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Daniel Jolley "darkgenius" RSS Feed (Shelby, North Carolina USA)
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The Last Days on Mars [Blu-ray]
The Last Days on Mars [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Liev Schreiber
Price: $11.49
54 used & new from $3.49

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent science fiction film with strong horror overtones, January 16, 2015
The plot may not be all that original, but I think The Last Days on Mars is a showcase of excellent science fiction filmmaking. This is the type of science fiction movie I keep looking for but rarely find, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The colonization of Mars is such a fascinating subject in and of itself, but man’s struggle to survive in such an alien environment ratchets up by several factors when the mission is threatened with catastrophic failure. I just wish we could stop having to imagine what might happen on Mars – but man’s long-overdue journey to Mars looks like it may not happen in my lifetime, and that’s a bitter disappointment.

So it’s 2040-something, and eight astronauts are just wrapping up a six-month mission on the surface of Mars. All but the two main scientists have had all they want of the Red Planet and can’t wait for the arrival of the spacecraft Aurora to pick them up. It would seem that the folks back at the International Space Commission (or whatever it was called) could have done a little more in the way of psychological testing, though. Kim Aldrich, upset that she has failed to find any signs of life, is a real queen you-know-what who pisses everyone else off continually. Unlike Kim, scientist Marko Petrovic keeps his thoughts to himself. He makes up an excuse for one last outside mission in an attempt to hide his own discovery of a bacterial lifeform on Mars, and that sets a whole series of events in motion. The team leader’s a good man, but he won’t assert himself or make snap decisions on his own. The psychologist in the group is pretty useless to begin with and becomes even more so when things turn ugly. The only two people with solid and dependable characters are Rebecca Lane and Vincent Campbell (although even Vincent sometimes struggles with claustrophobia). Live Schreiber really makes this movie his own with his understated portrayal of Vincent. He is the only character who always thinks clearly and consistently acts to save himself and his crewmates from what becomes the most unimaginable of dangers.

Those who dismiss this as a horror movie do the film a disservice. Certainly, there is a strong element of horror on display here – and a somewhat clichéd horror at that – but The Last Days on Mars is first and foremost a science fiction film. The mission itself is all about the search for signs of life on a sister planet and man’s commitment to scientific discovery and progress. I really don’t understand how some viewers can say the film has no real plot or purpose. These are human beings struggling to survive and make it home to their loved ones. You’ve got the innate human struggle to survive in an alien environment, the psychological effects of unimaginable stress on characters who are supposed to be of the most sound of minds, and the complexity of interrelationships changing in the most trying of circumstances. It all adds up to a fantastic movie, in my opinion.


Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge
Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge
DVD ~ Various
Offered by fullmoonfeatures
Price: $4.00
20 used & new from $2.25

5.0 out of 5 stars Best entry in the Puppet Master series, December 31, 2014
Puppet Master 3: Toulon’s Revenge is a surprisingly strong entry in the series, providing us with the gripping backstory that lies behind everything we have seen so far. It also gives us the first opportunity to openly root for the puppets as they go about their killing business. This time around, the victims aren’t greedy psychics or innocent paranormal investigators – they’re bloody Nazis. We also learn the origins of the puppets Blade and Leech Woman – and, indirectly, all of his other puppets. The story makes for quite a transition from the previous film, as here there is nothing evil about Anton Toulon or his puppets. Yes, the puppets do become vicious killers, but there is nothing innocent about their victims – and I daresay no one could possibly blame Toulon for taking such strong measures in the wake of what happens to him here.

The original movie opens with Toulon killing himself just before two Nazis arrive to take care of him and his puppets in 1939, but the date of his death changed to 1941 in Puppet Master 2. This third film takes us back to that momentous year in order to fill in the story of how Toulon escaped from Nazi Germany and managed to make his way to California. He had procured the secret of animating his puppets in Cairo way back in 1912, and 1941 finds him continuing to put on puppet shows featuring his amazing string-free marionettes. Rather foolishly, these shows feature a Hitler puppet and a story mocking the German Fuhrer. That’s a really dumb thing to do in the heart of Berlin, especially if your wife is Jewish. Fellow puppeteer and Gestapo driver Lt. Erich Stein attends one of these shows – and sneakily discovers the fact that Toulon has found a way to animate the puppets. This brings him to the attention of Major Kraus, who has been overseeing the efforts of a Dr. Hess to come up with a way to reanimate the corpses of dead soldiers on the eastern front. During a raid of his home, Toulon’s wife Elsa is killed, while Toulon (and a test tube full of his animation liquid) are captured. With a little help from his friends, Toulon manages to escape. Wife his wife murdered, the only thing Toulon cares about is exacting revenge on Major Kraus and his men, and so begins his and his puppets’ merciless campaign for justice.

