Thursday, September 29, 2011

Those Air Miles Are Running Out Faster Than a Running Not Zombie!

Before I get to Quarantine 2: Terminal, allow me to be confused. Much like REC2 (you know, the sequel to the original film that inspired Quarantine but the sequel of which is not the basis for Quarantine 2: Terminal), the DVD opens with an advertisement for the grandeur of Blu Ray, which seems a little self-defeating when you’re going to watch it, you know, on DVD. 
Moving on, we then get to watch a preview for REC2, which is a sequel to the film that inspired Quarantine but not the film of which you’re about to watch. So don’t worry: you’re NOT watching a preview for the film you’re about to watch but in Spanish. Now if it were Quarantine (1), you would be. But you’re not, so--

Sometimes I get confused by things that don’t need to be confusing. Tyra Banks would say that I overthink. But we’ll get back to Tyra Banks in the middle of Quarantine 2: Terminal, which is a sequel--I guess--to the American film Quarantine, which was a remake of REC, which had a sequel that is unrelated to Quarantine 2: Terminal.

It's really confusing. I know.
Quick Plot: A bunch of stereotyp--er, characters--board a plane leaving LA. Amongst the rather skimpy batch of passengers are
-A crass fat guy who instantly mentions beer
-A video game playing teenagers who’s all “I don’t need YOU”

-An attractive young woman with medical experience
-A crazy old cat lady
-A couple who have accents and a video camera
-A workaholic with a laptop
-A pregnant woman
-Her asshole husband
-A young man with a good enough looking face to successfully flirt with the cute stewardess

After some okay-to-forced airplane banter that establishes every character’s main trait, we catch The Crass Fat Guy vomiting up a storm. Before you can say drink cart, we’ve got rabid fast running ‘let’s argue about whether they’re zombie’ zombies as our plane lands in the titular terminal. Since the other part of the title here is ‘quarantine,’ we then get some government types sealing off the passengers and plucky flight attendant Jenny (Lea Michelle lookalike Mercedes Masohn) trying to survive in a warehouse. 

What else do we get, you ask? There’s conspiracies of course. HAZMAT suit wearing shlubs wheeled onscreen to give us exposition before getting shot. Some in-fighting, some animal attacks. The plucky stewardess rising to the occasion with her hair still shining bright enough for a Pantene commercial. Thermal night vision goggles because I guess it’s some sort of nod to the found footage aspect of its predecessor. 

That kind of stuff.
Like most of the horror fans I know, I rather enjoyed REC and was pleasantly surprised by its recent sequel. Sure, I felt Quarantine was unnecessary, but it was a decent cash-in that worked well enough for Americans with reluctant reading habits. A sequel didn’t NOT make sense, but a slicker version of Flight of the Living Dead doesn’t. 

Excuse me. I have to pause for the next hour to watch the season premiere of America’s Next Top Model: All Stars.

Brittany was unfairly eliminated. Girls screamed a lot. Tyra pulled a Sybil and it was more painful than it sounds.
We’re back to not zombie zombies.

And they run. And they bite. And drool. And stare straight at the camera to make those “garrrowwwww” noises. Because that’s how these things work.
There are few surprises in Quarantine 2: Terminal, though they do eventually come (see my spoiler alerted high point). It’s certainly a competent film, one executed more than decently by John Pogue (the apparent maestro behind the Yale horror Skulls series). The acting is more than passable, the gore gooey and believable, and pacing quite strong. But you know...there are zombies and they attack a diverse assortment of movie types in the exact order you expect. Some of us like that kind of thing. Others yawn.
High Points
What can I say? I do love me a secret subplot involving doomsday cults

Yup, the pretty girl gets it. But her hair made it to the end.
Low Points
When you put a pregnant woman in the victim pool, you’d expect something tragic or exciting or different to happen to her, no? Yeah, but I guess writer director John Pogue did not
Is it a cinematic law that any film involving an airline must use the phrase “put your trays in the upright position” when making a sexual innuendo? Also note that this line is used by female flight attendants discussing oral sex on a cute passenger, but I suppose everything is okay since they follow the comment up with “The cute guy is really smart.” And yes, this does indeed make me think back to the recent Miss Universe pageant, where the plastic correspondents were overwhelmingly impressed to learn that one of the contestants can even PICK UP a newspaper
Lessons Learned
In flight attendant speak, engaged does not equal dead. In horror movie speak, it just means not dead until 30 minutes into the film 

