Salvage [Gruesome] (2006)

Joshua & Jeffrey Crook

Lauren Currie Lewis - Claire
Cody Darbe - Jimmy
Chris Ferry - Duke Desmond
Maureen Olander - Claire's Mother
John P. Miller - Detective Miller
Jessica DeLong - Jen

Genre - Horror/Psychological Thriller

Running Time - 79 Minutes

Score - 3 Howls Outta 4

PLOT - Claire (Lauren Currie Lewis) is a cute convenience store clerk who gets picked up after one of her work shifts by some creepy guy named Duke Desmond (Chris Ferry). Duke claims that he works with Claire's boyfriend, Jimmy (Cody Darbe), in the salvage yard and that Jimmy sent him to pick her up. After an uncomfortable trip home due to a conversation that involved "bitch" and the "c-word" aimed at Claire, Duke decides to break into Claire's house, beat the crap out of her, and then kill her by peeling her face off.

The funny this is that this seems to be Claire's nightmare of sorts - that happens in real life. Over and over and over and over again, like GROUNDHOG DAY. Everytime Claire tries to change her routine or find information about Duke, the result remains the same with Claire having to relive this nightmare again. Is Claire going nuts? Or is there something more twisted at work here?


STORY - SALVAGE is an interesting low-budget, independent thriller [although it claims to be a slasher but I disagree with that] that's pretty much the same narrative repeated multiple times, just with slight changes each time to lead into a really weird twist at the end. At times, the film is a bit repetitive and boring because while the scenes change each time, they don't really get to the point fast enough. However, the slight changes within the repetition do offer up clues to what is really going on between Claire and Duke, so they're not in vain at all.

To really go deep into the narrative itself would be spoiling the entire film. I will say that the characters are pretty well written, as well as the dialogue. There really isn't alot of it, which helps limit exposition that's not needed. The dialogue actually creates character and offers information that's crucial to the ending of the film. As for the ending, it'll probably take more than one watch to really get it. I had to watch it like three times to understand what the real deal was. It's actually quite clever in a way and I never really saw it coming. I don't think everyone will love the twist, and I'm not sure if I do either. But it was an interesting take on the meaning of Claire's nightmares.

DIRECTION - The Crook Brothers do a really nice job with the low budget they had to work with. There were some nice moments of tension and suspense. The face peeling scene, while not entirely graphic as a gorehound would probably like, did make me cringe since it was more implied than anything. The pacing could have been better though, but other than that, The Crook Brothers used what they had to work with really well.

VIOLENCE/SEX/LANGUAGE [aka THE GOOD STUFF] - There's a bit of sensuality in the film but nothing is shown. The most you get is a butt crack in a foggy shower. The language is pretty heavy, especially since the c-word is thrown out there. And there's a decent amount of gore, with the highlight being a head exploding after receiving the bad end of a shotgun blast. Not for the kiddies.

ACTING - The acting was probably the best part of SALVAGE. Lauren Currie Lewis, looking like a younger version of Alicia Silverstone, does really well as the lead girl, Claire. I really bought Lewis' expressions of confusion and fear throughout the film. Lewis has a nice presence and appeal that most young actresses don't have in my opinion. She was perfect in the role and would like to see more of her. Chris Ferry was also great as Duke Desmond, the deranged serial killer haunting Claire. He was a pretty creepy and intimidating dude, just from the way he talked to especially these smirks and grins that would make me avoid the guy period. The only other main character of note was Cody Darbe as Jimmy. He brought the comic relief to the film and I enjoyed watching him.

MUSIC - Evan Wilson's score is pretty good for the tone of the film. However, most of the soundtrack involves this indie nu-metal band called Devola. They sounded like a bad ripoff of Evanescence and Lacuna Coil and their songs were used in really crucial scenes, especially towards the end. Just very generic and the songs annoyed me a bit. It ruined the mood of these important scenes. These songs added nothing to the film.

is a cool flick if you're willing to take a chance on it. If you like stories about deja-vu, this movie is for you. It won't appeal to everyone but I think it's worth at least a single look. It has fantastic acting and a narrative which has a twist worth waiting for because it actually makes you use your brain. Shocking, I know. If you have 80 minutes to spare, SALVAGE would make a more than decent time filler.


