2.18.2011

The B-Movie Bungalow Presents: Night of the Lepus (1972)

DIRECTED BY
William F. Claxton

STARRING
Stuart Whitman - Ray Bennett
Janet Leigh - Gerry Bennett
Rory Calhoun - Cole Hillman
DeForest Kelley - Elgin Clark
Melanie Fullerton - Amanda Bennett
Paul Fix - Sheriff Cody

Genre - Science Fiction/Bad Animals/B-Movie/Cult

Running Time - 88 Minutes


Rabbits - cuddly, furry animals that hang out in gardens so they eat vegetation, such as carrots and lettece.

Rabbits - easy to maintain pets that do nothing but eat and poop.

Rabbits - cute mascot for Easter festivities each year.

Rabbits - something you can boil in a pot to send a message to your love that you're kind of ticked off at them for whatever reason [usually related with adultery].

Rabbits - something that grow huge and carnivorous when injected with hormones that will supposedly slow down their fertility.

Okay, so the last one doesn't happen unless you're living in the world that encapsulates 1972's MGM B-Movie, NIGHT OF THE LEPUS. But it should happen more often. I mean, why haven't more films about giant bunnies murdering stupid humans with their buck teeth been made before or since?

Oh that's right... that's because RABBITS AREN'T SCARY!!!

Still, that doesn't stop NIGHT OF THE LEPUS from trying to convince you that a giant hare epidemic would be disastrous to society. And while it fails greatly in that aspect, at least the film is good for a chuckle.

PLOT
In Arizona, a rancher named Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) needs the help of a husband-wife team of scientists named Ray (Stuart Whitman) and Gerry (Janet Leigh) Bennett to stop a massive rabbit infestation on his property without using toxins to get the job done. Ray believes he can create a hormone that would be able to interrupt the breeding cycle of these rabbits. Unfortunately, their stupid, annoying daughter Amanda (Melanie Fullerton) lets one of the experimented rabbits loose, causing it to breed with the others. This begins a chain of events where the rabbits have suddenly grown exponentially in size, now hungering meat instead of vegetables. Will the rabbits finally take over the world? Will the humans stop this new source of overpopulation? Either way, nothing in this film will answer the question: "What's up, Doc?"

REVIEW
NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, while probably mostly made due to the success of 1963's Alfred Hitchcock's classic THE BIRDS, was inspired by the giant killer animal films of the 1950s, such as THEM!, TARANTULA, and IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA. In these films, science is the cause of the creation of these huge creatures that end up destroying the world. The thing is that the animals usually tampered with are threatening in their original sizes. Ants, spiders, and squids are threatening to many people. Rabbits, or lepus however, are not. It's hard to be afraid of an animal that does nothing but hop and wiggle its nose. Even in giant size in NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, that's all they do - only in slow motion. And that's why the film ends up being funnier than it was intended to be.

The screenplay, written by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney, is based on a novel by Russell Braddon called The Year of the Angry Rabbit. In the novel, Braddon writes about how Australia has been overrun by giant killer rabbits while Australia's Prime Minster attempts to dominate the planet with a superweapon. While the idea of giant killer rabbits is pretty silly, behind that idea were serious themes of Capitalism and War done in a slightly sarcastic and humorous way. NIGHT OF THE LEPUS tries to adapt that story, but it takes away the serious themes behind the whole giant rabbit idea. And without those themes, the film just ends up being completely silly. Yeah, it's slightly entertaining, but it gets old as it comes closer to the finish. There seems to be issues presented in the opening of the film [the newsreel portion] that involve the threat of overpopulation, not just in rabbits but probably the human population as well. But these ideas are never explored, instead focusing on crafting a sci-fi/thriller where giant bunnies want to eat human and animal flesh. And while they show blood [or in this case, ketchup] on the rabbits' faces, we don't really see them munching and mauling victims. And for majority of the film, they just run and hop and nothing more. The effect doesn't work and needed something else behind it to keep the audience's interest.

