Song of the Vampire (2001)

vampireresurrection_2AKA Vampire Resurrection

Starring Denice Duff, James Horan, Jillian McWhirter, Frank Bruynbroek, Marilyn O’Connor, Geoffrey Lewis, Julie Michaels, John Mese, Scott Spearman

Directed by Denice Duff

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


Song of the Vampire is a classic tale of a supernatural being searching for the reincarnation of his lost lover. I’m not sure where this type of story originates from, but I’m most familiar with it from the 1932 film The Mummy and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’m a huge fan of both of these films, so to say that Song of the Vampire had a lot to live up to is an understatement. But since Song of the Vampire is such a low-budget film, holding it up against two of my all-time favorites would be dooming it to a pit of comparison and utter disappointment. On its own, Song of the Vampire is an average vampire tale that could have been better with a tighter focus.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the idea that in addition to the vampire, Jonathan Travers (James Horan), hunting down Caroline (Denice Duff), her abusive ex-husband, Marty (Frank Bruynbroek), is fresh out of jail and on her trail, too. One pursuer is a supernatural entity that feeds on life, hoping to reconnect with his lost love and be with her forever. The other is a truly evil man with nothing but malice in his heart, completely obsessed with Caroline and literally willing to do anything to have her life back under his control. Both men share a clarity of purpose, and they’re both willing to do horrific things on their way to Caroline. Since this is a romantic vampire tale, Jonathan is clearly intended as the heroic male, but I couldn’t really get into rooting for him. Caroline never asked for either man’s undying, obsessive love, so instead I hoped that she would transcend both of their desires and end the film as a powerful character living on her own.

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Quick Takes: The Happiness of the Katakuris, The Babadook, Terror Train

katakurisThe Happiness of the Katakuris [カタクリ家の幸福] (2001)
threehalfstar

Starring Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki
Directed by Takashi Miike

It’s a stretch to call Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris a horror movie, but it does require being something of a horror fan to truly enjoy its multi-genre insanity. The premise is pretty standard horror movie fare, but don’t be fooled; this is anything but a standard film. The Katakuri family has opened a Bed & Breakfast in a remote part of Japan and are very happy when they receive their first guest. They are not so overjoyed when they discover he’s killed himself, which plays out on-screen in one of the finest moments of movie musical I think I’ve ever seen. Yes, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a warped, horror-ish musical comedy… and it’s a blast. According to the booklet included in Arrow’s wonderful Blu-Ray edition, there’s apparently a whole genre of films similar to this in Japan, but until I see definitive proof I’ll regard The Happiness of the Katakuris as a unique product. Besides, even if wacky Japanese musicals are a thing, I can’t imagine the whole genre is quite this inspired. It’s also worthwhile to note that Miike’s film is a remake of Kim Jee-Woon’s The Quiet Family, but I haven’t seen that one so I can’t offer any comparisons. If you’re into weird cinema that strays far, far off the beaten path, or you’re looking to completely baffle your conservative, mainstream friends and relatives, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a fantastic selection. Plus: Tetsuro Tamba (who I’m familiar with from his roles in Hong Kong films such as The Water Margin)!

babadookThe Babadook (2014)
fourstar

Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Benjamin Winspear, Chloe Hurn, Jacquy Phillips, Bridget Walters
Directed by Jennifer Kent

In general, I’m one of those people saying that modern horror just isn’t up to snuff. But then something like The Babadook comes along and proves me completely wrong. Artfully well-crafted and featuring an exceptional pair of performances from its leads (Essie Davis & Noah Wiseman), The Babadook is gripping from start to finish. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll remain vague, but what set the movie apart is that it engages as both a visceral horror movie and as an intellectual piece. I spent the whole film in rapt attention, creeped out to the hilt and always questioning and deconstructing what the film was feeding me. It’s even more impressive to learn that this is the feature debut of director Jennifer Kent! Cross your fingers, say the name of your favorite horror film three times into the mirror, and wish upon a star that The Babadook is the beginning of a stellar career and not a lone spark in the darkness. Either way, The Babadook is fan-fucking-tastic, and you need to check it out.

