Category Archives: Reviews

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Christmas Evil

1980 / d. Lewis Jackson
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Uninspired, ridiculous, and blasé attempt at a holiday horror flick. This film is so painful to watch, it actually makes Christmas shopping, on Christmas Eve, fun by comparison. I’d rather have a vasectomy than rewatch this film.

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Clive Barker’s Book of Blood

Directed by: John Harrison
Written by: Darin Silverman
Starring:
Jonas Armstrong
Sophie Ward
Doug Bradley

Like most little boys, to me Saturday morning was perhaps the most special day of the week. Monday, and the start of another five days of school felt like a million years away, and the best way to celebrate was to wake up early, eat a bowl of sugary cereal, and watch a long line-up of morning cartoons. Fast forward a couple decades (give or take), and life hasn’t changed much, save for the fact that Saturday mornings now mean a chance to get up early and ring in the weekend with a little stack of horror films (and when one gives it some thought, is an H. G. Lewis filmreally all that worse than watching Tom and Jerry mercilessly beating each other with hammers?)

So on this particular Saturday morning, I found myself putting in a newly acquired copy of “Clive Barker’s Book of Blood” into my DVD player, which I had been meaning to see for quite some time. As an avid Barker fan, and also a huge supporter of the last film adaptation to emerge (Midnight Meat Train, which I was fortunate enough to see screened in Toronto at a Rue Morgue event) my pre-viewing hopes were quite high. Was I disappointed? Read on, fellow horror fan.

The film title is maybe slightly misleading — it is an adaptation of both “The Book of Blood” as well as “On Jerusalem Street”. The main plot revolves around the dark tale of Simon McNeal (Jonas Armstrong) and the events which unfold when he forms a relationship with his professor — paranormal researcher and author Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward). The film is characteristically Barker in the sense that the plot is much like a tapestry, with many different elements and aspects to the story woven together to create a fantastic and sinister journey into darkness. Without revealing too much and running the risk of spoiling any of the tale, I will quote director John Harrison, who very accurately described the film as being “…much more of a spookshow than a goreshow.” This is for the most part true, since the film masterfully creates moments of high tension without resorting to off-the-wall visual effects and is, at it’s very roots, a ghost story. But that said, the film wound up offering many moments of nasty on-screen blood-and-gore, and did so with style.

Simply said, the film is typical Clive Barker in regards to the atmosphere, the story, the characters, and the subject matter involved. The filmmakers also added a few small homages to the earlier Barker films, most notably Hellraiser (the attic of the house, as well as the closet I found to be very reminiscent of Hellraiser) including one scene featuring a set of dangling chains. Barker fans will certainly not be disappointed.

As for myself, it’s still early on this Saturday morning, and I see the world has been blanketed in our late February snowfall. While the city outside waits to be thawed out by the afternoon sun, I’m going to get another bowl of cereal and put in yet another horror film.

Until next time horror fans — keep it sick.

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Covenant, The

2006 / d. Renny Harlin
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A woeful, unremarkable cast and silly reliance on special effects fights ruin what could have been a superior story about modern boys struggling with their ancient Salem witchy ways. I couldn’t tell which boy was which, and the hip metal music didn’t make me care much, either.

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Crazies, The (2010)

Directed by: Breck Eisner
Written by: Scott Kosar & Ray Wright
Starring:
Timothy Olyphant
Radha Mitchell
Danielle Panabaker

Creeping Jesus, I thought – is there no movie safe from the twisted clutches of the Hollywood film industry and their insatiable thirst for remakes? These days it seems like no film is off-limits, and in my experience of past Hollywood remakes, rarely do they come close (let alone improve) on the original. But is it any wonder? All one has to do is look at the films that are being remade: classics. It’s not like the industry is looking through the archives of films that had the potential to be good, but fell short because of budget or acting restrictions. Instead they’re dusting off big-named cult classics and bringing them into the modern day.

I’m really not as cynical as it probably sounds: unlike a number of horror purists out there, I refuse to judge a film until I’ve seen it. I may be skeptical about remakes, but in all fairness there are a good number of them that I really dig, including: Night of the Living Dead (1990)13 GhostsHalloweenDawn of the Dead, and The Hills Have Eyes to name a few. And how many of us either forget or simply aren’t aware that John Carpenter’s The Thing, a film that has secured the status of cult classic in the minds of numerous film fans, is also a remake of an earlier film. To put it simply: I’m not against remakes, I’m just against bad remakes.

Stepping into the packed theatre on this late night in March, I had no idea what to expect. The Crazies had a very successful opening weekend, which was certainly promising — but how many people were even familiar with George A. Romero’s original film? Was the film just another watered-down remake intended to cash in with the new generation of tween horror fans?

The lights dimmed, and ninety minutes later—

—I was nodding in approval. The Crazies, though differing from the original in more ways than one, was a faithful reinterpretation, and a bloody entertaining one at that. The story was essentially the same as in the original (those not familiar with it should either see the original, or instead read a plot synopsis) but with the added overtones of a post-911 America. It’s no secret that director George A. Romero is known for two things: gut munching gore and social commentary. The remake was not obscenely gory by any means — though still quite violent at times — but instead focused on building great moments of tension and suspense. The use of jump tactics is generally a cheap way that inferior horror films achieve a reaction from the audience. In The Crazies the jumps were all well planned and were doubly effective because of the excellent filmmaking involved in setting them up. The film had substance, and above all, creativity; making use of unusual locations (I’ll think twice about using an automatic car wash again…) and in every sense of the word was a genuine thrillride.

As I found out, I wasn’t the only one giving a nod of approval to the film. Director George A. Romero, after watching a screening of the remake, said that he ‘enjoyed the movie’ and found it to also be well acted. If the man who brought us the original classic gave it the thumbs up, far be it for me to disagree.

As of this moment The Crazies is still playing in the theatres, and to really get the full experience I suggest you go and check it out on the big screen. This is one remake that certainly did not disappoint.

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Crazies, The (2010)

2010 / d. Breck Eisner
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It’s in vogue right now to slam remakes, since these days it seems as if nothing is off-limits from the grasp of the Hollywood redux machine. While I tend to agree with the spirit of the anti-remake argument, I’m also willing to acknowledge that there are times when a remake is valid, purposeful, and daresay, palatable: such is the case with Breck Eisner’s remake of THE CRAZIES. By remaining respectful to the original campy classic, Eisner was able to craft a worthwhile film from Romero’s stark tale of quarantine and government secrecy. Fine performances and new twists on old scenes make this highly recommended.

