31 October 2008

Far North

Disturbingly Beautiful Far North

By Kristin Battestella

Sure I get knocked for my liking of Sean Bean, but he wasn’t the only reason for my purchase of Far North. This beautiful, yet creepy and tragic 2007 film based on a story from Sara Maitland’s collection Far North and Other Dark Tales will have you awing and grimacing at the screen.

Saiva (Michelle Yeoh) was cursed as a child and cast from her village. Once she finds happiness with a neighboring tribe, tragedy follows her again. She rescues Anja (Michelle Krusiec) and raises her into the ravages of the artic, away from society and all its evils. One day, however, Saiva helps Loki (Sean Bean), a freezing soldier lost in the artic wilderness. Saiva warns Anja not to be charmed by the first man she’s met. Both women, however, fall for Loki, and disaster follows.

Folks who’ve read my reviews know I don’t like to spoil a film experience, but where Far North is concerned, I really can’t tell you anything else about the story. My husband thought the obvious of oft villain Sean Bean (Patriot Games, Goldeneye), “He kills them, right?” I countered with, “No, they have threeways.” Both are plausible scenarios to the modern viewer, but the things you expect most in Far North aren’t the things that happen. BAFTA winning director Asif Kapadia (The Return) and co screenwriter Tim Miller (The Warrior) have taken Maitland’s tiny story and stretched into a philosophical and disturbing little statement. The film rises and falls upon Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Tomorrow Never Dies) and she is up to the task as the tormented Saiva. Some of the flashbacks trying to make her look younger seem out of place, but Yeoh’s silent looks and stilted dialogue are perfection. It’s a shame most Americans don’t get to see most of her work; I’ve enjoyed every film in which I’ve seen Yeoh. She can act. We believe Saiva is a tough woman who can brave this horrid landscape, and yet we know she is capable of compassion. There isn’t a lot of dialogue among the three leads, Far North feels more like a play. Camera angles and expressions sell the story, and when words are spoken, they are forceful and take on more than face value meanings. Newcomer Michelle Krusiec (Dirty Sexy Money) steps up to the plate as Anja. She’s young, disenchanted with this rugged lifestyle. Anja’s been aged by the artic yet is still very young and juvenile in comparison with the outside word. And of course there’s Sean Bean. I often wish he had more to do in some of his smaller roles, (NBC’s recent Crusoe especially) but here, Sean Bean gives us just enough to like Loki, wonder about him, and question his feelings towards both ladies.

Despite fine performances all around, the incredible artic location is what makes Far North. The ice, cold water, white snow; Norway is the picture of beauty and the face of danger. Hypothermia, jagged rock cliffs, falling ice; Any number of natural disasters-or the viles of people-could harm you and there’s no escape, no help for hundred of miles. I wouldn’t say it is as exceptional as Platoon, but Far North reminds me of Oliver Stone’s Oscar winning Vietnam Epic. It’s so visually horrifying and disturbing that you don’t really want to watch it again, but you can’t look away either. Folks who are sensitive to animal plights might want to skip a few scenes in Far North. Seeing women kill dogs and seals is very upsetting to a lot of people, but we must remember in the arctic, this is a way of life.

As realistic as Far North’s unforgiving locations are-and the behind the scenes documentary on the DVD tells us exactly how difficult it was for the cast and crew-there’s also something very ambiguous about the story. It’s only ninety minutes, but it seems longer, and has a very questionable but not unsatisfying ending. Far North reads like a fable; a tale told to children warning of consequences and humanity. Loki is the Norse God of mischief. Is he even real? In this far away place at the edge of the world, has Saiva somehow crossed to another realm? One is not even sure when Far North actually takes place. Russian soldiers are persecuting native tribes, but is their presence meant to be taken as an historical marker or are they representative of the evils of society?

