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Friday, June 10, 2011

Ghosthouse (1988) Horror Ghost

Ghosthouse (1988) - A film that is not quite what you think, okay maybe it is but it is not half bad. The Ghosthouse in question in real life sits in the town of Scituate MA, it is the same house used for the bizarre "House by the Cemetery". Being set in Massachusetts there are some very recognizable locations in the film but lets start with the curse that begins it. In a good bit of writing the screenwriter keeps the secret of "why" a curse is formed in this house while leading the viewer in a particular direction holding back information. We do get the initial incident, a creepy music from a little girls clown doll. We hear the screech of a cat and the father searches for the sound. He is looking for his daughter Henrietta and finally enters the cellar and finds the killed cat. Henrietta is standing with scissors in one hand and the doll in the other. The father Sam Baker (Alain Smith) scolds her verbally assaulting her with religious rhetoric. Angered he tells her she must be punished and seals her in the cellar with no light. Is this girl a heartless killer? Upstairs in the kitchen the husband and wife worry about her. Then things get weird, the light bulb seem to start warping and expanding. Then it explodes, Sam starts cleaning it up, from behind him comes an ax. Has little Henrietta (Kristen Fougerousse) gotten out of the basement? Mom (Susan Muller) sees the mirror in her room warping as she stares it shatters outward and fills her face with glass. Screaming she does not even see the knife coming as it slashes her throat. Shift to a shot of the girl in the cellar. So she never got out, but what is happening here?
20 years later at Fanuil Hall Boston we watch Martha (Lara Wendel) move to a phone to call her boyfriend Paul (Greg Scott). It is a really out of place and meaningless scene but it introduces Martha and Paul. He is a ham radio operator and computer scientist and that night relays a story to her about a strange voice on his radio. We are lucky that it happens again that night while a recorder is handy. Paul insists he can figure out where the voice is from. It sounds like an emergency with the voice saying "Who are you? What do you want? For God's sake somebody help me. help. help.." Then he screams and we hear a second scream in a woman's voice. This mystery leads them to the house, the radio the message they recorded was in the attic. There is a bit of introducing characters here, Susan (Mary Sellers), Mark (Ron Houck), Jim (Martin Jay) and Tina (Kate Silver) are a group staying in a truck camper on the grounds of the house. They are on vacation the yard of the old creepy house just happens to be where they rented to stay? We also get to see the crazy grounds keeper name Valkos (Donald O'Brien) who scares Martha and then runs off into the woods. Jim is the owner of the radio and the voice in the recorded message but is clear that he did not send it. In fact he says he couldn't have because although he has the radio set up in the attic for better reception, he had yet to set up the antennae. While the guys are looking at things Martha hears that really creepy music and wanders to the cellar to find the source. The horror scene that follows is great and scary but no need to ruin it here with details. Needless to say when Martha screams everyone comes running. The group comes up with a plan to try to figure out the strange radio call and sure enough things are going to be bad. What they do is only important because it accomplishes getting the group split up. Susan, Martha and Paul are out away from the house couple miles listening to the radio while the others are back at the place. It sets it up so that in real time the recorded message can be played out. It is ghostly and we now know the original message was a premonition on tape. So with this development the idea of the supernatural events is cemented for the characters in the story. We as an audience already know the score and now just wonder why everyone keeps going back in the haunted fucking house. Both Tina (who is the scream on the recording) and Mark end up in the house during Jim's event. Valkos comes and I think it is his doberman who traps Mark upstairs while he tracks Tina down in the basement and tries to kill her with a butcher knife. She flees and is saved by Mark who got out an upper window, the crazy groundskeeper runs off and Mark pursues him only to be pitchforked in the barn. Luckily he also is saved by the returning Paul. WOW! Its not over though, Mark needs to go to the hospital and that means the group splitting yet again. This time the sedated Tina is being watched by Martha while the others take Mark to the hospital. Not to resist getting in trouble Martha just keeps going into that damn house. This time up to Henrietta's room. Searching through the toy chest she sees the creepy ass clown doll and is only saved from being choked out by it when Paul arrives back. This is some crazy shit but all needed to further the plot. You see when the police come the next day the story is about NOT believing a ghost story, but are believing the former mental patient turned grounds keeper is responsible for the shenanigans. The kids are all properly scolded and left to mourn while the cops clear out leaving the scene for the night. You would think that the cops would set a patrol car out there or something? Another night of trouble is in store as Martha and Paul race to find the resting place of the little girl and evil spirit doll. Back at the house the camper group is terrorized after the camper won't start. Each in turn are drawn back into the house and bad things follow. Without giving too much away let me say the gore factor increases as the camper group fights for survival in the Ghosthouse. Paul and Martha fight off Valkos while trying to destroy the corpse of the girl and doll. The Campers try to survive the ghostly terror of the house. We find out the origins of the curse and even get a freaky ending. Overall the acting is pretty poor in this with most of the crew having only this credit. I liked the writing and even with its many plot holes the film is a scary fun gory ride. Umberto Lenzi does a decent job directing with some great music by Piero Montari who appears to have worked mostly composing music for the porn industry. Writer Cinthia McGavin with Lenzi and dialog from Shiela Goldberg (although the dialog is the weakest part) should get some credit for telling a satisfying ghost story.
Rating (6.0) 5.0 and up are recommended in the Zombiegrrlz system I say Rent It!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

