Southbound (2016): Anthology Horror That Rocks (Review)

Film poster for Southbound

There is an long standing axiom that states “too may cooks spoil the broth”  and in most cases that is true. In anthology films like Southbound, however, this does not apply. This five tale offering rocks from the very first vignette to its thread tying finale.  Starring actors who will be familiar to some (and not to others) each performer has splendid bona fides and brings much to the film.

Anthology movies  have become popular over the last few years with the V/H/S trilogy making an impact on the horror community and the two ABCs of Death (I and II) providing another version of the same theme. (Although V/H/S is more in the vein of  “found footage” and “Death” is just bloody good fun and does not share the format of the former film franchise.)

The directors  for Southbound are:

(Sidenote: Radio Silence is a conglomeration of several directors under the “name” the list includes: Matt Bettinelli-OlpinJustin MartinezTyler GillettChad VillellaMatt Bettinelli-Olpin also worked on the script.)

While V/H/S is the main common denominator of this film, the format of Southbound leaves the found footage aspect at home and concentrates on the five stories and how they interact with each other.  It was a wise choice as found footage has been literally done to death.

The film  is set in the American desert of the southwest . Two men, both of whom have bloodied faces and appear to be near exhaustion are driving on a two lane blacktop. Something is hovering out in the desert. Black, long and  decidedly creepy looking. The two stop to clean up at a roadside gas station/diner/motel and find that leaving is a bit difficult.

At the motel three young women in a band leave for their next gig. Hungover and lost, their van breaks down in the middle of nowhere. A smiling couple stop by to offer the trio a lift. The desperate women accept and thus begins their odd tale of weirdness and mayhem.

A man is driving down the same stretch of desert road later that night. Proving that one should not text or talk on a cell phone whilst driving he strikes a young woman with his car. Injuring her badly, he calls 911. With the GPS not working on his phone the man is directed to the nearest town. His long bloody night is just beginning.

In a small town a woman is trying to get served in a bar. As the bartender insists that she close the door first,  a man armed with a shotgun bursts in.  He is looking for his sister. She has been missing for 13 years.  After a couple of shocking moments in the bar the man is taken to a diner and a tattoo parlor.

A mother, father and daughter are in the diner, they finish and go home. Once there three masked men invade their home.

Each segment ties to the the previous one and all are deliciously weird, creepy and downright scary in places.  There also appear to be a few homages mixed in with the proceedings. In the bar, it sounds like the creatures scream from John Carpenter’s The Thing has been used.  Keeping with the Carpenter theme, the use of one bass note as soundtrack has been adopted for certain scenes.

The cast includes veteran character actors like Maria Olsen (with 159 credits under her belt) working along side the directors (and writers) who helmed and scribed the film.  For the record the “crew” that acted in the film included:  Matt Bettinelli-Olpin playing Jack, Roxanne Benjamin as Claire and Susan Burke was cast as Betty. 

Southbound is fast, clever and quirky.  The masks worn in the family segment were of actors; an odd looking Nicholas Cage,  Clark Gable and a cartoonish Ronald Reagan.  Clever and quirky.

The practical effects were brilliant.  The injuries to Jack and later Lucas’ victim were beyond impressive and intermixed with the CG effects flawlessly.

The mark of any good film is that after watching it one immediately wants to watch the whole thing all over again. This multi-helmed (and written) gem falls squarely into that category of wanting the weirdness to continue.

Southbound is Indie Horror at its best. A full five stars for originality and it is a  film that leaves the viewer asking for “more please.”  It is available on Amazon Prime at the moment. Pop a bowl of popcorn,  settle in and  watch this one. If you loved V/H/S or ABCs you will love this one.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014) Closes the Loop…Not

Jesse in Paranormal Activity 5
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is the next in this long running franchise that started back in 2007 with a low/no budget production that starred largely unknown actors in a variation of the “found footage” genre. The first film, written and directed by Oren Peli was made for the staggering low price of $15k and, to-date, has grossed over $102 million. Peli bowed out after the first one, although he still gets credit in the writing area and as producer.

Out of the sequels, only Paranormal Activity 3 matched the first in the series, making over $102 million gross but the film’s production costs had skyrocketed to $5 million. While the franchise is still wildly successful, in terms of gross versus production costs, it has never reached the heights that the Peli original reached in terms of profit margin.

The film started with a young couple and then in Paranormal Activity 2 drifted to the young woman in the first film and her sister. Each film moves forward along the time line, until “4” where they go back to the girls childhood.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, besides moving into the barrio “Holmes,” jumps forward to blend in with the time of Paranormal Activity, the first one. Confusing yes, but overall, the plot device is unobtrusive and only really becomes apparent in the final frames of the film.

