TRICK ‘R TREAT (2009)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 22 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Horror Violence, Some Sexuality/Nudity and Language

TRT poster

Directed by: Michael Dougherty

Written by: Michael Dougherty

Starring: Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes, Leslie Bibb, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox

It is odd that so few horror movies really capture the essence of Halloween. Even the ones set around the perennial holiday fail to show the spirit of All Hallows Eve. Arguably there are two film that have become essential viewing for every October. One of those is John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, which caught the atmosphere of the holiday, even if it was just a slasher set on the night. TRICK ‘R TREAT does justice to October 31 though. Weaving four (five, if you count the prologue) stories together on a single Halloween night, this is like CREEPSHOW by way of PULP FICTION. It also is one of the very few modern horror movies that I would call an instant classic.

TRT 1

To reveal too many details about any of the stories would take away some of the fun to be had, so I will be vague. A school principal lives a night life as a serial killer. A group of kids try to pull a prank on a fellow peer, not knowing that there may be some truth to a local urban legend. A young woman’s quest to lose her virginity takes a bloody turn. Finally, a grumpy old man is terrorized by a mysterious trick-or-treater. The stories are all connected by intertwining events, such as the local Halloween parade that ties two of them together or a couple of stories that begin on the same street. The clever ties that bind these tales of horror together make for a lot of enjoyment. This is one of those movies where you notice something new every single time you watch it (which should be every October).

TRT 2

While some may expect TRICK ‘R TREAT to be frightening, they will actually discover that the movie is a perfect horror-comedy. It mixes the scares and humor in a way that doesn’t feel too overly scary or too campy. It’s a FUN movie that is the very definition of the word. The production values here are stunning. I didn’t spot a single mistake or misstep in either the plot or filming. This is a love letter to the horror genre and Halloween, one that gives piles everything a horror fan could want into 82 minutes of flawless entertainment.

TRT 3

The casting is also phenomenal across the board as well. There are young talents on display, along with well-known faces. Dylan Baker is hilarious as the principal who takes great care in the poisoning and tainting of his Halloween candy. Anna Paquin plays Laurie, the 22-year-old virgin on the hunt for her first. Brian Cox (from RED and X-MEN 2) plays the equivalent of the Mr. Scrooge of Halloween finding his reckoning in the form of the odd-looking Sam, a trick-or-treater with a sharpened lollipop and a candy bar with a razor inside.

TRT 4

Though all the stories are stellar, if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the final one involving Mr. Kreeg and Sam. The tension is intense and the character of Sam himself has become a common costume to see at horror conventions (for good reason). The concluding minutes of TRICK ‘R TREAT wrap up every plotline perfectly and the final shot is one hell of a way to end the film. Honestly, I get chills just thinking about it.

TRT 5

The acclaim that TRICK ‘R TREAT has received is deserved. It truly is a shame that Warner Bros. mistreated the movie. Many should consider it to be an act of cinematic criminal behavior. This didn’t deserve to sit on a shelf for two years and then be carelessly thrown onto the direct-to-video market. This is a modern classic of the horror genre and hands down, the best horror anthology ever created! A seasonal masterpiece!

Grade: A+

PSYCHO (1960)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Psycho poster

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Written by: Joseph Stefano

(based on the novel PSYCHO by Robert Bloch)

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Janet Leigh

The problem that comes with reviewing classic movies (of any genre) is that there isn’t much you can say that hasn’t already been said before. After all, PSYCHO is 53 years old at this point and it’s hard to even really process that for over fifty years audiences and critics alike have been raving about just how amazing Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece is. The film has earned every bit of praise that it’s ever received. Being named one of the scariest movies of all-time barely just scratches the surface of how incredible Hitchcock’s crowning achievement is.

