30 May 2014

May Monster Madness 2014: The "SCARED TO DEATH" + "SYNGENOR" Creature-Feature Double-Feature

Yay, it's back! Annie Walls' "MAY MONSTER MADNESS",
co-hosted by my friend Emma (Little Gothic Horrors) and Ked (Something WicKED This Way Comes).

Last year, the madness lasted a bit longer (7 Days!) which was fun, but also pretty exhausting. This year, it lasts only 1 day long, but it's still as fun as last year, at least that's what I hope :)

This year, I decided to review a weird little double feature, consisting of an early 80s slasher that is actually a monster-flick, and its early-90s sequel which actually isn't a sequel at all.
Confused? Yeah, me too. Let's see what this is all about.

SCARED TO DEATH

Alternate Title:
The Aberdeen Experiment

Re-Release Title:
Scared to Death: Syngenor

German Title:
Entsetzen - Dem Grauen auf der Spur

USA, 1980/1981
Director: William Malone

5/10



"Scared to Death" (not to be confused with the 1947 Bela Lugosi mystery-thriller of the same name) is the little-seen writing and directorial debut of William Malone, one of Horror's most weird filmmaking semi-legends. He only directed 6 feature films between 1980 and 2008 [this one, "Creature (1985)", "W.E.I.R.D. World (1995)", "House on Haunted Hill (1999)", "Feardotcom (2002)" and "Parasomnia (2008)"] and a couple of episodes for various TV series ("Masters of Horror", "Tales from the Crypt", "Freddy's Nightmares"...), but in some kinda way, he still became a horror-household name, at least to genre fans. Ask your friends: nearly everyone has seen at least 1 or 2 of his flicks/episodes.


His debut isn't a groundbreaking masterpiece, but it's a watchable early 80s rarity, especially for fans of that era since it's one of the very few slasher films that follows the traditional slasher-formula but doesn't feature a human killer; instead, we get a bio-engineered and obviously "Alien"-inspired creature called "Syngenor" (SYNthesized GENetic ORganism) that roams the sewers and the streets in search for helpless victims to feed on their spinal fluids!

Malone's direction is decent. He fails to create much tension in the first half, but succeeds in the second half where things are fortunately way more thrilling. There's some eerie atmosphere in the sewer / parking garage scenes, a couple of nice kills / attacks (unfortunately, mostly rather blood-less) and the creature (designed by Malone himself) looks simply ace, though we don't get to see it that often (sucks hard). The build-up is very strange: with every kill, we get to see a bit more of the Syngenor, but when we finally hit the climax, the action suddenly focuses more on the main characters which is a huge letdown and doesn't make any sense.


The characters are mostly plain dumb and/or unbelievably annoying (especially John Stinson as the unbearably unfunny main idiot), but the rest of the acting is quite solid, especially Diana Davidson (the first of only two Imdb-listed acting performances) and the strangely hot Toni Jannotta (only five listed performances). Also: solid cinematography and a moody score by Tom Chase ("Alien Predator") and Ardell Hake ("Timecop").

Odd but watchable creature feature, recommended to fans of obscure 80s flicks.




SYNGENOR

Working Title:
Scared to Death 2

Alternate Title:
Syngenor: SYNthesized GENetic ORganism

German Title:
Syngenor - Das synthetische Genexperiment

USA, 1990
Director: George Elanjian Jr.

5/10



When b-movie producer Jack F. Murphy ("Havoc", "Ticks", "Progeny") first saw "Scared to Death", he was so impressed with the look of the monster, that he immediately wanted to make a sequel or at least another movie with a Syngenor-monster. Malone was asked to write/direct but he declined because he was in the midst of making "Creature" (1985).

In the end, Friedman was able to encourage screenwriter Brent V. Friedman ("Hellbound", "Necronomicon") to write a stand-alone Syngenor-script. Stand-alone because in 1990, "Scared to Death" was still pretty unknown, which 'forced' Friedman to distance from the original.
The not-really-sequel was eventually directed by... um, some guy called George Elanjian Jr. who previously shot clips and episodes for erotic series like "Playboy Video Magazine" and game shows like "Wild & Crazy Kids"...


The final product: "Syngenor", a quickly forgotten direct-to-Video sci-fi/horror flick that became one of my favorite guilty pleasures of the 90s. Aside from many, many SYNthesized GENetic ORganisms, there are obviously no connections to Malone's "Scared To Death".

So, is it good? No, not really, but it's so much fun, you just have to love it, and that's why I gave it such a 'high' rating. There's a high-tech military corporation called Norton Cyberdyne (which has nothing to do with Cyberdyne Systems from the "Terminator" franchise...) who creates our beloved Syngenor and believes that this "super-soldier" will be the future of American warfare - even though these creatures can be easily defeated with guns, fire and... um, water! Yes, simple water! In "Scared to Death", the Syngenor had absolutely no problems with water, which was one of the reasons why it spent so much time in the sewers...


