Vacation Shows That Chris Hemsworth Is Quite Mighty (Red Band)


Any kid growing up during the 1980’s remembers having seen the original Chevy Chase comedy classic National Lampoon’s Vacation. While subsequent sequels weren’t as memorable as the first film it didn’t diminish just how fun that original one was.

It’s been many, many years since the last Vacation film but now it looks like we have a new one set to release this year. Chevy Chase returns, though it would seem it might be more of a cameo. This latest film in the series looks to focus on Clark Griswold’s oldest son, Rusty, who now yearns to relive the happiest time of his life as a child: the road trip to Wally World,

The trailer looks to up return the raunch in the series with some help from Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. From looking at the trailer’s payoff it looks like Hemsworth is quite mighty indeed.

Vacation is set to release this July, 31, 2015.

The Horror of 2015: It Follows and Unfriended

2015 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for horror.  Here are my reviews of two recent horror films that have recently been getting a lot of attention, It Follows and Unfriended.

It Follows2

Is It Follows really as good as everyone is saying?

That’s actually a very legitimate question.  It Follows is one of the most critically acclaimed horror films in recent years.  It’s been described as being a “game changer” and as being one of the best films of 2015 so far. But, as we all know, just because a film has been acclaimed by mainstream critics that does not necessarily make it a great film.  The mainstream is just as often wrong as its right.

So, is It Follows really that good?

It is certainly an effective film.  It’s well-made.  It’s well-acted.  Director David Robert Mitchell makes us jump a few times.  The film takes the horror cliché of “sex equals death” to its logical extreme and, as a result, it makes you think about the subtext of many of your favorite horror films.

The film deals with a college student named Jay (Maika Monroe) who has sex with her boyfriend and soon discovers that, by doing so, her boyfriend has passed on a “curse” to her.  She finds herself being stalked by a slow-moving but unstoppable entity, one that only she can see.  The only way to get rid of the entity is to have sex with someone else.

It’s never explained just what or who the entity is or why it’s so intent on killing.  And, for that, It Followsdeserves to be applauded.  Far too many horror films get bogged down in trying to explain the origin of its horror.  It Follows understand just how potent the fear of the unknown truly is and, ultimately, the sight of that shape-shifting entity – always there and always following – is scary precisely because it is so enigmatic.

At the same time, I think it’s telling that It Follows has received some of its strongest support from critics who traditionally do not care for horror films.  In fact, many of the positive reviews for It Follows have been somewhat condescending towards horror as a genre.  “Finally!” the critics seem to be saying, “An intelligent horror film!”

Of course, a true horror fan knows that intelligent horror films are not that unusual.  They also know that It Follows is hardly the first horror film to work as a metatextual commentary on the horror genre itself.  Many of the critics who are currently declaring It Follows to be the greatest horror film ever made are doing so because they don’t understand that the horror genre has been giving us great films for a while now.

It Follows is an effective and scary film, even if it is a bit too self-consciously arty at times.  It made me jump, it made me cover my eyes, and it even made me scream at one point and that – though the mainstream critics may never admit it – is really all that’s required from a good horror film.  To all of my fellow horror fans, I recommend It Follows without hesitation.  But let’s not pretend like It Follows is the first good horror film ever made, okay?

(Incidentally, an indication of the popularity of It Follows can be seen in the fact that this is the fourth review of the film to appear on this site!  Be sure to check out Leonard’s review, the Duke’s review, and the Trashfilm Guru’s review.)

It Follows

Unfriended is the best horror film of 2015 so far.

That may seem like a bold statement, considering that Unfriended – while receiving generally positive reviews – has not gotten half of the attention or acclaim that’s been given to It Follows.  As well,Unfriended is a variation on the found footage genre and, as we all know, found footage usually equals bad filmmaking.

But no matter!  Unfriended defies all our expectations.  Considering that Unfriended is basically an 83-minute screencast of a laptop, it should not be scary but it is.  Unfriended should not make you think about real-world issues but it does.  Unfriended should not work but it does.

Unfriended 2

Unfriended opens with teenager Blaire Lilly (Shelly Henning) watching an online video of another teenage girl, Laura (Heather Sossaman), killing herself.  Blaire then clicks on a link that takes her to a YouTube video of a drunk Laura at a party.  Underneath the video are thousands comments from people telling Laura that she should kill herself.

However, Laura and her suicide are temporarily forgotten while Blaire skypes with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm).  After a few minutes, Blaire and Mitch are joined by three friends: Jess (Renee Olstead), unstable Adam (Will Peltz), and Ken (Jacob Wyscoski).  It takes the five of them a few minutes to notice that they’ve been joined by a faceless account named billie227.

