31 December 2008

BLACK HUMOR AND VAGINA DENTATA MIX WELL IN: TEETH


After sitting through Killer Pussy only a couple weeks ago I was not certain I was up to another vagina dentata film so soon. In fact I had passed over this a few times at the local DVD store and when I did pick it up I figured I was basically “taking one for the team”to just have something to watch and review as is often the case with me and horror films. I never get what I am expecting or what the cover promises. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised (in a ghastly sort of way) and it is really the type of horror-genre film I am starting to like more and more. That is, one with a ample amount of humor and wit to the story line as opposed to nihilistic angst and depression. Okay, nihilism and depression are scary in that "deep thinking" sort of way and seeing a bunch of moody depressed teenagers offed by a psycho is actually entertaining. But Teeth had that type of gory, sexy charm that films by Brian Yuzna once had, before he moved to Europe and started to make films that now seem so, well, European.

While the movie has all the trappings of a dark comedy make no mistakes about this 2007 black comedy, it is a horror movie.There is gore and severed penises aplenty here and I certainly found my knees defensively clamping together more often than during the silly Killer Pussy. The story follows the innocently beautiful and religiously abstinent Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) who is sexually unaware of her body in all aspects. However we already know something is amiss since her family lives in the shadow of a smoking nuclear power plant and once something happened to her step-brother Brad’s finger (John Hensley) while he “diddled” her in the familiy's plastic swimming pool. He still carries the scar and reflects on what actually happened "that day". I watched the film Shutter the following night and it starred the freaky looking Von Dohlen in yet another slimy role. He does a fine job hope here and I want to see him in more things.

Dawn is committed to the sexual abstinence group called The Promise and yet something changes after she meets new member Tobey (Hal Appleman) and soon she is actually having near sexual fantasies about him. Of course in the fantasy she imagines that they are married first, sweet girl. She and Tobey return to a “lovers pond” they had visited with friends form the group earlier and while making out in a hidden cave Tobey shows what jerks nice guys really are and after whining he has not even jerked off since Easter he pins her down and enters her… and well… chomp. Dawn is almost as panicked stricken as Tobey (and mind you that is a very big almost) as they both stare at the bloody weiner on the cave floor. Tobey flees the cave and is found later dead in the pond, having bled to death in the pond.


Dawn is soon surfing the net and reading about the myth of vagina dentata, or the toothed vagina, and to rule out any doubts she goes to see a sleazy gynecologist who is remarking in one scene about how tight she is and then gawking at his bloody fingers lying all over the floor the next. Dawn is distraught and finds comfort in seemingly safe classmate Ryan (Ashley Springer). Like any likable, shy guy he gives Dawn some sedatives and booze to calm her nerves and then soon is sporting some finger tickler vibrator and has Dawn convinced he is the “hero” she needs to control the fangs down-under. During sex she is relaxed and nothing chewy happens and she realizes she can have some control if she wants. Of course nice guy Ryan is actually the slime ball all men inherently are (at least in these sort of movies or else how will anyone get their Johnson’s bit off) and while bragging on the phone to his pal that he nailed the hottest celibate in the school Dawns gets pissed and clamps down on arrogant Ryan then spits him out.

She next sets the sites of her pearly whites on her misanthropic death-rocker step brother Brad who recently just let her mom die rather than interrupt his hobby of sodomizing his girlfriend and calling 911. In one of the best scenes in movie poor Brad must watch as his faithful Rottweiler makes a snack out of his mangled tallywacker but coughs back up the pierced glands. Yikes. In the final scenes Dawn sits in a car at a Motel 6 type establishment with the greatest dirty old man ever set to celluloid. After becoming increasingly annoyed she turns and gives the camera and knowing and sinister smile. A smile that probably signals a sequel with a more focused and revenge motivated Dawn being in complete control of the situations.

