Monday, August 30, 2010

Mad Max (1980)

In the not-too-distant future, the roads are ruled by anarchy. Gangs control the streets, destroying anything in their path and killing as they please. A rouge cop sets off on a suicide mission to take out these ruthless thugs after his wife and child are murdered out of spite by the gang leaders. As opposed to the over-the-top action that drove THE ROAD WARRIOR in the years to follow, MAD MAX is a much more character driven film, with all of the heart and soul that was missing from the subsequent sequels. Aussie native Mel Gibson provides a powerful breakthrough performance as Max, a man pushed over the edge by hatred and grief. Director George Miller creates a series of dynamic chase sequences filled with incredible stunts and heart-racing suspense. While the film appears to be extremely graphic and violent, Miller tastefully implies the most horrific moments off-screen. In the most devastating sequence where Max's family is run down by Toecutter and his gang, the camera focuses on the road just past the action, as the bikers speed past and a small shoe and ball sprawl across the pavement. The combined effect of George Miller's fast-paced action, beautiful cinematography, and timeless revenge plot make MAD MAX one of the most exhilarating post-apocalyptic thrillers in the genre.

Rating: 10/10.

If you liked MAD MAX, check out:
THE ROAD WARRIOR, VANISHING POINT, DEATH PROOF.

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The Zombie Diaries (2006)

A deadly virus has torn through London and the surrounding villages. Several groups of survivors struggle to stay alive as the infected begin to cannibalize the living. With nothing left but the camera at their side, they begin to document the events as they occur. These are their tapes. Taking the same "found-footage" approach as CLOVERFIELD or REC before it, THE ZOMBIE DIARIES passes itself off as factual video evidence of a zombie outbreak as it occurs. The film is much more successful at achieving this goal than the similarly titled DIARY OF THE DEAD, offering a much more natural look and a sense of spontaneity that was lacking in Romero's attempt. Unlike any of the other films of its type, THE ZOMBIE DIARIES assembles a collection of tapes that were taken by several groups of survivors, which gives it a range of different stories and personal accounts of the outbreak from various perspectives. Kevin Gates and Michael Bartlett further sell this idea by using multiple cameras and damaging some of the footage to create an individuality in each video diary. While the approach is a unique and interesting use of the "found-footage" style, in the end, it is still a zombie film, and must succeed on this level as well. There is very little gore or gut-munching to be found throughout the runtime, and the slow pacing and shaky camerawork will be unappealing to many viewers. Instead, the most effective scares are built in these slower moments, where the survivors comb through houses and buildings looking for food or refuge but only find more of the infected! Because the film is pieced together from various sources, it is sure to catch criticism for its lack of continuity and non-linear storytelling, but fans of the recent trend in faked documentary Horror films will find this to be a much more satisfying and realistic effort than the disappointing DIARY OF THE DEAD.

Rating: 7/10.

If you liked THE ZOMBIE DIARIES, check out:
DIARY OF THE DEAD, AUTOMATON TRANSFUSION, SALVAGE.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Road Warrior (1981)

In the barren wastelands of the post-apocalyptic future, one man stands above the rest: his name is Max, the Road Warrior. Introduced originally in the Australian trash and tumble actioner MAD MAX, creator George Miller transports his lead character into an entirely different environment for this second adventure. The world has been ravished by war, and all that remains are roving bands of marauders that scour the roads in search of fuel. Max, a lone warrior, battles his way through the packs of motor gangs with nothing to live for but revenge. His journey leads him to a remote oil refinery, whose leader acquires Max's help in leading his people through the treacherous desert in exchange for fuel. Miller's high-octane action sequences and explosive car chases across the Australian outback have served as a standard model for future filmmakers, with unforgettable scenes that have been copied and stolen repeatedly in the decades following its release. It is THE ROAD WARRIOR's wild costume designs and outrageous characters that set it apart from so many other imitations, especially seen in the frightening, larger-than-life villains Toadie and The Humungus that lead the feral hordes. Relics from the Old World are twisted and reformed to create the misshapen fortresses and gnarled body armor of the future. Although the plot and dialog are noticeably thin, Miller has drawn from the basic story structures used in cultures around the world to create an epic tale of good versus evil set in a futuristic landscape that offers a universal appeal to all viewers. Along with its predecessor, THE ROAD WARRIOR is a must-see film for all action and sci-fi fans, and a staple 1980's classic!

Rating: 9/10.

If you liked THE ROAD WARRIOR, check out:
WATERWORLD, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, DEATH RACE 2000.

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The Devil Rides Out (1968)

THE DEVIL RIDES OUT is a wicked tale of devil worship and black magic, brought to life through another commanding role given to the great Christopher Lee. In it, two close friends must stop the young Simon from dedicating his soul to the devil under the guidance of a satanic cult. Charles Gray plays opposite of Lee in role of the evil cult leader Mocata, whose mesmerizing stares lend to his chilling performance. DEVIL is filled with strong visual motifs that add to the implied terrors found within the picture. Hammer favorite Terence Fischer reserves his close-shots as a metaphor for possession and mind-control, while using the intensity of the lighting to demonstrate the presence of evil on-screen. A number of striking images also add to the overall effect and mood, including the horned Goat of Mendes that appears at the black mass, a giant tarantula, and the armored figure of death set atop a jet-black steed that attempts to break the cleansing ritual. Despite these ghastly apparitions, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT relies far less on its visual appeal than it does on its keen scripting, and the film succeeds most in its brooding dialog and winning performances.

Rating: 8/10.

If you liked THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, check out:
THE DEVIL'S HAND, BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW, THE DEVIL'S RAIN.

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2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams (2010)

The Maniacs have hit the road in order to find some fresh meat for their annual feast, and it looks like a new set of Yankees trying out for a new reality show are going to be the guests of honor! While it may not have been the breakthrough hit it could have been, 2001 MANIACS has grown a steady cult following in select Horror crowds. Fans of the original will be sorely disappointed with this poor follow-up, however, as the script lacks what little substance the first film may have had in place of an absurd amount of nudity and even cheaper gags. FIELD OF SCREAMS brings back many familiar characters, although several of the leading actors have been replaced (including the role of Mayor Buckman, with Bill Moseley standing in for Robert Englund). These returning characters are only shells of their former selves, written and acted from the gutter with very little humor left to be found in any of the performances. The entire production wreaks of inadequacy, with weak attempts at covering up the film's shortcomings with bloody deaths and nude teens. A sequel this disastrous will likely mean the end for what could have been a fun new splatter series.

Rating: 5/10.
Gore: 6/10.

