Archive for the movies Category

Evil Dead Is Awesome

Posted in movies, Stuff I think is cool with tags , , on April 5, 2013 by bradellison

I was initially skeptical at best about the idea of remaking one of the best horror b-movies ever filmed, especially since so much of what’s great about the original revolves around the unique sensibilities of its director and star. As it turns out though, the new film is superb, inspired by the original but very much its own thing, a very different and much more brutal beast.

This is the most exhilarating horror movie I’ve seen since Cabin In the Woods, the most brutally gruesome gorefest I’ve seen on the big screen since maybe Hostel, and the first straight horror movie I’ve seen in a long time that really surprised me. Evil Dead lovingly reconstructs what Cabin In the Woods deconstructed, and the stitched-together reanimated corpse of that autopsied revenant is as scary and gross as you’d imagine it could be, even if I couldn’t watch the Eric-Stoltz-looking dude examing the forbidden book without thinking of Fran Kranz desperately telling everyone to not read the Latin. This is a no-holds-barred old-school spam-in-a-cabin picture that, like its namesake, actually delivers all the thrills and chills all those drive-in trailers promised.

Unlike its namesake, however, there is no sense of humor or gleam in the eye as it goes about its bloody business (barring maybe a couple of clever winks to the original). A lot of people forget that Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell were primarily comic filmmakers before they set out to make a horror picture for their first feature, and ardent disciples of the Three Stooges, as their use of the “fake shemp” label implies (and that term does appear in the credits of this new film, warming my heart). By The Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn they were going all-out Looney Tunes zany, but even in the first one there’s an element of madcap comic energy. The guys making Evil Dead are horror fans inspired by a horror film, and the wackiness is gone. The energy is still there, but it’s all channeled into darker avenues.

Just about every awful thing that can be done to a human body gets done in this film, and done on the screen. There’s tongue stuff, eyeball stuff, limbs coming off in all kinds of rough ways, blunt trauma, fire, water, tree-rape, chunky blood-vomit, nail-gunning, and what kind of an Evil Dead movie would it be without that trusty sawed-off shotgun and chainsaw? There is a spectacular amount of blood onscreen, more than you’d think would fit inside these five peoples’ bodies by a long sight.

There’s more to this than gore, though. Part of the genius of The Evil Dead is that it extracted and combined the active ingredients of The Night of the Living Dead and The Exorcist into a single high-intensity dose. It’s not just that people get torn up, it’s that something gets inside them, and then makes them tear themselves and their friends apart. Possession, damnation, friends trying to rip your face off, having to take a shotgun to your girlfriend, and ruthless flesh-bound killing machines that just will not lay down and die.  These five people are trapped in the worst kind of hell, where something is taking them over and driving them to do horrible, horrible things to each other. And it’s even more intense here because these guys aren’t just out for a nice vacation in an old abandoned cabin in the woods. They’re here because this is their last-ditch attempt to get our leading man’s sister to kick heroin, out where she’ll have no choice but to go cold turkey. No matter what agonizing contortions her body goes through, no matter what terrible hallucinations she suffers, no matter what insane lies she tells to convince them otherwise, they’re going to keep her here until the junk is out of her system.

You can imagine how much worse that makes things.

This is a lean, unapolagetic, brutally bloody scare machine, and it delivers the red meat with a ferocious vengeance, if you have the stomach for it. The rusted-out hulk of the familiar Oldsmobile outside the very familiar cabin (It’s still the same layout as featured in the originals, and in Cabin In the Woods, meaning by this point I’m more familiar with this piece of real estate than I am with some actual houses I’ve lived in) and the fact that they provide a satisfactory answer to the troubling question “why don’t they just burn that goddamned book?” that inevitably crosses the mind as soon as they stumble across it, well, those are just the cherries on top.

Speaking of which, fans will want to stick around through the credits, just because.

