Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Horror of the VHS Cover Art!

Time to resurrect a subject that I haven’t posted about in quite a while and that subject is VHS cover art from the long gone days of VHS rental. A recent addition to my VHS shelf made me a pretty happy collector. The Super Video release of Amando De Ossorio’s Horror of the Zombies is a very nice example of an era gone by. The cover shows a scantily clad woman being carried to her doom by a group of hooded skeletal faced zombies. In the background you can see that this moment is taking place on a boat. Even though the cover is a little faded, these former rentals saw a lot of sunlight on the shelves of video stores in the 80’s, the colors still pop out at you; a nice marketing ploy by Super Video in my opinion. First the cover grabs your attention with its colors and then the artwork itself is intriguing enough to get you to pick the box up and take a gander. Flip over to the box and what do ya know? It looks like the front cover actually is pretty spot on with the screen pictures on the back! So many times I’ve picked up a box with cool artwork, flip over to the back and see a picture or two from the movie and the pictures had nothing to do with what grabbed my attention on the front! This nice clamshell is spot on with selling you the goods and that is something I can appreciate. 

The pictures on the back of the clamshell are pretty cool too. You have the picture of the skeletal zombies backing away from a fire (because that’s what zombies do ya know) and of course a picture of a damsel in distress being pulled to her gruesome fate below the deck of the boat by skeletal hands. Certainly this is more than enough to say yes to a couple of bucks well spent for some Friday night entertainment!

The bad thing is that the movie itself has a bit of a hard time living up to some expectations. Hooded skeletal zombies attacking the living sounds great but the execution is a bit off. Horror of the Zombies is the third entry in Spanish director Ossorio’s quartet of Blind Dead films and it’s probably one of the more disappointing ones. There isn’t a whole lot of action but there is plenty of atmosphere and ridiculous dubbing to keep you interested until all hell finally breaks loose in the final half hour. There is also a beautiful shot of a toy boat in a bathtub surrounded by fog…..well probably cigar smoke. Still I have to give props when they are due and that would actually go to Super Video for their A+ execution not only in the packaging but the fact that they released the uncut (Yes there is a small smidgen of bloodiness) English language print of this goofy zombie flick.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Succubus (1969)

After taking a little break I decided to sit down with some more Jess Franco. I figured since I had subjected my brain to the ta tas of the Amazons the last outing (see Golden Temple Amazons post) that I would indulge myself into what I felt like was more of an interesting sounding film. Succubus proved just that and proved to me that Jess Franco knows how to make a great film.

Lorna (Janine Reynaud) is a dancer/performer at an erotic night club managed by her lover William (Jack Taylor). Lorna’s on stage persona is sadomasochistic as she portrays a woman who gets sexual pleasure from torturing both male and female partners while they are bound. Her stage persona begins to melt into her off stage life and Lorna begins a slow decent into madness that results in murder and a transformation into the film’s title.
"Hmm....maybe some Tide will take that out?"

The storyline, for me, is disjointed and it’s really hard for me to deliver a detailed synopsis. Franco fills the screen with great visuals however which is what I believe sold me on this film. Janine Reynaud is the center piece of the story but also the center piece visually as Franco focuses on her sultriness. There is no doubt that Reynaud is beautiful and Franco captures her natural beauty and eroticism with ease.

Making out with mannequins just isn't as fun.
 There are some interesting dream like sequences that are delivered in a soft focus that really captures the atmosphere and poses the question is this real or imagined? Two scenes accomplish this very well. One involves a dinner party in which begins to turn into an orgy which Lorna willingly participates in before William pulls her away in anger. Another involves Lorna and a collection of seductive mannequins which really pushes that dream state. 

I also liked the inclusion of a character that takes on a very Devil like persona who seems to be in control of Lorna.  This added an interesting angle to the storyline and helped fuel the question of what was real and was dream. Ultimately the film is about Lorna, her spirit that can’t be captured but is brought out of her psychical body and takes over. 
Howard Vernon? Of course he makes an appearance!

