Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Movie Review–Hollow

And so here's more proof that I'm a sucker for the old found footage genre. About 4 minutes after I posted my review of "Grave Encounters 2," I was back on my couch firing up another one.

"Hollow" is a movie that I'd been looking forward to for a while; I saw its trailer last year and was intrigued by the fact that it featured a spooky looking tree. I'm pretty sure that anyone who grew up in the woods like I did understands what I'm saying here... some trees just look evil.

The movie is about two pairs of friends—one about to be married, and one not quite yet a couple. They get together to head up for a relaxing weekend in a remote village in the rural England countryside... of particular note is the fact that the village they go to visit is Dunwich. Of course, this is the real-world Dunwich in England, so there's not any Yog-Sothothery going on here, but the movie DOES have a pretty creepy Lovecraft vibe to it. Actually, strike that... it's got more of an Algernon Blackwood vibe, or maybe an Arthur Machen vibe. Whatever vibe it's got... it's a good one.

Anyway, the couple heads up to this house in rural England for a relaxing weekend, and since this is a found footage horror movie, things are anything but relaxing. And while the last 10 minutes of the movie are pretty intense, it's also another one that does the slow burn. You see, one of these four people has some psychological damage, and the movie doesn't really come out and explain it via dialogue. Instead, you see it in the way this character films things with his camera, how he obsesses on a fly trapped against a window, or becomes so interested in the weird nooks and crannies in an old ruined monastery, or sneaks around in the house after dark filming the woman he'd rather be up here with, but who is instead here with her fiance.

Did I mention there's a creepy evil looking tree in a field nearby? A tree that seems to have an unusual number of suicides involved with young lovers who hang themselves from its gnarly, twisted branches? A tree that some local legends say is a place where, if you hang yourself there, the ghost of a monk who served in the nearby monastery will give you absolution so that you'll still go to heaven, but which some other local legends say that the "monk" is not a monk at all, and those who end up hanging in the boughs are hardly suicides?

Or that there's rusty chains wrapped around the tree trunk?
See? Evil.

Aside from a little bit of gore, there's really no special effects in the movie. It's very understated and deliberate in its pacing, and when it's over, it leaves a lot of what actually happened up to interpretation. But the atmosphere of tension and dread that it builds as it goes makes it all quite worth it... especially if you look at it through the eyes of Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, or Lovecraft.

  • ... is very much a minimalist horror movie. Don't check it out if you're expecting big special effects scenes, spooky music, or anything like that. But if you like found footage movies and think the Wicker Man's a great movie and don't require answers to all your questions, you can do a lot worse.
  • ... is one of the few found footage movies I've seen that concedes that video cameras run on batteries, and even better, makes the draining battery on that camera into a plot point.
  • ... will have you straining to see if there's something in the shadows of the footage while simultaneously trying not to stare too hard just in case there's a jump cut or a jump scare about to strike.
  • ... incorporates a pretty creepy and classic urban legend into the plot.
  • ... gets creepier the more I think about it.
Grade: B+

Monday, February 25, 2013

Movie Review—Grave Encounters 2

So, yeah. I'm a sucker for found footage films. I saw the first "Grave Encounters" a while back, and was pleasantly surprised by the movie. It was about the cast and crew of a ghost hunting show that supposedly went up to an old asylum in some remote area that was supposedly haunted, and they set up all their film equipment to film an episode of their show there, and as it worked out... the place really was haunted. By more than ghosts, although ghosts are certainly involved. But so might be some mad scientist stuff, some demon summoning stuff, and just maybe some extra-dimensional horrors. You see, as the movie progressed, the asylum they were exploring and filming in took on a life of its own and started rearranging its layout, changing where doors and hallways go and basically keeping them trapped in a perpetual night within a haunted asylum that had no end and no beginning.

Pretty nifty movie!

And so when the sequel was announced, I was interested. And lo and behold, it went live on Netflix streaming this week!

The sequel, like the original, is a found footage movie, but it gets even more meta than that. The central conceit of "Grave Encounters 2" is that the first movie exists, and it starts out with lots of movie reviews of the first movie–some folks love it, some hate it, some think it's real, some think it's fake, and so on. The movie settles on one young film student who's convinced it's fake, but then he starts receiving strange emails from someone called "Death Awaits." Intrigued, he starts to look into things, and soon discovers that the cast of the original movie are nowhere to be found and the producer reveals that, yes indeed, the footage WAS real.

