Wilderness Survival for Girls (2004)

Directed by Eli B. Despres [Other horror films: N/A] & Kim Roberts [Other horror films: N/A]

After years of wanting to see this, I really didn’t expect something this atypical. Not that Wilderness Survival for Girls is a bad movie or anything, but it’s not really the type of movie I was expecting, and I think that some people, if they go in with the wrong preconceptions, may walk away from this rather disappointed.

I didn’t expect the film to be anywhere near as low-budget as it was, for one thing. This doesn’t hurt the movie, because, as you all may know, I enjoy quite a few low-to-no budget films, but I was just somewhat taken aback by exactly how amateur this film came across.

What is more important, and definitely far more crucial, to my final verdict is the plot, and I’ll say that I was expecting something significantly different, but it’s also worth saying that this movie did have some feeling and heart which helped it break past what could have been a somewhat dull affair.

And to be clear, I guess I should briefly discuss my expectations – I thought this was a slasher. Why? I don’t know – I guess that, to me, it sounded like one. Some teens go to a cabin and get stalked and killed off by some mysterious figure? Typical slasher stuff, I thought.

Boy, was I wrong. Instead, we follow these three young women who go to this cabin and just hang out for forty minutes or so. They joke around, show off some skin, give the audience a clear view of their varying personalities, and show the small cracks in the friendship, and also sprinkle in a few small, implied character traits that pop up later. They also get high, because these three know how to have a good time.

There’s nothing horror about any of this so far, to be clear. I guess at one point, the three think they see some mysterious guy watching them, but at best, it’s mildly suspenseful, and doesn’t lead anywhere at that time. What it lacks in horror, though, this first half of the film makes up for in giving us three very fleshed out characters, and I love that. These aren’t your average women of horror – these three have a lot of character and personality, and I dig it.

It helps that the performances are great. We have Clea DuVall, Natasha Lyonne, and Velma. Okay, that’s my attempt at a joke, but Jeanette Brox reminded me throughout of Clea DuVall (circa How to Make a Monster) with her somewhat dorky, timid character. Megan Henning, with her glasses and attitude, got me thinking Velma. And the carefree, lower-class character played by Ali Humiston had Natasha Lyonne’s look and attitude from American Pie down beautifully. The three work great together, and the friendship felt authentic.

In many ways, a lot of this film feels more liking a coming-of-age drama with the three teens, unsure of their futures (two of them are going to college while one isn’t), unsure of their sexualities, unsure of love, just hanging out and candidly talking about things such as drugs, sex, masturbation, and their problems. It might be dull to some, but like I said, I think it gives a lot of character to consider, and it all plays in once the action starts ratcheting up.

Not that the movie is ever really inundated with action; once a mysterious man comes to the cabin and the girls, afraid and also high, tie him up believing him to not be cut of clean cloth, the movie certainly becomes more suspenseful, but there’s really only a few distinct moments of actual action. We got a lot of character from the girls, and now we examine this random guy who may or may not be a threat, and based on what the girls have to work with, it could definitely go either way.

If you’re going into this movie expecting some run-of-the-mill slasher plot, like I was, you will definitely be surprised. For some, the movie may not be their cup of tea. Once I got past my slight confusion, though, I was drawn into the characters and the dilemma they faced, and I felt for the characters when they talked about feeling unloved, or when they go for the person they love and are knocked down, or when they bite back and forth over personalities (Debbie telling Ruth’s character that Kate has called her stupid was a heart-breaking, yet very real, very real conversation).

Do I think that the movie is a masterpiece? No, not really. And like I said, I think it has the potential to turn some horror fans off. For me, though, Wilderness Survival for Girls was a pleasant surprise, and what it lacked in the slasher feel I was expecting, it more than made up for in fully-formed characters and great, real dialogue. This is definitely a movie that, while I didn’t love, I won’t be forgetting.

7.5/10

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)

Directed by Dwight H. Little [Other horror films: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), The Phantom of the Opera (1989)]

So when I revisted Anaconda, I was surprised the film wasn’t that fun. I didn’t expect it to be good, by any means, but I did expect to have fun while watching it, and I really didn’t. Gotta lay it on you all straight, though – I had fun with this one.

Not that Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid is a great movie, and certainly I think the cast of the first movie was quite a bit stronger, but I actually enjoyed sitting through this one, which wasn’t something I could really say for the first, and that’s got to count for something.