See I told you it very difficult for me to really pin this movie down. I am going to have to view it again and really take it all in. However when I do I will not go back to the Anchor Bay VHS presentation that was released in the late 1990’s. Although the transfer was beautiful it was unfortunately presented full frame.  Blue Underground however has a DVD release of this title presented in 1.66:1 / 16X9 aspect ratio. I am going to have to upgrade for sure!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Evil Dead (2013)

Back in the early 80’s, the VHS revolution was underway and the monsterkid inside me was cutting his teeth on some classic titles of the modern era as much as he could. One movie that I wanted to see really badly was Sam Raimi’s 1981 gore classic Evil Dead. When the video store clerk finally let me rent it, even though I was under age (15), I happily trotted home to get ready for the onslaught to come. Needless to say I was not disappointed in any way and Evil Dead became an instant favorite. I have followed the franchise with dedicated gusto but always felt let down with Evil Dead 2 and somewhat with Army of Darkness. Two good films but just lacking the energy of the original and filled with more slapstick comedy than blood soaked carnage. When I heard of the remake that was to be released this year, I held my breath and thought “well here goes another franchise down the drain”. I had the chance to view this reboot of Raimi’s classic over the weekend and I must admit…..I was pleasantly surprised! If you have not seen this reboot yet, you may want to stop reading this review because there are spoilers ahead.

Evil Dead opens with a little bit of a backstory concerning a young girl who is wandering through the woods. She is abducted by some rough looking rednecks and wakes up in a tiny room tied to a post. We discover that a cleansing ritual is about to take place. The girl discovers her father is part of what is going on and pleads with him to stop. When he doesn’t bend to her pleads, she reveals the possessed side of her soul. An old hag commands her father to continue the ritual to cleanse her soul and he pours gasoline over his daughter as she spews obscenities at him. She is set on fire and as the flames consume her flesh her father finishes her off with a shotgun blast. Quite the opening scene which prepares you for what you are getting into.

The cabin.....so inviting.
In the not so distant future we are introduced to our main characters. David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) are on their way to an old cabin in the woods to meet his sister Mia (Jane Levy) and their friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas). Mia is trying to quite her herion addiction and the group is meeting there to help Mia through her ordeal. She is attempting to quit cold turkey. The cabin is an old family spot that Mia and David had spent many a vacation. They discover that at some point the cabin had been broken into but they decide to clean the place enough to make it livable for the weekend. 

The demonic entity introduces itself to Mia
They soon discover that there is a door in the floor that leads to the cellar. There is dried blood leading to the door which prompts them to open and take a look. In the cellar David and Eric discover another room which is filled with the corpses of cats hanging by barbed wire from the rafters. There is also a post that is badly burned. They also discover something wrapped in plastic and barbed wire and a shotgun with some shells. They bring the items up and try to figure out just what the hell has been going on in the cabin. Eric removes the barbed wire and plastic from around the item found in the cellar and reveals that it is a book bound in what looks like stitched leather. Inside he finds all sorts of incantations and drawings depicting some type of demonic activity. While uncovering some hidden letters he inadvertently utters the words that summon an unseen force within the woods. While this is happening Mia is outside in the rain having more body shocks as she tries to withstand her need for drugs.  Mia encounters the image of a demonic female figure and flees back inside the cabin. She tries to warn the others but they dismiss it as symptoms of her detoxification. Mia leaves the cabin and flees in one of the groups cars. While speeding down the muddy path she again encounters the demonic figure and crashes the car into a shallow pond. She survives but is pursued by the figure again. In her flight she gets caught in thicket of vines and thorns. The figure appears again and emits from its mouth a nasty snake like creature made of vines. The creature makes its way up Mia’s leg and ultimately inside her which begins the possession of Mia by the demons unleashed by the incantation.
The vines are alive!

Mia’s friends find her and take her back to the cabin. All hell now begins to break loose as Mia begins to act strangely. She still tries to warn her brother to leave but he has made a vow to stay with her until the end of her ordeal. Mia scalds herself with incredibly hot water from the shower and David tries to take her to the hospital. They are halted by the washed out road from the swelling river. After they return to the cabin Mia is given a sedative by Olivia (A trained nurse) so she can sleep. Mia however is not affected and presents herself to the group with the shotgun they found in the cellar. She shoots her brother in the arm and in a furious windstorm screams at everyone that they will all die tonight. Mia attacks Olivia, spewing bloody vomit all over and into her mouth. In the struggle Mia falls into the open cellar. Mia goes into the bathroom to get more sedatives and while inside becomes possessed by the evil force that has been unleashed. Eric checks in on her and she attacks him with a shard of broken glass from the mirror. Eric bashes her head in with a piece of sink that had broken off during the struggle.  David and Natalie take Eric outside and tend to his wounds in the shed. Natalie goes back into the cabin and hears Mia in the cellar calling her name. In a moment where Mia doesn’t look or act possessed, Natalie ventures down to help her. Mia of course turns back into her possessed self and bites Natalie on the hand. Natalie escapes but her hand becomes possessed by the evil that has infected her. As the infection crawls up her arm, Natalie regains her mind and cuts her arm off with an electric knife. 
One of many moments of terror in Evil Dead

