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Wild Werewolves: Dog Soldiers (2002)

Dog Soldiers #1

by Steve Habrat

Before English director/”Splat Pack” member Neil Marshall freaked audiences out with his 2005 girls-versus-cannibal-humanoids film The Descent, he made what could very well be one of the most entertaining werewolf horror films out there. That film would be 2002’s Dog Soldiers, a low-budget hybrid of Night of the Living Dead, Predator, The Evil Dead, The Howling, and The Wolf Man. Marshall’s Dog Soldiers is far from a flashy werewolf horror film—it doesn’t feature elaborate transformation like we saw in films like An American Werewolf in London or The Howling, and it isn’t particularly interested in commenting on the bestiality lurking in each and every one of us. Despite all of that, Dog Soldiers still unleashes some seriously terrifying werewolves on the viewer and the claustrophobic hopelessness does begin to gnaw at the viewer. It has a dark sense of humor about itself, slipping in a number of sarcastic jokes about the horror taking place around our ass-kicking heroes. It’s also extremely gory, featuring a number of stomach-churning gross out gags that make it very easy for the viewer to understand how Marshall became a member of the “Splat Pack.” You may want to approach this one with a raincoat and maybe even a barf bag.

Dog Soldiers introduces us to Private Cooper (played by Kevin McKidd), who is attempting to pass a grueling test to join a British Special Forces unit. As a final test to join the unit, Captain Ryan (played by Liam Cunningham) asks Cooper to shoot a dog. After Cooper refuses to kill the dog, Ryan fails him and sends him back home. Some time later, Cooper and a unit of British soldiers are taken to the Scottish countryside for a training exercise. Among the soldiers are Seargent Harry Wells (played by Sean Pertwee), Private “Spoon” Witherspoon (played by Darren Morfitt), Private Joe Kirkley (played by Chris Robson), Private Terry Milburn (played by Leslie Simpson), and Corporal Bruce Campbell (played by Thomas Lockyer). Shortly into the exercise, the soldiers find a SAS unit that has been ripped to shreds. The only survivor of the unit is Captain Ryan, who is babbling incoherently about his attackers. As the soldiers try to make sense of the situation, towering assailants leap out from the brush to rip them limb from limb. The group is narrowly rescued by Megan (played by Emma Cleasby), a zoologist on her way to an isolated farmhouse nearby. She takes the group to the farmhouse so that they can regroup and figure out a plan of attack, but the assailants follow them and surround the house. As the unit boards up the windows and assess their resources, they slowly discover that they are up against a pack of werewolves that can only be put down with silver bullets.

Where most werewolf horror films aim high with the special effects and make-up, Dog Soldiers dares to keep much of the elaborate stuff out of the frame. There are no static transformation scenes or lengthy glimpses of the werewolves. Early on, we get to see them only in split second bursts as they charge through the woods towards their next meal. To add extra tension, he gives us black and white POV shots of what the werewolves are seeing, something that called to mind the demonic POV of Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead. Once the soldiers are barricaded in the farmhouse, he circles the house to imply that there is no escape for these characters—at least while the moon is full and high in the sky. As the attacks escalate, Marshall scares us silly with werewolf claws bursting through windows and boards. Eventually, Marshall is forced to shed some light on his towering beasts and they certainly don’t disappoint. They stand menacingly over their victims, slightly hunched with jaws snapping and dripping with strings of saliva. They call to mind what we saw in The Howling, just with less hair and even freakier, if that was even possible. The true beauty is that they are practical and not done with a bunch of computerized fakery. When it comes to the inevitable transformation scenes, Marshall lacks the money to really pull off something eye-popping. Instead, he uses some smartly placed cuts and camera placement that allows the actors to reveal bits of make-up that have been added to parts of their face or hands. The rest is left up to our imagination and it’s extremely efficient.

Dog Soldiers #2

With the special effects controlled, Marshall uses his story to add another layer of unease. While the premise of the soldiers barricade inside a farmhouse paying not-so-subtle tribute to Night of the Living Dead does send some giddy thrills, he allows the claustrophobia to really keep us gnawing at our fingernails. The ammo runs out quickly, the attacks are alarming cramped, and when a character becomes werewolf chow, our stomachs drop to the floor. Another subtle tribute to Night of the Living Dead pops up in the way that two of our central characters go at each other’s throats. There are twists with certain characters and others mislead our heroes in the fight to destroy the werewolves. There is also the lack of supplies, which forces the characters get a bit creative with keeping themselves alive. Some of these are faintly humorous (the sword, a letter opener, a can of hair spray and a lighter, and a fist fight), but they are all used to extremely gruesome effect. The highlight is easily a fistfight with a werewolf that ends with a one-liner that strikes you like a lightning bolt.

