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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterStarring Benjamin Walker, Anthony Mackie, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jimmi Simpson, Alan Tudyk, Robin McLeavy.

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov


The wild world of cult cinema has been in a slump over the last decade, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that. Sure, we’ve seen an onslaught of low-budget bizarro flicks – and even big-screen horror comedies – but most of them share the same problem: They’re too fucking self-aware. Nobody has the courage to make them with conviction anymore… they have to constantly wink at you while they’re doing it. Watching these movies is like being jabbed by an annoying frat boy who’s screaming, “HEY, YOU! YOU’RE HAVING FUN!!!! LOOK AT HOW MUCH FUN YOU’RE HAVING!!!!” This is the dividing line between genuine classics like Shaun of the Dead, where the world feels real and the gags come naturally from believable characters, and posers like Zombieland that hurl non-stop Twinkie jokes.

Based on the novel by mash-up author Seth Graham-Smith and directed by Night Watch‘s Timur Bekmambetov, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is one of the most whackadoo concepts ever taken on in the big budget studio world, but it works precisely because it’s executed with a straight face. No wink, wink. No nudge, nudge. You’re either along for the ride or you’re not, but the film doesn’t stop to tell you when to laugh.

The story starts at Lincoln’s beginnings with young Abe witnessing the death of his mother by the local town vampire (one of many things the history books got wrong). Vowing vengeance, he grows up and becomes grasshopper to vampire hunter Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who sends him off into the night as an assassin of the undead. His ultimate target is plantation owner Adam (Rufus Sewell), leader of the vampires who engages in an epic battle with the North and even sends vampires to fight in Gettysburg.

Which makes this next statement hilarious but true: The film’s biggest surprise is its historical accuracy. Graham-Smith’s screenplay gives us a compelling and largely true account of Lincoln’s life from his courtship of Mary Todd to the Emancipation Proclamation; he just fills in the blanks with Honest Abe throwing down with vampire slavers. It’s totally absurd but always believable, largely due to Benjamin Walker’s Lincoln, who gives the kind of earnest performance that sells every moment – whether he’s swinging an axe or addressing Congress. Everyone in the cast and crew is clearly giving it their all, and there’s so much attention to detail, this could almost pass itself off as a straight Lincoln biopic if it weren’t for all the martial arts and decapitated heads.

Sadly, those elements are where the film largely drops the ball: The majority of the fight scenes are gaudy and crammed with so much speed ramping and digital fakery, you’d almost think they were intentionally mocking Zack Snyder movies. I realize that bitching about over-style in a Timur Bekmambetov flick is like scolding Sam Kinison for yelling, but that doesn’t change the fact that all the slo-mo wirework and computerized gore feels cheap and gimmicky when held up to practical well choreographed action (see: “>The Raid (Review)). The god-awful 3D post conversion doesn’t do it any favors either (stick to 2D screens), but I have to commend the filmmakers for keeping the action brief and in service to the plot (the film’s climactic action set-piece is still thrilling despite it all).

Even with its shortcomings, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a far better film than you’re expecting. History buffs and purists may decry this as a new low for Hollywood, but I can’t imagine Spielberg doing much better when his giant Lincoln biopic hits Oscar-bait season later this year. Unless Daniel Day-Lewis has a bullet-shooting axe.

3 1/2 out of 5

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror

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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.

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Coulrophobia Review – One of the Most Entertaining Killer Clown Films in Quite Some Time

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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.

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User Rating 2.94 (17 votes)
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The Gatehouse Review – What Is Found in the Woods Should Be Left in the Woods

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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.

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Summary

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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User Rating 3.56 (18 votes)
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