The Final Rites aka Rites of Passage (2012) Monkey Shines

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Looking at the cast list, which was helpfully posted across the top of the video case, I decided to give this one a go. Sure the list says, with Christian Slater and Stephen Dorff which generally means that neither of them, as a rule, will get much screen time.

But, au contraire! Christian Slater, while not on screen constantly, is on quite a lot and has easily the best character in the picture..or rather his Cheech Moran soundalike monkey does.

But I digress…

Written and directed by W. Peter Iliff I am sure that the film looked  great on paper. Unfortunately  there is many a slip between film and script and somewhere something went a bit haywire for this film of two titles.

Although you’d never tell from the film’s chronological order, it appears to be about two brothers; Benny and Nathan (Wes Bentley and Ryan Donowho  respectively) and quite possibly Dani  (Kate Maberly) as the part Chumash Native American who is monumentally screwed up after killing a mother and child whilst driving under the influence of…everything.

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It is also about Christian Slater’s character; a once “respectable” business man who lost his wife and child to Dani’s wanton law breaking by driving and killing innocent people while under said influence.

Delgado (Slater) is a wig  wearing coverall clad nut case, whose loss has driven him to drugs; the making of and consuming of, and has made him nuttier than a squirrel on caffeine. Delgado lives on Benny and Nathan’s late father’s ranch which has a Chumash burial site on it.

While part of me fell about with laughter every time Delgado had a conversation with his dead son’s non-existant stuffed monkey toy – who sounded like Cheech Moran, remember – the other part of me was reacting in horror at the fact that I found Kate Maberly incredibly attractive.

What’s wrong with that you may ask?

Well for starters, I still watch a film called A Secret Garden on a semi-regular basis. Dame Maggie Smith plays a governess who is absolutely horrid. Brilliant job. But, and here is the problem, also knocking her performance out of the metaphorical park is, yes you guessed it, Kate Maberly! A very young Kate Maberly, like about ten years old young.

Every time I found myself thinking, ‘she is so pretty,’ the image of her youthful self would spring to mind and I’d suddenly feel like an old, extremely dirty old man.

Kate Maberly

But, personal problems aside; the film could have been so much better.

The plot seemed to be about Benny, a social inept who is addicted to the hallucinogenic drug found in a local plant root that the Chumash Indians used in Shaman ceremonies. He is on the lookout for a bride and after killing one accidentally (Briana Evigan who was so criminally wasted in this role) he sets his sights on Dani.

Not a problem except that instead of having a honeymoon on their wedding night, he’s planning on killing her and himself so that they can be together forever in the Happy Hunting Ground.

While I cheered up every time that Slater was on screen; it’s amazing how good he actually was in this, the obvious continuity errors and editing problems destroyed the film. It did have some charm, but it could have; considering the acting talents of the cast, been so much better.

The other part of the film that bugged me was the obvious “Shemp” moment with Stephen Dorff’s character. In case you haven’t read it, Bruce Campbells first autobiography, If Chins Could Kill talks about “Shemping” it’s where you use just anybody to fill in for a regular cast member who cannot be there for that day’s shoot.

That was blazingly obvious with Dorff’s part. He played Professor Nash, who has gone to the ranch to participate in an ancient Chumash ritual with his students and girlfriend. He gets some of that “root” hallucinogenic drug and gets incredibly stoned. He sees Chumash Indians and he follows them to the beach.

In a moment that actually screams body double, he sinks to the sand and the camera swings around behind him. He then inexplicably puts up the hood of his sweat shirt and starts following the hallucinatory  Indian girl into the water. It is clearly not Dorff and the intermixed shots of his face sans hood that were edited in to make it look like he was walking into the water, didn’t work.

There were other problems, most of which had to deal with Delgado and his talking stuffed monkey.

Still the film was entertaining in a “don’t expect too much” sort of way and it did have stand out moments (the monkey/Slater double act did make me howl with laughter, it must be said) but, the film didn’t warrant the 9 pounds sterling that I paid for it. (that’s about 16 bucks American)

A real 3 out of 5 star film that only gets that much because of the Cheech Moran soundalike stuffed monkey. Seriously? Wait for this to come on Netflix or LOVE-FILM, it’s not worth the price of a rental.

