Severance (2006) – Horror Film Review

Christopher Smith’s British, comedy, horror, SEVERANCE, is advertised as THE OFFICE meets DELIVERANCE. Mixing genres like this is tricky, as it’s almost impossible to get the balance right: the comedy dilutes the horror and vice versa. Consequently, SEVERANCE is not as funny as THE OFFICE nor as scary as DELIVERANCE, but it still manages to entertain.
Seven colleagues who work for a weapons company called Palisade Defence are rewarded with a team-building getaway weekend in the wilds of Eastern Europe. The team consists of the boss Richard (Tim McInnerny), sexy girl Maggie (Laura Harris), stoner Steve (Danny Dyer), optimistic morale booster Gordon (Andy Nyman), smart guy Billy (Babou Ceesay)], pacifist Jill (Claudie Blakley), and handsome Harris (Toby Stevens).
SEVERANCE begins with a flash-forward of big boss, George [David Gilliam] and two foreign dolly birds running through the woodland. It’s a pretty camp scene, hammed up to ‘B’ movie standards, but the film doesn’t have the look of a ‘B’ movie; it’s too glossy, so we know the ‘ham’ must be intentional.
Smith then brings us back to join our team of work mates on the coach. After encountering a road block on their way to their luxury lodge and being abandoned by their driver, they decide, after some argument, to walk the rest of the way. The banter on route, whilst not hilarious, is amusing, and helps to set the characters.
When they arrive at the lodge what they find is far from luxury; however, with no choice but to use the grotty, old building, they go inside and make themselves at home. It isn’t long before they notice they are not alone. Surrounded by man traps and mines, the team are soon under attack by a gang of psychos with a beef against Palisade Defence….and staff cuts are inevitable.
Whilst this isn’t as gory as some horror movies, it does have its moments, and it’s clear that Smith knows what horror audiences are looking for: the odd severed limb here, the odd decapitation there. He serves up all the things you would hope for, but because a lot of it is done in a comedic way, it isn’t actually scary. Smith adds in all the expected ingredients, even the odd couple of bare-breasted women running through the woodland, but he does this with an invisible wink to the camera that made me smile. He even manages to find room for a pastiche of an old silent film.
Tim McInnerny, who was wonderful in the BLACKADDER series, is well cast as the stuffed-shirt boss.Andy Nyman, who was good in the Big Brother-based comedy-horror DEAD SET, didn’t disappoint in SEVERANCE either. Whilst I was expecting to find Danny Dyer irritating, I was surprised to find his character quite likable and funny. All round, the casting was excellent.
SEVERANCE is short of laugh-out-loud moments, but is mildly amusing throughout. It probably won’t make scare you, but it will entertain you if you don’t expect too much. It’s almost impossible to cross-polinate comedy with horror and engender both belly laughs and screams, but SEVERANCE does a reasonably good job.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane – Horror Film Review

Lost in distribution limbo, this slasher film is entertaining but not the holy grail promised by early reviews.

Director Jonathon Levine’s ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, starring Amber Heard (ALPHA DOGS), earned some enthusiastic buzz when it screened at the Toronto Film Festival in 2006 (Scott Weinberg called it the first “thinking man’s slasher film”), but that hasn’t helped the independent film find its way to American audiences. ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE was released over a year ago in the UK, but despite distribution deals with a couple of American companies, horror fans in the U.S. are still waiting for so much as a Region 1 DVD; most recently, a theatrical release announced for this Friday was abandoned by Senator Distribution. Fans have been told they’re missing out on seeing the ‘best modern slasher flick since SCREAM’ (according to Cinematical’s James Rocchi), but does ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE live up to the hype?
Mandy Lane is every teenage boy’s fantasy. She’s blonde, she’s beautiful, she’s innocent, and she’s unattainable. So when Mandy and her best friend Emmet [Michael Welch, better known for his part as Bella’s faithful friend Mike Newton in Twilight] are invited to a pool party (well actually, Mandy is invited and insists that Emmet tags along), all the boys are hoping to score. School jock Dylan, desperate to get into Mandy’s pants, is egged on by Emmet to impress Mandy by jumping off the roof into the pool. Predictably it ends in tragedy, and that’s the last we see of Dylan.
Nine months later, Mandy is still the object of every boy’s desire and all they can talk about is getting ‘first dibs’. Here, the movie is slow to heat up, spending some time setting up the characters. Nice guy Bird (Edwin Hodge), Party Animal Red (Aaron Himelstein), wannabe playboy Jake (Luke Grimes), the obligatory slut Marlin (Melissa Price) and bitchy Chloe (Whitney Able) create the archetypal group of horror movie teenagers. The only character missing here is the comedy sidekick. Most good horror movies have an element of fun, and it is here that All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is lacking, and because of this, it appears at times, as if the film is taking itself a little too seriously.

Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) - object of every boy's affection

The group celebrate the end of junior year, by heading off for a few days of madness and mayhem at Red’s ranch. Surprisingly, innocent, virginal beauty Mandy is happy to head off into the middle of nowhere with her rebellious group of friends. It quickly becomes apparent that she not only has to fight off all three boys, who are trying to charm her into bed (some with more finesse than others), but there is also a killer on the loose.
The killings here are not particularly inventive, though there are one or two cringe-worthy deaths. It’s a shame that whilst introducing the characters early on, the writer didn’t create at least some good qualities as it would have made me care more about them dying. At no point did I feel the terror that these teenagers were experiencing, and this was because the victims were taken so quickly that there was not enough time to build the suspense. Older movies in this genre, notably the Friday the 13th series build the tension by having the maniac chasing his victims, whilst they bumble around stumbling over the bodies of his previous kills. As All the Boys Love Mandy Lane borrows heavily from its predecessors, it’s a shame it didn’t borrow more of this tension.
Handsome, mysterious ranch hand, Garth (Anson Mount) is the first to fall under suspicion….because he has a gun. Of course, we all know it isn’t going to be that obvious, but the real killer is revealed surprisingly early on in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. That doesn’t mean we won’t get a surprise twist at the end though.
There’s nothing particularly new or extraordinary about All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. It’s another slasher movie, with a group of teenagers heading off into the middle of nowhere. Drink, drugs, and sex follow, and as any horror fan knows when you mix those ingredients together, things can only end badly. This film does, however, spend some time focusing on the hang-ups of today’s teenagers, who have issues with pecker size, body fat, and even pube length (I kid you not!). It’s reasonably well acted, and once it got going, it did keep me watching.
The photography has a grainy bleached-out look to some of the scenes, lending an up-to-date feel and helps to give the illusion that we have not seen this all before. Compared to others in this genre, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane does not deserve to be ranked as highly as the classics, but it has certainly earned a place in any horror connoisseurs DVD collection, if only for that twist……
ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (2006). Directed by Jonathan Leviine. Written by Jacob Forman. Cast: Amber Heard, Anson Mount, Whitney Able, Michael Welch, Edwin Hodge, Aarn Himelstein, Luke Grimes, Melissa Price, Adam Powell.

Ice Age (2002) & Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006) – Retrospective Animated Film Reviews