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Cream of the Crap: Nailgun Massacre

Directed by: Bill Leslie
Written by: Terri Lofton
Starring:
Rocky Patterson
Ron Queen
Beau Leland

This is intended as a primer to appreciating, enjoying and ultimately loving the worst horror movies ever made! The acting is terrible, the effects are obvious, the plots have more holes than swiss cheese. Continuity? What’s that? If you can look past all this, you can often see the desire and hard work that allowed some poor schmuck to make his own movie.

The first film in question is one of my all time favourites, Nailgun Massacre (1985). Finally seeing a DVD release, this is one of the worst, most entertaining films I have ever seen. The plot is simple. A woman is gang raped (although her pants are never removed in the scene) by a crew of construction workers. Shortly afterwards, a series of brutal murders are committed in the area. Our first view of the killer is nothing short of hilarious. A black motorcycle helmet, with black electrical tape obscuring most of the visor (because it was just tinted, not mirrored) covers the killer’s face, and presumably alters his voice into a booming, electronic parody of Darth Vader. It also seems to allow him to laugh menacingly while also speaking, a feat I have yet to master. This head gear tops off a fashionable camouflage jumpsuit and a portable (and bright yellow) hydraulic tank which powers his weapon of choice: the nail gun.

The murders are more or less directed towards the construction workers, but just about anybody is a potential victim as our killer does away with hitchhikers and drifters. Sub-plots are introduced and done away with quickly, as a group of young people venture into the woods to fix up an old house. This serves little purpose but to explain where the killer got the nail gun, although this occurs well after several murders have already been committed. Red herrings are also thrown around, seemingly at random until nearly everyone involved is a potential suspect. The investigators, an aging, overweight sheriff and a denim clad doctor seem generally aloof about the sudden rash of murder in the small town. They eventually figure out who the killer is and a thrilling chase scene ensues, involving an old brown hearse and the doctor’s sporty black doctor car.

Stuff to Watch For

The most obvious features of this film are the nail effects. Nails never seem able to actually go all the way into the flesh, always sticking out approximately an inch, just long enough to wiggle whenever the actor moves. The frequent sex scenes are another highlight, shot with all the style and emotion of really, really cheap porno. All but one of them results in death by nail gun.

The shoddy camera work and directing are rampant in this flick. Frequently, scenes begin with a noticeable delay, as though the actors are waiting for some kind of signal. Also, I have counted seven distinct instances where the reflection of the cameraman is clearly visible. The best one is immediately before the chase scene where the cameraman and director are hilariously obvious in the reflection of a car door.

The acting is appalling, but it’s Oscar caliber when compared to the local folks enlisted to fill bit parts. The old lady store clerk is obviously reading (and flubbing) her lines while doing her best not to look at the camera. An old man who discovers one of the bodies is virtually incomprehensible.

Final Words

Nailgun Massacre is a classic D film, one that should be viewed by all independent film buffs. It proves that education, talent and skill are really not necessary when making a movie. They are certainly not required to make a movie entertaining.

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Creepshow 2

1987 / d. Michael Gornick
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Gather round fright junkies, for the sinister minds of Stephen King and George A. Romero reunite in CREEPSHOW 2: a highly downplayed and often neglected sequel which, in this reviewer’s opinion, is every bit as worthy as its predecessor. It’s like a TALES FROM THE CRYPT triple-header… three 30 minute segments with each containing a set of characters more doomed than the last. There is nothing like a giant wooden Native American coming to life and hunting down hoodlums, or a strange floating membrane dissolving your skin as punishment for being an ignorant entitled teenager!  And even better: hitting and killing a hitchhiker on the side of the road only to have his undead corpse cling to your car and continuously thank you for the ride — must be a Canadian… We are also going to slap a Monster Movie Monday stamp of approval on this one, so include it in your next movie night line up!

 

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Cutting Moments

1997 / d. Douglas Buck
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There’s a fine line that filmmakers walk when they seek to transcend the accepted levels of on-screen violence and embark in the dangerous realm of gore. When a film becomes excessively graphic, one of two things can happen: either the viewer becomes desensitized and leaves feeling unphased, or a lack of convincing special effects transforms the film into outright silliness, regardless of how serious the subject matter. CUTTING MOMENTS, however, fearlessly traverses the choppy waters of violent filmmaking, and creates an unforgettable portrait of domestic horror. Set against the backdrop of a quiet American neighbourhood, we are introduced to a loveless couple and their only child; a husband now indifferent to his wife, despite the affection they once shared at the onset of their marriage. The film explores the dramatic lengths that an individual will go to in order to regain their love’s attention, and the perverse sadism that can occur behind any closed door — even in quiet suburbia. CUTTING MOMENTS demands your attention, but be warned, it is not for the faint of heart: its stark imagery is not easily forgotten.

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Damien: Omen II (1978)

1978 / d. Don Taylor
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Ah puberty! The time in every young man’s life when he awkwardly begins to change. The other kids look at you differently, your confidence is shaken, you find a noticeable birthmark of three sixes burned into your skull, and you have to come to terms with the fact that you are no longer a little boy, but rather, the son of the devil. After Damien’s father tried to kill him in the first film, the newly orphaned boy is shipped off to live with his uncle. Growing up alongside his cousin allows him to develop into a loving, well-rounded little boy; but all that soon changes when Satan’s cleverly placed henchmen start to step in and kill off those who get too close. Finally Damien discovers who he is and must stay true to the path is birth father (The Devil) set out for him. This film wont do much for you in the way of gore, but there are some pretty interesting deaths. And yes, that is Lance Henrikson, he’s just not featured in the title sequence.

