247 °F (2011) – Movie Review

247 °F, directed by Levan Bakhira and Beqa Jguburia, is one of those movies that had the potential to be an incredibly stupid B-movie. After learning the premise of the film, a suspense thriller about three people getting trapped in a sauna, I anticipated the movie to be complete dreck. Fortunately, the film turned out to be actually decent, with some nice suspense and attempts at characterization.

The first twenty minutes are dedicated to boring expository scenes necessary to establish what needs to be established: Jenna (played by Scout Taylor-Compton) survives a car accident that killed her boyfriend. Three years later she is still traumatized, depressive and taking pills. To help push her out of her bubble a friend Renee (Christina Ulloa) insists that she stay with her and her boyfriend, Michael (Michael Copon) and his friend Ian (Travis Van Winkle) who takes an interest in Jenna, in a cabin for a weekend getaway. The cabin is owned by Ian’s cool uncle Wade (Tyler Mane) who smokes pot and lives a drive away. As Renee’s and Michael’s relationship starts turning sour due to Michael getting more and more wasted, Ian tries to flirt and converse with the reluctant Jenna. They drink, smoke weed, etc. and talk about going to a party that’s nearby. These scenes, while kind of dull, are actually alright compared to similar films as the writing and acting is better than average. At this point I was somewhat surprised but was just waiting for it all to start going downhill.

So they soon decide to check out the gas-powered sauna in the cabin that Ian’s pot-smoking uncle built. This is where I was expecting the movie to falter in some terrible schlock that I can laugh at. Eventually, after the drunk Michael has a fight with Renee he leaves the three who stay and sizzle in the sauna. Moments later, Ian tries to open the door but seems to be unable to. They quickly realize that they are trapped in what is perhaps the world’s most poorly-built sauna as there is no way to shut-off the heat from the inside. What makes 247 °F better than most films of its genres (and how it exceeded my expectations) is how the characters handle the situation. Ian, as established before, is actually quite well-read and seemingly intelligent as he tries to assess their situation without panicking (at least at first.) The two others that are trapped as well, Jenna and Renee, suggest that they break the tiny window, but Ian points out that the cool air that would come in as a result might be detected by the sauna’s thermostat and the heat will continue to rise within the sauna. But he eventually breaks the glass so that they could get more air and so that Ian can try to figure out if they can somehow move whatever’s blocking the sauna door. So what makes this particular movie stand out is that the characters aren’t completely stupid and thus annoying to watch. However, I wondered why Ian didn’t just take the heating rocks out, either with the towels or the wooden spoon, from the wire basket and let them cool, then block the gas valve. Some posters on the Imdb forums even thought of this as well, but maybe when one is in that kind of situation, mentally debilitated by the increasing heat, it’s understandable to be unable to think of a reasonable solution. Regardless, it’s still refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t try to build its suspense and horror from the dumb actions of its characters.

Another thing that works to the film’s advantage is that all of the film’s drama and conflict seems to be the result of human fallibility, rather than from some sinister force, psychosis, or madness. From Ian’s uncertainty as to whether removing the sauna’s thermostat is a good idea or not, to Michael’s accidentally jamming the door, and to Wade for thinking he can build a sauna on his own. Another thing that is also interesting is Ian flipping-out toward the end of the film as opposed to Jenna who becomes the more level-headed one in the moment. One would expect Jenna to be mentally worse than Ian, who was the most rational for a while, in that situation. This sort of reminds me of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia where the mentally unstable character is better able to rationally deal with incoming doom than her sister, who before was the more “normal” character. But a slight problem does arise out of this, as the audience isn’t surprised (and were probably expecting) Jenna to become the “hero”. This is like in Jack the Reaper where the audience just knows that the girl who was molested by her father would survive. I should also mention that when Ian finally does go nuts it ends up being pretty fucking hilarious, rather than terrifying.