This all leads us to the violence of Dog Soldiers, which really makes you see why Marshall earned a spot in the Splat Pack (some of the Splat Pack members include Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Robert Rodriguez, and Alexandre Aja, among others). There are stomachs ripped wide open, guts dangling in plain view, severed heads flying across the screen, and even werewolf limbs hacked off like butter. It’s a gooey blast that just keeps on delivering for horror fans. There is an added layer of “EWW” since Marshall films most of the action with gritty handheld cameras, which give the film an unshakably raw feeling. As far as the performances go, everyone does a fine job with their roles. McKidd is no-nonsense as Cooper, who is forced to become the groups leader when their Sergeant gets taken out of the game, and Cunningham is despicable as the slimy Ryan, who is up to no good from the get-go. Overall, with plenty of high-octane action, well-placed chuckles, rampaging scares pinning you to your seat, and gasp-inducing gross outs, Dog Soldiers is a must-see for horror fans. It may not have the depth that other werewolf horror films possess, but that certainly doesn’t hold this beast back. Arguably one of the scariest werewolf horror films ever made.

Grade: A-

Dog Soldiers is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Ghoulish Guests: Eva Halloween’s Five Favorite Movie Monsters

As any lover of horror will tell you, picking a short list of favorite monsters is no easy feat. The most classic movie monsters are those with an element of tragedy; the ones who evoke empathy as well as horror.  While I love the classics and admire the craft required to create a sympathetic monster, I don’t know that I can call them my favorites. To be my favorite, a monster must be truly frightening, something that makes you want to hide under the bed, if only you could be sure that there wasn’t something much, much worse lurking, just out of sight, down there. To help narrow the field to these most terrifically terrifying fiends, I’ve drawn from five fears of children and childhood to give you my favorite monsters of horror.

1. Creepy Kids

By subverting the notion of children as harmless innocents, creepy kids make for extraordinary effective monsters. Whether made evil by external intervention, as in The Exorcist or Pet Cemetery, or simply born bad like little Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed, these children of horror are more perceptive than you, more devious, and without a single moral objection to your violent demise. Playing upon mankind’s perceived biological imperative to protect children, these monsters ruthlessly twist any act of mercy and care into a lethal mistake. The best of these (and my first favorite) is Samara from 2002’s The Ring. Rachel, our protagonist, sees poor Samara as a tragic figure, murdered by her own mother simply for being too different. Except no. She’s actually a sea monster rape-baby who gleefully wants to burn awful images into your mind until you die. She doesn’t “just want to be heard,” Rachel. She just wants to kill you.

Aidan: What happened to the girl?

Rachel: Samara?

Aidan: Is she still in the dark place?

Rachel: No. We set her free.

Aidan: You helped her?

Rachel: Yeah.

Aidan: Why did you do that?

Rachel: What’s wrong, honey?

Aidan: You weren’t supposed to help her. Don’t you understand, Rachel? She never sleeps.

2. Scary Dolls

Psychologists recognize automatonophobia as the fear of anything falsely representing a sentient being, including robots, dolls, and ventriloquist dummies. Perhaps, like creepy kids and evil clowns, dolls make for terrifying monsters by representing the juxtaposition of the joyous things of childhood with the looming inevitability of death and decay. Scary dolls are like creepy kids, but littler, creepier, and therefore more likely to be tucked into hidden spaces, watching you.  Watching and waiting…

Although horror offers plenty of scary dolls to chose from, including the disturbing Dolly from Dolly Dearest and sinister Hugo from Dead of Night, the eponymous dolls from 1987’s Dolls win in a multi-way tie for my favorite scary doll monster on sheer horrifying volume alone. Killed and imprisoned in toys to pay for their crimes, these dolls might be sympathetic if they weren’t so completely full of malevolent, unrepentant mischief, fully committed to killing you, even if it takes their tiny doll hands all night to do it.

3. The Monster in the Closet

That thing that’s lurking under the bed. Or possibly in the closet, or in the dark at the bottom of the basement stairs, where the light doesn’t quite reach. These monsters, easily dismissible in the light of day, gain a terrifying immediacy and presence in the dark, when you feel the sudden, irrational imperative to gauge the leap between the light switch and the relative safety of your bed.

“Daily Doodle by David Michael Chandler”

Well represented by Lovecraft’s Night-Gaunts and The Whisperer in the Darkness, my favorite Monster in the Closet can be found in Stephen King’s short story The Boogeyman, which asked, “Did you look in the closet?” and left me unable to sleep alone for an entire summer. Since the latest short film version of the story hasn’t been released yet (and we don’t acknowledge the 1982 full length atrocity of an adaptation), I’ll use Drew Daywalt’s 2010 short There’s No Such Thing  to illustrate my choice. Sleep tight, kittens.

4. Evil Clowns

Clowns were once considered gentle buffoons, the perfect choice to entertain crowds of children. Now we know better. As a society, we have recast clowns as monsters, lurid freaks and crazed killers, their painted-on smiles intense grins of maniacal joy. In The History and Psychology of Scary Clowns, Smithsonian Magazine notes that no less an authority than Andrew McConnell, English professor and coulrophobia historian, credits Charles Dickens with introducing the idea of the clown as a secret, sinister monster, “an off-duty clown…whose inebriation and ghastly, wasted body contrasted with his white face paint and clown costume.”

Whatever the reasons clowns make for fabulously frightening movie monsters, there are no shortage of candidates for a favorite. However, when it comes to childhood fears, the 1982 classic Poltergeist hits the nightmare trifecta of monster in the closet, something under the bed, and a scary clown that really, really, wanted to see you dead.

