Quick Takes: Sugar Hill, Survival of the Dead, Escape from Tomorrow

sugar_hill_xlgSugar Hill (1974)
threestar

Starring Marki Bey, Robert Quarry, Don Pedro Colley, Betty Anne Rees, Richard Lawson, Zara Cully, Charles Robinson, Larry Don Johnson
Directed by Paul Maslansky

What do you get when you combine a foxy lady, a murdered boyfriend, silver-eyed voodoo zombies, and some racist, honky motherfuckers? Sugar Hill takin’ out the trash… the white trash! Sugar Hill is one hell of a fun blaxploitation horror film, and definitely one to add to your watchlist if you like your anti-racism films without a hint of subtlety. Sugar Hill has the country’s racism right out in the open, and for my money there’s no better villain to see get theirs than ignorant racists (except maybe Nazis). To see them taken out with a group of voodoo-risen zombies who still wear the rusted shackles of their years in slavery is like getting a dose of cathartic justice with your entertainment. I loved it.

SurvivaloftheDeadSurvival of the Dead (2009)
twohalfstar

Starring Alan van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe, Richard Fitzpatrick, Athena Karkanis, Stefano Di Matteo, Devon Bostick, Joris Jarsky, Eric Woolfe
Directed by George A. Romero

Survival of the Dead is a sequel to Romero’s Diary of the Dead, featuring the military characters seen briefly in that film. Here they are trying to survive amidst the zombie apocalypse (who woulda thunk it!?), and eventually they get pulled into an old family feud on an island off the coast of Delaware that they’ve heard is free from zombies. Romero’s sensibilities are still rooted in the ’70s and ’80s, so the characters feel like holdovers from that era of film. This endeared the film to me, but I’m sure others would have the opposite reaction. The film is also something of a comedy (hence the family feud storyline), although Romero oddly keeps the overall tone serious, so a lot of the comedy comes off as bad drama. But little things, like a girl who loved horses so much her zombie just rides a horse around the island all day, still have me chuckling. Overall, I liked it. Had some humor, had some gore, had some dope Irish accents. I was satisfied. Is it good? Eh, not really, but I’ll take an OK new Romero movie over most horror movies made these days.

escapefromtomorrow_1Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
onehalfstar

Starring Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton, Danielle Safady, Annet Mahendru, Lee Armstrong, Kimberly Ables Jindra, Trey Loney, Amy Lucas, Alison Lees-Taylor
Directed by Randy Moore

I greatly admire the ambition of Randy Moore in making Escape from Tomorrow. The film is set in Disney World, and Moore actually shot it there (and Disneyland) without Disney’s consent, during park hours. To shoot a film at Disneyland guerrilla-style is ballsy, but it’s the quality of the camera placements that really amazed me. A lot of it doesn’t look like it was shot on the sly, and certain elements — like characters passing on two trains of the People Mover — must have taken forever to block out amidst the crowds. The fact that the film even exists is impressive enough for me to almost forget that the movie itself isn’t really that good. It’s a shame, but the story of a 40-something father chasing 14-year-old French girls around Disney World because he’s in an unhappy marriage is much more creepy than engaging. And not the good kind of creepy either. There’s also a supernatural bent to the story as it goes on, but none of it makes a single bit of sense. And then the ending comes out of left field, which makes even less sense than what came before it. Perhaps I missed some deep meaning, but I was left to admire the passion that drove the film, instead of the actual film itself.

Skull Heads (2009)

skullheads_8Starring Robin Sydney, Samantha Light, Steve Kramer, Rane Jameson, Kim Argetsinger, Lucia Stara, Antonio Covatta, Giacomo Gonnella

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: I don’t know, honestly. Not good.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


Modern Full Moon films are always a dicey proposition because the budgets are rarely high enough to pull off the FX work necessary to realize their relatively high-concept premises. Skull Heads is no different in the budget department, but it does enough right that this doesn’t matter much. At least for me it didn’t. One look at other reviews for this movie reveals that I may be alone in my love for Skull Heads, but when a film from a fading company is such a return to form I have a hard time believing that I’m its only fan.

