DEAD SILENCE (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Horror Violence and Images

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Directed by: James Wan

Written by: Leigh Whannell

Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valletta, Donnie Wahlberg, Bob Gunton, Judith Roberts, Michael Fairman & Laura Regan

Hot off the heels of SAW, James Wan seemed to the next big thing in the horror genre. However, that didn’t quite take hold until 2011’s INSIDIOUS graced the big screen. Before that frightening box office hit arrived, Wan worked on three movies consecutively and DEAD SILENCE was the second of these films. Far different from Wan’s torture-porn roots of SAW, 2007’s DEAD SILENCE relied on a supernatural story and fog-laden atmosphere to deliver its scares. While the film wasn’t exactly well received upon release (garnering bad reviews from critics, mixed response from horror fans, and barely making its budget back globally), I always found the film to be fun in a ridiculous “turn your brain off and enjoy it for what it is” sort of way.

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One dark and stormy night, a mysterious package arrives on the doorstep of Jamie Ashen’s apartment. Inside lies a creepy ventriloquist dummy. Like an idiot, Jamie decides to get some take-out and leave his wife alone with the puppet to keep her company. When he returns, she lies dead with her jaw split open and her tongue missing. Jamie is prime suspect number one for his wife’s murder, but thinks that something supernatural might be afoot. So, the young widower returns to his hometown of Ravens Fair to get to bottom of an old ghost story that may have something to do with his wife’s gory demise. However, doing so will also put himself and others in the path of 100 murderous dummies and a pissed off undead ventriloquist.

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The best phrase that I can throw onto DEAD SILENCE is that it has atmosphere out the wazoo. The fog-laden, dank visuals give you the impression that you’re watching an old-timey ghost story from Universal’s glory days of horror. I cannot recall a single moment in this film where I saw the sun shining, but that’s a huge benefit when nearly every frame looks like a macabre painting brought to life. The acting on the other hand is much more of a mixed bag. Ryan Kwanten does an alright job in moving the story forward as Jamie, but his character seemed really bland. All we know about Jamie is that he’s upset over his wife’s murder and he also despises his crippled father. Those are the only two traits given. Kwanten is definitely better than 90% of the rest of the cast though as he’s not acting in a ridiculous over-the-top manner for most of the film. Donnie Wahlberg plays an appropriately annoying cop and mainly serves as comic relief. Some of his jokes hit, while others fall flat. Judith Roberts is enjoyable as the ghostly ventriloquist Mary Shaw. Aided by a disturbing make-up job, Roberts manages to be freaky in spite of only having a handful of lines.

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The plot of DEAD SILENCE is its biggest problem though. Plot holes and silly moments make their way into the script and distract from potential scares at hand. For example, the ghost’s main motivation of “she won’t stop until the screaming does” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There’s a bigger mystery at hand too, but a final plot twist reaches eye-rolling levels of absurdity. While the fog-laden atmosphere, elaborate sets, and creepy moments are impressive, the film really drops the ball in terms of its CGI. However, the scares are mostly centered around a less-is-more approach. Instead the ridiculous computer effects are reserved for the final act which, although fun, is as dumb as a rock.

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DEAD SILENCE gets by on the appeal of being an old-fashioned ghost story that just wants to scare you. There’s solid atmosphere throughout and quite a few scares are legitimately well executed. This horror flick falters in terms of story, characters, and bad-looking effects. This is one of those films where you have to turn off your brain to fully enjoy it. There are absurd plot holes, a ridiculous last-minute twist (probably Wan banking on his SAW reputation) and boring characters. There are also eerie sensibilities, well executed moments and a couple of solid scares. Taken as a whole, DEAD SILENCE is only okay. If you can ignore its shortcomings, then you’re likely to have fun with this creepy combination of a ghost story and an evil doll B-movie.

