Blood Rage (1987)

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Blood Rage, 1987
directed by John Grissmer
starring Mark Soper, Lousie Lasser, Julie Gordon

Although most commonly known as Blood Rage, this film was released under the less appealing Nightmare at Shadow Woods and the perfectly simple Slasher. The latter of which seems perfect to prepare viewers for what is ahead of them, but at the same time feels comically lazy. Imagine seeing a movie titled Action or Drama. Anyway, Blood Rage is a fairly standard slasher, with some peculiar efforts sprinkled throughout that seem to imply an effort at a more intrinsic storyline than actually is there. What is actually there is a simple enough story, though: While at the drive-in movie theater with their mother and her date, twin brothers Todd and Terry sneak away from the car and Terry hacks up a male teenager with his girlfriend. As a crowd approaches, Terry smears blood on Todd’s face and places the hatchet in his hand. Despite Terry being covered with splatter marks maybe implying him as the killer, Todd is sent away without question to a mental institution.

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Even though there are a few moments so awkward they are comical, Blood Rage is a solid slasher. The kills come at a rapid pace, and the makeup effects are gory and original. Not the finest ever presented, but there is enough creativity in their introduction and likely a good amount of nostalgia in the viewer to find them gruesomely pleasant. What does break the pace of the movie at odd intervals are scenes with Louise Lasser, who plays the mother of Todd and Terry. While there is nothing concrete to point to as evidence, there is absolutely an odd subliminal sense of an oedipal relationship with Terry. She is also rather manic, and while this plays out in the finish of the story, some of the scenes seemed randomly timed and too long. That being said, Lasser is clearly an exceptional actress and presents some of the finer acting you’ll see in a low-budget slasher like this. The same can be said for Mark Soper, who plays both Todd and Terry. The rest of the cast are the nondescript jigsaw pieces to complete the puzzle, none particular bad but none particularly impressive (except maybe Julie Gordon, but that’s probably just because she is really pretty).

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For the slasher fan, Blood Rage is definitely a must-see. It’s certainly no Halloween, but it’s definitely in a higher class than many of the other low-budget slashers. The storyline is indeed a bit odd at times, but honestly any effort or originality in that area of a slasher, if paired with the right amount of gore, is appreciated. If Blood Rage had a little more variety in locations, it’s seemingly shot repetitive across fifty feet of an apartment complex and hardly touches the adjacent promising woods, it could have been even more enjoyable. Still, Blood Rage doesn’t falter in the basics of the slasher genre and provides quite a few extra bonuses.

7.5

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Creep (2014)

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Creep, 2014
directed by Patrick Brice
starring Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass

Purely on a filmmaking level, Creep is an impressively eerie found-footage movie that is driven by only two cast members and a completely minimal budget. One of the two people that appear on screen (this movie doesn’t even show a single extra at any point) is director Patrick Brice, who takes a filming job from Craigslist from a man played by Mark Duplass. Quickly, it becomes noticeable that something about Duplass’ character, Josef, is a bit off. His extremely amicable and outgoing nature, and immediate ability to trust a stranger with intimate details about his life lay a foundation of unease. Whether or not Josef is the person he says he is and portrays becomes the mystery of Creep that is explored, a majority of the time simply through dialogue between the two characters.

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Creep doesn’t rely on familiar tricks from the found-footage genre. There are only a few moments where the camera is used to limit visibility or create a sense of isolation. For the most part the movie features one of two characters directly and closely in front of the camera talking. Which may sound a bit dull, but the uneasiness created with Josef is intriguing and there are just enough ominous nuances to his words that make the film engaging and the audience wondering what will happen in the next scene. However, it is Josef’s character that seems almost certainly to be the “creep” that is identified in the title of the movie, so the mystery of whether or not everything is built from paranoia, or Aaron (Brice) is actually the menacing figure don’t seem like feasible possibilities. Therefore, while the movie was more than intriguing enough to hold my attention, too many scenes felt as if it was all about whether or not the reveal was about to happen. That is not completely a bad thing as it does build some tension, but Creep would have benefitted from Josef seeming a little more normal early on and progressed into his bizarre character at a slower pace.

