Documentary Round-up: Crystal Lake Memories

Directed by: Daniel Farrands
Category: Documentary

I've always held the Friday the 13th franchise above all the others, like say the Halloween or Elm St. films. Not overbearingly high, but well enough above other slasher types like Freddy or Michael that for me, the Friday films sustain a constant theme, unlike say the Elm St. films for example, which pretty much went the way of fantasy after Part 3. And as far as the Halloween films go, I honestly feel that the only good ones out of all of them are the first 3 and the Rob Zombie versions, which are pretty awesome. I never, ever thought I'd say that since I avoided them so long like the plague, but holy shit, Zombie made 2 seriously authentic and entertaining slasher films with his 2 Halloween films. The rest are quite simply dull and uninspired films. If there was any other horror franchise that could rival my love for Jason and Friday the 13th, it would be the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films, which I happen to love to death.

While I love pretty much any of these other 80's slasher franchises to varying degrees, I've always been drawn more to Jason and the Friday the 13th films more than any other popular 80's horror slasher. For me, the Friday films represented the best of the slasher genre in my humble opinion, and not just because my name is also Jason...ahem. Sure I love the Texas Chainsaw Massacre's, the Halloween's, the Elm St.'s, but something about the simplicity of the Friday films always resonated with me; big guy in a hockey mask running around killing horny teenagers. They all carry the same theme that has hardly changed since the original in 1980; creative kills, zombie guy running around in a hockey mask killing horny teenagers, tons of unnecessary nudity. These are all things that the others only touch on randomly, whereas in the Friday films, they are a staple. Sure some of them are awful, and some of them are great, with the majority of them just being alright, but they're fun exercises in straight-up classic slasher horror with some being helmed by some truly talented filmmakers.

Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of the Friday the 13th is a documentary worthy of the Friday the 13th franchise. Exhaustive, comprehensive and immensely entertaining, this documentary only rivals the equally great Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, which also happens to be produced and directed by Daniel Farrands, the writer and director of this doc. Inspired by the book by Peter M. Bracke, Crystal Lake Memories covers everything from the original films origins to it's many, many sequels all the way to the 2009 reboot and even the better-than-it-should've-been television series. You also get in-depth interviews by as many cast and crew members as humanly possible and even the critical, fan, and box office reception of each individual film, something that they also did with Never Sleep Again, and an area I feel is greatly important that's usually missing from these types of documentaries. Even with the terrible entries, you hear from the cast and crew of those particular ones and you learn why they turned out so awful, or maybe instead, you grow an appreciation for it. It's your call.

Now I know what you're thinking, "Didn't we already have a Friday the 13th documentary?". Yes, yes we did, and that doc was called His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th, released in 2009. And guess what? It's also directed by Daniel Farrands, go figure. I've actually seen that documentary, and though I know a lot of people like it, I never did. It just always felt like something was off, or missing. It never flowed well, and lacked any kind of entertainment value. Maybe it was the people they chose to interview? Regardless, I didn't really care for them. But it seems Farrands might  have picked up on that because his work on Never Sleep Again was phenomenal, and it's certainly translated into Crystal Lake Memories.

Wrapping things all together is none other than Corey Feldman, of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, on narrating duties. This guy. I keep hoping Feldman gets some kind of a comeback. The guy has been in the business for god knows how long, and while he's still relatively young, I feel he's got the right kinda charisma that can easily translate to a second coming, should anybody give him the opportunity. Sure he still makes headlines from time to time - a while ago for his reality show and being married to a Playboy Playmate, but most recently for his crazy ass parties now that he's a single man again. But I still think he's got it, and if anybody deserves a comeback, it's that guy.

Clocking in at an impressive 400 minutes, you'll have hours and hours to dig into this insanely comprehensive and informative documentary. If there's an entry you love more than others - for me Part 4 and Part 6 being personal favorites - you'll be sure to get more info than you bargained for and that right there is worth more than this Blu-ray's ticket price. This shouldn't even be a question, rather an immediate purchase and in impulse buy. Do yourself a favor, buy this fucking Blu-ray ASAP and just be done with it already. You know you want to.


Low-Budget Horror: Almost Human

Directed by: Joe Begos
Category: Horror

Almost Human is a horror film written/produced/photographed/directed by Joe Begos. I know very little about this film other than the fact that it's been released under the IFC Midnight label, which bought the distribution rights after premiering at the Toronto Film Festival and that it was made by a small group of friends. It's been on my radar recently as the poster seems to pop up on different sites I follow on Facebook from time to time-I'm guessing when these sites are following up on the film's production and limited VOD release. You have to admit, that's a really cool poster. Rarely does anybody ever bother to release a full-on painted piece of poster art anymore, and for this reason alone, this film has stuck in my head. Recently it was added to Netflix Instant's list of new films this past week and so this was the perfect chance to see what it's all about.

I've seen on more than a few occasions that it's been referred to as a "throwback" or a "homage" to classic 80's slasher films, most notably by a guy I follow regularly, John Squires - the Freddy in Space guy, whom I admire and respect greatly, where he gave this a favorable review, essentially calling it a throwback done right. So as we sat down to watch this, we were more than a little excited. So was this the slam-dunk 80's slasher horror throwback it's been hailed as? Sadly, no. But that doesn't mean it's a bad film, because it's not. In fact, it's pretty good.

I think what gets mixed in the idea of describing this as a throwback is what exactly classifies a film as a "throwback". Here's what I found with Almost Human. The film, on a technical level, is made well, and put together as such. It's got some insanely impressive practical effects work and the acting is better than you expect it to be. And if I had to describe it, I would say it's a cross between John Carpenter's The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Fire in the Sky. But that's where the similarities to any 80's comparison ends, because while it has all of these impressive technical aspects, the fact of the matter is that it just doesn't look or feel like an 80's horror film, much less a "throwback". And what's interesting is that even though the film technically takes place in 1986, you'd never know it. Unfortunately, I think a lot of this is because writer/director Joe Begos just doesn't shoot it in any way to give it that homage or 80's feel, instead he films the picture the way 90% of new directors make movies these days, all hand-held style. Now, with Almost Human, yes, there are a few nice steady shots here and there, but the majority of it is in a hand-held free-style approach, and because of this, it just "looks" like any new horror film coming out these days. You can't say it's stylish, and certainly not definable at that. My thing is that if you're going to go through the trouble of making a film in the vein of these old school style horror films, make it "look" like one. This one looks and feels like any new horror film I randomly pick browsing Netflix on any given day.

I also found the pace a problem. Things happen, yes, and Andy Garfield's score keeps a constant eerie dreadful vibe, but there's never an urgency to anything, never any excitement. Everything's choreographed well enough; chases, fights, kills, but it's never built up very well to have any real effect. And that could be for a number of reasons. Editing, or just in how the music plays out in these specific scenes. But something always seems to be lacking when it feels like it should have had a much bigger impact. Maybe in the hands of a more experienced filmmaker would have made a difference, and perhaps a slightly more polished script.

With that being said, Almost Human is a film worth checking out. Creatively mixing a few genre favorites together and the use of some really great practical effects make for competent and well put-together film, only bogged down by it's uninteresting visual style and an often amateurish feel. It's short too, so even if you don't like it, you only need to invest an hour and 7 minutes of your time. Just think of it as an episode of Game of Thrones or House of Cards or something. One thing is for certain though, you'll more than likely be frustrated when the end credits come around. But I'll let you figure out why on your own. Almost Human is a good film, just not a great one.

Low-Budget Horror: Feast

Directed by: John Gulager
Category: Horror

Back in 2005 producers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck had a reality show called Project Greenlight, basically an insider's view into movie-making about the production process of a film. From what I understand, the first two seasons offered ho-hum results, that is until they decided to focus on the horror genre in season 3 and finding a film that could give their Project Greenlight a little boost. That film is Feast.

Before I get into any specifics, I feel it necessary to at least give it a positive or negative mark right upfront because you're probably wondering whether it's good or if it sucks. The word on the street was that this was good, and I can only wholeheartedly agree. Feast was one helluva good time.

