Tag Archives: horror

DJ Caruso’s Taking Lives

Angelina Jolie as a cop hunting down a ruthless serial killer who uses especially grisly methods is a great premise for a film, but you may as well skip DJ Caruso’s Taking Lives and just go revisit Phillip Noyce’s The Bone Collector, a great film that did the concept way better. Lives is a poor excuse for thriller material, a drab, dank and musty slog through a narrative that doesn’t seem to give two shits about its characters and frequently makes little to no sense, not to mention fails heavily at holding interest. Jolie plays a hotshot FBI profiler who is consulted by French Canadian police when their efforts to nab an elusive murderer fail. This is a guy you never really see because every time he kills, he takes on the identity of the victim, blending in and leaving few clues. Jolie searches back through records from decades ago and tried to piece together this guy’s past to find him, but he himself has noticed her and taken an interest. This all sounds terrific on paper but the film they’ve made is a messy, overwrought lump, like a particularly bloody episode of criminal minds without the ‘mind’ part to give the criminal activity any weight. Jolie is joined by Ethan Hawke as a colleague as well as Olivier Martinez, Gena Rowlands, Tcheky Karyo, Paul Dano, Justin Chatwin and more, but none make a huge impression. Kiefer Sutherland shows up as a nasty piece of work who is so obviously a red herring it hurts to see his painfully limited arc come and go like a breeze. Don’t even get me started on the final twist either because it’s too ridiculous. This has the grungy, incisive visual aesthetic of David Fincher’s Sev7n but with none of the pace, doom laden atmosphere or brains to back it up. The only cool thing is the title, which of course refers to the killer’s penchant for both murdering and assuming the lives of those he targets. Neat premise, wicked title, dope cast… shit awful film.

-Nate Hill

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Renny Harlin’s Prison

Before Lord Of The Rings shot him into the stardom we know today, Viggo Mortensen had one oddball of a career leading up to it. Between playing the Devil, appearing in one of the more bizarre Texas Chainsaw sequels and training Demi Moore to be the first female Navy Seal he did Renny Harlin’s Prison, a little known, low budget horror flick that’s actually quite a lot of fun. A slick, schlocky hybrid between classic grassroots prison films and effects heavy gore of the 80’s, it sees an ancient precinct becoming haunted by the ghost of a long dead inmate who got the chair, perhaps wrongfully. The Warden (Lane Smith) is an angry old prick whose demons are coming back full force and he’s taking it out on the convicts big time. Mortensen is Burke, a mysterious con with integrity and grit who helps out when he can doesn’t stand for the warden’s bullshit. Chelsea Field is a prison board member who gets swept up in the whole thing and watch for Tom Everett, Kane Hodder, Lincoln Kilpatrick and Tiny Lister too. Smith plays the Warden not as so many have done like an outright sadistic villain, more a severely stressed out career man who has turned ugly overtime and started to project his frustrations in the most damaging ways, given his position of power. This is very low budget stuff and it shows, but there are still some striking set pieces including a solitary cell that heats up like a red hot furnace and fries those inside gruesomely and a string of barbed wire that comes to live and wreaks all kinds of havoc. Harlin made his debut here and it’s a strong one, he makes exciting decisions with the actors and handles the horror excellently. I could have used a tad more backstory on Mortensen’s character as some more exposition regarding the ghost convict, but other than that this is a blast.

-Nate Hill

George P. Cosmatos’s Leviathan

Imagine John Carpenter’s The Thing… but underwater. That’s pretty much what you get with Leviathan, a gooey aquatic creature feature that borrows heavily from both the Thing and Alien’s book, but when you consider how equally desolate and open to monstrous imaginations the arctic, oceans and deep space are it’s not hard to see how minds think alike, whether great or not. Is Leviathan great? Well.. no, but it’s not terrible and puts on a good, enjoyably gory show populated with a cast that can *definitely* be counted as great. On the ocean floor somewhere in the Caribbean, a team of deep sea miners discovers a derelict Russian vessel that was sunk on purpose, and it soon becomes clear why. Their salvage run ends up snagging an unseen stowaway, some horrifically slimy aberration that slowly but surely dispatches members of the crew before showing up in prosthetic form that reminds us so much of The Thing its a wonder there was no lawsuit. Peter ‘Robocop’ Weller puts on a great show as their captain, a jaded intellectual among lowly grunts who just wants to evacuate the team and be rid of the whole endeavour. Others are played by the likes of Ernie Hudson, Hector Elizondo, the eternally hammy Richard Crenna, Lisa Eilbacher, Michael Carmine and Daniel Stern in a role… well what can you sway about his role here. As obnoxious, chauvinistic scumbag Sixpack, he pretty much cements his duty as first to go when the monster shows up and stands as patient zero for most hate-able character out there. We also get Meg Foster as the obligatory shady corporate bitch whose interests lie in dollar value rather than the safety of her employees, an ill advised standpoint that causes Weller to spectacularly one-punch her right at the end, which is a stand up and clap moment. Directed by 80’s genre maestro George P. Cosmatos (Tombstone, Cobra, Rambo), this is a solidly entertaining horror yarn with a schlock feel and although it shamelessly borrows from other, better films, one can’t help but brush that off when you consider the effort made and how fun it is. It’s funny, the late 80’s was a heyday for underwater horror/sci-fi and between other fun titles like James Cameron’s The Abyss, JP Simon’s The Rift and Sean S. Cunningham’s Deepstar 6, this one holds its own. Listen for a great Jerry Goldsmith score too, a loopy composition that samples the howling bleeps of a sonar device to hilarious effect. Good times.