The characters aren't well developed either, but since NIGHT OF THE LEPUS doesn't require depth to enjoy on a superficial level, then it doesn't really matter. Did I care about any of these people? Nah. But I didn't find them annoying either, except for Amanda. She's the epitome of why I usually dislike children in science-fiction and/or horror films. She gets in the way of thing and ends up being the reason why the film exists to begin with. And no one bothered to punish her for it. Why did the rabbits have to murder horses and cattle, but leave this girl alone? Also, I just laughed at how easy these citizens went along with the whole "giant murderous bunnies" deal. The Sheriff, who usually is the last one to believe anything in these kind of films, was told and quickly convinced without much proof. And that audience at the drive-in theater listened to the warning about the killer rabbits, easily and quickly helping out in making sure the problem was contained. Really? No doubters or cynics in this town at all? Has this actually happened before in this town?? I found it sort of refreshing because it went against movie conventions, but it wasn't believable either. What the hell am I talking about - this is a film about deadly gigantic rabbits!

The "special effects" in this film were pretty cheap and very funny. The evident green screen effect in some of these scenes just had me chuckling at how silly this film looked. We also have smaller sets recreated so the rabbits can go nuts around it, making it seem that it's the same normal-sized town being overrun by giant lepus in slow motion. At least that was better than the horrible screen effect. And of course, we have the director shooting extreme close ups on the rabbits to make them seem huge, with growling sound effects [???] to make them sound threatening. And let's not forget the dude in the rabbit suit, swiping at his victims. Too funny, but I prefer this to horrible CGI. At least this showed some creativity. CGI looks cheaper than this a lot of the time and it's lazier as well. So the special effects team gets an B for effort. Plus, how bloody was this film? For a PG film, this movie was pretty violent.

The direction by William F. Claxton was good enough for this B-movie. It was framed and shot competently. The editing was a bit shoddy though. There were times when an actor would look one way in one shot and then look a different way in the next shot, even though time didn't jump ahead. Also, the ending sequence with the way the town solved the lepus issue had so many quick edits that it was jarring and kind of annoying. I know it was supposed to add a sense of intensity to the climax, but it just bugged me. And Claxton tried to make these rabbits scary, but that's not going to happen anytime soon. But at least he tried, so I can't knock it too much.

The acting was just there for the most part. To be honest with you. I thought Stuart Whitman [who played Roy] and Rory Calhoun [who played Cole the rancher] were interchangeable. They looked alike, even spoke the same, and seemed really bored. I see they actually read the script. And poor Janet Leigh - she looked totally embarrassed to be in this film. You could see it on her face that she was thinking on how to fire her agent. Star Trek's DeForest Kelley had a decent performance, even though he wasn't in the film much. I wished the actors had more fun with the silly material, but they took it so seriously. Oh well. And the rabbits were decent as well, especially the one with the wiggly nose. He should have been a star.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE WATCHING PETER COTTONTAIL HOPPING DOWN THE BUNNY TRAIL

- Rabbits are seen as a vicious threat to the survival of mankind. Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam could have told you that years ago.

- Amanda let one of the experimented rabbits go, pretty much starting the giant bunny outbreak. If only Glenn Close had boiled her ass instead of that innocent rabbit.

- Giant rabbits killed someone in a mineshaft and on the road. I guess they were tired of Trix being just for kids.

- The rabbits seemed to run after their victims in slow motion. Well, being on Baywatch does help one become a Playboy Bunny!

- Janet Leigh handles herself well with a shotgun. When it comes to hunting wabbits, the screen queen is just plain PSYCHO.

- A group of giant bunnies were chillin' inside a General Store by a gas station. If I ever want to stock up on V8, I know where to go!

- The rabbits scared away a herd of cattle. What bullshit. I hate when furry, lovable creatures try and start beef.

THE FINAL HOWL
NIGHT OF THE LEPUS is a terrible film, but it's entertaining for the most part due to the fact that someone actually had the nuts to make a movie about giant killer rabbits. I wish the actors had let us in on the joke, but maybe the fact that they were so serious increases the funny factor. It's silly, campy, and is pretty forgettable after it's all done. All you snobs with lucky rabbit feet should stay away. But for those who want a stupid, brainless B-movie to fill 90 minutes of your time, you could do worse than NIGHT OF THE LEPUS [like FROGS - ugh]. I wouldn't hop to see it again anytime soon, but I wouldn't wiggle my nose at it either.