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Darkness Falls

2003 / d. Jonathon Liebesman
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DARKNESS FALLS belongs to a category of films which span a period from the late 90′s up to the late 2000′s. Just as you can watch 80′s slasher films and immediately know that they’re all from the same era, the same goes for films such as SKELETON KEY, TH13TEEN GHOSTS, DEAD SILENCE, GHOST SHIP, and DARKNESS FALLS — to name only a few. They share a common atmosphere, and although their subject matter isn’t always the same, their style is easily recognizable. In DARKNESS FALLS, we are presented with a small town urban legend: Matilda Dixon, a woman beloved by all the town children, was known as the Tooth Fairy, since she would present them with a gold coin for their lost tooth. However, when she was accused and executed for a crime she didn’t commit, she swore a curse on the little town of Darkness Falls… what she took in kindness, she would take forever in revenge (talk about a reverse deathbed conversion!) The problem with DARKNESS FALLS is that it lacks memorability. On its own it’s not as terrible and easily dismissible as people tend to remember it; it still manages to offer up some minor thrills, and a decent (albeit contrived) story. The similarity between it and the later released DEAD SILENCE has been noted on more than one occasion, and in this reviewer’s opinion, DEAD SILENCE is the superior film. However, if you’re looking for another reason to fear the dark, give DARKNESS FALLS a shot. You might even like it.

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Dawn of the Dead (2004)

2004 / d. Zack Snyder
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Proof that not all remakes are bad, the director of 300 and WATCHMEN injects new life in George Romero’s classic commentary on the horrors of commercialism. Provided you’re not a zombie purist and can get past the fast moving brain-munchers, you’re sure to dig this new take on an old classic. Very highly recommended.

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Dead Alive

1992 / d. Peter Jackson
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There’s something you should know about DEAD ALIVE: in all likelihood, you’ll never see a gorier film for the rest of your life. Peter Jackson’s splatter-comedy classic lives up to the hype in every way imagineable. You’ll laugh. You’ll cringe. You’ll be blown away. There’s enough gratuitous graphic grue to gross-out gorehounds: litres of thick, chunky intestinal muck strewn everywhere; a lawnmower massacre; festering pus-filled boils bursting at high velocity; organ removals; skeleton removals; skin removals; oh my! Better in many ways than Jackson’s other over-the-top cult classic: BAD TASTE. Put this one on your movie-menu, and your guests are sure to leave satisfied!

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Dead Genesis

Written & Directed by: Reese Eveneshen
Starring:
Emily Alatalo
Lionel Boodlal
Colin Paradine

The advent of affordable digital photography equipment and high quality editing software has changed the way independent filmmakers ply their trade. Production costs have plummeted since the days of immense Betacams and costly editing machines, leaving more money to spend on actors, sets, effects, script editors, coherent plots, likeable characters and lots and lots of zombies. Right? Well apparently not as Dead Genesisdirector Reese Eveneshen has given us a great looking, high def film that is missing most of these elements.

We start out with the beginning of a typical zombie outbreak. A professor who either had something to do with the outbreak or “warned us all!” about the impending zombie plague delivers a confusing, rambling speech before slitting his own throat with an exacto knife. And this, dear readers, is the most gore we see for quite some time. Following the speech, the passage of time is shown in an awkward sequence of “Two Weeks Later”, “Four Months Later”, “Two Days Later” title cards framing the nearly zombie-less apocalypse and bringing us up to speed. Eventually we encounter our heroine, Jillian Hurst a “former news writer and amateur documentarian”. She is preparing to make a pro-”War on Dead” propaganda film to garner public support (There is a brief attempt made to demonstrate that support might be necessary with the mention of zombie rights activists but this idea is passed off as a joke and never revisited) and sets out to film a few days in the life of the “deadheads”, an elite zombie killing force identified by their grim attitudes and homemade “DH” patches on their clothing. Jillian conducts her interviews and…not much else, unfortunately.

The “deadheads” (an awful choice of name for a group of zombie hunters, although the kids who made this movie may not be quite old enough to know who Jerry Garcia is) are possibly the least convincing part of this film. This mashup of cliche character types (tough girl, good ol’ boy with wife and kids at home, quiet religious guy who goes crazy later, etc.) is not in the least bit dirty or battle worn, despite spending “weeks at a time” fighting the undead. The only thing that gives them away as soldier types at all are a couple of camouflage hats and their guns. With their fashionable “Roots” backpacks and khakis, they looked more like university sophomores. The sad part of all this is that there are some really good actors in the group who could have made a better movie if they weren’t spending their time chewing on unwieldy, unnatural dialogue (writer/directors take note: have someone edit your work, you may not be as clever as you think you are).

At this point I’m sure you’re wondering “okay, what about the zombies?” Yeah, me too. I think this is the first zombie film where the number of characters outnumbers the zombies. I’m being facetious of course, but only slightly. There are no shambling hordes, no waves of walking corpses and none of the armies of the undead that have apparently all but taken over. Zombie encounters are brief, minimal and don’t even involve original kills. The zombie makeup is pretty good for the most part although shooting in digital enhances the “fakeness”. I think the makers were so caught up in their misguided attempts at social commentary that they forgot that zombies=horror movie=supposed to be scary. And come on guys, CG headshots? Really? Just because Uncle George does it now, that doesn’t make it OK. He’s paid his dues, you haven’t even applied for membership.

Dead Genesis looks and sounds great (albeit with some slightly intrusive canned ambient “forest sounds”) and features some really excellent acting. But that’s it. Any idea of a coherent film was lost long ago when the story was replaced with a collection of “you know what would be awesome?” scenes and more talking heads than a West Wing marathon. Nothing really happens that you weren’t expecting and the less said about zombie prostitution the better. With everyone and their brother making a zombie film these days, there is no excuse when putting out a bad one. Better toys and better actors does not mean better movie, you only have to look at the work of Todd Sheets, Brian Paulin and Brian Clement to see how good cheap zombie movie making can be. At the screening, director Reese Eveneshen made an allusion to Romero’s zombie films as a “recipe for great apple pie” and how everyone else is making apple pie but not following the recipe. Well Reese, you followed the recipe but you forgot one thing: the apples.

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Dead Rising

Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360

Dead Rising was my first foray into the current generation of consoles. I remember being at a friend’s house in late 2006, jealously excited to play this new zombie game for the new Xbox 360. “It’s only one player,” my friend reminded me. I didn’t care; we’d take turns when the horde inevitably ate us. When it was finally my turn, I wanted to do everything. I wanted to take a road pylon and beat a zombie to death with it. I wanted to put a Servbot mask onto one of the damned and laugh hysterically as it stumbled around blindly. I wanted to rev up a lawnmower and run straight into the mobs of undead, psychotic grin on my face all the while.