Meanwhile Eric tells David of all that he has read in the book and that five souls must be taken by the demon so that it may enter into their world. The demon has possessed Mia to try and accomplish this and the only way to save Mia and get rid of the demon is to burn her, bury her alive or dismember her.  Eric tries to burn the book thinking that if it is destroyed the evil will die with it but the book proves to not be affected by fire. Natalie emerges from the kitchen and begins to attack David and Eric with a nail gun. David is able to shoot Natalie with the shotgun before she is able to kill Eric.  David decides to burn down the cabin but before going through with the plan changes his mind. David gets together several syringes plus some other items including a car battery charger and enters into the cellar to get Mia.

He is attacked by the possessed Mia but is saved by Eric who is receives a fatal stab wound to the stomach. David takes Mia outside and begins to bury her alive. Once Mia is dead, David revives her with a make shift defibrillator constructed out of the battery charger. Mia is revived and the possession has left her. David and her decide to leave and while David is in the cabin retrieving the car keys he is attacked by a now possessed Eric. David gives Mia the keys, tells her to leave and locks her out of the cabin. David then sets fire to the cabin, destroying himself and Eric. 

Ready to battle evil.....Ash style!
Outside the cabin it begins to rain blood. It seems that even though Mia was revived it wasn’t enough to stop the demon from materializing in psychical form. The demon emerges from the blood soaked ground and chases Mia into the shed. Mia is able to escape and takes a chainsaw with her. As the demon chases her outside, it flips over the jeep pinning Mia’s arm underneath. As the demon closes in on her, Mia is able to tear her hand from the beneath jeep leaving a bloody stump. Mia kills the demon with the chainsaw, in perhaps one of the bloodiest scenes I have ever seen and successfully killing the demon. The body of the demon sinks back into the ground and Mia walks away. The last shot of the film is of the ancient book lying on the ground as it closes itself.

The demonic reveal....not as cool as the original.
I normally don’t get that descriptive in my reviews but I felt like it was needed on this one. Evil Dead is a very solid reimagining of the original but as you can see, there is plenty of back story to the characters; especially Mia and David (some I didn’t touch on because you should go find out for yourself!). Was it needed in the film? I think so in order to separate it from the original a bit and keep it from being a step by step remake. I think this is why I really enjoyed the film. I didn’t feel like I had to compare it to the original since director Fede Alvarez and writer Rodo Sayagues took the basic storyline and tweaked it just enough. Alvarez captured the feel of the cabin and woods very well and paid many a homage to the original film. I got the biggest smile on my face in two scenes; one involving the Oldsmobile, you know the one and a quick shot of Eric thumbing through a deck of cards.

 The possession scene in which Mia declares the death of all in the cabin couldn’t quite compare to the original visage of Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) floating in the room asking “Why have you awakened us from our ancient slumber?” I will give credit that they did use some of the audio from the original during Mia’s scene. It was kind of like background voices and added an interesting element plus a bit of nostalgia. 
"We're going to reboot you!"

 The blood….oooooh the amounts of blood used in this reboot! After digesting this movie over the past 12+ hours, I still say this is the bloodiest and probably goriest movie I’ve seen in a very, very long time. There were several “gross out” effects but what got to me more were the “sucking in air through clenched teeth” moments! Those seemed to stick with me more than the “money shot” effects. The raining blood (cue Slayer track here) was excellent and added to the grue that accompanied it in the final reel. According to Alvarez there is not one single piece of CGI effects work in this film. If that is true then the effects team gets a standing ovation from me because there were several shots that I still haven’t figured out how they pulled off. To my naked eye I would say that there had to have been at least one or two CGI effects but I am going to take the director for his word. I am pretty sure there will be some great extras on the DVD release.
My recommendation is to go ahead and spend the money on seeing this in the theater. I am glad that I did and I wasn’t disappointed in the least! You should also stay during the end credits there are some nods to the original that are pretty cool.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Chernobly Diaries (2012)

As usual I always seem to be late to the party when it comes to new horror films. My main reason is the simple fact that I have been disappointed by so many films and remakes that I just can’t find the “umph” to check them out when new films come out. It usually takes me awhile to get to them and sometimes I find a nice little gem like Chernobyl Diaries.