So... shocked that this Hollywood producer basically cashed in on the deaths of a bunch of movie makers and turned their unintentional ghost snuff film into a movie, the film student and his friends set out to find the real site of the asylum and find out just what happened.

Yeah... there's some pretty good quality nightmare fuel in here, I'll give the movie that.
The thing that's actually quite intersting about this movie is that it takes about a third of the running time for the movie to actually GET to the haunted asylum... up until then it's a slow burn of character building and some pretty interesting research about the fates of the cast of the first movie. The movie stays interesting once it inexorably moves to the asylum... but alas, things start to get a little too over the top... although there is a pretty unexpected and delightful third-act development I didn't see coming. Alas, the unusual and compelling setup for the movie ends up not delivering as satisfying a conclusion as it could have... still a fun ride, though!

Grave Encounters 2...
  • ... is at its best when it's being subtle, and when the ghosts themselves are actually on screen, but can't quite keep the momentum going once it goes beyond ghosts into that over-the-top third act.
  • ... has one of the most interesting premisies for a sequel I've seen.
  • ... also has one of the more frightening visual themes for its ghosts I've seen... the themes worked better in the first movie when we weren't quite ready for the disfigured black-mouthed specters, but when they show up here, they're still quite unsettling. Even if, by this time, we really DO want to know a bit more about WHY the ghosts look the way they do.
  • ... isn't as good as the first one, but is pretty close. If the movie had managed to keep its excellent writing and script going all the way to the end, it would have been a great little movie! But good is sometimes good enough.
  • ... makes me want to see a "Grave Encounters 3," which is absolutely a compliment, but if they DO do a third one, I want to know more about the genesis of what's going on behind things. The sequel to [REC] did this really quite well, as did the first two sequels to Paranormal Activity. Not so much Paranormal Activity 4.
  • ... also makes me want to see someone try a big-budget film adaptation of "House of Leaves."
Grade: B–

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Monster #7—Rat Bat Spider

One of my favorite sub-genres (I have a lot of favorite sub-genres) of movie is the "Astronauts journey to an alien planet and explore it and encounter monsters on said planet." There haven't been many movies made with this plot lately. "Avatar" is probably the one that comes the closest most recently, but "Pitch Black" is more what I'm talking about. The height of this genre's popularity, though, was back in the '50s, it seems, with movies like "First Spaceship To Venus" and "Journey to the Seventh Planet" and, of course, my absolute favorite of all in the genre, "Angry Red Planet."

The thing I love about this movie is that, despite its low budget, it just doesn't care. It's not content with having monsters that are just people in alien suits. No siree. The monsters of "Angry Red Planet" are big, bigger, and enormous. The fact that all the Mars scenes (yes, that's the Angry Red Planet the astronauts visit) are filmed in "Cinemagic," which makes all those scenes appear all solarized and red makes the whole thing so surreal that the low budget sets actually kind of end up working in a bizarre sort of way. Of course, I'm certainly looking at it with a giant dose of nostalgia.


The reason I'm talking about it for Monster Day is the Rat Bat Spider.

You've seen what the thing looks like in the pictures here already, but make sure you watch the movie below. The thing is HUGE! And not only that, it's a completely freaky weird monster unlike anything I've really ever seen in movies before or since. Heck... it's got enormous pincers, so the fact that the Internet calls it a Rat Bat Spider isn't even right... it should be a Rat Bat Spider Crab. Except that it's the size of a house.

Man... this is one movie that someone needs to remake JUST for ME.

Recommended Viewing

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Movie Review—Carnage

Sometimes, movies are fun because they have cool special effects. Other times, they're fun because of a fun unexpected plot twist. And then there are movies like "Carnage," which are fun purely and solely because of the actors and actresses involved.

This is by no means a big movie—it's not even 90 minutes long and, with the exception of 2 shots outside (one during the opening credits and one during the closing credits), the entire movie takes place in a single apartment. There's plenty of cuts, but the movie proceeds in real time.

The plot is pretty simple. Two kids got in a fight in the park. One kid may or may not call the other kid a name, they start pushing each other, then the other kid wheels around and hits the first kid in the face with a stick. It's all shot in a long shot, and then we cut to the apartment, where the parents of the two children have gotten together to talk about the incident and agree on a statement about what happened. One thing leads to another, and in a series of events involving fruit cobbler, tulips, a pesky cell phone, some art books, an upset stomach, some really good scotch, and a possibly murdered hamster... things go from relatively awkward and tense to almost unbearably awkward and tense. It's a quietly hilarious movie about two couples who don't really like each other learning just how much they don't like each other or, indeed, their own spouses.