If you liked 2001 MANIACS 2, check out:
FEAST II, WRONG TURN 2, EVIL ALIENS.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

2001 Maniacs (2005)

Spring break spells disaster for a bunch of Northern party goers when a detour lands them in the middle of a Southern Civil War Centennial celebration. Their welcoming hosts treat them to a ton of fun and festivities, but little do they know that they are about to become the main course at the annual feast! Tim Sullivan strikes B-movie gold with this updated version of the Herschell Gordon Lewis gore classic. While the performances and humor are often crude, they play into the silly, light-hearted tone and add to the overall charm of the picture. Many of the gags and over-the-top murders have been recreated from the original, while Sullivan and company come up with plenty of bloody new ways to maim and dismember the misguided teens (including a horse-quartering, an acid-chugging competition, a spear enema, and other gooey deaths). The incredible amount of splatter is more than enough to please most Slasher fans, and is even enough to make The Godfather of Gore, himself, proud. Robert Englund is right at home in his role as the jubilant Mayor Buckman, creating one of his more memorable performances in years. 2001 MANIACS is an enjoyable guilty pleasure that holds to its cheesy roots in gore cinema.

Rating: 7/10.
Entertainment: 8/10.
Gore: 7/10.

If you liked 2001 MANIACS, check out:
FEAST, 2000 MANIACS, BLOOD DINER.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Critters 4 (1991)

Space: The final frontier for most Horror franchises. Unfortunately for CRITTERS fans, this was the last stop in the series, and a poor sendoff at that. Like ALIEN before it, CRITTERS 4 features an industrial salvage vessel filled with working-class crew members that must face off against an alien menace. Unlike the previous three entries, this outing is played entirely straight without any of the fun or humor from before. The limited cast means there will be very few kills, and the ones that do make it into the film are tame and uninventive. To make matters worse, the Critters aren't even unleashed from their galactic prison until after the hour mark, with nothing but empty dialog and filler material fleshing out the run time. Even a decent performance by Horror favorite Brad Dourif isn't able to rescue the film. Only the set designers deserve any mention for their impressive work on the spacecraft interiors. CRITTERS 4 is a lame and unfulfilling sequel that is better left forgotten.

Rating: 5/10.

If you liked CRITTERS 4, check out:
JASON X, LEPRECHAUN 4, HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE.

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Article: The Horror-Comedy Dichotomy

The Horror-Comedy Dichotomy

Since I was introduced to the horror film genre at the age of 14, I was keen to the fact that horror and comedy cross vector to become something completely fantastic. The best directors of horror are in tune with their inner fears and know exactly how to force the audience to surrender themselves to those fears. It’s also true that the best directors know how to push their audiences beyond their natural scope of fear --either they shock force them into dealing with those things that scare them the most or, while introducing them to their fears, they know how to coax a chuckle.

In the 1980s, there was no shortage of the horror-comedy dichotomy. With such classic horror serials as The Nightmare On Elm Street, Child’s Play, and Friday the 13th, one would be remiss if she didn’t realise that there was a definite desire to lighten the load left by such soul cracking films as The Exorcist and Night of the Living Dead, both wrought with deeply religious and political messages. The 80s, you could say, saw the merging of horror and comedy as a means to ease the mind from those things that keep us sleeping with the light on while still tackling challenging material as the spaces within dreams and the torments of childhood.

As the 90s emerged, we saw horror move towards a more psychological state with films like Se7en and Silence of the Lambs. Gore became more prevalent towards the tail end of the 80s, yet when it came to creating the perfect balance between the willies and the giggles, we found films that were either unintentionally funny (such as It) or erring on the side of farce (such as the incessant sequels berthed from The Nightmare on Elm Street saga). But, whatever we intended in the 90s, we were still able to find something to entertain us that was as original as anything that came from that muddled decade --one of my favourites, to be quiet honest; but I digress.

With the turn of the century, it seemed that not only had everything lost its way, horror in general struggled to find anything innovative to produce in the way of thrills, chills, or laughs. Gone were the days of smart comedy and we were given the new idea of real-life gore --midnight movies such as Faces of Death that could only be seen at the cinema for a limited amount of time before they were permanently pulled from the marquee. Then, of course, as with music, we committed the sin of all sins: remaking every brilliant masterpiece since the 1950s in hopes that no one would actually notice the atrocities wrought from attempting to reinvent the wheel --again, cases of unintentional comedies.

All this leads up to the eventual creation of the modern day parody. Not only is every movie parody released blithely unfunny, there’s not a single clever line to cling to. American horror has seemingly gone pear-shaped. Even films that toe the line between clever and cheesy are lauded as steps forward in mainstream horror cinema for lack of anything truly original. Films like Drag Me to Hell succeed in attempting to bring both ends of the horror-comedy spectrum closer together; however, where films like Shaun of the Dead succeed, Drag Me to Hell fails to deliver the subtlety necessary to both scare and entertain. The film becomes more painful to watch as it continues to tread the borders between horror and comedy, becoming more braincrampingly ridiculous than fun to watch. The gore is the stuff of schoolyard grossness (the film introduces the audience to all manner of facial and oral excretions ending up in the main heroine’s mouth) and the dark force that preys on the young girl takes the shape of a goat cut-out seen through the windows. The comedy is just plain hard to pick up on. Though subtlety in the form of sarcasm has always been the conduit between horror and comedy, Drag Me to Hell has a certain lack of focus that makes the attempts at wit fall utterly flat.

That’s not to say that there won’t be a sudden rebirth in the way in which studios perceive horror. Drag Me to Hell is an attempt at rekindling the flame between the clever and comedic. While it’s not exactly a revelation, it is, at least, a start at converging two common ideas on the same path. This could be what we need to bring horror back to the psychological majesty that it occupied throughout the 80s.

-Camiele White

Article writer by day, renegade poet by night, Camiele White loves any and everything film. She chases only the original (or incredibly funny) and has been known to talk for hours about subjects that most people just don’t care about. Right now, she gets her jabberjaw jollies writing about Halloween costumes. If you want to give her a buzz, she can be reached at cmlewhite at gmail.com.

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The Hand (1981)

After a violent accident in which he loses his hand, cartoonist Jonathan Lansdale finds himself overcome with feelings of anger and rage as his comic strip and family are ripped away from him. These feelings manifest into blackouts and delusions when Jon begins seeing his disembodied hand murdering those around him. THE HAND's silly premise is overcome by Oliver Stone's artful direction and by the seriousness that each of the actors bring to the material. Michael Caine is superb in the role of the embittered artist Jonathan, invoking his pain, mental anguish, and outrage in the viewer through an emotive performance. Though one might presume that a film of this title would be a cheap and exploitative shocker, THE HAND is much more of a psychological thriller with a few brief but bloody murders. The two areas that do take away from the picture lie in the rubbery prosthetic used for the hand and in the tacked on ending that feels entirely out of place. This commonly overlooked 80's gem is sure to please fans of DRESSED TO KILL or Richard Attenborough's MAGIC.

Rating: 8/10.

