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Monday, May 27, 2013

Curandero (2005) Horror Satanic Cult

Curandero (2005)  - A complex and winding tale following an investigation of murders in Mexico. It is also a supernatural tale of the battle between good and evil. At the center of this story are two characters Carlos (Carlos Gallardo) and Magdalena (Gizeht Galatea). Carlos Guttierez is a reluctant Curandero, a spiritual healer in latino culture. He sort of inherited the power to see the signs of good and evil from his father Don Carlos (Jose Carlos Ruiz) but is reluctant to embrace the visions which can be quite disturbing. He is a man who while growing up saw the tricks of the trade when his father was casting out evil, or purifying a place for the locals and sees that a good deal of what was done is slight of hand and tricks. He chooses to limit the work he does in this field instead letting the other curandero in town Alex (Javier Escobar) take much of the work. His father only passed away a few weeks before and it is unclear if that is the reason he is passes on work or if seeing behind the curtain has made him too skeptical to be a curandero? Any way you cut it this is a guy who is very reluctant to wear the helm left by his father. When he does get pulled into the story it is with reservations and an attitude that the people who believe in evil are silly in their beliefs.
The actor Carlos Gallardo who is probably most famous for his first role as El mariachi in Robert Rodriguez's first film is calm cool and aloof in the role. He and Rodriguez have a history and since this film is written and executive produced by the Rodriguez, Gallardo steps in as a regular player in his films. It is also note worthy that this actor played God in the Soska sisters "Dead Hooker in a Trunk". Not that it has any bearing on this film just a cool connection since those girls are making so much of a buzz these days.This picture held out of the US market until this year can be found on Amazon Prime for about a 4 dollar rental. It may be other places for cheaper so shop around.
  Brought into a case by Federale Magdalena Garcia, a cop with a past tied to the Guttierez family. This story does not give you all the information all at once, in fact it is so densely plotted that it takes the full running time of 92 minutes to tell all the details. The case is a strange one, people have been going missing and the police finally get a break. An informant named Lopez is taken into custody and spills the beans on his leader known as Castaneda (Gabriel Pingarron). The police arrest the man and start to work there way through trying to identify the victims. Castaneda is a spiritual legend, a satanic cult leader of great magical power who is like the curandero gone bad. His drug cartel is using black magic to gain power. Even when arrested he is arrogant in his confidence and soon uses his magic to escape. This is what prompts Magdalena to seek out Carlos, the police station has had bad magic used on it and the police will not enter again until it has been purified. Since as a child she was helped by the elder Don Carlos (Jose Carlos Ruiz) she seeks him out again. Finding the son she hopes he can help which he reluctantly does.
  Now I can't spend a lot of time telling about the plot without giving away a lot of the wonderful twists and turns of this film. Every character is tied to the plot in a meaningful way. As a script is it really well written, but may suffer from being so well tied together that its all too neat and tidy. Now I liked this, the police chief and rival curandero play equally important part in the script other than to be counters to the main characters. Its well done in this way where we see as the film goes on that the connections between the characters also grow and fill in every possible detail of the story.
Carlos and Magdalena are connected through the real magic that the elder Don Carlos performed on the child Magdalena and witnessed by Carlos as a boy. That magic ties into the connection of Castaneda to Magdalena in such an unexpected way. Her bosses actions tie into the case and her connections to Castaneda. Carlos and his rival Alex meet in the story and we learn that the latter was a student of Don Carlos but he has been pulled to the side of the evil magic. Don Carlos himself is a known and respected curandero and his influence is not only known by Castaneda but those who are around him. In the end is a bigger story of an evil man looking for imortality, a younger man finding the power of good inside him and the continuing battle raging in the world between good and evil.
  I see that the movie only rates at about 5.1 on the IMDB site but only has three reviews. With one being a 1 star job pulling down the two good reviews, I guess you can't please all the people all the time. I found the film completely enjoyable. Not particularly scary but certainly very engaging. The director Eduardo Rodriguez does a fine job with the flashes of gore and integrating the visions of the curandero into the film. What starts out as little gory flashes of pain and suffering that Carlos sees when near crime scenes steadily grow as he embraces his role as spiritual champion of good. We are privileged to be introduced to the world of these psychics, who see bit of the world that live in the shadows of our souls. They when they choose can shine a light on us and in turn either help or leave us hindered by those corners of ourselves.
