The Revenant Review

Horror Film History, Analysis, and Reviews



Movie Review – Witching & Bitching (2013)

Movie Review – Witching & Bitching (2013)

2013’s Witching & Bitching, known in Spain as Las brujas de Zugarramurdi, is a horror-comedy co-written and directed by Álex de la Iglesia. José and Tony are two dimwitted, misogynistic men who rob a pawn shop at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol with José’s young son in tow. In their escape they kidnap a taxi driver and the three men bond over their grievances with women, who they claim have emasculated them and broken them down little by little. Unluckily for them, they become the target of a coven of man-hating witches who want José’s son for a sacrifice.

The film is light-hearted and energetically shot, never taking itself too seriously, and succeeds in creating a distinct visual style. Some scenes are genuinely funny and the gross-out humor is used effectively. The characters are colorful if not fully fleshed out, the result of a fairly thin plot that is stretched to its limits. Really, not a great deal happens in this film, and the middle of the movie is mostly the guys running from wall-climbing witches throughout the corridors of a huge Gothic mansion. There is also a love subplot that is terribly forced and entirely unbelievable.

The misogyny of the men is cartoonish and meant to be satire; however, the film never does the job of convincing the viewer that it does not ultimately hold their view. All but one of the females in the film, and there are many, are manipulative, misandrist, evil creatures with no redeeming values. The men may be buffoonish, but they are the clear victims in this battle of the sexes. The only woman to be by the end considered a heroine is still depicted as emotionally unstable and needlessly violent. It’s a message that can’t be shaken after watching the film, and it can’t help but taint one’s perspective of the movie as a whole. The English title doesn’t help matters.

Despite this problem, Witching & Bitching is enough of an entertaining ride that most viewers will likely enjoy it regardless. After all, it won the most awards at the 28th Goya Awards, which honored the best Spanish films of 2013. Admittedly, there are things to admire the audacity of, such as a giant Venus of Willendorf walking around like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. That’s something you don’t unsee.

Grade: C

DADDY DREADFUL – Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest (2013)

This review is part of the Daddy Dreadful review series.

Daddy Dreadful Review – Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest (2013)

I loved the Curious George books as a young kid, attracted as I was to the illustrations and the bold yellow which swathed the covers. It wasn’t until my son came along that I saw the troublesome monkey in any other media, and thus far the animated features celebrating the seasons are what we’ve watched. Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest (2013) served as a great introduction to the Halloween season for my son – it’s got pumpkins galore, music, the legend of a hat-kicking scarecrow named No Noggin, and a celebration of “boo” scares.

There was nothing that frightened my son though the movie definitely left an impression. He enjoyed jumping around yelling “boo!” afterward and mentioned “No Noggin” each time we put on our hats. The story is appropriate for preschoolers and, being under an hour, doesn’t outstay its welcome for the adults.

Recommended Age: 3+
Final Thought: Recommended for the preschool crowd.

Movie Review – Banshee Chapter (2013)

Movie Review – Banshee Chapter (2013)

Loosely based upon H.P. Lovecraft’s “From Beyond” (1934), 2013’s Banshee Chapter, the directorial debut of Blair Erickson, mixes elements both real and unreal to generate effective scares.

When an old college friend takes a mysterious chemical and goes missing, an investigative journalist named Anne goes in search of him and of the origins of the chemical. She eventually tracks down his supplier – a burnt-out, drug obsessed author named Thomas Blackburn, based upon Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and played brilliantly by horror icon Ted Levine. The plot throws in elements of the factual Project MKultra, which were illegal mind control experiments using human subjects carried out by the CIA from the 1950s into the 1970s, as well as the eerie nature of number stations – strange broadcasts heard on shortwave radios that often have repeating sounds or voices, usually of women but sometimes of men or children, reading numbers. Many of these are likely government transmissions meant to discourage others from using the frequency, but some have yet to be fully explained. Soon Anne and Blackburn are being followed by an otherworldly entity and are in a race against time to find the source before they succumb to it.

Lovecraft, MKultra, and number stations make a good stew. The scares are mostly predictable but they’re also mostly pulled off so well that they’re still effective. The transmission of the number station, which acts as a harbinger for the entity’s approach, is an unnerving soundtrack to the visuals on screen.

Ted Levine is the highlight of the film. He’s a bit like having Jeff Lebowski, AKA The Dude, in a horror film, yet he never devolves into being a mere cartoon version of that character, which in lesser hands he might have become. His Blackburn is sympathetic while maintaining enough mystery as to seem untrustworthy and potentially dangerous. He also manages to get all the good dialogue, like when he tells Anne: “People are afraid of death because it’s so fucking ordinary, it happens all the time.” Levine single-handedly elevates the movie to the point where he almost looks out-of-place within it.

