Posts Tagged ‘The Asylum’

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Why do I do it to myself?

Seriously, you (whoever “you” may be) and I both know exactly what we’re getting we’re getting into with these lame “found footage” horror flicks from The Asylum, and there’s precisely zero chance that the next one we happen across will be at all “different” to the others in any way, and yet — there it was, sitting in Hulu’s “horror and suspense” section, and I couldn’t resist it. 2011’s The Amityville Haunting. “The lost recordings of the Benson family,” we’re told, who were apparently dumb/and or broke enough to move into the infamous Amityville house house despite knowing full well what happened to the DeFeo family there years — hell, decades at this point — earlier. Cue 86 minutes of exactly what you expect.

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We start with a couple teenage kids fucking in an abandoned house, getting killed by a ghost (or something), and leaving their iPhone behind with the whole thing “caught on tape.” Then the unlucky Benson clan moves in. Their son, Tyler, records everything that happens in their whole boring-ass lives. The house is haunted. When the ghost shows up, the images get all static-y. The sounds goes a little loopy, too. Over time dad starts cracking up under the strain. The hauntings become more frequent. Things rattle around in the house. More static-infested images. The ghost is the wandering undead spirit of Ronald DeFeo, Jr. The house is obviously not “the” Amityville house at all, but whatever. Things continue to escalate until everyone dies. The end.

Seriously. That’s it. About the only thing noteworthy that happens is a cringe-worthy moment when Tyler finds the old iPhone with the sex footage on it and decides to show it to his mom and dad, which might be normal behavior in, say, the Trump household, but is rightly considered weird — to say the least — anywhere else. Apart from that, everything you’ve just seen fades from memory pretty quickly — and thank goodness for that.

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Director Geoff Meed (who goes uncredited, as is the custom in these things) has crafted what may be the most eminently forgettable “mockumentary” horror in history with this one, and that’s saying something. The entire cast is uniformly lousy to the point where they ought to be embarrassed and I’ll spare you the breakdowns of individual performances not only because I’m feeling lazy buy because unless you’re related to, or grew up with , the likes of Devin Clark, Steven Dell, Piper Kennedy, or Gracie Largent, you won’t care that they’re in this film any more than whatever production intern assembled the credits reel did. Besides, these aren’t actors, this is “genuine footage,” right? The effects are cheap and lousy. The dialogue is rancid. The “scares” are nonexistent. The — no, wait, I give up, this isn’t worth any more of  even the less-than-half-assed effort I’m putting into it.

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Recently, The Asylum has pleasantly surprised me with a couple of their offerings, most notably Little Dead Rotting Hood, but let’s be brutally honest — 99.99% of what they crank out is still unmitigated crap, and you need look no further than The Amityville Haunting for proof of that. And yet, next year come October, I’ll probably get a wild hair hair to waste my time on one of their celluloid abominations again. That’s just how it goes, I offer no excuse —

 

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Quick show of hands — who saw the title for this flick and immediately knew The Asylum was behind it?

Yeah, me too, and while I’ve been consistently hard on their productions in the past on this site (and deservedly so, I might add), when I saw this (apparently brand new, given that it even lists 2016 as its production date) title turn up on Netflix the other day, I gave it a go, glutton for punishment that I am.

Why, you might ask? I have no idea, and I offer as my only defense the simple fact that you’ve gotta keep an open mind when you’re in the opinion-sharing business — even when you think you know exactly what you’re getting into — and I’m sorta glad that I did, because while director Jared Cohn’s Little Dead Rotting Hood certainly isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, it’s a surprisingly semi-professional production given the “brains” behind it, and by the time the end credits rolled even I had to confess that it was, at the very least, reasonably entertaining.

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I suppose everything I just said could fairly be categorized as “damning with faint praise,” but truth be told there’s nothing very damnable on offer here at all. The production values are of a higher standard than we’re used to from these folks, the acting is by and large competent, the overall tone is one of tongue-in-cheek fun that doesn’t completely go overboard into spoof, and there’s a generous helping of bloody violence and gore, nudity, and monsters. That’s not a recipe for an Oscar-winner or anything, but for a low-budget, straight-to-video, openly cut-rate horror flick, well — what more do you really want?

