Late Phases (2014)

late-phases-poster
When it comes to werewolf films, the world has been sorely lacking. Aside from the film Wer (which I haven’t seen, so I can’t comment on) the last great werewolf film was 2002’s Dog Soldiers. Since then we’ve had to suffer through or, if you’re a more intelligent person than myself, avoid the likes of Skinwalkers, Underworld, the Twilight films (Team Jacob ftw), or the Wolfman remake. Late Phases is an underdog in the battle against romanticized werewolves with rock-hard abs, helping to bring the subgenre back to a simpler time when the beasts were both fun and terrifying.

The story follows Ambrose, (played by an unblinking Nick Damici, Stakeland, We Are What We Are remake) a Vietnam War vet that has lost his vision in the years following the war. Ambrose, who is equal parts stubborn and badass, moves into a gated community for the elderly and is attacked by a werewolf the first night.

The werewolf of the film is clearly a man in a suit and looks silly the first time it is on camera. If the viewer can get passed this first exposure than they are in for a treat. Fear and tension are ratcheted up to eleven as Ambrose’s confusion and unknowing dawn on the viewer; placing yourself in his position becomes a terrifying mental exercise.

Late Phases is able to deliver two things not often seen in horror films. The majority of the characters are elderly, as opposed to the traditional attractive teens that dominate the genre; the younger characters are used in comedic means to highlight societies attitudes and views toward the elderly in bright, disgusting light. Secondly, Ambrose is blind. There have been horror films (even werewolf films, Silver Bullet) that fills the main roles with disabled characters but this is the first one I have seen in which the main character is blind, apart from The Langoliers (which I am still trying, desperately, failingly, to forgot).

While Late Phases isn’t for everyone – there will be people who can not get behind the special effects or Ambrose’s unrelenting stubbornness – it is, however, one of the best werewolf films to come out in a long time and hopefully a sign of a new trend to take back our monsters and keep them as just that, monstrous.

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Skew

I’d like to start this out by saying I’m not the biggest fan of ‘Found Footage” films. With that being said, I have seen quite a few, mostly the more well known, or one’s mentioned on the Bid,such as ‘Megan Is Missing’. While not the biggest fan, it’s always nice to see it done right. I am on the other hand, a huge fan of psychological movies, such as ‘Bug’, and ‘May’, and will sit and re-watch one until I think I fully understand it. ‘Skew’ is both a found-footage film, and a psychology horror film, and gets it right, for the most part.

Our main character of ‘Skew’ is of course our camera-man Simon, the young twenty-something who brings a camera with him everywhere he goes. Trust me, you know this character. The main thrust of the film involves Simon, and dating couple Rich, and Eva, on a road trip to attend a wedding. Along the way, through means of the camera, we get to witness some odd occurrences. I know, your thinking, “Isn’t all found footage films through means of the camera?”, well yes, but the camera is picking up images that the characters themselves aren’t seeing with their eyes. Said occurrences being that the faces of people are showing up all disfigured and Skewed ( see what I did there?). Shortly after your image is caught on camera this way, you die some how.

‘Skew’ is a movie that has more going on in it than you might think at first. The story is easy to follow in the most basic sense, but to really understand it, you have to delve much, much deeper than the surface level. There’s themes and ideas at play, that aren’t going to be popping out at the viewer, and I for one am thankful. It’s nice to see a director, who is willing to believe in his audience’s intelligence, and not force fed every aspect down our throats. I for one hope to see more come out of director/writer Sevé Schelenz.

I have a few minor problems with ‘Skew’. While the acting for the most part is rather strong, there are a few scenes that stand out as just terrible performances. Shortly after the first person turns up dead, Rich delivers some lines, and poorly would be a nice way to put it. The acting is this scene was so wooden you could build a boat out of it. Thankfully this scene is one of only a couple rare occurrences in the film, but since the rest is so strong, it really stands out. Another of my problems is there’s a scene later on when a police officers face is seen all fucked up, but his death scene following makes very little sense, and is never mentioned again. It feels as if it was just a last minute addition to the film, in order to add another freaky moment.

The best thing going for the film is by far it’s atmosphere, which early on, before anything happens even, has a way of taking a hold of the viewer, and persisting throughout the rest of the film, all the way until the eerie, yet confusing ending. There are a couple jump scares in the film, and while none of them got me, I can see how the first one will get people. The first jump scare, while not scaring me, unnerved me throughout the rest of the scene, which I find to be more enjoyable than being startled.

