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D.C. Sniper (2010)

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D.C. SniperReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Ken Foree, Ulli Lommel, Chris Kriesa, Tory N. Thompson

Directed by Ulli Lommel


What a difference having Ken Foree as the lead actor, co-writer, and co-producer makes for a Ulli Lommel production. Instead of garnering a zero knife or an outright FUCK THIS MOVIE! rating like every single Lommel serial killer bio-movie I have ever endured, D.C. Sniper upgrades to receiving a one-knife rating instead. One whole knife! I almost feel like congratulating Mr. Lommel.

The addition of a talented actor like Ken Foree spouting the usual Lommel psychobabble, some of which Foree presumably wrote or adlibbed himself, elevates this Lommel outing from unwatchable intolerable crap to merely plain old crap. More structured yet still without a coherent narrative, more rambling than incoherent, often more like a feature-length “America’s Most Wanted” reenactment segment than the usual artsy fartsy surrealness, D.C. Sniper truly is a step up, as hard as that may be to comprehend for those of you that have ever had the displeasure of subjecting yourself to one of Ulli Lommel’s mental anguish-burned-to-DVD.

I assume that getting Ken Foree aboard cost Lommel a chunk of change, and given the no-budget nature of Lommel’s movies, Foree might have literally been paid with a pocketful of change, not just because half the movie takes place in a parked car or with actors in front a black backdrop talking directly into the camera and the rest consists of two officers of the law loitering about Washington, D.C. landmarks with binoculars looking more suspicious than the killers they’re on the lookout for, but also because Lommel cast himself as one of the two past middle-age law enforcement officers pursuing the D.C. Sniper.

One of them is a D.C. detective that does a massive amount of voiceover narration and the other is a non-verbal federal agent referred to as “the cowboy” because he wears a cowboy hat. Since I don’t know what Lommel looks or sounds like and I have no recollection of the names of either of these two cops ever being revealed outside of the closing credits, I remain unclear which one was Lommel. I believe he was the cowboy, which would explain why he’s the Silent Bob of this crime-busting duo. It is well within the realm of possibility I missed the saying of their names or when the cowboy spoke amid the endless word salad that is what passes for a movie here.

In typical Lommel fashion, D.C. Sniper boasts a heavy emphasis on repetition and introspective monologues, especially the latter, so voluminous it all starts to run together as the mind grows numb. Half the time Ken Foree’s dialogue as John Allan Muhammad has him in the car with his 17-year-old cohort (Lee Boyd Malvo, the actual shooter, treated as almost a non-factor, rarely saying a word) muttering stuff to him along the lines of:

“Calm down.”

“That’s the one.”

“Relax.”

“Take the shot.”

“You know what kind of preservatives they put in those mashed potatoes?”

Again, as is usually the case with Lommel serial killer flicks, once you’ve seen the killer commit a murder, it’s just the same sequence repeated over and over again with little variation. Foree sits in the front seat, scopes out a potential victim, and offers soft-spoken encouragement to young Malvo crouched in the back with the sniper rifle protruding from a hole in the trunk. A few instances when Muhammad lectures Malvo on proper nutrition are about the only deviation from the formula.

The film follows a similar tiresome pattern. The snipers scope out their next target and murder them, Foree and other actors playing random citizens that either encountered John Allen Muhammad or had their lives impacted by the slayings in some fashion give black & white testimonials to the camera, lengthy montages with or without voiceover narration of the two law enforcement officials standing around with binoculars, walking around Washington, D.C. landmarks, or driving around the streets in search of the sniper – rinse and repeat, not necessarily in that order, until the ridiculous last shot of the movie that is indeed the last shot in more ways than one.

Much of this inaction is set to a comically over-the-top score, like that from a 1970’s conspiracy thriller cranked to the next power, ludicrous conveying the extreme urgency of what is happening on the screen even when there is absolutely no action, no tension, nothing whatsoever occurring on camera aside from guys with binoculars waltzing about random shots of District of Columbia locales. If this movie were as riveting as the bombastic score wants you to believe it is, D.C. Sniper would be one of the most suspenseful thrillers in the history of cinema.

Because the true story of shooting spree that set off widespread panic in the nation’s capitol over the course of three weeks back in 1992 wasn’t enough for Lommel to fill 76 minutes with, a subplot is introduced about the narrating officer’s runaway daughter being under the influence of a shady boyfriend that has gotten her mixed up in the world of online porn. Lommel tries to draw a parallel comparing how this man’s young daughter could be coerced into such extreme behavior to that of teenage Malvo being manipulated into committing murder by Muhammad, except the movie never delves one iota into what would make a kid like Malvo fall under the psychopathic influence of a loon like Muhammad. The inclusion of this appears to be merely an excuse to shoehorn in some gratuitous nudity when the cop staring at a laptop creepily watches a video of his daughter stripping.

John Alan Muhammad’s rants to the camera, nicely acted by Foree as they may be, remain nonetheless rambling diatribes espousing inane anti-government/corporate conspiracy theories mixed with cries for a need for violent revolution to facilitate real societal change in the country with infrequent outbursts about racial injustice tossed in for good measure. None of it provides any real insight to the method of his madness other than to confirm Muhammad was in fact mad in both senses of the word, as if that wasn’t obvious by his actions alone.

More “Dragnet” quality monotone voiceover introspection is provided by the gray-haired fed on the beat that may or may not be Ulli Lommel, and here is where the movie just gets plain weird. Complaints of preferential treatment for the protection of Washington’s money elite over the common citizen, oddball history lessons about acts of aggression in the early days of our nation straining to compare it to the sniper’s own brand of violent civil disobedience, and other assorted kooky paranoia about the fragile state of our democracy is what he prefers to talk about more so than the facts of the case.

Struggling to pay attention to either this cop or Muhammad, it became hard for me to tell at times if Lommel was attempting to provide insight into what makes a lunatic like the D.C. Sniper tick and how the killings shook the nation to its very core for 23 days or if Lommel was actually advocating on behalf of Muhammad’s deranged call for violent revolution. I kept waiting for Glenn Beck to appear with his mighty chalkboard to piece all of this nonsense together into one grand tear-filled conspiracy.

1 out of 5

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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.33 (6 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.9 (10 votes)
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The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!

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Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey

Directed by Alan Lougher


The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.

When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”

  • Film
3.5

Summary

Ultimately chilling in nature!

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User Rating 3.31 (16 votes)
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