Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dementia 13 (1963) review


     Cheesy horror producer, Roger Corman, teams up with a young Francis Ford Coppola to produce Dementia 13, a slasher flick well worth the watch. The movie may have its flaws, from unimpressive performances to lack of plot information, but Coppola's directing style and Corman's fear factor combine to form a horror movie that's actually kind of memorable, well-made, and pretty creepy.

PLOT: After her husband suffers a fatal heart attack, Louise Haloran (Luana Anders) must travel to the Haloran family estate to secure a place in the family's inheritance and remove suspicion by showing up for the anniversary memorial of John's sister, who died tragically as a child. An opportunity comes up for Louise when she convinces John's mother (Ethne Dunn) that she can talk to spirits and would try to communicate with the late child. However, things start to go wrong when people start to slowly disappear from the estate due to the hands of an unknown axe murderer stalking the premises. The remaining members of the family must help fight off the murderer and solve the mystery of whom it is and what the motive is. The plot is a great concept executed brilliantly for the most part. The many twists and turns that the main story faces are obviously written with great care, stringing together a classic slasher movie plot. However, some events just don't seem to be explained as well. Dementia 13 ties up most of its loose ends by its conclusion, but we have a surprising lack of character development. What was the true relationship between Louise and her husband, and has it always been that way? How about the relationship between all of the siblings disregarding the little girl's untimely death? So much is left unexplained that could have clarified some questionable aspects in the story.

ACTING: The performances in the movie weren't bad, but they also weren't excellent. Each played his or her part accurately and fittingly, but not to a prestigious or memorable degree. The best performances came from Luana Anders as Louise, Ethne Dunn as Lady Haloran, and Bart Patton as Billy Haloran. A lot of performances were just hit-and-miss, like that of Patrick Magee (who would go on a decade later to play the wheelchair man in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange) as Justin Caleb. Some moments, he was brilliant, whereas others came off as kind of silly. As stated previously, the acting isn't terrible, but nothing too impressive.

SCORE: The score for Dementia 13 is actually very intense and scary for its time. It helps build suspense and tension and hypes up every scare. The creepy mood is very much influenced by the intensity of the score, which isn't terrible, especially if the score is as well-made and fitting as this one.

EFFECTS: The special effects in this movie are actually pretty great for the time. The blood looks as real as it can in black-and-white, and heads do roll this early in horror film. Personally, I think Roger Corman is to blame for the effects, but rightfully so. For the time, they're gory, gutsy, and intense like a true horror/slasher needs to be.

OTHER CONTENT: One of the best things Dementia 13 has going for it is having Francis Ford Coppola in the director's chair. Though very early on in the fantastic filmmaker's life (he'd go on to direct The Godfather - Parts I & II, Apocalypse Now, The Outsiders, etc.), this film reflects a good portion of his signature directing style. Coppola uses powerful imagery and harrowing cinematography to stir up certain emotions, establish symbolism, and hint at certain concepts that help establish the tone of the movie. If one looks with a keen eye, one would be surprised. Coppola and Corman vibe together very well as filmmakers, as evidenced by how genuinely creepy the movie is. Everything is built up and set up right, with the story falling into place and the horrifying mayhem chasing behind it, bloodthirsty, dark, and just the right amount of macabre. This is laden all the way up to the shocking conclusion, which is genius and pretty frightening at heart, but rushed. No sooner than the viewer sees who the murderer is the movie ends. The murderer shows his face, the motive is explained in two sentences, and the credits roll. No falling action, no "what now?", or even a reaction from the others watching on in horror is provided, but a speedy ending. It's very intelligent and kind of mind-blowing, but it's also kind of a trippy place to just end the film with all that's provided.

