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The Battery (2012)

Director: Jeremy Gardner
Starring: Jeremy Gardener, Adam Cronheim, Niels Bolle, Alana O'Brien, Larry Fessenden (voice)
Not Rated 101 Minutes

If there's any sub-genre of horror that needs to be buried, it's the zombie film. Thanks to SHAUN OF THE DEAD (which is great), the walking dead have become a major source of amusement for hipsters and other folks who aren't really that interested in horror, but want to tell others they are. In the decade that's followed this resurgence, we've been subjected to every possible take on the genre, and most of them range from the dull to the unwatchable.

Now enters "the shoegazing" zombie flick -- THE BATTERY.

Ben (writer/director Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) are a pair of baseball players who manage to escape the carnage and chaos of a zombie epidemic by fleeing to the forests of New England. Ben thrives in the apocalyptic landscape, and seems to enjoy the nomadic, scavenger lifestyle. Mickey longs for the days when he could live in a house and sleep in an actual bed. Together this odd couple spends their time walking from abandoned house to abandoned house, foraging for supplies, playing catch, fishing, talking, and commandeering the occasional car. When they find a set of walkie talkies, they discover they aren't the only survivors. Mickey becomes infatuated with the female voice on the air, which leads to a whole new set of problems for the two wandering ball players.

A lot of reviewers hate THE BATTERY because it doesn't follow the typical zombie movie stalk them, kill them, eat them template. In fact, the zombie outbreak feels incidental to the story at times. This departure is what makes the film more interesting than any hundred straight-to-video zombie flick. This is more of a 1970's-style character study of two men with opposite personalities who wait out the apocalypse together. We spend most of the running time watching them try to pass the time, breaking up the extreme boredom sure to accompany the end of the world with diversions -- small talk, playing baseball, and a lot of quiet reflection. Despite the fact that very little happens to advance the story, THE BATTERY is never boring. Quite an impressive feat for a film that's 75 percent two-men-doing-not-much-at-all.

If there's any criticism here, it's that the film runs a little too long and meanders a bit in the middle act. In two weeks and for six grand, Jeremy Gardener made a very different kind of zombie movie that's more interesting and engaging than any other film of this sort in recent memory. If you're wanting for gory action, look elsewhere. THE BATTERY is not a movie about special effects and violent gags, it's about people.

3.5 out of 5.


The New York Ripper (1982)

Director: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Jack Hedley, Almanta Suska, Paolo Marco, Andrea Occhipinti, Howard Ross
Unrated 85 Minutes

The Blu-Ray cover art for NEW YORK RIPPER proudly states "The Most Controversial Movie in History!" That probably isn't true, but it certainly is the nastiest and most controversial film in Lucio Fulci's catalog. While he certainly made gorier films (THE BEYOND, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, ZOMBIE, HOUSE BY THE CEMETARY), he never made anything with the kind of leering and mean-spirited tone found here.

In some ways it acts as a late-period giallo with its mysterious killer and its scenes of stylized violence. What sets it apart from those films is that it is less concerned with tension and plot and more interested in being as sleazy and repellant as possible. The only thing Fulci depicts with more intensity than the film's near-pornographic sex are its scenes of grisly violence. This is strong stuff here, and Fulci lingers on images of mutilated organs and sliced nipples longer than anyone would think necessary. And of course, we get Fulci's signature "eyeball" moment and it's  far more cringe-inducing than the famous splinter scene from ZOMBIE.

In between scenes of perverted sex acts and women having sharp objects jammed in their you-know-whats, Fulci threads a routine, yet amusingly daffy, tale of a weary cop (Jack Hedley) and a "brilliant" shrink (Paolo Marco) who attempt to track down the sadistic madman who quacks when he kills. Seriously -- the killer calls and taunts police while using a very bad and very annoying impersonation of Donald Duck! Though the film is played with a deadpan expression, Hedley supplies some laughs (intentional or not) as the hooker-loving cop who finds himself in a battle of wits with the perverted maniac. Fulci himself makes a brief appearance as the Chief of Police, smoking a pipe and speaking with an odd (dubbed) accent.

In this era of extreme political correctness, there's something weirdly satisfying about the film's apparent contempt for anything resembling good taste. If you've ever used gender-fluid pronouns or expressed concern over "micro-agressions," you better run, run, RUN away from NEW YORK RIPPER. For the less easily "triggered" out there, this is one of the most shocking and outrageous slashers of the 80's. Gory, sleazy and mean.... yet fun in it's own unique way.

5 out of 5.


Blue Ruin (2013)

Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Macon Blair, Devon Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack
Rated R,  90 minutes

A terrible crime committed twenty years earlier sends a good natured, but inept, misfit named Dwight (Macon Blair) on a bloody quest to murder a recently released convict named Wade Cleland. As the story of BLUE RUIN unfolds, we learn why this seemingly gentle outcast is compelled to become an instrument of vengeance, and we witness the heavy price one must pay when choosing to travel that road.