While there are a few instances of found-footage in the film, mainly in the opening, this is not that kind of movie. Nevertheless, the director takes the found-footage approach, filming hand-held and moving with the actors as though he is another character in the film. At times this is distracting, but when the horror elements start it gives that unnerving sensation of a camera swinging and not knowing what its lens will land on.

Yet Banshee Chapter is not without its shortcomings. The plot is threadbare and, except for Blackburn, the characters are all two-dimensional. Even Anne gets no depth. The most we learn about her is her relationship to the missing friend, told only in a few flashback images, and her job. Also, as has been mentioned, despite being genuinely creepy the film is still predictable and borrows heavily from other films, such as The Ring (2002). It’s stuff we’ve seen before, but at least they’re doing it fairly well. Finally, the two twists at the end are rather absurd. The first makes no sense when one considers the effect it would have had over several decades and yet there’s no indication of it in the film, and the second is so obvious as to not be a twist at all.

Christopher Nolan was originally tied to making this film before deciding to do Interstellar (2014), and I can only imagine what he could have created with these strong ingredients already in place. As it is, Banshee Chapter is a film that is worth watching, especially in the dark, but it doesn’t warrant repeat viewings.

Grade: C+

Movie Review – Carrie (2013)

Movie Review – Carrie [remake] (2013)

When the new Carrie (2013) was first announced I was curious to see if director Kimberly Pierce could cull anything new or relevant for our modern era that Brian De Palma’s 1976 classic, due to the time in which it was made, could not. Her film Boy Don’t Cry (1999) dealt smartly with the heavy issues of self-identity, sexuality, and class identification – all themes which the story of Carrie White touches upon. When buzz for this film was first making its rounds, I recall cast members and those associated with the picture touting that this version would be closer to Stephen King’s 1974 novel. They claimed their film was not a remake of the original but a reimagining of the source material. However, considering this movie hardly deviates from the path laid by De Palma, except to insert references to social media, 2013’s Carrie can be safely stored in the vault of pointless and soon-to-be-forgotten remakes.

To be fair, Pierce has claimed that studio executives butchered about forty minutes from her film. This footage supposedly contains many elements from the book, such as the White Commission, and more gore. There is currently an online petition from fans meant to restore Pierce’s vision. Nevertheless, as it now stands the movie closely resembles De Palma’s, and the scenes which it mirrors only serves to highlight the original’s superiority.

I love the 1976 Carrie but I don’t think of it as one of the untouchable classics. The story is perfectly served to be reimagined for each teen generation, changed to make it relevant to their fears and anxieties. The original is a terrific, artistic achievement, but it’s very much a capsule of its time. The 2013 film, though, is more tailored to modern teens’ short attention spans and reliance on pop culture. The overuse of CGI makes the scenes of Carrie testing her powers more akin to an X-men movie or Matilda (1996) than to anything foreboding. Sissy Spacek’s Carrie had a growing awareness of her ability that never went too far until her climactic mental breakdown. But this new Carrie is quickly confident in her powers and is closer to the literary version in this way, but it is a confidence that undermines the character who we should be viewing as a tortured victim unable to see potential within herself.

Chloe Grace Moretz is a capable actress, but when compared with Spacek’s iconic portrayal we see just how miscast she is. She fails to exhibit the vulnerability essential to the character or illicit the pity that Spacek was able to cull. I’ve seen reviewers who praise her performance but it didn’t work for me.

Yet it’s in the prom scene were everything truly falls apart and any comparison made to the original film reveals just how brilliant and horrifying De Palma’s work truly is. By comparison, the new film is flashier but tension-free. Also, it can’t decide if Carrie is a monster or a victim as it tries to redeem her in odd ways, but if we were to replace her telekinesis with a gun the distinction would be clear – Carrie is a monster.

2013’s Carrie is not a horrible film. It has its merits. Julianne Moore does well, for instance. But the film fails to elicit an emotional connection and feels sanitized in a way that the original didn’t. Despite the CGI deaths, it feels like the rest of the movie is holding back, particularly on the performance end. It’s a perfectly fine workmanlike movie, but I prefer the artistry of De Palma’s.