Hamsters don’t have tails...HAMSTERS DON’T HAVE TAILS!
It’s apparently quite simple to pack a gun and ammo inside your baggage when traveling by plane
Time is really expensive nowadays
The Winning Line
Dude 1: Shit!
Dude 2: It’s just blood.
That’s cool right?
Quarantine 2: Terminal is fine. I don’t mean fine in a ‘girrrrrrrrrrrl, you so FINE’ kind of way. I mean it as ‘yeah, ya know, it’s okay, no sweat, it’s fine.’ You know, in other words, the white person way. As zombie films goes, it’s better than your average straight-to-DVD flick, but in no way does it do anything new or special. Even the plane angle was done before--and with more fun--in 2007 with Flight of the Living Dead, and THAT film had the bad guy from Kindergarden Cop in it. The film will eventually make a decent enough Instant Watch, but it doesn’t really deserve much else. 

Unlike Kindergarten Cop, which deserves to be showered in diamonds and anointed as a saint

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I Vote This Movie Off the Island

are currently two films perched atop my Netflix Instant Watch queue with near identical premises involving a reality TV competition gone awry. I watched this one, and that is that.
Quick Plot: One year after the filming of "Castaway Island," the cast reunites for a weekend special. Among the mostly white people in their early 30s is Nigel, the newly crowned millionaire winner, Jen, the level-headed blond (played by Cut's Jessica Napier or as some might call her, the poor man's Naomi Watts), Lisa and Matt, a couple who fell in love despite Matt's off-shore marriage, a tall dude, and a bitchy brunette. I'd offer more character details but the plot doesn't, so we'll move on.

The mildly attractive people drive the show's yacht to an empty island where they expect to reignite old declarations of not coming there to make friends. Instead, they're greeted by an empty hut with a threatening blood-written note, plus a bunch of dead rats--6 dead rats, to be precise and foreshadowish. It doesn't take long--actually, it reallllllllly does--for the cast to remind each other and tell the audience about the seventh contestant on Castaway Island, a loose screw named Warren who was voted off after swinging a machete a little too close for primetime comfort.
All of this sounds promising and fine, right? Dead Set did great things with Big Brother, and the The Running Man made us all long for a future rich in jumpsuits and overabundant puns. Brian Keene's novel Castaways mixed monsters with human sociopaths to good enough success, and the tragically underrated ahead-of-its-time Series 7: The Contenders summed up reality TV with brilliant black comedy. It's a subgenre of horror that's still quite fertile for the picking.

Except Safety In Numbers is a fairly dreadful film, mostly because despite being a slasher set on a tropical island, it's incredibly dull.The people are dull. The dialogue is dull. The kills, when onscreen, are dull. The nine endings are dull. And there are nine of them. Or maybe fifteen or three, I really have no idea. They're all equally dull.
See just when you THINK the 85 minute Safety In Numbers is over, the screen fades...into the next scene. Until it fades...into another scene...and another...then it's really ov--oh no, another...and then credits. Which can be confusing, since it ends on an incredibly bizarre note that has no explanation whatsoever. Here's my theory:
The movie was made and came back from the editing booth at just over one hour long. That's a problem, since most films at that length won't get any form of release. So the screenwriter decided to add a mild twist, filmed it, then realized he had a 67 minute movie. Still too short. So he shrugged and added another twist. 70 minutes. Hmm. So he added a "the killer isn't really dead!" chase but realized with limited means and talent, there wasn't that much to show. So at 75 minutes, he decided to bring in a coda. He started to get excited at such an idea, for suddenly, it seemed like there were more possibilities to explore something he'd totally forgotten about for the entire filming process. Perhaps it was a subplot that seemed so perfect once presented. Yes, Safety In Numbers, you FOUND it.

Except then director David Douglas remembered that there needs to be credits, which run a good two minutes, and he now had an honest 85 minute film. So he shrugged again (I imagine Mr. Douglas does a lot of shrugging) and figured, much like James Caan did with children's literature in Elf before he was redeemed by the love of his Elf son Buddy, that nobody would *really* care whether they knew how his movie ended.

And you know what? He might have been right.
High Points
There's a great moment of tension that involves a snake, but that may have just excited me because it reminded me how much better a world it is we live in due to the mere existence of Snake Island

Low Points
Aside from being a slow and ill-paced film, Safety In Numbers commits one of those cinematic crimes that inflames the female inside me. I understand it was directed by a man and costumed by one Robert "Doll" Smith (really), but really: no woman would ever JUST sleep in her bra and pajama pants. Sure, a token shot of a cute actress in her whities is in demand, but a) the bra was the least sexy bit of lingerie I've ever seen, unless Playtex's 18-Hour Bras turn you on and b) SHE WOULDN'T SLEEP IN THAT!

