Tusk (2014), Come Back to Me (2014), Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

I just watched these three films a few days ago and wanted to make sure I got their reviews posted in 2014. TUSK was a film a heard a lot of buzz about but didn’t read any reviews. I didn’t want to know anything about it past the basic premise. I didn’t know or hear anything about COME BACK TO ME until it popped up on Netflix. It sounded decent enough and it wasn’t a found footage or ghost story so I jumped on it. As far as PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES goes, I watched that one just to be a completist with the franchise.

poster come backCOME BACK TO ME (2014)
Sarah and Josh (Katie Walder and Matt Passmore) are a young, struggling couple. Sarah is trying to finish up her Ph.D. and Josh works the night shift as a dealer in a casino. Things are going well enough for them until Sarah starts to experience night terrors and waking up gasping for air. Something strange is happening to her and as she begins to unravel the mystery secrets are revealed and she slowly realizes that the truth might be worse than not knowing.

COME BACK TO ME was a nice surprise. Director and screenwriter Paul Leyden did a great job translating Wrath James White’s novel, “The Resurrectionist,” to the screen and captured a lot of what made the novel so addictive. The first half of COME BACK TO ME is suspenseful, tense, scary, and expertly keeps the audience in the dark. A lot of weird shit is happening to Sarah and we’re just as much in the dark as is Sarah.

Technically this film looks great. Leyden captures the perfect atmosphere and tension in the first half of the film. We also get enough background on Sarah to care about her and what’s happening to her. Katie Walder is a little uneven in her portrayal of Sarah and at times her acting pulled me out of the moment and made me aware I was watching a movie. But overall it was her performance that helped pull off this film. At least the first half of it.

Unfortunately the second half doesn’t hold up quite as well. Leyden blows his wad a little too early, about the halfway mark of the film, and the carefully crafted mystery that was built up suddenly becomes easily figured out by the audience. Holding onto that mystery and suspense longer would have made this film stronger. Luckily, though, the explanation as to what was happening to Sarah was enough to keep me interested in the rest of the film. COME BACK TO ME isn’t a perfect film but there’s definitely enough here to enjoy and for me to recommend. Definitely check this one out. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Director: Paul Leyden (& screenwriter)
Plot: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

poster tuskTUSK (2014)
Wallace (Justin Long) is a podcaster who has a pretty abrasive personality. While in Canada to interview a YouTube sensation he runs across Howard Howe (Michael Parks), an eccentric older man who has lived a full, interesting life. With promises of amazing stories for his show, Wallace meets Howe at his remote home in the middle of Manitoba. There Wallace discovers too late that Howe has other plans for him. Will his friends Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) find him in time before he’s transformed into something completely new?

I can’t remember a film in recent history that divided audiences as much as TUSK. There was no grey area at all; people either loved this film or hated it.. I couldn’t wait to see it!! I ended up being a part of the former camp of people who loved this film. It’s quirky, dark, funny, and downright disturbing at times. Writer-director Kevin Smith, who developed the idea for this film from one of his podcasts, hits all the right notes with TUSK. From the actors to the pacing to the ending, Smith proves he’s one of the Kings of off-beat, bizarre stories.

Justin Long (Wallace) does a really great job in his role. His character is a total prick (he even has a douchey mustache) who is still a decent man deep down inside. Sure it’s waaaaay deep inside, but it’s there. His desire and drive to be successful led him to creating his podcast persona and most times he forgets that it is indeed a persona. If not for his girlfriend, Ally, constantly reminding him who he really is, he would be unbearable, which most times he is to people.

The character of Howard Howe (Parks) is really the glue that holds this entire film together. Parks is terrific as Howe and portrays him beautifully. The man is batshit crazy but not in the “eyes rolling around in your head” kinda crazy. He’s manipulative, charming, charismatic, intelligent, and downright nuts. Parks’ even portrayal makes this film. Great casting!!

Not everything works in this film. There’s a few subplots that go nowhere and don’t add anything to the overall story. But the pacing is spot on and there’s even a surprise actor in a major role – that of detective Guy Lapointe. Don’t look it up on IMDb … watch it and guess the actor. He steals the movie.

TUSK will definitely have horror aficionados thinking about THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, and for good reason. Their central stories are the same. My regular readers know that THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE didn’t work at all for me. It was over-hyped and under-delivered in every aspect. That film was also gore-less. TUSK, though, completely works. It’s effective and has a point to make beyond creating a monster, which I thought looked great. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE had a gimmick and tried to build a story around that gimmick. TUSK is a much better made and more effective film than THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE.

TUSK is one of those films where you need to say, “Fuck all the reviewers and critics” and you need to see it for yourself. Many of those who hated it admit to thinking about TUSK days and weeks after seeing it. That to me is a win for Kevin Smith!! Don’t miss this one. Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

Director: Kevin Smith (& writer)
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 4.5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) starts experiencing odd stuff after his weird neighbor dies. It’s not long before he realizes he’s been marked for possession by a demon. Can he break the curse in time?

