The Black Tape (2014)–movie review

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Several news media outlets receive a package containing a video. The package has no return address, but is simply labelled “The Black Tape”. Aside from a prelude set sometime after the main events, this video cassette details the tragic month of December 2009 for the Wilson family.

 

Parents, Robert and Alana Wilson (Allen Marsh and Elina Madison, respectively), their teen son, Paul (Parker Coppins), and, little daughter, Mary (Viktoria Stonebrooke), welcome the oldest daughter and college student, Stephanie (Melanie Thompson), home for the holidays. Most scenes in the home are viewed with strategically placed hidden cameras situated throughout the house. And, at times within or without of the home by a handheld camera. Nothing seems to go unseen in this family home, even one dark secret that figures in the story later in the film.

 

These cameras are set up by a masked and robed villain who has, for reasons yet to be revealed, targeted the Wilson family. First there’s mind games, but soon things get worse as one of the children is abducted and held for ransom. Murder, a frame job, and blackmail soon follows.  

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One of the things that makes this flick stand out is the style of the editing. Part of the tagline includes “Cut by me”. Besides it’s obvious double meaning, it adds to the character of the villain as well as the family within this story. The movie isn’t completely linear in its presentation; it includes flashbacks to inform the audience what the makers and villain wants them to know about the situation and characters. Some scenes are cut off just before a reveal, but soon is revisited to show what the audience needs to see for better understanding. It also has flash forwards to suggest foreshadowing.  The villain is often shown between sequences with titles written on cardboard to introduce the segments. This, at times, felt like a sort of Greek Chorus. These are great touches and helped pulling me into the film.

 

Even though it moves at a brisk pace and I am praising the cutting of the flick, there are times when scenes drag a bit. This slows it down during their time on screen. Some trimming would’ve helped. Plus, the opening sequence suggests something that never is explained.

 

But, for the most part these are truthfully small quibbles with a pretty satisfying horror thriller. With a solid cast, intriguing story (written and directed by Ramone Menon), and a great score by Abhimanyu Malhotra any viewer of this movie is sure to come away having a good time.–Charles T. Cochran

 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars   

Absentia (2011)–Movie/DVD review

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Katie Parker plays Callie, a recovering drug addict in town to visit her sister Tricia (Courtney Bell). Tricia’s husband has been missing for seven years at this point and she is ready to sign the document that would make him legally dead in absentia. Tricia is also pregnant and the father is Det. Mallory (Dave Levine) the officer investigating her husband’s disappearance. As the date approaches for the signing Tricia begins to see visions of Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown), her husband, and he doesn’t look too happy. It’s never made clear if these dreams and visions are part of what’s going on or are just part of the guilt Tricia is having about moving on with her life. Truth be told, this may very well be the only thing I have a problem with in regards to this flick.  

Meanwhile, Callie encounters what she believes is a homeless man (Doug Jones, the Hellboy films) lying in a tunnel down the street from Tricia’s house. He seems surprised that Callie can see him and mutters that something must be asleep. She thinks he’s crazy and wants to get away. Later, due to her new found Christian faith, she feels she must at least bring some food out to the man. She finds that he is no longer in the tunnel, but leaves the food anyway. She is warned not to do this by a young man who also leaves a sack at the mouth of the tunnel. After this jewelry and the like starts popping up in the house, including Callie’s bed.

Tricia signs the document and finally can have an open relationship with Det. Mallory. Leaving for their first official date she sees Daniel on the street. At this point, she is so used to ignoring the visions that she does the same here. But she’s surprised that Mallory and Callie also can see him. Daniel, her husband, has actually returned. And much like the man Callie saw in the tunnel Daniel is shocked that people can truly see him. Later he also let’s Callie know that he wishes she hadn’t started trading with “it”. It seems that this thing “fixates”.

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As written and directed by Mike Flanagan, Absentia has the look and style of something the Duplass Brothers (Jeff, Who Lives At Home) might do: something that’s grounded in reality with actors delivering natural and charming performances. But, the tone—staying indy in style—is more like Lance Weiler’s brilliant Head Trauma. There’s an ominous, albeit mildly presented at first, feeling right from the start. This rises throughout the film, but never becomes overbearing. By grounding the film in reality it becomes rather jarring when something supernatural occurs. And I mean that in a good way. The acting is top notch with the cast employed to not only exhibit fear, but complexities of emotion that would occur even if this was a domestic drama and not a horror film. Absentia has complexity with emotions and plotting that are missing from most films these days. Not just within the horror genre. And I loved the connection Flanagan draws with the classic fable of 3 Billy Goats Gruff. Great film.