Oh... and by the way... the couples? Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz VS John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster.
Roman Polanski's recipe for mayhem.

I could have watched these four talk for another ten hours easy.

  • ... made me want to make sure my favorite books are not out on the coffee table when I have guests over.
  • ... has a much better French movie poster than the American one.
  • ... made me worry about that poor hamster.
  • ... taught me the secret about making apple and pear cobbler.
  • ... also taught me that it's important to keep a bucket and a bottle of cologne handy for accidents.
Grade: A–

Friday, February 22, 2013

Movie Review—The Snow Creature

So, IMDB claims that "The Snow Creature" is the first movie about the yeti. My favorite yeti movie is probably "The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas." Made a few years after "The Snow Creature," that movie featured Peter Cushing in a movie directed by Val Guest and written by Nigel Kneale—the duo responsible for the Quatermass Xperiment and Quartermass II, two of my favorite sci-fi movies from the 50s.

But it's "The Snow Creature" that I'm here to talk about, and if it is indeed the first yeti movie, then it's also rock solid proof that what comes first is not always the best. In fact, in this case, what comes first is one of the worst.

The plot, such as it is, involves a botanist and his boozy photographer henchman who head up to the Himalayas to seek out and photograph high-altitude plants. Like moss and some tiny flowers. When the yeti (more on THIS piece of work below) shows up to abduct the lead Sherpa's wife (despite the fact that the yeti has a doomed nuclear family at home), said distraught Sherpa rounds up the other guides and they head off to hunt down the yeti, save the wife, and kill the presumably rapist or woman-eating monster.

Unfortunately, the movie assumes we, the viewer, identify more with the (white American) botanist and his boozy photographer pal. Who are mortified that their plant-seeking expedition is being usurped by a mutinous crew of Sherpas and a yeti. Much of the first 3rd of the movie consists of the group trudging around in the snow during the day, then the two American "heroes" spending time trying to fix the radio to call the police at night. Eventually, the botanist realizes that catching a real-live yeti might make him more money than mountain moss, and soon thereafter they find a yeti in a cave with his yeti-wife and yeti-kid. There's a confrontation, and the yeti-dad (for some reason I'm still not clear on) races up to the cave wall and pounds his fists on it, causing a cave-in that not only knocks himself out but also kills his yeti-wife and yeti-child. The brave Americans boldly leave the two dead yetis behind, truss up yeti-dad with a rinky-dink home-made stretcher, and after 15 agonizing minutes of watching the logistics of walking their prize down the mountainside, storing him in a warehouse, arranging to have a refrigerated shipping unit (that looks like a metal outhouse with a frosted window in the side) built in the states and then shipped to Tibet, and then loading up their yeti onto an airplane and flying to Los Angeles from Tibet via New York.

ANYway... they get back to LA and after spending a mind-boggling 5 minutes or so on a "must see to believe it" subplot wherein the customs department at the LA Airport are trying to decide if the yeti is a man or a beast so they can decide if he needs immigration papers... the yeti gets out, kidnaps and/or chases some women, steals some meat from a meat packing plant, then gets netted in the sewers by the cops and shot dead by a hand gun (seen in a closeup wherein the man firing the gun is using his middle finger... thanks movie!). The movie ends with us seeing the botanist eager to get home to his wife, his policeman friend excited to go see his new baby at the hospital...

...and with the Sherpa's wife still missing out there in the Himalayas after being kidnapped by a yeti. Well... I guess it was the 50s. American movies had different priorities back then I guess.

Behold the SNOW BEAST in all his glory! Check out those muppet mitts!
So! On to the yeti! This was one of the WORST monsters I've seen in a movie. Ever. I kid you not. The yeti was basically a tall lanky guy wearing what looked to be like long underwear to which someone had glued swaths of rabbit fur to the the shoulders, chest, groin, back, and legs, then slapped a couple of novelty muppet monster gloves on each had, then threw on a squarish fur hat and a fake beard.

That's it.

Oh... and he's all gray and black, just like you'd expect a creature that lives in the snow and, indeed, is called "THE SNOW CREATURE" to appear as.

