Netflix Streaming: The ABCs of Death

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ABCs of DeathAnthology horror can be hit or miss – sometimes it is largely held together by the story the binds the individual tales.  In “The ABCs of Death”, there is no such premise to hold the stories together.  Instead, we get 26 individual tales told by 26 different directors – one for each letter of the alphabet.  The movie is a hodgepodge ranging from good to bad – from comedy horror to torture porn.  The following is a list of the individual titles.

  • A is for Apocalypse (Nacho Vigalondo)
  • B is for Bigfoot (Adrian Garcia Bogliano)
  • C is for Cycle (by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza)
  • D is for Dogfight (by Marcel Sarmiento)
  • E is for Exterminate (Angela Bettis)
  • F is for Fart (Noboru Iguchi)
  • G is for Gravity (Andrew Traucki)
  • H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion (Thomas Malling)
  • I is for Ingrown (Jorge Michel Grau)
  • J is for Jidai-geki (Samurai Movie) (Yûdai Yamaguchi)
  • K is for Klutz (Anders Morgenthaler)
  • L is for Libido(Directed and written by Timo Tjahjanto)
  • M is for Miscarriage (Ti West)
  • N is for Nuptials (Banjong Pisanthanakun)
  • O is for Orgasm (Bruno Forzani & Héléne Cattet)
  • P is for Pressure (Simon Rumley)
  • Q is for Quack (Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett)
  • R is for Removed (Srdjan Spasojevic)
  • S is for Speed (Jake West)
  • T is for Toilet (Lee Hardcastle)
  • U is for Unearthed (Ben Wheatley)
  • V is for Vagitus (The Cry of a Newborn Baby) (Kaare Andrews)
  • W is for WTF! (Jon Schnepp)
  • X is for XXL (Xavier Gens)
  • Y is for Youngbuck (Jason Eisener)
  • Z is for Zetsumetsu (Extinction) (Yoshihiro Nishimura)

ABCs of Death01Some of these are just out and out stupid.  “F is for Fart” is probably the biggest offender here.  After an earthquake releases a toxic gas, a young Japanese girl chooses to die by smelling her teacher’s fart instead.

ABCs of Death03Others are disturbing.  In “X is for XXL”, an overweight woman carves herself thin after being bullied all the way home.  Another in the disturbing genre includes “L is for Libido” where a man is forced to win a masturbation contest against another man as the scenes before him become more and more disturbing.

abcs of death04My personal favorites were the ones that were a little funnier.  The highlight for me is from directors Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett.  Stuck with the letter Q, the film follows their struggle to choose as topic and then get it on film.  “N is for Nuptuals” sees a marriage proposal go awry due to a talking parrot who doesn’t know when to shut its mouth.

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The movie features directors from all over the world working in live action, claymation, and traditional animation.

ABCs of Death 5 Probably the most ingenious of the shorts is “D is for Dogfight”.  Let’s just say the Michael Vics of the world get their comeuppance.  Filmed entirely in slow-motion, it’s also one of the most artistic.

Overall, “The ABCs of Death” has more misses than hits, but the hits definitely make this one worth checking out.  “The ABCs of Death is currently streaming on Netflix, and a sequel is available on VOD. (204)

Netflix Streaming: The Monkey’s Paw

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One of the first horror stories I ever remember reading was “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs.  I don’t remember where I came across it, but it made enough of an impact that I’ve never forgotten it.  In Jacob’s story, an old British officer, who served in India, is visiting his friends, the Whites.  He shows them the monkey’s paw and tells them it grants three wishes.  He goes on to tell them about a comrade of his who ended using his third wish to wish for death because of of how the wishes are fulfilled.  He also admits to using it himself, but he doesn’t tell them what he used them for.

the-monkeys-pawThe soldier tries to destroy the paw, but the Whites save it, despite warnings that they should get rid of it.  Mr. White wishes for £200 – the amount they need to pay off their mortgage.  The next day, he gets a visit from his son’s employer.  His son has been killed in an accident, and the company gives them £200 in compensation.  Grief stricken, they use the paw to wish their son back to life.  Later that night, they hear an insistent knock on their door.  Mrs White frantically scrambles to let her son in.  Mr White, fearful of what they have done, uses the last wish of the monkey’s paw to undo their second wish.