This one hurt, people. It hurt bad. When is this franchise gonna call it quits? I guess as long as these films keep making $90.8 million on a $5 million budget we’re gonna keep getting them. This plot is a little different than the three previous PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films, but somehow writer-director Christopher Landon made it all feel like we’ve seen it all before (and let’s face it we have). The plot is silly, the ending is predictable, and there’s nothing scary going on here. How silly, you ask? Well for starters the demon gives Jesse superhero-like powers, and secondly, Jesse communicates to the demon through the memory game, Simon. If you still want to see this film after those two points, then have at it. I really disliked this film. A lot. There is a fifth film coming from this franchise but I think I’m done with it. A man can only take so much!! Definitely skip this film!!

Director: Christopher Landon (& writer)
Plot: 1 out of 5 stars
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

All Three Films Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

Stay Bloody!!!

Recently Watched Films Round Up, Part Four (2014)

As you can see I have a lot of reviews to catch up on!! I wanted to “clear the books,” as it goes, before the new year. This batch of reviews includes a couple of short films. Let’s get to it:

poster frankI, FRANKENSTEIN (2014)
Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart) finds himself at the center of a battle between two warring clans of immortals in this updated, modernized version of the classic creature.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Yes I do … I hated everything and every second of this film. There wasn’t one element I thought was creative, innovative, or interesting. I’m a big fan of Aaron Eckhart, but what the hell was he thinking when he took on this role. This film can be summarized in five words: Frankenstein as an action hero. If these words don’t make you wince then you may be reading the wrong website. Here Frankenstein’s monster is updated as a ripped, buff, handsome, strong, and extremely agile creature. In other words he’s nothing like the classical character he’s based on!! The basic plot is that there’s an immortal clan of evil people and an immortal clan of good people and Franky’s caught between the two. I felt like I was watching a shitty version of UNDERWORLD with Eckhart playing Kate Beckinsale’s role.

Some of the sets are impressive but you quickly forget about them amid all the horrible dialogue, overly complicated plot, and over aggressive CGI. A more accurate title of this movie would be CG-I, FRANKENSTEIN!! The story, directed and co-written by Stuart Beattie, is based on a graphic novel and proves that not all comic books are good (and this is coming from a hardcore comic book lover). I, FRANKENSTEIN is part of the trend to reimagine and update all the classic Universal monsters. Recently Universal announced it will be reimagining their classic creatures more as action films and not horror. Count me out and you should count yourself out of watching I, FRANKENSTEIN. This one is terrible!!

Director: Stuart Beattie (& co-writer)
Plot: 1 out of 5 stars
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

poster rounds12 ROUNDS FOR THE LOADED (2013; 17:34min)
While teaching his son the family business, Logan (Bob Sergi) and his son Junior (Lucas Fleming, Jr.) are ambushed in a bar until a strange man enters to test out his new weapon.

Under the “plot” section on its IMDb page, the question, “Do you know what it’s about,” is a damn good question. I don’t think anyone really knows what this short film is about. My above summary is as good a guess as any!! 12 ROUNDS FOR THE LOADED is more exploitation than straight up horror.

After Logan and his son enter the bar, things go south for them quickly. They are ambushed by a group of bizarre looking characters, tied to chairs, and gutted (and they take a really long time to die). Then all the patrons in bar start killing each other in graphic ways. Then just as you think the weird meter has gone off the charts, an inventor (John Ewing) casually walks into the bar, announces he recently invented a twelve round gun, and then proceeds to shoot everyone in the bar.

The end.

What the fuck did I just watch?? I think I just witnessed the first “torture-Western”!! Whatever it was I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. In seventeen minutes there’s more gore than in most full length features. The acting is solid all around but I was confused by the odd characterization of the black bartender, B-Truck (Alex Edwards). This character comes off as an extremely old time, racist stereotype performance. It was odd and confusing. But other than B-Truck and the lack of a coherent plot, 12 ROUNDS FOR THE LOADED is a fun, very gory short. But before you get pissed at me for reviewing yet another short you can’t see, here’s the link on YouTube. You’re welcome!!

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Director: Paul M McAlarney (& writer)
Plot: 2 out of 5 stars
Gore: 8 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

poster scarySCARY OR DIE (2012)
An anthology film consisting of five stories ranging from zombies out for revenge, a clown disease that’s spread like a virus, and a secret gang of vampires.

SCARY OR DIE is the brainchild of filmmaker Michael Emanuel, who directed three of the five stories. Like most anthologies this one is a mixed bag. The opening story, “The Crossing,” starring Bill Oberst, Jr., is a zombie revenge story. Oberst Jr., who puts in another intense performance, is a violent racist who along with two others rounds up Mexicans who illegally entered America and doles out their redneck brand of justice. But this time the racists get their comeuppance. Besides Oberst’s performance, “The Crossing” is a pretty bland and unexciting story. It unfolds exactly as you imagine it would.

The next story, “Taejung’s Lament,” directed by Igor Meglic, is a TWILIGHT ZONE kinda story with a twist at the end. Unfortunately it takes a little too long in the middle to get going and I found myself losing interest. As the end of this story approached it promised to be gory. Unfortunately all the gore and killing was done off screen. Meh. Most of the stories in SCARY OR DIE follow this pattern of having a solid story but aren’t executed very well. That is until we get to “Clowned!!”

