Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Chernobyl Diaries

Fall is here.  The time of year when the air gets cooler, you can buy pumpkin everything, and horror movies are in constant rotation.  I’ll be watching a lot.  I doubt I’ll review them all, but I’ll do my best.  As a result, these reviews may be shorter than usual, which probably isn’t a bad thing.

Make sure to head over to Final Girl’s blog and check out her upcoming Shocktober event.  It’s going to be awesome. 

One more note: I am in love with the Bloody Good Horror podcast and website.  I’ve been listening to them for a while, and they’re fantastic.  They know what they’re talking about, and they’re also really funny.  If you get a chance, stop by their website and check out their podcast.

To Prypiat!

The set-up is simple: six attractive people (4 friends, and 2 people that just joint them) decide to take a tour of Prypiat, the city that housed the workers and families for the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.  They go on a guided tour with a man named Yuri, who looks like he could crush a man with his bare hands.  They are initially turned back at the gates of Prypiat, but Yuri knows another way in, so they sneak their way into the city.

They take a little tour.  Walking through the streets and building overgrown with trees and whatnot.  Someone makes mention of how the city is “returning to nature”.  It kind of reminded me of Manhattan in I Am Legend, but much more real, and infinitely creepier. 
Also, there’s a bear in an apartment for some reason.

When they get back in the van, they find that it doesn’t start.  It starts to get dark.  Then terrible things happen.  There’s a noise outside the van, and someone gets attacked.  The assumption is that he was attacked by wild dogs, but not everyone in the group is convinced.

They leave the van in an attempt to find help or fix the van.  They see strange things, are stalked by creatures, and are eventually picked off one-by-one, until the final survivors are driven into one of Chernobyl’s nuclear reactors.

You're never gonna get a girl with a cry-face like that, Paul

That doesn’t sound too bad.  There were quite a few pretty creepy moments, particularly towards the end.  I could see where the movie was going pretty early on (the premise itself leads you to jump to a pretty easily reached conclusion), but it was still pretty tense.  I don’t think I ever jumped, but I was definitely unnerved a few times.

Does she have a face?  Please tell me she has a face.

But the characters were all pretty terrible.  I didn’t care about any of them.  They had a little bit of background to them, and it went something like this:
Chris was dating Natalie, and he was planning on proposing to her.  Paul is Chris’ brother, and he used to date Amanda.  They seem to get along pretty well, but he comes on a bit too strong at times.  Michael and Zoe met while backpacking (or something) and have no prior affiliation with anyone in the group.  Yuri has been doing guided tours of Prypiat for years.
That’s about it.  Outside of the relationship between Chris and Paul, they don’t really develop any of the characters.  And I didn’t really like Chris and Paul.  I had no problem with Natalie, Amanda, Zoe or Michael, but they just didn’t have much to them.  There was nothing really to hate, but there wasn’t anything to like, either.
I have mixed feelings about Yuri.  There were a couple of scenes in particular that were just really confusing.  It appeared that he had some knowledge that something kind of weird was going on, but only in a couple of scenes.  The rest of the time he seemed perfectly happy to be the good-natured tour guide.

The atmosphere was really creepy, though.  They were not actually able to shoot this at Prypiat, but they did a great job recreating the city.  Even when there wasn’t anything creepy happening, the city gave off a very eerie vibe.  It was a great idea to set the movie in Prypiat, and they pulled it off really well.

If only the rest of the movie had been as good as the setting.

I think I kind of liked this movie, but at least 80% of that was due to the setting.  Again, I didn’t really like any of the characters, which is a problem when there are so few of them.  (In my last post I talked about the amazing job Elizabeth Olsen did in Silent House.  This was the opposite of that.)   It also should have ended about 5 minutes sooner.  Just lop off the last 5 minutes and it’s a better movie.

