ReelReviews #118: Lights Out (2016)



OCTOBER 21, 2017: Lights Out



BOO! There are two ways to frighten the audience in “scary movies”: The “jump scares” that startle the audience, and the “creepy folklore” storytelling that leaves views unnevered and uncomfortable. The latter is much harder to pull off, but gives people a film with much more depth when they successful use it. Not surprisingly, Lights Out uses the former technique (startling the audience) but does it very, very well.

Lights Out is a slim 80 minute movie, so it knows that it lacks depth, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome. All these types of movies have some type of malevolent presence, and the one here is named “Diana”. That kept me thinking about the Princess of Wales, so I wish they would have gone with something more exotic sounding. Still, “Lights Out” came up with a cool twist where the evil spirit isn’t really an “evil spirit” at all. The backstory is actually rather interesting, since it appears the evil being here is actually a girl with a rare illness that seemingly “died” in the 1970s but is actually still alive. According to the film’s lore, they conducted an experiment on her to “cure” her of skin deformity, but instead it just destroyed her corporal form. This is hinted at through the movie, as the mother of the protagonist keeps telling “Diana” that “You can’t exist without me”.

Of course, this strange Dr. Manhattan type origin story is really just an excuse for what’s the meat of the movie: the premise that “Diane” can only be seen in total blackness, and cannot exist wherever there’s light. The film requires some suspension of disbelief because one would assume the characters would be sure to have portable light readily available at all times after they know such a being exists and is actively trying to hurt them. That being said, the movie milks this scenario for all its worth, and creates a final showdown that is extremely tense and frightening for a viewer watching the movie alone in the dark — which happened to the case when I viewed the movie.

After Lights Out was over, I couldn’t help but have to switch on the lights in the basement before exiting, and carefully look over my shoulder to make sure everything was OK. So as cheesy as it seems, did Lights Out accomplish its goal as a horror movie? It certainly did.

*** out of ****


ReelReviews #105: It’s Alive (1974)


MARCH 13, 2017 SCREENING: IT’S ALIVE! (1974)

In a strange twist of irony, I spent the month of March going from the most critically acclaimed Hollywood movies (namely, looking at past “Best Picture” Oscar winners) to the films LEAST likely to win prizes and critical acclaim: nasty B-grade horror films. The 1974 cult classic “It’s Alive” is actually much better than its reputation would suggestion. For an obscure low-budget Hollywood film, it has some A-list credentials. For example, famous Hitchcock composer Bernard Hermann did the score for this film – and the music is every bit as memorable as his more famous compositions. The makeup designer is Rick Baker, who would go on to do the makeup for An American Werewolf in London (1981), which launched him to fame as Hollywood’s go-to guy for top-notch special effects makeup. The lead male actor in the film, John P. Ryan (apparently “best known” for the 1985 movie Runaway Train, which I’ve never seen) puts in a terrific performance that requires an entire range of emotions and actions for his character, and writer/director/producer Larry Cohen’ story of a deformed mutant baby going a killing spree was unique and “creative” for the time, to say the least. But with all that, is the film actually good? Surprisingly, yes it is.

A few months earlier, I screened the similarly “ugly cult classic” horror film series Basket Case, which I haven’t yet reviewed on my blog. To put it simply, the first one was really compelling, the second was watchable but stupid, and the third was a pile of dung that I shut off halfway through. I wondered if the It’s Alive trilogy (and its 2009 remake) would suffer a similar fate. They did not. It’s Alive, though certainly shunned by “mainstream” film critics and considered some cheap horror film, is a compelling and dark melodrama. Larry Cohen wisely stuck with the “leave much of the horror to the audience’s imagination” rule, and while this may be partly inspired by the difficulty of showing the killer mutant baby on a rampage using low budget 1974 special effects, it works.

