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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dracula 3D (2012) Horror Vampire

Dario Argento's Dracula 3D (2012) - This film is taking a lot of heat as it makes its round being reviewed by various horror podcasts and websites. It certainly does have its issues, the CGI is under developed making it look very cartoonish. Its a shame since there are many shots filling a good amount of the film. Most of the new tropes for the many forms of Dracula are primarily shown through CGI, the fly transformation, the giant pray a mantis, a wolf transformation and all are less developed than they should have been before releasing the film. Then there are script issues that add to the mixed reception of the film. Writers Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo, Stefano Piani and Antonio Tentori decided to without major plot points until the final scene and by doing so created an incoherent collection of scenes missing a primary motivation. Now who is to say, who wrote what in this script, or how many revisions it went through but understanding what was done can only happen after seeing the entire film. The central character Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann), as well as Lucy (Asia Argento) had motivations that were left unexplained until the final conflict.
  Then the knowledge that Mina (Marta Gastini), like in the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola version, is a look alike for Dracula's dead wife is also withheld. It is his primary reason for hiring Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde) and thus luring his wife to the area but we the audience don't learn about it until the end of the film. So in that last scene there is so much exposition that it muddles everything that comes before it. I am sure the writers were seeing it a a big reveal but because of other issues in the film it just leaves the plot rudderless. More foreshadowing of the reveals would have helped. Then there is the strange weirdness to the dialog, not quite shooting for any region or time period, but sort of existing in its own world. The players have odd phrasing making the dialog ring false throughout the film. Add to it what I think were a incredibly moody performance by Thomas Kretschmann as Dracula. He goes all over the place presenting Dracula sometimes as a sad and depressed creature bored with his existence. Then at other time flashes into the monster with a violent streak that make an abusive drunk seem stable. Then at other times he is a driven man who knows what he wants and is determined to get it.It makes for a very convoluted image of the character that is not easy to connect with.
 Now I will move a bit into some *** SPOILERS!*** in the writing so you have been warned. I know that you are thinking this is Dracula there just can't be spoilers but there are. The writing team changed the story and character arcs enough that it is possible to actually have spoilers. Lets start with the simplest of the changes that did not make sense. Renfield (Giovanni Franzoni) is not a want to be vampire eating bugs and doing the bidding of the vampire well at least at first. He is a neighbor in the opening scene where Tanja (Miriam Giovanelli) is attacked by Dracula, he knows she is having an affair with is married neighbor but does nothing about it. When she is killed, bitten and put in a grave he arrives in time to stop the locals from driving a stake through her heart. In the bloody exchange he is overpowered after killing another local. Although under the power of Dracula this character is a bit more sane than Renfield's who have appeared in other films. He is an improvement over past versions of the character, primarily obsessed with the lovely Tanja vampire he is a servant with size and power. She Tanja is herself a more active bride of Dracula. Like in other films she is a showcase of the seductress vampire but not one Dracula is interested in loving. Unfortunately this bride is young and petulant a child who can not handle the power that comes from being undead. Its a bit confusing whether Dracula wants her to be a vampire, we see that the locals are doing his bidding but when Tanja is bitten they bury her in a shallow grave with the intent to stake her before she can drink some of Dracula's blood to become a full vampire. Well so was it Dracula who sent them to do this? Then why in the very next scene is he giving her a drink of his blood. It's very confusing. The major characters are another story with the greatest change coming in the form of Lucy.
In other versions of the story Lucy is a victim; a close friend to Mina who is used as the example of the power of the vampire. He seduces and feeds and she grows weaker and weaker before dying. In this film all of that is shortened and at the end a major revelation is revealed about Lucy that changes all her motivation. She is seen to die after one feeding by Dracula which at the time seemed odd. Then we learn in the exposition in the end of the movie that she was working for Dracula. She had traded her friends for the gift of immortality, yes that's right after Dracula saw the photo of  Mina and Jonathan in Lucy's home and realized Mina was the spitting image of his long dead wife he made a deal with Lucy. So instead of being an innocent victim she is an evil co-conspirator. It explains her reaction to hearing Mina was not with Jonathan, she seems scared and worries that something has happened to her friend. You think it is worry for the girl but really she fears Dracula will be angry. So is the town for that matter, most of the locals are working for Dracula, so it changes the basic premise of past films. Instead of a village terrified by the old castle on the hill everyone seems to be working against the Harkers.

