Sunday, October 31, 2010

Red Eye Reviews on the Way

Hey, guys. I just wanted to drop in with a quick explanation as to why I've fallen behind on the reviews. Plain and simple, work and real life have taken up a good chunk of my time, and while I've watched all the flicks, it's been hard to sit down and write or summon the energy to even start. But I've only a few reviews left to write up, so in the next couple of days, we should be good to go.

Again, thanks for sticking by, and I hope you enjoyed this year's October Horrorthon. If you have any ideas for potential themes for next year's fright fest, feel free to leave a comment below.

Take care, and have a kickass Halloween!

-A.J. Hakari

The Red Eye Report's 2010 October Horrorthon #31: "Rosemary's Baby"

(Review on the way!)

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Red Eye Report's 2010 October Horrorthon #29: "Saw 3D"

Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell) has had enough. She barely put up with ex-husband John (Tobin Bell) being the notorious Jigsaw, but with Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) bent on continuing the game, it's Jill's duty to slam shut this book of blood herself. Unfortunately, Hoffman survived his own trap at the end of Saw VI, and with a fresh scar on his mug, he's after Jill and playing for keeps. In the meantime, former Jigsaw victim Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery) has made a fortune helping others like him come to terms with life after their horrible experiences. But Bobby has a secret that's gotten him into trouble, as he's kidnapped and forced to endure a whole gauntlet of torturous obstacles that ensure Jigsaw's final hours be the goriest of all.

Saw 3D claims it's the last of the series, and ready or not, I'm sure as hell done. It's time for any series to close up shop with the big draw is that you don't have to watch it anymore. Of course, this is hypothetical -- they said the same thing about The Final Destination, but the next one's in production -- so the almighty dollar will ultimately dictate how many more Saws we'll need to slog through. But it sucks that Saw 3D is in such a big hurry to wrap itself up to begin with. Four years ago, I would have been ravenous for another of Jigsaw's twisted tales, but at this point, even the filmmakers feel like they're sick of the routine. Saw 3D displays the most cavalier attitude towards killing off characters that we've seen yet, hoping to Etch-a-Sketch away all its loose ends instead of providing a halfway respectable resolution.

Maybe if Saw 3D actually emphasized Jigsaw's deranged moral code -- you know, the thing that was so fascinating that we got a zillion sequels because of it -- then it might've brought the entire series full circle. But no, this fully bought into the spectacle that viewers have come to expect from the franchise and left whatever was thought-provoking about it behind. There's no love in these frames, just an empty ordeal that hasn't the self-awareness that made The Final Destination a blast when it wasn't even trying to be funny. If anything, the most grotesque death scenes have been saved for last -- heads are crushed, jaws are ripped off, and flesh is peeled before the bloodthirsty public, with the added touch of having all this fly at them in the third dimension. But strangely, the amped-up violence actually makes this feel less like a legit Saw sequel and more like a cash-in, a la Captivity. The fact that Tobin Bell is barely around doesn't help, and while Cary Elwes' character from the 2004 original pops up, the way he's used here is exactly as cheap and unimaginative as I'd feared.

Depending on how you've regarded the series to date, Saw 3D will play to either your dismay or delight. Some will be bummed to see this genre war horse take its final bows (maybe), while this supposedly last chapter will have been a long time coming for others. But even if the box office gods decree that Jigsaw live to slice and dice another day, Saw 3D is a bust on its lonesome, a follow-up that throws in the towel well before its blades whir to a stop.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Red Eye Report's 2010 October Horrorthon #28: "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1961)

Roger Corman cranked out some crap in his time, but those hours spent with Vincent Price were among his most golden. 1961's The Pit and the Pendulum is no exception, starring the diabolic Mr. Price as mentally-unstable nobleman Don Nicholas Medina. Medina's father was a deranged torturer in the Spanish Inquisition, and the basement of his ancestral castle is still packed with all manner of ghastly contraptions. It's this terrible history that Medina suspects drove his wife Elizabeth (Barbara Steele) to her death, but her brother Francis (John Kerr) isn't convinced. Francis is determined to show that the supernatural had nothing to do with his sister's demise, but his ensuing investigation provokes not only outside forces but also a madness brewing within Don Medina that's pushing him closer to picking up where his papa left off.