Four Americans Chris (Jesse McCartney), his brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), Chris’ girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and their friend Amanda (Devin Kelley) are traveling through Europe. While outside of Moscow, Russia; Paul finds a tour guide of the extreme kind. This guide promises to take them to the infamous site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in history; Chernobyl.  At the travel agency the four meet with Yuri (Dimitri Diatcheckno) the tour guide and another couple Michael (Nathan Philips) and Zoe (Ingrid Berdal). 

Insert Laverne & Shirley theme song here
The group piles into Yuri’s van and off they go to check out the deserted town of Pripyat which was abandoned after the Chernobly disaster. They enter into the city through an old check point that isn’t used anymore. Here they discover a mutated fish on the river bank just outside the town. Yuri takes them into the town and guides them through one of the deserted buildings. In this area the radiation levels are very low so they are safe for a short visit. Yuri discovers that someone has been inside the building recently and in a very tense moment they also discover a large brown bear that had been rummaging through the building. That is their cue to leave the area but when they make it to the van they discover that the wiring in the starter has been ripped out. 
The majestic view

The group begins to panic but Yuri keeps them calm and radios for help but to no avail. They decide to spend the night in the van and leave on foot the next morning.  This is where things start to really ramp up. Yuri leaves the van to investigate what sounds like a baby crying in the distance. Chris goes with him to help even though Yuri is armed with a pistol. Shots are fired and Paul leaves the van to get Yuri and his brother. He only returns with Chris, whose leg is severely injured. Chris tells him they were attacked but by what he wasn’t sure. Chris believes he was mauled by dogs.
"Hey let's all sing Kum-by-ya!"

The next day Paul, Amanda, Zoe and Michael decide to look for Yuri and leave Chris and Natalie in the van. The four are chased by wild dogs but discover Yuri’s body in one of the abandoned complexes. They also discover they are certainly not alone and that someone or thing is there as well.  They also discover a yard of cars and trucks that have been abandoned. Michael finds spare parts that he can fix the van with and they return to the van. Upon returning they find that the van has been attacked and rolled over. On Chris’s camera they discover that the two were attacked by a group of humanoid creatures.

Here kitty kitty kit.....oooohh shiiiiiii.....
 They search through the town looking for them and are chased by more mutant creatures. Natalie and Michael get captured and the remaining three have to navigate out of the dark complex. Zoe is captured as well after they find Natalie and shortly thereafter Natalie is again captured by the mutants. Paul and Amanda finally navigate through a fallout shelter and find themselves in the reactor. As the radiation levels rise their skin begins to blister. They find their way out but by now Paul is blind from the radiation. They are discovered by Ukrainian soldiers who shoot Paul because he wouldn’t obey their commands to stand down. Amanda passes out but awakens in a hospital. Several doctors in protective suits reveal to Amanda that the people she encountered were escaped patients. They take her to dark room and leave her. As she hears movement she cries out when she realizes she is being held in a room full of mutants!
Creepiest moment in the film!

Wow! Such a bleak ending…..I loved it! Director Bradley Parker and screenplay writer Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) bring to the table such a well paced movie that really grabs your attention and refuses to let go. With every moment the characters are trapped in the city, their situation gets stranger and worsens. The locations were perfect and filmed in Serbia and the Ukraine. The abandoned buildings used really captured the gloom and doom. I don’t know if the director used filters on the camera but everything seems to be bathed in a lot of blues and greys. There is no sun at all in this movie which adds even more to the atmosphere. The acting is surprisingly good too. I wasn’t expecting much out of McCartney with his pop songwriting and good boy image but he proved to be up to the task and excelled! 

There isn’t a lot of gore in this and I wasn’t sure if there was going to be. There are a few quick nasty shots but no camera lingering which just adds to the atmosphere. There is so much that you cant really see clearly so that feeling of uneasiness creeps in very well. Much like in the Paranormal Activity movies where “less is more” the Chernobyl Diaries ups the ante so to speak. There is lots of tension especially in the junkyard scene where the group encounters some telling evidence of what happened on an abandoned bus and when they are discovered by a pack of wild dogs. The pace never slows down and the entire movie kept me wanting more.  I don’t see a lot of new horror films when they debut and this is one that I would have liked to have seen in the theater. Chernobyl Diaries comes highly recommend from the video coffin!