  Of all the characters in the film poor Jonathan gets the worst deal. Hired to catalog the Count's library he is very quickly just a food source. Locked up and drained when he turns and is killed by Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer) it is a truly tragic ending for him. He really has no other purpose in the story so other than setting up Mina's arrival. So he is used to give us the story of Dracula when he reads the books in the library. After seeing the film the second viewing makes so much more sense. When Dracula is talking about Mina's arrival he says "A wife's place is with her husband." Knowing he envisions her as his long lost bride we can see the double meaning of the line.
  Dracula feels a psychic connection to Mina and she to him, symbolized as a warning her her dream, she is running through the woods and comes across her own body laying on the ground, a wolf is feeding on her insides. Foreshadowing of the wolf threat she feels while riding to the castle. This connection is furthered in the later scenes as Dracula seems able to impose his will on her whenever they are together. The film sets up triangles in relationships, Mina - Jonathan - Dracula, Mina - Dracula - Tanja couples or desired couplings countered with established relationships. Again I can see what Argento is trying to do here the duality of the structure is useful but we are too distracted by the surrounding effects to really pay attention to the story.
  It is Mina who calls Van Helsing and hires him to deal with what she thinks is a vampire. This is very much a change from the original. Also Van Helsing has a history with Dracula, as shown through a flashback. Dracula sends one minion after another to try to kill him unsuccessfully. Not the most well put together part of the story. Van Helsing does not show up until the third act and then he is all business. He puts an end to one minion after another and has a ridiculous preparing for battle montage before the final scene. In the end van Helsing is a bit old and frail for the job and it is Mina that strikes the vital blow to Dracula. Very underdeveloped as a character it is a real weakness instead of the amazing enhancement having Rutger Hauer could have been.
 Considering that the bells and whistles of the film, from story to score to costumes to performances is all about the emotion the film itself somehow comes across without emotional impact. People also have been really critical of the lighting calling it too bright to create mood, but I believe a lot of that has to do with the 3D effects, comparing the 2D and 3D versions you can see that with the gray glasses used for the effects the colors are dulled enough to get good lighting and a decent mood. In the 2D version though it is a bright colorful film lacking a hint of the necessary creepy mood. Recommend a setup with recognized 3D for viewing this one. The effects needed to be better and this Dracula seems to have a shape shifter ability, he can be or maybe control most animals. We see him as an owl, a wolf, a collection of flies, a giant prey mantis, then there seems to be bug spies, rat spies all letting Dracula know what is happening in the town. Then there was that time where he just appeared in Lucy's room after a bolt of lightening. All this added stuff needing special effects to make it work does not work. It confuses the myth of Dracula and because of the less than stellar effects is a real distraction from the story. So too are the incredible number of 3D shots which are well done in the film. Watching in the format is a very cool experience because so many of the scenes were designed and shot for the effect. The problem ends up being too much of a good thing and when you add to it the effects on lighting it works against a story that is trying to be a new telling of an old tale.
  With all of this working against the film it still manages to try to tell this well worn tales in a slightly new way. Think about how hard the task was for Argento. One one hand he is trying to tell a story we can recite by heart without effort while at the same time trying to find a way to make it compelling. If he had stuck to the story and character changes he thought of and did not bother with all the transformations and special 3D effect this could probably have been a very enjoyable version of the story. Unfortunately that is not the case. So no recommendation on this film but unlike a lot off the review I have seen and heard I think there is something here of value its just that the whole package does not work. I have included some screen shots of many of the effect here for your amusement.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Here Comes the Devil (2012) Comes the Devil (2012) - The final film in this set a dark tale of family secrets and devil possession. So far each film has presented me something new and interesting, Rooms for Tourists the secret of the little village the girls arrive in. In Cold Sweat the unique way the victims are killed. In Penumbra the wonderful twist in the final ceremony during the eclipse. Well,  Here Comes the Devil continues with a family secret revealed. It is creepy and built with little "tells" being shown as we move towards the third act. It is a shame the inevitable ending scene is telegraphed a bit too much. Don't get me wrong I really enjoyed this film; It is a compelling and disturbing tale of a family that is creepy and in the end tragic. In fact I have enjoyed all the films in this recent set and can be counted as a Adrian Garcia Bogliano fan at this point. The horror wheat fields are full of chafe so when you find the grains of goodness you should make a point of appreciating them. These film have been a hearty meal of horror goodness and I look forward to future releases.