Puppet Master 3 isn’t just some cheap horror movie featuring killer puppets. There is a great deal of true drama to this story, and it even has something of a historical value, as well, in terms of its portrayal of the Nazi reign of terror. The acting is quite good indeed, and Guy Rolfe makes for a most sympathetic Toulon. The film as a whole adds a whole new dimension to the entire Puppet Master series. I should also add that, once again, the puppet movements are very well done.


Puppet Master 2 [Blu-ray]
Puppet Master 2 [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Various
Price: $12.14
18 used & new from $5.39

3.0 out of 5 stars Not a good fit with the rest of the series, December 31, 2014
We learn a lot more about the puppets in this first Puppet Master sequel. For one thing, they can be destroyed; more importantly, though, we learn that it takes more than ancient Egyptian magic to keep them alive. They need a special fluid flowing through their little bodies, a fluid distilled from human brains (technically, animal brains will do in a pinch, but they are definitely less than ideal) – and they need to replace that fluid every fifty years. And guess what? It’s been fifty years since puppeteer Anton Toulon brought them to life. That apparently makes for the ideal time for them to use the fluid they’ve created to reanimate Toulon himself (who, fortunately enough, is buried in a cemetery adjacent to the hotel). The puppet master’s body, though, cannot be restored, which leads Toulon to dress up in bandages like the Invisible Man and pass himself off as a Mr. Chanee while he puts together his master plan of creating an eternal body for himself.

After some surprising developments concerning the survivors of the first movie, the puppets are back and have free reign across the entire, now-abandoned hotel in Bodega Bay. They’re not alone for long, though, as a group of paranormal researchers turn up to investigate the location. The group is something of a cantankerous bunch, especially the brother of lead investigator Carolyn Bramwell (Elizabeth Maclellan), and a couple of the technicians have more than the investigation in mind. As luck would have it, Carolyn herself bears a remarkable resemblance to the late wife of Anton Toulon. As you would expect, that makes for a pretty significant plot point. The puppets themselves waste little time harvesting important brain matter from the hotel’s uninvited guests. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but the way to a man’s pituitary gland (which I’m assuming to be the necessary ingredient for the life-giving fluid) is directly through his head. Torch, apparently one of Toulon’s new puppets, is actually too deadly of a weapon because the precious liquid requires fresh, non-cooked ingredients.

My opinion of this film actually went down after watching the next two entries in the series. The treatment of both Toulon and his puppets just doesn’t ring true to character, and the Puppet Master franchise as a whole pretty much proceeds as if the events in this movie never happened.


Puppet Master [Blu-ray]
Puppet Master [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ William Hickey, Irene Miracle Paul Le Mat
Price: $6.57
60 used & new from $1.88

4.0 out of 5 stars The legend is born, December 31, 2014
This review is from: Puppet Master [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
The names Puppet Master and Charles Band are virtually synonymous. This, the flagship film of Full Moon Productions (or whatever Full Moon name it’s going by now), has become a cult favorite and pretty much a must-see film for anyone calling himself/herself a true horror fan. Since its release in 1989, it has inspired nothing less than nine sequels (and counting). Charles Band has made some pretty lousy movies over the years, but Puppet Master quickly dispels any lowered expectations of being nothing more than a cheap and cheesy little horror film. The puppet special effects are quite natural, the acting is surprisingly good, and I think the film retains a healthy sense of uncertainty about the nature of the deadly puppets on display here.

It all starts in 1939, with Andre Toulon and his puppets holed up in a room in a Bodega Bay, California hotel. Having discovered the secret of eternal life in some Egyptian artifact, Toulon has used that knowledge to animate a small group of handmade puppets. These include a Jester whose head consists of three different parts that can spin around to produce the most dramatic of facial expressions; Blade, whose blade and hook appendages make him ideal for dangerous spy missions; Pinhead, a bulky he-puppet with a diminutive head; Tunneler, with a drill-like head; and Leech Woman, who specializes in vomiting up killer leeches. Just before a pair of Nazis arrive to snatch him and his secret knowledge, Toulon manages to hide the puppets inside a wall and then makes sure that his enemies will get nothing out of him when they arrive. Fifty years later, a group of four psychics with a mysterious shared history learn that the fifth member of their little group has apparently discovered Toulon’s secret; fearing that they’ve been double-crossed, they all make haste to the Bodega Bay hotel – only to find that Neil Gallagher won’t be talking because he just died. Before they can begin searching the hotel for the secret, though, the puppets find them.