But the absolute best part? The director doesn't skimp at all on showing us the monster, often in unforgiving hard focus. Unfortunately, probably 75% of the scenes where we see the monster doing stuff ARE THE SAME SCENE! There's a shot of the monster walking slowly forward toward the camera against a black background, and the director sees fit to simply splice in that scene over and over and over and over whenever he wants to remind us that the yeti is out there. Doesn't matter if the scene's supposed to take place on a snowy mountainside or a deep Himalayan cave or in the LA city sewer or in an airport warehouse or in an alley. That scene's apparently good enough for anywhere!

HA! Also? When he wants to convey the notion that the yeti is being sneaky and retreating into the darkness to hide? He simply runs that same footage BACKWARDS.

I picked this movie to watch tonight out of the 100+ movies in my online Netflix queue for 1 reason—it was tied with "Tetsuo: The Bullet Man" for the title of "shortest movie in my online Netflix queue" at a mere 70 minutes or so. I'll have to watch "Tetsuo" later this weekend to see which one seems longer. Because "The Snow Creature" seemed like it went on for 70 hours, not 70 minutes!

The Snow Creature...
  • ... informs the viewer of many well known scientific facts, including, for example, that yetis instinctively know where to seek out the cooler areas in a region... such as the sewers of Los Angeles.
  • ... may well have the honor of the least convincing yeti costume ever filmed.
  • ... seems to think that in a movie featuring a woman-abducting yeti and life-or-death survival situations on the slopes of the highest mountain range on the planet, the best place to go to for tension and action are sequences of radio repair.
  • ... assumes that if a dude brings a live yeti back to Los Angeles, one reporter is enough to represent the media attention such an event would bring—and that this one reporter wouldn't put up a fight when the cops tell him "you'll get a chance to ask questions about the yeti later; first we have to get him through immigration!"
  • ... would have probably been about 15 minutes shorter if the producer had told the editor & director, "Okay, you can't re-use ANY FOOTAGE in your film."
  • ... is one of those movies that's important to preserve and see, so that you can point it out to those people who say that Hollywood doesn't make great movies the way they used to.
  • ... teaches us that the best time to cry out a warning to "LOOK OUT!" is after the cop you saw walk by the tunnel you just watched shabby-yeti shamble into has already been snatched and mauled.
  • ... really could use a good rifftraxing.
Grade: F

Sorry... couldn't find a trailer for this one, so enjoy a clip from the movie where the heroes ambush the yeti and his family at home and marvel at the yeti's nonsensical reaction to this home invasion.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review—Cold City

Repairman Jack's one of my favorite recurring literary characters. As I've mentioned elsewhere, my love of reading (and particularly my love of the horror genre) is directly attributable to my father, and his parents as well. My grandma and grandpa kept me in solid supply of spooky stuff to read—be they horror comics or novels. My grandma introduced me to Stephen King, Clive Barker, Dean Koonz, and F. Paul Wilson.

The first of Wilson's novels I read was as a kid back in the early 80's; I started reading "The Tomb" at Grandma's house, camped out in a big cozy chair in the huge front room/library of their expansive farmhouse in central California. I still remember how that first long chapter of the book surprised me—it read like a good old-fashioned adventure story up until the end of the chapter... when all of a sudden, MONSTERS showed up! I was immediately hooked on Wilson for life.

Since then, he's written 19 books in the Repairman Jack line, along with several other stories and novels that feature him or events tied to his life in some way or another. Some have been better than others, but all of them were very entertaining. The last one in the series was initially going to be "Nightworld" but Repairman Jack fans convinced him to do a final trilogy about Jack's formative years in New York. His origin story, if you will.

"Cold City" is the first book in that trilogy.

With each book in the Repairman Jack series, things grow more and more fantastical. Early on, a lot of his plots are against relatively mundane threats like criminals, conspirators, con-artists, and the like, but by the end, he's going up against all sorts of monsters, undead foes, Lovecraftian horrors, and eventually the end of the world. And as delightful as those books are... ("Nightworld" remains one of my favorite books of all time) ... there's a certain charm that gets left behind when the foes get so out of this world.

The supernatural is present in "Cold City," but only VERY subtly and margianally. In fact, if you haven't read all the Repairman Jack stories to come before, you might even miss the supernatural elements entirely. Here, we see Repairman Jack as just Jack, a young man in New York who's living off the grid and only starting to build up his skills by working as a smuggler and a protector/avenger of those in need. There's all sorts of cool Easter eggs and prizes to delight long-time readers of the series, but the book also reads great as an introduction to Jack. If I had one complaint (and it's a pretty small one) it's that among the slavers, terrorists, vengeful co-workers, mobsters, cultists, con-artists, and more who Jack ends up going up against in this book, there's probably one group too many. Yet Wilson manages to pull off this vast cast of bad guys arranged against Jack nonetheless, and the book's final chapter does a great job "recapping" the situation as it's built during the previous 350 pages.

