Friday, September 9, 2011

Maybe it’s the kids going back to school, maybe it’s ennui about the end of summer, but Hollywood has decided there’s something about terrifying us right about now that seems likes a good idea. To whit: there’s quite a spate of horror movies being released in theaters, and lest you stumble into one without some qualifiers, Cinema Siren is here to guide you to the right balance of icky fluids, little creatures, crazed humans and/or vampires. It’s enough to satisfy your bloodlust for a quite a while.

With it’s macabre gallows humor and over-the-top death scenes, this movie skirts the splattercom genre but unfortunately takes itself too seriously to be intentionally funny with any consistency. While whiplashing back and forth between horrifying and funny may be its intention, the plot allows for nothing more than a series of ever increasingly physics-defying stomach-turning killshots.

Obviously no one expecting any surprises would plop themselves down in a theatre playing “Final Destination 5,” so for those of you who need nothing more than oneupsmanship in your horror movies, I will say the 3D aspect of this movie is spectacular, and the special effects might have you splaying the fingers covering your face so you can marvel at how they create such cinematic beauty in some of the more gruesome scenes.

Much as I love a good horror movie, I’d rather be getting a root canal than see this one again, it being such a subtle-free assault to my senses. On the other hand, this movie might be perfect if you have had one of those days where you’d like to take a scalpel to your boss. Warning: After seeing this movie, you may never get that lasik eye surgery you were considering.

This remake of the 1985 B movie has little in common other than the basic premise and plot, and is so superior to its predecessor as to make comparisons silly. To those who love the original I’d say: fear not, it’s an entirely different night creature. To the rest of the moviegoing public, this story of a vampire infestation spearheaded by “Jerry the Vampire” next door, this is far more in the action and suspense vein. A great balance of horror, suspense, action and great acting makes this movie transcend genres and become repeatably watchable.

Ever rising star Anton Yelchin plays Charlie, the high school senior in-the-know about Jerry, the new next door neighbor who has shown up right when folks begin disappearing nightly in their Las Vegas suburb. Colin Farrell plays Jerry, the seductive and terrifying vampire increasing his ranks with suburbanite teens, soccer moms, and strip nightworkers. David Tennant, of Dr. Who and London stage fame, plays Criss Angel wannabe and vampire expert Peter Vincent who ultimately teams up with Charlie. Those two really steal the show. Farrell plays it cool and understated, as bloodsucking vampires go, and you sense he’s loving every minute of his role. Tennant is a flamboyant medicated Medori swilling bag of mess you somehow want to succeed. Christopher Mitz-Plasse will build on his Superbad and Kick-Ass cult following playing Ed, Charlie’s geeky childhood friend.

3D is tooled to amusing effect without overuse, although the traditional version is worthy enough given the engaging storyline. The female roles are anything but secondary, with newcomer Imogen Poots as Charlie’s supportive gal with gumption, and award winning actress Toni Colette as Charlie’s lonely single mom. She is attracted to Jerry, but not to the point of ignoring Charlie’s warnings and fears. All in all, a great semi-horror flick with (finally) great vampire characters, well written, well acted and great fun. Well worth seeing!

Oh be afraid. Be very afraid. It could have been great, I suspect, or at least I like to think that’s what producer and co-writer Guillermo del Toro thought when he pitched this remake in the first place. The original version ranked with Trilogy of Terror as the one of the scariest made-for-TV movies of the 70s, hence his interest.

The cast tries valiantly to overcome a script that dips into the most predictable and exasperating. Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes are Alex and Kim, a couple attempting to parent his daughter Sally, while sinking their life savings into refurbishing a huge gorgeous mansion that looks like every haunted house in the history of film. Sally begins to hear whispers from little mini-monsters lurking somewhere way below the house, and they are wanting her to release them from the sealed grate in the walled up cellar. Duh. Stay away from there, people, and don’t let your kid play down there… You think, have these folks never seen a horror movie? Every stupid decision that can be made, is, and every predicable one dimensional character is represented, from the crazed former owner shown in the flashback, to the nervous housekeeper, to the foreman with secrets, to the clueless boss.

Their continued bad choices are so infuriating that by the last 1/3 of the movie I wanted to drag them all down to hell myself. My friends and I walked away after, mock-whispering to each other like the creatures….”That was horrible”, “I’m so glad we didn’t have to pay for that movie”, and “Shame on you, Guillermo.” Rent the original, which stars Jim Hutton, Kim Darby, and My Three Sons’ William Demarest, and give this one a pass.

“Apollo 18,” is the seventh son of the seventh son of the likes of 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust, which was one of the first of the “found footage” faux doc horror genre. This movie tries to squeeze some life into the premise that long ago filmed astronauts discover something horrible on the moon, and we the audience are just now being made privy to the story via some whistle-blowing space conspiracy group who has released the footage. Paranoia and claustrophobia rule in what amounts to 90 minutes of things falling apart slowly. NASA nerds will tell you the way it’s filmed comes closer than any other commercial film to capturing the tight confinement and challenges of space travel.

The actors do fine, but there’s little scare there, so the movie never really lifts off… Targeted teens and younger viewers are going to be bored and disappointed, while the older viewers are going to shrug off the supposedly shocking ending with a “meh.” Unless you have a spacesuit in your closet or your favorite movies are Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, you will find it wanting. Take one giant step towards another theatre.

The Labor Day holiday weekend has always been known as weak at the box office, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something there for you. As horror-tinged movies go, “Fright Night” is highly entertaining. As for other genres, if you haven’t seen “Crazy Stupid Love” or “The Help,” those are both well reviewed options. There are only so many hot dogs and hamburgers you can eat before you need a break. The theaters this weekend are less crowded than usual. Maybe that’s the perfect place to be.