Look, this thing could have gone a couple different ways and perhaps still succeeded. Director/writer Micthell Licthenstein could have made it into a total gory, body count spoof or a soul searching existential horror flick (thank God he did not do that) but he took a sort of middle ground and pulled it all off for the most part. Once comedy becomes part of the equation a little leeway can be given for plot idiosyncrasies that more serious films cannot sustain. The acting is really excellent all the way around as is the photography and score. The camera does not flinch on severed penis shots and one shot of a blood gushing dick stump I had captured for my review I deemed too much for my readers still possessed of some modicum of decency to have to look at. The humor helps it succeed, but it never becomes a brainless farce. I give it 3 1/2 skulls as I can hardly go higher on a horror-comedy, with rare exceptions like Shawn of the Dead perhaps. I definitely prefer it to some of the gloomier horror films I have endured lately such as The Strangers.


28 December 2008

YET ANOTHER "BASED ON TRUE EVENTS" THRILLER: THE ALPHABET KILLER

I was vaguely familiar with the story of the Alphabet Killer when I picked up this DVD. Someone during the time between 1971 and 1973 raped and killed three young girls in the area in and around Rochester NY. The girls initials had matching letters and they were each dumped off in a nearby towns that had the same letter as the victim. I knew that the killer , like the Zodiac Killer, was never caught and while there were viable suspects none were ever anything more than possibilities. This serial killer film is loosely based on those events despite some closing credit information that tries to give the film more of a link to the real events than it deserves. The film takes place in Rochester and three young girls with matching initials are killed and dumped of in a town with the same letter as the victim’s name. That is about the only connection to the facts the film has. Now that in of itself does not mean the film should be embraced or dismissed.

To be honest I liked the film initially but was so let down by the outlandish ending that I give it a marginal recommendation at best. It is directed with some decent B-movie skill by Rob Schmidt (Wrong Turn) and script writer Tom Malloy also stars in the film as Detective Harper. Turning in a good performance as the schizophrenic workaholic detective Megan Paige is Eliza Dushku. Megan is suspicious from the very start that the murder of Carla Costillo, found in nearby Churchville, is more than meets the eye. The fact that she has the double initials C and is found in a town beginning with the letter C seems all but mathematically impossible. She soon begins to collapse under the strain of her monomaniacal investigative technique and when a form of adult schizophrenia sets in, causing hallucinations of the victim, and she attempts suicide she is soon off the case and under medical supervision for a couple years. While in a support group she meets Richard Ledge (Timothy Hutton), a sympathetic and supportive wheelchair bound man who is encouraging of Megan but concerned about her desire to get back into police work.

Megan returns to work in a low stress clerical capacity but that ends as soon as a second victim, Wendy Walsh, is found in nearby Webster NY. Despite her history of schizophrenia Megan is allowed back onthe case by her ex-fiancée police Capt. Kenneth Shine (Cary Elwese). She is teamed up with a none too happy Detective Harper, but naturally he soon comes to respect her and her methods. There is eventually a third victim and much of the film at this point is Megan dealing with her obsession, a part of her disorder perhaps, to catch the killer and her gradual remission into the disease, causing her more auditory and visual hallucinations. The movie almost could work here even though much liberty is given with the real facts. Michael Ironside appears as the arrogant police chief of Webster who does not like Megan and has no intention of aiding the Rochester police department in their investigation. The freaky “flickering” appearances of the dead girls can be explained as hallucinations brought on by Megan’s disease, avoiding having the film become a supernatural thriller, and we are left wondering how the movie will tie itself up at the end. Even David Fincher’s capable direction of Zodiac left us somewhat wanting since the Zodiac, like the real Alphabet Killer, was never caught and we just wanted more closure. We assume the film will end on some such similar note, or a killer will be created and an ideal ending to an open police case will be created. The filmmakers take the second option… and totally blow it.