Released in 2005, I only started becoming aware of it just a few years ago because the guy who wrote it, Marcus Dunstan, kinda blew me away with The Collection, the sequel to his slasher-in-a-house horror film The Collector. If you you love old school slasher horror and haven't gotten a chance to check either of these out yet, I strongly urge you to as soon as possible. The Collector is a good introduction, but The Collection is where it's at, easily being one of the best new slasher films to come out of the overpopulated horror genre in the last 15 years. Ever since then I had been wanting to see what else he was responsible for, and I soon learned that while he's only directed The Collector and it's sequel, he's been writing regularly for quite some time with some of the Saw films and the first 3 Feast films. Yes, there are 3 of them.

To further my interest in checking this out, Feast was also mentioned in a documentary I caught recently called The 50 Best Horror Films You've Never Seen, a tremendously enjoyable doc about forgotten or under-the-radar horror films. Feast, if I remember correctly, made it pretty high on the list of films that you need to see ASAP, so that coupled with the fact that it's written by guy who killed it with The Collection had me running to my one and only video store in town to snag it as soon as I had the chance.

Late one night in a town in the middle of nowhere a stranger runs into a bar with the severed head of a strange creature he's just killed, warning the patrons that they better be prepared, because a whole lot of them were on their way to wreck some havoc. The rest of the film centers around this eclectic band of misfits trying to fend off an attack of unknown creatures hellbent on entering the bar and killing every living thing in their path.

One of the things you'll notice almost immediately once this starts playing is that Feast has a very playful vibe to it. So right off the bat, you know you're in for a Horror/Comedy hybrid. Now, if you're like me, then that's an immediate cause for concern because let's be honest; horror is easy, comedy is hard. Now I'm not saying horror is so easy that anybody can do it, because it's not, but when you compare horror to comedy, it's a lot harder to make someone laugh than it is to scare the shit out of them, am I right? And so when you combine the two, it's not as easy as it sounds. Trying to find that right balance between horror and laughs and trying not to sway too far into the comedy is something that far too many fail at. Or, try as they might, they just aren't funny. Some get it right though, Shaun of the Dead, House, Tremors and Evil Dead 2, but then other's like Motel Hell do not, and it can be painful to watch.

Thankfully Feast get's it right. The comedy is never too much or over the top, in fact it's quite tame. What throws you off though is the silly character introductions in the beginning. It's a little in-your-face and ridiculous, but once you get past that intro then it's pretty much smooth sailing throughout and what you're treated to is an over-the-top gorefest with some of the most insane and disgusting practical effects work ever thrown on the screen for a low-budget film. Above all else, that's going to be the clencher for most people on this one, because while it's got a pretty killer and large cast, and a mile-a-minute running time, the plethora amount of practical effects work is phenomenal and aplenty.

And you have to hand it to the team behind this one. For a low-budget horror film where the entirety of the film takes place inside a dingy low-rent bar, you'd never expect to have an ensemble cast this size. But the crazy thing is that a good handful of them are literally only in it for a few minutes. I won't spoil anything for you, or even bother with a roster of the eclectic and fairly impressive casting choices as it was a fun experience in itself being introduced to them one by one and picking them out. Kudos to the casting department on that one.

Feast is a fun film, and probably one of the most enjoyable horror films and certainly one of the goriest I've seen in quite some time, but it's not a perfect film either and though I found a "lot" to love about it, there was really only one single constant issue that really kept this from achieving "great" status. For all it's creative casting, impressive effects work and a blink-and-you-missed-it pace, it's director John Gulager who keeps this film from ever getting above low-budget level status. No definable style to speak of, and an annoying freestyle hand-held method of moving the camera that lacks any kind of style or in the least, a visual punch. Again, I know I say it all the time, but dude, if you're going to spend so much money making a film, why not give it some pizzazz? As I'm sure you've noticed, I can't help but call this a low-budget movie, because it looks and feels like one. Yet sadly, that could have been easily fixed had Gulager not made it "look" low-budget and shot that damn thing with some style. Surprisingly though, that's really it in the complaint department.

My one issue aside, Feast has so much going for it overall. Visually uninspired, but artistically and on a technical level, a knockout of practical effects work, an impressive cast and a breakneck pace that keeps you fully invested from beginning to end. Think the second half of From Dusk Till Dawn and you'll know what I mean. Seeing as the same team that brought us this one are also responsible for it's 2 sequels, I think I really have no choice but to see if they live up to the original. To be continued....


Bad Movie Night: Hard Ticket to Hawaii

Directed by: Andy Sidaris
Category: Action

Bad Movies are not as easy to come by as you think. Let me rephrase that. "Good" Bad Movies are not easy to come by as one might think. It's a true art form to be able to take a simple premise and make something so gawd-awful because of sheer ineptness on the filmmakers part. Films like Samurai Cop and The Room fall under that category. Then there are filmmakers that make films rather well, albeit on a budget, that just can't write a decent script if their life depended on it, usually nonsensical, with logic thrown out the window in favor of nudity, violence and some truly bad acting. Andy Sidaris is that filmmaker, and Hard Ticket to Hawaii is that type of film. And it's fucking glorious.

It's hard to say what was going through writer/director Andy Sidaris's mind when he sat down to write Hard Ticket to Hawaii, but the revelation in an interview that he had written it in only 3 days is no surprise as the film is utterly ridiculous from beginning to end, in the best possible way. My guess is that he was going for something of a spy thriller/action film, and filled it with Playboy Playmates, a famous soap actor, and a toxic mutant killer giant snake for good measure. What you have is a film that is as preposterous as it sounds, made by a schlock, yet talented filmmaker known for his brand of "Bullets, Bombs and Babes" style of films and you've got the perfect recipe for Bad Movie Night.

The story should be a simple enough one. Something about diamonds that a dealer wants back that he believes were stolen from him during a shipment and the secret agents who get caught up in the mess by accident. If that's not enough, for some odd reason there's a side plot about a toxic mutant giant snake that's escaped it's cage during a transfer and...............well you just need to see it. Trust me. 

Dona Speir and Ron Moss in Hard Ticket to Hawaii
I'd been aware of Andy Sidaris's films since the 80's, having come across those VHS covers of buxom babes on a regular basis at the local video stores, but being a teenager, I wasn't allowed to rent them. And you know, I've never given them too much thought either. Sidaris's films are a particular flavor of film that I just wasn't into growing up, yet I was aware of them. And to be completely honest, had I seen these films back in the 80's when they originally came out, back when other films like Predator, Action Jackson, Die Hard, or any Van Damme and Seagal fare were my type of action films that I was running to the theaters to see, I'm sure I would've thought they were crap. That's me and my teenage immature mindset. But as I've matured, albeit almost 30 years later, I've grown to appreciate all types of films and genre's. One of them being the "So Bad Their Good" films, a sub-genre of films that I am in love with at the moment. Sure you can invite some friends over, enjoy some beers and watch a funny movie or a good horror film. But nothing beats watching a truly enjoyable bad film with a group of friends. Simply put, they are the best, and this one here is one of the better ones you'll find out there. Why you ask? Let's dig in.

The beauty of Sidaris's films is that nothing is bathed in reality. We're made to believe that every woman on the planet looks like a Playboy Playmate or a supermodel and every male a muscular rough around the edges macho man. Women don't wear bra's, and whether you're a secret agent or a waitress, you wear as little clothing as possible. And when it comes to sex, nobody actually does any thrusting or is naked from the waist down, rather lots of naked and awkward kissing is where the magic happens. Also, even if you have a group of crazy armed drug dealers after you, it's always important to take a hot-tub break often to do your best thinking. The dialogue is hilarious to say the least, with some of the worst quips I've ever heard spoken out loud in a film, with most of them making absolutely no sense whatsoever, which is why they're so damn funny. And the action scenes are insanely ridiculous. I'm talking about frisbee's with razor blades glued to them, a guy being blown up with a rocket launcher in mid air, a guy who uses a blowup doll while riding a skateboard to attack 2 guys in a jeep, impalement by snake, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. But here's the thing, director Andy Sidaris, believe it or not, films it all rather well. There's no denying the low production value, but as far as being able to competently film and edit it all together, it's shockingly done exceptionally well.

