Tag Archives: Sci-Fi Horror

Vic’s Review – Dark Skies (2013)

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As the Barrett family’s peaceful suburban life is rocked by an escalating series of disturbing events, they come to learn that a terrifying and deadly force is after them.

Directed by Scott Stewart

7 out of 10

It’s fortunate that Visual FX artist Scott Stewart ( Priest and Legion ) handled both the writing and directing duties on this sci-fi thriller about nasty ET’s and all their meddling with us humans. Stewart’s tight though inferential story and slick, lean direction make “Dark Skies” a slightly better than average creepfest.   I must admit I was interested in the dynamics that Stewart handles here. “Dark Skies” takes on very established motifs regarding alien contact and abduction. We’ve seen it all before and we know all the beats to this story. What I think worked for me in this case is that Stewart gets some pretty good performances out of his actors. He also keeps the movie moving at a  mercurial pace while maintaining a slow build up. The story doesn’t get campy or cheesy but despite it’s familiarity “Dark Skies” does hit all the right notes and does it efficiently while committing to the seriousness of the subject matter. Stewart delivers a well shot, well acted and agile film that works on some levels but it doesn’t get very deep. There remains just under the surface a late night chiller that is a decent time water and has a few spooky moments to keep us responsive and partial.

The beautiful Keri Russell ( Felicity, MI:3 ) stars as Lacy Barrett a struggling wife and mother of 2 boys who starts to have strange things happen in her home shortly after a BBQ party she holds with her friends, the Jessops. Her boys, Sammy (Kadan Rockett) and Jesse (Dakota Goyo) are close and even when in separate rooms they speak via walkie talkie where Jesse proceeds to spin scary yarns and share stories of “The Sandman” with his younger brother. Sammy, being young and impressionable gets easily scared. Lacy on the other hand starts to witness things late at night while she walks around her home. She can’t seem to be able to get any sleep on any given night and wanders. She sees her Fridge doors wide open and contents spilled all over the place. She sees canned food and kitchen items stacked high from floor to ceiling and her chandelier is making a funky symbol that projects to the ceiling. I could not help but be reminded of “Poltergeist” and “Ghostbusters” respectively during these odd night time strolls that Lacy takes. She shrugs them off as nightmares but things get worse when ala “Insidious” we get the good ole security alarm going off at ear-bursting levels and no perp around. Lacy’s husband, Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton) even seems to be acting strangely as he and his son exhibit strange “spells” where they move around robotically and have no recollection of what usually transpires.  The Police think that the Barretts should reboot the alarm system and when the alarm goes off yet again and they find out the windows and doors are locked they start to think the worst. Something  malevolent is in their home or at least getting in and out.

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Daniel suffers as well when he can’t get to the bottom of the mystery and it doesn’t help that he is having job and financial woes to add to the distress. Bills start to pile up and mortgage payments are late. But that is not the only bad thing: Various flocks of birds become somewhat suicidal, Sammy urinates on himself while playing outdoors and lets out a booming and ear piercing shriek that he doesn’t recall afterwards. And so on and so on. Desperate, Daniel sets up cameras that seem to have been tampered with during the night. Strange dream-like visions and more intense occurrences push both Lacy and Daniel to the edge. Daniel at one point sees what appears to be 3 dark figures in the boy’s room one night in a familiar but effective scene. But it is the boys who suffer greatly at the intrusion of “The Grays” These are aliens, that to Ufologists, are the holy grail of the alien presence here on earth. The pleasant surprise in the film is the under-stated performance from JK Simmons (Spider-man and Spider-man 2) as a UFO expert, named Pollard, who knows all about “The Grays” and proceeds to tell Lacy and Daniel that they have been here a very long time. They are indeed notorious for abductions, lost time, symbols, communicating and tampering with humans. Even implants (which Daniel seems to have behind his ear) and manipulation. In  very typical “X-Files” fashion we get all types of creepy ongoing sequences. Stewart moves the story along with the help of his talented cast that makes the very best of the material that becomes a bit predictable by the third act. We have flashes of the beings, a very by the numbers character that “knows it all” in Pollard and some quick and moody style and editing that serves the film uniquely in parts.

