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Aquanoids (2003)

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Starring Laura Nativo, Christopher Irwin, Ike Gingrich, and Rhoda Jordan

Directed by Reinhart “Rayteam” Peschke


The movie is called Aquanoids and yet there is only one Aquanoid in the movie. Worse yet, the lone Aquanoid has little screen time and what little it does have usually lasts about as long as the average shot in a Michael Bay movie. A more appropriate title for this film would have been Aquanoid’s Hands since the creature’s claws are all you get to see for the majority of the film. The Aquanoid’s lack of screen time is matched only by its lack of personality and lack of explanation as to where it came from in the first place. The bulk of the movie focuses on the human intrigue – primarily the efforts of the non-monster villains trying to kill the heroine – that is anything but intriguing. Instead of Aquanoids, the movie should have been given the more appropriate title Evil Old Men Try To Kill A Nubile Dominique Swain Look-A-Like.

Aquanoids starts off with a prologue set in 1987 when the creature first appeared and killed a bunch of people before it just up and vanished without a trace or an explanation. The whole sea monster story has since become local urban legend and the deaths were attributed to non-Aquanoid related accidents.

It’s then off to present day where the Aquanoid returns from wherever it’s been all these year to once again kill people for seemingly no particular reason. Local hotty Vanessa, who either fancies herself a marine biologist or actually is a marine biologist, I’m not really sure and I don’t recall if the movie ever made it clear, discovers that the Aquanoid has returned almost as soon as it does. If she really is a marine biologist then she must have gotten her degree from the same college that Tara Reid got her archaeology degree from in Alone in the Dark. Frankly, I don’t care because if more oceanographers and marine biologists looked like Laura Nativo then I’d spend a lot more time at the local aquarium.

Vanessa immediately runs, or should I say scooters since she gets around everywhere on her trusty foot scooter, to the Mayor with news of the Aquanoid but he won’t hear anything of it because it’s the Fourth of July weekend. Yeah, you know the drill. We’re also supposed to believe this guy was the Mayor even back in 1987 during the first Aquanoid attacks that he helped cover up. He must have had himself named “Dictator for Life” to remain in office that long. Another reason the Mayor isn’t so keen on dealing with the Aquanoid problem is because he and a shady land developer are planning to build a huge shopping center that would personally line their pockets with millions of dollars each and the negative publicity a rampaging monster could bring the town would ruin everything. And so the Mayor that looks like the world’s meanest NFL coach circa 1971 with eyebrows so thick light itself could not escape their surface skulks around town with the shady land developer, who looks and acts like an extra on “The Sopranos”, trying to thwart the lovely Vanessa’s attempts to ward the local denizens. And I do mean they literally walk around all over the place, even spying on her from a distance with binoculars. They even go so far as to murder a reporter that dared to film a story about the monster sightings and attempt to give Vanessa the Silkwood treatment in a scene that features the clumsiest attempted murder in cinematic history. Note to all potential assassins out there: don’t try sneaking up behind your victim and finishing them off by applying the Vulcan Nerve Hold because that only works on “Star Trek”.

Vanessa’s token black friend and cop boyfriend aids her on her quest to warn the general populace of the Aquanoid threat by merely handing out flyers telling people to stay out of the water. Oh yes, the town drunk that saw the monster many years eventually joins the crusade. Vanessa eventually discovers an unexpected bond to the town drunk that leads to a ridiculously melodramatic scene more appropriate to a daytime soap opera than to a monster movie. For the record, all three of Vanessa’s cohorts share the common trait of having the personality of drying wallpaper.

But their lack of personality is more than made up for by the local coroner, who must have had himself named “Coroner for Life” since he too has been doing that job in this town for 17+ years, and also aided in the original cover-up. The guy playing the coroner seems to be hoping to win the Jeffrey Combs Award for Wackiest Mad Scientist of the Year but he’s far more annoying than amusing. He’s eating a sandwich while performing an autopsy. Isn’t that wacky? This character is pretty much the perfect metaphor for the movie since he’s trying so damn hard to be entertaining but it just isn’t happening. Just because a movie knows that it’s cheesy that still doesn’t automatically make it fun to watch.

Aquanoids also boasts two of the worst monster attack scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. A surfer is shown talking to someone on his cell phone while out in the middle of the water when the Aquanoid (Or should I say the Aquanoid’s hands?) begins slashing away at his leg. Does he high tail it back to shore? Does he even try pulling his leg out of the water? No, he dials 911 and begs the operator to send help. Moments later, the Aquanoid’s hands pull him underwater to his death. Then later on, another potentially wacky character is out Aquanoid hunting. When he thinks he gets a bite on his line he proceeds to put scuba goggles on and leans overboard sticking his head into the water to see what’s tugging on the bait just as any true fisherman would. Right on cue, the Aquanoid (Or should I say the Aquanoid’s hands?) grabs his head and pulls him underwater to his death. I can only assume that the circumstances of these two deaths were supposed to be funny but they were just excessively stupid in a manner to annoying to be amusing.

There’s also a snobby young female whose character exists for no other reason than to provide us with a scene that is either supposed to be an homage to or blatant rip-off of the finale to Humanoids of the Deep. The fact that I can’t tell which it was supposed to be is a testament to how poorly executed that whole sequence is.

Aquanoids has all the earmarks of a movie on a next to nothing budget made by a first time director and so it should come as no surprise that the movie was in fact made for next to nothing by a first time director. According to IMDB, director Reinhart Peschke has worked as a gaffer on many other movies and that seems rather appropriate given the number of gaffs he’s made in his own. Insert rimshot here. Seriously though, he also has several credits working as a chief lighting technician and, if nothing else, I must say that Aquanoids is a very well-lit movie. The film is great to look at with vibrant colors and a lot of attractive local scenery, most notably Laura Nativo in a bikini top and daisy duke shorts.

I know when you watch an ultra low budget movie like this you’re supposed to give the filmmaker some leeway because of the lack of budget and such, but there’s only so much leeway you can give before you just have to be honest about all of its deficiencies. We are talking about a movie where all of the underwater scenes were clearly shot in about four feet of water. You can see the actors breaking the surface during the underwater shots. The plot is flimsier than Laura Flynn Boyle, the dialogue is as banal as it can get, and the quality of acting ranges from amateurish to public access television to person we pulled off the street at random and stuck in front of a camera. You know a movie is really bad when character begin naming off other aquatic themed monster movies as an in-joke and all you can think is that you’d much rather be watching any one of those over this.

The most unforgivable failing of the film is that the Aquanoid, which looks like a rust-colored merman with a demonic gargoyle head, is relegated to making cameo appearances in its own film. Well, other than its hands, which get far more screen time than the rest of it. And to be perfectly honest, I’m sick to death of low budget genre filmmakers thinking they skirt by just loading up their movie with excessive gore. You can give us lots of bloody mutilated victims but you can’t give the damn monster any friggin’ screen time? That’s just lazy filmmaking. I’m beginning to suspect that any kid with a digital camera and a bottle of ketchup could make a horror movie these days.

In the end, Aquanoids only has two things going for it. The first is the obvious enthusiasm of the cast. The second is a gorgeous young starlet in skimpy outfits. Neither one makes it worth going out your way to see, although the second one does come pretty close.


1 ½ 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 (3 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 3.86 (7 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 3.5 (14 votes)
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