Darke Reviews – The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

Thanks to Tucson Comic-con having made a deal with Lionsgate, I had the opportunity to see this movie on Tuesday. Plenty of geeks in the audience and a row of local professional reviewers behind me. More than a few geeks were discussing their Star Wars Force Awakens tickets, or lack there of, but the general mood of the theatre was fairly positive. Talked to the pro’s a bit, desperately wanted to plug my site and didn’t, tried to sell them on Crimson Peak. The lights didn’t dim, the sound didn’t come on, but then they fixed that and the movie started.

How was it though?

Let’s begin with one very basic conceit, all rumors and stories seem to indicate the character was based on/inspired by a Dungeons and Dragons character of Vin Diesel. The man is a geek and is proud of it. So this knowledge going in made me more inclined to be favorable to the movie. It does risk the ire of the three writer rule with Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama, and a name so odd if it isn’t a pseudonym I almost feel bad: Burk Sharpless. Goodman’s only other writing project was the critically panned Priest. Sazama and Sharpless provided us Dracula Untold. So we have three writers who don’t do particularly good with deep stories, but enjoy a specific type of atmospheric and supernatural film and this shows in the final product.

Hellboy, Constantine, Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and Beautiful Creatures all could fit in the world they crafted without even batting an eye. Honestly, I would watch the hell out of that universe if given an opportunity. Part of that comes from the vision of the director Breck Eisner. Eisner has very little in the way of directing credits, but can tout such films as Sahara and The Crazies. He doesn’t do much new or really draw much out of his actors that wasn’t already there, but at least he committed to the story. A few of the set pieces made me smile and want to visit them and if he had a hand in that, then he did ok. That’s the best I can give there.

I wish I could say more on the acting, but it’s pretty flat overall. No one reaches, no one does more than the bare minimum they are capable of. Michael Caine is the wise mentor. Elijah Wood is the young protege. Rose Leslie (Ygritte from Game of Thrones) gets to do more than she did in the show, but not too much. It’s a weak characterization given to someone who can do more. The same can be said of Diesel, there’s just no passion to the role, no weight, no effort. He goes through the motions, which is disappointing considering what I mentioned earlier. Maybe he was just too comfortable? The acting isn’t bad, that’s important to note, it just isn’t special or particularly strong or memorable.

Now, while I praised the world building which I did enjoy quite a bit, the overall plot and characterizations are relatively bland, rushed, and ultimately hollow. I cared about Leslie’s character Chloe because I have a crush on the actress, little else from the script made me care. She’s also got the veneer of feminism. She appears to be a strong, independent, and powerful character; yet barely does much on her own. Disappointing. Same can be said of Diesel’s character, which had so much potential but it was wasted by the script itself. The story had such potential for him.

From a technical and visual standpoint, the movie is ok. Most of the effects are solid enough and rather well done. It with the world building mentioned earlier was pretty immersive and kept me interested when other elements were drawing me out.  Others…just a few grades up from SyFy movie of the week. On par with some of the earlier films mentioned, such as Priest or Dracula Untold. At an editors view it takes too long on some shots and not nearly long enough on others. Amateur tip: We know you are in New York. You made that clear. We do not need long aerial shots of people driving across any of the bridges. That was a few seconds that could have gone elsewhere, like not doing a clear pick up shot on a backlot that doesn’t match the rest of the location you are supposed to be at.


Despite the overall blandness, it is a bit of fun. I did actually enjoy it. Part of that enjoyment was hearing a line of “he’s a 14th level warlock” (only throwaway line I picked up on) and imagining this movie in the same world as other movies I’ve enjoyed. Part of it was the concept of the film, even if it wasn’t executed well. It was just appealing. The audience I was with did seem to enjoy it as they were giving their one liners to the person polling them, “awesome”, “exciting”, “kick ass”.

I just said Fun.

The movie reminds me of watching a group of people give it their all and turn out something mediocre. You appreciate the intent even if the final product isn’t all that good. It reminded me of other things and those things brought a smile to my face; and that’s worth something.

Shortest version: It’s fun, but unless you really want to support it wait til Blu Ray.


Cabin in the Woods

Darke Reviews | Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Another from the request vault for this month. Has it really been three years since this came out? I kind of wish I had seen this one in the theatres, but sadly I didn’t. Overall most modern horror disappoints me, even Joss Whedon’s name on it and the fan reaction to the film. There are few names that will put my butt in a seat in the movies on name alone, Joss is not one of those names. He does so much well, but there are flaws that are getting harder to overlook. All of that being said the question remains:

Should you visit the Cabin in the Woods?

Let’s look at the writers first. Joss Whedon, generally referred to as a geek god, self proclaimed feminist, creator of Buffy, Dollhouse, Firefly, and of course director of Avengers. In addition we have Drew Goddard, who also directs, best known for Cloverfield and recently, The Martian. It’s clear from the filmography that the two men are friends and what the movie makes clear is that they work well together and have an ability to share a vision.

