Dead End (2003)

Directed by Jean-Baptiste Andrea [Other horror films: N/A] & Fabrice Canepa [Other horror films: N/A]

I’m sure this comparison has been made before, but Dead End really feels like an elongated episode of the Twilight Zone. There’s a deep feeling of unease here, and while the final product is far from perfect, I think seeing this again has solidly thrown it into one of the better movies of the early 2000’s.

Personally, I don’t know if I care much for the black humor aspects (it was never really overblown, but it was definitely noticeable, especially in Lin Shaye’s character), but the story overall was interesting, though admittedly going down an expected route. I always loved the overhead shots of the car driving down the road, which was entirely void of lights and surrounded on all sides by a thick, impenetrable forest.

Performances are a mixed bag. You have your annoying adolescence in Mick Cain, and though he’s sometimes amusing, boy, does he get on my nerves. Lin Shaye (A Nightmare on Elm Street and Insidious being what I recognize her most from) was decent in a starring role, though past a certain point, she felt more dark comedic relief than anything (though to be sure, she did provide us with a few pretty tense moments). I’d say between Ray Wise (Jeepers Creepers 2) and Alexandra Holden (I’ve seen her in both Wishcraft and A Dead Calling), Holden had the better performance, but Wise did a good job too. Much like Shaye, though, he sort of went off the deep end by the finale, while Holden’s character was generally more stable.

Not that they didn’t have a good reason to lose it, which is where the Twilight Zone feel comes from. Seemingly in an inescapable situation, no matter how long you drive (and the only upcoming town sign being a name that’s not even on the map), Dead End really did have good tension. At around 80 minutes, I personally feel it went on a bit longer than it had to, and the ending itself was more a mixed bag (some elements were welcomed, others not so much), but still, the plot made for a good movie.

I enjoyed Dead End when I first saw it some years back, and it mostly holds up. I wish a slightly different direction was taken, but hey, the road obviously had no turnoffs, so what can they do?

7.5/10

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Directed by Oren Peli [Other horror films: Area 51 (2015)]

Overly pointless, I don’t see why this movie gets as much praise is it seems to. I never have. Admittedly, I’ve only seen it two times now, but Paranormal Activity strikes me as entirely unremarkable and has little going for it, at least in my perspective.

I don’t mind that the plot is thin – that’s fine. There were some interesting things that occasionally came up, such as the picture Micah found in the attic, or the fact that the demonologist recommended to the couple doesn’t actually show up (I’ve not seen any of the sequels, but if I had to bet, I’d say he probably appears in at least one of them). Katie being dragged out of bed was solid too.

But boy, does the boyfriend, Micah, get on my nerves. At first, he doesn’t take seriously the idea that his girlfriend is dealing with supernatural experiences (despite the fact that she’s very obviously being impacted by it), and once he grows to accept something’s going on, instead of turning to what passes as professionals in the field (such as the aforementioned demonologist), he acts all macho about it, and wants to deal with it himself.

How he expects to ‘deal’ with an invisible entity is never explained, and I suspect he has literally no idea of what exactly to do, which is why going to someone who might actually know a way to help would be a route worth investigating, but instead he berates the idea, because macho man is strong and masculine.

Micah Sloat and Katie Featherston both do an okay job as far as their performances go. Like I said, Sloat’s character is pretty annoying, and while I suspect toward the end of the film he realizes his idiotic mistakes, that doesn’t make him any easier to swallow. Featherston did fine as a young woman slowly getting terrified into inaction. To her credit, she has a good handle of what to do, but her boyfriend thinks he knows better, so there’s no shot for a happy ending.

As for the ending, I was lukewarm. It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t worth a rather dull and aggravating build-up that Paranormal Activity gave us. I would have tried harder to get Katie out of the house than Micah did, but maybe he was just tired and didn’t care about the potential danger.

