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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[REC] - Movie Review

[REC] is a Spanish horror film that was released in the UK in late 2007. The film is presented in the first-person perspective via the somewhat common shaky-cam technique. Unlike some other shaky-cam films (Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield) the film footage still has a produced feel to it and helps the film feel like a more proper cinematic experience. After its successful international run, the rights to [REC] were optioned and a near shot-for-shot remake known as Quarantine was released in October 2008.

The story of [REC] centers around the host and cameraman for a local television program, "While You Were Asleep." They are tasked with accompanying the fire station night crew on their daily rounds, including any calls that should happen to come up. The opening scenes spend the most time establishing the character of the lead female, reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco). Occasional backstage footage showing Vidal dropping her reported persona reveals a no-nonsense, shrewd young woman whom isn't necessarily enjoying her current assignment. The cameraman, Pablo, is less fleshed out and his face never actually appears on screen. Pablo has very few lines of dialogue, almost as if the filmmakers want the audience to imagine themselves physically placed into this character's shoes. It is an interesting and subtle device that works well within the context of the film.

The firemen receive a phone call regarding a woman whom is trapped in her apartment. The film crew and two firemen respond to the call and promptly arrive on the scene. Two police officers have already arrived and are awaiting the firemen to help break down the door to the apartment in question. Angela and Pablo interview the tenants that have gathered in the building's lobby and discover that the emergency phone call was placed by another resident that had heard screaming coming from within the apartment. The film crew accompanies the emergency personnel upstairs and documents the events that occur inside.

Once in the apartment, they find a hysterical old woman whom does not respond to their attempts to calm her. The situation quickly escalates when the old woman tackles one of the police officers and graphically bites a piece off from the side of his face. One of the firemen and the other police officer help carry the wounded man downstairs to the lobby, leaving the other fireman to manage the situation with the old woman. When they reach the lobby with the quickly bleeding to death police officer, they and the rest of the residents find themselves unable to open the front door. Additional police and public health officials have barricaded the building and are initiating a quarantine, trapping the residents inside.

There are two aspects of the film that are likely to be dividing amongst horror fans. The first is a minor point but it needs to be addressed. [REC] is a foreign film and as such all of the actors are speaking in Spanish. The DVD does offer an English dubbed soundtrack, but the quality of the voice overs are of course substandard in comparison to the native audio. I would highly recommend turning on subtitles and watching the film in with the original soundtrack.

The second aspect in need of addressing is the first person perspective in which the film is presented. The shaky-cam gimmick can be somewhat difficult for some audience members to tolerate for the feature length. The only consolation I can offer those folks is that the shaky-cam is well executed and there are only a few scenes which I would identify as prone to causing motion sickness. I find that the general high-produced image quality of the film helps offset this to some degree.

A peeve of mine related to first person perspective mini-genre is the need by the filmmakers to directly address the "Are you really still recording?" issue. Simply put, in a real life emergency situation a rational human being would set the camera down instead of continuing to document the events happening to them. Instead of accepting that most audience members are willing to suspend their disbelief in exchange for this presentation style, some filmmakers feel the need to constantly justify the characters' actions through repetitive scripting and dialogue. I find this solution tends to make the situation worse as it serves as a constant reminder to the audience that there is a very large gap in logic within the film's continuity. I would personally prefer that the filmmakers ignore this conceit altogether and assume their audience is simply wiling to accept the trespass. Happily, although [REC] is guilty of this to some degree, it is much more tolerable here than in some other recent examples of the technique (Diary of the Dead - My Review).

[REC] is a very well paced movie whose creators are clearly very well versed in the mechanics of the horror genre. Given the film's relatively short 80 minute runtime, the number of effectively crafted scares are especially impressive. Some of the turns in the plot are a but overly telegraphed for my liking, but even when I was anticipating specific moments they were still delivered in unexpected ways. Like many other foreign films, although much of the action and horror of the premise is grounded in the real world, the ending of the film has decidedly supernatural overtones. If I had any complaints with the film it might be that these other worldly themes seems to come up only in the last moment and are never sufficiently explored so as to satisfy the questions that they simultaneously raise.

The Bottomline: A fun horror flick that should be seen by all fans of the genre. Quite frankly, it is movies like [REC] that justify my love for the horror genre. Four Bruces.

