Archive for the Movie Reviews Category

New life for Living Dead at Rhode Center

Posted in Movie Reviews, News on October 9, 2016 by Christian

notldI must have heard Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” a thousand times before the BREAKING BAD series finale, but when I heard it again as the camera zoomed out on Walter White’s thousand-yard stare, I heard it again for the first time. It was like that today when I saw the Lakeside Players perform NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD based on the screenplay by John Russo and George Romero at the Rhode Center for the Arts in Kenosha.

Chances are better than even that you’re familiar with the plot, but here’s the official synopsis based on Lori Allen Ohm’s adaptation of the script: “Fallout from a satellite probe shot to Venus returns to Earth carrying a mysterious radiation that transforms the unburied dead into flesh-eating zombies. Seven people trapped in an isolated farmhouse, held hostage by the ravenous ghouls, begin to turn on each other as the dead encroach. A gripping terror-filled play that brings all the fright of the cult classic to life.”

You’re not attending the play to find out what happens next, any more than you’d go to DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Rhode Center next month to see what fate has in store for Willie Loman. You’re going to experience the story, and while it is as faithful to the source material as the venue would allow, interpretations of even the same exact words can be very different, or much more subtly so. Under Zach Wilson’s direction, the script became a real, live (or real dead) experience, vastly different than popping in a copy on BluRay.

The play opens with two zombies knocking down headstones affixed to the front of the stage and crawling out from underneath where most of the action takes place. They walked up the center aisle, and once cleared, Johnny (Hunter Turnaville) and Barbara (Rebecca Vansickle) come bickering down, reciting the lines about the drive that you could probably unreel by rote. No matter how big that screen might be, you’ll never be part of the action like I was watching it at the Rhode Center.

Benjamin Franklin makes his stage debut as “Ben”, the passer-by who appropriates a truck after the disaster at Beekman’s Diner and makes his way to the farmhouse where the action takes place. Franklin is a plumber by trade, but plays the role of Ben so honestly, so forthright, that you are sure his veneer of restraint is about to peel away under the strain of the catastrophe. As they watch the news reports, Ben is upstage tippling from the liquor cabinet, and his hands are shaking. Eyes are elsewhere, but the attention to detail is there, and almost loving.

The stage and costume design are simple, stark, and almost austere. The walls are black, the window frames and doors are white and gray, and all the actors are dressed in black and white–an homage, perhaps to the black-and-white source material, but here serving an artistic purpose: with a binary outcome of life-and-death on the line, the characters navigate as shades of gray. They do not fit in the world in which they find themselves. And that, for them, is very bad news. But for theater-goers, it’s a definite treat.

“Night of the Living Dead”

When: through Oct. 22

Where: Rhode Center for the Arts, 514 56th St. Kenosha

Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Tickets: $10 at 262-657-7529 or www.rhodecenter.org

Christian A. Larsen is the author of the novels LOSING TOUCH and THE BLACKENING OF FLESHnow available from Post Mortem Press.
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THE BATTERY is wonderful storytelling whether you like zombies or not

Posted in Movie Reviews on June 25, 2014 by Christian

TheBatteryAlternatePosterSome people won’t like THE BATTERY. Some zombie fans won’t even like THE BATTERY. But if you’re a fan of quiet, creeping horror, of character-driven story, and yes, a little blood and guts, then you will not just appreciate THE BATTERY, you will adore this movie.

On the face of it, THE BATTERY is just another post apocalyptic zombie flick, but that’s like saying the freshest, juiciest hamburger you’ve ever had is basically the same thing as McDonald’s. The difference is in the near-perfect execution—and the amazing patience—that writer/director/producer/star Jeremy Gardner has with this film.

“Ben” (Jeremy Gardner) and “Mickey” (Adam Cronheim) are former teammates from a minor-league baseball team. Ben was a star starting catcher, and Mickey was a pitcher in the bullpen. They didn’t really know each other during their playing days, but have formed a “battery” in the new, zombie-infested world. (For those who are not in the know, a battery is a shorthand term describing a pitcher and catcher.)