Though I say this virtually every time I review a found footage movie, I don’t have a problem with the style. I think it presents a lot of potential, especially for low-budget movie-makers, but at the same time, it’s a double-edged sword, because much of the time it’s overdone and automatically called ‘the scariest movie of [insert year here]’ with literally nothing backing the claim up.

I don’t like Paranormal Activity. I remember the trailers hyping it up, but the movie’s a mixture of dull and annoying, with the occasional piece of potential thrown in just to further frustrate the watcher. I also accept that I’m in the minority here, and maybe the series gets better later on, but as for this first movie, it was a waste of time and certainly one of the most pointless horror movies of 2007.

4/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, with my friend Chucky (@ChuckyFE). Listen below to hear my disappointment in the flesh.

Bonnie & Clyde vs. Dracula (2008)

Directed by Timothy Friend [Other horror films: Cadaverella (2004)]

This really shouldn’t have worked, but as surprised as I was, I got a decent kick out of this movie.

One reason that this is the case is due to the actor portraying Clyde, being Trent Haaga. Haaga’s been in quite a few low-budget horror flicks over the years, and I’ve only seen him in one other thing, but that made an impression. Slices, a rather poor anthology movie which also came out in 2008, was a pretty awful movie, the one shining light being – you guessed it, Trent Haaga.

Haaga was great here – I can’t point to exactly why I like him so much, but I do. His chemistry with Tiffany Shepis (Bonnie) was top-notch. Despite what this movie is (a low-budget film with somewhat shoddy special effects), the pair of them still had some emotional scenes that I really appreciated and, more importantly, bought. Luckily, Shepis and Haaga weren’t the only shining lights here.

Jennifer Friend was only in five other movies, but I utterly loved her wacky character here. She had a youthful exuberance and while she was occasionally a bit much, Friend brought a lot to the movie. From playing Ping-Pong when she was supposed to be paying attention to something, or randomly wearing a Native American headdress, or playing with dolls and recording radio shows, she was quite entertaining. She was a lot of fun, if I haven’t made it clear, and I really liked the fact she got a happy ending.

Also, Martin F. Glynn brought a little something too. He wasn’t near as special as Friend was, but he told a pretty funny story revolving around an informant and a goat’s tongue (Haaga’s facial expressions during this story cracked me up near as much as the story itself). The individual who played Dracula, Russell Friend, was decent, as was the sinister Dr. Loveless, played by Allen Lowry (his interactions with Jennifer Friend were always good quality), but it’s really Shepis, Haaga, and Jennifer Friend that make this movie the enjoyable movie it is.

The story itself isn’t really great, and while there’s Bonnie and Clyde and there’s Dracula, it takes something like an hour for them to actually cross paths. That’s okay, because the scenes focusing on just Bonnie and Clyde were, as I said, pretty good, ranging from comical to emotional, and while Dracula himself wasn’t that engaging, the individual trying to bring him back to full strength, Dr. Loveless, had a lot of funny conversations with his sister (Jennifer Friend). When these people all converge, the movie’s still great, but don’t get the idea that beforehand, I was tapping my fingers impatiently.

Bonnie & Clyde vs. Dracula sounds like it would be horrible (God knows I had my doubts), but I was very pleasantly surprised. I’m not saying it’s A+ cinema, but I did really enjoy this, and without a doubt, I could see myself giving this another watch, or multiple, in the future.

8.5/10

Hide and Seek (2005)

Directed by John Polson [Other horror films: N/A]

Hide and Seek isn’t really a movie I’d call good, nor would I call it that memorable, but it is sort of interesting.

Interesting in that this horror film stars a big name (Robert De Niro) and yet I’ve rarely ever heard about it from fellow horror fans (in a way like What Lies Beneath, starring Harrison Ford), after seeing Hide and Seek, I can sort of see why, because while well-made, I don’t think this is exactly original.

