Virus/Zombie

The Night Watchmen

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A group of night watchmen and their new recruit keep watch over the offices of a newspaper. One night, when everyone is staying late to do inventory, a coffin is accidentally delivered to the building. Little do the night watchmen know that the late great Blimpo the clown is in that coffin and he met an untimely death in Romania. Blimpo is now a vampire and soon the night watchmen find themselves fighting for their lives as people in the office are turned into bloodthirsty monsters.

Of all the films at the Phoenix Film Festival and International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival, I can say without a doubt that The Night Watchmen is the most fun horror film they programmed. This film really has everything one could want from a gory horror-comedy; lots of laughs, awesome practical effects, hilarious actors, and a fun story. The filmmakers managed to combine different things that scare people in order to create a spooky, hilarious hybrid. Clowns and vampires can be terrifying on their own. When you join them into one “clownpire,” then you get absolute insanity. The filmmakers also make the vampires in the film almost more zombie-like until they become a bit older and have more blood. This is smart because it allows them to create more carnage and excitement because the young vampires are essentially feral, wild animals.

Obviously the entire concept of this film is hilarious, but there are smaller details that elevate it to a higher level of humor. The three night watchmen and their new hire make up quite the team. The leader of their team is the typical buff ex-military guard. He is more experienced than the others so he naturally takes the lead. This character is hilarious because he fits into a certain stereotype, until the craziness begins and then you see that he isn’t quite the macho man he appears to be. The leader’s best friend and fellow night watchman is described in the film as “the worst black guy ever.” He commonly says common phrases incorrectly and enjoys things a stereotypical black man would not enjoy. This is a trait that can be seen in most of the main characters. The filmmakers do a great job of introducing caricatures and stereotypes of different people, but then show that they actually do not fit into that mold at all. It adds a more subtle layer of humor amidst all the fart and sex jokes.

The interesting and complex characters would be nothing without the actors who play them. The Night Watchmen is filled with laugh out loud performances from the lead characters all the way down to the smallest roles. All of the watchmen deliver performances wrought with humor and even a certain level of complexity not typically seen in this kind of horror-comedy. Ken Arnold (Men in Black 3, Lovely Molly) plays tough-guy leader, Ken. Arnold adds many layers to his character’s personality making him much more engaging and lovable. Kevin Jiggetts (Concussion, Won’t Back Down) plays the equally lovable Jiggetts, Ken’s best friend and the aforementioned “worst black guy ever.” Jiggetts does an amazing job of acknowledging the stereotypes people expect his character to fall into and then he completely shatters that stereotype. Max Gray Wilbur (Thrill Kill) is yet another example of breaking expectations in his portrayal of the rookie who is fondly known as “Rajeeve.”  One would expect him to be the hero of the story since he is the young fresh face, but the audience quickly learns that is not the case. Then there is Kara Luiz (Jerks with Cameras, American Poltergeist 3) as the strong female lead of Karen. I love the character of Karen and Luiz’s portrayal of her because she is not a damsel in distress. In the workplace she ranks higher than the male leads and she takes charge and refuses to be the helpless victim. Other great performances come from Dan DeLuca (Crazy Eights), Tiffany Shepis (Tales of Halloween), James Remar (Unnatural), and of course Gary Peebles as the great Blimpo.

This is a very gory, bloody film. It would have failed miserably without those who create the amazing practical effects. Every wound and bit of gore is very well done. It is definitely over the top at times when looking at the amount of blood and guts, but it works in this kind of film. The creature design for the vampires is one of the best aspects of the practical effects. I appreciate that, instead of the usual two elongated fangs and alluring demeanor, the filmmakers broke the vampire mold (much like with the main characters) by having a mouth full of sharp teeth and rabid behavior. The vampires are feral, wild beasts instead of the usual calm and composed sex symbols. It makes them more frightening and dangerous, especially as they slowly begin to gain more intelligence with each drop of blood they drink. I also love that they make Blimpo stand out as the leader by making him the strongest, most intelligent, and making him appear larger than everyone else. Blimpo is not a clown you would want to meet in a dark alley.

