Tag: tony todd

Night of the Living Dead


Night of the Living Dead (1990)
★★ / ★★★★

Tom Savini’s “Night of the Living Dead” is a passable but far from a compelling remake of George A. Romero’s classic. Given that the director is a wizard in creating prosthetic makeup, combined with a more sizable budget, the look of the undead here is superior to the original. Some zombies look like they died mere hours ago while others appear as though they’ve been rotting in their graves for weeks. When the camera fixates on a gash or a severed limb, we can appreciate the insides glisten with blood. Even facial deformities are gross yet inviting. On the basis of visuals, the picture delivers. However, Romero, serving as screenwriter, is hit-or-miss when it comes to making what is essentially the same plot—a group of survivors seeking refuge in a farmhouse next to a cemetery—feel contemporary. Although I prefer this mentally strong and badass Barbara (Patricia Tallman) as opposed to the original Barbara who spends the majority of the story in a state of fragility, arguments between Ben (Tony Todd), a survivor who snaps our heroine into shape, and Harry (Tom Towles), a cowardly man who prefers to hide in the cellar with his wife (McKee Anderson) and ailing daughter (Heather Mazur), are reduced into screaming matches without convincing emotion behind them. We are shown that the noise due to hammering from inside the house (it is decided that windows must be boarded up) ends up attracting the undead, but I’m convinced it is due to the senseless and interminable yelling and screaming. The most pronounced deviation from the original is the third act. Racial and political statements are stripped away. Surely racism existed in the ‘90s and is very much alive today. So why not take the opportunity to discern racism between the late ‘60s and early ‘90s? Instead, it leans on general observations when it comes to the living’s monstrous nature toward things we do not fully understand or appreciate. It bears no teeth let alone bite.

Final Destination 5


Final Destination 5 (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Although now in the hands of filmmakers who have not helmed a “Final Destination” feature, director Steve Quale and screenwriter Eric Heisserer fail to inject freshness to the fourth sequel of the franchise. Instead, it follows the same stagnant formula: a shallow introduction of the characters, a premonition sequence involving gory deaths due to calamity, a funeral scene, one of the survivors from said tragedy dying in a bizarre way, second and third deaths immediately following, and the remaining survivors figuring out that Death is coming after them in the order that they die in the premonition—boring; we’ve seen it all before. A strong argument can be made that this movie is essentially the first “Final Destination” only with different actors.

It is given one twist so pedestrian, it digests like a bad joke. A returning character, the portentous William Bludworth (Tony Todd), claims that in order to defeat Death, a survivor must kill another person who is not meant to die—to balance Death’s books and all that. Now, I have seen the previous four movies and there is not one hint that this course of action could potentially work. The material runs with this idiotic idea and so the final act is reduced to a person wielding a gun and chasing other survivors—as if the picture were an action-thriller. It shows that Heisserer possesses no understanding of what makes the premise of the series stand out from other horror movies. Clearly, this is a work without purpose or inspiration.

Overall, it is an improvement from the awful “The Final Destination” (the fourth installment in the series)—but not significantly better. The opening tragedy involving a bridge collapse actually takes its time to unfold even though in some of the more ostentatious deaths look like too much CGI was used. Nicholas D’Agosto as the seer Sam is tolerable, but his character is not given much to work with. Sam is the standard nice guy who wishes to settle down with his girlfriend and so he is willing to put his dreams on hold just so they could be together. (Yawn.) Compared to the other survivors with more pronounced personalities (cardboard cutouts played by Miles Fisher, Jacqueline MacInnes Wood, and P.J. Byrne), Sam is a bore. Halfway through, I felt D’Agosto wanting to do more, but the writing has already proven to be painfully unimaginative.

There is one inspired death sequence that takes place in a medical facility. One of the survivors wishes to get laser eye surgery because she deems that life is too short for her to miss anything. Irony begins from the moment she steps into that building and, well, whatever happens afterwards. I cringed—and I think most people do, too—at the idea of being stuck in a chair, eyelids being forced open by a metallic apparatus, as the laser activates without a trained professional in the room. This scene is executed with so much energy and dark humor, it made me wish the entire movie functioned on this level. But it is a steep downhill trajectory after this brilliant scene.

