Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Idris Elba, Ali Larter, Beyonce Knowles, Jerry O’Connell, Christine Lahti, Bruce McGill, Scout Taylor-Compton
Directed by Steve Shill
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
This movie should have been called Single White She-Devil.
Obsessed is the ultimate revenge fantasy thriller for every African-American woman sick of seeing white women taking their finest Nubian men. A crazy white woman is trying to seduce and ruin the marriage of a successful, happily married black family man, and only his sassy, no-nonsense ebony goddess of a wife can put a stop to this home-wrecking honkette. I originally saw Obsessed when it opened in theaters, and when it was over there was a smattering of applause, and you better believe everyone clapping looked like Oprah. Can’t say this movie doesn’t know whom it’s catering to.
Or how about calling it Tyler Perry’s Fatal Attraction since there’s so much talk about the importance of a stable black family and every white person is in some way a detriment to the black man.
Speaking of which, never hire Scout Taylor-Compton as your babysitter; not only is she terrible at her job, the girl is a psycho magnet.
Obsessed makes for a very bad urban thriller, the script playing like it started out as a made-for-DVD sequel to that Lara Flynn Boyle psycho secretary movie The Temp that got rewritten to include less murderousness (one dead body in the whole film and you better believe it belongs to a skinny white blonde) and more questionable racial dynamics. Honestly, reverse the races and ask yourself if this movie would ever get made today.
But as an unintentional comedy it can be quite amusing if you’re in the mood for such. Just hearing Idris Elba yell “Breathe, bitch!” while performing CPR on Ali Larter after she intentionally overdoses in his bed makes it worth watching. Only the bloated 108-minute running time and the PG-13 rating truly prevent it from fully achieving its destiny as trash cinema gold. Too much Lifetime Network melodrama, catfighting women with barely any profanities hurled, a lack of dead bodies (Jerry O’Connell does not get killed – boo!), a chandelier impaling that lacks an impaling, and no nudity even during scenes that practically beg for it. Ali Larter drugs and appears to rape Idris Elba, but she doesn’t get naked and the next morning he wakes up fully clothed as well, so what exactly did she do to him? It’s next to impossible to recommend this movie, but I can’t be a total hater because portions of it entertained me for all the wrong reasons.
Derek Charles (“The Wire”‘s Idris Elba, the only one escaping this nonsense with any dignity still intact) is an executive vice president at a Fortune 500 company in Los Angeles with the most successful modern black family life since the Huxtables. He, his wife Sharon, and his baby have just moved into a fancy new two-story home, as seen during the opening credits when they’re shown strolling through their new house celebrating their life together.
In one of the most obvious moments of foreshadowing I have ever seen, they walk into the attic and discover a soft spot one could fall through and then back out of the room. Believe me, you don’t want to fall through that spot because if you do it’s a surprisingly long straight shot to the very large glass table they’ve conveniently placed right underneath that area, and the only thing that might save you is grabbing hold of the giant chandelier assuming it’s strong enough to support the weight of a shapely blonde clad only in a throwback jersey. The inexplicably vast spatial dimensions of the interior of this two-story house leads me to conclude Dr. Who was their architect.
Now we know Derek is a happily married man because he’s constantly telling us he’s happily married. Co-worker Jerry O’Connell has tickets to the Lakers game and tells Derek to lie to his wife about having to work late so they can go: “No. My wife would kill me. I love my wife. Don’t want to ruin my marriage.” Later O’Connell suggests they go get some lap dances: “I’m married now. I love my wife. I’d never do anything to hurt her.” He tries to avoid drinking alcohol, is constantly slipping off to call his wife, still sends her roses every Monday, and constantly reminds us that he’s happily married, loves his wife and child, and would never do anything to hurt them. You could ask this guy what time it is or if he has change for a dollar, and he’d probably reject your request with a line about how much he loves his wife and baby and would never do anything to hurt them. You can make a drinking game out of it.
All is well in the pussywhipped life of Derek Charles until the day the white she-devil arrives, Lisa Sheridan (“Heroes”‘ Ali Larter, vamping it up like a Susan Lucci wannabe), an office temp who puts the temp in temptress and is highly efficient at her job – extreme efficiency is a surefire sign of evil in movies such as this. Derek’s the first person that she meets, and Lisa immediately sets her sights on him. O’Connell even tells him early on about how a lot of gals like her “view the office as hunting grounds for single successful men and I think she just put you in the crosshairs”, cocking his finger at Derek like a gun, which the director shoots in the most ominous manner possible with threatening music and everything.
Derek may flirt with her a little, but he has no intention of getting involved with Lisa because, after all, he loves his wife and baby and would never do anything to hurt them. Then Lisa attempts to jump his bones in the men’s room stall at the office’s “No Spouses Allowed” Christmas party, followed by a half-naked seduction in his car. Lisa quits her temp gig to devote herself full-time to stalking Derek. There is no explanation behind her sudden psychosis other than the age old adage “once you go black you never go back to being sane”.
Yet, crazy horny Lisa still seems a better option than the banshee of a wife he claims to love so much. Lisa may be insane, but at least she’s not the raging bitch wife Sharon is. Kind of hard to feel completely sorry for Derek because he keeps making the wrong move every step of the way, but it’s impossible not to feel for the guy because this wife that he loves so much and would never do anything to hurt won’t even give him a chance to explain his side of the story when she finally finds out what’s been going on, instantly believing he’s been having an affair and kicking him out of the house. “Get out of my house!” she yells at him even though she’s a stay-at-home mom and he pays all the bills. The poor bastard barely gets a word in edge-wise and is forced to come crawling back begging for forgiveness even though he never did anything to hurt his wife and baby whom he loves so much. Worst for him, he damn near gets kicked out of the movie.
Obsessed is the Beyonce Knowles show from here on out. Imagine Fatal Attraction if two thirds of the way in Michael Douglas got tossed to the sidelines so that Anne Archer could completely dominate the movie. Sharon doesn’t need her husband or the cops to help her when it comes time for her to take off her earrings and behave like a pissed-off Jerry Springer guest charging after the woman that’s been trying to steal her man. The final shot of the film is a freeze of Sharon and Derek embracing but framed like a bad photograph; Elba’s head is cut off from the chin up just to ensure Beyonce’s face fills the screen and reminds everyone who the true star of this film was.
Beyonce Knowles really wants to be a major movie star, an Oscar winner even more so. Remember Dreamgirls? That was supposed to be her Oscar, not Jennifer Hudson’s. Obsessed will not win her any Oscars, but her Sasha Fierce-ly bad performance might win her a Razzie. Just try not laughing at her when she undergoes her metamorphosis during the finale into a street-talkin’ hood rat living out the ultimate black woman’s fantasy of beating the crap out of a skinny blonde white chick: dragging Ali Larter by her hair while yelling “I’m gonna drag your skinny white ass all over my floor!” or punching the white she-devil in her face and declaring “This is for my husband!” before punching her again and screeching “This is for touching my child!”
But then what would you expect from an urban thriller whose original working title was Oh No She Didn’t.
The DVD and the Blu-ray share the same scant featurettes — three of them in total clocking in around ten minutes each. They are all pretty vapid, kind of like the movie only in controlled bursts. I don’t think I need to mention that the picture and sound quality on the BD is superior to that of the DVD. You should all expect that by now. I doubt you’ll be watching anyway.
2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5
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Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Yafit Shalev as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!
Starring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman
Directed by B.D. Benedikt
Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision
Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.
Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.
Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.
The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.
Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.
The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.
The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.
There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com.
“Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.
“The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com)
- Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe
- The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.
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