If you liked THE HAND, check out:
MAGIC, QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY, DRESSED TO KILL.

Read The Full Post HERE!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

From the great city of Bagdad comes Prince Sinbad, a heroic sea captain that must battle his way through the perilous island of Colossa in order to save the Princess Parisa and stop the impending war that threatens his home! THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is an epic fantasy adventure that is best known for the ground-breaking stop-motion animation by classic special visual effects creator Ray Harryhausen. Here, Harryhausen releases a hoven cyclops, the two-headed vulture known as the roc, a fire-breathing dragon, and most impressively, a sword-wielding skeleton that duels with Sinbad in an incredibly choreographed fight sequence. Inspired by mentor and collaborator Willis O'Brien (KING KONG), Harryhausen extends the capabilities of the artform to its furthest reaches, with spectacular results. The rich, saturated color palette and exotic locations transports the viewer to an entirely new world where mythical monsters and magic truly exist. Kerwin Mathews is dashing and debonair as the swashbuckling hero, facing off against a manipulative and scheming Torin Thatcher in the role of the powerful magician Sokurah. Though it is mainly known for the early work contributed by Harryhausen, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD shows all of the exciting action and high fantasy of a classic adventure film, and continues to impress audiences fifty years following its original release.

Rating: 9/10.

If you liked THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, check out:
CLASH OF THE TITANS, THE VIKINGS, KING KONG.



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Monday, August 23, 2010

Critters 3 (1991)

The Crites have returned, and this time they are taking over a downtown apartment building in the city! Now, the tenants must find a way to destroy the furious fur-balls once and for all along with the help of everyone's favorite intergalactic bounty hunter, Charlie (Don Opper from CRITTERS 1 and 2). CRITTERS 3 holds together perfectly with the same formula and light tone found in the previous two entries. The creature designs are as creepy as ever, this time differentiating a few of the Crites with battle scars to give them more character and personality. While the series has never been known for having huge body counts, there are a decent number of bloody deaths that keep the action steady. CRITTERS 3 is most often remembered for being one of the early film debuts of a young Leonardo DiCaprio, who appears as the son of the evil landlord. Though it may not require much thought to enjoy, this third film still makes for plenty of safe scares and silly monster fun.

Rating: 7/10.



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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Monster High (1989)

Norm, an average high school nobody, must find the courage to stop Mr. Armageddon and his team of monsters before they unleash their sinister doomsday device to destroy the world! MONSTER HIGH is a terribly unfunny, stupid, and utterly ridiculous Horror Comedy from the late 80's that still manages to be oddly entertaining. It offers a strange assortment of characters, including two oddball aliens, an eccentric madman, a mysterious puppet master acting behind the scenes, and a jaded narrator that delivers the plot like an uninterested newscaster. Despite the fact that the film looks and feels like a cheesy after-school special, there is an incredible number of bloody gags, plenty of excessive nudity, and enough foul-mouthed humor to earn itself a solid R-rating. Many of the gags rely on the viewer's familiarity with the genre, spoofing standard conventions while referencing many Horror classics. The monsters are as cheap and silly as they come, but they only add to the goofy charm of the film as a whole. MONSTER HIGH follows similar 80's parodies like STUDENT BODIES or RETURN TO HORROR HIGH, but with far less success.

Rating: 5/10.

If you liked MONSTER HIGH, check out:
GHOUL SCHOOL, TEEN WOLF, STUDENT BODIES.



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Journey to the Center of the Earth (1989)

Two vacationing teens and a British nanny discover a subterranean world beneath a remote island cave in Hawaii. The adventure takes them through the center of the Earth and into the lost city of Atlantis, where they must battle hideous creatures and escape from the unwelcoming locals. This 1988 adaptation of the classic Jules Verne novel was cut desperately short after the closure of the original production company. The end product suffers dramatically as a result, and appears to be poorly scripted and poorly edited due to the drastic cuts, abrupt ending, and incomplete plot. What does remain from the original version shows a great deal of promise, however. JOURNEY's elaborate sets, child-like wonders, and sinister creatures recall other epic 80's fantasies like LABYRINTH or THE DARK CRYSTAL. Atlantis is depicted as a bleak industrial city-state ruled under martial law, led by a maniacal general that plans on invading the surface world. Unfortunately, the viewer is only given glimpses of many of the more ambitious sequences, which never made the final cut. Had Rusty Lemorande been given the opportunity to complete the film, it could have made for a fun and energetic teen fantasy, but the existing version is critically flawed in almost every way possible.

Rating: 5/10.

If you liked JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, check out:
LABYRINTH, THE DARK CRYSTAL, THE GOONIES.



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Friday, August 20, 2010

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

Adapted from the popular graphic novel, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN puts together an elite group of literary heroes (including Dorian Gray, Mina Harker, Captain Nemo, and others) that are summoned in order to prevent a world conflict brought on by a powerful new super-villain! Conceptually, the premise boasts an incredible idea and an excellent set of characters, but Stephen Norrington's realization of the plot fails to deliver on the comic's potential. It relies heavily on the assumption that the audience is familiar with the classical literature from which the characters are assembled, without ever providing the back stories or even suitable introductions for any of the heroes. Where THE LEAGUE suffers even greater is in its tedious pacing and senseless lack of direction can't be masked by the over-budgeted action sequences and Special FX. How a film could manage to throw away such an interesting collection of characters seems unfortunate, but THE LEAGUE is anything but extraordinary.

Rating: 6/10.

If you liked THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, check out:
HELLBOY, WATCHMEN, VAN HELSING.



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The Mangler 2 (2001)

The hi-tech security system of an exclusive private school begins offing the students and faculty after a troublesome teen injects "The Mangler" computer virus into the mainframe. After the computer absorbs the school's headmaster, the teens must fight to survive against a new virtual killer. THE MANGLER 2 is an in-name only sequel that bears little resemblance to the original film. Instead of a giant, menacing speed press that splatters its victims in a metal bloodbath, the majority of the deaths here occur off-screen and are committed by a rouge set of electrical wires that haunt the halls of the high school. Considering the date of its release, the cyber-terror technology is extremely dated and even laughable. Lance Henriksen's perfomance as Headmaster Bradeen is better than the film deserves, up until his weak transformation that recalls HELLBOUND's Dr. Channard. THE MANGLER 2 is a failed sequel to an already misguided film series that can easily be missed.

Rating: 5/10.

If you liked THE MANGLER 2, check out:
CRY_WOLF, THE LAWNMOWER MAN, HARDWARE.



