Movies

Review: Black Death


Black Death (2011) d. Christopher Smith

I’ve had some horrible disease ravaging my frail body for the past few days, what better than to watch a movie about the bubonic plague, right?

First, this movie is awesome. Plain and simple. I might be overreacting due to the chemicals altering my brain right now and the fact that it’s one in the morning, but literally, as I was watching this, my first thought was “This is a 21st century Wicker Man.” I see you raising your eyebrows, brushing me off. And again, it might be the drugs talking, but Black Death really impressed me in a way a religious horror film hasn’t done in a long time.

The plot of the film involves a teenage monk named Osmund. He’s recently devoted himself to the Church and being a servant of God. Meanwhile, he has a girlfriend whom he is deeply in love with. The tension is “Hey, I’m a teenager…do I really want to be a celibate monk for the rest of my life?”. What’s happening around the country is, of course, the black death. The plague is ravishing all the villages and even the monastery. Nobody is safe and so Osmund basically forces the girl he loves to leave for fear that she’ll be a victim. But she makes an ultimatum to him. She tells him that she’ll wait at a specific location at dawn for a week to give him time to make a final decision. If after a week he doesn’t come, she’s leaving forever. So she rides off and Osmund asks God for a sign as to what he should do.

Meanwhile, Ulric (Sean Bean) rides into the monastery. He and his men are on a mission from the Bishop and they need a guide to lead them through a foggy forest in order to find a village in the middle of a marsh. Seeing this as his sign to be with his gal, Osmund volunteers but it soon becomes clear what this secret mission is all about. The village is untouched by the plague due to a necromancer’s shenanigans. The objective is to infiltrate the village, find the necromancer, kill him, and then bring his  body back to the Bishop. So the first part of the film is following Osmund, Ulric, and this band of motely God-loving warriors through a creepy forest.

Then they find the village.

I won’t spoil any of the stuff that happens because I thought it was all really rad and well worth discovering on your own. Without giving anything away, these soldiers do find a group of friendly, welcoming citizens. But things start going terribly wrong. Is it the necromancer, or is Ulric a little too blinded by his faith to see the truth?

I was totally engaged by this movie the whole way through. Normally, I hate British period pieces like this. I find British middle-agey history to be the dullest, most boring shit ever. Like “Oh, let’s have another stupid war with France. Gee, aren’t our longbows swell?”. And I was generally concerned about that aspect. But this movie was totally forward moving, beautiful to look at, and engaging the whole way through. I haven’t been the biggest Christopher Smith fan. I hated Severance, for example, and Triangle was so close to a copy of TimeCrimes that it felt almost like plagiarizing. But Black Death is Smith really coming into his own.  It is chock full of religious themes and questions. Characters are constantly having their faith challenged. It’s a film that shows both the cruelty and humanity of religion, sometimes at the same time. The film has great acting across the board. All of the soldiers in the group are unique and easy to distinguish from each other. I wish there had been more scenes with all of them to develop them more fully. If that’s one thing the film falters a bit with its that some of the secondary characters could have been stronger and more well rounded to the audience. These dudes are badass, I wanted to know a little bit more about them. The cinematography is great with the outdoor locations just stunning to look at. There’s a healthy dose of blood, but nothing over the top, though there are a few scenes that’ll make you cringe. And the ending of this movie is just flat out rad bananas. Starting at the village (you’ll know the scene when you see it) and culminating in the change that happens to one of the characters.

It’s 2 in the morning and I’m in pain. I need to try and get some sleep. This has probably been a terrible review but I was excited enough after watching this that I wanted to get my initial reaction out there. I can’t imagine a horror fan not respecting some of the stuff this film is saying. It’s heavy themes you just normally don’t get in horror movies nowadays. It does what a good religious horror film should do: make you think.

Loved it.

The Mysterious Rhoda Derry

Wanted to give some love to a film project that Bryan from Drunken Zombie is working on with Reality’s End Films. It’s a documentary about a crazy woman named Rhoda Derry. I believe they’ll be posting the film on IndieGoGo, or a similar site, in the near future to help raise some funds. Check out the trailer and let em know what you think!

Crawlspace

Got an e-mail from a listener/reader in Canada named Ian linking us to a zombie inspired short film he and his crew have worked on called Crawlspace. We’re always more than happy to plug our listeners stuff so  take a look and give Ian some feedback if you have time!

DRIVE ANGRY (2011) d. Patrick Lussier

Drive Angry-Amber Heard

Drive Angry, directed by My Bloody Valentin 3D’s Patrick Lussier, opens with a CGI hot-rod jumping the gates of hell.  From this opening, you know what you are about to see exists in a hyper-real comic book world where the laws of physics are bent and folded like a wet noodle.  Sadly, this works against the films many car chase scenes.  When a car slams against another and flips through the air as if it’s on guide wires, the scene loses its visceral impact and feels empty.  In a movie where 80% of it takes place in cars, the chase scenes should have a sense of speed and power.  In Drive Angry, they often look and feel like they were taken from an 80’s episode of T.J. Hooker.  This is a shame, too, since much of the rest of the film is a lot of fun.

