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Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Uh… it’s like candy coated vampire lore?

Dracula

Visually speaking, Dracula is a feast.   It’s beautifully lit and bathed in an aura of Victorian sensibilities drenched in crimson and black.    It has some stunning old-school sequences like in the beginning, where a beautiful opening montage explains how Dracula came to be a vampire.   The costumes are gorgeous; the sets are immaculate.

It’s too bad someone didn’t foist the same care upon the story.   What starts out as a feast becomes some sort of sugary confection, like eating a really long-lasting Starburst or something.

For all its pretty trappings, Dracula is threadbare as a movie.   We’re all familiar with the plot so I won’t rehash it here, but Dracula rests on Gary Oldman’s shoulders.   He does a remarkable job of injecting some measure of humanity and sympathy into a devilish beast, so snaps for you, Gary.    Anthony Hopkins shows up as Van Helsing to basically do a crazy old man jig all the way through the movie – watch Dracula and tell me he doesn’t look half-drunk.   No, it’s the appalling mix of Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder that finally does the movie in.   Bless him, Keanu’s out of his depth in this one.   I’m pretty sure everyone knew it too; I don’t get the sense he’s helped any by direction or editing in the slightest.    A cringe-inducing attempt at an English accent sinks his already abysmal performance.   I adore Keanu, as we’ve previously established, but to watch Keanu try and play a naive man addled and terrified by Dracula is to feel embarrassment for him.

Winona Ryder has small moments of clarity, but Mina Harker is so braindead I’m not sure what Ryder could do except stand around and look pretty and/or horrified.   Since Mina is supposed to be the reincarnation of Dracula’s long dead wife, you have to wonder if Dracula loves her in spite of the fact that she’s a dim bulb or because of it.   Either way, my God, she gets tiresome quickly.

Much like in life, pretty can only carry you so far.    While Dracula starts out entertaining and moving, it loses steam in such a rapid fashion it leaves the viewer sucking on sugar for the next interminable hours.

Yea, verily, it’s like the cinematic equivalent of a damn Everlasting Gobstopper:   it feels like it’s never going to end.   And when it does, blessedly, you’re struck with the feeling that such a visually inspiring piece of film should at least have an equally moving story to match.

As they say:  no dice here.   … And it’s a shame.   But I enjoy watching it if only for all the neat visuals and beautiful sets.

A guilty pleasure?   Oh, sure.   Not one of Coppola’s finest cinematic achievements, though.

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You guys nominated more than I can watch in 24 hours!

So now it’s time to vote on nine selections.   You get nine votes for the nine movies I’m going to watch in 24 hours starting on midnight at the 30th and ending on midnight on Halloween.  Here’s the movies you guys nominated along with a couple of my own…

On your marks and all that:

Get ’em in soon!   Voting ends WEDNESDAY so that I have time to pick these things up.

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Penned by Tarantino, shot and edited by Rodriguez.   (Rodriguez does so much stuff on his own films that I’m shocked he’s not responsible for craft services in addition to the ninety million things he does.)

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Seth and Richie Gekko have some serious problems.   Richie busted Seth out of prison and on their way to safe haven in Mexico, they’ve killed more than a handful of civilians and cops.    Seth is the professional, pragmatic brother while Richie’s little more than a nutjob and a rapist, leaving big brother Seth to mop up the mess.   The Fuller family is traveling around the States in a RV, mourning the loss of the wife and mother of the group, when they inadvertently cross paths with the Gekko brothers.   Never one to pass up an opportunity, Seth uses the family as cover to get into Mexico and forces the family to stay overnight with him in a biker bar located in the middle of nowhere.    It is there that the real scary stuff begins, seeing as how the bar staff has the tiny little problem of vampirism.

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From Dusk ‘Till Dawn wasn’t the first script Tarantino wrote that had been directed by someone else; the script for Natural Born Killers fell to Oliver Stone, who made his version of Natural Born Killers, something Tarantino disowns.   From Dusk ‘Till Dawn was in the hands of Robert Rodriguez, a close friend and Tarantino was on set playing Richie Gekko.   The funny thing is that certain aspects of From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, such as the newscaster grinning as she counts up the bodies lining the Gekko Brothers’ path to freedom, still smack of Natural Born Killers.