I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have time to.

Dead Rising has a ton of potential and can be really fun at times, but is bogged down by wonky controls and poor design choices. If you don’t mind looking past the flaws though, you’ll find a mindlessly fun zombie killer.

Of course, it’s not all mindless. There is a story to be told, but in usual Capcom fashion whenever zombies are involved, you’ll have to just smile and nod politely. Photojournalist Frank West gets a tip that the National Guard have sealed off the town of Willamette, Colorado. Frank hires a helicopter to fly him into town in order to discover what’s up. While flying in, he notices several mobs of people attacking each other and decides to take some photographs. This is the player’s introduction to the photography element of the game, but more on that later. Landing on the roof of the mall, Frank tells the pilot to pick him up in three days. Meeting other survivors in the mall, Frank quickly discovers the dead are rising (gasp!) and he’ll need more than just his camera in order to survive and find the truth.

Working with two federal agents trapped in the mall with him, Frank is sent on several different “Cases” (story missions) that need to be completed in order to advance the story. These occur at specific times in that 72-hour window Frank has before being rescued. And this is my first major gripe with the game. I hate – nay, loathe – time limits. 72 hours may feel like a long time, but it’s not standard speed. One minute of in-game time is only seconds of real time. When you’re needed to be at a specific place in the mall, you’d better be there well ahead of time. The mall itself is huge and fairly accessible; however, the hordes of zombies between point A and point B can be a hindrance quite quickly. More than once I found myself running as fast as Frank would go, using every shortcut and praying one of those undead bastards didn’t grab me, lest I be late for the Case that began in 10 minutes (game time) on the other side of the mall. The game doesn’t end if you miss a Case, but you won’t get the best ending. After beating the game though, I was okay with that. The characters are largely forgettable, the plot half-baked (and changes depending on your ending). Instead, I would use the 72 hours and run around like a maniac, finding newer and better ways to end the dead.

Throughout the game, Frank will earn PP, or “Prestige Points”. These are Dead Rising’s version of XP, and all kinds of things can give Frank PP including killing zombies, saving survivors and completing missions. After leveling up, can increase Frank’s inventory, health, speed, damage, etc., or give him a new move to use in combat. Some of these moves are powerful and look really cool the first few times, but you’ll soon forget about them because most are just too damn awkward to bother with. To perform a Wall Kick for example, you must “press X while pushing the Left Stick in the opposite direction of the wall the moment you make contact with it.” Huh? Maybe it’s just me, but I sure won’t remember to do that, especially if I have a broadsword in my inventory instead.

The rest of the combat system can be quite fun, however, especially when you find a weapon that can do some real damage. Almost everything in the mall can be used as a weapon. Beat up a zombie with a mannequin? Check. Take a cash register and smash some skulls? Check. Wield an electric guitar in a manner Pete Townshend would be proud of? Check. It really is fun to just pick up a potted plant beside you and crush the undead with it. There’s a “Zombies Killed” counter in the corner of the screen, and seeing that number well into the thousands by the time you’re finished the game is not uncommon. There’s even an achievement to be unlocked if you manage to kill 53,594 zombies (the population of the town) in ONE play-through. I’m not much of an achievement junkie, but I’m proud of earning that one. Besides, you unlock Mega Man’s Buster Cannon as a reward! How sweet is that? Dead Rising isn’t an outright survival horror game, but there are times when the horde is closing in and you’re so desperate for a weapon that you’ll pick up a bench to fend them off. These can be intense moments, even if they don’t occur all too often.

As mentioned earlier, Frank’s a photojournalist. He’ll need photos in order for anyone to believe his story. The camera around his neck becomes another aspect of gameplay. Pictures taken will be given a rating in several different categories such as Horror, Drama, Outtake (Comedy), even Erotica. Bonuses will be given depending on the photo. There are even “Photo Op” moments throughout the game that, if captured, yield large PP boosts. For example, after reuniting an elderly couple, snapping a shot of the two embracing is a touching moment and you’re rewarded for it. Otherwise, photography isn’t used too often, and can be all but forgotten in the heat of the action.

Dead Rising has a lot going for it; a sandbox setting, thousands of zombies to be killed, and hundreds of weapons to use. But you’ll need to look past the flimsy story, awkward controls and maddening time limits in order to enjoy the heart of the package. If while watching Dawn of the Dead you think to yourself, “Man, I’d love to do that!” I’d first recommend a shrink, followed by a play-through of Dead Rising.

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Dead Snow

2009 / d. Tommy Wirkola
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Just like in the movies, you can’t seem to kill Nazi Zombies. In fact, these flesh-craving-fascists continue to pervade our mainstream culture more and more, be it in film or even in the ever-popular CALL OF DUTY franchise of video games. Regardless, if you’re seeking some truly epic Nazi Zombie action, stop your search immediately. DEAD SNOW offers everything, and more, than you could ever hope to see, including (but not limited to): a man climb up the side of a cliff using a zombie’s intestines, sew up a blood-spurting neck wound with nothing but a fishing hook, and then transform a snowmobile into a zombie-killing-death-machine fully outfitted with rifles. This film will kick your adrenal glands into full throttle as you cheer, cringe, and gaze in amazement. If DEAD SNOW doesn’t satiate your appetite for Nazi Zombie films, be sure to also check out: SHOCKWAVES (1977), ZOMBIE LAKE (1981), OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (1981), and HORRORS OF WAR (2006).

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Dead Space 1 & 2

I’ve decided to combine these reviews, because after playing both of EA’s Dead Space games, I’ve noticed the two are almost identical. (Note: There will be some spoilers in the description of Dead Space 2, though only in the description of the story. I’ll keep the gameplay section spoiler free).

In 2008, EA Redwood Shores (now known as Visceral Games) released its newest creation, Dead Space. A hybrid of survival horror, Alien and The Thing, the game puts you in the role of Engineer Isaac Clarke. In the year 2507, a crew sent to investigate the distress call from another “planet-cracking” ship, the USG Ishimura. Attempting to dock with the now-silent vessel, Clarke’s ship malfunctions and crashes into the Ishimura, leaving him and the crew stranded. As they begin to explore the ship they soon find a new kind of horror known as the Necromorphs, an alienparasite that reanimates and reconfigures dead bodies into twisted terrifying creatures. Clarke has a personal reason to find out and stop whatever’s happening — his girlfriend Nicole was posted on the Ishimura. Searching for a way to get off the ship, his girlfriend and what this Unitologist religion has to do with some “Marker” all while battling the Necromorphs, means Clarke has his work cut out for him.

