Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010) Hillbilly Hilarity

Tucker-Dale-vs-Evil4

I really should learn to stop underestimating the choice of films on Netflix. Although it may take me awhile. I’ve only just learned to listen to my daughter when she recommends a film, despite the fact that we both vehemently differ on our opinions of Baz Luhrmann‘s Moulin Rouge. She recommended Tucker & Dale vs Evil and I immediately decided to watch it, but only after learning that the wonderful Alan Tudyk was in it.  I’m glad that I did, as it is full of hillbilly hilarity from start to finish.

I adore Tudyk’s acting ability and my only complaint about the film Serenity was his character’s fate. I won’t say anymore, but it almost spoiled the film for me!

Written and directed by Eli Craig, who actually co-wrote the film with Morgen Jurgenson, Tucker & Dale vs Evil stars the aforementioned Tudyk as Tucker and teddy bear cuddly Tyler Labine as Dale and it is a great re-imaging of the 1980s slasher films that featured lots of vapid young people being hacked and slashed by some inhumanly strong psycho killer.

Tucker and Dale are on their way to fix up Tucker’s “vacation home” and when they stop for food and other supplies they come in contact with a group of young university students who are on their way to the lake near Tucker’s property. When Tucker urges his large best friend Dale to approach one of the girls to talk to her, he fumbles his way into a misunderstanding and “freaks” the kids out.

While the two groups go their separate, yet close, ways, the youngsters wind themselves up about hillbilly inbred murderers and one of the group, tells the story of the Memorial Day Massacre that took place in “these very same woods” back before any of the students were born.

In a plot that works on the base level of mistaken intent and the youngsters paranoia, things go from bad to worse for both the students on holiday and Tucker and Dale. Through a series of events that leaves dead bodies all over Tucker’s property, the two country men cannot figure out why, “all these youngsters are killing themselves all over my property.”

While I watched this film primarily because my daughter recommended it and the presence of Alan Tudyk, I was pleasantly surprised to see that everyone in the film did a brilliant job and I’m now a fan of Tyler Labine as well as Katrina Bowden who plays the student Allison who inadvertently causes all the death and mayhem.

The film makes fun of all those “inbred country yokels” who are deadly to strangers, and it does it extremely well. This is a real gold mine of fun and everyone works together to make this a very enjoyable film to watch. Sight gags and misunderstandings are in every scene and if you can’t see the humour in this film, perhaps you should stop watching films and take up knitting.

I give this film a full five out of five stars for Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labine and Katrina Bowden alone, I’d give it another star if I could for the hilarity of the script. In films the hillbilly has become a stereotypical slasher in a genre that has been done to death, this refreshingly funny film takes a humorous look at just how “deadly” stereotypes can be. Tucker & Dale vs Evil is available on Netflix in the UK.

By Michael Smith

Katrina Bowden in Oscar de la Renta.
Katrina Bowden in Oscar de la Renta. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

15 July, 2013

Dream Home (2010): Chinese Urban Horror

This cross genre Chinese film about a girl seeking her “dream Home” is a must see. Here are my thoughts about the film. Enjoy.

Venom (2005): Who do You Voodoo…

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Directed by Jim Gillespie (D-Tox, I Know What You Did Last Summer) Venom is a voodoo oriented horror film that takes place, appropriately enough, in swamp filled Louisiana. Despite its low rating on IMDb (4.6) I thought the film was actually quite good, it was at least better than Messengers 2: The Scarecrow.

The film deals with “small town” America in the south. We meet the main group of protagonists (victims) whose lives seemingly centre around the Louisiana version of a Dairy Queen. At the start of the film a Creole grandma is out in the swamp  in front of a derelict cabin that looks like the one in Pumpkinhead and chanting over a small suitcase.

This suitcase has dead souls in it, evil dead souls who have been put into snakes, black mamba snakes. (Anyone else getting the irony here) After granny finishes her voodoo ceremony she is driving back home when she crashes her car on a bridge. While the car balances precariously on the edge, with the rear of the car dangling over the river, Ray (a local fellow with a scarred face, bad attitude and worse reputation) attempts to help.

Once Grandma is out of the car, she implores Ray to get the small suitcase. Showing that the town’s feelings about him are all wrong, Ray goes back into the car for the suitcase and dies for his troubles.

Or does he?

Although we know that Ray became a sort of human dart board for the fangs of the evil snakes, when the police pull the car up they find two things. The suitcase has been opened and Rex is gone.

