The Woman in Black Review
Director – James Watkins
Cast – Daniel Radcliffe, Cirian Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White, Roger Allam
Hammer is back! The infamous production company most famous for Christopher Lee’s Dracula series (and a myriad of other lo-fi British horror films), has been dormant since the 1980’s. About five years ago the company was resurrected, and makes its return to the gothic horror films upon which they made their name.
The Woman in Black is also an attempted resurrection of sorts for its star. Radcliffe is of course best known as the star of the recently finished Harry Potter films, and now presumably wishes to cast that mantle aside. A period-ish piece about supernatural happenings may not seem like a complete 180 turn, but there we have it. Is Radcliffe a bit young for the role? I would argue that yes, he is. But Radcliffe is a very competent (if slightly wooden) actor, and he carries the film capably. Any doubts we may have about his character’s motivations are down to the script, and he actually does more than we could have hoped to help.
But does the movie work?
I think it depends on how you approach it. If you expect a slow burn of a horror movie, with nuanced characters and a solid story, you will be a bit disappointed. However, if you are in the mood for a traditional haunted house movie with tons of jumps and chills running up and down your spine, it will most certainly provide them. And that word, “traditional”, perhaps describes the movie the best. While the cinematography and effects are all shiny and modern, the story would have fit perfectly in the good old Peter Cushing era, or even any of the old Hollywood horror pics. Our lead hears a bump upstairs? Up he goes to investigate! A sunken face appears at an upstairs window? Up we trot!The whole movie is in that tradition. If you can go with it, you will be in for a good time.
(Is there something particularly scary about things being upstairs? Well maybe it’s just this movie… we’ve seen plenty of scantily clad leads going into creepy basements.)
Adding some welcome dramatic weight to the whole thing are veteran Brit’s Cirian Hinds and Janet McTeer. We also see Roger Allam pop up briefly, just to reaffirm the Britishness of the movie. Janet McTeer is the standout I think. Her character is a bit of a mess. She has seen some bad things, has had her son taken from her by the titular spirit, and believes herself to be possessed. She is tortured, and we see it. Radcliffe is supposed to be a tortured soul as well. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of that perhaps.
The Woman in Black is a fun traditional horror film. It features performances that range from solid to excellent, and definitely offers its fair share of scares. Dspite a strangely out-of-place ending, it is a very effective movie. Highly recommended to horror fans.
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Taste the Blood of Dracula Review
Review # 149
Director – Peter Sasdy
Cast – Christopher Lee, Peter Sallis, Geoffrey Keen, Gwen Watford, Linda Hayden, Anthony Corlan, Isla Blair, John Carson, Martin Jarvis, Ralph Bates, Roy Kinnear
– follows Dracula Has Risen From the Grave
– followed by Scars of Dracula
We all know Dracula, the evil vampire and seducer of lore. The most recent movie adaptation of any note was Coppola’s 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Gary Oldman. That is a movie that, while being hailed for its old-time charm and practical effects wizardry, I have yet been able to sit through once. But before Oldman and his famous (infamous?) hairstylings, the character was synonymous with Christopher Lee and his portrayal in the Hammer Productions films.
Christopher Lee is perhaps most famous to modern audiences as the villains Sauroman and Count Dooku, from the Lord of the Rings films and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones respectively. He also makes numerous cameos in Tim Burton movies. But back in the day Hammer films were his training ground, with appearances in The Hound of the Baskervilles and many other non-Dracula roles. His Dracula is suave and commanding, but doesn’t say much, except for counting down the number of victims he has killed. He doesn’t even appear (save one brief scene at the beginning) until 50 or 55 minutes into the movie.
The movie is told from the point of view of three men, friends who like going out on a Sunday night and living a little wild. (In a nice surprise one of these men is played by Peter Sallis, eventual voice of Wallace from Wallace and Gromit, and long time cast member of the BBC TV series The Last of the Summer Wine.) Once brothels start seeming a little tame, they talk to someone rumoured to have been once caught in the act of worshiping in a Black Mass. He is a rich and arrogant young man, and takes them to a remote castle. There he drinks the re-constituted blood of Dracula (after the three men chicken out), and after they flee we see him morph into a familiar fanged form. Dracula vows to hunt the men down. As you do.
