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Friday, March 20, 2015

Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps (2010)

Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps (2010) - Switzerland's first genre film? What a horrifically sad tale this film is. The characters who are victims are helpless to stop the circumstances of their demise and it is heart wrenching to watch. The film is one that straddles the line of horror being horrific but not entertaining the audience with horror movie tropes. More of a drama mystery with some horrific behavior by characters and devastating consequences for all involved. This is not a film for people sensitive to the abuse and exploitation of women, as there are some very graphic abusive situations with very limited nudity. The stories behind those abuses are told unflinchingly told to tell a tale of tragedy in a small mountain village. It is full of secrets to be revealed and further tragedy to the inhabitants as it plays out in long flashback until the viewer has the full story. Very well made holding each turn close to the vest and springing it with effective flourish the film is worth the view but at times is also hard to watch. It opens with the discovery of a body in the mountains near the village 30 years after the event. Lead to the remains by a ghost of Albert (Joel Basman) a little girl finds his skeleton while hunting for mushroom. When she identifies him in the list of missing persons for the area the police are confounded. It has been thirty years since he vanished, how could a little girl recognize him? They chalk it up to it being a kid but the stage is set to tell a story. Since the story is based on a German legend it is good to add the early supernatural bent to set the table for what is to come. Smart writing makes it so much easier to slide into the tale and this film does a nice job of it.
  The legend of the title is one that is believed in the alps of Switzerland and Germany by shepherds and dairymen. Lonely men would create create a straw doll women that would be their companion in the lonely hours in the high pastures, talking to, dancing with and sleeping with the doll. In the wee hours of the morning it is believed that the doll would come to life, She would retaliate for any wrongs done to her by the man and he would be obliged to stay with her and there is the idea that she could rip the skin from his body for any crimes committed against her.
  The main story takes place in 1975 in the village and above at a farm in the Alps. A beautiful setting with vibrant cinematography makes the film visually compelling. The wide shots with deep fields of vision add a real sense of isolation when they are in the mountains. The story begins in tragedy with the suicide of the young priest in the village. The villager a superstitious group feel the weight of his death as a curse. The local policeman is Sebastian Reusch (Nicholas Ofczarek) and he is not going to let local's beliefs stop him from doing a proper investigation into the young man's death. Then there is the first turn of the story. While the funeral procession returns from burying the man a young woman (Labelled in the film credits as the Sennentuntschi (Roxane Mesquida)) wrapped only in a blanket collapses at the back of the line of people. Reusch is there to help and collects her. The villagers seeing the stranger and lead by the head priest are immediately suspicious of the stranger. Reusch now has a dual storyline of finding out the story of the young priest's death and figuring out who this strange beautiful mute girl is. Opposition by the priest and villagers to his investigations are the main obstacles for him in the film.
  The second storyline, this one a flashback from days before Sennentuntschi enters the village and is cared for by Reusch, centers around a goat farm high above the village where farmer Erwin (Andrea Zogg) has taken a volunteer from the city to help in in his summer chores. Martin (Carlos Leal) is a man with a cloudy past who is running away from the city with the law at his heels. An alpine farm is the perfect place to get away from the heat. Those two along with the farmers mute nephew Albert are the focus of the legend. After a night of drinking Absinthe they build a woman doll and dance and party all night. The arrival of Sennentuntschi to the farm makes them think that the legend is more than a tale.
