Life After Beth


Dane DeHaan explains to a hungry Aubrey Plaza that he is contractually entitled to first crack at the craft services table.

Dane DeHaan explains to a hungry Aubrey Plaza that he is contractually entitled to first crack at the craft services table.

(2014) Horror Comedy (A24) Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Matthew Gray Gubler, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Anna Kendrick, Eva La Dare, Alia Shawkat, Thomas McDonell, Allan McLeod, Paul Weitz, Michelle Azar, Jim O’Heir, Rob Delaney, Adam Pally, Elizabeth Jayne, Jenna Nye, Garry Marshall, Bechir Sylvain, Bonnie Burroughs. Directed by Jeff Baena

“Til death do us part” is an intense statement. The vow signifies that we will remain with that other person until one of us is called to the Choir Invisible. What happens though, if death doesn’t part us exactly?

Zach Orfman (DeHaan) is mourning the unexpected death of his girlfriend. Both are in high school although summer vacation was in full flower. She’d gone hiking in the Southern California hills by herself and had been bitten by a snake. The poison did her in.

A young romance tragically curtailed is hard enough to endure but Zach had the extra added bonus that the two of them had been having problems. Zach was the kind of guy who didn’t do things he didn’t want to do particularly and while Beth (Plaza) – the said late girlfriend – wanted to go hiking with him, and learn how to dance the flamenco, Zach wasn’t interested in either, or a thousand other things the young and vivacious brunette wanted to try out. So she had brought up the concept of splitting up, which Zach definitely didn’t want to do. While they were in this state of flux, she had decided to go hiking by herself since nobody would go with her and…well, you know the rest.

So Zach was dealing not only with the death of his beautiful young girlfriend but also with his own inadequacies as a boyfriend and it was proving very difficult for him to accept. His parents (Reiser, Hines) weren’t particularly helpful, being a little bit too distracted with whatever it was successful L.A. types are distracted with to give a thought to their brooding son. His older brother Kyle (Gubler) had plenty of time to devote to Zach, considering that he had the high exalted position of security guard for the gated community Beth’s parents Maury (Reilly) and Geenie (Shannon) lived in. Kyle seized the opportunity to make life miserable for his younger brother – after all, what else are older brothers for?

So Zach had taken to spending more time with Maury and Geenie, the three of them united by their numbing, overwhelming grief. They all understood what the others were going through and Zach found it somewhat therapeutic to go through Beth’s things, wearing a ski scarf of hers even though, as I mentioned, it was the dead of summer.

Then one day he goes over and rings the doorbell but there’s no answer. It’s weird because he can hear people inside. He checks the window – and sees a fleeting glimpse of Beth walking around the house. He pounds on the door and tries to get in but just in time his brother turns up and escorts him out of the development. There’s another thing older brothers are for.

Of course, nobody believes what he saw but Zach knows what he saw. He’s so sure that he breaks into their house and comes upon Beth, big as life and still breathing. At first he’s furious, convinced that Maury and Geenie were pulling a fast one, but no, they’re just as mystified as he. She had just shown up at the door and had no clue that she’d died. And Maury, quite frankly, wants it to stay that way.

Zach is determined to do all the things with Beth he’d never done – including sex, which is at the top of the list and Beth is quite frankly horny as all get out. She has no memory of the break-up – as far as she’s concerned everything has always been hunky dory. Except something’s not quite right. She’s prone to these rages and tantrums that were completely unlike her. And then again, she’s stronger than you’d expect for a slip of a girl. And gets sunburned really easily. Zach is sure she’s a zombie – Maury doesn’t want to entertain the concept. But yeah, she is and Zach is totally cool with it. At first.

Equal parts zombie apocalypse and romantic comedy, Life After Beth could be accurately deemed a Zom-com (catchy, no?) and given the popularity of the living dead these days I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a whole lot of them shuffling down the pike, arms outstretched and grunting.

There are a lot of things to like. DeHaan and Plaza make an odd couple but just the sort you’d find in your local high school, the sort who get drawn together in history class and make it official in drama club. DeHaan gives the character equal doses of gravitas, confusion and hormonal overwrought drama. If some teenage boy from your neighborhood had the same circumstances in his life, my guess is he’d act pretty much the same way as Zach does. As for DeHaan, his career has been taking off in the last few years, may not be available to do these smaller films much longer.

The same goes for Plaza. She’s been attracting a lot of notice in Parks and Recreation over the past few years and has quietly done some really strong work in roles large and small in offbeat films. I wouldn’t be surprised if she became the next big comedic actress a la Tina Fey and Kirsten Wiig, but I would be even less surprised if she became far more versatile than that. She captures Beth’s somewhat demanding nature and is able to convey fear, tenderness, sexuality and rage often turning on a dime to do so. She gives an assertive and assured performance, the kind that commands attention. It’s a safe bet that her work here is going to get her noticed for higher profiled roles.

The humor here is scattershot as it is for most comedies and occasionally swings and misses. There are some nice quirky touches – the only thing that calms Beth down is smooth jazz, a type of music that in her first life she used to despise. It becomes kind of a running joke throughout.

While the supporting cast is good, the last half hour of the movie turns into a kind of kitschy episode of The Walking Dead or more to the point, George Romero on an acid trip. Fun and funky is one thing but it doesn’t mesh as nicely the comedy and horror aspects do in the first hour. Still, this is some fine entertainment and Chris Hardwick and his Talking Dead nation are going to enjoy this one as much as I did.

REASONS TO GO: Will crack you up in places. Captures teen angst perfectly.
REASONS TO STAY: The comedy and horror aspects stop working together well in the last third of the movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots of foul language and some gore and comedic violence, some nudity and sexuality as well – and a scene of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Dane DeHaan’s first comedic role.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/22/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 41% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fido
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Drop

Scream 3


We've seen this movie before.

