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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Film Reviews From the Basement

My friends Jay and Shawn over at "Film Reviews From the Basement" has agreed to a bit of a partnership between our two sites.  Every Friday night, while they're doing their Radio show on 92.5 FM "The X" in Kamloops, BC from 10:00 pm to 11:00 pm, I'll be posting tweets for them letting their Twitter fans know what's going on.  We did it for the first time this Friday- and they managed to gain three new listeners!  How awesome is that!?! 

In addition, once a month, I'll be stepping out of my corner and into the basement with a review of either a classic or more recent horror film.  We'll actually be kicking  that off this upcoming Friday when I actually review a Sci-Fi classic- Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey". I know it's not horror, but don't worry, I'll start in with the proper genre in April.

Also, every Sunday, they convert their radio show into a Podcast on PodOmatic, for those  that missed the live show.  In order to spread their views on filmdom, I've added a box that'll show their latest episodes.

So, check them out at their blog, live on the radio Friday nights- or live online at TheX.ca, not so live on Sunday on PodOmatic, on their Twitter account, or right here!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Audrey Rose

A father is devestated when a firey car crash kills his wife and daughter- Audrey Rose.  Seeking comfort in their passing, Elliot goes for advice from a psychic- who informs him that his daughter has been reincarnated... and is in torment.  Enter Ivy Templeton, a sweet girl whom Elliot is convinced houses his dead daughter's suffering soul.  Is she, and what lengths will Elliot go in order to save his dead daughter?

This 1975 novel by Frank De Felitta came at a time when the New Age movement started gaining popularity.  The idea of reincarnation was catching on, and interest in the supernatural was growing.  Questions about whether or not a soul maintains memories from its previous life when reincarnated were being asked.  What if the previous life ended horribly- would those memories be transferred to the new body?

"Audrey Rose" examines that question, and uses it as the basis for an interesting and eerie read.  Like some of the best horror stories, the scares don't come from and evil being hunting you down... they come from ordinary people and situations being turned upside down for absolutely no reason other than horrifying random chance.  The characters in this book are exactly that- ordinary people... there is no evil person out to spread blood on the walls... just people who could be your neighbours trying to deal with a situation beyond their understanding.  The situations in this book start out ordinary too- but grow less and less ordinary, bringing the characters into a situation that is beyond their control.

And that is the real scare in this book- the loss of control and understanding of what's going on.  Being helpless as things ceaselessly grind towards their painful and shattering conclusion.

De Felitta writes a flowing narrative, giving you a good sense of the envrionment, the people, and the events without being overly descriptive.  He escalates and escalates the tension with each event he puts his characters through, making you relate, care about and empathise with the characters.  How would you react in Elliot's place, believing your daughter's soul was trapped and suffering in another person?  How would you react if you were Janice- Ivy Templeton's mother, and a stranger kept insisting that your daughter was also his daughter?  What would you do if you were faced with the terrifying choices they had to make?

I would have no qualms about reading this fine piece of horror literature on a dark night- with only the crackling fire to keep my company.  I would rate "Audrey Rose" as part of "The Good".

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dead Noon


Demons, skeletons, gun slingers and zombies abound as an old west outlaw rises from the grave in the modern west seeking revenge.

Of the genres that tends to attract the most deplorable movies, I would have to say that horror and comedy are about equal.  At least with horror, you can count on- if not an A-List movie, at least coming across a decent B-Grade movie... unlike comedy where it's either a good comedy, or a trainwreck.

Of course, that's not to say that the horror genre doesn't have its share of trainwrecks... or in the case of "Dead Noon," stagecoach wrecks.

The premise sounds cool in a Sam Raimi, "Evil Dead: Army of Darkness" sort of way.  The potential for humour and scares is ripe for that premise.  Too bad this movie doesn't come close to fulfilling that potential.

I have a very basic movie watching rule: You don't stop until it's over.  I wound up breaking that rule while watching this movie... within the first ten to fifteen minutes.  My best friend- Jason (from "Film Reviews in the Basement") and I watched this film for a B-Movie Night.  Beer, pizza, and fun cheesy movies.  We had beer (quite a bit of beer, actually), we had pizza... but in "Dead Noon," we lacked the fun cheesy movie.

