Movie Review: The Tower (2008)

Fantasy Horror, Horror, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi

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Above the city of Detroit, a long abandoned tower rots in the skyline.  The structure appears lifeless, but in the dead of night a bright light shines from the top window.  Doug (Rick Kunzi) becomes obsessed with entering the tower after learning about its mysterious history: According to legend it’s said to be a gateway to another world.  When Doug goes missing, his sister Lucy (Roxy Strickland) is convinced that he’s trapped inside the tower, leading her on a quest to save her brother while coming face-to-face with the mysteries of the tower and the dangers that lurk within it.

”The Tower”, despite its flaws, is a highly ambitious, deeply imaginative low budget gem, where the sheer scope of the storytelling, abundance of atmosphere and creature designs draw you into a world that’s nightmarish and surreal.  This is not your standard horror film with zombies and beasts; the story is complex and full of mystery, where science fiction and fantasy intersect with horror to create something bizarre, engrossing and original.  It’s a journey into hell, where reality is a blur and danger awaits in every corridor.

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The horrors within the tower include an assortment of zombies, demons and spirits, with more other worldly beings introduced as the story evolves at a brisk pace, which never feels like its dragging.  The Clive Barker influence shines throughout; this isn’t your conventional type of horror film and it’s hard to categorize it alongside anything else.  The demons are reminiscent of Barker’s work, whereas the dimensional aspects and sci-fi crossover evoke memories of Don Coscarelli; especially the latter ”Phantasm” sequels.  However, this is its own beast entirely; boasting a nightmarish vision that drags us with its protagonist through a limbo between worlds as she tries to find her brother and a way out before she becomes just another victim of the void.

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The acting is the only gripe I have with ”The Tower”; nobody experts Marlon Brando levels of character portrayal from an independent horror film, but this cast was amateurish and bland.  However, it’s not the worst either and it doesn’t take us out of the story – which is as engrossing as it is haunting. All of the money they had has went into special effects, which are rather impressive – especially the creature designs which you’ll see in the trailer at the end of my review.  What really carries ”The Tower” though is heart and passion: These filmmakers have put their all into this project and it shows.  For fans of this type of cinema, especially myself, that goes a very long way and makes the flaws irrelevant.

One of the main strengths of this movie is how it transports us to another world.  It’s surreal and leaves a lot to be dissected and interpreted, but very few movies have captured the feeling of actually being stuck in a hellish limbo quite like this.  It possesses a strange, dreamlike quality similar very few movies have managed to capture; watching it is like being thrust into the haze of a nightmare.

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The only available DVD copies are Japanese bootlegs and they don’t come cheap, but you can buy it here.  Even trying to find it through more nefarious means will prove to be a challenge unless you’re a member of some exclusive sites which specialize in rare, underground films.  It’s quite heartbreaking to know this will fade further into obscurity as the years go by; there were even points where I doubted it was even a real movie.  There are no reviews to be found online, nor is there any trace of the filmmakers or any word of mouth about the film.  Movies with this much imagination, made by filmmakers striving to be different deserve to be seen.  But alas, the world isn’t fair sometimes.

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I could include spoilers as it’s highly likely you’ll never see it.  But I’m not going to.  If the following trailer sparks your interest enough to buy it or delve into the far reaches of the web to find it, you deserve the joy of experiencing it firsthand.  This is a movie which throws surprises at you and defies expectations.  Highly recommended.  8/10

Directors: Dan Falzone & Dan McGowan

Writers: Dan Falzone, Dan McGowan, Lon Strickland, Roxy Strickland

Starring: Roxy Strickland, Rick Kunzi, Norm Roth

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 90 min

Movie Review: The Golden Child (1986)

Action, Comedy, fantasy, Horror Comedy, Movie Reviews

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Chinese mysticism isn’t a prominent theme in mainstream movies; in fact it isn’t a very common theme in western movies as a whole; but in 1986 2 were released within 5 months of each other.  The first, released in July, was John Carpenter’s cult classic Big Trouble In Little China, a kung-fu neo-western that failed to make a splash at the box office and would be considered a huge commercial flop, making back a mere 11 million from a 25 million dollar budget.  The second was The Golden Child, released in December, starring Eddie Murphy riding a wave of success after Beverly Hills Cop (1984) became a huge worldwide hit.  The Golden Child, unlike Big Trouble In Little China, was a moderate box office success; but throughout the years it would become forgotten by most while Carpenter’s film would go on to become a cult classic that’s still finding audiences to this day.  Comparisons between both movies are inescapable: they share as much similarities as they do differences, with actors James Hong, Peter Kwong and Victor Wong appearing in each of them.  Furthermore, Carpenter was even attached to direct The Golden Child, but would go on to jump ship from Paramount to 20th Century Fox and speed up production on Big Trouble and beat it to release.  It would seem like both companies were in competition with each other and these movies were the product of their rivalry.  Regardless of what they have in common, I think they’re both unique in their own right.

