Otis (2008)

Tony Krantz

Bostin Christopher - Otis Broth
Ashley Johnson - Riley Lawson
Daniel Stern - Will Lawson
Illeana Douglas - Kate Lawson
Kevin Pollak - Elmo Broth
Jere Burns - Agent Hotchkiss
Jared Kusnitz - Reed Lawson

Genre - Horror/Comedy

Running Time - 100 Minutes

Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4

PLOT - OTIS is about a big pizza delivery dude of the same name (Bostin Christopher) who likes to kidnap teenage girls and then imprisoning them in some cell near his home. Otis seems to have this sick and creepy fascination calling all his victims "Kim", forcing them to act out all these weird High School fantasies with them, such as going on movie dates and taking them to prom. If these girls refuse to play Otis' game, they end up "disappearing" in different ways. Even with the "support" of his brother Elmo (Kevin Pollak) who doesn't know what Otis is really up to, Otis still continues his sick game.

Otis' latest victim is a girl he meets during one of his delivery runs named Riley (Ashley Johnson). Needing another Kim, Otis kidnaps her on her way to school and makes Riley his new "Kim". Her parents (Daniel Stern & Illeana Douglas), along with her brother Reed (Jared Kusnitz) worry for her safety, but are being "helped" by an FBI agent (Jere Burns) who seems to be more interested in being famous than actually solving cases. After a few days, Riley manages to escape when Otis becomes careless, returning to the safety of the outside world. Now wanting revenge, Riley's parents plan to torture Otis like he tortured their daughter. Unfortunately, they torture the wrong man, making them realize that it's only a matter of time that Otis finishes his "prom date" with "Kim".


STORY - OTIS is supposed to be a satire on the rent crop of "torture porn" flicks like SAW, HOSTEL, and CAPTIVITY. For the most part, the story works. I do think the film could have been edgier and almost "torture porn" like with the "Kim" situations, but that really wasn't the point of OTIS, was it? While I still have an issue with that, the story is still surprisingly strong and very amusing. I dig dark comedies alot and I dug OTIS. Writer Erik Jendresen did a nice job making the whole "torture porn" aspect of the film seem uncomfortable, yet silly at the same time. And once Riley escapes, the film turns into a full-blown comedy. Not in a "ha-ha" sort of way, but in a "I understand how that goes" way. The characters are very silly, but in ways in that they're almost very human as well. I can actually imagine a family like the Lawsons existing in real life - same goes to the Broth family. They're not caricatures of people. They react in realistic ways, although they're in a ridiculous situation. I think people expect OTIS to be serious because most "torture porn" flicks are serious. But when was the last time we've seen these films in that light? Hell, I couldn't even watch the last SAW flick without thinking how stupid that franchise has become. So to see someone take the time to actually make fun of it was very refreshing. It should have been more brutal to match the "torture porn" flicks that we usually see, but you can't have it all.

I also have an issue with the ending. It was just really silly and felt like a last minute idea. In the Special Features of the DVD, there's an alternate ending that is actually a whole lot better than the actual one. It's much stronger, more effective, and actually kind of funny in a sick way. That ending should have been in the final cut.

DIRECTION - Tony Krantz does a really nice job with the film. The editing is tight. The pacing is extremely well done. It's not a visually stunning film, but it's just right for a film like OTIS. I think the film Otis filmed with all the "Kim"s was actually really funny and clever, splicing things together to make it seem these girls actually wanted him. It was a low budget film but never really looked like one. That's some good direction.

VIOLENCE/SEX/LANGUAGE [aka THE GOOD STUFF] - There is definitely violence in this film. People get killed in vicious ways and there's blood seen. Teenage girls get slapped around by Otis. It's never extreme but I wouldn't let children watch this one. The sex was milder, although there is a handjob scene that doesn't last all that long [*snickers*]. And there is sexual inneundos and harsh language as well. Definitely an R-rated film.

ACTING - Probably the best part of OTIS was the fantastic acting. I totally believed Bostin Christopher as Otis. Dude was creepy as hell and seemed like one of those people you'd look at and go, "Yep. That dude is a serial killer." He could be sweet as hell one moment, and then vicious the next. Plus he had some nice emotional scenes as well. Very nice performance and I can't believe this is his first major role. Where has this guy been? Ashley Johnson, who played the younger sister on Growing Pains, is very hot and a very good actress. She was totally natural as Riley, as I felt her confusion and frustration throughout the entire film. I liked her "final girl" performance alot, as she brought a lot of charm to the role. Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas were very funny as the parents. Their constant arguments over every single thing never got old. In fact, they got funnier as it went along. Still at the same time, you can tell the two characters loved each other. Great acting there. Jere Burns played such an asshole of an FBI agent that I actually liked him alot. He played the biggest dickhead I haven't seen in quite a while. His character really shouldn't have been as interesting as it was, but Burns took it to another level. Kevin Pollak pretty much had a cameo as Otis' brother. He was very funny in the role though we barely knew much about him. And Jared Kusnitz played Riley's brother, who seemed to be as vindictive as Otis. Very sarcastic and funny performance. The acting probably made the film better than it should have been.

MUSIC - From Quiet Riot, to The B-52s, to A Flock of Seagulls, to Talking Heads - I was in HEAVEN! I love all the music used here. It made the film quirkier and very upbeat. This is a soundtrack worth owning.

was a surprise because I didn't expect to enjoy this one all that much. But I really did and find it to be one of the better horror films of 2008. It's a very smart, witty, and pretty funny satire of a sub-genre that we're all pretty much over at this point. Definitely rental if you haven't seen it. Hell, I'll probably buy it at some point. It's not perfect but it does more than enough to entertain. And sometimes, that's all that really matters.

NyMpha (2007)

Ivan Zuccon

Tiffany Shepis - Sarah
Alessandra Guerzoni - Mother Superior
Michael Segal - Marco
Francesco Primavera - Dr. Bellini

Genre - Horror/Religious Thriller

Running Time - 92 Minutes

Score - 2.5 Howls Outta 4

PLOT - Sarah (Tiffany Shepis) joins a convent run by some really weird nuns in Italy to forget a dark past and focus on her communion with God. Once Sarah starts to get comfortable with her new life and surroundings, she suddenly has visions of horrible rape, incest, and murder. The nuns seem to know everytime Sarah seems to have these visions, punishing her for them. And when I say punishing, I mean gouging out her eyes, burning her hands, and cutting out her tongue. Let's not forget the whole emotional and mental trauma the visions and the punishments are adding on top of that. So what's going on? Why is Sarah having visions about a girl named Nimfa? What is this convent really?


STORY - NYMPHA is an interesting film that starts out as a nunploitation flick, but ends up turning into a ghost story/religious thriller. It's one of those films that's more focused on HOW things came to be instead of WHO was behind these things. The sub-plot involving Nimfa and her horrible life is pretty much the focus and it's an interesting one, sure. But the problem is that the flashbacks and Sarah's dealing with this information through her visions don't really relate all that much. I never got a sense of connection between what was happening to Nimfa and what happened to Sarah other than the torturing. Was Sarah living the same way as Nimfa? Did they share similar experiences? If we knew more about Sarah and her reasons for being in that convent to begin with, maybe the visions would have been more effective. In fact, watching NYMPHA made me realize that the whole Sarah sub-plot wouldn't have been needed to even tell most of the film's story. I'm not saying the story sucked, because it didn't. But it could have been more powerful and more cohesive than it actually was.

DIRECTION - Zuccon does a decent job, but it's obvious he was overly ambitious with this project [which he also produced, wrote, and edited]. But then again, over-ambition is better than being lazy, so kudos for that. The film looked a step-above from low-budget and it was shot well. I thought the back-and-forth storytelling was good. The pacing was a bit off during the middle of the film and kind of lost me at how uninteresting it was getting, but at least it picked up towards the end. Not a horrible directorial job but I've seen better.

VIOLENCE/SEX/LANGUAGE [aka THE GOOD STUFF] - People getting murdered and tortured were highlights. The effects were pretty well done as well, as I was convinced Sarah was physically tortured by these nuns. We get the usual Tiffany Shepis naked spot within 10 minutes of the film. We also get a short lesbian scene between Shepis and the actress playing Nimfa. We also got some foul language but nothing compared to the violence and the sex.

ACTING - Tiffany Shepis is actually very good here as Sarah. She's mainly known for her curvacious body and her lack of qualms for going nude. But Shepis is given more material here where she can actually show some emotion and allow herself to branch out to show everyone that not only is she beautiful, but she can act as well. I liked her here alot. The other actors were very good as well. The acting was probably the film's strongest suit, because I have no complaints about it.

MUSIC - Very subtle gothic score that I won't remember anytime soon. Hell, I have trouble remembering it now.

NYMPHA is a slow-paced horror/thriller that's not gonna be appreciated by everyone. It's one of those films where you need to be patient in order to somewhat understand what's going on. If you're a Tiffany Shepis fan, you probably already seen this one. If you haven't, check it out. For everyone else, I think it's worth at least a look but you'll either like or you won't.


