***½/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B+ starring Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry written and directed by James Gunn
by Walter Chaw Paying tribute to his Lloyd Kaufman roots with a shot in which The Toxic Avenger is on TV in the background, James Gunn's Slither is more in line with the hipster revisionism of his screenplay for Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead. Postmodernism its point, then, drying up the musty cellars somewhat of the films it riffs on, Slither misses when it does only because it has little resonance beyond the basic Cronenbergian sexual-parasites thing and the shopworn idea that Americans are voracious, disgusting, ignorant swine. (In truth, the one moment that really bugs me is a fairly demented rape sequence (involving more infant-menace than anything in the new The Hills Have Eyes) and its played-for-giggles fallout.) In place of useful sociology, it does for redneck archetypes what Shaun of the Dead did for workaday slobs, poking fun at the thin line between slack-jawed yokels (initiating deer season with a barn-busting hoedown) and beef-craving, slug-brained zombies (recalling that NASCAR now boasts its own brand of meat). The biggest surprise is that Gunn appears to have seen and liked Night of the Creeps, and that, like that film, Slither does what it does without sacrificing too much of its good-natured, self-deprecating sense of humour along the way.
**/**** Image A Sound A- Extras C+ starring Julianna Margulies, Desmond Harrington, Isaiah Washington, Gabriel Byrne screenplay by Mark Hanlon and John Pogue directed by Steve Beck
by Bill ChambersGhost Ship is better than its director Steve Beck's previous film for Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver's "Dark Castle," the repugnant Thir13en Ghosts--but we're talking incrementally. Somewhere in-between the two pictures, Beck learned that even though the AVID editing machine makes an infinite number of cuts feasible, he shouldn't take that as a dare, and in Ghost Ship, he embraces the démodé in a way that he ironically didn't in Thir13en Ghosts, the one of them that's a remake. Ghost Ship opens with large, dissolving titles drawn in pink cursive script that would be at home in a Fifties movie with Vic Damone on the soundtrack. It's a striking touch (if not entirely appropriate for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre aboard a sinking, possessed ocean liner), and it precedes a dazzling, disgusting prologue wherein the passengers on the deck of the Antonia Graza are slaughtered like so much cattle.
*/**** Image C+ Sound A- Extras C starring Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti, Travis van Winkle screenplay by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift, based on characters created by Victor Miller directed by Marcus Nispel
by Ian Pugh SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. It's both surprising and disappointing that, after ten Friday the 13th films (or rather, ten Jason films), it took a crossover with Freddy Krueger to coax genuine pathos out of a hulking man-child who refused to die until he could sufficiently please Mommy. So it was to my great pleasure and delight that Marcus Nispel seemed poised to exploit that potential and separate it from its less savoury aspects. (He even starts things off with a pinch of disdain for the '80s nostalgia that brought this project to life, with the victims-to-be making weightless references to Blue Velvet and rocking out to Night Ranger.) Ironically enough, though, the remake reduces this worn-out scenario to something less complex. Using the bare essentials of the original film and its first sequel as backstory--a headless mother, oblivious campers in search of weed, and a backwoods monstrosity with a bag over his head--the amazing pre-title sequence implies that Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears) is most effective as a rumour whispered around the campfire, specifically designed to keep you awake at night. Might be heresy to say it, but in this opening salvo, Nispel's Jason promises to become a presence of terror equal to his immediate antecedent, John Carpenter's trend-setting Michael Myers. He's not an amorphous bogeyman ready to leap from the shadows, but a piece of teenage folklore that by all rights shouldn't exist, brought to murderous life by overactive imaginations.
