Embodiment Of Evil (2008)

JANUARY 31, 2009

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL, WEIRD
SOURCE: DVD (SCREENER)

A few months back, a friend put on a copy of Embodiment Of Evil (Brazilian: Encarnação do Demônio), the long-awaited proper return of Coffin Joe (director/star José Mojica Marins). It was after a open bar party, it was 3 in the morning and it was subtitled, so you can guess how much of the film I actually saw (hint: none). So I jumped at the chance to watch it “again”, at 1230 in the afternoon (and fully sober). And I am glad I did, because this is easily the best Joe film yet, and proves that Marins hasn’t lost his touch or his edge.

Since the plot is the same as always, let’s just run down a list of a few highlights. Joe dips a woman’s face into a bowl full of cockroaches. Joe cuts a woman’s ass cheek off and then feeds it to her (more on her later). Joe has a vision in which an albino takes him on a tour of a woman’s vagina, and then later some sort of desert landscape in which women are feasting on male genitalia. And in the film’s most horrifying (read: applause worthy) moment, Joe shows what you can do with some melted butter, a rat, and a vaginal entrance. Needless to say, this is hardly some sort of politically correct “modernized” Joe - if anything, it makes the other films look downright tame in comparison.

What’s cool is that it actually follows the other films (though how he survived the finale of This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse is a bit of a mystery - he is shown to simply have been in jail for 40 years). Joe (no one calls him Ze in this one, though that might just be a subtitling decision) is haunted by victims from the previous films, and while the film is in full color, their ghostly apparitions are in black and white, which is a terrific visual. He also resurrects Bruno, the loyal hunchback assistant - a nice touch that I wouldn’t have appreciated had I watched the film a few months back, as I hadn’t yet seen the first two.

The only real flaw is that an intriguing plot point is set up early on - Joe meets a woman who is seemingly his equal, rambling about perfection, the ineffectiveness of religion, etc (Joe’s crazy talk is as wonderfully nutty as ever). But after she willingly eats her own ass cheek as part of her “I will prove I am worthy to have your son” test, she disappears from the film entirely until the very end. I was really hoping to see him interact with this seemingly perfect woman, but instead the film follows the same pattern as Corpse, with Joe kidnapping, testing, and then fucking various women, while being pursued by angry townsfolk and yelling about God a lot.

Also there’s no poker game, which bummed me out.

But the movie is so gonzo (and gory!) that you might not even really notice the things that are missing. Joe’s re-introduction to the world is handled well (and hilariously - he is hit by a car the second he walks out of the prison), and he certainly hasn’t lost his ability to cause chaos in his old age. He even gets into an epic sword fight with a monk, and fucks the shit out of a girl on the floor, as the blood from her aunts (whom he had just killed and hung from the ceiling) rains down over them. And the ending sets up a 4th film that could very well be the best movie ever made.

For whatever reason (more than likely, that reason involves the aforementioned “cheese” scene), this film has not been scheduled for distribution in the US. FOX owns international rights, but as of yet have no desire to even send it direct to video here (a theatrical run in its current state would be nigh on impossible - even Mother of Tears’ vertical impalement scene is nothing compared to some of this stuff). I just hope whenever it DOES see a stateside release that it is presented uncut - trying to tame this beast would be counterproductive.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

His Name Was Jason (2009)

JANUARY 30, 2009

GENRE: DOCUMENTARY
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

A sentiment that many of the cast and crew on the Friday the 13th films share is that they thought their respective film, or at the very least, their role in it, would be forgotten in a couple of years. But as we all know, that is not the case, and now after two pretty in-depth books about the franchise, we have His Name Was Jason, a 90 minute documentary chronicling the franchise’s legacy from the perspective of both the filmmakers/cast, and some of its supporters within the horror community.

Unlike the books, which tackle each film one at a time, the doc spends about 10 minutes quickly summarizing the 11 films (the remake is discussed near the end of the film, sans footage or even stills) before getting to the real meat of the movie: the impact of the series as a whole. Film personnel and assorted celebrities spend the bulk of the film providing their thoughts on a variety of topics, including the MPAA battles, Jason’s different looks, and even the NES game (Adam Green’s synopsis of that disaster is worth the price of admission alone).

The great thing about the movie is seeing everyone again. Let’s not beat around the bush - it’s not often you watch an F13 film and recognize a bunch of folks. And since the big guns (Kevin Bacon, Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover) don’t appear anyway, it allows us to spend more time with folks like Final Chapter’s Judie Aronson (still SO hot), New Beginning director Danny Steinmann (who hasn’t made a film since), and the cast of New Blood (almost all of whom appear). Some haven’t aged well, others have (hello there, Jensen Daggett). But the omission of a few (such as Steve Miner) just reinforces the fact that those who DO want to talk about it have fond memories of their time at Crystal Lake. This movie’s a celebration, and so if folks didn’t want to be there, chances are we wouldn’t care what they have to say. Fuck em.

One gripe is the “I Love the 80s” feel about the movie. I can understand having someone like Adam Green around (the F13-inspired Hatchet is the only non-Friday film in the movie to make an appearance), and even horror journalists, most of whom grew up as fans and are now reporting on the franchise’s newer developments. But why the hell is James Roday from the non-horror show Psych taking up screentime? Why is Seth Green and some other guy rambling about what Friday characters should and shouldn’t do? Not that their comments are invalid (Seth Green is actually pretty hilarious), but I would have preferred all of their appearances confined to (brief) “How Friday has affected pop culture” section or whatever, and keep it to the personnel the rest of the time. Again - Paramount has really dropped the ball when it comes to providing extras for these movies, so this doc is probably the only time we’ll get to see these people reminisce. I don’t want Victor Miller’s screentime shortened so we can make sure Felissa Rose can speak her mind.