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The Taking (2013): Overpowering Imagery

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Written and Directed by the team of Cezil Reed and Lydelle Jackson aka BAPartists, The Taking is a dark frantic journey into the depths of evil and fear. This is the team’s first foray into the feature film world and it is a great start. Shot in 2012 it will have it’s world premiere officially announced at next weeks A Night of Horror Intl Film Festival in Sydney, Australia.

Main Cast:

Alana Jackler …Jade

Frank Bliss…Marilyn’s Killer

John Halas…Carl Young

Lynnette Gaza…The Grandmother

Olivia Szego…Marilyn

The Plot:

A man and a woman motivated by revenge want to murder the people who have hurt them. In their separate searches for deadly revenge they wind up in a forest inhabited by a strange family who want to sacrifice them to their God.

The Message:

In a somewhat “biblical” tone, the very act of thinking about murdering someone instantly puts you (and your soul) in jeopardy.

The Twist:

Looking into the light is not a good thing.

The Verdict:

This film looks stunning. Shot on the digital Canon EOS 5D MarkII, the film has the look and feel of a big budget feature. The imagery is spectacular and the combination of sound and light keep you off-balance.

The style of the film felt like a cross between Shin’ya Tsukamoto films (Bullet Ballet, Haze, Tetsuo) and Sam Raimi‘s Evil Dead. While the film does’t have the roughness of Raimi’s first feature it does have the frenetic pacing and almost overblown torture of the lead male character.

Carl (John Halas) in a spot of bother.
Carl (John Halas) Photo courtesy of the film’s website.

Actor John Halas made me think of a young Bruce Campbell minus the schlock. He really threw himself into the role of Carl and he made me believe that he really was going through all those difficulties. Alma Jackler as Jade also turned in a sturdy performance as the grief-stricken mother of  murdered daughter Marilyn.

The special effects looked great. I have never seen more convincing looking blood in a feature film. Very realistic and the wound prosthetics and make-up looked brilliant as well.

As first features go, Reed and Jackson have pulled out all the stops to bring us a feature that will immerse you in a visual cacophony that can leave you reeling. This incredible imagery combined with the overpowering sound of “the God” and it’s minion will leave you feeling like you’ve been through the world’s worst LSD trip. Very powerful stuff.

Jade (Alana Jackler) Photo courtesy of the films website.
Jade (Alana Jackler) Photo courtesy of the film’s website.

It’s a very watchable film, although a bit hard to follow at times due to sensory overload, but I could not stop watching it until the end credits rolled.

I’d give this film a full 4 stars out of 5 just for the brilliant originality of the plot and the stunning imagery and sound. I am looking forward to this daring duo’s next feature.

The Official Website:

For more information on the film check out the website at thetakingmovie.com

Cezil Reed
Cezil Reed
Lydelle Jackson
Lydelle Jackson

The Horror Genre: Ya Gotta Love It…

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I’ve been a fan of the horror genre ever since I got permission to stay up and watch The Birds on television at the ripe old age of ten. After getting scared so badly that after the film had finished I locked myself into the bathroom and refused to come out, I knew that anything that could affect me that much had to be a winner.

My father was completely puzzled at my bizarre behaviour, obviously forgetting all the nightmares I’d had when I was younger that had him and my mother galloping into my bedroom after my screams had disturbed their slumber. He and my mother were good parents who always explained that things in movies were not real but my Boeing 767 imagination knew otherwise and all the scary things I’d watched would visit me on a nightly basis.