The film has a high level of graphic violence, but between the grisly things that occur on screen, the real heart of the story is the mutant baby’s perfectly normal, middle-America parents, who already have a perfectly normal first child who is sixth grade during the film’s chain of events. The film manages the incredibly difficult task of A) Getting the audience to suspend disbelief that such an awful thing could actually happen to this couple, and B) Making it plausible how society at large would deal with the problem. In the movie, the problem with the “Davis baby” eventually becomes a nationwide panic. As the baby’s father struggles to come to grips with what’s happening, he has a moving segment where he compares his family’s nightmarish life to the story Frankenstein because the audience associates Frankenstein as the name of the monster — rather than the scientist who created him. By the end of the film, the father finally has to confront the fact the baby is still his biological child and identifies him as its father, no matter how inhuman and monsterious s the baby acts and looks. The film has a lot of subtle social commentary on the changing role of the American family in the 1970s, even though its first and foremost a violent “things that go bump in the night” kind of movie. The final line the movie was also an excellent punch-in-the-gut for audiences after the horrific events were seemingly over.

The film was very compelling and exciting, regardless of its low budget and amateur filmmaking origins. Highly recommended.

*** out of ****

ReelReviews #18: Carrie (2013)




The last and perhaps least of three adaptations of Carrie is the recently released 2013 film. The good news is that it’s not a bad movie, but the bad news is that it’s not a good one. Unlike other recent remakes where I’ve watched multiple versions back to back and seen them tell the story in vastly different ways (a good example being the different versions of Fright Night, which I will review soon) you can’t really find anything new or surprising here. I watched this one immediately after I had seen the 1976 and 2002 versions, and its like watching actors audition for the same role. The same scenes, and the same dialogue is shown over and over, so I’m left to compare how the performance is, since I already know how the scene will unfold and how the movie will play out.

Carrie 2013 has one and a half things it does better than its predecessors: the music was by far the best of the three Carries (I wish the creepy music during Carries rampage in this movie had been used in the 1976 movie, which deserved it more), and for once, the high school students actually believably look the part, especially since this is the only Carrie where the actress is the correct age for the role. I give it “half” a point for this because while Chloe Grace Moretz is the lone time where an actual teenager plays a teenager, and she’s believable as a tormented teen, she also suffers from the Sissy Spacek problem of being too cute and charming to convey the idea that this girl is a social outcast. Angela Bettis remains the undisputed champion of getting that vital part of Carrie’s life across on screen, although Chloe Grace Moretz’s acting is good and you genuinely sympathize with what she’s going through. It’s all the more impressive given that the previous two Carries were adult actresses and now you have a much younger actress having to do a range of difficult scenes. Unfortunately for Chloe, she’s already proved herself in some iconic film roles, especially in the modern day horror classic Let Me In, which is probably why she was cast in this movie and was the main selling point. This time around, she’s just in an average, forgettable horror movie.

In many ways, Carrie 2013 was a hybrid of the previous two takes on the story. Chloe Grace Moretz channeled both Sissy Spacek and Angela Bettis at times, and Julianne Moore was virtually a hybrid of Piper Laurie and Patricia Clarkson’s interpretation of the role. She’s quiet and reserved, but also clearly nuts, paranoid, and completely detached from reality. Even the ending seem to merge the climax of the previous two movies – Carrie defeats her mother by both stabbing her to death, and giving her a massive heart attack. Did the filmmakers watch the previous two adaptations back-to-back like I did, and try to combine them? If that wasn’t the intention, it seems to have been the result, but its not good.

The climax here was surprisingly, well, anti-climatic. I think this version had the least build up to the point at the prom where they pour blood on Carrie (I think they used some type of new blood effect too, it didn’t splash all over her like the previous two movies). Carrie, although in shock, is clearly what’s aware of going on, and if they were trying to show she was enraged and on a killing spree, they didn’t convey it very well. Worse, in this version they have Carrie hover in midair and wave her arms around to gesture at objects she’s using her powers on, and it had the exact opposite effect of the 1976 movie: it screamed “Fake Hollywood movie”, rather than convince me a crazed teenage girl is genuinely using telekinesis powers to wreak havoc The final shot in the movie was also the weakest of the three versions (which is really saying something since I thought all three were hokey and underwhelming). It just shows Carrie’s grave followed a fake CGI “crack” which I guess is supposed to scare us.

