Beyond the Limits (2003)

Directed by Olaf Ittenbach [Other horror films: Black Past (1989), The Burning Moon (1992), Premutos – Der gefallene Engel (1997), Legion of the Dead (2001), Riverplay (2001), Evil Rising (2002), Garden of Love (2003), Familienradgeber (2006), Chain Reaction (2006), Dard Divorce (2007), No Reason (2010), Legend of Hell (2012), Savage Love (2012), 5 Seasons (2015), Olaf Ittenbach’s Colourman (2017), Garden of Love II (2017)]

I knew very little about this going in, which was, in this case, a positive thing, because if I had known it was an anthology movie with only two stories, each one taking approximately 50 minutes, I would have gone the other way. As it was, Beyond the Limits wasn’t terrible, and it has it’s place, but it’s certainly not a movie I’d expect too many people to enjoy or want to sit through.

Before anything else, though, I want to give credit to the gore. Director Olaf Ittenbach is somewhat well-known for his gorier films (though I’ve not personally seen any aside from this one), and this one is no different, with some quality decapitations, someone being garroted, a young kid taking a sledgehammer to the face, and other goodies. It’s a solid example of lower-budget gore being done right, so if you’re into this type of thing, this movie might be looking up.

Otherwise, I just don’t think it’s really a great movie. I’ve not seen that many anthology films which feature just two stories, but those that I have (such as Two Evil Eyes and 2009’s Late Fee) haven’t been that good. Part of the reason being, the stories are obviously too short to be full-length movies, but are also too long to be digestible, easy-to-view segments you’d expect from any decent anthology, be it Tales from the Crypt or Creepshow.

It also doesn’t help that neither story here, not to mention the framing sequence (which started out fine, but by the end just seemed terrible) made a positive impression on me. I’d say the first story – a bunch of people are tortured by a sadistic guy in relation to a gangland incident – was the better of the two, as it’s pretty much, past a certain point, a low-budget Hostel. The second story, a period piece about the torture of the Inquisition on religious folk, felt more like a bloodier The Bloody Judge than anything really worth getting into.

I didn’t hate any of the acting (though I will say that Simon Newby was a bit campier than I’d have personally preferred), but few people here really wowed me. From the first story, even with his flaws, Simon Newby was probably the best there. Thomas Reitmair (who I couldn’t help but see as a blonde Alan Rickman) needed a bit more character, and Daryl Jackson was too much a mystery to really get a hang on.

From the second story, while Darren Shahlavi could have been an okay protagonist, he really didn’t end up that memorable. Russell Friedenberg was delightfully evil, albeit maybe a bit over-the-top, but the real over-the-top performance award goes to David Creedon, who was just ridiculously campy (perhaps even rivaling Newby). There are some quality medieval set pieces and sword fights, but you can see it done decently better in the early episodes of Game of Thrones.

Honestly, Beyond the Limits is far from a terrible film. It’s competent in what it was aiming for, and save for a few really bad effects (such as a woman being thrown out of a building in the first story) and that rather awful and expected conclusion, it might be worth watching if you’re already familiar with Olaf Ittenbach or into low-budget horror. It’s just really not my type of thing.

5/10

Wrong Turn (2003)

Directed by Rob Schmidt [Other horror films: The Alphabet Killer (2008)]

In some ways, I do view this one as a modern-day classic. It’s not amazing, by any means, but it’s consistently entertaining and solidly gruesome (though honestly, there’s not really a ton of onscreen onslaught), and had we not been over-inundated with sequels, I think this one would stand out more positively to a larger population of horror fans.

The story here is simple, and takes from such classics as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes (and in fact, I wonder if this movie had anything to do with The Hills Have Eyes being remade just three years later), the only difference being that this movie feels more real than either of those two. Taking place in the dense forests of West Virginia (though filmed entirely in Canada), the setting was solid, and the plot, though simple, quite effective.

I think a lot of this comes from the fact that the characters here are mostly decent people. I think that Desmond Harrington’s (Love Object) performance is a little one-dimensional, but Eliza Dushku was great as a kick-ass female protagonist, and I really liked Jeremy Sisto (Population 436) here too. Emmanuelle Chriqui was the least-engaging of the four main characters, but Lindy Booth was attractive, so there you go.

The action here is also pretty top-notch, with a few chase scenes in tree-tops, and some bow and arrow action. Perhaps my favorite scene is when the three inbred killers are chopping up someone while the four characters are hiding in their shack. We never see much, but it has a gritty, brutal aura to it all the same. Even the conclusion was decently-believable action, and overall, I didn’t have a lot of complaints when it came to the action, or the various tense scenes here (the watchtower too being a scene worth mentioning).

