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Night Train (2009)

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Night TrainReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Danny Glover, Leelee Sobieski, Steve Zahn, Togo Igawa, Richard O’Brien

Written and Directed by Brian King


I still can’t decide if Night Train reminded me more of an episode of the new “Twilight Zone” from the 2000’s, the new “Outer Limits” from the 90’s, or the new “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” from the 80’s. Definitely one of the above; I’m just not sure which. I’m leaning towards “The Outer Limits” from the 90’s just because like darn near every episode of that series, it all boils down to a not-so-happy conclusion with a somewhat ambiguous open ending. Night Train probably would have worked out better had it been streamlined to fit into a sixty-minute episodic program.

It’s Christmas Eve and a mysterious passenger carrying a small box boards a train car with fast-talking salesman Steve Zahn and med student Leelee Sobieski (dressed more like a 1960’s French art student if you ask me), the two reunited for the first time since Joy Ride. Very shortly thereafter that man quietly passes away from what appears to be natural causes. Zahn peeks inside the box, sees the man has been carrying a fortune in diamonds, and let’s it be known when conductor Danny Glover comes to collect a ticket from the now dead man that they should keep the diamonds for themselves. Once Sobieski gets a look inside, she too decides they ought to dump the man’s body from the train and make off with the box before anyone ever realizes he or it are missing. Glover wants no part of any of this at first, but with a sick wife and mounting bills, he too falls prey to the lure of the box’s contents.

Ever see Shallow Grave? If so, now imagine it on a speeding night train and toss in a touch of the supernatural.

Night TrainThe three scheme to ditch the body and split the fortune before the next stop, turning on one another in the process. Especially Sobieski, who very quickly goes from mousy med student to dangerous femme fatale willing to lie, seduce, and even kill in order to claim the box for herself and only herself. Sobieski acquits herself much better as a deranged killer here than she did in the dreadful 88 Minutes last year where she was quite unconvincing in the role of a scheming sociopath. Glover also shines as the conflicted moral center of the story, a righteous but desperate man trying not to give into temptation. That leaves Steve Zahn as the weak link with the least amount of character to his character. Rather a shame given Zahn can usually be counted on to bring a tremendous amount of charisma to his roles.

Initially I found the speed at which Zahn and Sobieski were eager to commit heinous acts in order to claim the box’s fortune a bit hard to believe. Zahn says to ditch the body within seconds after looking inside without a moment’s hesitation as to what he’s suggesting, and Sobieski practically displays her psychotic side in no time flat. It all begins to feel a bit more plausible when we come to learn that the box has a potentially fatal supernatural element to it that plays on people’s desires and brings out the worst in them. Since we’ll never get a fully satisfying explanation as to what the box is, think of it as sort of Pandora’s MacGuffin.

A porter, a pair of backgammon-playing Japanese businessmen, and Richard O’Brien of all people doing Dame Edna duty round out the other passengers on this sparsely ridden train that the trio have to interact with and work around to carry out their plans, some of whom have their own agendas. None of these supporting players or their motivations are suitably developed and ring hollow. O’Brien’s drag routine is downright strange, and eventually it becomes apparent that being surreal is the only reason the character is there in the first place.

Though the low budget is evident throughout, writer-director King crafts a stylishly gloomy look for both the inside and outside of the train. If not for the Christmas lights strung up and the eventual appearance of a cellular phone, the train’s interiors have such an old timey look, the era in which the film is set could easily have been revealed to be early 20th Century. Computer rendered exterior shots of the train and the nighttime landscape complete with digitized snowfall brought to mind a horror movie version of The Polar Express. Not that The Polar Express wasn’t creepy enough to begin with what with all those unsettling motion capture children’s faces ready made to haunt your dreams.

So, yeah, there you go. Night Train, a slight thriller that has difficulty sustaining itself at times, ends on something of a flat note and is nowhere near as creepy as The Polar Express.

“>“>“>

2 1/2 out of 5

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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review

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Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo

Directed by Colin Bemis


Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.

The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.

As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.

Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.

In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.

On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.

In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.

Until then, check out the film’s trailer HERE, and follow the movie on Facebook.

  • Strawberry Flavored Plastic
3.5

Summary

Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.

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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)

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We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.

In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!

If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View

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Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly

Directed by Marcel Sarmiento


Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as

17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?

What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.

  • Film
2.0

Summary

Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?

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