Thursday, May 30, 2013

Grave Encounters 2: Another Dose Of Creepy Reality/Found Footage Fare

~Review by Marie Robinson

Almost everyone it seems watched 2011’s found footage flick, Grave Encounters, and I don’t think I talked to a single person that disliked it. I also enjoyed it, and although it didn’t get the big theatrical release and publicity that Paranormal Activity, the superstar it shares a sub-genre with, I think it was just as good—if not better. I liked it enough to pursue the sequel, Grave Encounters 2, that was released in 2012, also written by the Vicious Brothers but this time directed by Canadian director John Poliquin.

The film starts out as a montage of various horror fans critiquing and reviewing the first film via YouTube. One of these critics, Alex (Richard Harmon), happens to be our protagonist. After his review is finished we enter the camera of his college roommate, Trevor (Dylan Playfair), who feels it is necessary to film every moment of his life (as all people in found footage films do), including dumb parties.

Seriously, I almost turned this movie off within the first ten minutes because I was really getting sick of the fucking frat boy/stoner jargon. But… I trudged through the scene that seemed to last a lifetime, pleased to see that on the other side of it was an actual movie.

Alex doesn’t just review horror movies in his spare time, he lives for them (relatable). He is studying at film school to be “the next Wes Craven”, but from the glimpses we get of his student film—starring his love interest, Jennifer (Leanne Lapp)—it looks like he has got a ways to go.

He gets a mysterious video response to his Grave Encounters review by from a YouTube account called “deathawaits”. Alex begins to feel suspicious about the film after looking into contacting the cast and crew, only to find that they have all disappeared. He suspects that the film was not just another found footage flick, but real found footage, a suspicion that is confirmed by the shady producer.

With encouragement from “deathawaits” and a thirst for the truth—and some potential “Sundance worthy” footage—he convinces his friends to accompany him to the set of Grave Encounters, an actual abandoned asylum on the outskirts of Vancouver.

The idea of a sequel in which a fan becomes obsessed with the original film isn’t completely unheard of (see: The Human Centipede 2.  Actually, don’t), but it still fresh and interesting. Grave Encounters 2  is no masterpiece, it isn’t sophisticated, and it isn’t even really a thrill ride, but it is entertaining and atmospheric as hell. It is kind of like walking through one of those staged haunted houses that pop up around Halloween; you walk through the creepy sets, clinging to a friend’s arm knowing that any second something is going to scare the shit out of you—but you don’t care! That is why you’re there, after all. It has got the sounds (lack of score is essential to that special flavor of found footage we have come to know so well), the visuals, and yeah, it is fuckin’ freaky. You could ask more of a film like this, but if it has done its job and has fulfilled all it set out to achieve, then you are just being an asshole.

Sure, Grave Encounters uses some of the most textbook tropes in the genre, but as a fan I kind of enjoyed it. I mean, the conventional cast of creepy characters exist for a reason—the little girl with the long, dark hair, nurses, psychotic, lobotomy-obsessed doctors—and that is because they are scary!

Another trend that these two films feed off of and are even making fun of is the paranormal investigative reality TV shows. There are dozens of them, and they are pretty much all the same. You know what I’m talking about. A team of paranormal investigators pick haunted locations (often old tuberculosis wards and mental institutions) and walk around with night-vision cameras on and pretend to see shit.

"Ghost Bros"
 There are a few of these programs I am guilty of liking (Ghost Hunters, Scariest Places on Earth), but there is one that I really abhor. It is called Ghost Adventures but I have fondly dubbed it “Ghost Bros”. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. It’s hosted by this meat-head douche bag that wears Ed Hardy shirts three sizes too small and gels his hair up like Pauly D and says, “dude” and “bro” all the fucking time. As I was watching Grave Encounters 2 I couldn’t help giggle and imagine the Ghost Bros team stumbling into this particular Canadian asylum and being trapped there forever and hopefully lobotomized (if they haven’t been already). Sick, I know.

 That might have gone a little off topic… okay, here is my abbreviated opinion: I had a great time watching Grave Encounters 2, even if the acting was shite and the ending was all over the place. I’d watch continuing sequels of it over Ghost Bros any day.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

True Blood: Waiting Sucks! (But Less Than A Month To Go....!)

~by Marie Robinson

As you may or may not know, Christine and I are massive True Blood fans.

Season 6 starts on Sunday, June 16, so to get all us Trubies excited, I made this list of five highlights from the Season 5 finale. Spoilers will most definitely ensue!!
1. Jason Talks to His Dead Parents

After learning that Sookie and his parents were the victims of a age-old faery pact, pledging their lives to a vampire, he becomes a little... bitter. And begins to suffer from hallucinations, thanks to a bump on his head that is "as big as a walnut" (according to Sookie). He begins seeing his parents everywhere, and through them his hatred for vampires is rekindled. Jason, you'll always be adorable, but get a grip!