Grade: C-

Movie Review – Devil’s Pass (2013)

Movie Review – Devil’s Pass (2013)

In 2013 Renny Harlin, who is known mostly for his action movies, once again returned to the horror genre with Devil’s Pass (2013). I’ve never been a fan of his previous horror/thriller forays. He did the passable A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), which still shines in my mind for the obvious stunt-double-in-a-wig-swinging-nunchacku scene. But he also gave us the “violently banal” The Covenant in 2006 (“I’m going to make you my wee-otch”), which is one of the worst horror films I’ve ever seen, though it at least gave us some choice reviews.

This time Harlin delves into found-footage horror and instructs us all on how not to do it. I don’t mean to sound flippant here, as I believe Harlin makes a genuine effort, but nowhere do we see evidence that he grasps what makes the story-telling technique truly effective. The story, which had an interesting plot relating to the real life Dyatlov Pass incident of 1959, in which nine hikers’ bodies were found in the snows of the Ural mountains and who appeared to have died under mysterious circumstances, is lost in an uninspired script. Harlin shot on location in the mountains of Russia, which is commendable, but it doesn’t really contribute anything authentic to the film. There are some interesting sci-fi elements which run along Harlin’s own theory on the case, but they never come together amidst the stale dialogue and rudimentary action. The acting is mediocre and the film devolves into a CGI-fest at the end, to mixed results.

Worst of all, the found-footage aspect was unnecessary and poorly done. Devil’s Pass may have actually worked better had it not been found-footage, or at least not entirely. Devil’s Pass has some promising ideas and it attempts an almost smart circular story, but in the end the movie is too light on story and too heavy on gimmick.

Grade: D

Movie Review – Nurse 3D (2013)

Movie Review – Nurse 3D (2013)

In July of 2015 actress and model Paz de la Huerta filed a lawsuit against the makers of Nurse 3D (2013) for ruining her career. De la Huerta played the lead role of Abby, a nurse who kills unfaithful men until she forms an unhealthy obsession with a fellow nurse. When the nurse is unresponsive to her advances she sets out to ruin her life. De la Huerta claimed that she was injured on set, treated badly by the director, Douglas Aarniokoski, and that her career has suffered since.

Nurse 3D is not what anyone would call a good film, though it did meet with mild success. The script is rather rote and poorly conceived, borrowing elements of Single White Female (1992) and American Psycho (2000), yet the direction never seems to truly embrace the trashy B-movie nature of its premise and plot. It appears written as a parody but takes itself too seriously, and therefore it’s never as fun as it should be. Even the potentially good gore is ruined by excessive CGI blood sprays (or were those supposed to be funny? The confused tonal nature doesn’t help the viewer to decide).

The movie is marketed as an erotic thriller, but it’s hardly erotic. De la Huerta tries very hard to be sexy with pouting lips, swinging hips, and a constantly breathy voice, as well as being gratuitously nude much of the time, but these tricks never truly mask her monotone performance. She does a serviceable job, which is the most that can be said for the rest of the cast, but looks bored throughout much of the film. I can’t deny that I was too.

Grade: D

Movie Review – Sharknado (2013)

Movie Review – Sharknado (2013)

Should one critique a film that’s bad on purpose? If so, how? I guess the real measure is whether the film is bad while still being entertaining. Sharknado (2013), a made-for-television entry directed by Anthony C. Ferrante, is certainly bad, and at times it’s entertaining. However, it’s a joke that gets old quick. Some of the kills are funny, but in between we have to spend time with lame characters and dumb filler scenarios that didn’t hold my attention. This isn’t a film I was able to sit down and watch through one sitting. I had it playing over three evenings while doing chores in the kitchen. I’d chuckle here and there, and then my eyes would glaze over and I’d have to turn it off.

What the film lacks that would have made it more enjoyable is characters and actors I actually don’t mind spending time with. Instead we get Tara Reid.

And what about the sharks? Meh. When I hear “sharknado” I picture a swirling vortex of blood and teeth that’s sucking in bodies and spitting out bones. Instead we get a tornado with sharks flying around and occasionally landing on people and eating them. Yeah, that’s funny, but not enough to fill up 90 minutes.

I’m glad I live in a world in which Sharknado exists, as I do love campy, bad horror films. But the best bad movies are the ones that were made with good intentions that for whatever reason failed miserably, and Sharknado never had those good intentions.

If you haven’t seen it and plan to watch it, and I entirely sympathize if you don’t, make sure you’ve got a large, loud group that can talk during the dull parts and laugh when the guy on the basketball court gets his arm ripped off by a falling shark, then gets his leg eaten, then has a hammerhead fall on his face.

Am I a snob for criticizing an intentionally bad film for not being better? Bottom line: give me a terrible horror film any day, just don’t bore me.

Grade: D-

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