Wednesday, December 29, 2010

'The Skeleton Key' is full of badly used cliches

The Skeleton Key (2005)
Starring Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, Peter Sarsgaard, and John Hurt
Director: Iain Softley
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Caroline (Hudson), a hospice nurse with personal issues, is hired to help an elderly woman (Rowlands) with her dying, paralyzed husband (Hurt). They live in a creepy old Southern mansion, deep in the bayou, and surrounded by even creepier villages. Caroline soon discovers that there is more going on in the creepy house than meets the eye and that the man she is tending to is more likely the victim of a magical curse than a stroke. Soon, this young non-believer is drawn into a world of folk-magic, curses, and southern discomfort!

"The Skeleton Key" does a nice job of drawing the viewers into the strange environment into which Caroline enters, and it does a fine job at pacing the story, but when it comes to staying involved with the story, viewers have to be willing to accept the fact that everything Caroline does is dictated by plot concerns and horror movie "stupid character" cliches. If viewers don't mind a character who lives her life by "Things Every Horror Movie Character Must Do in Order to Live Up to Bad Writing Principles," the suspense in "The Skeleton Key" never lets up.

When it comes down to it, "The Skeleton Key" is yet another paint-by-numbers supernatural thriller that brings nothing new to the table. It could almost have been a neat film like "Cursed," except that it uses too many of the cliched elements badly. Caroline's behavior and actions is the most glaring of these. The "twist ending" is also so well-worn that I can't comment on it without spoiling the entire movie... but I could have done without it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween 2010!

This may not be the busiest of my blogs as far as new posts go, but it still showcases some of the greatest monster movies ever made... the Universal Pictures fright features from the 1930s and 1940s. These are monster movies that should be at the heart of any Halloween, and they are movies that any horror fan MUST see.

Concept art for Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

If you haven't already, you really should check out those great movies. They're even easy to acquire. Click on the links to read my take on some of the best creature features to ever be unleashed upon mankind! And have a happy Halloween!

The Dracula Legacy Collection

The Frankenstein's Monster Legacy Collection

The Mummy Legacy Collection

The Invisible Man Legacy Collection

The Wolf Man Legacy Collection

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

'Eye See You' isn't worth looking at

Eye See You (aka "D-Tox") (2002)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Charles Dutton, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Berenger, Polly Walker, Robert Patrick, and Christopher Fulford
Director: Jim Gillespie
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

When his girlfriend is murdered by a serial killer who has targeted him and other cops, FBI Agent Jake Malloy (Stallone) falls apart. After a suicide attempt, he checks himself into an isolated rehab center that specializes in helping police officers. The killer vowed to stay after Malloy, however, and as a blizzard cuts the facility off from the rest of the world, it appears that he may have be making good on his promise.

"Eye See You" is a charmless spin on the "Ten Little Indians"-type mystery--a group of strangers in an isolated setting, one among them is a killer who is bumping off the rest--with a heapin' helpin' of slasher-film style violence added.; Unfortunately, most of the characters never evolve beyond annoying stereotypes and there are a couple of really glaring plotholes that should have been fixed before this movie went anywhere near the public. To make matters worse, the acting is nothing special, except in a negative sense where Stallone is conccerned. He is so awful in this film that if I hadn't just seen "The Expendables", I would be wondering.. the guy could act at one time, right? I'm not misrembering, am I?).

Oh... and the ending is one of those infuriating ones where the hero ends up devolving almost to the level of the bad guy and lowers himself to a status of little more than a murderer himself.

There's nothing new or even particuarly good here. Don't bother seeing "Eye See You."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A different sort of action move that misfires

End of Days (1999)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunny, Kevin Pollack, Rod Steiger, and Udo Keir
Director: Peter Hyams
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Jericho Cane (Schwarzenegger), a world-weary detective, must fight against personal temptation, Satanists, a secret sect within the Catholic church,and Satan himself (Byrne) to protect a young woman named Christine (Tunny) and prevent the End of Days from occurring as the 20th century gives way to the 21st.

