The Revenant Review

Horror Film History, Analysis, and Reviews



Movie Review – Sightseers (2012)

Movie Review – Sightseers (2012)

Radio Newsreader:The police announced today that they’re pursuing a ginger-faced man and an angry woman in connection with inquiries.

2012’s Sightseers is directed by Ben Wheatley, who had previously directed the well-received Kill List (2011). Written by and starring Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, the two central characters originated as a dark comedic routine in which the actors would pretend to drive through the countryside, commenting on the scenery, and occasionally referencing the casual murders they had committed. Eventually they developed a film idea and after numerous rejections pitched the idea to Edgar Wright, who took on production of the project.

Lowe and Oram are so comfortable with their creations, Tina and Chris, that they embody them with an immediately convincing ease. The characters are so self-absorbed and obsessed with their own little world that they don’t empathize with anyone else. When someone from the outside disturbs their idyllic, self-righteous sensibility, they react homicidally. The humor is restrained and understated in a manner that’s very British, and which works perfectly for the tone of the film.

Sightseers 2012 still

Sightseers is a well-balanced black comedy where the violence, even though placed in a humorous context, is unflinchingly brutal. It doesn’t let you forget that a life has been lost even as you laugh (uncomfortably) at the situation, and it’s this intelligent treatment of the characters’ actions and their journey that keeps the concept from growing stale. Wheatley makes you feel guilty, like an accomplice to their crimes, each time they murder and we again begin to follow them in their unglamorous, modernly British Bonnie and Clyde routine. As they drive deeper into the countryside they retreat more into their own little world, and civilization and our sympathies are gradually left behind.

Grade: B

Movie Review – Jack & Diane (2012)

Movie Review – Jack & Diane (2012)

The 2012 hipster lesbian romance film Jack & Diane, which is marketed unquestionably as a horror film, has nothing to do with John Mellencamp’s famous “ditty.” Why they chose those names and picked that title then is as mysterious and as needlessly gratuitous as most of the other decisions made in this film. Written and directed by Bradley Rust Gray, the movie’s official site describes it as thus:

“Jack and Diane, two teenage girls, meet on a summer day in New York City and spend the night kissing ferociously. Bubbly and naïve, Diane’s charming innocence quickly begins to open tomboy Jack’s tough-skinned heart. However, when Jack discovers that Diane is moving at the end of the summer, she pushes Diane away. Diane is overwhelmed by her powerful new feelings, and they begin to manifest themselves in terrifying ways, causing unexplainable violent changes to her body. Young love is a monster – can Jack and Diane survive?”

So that’s what I was supposed to get out of this? That actually sounds like a movie I’d really like to see. What we actually get are two girls wandering around New York City, mumbling to each other while sitting in close proximity as the viewer struggles to hear what they’re saying (and then wonders why they cared at all). The romance we are supposed to see is never convincing, and in fact the actresses look like they are barely tolerating each other’s company. I have to guess that whoever wrote the above description has never actually seen or experienced “ferocious” kissing, as what we ever see from the characters physically is incredibly tame. Diane (Juno Temple) appears confused and lost most of the time, and we aren’t given reason to believe that her supposed same-sex attraction is something new. Nevertheless, she has vague dreams about werewolves which I assume are meant to be a metaphor for her repressed desires, but both characters come off as more disinterested than repressed. I don’t feel I can lie all of the blame on the actresses, for there isn’t much in the script for them to work with. If they didn’t say that they had feelings for one another we’d never know it, and even then we don’t believe it.

The werewolf sequences are never committed to and add nothing to the story, and their manifestations are hardly terrifying. Like various other subplots and attempts at symbolism found throughout the film, the horror inclusion comes off as confused and unnecessary. The filmmakers appear to have wanted to make a quirky, artsy, understated romance with some edge, but managed only to muster a dull, incoherent experience with no substance. Not much actually happens in Jack & Diane, and even the clever but underutilized stop motion animation sequences of hair moving around organs are not enough to recommend this film to people. A movie can be incoherent so long as it remains entertaining. The elation I felt when the words “The End” finally came upon the screen, as I shook myself from a bored stupor, were enough to reveal my feelings about it.

Grade: F

Movie Review – Grabbers (2012)

Movie Review – Grabbers (2012)

2012’s comedy-horror Grabbers is, I believe, Ireland’s first ever monster movie. Directed by Jon Wright and written by Kevin Lehane, the film centers around an alcoholic cop and his new workaholic partner as the two battle alien sea creatures while, as is the way with such movies, recognizing a romance budding between them. They learn that the largely aquatic monsters, who need only water and blood to survive, are poisoned by the toxicity of alcohol in the blood-stream. They thus devise a plan to get the town shitfaced in a pub in order to survive a rain-drenched stormy night. Much of the comedy, naturally, revolves around the protagonists trying to function and defend themselves while fighting through the copious amounts of booze they’ve ingested.

