VHS


V/H/S

All in all, you might have been better off using Match.com

(2012) Horror (Magnet) Calvin Reeder, Adam Wingard, Lane Hughes, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes, Drew Sawyer, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Norma C. Quinones, Drew Moerlein, Chad Villella, Matt Bertinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Paul Natonek. Directed by David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Radio Silence, Glenn McQuaid and Adam Wingard

 

While technology improves, some things stay the same. We can upgrade our recording systems but the images don’t change much. One vacation video is pretty much the same as another, whether it was taken in 1982 or 2012.

But these are anything but vacation videos unless you have a peculiar idea of relaxation, but let’s start from the beginning. An unknown party hires four small-time criminals who are known for making videos of women that they catch in parking garages and brutally show off their naked breasts. These make tons of money on the Internet, but their mysterious employer isn’t interested in boobs. He wants the gang of four to enter a house that’s more or less deserted (and it turns out to be less), and steal a videotape.

Break in they do and they enter the house to find a dead body and a pile of videotapes. As one of the group checks out the tapes to figure out which one is the right one, the rest of the group goes to investigate a series of mysterious noises – and you know that is going to end badly.

The first tape concerns a trio of frat boy-sorts who attach a spy-cam to one of the lad’s glasses and they go out hoping to get him laid. After some trial and error and enough alcohol to prove that these boys (save the one with the camera) are pretty much assholes when drunk, they manage to pick up a couple of girls. One of them passes out quickly but the other, named Lily, takes a shine to the cameraman (“I like you” she says repeatedly) but apparently one of the frat boys likes her a lot and decides to horn in on the action. Lily doesn’t seem to mind at first but, well, she’s a very special girl.

In the second, a newly married couple visit a southwestern tourist attraction – a wild west ghost town and do some hiking in the mountains. They are followed by a young woman who seems a little creepy, particularly to the husband. He really doesn’t know the half of it as some of the minor annoyances on their trip are her doing. But what are her intentions and why is she doing this?

In the third, a quartet of friends visit the home town of one of them who once they enter the woods around the town begins to act strangely. It turns out that there were some inexplicable murders there a few years earlier and that their friend knows more about the subject than she’s let on. As her creepy pronouncement that they’re all going to die there looks more and more likely, they’ll discover that the killer is still around and a creature like him they’ve never seen – say hello to Glitch Man.

The fourth is mainly the Skype conversation between a doctor and his girlfriend, who is convinced that the house she is in is haunted. He, being a rational sort is skeptical but he begins to see things too. Soon he’s more concerned about her situation than she is – she’s convinced that she can reason with the spirits and send them on their merry merry. But she may have miscalculated their intentions, particularly in relation to the mysterious bump on her arm.

The final tape shows a group of four friends who are invited to a Halloween party at an isolated house on the edge of town. Sounds like fun so the high-spirited boys and off they went to a very nice house in the middle of nowhere. When they get there, nobody’s there even though the house is unlocked and all the lights are on. While they speculate that this might be a Halloween attraction of some sort, however, it’s not the sort of attraction you’d want to spend money on and when the boys make it into the attic, all hell is going to break loose.

Anthologies are a horror film mainstay. It’s an effort to tell shorter stories that might deserve a telling without devoting an entire movie  In this case, each vignette is directed by a young up-and-coming filmmaker in the underground and mainstream horror genres. West is the best known, having directed the sequel to Cabin Fever which actually wasn’t all that bad for a direct-to-video effort and a really fine horror movie from last year called The Innkeepers. The rest are not as familiar to me so I didn’t really know what to expect. And pretty much as you might expect, the efforts here run from really good (the first tape) to not so much (the fourth).

The acting is as you also would expect rather uneven as well, although there are some finds. Hannah Fierman as Lily in the first movie is genuinely creepy. Her transformation from meek party girl to…well, I don’t want to spoil it but trust me it’s pretty spectacular and Hannah has a lot to do with it. If you see her in a bar near you walk on my friend, walk on.