  If there is a weak area in the picture I would go with the use of musical cheap scares, I have never been a big fan of strong musical noises to get reactions. I find subtle undertones and themes that accompany the pictures are more interesting the the louder da da daaaaah approach. It is a personal preference but I was put off at time by the music that felt a bit too manipulative. The special effects are displayed well throughout this film, noiw not all the flashes of gory scenes made a lot of sense but I think they were intended to set a dark mood more than to tell the story. They did do that in spades, and I particularly liked the market scene where we are seeing Magdalena and the world through the eyes of the curandero.
  So if you are looking for a tightly written cop thriller packed full of the supernatural this is the picture for you.PS The room 217 reference was not missed by me.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Thale (2012) Horror Folklore Huldra

Thale (2012) - After seeing the very enjoyable Trollhunter (2010) the trailer for this film made me a bit excited. I was again going to delve into the folklore of Norway in the form of a film. In this case it is a story centered around the myth of the Huldra, sort of forest sirens who lure men into the woods and suck the life out of them.  Now I am finding my ability to put coherent thoughts together challenging today so I hope this does not meander too much. The movie itself is a bit of a journey, told through flashbacks and voice overs with a present that focuses on the two main characters as they sit around waiting. The story centers around a couple of crime scene clean up servicemen, Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold) who are out at a cabin doing their jobs at a messy murder scene. Finding a hidden room the two are surprised to find a beautiful young nude woman who they learn is named Thale (Silje Reinamo). She is not all there from what they can tell and as Elvis starts investigating the journals and tapes of the old dead man who lived there they discover something very surprising about her.
Slow to start in its development with the two workers appearing to be estranged friends. They have a distant yet friendly approach with each other that leads the viewer to believe they were once close. So part of the story is them moving past whatever has been in the way of there relationship and into a new place. Elvis even though he is at a crime scene is not as professional as Leo and thus touches way too many things. When he touches a pump that leads into a tub it awakes Thale the girl from the woods who is sleeping deep under some milky fluid. This changes everything, Leo has called in and Einer his boss is on the way with more men so the two workers must wait and watch Thale until they arrive. We learn a good deal about the back stories of the men, Elvis with a child out of wedlock he is struggling to support. Leo who has learned that he has cancer knows that the end is already just around the corner for him. 
  Through tapes of the old man and some rather unique telepathy between Thale and Elvis we learn her story. She is a Huldra who was found as a child by the old man. He kept her and raised her and saw her grow at a fast rate, in nine years she looks twenty. The man was some sort of doctor and did some rather cruel experiments on her trying to force her into human like form. The thing with the huldra is they can sense each other and the man tried to prevent them from finding Thale hoping by changing her he and his mysterious accomplices could study her. The creatures are adaptive and so Thale took on a human form except for her cows tale, and in the end though she was still a beast, stronger than a man and nonverbal.
  The myth in a modern story is an enjoyable way to learn about foreign cultures and this one although a bit slow in developing shows the viewer that the creatures may be changed but are still not human. Suppressing the nature of the beast does not take the beast out. In the myths the Huldra are irresistible and it is Elvis who is so taken by this beautiful creature. He feels a connection and when they touch he sees the past of poor Thale through visions. Even though it is quite obvious that the sisters of Thale, the ugly wild beasts roaming the forest are on the prowl for her the men are not at first aware adding an element of suspense. We learn all about the story behind the creature through the psychic flashbacks and the narration of the long dead doctor. It is a sad tale of a man who knows he has done wrong but feels like there is no escape.
  When the doctors associates capture the men the rest of the story becomes about finding Thale. He can't have any witnesses but since Thale went missing when the guys passed out there is time to interrogate them to find her whereabouts. The last part of the film is really cool and we learn what Thale can really do when pushed.