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Haunted Overload 2008 - Haunted Attraction Review

The time is dusk, just moments after the sun has sunk below the rolling hills and the last golden rays have become but a faded memory. Night is swiftly approaching and all around the colors slowly begin to fade like an enclosed, dying flame. In the far off distance, the trees surrounding the long grassy field where you've just exited your car are obscured by deepening shadow. You turn back, pausing so your girlfriend can catch up. You can see the fear in her eyes. You grab her hand in an attempt to reassure her, but the gesture is as much for you as it is for her. You turn away before she can read your face.

Up ahead you see the familiar angles of a man-made structure cutting across the blue-black sky. You approach the barn with growing unease, your mounting trepidation evidenced by the beads of sweat pooling on the nape of your neck. There's a small tent in front of you where you pause, smiling at the two women sitting behind the faded, wooden picnic table. They smile at you fondly, but you cannot feel the warmth. Thoughts of your impending doom cloud your mind. "Two, please," is all you can manage to utter as your vocal cords begin to tighten. They hand you two tickets and you proceed towards the barn.

Welcome to Haunted Overload.

Haunted Overload is a haunted attraction currently located at 118 North River Road in Lee, New Hampshire. This is the address of the Coppal House Farm, which for the last few years has served as the host for Eric Lowther's diabolical brainchild. The haunt began its life in the front yard of Lowther's home, but over the course of a couple of years it grew much too large to be contained therein. Many of the props and costumes on display are one of a kind items that were hand crafted by Lowther, a former student at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. It is these skills that have made Haunted Overload one of the most elaborate and creative haunted attractions in America. These achievements have not gone unnoticed and in 2008 Haunted Overload earned the privilege of being named the number four haunt in the nation by Haunt World Magazine.

To step back for a moment, I realize there may be some of you whom have never heard of the concept of a haunted attraction. Briefly, it is a form of entertainment where patrons walk through some sort of venue, be it a house or a walking trail, with the intent purpose of being scared. The haunted venue is typically populated with actors portraying a variety of ghosts, demons, maniacs and other assorted horror-genre staples. As you walk through the attraction, the costumed fiends do their best to unnerve and frighten you. Typically the actors are assisted in this venture by the general ambiance of the haunt, whose lighting, sounds, props and various set pieces are all designed to further immerse you in the experience.

Many people I know think it is strange that I would ever go to these types of attractions, not understanding the allure of paying strangers to scare the hell out of you. In reality, it's no different than buying a ticket to go see the latest thriller at the local movie theater. You might be terrified and literally jump in the moment of the scare, but you quickly realize what great fun it can be and the screams melt into laughter. This type of fun is best experienced in numbers so, if possible, be sure to bring a large group of friends along for the ride. It's typically a night that you will talk about for weeks to come.

The 2008 edition of Haunted Overload begins with a short line leading up to the edge of a corn field. Passing through a small hut, you enter into the corn. Immediately various actors, hidden by the gloom and the texture of the corn, begin to pop out from their cleverly hidden monster closets. As you make your way further into the corn, you begin to hear the constant, repeating thuds of a heavy chain being violently slammed against some nondescript, hard surface. You emerge from the corn into a clearing, a small shack directly in front of you. The noise of the chain is deafening as you turn the corner, suddenly face-to-face with the towering monstrosity creating the clamor. The monster is like nothing you've ever seen before; a melted face almost lacking in features, its hooded, beady eyes staring into you. He slams the chain again and you involuntarily jump back. You're afraid but somewhere in your mind remember this is only a haunt. You rationalize that the actor has done his bit and is now done with you; you are now free to pass. Your courage swells and you take a hesitant step forward. The timing now is both critical and perfect; no sooner do you begin that forward motion than the monstrosity lunges for you! You dart past him, screaming and flailing wildly as you make your escape.

It is at this moment, if you can think at all through the sheer terror, that you realize that the folks at Haunted Overload are professionals. This is going to be a long walk through the woods.

