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Are You Scared? (DVD)

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Are You Scared reviewReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Alethea Kutscher, Erin Consalvi, Carlee Avers, Kariem Marbury, Soren Bowie

Directed by Andy Hurst

Distributed by Lionsgate


SAW FOR DUMMIES

That’s what the title of this film should have been. And the tagline:

“Oh yes, there will be rip-offs.”

Are You Scared? opens in a grungy-looking interior with a young woman whose hands are chained behind her back and has an electrified shock collar around her neck. An ominous voice tells her that she has to push two buttons within sixty seconds or suffer dire consequences. To push the first button she has to walk barefoot over broken glass and push it with her chin. The second button is at the bottom of a fish tank, requiring her to dunk her head in the water to push the button, again with her chin. Of course, there’s quite an unpleasant catch – that’s not water. The whole time the ominous voice is egging her on and giving her a second-by-second countdown. Does any of this sound familiar?

We then meet a police detective that’s been in pursuit of this killer for two years. He’s joined by a female FBI profiler who will go on to tell him about how the killer is methodical in his planning, ruthless in his execution, and repeatedly uses the line, “The game’s started again.” She also goes on about how this methodical madman is actually trying to teach his victims a lesson about how “a merciful death is better than a life of pain,” a line that will be repeated numerous times throughout the film, even by the killer himself.

I mean wow, just wow. This is such a shameless knock-off of Saw I’m literally shocked to know that it wasn’t produced by The Asylum. Nope. Are You Scared? is being released through Lionsgate. You have to admire a company willing to cash in on one of its most financially successful big screen horror franchises by putting out a DVD movie that is essentially a poor man’s wannabe version of that very franchise.

In Saw the killer was known as Jigsaw. I honestly do not recall what, if anything, the killer in Are You Scared? was known as so I’m just going to refer to the character for the remainder of this review as Word Jumble because his words were meaningless and his motivations quite jumbled.

Six teenagers now awaken in an abandoned, dilapidated factory with no memory as to how they got there. The shameless copycatting just doesn’t let up. Within 10 minutes it has gone from shamelessly ripping off Saw to ripping off Saw 2.

There is a bit of a deviation from the ripping off of the Saw formula. Word Jumble uses the ruse of a fake reality game show called “Are You Scared?”–hence, the film’s title. All of the potential victims had applied to appear on this phony reality show and upon waking up in some rundown hellhole are led to believe they’re competing at that very moment on live television for cash and prizes by facing their worst fears. For example, the girl in the opening sequence was led to believe she’d win a modeling contract if she were to complete the task. Of course, there was no possible way of getting out of the trap alive so there’s another deviation from the Saw formula.

There’s another serious deviation from the Saw formula. Unlike Saw, the potential victims in Are You Scared? are so far beyond the realm of stupid they border on mental retardation. The Saw victims weren’t too bright but still weren’t as far gone as these dolts. They pretty much lap up the line from the scary voice guy (whose scary disguised voice sounds almost exactly like Jigsaw’s) telling them they’ve been selected to compete on this live reality show. Despite claims that they never heard back after applying, never actually signed any sort of consent forms, and then there’s that little matter of being drugged and kidnapped, their skepticism is mostly muted. But then why should the characters be allowed to be smarter than the movie itself?

Case in point: Jason, the token Black guy who wastes little time buying into the premise and trash talking about how he’s going to win even though he woke up with no idea how he go there and with a bloody bandage under his shirt from where he’d been cut. Jason is coerced into a then sealed room where he’s told he has to defuse a bomb in x amount of time or go boom. This concept is the first thing to alert him that all in not right with this reality show. Unable to find the bomb, he begins panicking. Then he sees an x-ray on the wall and realizes it’s of him. He lifts up his shirt and reveals a big bloody bandage barely covering a large, very nasty looking and very fresh surgical scar where the explosive device has been inserted into his body cavity. This is what he described as “being cut”? This guy has been bouncing off the wall with excitement over how he’s on TV, bragging about how he’s going to win, and moving around with no visible discomfort from having a fresh foot-long incision in his abdomen or from walking around with a hockey puck-sized explosive in his body cavity. Word Jumble offers him the use of nitrous oxide to ease the pain before cutting himself open to remove the bomb, but why would he need it if he wasn’t feeling any before?

Look, suspension of disbelief is a two-way street. For crying out loud, Word Jumble didn’t put a “Kick Me” sign on the guy’s back. He sliced the guy’s abdomen open and surgically inserted a good-sized explosive device. A movie has got to play by some rules. Are You Scared? cheats every chance it gets.

The film keeps cutting back to the police detective and FBI profiler on Word Jumble’s trail. Both are utterly worthless characters. The highlight of their investigation is when they trace a piece of equipment used in one of the traps to a shop whose clerk cannot think of anything particularly out of the ordinary about the person that came in to purchase power drills mounted sideways on a track system. This clerk didn’t find anything especially out of the ordinary about his request and, it seems, didn’t even notice that half the guy’s face was melted off either.

