HOLIDAYS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Holidays poster

Directed by: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer, Gary Shore, Nicholas McCarthy, Sarah Adina Smith, Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Smith & Scott Stewart

Written by: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer, Gary Shore, Nicholas McCarthy, Sarah Adina Smith, Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Smith & Scott Stewart

Starring: Madeleine Coghlan, Savannah Kennick, Rick Peters, Ruth Bradley, Peter Campion, Ava Acres, Petra Wright, Sophie Traub, Jocelin Donahue, Michael Gross, Ashley Greene, Harley Quinn Smith, Seth Green, Clare Grant, Lorenza Izzo & Andrew Bowen

It seems like horror anthologies are becoming more frequent these days. We’ve had two massive horror anthologies revolving around the alphabet (THE ABC’S OF DEATH series), cursed video tapes (the V/H/S trilogy), and short stories around a single holiday (A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, TALES OF HALLOWEEN). The premise for HOLIDAYS is exactly what the title suggests: various directors took on a major holiday and based a short horror film around that celebration. This ingenious concept sounds like it would open the floor to limitless possibilities, but only a few creative ideas actually make it to the surface in this mixed bag anthology.

1. V Day

VALENTINE’S DAY: We kick off in February with Valentine’s Day (a.k.a. Singles Awareness Day). This brief, to-the-point short follows a teenage swimmer who’s relentlessly picked on by the rest of her team. However, the coach shows this bullied outcast a bit of kindness by giving her a Valentine’s Day card, which serves as an inspiration for something violent. This segment’s stylistic visuals elevate it slightly above the predictable plot. While a gruesome punch line makes this short worth watching, I felt the 10-minute segment was okay. Nothing more, nothing less. B-

2. SP Day

ST. PATRICK’S DAY: Surprisingly, there are no drunken shenanigans or leprechauns to be found in this March 17th story. Director/writer Gary Shore (DRACULA UNTOLD) opts for a bit of Irish folklore instead. A teacher, who desperately wants a child, becomes mysteriously pregnant…and her baby might not be human. While this story’s initial set-up promised some freakish body horror, the execution was deliberately wacky. I have no problem with horror-comedies, but these jokes and absurd visuals seem weird for the sake of being weird. The cringe-inducingly awkward finale cemented this as second-worst segment in the film. D-

3. Easter

EASTER: This seems like the most forgivable holiday to screw up. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of potential for a creepy Easter tale. However, director/writer Nicholas McCarthy had something truly frightening in mind when he penned this short. A little girl finds herself scared by the concept of both the Easter Bunny and Jesus. Her fears come to life when she gets a glass of water…right as the Easter Bunny arrives at her home. This segment is genuinely freaky and had a legitimately effective jump scare. While the ending seems familiar, I really dug the hellish nature of this second-best holiday! B+

4. M Day

MOTHER’S DAY: And the title of worst segment goes to…this crapfest. A young woman finds herself pregnant every time she has sex (even when extreme protective measures are taken) and has gone through countless abortions as a result. Her latest pregnancy takes her to a creepy retreat where the women are less than enthusiastic that one among their ranks wishes to get rid of her unborn child. What follow is a slow, tedious crawl to a finish line that seems laughably bad. This segment slightly resembles ST. PATRICK’S DAY, but doesn’t even give us a brief glimmer of potential in its opening. Awful. F

5. F Day

FATHER’S DAY: We jump from the film’s worst segment straight to the best holiday of the bunch. A young woman receives an audio tape from her long-dead father. Using this long-lost sound recording, she retraces the steps of where her father disappeared. Director/writer Anthony Scott Burns builds serious suspense with very little at his disposal, as this short mainly consists of long shots of this woman walking through a spooky location with audio that becomes more disturbing as it continues to play. It’s enough to send a few chills up your spine and it certainly did so for me. Even though the ending is a tad rushed, this short still stands head and shoulders above the rest of this anthology! A-

6. Halloween

HALLOWEEN: Of all the holidays in this anthology, you’d probably think that Halloween would be the easiest segment to create. Too bad that Kevin Smith doesn’t do anything remotely Halloween related (all we get are a few decorations, a bag of candy, and nothing else) with his short and instead decides to whip out an overly crude torture-porn sequence. Three girls decide to get revenge on their abusive pimp through some grisly means. This feels like Kevin Smith watched bits of A SERBIAN FILM and SAW and thought to himself “Hey, I can do that, but with my patented quirky sense of humor!” It simply doesn’t work in a five-minute short that’s supposed to be centered around Halloween. This wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but still seems obnoxious and forced. D+

7. Christmas

CHRISTMAS: This potentially great segment is short-ended by an underdeveloped conclusion. A desperate father picks up a virtual reality headset for his child’s Christmas present and gets more than he bargained for. This short has its moments and I did like where things seemed to be heading in the finale, but the conclusion is so rushed and stinted that it cut off any momentum that this story had going for it. At least, Seth Green seems to be having fun as the father. C