5. The Monster that Doesn’t Need an Explanation

As children, we fear many things that do not have a name. Some, horrifying abominations that defy definition, become no less repugnant as we age. These monsters push at the boundaries between dimensions, shrugging off all normal rules of physiology and rationality. The very alienness, the wrongness, of these creatures is exactly what makes them so completely terrifying. My favorite monster in this category needs little introduction and bears no explanation – the thing from John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing. Sure, it was based on a novella and there was an attempt at an extraterrestrial back story, but there’s really no amount of explaining that can rationalize a whip-mouthed spider dog monster that wants to be inside you. Monstrous, abhorrent, and viciously single-minded, this monster simply is. Best start running now.

To check out more from Eva Halloween, click here to visit her spooky website, The Year of Halloween.

Resident Evil (2002)

by Steve Habrat

Don’t hate me for telling you this, but I actually sort of enjoy Paul W.S. Anderson’s 2002 big screen adaptation of Resident Evil. Based upon the wildly popular Capcom horror/shooter video game, Resident Evil is a surprisingly entertaining and slightly creepy Night of the Living Dead for Mountain Dew fanatics and die-hard Alien fans. With plenty of guns, zombies, entrails, explosions, and chicks with barely any clothing, Resident Evil is a total guy flick that doesn’t ask too much of the viewer, only that you have a good time and don’t hate yourself in the morning for it. In a way, that is the main problem with Resident Evil, that it doesn’t think too highly of its target audience. Resident Evil has plenty to work with within its sinister corporation premise but it happily ignores this for an hour and forty minutes. It relentlessly misses opportunities to make heady comments about how big corporations deviously enslave us, but instead, it would rather show you Milla Jovovich nude or a zombie get its head blow to smithereens. I guess the blood and flesh show is more fun than the one that makes us think. But what did you expect from a movie that is based on a video game?

Welcome to Raccoon City, a futuristic metropolis that is controlled by the Umbrella Corporation, a pharmaceutical and houseware company that is also secretly developing a slew of biological weapons underneath the city. This underground development facility is called the Hive and it is here that a thief has infiltrated the seemingly impenetrable facility and unleashed the mysterious T-virus. In response to the contamination, the facility’s artificial intelligence, the Red Queen, quickly begins trying to quarantine the virus and kill off all the Hive employees who were exposed to the virus. Just hours after the slaughter, the Umbrella Corporation sends down a small team of commandos led by James “One” Shade (Played by Colin Salmon) and Rain Ocampo (Played by Michelle Rodriguez) to investigate. Along the way, these commandos meet up with amnesiacs Alice (Played by Milla Jovovich), Spence (Played by James Purefoy), and suspicious cop Matt (Played by Eric Mabius). As the group pushes further into the ravaged underground facility, they begin to be attacked by endless swarms of undead drones that crave human flesh. As the group’s battle to stay alive becomes more and more desperate, the undead ghouls stalking them through the tunnels turn out to be the least of their worries.

Director Anderson uses Resident Evil to make a surprisingly effective nod to George Romero’s 1968 zombie classic Night of the Living Dead. Interestingly enough, Romero was originally approached to make the film but he left the project due to creative differences. Anderson, however, keeps the film’s scope small, with swarms of ghouls attacking in narrow hallways and trashed offices, which heightens the terror to nearly unbearable levels. Things really get spooky when the group seals themselves into a computer room as the ghouls bang on the doors around them. He also has the sense to slowly build up to the first zombie attack with plenty of squirm-inducing suspense. Then he boldly kills off half the macho characters to make room for two seriously tough gals who pack mean drop kicks. Despite some iffy performances from the B-squad of actors, Resident Evil manages to really make an ominous impression in its first forty minutes. Sadly, once Anderson nudges the zombies to the side and unleashes the hulking mutant experiment nicknamed “The Licker”, things begin to spin wildly out of control. Anderson then piles on tons of poor CGI and disordered action that completely demolishes the smart touches he applied at the beginning of the film. You’ll reluctantly give in to his overkill and just go with the flow as the fake blood relentlessly splashes across the screen.

Another shock that comes out of Resident Evil is the fact that, while it may not be Oscar worthy, the acting is still surprisingly decent for a movie based on a video game. Jovovich is easily the best as the tough-as-nails amnesiac Alice, a chick who can throw down with the best of them. Anderson spends more time trying to photograph her bare breasts than he does focusing on the performance in front of him but Jovovich comes out of the project okay. Rodriguez plays the same role she always plays, a badass with her face scrunched up into a testy grimace. Salmon gets to channel Night of the Living Dead’s Duane Jones but he looks like a sissy compared to Jovovich and Rodriguez. Purefoy is pretty stiff and is basically asked to just play worried before a last act character twist that has him sparking to life. Mabius is severely inconsistent the entire time, which is a shame because his character is one that is front and center. Another standout is Martin Crewes as Kaplan, a spooked computer expert who is exceptional at conveying the sickened I-didn’t-sign-up-for-this face when the zombies stumble out of the dark.

