Monday, 2 November 2009

CS - Saturday pt. 2: I Sell the Dead, Paranormal Activity, Neighbor & Pieces

I Sell the Dead

Year: 2009
Director: Glenn McQuaid
Writer: Glenn McQuaid
Starring: Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman & Larry Fessenden

I Sell the Dead is (so I'm told) a throwback to the old Hammer and Amicus horror films, serving up thick slabs of gothic, hammy horror without taking anything too seriously. Having barely watched any authentic Hammer horror films (a crime I'm sure in some circles), I'm probably not the right audience or critic to be watching and reviewing this. I'm not warning you that I'm going to lay into the film, I just think that others might appreciate it on a different level. In fact I quite enjoyed it, but anyway, let's get on with things...

The film is told mainly through flashback as grave-robber Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) tells his grisly story to a priest (Ron Perlman) during the final night before his execution. We learn of his exploits with friend and business partner Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) as they move from petty thieves to dealers in the undead. It's a daft and quite fractured narrative, but works well as a series of fun vignettes. Don't look for logic or character development, just go along for the ride and you won't be troubled.

It's a lightly entertaining romp despite the grim subject matter, with most of the film played for laughs. It's never hilarious, just consistently likeable, which makes for a film that is easy to watch but difficult to really love. The cast all seem to be having a great time, and provide enjoyable performances. Some of the accents are a bit laughable for the wrong reasons (Ron Perlman especially), but it's all part of the hammy charm I guess.

Visually the film looks great, with the attractive period setting making a welcome change to the grimy or overly slick looks of modern horror films. A lot of work has clearly gone into making it look like a classic gothic horror, and the special effects match it by never looking overly realistic, adding to the dated Hammer feel.

At the end of it all though, as fun and pretty as it is, I Sell the Dead never has enough impact to really be all that memorable. It's entertaining while it lasts, but I don't think I'll be rushing to see it again.


Paranormal Activity

Year: 2009
Director: Oren Peli
Writer: Oren Peli
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat & Mark Fredrichs

I imagine most of you will have heard about Paranormal Activity by now, but I managed to watch it before I'd really read anything about it, which is always a good thing in my opinion, especially with regards to horror films. In my opinion, the hype is fairly justified. OK so it's no masterpiece, but it really did scare the hell out of me, and to manage that in a weekend of watching 13 horror films is quite an achievement.

Paranormal Activity is similar to the Blair Witch Project in a lot of ways, as I'm sure thousands of people have already pointed out. Like that, Paranormal Activity is ultra low budget, portrayed as 'lost footage', has a minimal cast and locations (all in one house) and is a real 'love it' or 'hate it' experience. It's an incredibly basic film, especially with regards to it's plot, if you can call it that. The whole film really just 'documents' a couple's experiences in a seemingly haunted house. The structure is basically a gradual build up in the severity of the paranormal activity (of course) going on.

It's quite a repetitive film, but the director uses this to his advantage, creating unbearable tension in the night scenes which always open on the same static shot of the couple in bed. Your eyes are forced to scour every pixel of the image looking for the next movement or shadow to appear. This shot burns into your memory by the end of the film, and still sends a chill down my spine as I write this review.

The other key to the film's success, as with all good horror films, is the soundtrack. There's nothing fancy to hear and no music at all, but the location sound feels more real than the over polished audio of Cloverfield, and when things start to go 'bump' in the night you really feel it.

Yes, there is no story, the characters are at times annoying and some of their actions are frustrating, but as an exercise in sheer terror, you can't get better than this. It really is the scariest film I've seen in a long time, and I'd recommend any horror fan to check it out. Just bring a change of underwear.



Year: 2009
Director: Robert Angelo Masciantonio
Writer: Robert Angelo Masciantonio
Starring: America Olivo, Christian Campbell & Lauren Rooney

Neighbor is the latest low budget edition to the 'torture-porn' sub-genre, which I must admit I really dislike. I've got something against going to the cinema to watch someone get slowly tortured, it does nothing for me except make me feel a bit sick and give me a headache. However, I was willing to give this a try despite any misgivings I might have had on reading up on it in the festival programme.

Neighbor tells the story of a young attractive woman (America Olivo) who moves from house to house in a local neighbourhood, torturing and killing the inhabitants along the way. The film mainly focuses on the torture of Don (Christian Campbell), a local bachelor with woman troubles and a basement recording studio used by him and his bandmates - very useful for prolonged loud torture scenes of course.

It's a film with little substance, the characters are given back-stories but these aren't particularly well developed. The writer/director tries to make things a bit more interesting by messing with some time shifting and dream sequences part way through the film, but far too much time is spent on this segment, ruining the tension and drama of the film's core. By the end you feel too confused and short-changed by some twists to really care about what will happen to the protagonist.

That said, the torture scenes are well handled at least, with some really original and very nasty ideas thrown in there. The make-up effects are particularly impressive for a film of it's budget too. Ultimately though, because you don't care so much for Don's fate and because the villain's performance lacks bite, you never feel that horrified by proceedings. From listening to the producer's Q&A after the film it sounds like it was never meant to be all that horrifying though, it's supposed to be nastily entertaining, but to be honest it left me feeling a bit bored. Torture-porn junkies might have a better time, but for me I can take it or leave it.



Year: 1982
Director: Juan Picquer Simon
Writers: Dick Randall, Joe D'Amato & Juan Picquer Simon
Starring: Christopher George & Edmond Purdom

Pieces is quite an experience, and I don't want to go into too much detail here, partly because I'm on my fourth review in a night, but really because it isn't a film to be analysed in any depth. Just turn your brain off, get a few beers and enjoy.

One of the nuttiest trashy horror films from the 80's, Pieces tells the classic tale of a disturbed youth who grows up to be a teen-stalking mass murderer on a college campus. Sounds textbook enough, and in narrative terms it certainly is, but it's just so ridiculous. The dialogue and performances are utter comedy - pure cheese with plenty of absurdities thrown in for good measure. Add lashings of gore, plenty of nudity and a completely random kung-fu scene and you've got all the makings of a grindhouse classic.

There's not a lot more to say about this film without just listing ridiculous moments. Let's just say if you're in the mood for a well constructed, psychological thriller look elsewhere, but if you want to see buckets of blood, random nudity and a bunch of Z-list actors making fools of themselves, then find a copy right now.


More reviews from Celluloid Screams 2009:
Saturday Part 1


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