31 in 31: Cockneys vs Zombies

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c vs zStory:  A group of pathetically stupid (but hilarious) bank robbers try a heist.  Meanwhile, zombies are popping up around the old folks home.  How are these two disparate groups gonna survive the apocalypse?

Scares: A few nice chills and Day of the Dead-like suspense bits, but mostly this is played for laughs.

Splat Factor: Zombie movie.  So, yeah.  There’s even a few splats onto the camera lens once or twice.

Closing scene “shocker”: Nope!  Yayz!

Remake, Sequel or OG (Original Ghoul): I know, I know; you’ve seen tons of zombie movies.  And yeah, this feels like a mashup of Grabbers  and Shaun of the Dead. (Note to self: review Shaun of the Dead.) But this one’s original.

Trick or Treat:  A definite treat y’all.  Ever wonder what would happen if the East End of London got overrun with zombies?  Well, while Shaun was taking care of things in King’s Cross, this gang of misfits and senior citizens have things covered for the Bow-bells.

There’s so much to enjoy here, but I’ll keep it brief. Tops in my book are the old folks kicking zombie ass!  (Best bit; how one of their group was outside asleep the whole time, with a “who’s faster, zombies or a guy with a walker?” chase scene.  Pure gold.)  Then there’s punting an infant into a “Targeting Cruelty Against Children” billboard, and a double-decker bus that’s used as a zombie battle machine.  Those aren’t the only twists in this zombie tale, but more would be too much spoilerage, and I don’t want to ruin the funny for you.  Okay, one more; “I Predict A Riot” plays during a particularly fantastic twist on the usual zombie attack.

And good to see Georgia King from The New Normal!  Man, I loved that show.  Harry Treadaway (Victor Frankenstein from Penny Dreadful) is here too; it’s like fannish reunion day (except this film came out before either actor did these other shows.)

According to the director, CvZ is a look at the “overwhelming force of modernisation” coming to East End, by way of zombies mowing over all these characters hold dear.  I love a message just like everyone else, but to be honest I was too busy enjoying myself to consider that theme.  Perhaps later.

Score: wpid-pumpkin9.jpgwpid-pumpkin9.jpgwpid-pumpkin9.jpgwpid-pumpkin9.jpg pumpkin_half

4.5 out of 5 pumpkins.  I may up it later, but right now it’s just as good as Grabbers, and so it gets the same grade.  I’d make the worst teacher ever.

31 in 31: The Sacrament

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the-sacrament_612x907Story: Remember the Jonestown Massacre? Well, The Sacrament is Eli Roth’s weak attempt to make that tragedy into a horror movie.

Scares: Not a one. A decent sense of dread in the beginning, but then it all peters out.

Splat factor: A few drops of blood, but otherwise, it’s all death by Kool-aid. Yawn.

Closing scene “shocker”: Surprisingly, no.

Remake, Sequel or OG (Original Ghoul): Though this feels like a Jim Jones docudrama, this is an original.

Trick or Treat: Just like Jonestown Kool-aid, this bait and switch film is deadly disappointing.  The film starts out promising: moronic Williamsburg hipsters head outside of the USA and onto a compound full of of religious cultists, in search of the sister of one of the hipsters. Yet, these chuckleheads act like they’re entitled to be assholes, asking pompous questions and poking around even though there are armed guards around and things don’t seem kosher. They warm up to the compound though, but then a little girl passes them a note, “please help us”. That’s all you get as far as slow buildup and chills; the next morning? Hey, Kool-aid!

As soon as The Sacrament reveals itself to be a Jonestown ripoff – which is less than half way in – it’s a suckfest. And Sacrament is a total ripoff of the Jonestown cult and mass suicide/murders, right down to the Kool-aid & Jim Jones’ “Father”‘s ombre shades. The only thing that separates Sacrament from is the found-footage angle. Big deal.

There’s not enough back-story to feel the menace of the cult; they go from partying to mass suicide and murder in less than 12 hours. Poof!  So what’s supposed to be horrifying, instead is WTF. The big, “shocking” climax feels rushed and underdeveloped. It’s as if Roth just wanted someone to make a film where he could peek into the last moments of the Jonestown cult, and really enjoy the ride. Sigh. The really sad part is director Ti West knows how to turn up the chills; V/H/S was creepy-cool, and so was The Inkeepers.  I’m hoping this was a hiccup on his resume. Funny that Cabin Fever 2 was the one he wanted to Alan Smithee, rather than this snoozer.