  Slowly through the twist and turns of either following these to plot lines we learn the full story of the girl and how she came to the farm and then to the village. The suicide of the priest is a story that also gets resolved as well as learning of the darker side of small village life. Finishing with a tragic flourish before returning to the present day of the movie book ending a really good but sad tale. Being a mystery talking about the plot too much will ruin the film. A film has again shown us why going to or living in a small isolated place is not a good thing.  Secrets in these places are protected to the end of time and those who would expose them put themselves in peril. Seek this film out  and see how a good mystery is put together. Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Blood Sisters (1987) Horror Slasher

Blood Sisters (1987) -The film starts setting up the killer as many a horror movie does. A small boy is traumatized by a little girl, with her making fun of him. See she knows that the boys Mother is a prostitute in the local brothel. The boy runs away from the taunting. Goes home and shoots his Mother to death with a gun that is way too big for him. This is especially important information about the killer when we jump forward whatever number of years to when he is an adult and again free in society, Edmonson College 13 years later. We see pledges getting ready for their final task for Cappa Gamma which is to spend the night in the house where the murders took place. Nothing good will ever come of this but that is what makes it a horror film. Pretty standard fare for a slasher at first I thought there were some high ideas to be explored in the film but the cut was bad. Then I watched the interview with veteran Director Roberta Findlay and she basically said she threw this film together on the quick to avoid a tax penalty. It shows in the film with a couple different tracks the plot takes and some of the ideas never being fulfilled in the film.
There are a couple things we can learn from this movie and horror in general. If the killer is a traumatized child and it is years later but we never are shown the killer, then the killer is someone we have seen in another role in the film. Stealing from the great psycho this killer is seen in bits, a hand here, a back there but never fully seen. Women's clothes are in frame sure but since we sort of know it was a boy that killed his Mom we know this is to throw us off the track. This blocking is to have a big reveal at the end of the film and chances are the killer is one of the cast who has been introduced earlier in the film. So who will it be. Well since the victims will be women we can safely go with the men that leaves it to about four people. So which of them is the secret crazed killer? The second thing we can be sure of is that each of the girls will have a trait to define them. Linda (Amy Brentano) the sorority's head is dating the football player John (Brian Charlton Wrye).  Make a point at identifying the Jewish girl, Bonnie and there are several jokes she makes to make her look stupid. There is also Diana flirtatious one, Helen the cautious on,Cara is the psychic one, etc etc.
Guys had set up a whole lot of gags in the house to make it spooky, skeletons, and a coffin and some prerecorded noises. They are played to be buffoons and are played by the actors more for laughs with lines like " Eat my shorts tampon breath." One is a bit jumpy thinking the house is haunted. Played for comedy there is a whole sequence getting Larry more and more scared until he leaves. The girls for their part will be creeping around in the dark on a scavenger hunt.
 The girls are blindfolded and driven to the house. Instead of using the scene to really accomplish something the director is happy to let it be filler with meaningless gabbing. So they arrive and the killer up in an upper window moves a curtain so we will know that he is there.
  So you would think this is all a setup for your average slasher. Problems with the script though have the story going different directions so it never quite gets there. Early on there are visions of ghost, primarily seen by Cara but then mirrors also flash back to scenes of the past. What is frustration is those parts never really play a part in the plot. The characters don't react to the ghostly apparitions in any meaningful way. They don't really add any depth to anything we don't already know about the house's history either. The spirits don't threaten or interact in anyway with the girls so they are wasted.
  The killer returns to his childhood home theme is filled with references to Psycho. The kills are not particularly graphic or suspenseful and there is no final girl. Oh and the cops in the New Jersey town are the worst cops ever, brushing off the last victims story of murder so casually you would think the production ran out of money the day they were shooting.
  So in the end this is not a film that is worthy of a recommendation.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Exists (2014) Horror Bigfoot

Exists (2014) -  A weird mix of stupidity and contrivance works to make this poorly shot Bigfoot movie less than enjoyable at times. Okay that is a bit harsh but this viewer is tired of the shitty camera work as a way save money, pretending it is a do it yourself  film while disregarding the contrivance whenever convenient. GoPro cameras,  a camera centric fifth wheel make for the filming all the time and shaky views of the monster. Structurally the script is so well worn that most of the beats can be predicted with ease.starting with the stupid opening fact that "Since 1967, there have been over 3,000 Bigfoot encounters in the U.S. alone." which is ridiculous since Bigfoot has never and will never exist. Still tell yourself to suspend disbelief and the fact still seems completely wacko. It was nice to here when listening to the commentary by Director Eduardo Sanchez and screenwriter Jamie Nash that this was completely made up. So silly but this is what you get from a monster movie like this. Like Nash I grew up in the 70's and I did spend my share of time as a junior High student reading about the urban legends of the United States. Bigfoot was a big part of that but critical thinking and education can make anyone acknowledge the poor basis for the myth. Suspend disbelief...This is going to be a weird review because although I was not thrilled with the well trod story or the filming technique, I do like a monster movie so I was left with mixed feelings.
