Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Burning - Review - @BrandonCSites

The Burning (1981) **1/2
D: Tony Maylam
C: Brian Matthews, Lou David, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Fisher Stevens, Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg, Carolyn Houlihan, Holly Hunter

Plot Synopsis: A former summer camp caretaker, horribly burned from a prank gone wrong, lurks around an upstate New York summer camp bent on killing the teenagers responsible for his disfigurement.

Review: With its story involving a camp ground's keeper who's horribly disfigured after a prank gone awry and that same ground's keeper returning to the same aforementioned camp to exact bloody revenge, The Burning was dismissed by critics & audiences alike as a ripoff of Friday the 13th. Who can blame them? The base story is almost a carbon copy: an employee, at a camp, executing bloody revenge due to a series of tragic events. 

With that said, to simply dismiss a movie, because the premise is overtly familiar is a disservice to films in general. You could say that Badlands was influenced by Bonnie and Clyde, that Indiana Jones aped the serials of yesteryear. Yet, Badlands & Indiana Jones are considered classics. My point is, it's what a filmmaker does with the premise that's going to make it or break it. So how does The Burning measure up? 

It begins well. The aforementioned prank gets things off to an attention grabbing start. The faces that populate the camp are played by an agreeable lot. There's the usual hi-jinks and T&A. There's nothing remarkable about these scenes, but they're entertaining none the less. 

When it comes to the villain, their overall appearance & the makeup effects, create a distinct impression. The weapon of choice, a pair of over exaggerated garden sheers, provides a memorable visual effect. There's some suspenseful POV sequences of the villain stalking victims to be. The carnage is appropriately gory with a scene taking place on a raft, in which campers are dispatched of (including a young Holly Hunter & Fisher Stevens), deservedly becoming a stand out in 80's horror. This is well realized, in graphic detail, by special effects artist Tom Savini. 

However, right when things should be getting good, it peters out with an unsatisfactory finale. The action is shifted from the camp setting to an abandoned mine. The first thought that came to mind is WHY?!? Why have a film that involves a camp employee, seeking revenge, close out in a mine? Even if I suspended my sense of logic, reason or cohesion, the transition to the finale is poorly staged & handled. There's no sense of tension or unease, despite the fact that it takes place in a setting that lends itself to that. As if that wasn't enough, the ending lacks grandeur. It feels flat and anti-climatic, despite some striking cinematography, effects galore, a helicopter zooming about and even flamethrowers!!!

Despite a climax that fails to deliver, The Burning is a solid addition to the slasher genre - nothing more, nothing less. [R] 91 minutes.

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Demons 2 - Review - @BrandonCSites

Demons 2 (1986) **1/2
D: Lamberto Bava
C: David Edwin Knight, Nancy Brilli, Coralina Cataldi Tassoni, Asia Argento, Bobby Rhodes, Davide Marotta

Plot Synopsis: The residents of a high-rise are trapped inside with demons on a Saturday night.

Review: In the original Demons, a group of moviegoers found themselves trapped in a theater when a demonic outbreak takes hold that mirrors the very film that the patrons are watching. In Demons 2, a group of people find themselves trapped in a modern day skyscraper when a demonic outbreak takes hold that mirrors a film airing on TV. While Demons 2 proclaims itself as a sequel to the 1985 cult classic, it's more of a remake. Not an official remake, but who are we kidding?

The premise and plotting are almost a carbon copy of the original. Hell, both films even utilize some of the same actors even though the characters that those actors portrayed died in the original. They skirt that issue by giving those same actors a different character name, but they're playing their roles in the same way that they portrayed them in the original. And just like the original, Demons 2 suffers from the same problems in that the characters make the dumbest decisions, at the dumbest possible moments, while reciting some of the dumbest dialogue imaginable.

There's no reason that any of this should have worked, but it does. Like the original, Demons 2 manages to create a claustrophobic environment. The principal setting, a skyscraper, goes a long ways in helping to achieve that. When it comes to skyscrapers, there's a limited amount of clearly defined entries & exits. In some cases, only one. When it comes to skyscrapers, they often have strong linear lines that make them interesting to look at, but on the other hand, those same lines often give skyscrapers a cold, detached quality. Due to the exaggerated height of skyscrapers, they often cast a foreboding quality, because they tower above other buildings. Think back to when you was a kid. I'm willing to bet that one reason the school bully was able to pick on others was, because he was taller then the other kids. That same logic applies to skyscrapers. All of these characteristics associated with a skyscraper are well utilized in creating an atmosphere of fear & apprehension in Demons 2.