Oh, and that still on Netflix, with Father holding a beaten, bound reporter? Nowhere in the film. Sike!

Score:  wpid-pumpkin9.jpgwpid-pumpkin9.jpg

2 out of 5 pumpkins. I’d give it zero, but that’d just be my anger and disappointment.  So one for the sense of dread at the beginning. And one for Gene Jones’ brilliantly low-key performance as “Father”. Otherwise, it’s just disappointment in celluloid form.

31 in 31: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster

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ghidorahStory: A princess takes a trip to Japan, but her plane blows up.  Later, a woman that looks just like her is on the streets of Japan, warning everyone of upcoming monster invasions.  What’s going on?  Who cares — bring on the kaiju!

Scares: Terrifyingly bad dubbing, if you’re not watching the subtitled versions.  Otherwise, it’s a monster-iffic cake walk.

Splat Factor: Godzilla series = Zero.

Closing scene “shocker”: All rainbows and unicorns, no surprises here.

Remake, Sequel or OG (Original Ghoul): This is the 5th film of the Toho Godzilla series, but it’s the first time Ghidorah hit the silver screen.

Trick or Treat: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (aka Ghidrah, when the USA got hold of it) is the first all-out monsterpalooza from Toho Studios.  Wanna know when Godzilla switched from bad guy to good?  Well, here you go.  Go go Gojira!  Sure, the plot — a princess, on her way to Japan for a visit, is attacked and after her plane is blown up she’s possessed by a Martian that warns of upcoming monster invasions.  Yeah, it’s wacky.  But it’s the monsters we’re looking to see, and Ghidorah delivers.  Rodan!  Godzilla!  Mothra!  And, of course, three-headed King Ghidorah!

My favorite ‘zilla movies have tons of monsters, and this one is one of the tops in that regard.  Godzilla and Rodan kick each other’s butts before they decide to work together (along with caterpillar Mothra) to defeat Ghidorah.  That means tons of hot man-in-suit vs. man-in-suit action y’all.  And it’s glorious.  Pissy Godzilla, with his kicking mountains and stomping his feet because he doesn’t like his opponent, is Best Godzilla!  And the way Mothra brokers a truce between Godzilla and Rodan is kinda awesome.  [Insert crunchy Help The Earth message here: gotta love kaiju with hearts of gold.]  Bravo, Mothra!

BTW, this is the only film in the Godzilla series where the dubbing sounds good…at least when it comes to the possessed princess.  Hey, I take the ability to enjoy crap dubbing wherever I can get it.

Score: wpid-pumpkin9.jpg wpid-pumpkin9.jpgwpid-pumpkin9.jpgwpid-pumpkin9.jpgpumpkin_half

4.5 out of 5 pumpkins. The silly possession/assassination plot takes a half a ‘kin off this kaiju classic.

31 in 31: Shivers (1975)

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shiversStory: A dirty old man murders a beautiful young student.  But the dirty old man is actually a medical professor, and the beautiful young student is actually someone he infected with a parasite that was a combination venereal disease/aphrodisiac.  But the student shagged just about every guy in her apartment complex, infecting everyone she touched.  So the professor’s attempt to stop the spread may be too late….

Scares: Tons of creepy visuals, and decades after it’s release it’s still got it’s fair share of…shivers that could creep you out.  Blame/applaud director David “I never met weird shit I didn’t like” Cronenberg.

Splat factor: Again, it’s from David Cronenberg. Joe Blasco handles the FX. What do you think?

Closing scene “shocker”:  Sorta?  If you’ve seen Cronenberg before, you know what’s coming.  If not, you may be surprised.

Remake, Sequel or OG (Original Ghoul): If it’s Cronenberg, it’s one of a kind.  That should be his resume tag line, and it’s definitely true here.