When you can't even derive enjoyment from poking fun at a movie... when you can't even drink the horrible experience away... when you actually turn the movie off... you know that the movie is part of "The Ugly".

Thursday, February 17, 2011

John Carpenter's The Fog

1980 saw the town of Antonio Bay, California celebrating it's 100th birthday, and some uninvited guests showing up to wish them a "Happy Deathday" in John Carpenter's "The Fog"...

After the success of "Halloween" Carpenter was given a budget of one million dollars, and filmed "The Fog".  after creating a rough cut, he realized that as it was, the movie didn't work- so he added and reshot many scenes to highten the gore and horror elements.  In fact, one third of the movie comprises of the added and reshot material.

As with "Halloween", John Carpenter showed great skill in directing.  He deftly builds up tension and suspense to a good level before releasing the audience from Death's cold grip.  His use of sound and visual effects, enables the fog itself to become as much a menacing character as it is a mood setter.  I also like John Carpenter's brief cameo as well.

The characters are well developed and engaging, and the actors brought credibility to the roles.  The story gives each character a chance to show the audience who they are, and to connect with the viewers.  Even the antagonist is developed to where you understand them and their motivation.

The story is well written, and moves at a steady pace that keeps you interested.  Since ghost stories are best when told late at night while around a flickering camp fire, the prologue scene of the old fisherman telling a ghost story to the kids turned the movie from just a "horror movie" into a campfire story, and set the mood nicely.

There is gore in this movie, but like "Halloween," is not heaped on you in a scarlet rain of blood.  In fact, the fact that all you see is a ragged, seaweed draped arm coming out of the pulsating fog to drag a victim into its misty depths is errie and lets your imagination wonder exactly WHAT does the rest of the thing in the fog look like.  The gore that is shown is almost an after thought in order to satisfy the trend of movies having more graphic carnage.

As part of "The Good", I'll be watching this movie when the fog rolls in... and wondering if that knocking was from a seaweed draped arm...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Zombie Survival Guide

Well all know it's coming.  We've seen the movies.  We've seen the Facebook tests.  We've seen it in the blank expressions of people shuffling off to their morning Starbucks...

The zombie apocalypse.  Hoardes of the dead rising from their graves to feast upon the flesh and brains of the living.  We've seen the progression- from "Night of the Living Dead", through it's dawn, and day until the world is the "Land of the Dead".

So, yeah- we all know it's coming.  The question is: "What do we do when it comes?"  Well, here's the answer: "Max Brooks' 'The Zombie Survival Guide', that's what."

This book, though obviously tongue-in-cheek, could very well be an honest to goodness survival guide.  It is well thought out, clear, precise, and logical in its approach to how one could survive a mass uprising of the feasting dead.

"The Zombie Survival Guide" covers the "known facts" about zombies, creating a credible background to the rest of the book.  With that done, it goes into how to prepare for an approaching increase of zombie activity, and then into what to do when the zombie apocalypse officially starts.  Using a simple, easy to follow format, Brooks breaks things down into categories covering everything from fortifications, clothing, weapons, vehicles, escape and evasion, defence and offense, and even the advantages of short hair over long.

There are also illustrations that are VERY much like those you find in actual survival guides- and remind me of many of the manuals I read during my time in the military.

Fans of zombie films will enjoy this collectible book, and even non-fans will probably get a chuckle, as well as be impressed by the thoroughness and the intellegence behind this unique book.

We all know it's coming- and thanks to Max Brooks' "The Zombie Survival Guide," I'll at least be prepared and able to survive zombie armmagedon... which makes this book part of "The Good".

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine

In honour of today being Valentine's Day... a day when we all want to win that "special" someone's heart (and possibly gnaw on it a bit), I thought I would revisit a horror movie based on this romantic day.  I remember watching the original "My Bloody Valentine" several years ago, but I can't remember enough to do a decent review of it- nor have I seen the recent remake of it.