BLUE RUIN can be viewed as a sort of anti-DEATH WISH, where instead of cheering for our hero's righteous mission, we cringe and wince with every mistake he makes, and share his sense of horror that each act of violence only leads to more violence. And while a dark, low-key sense of humor arises throughout, the film portrays its acts of violence with a disturbing and grim intensity. Macon Blair is nothing short of astonishing as the passive beach bum turned bumbling assassin, and its hard to see any "acting" in his performance -- he IS Dwight. The supporting cast is very good, as well, but it's Blair that gives the film its soul.

Beautifully photographed, written, and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, this is the kind of movie Hollywood should pay attention to. It's not afraid to be quiet, nor does it need enormous amounts of exposition to tell its tale. With a paltry budget of $400,000 (part of which was crowd funded on Kickstarter), Saulnier has crafted a haunting, intelligent, and moving revenge story unlike any other. BLUE RUIN is the kind of movie that makes me excited about film again, and I eagerly await Saulnier's next project.

5 out of 5.


Severed (2005)


Director: Carl Bessai
Starring: Paul Campbell, Sarah Lind, Julian Christopher, JR Bourne, Michael Teigen
Rated R, 93 min

A group of environmental activists make a stand against a Monsanto-style company they believe is decimating the forest by chaining themselves to a cluster of trees marked for removal. What they, as well as a few of the company's workers, will soon discover that the company has been doing weird genetic experiments on the trees to produce a greater yield. As it so happens, these particular trees produce a toxic sap that will rapidly transform a normal living human into an undead flesh-eating ghoul. One thing leads to another, people start getting infected, and the hippies and the loggers will need to work together to survive.

While watching SEVERED, I couldn't avoid thinking of the Romero zombie series, 28 DAYS LATER, and several more of the genre's high water marks. Although the story has enough twists and turns to keep things somewhat interesting,  the movie ultimately cannot overcome the feeling of deja vu that permeates the film. The acting was much better than expected, and the writers did at least take same time to develop some of the characters. It's also nice to see a low budget film that uses traditional blood-and-latex effects. But the lack of any original ideas makes SEVERED little more than a competently made, but insignificant, low budget time killer.

Director Carl Bessai would go on to direct the 2013 remake of EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE. Actor JR Bourne also appeared in THIRTEEN GHOSTS and GINGER SNAPS BACK: THE BEGINNING, while actress Sarah Lind could be seen in THE EXORCISM OF MOLLY HARTLEY and the ridiculous Steven Seagal television series "True Justice."

2.5 out of 5.


Ooga Booga (2013)

Director: Charles Band
Starring: Wade F. Wilson, Ciarra Carter, Karen Black, Stacy Keach, Gregory Niebel, Siri, Amber Strauser, Maddox
Not rated, 95 minutes

Charles Band is back with yet another killer doll movie, this time with a story that attempts to exploit the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO. The star is a sixteen inch African bushman doll named Ooga Booga, who previously appeared in DOLL GRAVEYARD and EVIL BONG.

OOGA BOOGA opens with a look at a children's show hosted by a degenerate alcoholic with a rubber pig nose named Hambo. When Hambo's drunken shenanigans get him fired mid-taping, he decides to get into the toy biz with a line of politically incorrect action figures. One of which is our star Olga Booga, whom Hambo gifts to his friend, Devin, a young, black medical student with a bright future. Tragedy strikes when Devin interrupts a convenience store robbery in progress by a trio of bumbling racist scumbags (led by internet blogger Maddox). The clerk is shot, and while Devin is attempting to help the dying man, a racist cop arrives and murders Devin in cold blood. As Devin's life slips away, an electrical mishap involving a slushy machine miraculously transfers Devin's soul into the Ooga Booga doll. Devin, now possessing the doll, sets out to get revenge against all the racists involved in his death.

On one hand, I have to give it to Band for having the guts to exploit a very controversial topic in a film that many will consider racist. On the other, I have to wonder just what he thought he was accomplishing here. OOGA BOOGA is a very dumb movie full of racist caricatures and pathetic attempts at humor that probably won't amuse anyone with an IQ in the triple digits. Band unsuccessfully attempts to merge blaxploitation with his killer doll shtick and ended up with a tasteless and moronic "comedy" designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I'm sure there is an audience that will be receptive to this film, though I certainly wouldn't want to be around them.

The most troublesome thing here is not the racial element, but the way Band handles a rape scene in the second act. Devin's girlfriend (played by Ciarra Carter) is cornered by the trio of criminals (same ones who robbed the store) and is gang raped in an alleyway. She returns home, dazed and disheveled, and immediately goes to the bathroom. Band then incorporates a very unfortunately timed shower scene in which Ooga Booga leers at the nude rape victim and masturbates. I'm not one who is easily offended, but I was amazed by the level of bad taste Band displays here.

In one of her final performances, Karen Black (HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, THE PYX) essentially gets to reprise her role from TRILOGY OF TERROR, as an eccentric old lady who gets on Ooga Booga's bad side. Stacy Keach also appears as a racist and corrupt judge, in a role that could possibly be a career low. Did he read the script beforehand? Also appearing is porn actress Siri, as a white trash hooker appropriately billed as "Skank." The highlight of the film (for me, anyway) is a brief part for the impossibly sexy Amber Strauser, as Hambo's smoking hot sidekick, Peggy Suey.