Saw V (2008)

David Hackl

Tobin Bell - John Kramer/Jigsaw
Costas Mandylor - Detective Mark Hoffman
Scott Patterson - Agent Peter Strahm
Betsy Russell - Jill Tuck
Julie Benz - Brit
Greg Bryk - Mallick
Meagan Good - Luba

Genre - Horror/"Torture Porn"

Running Time - 88 Minutes

Score - 2 Howls Outta 4

When SAW V was released this past weekend, I wasn't excited about it. Let's face the facts - the fifth installments of many big horror franchises usually disappoint and are just plain awful. Don't believe me? Check this out:

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING - Many fans consider this to be the worst entry in the long running franchise. Why? Because it should have never been made, especially when the entry before it was deemed FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER. Paramount Studios got everyone's hopes up thinking Jason Voorhees would return after getting butchered. But noooo...let's put a fake Jason doing the killing instead! That'll make the fans happy! Unfortunately it doesn't work, giving us a mystery that can be solved fifteen minutes into the film. Plus when you have the most annoying characters in the franchise's history, things are gonna go sour. If I ever see Violet [a.k.a. Robot Girl] again, I'm gonna pop and lock her ass into submission.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 5: THE DREAM CHILD - Here's a film that had a really interesting and mature theme that could have made this movie a highlight in the franchise. Instead, these mature ideas are tossed aside for horrible dream sequences [Super Freddy anyone?] and a Freddy Krueger that's no more than a shell of what he used to be in the previous installments. Plus other than "final girl" Alice, the characters weren't worth the paper they were idealized and written on.

HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS - Probably the biggest disappointment of them all. THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS ended with a great conclusion that could have led to very interesting installments. Instead, fans were given the shaft when they pussied out of that ending - instead giving us a horrible storyline where Michael Myers is psychically linked to his neice, Jamie Lloyd, while some Man In Black follows him around like a love sick puppy. And let's not forget that horrible looking mask, bad direction, and a character named Tina that deserves to burn in the pits of Hell for all eternity.

There are so many other fifth installments I could mention here, but you get my drift. So coming into seeing SAW V, I went in with low expectations. And the funny thing is that those expectations were pretty much met. SAW V is as pointless as SAW IV, but I can say at least that it could have been a lot worse.

Continuing from SAW III and SAW IV, we watch Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) struggle with escaping the location where Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) died as Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), who was revealed in SAW IV to be Jigsaw's secret apprentice, has him trapped there. Strahm has to survive a supposedly unescapable trap if he wants to escape. Being crafty, Strahm manages to outsmart the trap and barely escapes with his life intact.

As Strahm deals with his own trauma, Hoffman is congratulated and promoted for tracking down Jigsaw and solving the case. But once he's able to finally relax, Hoffman receives a note that says "I know who you are". Now rattled this cover may be blown, Hoffman must figure out who knows his true identity. Is it Strahm? Is it Jigsaw's ex-wife, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), who recently received a box from Jigsaw telling her what to do with the contents inside? Or is it someone else entirely?

Meanwhile, five people wake up to find that they're all chained together as some sort of Jigsaw trap. Apparently they've all been privileged and pretty much used it to ruin others, now having to suffer through "rehabilitation" in order to find their way to survive.

Yeah, this film is as interesting as it sounds.

While I was expecting worse, SAW V still fails on many levels. Like I've said countless times before, it's not needed and it makes me wonder how much longer can Lionsgate extend a franchise that was perfectly fine as a trilogy. Nothing in this film really adds all that much to the narrative and has proven that the SAW franchise lost all the unpredictability and originality that made it so powerful and effective to begin with. Yet, I was never bored nor did I hate the film to give it a lower score. It was just a mediocre SAW film, which is something a SAW film should never be.

I will give credit to Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, who wrote the horror film FEAST. While the script was as predictable as they come, at least the film was easier to follow than the mess that was SAW IV. While there are multiple sub-plots, at least they all made sense in their own segments. The strongest one, of course, was the Jigsaw-Hoffman flashbacks, which detailed how the two encountered each other and led to Hoffman's recruitment. That's mainly because it's hard to screw with a character like John Kramer and since we're already invested in him, any scenes he's in take priority. I don't feel these flashbacks are necessary really, but at least they were written well.

Even the sub-plot with the five trapped characters is interesting, mainly because that's the only time where the film actually feels like a SAW flick. It actually reminded me of SAW II, where the victims had a common link to each other and through surviving traps was when it would all be revealed. While it's not as involved or as exciting as the narrative in II, at least it was kept simple and to the point so you can be invested in it somehow.

The script does have its problems though. My biggest beef is that the film focused on two characters that have no right carrying any horror film, let alone any film. Having SAW V focus on the most boring conflict of good vs. evil [Strahm vs. Hoffman] pretty much ruins any enjoyment one should have with this film. These two people are dull and not worth investing time into. I still don't understand why these two are the main characters in this "new SAW trilogy". How do you go from interesting characters like Jigsaw, Amanda, Detective Matthews, Dr. Lawrence Gordon, Detective Kerry, etc., to underwritten characters like the ones we have now? And to have these two men carry this storyline is a terrible injustice for any SAW fan. It's bizarre to me.

I also found that the sub-plots didn't work together as well as they should have. They just didn't have a cohesive feel and I was wondering if SAW V was really three different movies in one. It kind of all came together at the end, but not enough for it to really be effective.

And the ending that "you won't believe how it ends" was kind of disappointing. It just shows how badly written certain characters are when one of them ends up being the biggest dumbass in a span of 3 minutes. I couldn't believe how much viewers had to be forced to invest in such a stupid fuck of a character for two films. And as for a twist, the only twist I got was that I was ripped off 12 bucks to watch this and that there will be another sequel. Sigh...

The traps in SAW V are probably the tamest of all the traps in this franchise. They were really old school and traps I would expect to see a magician in Las Vegas use to wow the crowd. They sort of came across as unoriginal, but I still kind of liked them nonetheless. The pendulum bit was kind of cool, as well as the water box trap, the trap that involved pints of blood to release the survivors, and the final trap right at the end [as much as I disliked the actual ending, at least the visuals for it were pretty cool]. Gore hounds probably won't be into this one as they are in the other installments, but I didn't mind it all that much.

The direction by David Hackl wasn't all that bad. Taking over for Darren Lynn Bousman, Hackl is pretty much a point and shoot type of guy. The crazy cuts and shaky cam are done at a minimum, which is a plus. He's very subtle and keeps the visuals very grounded. It doesn't totally feel like a SAW film but it's a nice looking film that works well enough on the eyes. Not a bad debut for Hackl. It's just a shame he couldn't work with better and stronger material.

The acting, on the other hand, was pretty flawed. Tobin Bell was still great as John Kramer/Jigsaw. His scenes were the strongest in the film and it amazes me how these producers continue to use a dead character to extend a story that doesn't deserve to be as long and detailed as it is. I also enjoyed Betsy Russell as well as the ex-wife. I think her performance here was just as good here as it was in SAW IV. I also liked the acting of the five victims, especially Julie Benz, who's best known for her work on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and especially on Dexter. Her character sucked but I like Benz in anything she does. Too bad she had to wear a horrible wig too. What was up with that?

However, Scott Patterson and Costas Mandylor were pretty bland as the main characters of the film. Patterson doesn't really have enough charisma to turn Strahm from a stereotypical detective to a three-dimensional character. Plus he had to talk with a raspy voice due to something that happens to him at the beginning of the film, which came in-and-out everytime he spoke. He doesn't make a convincing good guy and I didn't care about him at all. As for Mandylor, if there was an award for "Best Mafia Boss Wannabe", this guy would take it by a landslide. He never comes across as a menacing villain. He actually comes across as a bored actor desperately trying hard to be a genius badass. I don't buy this dude at all and I can't see any one who would. It's like a joke and he's the only one in on it. They made two SAW films and are making another one for this Mandylor dude? Who is this guy sleeping with and where is the evidence he's holding over the producers heads that prove this? I really don't get it.


- Don't ever fall behind when going after the key to your survival. You'll fall heads over heels at the consequences to your snail-like behavior.

- Jigsaw blackmailed Hoffman into working for him. Apparently he also blackmailed someone at Lionsgate studios for continuing this franchise. I smell nude pix and a sex tape!

- Don't ever try and steal someone's key that leads to a bomb shelter. The bashing to your head that created that terrible headache is just the beginning of an explosive night.

- Don't mess with Julie Benz when her life is at stake. She's been dating a serial killer for three seasons, plus she used to be a vampire longer than that. The ways you can be murdered increase tenfold whenever she's around, so don't be shocked by the results of your actions.

- Don't put your enemy in a trap that was meant for you. You'll look like nothing but a dumbass. You may need no education but you'll still just be another brick in the wall.

is a hit and miss for me. I did enjoy some elements of the film, but the rest of it was too flawed for me to ignore. For those who haven't seen SAW V, make sure to watch the others. This film is basically for SAW fans only since it never explains much of anything from previous films and pretty much just continues where the last one left off. It could have been a lot worse though and I'm surprised this fifth installment still managed to entertain on some level. I'm not looking forward to SAW VI next year, but I'll be there because Jigsaw blackmailed me into watching it. I knew I should have never taken those compromising photos with that Jigsaw doll...