Whatever one may think of the Saw films, Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw was at least an interesting character with intriguing motivations for why he did what he did. Word Jumble is a boring Jigsaw wannabe with a burnt face and poorly thought out motivations. Those motivations do become clearer with a revelation towards the end, but that revelation really only added to my annoyance with the gibberish nature of the script.

One of the big complaints about the Saw films was over how was Jigsaw able to put together and pull off such ridiculously complex Rube Goldberg deathtraps. The complaint registers doubly so here. Word Jumble’s traps are even cheaper and hokier than Jigsaw’s. One involves a character with their own intestines hanging out of their body having to complete a task before they bleed to death. I never really understood what the point of this task was. Then again, they were no-win situations so it didn’t really matter. Heck, Word Jumble even leaves his perch to kill a character or two manually.

Once the characters figure out what’s really going on after witnessing the fate of the game’s second victim, the whole reality show angle is totally scuttled, the movie completely falls apart, and the film goes from being a perfectly watchable, albeit positively moronic Saw rip-off to a drabber, run-of-the-mill, moronic horror flick. While gorehounds might be satisfied with the carnage on display, Are You Scared? never succeeds at generating any of the suspense or repulsion that the Saw films strived for. It’s impossible to watch this movie without the constant feeling that you’re watched what I described at the beginning as “Saw for Dummies”, a rip-off with logic gaps that often display sheer contempt for the audience.

Look no further than the big twist ending (which all films like this are required to have whether they need one or not). It’s positively insulting in its contempt for the audience’s intelligence. I’m talking insulting on the level of the end of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer‘s climax. Yeah, it’s that insulting.

And to answer the film’s title question; no, I was not scared.

Special Features
Trailer gallery

Film

2 out of 5

Special Features

1/2 out of 5

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Desolation Review – The Joy of Being Rescued and All the Surprises That Come With It

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Starring Raymond J. Barry, Brock Kelly, Dominik Garcia-Lorido

Directed by David Moscow


It’s those random, once-in-a-lifetime encounters that only a select few get the chance to experience: when we as regular participants in this wonderful thing known as The Rat Race, stumble across a soul that we’ve only witnessed on the big screen. I’m talking about a celebrity encounter, and while some of the masses will chalk the experience up as nothing more than a passing moment, others hold it to a much larger interior scale…then you REALLY get to know the person, and that’s when things get interesting.

Director David Moscow’s thriller, Desolation follows shy hotel employee Katie (Lorido) and her “fortuitous” brush with Hollywood pretty-boy Jay (Kelly) during one of his stops – the two hit it off, and together they begin a sort of whirlwind-romance that takes her away from her job and drops her in the heart of Los Angeles at the apartment building he resides in. You can clearly see that she has been a woman who’s suffered some emotional trauma in her past, and this golden boy just happens to gallop in on his steed and sweep her off of her feet, essentially rescuing her from a life of mundane activity. She gets the full-blown treatment: a revamped wardrobe, plenty of lovin’, and generally the life she’s wanted for some time.

Things return to a bit of normalcy when Jay has to return to work, leaving Katie to spread out at his place, but something clearly isn’t kosher with this joint. With its odd inhabitants (a very creepy priest played by Raymond J. Barry), even more bizarre occurrences, and when one scared young woman cannot even rely on the protection from the local police, it all adds up to a series of red flags that would have even the strongest of psyches crying for their mothers. What Moscow does with this movie is give it just enough swerves so that it keeps your skull churning, but doesn’t overdo its potential to conclusively surprise you, and that’s what makes the film an entertaining watch.

While Lorido more than holds her ground with her portrayal of a woman who has been hurt in the past, and is attempting to place her faith in a new relationship, it’s Barry that comes out on top here. His performance as Father Bill is the kind of stuff that wouldn’t exactly chill you to the bone, but he’s definitely not a man of the cloth that you’d want to be stuck behind closed doors with – generally unsettling. As I mentioned earlier, the plot twists are well-placed, and keep things fresh just when you think you’ve got your junior private investigator badge all shined up. Desolation is well-worth a look, and really has kicked off 2018 in a promising fashion – let’s see what the other 11 months will feed us beasts.

  • Film
3.0

Summary

Got your eye on that shining movie star or starlet? Better make sure it’s what you really want in life – you know what they say about curiosity.

