Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Movie Review: When A Stranger Calls (2006)






 In 1977, Director Fred Dalton made a chilling short film titled The Sitter, which will eventually turn into the feature length film, When A Stranger Calls, released in 1979. The movie is notoriously known for those terrifying 12 minutes, a very good introduction of the movie, bringing us in with its hair-raising and suspenseful feel. The rest of the film is....meh. Once the second act hits, it becomes this boring crime thriller, mostly focusing on the detective and the unhinged killer. And just to fill this in, When A Stranger Calls is not what I particularly call a horror film. It's more of a hitchcockian thriller just like many films I reviewed, playing the lines of horror and drama. To be honest, the only thing memorable about the original is those first 12 minutes. There was a 1993 sequel that I enjoyed much more but a remake was in store somewhere.
So 27 years later, When A Stranger Calls Remake was released in February 2006. Let me assure you, somebody had the brightest idea to make the first 12 minutes the whole entire film. I'm not joking. All it consists of is the main character lounging around the house, getting the strange phone calls, going from the main house to the guest house, freak out some more, get a call from her friends, gets a visit from a friend, and THEN figures out the call is coming from the house. How in the hell could I focus on a main character this dumb?
So yeah, I actually went to the theaters to see this piece of crap and suffice to say, I practically wasted my five dollars. That's it and that's all.





Characters? What characters? Trust me, guys, the only character I could only focus on is Jill herself and she's a goddamn idiot. Sure there are her friends who seem to be much more blander and dumber than her but there's not anything to elaborate here.
In the original, Jill is more of a supporting main character than a full on protagonist. The only times  we do see Jill is the first 12 minutes and sometime around the third act. But it was the brilliant performance of Carol Kane that fleshed out the character than the script did.


So what we've got in this version is Camilla Belle as Jill and throughout the movie, she basically does...nothing.


All she is just a terrorized babysitter who is constantly creeped out by the house and by the strange phone calls. So all that we know of Jill is that she's grounded for a very costly cell phone bill that she has to pay off, which is how she gets the babysitting gig. You want to know how she got the overcharged cell phone bill? because she caught her friend kissing her boyfriend, which resulted into getting into arguments with said boyfriend over the phone. Ridiculous Teen Melodrama, oh my! In the original, it was treated much subtly. Jill was sort of in a love triangle. She and her friend happened to like the same guy, however, they have an understanding with each other and it's resolved. But in this version, the drama of this is overlylong and unnecessary just for a way to manipulate the film's running time.


The main thing is, really,  is Jill useful as a main character? Let me get this off the bat, Spoiler Alert! the kids actually survive this time, although, I don't think it was the stranger's intention of killing them, aside from killing three minor characters. So Jill eventually saves the kids, I will at least give her points for that. But throughout the movie she is completely out of her limit. Technology has changed since 1979 and there is a thing called Caller ID and the massive use of Cell Phones. There would be a way for Jill to trace the call and badda bing badda boom, all is solved but the film would've had a much shorter running time. So the majority of the movie, Jill is pretty damn useless. And again, there's nothing more I can say. Camilla Belle is a good actress with a lot of potential but she is just wasted in this movie and she deserves better than this. So Jill in this version is a massive disappointment.
So what's there to say about Jill's friends? The big o'le BBS. Boring, Bland, and Stupid.


The most 'developed' of the three friends(and I say developed loosely) is Tiffany played by Katie Cassidy. She's your typical dumb blond in a horror movie, getting involved in love triangle with Jill and her boyfriend. So there goes the reason why I don't like this character.
 

In the original, she was a minor character where her and Jill would have a brief conversation, but instead, in order to reconcile with her friend, Tiffany drives all the way to the house on the hill to visit her. How she know the directions I don't know.


 
All in all, she's only there to be killed off anyway.


Scarlett played by Tessa Thompson, is the smart, reliable friend, the voice of reason but there's nothing more to the character besides that, So I guess I should move on.


Then there's Bobby played by the very hot Brain Geraghty. He's the boyfriend who was caught in between Jill and Tiffany, trying to reason everything. And if you want to feast your eyes on Brain Geraghty, sorry he's only a got a couple of scenes to show for it.