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The Mangler (1995)

Tobe Hooper returns to the works of Stephen King in this uneven possession tale. The blood of a young virgin brings to life a monstrous laundry press, which goes on to crush and dismember anyone that goes near it. It is up to a blundering cop and his New Age neighbor to release the demons trapped in the machine in order to stop it once and for all. As ridiculous as the premise may be, THE MANGLER delivers on its promise of torn limbs and bloodied bodies. Outside of these few gory moments, however, the film fails to deliver a coherent story or any interesting characters. Hunter's shoddy police work along with his neighbor's crackpot theories line the script with tiresome filler and very little action. Robert Englund also appears in a throwaway cameo as William Gartley, owner of the Blue Ribbon Laundry who's soul is tied to the infernal machine, but even his slimy performance misses the mark. This is certainly one of the weaker King adaptations from the 90's.

Rating: 6/10.

If you liked THE MANGLER, check out:
GHOST IN THE MACHINE, DEATH MACHINE, GRAVEYARD SHIFT.



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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

A desperate mother rents a second home for her and her family in order to keep her sickly son closer to his treatment facility. The low rent and beautiful location seem to good to be true... That is, until the family is overcome by a series of terrifying events brought on by the house's dark past. THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT is the absolute worst kind of horror movie. It is a trite and unsophisticated film that sets up one pre-designed jump-scare after another rather than attempting to build even the least bit of mood or suspense. The phrase "Based on a true story" is used in only the most liberal sense, as none of the events are believable in the least. By forcing each of the ghosts in front of the camera on full display and involving each of the other family members, it diminishes any possibility that the medication and experimental treatments could be the potential cause for Matt's hallucinations, paranoia, and odd behavior. On top of that, the acting is very apparent and is in no way naturalistic. HAUNTING only creates a scripted reality with scripted characters that fail to reflect the actual occurrence as it happened. Beneath its polished appearance, the film is just a cheap shocker that only caters to the superficial Horror fan.

Rating: 6/10.



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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Enemy Mind (2010)

An intergalactic soldier is stranded on a remote planet with a dangerous prisoner after their prison ship malfunctions en route to the detention center. The two must rely on each others' strength and experience if they plan to survive the planet's deadly environments. Writer / director Brennan Reed draws from a variety of 80's and 90's actioners to create this micro-budget mind-bender. ENEMY MIND's epic score and simple but effective designs call back to films like UNIVERSAL SOLDIER or CYBORG, where less is more. Reed transforms found items into futuristic armor and weaponry, and turns the arid desert landscape into a threatening toxic wasteland through his creative framing and key shooting locations. The abrupt editing and inexperienced acting show signs of the amateur production, but each of the leads make every effort to bring the script to life. Rather than trying to develop a mindless high-concept shoot 'em up, ENEMY MIND creates a dialog-heavy film with religious and political exchanges between the characters that attempt to challenge the viewer's beliefs. For the budget, Reed has delivered a rough but ambitious Sci-Fi adventure.

Rating: 5/10.

If you liked ENEMY MIND, check out:
CYBORG, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, PITCH BLACK.



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Saw 6 (2009)

Lieutenant Hoffman thinks he has gotten away scotfree after framing Agent Straum as the Jigsaw copycat. What he doesn't know is that Agents Erickson and Perez have new evidence that they plan on using to finger the real killer. Meanwhile, Hoffman and Jill Tuck have set the newest game into play, one which will decide the fate of the insurance officer that denied Jigsaw his only chance of survival. If one thing can be said for the SAW franchise, it is that the look and feel of each of the films has remained steadily constant throughout the series. SAW VI is no different, sharing the same putrid color palette, grimy atmosphere, fast-cut editing, and contrived plot devices from before. It would be difficult to enjoy this entry outside of the context of the other films, however, since the plot twists and characters are each build upon the framework established in the previous installments. While some of the reveals are great new expansions to the earlier events, others feel like forced excuses to continue the series. SAW VI takes a bold political stance against the failing health care system in America, and the immoral choices made by the employees of the insurance company are intrinsically tied to this set of traps. Unfortunately, it is difficult to track and follow the expansive number of characters and sub-plots that are left open, and the cuts between the time and continuity in the series can be extremely disorienting. Despite being stuck with these unavoidable difficulties after joining so late in the series, Kevin Greutert is able to create several high-anxiety moments as Hoffman closer and closer to being identified as Jigsaw's accomplice. SAW fans will not be disappointed in the advancement of the storyline, inventive traps, or buckets of blood that SAW VI brings to the series.

Rating: 7/10.
Gore: 7/10.



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Monday, August 16, 2010

eXistenZ (1999)

Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh star in David Cronenberg's most ambitious film yet! Trainee Ted Pikul must deliver a powerful video game developer to safety after her life is threatened at the unveiling of her newest virtual-reality platform, eXistenZ. The two must enter the gaming world in order to unlock the secrets behind the assassination plot and save eXistenZ. Cronenberg returns to his Body Horror roots, recalling many of the same themes and twisted visuals that he had created in VIDEODROME. The gaming system, itself, is an organic extension of the user's own nervous system, plugging directly into the spinal column. When the game is engaged, the players are able to bend the reality of the system and interact with each other outside of the game mechanics. At the same time, the characters they have plugged themselves into have their own will and desires, which cause them to act out of instinct in direct contradiction to the player's personality. This schizophrenic framing makes it impossible to distinguish virtual reality from actuality, but it is this same deconstruction of reality that serves as the film's driving force. Cronenberg manages to create his own unique and self-contained universe once again, where brain and body merge with the machine in a virtual nightmare. The mind-blowing plot twists and fast-paced action make this a fresh and exciting addition to the Cyber Punk trend, where it joins EQUILIBRIUM and THE MATRIX as three of the most innovative films of the late 90's.

Rating: 9/10.

If you liked eXistenZ, check out:
THE MATRIX, EQUILIBRIUM, VIDEODROME.



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Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)

Based on the popular Anime of the of the same title, BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE follows Saya, a beautiful young vampire hunter that must fulfill her destiny by destroying the demon lord Onigen. Although this adaptation attempts to give a greater depth to the story presented in the animated version, the narrative is disjointed at best, with no discernible purpose or sense of direction. Sub-plots are set up but never fully developed, while many of the major characters arrive and disappear without any explanation. BLOOD's primary color filters, framing, and editing give it the distinct look and feel of a live-action comic book. Chris Nahon undertakes a series of ambitious high-powered action sequences that display decent fight choreography and an incredible amount of gore. Unfortunately, the restrictive budget severely detracts from these scenes, as the film relies on a heavy amount of computerization that cheapens the overall effect. The creature designs also suffer as a result, being nothing more than computerized abortions. Nahon and company make a valid effort at bringing the cartoon to life, but the film proves to be as soulless as its demonic characters.

Rating: 6/10.

If you liked BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE, check out:
TOKYO GORE POLICE, FAUST: LOVE OF THE DAMNED, VAMPIRE HUNTER D.