MBDPSYC EC006

For the kids who have never seen a black and white movie in their lives, PSYCHO begins with Marion Crane stealing 40 grand from the bank where she works. Leaving the city behind with a lot of stolen money in her bag, she finds herself becoming increasingly paranoid about possible suspicions from her employer and being seen as a criminal on the lam. Driving in a dark and stormy night, she comes across the Bates Motel and meets the nebbishy Norman Bates. Bates already seems a bit awkward, but it appears that he has a most unusual relationship with his domineering mother. I won’t reveal much more for fear of spoiling the plot for those few who haven’t indulged in this classic yet, but murder, suspense and the scariest shower you’ll ever see follows.

Psycho 2

Hitchcock was a master of his craft. Everybody knows it and I challenge anyone to argue it. Regardless of his personal issues, he knew where to place a camera and how to tell a story. There is also a remarkable amount of dark humor sprinkled throughout the film that I never really noticed when I was younger. It’s cleverly placed and doesn’t lighten the tone of the film at all. It’s clear that Hitchcock was giving a wink and nudge to the viewer saying “See, I can still have my dry sense of humor placed in my scariest production.”

MBDPSYC EC046

Janet Leigh and Vera Miles do well as the leading ladies. Anthony Perkins completely owns his role as Norman Bates though. His nervous ticks and awkward persona make him a bit weird. However, the audience finds themselves caring about him, especially in a scene involving disposing of certain evidence. The film’s breaking of taboos also was responsible for evolving the level of violence and risqué sexual behavior that we see in films these days. Some may see this as a bad thing, but it was the natural progression of the visual medium. There was not a bit of nudity in the shower scene, nor a bit of blade plunging into fake flesh. What we got was a series of carefully edited cuts that made us believe that we were watching a nude woman getting stabbed to death.

MBDPSYC EC005

Then there’s the twist ending. One of the best surprises of all-time and nearly every twist ending to this day owes at least a bit to PSYCHO’s final moments. Even on repeat viewings, the film holds up perfectly. It’s still just as creepy, suspenseful, and frightening. I always get chills from the last monologue delivered and if you look carefully as the final scene dissolves to another, you will see something that scares the living daylights out of you. There isn’t really anything I can say about PSYCHO that hasn’t already been said before, but I don’t care. The purpose of this website is to celebrate the world of cinema. Classics or modern films, perfection is perfection. PSYCHO is a masterpiece!

Grade: A+

FRAILTY (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Some Language

Frailty poster

Directed by: Bill Paxton

Written by: Brent Hanley

Starring: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, Luke Askew, Jeremy Sumpter, Matt O’Leary

Thought-provoking and tragic, FRAILTY is one of those movies that plenty of people probably ignored on DVD shelves at their local video stores. It barely made its budget back upon release, though it has been praised by many critics. The film works as an unnerving unbinding of the ties between fathers and sons, as well as a horror film that is always stays two steps ahead of the viewer. Working from both behind and in front of the camera, Bill Paxton delivered an original horror film that will stick with most viewers long after its disturbing conclusion.

MSDFRAI EC005

Splitting its narrative between the 1979 and present day, most of the story is told through flashbacks. Fenton (Matthew McConaughey) shows up at a FBI building and claims to know the identity of a serial killer at large. When Agent Wesley Doyle probes further onto how he could possibly have this knowledge, he is told the sequence of events that took place in Fenton’s dark childhood. At points through these flashbacks, we cut back to the present to see the situation between Fenton and the agent progressing further.

MSDFRAI EC003

You may wonder what exactly made Fenton’s childhood so horrible. His widowed father is a loving, kind soul. His younger brother, Adam, thinks the world of him. That’s why it seems so out of character for their dad to burst into their bedroom in the middle of the night and claim to have received a vision from God. This vision told him that his family was chosen to slay demons that lay hidden around him. These demons look like regular people but are actually an evil that must be destroyed. While Adam is entranced with this idea and totally believes his father, Fenton is rightly skeptical. Their dad begins bringing home “demons” to destroy and things begin to intensify.

MSDFRAI EC001

Blending together a dual narrative, FRAILTY could have gone wrong in many ways. One plot could have wound up outshining the other. Even worse, the movie could have never really connected the dots at all by the conclusion. Luckily, the script weaves both the past and present together in a way that makes the viewer beg to see what will happen next in the other storyline as well as the one that they’re currently watching. Intricately connecting in ways that you might not even expect, FRAILTY leads to a series of unexpected surprises in its final act. These revelations make the plot much more tragic, deep, and scary than it appeared.