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 Pollard (who has a wall of “weird” with numerous news clippings) tells the Barretts that their son has been “chosen” by “The Grays” and that should keep a very close eye on him. Unfortunately, it does not end up that way. Pollard tells them that the aliens may move on or may work even harder to get what they want from them. They take measures like buying weapons and getting a guard dog but to no avail.  Do “The Grays” get what they want or do The Barretts fight back and take a final stand to help and preserve their family? Director Stewart, in my opinion, does an admirable job in keeping us interested only because with the help of his actors, we start to care for them. We sympathize mostly with Jesse ad Lacy who are the “hearts” of this movie. There is just way too much, in one form or another, that is familiar here and we have seen it all. “Dark Skies” is a “Monster of the Week” movie on a moderate budget. It doesn’t create anything new, relevant or outstanding but uses some tried and true themes and manipulations that helps pass the time without getting to “outside the box.” “Dark Skies” doesn’t try to be brainy and can, to many, seem very dull and disappointing but I enjoyed the structure enough to liken it to putting on a comfortable pair of slippers and sitting in your fave comfy recliner.  It is a slow burn. It is better than average. It sports proficient camera-work and a morose score that is spooky. “Dark Skies” shows some restraint and that works in it’s favor. It’s junk food but it’s junk food that won’t give you a stomach ache. Enjoy!

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Vic’s Review – “The Thing” 2011

This terrifying prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic of the same name tells the story of a team of Norwegian scientists who find an alien ship frozen in Antarctica. When the organism inside awakens, blood flows across the frozen landscape. Leading the group is pilot Carter (Joel Edgerton), who allies with paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in a desperate attempt to rally the paranoid workers to combat the deadly threat.

Victor

Rating 7 out of  10

As a standalone Sci-Fi creature feature The Thing would have played out as an average straight forward monster movie. But as a Prequel to one of the most highly regarded Sci-Fi/Horror films of all time, John Carpenter’s The Thing, the film fares better. Is it a love letter to Carpenter’s film? Yes. Is it almost a play by play of Carpenter’s film? Yes. But these little distractions aside the film plays out very well as a, if by the numbers, sci fi beastie film.

The set up is fast, interesting and straightforward. It begins, obviously, with the discovery of the alien saucer, the one we see in the beginning of JC’s movie, by Norwiegan explorers. The scene is a bit gripping as we see the vessel in near pristine condition. It answers the question of how it would have looked like pre-thermite. We then are introduced to Kate Lloyd, played rather convincingly and capably, by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (McClane’s Daughter in Live Free Die Hard). She agrees to help with investigation into the saucer discovery, Headed by a stern and aloof Professor. The rest is rather predictable fare if anyone has seen Carpenter’s version. It almost plays out like a remake. They dig up and cart the remains of an alien life form back to the base, it thaws (the scientists in Hawks’ version had the brains to keep it in a cold room at least), it gets loose, tries to assimilate a camp member, it fails, they examine the remains, they take samples of the blood and determine that the alien is trying to imitate them in order to survive. The rest is where the film, much to it’s credit actually thrives, but only because it has Carpenter’s version as a template.

