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July 17, 2012 in Horror | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tales of Terror

May 16, 2011 in Horror | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



John Cusack Brings Stephen King Story to a Boil
By Cole Smithey

Adapted from a short story by Stephen King, Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom ("Derailed") skillfully helms this twisting one-man showcase in terror. Horror novelist Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a debunker of paranormal myths. He tackles his latest book project, "Ten Nights in Haunted Hotel Rooms," with the been-there-done-that cynicism of a wizened professional knocking out yet another routine assignment. Things get exciting when Enslin reads a news clipping about a mysterious "room 1408" in New York's Dolphin Hotel, where more than 50 guests have perished. With his curiosity properly piqued, our plucky author disregards the earnest warnings of the hotel manager Mr. Olin (snappily played by Samuel L. Jackson), and enters the room with tape recorder in hand. The alarm clock begins a one-hour countdown as walls move and the landscape of the room becomes a demonic presence taunting the author to lose hold on his already loosened sanity. The triumph of "1408" rests squarely on John Cusack's perfectly pitched performance as an unshakable disbeliever repeatedly pushed to the brink of suicide by memories of his own past. Room 1408 presents a psychological, paranormal and physical juggernaut that will curl your insides in knots. Special features include English and Spanish subtitles, commentary by director Mikael Hafstrom and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, three making-of featurettes, and an extended director’s cut with an alternate ending. Aspect ratio is16X9 widescreen, with sound quality processed in Dolby 5.1. (Movie – Four Stars, DVD features – Four Stars) Rated PG-13, 94 mins. (Dimension)

September 29, 2007 in Horror | Permalink

Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Slasher Deconstruction
By Cole Smithey

Leslie_vernon_2 "Behind The Mask" is a bloated student horror film with an experimental deconstructionist gimmick that could have worked better if not for the egregious miscasting of Angela Goethals as Taylor, the on-camera interviewer for a documentary film crew going along for the ride with a local would-be serial killer. Filmed around Portland, Oregon, the action revolves around returning local native Leslie Vernon, who worships at the alter of horror film icons like Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers. Leslie is happy to take the film crew on a guided tour of every aspect of his philosophies behind an upcoming planned attack on a bunch of high school teens who will attempt to spend the night in a secluded cabin they believe is haunted.

Actor Robert Englund ("A Nightmare on Elm Street") lends an air of validation to the project as a Donald Pleasence-inspired psychiatrist hot on Leslie’s trail. The deconstruction ploy comes to full fruition when Leslie shows exactly how he has rigged every inch of the cabin and adjacent barn to give him the upper hand when the killing time comes. The idea of familiarizing the audience with its masked killer worked well in Alfred Hitchcock’s "Psycho," but it squeaks like a rusty wheel in the amateurish hands here.

The Special Features include an overlapping chatty audio commentary with actors Nathan Baesel, Angela Goethals, Britain Spellings and Ben Pace vying for attention. The headache-inducing prattle, about every bit of minutiae behind the set-ups for each shot and personal conflicts, becomes atrociously tiring before the inciting incident. A money line comes when one of the actors announces, "I stole that vest, and that shirt, and that hat." It’s easy to tell why Alfred Hitchcock referred to actors as "cattle."

For the obligatory making-of featurette "The Making of "Behind The Mask" co-writer and director Scott Glosserman gives direct-to-camera details of production that not even your closest film student relative will find interesting.

As if to emphasize the lumpy casting of B, C and D list actors, "The Casting of Behind The Mask" shows repeated clips of line readings with Nathan Baesel upstaging every auditioning girl that dares to set foot in the room. Shown on a smaller picture-in-picture frame, the goofy five-minute featurette at least serves as a brief lesson in what not to do in an audition.

Four deleted scenes, with optional director’s commentary, demonstrate the filmmakers’ overreaching attempts at social commentary and inability to grasp even fundamental elements of suspense.

Six extended scenes, with optional director’s commentary, point out redundancies in the script and lacking forward movement that Scott Glosserman knowingly defends because he "loves" them so much. As the director elaborates on the admittedly "silly" background tributes he attempted to pay to horror classics such as "The Shining" it becomes obvious just where his priorities were misplaced.