“Clowned” makes this entire anthology worth it. It’s the story of Emmett (Corbin Bleu), whose little brother, Andy (Xavier Davis) has a birthday party with a clown. The clown’s behaviour becomes increasingly odd as the party progresses until eventually it bites Emmett. More shocked than injured, Emmett beats the clown and sends it on its way. As the days roll by Emmett starts getting more and more sick while exhibiting odd symptoms. His face begins to break out in clown colors, his hair begins to change to vibrant colors, and he even develops a bright red, bulbous clown nose. But worse of all is his new craving for the flesh of young children.

I know that “Clowned” sounds completely preposterous, but Emanuel has complete control of the story here. It’s a solid story that isn’t played off like a horror-comedy. It’s played straight and I really dug it. I bought into the “were-clown” idea and much of the success of this story is due to the actors. They all do great jobs selling us on the story. There were times when the story became more melodramatic than horrific, but other than that i think Emanuel executed “Clowned” beautifully.

If you were to rent SCARY OR DIE and only watched “Clowned,” you wouldn’t feel ripped off. The other four stories stumble around trying to find their footing while “Clowned” is like a Sherpa effortlessly navigating the rocky terrain of the Himalayas. I’m recommending SCARY OR DIE, but have the remote in hand and fast forward to “Clowned.”

Directors: Michael Emanuel, Bob Badway, Igor Meglic
Plot: 2 out of 5 stars (for overall anthology)
4 out of 5 stars (for “Clowned”)
Gore: 4 out of 10 skulls (for overall anthology)
Zombie Mayhem: 1.5 out of 5 brains (for overall anthology)

poster hazmatHAZMAT (2013)
Trapped inside an abandoned building, a group of friends who think they’re setting up another friend on a PUNK’D-like show are being stalked and killed by an axe-wielding maniac.

I wanted to like this one a lot. I love the first half of the film. Adam (Reggie Peters), Melanie (Gema Calero), and Carla (Daniela Larez) want to set up their friend Jacob (Norbert Velez) on Scary Antics, a reality show where friends set up friends to be scared shitless on TV. Why do they want to scare Jacob? Because he’s a creepy, dark, and gloomy kind of guy and scaring him shitless will, they figure, loosen him up. What could possibly go wrong?? The place the Scary Antics show is using is an abandoned warehouse that was the site of a horrible industrial accident that killed many workers. One of those workers was Jacob’s dad. In fact it was his dad’s death that made Jacob creepy, dark, and gloomy. His friends, the one’s setting him up, know about Jacob’s past and also know the warehouse was where his dad died. Great friends!!

So in summary Jacob’s friends are knowingly setting up their disturbed friend in the exact location where his dad was horribly killed in an industrial accident. No no no … I’m sure everything will turn out great!! Once inside the warehouse it takes Jacob about thirty seconds to snap, throw on a HazMat suit (??), pick up an axe, and start killing everyone. At this point HAZMAT becomes you’re standard stalk n’ slash flick. The acting was all around fair but very uneven and it took to long for writer-director Lou Simon to get to the fun stuff. HAZMAT suffers from too much foreplay and not nearly enough fucking. There’s not even any good gore, or any gore for that matter. All we get are continual axes to the chest kills with very little blood.

In the end HAZMAT is pretty boring with endless scenes of Jacob walking around with an axe while the remaining survivors barricade themselves in a room and bicker and fight with each other. HAZMAT is just too damn predictable, standard, and boring to recommend. Pass!!

Director: Lou Simon (& writer)
Plot: 2 out of 5 stars
Gore: 2.5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

poster bordelloBORDELLO DEATH TALES (2009)
A horror anthology of three “horrifically gory stories” set in a whorehouse.

The above quote is taken from the description of the movie itself. I obviously have a very different idea of what “horrifically gory” means!! The three stories, “Ripper” (written and directed by Jim Eaves)'”Stitchgirl” (Alan Ronald), and “Vice Day” ( written and directed by Pat Higgins) are loosely (ha!!) connected by all taking place in a bordello. This is an indie anthology and unfortunately it really shows. The stories aren’t too effective and are actually quite forgettable. I watched this one during the summer and if it wasn’t for my notes, I’d have completely forgotten that I even saw it.

The first story, “Ripper,” is the best of the three and is about a guy, Graham (Stuart Gregory) who likes to pick up street whores, bring them back to his house, and then torture them until they die. One day Graham wanders into a bordello run by Madam Raven (Natalie Milner). Graham chooses a girl, but she turns out to be more than he bargained for. “Ripper” was a fun, pulpy story. We get a lot of bright colors and buckets of blood slashing all over the place. The acting was good and the story moved along at a nice pace. The twist at the end was also really fun. Eaves set out to make a gory, fun story and he succeeded.

The last two stories were disappointing. “Stitchgirl,” filmed in black and white, is a complete mess. Dr. Whale visits the same Madam Raven from the first story and asks for a whore with some very specific features. Always wanting to please her clients, the good Madam butchers a bunch of whores and in a completely bloodless scene stitches together all the features Dr. Whale (get it??) asked for. The result is Stitchgirl (Eleanor James) … a slutty version of Frankenstein. We then get what seems like an endless scene of Whale and Stitchgirl chatting on and on about nothing. Then without warning, “Stitchgirl” switches to color, there’s a music video, and then it goes back to black and white. Mercifully the story ends. The soundtrack is terrible in this story and you can barely hear the dialogue (wait … that’s a good thing). And to cap it off, “Stitchgirl” is blood and gore-less. So much for our “horrifically gory” stories!!

I’d like to say BORDELLO DEATH TALES ends on a solid, gory story. But then again I’d also like to say I’m independently wealthy and bang supermodels every night. “Vice Day” is about a politician, Daniel Cain (Cy Henty) who one day a year cuts loose by getting a whore, getting drunk, doing a bunch of blow, and forgetting about his clean-cut image. So on his big “vice day” he calls Destiny (Danielle Laws) who is a sex phone and camgirl. So they sit and talk and he tells her all the naughty things he’s done and likes to do … over the computer!! Fucking shoot me!! Once again, no horrific gore. The dialogue is painful to listen to and the acting is a bit overdone (like cooking a roast to an internal temperature of 400 degrees). I was clapping when this one ended.

BORDELLO DEATH TALES is the bad side of indie films. Poor acting, poorly written stories that are poorly executed, and poor me!! Although the first story, “Ripper” was well done it’s not enough to recommend this entire anthology. Skip it.

Directors: Jim Eaves, Alan Ronald, & Pat Higgins
Plot: 1.5 out of 5 stars (for entire anthology)
Gore: 2 out of 10 skulls (for entire anthology)
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

All Films Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

Stay Bloody!!!

Horror Documentary: His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th (2009)

Directed by Daniel Farrands, the writer, director, and producer of NEVER SLEEP AGAIN, HIS NAME WAS JASON is a horror documentary that explores the evolution of both the character of Jason and of the entire FRIDAY THE 13th franchise.  Farrands gets pretty comprehensive as far as the interviews go.  Interviewed are all the actors who’ve played Jason, all the directors and producers of the various FRIDAY flicks, and pretty much all the “final girls” as well.  It’s hosted by f/x guru Tom Savini (who I love watching in front of the camera; his love of the genre is obvious and this love always comes through in his on-camera performances).

But where Farrands succeeds with NEVER SLEEP ALONE he fails with here in HIS NAME WAS JASON.  Farrands may have gotten some of the big names in the franchise’s history, but many of the interviews were pretty superficial.  Everyone seemed to talk about how great it was to be a part of this franchise, how amazing it was to be a part of history, what a great opportunity it was to work with such creative people … blah blah blah; you get the idea.  It got to the point where everyone said they’d love to come back and do another FRIDAY movie, even actresses whose characters were dead.  Adrienne King said it would be great to have her, Amy Steel’s, and Lar Park Lincoln’s characters come back to fight Jason.  Really?  Sweetheart, your character died in the first 10 minutes of the second movie.  Only Jason gets to come back from the grave.

F/x guru wiz Tom Savini

There were other interviews that should have just been left out altogether because they took away credibility.  When talking about favorite kills, Felicia Rose from SLEEPAWAY CAMP fame(?) said her favorite was when the couple screwing got skewered with the spear.  She loves this because “it [was] so original.”  Come on, really?  That gag was done back in 1971 in Mario Bava’s BAY OF BLOOD.  I don’t expect Ms. Rose to know that but the producers should have caught it.  Mistakes like this kinda makes everyone involved seem arrogant like they all thought they were the first ones to do everything in any horror film.

Jason actor Kane Hodder.

After all the back patting and ego stroking, this documentary gets fun when they finally get around to the various Jason actors.  We get to hear some pretty damn interesting and funny behind the scenes stories and anecdotes.  But everyone talked about Kane Hodder like he was the be-all Jason.  Honestly he was not my favorite.  My favorites are Warrington Gillette, from part 2, and Derek Mears from the fucking horrible FRIDAY THE 13th remake (yeah I know; I absolutely hated that fucking remake but thought Mears had a really great interpretation of Jason).

Even though this is marked with some shallow interviews from people who haven’t worked since they appeared in their FRIDAY installment, this is overall a fun little trip down memory lane (despite some glaring oversights).  If you can get past all the schmoozing and networking by the interviewees you’ll find yourself enjoying this documentary … but trust me, this is no NEVER SLEEP AGAIN!!

My Summary:

Director:  Daniel Farrands

Plot:  2.5 out of 5 stars

Gore:  5 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

30 Second Review: Salvage (2008)

Hhmmm; I’m still not exactly sure what to think of this one.  Is SALVAGE a tight, government-experiment-gone-wrong thriller with horror elements?  Or is it simply an underfunded indie flick lacking an explanation and a good looking creature.  I think the answer lies somewhere in between.

Teenager Jodie (Linzey Cocker) is on her way home to spend more time with her estranged mom Beth (Neve McIntosh), a workaholic/alcoholic libido on legs.  Jodie gets to her mom’s house only to find dear old mom riding some guy like she was in a rodeo.  Jodie gets pissed off and storms out to go stay with one of her friends.  As Beth is getting ready to go out and find her a group of special forces-ish military guys descend on the town waving around machine guns and barking orders to all the locals to stay in their houses.  Cut off from her daughter and not knowing what the hell is happening, Beth is determined to find Jodie and protect her.  And talk about your awkward one-night stands; first Beth and her penis du jour get interrupted in mid-thrust by her daughter Jodie, and now the town is being quarantined and they are stuck in the house together.  Well at least they have plenty of time to learn each others names!!

