Frankenstein's Army (2013)
Director: Richard Raaphorst
Writers: Chris W. Mitchell, Richard Raaphorst, Miguel Tejada-Flores
Cast: Karel Roden, Joshua Sasse, Robert Gwilym
Runtime: 84 minutes

Synopsis: A group of Russian soldiers answer a distress call in the middle nowhere. Guess what? It's a trap filled with diabolical monsters.

Thoughts: I love outlandish monster movies, and I adore violent war flicks. So you'd think director Richard Raaphorst's action/horror hybrid Frankenstein's Army would appeal directly to my warped cinematic sensibilities. Unfortunately, I was never completely sold on the whole World War II-era "found footage" concept. What's worse, Raaphorst tried to generate some misguided suspense by taking his sweet time getting to the good stuff. Unfortunately, it just makes this 84 minute adventure seem much, much longer. When the creatures finally make their on-screen appearance, at least they're a feast for the eyes. The fact that you only catch small glimpses of these abominations is a wise move considering the filmmakers probably didn't have a huge budget at their disposal. Sadly, Frankenstein's Army is just too clunky to warrant repeat viewings. The monsters are cool and the effects are solid, but the movie itself never really comes together. A valiant effort, though it misses the mark more often than not.

Recipe For Mediocrity: One Very Slow Opening + Raaphorst's Questionable Decision to Make This a Found Footage Flick + An Extremely Silly Final Shot

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Nightmare City (1980)
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Writers: Antonio Cesare Corti, Luis MarĂ­a Delgado, Piero Regnoli
Cast: Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaria Omaggio
Runtime: 92 minutes

Synopsis: Murderous mutant freaks are unleashed on an Italian city. Only a bearded reporter stands between us and the end of the world. Don't hold your breath.

Thoughts: I was pretty excited when Netflix added director Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City to its streaming service. Although I'd heard a lot about the movie, I'd never had the opportunity to watch it. Imagine my surprise when what I thought was a serious horror flick shot a steamy load of hot cinematic cheese directly into my gaping maw. The film brazenly fills your beautiful brain with silly depictions of Italian government officials and sleazy TV dance programs that are inexplicably overrun by a violent band of homicidal goons. The experience is essentially a zombie flick with unstable freaks in place of shambling corpses. My enjoyment of the picture was based solely on its penchant for over-the-top goofiness as opposed to its ability to deliver straightforward horror. I can't say that Nightmare City is a good movie, but it's certainly entertaining. At the end of the day, that's all I can really ask for in a motion picture. Definitely worth streaming.

Recipe For Success: Deformed Mutants Bothering Naked Women + Lackluster Government Response to Outrageous Scenarios + One Ridiculous Ending

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Raze (2013)
Director: Josh C. Waller
Writers: Robert Beaucage, Kenny Gage, Josh C. Waller
Cast: Zoe Bell, Rachel Nichols, Tracie Thoms
Runtime: 87 Minutes

Synopsis: A secret organization kidnaps women and forces them to fight against their will. Not surprisingly, they're completely unhappy about the idea.

Thoughts: If you're looking for an action movie about female empowerment, then you should probably search elsewhere. Director Josh C. Waller's Raze is about women beating the crap out of each other for our twisted amusement. Thankfully, the movie is completely and thoroughly entertaining for all the right reasons. Of course, it's doubtful this admittedly stale material would have worked without the presence of the always-enjoyable Zoe Bell. The lady is simply a pleasure to watch on-screen, especially when she has an opportunity to act. Raze gives Bell a chance to stretch her legs a bit, though most of her time is spend pummeling women into the dirt. Which, of course, is exactly what everyone paid to see. Unfortunately, the flick has a surprisingly downbeat ending that pops up at the last possible second. It's probably the producers way of ensuring some sort of sequel, but its jarring nonetheless. Still, Raze is an incredible fight flick worthy of investigation from those who like their action cinema filled with attractive women.

Recipe For Success: Zoe Bell + Zoe Bell Punching Women in the Face + Doug Jones Doing His Best "Creepy Guy" Routine

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Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
Director: Peter Strickland
Writer: Peter Strickland
Cast: Toby Jones, Antonio Mancino, Guido Adorni
MPAA Rating: R

Synopsis: A mild-mannered sound engineer heads to Italy to work on a very graphic horror movie. It doesn't take long for the flick to start messing with his mind.

Thoughts: I'm sure a lot of people will think that I completely missed the point of writer/director Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio, and perhaps they're right. The movie is a slow, plodding, and frequently boring mess that desperately wants horror nerds to think it's a deep, cerebral experience. Sure, the sound design is spot-on and Toby Jones is wonderful as always, but Strickland does absolutely nothing with all the atmosphere and tension he creates. I stuck with the flick till the bitter end in hopes that all of this nonsense was building towards something profound. Unfortunately, all you're going to get is a movie for sound design aficionados and people who indiscriminately consume experiences that are mistakenly labeled as Lynchian. Berberian Sound Studio is one of the biggest disappointments I had in 2013. If you're one of the people who recommended this movie to me, then don't bother suggesting anything else.

Recipe For Disaster: A Heaping Helping of Cinematic Pretension + One Wasted Performance by Toby Jones + Confusion for the Sake of Confusion is Always Boring

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Open Grave (2013)
Director: Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego
Writer: Chris Borey, Eddie Borey
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Joseph Morgan, Thomas Kretschmann
MPAA Rating: R

Synopsis: A man wakes up in the middle of nowhere inside a mass grave filled the bodies. To make matters worse, he has no idea who he is. Enlightenment soon follows.

Thoughts: I don't have a very high opinion of cinematic horror these days, which is why I walked into Open Grave with serious reservations. Much to my surprise, this taut little thriller is easily one of the best genre flicks I've encountered all year. The whole memory loss angle isn't anything new, but Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and the Boreys do a fine job making this plot device seem fresh and exciting. As always, Sharlto Copley is spot-on. Watching the guy work is always a blast, especially when he gets to dive into roles that aren't as over-the-top as his work in District 9 and Elysium. The final shot of the movie lingers in your brain for days, though I'm crossing my fingers that the filmmakers don't try to force a sequel on us. Open Grave ends right where it needs to, and a follow-up would simply cheapen the overall experience. If you have an opportunity to see this on the big screen, don't hesitate for a second. It's razor sharp.

Recipe For Success: One Extremely Well-Written Script + Sharlto Copley + A Memory Loss Movie That Doesn't Treat the Audience Like Morons

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