Not that he is a particularly glamorous actor, but Sean Bean plays perhaps his least pretty role here. He’s hypothermic and bundled up for most of the film, and when he strips down, it’s not his usual action hero form. Sharpe fans and Sean Bean Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ladies will joke that it’s that because Sean Bean has entered these women’s lives that causes all the trouble. But it’s more than that. It’s the mere fact that a man, such a mysterious man, any man really could cause such catastrophe for these two women. Even if you don’t know about the shape shifting promiscuous Norse Loki, Far North doesn’t give easy answers. On my first viewing, I was so horrified by Far North, I didn’t even realize Sean Bean was in the buff. In the Artic? I was too busy screaming at the television screen. It’s not something I normally do, and after my father heard me, I sent him into a viewing of Far North cold turkey. His verdict? “Horrible film. I liked it!”

Unfortunately, not a lot of people have seen Far North. It’s done well in the festival circuit, and even the making of documentary had garnered accolades, but Far North has yet to see even a limited release or theater distribution. The DVD is available online, and Far North even opened the first annual Philadelphia Asian-American Film Festival. Far North is not exclusively an ethnic film, nor am I certain it is merely an art house picture as its history would seem. Is Far North a horror movie? Quite possibly. It definitely gave me the chills and had me screaming. When was the last time a real horror film did that?

27 October 2008


Kinky and Weird Gothic Not For Everyone

By Leigh Wood

Sometimes I wonder if stars Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, and Natasha Richardson are embarrassed by Ken Russell’s 1986 horror romp Gothic. I like its sexual and psychological horror blurs between dreams and reality, but I picked up the DVD at the Dollar Store, so maybe that says something?

Young couple Percy (Julian Sands) and Mary Shelley (Natasha Richardson) travel with Mary’s half sister Claire (Miriam Cyr) to Lord Byron’s (Gabriel Byrne) estate outside Geneva. The stormy lair is full of dark shadows and sexual fun for the uptight Shelleys, and one night with Lord Byron leads them to discover their worst fears and desires-inspirations that lead to the creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

There are talented people onscreen and off, but Gothic leaves some acting to be desired. The debut script from Stephen Volk (Afterlife) gives little beyond psychological double talk for the boys and screams for the ladies. Although the principal trio has gone on to further acclaim-obviously Gabriel Burns’ classic turn in The Usual Suspects- they’re all young and unhoned here. Gothic’s performances and dialogue also suffer from an overuse of what I can only describe as ‘Britishness’. Ken Russell (Tommy) is know for his offbeat style, and his eccentric direction may have been a detriment to the mostly British cast- their accents seem fake and tongue in cheek. Folks who don’t like the over the top style will quickly tune out. Just because it takes place in the 19th century doesn’t mean you have to double up on the uppity Brit sounds. I don’t mind this low budget eighties English style, it’s good for an MST3K, but sometimes I wish Gothic could have been a serious look at Mary Shelley and her real life inspirations.

Britishness, does however, serve Gothic well in set and costume design. It’s amusing to see the same house Russell would later use in Lady Chatterley; Instead of a foreboding loveless mansion, here Russell plays up the stormy nights and haunted house nooks and crannies. Regency costumes also add to the horror flavor. The costumes are little more than wispy nightgowns thrusting out all the ladies’ bosoms. It’s a creepy subtle touch about how close sex and horror can be. You know one of two things are going to happen to that bosom: Sex or stabbing.

But of course, there is a bit of sex in Gothic. Although it’s mostly heavy petting and nothing hardcore, this one isn’t for kids or old ladies. Gothic’s triumph is in its look at fear and desire. It’s too campy for the audience to be scared, but the kinky connections between adrenaline and fright make this a fine film to watch alone at night. Why do frightening images turn us on? How could Lord Byron with his traditionally unattractive clubbed foot be the facilitator of people’s desire? Why do some people enjoy pain-upon themselves and upon others? Once you get past some of the really weird imagery in Gothic, the finale gives us an ambiguous confrontation that actually has us coming away with thought.

