Review : Boarding School (2018)

Boarding School is a horror thriller directed by Boaz Yakin. This is his first attempt at a horror film and his lack of familiarity with the genre does come across throughout Boarding School. The film stars Luke Prael as the main character, Sterling Jerins and Will Patton.

Jacob is a young teenager subject to night terrors, which drive his mother crazy. Shortly after the death of his maternal grandmother, whom he never met, and an encounter at the funeral with an intimidating old lady who tells him a story about his grandmother during WW2, Jacob starts having visions of his grandmother’s WW2 traumatic experience. When his stepfather finds him dressed in his grandmother’s ball gown and dancing, he and the mother decide to send Jacob to a boarding school for troubled teens. However, the boarding school turns out to be a really strange place, ran by an even stranger couple.

Boarding School is, in my opinion, a wasted opportunity. The film remains intriguing throughout so it keeps you wanting to figure out what is going on in this mansion, but it seems like the director doesn’t know how to explore the themes he implements. Boarding School could have been great. Unfortunately, it is just an average film from an unexperienced director.

The actors are all obviously talented but what really transpires through their performances is the lack of direction. For instance, Luke Prael, who portrays Jacob, goes from mesmerizing performances to downright bad line deliveries from one scene to the next. Will Patton is having fun playing the scary headmaster / only teacher and it really shows on screen. The other child actors are good at portraying disabilities so the characters are quite believable. The only character I didn’t like is Christine, another teen sent to the school whom Jacob knew beforehand.

There is one aspect of Boarding School that is constantly hinted at but never fully explored and it really hurts the film. Jacob is a feminine boy and people around him keep telling him he is a girl or walks like a girl. The problem is, that’s all that is said on the subject. It seems the director wanted to touch upon the subject of transgender but didn’t know how to incorporate it into the story. It seems the only purpose of Jacob dressing up in his grandmother’s clothing was to make the kid have an interesting look in the climax of the film. I mean, Luke Prael can definitely pull it off but it doesn’t bring anything to the story.

The premise of the film is interesting enough and the reveal of the adults’ real intentions could have been a great twist but unfortunately, an good story doesn’t make a good film without good writing and good direction. Boarding School offers good visuals and a story that never goes beyond the surface.

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Review : Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator, directed by Stuart Gordon and released in 1985, is loosely based on a novella written by H.P. Lovecraft in 1922. The film was distributed by Empire Pictures (the company created by Charles Band before Full Moon). Re-Animator has reached the status of cult classic over the years.

Re-Animator tells the story of Herbert West, a medical student who succeeded in creating a serum which can re-animate dead bodies. In Zurich, he manages to bring his dead professor back to life but there are disgusting side effects as the dosage was too high. Accused of killing the professor, Herbert West moves to New England and enrolls in university to further his studies. When he demonstrates to his roommate, Dan, the power of his discovery, the latter joins him to further test the serum. This leaves the students expelled from school with a trail of re-animated corpses behind them.

Re-animator is the perfect example of a horror comedy done right. The mad scientist premise has been used countless times and, on paper, it sounds a bit ridiculous. Instead of working against it, the film completely embraces it and does exactly what should be done : it goes over the top and delivers a gory experience with plenty of dark humor. I loved the tone of Re-Animator and its unique style. It has a good rhythm and is never boring.

The story being a mix of Frankenstein and zombies, it offers a reflexion on the God complex that is often associated on screen to scientists and doctors and the acceptance of our own mortality. Add to that a high dose of blood and gore and gags, and you get the perfect entertaining cinematic experience. Of course, Re-Animator has its flaws and I could nitpick as I often like to do. I also could list everything that doesn’t make sense. I won’t bother because this film has good acting, a fun story, great practical effects and this is all I wanted !

Finally, I just want to write a few words about what is, in my opinion, the greatest strenght of the film : Jeffrey Combs’ performance as Herbert West. It may be the first time I thought an actor acting over the top was brilliant and made the right choice. He absolutely nails the part of the scientist slowly descending into madness. The rest of the cast does a fine job as well but I do believe Re-Animator would be nothing without Jeffrey Combs.