The movie is slow to build up, and uneven pacing is its biggest problem. It is a beautiful looking movie, though, and clearly had a decent budget (for movies it its type.) I was intrigued by its way of keeping Dracula off-screen til the half way point. We saw the story through the eyes of three middle-aged gentlemen who realize they are in over their heads, and it was enough of a new take on the vampire genre to interest me. I must admit that other than that the story is fairly routine. The special effects aren’t great (what little there are), with the occasional visible wire or dodgy compositing, but we have to expect that from these productions.
Taste the Blood of Dracula is a solid entry into the Hammer Dracula series, as those movies go. Christopher Lee is back in fine form, but doesn’t have a lot to do, really. I would recommend this to fans of Hammer films, or Dracula films. There isn’t much in it for anyone else, but it does certainly have a quaint charm to it.
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The Perfect Host Review
Review # 143
Director – Nick Tomnay
Cast – David Hyde Pierce, Clayne Crawford, Nathaniel Parker, Helen Reddy, Megahn Perry, Joseph Will
The Perfect Host is a fairly low-budget thriller/horror film, starring David Hyde Pierce as Warwick, a seemingly mild-mannered man who finds himself unwilling host to John, (played by Clayne Crawford), a young man who is on the run from a bank heist. Things take a turn for the worse for John, as things are wont to do. He quickly comes to realize that this particular choice of refuge was very poorly chosen, as Warwick has…well… issues. In fact, he is a bit of a full-blown psycho.
I don’t think it ruins the movie to reveal that, as we learn this very early on. In fact, this is just the first of many twists. Many, many twists. Too many. So despite a good start, good performances, and the intriguing idea at its core, this movie becomes irredeemably muddled, confusing, and almost a chore to sit through.
At first, David Hyde Pierce is very, well, David Hyde Pierce, but slides very well into his characters dark side. There are many downsides to having a much-loved character on a long running TV show, and of course association with that role is one of them. Thus, I could not help but see Frasier‘s little brother Niles pop in and out occasionally, but that stops quite quickly when he starts bashing John over the head with things. We can appreciate this nice bit of anti-casting, as Warwick is anything but a shy milquetoast. The problem, however, is that while the characters are performed well, they’re all wrong. Just plain wrong. We don’t care about any of them, and once the multiple twists keep on coming and character motivations are revealed (often revealed but never explained), we just don’t give a damn any more. While some movie can make unlovable characters work, this one doesn’t even try.
The Perfect Host is essentially torture porn that tries to substitute a fun performance from David Hyde Pierce for torture, but then castrates the character with one strange move after another. The final act is unbelievably bad, with no focus, no point, and no sense of what the hell the movie should be. I have never wanted to yell at the screen quite like this before. With a great third act this could have been a decent movie. An early trailer promised a movie with a clear identity and a simple story, but oh no. Bring on the pointless twists! They work so well for M. Night, right?
Despite a decent first act, The Perfect Host is a horrible mess that makes itself worse as it goes along. The actors work is done well, but the script is all over the place. I was intrigued by the movies awesome trailer, but don’t waste your time on this movie folks. Not even David Hyde Pierce can save it. It is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Look, it even made me quote Shakespeare in a movie review. How’s that for pretentiousness, eh?
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The Exorcist: Extended Director’s Cut Review
Review # 141
Director – William Friedkin
Cast – Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Millers, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, William O’Malley
– followed by Excorcist II: The Heretic
I am not a horror movie fan in general, and don’t expect to become one any time soon. I have a sneaking suspicion this is the result of all the torture porn out there, which isn’t true horror, in my opinion anyway. I just don’t like horror movies that rely on gore and/or jump moments for their effect. The horror movies I do like tend to inspire not so much horror per se, but a slow and rising feeling of dread. Movies where the tension just builds up and builds up, not to be released in a “jump” moment, but in an inevitable series of events, the climax that the movie has been building too.
