Monday, November 19, 2007

Borderland (2007)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest II.


I guess you could call this a somewhat more sophisticated version of the "torture porn" story of international tourists becoming victims of a sadistic cult. And it's actually supposed to be based on true events. In the story, three young men cross the Mexican border for a vacation, and one of them is abducted by a terror cult to be used as a sacrifice for their rituals. With the help of an ex-cop who had a previous run-in with the cult and survived, the abductee's friends make a point to retaliate, and against all odds, actually manage to bring the cult to its knees, though not without sincere casualties and awakening the beast within.

Despite the torture-y subject matter, I'd be more tempted to pair this movie with a title like Midnight Express than Hostel, because it seems to focus more on the idea of being up against sinister forces in an unfamiliar land, and the measures that are necessary to survive them, than about the actual torture and sadism. If anything, though, it's probably a cross between the two.

By all accounts that I can mark, it's a well-made film, that seems able to affect its audience. It's also a very human story, about some inhuman deeds that went down, and for real. The Mexican setting is enriching, and the characters are interesting. The violence serves its purpose, and the cult symbolism is intriguing, particularly the "re-heading" treatment, and of course the main ritual. I'll say that this was a very good film.

Crazy Eights (2006)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest II.

Crazy Eights

This movie was a bit of a mindfuck. Some of it had a kind of Silent Hill atmosphere, with the broken down sets and the hints of bizarre medical experimentation. It also reminded me somewhat of last year's The Abandoned, with the whole idea of the characters trying to solve an important mystery about their childhood, only to apparently meet their doom.

From what I can piece together, the idea is that the main characters are members of a group of 8 people (the "Crazy Eights") who were tested on as kids, in some kind of unsavory scientific experimentation, that may or may not have something to do with autism and instilling the kids with a sense of guilt. None of the characters remember any of it, but one of them dies just after uncovering a trunk of items that was buried by the kids as a time capsule - apparently waking up some kind of psychological horror in the process. The characters gather at the funeral, and at the deceased's last request, they take a look at the trunk. They then get themselves trapped in an old condemned house in the middle of the forest, which hides a rundown medical laboratory of some sort. As they try to find the way out, things get weirder and people start dying as they gradually remember what happened to them when they were children.

As I understand it, the eight managed to escape from the testing facility, placing the smallest girl in a trunk for hiding. They promised to come back for her, but when they did, it was too late. Now they have that guilt on their consciences, and it seems that the ghost of the girl has made a point to seek redemption by taking the lives of the remaining 7 in the group.

As it stands, I was a little disappointed that they didn't dig more into the childhood experimentation, instead of this guilt trip they introduced. However, there may be more to this sordid little tale than is at first apparent. It's clear that the scientists were doing experiments involving the brain, and quite possibly the manipulation of thoughts, or even realities. So did this whole ordeal happen as is, or was it some kind of test set up by the experimenters? The odd and confusing ending seems to suggest the latter. This film definitely demands at least another viewing, and perhaps a bit of discussion to unlock. I like a film with a challenging concept, but maybe there could have been some better explanation provided. Still, this movie was very interesting.

Nightmare Man (2006)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest II.

Nightmare Man

A married couple gamble on a mask of the fertility god to improve their love life. Turns out the mask is hideous, and worse yet, harbors a demon. The wifey starts going crazy, and it soon becomes less than clear whether this "nightmare man" is a real killer or just a figment of her imagination. Or is it both?

An early portion of the movie, where the wifey is trapped in the car with the Nightmare Man lurking about trying more to scare her than to kill her, was in a way reminiscent of Penny Dreadful from last year's Horrorfest. Then there's a hilarious sequence which cuts back and forth between the wife running through the forest, trying to get away from the Nightmare Man, and a group of four young adults in a forest cabin playing erotic truth or dare. The scene climaxes quite literally with screams that could easily be attributed to either pain or pleasure. The rest of the film takes place at the cabin, as the wifey and the foursome try to make sense of what's happening, and whether or not the Nightmare Man is real.

I'm not an expert on "camp" movies, horror or otherwise, but this one definitely gave off the impression that its point wasn't to scare its audience, but simply to entertain them. Yet, I enjoyed it. Instead of being stupid, the movie was actually entertaining. And even having said all that, it still managed to pack a few scares, like making the masked face in the dark scary again. I'll always be more drawn to the completely serious movies, but I'm willing to toss this one into the bin of "fun movies".

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tooth And Nail (2007)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest II.

