Haunted Overload is one of the very best Haunted Attractions. 2013 Season Review
SHOCKTOBER 2015 BEGINS: Doc Manson reviews the furry creature feature, Zombeavers!

Attack the Block - Movie Review - SHOCKTOBER 2015 - Movie #16

SHOCKTOBER 2015 continues with movie #16, Attack the Block. I can barely believe that I'm keeping up not only watching movies, but also writing about them. I am a bit behind now on the writing, of course, but not obscenely so. I'm up to film #19, having missed only one day so far. I'm hoping to be able to make up for that lost film this weekend, and thereby get my days and films back in sync, but honestly this plan might be a bit too ambitious.

Anyway, Attack the Block is a solid, fun alien invasion flick with some original creature designs. The characters are a bunch of South London street thugs, all about 15 years old, and are initially demonstrated to be completely unlikable. In the opening moments of the film, the little rascals mug a perfectly nice woman, a nurse possibly on her was home from work. The movie is trying to reinforce that these hoodlums are not likable, which is potentially one of the biggest faults of the film. It is somewhat difficult to root for characters that are unlikable, but I will admit that at least here these feeling play into the arc of redemption that the lead character, Moses, goes through during the course of the film.

The aforementioned mugging is interrupted by something falling out the sky, smashing a car parked on the side of the street. The hoodlums investigate and are attacked by a relatively small creature covered in whitish fur. They realize that this is likely an alien and, just as an rational person might do upon establishing first contact with an extraterrestrial race, they stab it until it dies. They parade their trophy around town, and eventually decide to stash it in an apartment building safe house which is usually used as a drug distribution center. Again, these characters are not presented as likable.

The situation escalates upon the arrival of more aliens, which fall out of the sky like meteorites. These creatures are different in appearance from the earlier alien; they are larger in size, like one of the bigger apes, and are covered in the blackest fur imaginable. Special effects are used imaginatively here, and CGI is used to make the fur appear as close to absolute, flat black as possible. The creatures also have one other major characteristic; their teeth glow a strange fluorescent blue-green. It's a pretty unique design, and although you might fault the creatures for lacking detail, you have never seen another monster like this on film before. At least, I hadn't.

The film goes on to reveal to a pretty unique vision of these aliens' life cycle. They are presented as being spore-like, traveling through the cosmos and settling upon hospitable worlds. It is suggested that the smaller alien killed in the beginning of the film is a female, and the larger creatures the males. The males are attracted to the female across space due to a pheromone trail, which is also leading all of the male aliens to the apartment complex where the female's body is locked away. It's a back story that makes no sense if you think about it - creatures made of familiar, living tissues, as these aliens SEEM to be, can't survive the vacuum of space or the heat of entry through the atmosphere. But whatever; the actual biology of the creatures is presented by a stoner dude that happened to catch a documentary on the National Geographic Channel, so I guess the source of the info is unreliable anyways. Still, its the only explanation offered by the film, so you sort of have to presume it is true by default - much like the much maligned comet explanation for the zombies in the original Night of the Living Dead.

Like I said, whatever.

Attack the Block is a fun alien romp, and an effective redemptive arc is demonstrated by the unlikable protagonists. Combined with the cool alien designs, this is a Sci-fi film that I can pretty easily recommend. Although, some of the London slang dialogue can be hard to parse from time to time.

Three out of four Bruces.
Read more

[REC] 3: Genesis - Movie Review - SHOCKTOBER 2015 - Movie #15

Wow, movie #15 of the Shocktober 2015 season. I had doubts that I would make it this far, to be honest. This weekend will prove to one of the toughest- if I can maintain my momentum through some days filled with traveling and family functions, I might just be successful in my quest to watch 31 movies in the 31 days of October. Today's film is [REC] 3: Genesis.

I watched the first [REC] a few years ago now, and really loved the zombie-infested apartment building story, particularly for its demonic twist at the end. Yeah, I've given up on hiding that particular spoiler, I mean, you are reading a review of the third installment of a film series. Sorry, I guess? Anyway, the second film followed with a very similar approach; high tension, good gore, and super serious treatment of the material. I really enjoyed [REC] 2, as you can read about in my review from earlier in this Shocktober season.

In this, the third installment of the series, the filmmaker take some fairly significant departures from the series' formula. First, they begin with a proper fake out, as the film initially appears to continue in the tradition of the found-footage styles films that came before it. After a late title card though, the film switches to a more traditional third person-style camera. Second, the film is much less serious than the first two films. I found many sequences were played for laughs, there is a significant amount of campiness to all of the proceedings, and the demon-possessed zombies seemed to be much less of a threat.

On the one hand, I like horror comedies a whole lot. They might be my favorite genre of film, thanks to that fine line that the best examples of genre walk. On the other hand, I loved the [REC] series as it was, super-serious and deeply foreboding. I wasn't really longing for a comedic turn from these particular films. So, I guess I'm conflicted by the series' new direction in this third film. That said, this is still a well-made film for what it is. The camp on display is cheeky and fun -the imagery of a bride in white wielding a chainsaw to take out hordes of demons is certainly setting off my highly tuned horror silliness detector.

