With hundreds of films screened every year, the American Film Market is the best place to check out all the up-and-comers, and AFM 2010 had a record number of horror movies from across the globe. As always, Dread Central camped out for a week-long marathon of indie and foreign fright flicks, and we’ve got a big batch of mini-reviews to help you know what to look for and what to avoid in the coming months.
IRON DOORS 3D
A douchebag in a business suit wakes up in a mysterious vault with no memory of how he got there. At first he thinks it’s a prank but after several days comes to the horrible realization that no one is coming to help. With no food or water and only a few random implements at his disposal, he must find a way out before he starves to death.
Irons Doors is Saw meets Cube only without the live-or-die machinations. It’s a fairly effective and stylish slice of low-budget claustrophobia that works well with an ambiguous Twilight Zone-ish “what would you do?” scenario. Despite a weak and completely random ending, it flies by at a briskly paced 80 minutes.
The post-conversion 3D is solid but doesn’t really add much, especially considering the film will probably be limited to festivals and home video.
3 out of 5
BURKE AND HARE
John Landis’ highly anticipated black comedy about two 19th Century grave robbers (Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis) who find that stealing cadavers and selling them to medical science is their quick ticket out of the slums. But when the corpse supply runs low, these two bumbling entrepreneurs have to find a way to speed up the town’s mortality rate.
There are several moments in Burke and Hare that are damn funny, but considering the talent involved, the results could’ve been a helluva lot better. Most of the humor is obvious, and even with this great ensemble the characters don’t make much of an impression beyond giving us a few chuckles. For period-based grave robbing humor, you’re much better off with I Sell the Dead.
2 1/2 out of 5
DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT
Based on the Italian comic series, Dylan Dog (Brandon Routh) is a private investigator in New Orleans, where he regularly contends with all the creatures of the night. Vampires, werewolves and zombies are just a few of the things running around the underworld, and one of them murders his partner (who promptly rises from the dead as Dylan’s undead sidekick). Together, the pair must stop one of those pesky end-of-the-world prophecies.
Maybe Dylan Dog: Dead of Night would’ve passed as a better-than-average Syfy Channel Original Movie, but as a theatrical film it’s pretty bland stuff. The watered down PG-13 approach makes for limp action sequences, and the direction lacks any sense of excitement or atmosphere. For a film that promises to be a monster mash, there’s not a whole lot of creativity beyond the occasional funny gag. Routh is pretty good as the title character, but the rest is DOA.
2 out of 5
I SAW THE DEVIL
The director of A Tale of Two Sisters brings us an epic cross between a serial killer movie and a revenge flick! Oldboy star Choi Min-sik plays a brutal psychopath who roams the countryside dicing up young women. But when his wife falls victim, a secret service agent (Lee Byung-hun from J.S.A.: Joint Security Area) sets out to find the killer and make him pay at any cost, starting a savage cat-and-mouse game. But not in the way you would expect.
I Saw the Devil is a perfect example of the kind of unapologetic, take-no-prisoners filmmaking that South Korea has become famous for. This is a super kinetic thrill ride that combines hardcore brutality, intense “holy fuck!” setpieces and a whole lot of moral ambiguity, making it the finest serial killer flick since David Fincher’s Se7en. While it strains logic in a few spots, the flick is so amazingly shot, acted and paced that it’s impossible not get swept up in the mayhem. Just like Oldboy, this is a shocker that people will be talking about for a long time. See it before it gets remade!
4 1/2 out of 5
THE INCITE MILL
Hideo (Ring) Nakata returns for this Japanese riff on Ten Little Indians. A group of volunteers agree to be part of a psychological experiment and are shuttled to a quasi-futuristic place called “Paranoia House.” Locked inside for seven days (heh) and watched by an armed robot (!), the group quickly find themselves in a “Clue”-style murder mystery when one of them winds up dead.
Ever since his 2002 J-horror masterpiece Dark Water, Nakata’s output hasn’t exactly been stellar, and while The Incite Mill isn’t a complete return to form, it’s still an entertaining little death game flick. There are plenty of unexpected moments and the cool setting is enough to keep you on edge.
Nakata’s direction is almost too subdued for the slasher elements, but the story moves along at a nice clip and could almost pass for a flick right outta the 1980’s.
3 1/2 out of 5
In 1940 the entire population of a small New Hampshire town mysteriously walked up a mountain trail and disappeared. Only one survivor stumbled out of the woods, recounting stories of chaos and death before going batshit insane. In the present day a team of history buffs, filmmakers and psychologists find the coordinates of the trail and proceed on a long expedition to find out what happened to the lost civilization. Naturally things don’t work out too well for them.
If this sounds like typical Blair Witch-ian horror fare, believe me; it isn’t. YellowBrickRoad is a deeply unsettling, well crafted experience that makes for one of the best independent horror films in the last several years! Strong performances and killer minimalist direction from Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland make for an experience that slowly invades your psyche along with the deteriorating mental state of the characters. This is one of those rare indie gems that makes the most of its meager budget and showcases some major upcoming talent. Keep your eyes out for this one!
