Saturday, August 9, 2014

Horror News Radio Episode 70 featuring Guardians of the Galaxy, Sharnado 2: The Second One and a tribute to the legendary Dick Smith

The Horror News Radio grue-crew review the mega successful Marvel Studios hit, Guardians of the Galaxy. Dave dishes out the Horror News of the Week including a tribute to the legendary Dick Smith. Sharknado 2: The Second One is featured in this week's "What Have You Been Watching" segment.

Join Doc Rotten, Santos Ellin Jr, Dave Dreher, Thomas Mariani and Vixen, the Voice of Reason for episode 70 of Horror News Radio.

Horror News Radio 
The Official HorrorNews.Net Podcast 
Episode 70 – Guardians of the Galaxy
Subscribe – iTunes – Facebook – Stitcher

Contest: Anchor Bay DVD giveaway of The Midnight Game  The Black Saint provides the trivia question for Anchor Bay's DVD giveaway of The Midnight Game coming out August 12, 2014. Anchor Bay is teaming up with Horror News Radio to give away two copies of the film. Check out for details. Contest ends midnight, August 10, 2014 and is open to US residents only. Good luck!

Doc Rotten: twitter @doc_rotten, letterboxd DocRotten 
Dave Dreher: facebook drehershouseofhorrors, twitter @savinifan 
Santos (The Black Saint) Ellin Jr.: facebook theblacksainthnn, twitter @tbssaysyou, letterboxd TheBlackSaint 
Thomas Mariani: twitter @notthewhostommy. , letterboxd SilentTom 
Vixen: twitter @purevixen44

Horror News Radio

Special thanks and a big shout out goes to the band Tear Out The Heart and Victory Records for allowing HorrorNews.Net to sample music from their single Undead Anthem for the podcast’s intro and outro theme music. Check them out and tell them The Official HorrorNews.Net Podcast sent you their way!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Review: Insidious (2011)

Insidious is scary-ass fun. Your goose-pimples will have goose-pimples. James Wan, the director of Saw, has crafted a new horror film with old-time sensibilities that will likely redefine ghost movies for a whole new generation. Wan, together with Saw partner Leigh Whannell and producer Oren (Paranormal Activity) Peli, have succeeded in making a chilling haunted house film - full of all the expected constructs, jumps and thrills - that is as scary as classics like Poltergeist (1982), The Haunting (1963) and The Amityville Horror (1979). With a smart script, tastefully atmospheric direction and a solid cast (including character actor favorite Lin Shaye), this movie will make you scream, jump out of your seat and gasp for air - all the while having a great time.

Leigh Whannell, who also wrote the first three Saw films and Dead Silence, has penned a story that uses every trick and cliche available to both support the expectation and pull the rug out from under the audience weaving it all around a solid set of characters. In the story, the Lambert family move into a new house where they begin to experience unexplainable noises and shadows. When the oldest son slips into a coma after hitting his head, the activity escalates and the family moves to a new home. However this does little to stop the hauntings and they are forced to bring in outside help. The story is focused on the Lambert family, particularly father Josh (Patrick Wilson), mother Renai (Rose Byrne) and son Dalton (Ty Simpkins), which goes a long way in keeping the film grounded, especially during the concluding scenes. Whannell makes their relationships real, flawed and believable. He also is able to throw every trick from the haunted house manual into the script without loosing focus, mainly due to a deliberate pacing and a controlled escalation of events.

Wan’s direction is full of atmosphere, an important ingredient is setting up a ghostly tale. The homes are full of shadows and dread. The film is rarely lit with bright colors or sunshine, even the daytime is imposing. When the lights do go out, forget it - you’re toast. When in the houses, Wan’s camera masterfully and purposely scans each room, each setting, keeping the audience keenly aware of the surroundings, always looking for a sign, a shadow or movement. This keeps the audience on edge; anything can happen and generally does. He also has a close rein on the tempo of Insidious as well. Everything is perfectly timed, the increasing scares, the lighter moments, the spacing between jumps. He knows how to set the audience up never providing more than a brief false sense of security. Just when he allows a chance to breathe, he ramps up the chills. Nowhere is safe, no one is safe. He makes the  most out of Whannell’s script, the creepy sound design, a terrific cast and subtle, yet highly effective, special effects. Contrary to Wan’s Saw film, Insidious does not have gore or hideous traps, the fear is high on suspense, mood and the unknown. It’s Wan’s best work to date.

