Movie is based on the book by John Bellairs and tells of young Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), whose parents have recently been killed in a car accident. He’s sent to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in a creepy old house and soon finds out Jonathan is a warlock. Lewis also discovers that there is a clock in the walls of the house and one that may have a sinister purpose. Can Lewis, his uncle and their witch of a neighbor Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) find out the clock’s true purpose and stop it from whatever evil it’s intended for?
Film is directed with surprising restraint by Eli Roth (Hostel, The Green Inferno), who is most known for his over-the-top gore flicks, though it could have used a bit of those flicks’ bombasity. The script is by Eric Kripke based on Bellairs’ book and while the cast give it their all, there is just something lacking from the proceedings. The film is slower paced than Roth’s usual fare and never really ignites the spark needed to make the film more fun. There is plenty of magic and the supernatural on hand and some very spooky imagery, but the film lacks a strong sense of charm or wonder. It’s a decent enough watch and you can tell Black and Blanchett especially are having a good time with the material, but the movie itself never really takes off running as the popcorn entertainment it’s intended to be. Even the last act confrontation with Kyle MacLachlan’s re-animated warlock villain never reaches the excitement, or suspense, level it needs. Overall, Eli Roth shows he can direct with some restraint, but maybe it’s not that good an idea here, as the film is a bit too laid back to entertain more than just moderately.
Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis), a surgeon in crime ridden Chicago, turns vigilante when his wife and daughter (Elisabeth Shue and Camila Morrone) are victims of a home invasion gone bad. Now he roams the streets hunting the perps down and killing other criminals becoming a media sensation known as “The Grim Reaper”.
Awful remake is directed by Eli Roth from a terrible script by Joe Carnahan. Film has none of the effectiveness of the Charles Bronson classic and is sometimes downright stupid, such as in the way Kersey gets his first gun, or in the blatant convenience of his first clue in finding the men who broke into his home. Film takes away the dynamic of a man frustrated and angry and simply taking it out on random criminals, by having Willis’ Kersey able to hunt down the actual men who killed his wife and severely wounded his daughter. He does kill random criminals in between, but this version gives Kersey his revenge on the actual perpetrators, thus granting him the satisfaction of that vengeance. It was more effective that Bronson’s Kersey was robbed of that satisfaction and thus the lack of closure fuels his attempts to clean up the streets…kinda like Batman. It also put’s names and identities on the gang who committed the crime, when in the original they were random street punks representing the almost lawlessness of a city out of control. It gives Willis specific people to hunt where Bronson was as random as the thugs he killed. It becomes just another revenge flick. Film also changes the location of the story from New York to Chicago…where Bronson’s Kersey went after being asked to leave NYC…but that is the least of it’s problems. Finally, Willis is simply starting to look too old for this kind of stuff.
ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS! (2015)
Great documentary about schlockmeister Cannon Films that churned out so many delightfully bad…and very entertaining B-movies during the 80s. Mark Hartley’s documentary is told through the eyes of a number of talents who worked for Cannon during their existence from both behind and in front of the camera. We get a real good look at the inside of the studio founded by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus and how they dreamed of taking America by storm. We hear from actors like Bo Derek, Molly Ringwald, Robert Forster and Cannon regulars Lucinda Dickey and Michael Dudikoff, who all have entertaining stories to tell about starring in some of the studios most infamous productions. We also hear what it was like to make films for them by the likes of Tobe Hooper, Sam Firstenberg and Franco Zeffirelli. We get a story of two men whose dream to be a major studio was derailed by churning out some of the shlocky-est productions during a decade renown for it’s excesses. They made a major action star out of Chuck Norris and reignited Charles Bronson’s career…although not completely in a good way. Documentary is almost as fun as some of the ‘so bad it’s good’ movies they produced under Golan and Globus between 1979 and 1985.
KNOCK KNOCK (2015)
Eli Roth’s flick is a reworking of a 1977 film called Death Game where two women (Sandra Locke and Collen Camp who are given producers credits here) terrorize a man (Seymour Cassel) over a two day period. In this update, we have architect and family man Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves) who is left home alone on Father’s Day weekend to finish some work while his wife and kids hit the beach. During a rainstorm, two beautiful young women (Ana de Armas and Lorenza Izzo) show up soaking wet at his door, claiming to be lost and wind up seducing Evan into a threesome. The following morning Evan finds his guests still there and acting quite out of control. He manages to evict them, but they return that night to take Evan hostage and begin to torment him as punishment for what he did to them, claiming they are only fifteen years-old. Viewing him as a pedophile, the psychotic women claim he must die at dawn unless he plays their twisted games.
