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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Blu-ray / DVD)

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Blu-ray / DVD)Starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

Distributed by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment


A mashup of literary classic and B-horror movie tropes, writer Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was not only released to great success, but it managed to spawn a rather unwelcome and short-lived sub-genre that seemed to plague bookstores for the next couple of years. At every Books-a-Million or Borders or what-have-you, readers were assaulted by piles upon piles of these goofy tomes. Android Karenina, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and the inevitable prequel and sequel to Pride all rode that original book’s coat-tails and polluted bookshelves.

Fortunately, the creator of this new literary movement had the good sense to not merely replicate his initial success, but alter it – this time giving us a historical tapestry with the horror woven in, complementing real events while telling an engaging genre tale. And while PPZ is still awaiting a film adaptation, Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has been given the silver screen treatment by producer Tim Burton and Night Watch/Wanted helmer Timur Bekmambetov.

Beginning with Honest Abe’s early days, Hunter charts the rise of America’s arguably most iconic president from childhood to his final night, all the while telling an alternate history of how Abe became a skilled…well, vampire hunter. After his mother is killed by one of the sucky undead bastards, young Abe (Walker) grows up bitter and vengeful, aching for a chance to avenge her death. This puts him into the path of Henry (Cooper), an old hand at vampire killing who’s all too eager to teach his trade to Abe. The two men become friends and allies, with Henry giving Abe vampire targets to execute while our hero bides his time and waits for his chance to enact his revenge. But even as they thin out the vampire population, they find themselves at odds with Adam (Sewell), an ancient vampire and self-appointed leader of the undead.

The most successful aspect of Hunter is its refusal to wink and nod at the audience at the absurdity of its concept. The story is told with all of the straight-faced sincerity as any recent Oscar-baiting biopic, keeping the film fully engrossing throughout. One imagines it would have been so easy to play the movie for yucks and camp, and this viewer was very thankful that the filmmakers chose a more restrained approach.

Credit must go to director Bekmambetov, whose energetic direction keeps the flick racing along for the duration (with the exception of a major third act misstep – more on that in a moment). Bekmambetov is building quite an impressive filmography for himself. There is not only the well-made Hollywood actioner Wanted, but also the fascinating duology of Night Watch and Day Watch. Each film is fun, action-packed, stylish, and smarter than it has any right to be. With its clever script and eye-popping setpieces, Hunter falls right into line with each of the director’s previous efforts.

And being a smart filmmaker, Bekmambetov seems to realize that a successful movie needs a strong set of performers, and he’s done well with his casting here. As Abe, relative newcomer Benjamin Walker proves himself to be a charming presence with great range, portraying Abe as a vengeance-driven young man, a bumbling suitor, a fiery politician, a well-trained monster-slayer, and ultimately a convincing leader. Likewise, Mary Elizabeth Winstead has a number of notes to play throughout the film as Mary Todd and does so admirably, even if her screen time is somewhat limited. Rufus Sewell continues his streak of essaying intelligent villains with his turn as Adam, while Anthony Mackie does great work as Abe’s closest friend and fellow vamp-killer William Johnson.

Unfortunately, for all that is done well, the movie makes one considerable mistake which hampers its success. While Grahame-Smith’s screenplay proves that he’s far more adept at adapting his own material (as opposed to someone else’s; i.e., Dark Shadows), he chooses to tell the story of young Abe for the bulk of the film, only to leap ahead several years during the film’s third act. While it’s understandable that the filmmakers would want to eventually marry their story to the indelible image of our 16th President, this gear shift kills the movie’s momentum so much that it only barely recovers before the climax.

As one would expect from a large studio release, Hunter’s image and sound quality are superb. The picture is fang-sharp and beautiful, with lush colors and deep, inky blacks. The audio is wonderful as well, ably presenting the softest of conversations along with the bombast of the film’s many action sequences.

The bonus features package is quite nice, though certainly not on par with Fox’s previous release of Prometheus (to be fair, what can compare with that set?). Still, what we have is impressive enough. There is the animated graphic novel The Great Calamity, featuring the voices of Abe actor Benjamin Walker and the always great Clifton Collins, Jr. Calamity is well-designed, if a bit blocky with its animation, and manages to weave Edgar Allan Poe and Elizabeth Bathory into Hunter’s world. It’s an interesting short film, though ultimately unsatisfying as it never quite goes anywhere.

More impressive is The Making of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, an extensive look at the film’s conception and production. It can be viewed as individual featurettes or as a one-hour-plus documentary. It’s a fun, breezy look at the film’s making and features a good deal of interesting behind-the-scenes details.

Next up is an audio commentary with screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, who also penned the film’s source novel. The commentary is a pleasant enough talk, and Grahame-Smith comes off as a nice, fairly humble guy while tossing off noteworthy anecdotes about the origins of the book and film. Most impressive is the moment the writer owns up to one of my major problems with the film – the unceremonious resolution between Abe and Adam. It’s nice when an artist can point out a flaw without needing to justify it or brush over it entirely.

