Music Review: STRANGELAND

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Movie Review: STRANGELANDArtisan Entertainment
1998
R

“So much flesh…so little time.”

A cop’s daughter is abducted after being lured to a “party” after chatting with this guy online named Captain Howdy (*snort*…oh, wait…that’s from The Exorcist…never mind…*snort*). Capt. Howdy is the leader of an underground S&M cult that’s centered around tribal tattooing and extreme forms of body piercing. Capt. Howdy also just happens to be Dee Snider of Twisted Sister fame. Go figure. After tracking down Howdy’s cabal and rescuing the cop’s daughter and several other captives, the poor Captain is taken into custody, where he’s rehabilitated after two years (and several quarts of concealing): he is now a docile milquetoast who looks like that spinster librarian down the street. Now he’s released back into the real world to live a relatively peaceful coexistence with the townsfolk…for about five minutes. Of course, the parents of the girls he tormented get wind of his release, and decide to gather a posse (led by Robert Englund of that other famous franchise…that’s right, “V the Miniseries”) to let the former sociopath know exactly where he stands. After a sever beating at the hands of the angry mob, which was just watched by the cop of the girl (remember him? Good…), he snaps and reverts back to Captain Howdy, and now he’s got a severe mad-on and takes it out on the vengeful townsfolk. Wackiness (backed up by a nu-metal soundtrack) ensues…

First off, this “Captain Howdy” reference really is taken from The Exorcist…that’s the entity that young and stupid little Regan contacts on the Ouija board. That, and it’s also reference to an obscure Twisted Sister song (“Stay away from Caaaptain Hooooowdeeeeeeeeeeee!”). So, yeah, it makes since why Dee Snider would choose that as the name of his antagonist. Still, the name sounds like he should be part of a Garth Ennis cast of weirdos…

Anyhoo, the title Strangeland is rather apt, as it’s a bit of a surreal (if not a bit cheesy) trip through extreme body modification as a religion…kind of like taking Clive Barker’s Cenobites a bit too seriously. All the actors seem to have only one form of acting- over-the-top. Sometimes it works (like when Snider hams it up as the evil Howdy), sometimes it doesn’t (the cop and his wife seem to always be on the verge of a mental breakdown), but overall it’s so campy it’s fun (Englund’s character is actually creepier than Snider’s, and he’s one of the normals). Obviously, there’s the attempt at exploring the whole concept of “who’s the real monster here?” But that’s really buried under the extremely graphic nature of the film. Definitely not for the squeamish. And you might want to have some Pepto Bismol handy…

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Movie Review: SAW III

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Movie Review: SAW IIILions Gate Films
2006
R

“Suffering…you haven’t seen anything yet…”

Jigsaw has disappeared. Now aided by his new apprentice Amanda, the puppet-master behind the cruel, intricate games that have terrified a community and baffled police has once again eluded capture and vanished. While city detectives scramble to locate him, Dr. Lynn Denlon is unaware that she is about to become the latest pawn on his vicious chessboard. One night, after finishing a shift at her hospital, Lynn is kidnapped by the deranged Amanda and taken to an abandoned warehouse where she meets Jigsaw, aka: John Kramer, who’s now bedridden and on the verge of death. Lynn is told that she must keep the madman alive for as long as it takes Jeff, another of his victims, to complete a game of his own. Racing against the ticking clock of Jigsaw’s own heartbeat, Lynn and Jeff struggle to make it through each of their vicious tests, unaware that Jigsaw and Amanda have a much bigger plan for both of them…

Y’know, I just don’t seem to understand all the criticism the Saw franchise has been getting since it exploded into theaters in 2004. Sure, at first glance the movies just seem to be yet another serial-killer-torture variety, with kinetic ADHD-style editing and washed-out photography. People I’ve talked to about this movie seem to parrot the same things: The acting was terrible, the plot was unimpressive, it wasn’t scary, and the overall effect was either dullness or unintentionally funny. Which leads me to think, “Did they actually watch the movie? And if so, which movie were they actually watching?”

Speculation on all that aside (I’ll just go ahead and assume that my take on the movie is superior), Saw III is definitely the best one of the bunch. From the opening scene, taking off moments after the ending of Saw II, to the “didn’t see that one coming” twist at the end, I loved every minute of this movie. There is a considerably lower death count than the previous entries, for certain, but that’s only secondary to the real star of the movie- the relationship between the Jigsaw Killer and his protégé. Very rare is it that a movie like this can also squeeze emotion out of the story like this has. Also, the game itself is a bit different: Instead of being in danger of dying from the game (well, sort of- there’s a two-hour time limit before the entire warehouse locks down permanently), Jeff instead has to choose between holding onto his rage and vengeance and forgiving and saving the ones who are in the traps- the ones who were involved in the tragic death of his son. Now, how many horror movies like this actually makes you think seriously about forgiveness and the consequences of vengeance? Not many. Mind you, its done in a very gory, twisted and disturbing sort of way, but there is a method to the madness.

What’s sad is, it’s been reported that Lion’s Gate is planning on making more sequels in the Saw franchise. Which is a pity, as Saw works more as a trilogy, and not letting it go out with a bangSPLAT! as this one did, they’re eventually make it into the lame series that others are now complaining it is. I’d also like to see how they’re going to resurrect Jigsaw, as he clearly died at the end (you’ll have to watch to find out how…you’ll love the twisted little ending there). I’m probably going to watch ’em, but only consider the first three as the canon (I am such a geek). Regardless.

Saw III = great movie. I command thee to check it out…

Movie Review: SAW II

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Movie Review: SAW IILions Gate Films
2005
R

“Oh yes, there will be blood.”

The infamous cancer-ridden sociopath Jigsaw is back, playing his “How much blood will you shed to stay alive?” game. Only this time, he’s upped the rules a bit, having kidnapped a group of former criminals and placed them inside a house filled with Jigsaw’s traps and hints. One of the group happens to be the son of the detective hot on Jigsaw’s trail. Now the clock is ticking, and Jigsaw’s the one who’s pulling the puppet strings…

As a big fan of the original Saw (regardless of what certain friends of your Uncle NecRo says), when news came out that there was going to be a sequel released merely one year after the first one, I wasn’t too pleased. Obviously, when a sequel is pumped out a year after the first one, especially when the original is an unprecedented success, the quality of the sequel comes into question (remember Nightmare On Elm St. 5? Case closed). Which is one of the reasons why I held off watching this in the theaters when it was out, and waited for the DVD release.

Now, looking back, I’m kicking myself for not watching this in the theater. I would have loved to watch the crowd’s reaction to some of the most twisted, sick and downright imaginative setups and kills that rivals the ones in the first movie. Instead of being an enigma, Jigsaw is placed in the forefront, which is a kind of ballsy move considering that it usually means the villain like this looses some of his mystery. Not so here, as the character was expertly written to actually make him seem even more unsettling while he was explaining why he does what he does to the haggard Detective Mason. The screenplay and plotting were expertly done, keeping things clipping at a very high pace, from the opening “Venus fly-trap” scene (made me squeamish…and that wasn’t even the kill itself), to the caught-in-a-maze situation the group of people were stuck in, to the twists and turns along the way that not only tied things together, but also tied things up with the end of the first movie. And like the first Saw, the ending to Saw 2 kicked me square in the junk, the effects of which I’m still mulling over in my head as of this writing. Nicely done, methinks…

On the downside, though, I do admit that the script maybe was a bit rushed to get this movie out, as things just didn’t seem to explore all the possibilities. Mind you, I was satisfied, but I couldn’t help but think that there could have been more to the whole thing, like getting half the fries in your meal deal. Then there’s the scene where the group of victims are waking up inside the house, no one ever knowing how they got there, and no one knowing each other, only to realize that there is one thing that ties them all together…kind of like the concept found in the Cube series.

All said, Saw 2 is a nice 90-minute thrill ride that will definitely keep you in a vice all the way through. Rent it in conjunction with the first Saw…

Movie Review: SAW

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Movie Review: SAWLionsgate
2004
R

“Doctor Gordon, this is your wake up call…”

Okay, I repent. I went into this movie (on Halloween night, mind you) thinking, “Yeah, it’ll be another flashy but mediocre serial killer thriller.” I left feeling like I just got pounded into dust and smoked out of a corn cob pipe, the ashes of which were then disposed of in a vat of acid. Yeah, that’s about it…

Anyway, I’ve got to once again give it up to Lion’s Gate Films for putting out a way edgy and ballsy movie. There’s no way in hell this kind of film could have made it to screens like this if it was distributed by, say, a more mainstream studio. It would have been sliced, diced, and re-edited for a more consumer-friendly PG-13 rating, and this would have sucked big time. Nope, not here. This is a perfect example of not messing with flawed perfection…

Basically, the movie starts off with two guys waking up in scummy enclosed space, chained to pipes on opposite ends of the room, with a dead body in the middle of them. It just gets weirder and much more terrifying from there, as we learn that these two people (one a successful doctor, and the other a freelance photographer) were chosen to play a sick and twisted game of “Earn The Right To Live” by a psychotic madman nicknamed Jigsaw. From there, this genre bully had me by the scruff of my neck, pressing me against the corner of the wall until the end credits rolled. Not only was this a nifty twist on a familiar concept, but the way it’s executed (mucho flashbacks illustrating the character’s everyday lives, little subtle clues as to the killer’s identity, the knock-you-over-the-head-with-a-blackjack twists, and the investigation subplot) worked like the killer’s nickname- it was all sorted out like a jigsaw puzzle, begging you to try and piece this sick puppy together. Parts of me wanted to see the big picture, but another part didn’t want to leave this sick and twisted maze so soon. Ooooh, the sweet, sweet darkness…

Like the bastard child of the movies Se7en and The Cube, the high suspense tone, the fearless glimpses of the violence, and the overall characterization and smart script (is someone really considered a murderer if they technically don’t kill their victims, they just have them do it?) had me on the edge of my seat. The minor quibbles I have, really, are 1) the needless MTV-like editing job at places (got a headache from the quick-cuts…tone it down guys), and 2) the overacting at the end (seriously, I half expected the two guys to kiss). Otherwise, this movie touched me deeply…and it didn’t wear a rubber glove when it did. Check this out…highly recommended by yours truly…

Movie Review: ARE YOU SCARED 2

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are you scared 2Lions Gate Films
2009
R

“I just wanna take you to paradise, sugar…”

Dallas, Andrew, his girlfriend Taryn and Reese compose of the DNA Team in an Internet game where the objective is to find treasures in hidden caches. While searching the last treasure to beat the game’s record score, they are chased by two psychopaths controlled by the sick owner of an underground site that is filming their movements and they have to fight to survive.

A few years ago, Lionsgate gave us Are You Scared?, a rather lame direct-to-video Saw rip-off that came close to achieving a level of bad-in-a-bad-way that was set by the dreck the Asylum movies made. Years later – 2009 to be exact – Lionsgate somehow felt that the horror populace were clamoring for a sequel, and thus gave us another direct-to-video misfire that, somehow, is even worse than the first movie. Didn’t think it was possible, but yes. Are You Scared 2 sucks even worse than the first entry.

I realize that one would ask why, if the first movie was so bad, did I go and rent the sequel? Really, it wasn’t from some false hope that this one would be better. No, the sole reason behind me renting this DVD was because it was in the 2-For-A-Dollar rental section at the video place I frequent. And since I’m apparently masochistic on a subconscious level, I figured it couldn’t be as bad as the first one. This despite my inner Bad Movie Alert going off the charts. I gotta stop ignoring that.

Anyway, the movie itself turns out to be a sequel in name only. Little Internet digging revealed that Are You Scared 2 was originally a stand-alone original movie with a different name, until Lionsgate decided to buy it and distribute it as a sequel to Are You Scared? And try as I might, no amount of Internet sleuthing would explain the logic behind that movie.

So what we got here is a sequel that has no ties to the first movie. There’s not even a mention or allusion to it. Usually when a studio co-opts a movie like that, at least there would be minor tweaking to tie things in, like what they did with American Psycho 2.

Maybe you’re sitting there, reading this review thinking, “Co’mon, Uncle NecRo. It can’t be as bad as you’re saying it is.” YES IT IS. There are so many things that inflicted pain on me while watching this. Usually while watching bad horror movies like this, there comes a point where my brain tells me “Have fun,” and then goes off to play Minesweeper or something while I sit it out. With Are You Scared 2, that point came around 20 minutes in. Considering this is a 90 minute movie, that’s not a good sign.

Now, before bogging you down with the further ranting I plan to do to purge this crud from my head, let me point out the one good thing I liked about this movie – the cinematography. Really, it was very nicely shot, and stylish. But, as we all know, having a good shot movie doesn’t carry things.

As for what makes Are You Scared 2 an excruciating 90 minute crapfest: Well, first off, the four main protaganists consist of two d-bags and their vapid princess girlfriends, so there was, right off the bat, nothing here for me to connect with the characters – even a tiny bit. There was little by way of character development, and the insipid dialogue and crappy acting just made me start rooting for their slow and painful deaths ten minutes into things, here.

Problem is, once they finally get around to running into their “doom”, it turns out to be a couple of hillbilly types – one the good ol’ boy “you gots a purdy mouth” variety, and the other a large silent type in what was referred to as a homemade Lordi mask in the review on Dread Central. I find that to be the perfect description, so I ganked it here. Besides, I doubt the esteemed Foywonder knows of this blog o’ mine. Anyway, after running into this dynamic duo, and only one of the four seemingly bumped off, the rest of these pretty kids do some more running around and…well, that’s about it.

But the biggest insult in this film is Tony “I needed the money” Todd as the mastermind behind this “game” of his. Wasted potential. All you see him do is sit behind a video editing console, spouting…okay, mumbling a lot of nonsensical stuff that, I guess, the writers thought made him sound crazy and menacing. Along with shots of him codling his pet turtle and, um, playing with an Etch-A-Sketch…yeah, nothing says “I’m an insane evil mastermind!” quite like making goofy noises to a turtle and doodling scribbles on a toy.

Okay, I just got a flash of Dr. Evil from Austin Powers asking, “Was it an evil Etch-A-Sketch?” I got to wrap this thing up quickly…

By the time I got to the end of Are You Scared 2 – and yes, I did manage to power through, when lesser fanboys would have slipped into a coma – I was well into lamenting wasting the fifty cents used to rent this thing. Just, take it from me…avoid this movie at all costs. Pass with extreme prejudice…

Movie Review: ARE YOU SCARED?

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Are You ScaredMainline Releasing
2003
R

Six teenagers awaken in an abandoned factory with no memory of how they got their. A mysterious voice informs them that they’ve all been chosen to star in a reality series called Are You Scared?. To win money, all they have to do is face down their greatest fears. Like Pavlov’s dog, they all salivate at the idea, throwing all logic surrounding the situation out the window. But when they all start dying, the kids start to realize that this isn’t a game…

…and the audience realizes that this really isn’t a movie; rather, Are You Scared? is more of a backhanded slap in the face of said audience. The joke, of course, being that we actually rented this craptacular exercise in the grand tradition of “Imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism.”

Look, I’ve seen my fair share of badly executed rip-off horror movies that stretch my ability to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the movie for what it is, blatant rip-off or not. And there is a big (with a capital BIG) difference between a movie that cribbed the general idea from another movie to make it their own little entity (like what the first Friday The 13th did from the original Halloween), and a blatant rip-off of another movie.

Obviously, Are You Scared? is a very blatant rip-off of Saw. And Saw 2. Right down to the voice of the unnamed puppet master (sorry) guy sounding exactly like Jigsaw’s disguised voice. And whatever you think about the Saw franchise (oh, yes…there will be more…muWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!), at least the villain had a pretty good motivation to what he does, and why he chooses his victims. Here, especially when you get to the “big twist ending”, you realize that there was just no reason whatsoever for this villain to do what he did to get to a certain character in “the game”. The players of this game don’t really help things along, as you sit there and watch them wake up in a mysterious place thinking “somethin’ ain’t right”, to “whee, we’re gonna win MONEY!” The token black guy actually starts dancing, after about five or ten minutes of gangsta posing (which is odd, considering he had a bomb roughly the size of a hockey puck inserted in his right lower abdomen while he was out cold…oops, did I give out too much? Good…now you don’t have to watch this). And what Saw rip-off wouldn’t be complete without the two detectives, hot on the trail of the killer, one on the outs with his department for being the “detective who cries wolf” (which doesn’t gel, because at the beginning the police find one of the victims- the model wannabe shown at the beginning kill, to be precise…if they didn’t find a body and evidence that the killer was there, then maybe the boys in blue would have a reason to refer to him as the “detective that cried wolf”…but I digress), and the female psychological profiler who’s general purpose in this movie is to repeat the phrases “the game’s started again,” and “a merciful death is better than a life of pain,” all to lend some kind of reasoning to this killer’s modus operandi. Which, when you get to the ending, you realize that it was all a buttload of crap.

Effects wise, this is a gore hound’s nocturnal emission. Strictly low-budget classic splatter, on a visceral level. There is one badly-done ‘splosion (the token black dude) that, I swear, all it needed was that shock wave ring that was used in the Special Edition of Star Wars when the Death Star blew up. Really, had this been one of those “gore and splatter for gore and splatter’s sake” type movies, without any kind of attempt at a plot or rationale, this could have worked.

So, here’s the thing. As horror movies go, low-budget straight-to-video carbon copies of more successful movies are to be expected. What separates Are You Scared? from the first two Saw movies is the fact that they were both distributed by the same company. You read that right. Lions Gate released both of these. You would think that another company known for its low-budget fare (like Asylum) did this. I don’t know how to feel about that.

And to answer the obvious…no. No, I wasn’t scared. Pass this one up with prejudice…