Sunday, April 11, 2010

Back to Basics 2010 Film Fest Recap Part 2

Because you all come here for my movie reviews. We saw five movies last night, deciding to skip the last two, and so were able to be home at 7am.

The Crazies Biochemical zombies.

[REC] 2 Possessed zombies.

Life is Hot in Cracktown Slums and drugs.

Valhalla Rising Vikings!

The Final Terror Forest hike nightmare!

So we'll start with The Crazies. I'll admit I've never seen the Romero original, and still would have skipped this for being yet another horror movie remake. That would have been a complete shame. This was really good.

The story (with major major spoilers, true for this whole post): A military plane transporting a biochemical weapon for disposal goes down in the water supply of a small Iowa town. Those affected become homicidal maniacs. The government's response is to lock the town down... and kill everyone to prevent the spread of the bug. Told from the point of view of the town sheriff.

So basically, "biochemical zombies and the evil government." The script is smart (or should I say just fine, maybe "smart" is going too far), the suspense good, the scares being a combination of not-cheap jump scares (fitting within the context of what's going on, not cats jumping out of closets) and just the fucked-uppedness of the situation. Watching the army gun down a teenager and his mother because they are resisting quarantine efforts, and then immediately turn the flamethrower on their bodies, is quite the effective scene, as is the following scene where our protagonists capture one of the soldiers, just some kid freaked out. "They flew us in, we didn't even know what state we were in before we saw the car tags... I didn't sign up to shoot unarmed civilians..."

I mean, the movie doesn't transcend what it is, but it's as good as it can be, I think. Thumbs up.

[REC] 2 Oh fucking hell. So we walk out of one movie about containment and infection... and that's the plot of this one too. I've never seen [REC], but apparently the last shot of that movie is the first shot of this movie. An apartment building is under quarantine, and a SWAT team is escorting a health official into the building to assess what's going on. All they know is the infected are extremely violent, with symptoms like rabies.

Sound like the same movie twice? No. This one's different! One, it's in Spanish. Two, it's one of those "point of view" movies, shown only through the cameras the characters possess. Three, these guys aren't infected, they are POSSESSED BY SATAN.

No shit. The "health inspector" is actually a Vatican agent sent to collect blood samples from the original possessed girl, as the possession spreads through blood. The idea is with the sample, they can come up with an antidote.

Seriously. That's the plot. Maria astutely noted that this and the previous movie are basically the same thing, reflecting the assumed greater fears of the target audience. "Americans fear terrorists and/or bio-attack, not to mention they don't trust their government. Latino nations are rather more Catholic, so..."

The POV stuff is more interesting than usual, as four SWAT members have helmet-mounted cams, plus a group of kids has snuck in and they have their own camera, plus the news reporter from the first movie still has her camera, so it's not all from the same point of view as is the case with most of these movies.

I suppose this movie wasn't bad, but it really had the stink of "same old shit."

Life is Hot in Cracktown was interesting. Written and directed by Buddy Giovinazzo, the same guy that did Combat Shock (reviewed yesterday), it's a vast improvement over that other movie. It's easy to forget that a movie done decades ago with zero budget doesn't reflect a director's capabilities if that's all you've ever seen from him. This was an actual movie, with no allowances needed for budget or acting or anything. It actually has some "real actors" (director's words), including Brandon Routh and Lara Flynn Boyle.

Basically it's a "slice of life" movie, showing the stories of a half dozen families in the streets, all affected by drugs. It's a rather depressing movie (the opening scene is a gang rape), but effective, coming across more as a documentary and very little like an exploitation kind of thing. It's the kind of movie where you come out of the theater and distrust everyone around you in the street because they might be one of these people.

I did appreciate that the movie, while bleak, didn't end as badly as it might have for all involved. I thought everything was building up for all these people to die horribly, which wasn't the case.

