May 042016
 

Area-51-Cast

By: Bill Nelson

Welcome back for another round of bad movie sweetness. For those that actually keep up with the article, I apologize for our two week long hiatus. This was beyond control but I assure you everything is finally coming back together for the site to be able to provide the consistently high level of entertainment you’ve come to expect from us. Or, at the very least it won’t get any worse.

Anyway, this week we’re going to take a look at a filmmaker more than a movie. Our flick this week is 2015’s Area 51, written and directed by one Oren Peli. In 2009 Oren Peli was the golden boy of the indie horror scene with his crowd pleasing film Paranormal Activity. Paranormal Activity reignited a fascination with found footage films that had sort of died out with The Blair Witch back in 1999. Even more so, it proved to be a unique way to tell a haunted house story that put us even more in the place of the characters experiencing the scares by putting us behind the filter of a camcorder. While hardly revolutionary, Paranormal Activity proved to be interesting which is more than most independent horror flicks can claim these days. Flash forward 6 years, though, and we see that to date Oren Peli has directed exactly 2 films, the original PA and this week’s movie, Area 51. Hardly the career of a young, up and coming genre director. True, Peli has made a name for himself producing more than directing, but it’s a strange path for the director of one of the biggest horror films in the last 10 years to take. After watching Area 51, I think I’m starting to understand why this is the case. Peli is one of those directors who is gifted with big ideas but not quite talented to pull them off. The end result of Area 51 is this bitter taste of mediocrity with twinges of what could have been laced through.

Here’s the basic premise. Area 51 follows three primary characters: Reid, Darrin, and Ben. The beginning of the movie is actually a series of talking head interviews telling the audience instead of showing them how Reid went through a drastic personality change over the previous three months, going from an outgoing, athletic young man to an obsessed conspiracy theorist, and how these changes lead to the disappearance of the three young men. Then we are shown video footage of the young men at a party, drinking and partying when suddenly Reid disappears from the party during a short black out. He isn’t seen again until the other two are driving home and find him standing in the middle of the road staring off into space.

The movie then jumps forward three months to the weekend they disappeared. We’re shown that Reid has developed an obsession with alien visitation and abduction and has spent the last three months planning to sneak onto the military base known as Area 51 to prove that aliens have visited the planet. The rest of the movie is basically a series of misadventures as the trio tests and plays with their equipment, meets a comely young woman who claims her father was fired from Area 51 for asking too many questions and has documents showing where the secrets are hidden on the base, and finally the break in to the base itself.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it spends too much time spinning its wheels trying to establish a story but since the story is so thin to begin with it basically feels like you’re just watching a bunch of whiny, petulant kids film themselves for an hour. The most interesting part of the whole film, the exploration of Area 51, is also the least developed. We are shown revelations at breakneck speed but there is not time given to flesh them out or tie them back to earlier moments in the story, leaving a feeling like there is no consistent logic within the film.

I have to give props to two scenes in the flick, the white blood scene, where the characters find a lab like room containing several strange objects such as a black chunk of rock that seems to spin and levitate of its own accord and a bowl of white, blood­-like liquid in a bowl under a glass case. The white blood seems to react to the presence of the characters until it finally seems to try to attack them, which causes the rock to suddenly spin out of control and break from it’s container. The second is the saucer like ship they find shortly there after. The ship seems to react to Reid’s touch, opening up and allowing him inside. Once inside, Reid finds strange pod like containers that appear to have once housed living things and discovers that he can see out into the room where his friends are waiting but once he gets out finds that they couldn’t see him. Both of these scenes were likely not difficult to actually accomplish, but they elevate the effects of the movie, which to that point have been minimal at best, and create a certain wow factor. Since there’s no real connection to exactly why these things are important except ‘woo, alien!’ means that they don’t make the film better, though.

If you’re going to make a movie like this you need to spend more time developing the Reid character. After all, he’s the driving force for why the three characters are trying to break into Area 51 in the first place. In other words, we need more than barely five minutes of him partying to establish his original personality and more than talking heads to convince us he’s different. The Reid shown throughout the film doesn’t really seem all that different from the Reid at the beginning. He’s perhaps a little more driven and focused than Party Reid, but, considering how little we actually knew him at the flick’s start, this doesn’t really seem like that drastic a change.