The glitch man in the third vignette is also pretty nifty although the constant noise and jumpiness in the film gets really old really fast. In fact, one of the conceits of the movie is that they are all from videotapes so the quality of the images is pretty weak but that doesn’t mean the cinematography is bad, if that makes sense.

There is a gratuitous amount of gore and bare breasts, so if those things offend you my guess is you wouldn’t be interested in seeing a movie like this anyway. Everyone else, this is a solid and spectacular in places horror anthology that won’t completely win you over (the weak portions can be pretty boring and the movie at a little over two hours is about 20 minutes too long for my taste – a whole vignette could have been eliminated and they would have been much better off. Short of that, it’s available on VOD right now so if it isn’t playing near you, you can still check it out.

REASONS TO GO: Lots of gore and lots of boobs – mainstays for an excellent horror film.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the vignettes are more successful than others.

FAMILY VALUES:  A load of strong and often gruesome violence, lots of nudity, a fair amount of bad language, some horrific images and a bit of drug use. Oh, and some sex

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Ti West grew up in Delaware and went to the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/27/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 52% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100. The reviews are as mixed as you can get.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Videodrome

HORROR FILM ANTHOLOGY LOVERS: This comes from a tradition of horror film anthologies, several tales (often with different directors) linked together by a single story; among the more recognized anthologies include Twilight Zone: The Movie, Creepshow, Tales of Terror, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Trilogy of Terror, Cat’s Eye and The House That Dripped Blood.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Day 3 in the Six Days of Darkness 2012

The Bleeding House


 

The Bleeding House

This isn’t the Fuller Brush man.

(2011) Horror (Tribeca) Alexandra Chando, Patrick Breen, Betsy Aidem, Charlie Hewson, Nina Lisandrello, Richard Bekin, Henderson Wade, Court Young, Victoria Dalpe. Directed by Phillip Gelatt

 

Your sins will generally find you out, and karma can come in an ice cream suit. Yeah, you’ve heard it before. Most of us do what we have to do to survive and occasionally we dodge what we perceive to be a bullet; but sometimes that lands us into a far worse situation.

The Smiths live on the outside of town, isolated and generally left to themselves. They are not really welcome in town; there was a fire which killed a family in town that the Smiths were pretty much credited with setting. However the father, Matt (Bekin) who is a crack lawyer, got his wife Marilyn (Aidem) off for the crime – she was the one accused. Ever since, the Smiths have been social pariahs.

Daughter Gloria (Chando) doesn’t really care. She’s a bit on the off side, prone to pinning insects to her wall and also to fits of rage. Quentin (Hewson) is the normal one in the family – the young son who yearns to leave this house and live somewhere where nobody knows who his family is or what they are accused of doing. His girlfriend Lynne (Lisandrello) urges him to leave and he finally, now that he’s turned 18, has the gumption to do just that.

Into this unnerving and volatile mix comes Nick (Breen), a sweet-talking stranger of excessive politeness wearing a white suit that Tom Wolfe might have owned. His car has broken down and a mechanic won’t be available until the morning. Would it be possible for him to spend the night as temperatures are expected to go down below freezing that evening? Matt is reluctant but Marilyn sees this as an opportunity to have an act of charity change the opinion of the townspeople regarding the Smiths. As Matt has just recently lost the position of running a high-profile case that would have turned around the family’s ailing fortunes, every bit of positive spin on the family is needed.

Of course, horror film veterans will know that Nick isn’t who he claims to be and that what happened the night of the fire is far different than what anybody in town has realized. The sins of the family are about to come to roost and who will be left standing at the end is anybody’s guess.

There is an air of Southern gothic here (although I think the film is set in the Northeast) mostly provided by Breen, who oozes silky, snaky charm. The theme of Biblical retribution adds to that feel, although the rest of the cast wisely stays away from acting in that style, a juxtaposition that adds to the movie’s allure.

