Movie Review: MULBERRY STREET

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1-25 - Movie Review: MULBERRY STREETLions Gate Films / After Dark Films
2006
R

The city that never sleeps may shut its eyes for good when a deadly infection turns its residents to savage creatures. There is only hope for a small few, including six recently evicted tenants who must protect their crumbling apartment complex as the city around them is thrown into chaos…

Mullberry Street is one of the entries in the second round of After Dark Horrorfest movies, and one of the After Dark DVD showings that I’m slowly but surly slogging through. This one, I’ll be forthright, was not one I was really in a big hurry to watch, as the premise I read on the DVD cover blurb seemed to put it as another one of those Outbreak of Crazies type of horror films, where the budget is low and the crazies are mistaken for zombies. Basically, 28 Days Later in New York. Or something.

Instead, though, I found myself rather surprised. Not by much, but at least the movie proved me wrong with my pre-watching assumption of the plot. I like when that happens. And I have to admit, the twist on this is rather interesting.

In Mulberry Street, we’re introduced to the inhabitants of an apartment complex located on the titular street in New York city. The tenants are fighting to keep from being evicted by the city, which is not really part of the plot but it’s worth mentioning, just to get an idea of how bonded this eclectic mix of tenants are. One of said tenants is an ex boxer who is anxiously awaiting the return of his daughter from active service in the military. She’s on her way there when a infectious outbreak happens, causing everyone infected to turn into blood-thirsty monstrosities. And by “blood-thirsty monstrosities”, I mean “they turn into wererats.” And while that’s usually signals the possibility of unintentional hilarity, somehow actually made it seriously work as a horror device. This mostly had to do with the fact that the filmmakers wisely kept the wererats out of sight for the majority of the time when the outbreak attacks happen, only allowing brief flashes and shadows, forcing the viewers to use our imaginations. I wish I could say that the actual wererat effects themselves were just as effective, but let’s face it–they did come of as kitschy. Which is why I’m glad they didn’t feature very much until the last part.

The majority of the story is set in the apartment complex and the adjacent bar, which lends to a nice claustrophobic atmosphere, which adds to the overall effectiveness. And the characters themselves seemed genuine and didn’t bog us down with needless exposition to their back stories.

Overall, I was rather pleasantly surprised with how much I actually enjoyed watching Mulberry Street. With the non-assuming title, the low budget rawness and the creative usage of the less-is-more philosophy of horor movie filming, along with some very good performances from the cast, Mulberry Streets turned out to be one of the better offerings in the After Dark movie series. Worth checking out some time.

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Movie Review: The DEATHS OF IAN STONE

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1-18 - Movie Review: The DEATHS OF IAN STONELionsgate
2008
R

“Your watch. After you left for work this morning, it stopped, didn’t it? Whenever a clock stops, they’re coming.”

On an otherwise ordinary night, the young Ian Stone encounters a mysterious creature and is forced into the path of an oncoming train. Rather than facing certain death, Ian finds himself reborn into a new life that feels strangely familiar. After his second death, it becomes apparent that Ian is being hunted by an evil presence, and will be forced to die every day until he can solve the mystery of his own life.

One of the entries in the 2007 After Dark Horrorfest, The Deaths Of Ian Stone is a bit different than the general spate of supernatural horror flicks that have been clogging my media player as of late. And in this instance, it’s a good thing.

Here, we have our protagonist–the titular Ian Stone–a young college-aged ice hockey enthusiast and player, driving home after a loss on the ice, only to stop to help someone passed out on the train tracks and loose his own life. Normally, that would signify the end of a very short movie. In this case, Ian immediately comes to in an office cubicle, where he’s a bit older and living with his girlfriend, and surrounded by a number of oddly familiar faces. He’s then confronted by an old guy who tells him he’s constantly being hunted by things called “Harvesters” for some reasion, and every time they kill him, he wakes up in a new version of his life, to repeat the cycle. Then he immediately gets killed, and wake up a heroin junkie in a gheto apartment. Of course. Throughout all of this, a girl named Jenny has been featuring in all of these lives of his. So, he manages to convince Jenny of what has been going on, he runs into the old guy again, who fills in some more of the mystery surrounding him and the things that are hunting him, and then he’s finally captured by the Hunters, who try and get him to embrace his true nature as a Hunter himself. Then a mighty struggle between his true nature and true love ensues. Try and guess which one wins out in the end, yes?

The Deaths Of Ian Stone is a rather interesting entry in the Afterdark Film Fest series, as it’s every part a psychological thriller mystery as it is a supernatural horror film. For the most part, the actors who play the protagonists were rather good in their rolls, especially Vogel, who played the titular Ian Stone becoming self-aware of his situation. This makes the whole “love conquers all” thing a bit more digestible. On the other hand, the actors portraying the antagonists who are constantly hunting Ian start off menacing, but as time goes on and by the third reel they come off as your standard hammy over-the-top villains with a serious Matrix cosplay fetish. Seriously, I kept expecting the guys to break out the Kraftwerk and shouting “Ve vant our MONEY, Lebowski!”

Regardless, The Deaths Of Ian Stone was a rather decent and entertaining horror flick that’s a bit different from the usual offerings in the series. It’s worth checking out some night.

Movie Review: PERKINS’ 14

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1-4 - Movie Review: PERKINS' 14Lions Gate Films / After Dark Films
2009
R

“Think of it as a mercy killing for a sick animal.”

Ten years ago, Officer Dwayne Hooper’s son was abducted, the final victim in a string of fourteen local disappearances. Now, Hooper’s suspicions have been aroused by a prison inmate who bears striking similarities to the purported kidnapper. Hooper finds evidence in the criminal’s apartment and seeks revenge–igniting a wave of carnage that engulfs the town.

Initially I came into watching this entry in the 3rd After Dark Horrorfest expecting something of another imitation of that other George Romero film The Crazies. And…well, it was, but not without a heavy dollop of Assault On Precinct 13 and just a dash of Silence Of The Lambs for that taunt psychological thriller underpinning. I was also expecting sub-par acting and a story that was meandering and edited badly. To be fair, that’s how I usually go into watching any horror movie. It’s a default setting. Makes things more fun that way.

Perkins’ 14 starts off on a slow burn, with officer Dwayne Hopper about to go into work for an overnight shift at the precinct. It’s been ten years since the kidnapping of his son Kyle, and his family is falling apart because of his inability to move ahead with life: His wife is having an affair, and his daughter is a rebellious Goth kid who’s dating Michale Graves. Seriously. That night at the station is relatively quiet…until Hopper realizes that one of the prisoners who goes by the last name of Perkins might be the guy who abducted several children ten years prior…including Kyle. After a bit of psychological quid-pro-quo, Hopper sends another officer over to Perkins’ place of residence, where he finds the caged kids crazed after ten years of psychological torture and whatever else Perkins put then through. He lets them out…good job there, as they immediately go out and begin killing everyone they come across. Now, its up to Hopper to find his wife and daughter and make it back to the station to barricade themselves from certain death. Only…yeah, things don’t seem to work out that easily.

As mentioned, Perkins’ 14 takes a bit to unfold, which gives time to build the story, which is surprisingly potent. Patrick O’Kane, who played Officer Hopper, looks like an emaciated Eric Bana, which lends to credence to the character still being haunted by his son’s abduction. And the first part of the movie, which was the psychological thriller part, was a slow burn building up the tension, until the second part, which was the all-out Crazies-style horror that didn’t shy away from the gore and violence of the situation. The ending, in fact, was one that I preferred, which many probably wouldn’t agree with me. Let’s just say, love does not always conquer all. Yeah. We’ll just leave it at that.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how Perkins’ 14 turned out. It was very well made and, despite the inclusion of the second vocalist for The Misfits, rose above its low budget to deliver a satisfying horror flick. Worth a look-see.

Movie Review: LAKE MUNGO

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lake-mungoAfter Dark Films
2008
R

“Alice kept secrets. She kept the fact that she kept secrets a secret.”

In December 2005, the accidental death of a teenage girl initiated a series of supernatural events that would haunt her grieving family. This film is a record of those events.

At first glance at that DVD back cover blurb that I’ve included, you would probably be forgiven for thinking of Lake Mungo as just another found footage movie with supernatural leanings and such. There are a lot of Paranormal Activity rip-offs going around, as they’re cheep to make and release. As to this being a rip-off of Paranormal Activity, I don’t know. It seems to have come out a year after Paranormal Activity, and given production times and how different the execution is between the two, I would have to say that Lake Mungo isn’t really another Paranormal Activity knock off. What it is, however, is a disappointment.

For the most part, Lake Mungo is a rather well put together independent film that takes the documentary style and makes it work, having this feel more like an actual television documentary you might catch on…whatever television channel runs documentaries, I don’t know. PBS? Does the History Channel even do documentaries anymore?