Skull Heads begins in a castle dungeon where an angry father is punishing his unruly daughter, Naomi (Robin Sydney), on the rack. Just right there you have two huge pieces of evidence in the return-to-form case: the film is set in a real castle (a hallmark of tons of Full Moon films), and the creepy, unsettling family dynamics. Creepy families are arguably more of a horror movie thing than an actual Full Moon trademark, but with something as unique and defining in the “creepy family” horror sub-genre as Head of the Family (and that’s just one of many creepy families in their catalog), you know they’ve done some serious work in the genre. And the Arkhoff family in Skull Heads is one of Full Moon’s most fucked up and interesting to watch families.

Continue reading Skull Heads (2009) →

Stephen reviews: Eureka Seven: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers (2009)

eurekaseven_1Eureka seveN: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers
[交響詩篇エウレカセブン ポケットが虹でいっぱい Kōkyō Shihen Eureka Seven: Pocket ga Niji de Ippai] (2009)
AKA Eureka Seven: The Movie; Eureka Seven: Pocket Full of Rainbows; Psalms of Planets Eureka seveN: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers

Starring Kaori Nazuka, Yuko Sanpei, Keiji Fujiwara, Ami Koshimizu, Mariko Neya, Mugihito, Sakiko Tamagawa, Shugenori Yamazaki

Directed by Tomoki Kyoda


Several years back, Eureka Seven was all over the place. Or at least I kept seeing it everywhere when I was looking for new anime. I figured it was just some random Evangelion rip-off, and left it at that. But then something odd happened recently. It got a sequel. That’s pretty uncommon for anime. Remakes? Yes. Yet another season of some stretched too thin action series like One Piece? Of course. But an actual sequel of a series that ended several years ago? You don’t bump into those all that often in the anime industry. So I decided to go back and check out the original and see if my apprehension was well founded or not.

I was somewhat right in my Eva rip-off assessment, but it actually reminded me more of Macross with its scattering swarms of projectiles chasing after flying enemies. Particularly Macross Plus, which it seemed very reminiscent of from a stylistic point of view, so it was no surprise to find Shoji Kawamori credited with the mechanical designs. And while it had plenty of Eva’s sinister secret council meetings and the requisite bandaged mystery girl, it also had the stripey sphere full of enemy monsters and a bizarre time displacement subplot that reminded me of Rah Xephon. Basically, Eureka Seven is a hodgepodge of every popular mecha anime they could squeeze together. If I wanted to be cynical I would call it just a massive rip-off of everything, but I think that, at least in this movie version, it added up to something more than the sum of its parts.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Eureka Seven: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers (2009) →

Stephen reviews: Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)

blood_the_last_vampire_1Starring Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Liam Cunningham, JJ Feild, Koyuki, Yasuaki Kurata, Larry Lamb

Directed by Chris Nahon


If you’ve been around here for a long time, you might remember my review of the original Blood: The Last Vampire. It was a popular enough anime to generate two TV series and two more films so far. I came to this live-action version expecting a horrendous piece of crap, and while this is definitely the weakest entry in the franchise that I’ve seen so far, it’s not nearly as bad as I feared. Just don’t get your hopes too high.

The live-action film is a loose remake of the original anime. It takes the same setting and characters and replicates several of the more important scenes, but it also greatly expands upon the original, elaborating on existing characters and adding new ones to the mix. It also drops some of the technical details. It never once uses the term “chiropterans” to refer to the monsters, instead calling them “demons” or “bloodsuckers.” The biggest change to the concept, though, is that it is now a revenge story. Saya is no longer just an aimless wanderer of the night. Now she’s on a quest for vengeance against the demon that killed her father.

