Friday, April 16, 2010

One A Week Reviews #16: Mutants

It's always the movies I put off reviewing that turn out to be absolute stunners. I was surprised just how good this one is, and I think you will be, too. Check out my review. This film is so good I wanted to make it my "Watch of the Week" as well!


In a world devastated by a pandemic virus that turns human beings into primitive and bloodthirsty creatures, Marco and Sonia set off to find a secret base to escape from the "mutants." When the latter attack them, Marco is contaminated too. Little by little, he undergoes the same changes. Sonia, who is expecting a baby, is then forced to fight her worst enemy, the man she loves.


From the explosive opening on, Mutants proves to be a well-made, slow-burn new-wave zombie film and character drama from France. A mutant-plague spreading through Europe quickly decimates the population and an outbreak of violence quickly decimates the cast as Marco and Sonia make their way across the snowy mountains to reach a NOAH outpost where they think safety lies. Spiritually, this is kin to 28 Days Later by way of Ken Loach. Director David Morlet, "Morley" for US audiences, accomplishes something stunning here by making the most human zombie movie to come down the pike in ages.

Helene de Fougerolles, pretty much unknown in the US, is a confident, dynamic and emotional center to a very tough story. Her Sonia nurses her slowly declining partner as he starts succumbing to injuries and the mutant plague. As much a drama about caring for a dying loved-one as much as about facing the end of the world, the way she hangs on to hope as Marco slowly declines is almost cruel to the audience. Scenes involving his physical decay and crying frustration are almost too painful and "real" to watch. The middle passage of this film is a cancer drama wrapped in monster-plague dressing. You may not understand why Sonia is immune to the virus, but you emphasize with her as she makes the choices she does. The film so quickly becomes their story that whenever other characters, including "mutants," are introduced, they feel like true trespassers. It's easy to feel tense when everyone is a threat.

A stunning looking film even when the camera work is jittery, the lighting and effects are top-notch.  The icy landscape, I'm assuming the Alps, offers wide vistas as bleak as the concrete bunkers the characters inhabit. When there's gore, it's savage as that in recent French horror hits like High Tension and Inside. The attacking, infected "Zombies" seem to be kin to the ones in the Spanish thriller Rec with explosive speed and pasty deformity. European Horror films of late are filled with the dark and hopeless, but it's bringing true "horror" back to Horror. Mutants is a title that doesn't convey what a heart-breaker this thriller is.

is presented in widescreen with English subtitles and the original French dialogue.


A stunning horror-drama from Europe, Mutants can't be recommended to anyone who's nursed and lost a loved one. A bleak, effective, draining thriller that may have you jump more than once.  This is a slow-burn stunner that takes the audience through the emotional wringer, this is easily one of the most humane zombie stories ever made. I expect great things in the future from director David Morley and star Helene de Fougerolles.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

One A Week Reviews #15: Pranks (A.K.A. The Dorm That Dripped Blood)

Pranks is our One-A-Week Review this slightly belated time around. An early slasher from 1982, it's a grim staple of 80s Video Store shelves that took on a little infamy by virtue of making the British "Video Nasties" list. The gore and violence aren't that rough by the standards of the day, much less now.

Everything about this movie is a little "also ran." 2 minutes in and it feels cliche. The story involves a group of college kids (most played by actors who look to be on the latter side of thirty) clearing out an old building (75 years old supposedly, but it sure looks like it's only 20) and getting stalked and slashed.

Daphne Zuniga is in this, but briefly. She's the character everyone else knew was planning to leave, so no one misses her when she gets knocked off. Sad, that. The killer knocks her parents off, too, but her mother was definitely pretty obtuse and they didn't seem happy so not a huge loss for the audience there.

Joanne, the lead college student is awfully mature for her age. Bland, too. That's okay, because most of the other characters don't seem to have either personalities or names. Joanne's main crisis is whether or not to move in with her equally bland and mature boyfriend Tim. It's even less interesting and more about script-padding than it sounds. Men being in love with the less-than-magnetic Joanne is a running theme through the movie and pivotal in the end, but frankly they just seem to be guys who like their lady dull. Things throughout this whole movie are boring, boring, boring.

I totally glazed over for a period of time that felt like forever but was really maybe only ten minutes until there was a drill killing - but even that turned out to be uneventful. You can fast-forward through whole chunks of this film and not miss anything important. Things then drag except for a kitchen murder and a protracted scene of Joanne running from the red-herring crazy guy. That sequence wasn't terrible but the sequence couldn't have been that absorbing for early 80's audiences even before all of this seemed cliche. Things all end in far too much running and exposition. We won't even go into the guy who shows up at the end for no other reason than he's bored with his girlfriend and wants to go sniff around Joanne. The final twist is a bit of a downer, but by then we're not engaged enough to care.

