Monday, September 1, 2014

Dead Before Dawn 3D (Canada, 2012)

Plot: so, what do we got? The almost eternally slumming Christopher Lloyd — see Piranha 3D (2010 / trailer) &  Piranha 3DD (2013 / trailer) — doing his patented Doc Brown schtick as Horus Galloway, the owner of Occult Barn, who asks his milquetoast grandson Casper Galloway (Devon Bostick of The Hidden 3D [2011 / trailer]) to mind the store while he is away. Casper, out to impress a babe named Charlotte Baker (Martha MacIsaac of the extremely unnecessary Last House on the Left remake [2009 / trailer]) and "friends", drops an urn containing a demon spirit which, instead of being happy about being freed, curses the giggling group of disbelieving (much-too-old-for) high-school kids: as of 10 PM, anyone they have eye contact with will kill themselves and turn into a zombie and... Well, needless to say, long before dawn the whole town is walking dead. Can the young adults end the curse and save the world?

Trailers, how we hate them. You see one somewhere and think, "Wow! That looks like my kind of film!" and then you finally see the frigging movie and feel more disappointed than, dunno, the day you found out there really isn't a Santa Claus.
According to Bloody Disgusting, Dead Before Dawn 3D, directed by April Mullen of Niagara Falls, "the youngest and only woman ever to direct a film of this kind", is also "the first live-action, fully Canadian Stereoscopic 3D feature". We would hazard to guess that it is also the first and only zom-com to have been made at Niagara Falls, and while it is not the only zombie or zom-com film that we know of to have been made in Canada — Pontypool (2008 / trailer), a zombie film, and Fido (2006 / trailer), a zom-com, both come promptly to mind — we are fairly sure that it does lay claim to being the first Canadian zom-com that sucks.
OK, maybe it doesn't suck like Linda Lovelace or Little Oral Annie, but it does suck in a micro-penis kind of way: as a zombie film, it never scares and keeps the gore low, and as a comedy, the laughs are too few. It is mildly diverting at best, the chuckles and rare belly laugh — yes, it has some of both, but too few of either — over-shadowed by the all-too-regular groans. And while two or three characters do eventually become endearing — ebay-cup-dealer Seth Munday (played by scriptwriter Tim Doiron), semi-goth good girl babe with moxie Becky Fords (played by director April Mullen) and brainless cheerleader Lucy Winthrop (Brittany Allen), to be exact — most never transcend their stereotype and the movie on a whole never truly becomes fun to watch. True, it becomes a bit more bearable after the curse hits, but then stumbles in a big way at the resolution, ending not with a bang or a wimper but, as it started: predictably, and with a groaner.
Take away the demon bit, toss out the totally unnecessary 3D effects, and all that's left is a blood-lite "horror" comedy that not only suffers from too much contrivance and too many unconvincing stock characters — beware actor Brandon Jay McLaren (of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil [2010 / trailer]), lest you become doomed to always play the obligatory Afro-American/Canadian character, eternally out of place amongst a circle of lily-white middle-class stereotypes* — but that has, if you get down to it, been done way better before in much funnier films, both "big budget" (Zombieland [2009] and Warm Bodies [2013 / trailer]), low budget (Return of the Living Dead [1985 / trailer]), and indie (Dead & Breakfast [2004 / trailer] and Zombies of Mass Destruction [2009 / trailer]).
We came away from Dead Before Dawn 3D seriously regretting that we hadn't simply re-watched Dance of the Dead (2008 / trailer) instead — which is what you should do.

*A typecasting all the more glaring, actually, in the disappointing TV series Harper's Island (trailer), in which he is the only non-WASP amongst a huge gathering of the type of inbred white folks who not only don't usually know any Black people, but also find Asians and South Americans not proper as dinner guests. On Harper's Island, however, it must be said that the filmmakers at least not only kept him around longer than most minorities ever survive on-screen, but he developed into one of the most fully-rounded, believable and likeable of all the characters.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Short Film: Balloon Land (USA, 1935)

Aka The Pincushion Man. Way back in 2012, while researching the old Max Fleischer cartoon Bimbo's Initiation (USA, 1931), which we presented as the Short Film of the Month for January 2013, we came upon the entertaining online article 5 Old Children's Cartoons Way Darker Than Most Horror Movies, whence we found Swing You Sinners (1930), our Short Film of the Month for October 2013. And now, here, yet another bat-shit crazy short from days long gone by that we were led to by, a masterpiece of a drug-addled kiddy cartoon by the great Ub Iwerks (24 March 1902 — 7 July 1971) — who, by the way, not only co-created Mickey Mouse but was the creative power behind our Short Film of the Month for March 2010, The Skeleton Dance (USA, 1929). 
Balloon Land is one of 25 animated short films making up the ComiColor Cartoon oeuvre, which Iwerks produced between 1933 and 36 using "Cinecolor"; Iwerks studio folded soon thereafter and he spent the rest of his life working for others — among his roster of achievements: the special effects to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963 / trailer), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. (On a less prestigious note, but concerning the short Balloon Land and not Iwerks: Balloon Land is seen in one of the all-time great bad films that help make Ed Wood Jr look like Orson Wells, The Devil's Gift [1984 / trailer]).
The more generally famous animator Chuck Jones, who worked for Iwerk early in his career, once said that "Iwerks is Screwy [Skrewi] spelled backwards." And while Iwerk's last name is real (i.e., inherited from his father, Eert Ubbe Iwerks), in idea Jones is conveying is the truth — and Balloon Land is perhaps one of Iwerks' screwiest cartoons of all. It is also, as points out in a paragraph entitled Condom People vs. The Masturbating Monster, oddly perverse from frame one: "Right from the title screen, this 1935 cartoon [...] lets you know there's going to be a somewhat disturbing recurrent motif in the story. Let's see if you can spot it."
The short opens with an illustrative presentation of the reproductive processes of the Balloon People, followed by an educational ditty fit for a horror movie: "Now beware, have a care, you're just filled with air, a single pin would rip your skin, and the Pincushion Man in the forest there would pop you both if you don't take care." 
Needless to say, like any good bodycount film, no matter how short, the incredulous youth wander off to look for the mythical killer and find him: a psychopathic perve who kills just 'cause he can and who looks literally like he is either always sticking the tip of his sharp prick in his nose or is poking his pointy member at kids or strangers. We can't help but ask, "What drugs were they one when they thought this one up?"
Of course, like so many films of the day (and long before and long after [see, for example, our Short Film of the Month for May 2013, Jasper and the Haunted House]), the mandatory, offensively racist stereotype can't be skipped — neither the Balloon Man who lets the psycho into Balloon Land nor the second victim of Pincushion Man's rampage would look out of place eating fried chicken in a watermelon patch.
These two offensive aspects are part of the appeal of Balloon Land, our Short Film of the Month for August 2013. We're sure you'll find other appealing aspects when you watch the short yorself. Enjoy.
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