In a completely unnecessary plot twist they make the crippled (though not really crippled of course) Timothy Hutton character the killer and the film descends into utter low B corniness. It is more like a non-surprise twist I expect from some of the low budget Japanese stuff I watch here sometimes. He escapes capture with a gunshot wound to his foot into the freezing Genesee River while Megan has a break down on the river bank. The films ends with Megan strapped up in the mental ward of the hospital surrounded by the ghosts of more and more dead girls while pedophile Richard Ledge sits smiling at a young girl in the pews of St. Michael’s church, where all the victims had gone earlier and knew Ledge. This is the type of ending you do when you cannot think of a really good ending. It was so absurd and rises so many unanswerable questions I will not waste anymore time dealing with it. I would have given this at least 2 1/2 skulls until that hokey ending was dropped on my lap. I will still go 2 skulls, which makes it watchable for the most part. There is little real violence or gore, and the one brief topless shot of Dushku was unnecessary. The film has an R rating but it barely deserves it. Disappointing really since it could have gone somewhere at the end.




26 December 2008

FICTITIOUS TRUE EVENTS INSPIRE: THE STRANGERS

The Strangers has had some box office success uncommon for a low budget ($9,000,000) horror film that was also beset with production and delayed release problems. It pulled in over $20,000,000 on its opening weekend of May 30th and made over $50,000,000 in less than a month. Not bad at all. Okay, but does that mean it is really a great movie? First off the movie, written and directed by Bryan Bertino, is marketed as being based on actual events. The movie even opens with a silly narration about FBI statistics and that the facts in the case of Kristen Mckay and James Hoyt are “still not entirely known”. That is because there has never been a true case of crime that involved a couple named Kristen Mckay and James Hoyt. Despite what you may read on the net by conspiracy nuts there is no such case. Some urban-myth prone bloggers have gone so far as to claim the case is actually true but that all records have been “scrubbed” from the Internet to protect the surviving family members privacy. That is crap. There is no confirmation from the filmmakers that the film is based on the Keddie murders in California in 1981 and the only confirmed true event that inspired Bertino seems to be a unimaginably heinous event from his childhood when a stranger knocked on the family door asking for someone who did not live there. Later it was found out some empty houses in the neighborhood were broken into that night. My God!!!


The story was filmed in rural South Carolina and overall the direction is top notch as well as is the acting from Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, as the victims. The problem is the really lame story and pointless ending where the bad guys triumph and ride off into the sunset assuring each each other "It'll be easier next time". In all honesty the story is one that we brave but jaded soulswho ingest horror/slash films have seen in some form a million times before. People in a house in the woods are stalked by one or more thrill killers whose only motive is to see people suffer and die. We do not expect a great deviation from the slasher film formula and I would say my gripe with this film is just that: that in its attempt to be unique it veers too far away from the formulaic ending where the girl in house either prevails or breaks even against the evil forces that have stalked and tormented her for ninety minutes or more.



After a rather bleak evening where James has had his marriage proposal rejected by Kristen they wind up at the Hoyt family home to sort things out or something. A girl knocks on the door asking for Tamara, but no Tamara lives there (see the connection now to the actual events the film was based on?) and later after James leaves there are loud bangs and knockings all over the house in a scene reminiscent of Nimrod Antal’s similar film from 2007 Vacancy. Little things are moved around the house or disappear causing Kirsten to realize someone is in the house with her and in one fairly creepy scene the Man in the Mask silently watches Kirsten as she fidgets in the kitchen. There are spooky and jolting moments and at times the tension is built up nicely. Liv Tyler carries a lot of the movie on her own and does fine really as the stalked female who must stand face to face with monstrous evil.




The Masked Man revels himself to her from the window it a predictable but effective scene and panic takes her over by the time James returns in response to her frightened phone call (he left her alone in the house after the doll faced girl episode and loud bangings to go get a pack of cigarettes!). At first dubious he soon is convinced as one of the stalkers appears at the end of the driveway in a doll’s mask. Soon the film is a stand off with Kirsten and James inside the house and the psychos both in and out at their leisure. James actually finds a shot gun and plenty of ammunition but only succeeds in killing a friend of his who shows up later. I mean, this guy had a blasted shot gun and blows it. Kirsten and James decide they need to leave the house and run around outside in the dark and try to get to the tool shed and a radio that is located there. Not a good idea of course. This and that effectively jolting event happens but in the end we are left with a totally downbeat ending that makes the whole movie’s journey a waste of time.