I'll bet Ridge never had to shoot a mutant snake with a
rocket launcher in The Bold and the Beautiful.
The acting, surprisingly, isn't all that bad, considering the script and lines of dialogue they had to work with. But there is always that one exception, and in this film, that guy is Harold Diamond, who plays Jade, a secret service agent. This guy is easily one of the worst actors I've ever come across. Big, muscular, tan, long thick hair and with a cockiness to match. And that's why he's without a doubt the most entertaining character in here. His delivery is just so odd that you keep replaying his lines in your head just to make sure you heard him correctly. Doing a little digging I find out that he's a real life kickboxer and Muay-Thai champion, so not an actor by trade and god does it show. But the most exciting news to come out of this is that apparently he's the star of Killing American Style, director Amir Shervan's follow-up to the incredible Samurai Cop. I had actually bought KAS recently, but have yet to watch it, completely unaware that Harold Diamond is the star! Needless to say, I'm even more excited than ever to watch it and I'll be fixing that this weekend. Everyone else, including Bold and the Beautiful soap actor Ron Moss (Ridge!) are perfect casting and pull off their roles with enough conviction that you often wonder how they can keep a straight face with these ridiculous lines of dialogue.

If you're looking for a good time, you just can't go wrong with this film. It's got everything you could possibly want for Bad Movie Night; lots of tits, lots of action, lots of bad acting, lots of bad dialogue and a weird mutant killer snake subplot to wrap things up. Andy Sidaris made a number of these Bullets, Bombs and Babes films in the 80's and 90's, and though I haven't checked these other ones out "yet", I can't imagine any of them being able to top this piece of cinematic gold.


The 50 Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen

Directed by: Anthony Masi
Category: Documentaries

As a lover of documentaries, films, and especially documentaries about films, I don't feel that doc's get the attention they deserve, especially the good ones. So since I've been on somewhat of a documentary kick lately having revisited Never Sleep Again since it's now available on Netflix, and devouring every bit of the great Crystal Lake Memories, I thought I'd give this new one a spin. With a rad title like that, hell yea I'm excited.

I follow the horror site Shock Till You Drop on a regular basis, and knowing they were producing a feature length documentary about little seen underrated gems got me really excited. Then the trailer started popping up and well, I can honestly say I was a little bit nervous. Why you ask? Because, when compared to other recent and excellent documentaries about horror films, this one looks to be a low-budget affair, right down to the title fonts they use, which come off as a bit cheesy. Not to say that that's going to be in any way an indication as to whether a film will be good, because some of my favorite films are low-budget films, but you know, I'm only human, and my first reaction was worry. I figured, "well who will they get for all the interviews if this thing looks low-budget already?". Then again, I could be way off. Maybe that was the intent all along and I'm just nit-picking for no apparent reason. I've been known to do that.

I'm happy to say that you can put your fears to rest, because The 50 Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen was a blast from start to finish. What it "seemingly" lacks in production value, they most certainly make up for in entertainment value, spirit and enthusiasm, and I attribute a lot of that to picking the right people to interview. I think that was one of my biggest issues with Birth of the Living Dead. Instead of interviewing people associated with the horror genre or with the film in particular, they instead chose to interview scholars, teachers, film critics and such resulting in a rather ho-hum affair. I mean, right off the top of my head, Rob Zombie would have been a perfect candidate to talk about how the film influenced him, or even just some other iconic horror film directors like Joe Dante, Tobe Hooper, John Landis, etc. Any one of these guys would have been a welcome addition to the roster, though cult filmmaker Larry Fessenden was a welcome surprise and by far the most interesting and engaging among the panel. I'm actually surprised Landis wasn't involved as he's been in almost every documentary even slightly related to the horror genre. Have you ever noticed that?

But writer/director/producer Anthony Masi has assembled about as fun a group of horror writers, bloggers, critics, fans, filmmakers and actors as you can find to give us a countdown to 50 of the greatest hidden gems from the  horror genre. The best thing about this group of people, and I can't stress this enough, is that they're engaging. In some cases, they've even brought on the actual directors of some of these films to talk about their experience making it! But what's a good documentary without a good narrator? And who better to narrate the darn thing than the one and only P.J. Soles (Halloween), who gives the job of narrating a much appreciated bit of energy sorely lacking in even the biggest horror documentaries today. But she's just the icing on the cake, as the entire roster of talent brought on to talk about these particular films bring such an insane amount of love and passion to the table that even when you know some of these films will be absolutely terrible, you want to watch them anyway just because they told you to. Maybe it's just for the one good scene they say make the entire film worth the trip, or the fact that the effects work is phenomenal, or that the film itself is just batshit insane, their enthusiasm is incredibly infectious and they are able to convince you to seek out as many of these often forgotten gems as quickly as possible with the phrases "Go see this movie!" or "You need to find this movie immediately!" being repeated over and over.

Anthony Masi is no stranger to the horror documentary having produced, directed or written others like His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th (2009), The Psycho Legacy (2010) and Halloween: 25 Years of Terror (2006). While I wasn't a fan of His Name Was Jason, I have yet to check any of these others out, and I stress the word "yet", because if this one is any indication, I'm sure they'll be worth the trip. Though IMDB states that this is from 2010, it became available only recently on VOD beginning May 27 on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube/Google Play, Sony Playstation and Xbox for rent or purchase. Friends, it's worth every penny.

With this documentary, while I have maybe only seen about half of the films on this list, I personally don't agree with every pick (regarding the few I have seen), or with it's place on the list whether it be high or low, but that's just me; we all have different tastes and opinions. What is important is that besides those few, most of them on here are solid gold and even though I haven't seen a good chunk of them, they seem right up my alley and they've pretty much sold me on most of them.

The 50 Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen is made for horror fans by horror fans. It's what a documentary about the horror genre should be; informative, engaging, and most of all, fun. Before you even realize it, over 2 hours have flown by and not a single minute of it "dull". Though some may not agree with every pick in the list, or their place on it, The 50 Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen is rich in substance and that more than makes up for any of it's minor shortcomings and makes it one of the "Best Documentaries You've Never Seen".


Birth of the Living Dead

Directed by: Rob Kuhns
Category: Documentary

The first question that sprung to mind when I first heard about this documentary on the birth of the zombie genre with George A. Romero's 1968 seminal masterpiece of horror Night of the Living Dead was, "Why did it take so long?". Really, when you think of how many important and exhaustively entertaining documentaries that are being made spanning all kinds of horror franchises these days like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm St., Return of the Living Dead, Jaws and so on, you'd think that NotLD would be high up on that list. Actually, I'm also still really surprised the same thing hasn't been done for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films, and hell, even the Halloween franchise. But we all know it's only a matter of time now. If Crystal Lake Memories and Never Sleep Again are any indication, there is a huge want and need for these.

Birth of the Living Dead is a documentary about the making of, you guessed it, Night of the Living Dead, and the rag-tag team Romero assembled to make this ultra-low-budget film that ultimately became a masterpiece of modern horror and started a whole sub-genre of films that nobody saw coming.

There's a lot of information that's covered in here, beginning with Romero and company working for Mr. Rogers (yes, "That" Mr. Rogers), to making beer commercials and eventually the conception of the first Living Dead film using anybody willing to lend a hand and all the way through it's success and the whole issue with Romero never getting the darn thing copyrighted. But you know what? It's all rather dull. The best part of this documentary is of course when they stick to just talking about the making of the film. Unfortunately the filmmakers have decided it's in our best interest that we also know what's going on in the real world in 1968 with riots, segregation, war, politics and whatnot. There's also a segment where we visit a school in the Bronx where a teacher uses Romero's film to help teach young kids...............oh man, I don't even remember. It was cute, but seriously felt out of place and among other things, slows the film down considerably to a halt. This film's director is an editor by trade, with 23 credits as an editor to his name. That surprises me quite a bit. The fact that a guy who's been an editor since 1994 and can't put a documentary about one of the most iconic horror films ever made together without cutting out so much of the unnecessary fluff is a tad frustrating because it's "almost" good, but just doesn't quite get there.