To match Resident Evil’s industrial horror aesthetic, Anderson enlisted shock rocker Marilyn Manson, who was at the height of his popularity at the time, to compose the score for the film. With the help of Marco Beltrami, Manson delivers a burst of moody synths, shrill drumming, and bawling guitars that would sound much better in a headphones than in a Hollywood motion picture. At times, the score is unbelievably distracting, removing us from the moment and drowning out what little story there actually is. Still, Manson manages to compliment this industrial rot of the set quite well so I suppose he succeeds. Anderson also makes some questionable choices in the editing department, preferring to cut away just when the action was getting good. For the zombie fans out there, the ghouls are perfectly modest, just looking dead enough without getting carried away. There are not tons of elaborate wounds on every single zombie that stumbles in front of the camera but there are a few injuries that you will remember. The rest of the action is exactly what you would expect from an action film made in the wake of The Matrix, with multiple slow motion shots of the gals flipping through the air. Overall, Resident Evil’s first half is much stronger than its second half, but the film as a whole is a solid horror distraction that ranks as one of the better video-game-to-film adaptations out there.

Grade: B-

Resident Evil is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Men in Black 3 (2012)

by Steve Habrat

I think we can all agree that the world wasn’t starving for another Men in Black film. It has been ten long years since Agent J and Agent K saved the world in the lousy Men in Black 2 and now they are back in a film that is a slight improvement over the 2002 disaster. Men in Black 3 is not a great film but it has great performances and truly incredible CGI to marvel at, but the absence of any fun action sequences cripples this lukewarm installment. Considering the film has a price tag of $215 million dollars, you’d think that it would have at least one “WOW” moment in there somewhere. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t. Sony must have forgotten they were making a summer blockbuster for audiences who want to see things blow up. Throughout the runtime, I also couldn’t shake the feeling that everything that was playing out on the screen had been done before and much better at that. It felt like Sony just repackaged the original film, tied it up with recycled jokes, and put a big ribbon of 3D on it.

Men in Black 3 begins with the revolting alien menace Boris the Animal (Played by Flight of the Concord’s Jermaine Clement) breaking out of a massive prison that happens to be on the moon rather than good old Earth. Boris is also missing one of his arms and he is pretty pissed off about it. It turns out that his arm was shot off by Agent K (Played by Tommy Lee Jones) way back in July of 1969, who then took him into custody and shipped him to his lunar prison cell. Boris quickly figures out a way to time travel back to 1969 so he can kill the young Agent K (Played by Josh Brolin) before K can shoot off his arm and arrest him. He also wants to stop K from planting a device that protects earth from a massive alien invasion. After older K disappears, it is up to suave Agent J (Played by Will Smith) to travel back to 1969 and join forces with the younger (and nicer) Agent K to prevent the alien invasion and stop Boris before he completely alters history.

Men in Black 3 was plagued by script rewrites and multiple delays that almost drove director Barry Sonnenfeld to the breaking point. The good news is that despite all the rewrites, Men in Black 3 tells a fairly engaging little story with some mildly clever moments. The bad news is that screenwriter Ethan Coen doesn’t ever really do much with J’s appearance in 1969. He resorts to dated jokes like telling Andy Warhol that he’d “have no problem pimp-slapping the shiznit” out of him and complains about dated technology. The film only takes a few opportunities to really play with the race relations of the late 60’s, mostly in a scene where two white police officers stop J and accuse him of stealing the car he is driving. It is jokes like this that would have really went over big in 1997, when all of this seemed fresh and slightly innovative. If those jokes aren’t enough to make you roll your eyes, once again, the film cracks jokes about certain celebrities being aliens as well as extraterrestrials hiding in plane sight. Doesn’t it feel like 1997 in here?

What ultimately saves Men in Black 3 from crumbling right in front of our eyes is the acting, especially from Brolin, Clement, and Michael Stuhlbarg, who shows up as a neurotic alien who can see multiple futures that all have different outcomes. Brolin steals the show with his impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones, an impersonation that is eerily spot-on. From the drawl in his voice to the sleepy eyes, Brolin is an absolute knock out, getting every twitch, step, and head turn just right. It is also the funniest aspect of Men in Black 3. Clement does a damn fine job making you remember him once the credits crawl across the screen. Boris could be one of the nastiest aliens from the Men in Black universe, snagging what has to be one of the most disgusting kisses in motion picture history. Coen and Sonnenfeld really hold back with his character and he is someone that I wished we had seen more of. The underdog of Men in Black 3 is Michael Stuhlbarg as the sweet Griffin, who turned out to be one of my favorite characters in Men in Black 3. He was just such a likable soul—one whose faith in humanity was so infectious, you couldn’t help but root for him.

As far as our two veteran protagonists are concerned, they fair about the same as they did in the previous two films. Smith is still the wild child, the one who is more concerned with making the job look good. The scenes in which he uses the Neuralyzer on crowds of people are some of his best. A touching last act twist gives his character a heaping amount of emotional weight that, in a way, comes a little too late. Jones, on the other hand, is absent through a good portion of the film, allowing Brolin to take the driver’s seat for a while. Jones is his usually crabby self, one who smiles by letting his face droop. I won’t deny that Smith and Jones do have an odd-couple chemistry that somehow has kept through three films and it is no different with Men in Black 3. They really find their groove early on and in a way, it is sad to see it cut off even if Brolin does a fantastic job.