*SPOILER ALERT*

In Dead Space 2, released in 2011, Clarke has survived his escape from the planet and the destruction of the Marker. Clarke now finds himself on Titan, Saturn’s moon, being interrogated about the events of Dead Space and committed to a mental institution for his ramblings. It’s not long however, before Clarke is released from his cell in the midst of a Necromorph attack. Running for his life and plagued by demonic visions of his dead girlfriend, Clarke must piece together his sanity in order to survive.

*END SPOILERS*

Gameplay wise, the Dead Space series is very reminiscent of Resident Evil 4. An over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective, stopping to aim and fire weapons, looting ammo and money from the environment and enemies, shopping for items and upgrading your equipment, the list of comparisons goes on and on. However, this setup works – especially if you’re a fan of RE 4. The first game takes place almost entirely on the Ishimura and the second on Titan Station; both give the sense of something gone wrong from the outset. In both cases, blood is everywhere; the ship is a mess and the necromorph infestations allow the buggers to appear from anywhere. Although most enemies are scripted, it’s not uncommon for one or two to simply “pop” out of the ceiling behind you at any given moment. This adds a lot of tension to the game, as you’re never really sure when you’re completely alone. The most unnerving part of the game is when you stop for a moment and just look around. Listen to the sounds of a dying ship/colony. From the far off screams and roars, to the unexplained whispers just behind the walls, I found the game is scariest when there isn’t a seven-foot-tall monster jumping out at you. (Side note: Why do developers feel the need to add an elementary school section to horror games? I feel they’re capitalizing on my now new found fear of dead, possessed children.)

A huge part of the games is the dismemberment of enemies. The Necromorphs don’t simply roll over when shot in the head, as a good zombie ought to. Clarke must use his weapons to blast enough limbs from the creatures in order to put them down for good. Using what’s called “kinesis”, Clarke can even take limbs from fallen foes and fire them into live ones, effectively impaling them. These games aren’t for the squeamish.  I’m a fan of the HUD elements. Isaac’s health is shown on his RIG, as a hologram going up his spine. His weapons all have a holographic display for ammo, and a video or audio box pops up whenever a character wishes to communicate. The objective marker that appears when clicking in the right stick makes things a bit too easy when trying to figure out where to go, but can also be adjusted to show the nearest store, upgrade bench, or save station.

The soundtrack is minimal and this works in favour of the game’s atmosphere. It does a decent job of following the traditional trills when an enemy bursts from the darkness, but otherwise the atmosphere carries the bulk of in-game sound. Cries, moans, snarls, growls, all of the sound effects do a decent job of adding to the overall feel. As an aside, I personally like the way the game mutes almost everything while you’re in a vacuum. Most sci-fi games and films seem to think that sound waves can travel through space; it’s always nice when reality is understood and implemented

Problems with the games are few and far between. Both games look highly polished and there were no framerate issues for either. 2 did suffer from low-res issues at times, especially when looking at the Necromorph “growth”. One pointless gripe is Clarke’s ‘stomp’ move, used to smash open boxes for goodies. It’s hilariously overpowered. When stomping on a corpse to recover ammo or credits, it’s possible to see limbs crushed and destroyed. The same applies for regular humans; try stomping an unfortunate soul and you’ll see its legs, arms or head detach. I guess those suits really pump up your leg-power.

There are several “space” situations in both games, tying effectively into gameplay. As the damage to both games’ areas grows, the effects such as vacuums or zero-gravity can and do make frequent appearances. In zero gravity, Clarke must manipulate himself through the environment in order to solve engineering puzzles. Both games do this differently, which I’ll touch on momentarily. In a vacuum, Clarke’s suit uses an (upgradable) air supply, but fighting the Necromorphs while your O2 meter slowly counts down adds another sense of urgency.

Differences between the two games are actually few and far between. The first game worked so well that Visceral took the old “If it ain’t broke” adage seriously. Aside from the new locations, the only real differences I noticed:

  1. Perhaps most noticeable, Isaac is the silent protagonist in Dead Space. In 2, he becomes fully voiced and the game is all the better for it. Gunnar Wright does a decent job of portraying a guy just trying to keep it together.
  2. Multiplayer: Dead Space 2 joined the long list of single-player sequels that throw together an online mode simply to “extend” the life of the game. I’ll be honest; I didn’t even try to play online, simply because it doesn’t fit with the rest of the Dead Space atmosphere.
  3. Zero-G: A minor note, but noticeable. In Dead Space, Isaac “jumps” from location to location while weightless. In 2, he now has thrusters that allow him to go anywhere. This obviously allows more freedom, and works better.
  4. The usual sequel stuff: New enemies, new weapons (though not as many), new difficulty levels (there are five in Dead Space 2; the highest allows you to save only three times) and new locations.

Visceral has done a fantastic job of creating a world in which space feels dangerous, not wonderful. Over two games, you’ll come to sympathize for Isaac Clarke and his struggle just to survive. Do yourself a favor and play these in order. The gameplay differences won’t throw you for a loop, but the story is such that to play the second without having beaten the first is a disservice. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, survival horror, Alien, The Thing or just love some good ol’ clichéd monsters jumping out at you, give the Dead Space series a try. Altman Be Praised.

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Dead Space 3 Review

Developed by: Visceral Games
Published by: EA
Media Reviewed: PS3

What’s with survival horror games these days? Developers are constantly forgetting that “survival” and “horror” are very much the only two words that make up the genre, instead substituting large action set pieces that feel more suited to Call of Duty. Resident Evil is a perfect example that has gone down a terrible path that Capcom has only recently decided to address. The latest entry into the amazing Dead Space saga falls victim to this hyped up testosterone-fest and, as a result, is the weakest in the series.

Oh craaaaaaaaap!

Oh craaaaaaaaap!

In case you missed my double review of 1 & 2, feel free to orient yourself with the messed up world of Dead Space here. I’ll wait.