Ben has come to terms with the new world they live in, but Mickey hasn’t even adjusted to the point where he can put down a zombie. He hides in his headphones and lets Ben do all the dirty work while they wander from one spot to another. Mickey wants to settle down, find a safe place and maybe some companionship, while Ben believes that their lives are as good as they’re going to get. The tension between these two world views is what drives much of the picture, but especially the first and second acts.

Let me take a moment to applaud Cronheim’s performance. In the hands of another director, his character would come off as weak and whiney, the central casting call for the biggest flake to come in, melt down, and either cause problems to be solved by the hero, or at least be rescued by him. Cronheim doesn’t let this happen. Mickey is not weak. He’s not broken. He’s just different than Ben, closing in on incompatible, but not quite. The dynamic between the two is the movie’s diesel engine.

I mentioned patience with Gardner’s direction. There is a scene about fifteen minutes into the film that encapsulates what people are loving or hating about this movie. Mickey finds a couple of toothbrushes and some toothpaste, and they spend the next dialogue-free 90 seconds brushing their teeth.

Think about how long 90 seconds is in a movie. It’s a long damn time–but Gardner uses the time so well, and the pair’s performance is just so spot on. I mean, just imagine how good brushing your teeth would feel in that situation, and its a great wordless description of Ben’s and Mickey’s relationship. I would say more, but I can’t. The scene says it all.

The plot turns when they find a pair of walkie talkies and discover that there are other people in the area–people who tell them that they aren’t welcome. Mickey argues with Ben about finding them, but he ultimately settles for a night under a roof–something that Ben finds dangerous, but probably just reminds him of the horrors he witnessed the last time he stayed in a house. Their stay there culminates in Mickey’s first zombie kill, and while the blood and violence are something that you’d expect in a zombie movie, the character development is not.

I want to tell you more about the movie. I want to tell you all about the movie, but it is really something just best left experienced, and if your tastes run like mine, you will be awestruck at how much story, how much quality, Gardner squeezes from a mere $6,000 budget. I’ve seen tentpole movies that couldn’t carry this film’s water. Good tentpole movies.

The release date is listed as June 4, 2013 on IMDB.com, and while it is available via streaming portals, the BluRay and DVD are just now only available for preorder with a street date of September 16th. However you watch this movie, though, watch it. THE BATTERY might not be for you, but if it is, you’ll thank me. I’m a huge fan of the genre, from THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD to 28 DAYS LATER to THE WALKING DEAD (which it superficially resembles) but I can unequivocally say, THE BATTERY is the best zombie film I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying a lot.

SKULL WORLD review

Posted in Movie Reviews on April 19, 2013 by Christian

One of the nice things about getting to know people in the horror biz, is sometimes you get to go “back stage”, even if it’s only in the digital sense. I was recently given the chance to screen SKULL WORLD, a documentary by Unstable Ground’s Justin McConnell, and brother, you’ve never seen a documentary quite like this:

coverThe truth is stranger than fiction. If you don’t believe me,  watch SKULL WORLD, a documentary by  Justin McConnell about Greg “Skull Man” Sommer, who either never grew  up, or grew up the way we all should–by enjoying life.

Sommer is a balding thirty-something who lifts weights, shreds to  heavy metal, and, while he earns money on the side digging graves, he becomes  perhaps the western hemisphere’s pre-eminent box warrior in which he engages in  combat using hand crafted armor and weapons made out of cardboard. You’ve seen  kids doing this, maybe. But you’ve never seen adults doing it. And Sommer, who  since high school has been donning a rubber skull mask and adopting the moniker  of “Skull Man”, is among the elite.

