continued to get TV work until landing a long-running part on one of TV’s biggest hit comedies, 30 Rock. It was in 2009 when she starred in her first horror, The Shortcut. A direct to DVD tale that told the creepy story of a group of high schoolers investigating a strange old man who may be behind a series and of deaths and disappearances on an ominous shortcut through the woods. Obviously, their inquisitiveness brings dire consequences.

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Katrina’s Christy stalked by a killer while on The Shortcut.

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But, it wan’t until 2010 that she really caught the attention of horror fans with a starring role in the rib-tickling and blood spattering cult hit horror/comedy Tucker & Dale vs. Evil as vacationing college girl Allison, who captures the heart of sweet natured redneck Dale. It’s Dale’s rescue of Allison during a late night skinny-dipping mishap that sets the plot in motion as her friends have seen too many horror movies and mistake good ole boys Tucker and Dale for some Chainsaw Massacre style mountain folk who’ve kidnaped Allsion. Hilarious hi-jinx and spurting blood ensues.

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As apple of Dale’s eye, Allison…

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…the skinny-dipping incident that starts the gruesome ball rolling…

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…and a damsel in distress awaiting rescue from her knight in plaid and denim.

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Katrina’s next foray into horror was in the cheesy yet entertaining 2012 sequel to Alexandre Aja’s deliriously fun Piranha remake, Piranha 3DD. I won’t spoil the fun but, not only does Bowden’s Shelby have one of the more interesting incidents with a baby prehistoric piranha but, it results in the film’s funniest and most outrageous line which Katrina somehow delivers with a completely straight face.

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A quiet moment with another popular horror hottie, Danielle Panabaker…

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…after her not so quiet ‘encounter’ with one of the film’s carnivorous critters.

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In 2012 Bowden also starred in the Asylum horror Hold Your Breath about the urban legend of how one should hold their breath when passing a graveyard to avoid spirit possession. Katrina is one of a group of young travelers who find out the hard way why the rule exists. Add the spirit of a serial killer and an abandoned prison to the mix and this gets gory quick for Katrina’s Jerry and her friends.
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A happier moment for Bowden’s Jerry before blood and bloody parts begin to fly…

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…and once the blood has hit the fan.

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In 2013 Bowden gave us two more horror themed flicks to enjoy her in. First the horror spoof Scary Movie 5, the fifth installment of that popular comedy series…

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Going to pieces in Scary Movie 5.

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…and the delightfully decadent and over the top Nurse 3D where she finds herself a new nurse on the hospital staff who gains the obsessive attention of Paz de la Huerta’s psychotic and very dangerous lead character… and with gruesome results.
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As new nurse on duty, Danni who has yet to realize her fellow nurse Abby needs to be in a hospital not work in one.

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And as her beautiful and talented self who we want to see more of whether it be in horror or not. With the recent announcement of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil 2, we can only hope her Allison makes a return along with our two lovable hillbillies in this eagerly awaited sequel. Either way we want more Katrina Bowden!

And don’t forget to check out our Halloween Hotties focusing on Melanie PapaliaAlexandra DaddarioKatie FeatherstonKatharine IsabelleAmber Heard, Briana Evigan and Danielle Harris! (just click on their names to go to their pages!)

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION (1998)

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PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION (1998)

Don Coscarelli returned to the Phantasm series again 4 years after the somewhat lighter Phantasm III and returning with it was a far more serious tone and the most surreal of the franchise since the first. But gone was a healthy budget and the writer/director now had to work with funds of only about twice that of the original film’s and in the more expensive economy of 20 years later. But Coscarelli has always accomplished a lot with little and he turns the fourth installment into a road movie with a lot of it taking place in the open desert of, appropriately, Death Valley as Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) takes to the highway to flee the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his attempts to transform him into a new version of himself to take up his diabolical deeds. Of course valiant and loyal friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister) is armed and in hot pursuit in his Hemi Cuda as Mike travels into the desert to escape his fate and his spectral brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) is following too, but which side he is on becomes questionable. Will Mike escape his horrible fate or become the new Tall Man?