The Hills Run Red (2009)

Dave Parker

Sophie Monk - Alexa Concannon
William Sadler - Wilson Wyler Concannon
Tad Hilgenbrink - Tyler
Janet Montgomery - Serina
Alex Windham - Lalo
Raicho Vasiley - Babyface

Genre - Horror/Slasher

Running Time - 81 Minutes

Score - 2.5 Howls Outta 4

PLOT - In THE HILLS RUN RED, a young director named Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink) becomes obsessed with a rarely seen trailer to a film called "The Hills Run Red", deciding to make a documentary about his search to hunt down the film and see it. Apparently, this rare horror flick was directed by Wilson Wyler Concannon (William Sadler) was banned for disturbing content due to its goal to be the most violent and brutal slasher film ever produced. No actor admitted to being in the film. Even Concannon has disappeared. With the help of Concannon's daughter, Alexa (Sophie Monk), Tyler, his girlfriend (Janet Montgomery), and best friend (Alex Windham) go to the location of where the film was shot. Unfortunately, the filming hasn't ended after all these years - and Tyler & gang are the new victims.


STORY - THE HILLS RUN RED arrived with a ton of hype behind it, with many claiming it was going to bring back the good ol' days of the 80s slasher film era. Social networking sites and horror websites promoted the hell out of this independent feature, getting horror fans excited with its cool trailer and premise. Unfortunately like with most films with a huge hype machine, THE HILLS RUN RED doesn't exactly match it.

That's not to say the film is horrible. As a matter of fact, THE HILLS RUN RED is a decent film that does the "film within a film" premise pretty well for the most part. It also takes cliches, like phones never working in the woods, and totally throws them out the window due to the fact that the movie is well aware of other horror films and itself. The self-awareness that sets up THE HILLS RUN RED is the most interesting part of the film, as it makes the film feel fresher than it has any right to be. With tongue-in-cheek dialogue and a genuine feel for the love of horror, the first half of the film works really well.

But once the killer, Babyface [not the R&B singer, though that would be pretty cool too] appears and starts stalking and slaughtering people, THE HILLS RUN RED becomes your standard slasher flick where the characters then fall for the cliches that they apparently threw out of the window minutes before. You get the yokels. You get the usual predictable mistakes by the characters. You get the masked killer who never speaks. The characters who were once interesting become annoyingly stereotypical. You get blood. You get nudity. It's your standard slasher flick when the first half tried not to be that. So it feels a bit disjointed and almost like two different films at times. Not to say I wasn't entertained, because I was until the really uber-predictable ending that sets up the inevitable sequel. It just seemed that the film fell into the trap that it was trying to avoid for 40 minutes and it turns an interesting movie into a generic one by the end. It could have taken a bigger chance, but THE HILLS RUN RED decides to play it safe instead. Oh well.

DIRECTION - Dave Parker does a decent job with the film. It's nothing new from the standard modern slasher fare, meaning it's your typical "point-and-shoot" affair. There is some nice tension and suspense at times, though, and the cinematography does look nice for a low budget film. I also think the best bit of directing was for the trailer of "The Hills Run Red" trailer that's used in the film. It looks like a legit grindhouse-type of trailer and I enjoyed the hell out of it. I kind of wish the entire film had that sort of feel so it would stand out a bit. But Parker does a nice job and it's obvious he's a horror fan giving horror fans what they want visually.

VIOLENCE/SEX/LANGUAGE [aka THE GOOD STUFF] - The language is pretty tame compared to the violence and sex. There is a sex scene in the film, implied sexuality in other scenes, and Sophie Monk and Janet Montgomery show off their boobs [whoohoo!]. And the film is pretty violent, with bodies ripping in half, people getting impaled, and a ton of blood splatter. If you like your characters bleeding and getting tortured, this film is for you.