The killers simply tie up the hapless pair and stab them to death slowly with a butcher knife. Now you can read into whatever you want, like, that this how life really is and the bad guys win and get away to do it all again. And sadly that is often the case. But also, the bad guys don’t usually just lumber around in near slow motion or sit in swing sets in a doll mask and try to look eerie. That the heros in this film do not inflict even one injury on their evil assailants is just too unbelievable especially considering that two of them are simply human women and the protagonists had a shot gun at one point. Liv Tyler could have been a screen queen to rival Jamie Lee Curtis but instead she winds up a babbling hysterical basket case who can’t hold her ground against even female slashers. Jamie Lee fended off Michael Myers with a clothes hanger or Chrissake. And then we are treating to a totally patronizing life where the two victims realize only too late how much they love each and now say the words... only it is too late. So the lesson we learn from this is you have to say those words while you can people, before a band of serial killers rob you of the opportunity.




This is an okay slasher/stalker type film that did well, I think, based on the hype and marketing. And there is nothing wrong with that. But don't go into thinking it is anything more than an average to slightly above average slasher film. Basically you have two characters that are never fully developed who are beaten down and killed and a trio of killers you never know anything about, not even what they really look like who ride off in a Ford truck most likely into a true event inspired sequel. If you want to see a bleak film based on true events see one of the versions of Helter Skelter (1976 and 2004) based on the Manson Family murders. And Charlie is a lot scarier than a silent, staring girl in a doll mask. Go ahead and see it, but don’t go buying into the true event web lore that has developed around this simple slasher stalks girl in the house film.

23 December 2008

KILLER VINES IN MEXICO IN: THE RUINS


Produced by Ben Stiller and filmed in Australia on a low budget of $8,000,000 (well, that is low by today’s standards) this well paced little film based on a book by Scott B. Smith, while not without the usual faults that plague most horror movies, is entertaining enough to recommend. I am not very familiar with the faces of the cast for the most part but they did all a good job. Over all the film is well acted and directed and the only real issue with the film, for me, was with the “creature” the group of curious hikers must face: killer weeds. I just have always had an issue with plants being scary. They usually are not and in this movie rather than have the entire focus center on some sort of walking plant monster the tension stays chiefly focused on the group of friends who find themselves trapped on top of an ancient Mayan pyramid with no escape from the elements or their gun-totting captors.


A group of American college students (okay, it is a tried and tested to death formula but else would we expect, middle aged Shriners?) are vacationing in southern Mexico and decide to accompany their new found friend from Germany, Mathias, on a small trip to locate his brother who is on an archeological dig in some desolate Mayan ruins. They follow the directions scrawled out on a hand drawn map and when the group, along with a young Greek man who is searching for his friends as well, arrive they are confronted by angry local Mayans. There are communications problems and the Greek kid is shot first with an arrow to the chest then gets a bullet to his skull. The group quickly flee up to the top of the pyramid and there find an abandoned archeological camp. The villagers surround the base of the temple and seem to just be waiting and certainly are going to allow the group to leave alive.The panicky youths cannot get a cell phone signal but soon begin to hear a cell phone ringing from inside a shaft that leads down into the temple. In desperation Mathias, claiming it is his brother’s phone, descends. A little later he is lying on the temple floor with a broken back and when one of the girls, Stacy (the very cute Laura Ramsey), descends to help him she herself is injured when she falls and punctures her leg.


They eventually remove the Mathias and when the two females descend yet again into the shaft to find the cell phone they find not only a dead girl but also that the cell phone ring tone is being mimicked by the vines in the dungeon like chamber from which they barely escape. The tension gets worse now as the Mathias’ legs are infested with the vines and they burrow down to his marrow. Stacy has issues as well when the vines appear to be crawling throughout her body. Med student Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) amputates Matias' legs using a rock and hunting knife. The scene is pretty effective. Later Stacy is found delirious, trying to cut the vines out of her body and when they others try to help her she cuts Jeff's hand and stabs her boyfriend Eric (Shawn Ashmore) in the chest.


