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Disturbia (2007)

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Disturbia poster (click for larger image)Starring Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Sarah Roemer, Aaron Yoo, Carrie-Anne Moss

Directed by D. J. Caruso


It’s a good thing I didn’t do any research into the parties behind Disturbia before seeing it. Otherwise, I might have brought extra baggage into the theatre rather than just walking in, sitting back, and letting the film do its thing. And what Disturbia did was entertain the hell out of me for a solid 104 minutes from start to finish. It opens with a poignant father/son fishing expedition, careens into action mode immediately afterwards with a spectacular car crash, gives us a bit of character development and exposition, and then morphs seamlessly into an edge-of-your-seat thriller for the duration. Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. Yes, it owes a lot to Rear Window, but by the last half hour I wasn’t thinking about Alfred or Jimmy. No siree. The person on my mind was Michael — as in Myers — only a maskless, human version with just a dash of Hopkins’ Hannibal (sans any trace of an accent) thrown in for good measure. Maybe those disappointed in the upcoming Halloween remake can find some small solace in Disturbia instead.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What about those filmmakers? Who the heck are they, and why do their names strike fear — and, at the same time, high expectations — in the hearts of so many genre fans? Let’s start with director Caruso. Does the title The Salton Sea ring any bells? It’s only one of the most badass undercover cop movies ever made. Val Kilmer, Peter Sarsgaard, and Vincent D’Onofrio give performances of a lifetime. But then came Taking Lives. *shudder* Does it get much worse? Thankfully Disturbia is much closer to Sea than Lives so I’ll blame the studio for the horrendous Jolie/Hawke/Sutherland misfire and put Caruso back on my A list. He keeps Disturbia from becoming the dull, formulaic murder mystery we’ve all seen a million times by somehow inserting a freshness into both the lead characters and the villain. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it was magic, pure and simple movie magic of the type audiences used to enjoy back in Hitchcock’s heyday when it wasn’t so much about box office as it was escapism into another set of lives and problems. What with the type of horror movies we’ve been subjected to lately, it makes sense that a throwback, seemingly throwaway film like Disturbia would be the one that surprises and satisfies the most.

Disturbia (click for larger image)So, whom can we thank for coming up with the script that set this chain of events in motion? The story and one half of the screenplay are credited to Christopher Landon, whom I admit I’m not familiar with other than knowing (after checking him out on the IMDB) that he’s the late Michael Landon’s son. Good genes apparently lead to good narratives. His partner in this endeavor was none other than Carl Ellsworth, the scribe of Red Eye, one of the worst, most implausible messes audiences were subjected to back in 2005. What made it even sadder was the fact that Ellsworth wrote one of the best, most beloved Buffy episodes ever: Season 2’s “Halloween,” which leads me to believe that the failures of Red Eye were the result of execution rather than source material. That idea seems to be borne out in Disturbia since there’s not a moment in the film when events don’t play out in the most organic way possible. In other words, unlike in Red Eye or your typical slasher type film, nobody does anything extremely stupid in Disturbia — other than a cop, and by that point you’re kind of hoping he gets his comeuppance anyway so it’s forgivable. Ellsworth and Landon deserve a lot of credit for their dialogue and pacing. The characters sound like they should and act like they would given their set of circumstances. Nothing feels forced or phony although there is a moment during the final chase sequence when things seems to be dragging on a little too long, but then it gets quickly back on track and reinserts the viewer right back into the fray.

If you haven’t seen the trailer, then you may be wondering what “fray” I’m speaking of. Disturbia is, in a nutshell, the tale of Kale Brecht (LaBeouf), a high school boy who has been sentenced to house arrest over the summer months for striking a teacher and begins to suspect his reclusive neighbor is a psychopath who picks up women and kills them. He’s aided in his investigation into this theory by his wisecracking buddy Ronnie (Yoo) and Ashley, the hot new girl next-door (Roemer) whose parents moved to suburbia in a desperate attempt to keep daddy dearest from cheating quite so much. Fate has, of course, brought them all together; and as one would imagine, Kale develops instant hots for Ashley, she teases him a bit before falling for his ample charms, and Caruso teases the audience with whether or not Mr. Turner (Morse), the killer in question, is guilty or just the victim of Kale’s overactive imagination and boredom as a result of being homebound. All this over a kickin’ soundtrack that includes such diverse acts as Minnie Ripperton, Afroman, Buckcherry, and Lou Rawls. Binoculars, camcorders, and cell phones play prominent roles in the kids’ activities, as you’d expect given our current society, but the technology never intrudes. Both LaBeouf and Roemer (man, that’s a lot of vowels!) are likable and immensely talented, thereby proving that you really can find young actors these days who are able to bump up a project’s quality level rather than just induce groans of “no, please, not another fresh face!”