As of this writing, there has not been a follow-up to “Final Destination 5” which I think supports claims that the series has grown so stale. It is an embarrassing entry not because it follows a formula but precisely because it has failed to move the formula in any interesting direction while remaining loyal to brand. Perhaps if the writer and director actually revisited “Final Destination 2,” they might have stood a chance at making a solid movie because that first sequel successfully expanded upon what worked in the original and made Death a more sinister figure.

Hatchet II


Hatchet II (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Marybeth (Danielle Harris) survives after being attacked by Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), a disfigured serial killer who prowls the Honey Island Swamp at night. Seeking refuge in a fisherman’s cabin, she is kicked out just as quickly after she reveals her last name. She is advised to seek out Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd), a voodoo practitioner who illegally holds swamp tours to get some extra cash, to find out the truth about her connection to Victor.

“Hatchet II,” written and directed by Adam Green, in its first twenty minutes, shows promise in surpassing the original. It immediately answers my biggest question from the first film: Is Victor a mortal man or is he some kind of ghost? He turns out to be the latter. Since that is made clear, I held onto certain expectations and gladly let go of others.

We learn that the reverend has a plan to end Victor’s haunting. I was optimistic that it would work. The replacement by Harris in playing the protagonist is a good casting decision. Tamara Feldman, who plays Marybeth in “Hatchet,” is solid as a quiet presence on the back of the bus but I did not buy the moments when she is supposed to be hard. Harris, on the other hand, exudes effortless toughness. Perhaps it is due to the grungy hair. Or maybe it is the asymmetrical eyebrows. But one thing is for sure: As Marybeth, when she speaks to her uncle (Tom Holland) about wanting to go back to the swamp to retrieve her father and brother’s bodies, I was surprisingly moved by her performance. I believed in her conviction.

Unfortunately, the picture is a limp, straight-faced horror movie. Gone are the hilarious one-liners from the stereotypical supporting characters. The burly hunters and fishermen who accompany Marybeth, Marybeth’s uncle, and Reverend Zombie are annoying. I could not wait for them to get axed, if you will, just so they would stop talking.

The kill scenes are more gruesome but generate less impact. Yes, they are poorly shot, often ending with a spray of blood on a bark of a tree, but the bigger problem is where the weapon lands on the body. An ax shoved in the crotch just after a woman (Alexis Peters) has sex made me wince. Then I started thinking it is just inappropriate and unnecessary. I started to feel bad at the images I saw. Does she really have to be hit down there? It felt mean-spirited rather than a bloody good time.

Moreover, all of the characters use a gun to defend themselves. That makes it less enjoyable because it is obvious that bullets do not permanently stop Victor. They “hurt” him (as much as bullets can hurt a ghost, I suppose) and slow him down but he keeps on charging like a bulldozer. It would have been more fun if the hunters were eventually forced to use weapons that they were not comfortable with. Still, they keep shooting as if they have unlimited bullets like in video games.

Meanwhile, I slowly found myself not caring about what would happen next. “Hatchet II” fails to gain momentum, one that is suspenseful and thrilling, as it moves toward the inevitable messy chopping of limbs.