So yeah…not a bad film. Not great by any means as there are some scenes that seem to drag, killing some of the tension, but still, I was sweating so much that it made my seat wet! Get it? Because the movie’s about a sauna. So the “reveal” that Michael was the one that trapped the other characters in a stove, and unintentionally, was supposed to be a surprise. But when Renee and Michael are arguing and Michael stumbles away I already knew that he was the one that was going to cause all the shit, and that he wasn’t expecting to as well because there would be little reason for him to block the door on purpose even though he was pissed-off and disappointed by his girlfriend. Other than that the movie is alright. Did I mention it’s based on true events? That’s pretty crazy ain’t it, except for the minor deviations from reality, like the fact that the sauna was actually electric-powered and that they were able to switch off the heat. But other than that this shit really happened!

247 °F is a decent B-movie that might be worth watching if nothing else is on or if you’re hankering for something suspenseful that isn’t total garbage. But be warned, the characters won’t be the only ones sweating! Wait, I already used that joke. Shit. Um…you’ll have a blistering good time! Yep, that’ll do just fine.

Detention of the Dead (2012) – Movie Review

Detention of the Dead is another zombie movie, but this time it’s also a comedy so that makes it different! The premise is Breakfast Club meets Dawn of the Dead where a group of high school stereotypes are trapped by flesh-eating zombies in their school. Going in I was expecting more of a spoof on the tired genre like Shaun of the Dead, but with the undead acting as a metaphor for high school; instead it ends up being just a high school comedy flick punctuated by unoriginal scenes of zombie horror. Unfortunately, Detention of the Dead makes neither a good horror film or comedy.

One of the movie’s biggest flaws is its predictability; horror flicks and high school comedies are two genres that are incredibly reliant on formula so Detention of the Dead needed to do something original in order to succeed. As a horror film, many of the death scenes should come as no surprise. Two of the characters, the nerd named Eddie (Jacob Zachar) and the goth chick Willow (Alexa Nikolas) are familiar with the tropes of the zombie-genre, thus opening the possibility of the movie taking a different turn, somewhere, or becoming a parody, but the movie drops any of that pretense early on in favor of focusing on typical teenage drama midst zombies.

The violence and gore is sometimes satisfying. Some might say the poor special effects (and they are very poor) might detract but they’re probably the funniest part of the movie (remember, this is supposed to be a comedy.) The bad effects might have worked even better if this movie was more of a spoof of bad horror films.

Another major problem comes with the characters and their arcs. I don’t know what compelled writer and director Alex Craig Mann (or maybe the blame should be laid at Rob Rinow whose play the movie is based-off of) to give such unnecessary attention to the cliched characterizations and conflict between the high-schoolers. The first thirty or so minutes were a decent start to a throwaway comedy-horror film, but then it begins to devolve when Eddie is romantically torn between Willow or the hot cheerleader Janet (Christa B. Allen). We get Breakfast Club scenes of the characters revealing the frustrations of having to conform to stereotypes, and later on Janet reveals that she doesn’t want to die a virgin so she goes after Eddie when her meathead boyfriend Brad (Jayson Blair) isn’t around and Willow is upset that Eddie would chose the cheerleader over her. This all culminates toward the end when Eddie tells Willow that he was “wrong,” and later on when Willow and Janet are together and Janet’s just been bitten.

The commentary on high school life is trite and the banal character dramas seem to only be there so that we can “care” about the characters before they are eaten. But no one wants to watch that fucking shit. Why couldn’t the movie had just mocked teenage dramas instead? And what better way to do this when showing how insignificant such things are in the face of the real conflict of flesh-eating zombies? The scene with Willow and Janet near the end could have worked if there were more to their characters.

There are scarcely a funny scene or moment in this movie. One scene that is almost funny is when their English teacher Mrs. Rumblethorp (Michele Messmer)  who they were serving detention under turns into a zombie and the consequences of such involving the stoner character Ash (Justin Chon). But there are some “jokes” that are painfully unfunny. After Janet gives Eddie a hug for saving her life he looks down at his crotch and sees a zombie hand squeezing tightly. And then Ash tries to help Eddie pull the arm off his junk. The way it’s framed it’s supposed to be an attempt at a sexual joke, but it comes out of nowhere and is pathetically weak. There are also some lines that are supposed to be “witty” or “clever” that come out of Willow’s mouth but just make you root for the zombies to tear her apart first.

