Realive (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

realiveMarc Jarvis has made a good life for himself, a successful career, a house by the beach, great friends, and the love of his life by his side.  That is until he is diagnosed with an incurable disease.  He decides to live to the fullest and die on his own terms, then get cryogenically frozen until a time when his disease can be cured.  When this day comes, he is put back together like some kind of futuristic Frankenstein’s Monster and brought back to life.

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Red Christmas (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

redchristmasA mother wants to have the best Christmas ever with her family.  During the traditional day, tensions come to a boiling point when a stranger shows up at their door and wants to kill them all.  This sets the mother on a warpath to protect her brood.

This Australian horror film is written and directed by Craig Anderson who starts by building a family with lots of issues and strife between its members.  Most of their issues are the same as a lot of families while others are more unique.  This family cares for each other against these odds and when all hell breaks loose, their bonds are tested.  The writing here develops this family well and then brings some original kills to the table but the characters are not the most likable so it’s hard to root for them.  This is all well directed for most of the film so the few issues seen here and there are not entirely awful, but the film lacks a bit in fun.  Sadly, the killer’s motivation feels a bit preachy at times, making his condition a bit of a case of one too many things in the story.  The way the killer is portrayed is unfortunately a bit grating and not really menacing.

The cast does ok with the material but it’s hard to tell if their characters were written that way or if they were directed to do this or if the way they act leads to this, but almost all the characters come off as unlikable and just disagreeable, selfish people.  From the looks of things, it seems to be a combination of the three with other factors added to those.  Knowing that Dee Wallace can play mother so well, her performance here is not as expected which may be due to putting too much hope on her.  She is good, but some angles of her character are so dislikable, it’s hard to look over those.  The rest of the cast being less familiar, they did not have as much expectations put on them, yes they still come off as dislikable to despicable as well.

As Red Christmas is a slasher, the kills and their effects are of high importance.  The kills here are good with some original ones.  However, the effects are decent at best with some pieces being not so good to just bad.  The make-up and prosthetics on the killer look a bit like Toxie, with a low budget look and even somewhat of a family resemblance.  Also an odd choice is how the kill set pieces are shot.  In some cases, the lighting makes it hard to see what is going; on while in other cases, the shaky cam is nauseating, making the viewer look away and miss out on the scene.

This film has a lot of potential, but does not go for it.  It has good ideas for kills with effect that are just not good enough to support those ideas.  The characters are not people the viewers can get attached to.  The killer is one of those that could have been good but his background and reason to kill make him hard to get into or behind.  This reviewer wanted to love this as the last few years have given us so many good holiday themed horror movies, but even after giving Red Christmas as much slack as possible, it’s not a movie that can be considered good.  A few good scenes here and there do not a great movie make.

Fantasia International Film Festival ran from July 14th until August 3rd, 2016 and will be back in the summer of 2017.

The Return of the Living Dead (1985): Collector’s Edition [Blu-Ray]

rotldIt’s not often that filmmakers strive to set themselves apart from what’s been widely embraced by the horror community and manage to properly redefine a subgenre. Before “Return of the Living Dead” fans accepted the walking dead shambled slowly toward you and ate flesh, but Dan O’Bannon transformed his zombies in to undead crack heads. Said undead crack heads bolted toward their prey like lightning, were devilishly clever, and craved human brains as a source of nourishment. Though “Return of the Living Dead” has a remarkable sense of humor and will inspire a lot of uneasy laughs from the audience, it’s through and through a creepy horror thriller about groups of people fending off undead monsters from every corner while trying to escape Kentucky as it’s ravaged by brain eating ghouls.

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Realm of Souls (2013)

RealmofSoulsA group of filmmakers go ghost hunting at a site reputed for sightings and paranormal phenomena.  Once on the site, they take a quick tour and set up before finding cameras and equipment from a previous group.  What they find on the recordings is disturbing and also a warning.