-Nate Hill

Christian Alvert’s Pandorum

I can understand that a bleak, disturbing SciFi horror like Pandorum didn’t connect well with Hollywood audiences or generate a lot of income, but it’s a shame because it weaves an intelligent, beautifully shot, truly scary dark dream of psychological paranoia, freaky ideas and tense, claustrophobic set pieces. Helmed by Christian Alvert, a German director best known for unconventional horror films, this was never going to be a flashy, familiar feeling big budget thing, which many probably didn’t expect. Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid are Payton and Bower, two astronauts who awaken on a giant derelict spaceship with severe amnesia and the unsettling feeling that their mission has gone horribly wrong. After a bit of exploring they find out just *how* wrong. Terrifying, monstrous humanoid creatures hunt any survivors through dim, clanging corridors that echo Ridley Scott’s Alien. Payton encounters two initially hostile nomads (Antje Traue and Cung Le) who he must band together with. Somewhere deep inside the ship, the reactor starts to fail. Another mentally unstable survivor (Cam Gigandet) is found by Quaid and starts to dangerously unravel. Gradually the secrets of what happened are revealed along with the reason for the presence of these creatures, which I won’t call aliens because they’re not. This is brutal, grim stuff that isn’t light watching or easy on the senses, it’s a skin crawling deep space nightmare of a film and a tough piece, no kidding. But it’s smart, tightly wound storytelling with fantastic acting (especially Quaid who rarely gets to go this bonkers crazy) and a plot that races along like some intergalactic nightmare until the final revelation, a thunderclap that lets us breathe again for the first time in over an hour. The title itself refers to a fictional psychotic disorder in which one believes the mission is cursed and becomes a delusional nut-job with destructive behaviour, the mental byproduct of extended space travel. This ties neatly into the very real dangers aboard the ship as reality shifts for these characters and their narratives become unreliable. A brilliant piece of SciFi horror filmmaking, a film that still hasn’t gotten its proper due. Get the Blu Ray, it looks fresh, crisp and darkly dazzling.

-Nate Hill

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Raise your hand if you think that Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is going to indeed be the last film in the franchise. I have this sneaky feeling they’ll pull a Friday The 13th and just cheerfully keep on trucking after this one as if they never said the buck would stop here. Or not, maybe they’ve gotten their sillies out for real, I mean this is the sixth film. Either way works for me, I kind of love these things. Say what you want about them (I’ve literally heard it all), they do wonders when you get a craving for action/horror with wall to wall carnage and not a minute spent on plot beyond the obligatory five minute hyper stylized recap at the beginning of each one, narrated by Milla Jovovich’s endlessly endearing, sultry voiced super warrior Alice. The first three films are the closest this series has been to what you might call ‘down to earth.’ There was the claustrophobic zombie siege thriller, the urban outbreak sci-fi horror and then the post apocalyptic Mad Max esque third entry. After that… they truly went balls out and kind of just had a free for all of decimated cities, giant monsters and more excessive bloody special effects than the franchise had seen before, until they arrived here. The good news is that this has more of a story than the last two did by far, and although doesn’t concretely wrap up this insane runaway train of a franchise, it does serve to cap off what we’ve seen so far and even includes a few narrative surprises that sort of don’t have to play by the rules of logic considering they threw them out the window like four films ago, but it’s nice to see the wheels turning anyways. After being betrayed by evil Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) in DC, Alice pursues deranged megalomaniac Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen, even more fun here than in Game Of Thrones) back to the Hive in Raccoon City where it all started in hopes of taking down the impossibly powerful Umbrella Corporation and finding a cure for the T Virus. Cue a deafening roar of tank chases, grisly zombie hordes, medieval style sieges in a derelict city, furious hand to hand combat, flying bat dragon things, other giant monsters and Jovovich in hysterical old age makeup at one point, which is part of the film’s big surprise. Milla is a trooper with these films and seems to never run out of steam, as countless other actors come and go, she’s the constant and the series wouldn’t be the same without her. I enjoyed the stuff about Umbrella’s backstory and events dating back before the first film, but they really just serve to bring on more frenzied R rated action set to Tool-esque hard rock music, which is fine by me. These films are either your thing or they’re not, but they’re definitely their own thing, that’s for sure. Nothing like the games anymore, or even the borderline restraint of the first film, they have carved out their of very bizarre niche in the realm of action/horror. Fun times.

