ThanksKilling - Movie Review

In honor of the impending holiday, the Geek has chosen for review the 2009 low-budget release ThanksKilling. You know to expect great things from a movie billed as the ultimate in low budget horror, but I was not ready for what I experienced the moment I pressed play on my Netflix Instant Streaming media player. Don't get me wrong, this is not a movie that any one will ever put on a list of their favorite films of all time. This isn't even going on any lists of must-see so-good-it's-bad films. Still, for the entire hour and seven minutes the film lasted, I was entertained by the sheer lunacy of the proceedings.

The film's opening is tits. Yes, literally, the film begins with a lingering shot of a lone nipple on a large breast. Normally this would be a positive for a B-movie, but sadly the quality of this breast is below the standards of what I expect from modern indie cinema. Back in the 1980's, you would frequently come across nude actresses who really ought not be nude. This opening scene reminded me of this staple of a long forgotten era, as the older blonde woman whose tits are hanging out of a costume-shop puritan ensemble, really should not be naked. This is not to say she is unattractive, in fact for an older lady she's holding up very well, but still I could have done without seeing the goods.

The tits serve as an introduction to the opening chase, in which we watch the topless pilgrim fleeing through the forest with all the haste of a tranquilized turtle. During this sequence we are first introduced to a recurring purple, psychedelic camera perspective than is clearly meant to represent the view of our unseen assailant. The scene concludes when our hapless protestant trips over a rock and comes face to face with our antagonist, a rubber turkey-demon puppet. The foul adversarial fowl spews forth what might be described as a one liner were is humorous, and then dispatches the nippley milk maid with his Native American ceremonial axe.

Cue title screen.

Still with me? Really? You're still on-board for a movie about a demonic, wise-cracking turkey? Excellent. The fact that you're still here means that you know exactly what to expect from the rest of this film. We jump to the modern day, meet a group of thirty-something teenagers on their way home from college for Thanksgiving Break, and quickly get to the killing. Of the so-called "teenagers," we have  aa strong showing of all the cliched characters that the genre is known for. We have the Jock, the Slut, the Nerd, the Fat Guy, and the the Last Girl are all represented. The only real surprise is we never see the Slut's rack despite a tease early in the film. The acting is uniformly terrible, partially a result of inane dialogue and poor scripting, but if you're actually still watching this movie, you clearly aren't one to care about those sorts of things.

The turkey is a ridiculous rubber hand-puppet that can only be used in extreme close-up, which only serves to reinforce how damn rubbery it is. The one-liners he spews aren't particularly clever, but really did you need anything more ridiculous than a talking, killer turkey? The methods by which the turkey dispatches his victims are mostly varied and imaginative, a strong plus for a film of this type. We're even treated to a sex scene, surprisingly lacing in nudity, in which the Slut unknowingly has sex with the turkey before meeting her untimely fate. My favorite kill of the film is awarded to the Fat Guy, who undergoes a fun food-fantasy sequence that ends similarly to the chest-burster scene in Alien.

In terms of the cinematography on display, I feel that some special mention should go to the psuedo-animated scene explaining the turkey's backstory. The drawings here are fun and fit in with the cartoonish feel of the rest of the film. I'm not sure why this scene is included, whether they didn't have the time and money to costume and film live actors or if it was a aesthetic choice, but either way I felt the sequence worked well within the context of the film. The cartoon drawings make another appropriate appearance later in the film, for the previously mentioned Fat Guy food-fantasy.

As ridiculous as this film is, as bad as the script and acting are, for how little money was clearly spent putting this film together, I nevertheless enjoyed ThanksKilling. I could string together a thousand complaints about the film, but none of them matter. This is an entertaining, low budget B-movie that makes no apologies for what it is. To that same end, I cannot make an exception based on intent. Make no mistake, this is not good cinema. Then again, you're reading a site called B-Movie Geek; you probably care as little about good cinema as I do. You may need a beer or two and group of friends to enjoy it properly, but ThanksKilling could be a great way to spend the evening after Thanksgiving dinner. Just don't think Grandma is going to enjoy it.

The Bottomline: This Thanksgiving the Geek would like to give thanks to the filmmakers for having the balls to put together a script about such a ridiculous antagonist, gathering the actors and funding, and then actually making this film. There is no reason for this movie to exist, but I'm glad it does. This is what low-budget filmmaking is all about. Two Bruces.

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Avatar - Commentary

It is official; I don't understand the hype surrounding James Cameron's upcoming science fiction/action hybrid, Avatar. It's not that I doubt Cameron's abilities as a director, after all this is the same man that brought us both Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I consider those two films as the absolute best examples of the sci-fi/action genre in existence. Each film displays a perfect blend of story and character development, expertly balanced by some of the most impressive visual effects of their times.

At first glance, Avatar appears to continue in the tradition of these fine films. There seems to be a strong human element to the story, seeking to add a grounding point for the more fantastical alien elements. Cameron's  last feature film before this was 1997's Titanic. In the time since that film's release, Cameron has worked on a steady stream of IMAX-style documentary films, no doubt using the opportunity to develop and hone the technology on display in Avatar. Given that Cameron has had nearly 12 years for his next project to percolate, it's not wonder that expectation have been so high.