Aiding in the mounting sense of terror is a bright color palate that gives this production a stylish look. That stylish look takes away personable qualities. That, in turn, makes the skyscraper setting all the more imposing. There's some effectively staged scenes that often find the characters trapped with little hope of escape. As for the actual demons, they're not only striking to look at, but they've been brought to life in a variety of credible makeup effects.

The people behind Demons 2 might not have a clue how to develop characters or a story, but they certainly know which visual embellishments will evoke a feeling of fear in its target audience. Now if they could put the two together, they would be onto something. [R] 92 minutes.

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Killer Klowns From Outer Space - Review - @BrandonCSites

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) ***
D: Stephen Chiodo
C: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson, Royal Dano, Michael Siegel, Peter Licassi, John Vernon

Plot Synopsis: Aliens who look like clowns come from outer space and terrorize a small town.

Review: With a title like Killer Klowns From Outer Space, it's pretty fair to say that this isn't going to be a movie of great depth or substance. The title pretty much tells you what you're in store for. There's going to be klowns. They're from outer space and they're going to kill people. If that's the kind of movie you want to see, this film delivers.

There's a variety of clowns presented in different shapes & sizes. The makeup & effects plays up to the whimsical nature of clowns while also giving them a horror edge that plays up to the the fear that people have of clowns. The costuming is spot on. The horror set pieces are creative and fun to watch. The pacing rarely allows for the momentum to lag. The cast plays up to the material without getting too caricaturist or over the top. This is especially important, because it keeps the proceedings grounded in some form of reality even though the premise is as outlandish as they come. Finally, they don't give away all the best jokes within the first act.

When it comes to comedy, you want to keep the audience in anticipation. You want to keep surprising them. In a lot of ways, comedy is much like suspense in that you want to keep people on the edge of their seat. Even though comedy & horror seem polar opposite of one another, they're both similar in that it's all about milking a scenario to its full potential. Killer Klowns understands that and that's what makes it work as well as it does in that there's a balance between horror & comedy without either genre overwhelming the other.

Imagine if they had placed the horror element in the forefront. Then people would've been disappointed that they didn't find the inherent humor of the material. Imagine if they had placed the comedy in the forefront over the horror. Then people would've been disappointed that they didn't find that tangibly spooky quality that makes people scared to death of clowns.

With Killer Klowns, horror & comedy co-exist with one another harmoniously. This might not seem like a lofty achievement, but to pull it off is nothing short of amazing as most other genre efforts struggle to find a tonal balance. That balance is what allows it to appeal to a wide variety of genre fans that are either looking for a good laugh or a good scare or even both. [PG-13] 88 minutes.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Most Likely To Die - Review - @BrandonCSites

Most Likely to Die (2015) *1/2
D: Anthony DiBlasi
C: Heather Morris, Ryan Doom, Chad Addison, Perez Hilton, Tatum Miranda, Jake Busey, Tess Christiansen, Marci Miller, Jason Tobias, Johnny Ramey, Skyler Vallo

Plot Synopsis: It's the night before a 10-year high school reunion and someone's been holding a grudge. One by one, former classmates are slain in ways befitting their yearbook superlatives.

Review: In Most Likely to Die, a group of people are offed as adults, because of their involvement with a prank back in their high school days. Based off this premise, two movies come to mind - Terror Train & Slaughter High. Both of those films involved pranksters getting their just deserts.

Terror Train
had a gimmick in that the killer switched outfits with his victims during the middle of a costume party. Slaughter High had a gimmick as well in that it took place on April Fool's Day and the murder set pieces were connected to various ideas associated with prank pulling. In comparing Most Likely to Die with those two movies, the first thing that raced through my mind was, what does it really have to offer?!? What makes it stand out?!? 

Terror Train & Slaughter High didn't exactly set the world ablaze with their originality, but at least they had something that gave them some form of distinction. The only thing that Most Likely to Die has to offer is a B level cast (or, in the eye of the general public, Z level). All of these actors have seen better days. There's nothing that's going to ring the nostalgia bell and make you remember why you liked them in the first place. The cast simply recites their lines and collects a paycheck in the process.

Even if I didn't ask for something to set Most Likely to Die apart from the countless movies out there, when it comes to the business of slashing, there's nothing excitingly violent, gratuitously thrilling, unexpectedly funny or remotely suspenseful. This is a paint by the numbers or, in this case, a kill by the numbers type affair. So, in a desperate attempt to bring pizzazz to a rather flat production, they throw in a last minute plot twist. 

