Movie Review (drama): “Northfork” (2003)

September 4, 2011 at 10:40 pm (drama, fantasy, movies, Uncategorized)

I’m sorry this movie went completely under my radar when it first came out, because it must have been amazing on the big screen. “Northfork” is dreamy and magical, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

The year is 1955, and the town of Northfork, Montana is 72 hours away from becoming a lake. Almost everybody’s been relocated. A team of company men (featuring the always wonderful James Woods) has been dispatched to talk the few remaining, stubborn straggles into leaving.

Meanwhile, the town priest (Nick Nolte), who ran a school and orphanage in the town’s heyday, is caring for Irwin, a desperately ill little boy who is too fragile to be moved.

About half of the action revolves around the company men, and their efforts to move the eccentric stragglers. These semi-surreal set pieces are loads of fun, showing a quirky, dry sense of humor that isn’t common in American films.

The other half of the film takes place in the nearly comatose Irwin’s fevered dreams. He imagines a strange set of characters, Flower Hercules, Cup of Tea, Cod, and Happy, whom he hopes will take him “A thousand miles away.” The strangeness of his dreams seems to seep into the world of the company men.

Slow-moving but beautiful, sometimes very funny, and touching without being sappy, “Northfork” is a gem.

5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13. The content is OK for older kids and teens, but most of them won’t want to sit through it.


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Movie review (horror): “Malevolence” (2004)

August 5, 2011 at 11:45 pm (horror, movies)

I’m not sure why it took me so long to see this movie. It’s been a cult favorite since it came out. This stalk-and-slash is well made, with good acting and an interesting backstory.

A group of bank robbers botches the job. Two of them head straight for the creepy abandoned house that is their rendezvous point. Another robber blows a car tire and carjacks a woman and her daughter for their van. For some bizarre reason, he takes them with him to the old house.

The movie bogs down in the middle somewhat, as the angst-ridden “good” bank robber and his bitchy girlfriend talk and argue about the robbery. Things pick up a bit after the local psycho starts picking off the robbers.

This was a pretty solid movie, but I’m not sure I get the cult status. The acting was good, not great. The gore is good, not great. The main characters make a number of unbelievably stupid mistakes, which always irritates the living hell out of me. The backstory around the wacko killer is actually more interesting than the story unfolding in front of you.

I was happy to hear that a prequel, “Bereavement,” is going to be out on DVD in a few days. It centers around the killer and how he became what he is, which is what I really cared about anyway.

If you’re a slasher fan, you’ll probably enjoy this one. It definitely has its fun moments.

Rated R. Not for kids–older teen gorehounds are probably OK.

Three stars. And I’m looking forward to “Bereavement!”

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Movie review (horror): The Orphan Killer (2011)

August 5, 2011 at 11:26 pm (horror, movies)

YES MA”AM! Now this is what I’m talkin’ about! This is a low-budget, totally independent horror film that rocks harder than its kickass mostly-metal soundtrack.

The movie starts out as a straight-up homage to 80’s slashers. The plot is classic: the parents of two small children are killed in a senseless, brutal robbery. The kids, a little girl and a little boy, are sent to a Catholic orphanage. There’s something wrong with the little boy from the get-go–he’s violent and unpredictable. When he beats another kid nearly to death, the nuns separate him from his sister, torture him for the sake of his soul, and make him wear a monster mask all the time to keep the other kids away from him.

(Well sure, that’s over the top. But that’s what 80’s style horror is all about.) Years later, the sister is a teacher at the same Catholic school, which is no longer an orphanage. Everybody seems to have forgotten about the psycho brother, who’s still lurking around. Well, over the years, he’s come to blame his sister for his awful treatment at the hands of the nuns. He starts hacking his way through the school staff, working his way to his sister.

I should point out that the acting and direction in this movie are quite good, and the gore is delightful. The blood is a particularly spectacular color of red, and there’s plenty of it. All practical effects, and all very good. Okay, the occasional severed head is clearly a model, but they’re GOOD models. The level of gore is up there with some of my favorite French extreme movies. For some reason, the direction of the murder scenes made me think of “Frontiers.”

The movie takes an odd turn when the brother finally captures the sister. It gets a little torture porny, with the sister suspended by barbed wire around her wrists while being creatively carved by her brother. Surprisingly, the brother talks to her–he’d spent most of the movie grunting, but he waxes eloquent when he has his sister in his grasp.

She however,  turns out to be a seriously tough cookie. The fun really rolls when she starts kicking butt.

This movie is tense, well-paced, and relentless. I want to see more from writer/director Matt Farnsworth, who also plays a role in the movie. I wish more filmmakers, independent and otherwise, would put as much passion and energy into their movies.

Four stars!

Although unrated, this is definitely not for kids. May be OK for older teen horror enthusiasts, but keep it away from the younger set.

“The Orphan Killer” is a fine example of what talented people can do with a little money and inspiration.

