Bob's Horrible Hookup to Horrifying Horror is dedicated to the best and worst in thrillers and b-movies. You may even stumble over a book or two...beware of the cryptarian, she's full of unpleasant surprises.
Everyone who has ever had to drive a clunker, a junker, or a plain ol’ piece-of-crap-car can appreciate Stanley’s (Brad Dourif) unhappiness in Death and Cremation. If cars could drive you to psychopathy, his station wagon would be the ideal vehicle. Stanley is, indeed, a psychopath, as well as owner and operator of “Stanley Crematorium.” He’s the kind of psycho who makes our job very hard for us since we, as the audience, are expected to hate psychopaths—or at least disapprove of them-- but when one is killing people we think shouldn’t be walking the streets anyway, it’s hard to see him as all bad.
Forced to get a job by his shrewish mother (Debbon Ayer), teenage goth and high school victim Jarod (Jeremy Sumpter) convinces Stanley to allow him to work for a week without pay and if Stanley is satisfied they could work something out. Judging by Stanley’s complexion, teeth, and lack of customers, it’s easy to understand why he can’t afford to pay the kid. It’s a mystery, though, why he would let the kid hang around when it seems pretty clear that the crematorium is not so much a viable business as a “hobby” for Stanley. However, it’s a match made in heaven (or maybe hell)—Jarod is continuously bullied and Stanley kills bullies.
When Jarod picks up on what Stanley is apparently doing, he decides to do a little problem-elimination himself. Being a neophyte, he makes numerous mistakes (including hiding the body in his bedroom closet) and calls Stanley to help him clean up his mess.
Although films about serial killers and their protégés aren’t anything new,Death and Cremationhas more in common with larger-budgeted films in the genre than with cheap productions and b-movies. The acting is quite good—Brad Dourif does a fine, understated job of making the antisocial Stanley a sympathetic character (if only because the audience wishes he’d do a job on the parking lot bullies in their neighborhoods). Jeremy Sumpter does justice to his angst-ridden teen role, but it’s the interaction between these two characters that setsDeath and Cremationapart from other productions.
Stanley is clearly a man who doesn’t want to get involved—not with Jarod or anyone else. Yet he finds himself in a protector/mentor role and offers Jarod a place to stay when things are bad. He is an understanding listener, and he accepts the turns his life takes as a result of his relationship with Jarod. He is still cranky and a bit creepy, but he is also human, positive traits and all. Dourif’s performance is what makes Death and Cremation work. Had he interpreted his role as an over-the-top psycho, the film might have been okay, but not as interesting.
Death and Cremation is not particularly gory; there is blood, but not so much. Despite the violence, the emphasis is on the characters, giving us psychological insight rather than a litany of misdeeds. The atmosphere is suitably dark, but it’s not a movie that was made to scare you. It just tells a story—something some filmmakers forget they are supposed to be doing. Although not perfect--one early murder is such a serial killer cliché and some of the characters are a little too stereotypical--overall it’s an enjoyable, neatly written horror thriller with a surprising conclusion. Death and Cremation is now available on DVD.
Two great white sharks swimming in the ocean spied survivors of a sunken ship. “Follow me, son,” the father shark said to the son shark and they swam to the mass of people. “First we swim around them a few times with just the tip of our fins showing.” And they did. “Well done, son! Now we swim around them a few times with our entire fins showing.” And they did. “Now we eat everybody.” And they did. When they were both gorged, the son asked, “Dad, why didn’t we just eat them all at first? Why did we swim around and around them?” His wise father replied, “Because they taste better once we scare the s*** out of them!” (Source: http://www.scubaradio.com)
It’s near impossible to discuss the shark-infested Dark Tide(available on home video from Lionsgate) without making comparisons to that universal favorite of shark films, Raging Sharks Jaws(1975). For instance, both feature water, men who make bad decisions, sharks, and blood. Jaws didn’t have Halle Berry, and Dark Tide didn’t have Steven Spielberg. That last thing there, the Steven Spielberg thing…that’s the big difference between the two films. While Jaws had our heart pumping, Dark Tide has us checking our pulses. No matter how many times you’ve seen Jaws, you still jump when they need a bigger boat (see ‘Jaws in 60 Seconds’here); Dark Tide lacks those thrills.