In the months leading up the first trailer release, rumors have swirled regarding the highly realistic special effects in the film. This is a point that has been pressed by the early marketing campaign surrounding the film. I'm at a loss of words other than to say the effects are not that impressive. I'll be the first to admit that final textures and animations on computer generated effects are typically not in place until very late in the process, but for such a highly hyped feature, the trailer does not sell me on the point. The blue aliens and outlandish alien landscapes look about on par with what I remember from The Phantom Menace. Note I'm not saying they look bad, they just have a cartoonish quality to them and are not as photo-realistic as I had anticipated. As someone who plays video games, I don't think these effects are appreciably better than any of the highly praised Blizzard cinematics from the last year or so.

That said, I think the actual story of Avatar looks interesting enough. Sure, the idea of a human being "going native" on an alien world isn't exactly the most original tale, but neither was cybernetic killer from the future and look what Cameron crafted from that. The important thing here is Cameron is continuing his tradition of grounding his brand of fantastic sci-fi action with a very basic story about humanity. Context can be a wonderful thing.
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Paranormal Activity - Commentary & Spoof

The surprise hit of the year, indie horror darling Paranormal Activity took theaters by storm during the month of October, emerging from its theatrical run as the most profitable movie of all time. This is an impressive feat, one that seems all the more impossible when one considers the film's budget was a paltry $15,000, almost half what it cost to make The Blair Witch Project, the other well known and profitable first-person-camera style indie horror success story. It is that low budget that allowed Paranormal Activity to become the most profitable movie of all time, for if more money had been spent making the film, the percent return would have been that much lower. Still, a domestic box office total closing in on $100 million dollars is none too shabby for a movie filmed in the home of its writer/director, Oren Peli.

Given that this was shaping up the the genre event picture of the year, you can bet that the Geek got his butt into the theater to see Paranormal Activity when it was released locally. I enjoyed the film immensely, but I am more than aware that the film isn't perfect. This is a slow burn type of film, one that gore hounds and action junkies are going to reject as plodding and, dare I say, boring. Much like in The Blair Witch Project, the main characters of Paranormal Activity spends the majority of the film's runtime bickering and not listening to one another. The characters' actions, well-intentioned or not, only serve to compound their growing problems, resulting in a helpless and frustrating experience for the audience.

Allow me to reiterate, I did enjoy this film. However, the ways in which the characters interact make me suspect that I won't be rewatching it too many times. The Micah character responds to the growing threat in a way that any rational person  would not. He chooses to ignore all of the signs that the situation is spiraling beyond his ability to control and illogically continues down the same misguided path. I understand that his hubris is a conceit necessary for the plot as constructed, but I would have liked to have seen a more realistic approach to the manner in which the characters address the problem they are facing. Instead of being bound together the escalation of events only results in widening the emotional gap between our protagonists, at which point the script devolves into an inane series of arguments and bickering. Not the most interesting turn of events.

All of that said, my mind began to wonder just how different the film would be if you took away the otherworldly elements. Given that there are few special effects, you'd have a film that was largely the same but whose focus was now simply the deterioration of a couple's clearly troubled relationship. You'd have a story that could pretty much belong to any person or couple in the world. At any rate, based on these characters, I don't think you'd have a very interesting film. Micah and Katie simply aren't dynamic enough to hold together a compelling narrative without the ghosts and demons supporting them. Without the paranormal activity, you'd end up with something pretty... normal.
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Zombiemania - Movie Review

I suppose there is always time for firsts, and today is the Geek's first critical look at a documentary. Zombiemania is a lovingly crafted piece chronicling the development of the current zombie craze that is currently permeating popular culture. The footage originally aired on SpaceCast, a Canadian television channel which in unavailable here in the States. I personally was able to catch Zombiemania on Netflix via their Instant Watch option.

The director, Donna Davies, is clearly passionate for the subject matter and does a commendable job presenting the inner workings of the genre in a way mainstream audiences will comprehend. Although one doesn't normally think of zombies as being the most complicated of movie tropes, there in fact exists a very rich history surrounding their origins. Zombies as villains can be traced back to some of the earliest films, but they were not the typical zombies that we think of today. In older movies, like White Zombie or King of the Zombies, zombies were the result of voodoo curses or other magics. These are normal, living people whose minds have been ensnared and their bodies enslaved to do their master's bidding.

When George Romero introduced the concept of the modern 'living dead' zombie, he subjugated an entire genre's worth of previous works and folklore. In the documentary, Romero himself admits that he never set out to categorically redefine the zombie as he has a deep seated appreciation for those older types. In fact, he claims, he initially did not refer to his living dead monsters as zombies, nor did he intend them to be interpreted as such. Despite this, each of the interview subjects give credit to Romero for being the father of the modern movie zombie.

Zombiemania talks to a number of people knowledgeable about the zombie phenomenon, from actors and make up artists, to authors and anthropologist. A couple of the more prominent names on this list include Zombie Survival Guide author Max Brooks, and special effects wizard Tom Savini. Each speaker brings their own unique views to the discussion. Savini, for instance, goes into detail about the types of make-up and effects that go into making a walking corpse look as realistic as it possibly can. His contributions shed light upon the various advancements in both effects technologies and application techniques that  have occurred over the last thirty years. Max Brooks spends a good deal of time in seeming disbelief over the success of his two zombie-themed bestsellers, and showing his appreciation for the fans that are so dedicated to the concept.