All done? Welcome back. Two months after Isaac Clarke and Ellie Langford escaped, Isaac is living in a run-down apartment on an unnamed lunar colony (where his rent is overdue) and the romantic relationship many fans expected of those two has come and gone, much to Isaac’s chagrin. It was two months, dude. Your last girlfriend committed suicide and haunted your visions, I think you can get over this.

Anyways, things are never calm in the life of Engineer Clarke and in the words of a certain big deal, things escalate quickly. Two soldiers, Captain Robert Norton and Sergeant John Carver, break into his apartment to inform him Ellie is missing. At the exact same time, Unitologists (those creepy religious zealots) attack the colony and unleash a Marker-induced Necromorph attack. Y’know, the usual. And thus begins the third adventure. Soon, Isaac and crew head to a backwater planet, Tau Volantis, where the Marker signal originates and discover just where these Markers — and Necromorphs — come from. The plot features the usual twists and turns, but the final revelations, despite bringing all three games together, don’t have quite the impact they should.

Rocket maaaaaan, burning out his fuse up here alone...

Rocket maaaaaan, burning out his fuse up here alone…

The game plays almost exactly like the second, which isn’t a bad thing. Neither is the new crafting system, once you get used to it. Isaac can now create his own custom weapons. It’s a little daunting at first, but you’ll soon get a handle on crafting different items and weapons. Want a line gun with an under-barrel flamethrower? Or a grenade launcher with a shotgun? Or a plasma cutter with a force gun? Why not? The possibilities are quite varied and rather fun to experiment with, provided you have the resources found around the different environments.

Speaking of which, the environments in this game are varied from entries one and two, but not necessarily in a better way. The frozen wastes of Tau Volantis immediately bring scenes from John Carpenter’s The Thing to mind, but sadly, fans of the classic ’82 thriller might be disappointed. The creep factor of walking through an “abandoned” ship or base is all but gone walking through a blizzard with low visibility in the daylight. This is where the “horror” I mentioned above suffers the most. The Necromorphs by themselves aren’t scary anymore — you need the atmosphere and the fear of being attacked anywhere, anytime, to ratchet up the tension. Putting Isaac in a blizzard with 10-12 Necromorphs popping up from the snow isn’t scary — it’s annoying. “So? When you’re running low on ammo and survival is at stake, that’s gotta be nerve-wracking, right?” I hear you ask. Sure it would — if ammo was ever something to worry about. I never (not once) ran out of ammo while playing on Hard. Granted, there’s a plethora of unlockable game modes and difficulties once the credits roll once: Classic, Pure Survival and Hardcore will appeal to fans of the first and second entries in this series. It’s just a shame these aren’t default options.

"And then, she was all, 'Why didn't you have haunting visions of me?' and I was like..." "Dude, are you gonna be like this the whole time?"

“And then, she was all, ‘Why didn’t you have haunting visions of me?’ and I was like…”
“Dude, are you gonna be like this the whole time?”

Perhaps the biggest controversy surrounding the pre-release of Dead Space 3 was Visceral’s announcement of co-op. Fans were of the immediate belief that this would ruin the horror and tension, as having a military sergeant with an assault rifle right there beside you feels more like Aliens and less like Alien. Visceral responded by saying Carver (the second player) would see and experience things differently than Isaac; Carver is affected by the Marker and suffers the guilt of losing his family, seeing hallucinations reminiscent of Isaac in Dead Space 2. Regardless, the first problem with co-op is finding a match with someone that doesn’t want to be Carver. It was tricky for me (on PSN, anyway), but once I got a random player (yeah, I don’t have friends) to suit up as Isaac, we got underway. I can say that despite the spookiness of Carver’s mental state (unseen giggling children is always creepy), co-op doesn’t do anything positive for the Dead Space franchise. The only response the game can take against two well-armed guys is to throw a large number of enemies at once; not one or two in a tight, dark corridor, a la Dead Space. There are some that will enjoy blasting Necromorphs with a friend, there are some that won’t. It’s up to you.

 "I SAID NO COOKIES!"

“I SAID NO COOKIES!”

Dead Space 3 isn’t a terrible game. The gameplay is identical to previous entries and there are a few moments that might actually freak you out (getting an Arctic Suit in the basement on Tau Volantis. *Shudder*). That said, it all depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for. If you’re a huge fan of recent Resident Evil games and want nothing more than gory, guttural action, give Dead Space 3 a go. If, however, you prefer your horror survival-ly (yeah, that’s now a word) and you enjoyed the moody atmospheres of the first and second, unless you’re absolutely determined to see the story through to its end, you’re better of letting this one go.

 

 

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Dead, The

Written & Directed by: Howard J. Ford and Jonathan Ford
Starring:
Rob Freeman
Prince David Oseia
David Dontoh

As we wade (shamble?) through the ever growing pile of zombie films, there are those that cause us to sit up and take notice.  “The Dead” is one such film and while it contains most of the elements required to make a decent zombie movie, it falls prey to lapses in logic and amateurish acting.

“The Dead” is the first zombie movie from Africa and at this point, fans of Resident Evil 5 should be salivating.  The film opens as a lone man in bedouin robes walks across the desert, dealing with the occasional zombie that lurches after him.  The first few necessary elements are there: great setting, slow, Romero-style zombies, practical effects.  We soon learn that our hero is American soldier Lt. Brian Murphy (Rob Freeman) the only survivor of a zombie induced plane crash.  We are never given a reason for the outbreak (yay!) and we aren’t even sure how much of Africa is infected.  All we know is that Lt. Murphy wants to return to his family in the states and for that, he requires an airport.  Along the way he meets Sgt. Daniel Dembele (Prince David Oseia), an African soldier searching for his son after shamblers destroyed his village.  Conveniently, he knows where an airport is and the two set off across the African savannah.  Unfortunately, this is where the movie starts to go south.  As yet, we haven’t heard much from Lt. Murphy but once he is given someone to talk to, his forced delivery and some awkward dialogue begin to break the spell.  This is where we start to leave logic behind.