Yes, the story is stupid, and the screenplay is even stupider, packed with plot holes, illogical plot points and other pointless rubbish. The whole movie doesn't feel like it was directed by Elanjian - it actually feels as if he was just standing around while the cast & crew directed everything. According to the Trivia section on Imdb, many decisions and characteristics of main actor David Gale's character were actually made by Gale himself, which confirms my assumption...

Speaking of David Gale - damn, "Syngenor" wouldn't be as fun without him, his grimaces and his glorious over-acting. Ok, not as hilarious as his performances in "Re-Animator 1 + 2",  but still hilarious enough to make me laugh my ass off. Seeing him as Carter Brown, CEO of Norton Cyberdyne, wearing a bunny mask on the back of his head, turning into a whiny sob after injecting a weird green fluid into his neck, or screaming "I want it eliminated... I want all knowledge of it completely obliterated... and I want anyone who stands in my way eliminated as well... and I want the goddamn air-conditioner fixed!!" - ROFL Hilarious to the max!! :-)


The rest of the cast is decent: there's the super-gorgeous but completely forgotten Starr Andreeff ("Dance of the Damned"), the super-hot but equally forgotten Riva Spier ("Ghostkeeper") or Charles Lucia, best known as Butthead in Brian Yuzna's "Society". Also, Lewis Arquette, father of David / Patricia / Rosanna / Alexis / Richmond Arquette, and Melanie Shatner, daughter of William Shatner.


Highlights: all the badass-looking Syngenors, the amusing opening scene incl. monster-boobs and red death-rays, the uber-weapon DEATHRATTLE which is "easy to load, easy to maneuver and fun to fire", the outrageous ending with the Syngenor/Human-hybrid, and the entire scene in the Norton Cyberdyne showroom with models of the "Suburban Missile Silo" and a promo-ad featuring a waving Syngenor in a Jeep. Wow, wow, wow xD


So bad, it's great! A must-see for fans of 80s/90s monster trash.

Wiki ~ Imdb

28 May 2014

CD Reviews: Chvad SB's "Crickets Were The Compass" + "Gut: Original Motion Picture Score"

For the first time in the history of the Horror Movie Diary, I got the chance to review some music! NY-based artist Chvad SB got in contact with me because I praised the music he composed for Elias' awesome indie shocker "Gut" (see here!), and thought I might be interested in his latest album.

Did I like it? Well, I did, though it's something completely different and has nothing to do with the "Gut" score. "Crickets Were The Compass" is an unbelievably bizarre piece of art, consisting of six abstract instrumentals, somewhere between Sunn O))), Isis, (maybe) Ulver and other drone / doom / post-rock / post-metal stuff.

CRICKETS WERE THE COMPASS - CHVAD SB
1. It Haunts Her (7:05)
2. A Hair Before Sundown (4:30)
3. The Dust Cloud Permeates (14.26)
4. People Keep Asking And I Say You're Well (9:31)
5. There Isn't A Day That Goes By (6:26)
6. Crickets Were The Compass And The World Goes 'Round (12:22)

It's not an easy record and the majority of music-lovers out there probably won't like it. There's nothing catchy or earworm-like on this album. It's all grotesque and eerie, quite dark, slightly dissonant, pretty unsettling and in some kinda way completely fucked up. Imagine Scott Walker sitting in an abandoned building somewhere in a littered desert, going completely insane while trying to compose a new soundtrack for "Eraserhead" or "Begotten". That's how it sounds, that's how it feels to me.

The first couple of listenings were tough because I couldn't do much with it, but then after the 7th or 8th time, I finally 'understood' the record, 'understood' how to properly listen to it. It's impossible to listen to it during the day. "Crickets Were The Compass" needs the night and the darkness, 1-2 candles and headphones. There's huge amounts of creepy static-like sounds and droning bass lines, there's uncanny guitar howling and peculiar electronic hickups, there's bleeps, there's blonks and there's mad musical contortions. It's a real treat for insane ears like mine :)

"The Dust Cloud..." is too long and a bit too tedious, but the other tracks are all very fine, especially the magnificently atmospheric title track and the mesmerising "There Isn't A Day..." that somehow manages to cast a powerful spell over me. If you're a patient listener, and if you're into one of the above-mentioned sub-genres, you really need to check out "Crickets Were The Compass", a fascinating album that grows and grows and grows.  -  8/10



Well, that's not the only CD I got to review, because Chvad SB was kind enough to send me the  Motion Picture Score of "Gut" as well! Big Thanks :)
Chvad's somber and melancholy score works excellent in "Gut" (by Boston-based director Elias), perfectly accompanying the haunting and sinister atmosphere of the film with all its scares, shocks and thrills. Unfortunately, the music doesn't really stands on its own without imagery.

