Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On the edge of horror: The Canyon (2009)

Because I do not literally mention the word horror in my blog's title, I feel I can sometimes stretch the boundaries of traditional horror movie reviews and step into other surrounding sub-genres without taking too much slack. And so begins a recurring feature called On the Edge of Horror.

And we begin with something I recently saw on Netflix Instant Watch, The Canyon. While this film popped up as a recommendation in the horror genre, I call wholeheartedly tell you this is not horror. That being said, it falls under what I would call the 'Survival Film' classification, and the subject matter could, in fact, induce fear. As in my blog title. See, we've come full circle already.

The Canyon isn't horror. But it does induce a certain amount of fear. If there is anyone out there who can tell me they would not be needing a change of underwear if they found themselves lost and alone in such a vast location as The Grand Canyon, please do so, you big fat liar brave soul, you!

Nick (Eion Bailey) and Lori (Yvonne Strahovski), having just eloped, have come from Vegas to The Grand Canyon for a weekend of adventure. Nick has it in his head that riding mules into the depths of the canyon and doing some camping makes for a perfect honeymoon. Lori, on the other hand, just wants to shack up at the motel and get busy. But being the perfect little new wifey, she agrees.

They run into a slight snag when good ole' Nick didn't call ahead to make reservations for a guided tour and he is unable to secure a permit. Just when they've resigned themselves to sightseeing the old fashioned way, they meet up with Henry (Will Patton) - a past-his-prime former tour guide who'd be happy to take them down into the canyon! What luck!
So what does our daring duo do? They go with him, of course.

What you expect to happen (for Henry to gut them like fish far away from the regular trail and dump their bodies) doesn't occur at all. In fact, Henry really does seem on the up and up, taking them to little known places of great beauty and seemingly having a great knowledge of the canyon and all its history. He's not stupid, and has another mule with them to carry supplies such as water, food, and the prerequisite first aid kit.

When Henry makes the suggestion to ride off the designated path a bit to get to another unbelievable and amazing view (Huh? Seen one canyon you've seen them all, right?), the happy couple balks at first and then Nick pleads with Lori and she gives in. The amount of common sense that is lacking here is most certainly legendary. But they head off to see the sites.

There is some gorgeous scenery in this film, but having never been to the Grand Canyon myself, I was surprised to read the movie was actually filmed in Utah. Um...okay. Like I said, all canyons look the same.

Suddenly (!) a rattlesnake (a Western Diamondback for those who actually care about these details) scares the crap out of the mules and they start bucking and running, throwing all three of their riders to the ground. In the pain and confusion, Henry gets bit not once, but twice by the snake. One bite is right on his cheek, and there is a fairly cool scene of him cutting the snake away from his face and then actually pulling the head (and fangs) of the snake out of his cheek. Say it with me now...ouch.

With the mules hightailing it out of the area, the snake dead, and Henry dealing with two snake bites, Nick chases after the mules and Lori tries to fabricate a splint and sling out of twigs and ripped up clothing (where's MacGyver when you need him?!) Nick does manage to return with one of the mules, but not the pimped out one with all the goods.
So they're stuck. In the middle of the Grand Canyon. With no one to come looking for them due to the fact that they're off the beaten path, had no permit, no legal guide, no itinerary - and no god damned cell service.

I'm really not giving too much away when I tell you Henry dies. I mean, you kind of already guessed that, right? He succumbs to his nasty reptile bite by the next day and Nick and Lori decide it best to bury him, considering the stories about wolves in the area, and to avoid the already hovering vultures, crows and other scavengers.

After spending another night listening to the wolves howling in the distance, Lori and Nick start out early in the morning, certain they are heading the right direction. But as this is a survival movie, your bet would be a sure thing if you guessed they ended up right back at their former campground. Then they make the monumental mistake of attempting to scale the side of a mountain (because Nick has climbed an indoor fake rock and is an expert!) and in the process dangle off the side with the cell phone trying to get a connection. For just a moment, Lori is able to reach 911, but before she can even think about giving her location, Nick loses his grip, sending them both to the ground. While it seems like Lori should have most certainly broke her back, she struggles very little to get up when she hears Nick moaning in pain.
Nick has managed to fall in such a way that his foot is wedged in between two huge-ass boulders.
Naturally, Lori tries the old 'wedge a big stick in and try to move the rocks' trick, but it's a no-go - with these boulders weighing two tons each and probably as immobile as that dude from Man vs. Food at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

For fans of gore, there is a bit to speak of here. Nick's leg is completely stuck in said crevasse. So they do the only thing left to do when the wolves are knocking at your back door... Lori cuts off his foot. Right after she goes back to where they buried Henry and digs him up to get the knife they should have remembered to take off him before burying him in the first place. Oh my. The actual removal of the lower part of his leg is rather gruesome, but still tame as far as horror would go. (Certainly not as graphic as that scene in The Ruins - gah!)