Horror fans may find the movie a bit slow-moving, particularly in terms of the murders but fear not – when they do come, they are gruesome if not inventive. Gelatt prefers to let you know what’s coming and allows his characters to be aware that they are about to die. It adds to the psychological torture of the victims and of course that is transferred to the audience who squirm in their seats either hoping that the victims will get away or for certain sorts to hope that the murderer finishes the deeds.

There really isn’t much that is going to surprise veteran horror fans, which goes in the negative column; the secret that the Smiths are hiding isn’t really hard to figure out although there are some nice touches, such as Marilyn cutting the meat for the family (including the stranger Nick) because the knives are locked away where a certain member of the family can’t get at them (no points if you figure out which one).

While the story isn’t particularly new or told in a fashion that is fresh, it’s still a pretty fair tale and given how Breen carries the movie with slick Southern charm, you’ll be hooked in unless, of course, horror isn’t to your taste. If it is, this is one of those movies that kind of fell by the wayside that didn’t get the press coverage or fanboy love that it might have deserved. If you’re looking for something you didn’t see in the theaters to rent one dark night, this one might just be the movie you’re looking for.

WHY RENT THIS: Well-made and tautly paced. Breen is deliciously malevolent. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Plot points are telegraphed more than a little bit. Payoff twist is nice but not really surprising.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of graphic violence, a few bad words and some disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Chando was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Best Younger Actress for her work in “As the World Turns.”

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Septien

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Book of Eli


The Book of Eli

Tell them Eli's coming and Heaven's coming with him.

(Warner Brothers) Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Michael Gambon, Frances de la Tour, Malcolm McDowell, Tom Waits, Evan Jones, Joe Pingue, Chris Browning, Lora Martinez-Cunningham. Directed by the Hughes Brothers

There are those who say that faith and religion are to blame for all the world’s troubles. There are also those who say that the world would be a savage place without them.

The world as we know it has come to an end. War has ripped a hole in the ozone, allowing the sun’s radiation to cook the Earth. It is the apocalypse, and as we all know from watching films set in the post-Apocalyptic era, the Earth turns into the Old West.

Down the dusty pock-marked roads that are all that is left of the Interstates comes a walker, a middle-aged man – something that is rare in this world where both the good and the bad die young – carrying a satchel and armed to the teeth, as would be prudent in a time where law and civilization have broken down. Darwin’s law has become the only law that is enforced.

The man is Eli (Washington) and he carries with him something very valuable. Not just the trinkets he’s been able to pick up, mostly from corpses and the already-stripped houses that remain standing, but something worth dying for…maybe even worth killing for. It is the King James Bible, and it may be the last one left. After the war had decimated the planet, many of those who remained on it blamed religion for the war and Bible-burning became the new national pastime.

Eli is a man to be reckoned with, lightning quick and merciless with knives, as a group of scavenging hijackers who mean to rob him and eat him find out. He is also merciful and compassionate with the weak, as the woman (Martinez-Cunningham) who was used as bait also discovers.

Eli comes to a small town which looks uncannily like Tombstone, Arizona, mostly to get supplies and to recharge a battery charger. While he’s waiting for the Engineer (Waits) who runs the general store to charge the battery, he goes across the street to the Orpheum bar to fill his canteen. Some rough and tumble sorts led by Martz (Jones) try to mess with him and wind up writhing on the floor or dead. The leader of the town, Carnegie (Oldman) is impressed and is anxious for Eli to join his group of enforcers. Eli is unwilling; he has business to the West to which Carnegie responds “There’s nothing west of here.” Carnegie isn’t the sort to take no for an answer so he has Eli sleep on it, whether he wants to or not.

Carnegie sends his girlfriend in, blind Claudia (Beals) with food and drink. He then sends in Claudia’s daughter Solara (Kunis) to tempt him with baser charms. Eli turns her down but she begs him to allow her to stay the night and give Carnegie the illusion that she had done as he asked; if he does not, she tells him, her mother will pay the price for her failure. Eli relents and allows her to stay.

