Saturday, May 25, 2013

Kill Me Now

Description from Netflix:
When nerds Dennis and Noah crash a party thrown by the local jocks and hot girls in a remote cabin, they must combat a brainy serial murderer known at the Driller Killer, who uses power tools to rid the world of idiots, one clueless teen at a time.

Notable actors: Michael Swaim, Katy Stoll, Katie Willert

I have long been a fan of Michael Swaim's (and Katy Stoll's, and Katie Willert's) work at Cracked.  So, when I heard Swaim was writing/directing a horror/comedy (and featuring Stoll & Willert in minor roles), I got kind of excited.  It premiered in a very limited release late last year, and was finally made available by VOD fairly recently.

By the time I was able to see it, I had lowered my expectations quite a bit.  I wondered how Swaim's humor - previously only seen in 5 minute intervals - would play for 90 minutes.  It was his first movie, and it was made for $90,000.  I've seen great movies by first time directors on a limited budget (Colin was made for about $150 and is one of my favorite modern zombie movies), but I've also seen a fair share of absolutely terrible movies fitting that same description.
My last concern had nothing to do with Swaim.  Horror comedies are tricky films to make.  A good one has to give a nod to the films that have inspired them, while making light of certain characters/plot inconsistencies.  The best ones change the way you watch horror movies.  A lot of others settle for easy jokes.  Others settle for being flat-out campy.  Others fail in every capacity and are just terrible.

While I wouldn't rank this among the best in that category (perhaps I'll put together a list of my favorite horror comedies at some point), it was still pretty good.  The humor held up surprisingly well for the duration of the movie.  The budget constraints were obvious from time to time, but it was never really a distraction.  I've seen plenty of movies made with higher budgets that looked a lot worse than this one did.  I liked the majority of the characters.  I thought the douchebag jocks would get on my nerves after a while, but they really didn't.  They were consistently amusing in their doofiness.

The villain was terrific.  This was actually one of my favorite parts of the movie: instead of creating an anonymous killer, they decided that the killer would be The Driller Killer.  The Driller Killer is an odd, grindhousey 1979 slasher.  In that film, the Driller Killer (real name, Reno Miller) was an artist who is slowly (or not-so-slowly, I guess) being driven insane by the rock band practicing in the apartment above him.  So, like any artist pressed to his limit would do, be began drilling bums to death with a battery-powered drill.

I saw The Driller Killer a few years ago, as it was in a pack of 50 movies (Chilling Classics, to be precise) I had received from my brother, and it had a catchy title (this is the same reason I watched Bucket of Blood and Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory.  I am not to be trusted with those movie packs).

Maybe it's just because I had already seen The Driller Killer, but the fact that they reused that killer made me endlessly happy.  After all, Reno was still alive at the end of The Driller Killer.  It only makes sense that he continued on with his killing ways.  You know the old saying, "Once you start killing bums with a drill, the only thing that can stop you is the steady rain of a thousand bullets." 
Still, judging by his murder method in The Driller Killer, I would've assumed he would've been caught/killed by now.  He wasn't overly cautious in his methods.  Oh well.  I'm certainly not here to nitpick continuity issues between The Driller Killer and Kill Me Now, or write Driller Killer fanfic that explains where he has been all this time.  (I might be here for that, but not in this post.  That story needs room to breathe.)

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  Quite a few big laughs (if you can work a solid Oscar Wilde joke into a horror movie, chances are I'll laugh).  Good characters.  A good collection of actors (even if it was obvious that a lot of them weren't highly trained actors, I still thought everyone did a great job).  This was a genuinely funny movie.  Glad to see Swaim venturing into the world of moviemaking.  I hope he ends up making another one.
My one complaint: could've used more Stoll, Willert, and Dan O'Brien.  You've been put on notice, Swaim.

This is currently available by VOD.  I rented it for $3.99 from Amazon, and am probably going to end up buying it at some point in the not-too-distant future.  If you have an extra $4, I highly recommend checking this out.  You’ll get a few laughs and support indie horror in one fell swoop.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Description from Netflix:
In this high-gloss update of a 1980 slasher flick, Elijah Wood stars as Frank, a mannequin store owner who develops an unsatiable lust for blood when he becomes obsessed with a young artist who turns to him for help with her latest exhibit.

Notable actors: Elijah Wood, America Olivio

You can read my review of the original version here.

My thoughts:
One minor point to nitpick in that description.  Frank did not suddenly develop “an unsatiable lust for blood” when Anna comes into the picture.  We saw him kill at least one woman before he meets Anna.  If anything, Anna makes Frank try to fight his psychopathic tendencies.

Aside from two small scenes (as well as a few flashbacks), the entire film is told through Frank’s POV.  When I first heard about it, it seemed a little gimmicky.  An easy way to generate some press.  The cynic in me immediately saw a cash grab.  “Look!  You see everything through the eyes of the killer!  Give us your money!”

Thankfully, that was not the case.  The use of POV was amazing, and Wood did a great job at playing the Frank character in such a way as to convey his overwhelming psychosis without having to see him.  We were treated to scenes that showed what was going on in his head that drove him to kill.  We hear his heavy breathing when he’s stalking his prey.  We are not the killer, but we see everything from his perspective.  I don’t know that we necessarily sympathize with him, but we can definitely see why he does what he does.
To me, one of the most telling scenes comes after a kill, when Frank catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror.  He has just finished murdering and scalping a girl he took on a date.  He sees himself in the mirror, and begins to vomit.  In build-up to that scene, we see why he kills (a deep-seated psychosis brought on by his mother).  But in that scene, we see that his actions sicken him.  He does not want to kill, but he is driven to kill.  He hates himself for it, and he can’t stand the sight of himself after committing such a vile act.  He knows he’s a monster, but he can’t help it.  It’s a terrific scene, and it wouldn’t have been nearly as impactful if the film wasn’t told through the eyes of Frank.