ACTING - The acting for THE HILLS RUN RED isn't all that bad really. In fact, none of the acting was horrible. Tad Hilgenbrink, who's best known for AMERICAN PIE: BAND CAMP and LOST BOYS 2: THE TRIBE, does really well as the male lead. I think the best performance that I've seen him give in any film so far, so good for him. Sophie Monk does really well Alexa. She gave a multi-layered performance and I dug it. I also dug looking at her. What a babe! Janet Montgomery and Alex Wyndham do well as Serina and Lalo. William Sadler is awesome as Wilson Wyler Concannon, seemingly enjoying playing the villain role. And Raicho Vasiley does nicely as Babyface, even though the villain didn't have much of an effect on me compared to some other horror icons out there. But Vasiley was game and had great presence on film.

MUSIC - Typical soundtrack for a slasher film. I don't remember it honestly but I didn't hate it and it fit the film well.

While it doesn't live up to the hype, THE HILLS RUN RED is a decent horror film that gives fans what they're looking for. It brings nothing new like the first act had tried to promise before going into generic slasher mode, but the film is quite entertaining even while trying to figure out the twists and turns. I think it would be a solid buy if it were edgier in its narrative and visuals [and if that crapola ending was better], but I wouldn't be opposed to say this is a great rental for a horror movie night with your friends. I think every horror fan should take a trip to these HILLS at least once.


Deep Red [Profondo Rosso] (1975)

Dario Argento

David Hemmings - Marcus Daly
Daria Nicolodi - Gianna Brezzi
Eros Pagni - Calcabrini
Gabriele Lavia - Carlo
Clara Calamai - Martha
Macha Meril - Helga Ulmann
Giuliana Calandra - Amanda Righetti

Genre - Horror/Giallo

Running Time - 126 Minutes

Score - 4 Howls Outta 4

Having reviewed many a slasher film in the past 3 years, it's surprising that I have yet to review its Italian counterpart, the giallo film. From their long murder sequences, to their stylish camerawork, to really uneven mystery narratives, and their bizarre musical scores, you'd think I would have reviewed some films from this sub-genre already. Honestly, I don't know why it's taken me so long to really talk about the giallo. Maybe it's because my tastes for European horror hasn't fully kicked in until recently, probably due to American horror being so lame these days. But I'm on an Argento high at the moment and I figured that I would ride it out and see where it takes me.

As some of you know, I'm currently taking a Horror Films course at the college that I attend, where every week details a certain sub-genre of horror in chronological order. This week was, you guessed it, giallo week and the main attraction was Dario Argento's 1975 PROFONDO ROSSO, or as many of you know it - DEEP RED. It was my first time watching it, as I've heard so many great things about the film and was always curious about it. Some even told me that it was Argento's finest feature, even more so than 1977's SUSPIRIA. So after watching it, I have to say that while DEEP RED is an interesting and bizarre ditty of a movie, it's first impression hit me a lot harder than SUSPIRIA's - meaning that DEEP RED is definitely Argento's best film that I've seen so far [and I've seen some of them]. Let's see why you should go crimson over this giallo.

In Rome, a parapsychology conference is taking place. A powerful telepathic psychic named Helga Ulman (Macha Meril) starts having really twisted thoughts coming from one of the audience members, sensing the person's thoughts of murder and promising that this person has killed before and will do it again. That very night, this audience member invades Helga's home and murders her with a hatchet and by shattering her face through her apartment window. While this occurs, an English jazz painist named Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) is walking home with his drunk friend Carlo (Gabriele Lavia). Both men hear Helga's screams, but only Marcus watches Helga get murdered. Marcus runs to Helga's apartment in vain, only watching the killer leave the scene.