At first billie227 refuses to identity itself but soon, Blaire and Mitch start to receive Facebook messages from the long dead Laura.  Blaire checks billie227’s account and discovers that it belongs to Laura.  At first, Blaire suspects that another one of their friends, Val (Courtney Halverson), may have hacked Laura’s account.  But, after calling Val, they discover that she’s not responsible.

Suddenly, embarrassing pictures start to appear on their Facebook accounts.  Billie227 starts to send them threatening messages and tells Blaire that if she signs off of skype, all of her friends will die. The six friends – all of whom, it turns out, knew Laura – find themselves held hostage by the malevolent spirit and, over the course of the long night, are picked off one by one.

Sad to say, cyberbullying is a reality.  Tragically, people really have committed suicide over things that have been said by bullies hiding behind anonymous online identities.  In the past few years, there have been many films made about the dangers of cyberbullying but Unfriended may be the most effective.  It’s a film that takes the reality of words having consequences to its most logical and grisly extreme.

Unfriended is a genuinely frightening movie, precisely because it is so relatable.  Let’s face it – if an evil spirit ever decided to stalk us through social media, we would all be doomed.  Like the characters in the film, we’re addicted and, as a result, there’s no place to hide.  If an evil ghost wanted to know everything about my life, all it would have to do would be to follow me on twitter or send me a friend request on Facebook.  The film is scary precisely because it brings our age-old fears together with modern technology and it suggests that, no matter how advanced we may consider ourselves to be, we’re still just as vulnerable to all of the old superstitions.

As a result, Unfriended is not only the best horror film of 2015 so far but it’s also one of the best films of the first half of the year.


Film Review: Volumes of Blood (dir by Jakob Bilinski, P.J. Starks, Nathan Thomas Milliner, John Kenneth Muir, Lee Vervoort)


One of the best things about being an independent film reviewer is that you get the chance to try and make sure that good films don’t end up flying under the radar.  Let’s face it — hundreds of worthy films are made every year but many of them never get the attention that they deserve.  They get pushed to the side while critics concentrate on the big studio films with the huge budgets and stars who are usually a year or two away from starring in their own reality show.  Far too often, truly independent films get pushed to the side.

That’s why I love reviewing independent films.  If I can encourage you to seek out (and yes, you do have to be willing to make the effort to seek out good films) and support these films by watching them, then I’ve accomplished something more with my writing than just indulging my own ego.  Of course, the independent films that I recommend have to be good and they have to be entertaining.  If you’re just recommending a film to be nice or because you want to get quoted in a press release, then you’re doing it wrong.  You have to be honest in your reviews because only then will your readers have any reason to believe you when you recommend a film to them.

Take, for instance, Volumes of Blood.  This new horror anthology is currently making the rounds of the festival circuit.  I was lucky enough to get a chance to view a screener.  Was it good?  You bet it was.  Was it entertaining?  Yes, it was.  And that’s why I’m recommending that you keep an eye out for Volumes of Blood and that you make the effort to see it.  The fact that recommending Volumes of Blood also means that I get a chance to support a truly independent film is just a nice fringe benefit.

Volumes of Blood is a horror anthology, a collection of short but loosely connected horror stories.  It starts with a nicely satiric scene of two “teenagers” being menaced in a parked car by your standard knife-wielding maniac.  (I put teenagers in quotes because it’s obvious that neither actor is a teenager and, even more importantly, the film goes out of its way to make sure that you see that neither one of these two are teenagers.)  This scene of slasher film menace leads to a college classroom where a professor with a truly impressive pompadour talks about urban legends.

(No, I’m not going to tell you how the film gets from a slasher film to college classroom, other than to say that it’s a lot of fun.)

We then switch scenes again, to a public library.  Four students are making up urban legends of their own.  Each story is set in the library, each story features a twist at the end, and each story both celebrates and pokes some knowing fun at the conventions of the horror genre.  The first story deals with an energy drink that will literally blow your mind.  The second story — and my personal favorite — is a ghost story.  (Seriously, I jumped when the ghost first appeared.  The entire film really makes good use of that library setting, with its long rows of books and creepy atmosphere.)  The third story is a monster tale.  And then the fourth story deals with what happens when a depressed librarian makes the mistake of wishing that her dead boyfriend could come back to life.

(The fourth story also features my favorite line.  When asked if he really believes in demons and witchcraft, a character replies, “I’m Irish luv, we invented this shite.”*)

And then, after the fourth story, there’s a huge twist and I really wish I could tell you all about it because it’s really clever and it leads to some of the film’s best metatextual moments.  But I’m not going to spoil it for you because I want you to track down this movie and be surprised by it like I was.  So, I’ll just say that you won’t see it coming and it elevates the entire film.

