Movie Review: The DARK TAPES

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dark tapes, theEpic Pictures Group

Oh, hey, look: a found footage anthology movie. On the Amazon Prime streaming. Who’da thunk it? Well, I chose to watch this due to the cover art itself, so let’s get this review over with.

If you’re new to this blog of mine, you may have noticed that I have kind of a low expectation upon found footage movies. I watch ’em because sometimes I’ve been surprised before, like with the V/H/S series, or with the first Cloverfield movie. But more often than not, they’ve turned out to be formulaic and stale, mostly involving invisible ghosts and such, always at some haunted location. Or family curse. I’m looking at you, Paranormal Activity series. I do very much enjoy the anthology style of horror movie, so at least there’s that going for The Dark Tapes. So, does this anthology flick stand up, or does it fall flat? Let’s see…

The first segment is kind of the wrap-around short, the one that is shown in segments between the segments, acting as a lose glue to hold the films together. It’s called “To Catch A Demon”, and starts kind of weak, but then gets a bit more interesting as the segments go on. It does have a Lovecraftian sci-fi feel to it, and works on a certain level, with the low point being when the trans-dimensional creature speaks. Kind of unintentionally funny, there. Anyway, the first proper short is “The Hunters And The Hunted”, which comes off as a cheap Ghost Hunters/Paranormal Activity knock-off, for the most part losing me in the “been there, done that” feeling, when suddenly there’s a twist at the end that made me nod and smile in approval. Good save, there. Up next was “Cam Girls”, and is pretty much the weakest short in this, more or less an excuse in girl-on-girl titillation and gore, all on web cams. The end “twist” is the biggest middle finger to those watching. I do give them props for not featuring any nudity in this one, just letting the story stand on its on unmitigated suckiness. And finally, “Amanda’s Revenge” centers on the titular young lady who finds herself constantly visited and tormented by otherworldly beings, frightened at first but then figuring out a way to turn the tables and chase away these ETs for good.

Overall, there’s a lot of really good ideas featured here in The Dark Tapes that suffer greatly from the execution. The strongest point here, I thought, was the wrap-around “To Catch A Demon”, which reminds me of the Lovecraft story “From Beyond”. Second best is “Amanda’s Revenge”, with “The Hunters And The Hunted” saved from a strong ending but still doesn’t justify the weak first part. “Cam Girls” is just pointless. The low-budget effects can be off-putting at times, as well as some of the acting.

In the end, The Dark Tapes doesn’t do anything to justify the continued production of found footage movies, other than they’re cheep to crank out and make money on. Check out the three V/H/S anthologies for a much better example of doing the style right.


Movie Review: A QUIET PLACE

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a quiet placePlatinum Dunes

Hey, remember Jim from the American version of The Office? You know, the character who kept pursuing a relationship with the secretary, and instead of being slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit, ended up marrying and having a family with? He was played by John Krasinski, who, as it turns out, also writes, produces and directs other movies and television.

You’re probably rolling your eyes and groaning, “I know, idiot.” Fair enough. I just needed a way to start off this review, and I went with the Pointless Trivia Everyone Already Knew route. You probably also already knew that Krasinski doesn’t like the horror genre. Which I find fascinating, because his recent movie, A Quiet Place, is an amazing horror movie.

So, we’re dropped right into Day 86, and the majority of the Earth’s population has been hunted almost to extinction by extra-terrestrial apex preditors that hunt primarily by their ultra-hightened sense of hearing. If you make the teeniest of sounds, they can zero in on you and take you out in the blink of an eye. We follow a family of five scavenging for supplies in a deserted town, making no sounds, as at this point they’ve figured out some tricks to keep under the sound radar, if you will. That is, until, due to an unfortunate act of affection by the older sister, their youngest son is taken out by one of the creatures on their way back to the farm they live at. Jump forward about a year, and the family is not only surviving, but thriving, as the mother is pregnant and is a short way off from the due date. Pretty ballsy choice, given how infants are not exactly paragons of complete silence. But, they prove themselves to be up for the challenge, devising a sound proof box that the baby can sleep in, to keep from attracting the creatures to their already heavily modified homestead. The daughter is deaf, and is more than a bit on the angsty side, as she’s on the cusp of puberty, and she also blames herself for her brother’s death, as well as believing her father doesn’t love her because of that, only caring for her out of obligation. Nothing could be further from the truth, but because of all the silence needed, it’s hard for the father to really express his love for his daughter, outside of trying to build better hearing aid devices to try to help her hear. Everything comes to a head one afternoon when the father takes their middle oldest son out to teach how to fish, the daughter goes off to the spot where the youngest son died to do some brooding, and the mother goes into labor a couple of weeks early, which is bad enough…but then she steps on a nail getting to the safety of the basement, which is when everything really hits the fan.

And, I’m going to just stop there, and let you go ahead and find out what happens.

It took me a week from the release date to finally catch A Quiet Place, but I’m glad I did so. John Krasinski seems to know what he’s doing, as he’s crafted a tense, taunt and utterly genuine horror movie that’s incredibly effective. The entire cast carried the script wonderfully, having to act without words, building up and fleshing out their characters with hardly any dialogue, and it works. You get drawn into the family, tangibly feel the love and affection they have for each other, especially with the tension between the father and the daughter. The use of the sound — and sometimes the utter lack of it — is incredibly effective with building the tension.

The monsters themselves were wisely kept in the shadows, out of sight, until the very end, letting us piece things together through the movie. When they show up, though…yeah, pants-wetting nightmare fuel.

Overall, A Quiet Place is a very effective, well-made horror movie that will draw you in, and won’t let go until the very final scene, which will leave you wanting to know what happens next. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: The THING

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thing, theUniversal

“I donno what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.”

Continuing to explore the works of John Carpenter in the 1980s, we come to his remake of The Thing. Well, okay, technically it’s more of a close adaptation of the novella Who Goes There?, by John W. Campbell, Jr., while the first film adaptation — 1951’s The Thing From Another World — was a very loose adaptation at best. Haven’t read the book or watched the first film (yet), so that’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Anyway, John Carpenter’s The Thing was released in 1982, and was immediately lambasted by critics, causing it to flop hard at the box office. Which, given this was really the complete opposite type of space alien movie than that other one that was released a mere two weeks before The Thing, and yeah; I can understand why this movie wasn’t as popular. Fortunately, because of the burgeoning home video market at the time, The Thing has been reassessed over the years, and gone from cult favorite to certified sci-fi classic.

So, after opening with a UFO crashing into Earth, we arrive in Antarctica, where gun-wielding Norwegians are going after a Malamute in a helicopter. As you do. The dog runs to an American outpost, where the chopper crash-lands, and — because the surviving Norwegian doesn’t speak English — is shot in self-defense by the station commander. A couple of the Americans stationed at the base fly out to the Norwegian base to find out what made them go all cray-cray, only to find their base was burned down, with nothing but frozen corpses and a malformed humanoid of some sort, which they take back to their base. After an autopsy by a mustache-less Wilford Brimley, they discover the unholy abomination they found had normal human organs. Meanwhile, the dog they saved begins to go Franz Kafka, metamorphosing and absorbing the other dogs in the kennel, which leads to the crew flamethrowing the thing. After doing an autopsy on that, as well as going over the data recovered from the Norwegian site, the team determines that, as improbable as it sounds, the UFO seen at the beginning of the movie was found after 100,000 years, unleashing the alien creature that can assimilate any living thing it comes into contact with. Of course, this ups the paranoia quotient, and considering they’re all in a very isolated part of the planet, the possibility of them all coming out of all of this alive is not looking too good. Especially after the creature proves itself very adept at taking each of them out one-by-one.

Back when I first watched The Thing, I didn’t know exactly what to make of it. There was a lot to take in, yes, but since it was the early 90s and I was much younger and not as focused as I am now, I didn’t really pay much attention, my mind distracted more often than not, wondering why my friend was making such a big deal about this movie and wanting me to watch it. Well, I’m glad he made me sit and watch is VHS copy. Over the years, after watching it more times, it grew on me, to where I understood the brilliance that went into making this movie. John Carpenter took the less-is-more approach, ramping up the paranoia and giving the atmosphere a thickness you could cut. When it came to the creature effects, when you realize how they managed to pull this off with just practical effects, you come to understand what went into this. The Thing is a movie that doesn’t go for the happy ending, letting things dangle with a question mark and a bleak aftertaste that, quite frankly, I appreciate.

Overall, yeah…The Thing is another bit of required watching, and another reason why I hold John Carpenter in high esteem, like many others. If you haven’t seen this, or (heaven forbid) have only the 2011 re-quel, you really need to rectify this oversight.


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batman foreverWarner Bros.

“One man is born a hero, his brother a coward. Babies starve, politicians grow fat. Holy men are martyred, and junkies grow legion. Why? Why, why, why, why, why? Luck! Blind, stupid, simple, doo-dah, clueless luck!”

So, here we are at the third installment of the Burton / Schumacher Batman movies. This, of course, being the one where Schumacher took over the directing duties, while Burton — not wanting to continue on with the franchise — was given Executive Producer credit.

Boy, howdy was there a noticeable tonal shift with Batman Forever. I went with a bunch of friends to see this the weekend it was released in 1995. I remember sitting there, watching the movie play out, thinking ot myself, “There’s a lot of dayglow in this movie.” Mind you, Batman & Robin was two years off at this time. But, Batman Forever seemed less whimsically dark and more…well, campy. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here. Let’s make with the rundown, shall we?