 

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Die Hard V Is Absolutely Terrible

Posted in movies with tags on February 25, 2013 by bradellison

It’s really, really tempting to start by saying that the only reason A Good Day to Die Hard isn’t the worst Die Hard movie ever made is that it’s not a real Die Hard movie. I’m resisting that temptation, because if an action movie with “die hard” in the title and Bruce Willis as John McClane isn’t a Die Hard movie, we have to have a serious talk about how and when to renounce heretical non-canonical installments in an action franchise, and that’s inherently silly.

So let’s start with this: A Good Day to Die Hard is the worst Die Hard movie ever made. By a wide margin. (Fun fact: I just had to look up the title of this movie on Wikipedia because I’ve just been referring to it as Die Even Harder Than Previously).

Here’s how the franchise breaks down: you have one great movie, two decent ones (you can tell watchable Die Hard movies by the fact that their titles make sense: Die Harder is all about repeating the first movie but bigger and louder, and With A Vengeance is about vengeance, but can anyone explain why the fourth one is called Live Free or Die Hard?), and then some total bullshit (someone needs to be punched in the face for even thinking it would be OK to release a PG-13 Die Hard movie). You don’t need me to tell you why the original Die Hard is so great, because you’re on the internet, with cracked.com over here and the-isb.com over there, where you can read thousands of words detailing why it’s so great. I’m going to tell you anyway, though, because I do what I want.

Die Hard is a masterpiece of narrative craftsmanship. A Swiss watch made out of ass-kicking and explosions. It is one of the most immaculately constructed scripts in history, and there is not a wasted word or image from beginning to end. John McClane is one of the greatest action heroes ever, Hans Gruber is hands down the single best action movie villain of all time, and every single member of the supporting cast is a memorable, sharply defined character with a clear role to play in the ferocious drama the film enacts. I’m counting the location as one of those characters, because Nakatomi Plaza is a clearly defined and vividly drawn setting that defines the action taking place inside its walls. Most of the movie is a chess game between two dramatically different men, and the players, pieces and board are introduced to us clearly and efficiently. At every moment the stakes are clear and constantly escalating, we always know where the hero and villain are in relation to each other in their cat and mouse game, and everyone’s motivation (with one exception) is always clear. It’s a rare scene that doesn’t have at least two layers of significance to it, as plot, theme and characterization are packed into every frame of the film. John McClane is a very tough, very skilled, and very lucky man, but his human frailties (both physical and emotional) are what define the movie, and there’s never a time when he’s anything other than tired and desperate (even before Gruber’s men seize the tower, he’s worn out from an agonizing plane ride and taking a desperate shot at fixing his broken family).

Everything that Die Hard is, A Good Day to Die Hard is not.

After four successive sequels, everything human about John McClane has been stripped away, until all that’s left is the cast-iron and granite of an Action Hero. No more physical frailty. No more emotional vulnerability. John McClane: Franchise Star feels neither pain nor fatigue even when enduring impacts that would kill mere mortals, and the only emotions he feels are crankiness and sarcasm. And sarcasm isn’t even an emotion. He’s also passed these traits on to his son, John McClane Jr., who is essentially a tougher and less-amnesia-ridden Jason Bourne. Al Leong emoted more in the scene in Die Hard where he ate that candy bar than Jai Courtney does in this whole movie. There was a scene where young Jack McClane had a piece of rebar stuck in his side, and I didn’t even realize it until they pull it out at the end of the scene, because both McClanes are carrying on a conversation exactly like two people who didn’t have a piece of rebar stuck in either of their torsos. It was surreal.

Where the original film is a model of precision and clarity, this thing is a shambling half-baked mess, starting with an incoherent prologue and continuing through the most half-assed “why is this character even in Russia?” scene imaginable (“John, your son who you haven’t kept track of for years but suddenly decided to look up is in Russia, and he’s on trial for a bunch of stuff in a couple of days.” “Well, shit. Guess I better go over and…do stuff?”). They could have replaced it with a title screen that said “And so John McClane was in Russia for some reason.” Considering how surprised McClane acts when he first encounters his son, that might even have made more sense, and I would bet they at least toyed with that idea while writing the thing. McClane then literally wanders into a CIA extraction like Mr. Magoo (SPOILERS: turns out his son’s trial was part of a hugely elaborate and deeply stupid CIA extraction scheme to grab an informant, and McClane blows the whole thing when he walks up to his son’s getaway vehicle and starts lecturing him). The resulting freeway chase scene crams a lot more cars and real estate in than the scene from The Matrix Reloaded, but somehow manages to be deathly dull in spite of that, and if this were real life rather than an action movie that had transcended the self-parody event horizon, John McClane would be personally responsible for several innocent dead commuters.