The biggest problem I have with Men in Black 3 is the uneven action sequences that feature fine CGI, but just have no adrenaline to keep them moving. I was never on the edge of my seat once during the film. An action scene at the beginning that features multiple aliens seems like it was included just to give the partnering toy company some ideas for action figures. I couldn’t help but feel the same about the handful of new gadgets that we see. Sadly, Men in Black 3 plays things a bit too safe for my tastes. It seems to cater to the kiddies, who will surely eat it up and have a few good laughs at some of the slapstick moments. I feel like Men in Black 3 would have faired a little bit better last summer, when Hollywood had a fixation with period piece blockbusters, ones that were heavily interested in rewriting history (mostly with superheroes). Men in Black 3 ends with a showdown on Apollo 11 that is mixed with a handful of scenes showing in-awe spectators glued to their televisions screens, sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to be blown away by this sublime moment. For all the eye-candy Men in Black 3 throws our way, I truly never felt like one of those grinning, in-awe spectators even though I so desperately wanted to. I was fighting back yawns.

Grade: C+

Spider-Man (2002)

by Corinne Rizzo

If ever a man could give a modest superhero the edge of one who not only slays science fiction-y comic book villains but ones who truly threaten our psychologically modern society, Sam Raimi would be that man.  In his first attempt at a feel good blockbusting summer flick, Raimi takes an undertortured and understated high schooler turned college student and turns that character not only into our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but a superhero of classic proportions. Raimi shows the story of Peter Parker, not by using the drama of his own life, but the drama involved with the villain, which any viewer or Raimi fan can tell, is the character type he seems most comfortable with creating.

Though Raimi does forge Spider-Man’s character without the drama of Uncle Ben and Aunt May, the Mary Jane saga or the idea that Peter and his best friend are as estranged as long lost cousins, Raimi does seem to pile the heaviest load of drama on to the villain in the first of the three Spider-Man films.

In the first installment, Raimi’s villain of choice is the Green Goblin, played by Willem Dafoe. Dafoe is a surprising choice for such a summer blockbuster, as he can be truly menacing in appearance while also offering a cynical yet terrifying psychological aspect to his characters. Dafoe does this with the Green Goblin as he illustrates how Norman Osborne is so bent on the results of his laboratory, that he tests his latest chemical weapon on himself, spawning the Green Goblin’s character.

But what sets apart the development of this villain is the style with which Raimi exposes the viewer to the grit and horror involved with these changes. While Peter Parker simply gets bitten by a spider and gets a bit of a fever, the villain is clearly shown to the audience while in the midst of change. Locking himself in a glass chamber and exposing himself to a gas that has been shown to increase violence and aggravation in rational men, Osborne seizes and foams at the mouth, his eyes roll back into his head when his assistant attempts to stop the experiment, Osborne murders him almost immediately. Then in a fit of exhaustion, Osborne falls asleep and awakes with no memory of the events and experiences a sort of schizophrenia, a divide within his personalities of ration and greed. Dafoe’s face becomes even more upturned and menacing, his voice just a bit more terrifying and now rounded out by a villainous laugh.

Raimi does well to ensure a wholesome superhero like Spider-Man doesn’t become a film about a boy scout trying to better his city and save his girlfriend from evil-doers, by focusing on the villain, which is where the most creativity can be found in this film and the subsequent Spider-Man films. Though here in the first film, it is as if Raimi’s imagination is too much for the practical applications available to him at the time.

The film, printed in 2002, already looks its age. At a time when a lot of great strides were being made in CGI film editing, the magic was in not indistinguishable from reality. Many scenes appeared as though one could almost see the green screen in use, as though no wool was being pulled over the viewer’s eyes. This gives the film a super-campy effect, but with no real sense of itself.

While Raimi does an excellent job of keeping the action and fear alive in the film, he attempts to cover too much ground, which is unfortunately a common situation when dealing with the presumed massive exposure of a character only truly familiar with comic hero buffs. The attempts to tell back story, while creating the current story of Ben becoming a victim of a car-jacking and Aunt May being lonely and warm hearted, don’t really come alive, as the viewer might feel a sense of being rushed into knowing them—in other words, Peter Parker’s drama doesn’t seem as interesting and it is because so much is being introduced at once and so rapidly that one loses sight of who is important and why the audience should care.

Ultimately, Raimi wins the affection of the viewer by trusting him to build a truly terrifying and psychologically thrilling villain and surrounding circumstances. By using his talents for creating fear and anxiety with his typical scary movie formula, Raimi successfully turns an underwhelming, seemingly too classic for true nail biting potential, into an edge of your seat thriller that at the very least, leaves you open to a sequel.

Grade: B-

Spider-Man is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

For more from Corinne, check out her new website the ish.

Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones (2002)

by Steve Habrat

If Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace troubled fans about the intentions of George Lucas, then Episode II-Attack of the Clones, boasting a B-movie title that seems like a forgotten Cold War science fiction film from the 50’s, solidified concerns. In the wake of the backlash against the fourth Batman film, Batman & Robin, Chris O’Donnell famously said, “I felt like I was making a kid’s toy commercial.” I wonder what everyone thought on the set of Attack of the Clones, a soulless action film that seems like a cross between a video game demo and a toy plug, all while Lucas laughs in the faces of his loyal fans. Everything in Attack of the Clones is a mess, from the script, to the muddled plot, to its creepy romance that sparks between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé, the intentions of Lucas are simple—make more money! Even the spirit of adventure, was still alive and well in The Phantom Menace was removed and instead, the film resorts to auto pilot and disjointed segments of action that seem like they were designed for video games rather than a feature film. Going back and revisiting the film in Blu-ray, I couldn’t help but think of O’Donnell’s famous recollection of his experience on Batman & Robin. Instead, I didn’t feel like I was making a toy commercial but I felt like I was watching the most expensive one in the history of commercials.

Attack of the Clones picks up several years after the events of The Phantom Menace, with Anakin Skywalker (Played by Hayden Christensen) now barely an adult, undergoing Jedi Knight training from Obi-Wan Kenobi (Played by Ewan McGregor). The opening reveals that the Galactic Republic is in crisis and is now facing a separatist movement lead by the evil Count Dooku (Played by Christopher Lee). Padmé Amidala (Played by Natalie Portman), now a senator, makes an appearance at the Galactic Senate to cast a vote against the creation of an Army of the Republic, which sparks several assassination attempts aimed at Padmé. Chancellor Palpatine (Played by Ian McDiarmid) demands that she be placed under the protection of Obi-Wan and Anakin. Soon, Anakin and Padmé find a forbidden romance blossoming between them and Obi-Wan sets off to investigate and track a mysterious and lethal bounty hunter called Jango Fett (Played by Temuera Morrison). His investigations of the assassination attempts lead him to the planet of Kamino, where he discovers the creation of a clone army. He also learns that Count Dooku and Trade Federation Vicory Nute Gunray are redeveloping their dreaded droid army and are dead set on killing Padmé.

Attack of the Clones is more of a project that gives fans a look at early designs of the storm troopers and the early days of the popular bounty hunter Boba Fett. It all amounts to a bunch of relentless CGI battles, hammy acting, and unexciting explorations of insipid planets. It features perhaps some of the worst acting in the saga, mostly stemming from Christensen’s Anakin, who whines all of his dialogue and sounds like a teenager who hasn’t hit puberty trying to deepen his voice to sound intimidating. I absolutely detested his character and the half-assed attempts by Lucas to show fleeting signs of the darkness in him. It never put fear in my heart and Attack of the Clones fails to make us truly like him. That was the point, after all, that when his inevitable fall comes in Episode III, it would overwhelm us with grief for his character.

There is much more profession in the work from Lee’s Count Dooku as well as returning cast members Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu, McGregor’s Obi-Wan, and Portman’s Padmé. They all seem to understand that Lucas has little to no interest in them and their performances carrying any emotional weight so they put in their own individual effort. The main problem with Dooku is he isn’t really explained and is instead just the accepted bad guy. Matching Christensen in the unconvincing acting department is Temuera Morrison as Jango Fett, who is like an exaggeration of a villain. He tries so hard to be bad and suspicious that it comes off as a joke. He gives mock “muhaha’s” along with his son Boba (Played by Daniel Logan) as they relentlessly try to kill Obi-Wan in air chases and lightsaber versus laser pistol battles.

Lucas tweaks the story to make it a bit more accessible to casual viewers, even more so than The Phantom Menace, which is perplexing due to the darker tone of Attack of the Clones. He pours more attention into his CGI critters that scamper and fly around, none that are remotely impressive or noteworthy. Yoda ends up being his greatest success but I still wish he had used a puppet in the spirit of The Empire Strikes Back. Here Yoda finally throws down and fights, a scene that drove the diehard fans wild when I saw it opening day all those years ago. Every other alien, vehicle, or battle sequence exists simply to end up being an action figure or instruct children on how to play with the toys that will be made in the wake of the film’s release. Nothing seems to be there to aid in telling a worthy story. It doesn’t help that he poorly edits his battle scenes, making them too short, anti-climatic, or just plain monotonous. The final clone battle resembles cut scenes from a video game. I kept waiting for Lucas to come barging through my front door and toss me a video game controller.

In the end, Attack of the Clones is a victim it’s own excesses. Every shot echoes with the cries of Lucas demanding more! It never filled me with childlike awe, got my adrenaline pumping, or whisked me away on the wings of adventure. In fact, I find myself largely blocking the film out, straining to remember certain aspects of it. The film droned on and on but never said much. It is a bloated project that ambles towards the finish line and coughs up an awkward attempt at romance that I never bought into for a second. Furthermore, Lucas doesn’t even come close to matching the climatic lightsaber battle in The Phantom Menace. In my opinion, I found Attack of the Clones to be the lowest point of the Star Wars saga, a film that should not have began with the famous introduction, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” but rather “Right now, on a video game console just in the other room…”

Grade: C-

Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the Star Wars Saga boxed set.

