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I’ll reiterate what I’ve stated many times already for this format – just give the characters camera glasses. They can put them on and forget about them just as easily as the audience rather than wondering why these terrified kids are still filming themselves being trapped. They even use the light on the camera to keep up some visibility in the darkness and still don’t turn off the recording. If this format really wants to continue, it would do well to adhere to a modicum of logic.
As unlikable as this teenage foursome appear in the picture, I must admit there is a believable dynamic to their characters. A jock desperately tries to impress a girl by attempting to act in the high school play. His dorky A/V buddy constantly shoves the camera in the jock’s face and anywhere where he can find a juvenile laugh. Convinced that the jock will fail miserably on opening night, the two of them decide to break into the school the night before the play and bust up the stage. And if that plan wasn’t crazy enough, they invite along their insane female friend and document the ordeal with a camera.
After some expected teen drama when the jock finds his crush followed him inside, the doors are locked and frights begin. The killer of the evening is the ghost of a student who died during a play of The Gallows, the very same play that was to take place the next day. Accidentally hung by faulty equipment, the angry soul tortures the kids with his haunted school antics. When he’s not pulling the usual ghost pranks of locking doors and replacing items behind their back. The teenagers wreck the stage, look away, look back and the stage is perfectly reassembled. The teenagers then start freaking out and blubbering with questions about how that happened. The prank is continuous throughout the picture that you’d figure the characters would catch on to the repetitive nature by the third act.
When the ghost isn’t pulling these goofy attempts at scaring teens, there is actually some scary imagery mixed in to this standard found-footage horror. Delving deeper into the mysteriously dark hallways and crawl spaces, the teens discover everything from creepy televisions that operate without power and a swinging corpse dangled high above a dark shaft. But to get to this point, you have to be with the characters in their journey. And when their excuse for going into the creepy, dark crawl space is “ah, screw it”, it’s hard to be with a horror experience that is clearly strung along without real progression. Characters run off, some get lost, some get locked behind doors and the deaths and panic set in with amateur horror logic 101.
The ghost of deceased student Charlie appears briefly here and there with the standard hangman bag over his head. His weapon of choice, obviously, is the noose. But how many ways can you kill somebody with a noose? You could grab the teens by different body parts and rip off limbs, I guess. But, no, Charlie really has a thing for the neck seeing as how his was snapped. Unless the rope itself is made of some impenetrable ghost material, I question why the teenagers don’t pack some scissors or a knife to simply cut the rope.
While there are some proper ingredients for an effective found footage horror, The Gallows just never takes off as it meanders around its spooky premise. Two of the teens find themselves walking along a catwalk. They turn around as they think they hear something. They turn back and the catwalk is littered with nooses. It’s a scene that perfectly sums up the laziness of the experience. We’re waiting for a scare and get served up the same old frights drooped about.
The series staple Michael Gloss returns for the role as the mustached gunmen Burt Gummer. Now a seasoned veteran at dealing with the wormy Graboids, Burt now has his own survival television program where he showcases his monster-hunting skills. Such promotion brings with it pushy young brand manager Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy). Taking the show abroad, Burt accepts an invitation to hunt Graboids in South Africa. But the plot grows thicker as more Graboids are discovered and a greedy black market dealer desires to have these monsters captured alive.
Naturally, Tremors 5 never takes itself seriously. It’d be hard to do so when the type of Graboid our heroes are hunting is designated as an Ass Blaster class, based on the fire it spews from its rectum to launch through the air. True to the campy spirit of Tremors, the script by the original writers maintains a certain level of fun throughout. Burt showcases his usual gung ho attitude with plenty of guns in tow. He’s such an amusing character that the movie actually has enough faith to lock him in a cage and work with very little. The addition of Jamie Kennedy to the cast is solid given that he perfectly inhabits the role of an eager young assistant. He never plays the role up too heavily by acting as a suitable counter to the crusty old Michael Gloss.
