Monthly Archives: April 2014

Masters of Horror: The V Word (2006)

VWord

Review: “Masters of Horror – The V Word”
4 stars

The Bottom Line

On one quiet night, best friends decide to break into the local funeral home to check out a body. Instead they cross paths with something more vicious than they ever could have imagined. This meeting will teach these boys the meaning of friendship and the importance of the V Word.

Pros:

  • Excellent acting all the way around
  • A nice twist on the tired vampire tales
  • Good special effects
  • Filled with dread, The V Word manages to sustain suspense for the entire running time

Cons:

  • Michael Ironside’s character is a bit predictable

Description:

  • Genre: Horror
  • Directed by Ernest Dickerson
  • Starring: Michael Ironside, Arjay Smith, Branden Nadon
  • Original Airdate: November 10, 2006
  • Network: Showtime

Guest Guide Review – “Masters of Horror – The V Word”

I’ve never been one for the customary vampire film. I tend towards the less gothic, grosser versions ala Nosferatu. There’s always been something inside me that likes my vampires to be dirty and terrifying from the get go. That’s exactly what I got with Ernest Dickerson’s first entry into the Masters of Horror series. This bloodsucker ain’t playing around! Even if I found the casting of Ironside rather conventional, he’s still a great choice as the villain. No brooding here, this guy enjoys his undead lifestyle!

What was so surprising about The V Word was how it captivated me. I was completely drawn into the plight of the teenage boys and really felt for them and the dilemma at hand. The excellent script by Masters of Horror series creator Mick Garris keeps their friendship natural and real. There’s no over-the-top silliness in their presentation, instead both Smith and Naden play it straight and come across as genuine buddies. The V Word has everything going for it – an appealing story, tight direction, atmosphere to spare and a good wrap – up but in the end it’s the excellent performances by these two boys that drew me over to the dark side.

 

This review originally appeared on About.com

Vacancy (2007)

VacancyPoster

Vacancy
3 ½ Stars

To say Vacancy owes a bit to Alfred Hitchcock would be an immense understatement. From the groovy credits to the eerie Psycho-esque Motel to the cinematography, director Nimrod Antal apes the master in almost every scene. What sets him apart from other homages (and I’m using the term lightly), is that Antal somehow makes Vacancy feel fresh.

You Can Check In…

David (Luke Wilson) and Amy (Kate Beckinsale) are the unlucky couple whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. It’s just one of many bad things that have happened that night apparently, seeing that the couple loves to take nasty digs at each other via any possible opportunity.

Returning on foot to the gas station they stopped by earlier, the couple spot a hole-in-the-wall motel in back and decide to stick it out there until morning when they can have their car towed. This ain’t the Ritz either. Bugs on the floor, dirty walls and icky bed sheets give the room a nice skid row feel. However, someone has left behind an assortment of unlabelled VHS tapes for the couple’s entertainment. At first, Wilson watches the tapes in bewilderment. After sitting through a throng of people being tortured and killed, he notices that the room on the crude tapes looks awfully familiar. In fact, it looks exactly like the room our couple is staying in. Upon realizing that he’s watching a snuff film, things turn deadly.

… But You Can’t Check Out

The crux of Vacancy‘s success lies not in the story, which presents nothing new, but rather in the atmosphere. The hotel room looks so dirty you’ll want to take a shower afterwards, and the desolate location feels very isolated, leaving the potential victims with little hope. Where the film exceeded expectation is in the snuff tapes themselves. There’s a definite camcorder video feel to them and the brief clips come across as truly authentic, which upped the scare factor without resorting to overindulgent gore.

Wilson and Beckinsale are both good as the bickering couple. Prior to seeing Vacancy, I was only familiar with Wilson’s comedic films. His performance here was a treat and he proves that he’d make an interesting leading man. I’d like to see him cut his chops on more serious fare. Frank Whaley, who plays the hotel manager, is good but he’s a bit too mousy to come off as a truly intimidating character. Still, he jumped into the part with gusto and his mustache was a hoot!