The acting is horrible, even by cheap 80s B-movie standards. The pace is glacial. The musical score is overwrought and filled with too many stabbing violins. Wow this movie also really looks sleazy. Grimy, under-lit, and in transferred from a print good enough to show just how ugly it is. All in all, there's a reason why this took so long to get a DVD release.

Pass. I say "meh."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

One A Week Reviews #14: When A Killer Calls

One very overdue One-A-Week review here. Yeah, I know I'm behind but I'm just one man and I've been honkin' busy. I will catch up, I promise, and thanks for hanging with me. There's also plenty of spoilers ahead, but hey, this has been on DVD for several years. 

The lovely people at The Asylum have made some success for themselves creating straight-to-video knock-offs of big screen films that they get in the stores in what I'd guess is the hope that inattentive DVD renters and purchasers will get their title instead of the one they were actually looking for. With titles like Transmorphers, Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus, and The Day the Earth Stopped they ain't exactly makin' art. In fact, they call what they make "Mockbusters." They're generally good-time films if you just wanna kick back with some popcorn and enjoy some brain candy.

When A Killer Calls is their take on their rip-off of the remake of When A Stranger Calls. Now perhaps I'm at a disadvantage by not seeing that remake, but I've seen the original Stranger. The first act, babysitter vs. phone, is stunning and genuinely scary. The second act follows the killer for an hour, then the final act returns to him scaring the babysitter, now a parent. Pretty good, pulpy B-Movie. I'm not sure how the PG-13 remake was, but I remember being shocked with the original that the killer knocked off the kids. (Remember, in the original, Jill survives because she's a terrible babysitter).

Killer opens with a surprisingly nasty scene where a girl, who we're assuming is a babysitter, gets a knife in the mouth and then the killer chases and murders two young children. I don't consider kids and pets to be the cinematic "Sacred Cows" most people do, but none of us are really prepared to see up-close slashings of screaming child actors. We then turn to Tricia, played by the lovely Rebekah Kochan of the Eating Out series. (A set of films I plan to air my views on one of these days.) Ms. Kochan is a trooper in the best B-movie actress sense in a part that mostly requires a lot of sitting and answering the phone, and a little running and screaming. She's good enough to make this film more engaging than it has a right to be and I hope she has a successful career ahead of her.

Tricia shows up to babysit Molly while our Killer cleans up after his triple homicide Seems that while Tricia is charming Molly and plotting to have her boyfriend come over, the Killer has knocked off Molly's parents (!) and soon knocks off Molly as well. Sacred Cows, when aside from the usual teenagers a movie has a body count featuring 3 children and 2 parents it can be downright alienating. I'm not quite clear on at what point the Killer gets her cell phone number. I'd assume from Mom's cell phone, but he calls in his first hang-up before he kills the parents. For that matter he asks if she's found Molly before he's killer her. He's calling her on the cell phone and the land line before too long. Kind of nonsense logic. Again, alienating.

Tricia's fear escalates as the Killer peppers her with calls and pictures before her friends show up to "diffuse the tension," though really they're just more meat for the grinder. Soon enough the Killer is knocking everyone off -he makes pretty quick work of it, too - and Tricia is going to be last if she doesn't fight back. Turns out Tricia knows the family killed in the beginning and the Killer.

Also alienating is the look of this movie. Ugly and drenched in dim-blue that's nearly lavender sometimes, it's a muddy shot-on-video mess. The lighting blows out an orange comforter and turns Tricia's lipstick purple. The first 25 minutes are more like movie-by-Blacklight. I'm told this was shot on video with 35mm lenses, and the lighting does get a little better once the killer starts repeatedly calling Tricia. Is this intentional or just my imaginiation? Who knows?

The Scream-voiced killer sounds like he's reading back lines while listening to the original Stranger. Admittedly, though, when he starts sending her pictures of his previous murders via cellphone it's pretty darn creepy. His motives are rather cheesy but All the murders are presented rather brutally. The sheer nastiness killings and torture adds to the overall ugliness of the film. It's slow-going for the most part, but more gripping in places than you'd expect, thanks mostly to Ms. Kochan. All I know in the end is that I have to go shower to wash the sleaze off now...

Final thought: Most people I know (and myself) don't answer cell phone calls from "Restricted" or "Blocked" numbers. She should have done the same.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Jay's Reviews: I Am Virgin

 Sometimes, kiddos, I take one for the team and watch something so you don't have to. This dvdsnapshot review is one of those times.



The end of the world comes... and you don't.

It came without warning. The virus wiped out most of the world's population in just a few days, and everyone who survived became a vampire with an insatiable thirst for sex. Everyone except Robby. He's the last normal man in a world of unbridled sexuality, and he's a virgin. Accompanied by his trusty Basset Hound, Billy, he's looking for love in a city full of vampire vixens who want nothing more than the next depraved thrill. Faced with temptation, Robby must resist the lure of this world of lust and sensuality or risk becoming one of the sex-mad undead creatures himself!