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Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Omega Man (1971)

The year is 1977. The world has been devastated by germ warfare, destroying nearly all of humanity. Everyone, that is, except for Robert Neville, the last man on earth. Neville stalks the streets of Los Angeles, killing the nocturnal mutants that the plague has created. THE OMEGA MAN is the second of three film adaptations of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, this time starring the legendary Charlton Heston. A product of its time, THE OMEGA MAN has earned itself a huge cult following with 1970's SciFi enthusiasts, but in the forty years since its release, it has aged rather poorly. Heston's hammy acting aside, the costuming, make-up, and often corny performances of "The Family" have all given way to a high level of camp that borders dangerously close to B-Movie cheese. Boris Sagal creates a series of impressive establishing shots taken from the deserted city streets of downtown Los Angeles, a devastating collection of images that set the foreboding tone for the rest of the picture. He also delivers several explosive action sequences between Neville and his medieval rivals, while playing into the reversal of the classical vampire myth that Matheson had originally shaped in the written version. Much of the paranoia and schizophrenia found in Neville's character do shine through in Heston's performance, although Anthony Zerbe steals the spotlight in an admirable role as the lead cultist Matthias. However silly many of the other elements of the film may be, it is impossible to deny the raw power of the shocking and downtrodden ending. THE OMEGA MAN will continue to live on as a classic in the Post-Apocalyptic/SciFi genres regardless of time's harsh treatment of the film, and it is still an important watch for both SciFi and Horror fans.

Rating: 7/10.

If you liked THE OMEGA MAN, check out:
28 DAYS LATER, I AM LEGEND, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH.



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Legion (2010)

The archangel Michael ascends from Heaven in order to stop the destruction of man by a jaded God, who has sent his legions of angels to eliminate the one child that holds the key to human survival. LEGION is a glossy studio production built on familiar themes and big-budget action sequences that is without heart or emotion. It attempts to create a grand scale despite its remote desert location by using clouds of flies and an army of contorted humans that are possessed by angels. What it doesn't create is any form of tension or suspense, only tedium and tired Horror movie cliches. The few shocking moments are fleeting and exploitative, with no lasting impact left in their wake. LEGION comes close to delivering an interesting plot with deep religious significance, however this is lost along with the lead character's importance, since it is never explained why Charlie was chosen to carry humanity's next savior, or how her child is meant to redeem God's failing creations. For endless amounts of spent artillery and cheap shocks, LEGION will fill an hour-and-a-half, but it is mostly mindless entertainment.

Rating: 6/10.

If you liked LEGION, check out:
THE PROPHECY, THE OMEN, SKIN WALKERS.



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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Man's Best Friend (1993)

Ally Sheedy stars as an investigatory reporter that rescues a dog from an experimental research facility. What she doesn't know is that Max has been genetically-engineered to become the ultimate killing machine, and his makers will stop at nothing to get him back! MAN'S BEST FRIEND is just another silly killer animal flick from the early 90's that barely skates by thanks to a tight script and serviceable directing from writer/director John Lafia as well as another strong performance by genre favorite Lance Henriksen. Max comes fully equipped with the claws of a jaguar, the eyes of an owl, the strength of a bear, and many other enhancements which he uses to terrorize the mailman and get his revenge on the company that made him. The deaths are expectantly tame, with the hilarious exception of a cat that is eaten whole by the marauding canine. MAN'S BEST FRIEND won't be winning any awards in the near future, but as a late night popcorn movie it is an entertaining enough entry in the killer animal genre.

Rating: 7/10.

If you liked MAN'S BEST FRIEND, check out:
ROTTWEILER, WATCHERS, DEVIL DOG.



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Sssssss (1973)

An eccentric herpetologist enlists the help of a college student to assist in his snake research, but the daily doses of 'anti-venom' that he has been administering to his star pupil begin to turn the boy into a slithering serpent! Anyone with a fear of snakes, beware! SSSSSSS boasts an array of live snakes that the actors handle, including the deadly King Cobra. It is impossible to take the film completely seriously, but thankfully the even blend of comedy, horror, and romance give the quirky characters and silly plot plenty of room to breath. Like Willard and Stanley before him, Dr. Stoner uses his fanged friends to exact revenge against his trespassers, which provides a decent little body count as the snakes bite and crush their way through the locals. Unfortunately, the final creature design fails to impress because of its aged make-up and special FX, but SSSSSSS still manages to be an entertaining killer animal entry from the early 70's!

Rating: 7/10.

If you liked SSSSSSS, check out:
THE REPTILE, STANLEY, HOWLING 6: FREAKS.



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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Last House in the Woods (2006)

Two teens run into trouble off the side of the road, but the young punks that are harassing them are the least of their worries... Their would-be rescuers take them back to a house of horrors in the woods, where they are beaten and tortured by a demented family of freaks! As the familiar title indicates, LAST HOUSE is a complete throwback to the Exploitation films of the early 70's, and it is jam-packed with all of the abusive sexuality and excessive gore that the genre is known for. Many of the characters and scenes draw heavily from influences like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and (obviously) THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, but when it comes time to distinguish itself from the others, it never manages to find meaning or create its own unique voice. This, combined with the weak performances and amateur direction, makes THE LAST HOUSE IN THE WOODS nothing more than a cheap imitation. It would not even be worth mentioning if it were not for the gruesome make-up and gore FX provided by Italian designer Sergio Stivaletti (DEMONS, CEMETERY MAN).

Rating: 5/10.
Gore: 7/10.

If you liked THE LAST HOUSE IN THE WOODS, check out:
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE HILLS HAVE EYES.



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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Schizo (1976)

A beautiful young ice-skater is stalked by her mother's killer in the weeks following her wedding, but no one seems to believe her despite the number of bodies that begin piling up around her. Who is this crazed madman, and what does he want with Samantha all these years later? Pete Walker fashions another mean little Slasher film out of England while taking key notes from the popular Italian Gialli. Although it is well-played and stylishly directed, the slow pacing, cluttered plot, and predictable twists make this a pretty standard watch. Even still, the bloody payoff in the end comes as a complete shock. Walker slips in several other brutal murder sequences throughout the film while somehow managing to keep it off of the notorious "Video Nasties" list in the UK. With enough atmosphere, killing, and suspense to keep the average viewer's attention, SCHIZO proves to be another enjoyable entry in the early English Slasher cycle.

Rating: 7/10.
Gore: 5/10.

If you liked SCHIZO, check out:
HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON, FRIGHTMARE, NIGHTMARE IN A DAMAGED BRAIN.