The suspense, paranoia and solid acting are all on display here and the characterizations are well fleshed out. We gravitate towards Joel Edgarton as the group pilot, Carter, whom we trust and like as he helps Kate take charge of the fearful and paranoid camp members. The creature effects are deep, dark and very weird. Yes, they are CGI but the shots never linger long and we get creeped out by the contorted and sinewy creatures that are spawned by the The Thing. Kate, obviously is the MacCready of the picture and she figures things out accordingly and does a good job of being the hero of the piece. What I enjoyed the most in the film are all the references and connections to JC’s film. If you observe and watch with a keen eye all the pieces of the end of this film and Carpenter’s version come together nicely. Even as to where “The Axe” came from. The ending is a bit of a let down  but it is oblique and appropriate so I wasn’t as annoyed since they began to piece things together. All in all a decent homage to Carpenter’s visionary film and a nice and welcome companion piece to it. I recommend it to all fans and even non-fans (who may watch this one first then watch JC’s film) of Carpenter’s masterpiece.

Monsters

Six years after aliens invaded Earth, a security force maintains tenuous control in the Infected Zone straddling the U.S.-Mexican border. Andrew (Scoot McNairy), a photographer, is documenting this war-torn area when he’s interrupted by an unexpected rescue mission. Samantha (Whitney Able), daughter of a media mogul who just happens to be his boss, needs an escort home, and Andrew reluctantly takes on the job.

Matt
Rating: 7 out of 10

Perhaps it’s a bit unfair, but I’m grading “Monsters” on a curve. This film was made by two people on a budget of $15,000, and it’s truly incredible how they pulled it off.

The story is solid, and the acting is quite good. The characters are developed in an interesting world where aliens that are very destructive have taken over a large chunk of Mexico. A man is tasked with getting a woman to safety, and along the way the adventure and horror unfold.

With a digital camera and plenty of computer savvy, director Gareth Edwards created a realistic movie that was very well shot and made. It’s got the feel of a gritty world. You don’t doubt it for a second. That’s what makes this film click. It’s not all CGI and scary sounds. But the CGI in the film, which Edwards also did, was excellent. Again, I’m grading this on a curve, but it’s a solid little monster movie.

For more on how “Monsters” was made, click here.


Top 5 John Carpenter Movies

victor

John Carpenter pulls no punches. He is a director of horror, science-fiction, and cult hit movies. He is the master of it. There are no Academy Awards on his shelf, yet he boasts a string of extremely popular films that have made him one of the most successful directors of his generation. From classics like “Escape from New York” to “Starman,” Carpenter has been entertaining and frightening us for decades. Here is my list of Top 5 John Carpenter Movies.

5.  They Live – Carpenter rarely does blatant social commentary but his low budget, alien-among-us opus, They Live oozes with it. Consumerism, apathy, alienation and some political satire. Yes, the film is cheesy at times and the make up is a joke. I think it actually adds to the appeal of the film. Carpenter is in complete control here and it shows. A great, long fight scene by the 2 main leads, Roddy Piper and Keith David, is incredible to watch. Possibly the longest fight scene ever filmed. A great sci-fi outing that never disappoints. Obey. Sleep. Consume.

4. The Fog – I really love this film. Carpenter’s follow up to Halloween cements his place among the upper tier of horror filmmakers. The Fog is first and foremost a dreamy, ghost story that is chock full of mood and menace. A scary campfire tale come to life. Dean Cundey’s photography is top notch as always and Carpenter’s score is intense and ethereal. Carpenter juggles multiple characters and tells a ghastly story about wronged pirates come back to to life to exact revenge. Great film. Just steer clear of the remake.

3. Big Trouble in Little China – Oh that Kurt Russell. He flexes his comedic muscles here as a heroic but bumbling truck driver who unwittingly stumbles upon an age-old Chinese feud. Full of great choreographed fight scenes (way before Crouching Tiger), this tribute to Kung-Fu films is amazing to watch because of Carpenter and Russell’s tongue-in-cheek enthusiasm. It has wizards, ghosts and creatures aplenty. Just plain fun. I have yet to meet someone who did not like this film.

2. Halloween – This film is a masterpiece. Halloween is an example of how to make a horror film right. Much has been said about this influential film that was shot for only $350,000. Cundey’s camera work, Carpenter’s music, and the great lead characters make his film vastly superior to it’s cheap knock-off peers. Yes, it is a slasher film but it is done with the utmost care, precision and love for the then young genre. We care for the characters and Carpenter carefully establishes that Micheal Myers is a force to be reckoned with. Insanely perfect all around, Halloween is a must see.