Disturbia (click for larger image)Kale’s mom (Moss) is a tad underdeveloped, but we feel for her as she struggles to simultaneously support and reprimand him when the shit hits the fan and events start spiraling out of control. Moss does a lot with the little she’s given, and I must make at least a small mention of Matt Craven, who plays Kale’s father. The guy has been working since 1979, and while you may not know his name, you’ll surely recognize his face. He isn’t given much screen time here but brings a first-rate touch of class and professionalism to the project. And don’t fuck with David Morse. The guy can play evil. Sure, he was all nicey nice on St. Elsewhere back in the day, but over the intervening years his acting chops have developed exponentially. Mr. Turner may not produce a lot of visible blood and gore for the more hardcore viewer to cheer about, but his menace and killer instincts are clear enough that the character won’t be soon forgotten. I know I took a second look at a few of my neighbors when I got home just in case a Mr. Turner might be lurking under their seemingly normal veneers.

If you are part of the crowd that’s avoiding Disturbia because you think you’ve seen it all before, think again, head on over to the multiplex, and give it a shot. It may not be the best horror movie you’ll see all year, but I’m willing to bet that if you let yourself get caught up in Kale’s plight, you’ll stay engrossed and in a heightened state of suspense. It proves a PG-13 film with a cast made up predominately of young adults that steers clear of gruesome effects and in-your-face violence can still be interesting and enjoyable. Certainly no one wants a steady diet of such fare, but it’s definitely fun to see a shining example every couple of years. Disturbia fits the bill perfectly and should ride its success well into the next decade.

4 out of 5

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EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS Blu-ray Review – Savagery & Sexuality From The Master Of Sleaze

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Starring Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Monica Zanchi, Donald O’Brien

Directed by Joe D’Amato (Arisitide Massaccesi)

Distributed by Severin Films


After taking famed sex icon Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) to Bangkok (1976), America (1976), and Around the World (1977) legendary sleaze director Joe D’Amato decided to mash up two of Italy’s most notorious genres by sending his beautiful muse down to the Amazon rainforest, cinematic home to countless hordes of cannibal tribes. The Italian cannibal craze of the late’70s was just beginning to take hold, offering D’Amato a ripe opportunity to satisfy both the bloodlust and, well, regular lust of exploitation devotees worldwide. For the most part the film plays out expectedly, with a reasonably large group of people meeting in the Amazon and trekking off on a quest. By the end, that group has dwindled down to only a few members, all of whom probably have a lot of regret about traipsing through the jungle. Aficionados will get a bit of a “been there, eaten that” vibe from the film, which hits every trademark of the genre sans animal cruelty, but Emanuelle herself spices up this cannibal comfort food with an alluring performance capped off by one helluva genius ending. The film also holds the dubious distinction of showing a penis being eaten less than 15 minutes after the opening credits. You set a high bar, Joe.

When an unlucky nurse has half of her tit eaten off by a newly-arrived mental patient, a girl found in the Amazon jungles, journalist Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) infiltrates the sanitarium to score a hot scoop. Armed with a camera concealed within a baby doll head, Emanuelle surreptitiously snaps a few shots before making the new girl talk via… digital means – and I’m not talking technology. Emanuelle takes her information to Professor Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti), a museum curator whom she hopes will fund her expedition. He agrees. Then, she goes and screws some random guy in broad daylight down by the river. Later, she comes back and has more sex, this time with Mark. The next day they leave for the Amazon.

Upon arrival, the two are met by Isabel (Monica Zanchi) and Sister Angela (Annamaria Clementi), both of whom have altruistic plans of their own in the rainforest. Their trek soon brings them across Donald (Donald O’Brien), a hunter who is on safari with his wife and a guide. Now that the film has brought together a large group of people, some of whom are more reprehensible than others, it’s time to pick them off and watch in delight as cannibals of the Amazon gut them, skewer them, and devour their flesh while the soothing sounds of Nico Fidenco play in the background.

