5 posts categorized "horror"


A 'Nightmare' on a film screen

The scariest word associated with the new "Nightmare on Elm Street" is not fright, sleep, blood or even die.

The word that sends chills up my spine is "reinvention."

Wes Craven's 1984 original wasn't perfect, but it combined two monumental elements of cinematic fright night -- slasher gore and the notion of killer nightmares -- with grisly comic one-liners.

Samuel Bayer's do-over with the unfortunate Jackie Earle Haley under the melted-skin makeup as gleeful nightmare rider Freddy does absolutely nothing to advance the horror staple.  If anything, the new "A Nightmare on Elm Street" could condemn the franchise neighborhood itself.

Once again, a Springwood teenager named Nancy (Rooney Mara of "Youth in Revolt" in for Heather Langenkamp of the original) and a gaggle of her classmates are having disturbing nightmares.

A horribly melted-skin guy with knives for a hand, a red and green sweater and a battered fedora (Robert Englund in past installments) taunts and haunts them in their sleep.  They try to stay awake.  As they discover one by one, however, Freddy Krueger's serious about wielding revenge for an event that occurred years earlier, when the teens were Badham Preschool students in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Veteran screenwriter Wesley Strick ("Final Analysis" in 1992) and first-timer Eric Heisserer combine efforts for this flat, flimsy revision.  The biggest victim here is not the young actors who are, for the most part, stalked and slashed into bloody oblivion by the vengeful Freddy, but the actor under the scarred makeup.

By reinventing the Freddy Krueger back-story, first-time director Samuel Bayer (Need I say it?  A music video and TV commercial helmer) and the writers allow Haley, their leading man-slayer, to suffer the most.

Haley, the former 1970s child star ("The Bad News Bears," "Breaking Away") and San Antonio, TX resident, re-emerged as an actor to be reckoned with and drew his first Oscar nomination as Ronnie, the sex offender, in "Little Children" of 2006.

This is a step back (way back) for the gifted Haley (also behind a mask in "Watchmen").  That's primarily because this restructured plot borrows heavily from one of Haley's recent past performances to move this plot forward through the blood-and-gore sludge.

Despite Haley's effort, Freddy's "comic" lines are as stale as this entire lifeless, humorless failed "reinvention."

Note to new filmmakers looking to make a name for themselves:  If you must "reinvent," take a lousy old film and make it sparkle.

Even in the horror genre, gutting a classic for a quick buck just doesn't cut it anymore. 


To beast or not to beast

Release the movie-going hounds, "The Wolfman" is a howling success!

Though director Joe Johnston and a couple of screenwriters tweak the characters and story of the classic horror-thriller some, make no mistake, "The Wolfman" spills blood all over the Victorian moors as loving homage to "The Wolf Man" of 1941.

Old school is definitely the way to go when resurrecting the furry manbeast from hell and, of course, the Universal Pictures vaults.

When the moon is full and a transformation from man to manbeast is in order, this "Wolfman" does it -- for the most part -- the old fashioned way.  Rick Baker's hairy, bone-expanding make-up and prosthetics prove effective when the moon glow summons.

Oscar winners Benicio Del Toro ("Traffic") and Anthony Hopkins ("The Silence of the Lambs") go at it as creepy father and prodigal son.

Sir John Talbot (Hopkins) and son Lawrence (Del Toro) have been estranged for many years.  But when Lawrence's son Ben goes missing and ends up a bloody mess in a road ditch, Lawrence doesn't just return home, he vows to get to the bottom of things.

That's a noble gesture, of course, but there is a fair maiden involved.  Gwen (Emily Blunt, recently on screen in "The Young Victoria"), Ben's former fiancée, looks longingly into Lawrence's eyes and wants some answers.

What man wouldn't venture into the woods at night to take on a beast's fury when persuaded by a beautiful woman?  Well, probably quite a few, but there's no time to get into that now.

"The Wolfman" follows monster-thriller etiquette common to vampire flicks, plodding zombie adventures and, of course, werewolf yarns.  Once-bitten , Lawrence tries to will his ungodly transformation away.  To no avail, I'm afraid.  Actually, we wouldn't have much of a horror flick if he was able to pull off the self-cure.