Saw IV (2007)

Darren Lynn Bousman

Tobin Bell - John Kramer/Jigsaw
Lyriq Bent - Lieutenant Rigg
Costas Mandylor - Detective Hoffman
Scott Patterson - Agent Peter Strahm
Betsy Russell - Jill Tuck
Athena Karkanis - Agent Lindsey Perez
Justin Louis - Art Blank
Donnie Wahlberg - Detective Eric Matthews

Genre - Horror/"Torture Porn"

Running Time - 95 Minutes

Score - 2.5 Howls Outta 4

Some people just haven't learned that all good things must come to an end.

If anyone was asked to list the most memorable horror films of this decade, I have no doubt SAW would be near, if not on top, of the list. The franchise introduced everyone to a new horror icon named Jigsaw, supposedly created a new sub-genre of horror called "torture porn", and has become a Halloween tradition at the box office since 2004. Jigsaw's traps to make his victims see the error of their ways have become spectacles that much of the mainstream has eaten up due to their gory finishes. Plus the twist endings of each installment have been extremely memorable. SAW through SAW III was a great trilogy, with interesting characters and situations - as well as twist and turns that made a lot of sense. SAW III wrapped up the Jigsaw and Amanda story perfectly, tying up loose ends and giving the followers a satisfying end.

Too bad when money talks, bullshit walks.

After SAW III made good in the box office, Lionsgate decided to greenlight three more SAW films. Sure Jigsaw and Amanda were dead and the series finished, but why not milk a good thing for all its worth and extend a story that doesn't need it? Who cares if the story is good or not. Screw the fans! More SAW flicks will make a lot of money for greedy Hollywood executives!!

I remember when SAW IV was about to be released. To say I was excited would be a huge lie. In fact, I thought the idea of another SAW film was silly to me because the first three films already said what they had to say. Another installment was pointless and a cop-out, as SAW III was it for me and ended on a high note. But I'm not gonna lie and say I wasn't curious.

I watched SAW IV last year. I wasn't impressed at all. I just thought it was derivative and a shell of what the first three films were. So a year later, I watched the fourth installment again. This time, knowing what was up, I dug it a bit more. Still, it's the weakest film in the series as of this writing and pretty much that sequel that was made for the love of money instead for the love of the fans that made the franchise what it is today.

John Kramer/Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is dead. His corpse is on an autopsy table where a coroner removes his brain and cuts Jigsaw right open. Surprisingly, there's a tape inside of Jigsaw's stomach ready to be played. Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), who is the lead detective on Jigsaw's case, plays the tape that reveals the rest of the film.

We follow multiple storylines. The main plot revolves around Officer Rigg (Lyriq Bent), who's being tested in one of Jigsaw's final games in which he must learn how to get over his obsession to save the people around him, even when saving them could do more harm than good. If Rigg follows Jigsaw's game, he'll be able to save Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) and Detective Hoffman, who was captured also. Other plot points involve two new officers, Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Agent Perez (Athena Karkanis), who are investigating Detective Kerry's (Dina Meyer) murder and keeping their eye on Rigg. The two cross paths with Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell) who happens to be Jigsaw's ex-wife. Through Jill, we learn what really motivated Jigsaw to start his games. More sub-plots appear as well, making this summary and film more complicated than they have any right to be.

SAW IV is a totally unnecessary sequel that really should not have been made. At least it's entertaining and does more things right than it does wrong. But it's really a convoluted mess in its narrative structure and just makes you say "been there, seen that".

The story is really the main flaw for SAW IV. There's just too much going on at once and not all of it really goes together to create a cohesive movie. Let me just say for those who may have been confused about SAW IV that this film is pretty much SAW III - THE UNSEEN FOOTAGE. Everything here takes place during SAW III. A lot of people didn't get that, so I'm just putting it out there.

The main plot with Rigg and his game is obviously the most interesting. The whole "obsession" theme works really well and engages you from beginning to end. For me, it's the only part of the film that feels like a true SAW installment, with the traps and the hints and clues that led to its climatic conclusion. I think it was because we know Rigg from SAW II and SAW III, so we already feel connected to the guy and want to see him succeed in Jigsaw's game - although it's easy to figure out by this point that it'll most likely not happen. Still, I enjoyed the journey of this guy's struggle to do what he feels is right, not realizing that he's just too blind to see the reality in front of him.

I also dug the Jigsaw flashbacks. While I didn't really need to know why he became Jigsaw other than the fact that he had cancer, to learn more about what led to these events are actually quite satisfying. To think he was a kind and selfless man who just had bad shit happen to him pretty much all at once makes him extremely sympathetic. I don't think I would have gone to the lengths he did to prove his point, but we all deal with our anger in different ways.

But everything else for me? Didn't really care for it really. The two new agents introduced aren't all that interesting really and don't add much to the film at all. I kept wondering what was the point of Strahm and Perez to begin with. Perez's exit was decent enough though, but didn't mean much at the end. Plus the whole thing with Jigsaw's lawyer, Eric Matthews, and especially Hoffman was just bland. Okay, I'm glad we finally learn what happened to Matthews, but that info wasn't really needed. Couldn't the fans just speculate what happened to the guy? I guess that would involve too much usage of one's brain. For that, I apologize.

The twist was also very disappointing, since I saw it coming from a mile away. I guess it sort of makes sense in context to the film's narrative, but it just left me numb and wondering why SAW IV was even made. I don't get why the franchise is moving in this direction and why this new apprentice was chosen. The person doesn't fascinate me as a character like Amanda did. I guess SAW V will fill the holes in for me when it comes to this character. It's the least it can do, I guess.

The traps and gore here are okay. Nothing here really excited me. We get an almost scalping, limbs being torn apart in a torture device, head getting squished, knives to the face, and eyes getting popped. I thought it was pretty tame compared to the first three SAW films actually. Still, I liked the ice block trap. That was a pretty cool device. And the hotel dungeon one was pretty cool too. But nothing else really stuck out for me.

The direction by Darren Lynn Bousman was good. I mean, he directed SAW II and SAW III. He knows his way around these films by now. I loved the scene transitions, which were extremely clever. The angles and crazy camera shots were pretty neat. There were some nice jump scares too. I do feel though that the scenes with the death traps weren't directed so well. It actually reminded me of SAW II's direction, but worse. I mean, the shaky cam/jump cuts/wacky edit thing really ruined the momentum for what is probably the main reason why people see these films to begin with. If the story was better, it wouldn't have bothered me as much. But this could have compensated for the weak narrative and it didn't. Still, it looked like a SAW film most of the time.

The acting was pretty good. Tobin Bell is always great to see in these SAW movies and SAW IV is no exception. His voice still works for me and the flashback stuff were the most interesting and best acted portions of the film. He owned every scene he was in when he could have just phoned it in and collected his paycheck. I really identified with Jigsaw. Lyriq Bent was also very good as Rigg. He gets to shine here and looks like a star. Too bad he's in only 40 percent of the film when he should have been the main attraction. Costas Mandylor is okay as Hoffman. He's a decent actor but he doesn't do much here. Scott Patterson, from Gilmore Girls, made me laugh most of the time with his melodramatic acting. I think he was trying to hard. And Betsy Russell was cool as Jill. I liked her arc alot and Russell carried it well.


- Jigsaw swallowed a cassette tape before his death to leave a final message. While that is a bit odd, I'm sure it'll be more acceptable than what a coroner will find in Clay Aiken's stomach to see what he last swallowed. No, that ain't glue!

- Some dude's eyes were sewn shut. He should consider himself lucky. He'll never have to watch Paris Hilton's My New BFF ever again.

- Some guy got hammered to death. And now in a Michael Jackson "Let's Have A Sleepover at Neverland Ranch" sort of way either. Allegedly.

- Some trap involved a chick's hair getting pulled until she's scalped. If she were Tyra Banks, she wouldn't have that problem.

- Eric Matthews stood on a melting block of ice while hanging in the air with a chain around his neck. Someone took "Hangin' Tough" a bit too literally.

- Some fat dude, who had a torture dungeon, had to strap himself in his very own contraption and watch the crime he committed in order to deal with his demons. Even though dealing tore him limb from limb, it could have been worse - Richard Simmons could have been yelling at him while Sweatin' To The Oldies.

Now let's do those jumping jacks!! One! Two! Three! Four!

- Don't mess with any strange contraptions. Someone's life may be at stake. Literally.

- Don't ever attack Jigsaw head on. You'll be dealing with barb wire. And not that movie with Pamela Anderson either - although I don't think that option is any better.

should have never been made. But since it was, at least it's a watchable sequel that tries to create a new trilogy out of an old one. Still, it's flawed and not up to par with the first three SAW flicks. I'm not excited about SAW V but maybe it'll be an improvement over this disappointing installment. Then again, this is Hollywood we're talking about. Even if it sucks, it'll still make money. And isn't that what movies are for?

SAW V or HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 this weekend - which one is scarier? I shudder to think.