GUT: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SCORE - CHVAD SB
1. Let's Hang Out (0:53)
2. Shower Staring Sleeping (2:07)
3. The Lonely Diner (2:53)  4. The Talk (1:50)  5. Under Skin (2:12)  6. Tense At Work (1:43)  7. Poison (3:21)  8. The Second Viewing (2:13)  9. Love Your Wife (0:37)  10. Third Time's The Charm (1:51)  11. The Transition (4:52)  12. Detachment (1:40)  13. Close To Home (3:40)  14. The Conversation (4:25)  15. From A Distance (3:17)  16. The Call The Fight (4:16)  17. Drive (3:01)  18. The End Of Things (6:37)

The entire score is very minimalistic, consisting of quivering guitars (at times pulsating, at times swirling), intense bass lines and some superb electronic stuff. Unfortunately, half of the CD is very difficult to listen to. No, not in a "Crickets"-kinda way where you know that it'll get better with every listen, but in a rather tedious and tiresome kinda way that prevents you from listen to it on repeat, mainly due to the fact that most tracks pretty much sound the same.

There are several songs I could listen to over and over, like the slightly depressing "The Lonely Diner", the creepy "Close To Home" or the somehow Eraserhead-like "Drive" - but there are also several tunes that bore the fuck out of me, like the unnerving "The End of Things", or the rather tiresome "Poison".

Final verdict: just like the movie wouldn't be that good without the music, the "Gut" score just isn't that good without the movie.  -  5/10



27 May 2014

WITCHING & BITCHING (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2014)

WITCHING & BITCHING

Original Title:
Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi

Spain / France, 2013
Director: Álex de la Iglesia

6/10








For more than 2 decades now, director / writer Álex de la Iglesia is one of Spain's most imaginative, most eclectic filmmakers, constantly creating acclaimed films in a wide range of genres, be it horror trash ("Acción Mutante", "The Day of the Beast"), horror comedy ("The Last Circus", "Common Wealth"), action ("Perdita Durango", "800 Bullets"), crime comedy ("Ferpect Crime"), mystery crime ("The Oxford Murders") or drama ("As Luck Would Have It").

With his latest film "Witching & Bitching", he returns to over-the-top horror comedy, telling the story of a gang of escaping jewel thieves who accidentally arrive in Zugarramurdi (infamous setting of alleged occult activity and gathering place of Basque witches) where they get trapped by a coven of freaky
cannibal-witches.


The movie starts out with a bang and one of the funniest heist-gone-wrong sequences I've ever seen. Afterwards, it sadly gets quite dull and tedious, due to Iglesia focusing too much on themes like divorce and misogyny, and introducing way too many nice-but-actually-not-that-interesting characters. Fortunately, the last act delivers the goods with a badass witch-gathering in an old cave, the arrival of a super-hilarious-looking witch-queen-monster, and lots of Carolina Bang, one of Spain's sexiest actresses.

Camera work and music are terrific, the effects all look superb, and the entire cast is wonderful. Still, there's something missing, something that fails to draw you to the screen or keep you on the edge of your seat. Maybe it's the awkward pacing. Maybe it's the fact that Iglesia tries too hard to make it all completely over the top. I dunno. It's a fun flick for a lazy Sunday afternoon, but it's far from being
a must-see.

ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2014)

ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE

USA, 2013
Directors: Lucky McKee & Chris Sivertson

2/10











So, for whatever reason, Lucky McKee ("May", "The Woman") and Chris Sivertson (ahem... "I Know Who Killed Me"...) made a remake of their 2001 low-budget film "All Cheerleaders Die". I haven't seen the original but I doubt that it's much better than this little shitfest.

"All Cheerleaders Die" is a dumb, unnerving and obnoxious semi-horror-comedy about silly witches, supernatural powers, undead cheerleaders and douchebag college boys, a movie that tries hard to be a fun, modern and some kinda over-the-top version of "The Craft" meets "Buffy", but eventually ends up as un-amusing teen-turd that feels as if the post-"Shallow Hal"-Farrellys mixed "Detention" and "Jennifer's Body" together *shudder*


The writing is awful and the direction is all over the place, messy, unfocused and utterly inept. Ok, the cast is quite good (especially Sianoa Smit-McPhee and Caitlin Stasey), but it certainly doesn't help that every! single! actress/actor! had to play an unbelievably unsympathetic and highly unnerving tongue-in-cheek character. The tone of the movie can't decide between fun-with-clichés and oh-so-serious-badassness, nearly all supposed-to-be-hilarious scenes and sequences just don't work at all, and the CGI looks freaking terrible. Worst of all: the blaring and aggressively loud sound mix that made my ears bleed.

All cheerleaders die, and no-one cares, at least not me. Where's my "May" DVD?

