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Movie Maniac posted a review of Life

“A quick glance at the theatrical trailer for "Life" could of told you that it wasn't breaking any new ground but that doesn't mean it is a disposable product. Quite the opposite, in fact, While it clearly takes much influence from superior forebears, the movie does so with respect and with an approa” read more

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Life review

Posted : 2 weeks, 5 days ago on 22 November 2018 12:10 (A review of Life)

A quick glance at the theatrical trailer for "Life" could of told you that it wasn't breaking any new ground but that doesn't mean it is a disposable product. Quite the opposite, in fact, While it clearly takes much influence from superior forebears, the movie does so with respect and with an approach more akin to science fiction than to the dread inducing horror that permeated those films.

Like the creature in the film, "Life" takes the strengths of other films to make something functional. This might sound cold and processed but it actually comes off as something that this viewer ended up warming up to quite a bit. Take a healthy serving of "Alien" (crew we get to know and enjoy the company of brings alien entity back into ship and soon fails to keep quarantine protocol), Carpenter's "The Thing" (creature adapts quickly by mimicking aspects of its prey and gets loose in the facility and, SPOILER, basically is a harbinger of the world's end), and even Gravity (astronauts coping in a variety of ways with real life issues back home and in space cope with a disaster) and you can begin to see what "Life" is all about.

Normally this would prove a deterrent to enjoyment but the film is very competently but together. The characters are empathetic, the science fiction framework is engaging, and playing with your expectations works out quite well without ever losing any tension or suspense. I stress this final part the most because, as you might be aware, the ending of this film was leaked early on and spoiled for many people. I went into this not only seeing how much of a pastiche of other works it was but knowing where it would all end up and it still was an engaging and enjoyable experience.

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery but that can only get you so far. "Life" manages to be a patchwork of many things, sure, but it handles itself deftly and does approach the material from a different enough perspective that it feels both like you're visiting old friends but also discovering something new about them. It also has that effect that makes you remember it fondly and want to revisit it again, if only because sometimes you're not up to putting yourself through the nihilistic terror of the films it borrows so heavily from.

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Tales from the Hood 2 review

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 3 November 2018 04:17 (A review of Tales from the Hood 2)

The original "Tales From The Hood" went from box office failure to cornerstone of black horror cinema and minted cult classic for a variety of reasons. From its reverent tip of the hat to EC comics' tongue in cheek, ghastly morality tales, to its predominant use of black actors and crew, to its extensive use of physical effects, and, most strikingly, to its poignant stabs at pressing social issues plaguing the black community and America, Tales stood out amidst its cinematic peers as unique. On those strong foundations a loyal fandom was fostered. That selfsame fandom has demanded a followup for over two decades and what better time than now to bring this beast roaring back to shine a light on the strained racial landscape of American society than now?

It was certainly the right moment and the right team was behind it (returning creators Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott) but, alas, sometimes lightning doesn't strike twice. Not to insinuate that Tales From The Hood 2 is an utter failure, rather it feels like a cheaply produced knock-off of its predecessor that mostly misses the mark rather than being an incisively razor sharp product. I say mostly because there are redeeming moments in the film that give you a glimpse into what could have been.

The biggest issue with Tales 2 is a general lack of focus to the intent of the film. As with the original movie and the source inspiration of comics like Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, and The Vault of Horror, the goal of the macabre stories is to ultimately teach a lesson about the ills of humanity. Twisted morality tales are as old as time and tend to resonate deeply if done right, something that the original deftly juggled with its delightful fusion of comedy, social insight, gore, and camp. Tales 2 attempts this anew but falls short of the goal quite often. Another prominent issue with Tales 2 is its subpar production values, cast, and effects. The original Tales, by no means, was an overachiever in these departments but the combination of all that worked in it made it stand out. Here too many of the cogs in the machine are misfiring for the whole piece to continue moving ahead at a steady clip.