The Exorcist is a movie like that. It hasn’t aged well in some ways, as in todays desensitized culture the shock elements are perhaps not as shocking as they once were. But The Exorcist is still unnerving, chilling, and even moving. This is good, as those are the more important elements of the movie anyway. The story is really at the forefront here, and that’s how you make a good horror movie, or any movie for that matter, regardless of genre.
We follow actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), whose young daughter Regan (Linda Blair) is starting to behave oddly. After countless doctors fail to come to a diagnosis, and as Regan is acting worse and worse, she feels she has no choice but to turn to a priest for an exorcism. She finds Father Karras (Jason Miller), a priest who privately feels himself to be losing his faith in God. He manages to convince the church that an exorcism is required, at which point Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is brought in to lead it.
This movie of course has stirred up quite a bit of controversy in its time, mainly of course for the disturbing and hideous transformation of sweet 12-year-old Regan into a possessed blasphemer and, well… cross fetishist, but the scenes detailing her experiences with the medical community are almost as bad. Perhaps it is because this torture seems to come from a more real and concrete world. It is to the movie’s credit that by the end of the movie we fully believe that the demons and exorcism are just as real. The director apparently had a lot of experience with making documentaries. Perhaps the sense of realism that is palpable throughout the movie stems from that. Strange though it may seem, the most important thing in horror movie is that sense of realism. Without it, no strange and gruesome events would ever be really scary.
The Exorcist is a drama with scary bits, and works beautifully that way. It puts story above scares. While the shock factor may not work quite as well to a modern viewer, it makes up for it with an engaging story and excellent acting. Highly recommended (to those who can stomach this kinda thing).
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Director – Àlex Pastor and David Pastor
Cast – Lou Taylor Pucci, Chris Pine, Piper Perabo, Emily VanCamp
Carriers is a small budget film about four young people, two guys and two girls, who have survived an apocalyptic virus and are journeying to a beloved childhood vacation home of the two guys. The movie follows them on their journey as they run into other survivors, and experience different reactions to the situation they have found themselves in.
The biggest draw for this movie for me was, quite frankly, the presence of Chris Pine (as the older brother, Brian). His presence in Star Trek was one of my favorite parts of that particular film (I know I gave that a bad review, I’m writing a “Re-Review” for it soon). Here I think we get an even better look at his talent, even though he is technically a supporting character. Chris Pine is a fast rising star, and deservedly so I think.
The true main character of the movie is the younger brother of the two young men, Danny, played by Lou Taylor Pucci. He is intimidated by Danny, and has always lived in his shadow. He lets Danny take the lead in most situations, even though his rash behaviour often leads to morally questionable results. It’s not that we see the world of Carriers through his eyes, but we stick with him the most.
Chris Pine brother certainly overshadows Pucci, mainly because Pine has much more charisma than Pucci does, but I liked this. Some people, I think, thought this meant that Pucci wasn’t strong enough to lead the movie. On the contrary, I found this helped us see the true nature of the brother’s relationship even clearer. This was excellent casting at work.
I understand Carriers had quite a small budget, but it is surprisingly well produced. The cinematography is even striking in parts. You really get a feeling of the heat striking down on the characters and landscape.
While certainly not bringing anything new to the table, Carriers is a solid entry into the “apocalyptic virus” genre. The running time is short and sweet, and the drama between the main characters and their situation is quite effective. I would recommend it to fans of the genre, keeping in mind that it is a much smaller and more intimate movie than 28 Days Later and movies of that type.
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Director – Bruce Marshall
Cast – Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak
Having heard much buzz and critical acclaim about it, I recently watched Pontypool, a Canadian “zombie” horror film. Unfortunately I think it is one of those films that just isn’t as good as you want it to be. First, to the good stuff.
The lead actor (Stephen McHattie) has been singled out for his amazing performance, and rightly so. The writing crackles along with an energy not often seen, and McHattie delivers it perfectly. His character (a washed up, grumpy, and stubbornly erratic radio DJ)is one of those original creations who, despite his strangeness, still manages to ring true. Maybe because of it. We are all unique after all.
The two main female characters we meet (McHattie’s producer and audio technician) are both drawn from real life as well, and ring absolutely true. Their relationships and interactions with McHattie are utterly convincing.