Grabbers showcases stunning cinematography, capturing much of Ireland’s natural beauty, and impressive CGI creature effects. The creature designs pay homage to the face-huggers in 1979’s Alien. In terms of both tone and comedic set pieces, the film owes a lot to earlier movies of a similar vein, especially 1990’s Tremors, but also 2004’s Shaun of the Dead. If you enjoyed those two movies, Grabbers easily fits within that niche. The characters are colorful and the actors do a convincing job of acting drunk, having filmed themselves intoxicated and self-studied their own quirks before filming.

grabbers (1)

Grabbers is funny, though not hilarious and while it’s got some great creature moments, it’s not particularly scary. Over all, the film rides a comfortable line between humor and horror but as I watched I kept hoping that it would stray further into either territory to really give me something to remember. It never does, and while it’s a thoroughly enjoyable film there’s not enough there to distinguish it to make it truly remarkable. Grabbers is still worth seeking out and perhaps even viewing with some friends and copious amounts of alcohol.

Grade: B-

Movie Review – Antiviral (2012)

Movie Review – Antiviral (2012)

For genre fans, the name Cronenberg is synonymous with body horror, tales where the body betrays the host through disease, deformity or ethical reasoning. David Cronenberg perfected the style, especially in films like 1986’s remake of The Fly. So it was with great anticipation that I watched his son’s debut film, 2012’s Antiviral. Brandon Cronenberg shows us a near future in which celebrity worship has gone to extremes, where obsessed fans pay huge money to be infected with their favorite stars’ diseases. As the movie progresses, like a true pox, the obsession grows deeper and more distasteful.

Cronenberg fills his beautiful shots with white sterile spaces, making the blood stand out when it is introduced. We see many shots of needles piercing arms and the main character, played effectively by Caleb Landry Jones, growing weaker as his body is overtaken by infection. We’re never truly sure how much he buys into the celebrity obsession until the final scene. The script is smart and the younger Cronenberg has shown that he is a worthy successor, and not simply a duplicate, of his father. The direction shows a confidence and clear vision that is the work of a promising filmmaker. Where Antiviral is lacking is largely in character development. We never learn much about the characters, and they generally serve as tools to move the plot along rather than to take on lives of their own.

Antiviral 2012 still

Regardless, the movie is thought provoking and serves as a disturbing metaphor for the lengths to which people will go to fill their lives with meaning. They live vicariously through the famous, no longer searching for meaning in their own lives, no longer looking within for answers and direction. At one point an accomplished doctor says he’s always regarded belief in God as infantile, but expounds the meaning he’s found in grafting celebrity skin onto himself, effectively replacing one deity with another, the former which is invisible and esoteric, the latter which he can physically see and caress. It’s not enough for people to admire celebrities: they must own them, consume them, and dominate them. It’s celebrity worship heightened to zealotry and frightening fetishism. It’s a sickening vision, and one that someone is not likely to forget the next time they pass the tabloids in the supermarket or their channel surfing pauses on E! Entertainment.

Grade: B-

Movie Review – Entity (2012)

Movie Review – Entity (2012)

Entity (2012) is a British supernatural tale written and directed by Steve Stone that mixes found-footage with more traditional, albeit hand-held camera work. Taking place in Siberia (though filmed in Northern England), it tells of a reality television show that investigates a location where authorities had found the bodies of dozens of unidentified people out in the wilderness. Accompanied by a medium, they soon find an abandoned government facility which houses disturbed and bitter spirits.

The film has capable performances and generates an effectively somber, unsettling mood. With a modest budget, the movie makes the most of its location. Nevertheless, it offers nothing new, has a predictable ending, and while I generally enjoy what is often described as “slow burn,” the pacing here is overly slow and we lose the urgency that we should be feeling from the characters. Speaking of these characters, those slow moments could have been filled with a bit more dialogue or something to give greater insight into them, but we really only learn about one of them. We know nothing of the others’ pasts and therefore have little from which to generate sympathy.

Entity has a few choice moments, but they don’t congeal to make a worthwhile viewing experience. It succeeds in creating a creepy atmosphere but does not provide enough story to justify it.

Grade: C-

DADDY DREADFUL – A Halloween Puppy (2012)

This review is part of the Daddy Dreadful review series.

