MOVIE REVIEW: TREMORS: A COLD DAY IN HELL

Posted in DVD, Gore, Monsters, Movies, Sequels with tags , , , , , , , on May 4, 2018 by darklordbunnykins

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The timing of the announcement seemed both odd and strangely fortuitous. Just one day before the May 1 home video release of the latest Tremors sequel, A Cold Day in Hell, the Syfy network declared that it was not picking up the Tremors TV show after all, despite shooting a pilot with the original film’s star Kevin Bacon last year. And while the prospect of seeing Bacon reprise his Valentine McKee character was tempting, perhaps it is for the best, as two Tremors franchises would be just too many Graboids for anyone’s taste. Plus the film series, starring the first film’s other star Michael Gross as cantankerous survivalist Burt Gummer, is, against all odds, entertaining as hell in its own right.

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This sixth Tremors film sees Burt on the verge of having his property in Perfection seized by the government – truly his worst nightmare come true – when he receives a call from scientists in the Canadian Arctic who report Graboid sightings. An incredulous Burt, accompanied once again by his smartass son Travis (Jamie Kennedy) and a small arsenal, hightails it to Canada to deal with the creatures, who turn out to be ancestors of the desert varietals previously seen, this time stirred up by global warming.

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Helmed by Tremors 5: Bloodlines director Don Michael Paul, A Cold Day in Hell sticks to the series’ strength: lean, mean Graboid action and snarky banter between Burt and Travis. The creature effects are impressive, and Gross and Kennedy are endearing as macho idiots who every once in awhile let their guards down to acknowledge their humanity and love for one another.

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There are weaknesses. Despite plenty of our flags being on display, the film’s Canadian credentials are a bit dodgy. (Even the excuse of global warming cannot hide the fact that the film was shot, like Tremors 5, in South Africa.) And a subplot involving a local military base that feeds into Burt’s conspiracy mindset is never really explored.

But those issues aside, A Cold Day in Hell is a strong Tremors film. Gross’s Burt Gummer is one of the great action movie heroes; a man motivated by resentment and paranoia but also fear. Despite Burt’s bravado, Gross engenders real affection and pathos with his portrayal of a rugged individualist whose devotion to his ideals has cost him dearly.

Leaving that seriousness aside, Cold Day is also fun, with lots of ooey, gooey Graboid guts splattered across the screen. We’re not sure where the franchise can go from here (Graboids in space? ), but wherever Burt Gummer goes, we are sure to follow.

BLU-RAY REVIEW: DEEP BLUE SEA 2

Posted in Blu-ray, Gore, Movies, Sequels with tags , , , , , on April 17, 2018 by darklordbunnykins

 

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It may only be a coincidence that the long-gestating sequel to 1999’s Deep Blue Sea, first announced ten years ago, is finally coming out just four months before Warner Bros., home to both projects, unleashes their long-gestating big-budget shark movie The Meg. Or it may not.

In any case, Deep Blue Sea 2 is now available for your viewing enjoyment, or rather it would be if it was at all enjoyable, which it is not.

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Filmed in South Africa, DBS 2 introduces us to Misty Calhoun (Danielle Savre), a scientist and shark conservationist hired by pharmaceutical magnate Carl Durant (Michael Beach) to consult on the behavior of a cadre of genetically-modified bull sharks. It seems that the belligerent beasties, whom Durant nominally controls via brain implants, have been sneaking out of their aquatic pens and feasting on local fishermen. Of course the sharks, whose intelligence has been boosted exponentially by Durant’s meddling, are controlled by no one, and shark munching mayhem ensues once a significant number of victims have been gathered at Durant’s offshore research facility.

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The original Deep Blue Sea, which essentially had the same plot, was an A-budget B-movie that reveled in its outrageousness. It also featured – spoiler alert for those who have not seen this 19-year-old movie – a spectacular Samuel L. Jackson death. Like, absolutely no-fucking-way! spectacular. You could call it a guilty pleasure, except we feel no guilt. Deep Blue Sea is awesome.

But the law of diminishing returns (and budgets) means that Deep Blue Sea 2 is, pardon the pun, pretty toothless. It rehashes key scenes from the original – will that anesthetized shark chomp on the scientist sticking his arm in its mouth? Will there be a sudden shark-related death of a major character? – while adding little that is original. We expect sequels to use their predecessor as a jumping off point, sure, but Deep Blue Sea 2 is peculiarly shallow given the amount of time that has passed since we first saw Jackson dragged away mid-motivational speech back in the last century.

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More importantly, DBS 2 is just not fun. The script is weak, the cast is only adequate, and the CGI sharks are menace-free. It’s too bad, but Deep Blue Sea 2 has no bite.

Deep Blue Sea 2 is available on DVD and Blu-ray starting today.