Oh right, a bride in white. Maybe I should explain the plot of the film. It's pretty straightforward, the demon-infection from the first two films somehow finds its way to a wedding reception going on at the same time as the events of the first two films. This time line is revealed by some news broadcasts that you occasionally see in the background of this film. The infection at the wedding reception seems to originate with an uncle that claims to have been bit by a dog -how this relates to the events of the first two films, I cannot remember. Was there a demonic dog at one point in those films, perhaps the first film since it has been so long since I've seen it? In any case, I was somewhat confused as to exactly HOW the demonic infection spread from the apartment to this location, but I guess that doesn't really matter.

As the reception turns into a living hell, with all of the friends and family dying and turning into zombies, the bride and groom get separated. The film tells the story of them finding one another through these extenuating circumstances and their attempts to survive the demon plague. As Mrs. Manson pointed out, you might even be able to consider [REC] 3 a love story. A gruesome love story in which arms are severed and tongues bitten and torn out of people's heads, but a love story nonetheless.

[REC] 3 has some clever moments, and the campy visuals and sequences are decidedly fun. I liked this film; it plays very well. The only caution I offer is that you need to be able to let go of those things that made [REC] and [REC] 2 great. If you can't deal with the loss of the self-serious tone, your will find [REC] 3 to be very difficult to enjoy.

Three out of four Bruces.

Read more

Elvira's Haunted Hills - Movie Review - SHOCKTOBER 2015 - Movie #14

It's time to talk about Movie #14 of the October Horror Movie Challenge. I have to admit, I'm somewhat impressed that I've managed to maintain the momentum for this long. I think I've chosen a bunch of really good films so far, for the most part (The Demon's Rook, I'm looking at you). I've tried to balance the horrific with the humorous, mostly just to keep my palate refreshed. Tonight's film, Elvira'a Haunted Hills, definitely falls into the latter category.

Does Elvira, the Mistress of the Dark, need any introduction to the folks visiting this page? I'm guessing not, so I'll just introduce the film. This is actually Elvira's second feature film, the first being Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988). That first film was less of what you might expect from the horror hostess, playing more like a spoof of Footloose. Elvira's Haunted Hills, on the other hand, is a play on the classic sort of horror films that Elvira made a career out of hosting and lampooning. All told, this vehicle felt more natural for the character than did the earlier film.

Oddly enough, despite the more natural fit of the character, I think I enjoyed Elvira, Mistress of the Dark more than Elvira's Haunted Hills. This film seems more like a series of amusing scenes than a cohesive whole. But, really, who came to this film for expert storytelling? Really, there are only two reasons to watch Elvira, and they appear below: 

If you said, for the sheer camp and Cassandra Peterson's divine facial expressions, you'd be correct! I've always liked the Elvira character, and, no, it's not just because of her sheer enthusiasm at embracing her more, ahem, ample assets. A quirky, sarcastic gothic vampire lady that talks like a valley girl and revels in double-entendres and self-deprecation - it's a firmly tongue in cheek character, that is hard not to love (Haha, "hard").

Anyway, the film is serviceable enough. Taking place in the mid-1800s, Elvira and her maidservant ZouZou get waylaid at a Carpathian castle -I'm trying my hardest not to laugh and reiterate that I used the word "laid" there- and they get caught up in a dysfunctional family curse. There's really not much to say about the plot of the film; it's just good, dumb fun. Elvira does her thing, mugs for the camera, does an almost titillating showgirl routine (the movie is rated PG-13, after all), and that's pretty much all that there is to it.

Two out of four Bruces.

Read more

The Demon's Rook - Movie Review - SHOCKTOBER 2015 - Movie #13

What the hell did I just watch?

I seriously considered having that previous sentence compose the entirety of this review, as I actually think it does the film, The Demon's Rook, justice in some regard. This is a movie with a lot of ideas and a lot of ambition. Don't get me wrong, I think the Demon's Rook is a terrible film, but I sort of enjoyed watching it. Weird, right?

We meet Roscoe, a young boy that is frequently visited by a demon. One night the demon vaporizes Roscoe's parents and brings the child to some sort of alternate dimension known as the Dark Womb. It is here, under the tutelage of this demonic mentor, that Roscoe learns the dark arts and grows into adulthood. Eventually, for reasons I won't disclose here, Roscoe returns to his home world, but three evil demons cross the gateway with him. The demons then go about causing havok- one turns men into beasts, another drives people to commit violent acts, and the last one raises the dead. It certainly doesn't look good for earth.

Luckily, Roscoe is able to combat the demons using the dark magic that he was taught by his demonic mentor. Roscoe is even able to "save" one of the men turned into a beast, freeing his mind to take revenge against the demon that disfigured him. He meets up with his childhood friend and potential love interest, Eva.

Spoilers ahead.

The film builds up to this moment where Roscoe and Eva will face off against the most powerful of the three demons. Roscoe shares his magic with Eva, and it seems that their forces combined might stand a chance at eradicating this evil threat. When the showdown does finally happen. the demon smokes their asses without even a semblance of a fight. Then, out of nowhere, the beast-man whom Roscoe "saved" runs out of the woods and kills the third demon by ripping out its heart. The End.