The Wizard of Gore (1970 & 2007)

Herschell Gordon Lewis (1970)
Jeremy Kasten (2007)

Ray Sager/Crispin Glover - Montag The Magnificent
Judy Cler - Sherry Carson (1970)
Wayne Ratay - Jack (1970)
Phil Laurenson - Greg (1970)
Bijou Phillips - Maggie (2007)
Kip Pardue - Edmund Bigelow (2007)
Jeffrey Combs - The Geek (2007)
Brad Dourif - Dr. Chong (2007)
Joshua John Miller - Jinky (2007)

Genre - Horror

Running Time - 93 Minutes (1970)/97 Minutes (2007)

Score -
3.5 Howls Outta 4 (1970)
2.5 Howls Outta 4 (2007)

The whole notion of magic fascinates me. From witchcraft, to voodoo, to stupid card tricks, I like the whole art of it. Not everyone seems to be gifted at the art though, as David Copperfield, David Blaine, and Criss Angel seem to be the only ones making a living out of magic and becoming A-list celebrities in the process. Hell, magic doesn't even seem to be the focus anymore, as these guys use the stuff to get hot chicks by attempting insane stuff that's more hype than substance. Still, I always wonder how these illusions are done.

I'm honestly surprised no magician [or illusionist, as they like to call themselves these days] has used their magic to woo women long enough in order to make them vulnerable for murder. I mean, serial killers who pose as illusionists could get away with their crimes by convincing people the murders are all an act when they really aren't. Look at O.J. Simpson! Robert Blake anyone? Hell, they aren't even magicians and they got away with murder! Imagine a real illusionist?

In THE WIZARD OF GORE, an illusionist called Montag The Magnificent does just that. He pulls beautiful women out of a crowd and butchers them in horrific ways, and then convinces the audience that they were all a hallucination. Or are they?

Both versions of THE WIZARD OF GORE have a similar premise, but are told in totally different ways.

In the 1970 version, we watch Montag The Magnificent (Ray Sager) become a sensation in the magic world. His reputation rises when it's spread worldwide about his really insane acts, which involve Montag picking random women out of his crowds and mutilating them as they're hypnotized before these acts are revealed to be nothing but illusions for the audience. Due to his popularity, some TV journalist (Judy Cler) and her reporter boyfriend (Wayne Ratay) attend Montag's shows to see what the fuss is all about. But soon, their admiration turns into an investigation as it appears every one of Montag's "volunteers" in his acts end up dying the same way Montag had pretended to murder them on stage. Or is it really pretend?

In the 2007 remake, some news reporter named Ed Bigelow (Kip Pardue) becomes fascinated by the magic acts of one Montag The Magnificent (Crispin Glover), whose acts involve degrating women (members of the Suicide Girls) by calling them "bitch", stripping them nude, and then mutilating them in horrible ways in front of a shocked crowd, only to reveal that the whole thing was an illusion. Soon after, the women are found dead in the same way they were killed onstage. Ed, now obsessed with the whole story, continues to go to the shows with his lady friend Maggie (Bijou Phillips), to find out Montag's secret. As he continues going to the shows, Ed begins having dreams that make him the killer of these women. Plus he starts having memories of things that never happened and forgetting things that did. What's going on with Ed?



Herschell Gordon Lewis' THE WIZARD OF GORE is one of those films that leaves an imprint with you long after it's over. It's surreal. It's bizarre. It's such a badly made movie that happens to be extremely effective and makes you want to see how it'll end. It's also extremely sleazy and pretty gory for its time. It's a B-movie cult classic that's not the greatest horror film in the world [no matter what the film JUNO says], but it's a memorable one for those with an acquired taste for H.G. Lewis' stuff.

There's barely much of a cohesive story in THE WIZARD OF GORE. The focus is mainly on Montag The Magnificent's gory illusion acts on helpless women with everything else pretty much sandwiching it just to fill up time. The whole investigative portion of the story doesn't really add all that much to the film because it really isn't developed enough and having each sequence ending with Sherry and Jack making out and apparently having sex. I guess the only thing I can compare it to is a porn flick, where the focus is obviously on the hardcore sex with that thin story surrounding it so the sex could make sense. Except the sex here is actually the gorish sequences. That makes it pretty hard to review a film like this because what really is Lewis and screenwriter Allen Kahn trying to do here? Are we supposed to dwell on the thin plot and badly written characters [other than Montag of course]? Or are we supposed to just be weirded out by this flick? Knowing Lewis' track record, THE WIZARD OF GORE is meant to shock and boggle people's minds. And since the movie does that well, it works.

I appreciate the way the film plays out the whole idea of reality and illusion. When you think you're seeing something "real", it turns out to be an illusion. And vice versa. Especially during the end of the film, where the two just seem to merge in a really bizarre way that messes with your head and makes you wonder if you're really seeing this or not. I kept saying "What the fuck?" the entire time. It's actually fascinating how such a shoddy made film can be so effective with the small things, as the subtlety is more powerful than the over-the-top nature of the rest of the film.

Speaking of over-the-top, Ray Sager gives one of the most overacted performances as Montag The Magnificent. The guy is just a total ham, mugging for the camera and giving such an overdramatic performance. He's so ridiculously bad but you can't really keep your eyes off of the guy. It's such high camp that you can't help but be entertained by Sager. The other actors in the film are very bad as well, as they can't even carry dialogue with each other convincingly. I think I was laughing and overly amused by the horridness of the thespian work here, which makes this movie all the more appealing since it's not a film to be taken seriously to begin with.

The gore effects in the film are actually pretty bad. Thumbs up for creativity though. We have a guillotine act, the always classic saw trick, a chisel to the ear, and some chick getting crushed by a piston. It's obviously cheaply done. We get ground meat, ketchup, and mannequins passing for the victims during and after the fact. And Lewis doesn't even attempt to hide it either, which makes it awesome in my book. No many people can get away with horrible special effects, but H.G. Lewis definitely can because it adds more fun to the B-movie.

Speaking of H.G. Lewis, he's a horrible director who happens to be brilliant at the same time. Terrible editing, horrible pacing, and he just points and shoots at what he wants you to see. But it's effective in THE WIZARD OF GORE because it's disjointed imagery adds to the weirdness of the film. It's bad filmmaking at its finest and sometimes a director can get away with it and come out smelling like roses. H.G. Lewis definitely has this talent.


The Jeremy Kasten remake of THE WIZARD OF GORE is a totally different animal entirely. It takes the whole Montag The Magnificent angle, but turns the film from a shocking splatterfest to a mystery/thriller that doesn't totally work. That's not to say the remake is terrible. As a matter of fact, it's refreshing that someone had the guts to retell a cult classic and give it a completely different feel and look. That's what a director should do with a remake. So while it's not a total success, the remake is definitely worth looking into at least once.

In this version, there's more story. To be quite honest, I'm not sure if that's a positive or negative thing. The original didn't need to have a strong story because it's only objective is to shock, not win an Academy Award. Here, the focus is taken off of Montag and placed on the reporter character, Edmund, who becomes obsessed with Montag and starts having dreams that he's the one killing the women who are part of Montag's act. The thing is that Edmund isn't really that interesting of a character. He's not horribly written and does have somewhat of a personality as a cad who dresses like he's Clark Kent from the 1940s. It's just that he's not that exciting to watch either. He breathes into a paper bag whenever he feels anxious and has weird dreams. Even though he's not in the film a whole lot, Montag The Magnificent is still the best character because we know who he is and why he does what he does [which the original never really explains, mind you]. He really should be the main character instead of Edmund, but Edmund's the reason why the mystery even takes place because through him, we start asking ourselves if Montag is really killing these women or if Edmund is the one behind the murders. It wouldn't be so bad if Edmund's mental issues didn't feel so forced and convoluted to the point where it starts to fall apart towards the end of the film. It seems for a simple story, there's just too much going on to tell it. I appreciate the new take on an old cult classic, but sometimes less is more. In THE WIZARD OF GORE 2007, that couldn't be more true.

Another issue is that the film is less gorier than the actual 1970 original! The film is called THE WIZARD OF GORE! Show me gore! Who wouldn't want Crispin Glover torture people and make them bleed in horrifically bizarre ways? But because of the mystery aspect, the actual point of the film seems lost. I want to see a Wizard perform gory acts on people, not watch a reporter lose his mind. It's kind of frustrating because Montag is the most interesting character in the film, yet he's pretty much used as a prop to tell a story. The magic acts should have been the highlight.

I will say that the I do love the film noir-ish feel of the remake. It's very dark with a lot of shadows. The voiceover narration and the retro fashion during present time infused the remake with a very classy look, mood, and atmosphere. It also helps with the movie has a lot of ambiguity and dark satire that really gives the remake a more intelligent and serious feel that the original lacked. Jeremy Kasten and his crew did a really cool job creating a new film out of something old. I liked the direction and visuals of the film alot, especially the dream sequences. Beautiful cinematography too, I must add. A very nice looking film.

