Film Review: What We Do In the Shadows (2014)

Release Date: January 19th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Written by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Music by: Plan 9
Cast: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford

Resnick Interactive Development, Unison Films, Defender Films, Funny or Die, New Zealand Film Commission, Madman Entertainment, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah, some of our clothes are from victims. You might bite someone and then, you think, ‘Oooh, those are some nice pants!’.” – Viago

*written in 2014.

What We Do In the Shadows is a New Zealand horror comedy that I have wanted to see for quite some time. I saw the trailer over a year ago but the film had a hard time getting distribution in the United States, even though it stars Jemaine Clement from HBO’s Flight of the Conchords and is made by some of the same people. Since it is now on Amazon’s video on demand service, I purchased it.

The film is done as a mockumentary following four vampires who live together in a flat in urban New Zealand. It shows their lives, how they make it in the modern world, examines their long friendships with one another and how they view and interact with the rest of the world. What We Do In the Shadows not only gives us vampires but it showcases werewolves, zombies, witches and other paranormal entities and how they work through their issues in a world together.

The cast in this movie is phenomenal. Each character in any other film would be a spotlight stealer but in this movie, they all shine and they all grab onto the spotlight and don’t let go from the first frame until the last.

You have Vladislav, the vampire played by Jemaine Clement, who was once a master of supernatural seduction but lost his mojo after confronting “The Beast”. Viago is a vampire that was a Victorian dandy who still embraces that style and culture. Deacon is a vampire who believes himself to be the ultimate sex magnet while ignoring his share of the chores in the flat. The fourth vampire is Petyr who is a temperamental 8,000 year old vampire that looks like Count Orlock from Nosferatu. The cast is then rounded out by a few other great characters that challenge the vampires and their relationships with humans and other creatures.

To call this film “hilarious” is an understatement. There hasn’t been a horror comedy this good since Shaun of the Dead and to be honest, this movie may be a bit better. There isn’t a scene that goes by that doesn’t have you laughing out loud. The thing that makes it work so well, is the fact that you truly care about the characters and their struggles. No one is just fodder for comedy, they all serve a real purpose and feel like real characters despite the absurdity of their situations.

What We Do In the Shadows is a rare comedy masterpiece. I haven’t enjoyed any comedy this much in years. If you are a fan of horror that is funny, this should be right up your alley.

Film Review: I Walked With A Zombie (1943)

Release Date: April 21st, 1943 (New York City)
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Written by: Curt Siodmak, Ardel Wray
Based on: I Walked With A Zombie by Inez Wallace
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: James Ellison, Frances Dee, Tom Conway

RKO Radio Pictures, 69 Minutes

Review:

“I thought voodoo was something everyone was frightened of?” – Betsy Connell, “I’m afraid it’s not very frightening. They sing and dance and carry on. And then, as I understand it, one of the gods comes down and speaks through one of the people.” – Paul Holland

Hollywood producer Val Lewton had a pretty good stint at RKO, a studio that was instrumental in the development of film-noir. After Citizen Kane proved to be a financial dud for them, at least initially, RKO wanted to have a branch that focused on B-movies in the same way that Universal had done with their hugely successful monster franchises.

In came Lewton, a man that created some great horror pictures for RKO but unlike Universal, Lewton’s were more adult and more serious films. They were initially just viewed as B-horror pictures in the same vein as Universal’s work but over the years, the Lewton produced horror films at RKO started to get the recognition they deserve as something greater than just makeup and fur slapped on Lon Chaney Jr.

I Walked With A Zombie is the film that Lewton supposedly loved the most out of his horror work for RKO. The quality of this picture also has a lot to do with Lewton picking the right men for the job.

Jacques Tourneur was selected as the director and he did a few other pictures with Lewton for RKO: The Cat People and The Leopard Man, both of which were also really solid films. He would go on to do the film-noir classic Out of the Past and get back into horror with the underrated Night of the Demon and a couple Vincent Price pictures in the 1960s for American International.

The script was penned by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray. Siodmak had already written a bunch of scripts that got turned into monster movies by Universal. So Lewton grabbing him was probably a good way to try and emulate Universal’s success for RKO. Plus, Siodmak could write more mature horror features that were smarter than his work in the Universal Monsters franchise.