This is, in many ways, the weakest of the four films so far. There is a lot less action, a lot less characters and minimal appearances from the elements we like best such as creepy mausoleums, the dwarves and the silver spheres. But as a fan of this series I cut this entry some slack due to what Don Coscarelli gives us in return. The film is very surreal and even includes an element of time travel. He fills the film with flashbacks and that is a plus, as many of them are scenes cut from the original film and now utilized to show us story elements we hadn’t seen before…and obviously, we get to see more footage from that timeless classic. He also reveals the origin of the Tall Man as humble Civil War era undertaker Jebediah Morningside who tries to find a way to fight death and invents the portal which sent him to another world and transformed him into the fiend he is now. The added element of Mike’s transformation giving him powers similar to the Tall Man, also adds an intriguing addition to the flick and the Phantasm mythos, too. The film has a lot of spooky atmosphere and the minimal FX work well enough. The cast all slip into their familiar roles well, once more and I liked that Coscarelli dared to give a beloved character like Jody a questionable agenda making him suspicious as to his real allegiance. Is he loving brother and spirit guardian or another agent of the Tall Man… you’ll have to see it to find out.

In conclusion, I like Phantasm IV: Oblivion. It is, in ways, the lesser of the four, but in other ways, offers us glimpses of the past that we’ve never seen before and takes further into the history and dealings of the Tall Man then we have seen so far. It offers changes and possible revelations about beloved characters and points the series in an even more bizarre direction. Despite the small budget, there is still plenty of surreal weirdness and atmosphere and it succeeds in being a Phantasm film despite not having the benefit of the more lavish budget of the previous two films. And as a fan of this series, I am willing to give it a break for those limitations due to the inventiveness with which those limitations are overcome. Also stars stuntman Bob Ivy as a Tall Man creature in state trooper guise…Ivy would go on to play Bubba Ho-Tep himself…and cutie Heidi Marnhout as the traditional Reggie pursuit gone awry. Marnhout also appeared in  Bubba Ho-Tep as the girl who gives Elvis “a bird’s eye view of her love nest.” A fifth Phantasm is on it’s way and indications are, it may be the final one.

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES APRIL 25-27

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend and Captain America takes second place behind The Other Woman!

1. “The Other Woman”  $24.7 Million

2. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” $16 Million

3. “Heaven Is For Real” $13.8 Million

4.”Rio 2″ $13.65 Million

5. “Brick Mansions” $9.6 Million

6. “Transcendence” $4.1 Million

7. “The Quiet Ones” $4 Million

8. “Bears” $3.6 Million

9. “Divergent” $3.6 Million

10. “A Haunted House 2” $3.3 Million

source: box office mojo

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: PHANTASM II and PHANTASM III

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Having just re-watched Phantasm, which is one of my all time favorite horror flicks, and with all the recent news of the newest installment Phantasm V: Ravager, I thought I’d focus this week’s Saturday Night Double feature on the first two bizarre and fun sequels in the Phantasm franchise…
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PHANTASM II  (1988)

It took almost 10 years for writer/director Don Coscarelli to finally return to his Phantasm series, but backed by Universal Studios and a much larger budget, the Tall Man and his army of fiendish dwarves finally returned in 1988. The second film picks up exactly where the first film left off with Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and Reggie (Reggie Bannister) under siege by the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his minions and barely escaping with their lives. We then cut to years later where Mike (James LeGros) is now full grown and institutionalized from the events involving the otherworldly mortician and about to be released back into society. But in the interim, the diabolical Tall Man has been busy ravaging towns and emptying their graveyards for use in creating his army of dwarves to be sent back to his home planet. Upon release, Mike convinces Reggie to join him on a quest to track down and destroy the alien undertaker once and for all. Aided by a young woman named Liz (Paula Irvine) with whom Mike shares a psychic bond, Reggie and Mike track the Tall Man to the decimated town of Perigord, Oregon where the villain has set up his sinister shop and our heroes enter his cemetery domain armed and ready to send the fiend back to the hell he came from… but the Tall Man is ready and waiting!