Yes it’s weird, eighties styled, and a very British period piece, but Gothic is a naughty and philosophical look at what scares us and turns us on. It’s the perfect late night Halloween camp. Not bad for a dollar!

24 October 2008

Blade Trilogy

Such Promise, But Blade Sequels Lacking
By Kristin Battestella

When it came time to continue our Halloween movie marathon with Blade II and Blade Trinity, it was soon apparent that the series lost some of its edge since 1998’s Blade. Cool technology and vampire dustings can’t save this Wesley Snipes train.
His mother was attacked while in labor, and thus Blade (Snipes) is born half human, half vampire. Raised by weapons master and vampire hunter Whistler (Kris Kristofferson, Millennium), daywalker Blade hates vampires and struggles with his need for blood. Young vampire Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff, Backbeat) uses Blade’s weakness for Dr. Karen Jensen ( N’Bushe Wright) against him and seeks to capture Blade for his unique blood.
Blade establishes its universe and vampire set of rules firmly and sticks to itself almost to the end. The film went through several rewrites and re shoots before coming up with its best but still lacking ending. Initially, the devices and dustings in Blade’s very impressive opening are cool, but after so many years of Buffy, I’m a bit tired of vampires exploding or burning to ash in visually cool ways-or better yet with quips and great humor. Stake them and kill them already.
The Blade Trilogy (Blade/ Blade II/ Blade: Trinity)
It might be odd to say it so, but I much prefer the bad ass blackness Blade brings to the vampire genre. Previously, African American vampires were somewhat of a joke or parody- turned slaves, or voodoo fiends. Eddie Murphy’s Vampire In Brooklyn didn’t help. Thankfully, Blade fills another gap in this urban minority horror genre. There’s edge, conflict, and intelligence for the most part.

Blade is also a comic fan’s dream, with references and allusions to numerous comic books and heroes. Without the popularity of this first film, we might not have had the comic film boom and franchises like X-Men or Spiderman. I can’t fault the comic origins for director Stephen Norrington’s emphasis on the explosive finally rather than Blade’s torment over being half human/half vampire-which dominates the early part of the movie. I’ve read many a dark and serious comic book. 

Blade II (2002) picks up two years after the first film. A new subset of reaper fiends is hunting vampires, and Blade must unite with a vampire task team before the hunters upset the underground balance between humans and vampires. Screenwriter David S. Goyer (Batman Begins) brings Whistler back under some pretty thin circumstances, but some of the better dialogue is between Whistler and new tech boy Scud (Norman Reedus, The Boondocks Saints). Ron Perlman-now of Hellboy fame-is sufficiently bad ass as vampire henchman Reinhardt, but the silly detonator beacon that Blade sticks to the back of his bald head takes the kick ass down a step.
It’s strange to say I miss Stephen Dorff, but his asinine hedonist style was at least believable to a degree, unlike the decrepit vampire eaters here. How many times must they get whacked, shot, and tossed through windows? Blade II lets action and effects take over the more somber elements from the original film, which Goyer can clearly write about if Batman Begins is an example. Isn’t Blade still conflicted about his dual nature? Are we supposed to care if he is? Blade II would have the viewer think not. Skim on story, sure, but action fans will dig Blade II and its creepy cool devouring sequences.
2004’s Blade Trinity starts out promising. After Blade is set up by familiars and kills a human, he is taken to the authorities. New vampire villain Danica (Parker Posey) can’t keep Blade, for he is rescued by Abbie (Jessica Biel), Whistler’s illegitimate daughter, and Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds) an ex vampire. Together the trio must destroy Drake aka Dracula.
I like Dominic Purcell on Prison Break, but he’s nearly impossible to take seriously as Dracula. He’s worthy of the tough ass Blade we’ve known for two movies? Come on. Blade has its own vampire universe, why even bring a seven thousand year old Dracula into it? Trinity starts out so realistic; Blade in the news and being chased by cops-and the extended edition gives us more dialogue and explanations. Unfortunately, somewhere halfway through, we end up with dues ex machina vampire cures, gadgets, and history. Ryan Reynolds’ (Waiting) comic relief is not needed because we’ve fallen into such unbelievably again. Blade was already the black hip post Buffy vampire. We didn’t need a tag team of pretty white kids cracking jokes. American Pie’s Natasha Lyonne as a blind scientist? Are you serious?

