Saturday, August 31, 2013

Among Friends Review

I recently sat down to check out the directorial debut of Danielle Harris, Among Friends. Danielle definitely has some serious horror cred, from her role as Jamie way back in Halloween 4 and 5, all the way up to her portrayal of Marybeth in Hatchet 2 and 3, to say she's a staple of the genre would be an understatement. With a resume like that, I had high hopes for her latest directorial effort. The results were mixed.

Among Friends begins with a group of old high school friends planning a little 80's themed reunion party. When they arrive, the party's host Bernadette (Alyssa Lobit) informs them that they will all be taking part in a little game of Whodunit. As the game begins, things begin to take a dark turn for the worse, as the attendees are forced to look at themeselves and their relationships with each other in a different light, as their "behind closed doors" actions are on display. Bernadette knows all their dirty secrets, and plans to make each of them pay for their sins. Of course, it's only a game though, right?

I came away from this one with mixed emotions. There were things I loved, and things I just didn't care for. The performances from the cast were all over the place, I thought Brianne Davis as Jules was great, but Jennifer Blanc as Melanie annoyed me. Even AJ Bowen, whose work I typically enjoy, seemed to be asleep at the wheel as Adam. For a movie that takes place primarily in one location, in this case a dinner table, the cast is what makes or breaks it for me. In Among Friends, for every good performance, there are two that simply aren't.

My main gripe, though, comes from the script itself. Yes, I know this is just a movie, and I normally don't nitpick things, but every now and then I will come across something that just irks me and I end up overanalyzing. Once things get rolling, and Bernadette starts showing the rest of the characters little film clips of their past transgressions against one another, I couldn't help but wonder where all these cameras came from, and why and how she was secretly filming every one of her friends no matter where they were all hanging out. The clips weren't even presented from angles that would indicate they were taken from static cameras, posted up in hidden corners of a room. There were different angles, zoom ins, etc. It's like Bernadette had a film crew following everyone around, and then she took all that footage and edited it into a movie called "Here's how you all fuck each other over, now come to my party so I can kill you". It would've been much more believable to me had it been that since Bernadette was a psychologist, if she were acting out against the group because of things they'd confided in her during sessions or something like that.

Still, despite all of that, I still ended up enjoying my time with Among Friends. It seems as if paying homage to the 80's is the "in" thing right now for indie horror, and I'm perfectly fine with that as those are the movies I grew up watching too. Among Friends is no exception, and even ups the level of tribute by making the party the friends are all attending an 80's themed party. It brings to mind movies like April Fools Day, and I'm ok with that. There were also a couple of great cameos, including Kane Hodder who was hilarious, and one that I really loved from Danielle Harris herself which I won't spoil, but I'm pretty sure if you're reading this particular blog, you will enjoy yourself.

While entertaining, Among Friends misses the mark a little bit due to up and down performances from the cast, and some questionable script choices. Danielle Harris shows that she's got some directorial chops though, and I'm definitely looking forward to future projects from one of my favorite scream queens. If you can look past it's flaws, there's a good time to be had with Among Friends, and I'm hoping that in future viewings it grows on me a little.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why Won't You Die...Paul?

It's been a while since we visited one of cinema's most deplorable wastes of screen time, eh? Let's talk a little about Paul from Snakes on a Plane today. For a flick about hostile snakes wreaking havoc, you wouldn't think the most annoying thing on board the flight would end up being a passenger. Paul does the unthinkable though, and achieves just that. This gigantic douche nozzle is one of those guys with entitlement issues. He's full of helpful things like "I demand..." and "You owe me...", and he spews his bullshit regardless of the situation. The plane is full of snakes that are biting the shit out of everybody bro, do us all a favor and shut the fuck up.

Up, he does eventually shut the fuck, as he's crushed to death and half eaten by the biggest snake on the plane, and enormous boa constrictor. I tell you no lie when I say that this, and watching his legs dangling out of the boa as it is thrown from the plane when the windows are shot out, is the most satisfying part of the entire movie, surpassing even Troy's miraculous landing at the end. Peace out, Paul... you trouser snake.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Frankenstein's Army Review

Everybody remember when the teasers for Worst Case Scenario hit? I sure do, and they were awesome. I could hardly wait to see it. Sadly, due to monetary issues, that film would never see the light of day, but director Richard Raaphorst had a vision, and thankfully that vision would eventually find itself on my television, in the form of Frankenstein's Army. I sat down full of excitement when it hit VOD, full of high expectations, prepared to have my senses assaulted with all manner of evil Nazi monsterism, and while it wasn't quite the masterpiece I'd hoped for, I still came away pretty satisfied.

Frankenstein's Army centers around a platoon of Russian soldier's making their way across Nazi Germany in search of missing comrades when they stumble across a village where some questionable experiments have been taking place. It seems as if the Reich had been using the notes of the infamous Dr. Frankenstein in an effort the create an army of super soldiers in a last ditch effort to win World War II.