But there are other things that contribute to this lackluster doc, like the people they chose to interview and talk about the film and it's historical significance. One word.....dull. I'm not sure if it was the people themselves or the questions being asked of them, but something just always feels so taxing about it all. Thankfully, and I think most importantly, George A. Romero himself provides enough charm and kitschy charisma to help move this thing along. Any scene where he's being interviewed recollecting about his experience making the film is almost pure gold. Even when he discusses rather frankly about the whole copyright issue, he's just so nonchalant about the whole thing.

If you're looking for a good afternoon time-waster, then this will certainly do the trick. But if you're expecting a thoroughly comprehensive and entertaining documentary the likes of the Elm St. and Friday the 13th's, you'll need to look elsewhere, because while those particular doc's are fun and engrossing to the point that hours literally fly by without even noticing, this seems to drag on and on. Amusing, but fun this is not. It honestly feels like it should have been a Special Feature on a new Blu ray Collectors Edition rather than a standalone documentary.

This was good, but it should have been great.


Psycho II

Directed by: Richard Franklin
Category: Horror

Psycho II and it's sequels is a franchise that I never put too much stock into. The original Psycho is on almost everyone's "Favorite Horror Films" list, but personally, I've never been a huge fan of it. Maybe it's because I was too young to appreciate the genius behind it when I initially saw it? Or maybe it's because when I did see it many, many, many years ago, I just didn't really care for it. Regardless, I've actually never seen any of them save for the original maybe once or twice.

But we've had a few films and other iterations of this franchise, most recently AMC's hit TV show Bates Motel, since Hitchcock's genre-defining film and it wasn't until some new re-releases thanks to Scream Factory.........again, that I've found some genuine interest in finally giving these other films a shot; chief among them, Richard Franklin's Psycho II.

Now, I don't dislike the series. It's just that I've never cared about them enough to give them a second thought. I think it might have to do with the simple fact that I like my horror "slasher style". While I suppose you could also classify the Psycho films in the same sub-genre, I tend to think of them more as thrillers. But as I get older, I find myself wanting to experience these films for the first time, finally, because my taste for films has changed dramatically in the last 2 years and also, I've heard Psycho II is actually pretty good.

As the beginning credits rolled, I see that one; it's written by none other than Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child's Play), and two; that i'ts directed by Richard Franklin, who's responsible for films like the original Ozploitation classic Patrick, Road Games, and a personal favorite of mine, Cloak & Dagger. Throw in a few amazing character actors that you would not expect to see in a Psycho film and well, you've got a recipe for a great film experience.

Psycho II picks up in real time, 22 years after the events of the first film and 23 years since Alfred Hitchcock made showering a scary thing with his original film, released in 1960. Norman Bates has been in a mental institute for that amount of time having been found guilty of murder by reason of insanity. 22 years have passed and the state feels Bates has made enough progress that no longer justifies being locked up. With the help of his psychiatrist, he's re-introduced to the world and takes a job at a diner while also trying to bring the Bates Motel back to life. Soon Norman starts receiving strange phone calls and other happenings that make him question if his mother is still alive.

You have to wonder why it took so long for a sequel to one of the most popular thrillers ever made took 23 years to get made? I'm honestly not sure if a script worthy enough ever came across Universal's desk, or if Anthony Perkins just wasn't interested in reprising the iconic role of Norman Bates. But yea, it took over 2 decades for a sequel to happen and while hesitant at first, Perkins decided to give it a go after the role had been offered to another actor, which just so happened to be Christopher Walken to name a few. Was it a wise choice, or should Perkins have laid to rest the character that made him so famous to begin with as originally planned?

My answer is a big fat YES, he chose wisely. Not being a fan of sequels generally, if they "had" to make one, our only hope is that they all come out as good as this one did. I'll even go a step further. Based on my memories of the original, I have to admit that I prefer this sequel over the first film. Gasp! It's true. There's just something about the entire production of this film that makes for a much more pleasurable viewing experience for me. I love how everything is drenched in an early 80's aesthetic, and how director Richard Franklin seems to randomly throw in some really odd visual and tonal choices that make you look at the person next to you in surprise. While playing it straight for the majority of the film's running time, a few dark comicly funny scenes take you by surprise.....in the best way possible. Franklin, a protege of Hitchcock, does the film justice giving it a rich consistent visual style that is only broken momentarily from time to time when he randomly inserts a "dutch" angle. I personally enjoy them, but I'm also aware that others do not.

It takes a lot of confidence to make a sequel to one of the most loved and respected horror films of all time, much the same way writer/director Peter Hyams did with 2010: The Year We make Contact, his sequel to Kubrick's brilliant 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are just some films that you never expect a sequel from, films that are considered "untouchable". Yet, Hollywood often does it anyway, tainting the impact of the original. Psycho II could have been one of those unnecessary sequels that only slightly touches on the brilliance of the first film and overall, leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. But I think what makes this film work so well is Tom Holland's script, which is quite clever. A different tone altogether compared to it's predecessor, but it works. And let's be honest, why bother with a sequel if all you're going to do is try to make a carbon copy of the original? It's admirable that they've gone a slightly different route with this one and while there are many factors that contribute to why Psycho II is so successful, personally I feel it all goes back to Tom Holland's clever script, filled with some unexpected twists, tension, dark humor, and even a surprise ending.

What pulls everything together though is without a doubt Perkins return to his most famous role. Here he plays Norman Bates almost like a ghost of his former self. He's a little off, and a little strange, but he's trying really hard to be good and not let the "crazy" out. But the funny thing is that while it's extremely enjoyable to watch him try and behave, what we really want is to watch him be bad. But, to the films credit, it sets that train in motion rather nicely as we see Norman slowly slip back into paranoia. And the way screenwriter Tom Holland has it set up, we're never really sure if certain things are actually happening or whether it's just all in Norman's head, which is a brilliant move, because it always keeps you guessing. Perkins nails the quirkiness and scariness of the character effortlessly as he's able to convey these emotions and get us to feel both sympathy and an uneasiness about him. Had he not taken the role, as he almost didn't, I don't think anyone else could have pulled it off as effectively and believably as Anthony Perkins.

My final verdict is that Psycho II was great, never once playing out the way I expected it to and left me constantly enthralled, guessing and entertained. Every once in a while all the right forces of nature, or rather Hollywood, come together at just the right time to produce something that works on every level, where every facet of the production is working at the top of their game, and Psycho II is a perfect example.


Old School Horror: Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse

Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Category: Horror

As big a fan of director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Lifeforce) that I am, and a guy who's eagerly been awaiting a comeback, it's taken me this long to finally sit down to watch The Funhouse, a carnival themed horror film he directed in 1981, a year before Poltergeist. Taking into account that both of these films are only a year apart, the two couldn't be anymore different.

I love old school horror, and though I was a young fella who loved an insane amount of it growing up in the 80's, there are still a lot of them that seemed to slip through the cracks, and The Funhouse was one of them. I was certainly aware of it, but never heard any buzz that would cause me to physically go seek it out. It wasn't until Scream Factory decided to release this cult classic under one of their always awesome Collectors Editions recently that I was interested enough to give it a look. As with most titles, if Scream Factory or Shout Factory are releasing something under their banner, it's a safe bet it will be an underrated, long out of print or never released gem.

The Funhouse begins the way most horror films should, in the middle of a killer sequence through the POV of a mysterious figure going through a house seemingly looking for a victim, an obvious homage to Halloween. I like these setups right in the beginning. They give you an immediate sense of urgency and danger. Sure, slow build-ups can be just as good, if they're well thought out. But sometimes it's just nice to have it thrown at you right in the beginning. It's like they're telling you "Check it out! This is the type of film you're getting yourself into". It doesn't hurt that they were gracious enough to throw in some boobs while they were at it either. Good job guys!

