Saturday, November 16, 2013


A kinda likable, but socially awkward and clearly troubled man (writer/director Alex Karpovsky) spends a weekend of hot sex and emotional intimacy with his beautiful coworker. After she tactfully but unmistakably breaks things off with him, he becomes infatuated with her. Soon enough things are progressing from passive-aggressive to manipulative to... worse.

I've seen plenty of these slow-burn thrillers before, about a loner with latently dangerous tendencies, essentially a ticking time-bomb waiting to go off and do something bad. Rubberneck is something of a low-key, microbudget, almost mumblecore take on the subgenre that succeeds by focusing on drama over thrills, and doing a damn good job of it. Although all the performances are strong, Karpovsky's performance is front and center, and he offers a sympathetic take on the character. He plays him as a nice, even sometimes funny guy who unfortunately has some deeper issues that come to the surface when he gets his feelings hurt. Most of the tension is low stakes and social; his misreading of the situation and how he handles it, the ways he begins to try to manipulate the woman without, perhaps, realizing he's doing anything wrong. Tragedy does come, eventually, but it is relatively brief compared to something like, I dunno, May or The Lost. In fact, the tense and sad finale is more of an emotional climax than an action-driven one, and it strikes just the right tone for a film that is more concerned with understanding its disturbed protagonist than it is demonizing him.

Rating: B+

Beyond Dream's Door

A college student begins having increasingly bizarre and vivid nightmares (some of them while he's still awake) that seem to involve someone else's memories. And not only that, but other folks who have vanished may have had the same dreams.

Beyond Dream's Door tries to do hallucinogenic, Lovecraftian horror on a low budget, and though it doesn't exactly succeed, I had to respect the filmmakers' imagination and ambition. The plot is cool and a bit unique, the mystery actually fairly engrossing, and they find a lot of cool visuals in the myriad dream sequences. But the budget and the era keep it from ever really being effective. The acting is awkward as hell, the dialogue tin-eared, the clothing and hairstyles are painfully late 80's/early 90's, the special effects are almost always unconvincing (although they do an okay job of hiding this sometimes). Still, you feel like those involved actually gave a shit and were trying to do something fun and interesting, and if it doesn't really work, it's at least a little satisfying seeing them try.

Rating: C+

No One Lives

A biker gang abducts an out-of-towner and his girlfriend to steal his stuff and money only to find out that, oh shit, he's a vicious serial killer with a young woman held captive in the back of his trailer. When the killer gets loose, this young woman and her knowledge of the killer may be the gang's only hope of survival.

No One Lives is the kind of deadly serious but completely absurd, roller-coaster ride of a horror movie that director Ryuhei Kitamura previously attempted and biffed with Midnight Meat Train. It sets up an already ludicrous premise and continually pushes it further and further over the line, all while maintaining a knowing air of sincerity. I would say it's something like if The Collection had all of its overt humor removed. It's the kind of movie where the killer sneaks into a biker compound by hollowing out a fat man and hiding in his corpse... and admit it, reading this sentence made you really want to see it.

The only major flaw, I think, is the actor playing the killer. I know part of the idea is that we're not supposed to realize he's a killer at first (although it's immediately obvious), so that's why they cast a pretty-boy type, but he is just not convincing when he switches into Hannibal Lector mode. He lacks the required charisma and intensity, and just never feels like much of a threat even as he starts pulling some crazy, brutal survivalist type shit. Luckily, Silent Hill: Revelations star and Michelle Williams lookalike Adelaide Clemens plays his prisoner, and she makes for a great, badass final girl. She may have a great career ahead of her in actual good movies, but for the time being I'm appreciating her as one of the more talented and beautiful scream queens going.

Rating: B


This reasonably faithful remake of William Lustig's infamous 80's sleaze-sterpiece about a serial killer who scalps his victims and puts the scalps on mannequins in his apartment and pretends they are his girlfriends (hmm maybe you had to be there), throws an interesting twist in: most of the film is shot from the perspective of the maniac himself (Elijah Wood), only cutting to a 3rd person perspective on a few brief occasions.

The original Maniac is far from perfect, but it is incredibly memorable for the weird, scuzzy, gritty tone it achieves, as well as some shocking violence and a handful of effective set pieces. So it's interesting that director Franck Khaloun (the underrated P2) follows the story fairly closely, but completely changes the style. Not only does he adopt the intriguing 1st person POV gimmick, but his film is all slick, stylish and professional.