SCORE2 Howls Outta 4


2.14.2011

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

DIRECTED BY
Jonathan Liebesman

STARRING
R. Lee Ermey - Charlie Hewitt/Sheriff Hoyt
Jordana Brewster - Chrissie

Taylor Handley - Dean Hill

Matt Bomer - Eric Hill

Diora Baird - Bailey

Andrew Bry
niarski - Thomas Hewitt/Leatherface
Lee Tergesen - Holden

Marietta Marich - Luda Mae


Genre - Horror/Slasher/Remake/Prequel

Running Time - 89 Minutes


There's no denying that Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, is one of the most influential and greatest horror films ever made. There was something so raw, so gritty, and so realistic about the film that it genuinely shocked and terrified people upon release - and I'm sure even to this day. The TCM franchise is probably the most interesting one in horror. The Tobe Hooper directed THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 took the horror out of the film, giving the story more of a black comedic feel that, only until the last few years, has been appreciated by horror fans. Back in 1986, however, the sequel bombed. Then New Line Cinema bought the rights to distribute the film, leading to a return-to-horror-roots LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III in 1990. An underrated film starring DAWN OF THE DEAD's Ken Foree and then-unknown Viggo Mortensen, it also didn't gain an audience until the home video market. In 1994, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEW GENERATION was released to limited released. Starring then-unknowns Renee Zelwegger and Matthew McConaughey, it was a horrible attempt at a remake and is still reviled today [hell, Zelwegger and McConaughey refuse to acknowlege its existence].

Many believed that the franchise was over, until Michael Bay and his newly created Platinum Dunes production company picked up the rights to create a remake for a younger generation. Starring Jessica Biel, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was released in 2003 to a great box office response. While many horror fans, myself included, questioned the purpose of this remake, it turned out to be pretty good as its own film. It would never compare to the original, but as sort of a 'lost sequel', it works pretty effectively.

With the success of the remake, Platinum Dunes decided to answer fan questions about how Leatherface and his family turned out to be cannibalistic murderers. So in 2006, the prequel to the remake called THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING was released. It didn't light the box office on fire like the previous remake had, but it did okay business and did really well on DVD.

Having just finished the SAW franchise [until a new one eventually rolls out - "Final" my ass], I figured I would finish the TCM franchise off as well [until Twisted Pictures take on the characters is released in a couple of years in 3D]. I hadn't watched THE BEGINNING since its theatrical release in 2006, where I wasn't all that impressed by it really. Now watching the Unrated Cut on DVD over four years later, I enjoyed it more than I had remembered. But is the film any good? Let's chew into some sweet flesh and find out.

PLOT
In 1939, a deformed looking baby is born and thrown in the garbage to die. A young Luda Mae (Allison Marich/Marietta Marich) hears the baby crying and takes him home with her. Years later, Thomas Hewitt/Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) has grown up working in the same factory his mother used to work at. Unfortunately, the factory is closing down and doesn't want Thomas to hang around. Not really feeling this, Thomas leaves after murdering the factory owner with a sledgehammer. A sheriff is on Thomas' trail, only to be killed by Thomas' father (R. Lee Ermey), later assuming the sheriff's role as Sheriff Hoyt to protect his family and start running a slaughterhouse filled with human meat.

Meanwhile, Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) and Bailey (Diora Baird) are riding along their boyfriends, brothers Eric (Matt Bomer) and Dean (Taylor Handley), who are on their way to enlist in the Vietnam War, despite Dean not wanting to go. After the group is harassed by a biker gang, they end up in a car crash that separates Chrissie from the rest of the group. Sheriff Hoyt ends up finding them, taking them hostage and torturing them in humiliating and vicious ways. It's up to Chrissie to save her friends, not knowing that she's only a pawn in the legend of Thomas Hewitt's evolution into the infamous Leatherface.

REVIEW
Even though the film is a little over four years old, I still find it hard to think that anyone asked for a prequel to the remake of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. I didn't need to know why Thomas Hewitt became Leatherface. I didn't need to know why Sheriff Hoyt was so crooked and that he wasn't a Sheriff to begin with. I didn't need to know who the first victims of this family were. The lack of knowledge and background actually keeps the mystery and fear alive in these type of films. But we're in a day and age where audiences want to know and learn everything, so I'm not surprised this film was made and released. That being said, THE BEGINNING is actually a pretty decent modern horror flick that does a lot of things right, even if it does end up being pointless at the end.