I Walked With A Zombie is a pretty great film for what it is. It has a sort of film-noir visual allure to it while being in a lush Caribbean setting. Also, it is a zombie movie, albeit not of the modern style, this is a subtle suspense thriller that has voodoo zombies (my favorite kind of zombie, actually) and is more of a tale about the religious island culture of the West Indies.

This is a rather short film but that was the norm with these Lewton produced horror flicks. Regardless, the story is solid, well paced and the actors do a good job with the material. Frances Dee feels like a real person in a real situation in a time when acting tended to be overly dramatic, especially in the horror genre.

I like this film a lot and it was cool discovering it now, as I got to see it without nostalgia playing a factor. Lewton, Tourneur and Siodmak turned out a very good picture that unfortunately, not a lot of people know about. But that’s probably because it doesn’t feature famous monsters and it isn’t overtly horror, despite the catchy title.

Film Review: Tales of Terror (1962)

Release Date: July 4th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: MorellaThe Black CatThe Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Joyce Jameson

American International Pictures, 89 Minutes 

Review:

“Haven’t I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I’m genuinely dedicated to your destruction.” – Montresor Herringbone

Director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price collaborated on several motion pictures for American International in the 1960s. Most of their movies were adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work. They also dabbled in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Nathaniel Hawthorne but it was the poems and stories of Poe that drove most of their collaborations.

This film, is a rare one, as it is an anthology piece that covers three Poe inspired tales. Traditionally, Corman picked a Poe title and turned it into one solid feature. Tales of Terror was a bit more experimental and was able to showcase famous Poe stories that wouldn’t have worked as a 90 minute feature, The Cask of Amontillado for instance, which was mixed into this film’s second story, The Black Cat.

Vincent Price is the only actor to star in all three stories. However, Peter Lorre really steals the show as Montresor Herringbone. He is only in The Black Cat, the middle and longest of the three stories, but it is one of the greatest comedic performances in Lorre’s career. Then again, every time Lorre played the comic relief opposite of Price, the results were always fantastic.

Price also works with Basil Rathbone, another horror legend. We also get to see Debra Paget and Joyce Jameson, two women who would work with Price and Corman again.

Tales of Terror is a solid outing by Corman and Price and it has the same tone and vibe as their other Poe adaptations. The anthology format makes it the most unique and different of these pictures. Plus, it has two really good stories, out of the three. The first one, my least favorite, is still entertaining though, and it is also the shortest.

This is definitely a picture worth checking out if you like Price, Corman or Poe. It is one of the best in their series of these pictures.

Video Game Review: Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (PlayStation)

*I played the PlayStation version. The game is also available on Windows and Sega Dreamcast.

Man, this game is almost twenty years-old but boy did it feel pretty sweet playing it again. In fact, in 1999, this was probably my favorite game. Although, I was still playing through the first Metal Gear Solid and Tenchu: Stealth Assassins on an almost monthly basis. What set this apart from those great games however, was just how massive this game felt in scope. It felt like the most epic video game since I played the first Zelda, as a kid about twelve years prior.

The world in this game is huge and meant to be explored. There is a sequence that you are supposed to play the game in but truthfully, you can skip around if you want and it makes this one of the first games ever to have that sort of freedom. There are several kingdoms to save throughout the game and every one of them is pretty simple to get to and explore. Sure, some are much more challenging and for the true gaming experience and to properly follow the story, they should be done in a specific sequence (similar to a MegaMan game) but the freedom does exist.

The graphics for the time were great. It is blocky and primitive looking today but despite that, it is still a beautiful game to look at and not hard on the eyes at all.

The really cool thing about this game is not just the great story but the entire mythos. Certain things were established in this games predecessor Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen. However, this game expands on that greatly. It takes vampires and presents them in a cool new way. They have evolved and become world-ruling super beings. As the main character Raziel evolves further than his master Kain, he is punished for it and destroyed. He awakens centuries later to see the horrid results of further evolution by his vampiric brethren.