Dark Tide may not make us jump out of our seats, but it is successful at filling us with a foreboding sense of dread. Since we know that the first scene is not going to end happily, we are filled with uncomfortable anticipation once Kate (Halle Berry) and her diving partner get in the water. When a shark attacks (and there are a lot of sharks in Dark Tide), we are nearly relieved that we’ve gotten that over with.
Following that incident, Kate retires from the swimming-with-sharks business and her marriage to underwater photographer Jeff (Olivier Martinez). She is the owner of an about-to-be-foreclosed-on boat and a business taking tourists out to see seals (a failing business, since the tourists want to see sharks). She is offered 100,000 euros to take an obnoxious billionaire (Ralph Brown) and his sensitive son (Luke Tyler) diving with sharks, sans cages. Her “friends” convince her it’s a good idea, she accepts the offer, and the adventure begins.
Unfortunately, Dark Tide is predictable and we know how this adventure is going to end. It holds no surprises and thepace is disappointing--too much backstory, not enough action (The UK version is twenty minutes shorter, and—I suspect—better for it). Despite this flaw and an unneeded scene about abalone poachers, the story, the cinematography, and the performances maintain a degree of viewer interest. It’s too bad though that we don’t stick with it to see how it will end, but to see if we’re right about how it will end.
One of the very best things about extremely-indie film Bong of the Dead is the gratitude director Thomas Newman expresses to all those who supported his making of the movie, particularly his apparently ever-patient wife (“Thank you to all the people who said yes and then helped me make my dreams come true by contributing in someway [sic] to the making of this film…Last and most importantly...a very big thank you to all the people who ever said no to me and tried everything they could to stop this film from being made by placing obstacles in my way or by constantly telling me ‘It's not possible.’ I made this film specialy [sic] for all of you. Looks like it is possible...”). Newman further endears himself to his audience by proudly (yet briefly) explaining how he did so many of the required filmmaking tasks himself, giving credit to tutorials and software where appropriate.
The premise of Bong of the Dead is that two stoners (Mark Wynn and Jy Harris) somehow survived a zombie apocalypse (we don’t know how, they just did), and discovered that rehydrated, desiccated zombie brains make a super-fertilizer for their small marijuana crop, not only speeding up the growth of the plants but also making the weed super-potent. The two end up “guests” of Leah (Simone Bailly), a very attractive survivor who has more brains in her fingernail clippings than the two stoners put together.
Welding together a Cheech-and-Chong vibe with a Sean of the Dead sensibility and a number of visual references to other films, Bong of the Dead is ninety minutes of pure silliness. Consistency is not its strong point, but the inconsistencies add to the fun, and it would be very disappointing to learn that the cast and crew were not having fun while making this film.
Reportedly made for five grand, Bong of the Dead benefits from performances that are in-character and surprisingly high production values. One is forced to wonder why so many productions with much higher budgets don’t look and sound as good as this movie.
There is nothing subtle about Bong of the Dead (now available for download and on DVD), from its stereotypical potheads to the gallons of blood splashed on the actors and across the screen, but it was never intended to be subtle. It was intended to be exactly what it is—a film that is definitely not for everyone (ya’ hear that, Grannies and kiddies?) but is certain to find a cult audience that can appreciate its humor, over-the-top apocalyptic plot, and 3 Stooges silliness.
Ho-hum. Another aliens invade earth, exterminating most of its inhabitants, and leading the few survivors into battle to save themselves and their planet flick. Ho-hum? No, not at all, if we’re talking about The Darkest Hour, a 2011 film released on DVD and Blu-ray April 10, 2012. Despite the story that has been told many times before, The Darkest Hour takes a fresh approach to ragtag-survivors-vs.-aliens conventions.