ZERO STARS/**** Image B Sound B starring Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, Kitty Winn screenplay by William Goodhart directed by John Boorman
by Bill Chambers Possibly the worst film ever made and surely the worst sequel ever made, Exorcist II: The Heretic is the last of an uneven trilogy to hit DVD. Understand that while I would only recommend a purchase to my arch-enemy, the picture is definitely worth seeking out in the way that one likes to see the Leaning Tower of Piza or Easter Island before leaving this world--it's the greatest unnatural wonder known to cinema. I've now endured it twice (please send my Medal of Honor for self-sacrifice in the line of duty in care of this website), the second time so that I could compile a list of my favourite bits; apologies in advance if this review reads too dada for its own good.
***½/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras C+ starring Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao screenplay by Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi directed by Sam Raimi
by Ian PughThe Evil Dead was one of the primary altars at which I prayed as a young student of the cinematic arts--a vital entry in that education for how it left me shocked, nay, stupefied that such a work could actually exist, with its twitching limbs and tree-rapes and fountains of oatmeal ichor. How did they get away with that stuff? So it goes, I think, with Sam Raimi's best efforts, these four-colour horror comics put on film, blindsiding you with their towering insanity before you can understand just how deeply they'll worm into your psyche with their sadness and panic. Sounds incredibly petty to say, but I have to admit that when he found mainstream success and acceptance with the Spider-Man franchise, a little piece of that anarchic spirit died for me. Raimi himself was transparently nostalgic for it in Spider-Man 3, a decidedly misguided attempt to hark back to the themes of his original superhero masterpiece, Darkman.
**/**** Image B- Sound A Extras B- starring Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield, Joshua Anderson, Andrew Bayly screenplay by John Fasano and James Vanderbilt and Joe Harris directed by Jonathan Liebesman
by Walter Chaw Two years removed from Victor Salva's Jeepers Creepers (and on the eve of a sequel to that film), Darkness Falls whets cult appetites by being nearly a scene-for-scene recreation of that film's inferior second half. Essentially a series of "I don't believe your story--hey, why did the lights go out?" scenarios and unearned jump scares, the picture opens with a nice fairytale prologue and a nifty "12 years ago" introduction that hints at the promise of a murderous Tooth Fairy. As soon as action jumps to the present day with a warbling youngster, her hot sister, and our troubled hero, however, any pretense of a creepy, coherent mythology flies out the window as the flick devolves into an inexorable-killer flick amped-up to "11."
*/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras B starring Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton screenplay by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, based on the DC comic directed by Francis Lawrence
by Walter Chaw The problem with casting Keanu Reeves in the role of DC Comics anti-hero John Constantine, a chain-smoking, blue-collar bloke who happens to have a foot in a supernatural parallel world occupied by angels and demons, is that because of the actor's ethereal--some would say "stoned"--demeanour, he never for a moment convinces that his is the sympathetic point of view. Imagine Robert Redford as Snake Plisskin, or Pierce Brosnan playing Ash in the Evil Dead films: Constantine, if they were insisting on an American actor, should have been Denis Leary. By inserting Reeves as your avatar, suddenly the whole shooting match is about CGI effects and impossible things doing impossible things (witness the last two Matrix films). But even without Reeves as the central distraction, Constantine avoids much of what made the "Hellblazer" mythology so compelling (that Lucifer is beautiful, that Constantine is genuinely an asshole instead of a lovable loser), with its worst crime coming in making the film something of an anti-smoking tract. Displaying the Surgeon General's warning centre stage in one fiery moment and having the hero quit in the movie's worst, most toadying, most cowardly joke, Constantine amounts to a straw man.
***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+ starring Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, James DeBello, Cerina Vincent screenplay by Eli Roth and Randy Pearlstein directed by Eli Roth
by Walter Chaw Agreeably jejune in a way just north of ADHD obnoxious, Eli Roth's shoestring splatter flick Cabin Fever is joyously prurient and disgusting in a way that recalls the early days of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. While not as witty as you might expect from the comparison (its humour born of the school of "trying too hard," particularly an awkward bit at the end of the picture about the uses of a hillbilly shopkeeper's rifle), Cabin Fever appears to be some sort of jambalaya about menstrual fear--dashes of Clive Barker's "How Spoilers Bleed" and Stephen King's "The Raft" mixed in with more direct references to classic splatter flicks (Night of the Living Dead, John Carpenter's The Thing, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and so on--complete with David Hess's deeply disturbing banjo score from Last House on the Left)--all wrapped up in what Joe Bob Briggs would dub the very model of the "Spam-in-a-cabin" diversion. It's not all that scary, in other words, its outcome too inevitable to provide much in the way of tension with its built-in tension relievers--a slapstick stoner cop and a feral kid--the worst miscalculations in pacing and structure. When it works, though, it works with an invigorating ardour and intelligence that does justice to the idea that the horror genre, as an indicator species in cinema's ecosystem, provides the keenest insight into our collective contemporary paranoia.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie ***/**** DVD - Image B Sound C+ Extras B BD - Image B Sound B Extras B starring Ray Lovelock, Christine Galbo, Arthur Kennedy screenplay by Sandro Continenza & Marcello Coscia directed by Jorge Grau
by Walter Chaw Without having to squint much, you could see the hero of Jorge Grau's The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, art-dealing Easy Rider hippie George (Ray Lovelock), trying to deliver the airplane propeller his spiritual brother, David Hemmings' mod-photog from Blowup, buys in tribute to form over function midway through Antonioni's counterculture classic. Instead, George is trying to deliver the sister of the fatal fertility juju from Arthur Penn's Night Moves through titular Manchester into the green countryside on the back of his too-cool motorcycle. He's thwarted initially by the bumper of maiden fair Edna (Cristina Galbo), then by the hungry undead stalking the countryside in search of meaty sociological metaphors, then by an ossified Scotland Yard dick (Arthur Kennedy). Luckily, there's plenty of allegorical beef for everyone, as Grau paints a vivid picture of Mod Madness in steady, deteriorating orbit around the entropy and hedonism of the time--sprinkling it liberally with a disdain for dictatorships Grau no doubt nursed whilst working under the heel of Francisco Franco's regime.
*/**** Image C+ Sound A Extras C- starring Hilary Swank, David Morrissey, Idris Elba, Stephen Rea screenplay by Carey W. Hayes & Chad Hayes directed by Stephen Hopkins
by Walter Chaw Brave enough to show a few kid corpses hanging up in a basement but not brave enough to actually be about a tormented woman murdering an adorable antichrist, Stephen Hopkins's The Reaping harvests its share of not-startling jump scares and not-interesting scripture for a frugal repast of mainstream diddle. Neither bad in the way of End of Days nor good in the way of Stigmata, it is instead another millennial picture about sacrificing our children to questionable causes and Old Testament vengeance wrought upon the unholy. I understand why we get films like this in 2007, films full of dead kids and religious wrath, but understanding why isn't the same thing as valuing the picture. Its confusion between being neo-conservative while believing that it's ultra-liberal muddies the final "twist" of the picture, posing the interesting conundrum of whether or not abortion is okay if the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Though it's pretty clear where the film has led its audience, that doesn't make the question any less thorny. (What it does do is make The Reaping's consummate, dedicated emptiness its only lingering aftertaste.) Count as its scattershot sources Rosemary's Baby, The Bad Seed, The Amityville Horror, Alien, I Walked with a Zombie, The Skeleton Key, Exorcist: The Beginning, and so on--the only purpose of composing such a list to point out how much the film allows for masturbatory skylarking, harking back to genre pictures better and worse.