The Night Watchmen is an insanely fun and bloody ride that is sure to tickle the funny bone of horror fans everywhere. In this film you get lots of gore, excitement, and laughs. While the fart jokes may go on a little too long, the filmmakers make up for it by giving the audience surprisingly complex characters. Those complex characters are portrayed by an all-around fantastic cast that has electric chemistry between them. I not only want to see more of these characters, but I also can’t wait to see what the filmmakers come up with next.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

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The human race is facing extinction. The only one who can save the last remnants of humanity is Alice. She must venture back to where it all began, Racoon City. There she will have to fight in order to end the plague of undead and bring humans back to the top of the food chain. Time is running out. Will Alice be able to defeat the hordes of zombies as well as some of the most powerful foes she has ever faced?

Before I begin, I have to address the elephant in the room. For those who know and love the Resident Evil franchise, you must be familiar with the origin story of Umbrella Corporation and the T-virus. In the second film, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, we meet Dr. Ashwood who created the T-Virus to save his daughter, Angela, from a degenerative disease. The film even spends quite a bit of time on Alice and company trying to rescue Angela. Now, in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, the origin story has completely changed. It is still a father who is trying to save his daughter from a rare disease, but the names and time frame have been altered. Even the disease affecting the daughter is different than what we learned in the second film. While I prefer origin story in this film to what we saw in Apocalypse, it seems insane that the filmmakers would make this film as if the second one didn’t exist. Did they expect fans not to notice? That, and the addition of a strange biblical aspect to Dr. Isaacs’ motivation (which was never mentioned in the previous films), left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, we can get into the rest of the film. I love the Resident Evil franchise. The first three films are fantastic. The fourth film is a little all over the place, but still a fun story with lots of excitement. The franchise lost me a little bit once the fifth film, Resident Evil: Retribution, came out. That installment didn’t really have a clear story line, virtually no character development for the new characters, and it felt more like a video game than a film. The Final Chapter started out feeling more like Retribution. I don’t even remember if there was any real dialogue in the first twenty minutes of the film. Aside from learning the new origin story of the T-virus, the beginning was primarily filled with random scenes of Alice fighting the undead and a giant flying creature. Once we got past that and learned Alice’s new mission the story began to take shape. It’s a simple story with a clear goal in mind, but it was filled with action, excitement, and intrigue. The only other issue I encountered with regards to the plot was yet another problem that was also present in Retribution. There was little to no character development with regards to the new group of survivors Alice encounters. Much like in Retribution, the new characters are really only in the film to act as cannon fodder and to make Alice (and the audience) sad when a human dies. It is difficult to feel anything when a character dies if all you really know about them is their name.

When it comes to the acting we all know and love Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, The Fifth Element) as Alice. Jovovich gave another convincing performance as the constant warrior and martyr of humanity. The real standout performance was that of Iain Glen (Resident Evil: Extinction, Game of Thrones) as Dr. Isaacs. Glen played such an amazing villain. Not only did Glen portray Dr. Isaacs as a man who believes he is righteous in the path he has chosen, but he also showed the audience the doctor’s complete lack of conscious. I was ecstatic the filmmakers brought him back as the ultimate evil for Alice to face at the end of the franchise.

The CGI effects in the Resident Evil films always impress me. They are able to create unique monsters, futuristic technology, and entire cityscapes without it looking laughable. The creature design in this film was very fun. They clearly chose to go bigger and more unique for a lot of the T-virus monsters which added to the scares and thrills. Even the large CGI zombie hordes looked well done. While I knew the things on the screen were all done by computers, there was never a moment where I was consciously thinking that it was computer generated or that it was done poorly.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter was a fitting end to the franchise filled with action, intrigue, and of course zombies. Sadly it is a flawed film, primarily due to the sudden change in origin stories and the lack of character development. As I said earlier, I preferred the origin story created in The Final Chapter. It made for a more impactful story and a more powerful ending. I just can’t ignore that we were already given the origin story, although it seemed like that was exactly what the filmmakers wanted the audience to do. If you haven’t seen Resident Evil: Apocalypse, then don’t see it before watching The Final Chapter. It sounds odd, but you will likely enjoy the film more by avoiding the conflicting origins of the T-virus. If you have seen Apocalypse, I will warn you that you may leave the theater a bit frustrated by the last film of the Resident Evil franchise.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10