I started sneaking down around midnight on the weekends to watch the local TV stations Hammer Horror Fest that they aired each weekend. *Local station? Huh! The closest station was one state away in Oklahoma. The home of  The Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting with Gailard Sartain as Mazeppa Pomazoidi who did skits between commercial breaks and featured, among other guests, a young Gary Busey. Although I did not discover Mazeepa’s “madhouse” till much later, his show made me laugh and cringe at the same time.*

**If you’ve never heard of The Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting click on the link preceding and read John Wooley‘s visit down memory lane as he talks about the show.**

Films were not the only medium that I adored in the horror mode. I found great collections of short stories and anthologies of stories that scared the living crap out of me. One such story was H. Russell Wakefield‘s 1928 short story The Red Lodge. It’s the story of a city fellow and his wife who move to the country and rent this riverside home and it scared me silly. This book gave me an aversion to looking out windows by means of opening the shut curtains. Combined with my Twilight Zone experience with Bill Shatner and the occupants of Red Lodge, it’s a wonder that I can look out windows at all.

Gailard Sartain as Mazeppa. Ah childhood memories...
Gailard Sartain as Mazeppa. Ah childhood memories…

I have fond memories (and sometimes still have nightmares) about those Saturday night “creature features” and the books that helped me develop an insatiable taste for all things abnormal, scary and freakish; in other words horror.

I also remember rolling about the floor in hysterical laughter at a mates house while watching a Roger Corman-ish type film where these radioactive giant frog/men things that came out of a contaminated lake and killed local bikini clad beauties. *At one point in the film, one of these frog things shoves his hand through a plate-glass window trying to grab a mannikin, it’s arm gets cut off and what are supposed to be maggots fall out of his stump. The fact that is was obviously rice, made the scene funnier. Come to think of it, this might have been a Corman flick, I just cannot remember the title of it to verify if it is or not.*

I guess I am a lot more forgiving about horror films that other people feel derisory about. I’ve had a life long love affair with these creative geniuses and “not-so-creative” geniuses who make the films that make you want to scream; either in fear or frustration. Because, damn it, they’ve tried.

I know that horror films are the burgeoning directors first port of call when he or she is just starting out. I also know that a lot of “unknown” actors will be in the thing and that a lot of ex-stars might make the odd cameo, but…

I can still remember laughing and screaming in equal measure at Evil Dead at the drive-in. Evil Dead 2 was even better! The eye scene had us laughing, screaming and gagging all at the same time. I’ve seen other films that can equal that reaction, but not too many.

Still, I am most forgiving when it comes to films “copying” other more successful films, which in all likelihood are homages. Too many folks will poop all over a new horror film because it “borrows” from other films. But honestly? When was the last time you saw something so blazingly original that you couldn’t find a comparable film anywhere?

Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h...
Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h…

For me, it was The Grudge. That was the first film that I had seen in years that was: a) Great, b)original, and c) scared the crap out of me. Of course, I am talking about the American re-make with Sarah Michelle Gellar directed by Takeshi Shimzu. I only found out later that this was his fourth version of a film that he’d made over and over. So in essence the film was not “original” at all. It borrowed from the earlier versions of the film and Shimzu just kept “tweaking” the scenes until they were scary as hell.

I’ve written a few reviews recently that some people have not necessarily agreed with and that is great. Variety is the spice of life and we all have opinions (a childhood friend once told me, “Opinions are like arseholes, everybody has one.” Another friend quickly added on, “And some are bigger than others.)

Back to the reviews, I never go into a horror film (or any film for that matter) with a “preconceived” idea of what I am going to watch. I concentrate on suspending my disbelief and try to get carried away with the film’s story. Often, unless it is so glaringly obvious that a 5-year-old could spot it, I don’t even notice a lot of “copying” from other films. I just sit down popcorn on hand and coke to the side and watch.

Sometimes I am so disappointed that I will pan a film I have just seen, but not often. It has to be really  bad for me to do that and some are that bad, no argument, but I will not judge a film too harshly if the overall story is good, the acting passable and the plot twist (if any) is memorable. Ghostquake is one such dreadful film and I hated it.

Other times, I will find a film that is so blazingly original that it blows my mind. After I watch it repeatedly, I’ll then write about it and ponder why the creativity gods are so fickle and only allow this kind of brilliance to shine once in a great while. The best recent example I can think of was the plot twist in Orphan (thanks GaryLee828 for reminding me of the great film) and of course The Orphanage.

