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Deadly Species (2002)

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Starring Pete Penuel, Brian Minyard, Allison Anders, and Britt George

Directed by Daniel Springen


“Things have been kind of slow.”

That particular line of dialogue is uttered at around the one-hour mark of Deadly Species and I assure you that truer words have never been spoken.

Deadly Species is the most aggravating kind of B-movie because it has a premise that could have been made into an entertaining film, yet the filmmakers fail to capitalize on it until the last 10 minutes when the film finally gets somewhere interesting only to put everything into fast forward before abruptly pulling the plug.

A wealthy big game hunter and obnoxious playboy – his resemblance to radio shock jock Mancow is both uncanny and frightening – wants to fund an expedition deep into the nether-regions of the Florida Everglades to search for the remnants of a legendary Indian tribe called the Calusa. At least that’s what he wants everyone to think. He hires a local anthropology professor, a hard up for cash expert on the Calusa, to help lead the group into the vast swamplands. The group itself consists of the big game hunter, the professor, his wife, and several of the professor’s nubile students. Hey, aren’t all anthropology students nubile?

The inclusion of these young, good-looking students should tell you right away what direction this movie is headed in.

So after most of the female characters get in their required nude scenes, the group gathers together and ventures out into the most dangerous and unexplored region of the Everglades. They are being watch the whole time by something from afar. The group comes across the deserted campsite of a previous expedition leading to the discovery of the dismembered remains of that camp’s occupants. It also starts becoming apparent to everyone except the idiot characters in this movie that the game hunter knows something he’s not telling them. The merry band of morons come to the conclusion that they were torn apart by wild animals so they’ll need to be extra cautious from here on out. No sooner do they agree upon this, one of the perky, nubile, female students wanders off to a nearby stream so that she can strip naked and take a bath. Would it shock you to know that something kills her?

The professor’s wife discovers a journal that was kept by one of the deceased explorers revealing that their benefactor also funded that last trip and that it isn’t the Calusa he’s really interested in but the mythical Fountain of Youth, which he believes to be out here somewhere. She shows this to her hubby and he confronts the wealthy game hunter, who informs them that he duped them into coming and there’s an even bigger problem now for them to deal with. You see there’s this race of hideous, mutant hellbeasts that guard the Fountain of Youth. The monsters killed the last group of explorers he sent in and now they’re being picked off one by one.

Actually, to be more specific, they’re being picked off one by one off camera. Why, I don’t know, but pretty much every monster attack scene occurs off-screen. All you see is a blurry, split second attack before cutting away. I just don’t get what the filmmaker was going for. It plays out like a slasher film complete with gore and gratuitous nudity but when it comes to the actual selling point of the movie, monsters killing people, it suddenly decides to take a less is more attitude.

So basically the game hunter continues to be a real prick forces everyone to press on so that they can begin getting killed off one at a time. It turns out there are several of these creatures but they still prefer to hide in the bushes and kill people one at a time rather than swarm in all at once and be done with it.

To summarize the plot so far, boring idiots and naked women in the Florida Everglades looking for the Fountain of Youth that’s protected by vicious monsters that you barely see and kill people off camera. Oh, and then there’s the bit with the professor getting infected with monster blood and water from the Fountain of Youth is the only cure.

When the monsters, the Fountain of Youth, and the Calusa tribe legends all come together in the film’s final few moments you come to realize that this could have been a decent movie if it hadn’t tossed its imagination out the window in favor of doing a boring, overly talky remake of Congo with 1/100th the budget and three times the mediocrity. Even worse, the movie dares to tease a sequel which from what they’re teasing would just be the same exact movie all over again only with the explorers going in armed this time. As if the world is in need of yet another Predator knock-off.

My favorite scene, the one that pretty much sums up the mentality of the film and reason for its failing, has one of the students on watch keeping an eye on the motion sensors while the remaining members sleep. In steps his girlfriend and instead of watching the monitor that is keeping them alive, they instead decide to have sex right there on the ground. Yeah, wouldn’t want to let a little thing like being in a life or death situation in a hostile environment interfere with someone having time for a quickie. What makes this scene all the more eye rolling is that they never actually have sex or even remove any clothes. They just roll around on the ground and make-out in slow motion for what seems like forever.

Have I fully stressed how virtually nothing of interest happens for the first hour and fifteen minutes? We mainly get two things: people fumbling about the jungle and talking, lots and lots of talking. Now talking isn’t necessarily a bad thing but when the talking goes on and on, the dialogue is this uninteresting and the delivery this subpar, then it’s time to make use of the fast forward button. Far too many of these scenes weighted down with heavy amounts of exposition feature long pauses in between lines. Somebody will say something and then there will be like ten to fifteen seconds before somebody else says something. Did the director think he was filming a Pinter play or was this done to stretch the material out even further to fill the runtime?

And how about that terrible title? Deadly Species? That ranks right up there with such other awful generic titles as Alien Predator and Karate Cop. The concept that gets completely wasted by this total dead zone of a film is the stuff that old-fashioned b-movies were made of so why not play up that in the title. Why not call it It Came From The Everglades or Swamp of the Immortal Monster? Neither of those is great but they’re certainly better than the unimaginative Deadly Species title. Oh, that’s right. I forgot that this movie doesn’t have any imagination or ambition outside of its basic premise. Come to think of it, probably for the best that a decent title didn’t get wasted on such a nothing film.

“It never happened but it would have made one hell of a story.”

That line is uttered by one of the survivors at then end of the film. He’s right. Too bad the movie didn’t tell it.

1 ½ out of 5 Mugs

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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 3.9 (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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