Archive for the 'Drama' Category



28
Dec
08

Alex’s Top 10 Movies of the Year!!!!!!

Greetings fellow Midnighters!!!!  Here is my video of my top ten films of the year.  Sorry it turned out to be much longer than I anticipated, but I had a lot to say.  DIG IN!

21
Nov
08

Dead Set: A Reality TV Show Zombie Mini-Series

Big Brother is watching...you get eaten by Zombies!

Big Brother is watching...you get eaten by Zombies!

Dead Set is a thrilling mini-series that combines two of the most popular things going in TV and movies today, the reality TV show (in this case Big Brother) and zombies.  The style in which this 5 part story is told is similar to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later series, complete with shaky camera-work and ravenous, feral running zombies.  Personally, I have found the “28” series of zombie movies very underwhelming, and I also haven’t been too big a fan of the idea of  running zombies.  Dead Set, however similar to the aforementioned films it may be, sets itself apart, and is, as far as I can tell, a hidden gem of a horror genre, at least among American audiences.

Dead Set starts off showing the inner workings of reality television.  It’s sort of a nice behind the scenes look which I’m sure has been slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect, but still feels very genuine.  We are introduced to a gaggle of characters, some more important than others.  You’ll immediately begin playing the “Who’s gonna survive game” in your head, which is always a good thing, because it means the actors and the director have already made empathetic characters early on, which winds up being one of the main reasons this series had me in the clutches of suspense for almost 3 hours.

After we get a look at “Eviction Night”, where one of the house guests is sent home, no longer eligible for the prize that awaits the final contestant, we are plunged into a crisis happening right outside the studio, which is an apparent (and unexplained, a classy touch.  No need to always explain why there is zombies) zombie apocalypse.  Chaos ensues, and different sets of the relatively large cast get separated and wind up having to find ways of surviving in and around the studio.

Seeing as house this is a 5 part mini-series, I was slightly skeptical going in how the director and writers were gonna keep up the frenetic pace they started off with.  Fortunately, a combination of clever nods to classic zombie flicks, interesting scenarios and obstacles, and the rule of “anyone can die at any time” meant that I was fully engaged, and holding my hand over my mouth at the conclusion of each episode that always seemed to be a cliffhanger.

Special effects also helps elevate this to near legendary status, with a COMPLETE ABSENCE OF CGI (FUCK YES) and awesome practical gore such as this incredible exploding head.

BOOM! Headshot.

BOOM! Headshot.

There are other surprises as well, all of them really bloody and particularly brutal.  I won’t ruin them for you, but they rival some of the best kills I’ve ever seen in the genre and really stand out.  Make no mistake, just because this is “made for TV” doesn’t mean it wimps out on the hardcore stuff.   its R-Rated goodness should put smiles on the faces of even some hardened horror fans.

Solid, if not a little trendy, directing, good acting, and a storyline that doesn’t wear out it’s welcome while also exploring many possibilities a shorter, 90 minute zombie flick wouldn’t have time to touch on make Dead Set a solid recommendation for someone wanting zombie goodness, with a European flair.  For zombie fans, this is a must see.

Big Brother is watching, and so should you.

What a story she would have to tell in the diary room.

What a story she would have to tell in the diary room.

03
Nov
08

Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932)

Todd Browning's Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning's Freaks

Freaks is an old black and white movie from 1932, but don’t let that fool you. There was no political correctness in those days, and it certainly shows in this movie, but not in a bad way.

A beautiful trapese artist in the travelling circus falls in love with Hans, a midget. Coincidence that he is to come in to a large inheritance? We think not. The other midget in the circus warns Hans that she’s after him for his money but he isn’t convinced. Later Hans falls ill and the rest of the travelling circus are suspicious of the trapese artist and her sneaky lover Hercules. They find out she’s been poisoning Hans and gang up on the money grabbing pair, turning the one lovely trapese artist into a freak like them. As the narrative in the movie says, if you insult one freak, you insult them all…

Special effects are zero, all the freaks in the movie are genuine human oddities. There’s everything from midgets, dwarves, people with odd shaped heads, human skeletons, and watch out for the ‘caterpillar dude’ (TM, Ronnie) who is just a torso with a head, no seriously… he has no limbs what-so-ever and just crawls about like a caterpillar, VERY spooky. As if that’s not bad enough there’s a guy with no hips/legs who runs using his arms and hands! It is easily the spookiest thing I have ever seen in a film. At one point in the film he’s ‘sitting’ on the ground, but it just looks like some dude thats been buried up to his waist.