Each vampire brother is a boss in the game and each has evolved in an unusual way that makes each kingdom, each vampire army and each boss a refreshingly new experience. There is nothing repetitive about this game and it has some of the best boss battles in video game history. This, along with Metal Gear Solid, were standard-bearers on the PlayStation One platform for what boss battles could and should be.

I feel like this game and this series has been somewhat forgotten over the years but it is a classic and is still fun almost two decades later.

Film Review: House (1977)

Also known as: Hausu (Japan)
Release Date: July 30th, 1977 (Japan)
Directed by: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Written by: Chiho Katsura, Chigumi Obayashi
Music by: Asei Kobayashi, Mickie Yoshino
Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Ai Matubara, Kumiko Oba, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Yōko Minamida

Toho Co. Ltd., 88 Minutes

Review:

“She eats unmarried young girls. It is the only time she can wear her wedding gown.” – Gari

I don’t think that anyone can argue that House is not one of the most bizarre motion pictures ever made. It’s certifiably insane but I mean that in the best way possible. Frankly, it is one of the most unique film experiences I have ever had. It’s so unique that I’m not surprised it hasn’t reached a larger cult status.

It is hard to describe what the film is. It’s like someone strung together a couple old Japanese folktales of yōkai, handed the directorial reigns over to Dario Argento and told him he had to take a bunch of LSD before rolling the camera.

The story itself is fairly simple. We follow seven Japanese schoolgirls who go into the country to stay at the house of an auntie of one of the girls. Except when they get there, things start to get weird and girls start going missing.

The cool thing that sets all the girls apart, is that each one is a stereotype of some kind with a nickname that fits the stereotype. Kung Fu is a badass martial arts chick, Prof is a brainy girl, Fantasy tells stories with lots of embellishments, Melody plays the piano, etc.

The film also utilizes trippy animation and physical environments constructed of very obvious matte painting backdrops. While this may look cheap at first, it creates a true fantasy world that doesn’t even scratch the surface with how weird this film will get as it continues to roll on.

The special effects for a lower budget Japanese film in the 1970s aren’t much to write home about but this film makes the most out of its limitations and because of the strange environment, the effects are easy to accept. This is a film that you just have to roll with but rolling with it is actually quite easy. It has this endearing hokiness that is infectious.

The acting is on par with a 1970s Japanese tokusatsu program. If you’re a fan of the UltramanKamen Rider or Super Sentai franchises, you know what I’m talking about. It isn’t great acting but it is comedic, physical, overstated and fun. Most of the actors are amateurs but they handled the material well and felt like authentic girls being themselves.

There is some really artistic gore in this but nothing too disturbing. A lot of it is mixed with animation or as a part of a visual collage. Also, the colors are vibrant and the gore is reminiscent of what you would see at the height of the Italian giallo movement. The film could even be described as a Japanese folktale mixed with Alice In Wonderland and some vivid blood splatter.

Trying to quantify what the entirety of this picture is with words isn’t an easy task. Maybe the trailer below will help. Regardless, this is a film worth experiencing at least once in your lifetime.

Film Review: Night of the Demons (1988)

Release Date: October 14th, 1988
Directed by: Kevin S. Tenney
Written by: Joe Augustyn
Music by: Dennis Michael Tenney
Cast: William Gallo, Hal Havins, Amelia Kinkade, Cathy Podewell, Linnea Quigley

Paragon Arts International, Republic Pictures, International Film Marketing, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Eat a bowl of fuck! I am here to PARTY!” – Stooge

I’ve never been a huge fan of this 80s horror picture. While it does have its fans and it went on to have sequels and a remake, it just never hit the mark for me.

Night of the Demons feels like someone wanted to make their own version of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead mixed with Lamberto Bava’s Demons with an added in teen sex comedy element. That’s not a bad mixture, really, but the film feels cheap and like a retread without much of anything new to offer.

Plus, the demons look so repulsive and off putting that it is almost a distraction. At least Bava’s Demons had amazing style and was more creative with its visual repulsiveness.

The makeup is pretty good, considering the quality of the rest of this film’s special effects. However, the demon dragon skeleton thing looks like a character from The Muppets, even if it is supposed to be the embodiment of pure evil. It’s an awful monster that looks as if it were constructed by some kid that didn’t know how to assemble one of those wooden dinosaur bone puzzles. Also, everything else looks just as amateurish.

