An American Haunting (2005)

Directed by Courtney Solomon [Other horror films: N/A]

I’m somewhat of two minds about this one. I certainly like some of the scenes in the film, and I don’t object to that much of the movie, but the finale didn’t really feel right to me, and the ending scene itself struck me as just overly dramatic (here’s a hint: instead of screaming at a moving car, just call the police to stop the car. It’ll probably work better, at least if you’re white).

Before I go further, I should explain that there are two versions of this film, a PG-13 version and an unrated version. I didn’t know this before hand, but thankfully, it turns out I watched the unrated version, which was about eight minutes longer. I saw this film once before, and I can’t recall if what I watched then was also the unrated version, or perhaps the PG-13 version, but either way, what I thought about the movie the first time around is about what I think this time around.

I don’t hold it against the film for looking for an explanation that might be a little more memorable than your average supernatural movie, but I have to say, even with the tiny hints and clues that something else was afoot, it felt, at least to me, that the ending came out of nowhere. Also, while I believe that the victim of such a circumstance might be forced to forget about the incident, others who happen to just walk into such a situation strike me as not being able to forget so quickly. It just felt odd, especially when it seems that the entity, whatever it was, set out to harm and persistently bother both Donald Sutherland’s and Rachel Hurd-Wood’s characters.

Some years ago, I watched a Japanese film known as Tales of Terror: Haunted Apartment, and it was mostly a decent little Asian horror film. That was, until the ending, which threw in a plot twist that, as far as I could tell, was basically never hinted at once throughout the previous hour and a half, and it just felt like it was thrown in to shock people. Here, there are hints given, but I don’t know if they’re too subtle or maybe not given enough, but it just didn’t really feel like an earned finale to me.

I’ve only seen Sutherland in a handful of movies (the most recent ones being the 2004 Salem’s Lot mini-series and the 2003 remake of The Italian Job), but I think he’s pretty okay here. I think that if the story had been changed up a little, his character could have been a lot better, but hey, he’s still a good actor. Rachel Hurd-Wood is solid too, though she doesn’t necessarily have a high amount of personal agency in the movie. Sissy Spacek (most famous now and forever for Carrie) was fine here, as was James D’Arcy (who played Jarvis in the ill-fated Agent Carter series), but neither one blew the top off the house.

Many of the haunting scenes themselves are decent, though few are stellar. Much of it is the being-held-down-by-an-unseen-entity variety, but that carriage scene was pretty solid from beginning to end. Also, I think Hurd-Wood’s interactions with the spirit at school were all enjoyable, though I wish the spirit had done more to help her than to terrify her, but then again, who am I to criticize how a spirit operates?

Once all is said and done, and we get past that ending which still feels off, An American Haunting is an okay movie, and certainly more well-made than some other versions of the story (such as the low-budget 2004 Bell Witch Haunting), but I don’t think there’s enough here for me to call it a good movie, even with the unrated version at my disposal, and overall, while I think there’s some good things here, ultimately it’s below average.

6/10

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Directed by Rob Zombie [Other horror films: House of 1000 Corpses (2003), Halloween (2007), Halloween II (2009), The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009), The Lords of Salem (2012), 31 (2016), 3 from Hell (2019)]

Like many of the films I’ve seen recently, The Devil’s Rejects is one that I’ve not seen in years. There was a time in the past where I rated this quite highly, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. While I still derive quite a bit of enjoyment out of it, I don’t think it’s the masterpiece I once thought it was. Easily, though, this would be in Rob Zombie’s top movies, without question.

Also important to mention is something most people already know, being that this is a complete tonal shift away from the psychedelic House of 1000 Corpses. It’s a shift that I think makes sense, and more so, was probably necessary. In fact, the shift is so huge that this barely resembles a horror film, and, much like The Silence of the Lambs (which is arguably more horror than this), it’s on the fence of the genre. Personally, I’ve always seen enough here to count it, but I also dislike The Shining and Drag Me to Hell, so as always, take my opinions with a grain of salt.

I think what really pulls this movie together into the solid film it is are the fantastic central performances, especially from Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, and Sid Haig. We don’t get a lot of Haig in the previous film, but here, he’s decently fleshed out, and his scenes with Zombie and Moseley are golden given their deep history and fun interactions, and that ending is an emotional gut-punch on par with Titanic’s finale (and I’m only half joking).

Haig’s fun throughout, and the same can be said for Moseley, who really gives up some quality quotes (“I am the devil, and I am here to do the devil’s work”) throughout. Sheri Moon Zombie used to annoy me here, and to an extent, she still does, but I do find aspects of her character quite amusing (such as her blowing at a victim’s hair just to get a rise out of them) and her relationship with Otis and Spaulding is well-shown here.

