31 Days to Scare ~ The Woods

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Set in 1965 New England, a troubled girl encounters mysterious happenings in the woods surrounding an isolated girls school that she was sent to by her estranged parents.

Stars: Agnes Bruckner, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel Nichols, Bruce Campbell, Marcia Bennett, Emma Campbell

Director: Lucky McKee

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: The Woods didn’t get much attention when it was released back in 2006, bypassing a wide release and arriving for home consumption with little fanfare. Pity. It’s quite a good little scare show with some nicely creepy moments. The performances are on target (notably Patricia Clarkson, an expert at mellow menace) and I loved how the forest elements made their way into the school corridors and even the wardrobe of the increasingly tightly wired staff. Though it gets a tad overstuffed toward the end and betrays a bit of its ‘girl power’ intentions, it’s an overall taut watch.

31 Days to Scare – Last Minute Ideas

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Boy, where did the time go?  October just flew by and, though I went a bit AWOL toward the end, I hope you’ve found your way to one or two new movies to add to your horror watchlist.  Until next year, I leave you with some last minute ideas if you’re looking for something different.

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The Woods

The Facts:

Synopsis: Set in 1965 New England, a troubled girl encounters mysterious happenings in the woods surrounding an isolated girls school that she was sent to by her estranged parents.

Stars: Agnes Bruckner, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel Nichols, Bruce Campbell, Marcia Bennett, Emma Campbell

Director: Lucky McKee

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: The Woods didn’t get much attention when it was released back in 2006, bypassing a wide release and arriving for home consumption with little fanfare. Pity. It’s quite a good little scare show with some nicely creepy moments. The performances are on target (notably Patricia Clarkson, an expert at mellow menace) and I loved how the forest elements made their way into the school corridors and even the wardrobe of the increasingly tightly wired staff. Though it gets a tad overstuffed toward the end and betrays a bit of its ‘girl power’ intentions, it’s an overall taut watch.

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Killer Party

The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of friends get trapped at a baby shower when a mysterious outbreak starts turning people into homicidal maniacs.

Stars: Drew Benda, Stephanie Beran, John Brody

Director: Alex Drummond

Rated: NR

Running Length: 80 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m not too keen on films that deal with mass hysteria surrounding the population turning into raging monsters but there’s something fun just on the edges of Killer Party that keeps things interesting. This low-budget effort earns high marks for its appealing cast and its attempts to both poke fun at the genre while making a not totally unsuccessful attempt at breaking some new ground. There’s a bevy of uber fake blood and guts and at 80 minutes feels too long, but the unexpected moments of humor and the feeling that everyone in front of behind the scenes are pals makes me look forward to the next film from these guys.

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 The Conspiracy

The Facts:

Synopsis: A documentary about conspiracy theories takes a horrific turn after the filmmakers uncover an ancient and dangerous secret society.

Stars: Aaron Poole, James Gilbert, Ian Anderson, Alan C. Peterson, Julian Richings

Director: Christopher MacBride

Rated: NR

Running Length: 84 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Please don’t run away when you hear the word found footage, ok? If you pass up The Conspiracy you’re missing a golden opportunity to take in a most surprising descent into the secret society the filmmakers discover. Most effective in its final act, the buildup may feel like it’s taking too long but the ultimate pay-off is worth the wait. This one gave me some good chills!

 

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Clown

The Facts:

Synopsis: A loving father finds a clown suit for his son’s birthday party, only to realize the suit is part of an evil curse that turns its wearer into a killer.

Stars: Andy Powers, Laura Allen, Peter Stormare, Elizabeth Whitmere, Christian Distefano

Director: Jon Watts

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Those with even the slightest fear of clowns likely recoiled at the above poster so let me make this clear…if the sight of Bozo or Ronald McDonald gives you the slightest bit of the heebie jeebies, steer clear of Clown. Though it feels like it should have been shorter and part of an anthology package, Clown gets it right most of the time by not being afraid to go to some dark places. Well designed with solid gore and splatter effects, this one sat on the shelf for a bit before being released but it’s well worth a watch. Just make sure anyone with coulrophobia isn’t anywhere near the vicinity.

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Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

The Facts:

Synopsis: Tucker & Dale are on vacation at their dilapidated mountain cabin when they are attacked by a group of preppy college kids.

Stars: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Philip Granger, Brandon Jay McLaren

Director: Eli Craig

Rated: R

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Check out the list of any of the “best of” horror films in the last five years and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil will likely be on all of them…with good reason. Effectively lampooning every aspect of the slasher film genre of the last 40 years, this is awesomely funny in addition to being rapturously gory. It’s perfectly cast and earns every laugh and groan along the way. So if you’re looking to go light on the scares but not venture into stupid or too family-friendly territory, fire up Tucker and Dale vs. Evil for an assured good time.