Three years after the breakout of the H1D3 virus, Robby is one wandering virgin in a world full of nymphomaniacal vampires that all seem to be former strippers and adult models. I Am Virgin is a soft-core sex-spoof of I Am Legend that feels like it wanted to be a full-on porn-film but wimped-out in the end. The story, such as it is, grinds to a halt every few minutes so that Robby can stand off to the side want watch some truly harsh-looking, tattooed women and a few muscle-bound men simulate sex. Each of these breaks is interminably long and follow porn-scene structure so the viewer is left to wonder why they added the fangs but left out the penetration. Being that he's pretty sure he's the last man on earth and his life consists of hiding in his parent's old house with only his dog and an inflatable sex-doll (an alien one, no less) for company, he deserves whatever entertainment he gets, such as it is. Each time he runs away from the vampires so he can go home and bemoan his virginity when he should count his blessings that the electricity still works and the spam keeps flowing into his inbox. If anything, you'd figure he'd be throwing himself at these sex-crazed vamps. He'd sure be a lot happier. I mean, it's not like they want his blood.

Spoofs get the luxury of having the films they're sending up do the actual work while they can just coast of the structure and add jokes. I Am Virgin does this but traded in most of the humor for the sex scenes. Was Robby looking into a Men's Room and saying "What a bunch of junk?" supposed to be funny? I ask because it's the only laugh I had.

When a low-budget film comes out, viewers tend to be forgiving because you admire the filmmakers' moxie and commitment in getting it made at all. I'll leave it at that.


The case touts "with 12 additional minutes not seen in the theatrical version" though I doubt this got much in the way of a theatrical run. The I Am Virgin DVD offers a commentary track by the film's director, a slightly amusing 8 minute behind-the-scenes feature called "T&A of Darkness" that seems mostly an excuse to highlight the local Portland ladies featured in the film, and a collection of Z-grade movie trailers from IMD films. The film is presented in widescreen, and there are no extra audio options.

I Am Virgin
is the type of film where you have to say "good for them for getting together and putting on a show." There's not much else to endorse. An overly long riff on I Am Legend stuffed with deathly long simulated sex scenes, it's not one for the kiddies. It's only for the immature adults, really.  A good solution for the budget conscious who'd like to go see cheap strippers but are unwilling to spend the money?


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Jay's Review: Coffin Rock

Like many a bad Hollywood thriller of yore, this time we're looking at a "from Hell" thriller from Down Under for



In a desert fishing town, happily married Rob and Jess have been trying to have a baby for three long years and she is becoming desperate. In a drunken mistake, she sleeps with Evan, a young stranger come to town whose interest in her borders on the obsessive. The day she discovers she is pregnant, Jess' guilt turns to horror as Evan begins a terrifying transformation from stalker to psychopath, determined to prove paternity of the child and claim Jess for his own. In the vein of Fatal Attraction and Cape Fear, Coffin Rock is a story of infidelity, leading to harassment, terror and murder.

Australia's ominous terrain has been emphasized in many of film. The outback is known as an unforgiving place. In Coffin Rock, we open with a wintery sea and gray skies that are as bleak as Jess and Rob's efforts to conceive a baby. Shortly, they're targeted by Evan, the loony receptionist of their IVF clinic, who follows them home to indulge his sudden obsession with Jess.

While the audience is let in from the very get-go that Evan is bat-guano crazy without any pretense of subtlety, Jess isn't so lucky, and quickly winds up targeted and taken advantage of by him. While she's worried about the slip up and damage done to her marriage, what she should be worried about is Evan's quickly escalating, crazy obsession with her. Emphasis is on the crazy. Evan is such an overblown character and you expect him to bellow the line from Fatal Attraction about not wanting to be ignored. The crazy is so overdone it affects the rest of the film. While Jess is trying to figure out how to deal her pregnancy, Evan is watching television in the rain and lurking outside her home. 

This is more in the vein of a richly photographed and well-acted Lifetime TV thriller. The same plug-and-chug TV movie structure with a sophisticated structure and accomplished sheen. This material should be pulpy and overblown, but the actors are good enough that even Evan's lunacy only rarely enters into camp territory. They're about all that keeps this story rooted as every shot and music stinger seems designed to maximize creepiness. In the end it's too lush, too fever-pitched, and a dressed-up a collection of tired thriller cliches.

I have been unable to find a list of features for this title ANYWHERE.


Too, too much. Coffin Rock is every "so-and-so from hell" cliche in a very handsome package. The Temp, The Ex, Fatal Attraction, and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle with Aussie accents and excellent production values. Well-acted and handsomely shot, but in the end unable to escape it's generic trash storyline. If that had felt more original I'd give this film an A, but when a story of crazy obsession has been done this many times without anything too new, it's getting a: