Film Reviews: “Bereavement” (2010)

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Written and directed by Stevan Mena.
Starring Michael Biehn, Alexandra Daddario, and Spencer List.

In a small country town, a man living in an abandoned slaughterhouse has been kidnapping women and killing them. He abducted a young boy 5 years ago and raised him to be his witness and accomplice. Allison Miller moves to this small town to live with her Uncle John (Biehn) and his family after her parents died. She begins hanging out with William, a local dude with a bad rep. Walking along the road one day, Allison sees a boy in the window of the abandoned building and goes to investigate. When she doesn’t come home that night, her Uncle, and William go to look for her.

Writer/director Stevan Mena (“Malevolence” & “Brutal Massacre: A Comedy”) returns with a gruesome, disturbing tale in the vain of films like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Saw.” “Bereavement” tells its story well, feeling familiar and fresh at the same time. Michael Biehn is perfect as the loving, yet overprotective Uncle. It’s always great to see him. I highly recommend this. One of the better horror films to come out in the last 5 years.

3.0 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “Maniac” (1980)

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Directed by William Lustig.
Starring Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, and Tom Savini.

Frank was abused as a child, and now as an adult he is on a murdering spree in New York. Who can stop him? He also sleeps with mannequins…

“Maniac” is an 80’s slasher with some neat effects by Tom Savini, who also appears in the film. It’s directed by William Lustig who later went on to direct “Maniac Cop” 1, 2, and 3. No relation to this film. He must really like the name Maniac!

There’s a great chase scene in a subway station. I think that some of the later slashers may have been inspired by this one. Certain shots, like of the killers feet walking as he follows the victims, are characteristic of the “Friday the 13th” films.

Half way though “Maniac” the tone changes completely as Frank dons his “normal” cap, having dinner with a photographer friend, a woman who he doesn’t have the urge to kill. She trusts him and is kind to him. For a point you think that maybe she could change how he is. Or are we all fooled? An interesting twist to an otherwise twisted film.

3.0 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “A Horrible Way to Die” (2010)

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Directed by Adam Wingard.
Starring AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, and Joe Swanberg.

Serial killer Garrick Turrell has escaped from prison and is looking to murder his ex-girlfriend Sarah, who has started a new life in a small town.

This is a slasher like no other. “A Horrible Way to Die” is dreamlike and abstract. Combine that with tension, sadness, and brutality and it becomes a nightmare. Sarah frequently has flashbacks about Garrick, mostly romantic ones before she knew he was a killer. These memories keep her struggling to move forward. I love how the story is pieced together. For a slasher, this film takes on heavy material and covers some deep issues.

AJ Bowen is ridiculously fantastic and creepy here! Some of you may remember him from “The Signal” and “House of the Devil.” Indie director Joe Swanberg plays the role of nice guy Kevin, who starts dating Sarah, helping her feel normal again. He’s not a great actor but I always enjoy seeing him. Amy Seimetz is new to me, but very memorable in the challenging role of Sarah.

I can’t recommend “A Horrible Way to Die” to everyone. It’s experimental, emotional, and strange to the senses, but it’s a quality film. I really dug it.

3.5 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “Chernobyl Diaries” (2012)

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Four friends traveling around Europe get the chance to explore the abandoned city of Pripyat as part of an extreme tour, and roam around for an afternoon. They meet up with their travel guide and a young couple, looking for the same adventure. The group loads into a van and makes it into the city through some back roads. Once the afternoon is completed they head back to the van to find that it won’t start. Chaos ensues as the group is attacked and has to battle rabid dogs, radioactive fish, and overexposed mutant humanoids.

The premise and concept sound so much better than is delivered. I really wanted to like this film. I’ve been fascinated with Chernobyl and Pripyat for a long time, as many people are. Insensitive or not, the place is legendary and makes a great location for a horror story.

The first 10 minutes are really bad. The acting and “getting to know” the characters are so cliched and forced that its unbearable to watch. Once the group meets up with the tour guide, things finally start to get interesting. We are treated to a nice half hour’ish tour of Pripyat along with the characters. At this point, I am digging the film, thinking about all of the possibilities and directions it could go. Even though this wasn’t really filmed in Pripyat, the vibe is the same and gives me chills.