Aspect ratio is 1.85:1, with sound processed in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Surround. (Movie: C- / DVD features: C) (Anchor Bay)

June 12, 2007 in Horror | Permalink

Turistas (Unrated DVD)

By Cole Smithey

Riding the wave of horror movies populated with American travelers preyed upon by torturing crazies, "Turistas" plays its suspense trump card as the first American film shot entirely in Brazil. Alex (Josh Duhamel) and his sister Bea (Olivia Wilde) are derailed from their sightseeing plans, with their friend Amy (Beau Garrett), when their tour bus goes over the side of one of Brazil’s lush mountains. The trio barely escapes the catastrophe, along with their fellow passengers, but the fate that awaits them is no less shocking. A local renegade doctor has committed his life to capturing foreign visitors from whom he steals internal organs to give to needy natives. Director John Stockwell ("Blue Crush") electrifies the barbed wire horror with gut-wrenching suspense that attends the painful trajectory for several characters.

The three travelers buddy up with fellow traveler Pru and British vagabonds Finn and Liam before descending to an idyllic beach equipped with a simple bar and disco. During an evening of drinking, dancing and sex, the group are drugged and robbed of all their possessions. Kiko, an ostensibly compassionate villager, comes to the embattled group’s aid when he offers to lead them through the jungle to a house where they will be safe from the polarized community that wants to kill them.

Still and all, Kiko leads the throng to the operating room of the evil Dr. Zamora (Miguel Lunardi) who steals the movie with a blood-curdling monologue of malice while removing the kidneys and liver, sans anesthetic, of one female victim. The Grand Guignol torture scene is notable for its ideologically driven theme, with Lunardi channeling the diabolical Vincent Price in one of his finer moments. Revenge is in the eye, and hands, of the torturer.

The DVD contains the R-rated version and the unrated versions on opposite sides of the disc. The unrated version is a couple of minutes longer with a little more nudity and gore than the R-rated version. While the differences are slight, I’d recommend the unrated over the rated version for maximum fright.

The special features section consists of ten inconsequential deleted scenes and an equally disposable alternate ending that seems more like a deleted scene than an ending. However, things get interesting on an off-the-cuff commentary track (on the rated version only) by director John Stockwell and executive co-producer Kent Kubena with the two men overlapping candid behind-the-scene remarks about shooting the film, the cast, crew and beautiful Brazilian locations. Of particular interest for make-up special effects fans is the ten-minute featurette "The Bloody Truth: Behind The Special Make Up Effects" where the effects team explain the hidden secrets behind the gory elements of the movie. Spanish and French language options are available, as are English and Spanish subtitles. Aspect ratio is 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with sound processed in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround.

(Movie: B- / DVD Features: B) (20th Century Fox)

April 9, 2007 in Horror | Permalink

Splatter University

This trashy '80s slasher flick is a campy horror spree with some of the most guffaw-inducing acting and silly gore shots you'll ever see. "Splatter U," as it's called in the movie's trailer, has an insane serial killer stalking students at a religious college when new teacher Julie (Francine Forbes) starts her own investigation to identify the killer. The film's annoyingly repetitive original music soundtrack, bad haircuts and clothes make it a time capsule of Reagan-era America. Low DIY production values and plenty of continuity mistakes ensure laughs in a party atmosphere. This DVD only has the film's original trailer as a bonus feature. Aspect ratio is 1.85.1. (Movie - One Star, DVD Features - One Star) Rated R 78 mins. (Elite Entertainment)

January 11, 2005 in Horror | Permalink

Dawn Of The Dead Unrated Director's Cut

Remake of George A. Romero's original 1979 horror classic considerably ups the stakes on brain splattering fun as a group of tenacious survivors hide from hordes of attacking zombies in the comfort of a shopping mall. Debut writer/director Zach Snyder brings a kinetic energy to the movie with rich photography and enjoyable performances by Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames and Ty Burrell. The unrated version contains an additional 12-minutes of scenes not used in the theatrical version. Excellent bonus features include audio commentary with Zach Snyder and producer Eric Newman, three featurettes on the zombie make-up effects, two 'lost tape' segments on the zombie invasion, and English, Spanish and French language and subtitles. Aspect ratio is anamorphic widescreen 2.35.1. Uniform sound quality is presented in Dolby 5.1. (Movie - Three Stars, DVD Features - Four Stars) Unrated 110 mins. (Universal Home Video)

January 11, 2005 in Horror | Permalink