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Movie review (horror): “Little Deaths” (2011)

August 3, 2011 at 11:09 pm (horror, movies)

This brand-new Brit anthology movie bills itself as “erotic horror.” It’s more like “watch this and you’ll never want to have sex again” horror.

The first of the three stories, “House and Home,” is predictable in the extreme. It’s also pretty distasteful. The “sex” is rape, and involves humiliation and copious bodily fluids. I could see the end of the story coming (so to speak) a mile away. The acting was terrific, but the script was so stale it was painful.

The second story, “Mutant Tool,” has an awesome title! It’s also desperately silly. The story involves a mutant person with a gigantic two-and-a-half foot frankendick that excretes the best hallucinogenic drug in the world. Said mutant is being held captive by an evil Nazi-ish doctor, who keeps the mutant chained up with its dick in a bucket and feeds it blenderized kidneys. Okay, I could get behind that, I guess. But a ridiculous “twist” ending that makes no sense pretty much ruins the whole thing. Oh, and there’s nothing the least bit erotic about this episode either. It’s just really, really squickie. Bleah!

The last story, “Bitch,” is brilliant. It’s about a gentle young man who’s in an abusive relationship with a really, really nasty young woman. He is sub to her dom in the playroom, which he doesn’t really enjoy, but he’s madly in love with her, and desperate to keep her. (This is NOT a happy, “Secretary” type situation!) When she’s not sexually humiliating him, she’s just generally treating him like crap. Finally, she goes too far, viciously breaking his heart. She has a single weakness, an extreme phobia, and he uses that to plot his horrific revenge. This segment isn’t easy to watch (none of them are), but it’s by far the best of the three. Again, not erotic. Just disturbing.

Three stars; almost all of them for “Bitch.” I wouldn’t recommend this movie to anybody but grownup hardcore horror fans.

And, um, don’t watch it with your sweetie on date night. It may be weeks before you get lucky again!

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Movie review (documentary): Hell’s Highway: The True Story of Highway Safety Films (2003)

July 22, 2011 at 10:45 pm (movies)

This is just what it sounds like–a history of highway “safety” films. In other words, the gruesome, bloody, gnarly Driver’s Ed movies that kids were (and still are) subjected to in high school. More specifically, the movie focuses on movies made by Ohio’s Highway Safety Foundation, under the direction of Richard Weyman.

Starting out with the history of the safety film, from the still photos and slideshows shown at county fairs to terrorize young drivers to the very worst of the splattery “educational” full-color gorefests, this docu is highly entertaining. Yep, it does show clips of the movies, so it’s not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. But what I found most interesting about it was the story of the Highway Safety Foundation. There’s no doubt whatsoever that they had kids’ best interests at heart when they filmed these things, but there’s also no doubt that they completely crossed the line here and there.

The bulk of the movie is about the highway safety films, but the docu also goes down some of the Highway Safety Foundation’s lesser-known side branches. One HSF project involved filming public bathrooms, but it was never released, because it evidently showed a number of prominent male Ohio citizens getting busy with other male Ohio citizens.

One of the HSF’s films that was released but probably shouldn’t have been was 1964’s “Child Molester,” which started with the dramatized kidnapping of two little girls, and ended showing actual police photos of the real victims’ bloody corpses. I don’t know if this was the HSF’s intention, but this thing was shown to entire classrooms of K-6th-graders. They actually showed snuff photos to 6 year olds! The filmmakers talk with a couple of brothers who saw this film when they were very small. “Traumatized” doesn’t begin to describe their experience.

As a high schooler in the 80’s, I saw plenty of driver’s ed movies. I honestly can’t say if they made me a better driver or not. I remember being horrified at the images on the screen, but I didn’t really connect them to myself or my friends. (Because, as a good friend just reminded me, teenagers are immortal. According to teenagers, anyway.)

The very worst of the driver’s ed movies were, imo, the ones with sound. It’s one thing to look at blood and guts on the screen while some judgmental narrator drones on about the driving mistakes perpetrated by the dead. It’s quite another to see a fatally injured person, still alive, and hear that person screaming. Some of those sounds and images are still seared into my brain.

Maybe that’s why I watched this documentary. I’m glad I did, because it really was fascinating. I always wondered who the hell shot those things, anyway. Well, now I know.

This is a two-disk set. The first disk has the movie, and the second has a collection of the original films, just in case you aren’t grossed out enough by the time you finish the docu. (I was plenty grossed out. I love splatter films, but only the ones with fake splatter. I actually have a low tolerance for real people suffering and dying on film.)

4 out of 5 stars

Not for kids. Aside from the gruesome highway accidents, the film also shows crime scene photos and surprise buttsecks. (You think I’m kidding about that last bit, but I’m not.)

Only for the seriously morbidly curious.

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Movie review (horror): Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

July 17, 2011 at 11:37 pm (dark comedy, horror, movies)

I don’t know how or why I managed to wait so long to see this movie. But I freakin’ loved it.

It really is a rock opera. There is almost no talking. I loved the music–it was varied and always interesting. I didn’t know Paul Sorvino had such an amazing voice! Anthony Stuart Head (of Buffy fame) kicked some major butt as the Repossesser.