Daddy Dreadful Review – A Halloween Puppy (2012)

The internet, as we all know, is a cesspool of belching, bursting hyperbole. While YouTube comments are a fervent breeding ground for trolls, internet movie reviews fare little better, and it doesn’t take long for any sane person to begin ignoring user reviews with titles like “worst movie ever!” Generally, I try to approach my own reviews as maturely and as fact-based as possible, for I’ve come to realize that even most bad films are made with the best of intentions. So it is with this level of awareness that I proclaim that 2012’s A Halloween Puppy is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. As a dedicated horror fan I am accustomed to sifting through bad films in order to find that diamond in the rough – it’s a process that can be fun when approached with the right attitude. Therefore, I’m no stranger to bad films, but A Halloween Puppy, also known as A Magic Puppy, is perhaps the most transparently lazy movie I’ve had the displeasure to watch, and that’s saying something.

This low-budget feature quickly outlives its welcome in its attempt to tell the tired tale of a spell gone wrong that turns a guy into a (female) dog. If 1959’s The Shaggy Dog took a dump on celluloid, you’d at least understand why it’s shitty. But here we get a litany of reused footage, awkward and static camera angles, blue filters in obvious daylight to stand in for night, atrocious acting, and a script that hardly qualifies to be referred to as such. The advertising stresses the appearance of Susan Olsen from The Brady Bunch, but her dull cameo won’t warm the cockles of nostalgic hearts. More interesting to me was Kristine DeBell as the mother, who I immediately recognized from 1976’s Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy and to a lesser extent, Meatballs (1979). Understandably, the first of those films required some additional explanation for my wife. By far the most sincere performance was from Muffin the dog who at least didn’t need a reason for eating the grass, unlike DeBell.

Directed by Mary Crawford… wait, no, that’s a lie. Crawford is a pseudonym for David DeCoteau who has churned out a seemingly endless stream of schlocky, micro-budget horror flicks over the years, particularly the homoerotic “1313” series which appears to fill a niche exploitation market that craves male models running around in their briefs. Recently, however, DeCoteau has turned to making talking animal holiday films that generally have very misleading covers, featuring pets that never appear in the actual film. Even more so than his campy adult-targeted gay-themed films, these are purely created to suck the money from parents’ wallets, and that they’re marketed to children actually makes them, in my assessment, more distasteful.

Recommended Age: Adults – good humored, under the influence, and ready to collectively laugh at the screen.
Final Thoughts: Absolutely terrible. Not at all recommended. However, David DeCoteau knows his schlock, and for adult audiences I do recommend his informative short commentaries on YouTube for the “Trailers From Hell” web series.

Movie Review – The American Scream (2012)

Movie Review – The American Scream (2012)

My childhood memories of Halloween are all fond ones, but the ones that stick out most involve visiting those houses on the block that went the extra mile. They would create sensory wonders in their homes or in their yards, inviting people into their creative world to be scared or awed, or both. Strobe lights, gravestones, jack-o-lanterns lighting the paths, descending spiders, shrieking ghosts, eerie music and sounds being fed from the darkness, and if you were really lucky, a neighbor with questionable judgement jumping out with a chainsaw dressed as Leatherface. Everyone embraced the macabre for just one night. We faced our fears of death and laughed at our own mortality.

The 2012 documentary The American Scream, which first premiered on Chiller, follows three working-class men in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, whose drives and passions lead them to create extravagant “home haunts” even more elaborate than the ones I experienced as a child. It highlights the amount of work, dedication, inventiveness, and personal resources required to make an even minor home haunt successful. While the men’s reasons vary somewhat, all are ultimately motivated by communal celebration, and the film, directed by Michael Stephenson, captures the spirit that made my own childhood experiences so special. As one of the men says, “Everybody’s screaming, they’re smiling, and that’s the point… Halloween is intensely special to me and it feels very different from every other day. It’s a community thing, it’s not just a family thing – Thanksgiving and Christmas are family holidays. Halloween brings the whole community together. You’re not going to see that any other time of year.”

The American Scream is an endearing documentary, even if it’s a bit light on content given its length. Nevertheless, it really makes one appreciate just how much effort and commitment it takes to pull off a home haunt, and I for one would love to see the trend continue and grow.