Sequel is more of a straight horror film as opposed to the surreal and dream-like quality of the original. That’s not to say there’s not plenty of weirdness, cause there is. A lot of the familiar and spooky trappings are back such as the funeral home setting, the fearsome dwarves, the murderous silver spheres…which exhibit a few new tricks…and of course, the Tall Man himself. We also get some very gruesome moments and an increase in gore and creature effects due to a budget about ten times that of the original. Coscarelli takes us a little deeper into the Tall Man’s sinister activities and we get a larger array of characters such as Liz, her grandparents (Ruth C. Engel and Rubin Kushner), a beautiful hitchhiker named Alchemy (Samantha Phillips) and a priest (Kenneth Tigar) who learns the hard way that there are evils from places other then Hell. It obviously is not a classic like the original, but it is a fun and sometimes spooky horror flick and it certainly is a good time watching the characters back in action even though this is the only installment where Mike is played by an actor other then Baldwin. I will admit I miss the more surreal tone of the original, but there is a lot more action and it is bigger and Coscarelli gets to expand his visual style with his bigger budget. There is also more of a sense of fun with the proceedings here, especially with everyone’s favorite dwarf killing ice cream man providing some comic relief and Bannister slips back into the role of Reggie with ease as does Scrimm with the iconic and evil Tall Man. The rest of the cast are all fine with LeGros being a solid hero and Irvine making a feisty and resourceful heroine though, I will admit I was glad to see Baldwin back in part 3. It didn’t feel quite right without him.

Overall Phantasm II is a good time and a sequel that holds well to the original it follows, though far from equaling it. It gives us all of the familiar trappings to make it a Phantasm movie, but opens things up a bit and gives us some new elements to add to the formula. And in addition to the atmosphere Coscarelli provides, we are treated to the added resonance of the classic theme from Fred Myrow with additional music by Christopher L. Stone. Not a classic, but an entertaining follow-up that wasn’t received all that well back in 1988, but has earned a well deserved cult following since. A fun sequel.

3 silver spheres.

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PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD (1994)

Despite not being the hit that was hoped for, Phantasm II must have made enough money between box office and home video and rental for Universal to give the series another shot and 6 years later Coscarelli and his Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) were back for a second sequel, though this one was released directly onto video. The film tried to re-establish the surreal dream-like quality of the first film to a degree with more otherworldly sequences, but there was also a bit lighter tone and some sequences that had a borderline goofy quality to them. The film also brings Jody (Bill Thornbury) back in spirit form to the series and, of course, features a muscle car which, this time, is Reggie’s restored 1970 Hemi-Cuda. Part III picks up where Part II left off with Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and Mike (a returning A. Michael Baldwin) barely escaping the Tall Man’s clutches once again, though Liz is killed by one of his minions. The injured Mike recovers in a hospital, but he is attacked by another of the Tall Man’s zombies and despite Reggie’s efforts to protect him, he is soon taken by the Tall Man for some unforeseen purpose. Reggie goes off in pursuit following the trail of decimated towns and soon meets up with an assortment of oddball characters including a trio of colorful looters and new allies Rocky (Gloria Lynne Henry) and Tim (Kevin Connors). But, even with his new friends can Reggie rescue Mike and finally vanquish the Tall Man, who knows he’s coming and is waiting in the shadows?!

