Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dark Shadows (2012) review


   Tim Burton and Johnny Depp team up once again to bring us a movie with just enough gothic charm and dramatic twists to keep it afloat, though very derivative of Burton's past works. Though effective in entertaining the masses, Dark Shadows proves to be one of Burton's weakest films.

PLOT: Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) was once the child of a very wealthy family, whom the town of Collinsport is named after. Things are going very well for Barnabus until he decides to break the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), an evil witch who curses his family with bad luck throughout the rest of their lives. Not only does Angelique curse the entire family, but she also hypnotizes Barnabus' current lover off a cliff and turns Barnabus into a vampire, cursed to live forever locked in a coffin underground. Many years down the road, in the early 1970s, the Collins family is still living, led by Elizabeth (Michelle Pfieffer) and Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), but they are definitely not as rich as they used to be. Their son, David (Gully McGrath), is being "helped" by alcoholic psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), and their daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) is very strange. Things get even stranger for the family when Barnabus is dug up by accident and released to walk the Earth again. Barnabus has plans to restore his family honor, though he becomes distracted by the still-living witch plotting his downfall and the Collins' family aide, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), who greatly resembles the woman the witch hypnotized off the cliff that fateful day. The plot is somewhat basic, but executed excellently. The amount of dramatic twists this movie takes isn't phenomenal, but it accumulates enough to save this movie from having a kind of "hollow" plotline. Without the twists, we'd just have a backstory with no more excitement.

ACTING: The performances in this movie are all very brilliantly done. Johnny Depp plays a fantastic part as the gothic Barnabus Collins. Helena Bonham Carter and Eva Green complimented his character well with their performances as Dr. Hoffman and the witch, Angelique. Other fantastic performances came from Chloe Grace Moretz as Carolyn, Bella Heathcote as Victoria Winters, Jackie Earle Haley as housekeeper Mr. Loomis, the late great Christopher Lee as Clarney, and of course, the cameo of shock-rocker Alice Cooper. Each performance only enhanced the gothic and dramatic tone of the movie.

SCORE: The score and soundtrack in this movie are both amazing. Though familiar, the great Danny Elfman conducts an excellent score for the movie. The soundtrack includes classics from artists such as The Moody Blues, Donovan, and, of course, Alice Cooper. Each compliments its own scene accurately.

EFFECTS: The special effects, though flashy, are effective and well done. The effects of Angelique's injuries, the ghost in the manor, the werewolf near the end, and Barnabus himself were probably the most unique and well detailed.

OTHER CONTENT: Dark Shadows isn't a bad movie by far. It's entertaining, bearing an all-star cast, a killer soundtrack, and supple dramatic elements. However, this is probably the movie Tim Burton put his least effort into. Unlike Burton's other works, Dark Shadows misses out on an inner meaning or purpose, rather than to just entertain the masses. However, much like Burton's other works, Dark Shadows tries to convey a sort of realism through a unique, dynamic character. This movie fails at that as it does nothing to convey a true meaning.

   Dark Shadows is like a poor man's Edward Scissorhands; it uses some of the same story elements, such as the dynamic character in a surreal environment, but it fails in conveying a true meaning like Burton's past works. Though led by a superb cast, classic soundtrack, and well-executed plot twists, Dark Shadows feels more like a shot at making money by entertaining the masses. The movie is entertaining, but contains little true substance or significance.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Memory (2006) review


   Memory is probably one of the most underrated horror movies of its kind. Stellar acting, an enthralling mystery, and some truly creepy imagery kept this semi-confusing and somewhat slow movie afloat. It's a poor man's psychological thriller at best.

PLOT: After accidentally ingesting a hallucinogenic powder being tested on lab rats, Dr. Taylor Briggs (Billy Zane) starts to have strange daydreams, lining up with real murders and tragedies that happened before he was born. After some intense research, things start to get more and more peculiar as Taylor starts to think he's witnessing the past of one of his relatives. Everyone begins to think he's gone crazy, except his lover, artist Stephanie (Tricia Helfer), his mother, Carol (Ann-Margret), and his father-in-law, Max (Dennis Hopper). However, as Taylor and Stephanie start getting to the bottom of these weird visions, they start to notice it may be the missing link in Taylor's family timeline. The plot is essentially a combination of the premise of Altered States and the mechanics of Memento. The plot, at its bare bones, is preposterous and confusing, but by the end of the movie, you'll be impressed to see how they pulled it off. The moments of horror are filmed excellently and the writers, though they got carried away, succeeded in tying up all loose ends.