The ICE AGE films represent 20th Century Fox’s attempt to cash in on the lucrative computer-animated family fantasy film market. As such, they are reasonably successful in terms of box office, if occasionally problematic in terms of storytelling, relying on CGI sight gags and the voice cast to pull the movies over any narrative humps.
ICE AGE tells the story of an unlikely “herd” — a group of mismatched animals that band together and bond for the common good. The simple story runs a predictable course (even the savage saber-toothed tiger has a change of heart and turns into a good guy by the conclusion), but the film feels stitched together from separate bits and pieces (no surprise when you consider the number of writers who worked on the project).
In fact, the film feels as if it was made by people who excelled at short subjects but did not have a grasp of quite how to tell a feature-length story. Sometimes, the scenes feel like isolated set pieces used to show off the computer imagery, which isn’t always as stunning as intended.
Fortunately, the characters are reasonably endearing, and the gags are funny. For brief moments, the film even works up some real feeling, as when the film’s mammoth, Manny (Roy Romano), who is perhaps the last of his species, contemplates some glyphs that remind him of the death of his family at the hands of human hunters.
Not surprisingly, the highlight of the film turns out to be the character least integral to the “plot” — that is, Scrat, the inarticulate squirrel rat (whose grunts are vocalized by co-director Chris Wedge). After accidentally precipitating the titular ice age, the creature’s apparently eternal quest for a beloved chestnut, which is intercut throughout the movie, plays like a series of classic cartoon short subjects, the brief interludes generating as much laughter as the entire remainder of the film.
ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN is a considerable improvement over its predecessor. With the back story already established, and the herd of characters firmly in place, the script is unburdened with the baggage that weighed down ICE AGE and free to launch into a new story. As the title suggests, the problem is prehistoric global warming which threatens to flood that land when the ice melts. The story thus becomes a trek to safety — a safe linear narrative line that allows for the introduction of new characters and the occasional jaunt down some tangent for the sake of a good joke.
This time, Manny meets a female mammoth (voiced by Queen Latifah), who thinks she is a possum. A pair of water-dwelling predators replace Diego the saber-tooth as the continuing threat (one of these has a head that suspiciously resembles the pet crocodiles from Disney’s THE RESCUERS). And Sid the lisping sloth meets up with some others who worship him as a god — before trying to sacrifice him into a volcano!
Less episodic than ICE AGE, the sequel moves along more smoothly, and the new characters fit in well, including a rude pair of real possums who manage to shift from annoying to endearing without any hokey sentiment.
As before, the formula includes lots of anachronistic jokes (i.e., giving us an ice-age version of sights and sounds familiar to 21st century viewers), and there is an over-reliance on slapstick: the main storyline works best when the humor is verbal and character-oriented; the cartoony physical comedy should be reserved for Scat’s sequences.
The CGI is variable. Some scenes and backgrounds are astounding; at other times a flatness creeps in, betraying the computer origins. The animation sometimes comes up short when the characters are expected to emote — Diego, in particular, seems stiff and robotic whenever he’s not leaping or running. Fortunately, this is balanced by some good action. The predator attacks have nice JAWS-y feel to them, and there is wonderful underwater sequence near the end, with Manny trying to free his trapped girlfriend and fend off carnivorous attackers.
As before, Scat (again voiced by Chris Wedge, who this time did not direct) steals the show. Not only does he again precipitate the problem afflicting the rest of the cast (his quest for the acorn causes the first leak in the melting ice flow), he also undergoes a near-death experience that leads to his version of heaven, which (you guessed it) is filled with nuts. His quest — and his ingenuity and perseverance in the face of so many obstacles — is the stuff of great screen comedy, and it’s nice to see it sandwiched smoothly into the film as a whole. But one also wishes that the filmmakers would give the character more of a chance to stand on his own. He probably could not carry a feature film on his scrawny shoulders, but his scenes her prove once again that he could sustain a series of short subjects (such as the one that preceded 2004’s ROBOTS).
ICE AGE(2002). Directed by Chiris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha. Written by Michael Berg and Michale J. Wilson and Peter Ackerman, from a story by Wilson; additional story by James Bresnahan, Galen T. Chu, Doug Compton, Xeth Feinberg; Jeff Siergey, Mike Thurmeier. Voices: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Goran Fisnjic, Jack Black, Cedric the Entertainer, Stephen Root
ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN(2006). Directed by Carlos Saldanha. Written by Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow. Voices: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Queen Latifah, Will Arnett, Jay Leno