In the first of four stories (not counting the wraparound), "Good Golly", we are given a warning about the dangers of casual racism and staying power of seemingly "harmless" racial propaganda. It focuses on two interracial friends who visit a museum centered on stereotype branding and later break in to steal a "pollywog" doll because of the white friend's childhood attachment to it. This walks hand in hand with the type of story told in the first film but the ultimate result is hindered by the weak acting, the bland cinematography that robs everything of atmosphere, and the poor character work. Couple this with the underwhelming effects and what you ultimately get is that aforementioned "cheap knockoff" vibe. The sad part is you can see the piece working under better circumstances.

Next up is "The Medium", a story that quickly loses some narrative focus despite ultimately being the most fun of the bunch. At its core the story is another blast on black on black violence and those in the community that balk at the success and progress of others wishing to move beyond their societal constraints. Some thugs kill a reformed pimp in an attempt to get at his newfound wealth. He dies without revealing where it's at so they force a charlatan TV medium to confer with the dead man. Miraculously the medium is possessed by the vengeful spirit and everybody gets their comeuppance. Despite a jarring shift early on, the story does tidy up quite well and touches upon some of the blend of humor, camp, and social commentary of the first movie. The only downside is that the deaths of the evildoers fall short of the established mark.

After that peak came the lowest of valleys in the form of "Date Night". Some guys use Tinder to date rape ladies only to be preyed upon themselves. Quick and to the point plot but extremely out of place and with terribly underwhelming results. To top it all off this story feels completely out of place. It is more of a statement about men than about the target audience. While that's fine (especially considering how important the issue truly is), the story is lacking any creativity or satisfactory resolution. Bereft of fun or vision, "Date Night" is best forgotten. In light of the Bill Cosby controversy the filmmakers had ample source material to really say something about how we tend to forgive the actions of the powerful, famous, or influential but instead they opted to tackle that briefly in the wraparound story in regards to a double standard among men. A missed opportunity but, more woefully, a dreadfully unimpressive segment.

The final tale is "The Sacrifice" and if there was a reason for this film to exist, this is it. While "The Medium" proves the most fun, this last story is the most relevant and shocking. Casting aside the framework of morbid grue and comedy, "The Sacrifice" chooses to impart its social wisdom via a solemn parable more fitting of The Twilight Zone. In fact, it reminds me most of a reversal of the story "Time Out" from The Twilight Zone movie, where a racist learns to empathize with those he hates after walking in their shoes. The story is a startling look at how dangerous is it to lay with the enemy under the perception that you are keeping your ideals and freedom intact. It follows a black political adviser who is backing a gubernatorial candidate despite his controversial views, namely those clearly targeting black voters. Simultaneously, we are shown the gut-wrenching tale of true historical figure Emmett Till who was brutally murdered for supposedly catcalling a white woman. This pivotal piece of American history, though horrendous, set forth a movement that changed the landscape of the country forever. Ultimately, our modern character is forced to see a world where the sacrifices of his people in the past are cast aside by his carelessness and he must choose to walk the path of a martyr or lose all that was gained.

This last tale, as aforementioned, doesn't wallow in that ghastly mirth of the tales that inspired and were in the first film but rather transcends them on grounds of its purpose and the way it opts to deliver the message. It is also worthy to note that since this more straightforward approach doesn't require spooky atmospherics the cinematography is far more fitting. All the actors do relatively admirable work (no Oscars will be handed out but you're not begging for them to close their mouths) and, all in all, it's a solid installment. The best of the bunch, for sure.

The wraparound story, "Robo Hell", I could of seen going somewhere but it's ultimately hobbled by the ludicrous sci-fi feel and, more so, by the horrendous effects and cop out culmination. It follows the host telling tales to an AI that needs nuanced examples of crime to learn how to properly judge potential evildoers. All this for a campaign by a racially biased businessman to capitalize law enforcemnt. This one should of ended in that grand guignol fashion but clearly the budget (or imagination) was lacking and we get a very unsatisfactory conclusion with nary a drop of blood spilled given how much it was teased with the whole air of Robocop it had going.

Of course, Clarence Williams III is sorely missed as the manic storyteller, Mr. Simms, but you feel that it's probably for the best that his legacy didn't have a chance to be stained by this subpar offering. As it is Keith David does his best with the poor material at hand, although at times it feels like he knows this isn't exactly the best thing he's done.