The DVD:

Audio/Video

Viewing the DVD in its 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound was a treat. The sound design and Ryan David Leack’s great music was well used and mixed within the surround sound. This may very well be the best I heard to date. Outstanding. Rustin Cerveny’s cinematography is well represented here. Great color and rich blacks. This is a very good looking film.

Special Features

There are two commentary tracks: one for the actors and one for the director and producers. Both are exceptionally informative and entertaining to listen to. Details on the making of a movie on a micro budget are covered in the extreme.

The 30 minute “making of…” feature Absentia: A Retrospective details the conception of the film to the raising of some of the funds through KICKSTARTER to the movie winning awards at film festivals.

There’s a Camera Test Teaser included. This is a mock trailer to help drum up funds. But also it was a test of the Canon 5D camera that would later to be used on the film. Great camera.

Rounding out the DVD are deleted scenes and the film’s trailer.

The Flick: Rating: 4 stars

The DVD: Rating 5 stars

 

The Caller (2011)–review

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Rachelle Lefevre (Twilight) is Mary, a recent divorcee who has just moved into a new apartment. She also has a stalker problem. Her abusive ex-husband doesn’t acknowledge that there’s a restraining order issued against him, and Mary is also getting unwanted phone calls that are from a woman named Rose, calling from 1979.

Rose’s boyfriend once lived in Mary’s new apartment, and the old rotary phone that came with the place somehow works as a connection to its past. At first the calls just get on Mary’s nerves, but after some bonding regarding the respective ladies’ troubles with the men he their lives, Mary says something that she lives to regret. Rose takes it to heart, though, and after there’s a disturbing change to the apartment both ladies realize that whatever Rose does in the past can change the future. Shocked by this new turn of events, Mary unplugs the phone to block out Rose’s daily calls. This doesn’t sit well with Rose. When Mary finally plugs the phone back in-she can’t get a signal on her cell phone-she finds that Rose has discovered Mary as a child. Now the threats begin. And they turn deadly.

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Even though, at times, what Rose does can be predictable that’s really not what makes this film thrilling and terrifying. It’s the question, “How can one battle a monster from roughly thirty years distance?.” Screenwriter, Sergio Casci has not only presented this interesting premise, he’s created believable and likable characters. Lefervre, True Blood’s Stephen Moyer, Luis Guzman (Boogie Nights) and the rest of the cast breathe life into their roles. They all seem like real people. Even Rose, who we barely get to see, comes to life when played by Lorna Raver (Sylvia Ganush herself from Drag Me to Hell). She’s even scarier here than in Raimi’s film, and let’s not forget the director, Matthew Parkhill. He handles the film with a sure hand and he never falters. I believe he’s a talent worth watching out for.

This thrill ride of a film had me sitting on the edge of my seat ‘til ending. An ending that is both triumphant and tragic.–Charles T. Cochran

Rating: 4 out of 5

Silent House (2011)–review

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Three family members are cleaning up a summer home before it is to be sold.  Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene), her father John (Adam Trese, Zodiac), and her Uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens, As the World Turns) make up this team. As Peter leaves to run an errand, John gets on his daughter to do a better job than she’s been doing. A crash and a large strike on the wall from the room her father went into sends Sarah to investigate. She finds her father bloodied on the floor but not dead; just unconscious. She is unable to leave the house for all the doors are locked from the inside and she is without a key. She also becomes aware that there’s someone else in the house. After some toil, Sarah makes it out of the house and down the road. Here she spots a young girl just before being hit by her uncle’s vehicle. The little girl then seems have disappeared. Peter makes it back into the house as Sarah stays in the car. This is until someone tries to grab her there. Both Sarah and Peter discover that John is now missing. Saying more would give too much away.

Of course, that bit up top makes it sound like a home invasion flick. But, during the course of the film I wasn’t sure if it was that or something supernatural. Directors, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) maintain a somewhat level balance of things between the different possibilities. At one point things lean heavily toward one over the other; but later the rug is pulled out from under you. Silent House is a well-executed mystery that moves at a breakneck pace. And, it has a very satisfying ending.