The story, interestingly to me, is both a solid horror film in it’s own right while bordering on parody of the genre as well. It is a near perfect deconstruction of the teen horror genre that quite brilliantly subverts it at the same time. The idea that much of what you see in films for the past forty or fifty years is a test that most fail, save The Final Girl. That every archetype is typically represented in these films, the jock, the scholar, the slut, the virgin, and the fool. Sincerely yours, the Breakfast club.

Each role is taken seriously, and it’s important to note none are shamed. Point in fact the antagonists craft the people to their role where it may not have existed before. I would commend the acting but when you are literally playing an archetype it is difficult to stray. This isn’t to say that Kristen Connolly (Zoo, The Happening), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Anna Hutchinson (Power Rangers 2008), Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy), and Fran Kranz (Dollhouse) don’t do well as our protagonists; it’s just they don’t have to do much. Kranz actually has the most work as the stoner who plays every movie audience ever. He is the audience voice in the film and nearly every line is something we have thought or said watching movies such as this.

Let’s talk effects for a moment. The movies does a lot of work practically.  If you are tired of hearing this, sorry not sorry. Practical always looks better. A good make up effect enhanced lightly by computers works, but the underlying practical make up and prosthetic will always win in my mind until the day I can no longer tell I am looking at a computer enhanced image. I absolutely adore the creature designs that I saw through the film. So lots of kudos to the art department, make up department, prosthetic, and wigs at AFX. When the movies does have to go into the realm of CG it isn’t the greatest 100% of the time, but overall is really solid. The imaginations of the artists were allowed to go full bore and we should thank them all for it.


If you have not seen Cabin in the Wood by now and are a lover of the horror genre – see it! Honestly, most audiences can take it as it doesn’t tend to go full bore gorefest too much or show too much when it goes into that realm. Part of the easing of that is Whedon’s need to insert humor and sarcasm into particularly tense scenes and serious moments into the moments of levity.

While I would still not let children see it (I would have), teens and higher could absolutely watch it. There are some really great concepts here and a near paint by numbers format that could help people who want to write stories or scripts to take notes from.

I don’t know about you, but I am for another trip to the Cabin. I mean after all what harm can come from reading a book.

Darke Reviews | Crimson Peak (2015)

So first off, apologies about missing the last few days of reviews, been a touch sick. That being said, we do have a new film that fits right in with the theme of this month with it’s supernatural tones and haunting themes. As we start into the review a confession that I am a Guillermo del Toro fangirl, I’ve loved his entire filmography and still have a few films to watch. This is my most anticipated movie of the fall season from the trailer to now I have been getting hyped. Cast, Director,  all of it. I mean watch this trailer, with PJ Harvey’s cover of Nick Cave’s Red Right hand.

This is a trailer that drove me to watch a film. This did the job of a trailer, I was interested. I was hyped.

Was I too hyped? Was it worth it?

Let’s begin with writing. Matthew Robbins, best known as the writer of 1974’s Sugarland Express. He is also the mind behind urban horror tale Mimic, 80’s rebellion icon The Legend of Billie Jean (a personal fav). The man knows how to write character driven stories. He also does a good job with tension, but only a good job; that’s where co-writer del Toro comes in. Nothing will stick out to me more about del Toro than his work on Pan’s Labyrinth a film that any director should be proud of and how people brought young children to it. It was a tumultuous film I look forward to writing a review of soon, but regardless it has such beautiful tension and imagery. Now we combine forces of these two men, who had previously worked on Mimic together. Only good things can come from this right?

We also have del Toro at the helm directing and providing, and I use the term honestly, visionary ideas to the production. I think of what he did with Mimic, Blade II, and Hellboy when given a chance. It’s important to know here that del Toro isn’t just a talented writer, but he has also worked multiple film crews as well, working Art Department, Editorial, Casting, Stunts, and so one. There are few facets of film he does not understand which only makes him a stronger director and that is in play here. I have complained a few times recently how claustrophobic modern film is, where the quality of the camera and the way the sets are shot make films seem small. Here del Toro flips that on it’s head making the film feel both claustrophobic and large at the same time in a an extraordinarily talented way. He made interesting fade choices I haven’t seen since the early days of film that only add to the style and ambience of the finished work.