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The rundown, then, for those of you who care to know it : a small town on the edge of a stereotypical dark and foreboding forest has been protected from the vicious wolves that inhabit said woods for many years now thanks to the magical incantations of an old(-ish) witch named Esmerelda Winfield (played by Marina Sirtis, best known as Counselor Deanna Troy on that one show people like), but she’s getting a bit long in the tooth and, sensing a new threat, decides that her best course of action is to cast one last spell that will kill her and pass her powers on to her granddaughter, Samantha (Bianca A. Santos, our titular “Dead Rotting Hood” who is neither dead nor rotting but does wear a red hood on occasion). It’s not a very well-thought-out plan, though, since the minute grandma dies her veil of protection (or whatever) over the semi-quaint village goes with her, and now the wolves are free to descend on everyone and everything there with reckless abandon. And, of course, whoever they bite ends up joining their feral and bloodthirsty ranks.

That intuition about a “new threat” turns out to be well-founded, though, when a slew of dead human and canine bodies proves that there’s something in the wilderness that’s preying on wolves every bit as much as it is on people. And so it’s up the Samantha, in her new role as protector, to round up anyone and everyone who can do something about this menace to —well, do something about this menace. Along for the ride to one degree or another are the local sheriff, Adam (Eric Balfour), his deputy, Henry (Patrick Muldoon), and the two other members of the local police force, officers Victoria (Heather Tom) and Scudder (Brendan Wayne), while assisting in a more unofficial capacity are Samantha’s boyfriend, Danny (Romeo Miller), and her friends Becky (Amy Argyle), Rita (Taylor Carr), and Jenny (Ashley Doris), all of whom are, in the grandest Asylum tradition, very easy on the eyes and,  when necessary, even easier to get naked.

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If you can’t have fun with this sort of ting, I dunno — maybe you’re just wound too tight. Obviously Cohn and his screenwriter, one Gabriel Campisi, never take things too terribly seriously, nor should you, but that doesn’t mean they’re mailing things in here. The story moves along at a pleasing clip, the sets are obviously just that but are really none the weaker for it, the visual effects are entirely serviceable bordering on the good, and the actors all appear to be having a good time.

As did I and, I’d venture to guess, as will you. I can’t recommend buying Little Dead Rotting Hood on DVD or Blu-ray because I honestly don’t think it’s something you’ll revisit very often (if ever) over the years, but as a one-and-done viewing it’s corny, cheesy, gory, low-brow fun.

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In 2010, a group of amateur paranormal investigators went to the scene of Richard Speck’s notorious killing spree in an ill-advised attempt to capture footage of his ghost, which purportedly haunts to the place. They never made it out. Now, the victims’  families have finally consented to release the video footage of their loved ones’ final hours to the public.

If this sounds to you like yet another of the cheap-as-shit “found footage” horror movies cobbled together in a few days (and at the cost of a very few dollars) by the shoestring operators of The Asylum, pat yourself on the back for a job well done, because that’s exactly what 2012’s 100 Ghost Street : The Return Of Richard Speck is. And yes, it’s as lousy as any and/or all of the others — and I’m sure you had that much figured out already, as well.

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To be perfectly honest, I’d be damn surprised if the Illinois student nurses’  dormitory where Speck is supposed to have carried out his gruesome and head-scratchingly improbably one-at-a-time rape and murder free-for-all is even still standing, but no matter : this is The Asylum, and any big house in the LA environs will do for exterior shots, while any sound stage will work just fine for the shaky-cam-lensed interiors. Any actors needing work will suffice, as well, so unless you’re related to,  or went to high school with,  the likes of Steve Bencic, Tony Besson, or Hayley “there’s no way this is the name on her birth certificate” Derryberry, you’re not gonna care who’s in this movie any more than you’ll care that some guy named Martin Wichmann directed it. They all go uncredited anyway, so what does it matter?

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If you’re concerned about whether or not there are highly improbable scenarios devised to get the female cast members’ shirts off, rest assured that base is covered. If you’re wondering whether or not anyone gets out alive, fear not — you know the answer to that one going in, too. And if you think anyone is stupid enough to believe these events are “real,” well, shit — not even the powers that be at The Asylum think that, but that’s not even the point of these things anymore. The point is merely to go through the motions, get their movies out on DVD, Netflix (which, of course, is how I caught this one) and other “home viewing platforms,” and sit back and hope to rake in a few thousand bucks in profit by the time all is said and done. On that score, I’m sure 1oo Ghost Street : The Return Of Richard Speck — or Paranormal Entity 4 : The Awakening, as it’s also called — can be considered a “success.”