“The Monkey’s Paw” draws on the story of Aladdin in “The Book of One Thousand and One Nights”, and Jacob’s story has gone on to influence modern writers, including Stephen King, most notably in “Pet Sematary”.

themonkeyspawIn this 2013 film version of “The Monkey’s Paw”, Jake Tilton (C.J. Thomason) is a young man dissatisfied with his life. Unhappy at work, he also still pines for his ex-girlfriend who dumped him and married his boss.  One night while hanging out in bar with his friend Cobb (Avatar’s Stephen Lang), he is given the monkey’s paw and told it will grant him three wishes.  His first wish his for a sports car he saw in the parking lot.  Later, he and Cobb find the keys in it, and Cobb insists it’s a sign.  They take the car for a joyride that ends in tragedy, leaving Cobb dead at the scene.  Jake uses his second wish to bring Cobb back.  Cobb does come back, but he’s changed.  He’s also very insistent that Jake use his third wish on him.

themonkeyspaw01“The Monkey’s Paw” is a solid independent horror film.  Unfortunately, as with most films based on short stories, the script is so padded that the story is almost lost in it.  What made Jacob’s story of “The Monkey’s Paw” so effective was what we didn’t get to see.  Jacob’s leaves the Whites’ son’s return to our imaginations.  Here the door is opened , and Cobb is not the same.  He goes after the people in Jake’s life with a vengeance.  While not an unsatisfying film, it isn’t near as haunting as the work it is based on.

themonkeyspaw02Stephen Lang’s performance is the only one worth mentioning.  He is nothing short of brilliant, both before and after his death.  Tilton’s acting is decent, but he doesn’t have the charisma to carry the lead or to hold up next to Lang. Director Brett Simmons, working from a script by Macon Blair, does a good job with the pacing of the movie.  Cobb is relentless in his pursuit of the third wish, and Simmons intensifies that with his direction.

“The Monkey’s Paw” will probably fall under most people’s radar, but it’s definitely worth checking out.  Especially if, like me, you’re a fan of the Jacob’s story.

“The Monkey’s Paw” is currently streaming on Netflix. (206)

Netflix Streaming: Jug Face

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While scanning through the current crop of horror films on Netflix, I almost passed over this horror gem, simply because of the title.  I mean, how scary could a movie called “Jug Face” be?  I’m glad I didn’t though.  This independent horror film from first time writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle, may be light on “scares”, but it has great performances and it will make you think more than the average horror film.

jugfaceAda (Lauren Ashley Carter) is part of a small religious community that worships a nearby pit.  The Pit keeps the community safe and blessed, but it requires a sacrifice to do so.  The sacrifice is chosen by Dawai (Sean Bridgers), a slow man in the community who goes into a trance and creates a face out of pottery on a jug.  That person then sacrifices himself (or herself) to the Pit.

jugface02Ada’s father is the leader of the community, and as his daughter, Ada is expected to do as she is told, including saving herself for her future husband.  However, Ada has been in a relationship with her brother Jessaby (Daniel Manche) and is pregnant with his child.  As if that isn’t enough of a problem, Ada discovers that Dawai’s latest creation is her face.  While he is still in the trance, Ada hides the jug which prompts the force behind the Pit to wreak havoc on the community.

jugface01While the more traditional horror elements of the film are definitely constrained by the low budget, it is the human element that sold me on “Jug Face”.  The script doesn’t just go for the cheap horror gimmicks.  We’re forced to examine the impossible situation that Ada is put in by her brother, her family, and her own actions.  It forces you to think about the effects of living in a cult could have on a child.  It was these elements that will have me thinking about this movie for some time.

jugface03Lauren Ashley Carter should have a bright career ahead of her.  She’s a phenomenal young actress, and she is the heart and sold of “Jug Face”.  Sean Young (yes, that Sean Young) is almost unrecognizable as her mother, but she brings the same intensity to her role here as she has to her more A-list roles.

So, “Jug Face” is a definite recommend.  I just really wish we could go back and re-think that title. (282)

Netflix Streaming: Stitches

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stitches02Coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns, is always a great basis for a horror film.  While clowns themselves have never really bother me, I find clown dolls to be the quintessential evil (I blame Steven Spielberg and Poltergeist).  My son, however, refuses to go to the circus because of the clowns, and I’m not sure where his fear comes from (he just insists they’re creepy).  Movies and literature alike though have taken this fear and run with it.  Stephen King gave us Pennywise the Clown in his novel “It”, and Tim Curry brought him to life (and to many people’s nightmares) in the 1990 television mini-series.  I’m not sure any clown caricature has ever topped Curry’s performance.

stitchesWhile I wouldn’t put Ross Noble’s performance as Stitches the Clown in the same sphere as Curry’s, the British comedian definitely has fun with the role.  “Stitches” is a 2012 horror film from the UK.

stitches01Stitches must be one of the worst party clowns in the world.  Late for his arrival at 10-year-old Tommy’s party, his tricks are flops and the children aren’t kind.  A child’s prank on the clown leads to a horrible accident involving a butcher’s knife and an open dishwasher (always put knives in blade down, people!).  Stitches is no more.  Young Tommy sneaks out that night though and observes a clown ritual where he is warned that a clown who dies during an unfinished party can return.

stitches04And that is the premise of “Stitches”.  Seven years later, Tommy is a bit of an outcast, but he is convinced to throw a huge party by his old friends while his mom is out of town.  An uninvited guest shows up as Stitches returns to exact vengeance on the kids who lead to his death.