The corn stalks are only the beginning of your 45-minute descent into hell. Although the haunt is constantly being added to and expanded, I don't want to go into any further detail about the layout of the attraction for fear of spoiling it for the uninitiated. I do want to mention that the quality of the various set pieces are way above the standard fare. Dotting the landscape are giant, menacing Jack-O-Lanterns and ghostly trees with faces twisted in abject horror. Cleverly and creepily lit thirty-foot-tall witches tower over the graveyard. And just past the corn maze, in what might be my favorite part of the haunt, the trail opens up onto a wide dirt path lined by hundreds of expertly carved Jack-O-Lanterns. The eerie, flickering lighting dancing against the blue-black sky is beautiful in a strangely demented sort of way.

Of all the haunted attractions I have patronized, and I've both been to and worked at my fair share, Haunted Overload is my current favorite to beat. My first visit was in 2008 and you can be certain that I will be making the trek again in 2009 and onwards. It's a long drive, but in the end it's worth it. Interestingly, Haunted Overload is only open for 6 nights out of the month of October. I can only assume this is due to the sheer amount of hard work that goes into preparing the attraction for the public. Another positive side effect of this schedule is that it ensures that the staff and actors are enthusiastic and not worn out from a whole month's worth of performances.

For most nights the haunt is open, there are two different start times at which they begin to let small groups of people into the haunt. This scheduled start-time ensures that the wait is much shorter than at many other haunts I've attended. Costumed actors also come out to keep the line entertained, so be sure to keep an eye out for creeping clowns and other stealthy, scary spirits. My favorite of these was either the Headless Horseman, an impressive figure mounted on a real-life horse, or Jack-O, the towering, long-fingered phantasm with a pumpkin for a head (complete with moving jaw and diabolical laughter!).

For those of you with younger children, Haunted Overload does offer a special showing lighter on the scares. During the daytime you can also purchase a $3 ticket at the farmstand and walk through the haunt sans actors. I'm hoping to do so this year so that I can fully appreciate all the detail in their intricate sets and props (and maybe pop a few pictures if allowed!). On their website you can check the full schedule of showtimes as well as pre-order tickets. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time, so if you're not from the area you must secure tickets online first! Also located at Coppal House Farm is a 6.5 acre corn maze that is open during the day and closes around sundown. This means that a trip to Haunted Overload could be made into a full-day outing.

If you're anywhere near New England, I highly encourage you to check out Haunted Overload. Eric Lowther and the rest of the staff and crew should be extremely proud of their craftsmanship and the quality of the production they put on display. Much to my girlfriend's chagrin, I am adding this one to my list of annual destinations. Haunted Overload is simply one of the definitive haunted attractions that you must experience.

As always, comments are welcome below. If you enjoyed this review, may I suggest checking out my review of the Trail of Terror - 2009, a haunted attraction located in Wallingford, CT. Please click on an ad and join my Facebook fanpage to show your support for the Geek!

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The Haunting in Connecticut - Movie Review

Released in March of 2009, this PG-13 horror movie took the mainstream theater-going crowd by storm. It seemed that everywhere you looked there were advertisements for The Haunting in Connecticut, featuring quick, jarring shots of various creepy, CGI effects. Not pulling any punches, the marketing campaign was quick to claim that the events in the film were based on a true story, attempting to lend an air of credibility to the proceedings. It seemed to work because, as I recall, the buzz around this film was high on good feelings for at least a couple of weeks. The box office was relatively good, especially during what was otherwise a slow season.

The claim that the events that transpire during The Haunting in Connecticut's 92 minute runtime are based on actual events are dubious at best. The film is based on a book, In a Dark Place, written by Ray Garton whom which has gone on record as saying the depiction of events offered in the book were intentionally exaggerated. But really this comes as no surprise. Anyone who has followed the horror genre knows that claims of being based on a true story is nothing but a gimmick of the most rudimentary type. Sorry to disappoint.

Taking away this air of truth that the filmmakers would have the unsuspecting, general movie-watching public believe, and we're left with a fairly generic, paint-by-the-numbers haunted house story. The general plot follows middle-aged mom, Sara Campbell (Virginia Madsen), as she attempts to deal with the impending death of her cancer-ridden teenage son, Matt (Kyle Gallner). In order to help lessen the amount of time spent traveling, Sara and her alcoholic husband arrange the funds necessary to rent a house closer to the hospital where Matt receives treatment. Given that the family is strapped for cash, and as always seems to happen in movies of this genre, the family lucks into finding the perfect home with extremely affordable rent. This, of course, is due to some mysterious and sordid past that will become clearer as the movie progresses.