While I was initially taken back by the loopier elements of Phantasm III when I first saw it and the lighter tone, as the film spends a lot of time with Reggie who has always provided some humor in the franchise, I’ve grown to like this entry over time. Coscarelli really makes an effort to return some of surreal dream/nightmare qualities to the series, especially with Jody taking us into other realms where he now resides. We get a little deeper into the Tall Man’s methods and finally learn what is inside one of those iconic silver spheres and what drives them. The film has a smaller budget, but Don Coscarelli seems at home with low budget film making and gives us some very cool visual sequences with his more meager resources and the FX people deliver the gooey goods as we’ve come to expect in a Phantasm film. There are some more eccentric characters added, like the trio of cartoon-ish looters who ride around in a pink hearse and, of course, Rocky and Tim, who, as a tough martial arts weapon-wielding black woman and a gun-toting sheriff’s son respectively, very closely resemble the popular Carl and Michonne characters from The Walking Dead comic and show years later… hmmmm, makes you wonder if Robert Kirkman is a Phantasm fan. While some of the acting with the supporting players is iffy, the principles all wear their now classic roles well and Scrimm continues to creep us out, despite the familiarity with his character. His Tall Man never became a neutered anti-hero like Jason and Freddy did as their respective series wore on. The spheres are obviously back, as are the dwarves and some zombies too. It also goes without saying there is plenty of time spent in creepy mortuaries and graveyards. Pretty much everything you’d expect from a Phantasm film and a few new twists too.

Overall, this second sequel is far from an equal when compared to the classic first film, but it is a lot of fun, gives us what we expect from one of these flicks and freshens things up a bit with some lively new characters and a bit more audacious tone. Much like the last one, it is a true Phantasm sequel yet, has it’s own personality and style like the last one differs from the original. An entertaining entry and as the Tall Man says “It’s never really over” and there would be a Phantasm IV: Oblivion a few years later. But that is for another time… BOY!

3 silver Spheres.

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MonsterZero NJ character comparison:

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Tim and Rocky

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Phantasm III’s Tim and Rocky who strongly resemble The Walking Dead’s Carl and Michonne characters, who would come years later!

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE DEPRAVED and BIG BAD WOLVES

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THE DEPRAVED (2011)

The Depraved is a German horror thriller from Andy Fetscher that’s only points of real interest is being filmed in the miles of underground tunnels beneath Berlin and some moody cinematography. The completely derivative story has a group of hipster urban explorers being led down into the tunnels for what they hope is a thrilling night of exploration to find Hitler’s bunker and instead run into a deranged cannibal who tortures, murders and turns some of them into stew. We’ve seen it all before countless times and while the novel setting adds some atmosphere and actor Klaus Stiglmeier provides a very creepy villain, the rest of the characters are completely generic and and the story is too familiar to get us very excited. There is plentiful and well orchestrated gore and cool locations but, it never reaches an intensity that will make us forget that we have already sat through this “Chainsaw Massacre” story many times before. A mildly amusing flick if you are curious or a completest in the young people vs. crazed cannibals sub-genre.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BIG BAD WOLVES (2014)

Once again the internet hype machine is at work and once again we have a major disappointment. This Israeli crime thriller from filmmakers Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales tells the story of a cop (Lior Ashkenazi) who is thrown off a case involving abused and murdered little girls for beating up the suspect (Tzahi Grad) and having the incident go viral on Youtube. But, both he and the latest victim’s father (Rotem Keinan) both seperately plan to kidnap the school teacher suspect and torture a confession out of him and they eventually team up, at least at the start, as predictably… and the film can be predictable… things don’t quite go as planned. After a fairly slow set-up we then get a tedious and dull hour of watching a man strapped to a chair get tortured and terrorized all leading up to an ending that is far from surprising. There are some failed attempts at giving the film a hip sense of humor to go along with the vicious violence but, it only serves to stop any momentum the film has dead. And since none of the characters are likable or sympathetic… as I said we can see early on where this is headed and the question as to guilt and innocence is foolishly revealed early on… we never really get emotionally invested or really care. And the few times the film starts to build a bit of intensity, it stops dead for those lame attempts at humor, such as a call from a principal characters mother right in the middle of a torture session. Ha, ha, ha … epic fail! The film also stops dead twice to make commentary on Arab/Israeli relations in the form of an Arab man (Kais Nashif) encountered on a horse who ultimately has no effect on the story or plot other then to provide a convenient cellphone at one point. Again, just serves to stretch this one note flick out longer then it needs to be and it’s at least 15 minutes too long considering it’s simple story. The filmmakers are no Tarantinos or even Eli Roths and their constant attempts to make this a ‘violent yet, hip and cool’ crime drama just slow things down and add to the boredom. I really can’t understand the praise this film is getting, including from Quentin Tarantino himself. Boring and we’ve basically seen it all before and better done. Acting is good from the leads but, that’s about it.

