Fear Island (2009)

A low-wattage variation of I Know What You Did Last Summer, in which a handful of amoral dirt-bag twentysomethings, who once did a terrible thing, end up paying the piper on a remote island.

Not very bloody, no nudity, and only one plot twist, that’s immediately obvious to anyone who’s seen The Usual Suspects.

What else is there to say? Haylie Duff is in it. Pass.


The Reeds (2010)

Boy, I hate it when my tranquil weekend of boating with friends turns into a blood-soaked nightmare.

After thousands of movies in which a back-to-nature retreat results in death and dismemberment, you’d think people would just stay the eff home. Watch Nature Channel, or some shit. But noo-oo-oo!

Three unexceptional couples hit upon the brilliant idea of renting a boat for a river excursion through a remote British waterway that’s choked with (cue the title) reeds!

So what form of doom will they encounter on their nautical getaway? Ruthless delinquents as in Eden Lake? An insidious beastie from the depths? Piranhas? Killer kelp?

Nope, the crew gets mired in a tragic feedback loop between an angry loner and a bunch of scruffy mute kids, who are seemingly locked in an eternal spiral of antagonism—despite the fact that the rugrats have been dead for decades. Talk about holding a grudge…

The claustrophobic spell cast by the forlorn, colorless landscape gives The Reeds a crucial boost of atmosphere, and the silent band of urchins are a creepy lot. And while director Nick Cohen is possessed of sufficient skills to keep things relatively interesting, it’s a glacially-paced affair without much in the way of action—though the anchor impalement scene was a welcome highlight.

The Reeds is worth a viewing, but only if it’s a slow news day and all your chores are done.

Dread (2009)

A beastly unsettling adaptation of a Clive Barker short story by writer/director Anthony DiBlasi, Dread doesn’t require supernatural elements—other than bad dreams—to really make us squirm in our seats.

Sure, Barker’s psycho-sexual hot potatoes (blood, sex, domination, and cruelly testing one’s limits) are in play, but it’s a character-driven nightmare first and foremost, as a student film about mapping out the territory of fear runs amok and lives are annihilated in the process.

Film student and Johnny Deppleganger Stephen Grace (Jackson Rathbone) meets Quaid (Shaun Evans), a charismatic loner, who wastes no time in reeling his new pal into exploring the roots and boundaries of real fear, and soon a student film project is born.

With the help of Cheryl (Hanne Steen), a fellow film studies major, the young auteurs interview a range of students about their earliest and most profound memories of fear.

Quaid, who seems to be majoring in villainy with a minor in degradation, believes their project lacks juice, so he takes it upon himself to “take things to the next level.”

By the way, never trust anyone who uses this expression.

Dread succeeds on the strength of its well-drawn characters, particularly in the homo-erotic jousting between the curious, but virtuous, Stephen, and the increasingly deranged and manipulative Quaid, a fellow who was obviously, in the words of the most articulate sociopath in the world, Dexter Morgan, “born of blood.”

DiBlasi takes his time, slow-cooking the horror till it’s falling off the bone. And in Quaid we have a charming sadist with his own terrifying baggage, who actually believes he’s helping people “confront the beast” by tormenting them with the things they fear the most, in the hope that they be destroyed and born anew, as fearless warriors.

Needless to say, his victims don’t appreciate the effort. There’s gratitude for you.

The Burning (1981)

Probably the best way to describe The Burning is that it’s a post Friday The 13th knock-off and an interesting conversation piece.

It features a gonzo Exorcist-meets-Yes score by Rick Wakeman, a script that was doctored by future film scumbags Bob and Harvey Weinstein, and some recognizable actors in teeny teen roles—and in the case of Holly Hunter, make that downright microscopic.

Yes, that’s Seinfeld foil Jason Alexander as Dave, a wisecracking camper (with a full head of hair!) who miraculously doesn’t get his jugular severed by Cropsy (Lou David), the hideously scarred former camp caretaker out for bloody revenge.

Nutshell: A bunch of snotty boys at summer camp punk Cropsy, the alcoholic caretaker, by placing a burning skull next to his bed. Things get shitty real fast as the clumsy bum catches himself on fire and spends the next five years fuming in a hospital while his doctors point and laugh at his freaky face.

Eventually Cropsy leaves, kills a hooker to get warmed up and goes back to camp to carve up the current crop of kids. His weapon of choice is a deluxe pair of hedge clippers.

Were the writers inspired by Cropsey, the legendary Staten Island boogeyman? Well, duh!

Seeing the likes of Alexander, Larry Joshua (The Rundown, NYPD Blue), Leah Ayers (Bloodsport), Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit) and Brian Backer (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) pay their dues as Doomed Campers is worth a giggle or two, but sadly, The Burning is slower than my Granny’s bowels.

It takes a whole friggin’ hour for the first camper to get carved! Note to the writing department: we do not now, nor have we ever given a shit who has the hots for whom—unless it leads to a nude scene.

Too much yakkin’ and not enough whackin’ is no way to create horror history.

Fortunately, the brothers Weinstein and director Tony Maylam had the good sense to leave the gruesome special effects to the best in the business, namely Tom Savini (Friday The 13th, Dawn of the Dead, Maniac, and so many more).

So by the time Cropsy finally gets around to some serious slicing and dicing, the blood arrives in buckets, including a sensational canoe sequence where he wastes five kids in a flurry fit for a ninja.

Worth a look.