Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bad Movie Alert: Survival of the Dead

Thought Land of the Dead was just plain painful? Felt Diary of the Dead was even worse? Brother, you ain't seen nothing yet. Strap yourselves in for yet another stop on the George Romero's "They Just Keep Giving Me Money" tour with the potentially atrocious Survival of the Dead:

That's right, not only is Romero still writing and directing these hollow attempts at clinging to relevance, he's able to talk Apple into product placement. Apparently, iPhones will somehow survive the undead apocalypse.
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Monday, April 26, 2010

Bad Movie Review: The Keep (1983)

I have never been a huge fan of Michael Mann. His crime dramas have always been too serious and self absorbed for my taste, and he seems to think that eliciting deadpan, monotone performances out of his actors somehow amplifies the dramatic tension and suspense he so desperately desires. While I remain a huge fan to this day of the original Manhunter, the fact that Mann’s penchant for stylistic brooding and emotionless emoting actually worked in the film’s favor is nothing more than a happy accident. Moreover, if Manhunter is a testament to how his filmmaking style can occasionally get it right, then The Keep is the perfect example of how his directorial visions can go so very, very wrong.

The 1983 film The Keep is an adaptation of the 1981 F. Paul Wilson book of the same name. The book was the first of the Adversary Cycle, and if you know what that means, then you have probably already read the book. You might have never seen the film, however, as it mysteriously dropped off the face of the earth after its brief theatrical run and initial release on VHS. Then again, it probably isn’t that much of a mystery when you consider that it came in #13 when it opened the weekend before Christmas (not exactly the time of year I would have chosen to release a horror film with Nazis) to dismal reviews like “The Keep: You Can Keep It.” It went on to earn less than five million in its brief run, which was a disappointing number even back then.

Ironically, the film starts off quite promisingly. The first half hour has the slow, foreboding pace of a European art-house war film, with plenty of slow motion shots of advancing Nazi trucks and long, expansive wide shots of the monolithic Keep around which the film’s action centers. Measured, deliberate dialogue and camera angles alternating between claustrophobic and agoraphobic slowly build a tense feeling of anticipation, which is successfully amplified by the anachronistic but still surprisingly appropriate Tangerine Dream synth-pop score. As the film sets things in motion, and the Third Reich continuously ignores the ominous warnings of the Romanian villagers to avoid the Keep, it becomes more and more apparent that the stone corridors will soon be littered with Nazi corpses. Then, as two greedy soldiers pry up one of the many nickel crosses embedded in the stone walls, the audience is gleefully rewarded with its first gruesomely dismembered Nazi, as the evil force contained with The Keep is finally unleashed.

Unfortunately, this is when it all starts to fall apart. Things start to get sketchy with the introduction of Scott Glen’s character, Glaeken Trismegestus (spelled like it sounds, apparently), who spends half of the film wandering the countryside avoiding facial expressions and occasionally mesmerizing random people with his glowing eyes. The fact that the white-light eye effect looks remarkably similar to the reflecting-eyes dream sequences in Manhunter cannot be ignored. It gets worse when Ian McKellen’s Dr. Cuza is rushed in from a nearby concentration camp to decipher some wall etchings. McKellen is usually great, but he seems to be a bit off his game in this one. It does not help matters that as his crippled elderly character grows healthier and younger with the aid of the evil force’s influences, he starts to look more and more like an albino Julian Sands.

It’s not that the performances are bad, so much as that they are simply prevented from being good. J├╝rgen Prochnow manages to steal the show as the sympathetic Nazi Captain Woermann, mostly due to his ability to skirt Mann’s “No Emotions on Set” rule by playing his low-key intensity to great effect. Other than him, however, everyone is overpowered by the general blandness that overtakes the film’s tension by the halfway mark. Even Gabriel Byrne, who usually hands in an excellent performance, divides his screen time between playing it straight-faced for Mann and doing his best to distract the audience from the worst Nazi haircut you’ve ever seen. There is very little characterization, and even less plot advancement, apart from the occasional mention of more dead Nazis. By the time Dr. Cuza’s protective daughter instantly jumps into bed with glowing-eyed stranger with the unpronounceable name, it is painfully aware that the audience is being forcefully shoved towards a hasty and ill-conceived ending.