Tooth And Nail

This one's a winner. I didn't even remember what at all this film was about when it came on, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was impressed with what it had to give. It's a post-apocalypse story, which is a good start in my mind. But it has a unique approach and appeal. Mankind hasn't been completely wiped out, and there was no massive apocalypse, by way of explosion, deadly disease, monster mutations, or anything like that. We simply ran out of gas. No cars, no electricity, no heat. People went crazy, life became survival, and many died. People ran south, for the warmth, but the crowding and the fighting over supplies makes it a danger zone. This story focuses on a group of mostly young adults, "The Foragers", living in a hospital up north, where people are scarce, and their fatal run-in with a group known as "The Rovers".

After saving a young woman from these Rovers one day, the Foragers become their next target. Turns out the Rovers are a band of cannibals - and dressed for the part. Their appearance, attitude, and hunger label them as Vikings, savages, barbarians, beasts among men. They all wear hides and armors and other intimidating battle gear, and they all carry brutal killing weapons. They come out at night, usually taking one life per day, to feast on. Humans keep fresh better when they're alive, you see. But it's only a matter of time before they eat you to the last one. But the Foragers' attitude is, "if they want dinner, they're gonna have to pay for it."

Among the Foragers, there's Darwin, the professor/leader, the old man of the group. He's smart, and knows how to keep things in control. There's Viper, the man with a hot temper and a distaste for authority. Dakota, the clear-headed and able female. Nova, the young mute girl. And a few others. I like their names, they have a kind of sci-fi ring, but it's understandable. It's the post-apocalypse, society has crumbled, you can give yourself any fucking name you want, so make it something you like. The Rovers' names are cool (and appropriate) as well, like Jackal, Mongrol, Dingo, etc.

The setting and atmosphere is great; the characters are all mostly interesting; the sense of dread with the Rovers closing in for the feast, and the Foragers with practically no chance of survival, and the hunt itself, is all very exciting. Michael Madsen (you might remember him as Bill's brother in Kill Bill) does a great job as one of the Rovers. "This just isn't your lucky day, boy. And I got bad news for you, it's not going to get any better." "We can do this the hard way, or the easy way. It doesn't matter to me, but either way, I'll be gnawing on your bones by sun-up." And the ending is very thrilling, in a feel-good-but-feel-bad-about-it sort of way.

I was rooting for Nova the whole way. You could tell she had better instincts than any of 'em. And there's just something appealing about mute girls. They don't get into that whole stupid "talking" thing that humans think is so damn important. I always liked Newt in Aliens, and I was intrigued by Tiffany in Hellraiser II. Of course, with the mute characters, you always have to have that stupid point in the film where they finally say something, usually to much less comedic effect than was probably intended, but I can forgive them for that. It's really more the writer's fault than the character's, anyway.

So yes, this was my favorite film of the festival so far, and I totally recommend it. Very cool and very exciting post-apocalyptic horror film. Go and see it sometime.

"I'm going to kill you."
"Not if I eat you first."

Mulberry St (2006)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest II.

Mulberry St

This was an unsettling title. Very tense throughout, and conveys a real sense of place. It's in every aspect a New York City film. You can just feel the lifeblood of the city in it. A handful of characters are introduced, living much less than perfect lives in the city, before everything starts going to hell. Some kind of infection breaks out in Manhattan under the sewers, and it's spread from rats to people. The bizarre thing is that it turns people into some kind of ravenous rat creature. They gradually grow ratlike features and start feeding on human flesh. Kind of like an American 28 Days Later with rats.

You get to see people start to panic as the infection spreads; the news reports get more and more frantic before going out all together; and then the survivors are left to fend for their very lives trying to fight off the hordes of hungry ratpeople. Among the important characters there's a very serious female soldier returning from service, trying to make it back to her father (I believe) as the chaos spreads; the father, a pretty adept boxer with a courageous heart; a mother and son - the mother who works at a nearby bar; and various other tenants of the cramped apartment complex the story focuses on.

It's a very gritty film. I was kind of confused by a certain group of kids in the audience who kept giggling at all the scenes of brutal violence. Maybe they were high, maybe they just thought the idea of ratpeople invading New York City was too ridiculous (actually, doesn't it seem almost too real?), but I feel like we should be more concerned about the people that take that kind of material so lightly than those who surround themselves with it but treat it the way it demands. Some parts are humorous in a stark and natural way, but the film is very serious and no-nonsense. The ending is not happy. Just think what the government would do in that situation. The infection is confined to an island, and very few survivors are left. Better take the safe route out, right? Just don't tell the rest of the public about the unsavory bits.

Lake Dead (2007)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest II.

Lake Dead

This film was entertaining. Not great, but entertaining. Certainly better than Unearthed. I'd call it something of a cross between Friday The 13th (slasher set in the woods/camping) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (messed up family that preys on the unlucky who stumble into their web) - or any other film that does the inbred family horror shtick. As a slasher, it delivers on the sex, drugs, and the violence. The victims were your typical modern hotshot teens, and the killers were your typical messed-up inbred family. Though, if you ask them, they'll tell you that their blood is "pure". Apparently, nobody in that family ever passed genetics.