Insidious is perfectly cast with everyone hitting the mark, but the stand out performance is Lin Shaye as the paranormal investigator, Elise Rainier. Shaye is talented character actor with a long and varied career. She’s that face you recognize: “Oh, it’s her.” With well over a 100 films behind her, this may become her most accomplished role. This works to the film’s advantage as she provides a sense of familiarity, as sense of trust to the explanations she is about to drop in the family’s lap. She energizes the film as well when she makes her entrance and the film was already electric by the time she does so. Her face is so expressive, she doesn’t have to say anything to convey the horrors that lie in the dark, just out of sight. She sees them and that is scary as hell. As Josh and Renai, the parents dealing with both the uncertainty of their son’s condition and the fears of an entity that haunts their home, Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) and Rose Byrne (Knowing, Damages) are instantly likable and believable as a couple, comfortable in their relationship complete with joys, fears and conflicts,  much like Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams were in Poltergeist in the early Eighties. Barbara (The Entity, Black Swan) Hershey is the Josh’s mother, Lorraine and she adds a great deal of weight to the film. She compliments Shaye’s Elise. Between the two of them, they are instantly convincing that the Lambert family is in dire straights. Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson are Specs and Tucker, a pair of paranormal investigators that work with Elise. They provide both comedy relief and validation to the hauntings. They’re both marvelous in their roles. Even the child actors and supporting actors playing nurses and doctors and such are convincing; but in the end, the film belongs to Lin Shaye.

Being a haunted house picture, Insidious is dependent on the effectiveness of the ghosts. The phantasms are eerie, shocking and frightening. They’re everywhere and numerous. Except for one major exception, they are all similar in their appearance, different in many other ways, but recognizably human in origin: an old hag; a shadowed face; a tall, dark, imposing apparition; a murderous, insane woman; a creepy, dancing man-child. They all work and they are all scary. They keep the audience guessing and on edge. Then there’s the exception, the king of creepy, the man with the “face of fire.” More demonic than ghostly, there’s one force much more sinister than the rest, the one you don’t want to run into. While he boarders on the absurd with his outrageous design, he also succeeds due to the stark contrasts to the other horrific elements in the film - he stands out. His face is full of red color; and, when he appear, the shift from the washed out colors and gray to his intensely hued features is visually startling. In addition, his character is so different that the others that, while they are terrifying, it makes him absolutely bloodcurdling. Together, they all come at you like the ghosts and goblins that jump at you during a horror-themed amusement ride. When it comes to “boo,” Insidious has it.

A terrific, entertaining, scary thrill ride, Insidious is what every horror fan dreams of. It delivers on its promises and makes the hair stand on your arms and the back of your neck. And it uses what many other films fail to use properly, cliches. Yes, Insidious is full of cliches; but, here, they work. Here, they are used to the director’s advantage mostly because he either builds on them or exposes them, using them to misdirect the audience, to provide a false sense of familiarity. The ghosts are exactly where you expect them: under the bed, in the closet, in the mirror, behind the door, at the window. It’s when there where you don’t expect them, they do their most to get you. It’s all glorious set up. Wan and Whannell also handle their horror film like a comedian would a comedy, throwing scare after scare at you like the comic would jokes. They don’t all succeed on every person, but they are many and most do so tremendously well. You never know what is coming next. It’s unnerving. It will have you seeing things in the shadows for days. Expertly paced with chilling sound design and full of atmosphere, Insidious will make you scream…out loud.

41/2 out of 5

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review: Sucker Punch (2011)

When watching Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, about midway through, you’ll realize something is missing. There’s a vacuum, devoid of meaning and purpose. What is it? What can it be? It’s heart, emotion - Sucker Punch has no soul. Without that, there’s no connection to the characters, no investment in the plot, no payoff to the story. Snyder plays to his strengths, the visuals, the style, but forgets to add an appropriate amount of substance. It’s a shame - there’s brilliance in there somewhere, struggling to bubble to the surface. Buried in the excess is a magnificent concept of a fantasy in a fantasy in a fantasy with bold narrative choices and a clever visual style, but it is all squandered by losing focus on the characters themselves. It’s all flash, fancy and fury and no depth.

