now playing



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

A group of teens on a road trip find their journey interrupted when they get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Soon they find out this was no accident and that their tire was shot out. They also find, to their horror, that a sadistic sniper has got them in his sights and is patiently waiting till they make the wrong move so he can brutally gun them down.

Dark and sometimes savage flick is tautly directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Azumi, The Midnight Meat Train) from a script by he and Joey O’Bryan. There is some very gruesome violence, here and Kitamura puts these young characters through the bloody ringer as the sniper plays with them. The director also keeps tension high, as the killer waits the kids out, for their fear, the isolation and the elements to wear them down into making the wrong move. The script also simply solves the cellphone problem by having our group pinned down in an area with no signal, and uses trying to get to a signal spot a tense plot point. Add to that some clever use of the technology, as the teens try to determine their assailant’s location. If the film has anything that holds it back, somewhat, it’s that a sequence with a family in a passing car gets really over the top with the violence and gore. It’s not that the rest of the film has been subtle, but here it seems just over-indulgent, as it does in the gruesome finale. There’s nothing wrong with a good gore flick, just that this film didn’t need to go that overboard to make us understand the lead characters’ desperation and eventual rage. It was brutal enough at this point. That and it is a very simple premise to be drawn out to feature length, even at just 90 minutes, though never boring.

The young cast are very good, especially Stephanie Pearson as the tough and level-headed Keren. Kelly Connaire is also solid as the sweet and meek Jodi, who learns to overcome her timidity. Anthony Kirlew is sympathetic as the injured Eric and Rod Hernandez does well as the short tempered Todd. Rounding out the road tripping teens are Alexa Yeames as Sara and Jason Tobias as Jeff, both likable in their roles. Overall, an endearing enough bunch, so our sympathies are with them as they are trapped and tormented by this unseen assailant. The Sniper in question is played by someone named Aion Boyd, but he has no dialogue and his motives are kept ambiguous, which works very well here. Any supporting characters such as cops and the before mentioned family are paraded out quickly and disposed of as sniper fodder, to add to the hopelessness of our lead characters’ situation and for body count.

In conclusion, this is a tough, bloody and intense watch from a director whose American films have been spotty. Kitamura’s Japanese films prove he is a talented filmmaker, but he has gotten little opportunity to really show that here…until maybe now. There is some savage violence and some very over-the-top gore…much like his ‘Reservoir Dogs meets Evil Dead’ film, Versus…to add to the suspense and some likable characters to fear for. It’s a very dark and nasty flick, but very effective.

Flick is currently an exclusive on Shudder.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 bullets.




now playing



AZUMI (2003)

Azumi is a colorful and fun Japanese action flick, based on a manga by Yū Koyama, that is directed by maverick Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura. The story tells of young Azumi (Aya Ueto), who is orphaned as a child and taken in to be trained as an assassin for the Shogun, by master Gessai (Yoshiro Harada). She and nine other orphans are split into 5 teams of two for an extensive decade of training. Azumi is paired with handsome Nachi (Shun Oguri) and the two fall for each other over time…until the day they have finished their training and Master Gessai orders each student to fight their long-time partners to the death, as a final test. Having slain the man she loves, Azumi now goes out with the other four survivors as part of a team of hardened and skilled killers on their first mission…a mission bathed in blood and death.

True to it’s roots, Azumi is a comic book-ish and action packed period adventure as directed by Kitamura (Versus, Godzilla: Final Wars) from a script by Mataichiro Yamamoto and Isao Kiriyama. Kitamura makes most of his trademarked over-the-top style with spectacular action, beautiful visuals, outlandish and colorful villains…such as the flamboyant Bijomaru (Joe Odagiri) or the monkey-like Saru (Minoru Matsumoto)…and a beautiful but deadly badass as our heroine. Azumi is the perfect killer with the look of sweet young girl and the skills of a seasoned assassin. While she has been hardened by her training and having to slay the person she loved most, there is still a beating heart in the chest of this warrior and Ueto plays the struggle between assassin and young girl nicely. The film is filled with some very energetically choreographed sword fights, but nothing can prepare one for it’s massive action finale where swords…and swordsman…fly and blood spills generously. It’s a battle of one against an army and it doesn’t disappoint. There is also a rousing score to support the action by Taro Iwashiro and beautiful cinematography to capture the visuals and action by Takumi Furuya. Sure it may get melodramatic at times, but it’s a real treat for fans of these movies and has an epic feel to go along with all the action and Kitamura brings his energetic style to the proceedings, full blast. It’s an old-school samurai flick with some very contemporary cinematic touches and it doesn’t skimp on the blood and guts either.

