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23rd
AUG

The Devil’s Backbone

Posted by Player under Horror

The Devil's BackboneUndoubtedly Guillermo del Toro’s best film, The Devil’s Backbone is an engaging thriller that features both a good story and interesting characters.

The story is set in a country side orphanage in which the sons of communist rebels are taken in while their fathers partake in the Spanish Civil War. The newly arrived Carlos, is a reasonably bright boy who immediately falls prey to the older Jaime. But whatever conflict the boys have, is but minor due to the real turmoil that is building all around them, namely the spirit of the one who sighs, Santi. The dead Santi takes an interest in Carlos and while the adult world does not acknowledge the dead spirit, Carlos knows that there is no denying the spirit world and its connection to everything. He soon seeks out Santi if for no other reason but to understand his own surroundings.

If Santi is the supernatural, then Dr. Caseras and the Lady Carmen are science and reason. The old doctor helps explain to the boys the world from both a logical and artistic view, he is their stern, but fair father, while Lady Carmen is the rule of law, obedience and the necessity of survival. The two try to shelter the boys from war, but there is no hiding the loss and damage that the war has done to them all, from Lady Carmen’s amputated leg, to the boy’s separation from their family, the war will take its toll on all. In the end, the boys are to be abandoned, and only what their surrogate father and mother taught them will help them survive.

The Devil’s Backbone is not an action film like Hellboy or Blade 2, but it is nonetheless a very good film with superb acting, and it is Guillermo del Toro’s best work.

5 out 5 stars

23rd

Van Helsing

Posted by Player under Horror

Van HelsingHugh Jackman is back again, but not as the grumpy Wolverine of X-Men fame, this time he’s a monster hunter in what is being called Universal’s tribute to its classic monster flicks. I had jokenly referred to this movie as The Mummy Returns 2, before I had a chance to see it, and honestly it was actually better than The Mummy Returns, but we will get to that in a minute.

Van Helsing is essentially a servant of The Vatican’s secret order that protects humanity against evil. For his deeds, he is openly hated by most of Europe who sees him as nothing but a murderer. On his most current mission he is to go to Transylvania and help the last surviving members of a clan that has sworned to kill Dracula in order to save their entire family from purgatory. Helsing arrives with his trusty new sidekick Friar Carl, who is also his weapons maker. He meets the beautiful gypsy looking Anna Valerious, played by Kate Beckinsale, who by the way looks much more attractive as a human, than as a vampire in Underworld. They are of course greeted by Dracula’s three evil vampire brides who try to kill Anna. After this the story starts to deepen, along with some frights and fast paced action of course.

The film still seems rather rushed in some scenes, but it is nowhere near the chase style of The Mummy Returns. Given that the film is over two hours long and that you hardly notice it, most people will actually really like this film if they are into monster movies that have a touch of comedy and which are not too full of themselves. As a kid I grew up on the local station’s Spengooli Monster Movie show, which is similar to Elvira, but with a cooky looking guy. Spengooli regularly passed such classic black&white Universal movies as Dracula and The Bride of Frankenstein. Van Helsing is a sort of modern tribute to those films but with computer enhanced graphics and of course color, instead of black&white film, though I kind of wished they would have stuck to black&white.

Besides Kate Beckinsale’s lovely figure and strikingly perfect face, the one thing that really makes this film come alive is the soundtrack and score. The music is classic monster movie and it is as loud as the lightning bolts on top of the castle tower. The score breathes not only life into action scenes, like Helsing’s horse carriage escape, but also quadruples the scare in scenes that make you jump out of your chair! I know I even felt my heart stop a couple of times, so make sure you take a girlfriend, cause she will definitely be scared in a few scenes.

I hope Van Helsing makes Universal rethink their films and make more movies with silly monsters and comedic characters instead of Underworld. Sure vampires are sexy and evil, but they should be fun too. I love The Matrix Trilogy, but enough with the seriousness! It was fun to watch a movie that was completely ridiculous and yet entertaining, and it reminded me of why I want to go to the theater in the first place: for a good scare and even better laugh.

