Directed by Tommy Wirkola
Distributed by Paramount Home Entertainment
Confession time, folks. This reviewer is no fan of Dead Snow, that Nazi zombie action comedy you and everyone else loved back in 2009. With its mix of loopy humor and grisly gore, Dead Snow should’ve left me grinning ear to ear, but its off-kilter pace and uninteresting cast of characters left me as cold as its wintry setting.
So it was with little interest that I regarded Snow director Tommy Wirkola’s newest film, the big budget horror/comedy actioner Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Even with its fun setup and impressive cast, Wirkola’s involvement and the film’s lackluster marketing ensured that I would stay away from this title when it hit theatres. And I’m kicking myself for that now, as I’ve finally caught it on Blu-ray and dearly wish I’d witnessed its wonderful lunacy on the big screen.
Opening with the Grimm fairy tale we all know so well, Witch Hunters fast forwards years later to find adult versions of Hansel and Gretel (played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) traveling the lands and hiring themselves out as supernatural bounty hunters, all while employing anachronistic weapons and gadgetry that’d impress Batman while tossing off enough F-bombs to score Tarantino’s approval. Things seem to be going well enough for the leather-clad witch slaying duo, until a new job has them running afoul of Muriel (Janssen), a powerful witch planning a world-changing ritual that would allow her kind to remain impervious to fire (always a nuisance for witches, fire). Our heroes are aided by young would-be slayer Ben (Mann) and a mysterious young woman named Mina (Viitala), who has both a secret and a crush on the dashing Hansel (who, strangely, has seemingly developed diabetes from being force-fed sweets by the witch from his childhood). Gore-strewn mayhem and bone-crunching action follow as our heroes battle Muriel’s minions before discovering that Muriel’s big plans may reach back all the way to that fateful night they spent as children in an evil witch’s care.
With its mix of splendid design, crazy action, impressive practical effects and dodgy CG, Witch Hunters plays out like a Hammer flick on steroids with a sugar rush. If you aren’t a fan of this kind of horror/comedy/action hybrid, then this flick will most certainly not win you over. But if you’re agreeable to this sort of goofy tale, there’s much here to enjoy. The actors all do a fine job with the material (though American Renner and Brit Arterton make no attempts to alter their natural accents to fit their German-born characters), except for perhaps Janssen – who should have either passed on the project or found a way to have a bit more fun with her villainous character.
The film looks mostly gorgeous throughout, too. I say mostly, as even with its handsome art direction and beautiful cinematography, the film is marred by some truly terrible CG. At times it looks suitably lavish, others more like a Syfy Channel Original. Add to this some cool creature effects, good fight choreography, and a pace that practically races through its thin plot and scant running time toward the end credits, and you have a perfectly enjoyable way to kill ninety minutes.
Paramount did well enough by Witch Hunters with its Blu-ray release, giving it a gorgeous transfer and dynamic audio track. In addition to providing the “unrated” cut of the film (adding a bit more padding to the film but featuring no gore or violence that would upset the original R rating), we get three featurettes totaling about thirty minutes of viewing time. They are: “Reinventing Hansel & Gretel,” a look at the film’s origins; “The Witching Hours,” which focuses on the film’s villains (particularly Janssen’s baddie); and “Meet Edward the Troll,” a brief look at the practical creation of the film’s lovable creature (played by Derek Mears). It should also be noted that Witch Hunters is available in a 3D release as well. All in all, a fun if light package (perfectly in line with the film’s quality).
Is Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters a great film? No. It may not even be a very good film. But it’s a well made and enjoyable enough romp that left this reviewer grinning, and I can’t ask too much more from it than that.
3 out of 5
2 out of 5
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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