-Nate Hill

The Forgotten

The Forgotten is a well wrought twilight zone type thriller that does indeed seem to be forgotten these days, or at least not held in high regard when I go back and look at reviews upon release. Julianne Moore stars as a mother who is suddenly told one day that her young son never existed, and all traces of him seem to have vanished. Then her husband (Anthony Edwards) seems to forget they were ever married. She searches desperately for any clues that would help prove that the life she had was once real, and she’s lead to the father of her son’s former friend (Dominic West), who can’t remember his daughter and seems to never have had one. It’s a terrifying premise when you consider both the helplessness she feels in the situation and implications of some supreme higher power that is playing sick games with people’s lives for… whatever reason. This is apparent when a mysterious man (Linus Roache) begins following her and her psychiatrist (Gary Sinise) seems to subtly know more than he lets on. Moore and West are terrific as two desperate parents whose love for their children proves a force to be reckoned with against whatever is out there manipulating their realities. Whatever it is, the film wisely remains very vague about exactly what’s going on and who is behind the curtain, relegating any explanation to a few very well placed jump scares that will rattle your shit up and some half whispered dialogue that’s cut short by aforementioned scares in order to keep the mystery intact. There’s a chilly, subdued vibe to both the performances and atmosphere, always as if someone or something out there is watching the whole thing. Nothing benchmark or crazy in terms of thrillers but a solid entry into the supernatural mystery box. Recommended.

-Nate Hill

Michael Crichton’s Coma

There’s nothing freakier than hospitals in Hollywood, or at least in the horror/thriller genre. Those long, deathly silent hallways that lead nowhere in particular, the cold, venereal steel tables, sheet white walls and lab coats and a general air of unrest. It doesn’t help the discomfort levels when there’s a diabolical conspiracy afoot and one can’t trust the doctors, those very harbingers of healing that are supposed to be ultimately trustworthy. Michael Crichton’s Coma takes full advantage of a nightmarish premise like this, perhaps too much in its final act, but the first two thirds are a clammy bad dream of worst case scenarios and extreme medical malpractice. Genevieve Bujold plays a junior doctor at Boston Memorial who slowly begins to notice a pattern of surgeries leading to suspicious comas, and the subsequent disappearance of the resulting vegetables. Her boyfriend and fellow doctor (Michael Douglas) brushes off her concerns as stress induced paranoia, the head of anesthesia (Rip Torn, so stoically intense he looks like one of those trolls in the hobbit that got turned to stone) casts threatening glances her way when she goes nosing around, and the hospital’s executive physician (Richard Widmark) seems amused when she brings the matter to him. These days it’s just a tad obvious that with those reactions that pretty much everyone except for her is in on the whole deal, but this was back in the late 70’s when certain narratives were still fresh. Besides, the fun isn’t in eventually getting to the bottom of things but in the chases, near misses and cat and mouse stuff along the way, and in terms of suspense this has some doozy moments. Bujold scours the bowels and ducts of the hospital and another nefarious rural institute like a spy in a complex labyrinth of boiler rooms, air intakes and empty rooms, while a heinous assassin chases her down and gets totally fucked up by this resilient gal. Douglas is billed alongside her but is only around in a glorified supporting turn, while Bujold, who is a gorgeous and incredibly dynamic leading lady, gets to do all the stunts, hurdles, combat scenes and handle the big revelations in panicked closeups. An interesting choice is to have no music at all for the first half of the film, and then when the first clue in the breadcrumb trail is discovered, the score kicks in. It’s a solid thriller that gets a bit overcooked when Widmark goes all Satan near the end and starts monologuing, but until then the pace is restrained, the mood vague and chilly. Watch for a shockingly young Ed Harris in his very first film role, and Magnum PI as an unfortunate victim of the evil plot. Good stuff.

-Nate Hill