The screenplay by Sheldon Turner, with input by David J. Schow [who wrote LEATHERFACE], does what it needs to do and does it quite well. This is helped by the fact that the script features likeable characters that we actually care about watching. Turner and Schow do a very smart thing and let the audience watch these four young innocent adults go from arguing over enlisting in Vietnam to getting tortured by the Hewitt family that's probably close to being as bad as serving in that very war. I felt the young adults in the remake were pretty bland for the most part because they were very typical of what you would find in a film like this. THE BEGINNING allows these characters to be interesting because they all have internal issues that allows conflict to not just happen with their antagonists, but with each other. Eric and Dean argue about serving Vietnam, especially Dean feeling he's being forced into it because of Eric. When Sheriff Hoyt learns that Dean is a draft dodger, Eric protects him by assuming his place. There's also the boys' relationships with their girlfriends. There's also Chrissie, knowing she really has no chance surviving this ordeal, risking her life to save her friends when she could just escape and never look back. The protagonists have more layers than one would expect in a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE film, but it definitely works in the film's favor. You really feel for these kids and root for their survival, even though you know they all have to die in order for the story and the other films in the series to make sense.

Another thing is that the film focuses more on the Hewitt family than on anyone else. From Thomas Hewitt's birth to his evolution as Leatherface, we see how this bullied, facially disfigured behemoth of a man snapped into a blood hungry killer. Unlike the before mentioned LEATHERFACE film, which barely had the title character in the damn movie, THE BEGINNING is more fitting of the third film's title. We see how Leatherface got so good in slaughtering people. We see his first time crafting and putting on a face made of human flesh. We see his first time turning on that chainsaw and killing people with it. Even though we don't need to witness these events, the prequel wouldn't work without them.

To be honest, THE BEGINNING doesn't really belong totally to Leatherface. In fact, I feel the film is more of a centerpiece for Sheriff Hoyt's character. He's a despicable human being, but in a twisted way, has every reason to be. He lives in a nothing town with no money to provide for his family besides the factory Leatherface works at. And once the factory closes down, Hoyt realizes they need to eat human flesh in order to survive. He does that by killing the only Sheriff in town and assuming the role. And even though he shouldn't, he takes pleasure in torturing his "food" before he eats it. He ties victims to each leg of the table while people eat and chat over it. He beats people like he's a sadistic drill sergeant. He's even a bastard to his own family. The man is vulgar yet funny, which is definitely what members of Leatherface's family should be. Unfortunately, Luda Mae [who's the 'conscience' of the family] and Monty don't get much characterization, but watching Leatherface and Sheriff Hoyt do their thing makes up for it.

Unfortunately, the script doesn't do anything with the unoriginal premise of four teenagers getting slaughtered by Leatherface and his family. While I understand that it's a homage to the original film, it's looking a bit tired by the sixth installment. It doesn't help that imitators, like WRONG TURN, use the exact same premise and tell the exact same story only with more boring characters and villains. Luckily, it's a formula that works really well. Still, it would have been nice to see some sort of twist done with it, but it's just the same old, same old. It's too predictable at this point, making one think that if they just see the original 1974 film, they've seen all the others.

Also, the ending of the film really bugs me because it's not only predictable, but it's implausible as well. I won't spoil it for those who have an interest in watching this movie, but it involves that urban legend and classic horror trope where the killer is hiding in the backseat of the car while the victim is driving the car. The problem with this is that the victim is so ahead of the killer by the time she enters the car, it makes you wonder when did he suddenly teleport to the backseat. Also, how can no one see a giant guy with a chainsaw hiding in the backseat of a small car? I get that it has to end in a bleak manner, but the way it was done could have been more thought out and presented better.

THE BEGINNING's strength comes into the brutality and display of gore. This, by far, is the goriest and most brutal TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE film. Eric and Dean get chained up in a barn like prisoners of war. Eric gets wrapped with plastic around his face while he hangs, until Hoyt stabs a mouth hole. Hoyt beats Dean with a stick while he does push ups. Bailey gets a hook to the back after she was dragged in the dirt. Skin is peeled off, revealing the insides of an arm and a face. People get shot in the head and to the torso. People get chainsawed in half or impaled by it through the stomach. Legs are chopped off. This film, especially in the last twenty minutes, does not let up when it comes to blood and gore. It makes all the other installments before it seem PG-13. This film pretty much lives up to its name.