Written and directed by Chase Smith, Realm of Souls is a mix of found footage and traditional footage with a touch of night vision and false damage on the found footage.  The story is typical of the found footage ghost story/demon sub-genre in horror.  It goes in the expected ways: Team goes in woods, investigates, films, disappears, second team finds their work.  The writing and directing here are decent but the story feels a lot like “been there, done that”, especially for anyone who watches a lot of horror movies.

The characters or people (as we are supposed to think of them as real people, and not actors playing parts) here are fairly run of the mill for the sub-genre with the added touch they are filmmakers so the found footage is halfway decent, shot in a more stable camera style (thankfully), and with decent focus.  There are a few original twists and turns, but most were a bit predictable still.  The dialogue needs to be notes here as it does come off mostly natural and not forced or grating as in many found footage films recently.

The cast is composed of some of Chase Smith’s regulars and new faces.  Most of them are not going to be familiar to most viewers, which is something absolutely necessary for found footage films to work as a famous face can throw the viewers out of the story and the experience.  Once again, Smith works with a big cast here, making it harder for anyone to stand out unless they are absolutely magnificent or completely dreadful.  Neither happens here, however no one being really bad is a good thing as so much rests on the cast in this type of films.

The special effects are decent for what can be seen in the found footage and night vision scenes.  None of it will revolutionize effects or the genre, but what is there fits with the movie and looks nicely bloody.  Added effects that this reviewer could have done without were the fake damage on some of the footage and the blue screens between some of the scenes.  The former was an annoyance while the latter just takes the viewer right out of the film while wondering why this is happening.  This breaks any kind of tension there might have been and kills the mood of the film far too often.  These do not add anything really to the film and distract way too much from the story.

The idea of filmmakers going to tramping grounds to film paranormal phenomena is interesting but the way it’s exploited here makes it lose most interest as the pace of the film is beyond slow, spending far too much time on its too numerous characters instead of the actual creepy and scary parts of the story.  The film takes a very long time to get going and but the time it truly does, it’s too little too late and not enough time is spent on building dread and fear to make the reveals any kind of impactful.

Realm of Souls is a well shot but wasted with found footage effects, such as night vision and fake damage, which will most likely only appeal to hard core fans of the sub-genre.  The casual viewer and those not into this style will most like be quite bored by the proceedings.

Realm of Souls was produced by Spirit World Films.

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Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988): Special Edition [Blu-Ray]

ROTKTGood God, it’s usually around the fifth movie in a horror series where the writers start poking fun at themselves, not the first sequel. John Astin is a mad professor named Gangreen who is secretly engineering tomatoes to be able to transform in to humans set to various genres of music, and plans to unleash another invasion on the world. Ten years after the events of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” tomatoes are outlawed and anyone that is found with them is arrested. So naturally the big joke centerpiece of the film is that we follow a young pizza delivery man named Chad who helps operate a pizza place that uses every ingredient except tomato sauce.

Chad, who constantly makes deliveries to Gangreen’s mansion, is in love with his assistant Tara, who happens to be a tomato. When Tara escapes Gangreen’s clutches due to him attempting to kill a fuzzy tomato mutant, Tara seeks Chad’s help. Meanwhile Gangreen goes looking for her with his muscle bound killer tomato commandoes. “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” is one of the very few meta-science fiction comedy spoofs that sometimes don’t even seem to try to tell a story. It’s a movie so tight on budget that there are never actually any rampaging killer tomatoes here. This is more a romantic comedy with a Frankenstein twist involving a killer tomato that can turn in to a hot woman, who begins falling in love with a normal pizza delivery man.

It’s almost like tuning in to watch “Friday the 13th” and only see people talk about Jason Voorhees, and never actually seeing him on screen at any point. “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” spends a lot of time spoofing its own premise that it never actually takes the time out to unfold a narrative. That doesn’t make the film terrible, but it does hinder any efforts director John De Bello has to aspire toward the comedic lengths of “Airplane!” Characters break the fourth wall, co-star George Clooney breaks character, and there’s even a gag involving product placement. It comes out of nowhere and is blatantly tacked on, but it is quite a funny segue, all things considered.