We’ve seen this movie before.

(2000) Horror Comedy (Dimension) Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox-Arquette, David Arquette, Liev Schreiber, Patrick Dempsey, Lance Henriksen, Kelly Rutherford, Parker Posey, Emily Mortimer, Jenny McCarthy, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Deon Richmond, Patrick Warburton, Jamie Kennedy, Heather Matarazzo, Carrie Fisher, Scott Foley, Julie Janney. Directed by Wes Craven

As one character says, in the third installment of a trilogy, all bets are off. That can be a good thing and bad – it gives you the freedom to deviate from the course set by the first two films but sometimes lose the essence of what made them successful in the first place. Perhaps that’s why so few of them are really that successful, both artistically and financially.

Talk show host Cotton Weary (Schreiber), the man accused of the murder of Sydney Prescott’s (Campbell) mother (and later exonerated by the events of the first movie), is brutally killed in his apartment, and of course intrepid (and irritating) journalist Gail Weathers (Cox-Arquette) is on the case. Meanwhile over in Woodsboro a movie called Stab 3 is being shot.

Soon, cast members of the third movie of a series of movies based on the events in Scream (talk about art imitating art) are beginning to turn up dead, in the exact order that they are bumped off in the script. Former deputy-turned-technical advisor to the movie Dewey Riley (Arquette), in his own laconic way, is out to protect his friend Sydney, as well as rekindle a romance with Gail, with whom he has broken up twice (art imitating life, kind of). Sydney, for her part, has secreted herself in an isolated, rural home with lots of high-tech security. Still, even Dewey can’t protect her from the visions of her dead mother and for the most part, from the Ghostface killer who continues to stalk her.

Much of Scream 3 is pretty formulaic and is just the kind of movie, ironically, that the original Scream poked fun of. Although Craven deviates here from the tradition of murdering a lovely young starlet before the opening credits (a la Drew Barrymore and Jada Pinkett) by taking out Schreiber, they do manage to send Jenny McCarthy to join the Choir Invisible, getting a hearty “Amen!” from critics everywhere. We critics are a vindictive lot.

Still, director Wes Craven knows how to yank out all the stops, but the loss of screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who penned the first two Screams, is keenly felt (he would return for the fourth installment). This one doesn’t have the hipness quotient, the humor, or the insight into horror movies that Williamson has. I didn’t guess who the killer was, but by the time the identity of the killer behind the Edvard Munch mask is revealed, I pretty much didn’t care.

Although not bad by the standards of horror movies of the late 90s and early part of the following decade, Scream 3 belongs in the clutches of the robots of Mystery Science Theater 3000 which puts it far beneath the standards of the first two movies. That’s a little too much painful irony for my taste. At the time that this came out, I thought it was just as well Craven decided to bury the franchise at that point, since the corpse was smelling mighty bad. Scream 4 was a bit of a redemption but not enough to make up for this, the worst installment of the franchise to date – although it DOES get points for the Jay and Silent Bob cameo. Craven knows hip when he sees it. Honestly though, once you’ve seen the first two movies in the series you’re pretty much done.

WHY RENT THIS: Jay and Silent Bob show up. Seriously, that’s about it. There are some fans of the series who are very affectionate about this movie though.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Been there, done that, done better.

FAMILY MATTERS: Plenty of violence and foul language although not as much as in earlier films of the series.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” is played at some point in all three films of the original trilogy.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is a music video by Creed, an outtake reel and a montage of footage from all three films (fittingly set to “Red Right Hand”).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $161.8M on a $40M production budget; the movie was a big hit for Miramax/Dimension.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scary Movie (only unintentionally funny)

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Brother’s Justice

Cockneys vs. Zombies


Alan Ford knows what to do with Jehovah's Witnesses that get a little too aggressive.

Alan Ford knows what to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses that get a little too aggressive.

(2012) Horror Comedy (Shout! Factory) Rasmus Hardiker, Harry Treadaway, Michelle Ryan, Jack Doolan, Georgia King, Ashley Thomas, Tony Gardner, Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Tony Selby, Georgina Hale, Dudley Sutton, Richard Briers, Natalie Walter, Phil Cornwell, Josh Cole, Gary Beadle, Finlay Robertson, Joan Hodges. Directed by Matthias Hoene  

 Florida Film Festival 2013

Zombies are the new vampires and fortunately none of them are sparkling, although we have had some sensitive boyfriend zombie sorts (Warm Bodies). But they’ve never run into opposition like they would have in the East End of London.

A couple of construction workers working on a condo project unearth a tomb from the 16th century with a warning from King Charles not to disturb the contents within. Being modern day men, of course they do and release a plague of zombies for their troubles.

Another victim of the condo project is a retirement home where rough and tumble Ray (Ford) resides. His grandsons Terry (Hardiker) and younger brother Andy (Treadaway) don’t want to see the residence torn down but there doesn’t look to be a way out – they’d have to buy the property back from its owner and they don’t have that kind of cash.

But they know where they can get it. With time being a factor, applying for a loan is out of the question. They’ll just have to get the money the old-fashioned way – they’ll have to steal it. Of course, while they’ve had the odd brush with the law, neither one of them is exactly a criminal genius. They’ve added a few bodies to their brigade – their sharp-tongued cousin Katy (Ryan), their somewhat bumbling friend Davey (Doolan) and the one legitimate villain – Mental Mickey (Thomas), a veteran of the Iraq war with a steel plate in his skull and a surfeit of viciousness.

