Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On DVD/Blu-ray: V/H/S (2012), SILENT NIGHT (2012), RITES OF SPRING (2012)

(US - 2012)

Some of today's hippest horror scenesters contributed to this found-footage anthology where all of the stories have their moments, but very few, if any, are wholly satisfying.  The wraparound story of four small-time criminals hired to break into a house to steal a VHS tape for reasons shrouded in secrecy was handled by A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE director Adam Wingard.  They find a dead body in a recliner that seems to disappear and reappear, and the film consists of some VHS tapes that one guy watches while the others are looking for the specific item in question. The first is from THE SIGNAL co-director David Bruckner, and deals with three hard-partying douchebags who get more than they bargained for when they take a seemingly eager young woman back to their motel room after last call.  THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL's Ti West is next with a married couple on a second honeymoon, unaware that a stranger is filming them while they sleep.  I SELL THE DEAD director Glenn McQuaid's segment has four college kids on a camping trip pursued through the woods by a bizarrely technological slasher.  Mumblecore filmmaker Joe Swanberg (HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS), who stars as the husband in Bruckner's story, then presents a haunted apartment tale that plays out as a series of Skype sessions between a troubled young woman and her doctor.  The closer is from a four-man collective known as Radio Silence, where four guys go to a Halloween party that gets very serious very quickly. 

There's some occasionally effective moments--the first "ghost" appearance in Swanberg's short; the whole "glitch" concept of McQuaid's that doesn't really work but it's an interesting idea; and West, possibly the most overrated figure in modern horror (I love THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, but just admit it, people...THE INNKEEPERS is terrible), gets OK results with his patented "slow burn" technique because he's only got 20 minutes to fill instead of 100. Like most anthology horror films, it knows to finish big, and the last segment is probably the best overall, but all of these stories feel like they read better on the page than seen on the screen. Because the film is made up entirely of people filming everything they do, the result is endless YouTube-quality shaky cam visuals that get to be a bit much at nearly two hours, and the almost all of the characters are annoying assholes. And shouldn't the "wraparound" segment of an anthology be...finished? The established set-up with the break-in for the mystery VHS tape is simply abandoned and the film ends with the closing of the last segment. It's called a "wraparound" for a reason. Other than going for some kind of retro hipster cred, the film doesn't really do anything with the VHS format other than give it an excuse for looking crappy. The guys in the wraparound segment could've just as easily been looking for a DVD or a hidden computer file (which also begs the question of why someone possessing enough tech savvy to Skype is saving sessions on a VHS tape). The web site Bloody Disgusting co-produced, which means it and its visitors have likely already declared V/H/S a masterpiece of horror, but there's very little here worth getting excited about. (R, 116 mins)

(US/Canada - 2012)

The controversial 1984 Santa slasher SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT was no one's idea of a classic horror film, but even it's better than this miserable and pointlessly vulgar remake.  Sure, there's no shortage of splatter with its incredibly gory killings, so if that's all you're after, you won't be disappointed.  And fans of the original will find a couple of restaged scenes here (no, they didn't forget the antler impaling), but it's so terribly written, directed, and acted that it's impossible to care.  There's no scares, and the many snarky attempts at humor fall flat.  Jaime King stars as a small-town Wisconsin deputy sheriff in pursuit of a killer Santa on Christmas Eve, the same night that the town has their annual Santa parade and everyone in town is dressed up like St. Nick.  The legendary Malcolm McDowell continues to call the need for his ongoing SAG membership into question as the hard-nosed, British-accented sheriff who gets the film's worst lines.  I think most of his dialogue is meant to be funny, like the sheriff is overly gung-ho about finally having a real case, but McDowell is so miscast and out of place that the joke, if indeed that's what it's meant to be, falls flat.  It's like the filmmakers are trying to make him some kind of David Caruso/CSI: MIAMI quipster, but maybe that's giving them too much credit.  Regarding the on-the-loose serial killer, McDowell growls "He can run...but he can't hide."  And later, during the parade, he declares "He's a wolf in sheep's clothing...hiding in plain sight."  When told his thoughts on the killer's motives don't make sense, he ominously proclaims "Murder seldom does."  All that's missing is this.  Everything's calculated well in advance and you know who'll get killed.  And when one topless woman runs past a conveniently-positioned wood chipper, is there any doubt she'll soon be sprayed out of it?  There's a red herring subplot involving a coke dealer and a porn ring that goes nowhere, and Donal Logue is embarrassingly bad as a cynical Bad Santa type who's the chief suspect. Director Steven C. Miller drenches the climax in garish red and green lighting that gives you an idea of what a Dario Argento Christmas special might look like, but it's far too little, way too late.  Under the circumstances, King turns in an acceptable performance that seems to belong in a better movie, but aside from her and the brief Argento shout-out, absolutely nothing works in this holiday fiasco.  I realize working actors go where the work is, but after this and SILENT HILL: REVELATION,  Malcolm McDowell can't possibly be this desperate for a gig.  (R, 94 mins)