The experience of watching this film is really strange, surreal even. It has all of the makings of a b-movie, including gore and and special effects, but none of it is played for scares. The Demon's Rook is played completely straight, with no winks or nods to the audience. I actually came to watch this movie off of the strength of its trailer - go ahead, watch the trailer on Amazon Prime. The film looks like a fun b-movie romp, with an angry bearded fellow fighting demons - not too dissimilar in tone to something like Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. Instead, the Demon's Rook plays out more like a self-serious independent film, or maybe more of an urban fantasy, than a more traditional horror movie. At any rate, I found the film to be a very different movie than the one advertised in the trailer.

It has a lot in common with 80's Italian horror cinema, with little dialogue and a constant electronic Goblin-like soundtrack running almost the entire length of the movie. I definitely found this to be a strength of the film. In some ways, I was reminded of the long, lingering cinematography of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. Two strong comparisons for sure. For a a low budget film, the Demon's Rook is well-made.

Story-wise, I understand why this film is called the Demon's Rook: Rook, verb: to swindle or cheat. This film definitely cheats the audience out of a satisfying conclusion with the sudden deaths of both protagonists. I don't know of any other films with this type of campy subject matter that also display this degree of self-seriousness. It's a strange experience from start to finish.

I definitely don't recommend the Demon's Rook, but I think I respect it.

One out of four Bruces.

Ignore the low rating. This film is weird and it might be the right weird for you.
Read more

Tremors 5 - Movie Review - SHOCKTOBER 2015 - Movie #12

Oh man, here we are yet again. #SHOCKTOBER, am I right? This time, I have to come up with a bunch of words to put in some sort of order to talk about Movie #12 of my October Horror Movie Challenge, Tremors 5. Stick around and see whether or not the latest installment in this long running franchise is worth its 99 minute runtime.

I'm not going to lie, I knew when I heard that there was going to be yet another Tremors film and that it would once again star Michael Gross as everyone's favorite globe-trotting, gun-loving monster hunter, Burt Gummer, that it was going to be less than great. Nevertheless, I also knew that I was going to have to see this film. I love Tremors, the first film, as it is one of the best examples of a modern dumb, fun creature feature. I say modern, but of course it has been 25 years since the original was first released. Actually, just a quick peek over at IMDb... oh, man. Tremors 4 was released in 2004! Even the most recent installment happened over a decade go!

That said, Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward really hit it out of the park in Tremors, and it is that good will that continues to propel me through every installment of the series, including the abysmal TV series. Despite being only a bit part in the original film, it has been the Burt Gummer character which has been the constant in the entire series. The character is likable enough, but I've always sort of hoped for the return of Fred Ward, whom last appeared in part 2, or Kevin Bacon, which is, of course, never happening. But a mad doctor can dream, can't he?

Anyway, this film picks up with Burt Gummer being solicited to go Graboid hunting in Africa. For those just joining us, a Graboid is the official name of the underground, worm-like monsters of the series. They are named for the three retractable, snake-like appendages that come out from their mouths, grabbing their prey and pulling them into the larger creature's gaping maw. Burt has a new colleague, a videographer that is looking to remake the Burt Gummer brand and turn him into an international icon. Hijinks ensue.

The movie is mostly fine, but I had a few disappointments. Despite being the true big baddie, the Graboids play a much diminished role in this film. The majority of monster screen time is given up to the sophomorically named Assblasters. The lore of the series in complicated, but, basically, the Graboid worms give birth to small, ground walking monsters called Shriekers that can see with infrared vision. In turn, Shriekers mate and give birth to Assblasters, creatures that are primarily teeth and wings and which fly by emitting a noxious chemical mixture that causes flames to erupt from its rear-end.

Yes, really.

Anyway, these subsequent stages of the Graboid life cycle were introduced in the subsequent films, and have always made me like each of those films a little less than the movie previous. There's just something pure about giant tunneling worms with retractable snake mouths that ass-blasting offspring ruin for me.

Yeah, I just typed that sentence.

At any rate, I consider the increased screen time of the Assblasters a negative for this film over all. The one true Graboid that appears in the film is somewhat cool, and they introduce some interesting ideas that suggest that the creatures are evolving based on their environments at a highly accelerated rate. In that regard, it's nice to see that the filmmakers aren't afraid to mess with the existing formula, and it definitely keeps the audience on their toes. Still, I'm fairly certain that they only had the money to animate one sequence of the Graboid, a relatively cool moment where the Graboid bursts out the ground, leaping like some sort of sand-based killer whale, spinning in a corkscrew as it soars through the air. It's a cool animation, but I'm fairly certain they reuse it no less than 3 times throughout the movie; kind of a bummer.

This is a direct to video sequel to a film series that has had nothing but direct to video sequels. You know what quality to expect. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Tremors, though, and will likely continue watching new films for as long as they keep making them.

Maybe we'll get another one in less than 11 years this time?

Two out of four Bruces.

Read more