Carrie 2013 has an R-rating, but it seems to be mostly for language (they drop the F-bomb a lot) since its probably the tamest of the three Carrie’s. I can’t imagine this one having full frontal nudity or extreme violence. The worst part here is that after seeing the 1976 movie, I sincerely felt it was dated and a “modern take” could be interesting. Unfortunately the big budget Hollywood movie didn’t deliver it – the forgotten TV remake from a decade earlier did.

** out of ****


ReelReviews #16: Carrie (1976)




Stephen King novels have always been hit or miss for me, and adaptations of his novels usually end up the same way. Some movies based on Stephen King stories are masterpieces, while others are total garbage. As Stephen King is perhaps the most successful horror writer in history, this gives me a kind of love-hate relationship with his work. My experience with King is a bit unusual because I adore the 1986 adaptation of Firestarter, which King himself considered to be one of his weaker novels. Yet for years, I had never read the “classic” King novel that handled a similar subject matter: Carrie, which was the author’s first published novel. Nor had I ever seen the original 1976 movie it was based on, despite the fact it is now considered a bonafide classic that is legendary for being the first in a long line of King novels turned into movies. With the 2013 remake recently arriving on DVD, I decided to bring myself up to speed with a marathon of all three versions of Stephen King’s Carrie. The results were quite surprising.

For starters, I usually object to remakes because the original is still effective with modern audiences, and this one of the reasons I reacted negatively when I found out they were remaking the 1976 movie. The 70s were very much an era where horror films as we know them today came into existence, and surely the original Carrie is a timeless classic up there with Halloween or The Exorcist, right? Wrong. Much of the 1976’s Carrie screamed dated 70s cheese for me, and I actually felt while watching it for the first time that the movie just wouldn’t work for today’s audiences.

Carrie is directed by Brian de Palma and it has some genuinely good moments of suspense, usually involving foreshadowing of what will occur later on. The opening credits sequence is shocking for the wrong reasons – it contains some casual full-frontal nudity of “teenage” girls (obviously actresses in their 20s and 30s, by the way) in a shower room, and its done in slow motion with some soft dreamy music track and all the ladies don’t seem to shave much when it comes to body hair. This definitely screamed 1970s for me, but it seemed more like a softcore porno than a horror movie, and its certainly one element that would be left out of the remakes and not shown to audiences today.

Many of the problems I had with Carrie is the “comic relief” used to break up the tension simply isn’t funny (although one sequence – where a group of teenage girls that tormented Carrie are forced to do outdoor exercises – is brilliantly realized). Conversely, many parts of the film that are supposed to be deadly serious and creepy just come across as silly and over the top. A particularly weak point for me was Piper Laurie as Carrie’s zealously religious and overprotective mother who snaps by the end of the movie. She’s supposed to be frightening and unpredictable, but Laurie overacts to the point of absurdity and presents her as a batshit crazy one-dimensional caricature of “religious zealot” from the start. It’s very much in the vein of Faye Dunaway’s later performance as Joan Crawford in 1981’s Mommie Dearest. Yet for some bizarre reason, Dunaway’s performance gets ridiculed while Laurie’s gets praised. As for me, I just found myself snickering during moments that were supposed to be chilling, especially one scene where a wide-eyed Laurie mumbles “Thou shall not suffer a witch!!” in hysteria over her daughter’s telekinetic powers.

What really worked for me was the climax of the film. The payoff was absolutely worth it, and I believe its the reason why the movie is so fondly remembered today. Everything leading up the famous “prom scene” where Carrie is covered in pig’s blood and unleashes her vengeance wasn’t working for me. But the climax was strangely “realistic” for me, and I totally bought the idea that the character of Carrie had genuinely gone into a rage and was extracting her revenge with supernatural powers. Sissy Spacek was too old for Carrie and fairly bland and whiny through most of the movie, but when she turned into hate-filled vengeful bitch on a rampage at the end of the movie, it was genuinely disturbing and unnerving – particularly the way she just stood there and glared at people in anger, while things would happened around them like water pipes bursting and doors slamming shut. The practical effects of the 70s worked far superior than the typical fake CGI we see in today’s horror films.

