Reviewed by Nomad
Starring Max Thieriot, Emily Meade, Raul Esparza, Denzel Whitaker, John Magaro
Directed by Wes Craven
There are telltale items put into a commercial that make die-hard horror fans shy away from a newly released movie. One of these is teens. It generally means there will be indiscriminate boob flashing and boys taking off their shirts (AKA male boob flashing) and dumb moments designed specifically to get victims under the blade. The next offending item is 3D, often used to drive up a ticket price and nothing more. With those two weapons of mass distraction up their sleeve, Rogue set out to make a trailer with a chain of typical teen horror movie images tailor made to make us groan, all at once, as a collective spirit of horror vengeance. “WHYYYY??!” Then I went to see the damn thing and was so happy with what was dancing before me, I had a perma-grin the whole time. WHAT A TWIST!!
My Soul to Take centers around a town that looks just like yours and mine, filled with seemingly normal people. Little did anyone realize they had a serial killer living among them. When the fiend reveals himself, he is quickly apprehended and, in a last blast of spectacular violence, takes out a handful of people as he goes down himself. Flash-forward 16 years, and seven children born on the very day of said psycho’s death do their best to live normal lives in a high school ruled with an iron, well-manicured fist by an ultra-bitch called FANG (Meade), but this year the man who was dubbed the Riverton Reaper has returned and is cutting a swath through the kids … one by one.
I haven’t had this much fun with a cast for quite some time. Thieriot plays Bug with a pitch perfect mixture of fifty percent insane glee and fifty percent sheepish, closeted, awkward teen. To offset Bug’s personality, we have his best friend, Alex (Magaro), who is sort of like an updated version of a circa The Breakfast Club Judd Nelson. Together the two chew up the screen and make the time fly by. Then there’s Fang, who not only has an awesome name for a girl who terrorizes a high school with her small army of jock and cheerleader followers, but plays the character to the furthest extents of teen evil. She is all bark and all bite. The type of girl who’ll punch you in the throat when you aren’t looking. Honorable mention goes to Zena Grey’s holy roller character Penelope, who spits out the most amazingly funny and yet believable religious streams of thought so unexpectedly that she’ll leave you rolling. I also have to give a nod to Nick Lashaway, who plays the PERFECT dumb jock enforcer whose every glance sent me into hysterics.
Visually, My Soul to Take is beautiful. Working with the stereotypical trappings of a teen movie can be difficult. There’s the high school, the forest that seems to be all around the town, and the house of the main character. Shots of school hallways play up themes of loneliness among hundreds of people with long expanses of lockers interrupted by hidden openings to classrooms, from which a body could suddenly pop out. The forest is turned into a murky pit of no return by night and an endless maze where one could easily lose his way by day. You get the feeling that a corpse could be slumped around any tree, and those walking the same trail they do every day would be oblivious to it. Bug’s home has a way of mirroring the certain, uneasy nature of his relationship with his mother with plenty of dark spaces, even when well lit. They manage to hide a character there until later in the film without even doing so deliberately!
The one astounding thing about this flick is that, while you are obviously presented with a sort of mystery in who might be the killer or is it a supernatural entity, the film doesn’t force you to make up your mind. You are given a shred of evidence in the movie’s opening, along with a series of crazy fake-outs with our main baddie, suggesting he MIGHT be unstoppable. But that’s a big might.
For the duration of the film we have a spotlight on Bug who, more often than not, seems a little off his rocker. Obviously he is the killer, right? No self-respecting horror buff would go right for the obvious killer! You’ll be left guessing the whole movie, but it’s not like anyone will be hammering red herrings over your head to the point of distraction. The viewer is left in peace to enjoy the ride, and it is one hell of one. I wasn’t entirely happy with the film’s finale, but that opinion is more based on my dream they might take the finale to the extreme SHOCKER style! Alas, they do not, and I’ll shut my mouth before I give anything away.
I’d like to begin my closing rant by saying that this film has no right to be awesome. The plot is not anything groundbreaking and contains some recycled Craven themes here and there. The supernatural-ish bad guy isn’t very scary, the kills are of the minimalist variety, and shockingly enough there are no boobs. Where My Soul to Take succeeds is within its writing and its execution. The teens, who actually look like honest to God teens, speak as teens speak … without hurting your head of course. The witty back and forth banter carries you through the flick with the crackerjack timing of an 80’s coming-of-age classic that happens to have lots of cursing. This is the part where I’d normally say the wacky hijinks the teens get into then turn into a bloody mess, but most of that blood, while spilled in large pools, is spilled off camera. So often so that I thought the movie was PG-13, but nope – it’s a solid R! Must be from all the cursing because, as mentioned before, not a nipple is peeked or even suggested at! And still, this movie succeeds. Vintage Craven in top form. I’m actually still mulling over the magical quality that makes this so. One day I may just figure it out.
4 out of 5
Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror
Starring Brittany Anne Woodford, Jenny Curtis, Kanin Guntzelman, Brendan McGowan, Jake White
Directed by James S. Brown
We all like to think of ourselves as being surrounded by friends, but let’s face it, if we were to ever truly hit hard times, there are probably very few, if any, people we could truly rely on. So on some level, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film we can all relate too, as it deals with this very issue.