25 May 2014

UNDER THE SKIN (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2014)

UNDER THE SKIN

UK, 2013
Director: Jonathan Glazer

10/10











It's now more than 4 weeks since I've seen "Under The Skin" and I still can't get certain scenes, certain images, certain musical cues out of my head. At times, I still catch myself humming the film's terrific and slightly catchy main theme (Jue knows what I mean). That doesn't happen too often and only proves what an absolutely amazing film it is. "Under The Skin", the third film of British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer (the man behind 3 of the greatest music videos ever made: Radiohead's "Street Spirit", Radiohead's "Karma Police" & Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity"), loosely based on Michel Faber's novel of the same name, is one of the most impressive science-fiction films I have ever seen, following an alien in human form driving around Scotland in an old van, picking up single men, taking them to an old, abandoned house, trapping them into a 'pool' of mysterious, black liquid.


On the /Slash FB page, Viennese musician Toni Comante wrote that "Under The Skin" feels as if Michael Haneke made a remake of "Species", which is actually a pretty accurate description, though I'd go one step further and call it an artsy re-interpretation of "Species" by Stanley Kubrick and Lars von Trier, based on a Haneke-helmed screenplay.

I've never seen anything like it. Never. I'd say it's the most unique sci-fi film since "2001: A Space Odyssey", especially in terms of visuals and use of camera work. The basic story might be slightly unoriginal, but the way Glazer executed it is simply groundbreaking. Every single image, every single scene feels as if it was composed like an orchestral suite by Bach, or like an epic post-rock tune by Mogwai. It's indescribably incredible what Glazer and cameraman Daniel Landin (who did countless music vids for Oasis, Björk, Garbage, Radiohead...) achieved by combining ugly Glasgow settings, beautiful Scottish forest / coastal landscapes, abstract close-ups of human eyes or lava, and shiny, semi-futuristic, slightly nightmarish environments, all accompanied by the stunningly scary music by Mica Levi, better known as "Micachu".


The absence of any narrative or explanation makes it a difficult, but unbelievably intense experience. You constantly try to find out what is going on. It makes you think and wonder, brood and ponder; it makes you wanna activate your Third Eye to fully capture and understand what is going on. The harder you try, the more you get immersed in all the bleak and uncanny images, and when the movie ends, you suddenly realize that you have been hypnotized and no-one's here to wake you from this trance-like condition you're in.

Scarlett Johansson's performance is pitch-perfect, maybe the best thing she has done so far. The way she looks out of her van when she's roaming the Glaswegian streets, the may she moves when she lures her victims into the liquid, the way she reacts when she realizes that she has a vagina, the way she panicks when she ends up in situations that are beyond her control - marvellous. Simply marvellous. Also, the strikingly beautiful scene where she watches herself naked in the mirror... oh Scarlett, could you please be my girlfriend? Thanks in advance ;)


Mentioning all the scenes that blew my mind would be impossible, but I try to give you a small selection: a young man with facial Neurofibromatosis running naked over meadows. Confused Scarlett-alien walking aimlessly into a thick fog. Naked men sinking deeper and deeper into a shiny pool of black liquid while Scarlett-Alien proudly walks on the liquid's surface. In that pool, the men seem to get their innards sucked out, a gobsmackingly frightening scene. The unnerving sequence where Scarlett-Alien leaves a crying baby alone on a deserted beach. And of course, the shockingly depressing ending in the forests, including attempted rape and a brutal fire attack.

Certainly not for everyone, but if you're a fan of art films and/or sophisticated science fiction, you just HAVE to see it. "Under the Skin" will get under your skin and shake/shock you to your very core, I promise.

24 May 2014

DARK HEARTS

DARK HEARTS

USA, 2012
Director: Rudolf Buitendach

5/10











"Dark Hearts", the debut feature of South African filmmaker Rudolf Buitendach, is a weird mix of semi-horror-thriller and film-noir-like crime drama, following Colson, an unsuccessful young painter who falls in love with Fran, a sexy nightclub singer with a terrific snake tattoo on her chest. A fierce romance erupts, but with disastrous consequences, thanks to Colson's jealous brother, Fran's brutal gangster ex-boyfriend, and Colson's new-found talent to paint with human blood...


What could have been a nice little shocker somewhere between "Wild at Heart" and "Driller Killer", ends up as underwhelming and slightly badly developed indie flick that just can't decide what it wants to be, due to Christian Piers Betley's
("13 Eerie") horrendously messed up screenplay that is sooo all over the place, it's really frustrating. It's like he did an insane solo-brainstorming-session and used absolutely everything he could come up with *shakes head*. The basic
passion-becomes-obsession storyline is good, but it's so packed with unnecessary subplots, crudely written characters, implausible and inexplicable character motivations / decisions, embarrassing dialogue and other unnecessary rubbish, it made me wonder if Betley had any idea what he was doing. I doubt it.

The movie starts out slow and rather dull, but gets more tense and entertaining over time, especially in the final act. Buitendach's direction isn't award-worthy, but it's decent enough to make you think that this could have been far better if he only had a better screenplay at hand. The acting ranges from pretty good (Sonja Kinski, Kyle Schmid) to pretty meh (Rachel Blanchard, Lucas Till). Score and soundtrack are cool (Einstürzende Neubauten, Shirley Manson, Paul Oakenfold...)
and the cinematography is gorgeous (Kees van Oostrum, "Thinner"). Also: some ace gore, some hot nudity and many delightfully awesome paintings.