Here’s one random note. Not sure if it’s interesting or funny, but I’ll mention it anyway. Throughout the film, I thought that the boat captain was played by Matthew Marsden. Why? Because to me, the boat captain looked really similar to Michael Madsen, and I guessed they were brothers. Unfortunately, there’s no “r” in Madsen, and these two weren’t brothers, and the captain was played by some guy named Johnny Messner, and I feel like an idiot.

That aside, we have a nice cast. Johnny Messner (a name I don’t know at all) did great as the captain, and he was a solid character throughout. He even wrestled an alligator. KaDee Strickland (another name I don’t know) was a cute, bad-ass chick willing to fight snakes and shit. She also had a southern accent (she was born in Georgia), so that added to the charm. It’s like watching Anna Paquin fight snakes (only when she’s using her southern accent, not the one she normally has since she’s Canadian).

Matthew Mardsen (no relation to Michael Madsen) was good as a scummy piece of trash. I don’t think he really got as much as he deserved, but I’ll take it. Eugene Byrd, Karl Yune, Morris Chestnut, and Salli Richardson-Whitefield were all perfectly enjoyable also.

The snakes here don’t look great, but you do have a solid jungle adventure, including poisonous spiders, leeches, trees, and other things you might expect to find in a jungle. It’s nothing original, but I had fun, which can be said for the movie, and is more than I can say for the first movie.

7/10

Saw (2004)

Directed by James Wan [Other horror films: Stygian (2000), Dead Silence (2007), Insidious (2010), The Conjuring (2013), Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), The Conjuring 2 (2016), Malignant (2021)]

So it should come as no surprise that, to me, Saw is a very special movie. I don’t deny it’s dated in some aspects, nor do I deny that some of the performances aren’t quite up to snuff, but even with those issues, I can’t help but see this as an almost perfect movie.

A big part of this, to be sure, is nostalgia. When I first saw this film on Showtime or HBO, I had absolutely zero idea where it was going or how it’d end. I’m sure I had heard vaguely about the film, but I didn’t really know going in exactly what it was even about. And then, come the conclusion, I was blown away, and how.

To this day, that’s one of my favorite finales. Sure, the quick recap, giving us seemingly hundreds of short clips, is a bit much, and one of those dated aspects I mentioned, but despite that, it possesses such a depressing and hopeless aura to it, what with the screaming for mercy while the door is being slid shut. It’s just beautiful.

What’s also beautiful is the whole concept of Jigsaw. Throwing people he deems unworthy of the gift of life into torturous, yet beatable traps (in theory – that broken glass trap with the safe looked pretty close to impossible) is a fun concept to mess around with, and I thought they did a good job here, especially since, unlike later movies, this one doesn’t rely too much on the carnage and gore of the traps, but of the mystery surrounding the situation Adam and Lawrence find themselves in.

I think most people can see that Leigh Whannell’s performance is a bit off. He certainly cracked me up at times, and of all the characters in the film, he’s probably the most sympathetic, but the acting isn’t great. Luckily, it doesn’t really make a big negative impact in my mind, because most everyone else does decent. I mean, hell, the cast is actually pretty solid, with such names as Cary Elwes, Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon series), Michael Emerson, Tobin Bell, and Ken Leung (who randomly popped up over ten years later in the ill-fated MCU series Inhumans). All of them bring something to the table, and it makes the story work beautifully.

Personally, there are some films that aren’t easy to put into words just the amount of impact they make on me, and Saw is a good example of that. On almost any horror forum I’ve joined, my user name’s always been some variation of ‘Jigsaw,’ and though I can certainly see some flaws with additional viewings of the film, none of that can change the fact this movie as a big reason why I became such a dedicated fan of the genre, and I don’t really hesitate to give it the highest props possible.

10/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as I defend Saw against Chucky’s (@ChuckyFE) slanderous words.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Directed by Zack Snyder [Other horror films: Army of the Dead (2021)]

Perhaps one of the best zombie movies of the 2000’s, this remake does a lot right. I happened to see this before I caught the original, and while I do like the original more, this version is no slouch, and it’s a solid ride throughout.