Unfortunately we are left with the standard modern horror movie ending really where the last survivor, Jeff’s girl friend Amy (Jena Malone) almost escapes but feels the vines squirming around her eye as she is driving away in a jeep. So no one survives and as the film fades the Greek guy's friends come walking up to the temple looking for him. Get it? The cycle continues. I just knew that was going to happen too. Anyway, there as no big surprises, or no surprises at all, except that the acting and dialog is great and the scenes are well shot. There is enough gore and violence to give the film some life and yet it is not overdone. Again, what can you really do with plants as the thing that is pursuing you? And maybe more could have been done really. The plants are never scary and even seem to remain on the sideline of the story. The real threats seem to be the Mayan villagers and the scorching sun and lack of water. I think if the malevolent plants had been on screen more and ripped someone limb from limb it would have been more exciting, but I can still recommend this one.


20 December 2008

WELL DONE TIME TRAVEL FLICK FROM SPAIN: CRONOCRIMENES (TIME CRIMES)

This is a first time feature length film from Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo. He did receive an 2005 Oscar nomination for a short film but who in the hell ever watches shorts? He also wrote the script and plays in his first feature as well. Actually there are only four actors in the entire film, two men and two women (and a credited double so technically five). The low budget film also takes on the daunting subject matter of time travel. So what can happen when you have a new director's first time full-length movie in Spanish about time travel and a cast of only four actors? You get Los Cronocrimenes (Time Crimes) and it is a pretty damned good movie. Devoid of flashy effects and technical gimmickry and gory mutilations the movie takes a pretty simple premise and runs with it at a good pace from start to finish and simply uses a good script and good direction to get the job done.

What makes the time travel subject matter here a little more interesting than some similarly themed films is that the protagonist (and paradoxically the antagonist as well) Hector (Karra Elejalda) only goes back in time a couple hours and therefore the drama centers around him trying to alter a series of events that he himself set into motion. To further complicate matters he goes back in time a second time even and therefore there are three Hectors, two of them trying to alter the actions of the other in the past and the last one becoming aware little by little of what is happening.


The film does not get too technical and yet is still fairly plausible requiring only moderate suspension of disbelief. The time travel machine is nothing fancy and there are no low budget CGI effects to muck it all up. Reviews online discuss the absence of major loop holes that are typical of time travel films. I however did have a problem with one line of logic and while scanning the film a second time for vidcaps I tried to solve the problem but was unable to. If you see the film, and I recommend it highly, maybe you can get back and explain to me how the original Hector, before anyone traveled back in time, wound up in the time machine in the first place. I can see no reason for it. I can see why the Hector we are introduced to winds up in the machine as he flees the second masked Hector, who would actually be the original Hector, I guess, but how did the original Hector, before he was being chased by himself, get into the laboratory with the machine and why did he get in it in the first place?


Sometimes something like that can ruin a film for me but in this case it did not. The acting for a low budget film is great as Hector retraces his steps from only a short time in the past and he must figure out ways to outsmart himself and prevent a tragedy he perpetrates unwittingly. The way things are resolved is excellent really though some people may not like the downbeat low key ending. Vigalondo plays the roles of the scientist Chico who is juggling the various Hectors around in time and trying to keep each one’s motives a secret from the others. Barbara Goenaqa plays Chica, an innocent and assisting passerby who gets caught up in Hector's quandary and becomes the focal point of his plans to undo the “crime” that is committed, but to undo one he must commit another. She is convincing and beautiful and is kind enough to just lie around naked or in her panties for a good portion of the time.


Other than the one plot glitch I mentioned, and maybe I missed something, it is a believable film that is well shot and well acted. The music score is helpful and not distracting. It has the qualities of a well thought out independent movie and, if these things matter to you, it was well received at various film festivals but usually that does not matter much to me. I like what I like and vise versa regardless of awards or box office statistics. Karra Elejarda is really great as the bewildered and desperate, though ultimately quick thinking and methodical, Hector. He looks so everyday with his bad complexion and potbelly. If you do not mind subtitles (some people do you know) I recommend this one and it even gets a whopping 3 1/2 skulls from persnickety lil' me. Most likely one I will watch at least once more.