These four psychics are an interesting bunch possessing very different skills. Dana (Irene Miracle) is a white witch who travels with a stuffed dog; Carissa is a psychometrist who can pick up on the past history of any object (especially if it involves hanky panky); Alex is an anthropology professor who has prophetic dreams; and Frank seems to just be a jerk with basic ESP talent. Added into the mix is Megan Gallagher, Neil’s young widow who seemingly knows nothing about her husband’s work. All of the characters’ psychic powers prove quite ineffective against Toulon’s puppets. Apart from their murder and mayhem skills, though, we learn very little about the puppets in this film. It’s not even clear if they are good or evil – but they do ultimately show signs of having a moral code that may override any controls being exerted upon them. One can also begin to sense the different personalities they possess and come to look upon them as true characters in the story,

This is not the best film in the Puppet Master series, but it definitely sets the stage for what will become quite an enduring (and seemingly never-ending) franchise of movies.


Dark Mountain
Dark Mountain
DVD
Price: $3.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Far too derivative -- but still somewhat unsettling, December 29, 2014
While it is true that Dark Mountain blatantly copies far too much from The Blair Witch Project, I still enjoyed watching it. Admittedly, I’m an unabashed fan of found footage films, but this film did produce a disquieting sense of unease in me. Trying to find your way around in the dark, in the middle of nowhere, is just creepy – even without stories of curses or irrational mountain men protecting their territory. In terms of structure and presentation, Dark Mountain has its problems, but it’s not a disaster of a movie by any means.

The general hook is a good one – three young people setting out to make a documentary of their search for the Lost Dutchman Mine in the inhospitable desert landscape of Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. Making the claim that the film is inspired by actual events, though, is a cheesy mistake – sure, some people have disappeared searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine, but that’s about as close to reality as this film comes. Starting off the film with a weeping confessional moment taken right out of The Blair Witch Project is another big mistake – one that will likely turn some viewers off immediately. The whole thing could use a better backstory, as well. Kate (Sage Howard) is doing this to launch her documentary film career, but her boyfriend Paul (Andrew Simpson) is pretty much there because he’s her boyfriend, and Ross (Shelby Stehlin), the third member of the team, seems to just be sort of tagging along. It quickly becomes pretty clear that the threesome hasn’t put too much thought into the project when they are surprised by some of the stories and cautions they hear from locals about stepping off the trail. They also have fairly small packs with them, given their plan to camp in this hot desert landscape for several days, and their map to the supposed location of the lost mine looks like it was drawn on a napkin. Even if none of the legends about the area are true, it’s quite an inhospitable landscape that looks like a rattlesnake paradise, if you ask me.

Off the three go, though, actually seeming to believe they might actually find the long lost mine. All they end up finding, though, is trouble – much of which is taken right out of The Blair Witch Project. There are some genuinely creepy moments interspersed throughout, though, and that’s the part of the movie I enjoyed. I think the acting was pretty good for the most part, and the obviously low-key special effects were sufficient, as well. One thing I didn’t like was the fact that the periodic smartphone videos had the quality of a 1960s home movie; that struck me as an artsy-fartsy device on the part of the filmmakers.

If you don’t like found footage movies, you almost certainly won’t like this one. Even if you are a fan, the derivative nature of the overall plot may well turn you off. I personally liked the movie, but I know I’m going to be in a minority on this one.


Ghosts at Sea
Ghosts at Sea
DVD
Price: $3.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Only mildly interesting, December 29, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Ghosts of the Sea is really a rather pedestrian ghost documentary. It’s primarily just “storytellers” and eyewitnesses describing ghostly encounters, most of which are rather mundane, alongside re-creations of those events. The trailer led me to expect that a significant amount of the video would consist of ghost hunting investigations, but there are just two rather short and unimpressive examples of such footage. Someone standing by the sea at night describing cold spots is not exactly my idea of compelling evidence. The fact that these were ghost stories I had never heard before – all of these stories come from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland – was pretty much the video’s only saving grace in terms of keeping my interest. The nautical angle to all of the stories does differentiate this documentary from others in the field, but there’s really nothing memorable to be found here.