MOVIE REVIEW: PACIFIC RIM UPRISING

Posted in Aliens, Eye Candy, Monsters, Movies, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Sequels with tags , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2018 by darklordbunnykins

Film Title: Pacific Rim Uprising

No, Pacific Rim Uprising is not horror, but it has monsters – sorry, kaiju – so close enough for The DLB. It’s also not horrible, which was what I have to admit I was expecting from this sequel to Guillermo Del Toro’s only okay original. In fact, in many ways, it is a better movie that is even more fun.

Uprising takes place a decade after the Breach was closed. Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), son of war hero Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba, seen here in hologram), has been living a life of petty crime in a coastal city devastated by the giant monsters when he meets Amara (Cailee Spaeny), an orphan with a talent for making Jaegers out of junk. Arrested together, they are sent to Jaeger pilot boot camp where we learn that Jake washed out of the academy years ago, despite his potential. Now, in a bid to both honour his father and get out from underneath his shadow, he agrees to train a new generation of Jaeger pilots, including Amara. Activate redemption narrative now.

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Less obvious are some of the rather clever plot twists that follow, involving, sorry, cool new iterations of both Jaegers and kaiju. In fact, Uprising is surprisingly clever, despite a fellow critic’s not disrespectful pronouncement that it is “big, dumb, and fun.” Big and fun? For sure, but I also admired how director/co-writer Steven S. DeKnight and his team found a way to both honour Guillermo’s first film – which, to me, always felt more like one of his one-for-the-studio films, like Blade II, than, say, something personal The Shape of Water – and expanded that universe.

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Credit much of that success to Boyega’s charisma and humour, as well as expanded roles for scientists Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day). Their dynamic is particularly entertaining, even if it has changed significantly from the first film. (Go see it to find out what I mean.)

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Yes, there are some amazing new kaiju and some awesome mayhem, but the focus is as much on relationships and story, making Pacific Rim Uprising that rare sequel that, to my twisted mind, surpasses its predecessor.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: UNSANE

Posted in Movies, Reviews, Thriller with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2018 by darklordbunnykins

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Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film Contagion was terrifying in its depiction of how easily disease could devastate the planet. But Unsane is the prolific director’s first foray into horror, albeit with a sociopolitical edge that will let snobs to call it a ‘thriller’ instead.

The Crown‘s Claire Foy stars as the unlikely named Sawyer Valentini, a young executive who has moved from Boston to Pennsylvania to get away from her stalker David Strine (The Blair Witch Project‘s Joshua Leonard). The stress from that experience continues to fuck with her life so Sawyer books an appointment with a doctor from the first place that pops up in her researches, the Highland Creek Behavioral Center.

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Her first session at Highland seems to go well, but lurking within the sheaf of documents she hastily signs but does not read is a form that lets the facility hold her for 24 hours. Understandably upset, Sawyer tries to leave, but when she punches an orderly she has mistaken for Strine, her 24-hour stay is extended indefinitely. Thus begins an ongoing nightmare in which she is hassled by her fellow inmates, drugged into coherence, and, most horrifically, confronted by Strine who has followed her to Pennsylvania and secured a job, under an alias, at Highland.

Unsane is an uneven film whose strengths are undercut by unanswered questions. Most notably, how did Strine know that Sawyer would go to Highland for treatment? Is he just a lucky guesser? Is Sawyer just that unlucky?

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Leaving that massive plot hole aside, there is a lot of good work here. Foy is astounding as a terrorized woman struggling to maintain a life in the face of unwanted attentions. One scene depicting her confronting Strine within the confines of a padded cell is masterful in how Sawyer slowly turn the tables on Shrine, whose hollow-eyed menace crumbles in the wake of a strength born of the knowledge that she has power over him if she chooses to take it. Leonard is equally fascinating, depicting Strine as powerful and scary, yes, but also weak and child-like.

Unsane‘s depiction of mental illness is just realistic enough to be frightening, especially if you have ever visited someone confined to an actual mental health ward. Soderbergh includes a particularly evocative scene that depicts Sawyer’s experience of being drugged incorrectly (by Strine) that is harrowing in its surrealism. And the film’s back-story of how America’s private mental health industry attempts to confine patients who may not actually be ill in order to siphon off their insurance money – which is exactly Sawyer’s situation – is even scarier.

Unsane feels at times like a horror movie made by a director reluctant to admit to himself that he is actually making a horror film and is not overly familiar with the genre. That said, the young lady beside me at my screening was squirming in her seat and screaming at regular intervals from obvious discomfort. So good on you, Steven.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT

Posted in Gore, Movies, Reviews, Sequels, Soundtracks with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2018 by darklordbunnykins

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A sequel to 2008’s The Strangers has been promised for years so a horror fan might reasonably wonder whether too much time had passed for us to care about another (mis)adventure in the twisted lives of the psychopaths colloquially known as Dollface, Pinup, and the Man in the Mask. The answer comes with today’s release of The Strangers: Prey at Night, and the answer is a (fairly) resounding yes.

