DVD Stalk: Vacancy, Disturbia, and MoH: We All Scream for Ice Cream
We kick off this week's batch of horror DVD reviews with Ian Jane's take on the release of Vacancy. Here's some of what Ian has to say about this tense thriller: "The English language debut feature from American born Hungarian director Nimrod Antal, Vacancy isn't going to win any awards for originality but it does prove that sometimes a film doesn't always need to break new ground to be effective...Extremely tense in spots, Vacancy runs a quick eighty-five minutes (that includes opening and closing credits!) and as such, is paced very quickly. Antal wastes no time setting things up at the hotel and once our two leads are stuck in their sticky situation, the spook-show ramps up nicely towards a very exciting conclusion. This pacing combines with some very claustrophobic cinematography that really makes the hotel seem small, seedy and frightening resulting in a film that is really little more than a chase scene but which succeeds by keeping us on the edge of our seat the entire time...That said, while the film is tense and frightening, it's far from perfect...Even with some character flaws, however, Vacancy gets a lot more right then wrong. The imagery and sets are genuinely frightening and the cinematography is excellent. The acting is good, the story and pacing are tense and the scares are solid indeed. The film makes a few interesting points in terms of who watches what and why, even pointing the finger at the audience once or twice, and also contains some subtle but classy nods to horror films past (a certain hotel based Hitchcock thriller in particular comes to mind). If things are a little bit vacant (pun intended) and there are a few rather cliché moments in the end, it's easy to forgive the film because the rest of it works very well...Vacancy isn't reinventing the wheel but it is a very fast-paced and tense thriller with some genuinely scary bits and some decent performances and set pieces."
"Disturbia isn't a great thriller, or even a particularly memorable one, but this compact little flick delivers well-oiled thrills, injects humor and visual flair, and boasts another appealing performance from meteorically rising star Shia LaBeouf. Such positives help compensate for what winds up a disappointing predictability and an abundance of genre clichés...Director D.J. Caruso (Two for the Money) handily maneuvers his way through familiar pic territory. What Disturbia lacks in originality, it makes up for in surefootedness. Perhaps it's only fitting that Kale lives in a Craftsman-style home, since the movie itself exemplifies solid Hollywood craftsmanship. One minor but notable exception arrives when Caruso breaks from Kale's point of view to feed the audience information to which our hero is not privy...And that slickness mostly carries Disturbia through its less-inspired sequences, particularly a third act that devolves into ho-hum slasher-movie clichés. It's all smoothly done, but the climactic showdown is tiresome and inevitable, and it takes a bit of the shine off an otherwise accomplished B-movie...This is dependable entertainment, alternately scary and funny, but its superficiality and dearth of originality keeps the movie from being something you might want to revisit."
"When film buffs the world over butt heads over horror movie remakes (a far more common occurrence than you'd probably imagine!), the two that are always mentioned as examples of 'good remakes' are Carpenter's The Thing and Cronenberg's The Fly (time may place the Dawn Of The Dead remake and Jackson's King Kong in the upper echelon but it's too soon for that yet...). Why so little love for Philip Kaufman's take on Invasion Of The Body Snatchers? Good question, as it really holds up well even now, almost three decades since it was made and in some ways it's considerably more successful than Don Siegel's 1956 take on Jack Finney's original story...This wonderfully paranoid film starts off with an eerie set piece in which the pods come to Earth and it really doesn't let up from there. It's paced exceptionally well and shot with a careful eye towards creating an aura of tension and dread. The dark color scheme suits the material very well and as Bennell's investigation becomes more in-depth the more the shadows and the darkness seem to creep into the frame. Sutherland excels in the lead role, playing the part with enough initial skepticism that we can accept him as a man of science and in turn making his voyage of discovery all the more frightening as he's ultimately shocked with the reality of the situation. The supporting cast surrounding him also turn in excellent performances, with a young Goldblum standing out a bit from the rest...For a film with a simple PG rating, Invasion of the Body Snatchers remains fairly strong stuff. Granted, it isn't gory or bloody as so many horror films tend to be but there is no shortage of eerie and disturbing moments scattered throughout the film...Any time the pod people are on screen the movie is chilling. Add to that the skillfully layered atmosphere of impending doom and the ever growing paranoia that those around us are no longer who we thought they were and you can see how this film remains as effective and frightening now as it was in 1978."
