The Strangers (2007) *** - This new release has been sitting on a shelf for almost a year. probably because they weren't sure how audiences were going to react to this grim suspense yarn. Stripped down to almost a bare minimum this is film making at utter basics, but what it does with those basic tools is pretty effective. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a couple who have come back to their home after a wedding reception. Seems that he has proposed to her and she has not accepted the proposal for reasons of her own, even though she clearly cares about him. their home is somewhat isolated a bit aways from the city or any neighbors. at 4:00 the get a knock at the door from a woman asking for for someone who does not live there. This woman seems disoriented but leaves. The man leaves the house to go for a drive because he is still emotionally distraught by the evening's turn of events and while he is gone the house is besieged by three people in masked who are trying to break in (on in a very creepy cloth sack mask clearly gets in but just stands around in the background in one very chilling scene). From here it is a cat and mouse of the highest order as this couple fight for their lives against these faceless, nameless killers. The killers never talk or really communicate except to write an occasional message on the windows. Otherwise their only emotions are violence and menace. We never see their actual faces, only the masks so they almost become supernatural, though they clearly are not. They movie is cleverly shot allowing the killers and their startling masks to arrive from shadows or doorways at opportune moments. Not for "jump" type scares, but for the type of scares that really count. That get under your skin and really creep you out. these scenes create a really strong frisson that stays with you well after the credits roll and were the images that featured so heavily in the trailer and posters. The performances in the film are surprisingly strong, as Speedman has been frankly terrible in the only other film s I've seen him in. But here he is actually terrific as the emotionally truncated boyfriend. he never becomes a stone faced hardass or superhero. he keeps his character very real and on several occasions adds some great little touches of humanity that other actors probably would have not wanted to do. Liv Tyler is a better actress than people give her credit for, though there is a few times were she resorts to just covering her mouth in horror, she still handles her self well. When this all comes to a head she is excellent. In fact the climactic scene, which I will not give away here is a tour de force in the acting dept for the both of them, and is also a real shocker.
The movie makes a couple of missteps along the way. There are a couple of scenes that are highly predictable as well as a moment or two when a character does something that you question the logic of their actions. But the biggest draw back is the final minute and a half of the movie. Once again I wont say what it is, but the movie is clearly over, it even fades out, and then it fades back up to a scene we've already seen (in fact the opening of the movie) but with a new twist extra moment. The scene doesn't work, and I'd be shocked to find out that it wasn't demanded by the studio or a test audience. But those things aside The Strangers is a winner. first time seeing this.
Shadow: Dead Riot (2006) ** - Pretty goofy, love letter to exploitation movies misses the mark more than it hits thanks to a script that is all over the place. Filled with in jokes and references with characters names after Jean Rollin, Jess Franco and Dyann Thorne you know their heart is in the right place. But the accumulative effect is way less than sum of the parts. Shadow is a hulking serial killer in a Maximum security prison in the 80's. He has sharpened teeth and has carved ancient unexplained symbols into his flesh. When he is put to death some kind of wacky mumbo jumbo happens and a riot ensues. A whole lot of prisoners are shotgunned and buried in the yard and the executioner steals a vile of Shadow's souped blood. Twenty years later it is now a experimental prison for women and a black gal named Solitaire is new on the block. A jaw dropping shower scene later and she is in a knock down drag out fight in the locker room over Erin Brown (who exits the movie way too early in my opinion). Solitaire ends up in Solitary confinement where she has visions of Shadow and his eminent return to life. Meanwhile the quack prison doctor is shooting people up with Shadows evil blood in some experiments to create immortality or some shit. But this just gives Solitaire Story of Ricky like super human strength. Which she will need when Shadow comes back from the dead with his army of zombies (which include Bill Hinzman, the bald fat one from Zombie and I think I saw Joey Smack from DUCK! the Carbine High Massacre in there too). There's also a totally retarded subplot about a pregnant inmates mutant baby that starts jumping around chewing people up. this is one of those movies where they just threw everything against the wall to see if it would stick. Kung fu fights? Check. Zombies? Check. HUGE breasted showers scenes? Check. Large amounts of splatter? Check. Nods to the blaxsploitation era? Check. All the Women in Prison cliche's? Check. Hell even the Media Blaster's DVD gets in on the fun vibe by making it a "grindhouse" experience by adding scratches and dust to the print and fucking up the sound from time to time. So this thing should be a lot more fun than it is. the problem is that so much is going on that it never hangs together. Its just isolated moments of mayhem, some fun, some really retarded. it doesn't help that the cast is all over the place and all trying to go over the top. Tony Todd is trying his best with the Shadow role but at times he feels like he's in a different movie. And his final demise doesn't make a damn bit of sense. My other favorite Seduction Cinema girl Ruby Larocca is in this too in a small part. Pretty goofy but I guess you could do a lot worse. First time seeing this.