So, alas, I will have to shoot my arrows at the 2001 teen slasher move, "Valentine".  I wish I could say these were arrows of love, but alas (I do love that word), I can not.  Cupid's arrow misses the mark with this not so sweet gift.

Even though I do enjoy David  Boreanaz in the TV show "Angel", and as FBI Special Agent Seely Booth on "Bones", he wasn't quite able to save this film from being a Valentine offering I'd like to return to sender.  Nor could Denise Richards' hotness, since she was a big draw name at the time.  The rest of the actors were passable, but what good is passable acting when the characters lack any redeeming value that makes you at least care when they die?

I will give this movie credit for doing a decent job filming the kill scenes... but they lacked the scares needed when you consider the nasty personalities of those getting offed.  Despite the effort put into these scenes, they do come off as if the killer was following the steps outlined in a manual.

So, lack of scares and likeable characters, formulaic kills, and passable acting unfortunately puts this movie within "The Ugly", and doesn't win this piece a place in my heart.

A Dietary Consideration

Imagine if you will that you're a zombie.  You're shambling along the darkened streets of the city, the occasional flickering of the street lights illuminating you in a staccato rhythm.  Your kindred are staggering through the alleys and parks around you.  All you know is a need... an unending hunger... and undying, painful desire for human flesh.

Suddenly the sound of voices, and the scent of living meat draws your attention to the intersection in front of you.  The deathly silent air brings the voices and the enticing aroma of dinner to you- pulling you forward with a sluggish limping gait.  You approach them, the shadows and their voices disguising your approach.  If you could articulate what you saw, you would describe one of the appetizing morsels as lean... low fat but tough.  The other tasty treat is high in fat, but tender.

Suddenly, the street light on the corner comes on as its timer activates!  They see you, and in some dim corner of your thinking mind, you realize they're going to bolt.  The lean victim scurries off down the road to the left, while the fatty one rushes down the one on the right.

Which would you pursue?

I'm often confronted with this question when it comes to my horror movies.  I'll be at Future Shop, or London Drugs perusing the movie section and see a low budget horror movie sitting next to a higher budget one.  Should I eat the lean, or the fatty victim?  It's really not that easy of a question, since there are benefits and detriments to both sides of the question... though, personally, I tend to lean towards the "lean meat" of horror movies...

The main downside to a "lean", low budget horror movie is... well, the lack of money to do stuff.  When you don't have much money for a movie, you're severely limited in how "special" your special effects are.  After all, it's hard to have a decent army of walking CGI skeletons when you only have $22,000.00 to spend on your movie.  The same can be said about casting- you may want to cast Rutger Hauer as Satan in your movie, but if you can't afford it, you can't have him.  A low budget also limits your locations, sets and props.  Your script may call for filming in Paris, but since you might now have enough for the trip, you'll probably wind up having to settle for a coffee shop with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on the wall.

Of course, a low budget can have some positive side effects as well.  The main one is forcing the director and crew to be creative and innovative with what they have.  It also forces the director to cut out things that "would be nice and cool", and focus on what actually is needed to tell the story.  If John Carpenter had a bigger budget, he probably could have added more gore and cool locations to "Halloween", but we probably wouldn't have the highly effective opening sequence, nor the tightness of pacing and suspense that made his movie such an enduring classic.

And low budget films are great for actors and actresses just starting out.  Let's face it, if it wasn't for low budget horror movies like "Halloween", Wes Craven's, "A Nightmare on Elm Street", and Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead", celebrities like Jamie Lee Curtis, Johnny Depp, and Bruce Campbell might not have gotten a start in movies.  Wes Craven probably could have gotten more "teen idols" to attract the teen crowd (in the 80's there were A LOT of teen stars), but the characters probably would've been overshadowed by the names of the actors who played them.  And while it's true that that most low budget horror films contain bad acting, we need to remember that other than comedy, horror is actually one of the harder genres to act in since there is a fine line between a scary movie and a laughable movie.  Besides, even if you're laughing at the movie, you're still being entertained- which is to be honest, the goal of EVERY movie... or should be.