"It's useless to approach David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE (the all-caps title is his preference; in keeping with his often maddening opacity, Lynch refuses to divulge why he prefers it) as a traditional film. Everything about it screams art-against-the-grain - shot on digital video in a catch-as-catch-can fashion over a period of five years and featuring a plot that could charitably be elliptical and realistically called fucked up, INLAND EMPIRE is an art-house endurance test, a mind-bending feedback loop and the kind of film the true cinephiles like to throw on at parties and watch the room clear out...Subtitled "A Woman In Trouble," INLAND EMPIRE is Lynch's most ambitious, fractured film yet; it's like the final hour of Mulholland Drive stretched out to three hours - anything approaching sense is thrown out the window in favor of ghoulish atmospherics and the director's finely honed sense of theatrical dread... What's most frustrating about INLAND EMPIRE is its stop-start brilliance -- for every startling moment of beauty, there are just as many abrupt cuts to non-sequitur scenes and sequences that mar some truly skin-crawling segments of filmic genius. The freedom afforded Lynch by saying goodbye to film and embracing DV is a mixed blessing; rather than whittle his story into something cohesive (well, as cohesive as Lynch gets), there's a sense that the director kept shooting and shooting and shooting ... and shooting ... unwilling or unable to make any kind of effort to shape the narrative. I'm sure there are those who will rail on me for "not getting it," but that's not the point...The point is Lynch has channeled his ability to infuse reality with oddness to searing effect before - Mulholland Drive being a prime example - without sacrificing traditional storytelling techniques. It's hard to be engaged with a film so intent on keeping you at arm's length, dancing away from cohesion just when it seems to be settling into a groove...INLAND EMPIRE is a deeply flawed, occasionally unfathomable work of erratic art from one of modern cinema's premier provocateurs. No one's denying David Lynch's abilities to push buttons - I just wish he'd focus more using his gifts as a means towards telling a story, rather than simply throwing everything and the kitchen sink against the screen to see what sticks."
"Despite the talent roster assigned to this installment of Masters Of Horror - Tom Holland (the man who directed Fright Night and Child's Play, David J. Schow (the man who wrote two Texas Chainsaw Massacre films and The Crow, and William Forsythe (of The Devil's Rejects) - We All Scream For Ice Cream unfortunately smells of wasted potential...The plot synopsis makes the film sound more than a little goofy, and unfortunately that's exactly the case here. Granted, Forsythe is really good as Buster the demented ghost clown but come on... how can we take this seriously? The plot is simply ridiculous. Granted, clowns are often quite frightening and the make up job done on Forsythe's weathered face is definitely very effective and obviously horror films aren't always the most realistic efforts but a ghost clown? He even drives around in a spooky ice cream truck and is often times shrouded in fog and smoke and shadows just to emphasize how evil he is. Sadly, this movie is really corny...Forsythe, however, and some of the effects set pieces are enough to make We All Scream For Ice Cream worth a look. It's not likely you're going to want to watch it more than once but a single viewing to check out some of the interesting effects work that takes place during the wonderfully gooey melting scenes isn't completely unwarranted and Forsythe really does throw himself into the role with a lot of manic enthusiasm. A shame then that the film relies so heavily on clichés and predictable plot devices...Where the film shines, however, is in its look. The movie has a very interesting color scheme that gives certain scenes an interesting candy coated look and feel that suits the basic premise nicely. Shadows are used effectively and the compositions are well planned out and carefully shot. A shame then that the movie feels more like a cheesy morality play than an actual horror movie. Had more thought been put into Buster's motivation and his methods and less emphasis been put on the right or wrong of the situation things maybe could have been more interesting but as it stands this is a visually impressive film with a solid lead performance and good effects that really doesn't go anywhere."
"Japanese horror has been all the rage for the last couple of years. Films like Ringu and Ju-On and the Hollywood remakes they inspired have ratcheted up the creep factor, going for actual scares and not for gross-outs or gore. Some of this new tradition came out of Japanese comics, with the occasional live-action movies actually being adaptations of manga, and so I suppose it was only a matter of time before anime got in on the trend, as well...When They Cry has quite a few of the factors that define Japanese horror. Particularly, an evil curse that comes on our hero with the inevitability of death and taxes, as unavoidable as growing up. This curse brings with it an otherworldly presence, an ill-defined threat that causes our central character to question everything he knows, as well as everyone...When They Cry has three major things going for it. First, the characters are very well written. Though the writers are dealing in types, they do so with purpose. Within those types, they create real personalities and begin to draw interpersonal connections between the five major characters. Second, the animators don't overdo the horror and instead go for atmosphere. From episode to episode, individually titled with ominous monikers that only escalate in the fear factor - 'The Beginning,' 'The Secret,' 'Suspicion,' and 'Disturbance' - the foreboding becomes more pronounced the more Keiichi comes unhinged...Thirdly, and the thing that props up both the characters and the atmosphere, is When They Cry is excellently drawn. The animation could not be better...When They Cry, vol. 1 proves that creepy Japanese horror need not be exclusive to live action film. (Hell, even this anime's title is kind of creepy.) A beautifully animated tale of terror, the series works in succinct four-episode story arcs that build in tension as they go, leading us through the discovery of dark curses and the secrets that characters don't want revealed. As the main hero comes mentally unhinged, the taut narrative builds to a satisfying climax, making When They Cry one of the more surprising anime series currently on import."