Apparently the final image of the movie – SPOILERS! – where Carrie’s hand reaches up from the grave – was a landmark moment in film as it had never been done before and shocked audiences in 1976. Sadly, it doesn’t work at all in 2013, precisely because its predictable and has been used over and over again in other horror movies over the years. Carrie has some good stuff scattered throughout and an iconic scene in the school’s gym towards the end, but I simply wouldn’t rank this movie up there with other Stephen King movies that were great from start to finish like The Shining, Misery, Stand By Me, etc., etc. Carrie is an interesting film, but now a curiosity piece of 70s cheese. I simply wouldn’t consider it a horror classic.


** ½ out of ****

ReelReviews #15: Grindhouse (2007)


APRIL 7-11, 2013 SCREENING: “GRINDHOUSE” MOVIES (2007-Present)
I watched a series of five films over two weeks ago, and then spent another week mulling over how the heck I would review five different films that are meant to be seen as a package deal. I’ve put it off until I reached a solution: write one review that its own five segment mini-reviews, just the movies its analyzing. You see, the basic concept from directors Robert Rodriquez and Quintin Tarantino was that they would each do a cheesy, low-budget, trashy movie that resembled the type of schlock you’d get in the ’60s and ’70s, and package the movies together as a “double feature” to watch back-to-back in a theater, complete with fake trailers and commercials between movies, and intentionally grainy, scratchy film to replicate stuff that was thrown together. After the double feature came out, it inspired three movie silly “grindhouse” type movie spinoffs. Did they succeed in this strange little parody/homage? Well, yes and no.


Planet Terror is basically a “zombie movie”. I use the term in quotes because its made to look like a movie from an era where they probably wouldn’t call it a zombie movie (as the George H. Romero variety hadn’t become the definitive image of a zombie yet) and what’s more, the movie is actually about some kind of extremely grotesque mutated humans, rather than undead corpses eating human flesh. They do eat people, though, and it’s a heck a lot of more fun than people find in a lot of “modern” zombie movies like World War Z. The poster image of the girl with a machine gun for a leg is certainly exploited for all its worth in this movie, and even though they use modern CGI, the concept and execution definitely mimics the feel of a old low-budget garbage movie. There’s lot of extreme over-the-top violence as well, and this film certainly brought a smile to my face because it made me think back to the stupidest set of 70s horror movies I watched, like Laserblast (1978), along with some terrible blaxplotation movies of the same era. Where I think the film fell short were two elements where it simply ignored its own premise: 1) The movie was too long for a “Grindhouse” movie, and certainly as one half of a double feature that you’re supposed to watch back-to-back in one sitting. It should have been between 75-85 mins., tops. Second, although intentionally made it to look like it was shot in the 70s, the movie takes place in “modern times” and uses modern technology and so forth. I found that distracting. They went through so much trouble to give us scratchy looking 16mm film, why the cell phones that reminded us that this movie was not made in the era it pretends to be?
**1/2 out of ****


Death Proof is the second half of the original “Grindhouse” experience, and considered the much weaker film of the two. Some people have even gone as far as to say its Tarantino’s weakest movie. But in many ways, I actually enjoyed it more than the first film. Like Planet Terror, the grainy film and ridiculous opening credits immediately make it look like you’re watching some piece of crap made around 1972 or so, but instead of just being an over-the-top splatter film, this one has something completely lacking in the first: atmosphere Apparently the “in-joke” is that it’s supposed to look like two different movies spliced together (which they actually did for really bad MST3k fodder like “They Saved Hitler’s Brain”), but the fact its obviously Kurt Russell in both halves of the movie – playing the same role – ruins this effect. As for me, I loved the first half the movie (where had a very good, creepy “70s stalker movie” vibe like I was watching The Last House on the Left or something), and I was indifferent/bored by the second half, which had a “70s stunt race car movie” feel. To convey that its “Two different movies” the second half was almost grain-free, and that didn’t work for me at all because you could tell it was shot on modern film equipment. Again, the same flaws from the first film were present, and even more apparent: the running time was too long, and it was obvious taking place in 2007. Nevertheless, I consider this film to be its own little modern cult classic, and the lap-dance scene in the movie’s first half is unforgettable
*** out of ****

