Sunday, January 30, 2011

Horror Movie Review: The Zombie Diaries

The Zombie Diaries

Starring: Russell Jones, Craig Stovin, James Fischer, Sophia Ellis, and Jonnie Hurn

Directed by: Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates

Written by: Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates

Production Companies: Bleeding Edge Films and Off World Films

Release Date: October 29, 2006

A mysterious virus begins making its way around the world. People in the know are being tight lipped about it, and some citizens are strongly concerned and others are dismissive. But then the virus turns up in Britain killing the infected and turning them into zombies.

Doing a report on the virus, a small news crew gets caught in the country and what they witness and experience is caught on tape. Then we jump to a month later as a small group scavenge for supplies. Then another jump as we get video footage of a large group surviving a couple of months later. They reconnoiter the area surrounding a farm where they have holed up killing the ever roaming zombies. Eventually the group turns on itself. Then we went back to the first chapter to find out what happened to the documentary crew.

The film had potential and moments of great amateur documentary-style handheld camera events. The accidental shooting of survivors thought to be zombies was particularly poignant. The bound, naked female zombie shows the depths which humanity would fall away from being humane according to the two filmmakers Michael Bartlett and Kevin Bates are concerned making the true monsters of the film the all-too-human survivors.

The shaking handheld camera work helps the low budget feature from having to being too realistic in makeup and effects, which helps. I personally love fake documentary horror. People complain about the shaky camera, but I feel that, when well done, it helps create the horror and tension that might be lost in shooting these low budget films like normal movies. You have to focus harder to see what's going on which leads to a stronger scare.

But where their plot for the story is effective, Bartlett and Gates's execution of the fake documentary ruins the effect. The realistic feel of the shaky handheld camera gets ruin by what I would call two glaring mistakes. First, realism includes a plausible reason for actions and little attempt was made, after the first chapter, for why someone was running around with a camera recording things. Even the first chapter didn't explain why so much film was being shot. In The Blair Witch Project, they were students so they were wasteful and then wanted proof of what they were seeing. 86 minutes of film made sense. In Cloverfield they said a few times how they needed to document what was going on. But in The Zombie Diaries, little justification was given for the use of the video camera. It doesn't even fit with the characters we saw. Survivors concerned about zombie blood being tracked in on boots would more likely being telling the camera guy to put the damn camera down and shoot zombies when things got out of control.

But the handheld camera effect loses its punch when you hear the movie score. The other fake horror documentaries did not have a movie score. The lack of music helps make the movie feel real while the musical score makes it feel like you are watching a poorly filmed movie.

On top of that, the nonsequential order of the scenes, coupled with the scratchy and shaky film shots and poor character display makes it hard to tell exactly who you are looking at. I think the three chapters are connected and that the camera used in all three are the same camera, but I'm not certain because it was difficult to tell who was whom. Without clear connections, the three chapters seem disjointed.

Related Trailers

The Sickhouse - Jonnie Hurn has a brief role in The Sickhouse. Archaeologist Anna (Gina Philips) is thrilled to excavate the site of a 17th-century plague hospital. But when her dig unleashes the spirit of a murderous doctor, she'll have to do all she can to thwart the hospital's dormant evil secrets from springing to life. Trapped inside the hospital with four trespassing teens, Anna must find a way out before history repeats itself. Who will become the next patient?

Hellbride - James Fisher also stars in Hellbride. When Nicole's (Rebecca Herod) boyfriend, Lee (James Fisher), proposes to her, she's in heaven -- until she puts on the ring. Then, she's in hell as visions of hideous creatures begin to haunt her and the ring itself becomes stuck. Such is the curse of the antique band that Lee unwittingly purchased, its original owner having been jilted at the altar. Now, the couple must unravel the mystery of the ring and shed its spell before it destroys them.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Horror Movie Review: Triangle


Starring: Melissa George, Michael Dorman, and Liam Hemsworth

Directed by: Christopher Smith

Written by: Christopher Smith

Release Date: August 27, 2009

When I saw the trailer for Triangle, I knew I had to see it because in 2009 I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I wrote about some kids getting stuck in the Bermuda Triangle. In Triangle, there is no direct reference to the Bermuda Triangle, but writer/director Christopher Smith has said early versions of the story were clearly set in the Bermuda Triangle despite the lack of reference in the movie. So for comparison sake, I had to check it out.