Valhalla Rising A gladiator Viking slave escapes his captors, joins up with Christians on a Crusade to retake the Holy Land, and end up in the New World instead, where the local native tribes aren't happy to see them.

Sound like a plot made of pure win? Or at least a guilty pleasure sort of experience?

Well forget it.

This was a slow-paced movie, really arty and grim and drained of color and oohh look how barren that landscape is. Very little dialogue. Very little action. Just the main character glaring a lot. As Maria put it, "He did very well for playing a man who never speaks, never changes facial expression, and only has one eye."

That is not an exaggeration. The main character doesn't utter a sound the entire movie. Or change facial expression. Or have more than one eye, come to think of it.

I still don't know what the hell I watched. "Some Viking dudes are miserable, then they die."

The Final Terror was another piece of crap. Early 80s "Bunch of people go into the woods, where there is a homicidal maniac wanting to kill all of them" film. Notable only for having people like Darryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, and Adrian Zmed in it. But this was awful. How awful?

You know the slasher movie cliche "they all die one by one until the last person fights back"? After the movie ended I understood it a bit more. A group of almost a dozen people, only three fatalities along the way (two at the begin, one at the big confrontation, meaning no deaths in the bulk of the movie, and let's face it, the plot and acting and dialogue weren't doing anyone any favors). huh? What? Isn't the entire point of these movies the body count? (shit, even Valhalla Rising got that part right)

Anyway, the movie was good in exactly two places: When the killer was camouflaged in the forest. The one scene where the killer is right there in the frame the whole time but you don't realize it until everyone else leaves the frame, the camera zooms in, and then the killer moves - good! And real, since obviously a no-budget crapper made in 1981 wasn't using fancy effects. The other scene was the killer emerging from a giant tree stump, which was a whole lot better than it reads.

So yeah, they got good mileage out of their setting, twice, for a few seconds.

Dumb shit movie.

We skipped the last two movies. Grotesque, described in the festival program as being about two girls being kidnapped and tortured for 90 minutes (with a quote from the director: "The producers hired me and told me to make a movie so violent it almost can't be shown"), didn't seem too appealing at almost 7am. Especially since it's new and Japanese so it was sure to be weird as well. Festival programs are hardly bastions of movie critique, so who knows how accurate my impression of the plot is, but it really did sound like the entire movie was just two girls being tortured, start to finish. I'd like a pretense of a plot, please. I want to know why those brains are splattering against the wall, I need to understand the motivation for that cock being cut off and eaten, you know?

Joysticks was to have closed out the fest, and I don't know what that was. IMDB gives me the impression it's a Porky's kind of thing, and so I don't feel like I missed much.

What a night.

Later in the month there is a film festival in Estonia. For 110€, you get a boat from Helsinki to Tallinn, a bus from Tallinn to the town the fest is in, accommodations in a three star hotel (who advertises a three star hotel? Sounds more like an assurance that it's not a total hole), and twenty horror and fantasy films. And big parties, since booze is so much cheaper there, but that's hardly a selling point to me.

But somehow I think I'll have trouble convincing Maria that doing that is a good idea, so maybe I'll have to wait until October and the next installment of Night Visions...


  1. At one point does the neat camouflage bit in The Final Terror occur? It seems that the whole film is on Youtube in bits, and I'd like to see what you're talking about, but not enough to watch the whole thing!

  2. The tree stump bit is right at the end.

    Not sure exactly where the other bit is, but the people are already on the raft going downstream at that point so that might help you find it.

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  4. I just watched it, and my gosh, the Predator producers probably owe these guys some royalties.

    The camouflage bit is about four minutes into this one. Tree stump is here.

  5. "Americans fear terrorists and/or bio-attack, not to mention they don't trust their government. Latino nations are rather more Catholic, so..."

    With all due respect, that's just bad pop psychology. None of the people I know who enjoyed the [REC] films was a practizing catholic, and religion had nothing to do with liking or disliking them. Believe it or not, we live in the XXI century, too...