Thursday, February 19, 2015

[REVIEW] Girl House

Fresh-faced college student, Kylie Atkins, seems like your typical girl next door; friendly, ambitious, pretty. Reserved, even, until the cameras start rolling. Strapped for cash with hefty tuition fees piling up, Kylie decides to take up residence in the Girl House, a secluded mansion equipped with beautiful young women and webcams in every room. Think Big Brother XXX. Within minutes of her first broadcast, she becomes the most popular girl in the house, and attracts the attention of a particularly creepy viewer who goes by the handle, Loverboy. I'm sure I don't need to explain where things are headed.

Girl House may not be home (see what I did there?) to much of anything we haven't seen before, but with a competent director at the helm, I found little to complain about. Director Trevor Matthews, writer of the wonderfully creepy and gory, The Shrine, actually seems to take slasher films seriously, but not to a fault. After all, no one is going into a film called Girl House looking for the meaning of life. Instead of insulting our intelligence with too little, or boring us with too much exposition, a fair balance is achieved, giving us just enough of what slasher fans are looking for.

The first two acts take the slow-burn approach in order to build a sense of impending doom and develop the characters (the house, included). The killer isn't overly complex, but is surprisingly effective. Most baddies come equipped with exaggerated evil grins and fiery eyes, but not Loverboy. In fact, he looks quite normal. Chubby, self-conscious, cripplingly shy, sitting at his computer in a dark room, just hoping for a little attention from the opposite sex. It doesn't seem that far removed from your Average Joe, and that's what's so great about him. He's almost sympathetic (...almost), making him believable and that much creepier. Then, of course, he dons a mask that looks like a deranged sex doll. Nuff said, right?

Considering the plot revolves around webcam sex shows, I was surprised that none of it felt exploitative or obnoxious. Kylie even gets into an argument on the subject of webcam modeling, revealing that she does feel shame, but also anger about how unfair that is. Little moments like that were enough to make us see these girls as real people with real problems, instead of empty bimbos. None of it was exactly deep or philosophical, obviously, but it was appreciated, nonetheless.

Once Loverboy finally snaps and tracks down the mansion, the film shifts from slow-burn to bloodbath, putting on a very different kind of show for the website's randy viewers. At this point, it's pure fun and games, and let me tell ya, Loverboy butchers these people like nobody's business.

Director Trevor Matthews and writer Nick Gordon have delivered a film that thankfully returns the sub-genre to its roots, providing all of the ingredients of simple old-school entertainment. Brutal, creepy and fun, Girl House is one of the best slasher films of the last 20 years.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

[Review] Bodom

In the summer of 1960, Finland's once peaceful and popular Lake Bodom would become notorious for the brutal attack on four teenagers, leaving only one survivor. To this day, the case remains unsolved.

This true crime serves as the basis for Bodom, the first found footage horror film to come out of Hungary.

Students Annikki and Pietari, a seemingly unlikely duo, decide to team up and film a documentary on the murders to be submitted as their thesis project. What the main goal of this thesis is, however, remained unclear to me. Were they simply trying to shed light on the mystery? Or were they trying to discover what kind of effect this crime has caused? Either way, not much is discussed or revealed, feeling like a missed opportunity and leaving us with little to go on.

As the two students travel to the lake by way of a shoddy looking plane and a rental car that appears to be at least 20 years old, they're clearly trying to have fun, but it's obvious that something isn't quite right; the tension between them almost seems tangible. When they eventually arrive at their final destination, they take residence in a creepy little house (or shack, I should say), and meet a couple of friendly tourists that encourage some drinking and toking. From this point on, things get strange and inevitably go awry.

The first half of Bodom is fairly well done. As the found footage unfolds, it's cleverly intercut with after-the-fact interviews of friends, family and colleagues. The acting is mostly believable, and the vague information they give us about the two students sets up a strong sense of foreboding that had me dreading the horrors to come.

A watchman's rattle is discovered wrapped up on the front port of their little shack, presented as a "gift." The two students inspect it, confused, and hear the clicking of another rattle somewhere nearby. A simple clicking sound may not seem very threatening, but it got the point across; someone is watching and warning them. It's subtle moments like this that I appreciate the most in horror films, and I admit it gave me the chills.

When the characters in a found footage film eventually realize their lives are actually in danger, this is the point where they start to whine and bicker out of fear. But Bodom seems to take a different approach when, instead, the fear brings out associations of a traumatic event in Annikki's and Pietari's past. Is this a commentary on how dark moments from our past will continue to haunt us? Is this part of the thesis?! I really thought Bodom was on to something here...but then the film reaches it conclusion, and everything seems to just sort of fizzle out. The psychological aspects of the situation are never explored, the fear never winds up, and the relatively short 65 minute film suddenly seemed pointless.