Finally, the wolves appear! And damn if they aren't hungry. Nick's rotting foot must smell so tasty. Lori keeps the wolves at bay by using the same trick used in the (far superior) movie The Edge. She uses makeshift torches to surround her and the hubby so the wolves can't get to them. Regrettably, I have serious reservations as to the validity of this hair-brained idea. I really tend to think the wolves would just breach the wide open spaces between her torches and rip them to pieces. I mean, there was a pack of them, they seemed hungry, and they were most definitely pissed.

The remainder of the film is as foreseeable as the first part. Defending themselves from wolves and trying to figure out a way out of the canyon. Blah blah blah.

Comparisons to Open Water are inevitable here, so much that you could almost interchange the two , subtracting water and sharks and adding in dry, unbearable heat and wolves. Both are lost in unfamiliar territory, both are attacked by menacing predators, and both films are tales of the helpless agitation couples feel when faced with a problem neither can rectify.

The acting, while predictable, was still passable. The lead actor was simply lovely - quite nice to look at even though he was as pale as a vampire by film's end and should have been burnt to a crisp. Will Patton (Henry) has been in so many other things you are bound to recognize him immediately, and his over-the-top performance as the grizzly guide are part of what makes the movie bearable.
But inasmuch as it attempts to be a character-driven piece, it fails to garner our interest in the couple and their dilemma. We don't know enough about them to feel concerned for their welfare. Though adding to the film's running time just to throw in some background filler really might not have made that much of a difference.

The ending. Hmm... What can I say except "Meh." I should have found it shocking, but instead it felt like a déjà vu moment of sorts. I'd seen it in several movies before this one, so in all reality it felt perfunctory and blasé. I can't say I hated it, because I did watch the whole thing, but I'm glad it was an instant watch selection. Would have hated to waste a mail order movie on this.

For a good example of a survival film, check out Alive... or remind me to tell you about The Edge some day.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Mindless Movie Monday: Rest Stop (2006)

Rest Stop is usually bombarded with negativity in pretty much every review I have ever read. And while it may very well be a piece of rubbish, I'm here to admit it is somewhat a guilty pleasure of mine.
It has little to no real scares, ridiculous acting, and a seriously moronic and uninspired plot.
So why do I like it? Beats the hell out of me.

As the movie begins, Nicole and Jess are taking off to California to become movie stars or models or some other truly ludicrous ambition. As naive as they are, they are bound to find nothing but serious trouble. On the road, they stop over for a quickie along side the highway (because apparently they have never seen a horror movie in their lives and don't realize how incredibly stupid this decision is). While finishing up their copulating, a yellow truck is seen idling nearby - not one to miss a peep show I guess. They don't think much of it, and once on the road again they manage to have an argument about the fact that they won't be staying with Jess's cousin once they hit LA. Seems they won't have anywhere to live. Really well thought out plan, guys. Kudos.

When Nicole expresses the need to stop at an upcoming rest area, they pull off. By all indications, this is one of the creepiest rest stops I've seen. Deserted, with no other cars around - and this is broad daylight mind you - Nicole heads inside to take care of business.

Okay...here is where I have to just say why? If it were me, I'd have just peed alongside the car and forgone the whole bathroom thing. I mean, who cares if your boyfriend sees you? Didn't you just exchange body fluids anyway? And there is no one else around!

Anyway, after using the extremely deplorable rest room, Nicole heads back outside only to discover Jess is gone. That goes for the car as well. After a lot of yelling and swearing, she finally realizes he's not coming back, so she laments their fighting and resigns herself to sitting on a picnic table and pouting. It is then when the yellow truck reappears, and the driver throws Jess's cell phone out the window at her and speeds away.

Obviously frightened and worried, Nicole decides to go for help, and comes upon a run-down old camper. Naturally the family inside is something out of a Twilight Zone episode and it doesn't take Nicole long to realize this is not a good idea. Seeming like a bunch of religious zealots, they bring absolutely nothing to the film whatsoever, except to crank up the confusion. When Nicole is caught peeping at a disfigured person behind a curtain in the camper (and no, it's not the Wizard), the family freaks out and kicks her ass to the curb. She returns to the rest stop and when she goes back inside the bathroom, she now hears someone crying. Nicole finds a young woman curled up behind the door of the maintenance room, bleeding and yammering on about some deranged killer that tortured her. When Nicole goes to the sink to wet some paper towels, the girl mysteriously disappears, leaving no trace of herself or the profuse bleeding that had occurred.