During the robbery, the bank manager presses the panic button, bringing down the police. The desperate criminals take hostages – Clive (Gardner) and comely Emma (King). When they go out to face the cops, the cops are all dead and a flock of zombies is chowing down. They get away in the van but Mickey is bitten. They manage to make it back to the hideout and debate on how they’re going to get their grandfather out of the retirement home. They know he’ll want to take as many friends as he can so their van is out of the question, particularly since it doesn’t always start right up. Mickey turns not long after but head shots don’t work with him because of the steel plate. Instead, a hand grenade is stuffed in his mouth. Innovation is key to surviving the zombie apocalypse.

Meanwhile, back at the retirement home, the zombies are swarming and Ray, his girl Peggy (Blackman) and friends Daryl (Selby), Doreen (Hale), Eric (Sutton) and Hamish (Briers) take refuge in the kitchen. With the van out of the question, Andy and Terri “borrow” a double decker bus and head on out to the retirement home with the surviving members of their gang. Even if they can liberate these none-too-spry pensioners from the surrounded kitchen, where can they go?

This is really quite funny more than it is serious horror and gore, although there’s plenty of that. I’d say it’s a comedy with horrific overtones more than anything else. The cast is fairly well-known in Britain with Blackman being the best known across the pond, largely due to her iconic role of Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (and for preceding Diana Rigg in The Avengers – not the Marvel version). The humor is, typical for British comedies, pretty dry although Americans who like their humor over the top will find some gags to love – my favorite was Hamish in his walker being chased by a slow-moving shuffling zombie, complaining “why is it going so fast?” as he plods his way towards safety.

There’s nothing really subtle here at all and they goof on zombie movies not only of the Romero persuasion but also some of the more persistent tropes of the genre. People who are pretty familiar with zombie movies will find a few in-jokes scattered about. Of course these are cockneys for the most part so they use the rhyming cockney jargon (i.e. apple and pears for stairs) that will go sailing over the heads of American audiences. I suspect the average cockney won’t give a crap if it does.

This is entertaining on both fronts – both the comedic and the horrific – that will satisfy fans of both genres. Even Da Queen, not a big fan of horror movies, enjoyed this far more than she thought she was gonna. I understand that the distributors are planning a late summer American release for this – if you see it playing anywhere near you, by all means take the opportunity to see it. It’s one of those delightful hidden gems that you hear nothing about that turns out to be really good and those are definitely one of life’s great pleasures for a movie buff like me.

REASONS TO GO: Cheeky. Occasional elicits some guilty laughs.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the dialogue is difficult for American audiences to figure out.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s lots of zombie gore goodness, a surfeit of foul language, plenty of violence, a few disturbing images and some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This would turn out to be the final feature film role for Briers, one of Britain’s most beloved actors (mainly for stage and television).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/13/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100; has mostly played the festival circuit after a brief British theatrical release; may be coming to a midnight movie emporium near you.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shaun of the Dead

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story

Sightseers


What girlfriend wouldn't make her boyfriend feel inferior with one of those?

What girlfriend wouldn’t make her boyfriend feel inferior with one of those?

(2012) Horror Comedy (IFC) Steve Oram, Alice Lowe, Roger Michael, Tony Way, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Aris, Eileen Davies, Aymen Hamdouchi, Tom Meetan, Kali Peacock, Kenneth Hadley, Stephanie Jacob, Christine Talbot, Richard Lumsden, Dominic Applewhite, Sara Stewart. Directed by Ben Wheatley

Florida Film Festival 2013

Everyone’s idea of a vacation is different. Some choose to travel, see different cultures and different places. Others want to go out and experience the gusto – get out there and go hang gliding, rock climbing or snorkeling. You know, the Type A personality stuff.

Tina (Lowe) and Chris (Oram) are far from the latter. Chris is an aspiring writer who is taking a trip in his caravan (RV to us yanks) to England’s Lake District to write a book on his travels there. Tina, his girlfriend, is a dog lover of epic proportions although she is mourning the accidental death of a beloved pet – a death her hypochondriac overbearing mother (Davies) blames her for and never fails to take the opportunity to remind her of it.

Mum is also trying to talk Tina out of taking the trip with Chris. Not because she’s got any real concern for her daughter, but that it might be inconvenient for her not to have Tina waiting on her hand and foot. If Leona Helmsley ever sponsored a motherhood award, Tina’s mom would win hands down.

So away they go in their RV to see the sights – a tram museum, a pencil museum, ruins of an abbey and the English equivalent of a state park. At first it’s the ideal trip. Tina feels as close to Chris as she’s felt to anyone – this might be The One. But there are some troubling qualities beginning to surface. He hates to be questioned, for one thing. He has a pretty explosive temper, for another. For a third, he’s a serial killer.

But he’s not just your average, ordinary run-of-the-mill psycho. He has rules. He only offs those who deserve it. Of course, his idea of those who deserve it might be a wee bit…stringent. For example, a lout who drops an ice cream wrapper on an antique trolley – he’s GOT to go, son. Uppity upper crust sorts who treat Tina condescendingly? So long, senor.

However far from being repulsed by this behavior, Tina attempts to join in and messes it all up. She goes after a bride who gives Chris a drunken smooch. Hasta la vista, baby.

Wheatley is an up-and-coming director who has a couple of pretty cool films already on his resume (Down Terrace and Kill List) and has been announced to be directing a couple of highly anticipated films coming down the pipeline (A Field in England and Freakshift as well as the HBO miniseries Silk Road). I agree with the praise being lumped on him – the man knows how to make a movie full of subtleties as well as being over-the-top – in the same movie.

Chris and Tina are so bloody ordinary that you can’t help wonder why they didn’t become serial killers earlier. Both of them have a different sort of ordinariness. Chris is a bit of a lummox from the surface but he’s actually quite clever and meticulous. Tina, who seems to be much more organized at first glance is rather more chaotic. One of the joys of the film is watching Tina and Chris switch places as the film progresses.