There's a very interesting concept somewhere in there that never gets to blossom, and that's a real shame. Content to play by the rules, Bodom gets buried beneath the trappings of the found footage genre and doesn't really accomplish much. Subtlety is key in a film like this, but there's a very thin line between subtlety and boredom. Unfortunately, Bodom tends to wobble over that line, ultimately resulting in a rather forgettable film.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

[Downloads] Silent Night, Deadly Night

The Halloween season may be dead and buried, but there's no reason to stop celebrating the macabre when Christmas can be equally as scary. Just have a chat with Grandpa Chapman and you'll see why.

To keep the momentum going, I decided to do some festive photoshopping. I’ve already made two different Silent Night, Deadly Night desktop wallpapers in the past (seen HERE), both of which I keep seeing popping up all over the net around the holidays. As honored as that makes me feel, I figured it was time to make yet another updated version that was, quite frankly, less embarrassing to look at.


Friday, August 29, 2014

[Review] At The Devil's Door

A young woman is coaxed into playing a shell game with a mysterious stranger out in the California desert with the promise of a $500 reward. When she wins, she's told that it's because she's been chosen; by who, or for what purpose, is left unsaid. After having returned home, the answer comes in the form of an invisible force lurking in her bedroom wardrobe.

When real estate agent Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is tasked with selling this very same home after the disappearance of its owners' daughter, strange occurrences and a list of disclosures reveal the pieces of a horrifying puzzle that she may be a part of.

Filmmaker Nicholas McCarthy made a splash back in 2012 with his first feature film, The Pact, a supernatural mystery that has since managed to build up a small cult following. While appreciating the approach and its palpable atmosphere, it felt like a mixed bag to me, proving that McCarthy's storytelling skills were certainly in need of some fine tuning. Not much has changed with his sophomore effort, At the Devil's Door, resulting in a film that is at once rewarding and disappointing. 

When it comes down to it, the concept behind At the Devil's Door is fairly routine stuff. You can figure out where it's headed very early on, but it's the way these events unfold that keeps things somewhat fresh. The narrative is split between three different characters; the teen who plays the "game" that starts this whole mess, the real estate agent and her sister Vera (Naya Rivera). This technique reminded me of The Grudge, showing how a single horrifying event can affect many different people in a chain reaction. It makes for a twisty, engaging viewing for the first half of the film.

Midway through, however, things start to get a bit sluggish and repetitive. We're treated to the same scares, the same situations, the same revelations, again and again. By this point, it becomes painfully clear that the shuffling was merely a ploy to keep you from realizing that the plot isn't really going anywhere and the characters aren't really accomplishing anything. It would have been more appropriate (and successful) had it all been condensed into a short film, but as a feature length, it remains a mostly underwhelming affair.
Buried beneath some unfortunate choices lies a wonderfully eerie and disturbing horror tale. The concept may be simple and even nauseatingly typical, but it certainly doesn't lack the chill factor, showcased in small moments of subtle supernatural manifestations. But these moments are few and far between, leaving us with very little to keep us going until the end. I can't imagine At the Devil's Door rocking anyone's world, but if you're a fan of The Pact, I'd say it's worth a watch.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

[Review] Willow Creek

Willow Creek, directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, is a "found footage" film about a young couple entering the deep, dark woods in search of the elusive sasqua-


Yes, Willow Creek is a horror film directed by a quirky comedian. And yes, you're thinking it sounds like just another Blair Witch clone, but you'd only be half right. I'm not going to pretend that it doesn't follow the blueprints of its predecessors to a T, but considering the fact that "found footage" actually relies on simplicity, it seems only fitting. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? What sets Willow Creek apart from the rest is not its ideas, but a great cast and a firm grasp on the roots of the sub-genre.

On October 20th 1967, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin set out to make a Bigfoot documentary in the wilderness of northern California and emerged with footage of an ape-like creature that shocked the world. Now known as the Patterson-Gimlin film, it quickly became a cultural phenomenon, spawning books, movies, reality TV shows and heated debates among laymen and scientists alike for years on end. Hoax or not, its power was undeniable, and Willow Creek's Jim (Bryce Johnson) was certainly not immune. Obsessed with the mysterious creature since he was 8 years old, Jim decides to film his own expedition to the location of the Patterson-Gimlin film, much to the chagrin of his tag-along girlfriend, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), who thinks the existence of Bigfoot is about as believable as the existence of leprechauns.

The first half of the film acts as a mere setup, allowing us to get a good feel for the two leads as they explore the local towns, partaking in tourist attractions and interviewing citizens about their beliefs and supposed Bigfoot encounters. Bryce Johnson and Alexie Gilmore take a very relaxed approach to their roles, providing a realistic atmosphere missing from most other films of its kind. Instead of whiny and unbearable, they're interesting and relatable. Once the couple enter the woods and the horror begins, one would expect a shift in tone, but Willow Creek remains surprisingly collected and in complete control.