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The original script for The Golden Child, penned by Species (1995) writer Dennis Feldman was originally supposed to be a darker movie, starring Mel Gibson as the lead.  But due to Gibson’s unavailability, Eddie Murphy was given the part and the script was rewritten to suit his comedic sensibilities. He would be joined by Charles Dance and Charlotte Lewis, who would play his Devilish nemesis and love interest respectively.

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The plot is simple: Eddie Murphy plays Chandler Jarrell, a private detective who specializes in finding missing children.  After the disappearance of The Golden Child – a young monk boy with special magical abilities who was kidnapped by an evil sorcerer – Chandler is the only one who can save him. Chandler was sought out because he’s The Chosen One; at first he thinks it’s all ridiculous, of course – but as the investigation advances he learns that supernatural forces are real and only he can put a stop to the wicked Sardo Numspa (Charles Dance) and his minions.

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Reviews weren’t kind to The Golden Child upon its release and it currently holds a 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, suggesting that the majority of critics are joyless morons.  However, in a positive review, Roger Ebert praised it for being, ”entertaining from beginning to end.”  That sums it up perfectly; The Golden Child won’t have you laughing at loud, but its charm is infectious and it’s so well paced and entertaining you’ll never feel bored. It may not be a particularly ”funny” movie, but it’s a fun one – and it has endless rewatch value, much like its cousin Big Trouble In Little China.

The special effects are dated by modern standards, but that just adds to its charm.  They represent a passage of time and era of film that never fails to give me a huge cheesy grin.  The 80’s was the pinnacle for action, adventure, comedy, fantasy and horror for me.  If it was for you too then it doesn’t get more 80’s than this; from the music to the costumes, the action sequences and humour – this is a blast.

The Golden Child isn’t perfect; comparisons to Big Trouble are inevitable and it doesn’t come close to matching Carpenter’s classic in awesomeness; but that doesn’t mean it’s not a gem in its own right.  Do yourself a favour and give it a chance.  7/10.

Directed By:

Michael Ritchie

Written By:

Dennis Feldman

Starring:

Eddie Murphy, Charles Dance, Charlotte Lewis, J.L. Reate

Genre:

Action, Fantasy, Comedy, Horror

Running Time:

94 min

Movie Review: Toad Road (2012)

Arthouse, drama, Horror, Movie Reviews

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Toad Road is an urban legend of American folklore, about a road in Hellam Township, Pennsylvania, where the Seven Gates of Hell are said to reside in a wooded area.  If one passes through all seven gates, they are said to enter Hell itself.  In Jason Bankers movie Toad Road, it serves as a metaphor for the plight of drug addiction for a young group of friends.  It follows a group of slackers (played by a group of real life friends the director found on Myspace) as they float through life bored and without purpose; they spend their days and nights abusing alcohol and drugs without any signs of direction apart from down.  When James meets Sara, he tries to warn her of the side effects of drugs and the life she’s getting herself into, but Sara disregards his warnings and becomes addicted and obsessed with embarking on a journey through Toad Road to find Hell; to Sara, she believes finding Hell would equal peace and sanctuary, and after persuading James and the gang, they drop acid and set out on the road.  As they pass through each gate, the lines between reality and what’s in their minds become a blur as months go by.

The lead actress, Sara Anne Jones, who played the titular character of the same name died of a drug overdose shortly after the film was complete; the characters here play authentic versions of themselves, molded to fit the story.  The scenes of drug use are 100% real, as are their interactions.  It’s a loose documentary in a way, but Bankers still manages to create a story and narrative that’s coherent and raw.