Director Jonathan Liesbesman, who directed the very flawed 2003's DARKNESS FALLS, wasn't considered the right fit before the movie's release. But he proves nay-sayers wrong by giving THE BEGINNING a cruel, gritty, and brooding feel that has been missing since LEATHERFACE back in 1990. I always felt the 2003 Marcus Nispel directed remake was a bit too polished and clean for a TCM film, but Liesbesman remedies that by sticking to the franchise's roots. It has a 70s vibe look and feel with a modern twist, with a harsh, but beautiful cinematography and nice scenes with tension. Even the jump scares worked most of the time, even though some were really cheap. It's just a nice looking film that has a great pace and a cool mood. I think this film is better directed than the remake for sure.

The acting is really good in this prequel as well. Without a doubt, this film belongs to R. Lee Ermey of FULL METAL JACKET fame. He's a cussing, crazy, and evil tour-de-force - stealing every scene he's in by chewing up the scenery. I would love to see him back in the next installment. Andrew Bryniarski returns as Thomas Hewitt/Leatherface, giving another intense and intimidating performance through the usage of body language. I thought he should have been in the film more, really. Jordana Brewster, of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS fame, is very convincing as Final Girl Chrissie. I believed her fear. I believed when she fought back. She had great chemistry with the other actors. And she looked really hot in her low riding jeans. Diora Baird didn't really do all that much as Bailey besides screaming and looking really hot as well. Great job! Taylor Handley was cool as Dean. He had great scenes with Matt Bomer and R. Lee Ermey especially. And Matt Bomer, of White Collar fame, did a good job as Eric. The acting here was a lot better than you would expect for a prequel to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

By the way, I also enjoyed the soundtrack as well. Although "All Right Now" by Free was released in 1970, not in 1969 where this film takes place. Oops. Still a great song though.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE EATING SOME FINGER SANDWICHES

- Some idiot put Leatherface in a dumpster when he was just an infant. You don't put baby in the trash. Or in a corner.

- Dean didn't get aroused by Bailey tying him to the bed for sex. Some people just don't have a BASIC INSTINCT when it comes to this certain thing.

- Don't try and be friendly with a group of bikers on the road. These riders are anything but easy when it comes to companionship outside the brotherhood.

- Eric, while trying to outrun a biker, crashed his car into a cow on the road. I know movie studios like to milk their horror franchises until they're dried up, but that's friggin' ridiculous.

- Sheriff Hoyt kept beating Dean with a stick as he was doing push-ups to turn him into a soldier. If there's no 'Gomer Pyle', 'Captain Joker', or "Me love you long time", it's not worth the effort.

- Sheriff Hoyt beat Eric in the Battle of Former Soldiers. This just proves that blue collar beats White Collar every time.

THE FINAL HOWL
Even though it's pointless and just another TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE film that you've seen many times before, at least THE BEGINNING is well made and entertaining for what it is. The acting is very good. The direction is solid. And while unoriginal, at least the story treats its characters with respect. It delivers in what it wanted to do, so I can't really knock this film at all. Still, I was expecting more out of it and hopefully the next installment will change it up a bit and bring something new to the Leatherface table.


SCORE
3 Howls Outta 4


2.10.2011

Saw: The Final Chapter [Saw 3D/Saw VII] (2010)

DIRECTED BY
Kevin Greutert

STARRING
Costas Mandylor - Detective Mark Hoffman
Betsy Russell - Jill Tuck

Tobin Bell
- John Kramer/Jigsaw
Sean Patrick
Flanery - Bobby Dagen
Chad Donella - Detective Matt Gibson

Gina Holden - Joyce Dagen

Cary Elwes - Dr. La
wrence Gordon

Genre - Horror/Torture Porn/Sequel

Running Time - 94 Minutes


Ever since 2004 until 2010, a SAW film has graced our movie screens each October. What started as an indie horror film by two Australian filmmakers about a dying man putting sinful people in brutal traps as a twisted version of morality play turned into one of the biggest horror franchises of all time. It changed the face of horror forever and brought about the unofficial horror sub-genre known as "torture porn". The Jigsaw villain has become a horror icon that fits well with Michael, Jason, Leatherface, and Freddy before him.