  Five friends head to uncle Bob's hunting cabin in east Texas, off the grid and without anyone knowing they are going.  The slow motion opening scenes with the friends on a road trip works to establish them as out to have some fun. Little do they know the hunting is not done by the people visiting the cabin but instead by the Bigfoot that lives in the area. The two brothers Camera guy Brian (Chris Osborn) and Matt (Samuel Davis) know the stories of the cabin but being dangerous but just don't believe the stories. So Matt with his brother and girlfriend Dora (Dora Madison Burge) as well as couple Todd (Roger Edwards) and Elizabeth (Denise Williamson) drive out to the remote place for a weekend of fun. Recording it all is Brian with his multiple cameras which we have to guess is the footage the film is put together from.
  After hitting a creature on the drive in, they are terrorized by one throughout the movie. The normal setup of playing with toys, swimming and being amorous set up the spotting of the monster and then the couple nights of terror when Bigfoot decides a house won't stop it from getting the group. Escape plans are tried and in the end we have watch as the members make a desperate attempt to flee the area. The film feels inevitable throughout with the group seemingly over matched by the creature. The poor decision making alone almost dooms the group as they fumble through the nights with the Monster hot on their heels. Then there is the fact that an over 6 foot creature is a borrowing animal with a dug out lair? That does not really make a lot of sense. Still this film is about a monster coming after people and creating a body count. It accomplishes that and there is some taught thrilling scenes.
  Not an enjoyable viewing experience there is way too much night vision shaky cam. The viewing is just not very good. Directed by Eduardo Sanchez who also is responsible for the Blair Witch Project is improved in the quality of camera and the editing of the handhelds and mounted units but fifteen years and still using a really tired technique that is past its time. In the commentary he says that it was not going to be so but they felt because how people have reported sighting of Bigfoot it made sense. Not a lot of the film is actual GoPro footage but the impression that it is is used throughout the film. So they could have made a good looking well filmed film with the equipment they had but chose to make it look cheap and unprofessional. That is even more disappointing to know.  So it is a movie shot by the characters but it is not a Blair Witch, the classic found footage. There is a score that actually adds some depth to the film.
  On the positive side if you can get past the film making you do have a Monster movie where the monster is seen and active throughout the film. My prediction early on in the viewing was correct and that was a bit disappointing. Brian's filming his friends death instead of helping was particularly tired. How many times since Sanchez's first hit have we seen this? As well as the surrender scene fuck that bullshit. The film somewhat passable in it ridiculousness will probably be cool to some youngsters. This jaded viewer is left feeling like this kind of movie is really no longer something I enjoy viewing.
The film as a whole is not bad it builds nicely from the car strike, to finding footprints, to the monster closing in on the characters. It goes somewhat quickly to action which saves it and gets it a recommendation from this blog.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Shrine (2010) Horror Demon

The Shrine (2010) - The film opens with an American traveler strapped down and then brutally sacrificed in a ritual. That quick little start without back story or character development is all that is needed. The next sequence explains it all and sets up the film including the character development needed to get the players where they need to be. Carmen (Cindy Sampson) is an aspiring journalist at a small paper  who has been shunted to the community interest section after stepping on too many toes. She is driven, the kind of reporter who does not give up on a story and this gets her in trouble. It has also strained her relationship with her boyfriend Marcus (Aaron Ashmore), a photographer who wants her to be more present in their relationship when they are together. Carmen not excited about writing about missing bees works in secret with her intern Sara (Meghan Heffern) on a story about missing travelers in Europe, explaining the first scenes. She and Sara recruit Marcus to travel with them to Poland to investigate the area our opening scene victim vanished. Armed with his journal and a whole lot of moxie the trio do one of the scarier things for most Americans, they head to a foreign country to an area where they will not be welcomed. This outer threat is a good way to put the audience on edge.