One final note.  The marketing for this movie (and the involvement of Paranormal Activity kingpin Oren Peli) suggested that it was a found footage movie.  That was not the case at all.  There were a handful of scenes that were shown through a handheld camera, but that was a very small part of the movie. 

I can see myself watching this again.  It definitely could have been better, but it wasn’t terrible, and I enjoyed myself throughout the majority of the movie.

Rating: 3/5

The group, in happier, non-dead times

Friday, September 21, 2012

Silent House

I reviewed the original, Uruguayan film La Casa Muda a little while ago.  If you’re interested, you can read the review here.  I enjoyed that movie, but I was left with quite a few questions.  But I now have a theory that could explain my problems with that film (and this one, as well).  I’ll get to that in a bit.

The set-up is the same, but the names are different.  Sarah, her father (John), and her uncle (Peter) are trying to fix up their old house in the country in an attempt to sell it.  As they walk through the house, we see just how dilapidated it really is.  John and Peter get into an argument, and Peter storms out of the house.  With John upstairs, Sarah hears a knock on the door and finds a girl named Sophia, who is about her age.  Sophia tells her that they used to be friends, although Sarah doesn’t seem to remember her.  They agree to meet up later, and Sophia leaves.

Sarah heads back upstairs to help her dad.  When he goes into the next room, she hears a strange noise and goes to check it out.  She eventually finds him unconscious on the floor with blood coming out of his head.  And then it’s on.

She freaks out (naturally).  She hears footsteps and hides.  She never really seems to get a good look at the intruder, but it appears to be a fairly large man (6’3”, 250 lbs) wearing camouflage gear and face paint.  (He is credited as “Stalking Man”, which seems appropriate.) 

She tries to escape the house, but runs into a myriad of problems.  The front door is locked from the inside by a key that has gone missing.  The windows are boarded up.  The exit from the basement is locked by a padlock.  And so on.  So Sarah finds herself trapped in this house with a very imposing, very stealthy man stalking her. 

There was a main difference between the original and this version at this point.  In the original, one of my complaints was that she was being stalked, yet she spent quite a bit of time investigating the rooms of the house without paying any attention to anything else, often with her back to the door.  It was frustrating.  This version didn’t have that.  Sarah seemed legitimately scared the entire time, and didn’t find herself distracted by any flights of fancy.  Her sole goal was to find a way out of the house, and then find help for her father.

Eventually she escapes, just in time to find Uncle Peter driving up to the house.  She tells him what is going on, and, against her wishes, he rushes into the house, leaving her in the car by herself.  (This was a pretty tense scene, and I’m pretty sure I jumped.  But I did not scream like a girl.  Because I don’t do those sorts of things.)  She follows him into the house, and, before too long, she finds herself trapped in the house with two unconscious relatives.  Good plan, Uncle Peter.

And it goes on from there.  She’s scared.  She tries to escape.  She is chased.  And so on, and so forth.  Let’s break into a bit of spoiler territory.

Just like in La Casa Muda, Sarah finds that there is no one in the house.  As a young girl, she was sexually abused by her father, and one of her other personalities is the one actually dishing out the beatings.  All of this is completely unknown to Sarah, but she figures it out eventually (in this version, Sophia – one of her personalities – is the one that fills her in on the details).
But there are some differences.  In La Casa Muda, you know for a fact that she was raped.  She even had a daughter who was later killed in an attempt to cover it up.  In Silent House, they never say that she was raped.  All we know for sure is that her father would strip her down and take sexually explicit photographs of her.  We also know that her uncle was present for some of these events, but that he eventually begged her father to stop.  Either way, there was some messed up stuff going on in that house, and she was well within her rights to seek revenge.

Now, for my theory: in my review of La Casa Muda, I talked about how it didn’t make any sense that the camera followed Sarah around for the entire movie in one continuous shot, yet we never saw her attack her father and uncle.  “How could she attack them when she was in the frame the entire time?”  I believe that the camera was following only Sarah’s point of view, not the point of view of Sophia or the Stalking Man, or even the little girl who popped up from time to time.  Since it wasn’t the Sarah personality that was doing the attacking, we didn’t see it.  It seems like a simple concept, yet I didn’t grasp that at all on my first viewing.  That’s on me.  I guess I need to watch more movies.