Like I said, I don’t think the movie is necessarily special, and it’s somewhat bare-bones in it’s presentation (though I do think that works to it’s favor), but I’ve always enjoyed this one, and seeing it again after many years only confirms that. I’ve not seen all the sequels (the second, third, and fourth are all I’ve gotten around to, and none come close to this one), but I doubt any of them would be as solid as this one is.

8/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Wrong Turn.

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

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

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

Directed by Rob Zombie [Other horror films: The Devil’s Rejects (2005), Halloween (2007), Halloween II (2009), The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009), The Lords of Salem (2012), 31 (2016), 3 from Hell (2019)]

Rob Zombie’s debut horror film is a controversial one with very mixed views. I saw this three times without being impressed by it, but in recent years, I’ve come to find that it’s actually quite compelling, and the story here, while the basics aren’t that original, has a very harrowing and memorable route.

I don’t know if I’d call House of 1000 Corpses artsy, but I would say that the movie, in many ways, is an experience. I know some people don’t care for the utterly random cuts (the skunk ape who had lurid relations with a woman was the most striking, but who can forget the random black guy screaming ‘This is hell’ in front of a shack with a lot of religious ramblings on it?), old movie inserts, random ramblings of Firefly family members (both Otis and Baby), scenes in negative coloring, a portion in which a nude Baby is pleasuring herself with a skeleton, and the other random, psychedelic stuff thrown into the movie (such as the split screen portions, sometimes split into not just two, but three screens), but damn, I do think that all added a little something to this movie. Was it overkill? To each his own, but while I didn’t like it the first few times around, I’ve grown to appreciate it.

What’s equally as trippy as all of that are the final twenty or so minutes of the film, starting with the industrial metal funeral procession to the burial pit, followed by a tape recorder repeating ‘Bury me in a nameless grave,’ after having been lowered over the pit in a hanging coffin. From there, we have a harrowing encounter with zombies (?), Doctor Satan, his many experiments, and a cybernetic creation known as the Professor.

And though more conventional, the slow motion scene after a shed of dead bodies is found, leading to a tense shootout, all with Slim Whitman’s ‘I Remember You’ playing during the carnage is a lot of fun, and sticks out as a stand-out scene.

Honestly, the gore here isn’t really that heavy. I think the worst of it is a brief scalping, because the dismemberment scene was pretty quick, and while the razor blade scene wasn’t without gore, there wasn’t a whole lot of it. I liked the skinned flesh being used as a suit (courtesy of Otis), but again, it’s more disturbing than it is bloody. That said, while it’s not an all-out gorefest by any stretch of the imagination, House of 1000 Corpses is pretty damn freaky, as it possesses plenty of uneasy scenes, and throw in the trippy snippets throughout the film and the whole of the conclusion, I stand by my statement that the movie’s harrowing.

The four main characters are all okay, though none of them are near as striking as anyone in the Firefly family. Rainn Wilson (who is recognizable as a character from The Office, despite me never having seen a single episode of the show) was perhaps my favorite of the bunch, but I also sort of liked Jennifer Jostyn, despite a somewhat iffy attitude throughout. Chris Hardwick has an unbridled enthusiasm which I appreciated, and Erin Daniels is the forgettable one.

You won’t find too many forgettable members of the Firefly family, save for R.J. (Robert Allen Mukes), who was still threatening in his own right. I’d say Otis (Bill Moseley, who previously appeared in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and the Night of the Living Dead remake) is the most memorable, as his pseudo-philosophical rants and sadistic nature really bring a lot to the film. Sheri Moon as Baby is really annoying at times, but it fits with her personality, and she lip-syncs with the best of them. As Mother Firefly, Karen Black (of Trilogy of Terror and Burnt Offerings) is enchanting in her own right, and feels like a more subdued version of Baby, which was definitely appreciated.

The other family members don’t matter near as much. Tiny (Matthew McGrory) was cool to look at, but due to the nature of his character, didn’t add a whole lot to the film, and Dennis Fimple was just here to tell lewd jokes and flip off Otis. It’s Sid Haig (who’s relationship with the family is never really made clear) who, despite his very little screen-time, really stands out as an amusing and somewhat likable guy (the opening to this film, on a side-note, is great). The only other cast member I wanted to mention was Tom Towles, who I thought did pretty good as a police officer.

Personally, I understand why some people don’t care much for the style of this movie, because, like I said, for quite some time, I was one of them. It’s somewhat artsy, at times a bit much, but I really think it feels like a unique experience, and at the moment, this is a movie I find myself enjoying again and again with each rewatch.