1. The Thing – Carpenter’s Citizen Kane. The Thing sports an all male cast finely tuned and lead by Carpenter’s frontman, the always capable Kurt Russell. This is a sci- fi whodunnit with paranoid flair. Everything here is masterfully done. The ensemble is flawless. Cundey’s camerawork is miraculous to watch. Carpenter’s direction is tight and precise. But it’s the suspense that Carpenter establishes and the make up FX by Rob Bottin that really shine here. The film plays out like some morbid, alien take of an Agatha Christie novel where we are witness to the characters beginning to fear and distrust each other. The blu-ray includes a fantastic commentary by Russell and Carpenter that is a fan favorite to this day. The Thing is a must own. It is my favorite Carpenter film. Enjoy.

Splice


Ignoring instructions from the pharmaceutical company that funds their research, groundbreaking genetic scientists Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) continue with an unorthodox experiment to create a human-animal hybrid, a new life form they dub “Dren” (Delphine Chanéac). When they see their fantastical creation, Clive warns that it should be destroyed, but Elsa refuses — a decision she’ll regret when Dren makes deadly plans of her own.

Brian

Rating: 7 out of 10

I’ll be the first to admit that I had very low expectations going into this film. I saw the trailer and it looked like another Alien rip-off. Creature stalks human prey until they turn the tables and outsmart the physically superior opponent. It has been done to death. So, I have to admit I was very pleasantly surprised by Splice. It’s a much darker and more disturbing experience than I expected. The film essentially has 3 parts to it:

1. The genetic testing part: This is the first portion of the film where the characters go through trial and error of figuring how to splice together different animal DNA to create a new being entirely created by man. It asks a lot of questions that I found interesting in terms of scientific versus moral decisions. Is it our place to clone and create new forms of life? If it all goes wrong and the new created being either doesn’t survive or has to be destroyed, is it immoral? The mere fact that I’m even thinking about this shows that it’s more than a monster movie.

2. Dren’s confinement: This is the best part of the film. Dren (the creature created by the 2 main characters that is part animal and part human) has to be hidden away from everyone. The 2 scientists (played very well by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) begin to make decisions that are violent and lustful while the creature begins to exhibit an almost innocent nature at times. I started to feel sympathy for Dren and hate towards the human characters that all seemed to want to take advantage of her in one way or another. It was fascinating to watch until…….

3. Evil mean creature goes through metamorphosis and kills: Why? I mean you had me wrapped into the story and then you do this. There were so many ways to end it but you just spoiled it during the last 20 minutes! I won’t reveal it but if you’ve seen it you’ll know what I’m talking about.

So, I recommend Splice, a good film that had the potential to be great.

Daybreakers


Earth’s population is up against a vicious plague that’s transforming everyone into vampires and draining the world of an increasingly precious resource: blood. Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) and “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe) must decide what happens next. As the human race count nears zero, will vampires feast on the few men and women who remain, or could science hold the key to a less destructive solution? Sam Neill and Claudia Karvan co-star.

Shawn – TV-Tastic
Rating: 6 out of 10

The immediate gut-reaction for a film like “Daybreakers” is: “Oh, great… yet another vampire film, because that genre hasn’t been exploited enough over the past five years.” To be honest, that was my reaction when I first saw trailers for this in late 2009. The problem for Daybreakers, and most likely the reason for its miserable box-office numbers of $51 million total gross, is the producers marketed the film in some misguided attempt to hop on the bandwagon of other popular vampire franchises, such as “Twilight,” “True Blood,” and “The Vampire Diaries.” That was a very bad marketing decision.

