Everything about "Creature" screams B-movie. To that end this gritty little video nasty pulls out every low-budget stop toward sexing up and grossing out its audience. Using many of the exact same clichés as the currently running cheese-fest "Shark Night 3D," director Fred Andrews manages to at least have more fun along the way. There's something to be said for a dirty little horror movie that exists entirely to give pubescent teenagers something to blab about between gasps and groans. If you have to ask what "Creature" is about, you're probably not film's target audience. The remote back country of Louisiana hides a community with its share of secret history. A few generations ago a giant crocodile did a number on the wrong man’s incestuous mate. Our prototypical cave man took out his vengeful aggression in a fairly disgusting but transformative way. Now, the locals must feed the half-man-half-gator monster. Enter a half-dozen twentysomething brawny and bitchy tourists to provide some barely clad fodder for said hungry creature. Topless chicks--check; intimidating yokels at the gas station--check; would-be lesbians fooling around--check, lots of bloody mayhem--check. "Creature" should have gone straight to video. Since it's playing on a few big screens at least "Shark Night" could get some competition.
Rated R. 93 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)
Shark Night 3D
You know you're in trouble from the start when director David R. Ellis ("Snakes on a Plane") resorts to fast-forwarding though opening sequences so that scenery and actors move at hyper speed. It's a cinematic cliché used by amateur filmmakers searching for something to say. Any temptation to associate "Shark Night 3D" with last year's R-rated guilty pleasure "Piranha 3D" is thwarted via "Shark Night's" lesser PG-13 rating. The movie falls into the predictable pattern of every other slasher flick with our group of nubile twentysomething college kids running into confrontation at a small-town gas station where a couple of local hicks make their baleful intentions known. Dennis (Chris Carmack) wears an impressive scar under his right eye as a testament to the volatile relationship he had three years ago with college squad leader Sara (Sara Paxton). Dennis's pal Red (Joshua Leonard) is several cards short of a full deck. Once at Sara's lakeshore house our party animals indulge in some hotdog water skiing that costs a member of the group a limb to a very fast swimming shark. A gigantic hammerhead swimming in the saltwater bayou is to blame. Attempts at getting said victim to a hospital meet with mixed signals from Dennis and Red as the only people around to assist in the desperate situation. Donal Logue plays Greg, the area's slacker Sheriff who takes his job about as seriously as he does his air-drumming hobby. For a shark horror movie, there are hardly any of the shocks or sustained suspense audiences expect from the genre. Most lacking is any sense of humor or style in a film that aspires to mediocrity and achieves it all too easily.
Rated PG-13. 91 mins. (D+) (One Star - out of five/no halves)
Final Destination 5
The "Final Destination" franchise settles into its comfortable shock horror rhythm in this latest outing. Notable is the film's proficient use of 3D--the best such example of any 3D movie so far this year. Debut director Steven Quale and his production team break the window with a purpose and regularity that puts other "3D" movies to shame.
As with its previous installments, the unfolding body-count of accident victims is predicted in a complex opening sequence of Rube Goldberg-styled outrageous disaster. Here, the Grim Reaper’s youthful targets are co-workers at a paper production company going on a work-related retreat. Needless to say, not much "team-building" is in store for the core group. A crumbling suspension bridge--not unlike San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge--sends our doomed twentysomethings fleeing their bus only to meet with gruesome deaths of blood-spattering, body-piercing, eyeball-popping variety. In keeping with the franchise's constant recipe, the sequence is a premonition envisioned by one member of the party who attempts to "cheat" death by sounding the alarm just before the actual calamity strikes. Sam (Nicholas D'Agosto) is the brief crystal-ball-reader. Sam's newly ex-girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) is also aboard. Naturally, Sam does everything he can to save Molly. Since the condemned will die in the order that Sam predicted, he and Molly are far down the list.
There’s irony in how entertaining this 11-year-old horror franchise as compared with the torture-porn stylings of lesser efforts, such as the “Saw” films. The filmmakers and actors here all seem to be having a blast. If you start to become award of the inherent dangers constantly hanging over your head and hiding under your feet after seeing “Final Destination 5” then the filmmakers have done their job. Even if that doesn’t happen, at least you’ll get to experience a 3D movie that properly exploits the process.
Rated R. 95 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Producer/co-writer Guillermo del Toro, the visionary filmmaker responsible for "Pan's Labyrinth," performs the neat trick of adapting the original 1973 television horror movie "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" into a tastefully suspenseful work of kid-friendly art, directed by newcomer Troy Nixey. In spite of some glaring plot inconsistencies regarding such matters as regional location and creature voices, "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is sure to scare the heebeejeebies out of willing 12-year-old audiences. It's surprising that the MPAA gave the film an R rating considering that, to this critic's eye, the movie is ideally suited to preteen and teenaged viewers.