8. New Years Eve

NEW YEAR’S EVE: A serial killer, who bases his murders around various holidays, picks up a potential new victim on New Year’s Eve. However, things are more complicated than they appear. From that synopsis alone, you probably have a good idea about where this short is heading. The plot basically gives itself up within the first minute. It’s still a lot of fun to watch though, as this segment’s humor really worked and a couple of solid gore gags make their way into the mix too. It’s nice to see the uneven HOLIDAYS end on a high note. B

9. Overall

HOLIDAYS reminds me a lot of the first ABC’S OF DEATH. The premise seems to be brimming with creativity, but half of the filmmakers don’t seem interested in delivering something scary or original. As a result, this horror-anthology is the perfect example of a mixed bag. Half of the segments are good and the other half fall flat. It’s almost worth recommending the film for FATHER’S DAY and EASTER by themselves. NEW YEAR’S EVE and VALENTINE’S DAY are fun, but nothing special. CHRISTMAS feels like it could have been one of the best segments, if it weren’t for the lackluster ending. HALLOWEEN feels like another Kevin Smith mistake as he tries to navigate his way through the horror-comedy genre. ST. PATRICK’S DAY and MOTHER’S DAY are inexcusably bad. If you’re in the mood for a horror-anthology and have completely run out of options, then you might want to check this out on Netflix or cable. Otherwise, you’re not missing much.

Grade: C

KNOCK KNOCK (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Violent Behavior, Strong Sexual Content, Nudity and Language

Knock poster

Directed by: Eli Roth

Written by: Eli Roth, Nicolas Lopez & Guillermo Amoedo

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana De Armas, Ignacia Allamand, Aaron Burns & Colleen Camp

Eli Roth just recently terrorized audiences with vicious cannibals and his newest creation is now popping up on VOD platforms. What makes KNOCK KNOCK different from any of Roth’s past work is that this is both his first attempt at an erotic thriller of sorts and a remake (the film is a retread of 1977’s DEATH GAME). Folks who walk into this movie expecting gory hijinks and quirky humor will be let down on the former, but definitely not in the latter. KNOCK KNOCK doesn’t reinvent the home invasion wheel, but it’s a fun entry in the subgenre.

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Evan is a loving husband and father who’s been left home alone on a holiday weekend. Whilst in the middle of working on his latest art project, Evan hears a knock at the door and finds two stranded women who request to use his phone. Being a nice guy, Evan decides to invite them in, get them some warm robes and call a cab. This all seems to be going well, until Genesis and Bel make seductive moves towards Evan. Being married, Evan politely declines the obvious sexual situation in front of him and tries to make pleasant conversation. Genesis and Bel persist and, being an idiot, Evan decides to engage in a three-way. This is a stupid mistake for a number of reasons. Partially, because Evan is married and has children. Mainly, because the stranded Genesis and Bel turn out to be sadistic psychopaths.

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Let me address the elephant in the room. Keanu Reeves is in this movie. Though he’s starred in a number of quality films that range from decent to amazing, Reeves is not a good actor. That didn’t change with JOHN WICK and it definitely doesn’t change in KNOCK KNOCK. His performance is just as wooden as ever, but it can be slightly overlooked when you consider that Evan is a scumbag protagonist. Lorenza Izzo (Roth’s wife, who also headlined THE GREEN INFERNO) and Ana De Armas (who might be one of the most beautiful women alive) are clearly having a blast as Genesis and Bel. They do get laughably over-the-top at points, but it’s all done with a dark sense of humor. The characters aren’t exactly well-developed, but the way the cast members play off each other make them a lot of fun to watch. Seeing as this has been labeled as an erotic thriller, there is one pretty graphic montage midway through. I heard the reception of this was uncomfortable at the Sundance premiere, but I honestly thought it was way too exaggerated. Instead of focusing on the long sex sequence itself, I found myself asking “Are we really supposed to buy that all of this took place within the space of a few hours?”

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When KNOCK KNOCK eventually moves on to a more traditional home invasion story, the film includes all of the clichéd bells and whistles that come with the subgenre. You know how it will probably play out and for the most part, it does. Roth doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary that would necessarily make KNOCK KNOCK really stand out in the realm of home invasion flicks. That being said, there’s still a sick sense of glee and enjoyment that makes the film worth watching. The pacing moves at a lightning fast speed and I will fully admit that there were points in this film (mainly in the final 30 minutes) where I was laughing pretty hard. The conclusion is a pitch-perfect send-off to an otherwise decent, but clichéd, horror thriller. Technically speaking, the film is also well shot and has a good soundtrack to boot.

