REVIEW: DARK WAS THE NIGHT (2014 / Released 2015)

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Distribution/Production Company(s): RLJE/Image Entertainment, Caliber Media, Sundial Pictures, Foggy Bottom Pictures, Molecule, Preferred Content
Directed by: Jack Heller
Written By: Tyler Hisel
Starring: Kevin Durand, Lukas Haas, Bianca Kajlich, Heath Freeman, Sabina Gadecki, Steve Agee, and Nick Damici
Running Time: 1 hr. 34 min.
Rating: Not Rated (As Far As I Could Tell)

SYNOPSIS:

Maiden Woods is a remote and quiet town of decent hard-working people, but something stirs in the dark woods surrounding this isolated community. After a logging company decimates an area of the forest, a rash of increasingly violent and unexplainable events transpires. Sheriff Paul Shields (Kevin Durand) and his deputy (Lukas Haas) struggle to confront their own personal demons while facing down a new breed of raw terror that is possibly older than humanity itself… And much, much hungrier.

When DARK WAS THE NIGHT began with images of trees being cut down and sawdust & wood shavings being spewed out of a chipper, I was worried we were going to have to sit through another “don’t mess with nature, or you’ll piss nature off!” kind of film. Thankfully we get out of this without yet another speech drafted by the PR folk over at Greenpeas. That being said, it’s the very action of logging (and the swift, bloody death of a logging crew and Steve Agee) that sets the beast on it’s rampage 90 miles to the south in the little, isolated, backwoods town of Maiden Woods.

We’re first introduced to Sheriff Paul Shields and his deputy Donny Saunders as they are investigating the strange disappearance of horse number 88 (they all have numbered bridles…don’t worry, like Chekhov’s gun, this comes into play later in the film). With other things on his mind, and what seems to be nothing more than a possible open gate (though the farmer denies it) and an escaped horse, Sheriff Shields leaves stating that he’ll look out for the missing horse 88.

CONTINUE READING FOR THE ENTIRE DARK WAS THE NIGHT REVIEW!

REVIEW: SEPTIC MAN (2013)

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Distribution/Production Company(s): Starz Digital Media
Directed by: Jesse Thomas Cook
Written By: Tony Burgess
Starring: Jason David Brown, Molly Dunsworth, Tim Burd, Robert Maillet, Julian Richings
Guest Starring: Stephen McHattie
Running Time: 87 minutes
Rating: Rated R for disturbing vile and gruesome images, violence and language

Before we get going with a synopsis for SEPTIC MAN, I’d like to treat you to the very opening scene of the film. It may give you a little insight into what you have to look forward to throughout the rest of the film.

And thus our tale begins…

Synopsis:

From the creators of MONSTER BRAWL, EXIT HUMANITY, and PONTYPOOL comes this award-winning origin story of Jack, a sewage worker who’s determined to uncover the cause of the town’s water contamination crisis. But when he becomes trapped underground in a septic tank without food or water he undergoes a hideous and repulsive transformation. In order to escape the tank, he must team up with a docile Giant and confront a murdering madman. Hailed as a “stunning” (Little Red Umbrella), “funny” (TwitchFilm), and “visceral story that will leave you shaken – and desperate for a shower” (Rue Morgue Magazine), SEPTIC MAN is a cinematic odyssey into the darkest depths of horror and beyond.

CONTINUE READING FOR THE ENTIRE SEPTIC MAN REVIEW!

REVIEW: BUTCHER BOYS (2013)

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Distribution/Production Company(s): Phase 4 Films, Greeks Productions, Kitchen Sink Productions
Directed by: Duane Graves & Justin Meeks
Written By: Kim Henkel, also carrying a Producing Credit, & based loosely upon A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
Starring: Ali Faulkner, Johnny Walter, Derek Lee Nixon, Matt Hensarling, Phillip Wolfe, Tory Tompkins, Justin Meeks, Tom Byrne, Sonny Carl Davis, Ed Neal, Terri McMinn, John Dugan, Marilyn Burns, Bill Johnson, Gregory Kelly, Jon Clinkenbeard, Matt Beene, Katie Patterson, Jack Lee
Running Time: 88 minutes
Rating: Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexual content and nudity

Synopsis:

From the creator of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes this gut-wrenching, non-stop roller coaster ride through the hellish underbelly of inner-city America. Starring Ali Faulkner, Johnny Walter, Derek Lee Nixon, Tory Tompkins, and Gregory Kelly, a birthday celebration at an upscale restaurant sets in motion events that bring a group of friends face to face with the macabre world of cannibals, the Butcher Boys. The Butcher Boys are international predators who deal in human ­flesh.