2 star rating

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TRAILER HITS FOR [REC] 4: APOCALYPSE!

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I am a big fan of the Spanish [REC] horror film series from Jaume Balaguero’ and Paco Plaza. The fourth and supposedly final entry in the series will begin release in the Fall overseas and hopefully make it’s way here soon in the US. The flick is directed by Balaguero’ and picks up after the events of [REC] 2 and follows the fate of TV newswoman Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco). The found footage format of the first two and part of the third has been dropped for a conventional film style. Looks cool!

source: Youtube

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: YELLOWBRICKROAD (2010)

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YELLOWBRICKROAD (2010)

There were things I liked about Yellowbrickroad and things I didn’t. The premise is cool. In the 1940s the population of an entire fictional New Hampshire town walks off into the mountains and vanishes. Search efforts recovered some bodies in unnatural states of death, but a large portion of the populace remains unfound. In modern day, a group sets out to retrace their steps, follow their trail and try to get some answers. Their journey takes them deep into the still uncharted mountains where mysterious music can be heard and the further they go, the more they seem to lose their minds and some lose their lives. Will they find out what happend to all those people on that fateful day or become the next chapter in an all too real urban legend?

As written and directed by Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton, the film can be quite spooky and unsettling at times, but never really grabs you like it should. Clunky dialog and bland characters keep you from getting drawn in, as does not really understanding enough about what’s going on to make you afraid. At least in The Blair Witch Project, a film this resembles to a degree, you knew there was a possibility that there was an evil entity that might be out there causing the trouble. It gave you something to focus on and be afraid of. Here there’s nothing to focus on as we never really know what’s going on, or get so much as a clue as to what happened 70 years earlier. It appears to be something supernatural, but we are never really certain. Sure, there is some nice atmosphere here and the film can be creepy, but it’s a little too vague for it’s own good. Sometimes not being spoon-fed everything is good and leaving some things to the imagination is effective, too, but here it’s a case of giving us a little too little. We at least needed some clues to get our imaginations fired up even if the answers were ultimately going to be left a mystery or up to us to decide. I really liked the effort to do something different and hopefully these filmmakers keep trying. Their work shows potential and imagination, but they need to give their audience something a bit more solid to work with and liven up their characters to really deliver.

I still recommend horror fans check this one out. It’s definitely worth a look, but be prepared to know pretty much the same when the credits roll as you did going in. The cast of unknowns include Cassidy Freeman, Anessa Ramsey and Clark Freeman.

2 and 1/2 gramophones… at least that sounds like what is playing that creepy music…

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ENEMY TERRITORY (1987)

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ENEMY TERRITORY (1987)

Enemy Territory is an obscure and currently unavailable 1987 urban action exploitation flick from Charles Band’s defunct Empire Pictures that I was fortunate enough to have seen at the Hyway Theater in Fair Lawn N.J. during it’s release in the late 80s. It was unusual for Band to produce a straight action film without killer dolls, robots or creatures and it’s controversial storyline of a white insurance agent being trapped in an inner city tenement and pursued by a black youth gang, may be one reason the film appears to remain out of print. But it is an exploitation film and it is the nature of the beast with such flicks to present controversial or taboo subjects in an entertainment format and Enemy Territory is no different. I had an opportunity to revisit it, recently and see if it was still the entertaining B-Movie I remembered it to be. It is.

