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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), somewhat confounding, somewhat outstanding, and loaded with sword fights and Kraken tentacles.

May 22, 2017

MY CALL:  This sequel is a blast. Admittedly, it’s much harder to get into with this very messy plot, but the effects and action and scale retain its ranks high among popcorn adventure films.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Pirates of the CaribbeanFirst things first: you better see The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003; the BEST of the franchise, in my opinion) before you see this! People who love this likely prefer grand-scale worlds as found in the Harry Potter films (2001-2011), The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) and The Hobbit trilogies (2012-2014), Jurassic Park (1993) and The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003).  I’d also strongly recommend the STARZ series Black Sails (2014-2017; 4 seasons).

With Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales coming out (2017), I felt the need to revisit the Pirates anthology. Having covered The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) last week, it’s on to Dead Man’s Chest to continue this outstanding adventure franchise that I continue to adore.

This epic saga sequel does many things its predecessor did not. We open on a much darker note with Miss Swann (Keira Knightley; Domino, Love Actually) and Will Turner’s (Orlando Bloom; The Hobbit trilogy; The Three Musketeers, Troy) freedom and lives at stake, the crewmen of the Black Pearl have lost faith in their quirky Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), and our new villain Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander; Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Taboo) is far less likable than was Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush; Gods of Egypt, The Warrior’s Way, The King’s Speech).

Despite the grimmer opening, we see many fleeting notions from part 1 brought to light as Jack’s broken compass finds purpose (destiny, in fact) and his scar-branded wrist’s origin is explained. Both of these mysteries, it seems, are linked to the menacing Lord Beckett’s desires.

But what hasn’t changed at all is Gore Verbinski’s fine eye for grandiose scale and gorgeous camera work.  Squirrely as ever, Jack Sparrow’s shenanigans continue as he poses as a cannibal chief and is chased across the beach by the whole tribe in a laughable trailer clip.  His twitchy mannerisms are back in full idiosyncratic force and if his character was the reason you bought this, then it’s worth the price of admission and then some.  But most characters’ motives have become blurred in this complicated sequel.

It’s really hard to get behind our protagonist in this sequel. Because…who exactly is the protagonist?  In part 1 Barbossa was bad and Jack was the antihero who teamed up with Will and Elizabeth while Norrington and the Governor got in the way, although well-intentioned.  The plot was actually rather complicated—but it was well-explained, justified, and easily followable. Now in part 2 the cephalopod-faced Captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy; Underworld, Shaun of the Dead, Jack the Giant Slayer) is the bad guy, but Lord Beckett is sort of another equally dangerous bad guy from the sidelines, Norrington wants to double cross Jack to get his rank back from Beckett, the Governor is dealing with Beckett to save his daughter Elizabeth, Jack double crosses Will to save himself from Davy… the convolution goes on and on and it really makes it hard to root for anyone.  When everyone is double crossing everyone else, who’s the hero? Apparently, it’s Will and Elizabeth against everyone else…sort of.

The Flying Dutchman is fantastic. Jones’ malformed crew are an awesome spectacle and a worthy follow-up to Barbossa’s undead pirates, with Davy Jones at least nearing the menace of Captain Barbossa and the crew’s sea affinity/curse affording every bit the supernatural touch we desire.  

Despite all this Herculean effort in adding numerous new personalities to our story (e.g., Davy Jones, Beckett, the Witch, Bootstrap Bill), something is missing from this film—from the whole experience.  The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) created a vast world plentiful with characters, but Dead Man’s Chest seems only to have regurgitated that world (just picking up where we left off).  And while there is more world-building, our new curse swings in on the coattails of part 1’s Aztec gold and hits with a bit less impact in the flurry of conflicting character motives.

Yes, I’m loving all the action and effects and seafaring ship fights and swashbuckling.  But the story fails to sweep me away as did part 1. Perhaps I was enamored by part 1’s world-building, but I was so much more invested in it, too.  This sequel is very cool; a great popcorn flick loaded with interesting creatures and a great premise.  But “cool” doesn’t move me, it just entertains.