The cinematography, the shots, the lighting – it’s all bad.

The acting doesn’t get any better than the rest of the film’s faults and really, you don’t care for a single person in this mess of a film.

The only really cool thing with the picture was the main girl dressing up like Alice from Alice In Wonderland. It helped to give the film an otherworldly vibe and the girl felt like a real fish out of water except it was Alice in Hell instead of Wonderland.

I also liked the use of Bauhaus’ “Stigmata Martyr” when Angela was transforming into a demon with her strange dance.

Also, Linnea Quigley is in this so boobies are guaranteed. But she’s the biggest star, which goes to show the quality of talent in front of the camera.

Night of the Demons is a forgettable film, other than it pushing the bar with its repulsiveness.

Film Review: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Release Date: October 22nd, 1982
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Written by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Nancy Loomis, Jamie Lee Curtis (uncredited voice), Tommy Lee Wallace (uncredited voice)

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Debra Hill Productions, Universal Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I do love a good joke and this is the best ever: a joke on the children.” – Conal Cochran

*written in 2015.

Prepare to be scared shitless. Okay, maybe not shitless. But prepared to feel really uncomfortable, unsettled and really creeped out by this unique and bizarre film that truly is one of a kind.

This film currently has a rating of 4.4 on IMDb. That’s some bullshit and I think that the only reason it rates so low is because it is a film with the name Halloween on it and Michael Myers is nowhere to be found. Had this been its own film with its own name, it would probably not have some weird stigma or Michael Myers fanboy backlash. Then again, had it been called something else, it might not have survived as long as it has, simply because its existence is an enigma.

So why is this a Halloween film when it doesn’t feature Michael Myers or anything related to those stories?

Well, back in the day, John Carpenter didn’t even want to do the Halloween II that we got. His original plan for the series was to have a different story each year for each new film in the series. The studio however, wanted more Michael Myers and an agreement was reached that Carpenter would give them more Michael Myers and he would be allowed to make a third film in the series any way he saw fit. What resulted was confusion. Confusion that led to a big hiatus between this film and the fourth film, which ultimately, brought Michael Myers back to the franchise and saw him go on to star in every sequel and remake thereafter. In the end, this film gets an unfair bad rap and is usually skipped over by those having a Halloween marathon or sneered at when it pops up on AMC during the MonsterFest season. In fact, AMC may be ignoring it now too, as I haven’t seen it in the TV listings this year.

The thing is, this film is great. It is actually one of my favorite horror movies of all-time. I can’t come upon the Halloween season and not pop this into the DVD player. Actually, I’m sure I will catch shit for this, but I prefer this movie over all other films in the Halloween series. Yes, even more so than the 1978 classic that introduced the world to Michael Myers.

This film has the absolute best atmosphere of any film in the series. It is beyond creepy and as a kid, this terrified me much more than some guy in a mask walking around silently and slowly with a knife. There is just something more sinister to a child viewer (me) seeing another child in a film put on a Halloween mask that turns their head into a pile of bugs, worms and venomous snakes in a very painful way. Sorry, this is way more effective than another slasher film. And no, despite claims from everyone, Michael Myers was not the first slasher and the concept of Halloween was lifted from the original Black Christmas and what its director wanted to do with his plan for sequels – an anthology of films all associated with different holidays.

Tom Atkins plays the lead in Halloween III and is as great as always. He’s never a likable character really, he is just a solid actor that doesn’t try to be a hero, he is usually just a typical human male caught up in an inhuman or extraordinary situation.

Dan O’Herlihy (best known as the head of OCP in the original Robocop) is awesome as the evil Conal Cochran, the man who wants to kill the world’s children and pretty much everyone else. His tool of destruction is his best-selling Halloween masks. And although his motivations are never really made clear and his sinister plot never really explained in a way that makes much sense, you know that you are looking at pure evil and he embodies an almost satanic presence.

This film almost has a Lovecraftian vibe to it, mixed with that magic John Carpenter touch and a bit of dark science fiction. Even though Carpenter only produced this film, it promotes his visual style well and it is only enhanced by his majestic and eerie soundtrack.

4.4 on IMDb? People have no fucking taste.