The film takes place in NYC and tells the story of down on his luck insurance agent Barry Rapchick (Gary Frank) who is desperate for cash and goes into the crime-ridden ghetto neighborhood of Lincoln Towers at dusk to get a policy signed that will net him a big commission. But a run-in with a young member of the Vampires gang, a gang that rules the night in Lincoln Towers, leaves the youth (Teddy Abner) and a security guard (Tiger Haynes) dead. This makes Barry a marked man and a man hunted through the embattled tenement by the vicious gang and it’s psychotic leader (Tony Todd) who torment and kill anyone who gets in the way of them catching their prey. Befriended by sympathetic phone repairman and army veteran Will (Ray Parker Jr.) and some good natured tenants, Barry might have a chance to survive. But the Vampires are many and Barry’s allies are few and it’a a long way down to the ground floor and a longer way till dawn when the police would even dare enter the notorious neighborhood.

Low budget thriller is directed by Band regular Peter Manoogian, from a script by Stuart M. Kaminsky and Bobby Liddell and is an entertaining and suspenseful B-Movie that manages to make good use of the isolated and claustrophobic setting of it’s inner city tenement building location. Manoogian overcomes some cheesy dialog to create some nice atmosphere and tension and give us some effective low budget action scenes to punctuate all the hiding and running around. And the film can be very violent and bloody at times as a result of that action. There are certainly some characters (the gang) that were stereotypical of movies of this era, but there are also some down to earth and very human characters (the tenants) to balance it out. The performances from the principles are better then you might expect in such a low budget flick with Gary Frank being effective as the ‘humbled’ white yuppie, Barry and singer Parker, giving us a noble working class man who believes in doing the right thing, as Will. Frances Foster is solid as Elva, Barry’s client, a good Christian woman who becomes one of his allies against the brutal gang members. Fan favorite Tony Todd is appropriately over-the-top as the psychotic gang leader, “The Count” as is Jan-Michael Vincent as Parker, a well-armed but paranoid and bigoted, wheelchair-bound Viet Nam vet who lives in a fortified apartment in the tenement building and gets drawn into the conflict. Rounding out is sweet but street-tough Toni, played well by Clueless’ Stacey Dash in her first film. On a technical side, the film uses a lot of location shooting, so it looks solid on a meager budget and the cinematography is by future Spike Lee DOP and established director in his own right, Ernest R. Dickerson.

I can see how in today’s easily offended and overly-sensitive times where a lot of this flick’s racial content could make distributors wary of releasing it. I have yet to find definitive proof that the film’s blunt portrayal of racial issues, stereotypes and prejudices is the reason it languishes unreleased on DVD or Blu-Ray, but I do feel it’s a good guess. I don’t get the impression the film was trying to be crass in it’s portrayal of a white man caught in the middle of inner city violence. And despite being an exploitation flick, it never seems to make light of gang violence and though presented in an action film content, I don’t think there is any intent to make light of the negative aspects of inner city life or the unfortunate prejudices between the races, either. As I stated earlier, for every stereotype, there is a more down to earth character to demonstrate that the stereotypes do not represent the community as a whole. Remember, it would be a few years yet before filmmakers like Spike Lee and John Singleton would present to audiences a far more serious look at life in our country’s ghettos for minorities and raise awareness and sensitivity toward the subject. This is an 80s flick and it has a heavy 70s vibe. Even if Enemy Territory‘s grim depiction of urban life is a bit more comicbook-ish, it still has some resonance beyond the over the top gang characters and gunfire. Overall, it is made to entertain and is far from a message film, but in my opinion, if you watch the film objectively, it does ultimately show that there is good and bad in everyone and prejudices are based on exceptions and not the rules, even if the flick’s first concern is telling an entertaining action story…and as low budget action flicks go, Enemy Territory is actually pretty good, if viewed simply as the action/exploitation flick it’s meant to be.

3 bullets.

ex2 rating

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