Stranded in Moscow following an alien invasion, Seattle entrepreneurs Ben (Max Minghella) and Sean (Emile Hirsch), find they are facing a far worse fate than having their Internet international bar-hopping site stolen by the very people from whom they expected to make ten million dollars. Commiserating in a club after being ripped off, Ben and Sean meet two women, Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachel Taylor) when the lights go out. Everyone in the club goes outside to see what’s happening and are greeted by a fantastic light show. As the golden lights touch close to earth, though, they reduce living things to ashes.Ben, Sean, Natalie, and Anne take shelter in a storeroom where they are joined by Skyler (Joel Kinnaman), the arrogant bastard who stole their concept.
In some ways reminiscent of The Divide, The Darkest Hour minimizes the locked-in-the-basement dramatics and follows the small band of survivors as they search out others like themselves and try to find their way home. As the story progresses, some of the characters are exterminated by the aliens, and others join the small group in their mission. Creepy scenes of wind-blown dust on deserted streets remind us of the millions who were annihilated by the unfriendly visitors.
The Darkest Hour is a well-acted survival tale that is only slightly marred by its sweet, optimistic ending. Palpable tension and suspense keep the audience engaged, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. In addition to the expected audio commentary, special features include deleted and extended scenes, “The Darkest Hour: Visualizing an Invasion,” and an “all new short film,” The Darkest Hour: Survivors.
A group of strangers wakes up in an unfamiliar place without a clue how they got there or why. They are being monitored by video and occasionally another stranger’s voice will taunt or threaten them. They discover dead bodies and they eventually begin to kill each other. If that description tempts you to watchSaw again, please do, for you will have a far better viewing experience than if you watch the film it describes, Kill.
According to the DVD blurb, Kill is about “Six strangers [who] awake to find themselves the new tenants of a mysterious old house. Terrorized by insane tiki-men in masks and taunted by their deranged captors, it soon becomes clear that only one singular action will save them: Kill.” Overlooking the “one singular” faux pas, one may find the idea of “insane tiki-men in masks” irresistible. Please…resist. Sure there are tiki-men, and they may even be insane, but other than popping out and scaring their houseguests, their raison d’être is never explained.
Kill stars a cast of unknowns (to all but each other) who splash blood all over the place and make a lot of noise. They play a group of twenty-somethings who may have a half-brain amongst them, but that’s being generous. As the group explores their surroundings they keep finding two things: more bodies and little rhyming notes centered on killing (as if someone is giving them a hint). They suspect that one of their number is in on this little game and accusations fly.
The awful thing about Kill is that when it finally ends, it does so with a clever twist. Viewers are left to reimagine the film it could have been if the same effort was put into the entire endeavor…and then to rue the 90 minutes they wasted watching Kill when they could have been doing something more productive, like playing Farmville or counting their freckles.
Kill was released by Troma (surprise!) on DVD April 10, 2012. It includes two bonus features, a slide show and a trailer.
Okay, so here’s the deal: about three or four thousand years ago an Egyptian pharaoh wrote a letter to his high priest instructing him to put a curse on the pharaoh’s tomb to discourage grave robbers. Fast forward to 1902 Cairo, and Egyptians are cutting British soldiers’ tongues out and feeding them to “animals” while the soldiers are forced to watch. Amidst the revolutionary atmosphere and widespread violence, a rich American decides to defile the ancient tomb of a pharaoh. Guess which pharaoh.
Pharaoh’s Curse is the relentlessly dumb account of British Captain Storm’s (Mark Dana who sometimes seems to be channeling Cary Grant) encounter with the plundering, rich, American adventurer, Robert Quentin (George N. Neise). Captain Storm is accompanied by two soldiers (there was a labor shortage, what with all the Englishmen’s tongues being cut out) and Sylvia Quentin (Diane Brewster), wife of the adventuring American; Quentin has an international crew comprised of a silent Egyptian, a doctor (“a man of science”), an artist, a hieroglyphics translator, and a few other adventurers. On their trek across the desert (“the long way”), Storm’s entourage is joined by a strange, young, allegedly beautiful, Egyptian woman, Simira (Ziva Shapir, aka Ziva Rodann) who has mastered the art of sitting still in trees and staring off into the distance.