In addition to the above, we get “Powerless”, a music video. Intercut with concert footage and clips from the movie, “Powerless” features a song performed by…wait for it…Linkin Park. No, I’m not joking. I’m not certain what the hell anyone was thinking here, but the combination of angsty nü-metal with images of the film’s period action is nearly laughable (even if the song isn’t completely terrible).

Wrapping up the package is the film’s theatrical trailer. Or, rather, its teaser trailer. It’s a pity the longer, final version of the trailer wasn’t included, as it’s a far more effective look at the film. Still, getting any sort of trailer on disc these days is somewhat of a miracle,so I’ll let this issue be.

While Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is hardly a rousing success, it’s still very much worth watching for what it gets right: fun concept, great actors, fantastic action, beautiful photography. And, if nothing else, it’ll likely prove to be ultimately far more interesting than Spielberg’s upcoming (and quite dull-looking) Lincoln.

Special Features

  • The Great Calamity Graphic Novel
  • Audio Commentary with Writer Seth Grahame-Smith
  • The Making of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
    ○ Dark Secrets: Book to Screen
    ○ On the Set: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
    ○ Vampire Hunting: Fight Choreography
    ○ The Art of Transformation: Make-Up Effects
    ○ A Visual Feast: Timur Bekmambetov’s Visual Style

  • “Powerless” Music Video by Linkin Park

    Film:

    3 out of 5

    Special Features:

    3 1/2 out of 5

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    Inside (Remake) Review – Is It as Brutal as the Original?

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    Starring Rachel Nichols Laura Harring

    Directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas


    While the directing duo of the cringe-inducing and original 2007 French grand guignol thriller Inside have gone on to refurbishments of their own—Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo recently helmed a retread of Leatherface’s origin story—their flick now has an American stamp on it with the release of the remake, also titled Inside.

    A cheerless Christmas eve sets the stage for heavily-pregnant widow Sarah’s (Rachel Nichols) oncoming ordeal. It’s a frigid and snowy night. She’s got a huge house to herself, following the accidental and violent death of her husband. She wants to sell the home that was meant to hold a family, to forget the nascent memories it once held. But she’s got to ride it out until the baby is born. While Sarah is lonesome, she won’t be alone. She’s got her genial gay neighbor nearby, and her mum is going to come and stay with her for a few days. Oh, and there will be an unexpected visitor too.

    When a shadowy, seemingly stranded stranger (Laura Harring) knocks on the door pleading to be let inside, Sarah instinctively balks. She even calls the cops. But the woman leaves and all seems well. Crisis averted. Sarah puts the housekeys in the mailbox outside for Mom, and goes to bed. Big mistake.

    Mystery Lady shows up at Sarah’s bedside armed with chloroform, an IV bag, and a case full of sharp-and-pointies (sorry, ’07 fans… those implements do not include a pair of scissors). The horror unfolds and the expected yet lively game of gory cat-and-mouse ensues. Then the tete-a-tete becomes a body-count chiller featuring one shocking moment after another.

    Nichols is fantastic in the role, giving it her all. When the original Inside came out eleven years ago, she was starring in another French-helmed horror, P2—also set on Christmas eve—and she stole the show. She does the same here but with a less-intense adversary. Harring’s killer character, unlike her European counterpart, has a lot to say—which takes away from her initially mysterious manner as the minutes tick off. Still, the girl-on-girl action is a welcome change from the usual gender dynamic one sees in these things. Both deserve kudos for their performances.

    While Inside isn’t a died-in-the-wool “Hollywood” remake (Miguel Ángel Vivas directs, while [REC] co-creator Jaume Balagueró wrote it) it feels like one. For those who’ve seen the original, there will be mild disappointment (which turns to major letdown at the very end). However, Inside is still a serviceable thriller that’s well-acted, beautifully shot, and effectively scored. Folks coming in fresh, and casual horror fans, will more than likely enjoy it.

    • Inside (Remake)
    3.0

    Summary

    Inside is a serviceable thriller that’s well-acted, beautifully shot, and effectively scored. Folks coming in fresh, and casual horror fans, will more than likely enjoy it. For those who’ve seen the original, there will be mild disappointment (which turns to major letdown at the very end).

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    User Rating 1.67 (3 votes)
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    What If Tina Fey Wrote Jennifer’s Body? My Friend’s Exorcism Book Review

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    “Rummaging in one of his duffel bags, [the exorcist] pulled out and athletic cup and slid it down the front of his pants. ‘First place they go for,’ he explained. He then adjusted himself and picked up a well-worn Bible. ‘Let’s do the Lord’s work.'”

    It was about a year ago now (it seems) that I first saw the cover of “My Best Friend’s Exorcism.” If you haven’t seen it for yourself in all of its glory, make sure to click the image over to the right for a more in-depth look. Awesome, right? Got to love all the VHS details such as the “Horror” and “Be Kind Rewind” stickers. Classic. Utter classic.

    Now I’m fully aware that one should not judge a book by its cover. Literally. But still the moment I saw this work of delicious art crop up in the inbox I had to read the book asap. Well, it turns out asap was about a year later, but all the same, I’ve now had a peek at the inside of the book as well as the outside. Does the content inside match the content outside?