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Puppet Master: Axis of Evil (2010)

Six years after their last outing, the Puppets are back in their newest adventure! After a retelling of the opening events from the original film, PUPPET MASTER: AXIS OF EVIL picks up immediately following Andre Toulon's suicide in 1939, following a young craftsman who finds Toulon's puppets and uses them to stop a Nazi ploy to destroy an American weapons facility. Full Moon favorite David DeCoteau resumes the reins after being absent from the series since CURSE OF THE PUPPET MASTER, bringing with him a familiar look and feel that is consistent with the earlier films. AXIS brings back Jester, Blade, Leech Woman, Pinhead, and Tunneler, whose designs each come very close to the first models. The puppetry itself, however, hardly matches up with the impressive work done earlier in the series. Full Moon features are not always groundbreaking cinematic achievements, but for the most part they are largely entertaining. Unfortunately, all of the fun and ridiculous murders have been stripped away from this entry, as the film takes itself far too seriously to be enjoyed. Much of the run time is squandered on poor acting, one-dimensional characters, and bland filler material with very little action. This is not the PUPPET MASTER revival that many fans have been waiting for, but rather one of the weaker sequels in the series.

Rating: 5/10.

If you liked PUPPET MASTER 10, check out:
DEMONIC TOYS 2, SHRUNKEN HEADS, DOLL GRAVEYARD.



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Monday, August 9, 2010

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

Sam Raimi's long-awaited return to Horror finds an aspiring loan officer who must make an immoral decision in order to further her career, putting an old crone out of her home. The gypsy woman puts a curse over her head, summoning the powers of Hell to damn the woman's soul for her misdeeds. DRAG ME TO HELL suffers from a complete lack of identity, where it is unable to decide if it is a Comedy or a straight Horror film. If it were meant as a Comedy, it falls flat on too many occasions and is far too dark to be enjoyed, while at the same time the goofier moments in the plot make it impossible to be taken entirely seriously. Alison Lohman delivers a stale performance that only leaves the audience with the same worried expression of dismay the entire film. Raimi tries to sneak in bits of his own classic slapstick and gore care of his long-time collaborators Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, but these gross-out sequences are cheapened by the cartoony computer FX that give the scenes a hollow and soulless feel. The moralistic plotline is also difficult to accept when the punishment passed on to the lead is completely unfitting of the crime, making it impossible to sympathize with the crazed gypsy being thrust from her home. Simply put, DRAG ME TO HELL is a confused attempt at a Horror Comedy that is rarely funny and never scary.

Rating: 6/10.
Gore: 6/10.

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Autopsy (1975)

In a grim opening scene, Rome is overcome by a series of suicides. Trapped in the middle of all of the confusion is a young autopsy doctor who happens to be writing her thesis on determining authentic suicides from staged ones, and who has also found a series of clues on the bodies of the deceased that suggest the recent rash of deaths may have been linked to a single murder suspect. AUTOPSY is a beautifully shot and stylish Giallo modeled after the early works of Dario Argento, minus the traditional black-gloved killer. Director Armando Crispino sets up and effectively carries out a series of murder suspects that maintains the mystery and suspense from beginning to end. As is the case with many films of its kind, however, the convoluted plotting and dubious clues can be extremely confusion, and the final reveal has little to do with any of the events that were laid out earlier. Outside of a disturbing nightmare sequence in the morgue where the bloodied corpses begin to awaken and smile mockingly at Simona, AUTOPSY is a rather tame Giallo entry with very little action or gore.

Rating: 7/10.
Gore: 4/10.

If you liked AUTOPSY, check out:
TENEBRAE, VISITING HOURS, WATCH ME WHEN I KILL.



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Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Wolfman (2010)

Lawrence Talbot returns home to his father's English estate after receiving news of his brother's murder. A fateful bite from the very same creature that killed his brother turns Lawrence into a vicious beast by nightfall, forcing him to kill in the light of the moon. Although THE WOLFMAN makes many of the right moves as far as remakes are concerned, it also suffers from many modern pitfalls that reduce the classic tale to nothing more than an over-budgeted gorefest. To its benefit, alterations have been made to the plot and characters that provide a unique new twist on the 1941 original while keeping the essence of the film the same. Each of the all-star cast members provide good performances, with a solid effort put forth by Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot and Anthony Hopkins in one of his more eccentric roles to date. This is not The Wolf Man of years past, but a ruthless beast that disembowels and beheads its victims. Johnston holds nothing back, putting all of the bloody mayhem and gruesome murders on full display with nothing left to subtle implication.

THE WOLFMAN marks Rick Baker's triumphant return to the werewolf film after a certain misstep in CURSED. He delivers a powerful and unique new monster design that is far more vicious and dark than Jack Pierce's earlier conception. Unfortunately, the computerized transformation sequences pale in comparison to his earlier work in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (a film that will likely haunt the rest of his career). The unnecessary amount of big action sequences also results in a heavy reliance on additional computerized effects in order to allow the quadrupedal creature the speed and dexterity necessary to accomplish many of the feats on screen. In a day and age where technology has advanced to its current state, this substitution is somewhat forgivable, however the excessive use of CGI in place of simple make-up FX for the many wounds that the creature inflicts is cheap and lazy. These issues are just as much the fault of modern audiences that clamor for big-budget extravaganzas as they are the fault of the filmmakers who must make compromises to please both the viewers and their producers.

THE WOLFMAN is a clean, fast-paced, and bloody new take on the classic werewolf lore, but it just isn't inventive enough to make more than a blip on the Horror radar.

Rating: 7/10.
Gore: 7/10.

If you liked THE WOLFMAN, check out:
SLEEPY HOLLOW, THE WIZARD OF GORE, CURSED.


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Campfire Tales (1997)

Four teens are stranded off the side of the road after a near collision, where they settle in and decide to tell scary stories while they wait for help to arrive. The first tale pits a newlywed couple against a pack of bloodthirsty creatures on their honeymoon in the woods. The second finds a young girl home alone on Parent/Teacher Night when her pedophilic cyberstalker decides to strike. In the third tale, a cross-country traveler stops at a remote farmhouse after his bike breaks down on the road. Unfortunately for him, the house is home to a beautiful girl, her overprotective father, and the ghosts of her past lovers. Though many of the scares do fall into tired Horror movie cliches, the stories in CAMPFIRE TALES are highly effective while containing a minimal amount of graphic content. They rely far more on character, mood, and atmosphere than cheap shocks or excessive gore. Each of the entries share their roots in urban legends that have been altered slightly for a new twist on the classic tales. Outside of the weak and predictable wrap-around story, the only major flaw the film possesses is in its poor lighting, which makes many of the scenes impossibly dark. CAMPFIRE TALES is an enjoyable late-90's anthology feature that some may find more entertaining than the similar URBAN LEGEND series.

Rating: 8/10.

If you liked CAMPFIRE TALES, check out:
CAMPFIRE STORIES, THE BURNING, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE.



