Movie Review: I DREAM OF DRACULA

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IDreamOfDraculaIndependent
2003
NR

The titillating, terrifying, and hilarious tale of a woman plagued by dreams of being a vampire. But are they just dreams? And will she wake up before her sleazy husband drives her crazy?

Another in a seemingly long line of excruciatingly bad ultra-low budget video movies I’ve been seeing, I Dream Of Dracula pretty much hits all the “bad” buttons here — bad acting, bad sets, bad score, bad editing…just bad everything, really — and then cranks all that schlocky badness until it’s buried in the reds, until you realize too late that this is so unredeemingly bad that grasping a crucifix would burn your flesh after viewing this.

The story involves a lady who’s being haunted by dreams that may or may not indicate that she’s a descendant of a vampire species. Meanwhile, her douche bag of a husband — who seems to have a thing for bad wigs — and her psychiatrist are secretly plotting to make her think she’s insane so they can run away together. Or something. Meanwhile, a couple of female vampires are going around draining various members of the community (inexplicably naked most of the time) as part of a master plan to draw the poor girl back to the vampire fold. I think.

It got more than rather painful to watch this thing. It was a like a constant barrage of hurt, and in a bad way. Contrary to the description blurb, I Dream Of Dracula is neither titillating, terrifying, or hilarious. Just painful. Throw some holy water on this and move along…

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Movie Review: IDLE HANDS

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IDLE HANDSColumbia Pictures
1999
R

“Ok, that wasn’t my fault, that thing should’ve come down a LOT slower!”

Young Anton is a chronic (pun intended) slacker- he spends most of his days smoking pot and parked in front of the television with his headphones cranked. He’s completely detached from any sense of responsibility…so much so that, after his parents are murdered in his house one night, it takes him two days to notice. What disturbs him the most, though, is the fact that he may be the murderer. Well, not him, per se, but just his right hand. After killing his two stoner friends (they bounced back), a couple of high-strung cops, and making an attempt at his girlfriend, Anton feels that enough is enough and loops off his offending appendage. Whoopsie. Now it’s up to Anton, his two undead friends, and an evil-hunting (and completely hot) Druid cleric to hunt down Cousin Thing’s evil twin and put it to rest for good. And possibly get lucky…

Let me boil down this movie to its basic idea: Someone took that classic scene from Evil Dead 2 (where Ash’s hand gets possessed and starts beating the snot out of himself), and made a 90 minute movie around it. Throw in a couple’a stoners, a young pre-Dark Angel Jessica Alba, and a loose plot involving Druidic mysticism, and viola! A mindless and campy horror comedy! But, it’s a fun mindless and campy horror comedy, the kind that never takes itself too seriously, and has fun with the blood and guts ensuing. Meaning, anyone expecting a serious treatment of the subject of hands getting possessed by evil and running amok (amok! Amok! Amok!) in small town America…well, the question should be, who would expect anything serious about this? Really? It’s a freaking hand getting possessed, for crying out loud! Between that, the banter between Anton and his friends (hilarious posthumously), the one-note hessan character (that’s a term used for beer-swilling, black t-shirt wearing and usually mullet-sporting metal heads) blasting “Shout At The Devil” every time he’s on screen, and that final scene involving the demise of Dexter Holland of the Offspring…not to mention all those fun kills…Idle hands is just a fun and mindless trip through every horror convention known to man. Rent this one as a precursor to a more “serious” horror flick, and have some fun already…

Movie Review: IDENTITY

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IDENTITYColumbia Pictures
2003
R

“When I was going up the stairs, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today, I wish, I wish he’d go away.”

It was a dark and stormy night. To quote Tom Servo- “I had taken a creative writing course at the community college.” A group of strangers all end up stranded in a hotel in the middle of nowhere, and no one can leave. Almost as fast as you can say “Ten Little Indians”, people start dying mysteriously. Paranoia and panic ensue. And a convict on death row is granted a late night last minute re-trial. That’s all I’ll say…

Well, grab my ankles and call me magic. I walked into the theater one afternoon expecting Identity to be nothing more than a Hitchcock-lite murder thriller. You know, bunch of people thrown together in the dead of night, one of ’em a killer, and all of them blaming each other while trying to find out who’s the villain while the body count rises, with a “Surprise! I’m the one you least expected!” twist ending that, in reality, everyone in the theater saw coming about 45 minutes into the flick. Well, yes, Identity is in essence that, with a big twist that either A) will catch you off guard until you realize what’s going down, or B) you’ll figure out two-thirds of the way in (like I did), but enjoy the way things play out nonetheless. The entire movie was woven together simply and intelligently. I really can’t say too much without giving things away. Nifty little thriller that sneaked in under the radar. Check this one out sometime…

Movie Review: ICHI THE KILLER

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ICHI THE KILLERMedia Blasters
2001
R

“Just a little torture, nothing special.”

Kakihara is a sadomasochist yakuza enforcer who enjoys giving and receiving pain in about equal measure. One night, his boss winds up missing, everyone presumes he’s dead, but Kakihara doesn’t. He goes out searching for his boss, and the guys responsible for his disappearance. This leads him to discovering Ichi, a man even more disturbed than he is; a confused and apparently psychotic individual who is normally unassuming and cowardly, but becomes homicidal when enraged (and who has crying fits when committing his murders). Trippy, gore-fueled wackiness ensues…

As it goes, the exploitation / torture sub-genre of horror ranks rather low on my list of preferences. The reason being its not truly scary; the on screen mutilations and torture may make you squeamish, but what it boils down to usually is going for the gross-outs.

Ichi The Killer, borrowed from my cousin Rosa (who also has a taste for the dark stuff), was, I’m told, one of the sickest movies to come out of Asian theater, and was supposed to traumatize me so to the point of completely desensitizing me to violence and mayhem in general. Maybe I’m already completely dead inside, because after watching this movie, I find myself less disturbed and more amused.

Mind you, there were several scenes that made me squeamish, involving the torture and kills. What amused me was mainly the use of British voice-overdubs. I was in hysterics whenever someone said “wanker” and various other forms of British slang. The torture scenes felt a bit arbitrary…like the pattern was Plot-Plot-Torture-Plot-Plot-Torture-Comedy Relief-Plot…you get the idea.

Fact is, that actually worked in this movie’s favor. Most exploitation movies have no plot to speak of. Ichi The Killer (“Ichi” means “One”, which explains the yellow “1” on the back of Ichi’s Power Ranger suit) is really a hardboiled gangland movie with some heavy doses of gore and torture thrown in. The main…protagonist? Is that right? Can you really have a protagonist in a movie where everyone’s pretty much on the muck and mire end of the moral spectrum? Anyhoo, the bleach-blonde guy with the extend-o-matic cheeks and a taste for the smacky-smack is a hoot to watch. The set- I’m assuming most of Tokyo was used- lent to a very claustrophobic feel, with the photography and the editing used lending a very psychedelic, trippy vibe to it.

Ichi The Killer is, in my not-so-humble opinion, is one of those curiosity movies that I’ll watch once, just to see what’s going on. Not something I’d watch again or add to my collection, but not because it’s so disturbing to watch. Then again, that’s just me…dead inside…I guess. More for the fans of Hostel and other torture exploitation flicks…

Movie Review: I AM LEGEND

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i am legendWarner Bros.
2007
PG-13

“What the hell are you doing out here, Fred? Fred, if you’re real, you better tell me right now!”

Three years after a man-made plague wipes out 99% of the world’s population, Dr. Robert Neville finds himself the lone survivor, immune to the plague that has turned most of the infected into night-roaming mindless ghouls that feed on living flesh. By day he roams the deserted streets of New York City, now overtaken by foliage and wildlife, and continually seeks a cure in his basement lab for the disease that he helped create. As he’s slowly loosing his grasp on his sanity due to the isolation and the memory of his wife and daughter haunting his dreams, there suddenly appears a faint light at the end of this very dark tunnel. Only thing is, the night prowlers are closing in, and it may be too late…

Third go-round for the cinematic take on the classic Richard Matheson novel, and while this one was definitely not as cheesy-bad as the Omega Man version, this movie really makes it only two-thirds of the way of doing the source material justice. Mind you, I realize that these Hollywood takes on novels like this usually don’t come close to doing any kind of “justice”, but I made the grave mistake of actually getting my hopes up for this one. So far, the only one of the three that comes close to staying true to the source was The Last Man On Earth, Vincent Price being wrong for the lead or not.

In other words: Fans of the novel, go see this movie, but don’t bring your love of the book with. You’ll enjoy it more. Well, most of it, anyway.

I Am Legend is, for all intents and purposes, a good movie. It has some great visuals, a nice creepy tone, and believe it or not, Will Smith plays the protagonist Dr. Neville restrained with intensity. Matter of fact, due to his performance in this movie, I might have to go out and rent The Pursuit Of Happyness. The man is really growing as an actor. There. I said it.

Oh, I should take time to mention: SPOILER ALERT! Just in case you haven’t seen the movie yet…

Okay, so, what really worked for the movie was the first two-thirds, as I mentioned before, where it was more character-driven — Neville and his dog, surviving alone, with a tremendous burden to try and fix a problem he started in the face of hopelessness and great loss. Three years after the plague hit, he’s still working to find a cure. Interspersed are flashbacks to when the problem started, with him trying to get his wife and daughter to safety, only to have it end in tragedy. Meantime, he’s trying to stay alive and maintain his tenacious grasp on sanity when the logical action would have been to give up hope. Smith really conveys that inner struggle between utter hopelessness and fighting to keep that hope alive.