Trinity seems to go for some cult stunt casting with this crew, including Parker Posey, who normally is great fun as the cute or bitchy hip chick like Dazed and Confused and You’ve Got Mail. Here unfortunately, she’s made to be one stupid and ugly vampire. What happened to the original vampire organizations established in the first film? Where is Karen and her hematologist realism? Dividing the issues of cures and vampire origins among a young, sexy white cast is not in the spirit of Blade. Unless you’re a die hard fan of the Wesley Snipes and the comic books, I’d rather watch Blade ten times over before I view Blade II and Trinity again. After these two disastrous sequels, why would anyone tune into the short lived Blade: The Series?

I never thought myself so sappy, but audiences who love the tragic romantic vampires ala Interview With A Vampire won’t enjoy the action and fast paced style of the Blade series. There’s enough story and establishment of its universe with Blade for serious enjoyment, and action and gore enough for those fans in Blade II and Trinity. Unfortunately, the lack of consistency and further suspension too far into unbelievability doesn’t give this trilogy much repeat viewing. Blade should have been much more than kick ass.

22 October 2008

Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu Still A Classic

By Kristin Battestella

Yes, I am going to review, recommend, and praise a silent film. Not just any silent film, perhaps one of the best known pre talkie films. Film historians who treasure The Great Train Robbery and Lon Cheney’s Phantom of the Opera or London After Midnight know where I’m coming from. I’m probably unusual in my generation for liking silent films, and I doubt any teeny bopper today could stand visuals without effects or booming sounds and all that hype. Nosferatu, however, transcends time and technology with its haunting images, eerie score, and spooky story.

For the uninitiated youth, I should explain that silent movies aren’t really without sound. A musical score accompanies the onscreen action, and dialogue is show onscreen via place cards in between cuts. Some of it is silly, with too many exclamation points and women swooning, but this was the style of the time. I find something special in bob haircuts, engraved tin plates, and nitrate film. Film restoration and preservation of classics such as Nosferatu is a necessary cause when remembering each stop on the twentieth century’s technological timeline.

Lawyer Reinfeld sends the newly betrothed Harker to Transylvania to secure real estate for Count Orlock (Max Schrek). The Count, however, gives credence to local legends of vampires. He sleeps during the day, and Harker discovers his coffins filled with earth. While Harker is trapped in Transylvania, Orlock sails to Bremen and prays upon the plague fearing city.

The story sounds familiar, naturally, so familiar, in fact, that Bram Stoker’s widow-yes she was still alive in 1922-sued the producers of Nosferatu for its similarities to Dracula. The German movie makers agreed to make several changes-including the characters names. Today’s English versions have again replaced the German names, but Orlock and Nosferatu have become almost as iconic as Bela Lugosi’s widowed peaked Dracula.

Nosferatu’s director F. W. Murnau makes the most of what was technologically available at the dawn of the motion picture. Lighting, shadows, and of course smoke and mirrors add depth to the two dimension silver screen. It’s not that scary now- today’s audience is too aware to be creeped out when Nosferatu appears and disappears, but the old fashioned over the top acting gets the spooks across. Greta Schroder’s wide eyes and biting knuckles look a bit silly, sure, but they also look like some genuine fright. Likewise, Max Schreck is still as oft parodied and played as Dracula. When we see a teen horror comedy with the dork in pointed ears and rat teeth, we always recall the classic clips from Noseferatu- certain scenes always appear in spoofs or vampire documentaries. Schreck’s stilted walk and claw like hands give the underside of those pretty, sexy vampires. We love vampire hotties like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, but people in early twentieth Europe feared unnatural and decrepit creatures like what Nosferatu brings onscreen.