  Eric Taylor the hiker who disappeared mentions in his journal that there is a strange fog near the village he was visiting at the time of his disappearance. With this knowledge our leads know they are in the right place. The initial trips into the fog were great creepy things. The statue a demon holding a heart is well designed. Carmen after venturing into the fog to find Sara comes across it and there is a nicely chilling scene of her investigating. Both Sara and Carmen make it out of the fog separately and both have seen the statue. This is significant that the two women see the idol but not Marcus and as the story progresses it all becomes clear.
  Children leading you around in a strange place where you can't speak the language should be frowned upon whenever traveling. Our group fresh from the fog are lead by the little girl Lidia (Julia Debowska) to the body of the missing hiker. Going down the dark shed to a place where they could be trapped is never the smart thing.
"Hey guys Eric has to be in one of these"  (didn't like that line)
 They find him and he has a mask with the same symbol of the church. Lidia vanishes and locked them in. The scene does a few things which is always a positive thing in screenwriting. First it reconciles the search for the hiker, he is found and the group can report him dead. Second it adds knowledge about the mask; it attaches to the face deeply so its a spiked mask like in the great film Black Sunday (1960). In that film the masked placed on a witch played by Barbara Steele as a why to trap her evil spirit in the body. Knowledgeable film goers now have a hint about this film. Third it keeps the players in one place long enough to allow the townspeople to catch up to them, making the next chase scene possible. This really is how to approach screenwriting, make your scenes settle something, give some new information and set up something. I always appreciate it when this happens and this film is smartly written by Jon Knautz.
The capture sequence includes another thing I liked but may have accidentally foreshadowed the outcome for some of the character. Carmen apologizes 40 minutes into the film usually that does not happen until it is too late. So what will happen to Carmen. hmmm.
Some of the village back in time things is also a bit weird. I get that these are people who want to stay out of the larger world. They have a secret to hide and don't want strangers coming around. Still some of the clothes and technology implies they never have contact with the outside world. One would imagine there is still need for commerce. Some interaction with the world have to be possible. There is after all a government in Poland. Why is Henryk (Trevor Matthews) using an antique cross bow?
  Brought to the priests, who stares them down. I like that all the polish and there is no translation so they really do not know what is going on. The girls separated from Marcus are brought back down underground and are stripped of their cloths (awful lot of ripping there) so sacrificial dresses that match the coffin people can be put on them. Sara is brought to the alter while Carmen is caged. There is another really good thing going on here as we see Sara the first into the fog is having some really creepy hallucination. The change in her was signified by her vomiting which also foreshadowed the same problem for Carmen.  Set up like poor Eric from the opening she sees monster faces around her Now we see a fuller view of the mask and its worth the wait. We are also starting to understand what is going on. While this is going on Marcus gets to dig his own grave, one of the villagers is questioning their behavior. There is some doubt for the first time that not everyone agrees with there actions.
Slamming spiked masks onto people is really not the way to attract tourists. They will fight back and this is what Marcus does. He manages not only to free himself but Carmen too. Now we are primed for the final sequence. Carmen is throwing up and hallucinating, something in the ether? Chosen so now her body is getting ready? Shouting in English to people who don't understand it is always something that never works. Carmen is seeing demons now so I don't think she is getting out of this. Carmen is freaking out a bit while Marcus is trying to get the keys to a families truck. Shaking house and demons with everyone she looks at. Little kid says she has seen the statue which I am not sure needed to be revealed. At this point the astute audience member could be piecing it together. but I guess the writer felt it was not clear enough. So seeing the statue is what causes the hallucinations and as we see a lot more.