"One of the joys of childhood was first hearing scary urban legends. I vividly recall being told the tales of Bloody Mary and the hook man. As I watched Carved, I became completely wrapped up in the urban legend of the slit-mouthed woman, much I like I would have as a child...Carved finally delivers what few horror films do- widespread panic. In 90% of horror films, whenever a killer or monster is on the loose in a town, it only seems to effect a select few (even though the entire town is under siege.) Here, we see the entire town is in a state of fear as children's lives are in jeopardy. I have always felt the impact of events have greater importance when we see their effects on the community...Speaking of delivering, the script written by writer/director Shiraishi Koji does just that. The script is skillfully constructed...Carved may be a tad predictable, but that doesn't change the fact that it's an above average spine-tingler that far surpasses most modern Hollywood horror releases. Fans of the genre should not hesitate to give it a chance. See it with the lights off."
"Serial killers come in all shapes and sizes - big, brutish lummox to wiry, twisted twerp. You've got your cross dressers, your skin wearers, those with a God complex and your demented Devil's plaything. But it's rare to see a woman take up the splatter mantle. Indeed, gals are given the shortest of shrifts in the world of the wicked. Or sure, they can be witches, or smoking hot hit-women, but there's something antithetical to the female being when it comes to mass murder. So imagine the horror fans surprise when something like Beauty Queen Butcher comes along. A slapdash effort exploiting both the high school and pageant dynamic, this one-off effort is either the worst piece of pop culture perfection ever created, or the best bad movie ever made. Now available on DVD after years as an underground entity, the post-modern macabre fan can decide for themselves...Like the underdog in any contest that you can't help but find yourself rooting for, Beauty Queen Butcher is an earnest effort that wins despite washing out. First time writer/director Jill Zurborg (in what would be her only movie ever) decides to give the slasher film a female-eccentric approach, riffing on previous big ugly gals and bad psychotic murderers in such epics as Criminally Insane, The Honeymoon Killers, and the surreal '70s TV treat The Girl Most Likely To. At two hours, our cinematic novice never met a scene she couldn't let run on in near real time tenets, and there is just too much film here for what the genre demands or needs...This is going to sound like a stretch, but there is a lot to like about Beauty Queen Butcher. The intentions of the director are obvious from the first few frames, and the cast goes along for the frequently ridiculous ride. Still, the nostalgic elements of such a homemade horror movie, combined with the facets that our filmmaker gets right, means the movie earns an easy recommended rating. There will be those who scoff at such a suggestion, complaining that telling anyone to waste their money on this moronic exercise in amateur macabre is some kind of filmic felony. But those are just the bellyaches of wannabe critics who complain about anything as long as they can wear the wet blanket that comes with such disapproval. Granted, this is hardly a good film. It's barely even a competent one. But Beauty Queen Butcher really believes in itself, and it uses that confidence to overcome many of its more merciless screw-ups. If you give it a shot, you'll enjoy the risible results."
"A vital function of film critics in the straight-to-DVD-quick-cash-in world we now live in, one in which a once revered art form has been largely reduced to a time-wasting cash-grab is this: telling you if it's crap or not...I'm happy to perform that function and pleased to say you really can't always judge a book by its cover. Witness Haunted Boat, by appearances a years-late knock-off of Ghost Ship, but no! While Haunted Boat is no masterpiece, its devil-may-care weirdness, solid performances and air of escalating psychological messed-up-ness makes it a pretty fun watch...Much good use is made of the cramped sea-going quarters, as an air of dread and desperation permeates the dream-like horrors eventually encountered. One is never really sure if what's happening is real, hallucination, or worse, as phantoms both goofy and jolting shock what could have been a by-the-numbers hack job into something kind of special. What is certain is we actually care about the brunette bearing the brunt of bedevilment (and not just because she's hot in a Demi Moore kind of way) by the end of the movie...Maybe low expectations make Haunted Boat seem better than it actually is, or maybe some naturalistic performances, an air of Repulsion-lite nuttiness, and weird frights from left field are responsible for delivering an ultimately semi-chilling good time. Haunted Boat is actually worth renting, and maybe even watching twice."
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