The monster hunting is heavy on the computer graphics, but the picture makes due with the best with what it has to offer. The Graboids don’t appear very cheap for such a production and actually look pretty decent in most scenes. There are some sequences that are awkwardly staged as when one unlucky soul is gobbled up by a Graboid launching out of the sand and swallowing before burrowing back. But there are also scenes that easily avoid being laughable as when an Ass Blaster flies off into the night with human prey in its claws.
Plenty of firepower is brought to the party as Burt goes hunting in South Africa. You’ll rarely find a scene where Burt isn’t armed with a trusty hunting rifle. He may not do as much shooting as I’d like, mostly just taking aim for a Graboid kills, but the picture tries to make up for it in the second act with a helicopter armed with missiles that decimates a Graboid nest. The movie at least delivers on the blood and explosions as the grand finale involves a giant burst of bug guts over an entire African town.
Despite some slow spots, Tremors 5 delivers on a genuine sense of fun for another monster romp down the direct-to-video series. There’s a surprising amount of charm in how it delivers on some capable humor for what could have been a tired change of location and smattering of computer graphics. It would be nice to see Kevin Bacon return to the series after all these years, but Michael Gloss seems to do a good job at keeping a certain level of enthusiasm after all these years. After five Tremors movies, he still has all the intensity with his cackling at victories and teeth gnashing at those who hinder his hunt. He owns this series and he knows it, despite the attempt in this movie to spur a passing of the torch. I also really dug the concept for his reality show that would fit in snugly on National Geographic or the Discovery Channel. If the series has a future, I would be more than okay with a Tremors TV series of Burt hunting Graboids around the globe. Could you imagine him running through the streets of Tokyo with a hunting rifle as monsters emerge into crowded intersections?
Part of the fun of a horror movie is the element of the unexpected. The new Poltergeist plays to all the same notes, fruitlessly punched up for a modern audience. For example, take the creepy clown doll. In the original, the clown toy was scary not because it had a fearsome face, but because it seems sinister in the darkness during a thunderstorm. The new clown doll tries too hard to be scary in the light with its sharp teeth and beady eyes. By the time the clown actually pops out of the darkness to grab a little boy by the neck, his visage has lost the element of fright. It also doesn’t help that his reputation is plastered all over the movie posters as if to prep the audience ahead of time that there is a scary clown in the movie.
The only part of this new version that feels fresh and redefined is the family dynamic. The Bowen family is likable and relatable upon moving into the house with the concerned mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) and the struggling-to-find-a-job dad (Sam Rockwell). They’re all defined as real characters before the spook-fest begins. But when it’s time for the ghosts to arrive, the picture sacrifices their plight for the familiar ride.
The scary aspect of Poltergeist is just lost when regurgitated out for the 21st century. The only elements that seem divergent are the inclusion of drones and ghost-hunting reality programs. Other than that, it’s the same old scares relying on jumps and computer graphics. The tree outside the window smashes its branches into the house to grab the children, but now the tree reaches through the hallway and out the window. A shot like that screams of Raimi’s Evil Dead 2, but without all the skillful camerawork or general thrill. It’s hard to be scared of a computer-generated tree reaching through a house especially with the vision of the more practical effects from the original still in my mind.
And I hate to compare a remake to the original because that’s just not fair, but what do you expect when the movie follows the same plot with no new surprises? Moreover, it taunts the viewer with small Raimi-isms of what could have been a PG-13 Evil Dead if only there was a shred of creativity in its conception of creeps. It’s a movie I truly do want to love for the craft of its characters and technicalities behind the special effects. The portal in the bedroom is presented about as well it could be for a modern horror picture. But, again, did it need to be made? Sure, the teenagers who have yet to see the original may not be shocked at what is presented – cowering in their seats for the next jump scare. But when those kids eventually do see Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, they’ll have to decide which version of “they’re heeeere” is better. My money is on Hooper’s version.
The entire movie takes place from a computer desktop. Through various applications and social networking sites, we learn of high school student Laura Barnes and her suicide via LiveLeak. Soon after her death, various friends who knew Laura converge on Skype, including Laura’s childhood friend Blaire. They’re all assembled in a group chat by a mysterious user. With no avatar or webcam – only communicating to the group through text chat – the unknown person identifies as Laura Barnes. The teens don’t believe it’s her, most likely a hacker posing with her account. But then the ghastly online figure begins messing with our characters by removing buttons from their browsers and posting secretive information on social media.