Led by Brooks, the documentary spends some time exploring some of the more obscure facets of zombie movie fandom. One such trend that is gaining in popularity is the phenomenon of organized zombie walks. Essentially, groups of strangers gather together at a predetermined location, don costumes and make-up, and then make their way en mass to some secondary location, all while doing their best zombie impressions. It's presented as a fun, if somewhat sticky, way to spend an afternoon. As this sort of activity demonstrates, zombie fans can be very passionate and dedicated in ways that fans of other genres typically are not.

Zombiemania spends some time pondering what it is about zombies that appeals so strongly to the modern subconscious. The social commentary of the Romero films is touched upon, pressing the point that the underlying message of each of his films was always relevant to the decade in which the film was released. Night of the Living Dead has civil rights themes; Dawn of the Dead is about consumerism; Day of the Dead addresses ignoring the problem; and Land of the Dead about the increasing distance between the upper and the middle class. I have always felt that using societal context is a great way for Romero to add depth to his work. This lends a timelessness to his films, a property that endures even once the make up and special effects are long since outdated.

I really enjoyed this documentary, and felt it was a good use of the 56 minute runtime. Although there isn't a lot of material here that die hard fans are going to be unfamiliar with, it's always nice to see this information compiled into a single, accessible source. Having so much face-time with the big stars of the genre, both old and new, also helps to legitimize the proceedings for a wide swathe of an decidedly varied fan-base. That said, the documentary is not with its faults. The most glaring of these is the overly-energetic voice over work from a one-liner spewing narrator. I found that the humor contrasted poorly against the seriousness lent to the subject during the interviews. Given the ease with which one might be tempted to dismiss zombies as an academic subject, I felt the attempts at humor were somewhat ill advised (says the hypocritical man with humorously captioned pictures between every paragraph).

The Bottomline: Zombiemania is a loving tribute to a subject close to my heart. Although the lack of new information makes this geared more towards casual fans, any one who likes to see serious treatment of our chosen genre should be pleased. Three Bruces.

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Happy Halloween!

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, stay safe tonight and have a fun, fright-filled evening! The Geek himself is off to Lee, NH for his second trip to Haunted Overload. This time I'm bringing a whole posse! I hope your Halloween is as exciting as mine. Happy Halloween! Until next time, stay safe and stay scared!

(Yup. Carved him myself. I told you my Halloween was exciting!)
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Trick 'r Treat - Movie Review

I promised myself that I wasn't going to let this review serve as a digression into hyperbole theater, but honestly I don't think I'm going to be able to help myself. Trick 'r Treat is the best Halloween-themed movie I have seen since John Carpenter's seminal holiday classic. With this single project, the film's writer/director Michael Dougherty has catapulted himself into my pool of names to watch. This high praise may come as a bit of a shock to casual genre fans, taking into account that many of them have probably never even heard of this film, much less seen it.

Like other recent examples, Hatchet coming foremost to mind, Trick 'r Treat was never given the wide release its content deserves. Approximately one month prior to Trick 'r Treat's slated October 5, 2007 theater release, the film's distribution company, Warner Brothers, chose to bump it from this date without providing any explanation for the delay. A theatrical release was rumored for 2008 and again for 2009, but these whispers never came to fruition and the film was instead unceremoniously dumped straight to DVD. Although official reasons for the delay have never been announced, rumors point to the involvement of Bryan Singer's production company which was involved in getting Trick 'r Treat the greenlight at Warner Brothers. When Singer's reboot of the Superman franchise failed to generate big box office, it seems as though Warner chose to give the cold shoulder to other projects that Singer had been involved with, Trick 'r' Treat being one of those targeted.

It's really too bad if this story is in fact true, because Warner Brothers really missed the boat on this film. With the proper marketing I could easily see this film, like recent genre titles Zombieland and Paranormal Activity, as generating high levels of buzz within the mainstream community. For the last several Halloween seasons, I have felt as though movie companies have not been catering to the needs of the horror audience. The only real push by a movie company worth mentioning is that by Lionsgate with the Saw films, but honestly I feel as though that franchise ran out of steam about four years ago. With a name like Trick 'r Treat, a simple title that is so strongly evocative of the holiday, it seems like a seasonal release of this film would be a safe, money-making decision.

The film is an anthology piece, consisting of four overlapping and interwoven stories. The film plays with the chronology of the events in a style most commonly attributed as being reminiscent of Tarantino. As an aside, I feel this comparison does the film a disservice as the filmmaker has a very firm grasp of the genre, and the film's overall feel is that of a genuine and original horror film. Trick 'r Treat does not feeling like a kitschy rehash of better films (Sorry, Quentin. For what it's worth, I once really liked Reservoir Dogs). The film earns itself a solid R-rating, featuring many themes that could not be explored in a PG-13 film. For instance, many of the characters are grade school-aged children, whose untimely and violent ends ensure that this film could not have simply been edited to play to a younger audience.

The stories of the film center around one basic concept; observing and obeying the rules and traditions of the Halloween holiday. Given that the holiday has its roots in long forgotten customs and religious practices, there is a wealth of history that the movie uses to define its own internal mythology. Admittedly, many of the rules that the film throws out as tradition are ones that I have never heard of, but the way that they are presented as fact meant I never questioned their authenticity within the world of the film. This world is very similar to our own, except this is a world where ghouls and goblins do exist and all of the old legends are true. It's an interesting setting and I would like to see this universe revisited sometime down the line.