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Campfire Stories (2001)

After a mild berating from a poorly computerized skull, CAMPFIRE STORIES kicks off its trio of terrors with a wrap=around story involving three teens that are stranded in the forest. The kooky Ranger Bill invites them to sit by the fire and enjoy some campfire tales while they wait for their tow truck. In the first story, an insane criminal makes a bloody escape from prison, only to end up the tormented janitor at a local high school twenty years later. It isn't long before he gets revenge on his teen assailants using a variety of gardening accessories! Next up, three teens face an ancient Native American curse after killing an Indian shaman in an attempted robbery. Lastly, four young lovers are targeted by a voyeuristic killer during their drunken party games. Each of the campfire stories are unremarkable in every way possible, barely getting by with its passable acting and filmed on what looks like a hand-held digicam. The only thing that makes it worth watching is for the early performances by television stars Jamie-Lynn Sigler (The Sopranos), John Hensley (Nip/Tuck), Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney (It's Always Sunny in Philidelphia), and pop culture Blogger Perez Hilton. This is otherwise a tired and empty omnibus collection riding on the popularity of late-90's Teen Slashers like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and URBAN LEGEND.

Rating: 5/10.

If you liked CAMPFIRE STORIES, check out:
THE BURNING, CAMPFIRE TALES, URBAN LEGEND.



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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970)

A psychotic bridal store owner must kill beautiful young brides-to-be in order to piece together the traumatic childhood event that drove him insane. Italian Master Mario Bava redefines the sub-genre that he helped to create in this black comedy. The black-gloved killer and red herrings that are typical of the Giallo do not appear in the film; instead, the killer introduces himself to the audience in the opening scene, and it is up to him to unravel the mystery behind his own madness. Unlike other Bava classics like BLOOD AND BLACK LACE or BAY OF BLOOD, HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON is virtually bloodless, with most of the murders occurring off-camera. Bava served as the Director of Photography on HATCHET as he had on most of his other films, which brings a certain style and finesse to the filming. Despite its polished look, however, the attempt to blend a ghost story in to the latter half of the film in order to capitalize on Laura Betti's casting as Harrington's overbearing wife often gets in the way of the plot. Stephen Forsyth does put forth a solid effort as the glassy-eyed killer, and while it may not be one of Bava's better films, it is still a stylish and entertaining effort.

Rating: 7/10.

If you liked HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON, check out:
BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, AMERICAN PSYCHO, HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE.



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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Doomsday (2008)

Neil Marshall follows up his breakthrough hits DOG SOLDIERS and THE DESCENT with this Post-Apocalyptic nightmare, but unfortunately the only true nightmare is the film, itself. The Reaper virus decimates the entire population of Scotland, forcing Britain to erect an enormous steel wall around their neighboring nation in order to avoid the spread of the disease. Thirty years later, the virus resurfaces on the streets of London, and an elite team of operatives are sent into the quarantined sector in an attempt to locate any survivors that might possess a cure that can prevent the Doomsday virus from destroying the rest of the world. Marshall exhibits a complete lack of control given the picture's enormous scale. Scenes are sloppily edited together in a frantic and unorganized manner, with as many as one hundred individual shots spent in a minute's time. The film is riddled with unanswered questions and impossibilities as to why The Marauders are all in their 30's (when the disease occurred over 30 years ago), or how they were able to fashion stylized weapons and dye their fancy hair in a deserted wasteland without electricity, gas, or other necessities. DOOMSDAY also steals directly from a variety of Action and SciFi films, lifting key scenes from ALIENS, THE ROAD WARRIOR, and others with far less interest or talent. Its unintelligible plotting and stereotypical characters can't be masked by the constant flow of mindless murder and mayhem, making this over-budgeted Actioner a complete failure in nearly every regard.

Rating: 5/10.

If you liked DOOMSDAY, check out:
THE ROAD WARRIOR, 28 DAYS LATER, EDEN LOG.



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The Gorgon (1964)

The winning team of Terence Fisher, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing is reunited again in Hammer's modernization of the ancient Greek myth! Vandorf's 2,000-year-old legend of a deadly beast that turns people into stone with her gaze has gripped the town in a crippling fear and caused them to blame a series of mysterious deaths on the imaginary creature. The son of one of the victims will stop at nothing to find his father's true killer, even if it means facing the dreaded Gorgon Magaera! Fisher delivers another visually stunning Gothic Horror treasure rich in atmosphere and suspense. Castle Borski's desecrated halls make for another beautiful but alarming setting with plenty of shadows and dark recesses for the creature to hide in. It also sets the stage for an epic face-off between our protagonist and the devious Dr. Namaroff before Magaera cuts the battle short. THE GORGON also produces one of Christopher Lee's quirkier roles as the eccentric Professor Meister, who has come to prove that the creature, indeed, walks among the townspeople in human form. Magaera may prove to be a silly creation when she is revealed in the final act, but it is the suspense and mystery leading up to her arrival that makes her an effective villainess.

Rating: 8/10.

If you liked THE GORGON, check out:
THE REPTILE, THE BEAST MUST DIE!, LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM.



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Saw 5 (2008)

Special Agent Straum narrowly escapes the trap set for him at the conclusion of SAW IV, leaving him with a hole in his neck and a personal vendetta against the Jigsaw copy-cat. His search brings him closer and closer to finding out the killer's true identity, but can he ID him in time to save the latest batch of victims? David Hackl keeps with the sharp editing, smooth transitions, and lightning pacing established by Darren Bousman and James Wan before him, giving this fifth film a consistent look and feel to the rest of the series. SAW V serves as a virtual prequel, intricately weaving Detective Hoffman into the events of each of the previous four films in a clever and convincing manner that is far less contrived than Agent Straum's presumptuous detective work. The main problems with the film are threefold. First, it is impossible to enjoy the film outside of the continuity of the series, as most of the characters and events are self-referential to the previous entries. Second, it takes an enormous leap of faith to believe that Straum could piece together the plot so easily, even with planted clues left behind by both Hoffman and Jigsaw. Lastly, the victims of the newest trap are forgotten entirely and seem to be inconsequential to the plot, while the script tends to focus on both Straum and Hoffman. Even with its inherent flaws, SAW V offers more great character development and background as told through the series of flashbacks, along with the bloodiest torture devices yet. It may not live up to the earlier films, but it is a worthwhile entry.

Rating: 7/10.
Gore: 7/10.



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Saw 4 (2007)

Now deceased, Jigsaw carries on his legacy with the help of an unknown ally. With each of his friends and fellow officers that were involved in the case dead, Officer Riggs is selected as the prime target in the newest game. He must complete a series of tasks if he hopes to save Detectives Matthews and Hoffman, but is Jigsaw looking for a new victim, or a new recruit? Repeat viewings pay off in this fourth installment in the series, as each of Riggs' tests are cleverly foreshadowed in the dialog early on in the script. In keeping with the previous two entries, SAW IV plays around with the time line of events and intertwines more of the history behind Jigsaw's early development. Bousman differentiates the look of the film from the original trilogy through the use of warm color filters in place of the typical blues and greens, which may have been used as a visual metaphor or motif for the new killer. Each of the traps are as vicious as ever, producing more blood and severed body parts than ever while sticking with the crude, simplistic designs. Jigsaw's successor comes as a true shock in the film's twist ending thanks to a number of well-placed red herrings. SAW IV is a weaker entry in the series, but an entertaining and watchable one nonetheless.