Grade: C

Movie Review – The Devil’s Carnival (2012)

Movie Review – The Devil’s Carnival (2012)

The Devil’s Carnival (2012) is the second collaboration of Darren Bousman and writer Terrance Zdunich, who also stars, after 2008’s Repo! The Genetic Opera. After years of talk about a possible sequel to that film, the pair decided to instead embark on another horror musical entirely. The Devil’s Carnival’s approach is less rock opera and more cabaret, and it presents a scenario in which three damned souls are sent to a carnival run by the devil, their tales each being based upon one of Aesop’s fables.

Like Repo!, there’s a lot to like about this film, not the least of which is its very premise. The costume designs are fun and seemingly meant to once again appeal to the Goth crowd and one of musical numbers really intrigued me, likening the story of “The Scorpion and the Frog” to a girl who dates an obviously abusive man, complete with references to his stinging “prick.” Also, there’s a really well done number during the credits which tells the story of a girl on a ship who tries to stay awake because she’s convinced she’ll drown in her sleep, and I wish it had been included in the actual film.

All that being said the movie as a whole left me underwhelmed. The other songs are mediocre and the set is more cluttered than sinister. Nivek Ogre from Skinny Puppy makes a cameo, but his number is cut in half and unremarkable. The script suffers from too many characters and too little development, and the horror payoffs are unfortunately predictable and anti-climactic. Even at only 55 minutes the film still seems padded, and it feels like the actors weren’t always sure what to do within a scene, or the director for that matter. (To be fair, I read that Briana Evigan was cast just hours before shooting her musical number).

It’s not a bad film, and I actually like it slightly better than Repo!, but one that doesn’t meet the potential of its style or premise.

Grade: C-

Movie Review – Bad Kids Go to Hell (2012)

Movie Review – Bad Kids Go to Hell (2012)

The initial premise of Bad Kids Go to Hell (2012), directed by Matthew Spradlin, sounds like a surefire winner: mix The Breakfast Club (1985) with a whodunit mystery, and throw in a cameo by Judd Nelson as the crotchety principal. Based upon Spradlin and Barry Wernick’s popular graphic novel of the same name, it’s a promising recipe for an entertaining horror comedy. What could go wrong?

Well, most of it. Judd Nelson’s cartoonish lines fail muster any enjoyable nostalgia, and most of the cast is unable to rise above their trite dialogue. The plot gets increasingly ludicrous, particularly as the so-called “twists” are being unraveled. The movie overall comes off as fairly sloppy, especially in the sound design where the blaring music sometimes drowns out the actors’ voices. And what’s with all the CGI cockroaches that are ever-present but never explained?

Is there anything to like about this film? Well, the sexy redhead does a striptease, so that’s one minute of the film that many viewers will not mind. However, if the price of admission is the rest of the film, audiences may want to pass.

Grade: D-

Movie Review – The ABCs of Death (2012)

Movie Review – The ABCs of Death (2012)

Earlier this year a 58-year-old substitute teacher in Ohio was convicted on four felony accounts for disseminating matter harmful to juveniles. She played The ABCs of Death (2012) for five consecutive Spanish classes. It’s reasonable she began playing it the first period not knowing its contents, but to continue playing it and then showing it again and again? Apparently, when an administrator got wind of it and walked in during the last period she reached for the button to stop it and inadvertently paused the screen on a pair of bare breasts. I’m sure the students’ laughter was deafening.

This story is probably the best publicity imaginable for this type of film. After having now seen it myself, I can’t help but sympathize with the court.

The horror films I watch can generally be split into two categories: those that I watch with my wife, and those that I don’t. The reasons for the latter are normally as follows:

1. I think it might suck and I don’t want to over-saturate her with genre crap and ruin her good will.

2. It may contain a level of misogyny best not watched with the woman with whom I share a bed.

3. She’s not a fan of graphic torture or violence – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) remake was a theater experience the memory of which still makes her shudder.

The ABCs of Death, at one point or another, fulfills all of the above criteria. At its core it’s a simple but clever idea for an anthology horror film. They gave $5,000 and a letter of the alphabet to 26 different filmmakers from around the world, and those filmmakers created a short film based upon a word they chose which corresponded to their letter. The word isn’t revealed until after the film, leaving the viewer guessing as they watch.

As is to be expected with this type of project, the quality of filmmaking varies. There are some which I’m convinced the filmmaker must have $4,990 still in their bank account. Some are of a very hardcore nature, featuring disturbing subject matter and graphic representations. Some are art-house. Some are hilarious and clever. More than a few are about poop. Some are thought provoking and intense. While I strongly recommend some of these films, a sensitive viewer may want their finger primed on the fast-forward button.

Bottom line: understand what you’re getting into and, by the wisdom of Odin, do not watch this with anyone you hope to sleep with in the near future.

Grade: C+

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