The man in the yellow truck reappears and Nicole, assuming he is the menacing killer, blocks his entry into the rest room. He continues to prey upon her fears and circles the rest area over and over, revving his engine and pointing his glaring headlights into the windows of the rest area. Near a panicked state, she is temporarily relieved when a policeman on a motorcycle drives up.
Rushing out to greet him and explain the situation, the cop nearly ignores her warnings, thinking her to be in a fragile mental state. That is, until the truck appears and runs the cop down, crushing his legs to a pulp then driving off.

Nicole somehow manages to drag the cop inside the rest room. The truck driver locks them inside, and when Nicole sticks her finger through a hole in the door to try to unlock it, the man bites off her finger. Nice. The cop gives Nicole his gun and instructs her to shoot the truck driver. All she succeeds in doing is wasting bullets, for a few moments later the killer drops a camera through a skinny opening in a window, which of course shows Jess being tortured.

Soon after, the killer sticks a hose through said window and starts to pour gasoline through it, intending to burn them out. Nicole, savvy young thing that she is, finds an opening in a ceiling hatch and then realizes she has no way to help the cop out. The officer then begs her to use his remaining bullets to kill him, as he'd rather not burn to death. Nicole, despite reservations, shoots him once and actually misses the brain - and has to shoot him again. Oh my.
Hurriedly trying to escape, she takes one last look back at the cop, only to find he too, is gone - with no evidence remaining that he had ever even been there.

So the movie is a total mind-fuck of a film. While Nicole continues her plight, encountering a ranger station (that just happens to have some handy whiskey) and eventually finding Jess and the maniacal killer, the film struggles on every level to have any cohesiveness. Most plot elements are shaky at best, and Nicole is actually pretty unlikable, if I'm being truthful. I wished it would have been her that was kidnapped by the crazed nutcase and not her dumb-ass boyfriend.

I think the film was trying to be some kind of ghost story in which the rest area is a catalyst to the killer's compulsions. In one scene, we come to realize the guy's been killing hapless rest area patrons for more years than feasible for his speculated age. So is the truck driver a ghost? An evil spirit that just can't stop his nasty habit? And who the hell were the folks in the camper who seemed like they'd been parked there since 1956? And why did the ranger station seem utterly useless, with no phone to speak of?

All these questions and more are never really answered, and I think this has to be the main gripe of anyone who has sat through it. There is absolutely no closure to this movie at all. There is a decent amount of gore - some brain matter showering and some torture scenes, but not enough to save it.

Unsurprisingly, a sequel was made a few years later which has the brother of Jess out looking to find out what happened to his runaway bro. The fact that he was even able to trace him down to that exact rest area just shows you how implausible and illogical the second film is as well.

Now that I've written this review, I have to wonder: why the hell do I like it? The notion that I would is as inexplicable as the film itself. Matter of fact, maybe I really don't like it.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Bloody Sunday

American Psycho

Feast II


Blood Feast

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Lake Mungo

It wasn't very long ago that I made a statement about most of the After Dark Horrorfest movies being less than stellar. And I still stand by that, excluding the film I am about to discuss.

Lake Mungo is an Australian production (from 2008 but included in this year's Horrorfest) that is a surprisingly effective venture into the exhaustive realm of "found footage" films genre lovers have been bombarded with in the last several years. While you may groan and gripe about yet another Blair Witch rip-off joining the ranks, I'm here to tell you: not so fast.

First of all - and most importantly in my book- there are no truly annoying characters like the BWP shoved down our throat for ninety grueling minutes. Secondly, Lake Mungo is presented in such a way that you feel like you've sat down on a lazy sunday afternoon to catch a story on tv about a supposed true-life haunting. It plays out like completely like a documentary, and you're sold on it hook, line, and sinker from the get-go. The acting is far and away the best I've seen in this type of "mockumentary"film. They are so believeable that you feel they could be your next door neighbors.

It starts out in interview mode, with the family of Alice Palmer discussing the details of the teen's disappearance during a family picnic by a local dam. Apparently, her brother Matt and her were in the water and the next thing Matt knew, she was gone. The requisite search and rescue turned up nothing, and sadly, divers eventually found her body at the bottom of the lake.