The movie is a throwback to old 80’s style slasher movies.  Stitches is a low-budget Freddy Kruger (minus the finger knives).  He hands out some gruesome deaths with a painted smile on his face and biting quip to the departed.

stitches03What really makes this movie stand out is the death scenes – by far some of the most creative I’ve seen in quite a while.  Solid special effects make them even more fun to watch.  Decent performances from the young cast also make this better than your average low-budget horror.

“Stitches” is one of the most fun horror movies I’ve seen in a while, and it’s definitely worth checking out!  “Stitches” is currently streaming on Netflix. (507)

Netflix Streaming: American Mary

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americanmary“American Mary” is the sophomore directorial effort of the Soska Sisters and their Twisted Twins Productions studio.  It follows Mary (Katharine Isabelle), a medical student trying to finance her way through school.  Out of desperation, she applies to work at a strip club.  Once the owner finds out she’s a medical student, he takes her to the basement where he pays her $5000 to save a man they have been torturing.

americanmary01Mary soon finds herself drawn into the world of body modification by Beatrice (Tristan Risk), a dancer in the club who has been surgically modified to look like Betty Boop.  Mary is paid to help turn a friend of Beatrice’s into a living doll (think Barbie – as in no nipples and no labia).  Mary is initially troubled by her medical ethics, but after an incident at a party thrown by her teacher, she leaves medical school and those ethics behind.

americanmary03The movie has an interesting premise, and it dives into a world I have never quite understood.  It’s fascinating though.  Some of the performances were uneven, and I wasn’t thrilled by the ending, but the performance by Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, Hannibal) makes this one a must-see for horror fans.

americanmary02I wasn’t familiar with the Soska Sisters prior to watching “American Mary”, but I’m an instant fan and am looking forward to seeing what else this twosome has in store for fans of the horror genre.  As more and more studio horror films get dumbed down or downplayed to PG-13, it’s nice to see independent productions starting to raise the bar on horror. (182)

Movie Review: The Conjuring

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This seemed appropriate given that “Annabelle”, a prequel to this movie opens in theaters today.

the conjuring“The Conjuring” was released in 2013 and it achieved the rare feat of being both a critical and box office success.  It also grossed $320 million worldwide on a $20 million budget, which is most likely why we’re seeing “Annebelle” this year and “The Conjuring 2″ next year.

the conjuring 01Based on the case files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the movie opens with a nurse telling the story about a doll her mom had given her that has been possessed by what they believe is a seven-year-old girl.  The Warrens tell her that the doll is actually being used by something much more evil.  They take the doll (Annabelle) and put her in a glass case that is blessed twice a month to keep the evil in check.  This is in a museum of relics the Warrens keep in their home.

the conjuring 03“The Conjuring” tells the story of a 1971 haunting of the Perron family.  Roger and Carolyn (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) move into a rural Rhode Island home with their five daughters.  One night while the girls are playing, they discover a boarded over entrance to the basement.  Shortly after this, strange things start happening.  The couple turns to the Warrens.  Lorraine senses immediately that they must help the Perrons, and the movie follows their investigation.  And yes, Annabelle comes back into the picture at one point).

IMG_6285.dngThe best way to describe “The Conjuring” is creepy fun.  Director James Wan is a master at creating atmosphere and building tension.  While treading well-familiar ground (The Amityville Horror meets The Exorcist), solid pacing and strong performances (particularly from Lili Taylor) keep the movie from feeling like the same old rehash.