3.5 out 5 stars

22nd
AUG

Aliens SE

Posted by Player under Horror

Aliens (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)One of the most unique films of all time has to be Alien. The first film set the stage for a series of films that essentially made the human species the unwilling prey to a new terrifying alien species, known only as aliens. It also catapulted Sigourney Weaver as one of the best known actresses of all time. For Aliens, director Cameron had his own take on the Alien theme and turned a sci-fi horror film into a highly successful action sci-fi film in its own right. The latest Aliens SE DVD features both the theatrical version of Aliens and the intended director’s cut. For this review I sat down and watched all 2 hours and 37 minutes of the film Cameron intended for us to see and needless to saw I was not disappointed.

The director’s cut starts out in space with Ripley (Weaver) in frozen state as her ship is by chance rescued by a salvage team. Most of this footage is interesting as it starts the film in a slow progression. Ripley later wakes up several times, horrified by dreams of the aliens and her own psychological trauma. All of this shows a desparate Ripley, a woman who has lost everything including herself. This is what makes it more believable then when she signs on to be a consultant on a return mission to the planet where they found the alien.

Meanwhile on the alien’s planet, we see the actual colonial terra farmers and meet Newt’s family as they encounter their first alien. Newt is the blond girl Rebecca whose trademark scream is heard at various times through out the action scenes in the film. The extra footage makes Newt’s character more believable and more sympthatic I think. There is also a link which Cameron was trying to make between an orphaned daughter and a guilty Ripley who was not there for her own daughter.

The action begins when Ripley, the company’s rep, the android Bishop, and the space marines land and find themselves in the middle of something stranger than fiction. There are tunnel fight scenes, your classic medical lab scene, and of course the “they got us surrounded, run for it” scenes.

But most of all what comes out of Aliens, is the idea that humans can be hunted, that we could be at the bottom of the food chain instead of on the top. The aliens are insect-like creatures but whose size is even bigger than most humans, and their aims are not to eat us but to use us as incubators for their hosts stage of development. In a sense all the fear of insect bites but on a whole new level of emotional trauma.

As humans, we don’t react well to being hunted and the entire expidetion comes down with serious emotional trauma issues on top of their physical wounds and it is only Ripley’s clear head that ends up saving her above the rest.

The final scenes have Ripley fighting the Queen Alien till the death. A match which can only take place after Ripley has destroyed the Queen’s children as vengeance for the loss of her own daughter and comrades.

In the end Ripley will die, but in this film, she wins the battle and is set to fly home the injured marine Hicks, her adopted daughter Newt, and her damaged android Bishop.

The Video and Audio is excellent for a film of this age. I found the DVD to be brighter which is good considering that the alien is usually always shown in dark light. You have the option of seeing either the Director’s Cut or the Theatrical Release on the first disc and both versions are presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround.

In conclusion I’m sure some people will disregard Aliens as either not being as good as Alien or as a film that glorifies mindless action, but after watching the director’s cut, it is pretty obvious that Aliens is about a woman dealing with the ordeal of trying to regain her identity after suffering a trauma which haunts even her dreams.

5 out 5 stars

19th
AUG

The Descent

Posted by Player under Horror

The DescentOne of the best films released during the 2006 summer season is undoubtedly, The Descent. An engaging horror film that delivers strong characters against the backdrop of dark underground caverns and of course scary looking creatures. Writer/director Neil Marshall delivers another interesting horror film, but this time instead of commandos fighting werewolves like in his prior film, Dog Soldiers, this time Marshall features an all female cast. The Descent starts out with the story of Sarah who has just lost her husband and daughter in a terrible crash. One year after Sarah’s loss, she travels to the United States to go on a cave exploration trip with her friends. However Sarah is still not recovered from her tragedy and seems to have some emotional instability because of it. Once the women descend into the cave, they find themselves trapped and lost, but they manage to keep it together and try to figure a way out. But they are not alone, as Sarah suspects, and as the women come face to face with the cave’s creatures, they begin to learn more about themselves than they bargained for.

As a horror film, The Descent is not terribly frightening. Due to the strong characters and the film’s accurate depiction of cave exploration, it is incredibly suspenseful, and some might even call it less a horror film and more an action film. What is most fascinating is that this is really a female action film that works on multiple levels. Unlike recent action films that depict women as comic book action heroes, Sarah seems like your average woman in her early thirties. She’s smart, athletic, and a little emotionally unstable at times and the film is really about how she handles the crisis. Other than the monsters in the cave, the film is pretty believable and is perhaps one of the best portrayals of women in a horror film since Aliens.

4.5 out 5 stars