But let’s talk about its popcorn appeal since this is an OUTSTANDING popcorn movie.  Much as being introduced to Avatar’s (2009) flora and fauna, our eyes are candied with the fine CGI details of Davy Jones and his Flying Dutchman.  Like the shock of red hair in Brave (2012), each of Jones’ beard-like tentacles move independently with their own personality (it’s quite a sight) and, of course, Nighy brings a splendidly enjoyable personality as well.

Meanwhile the ship is festooned with clam clusters that seize shut with the movement of passers-by or the pound of a peg-leg on a floor board, giving the Dutchman a proper life of its own.  In fact, while aboard the Dutchman or among its crew there’s always something moving in the background on the characters—sea anemone mouths, Davy Jones’ tentacled pointer finger that seems to have a mind of its own, spider crab legs twitching on someone’s back, a moral eel peeking from a stomach hole.  These small yet satisfying details are rich throughout the film and contribute to its ongoing rewatchability.

A big selling point in the trailer was the Kraken.  Yeah, it’s neat.  To a keen eye, the CGI held up…okay, I guess.  It’s clearly not so wowing as it was in 2006, but this thing is still a joy to watch and it gets a lot of screen time as its slimy, suckered, wandering tentacles ravage, crack and splinter huge ships to shambles and fling the crew about.  And when it roars jettisoning mucousy muck all one can do is laugh.

Our plot finds incomplete resolution by its end, which harbingers the return of Barbossa to rescue Jack in part 3.  This sequel is loads of fun but, as is the fault of many trilogies, this part 2 exists largely to bridge characters from part 1 and set the stage for part 3.  However, with that said, I feel like I enjoy it more now (having seen it before, and now along with part 3) than upon its initial release.  In other words, it wasn’t a great sequel back when there were only two films, but it serves as a finely enjoyable 2nd installment of an anthology of now 5 films.


John’s Horror Corner: Sinister 2 (2015), an unworthy sequel squandering its boogeymen Bughuul for creepy ghost kids.

May 21, 2017

MY CALL:  I guess it’s watchable, but this sequel really isn’t worth it.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Sinister 2Well I, for one, loved the first Sinister (2012). But in all fairness, people have different taste. So, here’s a second opinion (review here) from the other half of MFF. For more murderous horror twins, try Goodnight Mommy (2014).

Fleeing an abusive husband, Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon; Wayward Pines, Sleepy Hollow, One Missed Call, The Day) secretly moves to a family-owned property with her twin sons, Dylan and Zach.  Little did she know, something awful happened at the property.

Her sons are the worst twins ever.  They fight constantly and rely on each other for nothing.  Dylan is a special boy.  He’s been seeing the boogeymen in his closet, having freaky nightmares and macabre daytime visions, and he has some ghostly young friends who share old 8mm family snuff films.  For whatever reason, Zach not only knows about all this, but he’s jealous!

Our now-ex-deputy (James Ransone; Sinister, Prom Night) senses the horrors that befell the Oswalt family (in part 1) will somehow happen again at Courtney’s hideaway.  He befriends, warns, and protects Courtney and the boys.  Then, you know, things get worse.

Even when we see them coming, some of the death scenes are unexpectedly shocking.  They feature immolation, alligator attack, electrocution…but they seem to fall short of the horrifying impact they had in part 1.  We seem to just be going through the motions.  It feels like the filmmakers tried, but were just less inspired than the original Sinister (2012) team.

Moreover, Bughuul just didn’t feel right.  He seemed more… “human.”  Less other-worldly; less demonic.  Bughuul, the eater of children, remains unnaturally unnerving.  But however creepy he is in this film, it’s still notably “less” than he once was.

Another downgraded aspect of this sequel is that everything seems too “organized.”  Bughuul has hired kid ghost interns to do his recruiting and he seems to be running an undead kinder-horror school complete with a home video film curriculum.  There’s practically a schedule and demerit system.  The terror of discovery (previously endured by Ethan Hawke) just isn’t here, and it’s the very thing that gave the original it’s gut-punching impact.  At least it’s rated-R—as horror should be.