The journey into Hell is a variety of things: the first is the physical place they set out to find at the end of the road; another Sara’s nihilistic goal to either find something greater, or the peace of escaping the world she knows.  The third is the downward spiral into the self-destruction brought on by addiction; Sara describes each gate through narration and the feelings of guilt, shame and hope they bestow on her.  It’s a surreal fairytale about seeking something otherworldly, but ultimately finding death: a metaphor for how drugs are a quest for a transcendental high at the risk of a harrowing reality.

Toad Road is hallucinogenic and it gets more surreal as it progresses; reality and fantasy become one; the supernatural and reality are too vague to differentiate.  In summary: it’s a mind fuck.  The story plays out like a documentary, a mumblecore drama and a campfire fairytale, but it’s a movie that’s more about the message – which is the dangers of drug addiction without being preachy.

This is one of the most haunting, harrowing and honest movies you’ll ever see, but it’s not for everyone. The actors involved were a real group of friends doing real drugs in the movie, yet director Jason Banker managed to mold their real personas into autobiographical characters to create a fairytale about self-destruction and a journey to find something better and otherworldly. It’s a strange movie, it’s nihilistic and it’s an essential document of disenchanted youth culture.  9/10

Written & Directed By:

Jason Banker

Starring:

James Davidson, Sara Anne Jones, Whitley Higuera

Genre: 

Drama, Horror

Book Review: American Gods (2001)

Book Reviews

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To me, a good book is akin to a good holiday or time spent away from home: a place where your new surroundings become your temporary reality; it’s a time where you meet new people, friends or otherwise, and embark on a journey so escapist from your mundane routines that any semblance of your normal life is a foggy memory in those moments.  Neil Gaiman’s Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker and Locus Awards winning American Gods is such a tale: a fantasy grounded in a reality we all know in some way or another; it takes us on a dangerous journey through the heartland of modern America, a place where both ancient and modern Gods live and breathe, and danger, excitement, revelation and imagination lurk at every turn.  One doesn’t have to be American to understand American Gods; Gaiman’s looking glass is so expertly manifested on the pages that it immerses you in the world he takes us too.  However, despite being a commentary on middle America, many of the themes in his tale are universal; not to mention it’s also good old fashioned storytelling at it’s most grandiose and genius.

The story follows a man named Shadow; having just been released from prison to find out his wife is dead, he accepts a job from a mysterious man he meets on a flight called Mr. Wednesday, who knows all about Shadow.  He claims to be the ”king of America” and a survivor from an Old War. It turns out he’s Odin, a God from Norwegian folklore.  He informs Shadow that a war is imminent between the gods of old and new. With nothing to go home to, Shadow takes up Wednesday’s offer and they embark on a journey across America, meeting odd characters and avoiding the dangers that pursue them.

For a novel so huge in scope, ideas, concept and ambition, American Gods manages to come across as natural and has us believing every single word.  Furthermore, it’s as smooth as silk to read despite clocking in at over 600 pages.  Gaiman’s inventive pros are absolutely mesmerizing, and his story is more addictive than heroin or True Detective season one.  I haven’t tried heroin, nor do I intend to: but from what I understand it’s addictive.

The old Gods are representative of many different cultures and symbolic of modern immigration.  They live in squalor and poverty, waiting for America to notice them to regain past prominence.  Here, Gaiman is making a statement that immigrants are forgotten and left behind by the American Dream.  American Gods also has messages about the advancement of technology, the rise of the internet and the role of media.  Moreover, it deals with themes such as love, loss, heartbreak and self-discovery and small town life.  It’s symbolic, haunting, funny and steeped in imagination; hyperbole it is not when I call it the most enriched reading experience I have ever had the joy of experiencing.  It made me laugh, it left me cold, it gave me closure then left me aching for more.  When it was all over, I felt lost and sad that my journey had ended.

Is American Gods the best book ever?  Probably.  But even if it’s not, it’s still an essential book that will nourish your soul.  10/10

Movie Review: Lost River (2014)

drama, fantasy, Movie Review

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Ryan Gosling has forged quite the career from marching to the beat of his own drum; his acting roles are picked based on what interests him as opposed to coasting on his looks and charms all the way to the bank, and now, with his first directorial feature, he’s created a bamboozling piece of arthouse cinema in the vein of his mentor Nicolas Refn, and idols like David Lynch, Dario Argento and Gaspar Noe.  Film buffs are sure to have a ball playing spot the influence; Gosling proudly wears Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive on his sleeve, through the lens of Only God Forgives.  Like his acting roles, this isn’t concerned about pleasing the mainstream; in fact, judging by its Cannes reaction and Rotten Tomatoes score it isn’t pleasing anybody.  Critics are writing it off as a collage of influences on a canvas with no originality of its own; and while it is a collage of influences, to write it off as nothing more is lazy journalism.  Whilst displaying images reminiscent of its idols, it contains enough of its own symbolism and messages to warrant some respect in regards to its originality.