Four friends decide to hide and out and sneak into a traveling carnival when they've closed down for the night. What they hadn't anticipated was the real-life monster, part of the circus attraction, stalking and killing them one by one in a demented maze. 

One of the things I love most about old horror films, mainly from the early to mid 80's, is how dated they look. That's part of the charm and for that reason alone, The Funhouse made for a fun experience. What's also became immediately apparent is that this film was a huge influence on Rob Zombie's directorial debut House of 1,000 Corpses. Once the group infiltrates the carnival and encounters a few of the crazy people who run it, it made more and more sense that Zombie's Corpses was almost a remake of The Funhouse, only with a much different aesthetic. Hooper's Funhouse plays out a little more streamlined and polished than Zombie's film, yet it doesn't possess any of his trademark visuals that he would become known for just a year later with Poltergeist and on through the rest of the decade with other notable films like Lifeforce, Invaders From Mars and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Rather, it bares more in common with one of his earlier films, Eaten Alive, which came out 4 years earlier. On the other end of the spectrum, as strange as it sounds, I feel Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses is by far the more entertaining and stronger film. A bit amateurish, which is part of it's charm, but a different beast altogether.

I'm a little divided with this one. While The Funhouse has it's fare share of competency and authenticity in the world of Old School Horror, it also lacks in certain areas where it seems like it could have greatly benefited from. For example, while it's a fun ride through and through, it's never as exciting as you feel it should be. Like, whether for budget reasons, inexperience or simply lack of a better script, the film never goes further than it has to. There were a few scenes that surprised me a little bit, and I think that it's because of those scenes that you kind of expect the rest of the film to live up to, yet it doesn't. Taking into consideration that none other than Austin, TX filmmaker Tobe Hooper was at the helm of this after having already solidified his name in the horror community with the original and still terrifying Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as well as a few other cult classics like Eaten Alive and the Stephen King TV Movie Salem's Lot, which garnered him some respect and critical acclaim, it seems only fair to assume that some of the lackluster feeling The Funhouse produces is from Lawrence Blocks script. Seeing as he's only ever had another credit to his name, which would be "story" for the ill-fated low-budget film Captain America, that would be a fair assumption.

Special makeup effects master Rick Baker, who we all know and love, worked on the makeup effects for this film, and again, as with the films script, comes up short in terms of creativity. Honestly, if I hadn't looked it up, I never would have known that someone with Bakers pedigree was behind the sub-par effects work here, especially when you take into consideration that he was also doing An American Werewolf in London the very same year. But then again, maybe that was why his work here suffered as a result? Maybe suffered is too strong a word. How about "uninspired"? They're not terrible, just nowhere near the caliber we come to expect from someone as great as Rick Baker.

While not as engrossing or imaginative as it could be, it benefits from a retro look and feel playing on the strengths of Tobe Hooper as director and a decent ensemble cast. I wouldn't necessarily call The Funhouse a classic of Old School Horror, but it's definitely a decent one. My strongest issues with it are that in almost every department, they play it too safe.


Robert England PSA for the Chiller channel!

Her's a fun little recent Public Service Announcement I came across promoting the Chiller channel. 
I have to admit, England looks great for 67! 


Maximum Risk

Directed by: Ringo Lam
Category: Action

When it comes to Van Damme, I consider myself a slightly above average Van Damme fan than the typical movigoer. I grew up on the stuff and lived for this shit. I was a full-on Van Damme fanatic at the height of his career, when his films were still making theatrical runs and still making money. Not that I'm an expert or anything, or that I've seen "everything" the guy has ever done, but as a fan of action, martial arts films, 90's action cinema and just of Jean Claude Van Damme in general, I feel I'm a much bigger fan than the average person. As a teenager in the late 80's on into the early 90's, I was a huge Van Damme and Seagal fan. Hell, I was even chewing up anything Jeff Speakman and Don "The Dragon" Wilson would dish out. So I have a deep appreciation and love for these guys, often hitting the theater anytime a new film of theirs would premiere and most definitely buying the VHS. I, like most people, consider his best output to be between 1988 when Bloodsport first wow'd us and 1995 when he released one of the best films of his career with Sudden Death. But, as we all know, personal problems began to take over by this time and though Sudden Death is a solid piece of Action Cinema, often referred to as the Die Hard film in his filmography, you can certainly see his demons start to take hold a year later with this film.

Most action film fans are aware that it was Van Damme who started the trend of bringing big time Hong Kong action film directors to the U.S. In fact, it was Van Damme who first brought the legendary John Woo to America for his knockout film Hard Target. That right there was a brilliant move, something Hollywood had been needing to inject some life into the action genre. Since then Van Damme has brought on other HK legends such as Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam to direct a few other films of his, but none could match the impact that John Woo made with his first American film with Van Damme. He was so successful in fact that Woo stuck around Hollywood for the next 11 years turning out films like Face/Off, Broken Arrow, MI:2 and Windtalkers. When you think about it, no other movie star has done more for the appreciation of these HK film directors more than Jean Claude Van Damme has. Which leads us to Maximum Risk, director Ringo Lam's first foray into Hollywood filmmaking and Van Damme's sudden decline in quality and star power.

Make no mistake, I was a die hard action fan when he was at the peak of his career, yet by the time Maximum Risk came out, even for a teenager like myself, it was clearly evident that the quality of his work was deteriorating. Which is why I think I never gave it a chance, even back when his films were still hitting the theaters, something that would change literally just a year or two later. But in the last year I've been re-immersing myself in his filmography and gaining a further appreciation for his older films, films that I loved as a kid, and learning to love all over again for completely different reasons as an adult. But I'm not so hot for Maximum Risk though. My good buddy Ingo from Hellford667 Movie Reviews did me a solid and sent me over the blu-ray of this film, something he's done several times already with Double Impact and Equilibrium, to name a few. Seriously, Ingo is a great guy. Some days I check my mail and there's a random DVD or Blu ray from him, just because he's that awesome of a guy. But anyways, back to Maximum Risk.

Maximum Risk starts with a bang where you're witness to a spectacular chase sequence. Immediately my enthusiasm has quadrupled. I'm thinking "If the film begins like this, I can't wait to see the rest of it!". But as the film progresses for the next 30 minutes or so it's painfully evident that Van Damme just isn't giving it his all. He looks bored, uninterested, and most of all, tired. When I mentioned this to Ingo, he commented with something to the effect "Well yea, it was in the middle of his cocaine problems", and it only made sense. But in all honesty, a lot of the problems with Maximum Risk don't lye solely on Van Damme's shoulders. Personally, I didn't feel bringing Ringo Lam from HK on as director did the film any favors. Coming off a few huge cult films like Prison on Fire II and Full Contact, both starring Chow Yun Fat, you would have thought he would be a shoe-in for a film like this. Maybe they're thinking was that they could replicate the same kind of success and quality that John Woo was able to achieve with Hard Target? My thinking is that Lam is more than capable of putting a film together well, and infusing some truly audacious action and stunt sequences that more than likely would never even be attempted in this day and age without CGI, but as a visual director, it's just not there. While impressed by a few stunt sequences, I found myself bored more than anything by a tedious paint-by-numbers style of action film that felt like it could have been directed by any Joe Schmoe looking to make a name for himself in the industry. Add to that Larry Ferguson's ho-hum script and it's just not anything to get excited about. Though Ferguson's been on my radar for some time with writing duties on some personal favorite films like Highlander, Beverly Hills Cop II, The Presidio as well as other popular fare like Alien 3 and The Hunt for Red October, it seems like his attempt at a standard action film fell to the vices of some people not working at full capacity. But then again, maybe had the film been under the hands of a more visually impressive filmmaker, it could pass for something more exciting than what we got under Ringo Lam's direction?

I have a feeling that despite my issues, others will feel differently, and that's fine. Personally, I just wasn't into it, and I really wanted to be. In fact, it was just a mere few months ago that I was re-introduced to Double Impact after having not seen it since it's initial release and holy hell was I blown away by how fucking entertaining it was. Cliche'd to the fucking max, but one helluva fun ride from beginning to end. I suppose I was hoping for the same kind of experience with Maximum Risk, as most of his films before this were the epitome of the Van Damme experience, most notably Sudden Death a year before.