Instead, Lawrence -- fighting his maddening curse all the way -- ravages the 1890 countryside just like the other beast that came before.  Not much mystery there.  Veteran fans of the grisly genre won't be surprised much when it comes to story.

The real thrill here is the dramatic bite Johnston (who directed "Jumanji," "Hidalgo" and "Jurassic Park III") creates with an eerie tone, good acting and a terrific bone-chilling score by Danny Elfman ("Men in Black," "Good Will Hunting").

Generally, I hate it when modern filmmakers tinker with classics.  These filmmakers and actors come to honor what came before, however, not to burn it down and start over.

"The Wolfman" is hair-raising, bloody fun that really knows how to release the beast.

Bring a silver bullet just in case.


The 'Girl' of your nightmares

It's ghoulishly appropriate for the perverse teen horror odyssey "Deadgirl" to light up a movie projector in the midnight hour.

From this aisle seat, co-directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel unleash a cinematic monster that can best be described as next-generation "Saw."

By that I don't mean a tormented geezer in a goofy clown mask who wants to play more torture games.  This whirlpool of troubled, alienated youth experimentation and disturbing, perverse sexual activity takes grisly to a new mainstream extreme.

 The blood-splattered screenplay by actor/horror scribe Trent Haaga ("Raving Maniacs") is not for the faint of heart or lovers of mainstream cinema.  In fact, "Deadgirl" might offend fans of typical horror fare as much as, say, "Brűno" would disgust do-gooders who wander into the theater by mistake.

The near-genius (Yes, I'll go that far) of "Deadgirl" is that it begins like just another cheesy horror flick, or a typical high school bad seed fable.

When high school misfits Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez, who appeared in "Cadillac Records") and J.T. (TV actor Noah Segan) skip class, they don't just drink some beer and raise hell.  They stumble across hell itself.
The twist, though, is that as "Deadgirl" begins to sink its teeth into our psyche (and various human body parts), another monster emerges within.

J.T. and Rickie grab some brewskis and head for the old abandoned "nut house."  After fending off what appears to be a demon dog in the bowels of the abandoned asylum, they pull back a creaking door to discover a naked seemingly dead girl chained to a table and covered only by plastic.

This is the point in most horror flicks where the monster would break free and devour a peripheral character or two before getting a wooden stake in the heart and we'd all head out for after-movie margaritas and nachos.

"Deadgirl" is not that kind of horror movie.  It's important that you know that.

Best pals all their lives, Rickie and J.T. become divided forever over what to do with the "dead girl."   Upon closer inspection, the girl isn't dead at all, or at least she doesn't appear to be.  Writhing slowly against her restraints, the "girl" conjures up dark sexual thoughts in J.T., who represents walking, talking, raging teenage hormones.

"Pretty active for a dead girl, don't you think?" he says at one point.  That may be the horror-thriller understatement of the year.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid of "Deadgirl" if you have any qualms whatsoever about a monster yarn dragging you to a dank corner sexual perversity.

I call this film near-genius, though, because although it wallows in the darkest regions of the mind, it explores new ground in the youth-oriented horror-thriller genre. 
It's also a fear-mongering thriller that gains momentum in Acts II and III.  We learn enough about the key characters to invest in their outcome.

If you go to many horror films, you know how rare that is.


'Blood' lust and teen kung fuey

Martial arts and vampires collide, often with blood-spilling results, in the dark fantasy-thriller "Blood:  The Last Vampire."

Based on the 48-minute anime suspense-thriller of the same title that opened in Japan in 2000, this fast-paced, lusty blood-slinger stars Korean actress Gianna.

Saya (Gianna) is yet another teen vampire.  A halfling born to a human father and vampire mother, Saya's age is frozen at 16. 
She's going on 400, though, not unlike Robert Pattinson's Edward in the immensely popular "Twilight" or Lina Leandersson's Eli in the superb Swedish import "Let the Right One In."

Kung fu fans might rejoice, since "Blood:  The Last Vampire" is heavy on sword fight martial artistry and floating bodies (similar to what we saw in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon").