Overall, I really liked this.  Having seen La Casa Muda already, I pretty much knew where this movie was heading, but even then there were a handful of moments that freaked me out.  It’s difficult to say which movie I liked better, but, for now, I’ll say that I enjoyed this version slightly more than La Casa Muda.  I would attribute that to the fact that Sarah was always focused on eluding her attacker, while Laura (the lead in La Casa Muda) would often take little breaks to look at things in the house.  That same level of frustration was not present in this movie, which was nice.

For such a small movie like this to work, the acting has to be terrific.  And it was.  Elizabeth Olsen was tremendous as Sarah.  Seeing as how the camera followed her for the entire movie, a lesser actress could have really submarined this movie.  But she really carried this, and it was quite impressive to watch.

It’s rolling around to fall.  October is right around the corner.  Pumpkin ales are popping up at grocery stores.  The mood is right for horror movies.  Do yourself a favor and check this one out.  It moves pretty quickly, has a number of legitimately creepy moments, and quite a few effective jump-scares.  This is the movie I had hoped The Strangers would be.

Rating: 5/5

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution

I have a review for Silent House coming up in the next day or two.  But I went to see the new Resident Evil movie last night, so I thought I’d get this one up first.

Allow me to preface this review by saying that I have seen all of the Resident Evil movies multiple times.  I loved 1-3, but didn’t care much for 4.  There were some good scenes, and a handful of characters that I enjoyed, but it was definitely the weakest of the movies to that point.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new challenger.

I knew we were in trouble from the very beginning.  The movie opened with an extended slow-motion backwards scene.  It was at least 5 minutes long.  It was like Enigma’s “Return to Innocence” video, but with lots of people getting shot in the back.  The next 5 minutes was an in-depth recap of the series, narrated by Alice.

It didn’t really get much better from there.

As the previews showed, a lot of previous characters showed up in this movie.  We saw Michelle Rodriguez (Rain), Oded Fehr (Carlos) and Colin Salmon (James Shade) return, but not as their original characters.  This movie also marked the return of Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine), which was tremendous.  The only returning character from Afterlife was Boris Kodjoe (Luther West), which was cool, because I really liked his character.

There were also quite a few nods to previous movies.  Ada wears a dress that is very similar to the one Alice wears in the first movie.  The opening scene from Afterlife is reprised by a simulation.  The Red Queen returns, and delivers her signature line “You’re all going to die down here.”  Alice finds herself in an Umbrella Corporation interrogation room wearing the same white-sheet look as she does at the end of the first movie.

The concept was decent.  Alice is captured and is held in the Umbrella Corporation’s underground Russian facility (when I say “underground”, I really mean “under-ice”).  A team is sent to rescue her.  But this is no ordinary facility: it’s where the Umbrella Corporation would test their biological weapons and test their effects in different settings.  There were a few cities (New York, Tokyo and Moscow), and a suburban setting.  They were able to spawn whatever they wanted in these settings.

Suburban zombies


This led to Alice and her companions finding themselves in different situations, fighting some familiar foes (zombies, the large axe-hammer guy from Afterlife, a larger version of the crawling brain-monster from the first movie, etc.), and some not-so-familiar foes (intelligent, gun-wielding zombies in Moscow that looked quite a bit like the zombies from Dead Snow).



Sounds cool, right? 

Believe me, it was not.  There were numerous problems with this movie, and I’ll try to mention all of them (but I’m sure to miss some).


The plot was needlessly complicated.  I know these movies get into a lot of Umbrella Corporation conspiracy stuff, but this one got way too deep into that.  Too much talking.  Not enough action.  Which wouldn’t have been a huge problem if the acting was better.  Or the dialogue was better.  It was really, really bad.  Four of us went to see it, and we all laughed out loud multiple times.

