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Chernobyl Diaries (Blu-ray / DVD)

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Chernobyl Diaries (Blu-ray / DVD)Starring Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Johnathan Sadowski, Olivia Dudley, Devin Kelley, Jesse McCartney, Nathan Phillips, Dimitri Diatchenko

Directed by Brad Parker

Distributed by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment


I’ve found somewhat of a running theme in a few of my reviews here of late. It seems that I’ve harped on about the faults of a given film’s script when the other aspects of the production in question have been mostly faultless. Mind you, the movies I’m thinking of have attempted to tell bold or original stories (or both), but have ultimately been hamstrung by a few easily fixed mistakes at the script level (says the unproduced would-be screenwriter).

But what about movies that don’t attempt to tell grand tales? What of films that aim only to elicit a certain reaction from its intended audience? Comedies, for example. There are some brilliant, brilliant tales in that genre, but there are also some simple, humorous flicks that only want to make you laugh. Do we scorn slapstick if its story is slight, yet earns a giggle or guffaw?

And how about horror films? The genre far too often gets looked down upon by snobs and elitists as a lesser form of storytelling. Well, fuck ‘em. If their ignorance prevents them from enjoying some of the most complex, intelligent, and artistic tales the world has to offer simply because they deem the dreaded h-word to be “ghetto”, then we’ll leave them to live their sad and incomplete lives.

Of course, much as comedy has pratfalls and eye pokes, horror has its own baser forms of entertainment. There are jump scares and musical stings, gross-out gore and stunning special effects. If a horror movie’s highest aim is to make its audience squirm in their seats or jump right out of them, and they succeed in doing just that, can we forgive them for not telling the most intelligent or solid of stories? Ah, “forgive” hell. Can’t we just enjoy the occasional braindead romp, so long as its intentions to frighten are pure and true*?

…so I just watched this movie called The Chernobyl Diaries. I remember when it hit theatres a while back. I heard a few mixed reviews, witnessed a coupla arguments over its merits (or lack thereof). And then I found myself in the position of watching and reviewing it. And while its story isn’t the most intelligent, and while its ending is borderline incomprehensible (and just plain damn stupid), and while I still have no idea what the fuck the “diaries” are that the title speaks of…I found myself enjoying this tense, well-acted, and fun little thriller.

Diaries opens with a quartet of twenty-somethings meeting up in Kiev for some travelling and a few laughs. They are: brothers Paul and Chris (Sadowski and McCartney); Chris’ girlfriend Natalie (Dudley); and Natalie’s newly-single tagalong friend Zoe (Berdal). While the others seem to just want a safe, relaxing jaunt around the country, pushy wild-man Paul insists the group try out a bit of “extreme touring”. Enter Uri (Diatchenko), a likable Russian tank of a man who’s willing to take the group into the heart of Pripyat, a deserted city that once housed the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear factory before it was evacuated due to the ’86 reactor catastrophe. Hey! Chernobyl! Well, there’s half the title down.

With a charming Aussie couple (Kelley and Wolf Creek’s Phillips) in tow, the group piles into Uri’s tour van and traverses two hours of rural terrain, only to be turned down at Pripyat’s entrance by the military. It seems as though there has been some sort of…incident, which means no tourists at this time. Undeterred, Uri steers his van onto a secret backroad entrance into the ghost town, where he treats his charges with stunning views of the once-teeming mini-city. The group members travel about, take photos, and have a great time, until…well, let’s just say that they have as much luck as any group of young people touring a strange place. In a van. In a horror film.

Co-written and produced by Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli, the film opens with a bit of handheld camera work that leads one to believe they’re watching a found-footage POV flick. However, the movie soon ditches that in favor of a more traditional approach (though that verité aesthetic sticks around for the duration). Much like the PA films, Chernobyl tells a spooky, slow-burn story whose tension is ever so carefully ratcheted up as the reels click by. By the time the group found their vehicle messed with in what should be a completely abandoned place, I was unsettled. By the time one of their members was seriously injured by unseen forces while another disappears entirely, I was unnerved. And by the time the real threat presented itself, my knuckles were Chicklet-white.

It’s just too bad that the film falls apart entirely in its third act. Spooky cat-and-mouse and hair-raising jump scares give way to unintelligible sequences of prolonged running, and screaming, and screaming, and running – all captured in a “did Josh from Blair Witch shoot this?” manner. And the ending…oh, that ending. Fuck that ending. The conclusion is not only a bit of a cheat when it comes to the fate of one of its characters, it outright loses its damn mind for its final two minutes. I won’t ruin anything here, but suffice it to say that the film sacrifices any semblance of logic for a cheap final shot. It also features exactly zero diaries. Which is upsetting.

Still! As a fun, creepy spookshow, the movie succeeds. The tension is palpable throughout the first two acts, a few setpieces are genuinely intense, and there are several scares littered throughout that left me jolted. Add to that the solid performances of the cast, and the beautiful scenery and photography (when the camera holds still), and you have a movie that could’ve been so much more, had it chosen to be. Still, for those looking for a fun little creeper to pass the time, a suggestion: watch the film up until the seventy-minute mark, then shut off your player and come up with your own ending.

Warner Bros. presents Chernobyl on a decent enough disc, as the Blu-ray has a sharp image (perfectly presenting the film’s obvious digital cinematography) and solid audio. Bonus features wise, the package is a little slim, if far from bare bones. We have two short features, each running under five minutes. One is Uri’s Extreme Infomercial, which introduces us to character by way of his business commercial. The other is Chernobyl Conspiracy, which blends real footage of the post-Chernobyl incident with a bit of the movie’s conspiracy theory to create a short, effective little chiller. There are also two deleted scenes: Welcome to Kiev, a nice introductory moment to our four leads; and the alternate ending, which is unsatisfying but far less stupid than the closer we’re given.

Ultimately, while the story it tells is far from original (and is ultimately quite dumb), Chernobyl’s intention to get under its audience’s skin and worm around is commendably achieved by the film’s direction and cast. While some may be annoyed or offended by the film come its end credits, this writer ultimately found it to be an enjoyable enough diversion to cautiously recommend.

But seriously, though – what the hell is up with this “diaries” business?

*Understand, I’m not acting as an apologist for all lowbrow horror flicks. There are loads of genre films (all too many) that seek to make a quick buck with little interest in engaging or entertaining their audiences. Fuck those flicks.

Special Features

  • Short Feature: Uri’s Extreme Tours Infomercial
  • Short Feature: Chernobyl Conspiracy Viral Video
  • Deleted Scenes
    Welcome to Kiev
    – Alternate Ending

    Film:

    2 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features:

    2 out of 5

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    Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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    Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

    Directed by Charles Martin Smith


    I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

    Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

    Now let’s get to it.

    First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

    Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

    I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

    Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

    It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

    And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

    Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

    This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

    And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

    Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

    In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

    That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

    Rockstar lighting for days.

    Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

    Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

    More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

    Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

    Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

    All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

    Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

    • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
    3.5

    Summary

    Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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    User Rating 3.25 (12 votes)
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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 4.11 (18 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 4 (17 votes)
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