MSDFRAI EC002

Bill Paxton is simultaneously upsetting and terrifying to watch as a father who deeply loves his sons, but also thinks he’s been commanded to kill for God’s will. The struggle between he and Fenton intensifies with each passing second that they are on-screen. The commendable acting by a young Matt O’Leary (DEATH SENTENCE)  and an even younger Jeremy Sumpter (EXCISION) is probably the absolute best thing about the movie. It certainly helps that the material that everyone was given had some real meat to it and was far from the normal movie you’d see a child taking near center stage.

Frailty 5

There are a couple of things that hold FRAILTY back from being absolutely fantastic. These include some shoddy effects. Though the film rarely has moments involving the use of special effects, when it does (on two particular occasions), they look almost laughably fake. Luckily, they aren’t in crucial scenes and don’t turn the viewer away from what’s happening. Also Matthew McConaughey is really bland here. He’s usually a great actor (just look at his work in KILLER JOE), but he’s a bit wooden as the older version of Fenton.

MSDFRAI EC004

FRAILTY almost seems like a horror novel being visually told. This is not a problem in the slightest. The characters are well-developed. The twists the movie takes are unexpected. The atmosphere is thick with foreboding and dread. Finally, the story itself is original and clever. This is simply a really cool horror movie that you may not have heard of, but you should check out as soon as you can! Very much recommended!

Grade: A-

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 7 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Dawn Dead poster

Directed by: George A. Romero

Written by: George A. Romero

Starring: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger & Gaylen Ross

Ten years after George A. Romero delivered his masterpiece that introduced the modern zombie, he returned to the well that he essentially created. After NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, it only made sense to continue with the DAWN. More people will be familiar with the 2004 remake, which turned out to be a great re-imagining, but this 1978 classic stands as one of the greatest zombie films ever created. Watching the master of the flesh-eating ghoul return to tell another story in the world he created is something special indeed.

DawnDead 1

It begins in the wee hours of the morning after the dead have risen to feast on the living. Francine and her boyfriend, Stephen, work at a TV station that has been reporting on the mass hysteria. Together they meet up with two SWAT members, Peter and Roger, and take to the air in the station’s helicopter. After picking up a little extra fuel, they land on top of a mall and find shelter within the massive shopping center. The unlikely group form a strong friendship. They must work as a team if they ever expect to live through the outbreak that has spawned two kinds of menaces: the dead and the living.

DawnDead 2

Much like NIGHT, DAWN isn’t a film about the zombies, but the living affected by the monsters. The characters are all likable to watch as they develop, forming a real tangible bond through the movie. I won’t say who dies and when, but suffice to say that not all of them are alive when the film concludes. It is upsetting when you see bad things happen to them. The actors playing the parts all do a phenomenal job, which one would expect when they found out that the filming process took four months. Clearly, they had a lot of time to live within their roles.

DawnDead 3

Even though DAWN was made a decade after NIGHT and was filmed in glorious color (a better way to see Tom Savini’s nasty gore effects), the film wasn’t given a massive budget. In fact, it was made for little over half-a-million and Romero resorted to guerilla filming tactics to the complete the project by shooting in the mall location after hours. Those raised on the gruesome likes of THE WALKING DEAD are sure to scoff a little at the pale blue complexion of the zombies and the red paint that substitutes for blood. Even though the gore has aged a bit, it doesn’t take away any of the power that the film packs.

DawnDead 4

Romero was never one to just do an average zombie flick (at least, in his early career). He always had a deeper social commentary. In this case, he satirized consumerism by showing just what a safe haven the mall turns out to be in the zombie apocalypse. The zombies want to get into the mall, not because they know there are four pieces of fresh meat inside, but because the slight part of humanity they retain tells them that they want to get in this place for some strange reason. While NIGHT was a horror film as bleak as they come, Romero sprinkles in bits of dark humor throughout the story of DAWN.