 In the opening scene we see a couple of women hot and heavy into each other on a bed. When the post coital talk is done one of the women is attacked brutally while downstairs. The killer is injured by the surviving woman and runs off to a rocky hill filled with caves. It is a harsh and brutal start and Director Adrian Garcia Boliano says in the commentary that he was looking for the style of 1970's Italian thrillers where the film opens more like a second act instead of the first. The idea is to have strong scenes that leave the viewer thinking about them, or with an emotional charge that lingers into the next scene. The music by Julio Pillado certainly adds to the feeling and throughout is a strength of the picture. It certainly does what is intended, from the surprising love making to open the film, two blurred bodies come into focus as two woman, Sandra (Jessica Iris) and Abril (Dana Dorel) are making love. When they are finished they casually talk about their relationship before one goes off downstairs to a violent and shocking turn. It definitely leaves the viewer wondering "What the fuck am I in for?" It also establishes a location that will become central to the main story.
  When a family of four are out for a picnic the two children on the verge of puberty venture out on their own to explore some caves on the hillside, they go missing over night creating a nightmare for the parents. Guilt ridden but relieved when they are returned the next day the parents take them home determined with a new appreciation for the family. Built into the story are ideas about the first sexual experience a young people have. The parents Sol (Laura Caro) and Felix (Francisco Barreiro) before realizing the children are missing have an uncomfortable (for us viewers) heavy petting session in their car while they describe their first times showing their privates to the opposite sex. We watch there struggle with the guilt of their actions even though the  incident really is a faultless one. This is a parallel to their own children who are at the same ages the parents were when they started exploring sex. The parents never make the connection between the age of their first experiences and the ages of their children. It is a foreshadowing of the secrets that are later learned of by Sol.
  This film is surprising in its turns and the extremes that the characters go. After the return of their children the concerned parents watch and see that the children are not acting all together normally. Taking them to a psychologist they learn that it is possible that some kind of traumatic sexual incident could have taken place. I know at this point if you had not seen the opening scenes you would think this is a family drama. The parents putting pieces together figure out that the strange guy they saw in the gas station was staring and a bit too interested in their daughter. Lots of things build the feeling that the incident must have to do with him. Is this the secret that must be dealt with? Confirmed by the reaction of their children to seeing the man again from their car only confirmed their ideas. Felix and Sol pay a visit to the man and from this point on all bets are off in this movie. I was not expecting this particular scene and it was a wonderful horror surprise.  With the motivation of confirming that this man harmed their daughter the parents are not taking this to the police and the film turns as the concerned parents become vigilantes. Unexpected this turn leads the couple down a road neither will ever be able to come back from.
  Still the film has more surprises for it's audience with the introduction of a supernatural element. The exposition for this is set up early in the film with a gas station attendant telling the couple about the bad mojo of the hill the kids disappeared on. This is always a horror movie with the trapping necessary to keep you believing it, even when the drama of the family or the investigations of the police come into play. It is just has more to it than your average horror film in plot twists and turns and character motivation. Incidents with flashing lights and strange behavior by the children Sara (Michele Garcia) and Aldolfo (Alan Martinez) keep it firmly in the horror realm while the character developments make you feel for the family. The stylish and terrifying experience of baby sitter Marcia (Barbara Perrin Rivemar) stands out as an example of the Devil doing evil deeds and of the filmmakers command of the craft. Although not explicitly stated as a evil spirit rape scene I was pretty sure that that is what it was. After viewing the film and seeing the extra it was confirmed with an even longer and more stylish deleted scene.
  Really the flaws, as I saw them have to do with the Mother's reaction when she figures out the kids secret. She is way too internal in how she deals with it. Instead of filling in her husband on what she believes she instead keeps that information to herself. She develops an entire plan for revealing the horrors of the ending to him but never stops to think that what he will think is going on may be different than what she intends. The secret is a big one and I can't believe this would not be a major conversation as soon as it is learned. Now it could probably be argued that after the experience the parents shared in confronting Lucio (David Arturo Cabezud),  (yes I purposely did not describe the events here) that there could be a strain between the couple. Felix after that incident is seen more of getting on with life. Returning to work and although nervous about the police looking into events concerning Lucio is starting to get back to life. While Sol carries the plot for a while being the investigator in the strange behavior of her children. It works for the plot for her not to be filling in her husband on all the goings on she has had around them but it sort of telegraphed the final scene. Her big discovery at the end of the film and her orchestration to reveal it to Felix could only end one way. He did not have all the information that she did and his reaction unfortunately was all too predictable.
