Directed by Daniel Armstrong
Distributed by The Scream Factory
Potential is a useless quality if it is never realized. It’s a term used to signify the possibility of greatness that could come out of people, events, films, etc. And it means exactly jack squat if it never materializes. Everything has potential to some degree, and history will only remember those that fully exploit it with some measure of success. Dead Shadows (2012) is a film that had potential. The inaugural film from former international film seller turned filmmaker David Cholewa displays a heavy influence from cult classics such as John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), Night of the Comet (1984) and all things Lovecraftian. The trailer and poster suggest an apocalyptic setting replete with alien nemeses who are about to meet the business end of a baseball bat wielded by our protagonist. Add in the fact that Scream Factory chose to give it a proper Stateside release, and it can be easy to assume you’re about to watch some gem in the rough of the DTV market. The fact that it’s a French film might intrigue some viewers, too, since that country has been responsible for a handful of contemporary cult classics in recent years. The reality, however, is an anemic, hurried (it runs a scant 76 minutes with credits) production that gets off to a promising start and quickly unravels into a concoction of callow writing, poor CGI FX, and a climax that can hardly be considered one due to a complete and total lack of tension or emotion.
Halley’s Comet enters Earth’s atmosphere late one night, leaving a trail of space dust & debris in its wake, and on the same night Chris’ (Fabian Wolfrom, who looks like a young Alain Delon) parents are murdered. Cut to ten years later and Chris is a computer tech, working out of his apartment (which is replete with awesome collectibles) and generally being a shy, awkward weird dude who also has a serious fear of the dark. A report on the news says there’s a new comet headed our way and everyone in Chris’ building is getting together to celebrate with a big party. Despite his antisocial disposition, Chris decides to join the festivities when Claire (Blandine Marmigere) invites him along to have some fun. Once he arrives, and the comet passes overhead, he notices the partygoers are beginning to act erratically, with a propensity toward violence. His suspicions are confirmed when he sees Claire lured into a bedroom by an ugly guy with a serious skin problem on his face. As he peers through the door, the ugly guy unzips and literally skewers Claire with an alien penis. Freaking out, Chris retreats from the party and absconds to his apartment. There, he meets up with John (John Fallon), the local tough guy who’s packing some serious firepower. Together, they’ve got the escape the building, kill anyone in sight, and… just survive, I guess. There’s really no goal here.
For a good four or five minutes Dead Shadows had me hooked into thinking this could be something fun, maybe even good. Threats from outer space are always a big hit, and the film sets up something that, while totally derivative of better films, looked like it was heading in a promising direction. Comet passes by Earth, people go crazy, mutated creatures attack… sounds like a winning formula if I’ve heard one. After the confusing opening – Chris’ parents are supposedly murdered, yet the opening only shows his father killing his mother – we’re left to shamble around with Chris for what feels like an eternity before anything of substance occurs. For a movie that has less than 76 minutes of actual screen time, it sure wastes a lot of it meandering about and trying to set up relationships with people that ultimately ring hollow. I’m going to give the writing some level of credit in assuming the intention was to present the comet’s effect on Paris with a lack of exposition. In a crisis like this, it’s doubtful most people would know just what the hell is going on, so we, the viewer, as left just as clueless. Now, I kinda feel like most of the clunky plotting and logic gaps are due to poor writing and nothing else, but they wouldn’t be as big of an issue if the movie itself was any good.
The worst offender here is the FX work. I get it; the filmmakers had next to no budget and did the best they could with what they had. Is that an excuse to compromise an artistic vision, though? It seems doubtful Cholewa would want to make a film full of CGI creations that look like they were rendered in 1994. There is exactly one good FX moment – a practical gag where someone’s face melts off. Had the rest of the film featured that kind of artistry, and not no-budget computer work, then maybe there’d be something here; some good meat on weak bones. But it all just looks so bad. So bad. Maybe some people can overlook weak effects and let it slide because they get the gist of what the filmmaking team was going for; I can’t be as forgiving.
Dead Shadows lumbers to a finish that is about as anti-climactic as they come. It almost makes a person dislike the film even more knowing it could’ve gone somewhere interesting and it never even got close. There’s just so much bad writing. Chris saves a guy on the streets from being attacked, yet once he kills the perpetrators he never once checks on the guy dying in the street. Despite being a recluse (a recluse who looks like a male model, btw), Chris is shown to be a competent, perhaps skilled, fighter with both his hands and a bat. When Chris returns to the party after the guests have slaughtered each other, Claire (who is somehow still alive) stabs him, only to immediately regret it as she tries to help him escape to the roof. To highlight every bad bit of scripting would be to practically post the entire script. Needless to continue saying, Dead Shadows should remain both of those things – dead, and in the shadows.
Dead Shadows comes home on Blu-ray with a 2.00:1 1080p image that has many strengths and a few weaknesses. On the positive side, the digital photography allows for maximum detail and perfect color reproduction when lighting is at its best. The opening scene features dark, inky blacks to illustrate the far reaches of space before kicking into an opening credit sequence full of glorious HD space porn. The grain-free transfer looks sharp and vibrant. Colors have a nice pop to them, and skin tones appear natural and warm. Once the action moves to night time, that’s when the picture gets dicey as contrast suffers and the picture tends to get lost in the darkness. The worst sin the film commits, however, is using CGI that simply does not fit into the picture. It’s poorly done and looks no better – and possibly worse – than anything you’ve seen on the SyFy Channel. Bad practical FX are much easier to overlook than bad computer work, and the creatures shown here all look like rough concepts that still need a lot of work. You can see what the filmmakers were going for, but the end result is totally incongruous.
The default track here is a French DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound option that is the clear way to go. Foreign films should always be watched in their native tongues. If, however, you absolutely insist on dubbing then there’s another lossless option in the form of an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track. Each choice will provide you with clear dialogue and a nice assortment of sound effects to provide immersion. The score by composer Kevin Riepl is a mixture of contemporary source music, piano underscoring, and some wicked synth – that last one may have something to do with the film’s sound designer: Alan Howarth. His cues are unmistakable. Gunfire pops up every so often, erupting with less weight than it deserves. The LFE track doesn’t do enough to sell impacts here. The disc also includes French and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo tracks. Subtitles are available in English.
There’s a good amount of bonus material provided for Dead Shadows, though most of it runs rather short. Interview with director David Cholewa is a lengthy 33-minute conversation that has the first time director discussing his beginnings in the industry, how this film was financed, the shot length, concepts, and more. It is shown in French with English subtitles. Making of Special Effects shows off the shots done on set and how the FX crew layered up the elements to give us the final shots seen in the film. A brief reel of deleted scenes contains some quick bits that were cut or altered. Unfinished VFX Scene shows off a human-worm-demon thing that was to appear near the climax. The film’s trailer and teaser trailer round out the extras.
1 1/2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5
Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review
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 Popcorn, and 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!
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.
AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters
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.
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.
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.
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
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.
- 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.
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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