2. Sam Shifts While Inside a Person

Luna's daughter Emma (who has just learned how to shift into a wolf) is being kept by Steve Newlin as a pet, and Sam and Luna are on a desperate mission to save her. After gaining access into the Vampire Authority building where Emma is being held captive, Luna makes the brave decision to skinwalk as Steve Newlin. When she becomes sick and shifts back, Sam, who has been in form of a fly buzzes into a fellow Vampire Authority figure's mouth and shifts. This causes one bloody, explosive mess, which I thought was fucking AWESOME.

3. Orgasmic Birth

Andy has come to Merlotte's to tell Holly that he has been sleeping with a woman named  Claudette, and in the two short weeks since they had intercourse, she has developed a full-term pregnancy. I guess the faery gestation period is relatively short because Claudette goes into labor right there in the bar. As they prop her up on the pool table, she seems to be taking the birthing process in stride. In fact, she seems to be enjoying it. After confessing that she has given birth roughly 70 times, she goes on to pass a freakin' litter of kids, each with ecstasy. After finishing, she lets Andy know that it is his job to keep them alive, and she takes off.

4. Pam and Tara Swap Spit

I'm not sure anyone expected what happened when Pam and Jessica were freed from captivity within the Vampire Authority jail by Sookie, Tara, Jason, and Eric. Sacrificing a little pain to swing open the silver-coated jail door, Tara wraps her arms around Pam and plants a big, steamy, prolonged kiss on her lips. Looks like there is a new couple in Bon Temps. It's about time Pam started getting some love!

5. Bill is... What?!

At the very end of the episode, Eric and Sookie are trying in vain to get Bill to escape with them. However, he is still into his crazy hardcore religious shit, and tosses back the entire vial of Lillith's blood. First, he explodes into a puddle of blood on the floor, to which I outright GASPED when I saw. I was like, "Are you fucking kidding me??! They did not just kill Bill fucking Compton." But then, Eric and Sookie watch in horror as a naked and blood-drenched Bill(?) rises from the pool on the floor and snarls, revealing some wicked fangs. And of course, that is where they close the fucking season. Oh, how they love their cliff-hangers...

Tune in to see what has become of our Bill Compton and the rest of the gang on June 16th on HBO!!

*Editor's note:  And if you haven't seen it, here's a sneak peak of the upcoming season!!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Trifecta Of Terror! : "The Books Of Doom Derby"

We're back again with more terror in threes! I couldn't resist doing a Trifecta of Terror today on Kentucky Derby Day!

If you're not familiar with the Trifecta series, you can learn the ropes HERE.  Basically, I choose three films with a similar topic or like-minded idea that would compliment each other for a quiet afternoon of horror, or an evening with nachos and friends.
I then have a virtual "race" with the three films coming in first (the "win" film), second (the "place" film) and third (the "show" film).

Today we are highlighting nasty books. Well, films about nasty books. So I'm naming this one the Books of Doom Derby!

First up, your winner, a film everyone should be familiar with: THE EVIL DEAD (1981).

Billed as "the most ferociously original horror film of the year" back in 1981, The Evil Dead is the brain child of now-famed director Sam Raimi.  A bare bones story about a group of friends who discover an ancient evil in the woods surrounding an isolated cabin uses a fast-paced shaky cam, gruesome effects, and at times, wildly humorous acting to make this film near and dear to so many genre fans' hearts.
Ash (Bruce Campbell) and four friends arrive at the typical cabin in the woods for a little weekend getaway. Straight off one can certainly see this is not going to be your average spring break.  The cabin reeks creepy, and the film wastes no time getting to the action. The group, after exploring the (vast) basement, finds a book bound in human flesh and written in blood, as well as a recording that summons ancient Sumarian demons from the woods outside. The book, called the Necronomicon "Naturon Demonto" - is loosely translated as The Book of the Dead. Which is something you should never (EVER) even remotely try to read and/or translate. Yikes. Needless to say, they do.  Which causes the demons in the woods to come alive and wreak havoc - turning Ash's friends into possessed zombie-like demons who spew liquids of every color and consistency. Ash is one of the great heroes of horror and this little low-budget gem is the film that started it all!

Our 'place' film is THE BEYOND (1981)

Another film from the great year of 1981, Lucio Fulci's masterpiece a.k.a The Seven Doors of Death tells the story of Liza, a young woman who inherits the Seven Doors Hotel in the bayou of Louisiana.  Little does she know the hotel is built over one of the seven gateways to hell. Nice. Fulci gives us a ton of gore (including his trademark eyeball gouging) and goo, as well as a rather incoherent plot at some points. But it matters not, as this feature is widely considered to be Fulci's best.  The book in question within this movie is The Book of Eibon - a tome used frequently in Lovecraftian tales - which implores "Woe beyond to him who opens one of the seven gateways to hell… because through that gateway, evil will invade the world!” If that isn't an anti-Hallmark greeting I don't know what is. Probably the best part of The Beyond is that it is fairly unpredictable. Which is no doubt because much of it doesn't make sense. Not that that is a bad thing. Even with the plot being all over the place, you have a perfect combination of gore and confusion that is so popular in Italian horror. There are face-eating tarantulas, face-melting lye, impalings, nasty eye removals, blown-off heads, ripped out throats...should I go on?