  Still the film is a really well put together piece of horror with lots of cool little thing for you to take away from it. There is family drama, guilt and reaction to it, vigilantism, supernatural possession and other secrets not to be revealed here. It is worth the price of admission and this viewer already owns the Blu Ray. So if you are looking for original horror find this director's stuff and I am sure you will enjoy it.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Penumbra (2011) Horror cult

Penumbra (2011) - Well the third installment in the Adrian Garcia Bogliano athon is certainly a clever film. It sets the view up with almost an antihero and then flips the expected plot course on its head and then you realized why she is so unlikable. Using the conflict in the relationship between many Argentinian born residents and Spanish nationals who own and live in the country to draw lines in this film was very smart. Not being from there I am not totally sure how much the two groups do or do not get along but it really worked in how it was presented in this film. It allows the main character Marga (Christina Brondo) not only to be drawn as a rude pushy European but to be seen in the Buenos Aires neighbor in which the story takes place to be a real outsider. This outsider status is essential to the film's final outcome and is really handled well by writers Adrian and Ramiro Garcia Bogliano.
   The story centers around Marga a very busy business woman who is trying to quickly rent an apartment she inherited. The character is built as a too busy and often annoyed, pushy Spaniard who although she needs to deal with this personal chore does not have the time. Pressure from her boss, and backstabbing of her coworker makes the simple task of renting out the apartment a bit more to handle than she wants. Constantly having to make and receive calls she is distracted by her phone regularly in the film. It is a theme that runs through these writers movies. In Rooms for tourists it is the phone that is the focus of salvation for the lead character. In Cold Sweat the internet is used to attract victims to the torture house and also to help the protagonists as they navigate the dangerous conditions there. Here it is a large reason why Marga ends up not seeing the signs that something may not be right with the real estate man Jorge (Berta Muniz) as she interacts with him about the apartment.
  Marga is set up to be a character who is not very likable and this is essential to the story. First we see her being bothered by a homeless man. She is offended but in this tight knit neighborhood the people who live and work there see him as harmless so when she is pushy with the local police officer in talking about the homeless man he sort of takes her side. Her snippy remarks about the locals in front of the cop will never help her get on his good side. Marga talks on the phone to people back in Spain and her disdain for Argentina comes through with sharp tones that anyone overhearing her will make her seem like an asshole. She sees it as a primitive country compared to where she is from and thinks the people are uncultured. (You might compare her to the Ugly American stereotype if this were a US character.) We also see her interacting with a woman who lives in the apartment.  The woman (Mirella Pascual) makes an effort to connect with the Spaniard, a second generation immigrant she still holds some of her parents love for Spain. Their family left during the civil war but she still holds a connection. Marga is a bit dismissive and after being nice to get what she wants rudely ushers herself out of the apartment. (The funny side incident with the fish was really good.) All in all the character is not likable and so as the main plot develops the viewer finds themselves wanting her to notice the danger developing around her and maybe hoping that the plot will give her a story arch where she learns not to be so dislikable.
  That main plot develops in the apartment as it becomes apparent that Jorge is not who he says he is. Obvious to us in the audience it takes a while for the perpetually distracted Marga to catch on. Other associates of Jorge's arrive, Victoria ( former child star Camila Bordonada), Angela (Victoria Witemberg), Alberto (Diego Cremonesi) all with the promise of a lucrative rental contract from their boss Salva (Arnaldo Andre). Marga should have been nervous very early but the idea of having the business taken care of in a day and for a lot more money than she hoped kept her believing even when stories stopped making sense. Finally when the gig is up and our protagonist realizes that things have gone horribly wrong it is too late. She is captured by the group and is witness to the reason they came to the apartment.