Team up Corman, Price, and Edgar Allan Poe, and you usually got an American International picture that was not only tolerable but downright awesome. Yeah, War-Gods of the Deep was a bore, and The Haunted Palace was more Lovecraft than Poe, but in any case, this combination still had a solid batting average. The Pit and the Pendulum is arguably the most remembered of the bunch, eclipsing the superior (in my humble opinion) The Fall of the House of Usher thanks to its memorable images and a plot that cannonballs into pure madness. You may not think of it as an epic production today (with only a $200K budget behind it), but it was by Corman standards, and though it's still rough around the edges, the extra effort put into it makes all the difference. The costuming and production design are just fine, but The Pit and the Pendulum really shines through its Richard Matheson script, which isn't meant to frighten on a base level but to suggest deepseated terrors that last forever and rear their heads when least expected.

Corman has a ball playing with Price's character, who comes across as surprisingly complex. Price has played countless kooks over the years, but it's never clear off the bat if Don Medina is a sinister mastermind or victim of a psychological conspiracy. In any case, we get another classic Price performance out of the deal, as he plays "wounded" as well as he plays "off-his-freaking-rocker." The remainder of the cast buckles a bit under Price's weight (especially Kerr's hero, with all the personality of a plastic picnic spoon), but everyone does their jobs well enough, with Steele pulling overtime as the obligatory and quite alluring eye candy). Even the main mystery has a sturdy structure, the intricacies kept from coming together long enough for viewers to get their fill on wondering what in the hell is really going on. Once Corman's made with the revelations, the film just kind of piddles around for the last ten minutes or so, though it's in this chunk that the image of a giant swinging blade edging towards Kerr's stomach forever etches itself in the minds of movie fans.

Showing remarkably few hints of age in the almost 50 years since its release, The Pit and the Pendulum can still unsettle any and all comers. While it has little to do with Poe's original story, the movie does a great job of matching its visuals with those Poe's readers conjure in their own minds. With eerie atmosphere, effective suspense, and a premise exploited to an unusually fascinating degree, The Pit and the Pendulum is one vintage horror great that's far from dated.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Red Eye Report's 2010 October Horrorthon #27: "Zombie Self-Defense Force"

When the first five minutes of your movie include UFOs, radiation, and George Romero references, you know it can't end well. Sure enough, when aliens crash-land in suburban Japan, the ensuing fallout spawns hungry hordes of the walking dead. Any who die for whatever reason rise again as ghouls, and even the old "shoot 'em in the head" stand-by isn't enough to put these suckers down. As the zombie ranks swell, survivors spanning a group of soldiers on maneuvers and a spoiled pop idol come to gather at a secluded country inn. But the situation only grows more dire as the undead continue to congregate, with the gang's only hope of escape resting with an army grunt who has a secret not even she's aware of.

So there's these guys in a house against a zombie apocalypse -- oh, wait, you've heard this one already? Yeah, and it seems like the rest of the world has, too. No matter how versatile the undead have become over the ages, it's the oldest of hats that we see filmmakers don time and again. The best shot at being entertained is if someone plays the formula for goofs, so in this respect, Zombie Self-Defense Force is a step in the right direction. The film is fully aware of how many thrill-seeking hipsters and horror nuts will seek out anything with a whiff of controversy, so it plays its slim 76 minutes to a sensationalized hilt. Everything this movie can do to draw attention to itself, it does, and you know from the start that not a frame is to be taken seriously. But while there isn't a zombie genre cliche that's not addressed here, the trouble is that the flick does jack-all with what it's got.

