Flick finds hitman Johnny (Stephen McHattie) being tasked by his boss Hercules (Henry Rollins) to cut off the pinkie finger of a fading jazz musician (also McHattie), whom Hercules wants to teach some respect. Not only does Johnny botch this assignment, but makes things worse when he rescues a 14 year-old girl (Themis Pauwels) from Hercules’ clutches, that has been betrothed to a vampire (Tómas Lemarquis). Really! That’s the plot!
Bruce McDonald (Hellions, Pontypool) directs this dull flick from a mess of a script by Tony Burgess and Patrick Whistler. It’s a movie that has too much going on and never finds a way to cohesively bring it all together. We have an aging hitman, an aging junkie, jazz musician, eccentric mob bosses, child trafficking and a vampire…and that’s just for starters. Why did the Countess’ (Juliette Lewis) brother have to be a vampire in the first place? It doesn’t seem to really effect the story too much. What was the point of McHattie playing both characters? It’s actually a little confusing for the first few minutes. Finally, what was the point of all this, as it doesn’t really go anywhere. Despite his noteworthy earlier films, McDonald only succeeds here in making 90 minutes seem like hours. At least his visual style hasn’t failed. The European locations look great, by way of cinematography by Richard Van Oosterhout. Only thing to really recommend here.
Spooky flick tells of the Parsons family, mom Beth (Keegan Connor Tracy), dad Kevin (Sean Rogerson) and young son Josh (Jett Klyne). Josh is a bit of an introvert and starts talking to an imaginary friend named “Z.” At first it seems perfectly natural, then Josh’s behavior starts to change. The boy becomes verbally crude and violent to classmates, to the point of getting indefinitely suspended from school. As his parents seek help from the family psychiatrist (Stephen McHattie), Beth starts to see things and begins to believe that Z may be more than imaginary and certainly no friend.
Spooky flick is directed by Brandon Christensen from his script with Colin Minihan (Extraterrestrial, What Keeps You Alive). He directs his story well and creates a lot of spooky and disturbing scenes. It’s a familiar story, but Christensen avoids using too many of the traditional tropes and when he does, he uses them sparingly and effectively. It’s an unsettling and creepy film, especially when Josh badly hurts a friend (or does he?) and when Z starts to taunt and appear to Beth. There are some chilling moments, specifically some using an old Speak N’ Spell for example. There are some interesting twists, too, as to what this malevolent entity really wants and a startling revelation from the past, that isn’t expected. The film takes a different and disturbing direction in the last act and it is only here where it stalls a little bit. When the film makes it’s turn, while it still chills, we also start to ask where this is all going. It does answer that in the last few scenes, but for a period of time if feels like it loses some of it’s momentum before it’s unsettling climax. The film also evokes The Babadook at times, as it does share some similar themes, elements and imagery, but not enough to feel this film isn’t it’s own thing. It is. Christensen proves to be a talent to keep an eye on, as the film contains elements that might have been silly in less capable hands, such as Z’s apparent preference for 2% milk. Here it’s chilling and it works. Christensen also avoids anything too graphic and shows us only quick glimpses as to what Z really looks like, letting us use our imaginations to fill in the blanks. A solid horror flick from Brandon Christensen.
The cast are really good here. Keegan Connor Tracy is a real standout as mom, Beth. She plays first a woman dismissive of her son’s imagined pal, then one who is slowly becoming concerned at her son’s behavior. This becomes fear once she starts to believe something malevolent is actually attached to her son and takes her performance in yet another direction, when revelations and reveals change the film’s gears. Great work. Sean Rogerson is good as dad, Kevin. He is more of the ‘kids will be kids’, ‘boys will be boys’ mentality and is the Scully to his wife’s Mulder. He never comes off as a jerk, on the contrary he is a loving, caring father, but one maybe too busy in his own work to really notice his son is acting so strangely. Speaking of Josh, young Jett Klyne does strong work as the Parsons’ boy. He is sympathetic and sometimes scary and the actor conveys both very well. Veteran actor Stephen McHattie (Ponypool) is effective as family psychiatrist Dr. Seager and Sara Canning is also good as Beth’s somewhat trouble sister Jenna. Tracy and Canning have good chemistry and are convincing as siblings. A good cast.
Despite a bit of a dip in momentum in the last act, Z is a spooky and disturbing horror flick. It has a familiar story, but tells it well and uses the familiar traditions of such a story sparingly and to good effect. It has some surprising twists and revelations and is bold enough to take it’s story in a different direction before an unsettling and somewhat ironic finish. There is a very sold cast who perform the material well and Brandon Christensen shows he is a talent to watch. A spooky Shudder Original!
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Exit Humanity is an interesting approach to a typical zombie story. It is told by a narrator (Brian Cox) and in chapters from a journal by Confederate soldier, Edward Young (Mark Gibson) who details the story of a zombie outbreak that occurs just as the Civil War is ending and the personal quest he embarks on in the midst of it.
Director/writer John Geddes does give us a lot of the traditional zombie movie elements like the flesh eating, the shot to the head and the humans who are worse then the ravenous zombies, but, also gives us a unique setting, some nicely visualized dream sequences and even some really cool flashbacks and montage sequences done with animation. The make up effects are good, although the film lacks the abundant gore fans look for, and Gibson makes a nice hero trying to keep his humanity despite what is happening around him. There are some flaws that keep the film from being a really strong entry in the zombie sub-genre as the pace is rather slow, the film is a tad long, and despite his novel touches and setting, there really isn’t anything new story-wise here, or themes that others haven’t touched on before in these films…although, the cause of his zombie plague was a cool twist once revealed.
Aside from a serviceable lead in Mark Gibson, the cast also includes genre favorites Dee Wallace as Eve a healer thought to be a witch and Bill Moseley as General Williams a megalomanic who wants to find a cure to the zombie plague, so he may become rich and powerful. Williams doesn’t care how many innocents die while his outmatched doctor (Stephen McHattie) experiments on both the dead and the living.
All in all, it’s not bad and certainly worth a watch if you like zombie movies and, most of all, John Geddes shows some nice potential as a filmmaker and some growth after the OK cannibal horror Scarce. He utilizes his more unique touches well, he frames his shots very nicely and pulls off some effective moments. A nice, though not without it’s flaws, horror flick from Mr. Geddes.
Otis is another of the contemporary trend of trying to be hip by mixing a disturbing subject with off-color and sometimes inappropriate humor. The effect here is just dull, off-putting and silly. Flick tells of serial killer Otis Broth (Bostin Christopher) who is a disturbed man-child loosely watched over by his older brother Elmo (Kevin Pollack) and living in his dead parents’ house. He delights in kidnapping girls who he all re-names Kim, keeps them prisoner as part of a girlfriend/prom scenario then eventually kills and dismembers them. When he kidnaps pretty Riley (Ashley Johnson) he messes with the wrong family. Directed by Tony Krantz and written by Erik Jendresen and Thomas Schnauz, the film is never disturbing enough to be chilling and not funny enough to be…well, funny. The humor is sophomoric and sometimes just silly and it’s attempts to be shocking fall flat too. Only partial saving grace is a very charming and spunky performance by Johnson (the waitress from The Avengers) as his fifth abductee whose vengeful parents (Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas) ineptly try to take matters into their own hands when police prove incompetent. I know this flick has it’s fans but, aside from liking Johnson’s resilient Riley, I was just bored.
SUMMER’S MOON (SUMMER’S BLOOD) (2009)
Despite a good turn by Ashley Greene and a disturbing portrayal by the reliable Stephen McHattie, this is just an epic fail. Greene plays Summer, a young woman who runs away from her drunken mother to find the father she’s never met and winds up the prisoner of a disturbed young man (Peter Mooney) and his mom (Barbara Niven). Three guesses who the patriarch of the house (McHattie) turns out to be. Film is just kind of a mess with none of it seeming to have much purpose and far too many preposterous conveniences occurring to carry the plot forward or be shocking. Director Lee Demarbre helms this very by-the-numbers and with little atmosphere and the script by Christine Conradt and Sean Hogan seems to like being shocking for shocking sake without legitimately trying to tell a story. We get incest, kidnaping and murder without any real reason why and by the end we really don’t see a point to it all. Greene does better than she is usually given credit for but, the film wastes it on just being bad…and at only 90 minutes, kinda boring too.
THIRD PERSON (2013)
Written and directed by Paul Haggis, this is an interesting and engaging drama with three stories told that we know will connect somehow by the time the credits roll. We have a writer (Liam Neeson) separated from his wife (Kim Basinger) and with his lover Anna (Olivia Wilde) in Paris, while trying to complete a new book. We have Scott (Adrien Brody) on business in Rome who finds himself in the middle of a situation involving a mysterious and beautiful woman (Moran Atias), money and some shady characters. In New York there is troubled ex-actress Julia (Mila Kunis) who is trying to regain visitation with her young son after being accused of trying to harm him. Her artist ex-husband (James Franco) adamantly refuses to let her see him, while her lawyer (Maria Bello) tries desperately to change the judge’s mind despite Julia’s inability to handle the situation responsibly. The three stories are all well directed and acted and while I did figure things out before the reveal, it is still effectively done. Brody’s story is the weak link but, otherwise an entertaining drama with a fine cast.
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While Torment offers nothing new to the horror genre, it is a very well made Canadian thriller that provides some very effective chills in it’s 80+ minute running time. After a grim opening at a secluded house, the film settles into the story of widower Cory Morgan (Robin Dunne), his new bride Sarah (Katharine Isabelle) and Cory’s young son Liam (Peter DaCunha) who is not warming up to his new step-mom at all. Cory decides to take them to a remote, family vacation house in the woods for some time to bond. But upon arrival, it appears there has been somebody squatting in the secluded house and unknown to the young couple, they haven’t exactly left yet. Soon Liam vanishes and Cory and Sarah find themselves pitted against a trio of disturbed masked individuals in a fight for their lives and for Liam’s as well.
While normally I am not a fan of the recent torture and home invasion sub-genres, Torment did have elements of both, but these familiar elements were used fleetingly and effectively. Director Jordan Baker knows not to dwell on the more brutal aspects of Michael Foster and Thomas Pound’s script and thus when the shocking moments come, they are effective and we are never bludgeoned over the head with the rough stuff. Baker builds some nice suspense and tension and even successfully creates a likable little family unit that is going through a rough adjustment period and we sympathize with them and that gives us someone to care for when our mysterious intruders reveal themselves. And that, unfortunately, is also one of it’s flaws. The film is a little too ambiguous about the overall purpose of it’s invaders and we never really find out who they are. Sometimes ambiguity is good for a story, but here we needed a little more as to why this bunch is so happily homicidal and intent on keeping Liam. There seems to be something about building their own family, which contrasts the Morgans’ attempt to bring peace to their little trio, but a little more about this Chainsaw Massacre-ish clan would have helped. Jordan Baker does keep the flick moving fast enough that we don’t ask too many questions while it plays out and he has a nice eye for his shots and makes good use of his rural house settings and overall, gives the film some nice atmosphere to go along with the suspense and chills. It’s only once the film reaches it’s conclusion that we start to realize that the whole point is kinda vague. And at that juncture we have been already been moderately entertained and spooked. Familiar material made effective by a good director’s hand.
Another plus in the flick’s favor is that cast are all really solid. We have genre vet, Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, American Mary) giving a strong performance as Sarah. She conveys the young woman’s desire to bond with Liam and the pain she feels when she is being rejected by him. She also presents a resilience and strength when Liam is taken and she is under siege by their uninvited guests and she fights for Liam with a strong maternal instinct despite his rejection. Dunne is also good as a man caught in the middle of a new wife and his son’s grief for his deceased mom and then must fight for his and their very lives when this predatory bunch invades their already fragile family bonding vacation. Also good is young Peter Dacunha, who at 11 is already a horror movie vet having been in The Barrens and Haunterbefore appearing in this flick. The young actor succeeds in expressing the pain of not only his mother’s loss, but his reluctance to accept his new step-mom and does so without coming across as an annoying brat. Good work kid! As for our spooky mask wearing ‘family’ Noah Danby as ‘Mouse’, Inessa Frantowsky as ‘Pig’, Amy Forsyth as ‘Monkey’ and Joe Silvaggio as ‘Rabbit’ all do well in conveying a sense of menace with little or no dialogue. It’s too bad they weren’t given more meat to their story. There is also a small role of a local cop played by vet Stephan McHattie, who is a welcome addition to any cast.
Sure Torment has it’s flaws. The villains’ purpose is never clear, nor do we get any background on who they are, where they came from and why they are building this disturbing patch-work family…and quite violently, might I add. But, it has a good cast led by fan-favorite Isabelle and director Jordan Barker really knows how to build suspense and thrills and has an effective but not overstated visual style that gives this rural set flick a lot of atmosphere. The gore and violence is used wisely to maintain it’s effectiveness and we are given characters to care about which goes along way in helping us overlook that we don’t really know the full reasons for this vicious attack and that we’ve seen it all before. Not a classic by any stretch, but an effective little thriller that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and shows strong potential for director Jordan Baker with a more solid story and script.
This is another favorite of mine. It’s not quite on a level with other apocalyptic 70s flicks like Omega Manand Soylent Green, but it is actually a decent flick and a lot of fun and is a lesser known film from that era. The film does fit in well with those other flicks for a 70s futuristic film fest featuring Ten Commandments actors…only a film geek would come up with that combo and as these films illustrate, it’s enjoyably do-able!
The film takes place in NYC of the year 2012 (was made in 1975, so we’ll cut their vision of our present decade some slack) in a world decimated by an epidemic, where food is now scarce and savage gangs roam the streets with the last, more civilized survivors living in secured compounds within the city. One such compound is run by The Baron (Max Von Sydow), a kind-hearted man who has provided a home, some hope and even food for a small group of survivors under his leadership. His man Cal (Richard Kelton) has even gotten vegetables to grow again in a rooftop garden. Baron sees the group deteriorating and if that’s not enough, there is constant harassment by the thugs of a larger and more aggressive neighboring compound run by the ruthless Carrot (legendary TV and movie bad guy William Smith). But hope arrives in the form of Carson (Yul Brynner), a man who makes his living as a fighter protecting such compounds. Baron hires Carson, but upon hearing the warrior’s plan to one day retire to a small island off the Carolina coast, Baron decides to send his pregnant daughter (Joanna Miles) and Cal’s seeds, along with Carson, to this sanctuary to start fresh and maybe give humanity a chance to re-bloom. With the discovery of his plan, compound members feel betrayed and start to turn on their benefactor and worse yet, Carrot has decided to destroy his rivals for good and take what’s their’s, as well as, their lives. Carson is the only one who stands in the way of what might be civilization’s final downfall, but the odds are great and his is but one man.
Written and directed by Enter The Dragon’s Robert Clouse, this is an entertaining action flick that shares similar 70s films’ bleak vision of what the 21st century would be like. It moves quickly and smartly uses it’s aging star to it’s advantage. Brynner was 55 when he made this and while he still is in fairly good shape, his age is showing and it gives the illusion of a man whose been physically punished by a violent life in the streets and would really like to retire his knife. Clouse’s script is not perfect. There are plot holes…such as why Carrot didn’t send his thugs to take out Carson before he was hired by Baron and eliminate a potential advantage to his rival. That and the film does have more of a TV movie look than a feature film, but it was made for a very modest budget even at this time. What Clouse does succeed at, is creating some interesting characters and keeping the action scenes very grounded, so they appear more as brutal street fights than choreographed and he takes his story seriously and the film never becomes campy. It’s humor comes from some nice interaction between characters, there are some nice dialog moments, especially between Carson and Baron, but otherwise maintains a dark and serious tone. He successfully portrays the disintegration of the group and the foolish things people do when panicked and scared and the harm their panic causes. He also creates an atmospheric world where desperate times can lead to savage actions and normally peaceful people will behave with almost gleeful brutality. It is ironic that fighter Carson may be one of the more civilized people when the others start to turn vicious. He at least only kills in self defense or with good reason. In the last third, Clouse also gives us a fairly suspenseful cat and mouse chase under the streets of New York, as Carrot pursues Carson who is escorting the about to give birth Melinda (Miles) through the subway system. The film’s last act is entertaining and has some brutal moments, but also provides some glimmer of hope that civility and peace might some day return to this shattered world.
The cast are also strong among the principles. There is some weak overacting by some of the lesser supporting characters, but the main cast all do strong work. Brynner is a legend and here he creates a Samurai like character in the noble but deadly Carson. Despite the savagery around him and being a killer, he actually is far more grounded than the panicked and desperate people he protects. All he really wants is a quiet place to live out his days and a good cigar. He seems to have made his peace with the world and how he is forced to live in it and is far more stable than those around him, who quickly turn on each other over a piece of fruit or a bag of beans. Von Sydow is also quite endearing as the Baron. A man of quiet strength and fortitude who still sees hope, but is also smart enough to know when a cause is lost. He is a self sacrificing man who knows when he has done all he can. He and Brynner have some very charming dialog scenes together and they seem to legitimately like each other. It creates a nice character dynamic. Smith is basically a stereotypical villain with the violent dictator that is Carrot. It is a role Smith made a career out of playing and he is damn good at it and gives the simply written Carrot a lot of character and threat with the minimal dialog he has. Smith has always had a strong screen presence and he uses it to good effect here. One of the film’s flaws is that the final confrontation with Carson and Carrot should have been a bit more epic, it was over a little too quick for the build-up of expectations and needed to have more impact. Rounding out is Joanna Miles, presenting a strong woman in Melinda. Richard Kelton is very likable as the scientist Cal and we get a young Stephen McHattie as a compound member and new father trying to do what’s right for his family, while dealing with an increasingly panicked wife. A solid cast in the lead roles.
Overall, I like this film very much as you can tell. Sure it’s cheesy by today’s standards and it’s not perfect. There are plot holes and a little overacting from the supporting cast. But Robert Clouse gives us some solid lead characters, some brutal violence and keeps a tense atmosphere. He gets great work from veterans Brynner and Von Sydow and creates a world where danger lurks both outside and within, as desperation makes people forget their civility and loyalty. It’s not a perfect film, but an entertaining one and one now enhanced by some good old fashioned 70s nostalgia. A personal guilty pleasure and one I recommend for those who haven’t seen or heard of it. Not a great movie, but a good one and one sadly overlooked and underrated.
Rated 3 (out of 4) knife-wielding, cigar-loving street fighters.
Pontypool is a very original take on the zombie sub-genere directed by Bruce McDonald and adapted by Tony Burgess from his own book Pontypool Changes Everything. The film centers on controversial radio DJ Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) whose latest firing has brought him to work the morning show at a small radio station in the equally small town of Pontypool, Ontario. His rebellious nature rubs station manager Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) the wrong way but, seems to amuse cute young tech assistant Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly). Aside from a brief encounter with a strange woman on the way to work, Grant seems to be having an average dull day of snowfall and school closings…but not for long. Unsubstantiated reports start coming in for what appears to be a riot near a doctor’s office. Station helicopter reporter Ken (voiced by Rick Roberts), who is actually in a Dodge Dart, reports a large amount of people mumbling incoherently and carrying out horrifying acts of violence with the military moving in. Suddenly a routine snow-day in Pontypool turns into an apocalyptic situation as the outbreak of violence increases and spreads, seemingly triggered by certain words or phrases that ignite panicked and violent behavior. Trapped inside the station, Grant and company must decide whether to keep broadcasting or keep quiet…but is keeping his mouth shut something Grant Mazzy is even capable of?
Unlike most zombie flicks, Pontypool doesn’t focus on the gore or carnage, though we get a glimpse, but instead the horror and isolation of it’s three main characters trapped in the remote radio station and receiving bits and pieces of the horrific details. It also gives a bizarre twist in that the ‘virus’ is triggered by certain words or phrases, literally locking the mind on those words till the person becomes frantic and then lashes out violently. To be honest, I had a little trouble wrapping my head around this concept, but McDonald portrays it so effectively and it does cleverly conflict with the fact that our main character is a DJ and talking is his way of life. Now his way of life has become key to violence and death. And the directing here is key to making this offbeat concept work so well. McDonald creates some real tension and atmosphere centering on just three individuals locked inside a small radio station and only getting panicked information from terrified witnesses in the middle of this bizarre outbreak. He let’s our imaginations work overtime envisioning what is happening and we can imagine far worse then even the best horror director can deliver. He also gives us a glimpse of these gibberish spouting killers as the ‘outbreak’ literally shows up at the radio station door and it is very effectively portrayed and successfully creepy. There is also some brief but effective splashes of gore and violence to accent what our imaginations have cooked up from the frantic earlier eyewitness reports. Granted, the film has it’s flaws. The concept of a disease(?) delivered through speech is a hard one to really grasp onto, original idea it may be, and some of the dialog bits had me scratching my head as to what the characters were talking about. But McDonald directs this with such atmosphere and intensity that the flaws don’t do much harm. And if the skilled direction is not enough, Bruce McDonald has a tight cast who all do good work to back him up.
As for that cast, I have always liked Stephen McHattie and he is really good here playing the eccentric rebel with a cause that is his Grant Mazzy. McHattie creates a strong characterization of a man who is colorful, controversial and sometimes too much a rebel for his own good. He is a bit of a jerk, but a very likable one who is thrust into a living nightmare where literally saying the wrong thing can get you killed. He is really impressive here and once again proves himself a very underrated actor. In support, Houle gives us a station manager who is not really equipped to deal with anything out of the ordinary in her small town station, but she turns out to be quite likable and conveys the horror of what is occurring outside her four walls very well. Reilly is cute and very endearing as tech support Laurel-Ann and while we get a hint of a crush on Grant, though it’s never acknowledged just conveyed in her performance. She creates a realistic character of a young, smart, slacker type that we can definitely see doing a job such as she does. And since the film is a character study rather then visceral horror, the fact that the cast is strong really goes a long way of making McDonald and Burgess’ concept work. There is also Hrant Alianak as a doctor who seems to understand what is happening and while he is fine, he is one of the characters whose dialog had me scratching my head a few times though that is the script, not the actor.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed Pontypool and it’s approach to the heavily used zombie sub-genre. The cast was really good and the direction was tight and intense. The concept was original, but I do admit it didn’t grab me totally and some of the dialog went over my head despite having my full attention. But flaws aside, it is an original Horror and in a time where sequels and remakes rule the genre, it is a refreshing and still very enjoyable breath of fresh air.