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Some people maybe would not even consider Creep to be a horror movie and perhaps the argument could be made for it being a dark drama or low-key thriller. It definitely is a horror film in my mind, though I think the great unease and tension that is created with the intimate style of filmmaking absolutely makes it an uncomfortable movie to watch. There are a couple of good creepy scenes (no pun intended) and it’s a movie that definitely leaves you thinking about it afterwards. Brice is good enough in his role opposite of Duplass creating a character that is hard to judge, but easy to sympathize with. Is he just there for the money, or through that is he a sympathetic person? Or if he is too trusting and naive not to see the red flags in Josef. Combining that with his position, separated from the city on a forrest covered mountain, and confined by the uncomfortable situation, his fear is real and understandable to the viewer. Duplass is a touch better, though, in a close first and second to round up the entire cast. Creep is a movie that may not be the scariest, but is absolutely strange and entertaining and well worth watching just for the unique style.

7.5

Dance of the Dead (2008)

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Dance of the Dead, 2008
directed by Gregg Bishop
starring Jared Kusnitz, Greyson Chadwick, Mark Oliver

This is the fourth time I’ve watched Dance of the Dead since its 2008 release, and for some reason I worried that with getting older or having seen more and more films from the zombie comedy genre, that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much or think it’s juvenile and stereotypical. However, each time watching this movie has been a laugh out loud funny, bloody, and cutely romantic blast each time for me. The zombie comedy genre was pretty flooded for a while, with Shaun of the DeadReturn of the Living Dead and a hidden Hong Kong gem Bio-Zombie being the most borrowed from in my opinion. And while Dance of the Dead has a few characters and gags with familiar foundations of other films, it’s still unique, funny and charming enough to be considered one of the better entries in the genre. The plot here is the way zombie movies should be in my opinion: Simple. In a typical unnamed American suburb, a nuclear power plant that oversees a graveyard releases a nondescript chemical that falls upon the graves and reanimates the dead bodies into rabid zombies. The chaos hits a high gear when the local high school is having their prom, and of course it’s the nerds that didn’t attend the dance that have to fight off the zombies and save the day.

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Especially in the latter half, Dance of the Dead progresses frenetically, at a bloody pace similar to Night of the Creeps. It even has a similar character to Tom Atkins’ role in that film, this time it’s an aggressive authoritative gym coach portrayed by Mark Oliver (Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland). It just so happens he has been stockpiling his garage with guns, ammo, and bombs, and when he runs into some of his least favorite slackers from school in the disarray they all team up to make an entertaining motley crew. The film is not only at it’s best, most entertaining, and funniest when the action is peaking. There are plenty of quick gags and lines that work really well, as well as entire scenes intended to add comedy to the film. No spoilers, but the scenes involving a garage band in the film is probably one of the best. Outside of Oliver, and perhaps Jared Kusnitz and Greyson Chadwick as the leading couple, most of the other characters are a bit of a lineup of characters we’ve all really seen before. It’s not too detrimental, though, this is a zombie comedy in a high school, so it works well and gives the film opportunities to poke fun at some of those familiar stereotypes. One little thing I always chuckle at, though, is when an actor portraying a high school has a hairline receding more than some of the teachers and principles.

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At times, though, things are a little inconsistent in Dance of the Dead. Some of the effects are way less convincing than others. Particularly severed heads, there is just something about them in this movie that looks very poorly done (as always, typing out things like that always makes me feel a little crazy). But, there are plenty of great and enjoyable effects present, and there is a ton of blood throughout in plenty of creative ways and scenes. Another inconsistency that bothered me, but doesn’t really affect the movie, was the movements of the zombies. Sometimes they are the sluggish, non-perceptive zombies most are familiar with, other times they are a little too nimble and can sprint and jump. How a zombie should run is debatable (screw being noncommittal, I hate running zombies), but they definitely should have just picked something and stuck with it. All that being said, most of the stuff that bothered me about the film was minor. Overall, this movie is absolutely tons of fun and I think once the first half hour or so passes it becomes the kind of zombie comedy that I’d absolutely recommend anyone into the genre to check out.

8.0

The Prowler (1981)

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The Prowler aka Rosemary’s Killer, 1981
directed by Joseph Zito
starring Vicky Dawson, Christopher Goutman, Farley Granger

One of the “section three” films of the video nasties list from the UK in the 1980s is The Prowler (also later released as Rosemary’s Killer) features a few notable movie talents. Horror-wise, makeup master Tom Savini works his magic, and director Joseph Zito would go on to direct Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Farley Granger appears, most notable for his two (fantastic) works with Alfred Hitchcock in Rope and Strangers on a Train, and in a limited role we see Lawrence Tierney, who built an extensive resume with many RKO features as a intimidating tough guy. Those that are a little less known, such as a lead star Vicky Dawson and David Sederholm, are more than serviceable and make The Prowler a rare slasher that doesn’t have incredibly bad acting. However, even though the movie doesn’t fall into the frequent traps that often make slashers a chore to watch, it doesn’t do enough to place it far above an extensive library of “faceless killer hacks up young adults” films that were just becoming so common at the time of its release.

