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THE WOODS (2006)

Lucky McKee followed up his devious and gruesomely fun May with this David Ross written story of supernatural goings on at at all girls boarding school set deep in the woods. The story is set in 1965 and centers on troubled and trouble-making teen Heather (Agnes Bruckner) who is sent to the strict Falburn Academy by her mother and father (Emma Campbell and horror icon Bruce Campbell, who are not related.) and put under the guidance of the dean Ms. Traverse (Patricia Clarkson). Upon entering, the rebellious Heather not only befriends the lonely and picked-on Marcy (Lauren Birkell) and meets the reigning mean girl Samantha (Rachel Nichols),but, also beings to have strange dreams of something terrifying deep in the woods. Heather hears tales of three witches who once entered the academy and brought carnage and death along with them. As her dreams become more and more ominous and girls begin to disappear, Heather may soon find out that there may be some truth behind the bedtime ghost stories and the fate of she and her schoolmates may have already been sealed.

The Woods is an atmospheric chiller that seems to be influenced by Dario Argento and his classic Suspiria, which dealt with a coven of witches in a dance academy. DIrector Lucky McKee gives the film a nice feeling of dread but, also gives it a touch of fairy tale whimsy in it’s story of school girls encountering supernatural forces in their school in the woods. His visual style is less flashy then Argento but, the earthy colors are rich and the production design not only evokes the era it takes place but, aids in adding that dark fairy tale element as well. The film was also a refreshing return to a more old-fashioned gothic style horror in the tradition of films like Horror Hotel or some of the Hammer horrors by taking it’s time to establish that something is very wrong and unnatural going on and relying more on atmosphere then gore, though, when the time comes, we get a good helping of that. The film moves well but, saves it’s big reveals and most horrific moments for it’s last act and it works and McKee delivers a final showdown between our heroine and the dark forces that is suspenseful, chilling and very spooky. The FX presenting the supernatural are very well orchestrated in both the visual and make-up departments and the sparingly used gore is quite effective. Add to that a very atmospheric score by John Frizzell…with some Lesley Gore tunes added in to give the film some added embiance of not only the time period, but, of teen girl angst…and you have a well crafted and satisfying supernatural horror that entertains and holds ones interest for it’s 90 minutes.

There is a good cast here, too and McKee gets good work from them. Agnes Bruckner is very strong as rebellious teen and resourceful heroine and creates a likable and tough girl who we believe can put up a fight against greater odds when needed. Clarkson is solid, as always, as the strict and yet caring Ms. Traverse but, also imbues her with an air of mystery to keep us guessing as to her true intentions. Campbell is effective as well, in a role that is far less comic then we are used to seeing him and his restraint makes the role work as Heather’s harried and concerned father. Rounding out is an also solid supporting cast of students and teachers that give the film a good helping of it’s atmosphere with their performances. A good cast that help make this old school supernatural horror work.

I like The Woods. It is charmingly old-fashioned at times and relies heavily on atmosphere which director McKee gives it plenty of. It saves it’s most shocking moments till it’s last act, thus making them more effective, and is supported by a good cast and some very good FX on a modest budget. Despite heavily evoking Dario Argento’s Suspiria at times, the film has it’s own style and gives us some unique moments and ideas within it’s more traditional story. No classic but, an effective and entertaining tale of schoolgirls and dark forces.

3 resourceful heroines.

woods rating




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all cheerleaders die



All Cheerleaders Die is a somewhat fun, if not schizophrenic horror/comedy from Chris Sivertson and Lucky Mckee that is a remake of a low budget film they made together back in 2001. Despite having a good time here, I still feel that McKee, who showed so much promise with May and The Woodshas seemed to have lost his way a bit with this and his last film The Woman. His films usually come with an offbeat sense of humor, but lately they are less deftly mixed in, though at least here this is supposed to be a comedy whereas in The Woman, it was just off-putting. But I digress…

The story opens with pretty high school student Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) reviewing footage from a video project on friend and queen bee cheerleader Alexis (Felisha Cooper). It’s revealed the Alexis died during a botched pyramid move and now Maddy seeks revenge on Alexis’ boyfriend, star athlete Terry (Tom Williamson) for immediately shacking up with another cheerleader, Tracy (Brooke Butler). So she joins the squad to set her plan in motion. During the enactment of her plot, things go awry and Maddy, Tracy and the Popkin sisters Hanna (Amanda Grace Cooper) and Martha (Reanin Johannink) wind up dead in a car crash instigated by an angry Terry and his boys, whom are chasing them. But, Maddy is being crushed on by witch Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) who witnesses the crash and uses her supernatural powers to raise the four cheerleaders from the dead. Now back from their watery grave, the four have an appetite for blood and an agenda of vengeance against the jocks that caused their initial demise…but a bizarre turn of events may have the four sexy succubi fighting for their undead lives.

As you can tell by the plot description, McKee and Sivertson’s tale of cheerleaders and revenge is a goofy one and that works both for and against it. The film’s tone is all over the place with it being silly one minute and attempting serious horror the next. The schizophrenic story takes our undead girls from victim’s to villains and back to victim’s and evokes the similar Jennifer’s Body, though without the smug, self awareness…at least Jennifer mixed it’s horror and comedy elements a bit smoother and never reached the degrees of silliness this does. It doesn’t mean the film isn’t fun at times, as it has a good time with the high school horror conventions and proudly uses it’s camera POV to ogle our shapely, scantily clad heroines as they strut around in cheerleading outfits that took like they were designed by a fetish clothier. Again, it’s obvious McKee and Sivertson know their influences and are are having fun with their subject matter, especially when the film goes all The Craft in it’s final act. But, it just never really solidifies to make it the fun treat it should have been. The abruptly shifting tone and the shifting roles of victim’s and villains makes the film more of a series of amusing vignettes loosely fit together than a solid tale. It just needed some consistency. Sometimes it was like watching a high school slasher and sometimes it was like watching an episode of Charmed. Not all the story angles even make sense, such as one where the two sister’s swap bodies upon their return from the dead. It seems only to exist to initiate a comic seduction scene with a mutual male interest. It goes nowhere. All the pieces don’t quite fit together, when all is said and done, and I still haven’t decided if where the film leaves off was cool or crass. I enjoyed this as a light diversion, but expected a lot more from the guy who gave us the deviously fun May and the atmospheric The Woods.

As for our leading ladies, all five actresses are having a blast unleashing their inner vixens, especially Stasey, Butler, Cooper and Johannink as the four spirit squad succubi. They get to tease and terrorize the boys and the audience and once the tables are turned, get to play heroines/victims against a far greater evil and have a good time doing it. Smit-McPhee seems to be enjoying her role as the awkward and lovelorn witch who is both pleased with and a little scared of the results of her spell casting. Her character is kind of a typical ‘school witch’ character, but she gives Leena some nice personality. As the overall villain, Tom Williamson takes Terry from arrogant and self-centered jock to all out demon by the time the credits role and he is very effectively detestable as such. The supporting players also seem to be enjoying their stereotypical high school horror characters and it helps this film a lot to have a cast that get the material and went with it. It adds to the fun.

So, I had a relatively good time with All Cheerleaders Die and certainly enjoyed the exploitation aspects such as making very good use of the leading ladies’ natural assets and the use of the classic fetishistic fantasy elements, as well as, the generous bloodletting and gore…though it could have done without the cheesy CGI blood. I just wish the film had a bit more of a cohesive storyline, even if it remained a silly one and the tone wasn’t so all over the place. It’s an entertaining and titillating diversion, but one that sadly implies that writer/director McKee may have shown us all he has to offer already, which is disappointing for those of us who expected big things after May and The Woods got our attention. Bloody, sexy fun, but could have been much more memorable.

3 sexy succubi.

all cheerleaders die rating