An excellent director can do miracles when given the right cast and that has been put together. Jessica Chastain I have realized is a magnificent actress, much like a female Gary Oldman. Her roles are so different and so powerful, but she vanishes into them and you forget quickly you are looking at Murph, Commander Lewis, Maggie Beauford, or Maya; here instead she is Lady Lucille Sharpe, a Victorian/Turn of the century lady. Her brother, Thomas, is delivered unto us by Tom Hiddleston, most famous for his Loki performances, but also from a vampire favorite Only Lovers Left Alive. I am ecstatic that he did this as it will hopefully force fangirls, and other fans alike, to no longer think of him just as the man who played Loki. Thor made him famous, but his talent will keep him so I hope. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, Only Lovers Left Alive) joins her two former castmates as Edith Cushing-Sharpe, a young american girl with dreams of being a writer in the vein of Mary Shelley vs. Jane Austen. Rounding out the cast we have Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim / Sons of Anarchy),  Jim Beaver (Supernatural), and the man with incredible fingers, Doug Jones. Few people have seen Jones without a make up effect on him, but suffice to say he is an excellent creature performer.

That also tells you something of the film. There are people, mostly Doug Jones and Javier Botet that play the supernatural elements of the film. For those in the back, Real people. Yes, they are overlaid with computer work, but that is only after the prosthetics and make up is applied. The movie goes as practical as it is capable of for the story it wants to tell and thrives for it as physical performances enhanced by a computer are always better than a performance simply made by the computer in a film like this. The effects are creepy but not too creepy. The trailers will let you manage your expectations of what you can and cannot deal with. Continuing on the technicals, the sets themselves are perfect. I mean that. Perfect. The house is real as far as I am concerned. It is a place I want to go, it is a place I can go. The costuming is stunning as well and tells a story of it’s own.

Now, the story itself? It is a classic ghost story in every sense of the word. This is not a spoiler since if you are surprised it’s a ghost story, clearly you are not paying attention. It is atmospheric. It is pulpy. It is large. It is small. It is dark and it is bright. Not one aspect of the story is wasted or left to chance.


At almost precisely 2 hours, I cannot say Crimson Peak is a perfect film. I closed the longer part of the review saying not an aspect was wasted or left too chance; yet there is some pacing that could have been addressed. Guillermo does a sublime job of building tension and releasing it as needed, but it’s not quite perfect. I cannot put my finger on it but there’s just something off that didn’t resonate as well. It could be the bad audience I had, the long work day before, or my own expectations being as high as they were.

All of that aside, if you are looking forward to Crimson Peak – see it. See it this weekend. It’s the only one studios care about. We need more of what this film, it’s cast and crew bring to the cinema. This movie is the art we thought it would be.

The trailer says beware Crimson Peak.

I say enter of thy own free will….


Darke Reviews | Tremors (1990)

Another one right in the childhood, I remember starting high school as this one came out. I understand the 5th one just got released on Netflix this month. I vividly remember getting this on VHS and watching it ad nauseum with my grandfather. So going into this, I will say yes – I still like it.

The question is does it hold up and will you?

Rule of Three starts this one off, with a story by S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, and Ron Underwood. The screenplay is by Wilson and Maddock. Underwood also directs. What this tells me is that most likely Wilson and Maddock wrote the story and screenplay, sold it to the studio and that Underwood made enough changes during production to get a screenplay credit.

This isn’t a hard jump of logic as Wilson was also the writer on the abomination that is Ghost Dad, and the remaining Tremors films (and short lived TV series) up to part four. When you look at IMDB you see that Maddock has almost the same credits down the line. Now it’s entirely possible these two really just collaborate well, or one of the two names is secretly an Alan Smithee. Underwood  still works s a director on TV on such shows as Once Upon a Time, Grey’s Anatomy, Agent’s of Shield. Tremors was his first theatrical film, following quickly with City Slickers and dying a horrific death at the hands of Pluto Nash; sending him back to TV for the past decade.

Taking the nostalgia glasses off, our story bases itself around the small town of Perfection Nevada, population 14.  Our heroes are Earl (Fred Ward) and Valentine (Kevin Bacon) two local handymen and roustabouts who in their attempt to escape the small town and start a life elsewhere begin to find people on the outskirts of town dead. They quickly learn that subterranean creatures have been attacking and now it turns into a game of survive or die. ‘

It’s a basic creature feature premise, but there’s a lot of factors that make it work. You have interesting small town caricatures, two charismatic heroes, a good location, and a good creature design. The banter seems real, the chemistry between the cast genuine, the comedy beats sell. Every aspect of this movie works when you consider it as an homage to the 50’s and 60’s B-Monster movies. It really lives and breathes like one of these classic (not necessarily good) films. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward have all the charisma to make this movie work as well.

From a technical standpoint, there are some interesting tricks of the camera that are used to give you monster POV at times which adds to the tension. There is some level of genius on the control to not continually show the monster but to rather give you the impression of their passing. Something I think if this incarnation were made today wouldn’t be done. There’s also, as I have stated numerous times, practical effects. The creatures are 100%practical and puppeteer driven. I can’t find a single computer generated effect, though there is some green screen.


Tremors is a thing of beauty. It is a wonderful horror/comedy creature feature. Nostalgia glasses are off as I write this, but really I find that the movie holds up really well twenty five years later. A large portion of that is due to Bacon, Ward, and the practical effects. It’s a tight story, not particularly scary, that has little to no fat or extraneous scenes.