The first of the four stories features the principal of the local middle school relating stories of Halloween traditions and customs to one of his misbehaved students. The second follows the events of four promiscuous college-age hotties attending a party out in the middle of the forest. The third tale sees a small group of middle-school students venture into the local rock quarry, seemingly investigating tales of a horrible bus accident that occurred there many years ago. The final story revolves around an elderly recluse being terrorized by a mysterious costumed fiend. I don't want to get into the details of the various stories because a major factor contributing to my enjoyment came from discovering the various twists and turns as they unfolded. Every time a character from one story made a cameo in another, I felt rewarded for keeping my eyes open and connecting the dots between the chronology of the unfolding events.

One of my favorite elements of Trick 'r Treat is the character of Sam, a child-sized entity wearing a sack-like scarecrow/pumpkin costume, whom makes appearances throughout all of the stories. There is an innocent, child-like quality to Sam that makes some of his later scenes that much more unnerving. The visual design of this character is really unique, especially in a world where grosser, nastier and more realistic villains are so commonplace. The simple sack mask that he wears is both creepy and immediately identifiable, traits that would serve him well should the world of Trick 'r Treat ever be developed into a franchise.

Typically, I do not care for anthology style films because they tend to fall into very similar trappings. In most anthology films, the individual tales are strung together by a group of characters relating the stories to one another. This is a convenient contrivance that is used because the script writers do not have to spend anytime determining how the stories are related to one another. Almost always there is a "twist" at the end of the film, showing the story-telling characters as suddenly being in danger because these otherworldly, supposedly-fictional terrors are real. This is a prime example of lazy story-telling to which Trick 'r Treat, thankfully, does not fall victim. Each of the stories are well thought-out and they are interwoven into an expertly crafted tapestry of terror.

The Bottomline: Trick 'r Treat is required Halloween viewing, deserving to be listed amongst the ranks of other holiday classics, like John Carpenter's Halloween. I simply cannot conceive of a true horror fan that doesn't find sheer joy in this film. Rent or buy it today! Four Bruces.

Seen this film? Agree or disagree with the Geek? Let him know by leaving a comment below!

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Trail of Terror 2009 - Haunted Attraction Review

You see the signpost for North Colony Road and take the right-hand turn leading you off the well-beaten path that is State Route-5. The urban trappings around you quickly fall way as the road leads you down a decidedly less traversed path. You pass through the four-way stop and see the large grass field immediately on your right. It's quarter-to-six and the sun is still in the sky, but the field has already begun to fill up with cars and small groups of people. You park alongside the trees lining the field and exit the car. Despite your knowledge that the city is but a mile down the road, you feel as though you could be in the middle of nowhere. A paranoid sense of isolation slowly begins to invade your thoughts. The sun is setting fast and you start off down the old, uneven road, following the crowd as you make your way towards the entrance.

The Trail of Terror is a popular New England haunt that opens within the confines of the Polish National Alliance Park in Wallingford, Connecticut. It was once voted as the "Best Outdoor Attraction" by Fright Times magazine and was ranked by Haunt World magazine as the number 2 "Best Charity Attraction" in 2008. The venue is a highly complex, haunted maze-like walk comprised of numerous twists and turns. When you first arrive you have to pick which line to enter, depending on what kind of tickets you wish to purchase. For those of you whom choose to wait in the general admission line, the snaking, roped off corridors are dotted with mood setting props and some large and imposing animatronic figures. The lines pass by Big Dan's Trail Grub (a concession stand that is accessible without losing your place in line) and eventually wrap back toward the creepy old building that serves as the entrance way into the haunt proper. Distractions from your wait are provided for by appropriate heavy metal music and a highlight reel of horror movies playing on a nearby movie screen. Additionally, costumed actors will periodically make their presence known as frantic screams punctuate their path through the crowd. The in-line entertainment does not end there as, over the course of the night, several different skits will play out along the rooftops of the buidling standing at the Trail's entrance. Given that the wait in line is typically long, these efforts to keep the crowd entertained are greatly appreciated.

Once you finally progress into the trail proper, different scenes and set pieces meld and flow into one another, with a total of thirty different themed locales being represented in the 2009 season haunt. Not content to just present the usual rogues gallery, although demonic clowns and inbred hillbillies are present and accounted for, the Trail reaches out and includes more obscure horror fare as well. For example, one scene had been made up to look like old-time England and whose shadowy corners were populated by coughing, hacking, wheezing plague victims. Another scenario, this one returning from the year before, featured a strung up Santa Claus and a delightfully demented Mrs. Claus whom has apparently decided that she prefers the company of elfs. Dark parodies of Sesame Street and Alice in Wonderland help round out the cards with skits that one doesn't normally think of as being haunt material. I'm happy to say that in my experience they all came off as equally spooky and enjoyable, from the Cage Maze psychopaths to the girl with the human pin cushion skills just outside the entrance to the Freak Show.

The quality of the set pieces at the Trail of Terror is generally top notch. If you can find the time to stop and smell the roses, you'll see a lot of fine detail and craftsmanship has gone into your surroundings. The demonic clowns for instance are centered around a circus tent that, from the outside, is even complete with a lite-up, rotating top. The faux-rock walls used for Jason's Cave and the Mine Shack in this years haunt look very much like the real thing at first glance. High quality set pieces are especially important when you wander between so many differently themed spooky realms. The quality helps to immediately place you in the scene and help manifest the proper atmosphere for each sub-story being told.