We at Backwoods Horror have been excited about BUTCHER BOYS since news first began to leak out about the film back when it was still titled BONEBOYS way back in 2010. Being big fans of the directing duo of Duane Graves & Justin Meeks (Headcheese, Wild Man Of The Navidad), in addition to the script by original Texas Chainsaw Massacre co-writer Kim Henkel (a former screenwriting teacher of Graves and Meeks), how could we NOT dig it. Crazy cannibal goodness, while showing up now and again in indie horror, now had one of the original masters of the form behind it and two promising up and coming directors with the chops to pull it off.

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CONTINUE READING FOR THE FULL BUTCHER BOYS REVIEW!

REVIEW: DO NOT DISTURB

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Distribution/Production Company: RLJ Entertainment, Ruthless Pictures, Image Entertainment
Directed by: B.C. Furtney
Written By: B.C. Furtney
Starring: Stephen Geoffreys, Tiffany Shepis, Ezra Buzzington, Corey Haim
Running Time: 88 minutes
Rating: Not Rated

SYNOPSIS:

Holed up in a seedy hotel, Hollywood screenwriter Don Malek (Fright Night & 976-Evil‘s Stephen Geoffreys) is scripting a diabolical plan for revenge. But instead of writing about a bloodthirsty serial killer, Don is doing the dirty work with his own hands. Tiffany Shepis (The Violent Kind, Night Of The Demons Remake) and Corey Haim (The Lost Boys) also star in this gritty, jolting thriller where no one is safe…and checkout time is sooner than you think.

I’m not exactly certain where to begin with B.C. Furtney’s DO NOT DISTURB. I just spent the weekend watching it. Well, not the entire weekend, of course, but I watched it 3 times. I generally do that for films before I write a review so I can get a good grasp (or so I hope) on it. With DO NOT DISTURB, however, I continually had this odd sensation that I was missing something. It seemed as though there were parts missing, like some obscure Italian horror film from the 70’s that someone cut the real juicy bits out of. Thus began the mysterious tale of two movies. DO NOT DISTURB was originally, way back in 2010, titled NEW TERMINAL HOTEL. I’m fairly certain the title was changed in order to reach a larger audience as “DO NOT DISTURB” has more of a thriller feel to it than the oddly specific “NEW TERMINAL HOTEL,” particularly when paired with an ominous streak of blood. But was that all that had been changed?

CONTINUE READING AFTER THE BREAK FOR THE FULL REVIEW OF DO NOT DISTURB!

REVIEW: EUROPA REPORT (2013)

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Distribution/Production Company: Magnet Releasing, Wayfare Entertainment, Start Motion Pictures
Directed By: Sebastián Cordero
Written By: Philip Gelatt
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Anamaria Marinca, Christian Camargo, Karolina Wydra, Embeth Davidtz, Dan Fogler
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action and peril

I often find myself hearing the word “awesome” incorrectly in every day conversation. If we’re being brutally honest here, I too have used the word on more than one occasion. It is too often used to describe things that in no way actually inspire awe. In the case of the new science fiction thriller EUROPA REPORT (in theaters and on demand now), however, the film inspires such an immense sense of awe, the most accurate thing I can say when describing the film to friends and family is, “this film is truly awesome!”

Inspiring awe and amazement within an audience on a limited budget can often be impossible with filmmakers finding themselves unable to accomplish their vision and, at times, leaving us in the middle of an emotional wasteland with no direction or understanding of what just occurred. Sebastian Cordero and Screenwriter Philip Gelatt, along with an outstanding team of actors and crew, regardless of any possible financial restrictions, were able to inspire within us a feeling of discovery, imagination, and human perseverance in the face of the complete and absolute unknown.

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On November 16th, 2011, NASA, in the search for life beyond the confines of Earth, received data from the Galileo space probe that appeared to show a discovery of a vast supply of liquid water below the icy surface of the Jupiter Moon: Europa. Excited by the possibility that there could perhaps be many more such lakes in the more shallow ice regions of Europa, scientists were driven by the possibility that such expanses of water may provide some form of habitation for life. The privately funded Europa One Mission was devised and created to send a small crew of the world’s best scientists, engineers, and astronauts further than any human being had traveled before. The mission was to discover what mysteries Europa may hold for science and, perhaps, the future of the human race and its role in the universe.

KEEP READING FOR THE FULL EUROPA REPORT REVIEW!

REVIEW: THE TURNPIKE KILLER (2012)

Distribution/Production Company: New York Horror Film Productions
Directed by: Evan Makrogiannis
Written By: Evan Makrogiannis & Brian Weaver
Starring: Bill McLaughlin, Edgar Moye, Lyndsey Brown, Vinny Ward, Ruby Larocca, & Manoush
Running Time: 129 minutes
Rating: Unrated

Synopsis:

In a city that never sleeps, a killer prowls the streets at night. Over a span of ten years, the butchered remains of New York City women have been found dumped along the New Jersey Turnpike. The sadistic fiend behind these horrific murders has been dubiously termed “THE TURNPIKE KILLER.” His search for “The Chosen One” leaving an endless trail of bloodshed and brutality, NYPD Homicide Detective Lloyd is on the case as “The Turnpike Killer” continues to evade capture. Keep off the streets at night, stay out of the tunnels, and avoid the bridges because you can’t escape when all roads lead to terror!

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For the past few years, horror fans have been yearning for a return to the heyday of 80’s slasher/grindhouse fare. This is probably due in some part to nostalgia, but I tend to believe that the horror films you and I grew up with, dear fiendish readers, are simply just so much better than the over-polished tripe that we’ve been fed for decades now. That’s not to say that a few gems haven’t shone through the immense amount of sludge, with even a few studio efforts making the grade. The finest horror fare these days, however, is thanks to independent filmmakers who just couldn’t get enough of the genre classics on VHS.

Some of my fondest memories are of going with my brother and father to the local mom ‘n pop independent video stores and staring longingly at hours on end of that wide variety of titles available with box covers, oven in gruesome blood red color, depicting a taste of what I could expect inside. Upon meeting the director of THE TURNPIKE KILLER, Evan Makrogiannis at a special screening of a VHS copy of the original Mother’s Day, I learned that he too was an independent filmmaker and kindred spirit when it came to the genre we all love and admire. After a brief conversation on the re-emergence of VHS as a popular platform, he produced a copy of his film, THE TURNPIKE KILLER, in, of all things, an 80’s style big-box VHS case. That’s right boils ‘n ghouls, Evan, being a true fan, put so much thought not only into his film, but it’s release as well. Inside I found not only the DVD, but a VHS copy and a signed poster for the film signed by none other than budding scream queen Ruby LaRocca!

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With all of this attention to detail, I couldn’t wait to watch the film (though, admittedly, it took forever to find a VCR because I wanted to see the film in the format it so clearly was meant for as well as the DVD). THE TURNPIKE KILLER is a very strong entry into the genre by a first time filmmaker on a budget. Shot originally on DV, the film was later put through a process to give it that grindhouse 16mm look we all know and love to better match the material within. I’m not talking about the fake pops and scratches Tarantino and co. poorly tried to replicate in his Grindhouse double feature. THE TURNPIKE KILLER looks as though it could actually be a lost film from the 80’s era. With this mood set, I was incredibly excited for the ride I was about to take and I was not disappointed.

CONTINUE READING AFTER THE BREAK FOR THE FULL REVIEW FOR THE TURNPIKE KILLER!

REVIEW: KILLER JOE (2011)

Theatrical Release Date: July 27, 2012 (Limited)
Distribution Company: Lionsgate
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written By: Tracy Letts
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, & Thomas Haden Church
Running Time: 102 minutes
Rating: NC-17

SYNOPSIS:

When 22-year-old Chris (Emile Hirsch) finds himself in debt to a drug lord, he hires a hit man to dispatch his mother, whose $50,000 life insurance policy benefits his sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Chris finds Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a creepy, crazy Dallas cop who moonlights as a contract killer. When Chris can’t pay Joe upfront, Joe sets his sight on Dottie as collateral for the job. The contract killer and his hostage develop an unusual bond. Like from a modern-day, twisted fairy tale, “Killer Joe” Cooper becomes the prince to Dottie’s Cinderella.

Any regular reader of Backwoods Horror knows that, while horror is our usual thing, we absolutely dig on films that fall under the genre we like to call “Dirty South,” a version of the Southern Gothic genre. If there’s ever been a film more befitting of being called a “Dirty South” movie, it’s KILLER JOE. I know it’s not overtly professional to say as such, but I LOVE this film.

KILLER JOE has to be one of the darkest, grittiest “dirty south” films I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen more than my fair share (POOR PRETTY EDDIE comes to mind). It’s rare when a film comes along where the perfect combination of direction and acting converge to make a (well almost) perfect film. Friedkin did a fantastic job, between the use of film stock, filters (giving the feeling of a gritty, almost 70’s grindhouse film), excellent shot composition, and locations (though set in Texas, Friedkin masterfully found perfectly decrepit locations throughout Louisiana), I actually became immersed in the film (not something that usually happens to this somewhat jaded reviewer). Perhaps it has something to do with me coming from an incredibly rural part of the South, parts of this film looked as though they could’ve been taken right out of life as it is today in some places down there – harsh…cruel…dirty.

The acting was phenomenal in this film. Thankfully, part of the cast actually is from Texas, and the accents, usually overblown and unbelievable in most films set in the South, were believable, a fantastic choice on the part of  Friedkin because that will always, ALWAYS pull the viewer out of a film, take it from a born and bred Southerner. I was even considerably surprised to learn Juno Temple was an English actress as she absolutely nailed the accent. Every actor in this film played their parts to perfection, performing the actor’s task of drawing in the viewer and questioning just where things are going to go. Matthew McConaughey, of course, is the obvious standout as Killer Joe Cooper. Playing against his usual type as the romantic lead, he played the character with a cold, calculated viciousness I haven’t seen onscreen in a very long time. He expressed so much in the character with just a stare, stated by Juno Temple’s character Dottie with “your eyes hurt.” I don’t know which was more chilling, when Joe was his cold, calculating self, or when he let the animal out (something I haven’t seen expressed from McConaughey since TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION). And though it was barely audible, Friedkin did this wonderful audio cue whenever Joe entered the scene in the beginning with the sound of cicadas and the flicking of his Zippo, both of which, while in themselves normally innate, became ominous sounds of dread.

While usually not a fan of anything Emile Hirsch is in (not even the critically acclaimed INTO THE WILD), I believe he’s growing as an actor as his performance of the ever distressed Chris Smith was believable and even, to a point, sympathetic. Indebted to a southern mob boss the character, after initially being tricked, continues to make one mistake after another and, via Emile Hirsch’s brilliant portrayal, we see a young man falling deeper and deeper into dispair and desperation bringing the viewer to sympathize and pity his plight as he continues to look for a way out, eventually taking on the characteristics of a caged beast.

Aside from McConaughey, Juno Temple has been receiving a lot of attention as the almost mystical Dottie Smith. Though seeming like a young, naive white trash young woman, her character (as the viewer comes to realize) sees more than any other character in the film. Almost childlike, her character, initially, is put up as collateral as Chris has nothing to pay Joe upfront for the assassination of Chris’s mother for her life insurance. Joe, at first, considers her nothing but a retainer, a plaything of sorts, but over time the two fall in love, making things somewhat…complicated once again for Chris. Meanwhile Dottie remains quiet, willing to go along with things, but, unlike the other characters, seeing the truth of things from the very beginning, and sick of being used as a pawn, leading to an end that must be seen to be believed (no spoilers here boils ‘n ghouls).

The supporting cast, as well, are exemplary. Thomas Haden Church plays the ever unaware Ansel Smith, constantly clad in dirty work clothes and trucker hat, he brings a sense of dark humor to an otherwise incredibly disturbing film. And he plays his part to perfection. While by no means innocent, Ansel portrays the sense of the white trash everyman, a man who just wants to live and let live and gets caught up in things beyond his control.

And rounding up the cast is Gina Gershon as Sharla Smith, Ansel’s second wife and, as with McConaughey, plays against type as white trash and mean as they come. Using Ansel as little more than a plaything, she orders him around like a dog and Ansel, true to character, goes right along with it without so much as a fuss. She plays her character perfectly as the scheming, trailer trash stepmom. I grew up around these people, people who truly hate the situation they’re in and are willing to do anything, anything to get out of it. I’m not going to go into too much detail on that as I promised before, no spoilers. There’s something else about Gershon as an actress in this film…the woman is brave. The things she has to endure as an actress of her calibre are truly horrifying the the viewer is left with a conundrum as to whether or not she deserves it; her cruelty, in the end, ultimately turned against her. But like Ansel says at one point towards the end, “you made your bed.”

KILLER JOE is one of the best films I’ve seen in a very, very long time. Every line, nearly every shot, hell, just about every aspect of the film all fit together perfectly, making it an almost perfect film. That’s a rare thing in this day in age when very little care seems to be put into filmmaking anymore. While I, personally, would suggest this film to everyone I know (excepting, perhaps, my mother), this is a hard film to watch. Throughout the entire film, things continue to get worse for the characters and the violence (necessary in all cases and not in the least bit exploitative) escalates to a final 20 minutes or so that just has to be seen to be believed. This film truly surprised me. Not by the violence or incredibly harsh nature of the film (earning it an NC-17), but just how perfectly it was put together. Nothing is wasted, every actor plays their character naturally. It’s as if you’re truly gaining a glimpse into the dark underbelly of the “dirty south” I’ve spoken about on a few occasions. Friedkin and Letts opened a portal into the brutal nature of man with complete sincerity, making KILLER JOE an incredibly important film not to be missed.

4 Out Of 5 Skulls

Technical Aspects:

The KILLER JOE Unrated Director’s Cut Blu-Ray is a work of art. The 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is perfect, with even the smallest detail seen and heard as it ought to be, in crystal clear clarity.

The special features include: “Southern Fried Hospitality: From Stage to Screen” offered an incredible insight into how a stage play set in essentially one room was taken into Friedkin’s hands and made into a Southern Gothic world.

Other special features are an audio commentary from director William Friedkin that is nothing less than interesting and engaging.

Additionally, there is also a SXSW Q&A with the cast and SXSW Intro by Friedkin.

And rounding out the special features is the special “White Trash” Red Band Trailer.

 

REVIEW: THE TALL MAN (2012)

Theatrical Release Date: August 31, 2012
Distribution Company: Image Entertainment
Written and Directed by: Pascal Laugier
Starring: Jessica Biel, Jodelle Ferland, Stephen McHattie, William B. Davis, and Samantha Ferris Running Time: 106 minutes
Rating: R

“800,000 Children are reported missing each year in the USA. Most are found within a few days. 1000 Children disappear without leaving a trace…”

I wasn’t, at first, certain a review for Pascal Laugier’s THE TALL MAN was appropriate for this site. The marketing campaign and all the news leading up to this film led me (and everyone else) to believe the film was going to be an incredibly dark horror film, something incredibly twisted from the director of MARTYRS. What Laugier created, however, turned out to be an incredibly dark,  grim, shadowy mystery thriller.
In an isolated, slowly dying former mining town of Cold Rock, nestled in a valley between the haunting, misty mountains somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, children are vanishing at an alarming rate without a trace – abducted  by a mysterious entity known locally, whispered amongst the townsfolk as “The Tall Man.” Abducting children in the blink of an eye, what few eye-witnesses there are describe a tall, man-like creature clothed in a black, tattered, hooded cloak, and as the legend spreads the story even makes state television news.
With the kidnappings becoming an epidemic and making national news, a federal investigator Lt. Dodd (Stephen McHattie) is called in to assist the local sheriff, Sheriff Chestnut (William B. Davis) in his efforts to track down this mysterious legend, be it man or beast. Despite their best efforts, however, they are unable to stop the abductions as more and more children continue to disappear leaving the town in a state of panic and fear as one of their children may be next.

Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) runs the area’s free medical clinic, a task left to her after her husband (the town’s only doctor) passed away. Multiple town residents looked to her husband as the one man who kept the town together after the mine shut down and Julia, “only a nurse,” tries somewhat unsuccessfully to fill his shoes as most of the townsfolk tend to inexplicably treat her like dirt. Living outside of town in a rather large home in the woods (perhaps another reason the townsfolk don’t like her, given that the majority of people in town live in trailers and shanties) with her sister or nanny (it isn’t made quite clear in the film) Christine, it turns out that even she isn’t immune to the tall man as her son David (Jakob Davies), is violently abducted from their home one night.
Julia, awoken by a radio blasting a holy roller station finds Christine, beaten and gagged, in the corner. Panicking, she runs upstairs to find David gone, running back downstairs only to catch a glimpse of The Tall Man as he runs with almost supernatural speed to an old truck reminiscent of the truck from JEEPERS CREEPERS. Unwilling to give up without a fight, she’s able to latch onto the truck and a fight ensues between her and The Tall Man (while a German Shepard gnaws on her leg by the way) that results into the truck crashing and The Tall Man escaping into the woods with David. This is all witnessed by Jenny (Jodelle Ferland), a mute trailer park pre-teen Julia has been trying to help throughout the film who plays a role later on but…spoilers…
I can’t go into much more detail here without giving away spoilers but suffice it to say that what we’ve been led to believe about everything: the townsfolk, The Tall Man, and even Julia is not at all what it seems, with Lugier playing upon our presumptions of just what exactly is going on. Here, a well constructed, dark thriller becomes a mystery as the viewer is left wondering just what exactly is going on.
While I was initially annoyed at the marketing bait ‘n switch, expecting a warped supernatural horror film from one of the new wave of french horror directors. After my first viewing, I was going to give this one a pass as far as giving it a review, given that it doesn’t exactly pertain to what this site is all about, but then I watched it again…and again, and came to realize that this film was not only beautifully shot (kudos to cinematographer Kamal Derkaoui), but came to the realization that Pascal Laugier is an artist when it comes to manipulating expectations and emotions. With MARTYRS, he filled us with a sense of dread and carried that emotion throughout the film, not only creating what many have termed a “gore film,” but a work of art that transcended such simplistic notions and made us question ourselves as well.

Now he’s done it again with THE TALL MAN. Laugier is a master at writing and direction when it comes to bringing the best out of his actors. He pushed Morjana Alaoui to the absolute limit of emotional expression in MARTYRS. And he’s done it again in THE TALL MAN. Jessica Biel is incredible in this film. Known throughout the industry as “just another pretty face,” she broke away from that notion giving a believable, heart-wrenching, award winning performance. Though horror fans and gore hounds may find themselves let down by THE TALL MAN, once again, as with MARTYRS, Laugier truly reached deep into the audience with this film,  having us question our perceptions, ourselves, and, end the end, what is wrong, and what is right…and can the two be the synonymous…

The rating system is going to be a bit tricky here, because as a horror film, THE TALL MAN, well, simply isn’t, not really. But as a mystery/thriller, as well as an incredible film overall, THE TALL MAN performs incredibly well. So in the history of BACKWOODS HORROR REVIEWS, a film gets two ratings.

AS A HORROR FILM: ONE SKULL OUT OF FIVE

AS A DARK MYSTERY/THRILLER: THREE AND A HALF SKULLS OUT OF FIVE
 

 

REVIEW: V/H/S (2012)

Release Date: August 31, 2012 (VOD), October 5, 2012 (Home Video)
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Directors:  Adam Wingard, Ti West, David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence
Screenwriters:  Simon Barrett, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, David Bruckner, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg
Starring:  Joe Swanberg, Calvin Reeder, Adam Wingard, Sophia Takal, Kate Lyn Sheil, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella, Tyler Gillett
Genre:  Horror
MPAA Rating: R

V/H/S has been described as a horror film that will, as a fan on Reddit put it, “restore your faith in horror films,” and the hype machine has been out of control leading up to its VOD release. As happens far too often, when a film is hyped as the most horrifying film you’ll ever see; marketed and hyped to a point where the word saturated becomes appropriate (people who haven’t even seen the film are pushing it as the “next big thing in horror.”), things don’t often turn out as promised. Sadly, such is the case with V/H/S.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good film, an ok horror film with scares here and there that really pay off, but a film that will change the horror world forever? No…not in the least. V/H/S is an anthology film, so let’s start with the wraparound story.

[TAPE 56] (Directed by Adam Wingard) is about a group of four voyeuristic petty criminal assholes who get their kicks taping crimes such as assaulting a woman to get a cheap breast shot and vandalizing a house sell their videos anonymously online. A fan (which they only find slightly strange, given that they exhibit/sell their work anonymously) offers a large sum of money to break into a house in the middle of nowhere to retrieve a specific video.

Unquestioningly, the group decides to go for it but find out things aren’t going to be the cakewalk they were led to believe. Upon arriving at the home, the place is a mess, with VHS tapes everywhere. The information they were given was that the only occupant of the house is an old man that’d sleep through the entire break-in if they kept things quiet, but when they get there they find the old man sitting dead in front of a glowing stack of old televisions and VCRs along with a pile of unmarked tapes. One of the group of thugs is left behind to go through all of them while the others explore the house, two specifically exploring the basement thinking the tape they’re looking for might be in storage while the other searches the house. The one left behind with the dead man pushes play on the VCR, beginning the anthology of horror to come.

[Tape 1: AMATEUR NIGHT] (Directed by David Bruckner) begins with three guys, two jock-ish types and a smaller guy they’ve talked into wearing a pair of hipster glasses with a camera inside. The plan for the evening is to go out, get trashed frat boy style, bring a few ladies back to a hotel room and make their own little porn flick. Unfortunately for them, they pick the wrong two women. One, so incredibly drunk, passes out immediately, so all three (despite some reservations from the little guy with the camera glasses) move in on the second woman and a night they thought they’d remember forever turns into a nightmare of blood and carnage as things are not quite what they seem.

As AMATEUR NIGHT ends, we cut back to TAPE 56 with a two of the guys down in the basement looking through boxes and boxes of tapes trying to find one in particular. Unable to do so, it’s decided to just take all of them when, in the shadows, a naked man runs across the frame. The guy behind the camera tries to tell the other one what he just saw but the other one doesn’t believe him, saying “let’s just get this shit and go.” Meanwhile, upstairs, freaked out, the third guy puts in the second tape.

[Tape 2: SECOND HONEYMOON] (Directed by Ti West) follows a couple as they travel across the South West on their (presumably from the title) second honeymoon. It looks about like what you’d expect as they take in the sights, checking out the Grand Canyon, having a stranger get them together in the frame for posterity. Then their first night in a hotel, they receive a strange request from a mysterious female stranger for a ride. They find it weird but decide not to call the police. But then the next night the mysterious stranger is back and the camera is on them as she’s in their hotel room as they lay sleeping.

[Tape 3: TUESDAY THE 17th] (Directed by Gleen McQuaid) starts off with 4 friends in a car, your typical slasher film fare: the brunette intelligent girl, the ditzy blonde girl, the nerdy guy in love with the ditzy blonde, and the handsome one. The brunette, Wendy, is taking them all for a day trip out to the middle of nowhere, neglecting to mention a series of murders had taken place in that exact location years before. Unfortunately for them, the murderer is still on the loose, and still looking for victims.

We cut back to TAPE 56 with two of the thieves in the room with the dead man in the chair, wondering what could possibly be taking the other two so long. One goes to look for them in the basement while the other stays behind to put in another tape.

[Tape 4: THE SICK THING THAT HAPPENED TO EMILY WHEN SHE WAS YOUNGER] (Directed by Joe Swanberg) takes place between a guy, James, and his girlfriend Emily via video chat on their laptops. Emily has just moved into a new apartment, and things seem fine at first. Then strange things begin to happen in Emily’s apartment. Doors slam, strange sounds keep coming from a particular room, and her boyfriend James is helpless to watch over video chat as the horror only intensifies.

Back to TAPE 56, the leader of the group of thieves (I’ve taken to calling him “Moustache Guy” for fairly obvious reasons) comes into the room with all of the TV’s and VCR’s to find the other thief who had been watching the tapes gone…along with the dead man in the chair. Sensing something has gone horribly wrong he rushes from the room. Finding one of his friends decapitated in the hallway, he runs screaming through the house, trying to find his other friends. It will be the last we see of TAPE 56 which isn’t such a bad thing really because as a wraparound story to tie the others together, it itself wasn’t very frightening and seemed there only to serve the singular purpose of moving the other stories forward.

[Tape 5: 10/31/98] (Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Chad Villella, Tyler Gillet, & Justin Martinez – All under the banner of RADIO SILENCE) finds a group of friends getting ready for a Halloween bash, but get lost on their way to the party. Unsure if it’s the right house or not, they go in anyway, but no one else is there. Thinking it a Halloween prank, they begin to search around the house. As strange things begin to unfold, they find too late that they’ve come to the wrong house at the wrong time. Very strange, very horrible things are happening in that house that all lead to a climax that push the friends to the very brink of madness and terror as they realize too late what a horrible mistake they’ve made.

 

As I said at the beginning of this review, V/H/S has been saturated with undeserved hype, much to its discredit. I don’t say this because I hated the film, much to the contrary, I actually enjoyed parts of it and there were a select few bits within the anthology that were genuinely frightening. V/H/S was an ambitious project to say the least, bringing together some of the top talent in the independent horror filmmaking world to take the tired found footage genre and create something new out of it. They succeeded admirably in creating a mix tape of various genre tropes this reviewer had never seen by combining the anthology and found footage horror genres, sometimes successfully, and not quite so successfully at others.

The two best out of the bunch had to be AMATEUR NIGHT and 10/31/98 in terms of creativity and style. The creature effects in AMATEUR NIGHT and certain camera angles brought a level of fear and tension many of the others in the anthology lacked. 10/31/98 was perhaps my favorite of the bunch, not only because of the twist on the viewer’s expectations, but because of the final scene as the friends race from the house, even if some of those effects were lifted directly from Roman Polanski’s REPULSION, that was still an amazing, heart pounding escape from that house of horrors.

That being said, however, there were some major issues with this film. First and foremost, the characters: nearly none of them were likeable. Each character, with the exception of, let’s call him “Camera Glasses,” in AMATEUR NIGHT and a few of the friends in 10/31/98 were either annoying, stupid (Emily, I’m looking at you) or outright assholes. This is a problem found more and more in horror films these days. The audience (unless they’re assholes themselves) cannot relate to the characters and therefore no one cares what happens to them. I realize it is difficult to establish character traits within a limited time frame, but it can be done. And in this case, I was left simply not caring about most of the characters in this film, or what happened to them.

And then there are the varying stories themselves. Some were done incredibly well. AMATEUR NIGHT, regardless of three quarters of the cast being incredibly annoying frat boy types, actually instilled a good deal of horror when the defecation hit the oscillation. I could almost feel the terror the characters felt when things went so terribly wrong. I was incredibly let down by SECOND HONEYMOON. I suppose I’ve come to expect more from Ti West, but it seemed almost like he phoned it in on this one. There were one or two genuine moments where the creep factor was turned up to eleven, but overall, it didn’t feel so much like a horror short as it did a slightly more violent Lifetime Channel original.

TUESDAY THE 17th was incredibly amateurish, which may have been the point in a way but it just went overboard. I expect more from the man who directed I SELL THE DEAD, a film I absolutely adore. The “horrific camera malfunction” bits were interesting, but the acting was outright horrid and unbelievable which caused it to fail overall when it came to frightening the audience. I WILL give it credit, however, for making it look as though it could’ve really been shot by just some group of kids out in the woods which brought, if nothing else did, a certain realism to it. THE SICK THING THAT HAPPENED TO EMILY WHEN SHE WAS YOUNGER may have been the worst of the bunch. While I applaud the use of modern video chat communication’s integration into the film, the acting was far too flat for me to get overly invested in the characters, even when the strange events began to occur to Emily in her new apartment. The twist at the end was nice, even if I did suspect something similar to it coming, it at least showed that though the acting was awful, the writer and director were trying to do something innovative with recorded video chat (something so prevalent in our lives these days) and an added twist that tied things together neatly.

I was lucky enough to attend a press screening for this film some weeks ago and it’s taken me this long to write the review simply because, while I was disappointed a great deal thanks to the hype machine that made this film out to be the next great hope for horror cinema, the project itself was inspiring and various parts of the film were quite good, while a great deal of the film wasn’t. I applaud all the writers and filmmakers for attempting something new, something more independent horror filmmakers should take note of, and though I didn’t find V/H/S to be “the next big thing in horror” cinema or the best horror film of the year, I should hope its example to risk something new will be taken to heart by independent horror writers, directors, and producers to push the boundaries of what horror films can be.

Two And A Half Out Of Five Skulls

REVIEW: INTRUDERS (2012)

Review: INTRUDERS
Directed by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Starring: Clive Owen, Carice Van Houten, Daniel Brühl, Pilar López de Ayala, Ella Purnell, Izán Corchero
Release Date: July 17th on VOD, Blu-Ray, & DVD
Bonus Features: “Making of” Featurette, “Inside Look” – Behind-the-Scenes Featurette

From everything I had read about INTRUDERS, I was lead to believe it to be a film about a vicious supernatural, home invading, child stalking slasher. That, in and of itself, would’ve been interesting, but after viewing the film (more than once I might add), I found it to be so very much more.

The film follows the two families in Spain and England, both terrorized by the menacing creature known as Hollow Face. We open in Spain where a young boy Juan (Izán Corchero) is plagued by nightmares of a faceless, wraith-like creature. Following his cat out onto a fire escape, he witnesses the creature slip in through his window. Following it, Juan finds it attacking his mother and in an attempt to save her, the creature chases him resulting in a terrifying fight for survival as it grasps at him until Juan wakes up screaming. Upon waking, his mother, Luisa (Pilar López de Ayala), assures him that it was only a nightmare though the look of terror in her eyes is unmistakable. We are then introduced to construction worker John Farrow (Clive Owen), and his family in England. While he’s working on a job, his daughter Mia (Ella Purnell) and wife Susanna (Carice Van Houten) are visiting Farrow’s parents in the country. Following her cat (as Juan did in his dream), Mia finds an old wooden box hidden in the hollow of an old tree, wherein she finds an old written story of Hollow Face.

“Hollow Face woke up because someone called his name…”

Mia rewrites the story for a school project, calling out to Hollow Face, and that’s when the nightmares begin for her and her family. The film continues to switch back and forth between the families in Spain and England as Hollow Face continues his nightmarish quest to steal the children’s faces. The parents, believing Hollow Face to be that of nightmares, try in their own way to allay their children’s fears. Juan’s mother relies on her faith while Mia’s parents try psychotherapy, but as Hollow Face exists within the space of nightmares and reality, there may be no way of stopping him.

I was incredibly disappointed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 WEEKS LATER, but that had more to do with the writing than the direction which itself was admirably done. Unfortunately, the same thing happened here. From the description above, INTRUDERS sounds like it should be an interesting film with an incredibly nightmarishly interesting villain, and it was working for the first third of the film, and then the story begin to go downhill quickly into a confusing mire where it seemed the writers Nicolás Casariego and Jaime Marques weren’t quite sure where they wanted to go. There were scenes that were completely unnecessary to the plot, such as the death of one of Farrow’s co-workers falling to their deaths for example.It was as if the writers lost their footing for a while, but thankfully things began to pick back up again in the third act bringing the film back to a point where it was once again engaging (which is about as much as I can tell you without revealing any spoilers).

Fresnadillo’s direction was perhaps the best part of the film, as tends to occur with his films. Every shot seemed expertly designed to enhance the various elements of specific scenes. I particularly enjoyed his use of interesting placement another director may not have thought to use, such as the shot from inside the knot hole of the tree invoking something akin to Alice looking down the rabbit hole and the mystery beyond. It was that usage of symbology and artistic filmmaking that took what could’ve been a very badly written, incoherent (for the most part) film and gave it a dreamlike (or, rather, nightmarish) quality akin to the cinematic fairy tales of Guillermo del Toro as opposed to the genre fare one might expect from the synopsis.

Two And A Half Out Of Five Skulls