Such a concept on paper is rather laughable to my generation that didn’t grow up on social media, but I thought about how the youth of today might view such first-world problems. These kids spend nearly every hour of the day glued to the screen of a computer or mobile device that any change in their routine of applications shakes their world. There’s a strange fear they have for losing that level of communication. It’s still pretty ridiculous to me the way they freak out about not being able to force-quit a program, but I can understand being freaked about from such a limited knowledge of technology.
Of course, not being able to close applications and getting cyberbullied by a hacking ghost doesn’t meet the requirements for horror. The ghost of Laura Barnes starts playing games over Skype where she ends up murdering the losers. Sometimes it’s putting their hand in a blender and other times it’s just making them have a fatal seizure. As she picks them off, we slowly learn of the terrible story behind their bullying of Laura. This ultimately makes everyone in the picture unlikable with nobody left to root for by the end. I didn’t care who lived or died as all of them are despicable people who don’t consider the consequences of any of their actions. I can’t even root for Laura to slay all these terrible people because she stoops to the same low levels of bullying by creating memes out of her murders. Nobody learns anything and nobody changes their ways. It’s just a depressing picture of a culture obsessed with viral content that use the internet for little more than social bickering and mean-spirited pranks.
Getting off the topic of the unlikable script, one might find the movie noteworthy for taking place entirely within a computer screen. It’s not the first production to attempt such a concept (Open Windows), but it is the first to actually use familiar software. Paying for the rights to use the real software of Facebook and Skype better helps the target audience relate to the setting. And that’s something you have to get right for a picture such as this. It’s a little hard to get into this picture if it used knock-off names such as Friendface and Clype. The rights to the names probably didn’t cost that much considering the complete budget for this film was only $1 million. But for being desktop based in filming, I must admit the movie at least makes decent use of various programs and precise timing in pealing back the layers of the characters. Opening multiple windows to see the characters secretly chat among each other while on Skype did create a certain eye-catching tension. Just imagine if you actually care about these kids how effective that direction would seem.
Director Leo Gabriadze’s interest for making this picture was the changing methods for bullying that have shifted to an online arena. Not finding some clever aspect to seek a way out of the sludge that breeds from the worst of personalities, Unfriended just basks in the disgusting and laughable nature of it all. It has all the goofy faults for being so overly spooky about the cyber boogeyman and all the hate for displaying how cruel high school students can act online. The movie purposes some interesting ideas of modern commentary, but never takes advantage of them. What it all boils down to – after all the wonderment of the stalking internet user – is just another teen slasher with dopey teens who bite the dust. Here’s a tip, kids: If you find yourself online with somebody you don’t know, you should probably get off the internet for the night. Don’t give them anything, don’t talk to them – just shut it down. If I was able to grasp these wise words from my parents about online safety in 1999, then it really speaks volumes about the addiction of today’s kids on technology. It’s a unique societal aspect tossed to the wolves for a movie that could be dubbed as “I Know What Posted Last Summer” or “All Millennials Must Die.”
It retains the meta-commentary nature of the earlier film – existing in a universe where the past events are recognized as movies – but does away with most of the dark and dreary. In place of the grayscale darkness of a drab United Kingdom is the overly sunny environment of a sweaty Texas prison. Previous Human Centipede stars Dieter Laser and Laurence R Harvey return as an insane prison boss and a pudgy accountant. Laurence becomes obsessed with the Human Centipede movies and purposes the process of connecting mouths to butts as a new method for rehabilitating prisoners. Illegal and immoral? Yes. Outside the realm of this universe? Absolutely not.
Unlike the last two movies – which were dismal experiences of torture – this third entry makes an attempt to play the scenario up for TROMA levels of comedy. Dieter Laser parades around his prison wildly wagging his gun, randomly shooting prisoners, shouting at the top of lungs and spewing out racial and sexist statements in between spit. Laurence R Harvey wobbles around as a fat little mouse eager to please his master. They run a terrible prison where everybody is a savage beast that will not hesitate to shoot you dead, lop off your limbs and/or rape your body. But the politically incorrect tone and atmosphere is meant to be a comedy in how overblown it appears. It fails, but at least it’s not aiming to be the most sickly depressing picture.
