Poltergeist


Viewed – 25 June 2016  Netflix

I approached this fairly open minded despite my general dislike of remakes to classic horrors.  However my memory of the original Steven Spielberg penned / Tobe Hooper directed Poltergeist is cloudy at best.  A family move into a house in a nice neighbourhood and soon find themselves troubled by weird goings on.  Yes, it’s nothing at all new and is pretty much following the blue-print of a wealth of other horror movies such as The Conjuring or anything with restless spirits in it.

Poltergeist

However with a likeable cast headed by Sam Rockwell (Moon, The Green Mile) and decent production values I still found myself entertained.  In an attempt to bring the idea into the modern era we get ghostly apparitions tinkering with cell phones and flat screen TVs as well as electricity and lighting to interesting effect.    There’s even a sequence with a drone robot going into a portal that proves pretty creepy.  Yet the movie’s key failing is not having any genuine scares (sorry, but clown dolls…again?) and apart from an alarming scene with a drill…it stays decidedly family-friendly throughout.  Good use of CGI and a fun if clichéd appearance by Jared Harris (Mad Men) kept me intrigued and some fun ghost pranks like kids being dragged up a staircase or a muddy puddle with a hand coming out of it made this a fun if uninspired evening’s viewing.  Characterisation was particularly lacking however (the parents are unemployed…but can still afford a swanky house!!?), the little girl as the focus of the movie just basically said her lines (with the blandest ‘they’re here’ ever delivered) and some better atmosphere wouldn’t have gone amiss instead of a reliance on effects and action.

I’m an old-school horror devotee and yes this left me wanting, but if you’re not as fussy as me or that keen on more hard-core frights … this was a competent if unimaginative remake that may still be worth your time.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

Oz The Great and Powerful


Viewed – 27 July 2013  Online rental

I haven’t seen the much admired and  cherished classic The Wizard Of Oz for many years.  Why?  It freaks me out.  Something about it just gets under my skin, and that wicked witch … shudder.  However on hearing this was coming out I at first really wanted to see it, but several very mixed reviews from friends later, let’s just say I hesitated … until now.

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James Franco is Oz, a carnival magician and conman who after one too many deceits finds himself running away from his troubles in a hot air balloon, only to get caught in a tornado, which subsequently whisks him away to the land of Oz.  This little prologue like the 1939 original is shown in black and white (and even in classic 4:3 ratio) until Oz arrives in the magical world and then its all bold colors and CGI.  Now in this modern age, we should have one wish when being presented with a new vision for the land of Oz, and that is ‘wonder’ … we want this enchanted world to be realized like never before, and rest assured folks we get what we wished for, with some gorgeous, eye-popping visuals, grand set design, very impressive CGI and color – oh the color!

Joining Oz on this trip down cinematic memory lane is current hot property Mila Kunis (looking great in leather pants) as good witch Theodora, along with her sisters Evanora (Rachel Weiss) and Glinda (Michelle Williams).  Performances are good, especially from Weiss in possibly her first villainous role, and with a story that offers enough nods to the original whilst throwing in some great ideas of its own (good flying monkey ‘Finley’ and an impressively done china doll) this proved very entertaining.  For an Oz movie however this lives or (slightly) dies on just how wicked the Wicked Witch is, and sadly here she may look the part (she’s green, has a pointy hat and rides a broom stick) but performance-wise, she comes off as a spoiled brat having a tantrum.  And yes it may be aimed at a family crowd, but the Wicked Witch is meant to be scary!  Add to this the absence of songs (surely another lasting memory of the original) and a hero who is basically a bit of a git, and yes, it does have a few problems.

Yet Franco and the rest of the cast give it their all and under the watchful eye of director Sam Raimi (Spiderman, Evil Dead) the sheer infectious energy and visual explosion on display makes such short comings mostly forgivable.  Whilst not quite Judy Garland’s Oz, its still the same, magical experience.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Evil Dead 2


Viewed – 03 May 2013  Blu-ray

Special Edition

After viewing the recent remake, and coming away suitably entertained … naturally thoughts went to seeking out this much loved classic, which I am happy to admit has been one of my favorite horror movies for many years.  Starring Bruce Campbell and directed by Sam Raimi (Spider Man 1-3, Drag Me To Hell), this simple tail of a young couple who go to a cabin in the woods for a romantic weekend, quickly turns into a roller coaster of  demons, possession and gore as the forces of darkness are awakened when Campbell’s character ‘Ash’ unwittingly plays back a recording of a translation from the book of the dead (!).