This is one awkward one-night stand!!

SALVAGE has a lot of things going for it:  The acting is pretty good, it has a strong opening scene where a young paperboy is killed, and co-writer/director Lawrence Gough gets a pretty good claustrophobic feel going on.  But somehow even at only a 76 minute run time SALVAGE still feels as though is drags at times.  But worst of all is the “explanation”.  I put that in quotes because we are offered an explanation as to what is going on, but its a pretty shitty and unsatisfying one.  Apparently some container washed up on shore near the town that unleashed something.  Is it a creature or a virus?  Is it contagious?  How many other people are infected?  Why is the military so afraid of it?  Lots of unanswered questions that I have to say annoyed the shit out of me.  It would have been nice to get some solid answers.

The soldier who tells us what's going on ... kind of.

SALVAGE starts off good enough and even has some solid scenes in the middle.  I liked the scenes of Beth sneaking around the town going from house to house trying to find her daughter.  Gough showed he has some directing chops and produced some nice tense scenes.  But then he went one step too far; in the last 5-10 minutes he shows us the creature (or was it a mutated towns’ person?).  The creature was one of the worst looking creatures I’ve seen in a long time.  I was expecting the special make-up f/x in the credits to read, “Special effects by 10 year old Billie.”

She's looking for a better explanation.

At the end of the day this movie has moments that are well filmed and we get a few tense moments, but overall the film will leave you feeling cheated and feeling like you just watched an episode of THE X-FILES, and not one of the good episodes.  I have a feeling that a small budget is to blame, but we’ve all seen from other films I reviewed here at anythinghorror.com that having a low budget is no excuse for making a shabby film.  I wouldn’t go out of your way to track this one down, but if you can stream it from Netflix I’m sure there are parts you’ll find interesting.

My Summary:

Director:  Lawrence Gough (and co-writer)

Plot:  2.5 out of 5 stars

Gore:  4 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

30 Second Review: Killing Ariel (2008)

This flick is worse than finding out your grandmother was a silent film era porn star!!  KILLING ARIEL has an interesting pre-credit sequence that has a demon attacking our star, Rick (Michael Brainard).  This kinda pique my interest but as soon as the opening credits were over this flick goes downhill faster than Queen Latifah did in LAST HOLIDAY.  I rented this one based solely on the plot summary provided by Netflix:

Enchanted by lusty she-demon Ariel (Axelle Cummings) and lured to a remote house for a weekend of passion, happily married Rick (Michael Brainard) tries to break free of the evil spell by killing the succubus, only to have the demon rise from the dead to keep him ensnared. Time and again Rick slays Ariel, who simply returns to life to continue her game. How can Rick escape a supernatural creature who refuses to die?

So you can see why I wanted to check this one out; a (supposedly) sexy chick keeps getting killed over and over again by the same guy.  It seemed the potential for some real fun gore was high with this one.  I was very wrong.

Trust me; you ain't missing anything with this dud!!

The main problem with KILLING ARIEL is the pace.  This is really slow … REALLY slow, and honestly nothing happens.  And what happened to our description that pretty much promises Rick killing some demoness over and over again?  It certainly wasn’t in here.  Once Ariel is introduced I figured the carnage would soon follow.  If by “carnage” you mean Rick and Ariel  standing around talking about really unimportant, boring shit then you are correct.  And instead of making Ariel this enchanting, irresistible, sexy siren, she comes off more like some pseudo-hippie chick who gets cuter after a 12-pack and a few bong hits.  You know the type; its the kind of chick you’ll listen to drone on and on about how spiritual she is because you know there’s a good chance you’re gonna get laid.

I’m not gonna waste anymore space on this one; this could’ve/should’ve been a fun, sexy, gory flick but turns out to be 90 minutes of yawns and the temptation to use the fast forward button. KILLING ARIEL?  More like “Killing Time” (I know I know, cheesy comment, but I’m not gonna waste a good metaphor on this suckfest). Definitely skip this one.

My Summary:

Directors:  Fred Calvert & David J. Negron, Jr. (did this really require 2 directors to make this shitfest?)

Plot:  1 out of 5 stars

Gore:  3.5 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

Movie Review: Live Animals (2008)

I'll grant them that they put together a killer fucking poster!!

This one had me undecided as to whether I liked it or not almost the entire running time.   The opening had me rolling around my eyes; the middle kinda had to hooked; and then the ending … the goddamn ending.  What I thought was gonna end up being a pretty decent and fun entry into the torture-porn sub-genre completely falls apart in the final act.  I was really disappointed that writer-director Jeremy Benson took LIVE ANIMALS in the direction he did in the last 20 minutes.

The film opens with meeting Wayne (John Still); a seemingly salt-of-the-earth, hard working middle America kind of guy who has a big white beard that reminds you of a Santa impersonator at the mall.  But soon after meeting Wayne we follow him as he hunts down and captures a group of 20-somethings as they are having a house party.  With the help of Edgar (a very intimidating Patrick Cox) he locks them up in a barn in individual cages hoping to sell them to the highest bidder.  Yup; it turns out that Wayne is just your typical white slave trader selling the 20-somethings into sexual slavery overseas.  This movie really doesn’t offer anything new to the torture-porn sub-genre and I found myself successfully predicting where the story was gonna go.  But through some pretty well-shot scenes and decent gore, I found myself enjoying this one more than I should have.