Last but not least, we have The Stranger played by Tommy Flanagan and, to my surprise, Lance Henriksen, who does the voice. Now what I like about the original is how out of the blue the made The Stranger sympathetic, even though he murdered two children. It was scary in a way of how you think this person is a harmless, weak man but having forgot that he's capable of murder, even murdering someone with his bare hands.


The Stranger in this version, though, is your typical standard slasher villain, even so far as having a body count of three. There's not anything else really, since they kept him more mysterious. That's ok, that's alright but there's hardly any character development or certain clues about The Stranger, So he's left a blank space.


Okay, here's one of my biggest problems I have with the movie, and it's the setting. What worked in the 1979 film is that it was set in a quiet suburban neighborhood, possibly one of the best settings in a horror film, having the feel to be more frightening and uncertain. But now in this version, it's set in a remote house on the hill, making it incredibly obvious. The directing and suspense is just as disappointing. It's very slow burn to the point where you want to fall asleep.
There's really nothing for me to say here, so let's just get it over with.
The Verdict? Definitely the original. I wouldn't call it one of my favorite movies but it had the right kind of suspense and a lot of effort to make it realistically spine-chilling. The remake, however, is your typical standard teen horror film which is low on scares and tension, making the movie a bore to watch.
My Last Word: Please do not waste your time with this crap. Nobody should witness this.




 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Movie Review: House Of Wax




Right around late 2004-early 2005, the execs at Dark Castle thought it was a swell idea to remake the Vincent Price Horror Classic The House Of Wax, which is also a remake of 1933's Mystery Of The Wax Museum. So basically it's a remake of a remake of a remake if that makes sense. But let me assure you this is not a remake of the actual movie. It's really a remake of Tourist Trap, this obscure slasher with the same plot and concept released in 1979.
Though let's get to the real topic at hand. This was the day in age of Paris Hilton and boy, everybody was obsessed with this woman. Commercials, TV spots, a reality show, movie offers, and even her own music album. And it was all because of a sex tape that nobody would just shut up about. I've seen it and it's not anything remarkable.



So the buzz came around for this movie when MTV had a Behind The Scenes special that had it's own daily episodes, here and there. For some odd reason, I had the urge to watch this because it was at a time where I was really into slasher films and seeing what was going on in the set was pretty interesting. But looking at the special was total spoilers for me, even though the plot was predictable and the characters were stereotypical, when you know who lives or dies.
After all that though, seeing that it's ten years old, this movie was totally overrated and not especially memorable.
Although the acting was kind of good, the special effects was cool, and there were some suspenseful scenes, the overhype sort of ruined the movie for me.
The story: A group of college kids on their way to a football game, suddenly find a deserted town where two deranged brothers keep a collection of wax people, only to find out they might be part of the display.



The cast of this movie is obnoxious, but not to the point of infuriating. Their fatal flaw is how incredibly bland and cardboard they are, where I just couldn't find myself to know or care in the least.


Elisha Cuthbert as Carly is an exception though but in any other case, of course, it would be. I'm not saying there's anything special about the character, I would say she is kind of a badass and Elisha Cuthbert plays her with so much gusto that you can't help to root for her. The only character development I got from Carly is the dynamic between her and her brother, Nick. She's the good twin, he's the bad twin. Simple as that but they could've done a "show, and don't tell" scenario. We would know Carly would be the heroine of the story, so it's pretty obvious. Though the twin motif is a big honkin' deal in this movie, so I'll leave it for later into the review.



So what's there to say about Carly? Well, she's the typical good girl always trying to do the right thing, always looking out for everybody, etc. And although she seems like a stereotypical character, at least she's a pure badass.


Nick played by the very sexy Chad Michael Murray is the typical bad boy where as Carly is the typical good girl.


He's not particularly the most likeable character and he's difficult to get along with, especially with his sister. And right off the bat, he's pretty much comfortable being the bad twin since he's been labeled with that all his life but it seems as though Carly and Nick are just there to define each other, which is not a bad thing, it's just they don't have much agency to define themselves on their own.


Nick does manage to redeem himself once he becomes the hero, nothing much has changed but he's get better.


I would have  to say this though, there is a very nice shot of Chad Michael Murray's fantastic body and play the bad boy very well I might say.