‘Skew’ is not a perfect film, but is a great mixture of two sub-genres of horror, that relies on it’s audiences intelligence, rather than exposition. The unnerving atmosphere is sure to get under your skin, the slow burn aspect of the film may leave viewers wanting a faster paced film. I highly recommend it, but it’s clearly not for everyone.

Score – B
Gore – 2/10

Liam Neeson, Liam Neeson, Liam Neeson, what can I say about you? From Jedi to father with a mission, to plane crash survivor, you never seem to disappoint. There is something about the way Liam Neeson looks that really allows you to believe that he is truly able to do the things that he is depicted as doing. The Grey, while a fantastically shot film, filled with great performances from everyone, really is Liam Neeson’s movie, and I for one, do not see a problem with it.

The Grey is the story of a group of oil drillers, who’s plane goes down, and their struggle to survive in the wilds of Alaska, while a pack of hungry wolves protecting their territory tries to kill them. There you go, there’s the film in a nut shell, from that you know just what it is your getting in to, but of course, there’s more to it than that. The Grey is really a film about it’s characters, and their struggles, and the emotions they face while trying to survive, everything from fear, to anger, to sorrow. The plane crash has been described as “doing for planes what Jaws did for swimming”, and while I can understand where they are coming from with that, I personally didn’t find the crash to be scary. But the scene immediately after with an unknown person on the flight dying, and Liam Neeson talking him though it, is one of the scariest death scenes I have seen in years, not because of the effects, but because of the emotions associated with everyone witnessing the event, including me in the audience.

The effects in The Grey are great, it’s gory than one would expect, with some rather disturbing scenes involving the wolves, and a fall. Normally I am not one to be bothered by heights, or falling, in movies or in real life, but there is a fall in this film that looks to be just about the most painful experience anyone could go through. The wolves are mostly cgi, and while not a huge fan of cgi, I didn’t find myself bothered too much by it, since the wolves are either moving to fast to really tell, or are stalking our characters in the shadows.

The Grey is a great film, which anyone who is a fan of cinema in general should see. The characters are all great, and you will find yourself caring for all of them by the end, regardless of how they first present themselves. It’s a film where it’s easy to picture yourself going through the same experiences, and is utterly chilling because of it. The only thing I will say against the film, is that if you are depressed, don’t watch it, as you’ll be committing suicide shortly after. It’s not a happy tale, it’s a brutally honest look at what it takes to survive, and how some times it doesn’t matter what you’ve gone through.

Score – A+
Gore – 7/10

H.P Lovecraft’s Necronomicon (1993)

H.P Lovecraft is one of the greatest writers in history, in my own opinion, influencing many, many authors, and even directors, including Stephen King, Stuart Gordon, and more importantly Brain Yuzna. I say more importantly, since in this anthology, Yuzna directs both the wrap-around, and the final segment, as well as play a cameo.

Based on three works by Lovecraft, Necronomicon starts with a wrap-around featuring Jeffery Combs as the late author, coming to a monastery to study some of the books they have there. Upon arriving however, he quickly steals a key from one of the monks, and gets his hands on a forbidden copy of the evil Necronomicon, the book of the dead. From his reading we are shown the three stories to make up the film, but reading the Necronomicon doesn’t come cheap. B+

The first of the three stories is directed by Christophe Gans, who also directed Brotherhood Of The Wolf, one of my favorite epics, and the ever popular Silent Hill adaption. Called ” The Drawned” or ” The Drowned” depending where you look, this segment is loosely based on the story ” The Rats In The Walls”, and follows Edward De LaPoer, as he returns to New England in order to receive a hotel that was left to him in his uncles will. Reading a letter left to him from his uncle, he learns that his uncle has found a way to bring the dead back to life, with the help of the Necronomicon, but nothing ever comes back as it seems. A-.

The second of these tales is directed by Shusuke Kaneko, a famous Japanese director who at the time of filming couldn’t even speak English. “The Cold” is based on “Cool Air”, and is the story of a reporter who thinks he’s figured out the finally clue in a series of murders and missing peoples. He approaches the daughter of Emily Osterman with his suspicions, and she in return tells him the story of her mother. Upon renting a room in Boston, Emily Osterman meets the always freezing cold Dr. Madden, who people say has to be at least 100, yet looks sixty at best. Finding out his secret, and seeing the ending makes this by far the best of the stories. A.