Despite a familiar premise that could have been fun, this flick is just dull and silly as these two loonies torment Reeves’ unfaithful family man for over forty minutes. It’s not only never gripping, but really just amounts to a fairly bloodless and uninventive torture show as the two women claim that Webber needs to pay for taking advantage of underage girls like themselves. While the two actresses do have a good time going all over-the-top, neither is remotely believable for a minute at being that young, or is given any real meaty material to work with. As for Reeves, he seems very miscast here and does not seem comfortable at all with the material…and it goes beyond the character’s discomfort with being a married man in the company of two horny vixens turned psychopaths. Even had Reeves been less wooden, the film offers nothing new and doesn’t even make inventive use of the familiar tropes of this type of Fatal Attraction flick. Roth does clarify his ladies intentions in the DVD extras, but one shouldn’t need supplemental material to make things clearer. Dull and only worth watching for the generous nudity from Armas and Izzo (Mrs. Eli Roth) who are clearly having a fun time with their parts. Wish Reeves would have had more fun with his part and Roth stopped recycling his influences and gave us something more original.
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I’m not the biggest fan of Eli Roth’s original Cabin Fever. The combination of horror elements and really goofy humor didn’t mix well, killing any tension it tried to build and the homages to his influences were way too obvious and intrusive. It still managed to be moderately entertaining and at it’s core was a good idea.
This might be one of the most pointless remakes in the current trend, not only using the original’s script, but dumbing it down even further. So, yet again we have five twenty-somethings going to a remote cabin and contracting some kind of flesh eating virus from a weird homeless guy living in the woods. Panic and paranoia set in and so do stupid antics by our main characters.
Roth’s script is adjusted a bit, for the worse, by Randy Pearlstine and directed lifelessly by someone named Travis Z. It becomes just a series of dumb behavior by the characters who do the stupidest possible things during this viral outbreak. Having sex, despite being supposedly terrified of contracting it and constantly putting themselves in the proximity of blood from the infected, are just a few of the moronic things these folks do. The scene where the homeless guy gets set on fire by the five dumb-asses is so clumsily staged, that you can’t believe what you just saw. Is this a student film? Note to stupid yuppies…don’t lament setting a guy on fire when you doused him with lighter fluid to begin with, that’s kinda what happens. Yes, the film is filled with that kind of blatant stupidity that the only person you feel bad for is the first contractee Karen (Gage Golightly), mostly because she shares your contempt for the rest of them. You are almost rooting for this bunch to melt away, they are such unlikable idiots. And don’t get me started on the gun that only fires when convenient. Travis Z’s attempts at Roth-like humor also fail miserably, though they are thankfully few and far between and the gore isn’t any more inventive than it was last time around. At least I did like Kevin Riepl’s score.
Awful movie, a complete waste of time and one of the most pointless remakes ever made…and Roth produced it! Also stars Alexandra Daddario’s brother Matthew, Samuel Davis, Dustin Ingram and Nadine Crocker as the other four ill-fated morons.
1 and 1/2 pancakes cause even that stupid bit is recycled.
Final Girl is an entertaining and stylish thriller about a girl named Veronica (Abigail Breslin) who lost her parents when she was eight and is taken in by a man named William (Wes Bentley). She’s trained for the next twelve years to be an efficient killing machine and then unleashed on her first assignment. There are four young men, led by the charismatic Jameson (Alexander Ludwig), who like to lure young women in the woods and then hunt them for sport, while wearing tuxedos. Veronica is to set herself up as their next victim and then find a way to take these serial killers out…but the odds are against her. Tyler Shields’ directorial debut is a bit too stylish for it’s own good at times, but overall this is a fun flick as we watch Veronica play a dangerous cat and mouse game deep in the woods with these four arrogant killers. There are some good fight scenes with petite Abigail Breslin holding her own quite well and making an impression once again. The rest of the cast are good with Ludwig being a detestable villain and Bentley making a mysterious figure as Veronica’s handler, William. A simple story and script written by four people that might have been a bit more fun had they kept us in the dark for awhile about Veronica’s origins, but it does entertain and still photographer Shields does give it an intriguing visual style. Not great, but fun and an interesting debut for Shields. Also stars Cameron Bright, Reece Thompson and Logan Huffman as Jameson’s fellow frat boy killers.
