Archive for Katie Cassidy

When a Stranger Calls (2006) Review

Posted in When a Stranger Calls (2006) with tags , , , on September 17, 2013 by Last Road Reviews

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WHEN A STRANGER CALLS

** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- Evil Hits Home

Release Date- February 3rd, 2006

Running Time- 90-Minutes

Rating- PG-13

Screenplay- Jake Wade Wall

Director- Simon West

Starring- Camilla Belle, Tommy Flanagan, Katie Cassidy, Derek de Lint, Brian Geraghty

Some reviews I’ve read cite the PG-13 rating as the problem and I totally disagree. While many of the great horror films are R-rated the problem the horror genre has is graphic violence and gore has become a cheap gimmick to cover up lazy filmmaking. Also if you go back to the original despite its R-rating it isn’t very graphic and more importantly the opening act of the original When a Stranger Calls is what everyone mentions about the film even those that disliked the rest of the film will mention the opening and the opening act featured no violence and no gore it was just an amazing set up with great filmmaking. So the problems of the remake have nothing to do with the rating as it does poor writing and weak directing. Again go back to the opening act of the original it’s downright chilling with zero violence. Even with an R-rating the film would hardly be any better; there are plenty of terrible R-rated films as well so really when all is said and done When a Stranger Calls has much deeper problems besides its rating.

I wasn’t expecting a modern masterpiece, but I did expect more. The babysitter is danger film isn’t anything new as besides the original film we saw this in 1971 with the cult classic Fright starring Susan George as well as the 1978 TV film Are You Alone in the House and both those films (in particular Are You Alone in the House) seemed to have a bit of an influence on When a Stranger Calls and of course the most famous babysitter in danger film is probably John Carpenter’s Halloween, which differs though from the films I mentioned. I’ve seen this film a couple of times and honestly I don’t think the film is as terrible as its reputation, but with that said it wasn’t very good either. Everything you see here is by the books and uses cheap set ups to create suspense, which might have worked well decades ago when these were fresh techniques, but now they just show lack of creativity.

The remake basically takes the opening act and stretches it out to a full length film, which basically leads to a lot of nothing happening. Prior to When a Stranger Calls being remade there were some saying if there ever was one it should base it on the opening and well be-careful what you wish for. Jill Johnson (Belle) heads off to a house in the middle of nowhere to babysit for a rich family. Not long after arriving she begins to get strange phone calls. She than finds out the calls are coming from inside the house and the chase is on.

No offense to Jake Wade Wall, but he isn’t a very good writer and the fact he writes generic titles is perfect for Hollywood. Most people blame the writers and directors for remakes but its mostly the studios behind it as well as some producers. But for young and or struggling filmmakers remakes are a good way to put you on the map. However creativity goes out the window unless its a remake by name only. In the case of When a Stranger Calls as well as Wall’s other remake the Hitcher he already had the groundwork presented and merely does a rewrite, which any screenwriter could have done. The only time the script really differs from the original is the idiotic and tacked on ending. This title is just so generic and again perfect for Hollywood and the reason Wall gets work cause it sure isn’t his talents. Remaking the opening act might sound like a good idea, but it leads to very little happening in the middle, and Wall isn’t good enough of a writer to keep this interesting since his characters lack depth and seem like they’re ripped out from other films like this. Characters have zero personality despite the best efforts of the cast and while I’m never one to trash people in my reviews, but its quite sad so many great writers struggle to get their scripts produced and yet Jake Wade Wall gets his scripts made.

Director Simon West delivers a sluggishly paced film where it seems each scene had the same basic set up as the last. Strange noises, wind blowing outside, which the main character goes to investigate and repeat this over and over again. While a nice idea its far too cliched to really entice any suspense as its horror filmmaking 101. Each scene, West attempts at creating suspense and I won’t knock him for that, but the problem is besides being cliched there is never really any kind of payoff. John Carpenter’s Halloween and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street come to mind on films that had a layer of suspense from opening to closing and even in scenes with just talk had this eerie feel. So I don’t exactly mean the lack of deaths here is why there isn’t any payoff as the two films I just mentioned feature very low body counts, but When a Stranger Calls never has that eerie feel despite an excellent and isolated setting. Without the closing credits the film clocks in at 84-minutes and Jill shows up to babysit at the 13-minute mark, which means about 20-minutes of the original is stretched out to 71-minutes so therefore there is a lot of padding, which can also be blamed on Jake Wade Wall, but Simon West never really sets up any kind of tone despite attempting to. At the end of the day the direction is brought down by being far too cliched, which causes any of the suspense to fall flat.