Well, it turns out the one that got away from the family had a couple daughters, and now, with the death of the grandfather, those daughters have inherited the family motel. They bring a handful of friends up for a weekend of camping to decide what to do with it (expecting to decide upon selling it), but instead, they get a crash course in genealogy. Mama has no intention of giving up the motel, and furthermore, she needs those daughters to continue the family line, to keep it "pure". All she's got left at the moment is the "Bruiser Brothers" (as I like to call them), Cain and Abel, and the slightly more human (at least in appearance) self-serving sheriff. The daughters are captured for breeding, and their friends are killed off until they manage to fight back and thin out the branches of the family tree.

Pretty straightforward. As I said, not great, but entertaining. I found it curious, for whatever reason, that although the sisters looked similar, both being blonde, they were clearly not natural blondes. I guess their dying habits run in the family. (oooh)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Deaths of Ian Stone (2007)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest II.

The Deaths Of Ian Stone

From the scant pre-press I heard, it sounded like this was the most interesting, original, and anticipated of this year's Horrorfest films. It certainly has a lot going for it, though ultimately I'm not about to judge it as a masterpiece. It's really a bit of a sci-fi/horror. The premise is that a man named Ian Stone finds that, for some reason, he dies every day, and wakes up the next day in a completely different life. Now this doesn't even hint at the sci-fi undertones going on. The reality is that Ian is a Harvester, though he's forgotten. The Harvesters are a race of entities that have a lot of power to manipulate reality. They usually appear to people in the form of a sinister shadowy figure, and they feed off of people's fear. Somewhere along the line, they got into feeding off of pain, and learned that the anticipation of a violent death is the greatest source of man's fear. So that's what they like to go for to get nourishment. Well, at least one Harvester has found a different emotion to feed on, and it's called love. He backs out of the game, but the Harvesters try to pull him back in. He'll have to regain his memory and extract enough power from love to be able to kill even the Harvesters, who are not supposed to be able to die. Who will prevail?

Something that bugs me about this film is how it feels like a thinly veiled warning against drug addiction. And I'm not sure if that level of symbolism actually enriches the film, or just cheapens it. More than once you see a "Say No To Drugs" advertisement "inconspicuously" placed in the film. The Harvesters' feeding on fear is described a lot like getting a hit, and their desire to get Ian back among their ranks, and to destroy the girl that has shown him a brighter existence, seems a lot like a group of junkies struggling to keep you in the habit, to deny you of the light they aren't strong enough to reach for themselves. Furthermore, as Ian weakens from life to life, having gone a while without feeding, he slowly gravitates towards a drug-adled existence. He starts out as a Hockey player - athletic, healthy. Then he becomes an office worker with an arthouse girlfriend - one step closer to the "hip" scene. He says he just quit "the pipe". Then he becomes an unemployed bum, even closer to the streets. Finally, he gets to be an actual junkie. And then he ends up an invalid strapped to a hospital bed, vulnerable to the Harvesters' torture. But of course love will make him clean in the end, and give him the power to conquer the Harvesters, to push them out of his life, and destroy their influence over him. Are you seeing the parable?

Anyhow, it was still a good film, all moral issues aside. The idea of living a different life each day, and dying every time is fascinating, and I feel like it could be used for an even better story, if taken in a different direction. Still, the Harvesters were pretty cool, with shadowy tendrils that form into thick blades. And I liked their vinyl outfits. They're no Cenobites, though. Some aspects of the movie had a vaguely Jacob's Ladder kind of feel. Particularly in the way the Harvesters shake their heads back and forth after they absorb some fear. And the whole feeling of knowing something's not right in your life but not understanding what exactly is wrong. It's no competition, however.

I don't know that there was any ultra-explicit material in this film. The whole thing had more tension and atmosphere, though, compared to Unearthed, which just kind of blasted you with a lot of sound and flashing lights during the action sequences, leaving you to guess what was actually happening (and not in the, "ooh, I can't see what he's doing, it must be terrible!" kind of way). Certainly, the moral of the story is well-adjusted enough. The only trouble with it being an "after-school special" is that most kids can't handle this kind of horror material. Oh well.

Unearthed (2007)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest II.


Unfortunately, this movie works a lot better on paper. It's an interesting story, but it comes off as being quite an amateur production. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but there's good amateur, and there's bad amateur. Let's take a look at what we're dealing with first. Here's the backstory: an alien was sent to collect DNA samples from all sorts of Earth life. Despite being a rather hideous creature, it supposedly lived in peace with the Anasazi tribe for awhile, until for some reason they tried poisoning it with a Uranium trailmix. The creature annihilated the tribe and somehow (I'm not clear on all the details) ended up encased in the Earth for many years. Until now, when it's been unearthed.

