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Silent Night (2012)

Posted: December 25, 2012 by crowbait in Film, Reviews

crowbaitsilentnightHoliday Mayhem Now With 87% Less Fun!

So you’re paging through the on-demand titles of your¬†video service of choice and you find a supposed remake of the cult classic Silent Night, Deadly Night. “Well that’s cool. The original was a good slasher, savaged by censorship into a toothless mess but with some real promise in its execution. The sequel was another mess, but this one a delightful mis-match of tone stemming from the performances that elevated the mediocre writing to hilarity. And this new one even stars Malcolm McDowell! That’s probably worth a rental!” Well, inner monologue, I hate to disappoint you but that is all that this¬†in-name-only cash-in will do.

Silent Night¬†takes place over a single Christmas Eve, during the annual parade of Santas¬†in a small midwestern town. Officer Bradimore (Jaime King) is¬†a recently divorced police woman who must find the Santa suited killer who is on a murder spree. Suspects loom everywhere and the body count rises as the deplorable behavior of the townsfolk shows that no one belongs on the “nice” list. In the end the killer will be revealed, and will have nothing to do with anything.

Officer Bradimore, despite being an armed officer of the law who is never out of uniform is the target of constant sexual harassment. Not a scene passes by without her needing to talk past disgusting innuendos or shrug away from unwanted physical contact from co-workers, suspects and the¬†creepy reverend. Not once does she ever effectively deal with a male character. She isn’t Laurie Strode, a virginal high-school girl, she’s an officer of the law! Much is made of her recent divorce weighing heavily on her mood but that can’t account for how pathetic she appears when it comes to defending herself from every half-drunk punk in a red suit.


Tell me I’m going soft if you want, but killing an obnoxious 13-year-old¬†girl with a cattle prod just seems mean-spirited to me. Just because she whines to go to the mall and her mom is too strung out to argue with her, I’m supposed to laugh as Santa shocks her into vomiting and collapse? God Bless America wasn’t funny either.

This film hates Christmas. The script is peppered with monologues about how Christmas is awful. A “bad santa” wannabe writes and reads journal entries about how it drives people insane.¬†A drunken drifter in a stained Santa suit tells us about how he uses the holidays to take advantage of people. The skeevy¬†reverend¬†delivers a homily¬†about how Jesus was born into cow shit because we’re horrible sinners. None of these raving diatribes are very well written or well delivered but we’re all going to sit down and watch one wacko or another vent about why Christmas is all wrong before we’re allowed to go back to watching our bad murder-Santa movie! Other Christmas themed horror films don’t spread a message of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, but they also don’t chew up more than a minute or two of runtime with someone complaining that Christmas isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Silent Night wants you to know that it’s all Christmas’ fault. So I guess the writer never got that red fire truck he wanted.

silentnight3McDowell is here to do his signature move. Act wacky¬†and collect an easy paycheck. Sheriff Cooper is a raving loon and his portrayal shows another flaw in the direction, a¬†lack of commitment to McDowell’s background. He delivers his lines in a forced broad Midwestern accent but often¬†slips back into his natural¬†British accent. For a small town sheriff out in the boonies, he uses the epithet “bloody” a lot. The confused¬†result sounds like McDowell was told to improvise¬†his lines to be suitably raving but translating to the American accent caused some¬†bumps¬†in the process. Because no one tried to correct these painful moments, I suppose I’m meant to shrug my shoulders and chuckle warmly and say “Hey! McDowell, amiright? As these comedy efforts of the crazy sheriff fall apart there are a few poor executed references to the other films to try for an ironic chuckle, such as a redo of the killer offering a bloody gift to a little girl witness and a poor deputy made to actually speak the line “What is this? Garbage day?” Even the actor is embarrassed of that half-muttered¬†line.

The story tries its hand at several different approaches for the modern slasher. A few early kills borrow the look of Saw or other “torture forward” flicks. Some murders¬†have the 80’s flair for incongruous set ups, including the sexy teen impaled on reindeer antlers ala Linnea¬†Quigley in the original. Victims at first are entirely characterized by sex, such as the cheating husband and the pornographer, so it’s implied that the film carries the “morality play” inspiration of¬†the 80’s original, but then discards that angle. The killer leaves a calling card that the police can’t find but the audience is forced to see as obvious. When Bradimore¬†shoots a suspect a red gift box can be seen on-screen, implying that the killer knew she would have to shoot? Or that the man she shot was the killer? Here’s where the film takes another page from a famous horror franchise.


Once the police are clued in the film becomes an awkward Scream¬†sequel. Suspects are picked off one by one and the script tries to throw suspicion on others as the police race around trying to locate them. But it’s a hack job. The audience is already aware that half of the candidates for the electric chair don’t fit the appearance of the killer. We saw him¬†in shadowy profile in the first minute of the film! No time and attention is actually paid to crafting a whodunnit mystery. In the end the killer is . . . Spoilers! . . . some guy. He’s no one to us because he hasn’t been a character before the reveal. And in that reveal he’s a child in a flashback to a murder from 20 years ago. Simultaneously the killer is a roving madman who appears in a different town every year and a wronged child returning to his hometown for vengeance against the people who shot his father for burning his mother to death while wearing a Santa suit. What?