Finally we come to “Whispers” based on ” The Whisperer In The Dark”, this time directed by Brain Yuzna. Whispers starts out with a bang, with two cops chasing after a speeding car, while fighting about the fact they slept together and now the driver is pregnant. They crash the car, should of paid more attention to driving, and “The Butcher”, the driver of the other car, pulls out the man, and drags him though a twisted and weird apartment building. Chasing after her partner, the pregnant cop meets an odd couple, who never seem to be on the same page, and who keep changing what they say. Is there something more to this couple, or are they just afraid of the Butcher and  the underground tunnels that lay in wait beneath. B+.

While all of the stories are quite good, all except for ‘The Cold’ seem to be aimed at people who have read Lovecraft’s work in order to fully understand it. Weird shit just happens at every turn, and it rarely bothers to explain it’s self, and while as a fan of Lovecraft’s work, it doesn’t bother me, I can see where some one could be really put off by it. “Whispers” is really bad for this, and after I finished the film, I had to go back and re-read the short story to have a better understanding of it.

Since Brain Yuzna is involved in the film, you know right from the get go it’s going to be bloody, and the effects are going to be crazy, and it delivers there. Everything from the fish-people based on ” The Shadows Of Innsmouth”, to the bit of Cthulhu you see, the film’s creatures look great, and there’s plenty of them. Add to the mix a fair share of blood, and guts, and you got yourself a fun anthology film.

The whole film is screams late ’80s style horror, even though it’s from ’93, and comes across as a horror film not just meant to scare, but meant to be fun as well. The acting is hit and miss, with the best coming in the form of Jeffery Combs, and the crazy couple in “Whispers”, they played it with such a level of goofy eccentricity that your never quite sure if you can trust them.

Necronomicon is a great anthology film if your just looking for some fun effects, and some crazy stories, and a even better film if your a fan of Lovecraft to begin with. Either way, I’d say it’s worth a watch, if only for ” The Cold”.

Score – A-
Gore – 7/10

The Burrowers (2008)

I’m a huge fan of westerns, from The Tremors prequel, to The Wild Bunch, something about the desolate location really gives off a feeling of freedom. There are no cell phones, no cars, a person can just up and disappear as quickly as they came around.

The Burrowers, directed by J.T Petty, is the tale of a small rescue party, trying to hunt down a missing family, believed to be taken by Indians. The majority of the film takes place following the rescue party around as they interact with the army, as well as different tribes of Indians, learning about a tribe called The Burrowers. But are the Burrowers really another tribe, or something much much worse?

The Burrowers comes in at 96 minutes, but it feels like forever. While the setting, and the direction of the film both look and feel great, the story really moves slowly. It’s almost an hour in by the time we first see what The Burrowers are, and another half an hour before we really get to enjoy it. The interactions with the different tribes is entertaining at first, but ends up feeling dragged out after just a few scenes. While the story moves slow, the pay off of the ending is great, not for the effects, but for the complete downer ending, reminiscent of The Mist.

The film looks great, there’s some nice wide shots, and some decent effects. The Burrowers have an interesting look to them, but they almost don’t feel right in the movie. The action scenes with them are quite basic as well, leaving much to be desired. It feels that just as things start to get going, it’s over. The film has some great acting in it, with only a few of the side characters, members of the army, hamming it up.

If it wasn’t for how slow the story moves, the film would get a higher rating from me. As far as western horror cinema goes, it’s a solid entry, and a step in the right direction towards a great cross over film. The film is worth watching if your a fan of bleak endings, or westerns in general, just don’t go looking for more than it offers.

Score – B-
Gore – 5/10

Masters Of Horror ” Pro Life”

John Carpenter’s career is a slippery slope. You have some of the greatest horror movies ever made, with titles such as Halloween, Christine, The Thing, and In The Mouth Of Madness, to name a few. But about half way through the 90s you see a terrible fall with titles such as, Escape From L.A, a rehashed update of Escape From New York, and Ghosts Of Mars, which only screen value is Ice Cube’s terrible acting. In the middle ground  neither all that good, but not really bad either, is Pro Life.

Pro Life is the tale of Angelique is the pregnant daughter of Dwayne Burcell, a devote christian portrayed by Ron Perlman, in one I believe is one of his best acting roles, second only to his character in Sons Of Anarchy. The story takes place almost entirely inside of a abortion clinic, in which Angelique begs to have her baby removed. She claims she only got pregnant last Saturday, while showing to be eight or nine months along, and when going for an ultrasound, the baby fights back against the womb to stop it’s image from being seen.

Ron Perlman’s character, the devote christian Dwayne Burcell, believes he is on a mission from god, when he prays and receives the message, ” Protect the baby”. Dwayne, and his three sons gear up with firearms, and storm the clinic, killing a security guard in the process. What happens next involves a pretty sweet shootout, some fun creature effects, and an anticlimactic ending.

While the episode comes in at an hour, the same as any Masters Of Horror episode, it really feels as if it was meant to be shorter, with events being drawn out longer than one would wish. The creature effects near the end of the film look quite nice, but there no where near on par with some of the effects we’ve come to associate with Carpenter over his career. There’s not overly much gore in this one, using the tried and true, what you don’t see is always worse formula.

Now, this part may or may not be considered a spoiler, so I’m giving a heads up in case you might want to skip it.

I thought that the true nature of the voices Ron Perlman hears, and the baby it’s self was going to be a twist, but about half way though, maybe even less,  Angelique recounts the story of how she got pregnant, that being demon rape. While I’m ok with this, I feel that if that part was left out of the story, it could make a huge twist on the voices heard, which turns out not to be god, but to be the demon playing on a devotes man’s faith to trick him into evil’s bidding. By letting us know it’s a demon for sure so quickly in, the impact when Ron is face to face with the demon that tricked him and delivers the line, ” It was you…”, really doesn’t hold the power I would like.

So, while not the best Carpenter film, it’s not the worse, but just in that middle ground where your not better off for seeing it, but you don’t feel like you wasted your time either. If you got an hour to kill, I can think of many worse ways.

Score – C
Gore – 3/10

Society (1989)

Brian Yuzna is an under appreciated director, starting out as the producer on three Stuart Gordon movies, Dolls, From Beyond, and Re-Animator. Yuzna has directed the later two Re-animator films, Return Of The Living Dead 3, Silent Night, Deadly Night 4, both the Dentist films, and a handful of other horror films, but they all started in ’89 with Society.

The story follows Bill Whitney, played by Billy Warlock, who would later go on to find a lasting career in soup operas, a rich high school student, who’s on the basketball team, a shoo in for school president, and dating a cheerleader. Living in a mansion in Beverley Hills with his parents, and his sister, Bill’s life should be a comfortable one, yet he is riddled with paranoia. Bill often attends therapy with Dr. Cleveland, in these scenes we see that Bill clearly has some anxiety problems.

When Blanchard, his sister’s ex, comes to Bill, and tells him he has to talk to him, Bill is skeptical of it being anything important, that is until Blanchard plays a tape he has recorded for Bill. On the tape you hear Bill’s sister and parents talking at her coming out party. The dialog is all sexually, and the sounds on the tape make it sound like a violent orgy. When Bill takes the tape to Dr. Cleveland, it is played back for him the next day, with it sounding like a regular party. This scene showcases Bill’s fall in paranoia, and leaves the audience wondering if what’s happening is real or not.

The film works on several levels, one being Bill’s paranoia. The only reason that the paranoia aspect works at all, is thanks to the set up with Bill going through therapy, we’re uncertain as to how right in the head he is from the start. Funny thing is , all of these scenes weren’t in the script, they were added during production to strengthen the narrative.

Another level the film works on is body horror, a sub-genre of horror cinema, featuring such films as The Thing, and The Fly, body horror plays on the subversion of the flesh. Society is filled with many small moments, in which characters bodies, just seem and feel wrong. One of the weirdest, and hardest to watch moments in film, for me, comes in the first half hour or so, Bill sees his sister in the shower, yet her body is twisted around so that her upper half, is turned completely around. The scene was added to the film because Yuzna felt the film needed another shocking scene in the first half.

The characters in the film all seem like they could be real people, with the exception of a hair obsessed mute giant, who’s purpose in the film seems to be nothing more than to make the viewer believe this might turn into a slasher. All of the characters in the film were written based on real people that writer Woody Keith had grown up with. The acting is good across the board in this one, though it’s clear no one is winning any awards for it. The locations of the film also lend quite a bit of strength to the film, and the school in which Bill attends, is the actual school in which actor Billy Warlock has recently graduated from.

While the film is very gore light, the effects are a fucking masterpiece, and lead to some of the most disturbing moments captured on film. The end of the movie involves an act called ” The Shunting” and while I won’t explain what it entails, it is beautifully shot, and sickly twisted. Fans of the film ” Slither” will be in welcome territory here. While filming The Shunting, Yuzna purposely decided against the use of blood, hoping to avoid any backlash from the MPAA.

Society is a great movie, that captures the 80s vibe, while still showing something that, at the time, and for the most part still is, uniquely fresh. For a first time director, Brian Yuzna shows some serious skills, and helps to cement his place in history, and disgusting the viewer at the sametime. Check it out.

Score – B+
Gore – 10/10