Machete is by far the better known and more popular of the Grindhouse spinoffs, but for me there was only one true heir to the original project, and that’s Hobo with a Shotgun. It was based off one of the “fake trailers” from the original 2007 double-feature, and expanded into its own feature length movie. Ironically, its got a completely different director (the little known Jason Eisener) and a different actor from the 2007 fake trailer (in this case, the far better known Rutgar Hauer), but I felt it was the most faithful to the whole grindhouse experience: It looks incredibly low-budget, trashy, over-the-top, gory, and tongue-in-cheek hilarious In many ways, this was actually more faithful to the concept, and really nailed the feel of a movie from another era. For example, the music soundtrack sounds exactly like some MIDI synthesizer score from the early 80s, making it seem like you’re watching a lost John Carpenter movie. I’d say the only jarring part of the this is because the earlier Grindhouse movies looked like they were attempting to copy films from the late 60s/early 70s, whereas Hobo definitely looks and feels like a mid 80s movie. Despite having no sci-fi elements and having a storyline more along the lines of Death Wish, Hobo With a Shotgun is pretty much the spiritual successor of 1987’s Robocop. If you liked Robocop, you’ll love with (complete with the excessive violence and biting satire). In fact, forget about watching the remake of Robocop and watch this instead, as its far more true to what the original Robocop was aiming for. This may be the best of the “Grindhouse” movies. Be prepared to be grossed out, offended, annoyed, and mesmerized by it all.
*** out of ****

MACHETE (2010)
I think Machete is probably the most financially successful of the five Grindhouse movies, but it was one of the least creative, in my opinion. I still liked it, but I had a blast with the first three movies and I felt that was missing here. Despite this being directed by Robert Rodriquez, it is not a Grindhouse movie. It based on one of the fake trailers from one of his Grindhouse movies, and the opening credits even continue the same style, but it quickly becomes a very modern Hollywood movie. The only difference between this and a typical action comedy is that the script here is still obviously a satire of the whole genre. The actors play it straight, but Lindsay Lohan is here for one reason and its not to display her acting talent (ironically, she finally gets naked in the movie but you can’t see anything). Robert de Niro even shows up here, playing a buffoonish right-wing politician. There has been much talk about the movie having a liberal agenda, and I would agree that political conservatives will probably not like the film’s storyline or message, but the film is just too silly and frivolous for me to take offense as any kind of preachy liberal sneer It has some genuinely funny laughs, and its quick paced and quick witted, but nowhere near on the level of the three real Grindhouse movies. The “fake” trailer for Machete is better than the real one, because the real one is just another typical Robert Rodriquez movie like Once Upon a Time in Mexico, or Spy Kids. The best scene may be Lindsay Lohan’s slutty character disguising herself as a nun. Oddly enough, it disgusted me, intrigued me, and had me cracking up at the same time.
** out of ****


The latest, last, and least of the films spawned by the whole Grindhouse concept. Naturally, it’s a sequel to Machete, but the best part of this movie was yet another “Fake trailer” for what eventually could become the real third movie: “Machete Kills Again… In Space” It cracked me up and every scene in the “trailer” was better than the real scenes in this movie, and made me wish that the still unconfirmed third film was the sequel instead of this movie. The actual film has plenty of action and a brisk pace, but goes nowhere and just isn’t very funny or interesting. Instead of de Niro like the first movie, this time we have Mel Gibson showing up in a “major role”, and it actually made me feel kind of sorry for him because his career has been reduced to doing this pathetic movie. Machete Kills is the opposite of the original intent of Grindhouse: rather than be made to intentionally parody the look of low-budget, crappy films, It’s a big budget, slick film that unintentionally looks very crappy. The best part of the movie may be former child actress Alexa Vega now appearing as a smoking hot, bikini-clad voluptuous adult character, but I got so bored with the movie I think I missed that part. I give it points for trying, but its just throwing a lot of crap at me, and thankfully, nothing is sticking.
* 1/2 out of ****

