BARE BONES: CHAPPIE, BLACK WATER VAMPIRE and THE DAMNED

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CHAPPIE (2015)

Neil Blomkamp’s third feature, co-written by Terri Tatchell is entertaining enough, but the originality that made his District 9 so enjoyable and even his lesser effort Elysium entertaining, is substituted for a Short Circuit meets Robocop mash-up that has heart, but a severely cloned one. Movie tells the story of a very near future Johannesburg, which is plagued by crime and is patrolled by robot police officers. When one of those is damaged, it’s maker (Dev Patel) uses it to experiment with an artificial intelligence and the robot dubbed “Chappie” becomes self-aware. Add to it that, Chappie has been taken by a street gang to be used in criminal activities, gives the child-like robot some very conflicting emotions to sort through as he tries to learn right from wrong. There are some fun moments in the film, but it is far too familiar to embrace completely with some scenes lifted directly from Verhoeven’s Robocop including Chappie’s battle with a large battle drone. It also has some severe tonal shifts as it is on a children’s film level one minute and spattering the screen with bloody violence the next. I wanted to like this more, but Blomkamp recycles too much and resorts to clichés too often. Also stars Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman and Blomkamp regular Sharlto Copley as the voice and movements of Chappie. FX are top notch as always in Blomkamp’s films.

3 star rating

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BLACK WATER VAMPIRE (2014)

Flick is a shameless rip-off of The Blair Witch Project substituting the witch for a vampire-like creature. Film has amateur filmmaker Danielle (Danielle Lozeau) wanting to investigate and make a documentary about a series of killings of young women that take place once every ten years in the woods surrounding the rural town of Black Water, WA. In each case the victim is left with large bite wounds and a complete loss of blood. Danielle and her crew (Andrea Monier, Robin Steffen and Anthony Fanelli) enter the woods and obviously, find far more than they bargained for. Written and directed by Evan Tramel, this found footage horror rips-off scenes directly from the previously mentioned Blair Witch, [REC] and even a bit of The Last Exorcism and doesn’t even do it with any style or inventiveness, so you cut the flick some slack. The acting and dialog are sub-par and the few effective scenes it has don’t make-up up for the laziness of everything else. Creature looked cool, I’ll give it that.

2 star rating

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THE DAMNED (2013)

By-the-numbers and dull supernatural horror has a group of people in rural Bogota, Columbia getting into a car accident during a bad storm and finding refuge in an old, closed-down hotel. Once there, they are greeted by a very odd man (Gustavo Angarita) and soon find he has a little girl locked up in the cellar. Against his protests, they free her only to find out she has been locked up for almost 40 years and is possessed by a vengeful witch who has the power to take over people’s bodies. Directed by Victor Garcia and written by Richard D’Ovido, this is a very routine possession/supernatural horror that does nothing new with it’s oft told tale of possession, revenge and murder. The FX are fine and location atmospheric, but the execution is very mundane and the cast, except for Brit cutie Sophia Myles, are equally dull. A few moments here and there, but very formula and very predictable. Also stars Nathalia Ramos and Peter Facinelli.

2 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: AFFLICTED (2013)

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AFFLICTED (2013)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Afflicted is a Canadian found footage horror flick directed and starring Clif Prowse and Derek Lee, that cleverly documents a young man’s transformation into a monster and while the film isn’t always successful in what it sets out to do, it is still very effective and also one of the more intimate examinations of what it’s like for an average person to turn into a creature of the night.

The story has two friends, amateur filmmaker Clif (Clif Prowse) and IT man Derek (Derek Lee) planing a year long trip around the world despite Derek’s recently being diagnosed with cerebral arteriovenous malformation. Clif plans to document their travels for a web series/travel blog and thus his camera follows them every step of the way. But, an experience of a lifetime soon turns into a nightmare as Derek is attacked in Paris by a girl named Audrey (Baya Rehaz) whom he takes back to his room from a party. Bloodied and left with some nasty wounds, Derek can’t remember what happened but, insists he’s fine and he and Clif continue on with their trip only to discover that Derek is starting to change. He can’t eat and he starts to blister and burn violently when out in the sun. But, he also has increased strength and enhanced agilities, too. Clif continues to document as it becomes apparent his lifelong friend is changing into something unearthly, not realizing that it puts him in mortal danger as it appears Derek can only now feed on blood… human blood.

I’ll start out by saying that this flick does have a few flaws that hold it back a little but, gets a lot more right than it does wrong. Prowse and Lee start out the film with a lighter tone. An almost party/road trip atmosphere then it starts to turn darker and more grim as Derek gets ravaged and starts to change. The changes are subtle at first but, gradually get worse as Derek seems to sicken and yet get stronger by the day. The found footage format works really well as we follow Derek on his path of transformation and discovers both his new strengths and weakness, such as his aversion to sunlight and food. There are some very creepy sequences as the condition worsens and Derek and Clif begin to realize Derek is becoming a creature of myth… and a dangerous one. Sure we’ve seen this before but, the film is successful in presenting the negative effects of his transformation and the emotional turmoil that comes with it. It is only when he is reveling in his new strengths that things get a bit borderline silly and it evokes scenes from Chronicle and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and changes the tone of the film a bit from the more smoldering intensity of the negative aspects of Lee’s change. The flick also switches gears a bit about halfway through as Derek decides to hunt Audrey down and get answers, while being pursued by Interpol… as let’s just say he’s been very bad. When it becomes more of a hunt/chase film, it is still entertaining but, changes tone a bit and is not nearly as gripping as us watching him transform and feeling his pain and experiencing the increasing danger Clif may be in. His encounter with Audrey also gets a bit over-the-top as compared with the more grounded moments earlier on but, still presents an interesting twist on a very familiar horror story as Derek must now face that he is a monster. For the most part though, the film works and Prowse and Lee have some potential as filmmakers and the horror elements of the flick work a lot better than when it veers into the superpowers elements… though those have their entertainment factor too, as it is part of a very familiar type of horror character. The film has some nice atmosphere and the cinematography by Norm Li is well shot and without loosing the found footage feel. The portrayal of some of the more fantastic elements of Derek’s transformation, such as his augmented strength and agility, are well staged and help keep them from crossing the line into silly.

As for the cast… It’s basically a two man show with Prowse and Lee playing ‘themselves’ and they are fine as they come across as real people and Derek Lee actually portrays his torment and confusion quite well and can be scary when he wants to be. Prowse comes across a caring friend and inquisitive filmmaker but, also someone who may be too close to the situation to realize how dangerous things are getting. Baya Rehaz is effective as Audrey and gives her character a presence in her brief screen time and appears quite formidable and yet not entirely inhuman when Derek tracks her down for their climactic confrontation in Paris. The scene goes over-the-top a bit but, overall works.

I liked this flick and with the found footage format at a point where it’s starting to wear out it’s welcome, it is a novel use for it that puts an interesting spin on a very familiar horror story. The horror elements of this story work far better than the more over-the-top elements and the shift in tone when the film changes story focus at halftime isn’t as involving as what came before but, isn’t a failure either. Prowse and Lee show some real promise as filmmakers and overall this was a refreshing twist on a an overly saturated horror sub-genre and manages to give this somewhat neutered horror staple back a little bit of it’s teeth. Watch through the credits for a chilling epilogue.

3 sets of fangs.

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WARNING: this trailer shows A LOT…

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