Movie Review ~ Evil Dead (2013)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Five friends head to a remote cabin, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads them to unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods. The evil presence possesses them until only one is left to fight for survival.

Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore

Director: Fede Alvarez

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Sam Raimi’s 1981 horror classic The Evil Dead was a great example of doing a lot with very little.  With practical effects that completed the overall homemade “let’s make a movie” vibe, the film is a rough and tumble raucous romp filled with the right amount of comedy and horror.  When this ‘new vision’ of Raimi’s seminal piece was announced, it set the horror hounds on the project until Raimi (Oz The Great and Powerful, Indian Summer) and original star Bruce Campbell gave the production their valued blessing.

After seeing the ooey, gooey, and oh so bloody final product (which drops the “The” to be just Evil Dead) it’s not hard to see why Raimi and Campbell liked the film so much.  Though like the original it’s less concerned about a coherent plot, it delivers what scare junkies crave so much…blood….gallons and gallons and gallons and gallons of it.  I don’t think I’ve yet seen a horror film with quite so much of the red stuff used to such delirious effect. 

Not an outright remake but more of a re-imagining of the story, director Alvarez collaborated on the screenplay with Rodo Sayagues, later bringing in Oscar winner Diablo Cody (Juno) for some revisions.  The set-up is still the same: five friends drive deep into the woods to stay at a ramshackle cabin and meet up with hungry demons over the course of one very gory weekend.  In the 2013 version, it’s not a simple weekend getaway but a detox/intervention for Mia (Levy).  Her estranged brother David (Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Blakemore) are present as are friends Eric (Pucci) and Olivia (Lucas).  See if the first letters of their names spell anything interesting, why dontcha?

With probably ten times (at least) the budget of the original, Alvarez and company have designed a crack production design, complete with dilapidated cabin that has an ominous trapdoor to a very scary basement (it looks an awful lot like The Cabin in the Woods actually).  Wisely choosing to mostly stick with the practical effect model of the original, the special effects crew has their work cut out for them as the cast members are stabbed, shot, beaten, eaten, sliced, and diced over the 90 minute run-time. 

This is so not a film for children or the faint of heart – a member of my group gagged at one point at the shocking level of gore on display and I know that I had several moments twisting around in my seat from sinews being stretched and limbs being hacked.  The make-up design is first rate…as the film progresses and members of the quintet are possessed by evil their eyes glow, their skin cracks, and a lot of other unpleasant things befall their nubile bodies.  One unfortunate takes multiple lickings and keeps on ticking…resulting in some comical happenings the more they turn into swiss cheese.

With a film riding this heavy wave of gore, you need a cast that give themselves fully to the material and Alavarez has put together a group of young Hollwood-ites that squeal happily as they toss themselves through the razored ringer.  Levy is most impressive as the detox-ing Mia who gradually becomes a catalyst for all things demon related while Pucci takes a needle to the eye like a pro.

The barely there plot is really just a ploy to put our actors into harm’s way so try not to get too bogged down in the developments.  True, the acting isn’t bad considering the genre but if Cody was brought in to punch up the script I can only imagine what it was like before she arrived.  Alvarez is a slick filmmaker and he makes great use of lighting, a diverse orchestral score, and a constantly moving camera to keep you on the edge of your seat.  He also includes several subtle nods to the original film – I caught a few but missed some too.

Though the film has about four endings, it’s the final one that should give you every penny of your hard-earned dollar that you plunked down to see it.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers but it culminates with a moment that had the audience I saw it with cheering and applauding louder than I’ve heard in some time. 

If you’re a fan of old-school horror films where the emphasis is less on a deeply developed plot and more on just making you squirm in your seat you’ve found a film to rejoice over because it’s a rollicking ride for those that have the stomach for this kind of movie-going experience.  Make sure to stick around for well-designed end credit sequence and a nice stinger before the lights come up.

Movie Review ~ Oz The Great and Powerful

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A small-time magician arrives in an enchanted land and is forced to decide if he will be a good man or a great one.

Stars: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bruce Campbell

Director: Sam Raimi

Rated: PG

Running Length: 130 minutes

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  When this project was first announced I remember being both horrified and excited at the prospect of a prequel to The Wizard of Oz.  The horrified part of me couldn’t imagine why a studio would want to get within ten feet of one of the most beloved films in history.  Excitement came from the rundown of talented artists that would be bringing Oz to life for Walt Disney Studios: director Raimi, composer, Danny Elfman, screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, and an award winning crew of visual effects craftspeople.

So even if the final project isn’t everything some dreamed it would be, the more I think about Oz the Great and Powerful (and I have found it on my mind a lot in the week since I’ve seen it) the more I appreciated it.