 Significance of rain brings the final third of the film, a classic trope that I notice every time it is used.  The final scenes fighting the demon are great for not being in English.  Really a strength of the film to leave the characters guessing through their circumstances at what they should be doing or trying to relay to those around them. The good demon fight at the end with casualties and close calls all around was really enjoyable.   Henryk who to this point seemed like an antagonist finishes it with Marcus help. The storm ends and the plot is finished.  Next day we learn that Henryk  knows some English and I am begging the screen for him not to try to explain to Marcus about the fog. I have all I need in this story. It is complete and I get it. Let there be a bit of mystery. It is good the explanation was short and in broken English saving me from ridiculing the ending. It is painful when a plot must be was felt to need an explanation when it is over. That should have happened during the film. In this case it was short enough not to detract from what was an enjoyable film. So Even though the IMDB is a bit hard on this film only a 5.6; I give it a hardy recommendation. There is a lot in both the writing and directing by Knautz that really works well. The acting is good and the story very well drawn.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Hunger (1983) Horror Vampire

The Hunger (1983) - When I realized I did not remember this movie from the year after I graduated high school it was a fine reason to revisit it. I know I have seen it but where? Sometime in the mid to late eighties I started watching a lot of VHS and with that most of the horror movies I had missed the decades before. So probably this is the time period. This film stylishly executed by Tony Scott is an example of a film with a rich design but with just something missing either in the script or the execution that keeps it from being a great movie. It certainly had star power with the lovely Catherine Deneuve playing the lead Miriam Blaylock. A beautiful and wonderful actress she pulls off a complicated role in the film as the Maker vampire with a compulsion to not be alone. She is known for her roles in Repulsion (1965), Dancer in the Dark (2000) and 8 Women (2002). David Bowie as her companion John is pivotal as the made companion who sees his time coming to an end. Susan Sarandon as blood doctor focusing on anti aging,  Sarah Roberts who may hold out a bit of hope for John and Miriam. Director Tony Scott was at the beginning of a long and successful career that is still going strong today. This is the film before his first giant hit Top Gun (1986) and he certainly shows in this film he has some chops. Later he would have many more hits, Beverley Hills Cop 2 (1987), True Romance (1993), Crimson Tide (1995) Man on Fire (2004) and Deja Vu (2006). Maybe not giant hits but worthy films. I like Denzel Washington so several of his films fell into that ball park. It was also funny to see a young Willem Dafoe in a bit part at the beginning of his career before he killed it in Streets of Fire (1984).
  The story is a bit of a sad one, Miriam is a vampire from ancient Egypt who has survive the years of loneliness by creating companions through blood exchange. The problem is that after a couple hundred years the companions suddenly and rapidly age until they are husks of themselves. Still alive but not able to interact with the world they are confined to an eternity in coffins Miriam keeps in her house. Unable to bring herself to destroy the companions she loves she really makes them suffer a fate worse than death. She really is a sick character, not only does she never relinquish her hold on her rotting lovers but she grooms the next knowing that the aging is coming. In this film there is a fourteen year old girl Alice (Beth Ehlers) who she and John teach classical violin to. It seems like a way for the couple to interact with the world around them until you realize that Miriam has that girl targeted as her next companion. The creepiness factor of the film goes way up with that realization.  
  John knowing that his rapid aging is beginning seeks out Dr. Sarah Roberts who is working in the field of aging but is unable to get much help from her before he too is so decrepit that he is boxed in the attic of the lush apartment. This is after he makes one last ditch effort to save himself by feeding on young Alice killing her in the process. A nice subtext is going on in this scene where he knows his fate. He has seen the boxes in the attic. He also knows that Alice is his replacement so to kill her also is a stab at Miriam who had promised him they would be together forever. Taking out his replacement is a wonderful passive aggressive expression of the anguish he must be feeling about being replaced.
  Sarah comes into the story after John has been boxed, having been unable to help him she wants to check up on him. Unfortunately for her Miriam is now looking for a new companion, it speaks to the vampires character that the thought of even a day without a loving companion is more than she can tolerate. She seduces and does blood exchange with Sarah in a love scene that is all style. Primarily this turn in the film gives the film a way to end. Sarah after the afternoon tryst begins transforming and in the process is examined by her doctor friends. This leads to the idea that the vampire blood in her system is fighting her own for control of her body. The inverse would also be true if enough human blood was introduced into the vampires system.  So when the final confrontation between Sarah and Miriam happens the dreamlike scene that occurs can make sense.