8.5/10

This was covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if interested, you can check out Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one below.

Monster Man (2003)

Directed by Michael Davis [Other horror films: N/A]

This is a movie that I saw once or twice back when I was a kid, quite early in my horror viewing, and so there’s a slight nostalgic value to the film, which is probably a good thing, as without it, I suspect I’d like this even less than I do now.

It’s not a bad film, necessarily, if the comedy within is your type of thing, but the somewhat immature humor here didn’t really wow me. That’s not even one of my biggest issues with Monster Man, though it certainly didn’t help (especially the stupid fight scenes and somewhat whimsical music used throughout the film).

One of the two main issues I had with the movie was that I felt it ran on way too long. The movie has an average running time of an hour and a half, but I struggled during a lot of it, especially after the introduction of Aimee Brooks’ character. Cue the other problem – maybe it’s because I’ve seen this before (many, many years back), but the red herring behind her character seemed extraordinarily obvious, and that sort of lessened much of the impact of what happened toward the end.

I do think Monster Man has great gore at times, and the special effects overall are decent. That chili certainly stood out positively as gut-wrenchingly sickening. Also, I liked how everything sort of tied in well at the end, though I really hated the more comedic portions of the conclusion (such as Joe Goodrich’s character).

Worth mentioning, I think there are even some solidly suspenseful sequences in the film, such as the monster truck chase near the beginning, along with the restroom sequence. Even the design of the Monster Man is really solid, from his mask to the way he walks. A lot of this movie felt like a cheap comedic rip-off of both Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Jeepers Creepers, and they definitely loved their inspirations, I felt.

If Monster Man had been played in a more serious manner, I tend to think I would have liked it quite a bit more, because the humor here really turned me off. Quite likely, Monster Man would have been a lot more forgettable, but even now, I don’t know if the movie’s overly memorable, despite the solid gore toward the second half.

Aimee Brooks was hot, so kudos there, but neither of the main actors (Eric Jungmann and Justin Urich) positively stood out. Playing the Monster Man, I thought Michael Bailey Smith was appropriately creepy despite the comedic feel of the film.

Overall, if you’re more into comedy-horror, I’d recommend giving Monster Man a go, and I certainly like some elements, but it’s not one I think I’d watch that often, and I definitely wouldn’t say the film’s even able to reach average. Might be worth a watch, still.

5.5/10

This was covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, so if at all intrigued, you can listen to Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this film.

Goo chak sam fong fong (2003)

Directed by Soi Cheang [Other horror films: Hung bou yit sin ji Dai tao gwai ying (2001), Hyn huet ching nin (2002), Gwai muk (2005)]

Known as The Death Curse in English, Goo chak sam fong fong is a somewhat forgettable horror/comedy experience from Hong Kong. The movie isn’t completely without merit, but it’s certainly not an Asian film that I’d count anywhere near among the best they have to offer.

There’s a few issues when talking about this one. Plot-wise, children of a recently-dead man come together for a reunion of sorts (in order to get their inheritance), which is all good and well, but the problem is that there’s eight of them. Well, seven, because one couldn’t be located (as soon as this was mentioned, I logged it in mind as something that was likely to come up later), but even so, it got a bit confusing trying to remember who’s who, especially when most of the children were similar-looking men.

Another issue, unavoidable in some circumstances when watching foreign films, was the captions here. The translations were, at times, rather iffy, and I somewhat suspect the version I saw wasn’t necessarily an official English release of the movie. I definitely prefer subtitles over dubbing, and I followed most of the conversations fine (despite the really odd syntax throughout), but I thought it was worth mentioning regardless.

Only two cast-members made that much an impression on me, three if I’m stretching it. Charlene Choi played Nancy, a somewhat annoying and bratty young woman, though she had some funny lines at times, and got better as the movie went on. Alex Fong played the family’s lawyer, and I loved this guy for his very lawyery, serious demeanor. He just had a style to him which I very much appreciated. The stretch addition is Lawrence Chou. His character starts out rather pathetically, but he sort of grows into an impressive individual.

The comedy here is about what you would expect. A lot of it doesn’t really work that well, and it somewhat made the finale here (which was actually somewhat decent) quite a bit more difficult to take seriously. A lot of the ideas here were interesting, but the comedy didn’t really add that much in my view, but I don’t think it overall ruined the film or anything so extreme.

Goo chak sam fong fong (I have to admit, that’s fun to write, for some reason) isn’t an Asian film that’s all that great, or even good. It’s competent, and it gets the job done, but as much as I enjoyed aspects of the finale, ultimately, The Death Curse was unremarkable, maybe good for one go, but not much more.