This proves to be most frustrating for a myriad of reasons. First off, it's the only eye opening moment in the entire production and it comes at the very end! Two, because it fails to bring resolution to the proceedings which, in affect, makes everything else feel pointless. Three, in trying to critique why it frustrated me, I can't actually describe what the twist is without giving it away, but I'll try! I'll try, damn it!!!

The plot twist is one of those moments that feels like the beginning and not the end. It's during this plot twist, that the story feels like it has a sense of purpose, but since it ends at the plot twist, it leaves things feeling unresolved. The plot twist left me hanging in that I wanted to know what happens next. What was the next story development from that point on? To give an analogy, it's like someone telling a joke, but failing to give you the punchline. The joke might pique your interest, but it's the punchline that ties it all together. Most Likely to Die fails to deliver the punchline that could tie everything together.

What we're left with is a potentially exciting plot twist that they fail to develop. Instead, we're stuck with generic storytelling in a generic, uninspired presentation. 
[Not Rated] 81 minutes. 

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Night of the Demons 3 - Review - @BrandonCSites

Night of the Demons III (1997) *1/2
D: Jim Kaufman
C: Amelia Kinkade, Larry Day, Kris Holden-Ried, Gregory Calpakis, Tara Slone, Christian Tessier, Joel Gordon, Patricia Rodriguez 

Plot Synopsis: A group of young criminals accidentally shoot a police officer. To avoid being arrested they hide out in an abandoned house. When they realize that the house is haunted, they start to wish that they had turned themselves in when they had a chance.

Review: The first two entries in the Night of the Demons franchise took a generic premise of people in a haunted house getting possessed by demons on Halloween night and dressed it up with eye catching artwork, grisly death sequences, creative special effects, moments of style, delicious black humor, perfectly timed one liners and an attractive cast. While that might not have been a lofty achievement, it resulted in two entertaining movies.

Now, we're onto the third entry in the series. Yet again, another group of people are trapped in a haunted house, on Halloween night, where they're possessed and killed by a variety of demons. Yet again, there's eye catching artwork, grisly death sequences, creative special effects, moments of style, black humor, one liners and more! However, none of these elements have that same spark or flair that they did the first two times. The problem is that it all feels like leftover material that didn't make the cut in the first two movies.

They even recycle some of footage from the original in this entry! Even series star Amelia Kinkade seems to be going through the motions, reciting her dialogue for a quick buck. That same energy and va-va-voom that Kinkade displayed in the earlier films is long gone. Night of the Demons 3 feels like a shadow of the first two films. Or, to give some context, it's the black sheep of the family. It might be related to its predecessors, but it's not in the same league. That's a pretty telling statement in that the first two movies were slightly above average examples of the genre, but hardly anything that enriched the horror movie field. So, it wasn't like part three had impossible odds going against it. All they had to do was recycle the formula, but do it in a way that felt fresh. On that simple count, they failed.

You know how they say the third time is the charm? Well, in the case of Night of the Demons 3, it's more like three strikes and you're out. [R] 88 minutes.

AKA: Demon House

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Backgammon - Review - @BrandonCSites

Backgammon (2015) ***
D: Francisco OrvaƱanos
C: Noah Silver, Brittany Allen, Alex Beh, Olivia Crocicchia, Christian Alexander 

Plot Synopsis: Tensions rise when a college student, his girlfriend and another couple gather at a mansion for a weekend getaway.

Review: Back in the 80's and 90's, it was said that you had to grab the audience's attention within the first thirty minutes of a movie. This gave filmmakers a chance to allow their stories to unfold in a carefully considered way. That logic has changed. Nowadays, you have to grab their attention within the first three minutes.

If you subscribe to the latter, then you shouldn't even bother with Backgammon. The story involves five characters who dislike each other for assorted reasons and the psychological warfare that ensures between them while spending the weekend at an isolated mansion. The focus, in particular, is placed on an introverted college student (Noah Silver) who finds himself intrigued by the sister of a friend (Brittany Allen).

This female acquaintance is obviously troubled, yet Silver's character connects with her. He sees the good, even when everyone else is willing to walk away, even when her boyfriend disappears under mysterious circumstances. However, this dynamic isn't merely one sided. Allen's character gets Silver's in a way that no one else seems to. From this scenario, a myriad of themes & sentiments are explored.

There's pain, anguish, frustration, attraction, desire, jealousy, yearning, unease & even joy. That's a lot of ground to cover in 89 minutes, yet those emotions come across tangibly. The film takes the time to establish the setting, who the characters are, why they feel the way that they do and just when we think we know where things are going, they spring one surprising plot development after another. This is perfectly highlighted in the last five minutes, a moment that's both inevitable and unexpected all at the same time. 

What's admirable about this approach is that they don't cheat to arrive at these moments. When dealing with all of these emotions, they make sure to lay out a foundation for everything that's happening. This extends right down to the details. There's a Dorian Gray type painting that (seemingly) changes on its own to reflect the mental state of a character. There's the setting, a mansion that has a sense of grandeur, but also has a foreboding quality. It's metaphorical of the characters in that they look perfect on the exterior, but, behind closed doors, their connection to one another is fractured. 

In another well realized facet, one of the main
 character's disappears for the remainder of the running time. However, their presence is supposed to be felt throughout the rest of the proceedings, as it informs the choices that two of the characters make. To make viewers feel the presence of a character who doesn't appear, physically (on screen), is no easy task, but they pull it off. 

Now, it isn't always successful in its attempts. The characters often quote famous writers. Unless your familiar with the works of every writer quoted, some of the references will go right over your head. It's also jarring in that it doesn't come across as a natural extension of how the characters would interact. I get that they wanted to stay true to the source material, a book entitled Bloody Baudelaire (by R.B. Russell), but what works on page, doesn't necessarily translate to screen. That's why a movie adaptation can never be 100% faithful to the book.

On the production side, both Noah Silver & Brittany Allen have obvious screen presence. The overall visual presentation sells you on the premise from the locations, to the striking cinematography, to the costuming, to the set decoration. As a whole, Backgammon is not only technically proficient, but it's also one of those movies that makes you want to go back and re-evaluate what you just watched. The answers aren't easy and neatly laid out, but the best films shouldn't be easy. They should invite viewers to bring their own perceptions to the viewing experience and to ask them what they took from it. Backgammon does exactly that.

To execute this, a more deliberate pace is employed. When it comes to any form of suspense, you have to allow it to marinate, to develop over time. Suspense is a feeling that's gradually built over a sustained period. When it comes to painful emotions and what's causing them, the pieces have to be laid out so that you can understand what's causing them. This deliberate approach is bound to turn off attention deficit viewers. However, for those willing to take the time, there's rewards to be found. [Not Rated] 89 minutes.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Kill Your Friends - Review - @BrandonCSites

Kill Your Friends (2015) **
D: Owen Harris
C: Nicholas Hoult, James Corden, Georgia King, Tom Riley, Craig Roberts, Jim Piddock, Joseph Mawle, Dustin Demri-Burns, Damien Molony, Bronson Webb, Ella Smith, Rosanna Hoult

Plot Synopsis: In the late 1990s, a drug-addled nihilist resorts to murder to climb the ladder of the London music industry.

Review: Kill You Friends is like a New Year's resolution. It aims to be a scathing satire of the music industry, but like a resolution, it never fully commits to what it sets out to accomplish.


-Kill Your Friends is marketed as a satire in the vein of American Psycho. That piqued my interest.
-The cast is attractive. 
-They get naked.
-They indulge in sex & drugs. 
-There's the occasional murder or two ....or three. 
-There's flashy color palates, moments of style & rapid fire dialogue. 
-It's fast paced and maintains interest throughout. 


-Kill You Friends is like a New Year's resolution. It aims to be a scathing satire of the music industry, but like a resolution, it never fully commits to what it sets out to accomplish.

-Kill Your Friends takes the side of its main character, a record executive who picks off his colleagues. In doing so, it's agreeing with the main character's viewpoint that his colleagues deserve to die, that the music industry is run by buffoons, that the music industry is seriously flawed. I have one question. Didn't we already know that?!?

-Kill Your Friends is so narrowly focused on the music industry, that it fails to see the bigger picture. Maybe the main character is as much a problem as his surroundings? Maybe the bigger problem is society itself?

Overall: Kill Your Friends is agreeable entertainment. However, that's the problem!! In order to be a scathing satire of something, you have to take a no prisoners type approach. That means being unafraid to take direct aim at your subject, even if that means ruffling feathers. After all, the idea behind a satire is to make a pointed statement against something.

Kill Your Friends has an idea and a voice, but it's afraid to speak up and fully explore the material. Maybe the truth is ugly and that'll offend people, but if we avoid truths to avoid offense then we'll get nowhere. Case in point, here's a film that skirts the very issues that it brings up. [Not Rated] 103 minutes.

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