For me, the final straw was just before the film’s climax, when Gabriel Byrnes’ character screams like a little girl upon stumbling across the charred remains of his platoon. Because, really, what are the odds that a Nazi Major has ever seen charred corpses before, right? But little annoyances like that are eclipsed by the big reveal of the film’s monster, which turns out to be nothing more than a wasp-waisted cross between Darkseid, Swamp Thing, and the Snake Head creature from Dreamscape. The big finale, which involves numerous overly melodramatic self-sacrifices and an amazingly underwhelming laser battle (don’t ask), is more befuddling and annoying than anything else. It all leaves you staring at a freeze-frame of Alberta Watson’s wind-swept hair and wondering what exactly happened during the last twenty minutes.

As is the case with most cinematic disasters, few are willing to take the blame for this one. Michael Mann, whose name was attached to this colossal dud as writer/director, likes to blame the studios for cutting his three-hour vision of the book into an industry-friendly ninety minutes. F. Paul Wilson, who had access to early drafts of Mann’s screenplay and whose advise and comments on it were soundly ignored, prefers to blame the arrogance of the writer/director that was more concerned with making the film his own than he was with making it good. Having read the book years ago, I tend to side with Wilson. In short… get ready for the pun… The Keep is far from a keeper.
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Monday, April 5, 2010

Bad Movie Review: My Bloody Valentine 3D

I've gotten a bit soft on remakes over the years, especially when it comes to horror film remakes. While there are many films that one can be argue should never be remade (Casablanca and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory come to mind), there are a lot of films out there that had good premises or even screenplays, but suffered from minuscule budgets or shoddy productions values. Many of the films we consider "classic" usually obtain that exalted status based on our emotional attachment to the movie rather than the quality of the film.

With that in mind, and despite ignoring any comparison with the original film, My Bloody Valentine in 3D is truly an awful picture. One of the first horror films to jump on the now obnoxiously popular 3D bandwagon, MBV3D is exactly the kind of film that gives horror films a bad name. Ignoring the chance to take an older horror film and effectively update it for a newer audience, the people behind this remake simply threw together as much three-dimensional violence they could get away with under an R-rating and cobbled a script together that barely justifies the illusion of a plot to take us from one murder scene to the next. Horror films don't have to be brilliant works of storytelling in order to be enjoyed, but the occasional semblance of logic wouldn't hurt, either.

Case in point: The initial idea of a bunch of miners being trapped in a tunnel collapse, and then one of them killing all of the others to conserve all of the oxygen for himself, is not wholly far fetched or fantastic. Taking it one step further and having the homicidal survivor mentally snap and run around in full miner's gear killing everyone he comes across with a pick axe is also quite credible. The filmmakers could have even taken the psychosis of the killer to the next level, insinuating that his fear of death has driven him to believe that every living soul he comes across is yet another threat to his life as long as they are still breathing his precious oxygen.

But, just because this traumatic event occurred on Valentin's Day, our demented killer is instead somehow motivated to cut the hearts out of his victims, place them in heart-shaped candy boxes, and leave behind notes that read "Be Mine 4 Ever?" There isn't even a back story involving a bitter love affair or an unfaithful wife leaving him the day of the accident to make this drastic connection between the two completely separate events even somewhat plausible. Just to add frustration to the confusion, why go through the trouble of having him leave notes behind with the clever word play involving Mine, bother to show him using the number 4 instead of spelling it out, but then having the tragic event happen in Mine Shaft 5, and not Mine Shaft 4? I'm willing to put up with flying pick axes that defy the laws of physics, but at least give me a plot-line that doesn't stretch the boundaries of common sense.

It is little things like this that add insult to the injuries left behind by bad movies such as this. The acting is more than acceptable considering the kind of film it is, the editing and camera work are commendable, and even the mind-bendingly lengthy nude scene during the film's opening act is just gratuitous enough to serve its purpose. But subjecting your audience to twisted and uninspiring plot logic that is as predictable as it is incomprehensible does little more than give them a headache, and that is inexcusable no matter what genre your film belongs to.

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