Tragedy befalls the group trudging across the desert when one of their mules mysteriously disappears, their water supply mysteriously dries up, their medical kit mysteriously goes missing, and Mrs. Quentin is bitten by the only scorpion in all of Egypt (or at least the only one in Pharaoh’s Curse). They arrive at Quentin’s camp just as he and his pals open a crypt in the spotless tomb. At some time in history this particular tomb (not a pyramid) must have been featured in Better Tombs and Gardens, because it is immaculate; the murals look like they were just applied with tempera, there is not a speck of dust nor a crack in any of the walls (apparently Egypt is not subject to gravity or mass wasting), and no spider has found it a cozy place to spin a web.
Despite a few mildly violent scenes, the most disturbing aspect of Pharaoh’s Curse is that the writers didn’t know the difference between evisceration and exsanguination (and nobody in the cast or crew corrected them). The film’s major accomplishment is making 66 minutes seem like two and a half hours. However, viewers who like sharing goofiness with their companions may find the laughable plot and histrionic performances entertaining. I did—I watched Pharaoh’s Curse twice in one day just so I could subject someone else to it. (It’s available from on-line retailers, manufactured on demand; see trailer here.)
One of the pleasures of watching Spellbinder, the 1988 supernatural chiller now available on-line manufactured on demand, is formulating theories of where the plot is going. One of the surprises is guessing correctly, even though one’s guess is unlikely.
Spellbinder (see theatrical trailer here) is one of those films that is not so mesmerizing that the viewer’s mind doesn’t take side trips to see where it’s leading, but it’s entertaining enough that we want to see the whole thing and find out if our guesses are correct. Starring Timothy Daly, Kelly Preston, and Rick Rossovich, Spellbinder weaves a tale of magic, Satanism, and love (at first sight, no less).
Despite the fact that Kelly Preston portrays a woman (Miranda Reed) who may be a witch, it is Tim Daly’s role as a Los Angeles lawyer (Jeff Mills) who is friendly, kind, generous, honest, conscientious, trusting, courteous, heroic, and ethical that is the real fantasy character. One evening Jeff and some attorney pals are playing basketball in a gym, and as they leave, Jeff and Derek (Rick Rossovich) observe a man beating up a woman. They rush to her aid, and although the man threatens them with a knife, they rescue her.
Jeff offers Miranda a lift and in the course of the drive invites her to stay at his place for the night, no strings attached. She accepts and before you can say “Bob’s yer uncle,” she’s healed his aching back, told him things about himself she couldn’t possibly know, read his cat’s mind, and cleaned his house. He, of course, has fallen madly in love with her (after all, she cleans and cooks). She stays with him and one Saturday night he invites everyone he knows to a party to meet her. There Miranda charms everyone but Jeff’s secretary (Diana Bellamy), who sees her removing a cooked turkey (in a pan) from the oven with her bare hands. The secretary then quizzes Miranda about her past and is not satisfied with the answers she receives.
Because, according to the Bard, “the course of true love never did run smooth,” there’s a slight glitch when members of Miranda’s coven attempt to get her back. It’s nearly Winter Solstice and they’ve got to cut somebody’s heart out. Even with Miranda’s magic tricks and creepy friends looking in the windows, Jeff still hasn’t figured out that she’s not as perfect as she seems.
Despite animal and human sacrifice, people jumping through windows, and violent dreams, no blood is shed in Spellbinder until the thrilling climax. Some of the special effects would have been effective in the 1940s, but were a bit cheesy for 1988 (although there was an interesting Ghostbusters-like book stacking phenomenon). One of the problems with Spellbinder is the pace—it plays like a 1970s made-for-TV movie; trimming ten to fifteen minutes would make a tremendous improvement. The story itself is derivative--even 1988 audiences had seen it many times before—and there are no scary moments or demons, which is somewhat disappointing.
Although laced with violence and language many would find objectionable, Spellbinder is a middle-of-the road production that many will enjoy because the story is involving but the audience is spared gore and graphic violence. If only we’d been spared Kelly Preston doing that weird dance in the diaphanous toga.