Where the movie started to loose me was when the ghouls (for lack of a better word) appeared for the first time on screen. Sure, the first glimpse of them in the darkness was good and creepy. But, when you realized that they were all rendered in CGI – very obvious CGI – my ability to suspend reality weakened a bit. Think upon how the Mummy was rendered in the recent The Mummy and The Mummy Returns (the ones with Brendan Frazer), and you get the idea. I understand that this was decided on because of issues with live actors getting their feet and various other body parts lacerated and damaged with all the barefoot running around and such. Still, took me out of it.

The second point of contention is the ending. Purists of the novel should take note: The ending is vastly different than the source material. See, in the book, Neville was a legend because he was the last man on earth, killing off the dominate creatures, ironically becoming the boogieman to the vampire ghoul people. Here in the movie…let’s just say it’s more of an upbeat, Hollywood-preachy type reason why Neville becomes a legend. You could probably guess where this is going. It’s an instance where the ending to Last Man On Earth was better than this one. I haven’t seen Omega Man yet, if ever, so I have no point of reference for that ending. I’m pretty sure it sucked, though. Just a hunch.

Bottom Line: I Am Legend starts off with a visceral bang, setting up the tension with some great acting by Will Smith, interspersed with effective settings and flashbacks that tug on the emotional strings as well as fill you with a sense of dread; then it starts to slip up with the introduction of the ghouls, and then by the end of the movie you can’t help but feel a little bit cheated. It’s a good movie…it just decided to take the easy way out of things. I’m beginning to see why the author of the book has always had a pessimistic view on Hollywood’s treatment of perhaps one of the definitive horror novels of the 20th Century. Still the better version of the three.

Movie Review: SLEEPY HOLLOW

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SLEEPY HOLLOWParamount Pictures
1999
R

“You’re a long way from New York, constable.”

In the tail end of the 18th Century, scientific-minded yet squeamish New York constable Ichibod Crane is sent to the colonial village of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a rash of beheadings. Being a man of rational thought and scientific disciplines, Crane passes off the townsfolk’s tales of a headless horseman riding at night taking the heads of the victims as superstitions…at first. After a run-in with the actual Headless Horseman, Crane discovers a link between the undead Hessian and his victims…and a conspiracy running deep within the town of Sleepy Hollow…

You know, I really do like this film. It’s dark, it’s stylish, it’s wickedly funny…it’s definitely a Tim Burton film. As much as I dislike Tim Burton the person, he does know how to make a fun and disturbing flick. His touches on this age-old classic gothic tale is evident, making changes to the story. Here Ichibod Crane isn’t the town’s squirrelly schoolmaster, he’s a police inspector from New York City. Johnny Depp…well, what can I say? He’s one of my favorite actors, and here he plays Crane as an earnest man of science that happens to faint at the sight of blood. The sets couldn’t have been more perfect, as the whole thing oozed style and atmosphere. Good use of a blue filter. And I dig the back story given to the Headless Horseman. I’m just a geek that way…

There are, however, a few places where the film didn’t quite do it for me. That mostly was due to the almost wooden dialog that the usually great Christina Ricci was spouting. That, and it seemed that Crane was coming up with the solutions to the mysteries surrounding the Horseman a little too easily, almost like…it was written down in a script for him to discover! Egads, that’s it! That’s the only explanation! Otherwise, cool movie with some really cool effects and a back story that’s extremely engaging. One of Burton’s better remakes…

Music Review: THIR13EN GHOSTS

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THIRTEEN GHOSTS [2001]Dark Castle / Warner Bros.
2001
R

“Family, just so we’re all clear, Ms. Maggie does *not* do windows.”

Monk…um, I mean Arthur has been down on his luck lately, what with his wife dying in a fire and being rather short on the cash. Then he finds out that he inherited a house made entirely of glass from his eccentric rich uncle. After he and his family arrive at the house and are trying to figure out how much they’re going to have to spend on curtains (it’s either that or start dressing in the basement), the uncle’s lawyer dies as a result of greed in a rather gruesome way, and inadvertently unleashes the Uncle’s other hobby…apparently, he collected ghosts and kept them in the basement via some weird magick scribblin’s written on the glass all over the house. Well, after the uncle’s lawyer splits the scene (*snicker*), the severely cheesed-off corporeally challenged escape to wreak havoc on the living…

To tell the truth, I enjoyed this remake of the classic flick. Sure, there’s a lot to not like about this movie- Thin, one-note characters, some screamingly obvious plot holes (if Arthur’s so poor, how can he afford that maid?), a “twist” that I saw coming a mile away, some bad dialogue, low body count and a nauseating “love conquers all” ending…to say nothing of the fact that this was a remake. But, on the plus side, the filming was rather eye-catching (it starts off with a nifty ghost hunt in a junkyard), rather nice set pieces, and some genuine boo scares. I also have to give props to using live actors to play the ghosts instead of going the CGI route. In the end, this remake is a 90-minute ghost story that doesn’t pretend to be more than that. I rented this expecting a fun horror escape, and I got just that. Nice popcorn flick, nothing more, nothing less…

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