The next morning Solara inadvertently lets slip that Eli is carrying with him a book. Carnegie goes ballistic – this is the very book he has been sending bands of illiterate marauders out to retrieve. With it he can control the remaining populace and act as a kind of post-Apocalyptic messiah. He has to have this book! He and his right hand man Redridge (Stevenson) go running into Eli’s cell, only to find him gone. He hasn’t gone far and after a brutal gun battle in which Carnegie gets hit in the leg, Eli escapes with Solara chasing after him, eager to get away from her existence in the town.

The enraged Carnegie takes nearly all his enforcers in what vehicles remain and head out after him. Eli believes he is on a divine mission to take the Bible to safety, but with such a man on his tail can Eli reach safety even with heavenly assistance?

While much about the movie is basic Post-Apocalypse 101 from the Old West-style towns, the rusting cars abandoned on highways that have collapsed, the desert-like environment to the abundance of trenchcoats and shotguns, the concept is unique. It is not your usual action-adventure type of film that is usual for this genre (although there is plenty of both); it is also meant to be an examination of faith and belief.

Kudos for screenwriter Gary Whitta and the Hughes Brothers for trying something a little daring. It is not an easy sale sometimes for secular Hollywood to take on themes of morality and faith, but they do so here. I’m sure the presence of Denzel Washington in the project had more than a little to do with the studio taking a chance on it.

Washington is perhaps the most movie star-like actor out there today. He has the kind of screen presence and charisma that gives him appeal not only to African-American audiences who revere him, but also to white audiences who respect him, female audiences who adore him and male audiences who want to be like him. He carries films in the same way that Clint Eastwood once did. In fact, this is the most Eastwood-like of Washington’s performances ever, as he plays essentially a man with no name and of few words who comes into a town, kicks ass and fights injustice. It’s the kind of role few have tackled since Eastwood hung up his gunbelt.

Kunis has been getting a lot of high-profile roles lately, and she has a great deal of potential, but in many ways this was the wrong part for her. She seems far more adept at light comedies and romantic roles than in action movies. However, I was pleased to see Jennifer Beals do so well in this movie; after Flashdance she never really regained the kind of attention that movie brought her, but she is a talented performer as she shows undeniably here. Ray Stevenson, who was last seen playing the comic book character the Punisher is also very strong as Carnegie’s lackey.

Gary Oldman plays villains with a great deal of panache and you get the feeling that he has more fun with them than he does with characters like Sirius Black from the Harry Potter movies. He is certainly playing a demagogue – when we first meet Carnegie he’s reading a biography of Mussolini – but he’s not completely unsympathetic.

I have to mention that there is a bit of a twist ending here, one I didn’t see coming which is somewhat unusual these days, and it elevates the movie in my opinion. However, it also must be said that because the filmmakers are showing a world in which the sunlight is much brighter, the whole movie has a washed out, colorless look that is at times distracting. I know it’s probably a realistic look and I understand what the filmmakers were going for, but just the same it did wear a little bit on me personally. Just sayin’.

I’m not going to say this is a pleasant little film because there’s a good deal of brutality in it, but I found it to be a pleasant surprise. It was much better than most of the critics I’ve read and heard from made it out to be. Denzel is a fine actor and an engaging screen presence and while I hesitate to say he can do no wrong, he has for sure not done wrong here.

REASONS TO GO: A very nice twist at the end. Washington does his best Clint Eastwood and is surprisingly good at it. Oldman is always an engaging actor.

REASONS TO STAY: The film has a bit of a washed-out feeling that lacks color, which I found to be a bit distracting after awhile. Once you’ve seen one post-apocalyptic landscape, you’ve seen them all.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a great deal of brutality and some rough language. There’s also a suggestion of rape. Definitely not for the squeamish.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: On the wall of the room in which Eli is kept prisoner at the Orpheum is a poster for A Boy and His Dog, another post-apocalyptic movie.

HOME OR THEATER: It’s a bit washed-out from a cinematography standpoint, so a smaller screen might lose some detail. See it in a theater just to be on the safe side.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Darwin Awards