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Four Thrillers from First Look

Blood Gnome (July 20/05)

As far as straight-to-video horror flicks go, you could probably do a lot worse than Blood Gnome. Having said that, though, the film is peppered with a whole host of problems - including cheap, low-rent visuals, awful supporting performances, and entirely unconvincing monsters - that eventually turn it into an interminable experience. The story revolves around Daniel, a crime scene technician (played by Vincent Bilancio) who - in the process of investigating several bizarre murders - uncovers a dominatrix's plot to allow blood-thirsty demons from an alternate dimension to enter our world. In an effort to understand the S&M lifestyle, Daniel hooks up with Divinity (Melissa Pursley) - another dominatrix who may or may not be in on the unholy scheme. Blood Gnome has been written and directed by John Lechago, and despite his best efforts at imbuing the film with some style, there just aren't enough elements here to keep things interesting for 87 minutes. It certainly doesn't help that the movie is set amidst the world of S&M, which only adds to the vibe of unpleasantness.

out of

Close Your Eyes (January 14/05)

Close Your Eyes is a surprisingly effective little thriller dealing with the occult, a topic that's generally about as interesting as a root canal. Goran Visnjic stars as a hypnotherapist named Michael Strother, who - after experiencing an unusual vision while treating a detective (played by Shirley Henderson) - finds himself embroiled in a case involving a cult that injects victims with a blood type that isn't their own (thus killing them). Close Your Eyes features a storyline that's almost impossible to decipher, and yet the film remains engaging - primarily thanks to director Nick Willing's keen sense of style and Visnjic's charismatic lead performance. The film's emphasis on ambiance and character development makes it easy enough to overlook the fact that none of this makes a whole lot of sense, and in fact, the movie is even a little reminiscent of John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness (though it's not quite as effective). As far as the film's gore quotient goes, there's a really impressive bit of nastiness towards the end that rivals Zombie's eye-splinter sequence in terms of sheer repulsiveness. Close Your Eyes is far from perfect - the pace is, at times, almost unbearably slow - but there's no denying that the film's positives far outweigh the negatives (and, if nothing else, makes it absolutely clear that Visnjic should be a much bigger star).

out of

Parasite (July 21/05)

Parasite is essentially Aliens on an oil rig, with the sole twist being that the monsters aren't actually from another planet (they're the unexpected result of an experimental cleaning fluid). The story kicks off with a research scientist forced into traveling to said oil rig by her smarmy boss (a smug pencil-pusher named Reiser, who's undoubtedly been inspired by Paul Reiser's character in Aliens), where a ragtag group of engineers are waiting. Needless to say, it's not long before the victims start piling up, leaving the survivors with no choice but to blow up the rig. Parasite is generally shrouded in darkness, ostensibly to create a sense of mood but is clearly in place to disguise the exceedingly poor computer effects (those monsters couldn't possibly look more fake). The film seems to consists almost entirely of dull, overly talky sequences in which the characters either try to figure out what's going on or how to escape. This is, admittedly, preferable to Parasite's third act, which - aside from being incredibly incoherent - is mind-numbingly repetitive, as we follow the survivors as they walk down one dark corridor or air duct after another in an effort to find the exit. Even in the realm of gore - the one area a movie like this should excel in - the film comes up short, cutting away just at the moment the monster goes in for the kill. It's obvious that the filmmakers just didn't have enough money to do this sort of movie properly - so the question is, why'd they even bother?

out of

Target (July 21/05)

Target is a typically silly straight-to-video actioner, featuring ludicrous dialogue (ie "you're dead, you just don't know it yet!"), a foreign villain that hates America and everything it stands for, and Stephen Baldwin. Baldwin stars as Charlie Snow, a special forces operative who has just returned to America after a botched operation overseas. He doesn't get to rest for long, though, as the brother of one of the men Charlie killed has kidnapped his wife and is also threatening to take his children. With the help of an old colleague (James Russo), Charlie must stop the diabolical madman before it's too late. Target is kind of entertaining but mostly stupid, and for a so-called action flick, the film is seriously lacking in actual action. Far too much screentime is devoted to scenes in which Baldwin's character wanders from place to place, occasionally taking time out to interact with random hobos, street performers, and talkative children. And as for the film's central villain, it's hard to imagine just what his plan was; initially, Charlie is sent on a series of errands, Die Hard with a Vengeance style. But it's not long before Charlie goes off the grid, leaving the goon and his cronies scrambling to locate him. As far as cinematic baddies go, this guy is particularly moronic. In terms of the performances, Baldwin is fine - although the actor imbues Charlie with a stiff, oddly mechanical walk (which is meant to make him look tougher, I suppose). Target might appeal to fans of generic action flicks, but really, there's a reason the film's gone straight to video.

out of

About the DVDs: All four of these films arrive on DVD courtesy of First Look Home Entertainment, and all are presented in their original aspect ratio. While Parasite doesn't come with any bonus features, the rest contain either behind-the-scenes footage or commentary (or both, in the case of Blood Gnome).
© David Nusair