DawnDead 5

A biker gang is introduced late into the film and provide some grim laughs, including how even at the end of the world, one of these gang members will still find time to pick pocket (from a zombie in this case). The music score by Goblin (also known for their famous work on Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA) sets the mood perfectly, including a memorable piece titled “The Gonk” being played over the mall intercom system as the final scenes play themselves out.

DawnDead 6

With DAWN OF THE DEAD, Romero created a sequel that works perfectly in his original DEAD trilogy (NIGHT, DAWN, and DAY). It’s also a biting piece of social commentary, one of the absolute best zombie films ever made, and an essential horror classic from the 1970’s. If you haven’t seen it and you love zombies, then remedy this immediately!

Grade: A+

THE LOVED ONES (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 24 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence and Torture, Sexuality, Some Language, Teen Drug and Alcohol Use

Loved Ones poster

Directed by: Sean Byrne

Written by: Sean Byrne

Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine, Jessica McNamee, Richard Wilson & John Brumpton

Love hurts. Love scars. Love wounds and mars. These lyrics seem especially appropriate when discussing this Australian import. This is a story of a broken-hearted teenage girl who decides to break certain body parts of the boy who rejected her invitation to prom. Both darkly hilarious and deeply disturbing, THE LOVED ONES is constantly twisted through its tight just-over-80-minutes running time. If you were to combine the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE with a John Hughes movie, this would be the result.

Loved Ones 1

Brent is struggling with the loss of his father and deeply loves his girlfriend, Holly. When the timid Lola asks him to the prom, he politely says that he’s already going with Holly and leaves her staring coldly at him in the school hallway. While out for a walk to clear his head, Brent is knocked out and kidnapped by someone. It turns out this someone is Lola’s psycho father. Lola and her daddy have a special evening planned for Brent. They’ve created a make-shift prom in their house and it involves torture of various kinds. As the evening goes on, Brent finds himself in a painful nightmare that he may survive, if he puts his mind to it and uses his limited resources well.

Loved Ones 2

THE LOVED ONES took seemingly forever to finally get a release in the states. It premiered at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival and won the Midnight Madness award. Then it took until the fall of 2010 to secure a release in its native country. It took until the summer of 2012 to finally receive a tiny limited release on a few screens in the good ol’ USA and finally became available on home video in time for Halloween 2012. While it’s not perfect, THE LOVED ONES is indeed a dark, brutal, and scary good time!

Loved Ones 3

Something that definitely contributes to making the movie more entertaining than it should have been for a torture-porn flick is that there is a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about things. We don’t just stay with Brent the whole time, which would have made for a far more sadistic and unpleasant movie. We follow a sub-plot about his friend’s dysfunctional date to the prom and also see his girlfriend, mother, and a cop trying to find his whereabouts. These scenes give a much welcomed relief from the utter hell that Brent is being put through.

Loved Ones 4

As far as the performances go, there’s not a bad one in the bunch. Xavier Samuel is sympathetic and convincing as Brent. John Brumpton is very scary as Lola’s crazed father, who will go to any violent length to give his daughter what she wants. Then there’s Robin McLeavy who is amazing as the psychotic Lola. I praised TEETH and GINGER SNAPS earlier this month for using women in the killer/monster roles. We really need to balance the scales for gender in horror films and Lola shows just how down-to-the-bone frightening a woman scorned can be.

Loved Ones 5

The script cleverly interconnects the sequence of events into a plot that winds up being far more carefully constructed than it would appear at first glance. There are some revelations in the final third that are nothing short of brilliant. The conclusion (though a tad predictable) is wholly satisfying as well. This is a crowd-pleasing horror film that is twisted, but also has a lot of entertainment value to be found! It’s not perfect due to the somewhat predictable path in the final 10 minutes, but THE LOVED ONES is an awesome horror film that deserves more recognition. This is one to stick on during a Halloween party with friends and watch them squirm and laugh. A must-see!

Grade: A

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