I really like Tremors and if you haven’t watched it, I recommend it. Even folks who don’t do horror could watch this one.

Darke Reviews – Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)

Continuing the countdown of the Underworld series we move now into the third entry of the franchise. Underworld, the story you didn’t really care about. I mean Underworld: The Two Towers. I mean Underworld Werewolves need love too. …gah sorry. Underworld Rise of the Lycans. In Hollywoods quest for mining blood from a stone they have resorted strongly to the prequel; with the Underworld franchise being no exception. This was the franchise film for my ex, she was the werewolf lover and me the vampire lover; which was no end of running jokes in our household.

Is Rise of the Lycans worth the 90 minutes of your time it takes to watch.

Much like last week, we have a total of nine credits under the writing category. Three belong to the original characters, so we get to ignore them. The story is by Len Wiseman , with the addition or Robert Orr and Danny McBride. McBride has a character credit, which leaves us Orr, who has done nothing else save the Jeffrey Dean Morgan thriller The Resident. Screenplay credits, in other words the script, goes to three: McBride (again), Dirk Blackman (how can that be a real name), and Howard McClain. Blackman was the scriptwriter on the the underrated sci fi take of Beowulf called Outlander, but vanished after this. McClain also worked on Outlander as both writer and director, who also vanished after.

Under their pen the story now focuses on the story of Lucian (Michael Sheen) and Sonja (Rhona Mitra) and their Romeo and Juliet like romance under the eye of her father Viktor (Bill Nighy). I am using the Romeo and Juliet romance accurately here. It adds to the story of Tannis (Steven Mackintosh) and introduces us to a still human Raze (Kevin Grevioux). We are now several hundred years in the past for this story, sometime after the trapping of William Corvinus, the first Werewolf, and before the birth of Selene. Time is subjective with this series at best.

We have the direction of former production designer and make up expert Patrick Tatopoulos. You may know him from the early seasons of Face/Off on SyFy, but he also was involved in Stargate, Spawn, Pitch Black, Cursed, The Cave, Silent Hill, Trick R Treat…..the list goes on. This was one of his first, and sadly only, forays into directing. He showed a strong hand at the helm and keeps the overall style of the original films. It has a tight focus overall, but act three quickly reminds me of The Two Towers with Michael Sheen going full Aragorn in his trench coat, the rain, and lots of swords. In typical series fashion it is on the lower end of the budget but they stretch it for all that they can.

The casting keeps all that they could reasonably. Sheen has to carry the movie as an ‘younger’ version of the leader he is to become. Thankfully he has all the charisma to do so; even if some scenes push credulity. Nighy continues to chew scenery like you wouldn’t believe, I am starting to think the heavy blinking is irritation with the contacts, but the man is able to carry himself as a heavy despite his comic background. He is also given the oppotunity to show a few different emotions this time, which he takes with quiet resolve. Playing the role of Sonja is Rhona Mitra (Doomsday, The Last Ship) , and unlike the actress from the first film, Mitra actually fits the description when the line is uttered “you reminded him of his precious Sonja”. As a bit of trivia, and a point of desire to be honest, she refused to remove her fangs during filming instead saying they felt as if they always should have been there. She clearly plays the role of someone who not only physically would remind Viktor, but also personality and general badassness. She does well with the raw physicality of the role and sensuality as well.

The technicals hold true to Underworld stylings with blue lighting filters, deep shadows, and an overall near black and white look to the film. The abundance of black leather remains surprising, but c’est la vie. When there is CG work it isn’t that great, but it never has been. The best shots are of the physical werewolves. These are some of the best were’s on screen looking large, in charge, and not entirely ridiculous. The challenge with any werewolf is to allow the actor to emote as both the skull and mouth are structured entirely differently, though they do what they can due to the large amount of time needing to focus on the werewolves.


Lycans is not the weakest of the franchise. They were also painted into a corner with the story somewhat where some elements *must* happen. It also isn’t the best. From a financial standpoint it made its money back, almost in the first weekend and more than doubled it when you look globally.  That said, this also has the weakest financial turn for any of the franchise, with Awakening having the highest.

It isn’t my favorite of the series, but I do enjoy it. So where does that leave us?

If you feel the need to marathon the film series then you can absolutely enjoy this. I don’t think I’d recommend it as a standalone viewing unless you enjoy Underworld as a series. It does standalone with no real need to watch the others, but there’s not enough draw on it’s own either.

To sum up: “That was fun I guess.”



Darke Reviews – The Hunger (1983)

Let’s go back to the vault a bit shall we? A little vampire film that took a bite of its generation and sold it to us to the sound of Bauhaus. The early 80’s were rife with films that captured various scenes, both so few captured both the underground Goth and Punk scenes as well as The Hunger. It is an iconic work within the vampire genre without which, in part anyway, we would unlikely have been given Vampire the Masquerade almost a decade later.