Fair warning—as with several of the books in this series, there's not really an ending... just a point where the pages stop. All three books are VERY tied together, and while there is a climactic scene of sorts in "Cold City," it's really all about not only setting up the next two books, but about setting up the star of the entire line of books. As such, and as someone who's been following Repairman Jack's adventures for over 30 years, I found it to be an excellent read.

(Special thanks to Pierce Watters, who gave me this book for Christmas at last year's Paizo Holiday Party—he knows F. Paul Wilson and was able to get me an inscribed/signed copy direct from the author! Best Secret Santa EVER!)

Cold City...
  • ... is a delight for fans of Jack, especially in that it also introduces several other characters who are mainstays throughout the series and a few new ones who aren't. I'm pretty sure these new ones aren't going to make it out of the trilogy alive, otherwise we'd have heard about them by now!
  • ... has Jack getting in over his head multiple times, and it's pretty cool seeing a Jack who doesn't know how to handle a gun or trail a bad guy or sneak around learning the ropes.
  • ... made me hungry; I had just started a diet, and each scene where Jack brings his friend Abe food made my mouth water. Especially the big plate of bagels and lox!

Show Review—American Horror Story: Asylum

When the first season of American Horror Story started 2 years ago, I tuned in because the trailers for the show looked pretty interesting, but since it showed on F/X I didn't have a lot of hope it would ammount to anything.

I was absolutely wrong.

By the end of the season, I was stunned at how great the show was. And when it went on to win several awards, I noted that I wasn't the only one who thought the show was great.

So, I was anticipating the second season with the exact opposite of the apathy and passive interest I had the first season—I couldn't wait. And if anything, season 2 outdid season 1.

It's a peculiar show. It's really not much like any other show I've ever seen. Each season of American Horror Story is self-contained. The story is VERY tight, with a lot of continuity between episodes, but once a season ends, the story ends. Several of the actors remain when the new season starts, but the story changes completely. In a way, a season of American Horror Story is basically a 10 hour-or-so long movie that uses some (but not all) of the actors and crew as the previous one.

If your asylum doesn't look this creepy... you're doing it wrong.
The first season was about ghosts, and the second one is about madness... but that's like saying "Alien" is about space miners or "Jaws" is about fishing. Among other things, American Horror Story: Asylum is about murder, love, demonic possession, psychopaths, serial killers, mutants, mad scientists, aliens, and the angel of death. And more than that.

The thing I love about the show is that it just throws SO many horror tropes into the mix, yet somehow manages to make it all work. The excellent acting and directing and cinematography certainly don't hurt. Neither does their curious but very effective use of horror movie music from other movies... the use of Philip Glass's theme from "Candyman" provides one of the most satisfying and incredible sequences in the entire season.

The show's been picked up for a third season, and several of the actors from seasons 1 and 2 are back (including the ever awesome Jessica Lange!). The wait begins again!

American Horror Story: Asylum...
  • ... made me realize how scary James Cromwell is when he plays a bad guy.
  • ... isn't afraid to set the bulk of its story in the 1960s, which helps prevent modern intrusions like cellphones, the internet, and modern medicine from making it easy on its characters.
  • ... will hopefully touch upon one of America's greatest horror writers next season or beyond that—Lovecraft!
  • ... has solved the problem of what to do if a show gets cancelled early with too many storylines left unresolved—they were gonna resolve them by the end of that season anyway, so no worries at all! Fortunately, the show's doing quite well, and its unique setup, which doesn't anchor itself to any one set of actors or crew, could well mean it could go forever! I wouldn't mind that.
  • ... really made me feel sorry for poor Chloe Sevigny.
  • ... delighted me with the late season addition of Ian McShane for a couple episodes.
  • ... has one of the best opening credit crawls on TV today. Game of Thrones is the only one I can think of that might have it beat.
Grade: A+

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Monster #6—Giant Spiders

I'm not an arachnophobe, but I can certainly understand why so many people are. Spiders are scary. I don't freak out if I see one in my house, but having one show up unexpectedly can still be startling. Especially if it's a black widow or something equally instantly recognizable as something that can put me in the hospital. But for the most part, I quite like spiders; they eat ants and flies and other pests that I'm much more frustrated with, and actually most of them are quite graceful and beautiful in their lovely alien ways.