What’s being repossessed are internal organs, so obviously, this movie is pretty gory. They don’t pull their punches on the splatter, and it’s high-quality stuff.

The story was interesting and it played out well. It sucked me completely in. I’ve watched it 3 times so far, and I’ve seen new details every time.

Rated R
5 stars!
Really, really bloody. Not for younger teens.

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Movie review (horror): Red Riding Hood (2011)

July 17, 2011 at 11:25 pm (horror, movies)

I know, I know, most of the serious horror fans I know thought this movie blew cheese. But it was actually a lot better than I expected.

I love Amanda Seyfried, and I love Gary Oldman. They were both terrific. To be clear, although most of the cast was very young, this was NOT a Twilight ripoff. The tone was very dark, and nothing supernatural sparkled.

The werewolf was a CG creation, but he was really cool-looking. Kind of a demonic Black Dog sort of fellow. I figured out who the werewolf really was before the reveal, but that’s OK. I watch so much of this stuff it’s hard to surprise me.

I couldn’t help but compare this movie to “The Company of Wolves,” which blows the doors off of “Red Riding Hood.” This movie was nowhere as deep or twisted. But I will say that I loved the sets. They were weird, not quite of this world, and totally immersive. I haven’t seen a village set quite that cool since Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow.”

Not enough blood. Werewolf movies should have tons of blood.

Rated PG-13
3 1/2 stars
Okay for young teens who aren’t easily spooked

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Movie review (horror): The Violent Kind (2010)

July 17, 2011 at 11:09 pm (horror, movies)

I so totally wanted to like this movie. Outlaw bikers vs. evil, possibly undead rockabillies? Yays! But it fell short of its potential.

There were a lot of good things here. Good characterization, good direction. The head rockabilly guy was exceptionally fun and evil.

I absolutely love what was implied in this movie. I’m not going to say what–don’t want to spoil it. But there’s such a thing as being too obscure. I don’t need (or even like) to have a movie spelled out for me like a kids’ book, but on the other hand, it’s nice to know WTF is going on.

The main plot element is revealed about halfway through the film, but it just isn’t developed enough. I was fascinated with that weird twist, and I wanted more. Never got it.

I’m not going to either recommend this movie, or discourage you from seeing it. If you’re a horror fan, you may enjoy it. Just don’t expect a coherent narrative. While “The Violent Kind” kept my attention, it also kind of bummed me out, because it could have been so much better.

Very good gore, BTW. All practical effects.

Rated R
3 stars
Pretty nasty stuff. Definitely not for kids or younger teens.

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Movie review (horror): Cold Prey (2006)

July 17, 2011 at 10:49 pm (horror, movies)

This Norwegian horror flick is basically an American-style slasher, with better characterization. I had high hopes going into the film, but nothing really tripped my trigger. There were good performances by the young actors, but the deaths weren’t particularly interesting. Any slasher film fan will figure out who the killer is in the first 15 minutes.

If I want to watch pretty young Norwegians die horribly, I’ll go watch “Dead Snow” again.

rated R
3 stars
Okay for teenage slasher fans, but they’ll probably get bored.

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It’s alive!

July 10, 2011 at 8:58 pm (books, movies, weird west)

Me, I mean. I’ve neglected my blog for 7 long months. But I’m getting back in the saddle again, so to speak! I like to review movies and books here, so I’ll mention a few.

If you haven’t read Under The Poppy by Kathe Koja yet, Go READ IT! It’s just fantastic. Not a horror story (despite very dark events at times), but a wonderful character study of the people who live in and around a highly unusual brothel. Great stuff!

I also just finished Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars by Cody Goodfellow. He is a fantastic writer, whether he’s writing alone, or with the eternally awesome John Skipp.  Silent Weapons is a collection of short stories, and there’s not a clunker in the whole book. Pick up something–anything–by Cody. You won’t regret it.

Dig zombies? Well, who the heck doesn’t? If so, go read Thom Carnell’s amazing book No Flesh Shall Be Spared. It’s an extremely original take on the zombie story. I don’t want to say too much and spoil the fun, but this is a book filled with zombies, badass cage fights, and nonstop action. I liked it so much I read it twice!

Movies: I just saw Jonah Hex. It almost made me cry. Not because it was sad or scary, but because they messed up my beloved childhood comic book SO BADLY! It wasn’t Josh Brolin or John Malkovich’s fault, they both turned in excellent performances. So did Megan Fox. (Yep, I’m afraid I like Megan Fox. I really liked “Jennifer’s Body,” and I’m unapologetic about it!) However, the script was so dumb is was practically brain dead. Sigh. It’s not very long, so if you like Weird West, Gatling guns, or watching stuff blow up, you might enjoy parts of it. There are individual scenes that had a lot of great visual style. It just could have been so much better.

Pretty grim stuff–probably not for younger kids. Believe the PG-13 rating on this one.

Yays, I broke my blog ice! I’ll be better about it, Girl Scout’s Honor.

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