Trick or Treat?: Shivers (also known as Orgy of the Blood Parasites, The Parasite Murders, They Came from Within, and Frissons.  Whew.)  is Cronenberg’s first film.  It also lays the groundwork for just about everything else he’s done. Sex, fear, changing/becoming, and how primal urges can’t be stopped, “The Flesh”; they’re all here.  Thought of as a classic in the “body horror” genre, Shivers still delivers a sense of dread that has held up over the years.  Is this film Fine Cinema?  Of course not; the film’s low budget, goofy 70s art direction, and hammy acting will always put it in the cult classics section.  But that ain’t a bad place to be.

“I’m hungry for love!” That statement shouldn’t send chills down your spine, but here it does, or at least it’ll creep you out.  As the sexual parasite spreads, the entire apartment complex turns into one bloody orgy.  And I’m not using British slang; Blasco creates some pretty crazy FX, and there’s plenty of the red stuff along with his ooky parasite monsters.

The parasite-as-health-breakthrough is a hot topic now, thanks to the popularity of the zombie genre (See: Mira Grant).  Shivers ain’t bad for what it is, but it doesn’t quite hold up alongside classics like Videodrome, The Fly and Scanners.  But if you can relax and watch it as a strange little horror/sci-fi throwback from the 70s, it’s a crazy/cool freak-out of a film.

Score: pumpkinpumpkinpumpkin

3 out of 5 pumpkins.  I kept wanting to laugh at it, or at least think it’s dated or dull, but it’s too compelling. I found myself firmly in the thumbs-up camp on this one.  Nice work for a starter film by a now-revered director in the genre.

Movie Review: The Book of Life

book of life

book of life chuy

I love you, Chuy.

Nutshell: I give The Book of Life an A-.  A bouncy, fizzy-fun animated pic about a cool but little-understood (in the USA) Mexican holiday.  Wonderful voice performances and gorgeous animation will please young and old alike, and the songs will have you dancing out of the theater.  I’m gonna try to make Chuy the official mascot of Pigtown, Baltimore. It could happen.

I love Halloween, don’t you?  Of course you do.  How about Day of the Dead?  No, not the Romero zombie movie, I’m talking about the Mexican holiday that follows hard on the heels of our beloved All Hallows Eve.  From 10/31 to 11/2, Mexican families honor those who have passed away, building altars and visiting cemeteries.  Candy, marigolds, candles and images of the departed are all a part of these festivities.  In America, we’ve seen sugar skulls, gorgeous calavera makeup, and even parades if you’re lucky enough to live in an area where there’s a large celebration.  But outside of the trappings, we Americans know very little of the traditions behind the holiday.  The Book of Life may just change that; Life is an animated festival that puts the emphasis on fun and family but still manages to educate while it entertains.

It’s a tale as old as time; three young children become fast friends.  But the two boys, Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) both find themselves falling in love with young Maria (Zoe Saldana).  They still manage to pal around and get themselves into the usual little kid troubles here and there, though.  But when Maria tries to do a good dead, things backfire and she’s sent away to boarding school.  Manolo learns to be a bullfighter but secretly longs to sing, and Joaquin becomes a famous soldier with his own secret.  Meanwhile, rulers of the underworld La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman) make a wager based on which one of the boys will ultimately win Maria’s heart.  When Manolo dies suddenly, the wager seems to have come to it’s completion.  But will Manolo’s love give him the power to come back to his beloved?  C’mon now y’all, you know this one.

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31 in 31: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)…and drinking game!

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the town that dreaded sundown 76Story: WWII is over – let’s all relax and get back to regular life! Oh wait; there’s a hooded nutter attacking and killing couples in Texarkana. Eek!  So much for normal.

Scares: For a drive-in caliber movie  there’s actually one or two decent ones. (I’ll never look at a trombone in quite the same way ever again.) Just keep your expectations low. Really low.

Splat factor: From Zero to Dead Alive? Barely noticeable, at best. This looks and feels like a TV movie, complete with low-key FX. Better than I expected overall, but I expected pure crap.

Closing scene “shocker”: Besides the creepy fact that in real life the killer was never found? Nup.

Remake, Sequel or OG (Original Ghoul): Based on the real Phantom Killer murder spree in Texarkana in 1946. A reboot was done in 2014 and should be hitting theaters (or On Demand) soon.