YellowBrickRoad (2010) Horror Haunted Forest

YellowBrickRoad (2010) - In 1940 the entire population of Friar N.H. dressed in their Sunday best and walked off into the woods. They left behind their lives and apparently their sanity. Later the army finds the remains of the frozen and murdered town folk. There is no explanation to why this happened but it is a mystery that has haunted our main character Daryl Luger (Clark Freeman). He is an academic and author who has waited for classified documents to declassified so he could research the mystery. With his wife Erin (Cassidy Freeman) friend and psychiatrist Walter Myrick (Alex Draper) a team is formed to find the trail the residents of Friar took. There group includes two cartographers, Melissa (Anessa Ramsey) and Teddy Barnes (Michael Laurino), an intern Jill (Tara Giordano), equipment guy Cy (Sam Elmore) and local who works her way into the group Liv McCann (Laura Heisler). This group finds the now available secret coordinates of the trail head are not so accurate. As they stand in front of the Friar N.H. movie theater The Rialto (In real life in Lancaster N.H.) they wonder how it could be that the information is so wrong. Lucky for them Liv is working that day and says she can show them where the YellowBrickRoad is. In her best (ugh.) Yankee accent she says she can lead the way. So our group sets out to answer the question of what happened 70 years earlier. It is not easy to make a "walking in the woods" movie exciting but the new film makers Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton do a fairly good job. Using the device of Walter doing psychological tests they create a way not only of breaking up the monotony of people hiking but also a way to show the breakdown of characters mental states as the film progresses. They introduce the idea that equipment such compasses do not work so well on this trail. It is a nice way to create a sense of dread since we as the audience know that things are not going to go well. It also creates a real need for our brother and sister cartographers who become to be the only link back out of the woods. So when an antique hat is found by Teddy and his sister is creeped out by it, their conflicts around it really create a group tension as everyone wants them paying attention and doing their jobs well, not fighting over a hat. The second thing and really effective movie making technique is the use of sound in the film. Early on out on the trail a weird soft 1940s music starts playing in the air. Everyone notices it and soon it is can not be ignored. As the film progresses the music gets louder until it is a queue for the audience as well as a irritant for the characters. As the mental states of the characters fray the music signals and creates stress. It is a nicely done piece of film making. The slower development of the plot is a throw back to times past maybe the 1970s. If only there were animals in it attacking them and we would have Day of the Animals, with music as the cause instead of the lack of ozone. Sorry really didn't mean to belittle this film with a DOTA reference. This film is genuinely scary at times and fairly effective in building tension even though it is just a group walking in the woods. In interviews the writers said they were creating a story with the "music as a ghost, and what that might do to the psyche". They I think were successful in that. Strange coincidence that the actress Anessa Ramsey was also in The Signal, another film that uses sound in unique ways. The last third of the movie is a wild ride with shocking and frightening outcomes. Unfortunately the buildup fails to do the most important thing in storytelling, which is to give answers to the question the movie posed. In this case the movie is supposed to be answering the question of what happened to the people of Friar and why? Sure you can watch the story of our current characters and feel the question of "what" is answered; We see what happens to them. There are still holes though, if you take this answer. If the music is a ghost and the cause of the breakdown of mental well being, then it could not be the determining factor in the original tragedy. Did they hear music from 1900? Was the original event the cause of this film's craziness? Then that does not answer the question of the first event. There is a need in storytelling to at least connect the points of a story, well maybe not if you are David Lynch but most people have to at least answer the questions asked by the film. This film fails to do this. We never find out why the people of Friar N.H. went off into the woods. We don't know why some were murdered. We could guess that the woods were always haunted and causes crazy behavior but really? It does not really hold up. Although in the current group's experience we can know for a certainty what happened to them, but why is still a bit foggy. Then there is the final scene which may be an ode to some other film but, can't really say it made much sense. So overall it is a "still recommended" for this film, the mood and the filmmaking was good enough to hold attention. If a bit more time was spent getting the script to complete the story arch of the 1940 residents of Friar and the film would have been complete. The warning must be made though, if you are a person who yawns at slow building stories this may be a problem for you. ... Rating (5.2) 5.0 and up are recommended, In the Zombiegrrlz system, Go see it and support independent horror!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Rammbock (2010) Horror Zombie Infection