Every cast member works in different wave lengths in the film, with Starke playing his character as goofy as possible, while Clooney is mostly a straight man who tries tongue in cheek comedy every now and then. Astin is nearly loses teeth chewing the scenery, and his comically uneven turn is quite the attraction. “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” could very easily have been an awful film, but its sheer relentless absurdity and embracing of its low budget compensates for the fact that there aren’t really any killer tomatoes in the film.

Along with a reversible slip cover, there’s also a new interview with star Anthony Starke, who discusses his experiences working with George Clooney. True to form, Clooney was a prankster on set, and the pair had a good time partying. There’s a two minute still gallery, the original theatrical trailer, and a thirty second TV Spot. Finally, there’s a brand new audio commentary with writer and director John De Bello who, with host Michael Felsher, discusses his history with the movie series, and how he went about making the film on such a miniscule budget. This is an informative commentary with some fun anecdotes.

Roots: The Complete Original Series [Blu-Ray]

Roots_BLUAlex Haley’s epic television miniseries is one of the many television epics I always meant to watch over the years, but never had the chance to. Finally being given the proper window by Warner, I was not surprised that “Roots” ended up being a very good epic drama about slavery, and the struggle for freedom. “Roots” is one of those great cinematic success stories, where in 1977, network ABC in America didn’t expect the mini-series to do very well. Due to its predominantly African American cast, and very strong content, the network pretty much dumped every episode over the course of eight nights, rather than spacing it out to create an audience.

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Reversion (2015)

reversionThe makers of Oubli, a device that allows its wearer to relive moments from their past, prepare for a huge launch which could make or break the company.  Sophie Cle, daughter to Oubli’s creator Jack Cle, is the biggest proponent of the device.  That is until she gets kidnapped and shown a different truth which makes her question everything she knows.

Reversion was directed and co-written by Jose Nestor Marquez with writer Elissa Matsueda. Previously, Marquez worked on a film called Isa about a conspiracy through the government to control thoughts/minds.

This film is connected to Reversion on more than a thematic level as one of the supporting characters in Reversion is named Isa and played by the same actress.  The story here revolves around a device called Oubli which means something akin to “forgotten” or “not remembered” in French, a device made to help people remember and relive specific memories.  The cost of this is not simply monetary as more is at risk.  The story here explores the ethics and repercussions of technological advancements.  The main character is Sophie Clé whose last name means “key” in French, another name that is not accidental.

The characters and situations build a mystery wrapped up in technological advancements which keep the viewers’ attention throughout. Sophie Clé is interpreted by Aja Naomi King who turns in a solid performance of a character with hidden information within herself which is not an easy part.  Supporting her are Gary Dourdan as her driver, Colm Feore as her father, Jeannette Samano as her kidnapper, and Amanda Plummer as the mysterious woman with a lot of information.  All turn in good performance, Feore and Samano giving the best ones of the support group with layers being peeled back as the story evolves.

The film is shot in two different styles, one for the main story and one just slightly different for the memories brought back by the Oubli device, adding to the mystery of whether or not these memories are real or not and as to if they have been tinkered with to make their owner happy. To support these styles, the score is created in part within the movie for the Oubli sequences which have a dream like feeling in great part due to the sounds and music making their ambiance felt by the viewers, immersing them into the character’s experience. This effect adds a lot to the movie and its atmosphere as a whole.

Reversion is an interesting watch that will make the viewer think about how far technology has come, how far it could go, and if it should be allowed to go that far.  The film keeps the mystery and intrigue going throughout its runtime while not giving everything away, making it a movie with a rewatchability factor.

Enragés (Rabid Dogs) (2015)

rabiddogs

A group of four bank robbers run into trouble while attempting to escape.  Their simple plan of robbing a bank and getting away goes terribly awry when one of them is killed and the others take hostages.  They eventually get on their way to possible freedom with a father and daughter as well as a woman; however, the road to this freedom is littered with obstacles and violence. Enragés is a new adaptation of the short story “Man and Boy” by Michael J. Carroll which was previously adapted by Mario and Lamberto Bava in 1974.  Here the screenplay is written by Yannick Dahan, first time writer and director Eric Hannezo, and actor (yet not in this film) Benjamin Rataud.

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