Category Archives: Horror

Blade II (2002, Guillermo del Toro)

There’s a legitimately great sword fight scene in Blade II, after some really solid ones—the film’s CG assists never help it but director del Toro does understand how a fight sequence is like a dance sequence (particularly in the great sword fight) and star Wesley Snipes is always ready to show off his fight choreography abilities. The sword fight is so good you spend almost the entire rest of the film waiting for del Toro to execute something superior. Why open with such a stunning sequence if you don’t have something even better later on.

But with Blade II, there is no better later on, not for swords, fists, or anything else. None of the fight scenes following the sword fight get anywhere near the ones in the first act, which were Matrix-ripoffs but still well-executed Matrix-ripoffs. There’s a “this would be confusing if it mattered” sequence where Snipes and his newfound team of vampire super-vampire hunters each fight the super-vampires and the focus moves from character to character. The super-vampires all look like Nosferatu as homaged in Salem’s Lot, only their faces open up like a Predator and they shoot out tentacles and an inner mouthes of Aliens. It’s not a bad design but it’s nowhere near as terrifying as it would be if the CG weren’t middling. A lot of Blade II fails thanks to its bad CG, particularly in the third act, which isn’t good. It’s like del Toro knows the right shot, the technology just isn’t there to execute it.

Of course, Blade II having piddly CG is the least of its problems. It’s got a lousy script (courtesy David S. Goyer) and some really, really bad acting. And costumes. The costumes are terrible. At some point the vampire super-vampire hunters put on this glossy black body armor and look like the stormtroopers from Masters of the Universe: The Movie. It’s also not clear how the body armor helps them? Or would help them against the super-vampires or Snipes—see, Snipes has to take over this team of elite vampire commandos who trained to take him out but now have to deal with the more dangerous super-vampires. About the only way to make the shiny body armor sense would be if Snipes had them wear it to embarrass them.

But the shiny body armor is nothing compare to main villain Luke Goss’s ratty clothes. He’s got this intricately choreographed fight scenes but thanks to the costume he looks lumbering and artificially sped up. Blade II has a bunch of slowdown and speedup editing techniques. They’re all terrible. Not sure if they’re editor Peter Amundson’s fault or del Toro’s.

The film is a particularly frustrating tug of war between attentions—it’s a Snipes star vehicle, only Goyer’s script gives way too much to the supporting cast (almost to snipe Snipes), and then del Toro’s just trying to show off what he can do. At least del Toro doesn’t actively work against Snipes, who easily gives the film’s best performance but only because he’s not terrible like almost everyone else. Goss ends up giving the second best performance by default; he’s at least trying. If the rest of the cast is trying and Blade II is the best they give… shivers.

The worst performance is probably Norman Reedus as Snipes’s new sidekick. The film opens with Snipes rescuing his old sidekick, Kris Kristofferson, who’s also bad, but not as bad as Reedus. Kristofferson’s still really bad, but at least he’s committed to the performance. He was nowhere near as physical in the first movie as in this one, crawling all around as Snipes and Reedus worry the vampires secretly turned him before Snipes could rescue him. Is Leonor Varela worse than Kristofferson? Maybe. She’s really bad. But she and Kristofferson are better than Thomas Kretschmann, as the head vampire (and Varela’s father; the film never explains if its vampire father or father father). The more Kretschmann gets to do, the worse Kretschmann’s performance. Blade II doesn’t even get a good performance out of Ron Perlman, partially because—even though Goyer’s script doesn’t want to give Snipes too much to do, it also features him frequently pwning his uneasy vampire allies at every turn.

The rest of the supporting cast is low middling, with Danny John-Jules’s being the most acceptable. Matt Schulze is nowhere near as bad as I was expecting; possibly because Perlman not being good draws attention away from him.

Gabriel Beristain’s photography runs mostly cold. Despite that awesome sword fight scene, which is shot entirely in blue light except for the spotlights—it’s so gorgeous it’s hard to say the film’s not worth seeing just for it; maybe the sequence is on YouTube—but other than that scene, Beristain and del Toro shoot the nighttime exteriors through a sort of piss yellow filter. There’s some okay lighting throughout, but mostly piss yellow. Not sure if it’s a budgetary choice or a stylistic one but the result is… pissy. The action choreography deserves better.

The second best thing—after the good or better fight scenes—is Marco Beltrami’s score. Sure, it’s derivative of other famous film scores, but it comes together fairly well. Except when the action is cutting between all the “good guys” fighting the Max Schrecks… there’s no flow between the action focuses in the score. Benefit of the doubt is Beltrami scored each character’s sequence separately and then Amundson screwed it up in the cutting but it’s just as probable Beltrami couldn’t figure out how to go between sequences. Like, it’s a surprisingly good score for Beltrami. The heavier lifting might’ve escaped him. Fixing a poorly conceived action sequence is a lot for a score to do.

Anyway. Blade II. It’s a disappointment. It’s a testament to Del Tori the film’s a disappointment, given the crappy script and the bad acting and the goofy visual effects. As for poor Snipes, who has to fight for relevancy in his own vehicle… he gets a pass. He’s able to sell the potential for the franchise, even if the film doesn’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Guillermo del Toro; screenplay by David S. Goyer, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan; director of photography, Gabriel Beristain; edited by Peter Amundson; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by Tomas Krejci, Patrick J. Palmer, Peter Frankfurt, and Wesley Snipes; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Wesley Snipes (Blade), Kris Kristofferson (Whistler), Leonor Varela (Nyssa), Luke Goss (Nomak), Norman Reedus (Scud), Thomas Kretschmann (Damaskinos), Danny John-Jules (Asad), Matt Schulze (Chupa), Donnie Yen (Snowman), Karel Roden (Kounen), and Ron Perlman (Reinhardt).


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Tower of London (1962, Roger Corman)

Tower of London almost makes it. The film gets through the low budget, which has a static picture of a model Tower of London instead of a picture of the real Tower for establishing shots, obvious backdrops, not great makeup to age or deform its cast, and the occasional reused footage. Director Corman keeps the pace up—the film doesn’t even run eighty minutes and covers two years and at least a half dozen murders. Well, more assassinations than murders. The film’s about Richard III (Vincent Price, who’ll either get a half sentence or a paragraph later, both are suitable) and his mad quest for power. He kills off kin, children, women, and the elderly, most of whom come back to haunt him as ghosts. See, Tower of London isn’t just Vincent Price and Roger Corman doing a historical horror picture together, they’re doing Shakespeare. More specifically, Price is doing Shakespeare, while Corman refuses to give Price that stage. Though probably for budgetary reasons, not to spare the audience.

The film’s best sequence is when handsome, fit, good guy Robert Brown is trying to get the Queen and her two sons to safety. Richard III, historically, in the play, and in this film, wants to kill off his little nephews so he can assume the throne. Brown isn’t going to let that happen. He’s handsome, fit, and good, after all. Unlike Price’s Richard, who’s got a varying-sized hunched back (it doesn’t jump left to right and then back, unfortunately) and an ostensibly withered arm. We never see the arm (Price always has on a glove) but it seems perfectly strong enough to wield a sword. But Price is a warrior, something Brown is not. Though Price being a warrior doesn’t matter because he goes crazy.

But the escape sequence. There are a few times in Tower of London when everything comes together and the escape sequence is the best example of it. Corman’s pacing, the sturdy professional performances from Brown, Sarah Selby, Joan Freeman, and Richard Hale (they all seem to be able to pretend they’re doing Shakespeare, not Tower of London), Archie R. Dalzell’s excellent black and white photography (it’s not moody but it’s outstanding), and, I don’t know, the added value of children in danger. The escape sequence is really good. You wish the movie could somehow end with it, even before you find out how the movie’s actually going to end.

Because Tower’s greatest strength is everyone but Price. Price gives a hammy, drooly performance, limping and wrenching his back to and fro, full of energy. His monologues are enthusiastically whiny. His character is a combination of a jackass and an idiot. The only people stupider in Tower of London than Price are the entire rest of the cast because he’s always killing people and never getting even suspected of it. When the rest of the cast finally gets to just act like they know Price is killing people left and right, Tower enters into its best phase—the escape sequence is in this portion. But getting to watch the actors opposite Price when he’s cavorting? Their professionalism, if not better (Joan Camden is actually good as Price’s wife, who Lady Macbeths him, and Michael Pate is kind of awesome as Price’s chief stooge), makes Tower interesting to watch.

Unfortunately the finale—and blame Shakespeare—gets rid of the supporting players and is instead just Price hamming it up in an absurd suit of armor—the costuming is probably inaccurate but is at least not absurd for most of the film, but Price’s king outfits are hilarious. There’s one where he wears the crown over his silly hat and then his armor has a visibly cheap crown incorporated into the helmet, which also has a big floofy feather. He should win the battle when everyone else starts laughing and he can take them out. He also doesn’t have much of a hunch in the armor, which is annoying since Price’s looked goofy the whole movie because he’s wearing such a big hunch, who knows how he might’ve played without it to leverage. Price somehow isn’t overtly theatrical, but borrows devices from such a performance and applies them badly to whatever he’s doing.