The 25 Horror Films That Have Scared Steve… Pt. 3

by Steve Habrat

Here are four more of the films that freak me out. Enjoy! And feel free to comment with your own favorites. I love from hearing from out ghoulish readers!

14.) The Exorcist (1973)

It’s not the scariest movie of all time. I think it’s more of the hype that surrounds the film than anything else. But The Exorcist is one hell of a wickedly good horror film. It’s really quite amazing that this film continues to scare the living hell out of people almost forty years after it’s release. What makes the film so effective is its lack of hope and the absence of a true hero at the heart. Sure, little Reagan puking pea soup churns the stomach. And I’ll agree that the anxiety of waiting for the Devil to flare up in his “sow” becomes unbearable by the end. But it all boils down to the lack of light at then end of this dark, dark tunnel. While it would be criminal to leave it out of the top horror films of all time, I really think the film has been made out to be something its not. It’s the superstition that I think frightens people away more than the actual film does. But as a film, it ranks as one of the most powerful of all time. Loaded with enough jaw dropping performances to fuel a dozen horror films, The Exorcist has left its mark on the horror genre. It set the bar high for demonic horror and all these imitators can do is swipe at its knees.

13.) Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Savage in execution, Night of the Living Dead pins you up against the wall with it’s cinema-vérité-esque, is-this-really-happening approach, and then proceeds to take a big bloody bite right out of you. It’s grainy black and white cinematography, claustrophobic atmosphere, and, at the time, it’s never before seen gore catapults George Romero’s first installment in his zombie series to the front lines of the horror genre. Utilizing it’s Who is worse: the zombies or the survivors? to brutal effect also brings another distressing quality to an already incredibly austere film experience. Dismissed upon first release, it stands as one of the heavyweights of the atomic age paranoia, the idea of turning normal people into bloodthirsty cannibals rather than giant mutated ants, blobs, or wasp women had to have audiences fleeing in terror. The best part is that it still sends people fleeing in horror and the weak stomachs grabbing for the barf bags.

12.) The Birds (1963)

Auteur Alfred Hitchcock’s apocalyptic nightmare The Birds is a concept that if you were to be told about it today, you would probably assume would be the hokiest film concept you’ve ever heard. In Hitchcock’s hands, you will never look at a bird the same way ever again. And those special effects will make your jaw hit the floor. Patient and calculating in nature, The Birds slowly builds upon one disastrous attack after another. Just check out the mounting tension when Tippi Hedren sits outside a school house and a lone raven lands on a swing set just a few yards away. Then one raven turns into twenty, then forty, then hundreds. I dare you not to start clutching the armrest of your seat just a little harder during that scene. And when these attacks finally erupt, they will make cower behind your couch. While its slow pace might drive some viewer away from it, when the shit hits the fan, you start to feel the dread of the characters. When will the birds attack again? How are they going to keep them out of the house? This is one that will cause you to yell at the screen more than once. Hitchcock weaves it all with devilish glee and elevates a simple B-movie concept to another level.

11.) 28 Days Later (2002)

            Sure, Danny Boyle may have made the feel good film of 2008 (Slumdog Millionaire), but his 2003 apocalyptic vision 28 Days Later will scare the living shit right out of you. I’m becoming convinced that Boyle can perfect any film genre he wants! While widely known now, it still has to be the most artful vision of the end of the world ever dreamed up. It elegantly pays respect to the apocalyptic horror genre and through it all, Boyle brings a new brainchild to the table: running zombies. I should warn you, these zombies are absolutely terrifying. Flailing and snarling like demons and spewing bloody vomit, they are called infected and they have redefined the term zombie. While it mostly is an intimate portrait of survivors wandering a post apocalyptic Britain, the film manages to lure you in with it’s chilling shots of abandoned London. Boyle also makes stunning use of the atmosphere and he makes us feel the distressing isolation. The film becomes about finding love in the face of annihilation but the path it chooses to take is one that will shake you to your bones. I promise, if you have not seen 28 Days Later yet, it’s unlike any horror experience you have had. You will be left speechless by its beauty and rattled by its relentless intensity.

Creep on back tomorrow for the final entry in this Feature and see the final top ten. In the meantime, click on the Halloween pin-up girl above to be taken to our tiebreaker poll. The voting closes at midnight tonight. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

The 25 Horror Films That Have Scared Steve…Pt. 1

by Steve Habrat

Over the course of the next few days, I will be listing off the 25 films that have scared the hell out of me. This is not a definitive list of the scariest films ever made but rather recommendations of films that I think will spook you. Feel free to comment on this and let me know which films scare you. Let the terror begin!

25.) The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

            In the opening moments of this silent film chiller, a man explores the underground tunnels of a Paris opera house. He is alone in the dark and armed with nothing but a lantern. The camera remains stationary in front of him so we only get to see his reactions. Keep in mind there is absolutely no sound. All of a sudden, he sees someone or something. Not anything or anyone he recognizes. We the audience are not permitted to catch a glimpse. Judging by his reaction, I do not think we want to. This is the magic of the crown jewel of the Universal Movie Monsters heap. We are not assisted by the luxury of sound effects. Our brain fills in the horrors for us and sometimes that can be the most effective way to send an icy chill down your spine. While many of you probably are familiar with Lon Chaney’s legendary hellish phantom and you do not even realize it, he plays the phantom like he may never have had the chance to star in anything ever again. And it also features a breathtaking sequence in color (gasp!). This is a truly unforgettable epic that mesmerizes and horrifies.