ReelReviews #8: Here Comes the Devil (2013)







Wow. I’m not sure I’ve ever had this type of experience while watching a movie before. I hated it and then I loved it.

The opening scene of this movie made me immediately think this film would be exploitative trash, and I dreaded having to endure 90 more mins. of this movie. Then, the film slowly became tolerable, then it started to intrigue me and presented a lot of interesting ideas. Finally, it really had me riveted towards the climax, and the final scene was a great twist and went out with a bang (in this case, it literally went out with a bang as well). Basically, it started off terrible and just got better and better. I don’t recall any other film that went from a F grade to an A grade over the course of the story.

Here Comes the Devil (2013), like the previous film I reviewed, is a recently made Mexican horror film. Unlike a lot of critics, I usually have no problems watching the English dubbed version of a foreign film, and that I can concentrate on the films onscreen instead of having to read the dialogue. Here Comes the Devil is an exception though – the English language voices really didn’t match their Mexican counterparts at all, and much of the dubbing is painfully obviously because its not in sync with the lips. I’d advise watching the Spanish language version, and I switched over to the original language about 20 minutes in.

Language problems aside, the opening scene gave me good reason to hate this movie. It was a “kinky” lesbian sex scene showing us gratuitous shots of breasts, set to some typical grinding porn sounding music. The actresses were hot, but the scene left me cold because it appeared to be what is typical of horror movies – random soft-core sex scenes that occur for no other reason than to market the movie to horny guys and have sexy people killed off right after they have sex. In this case, no one died, and film quickly cut away in a seemingly unrelated story about a family going on a weekend trip in a forest. The mom was one of the women that had been in the earlier lesbian sex scene, and she has another (this time even more awkward) sex scene in the car with her husband, after her children disappear out in the woods.

When the children return, the film starts to get some life in it. They’re obviously the same kids and respond to their parents the same way, but everything about them is otherwise different, as if they were suffering random memory loss, inhabited by spirits, or had a personality transplant. It soon becomes apparent that there’s sinister forces at work, and they’re plaguing this family. The sexual stuff now even starts to pay off and is related to the family’s problems – the young daughter gets her first period towards the start of the film, right when the mother was away with her husband discussing the first time she had sex. Later in the film, the mother suspects one neighbor must have done something to the children, and when her husband find’s their daughter’s panties in the man’s cupboard – still stained with period blood – the wife snaps and slits the neighbors throat.

In many ways, Here Comes the Devil is a throwback to those old 1970s American horror films about the occult – ones that were psychological thrillers more than anything else, and it was all about raising your hairs over what you didn’t see. If you liked those movies, you’ll like this one. The twist at the end and final scene left me intrigued, and now I want to re-watch the movie all over again for “clues” I may have missed earlier in the movie. The viewer is left with a non-win scenario since the final scene in the movie answers the question about why the kids were behaving strangely, but it raises so many more questions. The overly sexual situations at the start of the film turn out to be important plot points later on (including a very disturbing thing that the children are doing when their parents are away), and the parents behavior certainly affects what happens as well.

Here Comes the Devil might be a rare example of a movie that does “bait and switch” is a good way. It lead me to believe it would be another dumb slasher movie with topless women running around at a slumber party (I was preparing myself to write a review bemoaning how even Mexican movies have now been tainted by the success of “Showgirls” type American movies). It turned out to be something entirely different, but it was particularly clever because the earlier “dumb” scenes turned out to be important, and not just throwaway stuff so the movie can have more sex and violence.