Zombie Self-Defense Force subscribes to the Friedberg/Seltzer theory that just mentioning things constitutes good satire. Other than merely bringing up that one guy who's clearly hiding a zombie bite or how the most hateful character gets the goriest death scene, the film does nothing funny or observant with its material. It tries to coast on pure crazy, which helped make Monster X Strikes Back go by more quickly but leaves this one gasping for air. And just like Monster X, it chucks in a political angle that goes nowhere, matters little to what plot there is, and comes off as pretty damn vague to begin with. For what positions itself as a silly gorefest, Zombie Self-Defense Force isn't a whole lot of fun, and the uneven special effects don't help much. You'll get an impressive set piece once in a while (such as when the zombies pull a Rhodes on an unfortunate soldier), but most of the blood splatters and gore geysers look like they were drawn with "Mario Paint."

I hate to beat up on Zombie Self-Defense Force for doing what made the likes of Versus so damn awesome, but it goes to show you how vital execution is, especially with horror. It's not enough that you have zombies shuffling about; if you have passion, creativity, and, God forbid, a budget, chances are that you'll have a cult favorite on your hands. But when Zombie Self-Defense Force takes the easy way out, true bloodhounds can smell the dull disinterest from a mile away.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Red Eye Report's 2010 October Horrorthon #26: "You'll Find Out"

Just when you thought you'd seen every old dark house movie -- well, here's another one. But in lieu of Bob Hope or Creighton Hale prowling about a spooky abode, You'll Find Out features Kay Kyser, star of stage, radio, and apparently haunted mansion flicks. On loan from their College of Musical Knowledge, Kay and his ragtag band are hired to play at the 21st birthday gala of pretty young Janis Bellacrest (Helen Parrish). The shindig is being held at her ancestral home, where the spirit of her eccentric father is said to still roam the halls. But the house has attracted some flesh-and-blood terrors, as an old judge (Boris Karloff), a phony psychic (Bela Lugosi), and a gap-toothed mythbuster (Peter Lorre) have teamed up to swindle Janis out of her healthy inheritance. With all the strength a wimpy wisecracker like him can muster, Kay sets out to brave the Bellacrest house of horrors and keep Janis out of harm's way.

You'll Find Out is a scary movie that normal people can feel good about watching -- which is to say it isn't scary at all. It's more in tune with The Cat and the Canary, only with even more emphasis on humorous shenanigans. The spooky side of the story is pushed aside a lot, as You'll Find Out was essentially made as a vehicle for the Kay Kyser players. As such, we get a ton of musical interludes that pop up without much rhyme or reason, and this film having been made in 1940, they can be mighty lame (the "Bad Humor Man" number alone sent me into a corniness coma). The only things to fear here are Kay's one-liners and the slapstick set pieces, which make Abbott and Costello's schtick look like Bill Hicks material. Even the main mystery doesn't seem to have been given much thought, considering it's not even really a mystery. The bad guys are revealed not even halfway into the movie, and while it's part of the joke that an oblivious Kay puts his trust in the nogoodniks, it's a reach just to make him look like an even bigger doofus.

But in spite of it all, I'd be lying if I didn't say that You'll Find Out didn't warm up to me at least a little bit. The humor is campy and dated, sure, but neither your intelligence nor the cast's dignity suffers for it. It has an innocent spirit that's hard to hate, and it doesn't treat its thrill-centric side as a total joke. Karloff, Lugosi, and Lorre are all in on the act, and all three give surprisingly wonderful performances. Lugosi was a treat in particular, playing the role of a self-important psychic straight and getting more laughs for it (there's even a silly seance scene with a few freaky tweaks). Plus, for as many cheesy songs there are, some can be extremely charming, especially the Oscar-nominated "I'd Know You Anywhere" -- it hasn't a thing to do with the story, but it's a good tune anyway, dammit. Kay Kyser himself also carries on a fine tradition of film cowards, playing the part of unlikely hero, who's more liable to throw out snarky quips than battle the forces of darkness head-on.

You'll Find Out isn't terrible funny, and it's even less suspenseful, but I can't rag on it too much. The sentimentality seeps from every pore, and despite the best efforts of that cranky old fart in all of us, we can't help but be charmed by the earnestness of the production. You'll Find Out comes in a set with three other Karloff/Lugosi cheese wheels, so if you've got the stomach for some serious saccharine, this well-meaning ditty will be a breeze to watch.