I think a large part of this is how some of the characters here develop, such as Michael Kelly’s CJ, who started off as an utter jackass, but then becomes quite a valuable team member. It’s accurate, actually, to say that most focal performances here are solid, from the lead actress, Sarah Polley, to the sarcastic rich asshole, Ty Burrell (who cracked me up throughout).

With such a large cast, I want to at least give kudos to most of these performances. R.D. Reid, Boyd Banks, Jayne Eastwood, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Kevin Zegers, and Michael Barry (who I randomly know from the Goosebumps two-parter The Werewolf of Fever Swamp) were all solid in their roles. I didn’t care much for Lindy Booth (though her actions may play a role in that) or Inna Korobkina, but it was nice seeing Ken Foree and Tom Savini here.

Being a big budget film, the special effects and cinematography were pretty top-notch. I don’t think I have a favorite scene of gore, but some of the shots early on in the film, showing the destruction of Sarah Polley’s suburban life, are shot beautifully. The chaos there is fantastic, and you have to love it. Also, throwing on what may be one of Johnny Cash’s best songs (“The Man Comes Around”) during the title sequence was a solid choice.

There are some scenes throughout the film that personally never did that much for me, such as the baby sequence, and, in relation, the degradation of Mekhi Phifer’s character, who was somewhat interesting at the beginning. It makes sense in context, but I still don’t care much for it. Lindy Booth (who, if she looks familiar, you may remember from Wrong Turn) plays a character who suffers multiple losses, but still ends up making a rather stupid mistake late into the film. Still, the parking garage scene in fun, and their escape attempt, with their decked out buses, was quality too.

Dawn of the Dead is a somewhat longer film (the version I went with was an hour and 50 minutes or so), but it doesn’t really drag at any point, even when some characters are thrown in who never really get screen-time (such as those played by Jayne Eastwood, R.D. Reid, and Kim Poirier). We get some time lapses of their life in the mall, which are equal parts amusing and realistic. And when the action comes around, it sure do come around, brahs.

This is a fun movie throughout, and there’s a reason why so many fans of the genre give it such props. Like I said, I don’t think it’s as good as the original Dawn of the Dead, but this is still a well-done zombie movie well worth the respect it’s gathered.

8.5/10

This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. If you want to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss Dawn of the Dead, just look below.

Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004)

Directed by Brett Sullivan [Other horror films: The Chair (2007), A Christmas Horror Story (2015)]

I didn’t particularly love this sequel when I first saw it, and while I enjoyed it a bit more this time around, this still isn’t a movie I’d see myself going back to too often. In truth, I might find Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning more an enjoyable movie, but with that all said, this isn’t a bad movie. It’s just not great.

Emily Perkins is pretty solid, of course, and in her limited role (simply as a vision Brigitte often has) Katharine Isabelle was too. Perkins does come across as pretty desperate throughout the film, and while I have qualms with the story, I think she puts in a good performance. Tatiana Maslany’s Ghost was an interesting character. Half the time I was interested, half the time I hated her. Still, Maslany herself did good with the role. I do wish that Brendan Fletcher (Freddy vs. Jason) appeared more, Janet Kidder made no impression on me, and Eric Johnson’s scummy character was eh.

The first half of the film, much of which took place in a rehab facility, was pretty enjoyable, but once Brigitte escapes with Ghost, I wasn’t as enamored. I think part of this is due to Ghost’s character, who I found pretty odd and disconcerting throughout. It was sort of nice for Brigitte to find a new “sister”, and I do appreciate their budding friendship, but even so, Ghost was a strange character. Also, while I like the idea of a werewolf hunting Brigitte down to mate, I wish we got actual confirmation as to who that werewolf was.

What’s most questionable here is the conclusion. I’ll say that on the surface, I rather dislike it, but if taken as a dream, or a fantasy of one of the characters, it’s almost bearable (but then, if you choose to look at it that way, there’s not much of an actual ending at all). I don’t know how much it hurts the movie as a whole, which I found around average even before the ending hit, but it wasn’t really the direction I’d have gone.

A bigger part of this is that I’m not entirely sure Ginger Snaps really needed a sequel to begin with. What brought the first movie to life was the entirely believable sibling relationship between Brigitte and Ginger, which is obviously lacking here. Ginger Snaps 2 does fine, I guess, but it just lacks the magic of the first movie, which is disappointing. Like I said, though, I think I actually enjoy The Beginning more than this one, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

6.5/10

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

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.

