Notes from the back row 

Demons and more demons

It might be summer blockbuster season at the theatres but when you see a horror movie called Shrooms in the video store, you kinda have to give it a shot. Or at least, I do.

Shrooms is about a group of American students who, inexplicably, fly to Ireland for the sole purpose of getting high in the woods on magic mushrooms. The female lead eats a "Death's Head" mushroom and gains horrorific powers enabling her to see the future and watch her character-cliché friends get picked off one by one at the hands of either inbred Hills-Have-Eyes types or a spooky Blair-Witch knockoff, it's unclear. Even at just 84 minutes Shrooms is one of the worst B-grade slasher flicks I've seen this year, with an ending that will make you want to smash your head in with the blunt end of an axe. But the filmmakers get points for the visuals, which do a pretty decent job of living up to the subject matter - lots of breathing trees and peripheral demons.

Sticking with the demon theme, Angels and Demons opens Friday at the Village 8 and is Ron Howard's latest effort at 'filming' a Dan Brown novel. The last attempt was The Da Vinci Code, and this one also stars Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon - a symbologist who exposed the church's greatest cover-up, yet now must save the Vatican from the evil forces of the Illuminati, an ancient secret society of masons and science-minded folks who may or may not be running the world in this day and age. Plus there is some super-duper scientific "God Particle" anti-matter about to explode at any minute and kill everyone before they can pick a new pope.

Luckily, Langdon is also an expert on the entire political, religious, social and artistic history of the Catholic Church and he doesn't mind spending a few hours of your time explaining it. There is plenty of talking in this one, interrupted by lots of running and swelling music.

The problem with the flick, like Da Vinci Code, is the source material - cool historical theories meshed into half-decent thriller stories - put in the hands of the wrong director. Angels and Demons has a ton of interesting concepts (all based on real theories or fact) but it just isn't a very good suspense movie. Sure it is tricky to cram a full book into a film and the writers take some of the blame but Ron Howard, who is a comedy or drama guy ( Parenthood, Apollo 13, Splash ) ultimately drops the ball.

The DVD of the week is a pretty bad-ass French horror film called Martyrs . The French are fearless and will take things much further than directors over here - try and sit through the 13-minute rape scene in Irreversible if you don't believe me. Martyrs belongs in a similar category, with parts of it so horrifying and drawn out that a good 50 per cent of viewers will probably turn it off, but those who survive are given a flick that surprises, undermines, and evokes philosophical musings on the nature of evil, victimhood, death and beyond. This is a torture movie but not to be put in the same category as Saw or Hostel or even the also French-made High Tension . Martyrs is much more brutal but director Pascal Laugier has crafted a film that transcends the "torture porn" genre with themes and images (and a good open ending) that, like it or not, will stick with you for days. The real demons walk among us.

The internet trailer of the week is for Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. Might as well give Debbie Gibson the Oscar right now (

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