24.) The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Many have expressed their disapproval at this remake of the 1977 Wes Craven classic of the same title. But in a rare case, French director Alexandre Aja actually improves upon it. And it refuses to play nice. Vile, upsetting, disgusting and downright repulsive, it hits the ground running and barrels at you without slowing down. The opening sequence and credits are enough to give you nightmares for a week and all it consists of is a few scientists in HAZMAT suits testing radiation who meet a grisly end. This is followed closely by lots of stock footage of atomic bomb tests. Following a family who ends up getting trapped in the hills of New Mexico and who begin getting terrorized by colony of mutant miners who were subjected to radiation from bombs set of by the US government may not sound all the brutal, but trust me, do not enter lightly. It’s an unapologetic and unflinching little movie. About half way through the film explodes like a ticking time bomb and it’s incredible to me that this avoided an NC-17 rating. Oh, and I should tell you that the family has a newborn baby with them. And the mutants kidnap the child and plan on eating it. Start covering your eyes and chewing off your fingernails now. Not for the faint of heart.

23.) Inland Empire (2006)

            What’s it about? I couldn’t tell you. What’s the underlying message? Beats me. What’s the point? The point is that it scares the living hell out of you and it’s impossible to know why. David Lynch’s three-hour grainy epic that appears to be about a remake of a film that was cursed blurs the lines of what is real and what is a nightmare. Half way through you will give up trying to follow it but you will not be able to avoid it’s icy glare. The trailer alone will have goose bumps running up and down your arms. What elevates it is Lynch’s use of surreal imagery. There truthfully should not be anything particularly scary about it, but there is. Through his use of close ups, every single character takes on the look of a deformed specter that is staring right into your soul. And wait for one particular image of a deformed face that, in my opinion, is one of the most disturbing images I have ever seen on film. I understand that the film may frustrate you on what is actually happening and what isn’t, but I can assure you that that is exactly what Lynch is going for. To drive you mad.

22.) The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

            Have you ever had someone tell you about his or her encounter with something paranormal? I would guess that while they are telling the story, your imagination was busy bringing their story to life. The story was creepy because you were not there but you believe this person is telling you the truth. Plus, your imagination has filled in what took place. Long after they have told you the story, it still plays in your brain like it was your own experience. That is kind of what The Mothman Prophecies is like. And it’s based on true events that happened in the late 60s. Through the strong performances by Richard Gere, Debra Messing, and Laura Linney, they make you feel every ounce of their confusion, frustration, horror, and weariness that is brought on from the events take place throughout the film. Centering on the sightings of an otherworldly winged creature with “two red eyes” in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, the film has an unshakeable sense of doom woven throughout. We are constantly left with some strange account that leaves us gripping our seats or a notion that something truly horrifying is lurking just around the corner. Pay close attention to the details in this one. It’s what doesn’t jump right out at you that is actually the creepiest. The Mothman is everywhere even if we never really get a good glimpse. But it’s like your reaction to your friend’s paranormal experience, you do not know, but you can imagine.

21.) Repulsion (1965)

Going mad has never been this unsettling. Roman Polanski’s portrait of a young woman (played by the gorgeous Catherine Denuve) who is seemingly losing her mind after her mother goes away for a weekend is all the more surreal because we cannot pin point the reason why. She is so normal! Turning an apartment into a claustrophobic living nightmare, the film makes exceptional use of space. Polanski makes the audience actually feel the walls closing in. And when someone knocks on her door, talk about tense! What truly makes Repulsion work is that it is a patient horror film. One that is all the more unsettling because this could be happening a few doors down in your apartment complex or just a few houses down. And to such a lovely woman at that! It’s a shame that Polanski’s other horror film, Rosemary’s Baby, overshadows that gem. Through it’s gritty scope and enclosed spaces, after seeing it you may want to evaluate your own sanity, go stand in an open field for a couple of hours, and you’ll never want to eat vegetables again.

Drop by tomorrow for more of the films that have scared the shit out of me. You know you’re intrigued and the terror has hypnotized you. And feel free to let us know what horror films scare you. Also, if you have not voted in our tiebreaker poll yet, Click Here to do so.

Prevues of Ghoulish Coming Attractions…

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

28 Days Later (2002)

Do YOU want to see The Mothman Prophecies reviewed on Halloween? Or how about 28 Days Later? Click on the poll link under Category Cloud and cast your vote for zombies or the true story chiller. This is YOUR chance to control what gets posted on the site! VOTING CLOSES TOMORROW NIGHT! How do you want Anti-Film School to scare you the day all the scary creatures come out to play?

NOTE: Anti-Film School does not claim ownership of the attached trailers.

Halloween Day Classic Horror Movie Review… GO!