“The Conjuring was definitely one of the better horror films of 2013, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you haven’t seen it. (470)

Netflix Streaming: The Den

The Den

The DenOne of the better horror movies I’ve discovered on Netflix this year, “The Den” explores familiar terrain as Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia) works on her graduate thesis by visiting a Chat-roulette style website called The Den.  She gets the usual odd encounters you’d expect from this type of movie, until she encounters someone whose webcam is broken.  Not long after starting, she witnesses a brutal murder.  Of course, no one believes her – not the cops and not her friends.  The person responsible uses Elizabeth’s computer to gain access to her life.  He begins to torment her and the people in her life.  Elizabeth investigates, but she soon finds she’s involved in something much more sinister.

the den 01My first thought when I started watching “The Den” was “Oh great, another found footage movie.”  Is there any sub-genre more overdone in the horror genre?  However, I have to say I was presently surprised.  Much of the movie is told through webcams, so it avoids a lot of the shaky-camera that has defined found-footage movies since “The Blair Witch Project”. Papalia gives a decent performance, and writer/director Zachary Donahue does a nice job of ratcheting up the tension.

the den 02“The Den” doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the horror table; it’s basically torture porn through found footage.  Often these movies end abruptly or sort of peter out, but the ending here is both satisfying and throws a little social commentary on the whole movie.

Currently available for streaming on Netflix, “The Den” is definitely worth checking out. (176)

Netflix Streaming: Odd Thomas

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Dean Koontz is my favorite author, and some of my favorite books by him are the “Odd Thomas” series.  So imagine my excitement when I found out my beloved character was getting a studio adaptation by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy). “Odd Thomas” has been a well-deserved success for Koontz, spawning multiple sequels and a series of graphic novels.

oddthomasThere have been many adaptations of Dean Koontz novels over the years.  Most have not been great cinema.  Either they fall in the low-budget range or if they do get a big budget adaptation, something goes wrong.  Case in point, one of my favorite characters (short of Odd Thomas) was the plucky 10-year-old Regina, a handicapped but feisty girl on the page who somehow morphed into a much older (and sluttier) Alicia Silverstone, but that is a rant for another blog.

oddthomas01Odd Thomas is a young man with psychic abilities ranging from seeing dead people to psychic magnetism to some premonitions.  He also sees phantom shadow-like creatures he calls Bodachs that flock to scenes of human suffering.  Odd does his best to help the dead and in such keeps his life simple.  He is a short order cook at a local diner and dates his high school sweetheart Stormy Llewellyn.  They believe they will be together forever based on a card they received from a carnival fortunetelling machine when they were kids.  Just like in the book, the movie opens with a scene of a young deceased girl appearing to Odd Thomas, and he sets out to solve her murder.

oddthomas04Soon after, Odd notices a stranger in town who Odd fears has something horrible planned for his town based on the huge swarm of Bodach’s following him.  Odd sets out to find out what the mystery man has planned, getting help from his friends, including the local sheriff (Willem DeFoe).

oddthomas03Here we have Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) stepping in to the role of Odd Thomas.  While when I first read the casting, he didn’t fit the character I had imagined, but he soon had me caught up in his portrayal.  Addison Timlin is adorable as Stormy Llewellyn, perfectly capturing the sassy charm of the character in the book.  If you’re not familiar with the book, Yelchin and Timlin may come off as too cutesy, but for fans of the book, they nail the characters.  I’m looking forward to seeing what Timlin’s future holds (particularly a remake of the first horror film I remember “The Town that Dreaded Sundown.”

oddthomas06My biggest complaints about the films are not in what they put on screen, but in what is missing.  In the book, the ghost of Elvis is Odd’s companion and a major character.  In the movie, the only hint we get of the King is a cutout cardboard that Odd has in his apartment.  The other character is Ozzie Boone.  Oh, he’s in the movie and played by Patton Oswald, but his whole character arc has been cut to once scene.  Ozzie is a larger-than-life figure who is a surrogate father for Odd, and Patton Oswald could have been the perfect actor to play him.  It’s a shame such a talented and funny actor is given nothing to do.

Overall though, the movie is more hit than miss, and I enjoyed it from start to finish.   It’s a shame it didn’t get more of a theatrical release or even more of a push when it was released on DVD and VOD.  As a “horror” movie, it’s pretty tame, but it’s still a lot of fun. “Odd Thomas” is currently streaming on Netflix. (189)

Netflix Streaming: Stage Fright

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Okay, I love musicals and I love horror movies, and I love a good mashup.  And it’s been done with a lot of style and fun, particularly with Repo! A Genetic Opera and The Devil’s Carnival.  While these aren’t going to win any Oscars, they feature some great music and some amazing performances.

stagefrightSo I was hoping for a little bit of the same from “Stage Fright“.  Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as creative and pretty much fails on both levels as a horror film and as a musical.

stagefright02The movie gets off to a promising start.  Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) has just had a successful debut in the “The Haunting of the Opera” (yes, it’s a total rip on “The Phantom of the Opera” and the music even sounds like a bad imitation of Andrew Lloyd Webber).  Kylie shares her big moment with her two young children, Camilla and Buddy, and her producer Roger McCall (Meat Loaf).  Later as Camilla slips out on stage and sings, her mother is murdered back stage by someone dressed as the Opera Ghost.