Hyper audiences today won’t sit through the relatively short at 94 minutes Nosferatu, but classical music lovers ought to adore this and other silent films. Nosferatu’s score gives all the beauty and fear it needs to and then some. Music takes on the emotional workload for the lack of words, although public domain has given Nosferatu different scores, times, and dvd editions. Collectors have their pick of spooky versions to praise and powerful scores that tug at one’s heart strings. Rare editions of Nosferatu have become quite pricey, so why do films with only music to carry the visual lose the love? (Ahem, Dad!)

Once thought lost and destroyed, Nosferatu has also found its way to low budget videos and DVDs. Look for it on television late one October night or pick up the dvd in your store’s bargain bin. Many cheap collection sets exist with a dozen or more b horror flicks together. Check online for what’s available where. If you must give the tweens something worthy, try similar modern films like the 1979 Nosferatu remake and John Malkovich’s Oscar nominated turn in Shadow of the Vampire.

Just because something has shoddy effects, over the top acting, and no sound, doesn’t make it a bad film. Appreciate Nosferatu with a spot in your Halloween movie marathon.

15 October 2008

Dark Shadows: Bloopers and Treasures

Dark Shadows Bloopers Still In Good Fun
By Kristin Battestella

My father and uncle cringed when hoisting my heaviest trunk up my new condo’s steps, and my husband was downright appalled when he asked what was inside.
“My Dark Shadows tapes,” I told him.

All 42 taped off TV with their scribbled labels-some even with commercials! My mother was a fan growing up, so I saw reruns now and again as a child and spent most of my teen years thanking the Sci Fi Channel for airing the entire gothic soap series from beginning to end. My obsessions come and go, so I’ve never upgraded to MPI’s VHS series or the new DVD releases of Dan Curtis’ half hour daytime soap, which ran from 1966 to 1971. Every October, however, I get a hankering for Barnabas, Quentin, and that creepy theme music. Thus I rented Dark Shadows: Bloopers and Treasures.

Perhaps one of the most well known-if not THE most- known show ever for hokey production values, Dark Shadows episodes were taped live, with no time to correct mistakes, much less budget and technology of the day. Some of the bloopers presented are almost famous; the late Louis Edmunds as Roger Collins claiming, “Some of my incestors-incestors!-my ancestors are buried here.” There’s falling sets, name flubs, and just as many trick candles, cameramen, and boom mikes as there are cast members. Although some of the editing is poor, and a few of the mistakes presented are actually tough to spot. It would have been nice to have the segments divided and labeled or introduced by the cast. There’s no background music, but it’s neat that the goofs seemed to be grouped together by actor. Who’s the biggest culprit? I can’t tell you!

Dark Shadows - Bloopers and Treasures The music video segment opens and closes with some creepy highlight reels and poetry from Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, but of course we have nearly all the musical segments from the show. Both incarnations of Pansy Faye and ‘I Wanna Dance For You’; Quentin’s theme and the lyrics to ‘Shadows of the Night’; even a very young Nancy Barrett grooving it up at The Blue Whale.
This compilation dates to 1991 and 1992, but Lara Parker looks quite old in her newer In Salem segment. The witch history, locations, and guests are very interesting and go hand in hand with Dark Shadows’ resident witch-who’s also pushing a new DS novel. Unfortunately, the sound and editing is poor and tough to hear.

At least there’s great fun to be had in the game show segment, although I’d never heard of The Generation Gap. (The clothes! The Hair!) Jonathan Frid’s heartthrob cheers from What’s My Line and Alex Stevens’ removal of his wolfman mask on the same show is a delight. Joan Bennett needed no introduction on Line, and it’s sad her prolific work is not known to today’s audiences. Yet it’s amazing that there’s still treats like this to be discovered from almost a fifty year old show.