Wayne (John Still) seems like a nice guy ... at first!!

What makes this one stand out from the typical shitty torture-porn flick is that the focus isn’t on the captured kids.  Director Jeremy Benson instead decides to focus on the captors (Wayne and Edgar).  Wayne is a matter-of-fact kinda guy who’s married (for 10 years we’re told) and doesn’t take any sadistic pleasure in hurting the kids unnecessarily.  After they’re captured Wayne takes one of the kids and ties him up in front of the others.  He explains, rather rationally, that people are easier to deal with than animals because with people you can “break” one and the others will fall into place (with animals you need to break every one of them).  He then proceeds to “break” the guy as an example.  It was a pretty tense and cringe-inducing scene that worked for me.

I hope Europeans like thick slave girls.

The cast of 20-somethings, as a whole, were unfortunately not very good actors.  They of course do the typical whining and crying, but most of them pander to the camera and I was aware I was watching actors the entire time.  The good thing is that Still and Cox both put in solid performances as the captors.  This is a good thing considering the movie was focused more on them than the kids.  And just wait until the slave buyer shows up and “checks out” the merchandise; its a really creepy scene that will make you feel really uncomfortable and dirty (especially how they box up the girl after she is sold).

But more than anything what hurt this film is the slow pace.  There are many scenes where the camera lingers on pretty unimportant things for too long, and we get endless shots of the captured kids with their faces pressed against their cages.  I think 10 minutes of this film could have been shaved off to made a tighter, more engaging film.  There were also way too many convenient plot points that Benson used to further the plot.  It felt as though Benson wrote himself into a corner a few times and simply “created” a way out that didn’t feel natural to what was occurring on screen.

Yup; we get a lot of scenes of people looking through bars!!

And unavoidably we come to the end; the “escape scene” whereby a few of the caged up “product” gets loose.  Aahhh that goddamn ending.  What I thought was gearing up to be an original ending for a torture-porn flick unfortunately becomes a cookie-cutter ending that really pissed me off.  As soon as the three survivors escape it seems they become completely different characters and start doing really stupid and annoying things that make their situation worse.  And just wait until you see the pain threshold of one of the survivors:  he gets stabbed in the stomach, shot in the back with bird shot, gets a really thick drill through his hand, and gets a finger cut off.  This guy’s more tenacious than that fucking Energizer bunny and just keeps on going.  It was really silly.  I can’t imagine why Benson decided to take the ending where he did.  LIVE ANIMALS completely falls apart in the final act … COMPLETELY, and we even get a “twist” at the end that is just retarded.  Blech.

Wait 'til you see this guys pain threshold; impressive!!

So what I thought was going to revitalize the torture-porn sub-genre by injecting some fresh blood into it (by focusing on the captors instead of the kids captured) ends up going down the same road of cliches.  Now I must admit that I found this one more effective than the HOSTEL flicks.  LIVE ANIMALS doesn’t glorify the violence like HOSTEL 1 & 2 does.  If you’re gonna watch this one anyway, do yourself a favor and don’t watch the final 10 minutes.  This one almost got my recommendation but the ending is just too damn annoying.  Skip it.

My Summary:

Director:  Jeremy Benson (and writer)

Plot:  2.5 out of 5 stars

Gore:  6 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

30 Second Review: Tell Tale (2009)

I’m a sucker for many things in the horror genre (zombie flicks, slasher flicks, excessive and gratuitous gore …).  But something you don’t know is that I could never turn down watching a movie based on an Edgar Allen Poe story.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a straight up influence or one that’s “loosely inspired by”.  TELL TALE falls mainly into the later category – Poe’s influence is definitely there, but the story is modernized and given a fresh spin.  In the end TELL TALE is an enjoyable flick despite it having some pacing problems, bad characterizations, and a beginning that is confusing.

We start the film with Terry, played by Josh Lucas (Hank from 2001’s Session 9) getting a new heart from a donor who died from some kind of blunt force trauma to the head.  We then cut away and join Terry about 4 weeks later as he’s still trying to adjust to his new heart.  Terry’s been dealt a pretty shitty hand in life:  His young daughter Angela (Beatrice Miller) has a rare genetic disease that’s causing all the ligaments and tendons in her body to harden; his young wife left him; and he has a bad heart.  Luckily his daughter’s doctor, Dr. Elizabeth Clemson (Lena Heady) really cares for both Terry and Angela and will do anything to make sure they are ok.  As a relationship slowly builds between Terry and Elizabeth, Terry’s new heart seems to be taking him down a path of revenge.  He finds out that his donor didn’t actually donate his heart voluntarily, and every time Terry runs into one of the people responsible for his donor’s death his heart starts pounding in his ears until he kills the guilty parties.

Is it a possessed heart or stress that's bothering Terry?