Nicolas Cage plays the ever so cleverly (excuse the sarcasm) named John Milton.  Milton is a man on a mission that not even hell can keep him from accomplishing.  He is a bad-ass, boot stompin’, mutha’ that can fuck a woman and take out the bad guys at the same time without ever missing a thrust.  After escaping from hell, Milton begins tracking down the cult leader that killed his daughter and intends to use his infant granddaughter as a sacrifice.

Along the way, he meets and partners with the sassy and feisty Piper, played by the sexy and talented Amber Heard.  As Piper, when Heard says she’s gonna’ kick someone’s ass, you believe it. She is the linchpin that holds the film together and manages to steal the show while doing so.

Chasing behind them is The Accountant, an enigmatic figure that has followed Milton to earth, and is determined to drag him back to hell.  Played by the great character actor William Fichtner, The Accountant is a fun and charismatic figure that has more depth than what we are first led to believe.  Fichtner is one of the highlights of the film, and along with Heard, brings a true sense of fun to the proceedings.

The villain of the piece is the Charles Manson like figure of Jonah King and his dozens of followers.  King, as played by Billy Burke, is one of the larger problems of the film.  He is supposed to be a charismatic leader, but there is nothing charismatic nor frightening about him.  He is mostly just there, and in a movie where the protagonists are turned up to an eleven, the villain needs to come across as more than a three.

There is very little new here.  The story borrows heavily from comics, TV shows, video games, movies (Race With the Devil FTW) and novels that will be very familiar to many genre fans, but the momentum at which the story is told is fun and only drags in a few spots.   The writers, Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier, weren’t trying to break any new territory with Drive Angry, but they did give the film lots of punchy and fun dialog that only falters in a few groan-worthy spots.

The film has some decent blood and gore, accomplished with both practical and digital effects.  The 3D, having been shot in 3D, looks good and is used to good effect in several action-sequences, but is nothing that should make you rush out to see it in 3D.

I wish I could whole-heartedly recommend Drive Angry, but there are a few major problems with the film.  Mainly it comes down to the car chase scenes.  They just don’t have much momentum and feel as if the vehicles are driving on flat tires.  Remember the power and speed you felt watching Tarantino’s Death Proof, well that’s what this film could have used.

5/10

It Came From the Screener Box – Chemical Burn(ed): House of Sin, The Defiled, and UFO’s Do Not Exist!

Screeners. Every genre site gets them. It’s always rad to open up your mailbox and see an envelope stuffed with movies that you didn’t have to pay for. It’s one of the perks of the “job”, so to speak. That excitement is always coupled with a splash of cold water when you start to watch most of these movies. 99% of all screeners are horrible. Just dreck. Bottom of the barrel type stuff that makes you curse yourself for ever getting into this business. And it makes you feel bad, because on one hand, these companies have given you free swag and sometimes, sometimes it’s great stuff. But most of the time it’s garbage from indie filmmakers who will go nowhere. How do you review these things, and you feel like you should review them because they were nice enough to send them to you. It feels like an obligation, but it makes you feel shitty about yourself when you just rail against these obviously piss poor excuses for movies. In some cases it’s even led to anger and hurt feelings on the part of the filmmaker (dude was a total crybaby about my review and demanded I send back his screeners! haha) when you are brutally honest about what you think of their opus. It’s just awkward to review these things and a metaphorical “box” of screeners ends up piling up as you put viewing these things off and off until you just say “Frack it” and check them out.

Recently, Chemical Burn sent Jeff and I different packages of screeners. I actually did an unboxing video of one of the packages. First off, we totally appreciate Chemical Burn for sending these. It’s not cheap to send thick packages of DVD’s and we are glad they thought of us when making their screener list. That being said, the reviews of Dead Lantern will always reflect what we actually think about the films. And unfortunately, these movies were pretty awful. I got 3 of them and I’ll do the best one first…

The Defiled (2010) d. Julian Grant (link)

I talk a lot about how dumb zombie movies are. That they are just the same thing, over and over again. The Defiled is certainly a different type of zombie movie (um, okay, “infected”, whatever. Over that debate). There is no dialogue in the film, it’s shot mostly in blue & white (yes, blue), and told almost entirely from the zombie’s perspective. The basic story is a futuristic world in which the zombies have mostly won. There are uninfected people here and there and every once in a while the sound of jets bombing cities lets you know that there is still a human resistance at work, but mainly, the film follows a family of zombies as they roam the countryside. Upon eating a radiation contaminated body, the family dies, sans the father who delivers his dead wife’s unborn child. We then follow him around as he tries to protect his zombie kid, eventually running into an uninfected woman who becomes a mother figure to it.