Does it stand up thirty years later?

We often complain about how often Hollywood adapts from books, this is not a new problem. Whitley Strieber, who also gave us the werewolf classic Wolfen, wrote the novel for this as well; just two years prior. It was adapted for the screen by  Ivan Davis, who did nothing else really, and Michael Thomas. Thomas on the other hand gave us another 80s cult classic Ladyhawke,  then vanished to relative obscurity until 2011’s Devils Double.  The dialogue is a bit straight forward with little to no actual subtlety in it, but the directness helps create an interesting tone mixed with the performances. No one in my experience actually talks like they do in here, yet it works within this early 80’s / late 70’s aesthetic.

The film toys with the ideas of bad pseudo-science that we all so love from that era with studies into things we now know are just down right silly; yet with a few tweaks could be brought to modernization via such terms as Stem Cells. What would you do to stop aging? What price would you pay? What if the clock had paused but then started again – what would you do? These are some of the questions the movie dances around and doesn’t quite give you the answer but instead leaves you to get invested and decide for yourself.

It takes a good director to build that kind of investment and for that we have the late Tony Scott. The younger brother of Ridley Scott would later go onto give us some of the most well known films of the 80’s and early  90’s. Little films like Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop 2, True Romance, Days of Thunder,  and The Last Boyscout. The Hunger, is his first big Hollywood film. It does show at times, mixed with the style of edgy films at the time. Quick cuts, harsh blue and white lighting, and odd shadows. Unusual blocking mixed with limited sets  that combine claustrophobia and open space at the same time. The film feels shot on a budget, yet the hints of genius make it look like the budget was very well spent.

The actors are forced to do a lot with little. There is a near, hopefully, intentional withdrawal from emotion in the three big performances. Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie (yes David Bowie) play Miriam and John Blaylock, our vampires. Though interestingly, I don’t recall the word being used. Susan Sarandon is our scientist who comes in contact with the pair and ensnared in the life of the Blaylock’s. All three are riveting in their lack of overall emotions yet the passion they are able to bring, especially Sarandon and Deneuve. This is perhaps to me why Cliff De Young comes across so distant from them and jarring in his performance as another scientist and love interest to Sarandon. For all the reservedness of the three mains, he is opposite.  There are almost no other relevant cast members to mention as these four are critical to the story; and Deneuve and Sarandon steal every scene they share with each other and it’s hard to tear your eyes away, not accounting for how 80s Sarandon’s hair is.

From an FX perspective. THIS. DO THIS. I keep harping on how much practical is better than CG. This is why. While the effects are not 100% up to par thirty years later, a combination of practical  and camera work sell what effects there are. Make up effects do the rest and we love the movie for it. The movie knew this too as the credit is titled: Make Up Illusions. The two credits here go to Carl Fullerton and Dick Smith. Fullerton has earned two Oscar nominations in his career, and worked on other films suchas F/X, Wolfen,  and Silence of the Lambs. Recently he seems to be Denzel Washington’s personal make up artist. The late Dick Smith, is legendary in the FX community. His last film was the House on Haunted Hill; while his first was in 1941! I know a number of the major artists who credit Smith and his work for getting them into the industry. I tell you this to tell you how amazing the make up is in the film. Amazing


I would be lying to myself, and you, if I told you that The Hunger holds up now as an overall product. Effects wise it does, but overall aesthetic, acting, and style it really doesn’t. It *is* better than some of the vampire schlock we get these days though. It’s erotic moments of which there are a few are shot with such care and precision that they are truly erotic.

You just don’t see that these days. A lesbian vampire film would be soft porn at best, without the hint of real, sensual eroticism to it.  The film also was riding the very end of the 70’s Hammer and other such erotic horror with the tune shifting already to films like Vamp and The Lost Boys.

The Hunger is an absolute must see for any vampire aficionado. Horror wise? Not so much. It does present a very specific slice of 80’s life and is still worth seeing overall. This is one I think I would like to see if it could be remade.


Darke Reviews | The Mist (2007)

As we move back to more mainstream horror, let’s go to one of the most prolific and deserving men of the last half of the century, Stephen King. It would be easy to say he is one of the most recognized and important writers of the western world. I am proud to have a collection of most of his early works in hardcover within my library. Today’s review covers one of his stories that affected me the most as a child, The Mist. I had the opportunity to get this as a book on tape (with sound effects) around the age of 9 or 10. I grew up in a place that got mist/fog on a not too irregular basis so the one two punch made for an interesting time the next few times we had it. I’ve read the short story over a dozen times just because how good it is.

That makes this one of the violations of the read it first rules as I was reading this long before I imagined I would be writing reviews.

So how did the movie turn out?