This film is obviously inspired by Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” (first published in 1843).  Director Michael Cuestra (who directed five episodes of Dexter in 2006) does a good job with keeping the heart of Poe’s story (tee hee) the same while at the same time updating it and making it feel unique and fresh.  The cast also does a good job despite there being some problems with their characters.  I’m always ready to watch the sexy Lena Heady (Laid to Rest) in anything and here she does a great job as a strong, smart, independent woman.  There’s a slight twist at the end of the flick (that you’ll probably see coming) that kind of puts into doubt her motivations.  This twist works as explaining something in the plot, but fails in that it drastically changes her character.  That twist didn’t work for me.  Lukas also does a pretty good job here as Terry, but often times he comes off as an annoying, over-aggressive prick rather than a tragic character carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.  And rounding out the cast is genre favorite Brian Cox, in a wasted role playing the detective (Philip Van Doren) who catches onto Terry’s revenge plot but does nothing about it.  Cox’s character seems like a last minute addition in order to write him into the film; but really his character is unnecessary.  It’s a shame; Cox always puts in a strong performance no matter what and he just seems so wasted and under-used here.

This has a chilling (ah-hem) final act!!

Besides the beginning being a little confusing there are some pacing problems in the second and third acts that bog the film down and make it seem really sluggish.  But if you stick this one out I think you’ll enjoy it.  It has a pretty fun final act that throws in an illegal organ harvesting ring and a pretty brutal face stomping scene that will make you cringe and think of 2002’s Irreversible.  Despite all it’s flaws I found myself enjoying this one.  It successfully updates a classic Edgar Allen Poe story and has some good performances.  Check it out.

My Summary:

Director:  Michael Cuesta

Plot:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Gore:  3 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

Movie Review: Cold Prey (2006)

I had such high hopes for this movie but was ultimately frustrated, pissed off, and bored.  I had read reviews calling COLD PREY the “most perfect slasher movie ever made,” and being that this was made in Norway I figured I’d at least get some beautiful scenery and good gore.  Nope.  What we get is a by-the-numbers slasher flick with horribly slow pacing, no gore or scares, and a truly ridiculous “reveal.”

The movie starts with a group of likable friends going snowboarding in a remote location (is there any better place to snowboard?).  Everything is going great until Morten Tobias (Rolf Kristian Larsen) snaps his leg in a scene that will make you curl up into the fetal position hugging your own appendage.  Savor this scene people; it’s the most “extreme” and graphic this flick gets.  The gang decides that since they won’t be able to reach their car before night fall they’ll wander over to the conveniently placed abandoned hotel over yonder (nothing bad ever happens at abandoned hotels, right?).  Once at the hotel the movie comes to a grinding halt.  Seriously; this stops faster than a fat person walking in front of a bakery.  Some shit happens … SLOWLY … and they all learn that the hotel was closed down in the 1970’s after the owners’ son went missing and was never found again.  But wait; there seems to be someone still living in the hotel after all these years.  I wonder …

Stunning scenery like this made this one easy to look at.

Ok; first the positives.  This has a beautiful and isolated location that believably explains why no one can use their cell phones.  Writer-director Roar Uthaug (nice name) also does a great job utilizing that location and creating an extremely claustrophobic feel, even though the space they’re in is wide open.  I also enjoyed the characters.  We get to “know” them as individuals before the (gore-less) action starts.  I also really enjoyed that the cast doesn’t behave and act stupid.  They didn’t do the typical slasher movie stuff (having sex, doing drugs, playing jokes on each other, etc …).  These elements did indeed elevate the movie above the typical slasher flick.

Why do the easy, sexy ones always get killed?

But we all know that with ‘positives’ there must also be ‘negatives’.  In a nut shell this movie just wasn’t all that exciting.  The director really wanted to develop a sense of isolation, and he did with the location but he just couldn’t create any kind of suspense or tension.  This movie needed to shave off about 25 to 30 minutes in order to tighten up the scenes.  This would’ve also  created a better atmosphere because lets face it, the second and third acts dragged on waaay too long.  And as far as the gore goes; other than that awesome compound leg fracture, that’s about it.  A big bloody smear on the floor indicating that someone has been dragged away just doesn’t cut it today.  And the last nail in the coffin for me was the killer and his “back story.”  Really really lame.  If you can’t spot the killer in the first 10 minutes of this movie than you are either too young to be watching this movie or ya just ain’t paying attention!!  And the killers’ back story feels like it was tagged on at the very end.  Like I said, very disappointing.

It's all fun & games until someone gets a compound leg fracture!!

So what happened to this being a perfect slasher flick?  That quote comes from Ain’t it Cool News, an online movie review mecca run by the very well-respected Harry Knowles.  There COLD PREY is described as “Probably the most perfect slasher movie ever made.”  One of two things must have occurred here:  No one over at Ain’t it Cool News actually watched this film, or two, those guys need to get out there and watch more slasher flicks!  This is far from being the “most perfect” slasher flick ever made.  There was a lot of potential here, but Roar Uthaug just doesn’t know what it takes to make a solid slasher, or horror for that matter, film.  That’s right folks; another film with shitty execution.  Skip this one.

Is she scared or starting to yawn??