As much as I enjoyed the original the plot can lead to some problems. Unlike films such as Black Christmas or Scream, which also deal with phone calls, When a Stranger Calls as well as the other films I mentioned such as Fright and Are You Alone in the House feature a babysitter getting mysterious phone calls and how the plot is presented they aren’t body count films (Black Christmas & Scream are better than body count films) but my point is those films are in a different style and I think stretching out the opening act of the original while on paper a good idea, but leads to a whole lot of nothing happening whereas the original had a little more depth.

As for the cast Tommy Flanagan lacks the eerie presence of Tony Beckley who played the stranger in the original. Camilla Belle fairs a bit better as Jill and while she’s very attractive her performance ranges from ok to good, but very much lacks when compared to Carol Kane.

Overall When a Stranger Calls isn’t a very good film, but its also not as horrible as some of the reviews have made it out to be. Again the film is just far too cliched in direction and the very subpar script sink this film. While it can make for a decent time killer I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it. With a little more originality the film could have turned out to be a decent remake rather than a bellwether average thriller.

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Black Christmas (06) Review

Posted in Black Christmas (2006), Christmas Themed Horror Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2012 by Last Road Reviews

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BLACK CHRISTMAS

** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- Terror Is Coming Home for the Holidays

Release Date- December 25th, 2006

Running Time- 92-Minutes

Rating- R

Writer/Director- Glen Morgan

Starring- Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Kristen Cloke, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Lacey Chabert, Crystal Lowe, Oliver Hudson and Andrea Martin as Barbara MacHenry

Horror purists weren’t too happy about a remake to Bob Clark’s 1974 cult classic Black Christmas and with good reason, but I’m actually not against remakes for the most part, now that doesn’t mean I like the idea that every classic and cult classic has to get a remake, but really remakes are no different than the sequels that dominated the 80s and 90s; both are made to cash in on the success of another movie the only difference is one continues the story the other starts it over. Black Christmas for the longest time was an almost forgotten movie, but over the years it gained a massive cult following and in time that audience grew larger and larger.

Don’t go in expecting the remake to be anything like the original; truth it outside of a few aspects Black Christmas 06 is a totally different movie and feels more like a remake of your run of the mill mid to late 80s slasher flick. Everything that made the original film such a classic of the genre is nowhere to be found in the remake and while the original Black Christmas is prime example on how to make a horror film the remake is one of those movies that sort of falls into the category of so bad its good, well sort of.

What made the original so great was the fact writer Roy Moore doesn’t explain every last detail to the viewer and Billy was very much a mystery. If you listen to what Billy says you can get some insight, but not the whole story, you get just enough info again to get some insight into his psychotic mind, but it still keeps the character mysterious or you can just see what Billy says has nothing more than rants by someone who is clearly insane, but Glen Morgan creates a whole backstory for Billy and thus takes away any mystery the character had in the original. I wouldn’t want Morgan to simply do a rewrite of Roy Moore’s script, but I think he missed what made it such a wonderful screenplay; Billy and Agnes are explained in full detail, but the worst part is the backstory, which was idiotic and silly.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween also had a backstory, but in my opinion at the end of the day Michael was still Michael, but in Black Christmas everything that made Billy so chilling is lost and the phone calls in the movie were rather pointless since everything is already explained the phone calls offer nothing for the movie and feel as if they are just there for the sake of it.