Gosling tackles issues like small town life, poverty, bullying, family, coming of age, and the environment in his first outing; Christina Hendricks plays the mother who goes to desperate lengths to support her family, leading her into a dark underworld overseen by Ben Mendelsohn’s Dave, a sleazy Luciferian-like scumbag with a fondness for karaoke.  Saoirse Ronan plays Rat, the young love interest of Bones (Iain De Caestecker), who spend their time ducking bullies led by the appropriately named Bully, played by Doctor Who himself, Matt Smith, in  career best performance thus far.  Their town is decaying as a result of the economic crisis, and the setting makes for a desolate urban fairytale.

Water plays an important part in Lost River; in a town where water is hard to come by, all the characters still seem to be drowning in one way or another.  Social commentary is playfully used to suggest that industrial and commercial growth has replaced reservoirs to the point nobody knows what they are any more, despite being necessary in order to survive.

Lost River does come off as a love letter to avant-garde cinema Gosling is inspired by, but to dismiss it as only that is unfair; although viewed through the lens of Refn, with the imagery of Lynch, Mallick, Noe and Argento splashed across the screen throughout, this urban fairytale has strong characters and enough moral, societal and self-empowering messages to stand on its own 2 legs.  Overall, it’s a visually striking treat that could suck you in based on that alone, but Gosling is a director with a voice who shows great promise, even if he does need a little confidence to speak louder without his influences whispering in his ear.  7/10

Written & Directed By:

Ryan Gosling

Starring:

Christina Hendricks, Ben Mendelsohn, Saoirse Ronan, Matt Smith

Genre:

Fantasy, Drama

Running Time:

95 mins

Movie Review: Digging Up The Marrow (2014)

Comedy, fantasy, Horror, Movie Reviews

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The daydreamer in every horror fanatic has fantasized about the existence of monsters at some point in their life: Harry Potter fans have spent hours in their imaginations strolling the halls of Hogwarts and horror fans have stared into cemeteries hoping for gateways to Midian; or ventured into the woods hoping to bump into a werewolf or man eating yeti.  To us, the existence of monsters is akin to a child’s hope that Santa Claus is out there somewhere, fighting Iraqi soldiers.  Adam Green’s latest feature – his first since 2010’s Hatchet II – is the product of a lifelong horror fan who’s always hoped monsters exist deep down, despite adult logic telling him otherwise.  On top of that, Digging Up The Marrow is a love letter to horror and its die hard fans; conveyed in the style of a mildly self-deprecating mockumentary.

Digging Up The Marrow stars Adam Green and his real life cinematographer, Will Barratt; playing themselves as they make a documentary about monster make-up.  It features an array of cameos from fellow actors, directors and artists discussing monster effects as if it were a real documentary.  However, after a meeting with a crazy fan named Dekker (Ray Wise) – an ex-detective who claims to have proof of the existence of monsters – Adam and Will embark join him on a mission to capture them on film.  To Adam and Will, Dekker is just an old loony who makes for entertaining subject matter, but they soon realize he might not be so crazy after all.

Adam Green – much like his friend and oft-collaborator Joe Lynch – has a loyal fan base because he’s a fans director, who engages with us regularly; so to play himself in a role is a great way to give us more of the man we crave like hotcakes.  I myself am a huge Adam Green fan: as a filmmaker he caters to my tastes and as a person he’s genuine and funny shares my enthusiasm and passion for horror, so to see that portrayed in an on-screen role was fun and fresh.

Casting Ray Wise in a faux-documentary isn’t going to win points for authenticity, but it breaks the scoreboard in terms of pure entertainment: he effortlessly oscillates between chewing scenery, exercising his comedic chops and dramatic intensity, just like any bonkers monster believer should.  It’s a role where Wise gets to showcase the spectrum of his acting abilities and I can’t think of any other actor who could have played this part better; or even on par.