The acting is a lot better than the original, although the less-than-stellar acting from some of the cast hurts the film more than it did in the original due to the remake's more serious tone. The star here is obviously Crispin Glover, who while not as memorable as Ray Sager in the original, is still very good with his take of Montag The Magnificent. The guy is a sexist, creepy louse of a man and it's hard to take your eyes off of him. I think Glover could have been more overdramatic, as he seems to be holding back some here. But I like Glover in anything he's in really, and this was no exception. Special mention also goes to Brad Dourif and Jeffrey Combs, who have smaller supporting roles but make the most of them like you would expect these two to do. Hell, I didn't realize Combs as The Geek until the very end due to his disguise. Seeing these three guys together is a horror geek's dream really.

Unfortunately, I wish I could say the same about Kip Pardue and Bijou Phillips. They weren't horrible at all, but I wasn't really impressed by their performances. Phillips fares better, as she doesn't really have that much of a role in the film besides being the person who keeps Edmund grounded from his insanity. And she's never a main focus anyway, so it works out I guess. Pardue, however, doesn't seem like he's giving it his all as Edmund. The voiceover sounded like he didn't give a shit and the actual acting was decent but not something I can remember as I write this. When you're the lead of the film and you're overshadowed by three supporting actors who are much more memorable, there's a problem.

And I just want to say that the ending to the remake was pretty lame. The original film's ending was a whole lot better and more entertaining. I just thought the remake's was too predictable and doesn't make me all that excited if a sequel is made for this. It was just "whatever".


- Montag performed a trick where a guillotine cut his own head off. Lorena Bobbitt was a big fan of this trick. Unfortunately for her husband, she got confused by which head to use. Oops!

- Montag wondered if people have ever seen "human butchery". Oh c'mon! I'm not the only one saw BATTLEFIELD EARTH! If that's not human butchery, I don't know what is!

- Montag chainsawed some chick in half for his audience. Man, those Texas crowds sure get all the good shows!

- Montag chiseled a blonde chick in her ear and then started to morph her face. Now I see who worked on Kenny Rogers new face.

- If a woman wiggles too much when swallowing a sword, it can mess with her digestive tract. Especially if she doesn't pull out when the sword gets excited. Then again, some people love a protein diet.

- Some homeless looking dude bit into a live rat. I guess he wasn't a fan of WILLARD. It wasn't that bad!

- Montag carved some chick's abdomen open. Talk about an emergency C-section.

- Montag cut some girl's noggin off. Man, she's bad at giving head.

- Montag shoved a long broomstick down some coroner's throat and pulled out his insides when the stick was removed. Talk about solving the mystery behind Deep Throat!

- Edmund had a vision of himself beating the crap out of Maggie. I haven't seen that kind of abuse since Ike and Tina. Damn!

Both versions of THE WIZARD OF GORE are worth looking into, depending on your taste. If you're looking for a kooky, campy film - the original 1970 version is for you. If you want something more mysterious and serious, then the 2007 version is right up your alley. Like with most remakes, I prefer the original as its wackiness still lingers with me. At least the remake didn't totally suck balls. Or was that illusion to make me think it was decent when in reality the film really did suck balls? And why is my hand bleeding? Damn you, Montag!


Saw III - Unrated Director's Cut (2006)

Darren Lynn Bousman

Tobin Bell - John Kramer/Jigsaw
Shawnee Smith - Amanda Young
Bahar Soomekh - Dr. Lynn Denlon
Angus Macfadyen - Jeff Reinhart
Dina Meyer - Detective Allison Kerry
Donnie Wahlberg - Eric Matthews
Lyriq Bent - Lieutenant Rigg
Costas Mandylor - Detective D. Hoffman

Genre - Horror/"Torture Porn"

Running Time - 121 Minutes

Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4

Every Halloween since 2004, we've gotten a SAW film each and every year. The excitement for this franchise varies depending on who you are. But even if you aren't anticipating another SAW sequel, you're still curious on how it'll turn out. With SAW V coming out in two weeks, I will be there watching even though I still feel it's an unnecessary flick.

Now if you've been a longtime reader of my reviews, you know whenever a big horror franchise releases an installment [whether it's a sequel or a remake], I begin to review the films leading up to it. Last October, I reviewed the excellent SAW and the good sequel SAW II. I had watched the Unrated Director's Cut of SAW III, ready to review it right after SAW II. But something happened. It seems Jigsaw came out of the film and put me in one of his traps. And this trap was a case of being burnt out. I didn't want to review another SAW film. I was bored. I think my readers were bored. I just wasn't feeling it.

But a year has passed and I must continue with this mission to complete a review I started a year ago before another SAW installment is complete. I'm the kind of guy who likes completing something, even if it means sacrificing something for it. It's just how I live. And looking at my blogspot and seeing only two SAW films reviewed there annoys me somewhat.

So here is the long awaited review for SAW III - Unrated Director's Cut. It's 20 minutes longer than the theater version and a much better film as well. Not to say that SAW III was a horrible film when it was released. But the Unrated Director's Cut really improves the film and reveals a vision Darren Lynn Bousman wanted the SAW fans to see instead of what was released into theaters due to the MPAA. If there's any version of SAW III to watch before SAW V comes out, this is the one.

PLOT (contains spoilers)
At the end of SAW II, Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) was trapped and locked inside that familiar bathroom by Amanda (Shawnee Smith), who revealed herself as Jigsaw's (Tobin Bell) apprentice and would be carrying on his legacy after he dies. While Matthew suffers, familiar characters from the first two films begin to die horrible deaths due to various traps.

As the killing spree continues, Jigsaw is in really bad shape. Amanda, desperate to save her mentor and father figure, kidnaps Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) to save him. Lynn is a perfect choice since she's very lethargic in her personal and professional life, as she can't stand her job and is married to a man she's grown tired of. Jigsaw makes her a life-or-death deal if she helps him, making Lynn agree relunctantly.

While this goes on, some distraught guy named Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) is dealing with his own trap. Grieving over the death of his child due to a reckless driver, Jigsaw grants Jeff the opportunity to get revenge on those who were responsible for getting the murderer off during his trial.

As time closes in on Jigsaw, the link between all these events unravel - tying up loose ends and ending Jigsaw's story. Or at least it should have...

is the best SAW sequel for one reason - it keeps it simple. Instead of dealing with multiple characters that sacrificed any kind of character development like SAW II, SAW III is more in line with the original. While it does have sub-plots, they're not in the film just to shock audiences. They all connect at the end and actually make sense as to why. Plus we have fewer characters here, leading to a much more intimate setting where we can connect to all the players involved. For a third installment in a horror franchise, SAW III is surprisingly strong.

Now if you've seen a SAW film, you pretty much seen them all. So you know the story is gonna have twists, turns, and a ton of gore to accompany them. But at least SAW III does it very well. Especially the Unrated Director's Cut, which expands characterization and backstories for these characters and ties up the loose ends as believably as this franchise can do. We also get a deeper look at the relationship between Jigsaw and Amanda, knowing more about the two really look at each other. Jigsaw is the calm, cancer-stricken villain who does these evil things to prove a moral standpoint. Amanda, on the other hand, doesn't seem to grasp at this - instead using the traps to torture her victims as a way to get back at innocent people for the way she was tortured herself with suicidal tendencies and drug abuse. With these two extremes, we see how much Jigsaw is trying to mentor her in his vision while she struggles with her own demons. And when Jigsaw gets extremely ill, we kind of see that Amanda really isn't a fitting apprentice to take on the Jigsaw title as her vindictive streak comes out. They balance each other out. What I like about the first three SAW films is that the villains aren't these caricatures of what we expect evil to be like. They aren't hiding under masks or cracking jokes every other minute. They have depth. They have substance. And while we know what they're doing is wrong, we still understand why these things are being done.

And SAW III is also helped by the fact that the protagonists are also developed and deep. Maybe not as quite as the villains, but we also understand where they're coming from. From Dr. Lynn's dour nature [to which Jigsaw wants her to appreciate her job and her family before she ends up as one of his victims] to devastated Jeff's situation [to get over his child's death by going down the right path - can moral values be even comprehended during such a traumatic situation?], we know enough about these people to want them to make the right decision. Leigh Whannell, who co-wrote the first three films and stars in both the original SAW and in this installment, does a nice job giving the spotlight to all the major characters instead of just focusing on Jigsaw and Amanda. It's interesting to look at both sides of the playing field. That "grey" area is always more interesting than "black and white".

But most people who watch SAW films don't really look deep into the story. They want to see the vicious traps and the gore that accompanies it. I remember the theater version to be very gory, but the Unrated Director's Cut adds alot more. We get more skin-tearing, a better shot of someone's open torso, extended shots of guts splattering and someone dying in ice, and probably the grossest one of them all - a longer sequence of the infamous brain surgery scene that makes me cringe even as I type this. Some people call it unnecessary. They're probably right. But damn if it isn't effective.

The Unrated Director's Cut also adds 20 minutes of footage. We get a better look at Amanda's progression as Jigsaw's apprentice and how she started off on a very bad foot. We also get a vicious catfight scene between Lynn and Amanda. And the ending is a bit different and definitely longer, especially concerning the final tape. Are these things needed? Probably not. But it's nice to see what the film could have been and some of these scenes do add on to the film. So I'm not complaining.