So many of these Italian cannibal pictures feel interchangeable because the formula is incredibly simple – send a group of naïve outsiders into the Amazon and let an indigenous tribe kill and eat them, usually in the most horrific manner possible. What sets this film apart from so many others is in the title: Emanuelle. Gemser is not only easy on the eyes but she has this magnetic presence on screen, not because she is a great actress but her looks, abilities, and personality combine to create one of exploitation cinema’s most capable and sultry sirens. It is entirely due to her ingenuity here that anyone survives at all. She isn’t a rag doll, tossed around and used for sex and companionship; Emanuelle is a woman in charge of her own sexuality and she calls the shots. This film was made during a time when women were often used as set dressing or spent most of a film being subservient, so it’s a nice change of pace to have one in the lead who takes control and it feels natural, not forced.

Don’t go thinking this is some kind of strong female-led picture that celebrates womanhood or anything. D’Amato never likes to peer too high from his gutter view, and “Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals” is a sleaze sensation; a cornucopia of cannibalism and carnal acts that culminates in the titular heroine literally becoming a god… temporarily. D’Amato takes two of humanity’s greatest loves – eating and screwing – and builds a story around them. Besides all of the aforementioned fornication, nipples are eaten as an amuse-bouche, penis tartare is part of the starter course, a vagina makes unexpected friends with the business end of a machete, a woman is gutted like a deer, and one guy learns a thin rope can still be strong enough to tear the human body in half. Nobody gets out of this thing unscathed… except, maybe, for Emanuelle who seems unfazed by every atrocity the world throws her way.

Ugly films need beautiful music and the lush, soothing sounds of Nico Fidenco make for the ultimate dichotomy of relaxation and revulsion. Fidenco’s score is less the serene soundscape Riz Ortolani composed for Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and more of a funky, porno-lite trip down ‘70s Lane. Oftentimes the composers on these rough Italian pictures delivered scores that felt like they belong to something more refined and accessible, not a movie destined for banning in multiple countries and cut to ribbons in others. Fidenco provided the score for many entries in the Black Emanuelle series and while those films might be past their prime the music is completely timeless.

Severin has provided a new 2K scan from unknown elements, delivering a 1.85:1 1080p image that falls right in line with most of their catalog. The picture has been cleaned up enough to allow for high-def improvements in clarity and coloration to (mostly) shine through, while still retaining a gritty look to remind viewers this is still a grindhouse picture. Film grain is heavy and active, swarming the picture but never becoming noisy. Contrast is variable, as is sharpness, with some scenes looking closer to HD than others. Colors are accurate but a bit anemic, too, with only a few instances of truly popping against the ever-present jungle greens. Detail is swallowed up in darkness, so don’t expect to see much of it when night falls, which thankfully isn’t often. I’ll say one thing Italy sure does make for a fine Amazon stand-in.

Audio is available in both English and Italian DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono, both of which offer a similar audible experience. The standout here is unsurprisingly hearing Fidenco’s score in lossless glory. The ADR work is typically poor and obvious, but everything is understandable and there are no noticeable issues with hissing or audio damage. Subtitles are available in English.

The World of Nico Fidenco – The legendary composer sits down for a new interview, covering his career and the Emanuelle series. In Italian with English subtitles.

A Nun Among the Cannibals – Actress Annamaria Clementi provides a new interview about her role in the film and what it was like working with D’Amato. In Italian with English subtitles.

Dr. O’Brien M.D. – This is an archival interview with Donald O’Brien, who played the wild and wily hunter, Donald, in the film.

From Switzerland to Mato Grosso – Actress Monica Zanchi gives a new interview that covers her career.

I Am Your Black Queen is an audio-only archival interview with Gemser.

A theatrical trailer (in SD) is also included.