I give this film props for doing something I’ve never seen in a zombie film before. It’s got art-school audacity to it in terms of its perspective, look, and lack of any dialogue. It’s ridiculous 100 minute run time also screams hipster nonsense. The choice of Blue & White I guess is to convey a sense of washed out coldness to the world, but after about 10 minutes it just gets really annoying to look at; a distraction that could have been avoided because traditional black and white can be made to convey the same feel and its much more palatable. Because there is no dialogue, just grunts and baby cries, it’s incumbent upon the actors to convey what is happening to the audience. For the most part they do a good job. But there is way too much “nothing happening” in this movie. As much as it is fascinating to see a zombie climb a tree to steal bird eggs for his zombie baby….I just don’t really care. The Defiled is certainly an interesting and original take on the zombie genre, a breath of fresh air, for sure. But it’s so boooooooooring and because I didn’t care about the zombie dad or his zombie kid, I found myself spending more attention and energy trying to keep Hypnos at bay. Still, if you are a hardcore zombie film fan (which I readily admit, I am not), this is worth a look just because of how different it is. If only it could have had a more engaging story, this movie “coulda been a contendah”.

House of Sin (2010) d. Philip Gardiner (link)

This is a perfect example of the fear that strikes reviewers in terms of screeners. This is not a movie so much as it is a collection of loud, obnoxious rock songs and unattractive naked women (sorry ladies, but not all nudity is good nudity). I don’t even know what the hell this movie is about. Some dude named The Mage runs a house of sin….and  um, people come there to, uh…sin. Or something. It’s sort of an affront to good taste that somebody has put this movie out and is actually asking 20 bucks for it. I mean, it’s a total con game here. Nobody in their right mind would pay anything for this junk. I would like to meet the person who watches this movie and thinks it’s even remotely good or worth the money. There’s is a complete lack of artistic sensibility here. It looks and feels like it was created simply as a vehicle to promote some bands and throw some titties on screen. Horror has a long and storied history of exploitation, but this isn’t so much exploitation as it is a blatant cash grab. I can’t even review this because it’s not a movie, it’s just garbage of the highest order. Certainly not a film I’d ever pick up as a distributor. If I found something like this, I’d be immediately suspicious of the Chemical Burn brand. That’s how bad a decision this was to pick up for distribution. Yikes. Then again, I guess it’s not worse than….

UFO’s Do Not Exist (2010) d. I don’t remember (link)

………………..

hmm.

This is a two hour slideshow powerpoint presentation by a guy who believes every conspiracy theory ever involving UFO’s and aliens. Imagine just watching still photos of supposed UFO’s while a guy gives a paranoid presentation whose audio quality sounds worse than Drunken Zombie on their worst  day. As you’d expect, the guy give no evidence for anything, relying on hearsay and conjecture on everything from Roswell, to Majestic, to the Philadelphia Experiment. He’s the kind of guy you’ll listen to for 3 minutes and realize immediately that he’s a sad, lonely person whose worldview is warped by a fantasy ideal that doesn’t actually stand up to logic if you think about it for more than a second. He probably plays World of Warcraft, too.

How on earth does this bullshit get distributed? Seriously? And is there actually a market for this or is this just one giant practical joke? I mean, actual real money was spent to print these up and they are charging $20 for the DVD. I could whip this bullshit out of my ass in no time at all. Maybe I will and I’ll send it to Chemical Burn and see what happens. I’ll pick up the latest issue of Fortean Times, pretend I’m 12, and do a two hour documentary on how NASA faked the moon landings. I can’t wait to jump into my money pit, Scrooge McDuck-style when I get my mad Chemical Burn residuals. Sheesh.

At least The Defiled was noteworthy, even if it did suck. I don’t think Jeff had any better luck with his Chemical Burn selections, but we’ll see. My recommendation is: Don’t buy any of these movies. Don’t even watch them, if you can help it.

‘A Serbian Film’ gets a UK release

A Serbian Film (see Splattercast #187 and#188) is to be released in UK cinemas in December, and then DVD in January. Of course, the BBFC has cut it by 4 minutes 12 seconds.

Cuts required to remove portrayals of children in a sexualised or abusive context and images of sexual and sexualised violence which have a tendency to eroticise or endorse the behaviour (from BBFC web site)

Personally, I’ll probably go and see it. Been meaning to revisit it, and I’d like to see the reactions of  unsuspecting casual horror fans. Plus I’m curious to see what they keep in.

For more info please visit http://www.cult-labs.com/aserbianfilm/