The twist to all of this is that this is the longest and most effective chain of bodies stitched together. Whereas the earlier films ended with disastrous results of one man struggling to make this operation successful. The prison has a large team of doctor working to make sure this human centipede is assembled correctly with consideration for the viability of each candidate. So clean and calculated is this process the prisoners can actually be removed from the chain after they’ve served their time to enter back into society. I’m not sure how well a prisoner who had to eat another prisoner’s fecal matter for an extended length could adjust to the outside world. Then again I’m not sure how well a governor would react to such punishment in the prison system. Both seem to be okay with it all. Why wouldn’t they be? It’s not like there is any morality or logic to any of this.
For as surgically clean as the process becomes, the picture is still plenty disgusting. There’s a hefty heaping of filthy shots involving and mean-spirited acts of violence and disgust. And, yet, not as gross as I’d expect. Maybe it was due to The Human Centipede 2 being ground zero for joyless horror, but it felt as though Tom Six was running out of tricks. He was fighting in uphill in that he outdid himself with the previous film that made me lose all hope in humanity. This picture appears more as a terrible cartoon where I didn’t find myself as appalled by the wacky, insane warden howling to the sky with a pistol.
For as unlikable as Dieter Laser warden character aims to become, he has a twinge of likability in his meta-referencing dialogue. When he first learns about The Human Centipede, he screams at his sidekick about how he doesn’t want to hear about some twisted filmmaker and his poop fetish. He later finds a prisoner giddily dancing in his cell to be a part of the centipede to which Laser shoots him dead shouting “nobody should enjoy this!”
Finally, Tom Six appears in the picture as himself – smugly and silently observing what his films have inspired. There’s a twinkle in his eye present from his teaser trailers that continues to boast about how he made the audience wretch with the worst movie ever made. Sorry, Six – your movie isn’t that worthy of such a title. I know you really tried to make the most rancid display ever put to film and it certainly is very putrid. But your capper to your trilogy just comes off as mediocre in comparison to your previous efforts. If it makes any sense at all, The Human Centipede 3 is a sub par attempt at being the worst movie ever made. And being a failure at aiming for failure just isn’t good enough. Or bad enough.
For its meta approach, this sequel/remake thankfully doesn’t dabble too deeply in its self-examination. There’s some questioning of those involved with the film and some footage used as research to capture the maniacally violent killer. But the movie has enough faith in its own whodunit plot to become its own thing for as much as it replicates the villain and the murders. It’s hard to deny the fine craft of a killer murdering someone with a trombone slide. I still wish there was some alteration to the sequence where the killer is actually able to get a good sound out of the instrument while he’s stabbing someone to death.
Does that sound too morbid to be entertained by such violence? It very well could be considering the trombone death is the least grizzly. But that’s perhaps what makes this movie so intriguing in its depiction. The violence on screen is not played up for camp or gooey gore shots. It’s dark and gruesome with a killer that murders with both efficiency and cruelty. The Phantom forces a couple out of their car and screams for the girl to look away as he brutally stabs her boyfriend in the back. Who would commit such vile acts? The answers lie in the old film that is emulated which prompts the cops and the frightened girlfriend Jami to reexamine the picture.
The mystery itself, however, is more engaging than its characters. Jaimie becomes our plucky young investigator having survived one of the brutal attacks and wondering why she lived. She’s a suitable vehicle for solving the case, but nothing more than that. The majority of the other characters mostly play it straight as potential suspects that are knocked off one by one as the list grows smaller. Some are even presented quickly and simply to get them out of the way as quick kills for the killer. I can’t say I blame the screenwriters since most of these kills are pretty unique to skip ahead towards. A man leaves his lady in his motel room to get ice, only to return through the window as a severed head. An unlucky police officer finds himself gunned down during his most vulnerable moment. And a weeping woman treads through a grassy field where she meets the same fate as a scarecrow.