Mr. Buitendach: next time, hire a different writer, one with more experience and talent. Forget about Betley.


Thanks a bunch to Kelly Williams (Greenleaf + Associates) for the screener!

22 May 2014

NEVERLAKE

NEVERLAKE

Italy, 2013
Director: Riccardo Paoletti

8/10











Nice! After terrific, but sadly overlooked indie genre highlights like "Anger of the Dead" or "The Haunting of Helena", good old Italy continues to impress with another ace horror gem: "Neverlake", the debut feature of director Riccardo Paoletti. Ok, it's not exactly your average horror film, but a unique and striking mix of horror, fantasy and supernatural mystery-thriller, following a teenage girl who visits her father in Italy, but instead of spending a nice holiday, she accidentally enters a mysterious world of missing children, ancient spirits and ancient artifacts, and eventually gets dragged into a vortex of frightening nightmares and horrifying experiments...




"Neverlake" takes place in the Tuscan region of Monte Falterona and Arezzo at the "Lago degli Idoli" (=Lake of the Idols), an important archaeological area where numerous Etruscan statues have been found, an area where Mary W. Shelly spent some time with her husband Percy Bysshe. This fascinating and stunning-looking area with all its legends and secrets sets the perfect foundation for this terrific film with its mesmerising story that starts out as weird and mysterious chiller, and ends up as bizarre, unsettling and slightly gobsmacking shocker, suspenseful and unpredictable from start to finish, and packed with stunning plot twists. The ending is just wow, wow, wow!

Paoletti's direction is tight and powerful. He takes the viewer on a mystifying and staggering journey, keeping you on the edge of seat from start to finish, giving us many scenes and sequences that make you go "What the hell? This is awesome!", as well as many shocks and jump scares, ghostly appearances, eerie dream sequences and some ace gore. Cameraman Cesare Danese perfectly captures the beauty and the stunning atmosphere of all the incredibly gorgeous Tuscan landscapes (that lake... marvellous!), and Riccardo Amorese delivers an excellently moody score.



There's also many very decent-looking CGI effects, some nice-looking gore and shitloads of tremendous visuals. The acting is superb, especially the performances of incredibly hot newcomer Daisy Keeping, similarly hot TV-actress Joy Tanner ("Prom Night IV") and veteran actor David Brandon ("Stage Fright").
All in all, an excellent Italo-chiller that will give you a haunting great time!

Imdb

Thanks to Kelly Williams from "Greenleaf + Associates, Inc." for the screener!

SNOWPIERCER

SNOWPIERCER

South Korea / USA / France / Czech Republic, 2013
Director: Bong Joon-ho

6/10










South Korean director / writer Bong Joon-ho is a fantastic filmmaker with an impressive filmography, consisting of epic monster flicks ("The Host"), tense thrillers ("Mother", "Memories of Murder") and surreal comedies ("Tokyo!", "Barking Dogs Never Bite"). His latest film "Snowpiercer" marks his first foray into the science-fiction genre. Based on the post-apocalyptic French graphic novel "Le Transperceneige", the movie takes place in the future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off all life on Earth, except for a few thousand survivors that booked the 'Snowpiercer', a perpetual-motion-driven class-system train that travels the globe on a globe-spinning track.


"Snowpiercer" is a feast for the eyes, delivering tons and tons of stunning visuals, beautiful slow-motion sequences (the axe fight... amazing!) and the most amazingly designed train wagons I've ever seen (10 times better than the gorgeous train in "The Hunger Games"), thanks to the amazing work by Beata Brendtnerovà (set decoration, "Missing"), Stefan Kovacik (art direction, "The Illusionist") and Ondrej Nekvasil (production design, "Children of Dune").

Direction and editing are terrific, Marco Beltrami's ("Scream 1-4") pompous score is powerful and intriguing, the cinematography by Hong Kyung-pyo ("Mother") is vibrant and intriguing, and the cast is simply amazing, thanks to superb performances by Tilda Swinton (she totally blew my mind), Chris Evans, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Song Kang-ho and Octavia Spencer.


Unforunately, the entire film suffers from a horrible screenplay that is a) packed with unbelievably glaring plot holes, and b) often feels unfinished or incomplete. I'm usually very tolerant towards plot errors and stuff, but here, I wasn't able to ignore them, because there were so many of them and they totally destroyed the movie's flow. Actually, many of these errors really made me go "Are you fucking kidding me???" [Spoilers!] A train that runs for 18 years without any damages? A machine that turns tons of cockroaches into protein-bars for 18 years - and we never get to know where all the cockroaches come from? What's with the order of the wagons? First class sleeping car next to the cockroach semi-kitchen? School wagon next to the slaughterhouse? Techno club and chill-out zone next to the perpetual motion locomotive? This makes fucking no sense! A drug that is actually a C4-like plastic explosive? Where does the beverages in the bar come from? Why is everything so clear? Do they really still have so many detergents after 18 years?? What's with the un-killable villain? Is he a cyborg, or a zombie? Why do we get to see him so often without ever getting to know who he is?
etc. etc. ad inf.