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By any and all other measures, though, it is, of course, a complete failure and even more complete waste of time. It’s boring, it’s stupid, it’s pointless, and I’m an idiot for watching it (especially since I just sat through — and reviewed — The Bell Witch Haunting last week).  I offer no excuses. I knew exactly what I was getting into. And yet — masochistic asshole that I am — I went for it anyway.

I sincerely wish I could tell you why, but I can’t. Maybe I just needed to see yet another horror flick where discorporate entities of some sort drag some doomed,  hapless schmuck down a hallway, into darkness, never to be seen again? Sure, what the hell — I’ll go with that excuse until I can think of a better one.

 

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There are good “found-footage” horror movies.

There are bad “found-footage” horror movies.

And then there are Asylum “found-footage” horror movies.

Usually setting their tales at or near the scenes of purportedly “real” paranormal “hot spots” or the stomping grounds of infamous serial killers (although all their flicks are shot in California), the no-budget, straight-to-video “moguls” who run The Asylum follow pretty much the same formula every time : hire an eager kid either right out of film school or looking to get in to direct it, give him or her an HD video camera, hire a bunch of uniformly good-looking guys and gals who are out  to pad their meager acting CVs, get the ladies to take their shirts (at least) off, mix in a bit of dodgy CGI effects work meant to be indicative of “ghostly”  activity ( I really wanted to say “paranormal activity” there, but the name’s taken), and then kill everybody off by the time the credits roll — assuming they even bother to include them. The end.

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Certainly 2013’s The Bell Witch Haunting is no different (and, like all the rest, it bills itself as a “true” story assembled from “genuine” footage), and while I could throw out a bunch of specific “spoilers” here and go into great detail about the paper-thin story on offer involving the hapless Sawyer family, who move into a new home (supposedly) in North Carolina and almost immediately find themselves terrorized by the spirit of the legendary Bell Witch who is rumored to haunt the area, I think I’ll let the film’s director, one Glenn Miller (not that his name is anywhere to be found in the movie itself) do that for me, since he gives away the ending right at the start of the flick, notifying us that the Sawyer case was thought to be a murder-suicide, but was really the work of “a centuries-old demon responsible for America’s most famous paranormal event.”

So — you know what’s gonna happen from the outset, the only question is how it’s all gonna go down. And it occurs to me that we’ve covered that already : the chicks will get naked, there will be some squiggly lines on the cell phone and video camera footage, some cheap “apparitions” will appear, and everybody will die.

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I could — and probably by all rights should — also talk about the about the acting for a minute, since that’s the customary thing to do in a movie review, but honestly, unless you’re a friend or relative of this flick’s nominal “stars” like Marissa Lynne Johnson, Laura Alexandra Ramos, or Ted Jonas, you have no reason to care about who’s in this any more than the actors themselves have reason to care about the job they do. It’s about three days’ work for three days’ non-union pay — get in, get out, get your rent paid for the month, and everybody’s happy. If some of them want to put forth something resembling actual effort — a mindset which doesn’t seem to afflict any of the cast members here — then so much the better, but honestly, it’s not really necessary.

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Hey, look, these things have their fans — I get that. There’s a certain low-rent charm to inherently crappy productions that have no aspirations to be anything other than inherently crappy productions — but you really do have to be in exactly the right from of mind to get anything resembling “enjoyment” from an Asylum production, and when I watched this one the other night on Netflix, well — I just wasn’t. I stuck with it to the end simply because I had nothing else going on (although I suppose I could have come up with something — anything — easily enough), but it’s already been more or less completely forgotten in less than 48 hours.

Which is probably a blessing, really, now that I think about it, since remembering any of the details with too much clarity would probably just “ruin” the next Asylum horror flick for me (given that it’ll have more or less exactly the same plot), and this way it’ll all seem fresh, new, and exciting instead, right?

Okay, maybe not. Damn, though, it’s weird : looking back over this review, I realize that while I’ve talked a lot about The Asylum in general, I really haven’t had that much to say about The Bell Witch Haunting specifically — and yet I’ve still told you all you that need to know.

 

 

 

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Is it October again already? I guess it is, and you know what that means for this (and, frankly, more or less every other) film review blog — it’s time to talk horror movies all month in preparation for Halloween.

Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, as evidenced by the fact that I seem to do it year in and year out, but this year, rather than blindly selecting any old movie just because it fits a particular genre theme, I thought I’d narrow things down a bit and only review stuff that’s currently available in the Netflix instant streaming queue. I’m sure I’ll have cause to mix things up a bit and look at a small handful of other horror flicks, either currently playing theatrically or on DVD, but by and large I thought it would help give things some focus if I just limited the pool of possibilities a little bit. I trust you won’t mind indulging me when I do veer off my self-prescribed course (and gosh, I wouldn’t want to forget about doing the occasional comic review, would I?), but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, let’s play this out until I get bored and see where it all goes, shall we?

A few ground rules — I won’t be bothering with any technical specs such as you’ll commonly find in reviews of DVDs and Blu-rays, I’ll be trying my best to look at somewhat less “mainstream” horror titles, and when I can, I’ll try to contian my penchant for droning on and on and (hopefully) keep these fairly short and sweet.

Or, failing that, at least short. So let’s get started, shall we?

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a tremendous fan of The Asylum — as a general rule, even for what it is they do (cheap Z-grade straight-to-video “found footage” horrors and “mockbusters” being their specialties) I find that, by and large, they don’t do it very well. I usually go into their productions with abysmally low expectations and,  more often than not,  they struggle to meet even those. I get that they have their fans and all — shit, I guess everyone does — but they’re just not my cup of tea.

Still, even the worst production houses have a nadir, a rock-bottom, an absolute worst offering from a very bad lot, and 2012’s shot-in-Belize effort Alien Origin just might be the lowest of the low from the “studio” that also gave us awful-and-not-in-a-good-way numbers like Transmorphers and Battle Of Los Angeles. To say this thing is completely devoid of anything that even smells like a redeeming quality is probably being too kind. It’s just shit, pure and simple.

Furthermore, it doesn’t even spend so much as a moment trying to convince itself — much less anyone who might be unfortunate enough to be watching it — that it’s anything but shit. Writer/director Mark Atkins is all about knocking off at 5:00 and getting to the bar, by the look of things, and if there’s one consistent “vibe” given off by the proceedings here, it’s that no one really gives a flying fuck about what they’re doing.

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I might give something of a pass to the film’s nominal “star,” Chelsea Vincent, who plays Julia Evans, a reporter ensconced (I guess in the days of Gulf War I and II we would call her “embedded”) with the special forces branch of Belize’s army as they undertake a search for some missing anthropologists who apparently found some mysterious alien artifacts of some sort before disappearing altogether, but it’s not like she’s terribly competent or anything — she’s just less incompetent than the locals they found laying around on the beach who they used to fill the other roles.

Anyway, her camera’s rolling throughout, as you’ve no doubt already guessed, and she’s “documenting” the mission when things suddenly get purportedly dangerous and creepy. Not that you’re likely to feel overly endangered or creeped out or anything of the sort. Hell, if you’ve got any sense you’ll turn this thing off at about the 15-minute mark and find something better to do with your time — might I suggest watching the flagpole rust or your toenails grow?

Either would be more involving than this snooze-fest, which can’t bother to register any sort of a  pulse even when we finally get the the meat of the matter and learn about the monsters from outer space who have been here for a long time and may have  played a hand in the devleeopment and evolution of mankind out of the primordial soup that, to be perfectly candid, we probably would have opted to stay in if we’d known that centuries down the line one of our ranks would come up with anything as insipid and worthless as Alien Origin.

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About the only thing worth paying attention to at this point are the numerous creative cop-outs that Atkins employs in order to never actually have to show us our evil alien overlords, but even that little play-along-at-home game isn’t nearly enough to grab your interest for long. If you’re still awake by the time anything actually happens in this flick, you’ll be praying for nothing so much as a speedy resolution so that the cinematic endurance test you’ve subjected yourself to can finally, mercifully, come to an end.

The rest of the movies we look at this month can only get better from here on out, right?

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There’s absolutely no doubt about it : the scarecrow image is one of the most enduring and iconic archetypes in all of horror. From the Jeepers Creepers films to Messengers 2 : The Scarecrow to the classic made-for-TV movie Dark Night Of The Scarecrow to —shit, literally countless other examples —you can’t swing a dead cat, or dead crow as the case may be , without hitting one of these grim-faced straw ghouls. The reason for their prevalence probably goes well beyond the purview of this simple review (unless it’s just that, hey, they look creepy — which could very well be the long and short of it), but said ubiquitousness does bring two rather important questions to mind, the first being : if you put one of these things out in a corn field, do they actually work?; and the second being, well — exactly which scarecrow-themed flick are we talking about here, anyway?