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Silent House is a remake of a film from Uruguay called La casa muda. I’ve yet to see the original so I can’t say anything in regards to it. But, it’s my understanding that both films use a technique that make the film appear to be shot with one continuous take. I was going into the film believing this would be nothing more than a gimmick. But, Kentis and Lau use it as a tool to describe to the audience Sarah’s altered perceptions during the whole ordeal. The limited viewpoint with the one camera and a heavy use of extremes in focus are rather successful in maintaining an off-kilter feel. The choreography of actors (mostly Olsen) and the camera was so well done that  there seemed to be no misstep.

Even though both Trese and Stevens do very well with their respective parts, the show really belongs to Elizabeth Olsen. She’s on camera all of the time. She plays a believable mature young woman that witnesses horrible things and is trying to survive and escape. After this performance, along with the one she gave in Martha Marcy May Marlene, I do believe we have a true talent here with Miss Olsen.–Charles T. Cochran

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

 

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)–review

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Since the successes of fantasy films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series Hollywood has been making many other films of the genre to bring in the audiences. Some have been pretty good like The Golden Compass; and some not so good like Red Riding Hood. The latter was a fairy tale film about a werewolf, but it had no edge. Snow White and the Huntsman is also based on a fairy tale. But this one has so much of an edge that parents need to be warned that it’s not for small children. Mature fantasy film fans should really love this one. I believe this film will be seen by many as worthy of being held up with the best of fantasy/fairy tale cinema.

The story does stick to some of the beats of the fairy tale. Snow White’s grieving father, King Magnus (Noah Huntley, Your Highness) rescues Ravenna (Charlize Theron) from an army that is easily defeated in battle. Too easy as we later learn. He falls instantly in love and marries her quickly. But it turns out that Ravenna is a witch that conjured up a phantom army for Magnus’ forces to fight. It is nothing but a trick to usurp his kingdom. On their wedding night Ravenna kills Magnus and with her real army takes the castle. In the confusion the still very young Snow White isn’t able to escape with the others that flee and is left behind. Ravenna puts her in a cell in one of the castle’s towers.

In the meantime, Ravenna sucks the youth out of young maidens in the kingdom while the lands that surround the castle became dark and infertile. Her magic power comes from her beauty and she must maintain it always, even by drawing the life that surrounds the castle. It’s not only to remain beautiful, but to sustain her command of those around her. She’s not only vain, she’s power hungry a well. And she’s been driven to madness due to it.

When Snow White (Kristen Steward), comes of age, Ravenna is informed by her mirror that she is no longer the fairest of the land; Snow White now holds that title. But Ravenna is also informed that Snow White’s heart can be used to not only maintain her beauty for all-time; but, also, to make Ravenna immortal. But Snow White escapes before the Queen can kill her. After which, a grieving widower huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, Thor) is sent after her with a promise that cannot be fulfilled. The huntsman later realizes this and decides to help Snow White on her journey to the castle of a Duke, friendly to her family.

First time director, Rupert Sanders and his crew have made a wonderful film here. And dare I say, it turned out to be a masterpiece. The adaption of the fairy tale to the screen is surprising straight-faced and mature. It never becomes goofy with a wink and nudge at the audience. It’s handled with great respect for the material and the audience. It is also so well-conceived that it never feels like it was made with a bunch of nifty set-pieces patched together by chewing gum or some such flimsy substance. It feels like a nice solid work of art. This is a film that should please the hardcore fans of such entertainment as well as mainstream audiences.

As I stated above, this film is not for children. It gets pretty dark and frightening. Theron’s Ravenna is rather mad and she alone would give the kiddies nightmares. At one point she takes the heart of a bird and eats it. Another time she’s giving a psychotic rant while standing in a pillar of flame with her skin burning then healing itself all the while. Also, there’s an evil forest where the spores of the native fungi causes the most horrifying hallucinations. Horror fans would love this film. I know I did.

I know there are many that have a problem with Kristen Steward’s acting. I’ve never seen any of the Twilight films, but I’ve never had an issue any of the times I’ve seen something she’s appeared in. And she’s just fine here as well. In fact, she holds her own up against Theron and the British acting heavyweights that perform as the dwarves (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, and Eddie Marsan). And Hemsworth does as well, by the way.  Actually, Steward has to give a Braveheart-like speech to some troops before storming the castle to reclaim it and she does not embarrass herself in the slightest.

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You may have noticed that the list of actors portraying the dwarves is filled only with regular-sized men. The effect that makes them small enough to pull their duties off is by far the best effect in the movie. And with a movie that’s chock-full of amazing effects that’s saying something. The only effect that didn’t life up with the rest is that of the fairies. They looked bit too cartoony for my taste. Luck would have it, their appearance is short-lived.

