Devil’s Diary (2007)

diavle

Directed by Farhad Mann [Other horror films: Nick Knight (1989), The Lost Treasure of the Grand Canyon (2008)]

This Canadian made-for-television horror film definitely feels like it’s on the lower spectrum of movies. Devil’s Diary isn’t really terrible, but it does feel overly generic and derivative, and personally, while some scenes were fun, I don’t think I’d go out of my way to watch it again.

You can really tell that there was a limited budget on this, and you can obviously tell it’s a television production, what with the hideous commercial cuts (screen flashes red) apparent in the film. The special effects, such as they were, were somewhat laughable, though we did get a few scenes that bordered on decent (such as the slow-motion car sequence as a vehicle slammed into someone’s legs).

If there’s any high point to the film, it’s in the performances. Alexz Johnson and Magda Apanowicz, when together, reminded me a lot of Brigitte and Ginger (Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabella from Ginger Snaps), and I rather liked their friendship. Johnson’s character herself (Dominique) was actually pretty sympathetic, with a recently-deceased father and a borderline sexually abusive stepfather (there’s a scene in which she’s talking to her father’s gravestone, which I found particularly touching), though she loses a little bit of sympathy as the movie drags on.

While I abhorred their characters and everything they stood for, Laura Carswell, Deanne Casaluce, and Mariam McDonald all did great as the stereotypical bitchy cheerleader types, so much so that I hated their very existence from virtually their first scene. The three of them take somewhat interesting routes through the film, but I don’t think any of them come out particularly redeemed for their bullying. Brian Krause, as a priest, didn’t really leave an impact on me, but for a character who appeared only a few minutes total, I did like Malcolm Scott. Andrea Brooks’ character had a lot of potential, but they never really did much with her.

Plot-wise, I do appreciate how they threw in a few turns, and the movie did sort of shift gears around halfway though (I’m not overly pleased with the resulting scenes, but at least they tried). At the end, they sort of threw in a twist that came as a surprise, but I wish that more time was spent on why it exactly happened. Also, I really didn’t care for the enchantress powers one of the characters gained toward the back-half of the film, in which every guy desired this girl, and went to foolish lengths to make her happy. Still, generally-speaking, I think the plot’s okay, just not great.

The biggest issue I really have with this is that it feels like the type of film that could have been made much earlier, and feels a lot like fellow television movie Satan’s School for Girls (2000). There’s nothing terribly unique about this film, and the deaths and accidents are mostly bland and forgettable (a strangling being perhaps the worst, an attempted crucifixion the best). For a television movie, I think it’s okay, bordering on bad. Ultimately, though, despite some potentially bold routes the film took, I think most people would forget this one shortly after finishing it. Oh, and the ending was pretty awful, which is probably to be expected.

6/10

Day of the Dead (2008)

Day of the Dead

Directed by Steve Miner [Other horror films: Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Friday the 13th Part III (1982), House (1985), Warlock (1989), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Lake Placid (1999)]

Oh joy. Another zombie movie. As a slasher fan, I don’t have an issue with some derivative plots, but zombie films take it to another level. There’s virtually nothing about this film that’s unique or worth seeing, and I just wasn’t feeling it.

None of which is to say the movie’s particularly atrocious, it’s just overly generic. The movie’s done in a serious manner, which is a bit of a relief, but at the same time, as the story doesn’t add anything all that special, it doesn’t really amount to much.

Only a handful of cast members really stood out to me, such as Mena Suvari (who played Heather in the American Pie movies) and Ving Rhames (though he wasn’t in the film for that long). Nick Cannon did okay, and probably had some of the better lines, while Ian McNeice (who appeared a bit in Doctor Who) was fun also. Most everyone else ranged from generic to bad, such as Matt Rippy, AnnaLynne McCord (who later starred in Excision), Michael Welch, and Stark Sands.

The special effects ranged from bad to awful. At worst, they were completely forgettable. There was, of course, some gore, but despite just having finished the movie, I can’t think of any particularly sequence that stood out at all. I guess zombies bit someone – that’s some solid gore, right?

In all honesty, this is just one of those generic zombie movies in which it’s hard to isolate all that much worth saying. It pales in comparison to the original Day of the Dead, which I didn’t even personally love. I didn’t care for what they did with the Bud zombie here, and overall, while the story is fine, with a twist (although if it surprised anyone, I’ll eat my shorts) thrown in, it’s utterly forgettable.

Also, a zombie popped up in the final millisecond and growled at the camera. I always love it when there’s a jump scare for the audience which has zero impact on the story being told. Great stuff. A+. Just kidding. This movie isn’t the worst zombie movie out there, but there’s literally no point to it, which is a damn shame, as it’s directed by Steve Miner, who directed classics such as Friday the 13th Part 2 and 3, House and Lake Placid. There’s no magic here, though.

5/10

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Sweeney Todd

Directed by Tim Burton [Other horror films: Sleepy Hollow (1999), Dark Shadows (2012)]

This Tim Burton movie is pretty much the type of musical you’d expect from him – overly dark and depressing, gory, and pretty damn tragic when the credits begin rolling, which all work to it’s credit.

Since this is a Burton movie, the cast is just as good as you’d hope for. Of course Johnny Depp does an amazing job playing a man who is very quickly losing the little sanity he had to begin with (the whole of the finale was a fantastically gory and manic conclusion), and is a treat to see, as are Alan Rickman and Helena Bonham Carter. Jayne Wisener doesn’t do much, but the story doesn’t really give her much to do, so that’s excusable. Two smaller performances I really liked here were Timothy Spall and Jamie Campbell Bower, as Spall gave that slimy, smarmy performance I liked from his portrayal of Pettigrew, and Bower gave us a fresh, innocent face which contrasted nicely with everything else on screen.

Given that there are so few musicals with horror elements mixed in, it’s hard to compare this one to the ideal horror-musical. I do know I liked the songs better in this one than I did from Repo! The Genetic Opera, but that’s more due to stylistic differences above anything else. That said, I don’t know how memorable most of the songs here are – something that is of mild concern.

Regardless, the story of revenge was well-done, and the splatter of gore, for a mainstream movie like this, was surprisingly good. There wasn’t much variety in the death scenes, which were generally just slit throats, but the blood did flow generously, which was good enough to me.

The tone of this one is just dark, and while the ending isn’t entirely down-hearted, it certainly lives up to it’s somber feel. Also worth noting, while the movie’s almost two hours, it doesn’t feel that long at all, mainly, I suspect, because of the songs. If you’re a fan of Burton, I don’t see why this film would let you down over any of his others, unless you couldn’t stomach the multiple slit throats. It’s an experience that’s not overly surprising if you’re a fan of Burton’s, but it is rewarding despite it’s tragic conclusion, even upon multiple viewings.

8/10

Hellbent (2004)

Hellbent

Directed by Paul Etheredge [Other horror films: Buried Alive (2007)]

When I first saw this, I was pretty impressed with it, especially with it being both a lower-budget slasher, along with being more oriented toward the LGBT community (if I recall, I think I saw this first on LOGO). Even if you’re not gay, though, there’s plenty of fun, albeit relatively mild, to be had here.

Taking place during the West Hollywood Halloween Carnival, the story itself is somewhat thin. A masked man follows and begins to kill off a group of four gay guys with a scythe. It does take about forty or so minutes after the initial kill to really pick up, which gives us some character building, which, given the characters in question are mostly interesting, works out well.

Dylan Fergus is pretty sympathetic as the main character, and has a nice background to him. I felt worse for Hank Harris’ character, though, especially after being turned down by his crush in a club. Harris, on a side-note, seems to be the only actor here who still appears in movies, which is sort of interesting. Lastly, playing the killer (of whom no background is given at all), Kent Bradley James certainly plays the threatening type well.

For the most part, I liked the kills, though, for decapitations, there were a bit light on blood. What probably didn’t help was that at times, the lackluster lighting caused a few scenes to come across as rather dingy. Another slight issue I had was with the utter lack of information on the killer – I liked his physique and style, but we don’t learn a thing about him. I get the appeal, but that always sort of bothered me a bit. Sadly, the last few seconds are pretty laughable also, which is a shame, as the rest of the finale was actually pretty thrilling.

From my understanding, Hellbent isn’t the first gay-themed slasher, but it does seem to be one of the most well-known ones. It certainly adds an interesting twist on what otherwise would be a pretty by-the-numbers slasher. Ultimately, I think it’s just about average, and personally, I don’t know if it has a whole lot of rewatchability. That said, it’s worth at least that first viewing.

7/10

Darkness Falls (2003)

Darkness Falls

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman [Other horror films: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006), The Killing Room (2009)]

This strikes me as an utterly fruitless and unenjoyable film to watch, and only if one has nostalgic connections to this one could I see Darkness Falls being a movie one would willingly go back to.

The story behind Matilda Dixon is sort of cool (and reminds me, though it came out many years later, of Dead Silence), but everything else seemed very, very hollow, and honestly, I felt like little happened despite the film being eighty minutes or so long. At times, I was reminded of better movies such as Fear of the Dark (also from 2003), and some worse movies, like Alone in the Dark (2005), or They (2002) but the point is that this story, while possessing potential, felt utterly wasted.

Almost all of the performances here weren’t up to par for what I’d hope to see. Chaney Kley was terribly weak as the star, which could probably be explained by the fact that he didn’t really do that much before taking this role. It doesn’t help that his character didn’t seem fleshed out at all (which is true for most of these characters). Kley died at 34 years old back in 2007, which is a shame, as maybe he had improved past this point. I know that Lee Cormie was just a kid here, but his acting too is rather pitiful. Grant Piro’s character seemed good for nothing but extraordinarily weak comedic relief, and while not bad, Emma Caulfield didn’t much shine in this one either.

It’s somewhat hard to pinpoint exactly why not only I just don’t like this, but rather hate it. It felt far too tepid, too tame, and too shallow, with bad, Hollywood scares and a very bad story. The movie’s made worse by the fact that other movies from around the same time were so much better (Jeepers Creepers in 2001, which had a much better police headquarters take-down, or the aforementioned Fear of the Dark).

I don’t remember particularly caring for this one when I first saw it, but I also don’t remember disliking it as much as I do now. If you’ve a nostalgic connection to this shallow film, then perhaps it works out for you, but as for me, I found Darkness Falls a deeply tedious and tepid mess.

4/10

The Amityville Horror (2005)

Amitville

Directed by Andrew Douglas [Other horror films: N/A]

I won’t pretend to remember much about the original The Amityville Horror (it’s been quite some time since I’ve seen it), but this remake, which I’ve also seen before, strikes me as almost entirely pedestrian despite a few solid sequences.

The movie’s certainly tense, no doubt about it. But movies before did it better (such as the classic Burnt Offerings), and this really adds nothing to the table, which is a shame, as there was a pretty good atmosphere perforating much of the movie.

However, it was held back by it’s utterly Hollywood style. The jump scares, the ghosts no one but the audience can see, the idiotic conclusion, the hideous flashes of ‘scary’ stuff, I hate that type of movie-making. Kids may eat it up, and it may sell tickets, but I’ve no interest in it.

There were some good scenes, though, such as the sequences that took place atop the house. The opening to the film, a flashback of an earlier slaughter, was moderately welcomed also. But then most of the other scares aren’t worth much, and good tension doesn’t erase the taste of an otherwise stale film.

If this remake has anything really going for it, I think it’s the decent acting of the lead, Ryan Reynolds. Throughout the film, he grows more and more unstable, culminating in a blood-less potential carnage. Jesse James (who I know best from 2003’s Fear of the Dark, a long-time favorite of mine) was also noticeable, but I don’t know if he, or really any of the kids, were that crucial to the story.

Honestly, while I really liked some of the scenes and ideas this was going for, it felt incredibly Hollywood, both tame and wrought with unnecessary jump scares meant purely for the audience. I don’t remember if I liked this when I first saw it, but I definitely see it as below average now.

5.5/10

Dark Mirror (2007)

Dark Mirror

Directed by Pablo Proenza [Other horror films: N/A]

This is a film I’ve seen twice before, unless my memory’s failed me. While I recall liking it at least once during a previous viewing, it really doesn’t hold up, and more so, Dark Mirror’s really not worth the time.

The story itself has potential, but the route the movie takes hinges on incoherent. While it’s not necessarily without it’s charm, portions of the story aren’t explained well enough to leave a positive feeling behind. As it turns out, I rather do like a scene toward the end, but then it’s followed up by a shoddy conclusion.

I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I’m nowhere near wooed by Lisa Vidal’s acting here. Maybe it’s because she tends more to be a television actress than that of feature films (she was in both ER and starred in The Division), but she doesn’t feel right for this role. That said, it may just be the iffy script, and not Vidal herself, which is believable. Christine Lakin was pretty to look at, but was pretty much pointless in the movie. Despite being one of the most important side characters, David Chisum didn’t leave an impression one way or the other, which I guess is pretty telling in it’s own way.

Dark Mirror isn’t really a god-awful movie, but it doesn’t seem like the type of film that people would proudly exclaim as original or even all that enjoyable. A lot of what was done here was done better in Dark Water (both the original and the American remake), and this movie doesn’t really add that much aside from pitiful kills and an okay sequence near the end. It’s not a terrible film, but after seeing it again, it’s certainly not worth another view, even on a rainy day.

5.5/10