Getting right down to it, this prequel to the events that take place before Dorothy drops in is really just a re-telling of that later story but with the would-be Wizard taking the place of the girl in blue gingham and ruby red slippers.  The film opens on a county fair where magician Oz (a miscast Franco…more on him later) is wowing the small town crowd with his tricks.  Not a bad magician, he has no heart so he can never be truly great…and to top it all off he’s a blowhard lacking in the charm department.

It’s not long before a twister tunnels by and sweeps Oz away in a hot air balloon to the magical land of…well…Oz.  It’s a sign!  At least that’s what naïve witch Theodora (a marginally miscast Kunis…more on HER later) thinks when she witnesses Oz fall from the sky.  Taking him to meet her sister Evanora (a perfectly cast Weisz), Oz eventually finds himself on the hunt for the Wicked Witch terrorizing the land with her flying baboons.  Along the way he’ll meet another witch or two (one of the green variety) and learn a thing or two about friendship, honesty, and finds out there’s more to his magic than meets the eye.

That’s the gist of things and fans of The Wizard of Oz (either the movie or L. Frank Baum’s library of Oz-ian tomes) need not fret that this film will sully the image of Oz…that will surely be done by 2014’s Legend’s of Oz: Dorothy’s Return.  Like the stage musical Wicked, this movie connects a few of the dots to its 1939 predecessor and those paying careful attention will see that the filmmakers have inserted a number of references to the previous film like using magical Oz-ian characters as Kansas counterparts .

Two bits of casting have received the most attention since the film was released and I can’t say that some of the gripes haven’t been justified.  Franco is simply not the man for the job here and he’s painfully miscast as Oz.  When you consider Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp were the first choices for the wizard an extra pang hits you for the performance that might have been.  Kunis (Ted) isn’t as bad as the reviews say but she struggles quite a bit for at least the first 2/3 of the film.  I felt she got better as her character progressed but it never really lands like it should.

The good news is that Weisz and Williams are so good as Evanora and Glinda that you almost forget they are sharing scenes with lackluster partners.  Weisz wipes the floor with them all, though, in a cleverly coy role rife with lip smacking and glinting eyes.  She’s the one actor that doesn’t let the sumptuous effects dictate her performance.  Williams is strong too but at times it felt like she hadn’t fully shed her Marilyn Monroe persona as Glinda the Good (or is she?)  Braff and King steal their fair share of scenes in dual roles and Raimi peppers his supporting cases with journeymen actors from his stable.

Effects-wise, Oz looks incredible.  Produced by the same team that brought us the mind-crushingly awful Alice in Wonderland reboot a few years back, they’ve wisely stayed away from that super fake looking Wonderland world for a slightly more realized take on Oz.  It’s still too CGI heavy for me but there’s no denying that the movie is a true feast for the eyes.  Elfman’s score doesn’t stray too far from his norm of notes but he’s tailored it to whip up some magical moments of his own.

Very rarely do I find that 3D is really worth the upcharge but Oz is a film that really should be seen through a pair of 3D glasses.  The opening shots in glorious black and white are presented in a small aspect ratio (picture size), emulating a film from that era.  The 3D is purposely less “deep” in these shots to play in nice contrast with the added depth once we get to the Technicolor Oz.  Though prices for the 3D experience have risen, this is one film that’s more than worth it.

When the screening I saw was through, I wasn’t quite ready to make a final call on what I thought of the film but found that it was on my mind often in the following days.  No, it’s not a perfect film or the most original storyline…but it’s a visually arresting wonder that impressed me the longer it lingered in my memory.  Rumor is that plans are afoot for another sequel and based on what I saw here, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.  Would it be weird to recast Franco, though?

The Silver Bullet ~ Oz: The Great and Powerful – Trailer #2

Synopsis: How the Wizard arrived in Oz and became the ruler. A prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Release Date:  March 8, 2013

Thoughts: As I mentioned in my review of the teaser trailer for Oz: The Great and Powerful, I’m getting a strong vibe of revisionism along the lines of Tim Burton’s misguided Alice in Wonderland.  Still, the Oz books have a wealth of adventure to them and I’m interested to see what screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and whip smart playwright David Lindsay-Abaire bring forth.  The visuals certainly look stunning and never underestimate the power of Oz…though with this trailer I’m officially on the fence about the value of Franco’s contribution to the film.  He’s such a modern style actor that I’m not convinced (yet) he’s the man who would be Oz.  Thankfully, he’s backed up by a trio of dependable ladies (Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, and Mila Kunis) that should even things out.  Director Sam Raimi has worked wonders in film storytelling in the past – he might be the true man behind the curtain of the success or failure of the film.