     Coppola and Corman's horror gem, Dementia 13, is actually a great slasher flick for its time. It's creepy, bloody, intelligent, well-directed, and kind of mind-blowing near the end, but it suffers from some bland performances, unexplained plot elements, and a rushed ending. The movie is well worth a watch for horror fans everywhere and should be remembered just as much as the well-known slashers like Psycho or Black Christmas. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Maniac (1934) review


     Maniac pushes the boundaries beyond what was common and typical of cinema back in the 1930s. It's frightening and disturbing even today, leaving the one watching feeling uncomfortable- which is exactly what it wants. Though the film possesses many problems from some terrible acting and unnecessary plot twists, it still remains a very unique exploitation horror made with a mindset way ahead of its time.

PLOT: Insane Dr. Meirshultz (Horace Carpenter) and his hopeful apprentice, Don Maxwell (Bill Woods), are planning to give life to a once-dead human being with a real human heart. After sneaking into the local morgue and bringing a dead woman back to life, the doctor's passions and psychotic tendencies get stronger. His lust for his experiments gets so crazy, Maxwell ends up shooting him out of panic. In an attempt to cover up what he's done from the public eye, Maxwell uses his skills as a master of disguise to impersonate Dr. Meirshultz. However, after taking on the role of the late doctor, he starts to actually believe he's the real Dr. Meirshultz and takes on his impassioned intentions to an even further degree. The plot is a very excellent concept altered too much. The plot at its bare bones is very well thought-out and perfect for a good horror film. What ruins it is that the filmmakers added a few too many excess plot twists that didn't really have anything to do with the film or its essence, like some of the sequences with the injected "maniac" and Maxwell's wife and her friends. Some of it just seemed to hold little relevance to the genius horror plot presented. However, it was executed well enough to fit almost snugly into the flow of the film.

ACTING: The acting in this film is very hit-and-miss. The two main leads are the best performances in the whole film and actually grow very realistic and convincing as it progresses. Horace Carpenter plays a very chilling role as the mad scientist Dr. Meirshultz, and Bill Woods plays an even more frightening role as Maxwell. Carpenter's performance was of a very convincing mad scientist, whereas Woods' is comparable only to a true mind going mad. His performance in this film is disturbing, almost iconic, and as manic and insane as the title and his character suggest. However, the rest of the Maniac's cast are best described as circus clowns. The performances are stereotypical, annoying, and very inexperienced. It look as if some of them had never seen a camera before in their lives. Aside from the two very talented leads, the cast is pretty terrible, granted it was the 1930s.

SCORE: The musical score of this film wasn't anything too special but fit the mood just right. It was very dramatic and spooky-sounding.

OTHER CONTENT: Maniac is an exploitation film worth praise and more recognition by horror fans around the world. The film pushed many boundaries beyond what was accepted to be filmed and what was considered taboo. It's one of the first of its time to contain content like animal brutality (staged), grotesque blood and gore, Satanic imagery, heavy talk of mental illness, and full-on female nudity. One didn't see anything like that from the 1930s world of cinema- even taking horror into consideration. Most of the rage around this time was from stars like Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in spooky mainstream horror movies, but none of them had the guts to push past the boundaries of the taboo. Aside from being just controversial for its time period, Maniac is actually pretty frightening and well-styled. The leads set up and deliver a feeling of paranoia and terror and the horrific imagery really drives the feelings home. The director of this film (Dwain Esper) knew how to send a message and drive the point home by painting a portrait of madness on the screen rather than straight up telling the viewer what changes were going on. It wasn't just fighting animals and dramatic, Satanic overlays that signified the character's descent into mania but the well-written tidbits of psychological facts and life advice given in between each sequence of the film. Each one preceded a twist in the story and a change in Maxwell's character, helping the viewer feel not only well-informed about the science of his mental condition, but uneasy as the viewer knows what's coming next and that whatever it is won't be very pretty. The film has a very dedicated style, enhancing the frightening and disturbing moments and giving it the real dirty, gritty, and somewhat uncomfortable feel of watching a true exploitation horror film.