Rating: 7/10.
Gore: 6/10.



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Monday, August 2, 2010

Meatball Machine (2005)

Nothing can prepare you for MEATBALL MACHINE. Its insane comic book action and gore are only outmatched by its crude humor and sickening gross-outs. In it, a love-lorn teen discovers a mysterious piece of armor that transforms him and the girl he has obsessed over into berserk killing machines that must eat the hearts of other "Necroborgs" in order to survive. With everything from children being liquidated by oncoming traffic, to projectile vomit, to cross-dressing hookers, masturbation, and rape (both human and inhuman), the film pulls no punches in trying to shock and disturb its audience. The low-budget costuming and FX are surprisingly effective, mangling found objects into unrecognizable body armor and exaggerated bio-weapons. Fans of outrageously over-the-top Asian Horror films like MACHINE GIRL or TOKYO GORE POLICE cannot go wrong with this blood-splattered shocker!

Rating: 7/10.
Gore: 8/10.

If you liked MEATBALL MACHINE, check out:
TETSUO: THE IRON MAN, TOKYO GORE POLICE, THE GUYVER.



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Saw 3 (2006)

SAW III is the perfect bookend to the original SAW trilogy, providing a worthy send-off to the series' lead villain while diving deeper into the back story of the characters and events from the previous entries. Jigsaw is back, but the tumor growing inside him has left him bedridden. He enlists the help of Amanda to oversee his final game, which also involves a young doctor who must keep him alive long enough to see its outcome if she expects to survive. Darren Lynn Bousman continues to improve his cinematic styling over the last film, incorporating a number of brilliant scene transitions over the clean filming and sharp editing techniques. SAW III's traps are also among the most sadistic and creative in the series, almost to a fault considering the fact that it would have been impossible for John Kramer and Amanda Young to orchestrate them all themselves. Its crude mechanical devices call back to the Reverse Bear Trap and other bone-cracking contraptions that were missing from SAW II. As film series go, SAW III is one of the most rewarding and satisfying sequels in the genre, and it should have remained the final piece in the puzzle.

Rating: 9/10.
Gore: 6/10.



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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Saw 2 (2005)

SAW II removes the claustrophobic confines of the original by introducing a group of criminals into a house filled with more sinister games of survival. As the police close in on Jigsaw's lair, they are shocked to discover that his newest trap has been set in motion, and it is up to Detective Matthews to extract the building's location from Jigsaw before his own son is killed along with the other hostages. It is this second entry that made Tobin Bell and the Jigsaw killer icons of modern Horror through his expanded role and convincing methods. SAW II offers another intelligent script that lures the audience into Jigsaw's twisted code of morality and forces them to empathize with his character despite his ruthless acts. Despite Jigsaw's extensive character development, the film fails to capture the excitement and originality of the first. While the traps do cause some psychological distress in the thought of being burned alive or being tossed into a pit of dirty syringes, they are less inventive and far less satisfying. On top of that, the audience shares no sympathy with the unlikeable cast of victims, rendering the torture methods entirely ineffective. What newcomer Darren Lynn Bousman does achieve is a uniform look and feel to James Wan's original aesthetic, complete with tie-ins to the events in the previous film and an unexpected ending. SAW II is a competent followup that would develop the basic formula used in future installments of the series.

Rating: 8/10.
Gore: 5/10.



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Saw (2004)

After over a decade of bland remakes, sequels, and derivative Slashers, Leigh Whannell and James Wan introduced a refreshingly original and smart Horror film that would have an immediate and lasting effect on the genre while becoming an instant sensation among fans. That film was SAW, and unlike so many other Slasher and Survival films of the time, SAW did not rely on a masked madman, tired genre conventions, and scantily-clad teens to thrill its audiences, but rather pitted men against each other in a series of twisted morality games. In it, the Jigsaw killer assembles a series of deadly traps, which victims have the ability to escape if they are willing to sacrifice a part of themselves in order to learn the value of life, itself.

The title functions on various levels, referencing the voyeuristic themes found within the film as well as its bloody torture methods. Whannell's methodical plotting and clever twists lead up to one of the most shocking and surprising endings in recent Horror. Each of the ironic traps turn the victim's vices into their own personal torture, with every device proving to be just as imaginative as they are suspenseful. These edge-of-your-seat sequences are made that much more frightening thanks to James Wan's high-powdered and hyperkinetic shooting and editing style, which fully explores the three-dimensionality of the sets while bombarding the screen with intense and graphic imagery. If any argument can be made against the film, it is in the weak and often goofy performances of both Danny Glover and Cary Elwes, whose stiff line deliveries and staged acting impair many key scenes.

SAW (along with HOSTEL, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and others) was unjustly panned during the media strike against the so-called "Torture Porn" sub-genre -- a derogatory term that was used to describe films that glorified mutilation, violence, and torture as a form of entertainment. This unfair assessment is too quick in dismissing the strength of the script and its underlying themes of redemption, and focuses solely on the more visceral, surface-level actions that occur on screen. Despite these harsh criticisms, SAW has proven itself to be a modern Horror classic that has spawned numerous sequels and continues to thrill audiences years after its initial release.

Rating: 9/10.
Gore: 6/10.

If you liked SAW, check out:
EVIL DEAD TRAP, HOSTEL, STEEL TRAP.



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The Crazies (2009)

A small Mid-Western town is struck by an infectious virus that causes its inhabitants to lose their minds and begin ruthlessly slaughtering their neighbors until the military is able to intervene and "eliminate" the problem. What made Romero's 1973 version of the film so effective is the context in which it was made, in a frightful era following Vietnam where the threat of global terror and biological warfare loomed overhead. Romero was one of the first to tackle these fears through the safety net of the genre, whereas Eisner's update comes decades later when the threats have all but been eliminated and the theme has been retold countless times. Although each of the cast members provide serviceable performances, the poor attempts at humor, inane dialog, and empty plotting make this a chore to watch. What's worse, the lapses in logic and unlikely timing of events also make the film feel rushed and disorganized. Throwing in some mild gore simply isn't enough to cover these repeated flaws. THE CRAZIES remake is far too generic, too tame, and too shallow to leave any lasting effect on the genre.

Rating: 6/10.

If you liked THE CRAZIES, check out:
CARRIERS, QUARANTINE, NIGHTMARE CITY.



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