If you love horror, you are bound to love Re-Animator. I have no clue why it took me so long to watch this classic and I can see myself rewatching it several times in the future. Learn from my mistakes : don’t wait any longer, watch it now!

Memories of Murder : Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset

On July 11th, 2018, La Rabbia Studio released Memories of Murder on blu-ray. It’s the first time the film has been released on blu-ray (to my knowledge). Until now, there was only a DVD edition, long out-of-print. Two editions are now available and being an admirer of Bong Joon-Ho’s masterpiece, I pre-ordered the limited edition back in April.

The packaging is minimalist and elegant. The black background really compliments the red blood spatter. The title is written in a white typewriter font. The back is plain. Upon opening the boxset, you discover two items inside : a thick book and a digibook.

The design of the digibook is very similar to the outer box with some variations. The background is bright white and the title is written on a golden banner. There are some hangul symbols which probably spell the title in Korean (don’t quote me on that, I barely know the hangul alphabet). The back of the digibook describes the content that can be found on the three discs which this edition contains. I haven’t dived into the special features at the time I am writing those lines but the most interesting one seems to be an hour-long (exclusive) documentary produced in 2017. There are other numerous features : a making-of from 2003, featurettes, deleted scenes etc… And, of course, the digibook comes with a booklet with information on the film.

The thick book included in the boxset is quite the collector piece : it is the complete storyboard, translated into french. Below are a few pictures of the inside, to give you a glimpse of the art style. This item is the reason why I think people who do not understand french should purchase the digibook alone instead of this limited edition. I think it’s fantastic that they offer us the opportunity to read the entire storyboard and not just random excerpts.

As a bonus, below is a gallery showing you the DVD edition that was the only available copy of the film until today (the last two are the blu-ray and DVD, side by side)

Review : Jason X (2001)

This is it, folks ! I am concluding my Friday the 13th marathon with the final installment: Jason X, directed by James Isaac and released in 2001. It has been close to a decade since the last Jason film and the sole purpose of this new entry was for New Line Cinema to retain the rights while Freddy VS Jason was in development. And what do you do when you run out of ideas ? You send your main character in space, of course !

In the early 2000’s, Jason Voorhees is captured and held by the government in a secret facility, thr Crystal Lake Research Facility (what the hell is that and where does it come from and why do they keep inventing nonsense like this ?). After several failed attempts at killing Jason, a scientist decides to put him in cryogenic suspension. However, the government has other plans and wants to study Jason’s abilities. Of course, Jason escaped and kills everyone except the scientist who manages to trap him in a cryogenic chamber. However, Jason manages to stab her, compromising the integrity of the chamber and freezing them both. This is just the opening sequence and it is quite fun and promises an interesting story. There is also a cameo from director David Cronenberg (what’s he doing here, I have no clue). I genuinely thought it was a good opening sequence.

Fast forward 400 years into the future and we meet a group of archaeology students find the bodies of Jason and Rowan (the scientist) and bring them back to their spaceship, which is on route to Earth II. Withe their super advanced technology, they manage to revive Rowan who warns them about Jason….but it’s already too late. The rest of the film is about Jason killing (almost) everybody on board.

While Jason X is not a good movie by any means, it is a huge improvement over the shitfest that was Jason Goes To Hell. First, Jason is actually in the movie. A lot. A Jason film starring Jason ? Thank you, New Line, for finally understanding that the main character is actually an essential part of the franchise !! Jason X has something that, despite its many flaws, makes it work : it knows what it is and doesn’t take itself seriously. While the jokes don’t always land, the film is filled with humor, sometimes intentional, sometimes not.

While the acting is bad and the majority of the lines is cringe-worthy, the cast seems to be having fun. Unlike the previous entry, Jason X is actually really fun and entertaining. Once Jason wakes up from his stase (for reasons unknown since it took complicated equipment to revive Rowan when Jason simply wakes up), there’s a kill every 5 minutes. While most are very simple, a few do stand out especially the first one on the ship where Jason puts a female scientist’s head in liquid nitrogen and then smashes her face into pieces against the table. This scene is awesome.