The movie plays out like a video game; the hero or heroes are presented with a challenge, the challenge is overcome using nearby items, after a quick cutscene, a new challenge is presented.  Problems walking around with zombies everywhere?  Oh look, a car!  Radiator overheats and needs water, argument ensues over using their precious water supply.  Oh look, a working well!  We’re hungry and we’re going to starve.  Oh look, a chicken!  Events that could be devastating to our heroes are resolved in the next scene and even the ever present zombies start to feel like less of a threat and more of a nuisance.

Then we come to the problem of the journey.  Now I realize that this is a minor quibble and that there could very well be an off-camera explanation but hear me out.  Two soldiers, traveling across the savannah day and night, no roads, no cities, no street lights, zombies everywhere (and probably a few not so friendly animals) and never once do we see either of them consult a map or compass.  They just sort of happen upon everything they need and even the aforementioned airport is suddenly there, right in front of them.  It’s a minor detail but I feel it was something that should have been at least mentioned, otherwise these two guys would have been traveling in circles.

It is nice to know that there are still filmmakers who value a serious zombie film as we seem to be up to our spurting neck wounds in zombie comedies these days.  The effects in “The Dead” are excellent and mostly practical (a little CG isn’t going to kill you), the setting is fantastic and Prince David Oseia is an actor I would like to see more of but the video game plot and severe breaks in logic keeps “The Dead” from having a place in my collection.  Back to the pile it goes.

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Demons

1985 / d. Lamberto Bava
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Italian gore-fest that delivers all the graphic grotesqueries that a horror fan could hope for. Shoestring plot features individuals trapped in a movie theatre while a demonic force possesses them one by one. Corny but entertaining transformation scenes, an eye gouging to rival Fulci, and an extended demon-slaying involving a motorcycle and a samurai sword. It’s ridiculous, but it works.

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Descent, The

Written & Directed By: Neil Marshall
Starring:
Natalie Mendoza
Shauna Macdonald
Alex Reid

When we entered a new decade I found myself getting a tad retrospective, and began going over the horror films from the past ten years. I’ll admit that at first, I thought that the years spanning from 2000-2009 offered very little with respect to the horror genre. The whole process ultimately resulted in my writing a “Best of the Decade” article, which forced me to delve a bit deeper into the tomes of horror history. Happily, I am able to report that it was a pleasant stroll down memory lane, and there were a number of horror films from the above mentioned years that had eluded my immediate recollection. One of those such films is none other than the horror gem: “The Descent.”

I remember watching the film for the first time — it was during a point in which I was out of the loop in terms of hearing the latest horror gossip and movie buzz (there were a rough patch where my internet speed was unfortunately reduced to that of dial-up, which aside from being really retro was just a frustrating experience when it came to using the internet). Thus, when I found myself with a copy of the film, I had no idea what to expect, or even what the gist of the film even was. It looked interesting (I mean, just look at that fantastic Dali recreation on the movie poster!), and that was enough to get me to pick it up in the first place.

To this day, I consider “The Descent” to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the past decade. It, along with films such as High Tension, are excellent examples of the new style and trend that the modern horror film is taking. Unrepentently bloody, fierce, shocking, atmospheric, utterly tense, and above all well-made. The darkness and grim pessimism that pervades throughout is what makes “The Descent” so great and yet so very depressing to watch at the same time. The claustrophobic environment, tight angles, and fear of what lurks in the darkness are the elements that contribute to a high tension film — be warned, it’s impossible to not watch this film from the edge of your seat.

Boasting an almost entirely female cast, “The Descent” tells the tale of a group of thrillseeking women who get their dose of adrenalyne by exploring deep dark caves. As we all know as horror fans, the setting for a film can literally make or break a movie; thus, what better setting for a hororr movie than deep underground — a lightless labyrinth where there is danger at every turn. The women are warned before entering the cave: the prolonged exposure to the darkness can lead to disorientation, dizziness, claustrophobia, and even hallucinations. If one cannot even trust their own eyes, one is left to wonder how many of the horrors that wait in the darkness are truly real…

As horror loving people, we know that there are truly feel good horror films — movies like “Halloween”, and “Friday the 13th”. While I whole-heartedly recommend “The Descent”, I simply tell you: don’t expect to feel good after watching this film.

…and stay the hell away from caves…

DiaryOfTheDead

Diary of the Dead

2007 / d. George A. Romero
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The fifth installment in the revered Dead series is not a bad film per se, but certainly is not up to the calibre we’re used to seeing from Romero’s earlier output. Through a documentary-style presentation, it tells the story of a group of film students who struggle to survive during a zombie outbreak. The film, which Romero described as a “rejigging of the myth”, begins on the same day as the 1968 original, though the setting is obviously modernized. Overall just not as compelling to watch as the first installments of the Dead series, but it still manages to boast a british professor whose zombie killing weapon of choice is a goddam bow and arrow. Classy!

drbutcher2

Dr. Butcher, M.D.

Directed By: Marino Girolami
Written By: Fabrizio De Angelis & Romano Scandariato
Starring:
Ian McColloch
Alexandra Delli Colli
Sherry Buchanan

“He’s a depraved
, homocidal killer… and he makes house calls!”

People be warned: we’re dealing with some savage shit here. If exuberant gore, graphic gut munching, putrefying cadavers, and fiendish medical experiments aren’t your thing, then for godsakes turn back now. This unrepentent assault on the retinas isn’t for everyone, and even hardened horror fans may flinch while watching this one. But if you can hack it, well boy, you’re in for a bloody wild ride. All puns intended!

Plot? Story? You’re out of your mind, brotha, if you’re expecting these things to matter. Dr. Butcher (also released in North America as Zombie Holocaust) is all about the red stuff! This sanguineous symphony of sadistic shlop is sure to separate the men from the boys. If ocular trauma is your thing, step on up and watch a man’s eyes torn right from their sockets and immediately devoured like pearl onions! Yum! Do you like your women au naturel and painted in exotic floral patterns? Well ya weirdo, it’s even got that. Everything from botched surgery to a Mr. T lookalike, and a myriad of outre events in between, Dr. Butcher is sure to satisfy your sinister cravings.

The moments of “plot development” and dialogue are great times to sit back and instead listen to the sound of you cracking open another cold one, since this film is like playing leapfrog from one gross-out scene to the next. And while it doesn’t offer memorable moments like Fulci’s zombie vs. shark incident, it does boast an awesome cranial lambasting involving a spinning boat propellor! Gee-whiz, where’s your Tylenol now, big guy?

