Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Horror Recs Challenge 2014: Week 1 (January 1-7)

Yes, I meant to get this up 4 days ago when I should have, but you know how life is... So I'm off to a pretty good start on the recs challenge and managed to knock out nine films my first week, so here they are, plus some notes on each one.

Chop (2011; Trent Haaga) [Viewed Jan. 7]
This was better and more ambitious than I was expecting considering the extremely low budget, the general lack of attention it has received and the fact it involves numerous Troma alumni. Will Keenan (Tromeo and Juliet) stars as former crackhead Lance, who is terrorized by a mysterious, nameless man (Timothy Muskatell) who demands acknowledgment for something he had done to him in the past... only Lance cannot remember the guy or what he's supposedly done. This is a prime example of just how important a good screenplay is to a successful film; most especially a micro budget digital film that doesn't have the luxury to hide behind technical gloss and big name stars. The lead actors (especially Muskatell) are quite good and there are some genuinely hilarious moments in here as well as some gruesome scenes (played up for laughs mostly). This doesn't always walk that fine line between black comedy and torture-horror effortlessly (and becomes a little tedious in spots), but I liked it overall. Interestingly, this was released on the "Bloody Disgusting Selects" label and is given a glowing 4 Star Review on the Bloody Disgusting website. I call that Deja V/H/S. [USA] [Rec'd by shaza123★★1/2

Death Stop Holocaust (2009; Justin Russell) [Viewed Jan. 6]
Two college girls head to one's family vacation home on an island and are terrorized by a group of masked rapists / murderers. I don't like hating on this one cause I'm an Ohio boy and this was filmed in Cleveland but... meh. Kinda tired of these wanna-be throwback 'Grindhouse' films. 70s 'Our Feature Presentation' logo at the beginning? Check. Fake film grain? Check. Frequent fake film image burning out? Check. Intentionally wobbly camerawork and jagged editing? Check. 'Homaging' everything under the sun to the point where it completely lacks its own identity? Check. This one starts out alright and the photography and score are promising in spots, but it's mostly just dark and dreary (as opposed to scary and suspenseful), becomes extremely repetitive and then refuses to ever explain anything. About midway through I found myself bored... watching the clock... waiting for it all to end. Didn't care what happened to the main characters and the others had neither personality nor motive. All that said, I saw enough good here to believe this director is fully capable of something better if he'd just shake the Quentin Tarantino out of his system. [USA] [Rec'd by shaza123★★

Grabbers (2012; Jon Wright) [Viewed: Jan. 5]
Characters being yanked off-screen during shakycam monster attacks > picturesque shot of the Irish countryside > cutesy scene of the leads and their budding romance > picturesque shot of the Irish countryside > scene perpetuating the drunken Irish stereotype > picturesque shot of the Irish countryside. Rinse and repeat. Was this actually made by the Ireland Tourism Board or something? I started doing a full review for my blog and when I went over the screen caps I'd done, I noticed 75 percent of them were pretty scenic shots of the hills and ocean instead of the monsters or characters. I guess that says it all right there. Still, this is a harmless and somewhat amiable old-fashioned formula comic monster movie about alien squid thingys. On the downside, there are no real surprises, the humor is hit-or-miss and it strives for a lightweight tone yet sets that up against a dark, rainy atmosphere; a contrast that doesn't really work. On the plus side, the cast is decent, some of the dialogue is snappy and the CGI effects are well-executed for the budget. What I found most odd of all was its extreme fixation on drinking. I guess that's an Irish thing. The lead policeman character is a drunk and it's portrayed as being bad and negative, yet the supporting characters are mostly drunks themselves and they are shown as being harmless, quirky, fun-loving and extremely happy people. I'm not quite sure what to make of that. [Ireland / UK] [Rec'd by: Nan00k★★1/2

Kalevet (Rabies) (2010; Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado) [Viewed Jan. 7]
A small group of people - a pair of siblings, a park ranger, four teenagers, two cops - all end up in the woods with a psycho killer. Sound familiar? Absolutely. I even chuckled at how many people were dressed in immaculate white outfits at the start because I just knew they were gonna get all bloody. However, I doubt that anyone will anticipate how this film plays all its cards and in what order, most especially given the tired slasher set-up. I'd be a jerk to say why that is, so I won't. I will simply note that the filmmakers play up on cliches and our expectations to surprise us and, for the most part, they managed to pull it off. There are some definite echoes of Eden Lake here, but the unpredictability of how everything pans out is the ace up its sleeve. From what I've heard, this is the very first slasher / horror flick produced in Israel and I must say they are off to a pretty good start. [Israel] [Rec'd by peeptoad13★★★