Cars (2006) – Retrospective Animation Review

This computer-animated effort from Pixar is not quite up to the standards that the company established with their previous blockbusters like TOY STORY and THE INCREDIBLES, but it is still an engaging, worthwhile effort. Turning cars into anthropomorphic characters is simply not as intriguing as making toys come alive — it fails to ignite the imagination in the same way — yet the idea does yield ample opportunity for impressive visuals, including two exciting race scenes that bookend the movie, along with some incredible vistas in between.
The basic story drives a very familiar path. Lightening McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is a hotshot rookie racecar about to make the big time, if he can win the big upcoming race in California. On the way, however, he is waylaid into a small town in the middle of the desert, where he ends up having to pay off his traffic violations by paving a new road that the locals hope will draw tourists. All McQueen can think about is getting out of town as fast as possible, in order to get to California, but you do not need an advanced degree in story structure or drama to guess that his enforced stay in Radiator Springs will teach him values, and by the end of the film he will end up falling in love with the small town that he used to despise.
Although the plot coasts along a predictable path, the verbal jokes and sight gags rev things up along the way, making the film enjoyable almost from start to finish, even if it never matches the pace of previous Pixar efforts. To some extent, the visuals outweigh the story (a rarity for a Pixar film). There is a clarity to the images, especially the backgrounds, that is stunning, making it easy to drive right into the movie’s imaginary world.
The car designs are fun, but they do not quite live up to the settings. Computer animation is the perfect medium for rendering mechanical objects with a semblance of life, but sometimes the characters look a bit too cartoony — even goofy. Fortunately, the voices help add a layer of personality that keeps the viewer engaged.
Technically, the animation is brilliant: not only are the races exciting; the quieter moments are filled with breath taking desert vistas that will unlock a trunk full of memories for anyone who has ever traveled across the county by road. In a way, the real heart of the film lies not with McQueen’s quest to win the big race, nor even with his maturation from arrogant hot shot to nice guy, but with the invocation of Route 66 and the many forgotten tourist stops along the way. Radiator Springs is an archetypal example of these attractions, where people making the cross-country trip along the old highway would stop and visit a museum or buy some souvenirs before moving along to the next destination. A beautiful musical montage halfway through the movie conveys a nostalgic wonder for this lost era, which came to an end with modern freeways offered a more direct, high-speed route.
CARS may not be the best film Pixar ever made, but it is a fun-filled effort that eschews the usual sarcasm and irony that have become mainstays of computer-animated features trying to appeal to older as well as younger viewers. We all know that American love their cars, and here is a film that reminds us why: it’s not all about getting to the destination; sometimes, the journey itself is where the joy is.
CARS (2006). Directed by John Lasseter & Joe Ranft. Screenplay by Dan Fogelman, Phil Lorin, Kiel Murray; additional screenplay material by Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson, Bonnie Hunt; sotry by Jorgen Klubien, Don Lake, John Lasseter, Joe Ranft. Voices: Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, Guido Quaroni, Jenifer Lewis, Paul Dooley, Michael Wallis, George Carlin, Katherine Helmond, Joe Ranft, Michael Keaton

Copyright 2006 Steve Biodrowski

Stranger Than Fiction (2006) – Film & DVD Review

This amusing effort is one of the best films of 2006, a surreal comedy about the intersection between art and reality, fact and fiction. It takes on a rather thoughtful theme without drowning in the potential pretentiousness of its almost too precious premise. Instead, STRANGER THAN FICTION delivers as a wonderfully romantic comedy that manages to eat its cake and have it too: while addressing the topic of whether tragedy is more profound than comedy, the film argues that the artistic compromise inherent in popular art may in fact be preferable to the purism that demands downbeat dénouements instead of upbeat happy endings.
Will Farrell, abandoning the broad, crude comedy that has made him a star, plays Harold Crick, a man who begins to notice a strange voice in his head: a female narrator who describes and analyzes his every action. While he goes about the boring, unbroken routine of his life, which includes running an IRS audit on bakery owner Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), he comes to believe that he is a character in a novel being written by the unseen female voice, and he seeks help from literary professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). Eventually, Crick meets the author, Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who has a reputation for always killing off her protagonists. In fact, Kay is working on just this problem, trying to come up with a dramatic means of dispatching Crick. When she finishes her long-delayed manuscript, Crick turns it over to Hilbert, in the hope that he can come up with a solution that will spare his life, but the professor declares that the unpublished novel is Eiffel’s masterpiece and that its brilliance depends on Crick’s death. Will Crick meet the fate Eiffel has intended for him, or will she have a change of heart and compromise her work in favor of keeping him alive?

Will Farrell as Harold Crick, whose life may be fiction
Will Farrell as Harold Crick, whose life may be fiction

As in the writing of Borges, we see the interplay between fiction and reality; as in the fiction of John Barth, we see the dramatic device of the story in progress being explicitly analyzed. This may sound like a stuffy lecture, but the movie is actually hysterically funny as it plays out its highbrow ideas in amusing cinematic terms. At one point, Professor Hilbert advises Crick that some stories are driven by the action of the protagonist; therefore, Crick may be able to avoid his fate if he ceases to take action – that is, does nothing. This leads to a droll sequence of Crick cringing alone in his apartment, too timid to open his mail, answer the phone, or even change the television channel displaying gruesome documentary footage of wildlife carnage.
Unfortunately, it is all for naught, as it turns out that Crick is in the other kind of story, one driven not by the protagonist but by outside events – which in this case take the form of a giant wrecking ball knocking out a wall of his apartment.
The sophisticated screenplay by Zach Helm is matched by the careful direction of Marc Forster, who ably captures a world where creator and created can co-exist, without ever succumbing to mere whimsy that would render the story a simple spoof rather than a heartfelt drama. Forster also knows how to use the visual elements to underline the emotional points in Helm’s script, a capacity most evident in the wonderful bus scene between Crick and Ana. As Crick tries to make a personal connection with the attractive woman (one she resists because of the antagonism of their professional relationship), the double-length bus twists and turns, the two sections shifting angles around the pivot in the center. The back and forth motion underlines the tentative nature of the nascent relationship: sometimes Ana and Crick line up eye to eye, but only for a second; then they drift apart again, the momentary connection broken.
For whatever reason, STRANGER THAN FICTION failed to find the audience it deserved in theatres. Perhaps Farrell fans did not want to see him in something relatively serious (that is, lacking pratfalls). Perhaps sophisticated viewers were scared off, thinking the movie would be another RON BURGANDY clone. It’s too bad, because both audiences would probably have found something worthwhile in the film. With any luck, this will be a movie that enjoys a belated discovery, growing to become regarded as a classic even if it was never a big success.


STRANGE THAN FICTION was released in February 2007 on disc in two formats: Blu-Ray Disc (ASIN: B000M4RGA6) and a Standard DVD (ASIN: B000LXHOAE).
The Standard DVD presents the film with English (Dolby Digital 5.1) and French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround) audio tracks, plus optional English and French subtitles. The 113-minute running time is divided into 28 chapter stops. Unfortunately, the menu allows you only to scroll through the chapters four at a time; there is no option to jump ahead to chapters 9-through-12, for example.
The disc automatically launches with a series of trailers (including PREMONITION, starring Sandra Bullock) before segueing into the STRANGER THAN FICTION material; fortunately, you can skip the coming attractions by using the Menu button.
There is no audio commentary, so the bonus features take the form of seven featurettes and two extended/deleted scenes.
THE FEATURETTES, which all bear a 2006 copyright date, seem to have been produced to promote the film’s theatrical release. Some of them are informative, but they do not have the perspective that comes after a film has been reviewed and taken its chance in the market place.

  • “Actors in Search of a Story” profiles the cast. The highlight is Dustin Hoffman’s jokey claim that his career resume qualified him to play the lead; all he needed was some modern makeup to remove his wrinkles to make him look Will Ferrell’s age.
  • “Building the Team” is less interesting, being a run-down of the crew, many of whom worked on director Mark Forster’s previous film, FINDING NEVERLAND.
  • “On Location in Chicago” takes a look at the film’s locations. Sets were only built when absolutely necessary (for example, the apartment that is destroyed by a wrecking crew); instead, actually locations in Chicago were used to lend a more realistic ambience (although the film itself never identifies the city in which it is set).
  • “Words on a Page” has producer Lindsay Doran and writer Zach Helm discussing the development of the screenplay. Ideally, this featurette should have been placed first, as it deals with the project’s genesis.
  • “Picture a Number: The Evolution of a G.U.I” is the most interesting featurette, providing a look at the special effects used to create the numerous charts, diagrams, and computations that show us what is going on inside Harold Crick’s head.
  • “G.U.I” (pronounced “gooey”) stands for “Graphic User Interface,” which refers to any graphic display that allows a user to access and control a piece of computer software; in a sense, the special effects illustrate the G.U.I. that Crick uses to access the world around him.
  • “On the Set” is a wordless montage, set to a rhythmic drumbeat, of behind-the-scenes footage.

THE DELETED/EXTENDED SCENES consist of two videotaped segments culled from bogus “interviews” that are seen in on the television set in the office of Dustin Hoffman’s literature professor.

  • “Book Channel Interview with Karen Eiffel” presents the entirety of the interview between author Eiffel (Emma Thomson) and the Book Channel Host (Kristin Chenoweth), which is seen only in fragments in the finished film. Clearly intended as a spoof of talk shows with vapid hosts, the complete segment is too close an imitation of its target – more awkward and embarrassing than funny.
  • “Book Channel Interview with Peter Allen Prother” was entirely deleted from STRANGER THAN FICTION. In it, Visual FX Designer Kevin Tod Haug appears as the author of a book titled “The South Will Fall Again.” Though worth a chuckle or two, the episode suffers from the same problem as the Eiffel interview: it is less a parody of a bad interview than an example of a bad interview.

Though lacking an audio commentary, the DVD’s featurettes decently encapsulate what went into making the film. The only thing really missing is a more in-depth look at the finished film itself, preferably with some kind of analysis of the sophisticated themes involved. However, this is the sort of thing that requires the perspective that comes with the passage of time; perhaps a 10th anniversary disc will address the issue…

Computer graphics represents the characters obsession with numbers.
Computer graphics represents Harold Crick's obsession with numbers.

STRANGER THAN FICTION (2006). Directed by Marc Forster. Written by Zach Helm. Cast: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, William Dick, Guy Massey.

Copyright 2007 Steve Biodrowski

Gamera the Brave – Review

A new, cute Gamera faces off against the man-eatin Jidas.