That’s why Silent Night¬†fails. It tries to be everything horror-film at once and ends up succeeding at nothing. It’s not scary, it’s not funny, and it’s certainly not interesting. The original two films have recently seen a Blu-ray release. Go spend your Xmas money there.

Merry Garbage Day Everyone!


Posted: October 23, 2012 by crowbait in Reviews, Television

An anime released in January of 2012, Another tells the mystery horror story of a cursed town, ghostly murders, broken dolls and ponderously slow speech.

Koichi is a boy who has moved from Tokyo to spend the school year in Yomiyama. Unfortunately, there is a terrible secret related to his class. 26 years ago a popular student passed away and to cope with the loss the class made a game of pretending he was still there. The ghost of the student accepted the invitation and appeared in the photographs of the graduating class. Ever since then a door to the lands of the dead has been open to the 9th grade class 3.

After the start of every school year, an extra student arrives; Another. This student is the incarnate ghost of a local who died violently or under mysterious circumstances. The trouble is that having a dead person in the class room brings death closer to all of the other students while the ghost is among them. The students and their families and close friends are all in danger of death by horrible accidents or unpredictable madness. The curse also causes memories to become confused so that no one is able to identify the ghost and even the ghost doesn’t realize that she is already dead.

Over the years several attempts have been made to thwart the curse (such as renaming the classes) but the only effective means of evading the calamities has been to “make room” for the ghost by choosing a student whom everyone will ignore, a student who will not exist for the year. This satisfies the ghost and prevents the death and destruction that would otherwise occur.

Koichi joins the class late owing to illness and misses the briefing about curses, ghosts, and the nonexistent student. His classmates hem and haw, and before they can warn him, Koichi decides that he wants to be friends with Mei, the silent creepy girl with an eyepatch who always sits by herself. Obviously, he has chosen this year’s nonexistent to be his pal and his actions will ruin the countermeasures that prevent the curse. Or has he?

The story twists its way through many horror concepts including human dolls, parental neglect, doppelgangers, and the secret connections that Koichi has to the history of the town. As Koichi explores these mysteries, the calamity proceeds and the body count grows. Slowly the tale changes into a weird whodunnit as the students try to find who is really the ghost among them.

With the emphasis on slowly. That is the downfall of the series.

Boy, Koichi. You sure know how to pick ’em.

The story of Another is that of a novel stretched to cover an entire 13 episode series. Sub-plots are introduced but as they are dropped or fade into obscurity it becomes obvious that they were just to provide padding. Even at the story’s climax, with a hotel burning to the ground around them and the panicked students turning on one another in desperation, our protagonists amble slowly through the carnage and ask one another halting questions that are answered One. Syl. La. Ble. At. A. Time. so that there is opportunity for an interruption that will prolong the events of the story into yet another episode.

The cast is sizable, with a core group of 6 students and another dozen incidental characters drifting in and then meeting a grisly end. Even with this large group of teenagers and high school “classifications” to explore, huge amounts of time are devoted to Koichi and Mei who are the most bland of the cast. Mei is pale, dresses in black, her eyepatch covers an artificial eye of a mismatched color with her natural eye and she never speaks in anything more than a whisper. Even if there were no curse, I expect that the rest of the class would ignore her to death anyway. Koichi is sufficiently clueless to prolong the plot; never picking up on a hint from the girls who might actually be interested in him and trailing after the most damaged girl in town, fascinated by how absolutely f-ed up she is.

In their limited time the other characters do manage to grow beyond being “the nerd, the jock, and the tough girl,” though some remain one-dimensional. The characters are all well treated and the story and animation actively avoid any sexualization of the teenage cast, going to far as to defy the laws of physics to keep a skirt in place during one student’s death plunge. One male character has some feminine mannerisms but he is never stereotyped and his orientation remains a non-issue.

The art is well done though some characters become ambiguous in appearance, so that you can only tell them apart by hairstyles and eye color. As the story comes to involve elements of mistaken identity, the ambiguity may even be intended as a feature. Animation remains consistently good throughout the series, showing the budget was well planned to prevent any drop in quality near the end of production. There are some flashes of animated brilliance reserved for the death scenes and even a brief dance number. Early in the series scene transitions are punctuated by insert shots to dolls in elaborate dresses and inhuman poses but this device drops out partway through the series and is never really explained.

Watching subtitled, I found the Japanese voice actors good, though the typical “tough guy” teenager always sounds like he’s been held back about 5 years and Mei’s only direction is to be gloomy so there’s little to expect from her. Music features the suitably creepy soundscapes of weirdly altered and electronic instrument sounds and long sustained tones pad out the cavernous gaps between the character’s lines of dialog.

You’re all going to die down here. Of boredom!