Van Damme has been working consistently his entire career, even releasing as many as 2 films a year since Maximum Risk and through all his personal troubles and demons. So it's not like the guy dropped off the face of the Earth since the mid 90's. He's always been there continuously working, just not putting anything out there worth getting excited about anymore, that is until a good 12 years later with JCVD. It's kind of sad to think that nobody had even noticed him again because he had become sort of a ghost of his former self, just kind of going through the motions. JCVD proved that he could in fact act and a few more projects after began to show us that the guy still had a lot to offer us and a slight spark of his former self was clearly there. Age is probably his biggest enemy, evident in the recent Enemies Closer, where again, he looks tired, but that spark is still there, just not as bright as it used to be.

I feel we still have a lot of good Van Damme films coming our way, that he's not done and certainly hasn't given up, because for all his troubles and all his failures, he is one of the hardest working guys in the business. With the exception of 2005, not a single year has gone by without one or several Van Damme films being released either theatrically or on the home video market since 1988. That's a lot of fuckin' movies! I think he just needs to be a little more picky with the projects he chooses and not pick anything and everything that comes his way. I still get excited for new Van Damme films, and I always will.


Big Bad Wolves

Directed by: Aharon Kshales, Navot Papushado
Category: Thriller

I'm gonna cut to the chase. Never have I ever been both enthralled and annoyed with a film in equal measures. That's no easy feat, but after doing some digging around on the internet, it seems I'm not in the minority on this one.

I'd actually never heard of Big Bad Wolves until a site I follow, Psychotronic Netlfix, recently recommended it to me. Soon after I learn that none other than Quentin Tarantino declared it the best film of 2013, so boom! My interest is high on this one now. Other than knowing it was some sort of revenge thriller, I knew nothing about where it came from, the production or who made it. So let's get down to brass taxes.

Big Bad Wolves is the second film from Israeli writing and directing partners Aharon Kashales and Navot Papushado. On a technical level, BBW is amazing. The film is infused with so much gorgeous imagery and a constant aura of precision filmmaking. I'm not kidding. One of the first things you'll notice even before the totally rad title pops up in the most creative way, is how beautiful every single frame of film is shot. That's just the beginning. As the film continues to twist and turn leaving you unsure of who is on what side one thing is always constant, the stunning visuals.

BBW is going to be really difficult to try and summarize because even then, it's treading a tricky line where I don't want to give too much away. But basically, and this is extreme basics here, a serial killer is on the loose targeting children. He leaves the bodies, but keeps the heads. A rogue detective is hot on the trail of someone he suspects is the killer, and with the help of an unlikely ally, he sets out to uncover the truth. 

One of BBW's greatest assets, aside from it's lush visuals, is the fact that the film keeps you guessing. As much as you like to think you're one of those who can figure it out fairly quickly, I can guarantee you that you won't be able to do that with this film. Personally, I'm not one to brag of being able to "figure it out", as I'm only able to do that a good half the time. At the same time though, I don't really try. My interests lye in just enjoying the film and letting things unfold as they're supposed to and not in working out the end of the film in my head long before it's over. My movie buddy does though, and a good chunk of the time she's spot on. But in this case, we both kept yelling "I don't know who it is!", which was hilarious, entertaining and frustrating all at the same time. All things considered though, that's an admirable thing to pull off; having the ability and know-how to keep you guessing the entire time.

You know what? The more I think about it, the more I realize that I don't think I can even really get into what bothered me about the film other than to say it's the ending, because in doing so, I potentially give away too much and worse yet, ruin the experience for you. Does that seem like a dick thing to do? I hope not. It's not really the angle I intended to take on this one, but as I sit here replaying this beautiful film in my head, it suddenly hit me that I just can't say too much. It's one of "those" types of films. I'll tell you what? I'll discuss my issue with the ending at the bottom of the review marked "Spoilers".

BBW is a fascinating film to say the least. While primarily a solid whodunit thriller, they've also managed to infuse some light humor from time to time, something that took me by surprise. And when you get into the second half, even some horror and torture porn comes into play. But it never goes as far as you think it will, or......let me rephrase that; as far as it should would be the right way of saying that. For all of it's inventive and bravado filmmaking, it never takes that extra step. They're lucky that it's as entertaining as it is, or this issue might have been a big problem. Which leads me to the ending. I'm not going to get into it for obvious reasons, but it's apparent that every step this film took was a calculated one, right down to it's conclusion.

If you haven't seen this film yet and do not want the ending ruined for you, then DO NOT continue reading. With that being said, lets get into it.
So the film ends with no clear explanation as to who the killer actually is. The film takes great pains in spending the entirety of the darn thing trying to make you believe that it could be practically any character in the film, both good and bad. The rogue cop, the grieving father, the man suspected as being the killer in the first place, hell, even the random guy who shows up on a horse from time to time. Even I couldn't rule him out! But the film ends with the guy who everyone believes to be the killer being tortured for most of the final act of the film and not once giving any indication that he was the actual killer. He never once strays from his story that he had nothing to do with it and he is not their guy. But, you come to find out that he had kidnapped the rogue cops daughter and held her hostage in his house once he discovered that he was the main suspect in the string of child killings. Did he kidnap the cops daughter as a way to say "Fuck you" to the cop who had been tirelessly harassing him for the entire film? Or did he do it because he is the damn killer and this was just another victim, yet he just hadn't gotten to kill her yet because he was kidnapped and tortured so he could confess? They don't say.

Furthermore, the last scene of the film is a shot of the girl laying on the suspected killers bed in a secret room that the cops never found when they went looking for her. But is she dead? Or just sleeping? Because the real killers trademark was removing the heads, yet the girl still has hers attached. Again, they offer no clear conclusion because boom! The scene fades to black and that's the end of the film. So what you have is a serious whodunit with no clear answer. Logically you can just assume that the guy being tortured was indeed the killer and the cops daughter was just another victim, but the filmmakers work so hard at trying to make you think it's practically everyone else. Add to that the fact that the guy never actually implicates himself, right down to his dying breath and it's frustrating as hell to have the film end with no clear answer to anything really. I don't think I'm alone in this also. From what I read, it's a big topic. We can all assume, but it'd be nice to have some closure on a story we invest so much in for 2 hours.

I may be grasping at straws with my complaint, but all in all, it's a solid thriller with hints of some authentic genius. These guys, who wrote and directed it, have some serious visual talent and know how to keep you invested in a film. They just need to work a little harder at the payoff in my humble opinion. I also feel they play with the tone a bit too much, often side-stepping the darkness of it all. And while pretty great all around, I just wish they'd gone that step further. It's always a constant feeling you get when watching this, that it just doesn't take that extra plunge when it could so heavily have benefited from a simple action like that. I wouldn't call it the "Best Film of 2013", but it is definitely a great one.


Patrick (2013)

Directed by: Mark Hartley
Category: Horror

I should probably start by saying that I have yet to see Richard Franklin's original 1978 Ozploitation classic of the same name, long considered an essential entry in the suspense genre. So I went into this remake knowing only basic information on the plot, guy in a coma wrecks havoc in the hospital using telekinesis, but quite aware that it is in fact a remake of a much loved film.

What I was also gleefully aware of was that Mark Hartley, director of such insanely entertaining documentaries such as Machete Maidens Unleashed and Not Quite Hollywood, of which the original Aussie classic Patrick was a big part of, would be making his feature length film debut with this. What I was not prepared for was how much I would end up enjoying it.