If I had any complaints with the Trail of Terror this year it would be that some of the set pieces and costumes are recognizable as store bought items that one might find in any well stocked Halloween warehouse. I'd like to stress that this is a fairly petty and minor complaint when one considers the number of different scenes contained within the Trail of Terror and its approximate 45-minute walk-through time. For a haunt as big as this one, you simply need lots of props and actors to fill all of that space. Given that this is so, it is understandable that not every piece on display is a one of a kind item. That said, there are plenty of unique props, many large and elaborate sets, and some fantastic make-up jobs on display. Clearly many people with great passion and skill have worked long and hard to deliver this level of quality to the haunt's customers.

The level of interaction included in the Trail's skits is one of the largest and most welcome differences between the Trail of Terror and many of the other haunts I've been to. Interaction can come in the obvious form, with actors talking and reacting to you depending on how you respond. My girlfriend, for instance, was singled out by the deranged Mrs. Claus and berated when I gave away that she didn't celebrate Christmas. For this slight, my girlfriend was separated from the small group we were in and forced into the oven first. This brings me to the next form of interaction present at the trail, that of physical engagement. At times you will have to duck down under a miniature door to enter into Wonderland, crawl through ovens, and even slide down a ramp leading to the bottom of a certain spooky well. The ground along the trail is frequently uneven and given that many of the floors are man-made, this is clearly by design. They want you moving at a certain pace and they want to keep you off-balance, both mentally and physically.

Along these same lines, several scenes at the Trail of Terror generate their thrills by exploiting your basic senses. The Vortex Tunnel, a haunt-staple involving a walkway crossing the center of a rotating outer shell of a room, makes an appearance along the Trail. The sensations of movement and vertigo that this simple yet clever device is able to trick your mind into producing never ceases to amaze me. Another room utilizes strobe lights and walls covered in a polka dot pattern, creating an optical illusion that prevents you from being able to distinguish the dotted actors from the walls as long as they remain motionless. Other sections of the Trail with similar themes are perhaps less creative yet no less effective. One section requires you to continue onward through the haunt in near-complete darkness, using only your hands to feel your way forward.

I find that these scenes aimed at exploiting your senses are not only very effective at unsettling you, but also serve to incite fear within the primal-most sections of your mind. If you cannot trust your senses, your sight and balance, then how can you be actively preparing yourself in anticipation of the next scare. The Trail of Terror's commitment to this approach to fright is rather unique amongst the haunts I've attended. They're really trying to push you out of your comfort zone, a desire that led to the most entertaining and interesting part of my evening. I should probably warn you now that some spoilers regarding the scene at the end of the Trail lay ahead.


As my girlfriend and I approached the final scene, that of a basement morgue, with her clinging to my arm in what no doubt would be interpreted as a death grip, an actor managed to disarm her with a simple and friendly greeting. Perhaps forgetting herself, my girlfriend loosened her grip as the actor directed her, and seemingly our entire group, towards an open door directly in front of us. I noticed that there were a couple other actresses in the room and, oddly, only one other petrified-looking female patron. My girlfriend stepped into the room and the actor deftly slid his body into the door frame, blocking me from immediately following. "Not you!" he snarled at me, quickly fading into the room and closing the door behind him. As the door was swinging shut, I could see my girlfriend begin to turn around, her eyes widening as she realized I was no longer at her side. The door shut and we were separated.

Immediately, a previously unnoticed door to my left slid open. A blood splattered female orderly steps out, urging our group onward into the basement. I pause, my eyes still on the door behind which my girlfriend had disappeared. I wasn't sure what to do. Should I wait here or should I go on? The orderly clearly could see my hesitation. "Don't worry. You'll get her back," she whispers to me with  a cackle. Powerless to do anything else, I obey and proceed into the morgue.

And that's how I felt walking through the entire last scene; unsure, powerless, and perhaps even a little afraid. Not that any harm was going to befall my girlfriend, certainly not, but I didn't know how she would react in a haunt off by herself. What if she were to freeze up? Or double back looking for me? At this point I didn't actually know we were near the end of the haunt and didn't know when or where along the path we would be reunited, if at all! Part of my fear was real; I couldn't remember if she had been carrying her cellphone. How would we find each other in the crowd? This was not just another jump scare; I was definitely outside of my comfort zone in a way that I think was quite intentional. Congratulations, Trail of Terror, you managed to scare me.

I suppose to provide closure on the story I should inform you that although we were separated and I had those countless worries running through my head, my girlfriend and I were reunited rather quickly as the morgue was the final scene of the walk. Turns out, while I had to crawl through a mock morgue freezer, she had been selected to take an alternative path. She and this other patron I had briefly seen were coaxed into laying down on an actual stainless steel gurney and passed into what she describes as a real-life morgue unit. As she lay there entombed in utter darkness, loud banging reverberating through the steel, the gurney was slid on a track leading through the wall and she was eventually released on the other side. What amazes me most about this branching path is that if my girlfriend hadn't been randomly selected to traverse it, I'd have never even known it existed.