It may seem strange to use a word like “likable” when talking about a horror movie but that really is the best way to describe Volumes of Blood.  It’s a film that was obviously made by people who love horror films and who understand that the best response to someone mentioning The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is to reply, “You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre.”  The film is full of references to other classic horror movies and it even mentions an imaginary film — The Dewey Deathmal System — that I personally would love to see.

Check out its Facebook page by clicking here and keep an eye out for Volumes of Blood!


* My apologies because I originally misquoted that line.  It’s still my favorite line, though!


Review: Marduk – Frontschwein

A part of me feels totally out of my comfort zone reviewing Marduk, but I keep coming back to the band over the years in spite of it. The classic Swedish style of black metal, as popularized by bands like Dark Funeral, Naglfar, and of course Marduk, never managed to appeal to me much. It was all about this relentless brutality–an aesthetic not far removed from death metal–when I was turning to black metal for its occult appeal. It was Satan as a cold-hearted masochist, but I wanted to legitimize Catholic blood libel. Live dissection vs goat sodomy. That’s pretty clear, no?

But, aside from the fact that they were just better at it than everyone else, Marduk initially stood out to me for their song titles and lyrics. “Christraping Black Metal”, “Fistfucking God’s Planet”, “Jesus Christ… Sodomized”, this stuff was priceless. I think when I viewed it as a comedy I could get into the over-the-top, machine gun-paced blast beats as something delightfully ridiculous.

That sort of entertainment value can’t hold out forever, and it was ultimately Marduk’s shift towards martial themes that kept me attentive. They did it on Panzer Division Marduk in 1999, and they’ve turned to it again with the Iron Dawn EP in 2011 and now Frontschwein. If there is any one thing that this style of music captures effectively, it is 20th century warfare.

song: Frontschwein

Marduk capture the violent chaos of war on a level I have only heard rivaled by Germany’s Endstille, and while modern themes do not permeate all of their albums, they stand at the center on Frontschwein. The album recounts events in World War II from the perspective of Germany as a bloodthirsty machine reveling in cold destruction behind its thin veil of justifications. The connection is not merely lyrical, though Mortuus’ vocals are surprisingly discernible, allowing bits and pieces of war imagery to seep into your head unaided by a lyrics sheet; you can hear to conflict in the music: sliding guitars as falling bombs, blast beats as bullets. It’s methodical, rhythmic, and relentless, in contrast to the more eclectic approach the band has taken on Satanic-themed albums like Serpent Sermon. It is Marduk as I like them best.

That being said, it does feel repetitive at times. This style always does, to me at least, and I feel like Marduk relegated their less interesting songs to the middle, bookending the best of them. “Frontschwein” is followed by the incredibly catchy headbanging march of “The Blond Beast”, and Mortuus’ constant screaming of “Afrika” in the song of the same name forces your mind to picture a bloody desert battle between Rommel and Patton’s grunts. “Wartheland”‘s slow pummel with distinct lyrics like “succumb to domination” feels like an endless wave of Nazi forces marching in to conquest and occupation. The track titles in general go a long way towards steering the music towards its intended imagery. (I absolutely love the album title. I don’t know if it’s a common word or one of the band’s own crafting, but it certainly projects the overarching subject matter: humans as bloody fodder in an unstoppable military machine.)

But by “Rope of Regret”, my ears grow a bit numb to the pummeling. I enjoy the song when I listen to it in isolation, but I rarely can remain attentive long enough to reach it if I’m listening to the album as a whole. The next four tracks, all fairly typical in style, fade together for me whatever their individual worth. “503” is ultimately the song that draws me back in. A song of conquest, it drastically slows down the pace, listing in a dominant voice the conquests of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion. It makes me snap back from my zoned-out state and again picture the album as a vision of German brutality in World War II rather than a jumble of noise. The song is well-placed, because it leads the way into “Thousand-Fold Death”.

song: Thousand-Fold Death

And “Thousand-Fold Death”… holy shit, this song alone is worth buying Frontschwein for. It’s got the best guitar licks on the album, but this song is all about Mortuus. He does things with his voice on this track that will give you motion sickness. It’s not just the sheer quantity of words per second he manages to belt out–his clarity while doing it is unbelievable. If I ever doubted that Mortuus was an incredible vocalist before this song, I certainly don’t now. The album ends with “Warschau III Necropolis”, an eerie, ambient mix of samples from militant speeches and battles, brass, and bizarrely distorted spoken words that manages to capture the grim nature of the album through a totally different means.

There is a reason why I have listened to Marduk more than any other band that plays that brutality-driven Swedish varient of black metal, and Frontschwein captures what I like about them best. I am a bit hesitant to say that I like it more than Endstille’s Infektion 1813, but those two albums definitely stand leagues above anything else I have heard in a genre of metal that, I’ll admit, I seldom find to be very creative or inspiring.

Check out Frontschwein by Marduk on Century Media.