Robert De Niro does perfectly fine here. I don’t really care for the end of the film nor his role in it (the idea itself was fine, but I don’t think the execution did the idea justice), but he’s still a good actor that doesn’t often appear in horror films. Dakota Fanning does decent as a child actress, though I can’t honestly say she made a big impression on me either way.

It was nice seeing Famke Janssen show up (I know her best as Jean Grey from X-Men, but she was also in Lord of Illusions and Deep Rising), but she didn’t really add that much. More interesting was Dylan Baker – because of his role from Trick ‘r Treat, I had suspicions of the guy from the beginning, which wasn’t necessarily fair (nor does it mean he’s not a guilty party), but thought it was worth mentioning.

I really like the idea here because toward the end, there’s a hell of a lot of suspense, and the mystery which we’re all trying to figure out is pretty engaging. It’s just that the solution they go with doesn’t really work for me (nor many, if the common complaints I see about this one can be transposed onto the negative critics as a whole). The ending just seems like something that would have been figured out earlier than what it was. I won’t go as far as to say it was illogical, but I wouldn’t excuse others for coming to that conclusion.

Truthfully, I don’t think Hide and Seek is terrible, no matter how derivative some of the film is. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it’s not near as bad as I’ve seen some say. Ultimately, though, Hide and Seek isn’t going to be memorable one way or the other, which, with an actor like De Niro starring, is condemnation enough. Good idea, but iffy execution, and I find it a bit below average.

6.5/10

Tarama (2005)

Directed by Jeremy Haft [Other horror films: N/A]

I wasn’t truthfully expecting much from Tamara, but as it ended up, I found myself generally amused. The movie’s not amazing, and I was reminded of both Devil’s Diary and The Rage: Carrie 2 a few times throughout, but could I see myself throwing this into my collection? Sure.

What helps Tamara get past the somewhat generic plot are the strong performances. Jenna Dewan was smoking as Tamara (more so after she came back from the dead, admittedly), and you couldn’t help but feel she was in the right for most of the movie, her only downside going after Matthew Marsden’s character or his wife. As it was, Marsden’s performance as a teacher was on point, and I felt for him.

Bryan Clark was great as an idiotic bully (apparently the fact that his steroid use was uncovered by Tamara makes it her fault that he’s kicked off the football team), and it’s characters like this that I always like to see killed in painful ways, especially after he and his cohorts kill Tamara and try to cover it up, with the help of nice girl Katie Stuart and bitch Melissa Marie Elias.

After Tamara comes back from her death with the help of some witchcraft (because all bullied chicks were into witchcraft, amiright?), things go down a somewhat predictable, yet still enjoyable, route. Personally, the scene in which a student cuts his ears and tongue off, not to mention stabbing his eyes, in front of the whole school, is easily my favorite death in the movie, and really, nothing else comes close (though eating that bottle was probably second place-worthy).

Tamara isn’t a great movie, but I was pretty amused throughout. I lose a bit of interest toward the end, and that whole party scene was just a bit eh to me, but overall, it’s an okay movie that certainly surprised me. Around average, but not anything more, in my view.

7/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so for the NSFW entry, here you go:

Green Eyed Monster (2007)

Directed by Gabriel Barboza [Other horror films: N/A]

I didn’t know a thing about this movie until it was suggested by my brother I watch it (and by suggested, he just picked the movie completely at random, so it wasn’t as if it was a positive recommendation from him), and I wasn’t wowed at all by this. For a low-budget film, I think it’s probably fine, but overall, there wasn’t enough meat here to really get my blood pumping.

Estella Gomez was cute and all, but boy, did she get on my nerves after a while. Playing her abusive boyfriend (we didn’t once see him strike her, but I’d bet anything that guy did) was Michael Lee Arnold, who was okay, but his despicable character, not to mention idiotic once we reach the end of the film, made him impossible to root for. Andrea VanEpps got some funny zingers in, but she too wasn’t that engrossing a character.