Bailee Madison ("Bridge to Terabithia") plays Sally, the ten-year-old daughter of hotshot architect Alex Hurst (Guy Pearce). Alex invites Sally away from his ex-wife to come stay with him and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) at Blackwood Manor, a Gothic New England mansion he's busy restoring. The spooky house holds secrets from its original owner, an artist whose son's death drove him homicidally insane. Things go bump in the night (and in the day) after Sally goes poking around where she shouldn't, namely the basement. Bailee Madison's compulsive knowing smirk of approval slyly admits her character's playful attitude toward the ominous danger that threatens her. Naturally no one believes her stories about whispering little monsters that haunt her and commit acts of vandalism. There's very little blood in this horror movie built on suspense--think "The Others." "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is a nuanced horror movie modulated to incur just the right quality of nightmare. You might want to sleep with the light on for a few nights after seeing it.
Rated R. 100 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)
John Carpenter, the man responsible for reinventing the horror genre in 1978 with "Halloween," retains his trademark ability to wrench suspense. Unfortunately, his dated sense of character and narrative development has diminished considerably over the years. Screenwriters Shawn and Michael Rasmussen are of little use in this department. So it goes that Carpenter's first film since "Ghosts of Mars" in 2001 comes off as a naively pleasant but rambling exploration in old-school horror. You'd have to be a pretty inexperienced audience member to catch a chill up your spine.
Amber Heard holds her own as Kristen, a koo-koo-in-the-cabeza abduction victim consigned to North Bend Psychiatric Hospital, a '60s-era mental institution, after she burns down the farmhouse where she was once victimized. Under the supervision of electroshock-therapy proponent Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris), Amber takes her place among four fellow female crazies of classic horror character archetypes. A gray-skinned ghost-girl lurks the ward at night intent on killing the lunatic inmates one by one. The sane-seeming Kristen figures out that she must escape the hospital at any cost if she is to survive. A cruel nurse and a not-so-cruel orderly don't present as much menace as the filmmakers imagine. We never experience a sufficient level of dread or danger. Auditory sound queues signal knee-jerk shocks that never go beyond the ears.
Cinematographer Yaron Orbach's widescreen camera work invigorates the limp storyline. Nevertheless, bland production and lighting design elements give the film the look of a cheap soap opera. "The Ward" is a mediocre horror movie that needed a couple of major rewrites to be ready for modern audiences. Not even John Carpenter can shine this turd.
Rated R. 88 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)
Tales of Terror - Classic Film Pick
Roger Corman's status as a reliable creator of pulpy low-budget horror movies was firmly established by 1962, when he made "Tales of Terror." In the years since 1955 Corman already had 15 successful films under his belt, such as "It Conquered the World," "A Bucket of Blood," and "The Little Shop of Horrors." Culling together three Edgar Allen Poe short stories to form an anthology movie packed with eerie music and comic book graphics, Corman took advantage of Vincent Price's hammy acting style to inject a campy sense of humor into each gothic half-hour segment.
Poe's "Morella" finds Price's morbidly depressed patriarch holding court over a large seaside mansion filled with cobwebs, blood-red candles, and the mummified corpse of his wife Morella, who lies in her bed. An unexpected visitation by his disenfranchised daughter Leonora (Maggie Pierce) brings up the subject of her participation in her mother's death during childbirth. Word of Leonora's terminal illness softens her father's feelings toward her, but doesn't prevent her mother's ghost from possessing her.
Poe's more famous short story "The Black Cat" is the standout of the trio thanks to Peter Lorre's self-possessed performance as Montresor Herringbone, an alcoholic husband who makes the mistake of bringing home his newfound drinking buddy, professional wine-taster Fortunato Luchresi (Vincent Price). Herringbone's abused wife Annabelle (Joyce Jameson) finds romantic favor with Fortunato, who takes a particular liking to her little black cat. Herringbone sees red when he discovers the lovers' plan to run off together. He concocts a plan to kill the couple and wall up their corpses in his basement. If only it weren't for Herringbone's dementia, which has him seeing weird creatures, he might be able to keep his secret.
"The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" closes out this trilogy of goofy terror. Valedmar (played by Price) is a wealthy old coot with a young wife named Helene (Debra Paget). Sensing his fast approaching death, Valdemar employs Mr. Carmichael (Basil Rathbone) a "mesmerist" who is to trick death by hypnotizing Valdemar at the second of his death, thereby keeping his body in a state of suspended animation. Naturally, it is Valdemor's young wife whom Mr. Carmichael is really after…if only it weren't for Valdemor's pre-arranged marriage between his physician Dr. James (David Frankham) and Helene. "Tales of Terror" is a perfect introduction to Roger Corman's storied career that gave so many actors and directors their start.