Despite the number of flaws and missed opportunities, it’s at least watchable, most of the time. I wasn’t particularly bored by it yet wasn’t exactly filled with satisfaction neither. It’s just funny how a movie whose purpose, I think, was to poke fun at formula ended up being so middle-of-the-road and predictable.

Reeker (2005) – Movie Review

Hey, more schlock! This time I watched a movie called Reeker, another mediocre genre film that no one cares about. The movie is about five college students who become stranded in a seemingly deserted town where they experience a pungent odor, visions of dead people, disembowelments and Michael Ironside. The movie was directed by Dave Payne who went on to direct such memorable classics as No Man’s Land: The Rise of Reeker (the prequel to Reeker that I will never watch) and Fred.

If you couldn’t tell from my sardonic tone then let me say that I wasn’t too fond of this film. It’s basically as middle of the road as you can get with horror flicks. Its opening scene is of a group of people (here, a mother, father and son) that aren’t the main characters. The viewer already knows that they’re either going to die or something completely messed-up is about to happen to them, because all horror films need an opening sequence to establish the mood as well as hook the audience in as soon as possible before they start spending a lot of time establishing the main group of characters. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but in Reeker the formula is rather apparent; this could have been circumvented if the opening were stronger, but it’s rather standard stuff. The characters do a couple of stupid things in order to create suspense, there’s some CGI blood and gore and it ends on a disturbing image–cue the credits. While the opening does an okay job of making the audience interested it’s rather cheesy, going from slightly humorous (unintentionally) to somewhat disturbing back to a weak attempt at scaring the audience.

The main characters are standard stuff; they’re not off-the-rack Breakfast Club stereotypes, but they’re close. There’s the stoner, nicknamed Trip (Scott Whyte,) his more level-headed friend Nelson (Derek Richardson,) Nelson’s girlfriend Cookie (Arielle Kebbel,) a blind guy with a dry sense of humor Jack (Devon Gummersall) and the accented Gretchen (Tina Illman.) The dialogue between the characters is generally believable, with the exception of the cliches spouted by Jack, but they’re also rather flat and uninteresting. Maybe it’s okay considering that this is a horror movie and all that is needed is just enough for the audience to care for the characters somewhat, but other than Trip (who almost ends up being the hero towards the end) I wasn’t involved in the fates of the other characters. It’s clear that Payne wanted us to empathize with the characters, it’s just that the dialogue and interactions are just too average and the acting ranges from being good to bad, never enough the elevate the material to where it needs to be. Oh, and Michael Ironside is in it as a guy searching for his missing wife, but he doesn’t do much before he croaks (Spoiler!)

Plot-wise, the movie isn’t distinct. There are a few jump-scares, but fortunately they are scarce. Perhaps the most unique thing plot-wise is the subplot with Trip’s dealer, Radford (Eric Mabius) chasing after him after Trip steals some drugs. Also, from the movie’s blurb, it describes the film as being about a group of students being terrorized by a foul odor. I was going into the movie expecting the students threatened by a large gaseous entity, and in the film I think they mention that they’re going to Area 52, so I was expecting (hoping) that they would be contending with aliens. Payne might have been trying to subvert expectations by going a different route, but the end result is still the same, mainly a group of kids getting killed at night. All the cliches are here, a couple are having sex, there’s no cellphone reception, they can’t go anywhere because their gas line had been cut, they do things no sane person would do if they shared the same situation, etc. Are there any interesting deaths? Not really, but there’s one somewhat original kill where one of the characters is killed in an outhouse, but that scene goes on too long anyway and loses some of its impact. And like other films of this ilk, there is a twist ending that re-contextualizes everything. The ending tries to “blow your mind” and it does explain many of the things that happen, but it’s still a rather disappointing explanation; mainly because it’s a cop-out that’s been done numerous times before and when you see it you’ll go “Oh really, they did that! Give me a break!” Not exactly the intended reaction. Funny enough, it shares pretty much the same ending as Jack the Reaper, another movie I reviewed. I can’t tell which picture employed the twist better nor do I really want to give it much thought.