So John McClane has wandered into a James Bond movie and is trying to heal the rift between him and his son, which is complicated both by their complete lack of emotion and the way bad guys keep showing up out of nowhere to shoot around them. There are double crosses, triple crosses, constant submachine gun fire, and explosions and breaking glass all over the place None of it does anything but cosmetic damage to the McClanes, including that thumb-sized hunk of rebar that was the sole consequence of their plummeting about a dozen stories. Filling a room with broken glass that doesn’t hurt John McClane seems downright perverse.

There are crosses, double- and triple-crosses, Chernobyl’s involved because of course it is, and Bruce Willis lets out a contractually-obligated-sounding “yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” before doing some green screen work that makes his Sin City stuff look like The Bicycle Thief. None of it makes much sense, and none of it matters because there are no stakes whatsoever.

Throughout this whole shambling mess of meaningless crap, Bruce Willis looks, acts, and sounds like a cantankerous invulnerable grandpa. There’s a scene where his son is driving them to the scene of the next shootout, and every second they were in that car was a second I expected him to start angrily demanding that they stop at a Cracker Barrel because he was hungry and needed to take his meds. John McClane is no longer tired, afraid, stressed, or battered; he’s just pissed off about these kids today with their hippity-hop music and their baggy pants.

If I had paid money to see this embarrassment, I’d be angry. As it stands I got paid to see it, at what works out to double my hourly salary and with free gourmet food thrown in, and I still feel cheated. The movie ends with a title card telling you how many jobs the production created, which I think was necessary because the filmmakers realized that at that point audiences would be demanding to know what the point of all this was. It was a lot of jobs, but I still feel like everyone would have been better off it they’d just re-released Die Hard.

This Is Why We Need The Twilight Zone

Posted in movies with tags , , , , , on April 29, 2012 by bradellison

Well, there are many, many reasons why we should be thankful for Mr. Sirling’s magnum opus, but the thing on my mind now is the fact that if we were still making new episodes of the Zone, maybe we wouldn’t have so many mediocre horror movies that play out like Twilight Zone episodes filled out to triple- or quadruple-length with filler. The breath-taking boring, preachy, stupid and generally terrible Sublime remains my go-to example for how awful these things can get, but a lot of the ones I’ve seen are more in the mediocre category, including the one I watched last night. Gentle readers, I give you Dead End.

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We present for your consideration the Harrington family, a seemingly ordinary family of utterly unlikeable middle-class white people on their way to Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. Little do they know that their shortcut through the woods is about to take them neck deep into…

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This picture seems to have been pretty well reviewed by both mainstream critics and more hardcore horror fans, and I am not quite sure why. It would have been a fine 25-minute TV episode although I still might have gotten sick of the characters and almost certainly would have guessed the twist, (especially seeing as how The Twilight Zone used pretty much the same twist more than once already), but I spent more than triple that time sitting through this movie.