Ultimately, Area 51 has some serious promise. The story needs some tightening to flesh out the remaining characters, particularly Reid, and to give us a reason to care that they’re storming Area 51 than just because. Also, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to tie some of the scares once they get to Area 51 back to things that we as audience members see from watching the video footage that the characters, who are supposedly doing the actual filming, aren’t able to see. Planting the seed for a scare means you get a bigger pay off down the road and don’t have to rely solely on jump scares to rattle your audience. So, to finally put a long story to bed, Area 51 is intriguing at times but comes across as Paranormal Activity’s younger, less interesting step­brother.
Stank Ranking ­- – 8/10

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Apr 052016
 

Lazarus-Effect

 

By: Bill Nelson

Today we’ll be taking a look at 2015’s The Lazarus Effect, starring Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters, and Donald Glover. The basic premise of this movie reminds me a bit of the old old Kevin Bacon/Kiefer Sutherland/Julia Roberts thriller Flatliners. In that film a group of medical students decide to test the idea that there is life after death by temporarily stopping their hearts and then allowing themselves to be resuscitated at the last possible safe moment. In The Lazarus Effect we trade out med students for pharmaceutical researchers who are working on a drug that maintain brain activity for extended periods of time in the absence of oxygen with the hope that they can extend the time available to resuscitate someone without permanent brain damage, however, their drug (which they call the Lazarus serum) seems to have the ability to reactivate electrical activity in the brain even after extended periods without oxygen, essentially giving them the ability to resurrect the dead.

Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde head the film playing Frank Walton and his fiance, Zoe Mcconnell, who originally developed the serum while Evan Peters and Donald Glover play fellow scientists working on the project with them. Sarah Bolger plays a videographer brought in to document the strange turn their research has taken. After successfully bringing a dog back from the dead the team spends a few days monitoring the creature. Strangely the dog’s body seems to heal itself of disease such as cataracts clouding its eyes. It also seems alternately reluctant to respond and overly aggressive. The dog also exhibits odd abilities that only the audience is clued into initially. Eventually the university gets wind of the research the team is doing which is in violation of the grant they are operating under and all of their research is taken by the pharmaceutical company that owns the grant in an all too brief cameo by the great Ray Wise. The team, fearing that their contributions in the development of this seeming new wonder drug will be ignored, sneak back into their laboratory seeking to document one last experiment to prove they originated the Lazarus serum. Tragedy strikes when a power surge leaves Zoe dead. Zack, overcome with grief, demands they use the serum on her and, of course, all hell breaks loose.

So yeah, that’s the movie. If it sounds predictable, it is. The only real differences between this and Flatliners is that everyone in Flatliners tries the experience of dying and all of them eventually deal with what they brought back from the other side. Here, only Zoe dies and no one really knows how to deal with her. The talent is strong in this cast, particularly Wilde and Duplass who elevate the dull, early part of the movie to the point that you almost think it’s going to be better than it really is but the truth is none of the people appearing in this flick deserved the level of crap that it descends to.

So why, if there’s so much talent here, is the movie that bad? True, predictability in and of itself doesn’t make for a bad movie, just a boring one. The Lazarus Effect commits one of the most cardinal of cinema sins by not committing to a genre. It’s ok to be a hybrid genre and at times that appears to be what The Lazarus Effect is going for, but it never quite gels the thriller aspects of the story with the horror. By the time the film abandons the psychological build up that’s been occurring for almost the entire movie and gives itself over to full balls to the wall supernatural horror it’s too little too late. There are some definite flashes of story potential here and there but overall this is just not a good movie. In fact, it’s the worst that a horror movie can be because it’s boring. At least if it had been so bad it’s kind of funny there’d have been a reason to watch it.

Stank Ranking ­- – 8/10

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Mar 232016
 

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Bad Movie Tuesday: Darkness Falls

By Ozzy Nelson

Welcome back, bad movie fans!  Have I got a treat for you, just in time for the Halloween season.  Today we’re going to look at Darkness Falls, a 2003 ghost story romp that fails to scare.  Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, who’s best known for butchering numerous franchises from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles through Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company, the film attempts to give us a new movie monster to haunt the pantheons with idols like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees.  However, like most attempts to build a franchise around a monster, they fail in pretty much every respect.

Darkness Falls is set in Darkness Falls, Massachusetts and centers around a local legend of a widow named Matilda Dixon.  Dixon loves children and earned a reputation as the the ‘Tooth Fairy’ for her habit of giving gold coins to the children of the town when they lose a tooth.  However, a fire leaves her heavily scarred and extremely sensitive to light.  She becomes a recluse, only going out at night and wearing a porcelain mask whenever she does.  One night two children fail to return home and the town goes into a panic.  They lynch Dixon thinking she’s done something to the kids and with her dying breath she curses the town.  The next morning the children return unharmed and the townspeople bury Matilda Dixon and the reason for her death in shame.  However, for the last 150 years, whenever a child loses their last baby tooth the ghost of Matilda Dixon visits them and, if they see her face, she kills them.

The biggest problem with this film is an overall lack of a story.  There is an intriguing back story but instead of developing it they jump right into the meat of the story.  There is no character development and even less actual good acting.  The thing is they treat the story like a monster movie, but it would have worked better as a ghost story.  A successful ghost story works on at least two levels.  First, it needs to be a mystery that slowly reveals the nature of the haunting.  Second, it needs to build its scares slowly.  Too much of the Tooth Fairy is revealed too soon for her to ever be truly scary.  What scares we do get are derivative and largely unimaginative, pointless jump scares that you can see coming a mile away.

