Tuesday, June 3, 2008

On a rainy weekend...

I've just seen a whole slew of horror movies over the last several days (it's what happens when it rains here...) so I thought I'd put up some reviews/suggestions. Most of these I have seen before but perhaps not everyone has, so here goes:

First up: Fingerprints (2006)

Now with a DVD cover like this one, you'd think this would be killer scary, right?
Well..... it didn't suck. But it wasn't especially scary. Rather like a mystery - or maybe slightly better than a saturday night Sci-Fi Channel premiere.
There were a few spooky elements though, and perhaps I am desensitized and not much creeps me out anymore.

"Fingerprints" is actually based on an supposed urban legend out of Texas about a school bus accident in which a train hits a stalled bus on the tracks and all the children inside die. Nice premise, eh?
Story goes that if you stop your car at the tracks and put it in neutral, the ghosts of the children will push your car across the tracks and out of harm's way. If you are a savvy ghost hunter, you will sprinkle baby powder on your bumper and soon after, discover the fingerprints of the kids. Cool!

I liked the main character, Melanie, played by Leah Pipes (whom I had never heard of until now but apparently she has done some Disney tv or the likes). She was completely believable and a good actress. Mel has just gotten out of rehab (which was some kind of 'outward bound' thing for troubled teens - we should all be so lucky) and has come home to live with her small-town, recently relocated parents. (They never say - did she cause such a drug-induced ruckus that the folks had to leave town?)
Actually, her boyfriend and her were doing drugs and he overdosed and died and she died and came back. So she has some kind of "special feelings" or kinship with the ghostly realm.

Also in the family is Mel's big sister, who in my book looked the same age and nothing like Melanie at all. Crystal (Kristin Cavallari of 'The Hills' fame) plays sis, and she is as wooden an actress as I have seen in quite some time. She just looks pretty... that's about all she can manage.
The mom is a royal unforgiving, untrusting bitch (and fairly bad actress as well) and Dad is a secret sympathizer. There's the family in a nutshell.

Melanie attends the same school as her sister, quickly makes a new boyfriend (Josh Henderson of Desperate Housewives), gets on a first-name basis with the guidance counselor (genre favorite Lou Diamond Phillips) and begins doing her own research about the legend after her sister shows her the famous 'fingerprints on the bumper' trick and Mel sees a ghostly girl.

To say more would give the whole thing away, so I'll just end it there by saying this was a pretty good mystery, and there were a few choice gore moments for us true grue fans.

Moving on to one of my all time new favorites: the fantastic, unrivaled 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.

I could watch this movie again and again. I love it. There is only one other remake even remotely on-par with this movie and that would be the 1982 remake of the 50's horror standard "The Thing". It rocks and if you haven't seen it, don't be afraid to, as it has held up quite well after all these years.
Anyway, Dawn of the Dead is a remake of the 1978 George Romero classic. It was the second of Romero's zombie movies and while good in its own right, I truly believe the updated version is the way to go.

Ana (the always brilliant Sarah Polley) finishes an overtime shift at her job as a hospital nurse and joins her hubby for a quiet evening at home.

Morning comes and so does the little neighbor girl at their bedroom door. When hubby gets up to check on her, she pounces on him like a cheetah to an antelope and proceeds to rip out his throat. Ana cannot get the bleeding stops and Louis expires. But as any zombie fan worth their merit knows, he's not gone for long...
He reanimates and chases her from the house where she escapes in her car, barrelling down the neighborhood while noticing things are exploding in chaos all over. To make a long story short, she wrecks her car, finds a friend in a police officer (Ving Rhames), finds three more 'normal' folks: Michael (Jake Weber), Andre (Mekhi Phifer), and his russian girlfriend Luda (Inna Korobkina)..
They make their way to a local mall ( in the original the mall they shot the film at is nearby where I live) and eventually increase their party of 5 to a party of 15 or so.

From here on out it is basically a battling zombies kind of film. But the effects are great, the acting top-notch and the plot just works. There is comedic intervention as well as some truly awesome gore. I can't say enough good things about it.