Rammbock (2010) - My daughter and I got to see this short, 60 minute feature at a midnight showing at the AMC Loews Boston Common 19 theaters. This opportunity to see a small film that otherwise we would never see was welcome. The coming attraction for YellowBrickRoad opening June 3rd also looked good. To make up for the short run time there was a funny intro film about what to do if a zombie is in the theater. I looked for a link to it but could not find it. It was not hilarious but certainly amusing.Rammbock : Berlin Undead was a good little film. At its heart is a love story involving Michael (Michael Fuith) and Gabi (Anna Graczyk). She had recently dumped him but he was still hoping things would work out. To further this agenda he brings his copy of her apartment keys over to her place in the guise of returning them. Still the infatuated he spends time practicing the lines he will say to win her heart back. Unfortunately for him when he arrives at the open apartment she is not there. In her place is a plumber and his assistant Harper (Theo Trebs) who are working on her pipes, literally not figuratively. Worse yet is just as Michael arrives, outside a fast spreading virus is turning people into fast zombies, think infection like in 28 Days Later. The plumber crack and all suddenly becomes infected and it is all Harper and Michael can do to fight him off and close themselves in Gabi's apartment. These early scenes are pretty much the same as we have seen in other movies, like the above mentioned 28 DL, Le Horde and the excellent [Rec] and [Rec] 2. Still the scene are not without peril and much like every other movie of this type there is a need for the characters to expose themselves to even more danger than you would think necessary. Harper assists even though he knows it is a bad idea. There was a good piece early section of the film where the remaining unturned people are safe for the moment in their apartments and come to the windows to talk to each other. The layout of the building created a nice closed courtyard, which unfortunately had an open gate at the start of the film so there are lots of infected down below. The space this creates for communication is excellent and if more was done with it the film could have been that much better. Say if from one window the attacks on other apartments could be viewed. It could have been really cool but was only used briefly here. We get to meet some of the other survivors, seeing that the big guy with tattoos has already been bitten. Expecting that something was going to happen with this massive man who will turn there is a real sense of anticipation built.
Even with information on the radio and TV telling everyone to stay in Michael can't. Knowing he dropped his phone on the stairs when struggling with the plumber he has to go for it. Harper is creating weapons and all Michael can do is think about calling Gabi, he actually gives Harper a hard time for using her forks in his weapon creation. Again it is a positive that this theme of the love you can't let go of plays through the film instead of being dropped. Still in the early stages of the film the more predictable stuff is happening so of course when Michael is getting his phone it rings, attracting the infected in droves. They manage to barricade themselves in the bedroom but the rest of the apartment is lost to them and the infected know they are there.
Not to give away too much more of the story, but lets say that the strange and endearing parts about Michael's love continue and when the two guys have to break through the wall to the apartment next store they end up separated. Harper from his place figures out how to ward off the infected while Michael has a anticipated reunion. He eventually see the way out of the city but there is still some work to be done and some side stories before the final attempt to get to safety. The second half of this is fairly original and a cool little take on the theme that recently has been thoroughly explored. There is a space in this end of civilization film where lots of small stories can be told. No doubt workers in Boston and Cambridge have thought out there escape routes in detail, think duck boats. Wherever you live if this type of film is for you then you have your own scenarios in your head. This film does a decent job telling one of those stories. Could more have been developed in this one? Yes for sure but even so it is a competent entry into the genre. So some credit to be given to the filmmakers Director Marvin Kren and writer Benjamin Hessler.
Rating (6.3) 5.0 and up are recommended, in the Zombiegrrlz system Go Out and See It!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Priest (2011) Action Horror Vampire