Lowe and Oram have some real chemistry and it goes a long way – right up until the final twist which is so organic, so unexpected that it’s a thing of beauty. I’d walk a hundred miles for an ending like that – they are quite infrequent in movies these days. The hardest thing for a writer to do is write a good ending.

The humor is a bit irreverent and some scenes will make you squirm while you laugh. It’s not that the gore is excessive – it isn’t but there’s enough there to be effective – but the situation might just make you go “am I really laughing at that?”

Chris and Tina do some rather unspeakable things. When you look at the acts themselves you might just recoil in horror but overall the two of them are lovable losers, enough so that you root for them in spite of yourself even though Chris has anger issues and Tina can be a shrill little harpy when she wants to be.

To top it all off there’s some beautiful cinematography of bucolic  landscapes, RV parks and quaint towns. I’m not sure I’d want to go to the pencil museum but I might just to buy the Big Pencil – a.k.a. Big Scribbler – in the picture above. But what can I say? The allure of oddball tourist attractions is like catnip to me.

This is the kind of movie that comes at you from every direction and you never know what they’re going to do next. Lowe and Oram deliver enough likability that when their characters go off the rails, you’re still invested enough in the that you don’t give up on them. Maybe you even get the vicarious thrill of giving a few sorts what you wish they’d get and might even deserve. I love hearing Chris rationalize that murdering these undesirables reduces the carbon footprint – so in fact serial killing is green. Which is what I hope this film sees plenty of.

REASONS TO GO: Offbeat and funny. A black comedy taken to extremes.

REASONS TO STAY: The foul deeds of the leads may be too much for some to generate any sympathy for.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of violence and some gore. There’s also quite a bit of sex and some nudity. There’s a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Screenwriter Tim Macy also wrote the short story that the movie is based on.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/10/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100; critics clearly didn’t like this film a whole lot.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Natural Born Killers

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: The Place Beyond the Pines

Burke and Hare


Burke and Hare

Andy Serkis and Simon Pegg find out it’s tuna casserole for lunch again.

(2010) Horror Comedy (IFC) Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry, Christopher Lee, Ronnie Corbett, Hugh Bonneville, Jenny Agutter, Bill Bailey, Jessica Hynes, Stuart McQuarrie, Michael Smiley, David Hayman. Directed by John Landis

 

New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger characterized this movie, loosely based on real life murders committed in Edinburgh in the 19th century, as an American director using English actors to portray Irish immigrants committing murders in Scotland (I’m paraphrasing here) which, as Genzlinger opines, leads to a bit of schizophrenia of tone.

William Burke (Pegg) and his associate William Hare (Serkis) are having a spectacular run of bad luck. Times are hard in 19th century Edinburgh; while the best medical universities in the world are here, most of the city is stuck in squalor as the citizens of Edinburgh try to meet ends meet, most with the same lack of success that Burke and Hare are experiencing.

At the same time there is a rivalry going on in the medical schools. Doctors Robert Knox (Wilkinson) and Alexander Monro (Curry) have been going at it tooth and nail as they use cadavers to teach students the wonders of the human body. However, cadavers aren’t easy to come by and Knox is paying top dollar for fresh corpses and thus Burke and Hare discover a wonderful business opportunity for themselves.

At first they pretty much stick to grave robbing but the problem is that people aren’t dying fast enough to keep Knox properly supplied, so Burke and Hare, being entrepreneurial sorts, decide to help them out a bit. Soon the money is rolling in and Hare’s wife Lucky (Hynes), a sensible sort, helps her husband and his partner out with the business. Burke, in the meantime, has become smitten by actress – or prostitute, which Hare points out isn’t much of a distinction at the time – Ginny Hawkins (Fisher) who yearns to put on an all woman version of Macbeth and Burke is determined to finance the show in order to win the heart of his new beloved.

Still, murdering people for their cadavers is sort of frowned upon and the law is soon on their tails. You can imagine what happened next – or you can look it up in Wikipedia. The movie is kind of close to what actually occurred in the end.

This is the product of Ealing Studios which produced some of the most well-known comedies in the history of British films between 1947 and 1957 (including Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob). This isn’t, strictly speaking, a comedy although it is funny in places (although the movie relies on slapstick a good deal for its humor which is fairly lowbrow for Ealing). It isn’t, strictly speaking, a horror film either although there are some grisly images. Hammer Films has nothing to worry about in other words.

Landis who in his prime directed some classic films like An American Werewolf in London, The Blues Brothers and National Lampoon’s Animal House hasn’t directed a feature since 1998. This isn’t by any means going to be remembered as one of his better efforts but it actually isn’t one of his worst either.

Casting Pegg and Serkis (although at one time Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell were rumored to have been cast in their roles) is a good reason why. The two are perfect for the parts. Their byplay is natural and unforced. It’s what you might expect from a couple of men who have been friends and partners for years; they’re almost like an old married couple in places.

It helps that each of them has a romantic foil that keeps up with them. Fisher, a beautiful woman who has some pretty impressive acting chops, takes a quirky role and makes it believable. Too often these kinds of parts are written to be eccentric for their own sake and I think that to a certain extent that’s the case here (just ask yourself – does having Burke fall for an actress with Ginny’s aspirations add anything to the story that wouldn’t have been there if she was “normal”?) and only Fisher’s performance keeps it from being irritating. Hynes, whose work I hadn’t been familiar with, also does some impressive work here.

There are some mystifying changes to the historical facts which I understand often has to be done for dramatic purposes. However, Burke and Hare were notorious for smothering their victims, which was their preferred modus operandi. I don’t understand why that was glossed over other than to create slapstick opportunities having to do with the murders themselves. Ah well.