None of part 1’s soul-rattling magic is to be found here in director Ciarán Foy’s (Citadel) sequel, and the third act is most disappointing of this sequel.  Sigh… oh well.  The film was mildly entertaining and I don’t regret giving it a shot.  But, that said, I’m not recommending this to anyone.  It really has no merits.  Shame.


John’s Horror Corner: Beyond the Gates (2016), an evil VCR board game movie with a distinct 80s feel.

May 20, 2017

MY CALL:  Outside of a few shocking and impressive gory scenes, this film was largely just very poorly written and tedious despite boasting a solid cast.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Beyond the GatesOther “reality-altering board game” films include Open Graves (2009), The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond (2009), and of course the non-horror adventure classic Jumanji (1995).

Is it just me, or does Graham Skipper (right) look like a hybrid of Rainn Wilson and Elijah Wood?

Months after the mysterious disappearance of their father, Gordon (Graham Skipper; Tales of Halloween) and John (Chase Williamson; The Guest, Siren, John Dies at the End) return to their home town to pack up dad’s old video store.  The estranged brothers clearly never got along well in adulthood; their relationship is understandably awkward and a tad contentious.  But they find comfort in their shared memories of the store, nostalgically wall-to-walled with videotapes.

I loved seeing the deep, tall rows of movie racks. How I miss those days.

Still inside the VCR of the video store office, the brothers find a VCR board game tape called Beyond the Gates.  The game has a hostess, Evelyn (Barbara Crampton; You’re Next, Lords of Salem, Chopping Mall, We Are Still Here).  This hostess seems surprisingly more “interactive” than one might expect as she speaks directly to the players and mentions their father’s soul…from the TV!

The game affects people who aren’t even playing like Gordon’s girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant; Smothered, Halloween II, Dexter, Heroes), a childhood friend-turned police officer (Matt Mercer; Contracted, The Mind’s Eye, Madison County), and John’s jerky friend Hank (Justin Welborn; Siren, Southbound, V/H/S Viral).  Despite this cast of horror-experienced actors, once the “horror” begins the poor writing hamstrings their performance.

The game is a complete mystery.  Not in that it is “mysterious” in nature, but in that I had no idea how to play the game. Evelyn says “to get the key, roll the dice,” they roll the dice, they get a key…and something awful happens. LOL. This repeats itself a few times.  Even though the key scenes don’t make any sense, along the way we do get a satisfying voodoo doll scene bringing someone to a splattering disembowelment (a pretty solid scene, a blast actually). It was a delicious mess.  But overall the game is aimlessly random, gathering keys to open a magical gate to another world (Hell?) that has appeared in their basement.

We understood how Jumanji (1995) worked—you rolled the dice, occasionally landed on a location or read a card, and then you lived the result.  Simple.  Yeah, these filmmakers must not have seen that Robin Williams classic. LOL. Our only comfort is an exploding head here, some gooey head-smashing gore there, and all the while never understanding why.

Director Jackson Stewart’s first feature length film overall, I fear, long missed the mark. The movie fan nostalgia of the video store was a nice touch, even if handled better by a more experienced filmmaker.  The real victories of this film were the gory scenes—which were quite impressive even if their surrounding scenes and staging were poor—and the score.  During the opening credits I was swept away to the 80s as if I just popped a VHS tape in the VCR to watch this very film.

The ending wasn’t satisfying. It harkened back to 80s horror in a mildly pleasing manner for the closing twist, but the resolution of the game itself (i.e., the violent finale and the reasoning behind characters’ actions) was just wretchedly incomprehensible.

It’s hard to recommend this. However, there was just enough that I’d be interested to see what he does next and, perhaps most critically, with a very different writing team.  I’m not really sure how much freedom Stewart really had.

John’s Horror Corner: The Shallows (2016), Blake Lively’s bikini meets Jaws (1975) and Castaway (2000) in this fun shark attack thriller.