Finally released on DVD, this 2006 film one breaks continuity and abandons the adult tone of the well received 1990s GAMERA trilogy directed by Shusuke Kaneko (GAMERA, GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, GAMERA VS. LEGION, GAMERA 3: REVENGE OF IRYS), in favor of returning to the childish tone of the campy 1960s movies. As bad as that sounds, the result is not as bad as it sounds. GAMERA THE BRAVE is actually a pretty decent kids movie that has special effects and production values on par with its immediate predecessors, even as the script shifts the emphasize onto younger characters.
The film starts with the Gamera made familiar in the previous films self-destructing in order to defeat a pack of the flying Gayos monsters that are about to get the better of him. (This sequence looks as if it were originally designed to suggest a continuity with the ending of GAMERA 3, which had the giant flying turtle marching off to face a swarm of these monsters; however, the opening of GAMERA THE BRAVE is set way back in 1973, decades before the ending of REVENGE OF IRYS.) Over thirty years later, a young lad discovers an egg from which a new Gamera hatches. The middle of the film is actually quite funny as the tiny turtle grows larger overnight, displays abnormally intelligence for a reptile, and begins to display the familiar powers (flying, spitting fireballs. etc).
Things turn from amusing to exciting when Jidas, a new man-eating monster, arises, and Gamera, sensing his destiny to be a protector of mankind, turns from being a friendly pet to being a faithful guard dog. The new opponent, perhaps not unintentionally, seems to resemble the Sony 1998 Godzilla; it’s a very effective, frightening design, that is perfectly realized with a combination of suit-mation, puppetry, and CGI. Unfortunately, the new Gamera design is a disappointment, replacing the fierce look of the defender of Earth with a kid-friendly face featuring big blue eyes, like something out of a bad anime.
The special effects are mostly good, although the miniature work is apparent at times. The acting and script are better than expected, considering that the appeal is mostly to kids. Things only really start to fall apart near the end. There is a cornball sequence wherein a string of kids act as a sort of relay to carry an object that will revive Gamera (kind of like spinach for Popeye) so that he can defeat his opponent. This is just barely works, in a cornball kind of way. But then it really gets bad when our hero finally delivers the object (a scarlet pearl) but first gives a long speech demanding that the turtle not self-destruct in order to kill the monster that’s eating people left and right. As if this were not bad enough, there’s an even cornier moment after that battle, when all the children cordon off Gamera to keep the authorities at bay, so that the turtle can fly away to fight another day.
Despite these missteps, the film is mostly entertaining – a good effort for parents to watch with their children. As if realizing that the baby Gamera was the most endearing part of the movie, the final credits rolls with outtakes running on the left side of the screen, with the tiny creature wandering around looking cute. All in all, GAMERA THE BRAVE succeeds where Takashi Miike’s GREAT YOKAI WAR (another Japanese fantasy film aimed at children) fails, because the filmmakers did not treat the material with contempt but instead tried to make the best of it.


U.S. kaiju fans finally got a chance to see GAMERA THE BRAVE on DVD when Media Blasters released it under their Tokyo Shock label on December 30, 2003.
GAMERA THE BRAVE (a.k.a. Chisaki Yusha Tachi – Gamera [“Little Braves of Gamera”], 2006). Directed by Yurta Tazaki. Written by Yukari Tatsui. Cast: kaho, Kanji Tsuda, Susumu Terajima, Ryo Tomioka.

Abandoned, The (2006)

This horror flick is atmospheric and often frightening, but the lack of a solid narrative creates a lethargic pace. With little story to tell, the film quickly hits a plateau early and remains in cruise control until revelation of what’s really going on near the very end. Till then, it relies on the creepy presentation of its ghosts (actually doppelgangers) to maintain audience interest. The formula would have been wonderful as a half-hour short but feels needlessly protracted at feature length.
Anastasia Hille plays Marie, a middle-aged, divorced mother who returns to Russia after being contacted by a notary about inheriting her parents’ farmhouse. Marie, we learn, was adopted as a baby, after the deaths of her father and mother, about whom she knows nothing, despite attempts to track down information in the past. After a truck drive to the middle of nowhere, she ends up in the rundown property, which is surrounded by a river on all sides. There she meets Nicolai (Karel Roden), her twin brother, who claims to be in the same situation as she: trying to learn the truth of what happened to their parents. Marie and Nicolai find themselves haunted by white-eyed ghosts that look exactly like themselves – which Nicolai interprets as an omen that their deaths are soon to follow. Through flashbacks and ghostly apparitions, they learn that their father stabbed their mother, who survived long enough to shot the father and rescue the children, driving them to safety. After much wandering around in dark basements and deserted forests, including an abortive escape attempt, Marie and Nicolai find themselves back in the farm house as it looked on the night of the murder, apparently doomed to die as their father had intended all those years ago…
Hille and Roden turn in good performances as the bedeviled brother and sister, but the screenplay offers little for them in terms of distinctive characterization. With no ghost-buster or psychic expert on hand, the explanatory dialogue is given mostly to Nicolai, although how he has figured out the truth is never clear. The script deliberately leaves details vague, offering little evidence to clarify what is happening – or even whether Nicolai is telling the truth – keeping audiences in a state of perpetual uncertainty that is supposed to pass for intriguing mystery. Final revelation and resolution of the story is trite and predictably gloomy, offering little catharsis.
Highlight of the film is the scare sequences, particularly when Marie and Nicolai haunt themselves. Ghosts are visualized with actors in make-up, rather than computer-generated effects, creating a realistic, almost tactile feel to the apparitions, whose hunched shoulders and slow, shuffling gate almost suggest zombies. Blank-eyed expressionless faces generate a real thrill, better than the more obvious snarling evil so often on view. Other atmospheric bits also register nicely, such as the beam of a flashlight that briefly illuminates objects from the past that are no longer actually in a room Marie is investigating.
In the end, THE ABANDONED feels less like a complete movie than a collection of good ideas for horror scenes. Attempt to wrap them up in a scenario about bringing events “full circle” is at best partially successful, and the film’s conclusion abandons atmosphere and mood, resorting to silly gore (taking a cue from HANNIBAL, one character is eaten by pigs). On the plus side, the isolated location and limited characters create an effective sense of suspense. With a better screenplay, these elements could have added up to something wonderful.