Written and directed by Frank Darabont, who probably is the most successful individual at adapting King’s works with such films as The Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption. TV watchers may know him as the man who gave us The Walking Dead. He shows a brilliant command of moving his actors, the dialogue, and the vision through beat by beat and page by page. King gave a lot to work with, but history has shown us not all King adaptations are made equal (It, The Langoliers, Sleepwalkers); but Darabont not only lifts dialogue from page to screen, but the atmosphere and the scenes page for page. For a film like the Mist the atmosphere is critical. From an additional story standpoint the movie does a good job of showing multiple points of view during such an extreme crisis, those who turn to religion, those who deny at a flat earth level, and those who accept their situation and want to survive it. The discussions of humanity, fear, and human nature while mostly being sound bits are handled better than most films who spend time on it.

Of course good acting is a well to sell that the atmosphere and horror is something to be concerned about. For that Darabont put together an excellent cast of actors. Thomas Jane plays artist David Drayton a guy from the city living in a small Maine (of course) town. A massive storm damages his lake house and that of his neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher: Brooklyn Nine-Nine); so Drayton, his son, and Norton head to town for supplies. A strange mist envelops the grocery store trapping Drayton and everyone inside. Shapes and sounds begin to move in the mist as well as the screams of those caught in it. Selling the horror is a cast of people we know even eight years later, Marcia Gay Harden (Law and Order: SVU) plays the whack-a-doodle Mrs Carmody,Laurie (Andrea – Walking Dead) Holden, Toby (Captain America) Jones, William (Die Hard 2, Iron Man 3) Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale – The Walking Dead), Alexa (Clash of Titans) Davalos, Sam (Being Human) Witwer all play their A game to sell the film. While we are discussing the raw number of future Walking Dead, we even have Melissa (Carol) McBride in an unnamed role within the film.

The effects are a wonderful blend of practical and CG. The CG is a bit dated, but it tends to the higher end at the time. If you watch the movie in black and white, which is one of the DVD features they become nearly seamless between practical and computer. Now, this past few days I have been discussing how awesome KNB EFX is.  Once again they are the stars of the effects show with Berger, Kurtzman, and Nicotero at the helm. Seriously Hollywood go to these guys more and go less to your computer departments. Please? Creature design was top notch and original and perfectly in line with the book as well. It is positively Lovecraftian.

The ending, I will not spoil, but need to discuss – so bear with me. King is quoted as wishing he had the balls to do the ending that came from Darabont’s pen. Actually…go to the bottom of the post and roll over the SPOILER section to read more.


The Mist is a master class in horror film-making and book adaptation. Darabont was in top form and well deserving of getting to start the Walking Dead a few years later. Great cast, great effects, great film.

If you are a horror fan you need to see this at a minimum and have it in your collection if at all possible. Take the opportunity to watch it in black and white as well.









Ok, let’s talk the end.

Darabont went with kill your darlings. King went with hope and hopelessness. Both endings are really solid. Darabont pulls off the car and the final beats with an artist’s stroke, but then….then he ruins it. There’s two sides to this. One it increases the sense of hopelessness and the Lovecraftian break of a character’s sanity, but at the same time it also shows that the army comes in and saves the day. It ends the threat. King left the threat, still left you feeling hopeless but stood on the edge of hope. It left you with uncertainty as my friend said. 

To me, I would have preferred a combination of the two. The Kill-Your-Darlings and the chasm of Hope. It would have worked. It would have been better. The Darabont ending is really good and supremely brave to try to do, I don’t believe a studio would try it now. They don’t have it in them. So props for doing it but…..I would have preferred they film the King ending as well.



Darke Reviews – Attack on Titan: Part 1 (2015)

So this review is getting in one a technicality for the review-a-day, as it involves monsters eating people in gory ways. That classifies as horror for most American films, yes? I mean sure it is based on Anime, based on Manga, but the ultimate themes fits some of the horror. There’s the herd mentality, the survivor mentality, the combat the beast mentality; all of which are found in archetypal horror. So here we take a story that’s been translated to TV now being translated to the big screen. It’s not like we’ve seen that go wrong before with taking a beloved anime like cartoon and putting 23 hours(ish) of tv into 3 hours. That’s NEVER gone wrong.

So do they go right here?

Well, this is going to be an odd review as it’s more targeted to folks who are familiar with the source material rather than standard movie going audiences. I will come out of the gate and say if you are not a fan of tokusatsu style of Japanese films you have no real reason to see this. If you are not familiar with that term, we will use Wiki today:

Tokusatsu (特撮?) is a Japanese term that applies to any live-action film or television drama that features considerable use of special effects (tokusatsu literally translates as “special filming” in Japanese).