Seth Gekko is in no easy situation.   In a bar full of violent truckers, bikers and insane strippers, he has to corral his psycho younger brother who has his eye on young Kate and keep a lid on the nervous family who wants nothing more than to get away from the two brothers.   Richie is the first victim of the vampires; he’s killed by a stripper named Satanico Pandemonium.   Fun times.   The rest of the bar almost nearly follows suit; it’s two bikers named Sex Machine (played by none other than Tom Savini) and Frost who survive the carnage along with Seth and the Fuller family.

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SPOILER WARNING.

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#1546: Drag Me To Hell

Mr. Raimi, I missed you.

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I saw the Evil Dead series somewhere around the age of 17 or so and ever since then I’ve been in cinematic love with Sam Raimi.   In the past few years, however, this adoration had dulled over the plethora of Spiderman movies that had come or are to come; I never much cared for Spiderman and I watched the flicks primarily for (who else) Bruce Campbell’s cameos.   Yawn.

Drag Me To Hell is a gooey, oozing horror flick that’s a marked return for Raimi to the genre.   Equal parts funny and frightening, it’s a very tight piece of movie making.

Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a Midwest farm girl escaping from her roots by moving to a big city, losing her accent and desperately trying to get ahead.  When her boss at the bank informs her that he needs someone to make “tough decisions”, she denies an elderly gypsy woman an extension on her mortgage even as the woman begs and pleads with Christine to save her house.  After work that evening, the gypsy woman hunts Christine down and attacks her, placing an ancient curse on her that will result in Christine getting dragged to hell in three days.

Raimi relies on jump scares and gross scenes but goes easy on the gore.   It’s effective but never tiresome.   If you’re paying attention, Raimi telegraphs the gags before they pop up, but even then my theater had grown men popping out of their seats in fright and screaming like little girls.  Some of Raimi’s signatures are evident in the film; the classic Oldsmobile pops up and you can definitely recognize Raimi’s style.   (Bruce Campbell for once doesn’t cameo.)    Allison Lohman and Justin Long (as her reticent professor boyfriend) are wonderful, with Long being surprising given the fact that he’s popped up in a variety of roles that often border on irritating.

It is definitely a throwback to the horror movies of twenty years ago; Raimi even opens the movie with the ’80’s styled Universal logo, a logo which incredibly stirred up a lot of nostalgia in me.   The movie itself is bright and colorful, with a brilliant score and soundtrack that will stay stuck in your head.   (The sooner they offer it on iTunes, the better, because the soundtrack will stay on repeat on my iPod.)

More than anything, I give points to Raimi for tying up all the plot points nicely as well as making a movie open to interpretation.  While on the surface Drag Me To Hell is a curse-flick, quite a bit of the imagery and repetitive themes of the movie can lead you to different meanings if you let your mind stretch and wander a bit if you’re willing to dig that far.

It was worth the $9.50 Younger Sister and I paid and more.   It should be noted that Younger Sister has relatively no clue who Sam Raimi is or had very much of an idea of the Evil Dead movies before we went into the theater, but I think it’s safe to say that if I tell her that I have a Sam Raimi movie to watch, she’ll watch it now.   We were both suitably happy with the film and judging by the grown men sitting beside us that nearly tore out of the theater in terror, the rest of our audience enjoyed it as well.

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Okay, so  I didn’t mean to make these past few days Hellraiser-tastic, but Tommy dared me to do this one!  Unless it’s sticking my tongue to a frozen lightpole , I have been known to very rarely refuse a dare.

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Hellraiser III starts out promising and then blows away all its promise in the second half of the flick.   It begins with an enterprising newswoman, hot on the trail of a Very Big Story, a hedonistic club owner, an eviscerated guest of said club and the club owner’s desperate girlfriend.

Meet the asshole club owner:

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He buys an expensive statue that’s actually got some very bad things contained inside, like, for instance…Pinhead.  (At the end of Part II, we saw Pinhead and friends torn apart and shoved onto a spinning column.  That’s the statue, essentially.)   After a clubgoer of his messes with the puzzle box stuck inside the statue, aforementioned clubgoer meets a dubious end at the end of some chains.  Familiar territory we’re finding ourselves in.