The promos segment is a little misleading, however. This is Dark Shadows Bloopers after all, so the promos-which were promoting MPI video, conventions, and Dark Shadows books- are instead a reel of slip ups with Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, and Jonathan Frid. Comedy Tonight turns the tables and presents Dark Shadows inquisitor Jerry Lacy as a vampire, and there’s even a commercial for Barnabas pillows. Alrighty then! There’s a separate section devoted to merchandise as well, including books by David Selby, and a very creepy trailer for the Dark Shadows audio dramas.

I was surprised to find this DVD widely available, although my VHS Dark Shadows Scariest Moments is just that, a VHS only. The menus and music are fun and user friendly, I like the jazzed up rendition of Quentin’s theme. Dark Shadows: Bloopers and Treasures is a must for fans young and old, but I don’t know its caliber as an introduction piece. Young folks might laugh and tune in or laugh and tune out. There’s plenty of DS material to be had for all: DVDs, books, even mouse pads from darkshadowsdvd.com. For some spooky fun, try Dark Shadows: Bloopers and Treasures one October night.

12 October 2008

The Visitation

The Visitation Gave Me Nightmares
By Kristin Battestella
The cover looked cool and it was quasi religious-that’s how we came to purchase The Visitation. Edward Furlong and Kelly Lynch star in the 2006 Independent thriller from director Robby Henson and novelist Frank Peretti.
Martin Donovan stars as Travis, a minister who has lost his faith since his wife’s murder. Fellow minister Kyle (Randy Travis) encourages Travis to get involved when strange sightings around the quiet town of Antioch occur. Mysterious prophetic men appear and disappear, and new veterinarian in town Morgan (Kelly Lynch) is healed. Her rebellious son Michael (Noah Segan) quickly falls under this powerful spell after a freaky near fatal car accident. When Brandon Nichols (Edward Furlong) finally arrives in Antioch, all the women in town fall into his group. But to Travis and atheist Morgan, Brandon is not the messiah he appears to be.
The VisitationIt wasn’t Furlong’s ambiguous portrayal that spooked me, but his here and there again disciples are the freakiest things since Julian Sands in Warlock. They kill Travis’ dog only to resurrect it; they give words of wisdom around town-not the help the people of Antioch, but to sway them in Brandon Nichols’ favor. When the trio stake’s out Morgan’s home , the window apparitions are downright creepy. My bed is currently next to my window, so the thought of sadistic long haired demonic angels pacing a foot away from my head definitely gave me a few bad dreams. Well…okay nightmares so bad I woke up with my heart pounding. Not a lot of films can do that!

Edward Furlong’s acting as the second coming in The Visitation, however, leaves much to be desired. He’s good at being bad, but Furlong doesn’t sell the charismatic leader well. He’s known as a Hollywood bad boy, so right from the start we know Brandon’s up to no good. After his true intentions are revealed, Furlong does little to gain sympathy for his character. His acting hasn’t grown much beyond Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but director Henson (Thr3e) smartly focuses elsewhere. Furlong isn’t the star of the film, Travis Jordan is. We relate to his story far better, and Donovan (Weeds) shows his angst well. We know his vibe; because he thinks something is fishy, so do we. Likewise, we understand Kelly Lynch and Morgan’s struggle and doubts. Traditional fans or country enthusiasts might wish to tune in for Randy Travis. The crooner’s portrayal of the Billy Graham like Pentecostal leader in town is steadfast as the voice of reason in Antioch. His character is integral to the film, and perhaps there should be a touch more of him.

The convoluted story in The Visitation, however, does need some fine tuning. We receive Nichols’ back story a little too late, but it’s double tied and redundant. We are meant to sympathize with him, but the herky jerky abuse flashbacks don’t plant the seed well enough for us to imagine the horrors endured. It’s as if screenwriter Brian Godawa thought something on Nichols was needed, but I’m not so sure it was.