Train to Busan

A father who works too much barely knows or spends time with his daughter. For her birthday all she wants is to go stay with her mother in Busan. The father reluctantly agrees to take her in order to make amends for his lack of presence in her life. Soon after the train leaves the station an infected person spreads a zombie virus throughout the train. The survivors must try to get to a safe station to escape from the zombies on board, as well as to avoid the rapid spread of the virus happening across the country.

Train to Busan is a very well done zombie film. The main thing I look for in a zombie film is not only that it is exciting and gory, but that it shows the truth about human nature. This film does an excellent job of showing that humans are the worst monsters during the zombie outbreak. There is a dynamic group of characters that demonstrate the many sides of human nature. Some sides are good, some are borderline evil. The characters are also very well developed. Especially when looking at the father and daughter, the audience is quickly captivated by their relationship and rooting for them to survive through these horrific events. It is also fascinating to watch their relationship develop, and how the father develops as a person, as they ford their way through the zombie outbreak.

Having a grasp of social issues can’t be the only successful aspect of a great zombie film. There has to be a lot of action as well. As if zombie films aren’t already intense and exciting, this film ramps up the sense of urgency by having the film set on a train. The claustrophobic feeling, coupled with the fear of zombies and infection, makes for an adrenaline filled two hours. The filmmakers decided to go with swift moving zombies, which works well for this film. Fast zombies in an enclosed space definitely makes for some cringe-worthy scenes.

There are so many standout performances in this film that it is hard to narrow down. Since the film focuses primarily on the story of the father and daughter, I will highlight their performances. Yoo Gong (The Age of Shadows) portrays the father, Seok Woo. Not only does Gong do an excellent job, but his character also has one of the more compelling story arcs. With the help of his daughter Seok Woo goes from being an absentee father, to a man who will go through anyone to protect his daughter, to a good person who realizes he must try to save everyone. It is a fascinating and realistic progression that Yoo Gong brings to life. Soo-An Kim (Mad Bad Sad) is phenomenal as the daughter, also named Soo-An. She is clearly the heart of this film and shows the good that can come out of stressful situations. She is meant to shine as the exact opposite of the evil parts of human nature, and Soo-An Kim shows us that in spades. She is another example of the many great child actors that have come out of the woodwork this year.

The look of the zombies in this film is really unsettling (in the best way). The zombies have black veining, their eyes are whited out, and they move in exceedingly creepy ways. The zombies do a lot of jerking movements and arch their backs in inhuman ways. These are also very fast and strong zombies. Once they catch sight of you, you better run. While most of the scenes on the train are of human actors with zombie makeup and contorted bodies, many of the wider shots outside the train utilize CGI. I understand why CGI was used for many of the scenes where hordes of zombies are falling all over each other and falling out of windows. That would take a lot of stunt work and insurance policies to achieve with real actors. It unfortunately also takes away from the realism that is felt throughout most of the film. The CGI made it nearly impossible not to draw a connection to the zombies from World War Z, although I can say that Train to Busan far surpasses that film.

Train to Busan is a thrilling and gory zombie flick with a lot of heart. I’m not afraid to admit that it even made me cry. There are honestly very few things I can say about the film that are negative, aside from the bit of CGI use. It is exciting, scary, intense, bloody, and it brings up the many sides of human nature. The more social/political aspects of the film even feel reminiscent of the older Romero zombie films. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you gasp, and it will make you cringe. This is one of the better zombie films of the past decade.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Night of Something Strange

A group of teenagers get stranded in a creepy motel on their vacation. Little do they know, they are being followed by zombies. What’s worse is that this zombie virus is a STD, so you can imagine the interesting way that it spreads. One by one the teens turn into the living dead. Will any of them be able to avoid this horrific STD?