To its credit, that time wasn’t completely wasted. This was no Sublime. There were some genuinely creepy moments the film can take credit for, some others that exploit our natural fear of being lost in the woods at night, and a couple more moments that would have been creepy had they actually been able to put together a full mutilated corpse instead of blatantly cheating with camera angles. Shots of people staring at the camera talking about how gruesome what they’re looking at is can only go so far. Further adding to the movie’s sins, everybody’s overacting in a manner that might charitable be described as operatic, and they’re bringing this scenery-chewing to bear in service of depicting a bunch of assholes. Then there’s the fact that the twist/explanation for all the spooky shenanigans is an outright cliché, a chestnut on par with “it was all just a dream (or was it?), ” so I spent most of the movie waiting for them to acknowledge what I already knew and hoping in vain that a new spin might be put on it. No such luck. Instead we get inexplicable stupid decision (when they stop at the spooky cabin to see if there’s a phone they could use to call for help for the spooky woman in white they met hitchhiking, teenage son decides it’s an ideal time to go off into the spooky woods alone so he can pin a centerfold to a tree and rub one out) after inexplicable stupid decision (teenage later, after the first member of the party has been kidnapped and grotesquely murdered and another has gone catatonic, goes off into the woods to smoke a joint). I say “grotesquely murdered” there, but I’m having to take the characters’ word for it since I saw the body. I’m all for subtle, low-key horror, but if you can only afford to make a severed ear instead of a whole mutilated dead person, maybe fix your script so that ear’s all they find. The final cherry on top of this crap sundae is one of the stupidest epilogues I’ve seen in recent memory. Spoiler alert, but turns out Death has an awful, awful haircut.

To sum up, you can skip this one, but it does join eating paint chips, listening to dial-up modem noises and punching yourself in the breadbasket in the pantheon of things that are better than watching Sublime.

We’ve All Been Here Before

Posted in movies, Stuff I think is cool with tags , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by bradellison

I’m gonna talk about The Cabin In the Woods some more.  I’m not going to get too much into the awesome details, but if you have yet to treat your eyeballs to it, maybe save this one for a bit until you’ve had the chance to do so.  It’s rich and tasty sauce.

A great man named Ash once spent a couple days in this cabin.

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Today’s Teenagers Need Better Fake IDs

Posted in movies on April 17, 2012 by bradellison

If more kids were buying tickets for R-rated movies they weren’t old enough to see, big-budget gore-soaked spectacles in the action and horror genres would be more profitable.  In such a world, we might have Guillermo Del Toro’s At the Mountains of Madness, and we for damn sure wouldn’t have to put up with the total bullshit that is a PG-13-rated Die Hard.

Luckily, The Cabin In the Woods was made by men with a respect for gruesome grand guignol, and they had the resources to deliver a blood-spraying balls-to-the-wall nightmare epic that makes The Evil Dead II look like Uncle Vanya.

The Cabin In the Woods

Posted in movies with tags on April 15, 2012 by bradellison

Everybody shut up and go see this movie right now, twice in a row, back to back.  I’m not kidding.  This is the best studio horror movie to come out of Hollywood in at least a decade, and is simultaneously a gleeful celebration, hilarious parody and chilling deconstruction of the genre, and to say any more about it than that would be giving too much away.  So join me tomorrow when I do just that, and in the meantime, get this movie inside your eyeballs.

These movies are called "spam in a cabin" movies, and the teenagers are the spam.  So who;s the spam getting fed to?

By Imperial Decree, The Worst Movie Ever Made

Posted in movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2012 by bradellison

There’s a lot of talk about what movie can be said to be the worst of all time.  Plan 9 From Outer Space is always a leading choice, and most of Ed Wood’s other works are in the running too.  Santa Claus Conquers the Martians deserves a mention, if only for the combination of cheapness and balls-out lunacy.  Troll 2 is another contender, and God knows that’s not without reason.  The works of Coleman Francis have their place in the canon as well.  Much of legendary filmmaker Roger Corman‘s work has supporters.  Connoisseurs often propose “Manos:” The Hands of Fate, and not only is Manos jaw-droppingly awful in almost every conceivable way, it has a more amazing origin story than Superman.  Dracula 3000 with its all-star cast must be seen to be believed, and even then you won’t believe it.  Personally I’m a fan of I Nuovi Barbari, AKA Warriors of the Wasteland.   Not many would dispute that, pound for pound, there’s no worse director than Uwe Boll, ruiner of video game movies.  Then there’s the unmitigated WTF factory that is The Dragon Lives Again, whose insane charms I’ve discussed in the past.  And how can we neglect the brain-melting intensity of Turkish Star Wars? (WARNING: DO NOT CLICK THAT LINK.  YOU CANNOT HANDLE IT)

All that’s amateur hour compared to Monkey King With 72 Magic, as shown by this, probably the most coherent scene in the film.