The beginning of the film is rather effective in keeping the audience off-balance, attempting to represent itself as psychological thriller. Initially, the ghostly manifestations are painted in a way that brings the sanity of the near-death son into question. Unfortunately, I cannot help but feel that these interesting attempts at creativity are completely undermined by the film's marketing campaign. The commercials were focused so heavily on special effects and paranormal activity that there was never any doubt that this approach was nothing more than a red herring.

My biggest complaint about this film is how manufactured and forced the entire production feels. This feeling isn't limited to the scares and general horror atmosphere, although it is most noticeable there. For instance, there is a mysterious religious figure with a dark past who has crossed paths with ghosts and demons in unexplained previous encounters. They're trying hard to recall fond memories of Father Merrin from The Exorcist with this character, but never comes off feeling like anything but a rip-off. The writers would have been served the film by introducing characters based on the ghost-hunting husband-wife team of Ed and Lorraine Warren, whom investigated the real case on which the film is based. At the very least this would have changed the dynamic between these deus ex machina, knowledge-possessing characters and our protagonists.

Another aspect of the film that bothered me was the opening sequence, which consists of a short scene where the mother is recounting why the family decided to move into the haunted home. This scene is presented mock-documentary, going so far as to include a boom mic in the camera shot to reinforce how "real" this type of presentation is supposed to feel. Outside of the first two minutes of the film, this particular narrative device is never seen nor referenced again. The exposition delivered here is nothing earth shattering and is all established easily enough in the next few scenes of the movie proper. In the end, this framework feels unnecessary and extraneous to the rest of the film.

Other parts of the movie feel equally uninspired. The subplot regarding the father's alcoholism is predictable and never leads anywhere interesting. It serves a source of tension between the wife and husband, but due to the quality of acting and lack of chemistry between the characters, the audience never really cares about their familial plight. The same goes for the dying son whose condition steadily worsens as the movie goes on. Symbolically, Matt is literally moving towards death's door as he uncovers the history of the house and the spirits contained within. When the climax of the film comes and the house is cleared, it is hardly surprising when it is revealed that Matt has been miraculously cured of his disease. At times the heavy handed scripting in combination with the wooden acting makes this film feel like a larger-budget made-for-TV-movie.

The strongest aspect of The Haunting in Connecticut is the film's striking visuals. The house and the furniture within are suitably old are genuinely creepy, becoming a character in and of themselves. In addition, the CGI effects are put to good use and are effective at generating scares. One scene involving a sinister shower curtain is likely to stick with some viewers even after the end credits roll. Another of my favorite effects are the tendril-like ectoplasm secretions, which are amongst the best visual representations of this phenomenon within recent memory. Finally, some of the ghostly imagery that occurs in the climax of the film is well-beyond what most other horror films in PG-13 territory dare to show. Watching Matt take apart the wall in the family dining room only to reveal dozens of mutilated corpses lining the room is genuinely disturbing imagery.

The Bottomline: The Haunting in Connecticut is a paint-by-the-numbers horror film that has a designed-by-committee feel running throughout its content. The visuals are the one component of the movie where the filmmakers decidedly succeed and the film may be worth a watch if only to view these effects. This isn't a bad film, but there are many better options with similar themes (Poltergeist, The Exorcist). Two Bruces.

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Big Man Japan - Movie Review

The kaiju or giant monster genre has been rather stagnant as of late; I don't think I've seen a decent monster movie since Korean film The Host graced the shores of the United States in late 2007. That being the case, when I first saw the initial trailers for today's film Big Man Japan, I was intrigued. A itch that had not been scratched in some time suddenly flared up and demanded satisfaction be rendered unto it. It's been about a year since I first caught wind of this project, and now thanks to a wide DVD release I have been able to partake in its cream-filled goodness.