The gimmick itself is basically pointless except that it's well executed from a technical perspective and adds an additional layer of entertainment to a pretty straightforward serial killer/slasher story. I would have preferred if the filmmakers had attempted more long takes and played around more with the subjectivity of the events we are seeing through the maniac's eyes. Yet, if they don't go above and beyond in using the gimmick to do something new, they at least don't fuck it up and instead craft a tense, disturbing horror film with a fully realized central character. It succeeds not so much because of the gimmick but in spite of it, or unrelated to it, and that's okay. I'd take a hundred more movies like this over another "found footage" POV horror movie any day.

Rating: B+


So a bunch of nerdy scientists are playing what seems to be the world's most boring LARP in the science building at their school. The only problem is, there's an murderous baboon on the loose in the building who has been injected with some sort of, I don't know, anger chemical that makes him homicidal.

Well, shit, I am way behind on these posts and am already starting to forget a lot of key details about these movies. So we're going to keep these brief. Shakma is a perfectly acceptable, mildly fun 70 minute monster-movie type dealie, except stretched out to an interminable hour and 40 minutes. What should be quick, to the point and silly ends up being a glacially paced bore with a surprising lack of humor about itself. Most of the second half of the movie is just the main character slowly walking around, discovering the bodies of his colleagues one by one. By the time he finally takes on Shakma mano-a-baboon, all the energy has been let out of the film.

Mitigating factor: Roddy McDowell has a small role.

Rating: C-

Friday, November 1, 2013

Blood Runs Cold

Basically stock slasher plot #12: people partying in an isolated house are attacked by a seemingly unmotivated, unkillable killer. And it's snowy.

Blood Runs Cold is an unoriginal but perfectly acceptable, even kinda fun slasher movie with one weird detail that I can't tell if it helps or hurts the experience. See the film is Swedish, but for some damn fool reason the filmmakers decided to film the thing in English. And although the cast all speak the language well, it's painfully, fascinatingly clear at every moment that not a one of them is a native English speaker. So what's going on here? Are they a bunch of European expats living in America somewhere? Swedes in some weird Swedish town that was originally colonized by the English? Are they all taking a trip to Canada soon and they just want to practice their English? What the hell is going on, why aren't these people speaking their native tongue?

So come for the reasonably well-crafted set pieces and fun gore, and stay for the cognitive dissonance.

Rating: B-

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

In this parody of low budget 50's sci-fi/horror movies, an alien couple with a big pet monster square off against a psychic skeleton to obtain a rare, useful element.

Ugh, we get it, man. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is kinda of amusing for maybe 10 minutes, then it gets pretty damn tedious. It suffers from a one-joke premise that isn't that great to begin with. Old shitty genre movies can be a lot of fun, but the whole point is that they are earnest and don't realize how terrible they are. Make it self-aware and the "joke" is gone; intentionally bad dialogue gets old, fast.

The film works best when it just turns into a more overt comedy instead of a labored-but-ironic homage; a scene with the alien couple unconvincingly pretending to be human is good fun. I'd be on board with a movie more along those lines; take a few calling cards of the genre and spin it out into something new and, you know, actually good. But more often than not the film falls victim to its own self-imposed limitations. At times it's almost too good at evoking these kinds of crappy old movies, in that just like those movies it feels like it can't fill its own brief running time and gets pretty boring.

Rating: C-

Nothing But the Night

The emotionally traumatized survivor of a schoolbus wreck may be the key to solving a series of "accidental" deaths that have happened to the trustees of the school. While her doctors (including Peter Cushing) try to protect her, and a detective (Christopher Lee) tries to piece the mystery together, sinister forces are trying to get to the girl.

More of a creepy mystery that only turns into a horror movie during its (pretty crazy) finale, Nothing But the Night boasts being the rare film, like The Skull, to have both Lee and Cushing in good guy roles. Although I would have preferred to see them more as a team, the film actually seems cleverly structured to make both actors seem more important than their actual screen time bears out. There's a nice fakeout where you are lead to believe a certain character is probably the lead, only to have him bumped off in the first half and have Cushing take up where he left off. So they got a lot of the setup out of the way with the other guy, they can give all the meat to Cushing.

I think the mystery got a little too complicated for me to follow, but the story still moves as though you understand it, so it doesn't matter. It all leads to a twist ending that, although not out of left field, almost feels like the movie switches genres mid scene. In a good way.

Rating: B

The Boogey Man

A soul, trapped in a mirror for reasons not interesting enough to explain, is released after the shattering of the mirror. An asshole in real life, he proceeds to get revenge on the family responsible for his death, and also some random people, too. Actually, pretty much anybody who comes in contact with one of the mirror shards.