Anyway, the story involves the family of a drowned 16-year-old girl talking about how they thought that they had evidence of the ghost of their daughter haunting their house. The son had strong photographic and video evidence capturing the ghostly images of what looks like their deceased daughter…until later, when the son confesses to faking everything, and describing how he went about doing so. It was kind of brilliant, actually. In the process, though, the family begins to find evidence that their little girl maybe wasn’t so innocent as they thought. Then they find the one questionable image on her phone taken at the titular Lake Mungo camping site that there might be kinda-sorta a ghost involved…but then they move from the house and the movie ends.

Lake Mungo was marketed as a “psychological horror” film, and was included in the fourth After Dark Horrorfest lineup back in 2010. I wish to congratulate whoever it was that listed that in the application while presumably maintaining a straight face. Because Lake Mungo is “psychological horror” only if you back up a few feet, squint and maybe relax your eyes like this was one of those ubiquitous “magic eye” posters that were all the rage for all of ten minutes back in the 1990s. An episode of Unsolved Mysteries had more psychological horror than this movie did. And labeling it like that is Lake Mungo’s major downfall, as I kept waiting for something supernatural to happen, only to be left feeling more than a bit cheated when the end credits rolled and I got nothing.

Which is all the pity, because Lake Mungo is actually a decent film. It was shot well, looks and flows great, and the actors really pull off the harder-than-it-looks realism needed to sell this as a mocumentary. The story itself was interesting enough to not have to fall back on the whole “ghost story” angle entirely. So, I would recommend watching Lake Mungo, but do so expecting a drama mystery rather than a horror film.

Movie Review: FROM WITHIN

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from withinLions Gate / After Dark Films
2008
R

From Within was one of the entries in the third After Dark Horrorfest back in 2009. As I continue on in my mission to try and watch every single movie that was released in that series, I had a bit of a stretch between the last one and this one, mainly because of the mediocre nature of a lot of the ones I’ve recently watched. Kind of a “meh” thing going on, in the prospect of watching another one. So, I just popped From Within on, to get it out of the way and to make it one less to have to get through. Fortunately, I did find From Within a bit more than mere “meh” status.

From Within is your standard Weird Things Happen In American Small Town, Local Religious Types Blame Outcast, Wackiness Ensues type of horror flick. In this case, the weird thing that’s happening is a series of bizarre suicides afflicting the townspeople of Grovetown. Seems whoever sees a doppelganger of themselves soon thereafter winds up taking their own life, usually in a rather gruesome manner. One of the local girls, Lindsay, befriends a misfit newbie that her douche-nozzle boyfriend blames for the recent deaths, because he’s the son of the pastor of the town’s First Church of Religious Tropes. The town’s religious fervor is stirred up as the deaths keep happening, the misfit and his cousin are hunted down because of this, there’s a certain book that needs to be destroyed to end the curse (because of course there is), and the whole thing ends in an irony so delicious you’ll be glad you managed to sit through it to get to it.

From Within was admittedly fun to sit through. It had a nifty Southern Gothic appeal to it, with some good atmosphere, and some decent creepy effects. The doppelgangers are rather unnerving. The characters were two-dimensional, which is usually the case in horror movies like this. The acting was passable, with its fair share of scene chewing here and there. Overall, I found From Within entertaining enough to not get bored, or want to check my watch. It would be worth checking out some time.

Movie Review: UNREST

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UrestLionsgate
2006
R

“I think there’s something wrong with my corpse.”

Alison Blanchard begins her journey to become a physician in her Gross Anatomy class, where she must confront rows of cadavers and her own fear of mortality. When the sheets are drawn back revealing her cadaver, Alison senses a presence in the lab. Her jaded professor chalks it up to first year “jitters,” but her worries increase when a friend is found dead in the basement. Alison must find out the truth behind her cadaver before its angered spirit can wreak further vengeance on those who dared to disturb the body.

Unrest was one of the films originally shown in the first After Dark Horrorfest in 2006. According to the hype surrounding this, apparently Unrest was shot in a real morgue and used real bodies, which isn’t really something new in horror movies (Poltergeist has the infamous pool scene), but if it is true, then the creep factor itself is warranted. Also, the cast was reported to have experienced “haunting dreams” during the shooting of the film. Hospital food will do that.

Going into viewing Unrest, I expected the standard unimaginative J-Horror style “vengeful ghost” kind of movie, after reading the blurb on the back of the DVD (which I conveniently include at the beginning of these reviews when I can). Instead, I found that Unrest used the Less-Is-More style of horror filmmaking; indeed, I don’t know if it was a conscience decision, or if the budgetary constraints forced things to get creative, but much of the spooky supernatural shenanigans is implied, and the movie relies on a lot of atmosphere of the hospital (which can be very naturally spooky themselves), the music and the simple gore effects, instead of CGI ghosts or reanimated corpses. Trust me, the corpses here don’t have to reanimate to be creepy.

The weakest part of the movie was the acting. At this point, it’s almost expected. It’s not painfully bad, one might say the acting is passable, but some of the dialogue made me pause and think, “what?” The word “groedy” or however you spell that word was used at one point. This is a word I haven’t heard used since…Junior High, I want to say. Also, some of the character motivations seem inconsistent, like the lead character’s clear exhortation that she’s an atheist, but then suddenly thinking it’s a “vengeful spirit” almost at the get-go. But, all things considered, that didn’t distract from the very effective creepy atmosphere of the movie itself, with the pacing and the story itself unwinding into one rather good slow-burner of a psychological horror with supernatural leanings.

Overall, Unrest was a bit more decent than what I was expecting, and—if you can get around the afore-mentioned sub-par acting—surprisingly satisfying, despite the inherent flaws. Worth a look-see.

Movie Review: AUTOPSY

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AUTOPSYLions Gate Films / After Dark Films
2008
R

A group of recent college grads is taking a final vacation together when an accident leaves them hurt and stranded on a lonely Louisiana road. An ambulance arrives and takes them to Mercy Hospital, an eerie, half-empty place that harbors a chilling secret: a doctor conducting inhuman experiments on its helpless patients.

The thing I dig about watching independent horror movies is that, once in a while you stumble upon one that you initially think is going to be “meh”, but actually turns out to be better than expected. I don’t know if it has anything to do with going in with a much lower expectation than usual, and thus giving a low standard to shoot for, but in this case, I went into watching this particular entry in the 2008 After Dark Horrorfest expecting the standard torture pron type setup, where a bunch of twenty-somethings running afoul of a crazy doctor and his equally crazy staff looking to stock up on said twenty-somethings’ body parts in a human chop shop kinda setting, and…well, I got that, but Autopsy actually was a bit more entertaining.

The story opens with a brief montage of sorts introducing us all to the kill fodder: two couples and a Russian student at Mardi Gras (because of course it would begin there), getting snookered and then have a run-in with a telephone pole in the middle of nowhere, where they manage to get the “We have no cell phone signal!” trope out of the way immediately. They also notice there’s a guy in a hospital gown stuck in the wheel well of the car, but fortunately an ambulance shows up without having to be called upon to pick up the guy, and also the five drunken idiots to take to the hospital. How fortuitous. They arrive at the oddly empty hospital, where one by one they’re taken in to get looked at by the good doctor…who turns out to be an organ-harvesting Robert Patrick using his patients as experiments to find a way to save his terminally ill wife, just in time to take a cruise vacation. Can they escape the clutches of this madman and make it to freedom to find help? This is a horror movie, what do you think?

Yes, Autopsy may be another Crazy Doctor type slasher flick, but it’s the cast and characters that bring a bunch of charm to the table. First, we have the always awesome Robert Patrick as the crazy doctor himself, and he plays it understated enough to bring a bit of a chill to the roll. The only other actor I think could have pulled off the understated and chilling performance like that would have been . Also, the two orderlies, played by Michael Bowen and Robert LaSardo, bring kind of a sinister levity to the movie as well. And by that, I mean their characters are disarmingly approachable, despite the initial feeling of dread that they can switch to. Nicely played, actually. And the nurse has her charms as well. Really, the weakest parts were probably the five young adults who, let’s face it, were there for kill fodder. Even so, they worked much better with their material than I’ve seen in other films of this kind. As to the gore effects…well, let’s just say that there’s a scene near the end of the film where the phrase “human mobile” can be used, which I thought was rather imaginative and a bit touching, seeing as it was the guy’s girlfriend that found him strung up like that ultimately. Nicely done, really.

So, overall, Autopsy gets a good, solid Worth Checking Out some night, if you’re looking for a horror rental of some sort. If you’re into that kind of thing. Maybe not for the easily squeamish, or after eating a bunch of barbecue.

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