May 19, 2017

MY CALL:  Fans of shark attack films and fun yet nerve-wracking movies that make you yell at the screen and smile.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The ShallowsProbably Bait 3D (2012; B-movie), The Reef (2010), Open Water (2003), Jaws (1975), Shark Night 3D (2011) and Deep Blue Sea (1999; over the top). If you want something sillier there’s Piranha (1978), Piranha 3D (2010) and Piranha 3DD (2012).

This film’s tone makes for a nice change of pace amid the bad shark movie extravaganza that has filled the last decade (e.g., Sharktopus, Mega Shark, Sharknado 1-4, Sand Sharks, Megalodon, Megashark vs. Giant Crocosaurus, Snow Shark, Megashark vs. Giant Octopus, Jersey Shore Shark Attack, Dinoshark, Attack of the Jurassic Shark, Jaws in Japan, Ghost Shark, Malibu Shark Attack, Super Shark, Swamp Shark, 12 Days of Terror, Two-Headed shark Attack, Shark Swarm, Sharks in Venice, Spring Break Shark Attack, Shark Attack in the Mediterranean, Red Water, Hammerhead, Shark Lakeneed I go on?).

Let me just start by saying this film is GORGEOUSLY shot.  Taking a break from Liam Neeson’s never-ending “old man action film” comeback, Jaume Collet-Serra (Run All Night, Non-Stop, Unknown, Taken) does a phenomenal job capturing the hidden beauty of such sights cameras typically fail to do justice.  Yes, there are some camera angles favoring the curve of Blake Lively’s butt and, well, other curves.  But don’t let that distract you—not too much anyway LOL—from the elegance of all else the camera captures when not swooning her form.  The colors and lighting are crisp perfection.  This feels like watching Blue Planet (2001) or Planet Earth (2006) in HD.

After losing her mother to a long battle with cancer, Nancy (Blake Lively; Age of Adeline, Savages) visits the very Mexican hideaway her mother once surfed.  Exquisite use of screen-on-screen phone tech gives us a sense of Nancy’s unflagging independence and determination during her personal walkabout while identifying her desire to remain connected.  Almost instantly, Nancy is a most personable character and we understand the organic relationships she has with her hungover travel mate and her kid sister.  I was also impressed with the likability of her kind driver (Óscar Jaenada; Pirates of the Caribbean: On stranger Tides, The Losers) who, despite an endearingly moderate language barrier, had a lot to say.

Once dropped off at the secret beach that perfectly matched her mother’s photos, she takes to the water—the fantastically serene, perfect, beautiful water—with some of the action-shots of her rides rivaling Blue Crush (2002) and admonishing marginal glimpses of the ocean’s rocky floor.    She makes some passing friendly acquaintance and submits to the call of the waves until she’s the last one in the crystal water.  Everything was just so…but then it happened!

Clouding the water with lacy wisps of blood, she claws at the gaping wounds of a nearby mauled whale (of all things), terrified of her unseen assailant.  Her independence is all she has now.  She’s in for the fight of her life. With a wounded leg, a desperate sprinting swim to a submerged rock finds the company of an injured seagull, unable to fly and nervously chirping with every little tidal splash.  Chittering all affright, I was so warmed when Nancy fed the gull a crab.

This movie has taught me a few things about myself…

  1. Never in all my life of being plagued by these birds while eating my lunch on the beach would I have thought this, but I’ve never wanted to adopt and love a seagull so much in my life! That bird deserved a Best Supporting Actor nod but got robbed like Wilson (Castaway).  I kept shifting from being nervous for Nancy and awing over the bird. We even discussed the gull in our podcast (Ep 83: The Best Non-Human Characters of 2016).

  2. Flare guns no longer offer me any sense of security.

  3. Apparently, I yell a lot during buoy scenes.

  4. I have a newfound fear and respect for jellyfish.

  5. This shark was sent back from the future fully equipped with a T-800 cybernetic endoskeleton produced by SkyNet®. That’s literally the ONLY explanation I have for this thing’s strength and unwavering focus.