And our third place "show" film is THE NINTH GATE (1999)

Roman Polanski is certainly better known for his other films (Rosemary's Baby, The Tenant, Repulsion, among others), but for me, one of my greatest guilty pleasures is this Johnny Depp vehicle about rare book dealer Dean Corso (Depp) whose client recently acquired a book known as 'The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows', supposed to be one of three known copies. His client (the always charismatic Frank Langella) believes two of the three copies to be fakes, so he sends Corso on a quest to discover the truth.  The catch is, the book is supposedly written by the devil himself, and reading from it can summon Lucifer.  (Why do people feel the need to be this stupid? Seems to happen a lot...)  The film takes viewers to various locations around the globe trying to authenticate the devilish tome, and along the way Corso meets many a foe intent on stopping his investigation - not the least of which may be the enigmatic client.  Certainly one of the better "books of doom" films out there, it is an atmospheric jaunt with a great cast and a fun plot. If you haven't seen it, check it out.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Maniac (2012): A New Take On An Old Classic

 Review by Marie Robinson

You are probably (hopefully) familiar with the 1980 slasher Maniac; however, you might not know that a remake was released last year. As far as I know it has only been shown at film festivals so far but looks like it is receiving a limited release in the States in June.

Usually I try and go into remakes with an open mind and not compare the film with its original too much. Because, after all, it is a separate movie and deserves at least a chance to be treated as such. Remakes can be pointless and annoying when they are just a total carbon copy of the original (Gus van Sant’s Psycho), or are just fucking bad (2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street). Taking a completely different spin on the original concept and recreating a film can go a lot of different ways. In my opinion, this year’s Evil Dead was a bold move, a new vision, and it turned out great.

 The 2012 Maniac was directed by Frank Khalfoun and written by Alexandre Aja, who we can now consider to be quite a name in the horror industry. He is not unfamiliar with writing remakes, as he penned 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes, but has also given us some original pieces such as High Tension and Mirrors.
The movie is quite the reinvention of the original; almost every aspect is different. Different doesn’t mean bad! But it is different. First of all, the iconic poster for the 1980 version is the lower half of a hulking man, a severed scalp in one hand, a hunting knife in the other, and an engorged mass of genitalia between. The new posters remind me a bit of Drive. One is of a stern pair of eyes gazing back from a rear view mirror reflection; the other, that I have chosen because I like it better, kind of has an Inferno feel to it with the pink and blue color scheme.

The main character, Frank, is played by Elijah Wood. My initial reaction to this was, “Uhhhh, what?” Mostly because the original Frank is a massive, less-than-attractive Italian-American dude (played by Joe Spinell) and Elijah Wood is a scrawny, decently attractive Caucasian guy. However, we know that Wood is a good actor, and that he can bring on the creepy intensity (who can forget his performance in Sin City?). He is also a self-stated horror and genre fan; he and horror director Josh C. Waller created a film production company called The Woodshed Horror Company. They already have at least six films signed! There isn’t much info about most of them because they are in pre-production, but a couple you can look into are Toad Road and A Girl Walks Home at Night.

In the new film, Frank is a lonely and very disturbed man who runs a shop were he restores manikins. He also has a haunting obsession with his deceased mother—who is ultimately responsible for his mental instabilities—and deals with this by stalking young women, murdering them, and taking their scalps back to his shop where he glues them onto his manikins and pretends they are his girlfriends. He believes he has found love in a French photographer who shares his passion of manikins, but will his obsession get the best of him? Will mother get in the way again? Can he suppress the urge to take a beautiful woman’s life?

If you have seen the original you probably know the answer to that already, but I’d say Maniac is still worth the watch. It is very strange, and the subjective camera style (similar to the 1980 film) may take a minute to get used to, but it is very cleverly shot. Writer Aja really tries to make the film a study of an unsound mind, much as he did with High Tension. He is known to have graphic gore abound in his scripts, but director Khalfoun does it elegantly and sees that it does not take away from the story.

Wood gives a great performance as Frank, especially once you consider that he is only on screen half the time and is acting mostly through dialogue and grunts, screams, and cries. I did yearn for more shots of his famously expressive eyes, but he can give a strong performance without them.

(Emblem for The Woodshed Horror Company)
I’m still not sure how I felt about this film; I’ll have to sit on my feelings for a while longer. It is bizarre, understated, and in my opinion pretty damn unique. I think I am having more fun reflecting on it than I did actually watching it! Weird, I know, but that is exactly what Maniac is. I really think you guys should check it out when you get a chance and let me know what YOU think! Until then, hold on to your scalps!

Oh, and I will be writing up more on The Woodshed Horror Company as I hear about it, so keep an eye peeled if you are interested in that.