The Troll Hunter
Writer/director André Øvredal should have skipped the obsolete "found–footage" trope to couch this goofy monster movie. You know the drill, viewers of "Blair Witch;" hours of lost-and-found video footage reveal a doomed camera crew's dark fate. In this case, the killer antagonists are…well, you know from the title. Giant trolls. Three Norwegian amateur filmmakers follow rumored troll-hunter Hans (Otto Jespersen) in hope of catching a glimpse of one of the hundred-foot-high creatures Hans tracks in an understandably restricted region of Norway as part of the government's Troll Security Service. Hans's job is to clear away evidence of the trollian activity and make sure they don't step outside their natural preserve. A nasty battle between a troll and Hans spills with so much obviously fake blood that any suspension of disbelief is spoiled beyond redemption. More of a cult comedy than a genuine horror flick, "The Troll Hunter" is pure camp. For example: trolls can sense Christian believers, so only atheists need apply to battle one of Øvredal's gargantuan animated clay-like creatures.
Rated PG-13. 103 mins. (C) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)
This disposable vampire/zombie re-hash horror show from director Jim Mickle is cinematic dog food. If only you could feed it to your pet, you might not feel so cheating for investing your time in such uninspired drivel. Nary a cliché is messed in a postapocalyptic America where Martin (Connor Paolo) falls in with a vampire hunter who goes only by the title of "Mister." Co-screenwriter Jim Mickle multitasks with similarly inept "acting" duties in the nameless role. Martin and Mister make their way across emtpy roads on their way to Canada, or at least upstate New York where they believe safety from blood-thirsty predators awaits. Nearly everyone they encounter is some ilk of vampire or homocidal maniac. There's even a Satanic cult that brings the movie into unfavorable comparison to the crappy Nicolas Cage genre toaster "Drive Angry."
Not Rated. 98 mins. (D-) (Zero Stars - out of five/no halves)
Wes Craven's fourth installment in the "Scream" franchise is yet another scattershot postmodern comic play on the slasher sub-genre of horror. Still, it's an improvement on the disgraceful "Scream 3." Torture porn may have gotten serious traction at the box office in the last decade but Craven is clear that such bloody body modification has no place in his ironic micro/meta slasher movie. "Scream 4" racks up an impressive body count early on even if a Russian-doll narrative aspect lessens the sting of losing so many nubile girls before the opening credits roll. In the small town of Woodsboro it's the 10th anniversary of a series of knife murders that crippled the community. Smartass college kids mock the event by hanging black shrouds with the killer's trademark screaming ghost mask from light posts. Then a new set of murders begin. No one knows that they know what they know anymore than ex-journalist and author Gale (Courtney Cox Arquette), the wife of bumbling police chief Dewey (David Arquette). Without her husband's support Gale sets out to track down the killer by herself. Franchise soul survivor Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) has recently returned to town, and once again she on the killer's hit list.
The premise of the Scream movies is admirable. The filmmakers set out to upend every cliché of the slasher genre they can get their fake-blood soaked hands on. The effect is akin to watching a magician show you how a trick is done, only to be caught off-guard when the explanation still fools you in a similar way. It's a parlor game similar to the old fashioned who-done-it murder mystery, except there are no butlers to blame. Here, everyone is a horror movie geek. In one self-referential scene, Hayden Panettiere's confident character reels off the names of seemingly every slasher movie ever made. Even if you've seen every one, chances are you won't guess the killer here.
Rated R. 110 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)
James Wan (writer/director on "Saw") presents an old-fashioned haunted house story that almost works. The combination of an underdeveloped script by Leigh Whannell, and a deal-breaking subplot involving ghost-busters, restrict the film's potential to induce nightmares. Married couple Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) move into a craftsman home with their three kids. Still in the process of unpacking, things go missing and things go bump in the night. Not the least of whom is the couple's oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) who bumps his head and slips into a coma, or something quite like it. Weird voices, fast-moving shadows, and fright-wig ghost faces appear at increasing regularity. The filmmakers tear a page from Dario Argento's "Suspiria" horror-textbook to plunge the father into a hellish dimension under the supervision of a couple of ghost-busters and a medium (played by Lin Shaye). "Insidious" has a few good shock surprises accompanied by jolting music, but it doesn't have what it takes to sustain any real terror after the final credits roll.
Rated PG-13. 102 mins. (C) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)