     Maniac is an exploitation horror that demands to be remembered. The frightening and disturbing imagery is way ahead of its time, racing past what's acceptable of the time period without looking back to wave goodbye. Most of the acting is quite awful and lackluster, but the two leads stole the show. Each's depiction of his own mania is a terrifying and convincing, delivering even still today. The plot is genius, punctuated with style and only interrupted by unnecessary plot twists that even still help the film's flow. Maniac is no true horror masterpiece for sure, but it definitely deserves credit for what it has done and for what it still does to viewers today- make them feel both frightened and uncomfortable.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) review


     Creature from the Haunted Sea is one of the most infamously terrible horror movies with terrible performances, an indecisive plot and style, cheesy special effects and a lack of screentime for the so-called monster. The movie tries to parody so many different styles that it only ends up parodying itself in a mess that's so bad it's borderline hilarious.

PLOT: During a time where Cuba is in political turmoil, criminal Renzo Capetto (Anthony Carbone) makes a deal to transport a group of Cuban exiles out of the country while also taking some of the country's national treasure. Capetto plots while on the boat with American ex-agent Sparks Moran (Edward Wain) to kill the exiles and blame it on an apparent sea monster so he can keep all of the money for himself. However, things begin to go awry when a real sea monster shows up and starts terrorizing the crew. Capetto must escape the sea monster to get away with the riches and the girls he wants. The plot is a hot mess with abundant unnecessary twists and turns. It seems to focus too much on the comedy relief and attempts at satire and not enough on the horror aspect of the movie. So many characters, situations, and quirks were just random and un-called for making the plot of this movie an unbalanced and substantially dead mess.

ACTING: The performances in this movie were very amateur at best. None of the actors or actresses truly stood out or showed any real emotion. In fact, it becomes hilariously evident about halfway through the movie that even the actors have given up. It's like they knew the movie was terrible and just didn't want to even put effort into it anymore. These performances are the equivalent of grabbing some random people off the street and offering pay.

SCORE: The score in here was very quirky and unfitting for most of what this movie intended to be. The music in no way matches the mood of a super-spy flick or a horror movie.

EFFECTS/ANIMATION: The special effects for the creature were very cheesy at best, making the monster appear clearly fake and apparently thrown together. As terrifically cheesy as the monster's costume effects are, his appearance is somehow one of the most widely known of early black-and-white horror films. Maybe Creature from the Haunted Sea is just notorious for being cheesy and bad? In addition to the creature effects, there were some unnecessary animations at the beginning of the movie. They served no purpose, changed the whole tone of the movie, and mislead the viewer in many ways, from under-exaggerating the monster and over-exaggerating the action and comedy. One can start a pure comedy, family movie, or children's movie with light-hearted animations in the title credits, but a horror film? It just doesn't sound reasonable.

OTHER CONTENT: Creature from the Haunted Sea seemed to just not know what it wanted to be. As it begins, the audience is led to believe it's going to be a super-spy satire complete with laughs for all. As it progress, however, it seems to wander into the territory of goofy Gilligan's Island-style comedy and doesn't really touch upon the horror genre or the whole "creature" part until near the very end. Even if it did want to be a comedy or a satire, it should have focused only on that aspect and not try to take the movie in a dozen different directions. Cheesy horror genius Roger Corman has made some ridiculous cinema, but this one seems to be the most brainless and underdeveloped. The movie surely would have been much better had the makers scrapped most of the additional characters and plot twists and added more production value and maybe even more screentime for the monster which bears the movie's name.

     Roger Corman's Creature from the Haunted Sea is widely recognized among classic horror fans throughout the world, but in all reality one of the most terrible and cheesy ones the decade has to offer. The plot has too many unnecessary twists and can't choose which genre it really wants to follow, the special effects are cheesy to iconic excess, and the acting is hollow and ridiculously untalented. Save your time on something much funnier or much spookier, like an actual satire or an actual horror film.

Carnival of Souls (1962) review


     Carnival of Souls provides loads of creepy imagery, a convincing lead, and a very curious plot. The film hasn't aged well compared to modern standards, but it still remains one of the creepiest and most intensely suspenseful horror films of its time.