4 1/2 out of 5
THE TROLL HUNTER
This latest found footage movie comes from Norway and follows three documentary students who set out to investigate bear poaching, inadvertently stumbling upon a very different kind of hunter. Following him into the mountains on multiple “troll hunts,” the filmmakers discover that these giant ravenous creatures are the Norwegian government’s greatest cover-up and seek to document as much of their activity as possible.
There’s a lot of humor and destruction on display in The Troll Hunter, but quite a bit of it seems very culturally specific. The trolls look absolutely incredible, and when they wreak havoc (particularly in the last 10 minutes), this film is amazing. But way too much of the movie is spent on the road, which makes for a good scenic view of Norway but not the crazy romp the filmmakers are going for. By now the found footage angle feels really played out, and this film could’ve really benefited from a more traditional narrative approach.
2 1/2 out of 5
The latest Spanish horror flick from Filmax is a good old-fashioned home invasion flick. The victims are a wealthy family of three who are held hostage when several masked men break into their house for a late night robbery. At first they only appear interested in money, but paranoia and unexpected guests cause the inevitable downward spiral and a major fight for survival.
For a worn-out subgenre, Kidnapped still manages to deliver a heart-stopping experience. Using one-take long shots and the occasional split-screen, director Miguel Ángel Vivas’ style is clearly influenced by Irreversible, and he uses many of the same techniques to ratchet up the tension.
Even though it doesn’t break any new ground, the hyper-realistic execution has enough suspense and unexpected twists to rattle you to the core.
4 out of 5
Also known as The Possession of Emma Evans, the latest Exorcist homage follows a teenage girl who starts exhibiting bizarre behavior after a night of “harmless” occult games with her friends. When she starts harming her family, the parents seek out the girl’s uncle – a disgraced priest previously reprimanded for a botched exorcism – to help them drive the devil from her.
This English-language effort from Filmax is handsomely produced but doesn’t add anything all that new or interesting to the same old exorcism formula. The performances are rock solid and there are a few neat twists, but Exorcismus is too brightly shot and standard to build any real sense of dread.
Strictly for hardcore religious horror fans.
2 1/2 out of 5
Louise (Emily Hampshire) is a reclusive girl who identifies more with cats than people. Spencer (Scott Speedman) is a wheelchair-bound widower. Victor (Jay Baruchel) is a friendly but socially awkward neurotic. These three people live in an apartment building in a small Montreal neighborhood where a serial killer/rapist is on the loose. As they grow increasingly paranoid, the three strike up very unusual friendships that will take them down some very dark and bizarre paths.
Pitch-black, dry-as-hell comedy is the order of the day in this little Canadian flick, which starts as an aimless oddball comedy and slowly draws you in based on the likability of the three lead characters. Good Neighbours would probably make a better stage play than a movie, but it’s still entertaining and quirky enough to recommend. A must watch if you’re a cat lover.
3 1/2 out of 5
HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS’ THE UH-OH SHOW
The original godfather of gore returns with this film about a sadistic game show. Picture “Jeopardy!” where the losers (which would be every single contestant) are sliced ‘n diced in front of a live audience.
Uncle Herschell is still the same goofy, lovable bastard that helped birth cult cinema back in the 1960’s. Unapologetically cheap and schlocky, The Uh-oh Show could easily pass for a Troma film (Lloyd Kaufman even makes a cameo) so there should be no surprises as to what you’re watching. While his gory antics are no longer shocking in this day and age, Lewis is clearly having a ball, and the fact that he’s making this kind of stuff at age 80 is a testament to the man’s staying power.
3 out of 5
Pregnant Beth is traveling across the country with her hubby for Christmas vacation when she is mysteriously abducted from their hotel room in the middle of the night. She awakes in an isolated clinic to find her baby ripped from her womb along with several other abducted mothers. As they put the pieces together, the women learn that they are forced to play a twisted survival game in order to save their newborn babies.
The Clinic is a beautifully shot and well acted Aussie thriller with some genuinely clever ideas, but it never fully embraces its grisly premise. Writer/director James Rabbitts will probably swear up and down that this isn’t a horror film, which is why there seems to be so many awkward “tear-jerk” moments crammed into its slasher formula. Tonally uneven with several implausible end twists, it almost succeeds based on its original premise but falls just short of greatness.
2 1/2 out of 5
THE VILLAGE OF SHADOWS (LE VILLAGE DES OMBRES)
A group of young adults decide to visit a mysterious town with spooky origins. But they quickly discover the town is empty, and one by one each of them begins to mysteriously disappear. Haunted by a malevolent force, the remaining members of the group find themselves unable to leave and must break the curse before they become permanent “residents.”
You have to commend Village for going the exact opposite route of the extreme French horror wave. While slashers, cannibals and home invasions have dominated the country’s horror output, this film is all about atmosphere and mystery. Sadly, the supernatural tale amounts to little more than interchangeable characters stumbling around in the dark for ninety minutes. There are a few creepy bits and the wonderful cinematography echoes a Del Toro flick, but it all falls victim to bad editing and an uninspired script.
2 out of 5
Special thanks to all the companies and distributors who were cool enough to let us check out their films (except for Sierra Pictures, who reeeeeaally didn’t want us to see Mother’s Day for some reason).
Until next year!
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