Daybreakers is a very original and unique twist on the vampire genre in that it’s not really a horror film at all. It’s a classic science-fiction story that deals with science as a backdrop and asks many “what if” and “how would you react” questions about exploiting others for your own immortality. How does a society preserve its humanity when mortality has been taken away? As far as vampire films go, there is surprisingly little graphic violence until the very end of the film because, frankly, it’s really not necessary to progress the story.

Where the film ultimately suffers is that it is very short, with a running time of 97 minutes. For a science fiction story with such an original concept there is far too little exposition. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered and is so quick that the audience doesn’t really have an opportunity to become emotionally attached to the characters or the plot. The performances from DaFoe, Hawke, and the rest of the cast are fine but you really don’t have any sense of a vested interest in any of these characters. If the audience can’t relate to the characters, they have no reason to care about the story.

Daybreakers, albeit not the best film, is enjoyable and worth your time if you like a unique sci-fi story. Netflix subscribers can watch it as part of their subscription through the Netflix streaming service.

Dreamcatcher

Four boyhood pals perform a heroic act and are changed by the powers they gain in return. Years later, on a hunting trip in the Maine woods, they’re overtaken by a vicious blizzard that harbors an ominous presence. Challenged to stop an alien force, the friends must first prevent the slaughter of innocent civilians by a military vigilante … and then overcome a threat to the bond that unites the four of them.

Matt
Rating: 2 out of 10

In a word: crap.

This is a film based on the very popular Stephen King novel by the same name, but unfortunately this film has gone the way  most of the author’s books have when adapted to the big screen. It’s totally confusing, hard to piece to together, vague, and poorly acted — even by Morgan Freeman who could do nothing to save incredibly hokey dialogue.

In short, four friends rescue a retarded kid from some bullies. The retarded kid then gives them psychic powers. Flash forward 20 years, a plague breaks out from an alien who has been hunted for decades by a secret military group. You with me? OK. The alien is inside of one of the guys heads and he’s slowly killing off all the friends. The leader of the military is a psycho who is also after the friends, mainly the one whose been possessed by a super evil alien who wants to poison our drinking water with these crazy alien snakes that have been killing everyone. The alien snakes hatch eggs in bodies and then pop out their butts covered in blood. Yes… I’m serious.

In the end, the retarded kid shows up as an adult, turns into a bad-ass alien, and kills the super evil alien. A bunch of people die in between in horrible ways and you’re left completely confused, not only by the story, but how they made such a terrible film. Completely forgettable.

Predators

Rugged mercenary Royce (Adrien Brody) inherits command of an elite team of human fighters — including dorky-but-dangerous Edwin (Topher Grace) and tough-but-beautiful Isabelle (Alice Braga) — as they are hunted by a race of ruthless alien trackers known as Predators. Director Nimród Antal’s sci-fi action explosion, which also stars Laurence Fishburne and an uzi-toting Danny Trejo, is a direct sequel to the 1987 blockbuster Predator. Directed by Nimród Antal (Vacancy).

Matt
Rating: 5 out of 10

This could have been a whole lot better, given the strength of the source material and cast, along with the fact that Robert Rodriguez (Machete) produced the film.

It wasn’t a total disaster. There were some interesting characters, which ended up being the film’s weakness. There were just too many of them. All of the characters had to be cookie-cutter stereotypes because that’s all you can develop when you have seven primary cast member in a 90 minute movie. You’ve got the ninja (who still calls themself a ninja?), a tough girl assassin, the anti-hero war vet, the surly Russian, and so on. They tried to throw in some new predator arch to the story. They use these crazy alien hunting dogs, which I liked, but they also tried to wedge in a back story about two types of predators that are warring. The only difference between them that we get to see is that one is taller than the other. Not very compelling stuff. I did like the concept of all these varied soldiers getting dropped off in the jungle and hunted by predators, though. It made for some good action.

This is not a very good movie, but it’s certainly the best Predator movie since the original, which was very good.