But certainly, the bigger a spider gets, the more intimidating they become. Like the one we found at Paizo one day a few years ago, crawling around on the floor in front of Jason Bulmahn's office—that one was a beast! See the video for proof—that's Sean K Reynolds holding the spider up for me to catch all its glory with my iPhone. We let the big guy loose in the grass out behind the building once his 15 minutes of fame were up... and since we couldn't be sure it wasn't a hobo spider, we made damn sure not to let him bite us. Of course, when a spider gets to be big enough, it doesn't matter if it's poisonous. It hurts to be bitten by something with visible fangs.

There's a fair number of movies about spiders out there, small and large. Most of them aren't all that good, but fortunately for spider fans like me, there's lots of them, and that means the total number of giant spider movies that are good increase. My absolute FAVORITE giant spider movie of all time, and indeed one of my favorite movies of all time, is Tarantula, a movie from the mid-50s about a mad scientist who is trying to build a new type of radioactive chemical that causes animals to grow to enormous sizes. He hopes to solve the world hunger problem by, essentially, increasing rabbits and guinea pigs and other smaller creatures up to cow size, giving us all an unlimited amount of food to eat. In typical charming 50s style, the repercussions of eating meat grown via the introduction of radioactive super-science are more or less completely glossed over.

The repercussions of what happens if a lab tarantula gets dosed with the stuff, on the other hand, are NOT glossed over. The movie uses a real tarantula for the bulk of the scenes, superimposed into barren southwestern deserts or set free on well-built models with double-exposed victims running in fear or attempting in vain to explode the spider with dynamite. They used tiny blasts of compressed air to guide the spider along the route through these sets, and the result looks really good, even today. Now and then, for the tarantula's close-ups, they use a puppet that's really pretty frightening and effective looking. In the end, they have to essentially call in Clint Eastwood to save the day. No joke! This movie's one of his first roles, with a cameo as a jet fighter pilot—you can only see his eyes and hear his voice, but since it's Clint, that's all that you need!

Recommended Reading
Recommended Viewing

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Movie Review—Creature from Black Lake

So, as if to celebrate that last Sunday's monster day entry was on the Fouke Monster, today I sat down to watch "Creature from Black Lake," which more or less exists due to the popularity of "Legend of Boggy Creek." Unfortunately, this movie is nowhere near as spooky and charming and interesting as the former.

"Creature from Black Lake" opens with an attack on a pair of trappers floating in a boat on the eponymous Black Lake (which looks more muddy than black, but whatever) by a big hairy hominid who comes at them from under the water. That's right! Bigfoot can swim, apparently!

Anyway, that scene dealt with, the movie shifts gears to a pair of "yankees" (as the movie is so fond of reminding us) from college in Chicago who've come down to the Black Lake region to try to find the creature. Maybe to catch it and bring it back alive. A large portion of the movie chronicles these two gadabouts as they run into trouble with the locals, be it a faux pas at a hillbilly dinner or flirting with the sheriff's pretty young daughter or trying their damndest to track down the surviving trapper from that first scene so they can interview him and find out where to get their own look at the Creature from Black Lake.

There might not be any hamburgers in your future, but I bet getting mauled by Bigfoot will make up for it!
I'm not sure WHY the monster's called the Creature from Black Lake... since the lake only appears in that one pre-credit sequence. The rest of the movie takes place in a small town and in the woods, more or less.

Anyway... no real suspense. Some goofy music. A pretty mediocre ape suit. And a big dose of pan-n-scan coupled with at times barely-understandable dialogue from a pretty sub-par transfer to DVD equates to what can be charitably called "Not one of my top ten Bigfoot-related movies."

Creature From Black Lake...
  • ... features a Vietnam Vet who's defining characteristic is that he likes hamburgers. Why? Because he grew up in town with a chicken processing plant and his dad worked there so they had chicken every day. Chicken for breakfast. Chicken for lunch. Chicken for dinner. One day his dad tried to make chicken jello. What does this have to do with Vietnam or, more on-topic, the Creature From Black Lake? Not sure... but there's a lot of film time spent on the topic so it must have been important to someone.
  • ... isn't interested in showing us the fate of the creature. Did it die when it got shot? Did the van explosion kill it? What happened? Doesn't mater, because with about 5 minutes to go, the movie loses interest in the Bigfoot and wallows in a long coda where we get to worry about Mr. Hamburgers after he gets mauled by the Bigfoot earlier on.
  • ... reminded me why I don't like pan-n-scan.
  • ... doesn't have a cat trick, but it does have an unexplained bearded man in the woods trick.
  • ... spends roughly 2% of its running time at the actual Black Lake. I guess that's okay, since it's about the creature FROM Black Lake, not the creature AT Black Lake.
  • ... has a much better poster than it deserves.
Grade: D