Within a few days of her burial, the family begins to endure inexplicable phenomena at the house. They hear things coming from Alice's bedroom, see split-second images that could be her, have nightmares, and experience an all-around sense of unease throughout the house.

Inasmuch as they are in the process of trying to deal with their insurmountable grief at the death of Alice, they now have to deal with these strange little happenings that turn their lives upside down. As I said before, the actors portraying the family members are so "real" that you almost wish you could take a casserole over to their house and send flowers to the funeral home.

Here's where the 'found footage' aspect of the film starts. Matt, being an amateur photographer, sets up a video camera in the house and catches a few glimpses of what certainly seems to be Alice - walking about the house, showing up in mirrors off in the distance, and most disturbingly, standing in the back yard. Added to this we have interviews with friends and extended family regarding the validity of the assumption that Alice is haunting the family residence.
There comes a time when June (mom) begins to believe perhaps Alice isn't dead at all, thinking perhaps her husband had misidentified the body in the morgue. Footage taken by a couple on holiday at the dam where Alice died surfaces, showing what most certainly looks like a shot of Alice looking out from the trees. Blurry, yet distinctive enough that June talks Russell (dad) into having Alice's body exhumed to do a DNA determination.

Also thrown into the mix is Ray Kemeny, a renowned psychic who agrees to see June. Through discussions, hyponotism, and even a seance, Ray tries to help the family solve the mystery of just what is going on in their home. Matt films the seance, and when watching the footage back, they see something they weren't expecting, and it isn't Alice.

I'd really prefer not to give anything else away, because to do so would be a disservice to what the film is attempting to do here. I will say that they find out Alice was leading a double life.
I think I can safely admit that at times, I see a lot of Twin Peaks in this film. Right down to the last name of Palmer, it sometimes feels like an ode to that style of story, with too many similarities to simply disregard. And in my book, anything touching on what Twin Peaks had is a very good thing. (Alas, no dancing midgets or damn fine coffee though, sorry...)

But at its heart, Lake Mungo feels like a ghost story. And I haven't even touched on what actually happened at Lake Mungo. Alice died in a dam near her home, not at the dry lake region of Mungo National Park in Australia. All of what I have mentioned happens prior to even the mere mention of Lake Mungo. You've got to see the film to get the goods.

Some horror fans may feel a bit let down that all they get in the way of gore is some shots of Alice's water-logged corpse. And as for nudity? Well, just a tiny bit - and it's not exactly a clear cut shot. I'm sure these two absences may cause some to huff away in disgust, pining for the blood and guts - but clearly they would be missing the entire point. Suffice it to say if you're the type who needs something like Martyrs or a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to get your horror rocks off, then steer clear of this one. It's purely psychological horror, all the way. There are a few truly unnerving images - ones that still stick with me, actually - but the draw here is the layer upon layer of tension, confusion, and finally- understanding that makes this film unique.

In my opinion, it puts the considerably overrated Paranormal Activity to shame. Whereas Paranormal had a few "Oh my God!" scenes, Lake Mungo revels in its subtlety. The frights sneak up on you here, and don't jump out at you like a cheap thrill. The winding storyline catches you off-balance time and time again, like a Russian nesting doll. Just when you think things have finally been resolved, they unwrap yet another facet of the story.

And make sure if you watch Lake Mungo you stick around for the credits.
That's all I'm saying.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Horror can be handy...

Sorry for the bad pun there, but a few days ago I was looking for a specific movie on Amazon, and I kept getting recommendations for other films. That is common, of course. What threw me for a loop is that all the movies seemed to have similar DVD covers. I've seen this thing time and time again, but felt compelled to share the unbelievable amount of covers that showed hands.
It's almost like *jazz hands* for the horror genre.
Not much originality here, folks.

Take a look --

We start with a couple shadowy hands...

Move on to some desperate hands...

Carefully placed hands...

Honestly - this is pretty near jazz hands....

Transportation is hell when you just can't get out...

We keep the shadowy hands coming...

Desperation sets in...

A WTF moment if I've ever seen one:

Two very different movies, two very similar uses of cutlery...

I've seen neither of these films but they look rather interchangeable...

Another Freddy-inspired look...but funny.

Here we have some lovely hands that seem to be missing something....like a body to go with it perhaps?

Who ever said all zombie films are alike? Hard to argue that they aren't while looking at the next two DVD's.

At least this one's clenched in a fist...

I'm still getting over this remake. Gah!

Another bloody mess...

And finally - just what's under your bed?

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