Wade played by Jared Padalecki, well...Meh. Jared Padalecki is not a bad actor at all and very handsome to boot, however, Wade is...kind of dumb and there's really nothing memorable about him. he's just Carly's boyfriend nothing more, nothing less.


And when you think about, he's the reason why him and Carly are captured because of his stupid actions.




In a way, he would most likely become the hero of the movie, however, in a not so surprising way, he's the first one to get "waxed."


And now we come to this, the almighty Paris Hilton in her first big screen debut. So what do I think of Ms. Hilton? I've....I've got nothing. She's pretty much playing the typical blond bimbo in a horror movie but once I really looked at her performance, she's more likely playing herself. It's Paris Hilton playing Paris Hilton basically. Even her character's name sound similar. But here's the real kicker, the movie is punching jabs at her. The movie is clearly making unwanted jokes about her, always shoving a video camera in her face and in one scene where it looks as if she's giving her boyfriend oral sex when in actuality she was looking for her lip gloss.


The biggest pet peeve of how the film treats Hilton is how they sexualized her every move, especially in this one unnecessary scene where she striptease for her boyfriend. We Get It! Paris Hilton Is Hot! I would say there's nothing more to her character other than being the hot girl but don't worry, there is some character development in here somewhere. Her character arc consist of whether she might be pregnant or not, trying to explain to her boyfriend, who is too busy listening to his music. The guy sure does love his radio. And it's like her character is portrayed as this blond ditz who doesn't know the concept of safe sex.


So up until this point, here's the moment that everybody in the movie theater payed to go see is the death of Paris Hilton's character. So after the death of her boyfriend, she tries to get away but not too easily. And I must say, her chase scene is quite suspenseful. But do you want to know how she dies? a pole is penetrated through her head while the killer videotapes her dead body. Now I know there was a lot of oral sex jokes at the expense of Paris Hilton but this was just despicable amongst the filmmakers. I don't want to say I feel bad for Paris Hilton but I kind of do, since she was just a ploy for the movie to make profit at the box office.
Just to get this out of the way, here are the less focused characters:


Here you have Paris Hilton's main squeeze Blake, a typical jock who seems to be obsessed with football and music, constantly ignoring his girlfriend unless she's stripping for him that is.


The you have Dalton, Nick's bumbling idiotic friend, who is the target of gay jokes. So bad that I wanted to bang my head against the wall.
That's honestly all the information I got on this two guys.



There are actually two serial killers in this movie, The Sinclair Twins. There's Bo, the seemingly normal one and Vincent (get it?), the more quiet, reversed one who does most of the killings/harvesting and who wears a mask out of wax, which is very unique. Their backstory is quite interesting and they are much more interesting than the main characters themselves. So after the death of their parents and basically the entire townspeople, the two living brothers decided to make the dead bodies into wax, including new victims. I thought that idea was so creepy and well done. And to add a special note, I think the twins are kind of hot, and yes I'm including Vincent. Sue Me!




The real heart and soul of the project is the directing and the special effects. Okay, here are my two favorite scenes in the movie: The movie theater scene and the melting of The House Of Wax.


Now with the movie theater scene. The way it was handled was incredibly suspenseful and exciting all the same. I mean who would come with a chase scene while Whatever Happened To Baby Jane plays. Its totally thrilling in my opinion. But what's even more thrilling is the climax.




all of the flaws of the movie were looked over, once Carly become more badass, the chase scenes more hair-raising and the action more jam-packed. And to take a moment for a little trivia, the house is actually made out of wax. So the two actors had to roll around in actual hot wax! Okay guys, if I ever act in a horror movie, pray for me.
I would say that Samuel Collet-Serra has an amazing eye and is a very competent director. It's nothing too flashy and nothing too modern, just right for tight suspense and for well-crafted scenes. He's definitely gifted with an artistic flare.
Okay, out with the good and in with the bad again, the biggest problem I have with the film is that...It's too long. Normally, a slasher movie is at least 80-99 minutes long but this was two hours max. And all the filmmakers did was stretch out unnecessary scenes to make up for the running time, which could be a chore to watch at times.
So it all comes to this: The Verdict? Well, I'm not familiar with the Vincent Price version but I'm positive the movie is a well deserved classic, along with Tourist Trap, which is a underrated gem in it's own right. And although this is an entertaining slasher with a very 80's retro feel, It has weak story and with even weaker characters, that makes it kind of forgettable.
To call this a remake is notwithstanding, however, it is still a guilty pleasure. So you at least have that.
My Last Word: Give it a go. It may be middle of the road but it has it's shining moments.