Cleopatra (the trapese artist) and Hans
Cleopatra (the trapese artist) and Hans (the perv)

It (unfortunately) wasn’t in the version I viewed, but apparently there is an alternative, now considered lost, ending where Hercules is castrated and ends up as a castrato. That ending would have been the icing on the cake for this film, I want it found and restored!

one of the 'pinhead' kids
one of the ‘pinhead’ kids

Other than the freaks themselves, the ending (below) is extremely creepy, it’s like a miniature/deformed Dawn of the Dead with midgets walking, toward Hercules, through the rain with nothing but evil in their eyes.

Run! Run!
Run away! It’s a ginormous wagon wheel!

I’m not quite sure how this managed to get a DVD release, as I’d have thought the PC freaks (pun intended) would have interjected and demanded a ban, but no, and thank God for sense and reason! Although apparently it was banned for thirty years in the UK, hardly a surprise for the UK.

Freaks is a good film, the ‘people with unusual physical characteristics’, while in a circus, are shown living (relatively) normal lives and seem to enjoy what they’re doing. Although one actor did denounce the movie as offensive. But I’m sure he/she still accepted their wage. Freaks is a classic movie, and deserves at least one watch for it’s curiosity factor.

02
Nov
08

Stuck directed by Stuart Gordon

I've had some shitty days, but I've never found myself stuck in the windshield of a car.

I've had some shitty days, but never have yet to be stuck in the windshield of a car.

Brandi Boski’s (played the criminally underrated Mena Suvari) life is headed in the right direction.  She has a job at a nursing home that she is extremely good at.  So good in fact, she is being promoted.  She has a cool drug dealer boyfriend Rashid (played by Russell Hornsby) who not only appears to be a good bf, but also a good source of ecstasy ( or X for those in the know.)

Thomas Bardo (played by Stepen Rae), on the other hand, is falling apart at the seams.  Laid off from his job and searching for a new one, he is evicted on the spot by his dickhead landlord, and is now homeless.

Brandi decides to celebrate at a club, and after getting drunk and high on X, she drives home, and in typical drugged up girl fashion, pays more attention to her shitty phone than the road.  Thomas is crossing a street, with his newly acquired shopping cart for his belongings, and is hit by Brandi, which sends him into her windshield.  She manages to get home with Thomas still stuck in her windshield.  The rest you’ll have to see for yourself.

Stuck, directed by genre legend Stuart Gordon, who’s claim to fame is his many film adaptations of some of H.P. Lovecrafts greatest works like From Beyond and Dagon, leads us down a path of moral ambiguity and conundrum.  His camera is educated, but never too flashy.  The reason being is he has an embarrassingly strong cast to drive his movie forward, with the likes of Mena Suvari (again, criminally underrated), Stephen Rea of V for Vendetta fame (among tons of other movies he’s done), and Russell Hornsby, who’s one of those actors that when you see him, you will point to the screen and so “Look, it’s THAT guy.  He’s in a ton of shit and is always really good!”

And boy oh boy, is it a good thing that the actors are strong, because this isn’t a special effects laden piece, as one could come to expect from Stuart Gordon.  There’s no demons at play, no mad scientists who create zombies or monsters, no portals to other worlds or other craziness going on.  There is just the dilemma at hand, and the will (and lack there of) to do the right thing.

Stuck isn’t completely devoid of violence, and in typical Gordon style, when it hits, he leaves nothing to the imagination.  Gorehounds and creature-feature fans will be sorely disappointed by the lack of killing and splatter, but one thing you have to realize before watching this flick is it’s not about that.  This is horror of the mind and the conscious.  This is something bad happening to someone by virtue of their own actions they thought would never come back to haunt them or hurt others.  To me, this type of genre film can be very effective, by not only reminding us of our own mortality and fragility, but also instilling the idea of luck just fucking us over once in a while.

