Archive for the 'Thriller' Category



10
Jan
09

The Poughkeepsie Tapes Review

That's a lot of tapes.  Guy must of had a reward zone card for Best Buy.

That's a lot of tapes. Guy must of had a reward zone card for Best Buy.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (or simply Tapes, as I will refer to it from here on out) is not a movie.

I’ll let that sink in.

“When hundreds of videotapes showing torture, murder and dismemberment are found in an abandoned house, they reveal a serial killer’s decade-long reign of terror and become the most disturbing collection of evidence homicide detectives have ever seen.” -Tribeca Film Festival Synopsis.

It’s a mockumentary, minus the comedy and satire.  It’s a mockumentary that houses a two-pronged attack of brutally accurate portrayals of torture, murder and dismemberment seamlessly interwoven with expert analysis and the thoughts and memories of those who were affected by the killers rampage, and those who were hunting him down.

In fact, it’s not too far removed from what the Discovery channel and TLC show on a daily basis.  All those shows about FBI profilers and how they catch these seriously deranged serial killers all seemed to be influential to the Dowdle Brothers, who both penned and directed Tapes.

And  writing may actually be Tapes strongest assets, although I’m sure it will get lost amidst all the chatter about the lengthy, suspenseful, and downright shocking film the killer shoots himself that is shown at certain intervals throughout.  The writing leaps off the screen, as the Dowdle brothers concoct a credible, highly intelligent, innovative killer and sets him loose in the “Anywhere, USA” suburbs of Poughkeepsie, New York.  The killer taunts his pursuers and gives cryptic clues for investigators to find, knowing far in advance where exactly the authorities will look to find them.  It’s this depth to a nameless, faceless character that brings us closer to him than is comfortable for most audiences.  Instead of being bogged down with trite, rationalizing back story about how the killer was beaten as a child or not hugged enough as a baby, we instead get an uncompromising and genius killer, who has found a way to elude the authorities all while documenting his spree.

A brief glimpse of the killer's throrough work.

A brief glimpse of the killer's thorough work.

Direction is also key, not so much in the static look of the interview pieces, (with the exception of the interview with Cheryl which actually made me lose sleep, it’s that fucking clever and disturbing) but in the low-fi, slow burn masterwork of the killers tapes.  The camera is almost always in the right position, whether it’s showing you everything that’s going on, or whether it’s showing you nothing, such as the inside of a car door, or an empty room.  There are times where the camera will be haphazardly placed, seemingly by accident, and we are left with just the screams and pleads of the victim and the orders of the killer to clue us in of what going on.  It’s a time-tested approach that works flawlessly here.  Show some gore in full view to screw with audience equilibrium, and then deprive them seeing something later on.  It works in two ways.  Once you don’t show the audience a scene straight on, it gets their minds working.  They create in their head horrible visions of what must be going on.  It also works to create a sickening feeling in the viewers, because they have to realize that they WANT to see whats happening, so much so they are willing to create the images in their own heads to replace the ones that aren’t on the screen.  It’s a lost art, but it’s a tactic employed by the Dowdle Bros. in exemplary fashion.

Eyes Without A Face reference in the movie.  Who would've thought?

Eyes Without A Face reference in the movie. Who would've thought?

With the audio and visual facets of the film firmly in and place grounded in reality, the one area where horror, or should I say terror in this case, goes awry is usually the acting.  You can have all your ducks in a row as far as directing and writing are concerned, but if your actors don’t come through in creating these characters in the physical form, than everything is lost.  Thankfully, the Dowdle Bros. must have been keen on this, and not only hired no names, but no names who looked liked everyday people.  I’m not sure how involved with the casting they were, but from what I’ve read and inferred through the piece itself, it seems fairly obvious they were pivotal in every decision made.  The most all inclusive and flattering thing I can say is, and this goes for the whole endeavor, not JUST the acting, if this were played one TV on night, and no one was told it wasn’t real, there would be a legitimate fear and uproar in many communities around the U.S.  It’s that believable.  So believable that even though I knew coming in it wasn’t real, I still lost sleep over it, and was looking over my shoulder while watching it.  It’s orchestrated with the sole intention of, if nothing else, to stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

Tapes has a long, uphill battle ahead it.  Still having no official release date for theatrical or dvd release, it is caught in release purgatory.  And once it is released, it will undoubtedly be met with serious backlash from angry mothers and politicians who won’t even bother to see the flick, but instead just berate both those who created it, and its fans.  It will be labeled as the next sick evolutionary step in the Torture Porn sub genre, when it really has a lot less to do with the fantasy world that movies like SAW occupy, and a lot more to do with the gritty, unfair, demented world we live in everyday.  There’s no sense of morals, right and wrong, or justification that other horror flicks try to implore.  It is just cruel, relentless, remorseless and always 10 steps ahead of you.  Just like the killer.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes has, buried underneath it’s tough outer shell, an insane amount of creativity and artistic ingenuity.  If an opportunity to see this bound-to-be-lost gem arises, don’t hesitate.  Just don’t plan on going to bed immediately afterward.