Since Marcus lived upstairs from Helga and was the only person alive at the scene of the crime, he is considered a possible witness and suspect. A spunky [and desperate] reporter named Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi) pops in to take photographs for a story, connecting with Marcus right away. Marcus tries to collect his thoughts about what he saw that night, noticing that he may have seen something in the apartment but doesn't quite remember exactly what it was. With the help of Gianna, Marcus befriends Giordani (Glauco Mauri), a psychology professor who worked with Helga, hoping he can help in figuring out the case. Soon enough, Marcus believes that a missing painting in Helga's apartment will lead to the identity of the killer. But the killer is one step ahead of him, killing those who could help solve the crime. Now Marcus and Gianna must unravel the mystery before they become the next victims of this killing spree.

I was entertained immensely by DEEP RED. It's just so bizarre in its storytelling that just thinking about it puts a smile on my face. The mystery narrative really makes no sense most of the time, the score by Goblin doesn't really seem to fit with much of the film, and the death sequences are so over the top that they're brilliant. DEEP RED was more like an experience than an actual movie and I enjoyed that. DEEP RED is a film, like SUSPIRIA, where "style over susbstance" works in its favor rather than against it.

The highlights of DEEP RED are obviously the murders that take place. They're just beautifully shot and beautifully choregraphed. They're not just your simple "stalk-stab-kill" sequences. These scenes are really long and they really build up to visuals that you won't be forgetting for a long while. Helga's death scene, for example, is a study of how beautiful gore in horror can be. She gets a hatchet slammed down into her flesh multiple times and then gets her face smashed into a window until shards of broken glass impale her jugular. Amanda Righetti's [not the hot actress from The O.C. and the remake of FRIDAY THE 13TH] death was also quite a spectacle that started with her killing a suicidal bird with a knitting needle, getting knocked loopy because of that distraction, and then drowning in a hot tub [HALLOWEEN II (1981), you aren't so original, are you?]. But my favorites have to be the last two deaths. One involves the victim getting dragged literally through the streets of Rome, having his head banged into the sidewalk, and then getting that said head run down by an on-coming car. The other involves a necklace getting caught in an elevator shaft that's moving down, leading to a really sweet decapitation scene. And what was up with that walking dummy? That's some scary shit! These gory death scenes are really what people remember the most about DEEP RED and now I understand why. Dario Argento and special effect artists Germano Natali and Carlo Rambaldi did an impressive job with these sequences.

Speaking of Argento, the direction of DEEP RED is right up there with the direction for SUSPIRIA. From subjective point of view shots, to close ups of the gory stuff and clues that belong to the identity of the killer, and just the direction of the death sequences show a man at the top of his game. Odd angles, dialogue that overlaps with each other, and focused framing and composition create some nice tension and suspense in a world that's chaotically beautiful to look at. DEEP RED is a visionary film and Argento shows his skill as an interesting and fantastic artist by making it work so damn well.

Also interesting about DEEP RED - the soundtrack by Goblin. The music for DEEP RED is really bizarre at times, and appropriate at others. During the murder sequences or investigation scenes, Goblin would play this really upbeat funky soundtrack that really doesn't go with the scenes at all. Instead of being creeped out by these scenes, I was actually tapping my feet and bouncing my head to the groove and the beat. Even with the mismatch, it still worked extremely well for me and truly made DEEP RED memorable and very cool. Of course, we have the children's song that plays as the killer's theme, which is creepy as hell and is the most effective song in the film. It's a great soundtrack that sets more of a mood and atmosphere to an already moody and atmospherically visual film.

As for the narrative of DEEP RED, there's no real point in going into much depth about it. Giallos are known for their implausible mysteries, red herrings, and dialogue that will make some eyes roll. Watching DEEP RED, I have no idea who the killer was. I had my suspects, but none of them were the culprit. The identity of the killer doesn't really make sense in context of the rest of the film, but it's an interesting twist nonetheless. I enjoy unpredictable things like this, so while it did throw me off a bit, I didn't hate the revelation. Also, the characters aren't really all that developed but we know enough to get a sense of who they are. Did I sympathize with any of them? No. But I don't think I was really supposed to. The focus was more on the mystery than on the characters investigating it anyway. And there's an actual gay sub-plot in this film - from 1975. I'm sure European audiences were more accepting of this than American audiences at the time, but that was some bold stuff to put a film 34 years ago. It honestly had nothing to really do with the rest of the film, but I found it interesting that it was even brought up. Still, DEEP RED is about the mystery and it really isn't coherent at all. But since the narrative to these films play second fiddle to the visuals and audio, it's to be expected and accepted for what it is.