(US - 2012)

It's not altogether successful, but there's enough promising ingredients contained within this low-budget Missouri-shot indie fright flick to make debuting writer/director Padraig Reynolds a genre filmmaker to watch.  There's a genuine unpredictability to the film and it's interesting to watch it play out and see how the seemingly disparate elements ultimately converge.  Sure, there's contrived plot conveniences and a couple of plot holes, and an abrupt ending signifies Reynolds' presumptuous intention of making this a franchise, but taken on its own terms, there's a lot more ingenuity going on here than in most slasher films of this sort.  Rachel (Anessa Ramsey) and her friend Alyssa (Hannah Bryan) are abducted outside a small-town bar by a stranger (veteran character actor Marco St. John, a longtime fixture in New Orleans-based films going back to his role as the killer in the 1984 Clint Eastwood film TIGHTROPE) and taken to a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, where the stranger has newspaper clippings on a wall detailing area disappearances going back 24 years.  The stranger ties them up and drains Alyssa's blood, dropping her into a hidden crawlspace under a barn, while babbling something about how "it must be done...it's the rites of Spring."  Meanwhile, a quartet of kidnappers led by the violent Paul (Sonny Marinelli) and the hesitant, kindly Ben (AJ Bowen) barge into the home of rich businessman Hayden (James Bartz), taking his daughter (Skyler Page Burke) and her nanny Jessica (Sarah Pachelli) and demanding $2 million in two hours, and Paul kills Mrs. Hayden (Shanna Forrestal) to prove that he's serious.  They proceed to hide out at an abandoned school.

Of course, the two plots will eventually come together, but even more intriguing is the way Reynolds establishes connections between the various parties beforehand.  And I haven't even mentioned what's in the barn crawlspace:  a monstrous, unnamed killer listed in the credits as Worm Face (Amile Wilson and John Evenden share credit), who ceaselessly pursues the tough, resilient Rachel as she flees the farmhouse and makes her way to...you guessed it...the abandoned school where some serious kidnapping shit is going down.  What starts as some sort of WICKER MAN-type sacrifice film becomes a kidnapping thriller and eventually a slasher film as Worm Face chases everyone around the darkened corridors of the empty school, offing them one by one.  It's a very effective location and Reynolds does a nice job of keeping the audience on its toes and paying attention for its furiously-paced 80-minute run time.  Worm Face is a relentless killing machine and unlike a lot of the iconic slashers of the past, he doesn't play games or walk slowly in pursuit.  He appears out of nowhere and barrels into a room at full sprint, decapitating and disemboweling people before they even realize what's going on.  Anything can happen and anyone can be killed at any moment in RITES OF SPRING.  It doesn't totally hang together (these people live in this town and are unaware of 24 years worth of unexplained disappearances?), some of the performances are shaky (Bartz, in particular, is awful), and Reynolds probably should've been more concerned with making a self-contained, stand-alone film rather than going into it as the first in a series (he even deliberately leaves important plot points dangling--a mistake).  But there's an inventiveness to this story and an undeniable panache in the way it's told and flaws and all, it's not one to simply dismiss as yet another slasher movie.  (Unrated, 80 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

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