"End of Days" is a collage of cliched characters, stereotypes, and action scenes that resolve themselves pretty much as one would expect. It's to the supernatural thriller as "Predator" was to the monster movie, although not quite as expertly paced, nor as well acted. (While Gabriel Byrne makes for a great Satan, Schwarzenegger doesn't quite have the range that the part of Jericho Cane calls for--he can't pull off depressed OR religiously enraptured, and the role needs an actor who could have done both.)

The biggest weakness of "End of Days", which causes it to barely rate a Six, is that the director didn't know when it was time to start the climax of his movie. He seemed to feel obligated to cram in one more chase and explosion in the NYC subway even though dramatically the movie should have moved to its resolution once Jericho rescued Christine from the gathering of Satanists on New Year's Eve.

Although entertaining, and its creators deserve credit for attempting to make a different sort of action movie, "End of Days" is just too flawed to rise above average. You can easily save watching this movie until end-of-the-world mania comes back into style in 2011 and 2012.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

'Wolfman' remake is a dissapointment

The Wolfman (2010)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving
Director: John Johnston
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Actor Larry Talbot (Del Toro) returns to his ancestral home in England after his brother mysteriously disappears. While trying to solve the mystery, he is attack by a werewolf.

"The Wolfman" is a remake of the classic Universal "The Wolf Man," arguably the period at the end of the Golden Age of monster movies. It is one of the best of werewolf movies to ever be made, but that's damning with faint praise, as a glance at this selection of reviews from sister blog Terror Titans shows. There aren't all that many good werewolf movies, so it's not hard to be among the best.

The first and biggest problem with the film is that it abandons the "Universal Gothic" setting, that strange Never-ever Land where torch- and pitchfork-wielding peasants and spell-casting gypsies existed side-by-side with European modernity in favor of a late 19th-century England that ends up feeling more like the American West when London becomes a shooting gallery as the Wolf Man runs rampant in the city.

An almost as big a problem is that instead of forging an identity and story of its own--which one might think the writers and director would have wanted to do, given the abandonment of the classic Universal horror environment--it keeps referencing the werewolf movies that spawned it, such as the original "The Wolf Man" and the very first (commercially disastrous yet artistically superior "Werewolf of London" films). From the origin of the secret curse that afflicts the Talbot family (inspired by "Werewolf of London") through the chasing of a beautiful woman through a fog-bound forest (inspired by "The Wolf Man") admirers of the old movies will see them reflected and echoed throughout this picture. Unfortunately, these "homages" will primarily remind you of how empty of ideas and substance this film truly is instead of making you admire it for building upon a grand creative legacy. Oh, and let's not even dwell on the shoehorning of Jack the Ripper into the film.

Where "Werewolf of London" saw its protagonist heroically stand up to evil, and "The Wolf Man" saw its protagonist(s) break under the weight of tragedy brought about by random events, "The Wolfman" has no real moral or emotional core. It's a superficial and melodramatic, all flash and no substance. Del Toro seems to have been cast primarily for his similarity in appearance to Lon Chaney Jr.; Blunt seems to have been cast primarily for her ability to look gorgeous, and twice-so when crying; Weaving is just there to fill space, like the Jack the Ripper backstory his character is tied to; and Hopkins is there... to be Anthony Hopkins. I think he may have retired from acting some time in the early 1990s and now just shows up to run lines. As for Hugo . None of these actors are bad and they are easily as good as the material they are working with, but there is no depth here. And that shallowness is what separates this modern Universal werewolf movie from the old ones from the 1930s and 1940s. And as flawed as "The Wolf Man" was, it wasn't shallow.

If you're looking for a film that will entertain you, spook you, and even gross you out (the transformation scenes will put you off your lunch I think), this is a movie to check out. Just know that it's not the classic that "Werewolf of London" is... and that unlike "Werewolf of London" or even the original "The Wolf Man," no one will be talking about this film more than seventy-eighty years after its release.

And this is a shame, because the talent brought to bear to make this movie should have been able to come up with something far better.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Be careful they don't slip into the tub...

Slither (2006)
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Henry, and Tania Saulnier
Director: James Gunn
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

An alien life-form lands on Earth and turns the citizens of a small town into parts of his hivemind. Unless Chief of Police Bill Pardy (Fillion) and an ever-dwindling group of survivors can stop the menace now, the entire world will be consumed.