Initially I thought this was a horror movie, so I was surprised to find it online in a Christian catalogue. Henson’s movie is about the awesome, tempting, too good too be true power of the devil, the costs of said power, and the dark half of human nature that Satan needs. Looking all bad and Warlocked on the outside, The Visitation is really a very serious religious film about faith. The moral dilemmas in The Visitation are swift and complex. Morgan is the anti-Christian who is saved by the Bible given to her from Kyle Sherman. When Travis is tempted by Nichols in his cultish revival tent, it’s incredibly easy to give in. Everyone else has, but Travis holds fast to his supposedly lost faith. Even when he discovers his wife’s murder is directly involved with Nichols’ plan, Travis does the right thing. Brandon Nichols, unfortunately, puts his faith in Satan and his spooky angels.

I would also label The Exorcist as a quasi religious film like The Visitation. As is the case here, we witness the deceiving power of the Prince of Darkness. Both films are equal parts horror and religion. Where The Exorcist scares you witless, The Visitation wins on what you can’t see. Contemporary Christian teens will love the struggles in The Visitatio and perhaps its source novel. The mock crucifixions, however, are too frightening for kids or prudes. The point here is your religious choice. Could Nichols have chosen Christ over the Devil? The Visitation makes the audience think on this also. Can we?

With precious little effects and solid acting, Henson puts out a serious moral film just as much along the lines of Elmer Gantry and The Apostle as The Exorcist. Henson could have easily created an effects laden gory, all the stops out, wow is the devil show. Thankfully, he didn’t. The Visitation is for horror fans, religious groups, devout young adults, and all the skeptics alike. Regardless of where you’re coming from, The Visitation is worth the watch-and the nightmares.

05 October 2008

The Amityville Horror (2005)

Latest Amityville Horror Worthy
By Kristin Battestella

I’m always weary of remakes. Until recently, I avoided the 2005 update of The Amityville Horror-I just liked the original too much to see it butchered into some new flash in the pan screamfest. Based on an actual Long Island murder and book controversy, director Andrew Douglas’ retelling deserves a chance from old school audiences.
Waiting alum Ryan Reynolds stars with Melissa George (Alias) as newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz. The couple pays a hefty sum for a to die for home in peaceful Amityville. Unfortunately, their dream home was the site of a gruesome murder the year before. The longer the family lives in the home, the more difficult their strained relationships become. Ghosts appear to Kathy’s daughter Chelsea (Chloe Moretz) and George moves into the basement-where voices tell him to harm his new wife and step son Michael (Jimmy Bennett).
I was impressed with Ryan Reynolds’ performance. After mostly hit or miss comedy roles such as Van Wilder and Just Friends, Reynolds toned up and grew a beard to enhance the creepy corruption of his character. Several key scenes with Jimmy Bennett are very near abuse and torture; Reynolds’ crazy demeanor and unkempt Manson look are absolutely believable. You have no doubt he means what he says and is physically capable of doing what the evil forces in the house want him to do.
The Amityville Horror (Widescreen Special Edition)After seeing Melissa George on the DVD extras, I was surprised to hear her natural Australian accent. Her American portrayal is spot on, and she is totally believable as the young wife and mother protecting her children. The behind the scenes features also detail a very complex scene involving little Chelsea on the rooftop. All the acting from the children is on form-not a whiny deterrence or humorous point as can happen in these modern horror flicks. They don’t look hokey, and in some scenes the kids genuinely look scared.
The setting, location, and the house itself are beautifully recreated here. This house is bigger than the original Amityville Horror sets, but this adds to Douglas’ spacious, encompassing, ominous feeling. Although one strike against the new production is the time period. The new script from screenwriter Scott Kosar (The Machinist) takes place in 1976, but several times I had to ask myself: this is the seventies, right? The hair, clothing, and props are more like the nineties revival of seventies style; the in vogue fashion for That 70’s Show. I am glad, however, that Douglas didn’t try and completely move the story and update everything to the present day. Forcing cell phones and computers into the mix takes away from the real spooky story.