There also weren’t really any good new characters in this.  We know Alice.  As I mentioned, Luther was in this, but he didn’t have a big role.  Jill Valentine was brainwashed, so she was basically a robot.  They tried to introduce some new characters, but there was absolutely nothing to them.  They were not so much characters as they were action figures.  For a series that has had its share of memorable characters, this was a major disappointment.

Welcome back, Jill


As I mentioned, we laughed quite a few times, but never at the times when we were supposed to.  There were a lot of moments that were supposed to be funny that were really cheesy.  Then there were a lot of moments that were supposed to be serious that were just really funny.  (There were two moments in particular that were amazingly funny.  One of them involved a picture of Oded Fehr smiling like a goofball, but I wasn’t able to find it to add to this post.  The other one can’t really be described in words.)


The music was awful.  It was almost too loud, and it was always over-the-top dramatic.  There was a scene where two fights were occurring simultaneously, and they each had their own fight soundtrack, with were both equally ridiculous.  There was no segue between the fights, so it felt like I was being pulled in two different directions.  It was confusing.

Some of the fight scenes were pretty cool.  There was a long scene of Alice fighting zombies in a hallway with a gun and a bike lock that was pretty awesome.  There was a car chase scene that had some enjoyable moments.  There was a fight in the snow that looked great (this is one of the few scenes where I felt the 3D really added something.  The snowflakes looked like they were floating in the theater.)  There were a couple of great deaths.  

But the good moments didn’t make up for the poor ones, and the poor moments far outweighed the good ones.


Being a big fan of the series in general, this movie was a major disappointment.  That being said, there is no doubt in my mind that I will watch the next movie on its opening weekend.  Because I’m a sucker.

Rating: 2/5


Even though the movie was terrible, there were quite a few terrific posters for it.  Here are some of my favorites.

I'm not sure this last one is actually a poster for the movie, but it came up in my search, and I thought it looked pretty cool.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Death Tunnel

I watched Death Tunnel because it was filmed at Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, KY.  Waverly Hills is famous for being one of the most haunted places in the United States (or, at the very least, in the Eastern region of the United States).  Living in Lexington, KY, this intrigued me.  I hadn’t heard great things about the movie, but how often do you get to see a movie filmed in a haunted building in your very own state?  (Since that is an oddly specific set of criteria, I would guess the answer is “not very often”.)

Waverly Hills Sanatorium 

The set-up was cool enough.  They took a cue from the actual history of Waverly Hills and tweaked it to make it more sinister.  Here is the basic story of Waverly Hills: it was used in the early 1900s to treat a massive outbreak of tuberculosis.  A 500 foot tunnel was built underneath the building as a way to easily bring in supplies.  They weren’t able to treat the tuberculosis, so a lot of patients died (at its peak, they estimate one patient death every other day).  In an attempt to keep the morale up (apparently seeing dead bodies being rolled out a few times every week didn’t do much to keep spirits up), they used the supply tunnel as a way to discreetly remove dead bodies from the building.  And there is the (very) abridged history of Waverly Hills Sanatorium.

The "death tunnel"

For Death Tunnel, the name has been changed to Vanguard Sanatorium, named after Richard J. Vanguard, who opened the sanatorium and worked there as a doctor.  As I said, they keep the same basic history (used for tuberculosis patients, used the tunnel to remove the dead, etc.), but they add some stuff.  For instance, Richard Vanguard experimented on the patients, so the death count was significantly higher.  The tunnel was used more as a way to hide the number of deaths from the outside world, instead of boosting morale.  And so on.  Bottom line: Richard Vanguard was an evil man.

So that’s the set-up.  That doesn’t sound too bad, right?  The pieces are in place for a pretty good movie.