Saint Nick
Saint Nick
DVD ~ Egbert Jan Weeber
Offered by Sparks DVD Sales
Price: $13.10
35 used & new from $5.02

5.0 out of 5 stars This ain't no elf-ing Santa Claus, December 23, 2014
This review is from: Saint Nick (DVD)
In the Netherlands, children put their shoes (containing hay and carrots) by the chimney and sing Sinterklass songs, and those who have been good receive gifts from Saint Nicholas and his helpers (called Black Petes). According to the myth, bad children, however, are put in sacks and carried by Saint Nicholas to Spain, where he supposedly comes from. This is not to be confused with Christmas, for the celebration of St. Nicholas Day takes place on the 5th and 6th of December. In this movie, though, we are told that there is much more to the story, that Saint Nicholas was not a 4th century bishop known for gift-giving and healing. In actuality, he was a 15th-century apostate bishop who, along with his army of Black Petes, pillaged, murdered, kidnapped, and pretty much terrorized the countryside until a group of villagers fought back and burned Nicholas and his ship. The truth was covered up by the Catholic Church, so now no one believes the urban legend that Saint Nicholas returns every December 5 night with a full moon to exact revenge on the people of Amsterdam.

One man, though, knows the legend to be true. Goert Hoekstra (Bert Luppes) witnessed the murder of his parents and siblings back in 1968 and decided to become a policeman in order to protect the citizens of Amsterdam the next time a full moon fell on Saint Nicholas Day. Of course, all of his police colleagues think he’s daft, forcing him to try and stop Saint Nicholas on his own. A teenaged boy named Frank also becomes involved, after he witnesses the handiwork of Saint Nick and his Black Petes firsthand, only to be wrongly accused of murdering two of his friends.

The film’s special effects are quite good. It’s hard to forget the sight of Saint Nick riding his white steed across the rooftops as police pursue him, and the sight of Saint Nick’s burned face is guaranteed not to inspire any visions of sugar plums in anybody’s dreams. A number of the killings are pretty gory and often involve the shearing off of body parts. The pacing of the film is also quite good; indeed, the film seems to zoom along much faster than its 90-minute duration. Simply put, this is one of the best Christmas-related horror movies I’ve seen in recent years – despite its less than stellar English dubbing. Just be aware that’s it is known by a variety of names, including Saint Nick, Saint, and Sint. American viewers may not understand the significance of the date or the peculiar Dutch customs around Saint Nicholas, but the glorious horror unleashed by this dude are truly universal.


Ragnarok [Blu-ray]
Ragnarok [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Pal Sverre Hagen
Price: $20.85
28 used & new from $15.01

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Where's Thor when you really need him?, December 21, 2014
This review is from: Ragnarok [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Like Troll Hunter, Ragnarok brings a distinctly Norwegian slant to the monster movie genre. The story itself ties into Norse mythology, which I admittedly know next to nothing about - Thor, Odin, and that's about it. Ragnarok, it turns out, basically refers to a series of disasters that will destroy the world, result in the deaths of a slew of Norse gods, and ultimately leave just two human survivors to basically start over again. Ragnarok is also said to be the place where Thor and the Midland Serpent will engage in their final battle. Since this is all an ancient myth, it's not the type of subject that academics or those who fund academic research take seriously. Archaeologist Sigurd Svendsen finds that out firsthand, but he remains convinced that evidence from the recent discovery of a Viking ship at Oseberg points a compelling finger at Ragnarok. When his colleague fishes up a related runestone in northern Norway, he quickly follows the clues where they lead.

Having lost his wife several years earlier, Sigurd takes his two children - a young teenaged girl and little boy - with him on the expedition, which doesn't seem like a very good idea to me. The trek goes into forest depths virtually untouched since Russian soldiers abandoned the area at the end of the Cold War, and their only companions are Sigurd's colleague, his more than capable female assistant, and a surly guide. Sigurd does in fact find the answers he was seeking, but in doing so he learns that his interpretation of the clues was something less than complete.

There's a decent amount of tension and suspense, especially with the two kids thrown into the mix, but there are no real surprises along the way. Special effects are also pretty good, with one particularly memorable moment. Overall, though, the film just seems to lack that certain something that would make it truly memorable. It's definitely worth a watch, though; it's not every day you get to see elements of Norse mythology (the real thing, not some comic book adaptation of Thor) played out on the big screen.


