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Scary or Die (2012)

Director: Bob Badway, Michael Emanuel, Igor Meglic
Starring: Bill Oberst Jr., Corbin Bleu, Domiziano Arcangeli, Elizabeth Di Prinzio, Hali Lula Hudson, Shawn Caulin-Young
Rated R, 94 minutes

A low-budget horror anthology that tells five interrelated stories happening in and around Los Angeles. In the first story, "The Crossing", two psycho rednecks (Bill Oberst Jr. and Shawn Caulin-Young) and their female squeeze (Hali Lula Hudson) encounter a horde of illegal alien zombies. "Teujung's Lament" is about a man who gets mixed up with a vampire cult. The third story, "Re-Membered", is a modern update of Edgar Allan
Poe's "The Telltale Heart" in which a body in the trunk of a car begins to drive a man insane. This is followed by the film's centerpiece, "Clowned", in which a drug-dealer-with-a-heart-gold (Corbin Bleu) is bitten by a cannibalistic clown, and is transformed into a cannibalistic clown himself. The film closes with "Lover Come Back", a short tale of a woman who returns from the grave through the power of voodoo.

Horror anthologies are usually hit-or-miss, and SCARY OR DIE is mostly a miss. The exceptionally dumb first story is saved by some decent gore effects and an over-the-top performance by the very cool Bill Oberst Jr. After that, the movie sinks into a melodramatic stupor, with the remaining stories taking on a too-serious tone that make them a chore to sit through. The longest story here is "Clowned" and is the film's main attraction. If you think clowns are scary, well, here you go. There are two hideously ugly clown in this one (one obviously modeled after John Wayne Gacy). Other than that, it's an overlong bore that should have spent more of its running time focusing on clown mayhem instead of schmaltzy family drama. And like "The Crossing", it's very, very dumb.

SCARY OR DIE has decent production values and a (mostly) capable cast. What it doesn't have, unfortunately, is an original bone in its body. Every story here is cliche-filled and predictable, with everything panning out exactly how you imagine. Worse than that, it's a movie that takes itself far too seriously to have any fun at all. Dumb and unoriginal can work in some cases, but dull and uninspired cannot.

2 out of 5.


Dawning (2009)

Director: Gregg Holtgrewe
Starring: Najarra Townsend, Jonas Goslow, David Coral, Christine Kellogg-Darrin, Daniel Jay Salmen
Not Rated, 82 minutes

Aurora (Najarra Townsend; CONTRACTED) and Chris (Jonas Goslow) are a pair of siblings who travel to their father's cabin deep in a remote wilderness. Upon their arrival, we learn that this isn't going to be a happy family get together. Dad (David Coral) is a recovering alky who is hypercritical of his pothead son, while his new wife, Laura, is seen by the kids as an icy home wrecker responsible for their parents' divorce. The family's half-hearted attempts at having a pleasant weekend are interrupted by tragedy when Aurora discovers the family dog has been mortally wounded. If that weren't enough, moments later a crazed man bursts into the cabin. The man babbles incoherently about someone, or something, in the woods that is coming for all of them. Not knowing what to do, the dysfunctional family subdues the stranger and tries to decide their next move.

If DAWNING were to be summed up in a single word, it would be "frustrating." While director Gregg Holtgrewe makes effective use of a shoestring budget (just over 100,000 dollars) and employs a efficient visual style to build tension, he focuses too much on the events inside the cabin, and neglects the threats outside. We can't count on this family to learn much about the mysterious entity that is lurking just beyond the door, because they can't stop bickering long enough to do anything productive. Nobody is able to go for help, nor are they able to extract any information from the stranger. We are left with an incredibly vague menace that never gives us any clues as to what it might be, or if it even exists at all. The actors handle the material fairly well, but really aren't given much to work with outside the "family drama" department.

Holtgrewe ramps up the intensity in the final act using an unnerving soundtrack and some interesting visuals. However, without a compelling villain or threat to work with, the tension Holtgrewe works hard for begins unravelling. DAWNING then races to an ending that is too ambiguous for its own good.