So there you have it, the reason that I am so much more accepting of films that other folks obviously do not like because they “copy” other films. In a nutshell, I love the damned genre so much, that I love even the bad films and I will go out of my way to watch them all. Books, on the other hand, are different. I am not so forgiving there. If they are so badly written that even my overactive imagination cannot connect then they are dismissed immediately and panned.

So as I prepare to trawl through Netflix to find a horror film that I’ve not yet seen, preferably low-budget and gory, I’ll leave you with this thought. Even Sam Raimi copied himself on the first Evil Dead film; it just happens, learn to live with it.

*Oh and if that Corman-ish film sounds familiar, can you give me a title? It would be much appreciated.*

Orphan: 2009 evil child fright fest.
Orphan: 2009 evil child fright fest.

If Chins Could Kill! By Bruce Campbell

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First published in 2001 and later in 2009 in the United Kingdom, If Chin’s Could Kill is Bruce’s story of his early life and his involvement with wunderkind Sam Raimi and co.

Written an awful lot like his acting style (not sure if that is actually a good thing or not) the book is entertaining and features a lot of memories from Bruce about: Growing up in Michigan, going to school in Michigan, discovering girls in Michigan, et al.

Yet amazingly the book is not about Michigan. Who’d have thunk it? The book is very entertaining as he relates his relationship with the Raimi family, which includes mom and pop Raimi plus Ted and Owen as well as Sam.

He also talks about filming all those Super 8 films in high school and their timorous expedition into “real” film making; or filming in 16mm and getting it blown up to the requisite 35mm.

Mr Campbell takes us on a ride on the ‘B’ side of the street and explains as humorously as possible about what it takes to be a ‘B’ movie actor and find your self a star as a result. This is a man who has made more independent movies than Carter’s got little pills and he’s only just able to make a living at it.

*At least, that’s his story and I don’t know, call me a sucker; but damn it, I believe him.*

 

The book has been “shot-gunned” with pictures throughout (not stuck in the middle like all those “other” phoney-baloney “star” books) and there are a lot of the young folks who started out on the entertainment road with Bruce.

Who knew?
Who knew?

I enjoyed reading the book that took me literally years to finally purchase. It was only after watching the pilot episode of Burn Notice that I remembered that he had “written” a couple of books on his career.

Since I’ve been a fan ever since watching Evil Dead in an Arkansas drive-in on dollar night, I could not wait to read it. I couldn’t find it anywhere to buy and my local library kept refusing my suggestion that they buy the book just so I could read it.

*A quick note to the author Bruce Campbell.*

Sorry Bruce, but the whole world’s a critic and my arguing that this was an obviously important story that needed to be read by all Bruce Campbell fans everywhere, seemed to fall on deaf ears. To my chagrin they still do not stock your first or even second book, Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way. So I had to stumble upon it completely by accident in my local Waterstones bookstore. I am still hoping to stumble upon your second book the same way.

Right, groveling done, I can go onto the rest of my review, Bruce takes us through his marriages and the birth of his children. He also takes us behind the scenes with Kevin Sorbo (aka Hercules) and what it was like working in New Zealand on the show (and on Xena Warrior Princess).

If you are a Bruce Campbell fan, you’ll love this book. I’ll give it a 5 out of 5 stars because if I concentrate I can hear Bruce reading the book in my head. That’s pretty damned entertaining, I can tell you.

Even Ash thinks it's funny...
Even Ash thinks it’s funny…

Drag Me to Hell (2009):Campy Dark Humoured Horror

Cover of "Drag Me to Hell (Unrated Direct...
Cover via Amazon

Drag Me to Hell is pretty damn good for a film that sat dormant for over ten years. Sam Raimi and brother Ivan wrote the screenplay after the last of the Evil Dead films had been made. The original title had been The Curse (Hmmm, wonder why Sam didn’t use that title?) and it was meant to be a modern morality tale.