This version of the Paranormal verse has Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) who are best friends, getting involved with the verse and even though they find videos “Old School, Holmes” one says, they do not watch them. The tapes are found in the apartment of the woman that the two friends have a fixation on. Their downstairs neighbor Ana (Gloria Sandoval) who is the local Bruja (witch) and the target of Jesse’s pranks and imagination.

After videoing the woman painting a symbol on a naked pregnant woman’s stomach, things begin to go weird for Jesse. He develops powers and disturbing symptoms. Another lad, Oscar (played by Carlos Pratts), murders Ana, and then dies himself. Jesse and Hector enlist the help of Marisal (Gabrielle Walsh) and they discover a world where babies are marked for possession in the womb.

The trio ask Oscar’s brother, Arturo (Richard Cabral) to help them to stop what is happening to Jesse. The group turn up at the same house featured in “4” and Hector ends up in the house from the first in the series where Katie is killing Micah. This all seems to bring the film back to its beginning.

However, there is now another film, due out October 15, 2015 titled, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and it looks like the verse is not done with sisters Katie and Kirsti. This franchise has turned into a veritable cash cow for anyone who wishes to continue the story.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (rather interesting for a title, presumably the producers thought that Paranormal Activity 5 was too obvious) could have closed the series off, even with its somewhat “open” ending. The sad truth is, the films do deliver well enough in the terms of scares and entertainment. Grossing enough profit for the filmmakers to justify their churning out more money making sequels till the public tire of them.

In this iteration of the verse, there are not many jump scare moments and the FX used in at least two of the scenes have been done elsewhere, V/H/S and Chronicle both used various versions of the flinging people about stunts seen here. While the film does boast a few original thoughts, the way it tells the story suffers from a sincere lack of creativity.

At one point, Jesse finds something in his eye, pulling the offending article out, it is revealed to be a long piece of black stuff. He then goes to pull the same item out of his other eye. As creepy and stomach churning as this scene is, it has been done before in countless J-Horror and Asian horror films.

Still, they must be doing something right as evidenced by the gross profits. Admittedly, the film does deliver, despite the lack of originality issues, and it is creepy and unnerving. Whether it is the combination of white noise and muffled roaring that precedes each event or just the camera angles and the storyline itself. The film works on one level or another.

For one thing, there are moments of humor, admittedly not many, but the scenes where Jesse discovers his “powers” prove to be quite funny. There are also moments that can best be described as uncomfortable, as when Jesse takes Hector and Marisa and gate crash a party. Although this too has at least one amusing moment.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is streaming on US Netflix at the moment and this is, perhaps, the best medium for watching this latest in the franchise. It is definitely not one to have seen in the cinema but it does work exceedingly well at home…in the dark…alone.

3.5 out of 5 stars despite its lack of originality.

You’re Next (2011) Home Alone for Adults

Erin and an Axe You're Next
The 2011 horror/thriller You’re Next could be seen as a sort of twisted Home Alone for adults, but without the cute kid or the humor. In the holiday comedy, Macaulay Culkin develops survivalist skills which enable him to defeat the bad guys who want to enter his home and steal everything. You’re Next relies upon survivalist skills as well, although these are more military in nature and do not feature Christmas ornaments as weapons or cute little kid quips.

Written by Simon Barnett (V/H/S, V/H/S2) from a script by Adam Wingard (Autoerotic, A Horrible Way to Die) You’re Next features a cast with heavy horror backgrounds and has Australian actress Sharni Vinson as the plucky female hero whose survivalist father taught her how to be a Rambo clone.

Vinson, whose career started with a regular spot on the Aussie soap Home and Away, has been working since 2008 and her film roles have been varied. From the quirky, sharks in a mall horror film, Bait on the one hand to a role in Step Up 3D on the other. Vinson has worked on a number of different films and this role is more on the horror side and less on the “let’s dance” film role.

In You’re Next, a family reunion turns deadly when someone begins to murder the family members one by one. Vinson’s character Erin is dating Crispian (AJ Bowen), the wimpy son of millionaire parents who has too many brothers, and a sister. As they all gather for the reunion, the sister’s boyfriend is the first one to die when a crossbow bolt enters his forehead from outside the house.

Once the violence begins in earnest, it is Erin who steps in to save the day. She tries to help the family and as the bodies begin to mount up, she gets more desperate and more inventive on how to defend the house and the dwindling family members.

While this film is really nothing more than a slasher film with a twist, the ingenuity of the girl’s traps and her use of everyday household items to kill the baddies is pretty impressive. Without giving too much away, there is at least one electrical kitchen appliance that is used to brilliant effect and one non-electrical item that is used to end another villain’s killing streak.

This dark look as what could be seen as the epitome of a dysfunctional family along with staggering greed from certain siblings combined with the dinner party from hell is certainly entertaining. Fans of horror films, especially those of the slasher variety, will love this film. Add to the mix of screaming death a heroine who is a svelte girl who is not afraid to get her hands bloody and you have a great combination of gore and guts of the intestinal fortitude kind.