As far as the first query goes, I’m afraid I can’t answer that one for ya. No clue, sorry. But the second one I can help with — it’s 2002 straight-to-video slasher cheapie Scarecrow that’s in our critical cross-hairs today, a relatively early effort from The Asylum directed by Emmanuel Itier, who also had a hand in its scripting.

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Here’s the setup : life’s rough for Lester Dwervick (how couldn’t it be with a name like that? Shit, slap that down on your kid’s birth certificate and he’s got no choice but to be a hopeless dweeb by the time his teenage years roll around), a small-town uber-loner who lives in a trailer park with his morally fast-n’-loose mom and is picked on mercilessly by the jock/popular-kid types at his high school. He’s got no friends, no social skills, and no hope —you know the drill. Then, one day more or less out of nowhere, a sorta-punkish, sorta-gothish, sorta-alternativeish girl named Judy (Tiffany Shepis) decides he’s not the worst thing in the world after all and the other kids oughtta cut poor Lester a break. Heck, she might even be developing a little crush on him — which normally wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but shit, her dad’s the local sheriff, and you know that’s bound to complicate matters, right?

Then, of course, the obligatory bad night happens — one of the jock kids tries to get a little bit too familiar with Judy at a party. Lester sees it and assumes she’s kissing the guy willingly. He runs home to Jerry Springer Estates where he has a confrontation with drunken mom’s even drunker boyfriend, and it ends badly — Lester’s taken out into a corn field and murdered by mom’s Knight In Stained Wifebeater T-Shirt under the watchful eye of, you guessed it, a scarecrow.

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Give mom and her fella points for originality, though — rather than ‘fess up to killing the poor schmuck, they tell the cops and the press that Lester actually committed suicide, and since no one really gives a fuck about him, they don’t ask too many questions and life pretty much proceeds as normal. With, of course, one little wrinkle —

You guessed it : at the moment of his death, Lester’s soul somehow passed from his expiring body into the scarecrow and now he’s back  — and, of course, royally pissed.

Exit actor Tim Young, enter Todd Rex as the guy in the scarecrow suit. Gone are Lester’s awkward stand-offishness and timidity, and in their place stands a tall dude made outta hay who can’t be killed, gets his kicks lobbing off people’s heads with his scythe, and has a penchant for snappy (if painfully obvious) one-liners. Shit, if dying had a positive impact like this on the life of every picked-on teenage outcast, they’d all be giving it a try!

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Now, bear with me, because this next statement is gonna sound downright weird : it’s when the film enters this second act, with Lester being replaced by his new out-for-blood persona, that Scarecrow actually goes off the rails. Yeah, I know — nerdy high school reject becomes killer scarecrow is the whole point of the movie, but once the transformation takes place, things really do take a turn for the worse, and it’s all down to one thing: Tim Young was actually really, unbelievably good as dorky Dwervick, quite possibly (and yes, I’m theorizing here — bear with me) because his own experiences with diabetes (he feel into a coma and damn near died during the course of this film’s eight day production schedule) led to social rejection in his “real,” non-acting life. You get the sense that he truly knows his character’s pain and has lived it, so completely unforced and natural is his performance.  He’s not just “inhabiting” the role he’s playing, he’s sliding into it effortlessly.

Then, killer scarecrow makes the scene and he’s really nothing much more than a lame Freddy Krueger knock-off. Yawn.

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Don’t get me wrong — it’s still kinda fun seeing all the folks who did wrong by Lester get their come-uppances, and Itier shoots some of the kill scenes with a bit more flair than you’d think his budget (reputed to be around $250,000)  would allow for, but it’s pretty much by-the-numbers revenge-killing stuff. If you’re mildly entertained by the average DTV slasher — and I’m not too proud to admit that I am — then this’ll keep your attention until it runs its 85-minute-or-so course, but there’s really nothing too terribly memorable about it, by any means.

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Echo Bridge has recently released Scarecrow in a bargain-basement DVD package along with its two increasingly-absurd sequels, Scarecrow Slayer and Scarecrow Gone Wild, as part of its “Midnight Horror Collection” series. It’s presented full-frame with 2.0 stereo sound, and while the transfer isn’t the greatest by any means, it gets the job done. It’s a single-disc release that retails for somewhere in the $6-$8 range, and that’s probably about what it’s worth.

Come to think of it, though, that statement might be a little bit harsh. Scarecrow at least merits a look for its curiosity value — it’s a movie that’s interesting when it’s supposed to be dull, and dull when it’s supposed to be interesting. Surely that requires some sort of special talent to pull off?