If the show were not so glacial in story progression I would be able to recommend it for its consistently good art, creepy atmosphere and brutal kills. As it is though, you’re probably better off looking for the live-action movie; short-form media will force the writers to abandon the constant cliff-hanger and shocker endings of the episodes.

The Deadly Spawn

Posted: October 4, 2012 by crowbait in Film, Reviews

Filmed in New Jersey on a shoe-string budget with a cast of unknowns but some excellent monster effects, The Deadly Spawn is one of those cult horror films that, with an Arrow release, has remained cult.

A meteor crashes in the hills outside a typical sleepy town. Campers are the first to be shredded by the creature that emerges; a 6 foot high, three-headed, fleshy and phallic collection of toothy maws that soon finds its way into the basement of a nearby house. Once it has set up shop, the creature begins to populate the flooded basement with dozens of tadpole like spawn, equally hungry for fresh meat.

The action of the film takes place over a single rain-soaked day in Charles and Pete’s house. Pete is a typical high school nerd. Worried about his grades and trying to get his study partner to recognize his romantic interest in a passive/aggressive way. Charles is a different variety of geek; obsessed with horror films and with a bedroom full of zombie movie posters and special effects toys.

Their parents are the first to go, venturing downstairs to meet a grisly end. Then the electrician wanders in and is similarly chomped to pieces. ¬†By this time the creatures mobilize and spread out from the house and it isn’t long before the tadpoles attack neighboring grandma’s vegetarian luncheon, chew their way through uncle Herb and force the kids to barricade themselves in the upper storeys of the house.¬†Charles, like all young boys with an affinity for chemistry, mixes up some explosives to put the monster down in a fountain of gore.

The greatest attention was obviously paid to the special effects featuring lots of animated monster puppets and full prosthetic bodies being eaten into bloody chunks. Performances are so-so, with some more earnest work by the adults while the teens chew scenery. Young Charles is forced by the script to stare at monsters in confused horror for long stretches as the effects play out, and there’s only so long he can hold the expression before it looks more like quiet concern than fear of gory death.

The two young female characters are painted in very broad strokes. There’s Ellen, the good girl honor student on one side and Kathy, the naughty girl on the other. One of the more interesting twists in the filming is that Ellen needed to leave the project, so it’s the good girl who gets killed while the naughty one makes it to the film’s end. A reversal of the script that feeds into the ending in which the survivors are traumatized rather than triumphant.

The filmmakers borrow heavily from other horror films in what might be seen as homage but what I experience is more a grab-bag of ideas. Not all of them are appropriate. There are comedy moments, with grandma grinding up a tadpole in a food processor and serving it to her guests, some scenes that recreate the last few moments of Night of the Living Dead, and plenty of Fulci inspired prolonged kills but with the zombie replaced by the toothsome spawn. Scenes just happen and then end; the sense of time is confused between the concurrent and consecutive events.

Which would matter, but we’re really just here for the gore. And if you are too, it’s worth your time to watch The Deadly Spawn.

Resident Evil Retrospective

Posted: October 3, 2012 by crowbait in Games, Reviews

With the newest video game sequel released and yet another film in theaters, it’s time to take a look back at one of my favorite horror games. Resident Evil was the console game that brought horror gaming into the limelight and for many players it was their first exposure to a game meant to scare as well as entertain. Sure, there were others before it, but RE was the one that popularized the genre.

As time has gone on and sequels and spin-off titles have been made, the focus of the games has slipped away from horror and into fast-paced action. The latest games, Resident Evil 6 and Operation Raccoon City have been compared to Michael Bay films; placing an emphasis on over-the-top bombast and explosions instead of the horror elements that were the roots of the series. I think that’s a shame because I still have a lot of love for the old frights from Resident Evil, especially the REmake.

In the early 2000’s, Capcom¬†was one of the most earnest developers for Nintendo’s Gamecube¬†console. Considered by many to be the “loser” of that generation, when compared alongside the PlayStation 2 and the XBOX, the Gamecube¬†was underpowered and boasted the most awkwardly designed controller of the set. Still, Capcom¬†showed an unflagging support for the system and even some of their popular PS2 games began their lives as Gamecube titles that were “ported” into versions for the console. Resident Evil, originally a title for the PlayStation made the switch to the Gamecube but with some impressive updates.

The remake of Resident Evil stuck to the story of the original but with all new art, redesigned environments, some control and system updates, new undead enemies to face and even new rooms and outbuildings added on to the map. It was an impressive overhaul of the original that pushed the graphical processing power of the Gamecube and kept the horror of the mansion the central feature of the game.

In the story of the original Resident Evil, a group of specially trained police are trapped in an abandoned mansion while investigating reports of cannibal attacks. The mansion is the secret testing ground of the bizarre bio-weapons of the evil Umbrella Corporation, a combination pharmaceuticals and weapons company with endless money that is soon responsible for everything evil everywhere. Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, the playable characters, must make their way through the mansion, running from or killing zombified researchers and test subjects and escaping all manner of mutant weapons including reptilian gorillas, giant snakes and spiders, a giant venus flytrap, a trained killer shark, and a hulking prototype super soldier.