Also, there a few rather dull and annoyingly boring scenes in the middle, a terribly frustrating ending and a few really cringe-worthy dialogue lines ("Babies taste best... *sob sob*).
"Snowpiercer" is an interesting but failed attempt in creating a semi-Orwellian utopia on tracks. A missed opportunity considering the storyline's true potential.

20 May 2014

GRAND PIANO

GRAND PIANO

German Title:
Grand Piano - Symphonie der Angst

Spain, 2013
Director: Eugenio Mira

6/10








Hell, what a premise: a few moments before his comeback performance, a stage-fright-ridden concert pianist receives a warning that he will die if he plays one wrong note. Sounds grand, huh? Unfortunately, "Grand Piano" doesn't live up to the awesomeness of this premise. It's a decent film, tense and stylish, and it's far better than director Eugenio Mira's previous film "Agnosia", but in terms of expectations, it's as disappointing as "Red Lights", the latest film of Rodrigo Cortés, producer and second unit director of "Grand Piano".


I love the absolutely excellent look of the entire movie. Great camera angles, lots of vibrant colors, long tracking shots, the beautiful concert hall, the piano, the corridors... the way it was filmed strongly reminded me of Dario Argento's "Opera", as well as of Brian De Palma's underrated "Snake Eyes". Massive kudos to cinematographer Unax Mendía ("No Rest for the Wicked").

The complex, pompous and ravishing classical music (quite similar to the works of Sergei Rachmaninoff) is overwhelming, the editing is top-notch and Elijah Wood gives another spot-on performance. Unfortunately, the movie is packed with scenes that feel incongruous, impracticable or simply implausible (texting 'through' a sheet of music; the pianist constantly running off stage). Other moments are annoyingly far-fetched (janitor burns an impotant sheet of music; an iPad as oh-so-coincidental present) and the "Break a leg" joke... ugh, this joke is so goddamn unfunny, it almost made me bite off my own legs.


Further, John Cusack delivers one of the worst performances in his entire career, the rest of the cast is so-so, the ending is ridiculous and left me completely dissatisfied, and what the fuck is wrong with the ending credits? Almost 15 minutes long!!!

"Grand Piano" is a decent watch, but far from being as grand
as it could have been.

19 May 2014

THE RAID 2 (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2014)

THE RAID 2

Original Title:
The Raid 2: Berandal

Alternate Title:
The Raid 2: Retaliation

Indonesia / USA, 2014
Director: Gareth Evans

5/10





As you can see here and here, I'm an uber-massive fan of "The Raid" which is IMO the greatest action film since "Terminator 2: Judgment Day", and obviously, I expected the sequel to be about as amazing as the original. Unfortunately, the long-awaited "The Raid 2" didn't do much for me. It's an uber-epic, excellently shot and stunningly choreographed fight-fest, but to me, it doesn't feel like a real "The Raid" sequel, but rather like a run-of-the-mill 90s John Woo movie - and to be honest, I'm not a John Woo fan at all (*awaits shitstorm*). He's a great director but I don't like his style of filmmaking, a style that clearly influenced Gareth Evans' directing and writing in "The Raid 2".

The fight sequences are insane, though apart from the final 'kitchen battle', none of the fights left much of an impression on me. The hammer girl? Yeah, she's hawt, but the hammer action somehow felt rather silly. The prison fight? Awesome scene, but far too long and far too over-the top for my taste. What's even worse: between every single fight scene, we get a tedious and lengthy dialogue scene where good guys and/or bad guys talk about honour and loyality and friendship and family etc. It annoyed me. It bored me. It almost made walk out of the film.


The overlong runtime obviously didn't help. Hundred! And! Fifty! Minutes! Why? WHY? There's clearly not enough story, not enough plot to justify such an insane overlength. It's basically just a succession of fight scenes and dialogue scenes with no build-up to anything. People talk. People fight. People die. Repeat. Bleh.

Ok, to be fair, the music is once again awesome, cinematography and editing are excellent, and the cast is superb (even though Iko Uwais has a hard time carrying the entire thing), but in the end, this was such a huge letdown for me, I'm still pissed.

In terms of sequel-expectations, "The Raid 2" was about as disappointing as the embarrassing "Matrix Reloaded", and just like I still haven't seen "Matrix Revolutions" (and probably never will - reasons: lack of interest; don't wanna be disappointed again), I'm already NOT interested in the upcoming "The Raid 3".