Maybe it was just the crappy quality copy of Boogey Man on Amazon, but this certainly felt like a microbudget one. Cheap looking, stiff acting, unconvincing effects, the whole lot. On the upside, it seems like the filmmakers were at least trying, there is some atmosphere thanks to the John Carpenter/Halloween-y music and just the general look of the early 80s. Far from unwatchable, but not very good, most of the big set pieces just involve people getting stabbed by floating objects, which is not very exciting.

Rating: C-


A washed up horror novelist (Val Kilmer, at his Kilmerest) on a book tour stumbles onto a weird mystery in a small town which may serve as fodder for a new book. Only, he also begins having strange dreams which may relate to an older, possibly related mystery from many years before. Dreams and reality don't begin to blend so much as they begin commenting on each other. Oh, also, in his dreams he hangs out with Edgar Allen Poe and talks shop with him.

This is the first of Francis Ford Copolla's newer, comeback-ish sort of films I've bothered to see, and now I'm regretting not checking out the others. Because it turns out he's back in his don't-give-a-fuck, do what I want mode, and therein lies all his genius and madness. Twixt is sort of a love letter to horror movies (where Coppola got his start), and it's not so much a cohesive story as it is Coppola being a show-off. Which I always thought was his best color. Here, he does whatever the hell he wants at any given time, basically just to display the fact that he has the technical chops to do anything.

Twixt is gorgeous and strange and unique. It jumps back and forth between a surreal dreamworld and a real world that, frankly, doesn't feel much less stylized. There is a (kinda complex) story, but most of what happens seems to happen more for effect and atmosphere. Nominally it's a horror film but I wouldn't say it's scary; often it even plays like an offbeat comedy. At one point Coppola just sort of points the camera at Kilmer and let's him improvise a bunch of silly voices for a while. But then you'll get some truly bizarre and compelling imagery in the dream sequences. I thought I detected a weird tone of irony in the air; the dialogue and performances are somewhat stylized, and there at times seems to be a winking corniness to the whole thing. But Twixt has it both ways; it good naturedly mocks the genre (and to some degree, I suspect, Coppola himself) while also believing in its cinematic power. It's like if his version of Dracula played it just a little less straight.

In other words, it feels like a movie made specifically and only for me. Like one of my favorites from 2012, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Twixt peers into the oversoul of of corny genre cinema and finds art, abstracting the story and the visuals and the tone into something weird and beautiful.

Rating: A-

Tourist Trap

Your world is dark. You'll never see again. It's getting hard to breath isn't it? I'm going to seal the last openings. You won't be able to breath but you won't suffocate. Your heart will burst with fright before you lose consciousness.

Rating: A

Watcher in the Attic

A pervert crawls around the attic of his apartment building, using little peepholes to spy on the other occupants. One day a woman, while receiving oral sex from a clown (clownilingus), notices his watching eye... and likes it. This sets the two down a wicked path of violence and perversion, starting with murder and getting increasingly worse from there.

Edogawa Rampo (say it out loud) was a popular Japanese author who wrote in the horror and mystery genres, and often added a little pinch of abberant sexuality for flavor. Based on his story of the same title, with elements of other stories added (most notably "The Human Chair"), Watcher in the Attic is a slow, disturbing, erotic drama that only gradually morphs into something like a thriller. One's enjoyment (if one can be said to enjoy a movie that mainly delights in repelling the audience with extreme perversion) is largely dependant on how interesting one finds the sex on display. I watched this with a group of friends and family ("fun for the whole family"- something no one ever said about this film) and interestingly none of the men (except myself) enjoyed it, but the ladies did.

Partly this might be because these particular ladies were less jaded than these particular men, and could still be shocked/repelled/fascinated by this sort of thing. But I also think it might be because, despite shades of misogyny you can find in a lot of exploitation films (and Japaense ones in particular), it has something of a female sexual empowerment theme at its core. Sexually, it's the woman who has the power for most of the film (the watcher is, until later on, figuratively impotent, only a voyeur). Although her desires are increasingly extreme and evil, she is pro-active and dominant. The film is not shy about female sexuality and pleasure the way so many movies, still to this day, can be.

Watcher in the Attic, though slow, is nicely shot and staged and eventually works its way to at least one accomplished suspense sequence (the old "poison via string coming from the ceiling" gag that I think Rampo might have invented). It's not conventionally entertaining for much of the film, but the perversity on display is genuinely provocative and imaginative, and the thrust of the central relationship (one of those stories about two crazy lovers who fuel their own self-destruction) grows increasingly compelling, right up to its abrupt, apocalyptic ending.

Rating: B