Our heroes were almost constantly outgunned and outnumbered but the real tension and the real fear came from exploration rather than combat. The mansion itself was an expertly crafted environment of gloom and dread with every kind of wicked and spooky environment you could hope to find in a ghost house movie. Richly appointed dining and sitting rooms, claustrophobic bed chambers, drafty attics, and then, inexplicably, underground laboratory facilities and abandoned mine shafts. It was a wide-reaching environment and the desire to discover the next room was balanced against the fear of what manner of creature would be waiting on the other side of the door.

For the REmake, Capcom added in new features such as the Crimson Heads. Normally putting down a zombie in a video game means a corpse that vanishes once off-screen to save on rendering power. In the REmake, if you left a zombie corpse in place it would mutate further and leap back to life, no longer a shambling husk but now as a running, clawed Crimson Head zombie. To stop the mutation, the bodies of foes had to be burned with kerosene. Another resource that was in short supply, adding to the tension. Is it safe to back track through¬†a room if you killed the monster but didn’t burn the corpse? New defensive weapons were added as well. Now if a creature got into a grapple with Jill or Chris, they could pull out a knife and stab it into the monster’s head or zap it with a taser to force it to release it’s intended meal. These features didn’t necessarily make the game easier though. Carrying these items meant there was less room in Chris or Jill’s pack for other weapons or additional ammunition.

The crowning touch however, was the inclusion of new sections of the mansion grounds, like the gardener’s house. An entire subplot was developed around Lisa Trevor, daughter of a researcher who was subjected to lab rat experiments by the unscrupulous scientists of Umbrella. Lisa is a perfectly tragic horror monster. Twisted by experiments, she removes the skin from her victims and binds it to her own body. She lurks the mansion grounds seeking her mother so that she can “return her face.” And if the tragedy wasn’t enough, she’s also completely unkillable. After soaking up entire clips of bullets, Lisa will collapse for a few minutes before rising again, just as dangerous and terrifying as before!

If the recent direction of games in the survival horror genre swerving away from scares and into spook house shooting galleries has let you down, then being able to return to this high quality game will be a welcome change of pace. Gamecube¬†games will still play beautifully on the Nintendo Wii, so if you have the opportunity, I highly recommend checking out this gem from the past console generation. It’s one of the rare occurrences when a remake far surpasses the original.

The Pact

Posted: August 29, 2012 by crowbait in Film, Reviews

Another low-budget indie horror flick that relies on talented actors, an intriguing script and subtlety? If this is a trend, it’s a good one and I want it to go on as long as possible.

This poster suffers from what I’d like to call “The Absentia Syndrome.” Meaning this questionable imagery neither appears in nor represents the content of the film, most likely attached to the property without the filmmakers’ consent. -JD

Here’s the semi-official synopsis:

As a woman struggles to come to grips with her past in the wake of her mother’s death, an unsettling presence emerges in her childhood home.¬†

This simplification of the film’s events does it a disservice as the depth of the conflict comes from the disappearance of Anna’s (Caity Lotz) sister Liz, played by Kathleen Rose Perkins. Liz is the responsible one in charge of sorting out the estate of their late mother; an abusive woman who drove the siblings to escape their childhood home. Liz disappears and Anna must try to find her. As she searches, she sees disturbing visions of ghosts and uncovers strange and terrible secrets.

Casper Van Dien plays a very down-to-earth grizzled detective who is drawn into the case and the conflict about what has really happened to Liz. Haley Hudson has some cutely off-putting scenes as Stevie, the spirit medium who was the high-school freakshow now grown up to be . . . not much different.

While not in the same caliber as¬†Absentia,¬†The Pact has some clever twists and worthy scares. It is a film that relies on Lotz’s performance and she does a good job of creating a troubled yet determined character; without the gratuitous childhood flashbacks that a higher budgeted but less intelligent film would use to generate the character conflicts of an abuse survivor. Maybe it’s this characterization that makes the film important to us as it is an important subject that is often handled poorly and it’s good to see some dignity and respect paid to these issues in a genre film.

Jenny adds: One thing I appreciated about The Pact was its refusal to make the audience wait for a drawn out introduction before delivering some truly frightening moments and creepy atmosphere. As the sisters independently revisit their childhood home, we jump right in to some well-played scares. The tension continues to build on that foundation, without killing the mood, as the characters are fleshed out and the mystery unfolds. This is pleasantly at odds with the Hollywood convention of cheap jolts in the opening followed by at least 30 minutes of exposition and the development of dull and unlikeable twenty-somethings.