As for the plot, I won’t say that it didn’t have potential, but as plenty of movies in the past have shown, potential isn’t really good for much on it’s own. Certainly Green Eyed Monster seemed to possess a somewhat unique story, but given it’s multiple annoying characters and repetitive nature during the second half, it wasn’t what I wanted whatsoever.

If you go into this one blind, I have a hard time believing you’ll come out satisfied, but at the same time, it’s not like it’s atrocious. I don’t expect to see this one again, which works for me, and truth be told, I’ll probably forget it by next year. For a one-time watch, I’ll concede it’s possible one could be entertained, but I really don’t think this is making anyone’s favorite low-budget list.

5/10

28 Days Later… (2002)

Directed by Danny Boyle [Other horror films: N/A]

This is a movie I’ve not seen in quite some time, and it’s always refreshing when a rewatch is just as good as you’ll hope it’d be. 28 Days Later… is perhaps one of the most important zombie films of the modern era, and it’s certainly a well-made movie from the UK, and perhaps one of the UK’s best in the last twenty years.

Most of the main cast was great. Cillian Murphy (who I pretty much only know from Batman Begins) was good as the main character, as he doesn’t really seem the type. Naomie Harris is fun as an action, kick-ass gal. Brendan Gleeson (Lake Placid, fourth Harry Potter film, The Guard) and Megan Burns give the movie heart, whereas Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who) gives it pragmatic brutality. Solid cast all around.

There’s a lot of feeling in this one. When I say that Gleeson and Burns really made an emotional impact on me, I’m not trying to exaggerate – that father-daughter combination was great, and much like how they brought Harris’ character some joy, they brought the viewer joy too, which makes the movie doubly impactful past a certain point.

Also, that score is damn phat. Really great score which helps the movie along, especially toward the end.

As far as zombie movies go, 28 Days Later is pretty damn important, and really brought back to life (see what I did there? :P) the dying (OMG HE GOES FOR A SECOND SHOT AND NAILS IT) subgenre of zombies. I mean, there were decent zombie movies in the late 1990’s (one that comes to mind is Bio Zombie, from Japan), but it was 28 Days Later that really made the genre profitable again, for better or worse.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this again, and I feel sort of bad for having waited as long as I did, as it’s a movie I suspect that one wouldn’t really get too tired of. I’d certainly recommend giving this one a look or a rewatch if you’ve not seen it in some time, as it’s great stuff.

8.5/10

Identity (2003)

Directed by James Mangold [Other horror films: N/A]

This mystery/horror film has been a favorite of mine since I first saw it. The story’s great, with many decent performances, and the twists and turns here are just fantastic. Identity’s a pretty popular film, but if you’ve not seen, I’d do yourself a favor and give it a view.

Performance-wise, there’s little to nothing to really complain about. John Cusack is great, as are Amanda Peet, Clea DuVall (who was in some films, horror and non-horror, I enjoy, such as 2001’s How to Make a Monster and 2007’s Ten Inch Hero), Pruitt Taylor Vince (The Devil’s Candy), John C. McGinley (who played an entirely different type of character in The Belko Experiment), Holmes Osborne, Alfred Molina, and Ray Liotta (Hannibal). Liotta’s character has a twist up his sleeves, and while I sometimes think Liotta overacts, but he’s still solid.

It’s the twists and turns Identity takes that really makes it memorable. I remembered a couple of them, but even though I’ve seen it before, there were still a few surprises for me. It helps that the characters here, while not all likable, are all somewhat interesting, and we’re drawn into the mystery just as much as they are.

As far as the deaths go, there’s nothing really amazing, which I think can be excused as the story’s focused far more on the mystery than any other aspect. There are a few somewhat shocking deaths, though, so don’t think there’s nothing here to interest you if that’s your main point of interest.

Identity’s a movie I don’t really have any complaints with. The whole premise might sound generic (a killer knocking off people at a motel), but it’s done brilliantly, and is very much worth a watch, and with as popular as the film is, maybe you’ve already seen that to be true.