The characters, young students all obsessed with sex, don’t have much personality or intelligence. But, there’s so many of them that it gives plenty of victims for our friend, Jason. Unfortunately, I do have an issue with the look of pre Uber Jason. He looked terrible in Jason Goes To Hell but here, they didn’t get anything right : the mask is terrible, there is barely any make-up and you can clearly see Kane Hodder under the mask. He might be the worst looking Jason in the entire franchise. However, when he becomes Uber Jason, get ready for an extreme level of badass Jason. I love the design of Uber Jason, he looks amazing and I wish we got more of him in the film.

There is another scene that stands out, in the final act. The remaining survivors create an holographic simulation of Crystal Lake to distract Jason. There, he meets two female campers who claim to love alcohol, drugs and pre-marital sex. A fun hommage to the famous Friday the 13th formula. Of course, this turns on Jason’s “destroy horny teenagers” mode and he kills both by bashing them in their sleeping bags, another nod to a famous kill in the franchise. The scene is silly but really fun to watch.

Many people despise Jason X, but after watching Jason Goes To Hell, I like this final installment even more. Is it bad ? Yes, absolutely. But at least, it’s extremely entertaining and at this point, this is all I wanted. And there’s Uber Jason. Who in their right mind can dislike Uber Jason ? Check out the film, you’ll have a fun time.

Review : Jason Goes To Hell (1993)

After an unintentional break into my Friday the 13th marathon, here is my review of the worst entry in the franchise : Jason Goes To Hell, directed by Adam Marcus and released in 1993. It was my first time watching the film. I knew its reputation so I was expecting mediocrity…but I didn’t realize it would be beyond mediocre.

First, let’s try to summarize the plot (as if there is one…) : Jason has been blown to pieces (more on that later) but we discover that his body is merely a vessel for a demon and his heart not only keeps beating but also hypnotizes anyone who looks at it into eating it. Confused yet ? Wait for the rest of this stupid story… So, Jason is now an entity (in the form of a weird worm creature) that jumps from host to host. Apparently only a Voorhees can either help him be reborn or kill him for good. And guess what ? It so happens that Jason has a half-sister…I’ll just stop right here because you get the idea : the script was written by morons who never watched a Friday film.

The film actually has a decent opening sequence which makes you believe you’re about to watch a typical Friday film. It opens with a young woman going to a cabin at Crystal Lake, she’s about to take a shower and the lights go out. Jason appears, all rotten, and chases her through the woods. All of a sudden, Jason is surrounded by armed forces who fire a thousand bullets at him…wait ! Are we getting a nice little twist ? Don’t get your hopes high, the fun stops right here. Since automatic weapons were not enough, they blow him up into pieces with air missiles. That’s right, freaking air missiles ! This is the moment you realize what you are watching is not a Friday the 13th film.

The film’s biggest mistake is that Jason only appears in it briefly. This movie is called JASON goes to hell. His name is in the freaking title !! I’ll take A New Beginning anyday over this pile of shit because Part V does have a Jason even if it’s not the real one. And I won’t even debate about it being subtitled The Final Friday when they pulled that crap once before with The Final Chapter (which is forgiven because it’s a great film). This is also where Jason looks the worst and Kane Hodder gives his weakest performance.

The whole mythology they are trying to force feed us is a complete failure. Jason has relatives who come out of nowhere, there’s a story about a dagger which becomes magical when a Voorhees holds it…need I continue ?

I don’t know who thought this was a good idea for a Friday film and I can’t believe Sean S. Cunningham (director and producer of the first film) participated in this debacle. The directing is really bad, the story makes no sense at all, the film is boring and Jason is barely in it. I honestly can’t think of anything positive or a bit redeemable about Jason Goes To Hell. It is simply an absolute piece of shit which shouldn’t have been made.

At least in the previous entries, even the bad ones were at least entertaining. This one has nothing going for it not to mention it lacks any kind of gore or horror. Avoid it at all cost and let me do you a favor. I give you the only shot worth seeing in the entire film :

Review : Xtro (1982)

Second Sight Films sent me a copy of their brand new release of Xtro, arriving for the first time on blu-ray on June 18th, 2018. This limited edition boxset comes with a lot of special features including both the original and alternate endings, a documentary and several featurettes.