Going back to a previous point, yes, this film is genuinely scary. Although the set is your typical outdated apartment on the surface, the environment is no less creepy than your classic cobwebbed mansion. Dizzying wallpaper, imposing decor, a circuit of hallways that suggest a presence waiting around every corner, and… well… we don’t want to give everything away. Let’s just say that the setting, a character of its own in any quality haunting, contributes nicely to an unsettling mood and helps gives the scares their edge.¬†With the exception of one or two debatable moments, none of these shocks are cheap or‚Äďeven worse‚Äďfalse, and we’re doubly impressed by their liberal use of practical effects when so many productions would have sullied the same scenes with unfortunate CGI. I’m always looking for the next film that can get under my skin and this mission is rarely successful. I’m happy to admit there were a few scenes in The Pact that really got me.

The film’s not perfect. Few are. A scare or two opt for the tired herky-jerky movement so prominent in lesser films and fall flat. Not a big deal compared to the sins of big Hollywood startle-fests. These flaws stand out only because the rest of the film’s apparitions are handled so very well. In addition, looking back once the credits are rolling, some very creepy moments in the film make little to no logical sense . I wouldn’t necessarily want to see those scenes removed, but they’re misleading; practically undone by the reveals of the final act. The argument CAN be made that this material is a clue to a greater mystery, but I see scares for the sake of scares. Forgivable.

With all of this said, yes, I definitely recommend The Pact to fans of supernatural horror; especially those of you who prefer scary flicks heavy on atmosphere and light on the gore (though there is a tiny bit). However, the plot does take some unexpected turns that have been a turnoff to some. I’d urge you to just go in with an open mind, turn off the lights, and enjoy this odd little ghost story.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test? Most of the major players here are women. It passes with flying colors.

Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut

Posted: August 28, 2012 by crowbait in Film, Reviews

Despite film success with the Hellraiser and Candyman series and Lord of Illusions, Clive Barker’s relationship with the movie business has been strained. The best recent example of these troubles may be Midnight Meat Train, a Barker short story turned feature film that languished in production Hell and was grudgingly released to DVD after much strife. I thought it was a great little horror flick as you can read in my review. Nightbreed was another Barker project that suffered, being cut down¬†at the last moment¬†by the studio and released with little fanfare as a psycho-slasher film. It was poorly recieved, a box office failure and the end of what was originally planned to be a trilogy of films. Nightbreed was left to rot, simply filling out a place on the horror shelf for decades. But now, Russell Cherrington and Mark Miller are hoping to change that by restoring the film with the Cabal Cut.

I had the opportunity to view their work in progress at Monster Mania 22. Originally, Clive Barker was to be a guest of the convention and introduce the film but his health issues prevented his attendance. A real shame because I would have loved to hear the horror stories of the production from his own mouth. I’m morbid that way. I like hearing about the¬†blood and sweat and tears of the film world. Even without Barker though, the show must go on and so it did.

For those unfamiliar with the film, Nightbreed is the story of Aaron Boone (played by Craig Sheffer,) a young man troubled by violent visions of murder. His psychatrist, Dr. Philip K. Decker (a transparent Philip K. Dick reference played by David Cronenberg) does little to help him and in fact¬†gives him pills that¬†encourage his hallucinations. Boone’s girlfriend Lori (Anne Bobby) tries to help him but he pushes her away, convinced that the visions are actually memories and that he is a schizophrenic mass murderer. Boone flees the big city and goes looking for a place called Midian that he recalls from his dreams. He finds this subterranean city populated by¬†monsters, the last survivors of the tribes of¬†man-beasts that used to share the¬†Earth before humanity hunted them to¬†near extinction. Lori follows in his wake, trying to save him from himself but so does Decker who, it is revealed, is the real serial¬†killer. Decker is a¬†psychotic¬†obsessed with finding Midian and the monsters and Boone’s visions are the lead he had been waiting for.

“Would you like to see my mask?”

Boone is grudgingly accepted as a monster among the denizens of Midian but soon Lori upsets the balance of their carefully concealed life. Then Decker arrives and engages the assistance of a local militia of racist rednecks to assault and destroy the city.  Boone rallies the Nightbreed to fight back and a cataclysmic battle ensues that destroys the enemies of Midian but also the city itself. After dispatching Decker, Boone accepts his new place as leader of the Nightbreed and his new name: Cabal. He sets out with the survivors on a pilgrimage to find a new place to call home. And the setup for the sequel is prepared.

Nightbreed is a visual treat, with some terrific prosthetic makeup and a cavalcade of monster denizens that would be at home in the Mos Eisley cantina or any Hellboy movie. At the same time though, it is a film with some serious problems. There are strange leaps of logic on the part of many characters and actions that seem to defy their previous motivations. Boone and Lori are allowed to run roughshod over the leadership and traditions of Midian, being told time and again that something is forbidden before they immediately do it anyway and with almost no resistance from the monstrous and deadly Nightbreed. Boone, who has fled to Midian to hide and escape his fears of being a killer then demands that the Nightbreed fight to the death against the invaders and he slaughters a half dozen of them himself. A prophecy that declares Boone the savior of Midian is introduced with about 10 minutes of runtime left to the film. Many times, especially in the final battle, people flit about from place to place, seemingly chasing their tails above and below ground, wherever the editing drops them. My hope was that the new cut would correct these flaws, reintrouducing some order into the chaos of last minute cuts by the original studio.