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For all I love Adam Green, I found Digging Up The Marrow to be a pleasant surprise: in an age of horror where pseudo-documentaries and found footage films take up a large, unwanted space; Adam Green has managed to mash them to produce yet another outstanding entry to his body of work.

Digging Up The Marrow is another hit for Adam Green that is unlike his other projects: he continues to prove himself as a champion of modern horror with fresh takes on tired genres and innovative work which puts him ahead of the curve.  This is bound to please horror fans by resonating with them as a love letter to the genre, as well as a piece of fresh storytelling.  I can’t recommend this one enough.  8/10

Written & Directed By:

Adam Green

Starring:

Adam Green, Ray Wise, Will Barratt

Genre:

Horror, Comedy, Fantasy

Running Time:

98 min

Movie Review: Nightbreed: Director’s Cut (2014)

Fantasy Horror, Horror, Movie Reviews

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Let’s face it: As wildly imaginative and wonderful as the 1990 theatrical cut of Nightbreed is, it feels like a rushed effort that’s been more chopped and skewed than a Lil John album.  Despite being a film you can watch repeatedly, a black cloud hovers above it suggesting that it could have been so much more.  Upon it’s original release, the studio didn’t know how to market it and it suffered as a result, but there was enough fantastical beauty to make it a cult classic and make us wish that Midian was a real place.  Now, thanks to Scream Factory, we get to see Clive Barker’s tale the way it was originally intended to be without pesky studio meddling.  The question is: was it worth the wait?

You better believe it was.

In case you aren’t familiar with Nightbreed, it’s a film adaptation of Clive Barker’s novella, Cabal.  It stars Craig Sheffer as Boone, a troubled young man plagued by nightmares of a sub-cemetery community known as Midian, where monsters and creatures dwell.  Meanwhile, there’s a serial killer on the loose murdering families, and Boone’s ex-psychiatrist, Decker (David Cronenberg) convinces Boone that he’s the culprit and must turn himself in.  That night, Boone is hospitalized and he hears a mental patient talking about Midian, and said patient tells him how to get there.  Once he arrives, he’s chased out and shot dead by police, which was Decker’s plan all along so he could locate Midian for his own sick agenda.  Later that night, Boone rises from the dead and gains entry to Midian, but his girlfriend tracks him down and gets into a spot of bother with Decker, causing Boone to rush to her aid.  However, Decker escapes and brings the authorities and angry locals along to wage war on the creatures of Midian, and it’s up to Boone to save the day.

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When Nightbreed was released the studio didn’t know how to market it and missed the point entirely: If you’ve read Barker’s work, you’ll know that that he sympathizes with outcasts.  The monsters in Nightbreed were never intended to be the baddies: the real villains were the humans for trying to destroy what they didn’t understand.  Midian was a peaceful community, governed by law and hidden from the living world.  The humans on the other hand were all savages who wanted to kill the monsters just for being monsters.  It’s a metaphor for prejudice, but the studio wanted the monsters to be predators and not the victims.

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Thanks to the Director’s Cut, the backstory of the creatures of Midian has been fleshed out and they’re portrayed the way they were originally intended.  Furthermore, the relationship between Boone and his girlfriend is given more time to flourish.  While still retaining strong horror elements, the new version of Nightbreed is more of a fantasy love story, and if that puts you off, you might just find yourself missing out on a wonderful film.  Most of Clive Barker’s work is difficult to categorize due to the depth of it all: Nightbreed is his most transcendent movie to date and unlike anything else your bound to see.

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Boasting fantastic practical creature designs, striking cinematography and an epically menacing otherworldly score by Danny Elfman, Nightbreed is the type of escapism that sucks you into a world you’ll get lost in.  Clive Barker wanted this to be the, ”Star Wars of monster movies” and with this cut, he gets his wish: Although Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) might have something to say about that… Regardless, Nightbreed doesn’t have to be compared to anything because it’s a rare original beast no other movie has ever come close to being comparable to.  Pure cinematic gold. 9/10

Directed By:

Clive Barker

Written By:

Clive Barker

Starring:

Craig Sheffer, David Cronenberg, Anne Bobby, Doug Bradley

Running Time:

122 mins

Genre:

Fantasy, Horror, Romance