Big Man Japan is an interesting agglomeration of what might have been several different films. The main portion of the film's first two acts consists of mock-documentary footage featuring an unseen filmmaker and the subject of his work, a seemingly average Japanese man named Dai-Sato. The documentary begins by introducing us to Dai-Sato is employed by the Japanese government. He is the lone employee of a Homeland Defense-like branch of the government. These interview-style scenes are rich with humor that is all delivered completely deadpan. Although this was not a problem for me personally,  people who do not appreciate this style of humor may find these scenes slow moving or even boring. This is unfortunate because they make up the bulk of the film's runtime.

The movie quickly establishes that Dai-Sato does not have a lot going for him in his daily life. He is underpaid, divorced, and seemingly despised by the general public for his job. The exact nature of his work is not immediately revealed but before long a mysterious phone call sends Dai-Sato into action. He rides his scooter down to the local power plant where the film crew is not permited to follow. Although we do not see what happens at the power plant at this time, the effects of what occurs there is immediately apparent. In the next scene, a 30-meter tall Dai-Sato, wearing only a skimpy pair of purple briefs, marches into Tokyo to do battle with a giant monster wrecking havoc there.

Dai-Sato is the heir to the Big Man Japan lineage, the last surviving member of a long line of monster battlers. Like his father and grandfather before him, when a giant kaiju monster attacks Japan, the government calls upon Dai-Sato who grows to gargantuan size to do battle with the aggressor. The process by which Dai-Sato is able to grow in size is revealed to require running high electric current through his body. Humorously, the contact points for the electrical current are Dai-Sato's nipples, which he claims is very important due to their inherent sensitivity!

The monster designs in this film are wildly imaginative. The computer generated effects lend a very unique style to each of the designs which are more visually interesting than any other kaiju in recent memory. Also, because they are completely CGI, the monsters do not have the same motion restrictions as monster designs based on a man in a rubber suit. I only wish this freedom of movement was better capitalized on in the battle sequences and were used to deliver fights unlike anything we've seen before. Instead, most of the fights degenerate in clubbing and various simple wrestling moves. Another interesting facet to the monsters' designs is that most of the monsters have actors' faces superimposed onto them. At first I thought this was an odd artistic choice, but the humor these facial expressions allow for quickly made the choice an agreeable one. The facial expressions of the Leaping Monster in particular made me chuckle aloud on several occasions.

As the movie progresses it becomes readily apparent that the position of being Big Man Japan is not particularly glamorous. There was a time when the Big Man was a much beloved and renowned national figure, but those times have long since past. His grandfather used to fight monsters on prime time television to great acclaim, but due to decreased ratings Dai-Sato is now relegated to late, late night television. Although he performs a very important function in defending Japan from monstrous threats, the public isn't interested in watching an overweight giant wrestle dangerous creatures into submission. In modern times, Big Man Japan has become a joke

The story of the film begins to pick up when Dai-Sato begins to make a series of poor decisions, including accidentally killing a monstrous yet harmless baby infant. Popular support for the Big Man further dwindles when he is defeated and runs away from a muscular, bright red, devil-like monster. There is some duality to the film's proceedings as Dai-Sato's everyday life deteriorates into depression, even as his public Big Man persona is rendered an ever-greater social outcast. The movie comes to its climax as the Devil Monster again attacks the city and the government has no choice but to call upon the Big Man to defend Japan one final time.

Given that I really enjoyed this movie, I don't want to further spoil the ending or give away any more of the general plot points. Unfortunately, I feel compelled to mention that the final act degenerates in more ways than one. The very final sequence pitting Dai-Sato against the Devil Monster begins with the film's standard CGI effects but then changes to what can only be intentionally-bad rubber suits. The tone of the film also shifts away from the deadpan humor we've grown accustom to and moves more towards heavy-handed, audience winking territory. In regards to the special effects, I would say that it seems like the production simply ran out of money, but the rubber suits and model buildings no doubt cost just as much to build, implying that this change was a creative choice. I understand the intended homage, as rubber suits have long been a steadfast adornment of the kaiju genre, however the changes are jarring given the continuity of  the rest of the film. In regards to the comedy, I don't doubt the shift will bring chuckles to some viewers but many others will be left scratching their heads. With the change in tone, the story regarding Dai-Sato's status as a social pariah is discarded and a suitable resolution to that conflict is never presented.