But here’s the thing.  When judged on a sliding scale for available resources (time, money, locations, basic competency on the part of the cast and crew), a lot of these movies start to look a lot better, especially when you’re prepared to accept raw amusement value in lieu of quality, as are all of us who have taken the sacred Drive-In Oath).  You’ve got boring crap like The Starfighters, but hell, let’s see you make a watchable picture with $50 and a big pile of stock footage.  Dolemite may be a slapped-together fever dream of a movie, but by God it’s never boring.  And say what you will about Deathstalker, but when Roger Corman produces a sword-and sorcery film because Conan made a lot of money and he was able to rent a castle for three days, at least you know there’s not going to be and skimping on the sex, violence, or inexplicable pig-men.  I’ve dredged the depths of Chinese, Japanese, Turkish, Thai, and Italian cinema, buried myself in Blacksploitation, Hicksploitation, Brucesploitation, Nunsploitation and Christsploitation.  I’ve seen seen John Carradine, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi act in movies I’m pretty sure they weren’t aware were being shot at the time.  I own two separate copies of Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter.  And I can definitively say that none of them can be called the worst movie ever made.

No, the worst movie ever made must be the one with the most wasted potential, the least originality, the greatest dearth of anything remotely stimulating.  And at last I found it, in the form of a little picture called FeardotCom.

FeardotCom, as you can see in that trailer, is a movie about a haunted website, called feardotcom.com.  In other words, literally twenty seconds into the trailer we have already gone beyond self-parody.  It’s got the same blueish-grayish-blackish color pallet every crappy studio horror film has been legally mandated to have for the last decade or so.  The particulars of the plot are a goulash of Kairo, Ringu and Videodrome, and the closest thing to originality on display is the fact that they managed to rip off the J-horror aesthetic a few months before anybody else did.  I know for a fact that I watched the entire movie attentively, but I couldn’t recall a thing about it before I looked it up again to prepare for this post.  The only time anything remotely interesting happens, it either makes no sense or is stolen from another movie, usually both.  In fairness, every time something really boring happens in the movie, it either makes no sense or is stolen from another movie.  At no point is there any hint of tension, nor any sort of flair.  There’s nothing there but one hundred minutes of slogging through dreary bland nastiness.

Thing is, this is a for-real movie, put out by Warner Brothers, starring big-boy actor Stephen Dorff, and it somehow cost $40,000,000 to make.  To contextualize that figure, that is literally eighty times as much as Brick cost.  It’s more than a thousand times as much as Clerks cost to make, and for once Clerks is the better-looking of the two movies being contrasted.  That is enough money to make every single human being in Marathon, TX rich.  If hubris-drenched El Paso fertilizer salesman/auteur Harold P. Warren had possessed that kind of budget, “Manos:” The Hands of Fate might have won an academy award of some kind, if only a special achievement award for Craziest Thing Anyone Ever Spent Forty Million Goddamn Dollars On Ever.

It opened in the US on a quarter-million screens.  By contrast, the really excellent The Last Exorcism opened on fewer than three thousand screens, though the latter film cost a twentieth as much to make and pulled in a lot more money.  Somehow, hundreds of people spent thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars, presumably thinking this was a good idea, and the end result was the cinematic equivalent of a lump of cold porridge with roaches in it.

Is there a moral here?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that Roger Corman has never, ever lost movie on a movie, and never, ever bored me.  So maybe that’s the lesson we can learn here: in the time it takes you to watch FeardotCom, you could have watched Deathrace 2000, taken a bathroom break, and then watched it again fast-forwarding to the gore, nudity, and hand grenade scenes, and would have had 10,000 times more fun.

And on that note, here’s Frankenstein to play us out: