Review: Trick ‘R Treat

trick r treat.pngTrick ‘r Treat

Halloween is a night of traditions whose meanings have been largely lost to time.  As Rhonda says in Trick ‘r Treat, “Samhain, also known as All Hallows’ Eve, also known as Halloween. Pre-dating Christianity, the Celtic holiday was celebrated on the one night between autumn and winter when the barrier between the living and the dead was thinnest, and often involved rituals that included human sacrifice.”

Trick ‘r Treat consists of five inter-connected short stories that combine the ancient traditions of Halloween with the more modern ones.

The first story involves a couple, Emma and Henry, returning home from a party.  Emma blows out the candle in their jack ‘o lantern, despite Henry’s cautions that it violates tradition.  This is the shortest of the five stories, and thus isn’t developed that far.  But it does set the tone, and the conflict between the old traditions and the modern world.

The next story is about Principal Wilkins.  He’s a play on the old urban legend of the man who puts poison or razor blades into candies and hands them out to children.  This segment does a great job of taking a common Halloween story and elevating it into effective horror.  It also has some comedic elements involving his pestering son and nosy neighbor.

The third story involves a group of kids and a ghost story, kind of like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but with a lot more murder.  Four kids, led by a girl named Macy, take the local weird girl, Rhonda, down to an old rock quarry with the intention to terrify her.  The quarry was the site of a school bus crash that killed eight ‘disturbed’ children on Halloween many years ago.

Story four stars Anna Paquin as a 22 year old virgin, Laurie, whose friends (all dressed in sexy Halloween costumes) are pressuring her to pick up a guy for their party that night.  I can’t say much more about this one without spoiling it, except to say that it heavily involves one of the other stories in the movie, and that its a play on defied expectations.

The last story is about old Mr. Kreeg.  It a bit like a Halloween version of A Christmas Carol.  Kreeg is mean, he runs children off his property and steals their candy.  He’s soon visited by Sam, the small person with a burlap sack over his head who has been seen throughout the movie observing the other stories, who takes retribution on the old man for violating the traditions of the holiday.

All the stories are simple, a quick set up then the twist.  They also tend to have an element of justice to them; bad things happen to bad people.  In that way, Trick ‘r Treat is very reminiscent of the classic horror comic anthologies like Tales from the Crypt or Vampirella.  Indeed, the opening an closing credits are presented over comic art, so the connection was likely intentional.

Trick ‘r Treat does not just rely on old monster stories.  It uses the new traditions of Halloween: trick or treating, ghost stories, and slutty costumes, to weave something new, and yet still intrinsically tied to the base elements of the holiday.

Review: Intruder

Synapse Films (Blur-ray)

A mysterious killers is stalking the aisles and storage rooms of a second-rate, small town grocery store.  The unusually large night crew, which includes two cashiers for some reason, falls victim one by one in a series of bloody, gory death scenes.

This film is most notable for the fact that it stars, amongst other people, Sam Raimi (Director of Evil Dead, Spider-Man), and Ted Raimi (Joxer the Mighty from Xena: Warrior Princess), and has a brief cameo from Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead, Burn Notice).  None of them are the actual stars, of course, (they were just friends of the director, Scott Spiegel), but their inclusion does give this film a ‘get into cult-fandom free’ ticket.

Intruder is pretty by-the-books are far as slashers go.  We start with our red herring, a biker-guy ex-boyfriend of a cashier who shows up at closing time to cause trouble.  He’s the too-obvious suspect when things start going wrong.  After the excitement of biker-guy’s visit, the night crew spread out to their own distant corners of the store, where they can be killed an dismembered at leisure.

The murders are very good.  There’s a lot of variety, as the killer uses the tools and industrial equipment found in the store to handle his victims in gruesome and graphic ways.  The cut-up body parts are very realistic, and despite the whimsical nature of the kills, don’t come off looking comedic.

The killings continue until only one person is left.  Of course, he or she hasn’t noticed anyone dying up till this point, but the bodies are discovered in rapid succession, leading to the final reveal of the killer.  I’m not sure I buy the killer’s motivation.  That’s the risk you run with a slasher movie when you try to explain why the killer killed.  Given the nature of their crimes, the reasoning has to be pretty extreme; but that’s not the case here.  I do give it credit for trying; and even if it’s not totally satisfying, the explanation at the end does give it a sense of closure.

Unlike most slasher movies, the teenage cast doesn’t spend most of the movie having sex or drinking, maybe because they’re at work, I don’t know.  While not very deep, at least they aren’t faceless cannon fodder.  They all have very distinct character traits and mannerisms, some more likeable than others, but at least it’s something.  You care when they die, either because you miss them, or from relief that you won’t have to hear their awful voice any more.

Intruder doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, but it plays the cliches well.  It has a decent cast, and the super market setting allows for some fun and interesting kills.  If you like ’80s slasher movies, you’ll probably like this one as well.

Review: School of the Holy Beast

Cult Epics (DVD)

Christianity is not all that popular in Japan.  Apparently less than half a percent claim membership.  But Christian iconography is popular (which you would know if you watch Evangelion), so it’s no wonder that when making a sexy, violent exploitation movie, they’d pick a convent as the perfect setting.

School of the Holy Beast is about a new nun named Maya.  She was born in the Sacred Heart Convent, but never knew her mother or father.  When she grows up, she joins the nunnery hoping to unravel the mystery of her birth.

Turns out the church is rife with nun-lusting priests and institutional cover-ups. It must have seemed outrageous at the time; but with hindsight, we know that it’s a pretty tame representation of what was actually going on in the church in the ’70s.

As Maya says in the opening of the film, a convent is, ‘where women aren’t women,’ and that’s becomes a constant theme in the movie.  The idea that sexuality is normal, and that suppressing it is not only abnormal, but impossible, and hypocritical (as the priests and nuns who enforce the rules are the most egregious in breaking them).

Of course, School of the Holy Beast isn’t out to make social commentary.  It’s a nunsploitaion movie.  Everything scene has a veneer of sexuality over it.  When the nuns are punished, they’re topless, when they’re initiated, they’re topless; the movie never forgets what it’s there for.

And yet, you can’t help but think that this is a more accurate portrait of convent life than you normally see in movies.  If not outwardly, perhaps as a glimpse of the burning hormonal desires that rage under the surface.  Sacred Heart Convent is what a convent would look like if the nuns were allowed to be honest, and express their humanity; to be women, as Maya said.

The film was produced by the movie studio Toei, which is famous for their classic samurai movies, like Lone Wolf and Cub, and Lady Snowblood. School of the Holy Beast shares a lot of visual characteristics with it’s samurai siblings; the bright red fake blood, the topless nuns in bondage, the giant ‘end’ kanji to finish the movie, etc.

And it’s beautifully shot.  It looks like it was filmed in an actual church and the camera work shows some artistry.  One scene in particular has a nun chained to a chair.  The other nuns surround her and begin whipping her with bouquets of roses.  The petals fly off, as bright-red blood sprinkles her body, all in slow motion.  Okay, it’s not a ‘nice’ scene, but it looks good.

School_of_the_Holy_Beast.jpg

DVD Review: The Dead Sleep

 

The Dead Sleep

The Midnight Horror Collection Vol. 3

Echo Bridge

 

 

Despite its inclusion in the ‘Midnight Horror Collection,’ The Dead Sleep isn’t really a horror movie, as it’s not really horrific.  I guess it’s closer to a thriller, but then, it isn’t really thrilling either.

An accountant named Paul wakes up one day and starts experiencing small, yet strange occurrence; like mis-hearing people, or seeing flashes of things that aren’t there.

Paul, it turns out, has embezzled millions of dollars from his company, and his new 25-year-old boss isn’t happy about that.

It’s a few days before his birthday, and he’s planning an aquarium ‘date’ with his daughter, who I think is supposed to be 15 or so, but looks 27.

Paul’s boss, Tim (played by Joshua Close, who actually has some good credits to his name), is a baffling character.  He wants the money back, which I get, but then he says he wants to ‘make an example’ of Paul, which he does by secretly killing him and dumping the body.  I’m not sure how that sends a message, especially since he doesn’t get the money back first.

Tim is the villain of the piece, but is not effective in that role at all.  I think they were going for sociopath, but they ended up with ‘baby-faced boy with poor planning ability.’

So, Paul’s dead, and it turns out that the life he’s re-experiencing just prior to his death is actually a dream he’s having as a ghost five years later.  He eventually decides to use this dream-state to save his family.

It’s okay to have bizarre powers and phenomenon in a movie, but the more bizarre it is, the more important it becomes to establish rules and be consistent with them.  Paul’s experience makes no sense, and is hard to follow.  His abilities and restrictions as a ghost seem to arbitrarily pop up whenever a conflict or deus ex machina is needed.

Thus, the resolution of the film has no depth.  Even though it ties together events from throughout of the movie (Sixth Sense-Like), it dose so in a tacked on way that only serves to make things less clear.  They might as well have had a pack of leprechauns pop in to save the day, as that would have about as much connection to the rest of the film as the actual ending does.

The acting is bad, given Joshua Close’s involvement, I’m inclined to blame the director.  Chris Armstrong, who plays Paul, never convincingly sells a line, and there are many pauses in his delivery when he’s talking to another character, like he has to stop to remember what his next line was.

The only thing I can really say I like about the movie was the ‘one-eyed girl.’  Her character is literally a deus ex machina, dropped into to give Paul clues.  The film even makes a point of emphasizing that her character’s existence makes no sense (I guess we’re supposed to assume that she’s an angel, or something (Paul and his daughter talk about them earlier in the film)).  But Jacintha Charles, who plays her, is pretty cute.

The movie comes in a two disc set with four movies on each disc from budget distributor Echo Bridge.  Video is in anamorphic widescreen, and looks decent enough.

Blu Ray Review: Dexter The Fifth Season

 

Dexter

The Fifth Season

CBS / Showtime

 

 

In each of the previous seasons, Dexter has formed a relationship with someone that shares some aspect of his personality.  The killer, the addict, the hero, and the duel personality.  In season five, he meets a fellow victim.  Dexter is a victim twice over.  The first was the murder of his mother, which was the defining moment that made him what he is today, and the second was the murder of his wife at the end of season four.

Dexter’s first victimization crippled him emotionally, a fact which becomes very clear after his second victimization; resulting in two problems that plague him for the rest of the season.  The first is Detective Quinn, who is suspicious of Dexter’s lack of emotion following Rita’s (Dexter’s wife) death.  The other officers, including Dexter’s sister Debra, who have worked with Dexter longer are perhaps more familiar with is personality, and reject the idea that he could be involved out of hand, the irony, of course, is that it’s one of the few murders he didn’t commit.

The second problem his lack of emotions cause involves his family, specifically Rita’s kids.  There’s a great scene early on where Dexter goes to a funeral home and is impressed by the director’s ability to feign sympathy by saying ‘sorry for your loss.’  After telling the kids that their mother was murdered, Dexter, unable to share their emotions and not knowing how to deal with them, simply repeats the funeral director’s ‘sorry for your loss,’ which the 12 year old Astor is much less impressed with.

Dexter’s fellow victim this season is Lumen Pierce, who was abducted, tortured and raped.   Dexter’s character arc for the season is essentially procreation, as he slowly (though unintentionally) turns Lumen into another him, but she’s not exactly the same.  Dexter’s turning point happened when he was a baby.  Something fundamental changed and he developed wrong from the start.  Lumen is different in that she feels the change.  She knows what she used to be and what she is now, and her motivations now are a result of extreme emotion, rather than a lack of it.  Also, her rage is directed at specific targets.  She knows who she wants to hurt, then figures out how to do it; unlike Dexter who decides he wants to kill someone, then looks for someone appropriate.

Each season of Dexter has a central serial killer case.  The one for this season (involving Lumen’s attacker) is well plotted and multi-layered.    It builds up at a good pace, and there aren’t any deus ex machina invoked to move it along.  One of the neat things about the series is that each mystery has to follow two paths; that of Dexter and the police.  Dexter has to remain slightly ahead so that his targets aren’t arrested before he can kill them, but he can’t be so far ahead that the police cease to be a dramatic threat to him.  Conveniently, Dexter has the only eye-witness to the crime working with him.

This was a great season, with a solid plot and a character arc that expands Dexter without killing anything we love about him.

Like previous seasons, there’s a complete lack of extras included on the BDs, though video and audio quality are great.

 

Blu Ray Review: [REC]

[REC]

eOne

 

 

 

 

 

There’s nothing new in [REC], it’s essentially a zombie movie done from a camera man’s perspective.  But what [REC] does possess is brilliant execution.

Angela, played by Manuela Velasco, is the host of some local TV channel’s news fluff show called ‘While You’re Asleep.’  The movie begins with her and her camera man doing a report on the local fire station.  After hours of boredom, there’s finally a call, and the reporters and firefighters rush off to help an elderly woman who was heard screaming in her locked apartment.

Of course, there’s more to it than that.  The old woman turns out to have a taste for human flesh, one that soon spreads.

[REC] paces its action very well.  After an initial burst of violence in the apartment, there’s a long, tense build up before it erupts again.  During this time, the characters want to leave and get help for the injured people, but are held back by a police blockade that has quarantined the building (which is where the American remake of this movie, Quarantine, got its name).

Eventually, the true nature of what is happening in the apartment building becomes clear, at which point the movie slams down the gas pedal and doesn’t stop until the end.  This is a pure, high-tension horror movie that doesn’t waste time on characters or subplots.  There’s no love interest, and no personal demons for Angela to overcome, just a desperate panicky race to survive.

The apartment itself is a little run down, and very claustrophobic.  There’s a narrow, spiral staircase with two rooms on each floor.  There’s no maze of hallways or vacant rooms to hide in, the protagonists are always out in the open.

The camera gimmick is actually used to good effect in the movie.  Sometimes it covers for weaker special effects, but it also adds to the frantic feel (though luckily, unlike Cloverfield, it’s a professional TV camera, so it’s relatively stable throughout).  The camera also plays an integral role in the final scenes, making them far more effective in the process.

This Blu Ray, the only one available in North America is a Canadian exclusive from eOne.  The movie is presented in 1080P HD, which looks fine.  It’s like it was filmed with a consumer digital HD camera.  Well lit scenes look good, but darker scenes (the majority of the film) are a little muddy. Audio is DTS-HD  Spanish and French, with removable English subtitles.  Credits and titles are left in Spanish.

There’s a bunch of extras; making of, deleted scenes, interviews, etc.

[amazon-product]B0050N0V74[/amazon-product]