The movie follows a troubled but loving family of four – mom Cindy (Christina Hendricks), dad Mike (Martin Henderson), son Luke (Lewis Pullman) and daughter Kinsey (Bailey Madison) – on a final family outing before Kinsey, exiled for some unnamed offense, is to be shipped off to boarding school. But their road trip to visit relatives at a deserted trailer park descends into hell when the kids discover the mutilated bodies of said relatives and a stalk-and-slash ensues, with the kids running, hiding, but ultimately facing off against the terrifying trio.

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Director Johannes Roberts proved himself a competent manipulator of tension with the surprisingly good shark movie 47 Metres Down. Now, working from a script co-written by The Strangers director Bryan Bertino and gifted with a strong cast, he has crafted a tight little thriller that works because we believe that this family – as flawed as they may be – is just like us, and their torture and murder is excruciating to witness.

The movie, like its predecessor, claims to be “based on true events,” but how true that is does not matter. What does is that, yes, evil is banal and good people die for no good reason, something that is proven every day in every newscast. Do these people deserve to die at the hands (and knife points) of remorseless killers? No. And that is what is ultimately so terrifying about this film.

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For fans of the original, yes, Prey at Night is consistent with its stylish predecessor. The killers have no reason for their atrocities, which they commit against a background of ’80s pop fluff by the likes of Tiffany, Bonnie Tyler, and Air Supply. More importantly, like the troubled couple played by Luke Wilson and Liv Tyler in the first film, we see that violence is random and that bad things happen to good people. That may be obvious in times like these, but if it gives us more reason to hold our loved ones closer – including in the dark of a movie theatre – all the better.

MOVIE REVIEW: ANNIHILATION

Posted in Aliens, Beauty, Eye Candy, Fantasy, Monsters, Movies, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2018 by darklordbunnykins

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Paramount’s decision to sell Annihilation to Netflix for all territories outside Canada, the US, and China is great if it gets the film a wider audience than would pay to see it in a theatre. The shame is that Ex-Machina writer-director Alex Garland’s adaptation of the Jeff VanderMeer novel is a stunning work of art whose natural home is a darkened movie house. Indeed, on a big screen with a great sound system, Annihilation‘s thrills, chills, and ideas are that much more profound and intense.

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Left to right: Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson in ANNIHILATION, from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Natalie Portman (Black Swan) plays Lena, a soldier-turned-scientist whose military husband Kane (Ex-Machina‘s Oscar Isaac) returns to her a year after going missing. His assignment: to investigate the Shimmer, a mysterious phenomenon slowly engulfing the southern coast and making its way towards populated areas. An ill Kane is re-captured by the military, and Lena goes with him. Eventually she persuades Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the leader of the next team to go into the Shimmer, to let her come along. What she discovers there is best left unexplained, as it is alternately astonishing, beautiful, and terrifying.

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Indeed, while the IMDb classifies Annihilation as “Adventure, Drama, Fantasy,” it possesses a bloody streak of body horror. Some of the most genuinely weird and wild images ever seen in a big-budget Hollywood production are on display here, and its visual and thematic debt to both John Carpenter’s The Thing and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Annihilation mark it as a bold work of imagination.

‘THE GOTHIC IS A WAY TO ENTER THE TABOO.’ AN INTERVIEW WITH THE LODGERS SCREENWRITER DAVID TURPIN

Posted in Festivals, Ghosts, Goth, Interviews, Movies, Sex with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2018 by darklordbunnykins

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Everyone loves a good Gothic ghost story, especially one drenched in murder, dread, and the promise of deviant sex. The Lodgers delivers all these things, but director Brian O’Malley’s follow-up to the gory Let Us Prey is a far different if no less horrifying beast.

The setting is post-WWII rural Ireland. Charlotte Vega ([REC] 3: Genesis) stars as Rachel, a young woman living alone with her twin brother Edward (Bill Milner) in their decaying childhood home. The siblings, whose parents died years earlier, are cursed to stay in the house or suffer a terrible fate at the spectral hands of unseen beings. This terrifying childhood idyll is about to be shattered by the onset of adulthood, and Rachel’s diffident attraction to Sean (Eugene Simon, Game of Thrones), a newly-returned and wounded vet.

The DLB spoke with screenwriter David Turpin about The Lodgers during the film’s world premiere at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

On the origin of the script:

It was a game I played with myself as a child. We lived in a flat upstairs and there was another flat below us, and I used to imagine beings coming out of the lower part of the house while we were asleep. So that idea was always buzzing around in my mind from I guess when I was 5 or 6 years old.