 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Toolbox Murders (2004)





Tobe Hooper, known for such classic as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, decided to take his hands on an obscure slasher called The Toolbox Murders. Released in 1978, Toolbox Murders is this sleazy boring pseudo mystery-thriller that was cashing in on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and strangely enough came right before the movie Halloween. No one ever thought this movie would be remembered, remembered to be remade. Now 26 years later, Tobe Hooper of all people came upon developing the redo for this. To be honest...I thought the movie was okay. Maybe back then it grew on me but now it's not really all that memorable. Though at least it's better than the original.
So let's get down to business. The Best Parts: the suspense, the kills, and the awesome performance by Yours Truly, Angela Bettis.
So the Toolbox Murders remake, not really a bad movie but it could've been better though.
The Story: Having just move into the historical Lusman Arms Apartments in Los Angeles, Nell and her husband Steven try to get acquainted to the new environment when strange things start to occur. Spending mostly alone due to her husband's long hours at the hospital, Nell begins to hear weird noises from the other room. Not only that, residents from the apartment start disappearing, including a good friend of hers named Julie. This causes Nell to investigate but what she finds is something truly disturbing.



The only three characters I could focus on was Nell, Julie and Steven, everybody else was either red-herrings, walk-through, or just random characters who get killed at every second.




So the only character who has the most development is Nell herself, who is the eyes and ears of the story, practicing her amateur detective skills.




Played by the ever so talented Angela Bettis, who's yet again finds herself in another horror remake, Newlywed Nell is trying to adjust to her life at Lusman Arms. As her husband works at night at the hospital, Nell has to spend alone at the strange apartment, listening to the constant bickering of her neighbors, the creepy noises coming from the ceiling, and also having to deal with the weird residents of the apartment. Through all these troubles, she soon develops a bond with one of the residents, Julie, usually discussing their fears and insecurities. But once Julie goes missing, Nell must muster the strength to find her and figure out the mysteries that is hidden within the walls of Lusman Arms. Nell is by far the only character I was invested in throughout...the rest of the characters...not so much.

 


Julie played by Juliet Landau, was basically just a plot device. Juliet Landau does what she does best with what she was given playing one of the normal apartment residents that Nell is able to bond with, but there isn't much time with the character to focus on other than being a catalyst once Nell knows about the deep dark secrets of Lusman Arms, becoming essential to the plot when her character goes missing.


Brent Roam as Steven Borrows was....there I guess. There really wasn't much development on him either other than being Nell's workaholic husband. Cute guy though.




The real meat of the story is the suspense and kills. Tobe Hooper, who is of course responsible for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is a master at this. The deaths are incredibly brutal and gory and is handled way much better than the 70's version which is tepid and suspense less. Once that moment comes, it comes in unexpectedly, which I always love in a horror film.
Speaking of unexpected, there is a twist at the end of the film and yes, there always seem to be a twist in these horror remakes nowadays:



So it turns out that Jack Lusman, the owner of the apartment, was an occultist who experimented in Science and Witchcraft, having the symbols decorated around the apartment walls as a spell along with Nell uncovering disturbing old photos of torture chambers and bloody corpses.


The killer is soon to be revealed as a monster refer to as "Coffin Baby", which is probably the result of a conjured spell.....
I thought the twist was kind of far-fetched and sort of ruined the movie. It started off fine until this revelation switching the tone completely and also having a way to make the killer typically invincible. I knew they were trying to do something different in this version because in the 70's original as soon as the second half kicks in, it becomes this boring played-out thriller drama. It would at least give the filmmakers a step up from that but the whole mystical/supernatural element was just to much to handle, which left a possibly for a sequel that was in development hell for a while.
The Verdict? Definitely choose this over the original, in what I like to describe as a forgettable mess. Although this version has it's flaws, it still makes up for an entertaining gorefest, especially for the competent direction of Tobe Hooper and a strong performance from Angela Bettis.
My Last Word: Skip the original and go for this, which would make good popcorn fun.