Darren Lynn Bousman directs a much better film than he did with SAW II. The quick edits are kept to a minimum [thank God] and the film had a lot of dread going for it. A very moody and darkly atmospheric affair where we never get the sense there's a light at the end of the tunnel. He also focuses on the drama at hand, which was an improvement on the second SAW as well. He lets the acting and the situations do the work for him instead of being fancy with camera work. He definitely shows here that he has a grasp on the material and knows how to visualize it. I liked the direction alot here because it was a lot more subtle.

The acting was never an issue with these SAW films. It's usually always good or better. Tobin Bell can play John Kramer in his sleep by now, yet he doesn't coast on his Jigsaw character at all. He shows range and is always effective in the role because he gives the character more depth than what the script probably provides. Shawnee Smith is magnetic as Amanda, who will always be my favorite character in this franchise. This is her most visible and dramatic portion in the series and works it like a champ. You want to hate her but you just can't because you pity her. Smith could have played the character as an annoying nut, but she gives her substance instead. Angus Macfadyen as Jeff sold me. I really felt bad for his character and bought his mourning father act. I'm not sure what I would have done in his situation. I hope I never get to find out. Bahar Soomekh was good but was always outshone by Bell and Smith. Still, she gave a nice performance. Dina Meyer did very well as Detective Kerry in her final SAW film. She was FINALLY given some depth and more emotional scenes. Too bad they gave her character the exit. What luck!

SAW III is one of the better sequels in horror cinema history. This is especially true when watching the Unrated Director's Cut, which is really the only version of the film you need. The film is clever, written strongly and with substance, has sick traps and gorish scenes, and tied up loose ends nicely. You're gonna need to watch SAW and SAW II to understand this film if you're new to the series, but what else were you planning to do around Halloween time but watch horror films? To be honest, the franchise should have ended here because SAW III is a great way to out. Unfortunately, we got SAW IV anyway and that's a different review for a different time. Let's just say that it won't be as positive as this one.


Night Of The Living Dead (1968, 1990, & 2006)

George A. Romero (1968)
Tom Savini (1990)
Jeff Broadstreet (2006)

Duane Jones/Tony Todd/Joshua DesRoces - Ben
Judith O'Dea/Patricia Tallman/Brianna Brown - Barbara
Karl Hardman/Tom Towles/Greg Travis - Harry/Henry Cooper
Keith Wayne/William Butler/Max Williams - Tom
Marilyn Eastman/McKee Anderson/Johanna Black - Helen/Hellie Cooper
Julia Ridley/Kate Finnerman/Cristin Michele - Judy
Russell Streiner/Bill Mosley/Ken Ward - Johnny
Gerald Tovar, Jr. - Sid Haig (2006)
Adam Chambers - Owen (2006)

Genre - Horror/Zombies

Running Time - 96 Minutes/90 Minutes/80 Minutes

Score -
4 Howls Outta 4 (1968)
4 Howls Outta 4 (1990)
0.5 Howls Outta 4 (2006)

The zombie flick has been the most beloved sub-genre of horror for many years next to the slasher flick. It's history is rich in the roots of the real world and the reel world as well. Apparently the whole zombie concept originated in Haiti, where slaves from Africa began to practice their spiritual rituals of vodou. It was believed that a vodou priest had the ability to reanimate the dead. These reanimated people were called zombi, and they were believed to have slow mannerisms, low intelligence, and the lack of willpower to fight against the person who had control over them. These zombi were never really dead people, but rather people who were drugged and were acting out in a comatose state. Haiti suffered through many battles, especially with the French for hundreds of years until the United States stepped in and occupied the land in 1915 to much hostility.

American soldiers returned to the United States with stories of the vodou, or voodoo, practice and the idea of zombi, or zombies. Of course, many American writers began to impliment these things into their stories, especially William Seabrook [who wrote The Magic Island] and H.P. Lovercraft [who wrote Herbert West: Reanimator]. Eventually, these stories leaked onto film. The first attempt was 1932's WHITE ZOMBIE, which adapted the Haitian origins of the zombie pretty closely. It was a box office smash, leading to a massive wave of zombie flicks that included THE WALKING DEAD (1936), I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955), and the immortal PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959).

Unfortunately, the Haitian zombie wave died down and wasn't as much of a box office draw. Real life situations like the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam created a reality that most Americans could not ignore and pass by, giving realistic horror flicks like PSYCHO (1960) a chance to shine brightly and start a new wave of horror films. It wasn't until October 1968 where an independent film from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania caught the word of mouth about a group of survivors who trapped themselves inside a farmhouse to escape a horde of the undead. Made for $114,000 and inspired by the 1954 Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend, George A. Romero and John Russo presented the excellent NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to the world - reinventing the zombie flick to realistic and extremely successful results. The film was one of the top grosses for 1969 AND 1970, creating a new wave of zombie flicks that we continue to see today.

Unfortunately again, Romero and Russo got robbed to own the rights to the film they co-wrote and directed, pretty much letting anyone use the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD title if they wanted to. This was due to the fact that the film was originally titled NIGHT OF THE FLESH EATERS but the producers found out the title was taken. The changes made failed to include any notice of copyrights, making the film public domain. The lack of compensation Russo and Romero failed to receive because of the film is pretty much what led to the 1990 remake of the same film directed by legendary make-up effect artist, Tom Savini. Written by George A. Romero himself, the film was made not only to update the story for modern audiences but to gain some sort of compensation for it. The remake is excellent in its own right, but the public were turned off by the lack of gore in it [especially since Savini, who is known for his gory effects, was behind the scenes]. Sixteen years later, a gorier remake was made without any input from Romero or Russo that was presented in 3D. Sadly, gore does not make a movie great and is a total waste of time, energy, and money.

So why don't we take a look at these three different versions of the immortal zombie classic and see if any of them are still worthy to rise from the grave and grace us with their flesh-eating presence.

All three films pretty much have the same basic plot but with many differences in how they're presented in each of them. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD begins with siblings Johnny and Barbara visiting a relative's grave [original - father, 1990 remake - mother, 2006 remake - aunt]. Barbara is apparently freaked out by cemetaries, to which Johnny utters his famous line, "They're coming to get you, Barbara!" Ironically, Johnny's tease becomes true when a decaying figure attacked the two. Johnny is eventually killed [in the 2006 version, Johnny just runs away and dies off-screen] and Barbara runs for safety, locating a farmhouse that's pretty much been abandoned. Soon another character, Ben, arrives at the house fleeing from the undead outside. Ben begins to board up the doors and windows while Barbara has different characterizations in each of the three films [original - totally in shock the entire time, 1990 remake - shock at first but manages to help out and take more of a leadership role, 2006 remake - is just a dumbass but whatever].

Barbara and Ben soon learn that the ghouls attacking them are really members of the undead, reanimated by some unknown force [each version has a different reason why], who love the tease of human flesh. They soon learn that the house has other inhabitants, who either attempt to help Ben and Barbara or just give them more grief for selfish reasons. While the main characters argue as to how to survive the situation, it begins to show that maybe the dead creatures outside the house are NOT the real monsters of the story after all.



What can I say about NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD that hasn't been said already? It's a brilliant horror film that changed all the rules for every zombie film that was released right after. It's an absolute classic in every sense of the word and a must see for anyone who calls themselves a "film buff". Is it the greatest zombie flick ever made? No, I give that credit to 1978's DAWN OF THE DEAD. But is NOTLD the most influential? Absolutely.

George A. Romero and John Russo crafted a very simple story that could have been a great drama if zombies didn't show up here and there. It's intelligent. It makes you think. And it lingers with you after the last frame of the film. Taking simple characters and just letting them react to the situation around them and to each other is enough to captivate. Here's a movie where character development is not done through background info and flashbacks. We know NOTHING about these characters. Hell, we don't even know what caused the zombie outbreak [something about Venus is mentioned but never elaborated on]. But their actions and their dialogue tell you a lot about who they are as people. As a matter of fact, they all act like regular people caught in a situation they have no idea how they got into or how to get out of. They panic. They become traumatized. They try and help each other. Most of the time they just argue about the best method for their survival. They represent the common man. Each character represents an aspect of a person's personality and their reactions to this horrible situation. We're them and they're us. What would you do to survive being trapped in a weak farmhouse by a group of zombies?

The biggest compliment that's given by every critic and by anyone who has watched this film is about the social commentary Romero and Russo "accidentally" inputted into the movie. At the time of the movie's filming, the United States was going through a lot of crap. The Civil Rights Movement was strong, The Cold War with the former U.S.S.R. was still a big deal - especially when nuclear weapons were talked about, and of course the Vietnam War. Romero may have said it was coincidential, but his feelings about the world he lived in are evident in the film he wrote and directed. This is especially the case when it comes to the character of Ben, who is a black man and happens to be the hero of the film and the lead. This is a strong statement because NOTLD is one of the first movies where the main character is a strong and intelligent black man. Many probably feel Romero did this on purpose to prove a point that black man can make just as captivating leading men as a white man. But Romero claims that Duane Jones, who plays Ben, was simply the best actor for the role. Still, watching Ben argue with the older and white Mr. Cooper in the film definitely represents the racial tension that was going on at the time. I'm sure seeing Cooper feeling almost insulted that he should take the advice from a black man was something many people felt towards black people during this era. No matter what Romero says, he was obviously expressing his feelings on the whole issue.