The film is pretty dark. Not only because almost all the action takes place at night, but also because it deals with the “dark” side of voodoo. The cast is pretty good despite their youth and Laura Ramsey  (The Ruins, “I’m not okay.”) shows that she can be killed by a different kind of plant.

While I did not particularly care for any of the teenage southern protagonists, I did like the creepy Creole Grandmother’s granddaughter CeCe (Meagan Good). Her character was the only one that I really connected with. I did like the main “good girl” Eden Sinclair (Agnes Bruckner) but only because she was the only teen from the town who did not shun Ray while he was around.

The method of elimination of the terrible townie teens were fairly original, there is one point in the film where a sandblaster is used and mercifully we aren’t shown the actual damage done, the director opted to let our imagination fill in that gap. The main disappointment about the film was the curious lack of voodoo.

The film starts with voodoo and ends without it. So the obvious lesson is: if you want to stop voodoo, don’t use voodoo against it. A sort of fighting fire with fire allegory indicating that it is a bad thing. Or it could just mean that the film makers wanted to end the film on a good old fashioned violent act.

Venom is pretty much a mindless “popcorn” movie. A sort of voodoo slasher film that comes up with a few original ways to die. But like most slasher films, it is not too heavy on plot, the acting is not top-notch and the ending is ambiguous.

3.5 stars out of 5, but only because I like Laura Ramsey.

CeCe and Rachel aka Meagan Good and Laura Ramsey
CeCe and Rachel aka Meagan Good and Laura Ramsey

 

Madison County (2011): A Southern Slasher on the Cheap

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Madison County is a low-budget “slasher” horror film that was filmed in and around Russellville Arkansas. Written and directed by local boy Eric England, the film looks good. The production values are incredibly good, no doubt because England shot the entire film on the Sony Red digital camera.

I’ve written about the Red before in an earlier post: Film-making, the Times they are A-Changing. Monsters (2010). I was most impressed with the ability of the film-makers on Monsters who used the Sony Red exclusively on their film and actually used common software to edit the film in their hotel rooms while on the shoot.

I have no idea whether England did the same, but his film has the same high quality look as Monsters. Also, for a low-budget horror film, the sound is outstanding. Phillip Bladh who was the production sound engineer did a superb job of not “drowning out” the actors with the soundtrack.

My only complaint about the sound was the ADR which sometimes did not completely match the actors when they were speaking. This did not happen often enough to be really noticeable but it did show, perhaps, some of the actors’ inexperience with the whole “looping” process.

The film opens with an homage to Tobe Hooper‘s 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This opening shot told me two things: 1) That the director was a horror fan, and 2)That this film was going to be a ‘cut’ above the rest of its low-budget peers. I was not wrong. While the film received mainly negative reviews when it premiered at the LA Screamfest; Dread Central gave it an overall favourable review with a 3 out of 5 star rating. *Screamfest and Dread Central information courtesy of Wikipedia.*

Uh-oh, wheres old leather face?
Uh-oh, wheres old leather face?

The film follows the story of a group of college kids who are travelling to Madison County to interview the author who wrote an account of a local serial killer.  When they reach the area that the writer lives in, they stop “in town” for directions. They go into the local general store/gas station/diner to get information on the writer.

The lady running the diner tells the kids that the writer doesn’t live there anymore and that local folks don’t care too much for outsiders. One of the funniest lines in the film occurs in this little exchange. One of the boys asks if the whole town suffers from “staring disease” as the full diner’s occupants all stop and stare unabashedly at the group when they enter the premises.

The scene outside and in the diner also seemed to give a nod towards another film dealing with the vagaries of the south and its denizens, Deliverance.

"We don't care much for outsiders here, young man."
“We don’t care much for outsiders here, young man.”

Once the group go off to find the writer, we reach the heart of the story and the action. Nothing too blazingly original here, but England’s choice of location serves the film well and the introduction of a “pig-headed” serial killer (with one eye staring off to the corner of its socket) is a great touch and the actor who played the killer Damien (Nick Principe) does a great job interacting with his victims.

And now that I’ve mentioned one of the actors, here is the entire cast list:

*Courtesy of Wikipedia.*

Despite an ending that was “signposted”, the actual end of the film did surprise me a little as it came from a quarter not entirely expected. This film definitely did not deserve the negative reviews it received, I’ve seen much worse (just in the area of production quality alone, we won’t talk about sound) and in fact watched two films prior to Madison County this evening that were pure unadulterated dross and this  was head and shoulders above these films.