Unfortunately Sam had to wade through three Spiderman films before he could start work on Drag Me to Hell. so it’s no real surprise that the screenplay is over a decade old. This is Sam Raimi going back to his Evil Dead roots. And though he doesn’t have Bruce Campbell to torture, he does have Alison Lohman who proves that you don’t have to be Bruce Campbell to imitate a Timex timepiece.

Lohman actually endured some things at the hands of director Raimi that would have most folks gagging. She doesn’t doesn’t even like the horror genre, but she’s a game girl who did all her own stunts. Pretty impressive.

The film opens with a 1969 visit to a spiritualist who is trying to drive an evil spirit or demon from a young Mexican boy. she loses the fight and the boy is dragged through her floor, screaming all the way to hell. The film then jumps ahead a whole lot of years to the present.

We meet mortgage clerk Christine Brown (Lohman) who is competing for the post of assistant  manager against her creepy colleague Stu Rubin (played with a kind of smarmy charm by Reggie Lee). In an effort to please her annoying boss Mr Jacks (David Paymer) she turns down Mrs Ganush’s  request for an extension on her mortgage which will stop the bank from taking her home. Mrs Ganush is played brilliantly by the much younger Lorna Raver

Mrs Ganush flings herself at Christine’s feet and clutching her skirt, begs for her to re-consider. Christine ‘freaks out’ at this dramatic behaviour and calls for security to remove the gypsy woman. Before she is dragged away by security, she spits at Christine and swears angrily at her.

A shaken Christine leaves for the day and as she gets into her car in the banks parking garage she is attacked by Mrs Ganush. This is one of the funniest scenes in the film as the two battle tooth and nail. At one point Christine ‘staples’ the other womans head. Just when Christine thinks she has won, Mrs Ganuh  snatches a button from her clothes and places a curse on it and Christine. The woman then vanishes.

Christine enlists the help of her fiancée Clay Dalton (Justin Long in perhaps the ‘straightest’ role he’s ever done.) and they go to a fortune teller Rham Jas ( Dileep Rao) who tells her, initially, that there is nothing he can do. He explains that she is being  haunted by an evil spirit. Christine goes home where she is attacked by the spirit and she goes back to Rham Jas pleading for a solution.

Jas explains the the spirit is the Lamia and it is very powerful. He tells her to sacrifice a small animal to appease the spirit. Christine heatedly states that she could never kill and innocent animal. The next day she is attacked by the spirit again.  After she is pummelled and thrown about her bedroom like a rag doll, she kills her pet kitten. (Again one of the funnier moments in the film.)

The rest of the film is Christine’s battle to defeat the now dead Mrs Ganush and the curse. Sam Raimi could just as easily titled the film “Things That Make You Cringe with Embarrassment.”

Most of Christine’s ‘tortures’ are in public and excruciatingly embarrassing. Each set piece is a form of social gaffe that is so outlandish that it reaches the realm of slapstick. The nose bleed at the bank, the humiliation at the meal with Clay’s parents, the entire episode at Mrs Ganush’s funeral.

And that for me was what made the film fun and entertaining. What makes these social faux pas work so well is Christine herself. She is the epitome of the small town farm girl who feels out of her depth in the big city. Her insecurity is what forces her to cruelly turn down the pleading woman at the start of the film and this is what gets her in trouble.

Like his cult classic Evil Dead series and its hapless hero Ash, Christine gets the metaphorical crap kicked out of her, repeatedly. But like some kind of demented Weeble, she refuses to stay down and fights all the way to the end of the film.

This film made me laugh a lot. It also made me jump and squirm at some of the more ’embarrassing’ punishments meted out to the heroine. In short this was Raimi doing what he does best, making horror films that make you do all the aforementioned things while watching.

If they ever give out awards for Court Jesters of Horror, it should go to Sam Raimi and Wes Craven. Two of the best Schlock-Meisters in the business.

I would rate this film as a ‘two-bagger’ because you’ll lose half of your popcorn from jumping and the other half by doubling over in laughter.