Hey, I’m just as confused as you are folks.

Material for the restoration is drawn from work prints and even dailies from the original filming. The visual and audio quality of these re-edited segments is often very poor and much digital correction and restoration will need to be done before it can be shown outside of enthusiast audiences. Those shifts in quality are useful however as the signposts marking off what was left behind in the theatrical edit. The Cabal Cut¬†lengthens the film to 2 and 1/2 hours of runtime. This restored material provides much deeper characterizations of¬†the leads, making their¬†relationships and actions¬†more human and believable. Lori’s character is especially improved by the restoration.¬†Entire¬†scenes of dialog and action¬†for Lori (including her introduction as a night club singer) are returned along with her interactions with the Nightbreed familiy that she discovers when she first arrives at Midian. More backstory is provided along with more depth and more scenes of violence and carnage.

Unfortunately, as much as this helps explain the story, it does little to make sense of it.¬†People still seem to move about at random and some behaviors come across as a contrivance to serve plot rather than characterization. A completely restored set of flashbacks to the pogroms that destroyed most of the Nightbreed are visually interesting but add little to the story and the flat, stodgy performance of the Nightbreed child who shows these visions to Lori was probably better left out of the film. Pieces of Danny Elfman’s score have been reintroduced to flesh out the edits but his work on the film is another flaw of the original. A hurried mess of rejected cuts from his Batman scores,¬†minus the Keatonesque motives and with synthesized jungle flutes overlaid¬†to try to disguise the sound. I actually bought that soundtrack album when it was released¬†and even then realized I had been had. Thank goodness it included the excellent country music rendition of Oingo Boingo’s Skin.

Now, I have no real love for the studio cut either. Seeing how badly Lori was treated by the theatrical edits is eye opening. I think it’s been a very noble endeavor of the restoration team to spend the time and energy that they have, to find and edit and correct all the material and bring the film back to Barker’s original vision. It seems that’s just not what I wanted from Nightbreed. If you are a fan of the film and Barker’s works, or if you’re just curious about the amazing work that Cherrington and Miller have done then I recommend you check out the film and show your support. If you were never a fan to begin with however, Cabal is not going to change your mind.


Posted: June 25, 2012 by crowbait in Film, Reviews

Ridley Scott returns to science fiction horror with a film that is in all but name a prequel to the famed Alien franchise that he first brought to life back in 1979.

When Scott decided to take on an a new¬†Alien¬†project he first had to contend with the franchise itself. The¬†Alien¬†property has been one of the most fiercely guarded and at the same time poorly used of the past four decades, with Fox eager to keep the license active but by showing no trust in the abilities of the directors, producers, or other creators to whom they lend it. Scott avoided the issue rather than confront it.¬†Prometheus¬†doesn’t use the exact language or visuals of the other films, creating a prequel with enough of its own style that it can reference the other¬†Alien¬†properties without being directly controlled by them. Concepts based on the work of Dan O’ Bannon and visual inspired by the work of H. R. Giger will be¬†¬†familiar to any fan of the franchise are in the film but with enough changes to avoid legal entanglement.

Prometheus is a story of grand sci-fi concepts from its very beginning. The story covers the existential topics of creation, evolution, identity, ancestry, religious faith, and parentage. Concepts that were subtext in Alien or part of the unwinding narrative of Blade Runner are front and center, the big issues that motivate our protagonists. This is a change from the other films, which dealt with the same ideas but in a less grandiose and more common way, starting from the ground level of the common man . The space ship is still the home of a crew of working stiffs and the company is still a callous organization but the protagonists are explorers and investigators looking for answers to the questions of life and existence from the start. Stumbling across monsters and struggling to survive will come later.

Michael Fassbender as David

Michael Fassbender steals the show with his incredible performance as the android David. David’s very existence is a complicated web of contradictions. A machine told to act human despite the inability to be human and to carry out strict directives despite common sense or even possibility. It is a very difficult role, requiring a great deal of prowess to tie together all of the strange conflicts that make him a friend and companion in one second and an unfeeling pawn seconds later. Fassbender communicates David in a way that always implies that he knows more, or wants more than he is allowed to say and this enigmatic nature keeps him compelling even when other characters become more basic as the situation turns against them.

Most of the horror sequences in the film begin the second act as the situation turns against the explorers and the things that they have tampered with begin to tamper with them. In these scenes the creatures and people turn on one another and monsters stalk the survivors who are forced into more violent and dangerous actions to survive. The third act is where the struggle bursts out to become more action oriented, with chases and fights and the nobility of sacrifice bringing the film to its conclusion.

Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw

In Summary:¬†It’s great to see how Scott was able to expand the ideas of the Alien¬†universe outside the limitations of the previous films. Answering questions about the origin of the series as much as the “origin of the species.” Overall, it’s a fabulous film.