This movie owes a lot to Tremors (the setting of an isolated desert town attacked by an ancient monster), the X-Files (gooey alien in the desert with ties to Indian tribes), and the Aliens series (although the monster isn't nearly as similar to the xenomorph as you may have heard, it is true that one scene in particular was lifted straight out of Alien 3). It's too bad it doesn't live up to any of those titles. The action is way too hyperactive, the actors are less than convincing, and the shaky camera which starts out appropriately in the action sequences begins to seep into every scene. It really gets ridiculous. The shaky camera effect might be effective when you want the audience to believe the footage is being shot on a camera, for example by one of the characters. But when you're doing plain as day normal shots, pan & scan, anything, and it's all shaky as all get-out, it really makes you think that this was filmed by an amateur in somebody's backyard. The monster's CG motion shots were obvious, as well.

In addition to that, some things just seem hard to swallow. There's an apparently Australian roughneck archaeologist who, despite not being a criminal or a doctor, doesn't seem to have any problems tearing into a freshly dead body with a huge bowie knife, looking for alien worms. The truck driver who gets to be the first kill loves his dogs so much, that not only does he wear a t-shirt with his two dogs pictured on the front, but he also makes his dogs each wear a doggy shirt with a picture of his face on it. (Rolls eyes). Another thing that bugged me is how a single tanker sprawled across the road is able to isolate the entire freaking town. Maybe it's possible, but gee...I was pretty sure that road was a throughway, considering the trucker regularly passed through the town, not to mention the travelers who happen upon the town trying to get further west. Shouldn't there at least be a second way out? Curiously, the sheriff in this story is a 20-year old female alcoholic. She was involved in some kind of tragic accident where an Indian girl died, but even by the end, when they actually let the flashback play out, you're still not exactly sure what happened. Supposedly, she didn't kill the girl, but took the fall for it. Who was she trying to protect? Why would she throw her dream away for that? Needless to say, the whole town hates her and is prepared to vote her out of the job at the next town meeting.

I dunno what to say. The execution just doesn't do the idea justice. Yeah, it was interesting to see, but I would have to say that I don't recommend it, primarily for the shaky camera work alone. It's just the principle of it. Who watched this movie and okay'ed the shooting for it? The only answer is no budget. Well it's too bad they couldn't find somebody with a steadier arm. I'll bet the cameraman must have drunk as much as the sheriff character was notorious for. I feel bad ripping on this title, I mean it's not like it ruined my experience or anything, I still had fun. It's just that you win some and you lose some.

I know Horrorfest's "too graphic for regular audiences" claim has been debunked, and this movie is bad enough not to get a regular screening on that basis alone, but if I had to pick out a reason why this movie might be deemed "too graphic" it would definitely be for the explicit scenes of evisceral gore - human and bovine.

Horrorfest II (2007)

Note: This review was originally posted on Myspace. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Night 1 - Setup: Waterfront Theatre was nice. There was a lot more cars on my way out (around 10) than on my way in (around 6). I was surprised that the screen dedicated to Horrorfest was such a small room. I counted only 85 seats. But, to be fair, there were less than 15 people in each of the two showings I caught tonight. Hey, I like smaller crowds, but I hope a) Horrorfest doesn't go out of business, and b) the Waterfront doesn't join the Destinta in believing that Horrorfest isn't worth the commitment. There was at least one other group, a woman and a younger girl, who stayed on for both of the showings I saw, and one person at the end of the second showing I caught commented on the film using the phrase "this one", suggesting that she had seen other Horrorfest titles. Just exciting to know that people are getting into the festival experience and not just happening to catch one on a whim.

The Deaths of Ian Stone

Night 2 - My second day of Horrorfest was a lot of fun, and the average quality of films was definitely higher. There were also more people, this being a Saturday night. I got a chance to dine at Uno's, which is on the Waterfront. That was a treat, since Uno's is one of the best restaurants ever, and I don't often get a chance to eat there. Then it was an evening of three films to die for! And the best part - I think I've found my favorite for this year's festival! There's still three films to go, but I have a good feeling about this one. (FYI, my favorite from last year was The Abandoned).

Lake Dead
Mulberry St
Tooth And Nail

Night 3

Nightmare Man
Crazy Eights

Conclusion: I'm still gonna say Tooth And Nail is my pick for favorite. Overall, I had a great time at Horrorfest this year, and, it's kinda hard to tell but, I'm tempted to say the quality of this year's films was a little bit better than last year, despite what anyone might tell you. I've heard that the fest has been doing a lot worse than last year, in terms of box office sales, but I don't know all the details. I do hope that Horrorfest returns next year, though. It's great fun for a horror fan, and though the quality of the films varies, I have yet to be disappointed in the overall experience. So here's to next year!