First time directors rarely make films this good. With hopes that he can maintain this quality in the future, Rupert Sanders is a talent to watch.–Charles T. Cochran

Rating: 5 stars

The Shiver of the Vampires (1971)–review

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A newly married couple, Isle (Sandra Julien) and Antoine (Jean-Marie Durand), have decided to stop by her cousin’s castle for a visit before embarking upon their honeymoon. She hasn’t seen them since childhood and would like to reconnect. The Cousins (Michel Delahaye and Jacques Robiolles) have been vampire hunters for years. Just two days before the couple’s visit they had been killed and turned into vampires themselves. Having researched their family’s religious background, all the more obscure ones from the past, led them to the most underground religion of all: vampirism. They become hunters of vampires.  In battling the undead they finally succumbed to their own prey.

This is unknown to the couple at first. Yet, Antoine does stumble upon the Cousins as they finish off a victim and Isle is seduced by another resident of the castle, a female vampire named Isolde (Dominique). She is revealed to Isle in a rather striking shot emerging from the bottom part of a grandfather clock. Isle is very open to the seduction. The only conflict is that Antoine becomes wise to the plan to make his new bride into the undead and his struggle to stop it.

The Shiver of the Vampires is much more traditional of a vampire film than Jean Rollin’s previous film The Nude Vampire. The trappings are all there: a cemetery, crosses, an old castle. There’s also a Mario Bava-like color scheme. It’s still not really scary, yet the first ten minutes are rather creepy with its atmospherics. Despite the traditional nature of the film, the score was handled by 70s prog-rockers Acanthus. The mix of old-style images with contemporary music (for that time, anyway) makes for an interesting experience. What also makes the experience fascinating is Rollin’s inclusion of humor. The first sign of this is when Antoine, while visiting the castle’s library, is attacked by books jumping off the shelves. But, most of the humor is delivered by the Cousins themselves. Delahaye and Robiolles performances are quirky delights and they are fun to watch.

The thing that let me down despite my overall enjoyment of the picture is that too much is revealed too soon. There doesn’t seem to be much mystery or suspense that would keep me captivated. It seemed pretty clear where is story was headed.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

The Nude Vampire (1970)–review

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A barely dressed young woman (Caroline Cartier) is being chased late at night by pursuers in strange animal masks when Pierre (Olivier Rollin) happens upon her. He fails at his attempt at rescuing the girl when she is shot and believed to have died. He follows them as they take her body to a house where people are lining up to enter as if for a party. Pierre has no invitation so he is turned away. The house is owned by Pierre’s father, Radamente (Maurice Lemaitre), who won’t tell Pierre what he wants to know about the place. So Pierre attacks and steals the invitation of one of the “party” guests and enters the next night. Here he finds a group of people wearing cloth masks. One is chosen to kill themselves so the escaping girl from the night before–seemingly unharmed–can feed on her blood. After confronting him with this newly found information his father finally tells Pierre what he wants to know.

It seems that the girl is an orphaned daughter of friends of Radamente that he has been looking after since their deaths. He and two other men believe her to be a vampire-like creature and they have been studying her for years. But, in fact, they are really trying to find secretes of immortality so they can live forever. The “party-goers” are actually a suicide cult that Radamente has put in place to help feed the girl with their blood. Also, we and Pierre find that there’s another cult-like group trying to save the girl from Radamente and his friends.

Having grown up in the 70s with weird and wild cinema like John Boorman’s Zardoz and Ken Russell’s Tommy I’m not at all put off by Rollin’s surrealistic strangeness. In fact, I get a rather nostalgic feeling from it. Even though there are times when it doesn’t make much sense, the film’s mood and sensation of mystery drew me in. I wanted to know who the strange fellow in the cape was that wanted to rescue the girl. And what he means when he tells Pierre that he, Pierre, was one of them. These things are the elements that kept my interest and won me over. The naked women helped as well, I’m sure.

The Nude Vampire isn’t really a horror film. In its way it’s more a sci fi fantasy. There’s more an elegant poetic disposition than fright and terror in evidence here. A gunshot to the head and an attack from a candlestick are the two most violent acts committed in the film. And both are done in such a way that suggests playacting. Rollin doesn’t seem to be at all interested in shocking the audience as much as seducing them with his imagery. Graceful and dreamlike the film, I believe, succeeds in doing just that.

This type of film isn’t for everybody. But I found it rather enjoyable.

Rating: 4 out of 5