Let’s be honest. We all know what’s gonna’ happen. She’s going to get in the water to make a run for it, the shark will appear, and she’ll scramble back to safety.  It’ll probably even happen more than once. Yes, we all know this. So, imagine my pleasure when it happens and I instantly clench up and get nervous for her as if I didn’t see it all coming.  Jaume Collet-Serra (also House of Wax, Orphan) is no stranger to horror and he seems now to have a better grasp of it than ever…and well-complemented by his skills acquired in recent action-suspense films.  So, every time Nancy dips her toe in the water, we are nervous!  And when the shark attack scenes come, they are intense!

Enjoy this film. It’s the kind of nerve-wracking suspense you know and see coming, but it’s still fun to experience every time.  Plus, it’s fun yelling at the TV if you’re like me and get really involved. Don’t trust me? Then check out Mark’s review—he loved it, too.

John’s Horror Corner: Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead (2009), mixing the booby traps of Rambo: First Blood (1982) and Predator (1987) with inbred, redneck, mutant, cannibal hillbillies.

May 18, 2017

These sequel had loads of action and loads of gore—and it almost all sucked.  But that’s okay, because the dialogue was also by far the worst in the series.  So if you’re having a “bad movie” night, this is your movie!  MORE MOVIES LIKE Wrong Turn 3: Dead EndWrong Turn (2003), Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007), The Hills Have Eyes 1-2 (1977, 1984, 2006, 2007), Just Before Dawn (1981), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) will all continue to satisfy the hillbilly horror subgenre.  Maybe Cabin Fever 1-3 (2002-2014) for the gore hounds.

Our latest franchise director (Declan O’Brien; Cyclops, Sharktopus, Wrong Turn 4-5) makes this third film yet trashier and yet more looney than Dead End (2007).  Of the three Wrong Turn films so far, this is absolutely the most classless.  In under 4 minutes we endure twenty-somethings smoking pot, breast-baring nudity for no reason (not even for a sex or shower scene, but just because), and dialogue hardly worthy of pornography.  No really, the girl actually says things like “do you think I’m a slut,” “I thought you loved my boobs” and (in reference to taking off her top) “the girls gotta’ breathe.”  At this point you’d think we’d be wasting our time to watch any more.  But hold on.

This may be trashy, but we get loads of great gore (still in the first 10 minutes).  Much as Dead End (2007) opened with the fantastic scene deliciously cutting Kimberly Caldwell in half (with guts pouring out), now arrows shoot through boobs and popping eyeballs, a spear is thrust through a dude’s mouth and a piano wire booby trap reminded me of Cube (1997) and Resident Evil’s (2002) laser grids.  The stabs, penetrations, slices and blood spurts are CGI (like, way obvious CGI)—but the gore is so abundant and playfully executed that I’m honestly already loving this!  Not only that, but our sole recurring inbred hillbilly cannibal Three-Finger (Borislav Iliev; Wrong Turn 5) is back and giggly as ever!  Based on the punishment he’s taken, he may just be immortal.

After that great action medley we take a wrong turn for the worse. Meeting this sequel’s main victims, we find ourselves painfully enduring a prison yard scene that’s as cheesy as can be.  The horribly over-expository dialogue reveals that inmates Floyd (Gil Kolirin; Return to House on Haunted Hill) and Chavez (Tamer Hassan; Sucker Punch) will be transferred through the back country of Greenbriar West Virginia along with under cover US Marshall Willy (Christian Contreras), posing as another inmate.

Our transferred prisoners’ bus crashes, Chavez takes charge, and the inmates hustle through the dark woods towards their freedom.  But after that gore-slathered opening sequence we suffer through long stretches of forced “story” and wretched lines as we desperately await the next death scene.  Thankfully our mutant Three-Finger and his young deformed kin Three-Toe come in strong with more booby traps.  Between a razor wire net and a spring-loaded spike trap, Rambo: First Blood (1982) crosses paths with Predator (1987) as the traps seem to be the greatest strength of the movie.

The acting, writing and directing were clearly the worst of the franchise (parts 1-3, anyway).  The plot really couldn’t have been worse, nor more poorly executed.  I honestly missed the stagnant direct-to-DVD dialogue of Dead End (2007).  Yet, somehow, this remained generally quite watchable and entertaining.  Inferior to its predecessors, but not unworthy of your time if you’re a fan of the franchise and stupid action for the sake of gore.