    Let’s find out…

    For those who might not know, “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” (henceforth referred to as MBFE) tells the tale of two best friends named Abby and Grethen. One night the two, and a few of there other friends, drop a bit of acid for the first time. While the drug never kicks in (no worries, there’s no lame twist-ending to be had here) poor Gretchen still wanders off into the woods and gets possessed like a motherf*cker in some creepy abandoned building. From there, things go from bad to worse until an unlikely exorcist is called in and things go off the wicked walls in all the best ways possible.

    Now, to review. First of all, let it be know that MBFE is more of a teen romance (between two friends) than a straight tale of terror. Think of it as “What if Tina Fey wrote Jennifer’s Body?” and that will give you a good hint at what the book holds in store for you. Not that that’s a bad thing. Still, you should be aware that the first 2/3 of the book is almost exclusively teenagers not getting along, bitch about losing touch, who is sleeping with who, and yada, yada, yada for pages on end. Dramarama for days. Mostly.

    That said, not only is the teen drama bearable (and truthfully quite sweet in spots), Hendrix keeps the horror in the spotlight just enough that I never lost faith the book was heading somewhere truly balls to the wall. And it does. Oh, boy does it. From the time the unholy shite hits the fan in the last third, to the time the last word is read, the book is filled with horror moments that will make even the most jaded fright-fiction fan gag, grimace, or stand up and cheer!

    You just have to get through all the angst first…

    But speaking of angst, let me get a bit of extremely personal business out of the way real quick. Can I trust you with this info? Sure I can. MBFE made is cry like a baby. Not kidding. There have been very few times in my life that I have literally burst out crying. I’ve had some sad shite happen in my days, and I have seen some sad-ass movies, but nothing has made me cry out of the f*cking blue like MBFE. I’m not going to go into details about the final 10 pages of the book, but it tore my poor horror-heart a new one. It was bad. Like snot and hyperventilating type shite. Again, not kidding. Thank the lord I wasn’t in public is all I can say. I would have arrested and thrown in the booby-hatch.

    MBFE goes along like a slightly horror-centric version of Mean Girls and Heathers for most of its page count. If you’re a straight horror fan, you’ll be at odds with whether you should bother finishing it or not. You will. Trust me. But listen to me now and know that once our heroine goes into the dark, dank bedroom of the school’s resident bitch to find out why she hasn’t been in school the past few days/weeks, the horror hits like holy hell. And it only gets worse (RE: better) from there.

    In the end, MBFE is a book ever horror fan should own – if only for the cover. I dug the hell out of the book (eventually) and I’m sure the majority of you guys will too. But even for those hard-hearts out there that just can’t stand to read about things like uncompromising love, and hellfire-forged friendship, you still need to own the book. You still owe it to yourself to give it a try. If you don’t care for it, that’s cool, just display in on your bookshelf in all it’s VHS glory. It will make you look cool.

    • My Best Friend's Exorcism - Book Review
    3.5

    Summary

    Grady Hendrix’s “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” is a killer mixture of Mean Girls, Heathers, and The Exorcist. Just think of it as “What if Tina Fey wrote Jennifer’s Body” and you’ll have a good indication of what lies in store for you within the amazing VHS-inspired cover art.

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    Knock Knock Review – This Throwback To The VHS Era Packs A Fun Punch

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    Starring Kerry Tartack, Sisi Berry, Chuk Hell

    Directed by Toby Canto


    I remember the glory days of my youth back in the early to mid-80’s, renting every friggin horror flick on VHS and keeping the cassettes well past the return dates, eventually blacklisting my name from damn near all of the movie shops in my hometown. For the sole reason of wanting to hop back in the time-machine, I’ll never turn down the opportunity to check out a film that promises to ship you back to the days of all of that cheesy-neon attire and overblown hairdos.

    Director Toby Canto was generous enough to offer his latest film up onto the sacrificial stone, and it’s called Knock Knock – about a WAY past his prime pugilist named Sam (Tartack) who is unwillingly thrust into a throwdown with a bloodsucker who happens to reside in the same apartment – damn noisy neighbors! His only birthday wish is to spend his 60th go-round safely hold up in his domicile, away from pesky residents alike. Well, that plan goes to shit when his kooky neighbor (Berry) comes by and pitches the idea of throwing hands with the newest tenant: a real creature of the night (Lucas Ayoub).

    Sam initially nixes the idea wholeheartedly, but when more of his quirky neighbors show up to his place to substantiate the vampiric-claims, Sam finds himself lacing up the leather for one more round…or two, depending on if he can still take a beating. Filled with more than a handful of goofy instances, this near-hour presentation won’t blow the doors off of the horror/com vehicle, but should more than suffice in the short-term until the next spooky-laugher comes slithering out of its hole.

    • Film
    3.0

    Summary

    Historians alike, this movie’s for those who want a reminder of how loopy those VHS days were, and the best part is you don’t have to rewind a freakin’ thing.

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