Unfortunately, Lionsgate milked a creative little horror film by extending its story much longer than it had any right to be. While SAW could have been a fantastic standalone film, SAW II and SAW III were still surprisingly effective horror sequels that bought us into the insight of Jigsaw and his reasoning towards his horrible actions. The original SAW trilogy is one of my favorite set of horror films from a single franchise because it told a great story and ended it on a high note. But then SAW III made a ton of cash, which had Lionsgate rushing to continue to story [even though Jigsaw had already passed away]. SAW IV and SAW V were pretty sub-par films, with Detective Hoffman [one of Jigsaw's many apprentices] continuing Jigsaw's legacy while confusing the hell out of SAW fans with illogical plot twists and uninteresting characters. And even though SAW VI was surprisingly strong for a sixth entry in a franchise [and a good sequel, I gotta admit], the box office numbers couldn't lie - fans were losing interest and were looking elsewhere - most specifically PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2.

So in 2010, after seven films, SAW was finally "finished" with SAW: THE FINAL CHAPTER [a.k.a. SAW VII or SAW 3D]. Lionsgate, finding decent success with the 3D trend with its remake of MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D, decided it would use the invention to send off the franchise to horror hell. While SAW 3-D was number one for its opening weekend, it still couldn't compete with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY's building audience. Fans had definitely moved on and got tired of Jigsaw's traps and twist endings.

But seriously guys, there's no such thing as "Final" in horror films. Freddy had a "Final" film and he ended up starring in three more films after that. Hell, Jason had TWO "Final" films and is still kicking. As long as money talks and bullshit walks, horror franchises won't die. They just get rebooted in five or ten years. So how "Final" is this SAW chapter? More importantly, is the film even worth watching? You've got sixty seconds to close this page before my review blows up in yo' face!

PLOT
Picking up right from the ending of SAW VI, pissed off Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) realizes he's been nothing but a pawn in John "Jigsaw" Kramer's (Tobin Bell) game after he escapes a head trap placed on him by Jigsaw's wife, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), who's supposed to clean all of her husband's loose ends. Hoffman, now consumed with power and having nothing to lose, decides to hunt down Jill and kill her.

Meanwhile, Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery) is promoting his self-help book that details the trials and turbulations that comes with being one of Jigsaw's surviving victims. After a meeting with other Jigsaw survivors, including Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), Dagen and his wife (Gina Holden) are put in vicious traps that end up revealing that Dagen may not have exactly been all that honest about his ordeal in what may be Jigsaw's final game.

REVIEW
SAW: THE FINAL CHAPTER [or SAW VII, as I'll call it for the rest of the review] is another pointless sequel in the franchise that doesn't really try to extend the Jigsaw story as much as it attempts to tie up loose ends that started in the original SAW. I feel for the most part that the film does accomplish that, ending major arcs while keeping smaller ones open in case another sequel arises. And while the film is a decent and entertaining sequel at times, SAW VII also shows how dry this franchise has truly become and why it should have ended four films ago.

SAW VII's screenplay, written by returning contributors Marcus Dunston and Patrick Melton, is actually fairly simple to understand compared to the previous entries in the franchise, even though it has two plots running through it. The sub-plot of SAW VII actually involves the characters we've been forced to watch since SAW IV, Jill Tuck and Detective Hoffman. It's funny that the main characters in previous chapters are now made to be supporting characters [rather cameos] in the finale. Why were we made to care about these characters again? Anyway, the conclusion to their rivalry is pretty satisfying, although very predictable [much like the rest of this film]. It doesn't take much of the film's time, and although it doesn't connect to the other plot until the very end, it's not a time waster or filler either. So I'm glad these two characters get their last hurrah and all, not that most audiences really cared to begin with. After all, Jill and Hoffman are no Jigsaw, Dr. Gordon, Amanda, or anyone else that were in the first three films. But they should have been the main characters and not treated as afterthoughts. Hell, Jigsaw was barely in the film for five minutes in a cameo! What the hell?