  A fine small film by Director Aleksander Nordaas with some good special effects about the only thing that is a bit off putting is the really happy ending. Still I really enjoyed the film even if it was somewhat one note in its approach, with soft whining string music setting a very melancholy mood for most of it. I am often very surprised at the quality and complexity of foreign horror. In the states so much of the horror films are a killer and a twist that it is refreshing just to see something you can say is original. This is one of those movies. While not for everyone, particularly if you like a quick pace it is a film I think is worth a watch.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Demon Kiss (2008) Horror Demon

Demon Kiss (2008) - Sometimes the choices we make turn out to be really poor. We have no reason to think they are bad, with limited information decisions can be made on a whim and then BAM! It turns out that you made a bad choice and things will never be the same. One morning a year ago I was driving to work and instead of going to my regular Dunkin Donut I decided the one on Main St. was closer and headed there. So I pull up to the light a hundred yards from the shop at the corner with Prospect ST. to wait for the red light to change. An aside if you turn down Prospect a couple blocks up is Carl's Steak Subs, which is just the best steak and cheese subs in that town. I prefer the Mexican, Steak, Red Hot Sauce, Jalapeno Peppers & Melted Cheese. So sitting at the light I had no idea that this was a bad decision, then BAM! somebody slams into the back of my car pushing me through the intersection. Even before I can come out of my daze, the car goes racing off and is out of sight on a side street. So my innocent need to have my coffee just a bit earlier ended up being such a bad decision. My car was totaled, but I was okay, I still got that coffee while waiting for the cops to arrive just because of a simple decision, a choice.
This is sort of how I felt after choosing this film, like I had been hit from behind without knowing it was coming. Sure I could have spent a bit of time looking into it before starting it up on Netflix. I just decided I didn't want to do my normal route of watching an episode of the X Files before work. This should teach me something about sticking to my morning routine. So I randomly chose Demon Kiss as the morning feature. A low budget movie about a Demon summoned into the body of a prostitute. Made for about 30k it is not the best filmed movie in the world. Note: I really only say it's not the best movie in the world when a movie sucks. I have this part of me that knows all creative endeavors take energy and planning and hard work and I don't want to shit on that part of the process just because I didn't like the results. Director Dennis Devine has been making low budget horror since 1989 and has more credits as a director (26) than you and I will ever have, so lets give him the respect he is due. He makes films something millions of us could never pull off.
 Now that we have given proper credit lets talk about this film. Lets start with some of the writing, Devine wrote the screenplay based of the ideas of Ted Chalmers and Annie T. Conlon and the first thing that was troubling was the real lack of a main character. Somehow the idea became not to base the film around the demon but instead on a Therapist Dr. Lacey (Sally Mullins) who specializes in working with prostitutes. Now they didn't show any long therapy sessions but they might have gone something like this:
"Dr. Lacey, I feel like they all treat me like a sexual object. It's like all they want is my body and they don't value me as a person."
"How does that make you feel?"
"Oh horrible, I feel so devalued and its makes me sad."
"Have you ever considered stopping?"
"Shit No, the money is too good."
"Tell me again about your step father touching you as a child, and then taking you shopping."
  It is a weird main character mostly because she really does not have a driving force when it comes to dealing with the demon. She is a periphery character who knows many of the prostitutes but only is brought in on the case by the police.  Still she is the closest thing to a main character and when it comes time for an exorcism she is there. So if she is not the main character then it must be the Demon, but the problem with that is the demon keeps switching bodies.
  Originally summons by a manic bald guy is the most inexplicable scene the demon never stays too long in one body. Let me paint this picture with a bit more detail. We have this scene where the bald guy has hired a hooker, Tiffany (Shannon Lee) so he can kill her and summons a demon. There is no reason why he is doing this, he just figures he will pay her a lot of cash to be cuffed and then stab her and read a passage from a book and Wham! a demon will enter his body. Again Why? Because he is so manic and crazy bat shit insane in his interaction though the girl turns the tables, but ends up cuffed to him instead of out of there. When the passage is read the demon chooses the girl to enter and the poor bald guy for all his trouble is stabbed in the eye as the sacrifice. So now we have a setup. There is a demon who can travel between bodies when they kiss and a therapist to the prostitutes that this demon is infecting. Then some cops who want to try to figure out why this hooker killed her John. So is the main character the demon? It has a driving force behind its actions. It's trying to get to another prostitute named Amanda but the reason for his desire is not really clear. There is some mumbo jumbo about a guy stalking Amanda who turns out could be the demon in the cop but there is nothing really tying in the how's on this theory. Then there is the Demon, even when  it possesses a person it seems to know everything about the modern world.
  Now Amanda (Jessica T. Perez) could be the main character I suppose but it is such a hollow character without any spunk that she fails to be the role we need. No one in particular is a main character but Dr Lacey comes closest. Unfortunately she is a peripheral character who is only brought into the story by the actions of others. The indirect connection but with interactions with prostitutes she seems the most likely candidate. What really happens is that there is no real strong characters.
  In the end though it really does not matter because so much of the acting is so sub-par. In particular the two cops are tough to listen too, Detective Smith (Jamie Macek) is the better of the two (that's not saying much) and spends a good part of the film possessed by the demon. The second guy Det. Gonzales (Sebastian Gonzales) is just awful, then there is Katie the psychic hooker (Sally Fay Dalton) who sees demons. Included oin this stream of horrible actors are all the real side character Johns and hookers who must have been friends of the film makers. Really dreadful acting to go with the canned acting of Sally Mullins as the doctor. So much is bad about this film. Most of the side character are really amateur and it really pulls the viewer out of the story. On top of the acting problems is that three of the characters look so much alike, Tiffany, Lucinda and the slightly more attractive Amanda.
  The film tries to make up for the lack of acting skills by showing quite a bit of female nudity and several inexplicably violent and hurtful murders. The attitudes and murders though are incredibly misogynistic performed by the possessed cop who helps spend the effects budget repeatedly.  So as the cop slash demon makes his way through one prostitute after another trying to get closer to Amanda. In the end though there has to be some sort of resolution. The way we get there is so convoluted and silly that if you make it into the last twenty minutes of the film without throwing something at the TV your disappointment will make an Angel in heaven cry. When Lucinda says "This Shit is fucked up." the unintentional double meaning is great. So you would think then the religious craziness starts! Dr Lacey then sets up the exorcist to solve the problems as they are. This movie is really not for me even with the demon possession and the exorcism it is all too bad. So when it comes to that ill fated choice. Where you are thinking, how bad can it be? I have nothing better to do with my Thursday night. Beware that choices have consequences and you too may get rear ended by your choice. It may be that most people will need to skip this movie and when they do they will be must better off.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Phantasm (1979) Horror Sci-fi

Phantasm (1979) -Writing about movies I have seen many times over the years is always a bit tricky. What is there to say about these low budget horror classics that has not been said?  Well one thing I can do is look at the year this film came out and reflect on my world at the time. 1979 was the year that the hostages were taken in Iran, I was in high school at Boston English High finishing up my sophomore year and when not in school hanging out in Byrne Park in Dorchester MA. It was a time when I did not go to the movies a lot but certainly went to the Neponset Drive In regularly, still I don't think I saw this film for the first time until VHS. There were quite a few more popular horror movies that year so I am sure this would have been low on the priority list anyway. Let's see do I go to see Amityville Horror, or Phantasm? Alien or Phantasm? Hell The (friggin) Warriors came out that year and parents all over the place were up in arms thinking all us teens were going to put on stupid matching outfits and commit crimes. I remember every time someone got knifed or beat up a new wave of news reports tried to connect it to this insidious movie that was corrupting our kids.
This picture would be a hard sell that year with the theaters being filled with viewers for Kramer vs. Kramer, Apocalypse Now, Rocky II, Being There, Star Trek The Motion Picture all vying for the spotlight. Did Kramer vs. Kramer really beat out Apocalypse Now for Best Picture, WTF?  I remember it as the year Bo Derek filled are adolescent minds with masturbatory glee appearing in the Dudley Moore comedy "10". I was not yet in tuned to the fact that adults were spending hard earned cash to see the dreadful Caligula that year although kids at the park talked about it quite a bit.  Even in Horror and sci-fi imagine releasing your $300k film with the previous mentioned classics that came out that year. Not that there was a glut of great horror, for every Alien there was a "The Brood" or "The Black Hole". Phantasm sat on the outskirts as it probably should have and although i remember kids talking about the metal sphere in general I don't think I remember a lot of buzz around this film although I think there must have been because the film did do well at the box office earning 11 million dollars. There is the great poster though and the tag line "If this one doesn't scare you, you're already dead." I think as years have passed its reputation has grown, to now where it is considered a classic.
The story of this film being made really is a classic small time movie story. Director Don Coscarelli came up with the ideas in Phantasm initially after having a dream about being chased through corridors by a metal orb. Building on this idea while staying at a creepy cabin in the woods. The isolation was key in his development of the story. At age twenty two be had already made two features films but this was the first horror film. Using actors who primarily have played roles in his first films he brought together the movie doing most of the work himself writer, director and cinematographer. His father raised money for the feature and his mother Kate Coscarelli, a best selling author did the makeup and later wrote the novelization of Phantasm.
  It is a really strange tale from beginning to end, starting with the cemetery scene where Tommy (Bill Cone) is getting laid by the Lavender Lady (Kathy Lester) and we see her raise her knife and plunge it into him, then she flashes no longer a woman but instead the Tall Man. The movie settles a bit as we see the funeral of Tommy at the Morningside Mortuary and we are introduced to the characters and the main characters. It is a story of two brothers who have recently lost their parents. Jody (Bill Thornbury) the older brother is a young adult taking care of his thirteen year old brother Mike (A. Michael Baldwin). Jody is thinking he has no real connections anymore to the area and might drop the kid at an uncles and head out on the road for awhile. Mike on the other hand is having the anxiety of losing the last person who means anything to him. He has taken to following his older brother around, never letting him get too far away. Mike is being forced to grow up too fast and face a reality he is too young for. The death of Jody's friend only strengthens the feeling of disconnecting from the small town for the older brother. It may just be a matter of time before he hops in his kickass 1971 Plymouth Barracuda and heads out on the road.
  A funny thing happens on the way to that decision though, there are strange goings on at the Morningside cemetery and mortuary. The head employee, The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) seems to be one scary dude, with supernatural strength and a creepy look. Then there are the little robed figures running about here and there. Never fully in view the main characters keep hearing them and catching glimpses out of the corner of the eye. Mike suspects very quickly that there is something going on up at the Morningside that he has to find out about and that investigation gets him, Jody and their friend Reg into a story that is out of this world.
  Besides the great portrayal of The Tall Man by Angus Scrimm is some of the hokey fun special effects. At the local psychic is the box that appears before Mike from nowhere. He gets to cut off a bunch of fingers and ends up with a twitching one he keeps in a box, only to have it turn into a red eyed fly. Then there is the unforgettable element of the effect, the flying sphere. Iconic at this point is its metallic whir and sharp blades. It is designed as a defense mechanism for the mortuary. whipping round the corriders looking for a head to impale. When it does the exceptional weapon is not done, as a drill burrows into the head and blood flows out through the backside of the orb. This is such a great effect.
  As we learn about the mortuary and the doorway it contains to another world we have the suspense amplified by the great tonal soundtrack that just hums the entire movie. It is moody and exciting and really makes the film so much more a horror experience. When we learn the full story that the mortuary connects to an alien planet and the Tall Man is taking the dead from earth, squashing them down into the little robed figure we have seen and using them as slave labor our minds have been blown. All the while the personal story of the two brother keeps us grounded in the reality of real lives and problems. It really is quite the little film. I never saw that story coming.
 There are several different ending to this film that were all shot but then a decision to go with Mike and Reg talking about the death of Jody was decided on. It is a bizarre twist of an ending that if you like it it is great, but if you don't you are sorely disappointed.  In a the alternate endings, one has The Tall man being hanged and another has him being sprayed with a fire extinguisher and dissolving / exploding into green goop. In yet another part of which was used in this film we see Mike at his brothers grave and as the camera pulls back we see another funeral in the cemetery and leading the service is The Tall Man. They settled with him waking from a dream and being comforted by Reggie, and the Tall Man ultimately being victorious.
  Anyway you take it this is a film that every horror fan should see. Is it the greatest film in the world? No it has some real flaws but it is original and with characters that you will remember long after the film stops. So much of horror is retread stories told a different way but here you have something unique. It mixes science fiction and horror and comes out like no other movie. knowing the way Hollywood works I would not be surprised if a remake was already in the works. Trust me though the original film is worth the watch.