The story isn’t terrible.  Five college girls (required to wear “provocative nighttime attire”) end up participating in an initiation called “Truth or Scare”.  They have hoods placed on their heads, and they’re all placed in separate rooms (well, two of them share a room, but whatever).  The repeated mantra is, “Five girls, five floors, five hours.”  The first one to make it out wins.  (It’s never quite clear what they win.  It’s not entrance to a sorority.  As near as I could tell, they win an invitation to a party house.)  They are also told that they will be encountering “five ghosts”.  There are cameras all over the house.  It’s a set-up.  A prank.  A way for a couple guys to see five scantily clad girls run around for a few hours. 

And what a plan it was

But then the ghosts show up, and people start dying (the mantra changes with each death, of course.  “Four girls…”).  They discover that each girl who was chosen had a connection to the sanatorium (their relatives were patients or nurses, mainly).  They begin assuming the lives and memories of their relatives, and we find out a little more about the sanatorium with each girl.  There’s also a guy involved: his name is Richie, he’s one of the guys who set up Truth or Scare, and he’s the love interest of final girl.

And Richie is NOT happy to be there

It should be noted that one of the ghosts is a large figure in a gas mask who pushes around a gurney, wears a rubber apron, and speaks in a muffled, gravely voice.  He carts off the dead bodies, which brought to mind the hearse driver in Dead End.

Time to collect the bodies...

So, basically, girls try to escape.  Girls get possessed.  Girls die.  And one girl gets naked and takes a shower for no real reason.  Because, when you find yourself in a haunted sanatorium, the first thing you should do is take a shower.

Who could've guessed it would turn into a haunted blood shower?

None of that looks terrible. 
But here’s the thing: it absolutely was.

There were so many things wrong with this movie, I’m not quite sure where to start.  From time to time, there would be a random flash-forward that accomplished nothing but confusion.  They pulled me out of the movie, spun me around, and put me back in.  There was no rhyme or reason to these.  And they happened pretty often.

This is how the movie started.  Before we met her, we saw her kill face

The motivation of the characters never made sense.  Why did they participate in this?  Was it seriously just to be able to frequent a college party house? 

The acting was terrible.  It might have been some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen Galaxy Invader countless times).  As near as I could tell, they just grabbed a random assortment of beautiful(ish) people off the streets and said, “Can you go to this haunted hospital and read these words?  Thanks!”
Beyond the fact that these actors were terrible, most of them were asked to play two parts.  “Can you play a normal college kid AND an insane suicidal nurse?”  That’s a recipe for disaster right there.

Krazee-Eyez Tori

The writing was laughably bad.  I jotted down a couple of my favorite lines.  But, for every line I noted, there were a dozen that were nearly as good.
-          “That’s where who died?”  “MEEEEEE!”
-          “ You make me sick.  Now I make you sick.”  (This was pretty much delivered exactly the same as, “You don’t bring me down.  I bring me down,” from Jerry McGuire.  Except this was all muffled because it was said by the gas mask guy.  So, basically, it sounded like a less jolly Bane.)
-          “Something in this place remembers.  And it’s f***ing pissed off!”
-          “Vanguard said the only way out was death.  The only way out is the death tunnel.”

And so on, and so forth.

The “ghosts” were pretty ridiculous.  Two pale naked chicks just kinda roaming the halls.  A girl who just wanted to play catch with a ball.  The evil, scene-chomping Richard Vanguard.  They didn’t have many special effects, which was good, because the ones they did have were awful.

What I’m saying is, this movie was awful.  But it was awful in an entertaining way.  I can see myself watching this again if the setting is right (with a group of like-minded individuals and beer).  If you’re looking for a good movie, you’re out of luck.  But, if you’re looking for an entertaining movie, you could do worse than this.

Rating (quality): 1/5
Rating (entertainment value): 3.5/5

Just for fun, here are the girls: Devon, Elizabeth, Ashley, Tori and Heather.  (Their first initials spell “death”.  Get it?!)