terror-train-movie-poster-1980-1020541661Terror Train (1980)
threestar

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, David Copperfield, Derek McKinnon, Sandee Currie, Timothy Webber, Anthony Sherwood, Howard Busgang, Steve Michaels, Greg Swanson, Vanity
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

You can quickly describe Terror Train as “a slasher set aboard a train,” but to do so is to overlook the fun of the movie. It’s a slasher on a train! With crazy Halloween masks, Jamie Lee Curtis and magic courtesy of the one and only David Copperfield! But maybe that doesn’t do it for you; you’re more of a discerning cinephile type. Well, Terror Train marks the directorial debut of Roger Spottiswoode, director of such cinematic classics as Turner & Hooch, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, and Tomorrow Never Dies! If that’s still not enough cred for you, Terror Train features cinematography by Oscar-winner John Alcott, who got his big break/promotion while working on something called 2001: A Space Odyssey and went on to shoot such classics as A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend! As you might have figured out by now, I don’t have much to say about Terror Train! Nonetheless, it was a fun ride, and fans of late ’70s / early ’80s horror will most likely have a good time with it, too.

Stephen reviews: Millennium Actress (2001)

poster_milleniumactressMillennium Actress [千年女優 Sennen Joyu] (2001)
AKA Chiyoko Millennial Actress

Starring Miyoko Shoji, Mami koyama, Fumiko Orisaka, Shozo Iizuka, Shouko Tsuda, Hirotaka Suzuoki

Directed by Satoshi Kon


This is perhaps Satoshi Kon’s least well-known film, but after watching it, I have to wonder why. Perhaps it is the PG rating, but if anyone wants a film that proves that rating has nothing to do with quality, then Millennium Actress makes a great example. The film is extremely well made, and a fascinating experience to watch. It lives up to Kon’s reputation for great filmmaking as well as his reputation for mindbending storytelling.

It begins mildly enough, with a man named Genya making a documentary about his favorite actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara. He managed to get an interview with the aging, reclusive actress whose career peaked in postwar Japan. During the interview she tells the story of how she entered the business, which was all to follow a man she knew only briefly and developed a crush on. It is during these flashback scenes that the majority of the film takes place, and where the reality warping style of Satoshi Kon kicks in. Genya and his cameraman stand by in the flashbacks, recording and commenting on the events as they transpire, sometimes even interacting in the past as it unfolds before them.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

the-lord-of-the-rings-fellowship-of-the-ringsStarring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: High. I love this.

fourstar


The Lord of the Rings films are the high-water mark for modern fantasy filmmaking. Even now, 12 years on from its initial release, nothing has come close to capturing a world filled with elves, dwarves and magic quite like Peter Jackson did with his adaptation of the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien work. When I first saw this film back in 2001, I remember thinking that Jackson had opened the floodgates for the studios to green-light tons of thrilling high fantasy screen adventures, similar to how X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man were the jumping off point for the modern explosion of superhero films around the same time.

But someone must have stood at those open gates and yelled, “You shall not pass!” because it never happened. The teen fantasy genre definitely caught fire, but that’s probably more a result of Harry Potter than anything Lord of the Rings did. My only real guess as to why this cinema revolution never happened is that from a production standpoint, the enterprise of producing Lord of the Rings was insane. Green-lighting a genre director with no mainstream hits to adapt one of the most well-known books of all-time, filming an entire trilogy simultaneously with no guarantee that they’ll make even a shred of their budget back at the box office? Those aren’t the kinds of risks that studios like to play with, thus keeping the high fantasy film revolution at bay.