Big Ass Spider!
Big Ass Spider!
DVD ~ Greg Grunberg
Price: $9.53
22 used & new from $7.74

5.0 out of 5 stars The best -- and definitely the funniest -- monster movie in years, December 18, 2014
This review is from: Big Ass Spider! (DVD)
I’m declaring Big Ass Spider! an instant classic. Seriously, this is the best creature feature film in years. Along with plenty of scenes showing the arachnid antagonist doing its thing – spinning webs, spraying face-melting acid, eating people left and right, and pretty much terrorizing the city of Los Angeles – you have great characters delivering constantly witty dialogue with great comedic timing. The combination of Greg Grunberg and Lombardo Boyar as spider-hunting hombres makes for comedic gold.

You would think that being bitten by a brown recluse spider would definitely be the low point of your day – but not so for exterminator Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg). That just ends up being the serendipitous event that places him in the local hospital emergency room when the coroner runs in with a hellacious bite from what he describes as a huge spider. The Ex goes into action, with the help of hospital security guard Jose Ramos (Lombardo Boyar) – and that’s when the military rolls in. It seems this giant spider is no ordinary spider, and – according to the special operations team’s scientist – it’s only at Phase Two of its whole growth/metamorphosis thing. It’s going to get much, much bigger, with a hard exoskeleton that bullets can’t penetrate.

The military pushes Alex aside, but he and his new sidekick Jose are determined to find and kill the spider themselves. They make a great (and very funny) team, routinely figuring out where the spider is as quickly as the military can spot it themselves. Of course, the big guy isn’t exactly lying low – he’s terrorizing the streets of Los Angeles. It is great fun watching this big ass spider on the rampage. He’s spearing people (including Troma’s own Lloyd Kaufman) left and right, shooting out webs to suck people back in to its giant mouth, and gumming some victims up for late night snacks. I thought the special effects were great, especially considering the movie’s surprisingly low budget, especially when the spider is terrorizing a park full of unsuspecting men, women, and children, and when he decides to start climbing some of L.A.’s tallest buildings. The whole spider rampage also gives birth to one of the film’s funniest scenes – a glorious send-up of Antoine Dodson’s Bed Intruder news interview.

If you see only one giant spider movie this year, make sure it’s Big Ass Spider! The monster action alone is worth watching, but the hilarity the movie unleashes all but demands multiple viewings.


Abandoned Mine
Abandoned Mine
DVD ~ Alexa Vega
Offered by SourceMedia
Price: $9.09
44 used & new from $2.74

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very little in the way of horror or suspense, October 31, 2014
This review is from: Abandoned Mine (DVD)
I was looking for a movie to watch on Halloween night, and I somehow ended up in this Abandoned Mine. It’s about five young people going on a Halloween night adventure, so I figured I would just go with it. There were some warning signs early on. First, the opening credits reveal that the film was written, directed, and produced by one person (Jeff Chamberlain) – and that almost never leads to a good outcome. Then we’re hit with some quick snippets of bad things to come, long before the story premise even establishes itself. Why do filmmakers do this? It’s incredibly annoying. So we finally get the five main characters established, and it just doesn’t feel right. You have Brad (Reiley McClendon), his girlfriend Sharon (the very attractive Alexa Vega), Brad’s ex-girlfriend and Sharon’s good friend Laurie (Saige Thompson), Brad’s generic jock sidekick Jimmy (Adam Hendershott), and Laurie’s friend Ethan (Charan Prabhakar). From the start, I felt that there was just something off about Brad and Laurie, especially Laurie, whose sketchy backstory ends up being pretty much of no importance. Thank goodness for the India-born Ethan, as his personality serves to at least make the movie somewhat enjoyable. The other characters are just sort of there for the ride.

So the gang accompanies Brad to a haunted mine. For some reason, they all seem to think they’re going to some other haunted mine and not the locally infamous Jarvis Mine, where a man and his two daughters were supposedly buried alive (intentionally) a century ago – and where several people have gone missing over the years. Of course, despite all of their reluctance to actually enter a dangerous and supposedly haunted mine, they have few qualms about shimmying twenty feet down into it with a rope and – you guessed it – getting stuck down there. It’s pretty hard for me to care about anyone stupid enough to do that sort of thing,

The film does manage to drag out the answer as to whether or not the mine is actually haunted, but no real surprises await the viewer. Actually, things get a little silly toward the end, resulting in an ending that fails to impress. Nothing in this entire film really engaged me, not even the claustrophobic scenes of these young people crawling through tiny shafts. Writer/director/producer Jeff Chamberlain also fails to really tie the disparate aspects of his story together in any meaningful way. If you’re looking for something scary or unsettling to watch on Halloween night (or any other night of the year), Abandoned Mine really isn’t going to be your best choice.


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