This is a movie that I’ll have to watch a second time, and maybe even a third or fourth time, to fully “get” everything it presented me with. It may not be your kind of film, and that’s totally understandable given the bizarre sex stuff, dragging storyline, nagging family drama, and other types of stuff that the audience has to work with in this movie. But man, it certainly does find a way to work with what it’s got!
*** out of ****

ReelReviews #6: We Are What We Are (2013)





Two years ago, I screened both versions of Let the Right One In – first the American remake, Let Me In (2010) and months later I watched the original Swedish film Let the Right One In (2008). I quickly concluded the American film was one my favorite horror films of all time, only to discover fans of the original Swedish version thought the American version was a pale intimation. Could I be biased because I watched the U.S. Version first? I decided to try a similar experiment last week with We Are What We Are. I had hoped to see the 2010 Mexican version first, but schedule constraints left me watching the American remake from 2013 first. Yet surprisingly, my reaction this time around wasn’t the same at all.

We Are What We Are (2012) is a modern American horror film about a family of cannibals. With the overuse of zombie and vampire films clogging the market, I thought this would be an interesting idea. Here, we essentially have real-life monsters that prey on human beings, but there’s no supernatural element involved and theoretically this could happen in a real town. What’s more, the film doesn’t tell the story of how the characters became cannibals, but gives us a whole mythology where the cannibalistic tradition of this family (the Parkers) has been handed down from generation to generation for centuries. Intriguing idea – but not so intriguing film.

I thought most the elements in this film were well done – the atmosphere, music, set design, and especially the casting was spot on. The characters are really brought to life with the actors they choose for the roles of the dominating middle aged father, his older teenage daughter that follows in his footsteps, the younger more naive daughter that wishes to escape her family life, and the innocent five year old son. Although the actress playing the younger daughter is about 22 years old, she plays a much younger character and I bought it. There’s one particularly well done suspenseful scene where glares intently at a neighbor who is asking prying questions about her including her age, and bluntly tells him she just turned 14. It’s unfortunate that the spot-on casting for this movie didn’t result in an excellent film. The problem is the execution of the rest of the movie just isn’t very good. The film uses the tired cliché of uneducated backwoods strict religious zealots in the south as a reason why the family is cannibals, and that they believe eating people is some type of thing they have to do to maintain their “purity” in some twisted “holy book” the father has. This type of premise has been used in so many R-rated horror shockers that I expected them to take it a step further and have the whole family be inbred like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or something. At the very least, I expected some kind of exciting twists to unfold and a thrill ride. There wasn’t any. Of course there was a subplot about them being investigated to drive the story, and the element that tipped people off sounded so convenient that I thought it was made up for the movie (specifically, the father and his family suffer from a rare disease that causes their fingers to twitch. A suspicious biologist in town looks up the symptoms and discovers its Kuru’s disease, which only effects people who engage in cannibalism). I googled it myself, and it turns out this a real disease – mainly found in cannibals of Papua New Guinea.

One area that really hurt is the film is that the ending really came across as forced to me. Without giving any too much detail, of course the family is discovered and escapes, the girls end up turning on their father and then bizarrely biting away at his body (which appears to be done merely for shock value, as the family had always cooked and prepared human meat in stew, not gnawed away at corpses, and certainly not their own relatives), and the final shot is the two girls driving away holding the family’s “religious” book, showing us that “the cycle will continue”. Yep, lame and predictable.

After seeing the movie, I felt “dirty” watching it. I can take a lot of gross, sick horror movies, if they have some compelling idea behind them. This one didn’t. It simply exists to gross the audience out and provide cheap scares. There’s nothing particularly bad about the movie, but there’s nothing particularly good about it, either. It uses the revolting subject matter of cannibalism to create a generic, paint-by-the-numbers horror film, and its helped along by an excellent cast, good atmosphere, and smart set designs and music. My parting thought was hoping it’s not a Let Me In situation where the American version is more polished than the foreign original. If that was the main way this film distinguished itself from the original, I wasn’t looking forward to seeing the original.

** out of ****