I do like the tone of the movie which isn’t overly serious despite its somewhat grisly subject matter. This isn’t a movie people are going to be rushing right out to rent but by the same token it isn’t one that should be ignored either. I would have liked a little more consistency and a few more laughs. However, this is worth a look if you’re out to check something you haven’t seen before.

WHY RENT THIS: Pegg and Serkis are fun to watch. Fisher is gorgeous and there’s a certain sly wink about the film.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks consistency. Plays fast and loose with the real story of the murders, some of which seems unnecessary.

FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of disturbing images as you might imagine. There’s also a little bit of sex and a smattering of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actors David Schofield, John Woodvine and Agutter all appeared in An American Werewolf in London which was directed by Landis back in 1981.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4.4M on an unreported production budget; sounds like it made a tidy profit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: I Sell the Dead

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Out of Africa

Scream 4


Scream 4

Sometimes, a rave in a barn can be a Scream.

(2011) Horror Comedy (Dimension) Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Marielle Jaffe, Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Eric Knudson, Marley Shelton, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Alison Brie, Mary McConnell, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell. Directed by Wes Craven

 

New generation, new rules. The Scream franchise made its reputation for slyly skewering the conventions of horror movies (as well as any number of good-looking 20-somethings playing teens) while retaining a certain amount of hip cachet.

But that was back in the ’90s. Depending on who you talk to, Scream set off a whole new generation of innovative new horror films or were the final hurrah of a golden age of horror films (the 70s and 80s). Since then, horror films particularly in Hollywood have degenerated into mostly remakes of standards or soap operas about vampires (although there is a very strong underground horror movement in which exciting and innovative films continue to be made, some here in the United States but also in Europe and Asia). So, is it a ripe time for writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven to bring the Ghostface out of mothballs and turn their poisoned pens on a moribund industry again?

Woodsboro, the bucolic small town of the first Scream trilogy, has been immortalized and yet traumatized by the murders there 15 years earlier. The survivor of the murders, Sidney Franklin (Campbell) is returning after a ten year absence to promote her book. Gale Weathers-Riley (Cox) has settled down and married Dewey Riley (Arquette) who is now the sheriff. Gale, whose books became the lucrative basis of the Stab motion picture series, is suffering from writers block and might be just a hair jealous of Sidney’s success.

A pair of comely high school girls are murdered by Ghostface and evidence planted in Sidney’s car, leading her to be forced to stay in Woodsboro much to the chagrin of her agent Rebecca Walters (Brie). Sidney is staying with her aunt Kate Roberts (McDonnell) and her cousin Jill (Roberts) who is dealing with break-up issues with her boyfriend Trevor Sheldon (Tortorella). Jill and her friends Kirby (Panettiere) and Olivia (Jaffe) have received threatening Ghostface phone calls. They enlist the local movie club president Charlie Walker (Culkin) and Dewey’s Keystone Kops (or in this case, Demented Deputies) Hicks (Shelton), Hoss (Brody) and Perkins (Anderson) to keep Sidney alive and catch the killer. However, this is a reboot and the rules, if any, are far more different.

There are those who complained that the originally trilogy of Scream films overstayed their welcome and I have to admit that there’s a point there. The first movie was massive fun, marvelously self-aware and yet managed to have its cake and eat it too in that it made fun of all of the clichés of horror and yet it used them too when it suited the movie.

There is an attractive cast here but the movie is dually focused on Sidney’s gang (Campbell, Cox and Arquette) as well as Jill’s group (Roberts, Panettiere and Culkin). That might sound like Craven’s trying to pass the torch to a new generation but that really isn’t the case. At the end of the day, this is Sidney’s story to tell and Neve Campbell for better or for worse is Sidney. I’ve never found the character of Sidney to be anything more than the generic plucky horror heroine and to be honest I’ve never really thought Campbell has imbued the character with much of a personality, which to be fair has always kind of been the point – most of the quips and snappy dialogue have really gone to other characters in the series.

Arquette, always the comic foil of the series, still plays Dewey like a kind of stoned Barney Fife. It can be endearing in places, and annoying in others. Still, I think Dewey has kind of matured in a way the other characters here haven’t which is a bit of a plus.

The main question is whether the traditional teen audience for horror films will get behind a movie that features lead characters that are essentially in their 30s and even (gasp) 40s and I don’t think they really embraced the franchise the way the previous generation did. The reveal of the true identity of Ghostface, supposed to be a shocker, didn’t really deliver the punch the first movie’s reveal did and by the time the movie ended I was actually kind of bored.

The movie captures enough of the essence of the first film that I can give it a recommendation with some caveats in that the original still delivers the goods, even if the audience for it has moved on. Revisiting Woodsboro isn’t a bad thing in and of itself however, and if a Scream 5 is ever made I’ll probably see it (although Da Queen won’t). Not a glowing testimonial I know, but it’s all that I got.

WHY RENT THIS: Actors settle into their roles nicely. Great seeing Campbell-Arquette-Cox combo again.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Didn’t really capture my imagination. Seems a bit “more of the same.”

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of blood, gore and violence (as you would predict from a Wes Craven horror film), a bit of bad language and some teen drinking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The third consecutive movie in which Rory Culkin has been in a movie that Emma Roberts was in (the others being Lymelife and Twelve

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and a promo for the Scream 4 video game.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $97.1M on a $40M production budget; the movie made a bit of a profit at the box office.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Scary Movie

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Tillman Story

Vampires


Vampires

Don't you just hate getting lipstick smeared all over your face when you kiss? Wait a minute that's not lipstick...