Is it perfect? No. But despite it's shortcomings, it's a helluva lot of fun. Right from it's opening frames, it's immediately apparent that director Mark Hartley has taken great pains to carefully and meticulously craft and execute each single frame of film with some surprisingly inspired visual pizzazz. For a first time horror director making his feature film debut, it's pretty damn impressive. And if it wasn't for the films lackluster and overuse of CGI, I'd be hard pressed to say that it's one of the most visually inventive horror films I've seen in a long while. It really is, only sadly drowned in an overabundance of unnecessary CGI. I can appreciate what Hartley was trying to accomplish using digital effects, but for most of the film it felt like too much. It just seems that sometimes it's the easy way out of crafting a sequence, rather than trying to be inventive and using practical effects work. Unfortunately it's an all too common problem in today's horror market, and Patrick is no exception.

Don't get me wrong though, I loved the film, because Patrick has a LOT going for it. It's sleek visual style for starters, but the casting is another thing you get excited about almost immediately, especially when Charles Dance (Alien 3, Game of Thrones) makes his appearance and you realize "Holy shit! Charles Dance stars in this!". He's pretty great as the resident doctor with an agenda, and honestly, his delivery is just fucking fantastic; arrogant, mean, temperamental and with a dry sense of humor all at the same time. It's really his performance above all else that ties the film together. So we're already dazzled by Dance's dance of charisma, so who do they get to play the object of Patrick's insane affection? None other than Sharni Vinson, who surprised the hell out of me and kicked some serious ass as the heroin in the severely underrated and fun You're Next. As with You're Next, she's got this amazing ability to play both sweet and tough. It's not an easy thing to pull off, but Vinson is able to do that just rather easily.

So that brings us to Patrick. Based on everything I've read about the original film and all the reviews I've come across over the years, I think part of what makes that film work so well, aside from Richard Franklin's (Psycho II, Road Games, Cloak & Dagger) sure-handed direction, is star Robert Thompson's face. His face? Yes, his face. It's got a lot of character, especially in those eyes. Hell, even on the films DVD and Blu ray covers that shines through. To be able to pull off an entire film simply looking comatose, but also making it appear that you're actually acting is no small feat, yet Thompson was able to do just that so many decades ago. He has so much character in his face, and I think that's part of the charm of that first film. With the remake, that doesn't seem to be the case. For some reason, director Hartley decided to go a different route, instead casting someone who looks like a model, almost too good looking and not menacing. But maybe that was the director what he was trying to do in the first place? I don't know. It just doesn't seem to work as effectively as Thompson did originally.

As I mentioned before, it often feels that there was too much CGI work in here. And you know, sometimes that can be fine. I'm not against it by any means, but when you rely on it too much for practical purposes, then it gets to be a bit too much and takes away from a lot of the work you put into it to begin with. Overall though, they just don't measure up to practical effects work. High grade or low quality, practical effects work will outshine CGI any day. Instead, it's painfully obvious it's pure Direct-To-Video quality digital effects work here and the film suffers for it. Thankfully, not by much, because despite it's lackluster digital effects, the film as a whole is admirably inventive in other ways and Hartley, to his credit, pulls off a really well made horror film for his first time out. As he's hard at work on post production on his latest feature length documentary on Cannon Films called Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, I hope he continues to take other stabs at genre films. He's undoubtedly got a grasp for what it takes to put a film together well. Here's to hoping (as I imitate holding a glass of wine in my right hand) for many, many more.


My Revenge review, and why director Tony Scott was the best

Directed by: Tony Scott
Category: Thriller

Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Revenge, The Last Boy Scout, and True Romance are about as perfectly dated and iconic as an action film can get and all owe a great deal of their success to director Tony Scott. Beverly Hills Cop 2 (The best in the series), released in 1987, should and could have been just another throwaway comedy sequel, but with Scott behind the camera, he created something much more effective, infusing the film with action and a cool Miami Vice style that easily ranks as one of the best sequels ever made. It's because of Scott that BHC 2 ended up being the most loved in the franchise. His visual style was and is 100% definable. You could always tell whether a film was a Tony Scott film or not, from the particular lenses he used, to the constant light and smoke effects he implored in almost every scene and his trademark zoom shots. He was able to create a visual brilliance that no other director has ever been able to replicate to this day. And for my money, Revenge is the cream of the crop as far as Tony Scott films go.

Released in 1990, Revenge is sandwiched between Scott's massively successful blockbuster Beverly Hills Cop 2 in 1987 and his ridiculously entertaining machismo-fest The Last Boy Scout in 1991. By no means a hit by any stretch of the imagination, Revenge has since garnered a huge cult following and a long delayed appreciation for this entry in the revenge thriller genre, and deservedly so. On the surface, you can mistake this as a paint-by-numbers revenge film. But the beauty of this thing is that it plays out in the most unexpected ways, even right down to the showdown between Cochran (Costner) and his former friend Tibey (Anthony Quinn). Nothing rarely goes the way you expect it to in Revenge, and it's climax is no exception. 

The thing you'll notice more than anything is that while Scott's films tend to be loud, fast-paced and riddled with over-the-top action, Revenge takes the slow-burn approach and takes it's time setting up the film and introducing you to all the characters. Though not really the sort of film Scott as a director was accustomed to, by this time Kevin Costner already had a few thrillers under his belt with No Way Out and The Untouchables. Costner, just about entering the height of his success, teaming up with director Tony Scott in the peak of his career proved to be an excellent match. Not quite the megastar he was just a year or two later exudes an air of confidence that, considering his rather small size, is pretty impressive. He's a tough motherfucker with an attitude, and Costner, to his credit, pulls it off effectively well.

You could say that Revenge almost plays out like a western. Substitute Mexico for the desert, and Costner's retired fighter pilot for a wandering hero who befriends the baddest man in the land and ends up falling in love with his wife, and you have the makings of a great western. In all fairness, it's certainly shot like one. Every inch of Revenge is sun-bleached in reds, oranges and yellows and you'd be hard-pressed to find a single character in the film "not" sweating. And the story, guy falls in love with crime bosses wife and then is almost killed and left for dead before he heals back and seeks revenge on his former friend who took the woman he loves away, while nothing new, could be told in almost any genre. But as an old fashioned straight-up thriller, it oozes cool right down to the bone.

And guess what? It's crazy fucking cool. This movie is so badass and tough as nails that it should be on everyone's list of their favorite "Revenge Thrillers" or "Badass Cinema". I'll admit, I myself easily dismissed this one when it first came out. Being a fan of primarily action and horror films, I found no interest in a tale of lost love seeking revenge. It looked slow and the trailers never really showed a large amount of action for a Tony Scott film, something that really surprised me. So I never really gave it a chance. I remember catching up with it about a good 6 or 7 years ago out of the blue and again, wasn't really swayed in any way to change my initial reaction. But as I've grown older, I've grown an appreciation for certain kinds of films and filmmakers and since Scott has and is still one of my favorite film directors ever, I thought I'd give it another chance. As I sat there just the other day absorbing Scott's brilliant visuals and Costner's annoyingly macho protagonist, one thought kept running through my mind over and over again; "I love every second of this fucking movie!". Followed by "Why did it take so long for me to dig this?!". I don't know, and I may never be able to answer that question, but one thing is for sure, Revenge is awesome.

Newly retired Cochran (Costner) is looking for a vacation after a 12 year stint as a hot-shot fighter pilot. He takes the offer of a friend Tibey to go visit him in Mexico for some sun and relaxation. Tibey (Anthony Quinn) is a wealthy socialite with ties to the criminal underworld and a penchant for violence. Soon a passionate love affair with Tibey's trophy wife Miyrea (Madeleine Stowe) erupts, and when Tibey finds out, he leaves Cochran for dead and kidnaps Miyrea, leaves her disfigured and forced into prostitution after a brutal attack. With the help of a kind stranger, Cochran mends his wounds and he's only got one thing on his mind.....REVENGE.