The Bottom Line

Vacancy is a rarity in the cycle of modern Hollywood horror. It’s got fairly famous actors, but the film itself is small. So small, it feels a little like an old ‘70s TV movie with a bit of blood thrown in for effect. With current movie-going audiences hungrier for bigger, more violent fare, Vacancy was practically guaranteed to fail at the box office. Now with the DVD release, it will hopefully find the audience it so richly deserves.

 

This review originally appeared on About.com

When a Slasher Isn’t a Slasher but is Still a Slasher

10ToMidnight

The slasher genre always did get a bum rap. It might have made oodles of dinero for the production companies, but they still turned their back on their product for fear of becoming victims to the backlash. Still, as with any tried and true formula, the slasher blueprint became a staple in other types of films. They might deny it, but many a film took the same conventions and just dressed them up all pretty, hoping no one would notice the soiled underpinnings. Here is are the 10+ movies that came to mind when I thought about films that fell into different genres but retained a little of the slash.

10 to Midnight (1983) – Instead of stripping nude for your killer, this guy does the honor himself! Then he chases you around and kills ya! And it’s up to tough as nails Charles Bronson to capture the punk, even if it means laying his own reputation (and his daughter) on the line. Great little potboiler with a vibrant Bronson and a stunningly built killer.

Angel (1984) – OK, so this movie wears its soiled underpinnings proudly! A sleazy exploitation movie featuring Donna Wilkes as the underage hooker on the lookout for a serial killer, this movie captures the truly seedy side of 80s Hollywood and features some great performances by Dick Shawn (in drag, no less) and Rory Calhoun.

ApartmentZero

Apartment Zero (1989) – The artiest film on the list, Apartment Zero invites the viewer into the lives of two roommates – polar opposites – one of whom is a serial killer. This movie plays around with the conventions of the genre but still leaves the viewer with a mesmerized, disturbed view of the world they’ve just experienced. An excellent film.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)Beyond is a sex comedy that goes all nutzo at the end. It’s all about the slash and dash in this excellent psychedelic tripfest. Watch one of the beautiful people declare “You not just a broad – you’re an UGLY broad,” before getting his head chopped off. I say dude deserved it!

Cobra

Cobra (1986) – I’ve always been a little hesitant to see the slasher-esque-eries (yeah, I made that word up!) in Cobra, but so many people out there feel differently, so I knew it was worth including. Hey, my action movie, your slasher! Cobra is a fantastic flick featuring Sly Stallone as a tough as nails cop (who even cuts his pizza with scissors!) on the trail of a cult of killers who are out to get top model Brigette Neilson (looking really pretty in a reddish wig). The main bad guy is great and overall, this is one of the best action films of the 80s. And apparently one of the better slashers too!

Cruising (1980) – A bold film about the seedy gay leather community of New York, Cruising dealt with repression and sexual desire… and death. After years of constant maligning, I think the world is ready for a movie that tackles as many issues as it disposes of bodies.

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Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) – Fashion kills. Laura Mars mostly steers clear of actual sex in favor of fashionably photographed sex… violent sex. And it’s got everyone in a tizzy, including a killer who is picking off Laura’s friends and cohorts one by one. Unfortunately (for Laura – good for us!), she can witness the killings through her eyes as they happen, which leads to all kinds of mishaps and hijinks… slasher style.

Jaws II (1975) – You got teens stuck in an isolated area and you’ve got an unstoppable killer. Only this time it’s a shark! Jaws II is about the closest to a slasher film that a non-slasher film ever got. And maybe that’s why it’s retained its re-watchability for me over all these years. Oh yeah, and it’s got a scary shark that eats people. That too!

SilentRage

Silent Rage (1982) – Chuck Norris is the guy hunting down a seemingly unstoppable killer in a small redneck town. This movie mixes the action and slasher genre in all the best ways. I mean, it’s got Norris single-handedly beating the crap out of a large biker gang (probably the best scene in the movie) and some well directed slasher set-pieces. Also, the acting is great and the pacing is good too. It’s just tops.