ACTING: The performances in this movie are very well done. Billy Zane does justice to the part of frantic Dr. Briggs, Tricia Hefler does a great job as the "sidekick", Stephanie. Dennis Hopper and Ann-Margret did an excellent job as the parents, especially Ann-Margret near the end. Everyone does a pretty great job with their parts.

SCORE: The score and soundtrack definitely has potential. The main theme is pretty haunting yet simple, and the alternative soundtrack almost enhances the movie.

OTHER CONTENT: Memory is basically an expected disaster turned good. The movie has its faults, like a preposterous mystery, unnecessary side-conversations, and several confusing turns of events. As evidence is tossed at us and pieced together, the mystery becomes more and more confusing, but just as much enthralling. The victory in this movie is that it succeeded in pulling off a mystery so unrealistic. If the unintentionally-good mystery isn't enough to save this movie, then the horror scenes will. The horror sequences, especially near the movie's finale, are expertly done and very well filmed. I would believe them to be the best sequences in the movie. They're memorable and very unsettling, both respectable factors for a true horror.

   Memory would probably be the biggest expected disaster that somehow saved itself. It may be preposterous, confusing, and unnecessary at times, but it saves itself by sucking you into the mystery and chilling you with the sequences of horror. Most horror fans may end up despising the movie, but I think it's an underrated gem of modern independent horror.

Carnivore (2000) review


   Generic, unintentionally hilarious, and overall a disaster, Carnivore fails to do anything as a horror movie but pass the time and inspire a few cheesy laughs.

PLOT: The legend of the old haunted house in town has been instilling fear and suspicion in the hearts of the local citizens, but what they didn't know was that the house was being utilized as a high-tech lab, housing a new genetically-engineered creature. The creature, called the Carnivore, or "Carnie", is under the care of a Dr. Westmont (Steven Walker). One day, Dr. Westmont puts too much confidence in the creature's trust, causing the creature to kill him and run rampant throughout the house. This prompts special visitors from the nation's capital to come down and attempt to contain the failed experiment before it gets out of hand. However, a foolish group of drunk teens decide that same night to have some fun and spend a night in the old haunted house. As predicted, none of this goes well. The plot is rather cheesy and underdeveloped. Had they added a bit more substance, character development, or film-making skills, this movie might have had a story worth watching. Sadly, this movie drifts into the zone where generic creature-features go to be forgotten, including others like The Relic. 

ACTING: All of the performances in this movie practically sucked. The acting is akin to scraping someone off the street and paying them a few bucks to do an impression of his or her character. The teenagers seemed to be a kind of the comedy relief and the generic "naughty teenager" types. The cops and government officials seemed over-angry and under-experienced. No one in this movie even takes a step in the direction of good acting.

SCORE: The score was nothing too special. For the most part, it felt cheesy and misfitting. The soundtrack contains some obscure metal songs that don't do anything for the movie.

EFFECTS: The effects in this movie were really disappointing. The "Carnivore" looks more like puppet with a Halloween mask on. The blood and gore, for the most part, was cheap to the point of hilarity. The worst part of the special effects would have to be the camera through the monster's point of view. This grainy, out-of-contrast "monster vision" is just kind of dizzying and lazily done.

OTHER CONTENT: This movie fails in almost every aspect of cinema. Aside from the horrendous acting and lackluster plot, Carnivore brings to the table bad script-writing, unfunny humor and unintentionally funny action scenes, and a complete ignorance of the creature. The movie should have been named after the fighting cops or the foolish teenagers, for they take up more screen time than the monster.The only victory this movie has is making me laugh. Carnivore is on the borderline of so-bad-it's-good territory, as its cheesy effects and moments of horror inspire a few chuckles of ridicule. Had the humor been intentional, this movie would have been alright. However, it takes itself way too seriously for the numerous amount of flaws it contains.