The main narrative of SAW VII involves Bobby Dagen's "game". Now I have to admit - I thought the writers did a good job with the Bobby character. He had a small, but effective little backstory that led to a good understanding as to why he lied about being one of Jigsaw's victims. Understandably, karma would bite him in the ass for that, which led to the game he had to endure to save his friends [who knew the truth] and his wife [who didn't]. The character was simple and actually realistic, which helped keep my interest and see how he would come out of all this, or if he would at all. Unfortunately, Bobby's wife and friends weren't really all that developed [more so the friends than the wife], making me not really care what happened to these characters [they were fodder anyway]. Also, I don't know if it was smart to make this new character our lead since our characters in the film had larger build up and should have been featured more. If it was just a regular sequel, it wouldn't have bugged me as much. But this is supposed to be the final entry to a huge horror franchise! You're supposed to bring everything together that was established in the first film and tie up loose ends, not introduce new people that really shouldn't be the main characters. If it was a supporting story, that's fine. But it should not have been the focus.

Speaking of new characters, the character of Detective Matt Gibson was one of the worst horror characters I have seen in quite a while. Not only was he really annoying, I thought his backstory was lame and how he carried himself was really unbelievable. And this guy was supposedly our main protagonist? It was bad enough he was part of one sub-plot, but he ended up being in BOTH! This dude should have been the first victim of the film, just so I wouldn't have dreaded his constant presence. I thought the bland characters in SAW V were bad, but this dude was, by far, the worst SAW character ever created. Wow.

As for the return of old favorites, I felt that Dr. Gordon and John Kramer himself were given the shaft. Kramer was barely in the film to begin with, which really made this film feel less SAW-like because of it. Even in death, I always felt his character brought new insight as to why things were presently happening. You don't really get that sense in this installment. And while it was nice to see Dr. Gordon make his return after learning what happened to him since the events of the original SAW, there was hardly anything done with him. Yes he was brought back for a very predictable reason, even if it didn't make a whole lick of sense, but there should have been more of him to make his arc more effective. I see the lack of usage for each character as wasted opportunities for more logical story progression.

The real reason as to why these SAW films even exist is for the death traps. And while they weren't the greatest traps presented in the franchise, they did enough to satisfy gorehounds. I thought the four-victim [hey, isn't that the guy from Linkin Park?] car accident was pretty cool [there was some nice gore effects here], as well as the spikes through the eyes and mouth, and the always fun victim getting cut in half. The hanging death was a bit bland though, even though the game that led up to it was pretty tense and quite humorous in a sick way. And what about that oven that looked like it came from a TRANSFORMERS flick? I couldn't stop laughing at how that was even set up. At least I was entertained by it.

My favorite trap had to be one that took place in public, involving a love triangle between two friends who were being used by the same girl. It brought the saw back in SAW, and I thought it was not only well filmed, but tense and suspenseful at the same time. And the result of the trap was very cool as well. Too bad the trap felt so out of place. Not only did the characters or this game never get mentioned for the rest of the film, it went against what Jigsaw was known for. He would have never let this game take place in front of an audience. He wanted people to fight for survival as a way to repent their sins and appreciate what they have in their lives. This trap was just meant to be sadistic and cruel. I felt most of the traps were done for this reason instead of making victims see the error of their ways. But maybe that's just me.

Kevin Greutert returns from SAW VI to direct THE FINAL CHAPTER. It has its moments. The film is excellently paced and has a lot of energy, especially during the trap sequences. The editing was good, but the film looked really cheap to me for some reason. I'm sure most of the budget went to the 3D process used to film this movie [which was actually shot in 3D and not converted in post-production], but that's no excuse for your final film to look more low budget than the original film, which was actually low budget. It looked like a TV-movie that could have aired on SyFy. It doesn't effect the enjoyment of the film in any way, but I would think you would want to go all out if it's the last film of the franchise. Maybe Greutert was pissed about being contractually obligated to direct this than the film he really wanted to direct, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2. From what I hear about PA 2, Greutert directed the better film, even if it did make less money.