With SKULL WORLD, the  viewer is given a front-row seat to two years of Sommer’s life, as he explains,  or tries to explain, what

Read the rest of the review at The Horror Zine.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter review

Posted in Movie Reviews on June 22, 2012 by Christian

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a much better book than movie

First off, let me say that I enjoyed Seth Graham-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. That is to say, I enjoyed the book. It was clever, well-researched, and didn’t take itself too seriously. The conceit that the Confederacy was a vampire-backed plot is obviously a little tough to swallow without one’s tongue firmly planted in cheek. The book toed that line perfectly. And then the movie jumped right over it. On horseback.

It reminded me of watching those spoof comedies (the Scary Movie franchise comes to mind) which do everything they’re supposed to do, and yet ring hollow. The ridiculousness is so over the top, its not even internally consistent. How can a mortal man chop a mature tree down with one stroke? Or chase a vampire on horsebacks (not horseback, they are running–the vampire and the man–on the backs of horses, like rocks across a stream)? The filmmakers never bother to tell us.

It is visually stylistic, but is too in love with the Matrix-style combat scenes and video techniques. We get it. That shot was cool ten years ago or so. Used sparingly, it can still be effective, but director Timur Bekmambetov uses it too much for my taste. And the climactic showdown between Lincoln and the head vampire (an unnecessary character who is nevertheless well-played by Rufus Sewell) feels committeed into the film by studio executives clamoring for more action! more action! There was plenty in Grahame-Smith’s novel. The rest is shoehorned in.

Benjamin Walker delivers a solid performance as Abraham Lincoln (the makeup is also convincing, which is saying a lot considering how iconic Lincoln’s actual face has become), but it winds up coming off as an unfunny spoof of itself. There are also glaring historical inaccuracies not present in the book, and significant additional departures from the original novel by Seth Grahame-Smith (who also co-wrote the screenplay, which makes it that much more of  a head scratcher).

I have heard the laughable complaint that this movie will create a generation of Americans who believe that Lincoln was an actual vampire hunter. Nonsense. My six-year-old knows that vampires are merely pretend. This movie won’t change anyone’s mind of that, no matter how ignorant they are. Unfortunately, it will likely create a generation of Americans (and others) who believe that Seth Grahame-Smith’s book is a cartoonish exercise in over-the-top buffoonery. And that is a real shame. Do yourself a favor. Don’t judge the book by the movie.

Movie review: Trollhunter

Posted in Movie Reviews on April 26, 2012 by Christian

A couple of nights ago, I found a movie on Netflix called Trollhunter, a Norwegian horror film written and directed by André Øvredal. Unless you’re a foreign-film buff or a horror nut, you probably haven’t heard of this movie, but its worth watching, even if it wears thin in a few spots. There’s something about hearing a story with a non-English, European sensibility that is both intriguing and elusive. I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what it is ever since I read “The Bear of Owl Island” by Norwegian writer Jon Bing, available in Tales from the Planet Earth, edited by Frederik Pohl. (I don’t speak or read Norwegian. The movie has subtitles and Bing wrote “The Bear of Owl Island” in English, but I digress…)

Theatrical release poster

Trollhunter does for the troll what so many (too many?) movies have done for vampires, explaining the ins and outs of the mythos, the reasons behind it, all packaged up in a found-film format that, as I alluded to above, could have benefitted from some more editing. The unknown actors doing their own hand-held camera work add to the gritty sense of realism. I should say that most of the actors are unknown, but apparently Norwegian film goers will recognize Otto Jespersen as Hans. He’s a comedian of some note in that country, and while he doesn’t go for out-and-out laughs, the entire film has a sardonic sense of humor.

The performances by the rest of the cast are convincing, especially Glenn Erland Tosterud as Thomas, who stands in for us–the everyperson–in this movie as a witness to the unraveling of reality as we know it. And yet, like Thomas, we want to know more, in part because we are sucked down the rabbit hole with Hans. And find out more, we do–about Ringelfinches, Mountain Kings, and the dreaded, 200-foot-tall Jötnar. Why are these creatures breaking out of their territories and wreaking havoc on the countryside? That is Hans’s job to find out, sent by Norway’s Troll Security Service.