But, yeah, the end. No one else around to react to Price, just him blathering… Tower falls just when it needs to stay strong. It’s too bad, though probably inevitable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Corman; screenplay by Leo Gordon, F. Amos Powell, and Robert E. Kent, based on a story by Gordon and Powell and plays by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Archie R. Dalzell; edited by Ronald Sinclair; music by Michael Andersen; produced by Gene Corman; released by United Artists.

Starring Vincent Price (Richard of Gloucester), Michael Pate (Sir Ratcliffe), Joan Freeman (Lady Margaret), Robert Brown (Sir Justin), Bruce Gordon (Earl of Buckingham), Joan Camden (Anne), Richard Hale (Tyrus), Sandra Knight (Mistress Shore), Charles Macaulay (George, Duke of Clarence), Justice Watson (Edward IV), Sarah Selby (Queen Elizabeth).


Land of the Dead (2005, George A. Romero), the director’s cut

While Land of the Dead is almost always an unfortunate misfire, it’s also never an unmitigated disaster. It’s full of missed opportunities, but they’re usually missed because director Romero just can’t crack the scene. And when he doesn’t crack a set piece, he often goes in the entirely different direction; maybe it’s about the budget, which is way too small, maybe it’s not. But it seems like the budget. After the successful opening set piece, there’s no reason to think Romero isn’t going to be able to execute at least the same quality again. And he’s never able to do it, but he also never really tries to do it. Romero front loads the movie; it deflates just when it should be doing the opposite. The characters gradually lose personality and importance. Because it’s time for the adequate but bland zombie action.

The film takes place in the future… the zombies have won, people all grouped in the big cities, the rich people live well, the poor people do not. Romero is shooting Toronto for Pittsburgh with a cinematographer (Miroslaw Baszak) who lights it to look as Canadian as possible. Land lacks any visual personality; the mix of Romero’s composition, Baszak’s flat lighting, Michael Doherty’s fine but bland editing, and Arvinder Grewal’s production design looks less like a post (zombie) apocalyptic vision and more like a pitch reel for one. Same goes for the actors, save Dennis Hopper, who’s just plain terrible. Simon Baker, Asia Argento, John Leguizamo, Robert Joy; at best their performances feel like stand-ins for better ones once the project gets the green light. At worst, it’s a charmless lead like Simon Baker, who is more than capable of being charming, Romero just doesn’t seem to realize it. Not in his direction or his script, which gives his actors really bad life stories purely for expository purposes. There’s not just no character development in Land, Romero doesn’t take the time to even establish the characters.

And it’d be fine if the film could have retained the first set piece energy. So Baker, Leguizamo, and Joy all work for Hopper. They leave the city to raid neighboring towns for supplies. Apparently there’s an almost endless amount of neighboring towns to raid; all you have to do is shoot fireworks and the zombies all look up and everything’s jim-dandy—the zombies don’t attack, they watch fireworks. It also allows Romero to set a lot of action at night, which was apparently less expensive and does nothing to help with that lack of personality thing. Only Baker and Joy discover there’s one zombie—Eugene Clark, in the film’s best performance—who doesn’t look up at the fireworks.

The movie ends up being about Clark leading a bunch of zombies to attack the city, where the rich people live in a ritzy skyscraper and Romero only has the money to establish it through a promotional video playing on a TV–Land of the Dead has both too little budget and too much. The tricks and devices Romero uses to cover for not having more money lack inventiveness; there’s a ton of bad CGI composites. Like, a static matte painting would’ve been much better bad. But you do bad CGI composites because they’re cheap. And it shows. And it hurts the movie.

Anyway, while Clark’s leading the slow-moving attack—see, he’s learned how to use objects and can teach other zombies how to use objects so it’s going to be a different kind of zombie attack (only, not really as it turns out but the attack’s immaterial)—Leguizamo has gone rogue and Baker has to track him down, bringing pals Joy and Argento.

Of the three, Argento’s probably best. She’s not good overall—the writing doesn’t allow for it—but she’s got some rather strong moments. She takes the job more seriously than anyone else. Though who knows what’s going through Hopper’s head as he woodenly delivers lines; who knows, maybe Romero did cast him to be a personality-free rich jackass with a goatee. Hopper’s reaction shots to zombies eating flesh look like someone told him to stand still for his picture to be taken. Romero would’ve done better to give Leguizamo that part. To do something to mix it up.