Tightrope (1984) – Eastwood, who already did his own take on the classy slash (before they were slashers even!) with Play Misty for Me, is at it again with this dark film. He plays a cop hunting down a serial killer (ho-hum) but at the same time he’s struggling with his own sinister sexual appetite (not so ho-hum). And you know that leads to all kinds of horror filled goodness, now dontcha?

BasicInstinct

Honorable Mentions:

Basic Instinct (1992) – Admittedly, this movie broke through all kinds of boundaries, pushed the envelope right off the desk and started a new sub-genre of overtly sexual thrillers (most of which could never hold a candle to this one). It is the movie that lived up to the stigma of films that sexualize violence and it had audiences in rapture. I think it’s so-so and let’s face it – it’s kind of a bold face rip-off of Tenebre. Yeah, I said it! And that qualifies it!

Body Double (1984) – Just one murder, but that phallic drill is only one step away from some Russ Thorn goodness ala Slumber Party Massacre!

Single, White Female (1992) – Jennifer Jason Leigh wants to be Bridget Fonda (well, who doesn’t?) and Bridget is putting up a fight over it! This superficial but fun suspense thriller embraced and ushered in the Home Invasion craze of the early 90s. A lot of films including Unlawful Entry, Pacific Heights, Hand that Rocks the Cradle and even Shannon Tweed’s excellent soft core thriller Scorned played with this idea, but SWF took it one step further with a nice stiletto heel to the eye trick.

 

This article originally appeared on Horror Yearbook

 

 

Whispers from a Shallow Grave (2006)

WhispersDVDBox

Whispers from a Shallow Grave
Directed By: Ted Newsom
Written By: Ted Newsom
Produced By: Trudi Jo Marie Keck, Ted Newsom
Featuring: Trudi Jo Marie Keck, Gerald Brodin, Gwen Brownson, Michelle Bauer, Linnea Quigley
2006

There has been an undeniable trend in the world of popular low budget cinema of late. The true crime crime genre has seen a lot of releases lately – from the good (Dahmer, Gacy) to the bad (Speck) to everything in-between. What audiences seldom see in this category are movies based on the point of view of the victim. To make it a bit more unique, the point is view in Whispers from a Shallow Grave is told post-mortem.

Based on the real life murder of model Linda Sobek, a case I remember well, mostly because it put up a red flag to all potential models that were setting up appointments themselves, without really understanding the danger involved. It seems rather disturbing that it took us all the way until 1995 to really understand the threat behind that sometimes sleazy business, but there you go. Sadly, Linda had to become the poster child before people started identifying the problem.

Linda’s (Trudi Jo Marie Keck) story starts after her death as she ventures back through her adult life recounting important events leading up to her murder. There’s much to take in, like her suicidal fantasies, her choice in bad men and her ultimate realization that she might not get out of the brutal situation alive. Linda can be seen in court defending her innocence as an unseen lawyer (ghostly apparition?) asks her questions about her sexual history, secrets, and her life as a model. Director Ted Newsom also intersperses some real life news and court footage to add a bit more realism to his cinema verite style. A portion of the film is spent on her killer, Charles Rathbun (Gerald Brodin), and although it’s a sinister look at the mind of a serial rapist and up and coming killer, it’s Linda’s story that is so compelling.

Strangely, this movie is reminiscent of the 70s Made for TV Movie Who Was the Black Dalia starring Luci Arnez. On the surface, both films seem wildly disparate, but they delve into the lives of two very lost girls looking for prominence on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. To say both films explore the underbelly of the need for validation through fame would be an understatement.

Whispers rises above its budget and transcends the genre thanks to Newsom’s careful direction and obvious affection for telling Linda’s story honestly. Newsom has tackled everything from monster movies to slashers to documentaries. He’s a lover of cinema and it shows. Be forewarned though – this is a movie full of dark moments and rape. Newsom pulls no punches in his depiction of Linda as both kind and confused. There’s also a nice little cameo by Michelle Bauer (looking beautiful as usual) in a stark flashback that reveals Charles as the nasty little monster he is.

 

This review originally appeared on Pretty Scary.