THE ABANDONED was first released as one of the “8 Films to Die For” in the After Dark Horror Fest of November 2006. THE ABANDONED was selected as the “audience favorite” and granted a separate theatrical release before the package of 8 movies reached home video. Other After Dark titles include PENNY DREADFUL, UNREST, REINCARNATION, THE GRAVEDANCERS, and THE HAMILTONS.
THE ABANDONED (2006). Directed by Nacho Cerda. Written by Nacho Cerda, Karim Hussain. Cast: Anastasia Hille, Karel Roden, Valentin Ganev, Carlos Reig

Trapped Ashes (2006) – Horror Film Review

Click to purchase TRAPPED ASHESBy Steve Biodrowski

This may be the ultimate piece of horror nerd nostalgia cinema, a movie loaded with trivial tidbits that serve as talking points for confirmed geeks while the vast majority of the viewers remain absolutely clueless. Produced and scripted by Dennis Bartok (who used to program the schedule for the American Cinematheque in Hollywood), TRAPPED ASHES grafts limbs, organs, and brain matter, taken from movies  Bartok used to screen, into a virtual meta-monster, as if Frankenstein had stitched his creation together not from dead bodies but from bits and pieces of other mad scientists’ experiments. Underlining the point, some of those “mad scientists” – er, film directors – are on hand to take part in Bartok’s experiment. The result is a cult film that will appeal to trivia buffs, but hardly represents a comeback for the veteran filmmakers involved. Continue reading “Trapped Ashes (2006) – Horror Film Review”

The Omen (2006) – Horror Film Review

Click to purchase THE OMEN (2006)By Steve Biodrowski

This remake of the 1976 blockbuster THE OMEN – which introduced the world to the devilish little Damien, the Antichrist child born of a jackal and destined to precipitate Armageddon – is even more mechanical than the original thriller. In fact, one might even call it soulless: it’s as if someone took a corpse, embalmed it to preserve the external appearance, slapped on a layer of fresh makeup, and then stuffed it full of animatronics to make it move and speak. One can admire the technical virtuoso achievement that simulates life, without ever really being fooled into thinking that the result is actually alive.
Although David Seltzer (who wrote the original) retains sole screenplay credit, the new version is not quite a word-for-word remake. Continue reading “The Omen (2006) – Horror Film Review”

Scary Movie 4 (2006) – Film Review

This fourth entry in the franchise comes nowhere near matching the gross-out of the original SCARY MOVIE, but that doesn’t mean the series has moved toward sophisticated satire – just that the crude sex and scatology jokes are filmed in a way that will earn a PG-13 rating. Despite an infusion of talent once associated with everything from AIRPLANE to HOT SHOTS to THE NAKED GUN, SCARY MOVIE 4 feels tired and worn out – far more tired and worn out that the films it spoofs, which is a really bad sign. Continue reading “Scary Movie 4 (2006) – Film Review”