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Wolf Guy Blu-ray Review – Sonny Chiba As A Werewolf Cop In ’70s Japan

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Wolf Guy UK SleeveStarring Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Nami, Kyosuke Machida

Directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi

Distributed by Arrow Video


As virtually every American adaptation has proven, translating manga to the big screen is a job best left to Japanese filmmakers. There is an inherent weirdness – for lack of a better term – to their cultural media that should be kept “in house” if there is to be any hope for success. Ironically, the stories are often so fantastical and wildly creative that a big American studio budget would be necessary to fully realize such a live-action vision. But I digress. Back in 1975, Toei Studios (home of Gamera) adapted the 1970 manga series Wolf Guy into a feature of the same name. Starring the legendary Shin’ichi Chiba (a.k.a. Sonny Chiba), who at that time was in his prime, the film combines elements of crime and psychedelic cinema, delivering less of a werewolf film (despite the title suggesting otherwise) and more of a boilerplate crime caper with a cop who has a few tricks up his hairy sleeve. I should stress it is the story that plays fairly straightforward, while the film itself is a wild kaleidoscope of strange characters and confounding situations… mostly.

An unseen killer, known only as “The Tiger”, prowls the streets at night slashing victims to death and leaving behind no trace. Beat cop Akira Inugami (Sonny Chiba) is on the case, and he has an advantage over his fellow brothers in blue: being a werewolf. As the opening credits flashback shows, Akira is the sole survivor of the Inugami clan of werewolves after a slaughter wiped out the rest of his kind. Now, as the last of his brethren, he uses his acute lycanthropic skills, under the auspices of the moon, to track down underworld thugs and solve cases uniquely tailored to his abilities. As the lunar cycle of the moon sees it growing fuller Akira’s powers, too, increase to superhuman levels.

Searching for this mysterious “Tiger”, Akira is led into a subterranean world of clandestine government organizations, nightclub antics, and corrupt politicians. One night, Akira is attacked and taken prisoner by a government research lab that wants to use his blood to create werewolves they can control. Only problem is – which they don’t realize – Akira’s blood cannot be mixed with that of a human; the only end result is death. Miki (Etsuko Nami), a drug user with syphilis, comes to Akira’s aid and proves to be quite useful. She holds a secret that has the potential to vastly change Akira’s world but, first, a showdown with the criminal underbelly looms on the horizon… as does the fifteenth day of the Lunar Cycle, when Akira will be made nearly invincible.

First, some bad news: Sonny Chiba never attains full werewolf status. This is not that movie. Sure, he growls and snarls and sneers and possesses many of the traits of a werewolf but in terms of physical characteristics he more or less remains “human” the entire time. Yes, even during “Lunar Cycle Day 15”, a.k.a. the moment every viewer is waiting for, to see him turn into a wolf. Instead, he just winds up kicking a lot of ass and taking very little damage. To be fair, a grizzled Sonny Chiba is still enough of a formidable presence, but, man, to see him decked out as a full-on kung-fu fighting werewolf would’ve been badass. The film could have done better at tempering expectations because it builds up “Day 15” like viewers are going to see an explosion of fur and flesh, instead it’s just plenty of the latter. Aw, well.

Lack of werewolf-ing aside, the film plays out a bit uneven. The opening offers up a strong start, with The Tiger attack, wily underworld characters being introduced, and a tripped-out acid garage rock soundtrack (which I’d kill for a copy of). But Second Act Lag is a real thing here and many of the elements that may have piqued viewer curiosity in the first act are scuttled, and although the third act and climax bring forth fresh action and a solution to the mystery it also feels a bit restrained. Then again, this is Toei, often seen as a cheaper Toho. Wolf Guy serves as a good introduction to Akira Inugami and his way of life, which makes it a greater shame no sequels were produced.

Presented with a 2.35:1 1080p image, Wolf Guy hits Blu-ray with a master supplied by Toei, meaning Arrow did no restorative work of their own on the picture – and it shows. Japanese film elements, especially those of older films, are often notorious for being poorly housed and feebly restored. This transfer is emblematic of those issues, with hazy black levels, average-to-poor definition, minimal shadow detail, and film grain that gets awfully noisy at times. The best compliment I can give is daylight close-up scenes exhibit a pleasing level of fine detail, though nothing too eye-popping. This is a decidedly mediocre transfer across the board.

The score fares a bit better, not because the Japanese LPCM 1.0 mono mix is a beast but because the soundtrack is so wildly kinetic, exploding with wild garage rock and fuzzy riffs right from the get-go. Dialogue has a slight hiss on the letter “s” but is otherwise nicely balanced within the mix. Subtitles are available in English.

“Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Movies with Guts” is a September 2016 sit-down with the film’s director, who reflects on his career and working with an icon like Sonny Chiba.

“Toru Yoshida: B-Movie Master” is an interview with Yoshida, a former producer at Toei who oversaw this film and many others.

“Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action, Vol. 1” covers the man’s career up to a point, with the remainder finished on Arrow’s other 2017 Chiba release, Doberman Cop.

A theatrical trailer is also included, as is a DVD copy of the feature.

Special Features:

  • Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Movies with Guts
  • Toru Yoshida: B-Movie Master
  • Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action, Vol. 1
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Wolf Guy
  • Special Features
2.8

Summary

While the film might be a bit of a letdown given what is suggested, fans of bizarre Japanese ’70s cinema – and certainly fans of Chiba’s work – should, at the least, have fun with this title.

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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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