Admittedly, this isn't the most original plot in film history. That being said, if you're going into this movie looking for a story driven war drama, you're doing it wrong in the first place. The only things I was interested in was watching some extremely grotesque Nazi monsters doing some extremely grotesque things to Russian soldiers. That's exactly what I got. I kept expecting Hellboy to break a door down at some point and start wrecking shit. This is the kind of story that could very easily have been lifted straight out of a Hellboy comic book mini-series. The members of the Army themselves all look great, and there isn't a bit of CG to be found. The costumes and effects are all practical. For the CG saturated movie watchers of today, this might present a bit of a problem, but for old schoolers like myself, it's a welcome throwback to the films I grew up watching.

All is not well with Frankenstein's Army though. Aside from the lack of plot, it also suffers from a lack of interesting characters, or character development. If I'm being completely honest, I can't even remember the name of a single character, and I certainly didn't care when any one of them was offed by the creatures. The fact that there weren't any particularly enjoyable efforts from the cast didn't help matters either. Performances range from "This guy's annoying" to "I hope this fucker dies soon". If you actually read most of my posts here, you'll already know that I'm not a hater of the found footage genre, but for the first time I found myself wishing a film had done a different route. With a movie so dependent on creature costumes and effects, I really would've rather gotten some good looks at them, rather than brief glimpses as the camera shook and ran away. Thankfully the final act of the film remedied this a bit, slowing things down and giving a better look at things, but there were lots of action sequences I wanted better looks at.

Frankenstein's Army is a highly enjoyable flick that mainly suffers from a lack of budget. Director Richard Raaphorst went with a style over substance approach, and turned in some genuinely impressive atmosphere and creature work, with not much of an overlying plot. I look forward to future projects from this creative team, and hope that they're given more money to work with next time. I'd recommend Frankenstein's Army to fans of creature features, who are willing to just sit back and enjoy a good old fashioned monster mash, even if it is of the found footage variety.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Don't Go To the Reunion

Don't Go to the Reunion is the latest from Slasher Studios, the brilliant horror minds behind the short films Teddy, Popularity Killer, and Blood Brothers, which you might remember I was quite fond of. Reunion bucks their trend, and comes in at a feature run time of 75 minutes. When I first read about it, I'll admit to being a bit worried about it being 20 minutes of entertainment, needlessly stretched out and loaded with unnecessary filler. Thankfully, writer Kevin Sommerfield and Steve Goltz managed to overstep that potential land mine, and crafted what turned out to be an entertaining, genuinely funny at times, homage to 80's high school slashers from the good old days.

Thankfully, the plot isn't needlessly convoluted. Reunion knows what kind of movie it is, and plays to those strengths. You take a group of popular kids, you insert an awkward, weird, loner kid who the popular kids play a terrible prank on because one of said popular kids stands to benefit from weird kids misery. Fast forward 10 years, and on the night of an impromptu reunion, the popular kids start getting offed one by one, seemingly at the hands of the unpopular weirdo, back for his revenge. Or is he?!

Reunion obviously gets it's inspiration from movies such as Slaughter High, Prom Night, and even newer stuff like Scream. The plot is thin, the characters are cliche, the dialog is hilarious at times, in short, if you saw a horror movie in the 80's, you'll feel right at home here. In fact, without giving too much away, even the kills themselves are little nods to other classic horror films. The acting ranges from decent to awful, with Slasher Studios regulars Mike Goltz, Matty Dorschner, Hannah Herdt, and writer Kevin Sommerfield himself, turning in the strongest performances.

I sat down to watch Don't Go to the Reunion with skeptical optimism. I knew I loved the Slasher Studios short films, but I wasn't sure how a full length movie was going to turn out. I can honestly say that I was entertained for the full 75 minutes. It wasn't the most original thing I've ever seen, but that's ok sometimes. In fact it's the twist at the end, when it tried to change things up a bit, that I took the most issue with. It was a minor nitpick, but I wasn't crazy about the ending. Everything up until then though, surpassed all my expectations for it.

Big thanks to Keving Sommerfield and Slasher Studios for allowing me to check out Don't Go to the Reunion. I had a blast watching it, and look forward to future projects from them.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Extreme Week at Guts and Grog!

I took part in another theme week, again for my buddy Tromeric from Guts and Grog fame. The theme this time was Extreme Cinema, and I tackled the most extreme of the extreme, by once again viewing A Serbian Film. You may remember that I wrote it up here a while back, after my first time watching. I was a bit more thorough this time. So, check that out if you like, as it will most likely be the last thing you see from me for a while. Also, be sure and check out all the other contributions from Extreme Week while you're at Guts and Grog.