09
Jan
09

Internet Oddities January 2009

It may be a new year, but there is no shortage of viral lunacy circulating the Internet.  So, while we cook up some new original material behind the scenes, have a gander and kill some brain cells from this garbage, and I mean that in the most flattering way possible.


P.S. I also included some trailers for upcoming flicks I think we should have on our collective radar.




08
Jan
09

Funny Games directed by Michael Haneke

Yup. You'll be bored to tears.

Yup. You'll be bored to tears. And probably really fucking mad about losing 2 hours.

Whenever I embark upon writing a review, I try my hardest not to bog you, the loyal readers, down with a bunch of intellectual mumbo jumbo and background info.  Unfortunately, this review can not only benefit from an explanation, but it demands one.

In 1997, Michael Haneke made a film called Funny Games.  It  garnered some controversy, and like all shocking and experimental films, gained a devoted fan base, as well as harsh criticism.

The film was something of an exploration of modern day societies, in particular middle to middle upper class Americans, acceptance AND passion for violence.

10 years later, with NOTHING different with the exception of shooting locale and cast, Haneke remade his own film.  I personally found this quite perplexing, especially since it made me feel that even if I enjoyed the remake, which I planned to see first, I would never need to see the original due to them being, essentially, carbon copies of each other.

Now, instead of wishing I could’ve enjoyed 2 different, yet similar films, I wish I had never known about either.

“Two psychotic young men take a family hostage in their cabin.”

IMDB sums it up best.  And that’s it.  Say goodbye to 2 hours of your life.

Haneke must really think highly of himself.  I mean, to have the balls to remake your own film means that you must think it’s pretty important, important enough to have some major Hollywood actors in it and be shown to a new, wider American audience.  And really, it shows in his work.

I’ve watched some shit movies in my day, and I am proud as all fucking get out about it.  I’ve seen things that barely constitute as actual cinema…and enjoyed it.  The common thread between “bad” movies I wound up enjoying?  The people behind the camera understood, even if they don’t admit, what their movie truly is.  If someone is making a movie about lesbian vampires raping small schoolgirls with baseball bats up the ass, they might try to explain how this is a political “message”, but in their heart of hearts, they know they are just shoveling fantasies to anyone desperate enough to pay $20 bucks plus shipping to satisfy their own demented perversions.  The proof of this is, we never have people grow up making lesbian vampire baseball bat schoolgirl rape flicks, and then go on to direct something the likes of  The Passion of the Christ.

Haneke though, seems like the kind of guy who would have a rib removed so he could suck his own dick.  He seems like the kind of guy who would hold his dick so sacred, no one else could pleasure it but him.  Funny Games is, at it’s best, an exercise in how to take talented actors and a descent plot, and make the most unwatchable movie possible out of those ingredients.

If only I had a bag on my head for this whole "movie"

If only I had a bag on my head for this whole "movie"

Oh, and before you get on your high horse, yeah YOU the reader who will undoubtedly stumble upon this article and spout out mantra’s like “you didn’t “get” it” and “it’s art, not film”, Fuck You.  I got it.  I understand EXACTLY what Haneke is trying…TRYING to accomplish.  What he’s trying to accomplish is to keep the audience focused.  See fellow Midnighters, Haneke, about 4 times through the film, has his lead, and main heavy, Paul (played beautifully by Michael Pitt, unfortunately a wasted performance) look into the camera and either give us a telling look or a nod, or directly speak to us, the audience.  Haneke does this in order to “snap” the audience out of getting to into the movie and rooting for the good guys.  He wants us to face the fact that we, the audience, don’t approve of psychos killing innocents, but DO approve of heroes killing villains.  He’s trying to make us look within ourselves, at our own justifications and rationalizations we use for committing horrible acts of violence, and in some cases, even commit murder.

His head is in the right place, he just forgot one thing.  A movie.

He didn’t need to make the good guys win.  Haneke just needed a point.  Like most art films, he does an admirable job of pointing things out, making acute observations, and addressing a hot button issue.  But when it comes to making his final stand on the argument his film is making for almost 2 unbearable hours, he simply decides to plead the fifth, by restarting the games all over again with a neighbor and then rolling credits.  It’s like reading a college term paper without a thesis.  Sure, you’ve proven you can write halfway descent, and at great length, but you never prove anything.  You just blow the whistle, but then run when people show up asking “what is that fucking noise?”