9/10

Copperhead (2008)

Directed by Todor Chapkanov [Other horror films: Ghost Town (2009), Monsterwolf (2010), True Bloodthirst (2012), Asylum (2014)]

Here’s a Sci-Fi movie I’ve enjoyed in the past and find myself enjoying once again. It’s a generic-as-hell western-horror movie with snakes, but damn it, I have fun with this.

I won’t waste too much time on performances, because I don’t know any of these people. Brad Johnson, Keith Stone, Brad Greenquist, Gabriel Womack, and Atanas Srebrev all did decent jobs, and had interesting and mostly fun characters.

The CGI behind the snakes was pretty God-awful, as were pretty much any of the special effects, but hey, it’s a Sci-Fi movie, what can you expect? Honestly, as bad as they were here, they’ve been much worse in many of their later efforts (for example, Sharknado and 2-Headed Shark Attack).

What works well with Copperhead, I think, largely comes from the enjoyable cast. Sure, the story’s ridiculously generic, that gun-fight is almost comically suspenseful, and you can see a few things coming from miles away, but even so, it’s a movie I have fun with, and also sports the quote ‘It’s hotter than nickel night at the whore house,’ which I use often during the summer.

Seriously, for a television movie, Copperhead consistently entertains me and keeps me interested. It did when I first saw it, and it did this time around also. I’ll never say it’s an amazing movie, but there are enough fun characters and amusing lines to keep me happy, so I find the potentially high score justified.

8/10

Satan’s Little Helper (2004)

Directed by Jeff Lieberman [Other horror films: Squirm (1976), Blue Sunshine (1977), Doctor Franken (1980), Just Before Dawn (1981)]

A mostly enjoyable addition to the genre, I will admit to being surprised by just how much I enjoyed a decent amount of this film. I do tend to think the movie runs on longer than it really needs to (there’s about an hour before we really get to the meat and potatoes of the story), but it still something I’d generally recommend regardless.

There’s not many performances in this film, so it’s a good thing that those involved did a pretty solid job. While it’s true that Alexander Brickel’s naive-kid act gets sort of old, he’s also quite young, so I won’t hold that against him. Stronger are Amanda Plummer and Katheryn Winnick, both of whom are really enjoyable to behold.

I really liked Plummer’s character of the mother, who was offbeat and always fun. Every other line she came up with was at least partially funny, and overall, were it not for Winnick, I’d say she was the best here. Winnick, though, stole my heart, as she put in a fantastic performance as well as showed the goods while still maintaining some modesty. In her Renaissance maid costume, she was a cool customer, and a very attractive lady.

Satan’s Little Helper wasn’t focused on gore or creative kills, but occasionally some would pop up, such as a somewhat surprising scene toward the end of the movie. We did see some entrails ripped out, so while they looked quite, quite fake, that’s still something, right?

Another thing I wanted to bring up was the design of the killer. He changes costumes a few times, but the main design he had was fun. It was obviously a costume, but at the same time, it made sense in the context of the story, and despite being somewhat silly-looking at times, I really did think it was effective.

Two small notes before I get to the main issue I had with Satan’s Little Helper. One, that game that sort of started this whole thing looked like perhaps the worst game ever made (intentionally, I’m sure), and two, that cat death was almost needlessly brutal, but then again, this is Satan we’re talking about.

Like I said at the beginning of this, I think the main flaw this film has is that it runs on a bit long. I can’t say for sure what should have been cut, but at an hour and forty minutes, I think they could have found something. I just know that while I was engaged through the end, there were times when I was wondering just how much longer the movie had.

That’s a small criticism in the scheme of things, though. Satan’s Little Helper isn’t my favorite comedy/horror mix from even 2004 (Broken Lizard’s Club Dread, along with the classic Shaun of the Dead, both came out the same year), but it is a fun movie that may be worth throwing into your Halloween collection.

7.5/10

This is one of the films that has been covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I cover this one.