Special Features:

  • BRAND NEW 2K REMASTER OF THE FILM prepared for this release
  • English and Italian audio tracks, with optional English subtitles
  • The World of Nico Fidenco – an interview with the composer (27 min)
  • A Run Among the Cannibals – an interview with actress Annamaria Clementi (23 min)
  • Dr. O’Brien MD – an interview with actor Donald O’Brien (19 min)
  • From Switzerland to Mato Grosso – an interview with actress Monica Zanchi (19 min)
  • I Am Your Black Queen – an audio commentary by actress Laura Gemser (11 min)
  • Original trailer
  • Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals
  • Special Features
3.0

Summary

There is no point to making complaints about plotting when watching a film with this title. D’Amato promises viewers nothing more than a sleazy time intended to induce equal parts creep and kink into a span of time. Severin’s release offers a cleaned-up picture and a solid selection of extras that catch up with a few of the principal cast and crew.

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KAET MUST DIE Review – A Game Worthy Of Its Title

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Kaet Must DieDeveloped and Produced by Strength in Numbers Studios, Inc.

Available on PC through Steam

Rated T for Teen


If you are looking for a new survival horror game that is both challenging and irritating, then Kaet Must Die could be your new obsession/torture. The indie game is set in an underground sewer where you are Kaet, a psionicist cyber punk trapped by a “blood witch” named Annalinnia. The objective is to figure out how to escape the ‘dank’ sewer before time runs out and Annalinnia takes your life. Along the way you’ll have to tiptoe over comatosed zombies and frighten off Jawa like creatures with light you absorb from glowing mushrooms. And that’s about it. The game was created and developed by Strength in Numbers Studios Inc., a fairly new gaming company in the world of survival horror.

Now, I normally don’t play these types of survival games. As a novice in the indie survival genre, the experience of trying to complete the first level of Kaet Must Die was quite tedious. Now this is to be expected, as their advertising makes it quite clear that the good folks at Strength In Numbers studios are shooting for the “difficult games are fun” crowd. They give the player plenty of warning that they will need more than luck to survive. Yet here I am to tell you that the first level is possible to get through regardless of what difficulty you select. It just might take a few hunderd tries.

Kaet Must Die

The game starts you off in the underground sewer with Kaet’s sanity at ten (read “sanity” as “health bar). Kaet’s sanity will drop when not in lit areas, another reason why you need to collect the glowing mushrooms. Having six minutes to follow the clues and find the skulls before time runs out gets tricky, especially when Anna comes for you by randomly generating around the map until luck is no longer your friend. Levels will become progressively more difficult, and your time limit changes depending on the size of the map. It’s not terribly complicated, but also not terribly exciting.

Kaet Must Die

There are a few upsides to Kaet Must Die. Like every good survival game, Kaet Must Die has decently immersive visuals and sound. The look and feel of the game is much more appealing than some, from the detailing of the zombies to the sewers you land yourself in. Not that sewers are a pretty place to be in, but they have a solid fantasy/horror vibe. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of cohesion to the various sub-par lights and average shapes. It can be downright impossible to tell where things are around you. You’ll want to keep your ears open, as frustration will become all too familiar when you are too late to hear the gentle snoring of a zombie or the disturbing giggle of the Jawa-like creatures.

Kaet Must Die

I would say that it’s nice that they at least let me change the controls, but for some reason they don’t save when you quit the game. The only settings that stay exactly where you set them are the basics for resolution, sensitivity, and graphics. Now, what is not so frustrating is that after you get killed three or four hundred times, the skulls that you need to escape Anna won’t randomly be somewhere else when you restart the level. Another upside is that as you slowly start to regain Kaet’s powers, you will finally be able to slow down the creatures and make your way to exactly where you need to go. One of Kaet’s powers is the classic stun. Using this power to stun any monster in place for at least five seconds was a relief, and gave me time to focus at the task at hand. Like the mushrooms, Kaet’s stun powers need to be recharged by absorbing puddles of glowing red blood. Simple, right? Well, sort of. Clues left behind hint that the blood makes you more powerful, but also slowly kills you.

For anyone who is not typically good at horror survival games, this isn’t for you unless you have the patience of a saint. The difficulty comes in three flavors: Challenging (Easy), Difficulty (Normal), and Nightmare (Hard). If you’re one of those people that absolutely must have a zombie apocalypse survival plan for any possible situation, you’ll probably find some enjoyment from Kaet Must Die. For everyone else, I would wait for a Steam sale. There are 10 levels to get through to beat this game, but have fun and good luck getting past level 1.

  • Kaet Must Die
2.0

Summary

This indie survival game is too irritating to play. Kaet Must Die is near impossible to finish and it’s not a lot of fun no matter how many times you die..

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BAD SAMARITAN Review – The Good, The Bad, And The Incredibly Sexy UK Men

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Starring David Tennant, Robert Sheehan, Kerry Condon, Jacqueline Byers, Carlito Olivero

Written by Brandon Boyce

Directed by Dean Devlin


Let’s face it, you should be a bit reluctant to leave your car with a valet. Nevermind them taking your CDs and discarded fast food wrappers. What if you check your previous destinations and find that they didn’t just go straight to the parking lot? Well, assume that valets do exactly that, but they end up doing it to a psychopath. Bad Samaritan is exactly the kind of horror story crooked valet drivers should fear.

Sean Falco (Sheehan), is a struggling artist working as a part time valet driver. Sean and his best friend Derek (Olivero) come up with the clever scheme to use their valet access to burglarize the homes of wealthy customers. All is sunshine and grand theft until they decided to rob the wrong man. One night, the arrogant wealthy businessman Cale Erendreich (Tennant) pulls up in a Maserati. Sean jumps at the chance to make the score of his life. The burglary goes smoothly until Sean discovers a woman (Condon) chained up against her will. Unwilling to help her in fear of going to jail, Sean leaves her behind. Naturally conflicted by this decision, a guilty conscious isn’t the only thing that Sean has to deal with. Not super pleased that his house has been broken into and secret found out, Cale does everything in his power to tear Sean’s life apart piece by piece. To redeem himself, Sean embarks on a quest to get the girl back and in the process learns what kind of man he really is.

The highlight of the film is David Tennant’s portrayal of the Bad Samaritan himself, Cale Erendreich. Much more than just a cutthroat corporate businessman with a bondage fetish, this private man has quite a few secrets of his own. Returning home from a normal night out and finding his inner sanctum has been compromised, he quickly covers his tracks before Sean even involves the police with his ‘correction’ process. Tennant excels in his performance, ditching his natural charm for a devious intellect that just makes you squirm. Of course this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Tennant play the baddie, but Erendeich is an entirely different beast from Killgrave. Between Bad Samaritan and the verbal manipulator he played in the Marvel Netflix series Jessica Jones, Erendreich is both more grounded and diabolical than Killgrave. Erendreich is much closer to reality, a chilling man that you could all too easily read about on your morning news feed. He can blend in with the crowd without the use of mind control and has the kind of monstrous intellect that is only revealed to those who cross him.

A villain is nothing without its hero, and Robert Sheehan’s performance as Sean Falco was an excellent match for his creepy counterpart. Prior to Bad Samaritan Sheehan’s most memorable breakout role was on the BBC television show, Misfits, and his ongoing film/television career in upcoming projects such as Mortal Engines and an upcoming Netflix series, The Umbrella Academy. Sean doesn’t initially seem to be the hero type. Hell, he leaves a girl chained up in a psychopath’s house. That’s some swipe-left shit. But hey, no one’s perfect. He’s just a regular guy in a bad situation, and as the film goes on he slowly starts filling the shoes he’s found himself in. No matter who or what Sean loses in the process, his goal throughout the entire film is to save the girl he left behind. He’s not just proving to the audience that he’s the good guy, he’s proving it to himself.

Now if you’re looking for buckets of blood in your crazed killer films, then Bad Samaritan will leave you disappointed. The gore is mild, with little more than a few dead bodies here and there. Not to say that the film is without some solid murder. There’s solid action when Erendreich goes after Sean’s loved ones, and the film is thoroughly intense throughout. Still, if you’re looking for a slasher movie to throw on at a party, Bad Samaritan won’t fit the bill. That being said, it’s a great gateway horror film for those just sticking their toes in the bloody waters.

Bad Samaritan had everything that you could ask for in a horror/thriller, having a well balanced story, the right amount of jump scares to give you that surge of adrenaline, and strong characters portrayed by a talented ensemble. This was a solid directorial debut for Dean Devlin and I look forward to seeing what else he does with the horror/thriller genre. Maybe next time starring Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi. *Swoon*

  • Bad Samaritan
3.5

Summary

An enjoyable experience with a talented cast, Bad Samaritan is worth checking out just for the performances. It’s a thrilling battle of wits and wills, but it ultimately doesn’t break the mold.

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