Terri, the determined newscaster, smells a story.  She hooks up with Joey, the girlfriend of the piggish club owner, J.P.   Together they investigate the origins of the statue and the box, as Pinhead begins to reawaken and starts to sway J.P. into bringing him into the land of the living.

The last half of Hellraiser III is a strange brew of items that make no sense in the established canon whatsoever (Pinhead’s human self and hell self are separated and must be reintegrated, but only through Terri’s dreams).   What’s worse is that the old crack team of evil-people-retrievers are gone, gone, gone.   Pinhead slaughters a whole club full of people, trying to out-stupid his own tactics one by one.   One attendee is killed by ice, another by CD.  Yes, CD.   Don’t worry, he’ll pop up again.

Characters in this flick are bland, boring and make some of the most nonsensical decisions ever.   The sets are cheesy and the special effects are sad.

While everyone else tries to make sense of what in God’s good name is going on in the last thirty minutes or so, Terri’s being chased by eeeevil new Cenobites.   They’re the modern upgrades!   Think of them as the Windows Vista version of Cenobites, but they’re not without problems.

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That, my friends, is a Cenobite who kills people by throwing CDs like ninja stars.

It’s a great idea if you want to make the concept of Hellraiser completely laughable.  If so, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.   There’s another Cenobite with a video lens for an eye and a blowtorch Cenobite.  Each is … mind-numbingly stupid.

From there, Terri, who looks as confused and stricken as any viewer would be expected to appear, travels into dream-world to reintegrate Pinhead and escapes.   Of course she does, because if formulaic horror movies have taught us anything, it’s the sacred rite of the Final Girl.

She drops the Lemarchand Box into a vat of wet concrete, which becomes…

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An office building that looks like the box?  Is this Dana’s apartment building from Ghostbusters?  I don’t know.   …But it looks cool.

Stupid, stupid, STUPID movie.  STUPID.  I have a wall that my head needs to meet, thanks.

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Oh, where to begin?
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If you’ve seen Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, then congratulations:  you already know most of the story in Zombie Holocaust.   Corpses in New York City are being mutilated and it’s discovered by the authorities that a group of immigrants from a faraway island are responsible for ripping up the bodies and chowing down on the pieces.  An expedition is organized to travel to the primitive people in order to discover what dastardly, nefarious things are going on to cause the corpse mutilations.
Zombie Holocaust is pretty much Zombie, only 97% fat-free (now, with less sodium!).   It was even released as Zombi 3 to capitalize on Fulci’s success with Zombie (which was released as Zombi 2, even though it’s not a sequel to anything.  Still with me?).   Unlike Zombie, it’s missing a lot of what made Zombie so entertaining and simultaneously squick-worthy; there is no zombie fighting a shark and there’s no version of the slow eye mutilation.   The acting is bad, the “action” scenes plod along and seeing a zombie take a boat motor propellor to the face toward the end of the flick is little payoff for a movie that delivers something you probably have already seen.
That being said, Zombie Holocaust is not totally horrific.   Sure, it’s been done already, but there’s a certain perverse fun in watching horror flicks, so even though Zombie Holocaust is a retread, so are 8,000 other horror movies.   The cheesy fun of watching a bad dub with dull special effects remains intact, so it’s got that going for it.
The expedition team is slowly picked off before discovering that a surgeon on the island is manipulating the bodies of the dead and experimenting on them.  Thus, the zombification plague is fully explained.  As you would expect from a mad scientist, the evil doctor’s none too pleased about the group discovering his special, special project and so he orders his zombies to slay the lot and let him mess around with some of the group while they’re still alive.   Another member of the expedition is crowned “queen” of the tribe that’s still alive.  They’re cannibals, which makes her inexplicably QUEEN OF THE CANNIBALS.   Don’t be confused by logic.  This is just an excuse to get a pretty girl naked.   Yes, I know.  A lot of you are biting your knuckles at the very thought of a pretty lady naked, but it’ll be alright.
Like a lot of z-grade horror movies, Zombie Holocaust is less about any sort of story or central theme and a lot more about creatively dismembering fake dummies with lots of Karo syrup inside.  (None of the dead folks even remotely look real in this film.  Some scenes it appears the crew didn’t even bother to hide that they were using a dummy.)   

Horror fans, go for it; everyone else… uh, you might want to skip it.

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