Malevolence (2004)

Directed by Stevan Mena [Other horror films: Brutal Massacre: A Comedy (2007), Bereavement (2010), Malevolence 3: Killer (2018)]

Like many of the movies I’ve been watching in recent times, Malevolence is a film I first saw a long while back, and though I had positive feelings about it, I honestly, if asked, wouldn’t have been able to explain why that is. Seeing it again with fresh eyes, I’ll admit the movie isn’t amazing, but I do think it’s very solid in spite of the fact it really does seem to rip off Halloween at times.

I mean, come on. That little chime/sound that pops up every now and again, or the design of the antagonist (though the hood is definitely more The Town That Dreaded Sundown), it just feels really familiar. I don’t fault the movie for that (though I can see why some do), because I still think that Malevolence has solid tension.

Admittedly, though, it takes a while to get there. The first thirty or so minutes, if not forty, are almost void of interest. I guess getting to know the bank robbers is something, but really, it’s slow-going in the beginning, and while I like the final effect (in which the finale seems a lot more action-packed), it’s not always the most exciting content.

Worth mentioning also, Malevolence is pretty low-budget, made for around $200,000, and it does sometimes show, but I definitely don’t find that to be detrimental to it, because, as I said, it can possess a solid lease on suspense when it wants to. Personally, for a lower-budget flick, I though some of the camera angles were pretty interesting, and I certainly like the low-key, yet effective, setting.

Jay Cohen, who played the antagonist here, really did a solid job, and seemed to have much the same feel as Michael Myers (though he did seem to move a bit quicker). Samantha Dark, who played an abducted mother (her daughter was played by Courtney Bertolone) was decent here, though she didn’t have that much opportunity to get into the action save the finale. I was more engaged with Heather Magee, who had one of the more interesting characters, but she barely went anywhere. R. Brandon Johnson made for a unique hero, but really, I have to say the best performance here is by Gurdy, who played a scary tree.

From all I’ve read, Malevolence seems to be a somewhat divisive film (which is backed up by it’s IMDb rating, right now at a 5.1/10), and I obviously lean more toward the ‘It’s a good movie, get off it’s back’ side, but I can see why it wouldn’t work for everyone. Personally, I like the suspenseful nature of the film once the movie gets there, and the footnote investigation at the end too. It’s not a perfect movie, no, but I did find it quite worthwhile.

8/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. If interested, listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this movie.

Bell Witch Haunting (2004)

Directed by Ric White [Other horror films: Nightmares from the Mind of Poe (2006)]

Before An American Haunting came onto the scene, the low-budget Bell Witch Haunting was released, which covered the same supposed supernatural event. A very low-budget film, Bell Witch Haunting isn’t entirely without merit, but it still really strains your patience, as it clocks in at just over two hours long, which is utterly unacceptable, especially given the content.

I have more than a few problems I have with the movie, and I really struggled to finish this one: among these problems, as I alluded to, is the ridiculously lengthy run-time, as Bell Witch Haunting is two hours and two minutes. If the story here had been perhaps more interesting or better written, that might well be excusable, but with the product we got, I don’t think it was at all necessary.

Another thing that really grated on me – there are little ‘section titles’ that pop up throughout the movie constantly, and none of them did the least bit to make the film better. The ghost of the entity really grated also, as she sounds like a bratty young teen girl. Not really my idea of spooky. Oh, and another thing – while the movie mostly takes the subject matter seriously, there are occasional smatterings of comedic scenes thrown in (including some 1820’s toilet humor), and I thought the movie could have done without that.

The aforementioned entity starts off innocently enough here, pulling sheets off beds, banging on the walls, pinching people when they’re trying to sleep, or telling people embarrassing secret information (like I said before, the voice of this entity is so damn annoying, but it did lead to the somewhat funny line ‘I will not allow this thing to question my character!’), but it gets worse as the movie goes on, with a few deaths and a rather sad scene at the end.

I’ll say this one positive thing about the movie – the death of Doug Moore’s character was pretty depressing. I didn’t care an ounce for most of these characters (partially because the Bell family is so big, it’s so hard to keep up with who’s who – seriously, I think there’s at least six children running around), but seeing the head of the family slowly lose his grip on life, and his final conversation with a long-time friend (played by director Ric White) was rather emotional, all my other issues with the movie aside.