Ultimately, Tales 2 proves a sad reminder of what could of been rather than what is. Most of it feels like a missed opportunity and I hope that it came down mostly to a lack of funding rather than creative bankruptcy. There are moments were you can see glimmers of something decent but they are overshadowed by the large doses of mediocrity. I can't even say that the two worthwhile stories are worth sitting through the slog of the rest. Best to approach them individually if you ever wish to see more of Tales 2 again. I, for one, will probably not revisit it and that saddens me greatly. I suppose we will always have the original and sometimes that is good enough.

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Silent House review

Posted : 1 month, 3 weeks ago on 18 October 2018 02:59 (A review of Silent House)

A young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) returns to her childhood home only to find herself stuck in the house with a violent intruder, among other things. Suspense escalates as the mystery of the events transpiring begin to unravel. Suffice it to say that the less said the better as the film is best experienced with zero background other than the basics. As if often the case with horror, "Silent House" is more than it presents itself to be. While not glaringly original (and somewhat predictable on account of some heavy handed use of tropes and hints), "SIlent House" does manage to excel in a few spots that make it stand out from it's peers.

First off, directors Lau and Kentis' approach to the filming immediately sets it apart as the audience is treated to a simulation of a continuous single take. The seams of the edit are cleverly hidden by the almost guerrilla-like approach to filming which, in turn, gives the entire affair a real-time urgency. In a sense, the film manages to walk the line between a found footage film and art school horror. Though that might sound pretentious, it really does wonders for the tension and curiosity that the movie manages to stir up as it progresses as it limits what you know to the direct vicinity of our main character.

Therein lies the biggest issue I had with the movie. It's relatively easy to figure out what the resolution is going to be based on what information is fed to us relatively early on. And though this didn't rob it of the tense moments and nice buildup, I did find myself wanting a surprise that I knew was not going to come. Sure enough, the "reveal" was as I suspected and that was a bit of a letdown. Not because it's a particularly bad one but because by then it had become an obvious one.

That critique aside, the film does manage to build up to a nice steady boil. Olsen is absolutely key to selling what is going on and she pulls it off with no trouble. In short, her reactions credible and her confusion and fear palpable. She's excellent. So much so, in fact, that at one point the predictability of the outcome made the movie less about that and more about how she was going to sell it. Did she deliver? Absolutely.

The movie is as misleading as it's approach. While it might seem to be a haunted house flick at first, it quickly takes on the guise of a home invasion movie for the bulk of the picture. Needless to say, that is also a ruse and attentive viewers will see the psychological horror miles ahead. That being said, there is a lot to enjoy in the experience. It has moments of nail-biting suspense, a deadly atmosphere, some technical prowess, and, of course, the wonderful Elizabeth Olsen doing her damndest to pull it all together...and succeeding.

"Silent House" is definitely worth a watch if more for the promising buildup and stellar acting than the ultimate outcome which feels like it could of done more. Nevertheless, it is a solid flick. 7/10.

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Raw (2016) review

Posted : 2 months ago on 6 October 2018 02:50 (A review of Raw (2016))

"Raw" (aka Grave) is a starkly visceral, disturbing, and downright Cronenbergian coming of age metaphor artistically wrapped in a wonderfully nightmarish fugue of imagery and music. It is also easily one of the the better films in the genre that both manages to indulge in the elements that often marginalize it while redeeming them with a loftier artistic goal in mind. By the film's culmination you'll not only have been thoroughly disturbed but also properly illuminated about the dangerous line we walk to fight our inherent natures.

The story follows a virginal innocent (a veritable lamb, the imagery would suggest) called Justine who is going to college alongside her older, more experienced (and somewhat rebellious) sister. Justine has been brought up by strict parents, among whose personal tenets is an almost zealous adherence to vegetarianism. It is not long after Justine gets to college, and introduced to the rigorous hazing of her peers, that the convictions she's been raised with are challenged. This begins with the ritualistic consumption of an animal's kidney which, cowed by the pressure, she eats. Having opened the flood gates, the experience raises a ravenous craving for flesh in Justine that soon proves uncontrollable and consumes her personal world and those around her...literally, at times.

And therein lies the brilliance of the film. Brilliant score, beautiful cinematography and direction aside, the film is a nasty but effective metaphor for the quick downward spiral that we fall into in our formative years when we give up our convictions under the guise of exploration and lose our "innocence" by pursuing our true, dark nature. That the film manages to be subtle and artistic with this parallel while it simultaneously washes you in gruesome body horror is an admirable feat all of its own.

"Raw" is a post-modern cautionary tale of the highest order. The story and visual language speak of the talent of writer/director Julia Ducournau and shine a light of hope on what she may have to offer the genre in the future. Whatever the case, "Raw" does a lot of legitimize horror as a genuine art. Excellent. 9/10

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The Witch review

Posted : 2 months, 2 weeks ago on 22 September 2018 02:33 (A review of The Witch)

A zealous man and his family are cast out of Puritan society after a difference of opinion about scripture and left to fend for themselves in the wilderness. The facade of piety soon gives way to the destructive nature of their personal demons which a coven in the woods exploits to their ends. But what will bring this family to its knees, dark and Satanic evil or their own natures?

To say "The VVitch" is brilliant is, quite frankly, an understatement. To be fair, it is not a film for everyone. Attention spans the size of a gnat will most likely not enjoy this meticulously paced affair. Gorehounds and those that obsess with slashers might as well hit stop before they play. This is not a slight on a viewer's intelligence but rather a fair warning to those expecting something else. For those of us that love a thick atmosphere, excellent character work, and a slow boil that builds up to an ear-piercing scream (not to mention beautiful cinematography, an excellent score, and an amazing cast)...well, this one is for us.

The VVitch is not just a film about the supernatural condemnation laid upon a family left to survive in the wilderness. Mind you, it would of been a great movie with that simple structure given how well it depicts this side of the whole affair, but it's a far better movie for what it aspires to say (and achieves) as a condemnation of the negative effects of oppressive piety and the corrupting nature of personal sin/guilt.

In many ways, the more horrifying aspects of this film are seeing how raging zealotry is used as a crushing hammer, how paranoia and resentment will foster enmity among those that love each other, and how an innocent scapegoat can be bent and twisted by the overbearing nature of other people's sin. Not to insinuate that the ethereal world doesn't dig its cold claws into you. On the contrary, the film balances this personal horror with the disturbing with expert ease that draws a stunning parallel between both which, ultimately, leads to a stunning conclusion for the annals of horror history.

This one is a classic, through and through.

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The Mummy review

Posted : 3 months ago on 8 September 2018 02:58 (A review of The Mummy)

"The Mummy" was Universal's second attempt at starting a horror cinematic universe (the first was the underappreciated Dracula Untold). Plenty of critics talked about how cumbersome the elements of an arching universe were to the plot and much was made of the ballyhoo surrounding that studio presumptuousness. As a result, the bandwagon response was to despise this movie based on that concept alone.

Indeed, it was rather presumptuous of Universal to assume a positive reception and widespread acceptance of this concept but was that really the issue with the film? I believe it was not. In fact, the elements linking it to a larger universe were relatively well integrated despite being a bit on the nose at times, but I think we can all agree that a movie about a mummy is not beholden to subtlety. The real issue with the movie is that it fails to capture the audience with relatable or credible characters (or character growth) and lacks a consistent tone. It is this that derails the movie long before anything else has a chance to. 

The movie works best when it's a straightforward action piece with horror elements that leaves you little time to think about the details. Alas, after building up considerable steam for the first portion it drops into a neutral hum as it tries desperately to convince you that there is a remote spark of chemistry between Tom Cruise's Nick Morton and Annabelle Wallis' Jenny. Spoiler: There exists not an iota. This proves an insurmountable problem as the emotional thrust of the movie depends on their characters.  Characters, by the way, that exist in some weird limbo between nondescript and unlikable but fail to even evoke a vivid response in either camp. Most perplexing, are the abrupt attempts at humor that fall remarkably flat every, single time and serve only to take you out of the tone established by scenes previous. The movie seems to indecisive about what it wants to be.

Someone like Harrison Ford, at the height of his powers, could have pulled off the lines written for Cruise's character (which comes of as some onerous Han Solo imitation) but Cruise sells the roguish charisma as well as a desert produces water. Oddly, he's not the worst, that dubious honor goes to his aforementioned female co-star who manages to sound woodenly learned at the same time as having the emotional logic of a three year old. Jake Johnson also needs a nod as what has to be the world's most annoying attempt at blockbuster style "sidekick humor" I've seen in a while. I was glad when his character died only to be reminded that in a movie about life after death he was most likely going to come back. He did and it was woefully tiresome (and his appearances as consistent as the movie's dedication to a singular tone).

However, not all goes to waste. As alluded to earlier, the movie is a blast when it plays as a serious (though vapid) horror blockbuster. It is, at times, a visual feast with some nice action set pieces. However, the filmmakers seemed determined to bring the ill-fitting (and badly written) humor at the most inopportune moments and leave you scratching your head and wondering why. Worse, they seek to remind us that we are supposed to believe that the leads are remotely interested in each other despite every one of their interactions being as remarkable as cardboard.  All this bogs down the mindless fun every time it ramps up and engages. Another positive mark is Sofia Boutella as the titular villain who you could easily see having been much more memorable had she been given more screen time in exchange for the ludicrous amounts of time that our witless leads get.

There is room for big budget popcorn flicks and, had this film excluded the worse of its qualities, this would of been a good example but it aspires to more and doesn't have the slightest clue how to get there. Morton's character growth from selfish to selfless feels stunted because of the nonsense that is the relationship with his lead and the menace of the mummy is cheapened by having to be wedged into the midst of it. Leaps in logic abound and much is asked of the audience when it comes to suspension of disbelief...even for a mummy movie. 

While not horrendous, "The Mummy" is seemingly determine to bring whatever steam it builds up to a screeching halt throughout its running time. The sad part is you could see how easily this ship could of been righted if they just gave the audience a romp rather than fail miserably at trying to give non-characters substance.  Glimmers of what could of been shine through and the action, visuals, and villain are noteworthy but, ultimately, this was fated to bring an end to the idea of a cinematic universe...and it did. 

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Fist Fight review

Posted : 3 months, 1 week ago on 1 September 2018 09:03 (A review of Fist Fight)

"Fist Fight" is interesting in the sense that it lingers in some form of limbo between a decent comedy and a complete mess. You might think this is a form of saving grace but this really just means that it is a fairly generic and pedestrian affair that it is almost nondescript if you were forced to remember it vividly.

The plot is simple, a somewhat neurotic teacher (Charlie Day) gets in the crosshairs of an extremely aggressive co-worker (Ice Cube) and spends the rest of the time stumbling in and out of hairbrain plots to avoid the titular fist fight he's been challenged to by him. Along the way, as is typical of this type of fare, his character learns something and all is zipped into a comfortable package by the time the credits roll.

The scenario alone could lead to a variety of hilarious and farcical situations but instead the movie putters along on neutral and puts in the bare minimum to keep you mildly alert through the proceedings. There were a couple of moments where I thought that the plot would make a 180 and hit it in to high gear but, alas, it was all for naught. "Fist Fight" settles for "just enough" to make you not entirely regret watching it.

The humor leans more toward the crude and juvenile which I find acceptable if presented in the right way but the filmmakers and, woefully, the actors seem to do little to nothing at all to make it stand out. It is neither offensively charming or offensively bad. instead it's a brief reminder of other similar scenes in a myriad of other movies of its ilk.

Therein lies the movie's biggest issue. It's incredibly predictable and familiar. If you like this type of movie it will cruise along in the slow lane and stop only long enough to hit the required and expected cues. We've seen all this done before and in WAY BETTER fashion.

Charlie Day is a beloved comedy icon thanks to his role in It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia but he is an incredibly hard personality to take in large doses. Ice Cube is cartoonishly angry as his character but nobody really matches the outrageous nature of him (despite trying) and as a result he just feels out of place. Jillian Bell as a perverted teacher is just an embarrassingly transparent attempt at risque topical humor.

Ultimately, "Fist Fight" is forgettable and uninspired. It also doesn't really know what it wants to be so it ends up being nothing at all. If you happen to watch it you probably won't feel cheated but you certainly won't laud it. Best to just avoid it and shoot for something better. And, no, the fight wasn't even worth it.

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31 review

Posted : 3 months, 2 weeks ago on 27 August 2018 07:21 (A review of 31)

"31" is an incredibly flawed movie. It asks much of a seasoned horror fan and much more of a general audience. In short, most people probably won't like this movie and they have every right to feel that way. Characters are as razor thin as the plot and what little we get of them is nowhere near endearing, the dialogue is preposterously bad, and the violence is sadistic, especially when coupled with dark and repellent humor.

Even as a horror fan that partakes of all sub-genres I found myself hindered by all of the above for the stated reasons and the violence because it felt unjustified given the weaknesses of the film. However, there is something about "31" that beckons to the horror fan in me and I'm sure will ensure this movie becomes somewhat of a cult favorite as time passes in some circles.

Is it a good movie? No. it's actually pretty bad. Arguably Rob Zombie's worst which, depending on what you think of him, might be very bad news indeed. But those familiar with Zombie will find some charm in the mire of grue and crassness. At it's core, the appeal of "31" is supposed to be its simplicity. It is essentially a survival horror movie with the most basic of structures to keep it's gimmick afloat and that simple goal is achieved to some extent, though hobbled by the aforementioned issues. One of the rickety legs holding up the framework is the final girl formula so familiar to horror fans, wherein a female that starts in distress is hardened and sharpened by her experiences with the villain(s) and becomes a survivor. Another is the interesting but barely touched on idea that the events of the movie are all part of some sick game the elite play with commoners as their pawns.

What ultimately made me purchase a copy of this movie is that I am a fan of Zombie's gonzo approach to horror, 70's aesthetic, subculture tendencies, and obsession with bizarro Americana, all of which are on full display in this film. He also continues to find jarring and visually stunning ways to get his brand of exploitative art across and I can appreciate that effort even when it falls quite short of its goal as it did with "31". The cinematography is beautiful at times, the costume and makeup work top notch, and you can, at times, see how this might have all worked if it had been approached a bit differently.

Alas, what we get is what we get and it'd be unfair to say that I'd recommend this movie. It is riddled with problems and its positives are outweighed by its negatives. If you're a fan of exploitation, ultraviolence, and that Rob Zombie approach then you'll find something to like in the mess but not much. One big standout is Richard Brake as Doom Head, one of the hunters pursuing the eventual victims, who makes the best of what is given to him and chimes in a performance that makes you wish there was much more substance to the meager offerings. Also noteworthy: some great cinematography and a score that punches up the whole affair at times.

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Victor Frankenstein (2015) review

Posted : 3 months, 2 weeks ago on 25 August 2018 04:50 (A review of Victor Frankenstein (2015))

You know what? This was actually pretty good. Is it a masterpiece? By no means. It merely is a fun diversion but there's nothing wrong with popcorn fodder.

I welcomed the deviations and the new approach to some of the major themes of the source material. Being such a huge Frankenstein fan I dug the odes to some of the previous adaptations. Can't say i was a big fan of the more upbeat ending but you can't have it all.

Shifting the weight of moral/spiritual quandaries to the new cop character rather than the characters usually burdened with them was interesting. It made something different and ultimately sympathetic of Victor while still asking one of the great questions of the novel: Why does it feel like God abandoned us, how does that reflect in our personal lives, and what will it drive us to do?

Plus who knew that Igor, a character that became synonymous with the name Frankenstein even though he's nowhere to be found in the novel or original adaptation, could be so interesting and likable? Kudos to Daniel Radcliffe on selling what could of a been a disastrous role. The whole cast is incredibly likable and takes the wild and wacky nature of it all in good nature.

Very fun indeed, if not exactly memorable.

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The Green Inferno (2013) review

Posted : 3 months, 2 weeks ago on 25 August 2018 04:46 (A review of The Green Inferno (2013))

I cannot believe how utterly stupid, incompetent, badly written/directed, and shamelessly lame this piece of crap was. Utter disappointment. Cannibal Holocaust remains the untouched masterpiece of cannibal cinema. This movie on the other hand is complete inane garbage with its incredulous characters, ridiculous dialogue, and a complete lack of commitment to the sub-genre that just results watered down imitation of the greats. Also, one of the WORST endings to a horror movie EVER.

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