About 40 minutes in, the group gets back to the van to leave, and it won’t start. From here on out the film falls apart completely, which is unfortunate because here is where it should have delivered. Going into this, I thought that “Chernobyl Diaries” was about ghosts. The trailer definitely alludes to that, but it’s not. In fact until the final 5 minutes, I still had no idea what the actors were running from, because they barely show you!

Half of this film is shaky cam, flashlights, running, and stupidity. It’s so irritating to watch! The action is so blurred and disorienting that I have no idea what was going on for the majority of those last 40 minutes. This isn’t entertaining! I could have shot myself running around in the dark with a flashlight and shaking the camera. Anyone could. So why is this half of the film???

The ending is bad. Very bad. I won’t spoil that part for you. Feel free to see it and to draw your own conclusions. The middle of the film is great, but it’s sandwiched between some real shit. Chernobyl Diarrhea. This should have been so much better.

1 1/2 out of 4 stars.

Film Reviews: “The Addiction” (1995)

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Directed by Abel Ferrara.
Starring Lili Taylor, Christopher Walken, and Annabella Sciorra.

“It makes no difference what I do. Whether I draw blood or not. It’s the violence of my will, against theirs.”

Kathleen is walking home one night and is attacked by a woman, and pulled into an alley. The strange woman bites Kathleen on the neck, changing her life forever. What follows is Kathleen’s reaction to, and acceptance of becoming a vampire.

Director Abel Ferrara (The Driller Killer) returns and this time with a very different kind of film. “The Addiction” is an artsy, shadow filled, intense, and gritty vampire flick. Seeing Kathleen change from quiet student into ruthless killer is fascinating and disturbing. This is a very mature look at vampirism. I’ve always enjoyed Lili Taylor. Such a great actress, and in this she gets to show it, ranging from maniacal to subdued. They could have almost cast two different actresses to play Kathleen. Christopher Walken makes an awesome appearance as an older vampire with wisdom for Kathleen. It’s only about 10 minutes, but as memorable as any Walken 10 minute role.

If I could change one thing about the film, it would be the terrible opening song. “The Addiction” was co-produced by hip hop mogul Russel Simmons of all people, and I think he may have had a contract in which he could add in songs linked to his label? I dunno. It’s just a guess, but the song doesn’t jive at all with the rest of the film. Otherwise, this was truly fantastic and exactly what I was hoping it would be.

3.5 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “The Nameless” (“Los sin Nombre”) (1999)

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Directed and written by Jaume Balagueró.

Claudia is receiving cryptic phone calls from someone claiming to be her daughter. The problem? Her daughter was found brutally murdered 5 years ago. Claudia enlists help from a parapsychologist, as well as the old detective from the murder case, now retired, to help her follow a trail of clues that suggest the daughter may still be alive and in trouble.

Balagueró also co-directed “Rec” & “Rec2.” This is more of a thriller than a horror film, but was still very good. It’s a chilling Polanski style puzzle solver, unraveling the mystery behind the daughter’s disappearance piece by macabre piece.

The difference between this and most films like it that come out nowadays? Emotionally deep characters, and an interesting conclusion, which equals good writing. The mother, the detective and others all have personal private motivations for solving this case. It’s more real on that level. I’m surprised “The Nameless” isn’t more well known. I recommend it.

3.0 out of 4.0 stars.

Film Reviews: “The Innkeepers” (2011)

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Directed, written, and edited by Ti West.
Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, and Kelly McGillis.

It’s the final weekend before the old Yankee Pedlar Inn closes its doors forever. Co-worker friends Claire and Luke are running the whole joint alone until the end. They’re also amateur ghost hunters. The story goes that in the 1800’s Madeline O’Malley was killed and her body hid in the hotel’s basement. Claire believes that O’Malley’s spirit still haunts the halls. Luke is skeptical but interested. With the place almost entirely empty for it’s final nights, will the spirits of Yankee Pedlar Inn make their presence known?

I really enjoyed Ti West’s last film “The House of the Devil.” This is great as well. The beginning is a little slow on the scares, but that’s made up for with humor and character. “The Innkeepers” is like a less crude version of Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” meets Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” Lots of laughs and chills to be had.

3.0 out of 4.0 stars.