You might be wondering why I even bother watching such schlock. I mean, these movies are supposed to suck, right? You shouldn’t expect Shakespeare. Don’t get me wrong, I was mildly entertained with the film, but I mainly watch these movies in the hopes that I come across a neglected gem, or in the very least, be pleasantly surprised. It’s disappointing that most of these movies (or most movies in general) are pretty much culled from the same mush. You can argue that it’s just a horror movie and that it doesn’t need to defy formula. This is true for Reeker could have worked, even with much of the same elements, if some of the other technical aspects were beefed up, like the acting and directing and cinematography. But I would also say that a better guarantee for success lies in a better script. I’m reminded about how most death metal bands sound pretty much the same, and the result is that a potentially distressing experience ends-up amounting to hollow noise for most death-metal bands follow the same basic template, thus lessening that particular template’s effectiveness. There are some attempts at uniqueness in Reeker, like the whole visible odor thing that emits from the monster (which by-the-way actually looks kind of cool). The movie also tries to subvert some cliches to mess with the viewer’s expectations as well as attempts at humor, but the subversions are mostly old-hat and the humor is stale.

Overall, I would give Reeker a mild recommendation if you like horror and its familiar tropes and want a simple diversion from the everyday. Maybe next time I’ll uncover that schlock masterpiece, buried underneath the landfill.

Jack the Reaper (2011) Review

Jack the Reaper, written and directed by Kimberly Seilhamer, could have been an interesting and decent horror flick if it weren’t hampered by its incredibly low budget and general incompetence. The basic premise is that a group of high school students are stranded in the desert after their bus crashes (which is shown by not the actual bus crashing, but a reddened freeze-frame) and find a carnival where a murderous undead railway worker lurks who begins to hunt them down.

While the acting ranges from okay to bad and the budget is obviously low the film suffers most greatly from its script which is overly reliant on formula and general horror movie cliches. This is evidenced early on by the introduction of the characters who are all just off-the-rack Breakfast Club archetypes; there’s the overweight nerd who spouts lines like, “wait for me guys!” the jock whose primary characterization is that he wears a football jersey, the tortured albino kid, an emotionally-damaged girl whose father sexually abuses her, the rich girl, the ditz and her cousin who happens to be deaf, a weird-ass, and two normal guys. None of these characters are particularly interesting and the actors aren’t good enough to give them any dimension more than what their stereotypes allow; it also doesn’t help that half the cast is obviously in their thirties. This might have been okay, however, if the kills were satisfying, but unfortunately even the violence in this film is dull. It also doesn’t help being able to predict who is about to be killed-off. The best character in the film is probably Railroad Jack but even then he lurches around like a typical horror movie monster and uses a pick-axe to slaughter his victims. However, his presence is sinister and he manages to be the best part of the film.

The script also frustrates for the characters often engage in too-dumb-to-live actions that are prevalent in these types of films, like when one of the students finally decides to leave the crashed bus and uses a flare to help him see as it’s night, but the audience has been shown that there were some flashlights still on the bus. And there’s also the fact that the characters, instead of searching for help at the carnival, engage in the activities and bicker among themselves. While one can argue that this is how dumb high schoolers would act in this type of situation it still doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s frustrating for the audience to witness and pulls them out of the film.

However, there are some interesting ideas provided that help individuate Jack the Reaper from other slashers, but they are handled poorly, such as the “twist” at the end of the film. There is also some images, like whenever another one is killed the Ferris wheel lights up with a red spiral, and near the end where the dead bodies are riding the carousal.

Technically, the film ranges from passable to just awful. Before getting to the carnival most of the camera work and lightning is bad especially when we’re riding on the bus with the students. Fortunately, the camera work gets better when we get to the carnival even if the camera work is purely functionary. The make-up, especially the blood, is cheap-looking and the appearance of Railroad Jack isn’t all shakes.

So for the reasons cited Jack the Reaper remains an interesting failure that could have been a passable diversion. Even in it’s best parts it doesn’t inspire any creeping sense or excitement; the movie overall ranges from being dull, to just plain bad, and unfortunately not laughably bad either.