My Summary:

Director:  Roar Uthaug (and writer)

Plot:  2 out of 5 stars

Gore:  1.5 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

Broken (2006)

This one really surprised me.  When I sat down to watch this I thought I was in for another shitty torture-porn flick.  But through strong performances and a SUPER dark atmosphere and feel, BROKEN is miles above the typical torture-porn flick.  I really liked this movie. A lot. This is everything that is right with genre movies today.  We have a claustrophobic feel (which is odd because the movie takes place out in the woods); there’s only two main characters for about 90% of the movie; we get great character development; and there’s extreme scenes of violence that are a part of the story and not just tagged on.

The movie opens with a single mom Hope (Nadja Brand) coming home from yet another disastrous date.  She sends the babysitter home, checks and kisses on her young daughter Holly (Abbey Stirling), and then goes to bed.  When Hope wakes up she finds herself bound up in the woods and quickly realizes that she and her young daughter have been abducted by some survivalist nut bag (don’t ya just hate when that happens?).  We never learn his name and simply know him as The Man (Eric Colvin).  In addition to being nameless, The Man barely speaks 10 words the entire movie and we never really learn his motivations.  It’s great!!  But I’ll be damned if he doesn’t give one of the most intense, frightening performances in modern horror!!  What makes him so menacing is the fact he’s such a cryptic character.

Ya gotta love a guy who keeps his women hanging around!!

The Man puts Hope through a series of tortures to “break” and make her submit to him willingly.  The Man has her cooking, tending the garden, and satisfying his physical desires.  It seems at first that The Man actually broke Hope (which, by the way is a perfect name for her).  She seems to willingly be living with him in the deep woods and doing all her chores in a submissive way.  Just wait until you see her “submit” sexually to him!!  But we learn she’s enduring all his crap and basically playing along in order to find out where her daughter is.  Hell; Hope doesn’t even know if Holly is still alive!!

Hope: Her name & what she’s trying to hold onto!!

Nadja Brand does a fantastic job of a woman struggling to hold onto hope(!!) while enduring torture after torture.  She’s an incredibly strong female character whose will is not easily broken.  I love her character.  But what really stands out is how dark and hopeless everything feels here.  Writer-directors Simon Boyes and Adam Mason create one of the grimmest and most hopeless feeling flicks I’ve ever experienced.  Nothing is ever shown in flashbacks but you just know that The Man has done this before and he knows what he’s doing.  About halfway through the film, The Man kidnaps another girl and puts her through similar tortures as Hope.  But this new girl isn’t nearly as strong as Hope and The Man breaks her quickly.  It’s tough to watch; really tough.  But how Hope ends up confronting The Man is extremely well-done and believable.  It’s tense, graphic, and brutal.  This is a really great flick.  When Hope finally figures out where The Man is holding her daughter you finally thing we’re in for a small glimmer of hope and redemption here.  Not a chance … that’s all I’m gonna say about it.  You’re gonna just have to experience the ending for yourself.  But fuck me Boyes and Mason; couldn’t you have let even one tiny little ray of sunshine penetrate this flick?  Who am I kidding; you know I love dark, depressing endings!!  This is a great flick that you need to see.

Stylish shots like this elevate this flick way above the typical genre fodder!!

My Summary:

Directors:  Simon Boyes and Adam Mason (and writers)

Plot:  4 out of 5 stars

Gore:  7 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

30 Second Review: The Cottage (2008)

This is what taking a chance on movies is all about!  What a really fun movie.  This achieves what not many movies can do:  Blending black humor seamlessly with horror and gore (only SHAUN OF THE DEAD & AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and DOGHOUSE immediately come to mind).  It’s a shame the DVD cover gives away that this is a horror movie because if you didn’t know anything about THE COTTAGE you would definitely be caught off guard when the movie shifts into “horror gear.”  It starts off with our “heroes” David and Peter (Andy Serkis and Reece Shearsmith) screwing up a kidnapping; they abducted the daughter of a mob boss in London (Tracey, played by Jennifer Ellison) with hopes of getting a huge ransom.  But to their surprise Tracey is a raunchy, foul-mouthed pain in the ass who doesn’t take shit from anyone.  She’s a great character who brings one kidnapper to tears with a barrage of insults that would make Lisa Lampanelli blush and then brings the other to tears by beating the crap out of him.  Good times with enough dark humor and gore (there’s tons of it) to satisfy even the most jaded horror goer.

As the bumbling kidnappers keep making their situation worse and worse, they end up at the titular cottage and the movie suddenly becomes a full-fledged, hardcore slasher pic that takes no prisoners.  Nothing is held back once the carnage begins.  And as an added bonus we actually get a killer who is scary as hell!  No Krueger-esque puns and one-liners from this killer.  He just stalks and kills with extreme savagery.  Not for the faint of heart once the blood and gore begins.  I loved everything about this.  The characters are likable (even though they are, in the case of the guys, bumbling idiots, and in the case of the girl, a bitch); the gore is terrific; the “stalk and slash” is suspenseful; and the main girl, despite her foul mouth, is a freakin’ hottie (wait to you see how they finally shut her up).  It’s these rare finds that makes it worthwhile taking chances on smaller, unknown movies.  Can’t wait to see what writer-director Paul Andrew Williams comes up with next.  Don’t miss this one.

Our "heroes"!!!

My Summary:

Director:  Paul Andrew Williams (and writer)

Plot:  4.5 out of 5 stars

Gore:  7 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer