The Killing Jar


Michael Madsen is tired of being mistaken for Tom Sizemore.

Michael Madsen is tired of being mistaken for Tom Sizemore.

(2010) Suspense (New Films International) Michael Madsen, Harold Perrineau, Amber Benson, Danny Trejo, Jake Busey, Kevin Gage, Lew Temple, Lindsey Axelsson, Talan Torriero, Patrick Durham, Jonathan Sachar, Emily Catherine Young, Mark H. Young (voice), Todd Davis. Directed by Mark Young

There is something intimate about a late night diner. Few customers, each with their own story, their own drama, their own tragedy. Why are they there? For some, it’s just a way station, a temporary stop on the journey between here and there. Others have nowhere else to go. A few, a very few, are waiting for something…anything.

This diner in particular is in the middle of nowhere special. The cook, Jimmy (Trejo) isn’t cooking food to write home about but it ain’t bad either. The waitress Noreen (Benson) probably deserves better than this but still here she is, just trying to make ends meet and not always succeeding. Lonnie (Temple) is a cop who stops here regularly; there aren’t many dining choices late at night in this small town. Billy (Torriero) and Starr (Axelsson) are eloping; they’re excited and in love, but also hungry. There’s also Smith (Perrineau), a salesman heading out into his territory to ply his trade, stopping for a quick meal before finding some place to hole up for the night. Then there’s Hank (Gage) whose story nobody really knows.

On the radio is fearful news; a family one county over has been massacred. Everyone’s a bit uneasy over this; that’s not the sort of thing that happens in a place like this. Then Doe (Madsen) comes in. He’s twitchy, dressed in black leather and angry that he can’t get the steak he wants. Noreen, thinking he might be the miscreant responsible for the multiple murder, spills coffee on him. After she discusses her suspicions with Lonnie (who is skeptical) and Hank (who thinks she might be onto something), Lonnie attempts to question Doe who proves uncooperative. The radio report had specified that the killer had gotten away in a black truck; it becomes clear that Doe is driving a red one. Lonnie apologizes, Doe pays and walks out.

But not for long. He comes back in with a shotgun and handgun and takes the room hostage. Turns out that he’s a veteran and he is fed up. When Greene (Busey) comes in, he’s also taken hostage but it turns out that Greene is involved with that massacre – and that the real killer was supposed to meet him there for payment. Doe isn’t the killer. That means that someone in that diner is and is even more dangerous than the guy with the guns. Things have gone from bad to worse.

This is in my mind a pretty decent premise. It isn’t necessarily a new one, but the claustrophobic environment of the diner, knowing that the people herein are locked up with at least two killers makes for a pretty tense situation. Sadly, Young doesn’t really make the most of it. The dialogue ranges from unnecessary to downright cringeworthy. The movie comes off as too talky which in a movie like this is a bad thing. Dialogue is necessary for a movie like this to be successful.

It doesn’t help that for the most part the actors here seem disinterested in what’s going on other than Madsen, Perrineau and Trejo, but Madsen in particular shines. His intensity as an actor is tailor-made for a role like this and he executes it to perfection. Perrineau and Trejo are both terrific character actors and they at least make an effort to appear like they’re invested. Benson, who has shown some real talent in previous roles, phones this one in.

That’s sad because this is a situation tailor-made for indie budgets. Under a surer, firmer hand this might have been a pretty decent thriller. Unfortunately, it’s a suspense movie that lacks suspense although it gets points for a whopper of a twist ending that I appreciated. Still, even with that the film’s deficiencies are such that I can’t recommend it other than with faint praise. Be warned.

WHY RENT THIS: Madsen is always intense. Interesting premise with a nice twist at the end.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Does nothing with the good ideas it does have. Lacks tension.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence, some of it fairly bloody with a goodly amount of rough language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The voice of the radio announcer is director Young.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Suspect Zero

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: About Time

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Intermedio


While they're both pretty in pink, Molly Ringwald they're not.

While they’re both pretty in pink, Molly Ringwald they’re not.

(2005) Horror (The Asylum) Edward Furlong, Steve Railsback, Cerina Vincent, Amber Benson, Callard Harris, Paul Cram, Alejandro Samaniego, Dean Arevalo, Eric Castelton, Josef Geiger, Richard Miranda, Michael Latt, Serina Latt, Adam Gobble. Directed by Andrew Lauer

We all want to have some sort of control over our own lives. However, it is the things that we cannot control that eludes us and drives us crazy. The things we cannot explain, most of all – how can we control what we don’t understand?

Malik (Furlong) and his ex-girlfriend Gen (Vincent), her friend Barbie (Benson) who incongruously wears a t-shirt that says “Kari” and her other friend Wes (Harris) decide to take a weekend trip to a ghost town. Now this wouldn’t be bad in and of itself but they make a stop at an abandoned mining operation with miles of tunnels that are said to stretch to the Mexican border. Even though Gen and Malik’s fathers both disappeared in those self-same tunnels, the four decide to climb down and take a look for themselves. Poor decision making at its finest.

Once there they run into a couple of drug dealers – Jorge (Samaniego) and Al (Arevalo) with their mute tag-along teen friend Zee (Cram) – hauling in some contraband from Mexico. The armed dealers force the other four to accompany them. This makes no sense whatsoever – why not just shoot them and be done with it? – but fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, they are attacked by vicious ghosts. Or spirits. Or specters. Or whatever you want to call them.

This leads to much screaming, lots of running and some pretty nifty deaths. There seems to be no way out of this maze of tunnels. The criminals and the criminally stupid must join forces to survive but there are some questions to be answered – what are these ghosts and why are they so angry? Who is the mysterious old man (Railsback) and what does he have to do with any of this? And why doesn’t Zee have anything to say?

The Asylum is known for low-budget direct-to-video horror films that often crop up on premium cable movie channels and like many low-budget direct-to-video horror film studios runs the gamut in terms of quality. Certainly the special effects are none-too-special here, a combination of practical effects and CGI that aren’t terrifying at all.

Furlong, who once played John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day has had a checkered career since then that has been plagued by substance abuse and legal issues stemming from domestic abuse cases. He is reasonably talented, particularly when it comes to playing characters with a dark disposition as he does here. I do hope he figures things out and gets his life in order; he’s had a rough life from day one and deserves a little happiness.

Benson, one of the mainstays of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series is reasonably hot although Vincent isn’t hard on the eyes at all herself and essentially, they both are playing generic scream queens (heroine and victim of course). They mostly have to run through dusty tunnels and swear a lot – and I do mean a lot. People offended by bad language will feel their eardrums bursting into flames here.

I like the premise quite a bit and there was a worthwhile horror film to be made here but it’s a victim of lazy writing and a budget that didn’t match their ambitions. Horror movies get a bad rap sometimes for these same reasons; they can’t help the latter so much but the former they certainly can. Cranking out gore for gore’s sake doesn’t a good horror movie make. I hope sometime that producers of the genre will realize that a horror movie is like any other movie in that if you want to make a good movie, you need interesting characters and well-thought out plots. Just throwing a bunch of generic horror film characters into a standard situation – or even a nifty idea – doesn’t really do anything for anybody. This isn’t a total waste of time and energy (I’m an Amber Benson fan admittedly) but it could have used a bit of care and love in pre-production before any film was actually shot.

WHY RENT THIS: Nice concept.  Benson is memorable.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Poorly shot and so murky in places you can’t tell what’s going on. Sound cuts out at one point. Cheesy CGI.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence and gore and a surfeit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Barbie is on crutches in the movie due to an injury actress Amber Benson suffered prior to filming.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not applicable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: From Dusk Til Dawn

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: District B-13: Ultimatum