The last thing I’ll comment on is the ending.  As any dedicated Midnight Showing reader will probably know, I often complain that even movies I like, just seem to slap on some sequel ready ending, or just let the thing fall apart until they feel its time to roll the credits, which is usually about 90 minutes in.  Not the case with Stuck.  It had a definitive, definite ending that is just as tense, satisfying, and refreshing as the first 80 minutes are.

Stuck gets my highest recommendation, as it not only breathes some new life into Stuart Gordon’s directing career by showing another, more reserved, side of his talent, but also into the “What would YOU do” “horror” sub-genre.  It’s fast paced, twisty enough to keep your interest, and Mena Suvari gets naked.  So there’s always that to entice you into watching.

Get “Stuck” sometime soon.

11
Oct
08

Dance of the Dead (NOT the Masters of Horror Episode!!)

Little bit of a rip-off of Shaun of the Dead, but still nice.

Little bit of a rip-off of Shaun of the Dead, but still nice.

Dance of the Dead has the look and feel of a disastrous zombie flick.  It has a bunch of no name teenage looking actors and actresses.  A plot (Zombies rise from the dead on the night of the prom and high schoolers have to fight for their lives and their town) ripped from several other zombie movies.  A movie poster eerily similar to that of 2004’s amazing “zombedy” Shaun of the Dead.  And, on top of all this, a director with virtually no feature film directing experience.

But this, true believers (Yes, I just pulled a Stan Lee reference out of my ass.  You don’t like it?  Go read a DC comic then you pussy.  Yeah I know Batman is good, but other than that, DC sucks.) is why we watch movies, and THEN decide if they suck or not.  Or at least some of us do.

Dance of the Dead managed to do something that all good horror, and especially zombie flicks, HAVE to do.  Make the most out of the pieces you have.  If you look back in the legendary genesis of the zombie flick, you will quickly find out that the best of the bunch, even the ones done by famed directors like Romero and Fulci, were done on smaller budgets without the luxury of having big stars to bank on for success.  Dance does this wonderfully, making even the predictable and annoying characters seem likable.  And if they weren’t likable, then they at least had the presence of mind to kill them off early!

This all brings me to my first point.  The cast here, again full of people who’s biggest project to date seems to be Dance of the Dead itself, are all very competent.  The movie is exactly demanding, but it still has a lot of dialogue, and without people to spew those words out, however trite or meaningless, it’s difficult to make a movie work.  The saving grace seems to be the comedy within the conversations though.  Nothing is taken to seriously in Dance of the Dead, and that lightens the load for everyone involved.  It’s a feel good, fun time zombie flick, and the cast seem to reflect that with the youthful energy being the driving force.

Direction here is solid, but not in the least bit flashy or pretentious.  There some nifty use of heavy lighting and filters, the cornerstones of any 80’s “Return of the living Dead” style zombie flick, but other than that, everything’s played pretty straight forward, and I for one have no problem with that.  If you don’t feel comfortable as a director taking chances and being experimental, there’s no need to force it.  That “comfort” is actually a strength to the film, and I felt right at home with the direction, and thankfully nothing was ruined by the dreaded “shaky cam” or choosing shitty angles to shoot the action on.  Simply put, the camera work never gets in the way of the fun.

Gore and special effects are all good, but it’s most likely all stuff experienced zombie fans have seen before.  Doesn’t mean it isn’t highly entertaining, and some of the bullet wounds are particularly graphic.  There’s also a head split in half the long way, and a severed head “still alive” gag that is very cool.  Nothing here will have you howling or calling your friends to tell them “how awesome that kill just was”, but it’s all impressive none the less, and thankfully, almost totally free of any cgi.  Yay!  Here at the Midnight Showing we basically have one rule concerning our gore and special f/x, and that is “Fuck CGI!”

If you couldn’t tell by now, Dance of the Dead is a movie that has all the elements to become a cult classic.  Sure, that’s pretty cliche to say, but when a movie has it, it just has it.  I think the director has a pretty good handle on this zombie thing, and if he continues to interject the brand of humor in his future flicks, he should make some very interesting stuff.  Also, some of the actors and actress’s are surely going to be noticed because of this film.

If your looking for a light-hearted, “Shaun of the Dead” style zombie flick, and you can appreciate flicks that pay obvious homage to what’s come before it (Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Creeps), then you should get plenty of enjoyment out of Dance of the Dead.