THE STRANGER (2015)
Written and directed by Guillermo Amoedo and produced by Eli Roth, this flick is a strange and somber take on the vampire genre. A stranger (Cristobal Tapia Montt) arrives in a small town and stops at the home of Peter (Nicolás Durán) and his mother (Aleesandra Guerzoni) inquiring about a woman, Ana (Lorenza Izzo) who died around the time Peter was born. An encounter with a group of thugs leads Peter to believe this stranger, Martin, is something more than an average man. Now as Peter becomes fixated wit this man, he begins to learn there is something very unnatural about him and his reason for being there and Peter may be involved closer than he would like. The film certainly has some very effective moments and there is some effectively gruesome violence, too, but the film was a bit too somber to really draw one in. Even with the subplot of a vicious thug (Ariel Levy) and his dirty cop father (Luis Gnecco), who complicate things for Peter and Martin, the film is a little dull at times and never rises about moderately intriguing. The vampire aspects are treated more like a disease than a curse and the reveals are seen coming miles away. Not really a bad movie, but nothing overly memorable or thrilling.
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It’s been a while since Eli Roth has sat in the director’s chair and his latest film, though it’s waited two years for distribution, pays homage to the Italian cannibal films of the 70s and 80s, even acknowledging them by name in the credits (A nice touch!). The story focuses on college freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo) who falls under the charms of social and environmental activist Alejandro (Ariel Levy). So much so, that she agrees to join him and his fellow activists on a trip to the Peruvian jungle where a ruthless corporation is planning to tear down a portion of the rainforest inhabited by a primitive tribe, who will be slaughtered in the process. While their protest is a success and the destruction halted, their plane crashes in the jungle on the way home and the survivors, including Justine, are taken prisoner by the very tribe they set out to save…a tribe of cannibalistic headhunters who have a very frightening way of showing their gratitude.
Roth…who co-wrote with Guillermo Amoedo…definitely shows some growth as a filmmaker here, despite a six year period between flicks, as this film, for the most part, curbs his impulses towards the sophomoric, frat-boy humor that marred his earlier efforts. There still are some unnecessary sequences featuring diarrhea and masterbation that we could have done without, but, otherwise this is a straightforward horror/thriller and a very gruesome and disturbing one at that. Roth can be overindulgent but, despite the frequent blood spattering here, it is just enough to get under your skin without bludgeoning you over the head. We are treated to eye-gouging, dismemberment and witnessing someone being eaten alive and while it is quite the gore-fest, Roth knows when to give us a break, so we don’t become numb. Fans of his will be happy to know that his more devious sense of humor is still intact, such as a scene where the tribe becomes stoned on a stash of pot hidden in one of the bodies and get the ‘munchies’ in a truly bloodcurdling manner. So, he certainly won’t disappoint his fans despite some maturing as a director. What really works about the film, though, is we get some very likable characters here, especially Justine, so, we care about them and are horrified when they are hurt…and some get hurt in awful ways. Roth also manages some suspenseful and very intense sequences that don’t require devoured limbs and the film looks far bigger than his modest budget might suggest. It’s not perfect. There are those unnecessary sequences involving bodily fluids mentioned earlier and there are two bits that don’t quite work. One bit is a ‘dream sequence’ during the climactic scenes that only exists to add one last shock and it’s cliché, the other a mid-credits, scene, that undermines the ironic strength of his conclusion, somewhat, basically to set up a sequel. Otherwise this is a disturbing and intense horror flick and one that respectfully and quite gruesomely honors the films it pays homage to. The cinematography by Antonio Quercia is quite lush, the score by Manuel Riveiro is quite effective and the abundant gore excellently rendered and mostly, with what appear to be live effects.
Roth also has a good cast and avoids too many unlikable characters which hurt his first Hostel flick. Chilean actress Lorenza Izzo is quite a strong leading lady and is extremely likable and easy to get behind. She is obviously frightened out of her mind but, finds strength when she needs to and we rally to the character when she is able to overcome her fear and act. Not to mention, some of the sequences must have been very uncomfortable for Izzo and she handles them well. Ariel Levy is good as activist leader Alejandro. He appears noble at first, if not a bit smug, but, a plot twist finds him just another self-serving douchebag and then he becomes more of an outright villain than the cannibals. At least their motivation is simply hunger and survival with little malice…though the extras portraying them, seem to really enjoy their work. We also have Daryl Sabara as the stereotypical stoner Lars and Adam Burns as Jonah, a lovable teddy bear who has a crush on Justine…we may like him the most, which usually spells bad news in a horror flick. The rest of the cast are very likable and obviously, we don’t want to see them hurt and feel their fear through their performances as captured Roth’s lens.