I do have a complaint in that the transition to the third act had me scratching my head a little. After some violent and exciting scenes and the big reveal of the Weyland mission, the characters seem to immediately forget those events, refusing to acknowledge the carnage and plunging right in to the oncoming disaster.

Silent Hill: Downpour

Posted: June 18, 2012 by crowbait in Games, Reviews

For many people summer means more free time. Vacation, school holiday and so forth. So what’s the best way to use that time? Certainly not by going outside. It’s hot out there; and much too bright. No, you’re better off staying in the shade and air-conditioning of your living room and catching up on all those video games that you didn’t have time to play yet.

That’s what I do.

Silent Hill: Downpour

Welcome back; but not welcome home.

The Silent Hill franchise is probably the most respected survival horror video game in the genre. Though it is still outdone in sales by the Resident Evil games, a series that has abandoned horror for spook-house action, Silent Hill is still favored as the horror game that stayed true to its roots and remained scary. The problem that the series has faced is that it was too good at what it set out to do and peaked too early. Silent Hill 2 was a perfect storm of horror elements: A likable but unreliable protagonist, an environment of creepiness and dread, supporting characters with believable motivations and well acted performances, the mother of all video game bogeymen, and a deep seated psychological element to the horror that slowly opened up to the players answering questions and asking new ones to lead us on.

How do you top an antagonist like that? Give him two knives?

Since then however, video game publisher Konami has tried again and again to recapture that lightning-in-a-bottle and met with responses of “Good effort, but not good enough.” Well, I can tell you that Downpour is definitely the best Silent Hill game I’ve played since 2. Still not as good or better than its venerable ancestor but it hit me in a way that the efforts of 4, Origins, Shattered Memories, and Homecoming did not.

The story of Downpour is the story of Murphy Pendelton, a prison convict on transfer to a new facility. What exactly he has done to deserve his incarceration is unsaid, though mentions of his murdered son and favors that he did for the corrupt prison guards are passed around in the opening scenes. Accompanying him to his new home is Anne Cunningham, a prison guard who seems to know a lot more about Murphy than anyone else.

On the road a thick fog blows in and it’s not long before the bus skids off the road into a ravine, killing the passengers and allowing Murphy the opportunity to escape. Anne has also pulled through however and she chases after Murphy, driving him through the forest and into the nearby resort town of Silent Hill.

I visited Silent Hill and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.
And dementia praecox.

Fog was an important part of the early Silent Hill games. Video game consoles at the time were very limited in the amount of detail that they could render onscreen at any time. Team Silent, the first developers of the franchise, saw this limitation and made it a feature, making the environment oppressive and claustrophobic by hiding most of the world outside the bubble of clear vision around the character. As consoles improved the mist effect was used less and the fans of the series came to lament the loss of one of the most threatening features of Silent Hill. Downpour, with its emphasis on rain and water brings the fog back in full force. Mist covers the streets and buildings meaning Murphy often has to stumble close to buildings before the features become clear, causing the confusion and terror of the earlier iterations.

Murphy must creep through the streets from dilapidated house to crumbling condemned building looking for a path through the partially demolished town and its road that end in chasms and sinkholes. Along the way he’ll have to solve bizarre puzzles that unlock doors, avoid the vicious monsters that embody his own guilt and fears, and scramble through a nightmare world, a parallel dimension of post-industrial architecture and torture traps that stitches the unstable world of Silent Hill together.

Start running. Then keep running.

One of the most interesting developments in the catalog of creatures that stalk through the town are the ghostly police cruisers. Old style cop cars with rusted panels and chugging engines will roll by in the foggy streets. If Murphy is caught out in the open when one rolls past it lets out a blurt of its siren. In response the sky darkens and the rain falls harder. More rain brings on more monsters and if Murphy can’t quickly find cover he will be overwhelmed by the gray skinned and sodden inhabitants of the town.

Though his journey leads to some beautiful and frightening set piece scenes, the puzzle solving mechanics of¬†Downpour are still nonsensical and sometimes seem to be present just to be a distraction. Though there is the delightful scene in which Murphy must play out the script of a nursery school play to open the way through¬†phantasmal¬†“Grandmother’s house,” there are also three apartments that require a hunt for lost objects. These simple wanderings through a single house have no apparent bearing on the outcome of the game, costing time and resources and offering no immediate reward.

Maneuvering Murphy through his environment may be frustrating to some. The early Silent Hill games had an archaic control scheme, with the character handling like a remote-controlled car and swinging weapons in a simple arc directly ahead. Other development teams have tried to update these controls, making the character move more freely and athletically and adding more features like weapons that will track a foe, the ability to sidestep and dodge attacks and combination strikes. Fans of the series have generally dismissed these “improvements” as the lack of control over the character made for an “everyman” feel, better suited to a character who was not a commando or space marine. Downpour turns the clock back a few iterations and limits Murphy’s movement abilities while attempting to keep the fluid and believable human motion of newer titles. The result is a mixed bag, with combating enemies sometimes being a cakewalk and at other times being a matter of attrition.