There are a couple of twists and at least one humorous moment where a baddie climbs in a window and learns he is not as clever as he thought. If any complaint could be made about the film, it would be with the cacophony of screaming when the dinner party is interrupted by the first death. Loud, over the top, and annoying, it seems that everyone tries to outdo each other in terms of decibel levels. It is, in fact, so irritating that if they all died right there and then, the peaceful quiet would be worth the early end to the film.

Screaming aside, the plot is pretty impressive and the final reveal along with that last twist makes this a cracker of a film. Considering the amount of stabbings and crossbow injuries there are not copious amounts of blood spilled. The gore is not OTT and there are no bloody entrails draped across the furniture or the floor. There is an impressive amount of claret spilled and splashed across the screen which is to be expected in any slasher oriented film.

What impresses throughout is the cleverness employed by Erin (Vinson) as she helps the family survive that little bit longer. Manufacturing traps and exhibiting a fearless attitude and attacking the villains as they present themselves, Crispian’s girlfriend could be classed as the perfect guest to invite to any reunion massacre.

You’re Next may not have nubile teenagers misbehaving and being savagely despatched, but it is a kissing cousin to the standard slasher since most of the film has killers that are masked and, seemingly, omnipresent. This award winning film was the darling of the festival circuit and justifiably so.

Fans of the genre will enjoy this film and if you missed it in 2011 when it first came out, you can watch it now via US Netflix. This is a 5 out of 5 star horror film with a splendidly wry ending and a great protagonist. Vinson may not call anyone a “filthy animal,” or smack anyone comically with a tin of paint, but she does defend the occupants of this mansion in the countryside by a number of ingenious, and not so ingenious, ways. Sort of Home Alone with lots of blood and no cartoon screams.

The ABCs of Death 2 Good Gruesome Anthology Fun Again

Poster for The ABCs of Death 2
Another gem on Netflix at the moment is The ABCs of Death 2, which is good gruesome fun even if it is overly long. Of course covering the entire alphabet will be time consuming and well worth the time spent watching this blackly comic horror anthology sequel to the first ABCs which came out in 2012.

In this collection of death via the letter, versus by the number, the stories move from the outrightly comic, B is for Badger had me almost hysterical with laughter as did the M is for Masticate, to the outrageous and bang on point, T is for Torture Porn for example. The Soska Twins, Jen and Sylvia, lay it on the line with their segment. So much so that their part of the anthology was banned in Germany. These two incredibly talented filmmakers were the ladies responsible for American Mary, See No Evil 2 and many more brilliant horror films.

Scene from The ABCs of Death 2
M is for Masticate…

The short films in each alphabetized death even included one that was so political that it hurt. The C is for Capital Punishment was ironic as well as blackly comic. One of the more disturbing attempts at trying to stop “killing killers” which while entertaining was also just a tad irritating.

Harking back to Jen and Sylvia, their “statement” about how women are treated in the industry and by some men in general was both amusing and worth cheering for. It makes one wonder just what made Germany censors so uncomfortable about the scene? The only thing missing from this exquisite little message is the delightful Katherine Isabelle who worked in both American Mary, as the lead, and See No Evil 2.

It is a shame that there are not more anthology horror films available in the US. There was a surge of these type movies from Hammer and this collection certainly has its fair share of English actors in a number to the short tales on offer. The Japanese collection of Tales of Terror are another excellent example of terror filled tales that range from the brilliant to eclectic and amuse as much as scare.

Still from The ABCs of Death 2
T is for Torture Porn

Horror lends itself incredibly well to the anthology format. The 2007 film Trick ‘r’ Treat was a splendid little multi-tale film with Halloween as its theme and The ABCs of Death may be that bit more graphic and, in some cases, disturbing to watch, K is for Knell is a good example of being just plain creepy to the extreme but still very entertaining. The only other recent anthology series is the VHS franchise which, despite its brilliant start, has lost steam.

There is a third in the series yet to come and one can only hope that Jen and Sylvia get another chance to do their bit. For fans of Horror anthologies this is great news and hopefully there will be more blackly comic and excruciating to watch short films on offer. This is a real 4 out of 5 stars for entertainment with the loss of a star for a couple of clunkers in the mix.

24 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

VHS Viral: End of a Trilogy (Review and Trailer)

VHS Viral: End of a Trilogy (Review and Trailer)

As far as anthology films go, VHS and VHS 2 were pretty original in concept, although the first in the trilogy was the best in terms of thinking outside the box and the end of this particular franchise, VHS Viral feels like it should be the last time this topic is revisited. The first film came out in 2012 and the series came out with a new film in 2013 and 2014, essentially a new film each year. While the concept deals with home video footage, which increasingly becomes oriented towards more Jackass than Punk’d, the underlying theme is that video tapes degrade with repeated viewing.

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