(2010) Mockumentary (IFC Midnight) Carlo Ferrante, Vera Van Dooren, Pierre Lognay, Fleur Lise Heuet, Paul Ahmarani, Alexandra Kamp-Groeneveld, Julien Dore, Batiste Sornin, Thomas Coumans. Directed by Vincent Lannoo

If vampires are to survive in the world they must by necessity keep well-hidden. For one thing, people would panic if they knew there were superior predators living amongst us, indistinguishable from our neighbors. For another, the panic would lead to genocide as humans have a vast numerical superiority; no, vampires benefit from secrecy.

Which makes a documentary about their society all the more puzzling. After several aborted attempts (when camera crews got invited into vampire enclaves and ended up being the main course), a film crew finally got placed with a vampire family in Brussels.

Vampire families are a bit different than humans. For one thing, they can’t procreate sexually (although they have plenty of sex). Children are brought into a vampire family by turning young people into vampires. However, vampires don’t age once they are turned so turning children is frowned upon – instead it is usually teens and youngsters who are turned.

This particular family’s patriarch is Georges (Ferrante), an old school bloodsucker who is a bit spineless in a lot of ways. He adheres strictly to the code of conduct set for vampires going back centuries from the first vampires. His wife Bertha (Van Dooren) is a bit more bloodthirsty but she’s a bit of a hausfrau as well. She and Georges make a good match.

Their kids are a bit of a problem. Grace (Heuet) is tired of her immortality and wants to be a normal human, going so far as attempting to kill herself on a regular basis. Since vampires can’t be killed by ordinary beings, the attempts are pretty laughable but still she perseveres – you have to admire her tenacity. Samson (Lognay) is, like many men his age, the libido of a 16-year-old. Of course, he’s considerably older – he’s 55 but he looks like he’s in his mid-20s. That leads him to a transgression that threatens the family’s stability.

Of course, vampires don’t really exist but that doesn’t mean they don’t make for an entertaining mockumentary. Belgian cinema hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but good films in a similar vein have come from that country before – see Man Bites Dog – and this one works very nicely. There is a very tongue-in-cheek sense of humor here that is occasionally unexpected, hitting you like a ton of bricks. For example, the vampires have human secretaries who take care of their daylight needs and occasionally serve as an alternate food source in case of an emergency – these are normally vampire fetishists who long to be immortal and hope to be rewarded eventually.

Their food supply are mostly immigrants and runaways – people who won’t be missed and who are kept in a pen out in the backyard. In all other respects however this is a normal suburban family with all the problems and issues that beset most modern families. Making that modern family vampiric adds an extra dimension and adds to the humor but it also allows the filmmakers to comment on those very issues without pointing the finger at society in general or suburbanites in particular.

I was rather surprised by this movie in that it I hadn’t heard virtually anything about it. So far as I know it got no US theatrical release and has mostly played the festival circuit in Europe. I caught it on the Sundance Channel here and so this might be rather hard to hunt down but it is definitely worth it, particularly those who love vampires and don’t mind poking gentle fun of themselves and vampires in general – and suburbanites. Definitely them.

WHY RENT THIS: Tongue-in-cheek funny. Nice idea and well-executed.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Drags on a bit.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some bad words and some depictions of bloodletting and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Honestly? Couldn’t find any.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Animal Kingdom

Fright Night (2011)


Fright Night

Colin Farrell doesn't take kindly to Anton Yelchin putting an explosive ketchup pellet in his Gatorade.

(2011) Horror Comedy (DreamWorks/Touchstone) Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Imogen Poots, Toni Collette, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco, Reid Ewing, Will Denton, Sandra Vergara, Emily Montague, Chris Sarandon. Directed by Craig Gillespie

In these modern times we generally don’t get to know our neighbors very well. We live in isolation, insulated by walls and fences and the Internet. Our neighbors could be the kindest, sweetest, gentlest people on earth…or the embodiment of evil.

Charlie Brewster (Yelchin) is a high school senior with a hot girlfriend, Amy (Poots). His mom Jane (Collette) is a real estate agent and lives with her son in a nice development on the edge of Las Vegas. Charlie has transformed himself from being a geek to being one of the cool crowd. In this sense, he’s leaving behind old friends like Adam (Denton) and Ed (Mintz-Plasse) whom everyone calls “evil” for unspecified reasons.

He also has a new next door neighbor, Jerry (Farrell) who works nights doing construction on the strip. As a day sleeper, he blocks his windows and gee, there’s an awful lot of construction debris and apparently nothing going on in the exterior or the yard. He is, however extremely hot as both Jane and Amy notice, not to mention flirtatious.

Evil Ed isn’t convinced. He’s been noticing that several kids have been missing from school and he believes that Jerry is at the heart of it. In fact, Ed thinks Jerry’s a vampire, which bemuses Charlie no end. However, when Ed threatens to publish some nerdy pictures of Charlie, he reluctantly agrees to join Ed to find out what happened to Adam, who’s among the missing.

Unfortunately, it turns out Ed was right and when Ed disappears, Charlie goes up to Ed’s room to see the “proof” he had of Jerry’s vampire-ness and when he does, Charlie becomes a believer. So much so that when Jerry invites a beautiful sexy blonde neighbor (Montague) who happens to be a stripper over, he calls the cops. Thus the war of cat and mouse games begins.

Charlie enlists  the aid of Peter Vincent (Tennant), a stage magician at the Hard Rock Casino who is a self-professed vampire expert. Charlie’s going to need all the help he can get against a demon that’s over 400 years old and is an expert in self-preservation. Charlie is horribly overmatched but he’s got to find a way to prevail if he wants to see his mother and girlfriend alive again.

This is based on the 1985 Tom Holland movie of the same name which had William Ragsdale and Chris Sarandon in the Charlie and Jerry roles, respectively. That one was appeared on cable regularly for years; it was actually a different kind of vampire movie with enough camp and gore to counterbalance themselves and certainly a refreshing relief from all the slasher movies that were all the rage then.

The acting is pretty solid here. Farrell is playing a role he was really born to play – a bad guy who can do horrible things with abandon, but all with a twinkle in his eyes, a drink in one hand and a woman in his arms. Come to think of it, maybe Farrell didn’t have to do a whole lot of acting.

Yelchin has yet to impress me – until now. He does a bang-up job as the heroic lead, a part he may not be used to. He did buff up a little for the role, although not to the point of ridiculousness; this is supposed to be a skinny high school kid going up against the undead, but you don’t want the fight to be unbelievable or TOO uneven. Yelchin succeeds in avoiding those pitfalls.

To me, Tennant – a former Doctor Who – is the show stealer here. He plays Vincent as a cross between Criss Angel and William Powell, liquored up and a bit of a self-important jerk and outwardly a coward but when it counts he has the heart of a lion. There’s a rock star quality to Peter that is nicely counterbalanced by his inner nerd.

Poots, Collette and Montague are all beautiful, sexy and smart in their roles. I guess it doesn’t hurt that the script was written by a woman – in this case, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” Marti Noxon. She brings the same hip quotient, quip repeatability and smarts to the movie that she did to the TV show. I don’t know that Joss Whedon, busy filming The Avengers at the moment, has seen this movie but if he has I have no doubt he’s proud of his protégé.

This is a highly entertaining vampire movie that may not go over well with the kids who love sparkling brooding vampires, but it does have nods to most of the vampire classics in one form or another – even in a backhanded way to Twilight. There is a crapload of CGI which varies in quality from seamless to noticeable.

There is an amazing chase scene in which Jerry pursues the Brewsters in their SUV which contains a lovely homage to the first Fright Night and contains some of the best stunt work in the movie. It’s a scene that obviously required meticulous planning, which is something I always appreciate from a filmmaker and so rarely get.

Fright Night is dying at the box office which is a shame. Hopefully people will pick up on how good this movie is on home video. It’s actually a clever movie that deserves a better audience than it’s apparently getting. Maybe if they’d only gotten Colin Farrell to sparkle…

REASONS TO GO: Smart, well-planned out and well-written. Very sexy where it needs to be. Great mix of horror and humor.

REASONS TO STAY: The gore gets kind of mind-numbing after awhile.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of blood, gore and horror violence. These vampires don’t sparkle after all; there is also a good deal of sexuality and sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sarandon, who played Jerry in the original Fright Night and its sequel (via flashback) makes a cameo as the driver of the car that rear-ends the Brewster’s car and thus is the only actor to appear in all three Fright Night movies.

HOME OR THEATER: I think this is one to watch at home on a dark and stormy night.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT WEEK: The Last Station

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night


Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

A corpse is a corpse of course of course...

(2010) Horror Comedy (Omni/Freestyle) Brandon Routh, Sam Huntington, Peter Stormare, Taye Diggs, Anita Briem, Kurt Angle, Brian Steele, Kimberly Whalen, Randal Reeder, Courtney J. Clark, Kent Jude Bernard, Marco St. John. Directed by Kevin Munroe

Being an investigator for cases involving the living is hard enough. Being one for cases involving the undead…well, now, that’s durn near impossible.

A private eye with the unlikely name of Dylan Dog (Routh) is one such investigator, one who is designated by the non-breathing community to be an independent and impartial arbitrator of disputes, keeping the peace between vampire, werewolf and zombie alike. However, he has retired from that position, opting instead for chasing infidelities in tawdry hotel rooms while his assistant Marcus (Huntington) yearns for better cases that might make him a partner in the agency.

One such comes along when Elizabeth (Briem) hires Dylan to find out what killed her father. When he discovers it might be a werewolf, he doesn’t want to take the case but when Marcus is killed by a zombie and it looks like the deaths might be related, Dylan decides to take the case after all.

Along the way he runs across an ambitious vampire club owner named Vargas (Diggs) who has plans of ruling the entire supernatural community after using Dylan as a pawn to take out his rivals in the vampire elite; Gabriel (Stormare), an old werewolf friend who doesn’t take kindly to Dylan’s investigations; his son Wolfgang (Angle) who has a bit of a temper and a nasty streak for breathers and vampires (breathers is the creature term for us humans) and a zombie supermarket for parts. Oh, and about Marcus – he doesn’t stay dead for long.

The whole thing turns out to be about a supernatural artifact that if used could bring about the end of the world, yadda yadda yadda. The sad fact is that we’ve kind of heard this tune before. It’s dressed up nicely however, with some decent creature effects and some underlit shots of New Orleans (even the scenes shot during the day seem dark somehow) that showcase the gothic side of that city to nice effect.

Routh is a nice enough lead, although he is far from the hard-bitten film noir detective the role needs. I might have cast someone along the lines of Bruce Willis or not being able to afford him, someone rumpled like Paul Giamatti or Jack Coleman, the Horn-Rimmed Glasses man from “Heroes.” A little more world-weariness might have amped up the noir quotient somewhat, and Routh is more of a Superman type than a Sam Spade type.

Huntington plays a very similar role to the one he plays in the excellent SyFy Network series “Being Human,” except there he’s a neurotic werewolf and here he’s a neurotic zombie. Stormare and Diggs are solid performers who don’t disappoint, with Diggs getting a slight edge for his silky smooth megalomaniac role. Angle, the professional wrestler, shows some promise in his part as the tempramental lycanthrope.