In most films, zombies generally poke along at a ridiculously slow pace, obviously due to their brain matter being a tad nonexistent I suppose, but this film continued a trend of perilously fast, practically running zombies. That's pretty much scarier than a zombie strolling along at a turtle's pace.
For other awesome quick-paced zombie movies, check out '28 Days Later' and its really good sequel, '28 Weeks Later' - though I think they are supposed to be people infected with a rage of some sort, not actual zombies. Plays out the same though.

Watch for special effects guru Tom Savini, who did much of Romero's movies special effects and make-up, in a funny cameo.

All in all, a fine zombie movie that comes highly recommended.

Lastly for today, a two-fer. Psycho and Psycho 2.

There is not much one can say about the original 1960 thriller, Psycho, except that it is one of the finest films ever put to celluloid.
Could there be a more iconic horror movie scene than the image of "Mother" pulling open that shower curtain and weilding that knife while Bernard Herrmann's all too familiar strains of screeching string instruments? I think not.

Alfred Hitchcock always knew how to give a person a fright, but I believe that this was his true masterpiece. Others will say Vertigo, or Rear Window (both good) but this is a movie that everyone knows. Everyone has seen it. Everyone is afraid of showering now.
What Jaws was to the ocean, 'Mother' is to taking a shower.

Poor Norman (Anthony Perkins) cannot get a date to save his life with his mother always yelling at him and chiding him. When the beautiful Marion Crane (who has just embezzled a shitload of money from her boss and is on the lam) stops for the night at the Bates Motel, events are set in motion that are unstoppable. She meets Norman while checking in and he hesitates, then gives her Room #1.
Quick synopsis: They chat. She leaves. She showers. He watches. She dies. He cleans up. He blames Mother. Her family arrives. Detective as well. They investigate. More murder.
Shocking revelation. The End.

Psycho was well received by critics and audiences alike, who could not believe Hitchcock would kill off a big Hollywood star like Janet Leigh in the first 20 minutes of the film! And poor Anthony Perkins, himself an Oscar nominated actor, found himself pigeon-holed into the role of Norman Bates forever.

Though I have heard they colorized the film for a dvd release at some point, I definately do not recommend seeing it in anything but its native black and white. The effect is so much greater.

PSYCHO 2 (1983) is a personal favorite of mine, not only because I love the Norman Bates character (who was based on the lovely serial killer Ed Gein), but because I love the score by the prolific late Jerry Goldsmith.

In it, we find Norman, finally being released from jail after serving 22 years for... whoops! Did I forget to previously mention he was the killer in the first movie? Ha. You knew that.
Looking pretty sane and fairly confident, he decides (against the better judgement of his psychiatrist, played by Robert Loggia) to move back to the old house on the hill and run that infamous motel again. After all, what else could he do? Much to the chagrin of his biggest protester, Marion Crane's sister, Lila - who protests at the courthouse and swears he'll kill again.

His shrink has arranged for him to work at a local diner (you know, with knives and stuff!) and so once there he meets his tempermental boss, and his co-workers - one bitchy waitress, one clumsy but nice-enough waitress - Mary, and Mrs. Spool, who convinced the state to give Norman the job because it is the Christian thing to do.

He also has a run-in with the current manager of the Bates Motel, the low-life Mr Toomey, who has turned it into a one stop shop for quick sex and drugs. He fires Toomey straight out and has a confrontation at the restaurant because he thinks Toomey slipped a note from his dead mother onto the order rack.
After that grueling first day, he invites a weary and recently broken-hearted Mary to stay at his motel since her boyfriend kicked her out. She agrees, but ends up staying in the house because Toomey has basically trashed the motel rooms.

Soon Norman begins to receive mysterious phone calls from his 'mother' and hears voices. His mother's room turns out to have not aged a day and looks exactly as it did 22 years ago. He gets stuck in the attic, finds bloody towels in the toilet, and once a murder occurs in the house when he is supposed to be at work, he feels he is starting to lose control again. Is he descending into madness again?

Check out the movie to find out. It's a great return to a horror franchise. They made a few sequels after this one, with Perkins continuing the role, but this one is far superior to either of those.

Ok, that's all for now, folks.
Much more to come. Wait for it.

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