The acting for DEEP RED is actually quite good. David Hemmings played the role of Marcus in a charming way. I liked the guy and he had some great scenes with the other actors in the film. Hemmings is the perfect lead for a giallo. Daria Nicolodi [who was dating Argento at the time and is the mother of Asia Argento] was probably my favorite actor in the film as Gianna. She's serious at one moment and then really kooky and desperate at the other. She had great chemistry with Hemmings, as they played off of each other very naturally. I really enjoyed watching her. Gabriele Lavia was good as the drunk Carlo. Clara Calamai had me cracking me up as Carlo's mom, Martha. What an interesting character she was. And Macha Meril was laughingly fun as Helga, the overacting psychic. Apparently subtlety is not in her future.


- Marcus believes that jazz music should be sleazy, not clean. I believe that women should be sleazy AND clean. That's not the kind of itch that needs scratching, let me tell ya!

- The killer created a voodoo doll out of yarn. Not only is that creepy, but really ghetto!

- The killer murdered a psychic pretty easier. I bet she didn't see that coming! Oh wait...

- "You know, sometimes what you actually see and what you imagine... get mixed up in your memory like a cocktail." If Tom Cruise is your bartender, the only thing that'll get mixed up is his penis in your ass while he jumps on your couch. ALLEGEDLY.

- Marcus lost an armwrestling contest to Gianna. Maybe if he wasn't in the bathroom for that long period of time doing "forearm exercises", he would have had a chance.

- Amanda Righetti got murdered in a hot tub. That's weird. It usually led to sex on Blind Date...

- Marcus found a skeleton behind a wall. I heard about skeletons in the closet, but behind walls? That's just a bit much, don't you think?

This is Dario Argento at his best. PROFONDO ROSSO, or DEEP RED, is probably the finest giallo any horror fan could watch. It's beautifully gory, wonderfully directed, and is so darn bizarre that it has to be seen to be experienced and appreciated. Definitely seek out the uncut version of DEEP RED as it's the only way to go. I seem to be on an Argento kick these days. Let's see how long it will ride out.


Lady In White (1988)

Frank LaLoggia

Lukas Haas - Frankie Scarlatti
Alex Rocco - Angelo Scarlatti
Jason Presson - Geno Scarlatti
Len Cariou - Uncle Phil
Katherine Helmond - Amanda Harper
Joelle Jacoby - Melissa Ann Montgomery
Henry Harris - Harold Williams
Karen Powell - The Lady In White

Genre - Horror/Mystery/Supernatural

Running Time - 117 Minutes

Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4

PLOT - LADY IN WHITE mostly takes place in the town of Willowbank Falls in 1962. Frankie Scarlatti (Lukas Haas) is locked in the cloakroom of his 4th grade class on Halloween night by two bullies. Forcing himself to sleep and having bad dreams about his mother's funeral, Frankie is awakened by the presence of a ghost named Melissa (Joelle Jacoby), who seems to know Frankie is watching her and decides to reenact her death in front of him [which happened inside that very cloakroom]. As Frankie watches in terror, he understands that the killer dropped something in a heating duct. Moments later, the real killer appears and attempts to open up the duct inside the cloakroom to find the missing object, knowing that a new school boiler will be installed and the evidence could lead to his arrest. The killer realizes that Frankie is watching him, putting Frankie in danger as the killer strangles him. Losing his life, Frankie has an out of body experience where he meets Melissa, who tells him that she won't rest in peace until he finds her mother, The Lady In White, for her. Frankie somehow survives and realizes he must find this Lady In White to save not only Melissa's soul, but his very own life.