The Bottomline: Big Man Japan is a fun foreign film with some crazy ideas. If you're in the mood for a fun monster romp with some social commentary, this could be just the movie that you're looking for. Unfortunately, a comparatively weak final act prevents this film from attaining the greatness that the setup promises. Still, you've probably never seen a film quite like Big Man Japan. Give it a shot. 3 Bruces.

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Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama - Movie Review

Let's be honest for a moment, shall we? Not all movies are born destined to be award-worthy, mainstream material. There are some films that are made for specific purposes and for specific audiences. Figuratively speaking, some books can be judged by their covers. That said, if you're the kind of person who reads the title Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama and doesn't think it would be an experience you would enjoy, then you're probably right. This film is an unapologetic 80's  B-movie with super-cheap special effects and enough nudity to ensure that it would only ever be aired during a late, late night time slot on a premium cable station.

The film begins by introducing us to three college nerds whom have overheard the location of the Tri-Delta sorority initiations. Like any male promised a look at boobies, the three plan to spend their evening spying on the scantily clad would-be sorority sisters. Being bumbling fools, the nerds are caught in the midst of their peeping endeavors and forced to accompany the initiates on their final hazing task: to break into the local bowling alley and to steal a trophy to prove they were there. The group picks up a sixth member once they break into the bowling alley, interrupting a robbery by a blonde punk chick named Spider (Linnea Quigley). Things go from bad to worse for our heroes and hoes when the stolen trophy is broken open, releasing a mean-spirited, wish-granting imp.

The senior sorority sisters have followed the initiates to the bowling alley, with the intent of scaring the hell out of the newcomers. They witness the initial release and wish-granting by the imp over the security cameras in the bowling alley. The Imp is somehow able to sense their presence, however, and uses his magic to transform them into his mindless minions. As is usually  the case in movies like this, the wishes start off good, as  intended by the respective wish-maker, but quickly degenerate. Once this happens, the main characters are killed off one-by-one by the Imp's minions. The bulk of the film follows good-hearted nerd Calvin and Spider, both of whom chose not to wish for anything, as they try to escape from the bowling alley with their lives.

The plot of the film is a fairly imaginative if not quite original creature-flick with ideas far beyond the capability of the special effects on display. The Imp itself is a very rubbery-looking hand puppet of some kind and is always shown either poking around a corner of in extreme closeup. Tight shots like this must have been necessary to keep the puppet operator out of frame but is unfortunate because it reveals the rather poor quality of the puppet itself. I would have definitely  welcomed the use of some rudimentary stop-motion to show some pulled-out shots of the Imp walking around the environments. Regardless, the old time specials effects are still more fun to watch than the cheap CGI that might have been used had the film had been made today.

Along the same lines, the make-up effects used for the sorority sisters in their possessed minion states are laughable at best, consisting mainly of a simple costume change to signify their transformation. For some reason, when one of the girls transforms, she become the Bride of Frankenstein although an explanation regarding why this occurs is never provided. Pretty much all of the kills in the film occur at the hands of these human minions, so don't keep your hopes up for any flashy, magic based death sequences. The kills that do occur are at least somewhat varied and original. One death in particular stands out in my mind and involves a character's face making friendly with a deep fryer.

The one thing that this movie has working purely in its favor is its female cast. Sorority Babes has the distinct privilege of being only one of two films to star all three quintessential 1980's B-movie scream queens; Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer. That said, there is an abundance of T&A on display in this film, although the majority of it comes from the later two scream queens exclusively. In fact, Linnea Quigley, shows no skin whatsoever. Although Brinke Stevens has some full frontal in the beginning of the film, Michelle Bauer's character, Lisa, seems to be in this movie almost exclusively to be naked. Much to the joy of film geeks everywhere, even once the horror elements of the film kick in, Bauer remains committed to showing off the goods.

The Bottomline: Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama is good, mindless B-movie fun in its purest form. The effects are cheap, the girls are hot, and the movie just plain feels fun. Yes, there is a lot that could have been done to improve some of the technical aspects of this film, but I like it just the way it is. Three Bruces.

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Grizzly Park - Movie Review

On this latest stroll through the woods, a group of young delinquents are sent into the titular national park to repay their debt to society. As teased early in the film, each of the characters in Grizzly Park are the perpetrators of some misdemeanor crime for which they are performing community service. The film was released in 2008 and clearly had some budget behind it, as the presentation is unarguably slick for a movie that never saw a wide release prior to the DVD market.

