Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On DVD/Blu-ray: WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US (2012), THE BARRENS (2012) and CHAINED (2012)

(US - 2012)

Passable DTV time-killer from Universal, intended as a semi-sequel of sorts to their 2010 revamp of THE WOLFMAN, but also as a tie-in with their just-released Universal Classic Monsters Blu-ray box set.  Shot in Romania, WEREWOLF is a period horror piece set in old school Transylvania where a team of ace werewolf hunters led by Charles (Ed Quinn) are hired to rid the village of a rampaging werewolf who seems to be targeting the town's undesirables and lowlifes.  A werewolf waging class warfare?  Give it bonus points for originality.  Charles is constantly being pestered by Daniel (Guy Wilson), who's eager to assist in the hunt instead of hanging around town as the medical assistant to the local doctor (Stephen Rea).  WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US isn't really all that good, but it takes some unpredictable turns in the last third that make it interesting, at least until the belated and nonsensical appearance of a vampire that seems more like a bone tossed to the UNDERWORLD crowd rather than any wink to the classic monster rallies of the 1940s (there also seems to be a lot of JAWS references throughout).  Directed by 1990s Roger Corman associate and DTV vet Louis Morneau (CARNOSAUR 2, MADE MEN, BATS, THE HITCHER II, JOY RIDE 2), who also co-wrote the script with fellow Corman grad Catherine Cyran (SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III, BLOODFIST II, IN THE HEAT OF PASSION II), WEREWOLF is clearly dealing with a low-budget, with dubious CGI werewolf and splatter effects farmed out to a Chinese effects team, and the cast is comprised of mostly TV actors who seem to have gotten the gig based on their resemblances to bigger stars:  Quinn's Charles is patterned enough on the 2004 VAN HELSING that he seems like Halfway Hugh Jackman, while his team contains a guy who comes off as Relatively Robert Downey, Jr and another who's Kinda Kate Beckinsale, and the village has a guy who's Somewhat Sean Bean.  THE CRYING GAME Oscar nominee Rea is by far the biggest name, though you also get Nia Peeples as Daniel's brothel-managing mother, and an eye-patched Steven Bauer (SCARFACE) in a rather insignificant role as one of Charles' werewolf-tracking posse.  Pretty forgettable overall, but OK for its type.  You're still better off just watching one of the classic Universal monster movies.  (Unrated, 94 mins/R, 93 mins, R-rated version streaming on Netflix)

(US - 2012)

Darren Lynn Bousman (SAW II-IV, REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA) wrote and directed this horror film that ostensibly deals with the Jersey Devil, the mythical winged creature that's said to haunt the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.  However, Bousman is more interested in remaking Kubrick's THE SHINING in the woods instead of a hotel, right down to the jeopardized boy being named Danny and his crazed dad yelling "Danny-boy!"  Philadelphia dad Richard (TRUE BLOOD's Stephen Moyer) is taking the family--second wife Cynthia (Mia Kirshner), their six-year-old son Danny (Peter DaCunha), and Sadie (Allie MacDonald), Richard's angry 17-year-old daughter with his late first wife--on a camping trip to the Pine Barrens even though no one really wants to go.  Richard wants to scatter his dad's ashes in a lake where the two fished when he was a kid.  He also has suspicions that Cynthia might be having an affair, Sadie is just being sullen and 17, and Danny is too worried about their dog who's been missing for two weeks.  Richard has a strange bite on his arm and acts increasingly irrational over the weekend.  He's convinced the Jersey Devil has been stalking him since childhood and it--or the acceleration of the infection from the mysterious bite--may or may not be possessing him or driving him to the brink of madness.  I'm not really sure Bousman knows, either.  THE BARRENS is slow and dull (yeah, it's another one of these post-Ti West slow-burners--Jesus, did I just coin the term "post-Ti West"?), and even though it comes alive in the climax, it still doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  The whole Jersey Devil angle seems oddly shoehorned into a SHINING ripoff (even the poster art depicts Moyer recreating an unforgettable SHINING shot), and it takes far too long and far too many red flags for Cynthia to get with the program and realize that this trip was a terrible idea, and that the shit's hit the fan and she needs to save her family from her insane husband.  Bousman made two of the better SAW sequels (SAW II and SAW III), and his REPO splatter musical has become a cult classic, but THE BARRENS just feels like too many half-baked ideas cobbled together with no real purpose.  If Bousman wanted to make a SHINING homage, then he should've just made one and not bothered with the Jersey Devil element.  What's the point?  (R, 94 mins)

(US/Canada - 2012)

Unrelentingly grim and depressing thriller from writer/director Jennifer Lynch (David's daughter, and the director of 1993's controversial BOXING HELENA and 2009's underrated SURVEILLANCE) that tries to be another HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (with shades of the 2010 DTV obscurity BEREAVEMENT) but just gets too silly and too stupid for its own good.  In a performance that's occasionally brave but for the most part horribly self-indulgent, Vincent D'Onofrio is Bob, a cab driver who abducts women and takes them to his isolated rural home to rape and murder them before burying the bodies in a crawlspace under the house.  One afternoon, he kills a mom (Julia Ormond) and keeps her young son (Evan Bird) as a prisoner.  He renames the boy "Rabbit" and makes him take care of the house and clean up the messes left behind by his atrocities.  Years go by, Rabbit is now in his late teens (and now played by Eamon Farren), and Bob decides to train his "adopted" son as his protege. 

Originally slapped with an NC-17 rating, CHAINED is pretty repulsive but still isn't as gory as most of these things go.  It seems more concerned with establishing that HENRY feeling of claustrophobic tension, but it just doesn't work. Lynch lets D'Onofrio run wild, doing some weird accent that sounds like a lisping Noo Yawker with a severe head cold. There's a backstory involving Bob's abusive father forcing him to have sex with his own mother, and one seemingly throwaway line of dialogue lets the cat out of the bag that there's going to be an inane twist ending. There's a couple of squirmy shots of Rabbit giving Bob a sponge bath, Bob playing with what appears to be a piece of a severed limb, and we do get a shot of a nude D'Onofrio covered in blood and sprawled atop one of his victims. I'm a big fan of D'Onofrio while at the same time conceding that he can be a divisive actor. A lot of people disliked him on LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT, but I thought he was brilliant. He excels with a good script and a disciplined director, but when he's not kept on a tight leash, things like CHAINED happen. Unfortunately, he's at his most mannered and affected here, and a lot of CHAINED's problems wouldn't be had he played it straight and not made the "Hey, check me out! It's THE VINCENT D'ONOFRIO SHOW!!!" decision to use a distracting, ridiculous accent and bust out every tic and twitch in his repertoire. On the plus side, Farren is effective as the tortured Rabbit and just by exhibiting some quiet restraint, manages to make a stronger impression than his veteran co-star. (R, 94 mins)

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