Need I say more?

The next time your guests are hungry for gore, put Dr. Butcher on the menu. It’s sure to shock, entertain, and make you damn well think twice about going to your next check-up.

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Here’s lookin’ at you too, kid!

drbutcher

Dr. Butcher, M.D.

1980 / d. Marino Girolam
skullskullline10
People be warned: we’re dealing with some savage shit here. If exuberant gore, graphic gut munching, putrefying cadavers, and fiendish medical experiments aren’t your thing, then for godsakes turn back now. This unrepentent assault on the retinas isn’t for everyone, and even hardened horror fans may flinch while watching this one. But if you can hack it, well boy, you’re in for a bloody wild ride. All puns intended! Also released in North America as ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST.

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Elvira: Mistress of the Dark

1988 / d. James Signorelli
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There’s a touch of mature innuendo, but it’s a treat to see Cassandra Peterson’s alter ego host in a full length picture. The plot’s a predictable fish out of water scenario; with sexy Elvira taking an inheritance in a quiet, conservative town. Nevertheless, Peterson’s wit, bosom, and personality are all in spooky good fun.

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Evil Dead (2013)

I’m an extremely open horror fan. I will watch anything and everything and I will never look away from the screen… unless I fall asleep, which is probably a bad sign as it means that what is happening in my head is far more entertaining. I will sit through the remakes and the reboots, but I try to do so with an open mind. The fact of the matter is that we are not living in the 70′s/80′s anymore. Every new generation of filmmaker contains fans of the films that came before them, if they weren’t fans they wouldn’t be attempting to make movies for a living (You don’t voluntarily live a life of unstable uncertainty unless you love the shit out of it – ask any drug addict!) My point is that times change. Society is different, the technology is different and we are different. You can try and make a film as spot on to the original as you can but it will never be close enough.

It’s easy to blame it on the writing/directing/producing/acting, but the real fault lies in the evolution of filmmaking as a whole. Maybe it’s due to a production value that is far too advanced to capture the gritty quality of the original, no matter how many post production filters are used; maybe it’s not the actor’s abilities, but rather the simple fact that they are too well known in an industry that is over-saturated with on screen talent; it could be the use of CG FX vs the old school practical effects that used to get us excited no matter how fake or ridiculous it looked; or maybe it’s the fact that certain films seem factory made, stripping us of our sense of nostalgia. We are no longer experiencing history in the making, we are sitting on a conveyor belt looking at the same product pass us by over and over, blending in with no discernible quality to set them apart from the rest. Years later when asked if you remember a scene in one of these films, will you? I already don’t. The remakes of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre all looked the same, felt the same, and I couldn’t tell you damn thing that happened in anyone of them. I admit this as someone who was curious and excited upon their release, paid money to see them, and didn’t totally hate any of them.

Is it common for two queens to reign over the same territory? No. So why do we have so many "Scream Queens?" THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE HIGLANDER! Or in this case, Jamie Lee Curtis.

Is it common for two queens to reign over the same territory? No. So why do we have so many “Scream Queens?” THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE HIGLANDER! Or in this case, Jamie Lee Curtis.

Horror fans know who Marilyn Burns is, but the average Joe would refer to her as “the chick from Texas Chainsaw”. So hypothetically, if TCM had nothing else going for it, at least it would have a stand out factor like that. Unfortunately we don’t create and destroy careers as easily in modern times (unless the actor is willing to do it themselves in front of cameras). We don’t give unknowns a chance anymore because hiring a well-known actor is better for business, but is it really better for the film? Are we adding an important title to that star’s ever growing list of credits, or burying it under a pile of films that actor will always be better known for?

When it comes to remakes the fans of the original are always gonna be pissed over one thing or another; but like I said, this is a different time, and that means a different audience. The new generation of movie goers just reaching the cusp of the R rated market is a new ball game. These barely legal adults may not have had the pleasure of experiencing the original films the way we did. They also grew up in a time where sex, violence and coarse language have become the norm in prime time television. They will receive it differently, and remember it as we remembered the originals. There are also movie goers such as myself who will attend with an open mind, regardless of our dedication to the original, and just take in the enjoyment of the audience experience (might as well before we get old and start complaining that it’s too bright and too loud). I may not hate the films, but I can recognize a flawed and a failed attempt. Regardless, who am I to say that a film is bad if it has given at least one human a single shred of enjoyment.

The films we are now remaking originated in a time where that generation’s filmmakers were remaking the classics. Do you think they were well received? No horror film has really ever been well received outside the horror community until more recent times (with the exception of The Exorcist). The only differences lie in the fact that before everyone complained that it was all too much, and now we’re complaining that it’s just not enough. We’ve gone above and beyond what our horror forefathers had ever hoped we could achieve. We can show what we want and how we want to anyone that is willing to sit in front of that screen. So maybe we can all just shut up and be thankful that we have come into a time when genre films can top the box offices alongside the big boys.

Oh right, Evil Dead…

D'aww

D’aww

There was no shortage of blood in this film. The beauty of it shooting off the chainsaw in rapid-fire pellets was an image that made the entire experience worth it to me. No it’s not the same. People will say it took itself too seriously, but guess what, so did the original. The camp wasn’t intentional and wasn’t embraced until the second film. On the other side of the spectrum you will have people saying it didn’t take itself seriously enough. That’s just bullshit. I liked this remake. If you’re going to do one, this is the way to do it. It wasn’t a total disappointment and it got people talking. Not all remakes blend together into an unrecognizable mush; certainly Dawn of the Dead and The Hills Have Eyes have earned their horror acclaim, and I think Evil Dead displayed the right attitude to secure its place in the same graduating class. The shots were fantastic, the atmosphere was bang on and the possessions were disturbing. There were times I laughed when I wasn’t supposed to, but come on, it’s because I was having fun. When the girlfriend says “We need to get her to the hospital”, my response was “You’ve had two lines in this film, we don’t take orders from you!”. The only thing that bothered me is a common mistake any film could make: it showed a scene in the preview that wasn’t included in the film. The one totally creepy draw-in was demon Mia lifting the floorboard and saying a rhyme direct to camera. Where the eff was that in the movie?! Otherwise, I liked it. So deal.