Movie Review: LIFE

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lifeColumbia Pictures
2017
R

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As members of the crew conduct their research, the rapidly evolving life-form proves far more intelligent and terrifying than anyone could have imagined.

I grew up being a space science nerd at a very young age. I remember being fascinated with space and space travel since before Kindergarten. My parents maintained an ongoing subscription to Discover magazine for several years for me (it had the most pictures and stuff), as well as encouraged me to learn more about this area of study as much as they could. Of course, this just fed into my growing love of the science fiction genre, especially with movies. Which is to say, sooner or later it was inevitable that I would get around to watching the latest Alien rip-off, Life.

Okay okay okay, maybe “rip-off” is the wrong word to use, here. I mean, on the surface, the premise of Life (which, sadly, does not involve shots of the nummy cereal food) seems pretty similar, with some modifications: a bunch of scientists on the International Space Station discovers microscopic life within a soil sample taken from a Mars expedition, they manage to revive said life and watch in fascination as the space amoeba grows from microscopic to a CGI blob-ish thing. Eventually, one of the scientists decides to zap the alien blob because science, which annoys the blob–which was named Calvin by the scientists, by the way, like how you name a goldfish–leading to it somehow kicking the butt of the scientist and escaping its enclosure, and managing to kill a couple other scientists before getting out of the lab. Also, whenever Calvin eats something, it (he?) gets bigger. Naturally. Soon, the surviving scientists find themselves trying their darndest to survive and not get eaten, while the damage to the space station mounts along with the body count. Soon, it’s down to two remaining scientists, who hatch a plan to lure Calvin into one of the escape pods and blast him back out into deep space. Only, this involves one of the scientists to be inside with Calvin and manually override the preset controls to get it to not land on earth, while the other scientist escapes on the other pod to get back to Earth and warn everyone of a potential threat. We then end on a twist that everyone saw coming the moment the solution was mentioned. The end.

Life, as a science fiction movie, is fine. It’s well-shot, well acted and manages to get some effective claustrophobic thrills out of a story that is rather cookie-cutter. Again, I refer back to the comparisons to the movie Alien that everyone seemed to be making, and there’s some point to that; after watching Life, I personally like to think that this was more a prequel to the movie The Blob, mainly due to how Calvin ate and metabolized everything. And while we’re on the topic of Calvin, I have to say that the “monster Calvin” effects were kind of…off. He came off as kind of an underwater fern thing rather than a space monster. But, in the end, while I saw the ending coming, I was pleased with the standard dun-dun-duuuuun ending they went with.

Overall, I get the nagging feeling that Life would have worked better as an episode of the revival-era Outer Limits television show, rather than a full-length movie. The movie does try to get that hard sci-fi cred with how they approach the science part of the fiction; by the time the ending credits roll, though, I wasn’t really craving more beyond that. Worth a rental, at least.

Movie Review: The VOID

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the voidD Films
2016
NR

“Statistically, you’re more likely to die in a hospital than anywhere else.”

When police officer Carter discovers a blood soaked man limping down a deserted road, he rushes him to a local hospital with a bare-bones night shift staff. As cloaked, cult-like figures surround the building, the patients and staff inside start to turn ravenously insane. Trying to protect the survivors, Carter leads them into the depths of the hospital, where they discover a gateway to immense evil.

There seems to be a resurgence of independently made horror movies that takes their cue from the 1980s era, and I for one can’t be any more giddy about this. It’s no secret that it was the era that I consider the best in horror and science fiction; you can argue with me to the contrary until you’re blue in the face, I stand by my statement until my final death rattle.

Take The Void, for instance, coincidentally the subject of this review. This movie plays like a compilation of John Carpenter’s Greatest Hits, mixing up themes from Assault On Precinct 13, Prince Of Darkness, and In The Mouth Of Madness (admittedly, not from the 1980s–1994, to be precise–but it might as well have been, it’s that kind of awesome), and resulting in a very dark and claustrophobic supernatural horror that will mess with your head and then stick there long after the movie is over.

So, the story begins when a Deputy comes across a man late at night in the middle of a deserted road, looking quite the worse for wear. He takes him to the nearest hospital for help, which happens to be the one that’s in the process of being closed down due to a fire some time back, and as a result, has a skeleton crew there, one such staff member that happens to be the Deputy’s estranged wife. Soon, two vigilantes that were tracking the young man arrive, as does the Sheriff to help with the processing arrest, when the hospital is discovered to be surrounded by robe-clad figures. Discovering the hard way that they were not the Polyphonic Spree and in fact mean them harm, everyone finds themselves trapped together inside the barricaded hospital, forced to work with each other to try and escape and survive. Then reality starts bending around them; certain individuals go a bit on the insane side and attack the others, and while the Deputy and the two vigilantes try to find a way out through the basement, they discover that the building is warping reality as well, discovering hallways and rooms that don’t exist according to the blueprints. Turns out, the doctor in charge of the hospital has been messing with some Lovecraft-level dark sorcery in an effort to defy death since his daughter died. Mind-bendy horror ensues, with an ending that will make you go, “huh?” In a good way, I assure you.

Overall, The Void was a great horror flick that had a lot of substance to chew on, as well as tons of dark foreboding atmosphere and great practical effects. The acting was rather good, and the development of the characters was good as well, lending some weight to their plight. The reveal of the doctor as the main Big Bad was, admittedly, cliched and expected. However, the very Clive Barker style ending is very much worth it at the end. Well worth the watch.

Movie Review: BAD KIDS OF CRESTVIEW ACADAMY

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Movie Review BAD KIDS OF CRESTVIEW ACADEMYSony
2017
R

It’s four years later, and a new group of students has been placed in Saturday detention at the infamous and prestigious Crestview Acadey. When Siouxsie, sophomore ‘undercrust,’ crashes the party to avenge her sister’s death, a Saturday detention reserved for the privileged seniors of Crestview Academy turns into a date in hell. It’s not long before a naive pussycat lover, gay drug dealer, smokin’ hot preacher’s daughter, squeaky-clean senator’s son, and the uninvited younger outsider find themselves locked-up in school with no way out, wondering who (or what) has set them up. Hilarity and suspense ensue while each ‘bad kid’ pits one against the other, and one by one each falls victim to absurdly gruesome ‘accidents’ while trying to escape.

On the strength of the better-than-it-should-have-been Bad Kids Go To Hell, I decided to immediately watch it’s sequel, Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy, as kind of a back-to-back double feature. The result was…well, I’m not surprised, let’s just say.

I’ll just come out and say that Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy is a lackluster sequel, and kind of a mediocre movie in and of itself. We have the same basic premise of the first–weekend detention with a whole new bunch of stereotypes kids, only one of them has infiltrated their upper crust clique’ to solve the murder of her older sister at a party.

Mind you, things are a bit more subverted with the plot when compared to the first movie, as the kids never get to the library (it’s locked and no one knows the security code), and the whole conspiracy hinted at in the first one is more to the fore here. And there’s no implication of any kind of “hauntings” here, just a bunch of serial killer offings of everyone until the culprit is revealed in the third act, with the remaining movie kind of losing steam until the end.

It really says something that the best parts of this movie involved brief scenes with Sean “Still Working After Lord Of The Rings” Astin, taking over from Judd Nelson as Headmaster Nash, who hams it up with cheerful abandon. Outside of that, we have characters who lean more towards annoying rather than quirky, there are so many flashback scenes injected in the main narrative that it would give Quentin Tarantino a headache, and the big reveal of who’s doing the killing is revealed rather early in the movie (not that we didn’t finger the culprit early on just by virtue of having seen so many of these things to begin with…also, there’s a scene that not-so-subtly gives things away if you pay attention), turning the rest of the movie into a siege movie for the last third.

Bad Kids Of Crestview Acadamy was “Meh”. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the movie it was a sequel to, but at least it didn’t try to just rehash the entire plot of that one. This movie needed more involvement from Sean Astin, for certain. Watch it if the thought of not seeing the sequel gets you twitchy, otherwise you can just skip this one.

Movie Review: BAD KIDS GO TO HELL

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Movie Review BAD KIDS GO TO HELLPhase 4 Films
2012
R

“Like a massive gravity sinkhole, he deforms every positive thought he encounters before sucking it into a vortex from Hell.”

On a stormy Saturday afternoon, six students from Crestview Academy begin to meet horrible fates as they serve out their detentions. Is a fellow student to blame, or perhaps Crestview’s alleged ghosts are behind the terrible acts?

Giving credit where credit is due, I only learned about Bad Kids Go To Hell by way of this movie’s sequel, Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy. I was browsing the Upcoming Rental Releases on the Family Video website (I usually go there to see what’s coming up, then use that to see if I can rent the streaming video on Amazon or Google Plus or whatnot). I came across the sequel title, did a bit of research, realized it was a sequel, and then checked out the original one first to watch, because OCD.

Useless fact: Bad Kids Go To Hell is based on a “best selling” graphic novel that I’ve never heard of (no surprise there, as I had forsaken all comics since that “One More Day” abomination that Marvel did with Spider-Man), and was seemingly released nationwide in December of 2012 to presumably every other theater except for any in Eastern Nebraska, because I don’t recall any of the theaters in Omaha or Lincoln getting this. But, I digress.

Having watched Bad Kids Go To Hell (for some odd reason, I presumed it was British in origin…it is not…sadly), I must admit that I was surprisingly entertained. It’s kind of a mash-up with The Breakfast Club (including Judd Nelson as the school’s headmaster) and a Scooby-Doo mystery, with a lot more murder and mayhem.

After an opening that starts things off at the end of the movie, we then flash back to a few hours earlier in the day, where a bunch of stereotypes kids from mostly affluent society are gathered together in the library for weekend detention. We learn that the library itself was recently remodeled, and is rumored to be haunted. The stereotypes kids begin doing that “bonding” thing that most movies aping John Hughes movies from the 80s do, and then try to bust out of the library, only to find the going rather…tough. Then the stereotypes kids start dying off in horrible ways, paranoia begins mounting as they try to figure out who’s doing the killing, and the mystery as to whether or not the ghost of the Native American whose land was stolen and the school is currently standing on is causing all the weird things happening. Spoilers: it isn’t, but the twist reveal behind everything will make you appreciate the work the culprits put in for everything. Then final confrontation wackiness ensues, and then we’re back to where we started, and the poor kid is carted off to an insane asylum while it looks like everything has to do with a (local) government conspiracy with the janitor of the school. The end.

Overall, Bad Kids Go To Hell was amusingly good for what it is. And that is a dark comedy thriller that has a tongue in cheek delivery while borrowing generously from other tropes, which results in something that doesn’t really pretend to be original, but gives us some fun times. Definitely worth a rental, here.

Movie Review: GREEN ROOM

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green roomA24
2015
R

“It’s funny. You were so scary at night.”

Down on their luck punk rockers The Ain’t Rights are finishing up a long and unsuccessful tour, and are about to call it quits when they get an unexpected booking at an isolated, run-down club deep in the backwoods of Oregon. What seems merely to be a third-rate gig escalates into something much more sinister when they witness an act of violence backstage that they weren’t meant to see. Now trapped backstage, they must face off against the club’s depraved owner, Darcy Banker, a man who will do anything to protect the secrets of his nefarious enterprise. But while Darcy and his henchmen think the band will be easy to get rid of, The Ain’t Rights prove themselves much more cunning and capable than anyone expected, turning the tables on their unsuspecting captors and setting the stage for the ultimate life-or-death showdown.

I know, I know. I had the chance to see the movie Green Room during its blink-and-it’s-gone run time in the theaters. I kept hearing very, very good things about the movie, how it’s not only a tense independent thriller featuring great performances from the cast as well as a fantastic cinematography that really brought out the claustrophobic nature of the story, but I kept hearing from acquaintances in the underground punk scenes that the depiction of the hardcore punk aesthetic was quite legit. The thing was, I rarely want to go to the movies alone nowadays, and since most if not all of the Exalted Geeks I would go with aren’t into horror movies, I decided to wait until the VOD release.

My mistake. I admit that now. I should have worked past my anxiety to take in this flick on the big screen when I had the chance. Because, boy does Green Room pack a significant roundhouse kick to the midsection with a steel-toed boot.

So, here we have a story about a hardcore punk band, named the Ain’t Rights, trying to get by on their DIY ethos and playing some seriously righteous hardcore punk wherever they can. Before they decide to call it quits on the tour, they’re given a shot at an out-in-the-boonies bar for a decent payout for gas to get back home. Only, the bar has a rather narrow kind of clientèle–namely, skinhead Nazis. But, money is money, and they do the set anyway, and when they’re getting set to leave, they accidentally stumble upon a murder in the titular Green Room, and now they have to spend the rest of the night trying to survive getting snuffed by the bar’s owner and his army of skinheads to cover everything up. Things…don’t go well.

There are two things that make Green Room a fantastic horror thriller: 1) the depiction of the whole hardcore punk aesthetic, I’m told from acquaintances who adhere to that scene, is pretty authentic. I say “I’m told”, because I don’t claim to be part of or even an expert on the scene; while I read up and try to understand and have an appreciation for the scene and the music, I also hold no delusion as to claiming I’m part of it. The ones I know of who are have given their seal of approval, though. As long as they’re not really messing with Poser Boy here, I’m going to accept it. 2) This is a well-crafted and tight horror thriller that is claustrophobic, quick-paced and doesn’t take any easy way outs. There were a few times where I caught myself drawing my knees up to my chest and getting unnerved at the goings on I was witnessing. Add to this a fantastic performance from none other than Patrick Stewart as the head Skinhead, and you’ve got yourself a chilling time.

Really, don’t make the same mistake I did. If you haven’t watched Green Room, do yourself a favor and rectify that oversight. Highly recommended by your Uncle NecRo.

Book Review: HELL HOUSE

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Book Review HELL HOUSERichard Matheson
Tor
1971

For over twenty years, Belasco House has stood empty. Regarded as the Mount Everest of haunted houses, it is a venerable mansion whose shadowed walls have witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. Two previous expeditions to investigate its secrets met with disaster, the participants destroyed by murder, suicide, or insanity. Now a new investigation has been mounted, bringing four strangers to the forbidding mansion, determined to probe Belasco House for the ultimate secrets of life and death. Each has his or her own reason for daring the unknown torments and temptations of the mansion, but can any soul survive what lurks within the most haunted house on Earth?

One of the books that seems to be on everybody’s list of Top (ENTER NUMBER HERE) List of Horror Novels, not only from regular horror literary geeks, but from some of the bigger names in horror fiction. Notably, I read Stephen King refer to it as “one of the most brain-freezingly frightening haunted house novels of the 20th Century…”. That carries a bit of weight for me, as far as recommendations on what to snuggle up with on a dark and chilly night, to tantalize my imagination. Which also had the adverse effect of being a bit daunting to actually pick up and read. Not because it would be “too scary”, but like every other thing I’m hesitant to read, what if it turns out to be not as good as my brain hyped it up to be?

Fortunately, that didn’t stop me from picking up a copy of Hell House and reading it. My copy, with the cover art itself in the upper part of this review, is one of the many reprints that have been made of this, in case you’re some how curious about things like what was on the cover printing. I wouldn’t know why, but I’m sure there are people like that out there. Anyway…

As far as haunted house stories go, I have to admit that I agree that Hell House is one of the better ones written. If you’re familiar with Richard Matheson’s style of writing, then you know that he doesn’t necessarily write straight horror stories. He has said as much himself. They are horror, yes, but there’s also a heavy dose of science fiction that ties it down a bit more to earth rather than the supernatural. That isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot to cause my skin to crawl and want to turn on more than just one lamp while reading this, mind you. Such is Matheson’s style.

The story of Hell House involves a very old, very rich man hiring four people in different specified areas of research to investigate an old mansion that is rumored to be the site of many depraved orgies and debaucheries and death, and is now considered one of the most famous of haunted houses in the world. The old man wants to find out, once and for all, whether the nicknamed Hell House really is haunted, and if so by what, or if there’s actually a rational scientific reason behind the failed investigations done decades prior. To this end, he has hired a scientist and his wife to assist, a spiritualist, and a survivor of a previous investigation into the house that ended in a deadly disaster, who is tormented by his psychic abilities. Together they will stay inside the house for several days, attempting to determine if there really is something sinister behind the building’s facade, or if it’s something else with foundationally speaking. See what I did, there? I made architectural jokes. Yeah, whatever. Anyway, things start going wacky pretty much on the first day they arrive at the house, and everyone struggles to keep from going mad while sorting out the mystery behind the house itself. Or, you know, try not to die doing so.

This being written in the very early 1970s, there’s a bit more of, shall we say, an adult orientation to the story. And by that, I mean there’s a rather violent scene featuring necrophilia at one point, as well as some squeamish descriptions of possession and poltergeist manifestations going on. Add in some rather effective dark Gothic imagery with the house, and you really do have a spine-chilling supernaturally-tinged Gothic ghost story mystery that doesn’t end on a very up note.

I understand that there’s a movie adaptation made of this. I haven’t seen the movie, or even sought it out. But, I am glad I got around to reading Hell House, and seeing why everyone seems to hold it in high esteem. Recommended reading, my fellow horror hounds.

Book Review: FULL DARK, NO STARS

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Book Review FULL DARK, NO STARSStephen King
Scribner
2010

Stephen King excels at telling stories. That’s pretty much the basic gist of it, I guess. He’s been telling stories in many different formats over several decades, which means he’s capable of telling tales that manage to break the bounds of the genre that most have pigeonholed him in. Which, I guess, is my lame way to start off this review for his third collection of novellas to have been published, Full Dark, No Stars.

The four stories collected here lean more to the hard-boild crime chiller type of stories that, had this been a different time, probably would have been published under King’s former pen name Richard Bachman. But, before I get too far, let’s take a look at the individual stories contained herein, shall we?

“1922”
…a Nebraska farmer writes a confession/suicide note detailing the bad year he had in 1922. It’s a murder chiller that plays out like a classic story from the old EC Comics thrillers of old.

“Big Driver”
…this was a hard one for me to get through, mainly due to the subject matter of a woman who is raped and gets her revenge on the culprits. The whole violence against women thing makes me sick to my stomach; regardless, this was a good hard-boiled revenge thriller with…well, I wouldn’t say a “happy ending”. Would that even be possible ever again?

“Fair Extension”
…the shortest story in this collection, it would be a stretch to call this a novella, given that it’s just a skosh over thirty pages. And for whatever reason, I pictured Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame) playing the part as the Devil in this story. Anyway, kind of a darker Twilight Zone type of story, where a guy who’s had nothing but bad luck happens upon someone who can give him a new lease on life, for a certain price.

“A Good Marriage”
…a wife’s long-time and idealistic (if not a bit hum-drum) marriage existence gets shaken to the core when she accidentally finds out her husband might be a notorious serial killer. Pretty tense, and the ending is straight out of a Columbo mystery.

Overall, the collection within Full Dark, No Stars aren’t so much supernatural horror, so much as hard boiled thrillers from the same vein as the EC Comic and the Alfred Hitchcock pulp magazines. Obviously, there’s going to be a touch of the supernatural style, mostly with “A Fair Extension”; most of the horror, though, is derived from regular everyday people finding themselves in a very non-regular and dark situation, where there’s no hope of coming out unscathed. Like I mentioned earlier you might say these are Richard Bachman stories that King just decided to put his regular name on.

I really should note that two stories from here have already been made into movies: “Big Driver”, which was made into a Lifetime movie, and “A Good Marriage”. And there’s been news of “1922” being made into one as well. I haven’t watched any of the two movie adaptations, and probably won’t any time soon. As far as reading the book goes, yeah, no regrets doing so. It’s a Stephen King book for certain. What more can I say?

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