In Gotham City, former district attorney Harvey Dent turned supervillain Two-Face is causing all sorts of shenanigans, narrowly escaping capture by Batman, who starts off the movie with a quick McDonald’s commercial take. Meanwhile, Wayne Enterprises employee Edward Nygma is developing a way to beam television directly into everyone’s brains, which, as it turns out, is considered immoral by big industry, and thus Nygma is promoted to customer. After killing his former supervisor, he takes on the persona of The Riddler, devising a way to take down Bruce Wayne. Meanwhile, at a circus performance, Bruce and his psychiatrist date witness the death of a trapeze family saving everyone from a bomb planted by Two Face, leaving late-20s-looking “teenager” Richard Grayson an orphan. Of course, Bruce Wayne takes in “young” Grayson as his ward, while The Riddler teams up with Two-Face to mass-produce the mind-television thing to learn the secrets of Gotham’s citizenry…and also Batman’s secret identity. Meanwhile, Grayson is being a whiny ponce, and earns his name Dick by managing to break into the Bat-cave and taking the Bat Mobile out for a joyride. After running into the Dayglow and Glowsticks Gang, Dick demands Batman let him find and kill Two-Face, with Batsy not havin’ any of it, especially after stealing the Batmobile so soon after having it detailed and all. But, they have bigger problems, as The Riddler and Two-Face have discovered that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and thus arrive at stately Wayne Manor cause wacky mayhem and blow up the Bat Cave. Thus, Alfred creates the Robin costume, and he and Batman head off to take down the two nefarious ner-do-wells, just in time to sell more Batman action figures.

The best way this movie was described comes from the Honest Trailers on YouTube: “This is definitely the worst Batman movie I’ve seen thirty times.” I have to admit, despite the flaws in the plot and characters, there’s a certain kind of charm to this iteration of the Caped Crusader. You do have to agree that Joel Schumacher managed to do the impossible in making Jim Carrey not the most over-the-top character in this movie. Somehow, Tommy Lee Jones manages to out-mug Carrey. Chris O’Donnell is far too old to be playing the Boy Wonder, making his teen angsty thing rather off-putting. As for Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne / Batman, at the time when I first watched the movie, I thought he made a pretty good one. Now…eh, he’s decent, but that’s merely because there have been more actors having played the part. He’s still better than George Clooney’s portrayal.

Overall, yeah, I still watch Batman Forever once in a while. It holds a kind of campy fun, like with the 1966 Batman movie. However, to misquote a much, much better Batman movie, Batman Forever may not be the Batman movie we wanted, but it definitely the Batman movie we deserved in the 90s.

Movie Review: THEY LIVE

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they liveUniversal

“I have came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubblegum.”

One Saturday after noon in the summer of 1992, on the local Fox affiliate station, I happened upon a movie that got my curiosity up. I missed the title itself, but it looked like it was a movie that starred pro wrassler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. I continued watching because I was intrigued by this up to now unknown (to me) movie that had a former WWF star that wasn’t Hulk Hogan in a role. I didn’t know what this movie was, but it got far too interesting for me to stop watching.

Of course, now I know that the televised Saturday afternoon movie I stumbled upon all those years ago was They Live, one of the classic sci-fi movies John Carpenter made during his 1980s output. I’ve since then have watched this multiple times since that fateful afternoon, as it truly is one of the classics of sci-fi cinema.

In They Live, we follow the Unnamed Drifter played by Roddy Piper (he’s credited as “John Nada” in the credits) as he finds some construction work in Los Angeles, and befriends the local shantytown dwellers. In a nearby church, strange transmissions emanates, which result in a raid by the law enforcement destroying the town. The church is empty, but “Nada” finds a hidden box of sunglasses. When putting them on, he notices that things are not quite right; there are subliminal messages that are now all around where he goes, and some of the people look like they’re not from this planet. When he takes the sunglasses off, things are back to normal. Soon, he realizes that what was once considered “normal” was all an elaborate conspiracy by strange creatures to keep humanity at large enslaved to their mediocre existence, while they get rich off of our cultural enslavement. Yep, about as subtle as a brick upside the head, there. Soon, he’s been noticed as being able to see by the alien conspirators, and then the wackiness doth ensue. Boy howdy, does it ever.

They Live is a great sci-fi movie classic, managing to strike a balance between campy and chilling with the added result of causing you to chew on it long after the end credits roll. It does suffer a bit at trying to stick the ending, but the trip there is great. Roddy Piper was a good pick to play the lead, which makes me wonder what kind of career he would have had if he stuck with acting. I mean, outside of the professional wrestling acting and all. The alien effects are rather effective and off-putting, and the concept of being able to see beyond the veil of normal reality and seeing what really is beneath is a concept that has fascinated me for longer than I can remember, really. And I can still remember pretty far back. Overall, They Live is required watching for you science fiction novices out there.

Music Review: INVERSION – The Nature Of Depravity

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inversion - the nature of depravityINVERSION
The Nature Of Depravity

So, there I was, at Cornerstone 2000, my first Cornerstone festival as a writing staff member of the Dead E-Zine, where I met the other staff members in person, as well as future staff member Sean “Cesspool” Hagans. It was a great time, there. Anyway, on the last day of the fest, the head editor-in-chief, D-Listr, handed me a pre-release copy CD of an album by a band named Inversion, titled The Nature Of Depravity. I listened to it on the long drive back to Nebraska, and my initial thoughts being it was pretty decent; a straight-up death metal album. I never got around to reviewing it for Dead, or for any of my various blogs, websites or the My Space page. Remember My Space? That page of mine is still floating around out there. But, I digress.

Going back to my initial thoughts on this back when I first listened to it on the drive back, I believe my exhaustion after four days of intense Midwest July heat, sleeping in my friend’s car and more physical exertion than I normally do in a year, I wasn’t exactly in the right frame of mind to really give it a good listen at that time. It’s been over fifteen years from that time, now, and have listened to it more since then, and I can upgrade my initial thoughts to reflect a bit more rounded assessment. Which is, The Nature Of Depravity is far better than I gave it originally.

What you get when you pop The Nature Of Depravity into your media player of choice is a blast of pure, unadulterated Death Metal, old-school and crunchy. Tracks like “Apocalyptic”, “Darkened By Hatred”, “Sex With Death”, “Defilement”, “Salt Solution Homicide”, “Tears From An Angel” and “The Butchering Of Relative Thinking” hits you with great, heavy and furious grinding riffs and hooks, with blastbeats and technical rhythms designed specifically to give you a severe bangover. And while it would be easy to just say, “This is Death Metal” and be done with it, there’s more to this than the sum of its parts. As I said, there’s some technicality involved with the metal here throughout; there’s some dark doomy flavor added to “Unsung Hero”, “Independence” has a good atmospheric bass solo opening before it kicks into the face-blasting METAL, then ends with an acoustic guitar; the song “Thieves” is the biggest shift in tone in the middle of the album, as it’s played completely on an acoustic guitar, with both regular singing and, interestingly, the growled death vocals; the last track, “Damnation Undone”, is a quick, less than a minute blast to end things on.

Overall, The Nature Of Depravity was something of a lucky give, as I don’t see a lot of reviews or posts about this online, and otherwise, I would have just passed it up initially. I’m glad I gave it more than a passing listen, as the metal on here is fantastic old school Death Metal that gets a play on my system more often than not. I recommend picking this up if you can manage to find it.


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paranormal activity 4Paramount Pictures

“He does not like you.”
“What? Who? Who does not like me?”
“You’ll find out.”

Fourth movie in the surprise horror series is more of the same, only this time, instead of being another prequel, Paranormal Activity 4 actually is a proper sequel, in that it furthers the story along from the end of Paranormal Activity 2.

Beginning on Halloween night, teenager Alex and her forever friend-zoned bestie Ben are taking Alex’s little brother Wyatt trick or treating, when they notice new neighbors moving in across the street, with a creepy little boy that happens to have a thing about playing in other people’s back yards in the middle of the night. Said creepy boy stays over at Alex’s place while his mother is in the hospital for whatever reason, and then it’s just a matter of time when Alex notices that, not only is Creepy Boy creepier than she thought, but weird, unsettling things are happening in the house. And little Wyatt seems to not be acting like himself, either. And what in the world is going on at that house across the street, there? Since this is a Paranormal Activity movie, if you’re wondering how things are going to end, then you haven’t been paying attention to the previous movies.

If you’ve seen the other three movies, you know exactly what to expect with this story—weird things happen to an unassuming family as told by a bunch of cameras, then frighteningly weirder stuff happens, then everyone either dies or get possessed by the malevolent entity I’m going to start referring to as “Cupcake” from here on out. At this point, though, I think the big innovative “twist” on the finding out of the presence of Cupcake was the motion capture dots that the video game console uses and that can only be picked up by the video camera. Even then, it didn’t really do much for me. Even at the end, when the cult shows up to do its typical thing, I was getting bored and trying to get the movie to get to the end finally by sheer will alone. Really, the only reason to continue watching this series this far is because you have some weird OCD thing that compels you to COMPLETE THE MOVIE WATCHING IN ORDER…like I do.

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