Atrocious (2010)

Leave a comment

I’m quite good at suspending my disbelief; trust me, when it comes to horror, I have a very limber set of standards in that department. And as much as I liked Atrocious, a found-footage frightener from Spain, I had some serious reservations believing that central characters July (Clara Morelada) and her brother Cristian (Cristian Valencia), would continue to schlep their camcorders around after figuring out that a fiendish killer is stalking them at their family’s rural retreat. “Oh my God, there’s a fiendish killer in the house with us! Do you have a spare battery pack?” Uh huh. It’s a shame too, because Atrocious has the makings of a crackerjack movie.

Teen siblings July and Cristian are spending their vacation with Mom (Chus Pereiro), Dad (Xavi Doz), and adorable kid brother Jose (Sergi Martin) at a Spanish country estate that comes equipped with its own massive hedge maze. The pair fancy themselves as intrepid ghost-hunting, mystery solvers so they bring along two video cameras, which is a stroke of luck for the cops when they discovery that everyone’s been killed about a week later. After sifting through 37 hours of footage, the final cut serves as the movie itself. If you surmised that there would be an abundance of chaotic night scenes frantically shot by the protagonists whilst lost in the hedge maze, give yourself a gold star.

There is some first-rate fright footage here. And the actors playing July and Cristian are very good, very natural. Atrocious is worth the time it takes to watch, but the surfeit of film (not to mention battery power) is a contrivance that each viewer will have to sort out for themselves. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but you may find yourself (as I did) shouting, “Oh come on, already!” at the screen on several occasions.

The Oregonian (2011)

Leave a comment

I’ve been employed as a writer and editor in Portland since 1994 (more or less). So when I saw that a new horror entry on Netflix had the same name as our daily paper, I just assumed it was the terrifying story of an aging copy editor with limited skills trying to remain employed in the face of career obsolescence. For better or for worse, this is not the case. Instead, writer-director Calvin Reeder works awfully hard to create a minor-league David Lynch nightmare—with marginal results.

The Oregonian opens on a girl (Lindsay Pulsipher, from True Blood; think Reese Witherspoon’s disturbed kid sister) driving away from a farm (and a drunk abusive father figure). This is followed by a a vague car accident in which “the Oregonian” (Pulsipher, I guess) smashes a couple of unlucky picnickers into pickle relish. When she regains her senses (if in fact, she ever does), the titular damsel finds herself lost in a weirdly malign universe that bears a striking resemblance to David Lynch’s subconscious. Looking for help, and finding nothing of the sort, the girl meets a menacing witch (more of a ticked-off art teacher, really); a guy in a truck who doesn’t speak (much) but gives her a ride, and then collapses after taking a long, multicolored leak; and a tall guy in a green fuzzy monster suit who seems to represent some part of her life that she’s trying to repress.

Again, it’s Lynch, Lynch, Lynch. The soundtrack is crammed with shrieks, radio static, buzzers, voices, and other assorted annoying artsy distractions. The lonely, rural, rainy sets could be Twin Peaks B-roll, even down to a shot of the girl walking across the same railroad bridge that poor Ronette Pulaski wandered over, lo those many years ago. Reeder gets a few itty-bitty points for being a daring (though derivative) visual stylist, but his fevered homage is more endurance test than entertainment. I could hack films like The Oregonian back when I was young and my head was still supple; now I just want my 90 minutes back.

Tale of the Mummy (1998)

Leave a comment

Here’s another sleeper that I owe to the fine folks over at the Horror Movie A Day site (horror-movie-a-day.blogspot.com). Thanks gents!

I was just recently bemoaning the fact that mummies are an underutilized movie monster. (And don’t bring up that crappy CGI-riddled Brendan Fraser series. Because it sucks, that’s why not!) So why the reluctance to embrace the mummy? They’re undead, like vampires and zombies—but they aren’t as charismatic as the former, nor as utilitarian as the latter. They’re slow, predictable, and only deadly in confined spaces. To paraphrase Stephen King, “Uh oh, the mummy is chasing us. We’d better walk away briskly.” Fortunately, in Tale of the Mummy, veteran rock video director Russell Mulcahy (Razorback, Highlander) gives us Talos, a decent mummy upgrade from the ol’ Universal Pictures shuffler, and then smartly pumps up the Egyptian mysticism in order to flesh out the frights. Mulcahy’s predilection for flash-and-pop visuals works well here, making even the drearier parts of London look suitably glam-noir.

As these things so often do, the story begins with a doomed archeological expedition, this one led by (a round of applause, please) Christopher Lee, as Sir Richard Turkel. He and his cohorts unwisely enter the cursed tomb of Talos, a cruel and sadistic ex-pharaoh whose spirit gets awakened, only to be freed by Turkel’s granddaughter Samantha (Louise Lombard) 50 years later.

Talos wastes no time in wasting various reincarnated versions of himself (including a dog!), harvesting their organs in preparation for an impending planetary alignment that could restore him to full power (not a good thing for humanity, needless to say). His main method of whacking folks is rather clever, animating his bandages to flutter about formlessly in the breeze before strangling his victims. Tale of the Mummy is a fun, visually sumptuous yarn, one that moves quickly and looks great doing so.

Bonus: The cast is chock-full of familiar faces, and character-actor fan-boys and girls will squeal with delight at cameos by Christopher Lee, Shelley Duvall, Michael Lerner, and Jon Polito, not to mention young unknowns like Gerard Butler, Jack Davenport, and Sean Pertwee, who get some decent screen time here to pad those resumes for future greatness.

More mummies? Please?

A Haunting in Salem (2011)

3 Comments

Take a teaspoon of The Shining, a sprinkle of The Amityville Horror, stir in a tiny budget, and garnish with an intense, weird-looking little actor as your leading man, and what have you got? I’d say a “C”, maybe a “C+”.

New sheriff Wayne Downs (Bill Oberst Jr.) moves his super-hot wife (Courtney Abbiati) and two kids to Salem, Massachusetts, and settles into an old Gothic manor house that comes with the job. (Nice perk!) As luck would have it, the joint is haunted by the ghosts of 19 pissed-off witches who were burned and hanged back in the the late 1600s—by the town sheriff— and were subsequently laid to rest on the property where Downs and his brood are currently taking up residence. The house also comes with a brain-damaged gardener (Where does he live?) who mumbles dire warnings about the ghosts and is soon dispatched by same. The Realtor neglected to mention any of this, but it does have a lovely bonus space that could be converted into a guest bedroom or a cathedral for your Black Mass, your Satanic rituals, or what have you.

A Haunting in Salem isn’t a memorable film. It’s a painfully familiar tale and director Shane Van Dyke (one of Dick’s grandchildren; another, Cary, plays a local cop) doesn’t have the money or the chops to bring anything new to this haunted house party. The frights, in addition to being rote and predictable, are few and far between. The story is set in a huge, historic mansion, but it looks like the cast and crew were only permitted to shoot in a couple of the rooms, which becomes distracting once you notice that every scene takes place in either the kitchen, the bathroom, the hall, or the daughter’s bedroom.

It’s only the earthy presence of Bill Oberst Jr. as the determined sheriff that gives the flimsy plot a solid grounding. He’s a sawed-off runt of a man with curiously scarred features who perpetually looks like he’s on the verge of a very messy nervous breakdown. Thus, he’s perfectly cast as the husband and father that the rest of the family believes is going cuckoo, so their unease around him is palpable. Also, the body language between the sheriff and his tall gorgeous wife Carrie reveals that they’re definitely not comfortable around each other. Any tension is good tension, I always say. Now make it work!