Before I wrap up, I feel I must make mention of my one negative experience with the Trail of Terror. Allow me to preface this by saying I've personally attended this haunt every year for the last four years and, with the sole exception of last year, have always been impressed with their annual offering. On this particular night last year, I found that certain scenes contained too many actors while other sections felt too scarcely populated, and not in a deliberate way. Due to the sheer size of the haunt and the volunteer nature of its staff, it seems as though coverage can fluctuate a fair deal over the course of October. I assume that the root of this problem may stem from specific issues that only affected the one particular night on which I attended last year. However, since the quality of the haunt potentially may differ from night to night, your experience may differ from mine. That warning said, I was extremely pleased by my experience this year and you can bet that I will be back again in 2010. For my money, the Trail of Terror remains the single best haunted attraction in Connecticut. Great job to all involved!

The Trail of Terror is an elaborate and fun haunted walk that people come from all around New England to see. Proceeds from ticket sales ($10 General Admission, $20 Speed Pass) are donated to charity, which in the past has benefited the Red Cross. However, due to the recent closure of their local Red Cross branch, a different charity will be receiving proceeds from the 2009 haunt. The Trail closes at 11PM on Friday and Saturdays nights and closes at 10PM on Sunday nights. The attraction is immensely popular so you should either buy Speed Pass tickets online on their website or prepare yourself for a two to three hour wait in the normal ticket line. Over the past four years I've found it doesn't really matter when you get there, either before or after the gates open, as you'll spend approximately the same amount of time in line regardless. If you aren't buying tickets ahead of time, I wouldn't recommend arriving any later than 7 o'clock. Tickets can and frequently do sell out, so it is recommended that you arrive early.

If you enjoyed this review, may I recommend checking out my review of Haunted Overload 2008, the number 4 haunt in the nation as determined by Haunt World Magazine! As always, please click on an ad and join my Facebook fanpage to show your support for the Geek!

All photos courtesy of
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The Haunted World of El Superbeasto - Movie Review

Rob Zombie has spent considerable effort over the last decade trying to break into and legitimize himself in the horror filmmaking world. There can be no doubt that Zombie has shown himself to be very passionate about the genre and genuinely is trying to please the would-be fans of his films. Unfortunately for him, it seems that fans have largely been divided by Zombie's works instead of standing unified behind him. Part of this divide is no doubt due to the choice of his projects. House of 1,000 Corpses was an extremely rough, amateur outing and its follow-up, The Devil's Rejects, was action-heavy and pushing the boundaries of what I'd considered a genre piece. The Halloween remake was sure to be a polarizing experiences for horror fans regardless as to whose hands the project was placed, and the sequel certainly wasn't going to do anything to change anyone's minds on the matter.

Given this history, I appreciated seeing a project from Rob Zombie that seemed to step so far away from his previous releases. The animated film The Haunted World of El Superbeasto is a definite departure from his other forays into filmmaking. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that although the story and directing nods go to Zombie, a lot of artist and animators were involved in crafting and influencing the final product. The project still wears Zombie's horror roots squarely upon its sleeves, featuring demons, nazi zombies, werewolves, and vampires at various points in the story. However, El Superbeasto is not a work of horror, nor is it really a horror comedy. This film is a sex comedy that is merely sporting the visual trappings of the horror genre as a way of defining its personality.

Although I felt much of the film was fairly incomprehensible, the plot itself is straightforward. Briefly, the evil Dr. Satan (a fun turn by Paul Giamatti) sends his lackey ape to kidnap the perpetually-naked, foul-mouthed stripper, Velvet Von Black (a ridiculously entertaining turn by Rosario Dawson).  As the legend goes, once Dr. Satan must convince her to marry him so that he will be infused with the unstoppable powers of Old Scratchfoot himself. Conveniently, our hero Superbeasto happens to be in the strip club where Velvet is performing and has set his mind on banging the hell out of her. His desire to tap that ass provides his motivation in chasing after Velvet once she is kidnapped and serves as the central fuel for the forward momentum of the story. Really. Superbeasto is helped out on his quest by the ridiculously over-sexed character of Suzi-X, his crimefighting step-sister, and her perpetually horny man-bot sidekick. Hilarity ensues.

At this point in the review I feel the need to come clean. I don't know whether or not I liked this movie. Don't get me wrong, its sick and vulgar, humorous at times, and is definitely entertaining. But the story is so free-flowing and the events so random that the entire film feels somewhat disjointed and without purpose. For instance, the character of Suzi-X is introduced as she raids a zombie-nazi castle to steal/destroy the decapitated head of Zombie Hitler. Funny perhaps, and with winking towards Zombie's faux-trailer for Werewolf Women of the SS from the interludes in Grindhouse, but really completely unrelated to the rest of the film. In fact, the whole sequence comes off feeling like padding and, when your movie is only 77 minutes long, this suggests some fundamental problems with the scripting.

That said, the movie is entertaining. The runtime is short enough that although the overtly sexual gags and constant nudity stop feeling imaginative or edgy fairly quickly, they don't ever become grating. The animation helps with this because the novelty of watching cartoon characters perform these violent and sexual acts somehow remains strong throughout. This novelty is only helped by the quality of the animation, which is actually quite high. This should be expected considering the talent that worked on bringing The Haunted World of El Superbeasto to life are mostly industry veterans, whose collective credits include Pixar films, Disney movies, The Simpsons, and most of Cartoon Network's current lineup. You can tell that these artists had a ball drawing and animating the various depraved scenes on display here.