While there have been films in the past that use the idea of an STD being the origin of a zombie virus, there are no other films that take it to the extreme that Night of Something Strange does. In all honesty, there are a few scenes in the film that take it a bit too far for me. There was more than one occasion where I was cringing and felt a bit uncomfortable about what I was watching. That isn’t to say the film isn’t hilarious in how outrageous almost every minute is. The story is meant to be insane and campy. In that regard, the film makers did an excellent job.

The characters were even extreme in many ways. In general, they all fit some horror film stereotype you expect to see. These stereotypes can especially be seen in the male characters. There is the douchey boyfriend, the nerdy virgin, the man-whore, and the hunky hero. With the exception of the hero, all of the male characters are exaggerated to the point where they are completely unlikable. This makes it hard to believe that the seemingly intelligent young women in the film would waste their time with these idiots, but at the same time it works in making the situations more humorous.

This film had a very entertaining group of actors. For me, there were two performances that stood out. The first was from Michael Merchant (She Kills, Science Team), who plays Freddy. Freddy is quite possibly the most despicable character in this film, but at the same time he’s so funny you can’t help but enjoy every time he’s on the screen. Poor Freddy also gets into some of the worst situations, so you sympathize for him at least a little bit. The second performance I loved was Trey Harrison (Ithaca, Faux Paws) as Dirk. Dirk is singled out as the hero of the film fairly early on. What I loved about his performance is that he had some of the best one-liners throughout the entire film. The way he delivered the one-liners was so cheesy and hilarious I couldn’t help but laugh.

Another high point of the film was the practical effects. Being a zombie flick, you expect there to be quite a bit of blood and guts. Add the STD factor, and it makes for some more interesting practical effects. All of these were disgusting and fantastically done. I also loved that each zombie had its own individual look, while still appearing to have been infected by the same virus. There are two specific practical effects that occur later in the film that are hilarious, disgusting, and incredibly well made.

This is the kind of film that sticks with you long after it’s through. While I’m not going to give it the highest overall rating, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun while watching the film. Night of Something Strange is a cringe-worthy gore fest that will hilariously go places you probably will wish it hadn’t. The film embraces its camp, and you can tell the film makers really had a blast creating this disturbing tale. Be forewarned, it is not for the faint of heart… or stomach.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

It is a classic 19th century love story. Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) lives in the English countryside with her parents and sisters. Coming from a family that is not as wealthy, there is constant pressure for the girls to be married off to rich men. When Elizabeth meets the wealthy Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) there is an instant attraction. Unfortunately, Mr. Darcy has a very cold and austere personality, and Elizabeth is a very proud woman. As if that isn’t enough to make these two ignore the sparks between them, there is a zombie plague ravishing England. The two must join forces to fight off the hordes of undead, while also navigating the trials of English high society.

To preface this review, I have seen many film/TV adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. I know the story well, and I love it. If you are not a fan of Jane Austen books or films, or if you have never seen them, this film might not be as enjoyable to you as it was to me. This film did an excellent job of blending the story that many fans already know and love with the added plot interest of a zombie plague.

All of the memorable themes and dialogue are present. Of course, with the presence of zombies, there were some bits added to the plot in order for everything to make sense. I loved that the zombies in the film were a bit unique compared to the traditional zombies audiences are used to. These zombies can keep all of their memories and intelligence. It isn’t until they feed on human brains that they become the mindless hungry masses you typically see in zombie films. The filmmakers even managed to add a great mystery to the plot, which I loved. It made it so they weren’t just throwing in zombies to an already existing story without them having any importance to the plot. Luckily, these additions managed to turn this love story into an exciting, and often extremely funny, gore fest from start to finish.

This film had a superb collection of actors. Lily James (Cinderella, Downton Abbey) was perfect as Elizabeth Bennet. Even while kicking some major zombie ass, she managed to exemplify grace and elegance. Sam Riley (Maleficent, Byzantium) made a great Mr. Darcy. I still can’t believe he managed to seem like the most socially awkward man in England, and yet his zombie-killing skills made him extremely attractive. While these two leads were both great in their roles, there is one performance that completely stole the show for me. Those who know the story of Pride and Prejudice will remember Parson Collins. He is the cousin of the Bennet girls, and probably the most bizarre little character that Jane Austen ever created. Pastor Collins was played by the talented Matt Smith (Doctor Who, Lost River). You can tell he had so much fun with this role. He was quirky, and awkward, and rude, and oblivious to his own flaws in a way that had me laughing every time Smith was on the screen.