Jess (Melissa George) is a single mother trying to raise an autistic child. Her friend and possible romantic interest Greg (Michael Dorman) convinces her take take some time for herself and join him and his friends on his boat, the Triangle.

But when a storm system rolls in suddenly and capsizes the boat, Jess's small vacation starts giving her more stress. But a cruise ship comes coasting by and the survivors are able to climb on board. The boat seems abandoned and Jess seems oddly familiar with it. But then when they start getting killed off, Jess has to find a way to survive. But flashes of deja vu start to make Jess question what is really going on.

Triangle is a good old mind twist. Melissa George does a fine job leading the cast and Michael Dorman and Liam Hemsworth as Greg's assistant Victor do an okay job as well.

Triangle isn't about gore or shocks or even scaring us, but in challenging us to figure out what is going on. Even at the end when we see how some things are connected, we're still left wondering what exactly is going on.

Christopher Smith included some allusions to another mind twisting horror story, The Shining. An ax, a bloody message on a mirror, the maze like ship and its corridors, as an homage to the story.

Triangle is a fun watch to sit out and talk with others about what we saw, or to just mull over in your head, but it'll make you warned.

Related Trailers

Turistas - Melissa George takes another fatal vacation as Pru in Turistas. In this gripping thriller from director John Stockwell (Blue Crush), a backpacking trip in Brazil turns dangerous for Alex (Josh Duhamel), Pru (Melissa George) and four of their college pals when they find themselves held captive by a radical military gang. The terrified friends fear they may never make it home alive when their captors prove that they'll do anything it takes to complete their ruthless mission.

Daybreakers - Michael Dorman also appears in Daybreakers. In the year 2019, a plague has transformed most every human into a vampire. Faced with a dwindling blood supply, the fractured dominant race plots their survival; meanwhile, a researcher works with a covert band of vamps on a way to save humankind.

Knowing - Liam Hemsworth also appears in Knowing. A teacher opens a time capsule that has been dug up at his son's elementary school; in it are some chilling predictions -- some that have already occurred and others that are about to -- that lead him to believe his family plays a role in the events that are about to unfold.

Creep - Writer/Director Christopher Smith also wrote and directed Creep. Trapped in a London subway station, a woman who's being pursued by a potential attacker heads into the unknown labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city's streets.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Horror Movie Review: Halloween II

Halloween II

Starring: Scout Taylor-Compton, Malcolm McDowell, Tyler Mane, and Brad Dourif

Directed by: Rob Zombie

Written by: Rob Zombie

Production Companies: Dimension Films, Spectacle Entertainment Group, and Trancas International Films

Release Date: August 28, 2009

This is really two reviews, because there are two ways of looking at Halloween II. One review is Halloween II as its own, original horror film. The other is as the remake/sequel that it is.

If you look at Halloween II as its own beast, it's a pretty good horror flick, although not Rob Zombie's best work. Michael Myers, serial slasher, returns to Haddonfield to kill his sister, Laurie Strode, originally Angel Myers. The world has thought Michael dead since the last movie despite his missing body. Laurie, on the other hand, is struggling with post traumatic stress disorder from the attack in the first film. Scout Taylor-Compton does a pretty good job as the emotionally distraught, manic-depressive Laurie Strode. The revelation that Michael is her brother sends her into a tailspin of self destructive behavior. She and friend Annie are exceedingly annoying, but very realistic.

However, Laurie has dreams and delusions which beg many questions. She sees visions of her real mother, played by Sherri Moon Zombie, and a clown mask identical to the delusions that Michael has. How does Laurie know what she looks like? Two people, even related and having the same familial memories, would not likely have the same identical delusions, much less two people who grew up completely separated. Which begs the question, is Michael really just a tool for a metaphysical Deborah Myers? Does she return from the dead as an evil spirit seen only by Michael to drive him to kill?

Speaking of, Michael's kills are generally unimaginative here pretty much sticking with walking up to a person and stabbing him or her with his big knife. But he's effective nonetheless as a serial slasher. Creative kills are nice, but not essential. Less forgivable is his arrival at a massive Halloween party where he kills two people and disappears. The kill is utterly pointless when it could have been something significant. It could have added tension to the character of Laurie Strode, but the deaths go unnoticed and the friend of Laurie's who got killed, her disappearance was easily dismissed as having run off with some guy, so even not finding the victim dead, Laurie was not concerned about her disappearance. The killings at the strip club just outside of Haddonfield at least showed us that Michael killed whomever he came across. The fact that he had a smorgasbord of victims and he just moved on took that away. He didn't even take the van they were making out in.

Despite this, there are some disturbing dream sequences and some of Laurie's delusions are really quite captivating and creepy. And the ending opens up some interesting possibilities for the next film of the series.

However, as a remake/sequel, the questionable things become worse when viewed in comparison with the original. Jamie Lee Curtis's Laurie Strode was a teen scared by an ever following mad man out to kill her, but despite that she found the strength to fight back. She poked him with wire hangers, she shot him in the face, and with Loomis's help, set him on fire in an explosion. Scout Taylor-Compton does nothing but run. Well, she screams and cries, too. Taylor-Compton's may be a more realistic portrayal, but it lacks what every good horror film has. That point where the scared to-be victim fights back. In Halloween II
Michael is not beat by someone finding the strength to fight back, but by numbers.

And Malcolm McDowell's Loomis is, well, lame compared to Donald Pleasence. The differences don't bother me. Zombie's Loomis is a shallow, annoying media monger. I'm ok with that. I mean, I can see the point of having annoying characters. They are supposed to annoy you and hopefully show you through stereotypes real people whom we have grown accustomed to not being annoyed with whom we probably should. But why was he in Zombie's Halloween II? There's no point of revelation to his misguided and selfish actions being wrong. He profiteers off of his experience with Michael, then he confronts him at the end, which is easily dismissed as him trying to secure his rights as the Michael expert and vanquisher, not some noble attempt at redemption, which it should have been.

Tyler Mane's Michael, compared to Dick Warlock's Michael doesn't compare either. Dick Warlock and Nick Castle and Tony Moran before him in the original, were silent, unstoppable killing machines. Tyler Mane's Michael, despite being physically more intimidating, is a grunter and that simple quality makes him more human and less frightening. In the director's cut he even talks, ever so briefly, another stake in the fear caused by our slasher.

But whether you go with more review of Halloween II as a poor remake/sequel, or my some good, some bad review as its own animal, both reviews agree on one thing. Brad Dourif is phenomenal here. As Sheriff Lee Brackett, Dourif gives his best performance. We see that he can do more than be creepy. Brackett, played by Dourif, needs to keep coming back as long as they are planning on making this new Halloween series.

Rob Zombie had said he did not intend to do another Halloween, but when he heard there were plans for a Halloween II, he signed up to help preserve his vision. Sounds like a half hearted reason to do a movie. And that's what Halloween II looks like...a half hearted movie.

Related Trailers

Life Blood
- Scout Taylor-Compton also appears in Life Blood.
Forty years after committing a murder and inexplicably dropping off the map, lesbian couple Brooke (Sophie Monk) and Rhea (Anya Lahiri) are back -- although not necessarily in the form you'd expect. They're as beautiful as ever, but now they're vampires, too. And the ladies' newfound bloodlust, coupled with their killer looks, makes them a deadly pair in this sexy horror flick from director Ron Carlson.

Suck - Malcolm McDowell also appears in Suck. Singer Joey (Rob Stefaniuk) and his band, the Winners, will do anything for rock 'n' roll immortality. So when vampire Queeny (Dimitri Coats) bites into bassist Jennifer (Jessica Paré), the musical wannabes prove that vampires can rock, but stardom too often sucks. Malcolm McDowell stars as a vampire hunter, Henry Rollins as a radio show host, Iggy Pop as a producer, Alice Cooper as an evil bartender and Moby as a rock band's lead singer.

The Devil's Rejects - Tyler Mane has an uncredited role in Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects. Enlisting the aid of two vigilante brothers, Texas sheriff John Wydell (William Forsythe) seeks vengeance against his brother's creepy murderers in this Western-flavored sequel to writer-director Rob Zombie's bloody House of 1,000 Corpses. With payback in mind, the posse heads out to the Firefly homestead to take down Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Tiny (Matthew McGrorey) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) once and for all.

Chain Letter - Brad Dourif also appears in Chain Letter. When a group of tech-savvy high school pals receives an electronic chain letter that demands they each forward the message or face consequences, they laugh it off as an online prank and delete the posts. But when the deranged sender of the message starts hunting them down one by one, they find themselves in a fight for their lives. This tense horror film from director Deon Taylor stars Nikki Reed and Keith David.