Final Destination 5


Final Destination 5 (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

A group of co-workers were on their way to a retreat that would supposedly help them become a better team. But when Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) was somehow able to see the future involving the collapse of the suspension bridge their bus was on as well as the deaths of his colleagues, he grabbed his girlfriend, Molly (Emma Bell), got off the vehicle in a panic, and a walked away from the impending disaster. Gymnast Candice (Ellen Wroe), lubricious Isaac (P.J. Byrne), myopic Olivia (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), patient Nathan (Arien Escarpeta), whistleblower Dennis (David Koechner), and mercurial Peter (Miles Fisher) followed paranoid Sam to safety. Sure enough, the survivors, dubbed “Lucky 8” by the news, started to die in the order in which they were supposed to on that bridge. Written by Eric Heisserer and Jeffrey Reddick, “Final Destination 5” was like its other sequels with one scintillating detail. Bludworth (Tony Todd), a recurring character in the series as a mysterious coroner, informed Sam and his friends on how to quench Death’s thirst. With this knowledge in mind, we got to observe, at least in the latter half of the film, how the characters turned against each other, as well as possibly forcing strangers into the mix, because they wanted to live. Yet even when we were presented with a solution, the execution wasn’t strong enough. This could be partly attributed to a weakly established protagonist with a motivation as shallow as a dog’s. After each death scene, the picture relegated to the hackneyed romance between Sam and Molly. During the first scene, the Molly broke up with Sam. Naturally, the latter was very confused because, at least from his point of view, everything seemed to be going well. Later, we came to discover that she felt she needed to break the relationship for Sam. It turned out that her ex-boyfriend was offered an internship as a chef in Paris, but he wouldn’t accept it if Molly was to remain in America. The romance was not only a sophomoric attempt to get us to care, such scenes slowed down the picture’s momentum immensely. They were good at pouting and giving each other puppy dog eyes but none of these qualities contributed to the horror and the suspense. Why must there always be a couple fighting for their love in just about every other horror movie? If it’s not necessary, it’s an easy way to fill up the minutes with junk. What I wanted to see were more scenes that built up to one character inevitably meeting his or her grizzly demise. There was a dark sense of humor in the deaths. I especially liked the massage parlor with the acupuncture needles and the LASIK surgery scenes. They got under my skin, in a good way, because I have a fear of allowing someone else, like a masseuse or an eye surgeon, to be in charge of my body. Range was also present. Some deaths were quick and painless (only appearing to be painful with all that blood on the floor) while some were slow and almost unimaginable. Directed by Steven Quale, “Final Destination 5” was forebodingly formulaic but the deaths contained enough imagination. If the romance was completely excised in place of the main character actually doing something relevant to stay alive, it would have been more exciting.

Candyman


Candyman (1992)
★ / ★★★★

Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) and Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams) were graduate students who became increasingly involved in a series of murders in the projects. Word went around that if one said “Candyman” five times while alone in the bathroom, Candyman (Tony Todd) would appear and kill the daring summoner in the most gruesome way possible. Was it simply an urban legend designed to scare those who lived in the violent neighborhood or was there something darker that needed to be explored and revealed? Based on the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker, “Candyman” failed to generate genuine scares because it neglected to define what was fantasy and what was reality, and it was plagued by characters who were supposedly smart but almost always chose the stupid decision when the occasion called for it. Take Helen for example. Despite the murders, she decided to drag her friend to the scene of the crime without taking any sort of precaution. She had no knowledge about the people who lived in the projects or how to effectively communicate with those connected to the infamous murders. She only had one thing in mind: She had to take pictures in order to avoid a “boring thesis.” Nevermind the men who could easily get their way with them. Nevermind offending those who just wanted to move on from the grizzly incidents. When Helen seemed to descent into madness, there were a plethora of unintentionally funny moments. As she awoke covered in blood with no memory of how she got there, she decided to pick up a meat cleaver next to a beheaded dog. Did it not occur to her that what she just touched could potentially be the murder weapon and she was getting her fingerprints all over it? And were we expected to believe that a baby that Candyman abducted could live for over a month without food or water? After all, the film eventually implied that Candyman was only real in Helen’s mind. There were many glaring inconsistencies so I was constantly taken out of the experience. The writing was weak and the direction was no better. There were more than a handful of unnecessary shots of bees which were designed to give us the creeps, Candyman’s face appeared on the screen to make us jump out of our seats, and nonsensical decisions placed too conveniently to trigger one set of events to another. Directed by Bernard Rose, “Candyman” lacked genuine tension and suspenseful sequences that basic horror films should have. It would have been an entirely different experience if the writing was more focused and, more importantly, if the graduate students thought and acted like excellent detectives instead of blond sorority girls typically slayed early on in standard slasher flicks.