One of the most important things about a zombie film is the special effects makeup. This film definitely delivered on that. Much of the zombie makeup was done with practical effects. What takes the makeup a step further is how the filmmakers seamlessly layered CGI effects on top of that makeup to give the zombie looks the extra oomph that they needed. There is really only one qualm I had while watching the delightful zombie gore; there was a very noticeable lack of blood. I get that zombie blood would likely be sludgy and coagulated, as they are dead. It still bothered me a great deal during the very first fight sequence when the Bennet girls are fighting off the zombies, yet the blades of their swords remained entirely clean. They might not have the bright red blood you would see if they had stabbed a living person, but there should have least have been some kind of black/brown zombie gore on the blades. It’s such a small detail but it made the fight scenes seem much less realistic (yes I know it’s a zombie film, but it can still be realistic).

In all honesty, I probably enjoyed this film because I am already a Jane Austen fan (all thanks to my mother). I also loved it because I am a fan of zombie films. That isn’t to say that people who don’t know Jane Austen’s classic tales won’t still have a lot of fun in this film. The healthy amounts of action, mystery, and humor that were infused into the story created a really fun film that could appeal to a variety of viewers. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies can be added to the list of the more witty, intelligent zombie films.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Throwback Thursday Movie: Re-Animator (1985)

A medical school student named Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) is trying to find a classmate to be his new roommate. When a mysterious new student answers his add, Dan’s world gets turned upside down. This new student, Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), is obsessed with finding an agent that can re-animate dead tissue. Dan slowly gets sucked into Herbert’s work. It doesn’t take long for things to go awry, with some dire consequences that the two students may not be able to get themselves out of.

I know this may come as a shock to many horror fans, but this was my first time seeing Re-Animator. I know, I know! It’s shocking. There are many classics that I need to catch up on (which is why I do Throwback Thursday reviews). This is a film I’ve always wanted to watch. I see clips of it here and there on different horror TV networks, plus it has quite the reputation as a cult classic horror film.

Going into this film, the one thing I was the most excited about was the practical effects. Luckily the film lived up to my expectations. Eighties horror and scifi films always have the most creative and elaborate practical effects. Re-Animator doesn’t use as many practical effects as I was expecting, but the ones they do use are pretty amazing. Two of the stand-outs are a mangled, deceased cat that gets re-animated and a re-animated headless body (along with the severed head). With the severed head they did a great job going back and forth between using a model head and the actual actor’s head (which was stuck through a hole in a table).

Generally speaking, the story was interesting and kept my attention. While I wouldn’t technically call this a zombie film, it takes an interesting approach to the how and why the dead would be brought back to life. I enjoyed that it went in a more scientific direction than many living dead films do. There were some aspects of the plot that I don’t think worked quite as well. There were many times during the story where I couldn’t help but think “why?” Why was Herbert so obsessed with proving he could re-animate dead tissue? Why did Dan trust Herbert so easily? Why was Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) obsessed with Megan (Barbara Crampton)? These pieces of the story made things more exciting, but I hate not knowing why they happened in the first place.

Considering this is a campy eighties horror flick, the acting is surprisingly good. Jeffrey Combs (Frighteners, From Beyond) was equal parts creepy and intriguing as the obsessive Herbert West. Throughout the film he does an amazing job of portraying the borderline psychotic need Herbert has to prove his theory, and his willingness to do whatever it takes to reach that goal. Bruce Abbott (Dark Justice), while not really a standout in the film, was still enjoyable to watch. At times his character felt a bit bland, but that could have been more due to writing than his acting. My favorite performance came from David Gale (Bride of Re-Animator) as the menacing Dr. Carl Hill. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to play a severed head, but he pulled it off in a way that was disturbing and comical all at the same time.