Glen Morgan has done some good work and he’s best known for writing episodes of the X-Files and Final Destination, but as I stated before with his script for Black Christmas he missed everything that made the original so excellent. The characters in the original may not have been the best developed, but they were interesting and had their own identity, but in the remake all the characters are so miserable they’re better off dead and they are all basically the same. Kelli (Cassidy) is the only character that sort of stands out from the rest and is fairly likeable. The screenplay by Morgan very much has faceless victims; at least in the original you could maybe root for some of them whereas here the sooner they die the better.

As director Glen Morgan fairs just as bad; the original Black Christmas had a great sense of eerie atmosphere and always had the feel of looming danger, but Glen Morgan never establishes any sort of tone for the movie and he seemed unsure if he wanted to make a campy flick or a suspenseful flick. Everything in the direction is sloppy with zero suspense. Also despite running at 82-minutes (not counting the credits) it does feel a bit longer than that. Based on interviews it was clear Glen Morgan had no passion for the project and the very much shows in his lifeless direction. He’s stated he’s making a movie the audience wants with gore and jump scares and while sadly this is what the audience wants I think they also want a scary flick something this film sure as hell wasn’t. If the original Black Christmas was made today I’m sure the movie would most likely flop and be called boring by the idiot audience so I understand where Glen Morgan was coming from. But that doesn’t mean he still can’t create any suspense or some kind of eerie tone for the movie. Many of the early 80s slasher flicks like My Bloody Valentine would balance gore with legit attempts at suspense, but Black Christmas only gets the gore done right.

The backstory comes out so idiotic I couldn’t help, but laugh at most of it and the problem I had though was I wasn’t quite clear if it was meant to be comedic. I honestly can’t believe for a second that Glen Morgan thought any of this was scary or creepy, but regardless the way it comes out it’s not clear if it was meant to be campy and that’s just sloppy direction. Everything that happens in the movie I refuse to believe Glen Morgan ever had any intention of making a movie that was scary or suspenseful in any way what so ever. Black Christmas is a very poor made flick, which was surprising since even though I didn’t love Willard I thought it was fairly good and at least well made, but what the hell happened here?

After Willard was a box office flop it made it tough for Glen Morgan to get another job directing and I understand in Hollywood you need success if you wanna keep working, but I can’t respect Glen Morgan for totally selling out and pissing all over the original. By no means do I think the remake in anyways tarnishes the legacy of the original since the movie will always be there for us to view, but it does disrespect everything that made the original the classic chiller it is. Typically in my reviews no matter how negative a review I write I always try and add some positives to the filmmaking, but Glen Morgan doesn’t deserve any credit. If he went into this film with a passion for it I’d ease up, but all he cared about was a paycheck.

The kill scenes are pretty much the same over and over again, but at least there was a decent level of gore something this movie very much needed. When the victims are stabbed it’s done repeatedly and so over the top, which only makes it more hysterical and in no way scary. For some reason Glen Morgan decided to make Billy a cannibal and these scenes are probably the funniest; with the idiotic kill scenes and cannibal Billy it can provide some decent laughs intentional or not.

The cast was fairly good and slasher flicks are often known for having some very hot women and Black Christmas is no different; all the girls are hot and at least we have something nice to look at with all the idiotic moments. The performances are about the only thing really positive about the movie and while none of the performances were great or anything they are strong enough and make the material a little better than how it turned out. All the actors play their roles straight, which does also make it a little funny since everything around them is so absurd, which brings me back to what I said earlier on how Glen Morgan’s direction was unclear on what he was trying to make.

Despite my review on Black Christmas I actually didn’t hate the movie since it’s so idiotic that sometimes that makes the movie fairly entertaining. This is the kind of movie you sit back and just laugh at how idiotic everything happening on screen is, so the movie does provide a little bit of fun. Black Christmas sort of plays out like a parody of the original even if that wasn’t the intention or was it? Based on my first viewing I found the movie idiotic, but a little bit of fun whereas now I just find the movie mostly idiotic. Overall Black Christmas has some fun moments, but overall it’s mostly a dud and an insult to the original. While I can’t really recommend this, but if in the right mood it can provide some laughs due to the horrid filmmaking.

And despite my negative review I would actually watch this again since again its poor, but can also be fun at times.

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