August 2008 Archives

Mulberry Street (2006)

D: Jim Mickle
S: Nick Damici, Antone Pagan, Tim House, Larry Fleischman, Bo Corre, Ron Brict, John Hoyt, Kim Blair
If a movie about were-rats infesting New York City sounds like something you'd be interested in watching, then this is definitely the movie for you.  Assuming, of course, that plot, characters, and cinematography aren't all that important to you.
Yes, the idea of an infestation of were-rats starting riots in the streets of New York definitely has promise.  And there's clearly an attempt to put an over-arching storyline in place - an Iraq War vet comes home on the night that all hell breaks loose, and attempts to make her way home to her neighborhood to see her father again.  And to be fair, the movie starts off on a pretty good note...the characters are decently established, relationships are explained, and the neighborhood in general is laid out for the future insanity.
Then the infections begin, and the movie moves from a slow-paced character study into the realm of bad lighting and music-video cuts.  Now, don't get me wrong - I'm very much in the camp of the less you show in a horror movie, the scarier it is (check out Session 9 for this - very little is shown throughout the whole movie and it's the creepiest film I've seen in a long time).  But, I also think that if you're going to show something, you need to show it, and not hide it with horrible lighting and bad camera tricks.  Which, unfortunately, is what shows up here.
It's not the worst movie ever, and definitely not the worst of the Horrorfest outings for 2007.  But it just takes too much time to build up to a delivery that's really not as good a payoff as you'd want it to be.  Really, it's just a poor knock-off of 28 Days Later or 28 Weeks Later, replacing zombies with rat-people.  It's fun, I suppose, but very slow to build and pretty difficult to track once things start falling apart.

Review: Session 9 (2001)

D: Brad Anderson
S: David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, Josh Lucas, Peter Mullan, Brendan Sexton, III

Session 9 is one of the most ambiguous horror movies I think I've ever seen.  And I mean that in a good way - the ambiguity isn't present in what happens, but why, and it's between two equally frightening possibilities...the spiritual posession of a normal, working-class guy by a murderous demon; or the slow descent into madness of a normal, working-class guy.

The film works on many levels - the writing is great, the characters and acting are spot-on, and the couldn't ask for a better location for this type of film than the former Danvers State Hospital in Virginia.  Just the setting alone is creepy enough, and it's this feeling of dread, despair, and disrepair - not only in the building, but in the men working on it - that drives the plot of this movie.

Gordon (Peter Mullan) is an Irish immigrant who has found his lot in life as the owner of an Asbestos removal service.  Unfortunately, times are rough, and he's forced to commit to cleaning the Danvers State Hospital in a week's time, just in order to secure the money that he needs to support his wife and their new baby.  His partner in the company, Phil (David Caruso) watches closely as he sees Gordon making stretch after stretch to keep his life in order.

Rounding out the cleanup crew are: Hank (Josh Lucas), a man who seems to enjoy two things in life - gambling and making others' lives miserable; Mike (Stephen Gevedon), a law school graduate and scion of a legal eagle who feels as though he's "slumming it" in such a manual, menial job; and finally Jeff (Brendan Sexton, III), Gordon's nephew who's new to the whole experience, and just happy to have a job.

The relationships seem straightforward between these men at first, but you find out that Hank has stolen Phil's girlfriend (though when we see him at home, he's paying more attention to the television than her), Mike is considering that it may be time to hang up the protective suits and return to more intellectual pursuits, and Phil is coping with what he thinks may be his last job - not because he wants it to be, but because it's clear to him that the business is failing.

All of this human drama is underscored by the slowly-unveiling story of Mary Hobbes, a former inmate of the asylum.  Mike discovers her records while wandering through the administration offices, and opens up the box (clearly marked EVIDENCE) to discover audio tapes of the interviews (unsurprisingly, nine tracks marked "SESSION 1" through "SESSION 9"). 

As Mike delves into the mystery of Mary Hobbes, the other men are seen to succomb to their own demons.  Hank discovers a cache of silver coins, jewelry, and other items that fall out of a stone wall attached to the crematorium.  Phil copes with what he feels is increasingly erratic behavior on the part of Gordon (while at the same time smoking pot whenever he has the opportunity).  And Gordon finds the strength to admit to Phil that he slapped his wife the night that their contract for the Danvers Hospital was approved.

With a movie like this, it's hard to discuss the details of the plot, because to do so really spoils a lot of very good storyline, excellent characterizations, and ultimately the entire point of the film itself.  This film delivers on its very slow burn, and constantly has you wondering just how it will all end.  Regardless of how you view the events - did Mike unleash some form of demonic evil by opening Mary Hobbes' files...or was the entire audiotape more of a coincidental metaphor for events that were already being unleashed without any supernatural intervention?

This truly is a thinking-man's horror movie, and while opinions vary (and are strongly held on either side of the coin), it's absolutely a movie worth spending some time to experience.

Review: Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

D: Charles E. Sellier, Jr.

S: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Roni Nero, Robert Brian Wilson, Britt Leach

First and foremost, I admit that I went into this movie with perhaps the lowest expectations that I've had for any of the classic horror films that I've been finally catching up on.  I expected so very, very little from a movie that's all about a guy dressed as Santa going on a killing spree on Christmas Eve.