PLOT: Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) and her friends are foolishly driving around one day when they get in a fatal car accident, of which she is the sole survivor. Soon after, Mary decides to move away and start anew with aspirations to become a church organist. However, a threatening, ghostly man (Herk Harvey) begins stalking her, popping up out of nowhere and terrifying her daily. Mary also starts having these random moments where she's completely disconnected from reality- no one can hear her and she can hear no one else. As Mary's life begins to go downhill, she grows more frightened of the mysterious man and more drawn to the town's abandoned carnival in hopes of finding an solution. The plot is very illogical and unexplained in some aspects, but for the most part comes together quite nicely and shockingly at the film's final twist. The sudden realization for the most part ties things together, spelling out certain things plainly and leaving the rest up to interpretation. Personally, I love films that leave some situations up to interpretation. However, a lot of viewers bash films for doing this in excess. In reality, when a little thought is put into it and everything is put into perspective, the plot is a brilliant and chilling concept, probably even more terrifying in its time.

ACTING: The performances in this film are pretty excellent, especially for their time. Herk Harvey plays a creepy role as the mysterious man though he doesn't have much of a vocal role. Other great performances come from Frances Feist as the gentle landlady Mrs. Thomas, Sidney Berger as the stereotypical drunk John Linden, and Stan Levitt as the compassionate Dr. Samuels. The show-stealing performance, however, comes from the lead, Candace Hilligoss as Mary Henry. She puts on a show so convincing and so horrifying that it even feels real. The viewer starts to feel more and more sorry for her as her life starts to plummet downhill, portrayed perfectly by Hilligoss. One can truly feel the depression and torment that overtakes her as the demons torment her and start ruining her personal life. She plays the part that well.

SCORE/SOUNDTRACK: The musical score in Carnival of Souls is very creepy and atmospheric. It sets the mood for the ever-present suspense and creepy scares. It may seem just as spooky as the next horror movie in the decade, but either way it set the mood just as well as was necessary.

OTHER CONTENT: Carnival of Souls is a very in-depth horror film for the 1960s that provides a lot to talk about at heart. The suspense is very well laid out throughout the film, always building and only giving in for brief, freaky scares usually involving the mysterious man or those who look similar. The makers of this film knew how to handle suspense. On the more obvious side of the fear spectrum, long-lasting creepy imagery is presented to break the loud, suspenseful silence. The creepy scares and imagery seen throughout this film may be fairly simplistic, but they succeed in creating a creepy, eerie, and downright uncomfortable atmosphere. They leave a long-lasting impression in the viewer's mind comparable to modern day haunts like the images presented in The Grudge. What also adds a lasting impression is the many in-depth theories about the plot. As the film concludes, (SPOILER), the audience sees obviously that Mary didn't survive the car crash. However, what could this mean? When you think about it, she couldn't have just been wandering the earth as a ghost being tormented by demons because people still were talking to her. This spawns many theories, like the possibility of Mary being stuck in a sort of purgatory-like state and that the other ghosts are trying to make her cross over. However, this spawns even more theories like what each character Mary spoke to represented and if there is really a more in-depth and metaphorical meaning to the film as a whole. This may have been from the early age of horror film, but it still makes the viewer think and leaves one hell of a lasting impression.

     If one were expecting to watch Carnival of Souls and expect a fun, spooky, or cheesy horror classic meant to entertain, one would be horrifyingly surprised. The film contains an intense amount of depth, suspense, and creepy imagery as well as a master performance by its lead. One doesn't just get a scare here but a memorable and thought-provoking impression rather surprising in comparison to other horror film of the time.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Suicide Squad (2016) review

WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead!!! Read at your own risk.


     Though the critics may bash Suicide Squad for its uneven pacing, lack of addressing necessary character lore, over-flashy effects, and inconsistent script, the movie delivers an action-packed, pulpy, humorous and heart-wrenching adventure into the lives and personalities of some of DC's finest villians.