Here's Naomi Watts tied up.  I have to give you something in return for reading this right?

Here's Naomi Watts tied up. I have to give you something in return for reading this right?

The most heinous crime though, is the fact that Tim Roth, Naomi Watts, Michael Pitt, and Brady Corbet seemed to really believe in this picture.  Their acting is unreasonably good, and it shows a tremendous amount of professionalism on their parts, considering how many LONG (and by long I mean 10 minute plus static shots of the actors with no cuts) scenes their were, almost all including intense emotional performances.  All wasted, in my opinion.

Funny Games is the perfect example of why terms like “Art House” and “Artsy-Fartsy” are dirty words to most movie fans.  It seems like everytime I take the dive into the deep end of the “Art” film pool, I wind up hitting my head on the bottom.  Because being told that the water is deep, and the water actually being deep, are two completely different things.  Haneke uses nothing more than pretenious, polite dialogue, “shocking” off screen kills, and Sesame Street style gimmicks (remember how all the muppets used to talk to us, even while in the middle of a conversation with someone?) to try and pass off his boring, uninspired schlock as something more than the ultimate tease and a full on slap into the face of any self-respecting movie-goer.

It in my sincerest hope that this movie, via any medium, fails horribly.

Michael Haneke, please follow these instructions.

Michael Haneke, please follow these instructions.

06
Jan
09

The Substitute 2007 (a.k.a. Vikaren)

This trite cover does nothing to convey the genuine charm of this film.

This trite cover does nothing to convey the genuine charm of this film.

First off, let me commend the fine job Ghost House Underground has done collecting and distributing indie horror films in their first year in existence.  So far, I’ve only seen Dance of the Dead and The Substitute, which makes up for 2 of the 8 total films released through Ghost House in 2008, but they have both been dynamite little films.  And even if they wind up being the only 2 good ones out of the bunch (8), it’s still an impressive batting average for a company in it’s rookie year.

Now, onto to the review.

What happens when you combine The Faculty, The Goonies, The Witches and Monster Squad?

If you answered ” a big pile of mish mash poo poo” I totally would’ve agreed with you.

The “young kids vs. a real “monster” their parents don’t believe is real” genre has been around for almost 30 years now, yet it really hasn’t had a shot in the arm in quite some time, and has been done both very well and very poorly in the past.  It has laid fairly dormant for a while.  That is until now.

Leave it to a writer/director from Denmark, Ole Bornedal to breathe new life into a genre that Americans pioneered.

Our story concerns a small 6th grade class that gets the best news a 6th grade class can hope for.  There main teacher has been struck ill, and they will be getting a substitute.  For those of us who remember school, you probably know how exciting this can be.  Little did the kids know however, that there new teacher isn’t some lenient push over they can run rampant over, but instead a woman of immense power and inhuman abilities, who seems to be not of this world.  While there is a little more to the story than simply the young class matching wits with the nefarious new teacher, I’ll leave the details and subplots for you to explore on your own viewing.

Paprika Steen, who plays Ulla, the new mysterious teacher, really steals the show here, alongside the rag-tag, but never annoying, class.  Her performance is a bit of a combination of Famke Janssen’s role in the Faculty, mixed in with The Terminator.  Robotic motions and piercing eyes combine with a forbidden sexy charm and aloofness to make her a villain your never really sure you want to hate, because the “mission” she is here to perform is actually fairly noble.  Her class, led by Carl (Jonas Wandschneider) are also impressive, each filling out roles like the bully, the computer genius (an obvious nod to Data from the Goonies complete with the nerdy specs) the pretty girls, and the love interest for Carl, and so on.

They teach rope bondage in Denmark in the 6th grade.  Awesome.

They teach rope bondage in Denmark in the 6th grade now a days. Awesome.

Aiding the the solid performances by the main and supporting cast, is Ole Bornedal’s competitent directing.  He never gets in his own way in the pacing department, and when he has to use CGI in order to create a specific effect, he always hides it well, meaning you’ll see no “effects” in broad daylight where you can easily spot, and the make fun of, the lower budget computer animations.  Along side this knowledge, he creates a great auditory mood and visual atmosphere, and while he could have used some colors other than black, grey, white and blue, the style of the film matches the tone and subject matter, while never becoming the main focus.  Something more horror film makers should note, just because a of a scene looks good (well lit and etc.) doesn’t mean it’s a good scene.