 I will not spoil that here because there is definitely a recommendation coming from this blog to see this film. Let me say though the first scene of the film sets up the climax but I was surprised by the direction it took. The epilogue is equally surprising but when you then think back on how it was all set up it makes great sense. I may be short changing Ramiro Garcia Bogliano but it is not intentional. He has been a writer and co-director on this film and writer on "Cold Sweat" and "Rooms for Tourists" so I am sure a lot of the very entertaining writing is his. I really enjoyed this film and will continue my look at this director in my next installment, "Here comes the Devil"

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cold Sweat (2010) Horror psychos

Cold Sweat (2010) - Continuing on the switch to the movies of Adrian Garcia Bogliano I get to "Cold Sweat" a story of a couple radicals of right wing anarchy who years after they have past their prime carry on a sick and twisted vision of creating utopia through torture. Bogliano like in "Rooms for Tourists" uses a house as the tight claustrophobic setting for the fear to come. The opening of the film give us a bit of a history lesson in Argentinian politics. Scenes and images of right and left wing protest flash across the screen telling the story of 25 cases of stolen dynamite and the torture and abuse rendered by sides to try to find it. The right had the Triple A, an anticommunist death squad that operated under President Isabel Peron in the mid 1970's. It is an origin story for a couple of the characters in the film but when viewing it you really don't know that yet. The intro although useful to understanding the motivations of the bad guys in this film is secondary as they are the only ones affected by that story. It is like showing scenes of pacific fighting during WWII just before you tell a story about a Japanese soldier who is still fighting the war 50 years later. This story is very similar, the two old men who are the antagonists of the story are still fighting the Communist in a society that has already moved on.
  The modern day story of these two men is introduced by two other characters Ramon (Facundo Espinosa) and Ali (Marina Glezer) who are working together to find Ramon's ex-girlfriend Jackie (Camila Velasco) who went missing after hooking up with a blonde guy on the internet. Ali and Ramon are outside the house of the old men and little do they know the house of horrors awaiting them inside the house. They think this blonde guy is a person who Jackie is fooling around with and Ramon is obsessed with catching them. He has looked through her email and chats and he and Ali have tracked him to this house. Ali goes in as another flirty girl to meet the blonde guy and hopefully have a look around. When after entering the house a white haired old guy (Omar Gioiosa) sneaks up behind her and knocks her out you known something is horribly amiss.
  What this leads to is a story of a couple old agents still fighting the war against communism in a very unique way. They could be said to just be crazy at this point and not really in touch with the reality of the world but even so they are committed to their cause. Can you call killing young people a cause? We enter their world with victim number one (Noelia Vergini) harnessed up hanging in a room. Walker using old guy (Omar Musa) puts a drop of acid down where the young woman's head can be moved. She is terrified, we don't know it yet but he has put nitroglycerine on the girl's head and if it comes in contact with the acid it will cause it to explode. The scene is a very good and gory example of setting the stage. Ali also captive in the room knows the stakes after watching the demise of the first victim and when a drop of nitro is put on her forehead she is clear of the implications. I have never seen this as a murder method and liked the original (at least for me) way of execution.
Unfortunately what follows can only be termed a horrible mess of poor decisions by the protagonists of the film. When Ali does not come out of the house he looks to go in through a back window to find her. He is clumsy and not really brave but manages to get to her in the maze of an apartment. I am always frustrated with the idea that tech savvy people can't seem to make a simple phone call to the police instead of putting themselves in jeopardy. I am not saying that the film making is bad, I just hate the horror trope of people going in to the horror situation on their own without first calling for help. The actual sneaking around the house are pretty tense and suspenseful scenes, especially when Ramon ends up behind a two way mirror where he witnesses the first on screen killing. Ramon does just that setting up a film where he and Ali sneak around but can't seem to find a way to leave. Ali after being freed by Ramon wanders about never finding a way out. Ramon still seeking the Jackie decides to stay around until he finds her. Shit if he had called the police in the beginning all of this would have been resolved in an hour, the old men arrested and everyone that could be save would have been. Instead we get a fairly enjoyably tense game of cat and mouse based on these horrible decisions.
  Baxter the white haired old man is still fit enough to be a physical threat but the walker guy is not and Ramon could have over powered him anytime but instead just sneaks around avoiding contact. When he finds Jackie covered in nitro and scared he has to problem solve getting her out without blowing her up. The film like I said is somewhat unique and entertaining. As we move into the third act the old men discover the young people and we get a final gory showdown that is worth the look. There is also some (unintentional?) humor when the nitro covered Jackie is dragging herself across the floor trying not to drip the explosive off her skin and is being pursued ever so slowly by the walker guy. He has a syringe of acid and is trying to blow her up by squirting it at the nitro on her body. It is the slowest chase scene in the history of film but even still well done on a movie making level.