The Haunted World of El Superbeasto contains numerous nods and references to Zombie's previous works, film and music both. For instance, the iconic character of Captain Spaulding, played by genre favorite Sid Haig in Zombie's directorial debut House of 1,000 Corpses, makes an appearance here in animated form. Other regulars like Bill Moseley, Danny Trejo and Sheri Moon Zombie lend their likenesses and voices to the various characters in the film. In another nod to Zombie's previous works, the titular Superbeasto, a mask-wearing, egotistical, luchador superhero, shares his name with a successful single from early in Zombie's solo music career. 

In the end, I'm conflicted about this film and must confess that the contradictions present in this review are a direct manifestation of those feelings. I think I liked The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, but I don't know if I'd favorably recommend it to anyone. At the same time, even if its shtick feels worn out by then end, the film is well made and does succeed at being genuinely entertaining. Given that, it seems as though a recommendation ought to follow in short order. Like I said, I'm conflicted. In the end, I don't suppose many people have ever seen a film quite like this one (except maybe those of you "lucky" enough to have caught Fritz the Cat). For the sheer novelty alone, I suppose this one is worth a watch. Part of me suspects that this is a film that I will look upon more favorably as more time passes from my initial viewing. Even as I write these words I'm beginning to feel the compulsion to watch it again. Perhaps a second viewing down the line will help clear up these mixed feelings.

The Bottomline: This film exists. I watched it. Maybe you should too? Be prepared for lots of cartoon violence and graphic nudity, although nothing dips into X-rated territory. Zombie fans should get a kick out of the numerous references to his other works. Two Bruces.

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Return of the Living Dead - Movie Review

In 1968 George A. Romero's first film, the seminal classic Night of the Living Dead, was released unto an unsuspecting public. The film spawned 3 direct sequels (Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Land of the Dead) all of which were directed by Romero. Casual horror movie may have never previously noticed, but there is a subtle but distinct change in the naming scheme of the series beginning with the second installment. As part of an agreement with the somewhat lesser known Night of the Living Dead co-writer John Russo, Romero could go on tell more stories in the same universe, but Russo exclusively would retain the rights to use of the phrase "-of the Living Dead."

Return of the Living Dead is a cleverly developed concept from Russo that does not entirely forsake the Romero classic that came before it. The premise of Return of the Living Dead is based on the idea that the events that transpired in the original Night of- film were based on real events. As a character in the first act explains, the basics regarding reanimated corpses were true, but the filmmaker was forced by the military to change people's names and some facts regarding the basis of the outbreak. This scene retelling the release of the original film is sufficient homage to that which came before it but still allows for some new, fun twists along the way.

The film begins in a medical supply warehouse with the old caretaker relating the true story nature of the "Night of the Living Dead" zombie outbreak to a new employee. The old caretaker knows the truth of the story because their warehouse accidentally received a shipment consisting of a metal drum containing a bodyfrom the supposed outbreak. A mishap occurs and the metal drum is punctured, releasing the deadly reanimating agent 2,4,5 Trioxin into the basement. The gas spreads through the ducting system and ends up reanimating a corpse stored in the upper levels of the building. Eventually they corpse ends up dismembered and the owner of the medical supply warehouse calls in a favor with an old friend working at the local mortuary. They burn the still wriggling pieces in the furnace but end up releasing the reanimating gas into the atmosphere through the resulting smoke. A torrential thunderstorm carries the gas into the soil of the local cemetery releasing a horde of nigh-unstoppable, brain-craving ghouls.

The story follows two separate groups of people, the aforementioned warehouse employees, and a group of punkish teenagers partying in said local cemetery. These younger characters are most definitely a product of the times, sporting a mishmash of giant 80's hair, leather jackets with chains, and styling mohawks. The collection of young actors do a suitable job playing the collection of fodder for the hungry monsters. Of special mention is 1980's scream queen Linnea Quigley playing the role that most every teenage male will remember her for; the young, nimble nymphomaniac, Trash. In a role that helped solidified her legend, Quigley sheds her clothes in a full frontal dancing scene about 20 minutes into the film and remains essentially naked for the entire runtime, even in scenes after her transformation into a zombie. Stories of theater audiences cheering every time Quigley came on screen, incredulous of the fact that this girl could possibly still be completely naked, are passed down amongst fans even today.

Return of the Living Dead departs from the standard Romero-Zombie mythos in several significant ways. Amongst the most noticeable to horror fans may be the ways that the zombies act and are dispatches. Foremost amongst these changes is the origins of one of the oldest zombie cliches. When asked what a zombie says, most anyone would immediately respond "Brains! Braaaaaains!" Despite this, the classic Romero-Zombie is incapable of speech. Not so in Return of the Dead. In fact, this may be the film that solidified that particular turn of phrase in the collective consciousness of pop culture. In another departure, these zombies do not just crave the flesh of the living, they crave the brain specifically and are quite vocal about their digestive needs.

Another major departure that many casual horror fans think is a recent invention of modern films like 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake (2004) is the fast-moving zombie. In actuality, this particular zombie convention can be traced back to much earlier in the time-line of the genre. Return of the Living Dead features these fast moving zombies and even does one better over their contemporary counterparts; these zombies have intelligence. Although in later films the Romero-Zombies learned to use simple tools, these zombies show complex problem solving skills almost immediately, setting up traps and luring still-living victims into their midst using police and emergency radios. Worse still, the zombies in Return of the Living Dead are essentially unstoppable juggernauts that can only be destroyed by incinerating their bodies (or high electrical current, as in the sequel to this film). Destroying the brain or removing the head doesn't help as the rest of the reanimated body keeps coming.

