October 27, 2010

Little Erin Merryweather (2003)

I’VE NEVER BEEN DRAWN TO independent horror films. To me, “indie horror” covers such a broad range of quality in terms of both production value and storytelling…and in my limited exposure to indie horror flicks, usually one or both of those areas have been sorely lacking.

But when I saw the trailer for the indie release Little Erin Merryweather, something about it convinced me to take a chance…

A series of murders shakes up a sleepy New England college. The killer, dressed in a Red Riding Hood cape and cowl, guts her victims and replaces their internal organs with rocks. Watching the local police get nowhere, three students on the school paper – Peter (David Morwick), Teddy (R. Brandon Johnson), and Sean (Marcus Bonnée) – decide to investigate the killings, armed with the learnings from their behavioral sciences professor (Elizabeth Callahan), who is also a former profiler.


With Little Erin Merryweather, multi-hat wearer Morwick (who wrote, directed, edited, and stars) has given us an original horror film where the killer is 1) a female who preys on men, in a nice little gender-flip; and 2) revealed to the viewer early in the story, but whose identity remains a mystery to the characters.

Regarding elements of the film Morwick didn’t handle: Paul Cristo’s score perfectly matches the atmosphere and storyline as he alternates haunting strings with child-like music box arrangements. And cinematographer Michael Marius Pessah beautifully captures the wooded, snow-covered surroundings of the campus, in addition to picking the right shots to rack up the tension (the opening chase between Erin and her first victim is especially well-shot and edited).

Ironically, the occasional weak link in Little Erin Merryweather is Erin herself, actress Vigdis Anholt. She has very little dialogue, which means we rely on her actions for character development. Unfortunately, those actions (aside from slicing up students) consist of several melodramatic glares and stares at potential victims.

Little Erin Merryweather takes the standard slasher formula, throws in a helping of serial killer profiling, and offers a fresh, unique experience – yet one that also made me nostalglic for the slasher-film heyday of the late ’70 and early ‘80s. It also rises above the typical pitfalls of indie film, especially indie horror: It's a professionally shot, well-acted, compelling little gem.


Is it suitable for your kids?
While Little Erin Merryweather spills very little blood on-screen, there are multiple stabbings accompanied by very visceral sound effects. There is also a fair share of profanities, and the topic of sexual abuse is brought up at times as part of Erin’s backstory. Merryweather is fine for teens to see, but use your own discretion for any tweeners in your audience.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Little Erin Merryweather is a neat little film that often comes off as more thriller than horror. If she likes scary movies but isn’t big on gore, this could make for an enjoyable option.

I've heard about cracking down on late fees, but this is ridiculous.

Little Erin Merryweather
* Director: David Morwick
* Screenwriter: David Morwick
* Stars: David Morwick, R. Brandon Johnson, Marcus Bonnée, Elizabeth Callahan, Vigdis Anholt
* MPAA Rating: R

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October 21, 2010

Last House on the Left (2009)

I KNOW THAT Wes Craven’s 1972 film The Last House on the Left is heralded as a classic by many horror buffs, and it even has a fan in legendary critic Roger Ebert.

But for me, the original Last House is an odd blend of truly terrifying scenes juxtaposed with hippy-dippy interludes that somewhat dilute the tension Craven had successfully created. In my opinion, the reputation of Last House as a horror classic is more powerful than the film itself.

Fast-forward to 2009, and amongst the sea of McRemakes that have been flooding our theaters lately, there came a new version of Last House on the Left


The wholesome, well-to-do Collingwood family – dad John (Ghost’s Tony Goldwyn), mom Emma (Monica Potter), and teenage daughter Mari (Sara Paxton) – head to their huge summer house on Heavily Wooded, Winding Road With No Neighbors And The Nearest Town Is 20 Minutes Away Lane.

In town, Mari and her friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac) meet shy, brooding teenager Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), who innocently invites them to smoke weed with him in his motel room. Soon, the girls are introduced to the rest of Justin’s family: dad Krug (Garret Dillahunt), uncle Frank (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul), and Krug’s girlfriend Sadie (Riki Lindhome).

Since Krug and his cronies are on the front page of the local papers for murdering two policemen, he decides they can’t risk letting the girls go. But when the girls try to escape, their captors quickly become their torturers – beating, stabbing, and raping the girls before leaving them for dead.

Later that night, Krug’s crew stops for help during a thunderstorm at, by sheer coincidence, the home of Mari’s parents. Initially neither group knows the other has a tie to Mari, but that soon changes – and it becomes a violent battle for escape, survival, and revenge.


Last House on the Left is the second Craven remake I’ve seen that has, on some level, improved on the original. (While no masterpiece, 2006's The Hills Have Eyes was much more harrowing and brutal than Craven’s 1977 version.)

I felt a bit uncomfortable during the first half of Last House, both in knowing what fate awaited the girls and then having to witness it. But the second half of the film – after John and Emma realize who Krug and company are and what they did to Mari – kept me glued to the screen until the credits rolled.

Sharone Meir’s cinematography and the musical score by John Murphy give Last House an atmosphere of mainstream drama rather than horror film, which makes the violence and terror that unfolds much more realistic – and possibly hitting too close to home, both literally for the Collingwood family and figuratively for the viewer.

Just like the original, Last House on the Left explores how the allegedly civilized can become the savages, either out of pure survival or brutal vengeance. And much like Craven’s 1972 effort, I would hardly call this version a classic. But it built and improved on the original, it entertained me, and I was exhilarated when John and Emma start extracting revenge on Krug and his crew.