Rookie director Douglas is quite fine. I could do without some of the herky jerky twisted evil imagery, but he answers the questions raised more with swift acting, tight action, and suspense that production tricks. In a lot of slasher flicks today, most of the boo moments can really be anticipated. Part of the fun in watching horror is predicting who will get axed when they go into the basement. Scream capitalized on this tongue in cheek aspect, but this Amityville gives you realistic scares where you least expect them. Most horror films are cut from the same cloth, but Douglas smartly uses that big house, chopping firewood, and lakeside location as the core of his emotional rollercoaster.
I liked The Amityville Horror, sure, but if Douglas and company try for a zillion other sequels, prequels, and remakes like the original franchise destroyed itself, I’d worry. Come one: Amityville 2: The Possession, Amityville 3D, Amityville: The Evil Escapes, The Amityville Curse, Amityville: It’s About Time, Amityville: A New Generation, and Amityville Dollhouse all mar the original film’s horrific visions. These downright bad sequels resorted to kinky gore and weak story connections. I hope that doesn’t happen to this psychological Amityville Horror. Douglas has a few essentially bloody scenes, but never loses sight that the plot is a family caught within a house’s evil.

The back story of the house’s possession is explained better here than in the Amityville 2: The Possession. Unfortunately it’s the documentary on the DVD that leaves me cold. Instead of a factual History Channel discussion or scientific analysis, the short fronts that old Sightings feeling. Old people saying “Oh! The house!”, a policeman contesting the family was crazy-they want you to decide the level of real haunt. At least the making of features and cast interviews are worthy.

The Amityville Horror probably shouldn’t take home any awards, and fans of the original might feel guilty or unable to let go of the 1979 classic. I do, however, urge those horror buffs to reconsider. Almost a homage instead of a disastrously cut remake, The Amityville Horror is an affordable DVD for your spooky movie night. Not recommended for children or the prudish, of course!

04 October 2008

Halloween Hits And Misses

Horror Hits and Misses For Your Halloween Marathon

By Kristin Battestella

Already thinking about what films to add to your Horrorfest viewing this fall? There’s plenty of classics or low budget, recent or hi tech spooky films for your enjoyment, so I’ll save some of my time and yours with a quick list here of films to avoid and horror flicks worth your time.

You’ve Lost Your Head If You Watch These

I’m not going to do full length reviews of these lackluster haunts.

28 Weeks Later-Very weak sequel follows stupid kids who ignore all the rules of a zombie flick and don’t even adhere to the science established in the first film.

30 Days of Night- Vampire comic book adaptation tries too hard at something new, again leaving obvious threads unanswered and cast looking stupid.

Alone in the Dark- Christian Slater as our hero and Tara Reid as the scientist versus monsters from video game, need I say more?

Darkness-Poorly done ‘American girl, in a foreign country, with a kid involved in the horror’ copycat.

I Know What You Did Last Summer- Guilty pleasure of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s boobs only. Oft imitated teen slasher style has not stood test of time.

Ring Around The Rosie- Tom Sizemore is creepy, but did we need another sisters reliving sex abuse horror flashback film?

The Reaping- What could have been a very interesting religious and horror thriller cops out with cults and evil kids.

The Eye- Another unfulfilled premise that somehow manages to work in a completely unrelated creepy kid (again).

Actually Worth Your Trick or Treat Time and Money

I’m hoping to get around to full fledged reviews on these, but here’s a few spooky recommendations.

28 Days Later- Intelligent zombie update adds social, science, and military commentaries along with fine action and effects.

11:14- Not horror per se, but a violent, creepy flick that weaves a cryptic timeline and makes the viewer think.

The Gathering- Not just another ‘American Girl in a foreign country with a kid involved’ tale. Religious implications and morbid philosophies add spice.

Shaun of the Dead- Laughter and wit mixed with emotional characters and honest relationships in a zombie flick? Yes.

The Number 23- Jim Carrey is delightfully twisted in this mind freaky and dark tale of obsession and murder.

Agree or disagree? Leave a comment!