Set in the 50’s, Sucker Punch quickly follows a young woman named Baby Doll (Emily Browning) who is sent to a mental hospital by her sleazy step-father after the death of her mother and the accidental shooting of her younger sister. Locked inside the Lennox House, Baby Doll must find a way to escape before she is lobotomized in five days. She teams up with four other inmates, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung), to gather four items needed to execute their escape. Baby Doll learns of these four items when she falls into a fantasy world as she dances for Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) - itself, a fantasy world set up to escape the horrors of living in the institution. However, the evil orderly, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), discovers their plot and confronts them exposing and jeopardizing their escape.

Sucker Punch is visually stunning with exciting vignettes set in Feudal Japan, a steam-punk version World War I, a blend of World War II and Lord of the Rings and a futuristic, sci-fi mission impossible on a train. This is where the magic happens, in the hyper-stylised, anime-influenced action sequences set to trippie rock classic remakes on the soundtrack where the girls are little more than costumed superheroes. Baby Doll fights a trio of giant Samurais or the girls battle an army of zombified steam-punk German soldiers or a vicious pissed-off mother dragon. The scenes are spectacular and stunning. They’re visual eye-candy of the highest order. They’re meant to be heightened reflections of the tasks at hand, mirroring the capture of each item in Baby Doll’s fantasy world within her fantasy world. Unfortunately, they mean very little to the story and, despite their visual appeal, the scenes detract from the impact of the story itself.

Oddly, the fantasy sequences occur as Baby Doll dances - and are shown instead of the dance itself. We’re told Baby Doll’s dancing is mesmerizing, beautiful, hypnotic. No one can look away - except Zack Snyder it seems. The director never shows Baby Doll dancing and the audience never witnesses the dance - instead we get the fantasy sequences. This a crucial mistake. While it may have been intended that the spectacular set pieces would represent her seductive performances, they complete remove the audience from the effect. Instead that draw, the fascination, is never effectively established and the scenes are left hollow and incomplete. It just happens. It’s as if right when Baby Doll gets ready to perform her spectacular dance number Dug from Disney’s Up jumps onto screen announcing “squirrel” and then we follow that damn squirrel on it’s adventure instead. It’s a wondrous and fascinating misstep of glorious proportions.

In the past ten years, Zack Snyder has proven he has a keen visual eye for producing stunning and satisfying cinematographic mini-masterpieces. He first wowed with the opening scenes in the remake of Dawn of the Dead with Ana’s harrowing escape from the zombies invading her suburban life. Then he transformed action scenes for all action movies with his adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 with his jerky-mixed-speed motion fight sequences. He followed that up with filming the unfilmable graphic novel Watchmen giving the whole world a sample of Alan Moore’s genius. With each film, he matured as a filmmaker. Somehow that maturity didn’t translate to Sucker Punch. The style and the pizazz did, but not the attention to detail, plot and character. There’s no tie to Baby Doll, there’ no emotional bond or investment to her character or her plight. Worse, in the end, her entire story is rendered pointless. With no cause to care for the characters, the action scenes lose their sizzle - they lose their punch! Sucker Punch is a dazzling epic disaster.

2.5 out of 5

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review: Drive Angry 3D (2011)

All hell breaks loose when John Milton (Nicolas Cage) escapes his supernatural prison to chase down the Satanic cult that murdered his daughter and kidnapped his granddaughter. With only a young southern firecracker named Piper (Amber Heard) at this side, Milton must fight his way through a variety of obstacles to get to the man responsible: Piper’s cheating boyfriend, the cultist killers and a corrupted police force. The man Milton is after is Jonah King (Billy Burke) who has devilish plans for Milton’s granddaughter. To complicate matters, Milton must also continually avoid The Accountant (William Fichtner) whose mission is to recapture Milton and return him to his prison cell.

Writer-director Patrick Lussier has crafted a love letter to car chase movies from the Seventies, to 3D movies, and to b-movies in general, constructing a heaping serving of movie madness that would make Roger Corman grin from ear to ear. Drive Angry 3D is as over-the-top in its fast paced, high-octane action as Pirahna 3D (2010) was in its outrageous sensibilities last year. Ever character, every set piece and every line of dialog is taken to the extreme, full of hyper-realized stereotypes that are elevated to art. When there’s an abusive, cheating boyfriend or a hot but weathered waitress ready to jump in the sack with the lead character or curmudgeon, old police officer well past retirement age, take that cliche and crank it up to eleven and that’s what is found in this exercise in excess. The language is raunchy, the nudity is prevalent, the gore is plentiful and plot is simple and too the point. Drive Angry 3D is B-movie gold. On top of that, Lussier, who directed My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009), knows the 3D angle and displays it with childlike glee.