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On the influence of Jean Cocteau’s 1929 novel Les Enfants Terrible (The Holy Terrors), also about isolated siblings whose bond is shattered by the pressures of adolescence:

And then I thought if you take that kind of weird sibling relationship and then you planted that within a Shirley Jackson world or a Turn of the Screw; you took that weird psychosexual thing, and you used the horror as a way of heightening it and sort of exploding it out.

 

On Shirley Jackson:

I love the eerieness she creates, the sense of evil, sometimes in the banal. I find her quite fascinating.

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The house as character as a trope in horror and Gothic literature:

When I was writing I was always visualizing the artist Edward Gorey. His designs for Dracula; those kinds of cavernous spaces, interiors that look like they’ve been burned down and people have continued living in them. I was thinking of those kinds of eerie, decrepit spaces.

I was also thinking of Shirley Jackson and Hill House and the house as a kind of organic beast. I was thinking of all the great dilapidated houses, like the one in Edward Scissorhands with the huge hole in the roof. All these wonderful places. The House of Usher.

 

On the haunted estate of Loftus Hall where much filming took place:

It seemed to pretty much perfectly capture what was on the page and also bring more to it. Because when you’re writing a script you don’t know how many sets you’re going to have, you don’t know basically what you’re going to be able to afford. How ambitious can your production design be?

There was a great production designer, Joe Fallover, who worked on it. But the house itself was such a gift because it came so close to what I imagined, even before Joe came in and added all his design to it.

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On twins:

The idea of someone who is you but isn’t you, it’s such a fascinating idea. You have all these great doppelgangers in Gothic literature and in film. There’s just something so incredibly uncanny about seeing yourself in another person. I always find it uncanny when I meet the children or parents of a friend of mine; you can see the genetic resemblance moving through the generations, and twins are the most extreme example of that.

One of the things I think horror helps us to do is explore very troubling psychological states; especially sexual things are very hard for us to talk about. And twins are a great way of exploring conflict within one’s self. The feeling that we all have of being torn, of being ambivalent or suspended between two different things; wanting something but needing something else; loving but hating something at the same time. And twins, because it’s two people, you can really visualize that. What the film is really about is these two young people are coming of age at the same time, they’re both at the beginning of sexual adulthood. One of them is able to process it and move forward, one of them is not able to process it, and is destroyed by it. I think everyone encounters a moment in their lives when they could go either way. And the great thing about the twins is they allow us to show both ways simultaneously.

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On the film’s deviant sexuality:

The gothic is a way to enter the taboo. And they’re not taboo just because they’re wrong; they’re taboo and they’re wrong and we want to know what it feels like. The gothic allows us to step into the unacceptable and live the unacceptable.

Those ideas of warped or wrong sexuality… I love the original Cat People, which is a film about bestiality. Paul Schrader’s remake of Cat People touches on both bestiality and incest. Much of horror is about frightening us and exciting us. It’s also about creating a safe space to talk about things that are deeply troubling and about giving us a set of metaphors so that we can talk about things that we may not know how to express otherwise. It’s sort of like dreams in that way.”

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On the rules Rachel and Edward follow:

I’m very interested in folklore, folktales, and oftentimes they’ll involve quite a schematic idea, or in the way in a folktale they’ll be a repeated rhyme, like in Hansel & Gretel. And I wrote the words of the little song quite early in the writing of the film. And it just seemed to me that if you lived in this weird closed world where you were sealed off from everything else you would have a series of codes that you lived by that are very strict. And it became a metaphor for the idea of sexual rebellion and the idea that we are all kept in check by various rules, and we all need to transgress past those rules to know who we are. But at the same time society says, ‘Transgress past these rules and you will be destroyed.’ So becoming an adult is finding a way to transgress the rules just enough to be able to live and know yourself and not be destroyed.

 

On fate:

I guess the closest we come to [Edward in gothic fiction] is Roderick Usher. And I always loved in The Fall of the House of Usher the way though there’s a curse on the family, there’s some kind of security in that, in that it gives him a way of understanding the world. Like so many of us I don’t know what the world is about! I feel very lost a lot of the time. I think most people do. But Roderick Usher, and Edward in our story, they understand; they know what the world is about. It’s about this curse, it’s about this fate. They aren’t fluffing around in the breeze not knowing what to do. I guess it’s the way some people’s identity can be shaped by their victimization.

There’s also in the idea of fate and the curse; the transgression is so extreme that it can go down from generation to generation. And I think we’re all fascinated by those ideas of curses, and horror gives us a way to look at that. It’s so much part of human history, the feeling that one might be cursed because of what one’s ancestors had done. I teach a little bit of American gothic literature. The idea that America as a country is haunted because there is a horrible blood crime at the root of what America is. It’s fascinating, the idea that your crimes will return, and they’re so extreme that they’ll return for generations after you. You may not pay for your crimes, but eventually somebody on your side will.

The Lodgers opens in limited release in the US and on iTunes Feb. 23.