Even though NOTLD is deeper than probably any horror film should be, it's still a horror film through and through. It's pretty gory and violent for a late-1960s film, but would definitely be considered tame by today's standards. There was no ratings board or MPAA at the time when this film was released, so Romero pretty much went for it. We have blood. We have nudity. We have scenes of chilling violence. It's more realistic horror, instead of watching some dude in a rubber monster suit terrify a town or something. It's nicely done and never goes overboard.

George A. Romero directs his first-feature film excellently and I wonder if he knew this would be the start of something big in the world of horror. NOTLD is the epitome of low-budget filmmaking done in the right way. The black and white, which was used because it's the cheapest type of film, actually enhances the horror experience. It gives it an ambience that color would have totally ruined. Some shots lose focus every once in a while, which only makes the visuals more disturbing and creepy. The angles used create an edge seen in film noir movies. I think the best scene displaying this is when the Cooper's daughter turns into a zombie and murders a loved one. The editing is great and the pacing never slows down. It's just a great looking movie on a shoe-string budget. I think Romero tops himself in DAWN OF THE DEAD, but NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD would probably be second for me as a director.

The acting is perfect for the film. Duane Jones is incredible as Ben. He's the rock of the film, maintaining his cool while everyone around him goes mad. It was probably a risk for Romero to cast this guy as his lead. But it's the best decision he's ever made. Jones does well. Judith O'Dea is good as Barbara. I'm personally not a big fan of the traumatized and catatonic character who just shakes and cries [probably why I enjoy the character in the 1990 remake more], but I can understand the character. O'Dea does well with the role, even if she doesn't do all that much really. The other actors are just as good here, but these two are the standouts of the film.


The 1990 Tom Savini-directed remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is probably one of the best horror remakes ever filmed and is a movie I enjoy more and more after each viewing. It's pretty faithful to the original film, although Romero [who wrote the screenplay] updates his old work with more modern twists. Obviously the social commentary wouldn't work in 1990, so Romero focuses more on melodrama and action. The film is definitely less scarier, mainly because of the color, but the film is probably more entertaining than the original was. In fact, and I'll probably get flamed for writing this, but I actually prefer this remake over the original.


I have reasons why I dig this remake alot. To be quite honest, I feel more connected to the characters here and the drama they put themselves in while the zombie invasion is going on. I'm sure some people will say the characters are a bit more annoying in this version because all they do is pretty much scream and yell at each other to prove the other right. Yes, that's possibly true. But you get caught up in it. Ben, while still the same character in the original, is a bit more flawed here. He's a lot more hard-headed and stubborn in this version, constantly putting his foot down in front of everyone because he believes staying in the main part of the house for more exits will increase their length of survival. Mr. Cooper is more of a bastard than ever and believes staying in the cellar is the best strategy. Then you have the drama between Harry and his wife Helen, slapping each other in the face because they don't agree. Barbara, who is more of a factor in this film, pretty much goes gun-crazy because she's tired of being a victim. There's a whole bunch of stuff going on and you're never bored by it one second. The original is more subtle when it comes to the drama. Here, it's pretty much in your face and I don't mind it at all.

The SFX here by Tom Savini are an improvement over the original as well. Of course, that's not the original's fault since there wasn't much money in the budget to go around. But it's nice to see the zombies look decayed and decomposed. That's how I picture zombies in my head. So it was a nice improvement due to the $11 million budget.

Probably the main thing I enjoy about the remake the most is the evolution of the Barbara character. She's traumatized after Johnny gets killed, but due to all the fighting amongst the other trapped characters, she opens up and becomes the female Rambo. This is probably one of the social commentaries Romero puts in his remake - the idea of feminism and strong women. Romero said that he hated the Barbara character in the original because she was too weak and never fought back. I can't say I disagree. I understand the original Barbara and why she acted the way she did. But I believe this version more because if one wants to survive, they're gonna fight to make sure it happens. The Barbara character in the 1990 version was definitely influenced by Ripley from the ALIEN saga and would continue a year later with Sarah Connor in T2: JUDGMENT DAY. I don't dig helpless women, sorry. I like my women tough and eager to fight back. That's what you get with Barbara here and I think it was a great improvement over the original.

Also, I like the fact that the remake isn't a shot-by-shot, scene-by-scene remake like PSYCHO in 1998 is. Remakes should be films that take the original and create something different and new with it. 1990's NOTLD does that by changing which characters live or die and how it happens. So people who expect to see the same film will be surprised by some of the differences this update puts forth.

Tom Savini does a really awesome job behind the character. It shouldn't be a surprised the man knows how to create suspense and tension since he's worked in the horror biz for so long. It's also simply directed. Nothing fancy. Boo scares here and there. Nice mood and atmosphere at times. Great pacing and nice action sequences. Just a really nice job. Surprisingly, the film wasn't all that gory. Weird.

The acting is great. Patricia Tallman sells me with her version of Barbara. I'm down with this woman from beginning to end. Watching Tallman go from vulnerable to tough chick works incredibly well. It's a shame she didn't do more stuff in a lead role. She could have been a star. Tony Todd draws you in as Ben. I do think Duane Jones did the part a little better but Todd is solid as usual. Tom Towles plays the perfect dickhead as Harry Cooper. What a fuckin' pussy the character is. I wanted to kick Towles in the balls. Kudos to him. Everyone else was good too. Not one person I hated here.


Let me just get this review for this remake out of the way:


Seriously, this film got on my last nerve. I can't believe someone had the fuckin' balls to butcher NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD by presenting me with this 80 minute turd. Not only did this film NOT be made since we have a perfectly great remake already. But it took everything that was fantastic and interesting about NOTLD and butchered it BIG TIME! Let's see how Jeff Broadstreet and his crew of assholes did that, shall we:

a) Barbara is now an annoying know-it-all bitch. She sees zombies and instead of being hysterically frightened by a group of the undead, she just nags about them as if she had a bad day at work. She acts like she's seen these things every fuckin' day in her life. If she has, then she seriously has issues that no one will be able to help her with. And she was the lead character, folks. Yeah, I want this bitch to live. Whatever.

b) Johnny, instead of protecting his sister and dying for her, decides to jet away from zombies attacking her by jumping into her car and driving away to leave her alone to deal with them. The whole point of the Barbara character was that Johnny's death effected her to the point where she either stayed catatonic or was so upset that she decides to fight back. So what really is the point of the character now? Oh I forgot - to annoy me! Plus the dude comes back as a zombie later on. How in the hell? Makes no sense.

c) The mortician is the reason why the zombies exist. Well there goes the intrigue and mystery of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, folks. The scary part about the zombies is that we never knew why they existed to begin with. Now we automatically have a reason. And I won't even get into why this guy does what he does. It's ridiculous and makes my dick shrivel up.

d) The farmhouse doesn't hold people who are trying to survive the zombie outbreak. Oh no...they're POTHEADS!! And they won't call the cops because they're afraid their stash will get confiscated! Fuck zombies trying to kill me and calling 911. WE MUST PROTECT THE WEED!!!

e) Ben is not black anymore. He's white and a drug dealer who's paying his college tuition. Sigh...

f) Tom and Judy, two of the braver survivors in the first two versions, are now sex-crazed idiots who fuck in some nearby barn and become the first two victims of the film. Okay...

g) The little sick girl is now an annoying brat who's so curious about what's going on that she gets bit by zombies. Fuck her.

h) The characters solve their problems by doing what anyone in this situation would: talk like it's no big deal. Oh God...my head hurts...

This movie is just horrible. For 80 minutes, I've never been so bored or annoyed in my life since probably ANKLE BITERS or ONE MISSED CALL (2008). I'm tired of seeing rednecks in horror films. I'm tired of seeing pot put in movies because the filmmakers think it's fuckin' cool. I'm sick of watching people who think they can act piss me off because they can't. I didn't even see this in 3D and I wouldn't even want to. I barely saw any signs of 3D stuff anyway besides some idiot character blowing smoke rings from his blunt and a zombie gushing blood towards the camera. Who gives a shit?

The only saving grace of this film is the presence of cult actor, Sid Haig. His character sucks as much as all the others in this film, but at least he's not annoying and attempts to create substance for such a hollow character. I could watch the guy in anything really and unfortunately for me, I watched him in this. Still, he's the only one worth watching here. And he's in the film for 20 minutes. So if you're willing to fight off suicide for those other 60 minutes, be my guest.

Jeff Broadstreet should never be allowed to remake another film again. The pacing is horrible. There's no suspense. There's no tension. I don't know how he filmed the 3D stuff and I don't really care. He loves his boobs and his pot, thinking it's funny and it'll elevate the stink coming from this movie. This is a student film disguised as a homage to a horror classic. An embarassment is more like it, really.