Drive Angry 3D is far from a perfect film but it wears its flaws as proudly as its strengths. One such flaw is the film’s star, Nicolas Cage. In many ways, it’s difficult to see anyone else play John Milton; the role feels like it was written for just the type of exaggerated actor Cage has become. There are times when his performance fires on all cylinders, full of swagger and attitude; but, there other times that it feels tired and lifeless. The role requires an actor that fully embraces and embodies the larger than life persona, much like Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken. John Milton is a cross between Jim Kowalski and John McClane. Cage comes very close to reaching that with Milton and this is one of his better performances in the past few years, but it still falls just a bit shy. Too old, maybe. Too restrained, maybe. Still, even so, when imagining someone else in the role, it’s difficult to do so with Nicolas Cage remaining a good fit.

Along with Cage, Drive Angry 3D has an excellent cast of supporting characters: Amber Heard, William Fichtner and Billy Burke. Amber Heard is insanely hot in this film with her foul mouth, sizzling good looks, affection for daisy dukes and a great right hook. She has all the best lines and nails their delivery - she’s a natural action star. The dialog is a cheesy as it comes and she just owns it. When her life is threatened and there’s no way to get out, she still gets up the villain’s grill and shouts “between now and then, I’m gonna [mess] you up!” Brilliant! Arnold, Sylvester and Bruce could not have delivered it better and have never - never, ever - looked as good. Billy Burke is Jonah King and he is slimy, corrupt and ruthless in the role. He’s confident and cocky and he rises above the confines of the cliched character. However, it’s William Fichtner as The Accountant that steals the show. His performance embodies the sense of humor found in the entire show. He’s sarcastic, charismatic and delightful. Then dropped right into the middle of this hot mess is Tom Atkins, a favorite cult character actor from films like The Fog (1980), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) and Night of the Creeps (1986). Atkins, looking very spry for his age, chews on the scenery like a modern day Vincent Price.

The advertising campaign made a big point in communicating that Drive Angry 3D was filmed in 3D and well they should. No post-converted mess is this - this is 3D with purpose. Surprisingly (or perhaps professionally), Lussier rarely goes for the “coming at you” type gags that might be expected. They are there, for sure: guns pointing out of the screen, bullets and debris flying past your head, body parts striking dangerously close to your noggin’. But there’s also a great sense of depth and location enveloping the screen, drawing the viewer in. In one scene, Cage reaches into the twisted metal of an overturned car giving a full range of foreground, middle ground and background: wreckage in the front, fire raging in the back with Cage slinking through the middle toward his trapped prey. In another scene, the audience can see Cage at the steering wheel with a Johas King flashback unfolding in front of him, dangling just over the heads of the audience in the first few rows. The 3D is rich, exciting and expertly done, enriching and balancing the characters, dialog and story.

Drive Angry 3D is the perfect film for b-movie fans. Patrick Lussier fills the film with a distinct personality and flavor, similar to that found in his other 3D film, My Bloody Valentine. It’s that presence of b-movie passion onscreen that truly characterizes Drive Angry 3D. It results in a fun time at the theater. Lussier is one great script away from defining 3D horror and creating a masterpiece of modern b-movie cinema. He’s certainly not afraid to make the film he wants to, not to be confined to PG-13 doldrums. He lives in the chances he takes - the more outrageous the idea, the better; the more brazen the dialog, the more appropriate it becomes. With Drive Angry 3D, Lussier takes campy, cult chase classics like Vanishing Point (1971), Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974) and Race with the Devil (1975) and modernizes it with a hint of Supernatural and creates an exciting, indulgent, glorious, action-packed thrill-ride.

4 out of 5 (b-movie fans)
2 out of 5 (serious movie fans)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review: Rubber (2011)

Rising from a sandy grave, lost in the desert, an inanimate tire comes to life and learns to roll on his own. Making his way toward a nearby, sparsely populated town, the tire gains telepathic powers enabling him to blow up anything, or anyone, that stands in his path. Soon he falls for a mysterious brunette in a passing car and must face the town’s sheriff. Alone and desperate, he searches for companionship and the means to quench his lust for destruction.