But there’s no mixing it up. Because outside a couple Romero-Dead nods and sufficiently revolting zombie feasting (though Baszak’s lighting makes it look… not fake, but not real), Land of the Dead has less of a pulse than its zombies.

It’s a shame.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by George A. Romero; director of photography, Miroslaw Baszak; edited by Michael Doherty; music by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek; production designer, Arvinder Grewal; produced by Mark Canton, Bernie Goldmann, and Peter Grunwald; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Simon Baker (Riley Denbo), Asia Argento (Slack), Robert Joy (Charlie), John Leguizamo (Cholo DeMora), Dennis Hopper (Kaufman), Joanne Boland (Pretty Boy), Alan Van Sprang (Brubaker), Phil Fondacaro (Chihuahua), Sasha Roiz (Manolete), Krista Bridges (Motown), Pedro Miguel Arce (Pillsbury), and Eugene Clark (Big Daddy).


Triangle (2009, Christopher Smith)

Triangle suffers. It suffers from a bad script, it suffers from wanting performances, it suffers… bad hair continuity. There’s just something off about lead Melissa George’s bangs. Not just she doesn’t seem to acknowledge when they’re in the way, but when she turns around (in an obvious cut because there’s so much post-production on the lighting you can tell) and the position doesn’t quite match. Or the length.

There’s just something… off about them.

Kind of like George’s performance.

The film relies on a lot of twists and turns to get through. I was going to say to justify itself but the twists and turns aren’t really for narrative justification, they’re to kill time. Triangle builds towards reveals, it doesn’t build characters. Even when character development is intricately tied to the reveals, well, writer and director Smith still isn’t going to build character. Though it wouldn’t exactly be easy with his cast. Because something feels a little off about them too.

One might guess it’s because they’re a bunch of Aussies pretending to do an American movie. They’ve all got “American” accents, which don’t ever drop out but they also exaggerate the narrative distance from the characters. Not a good thing in a horror movie where you’re ostensibly supposed to care once they start dropping like flies.

The film starts with George going on a yacht day with local rich guy (presumably) Michael Dorman. She’s a waitress he knows, so he invites her for this annual yachting trip. He always takes friends Henry Nixon and Rachael Carpani, who always bring a girl to fix him up with (this time it’s Emma Lung). Except, of course, Dorman wants George along. Carpani doesn’t like it because single mom George must be a gold digger. Carpani’s character is odious, which makes it all the less fun to have her around once she’s in danger, because Smith doesn’t care if you empathize with any of the cast. And most of them aren’t sympathetic.

Also along for the trip is young stud Liam Hemsworth, who was homeless but now lives on Dorman’s yacht with him and knows how to tie knots and do all the other important yachting stuff. There’s some confusion about why Dorman needs a hunk around but at least Hemsworth is likable. There’s something creepy about Dorman and his Robin Hood beard and something’s clearly going on with George and the movie is obviously manipulating the audience about it.

So is it worth it?

Heck no.

Smith knocks off a couple famous movies for Triangle; visually, The Shining, narratively… well, if I told you it’d be too much of a spoiler. Suffice it to say, Smith’s not just not reinventing the wheel with his tricky story, he’s not even worried about keeping the tire inflated. He’s really lazy with the logic. Really lazy. He goes for visual shock value and often gets it; his special effects team, lighting mismatches aside, is phenomenal. More than half the movie takes place on this old, abandoned cruise ship with Shining hallways and Triangle makes it look real big, even when it’s kind of clear it’s not and they’re just adjusting the lighting to lens flare for emphasis.

So technically it’s fine. It’s just got a dumb script and an either not trying hard enough or just not able to do it lead with George. After a while you wish George’s bangs would do the acting heavy lifting because George obviously isn’t up for it. She does fear well like twice, then never again. And her messy arc, even with Smith’s questionable scripting, does have a lot of potential for the right performance.

George’s isn’t it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Christopher Smith; director of photography, Robert Humphreys; edited by Stuart Gazzard; music by Christian Henson; production designer, Melinda Doring; produced by Julie Baines, Chris Brown, and Jason Newmark; released by Icon Film Distribution.

Starring Melissa George (Jess), Michael Dorman (Greg), Liam Hemsworth (Victor), Rachael Carpani (Sally), Henry Nixon (Downey), Emma Lung (Heather), and Joshua McIvor (Tommy).