If director Chris Nahon's frame could be frozen, the blood-splattered images would closely resemble the anime that inspired this vampire thriller where heads roll and blood droplets rain almost constantly.

The plot, clearly secondary to the action, is a thin one.  American TV actress Allison Miller ("Cold Case," "CSI: NY" etc.) plays Alice McKee, the rebellious high school-age daughter of the commander of a U.S. Air Force base near Tokyo circa 1970. 
When bullies at the base school corner Alice and go for blood, Saya (a convenient new enrollee) swoops in to spill blood and guts on the gym floor and to continue a timeless battle to wipe out the "bloodsuckers." 

There's a repetitive nature to much of what you'll find in "Blood:  The Last Vampire," a tale that turns out to be the Asian equivalent of the U.S. "Blade" franchise. 

Both anti-heroes, Wesley Snipes in "Blade" and Gianna here, are half-breeds.  They slay vampires while struggling against their own beastly urges.

"Blood:  The Last Vampire," in English and Japanese with some subtitles, looks too much like anime performed by live actors to truly realize its full dramatic force.

Nahon, a French video and commercial director who helmed the feature "Empire of the Wolves," lets his former music video rapid-fire cutting style get in the way of his storytelling.

"Blood" spills form over function too much of the time, at least from this aisle seat.   


Oh 'Hell' yeah!

Sam Raimi could probably spend the remainder of his filmmaking career cranking out "Spider-Man" fantasy adventures.

He's made three of them so far. And even though they've all been solid spider-bite-boy entertainment vehicles and huge hits, everyone who appreciates a deliciously scary horror film should take time out to send Raimi a thank-you note for "Drag Me to Hell."

Anyone who knows anything about Raimi knows that he cut his filmmaking teeth in the horror genre. He established not only top-notch horror with the "Evil Dead" films, but a sense of dark gallows humor as well.

Raimi returns with a gleeful vengeance to the grisly genre he obviously missed. With a trio of "Spider-Man" thrillers under his belt, Raimi has mastered all the filmmaking tools necessary to scare the hell into us.

Co-written by Raimi's brother Ivan, who has collaborated with his sibling on "Spider-Man 3" and the comic sword and sorcery fantasy "Army of Darkness," "Drag Me to Hell" is the most effective spine-tingling shock horror ride I've been on in a long, long time.

The Raimi brothers use an old Alfred Hitchcock trick to put a seemingly innocent -- but somewhat tarnished -- damsel in grave distress. Janet Leigh stole the boss's money and ended up in Hitchcock's bloody shower in the 1960 horror classic "Psycho."

In "Drag Me to Hell," L.A. bank loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) denies an old lady (Lorna Raver) a home-loan extension in order to impress her boss and get a promotion. Christine has bloody hell to pay for her selfish action.

It's best not to give away too much of the "Drag Me to Hell" plot. Just know that the old lady slaps the demonic Lamia curse on Christine for shaming her in public. If Christine doesn't do something to break the spell within three days -- like find an animal to sacrifice, for one thing -- a very grumpy demon is likely to show up to drag her straight down to you-know-where.

Lohman, who impressed me as Michelle Pfeiffer's deeply troubled daughter Astrid in "White Oleander" (2002), is not your normal horror flick scream queen. She can really act, for one thing. It also helps tremendously that the Raimi brothers give her real character depth. That makes her flawed character appear real.

Justin Long ("He's Just Not That Into You"), the Mac Guy in those "Mac. vs. PC" TV commercials, doesn't have much to do as Christine's college professor boyfriend.

But veteran actress Raver, making her first feature film co-starring turn, will scare the living daylights out of you as Mrs. Ganush, a lady you don't want to dis in public.

Raimi conducts this original horror ditty as he might the New York Philharmonic. He uses music as a key character. Some of the demonic figures may look a little cheesy (on purpose), but with Raimi's musical accents blasting from the speakers, it's a symphony of suspense, things that go bump in the day and night and some surprises I'm frankly still a little rattled from.

I'd say "Drag Me to Hell" is a great popcorn flick if I wasn't afraid some unnerved audience members might toss their cookies into the popcorn bag.

Let's just call it a fabulously orchestrated fright night at the movies and leave it at that.