Nekeddo burâddo: Megyaku (Naked Blood) (1996; Hisayasu Sato) [V. Jan. 4
I am still trying to process this one days later and I guess that's a good thing. There's a teen scientist using young ladies involved in a contraception study as his guinea pigs, girls infected with an untested extreme-pain-causes-extreme-pleasure drug self-mutilating themselves in disgusting ways, another girl who shares a virtual reality dream world with a cactus (?!), a possible ghost, several plot twists, flashbacks and other odd stuff going down in here. So does the director bring it all together at the end? No, not really; at least not in a way someone aside from himself is really gonna get. However, he does create genuine interest and provokes some thought, so he gets kudos for that much. There are some major gore moments in this one, as well, including an eyeball scene that makes the similar (and much more undeservedly famous) one in Hostel look positively lightweight by comparison. For a full review and screen caps CLICK HERE. [Japan] [Rec'd by alchemie666★★1/2

Retribution (1987; Guy Magar) [Viewed Jan. 3]
Not a great script, but it's extremely bold and vivid, nicely shot and I liked the affection the director showed for his characters. There are several inventive murder/gore scenes in here and the whole tacky and colorful aesthetic was simultaneously stylish and amusing. Oh yes, and an out-of-left-field reggae musical number and visit to "Doctor Rasta" does not hurt matters any either. I think most 80s horror fans will get some enjoyment out of it. For a full review and screen caps CLICK HERE. [USA] [Rec'd by Matheny85★★1/2

Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps (2010; Michael Steiner) [Viewed Jan. 7
*PICK OF THE WEEK* This was precisely the type of gem I was hoping to discover on this list; one I'd never even heard of before that I know I'll be revisiting in the future and recommending to others. Set primarily in 1975 (though there are modern scenes bookmarking the film), the plot involves a seductive, half-feral young woman (Roxane Mesquida) who shows up in a mountainous Swiss village and may or may not be responsible for a series of odd occurrences and deaths. This film does a very good job building up intrigue and keeping you guessing. We are never quite sure if the central female is actually a vengeful witch who makes dolls from human flesh (the "sennentuntschi" of the title) or just an abused and misunderstood amnesiac stuck in a region full of highly superstitious and religious people prone to lashing out at anyone different. The scenery and photography are both gorgeous, the acting is really good and the characters are interesting and well-defined. The only thing I disliked was how the plot and timeline were disassembled and rearranged, which was unnecessary and caused needless confusion at times. Otherwise, a very good film well worth seeking out. [Switzerland] [Rec'd by triggerhappy6★★★1/2

Stalled (2013; Christian James) [Viewed Jan. 6]
A pretty good premise (man trapped in a high rise office building's ladies restroom during a Christmas party as a zombie outbreak begins), some gore and OK zombie makeups, but it's spoiled by a terrible, charisma-free, completely unlikable lead actor (Dan Palmer) and awful dialogue provided by the same man in what is clearly a vanity project made by someone who fancies himself the next Simon Pegg. Keep trying there, buddy. Or better yet, just stop. I hate even bringing up Shawn of the Dead, but someone needs to tell Kim Newman to stop comparing every single British horror comedy to it just so he can get his name plastered on DVD covers and then I'll stop bringing it up myself. There are a couple of good gags in here, but way more extremely lame ones that don't work at all. And when it tries to go all deep and profound at the end, it's so forced, obvious and corny that you're likely to get a nice view of your ceiling as your eyes fall back into your skull. So this really could have been pretty good with a few alterations (new lead actor, re-written script), but I feel they pretty much botched the most important stuff. [UK] [Rec'd by sdaveak461/2

El Vampiro, El (The Vampire) (1957; Fernando Méndez) [Viewed Jan. 2]
Though el vampiro is "Count Lavud" nee "Mr. Duval," this seems like a pretty direct, by-the-numbers remake of Dracula. Much was swiped from the Universal film - too much for my liking really - but what it lacks in originality it somewhat makes up for by being nicely atmospheric. The art direction and sets are good, there's lots of swirling fog and some well-composed shots in here. The cast is decent, though I don't think Germán Robles will be making anyone forget Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee anytime soon. An Edgar Allan Poe-ish subplot helps liven up the finale. For a full review and screen caps CLICK HERE. [Mexico] [Rec'd by Zombie_CPA★★1/2

So there you have it. Week One in the can and I'll keep chipping away at THE LIST till I get this done. 

JAN. 1 - 7 STATS:
FTV (First Time Views) - 9
Repeat Views: 0
Total: 9 / 174


Anonymous said...

2. Justin Russell also did a slasher called The Sleeper. It suffered from a lot of the same problems, but was otherwise decent. I do wish he'd try his hand at something more original.
4. One of the few positive reviews I've seen for that one.
8. One of the few negative reviews I've seen for that one.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

- I definitely will check out more of Russell's work in the future and believe he's got a good film in him somewhere. He just needs to ditch that obvious faux Grindhouse aesthetic and try to come up with a screenplay that actually makes sense.
- Actually kind of surprised Kalevet has received a bunch of negative press because I liked how it spun around all the familiar slasher conventions to create something different.
- As far as Stalled is concerned, it annoyed me more than anything else and I'm really starting to get burnt out on all these low budget zombie comedies that have been saturating the market the past few years.

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