The acting, other than Sid Haig, is passable. Too bad the characters are written so horribly that you hate the actors as much as you hate the people they're playing. What a waste of time and money. I would rather watch that horrible PROM NIGHT remake than watch this any day of the fuckin' week.


- Barbara tells Johnny that he complains to hear himself talk. That YouTube divorce lady must be related to him. It's ironic - she looks like one of the undead!

- Don't think you're safe from a zombie attack if you wear glasses. They'll hit you and kill you regardless of your eyewear. I hope Sarah Palin remembers that when John McCain decides to take his spotlight back.

...Oh he's not a zombie? Then nevermind.

- Barbara had a nervous breakdown in front of Ben. That explains Mariah Carey's breakdown years ago - she was traumatized by zombies. Or really, people who suffered after paying to see GLITTER. That film will suck the life out of anyone.

- Venus is supposedly responsible for the zombie outbreak. Anything to top Serena, huh Ms. Williams?

- Zombies can die via fire. Looks like someone took that Thriller video way too seriously during that Michael Jackson Pepsi commercal shoot years ago. Now who's Bad?

- Tony Todd can kick some mean zombie ass. So if you ever have a zombie invasion, just walk to your nearest mirror and say "Candyman" five times. He'll come and kill the zombies. And then he'll probably kill you too. But at least the zombies will be gone!

- Barbara in the 1990 remake is proficient in shooting a shotgun. Any woman who is a pro at that is worth having a night cap with after a date. And believe me - I'm locked, cocked, and ready to unload! Blue balls be damned!

- The survivors made a ring where locals can wrestle zombies. Don't give Vince McMahon any more ideas for horrible Undertaker feuds. I'm still recovering from that Undertaker vs. Undertaker match from fourteen years ago.

- In the 2006 remake, there was a tomb that read, "In Hope For Immortality." If it's about this film, let's hope not.

- The mortician wasn't really all that surprised by roaming zombies. Unless you constantly hang out with Amy Winehouse or Keith Richards, this should not be a normal experience!

- Henry doesn't own a machine gun because he's not Scarface. I have the urge to make that possible. Where's my boxcutter?

- Owen got a shovel blade to the mouth after turning into a zombie. I'm sure Owen wasn't digging that.

- "Sometimes when I give, I have to take away." Sounds like how I felt watching this film. I had to give up my precious time to write this review for all of you. YOU'RE WELCOME!!

If you want to see any of these three versions, definitely watch the original 1968 NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. While I prefer the 1990 remake, it's still honestly the best version and the one that influenced the wave of zombie horror flicks. If you had to watch a remake, definitely the 1990 one. It's fantastic and proof that remakes can be great if the people behind it know what they're doing. Unlike in the 2006 version, which will be in the WTF? Vault until I reopen the Vault's Crematorium and turn it into ash. That film is never coming to get me ever again!


Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)

Michael A. Simpson

Pamela Springsteen - Angela Johnson/Angela Baker
Renee Estevez - Molly Nagle
Tony Higgins - Sean Whitmore
Valerie Hartman - Ally Burgess
Brian Patrick Clarke - T.C.
Walter Gotell - Uncle John
Susan Marie Synder - Mare

Genre - Horror/Slasher

Running Time - 79 Minutes

Score - 3 Howls Outta 4

The original SLEEPAWAY CAMP [review here] is one of those slasher flicks that loved by so many because not only are there great characters and a decent mystery that keeps you watching, but the ending is probably the most shocking and disturbing ending to any horror film even to this day. So when a sequel was announced, I'm sure the producers struggled with how they would able to top how the original one ended.

Or maybe not, since they took the easy way out and just decided to do a FRIDAY THE 13TH rip-off instead without any of the depth and intrigue the original SLEEPAWAY CAMP had.

Still, that's not to say that SLEEPAWAY CAMP II: UNHAPPY CAMPERS is a horrible film. In fact, it's a whole lot better than one would expect from a slasher sequel, bringing some campy [pun intended] hyuks and a nice amount of T & A. You gotta love it! So let's head back to camp with Angela and hope she doesn't send any of us back "home".

Five years after the events of the first SLEEPAWAY CAMP, we watch a group of campers and counselors from Camp Rolling Hills sit around a campfire talking about Angela Baker's rampage from years back. In disguise and apparently rehabilitated [as well as having certain, um, "issues" fixed], Angela (Pamela Springsteen) is now a counselor at Camp Rolling Hills and breaks up the storytelling about her past. She takes a female camper named Phoebe (Heather Binion) away from the fire to talk, but Phoebe is tired of Angela's authority issues. Wanting to compromise, Angela lays Phoebe out with a log. Sigh...communication is fantastic.

Angela's fellow counselor T.C. (Brian Patrick Clarke) and camp owner Uncle John (Walter Gotell) wonder what happened to Phoebe, but Angela tells her she sent Phoebe home for bad behavior. Unfortunately, Angela finds herself busy when the campers decide to have "immoral fun", like participating in drugs, drinking, and especially sex. Angela decides to clean up the campsite in her own hands, eventually revealing who she is and what she has planned for all of them.

Let me just get this out of the way: SLEEPAWAY CAMP II: UNHAPPY CAMPERS isn't a great film. Nothing about it is special. You probably won't remember it a month from now after you watch it. It's the total opposite of the original SLEEPAWAY CAMP. Yet, it still works and is a lot of fun to watch. And for 79 minutes, that's all you really want from a horror flick.

Even though Wes Craven's 1996 smash SCREAM reinvigorated the horror scene with its self-acknowledgement and references to past horror flicks, SLEEPAWAY CAMP II did this 8 years before. Not only is every 80s horror cliche done here, but we also have three characters who dress up as Jason Voorhees [from the FRIDAY THE 13TH series], Freddy Krueger [from the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series], and Leatherface [from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE series]. Not only does it reference horror flicks, but some of the characters are named Demi, Charlie, Emilio, Judd, and Anthony - a.k.a. members of The Brat Pack. It's pretty clever and shows how self-aware the film is. Without this stuff, this would be a pretty bland film. But the pop culture references raise the entertainment value a great deal.

The story itself is nothing major. It's your standard slasher flick with good kills [some very memorable ones] and stereotypical characters that you've pretty much seen in every other slasher film made before it. But at least it's done in a tongue-in-cheek way that's more humorous than serious. The character of Angela murders her victims with such glee and talks down to them as if she were their mother and explaining why she has to punish them. You can't help but find her very silly, yet charming and endearing at the same time. The two goody-goody leads, Molly and Sean, are likeable without being annoying or one-dimensional. They have a cute little romance sub-plot going on. And then there's Ally, the token slut of the film. She shows her boobs and has a sex scene and pretty much made my day. She was a bitch, sure. But remember: bitches in horror films are HOT! And Ms. Ally was no exception.

I will say that the film is bogged down by one scene where a montage of stuff that already happened in the film is shown. Why this was done is beyond me. It's just a total time filler that wasn't even necessary, especially when the film is short. Ruined the pacing and flow of the film for me at that point.

The gore is pretty neat here. We have tons of blood. We get some girl's tongue get cut off. Some other girl gets grilled to death. Others get stabbed or their throats sliced. We get a decapitation. We get someone shoved into a latrine with shit and leeches and a whole bunch of other gross stuff. There's also some battery acid involved. This film doesn't let up. Pretty inventive stuff for a straight-to-video feature.

The direction by Michael A. Simpson isn't overly complicated. It's your standard "point and shoot" type of direction, although there are signs of style in between. The pacing is strong, except for that flashback scene. The editing is decent. There's maybe a drop of tension and suspense, but not much. Not really much to talk about in this department, but it's good enough for this film.

The acting isn't Oscar-worthy. But for SLEEPAWAY CAMP II, it's good. Pamela Springsteen, the sister of rock legend Bruce Springsteen, replaces original star Felissa Rose as Angela. Instead of the shy and weird girl, Springsteen brings a creepy perkiness to the character, taking pride and enjoying each time she sends a camper "home". She has great delivery and her bubbliness is charming and amusing to watch. I like her alot. Renee Estevez, the daughter of Martin Sheen and sister of Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez, is believable as the down-to-earth Molly. She's never really the highlight of the moment but she's never annoying either. She grows on you in a good way. Tony Higgins does good as the token hunk, Sean. He had nice chemistry with Renee Estevez and liked to smile alot. He did look kind of old to be a camper though. In fact, all these people looked old. But whatever. No one else is really of note besides Valerie Hartman as the slutty Ally. I was totally convinced by the performance. She's not only the type of girl that let you stick the tip in, but she'll even make sure the whole enchalada is inserted as well. My kind of skank! Call me sometime, babe!

While not as good as the original SLEEPAWAY CAMP, SLEEPAWAY CAMP II: UNHAPPY CAMPERS is still an entertaining film that works in its own right. This is the kind of horror flick you invite friends over to see and just laugh at what goes down at Camp Rolling Hills. If you're looking for a deep and upper-scale horror cinema experience, this is NOT your movie. But if you want to see campers get mutilated and boobs flash in front of your eyes, then this is the movie for you. Just don't be doing some of those immoral activities while watching this. I may have to personally send you "home". Now you don't want that, do you?
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