A decent film I thought it was original and fun with unlikely villains and some messages about how there is a danger in modern technology. Early in the film we see both sides of technology, Ramon reading the messages of Jackie learns she is going to meet this blonde guy and affectively cheat on him. Also though with Ali they track the IP to this house and the benefits of the internet is used to find the missing woman. Jackie was attracted to the house by chatting with a blonde guy but that guy another captive is not even really communicating with the girl. Instead we learn that the walker guy is the brains behind it. He sees youth of the day as stupidly too trusting and exploits the internet to attract victims.These old men use the internet against a generation too trusting of chat rooms and avatars it is quite a message. Then when Ramon goes into the torture room to save Ali he quickly uses his phone to look up what to do to neutralized nitroglycerine, a good use of technology in a tight situation. There was no cliche loss of signal or anything like that. A draw back is the strange cannibal women of the cellar, who are never really explained. I guess past victims who were never killed, or maybe the way the old men got rid of the bodies?
  So I will recommend this film it has some cool ideas and is original enough to keep you interested. Having to overlook the stupid behavior of a couple of the characters is challenging but still I think the tension created by the director out weighs those flaws. So far in this new  Bogliano themed week I am pretty please. There is a lot of originality, a definite skill for creating tension and what seems a love for making horror movies. I look forward to the next choice for this this director Penumbra.  So enjoy.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Rooms for Tourists (2004) horror travel

Rooms for Tourists (2004) -  This very low budget Argentinian film by Adrian Garcia Boliano is a horror film through and through. The idea of religious people deciding who deserves life and who does not is an interesting contradiction in this film. Done in black and white with a deep throbbing score the film presents a frightening mood that is thick compelling. Its imagery if stark and scary with the main character Theda (Elena Siritto) having visions of brutal acts. Little do we know that those initial dreams all will tie into the story about to unfold. Film making wise it is a clever trick, while it seems completely unrelated at least for a while each of these scenes of torture and death are later revealed to be a history of the village the film takes place in. Theda is a nervous wreak and is jumpy from the start obviously out of her element. When she and four other girls have to get a connecting train in a small town they are thrown into events connected to their unbeknown shared secret.
The first most striking thing about this film is how the music makes interaction with the locals very ominous. Instead of watching people go about normal interactions about train schedules that we would think is nothing, instead there is a pall, an idea the music gives us that things are not right in this village. When they see the local church and the ultra conservative preacher delivering his hell for sinners sermon they are all a bit more on edge. Theda's nerves actually help her in this film. She is so worried about having missed the connecting train that she starts to look for a phone to call home. She manages to call her father early in the film but can only leave a message for him to call her back at 7 am but will she survive the night?
Low angle shot camera shots and shadows which are more engaging in black and white add to the horror feel of the film. When five young women miss their connecting train they are thrown together and offered rooms at a local house. In this small town the populous is devout in their following of the fire and brimstone preacher you know that it will effect these young ladies before the film is over.  At this point I am thinking more of Children of the Corn where people from the outside come into a small town and are put in jeopardy.When we learn that Elena is struggling with the fact that she is pregnant we are given a hint to the mystery. Taking the rooms in the house and after a ominous dinner with the moralizing preacher we are set for the action.
  When film student Silvia (Mariela Mujica) is murdered with a cleaver in a wonderfully gruesome scene the remaining girls suddenly realize that it may be too late to escape the same fate. Finding the house boarded up and all the doors locked the young women must try to find a way to survive the night. Blonde and naive Ruth (Brenda Vera) struggles with her emotions and soon has more than the dark to worry about. Punk girl Lydia (Victoria Witemberg) saves the day but how long can the women's luck hold. Played in the closed up house with lights turned off the with only small lighting sources the film builds a nice claustrophobic feel. Add in tricks and booby traps of the locals and you have a fairly suspenseful little horror film.