Vatra Games, the developers of this sequel have done an admirable job in cherry picking some of the best features of the previous sequels. The handling of firearms from Homecoming, the chase sequences of Shattered Memories, and the danger of the cheap and improvised weapons breaking after use from Origins. In a series with so much history behind it, it’s a much safer path to take rather than striking out on one’s own.

Sic ’em!

While the retro features of the fog and the limited control scheme will please purists, they will also alienate the mainstream audience. Games have done more and more to streamline or even simplify the work a player must do and many are used to having brightly flashing arrows on the screen to direct their movements and flexible controls that let the character move like an athlete. It is these very limitations however that give the Silent Hill¬†series its charm and keep the player scared by limiting the character’s agency. If Silent Hill is to stay true to its horror roots, it will have to always remain a cult classic.

It wouldn’t have been hard to miss Downpour as Konami did little to champion its release. The advantage to you now is that it will be relatively easy to find a cheap copy of the game for your console of choice. Go ahead, take a walk through the streets of Silent Hill. Make it your special place.

Today we said goodbye to one of the most prolific and influential science fiction and fantasy writers of the past century. Bradbury turned out hundreds of short stories, novels, scripts, and screenplays over his long life and gave us science fiction that became literary classics. He elevated the cheap genre pulp into masterpieces like Fahrenheit 451 and gave us some truly terrifying ghost stories too.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you owe it to yourself to go watch Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury adapted the script himself from his novel about a travelling carnival of the damned that tempts people to their doom with their greatest desires. It’s a fun, creepy Disney film that scared the hell out of me when I saw it as a kid.

The good cover art. Accept no lame imitations.

Looking back, it has its flaws. The child actors in the lead roles are not the best at their trade and a few of the special effects are quite dated. At the same time, Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark is a terrific devil. A menacing tempter with a heart of flint. And everyone’s favorite queen of the exploitation films, Pam Grier plays an evil witch!

Check it out. Even if it’s only for the nostalgia trip, it’s a trip worth taking.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Posted: March 1, 2012 by crowbait in Film, Reviews

We’d like to revisit the romantic theme and discuss Francis Ford Coppola’s take on¬†Dracula.¬†

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) follows the classic plot we all know so well, but adds a significant twist. Dracula becomes a vampire to avenge the loss of his beloved wife and finds her reincarnated soul in our heroine Mina Harker. The result is¬†an interesting mesh of vampire romance and Hammer-style sex and gore ultimately let down by uneven performances and plot confusion.

What I had forgotten over the years is how much this movie owes to Hammer horror.¬† In fact, if I didn’t know and you told me it was a Hammer movie, I might believe you.¬† From Lucy walking to meet Dracula in a flowing red nightdress to the imposing shape of Castle Dracula shrouded in fog, this is Hammer all the way.¬† It’s got all the staples, but ups the sexuality.¬† There’s no question that the vampire’s kiss relates to losing virginity or the awakening of sexuality (mainly female sexuality).¬† And there’s much more than just kissing involved.

If there is a major flaw, it’s in the uneven casting.¬† I know it’s beating a dead horse, but c’mon – Keanu Reeves?¬† That poor boy is so out of his element you almost feel bad for him.¬† You wonder why Mina would ever want to be with him when she could choose Gary Oldman instead.¬† Oldman, as Dracula, manages to convey his emotional torment and deep desire for Mina while still maintaining the monstrous aspects of the vampire.

And then there’s The Hopkins.¬† As Van Helsing, The Hopkins is everything Hammer’s Peter Cushing is not – brash, wild, probably slightly crazy, definitely more like Ahab than the refined but very tough hunter that Cushing gave us.¬† When you hire The Hopkins, you pretty much know what you’re in for, so I would assume Coppola wanted this madman performance.¬† And really, since everyone else is so restrained (or, in Keanu’s case, blank), you’re pretty happy when he comes along.

Jenny: Bram Stoker’s Dracula is incredibly over-the-top and stylized. With shadow puppets, animated maps, wild colors, goofy transitions and heavy symbolic imagery, it is the sexy and frightening union of art film and cartoon. For me, this is a positive trait because the rather heavy-handed approach is well-excuted and consistent.

It’s a good-looking film. With the exception of a few dated techniques, the effects are fantastic; often utilizing practical methods and referencing creepy moments from classics like Nosferatu. (long reaching shadow hands, the unbent rise from the coffin) The character designs are amazing too. Lucy in the crypt, the armored warrior Vlad, the count in his dark castle, even Mina’s dresses… I could write pages and pages about the makeup, hair and costuming alone. Luckily, I don’t have to. This book, which I had growing up, covers the subject (among others) in great detail.

Similar to our discussion about¬†Interview with the Vampire, this is “my” vampire. The version of the monster that I grew up with and came to love. Romantic and violent. I do recommend Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but it’s not a flawless film and Dracula fans shouldn’t go in expecting an interpretation that’s true to the plot or flavor of the original book. Think of it as a bizarre reimagining rather than straight adaptation and be willing to laugh off a few silly accents and bad performances.