Replacing Karen Black as Mother Firefly was Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy), and while she may lack some of the charisma as Black, I think she does a great job showing the character’s more unstable side despite not having much screen-time. And speaking of unstable, William Forsythe (who strikes me as a big name, but I’ve not seen outside of Halloween and The Rig) does great as a deranged police officer. Lastly, Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead, From Beyond, and Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) was great, though his character was a bit hard to like at times. Still, him and his carnal relations with chickens made for a quality subplot.

I’m not really as interested in Forsythe’s investigations throughout the film, be it his argument about Elvis and Groucho Marx or his dealings with the two bounty hunters (Danny Trejo and Dallas Page), partially because I get tired of seeing Trejo’s face, and partially because it took time away from what I found the far-more engaging relationship between the remaining Firefly family, but I get the interest too in seeing more of Forsythe’s character devolving.

Otherwise, I find the story pretty engrossing throughout, and the finale at the Firefly house, what with Forsythe’s character torturing the three of them, was both fantastic and oddly emotional, though it can’t compete with the true emotion we get at the ending, and “Free Bird” playing the movie out. Just an overall fantastic conclusion.

I don’t like this movie quite as much as I used to, or maybe it’s more fair to say that I don’t quite place this on as high a pedestal as I did in the past. No doubt The Devil’s Rejects is still a good movie, but as my appreciation for House of 1000 Corpses has grown over the last couple of viewings, I can’t even truthfully admit that I like this much more.

8.5/10

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

Day of the Dead 2: Contagium (2005)

Directed by Ana Clavell [Other horror films: Horror 102: Endgame (2004), Creepshow 3 (2006)] & James Glenn Dudelson [Other horror films: Horror 101 (2001), Museum of the Dead (2004), Creepshow 3 (2006)]

I’ve seen some bad zombie movies in my time, this has got to be one of the worst I’ve seen in the last six months, perhaps longer.

In truth, this movie might be of slightly higher quality than 2006’s Dorm of the Dead, which I’ve seen somewhat recently. Certainly this film was more coherent than that low-budget offering, but I didn’t have near as much fun with this as I did that one.

Partially this is due to it’s rather drawn out set-up – the movie’s already a bit long, at over an hour and forty minutes, but it takes something like an hour to really get moving. Not that I mind a little character-building, but boy, most of the characters in the film weren’t really worth building. And that ten-minute opening prior to the title screen was somewhat terrible, but at least it was consistent with the following hour and thirty minutes.

There’s a few decent things about the film, such as the laudable special effects and maybe a sympathetic character or two (not that the acting here really merits much). The make-up is rather iffy, and sometimes really shoddy, but it’s still okay insofar as the budget is concerned. I do wish the gore was a little more enjoyable, but I guess much of the lower-budget zombie genre has the same issue.

Laurie Maria Baranyay was fine, and a decently cute actress, but her story here did her no favors. Her relationship with actor Justin Ipock was of moderate interest, but not altogether all that endearing. I did like Stephen Wolfert in his role, and his form of treating his patients felt far more humane, which was sort of nice.

I can’t possibly look past how boring much of this movie was, though, nor how utterly generic most of it felt. Even the original content, such as the zombie virus causing people to “evolve,” was messy and generally unenjoyable. What’s worse was the pseudo-philosophical babble that was the first-person narration (by Ipock’s character), which popped up a handful of times. It was never interesting or engaging, but again, I guess that’s at least consistent.

And not to berate this film even more, but that ending was absolutely terrible in pretty much every way.

Zombie movies are hard to get right. And perhaps more to the point, I’d be the first to admit that zombie movies aren’t my cup of tea. No doubt there are great zombie movies out there (look no further than Dawn of the Dead, The Return of the Living Dead, or Zombi 2), but so many of the zombie flicks post-2005 are generic drivel, and this movie, an unofficial sequel to Romero’s Day of the Dead, is little different.

For the life of me, I can’t imagine many people becoming too enthralled with this. If you want to pass the time with a shitty zombie movie, then sure, Day of the Dead 2: Contagium would be fine. Actually sitting down and watching the whole thing, though, is just a painful ordeal that I would never want to put myself through again.

3.5/10

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

Tamara (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:

Swamp Zombies!!! (2005)

Directed by Len Kabasinski [Other horror films: Curse of the Wolf (2006), Fist of the Vampire (2007), Wendigo: Bound by Blood (2010), Ninja: Prophecy of Death (2011), Skull Forest (2012), Blood Mercury (2014), Angel of Reckoning (2016), Blood Prism (2017), Swamp Zombies 2 (2018), Schlock-O-Rama (2018, segment ‘Film Trailer’)]

This is a film I have somewhat mixed views on. Certainly Swamp Zombies!!!, at a two-hour run time, is a bit much. They certainly could have cut more than a bit of it out, and the movie would be a more digestible one. At the same time, there’s a certain element of fun to be had here (and given the rather low ratings the movie generally receives, I admit it may just be me), so I still find value in it.

Being a very low-budget movie, there’s not much in the way of performances that are particularly good. However, there were a few individuals who stood out somewhat positively, not because of their acting, but their solid fighting skills (Swamp Zombies!!! is virtually a kung-fu movie at times). Len Kabasinski (who is also the director of this film) has much of the fighting sequences, and he’s decently fun to watch. Certainly he’s one of the most kick-ass park rangers I know. Brian Heffron (who randomly had an origin flashback for some reason) and Dan Severn (who unfortunately didn’t appear much) also got some good fright scenes in.

Overall, the story is about as uninteresting as you could expect, and the zombie attacks, along with the fighting back, are as repetitive as zombie movies tend to be. Gore-wise, nothing really stood out, and while I had no big issues with the lower-budget special effects, I do sort of wish there was a bit more variety insofar as the zombies were concerned.

Another thing that Swamp Zombies!!! threw in was quite a bit of nudity. I guess that’s one way to keep people watching, and admittedly some of the ladies were pretty attractive, but when there’s a woman showering for a few minutes, rubbing soap over her breasts multiple times, adding nothing to the story, I can’t pretend I wasn’t a little bored.

This said, Swamp Zombies!!! is probably the exact type of movie you would expect if asked to imagine a low-budget zombie film. It runs on far too long, but there’s still fun fight sequences and solid neck-snappings to keep us moderately engaged. I saw this once before, and to be honest, I forget what I really thought about it, but seeing it again, while it’s far from being a good movie, I was amused enough to see that, despite how bad many think it is, I almost liked it. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to anyone else, though.

6/10

The Amityville Horror (2005)

Amitville

Directed by Andrew Douglas [Other horror films: N/A]

I won’t pretend to remember much about the original The Amityville Horror (it’s been quite some time since I’ve seen it), but this remake, which I’ve also seen before, strikes me as almost entirely pedestrian despite a few solid sequences.

The movie’s certainly tense, no doubt about it. But movies before did it better (such as the classic Burnt Offerings), and this really adds nothing to the table, which is a shame, as there was a pretty good atmosphere perforating much of the movie.

However, it was held back by it’s utterly Hollywood style. The jump scares, the ghosts no one but the audience can see, the idiotic conclusion, the hideous flashes of ‘scary’ stuff, I hate that type of movie-making. Kids may eat it up, and it may sell tickets, but I’ve no interest in it.

There were some good scenes, though, such as the sequences that took place atop the house. The opening to the film, a flashback of an earlier slaughter, was moderately welcomed also. But then most of the other scares aren’t worth much, and good tension doesn’t erase the taste of an otherwise stale film.

If this remake has anything really going for it, I think it’s the decent acting of the lead, Ryan Reynolds. Throughout the film, he grows more and more unstable, culminating in a blood-less potential carnage. Jesse James (who I know best from 2003’s Fear of the Dark, a long-time favorite of mine) was also noticeable, but I don’t know if he, or really any of the kids, were that crucial to the story.

Honestly, while I really liked some of the scenes and ideas this was going for, it felt incredibly Hollywood, both tame and wrought with unnecessary jump scares meant purely for the audience. I don’t remember if I liked this when I first saw it, but I definitely see it as below average now.

5.5/10

Hostel (2005)

Hostel

Directed by Eli Roth [Other horror films: Cabin Fever (2002), Hostel: Part II (2007), The Green Inferno (2013), Knock Knock (2015)]

Each time I see this film, I continue to be impressed. The story is not necessarily overly creative, but it is well crafted (especially the switch half-way through the movie, in which we end up with an unexpected protagonist). The gore is a pretty decent touch also. Not only that, but the movie has a pretty satisfying ending, which is rather unexpected from a movie that is as grimy as this one.

Paxton’s not a character that I overly enjoy for most of the film, but his depth does grow as the story goes on, and by the end, you’d be hard-pressed to not be rooting for him. Insofar as the torture aspect, it’s pretty solid. Not overdone, either. While it’s definitely shocking the first time around, this movie doesn’t drown itself in unnecessary gore, which I applaud it for. There are downsides present, but truth be told, I don’t believe there are all that many. Only thing that comes to mind right now is that I wish some of the characters had a slower death than they did. Alas, we can’t always get what we want. The ending makes up for that, though.

7.5/10