Of all the films shown at the 13th annual Nevermore Film Festival in Durham, NC in February, Rubber is the most irreverent and controversial. Horror movies in the past have never shied away from bringing inanimate objects to life, setting them on a murder spree: cars (Duel, The Car, Christine), toys (Trilogy of Terror, Child’s Play) or even tomatoes (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes). But in Rubber, writer-director Quentin Dupieux takes it to the extreme and animates a common rubber car tire: a brilliant concept that occasionally shuffles about too long but still promises ample amounts of pathos and humor. He also provides the tire with a surprising amount of personality as it rolls across the desert scenery. The tire, given the name Robert in the credits, slowly learns how to roll without falling over: he gains a passion in destroying things, falls for a sexy young lady, takes revenge on a trucker the drives him off the road and even tries to learn to swim.

benefits from having an outrageously original opening that immediately sets the tone for the movie and shatters the fourth wall. When Lieutenant Chad steps out of his patrol car to address a gathering of movies goers and proceeds to give an inspired monologue about the events in movies happening for “no reason,” the result is at once baffling and hilarious setting up for the introduction of the Robert the tire and his antagonistic adventures. Suddenly, the idea of a tire “waking up” and strolling merrily down the road on its own is perfectly reasonable and the audience is primed to witness whatever the writer-director dreams up. Dupieux masterfully weaves together the narrative, the forces driving the narrative, the onscreen audience thrust into the narrative and the audience watching Rubber safely in their theater seats. When it works, Rubber is a real treat to witness...and be a part of. It’s funny, amazing, crazy, simple and complex all at once.

Somehow, however, Dupieux also manages to become trapped in the world he is trying to deconstruct and ends up bound back behind the fourth wall he works so hard to knock down in the opening sequence. Strangely, after succeeding in establishing that anything can happen for “no reason,” he rarely builds on that concept other than to allow Robert to come to life and gain special powers. The door that allows “anything can happen” is open and nothing else manages to creep through. There are a number of interesting, captivating nuggets of whimsy and genius that make to the screen but nothing really captures the pure imagination that launches the film. This makes the second act a bit longer and repetitive than expected. After the first 3 or 4 exploding animals or heads, the sense of wonder has faded and the lack of a real story begin to be exposed. Occasionally, another flash of awe will zip across the screen - usually featuring Wings Hauser - and the film restores what made it so fascinating early on, especially the event (not to spoil) that transitions the film to its final act where Robert, done with the small town life, casts aside his obsessions, finds others like him and heads west to discover larger dreams. With that, the film ends on a high note.

Largely consisting of unknown, but at times recognizable, character actors, Rubber contains some equally inspired performances. Stephen Spinella, as Lieutenant Chad, leads the cast and provides the all-important speech with passion and conviction. His role, his presence, is the heartbeat of the story; he may not always be on screen, but his character’s impact is always felt. Equally important and equally impressive is Jack Plotnick as the accountant. His character, sometimes more so than Lieutenant Chad, is the strand of reason that binds the imaginary fourth wall back to the onscreen world. Roxanne Mesquida plays Sheila, the mysterious brunette to whom Robert is drawn so passionately. While, at first, she’s mostly there to “be pretty” and to attract the rubber rim of death, she is alter given a scene where she provides the voice to a dummy set to lure Robert out into the open; here she displays a delightful sense of comedic timing helped immensely by sounding off co-star Stephen Spinella. Then there’s Wing Hauser, who manages to upstage all the rest (except maybe Robert) and steal the show. He’s wonderfully funny, in control and four steps ahead of everyone: at least until he mistakenly comes face to face with Robert. The success of the film hinges on how successfully these actors brings the concepts and nonsensical dialog to the screen and everyone delivers. Bravo.

Rubber examines the mechanics of movie making, movie watching and the reasoning behind each. Not really a horror film at all, it is a parody of not only horror films but all films choosing a killer animated tire as its draw. Laugh out loud funny at times, the movie takes unexpected turns shocking, surprising and delighting the audience. Great performances keep the pace from coming to a stand still during the second act. The film never really manages to top the brilliance of its opening act, but still holds together long enough for a satisfying conclusion. It’s a great time at the movies, poking fun at movies and examining movies all at once. Silly, stupid, funny and inspired - just go see it.

8 out of 10