Ulla (Paprika Steen) says Stop! In the name of love.  You'll think that joke is hilarious once you see the movie.

Ulla (Paprika Steen) says Stop! In the name of love. You'll think that joke is hilarious once you see the movie.

My only complaint is a bit of an unexplained hiccup torwards the finale, by which no means ruins the film, but feels kinda like getting a rug burn from a classmate for no reason.  Other than that small, but completely noticeable wrinkle, the only hump to get over is how willing are you to watch an R-rated kids vs. monster movie with no gore to speak of, that is driven by clever cat and mouse games, unique takes on the war of wits, and easily loved characters.  The answer to that question should be a deafening yes.

Charm, heart, and originality can all be debated, considering that a film like this couldn’t possible exist without the its obvious predecessors, but I feel this gem has those intangible qualities in spades.  With every flick trying to be the next Saw, the next big souless “Boo Scare” hit, or the next big money remake, The Substitute quietly walks into the fray, sits down, and and nearly aces the test without having to cheat off the smarter students.

I told you the kids in the class were cool.

I told you the kids in the class were cool.

Don’t be shocked when this is remade in 2 years.  The picture above expresses my feelings towards that inevitability.

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.

17
Nov
08

Splinter directed by Toby Wilkins

Looks like it's already inside that hand.

Looks like it's already inside that hand.

Splinter, an independent horror film that’s been getting a serious amount of buzz lately, deserves every bit of the flurry of interest it’s creating and then some.  Sure, it owes A LOT to its forefathers, most notably John Carpenter’s The Thing, ALIEN, and even to a lesser extent, Tremors, but that doesn’t mean that Splinter can’t stand on its own two parasite infected legs.  Toby Wilkins (who oddly enough is also directing The Grudge 3, god bless him in trying to resurrect that piece of shit horror series) has made something from nothing here.  That’s right folks, this is not a sequel, it’s not a remake or re-imagining of an Asian film, and it’s really clever, fast-paced, and surprising in ways I had forgotten horror films can be.

Our plot is familiar, a couple goes away on a camping trip alone in the woods in the back country, the tent doesn’t work and snaps, and of course they forgot to pack the spare.  So back in the SUV they go, and while driving to a motel, they are confronted by two hitchhikers, who are actually criminals on the run from the law.  The criminals take over the vehicle, but keep the couple as hostages, more or less.

The Flat tire seems to be the next logical step, but it’s WHAT they hit that is interesting, and before they know it they are at a gas station, trying to fix the now very fucked up SUV, when all hell breaks loose.

It’s not groundbreaking, and the “boo” scares aren’t going to make you shit your pants, but it’s all so well executed and framed, that it’s really easy to just slip into the atmosphere and the setting.  I quickly allowed myself to get over the fact that I’ve seen this done before, mostly because I haven’t seen it done THIS WELL before.

The cast, made up mostly of four characters, are excellent.  Shea Whigham really stands out here as someone who could easily handle a starring role in a major movie, as he plays the hardened criminal who has an amazing story to tell.  His transformation in the film is subtle, but magical.  It’s rare that ANY character development takes places in horror movies now a days, and to have one as profound and jaw-dropping as this, really elevates the movie above the “Creature Feature” title I was thinking of giving it.

Monster design is, for the most part, also somewhat subtle, but it’s also very detailed.  I won’t ruin any of the  surprise, but think along the lines of The Thing and the monsters from the recently released video game Dead Space and your on the right track.  Toby Wilkins fast editing and mild shaky camera manage to strike a balance between showing off the almost CGI less creature, and creating tension and panic visually.  I usually hate shaky cam, but it really works well here.  Sound is also very crisp and can be piercing at the right moments.  In tandem with the visual style, the technical package delivered here is very robust and professional.

Lastly, I MUST congratulate the writers, Kai Berry, Ian Shorr, and Toby Wilkins.  Not only did they manage to include some clever nods to the films that obviously inspired them (The hand gag from Evil Dead 2 makes a not-so-funny appearance here) but also have written some of the most likable and realistic characters I’ve seen in horror in quite some time.  Never do the characters do the classic “dumb” thing and get themselves killed, and the dialogue is too the point and refreshing, all the while never insulting my intelligence.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been broken away from the mood by some teenage jerk in horror flicks talking about a girls boobs while their best friend gets his guts spilled out by a monster.

Splinter is about as lean, mean, and streamlined as modern horror is going to get.  It wastes little time, keeps you involved with refreshingly smart heroes and villains, and is presented with so much piss and vigor, it’s really difficult not to fall in love with something in this movie.

Get Splintered today.