I have found that for me, some of the best horror films have been ones where they're limited in the number or scope of their settings.  This helps to create a sense of claustrophobia (especially if the director uses tight close up shots of scenes), and adds to the tension since we know the cause of the horror is nearby, but don't know when or where exactly it'll strike.  Would "Evil Dead" have been as effective and fun if Sam Raimi hadn't been limited to a small cabin and the words surrounding it?  I don't think so.  You knew that the evil was outside the cabin door... and even inside the cabin.  The fun came from watching it "play" with its prey.

So, when I'm shuffling down the DVD aisles at my local stores, and I see a lean piece of movie meat sitting next to a plumper tidbit, I'll grab a bite of the lean meat... after all even a zombie should watch its cholesterol...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dementia 13

I'm going to go back in time for my first movie... all the way back to when Francis Ford Coppola was just starting out... back to 1963...

Producer Roger Corman hired Coppola to direct "Dementia 13" right after shooting the movie "The Young Racers," with a budget of $22,000.00, and his friends acting in it for about $600.00.  The script was written in about three days, and shows in the slight stiffness of the dialogue.  When it was released in theatres, Corman insisted on having a William Castle-like "prologue", where a "professional psychiatrist" discusses the D-13 test handed out to the audience... in order to see if they were mentally fit to watch the movie.

For me, this is one of my favorite horror movies.  True, the dialogue is stiff and awkward, and the storyline is a little confusing and disjointed, but under that roughness created by the short span of time used to write and film the movie, you can see the potential sparkle of a true gem.

The characters are interesting, and they actors do a great job of portraying them.  William Campbell (who Star Trek fans will recognize as Trelane from "The Squire of Gothos" episode of the Original Series, and as the Klingon Captain Koloth), was superbe as the moody elder Haloran brother.  I also enjoyed Patrick Magee's turn as the slightly condescending and sinister Dr. Caleb... even if I did want the character to die...

Coppola uses his budget well by being creative with the camera angles, limiting the number of locations needed for shooting, and his use of shadows and light to create an errie and ominous mood.  The scene with the child's bedroom and the toy monkey still gives me goosebumps.

It's been claimed that this is a gorey film, but it's not really.  In fact, there are only two "gorey" scenes, with very little blood on the screen.  In fact, horror fans looking for a high body count will be a little dissatisfied with this movie.  But the scenes are well shot, and suspenseful, which- for me at least, balanced things out.

Now, I'm known amongst my friends for having a rabid dislike and wariness of remakes- especially of horror films (something I'll discuss at a later date).  Having said that, "Dementia 13" is a movie that I'd love to do a remake of, since the general storyline offers opportunities for more insight and development of the characters.  There is potential to bring something new to this movie.

Despite the stilted dialogue, and rushed production values, I would have to rate this movie (according to the rating system used by my friends at "Film Reviews From the Basement"), as solidly in "The Good"

The Curtain Rises... and the Lights Dim...

There is nothing like sitting in a darkened theatre.  The lights slowly dimming... the curtains parting... the audience quieting down.

And then the gasps, and screams, and the rustle of clothes as people jump and squirm in their seats at the sights upon the screen...

There is nothing like the horror movie.  They can reach deep into our minds, and bring out most twisted nightmares to hellish reality in front of us.  They can splatter us with hot crimson life blood and slimey entrails.  They can stalk us from the shadows and pounce on us with the speed and violence of a black panther.  They can haunt us long after the lights come up and the credits roll.

Oh, yes... to my mind, there is nothing like the horror movie.  Vampires, zombies, and werewolves.  Sea serpents, radioactive lemmings, and rampaging dinosaurs.  Faceless killers, suave psychos, and beautiful black widows.  Ghosts, banshees, and demonic children.  All up on the big screen... all for a perverse therapy session of mad scientist proportions.

But some of these horrors and abominations are better than others... and that's where The Corner of Terror comes in.  As a fan of the horror genre, I watch a lot of horror movies (and own quite a few too), so I'll be here in the darkness with you... whispering which movies are worth being scared by, and which deserve a stake through it's infernal heart.

Oh, and I'll be reminding you in a voice as silky as the shadows that it's only a movie... at least it is until the cold fingers of Death caresses your cheek... and you scream...