And this movie quite simply blew me away.  I would add this to my must-see list of horror movies for anyone who wants to enjoy the classic feel of an 80s slasher film.  Granted, the acting in general isn't exactly the best, but for the time and budget, what can you really expect?  The real genius in this film is, quite simply, the main character.  You know who the killer is from the very beginning - there are no pretensions, there are no Red Herrings.  You watch as the poor little boy gets to be subjected to perhaps the most horrible vision he can see - his parents are viciously murdered by a guy in a Santa suit.  "Where ARE you, you little bastard!?" he screams into the bushes as poor little Billy hides.

Fast forward a few years, and Billy and his brother are now in the care of a stereotypical Catholic orphanage, complete with a caring Sister of the order and an overbearing, mean-as-nails Mother Superior.  Billy behaves himself well enough, but every year around Christmas, he suddenly gets worse...drawing horrible pictures of Santa and refusing to sit on Santa's lap (even punching a visiting "Santa" at the orphanage).  For each of these acts, Billy is punished for being naughty.  When he catches two teenagers in the orphanage in an act that's frowned on by the Bible (undoubtedly, they weren't attempting to procreate), he finds out that is naughty too...and worthy of punishment.

All of this is in place merely to set Billy up for the inevitable...and really the setup is economical, taking only 20 minutes or so.  Then you see Billy as an 18-year old, strapping, hunk of a boy, who the caring, compassionate Sister sets up with a job at a toy store.  Yes, let's ignore the inevitable question of whether it's smart to do so, knowing what happens at EVERY toy store around Christmas...but if not for this small lapse of judgment, the movie would be very boring indeed.

Let me tangentialize for just a moment here - in addition to the story and the gore and the nudity, another little fun part of this (for me, at least) was seeing all the old toys in the store - you have the Jabba the Hutt playset in one scene, Mousetrap in another, even a giant Castle Greyskull playset in another.  Seeing all these great 80s toys in their original packaging made an aging toy geek like me giddy with excitement. you can probably guess, Christmas rolls around.  Billy's making eyes at a female co-worker, and getting under the skin of his supervisor, a gaudy Lothario-wanna-be.  The boss, however, seems to like him, and when the regular Santa is injured, who does he turn to to take his place?  Why, Billy-boy, of course...who uses his knowledge of Santa as a punisher of the naughty to tame the wildest of children who cry and scream on his lap.

Of course, scaring little kids into complacency isn't what a slasher film is all we have to have something trigger little ol' Billy-boy into a homicidal rage...and what better than some alcohol?  Yep, that's right - after all the little buggers have left the store, Mr. Simms breaks out the booze and everyone starts to celebrate.  Everyone in the store has way too much to drink, and Billy watches his Lothario and female interest sneak back into the back of the store.  Needless to say, he catches Lothario being "naughty" and this is the trigger that causes Billy to begin hunting down and punishing those who are on the Naughty List.

I don't want to spoil everything for you - suffice it to say that the movie is a great watch from beginning to end.  There's no suspense about who's doing the killing, but who and how are always up for grabs.  Hearing Billy grumble "NAUGHTY!!" and "PUNISH!!" in a voice that's not quite his own is just awesome (though I will admit that without context it sounds horribly cheesy!), and seeing everyone else put the pieces together is a pretty good use of dramatic irony.

Overall, this movie is HIGHLY recommended for anyone who is looking for the thrill that only a good 80s slasher flick can bring!

Review: Prom Night (1980)

D: Paul Lynch
S: Leslie Nielsen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Tough, Casey Stevens

Wow...just let me say that for a moment.  Wow.  I've always heard Prom Night mentioned as one of the defining films in the 80s slasher history, and I have to SO does not live up to that reputation.  Not even close.  And that's not to say that it doesn't try...but it fails to deliver on almost everything you expect from an 80s horror movie, except boobs.  And there aren't even all that many bare breasts to be seen in this one, even. 

Perhaps it's just that it's such an early film in the genre, but that can't quite be it - it was not only predated by Halloween by two years, but it was released the same year as Friday the 13th, so that's no excuse.  I think it just can't quite be what it really wants to's never really very scary, it's barely gory even for the time, and the entire storyline is telegraphed so far ahead of time that it's really not even very interesting.

A really good horror movie like this requires that the Red Herrings actually be possible...but that's just not the case here.  The movie starts out with phone calls being made to the future victims...but the "escaped mental patient" has just gotten away and was holed up in an abandoned convent...and the "questionable groundskeeper" is hard at work on the grounds of the school.  It doesn't leave many options...and in case you haven't seen it yet, and still want to subject yourself to it after reading this, I won't spoil it.  But it's hardly a surprise.

The writing is bad, the acting horrible, and the dancing...well, let's just say that it reminds you in a way that Saturday Night Fever never will exactly why Disco died.  I seriously expected there to be a dance-off halfway through this movie, which might have actually been more enjoyable overall than watching what was on display.

The bottom line here is that there are many, MANY better 80s slasher/horror films to spend your time watching, and if it weren't for the remake that's sitting in my queue right now, I probably wouldn't have wasted mine watching this...if only I could get that hour and a half of my life back...