The movie is set in a radio station, temporarily housed in a church basement, and it only moves outside of this setting for the opening shots. This creates a great sense of claustrophobia, and creates some real tension when we learn that people outside in the town are starting to go violently mad. The great thing about the movie’s conceit of being set in a radio station is that we hear reports of devastation and raving mad people, we hear some people being killed, etc., but we never see anything at all until late into the film. Hearing the situation but not seeing it allows us to build it up in our minds, it lets us use our imagination to conjure up what is happening. This is wonderful, and potentially much more scary than actually seeing the acts being committed. This was a brilliant move, and one that carries the movie through the first half (perhaps even longer) as a wonderfully tense ride.
Pontypool falters drastically in its last section however. It starts breaking its own rules and not keeping track of who knows what, how much they know, and how much the audience thinks the characters know. A character is introduced (fairly randomly, I must say), a doctor who is trying to figure out what is happening throughout the film. One of the problems is that we have already figured out that a virus is being spread through the town by means of the spoken word, and the characters have been given all the clues possible. The strange thing is that they seem to understand some things sometimes and not at others. Basically the third act is full of so many strange inconsistencies, back-paddling, and rule breaking that we become a bit lost. What do they know? What are the rules?
Pontypool is an exceptional movie that seems to have switched writers after the half-way mark. The characters, which were previously tautly drawn, and the rules of the movie, which previously seemed well-defined, tumble and fall in the third act, seriously damaging the rest of the movie. However there is no escaping its great first half, so I find myself recommending it, but with reservations.
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BONUS LINK: A Great Review of Pontypool by the great guys at…
30 Days of Night REVIEW
Director – David Slade
Cast – Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Mark Boone Junior, Ben Foster
I have come to a decision. Sometimes how much you enjoy a movie is reversely (I’ll let you decide if that’s a word) connected to how much you anticipate watching it. When a friend told me that his college rented a theater recently and were showing this movie, I was interested. I had seen the trailer when it was first released a couple years ago, and could remember thinking that it didn’t look too bad. So I researched it.
The results weren’t that great; Rotten Tomatoes had it at 49%, and reviews just weren’t too positive. So I went in expecting a fairly lame movie.
Instead I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. Sure there are flaws in the movie, there are tons of them, but I was carried along quite pleasantly by it all. The atmosphere is perfect for the tone and environment, and the movie does not resort to cheap scares and jumps. It’s scary enough without them.
Josh Hartnett as the lead Sheriff of a small town over run by vampiric creatures is perhaps a bit young looking for the role (despite being about 30 at the time0, but he portrays a young maturity that is not often seen. Danny Huston does passably well with the role he has been given, that of a vampire leader who brings his little vampire crew up north to take advantage of the sunless days.
It is his role, and all the vampires really, that are the biggest problem with the movie however. They are almost zombie vampires; we are never sure if the movie wants to make them smart or stupid. They roar and grunt like animals, but then they have a language of their own which Danny Huston uses to wax poetic whenever he meets a lead character. I hate it when villains do that; they meet a lead character and suddenly (usually when they have the lead under their power) they start going on poetically about how they feel. It is an annoying cliche at best.
We are also never really sure where the vampires are when they have occupied the town. Sometimes the characters will run across streets willy-nilly, never attracting the attention of the vampires, while at others they tiptoe around in houses, afraid of making a single noise. It was a bit confusing, as is the story, which tends to skip around a bit.
One part disgusted me though, and was quite out of tone with the rest of the movie. We know that kids exist in the movie, and we know that when vampires bite someone they turn into a vampire. They decided to show a kid who was “turned”, which in and of itself is fine. However, they did it in such an exploitative way that it crossed the line. That happens a couple times, any more and it would have ruined the movie. As it is, it came close.
30 Days of Night is heavily flawed, but its atmosphere is perfect and its scares are smart. Some characters are of typical horror movie mold; i.e. they only exist to be stupid, run out of the hideaway, and reveal the existence of the survivors etc. While some plot points are obvious and cliched, the movie does run along fairly nicely, and its tone is nicely established. I’d recommend this if you are a fan of suspenseful horror or vampire movies. It’s pretty watchable, but ultimately nothing more.
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28 Weeks Later REVIEW
Director – Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Cast – Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Renner, Catherine McCormack, Rose Byrne
– follows 28 Days Later
28 Weeks Later follows a group of people trying to survive in the aftermath and resurgence of the “Rage Virus” outbreak, a virus which turns people into raving lunatic zombies. This movie differs from most “zombie” movies in that it deals with the aftermath of a virus outbreak, and showcases the army shutting down the area, the cleaning up process etc. This gives a wonderfully fresh take on the genre, and it keeps us interested the whole way through because we haven’t seen it before, as compared to the former in the series, 28 Days Later, which, while certainly being a new take, was still the typical zombie movie.
To be frank, I loved this movie. And the second reason (the first being its uniqueness) is that while it is still a “zombie” movie, it actually has some intense drama. Theres a scene in the beginning where a married man and his wife are escaping from zombies, and the man has to run and leave his wife behind when she is taken. We actually feel what it must be like to have to do that, and it hurts! We feel what the characters feel, and it brings credibility to the movie.
Another great thing is the widening of the scope of the movie, when compared to the first one. This one shows London after it has been ravaged by the virus, we see the American Army coming in to help in the re-construction of Britain, and we follow many more people. It is also more mature and we explore more emotions. Whereas the first movie was mainly interested in fear, this one deals with sadness as well. It’s a very well rounded out movie.
The cast should be mentioned as well. While they are for the most part not “names” thy definitely manage to hold their own. In fact we believe them even more due to the fact that we have not seen them before. Robert Carlyle, an actor apparently known for his method acting style, plays one of the central characters of the movie, and brings a flawed everyman sensibility to the role. Jeremy Renner, who plays an American soldier, is an actor that I believe we will see great things of, in fact he is starring in the upcoming The Hurt Locker. Also of note is the appearance of Harold Perrineau, who plays “Link” in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.
This a good movie, regardless of genre. It is ambitious, emotionally complex, exhilarating, unique, and mature in its outlook. I would recommend this to absolutely anyone, providing they can stomach it.
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28 Days later REVIEW
Director – Danny Boyle
Cast – Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston, Naomie Harris
— follows 28 Weeks Later
28 Days Later starts off with an ecological Greenpeace type group raiding an animal lab. They smash open cages containing monkeys, disregarding the scientists pleas and warnings that they must be caged. “They are infected!” they keep on shouting. “Infected with what?” one activist finally asks. “Rage!” is the answer. At which point the monkeys break out of the cages going berserk, biting left right and center. It’s a scene that starts off well, and ends with a bit of a “…what? Infected with …rage?” And that is a great explanation of the movie. It starts well, does some great things, but the climax is a bit … out of left field I would say. Not enough to ruin the movie, by any means, but it’s there nonetheless…
I must admit to not being a fan of zombie movies, or horror flicks in general. I have not watched that many, nor do I really have that much of a desire to. In fact, the only real reason I picked up this one was because Danny Boyle had directed it, and I wanted to see some of his movies, never having seen any of his before. And I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by and large. He has made a movie here that works on many levels, horror, action, and certainly a drama. We relate to the characters, and we desperately want them to survive the “Rage Virus” which turns people into zombie-like creatures intent for blood that is the centerpiece of the move.
Cillian Murphy as the lead character is haggard and lean. This was his biggest movie yet, and the one that brought him to the attention to most people. He plays with a naturalism that admirably suits the movie. Brendan Gleeson is greatly suited to his role, and so are the rest of the cast for the most part.
Danny Boyle shot the movie in DV and in mainly natural light; he was going for a natural feel. For the most part that effect is achieved. However, once in a while he goes nuts with weird angle shots that in some ways ruin that feel. Some of the plot points, and the climax of the movie also are a tad “out-there”, which sends the natural feel spiraling out of the window. However, the rest of it is so good that it holds up better than I thought it would.
28 Days Later is a pretty good movie, and certainly is a new look at the “zombie” genre. Recommended to anyone with a stomach for such movies.
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