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In the realm of Eli Roth’s filmography, KNOCK KNOCK is something out-of-the-ordinary. It stands as Roth’s first major effort to move outside of the gory torture-porn territory that he became famous for after HOSTEL. I wouldn’t say that I prefer it over CABIN FEVER, the first two HOSTEL films or THE GREEN INFERNO, but KNOCK KNOCK is undeniably entertaining. Keanu Reeves’s wooden line delivery is made up for by Armas and Izzo’s off-the-wall performances. The sense of humor really works in this story too. Overall, KNOCK KNOCK serves as a fun, brisk home-invasion thriller that marks a change of pace for Roth and comes loaded with clichés.

Grade: B-

THE GREEN INFERNO (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Aberrant Violence and Torture, Grisly Disturbing Images, brief Graphic Nudity, Sexual Content, Language and some Drug Use

GreenInferno poster

Directed by: Eli Roth

Written by: Eli Roth & Guillermo Amoedo

Starring: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Daryl Sabara, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Sky Ferreira & Magda Apanowicz

THE GREEN INFERNO has endured a troubled trip to the big screen. Premiering at 2013’s Toronto International Film Festival and then slated for a September 2014 theatrical release, the film was shelved indefinitely when its studio encountered monetary issues. Not all was lost though as Jason Blum rescued Roth’s two-year-delayed cannibal opus and THE GREEN INFERNO is now playing in theaters. We have a cannibal movie playing in theaters nationwide. That alone seems like something worth celebrating for horror fans. THE GREEN INFERNO is a love-letter to Ruggero Deodato’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST minus all the controversy and general unpleasantness (e.g. animal cruelty and rape) that came with that film. It may be packed with more humor than I was expecting, but I had a bloody blast watching THE GREEN INFERNO.

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Justine is a college student with the hots for an activist group leader. In order to get closer to him, she joins his cause. Though she’s having a hard time fitting in, Justine believes in the group’s motto, which is “Don’t think. Act!” Staying true to the second part of that slogan, the activists travel to an Amazonian rain forest to stop an evil construction company from tearing down a nearby tribal village. This is a success much to the students’ chagrin, because the tribe they save turn out to be head-hunting cannibals. One short plane crash later, Justine and her activist pals have been taken captive by the cannibal natives. Turns out, they’ve arrived just in time for dinner (see what I did there?).

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Eli Roth has spent lengthy amounts of time fleshing out characters in his previous movies (whether they’re worthy of such development is another argument entirely) and THE GREEN INFERNO also has a fairly noticeable chunk dedicated to its set-up. However, I didn’t necessarily find any of this to be boring thanks to Lorenza Izzo’s performance as Justine. She’s a compelling lead and the only likable person in this film. Aside from Justine, the only other character of note is Alejandro (played by Ariel Levy). This guy is a spectacularly over-the-top asshole and got some big laughs from the audience. The rest of the activists are simply annoying lambs going to the slaughter. The cannibals are played as blood-thirsty savages. This will probably offend large groups of viewers looking to be offended, but there are similar tribes out there that still exist. If you don’t believe me, do a quick Google search on cannibals in New Guinea. The savage stereotype is also appropriate given the shocksploitation subgenre that Roth is hearkening back to.

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Staying true to the subgenre that he’s paying tribute to, Roth’s GREEN INFERNO is an absolute gorefest. The slow building momentum at the beginning all pays off as soon as our activists run into the cannibal tribe. We get crazy, intense killings. These are mostly executed through stellar practical work done by KNB effects (who have also had a hand in many notable horror classics). I would say that this film really pushes the R rating to its limit. We see mutilation, bizarre execution rituals, lots of body parts to spare, and even a direct nod to CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. Viewers who have been blessed with strong stomachs might find themselves getting queasy during a couple of moments and giggling with amusement during others. GREEN INFERNO is creative in its shock value. That being said, the film shows its budget with some spotty CGI, especially during one particular torture scene.

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What really surprised me about THE GREEN INFERNO is how funny it is. Roth injects his sense of over-the-top humor to make this work as both a horror film and a gruesome satire about uninformed, attention-seeking slacktivists going into places where they shouldn’t venture. It’s lots of bloody fun for horror fanatics who are familiar with the Italian cannibal subgenre. The social commentary is not too subtle, but neither was the message of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. That being said, I wasn’t a big fan of the last 10 minutes of this film as I could see the ending being telegraphed from a mile away. A mid-credits scene also feels like an obvious set up for a sequel, which is supposedly in production and Roth has nothing to do with it.

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I’m not going to pretend that all horror fans or film buffs will love THE GREEN INFERNO. That’s simply not the case, as evidenced by certain reviews and a couple who furiously walked out of the theater after one particularly nasty gore gag. For fans of old-school cannibal shocksploitation, Roth’s tribute is a stomach-churning, darkly hilarious, and blood-soaked ride. I didn’t expect the movie to be as funny as it was (especially given the material), but that also benefitted it a lot in my eyes. Overall, THE GREEN INFERNO serves as another winner for Eli Roth and a gory good time for a certain crowd. If this sounds like your kind of film, then you’ll probably enjoy it.

Grade: B+

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