Tokusatsu entertainment often deals with science fiction, fantasy or horror, but movies and television shows in other genres can sometimes count as tokusatsu as well. The most popular types of tokusatsu include kaiju monster movies like the Godzilla and Gamera film series; superhero TV serials such as the Kamen Rider and Metal Hero series; and mecha dramas like Giant Robo. Some tokusatsu television programs combine several of these subgenres, for example the Ultraman and Super Sentai series. Tokusatsu is one of the most popular forms of Japanese entertainment, but most tokusatsu movies and television programs are not widely known outside Asia.

So unless you rather enjoy my reviews, poor attempts at humor, the anime, and/or the manga you could probably come back tomorrow for the next review. For those left it is assumed you have already watched or are otherwise familiar with the series.


My face during most of this movie

My face during most of this movie

That image matches my face and the young woman in front of me in full Armin Arlert cosplay (some people confused her for Annie or Historia); who kept throwing her hands up in exasperation. The movie is that incredibly different than the series. I mean radically different. Oh there are Titans, there are some of our characters, there are walls, and three dimensional maneuver gear. That more or less is where the similarities between film and series.  It took me awhile to accept this as the series is so good, but when you start to consider the movie as a fan-fic or gritty adaptation of the material it begins to work and you start consider it as it’s own work independent of the material.

The story is that you have three friends, Armin, Eren, Mikasa who live inside the outer of three walls which are protecting the remains of humanity from Titans; giant beasts that are near unkillable that do nothing but destroy and eat. They are large (the name is a give away), unintelligent, sexless, and eat people for no known reason. After a hundred years they break through the wall, chaos ensues. After the group is separated and experiences a loss we jump to two years later and training is finished. There’s a last ditch attempt being made to close the hole in the wall and this group of raw recruits are all that’s left. Of course things go wrong.

You know, as much as I complain about white-washing, this is the first time I’ve seen a movie that is Asian-washed. Only *one* character legitimately should have been Asian here, the rest vaguely germanic. So, to be transparent, I will not hold this against the movie. We do it enough over here so it gets a pass. The acting is about on par for what I have seen from other high end tokusatsu style films, with some good character moments and really nice emotions coming from the people at the right times. Conversely, there are quite a few – what in the hell – moments that left the entire and I do mean entire audience laughing.

On a technical side of things, the movie isn’t too bad. The Titans look good. The three dimensional gear looks ok, some times yes, sometimes no. The style of the film goes full Walking Dead or post apocalyptic, a tone the show never quite hits but maybe should. The pacing is ok, but there are enough weird moments to throw you long enough you have trouble getting back in. Also the movie is intelligent enough to break itself into two pieces. The climax really did look good and appropriate.


Honestly, as a fan of the show I was put off by quite a bit of the movie. You really must accept it as an AU (Alternate Universe) to embrace it for what it is.

Still, many of our favorite characters are missing and some weird characters are introduced. Most fans will want to see it, so this review comes mostly as a warning to lower your expectations. Overall the audience enjoyed it, even Armin, but we were mostly confused.

The movie does NOT hit Airbender levels of bad by any stretch and is entertaining.

So you have been warned. Watch, but be prepared.



Darke Reviews | House on Haunted Hill (1999)

I regret missing this one in theatres back in 99. It took me until video release and a friend recommendation to get a shot at it. Now to be clear I was working roughly from 4pm to 2am at that time and we watched movie after work. The lights were completely off, leaving us with the TV as our only source of illumination. I have come to find atmosphere truly does help with how one thinks of a movie. So I admit going in my memories are fonder due to that atmosphere. Had I watched it at noon on a Sunday with  lovely blue skies (*shudders*)? Less likely to care or be impressed.

Does it work?

Well, let’s talk story. It’s classic haunted house meets slaughterhouse. The actual story credit here goes to Robb White, who passed away 9 years before the film, a frequent collaborator of William Castle. Castle, like Hammer, was a master of low budget horror in the 50’s and 60’s creating films we now revere as classics such as 13 Ghosts and the original House on Haunted Hill. This is important because this is the first film from Dark Castle productions, named in honor of William. The movie was given the screenplay treatment for the millennium by Dick Beebe. Beebe would later write Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and little else. Without comparing it to the original work I think the writer did a good job of setting up a good story, interesting characters, and good dialogue.

The director William Malone, another who sadly did not give us more, did a really good job with the atmosphere, blocking, and direction of the actors. The house is supposed to be a living, breathing entity here and they are 100% successful in that.  There are some very intelligent design choices in how and where they put the camera, lighting, and music. Under his direction and with the good script the characters avoid the stupid. They all hold, with one notable exception, skepticism for the supernatural like normal people. They react to the situation as normal people; you know…poorly.