The plot is a mishmash of different ideas, none of which seem to be particularly well developed or concluded by the time the end credits roll. The film begins with a correctional facilities officer on the side of the road, replacing a blown out tire on his van. A serial killer, Butch, whom has just escaped from a local prison, comes across the officer and promptly does him in, stealing the officer's uniform and the van. Then, instead of taking the van and making for Canada, Butch inexplicably decides to stick to the dead officer's appointments and makes his way down to the local county police station to pick up his young charges.

Butch follows along with the plan for awhile, taking the group of felons up to the ranger station at Grizzly Park where they meet the local forest rangers, Bob and Michael. Ranger Bob (Glenn Morshower) has the singular and unenviable  pleasure of leading the group into the woods for the weekend and that Ranger Mike is going to stay back at the Ranger Station should the group need to radio back for anything. This is a good plan until Ranger Bob and the criminals leave and Butch messily dispatches poor, handsome Ranger Mike. Butch himself then takes to the woods, with the intention of intercepting and dispatching the rest of the characters at the cabin at the top of the mountain.

The plan seems to be going swimmingly for our good slasher friend until a giant grizzly bear catches the scent of his blood stained uniform. With only his switch blade to defend himself with, things don't turn out well for old Butch. This scene takes place at the 40 minute mark in the film and is representative of the film's foremost problem; it seems that even through the scripting stage the writers didn't know what they wanted this movie to be. The previous 40 minutes of the film have been your normal, run of the mill slasher film with a decidedly human adversary and now the role of the film's antagonist is suddenly transferred to this grizzly bear, a force of nature. It's almost like two halves of two different films were taken and stitched together with a common cast of victims. The two halves never seem unified and are certainly not helped by an ambiguous ending scene seemingly tacked on during the final moments.

The problems with the script are not relegated to the dichotomy of the plot. The various characters making up the group of youthful law offenders are almost all unlikable and, over the course of the film, most are all revealed to be guilty of crimes that reach rather far beyond their surface misdemeanors. None of the characters seem to appreciate the beauty of the national park and, despite Ranger Bob's best attempts, none seem to be using their community service time to reflect back on their own misdeeds. Neither the prostitute willing to do it all for Coach bags and Gucci shoes, nor the rich frat guy into auto-erotic asphyxiation and 15 year old girls seem to have any intention of using this time to properly repent their sins. None of these young characters are likable, with the sole exception of the sweet but ditzy brunette, Bebe (Emily Foxler).

For a film filled almost entirely with fodder, it takes entirely too much of the film's 91 minute runtime for the first of these characters to meet their maker. Not counting Butch's victims, the first death disappointingly clocks in somewhere around the 57-minute mark and takes place mostly off-camera. Also indicative of further scripting problems, much of the dialogue is inane back and forth between two-dimensional characters whom seem to only be interested in their assigned vices. It says a lot when your most complex character is a gasoline-huffing white supremacist who experiences conflicted emotions about his boner for the Latina gang-banger.

Despite all of these remarks, there are parts of Grizzly Park to recommend. First time writer/director Tom Skull has shown quite a bit of skill for his first project, particularly in regards to the presentation and cinematography. Once the final act begins and the blood begins to flow, the remaining twenty minutes of the film contain a good deal of manic, B-movie fun. A few of the deaths in this last sequence are hilariously over-the-top, including one kill that sees a breast implant ripped out and popped against a tree like a water balloon. Some of the cheap special effects also help maintain that fun B-movie feel, like the clearly fake prop bear arms that aroused a chuckle from me on several occasions. Speaking of which, an actual Kodiak grizzly bear, Brody, was used to film the live-action bear scenes peppered throughout the film. Brody gives a good performance but, based on the editing, it seems he was never actually on set with any of the actors during filming.

The Bottomline: Grizzly Park is an average B-movie that takes entirely too long to get to the pay off. The first half suffers from an identity crisis, not clearly defining itself as a slasher or man-against-nature flick. Shallow characters and a poorly executed ending also mar the experience. Still, if you're in the mood for some hot man-on-bear action, you might do worse than this. Two Bruces.

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