PLOT: Long after the days superheroes like Superman have vanished and stopped saving the city, a new war arises within the heart of the city. Government expert Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) constructs a plan to take all of the worst and most powerful criminals in history, put them on a team, and force them to do their bidding. These criminals include baddies like former hitman and family man, Deadshot (Will Smith), and the Joker's wife, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) as well as others like Killer Croc, Captain Boomerang, and Diablo. This team, led by Waller and love-struck soldier, Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), are sent to vanquish a supernatural entity taking residence in the body of Rick's girlfriend, June Moone (Cara Delevingne) and destroying the city. The plot is a good example of an excellent idea squandered by lack of information. The story does its best to explain the origin stories of each of our villains and succeeds in covering the basics, but fails in informing the viewer of important extended universe lore that helps drive the plot forward. Some scenes would make un-informed moviegoers scratch their heads without previous knowledge of past relationships. Otherwise, the plot is driven well and an excellent idea to expand upon for DC.

ACTING: The performances were great among the whole cast. The big name actors, like Will Smith, Margot Robbie, and Jared Leto delivered very amusing, fitting, and badass performances as Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and the Joker. Aside from these three show-stealers, the rest of the cast was just beneath them. Other shining performances would be from Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flagg, Cara Delevingne as June Moone/The Enchantress, Viola Davis as Amanda Weller, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc, and Jay Hernandez as Diablo. Most of the performances were right on the money even when other aspects of the movie weren't. The talented cast I believe is truly what saved the movie from completely sinking.

SCORE/SOUNDTRACK: The soundtrack in the movie was very well chosen and developed. A lot of the better points in the movie were either punctuated by a relateable, classic rock track or a song newly recorded for the movie. With artists ranging from Black Sabbath and The Rolling Stones to Skrillex and Twenty One Pilots, the soundtrack is very diverse and does its best to keep the flow rolling throughout the movie's entire runtime. For the most part, it does a pretty good job of accomplishing that.

EFFECTS: Suicide Squad's special effects are entirely way too flashy and hit-and-miss for the movie's cause. The effects alternate between something that looks really cool and unique to the equivalent of a computer's graphics card vomiting upon the screen. It feels like the makers of this movie sunk so much into special effects that they forget to touch everything else up. They're way too worried about things looking good than the substance needed to put into it.

OTHER CONTENT: Suicide Squad, contrary to popular critics' beliefs, is NOT a bad movie. It does have several issues as a standalone piece of work, but for fans who already know the characters, storyline, and source material beforehand, it's a rather interesting treat to see how the actors, producers, and director portrayed the comic book characters. Some of the problems the movie has that haven't already been covered would be the pacing and some of the scriptwriting. The pacing of the movie is uneven, varying from moving in fast forward to dragging through formulaic Hollywood pizazz like a snail. The movie does succeed in making the audience want more, but to what extent is too far? It seems we were cheated out of what could have been so much more. The script and screenplay aren't necessarily that bad, but some lines and situations would have been better to just be left out when compared to everything else as a whole. Aside all of the problems previously mentioned, Suicide Squad is still a fun and refreshing breath into a once-dead comic book spin-off. The movie is filled with enough action, personality, and neo-pulpy style that comes as close to feeling as if you were watching the zaniness and intensity of a real comic book playing out before you on screen. The movie focused on its characters and rightfully so, as they were the savior of the entire movie, especially watching the heartbreaking love story between Harley and Joker as well as the backstories of our betrayed "heroes". The movie is actually pretty good if one doesn't set his or her standards too high.

     DC's Suicide Squad does have its issues, from pacing issues to lack of information to flashy special effects, but there's so much more at the heart of it. The movie boasts a talented cast, fresh and pulpy action, excellent one-liners, and a heavy emotional impact for the fans. It's a big, lovely mess of mediocre mistakes and emotional impact as crazy yet loveable as Harley Quinn herself.