Cast wise the film is fairly incredible for its time. Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean) delivers his best possible Vincent Price impression. While Rush doesn’t try to emulate the great horror icon, he does attempt the style; even his character is named Price. There’s also Famke Janssen (X-Men), Taye Diggs (Rent), Chris Kattan (SNL), Ali Larter (Heroes, Resident Evil 3 & 4), and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras (Mortal Kombat). The Re-animator himself, Jeffrey Combs, makes a small cameo appearance as well. So the cast is small and packed with some rather decent actors. That explains why they can rely on quiet moments when they do and why there feels like the right levels of chemistry and performance from them as the movie progresses.  Rush of course dominates any scene he is in and is a fantastic enough actor to pull back when he needs to let the others have a moment. Kattan is actually funny in the right ways. Diggs and Larter are beautiful together. Explains why I like them so much in any other project, they just have something.

From an FX perspective the movie has two sides. Like Phantoms yesterday when they go practical every single beat works. KNB once again gives us the blood, gore, and prosthetics. It’s when they go digital that the movie doesn’t work as well. Even a few of the CG enhanced practical effects tend to be pretty weak. A few of the jump scares come across as ridiculous when the music doesn’t sync right and is just a hair too loud. Though when it goes practical it works so beautifully well. There’s um one glaring intensively massive effects flaw with the film in the final beat as the sun rises over the Pacific….

Just let that sink in.


The movie works. It’s just smart enough and holds up relatively well fifteen years later. I like its atmosphere. I like it’s overall logic. The acting. The script. The house. The Marilyn Manson cover of Sweet Dreams.

Really, I have to recommend this for any horror fans as a standalone film. Do not try to compare to the original (I am likely to do that this month). Judging on it’s own merits it is a rather good horror film. Hell I can chase my best friend out of the house by putting it on.

Funky ol movie, ain’t it?


Darke Reviews | Phantoms (1998)

Apparently this is also the month I review movies based on books by Dean Koontz. The other day with Odd Thomas, now with Phantoms. I might have to check to see how many other stories of his have made it to film and by extension to my collection. I do remember seeing this one when it came out and admit to being intrigued by it and it’s cast. This one falls under the near hundreds of movies Dimension films who provided us much in the way of low budget horror, some was effective, some was not.

Was this effective?

As mentioned before the film is based on a Koontz novel of the same name and is given the screenplay treatment by Koontz himself. Now per usual Jess rules, I have not read the book prior to watching the movie and have not read the book in the years since for no particular reason. So judging purely from a cinematic perspective the story does a good job of creating tension and even better job of atmosphere. I can’t say the third act does the movie any justice but that is the difficulty with page to screen adaptations.

The movie is directed by Joe Chappelle, since then mostly a TV director but with shows I rather enjoyed such as Wolf Lake, Witchblade, and the Wire. He does an interesting thing in the movie to create tension. The usage of an empty town and a lot of well chosen but jarring sounds to disorient the audience and the characters. For the most part these work and most of the jump scares are not eye rollingly bad – that is a compliment by the way. He and Koontz also did a great job with the geography to assist in the feeling isolation.

Due to the nature of the story the cast remains relatively small, but effectual. The late Peter O’Toole (My Favorite Year, Lawrence of Arabia) positively owns his scenes in the film and brings weight where a lesser actor wouldn’t have been nearly as impactful or successful. We also have young, we barely knew you, Ben Affleck. He hadn’t quite learned to reserve himself yet and almost disturbingly blinks too much. Odd quirk to notice, but it’s actually kind of distracting. In another we barely knew who you were we have Liev Schrieber (Wolverine, Scream, Salt) in an oddly quirky performance that is a bit off putting, but having seen his other works tells you how good he did here. Our films heroines come in the shape of an on the rise Joanna Going (Dark Shadows 1991, Wyatt Earp) and another dimension films ingenue Rose McGowan (Scream, Charmed). Both play opposite ends of the sister spectrum pretty well with McGowan as the young city girl and Going as the small town doctor. Everyone performs OK, they do well with the panic, they do well when its time to be quiet. Nothing great, nothing really bad either. Just ok.

From an FX perspective, again minus act three, the film relies pretty strongly on practical effects, sound, and lighting to build suspense. Now given Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger of KNB EFX Group were on the project it explains so much. Now people like me know these names because of the fantastic effects work they have done over the decades and how amazing they are with gore, creatures, and prosthetics. Currently you can find their work on a no name show called The Walking Dead. These guys were incredible now and then and the movie benefits from it. The intelligence of the director to use practical effects here when possible was brilliant as the world was already moving towards not only using but abusing CG. Sadly, what digital effects were used didn’t look good then or now.


Honestly this is a pretty good, if someone dated, suspense film from early Dimensions film works that did better than it’s extraordinarily dated trailer would lead you to believe. The movie does take an odd turn late in the picture which doesn’t quite resonate but also doesn’t destroy the film either.  There are some clear edits and scenes missing, but otherwise it works.

If you aren’t a fan of horror or suspense in general – give this one a good pass. They did a good enough job here to wave you off.

If you like 90’s era suspense and horror I think you could enjoy this film.