The lead protagonist James is played by another local lad, Colley Bailey; this was his first feature film and he did a passable job. He must be doing something right as he is still working in the industry. The whole cast acquitted themselves admirably on a location that must have been full of ticks, poisonous snakes and spiders and incredibly rocky terrain.

That section of Arkansas has more ornery critters per square inch than most other locations in the US. It also has an overabundance of rocks; ask any farmer. I probably enjoyed the film more than most, because it was filmed in an area just 2 hours away from where I grew up. This “inside” knowledge of the surrounding area increased my viewing pleasure.

My final (and slightly biased) verdict for the film is a 3.5 stars out of 5. Mainly for the pig-headed killer and the excellent production values of the film. I could not find an estimated budget for the film, but I am very willing to bet it was way under the million dollar mark. Yet the film does not look it or sound it. A great popcorn movie of the southern slasher variety.

Body language.
Body language.

Invitation Only (2009) Taiwan’s First Slasher Horror Film

Directed by Kevin Ko and billed as Taiwan‘s first ever slasher horror film, Invitation Only is a good solid step into the world of slasher horror; it even has a heavy metal song playing over the closing credits.

The film received mixed reviews upon its release this may be down to the fact that (like most Asian films) it has two different versions; a Taiwanese cut and a Hong Kong cut. It is Kevin Ko’s debut film. Shot in High Definition and on a shoe string budget he manages to make quite a solid little film.

A young limo driver gets called in on his day off to drive an important man around the city. The unfortunate driver is Wade Chen (Bryant Chang) and his passenger is Mr Yang (Jerry Huang) the CEO of a huge construction company in the country. Wade bumps into glamorous model Dana (Maria Ozawa) who he later finds in the back of his limo in mid-coital position with Mr Yang.

Yang gets out of the car and tells Chen that he doesn’t need him for the rest of the day. The next day Yang gives Chen an invitation to a fancy party that he says he cannot attend. He instructs Chen to tell people there that his is Yang’s cousin and that his (Yang’s) manager will provide Chen with clothing and money for the party.

Chen accepts and he reads the back of the invitation which says, ‘What is your wildest dream?’

When he goes to the party he meets a girl named Hitomi (Julianne Chu) and they seem to hit it off. A man named Warren (Kristian Brodie) talks to the party members and explains that this is an annual event. He goes on to explain that these are set up to introduce new members to this exclusive club; a club that allows its members to realize their wildest dreams.

Warren then calls out to the five new members that have been invited that night: Chen, Hitomi, Legislator Jen, Holly, and Richard Kao. The five new members take a bow and they are then led off to another section of the party to receive their dream wish.

Four of the five new members.

Chen asks for a fantastic sports car and he is perplexed when he finds that Hitomi asked for a childhood teddy bear as her wildest dream. As Richard Kao is led off to get his dream (the piano that Mozart composed his great music on) the other see a film about them. It turns out that none of them are who they appear to be. They have all claimed to be someone else.

They realize that the party has been some sort of ruse to get them there and they decide to leave. Unfortunately they have been locked in and they must find a way out. As the group attempt to escape, they start getting picked off one by one.

Considering that the party takes place in a warehouse the setting of the film is nothing to write home about; some critics complained about the setting. But, if you consider the reason for the party and what is really going on there, it makes perfect sense. Like an illegal rave, if you are going to be killing off some of your guests, you don’t want your party being held at a regular venue.

Critics called Invitation Only a journey into torture porn and to a degree they are right (depending of which version of the film you see) but as this is a Taiwanese film it is not too overpowering. Tai’ films are as a rule cautious affairs, their standard horror films have only begun to pick up pace and the same is true for this film.

They have hit all the right notes for this to be a good standard “slasher” film. The teaser at the beginning of the film; the set up of the party and its surprise twist; the ambiguous ending and the hard rock score for the closing credits all do a fine job in establishing the films bona fides.

As a film debut Kevin Ko impresses and I hope to see further films from this director. He shows a good eye for detail and even though some of the prosthetics for the film were a little cheap looking, he framing of the torture scenes helped to overcome this minor setback.

The film is billed as the first Tai’ slasher and as far as I know it is the first film to feature female nudity and a sex scene in the film. The Taiwanese film world has always been a bit prudish about female actresses and their roles in film. They aren’t too pleased to have Tai’ actresses kiss too much or show too much. So it was a surprise to see one of the women “bare all” in one of the scenes.

A great film to watch for the horror fan and one that will have the slasher fan nodding and smiling as they remember the early slasher films of the 70’s and 80’s.

Model Dana, a prelude to a nude scene.