This film was scene as a launching point for Emma Caulfield who, at the time was something of a breakout star on TVs Buffy the Vampire Slayer, playing the wonderfully droll ex-demon Anya.  As a character, Anya played to Caulfield’s strengths.  She could be vulnerable and tender when needed, but what made her work was her ability to say whatever comes into her head without any kind of verbal filter and fail to understand why it’s inappropriate, which comes from living hundreds of years as a vengeance demon without actually living among the humans she slaughtered.  In other words, Anya was witty and silly all at once and could muster a steely resolve when needed.  In Darkness Falls, Caulfield is reduced to a helpless woman who is utterly reliant on everyone around her to save her from the terror that surrounds him.  She has no spunk, no wit, and very little charm.  She’s just a pretty face to look at as the film races to a conclusion that makes little to no sense.

There are some very good creature effects in the movie, though they fail to capitalize on anything interesting in a movie that should have had fun playing with how light is used considering its their primary antagonist’s only weakness.  Still, the Tooth Fairy is solidly constructed and the few scares in the movie are because of this.  All in all, there’s little to recommend in this film, but it’s a good flick to start your Halloween with.  It follows a similar premise to James Wan’s Dead Silence, which is a far superior film, but it does a good job of getting you in the mood for much better scares to come.

Stank Ranking –  – 9/10

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Feb 102016
 

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Bad Movie Tuesday – Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

By Bill Nelson

Well, last week got off to a rousing start with Dumb & Dumber To. After looking at one of Hollywood’s bigger bad movies, though, it seemed like it was time to take a turn down a more familiar route. Horror movies are the life blood of bad cinema. I’ve said it more times than I count and it just never stops being true. Why? Well, because they’re usually reasonably cheap to make and almost always return at least a modest profit. In other words, ever Tom, Dick, and Igor can go out and make a terrible zombie/alien/monster movie and, with little to no marketing, make a few bucks.

This week we’ll be taking a look at one of the movies I was really hoping would be good in 2015, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. By now, if you don’t know the basic premise of the series you’re probably new to the planet, but just in case here’s a brief primer. Spooky stuff happens while people are filming. People get freaked out and get super serious about trying to capture the spooky stuff on film more. The spooky stuff escalates and people die. To be less oblique, the Paranormal Activity movies are a found footage series of horror films. The initial film, written and directed by Oren Peli and starring Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, was a surprise hit in 2009. Primarily the series follows an unseen demon (finally named Toby in Paranormal Activity 3) who torments various families in their homes. Of the six films produced in the series, only the first and third are really any good. The second one has a good twist ending that ties it nicely back in with the first but doesn’t do much to earn it. The Marked Ones stands as an interesting but ultimately dull side story to the main film series and the fourth one is just terrible. Where does The Ghost Dimension fall in this, though?

Ultimately, I would argue that this flick is actually a little better than the last main entry in the series, Paranormal Activity 4, but worse than pretty much everything else in the series. The story is more interesting, if only just barely, and the scares are a little more effective. It’s basic: a family finds an old box of videos in their attic showing the indoctrination of young Katie and her sister Kristi (the sisters at the heart of Paranormal Activity 1, 2, and 3) into the coven of witches introduced in the prior films. As the family watches the videos they make the eerie realization that, despite being filmed over twenty years earlier, the girls are somehow aware of their presence, reacting to things in the video that happen as they are being watched. At the same time, a presence begins stalking the house, attaching itself to the family’s young daughter, Leila. The presence, the invisible demon known as Toby, can only be seen through an old, highly customized camcorder found in the box with the videos. As the family realizes that their daughter is changing and something in the house has it in for them they begin filming everything that happens at night in order to find and put a stop to Toby for good.

There are some clever moments in the The Ghost Dimension. The ‘spectral’ camera is definitely put to better, scarier use than the infrared dots of the X­Box Kinect system in Paranormal Activity 4. And, while the movie never really shoots for anything more than jump scares, I will give them credit for being better handled than most modern horror flicks. The problem with the movie is that for all that it wants to be different and unique from the rest of the series while wallowing in the same tropes set up in those prior entries, it never really gets any further than a bad Exorcist wannabe.

I really, really wanted to like this movie. I remember discovering the first Paranormal Activity back in 2010 when it used to be on Netflix. It was late at night and pitch black except for my TV and I was thoroughly hooked by the simple premise and genuinely creepy atmosphere of the film. As the series aged, though, elements started popping up that could have made for an interesting mythology but were just never fleshed out enough to make sense. The Ghost Dimension was supposed to answer all the questions in the series and wrap it up with a bow, but I walked away still not quite sure exactly what the point was other than it had something to do with time travel. If you enjoyed the earlier films in the series, you’ll probably have some fun with this one but otherwise, you’re better off just watching the first 3 again.

Stank Ranking – 8.5

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