Xtro is an exploitation horror film directed by Harry B. Davenport and released in 1982. Surprisingly, in the midst of the Video Nasties era, Xtro managed to avoid being on the list despite being quite gory and sometimes even disturbing.

Young Tony is playing with his father in the garden of their cottage when suddenly, a bright light appears in the sky and seemingly makes Tony’s dad disappear. Three years later, Tony and his mother now live in the city with Jo, the mom’s boyfriend and Anne-Lise, a french au pair. Since her husband’s disappearance, Tony’s mother believes her husband simply abandoned his family. When the strange light returns and dumps an alien creature, slaughters and weird events start occurring, including the return of Sam, Tony’s father.

The first thing that surprised me with Xtro is…its release date. This 1982 film screams of the seventies : from the camerawork to the furniture and clothing, I couldn’t believe this wasn’t set in the 1970´s. I suppose England took a couple of years to fully dive into the kind of 1980’s we know.

Xtro is a surprising little gem regarding different aspects. First, I was expecting a rather mediocre exploitation B-movie but what I got instead is a well-made creature feature with a big emphasis on its characters. Xtro spends more time with the characters than with its creature. The result is well-crafted characters, with enough qualities and flaws to find them interesting. Though the story is not well written, I still wanted to find out what would happen to Tony and his relatives.

The creature, though not on screen enough in my opinion, is really well-made, proving once more that practical effects will always be better than any kind of CGI. This human-alien hybrid is terrifying and the few moments it appears on screen will make you shiver. For the rest of the film, Tony hangs out with different things including a murderous midget clown. Being terrified of clowns, you can imagine I spent most of those scenes hiding under a blanket. Overall, the scares in Xtro work really well.

Now, Xtro is known for one specific scene : a disgusting, disturbing, gory birth scene. For reasons I don’t quite understand, the alien creature impregnates a woman (in a fashion similar to Alien but way more disturbing as the creature seems to be enjoying the process) who then gives birth…to Sam, the father who was abducted three years earlier. It doesn’t make much sense but you probably won’t care because you’ll spend that scene trying not to vomit. It does indeed deserves its reputation of being extremely disturbing. That scene alone should have made Xtro a high contestant for the Video Nasties list.

Xtro is often incoherent and mostly all over the place. It is poorly written and yet, you can’t take your eyes off te screen. The less sense it makes, the more intriguing it becomes.

Why is Tony surrounded by clowns, panthers and toys which help him terrorize the neighbors ? How is Sam altered from being aducted ? What is all that sucking about (yes, you read that right) ? Those are questions we won’t get anwers to. And yet, you will for sure watch Xtro until the end, if only to try and make sense of it all.

Xtro has good characters and great effects but it is strangely a memorable film for its lack of coherence and some disturbing moments. I wish I could unsee that horrible birth scene but I am really glad I finally got to see this weird Alien rip-off which I’ve heard about for years but hadn’t seen until today. Xtro is definitely one of those weird movies you have to watch, even more so with Second Sight Films’ new release which has a great transfer (the image is clear but the grain is still present…I personally like my older films grainy).

A Nightmare on Elm Street VHS Boxset

In my previous article, I showed you in details my Friday the 13th VHS boxset. This time, we are going to take a look at another VHS boxset which includes the first three Nightmare on Elm Street films. From the information written on the back of each VHS, it seems this boxset was released around 1998. It was edited by TF1 Vidéo and Mad Movies, a horror magazine which also released several VHS and DVD editions of various horror and cult films. This magazine is still in print though it differs from its original form.

The design is very simple. On the front, you see Freddy on a black background with Freddy written in bold green letters. The series is known as Freddy in France instead of A Nightmare on Elm Street. On the back, there are small pictures of each covers and there is a synopsis for every film included in the set. As you can see on the third picture above, the VHS are bright yellow.

 

The gallery above shows you the front and back of each VHS. I especially love the design with the original poster and the Mad Movies banner above it. As you know if you are familiar with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, the posters for Freddy’s Revenge and Dream Warriors have little to do with the movies themselves.

I didn’t find strange things in this boxset compared to the Friday the 13th one but this is a great retro item that I enjoy displaying in my collection.