While I couldn’t say this film is my favorite eighties horror film, it’s definitely a fun watch that will appeal to many viewers. Re-Animator is a cult classic for good reason. Whatever it lacks in the scares, it greatly makes up for in weirdness and humor. It’s a fun story with a bizarre cast of characters. Add that to the delightfully cheesy eighties practical effects, and you get a recipe for a fun flick that will entertain people for years to come. This is a film that every true horror fan should see at least once.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

The Hive

A young man wakes up alone in a room with no memory of who he is or what happened to him. The room he awakes in has been demolished, the doors and windows are boarded up, and he is covered in black sludge. The only clues he has are drawings of a girl on the wall with the word “remember” written above them. He has to try to bring back his memories in order to save himself. He soon realizes that it is not only his life at stake, but the life of the girl in the drawings as well.

This film has such an interesting and original story line that I can’t think of a single horror film that is like it. That alone makes this a great film. As you can see from the trailer, all the trouble started for the camp counselors when a plane crashed nearby. That crash lead to the spread of a virus around the camp that takes over the host, causing them to almost be possessed by the virus while black sludge oozes out of their mouth and nose. What makes this virus unique compared to what you may have seen in other horror films is that those who become infected also become part of a hive mind (hence the name of the film). This means they can all share each other’s thoughts and memories. This is something that can be seen in many types of insects.

Another aspect of the film that made it more interesting was how the plot is revealed. We come in towards the end of the story. As the film goes on more is revealed through a series of memories. It made the film more interesting and intense because it was almost as if we were remembering things along with the lead actor. The fact that many of the memories are not his own also added to how fascinating the story was. Something else that made this story so compelling was the love story. I feel that the love stories in most horror films are all too predictable and don’t add anything to the story. The love aspect of The Hive felt so sweet and sincere. I’m not even sure I could put my finger on what made the love story so believable, but it actually added to the story instead of detracting from it.

The acting had much to do with the success of the film as well. The two lead actors are relatively unknown. Adam is played by Gabriel Basso (Super 8) and the girl he loves, Katie, is played by Kathryn Prescott (Finding Carter). I was especially impressed with Basso’s performance. Throughout the majority of the film we are seeing things and understanding things along with Basso’s character, and he does a superb job commanding your attention. His reactions and responses to what is happening around him seem completely genuine. The evolution of his character was also very believable, showing Adam go from a guy who is obsessed with girls and his social media accounts to a guy who is in love and will do whatever he can to make things right. Some of the most enthralling performances came from those who were infected. Not only did Prescott deliver a bone-chilling infected performance, but Gabrielle Walsh (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones), who played Jess, also gave a performance that really messes with your head.

This film is also visually stunning for a multitude of reasons. I was absolutely blown away by the gorgeous cinematography. The angles and viewpoints used for many of the scenes added so much depth and interest that I found myself thinking “wow that’s gorgeous” in some of the most gruesome scenes. The makeup effects in this film, while disgusting, also added a lot of visual interest. For the most part the infected makeup looks quite a bit like the 2013 remake of Evil Dead; lots of black veining on the skin and black sludge coming out of the ears, nose, and mouth. There is an addition of some rather disgusting yellowish boils and eerie contacts as well. The one thing that really adds to the makeup and makes it stand out is the use of black light. Shortly after we are first introduced to Adam, who is covered in the black veins and ooze, we see him under a black light. With this lighting we see a different set of veining on his skin that glows neon blue. It adds a bit of beauty to this horrific look while also making it stand out from infection makeup looks you may have seen in other films.

The Hive has quickly become one of my favorite horror films of 2015. It really has everything I could want in an infection style horror film. It has an original story with a unique infection, the acting is outstanding, and it is a film that is both horrifyingly gory and stunning at the same time. I also loved that this film surprised me with a story that wasn’t predictable (and therefore was very enthralling). Add the fact that the story line included a romance that didn’t feel forced, and you get a film that feels dynamic and interesting. This is the kind of film that I will be telling everyone to watch.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10