23 October 2010

Recent Horror Pros and Cons

Recent Horror Shenanigans
By Kristin Battestella

I do favor classic horror fare and am not a lover of big remakes, but now and again, there are a few recent capers worth your horrorfest hours.  Here’s a quick list of new haunts and thrillers to enjoy- and one very critical one to avoid!


Blood: The Last VampireBlood: The Last Vampire (2009) – After catching this live action update on television, I was pleasantly surprised by this angsty wartime vampire martial arts piece.  It seems like a big pill to swallow, but the half-human, half-vampire conflicts, wartime prejudices, and teenage troubles add plenty of realistic spin for young anime-related fans or old school vamp viewers.   Although I could do without all the slow motion, the mix of vampire action, creative ways to kill vamps, and fighting ingenuity are a lot of fun.  The period style and neat military bits work nicely, creating authentic Asian flair instead of the bland homogenized American version usually watered down for the masses. The post WWII resentment and budding Vietnam issues are handled intelligently for a young adult oriented show, too. Gianna Jun (My Sassy Girl) and Allison Miller (Kings) do well even when the plot may fail them.  They aren’t perfect, but easy to like and have a fine onscreen friendship.  The seventies music is a lot of fun, and the gore is just right for the target teen audience.  Sadly, the CG effects here are woefully bad in several critical fight sequences.  It almost looks like an old crappy eighties cartoon within the film!  I’ve not seen the original short film or Blood anime series, so its tough for me to compare any changes there, but this is a good place for young vampire fans to start with the franchise. Yes, one critical plot point is totally obvious, and there are a lot of holes and confusion at the end.  However, I’m intrigued enough to check out the Blood series.  

Dark MirrorDark Mirror – I stumbled upon this 2007 thriller late one night on IFC and enjoyed the unique aspects here.  It’s so nice to see a non-blonde or idiot buxom pretty perfect lead in Lisa Vidal (New York Undercover).  An ethic mom with issues like sneaking a smoke, possible marriage trouble, unemployment, and creepy neighbors- we haven’t seen the likes of this realistic well-roundedness in a horror film in sometime.   The intriguing twists on cameras, mirrors, flashes, glass, and illusions are well done- not overly excessive but better than other similar films like Mirrors and Shutter.  Even Feng Shui gets involved in the twisted mythos here. The spooky L.A. house design also has some non-Sunny SoCal flaws, complete with hidden objects, altered reflections, deadly history, deceiving twists and turns and an unreliable narrator hosting the entire picture. What exactly are we seeing? What is real and what isn’t?  Some of the storyline is a little confusing, and not all the acting is stellar, but the freshness here is entertaining and thoughtful throughout.

Daybreakers [Blu-ray]Daybreakers – Well, our first stupid rental blu-ray wouldn’t play and the menus were kind of a pain, but most of this Australian horror flick was a okay.  The technological vampire advances and conveniences were pretty cool.  Some of the little things and eccentricities like courtesy announcements before sunrise were well thought out, and the visual style is well executed.   Everything is blue, mod, and futuristic yet somehow retro, old school cool, and art deco.  Vampires who smoke and wear hats and fine suits while working 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.!  The cast here is also upscale all around, including a fine Ethan Hawke (Gattaca), wonderfully wacky Willem Dafoe (Platoon), and a creepy Sam Neill (The Tudors). The vamp makeup is subtle, allowing the creepy eyes to up the drama, and the bat like subsider look is scary as well.  The ironies, internal conflicts, allegory, and dystopian science feelings also add more dramatic layers, political analysis, resource commentary, and government subtext. Even if some of the promise isn’t totally fulfilled and there are a few plot holes, this is more intelligent stuff than we’ve seen in recent vampire kiddie bits.  Though the blood and gore is laid on a little thick towards the end, this one should have ended better.  Daybreakers wasn’t perfect, but this different and intriguing genre mix was fun to watch. 

The Wolfman (2-Disc Unrated Director's Cut + Digital Copy) [Blu-ray]The Wolfman (2010) – This flawed, but fun remake from director Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer) is smart to keep traditional make up and period styles ala the original 1941 classic. The old time atmosphere and mood is here thanks to fine performances and clout all around from Chaney-esque Benicio del Toro (Traffic), Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs), Hugo Weaving (The Matrix), and Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria).  Unfortunately, the CGI graphics here are kind of bad, unnecessary extras we don’t need.  Likewise, an uneven edit and mistakes on the Director’s Cut hurt the picture.  Although the gore is just right, The Wolfman isn’t that scary, going for more period drama.  Today of course, we can’t seem to have both solid horror and great drama, and the open ending here is a bit much, too. Most of the wolf mythos and gypsy material is fairly stereotypical as well, and the score sounds exactly like it was ripped from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Though imperfect, this spooky little movie entertained me, and I hope this is the vibe and style used for the upcoming Dark Shadows movie. However, I do hope Universal doesn’t do any other classic remakes. You can see this was a labor of love for those involved, but leave it at that, okay? And while I’m complaining, the blu-ray disc had so many annoying widgets and interactive menus that we didn’t bother fighting them to get to the features. I also hate super low voices and loud ass loud effects, but nowadays that’s the norm!

So Bad I mean bad is bad woefully!

Halloween 2 (2009) – My husband rarely derides a film, and he called this one ‘a disaster’.  Goodness, this Rob Zombie (House of 1,000 Corpses) sequel was horrible beyond belief.  From the ambiguous dream sequence beginning to the stupid and obvious end (or vice versa), everything about this film is ill conceived.  Scout Taylor Compton (The Runaways) is annoying as hell with her postmodern grunge look, cursing therapist rage, and all out screamfeast.  Brad Dourif (Lord of the Rings) and Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) do the best with the material they are given, but it’s as if they are playing different men from the characters established in the 2007 remake.  Margot Kidder (Superman) also deserves more than a cameo as a seemingly asinine therapist who doesn’t get poor Laurie.  Not that we could see any of this drivel thanks to the dark camerawork, hair in everyone’s face, and more gore gore gore- nor could we hear any of the serious dialogue for all the explosive effects and expletive language.  And my goodness did Zombie create this dream vision of Michael’s mother ala Pamela Voorhees just so he could keep his wife Sherri Moon in the sequel?  Despite these being the best-filmed scenes, it all looks like something out of another movie called nepotism.  What else is the point of this overlong waste?   

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