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Bully (2001)

bully_1Starring Brad Renfro, Bijou Phillips, Rachel Miner, Nick Stahl, Michael Pitt, Leo Fitzpatrick, Kelli Garner, Daniel Franzese, Nathalie Paulding, Ed Amatrudo, Jessica Sutta

Directed by Larry Clark

Expectations: Low.

twohalfstar


I can neither say that I liked or disliked Larry Clark’s Bully. It definitely has moments of pure honesty and tension that sear themselves into your psyche like a bullet to the brain, but it’s more often than not boring and meandering. In this way, it reflects its character well, a bunch of kids who are just along for the ride. They don’t particularly care who they’re with or where they’re going, just as long as they’re going somewhere, and experiencing something. But this is no way to live a life, and Bully fully explores this as the film moves closer to its finale.

Bully tells the story of Marty (Brad Renfro) and his friend Bobby (Nick Stahl). They’ve been friends since they were little kids, but that friendship isn’t built on trust and loyalty, it’s built on fear. Bobby bullies Marty incessantly, treating him like a slave and hitting him for messing up, even when others are around. Marty, of course, just takes it and tries to contain his anger. Clark never explores where Marty releases this anger, but based on his love of surfing, I think it’s safe to assume that riding the waves is more about a sense of freedom and cleansing than simply soaking up some rays.

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Horrorvision (2001)

horrorvision_5Starring Len Cordova, Maggie Rose Fleck, Josh Covitt, James Black, Brinke Stevens, Ariauna Albright, Chuck Williams, David Bartholomew Greathouse

Directed by Danny Draven

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


When I say “2001” and “movie about a website killing people,” I doubt your first instinct is to get excited. It’s probably something closer to apathy, but schlock movie fans should definitely take notice of Horrorvision. It’s much more ambitious than I expected it to be, which is to say, “it’s more than a few drawn-out conversations and some people dying while surfing the web.” Horrorvision definitely has those elements, but it also has some pretty wild fantasy roots, and fans of meaningless driving montages will definitely want to add this to their queue.

Horrorvision opens with a webcam chat between Toni, a photographer, and Dez, an aspiring screenwriter who wastes his time setting up porn websites for quick cash. After they end their overlong conversation about providing content for Dez’s websites, Toni goes about her business creating the CD for Dez. She gets sidetracked when she sees a banner ad for Horrorvision.com with the slogan, “It will blow your fucking mind!” She clicks it and before she knows it the tubes of the Internet are blasting out of her wall outlets and strangling her. I’ll think twice about clicking any banner ads from now on (although don’t let this discourage you, dear readers from clicking those lovely banner ads featured around this content :))

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Stitches (2001)

Starring Elizabeth Ince, Robert Donavan, Kaycee Shank, Lindy Bryant, Marc Newburger, Alex Peabody, Debra Mayer, Maggie Rose Fleck

Directed by Benjamin Carr

Expectations: Low, this era of Full Moon is always a sticky proposition.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


If you were to chart the course of Full Moon’s history, the early 2000s would be the lowest point on the entire graph. It was when Full Moon was all but dead, going from 19 films released in 1999 to one in 2004. Somehow they managed to rally around The Gingerdead Man and Evil Bong, resurrecting the company into the thriving beast it is today. 2012 marks the first year since 2003 to have more than three releases, and while none of this is specifically related to Stitches, it does play into my expectations going into it. See, because I’m familiar with Full Moon’s history I always start films of this era with trepidation. So imagine my surprise when Stitches stepped up to the plate and delivered one of the best Full Moon films to date.

The rating above might not reflect that, due to some incredible dropping of the ball that happens throughout the film’s second half, but even these mishaps didn’t diminish my feelings about this movie. It’s good, surprisingly so, and while I don’t think mainstream audiences would enjoy it, it’s definitely a diamond in the rough for hardy Full Moon fans looking for something a little different than the average fare from the company. The story is quite simple: a demon wearing the skin of a friendly old lady arrives at a boarding house in the 1920s and systematically tricks the inhabitants into willingly surrendering their souls to her.

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