And don’t think that because it wasn’t backed by a Hollywood studio that filmmakers can’t deliver visually. The troll effects are frighteningly realistic, and Øvredal strikes a Spielbergian Jaws-like balance of showing you just enough to be satisfied, but actually scaring you with what you don’t see. If you enjoyed found-film horror flicks like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and Quarantine, then add Trollhunter to your Netflix queue.

Written and directed by André Øvredal; cinematography by Hallvard Bræin; edited by Per Erik Eriksen; produced by John M. Jacobsen and Sveinung Golimo. Running time 103 minutes.

STARRING: Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Mørck, Knut Nærum, Robert Stoltenberg, and Glenn Erland Tosterud.

Movie review: Swine

Posted in Movie Reviews on April 24, 2012 by Christian

At a mere 43:45 (total running time), Swine could have been much longer. It has all the elements of an epic—which told in book form would have to be a novel—translating to a full-length feature film. What these filmmakers have created feels more like novella on film: a filmella.

I’m sure that he created a trio of shorts as told in three chapters for budgetary reasons, but a longer film could explore and sell the characters better. The music is well-written but performed frugally. The brevity and breakneck speed with which we move through this interesting and surprising concept of a story could make us miss things.

And we don’t want to miss anything, because there is more than one worthwhile surprise packed into this tight little package.

The opening crawl sets the table:

As the colonies of the Motherland increase in both scope and influence,
outlanders have but two choices.

Join the Colonial Legion or stand their ground.

Members of the resistance group known as Vox Populi have chosen the latter.

The writer, Daniel Levitch, does a fine job setting the table…

Read the rest of the review TheHorrorZine.com.

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale vs. Total Recall vs. 2012 remake

Posted in Movie Reviews on January 26, 2012 by Christian

It’s a battle royale of artistic interpretation: Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” vs. Ronald Shusett’s Total Recall vs. Kurt Wimmer’s 2012 remake. While I am a Philip K. Dick fan (who isn’t, being the writer of stories that became not only Total Recall, but Blade Runner and The Adjustment Bureau?), I am ashamed to admit I never read “We Can Remember If For You Wholesale” before today.

I am struck by several things after putting it down. First, it is brilliant. The concept that a person is essentially a double-agent in his own mind as the result of memory implantation mirroring past life experiences is a wonderful sci-fi idea, and that Dick mixed in elements of cloak-and-dagger spy thrillers is a recipe for success. But it is very talky, probably because the idea needed a longer story to breathe. I mean, I enjoyed it, but if I had handed that to an editor (and I have written similar, as-yet-unpublished stories), I would have been told that it bogs down in the middle. Makes me wish my name was Philip K. Dick.

Second, Total Recall (1990) was really only inspired by the concept. If you think you don’t need to read “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” because you’ve seen Total Recall, you can stop thinking like that. Because the story is both ruined and improved in the big screen treatment. True, Shusett’s version is not talky (how could it be, as it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger?) but it is also somewhat cartoonish. If you don’t remember it, here’s the trailer:

That’s why I’m excited to see the 2012 remake starring Colin Ferrell. There seem to be enough new elements (and changed elements) to make this a more serious movie than the 1990 original, and I suspect it won’t be as “talky” as the novelette. There’s no trailer for it yet, but here’s a couple of clips from the ‘Total Recall’ Comic Con Panel:

So, in a fistfight, I bet the Schusett/Schwarzenegger version would win, mostly because Arnold Schwarzenegger is still in better shape than most people will ever be, but I’m hoping this summer’s remake will be the best of both the “talky” novelette and the “cartoonish” original Total Recall, making for some kind of genetically-enhanced cyborg of awesomeness that is both cerebral and exciting.