* TC: Theatrical Cut, DC: Unrated Directors Cut
Now, there are 2 versions of this film out, the Theatrical Cut and the Unrated Directors Cut. So which one do you see? Generally when a director approved DC comes out, it's something to get excited about. However, it seems Tony Scott took a different approach to this one. Nearly "cutting" over 15 minutes out of the film, a lot of scenes have been severely cut down and alternate takes used with others. A lot of fans of the original cut were none too pleased as they feel some crucial interplay and narrative has been thrown away in exchange for longer and steamier sex scenes that interrupts the flow of the film. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for more naked Madeleine Stowe, but when you sacrifice consistency for nudity, is it worth it? There are others though who feel that it moves the film along faster and that it's all the better for it. But the consensus is that the original TC is far superior. Personally, after having just seen the longer TC and knowing what scenes specifically have been cut out and cut down For the DC, I can't imagine the film being any stronger without them. Sure, those 15 minutes make a generally slow film seem longer, but I feel they add a lot of substance to the characters. So at this point, I have to say stick with the original TC. Hands down, it's the better of the two.

From what I understand, Revenge has only ever had 3 official releases; the first being in 1998 and in a dreadful and completely not worth your investment 4:3 Full Frame, another is the long out of print double-sided DVD that features both the Full Frame (and) the Widescreen version and then The Unrated Directors Cut Blu ray released in 2007. But there's a problem. Amazon has them all listed as 124 minutes, and all with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, even though the 1998 release states it's in Full Frame and the 2007 release specifies it's in Widescreen. So I'm a little lost on how a film can be both Full Frame and Widescreen with the same aspect ratio and how so much can be cut out, but still holds a 124 minute running time? Surely it's incorrect information on Amazon's part, but I'm surprised it hasn't been corrected yet. I'll give you a quick heads up though. Avoid The Unrated Directors Cut. Much like with The Directors Cut of Donnie Darko, it doesn't actually make a better film experience; it only sullies it. If you are going to buy it from an online seller, ask beforehand if it contains both the Full Frame and Widescreen version, as that's the only release of the original Theatrical Cut you're going to find in Widescreen. But be warned, this original double-sided release is really hard to come by. In the meantime, I've got some great news! Currently, Netflix is streaming the original Theatrical Cut in glorious Widescreen as we speak!

Remember back in the 80's and early 90's when Tony Scott was the most badass action director in the industry next to James Cameron and Walter Hill? If you were an action fan in Badass Cinema's most prolific period (80's - 90's), chances are you enjoyed a Tony Scott film. There was a time when Scott ruled Action Cinema with his unique visual style, a style that has never been duplicated by anyone else. That is until 2004's Man on Fire, his last great action film until his untimely suicide in 2012. You see, for as many great pieces of cinema Scott has bestowed upon us, he's also given us some films that just don't measure up to his best output from the 80's and 90's. Man on Fire re-ignited our passion for his work after a dry spell with thrillers like Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State, The Fan and Spy Game, films that are good in their own right, just not the balls-out action-fests of his previous work. But then an odd thing happened. With Man on Fire, he started to experiment with a new style of filmmaking, the quick-edit, shaky-cam syndrome as I like to call it, and I just was never able to enjoy a Tony Scott again after that. It just never seemed like he was able to recover from this unusual change in his visual style. Though it's minimal in Man on Fire, it was annoyingly over-indulgent in his next film, Domino and from then on. Thankfully though, he's made some outstanding entries in the world of Badass Cinema in the heyday of Action.

A visually stunning masterpiece that oozes cool from beginning to end. Often times brutal and violent, but also a well crafted suspense thriller that has remained one savagely underrated gem in the "Revenge Thriller" genre, this  Quentin Tarantino has often cited this as her favorite Tony Scott film, which is what led Scott to directing Tarantino's script for True Romance 3 years later. Ignore the tacky and lame cover art (unfortunately a Tony Scott staple), and immerse yourself in the best revenge thriller you've never seen. YOU NEED TO SEE THIS MOVIE!


Escape From Tomorrow

Directed by: Randy Moore
Category: Horror

There are many kinds of films that are made for a variety of different reasons. There are films that are made to entertain, and there are films that are made for pure art's sake, and then there are films that no matter what kind you're into, just need to be seen; Escape From Tomorrow is that kind of film.

Here's the best way to explain the experience of watching Escape From Tomorrow. Well, my experience anyway. As soon as the end credits rolled, I looked over to my girlfriend whom I was watching the film with and the first words out of my mouth were "What the fuck was that?!". My mind just couldn't comprehend what I had just seen. A film that, by definition, is not really a film, but rather an experiment in the bizarre, the surreal and more importantly, cheap on-the-fly inventive filmmaking.

If you have not yet heard about Escape From Tomorrow, then here's some quick info. Basically, first time writer/director Randy Moore shot most of this film inside both Walt Disney World and Disneyland.......without permission. Impossible right? Yet he did it by using a whole lot of planning and coordination and by primarily using a small crew pretending to be tourists using "video mode" on their Canon camera's. Crazy! It's a ballsy idea, but he did it. And if  you know anything about the Walt Disney Company, you know they're fiercely protective of their property and brand. Production on this thing was so tight that even when they premiered it at Sundance, nobody would say what theme park was used as the setting and during post edit, he took it to South Korea to edit and put in special effects so Disney wouldn't find out. And surely by now they've gotten wind of this thing so you have to wonder why it hasn't been prevented from being made to the public. Well I believe the official word is that the lawyers feel it falls under "parody", and so they've pretty much left it alone. And while it's never actually called Disneyland in the film, it's blatantly implied. So with all this being said, you're probably now wondering.....is it a good movie?

That is where I am conflicted. It's really going to depend on your personal taste; what you consider art, cinema or nonsense. If you're into the films of David Lynch, or experimental films in general, then you may enjoy it. If you're a fan of more linear films, then this might not be for you. Me? I'm somewhere in the middle. Personally, I found the film overall to be too weird to enjoy. Even when it was over and I had time to digest it, I honestly couldn't make sense of half of it. I'm still not entirely sure what the film is about and what supposedly did and didn't happen.  Yet on the other hand, I'm in awe of the experimental aspect of it all and just the simple fact that this film got made at all the way he made it. Logistically, this film should not exist. It's supposed to be impossible to make a dark and surreal horror film about Disneyland inside Disneyland, but he did. That alone demands respect and admiration. And while the film is weird and structurally uneven, it's also fascinating. Like, you can't look away and even when it's over, you're left thinking about it for a long wile, trying to make some kind of sense of it all. That alone doesn't make a good film, but if that was their intention to begin with, then they've succeeded. A week later and I'm still replaying that entire film in my head.

If I were to simply put my immediate initial thoughts down, I would have to say that it's a mess; visually, thematically and structurally uneven from beginning to end. It takes no pains to try and explain anything and though you know what different ideas it's trying to convey, sexual frustration/fear/anxiety/unhappiness, first time writer/director Ronald Moore never puts them together well enough so that it makes any kind of sense and worst of all, comes off as extremely amateurish and dull. Most films are made to entertain us in some way, and in that sense, Escape From Tomorrow fails. It's as if the film itself doesn't know what is supposed to be surreal and what is supposed to be real. It almost seems like Moore intentionally tries to lead you in one direction, and then purposely trip you up with a simple comment that almost completely undo's what your whole idea of what was happening to begin with. That happens several times in the film, most importantly when his often unbearable and mean-spirited wife comments on how she thinks that it's somehow the park that's making her husband act out. That one comment right there is the complete opposite of how she'd been reacting to his behavior throughout the entire film up to that point and honestly just feels out of place. Furthermore, some entire sequences just feel like they're from an entirely different film altogether, like the Epcot Center sequence, and that they were just thrown together to make the film run longer. While visually the most impressive sequence in the entire film, it still feels like it comes out of left field and you wonder if you're still watching the same movie. I don't know what reason that sequence had being in it, but it's such a radically different experience from the rest of the film that again, you're left wondering "What the heck was that?!".

For all it's immensely admirable, fascinating and shocking guerrilla filmmaking, it never comes together well enough to be enjoyable. With that being said, yes, you should still see it. If anything, for simply being audacious. You wonder what kind of film we would have been given had Moore not been relegated to shooting the film guerrilla style in secret. Would it have been more coherent? Probably not. Regardless of it's impressive filmmaking tactics, the film itself is so uneven structure-wise and so damn confusing that above all else, it really just could have benefited from a much sharper script.