"Slither" is a movie fans of monster films and B-horror flicks have been waiting their whole lives to see: It's a B-movie style monster film with a decent budget, a great script, and a cast of fabulously talented actors. It is, quite possibly, the greatest monster movie so far this decade, and it takes a well-deserved place among the best of Universal Picture's horror flicks.

Skin-crawlingly creepy, expertly filmed, rich in snappy dialogue and dark comedy, and full of unexpected character twists, this film delivers everything horror movie fans could ask for. Even gorehounds will feel satisfied as the end credits begin to roll.

Although this movie bombed at the box office, it is one recent horror movie that deserved more attention than it got.

Monday, March 8, 2010

'Horror Island' is barely worth visiting

Horror Island (1941) Starring: Dick Foran, Leo Carillo, Peggy Moran, Hobart Cavanaugh and Foy Van Dolsen Director: George Waggner Rating: Six of Ten Stars A struggling businessman (Foran) organizes a "mystery weekend" excursion to an old, supposedly haunted pirate hideout as part of a new tourism venture. He and his customers are soon haunted by a very real killer. This is a minor horror film from Universal that's more spoof than horror, poking fun at the style of mystery/thriller films where a cast of characters are stuck in a creepy house and stalked by a killer. The film is amusing enough, especially once the action moves to the island, but it would have been a stronger film if a little more time had been spent on the mystery/thriller aspect of the film. Instead of trying to come up with a decent story, the writers instead seem like they were simply trying to cram as many movie mystery cliches into the story whether they belong or not. For example, a gangster on the run with his gun moll go on the tour of the island, but they are neither effective red herrings nor particularly sympathetic so we don't really care if they live or die. All they do is waste space and film running time. "Horror Island" does manage to present a villain that is both amusing and creepy, as well as provide a third act twist that comes as a genuine surprise. The cast is also universally good, even if some of them are just wastes of space in the film and story. The sets and cinematography are all solid and add to the film's atmosphere. Aside from the weak script, everything else is solid enough... not spectacular but good enough.

Friday, February 5, 2010

'A Perfect Getaway' is not a perfect thriller

A Perfect Getaway (2009)
Starring: Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez
Director: David Twohy
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A honeymooning couple (Jovovich and Zahn) on a multi-day nature hike in Hawaii discover that brutal killers targeting tourists may have taken refuge in the same area. Can their new friends (Olyphant and Sanchez) be the murderers?

"A Perfect Getaway" is a weakly written thriller that is elevated by good performances by its stars and nice cinematography. While it pulls off its Big Reveal with some skill and "plays fair" for the most part--allowing the viewers to try to solve the mystery of who the murderers are before the filmmakers do--the writer/director's assumption that the viewer will buy into the fact that someone is ex-military or used to work as a butcher makes them spooky and creepy and viable murder suspects is moronic and probably an notion that only someone born and bred in Los Angeles and Hollywood would buy into. Other red herrings presented as the film unfolds are even weaker, leading the film be rather dull and boring.

Unless, of course, you think military people and outdoorsy types are somehow inherently spooky and scary. If you do, then you'll probably find the film to be all sorts of kinds of exciting and thrilling.

That sensation may dissapate, however, when you realize that the murderers are rather idiotic, in that they box themselves in on a dead-end trail and then call attention to their location by notifying the authorities and putting an innocent couple in a really flimsy frame that would break at the slightest scrutiny. (I'm aware that the driving force behind the killers is the psychotic goal one of them has to "live 100 lives" but they can't have been doing it for as long as the story implies if they've been as stupid as they are shown to be here).

It's too bad the good performances here are wasted on such a weak script. All the stars come across as perfectly normal and likeable people (assuming Southerners and military men don't scare you out of hand) and it's especially nice to see Jovovich in a role unlike those she usually plays. And it's surprising that the writer/director who brought us such fun B-movie romps as "Warlock" and "Pitch Black" would blow it so badly when making a more "respectable" thriller. But then that may have been the problem. He was going for "realism," but instead ended up putting Hollywood biases on display?