Even with all the changes to the zombie mythos, the largest departure from the Romero films are found within the other components of the film, most notably to tone. The excess nudity on display here, a quality not found in any of the Romero films, is but one example of this shift in alignment. Return of the Living Dead is much more comedic, featuring elements of both black humor and slapstick. The score of the film consists almost entirely of popular heavy metal songs and also adds to the more light-hearted feel of the movie. Despite this, the film is still capable of producing an atmosphere of terror and dread. The constant screaming and moaning of the undead serve as a constants reminder of their presence and transforms the horde into an intangible entity even when off-screen. The only valid complaint I can lodge at the film is that its ending, while consistent with the internal logic of the unfolding events, comes entirely too suddenly and without enough build up.

The Bottomline: Given that my only major complaint is that Return of the Living Dead's 90-minute runtime is simply too short, you can guess that I was no less than thoroughly entertained by the film. With this film John Russo proved there was room for more than just Romero's vision of zombies within the horror genre. Four Bruces.

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The Midnight Meat Train - Movie Review

Sometime back in 2007 when I first heard that one of the most visually striking Japanese directors was coming to Hollywood, I became immediately giddy with excitement. Back in my college days, Ryuhei Kitamura may have single handily inspired my love for foreign films, responsible for such inspired genre fare as Versus, Alive, and Aragami. My excitement for the potential project was only magnified when I learned that Kitamura would be working with horror master Clive Barker in an adaptation of Barker's own short story, The Midnight Meat Train.

I followed the project for some time but began to wonder about the direction the project was taking around the time I saw the first trailers for the film. The initial footage made the film look plodding and dull, an impression that delayed my viewing of the final product for some many months after its eventual DVD release. Along the course of its development, the film also seemed to lose the confidence of its production company This was evidenced by Lionsgate Films' decision to only release the film to second-run, discount theaters. In all fairness to the movie, this decision was based less on the quality of the final product than on a change in company management that was seeking to bury some projects green-lit by the previous administration. This was definitely a bum deal for Kitamura's state-side debut and did nothing to alleviate my potential concerns over the quality of the final film.

Having now sat through the full 100 minutes making up The Midnight Meat Train's runtime, I can now say that my initial impressions of the film were basically spot on. The film attempts to maintain a more realistic tone through most of its scenes. The story  follows struggling, middle-aged photographer, Leon, as he roams around New York City attempting to capture images capturing the figurative spirit of the city. In the course of this late night adventures, Leon rescues a young woman from a gang of thugs, only to read about her death in the next day's paper. This event is the driving force that propels him to uncover a deep and far reaching conspiracy centered around a mysterious subway serial killer.

Technically speaking the film is pieced together well. The cinematography is nice and the city has a gritty, true to life feel about it. None of the writing or dialogue is noticeably bad, but none of it really stands out either. All of the actors are competent and I was surprised to see Brooke Shields appear in a brief supporting role. As far as the acting is concerned, everyone provides passable performances. I feel that Vinnie Jones deserves some special mention given that his character, the antagonist Mahogany, has only one line of dialogue in the film. Jones does a lot with the role given that it is an almost purely physical portrayal.

The Midnight Meat Train's greatest flaw is the disconnect that exists between the scenes forwarding the plot and the scenes showcasing the film's gruesome death sequences. For a movie whose plot and characters seem to be aiming for a somewhat realistic style, the overdone and ridiculously bloody murders simply do not fit. Geysers of CGI blood spouting from eye-bursting hammer blows to the head stand in stark contrast to the tone set by the rest of the film. Admittedly, these highly stylized scenes of violence showcase the very flair and visual adeptness that had me excited to see Kitamura attached to this project in the first place. However, the unexpected shift in tone was so great that the first few gore effects left me doubled over in laughter. Although entertained, I do not feel that my reaction was the same as that which the film intended to illicit from its audience.

A similar complaint could be leveled at the ending of the film, in which a supernatural component is suddenly thrust into the story. Although earlier in the film there are hints that not everything is as it seems, the true nature of the situation is not completely revealed until the final moments of the film. Because of the late reveal of these otherworldly elements, the final plot twist comes of feeling forced. Up until this point the film has done a good job presenting the audience with an interesting murder-mystery with  its basis in the real world. As the movie has done a reasonably good job telling its story up to this point, the audience is interested in seeing the resolution of the conflict as presented. The twist not only robs the audience of the satisfaction of seeing the events played out to completion but also serves to undermine the illusion of reality that the film has carefully built over time.

I think my problem with the ending of this film is directly tied to the medium in which it is being presented. The Midnight Meat Train was originally presented as a short story by Clive Barker in his collection, The Books of Blood. I do not think I would have taken issue with the supernatural twist at the end of the tale if I had been experiencing it off of the written page. Reading fifty or seventy five pages of a short story seems like less of a time investment than watching a 100 minute movie, and, being a short story in a horror anthology, there are certain expectations associated with how the story will play out.

The Bottomline: The Midnight Meat Train is a solid experience with interesting visuals, a surprising story, and a healthy serving of ridiculous deaths. There are better movies that you could watch, but if you found the trailer intriguing, there are worse ways to spend an evening. Two Bruces.

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