Grade: B-

FLIGHT 7500 (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Material, some Scary Images and brief Language

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Directed by: Takashi Shimizu

Written by: Craig Rosenberg

Starring: Leslie Bibb, Jamie Chung, Jerry Ferrara, Ryan Kwanten, Amy Smart, Scout Taylor-Compton, Christian Serratos, Nicky Whelan & Johnathon Schaech

Airplanes seem like an unconventional and genius setting for a horror film. It’s too bad that the recent few attempts of would-be scary movies placed within the confines of flying transportation (AIRBORNE, ALTITUDE) have been mighty lame. The same goes for most action-thrillers set inside a plane (NON-STOP, FLIGHTPLAN, TURBULENCE). The oft-postponed 7500 doesn’t do anything to buck this cinematic trend. I remember seeing a trailer for this film on the big screen in front of WOMAN IN BLACK and it has since been shelved for two full years (supposedly making its way into select theaters on October 3 and available on DVD from Thailand). There’s a reason for these release date squabbles. Putting it lightly, 7500 is a sorry excuse for a horror film that wouldn’t have made any waves in theaters and garnered quite a lot of well-deserved hatred from the general public. Also Leslie Bibb seems to have bad luck picking horror films that wind up being shelved (e.g. the masterful TRICK ‘R TREAT, the solid MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, and this mess). I’m just saying what I’m seeing.

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Flight 7500 is traveling from Los Angeles to Tokyo. The passengers on the plane come in many shapes, sizes, and walks of life. This is going to be a bumpy ride as strange happenings are occurring high in the air. Turbulence is hit, something creepy is causing trouble and not everybody will be getting off this plane alive. The best way to really sum up what little plot there is for 7500 is to say its a made of three solid TWILIGHT ZONE episodes blended into a concoction that’s not original, entertaining, or even remotely creepy.

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7500’s production values are solid enough inside of the plane setting. The first shot outside showcases that not much of a budget was invested towards basic special effects though. The exterior CGI aircraft is worthy of a Syfy Channel film or direct-to-video cheapie to say the least. This is not acceptable for a big budget horror film that was originally granted a nationwide release (supposed to compete with the likes of THE already subpar POSSESSION and THE godawful APPARITION). Also the shoddy effects aren’t just limited to shots of the outside world, because the supernatural threat on board is never fully glimpsed. Takashi Shimizu was more than happy to lay a barrage of pale-faced spirits in his GRUDGE movies (some moments silly and others quite effective), but he keeps things off-screen for every supposedly spooky scene. These cut-away moments include but are not limited to: a character’s frightened reaction as something groans in front of them, white hands poking out of different places, lights shutting off, and the screen just awkwardly transitioning to the next moment with little rhyme or reason.

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Making things even worse is that the plot moves at a glacial pace and never fully gets moving. A handful of lame attempts at jump scares are given (most of which involve a character suddenly putting their hand on another character’s shoulder). The horrible writing really sinks this entire film. Not to mention that the big(ish) name cast members are wasted on laughably terrible characters who aren’t worth caring about in the slightest. In true TWILIGHT ZONE fashion (the movie even has the nerve to show a clip or two from a certain notable episode starring William Shatner and a man on the wing of the plane), the film ends with a twist. However, it’s an unbelievably convoluted and predictable climax. Honestly, your first guess is probably right as to how this film ends and don’t put any imagination or effort into your predictions. In recent years, this kind of ending has become almost as bad as the “it was all a dream” cop-out.

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Watching 7500, it became startlingly apparent as to why this film didn’t arrive on its intended destination of August 12, 2012. It didn’t even arrive in October 2013 and probably won’t see the light of day for a while longer (despite what IMDB states). Sometimes fantastic and original horror movies get crapped on (THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, TRICK ‘R TREAT, and I’m stoked to see Eli Roth’s THE GREEN INFERNO), but cases where the film being delayed outright sucking are also common. 7500 is one of the latter instances. It’s not a total failure as I found some scenes to be entertaining for the wrong reasons (bad acting or forced jump scares that might terrify an eight-year-old girl). If you want to see a solid horror story set in an airplane, watch the NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET segment from 1983’s TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. It’s shorter, scarier, and far more well written than 7500 could ever hope to be.