Is it suitable for your kids?
That would be a big fat no. Last House on the Left contains a slew of bloody shootings, stranglings, stabbings, and bludgeonings, as well as a graphic, lengthy rape scene, a close-up of a broken nose being stitched, and an over-the-top death by microwave. There are also several topless scenes courtesy of Lindhome, and Justin and the girls smoke weed in his motel room.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Last House on the Left is tough to watch regardless of gender, but I would think that the violence and sexual assaults on the girls would turn off many female viewers.

Bottle of white / Bottle of red / Perhaps a bottle upside your head…

Last House on the Left
* Director: Dennis Iliadis
* Screenwriters: Adam Alleca, Carl Ellsworth
* Stars: Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Sara Paxton, Martha MacIsaac, Spencer Treat Clark, Garret Dillahunt, Aaron Paul, Riki Lindhome
* MPAA Rating: R

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October 11, 2010

Heavy Metal (1981)

I REMEMBER BEING twelve years old at the beach house my parents rented in the summer of ’81 and seeing a commercial on TV for an animated movie…but it sure wasn’t from Disney.

It involved a crazy blend of science fiction, fantasy worlds, and a sword-wielding woman warrior who rode atop a giant bird. It was called Heavy Metal.

Okay, I thought, I am gonna love this. I can’t wait to go see it…

Wait, what? It’s rated R? A cartoon movie? How is that possible?


Based on stories and characters from the long-running sci-fi/fantasy magazine, Heavy Metal ties together six vignettes through the presence of the Loc-Nar, “the sum of all evils” – a large, glowing green jewel that, while desired by those who seek it, destroys their lives once they possess it.

Stories include:
  • “Harry Canyon” – a noir-ish tale set in near-future New York City featuring a cabbie, a girl, gangsters, and money.
  • “Den” – a nobody nerd from Earth gets transported to another world and transformed into a strong, brave warrior.
  • “Captain Sternn” – a smug, disgraced officer, on trial for a litany of heinous crimes, thinks he’ll get off because he bribed a witness. Guess again.
  • “B-17” – a bomber plane suffers heavy damage in battle, but it gets worse when the Loc-Nar comes on board.
  • “So Beautiful and So Dangerous” – two drugged-out alien slackers and a horndog robot attack the Pentagon and abduct a cute secretary.
  • “Taarna” – a female warrior seeks revenge against a race of mutant barbarians who have slaughtered the entire population of a peaceful city.


In terms of the storytelling, Heavy Metal’s two best segments are its shortest: “Captain Sternn” and “B-17.” Watching Sternn’s paid-off witness turn wildly, violently against him is both funny and exciting, while “B-17” (written by legendary sci-fi author Dan O’Bannon) has the eerie feel of a story from the old EC Comics or Creepshow films.

The last story, “Taarna,” is probably the one most identified with the film. It’s the longest story and, probably not coincidentally, the least exciting. While it does have its moments – the bar fight between Taarna and three mutant barbarians, and her climactic clash against their leader, are both pretty bad-ass – it gets bogged down in extended scenes of Taarna flying on her giant bird, swimming nude, and slowly donning her skimpy armor (all while the people she’s setting out to protect are being killed, I might add).

In today’s age of amazing CGI animation, it’s easy to be jaded against old 2-D animation like Heavy Metal. But even for 2-D, the film’s animation quality is iffy and sub-par on several occasions, though other times it’s impressive in its style and scope.

Despite its title, Heavy Metal has a decidedly un-metal soundtrack, featuring songs by Journey, Stevie Nicks, and Devo next to Nazareth and Black Sabbath. But it’s still a great compilation, and it turned me on to the music of Sammy Hagar, Blue Oyster Cult, and Ronnie James Dio-era Sabbath.

I watched Heavy Metal countless times as a young adult. My buddies and I, during my college-age years, would pop it in the VCR while downing a few brews, enjoying it in a group environment. And surely, I had a better time watching Heavy Metal with my friends when I was 20 and rocking a good buzz, rather than the way I watched it for this review: alone in my living room, in my early 40s, sober, while my family was asleep.

Despite generous amounts of science fiction, horror, boobs, gore, and more boobs, Heavy Metal is uneven in its storytelling and animation quality. But if you’re a guy, it’ll appeal to your inner 14-year-old, and it’s worth seeing at least once. (Avoid the awful sequel Heavy Metal 2000.)

Jeff over at Dinner with Max Jenke summed up Heavy Metal almost perfectly in his comment on my teaser post for this review: Heavy Metal doesn’t hold up very well, but to boys (now men) of my generation, it will always have a special place in our hearts.

* Heavy Metal co-screenwriter Len Blum also wrote Howard Stern’s biopic Private Parts.
* The boys at South Park do an awesome send-up of Heavy Metal in the episode, “Major Boobage.” Check it out here.
* For the last couple of years, there’s been rumblings of a new Heavy Metal film being developed, featuring segments by A-list directors such as David Fincher, Guillermo del Toro, Zack Snyder, and Gore Verbinski. Here’s hoping…

Is it suitable for your kids?
Negatory. Despite being an animated feature, Heavy Metal includes gobs of nudity, sexual situations, graphic violence, drug use, and profanity. (The irony here is that Heavy Metal is rated R, but middle-school boys are its target audience.)

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Since the whole Heavy Metal universe revolves around male adolescent fantasy, I’m guessing no…unless she’s big into sci-fi/fantasy adventures.

Um...was it something I ogled?

Heavy Metal
* Director: Gerald Potterton
* Screenwriters: Dan Goldberg, Len Blum
* Stars: John Candy, Rodger Bumpass, Richard Romanus, Harold Ramis, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy
* MPAA Rating: R

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