So, I did like this flick. It’s not perfect but, I think it’s Roth’s best film so far and he treated us to not only a highly disturbing and gruesome film…even a horror vet like me felt some of the scenes were very uncomfortable to watch…but, gave us some real intensity and suspense as we watched horrible things befall a group who, mostly, doesn’t deserve it. One of the film’s tag lines is “No good deed goes unpunished” and the film is a shining example of the horrible irony when do-gooders are down-in by those they’re trying to help. Certainly not for everyone but, a tense and blood-soaked horror/adventure that gives us some likable characters to fear for and some legitimate suspense, when not spattering the screen with body parts. A worthy tribute to a long gone genre and era of films from a filmmaker who has an obvious appreciation for grind house style movies…which under the professional gloss, this is.
I’ve said this before. While primarily a movie site, every now and then at MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse I do crank out a book review if it’s something I think warrants attention or is simply movie related. Steve Alten’s prehistoric shark thriller MEG, has been designated to be filmed for decades but, has spent just as long in development hell. Now it’s been announced that filmmaker and movie geek personality Eli Roth has been signed to direct the most recent attempt. Will Roth finally get this flick in the can? Only time will tell. So, how is the actual book?…
MEG by STEVE ALTEN
Been curious about this book for a while and now that it’s once again being announced as a movie, I thought I would finally check it out. It’s a fast paced and fun read but, I can definitely see where certain set pieces would be tough to translate to film. Some for their massive scale and some because, in the wrong hands, they could come off as very silly.
The book focuses on likable hero Professor Jonas Taylor who was once one of the best deep sea explorers on the planet, till an incident that claimed the lives of two of his crew…an incident he claims was with a massive predator that hasn’t swam the seas for millions of years. Since then, Jonas has not been on a dive and has spent his time studying the prehistoric shark known as the Megalodon and how it might have survived in deep water canyons miles below the surface. There are those that think he’s crazy, but, there are those like Masao Tanaka, who might believe him. At Tanaka’s bidding, he gets the chance to return to the depths of the deepest canyon on Earth and finds his theories frighteningly correct. The beasts still live! A horrible series of events then bring a 60 foot female Megalodon up to the surface and now Jonas must hunt the very creature no one believed him existed. A hungry creature on a murderous rampage and heading for the California coast.
Overall, this is a tight and action packed story that moves like a rocket and there is a lot of gory carnage caused by our massive female carnivore. It is only in some of the soap opera level sub-plots and melodramatics, such as a really dull scenario with Jonas’ ambitious witch of a wife, Maggie, where the book produces eye rolling and groans. Maggie Taylor could have been removed from the book totally without hurting the plot and similar sub-plots are equally corny, predictable and cliché. Jonas has a shrew of a wife and Tanaka has a hot daughter…you know where that is going from the early pages. It’s also hurt by a completely ludicrous final confrontation with the monster shark that might be one reason the film has yet to be made. It will be tough to translate to film without coming across as silly…then again, Spielberg was able to give Jaws a far more cinematic ending, maybe Roth can do the same. This still is a fun book and flaws aside a perfectly suitable Summer read. It’s got likable heroes and some detestable human villains and of course a hungry 60 foot prehistoric great white on the loose. Give it some slack and it is an entertaining enough read to pass the time at the beach or the park. And the best thing about a movie adaptation is that a talented writer could fix those flaws for the movie.
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Eli Roth produced horror tells the ill-fated story of realtor Kent McCoy (Andy Powers) whose son Jack (Christian Distefano) is having a birthday. The clown scheduled to appear cancels at the last minute, leaving Kent in a bind. But as luck would have it, Kent finds an old clown suit in one of the homes he’s showing and saves the party. Unfortunately, it’s bad luck, as the suit is not a suit, but the skin of an ancient Nordic demon called a Cloyne. This creature of legend is the genesis of the modern clown, but instead of entertaining children, it lured them to it’s lair and ate them. Now Kent is facing a horrific nightmare as the ‘suit’ won’t come off and his son and wife Meg (Laura Allen) watch him slowly turn into a monster…one that sees Jack as a potential meal.
As silly as this horror sounds, it is actually portrayed very seriously by co-writer…with Christopher D. Ford…and director, Jon Watts. Watts takes what could have been a spoof and makes an effective little horror film out of it by avoiding milking the clown clichés and treating his film more like a werewolf flick, with a likable subject reluctantly turning into a vicious monster…one that eats children. Watts gives his horror a strong atmosphere of dread and is not afraid to graphically show Kent/the Cloyne’s hunger being sated on some unfortunate youths. The pace of the film is actually moderate and while it could have used a bit more energy at times, there are some very effective sequences and the serious take on the story does not come without having a little fun with the subject matter, such as a gruesome yet amusing scene at a Chuck E Cheese. The gore is plentiful and well executed, the film can be creepy and intense at times and we even get Peter Stormare as the suit’s previous owner/wearer, Karlsson, who has some grim news about how the ‘suit’ can be removed and the demon stopped. A solid little horror for a potentially comical premise.
As for the cast, Andy Powers plays Kent as the bland family man he is and then as both sympathetic victim and vicious monster. He works in the role well, though could have had a bit stronger presence. Laura Allen is very effective as the hot mom forced to deal with the living nightmare of watching the man she loves turn into monster and having to make some terrible choices to deal with it and protect her son. As the son, Distefano is effective and never strays into the annoying child zone and is quite sympathetic as Jack. Stomare is fun as Karlsson. He provides the Cloyne background and details and tries to assist Meg in stopping, or saving, her husband and acts as a sort of Van Helsing character with his experience with the fiend being very personal.
Flick isn’t perfect. A little more character development with the McCoy family could have strengthened their characters and the moderate pace sometimes works against it. Otherwise this was a solid and effective little horror flick, despite what is a very silly premise. Director Jon Watts takes the subject matter seriously and crafts a pretty good horror movie out of it, without drowning it in the clown clichés…though they aren’t completely avoided either. Definitely an an entertaining little flick with a novel twist on the scary clown movie.
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Cabin Fever has some very effective moments, especially when the gore starts flying, but it’s writer/director Eli Roth’s insistence on filling his influence-drenched horror with sub-par, frat boy humor that sinks his first film (and sunk Hostel, too). The film opens with a group of annoying college kids heading up to a small secluded cabin in the woods, that is, of course, near a town filled with bizarre rednecks. The characters are fairly two dimensional co-ed stereotypes and the rednecks are weird just for the sake of being weird. Only Cerina Vincent’s Marcy shows a bit of brains and spunk, but sadly she is not the central character, it’s Rider Strong’s annoying, Paul. These kids unfortunately encounter a hobo with some kind of flesh eating disease, whose origin is never explained…though, it’s hinted the townsfolk have encountered it before…and soon red blotches and rampant paranoia fill the cabin.
It takes a while for things to get rolling, but the film is most effective when it does. But even once it gets moving, Roth stops momentum dead to have more cartoonish antics from the strange locals. He would have been better off sticking with the kids in the cabin, but is far too giddy to involve the twisted inhabitants of this backwoods community and the goofiness of their comic antics is too broad to work with the more serious aspects of the story. And his story is good, but Roth seems more interested in his frat house comedy than he is with scaring us and it’s a shame, as when he is effective, the film is chilling. Add to that some ‘stick out like a sore thumb’ homages to a few horror classics and not one but two cameos from Roth himself, and you get a flick that is more filmmaker self-indulgence than it is a horror movie.
Roth seems to have a genuine love of horror flicks and to be honest, I think the guy is pretty cool on that level, but as a filmmaker, he is a little too in love with the movies he cherishes to do his own thing. Which is sad cause when he does, Roth delivers, but in this and in his two Hostel films, his lack of restraint on his inner film geek ruins the part of him that is an effective filmmaker. Maybe that’s why he chooses to produce and do cameos for his filmmaker friends more than direct. 2005 was his last full length directorial effort (Hostel 2) until the recent Green Inferno which itself seems to be having problems getting released. Either way, I give him credit for recognizing a more efficient application of his horror movie passions.
I am a huge fan of indie filmmaker Ti West (House Of The Devil, The Innkeepers) and am certainly looking forward to his newest flick the Jonestown-ish thriller The Sacrament which premiers on VOD on 5/1/14. Till then we have this chilling new red band trailer of the Eli Roth produced flick…