The Winning Line
"Where the HELL is my YACHT!?"
Mostly because it's delivered with such pompous Britishicity that I had to laugh
Fun Fact/Lawsuit Alert
Apparently, Survivor did not copyright the term "voted off the island," which surprises me. Unless they did and Safety In Numbers will be sued by Jeff Probst

I pretty much hated this movie, and as anyone who's read my reviews of Blood Gnome knows, that's a harsh statement to make. On one hand. Safety In Numbers is certainly more competent than something like Unborn Sins, but there's just no spark of life lurking anywhere in its draggy 85 minutes. It's as if someone started with a potent idea for a slasher--reality stars stranded on an island--and forgot that an idea alone isn't what writes a screenplay. Unless you're simply a gigantic fan of Survivor and crave any form of ripoff, I just can't recommend Safety In Numbers, even as an instant stream. It's not that it's bad--I've recommended worse--it's more that this movie just doesn't care. So why should we?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gimme a Head With Hair (Extensions)

Ah, Sion Sono. Something tells me that your parents weren’t the peanut-butter-and-jelly-on-white-bread kind of folks, that your afterschool activities didn’t include soccer practice and that your family pet wasn’t a golden retriever.
No good sir, I think not. I think you were born of midichlorians, that your sustenance is silicone packets mixed with Crystal Lite, that you created a life-size replica of Guernica out of lunch meat in the 8th grade and that your best childhood friend was a half leprechaun, half unicorn that only emerged at full moons and taco day.

The point is, you’re an odd duck. An avant guarde duck who seems to refuse to allow any notion of normalcy to come near your camera. Suicide Club managed to unite ear scrapings, The Goblin King, and tween pop music. Its followup/prequel Noriko’s Dinner Table focused on people who got paid to act like people in your family. And Strange Circus spent a good part of its running time trapped inside a cello case.
Is it any wonder that Sion Sono is responsible for a movie about killer hair extensions?
Quick Plot: A trio of night watchmen at a storage facility discover one compartment busting with stinky and thick hair extensions. Oh, also, the corpse of a mysteriously slain female with (not surprisingly) Pantene caliber locks. At the morgue, the clearly not quite right Yamazaki is so impressed with her mane that he brings the whole package home.

Meanwhile, a cheerier than a cheerleader on crack hair stylist student named Yuko (Battle Royale’s marathon champ turned Kill Bill assassin Chiaki Kuriyama) bicycles her way to work, a place she might as well call heaven. Yuko, you see, reallllllllly loves the art of haircutting. Think back to how enthusiastic the killer of Chain Letter must have been about chains, because that’s about as excitable as scissors and the blue stuff make the bright-eyed Yuko.

But you know what she doesn’t love? Her deadbeat big sister, an awful awful woman who constantly dumps her bruised little daughter in Yuko’s apartment. It’s ultimately not a major problem, since Yuko slowly bonds with Mami (and yes, hearing every character yell “Mami!” at a 7-year-old is confusing and weird) though their connection and shared fabulous locks eventually draws the attention of Yamazaki.

Dressed in rainbow spotted overall shorts and jazz hand gloves, Yamazaki has only been growing weirder since, well, dragging a corpse home and settling her comfortably in a hammock. For whatever reason, her hair has still been growing...and growing...and growing out of her head, eyes, mouth, and open wounds. Naturally one capitalizes on such a feat of nature by selling extensions to the local salon, which just so happens to be the place of employment of Yuko.
If the next thing you expect to happen in such a film is that the women who wear the non-vegetarian extensions begin sprouting hair in their own open wounds in mass amounts, then congratulations! You have successfully predicted part of the plot trajectory for a Sion Sono film. As facetious as that may sound, it’s actually surprising to finally be able to do such a thing. Based on the other three films of his that I’ve watched, Exte feels positively normal. 

Yes, there are killer hair extensions. And a character that spends his days singing to and about them. And a death scene that makes me thirsty for a milkshake made by putting Mr. Potato Head and my Tourist Trap DVD inside a blender.


But aside from that, it’s kind of just a slightly odder than usual J-Horror with some black humor busting out of its bun. Certainly a well-done oddy, but not quite at the level of mind-blowing weirdness as Suicide Club.

High Points
The major spotlighted kill of the film is grandly over the top, with visual echoes to Uzumaki and a wonderful mix of humor and ouch
Low Points
As quirky as Exte is, there's something not all there about the whole package. It starts on such a light and chipper note, flirts with darkness, side-steps with wacko humor,then hits the hour and forty five mark where I realize that as much as killer hair is bizarre and the actors are charming, I'm really, really quite ready for it to end.

Lessons Learned
Whenever possible, use hand symbols, since safety is first

A mother should never hit her little one
Instincts don’t solve cases
The Winning Line
“Sis, are you going to be afraid of hair from now on?”

When it comes to hair horror, alls I know of is the Stacey Keach segment in John Carpenter’s Body Bags and now, Exte. Already on that front, you have a recommendation.

And hey, while not perfect nor as interesting as Sono’s more serious work, Exte is sufficiently odd enough to warrant a rental. The DVD is bare bones, as is way too sadly and too often the case. Because really, if there’s one conversation I’d like to hear, it’s Sion Sono explaining what inspired him to make a movie about killer hair.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

You've Gotta See the BABY'S Room! (because it's haunted)

I can think of two good reasons why I’ll probably never be a homeowner. 1) I live in New York and will therefore be able to complete an Olympic rhythmic gymnastics routine before I could afford to buy property 

and 2) I’ve seen too many haunted house films.

See, a haunted apartment is escapable. Sure, you might lose some deposit cash, but at least you won’t be forced to choose between your hard-earned life savings and the offchance that your socially unacceptable supernatural suspicions are grounded in soul-stealing truths. 
Such life decisions bring us to today’s feature, The Baby’s Room, Alex de la Iglesia’s entry in Spain’s 6 Films To Keep You Awake. As my past reviews of A Real Friend and A Christmas Tale demonstrate, this collection is pretty tops. Toss in my recent viewing of Iglesia’s unique monster of a film The Last Circus and my expectations get pretty darn tall.

Quick Plot: Juan and Sonja have just moved into a mysteriously well-priced home in a well-to-do neighborhood. When they install a baby monitor to keep track of their sleeping toddler, Juan overhears a scrambled message coming through. Silly Juan. Don’t you know baby monitors are made for one reason and one reason only when used in a horror film, and ‘keeping track of your sleeping toddler’ sure ain’t one of them?
Did Insidious teach them nothing?!

Like any red-blooded Ameri-er, Spanish man, Juan immediately decides to upgrade his technology with the most expensive on the market. It also gives him a prime chance to flirt with the cashier and plant seeds of character unlikability. But hey, you HAVE to get the best, right?

Hence, Juan moves in a video monitor, only to discover that late at night, a black-clad figure is hovering over his child. Such events continue each night, much to the chagrin of his doubtful wife and frustrated boss who watches his ace reporter stink his way into the office past deadlines and without showers. 
Considering The Baby’s Room is only 79 minutes long, it feels wrong to say much more, especially as the turns aren’t overly surprising (it’s a haunted house film, for goodness sake) but still enjoyable in their execution. With a small cast, The Baby’s Room is an intimate film, one that spends virtually its entire running time on Javier Gutierrez’s Juan. It’s actually a relief to have it be the husband, rather than the typical weary mother, cast as the hysteric, and Guitierrez does a fine job keeping our interest (if not always our sympathies).

Much like the other films in this series, The Baby’s Room is also quite funny, with a neat sense of lightness as Juan grows more and more paranoid. It’s odd then to pinpoint exactly why and where it drags, but at a certain point, even 79 minutes felt long. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the central mystery is never quite explained despite Juan’s intensive research. Pacing is mildly problematic, though the performances and dread carry it through.

High Points
Yes, there’s a baby in danger in a movie called The Baby’s Room, but while we do fear for the toddler’s safety, it’s actually quite amazing that the film’s most dramatic jump scare involves a minor parenting moment
No spoilers, but the final beat offers the perfect tone to end on
Low Points
We get that mirrors are shifty and stuff might happen that will make us jump. That being the case, we REALLY don’t need obvious sound effects to remind us.
Lessons Learned
In Spain, hide and seek involves seeing, not catching

Your first mistake in obtaining a haunted house: purchasing your home from a mall-stationed real estate agency and a man with a shiny ponytail
Old people are crazy (from the mouths of old babes)
If you’re really happy and content in your life, you should refrain from saying that out loud. The screenwriter might hear and decide to, you know, make you the star of a horror film

Stray Sexy Observation
As I noted recently with Aiden Gillen’s proclivity towards nude sex scenes, it feels right to point out that the lovely and versatile actress Leonor Watling  has spectacular breasts and I know this because a) I’m a woman and a fair judge and b) I’ve seen them in three different films thus far

Parents of the Year Award...
...does not go to the characters in this film. For proof, observe the first scene wherein they notice something funky coming through the baby monitor. Rather than immediately run to the baby’s room to investigate, the pair strain their ears until something definitely menacing comes through the airwaves. Oh, then they later SEE a figure in the room via video. And also consider their options know...GOING INTO THEIR BABY’S ROOM.

This is my third trip through Spain’s 6 Films To Keep You Awake series, and like A Real Friend and A Christmas Tale, The Baby’s Room delivers a funny, scary, and concise ride. The film is streaming on Netflix and is well worth a watch, though for $16, you can also just grab the whole set. It’s essentially Masters of Horror but good. And much cheaper. And good.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Notting Worm

I’ve never thought myself to be much of a Hugh Grant fan (namely because the man spent enough time with Elizabeth The Demon Hurley to probably be one knicker in hell already). But put him in a Ken Russell-directed horror film about ancient worm things where the fluffy Brit gets to make jokes about how his slutty maids should be wearing ancient chastity belts, and I’m kind of sold.
Quick Plot: A young Scottish archaeologist-in-training named (of course) Angus is sifting through the yard of a quaint bed and breakfast run by sisters Eve and Mary. The ladies have been spending the summer searching for their missing parents, while Angus is all about excavating a dinosaur. Meanwhile on the more mansion-y side of town, Eve's rich boyfriend John (Grant) is throwing fancy dance parties to celebrate the local legend of a giant worm.

It's a way more happening place than Dogpatch, especially when the mysterious 
Sylvia Marsh arrives in town to make a whole lot of double entendric statements about snakes. See, as you'll find out near immediately, Lady Sylvia is a bit of a worm devotee, a reincarnated or really ancient evil thing that sacrifices virgins (obviously) to the famed worm of John's fiesta happenings. Surely she has NOTHING to do with the disappearance of the wait a minute! symbolically named Mary and Eve's parents (and eventually, Mary and Eve themselves).

Directed by the generally much more experimental Ken Russell (The Devils, Tommy, Gothic), The Lair of the White Worm is an odd little hybrid that has justifiably earned a minor cult reputation. Aside from the future Divine Brown Toy For a Day, I imagine a good deal of its appeal comes from the simultaneously light-hearted and gruesome tone. 
Despite being based (loosely, I'm guessing) on a Bram Stoker novel, The Lair of the White Worm is horror comedy in its truest form. Yes, there's nun-rape, but it's so theatrically presented that it's hard to think of the scene as disturbing. The blossoming romance between Mary and Angus is sweet and without irony, while Grant's take on the wannabe detective John is never dull. The effects haven't exactly aged well--any scene that lingers on the titular monster ends up feeling more Bert I. Gordon than Tremors--but the violence has an entertaining gooeyness that nostalgically holds up.

High Points
It's quite easy to see why Hugh Grant went on to success with slightly morally askew but lovably fumbling British gent roles. As the rich but not cruel playboy, he brings a wonderful dryness to the part, proving that few men could deliver a line like "I like Mr. Flint’s hole. It's rather fascinating," with the same naughtiness

Low Points
Sure, there's something to the whole displaced knight thing, but it would've been a tad more interesting and modern to not have to watch the two female characters spend the last third of the film cowering in fear and crying through gags

Lessons Learned
Contrary to popular belief, Romans did not keep pet dinosaurs
Snake cultists are incredibly creative when it comes to I mean Tetsuo levels of creativity

In order to play the bagpipe, one must don a kilt (duh)

The Deadly Doll's Dating Advice

And to anyone (most likely male) who has been made to sit through other Grant fodder like Notting Hill or Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, might I recommend proposing this to the missus for movie night? Simply sell it as "A young Hugh Grant!" and offer to nuke the popcorn yourself. You will get some (of what I dunno, but you know....some).

The Lair of the White Worm isn't a masterpiece, but it has a wonderfully cheeky charm about it that has aged well. Sure, the bargain priced practical effects are somewhat analogous to the terror of cheap modern CGI, but the actors--Grant in particular--understand how to spread the humor, making it feel almost in tone with a British version of Fright Night. Sadly the DVD is barren of any special feature (including subtitles! and isn’t Scottish its own language?) but if you haven't seen the film, it's certainly worth a rental.