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Stephen reviews: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

Superman_Batman-Public-Enemies-posterStarring Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Clancy Brown, Allison Mack, Xander Berkely, CCH Pounder, Ricardo Chavira, John C. McGinley

Directed by Sam Liu


To help out with the Man of Steel countdown, I’m going to be adding to Will’s ongoing Superman reviews in my own manner, by reviewing a few of the animated films showcasing the Man of Steel. This is an adaptation of a story arc from the comics, and it shows. If you want something with realism or a serious story, look elsewhere. This doesn’t have the old style Adam West camp, but it is pure superhero action that doesn’t put on any airs. This is no Christopher Nolan film.

They went so far as to adapt the character designs of the comic book artist, Ed McGuinness, into animation. What this means is a lot of bulging, well-defined muscles. For Superman himself the image works very well, but for some of the other characters, like Captain Atom, it just looks strange.

This brings me to a more awkward aspect of the film, the heaping mountain of random characters. I had no idea who some of these people are, and there were tons that I only recognized by sight without any idea of what they do. This could genuinely cause a rather large barrier for those not familiar with DC Comics. Though it was interesting to see an animated Starfire that looks closer to her comic book design. You’ll have to resist asking yourself just who the hell all these people are. They’re just random people for Superman and Batman to beat up.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009) →

Stephen reviews: First Squad: The Moment of Truth (2009)

poster_first_squadFirst Squad: The Moment of Truth [Первый отряд ファースト・スクワッド] (2009)

Starring Elena Chebaturkina, Aleksandr Gruzdev, Damir Eldarov, Irina Savina, Ludmila Shuvalova, Michael Tikhonov, Sergei Aisman, Olga Golovanova, Rudolf Pankov

Directed by Yoshiharu Ashino


Well, that’s an interesting list of actors, isn’t it? As you might have guessed, this is a Russian film, although it was made in cooperation with a Japanese animation studio. It’s like Blade of the Phantom Master in that regard, but thankfully this time the DVD release came with the original Russian audio track, as well as the Japanese and English dubs. Too bad the video quality wasn’t quite up to snuff. Camera panning was often jerky, and at times I got a feeling that the animation was higher quality than what I was actually seeing on the screen. Clearly something about the frame rate was a bit off.

Clumsy video transfer aside, the film is very intriguing. This is probably the first Russian film I’ve ever seen, although with Japanese directing and animation it’s not going to give me much insight into Russian film technique. It’s also the only fictional tale I’ve seen about the Eastern European front in World War II. I suspect it’s a much more common theme in Russian cinema. Since I know very little about that aspect of WWII, I can’t speak to historical accuracy at all, but First Squad portrays the Russian front as a snow-covered network of trenches that looked straight out of the first World War. If nothing else, it made WWII feel fresh and new.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: First Squad: The Moment of Truth (2009) →

Stephen reviews: King of Thorn (2009)

King_of_Thorn-982478001-largeKing of Thorn [いばらの王 Ibara no Ō] (2009)

Starring Kana Hanazawa, Eri Sendai, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Akiko Yajima, Sayaka Ohara, Kenji Nomura, Misaki Kuno, Shinichiro Miki, Kousei Hirota, Tsutomu Isobe

Directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama


The premise in King of Thorn closely follows that of a horror movie, however it never really feels like a horror movie. This may simply be that I’m not a huge horror fan, and not all that attuned to the genre conventions. But as much as this uses the tried and true formula of trapping a diverse group of people in one spot and then slowly killing them off one by one, it never tries to amp up the terror. It’s all about adrenaline-pumping action and head-scratching conspiracies.

This was a pretty enjoyable film all things considered. Since I’m not much for horror, the downplay of its creepier elements worked well for me. Perhaps the biggest problem is that once they start explaining all the mysteries, you may well become even more confused. The film delves into the kind of metaphysical weirdness that anime is so often fond of. I would love to give you more of a heads up, but explaining anything beyond that would just be spoiling the plot. Also, I’m not quite sure myself just what was going on. I’ll need to watch this one again someday to see if it actually makes sense. Just make sure you go into this film knowing it’s going to get weird.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: King of Thorn (2009) →

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