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What made The Prowler so notorious was definitely the makeup work of Tom Savini. It’s hard to write about a movie that he worked on and not bring it up, but especially for the time, this movie is very graphic and the effects are phenomenal. The only downside is much of the kills are spread too far apart, especially in the beginning. Saying something like that always sounds maniacal, but initially The Prowler does feel very much like a movie that you should be watching in a cinema with other screaming fans, or with a group of friends having a good time. The middle portion of the film slows down a bit, perhaps a little too much, but the atmosphere benefits from that. Although some of the scenes are repetitive and a touch predictable, they are well shot and the music accompaniment is effective. The plot is a thin veil covering the slashing action, but is still treated like a grand mystery throughout the film. Which is even more frustrating, because the opening scene completely explains what we watch a green deputy and a college girl try to figure out for an hour. The “whodunnit” part is then presented with three suspects, each of whom only receive two cliched scenes of enticement each.

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It’s hard to recommend or not recommend The Prowler, there’s definitely a pretty specific audience and mood required. This isn’t a hidden slasher gem like Intruder or Popcorn, but it’s not completely forgettable low-budget trash. It is, if I had to compare it to something, it’s a slightly more refined Slumber Party Massacre or The House on Sorority Row. It starts off well, stutters a bit mid-way, but has a good finish and a solid final fight. Dawson is great in the role given to her as the leading lady. Although, even though the plot is essentially wrapped up, the very final scene seems like something thrown in at the very last minute, with either filmmakers lost on how to roll into the credits or producers wanting one last scare. The real show stealer here is Savini, and his work definitely makes the movie a slightly above average slasher.

6.0

SiREN (2016)

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SiREN, 2016
directed by Gregg Bishop
starring Hannah Fierman, Justin Welborn, Chase Williamson

Anyone who saw the first entry of the V/H/S series will likely remember the seductive brown eyes of an evil succubus in a segment titled Amateur Night. Hannah Fierman returns to that role in a full-length adaptation, which is certainly entertaining and features many similar themes in a familiar style of the original, but ultimately isn’t as memorable or effective. Lengthening Amateur Night is an intriguing idea, as it was definitely one of the best V/H/S segments, but being forced to expand story is where SiREN doesn’t excel. The movie falls into a series of plot points and character decisions that make it feel too much like an average, undistinguished horror flick.

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Minus a brief foreshadowing scene, SiREN follows an almost identical route to the original with four guys heading out on a bachelor party mostly to meet girls and get messed up. With things turning a little stale, they decide to follow a guy from the bar to a mansion miles and miles into the woods hoping to have the night of their lives. Describing the plot so plainly seems dismissive of any buildup, but there really isn’t much else. The series of ominous events that quickly occur are not surprising, and are just obvious markers that something will go wrong. Which, I suppose anyone watching the movie will expect, but it definitely takes away a lot of tension when you are looking at a simple plot with characters making bad decisions so quickly. SiREN is only 82 minutes long, but still feels locked down on recreating the same kind of haunt that the original short had. And about twenty minutes into SiREN, the benefits that Amateur Night are obvious. It was built to be a succubus thrill ride, without any explanation. Having nothing explained, and the events happening so quickly, was what made it great.

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Fierman is pretty fantastic in her role and is by far the highlight of the film. It’s a limited character in terms of dialogue but she is once again creepy and memorable, and her physical movements are also perfectly eerie. While the rest of the movie is fairly entertaining and could be worth a watch, it’s has way too many eye-roll inducing moments. The cult featured in the movie is clearly well followed and elaborately organized, but they make inane decisions that seem to exist only to keep the movie progressing. And there really isn’t a single solid scare in the movie, but admittedly, it is creepy and has some intense moments. Too much of the time, though, SiREN is predictable and feels like a an assortment of standard horror tropes used to expand what should have just remained a mysterious short film on a lost videotape.

5.0