6/10

Darkness Falls (2003)

Darkness Falls

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman [Other horror films: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006), The Killing Room (2009)]

This strikes me as an utterly fruitless and unenjoyable film to watch, and only if one has nostalgic connections to this one could I see Darkness Falls being a movie one would willingly go back to.

The story behind Matilda Dixon is sort of cool (and reminds me, though it came out many years later, of Dead Silence), but everything else seemed very, very hollow, and honestly, I felt like little happened despite the film being eighty minutes or so long. At times, I was reminded of better movies such as Fear of the Dark (also from 2003), and some worse movies, like Alone in the Dark (2005), or They (2002) but the point is that this story, while possessing potential, felt utterly wasted.

Almost all of the performances here weren’t up to par for what I’d hope to see. Chaney Kley was terribly weak as the star, which could probably be explained by the fact that he didn’t really do that much before taking this role. It doesn’t help that his character didn’t seem fleshed out at all (which is true for most of these characters). Kley died at 34 years old back in 2007, which is a shame, as maybe he had improved past this point. I know that Lee Cormie was just a kid here, but his acting too is rather pitiful. Grant Piro’s character seemed good for nothing but extraordinarily weak comedic relief, and while not bad, Emma Caulfield didn’t much shine in this one either.

It’s somewhat hard to pinpoint exactly why not only I just don’t like this, but rather hate it. It felt far too tepid, too tame, and too shallow, with bad, Hollywood scares and a very bad story. The movie’s made worse by the fact that other movies from around the same time were so much better (Jeepers Creepers in 2001, which had a much better police headquarters take-down, or the aforementioned Fear of the Dark).

I don’t remember particularly caring for this one when I first saw it, but I also don’t remember disliking it as much as I do now. If you’ve a nostalgic connection to this shallow film, then perhaps it works out for you, but as for me, I found Darkness Falls a deeply tedious and tepid mess.

4/10

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

TCM

Directed by Marcus Nispel [Other horror films: Frankenstein (2004), Friday the 13th (2009), Exeter (2015)]

This won’t be a very long review, because quite honestly, I can’t think of much to say.

Throughout the whole of the film, I just felt it very bland. It’s not bad, per se, but nothing really did anything for me. The gore was top-notch, with some solid dismemberments and impaling on meat hooks and the like, but with the glossy style the movie sometimes took, it sort of weakened the impact.

One thing, gore aside, that this movie did really well were the sets. The Hewitt house looked great, with a really creepy exterior and fantastically-done basement, with a whole mess of random horrific stuff crammed down there. The meat packing plant was appropriately creepy also, so kudos there.

As for the actors/actresses involved, none of them were either that great or that bad. They just felt sort of there, going through the motions. I didn’t care for R. Lee Ermey’s character, but he did okay. As Leatherface, Andrew Bryniarski did decent, and looked rather menacing. As for Jessica Biel and company, really, nothing good nor bad stands out. Biel was certainly attractive in some scenes, which is what they were going for, it seems, but other than that, eh.

The movie starts off a bit sluggish, and doesn’t really pick up until about forty minutes in, and when it does, it’s a smooth ride forward, but I just couldn’t shake the idea of how bland I felt the movie was. It has it’s positive factors, but from 2003 alone, I can think of other horror flicks I’d rather watch (such as Dead End or House of 1000 Corpses), so ultimately, I wasn’t much impressed this time around.

6/10

The Devil’s Tattoo (2003)

Devil's Tattoo

Directed by Julian Kean [Other horror films: N/A]

This movie (which, while known as Ghost Rig, is originally titled The Devil’s Tattoo) isn’t all that amazing, not by any stretch. I saw it many years back on Chiller, and all-in-all, it never really came to mind, aside from the basics of the plot (a group of environmentalists take over an oil rig, only to discover nobody’s left, and are soon picked off by an evil force that goes from body to body). Still, it’s not exactly a bad movie either. It’s main problem is how unoriginal the premise is. An evil entity going from host to host, pitting those left against each other, unsure of who they could trust, isn’t exactly new territory. Aside from similarities to The Thing, which are fair enough, I’m also reminded of the classic Horror Express (1972). Even so, The Devil’s Tattoo is passable.

Though it’s not overly thrilling for most of the film, I do think the last twenty minutes or so (which includes more than one plot twist) were pretty enjoyable. All-in-all, this movie’s around average, maybe a little less. It’s quality certainly isn’t worthy of praise, nor most of the acting (Noel Fitzpatrick in particular does a good job, though), but it’s a good movie to pass the night with.

7/10