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Fast, packed with ideas and with some of the most outlandish and daring steady-cam work that has ever been devised – this is inventive director Raimi playing at full throttle.  Aided by a comedic, physical performance by Campbell and at times almost Tex Avery style violence and slapstick, this echoes those dodgy, low-budget b-movies of the fifties, whilst throwing at the screen the blood splattered excess of the video-nasty era.  The tone here is tongue-in-cheek comedy-horror, and although that can sometimes not work, as in movies like An American Werewolf In London, the balance is just right, making the movie creepy and scary whilst at times laugh out loud funny.  Really, try not cracking a smile when Campbell is beating himself up with his possessed hand, then shriek as a body gets literally eaten by the cellar door, resulting in buckets of blood spraying out.

Acting is not the selling point here, but the cast do their best to handle increasingly outrageous situations, with plenty of screaming and perfectly delivered one-liners (‘groovy’).  Effects-wise the optical effects are showing their age, but were never that great anyway, and the make-up seriously outshine the recent remake for demonic freakishness.  Along with Raimi’s endless imagination, this fired on all cylinders from beginning to end, making for an iconic, very entertaining and a much deserved classic of the genre.  Just watch it!

This newly released Blu-ray boasts a very nice remastered image, that may suffer from slight softness and blurriness at times, still manages to make the movie look better than it has done in years.  Sound-wise we get a 5.1 DTS Master Audio soundtrack that delivers good clarity even if it sounded a little soft during dialogue, although a 2.0 PCM Stereo soundtrack retains the movie’s original sound for beefier results on a 2 channel system.  Extras are exhaustive, with a welcome audio commentary from Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi and various production members, and we also get several featurettes and picture galleries among other bits and bobs.  Very commendable!

Verdict:

(the movie): 5 /5

(the Blu-ray):  4 /5

Evil Dead


Viewed – 23 April 2013  Cinema

Big fan of the Evil Dead movies, especially Evil Dead 2, the wonderfully inventive slap-stick splatter fest from Sam (Oz The Great and Powerful) Raimi that made a cult hero of actor Bruce Campbell and cemented Raimi’s reputation as one of the most imaginative directors around.  Of course the remake was inevitable, and so step forth director Fede Alvarez, to hopefully breathe new life into a long (ahem) dead franchise.

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A group of twenty-somethings arrive at a log cabin in the woods intent on helping their heroine addicted friend dry out.  Only problem is they stumble upon a book bound in human flesh (!) and one idiot thinks its a good idea to start reading from it – bring on the forces of evil!  Yes Evil Dead isn’t about deep plot or great characterization   What we are here for is to watch our gradually disbanding group of pretty-young-things turn against one another and freaky shit happen – hopefully involving a chainsaw and a few dismembered body parts.

Alvarez’ movie is shot with no lack of style and eerie atmosphere.  This is one creepy setting, but I knew that going into this.  What I wasn’t expecting was a rather believable and emotional brother / sister relationship that helped carry the movie through a series of increasingly brutal, violent and show-stopping set pieces … yes we have a tongue split down the middle, an arm sawn off, lots and lots and lots of blood and yes, we have a chainsaw (groovy!).  Gone is the slapstick humor of Evil Dead 2 in place of hardcore violence and no name actors doing a fairly good job at screaming and fighting, and turning into the possessed.  Homages to movies like The Ring, The Exorcist etc were welcome, but I would have liked some better effects for the possessed folk bar some weird contact lenses and grimy skin and hair … and the whole deal was a little short on genuine scares (not sure if it was how this one was filmed, but almost all the big jumps did nothing for me).  That being said when going into this, I wanted a fast, gory and effective horror movie, old-school 80s video nasty style – and for the most part … this delivered.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Drag Me To Hell


Viewed – 31 October 2009  Blu-ray

If ever there was a perfect movie to watch on Halloween, then this is certainly a contender.  Hyped as Spider Man director Sam Raimi’s return to the genre that made him famous with the brilliant Evil Dead trilogy, this energetic ghost-train ride of a movie follows the story of young loan officer Christine (newcomer Alison Lohman) who after refusing an old pensioner a further extension on her mortgage repayments, is cursed, leaving just 3 days to discover a cure before being literally, dragged to hell.

With this at first odd premise, Sam Raimi is like a court jester playing all his favorite tricks and traps as he puts our plucky heroine through the mill, throwing her all over the the shop for our entertainment (just as he did twenty odd years ago with Bruce Campbell).  Now although Alison Lohman may lack the comedic charm of ‘the chin’ she makes for a feisty and believable ‘victim’, and gives the forces of evil as good as she gets, from suffering torrential nose bleeds and an arm being thrust down her throat, to swallowing a fly and being vomited upon with maggots.  She certainly earns her pay cheque.  Of course in a movie like this, the other actors remain set-dressing and the story is purposely basic, because the real meat here is the energy and ideas, of which there’s is no short amount.  In this age of torture-porn endurance horrors (Saw, Martyrs), it’s refreshing to finally experience a horror movie that knows how to be fun as well as horrific, without leaving that nasty after-taste.

Raimi’s most infectious movie since Evil Dead 2.

Verdict:  4 /5