Priest (2011) - Based very loosely on a Korean comic book created by Hyung Min-woo, Priest is a straight up action film with little depth but lots of CGI and fighting. The introduction done with comic art and voice over tells the tale of a long war between humans and vampires. Unlike the classical vampire these creatures are more like the creatures in the movie Alien. They are hive creatures with a community centered around a queen with many drones, monstrous and vicious and eyeless. They are stronger and faster than humans and it is unclear how we really won the war against them. It is true humans had the advantage of the sun, and then there are the Priests. The church, a future or alternate version of the Roman Catholic Church, recruited and trained a crack group of Vampire fighters called Priests. (or Priestesses for females). They seem to have their own set of superhuman powers. We see them jumping from great heights, moving really fact and fighting exceptionally well. It is unclear to this writer why they had these powers but maybe I missed the line of voice over that explains it away. It is the case that if you are not paying very close attention during the early part of the film some things could be unclear to you. The film is talky at the beginning to get everyone in the rules of the world but after that it is event driven. The plot points explaining the world are underdeveloped and it is a bit irritating. Why did the Church put the aliens, oops Vampires on reservations instead of killing them? I really don't understand; is there some reason these monsters were spared? I know they have some sort of hierarchy are they more intelligent than shown in the film? Why would they then allow themselves to become captures of their food source? The church after the truce disbands the priests and they have outcast lives in society. Why would you do that when your protectors are the only ones successful against the monsters? They played up the idea that because of winning the war and camping all the remaining vamps that the threat was gone. Since the priests are the heroes the church leadership felt threatened by their success and thus disbanded them. Since they had contained the vamps there was no threat there anymore. This is awful thin and I questioned it while watching the film. Also if the people knew the priest were the ones who saved them then why would they shun the priests after the war. The film makes a point to say society was not a place the priest could fit in and so they took the lowest of jobs. Is this a metaphor for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan? Oops, forgot this is an action movie there is probably no metaphor at all in it. So some years go by and the church is in control of society, in a direct rip off of the film 1984 the imagery of the a society control by a central power, in this case the church. I kept feeling that the leaders of the church were a bit odd in there approach to the priests. Here they have this controlled society all doing there confessions and prayers. Sure the priest were maybe a threat as the saviors of the wars with the vampires but there is never any detail given to what actions they took to be a threat. Just a given that they somehow could upset the order of things. We as an audience though have to see the priests as a bigger threat than the vampires. Even after reports of vampire attacks come into the church they refuse to accept that the vampires are again a threat and thus refuse to gather up their priest forces. This struck this writer as ridiculous. If the greatest threat to the society was the vampire I would think that those in charge could recognized it. They after all just a couple years earlier came close to losing it all. How could they in the face of another vampire war not see that as the greater risk. I was expecting more meet to this conflict also. It was given really short thrift and never we never fully see the motivations of the different factions. This is often a problem with action movies, they are lean with just enough information to move to the next action sequence. Not that there is no complexity to the plot, it is just that everything is very bare. In the opening we see the Priest raiding a vampire hive and the culmination of the set piece is that our main character Priest (Paul Bettany) is holding the wrist of his fellow priest but can not hold on as the vamps drag him into the dark. A trope or a cliche? I lean on the side of the cliche and expect to see the pulled away priest again. Later when the farm family is attacked and the girl Lucy (Lily Collins) is taken alive by the vampires, and the father is mortally wounded, you can bet they have some connection to our main character. We learn that the man is Priest's brother and the girl his niece, so now it is a personal story as he goes to rescue Lucy. Joining Priest in tracking the vampires is the boyfriend Hicks (Cam Gigandet) a local sheriff. Since the church does not want Priest taking this action they counter his move by sending four other priest after the men to stop them. Again to me a weak point in the script, they can't reinstate Priest but can do it for the four to stop him. If reinstating priests is such a risky thing then why was it so easy when it suited them? Priestess (Maggie Q) comes out after the Priest but instead of hunting him comes to help. Again in a one line of dialog her whole story is told and we know she loves Priest. It continues to go this way in the film, a line or two to explain something and then another action sequence. I don't want to go too much into the story which seemed poor to me. The film did the thing I least like about action flicks, big explosions and then the character standing up after being in them and shaking off the effects. No one important is even harmed by the massive destruction. Sure they have wounds but nothing like they should have received. It is why I don't like many action movies.

So the film moves to the stage where we learn what is on the line and a secret about little captured Lucy. Then the turn of who the leader of the vampires is. When the final sequence finishes you will be so ready to leave the theater. Set up for a sequel one could only wish never takes place. No really, never.

Rating (4.5) 5.0 and above are recommended, in the Zombiegrrlz system I would Rent it!