If only my prom was overrun by zombies.

07
Oct
08

Insanitarium directed and written by Jeff Buhler

Peter Sotrmare's face is much scarier than any needle.

Peter Stormare's face is much scarier than any needle!

Jeff Buhler is showing the horror community a lot in a very short amount of time.  He is responsible for the screenplay of The Midnight Meat Train, a movie already reviewed her on Midnight Showing by yours truly.  Insanitarium marks his first time behind the camera, as well as being the stories scribe.  All that time spent with Clive Barker and Kitamura working on Meat Train must be paying off, because he crafts himself quite the impressive little flick that isn’t perfect, but rises above the direct to DVD schlock it will undoubtedly be lumped in with.

After his sister is locked away in a local insane asylum, Jack is refused access to even speak to her.  He decides that he must save her from what seems more like a prison than a mental facility, and fakes being crazy to be admitted in.  He then learns that the head doctor, played by the incredible Peter Stormare, is doing some experimental tests on the patients, fooling around with a drug that warps those trapped inside into ravenous flesh eating cannibals.

Before you write this off as another shitty zombie movie hiding under the guise of a psycho thriller, please know that it isn’t.  The word “zombie” is never even used in the movie, and Buhler’s “zombies” still retain all their higher brain functions, meaning they are essentially the same exact people they were before being introduced to the drug, they just become a little more ferocious and feral in some cases, and of course crave human blood and flesh.  Buhler spends almost an entire hour setting all the personalities of those inhabiting the asylum up, and for a first time director, shows an amazing amount of patience before setting loose his demons to tear things up.

Jesse Metcalfe, who plays our hero Jack, deserves some credit for never slipping into complacency.  Stormare is brilliant and fun as the evil doctor, Kevin Sussman is perfect as the comedic relief and aid to Jack throughout his journey to free his sister and escape the grips of the compound, and the rest of the cast never breaks your concentration or makes you cringe.  That’s saying a lot considering most of the film is full of nobodies, and it’s apparent that even though the film has a slick, shiny, and professional look, it was obviously made on a fairly modest budget.

Buhler does show what a fan he is of movies through some obvious nods to previous mentally unstable killers and movies of days past.  One of his characters is named Loomis, no doubt after Dr. Loomis, immortalized by Donald Pleasance in the Halloween series.  There’s a guy in the maximum security room obviously modeled after Anthony Hopkins Hannibal Lecter.  Even timeless classics such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest get a well deserved wink.  Buhler certainly seems to knows his movies.

And when Buhler does take the chains off for the finale, he also lets the blood fly with some effective gore and special effects.  Highlights include a scalpel up through the jaw and into the mouth, a groovy slit throat with blood spraying all over the camera, and an icepick lobotomy.  If your a gore hound though, you may be disappointed in how long it takes things to get going.  Make no mistake, Buhler, as I mentioned before, takes his time here, getting everything he can out of his own script and his cast.  The gore here is subtle, if gore can ever be subtle, and Buhler doesn’t glorify it or telegraph it much.  His camera just kind of follows our heroes and when they make a kill, the camera looks at it just long enough to show you how awesome it was, and then gets back to the task at hand.  It’s a nice approach and makes violence on display feel a little less staged.

Low-lights include way to many kills followed by horrible one liners.  I am as big a fan of Ash and his goofy sayings as the next Evil Dead fan, but in a movie that is as dead serious in tone as Insanitarium, there just isn’t room for more than one or two one liners.  It gets annoying after hearing so many, especially when they all take place in a 25 minute span.  The dialogue also fails the scenes at times.  Buhler tries to make his doctors and staff sound very medical and scientific, but it just comes out as pretentious and silly sounding more often than not.  This isn’t the fault of the actors delivering the lines, but Buhler’s obvious unfamiliarity with medical and psychological scientific terms.  It’s fine if you write and you don’t know exactly what your talking about, just don’t pretend like you do.  The music also shows the limitations of the budget, but fortunately for us we don’t have to hear it much.  My final complaint lies with the sequel-ready last few scenes.  Can anyone write a movie and just fucking END it when it ends?  I understand you want to leave things open, but this movie begged to have a climatic and assertive finish, and what we got was anything but.  It’s a shame when even our main heavy never gets his comeuppance.

Gripes aside, Jeff Buhler should be gaining some momentum with his one-two punch in 2008 of The Midnight Meat Train and Insanitarium.  For a first time director, and the only two official writing credits on imdb being these two movies, Buhler seems to have come out of nowhere and the man now has my full attention.  If he can keep up the pace he’s set for himself, he may be able to breath some life back into a horror genre that has been up and down ever since the turn of the century saw every other studio cranking out remakes and teen screamers.

Recommended, as I’ve said before, to those with patience.  Also keep a close eye on Jeff Buhler.  My instincts tell me he is on to bigger and even better things…but hopefully not a goddamn remake.

06
Oct
08

Top 5 Halloween Flicks

Hold onto your hats, boils and ghouls, it’s time for Alex’s top 5 picks for October movie viewing.  Some are safe, comfortable picks you may see coming, and some may throw you for a major loop.  Enjoy kiddies.

In no particular order:

Classic.  Nothing like a full moon and a headless horsemen to get me in the mood.

Classic. Nothing like a full moon and a headless horsemen to get me in the mood.

Tim Burton’s legacy will always be tainted by the few stinkers he’s done, especially as of late, but I can’t hate the man because he’s having a bad streak.  Sleepy hollow is an effective little horror period piece that faithfully retells the legend, while spicing things up just enough to make it feel hip and modern.  Add some great use of clever humor, as rock solid cast, brutal and gory death scenes, and Christopher Walken as the Headless Horsemen, and you have yourselves a winner.

Look at that hard drawn cover art.  Can't beat it with a stick.

Look at that hard drawn cover art. Can't beat that with a stick.

The Witches, from the brilliant writing mind of Roald Dahl, is an often forgotten spooky movie that is intended for kids, but comes with a heaping helping of adult size fun and scares.  Incredible make up and effects litter this film, as does a cute story about a boy turned into a mouse who must stop the evil Witches from taking over the world.  A sleeper hit no doubt, and one you probably haven’t heard of or never paid much mind to, seeing as the audience it’s geared towards.  Take a chance on this one to mix things up this October.

The mask looks even better in the movie.

The mask looks even better in the movie.

Another sleeper gem that most would overlook due to an overly cheesy cover art and no real hype at it’s time of release, this fun little slasher takes place on Halloween, and has a few interesting gimmicks and noble ideas that makes things more interesting than your average slasher.  The well-placed dark humor and twisted nature of the whole tale more than make up for it’s other shortcomings.  If you think you’ve seen every Halloween based slasher flick, pick this up.  It might be more entertaining than you think, even for the diehards.

Yeah.  This still kicks so much ass its not even funny.

Yeah. This still kicks so much ass its not even funny.

Call it nostalgia.  Call it being  a Tim Burton Fan boy.  I call it a masterpiece of animated cinema, one of the best holiday themed movies ever made, and Tim Burton’s crowning achievement.  Nothing will ever eclipse this, even when people try to enhance with updated soundtracks and 3-d glasses.  I’m begging for the hate mail to come pouring in now, and I may even lose the trust of my co-writer here on Midnight Showing Ronnie, but I still feel as much love and devotion to this film as i did 15 years ago.  A masterpiece.

AS IF YOU DIDN’T SEE THIS ONE COMING…

All hail.

All hail.

THE Halloween movie to end all Halloween movies.  John Carpenter’s timeless classic is the epitome of how to create tension, atmosphere, and intrigue with simple pieces. Most don’t even realize that some of the movie is simply shots of interiors and exteriors of houses and neighborhoods, with just the theme laid over top of them.  That’s how genius it is.  He takes a dark stairwell and makes it terrifying.  Combine that with some shots through wide screen and other strange lenses to give it a surreal feel, the most memorable killer of all time, and the emergence of Jamie Lee Curtis as the “door next girl babysitter” and you have one for the ages.  Who would’ve thought one of the most recognized movies in the history of horror cinema would be as tame and bloodless as this flick?

We hope you enjoyed our picks for the Top 5 Halloween flicks this year, and stay tuned for more themed content coming throughout the month of October.

Sleep tight and remember, the killer about to call you is already in your house.