There is one scene late in the film where the couple wake up in their tent in the dead of night, a mixture of sounds coming from somewhere in the distance. At first, it's just a subtle curiosity; footsteps, perhaps; the click-clack of wood banging together. The camera, set up inside the tent, is focused on the young couple, cocking their heads back and forth, listening and wondering. While most directors would have let this scene last no more than 2 minutes before cutting away to a hideous creature, director Bobcat Goldthwait let's it go onand on and onleaving me impressed, and yes, even frightened.

Willow Creek treads very familiar ground in its short 80 minute running time, yet remains one of the better examples of genre filmmaking to come along in a while. Managing to both wink at the audience and take the subject matter seriously, the result is a subtly humorous and unsettling horror tale likely to keep you far away from the woods.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

[Downloads] Jason Voorhees Facebook Cover Photo & Wallpaper

It recently came to my attention that I've pretty much abandoned my Facebook profile. I very rarely log in anymore, and when I do, I don't stay on for more than a couple of minutes. My lonely profile was starting to develop a film of cyber dust all over my witty* status updates and sexy* selfies. I figured it was about time I spiced it up a bit and gave it some lovin'.

Revisiting the Jason Voorhees wallpaper I already made a few months back, I wasn't feeling too satisfied and realized I missed an opportunity for something much cooler, and thus this custom Jason Voorhees Facebook cover photo was born.

Facebook Cover Photo

Having the row of cabin windows stretched across the top of your profile kinda gives the page some depth. It's a pretty neat effect! Of course, then, I realized that I should have just made this into a full desktop wallpaper, so...

Desktop Wallpaper

The quality of the wallpaper isn't all that great since it's really just a stretched out reworking of the much smaller cover photo, but I still think it looks pretty cool regardless. Feel free to love the fuck out of these killer Friday the 13th creations (or not, whatever, no pressure) and head on over to the Downloads section for more of my custom work.

*This info may not be accurate.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

[Review] Stage Fright

Stage Fright follows the story of Camilla Swanson, a shy young woman working as a cook at a musical summer camp where she dreams of eventually exiting the kitchen and entering the stage. When she hears of the camp's plan to revive "The Haunting of the Opera", Camilla decides to take a chance and audition for the lead - the same role that her mother played ten years earlier before being brutally murdered backstage. As tensions mount during preparations, a Kabuki-masked psycho shows up to thin out the cast.

While this may sound like your run-of-the-mill slasher, Stage Fright is anything but. Dipping its toes in both the horror and musical genres, the mood is kept light and silly throughout, with a colorful cast of campers and catchy tunes. The camp seems to be a safe haven for all these misfit kids who just want to sing their hearts out without being bullied, and that in itself is an appealing concept to start with. There's a nerdy boy who gets beaten by his dad, a little girl trying to overcome a lisp, and a guy who wants everyone to know that he's "gay, but not in that way." All of the campers have their little quirks and backstories that get developed through song and a surprisingly good helping of humor.

Writer/director Jarome Sable handles the difficult challenge of blending two vastly different genres fairly well, but isn't entirely able to sidestep the inevitable issues that come with it. After a strong start with an equal amount of laughs and brutality, the comedy slowly takes a back seat to make way for the horror that never fully arrives. This leaves us with a somewhat muddled tone that leaves the film unfocused when dealing with Camilla and the killer.

To be honest, Camilla isn't a very interesting character and basically comes across as a burden. Her singing and dancing peers clash greatly with all her brooding and moping around, making her presence feel a bit out of place and, quite frankly, unwanted. I understand that her mother's death obviously left her with some scars, but after ten years you'd think she'd have moved on. If she was the upbeat musical character she should have been, she could have blended in nicely with the other campers, allowing for much more comedy and characterization. The other campers were the real heart and soul of this story, but sadly, they were never fully given the opportunity to truly shine.

Wearing a Japanese Kabuki mask and screaming his angry Metal tunes, the killer surely fits in with the musical portion of the film, yet it felt a lot like another missed opportunity. The death scenes were handled well enough with much brutality and little restraint, but I just wish the killer was left strictly to the horror genre to allow for a more effective performance and a bigger body count, which would have surely given this film the final push that it needed.

Jarome Sable's 2010 short film The Legend of Beaver Dam was an excellent and unique way to tackle the genre and proved he's a talent to watch out for. As his first foray into feature length films, however, Stage Fright obviously wasn't going to be perfect. There were some missed opportunities, for sure, but it's still a fluffy good time with splashes of blood, laughs and catchy music. Put simply, Stage Fright is a bloody slasher wrapped in sunshine. Let that be your recommendation or warning.