Perhaps most amusing is that in this Wrong Turn film, the victims made no wrong turns.  The worst turn, however, was when the filmmakers gave us several long (and boring and very stupid) fist fight scenes between inmates during power struggles. So bad… SMH…. so very bad.  Overall, the trap death scenes are pretty cool and pretty cruel.  I enjoyed many a maniacal giggle.  But outside of the booby traps, this movie had loads of action—and, other than those traps, it all sucked.  The finale action finds even new levels of lunacy, even feeling cartoonishly ridiculous for a Wrong Turn sequel.  Bad movie lovers will revel in it.

Even if you consider Wrong Turn (2003) a “bad movie,” this is a “badder movie” that barely keeps its grip on its so-bad-it’s-good status for our entertainment.  Much to my dismay, it’s barely a B-movie because I think it was actually trying to be good.  All attention was aimed at action and gore, but sadly, not the atmosphere.  Nothing was ever really tense, unnerving, or even creepy.

Oh dear…the same director was behind parts 4 and 5, for better or worse.  I guess it just depends on your taste.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), the swashbuckling fantasy action/adventure epic introducing Captain Jack Sparrow!

May 18, 2017

MY CALL:  This action-adventure film is very ambitious and very successful because it relies on great characters as much as a great fantastic tale. It’s also the best of the franchise.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Pirates of the CaribbeanPeople who love this likely prefer grand-scale worlds as found in the Harry Potter films (2001-2011), The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) and The Hobbit trilogies (2012-2014), Jurassic Park (1993) and The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003).  I’d also strongly recommend the STARZ series Black Sails (2014-2017; 4 seasons).

With Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales coming out (2017), I felt the need to revisit the Pirates anthology.  The Curse of the Black Pearl kicks the series off with an outstanding adventure film that I continue to adore.

Director Gore Verbinski (A Cure for Wellness, The Ring, The Mexican, The Weather Man) is a man of depth and range.  The varied nature of the action will please viewers of all ages.  Ranging from daffy character-catapulting gags to fancy footworked swordplay, the stunts are abundant, diverse and, most notably, uncommonly interesting. The seafaring battle is especially engaging, being equal parts tense, funny and exciting, and all contributing to making this an outstanding somewhat family-friendly (at PG-13 with numerous off-screen kills) adventure movie. I love seeing the cannonballs tear through the ships with splinters raining across the screen. Watching the action scenes was simply energizing!  But bringing rewatchability and synthesis to the screen are the characters!

As Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Transcendence, Into the Woods) has manifested a character that no Renaissance Festival or Comic Con has gone without for almost 15 years now. This Keith Richards-mannerismed pirate has a drunken-boxing swagger and a nigh-slurred savoir-faire making him unforgettably charismatic…yet nervously twitchy.  His somewhat bewildered and oft-shocked expressions draw nothing but grins.  From his very inception on screen we know he is not to be trusted, he has a sharp retort for everything, and this man knows how to make an entrance!

The cruel swashbuckling yin to Sparrow’s yang, Geoffrey Rush (Gods of Egypt, The Warrior’s Way, The King’s Speech) is a master of villainy and imbues Captain Barbossa with equal parts cheeky piracy and gross goon.  He’s so convincingly menacing, it’s hard to imagine he was ever Jack Sparrow’s first mate.  Rush owns every moment he’s on screen as readily as Depp, and the two steal the show in their race to end a curse from their stolen Aztec gold.  During Barbossa’s efforts to gather all the gold coins and Jack’s efforts to steal his ship back from Barbossa, a blacksmith’s apprentice’s love is taken captive and all sorts of motives and chases cross paths.

But really, all the characters are memorable.  The bumbling duo of pirate deck swabs (Once Upon a Time’s Lee Arenberg and Dark Ascension’s Mackenzie Crook) who smack of Abbot and Costello with the menace Home Alone’s Marv and Harry; the tactful use of Barbossa’s feisty monkey; the recurring foolish guards of the Royal Navy (who recur through at least part 3); we all love Governor Weatherby (Jonathan Pryce; Game of Thrones, Taboo); and even Will Turner’s (Orlando Bloom; The Hobbit trilogyThe Three Musketeers, Troy) blacksmith master had his moment to shine.  As our fair female lead, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley; Domino, Love Actually) is drawn with all the classic damsel tropes…which she appropriately crumbles in the wake of her very defiance of them.  At only 17 years old, Knightley gives a solid performance for her iron-willed Elizabeth.

While overall gorgeous and a joy to watch, the CGI (particularly the undead pirates) didn’t hold properly up.  I mean, it still looks very good and quite entertaining—but while absolutely stunning at the time of its release the quality drop (by today’s standards) is inescapably evident.  But this is more than compensated by iconic scenes whose impact transcend the somewhat dated CGI.  The underwater scenes are numerous and crisp, the swab’s wooden eye managed to almost feel like its own character, the undead march along the ocean floor was unforgettable, and seeing our two dueling skeletal captains dancing in and out of the death-knelling moonlight lives up to the trailer moment.

This film is simply fun for everyone and if someone tells you it’s not, they’re probably just a constipated grump. Don’t listen to constipated grumps! Moreover, I find the film is just as enjoyable today!

John’s Horror Corner: Baskin (2015), a disturbed, disorienting and gory Turkish terror about cults and Hell.

May 17, 2017

MY CALL:  Fans of visceral and unapologetic yet intelligent horror should enjoy this.  MORE MOVIES LIKE BaskinReally hard to say.  This film is “a little” like a lot of iconic horror films without really being terribly similar to any one of them.  In this review I make comparisons to 13 horror films.  Among those, I’d say Hellraiser (1987), Event Horizon (1997) and The Void (2016) are the closest match without really being a match at all.

The Turkish word “baskin” means “[police] raid”

We spend nearly the entire first 30 minutes of this film getting to know a squad of five Turkish police officers.  A band of crooked perverted storytellers, they beat up kitchen boys, walk out on the bill, have Turkish hip-hop singalongs in the squad van, and clearly watch each other’s backs.  Over the course of this strange character study, I come to find them almost equally as despicable as, well…sort of likable.

They respond to a call to the remote Turkish countryside, a land of poor radio signals and eerie local folklore about shrines. It feels like The [Eastern European] Hills Have Eyes (1977, 2006) complete with shallow gene-pooled locals and a creepy abandoned manor.  From there, things take an infernal turn for the worse and to tell you more would ruin the fun.

For his first-time feature length film, director Can Evrenol (The Field Guide to Evil) packs a mean punch. Long dialogues stage our characters like the acts of a play, and the discontinuity in our timeline creates a surreal, trippy, nightmarish tone in which we question what’s actually happening—what’s actually connected?

From surreal we slip into pandemonium stew flavored with just dashes of numerous familiar horrors: momentary sprigs of The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Session 9 (2001), the atmospheric aroma of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Hellraiser (1987), a macabre Martyrs (2008) meets The Last Shift (2015) marinade, and the warm cult charm of Nightbreed (1990) and Silent Hill (2006).

There is a mild sense of Lovecraftian madness, but having lost its elegant subtlety to an evil meat grinder.  Not sure what I mean?  Think Event Horizon (1997) or The Void (2016), complete with other-worldly explanations of what Hell “really is.”  I mean, it gets brutal, gross, a bit perverse, and gory. There’s lots of blood, some intestine-tugging disemboweling, throat slitting, eye gauging and even a twisted (but thankfully brief) birth scene.

Some things are sort of explained, other things are somewhat implied, and some specifics leave us in the dark to figure out on our own—and that’s okay. Much as with The Shrine (2010) or Oculus (2014), this film will drop the curtain leaving you asking yourself “what just happened,” “was all that real” and “what was up with all those frogs?”  Then, regarding the most important of your questions, you’ll probably pause and say “oooooooh, that’s how it’s all connected” as you realize what happened.

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