Grade: D

KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Horror Violence, Language Throughout, some Drug Use and Sexuality

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Directed by: Joe Lynch

Written by: Kevin Dreyfuss & Matt Wall

Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Steve Zahn, Peter Dinklage, Summer Glau, Margarita Levieva, Jimmi Simpson & Danny Pudi

It’s impossible to properly review KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM without delving a bit into the three-year-long wait that fans endured and the messy studio politics that befell the final cut of the film. The trailer and rough cut of KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM originally premiered at the San Diego Comic-Con a few years back to much fanfare. Supposedly a theatrical release was in tow, but there were problems with the studio (to say the least). The big business suits recut the film (supposedly changing up the direction, the tone, and snipping out a good portion of the running time). The resulting cut is the one that recently received a limited theatrical run, a VOD release, and is now available everywhere on home video, much to director Joe Lynch’s dismay. Obviously, I cannot judge the unseen director’s cut, but I can say that there aren’t many echoes of a potentially good film that can be seen in this final cut. I seriously doubt that the original version was much better than this lame attempt at a horror-comedy.

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A slacker named Joe is suffering from the recent break-up from his girlfriend. After getting him high and drunk, his two nerdy best friends shanghai him in full costume to a LARP. Reluctantly Joe finds some fun in the goofy surroundings. Everyone’s enjoyment is ruined when Eric, a misguided level-26 wizard, uses a real spell during the game and winds up summoning a succubus from Hell (that bears a striking resemblance to Joe’s ex-girlfriend). As the game goes on, the bodies pile up from the bloodthirsty witch and the fake heroes must summon the real courage to defeat the beautiful demon.

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KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM could have been a lot of fun with a clever script and good direction. Joe Lynch has proved himself to be quite the funny guy in the past with his wraparound segment in 2011’s CHILLERAMA and co-starring role in the horror sitcom HOLLISTON. To be fair, BADASSDOM is not fully his creation, seeing as the producers seemingly butchered this final cut. He’s responsible for a portion of it. From what I could see in this reduced 86-minute long cut was that most of the humor (some of which did get a few chuckles out of me) consists of the same joke hammered in over and over again. We get that the LARPers are taking this stuff very seriously and treating it as an epic quest, which does make for some funny scenes (e.g. the introduction of each kingdom).

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The cast showcases some big names. The most notable of which for nerds is GAME OF THRONES’ Peter Dinklage. Dinklage can be an amazing actor given the right role and has a knack for good comedy (see ELF for his memorable scenes). Here the man isn’t given a whole lot to do and, true to every character featured, isn’t that compelling. I didn’t root for any of these people to succeed simply because I didn’t care about them at all. The usually hilarious Steve Zahn seems to be phoning it in as well. Ryan Kwanten and Summer Glau are equally as bland as the leads. The only real shining star that I enjoyed watching was Jimmi Simpson (a recurring actor on IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA). He’s the only cast member that got any chuckles out of me and seems to be giving it his all as the douchebag game master. This character takes himself way too seriously (speaking entirely in Middle English, save for a couple of out-of-game moments) and provided the highlights of the entire film (one of which is given near the beginning).

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The effects themselves range from solid practical man-in-suit work to really crappy CGI that looks unfinished. The real criminal sin in KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM has already been mentioned though and that’s the lack of laughs. It’s a horror-comedy without any great jokes or solid scares. The film has the production values of a glorified Syfy Channel movie that happened to snag some big names to get involved with it. This is no insult to Joe Lynch, because the man delivers solid horror-comedy (aforementioned CHILLERAMA) when he’s given the right material to do so. KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM just seems like a miss for everybody involved, lest we mentioned the viewer’s precious time that’s wasted watching this garbage.

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At a scant 86 minutes, KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM feels far too long. Most of the jokes seem to be hitting the exact same mark over and over again. It’s an entire movie based around one joke that doesn’t have the creativity to expand on a clever premise in creative ways. The effects work on the final monster is decent enough, but almost every other effect took me right out of the film in evaluating how corny it looked. Peter Dinklage and Steve Zahn are wasted, while Jimmi Simpson is one of the only redeeming things here. This is a forced comedy that’s seldom funny. KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM doth sucketh quite heartily!

Grade: D

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