The acting was mixed for me. Let's just get the good stuff out of the way first. Sean Patrick Flanery was really good as Bobby Dagen. I always liked Flanery as an actor, and he took a character I shouldn't have cared all that much about and turned him into a three-dimensional person who knew he was wrong in what he did but had to suffer for it. I thought he was solid in the role and I bought every emotion he put into the character's story. I also thought Gina Holden, as Joyce Dagen, was also pretty good as well. She didn't really have much of a character but I enjoyed Holden's performance as the confused and terrified wife. So props to both of them.

In the middle of the road - Costas Mandylor was okay as Hoffman. I hated him in the earlier SAW sequels, but he started to grow on me in SAW VI. He doesn't do much in this film, but he does it well. Tobin Bell gets five minutes [what shame] as Jigsaw, but he's always solid. And Cary Elwes as Dr. Gordon was a welcome return, with his overacting and fluctuating accent.

The worst actors were Betsy Russell and especially FINAL DESTINATION's Chad Donella. I usually like Russell, especially in her SAW films, but I don't know what happened here. It was like she didn't care and just wanted out. Also during her chase scenes, she ran away from Hoffman in almost a cartoonish way. I thought I was watching Anna Faris in a SCARY MOVIE film, but it was actually Russell looking like a fool wailing her arms and screaming. Maybe it was Greutert's direction, but I just laughed at her reactions to things rather than sympathizing. That's a huge problem. As for Donella as Detective Gibson - sigh, what a horrible performance. He came across as whiny and very unconvincing. He was truly irritating and a chore to watch. Whoever cast him needs to be fired and fast!

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE REALIZING THE ONLY GOOD THING JIGSAW DID FOR ME WAS GIVING ME FREE HANDICAPPED PARKING AT THE DAMN MALL

- Dr. Gordon used heat from a pipe to clot his sawed off foot. I don't know about you, but that foot long is costing him more than 5 dollars.

- There was a trap involving two guys dating the same girl. They either had to kill each other to save her life, or spare each other's lives by letting her get sawed in half. I'm sorry, babe, but this is the perfect example of "bros before hos"...

- Jill had a nightmare that Hoffman murdered her by splitting her in half. If she was still at CHEERLEADER CAMP, she'd still be the one killing, not the other way around!

- Jigsaw set up a vicious trap for four racists. That's why Jigsaw is powerful. Racists see in only black and white. Jigsaw sees in black, white, and red.

- Bobby was trapped in a game because he hadn't been exactly honest about his life experiences. You're telling me that one of the BOONDOCK SAINTS told a lie as white as POWDER to gain fame and money? And people wonder why I have trust issues...

- One of the characters got four spikes impaled into her neck. Talk about deep throat!

- Some chick got her eyes and mouth impaled in a trap. Lucio Fulci would be so proud!

- Hoffman trapped his hideout with tommy guns and toxic gas to murder any officers that were after him. I thought he was the new Jigsaw, not the Joker! Why so serious, Hoffman?

THE FINAL HOWL
SAW: THE FINAL CHAPTER is an above average "finale" to a horror franchise that many people stopped caring about years ago. Still, I stayed loyal and watched it from its strong beginning, to its weak middle, and to its okay conclusion. It has decent traps, a simple double narrative, and some good visual style. Too bad the story was flawed and the acting was uneven. And even though it's final, I'm sure we'll see another SAW film down the line soon. After all, evil never dies - especially when it makes you bank. This game is over...for now. And I, for one, couldn't be happier.


SCORE
2.5 Howls Outta 4


2.01.2011

The Horseman (2008)

For January's film, The Hunter College Film Blog has chosen Steven Kastrissios' revenge thriller, The Horseman. Here's is what a few of us have to say:

FredFMR: The Horseman is an emotional story of a father named Christian (Peter Marshall) whose daughter named Jessie was raped and later murdered. One day, he receives a mysterious videotape featuring his daughter being sexually and physically abused while under the influence of narcotics. When Christian learns that the tape is being sold to the public, he decides to hunt down every person involved with the video. As he takes a path of violence and destruction against those who harmed his daughter, Christian meets a young pregnant girl named Alice (Caroline Marohasy), who reminds him of his late daughter. Alice has no idea what Christian has been doing, but eventually gets caught up in the drama and horror as the truth begins to unfold.

Click here to read the rest of my thoughts
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