Otherwise, the only other performance I cared for one way or the other was Amber Bland, who played the oldest daughter. She sort of loses prominence at different points throughout the movie, but she is one of the characters paid the most attention to (in fact, her birthday party, almost aborted due to the father’s recent excommunication from the church, was one of the more heartwarming scenes). Daniel Cooper, though, was more on the annoying side, playing an obnoxious, overweight younger brother, who’s catchphrase ‘Aw, ma’ got old after the second time. At least he provided us with one of the few solid scenes, involving quite a few tarantulas.

One thing I’ve neglected to touch much on is the low budget, and I want to be clear on this: yes, Bell Witch Haunting has a very low budget, but that is not at all reflective of my problems with it. Plenty of great low-budget horror movies exist, but they generally don’t have an overlong story that’s often none-to-exciting. Bell Witch Haunting was difficult to trudge through, and I suspect that most people who come across this one will leave with much the same opinion.

4/10

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Directed by Edgar Wright [Other horror films: N/A]

Often called one of the greatest zombie-comedies, Shaun of the Dead is an undeniably fun film. It never gets too silly (which is one of my personal pet peeves when it comes to comedy-horror films), and is just a good movie to throw in when little else is going on.

Much of the reason this works is because of Simon Pegg, who does great as the unmotivated, titular Shaun. His was a rather enjoyable performance throughout. Much of the time, I didn’t care for Nick Frost’s character, but as an actor, he did well. Most others were enjoyable also, such as Bill Nighy (who had one of the few emotional scenes in the film), Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, and Penelope Wilton (who’s cheery ‘Hello’ always cracked me up). Hell, we even got a cameo of Martin Freeman before he became the star he now is.

Of course, the story’s fun, the style is solid (love the quick cuts used constantly), and I do enjoy the scenes of Pegg walking to and from his apartment, as they bring a very localized feel to the film. I don’t have any real big complaints, aside from a few portions that felt a bit much (such as the end, which was a tad more goofy than I’d have hoped for).

Generally, though, there’s a reason that this movie is held to such high regard, and though it’s not perfect, it is an enjoyable, potentially brainless, film that is pretty well worth seeing. There’s even a little gore, as one of the characters gets his legs and arms ripped off by a horde of zombies, so there’s a little something here for many horror fans.

I don’t necessarily love Shaun of the Dead, but I’ve seen it multiple times, and it’s never failed to amuse. Stand-out scene was probably the “Don’t Stop Me Now” Queen sequence in the pub. “Kill the Queen” indeed.

8/10

Hellbent (2004)

Hellbent

Directed by Paul Etheredge [Other horror films: Buried Alive (2007)]

When I first saw this, I was pretty impressed with it, especially with it being both a lower-budget slasher, along with being more oriented toward the LGBT community (if I recall, I think I saw this first on LOGO). Even if you’re not gay, though, there’s plenty of fun, albeit relatively mild, to be had here.

Taking place during the West Hollywood Halloween Carnival, the story itself is somewhat thin. A masked man follows and begins to kill off a group of four gay guys with a scythe. It does take about forty or so minutes after the initial kill to really pick up, which gives us some character building, which, given the characters in question are mostly interesting, works out well.

Dylan Fergus is pretty sympathetic as the main character, and has a nice background to him. I felt worse for Hank Harris’ character, though, especially after being turned down by his crush in a club. Harris, on a side-note, seems to be the only actor here who still appears in movies, which is sort of interesting. Lastly, playing the killer (of whom no background is given at all), Kent Bradley James certainly plays the threatening type well.

For the most part, I liked the kills, though, for decapitations, there were a bit light on blood. What probably didn’t help was that at times, the lackluster lighting caused a few scenes to come across as rather dingy. Another slight issue I had was with the utter lack of information on the killer – I liked his physique and style, but we don’t learn a thing about him. I get the appeal, but that always sort of bothered me a bit. Sadly, the last few seconds are pretty laughable also, which is a shame, as the rest of the finale was actually pretty thrilling.

From my understanding, Hellbent isn’t the first gay-themed slasher, but it does seem to be one of the most well-known ones. It certainly adds an interesting twist on what otherwise would be a pretty by-the-numbers slasher. Ultimately, I think it’s just about average, and personally, I don’t know if it has a whole lot of rewatchability. That said, it’s worth at least that first viewing.

7/10