Stephanie is an emotionally unstable young woman who strangles her boyfriend to death after he insults and breaks up with her. She calls her friends to help her dispose the body out in the Joshua Tree National Part area, and instead of reporting her to the police, they reluctantly comply. As their car breaks down, the four friends find themselves alone at night in the Californian wilderness with the rotting corpse in need of disposal. Given their dire circumstances, they begin to become more and more aggressive towards each other, and this was where the film was really at its best. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how far the limits of their friendship could be stretched, and who would be the first to crack and turn on the others.
Anyway, their body disposal endeavor soon proves to be a mistake, as Stephanie’s ex rises from the grave as vengeful zombie demon thing with claws as long as knives. I’ll admit, I first I thought Friends Don’t Let Friends was going to be a movie purely about the limits of trust, so I was pretty surprised when the supernatural elements came into play. And when they did, the trust and friendship elements of the plot were somewhat downplayed in favor of a more traditional horror approach, and while it was still entertaining, I still would have preferred for the film not to have strayed from its initial path. At least the ending came as a shocker. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say the even the most attentive viewers probably won’t see it coming.
As you can probably guess from a psychologically-driven film of this kind, the performances were top notch, with Brittany Anne Woodford being on particularly top form as the manipulative and unstable Stephanie, a character who revels in the revels in the power she felt when ending another human life.
With its mixture of psychological turmoil and brutal supernatural horror, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film I would certainly recommend, but keep in mind that it may make you think twice when confiding in people who you think of as being your friends.
8 out of 10.
Coulrophobia Review – One of the Most Entertaining Killer Clown Films in Quite Some Time
Starring Pete Bennett, Warren Speed, Daniella D’Ville, Roxy Bordeaux
Directed by Warren Speed
The word ‘Coulrophobia’ refers to the fear of clowns, and if you happen to suffer from it, you might want to avoid director Warren Speed’s film of the same name. However, if you can stand the sight of clowns with gaping wounds in their manly parts, then you’re in for one heck of a fun time.
An all-female hockey team get lost deep in the Scottish woods on their way to a match (don’t ask), and are captured and forced to participate in a series of horrific games by the Grock family of clowns. All of the members of said family are absolutely fucking insane, but the one that really stood out was Twitch (Pete Bennett), who wears jester cloths and it said to have a short attention span. He longs to be a violin player and wishes he could blend in with normal society like the other members of his family. And you almost feel sorry for him, even though he’s a mad killer with bells on his head.
Director Warren Speed also appeared as Milo, a grunting mute who had his tongue cut out when he was a boy. As mentioned above, we see a close-up shot of a open wound in his penis being stitched up, which is not an image that will be leaving your mind anytime soon. Speed is clearly fearless when it comes to his art.
Inter-spliced with all the torture and mayhem, we also see documentary-style telling the sad history of the family involved, and this was where the film unfortunately faltered, because these scenes seemed out of place and just didn’t flow with the rest of the plot.
Ultimately, however, Coulrophobia almost seems like a film Rob Zombie might have made before he lost his way and started churning out trash like 31. Comparisons to House of 1000 Corpses are inevitable, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. This is one of the most entertaining killer clown films in quite some time.
The Gatehouse Review – What Is Found in the Woods Should Be Left in the Woods
Starring Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft
Directed by Martin Gooch
Now while no one will sneeze at the prospect of bringing up a bit of a rebellious child alone, it’s those damned kids that like to tempt fate by pissing off creatures in the woods…oh kids, they do the funniest things, don’t they?
In Martin Gooch’s moderately spooky presentation, The Gatehouse, a struggling writer named Jack (Willis) finds himself behind the 8-ball following the tragic drowning death of his beloved wife, and if that isn’t enough to torque your drawers, his young daughter, Eternity (Rayner) is becoming quite the salty soul herself. Unfortunately the little one has been finding herself bullied at school, and her recourse of sorts is to simply toss attitude around as if it was pleasantly acceptable. Her pastime has become lonely wanderings in the deep woods, digging for hopeful treasures…and we all know what problems reside in the woods, don’t we, horror fans? Well, Eternity’s father is attempting to re-start his writing career with a frightening backstory – taking the reigns on a novel that was abruptly ended when the author committed suicide, and supposedly the tome is quite the dark piece of literature.
Eternity’s never-ending quest for fortune and glory in the forest leads her to a most interesting (and ultimately) dangerous discovery (don’t sweat it – I won’t spill it for you). Bottom line here is this: the little girl has taken possession of something that should have been left in the friggin’ woods, and now someone (or something) wants it back PRONTO. What follows is a lackluster series of “spooky” events, and far be it from me to say, I’ve seen creepier stuff watching the evening news. Gooch then tries to bombard the audience with a plethora of instances and swerving plot direction – it’s fun at the beginning but can grow a bit tiresome over a duration.
Performance-wise, both Rayner and Willis play the perfect combination of mentally-shot dad and determined-to-be-independent daughter – their scenes are ripe with subtle contempt, and the right amount of indecision. Overall, the film is best suited for those fans of fantasy/fable-like horror, and while it might not scare the pants off of you, it definitely will give us all another reason to stay the hell out of the woods once and for all.
Children in a forest-setting don’t always add up to cutesy-pie encounters with furry creatures – this one’s got a few scares to keep fans of coppice-horror appeased.
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