I recommend watching only the first five minutes to see Amber Strauser. Then you can turn it off and do something better with your time. If you want to see an African-American themed killer doll movie, watch RAGDOLL (also from Band's Full Moon) instead. It's a fun little movie, unlike this ugly and pointless mess.

1.5 out of 5.


Cabin Fever (2002)

Director: Eli Roth
Starring: Jordan Ladd, Rider Strong, Cerina Vincent, James DeBello
Rated R,  93 minutes

Thanks to buzz generated on the festival circuit, along with glowing praise from Hollywood mega-director Peter Jackson, CABIN FEVER and its young director, Eli Roth, rode a wave of hype onto the horror scene. Praised as being a truly original and daring film that was unlike any of its contemporaries, it was touted as being one of the greatest horror films of the last decade, if not all time. I vividly recall being taken by the film's aggressive marketing, and bought my ticket as soon as it hit theaters. Could this really be the "modern classic" horror fans had been waiting for?

Not even close. To be fair to Roth, though, the hyperbolic blurbs and and inaccurate claims about the movie weren't his doing, but he didn't help matters by delivering a confused and disjointed flick that couldn't decide what kind of movie it wanted to be.

A group of twenty somethings head out to a remote cabin to blow off final exam steam with a weekend of booze and sex. Unfortunately for them, the fun and fornication comes to a grinding halt when they become exposed to a horrible flesh-eating bacteria polluting the area's water supply. Panic and paranoia takes hold as the infected members of the party begin to dissolve into goopy, bloody messes (some excellent make-up work by KNB), while the still healthy few try to find a way to escape.

When CABIN FEVER acts as a dark humored horror film, it does quite well. It's a gruesomely amusing comedy of errors as things go horribly awry, with plenty of nudity, gore, and a guest appearance from a very angry dog named Dr. Mambo. The problem comes in the form of several ill-advised gags that completely undermine the script's more serious aspect. Comedy and horror can reside very well together (see RE-ANIMATOR or RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD for instances where it's done right), but here oddball touches like Winston the Party Cop, and Dennis the mulleted kung-fu kid, come off as non-sequitirs that belong in an entirely different movie. Winston the cop who loves to party feels like it was some inside joke that the audience wasn't privy to, while Dennis is an obvious homage to the strange "karate man" scene from JP Simon's PIECES. Neither was necessary; the film was doing quite well without them.

Roth wears his influences on his sleeve, and horror fans will be able to pick out references to a slew of older horror flicks. To his credit, Roth does not stoop to Quentin Tarantino's near-plagiaristic lows, and indeed seems to be looking to them for inspiration. However, if his upcoming cannibal film THE GREEN INFERNO is any indication, he may be in danger of becoming a the cinematic equivalent of a cover band, one that hits all the right notes but doesn't put any effort into originality.

The movie is almost redeemed by terrific photography by cinematographer Scott Kevan. His work perfectly captures the golden foliage and rustic charm of the setting, using light to shade the story in an interesting way; the movie appears brighter and more vivid early, and becomes darker and more dreary as things head south. His photography is so good,it makes me sad to consider what this movie could have been.

CABIN FEVER has since spawned two sequels, and is currently being remade with Roth acting as executive producer. Hopefully, he'll be able to find a script that builds on the originals strengths instead of its weaknesses.

3 out of 5.


Return in Red (2007)

Director: Tyler Tharpe
Starring: JJ Huckin, Amy Paliganoff, Keelan Rushing, Linda McCormick, Becky Niccum
Not rated, 90 minutes

Life in a small town takes a turn for the weird when a mysterious white van, equipped with an electronic device intended as a sort of sonic weapon, arrives and begins broadcasting an array of unnerving sounds. The noises disrupt television and radio signals, and then begin disrupting people's brains.

RETURN IN RED opens with a scary quote concerning the use of "sonic weapons" against human beings from Zbigniew Brzezinski, a famous foreign policy advisor with a name straight out of Lovecraft. It immediately sets a foreboding tone that accompanies scenes of the town's residents going about their daily lives, completely unaware that someone is using them as guinea pigs for an electromagnetic mind-scrambling device. If there is a major complaint here, it's that director Tyler Tharpe spends a little too much time setting the mood, and very little happens for the first hour of the film. However, there are several genuinely creepy moments sprinkled throughout that make the film worth a look. To top it all off, there is a surprisingly gory climax that has a very odd charm to it the works in its own weird way.

The film's wonderfully grainy 16mm photography and electronic soundtrack noise help give the film an entirely different vibe than other low budget horror flicks of the time. It reminds me a bit of THE WILDMAN OF THE NAVIDAD in that sense, but feels less of a gimmicky throwback than that film. That said, this is a hard one to recommend to most people. Some folks will have a hard time with the slow pace, the low budget, the amateurish acting, and the somewhat vague and mysterious storytelling. It currently has a 3.7 rating over at IMDB, which tells me I'm in the minority for liking this film.  It certainly is rough around the edges, but it has enough creepy atmosphere and fuzzy charm to make it worth a watch. This is one of the rare instances where I would welcome a leaner and more focused remake.

3 out of 5.