STORY - It's hard to write about this film without spoiling anything. I will say that LADY IN WHITE is a ghost story/mystery/melodrama all rolled up into one. It works really well due to the fact that the main character is a child and its perspective is also very child-like and innocent. It's a film that doesn't try and spook you for the sake that it wants to scare the viewers. It actually tells a pretty deep and serious story about murderous pedophiles, ghosts, struggles of the Civil Rights movement, and just all around family life through the eyes of a child.

We're never lost on our way to unravelling the mystery. While it's pretty easy to pinpoint the pedophile in the film, the build up to it is pretty interesting and we care enough to let the predictability slide due to a strong foundation of characters, who are fleshed out and very sympathetic to side with. In fact, the Scarlatti family are a pretty entertaining bunch, written and directed in almost a slapstick style that only makes this Italian family the more endearing. They act and talk like a real family, which is refreshing in the horror genre. And the journey towards learning about the Lady In White and the revelation of the killer's identity is never boring. In fact for a two hour movie, it felt a lot shorter than that. You're just caught up in the story and that's some good screenwriting for you.

My only beef with the narrative is that it's told as a flashback. This isn't a bad thing at all because it's told really well. However, the film begins with an adult Frankie (played by Frank LaLoggia himself) telling a cab driver the moment he decided to be really serious as a horror writer, which leads into the Lady In White story. Then there are also times where LaLoggia does voiceovers during the story, which are sort of annoying since he tells us exactly what we're seeing on screen. If I can see it, why do I want to hear what I'm seeing at the same time? Those are the worst kind of voiceovers. Also, the film ends when the mystery is solved and the killer is brought to justice. We never go back to adult Frankie after that. What's the point in having Frankie as an adult if you're never gonna follow that sub-plot after the main story is over? It just made the ending feel a bit abrupt and a bit odd. But other than that, the story was well written and well told.

DIRECTION - Frank LaLoggia does a nice job giving LADY IN WHITE an almost surreal feel at times while balancing out the real life events. The film, taking place in the Fall and early Winter of 1962 and 1963, definitely feels like a Fall and early Winter type of movie. It created a nice mood and atmosphere to the film, as the setting was believable and totally matched the story. There was also nice editing and beautiful composition at times, creating tension and suspense - especially towards the end of the film. LaLoggia also knows how to handle the lighter comedic moments without trying, creating a nice balance and some good pacing that never felt off. The special effects, which are really superimposed images acting like ghosts, do look a bit cheesy and corny 21 years after the fact. But it was the 80s and it was a low budget flick. I've seen worse CGI now than I did here, so I'm willing to let it slide. I'm a nostalgic fool, what can I say?

VIOLENCE/SEX/LANGUAGE [aka THE GOOD STUFF] - LADY IN WHITE is a very tame film, meant for families rather than adults. I believe there was no foul language at all in this film. There is a bit of implied sex when it came to the killer, who was a pedophile. We never see anything or even hear stories about what he did. But there's a moment where the killer caresses Frankie in a way that it's a bit uncomfortable. And there is a decent amount of violence, especially towards the end and when someone gets shot in the second act. But other than that, it shouldn't be too horrible to show children.

ACTING - Lukas Haas does a fantastic job as Frankie, creating a real genuine and fleshed out character that we can all root for. Jason Presson, as Gino, was also genuine and quite funny. I actually wanted to see more of his character in the film. Alex Rocco plays the sensitive and caring father perfectly. Renata Vanni and Angelo Bertolini, as the grandparents, were a riot with their sparring. And Katherine Helmond, who is best known as Mona on Who's The Boss?, doesn't do all that much but looks quite scary as the older Lady In White. All that slutting around on that show really aged the hell out of her!

MUSIC - Typical ghost/supernatural score. It worked perfectly with the film.

LADY IN WHITE is an underrated and probably overlooked 80s horror film that has a lot of depth and endearing qualities that make it stand out among horror around that time. It's not an exciting movie or all that suspenseful until the end, but its atmosphere and the characters that keep the story moving really make this one worth a watch. I don't think everyone will enjoy LADY IN WHITE, but I think it's a very good film that deserves some attention.

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