Trick or Treat?: I’d heard tons bad news about this movie. It’s slow, it’s dull, the voice over narration is silly and heavy handed. That’s all true. But I’m a lover of craptastic B-movie drive-in fodder, so while I think Sundown is nobody’s baby, it can be fun if you’re looking for a retro 70s drive-in night. Bonus points if you decide to do your own Mystery Science Theater thing as film plays. Or do a drinking game, perhaps like…

Drink when:

* a couple does something stupid rather than fight back/take off
* someone calls Officer Benson “Spark Plug”
* a cop is in drag
* someone says how a-ma-zing agent “Lone Wolf” is
* the cops deliver lines like they’re about to fall asleep
* “teenagers” act WAAAAY too straight laced, even for the 1940s
* female victims act like idiots rather than intelligent human beings.

That should get you good and hammered.

Why not double-up this movie with the sister from the same mister (that’d be producer Charles B. Pierce) The Legend of Boggy Creek, a film that feels like the crazy-crime prequel to this story. (It’s even got the same narrator.) Oh, and be sure to check out Dawn “Mary Ann” Wells as the final victim. She classes up the joint at the movie’s climax.

Score: :wpid-pumpkin9.jpg wpid-pumpkin9.jpgwpid-pumpkin9.jpg

3 out of 5 pumpkins, only for its drive-in, MST3K vibe, and the feeling Jason Voorhees used this film as his fashion inspiration.

31 in 31: Birth of the Living Dead

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birth of the living deadStory: These kids head into the woods thinking they’ll have a little fun and make a horror movie.  But then…they do!  And Night of the Living Dead becomes a worldwide sensation and genre classic!  How’d they do that?  Well, let them tell you.

Scares: That depends. What do you think of the spooky in NotLD? Because you’re going to see just about all those scenes here.

Splat Factor: That depends. What do you think of the gore in NotLD? Because you’re going to see just about all those scenes here.  You haven’t seen NotLD?  Then get ready for a ton of low-budget, real-entrails FX.

Closing scene “shocker”:Documentary.  So, no.

Remake, Sequel or OG (Original Ghoul): It’s original, though it’s not the only NotLD doc out there.

Trick or Treat: I love learnin’ me some new stuff.  And honestly?  I thought I’d learned just about everything there was to know about how Night of the Living Dead got made and distributed.  I was wrong.  Who knew that George Romero worked with Mr. Rodgers/Pittsburgh’s Latent Image? Mr. Rodgers gets a tonsillectomy — George did that! “Which remains one of the scariest movies I’ve ever done”, says George.

In fact, George has quite a bit to say in Birth of the Living Dead, and as always, he’s a hoot.  From beer commercials 4 Iron City & Duke beer, filming “The Calgon Story” ad as a homage to Fantastic Voyage, and his opinions about the 60s in general — “Mostly the 60s didn’t work… I think there was a bit of rage…. ” — Birth of the Living Dead is something all Romero, zombie and all-around horror fans should queue up right now.  Oh, and RTVF majors?  You’ll want to watch too, even if you never want to make a horror movie.  All the nitty-gritty about exactly what went on to get the movie made, and how everybody pitched in may be common knowledge, but Birth breaks it down almost to a person.  It’s a great how-to for anyone who’s looking to shoot their own film and doesn’t know how to go about doing that with a limited budget.

Narrators/Interviews with: TWD producer Gale Anne Hurd, Sam Pollard from NYU film school, Bill Hinzman (aka “the cemetery zombie”), and many others keep things fresh and the doc feeling more like a party than the info dump so many docs devolve into.  Particularly cool is the section on how kids who saw the film during kiddie “Chiller” matinees, complete with interviews with adults who had been kids in those theaters for those viewings (and had for the most part freaked the hell out.)  Getting these folks to open up on camera provides a look at the film from perspectives I’d never known before.  And that’s pretty amazing, seeing as how this film has been over-analyzed  over the years.

A great film to revisit what you already know, learn a thing or two, or sit with zombie fan newbies so you can discuss all the points afterwards.

Score: wpid-pumpkin9.jpgwpid-pumpkin9.jpg wpid-pumpkin9.jpgwpid-pumpkin9.jpgwpid-pumpkin9.jpg

5 out of 5 pumpkins, for teaching me a few new things about a beloved horror classic, and for letting Romero just ramble and be awesome.



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