  Director Boliano does a nice job in the writing with brother Romero Garcia Boliano to have the characters fight for survival not be too predictable. The girls for the most part stick together and try to problem solve the situation. They use there small group to fight back so the film does not end up feeling like a slaughterfest. It is always a plus to have strong female characters something a lot of male writers seem to have a problem writing. The nice saved at the last minute conclusion in the town was a bit on the nose but certainly set up early in the film. Then the conclusion reenforces the well thought out early imagery. The director does a really nice job making this a suspenseful and ultimately enjoyable little film. I have always found overly religious people just a bit scary and this film does everything to solidify those feelings. The music is excellent by Rodrigo Franco and the skill of this new writing tandem shows through. Now I have to note that this is far from a Hollywood film so there is no gloss to be found. My recommendation comes as a lover of horror. I have to be critical of micro budget horror so often that it is refreshing when someone does it right. Even though this is a subtitled movie (which I know a lot of my readers don't like) and it is really a micro budget, I have to recommend it. In fact since it throws off my vacation horror theme just a bit I think I will end that strand of reviews and focus on the boliano brothers a bit more and review their other two films Cold Sweat and Pnumbra with an eye to catching their latest "Here Comes the Devil" on PFV.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Demon Island (2002) Horror Pinata

Demon Island (2002) - I saw this title as Pinata: Survival Island and it is quite the strange film, a combination of screwball college comedy, ancient tribal myth and bad CGI monster murder and attempted survival. Not totally a CGI monster ther is a small person who manned an outfit for some of the shots but the effects are really there and a bit cheesy.Really it is a survival story just the slasher in this case is a hundreds year old clay pinata that comes to life. The film starts with the origin story for the killer. Created by a central American tribe to end the bad luck they were having, it was formed by a ancient process to appease the angry spirits. A sacred ceremony was held to cleanse the souls of the tribe members locking the evil from each member into the pinata. So they kept the good and shed the evil and then the pinata with a tribes worth of evil was set afloat down the river. It is a long introduction and serves to explain why the sin filled pinata is evil upon being awakened.
Come to modern times and we have a college fraternity, sorority gathering on a tropical island. It will be a giant panty hunt and wouldn't you know that one of the features of the party is that around the island their are pinatas with bottles of alcohol.  Very quickly we learn about our main character and then they are paired off and the search begins. Our main characters Kyle (Nicholas Brendon) and Tina (Jaime Pressly) have just broken up, when he walked in on her kissing another guy. You can predict that their story arc will bring them back together by the end, but for now like all couples they are handcuffed together.  Bob (Robert Tena) has snuck a key to allow he and Lisa (Lara Wickes) more mobility but unfortunately for them they find the pinata. They get high and  and when the opportunity arises they try to crack it open. Now I thought I paid attention to the myth at the beginning but it sure seems that the evil spirits were itching to get out. Once cracked that Pinata became a demon infested killing tool and all the couple became the bait. The released evil spirit starts hunting down the kids.
  All the while there is a certain sense to the film. These guys don't just get slaughtered, instead they try to think things through and do their best to fight back. It is refreshing when everyone is not a moron in a horror movie. Being a horror movie though there is going to be a body count and most of the characters are indeed bludgeoned to death by the angry pinata.
  Our actors are a mixed group of known and not so known. Nicholson Brendon found fame on the hit TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer playing Zander. Recently I saw him in the very interesting Time shifting film Cohherence (2013)  as well as being a reoccurring character on  the television show Criminal Minds.  Jamie Pressly works steadily doing voice and comedy roles. After a turn on My Name is Earl playing  Joy Turner she continues to work in TV and films on a regular basis. At the time of this role she was a pretty stunning twenty five year old. Eugine Byrd who played Doug went on to be a regular character in the show Bones. Garrett Wang who played Ensign Kim on Star Trek Voyager just prior to this film is suddenly working more in 2014.  Lara Wickes stunningly adorable as Lisa seemed to get less work after the film than she did before it, as an actress that is she is currently working as a producer.
  Not that this is a great movie but it at times was a bit entertaining. Some of the CGI leaves something to be desired and the plot has holes all through it. The strategies the characters come up with in thinking how to destroy the pinata monster are base on thin air. Unlike the audience they have no idea the myth of the creature so knowing to burn it or break it into tiny pieces really is just a shot in the dark. The story arc only exist to establish differences betweenthe character but lets be honest here. This is a survival movie so you only need a small amount of character development. Most of the characters are sure to end up dead. I can't really with a good conscience recommend this film. You are more likely to laugh at it than be scared so do what you will with that information.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Demon of Paradise (1987)

Demon of Paradise (1987) - I have not been writing for a while, first there was the exhaustion from covering the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival, then I went on the oldest of winter activities a beach vacation. Yes nine days in the beautiful warmth of Sanibel Island FL for walks on the beach, sipping adult beverages and visiting my favorite baseball team the Boston Red Sox. Not that vacations are commonplace in this life. The last one this family had was in 2005 so it has been a good span of time since we left the winter behind. A graduation gift for my lovely daughter the trip was just what was needed to deal with what has been a very long and hard winter. Joy is finishing her senior year at college and we wanted to fit this trip to Spring Training in before she heads off to law school.
  The beach part of the trip is not my thing, I don't really like the beach, or the ocean but my wife loves it. She can sit for hours doing nothing while I am more of the climb a mountain or go fishing kind of guy. I was able to fill in the stretches of boredom with wildlife seeking, Sanibel has some extensive wildlife areas and geocaching. For my wife Elisa it was certainly a vacation paradise with her favorite activities sitting on the beach and bike riding.
We also spent a couple full days doing nothing but sitting in the sun baking a nice layer of redness onto our skins at the ball park. Meaningless games but still a wonderful relaxing experience. We have never been down to spring training and if I had planned this vacation I would have spent more time checking out the player routines and talking to people around the park. Still I have to say the vacation was a fair compromise and everyone ended up with something they liked from it.  So with the relaxation of vacation in mind I will be doing some movies having to do with going on vacation and how things can go horribly wrong, hey this is a horror blog after all.
  First up is the Roger Corman distributed film Demon in Paradise (1987) set in the islands of Hawaii it is a monster movie set around a lakefront resort which is the place most of us would love to vacation in. This is a low budget horror film  and should be treated like it. Like many Corman films the script is serviceable with a through plot but lacking that special something that would separate it from other classic horror films like The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  The struggle the film has it has a bunch of character development but never really settles on which of the characters are going to drive the story. Many of them are reactionary to the events of the film while others are only developed to trigger plot points. One that does not work is the dead end plot points concerning the dynamite fishermen. They are the reason the mythical creature "Akua" is awakened from his slumber to terrorized the locals. They have a dual plot line with a pair of them four men building TNT sticks and wanting to get the other two to sell the excess. The second two guys have a plan to bring in "mob" TNT already packaged and want to cut the first pair out of the business. So in the end they served their purpose but the development of all this other stuff was not particularly useful in moving the main plot forward after the creature is up and attacking. Then there is the climax hostage scene that ends in an explosion as all hell is breaking loose and the monster is attacking. It is certainly causal but awkward in its resolution.
  The main plot centers around how the local authorities deal with what looks like a murder and what is later learned to be a sea creature. Actually right from the start the locals are telling the main cop Keefer (William Steis) that it is the mythical monster but apparently eye witnesses are not enough for him to believe it. Maybe its because he is too busy flirting with herpetologist Annie (Kathryn Witt) to listen besides his back story is he left the big city for the small island life to avoid having to do any actual policing. Again there is a missed opportunity in that there is just enough chemistry between the two characters to establish that they like each other but the relationship is only tangentially explored. We needed Annie more to be the scientist who could confirm the possibility of the monster. She also gives us some suspenseful scenes where she is at risk while diving in the lake.  The creature of the rubber suit type is elusive but is attracted to the noise of the local resort.
 A secondary subplot where reporter Ike (Frederick Bailey) and resort owner Cahill (Laura Banks) exploit the monster angle to attract tourist serves the purpose of having many bodies around for the creature to kill later in the film. They also never believe that the thing is real either, at least until it is knocking down the door. Written by Bailey and C.J. Santiago the story never fully develops any of these characters into a proper protagonist so it is difficult to stay interested in the film. Ike and Cahill are also very unlikable characters making them the last people you want to center a story around. Coming in close to being the lead character is Keefer our cop who does not really want to deal with the shit that is going down.  He at least has some bonding scenes with Annie and a back story. That leaves the creature itself  but it really is not its story either, the monster is just a threat to all these other character none of which carries the plot forward with a story arc that is satisfying. The film does throw in some odd characters and the requisite skin shot provided by Leslie Scarborough who plays Gabby a coked up model who goes swimming topless.
 Good things I can say about this film is that it does have a couple decent gore shots to show the damage the monster can do. The film also escalates really fast all the way to the climatic scenes when the National Guard is involved and using its ample firepower to end the situation. Although not totally a lost cause this film just misses that something that is needed to make it a classic monster movie. I don't think I will recommend it but I can't say that it was hard to watch either.