   Carnivore is far from a good horror film, but it's at least mindless entertainment to make the mindful laugh. Bad performances, an underdeveloped plot, a terrible script, and squandered potential are what this movie is all about. If you want a cheap laugh or to pass the time, by all means, watch this. You'll spend half of the movie wondering where the creature went.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Haunting (1963) review


   Though greatly outdated and a tad uneven, The Haunting still remains one of the most prestigious horror films of its time with an excellent cast, expert camerawork, and a harrowing psychological question.

PLOT: The legend of Hill House has been passed down from generation to generation. The house is said to be extremely haunted by the ghosts of the past owners who died inside. One day, anthropologist Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) invites the house's future heir, Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), uptight ESP expert, Theodora (Claire Bloom), and unstable friend, Eleanor Vance (Julie Harris) out to the house to spend a few nights and investigate the haunted legends of Hill House. Throughout their stay in the house, things start getting creepier and creepier, instilling a fear that the legends may be true, especially for poor Eleanor, who's either going insane or being taken over by the house. The plot is a very classic idea from a classic novel and is executed fairly well. We're injected with a ton of wavering suspense throughout the film as small scares arise every so often. Along with this aspect, a kind of dramatic story is established through the characters' conversations.

ACTING: The cast in this film did excellent jobs at their parts. One of my favorite parts of this film is probably the chemistry the cast establishes among each other. The best performances were probably from Russ Tamblyn as Luke Sanderson, Julie Harris as Eleanor Vance, and Richard Johnson as Dr. Markway. Tamblyn provided a subtle comedy relief from the spookiness of  the house, Harris convinced me of her characters questioning insanity, and Johnson just fit his part well. The cast did very excellent jobs at their parts.

SCORE: The score for this film was very nostalgic and well done. It set the spooky mood very well.

CAMERAWORK: The camerawork in this film was quite excellently done. At each scare and moment of tight suspense, the camera was perfectly suited to catch the creepiest yet clearest angle it could get. The film is shot brilliantly.

OTHER CONTENT: This film was a classic in its time, but compared to today's standards, it stands more as a paranormal suspense or psychological thriller than a horror. The times it felt most like a horror film was the telling of the family history near the beginning and within the scattered scares near the end. The film feels more like anticipation with no release. However, when a scare does pop up, the suspense succeeds in making it decently effective. I think, really, The Haunting works more as a psychological horror of a sort, because throughout the whole film, we're left questioning whether Eleanor is possessed by the house or driven mad by her own paranoid thoughts. This where the film succeeds most, next to the acting and cinematography. Watching her go insane as the house falls down around her is a quite harrowing sequence.

   The Haunting is a rather outdated and slow horror film, but it does succeed in promoting a stellar cast, expert cinematography, and the bare bones of a psychological horror. The suspense, though tedious at times, helps create effective jump scares. For its time, The Haunting was probably one of the few horror films containing cinematic style, and not just a cheap thrill.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Freaks (1932) review


   Combining the elements of pure horror and compelling drama, Freaks lives to be more than just your basic shocker. It lives to be as true a variety show as it portrays, but never falling short of a few chills.

PLOT: The story takes place in your average traveling circus with its own special set of sideshow freaks, including things from bearded ladies and sword swallowers to things as extreme as limbless, deformed, and Siamese twin humans. All of the entertainers are very close to each other except for a certain two people: Cleopatra, Queen of the Trapeze (Olga Baclanova) and Hercules (Henry Victor). These two are perfectly normal, beautiful, and talented people and separate themselves from the other acts. However, one of the acts, a dwarf named Hans (Harry Earles) falls in love with Cleopatra and plans to leave his prior engagement for her. Cleopatra at first uses Hans as a servant and an entertainer, but when she finds out he has a small fortune hidden away, Cleopatra decides to marry him. After the wedding and a good few drinks, Cleopatra and Hercules yell in disgust at the freaks when they try to accept them as one of their own, revealing their true colors. Afterwards, all of the freaks hate Cleo and Herc, including Hans, and plan on getting revenge, especially after finding out she might be poisoning Hans. The plot is very well developed and executed excellently, with every element standing out and finding its place, from shock and horror to comedy and tragedy. The story elements fall perfectly into place all the way up to the chilling ending.