Wiki ~ Imdb

17 May 2014

Jim Wynorski's THE LOST EMPIRE

THE LOST EMPIRE

German Title:
Drei Engel auf der Todesinsel

USA, 1983/1985
Director: Jim Wynorski

8/10








Holy effin' shit! What was that? I don't exaggerate when I say that this is one of the most hilarious 80s genre-flicks I've ever seen - and believe me when I say that I've seen lots of 80s stuff that made me laugh my ass off (I'm looking at you, Frank Henenlotter and Ted Nicolaou!).


"The Lost Empire" was the very first feature film of acclaimed 80s-cheese-director Jim Wynorski, shot in 1983, released into theaters and onto home video in 1985. Due to some right issues and corporate changes, "The Lost Empire" was never re-released in any form, so this DVD release by Polyscope Media Group is the film's first proper home video release in almost 30 years, and we should actually bow down to Polyscope for this release, as it is such an unbelievable piece of low-budget 80s b-movie awesomeness.

The movie follows 3 super-hot girls (police officer Angel Wolfe, sexy native Whitestar & prison chick Heather) who try to bring down world-threatening oh-so-evil uber-villain Dr. Sin Do by travelling to his secret island, joining his martial-arts army and destroying him with his own weapons (magic stones called "Eyes of the Avatar", funky lasers and shit). It's basically "Charlie's Angels" meets 60s/70s James Bond, with nods and hints to exploitation classics like "Doll Squad" and the works of Russ Meyer...


...and it's packed to the brim with everything you expect from cheesy 80s gold: lots of uber-hot chicks with big boobs, lots of amusingly awesome practical effects, a few fun kills, some blood, tons of badass costumes, schlocky skull masks, a gorilla, a robo-spider, a dick-like laser cannon, ninjas with weird yo-yo weapons, a hilarious matte-painting fortress, a prison chick-fight with mud and whips, and shitloads of cheesy dialogue:

 "I hate robot spiders." /
"Is that your gun, or are you just glad to see me?" - "I think it's my gun." /
 "I am Dr. Sin Do!" - "I am... hungry." /
"Whitestar!" - "Who'd you expect? Tonto?" /
"I think we go back down to my place and uh..." - "Please. I just ate." /
"Here we are. Havenhurst Correctional for women.
Gorgeous, huh?" - (native gal) "Hm, I have my reservations." /
"You will now surrender all alcohol, drugs and stimulants of any kind." - "I wonder if that includes vibrators." /
"Aaah, blood... my favorite wine!" /
"Get a load at the size of this place." - (native gal) Sure beats a Tipi.
Club Med it ain't."
"Where's Conan when you need him."


The cast is just ridiculously amazing. There's Raven de la Croix (Russ Meyer's "Up!") as corky semi-squaw, TV-regular Melanie Vincz ("Fantasy Island") as tough policewoman, Paul Coufos ("Food of the Gods II") as Vincz' love interest, the beautiful Angela Aames ("Chopping Mall") as badass chick, the mighty, mighty Angus Scrimm ("Phantasm 1-5") as silly Dr. Sin Do, bad-guy-actor Robert Tessier ("The Longest Yard") as... um, bad guy, and sexy Angelique "Shahna" Pettyjohn as smoking hot prison girl Whiplash.

The absolute best thing about "The Lost Empire" is the amazing score by regular John-Carpenter-collaborator Alan Howarth ("Christine", "Prince of Darkness", "They Live", "Halloween 2-6"), consisting of dark, atmospheric synths and cool beats. Also, worth of praise: the excellent production design (Wayne Springfield, "Ghoulies"), the fabulous set decoration (Cynthia Sowder, "Hard Rock Zombies") and all the ace special effects.


A long lost but gladly re-discovered b-movie gem that just has to be seen. "The Lost Empire" rocks!!

Wiki ~ Imdb

Thanks to Clint Weiler from MDV Entertainment for sending me a screener!

15 May 2014

Mayoween Year II: Umberto Lenzi's "EYEBALL"

Yay, it's that time again! No, not Halloween. It's MAYOWEEN!! Just like last year, "THE MOON IS A DEAD WORLD"-mastermind Ryne Barber couldn't wait for Halloween any longer, and so he's once again celebrating MAYOWEEN all May long by inviting all his blog buddies to provide him with a review of an awesome Horror flick.

Last year, I gave some love to one of THE obvious Halloween/Mayoween-classics: Michael Dougherty's "Trick 'R Treat". This year, I give some love to a movie that hasn't got enough love so far, at least IMO. It's a 70s Giallo that takes place in sunny Spain and offers lots of blood, gore, nudity, sun and fun, and that's exactly why I think it's a nice little choice for Mayoween :)

You can check my write-up over at "THE MOON IS A DEAD WORLD", or here.

EYEBALL

Original Title:
Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro

Alternate Titles:
The Secret Killer / Wide-Eyed in the Dark

German Title:
Labyrinth des Schreckens

Italy / Spain, 1975
Director: Umberto Lenzi

7/10



I know, it's far from being a real Giallo classic and its reputation isn't exactly grand, but for some reason I have a soft spot for "Eyeball", Umberto Lenzi's last mystery-thriller before he spent the rest of the 70s making Poliziotesschi flicks, returning to Horror in 1980/81 with rad stuff like "Nightmare City" or
"Cannibal Ferox".


The movie follows a killer who's after a bunch of tourists on a tour bus through the beuatiful Barcelona, killing them one by one by gouging one of their eyeballs out. Yes, fans of good ol' Italian eyeball-gore (like me) will get their kicks out of it. Nevertheless, I find its offcial English title just dumb. "Eyeball" is so bland and unimaginative, compared to its beautiful original title: "Gatti rossi i un labirinto di vetro" = Red Cats in a Labyrinth/Maze of Glass.

There are many kills or killing attacks, and almost all of them are gory and highly thrilling. Most victims end up minus one eye, but there's also one who gets her throat slashed and one who gets fed to a bunch of hogs. My favorite kill takes place in a wonderfully old-fashioned funhouse with lots of eerie papier-maché heads. Not exactly Tobe Hooper level ("The Funhouse"), but still effective enough to got me a little impressed.


The killer wears a red raincoat which is obviously ripped off of Nicolas Roeg's masterpiece "Don't Look Now" (1973) and/or maybe of Dario Argento's masterpiece "Profondo Rosso" (1975) - but damn, this is such an effective item, it works here too. The killer looks eerie, especially when you just see him standing around, looking and watching.

There's also lots of effing hot nudity, as well as a short moment of lesbian erotica. The acting is decent and everyone delivers a solid performance, most notably the unbelievably gorgeous Martine Brochard ("Murder Syndrome"), John Richardson ("Torso"), hottie Ines Pelligrini ("Salò"), hottie Mirta Miller ("Dr. Jekyll vs. The Werewolf"), veteran actor George Rigaud ("Lizard in a Woman's Skin") and Andrés Mejuto.


Several scenes are rather dull and the climactic scene is just silly as hell. Nevertheless, due to Lenzi's direction and the terrific screenplay, "Eyeball" keeps you tied to the screen and constantly makes you wonder who the killer might be, since every single character is a potential suspect. The music is catchy as fuck (Bruno Nicolai, "Count Dracula") and the cinematography is just pretty (Antonio Millán, "Obscene Mirror").


It's not Bava, it's not Argento, but... well, it's at least Lenzi and that's good enough in my book :-)

13 May 2014

DER SAMURAI (/SLASH 1/2 Mini-Festival, 2014)

DER SAMURAI

English Title:
The Samurai

Germany, 2014
Director: Till Kleinert

9/10











After years and years of pointless made-for-TV nonsense and utter no-budget dreck, Germany is finally back on track with some serious horror bussines, delivering more and more really cool genre flicks with every year. There was zombie action in "Rammbock", underground brutality in "Urban Explorer", post-apocalyptic terror in "Hell", Giallo awesomeness in "Masks" - and now: clever and artsy insanity in "Der Samurai", the full length debut of Till Kleinert, and undoubtedly the most impressive film of this New Wave of German Horror so far.

This stunning and unbelievably beautiful little low-budget gem tells the bizarre story of Jacob, a young police officer in an isolated German village, who tries to track down a wolf who strives through the near-by woods, and eventually encounters his alter ego: a wild-eyed and aggressive young man, wearing a woman's dress and wielding a Katana, turning Jacob's life into a surreal nightmare.


Aside from several plot elements that that could have been inspired by classics like "High Tension", "The Hitcher" and maybe "Fight Club", Kleinert managed to create one of the most unique European Horror films of the last years - although it wouldn't be fair to merely classify it as Horror, because "Der Samurai" is sooo much more. It deals with loneliness and outsiderdom, longing for being loved and being accepted, coming-of-age and a possible coming-out, breaking out of the norm, finding oneself, re-discovering oneself.

So, it's basically a journey of self-discovery, but obviously not in an esoteric or new-age way. It's a journey, paved with fear and destruction, blood and violence. The Katana-wielding semi-Samurai kills Jacob's enemies with a grim determination, resulting in gob-smacking beheadings, fountains of blood and lots of dead bodies.


Michel Diercks (insecure police officer) and Pit Bukowski (super-weird Samurai) both deliver absolutely breathtaking performances. Conrad Oleak's ("Virus Undead") score is intense and powerful, Martin Hanslmayr's ("To The Limit") cinematography is mesmerising, and the entire production design is simply overwhelming, thanks to sensational lighting and fabulous use of light and shadow. Highlight: the outrageous finale including wolfs, erections, fireworks and The Ark's "It Takes A Fool To Remain Same".

German genre cinema like you have never seen it before. "Der Samurai" blew me away, and it will blow you away too.


Btw, at the festival I had the chance to chat a few minutes with director Till Kleinert who is a really cool guy. Oh, and he also signed a "Der Samurai" promo still for me ^_^


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