  There is a final scene with Sarah appearing to be the main vampire in another city, the haunting sounds of Miriam moaning in a box in the apartment does not make a lot of sense. So I did a bit of research (thanks wikipedia) and read that the scene was added later to make the possibility of a sequel more viable.  In the end this is a bit of a slow burn film full of mood,  odd angled shots and a dreamlike quality that could have used more of the outside world to break up the monotony of the sad lives of the characters. I can recommend it as there is some really well shot sequences that are worth seeing. If though you are easily bored this may not be the picture for you.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Open Windows (2014) Thriller

Open Windows (2014) - Sasha Grey is actress with an attitude Jill Goddard. Star of Dark Star: The Third Wave she is a sought after woman by fans around the world. One lucky fan Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood) thinks he has won a dinner with the actress but unfortunately the contest had been cancelled. Sadly he traveled all the way to Austin TX to have the meeting but is left hanging. In his hotel room he is contacted through his computer.  A hacker or some sort of guy on line gives Nick the opportunity to see the through all the devices at the convention. So Nick is hacking into the life of the actress after she cancelled his prize. One of the funny lines early in the film is that Jill Goddard has never shown her breast while we all know in real life that Sasha Grey made her name in porn. Not to disparage Miss Grey as she makes valid effort at leaving that behind and make her name as a non adult film actress but it a funny tongue in cheek reference.
The film very quickly goes from being a hacker helping a jolted fan get some spy time, to a weird and twisted and not believable thriller.  The technology being displayed early in the film is so unbelievable with access to all things around Nick. Chord (Neil Maskell) the voice on the other side of the is a hacker extraordinaire and leaves Nick set up to watch Goddard in her hotel room has a choice to make. He can or can spy if he wishes without anyone knowing. She is meeting her agent and lover, what will Nick do? You also have to mix in a wild card and in this case there are another group of hackers trying to impress Chord by cutting in on his feed. Only the thing is that Chord is already off  line so the guys are just talking to Nick. The situation gets set up where Nick is following directions and what seems like being played. Early in the film you have to think that this is an elaborate stunt being played on Nick by the movie people. There is too much already set up for the events to be anything but that. They have to jump through hoops to allow us to be able to suspend disbelief. They set it up that Nick must follow instructions and after he stun guns the agent he could be in trouble with the police so he is obliged to continue in this game.
  So much depends on the the viewers ability to accept the scenario of the hacker running Nick. This was the catch for me and I just could not get past it. Everything hinges and fails with this premise, especially since the end game seems to be making Nick guilty of crimes while the hacker what wants to see her tits? The film very quickly spins out of control with Hacker Chord an obvious crazed Goddard fan running things. Nick who in the turn ends up more than at first thought has the most unbelievable transformation. The three hackers who are helping him while they try to prove themselves to Nick who they believe is another famous hacker. It all gets even more outrageous as the plot thickens leaving the view either riding the roller coaster to the end or as in my case being annoyed and just wanting to see where it goes.
  There is certainly some messaging in this film about our voyeur society that constantly wants more and more from its celebrities. It is also about how we have (or imagine we have) the technology to see into the lives of  anyone with a device. This film has cameras in computers, phone and security systems to use as a window into the world of Miss Goddard and Nick. Even as Nick becomes mobile and enters his car, there is the transponder in the car, and those of the police cars to track. There is some mumbo jumbo about composite imaging multiple devices. It all culminates into a message about how all our electronics might be a window in the world none of us really wants.
  In the end this is a film that pushes boundaries of belief. The ridiculous wild plot twists lead this to the film just being too crazy for this viewer.  It did not really work for me but I could see it really being something many people could like. So no recommendation but I would not warn you away from it.