The big reveal of the real killer is not all that surprising, but certainly tries to add some twists into the mix. The movie is the directorial debut of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and he certainly makes some solid choices into how to stage such a movie. The kills feel savage, the mystery intriguing and the cinematography is not half bad. The biggest problem – aside from the simple characters – is that it feels as though there could have been more to this plot. The whole religious angle and examination of horror movie copycats is engaging, but never gets really culminates. What could have a sleeper horror hit turns into a slightly better-than-expected release.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown takes aim at a small little horror film and turns out something that at least displays some creativity. It’s a horror mystery that won’t exactly shine brightly in the current crop of hot indie horror, but it does manage to entertain much more than I thought it would. It’s perfectly suited as a solid rental for those in the mood for a horror whodunit worth following once.
The real horror in The Babadook is that it doesn’t rely so heavily on its own boogieman. In doing so, it capitalizes on the one thing most horror movies seem to forget about: the characters. It’s not that the creep in the shadows that terrorizes this little family isn’t frightening (believe me, it is). But by turning this movie into more of a family drama about coping with grief, it becomes a far more personal story and less of a series of spooky boos and jump scares. Again, not that the scares are not terrifying (they really, REALLY are).
We see single mom Amelia, tired and worn, trying to raise her over-reactive and emotional son Sam. She has to check his closets for monsters, but still ends up with the frightened child in her bed. His fears, however, are more for his mother as he just doesn’t want to lose her the same way he lost his dad in a car crash before he was born. This is confirmed as the boy prepares for battle by assembling mobile catapults and homemade crossbows. He knows he is in a horror movie and is preparing for war.
But to his battered mother, she just sees it as more misbehavior. Unlike most films of this nature, however, we understand her rationale. We see her weary state from days of little sleep and constant work at an elderly care center. We see the frustration from her son’s constantly high-pitched whining and cries. We see her bitterness for an ill-equipped school to handle her son and her snippy friends who look down on her parenting. The last thing she needs is some invisible madman terrorizing her household.
The Babadook first enters into the household through the storybook Mister Babadook. Sam picks the odd book off the shelf for bedtime story. Amelia reads through the rhyming pop-up book with its black-and-white illustrations. The book grows increasingly frightening as it tells of the creepy Mister Babadook. He arrives with the sound of three knocks sounded out as baba dook-dook-dook. He lets himself into your soul and will make you wish you were dead.
After another night of nightmares, Amelia rips the book up and throws it away.
Not only does the book return to her doorstep the following day with the pages taped back together, but it now has new passages and pop-ups. The book claims that it will only get stronger and take hold of the mother. The last few pages are foreboding pop-ups of Amelia choking the family dog to death, stabbing her son and slitting her own throat. The Babadook is clearly going to use Amelia as a host for his violence, but it’s an easy vessel to inhabit. After all her complications with Sam, work, family and even social workers, it doesn’t take much to bring out the anger and fury of the woman who is fed up. Her murders could easily be dismissed as the woman who was pushed over the edge by a society that has failed her.
Amelia’s possession is seen as a fever dream for the overworked parent. Her quiet moments feel werey and passive between moments of intense bickering with her son. She starts to doze off while watching TV and starts seeing creepy visions of Mister Babadook on television as well as more premonitions about her being a murderer. As a parent, The Babadook plays on my worst fears: being the bad parent where stress overtakes your spirit. Amelia snaps viciously at Sam when he asks for something to eat, which Amelia coldly responds with “why don’t you eat sh*t.” Her hostilities grow progressively worse as she shouts and hollers at the boy causing him to wet his pants in fear (which she also blows up about).
The fresh writer/director Jennifer Kent has given commercial horror a run for its money with her sound characters and true sense of terror. Whereas other horror films struggle to make the audience jump, Kent aims to keep you in your seat and creep under your skin. This is what makes The Babadook such an effective horror picture – it stays with you long after the final frame making it much more memorable for the plot than the scares. But, again, the scares are super effective especially for the overworked parents tired of being used as two-dimensional puppets for these productions.