Le Pacte des loups ***½/**** WIDESCREEN DVD - Image A Sound A+ Extras B 3-DISC COLLECTOR'S EDITION DVD - Image B Sound A+ Extras A+ starring Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Emilie Dequenne, Vincent Cassel screenplay by Christophe Gans, Stephane Cabel directed by Christophe Gans
by Walter Chaw A beautiful girl adrift in a vast natural expanse is set-upon by an unseen menace and slammed against a solid object before being dragged away to her bloodily-masticated doom. Enter a famed naturalist (Samuel Le Bihan), considered the expert in the breed of beast that might be responsible for the heinous deed; his investigations mostly reveal that the culprit is larger than your average monster. Alas, no one in the isolated and picaresque community believes him, consoling themselves in an amateur hunt that bags a load of smaller members of the creature's species. When the killing continues, the famed naturalist, his highly-trained sidekick (martial artist Mark Dacascos, here reunited with his Crying Freeman director), and a meek member of the ruling class along for the adventure, lay down a series of traps, gather hunting implements, and, after some derring-do, overcome their foe, incurring tremendous losses in the process.
CONQUEST ½*/**** Image D+ Sound C starring Fabio Testi, Marcel Bozzuffi, Ivana Monti, Guido Alberti screenplay by Ettore Sanzo and Gianni de Chiara directed by Lucio Fulci
Luca il contrabbandiere **/**** Image B Sound B starring Fabio Testi, Marcel Bozzuffi, Ivana Monti, Guido Alberti screenplay by Ettore Sanzo and Gianni de Chiara directed by Lucio Fulci
by Walter Chaw There's something decidedly uncinematic about the films of Lucio Fulci (excepting Don't Torture a Duckling and Four of the Apocalypse, which actually sort of rock). If not for his fascination with gore effects and his propensity for casting irritating children in irritating children parts, it'd be hard to find anything to separate his work from the grindhouse ghetto of, say, Jess Franco. As it is, the stilted claims at auteurism (he's known as the master of eye violence, mainly for a few juicy bits from The Beyond and Zombie) do more, perhaps, to relegate his work to a sort of camp gulag: the Siberia of legitimate cinema, where adolescent tools congregate for midnight showings armed with irony and a crippling baggage of disdain and contempt. I liked "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and believed that I liked it because I was sophisticated; in time, you realize that you like it because you're an officious prick who sort of gets off on mocking movies. I think a lot of people would argue that this is the role of the film critic, but I'd offer that a critic--a good one--loves film so much that he or she is offended when a movie is terrible. There's no real joy in defiling altars, particularly when they're your own.
**½/**** Image B- Sound B- starring Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz screenplay by Hans Bauer and Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr. directed by Luis Llosa
by Walter Chaw Almost worth it just for Jon Voight's post-regurgitation wink, Luis Llosa's B-movie creature-feature Anaconda is a deadpan riff on the nature-amuck flicks of the mid-Seventies in general and Steven Spielberg's Jaws in particular. (Cinematographer Bill Butler shot both films.) It borrows the Moby Dick conceit of a mad hunter forcing a hapless crew to take a personal vision quest against an aquatic foe and post-modernizes it with a passel of genre in-references, an unusually dry script, and a supporting cast of accomplished character actors. The only real failure of the film in respect to its modest aspirations, in fact, is the snake itself, a frankly awful CGI phantom that destroys the tension with its every appearance. It's hard to be afraid of a glorified screen-saver.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES ***/**** DVD - Image A- Sound A- Extras C+ BD - Image B+ Sound A Extras C+ starring Susan Lanier, Robert Houston, Martin Speer, Dee Wallace-Stone written and directed by Wes Craven
by Walter Chaw Released the same year as Star Wars, Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes boasts of its own Luke Skywalker in the character of a blue-eyed towhead named Bobby (Bobby Houston) who, at an unwelcome call to adventure, finds himself embarked against the forces of evil with a patchwork band of heroes out of their depth. Chewbacca subbed by a ridiculously Rin Tin Tin German Shepherd hermaphrodite (sometimes a girl, sometimes a boy, always a hero), The Hills Have Eyes is Craven's zero-budget follow-up to his astonishingly unpleasant (and influential) exploitation version of The Virgin Spring, TheLast House on the Left. A rough, raw, often amateurish take on the Sawney Beane cannibal family legend, the piece derives its power from the canny paralleling of its antagonistic families and its use of archetype and mythology in the telling of what is essentially a caste horror picture.