Monday, February 11, 2013

Movie Review—Wrath of the Titans

Those of you who have seen the remake of "Clash of the Titans" know that when I say its sequel, "Wrath of the Titans," is a better movie than its predecessor know that I'm not necessarily saying "Wrath" is a good movie. Whatever it is, though, it's certainly never quiet.

Ray Harryhausen is one of my cinematic heroes. The last movie he did special effects work for was the 1981 version of "Clash of the Titans," so when the remake came around a few years ago, I was wary but hopeful. The trailers certainly made it look exciting. But no... no. It ended up being one of the worst movies of 2010.

"Wrath of the Titans" has an advantage then. It's an entirely new story... well, sort of, unless you count mythology... and so I wasn't spending every single second of the movie mentally comparing it unfavorably to an original. This time out we get more neat mythological monsters, but each time they show up... they end up kind of being wasted. Chimeras make a big opening scene, but even though they're supposedly rampaging across the countryside for the duration of the movie, once Perseus kills one at the start of the movie (in what's easily the most interesting scene in the entire movie), they're never seen again. Perseus and crew head out to Hephaestus's island, and once there they get in a fight with a bunch of cyclopes, but it turns out they're kinda nice if dumpy guys who end up strolling up the mountainside with the heroes to visit Hephaestus. And they end up having to go through THE labyrinth to enter Tarterus to save Zeus, and wouldn't you know it the minotaur does indeed attack Perseus, but he's just a big dude with growths on his head who, after a series of quick-cut fight edits, ends up not leaving much of a mark on the memory.

I suppose that all the lava effects splattering off Kronos's enormous mitts at the end were pretty nifty, as were his double-sided lava warrior thingys... But by then, I was pretty well bored with the absolutely uninspired dialogue and frustrated by the obviously well-done special effects that you couldn't really stop to admire because they were too busy doing fast edits. Fast edits are hard to do well, but easy to do when you're covering the fact that you don't know how to choreograph an action scene, whether or not it has CGI in it or not, I guess...

Oh. Wait. Just remembered... like "Clash" did a few years ago, "Wrath" manages to get a somewhat goofy and nonsensical cameo in for Bubo, so now I hate the movie just a little bit more.

Wrath of the Titans...
  • ... thankfully doesn't have any suicide bombing djinn or comedy-relief adventurer duos. It does have a comedy-relief single adventurer, so it's not a total improvement.
  • ... makes the mistake that the viewer would rather watch Perseus and Ares have a fistfight rather than see some more special effects in the form of just one more mythological monster encounter.
  • ... somehow manages to have less memorable characters than the first movie. Which is, in a way, a blessing, since the traits that made the previous characters memorable were insulting or frustrating or annoying.
  • ... spends way too much time trying to make us interested in the human armies that don't have a chance in the fight anyway and end up kinda just standing around and getting dirty.
  • ... makes me wonder why, if you steal Zeus's lightning bolt, you don't bother using it in a fight, even if you ARE Ares.
  • ... really does want to be God of War, but it doesn't have the courage to even get close to it. Maybe if it had been R-rated and was loaded with gore and profanity and nudity it would have been more interesting.
 Grade: C–

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Monster #5—The Fouke Monster

Not all Bigfoots are built the same.

For example, the Fouke Monster, known perhaps more widely as the Boggy Creek Monster, has only three toes. That's pretty unusual, especially considering pretty much no other big hairy hominid prints have three toes. Could this mean the Fouke Monster is a mutant? Or is the one that terrorized the people of Fouke, Arkansaas back in the early 70s merely deformed? Or, perish the thought, are the Fouke Monster tracks the work of a hoaxer who didn't do his homework on basic Bigfoot (and basic primate) zoology?

In the end, it doesn't matter, because the Fouke Monster is the scariest of the Bigfoots. Partially because it lives in a swamp, arguably the scariest of all terrains. Partially because stories about encounters with the Fouke Monster tend to be a lot more agressive that most Bigfoot encounters are. But when you get right down to it, the reason it's scary is because of "The Legend of Boggy Creek."