stagefright01The movie jumps ahead ten years later.  Camilla (Allie MacDonald) and Buddy (Douglas Smith) are working in the kitchen at a musical camp run by Roger, who has also raised Camilla and her brother.  The kids arrive at the camp with a large musical number, which is the best scene in the movie.  The camp is putting on a new production of “The Haunting of the Opera” set in Japan and performed as a kubuki show.

stagefright05Camilla sneaks into audition.  She gets the lead role that her mother had, upsetting her brother and creating a lot of jealousy among the campers.  As the production nears opening night, the Opera Ghost makes an appearance and the chaos begins.

The movie’s biggest problem is, that after the opening scene, it’s nearly 45 minutes into the movie before we have our next death.  There’s not enough horror, and there’s not enough musical numbers.  If you stick with the movie through to the climax though, it’s last act is worth the watch – a combination of some pretty decent deaths and some funny “the show must go on” moments as the cast tries to finish the show.

stagefright04The villain, dressed as the Opera Ghost, is a somewhat bland mix of a wannabe rocker and the Billy the Puppet from Saw.  The movie also bothers heavily from other movies, even from Stephen King’s Carrie.

stagefright03It’s got a decent cast.  Allie MacDonald has a nice singing voice and is a competent actress.  It was fun to see Meat Loaf chew some scenery, too.  He gets to sing in a couple of numbers and plays an important role in the final act.  The rest of the cast ranges from decent to not-so-much, but the special effects aren’t bad for a low-budget horror film.  I’m not quite sure how they scored Minnie Driver, but maybe this was filmed before her successful television turn on “About a Boy”.

There are definitely worse films out there, but the potential was there for it to have been so much more

“Stage Fright” is currently streaming on Netflix. (205)

Movie Review: The Expendables 3

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theexpendables00The Expendables 3 (Rated PG-13)

  • Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Kelsey Grammar, Antonio Banderas, Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey, Jet Li
  • Directed by Patrick Hughes
  • Plot: Guns, explosions, quippy one-liners, explosions, tanks, more expolosions…you get the picture

One of the greatest things about “The Expendables” franchise is that you know exactly what you’re going to get when you walk into the theater.  Come in expecting a great plot and superior acting, you’re going to have a bad time.  But if you come in for some balls-to-the-wall action and a few laughs, you won’t be disappointed.

theexpendables03This time out, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) leads Lee Christmas (Jason Statham – solely named this to allow for one-liners like “Christmas is coming’ and “the knife before Christmas) and the rest of this team on a daring train rescue of one of the original team members (predating the movies), Doc (Wesley Snipes).  Then they’re on to stop an arms dealer from doing something bad.  Unbeknownst to Ross, the arms dealer is Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), one of the original founders of the Expendables who Ross thought he had killed years before.  Stonebanks takes aim at one of Ross’s team, which leads him to disband them and go after Ross with some new recruits.

theexpendables04This was probably my favorite of the three films in the series so far (the rest of my movie viewing party disagreed).  I think it was thanks in large part to the addition of Mel Gibson, who gives the series its most well-rounded (and best acted) villain.  I know it’s politically incorrect to still like Mel Gibson, but I can’t help it.  The man has his personal issues, but he is a brilliant actor and almost always hits the nail on the head with his characters.  If you want someone to play borderline or full-on crazy, Gibson is the man for the job.  Antonio Banderas is also a great addition to the film, providing much of the humor, but also some heart to the kill-or-be-killed storyline.  And Wesley Snipes?  Oh, man, how we’ve missed you!  Somebody get this man out of B-movie Hell and get him a franchise!

theexpendables02I was also pleasantly surprised by the addition of the “young Expendables”.  Kellan Lutz (Twilight) show way more charisma onscreen than he did earlier this year in “The Legend of Hercules”.  Glen Powell could be a star on the rise, and both boxer Victor Ortiz and MMA fighter Ronda Rousey are great in their debut feature film roles.

Director Patrick Hughes does a great job with some incredible acting scenes, and it gives me hope for his remake of “The Raid”.

While I initially cringed at the thought of a PG-13 Expendables, the movie pushes that boundary pretty tautly. Untold hundreds die in the climax which is basically an entire army coming up against the team, much to their dismay.  For a movie called “The Expendables”, this is a hearty, death-defying bunch, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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Dad Suitability: Guns…explosions…what else do you need to know?

Kid Suitability: Yes, it’s rated PG-13, but it’s a hard PG-13.  The blood and gore a little less, but only because of some clever editing. (332)

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