Film Reviews

00:00 October 24, 2011
By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker
[Courtesy of Columbia Pictures]

Buried Halloween Horror Flicks


It's always fun to turn out the lights and watch a horror movie marathon, especially on Halloween night. Staples for Halloween viewing consist of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973) and the classic Universal horror films - Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932) and The Wolf Man (1941).

Here, I compiled a list of horror movies that, hopefully, you haven't yet seen, and I find them scary as hell. All of these titles are available on DVD.

Black Water (2007)
Inexplicably, this got a very limited theatrical release in its native Australia and just went direct-to-video here in the U.S., yet Black Water is an incredibly tense thriller with several jump-out-of-your-seat moments. Gracie (Diana Glenn), her husband Adam (Andy Rodoreda) and her little sister Lee (Maeve Dermody) go on a boat tour of the mangrove swamps of Northern Australia, but the vacation soon turns into a nightmare when they are stalked by a huge, hungry crocodile. This is based on a real incident and directors David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki seem to have come up with a more aggressive version of 2003's effective, shark themed Open Water. The most haunting scene here is when several characters are stuck in a tree, during a rainstorm at night, and can hear the croc below dining on its latest victim.

The Funhouse (1981)
Often ignored when director Tobe Hooper's canon of work is discussed, but I consider this to be one of his best movies right along side The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and the Salem's Lot TV movie (1979). Two teenage couples decide to spend the night in a carnival funhouse as a goof. Inside, they witness a murder and end up being hunted by a psychotic carny (Kevin Conway) and his mutant son (Wayne Doba). Accentuating the scares is monster makeup designed by Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London) and a full-blooded music score by John Beal.

The Leopard Man (1943)
An escaped leopard is blamed for a rash of savage murders, but could there also be a serial killer on the loose? This thriller is the third and final teaming of producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur, following Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). Story elements don't always hold up, but that is more than made up for in atmosphere. The Leopard Man plays like an intense fever dream, and is the perfect film to watch in a quiet house at 3 a.m.

The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue (AKA Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) (1974)
Two young travelers (Ray Lovelock, Christine Galbo) not only find themselves battling the undead, but also a bitter, aging policeman (Arthur Kennedy) who hates hippies. This zombie film, directed with style by Jorge Grau (The Legend of Blood Castle), is easily the best of the Night of the Living Dead knock-offs. Clever ending!

The Ward (2011)
A phantasmal figure is savagely murdering the patients at North Bend Psychiatric Hospital for disturbed women. The newly incarcerated Kristen (Amber Heard) makes it her mission to unravel the mystery of the killings before it's her turn. This is the first theatrical motion picture in ten years by horror master John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) and it's a tight, well-made little thriller. The scenes of murder seem like tributes to Italian giallo films in general, Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace (1964) in particular. There's a big twist at the end of The Ward that should have come off as silly, but Carpenter makes it work, stripping the story to its bare essentials. Carpenter's film is actually far superior than Martin Scorsese's cluttered and over-baked Shutter Island (2010). Seriously!

Well, here's hoping at least one of these films gives you recurring nightmares.



2 Stars

Roland Emmerich, director of big budget shlock like 2012 and Independence Day, tries to branch out with Anonymous, a film which posits that William Shakespeare did not actually write the plays attributed to him.
Rhys Ifans plays the Earl of Oxford, the actual author of the plays and a man who can't reveal himself as such because theater is considered to be beneath a man of noble stature. Eventually, Ifans enlists playwright Ben Jonson to produce his works. Shakespeare, a drunken actor, decides to take credit for writing them.
All of this is used as a backdrop for political maneuvering at the end of the Elizabethan era in England. And it gets awfully convoluted. The film's structure does not help, either, putting in flashback upon flashback and instituting a completely unnecessary framing story that just pads the film's overlong 130 minute running time.
The film's best asset is Ifans' lead performance. Having spent a career in primarily comic relief roles (most famously as Hugh Grant's goofy roommate in Notting Hill), Ifans proves he can command the screen as the lead in a drama. Hopefully next time he'll get a better script. The Thing


2 1/2 Stars

The Thing is a prequel/remake of John Carpenter's now well-regarded 1982 remake of Howard Hawk's 1951 The Thing from Another World, which was based on John W. Campbell Jr.'s short story "Who Goes There?". What do you title a prequel to The Thing? The Thing Begins? Prelude to The Thing? They should have held a contest. Anyway, a Norwegian research team in the Antarctic discovers an alien being frozen in the ice. They invite American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to examine this thing. As it turns out, the organism is still alive and escapes its icy prison. And as it also turns out, this thing is like a parasite and can infect then mimic any living creature it comes in contact with. This Thing movie pretty much follows the same trajectory as the '82 film - paranoia ensues in the camp as Kate and the others try to determine who is human and who is the Thing. Winstead is very good, coming off as a believable, tough heroine and not at all like a miscast snow bunny. The digital effects of the gory transformations here are cool and all, but Rob Bottin's practical effects from the Carpenter film are much more awe-inspiring. This new version doesn't hold a candle to its predecessor, but when it gets going it's engaging enough.
The Big Year

By Fritz Esker

2 1/2 Stars

Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black star as competitive bird watchers (a.k.a. "birders") in The Big Year, a slight but reasonably entertaining film.

All three men are taking part in a "big year," an event where bird watchers compete to see who can spot the highest number of bird species in a given year. There isn't much more plot to the film. While it is never really laugh out loud funny, it does a good job of showing how outsiders might justifiably view the men's passion for bird watching as strange without patronizing the characters in a "hey, let's laugh at all the freaks" way.
In addition, the film does a pretty good job of showing how a passion/obsession can be a good thing in some regards, but a bad thing in others. And while the characterizations are often conventional, the script allows Wilson's character (the most overly competitive of the group) to have some depth, as a lesser film would have made an easy, cartoon villain out of him.

It may not be a film that will be remembered at year's end, but The Big Year is an amusing film that will likely please those out for a lighthearted matinee.

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