ACTING: The performances in this film are excellent. Olga Baclanova and Henry Victor both are excellent as Cleopatra and Hercules, establishing definitive duo of villains. They stood out about as much as the actual sideshow acts. One of the best features of this film's cast is the idea the filmmakers had to use real circus freaks in the cast. Harry Earles is really a dwarf. Daisy and Violet Hilton are real Siamese twins. The living torsos and pinhead-like beings are real. This effect in the cast makes the film extremely authentic and that much more chilling. The cast is well picked and excellently talented, keeping the tension high all the way up to the outstanding ending.

SCORE: The score is very haunting and effective, instilling a nostalgic feeling of horror and despair for the film.

OTHER CONTENT: This film may have some truly terrifying moments,which are filmed excellently enough to create an ominous, suspenseful mood, but Freaks itself contains all the elements of the variety show within the film. This film has comedy, tragedy, terror, a compelling story, and is overall very much like the circus within the film. Though a little cheesier compared to today's standards, the film does very much remain a classic of its time.

   Freaks is very much a show; the comedy, tragedy, horror and story are all there. However, it's a show memorable through its haunting camerawork and ominous, suspenseful mood building up the the shocker ending. The film is a lot of fun, but also a lot of serious emotion, enhanced by the excellently-picked cast.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Roman (2006) review


   Offbeat horror director, Lucky McKee, makes his acting debut in this independent, post-May psychological horror, which, though lacking much scare factor and budget, contains much substance.

PLOT: Roman (Lucky McKee) is a recluse of a sort with no friends, no TV and nothing to do but work and watch The Girl (Kristen Bell) pass by his apartment window everyday around 5:30 PM. Roman clearly has a kind of creepy, shy obsession with this girl. One day when Roman decides to get out of the house for a bit, he finally meets this girl. They start to have a few conversations and become friends. Next day, Roman meets the girl outside his apartment after work and invites her in. Things get a little exciting for Roman before she says she has to leave. Roman, in a fit of excitement, doesn't let her leave and accidentally smothers her trying to keep there and keep her quiet. When Roman realizes what he's done, he's distraught and doesn't want to let go of her for anything. In turn, Roman dumps her body in his bathtub and starts to preserve it under ice, as he doesn't want to lose her or have anybody find out. Roman's life continues normally until a new girl moves into the empty apartment. Her name is Eva (Nectar Rose) and she's a very strange character similar to Roman. Roman's life with his "two girlfriends" starts to get better but also very confusing in trying to let go of one obsession and begin with another. The plot is simple but executed pretty decently. Though McKee actually doesn't direct in this one, it still contains a flair of offbeat, disturbing horror through the telling of Roman's obsession with his corpse and his sheltering from the world. It's not perfect, but it could be done so much worse.

ACTING: The acting here is hit-and-miss for the most part. All of the performances are the equivalent to an everyday conversation with the person. Lucky McKee did a decent job as Roman, pulling out all the stops at the end of the movie. Nectar Rose also stood out a bit with her role as the visionary Eva. She took the part as if it came natural. The rest of the performances are just kind of plain, even Kristen Bell as The Girl. The murder scene was pretty much the highlight of her performance.

SCORE: The soundtrack is a weird mix of different kinds of alternative music. Though not too pleasant to hear, it sets the mood quite well for Roman's "dates" and fantasies.

EFFECTS: The only special effects involve the steady-rotting corpse of Roman's obsession. They're very cheap and inexpensive, but I like the fact that they tried to show the passage of time in this manner.

OTHER CONTENT: This movie is definitely a strange one, but for an obscure indie horror, it kind of works. Haunting atmosphere, a well-written script, surreal editing, and a prying look at a the life of an inexperienced recluse help this movie kind of float into the safe zone. This horror is by far not the best, but it would have to be an independent favorite for me. McKee and director Angela Bettis come together to make a very neat little psych horror, with a surprising amount of heart and realism.

   Though McKee isn't in the director's chair this time around, I'd still group it with all of his other works easily. Roman is a haunting, disturbing, and surreal psychological horror that is very underrated. Though the performances and scare factors aren't rock solid, the mood is still set accurately with all other factors falling decently into place. It's nowhere near perfect, but definitely the right touch of offbeat.