There is a very large cast here of colorful and stylish characters who are all portrayed well by the cast with the right amounts of restraint and over-the-top when needed. It’s pretty Aya Ueto’s show though and she portrays both a strong woman warrior with nerves of steel and lethal skills, but at the same time, gives us a young girl with a heart and a conscience. There is a bit of a conflict within Azumi and Ueto balances it well. She makes a very endearing and memorable heroine. Beautiful and badass.

I really like this movie. Sure the script could have been a bit tighter, but Kitamura splashes the screen with spectacular and colorful action, interesting and stylish characters and gives us a very likable heroine to root for. The settings and costumes are sumptuous, as is the visuals and cinematography and the action, relentless. At over two hours it’s never dull and has a fast pace propelled by it’s maker’s energetic direction. It also gives you a bang-up, non-stop finale where Azumi racks up quite the impressive body count. Followed by a sadly disappointing…though not all that bad…sequel Azumi 2: Death or Love directed by The Gamera Trilogy’s Shusuke Kaneko.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 swords!

azumi rating





now playing




I’m a big fan of Ryuhei Kitamura’s (Versus, Azumi, Godzilla: FInal Wars) Japanese films, he’s innovative and has a great visual style. I even like Midnight Meat Train a bit, his American debut. So I was eager to catch his newest flick, No One Lives and was sadly, very disappointed.

The film starts out fine with an intense scene of a young woman, Emma (Adelaide Clemens) running through the woods and becoming snared in a trap. So far, so good. Then it cuts to an attractive couple (Luke Evans, Laura Ramsey) driving to a remote motel towing a trailer behind their car. At the same time a ruthless group of redneck thieves are robbing a wealthy home and when caught by the occupants, the family is gunned down in cold blood. Obviously, the two groups are destined to meet and do at a local restaurant. After a tense encounter with the vicious loose cannon Flynn, (Derek Magyar) the gang leaves them be and soon the couple are on their way. They are ambushed and run off the road by Flynn, who leaves them with the hulking Ethan (WWE’s Brodus Clay) to get their PIN numbers while Flynn searches their car…why he doesn’t search the trailer first is beyond me. Instead of finding wealth, Flynn finds the bound and gagged Emma hidden behind a secret panel. Once free, she warns him that they are all going to die as Ethan has already found out. Soon the blood is flowing and this backwoods band of thieves is finding out, in gory fashion, that they messed with the wrong psychopath.

First problem with the film is not Kitamura’s, as the script gives us absolutely no one to root or care for. The thieves are awful people and you don’t care what happens to them, Emma is a droning harbinger of doom, who evokes little sympathy and Luke Evan’s combination of Rambo and Norman Bates is just a robotic killing machine, who is too sadistic and emotionless to work as an anti-hero. We are left with nothing but less then 90 minutes of brutal violence, with absolutely no emotional investment. Kitamura doesn’t even bring his usual kinetic energy to the film as it is very by the numbers and there is little or no tension or suspense, as the next victim’s demise can be seen from miles away. The film looks good and the gore FX are top notch, but there is simply nothing to really get us involved. The script has more holes than the victims. For example, the thieves not searching the trailer, which conveniently carries Evan’s (his character is never given a name) cache of hi-tech weapons. A trailer which sat in front of their house and is obviously full. The remaining thieves also stop at the same motel Evans and his girlfriend stayed at AND pay with his credit card, that Flynn took out of his wallet. Really? All this silly plot contrivance does is give an actor a five minute appearance as a local sheriff. That is it, so what was the point?

No One Lives is just another movie with a paper thin excuse to give the gore FX team a lot to do and hit us with what the filmmakers think are clever ways to grind up faces or explode heads. The actors are all wooden and recite the bad dialog in a monotone fashion, so not even they can breathe life into the cardboard clichés the film passes off as characters. It’s a lame exercise in pointless violence sadly made by a director whose previous work was inventive, fun and gave valid reasons to splatter the screen red, if the story required it. Not much to recommend here unless you are a Kitamura completest, or you don’t mind your violence brutal and pointless.

Rated 2 (out of 4) lethally utilized clipboards!

no one lives rating