This movie was more than just a drive-in feature that achieved unexpected popularity and success (7th most successful movie of 1972 in fact... also the year I was born!). It seems like it spawned an entire generation of cryptozoologists. It certainly did a number on myself and my sister, back in the late 70s when it showed up on TV now and then. I once convinced my younger sister to stay up until midnight to watch the movie, and she made it barely through the credits. The combination of the forlorn cries of a loon, the raspy croaking of bullfrogs, the swampy visuals, and then the eerie sound of a monster howling somewhere in that swamp as a young child appears to run for his life from an unseen terror were too much. She went to bed before the credits rolled.
If you name a place like this "Boggy Creek," why NOT have a monster in it?

I did not. I watched the whole movie. I've been having nightmares about Bigfoot peering through a bedroom window (one that's at least 7 feet of the ground, mind you) ever since.

Recommended Reading
Recommended Viewing

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Movie Review—Amber Alert

I've got a fair number of movies languishing in my Netflix queue. At current count, I've got 170 lined up in my DVD/Blu-Ray queue, and a mere 107 in my instant queue. Yesterday, I saw "Dredd," and it was REALLY good. Much better than I'd anticipated it being. And that's more or less what got me thinking about doing movie reviews on my blog.

So here I am. I'm starting with movies I've seen today, so as good as it was, "Dredd" won't be the first review of the year. But do yourself a favor; if you like action-packed violent movies, check it out!

Now, on to THIS review.

"Amber Alert" is about a group of three college students who are out on the road, filming themselves having fun for an audition for a reality TV show. Which show doesn't really matter, because not long after the movie starts, they spot a car that's been tagged by an amber alert, and decide to follow it. And since it's a movie... things pretty quickly get intense and out of control.

"Amber Alert" is a found footage movie, which is perhaps my favorite type of movie these days. I don't care if the movie's great (like "Paranormal Activity") or terrible (like "Paranormal Activity 4')... I'll eventually see the movie. Mockumentaries are a close second here, but the full-on found footage format just, for whatever reason, quite pleases me.

Pardon me... are you making a mediocre found footage movie about me in there?
Even when the movie doesn't.

"Amber Alert" is far from the worst found footage movie I've seen, but it's also not even close to being the best. The majority of the movies in this type I've seen have been horror movies, and while there's some horror in this one, it's more accurately categorized as a thriller. Nothing supernatural going on here, no gore to speak of, but the central conceit of three young people chasing after a car that may or may not belong to a child molester is pretty horrific and spooky.

Unfortunately, the acting was a bit uneven. Found footage movies really need a naturalistic and believable style of acting to work right, and when it's off... even just a little, as in this case... it can undo the movie. A lot of found footage movies also feature a lot of arguing and screaming and the like, it seems, and "Amber Alert" certainly delivers there. The ending was satisfying, but the drive felt a bit long getting there.

Amber Alert...
  • ... features a car that apparently gets hundreds of miles to the gallon. Sure, the characters in the movie could have stopped to get gas at some point between cuts in the filming, but the move's pretty insistent that they're on a tight time schedule.
  • ... has a reason for why the characters are filming everything—they're hoping to be able to turn the tape over to the police as evidence once they find proof that the amber alert was for real.
  • ... has a surprisingly small amount of profanity, considering how much of the movie is footage of stressed out people arguing.
  • ... makes driving 100 miles per hour look like a stately 40 miles per hour.
  • ... like many movies, has a trailer that makes it look far more exciting and action packed than it actually is.
Grade: C

The Resurrection of Bigfoot Country, Part II 

Okay then!

It's a new year, and that means it's time to give this blog another go. This time around, I'm gonna be a bit less methodical about what gets posted on what day, but I'm going to be posting here more regularly. The majority of the posts will be in one of three categories:

Reviews: When I finish watching a movie, reading a book, playing a video game, or watching an entire season of a TV show, I'll post a review. Partially so I can keep track of stuff, but also to let folks know what's good and what's not. My intent is to do reviews of every movie I see and every book I finish reading... but beyond that I'll pick and choose what goes up as a review.

Monster Day: Of the various themes I had for the previous attempt at this blog, I personally enjoyed Monster Day the best. So I'll be publishing more installments of this feature every Sunday.

Miscellaneous Posts: Whenever I've got something else to say, I'll make a miscellaneous post. This could be anything, so I won't even try to predict when they'll happen!

Let's see how far I get this year before I get distracted!