Elijah Wood is the obvious stand-out here.  After all, it’s not easy to command a movie when you’re rarely seen, but he does a tremendous job here.  You can hear the crazy in his voice.  When you catch a glimpse in the mirror, you can see the crazy in his eyes.  And yet, behind the crazy is a tenderness.  A sense of longing.  A need to belong in a world that he no longer can find his place in.  It’s an amazing performance.

But he’s not the only one who turns in a great performance.  Nora Arnezeder (Anna) is perfect.  She’s able to see through Frank’s craziness and appreciate the person he wishes he were all the time.  Through her interactions with Frank, we see how hard he tries to fight his compulsion to kill.  She’s an extremely important character, and Arnezeder kills the role.

Really, I could talk this way about every actor in the film.  Everyone was fantastic.  There wasn’t a weak link in the cast.

The film looked great.  Where the original was a dirty, grimy film, this one felt very sleek, and the pulsing, electronic soundtrack only added to that feeling.  It reminded me of Drive.  But with more scalping.  (Although with less elevator head-stomping, which I felt was odd.)

If I have any problems with this movie, it’s that there were a few scenes that were a bit hard to follow.  But I think that’s less a problem with the narrative structure and more because we’re seeing the events of the film through the eyes of a psychopath.  As a general rule, a madman is not the most reliable storyteller.

Overall, I really loved this film.  There weren’t really any jump scares, but more of an overwhelming, suffocating dread that didn’t let up for the entire film.  It was an expertly crafted film with some tremendous performances.  As of right now, this is in my top-three horror films of the year (along with Mama and Evil Dead).

One final note: there’s a terrific scene after a kill where Frank catches a reflection of himself in a car door, holding a scalp.  It’s a terrific homage to the poster for the original.  I really loved seeing it in there.  It showed the love and respect this director had for the original, while still being able to remake it in his own style.

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Lords of Salem

Description from Netflix:
Soon after rock DJ Heidi airs a mysterious album she received on vinyl, the locals start clamoring to hear more from the Lords of Salem.  But the group’s otherworldly sounds have a strange effect on everyone, including Heidi.

Notable actors:
Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Dee Wallace, Meg Foster, Ken Foree, Richard Fancy

Heidi's radio show is beyond terrible, by the way

My thoughts:
I would like to start off by saying that I don’t really have a problem with Rob Zombie.  I don’t know that I’ve really loved any of his films, but I’ve enjoyed all of them.  So, while I’m far from being a Rob Zombie superfan, I do tend to like his films.    
To watch Rob Zombie films is to know that Sheri Moon Zombie is going to be involved.  I don’t necessarily have a huge problem with her, either.  She’s not the best actress in the world, but she’s far from the worst.  If given a bit part, she’s fine.

What?  Friends dance to "Venus in Furs" in the dark.

Sadly, she is not relegated to “bit part” status here.  As the main character, she’s expected to carry the movie, and she is not nearly talented enough to do that.  This is a slow-paced movie, and it requires a magnetizing presence to drive the movie.  Moon Zombie is a lot of things, but “magnetizing presence” is not one of them.

However, she's a tremendous goat-rider

If that were the only problem with this film, I could easily overlook it.  However, that is not the case.

Some of the scenes – especially when they flash back to the original witches in Salem – look terrible.  The scenery looked cheap.  The witches danced and chanted and screamed like they were in a bad stage production of Macbeth.  With more nudity.  Oh man.  So much nudity.  So much terrible, terrible nudity.

Toil and trouble, indeed

Other scenes were downright comical.  I can’t say too much without getting into spoiler territory, but there was a scene in the last 20 minutes that made me laugh out loud.  And there was no way Zombie was going for laughs.

All that being said, my main problem lay with the stakes of the movie.  I wasn’t quite sure just how terrible things would be if the witches accomplished their mission.  Their ultimate plan was to bring Satan into the world, which seems like a perfectly reasonable mission for a group of ancient witches to have.
But what happens next?  Is the entire fate of the world at stake, or just the town of Salem?  We’re never really told.  I suppose it’s safe to assume that the rise of Satan will portend the end of the world, but that’s a pretty large jump.  After all, the existence of Satan acknowledges the existence of God, and I’m pretty sure God would have some kind of say in whether the world ends or not.  It wouldn’t be quite as simple as playing a record and watching the world go to hell.
(It’s worth noting that Satan looked like a man in a bad gorilla suit.  That amused me greatly.  It was like Zombie found the suit used in Rosemary’s Baby, dusted it off, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Good enough.”  Which, honestly, wouldn’t surprise me a bit.)

I didn’t hate the entire movie.  There were some really interesting scenes.  I really loved the recurring hallway scenes.  There’s one towards the end, with Heidi being pushed in a wheelchair, that was particularly great.

I also thought the concept was pretty cool.  Music taken directly from the diary of Nathaniel Hawthorne that put all direct descendents of the original Salem witches into a trance, and helped to bring about the rise of Satan.  And that song was pretty creepy.  A dark, heavy, dirge-like song that can easily get stuck in your head.
It was a pretty simple plot, which seemed like the way to go.  However, as I mentioned previously, this kind of movie needed a stronger lead actress. 

There were parts of this movie I liked.  Some creepy images.  Some decent scenes.  There’s a scene near the end that is absolutely bonkers, and I enjoyed that.  But, for the most part, this was just kind of a mess.  I think Rob Zombie has a good eye for movie making, but is not necessarily a good movie maker.

Rating: 2/5