The movie is based on an Italian comic book that is immensely popular in Europe but has made little impact here. The original source material uses horror to examine social issues and contemporary morality whereas this is more of a straight horror spoof, something which infuriated Italian critics when the movie was released in Italy earlier this year. Not being as familiar with the comic, I didn’t have so much of an issue with that (although I admit it probably would have made for a better movie) but my problem is that the story tended to be a little scatter-brained, with characters saying and doing things that didn’t always make sense within their character. Why would someone, for example, dedicated to hunting down and killing monsters want to create a more powerful monster in their place? It’s all apart of the “smart people doing stupid things” syndrome that plagues Hollywood.

Quite frankly, this isn’t as terrible as you’ve probably heard it was (if you’ve heard anything at all) but it isn’t very good either. There are some moments that sparkle here (as when Dylan goads a werewolf by quipping “You fight like a vampire”) but there aren’t enough of them to fully recommend this. Still, any movie that brings the dark side of New Orleans to the screen scores big points in my book.

REASONS TO GO: Nice creature effects and Routh is a decent lead.

REASONS TO STAY: Humor tended to fall flat and story took several head-scratching turns.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some creepy creatures, a goodly bit of horror violence, a few drug and sex references and a smidgeon of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Routh and Huntington previously worked together on Superman Returns.

HOME OR THEATER: Probably won’t be in theaters long enough for you to catch on the big screen but at home is just dandy.

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

TOMORROW: Eragon

I Sell the Dead


I Sell the Dead

There are many things out there much worse than grave robbers.

(2008) Horror Comedy (IFC) Dominic Monaghan, Larry Fessenden, Ron Perlman, Angus Scrimm, Eileen Colgan, John Speredakos, Brenda Cooney, Heather Bullock. Directed by Glenn McQuaid

Perhaps one of the worst professions ever conceived by the ever-fevered mind of man is that of grave robber, those who steal human corpses for use by anatomists, doctors and whoever is willing to pay for them to dig one up. However, as bad as they are, there are worse things out there.

Arthur Blake (Monaghan) is a grave robber and he and his partner Willie Grimes (Fessenden, who also wrote and produced the film) are about to be executed for their crimes. While Arthur awaits his turn at the guillotine, he confesses his sins to Father Duffy (Perlman) who comes in to give the boy absolution.

Instead, Arthur tells the tale of his apprenticeship with Grimes and their slow make-over from run-of-the-mill body snatchers to those specializing in, well, special cases. Their penchant for turning up vampires, aliens and zombies runs them afoul of Cornelius Murphy (Speredakos), head of a rival gang.

Burke and Hare…I mean, Blake and Grimes are used to running afoul of people. They have a business relationship with Dr. Quint (Scrimm) to provide corpses for dissection but that doesn’t do the good doctor any good if the damn things won’t stay dead.

The movie has an off-the-scale silliness factor which actually adds to the charm. I honestly didn’t expect much from this one, which got such a limited release that most of its cast never knew it actually got one.

McQuaid, a fine cinematographer in his own right, shot this on a micro-budget mostly in the United States (substituting for Ireland, which its often mistaken for) and has a nice sense of flair for the homage. He seems to have been greatly influenced by the Hammer horror films of the 70s which is what this movie most resembles.

There are also some nice little touches, such as Scrimm, who played the Tall Man (a mortuary worker) in Phantasm, here as (wait for it) a mortuary worker. (TA-DAAAAAAAA!) It shows a deft touch not often found in horror directors these days who prefer to bludgeon the viewer with gore and effects make-up to the point where old fashioned horror movies with great premises are an endangered species.

Not if McQuaid and Fessenden have anything to do with it. Fessenden, although ostensibly a supporting player, actually steals the show in many ways. He appears to be having the best time of any in the cast, and plays his character with an air of jaded disbelief that helps move the comic timing of the movie quite nicely.

Monaghan, a genre favorite for his work in The Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as the cult classic television show “Lost,” makes do with a part that probably could have used Ricky Gervais instead. Still, he’s got a beguiling charisma that audiences just naturally gravitate towards; he’s got a great shot at a political career if he ever decides to go that route.

Quite frankly, this is low budget and it shows in the sets as well as in the set pieces. To be fair, McQuaid wasn’t looking to reinvent the wheel here and he uses a lot of conventional genre tricks in getting his point across, relying more on practical effects than in digital ones. He also has a good script, a solid cast and a fair amount of talent of his own; there is an economy of energy here that allows the actors to underplay things a bit so it doesn’t descend into parody (a la the Scary Movie franchise) or cheesiness (the Abbott and Costello classics). From that standpoint, you have to be impressed with the talent behind the camera as it’s pretty difficult to pull off that kind of feat. Certainly I’ll be looking forward with anticipation for further projects from McQuaid.

Horror fans are going to get a kick out of this one, which shows off impressive genre chops that give props to everything from the Universal monster pictures to soft-core porn. Doesn’t sound compatible, I grant you but then that kind of imaginative genre-bending is part of why this charming and witty film works.

WHY RENT THIS: It has a certain off-beat charm that’s infectious. Monaghan is extremely likable and Fessenden is having a jolly good time with this.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Definitely suffers from a Grade Z budget with A-list aspirations. Film is disjointed and drags early on.

FAMILY VALUES: Some fairly ghoulish themes and images, as well as a smattering of foul language and a bit of horror violence make this suitable only for those of legal drinking age or greater.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A huge hit on the festival circuit (particularly at Slamdance where it was nominated for a cinematography award), IFC picked up the movie for a (very) brief U.S. run before sending it off for home video, on demand and eventually, cable release.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The DVD comes with a comic book version of the movie done in the style of the animations that appear periodically in the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $8,050 on an unreported production budget; the movie certainly lost money here, but overseas may have made enough to at least break even, or maybe not.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day