Luckily, there are lots and lots of supplemental material that fill in some of the gaps and make the package better as a whole. The bulk of the extras are on the 2nd disc, but disc 1 also contains longer interviews with all of the Jason actors, running about 45 minutes total. Some great anecdotes are included here (Ted White apparently couldn’t stand Corey Feldman), and it’s interesting to see how different the actors look from one another, and also how differently they recall their time behind the mask (White was originally dismissive of the role, and now embraces it, for example). The remake’s Derek Mears also proves to be the most appreciative of the other actors - whereas most of them point out how they didn’t want to do anything that the other guys had done, Mears took efforts to offer little tips of the hat to his predecessors via specific poses and such.

Be prepared to spend about three hours on disc 2. Over an hour of longer interviews with the film’s directors (all of them save Miner are present) kicks things off, and like with the actors, you’ll get a lot of great little anecdotes while realizing that some have fonder memories than others. Then there’s about 20 minutes’ worth of deleted scenes from the movie, in which certain topics are covered by two or three individuals. A few of the screenwriters also offer longer thoughts, and it’s worth noting how much more direct and honest they are when compared to their film’s respective directors (best line comes from Victor Miller: “Sean may call it an homage, I call it grand theft cinema” - regarding the Carrie-inspired ending).

The rest of the stuff isn’t as exhaustive. A pair of featurettes in which Fox from part 3, and Rob and director Joe Zito from Final Chapter, take you on a tour from a main location from their respective film is a great idea; I wish they had done one for every film. Then we get a collection of “fan films”, which are amusing but hardly essential (Zero Punctuation need not worry about Angry Video Game Nerd) though the “Rupert Takes Manhattan” one is worth viewing for Jason’s letter alone. Adam Green, Joe Lynch and Uncle Creepy then spend four minutes explaining the entire series, which is a pretty damn funny little bit. Then there’s a “Crystal Lake Survival Guide”, in which pretty much everyone interviewed for the film tells you what not to do when visiting the area (“Don’t step around Jason’s body”). Some Comic Con interviews with key folks from the remake are also included, and I’d like to point out that I was actually in the room when they were shot (you won’t see me though, I was too busy on my ultimately fruitless attempt to score one of the posters you’ll see behind the talent). Finally, a bit called “Shelly Lives”, which I will let you discover for yourself.

It’s kind of sad, but also very telling, that the most exhaustive and “complete” special edition for an F13 movie yet isn’t even an actual franchise entry. Paramount and New Line have never really delivered a top notch, overloaded set like this for any of their films (though at least Paramount is currently trying to make amends for their pitiful boxed set), so it’s nice to see them beat at their own game by Dan Farrands, Anthony Masi, and the rest of the folks behind this film. Take Steinmann, for example: he’s nowhere to be found on Paramount’s release of part 5, but Farrands and co. got him to talk for hours about it. It’s nice to know that someone with the power to deliver the things that fans want will actually use their position to get it to them, while Paramount offers us insultingly stupid filler like “Lost Tales From Camp Blood” on their discs. Don’t settle for renting disc 1 from Netflix, because you’ll be missing out on most of the fun. Every F13 fan should own this set, period.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Non Canon Review: Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981)

JANUARY 30, 2009

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)
LAST SEEN: ?

I honestly can’t recall the last time I watched Friday the 13th Part 2. It seems like it was really recent, like at the New Bev or something, but if that is the case I didn’t write a review, which doesn’t make sense. I know for sure I watched it in 2004, but I feel like I watched it within the past 2 years as well. I dunno. My memory sucks.

Anyway, I really dig part 2. It’s basically a remake of the original in terms of structure, though slightly faster paced (the body count is the same, but it’s ten minutes shorter and all but one of the kills are onscreen). I also, again, like these kids. They’re not bitchy or slutty or douchey. Well, technically Scott is the world’s biggest douche, but his target is charmed by his slingshotting/clothes stealing antics, and thus so are we.

I also kind of like/miss the idea that Jason is a human being. He really only had 3 movies as a mortal guy, from then on he was a supernatural force. This one may even make him a bit TOO human: he wears a nice pair of jeans, has a place to live, everything. He even has 2 chairs in his shack in case he needs to entertain company. But he was just plain scarier when he was a real guy.

Paul is also a much better “adult” than Steve Christy. What he lacks in child molester-y appearance he makes up for in snarky attitude (“No seconds on dessert...”) and laid back charm. The scene where he says hello to everyone is great - he mocks some kids, and also waxes nostalgic about previous training sessions with others (these kids are all professional camp counselors, apparently). And the pained look on his face when Ginny beats him at chess is priceless.

Another thing I appreciate was the attention to detail. The lake looks the same as the one in the original (in that it’s pretty giant - the later films made it look like a little pond), and Alice is shown to still be drawing. It’s not much, but again, when compared to the later “ah fuck it” attitude of the sequels, it’s almost Oscar worthy. You go a while with watching only the New Line entries, and it’s almost a shock to the system to realize that back in the day, the filmmakers actually gave a shit about the work of their predecessors. Hell, even the requisite cat scare is better than most, since the cat comes from outside, not a cupboard or whatever.


The only time in the series I didn’t side with Jason.

Of course it’s not without typically “baffling when you think about it” filmmaking issues. At least two of the kills make no sense whatsoever (why doesn’t Mark see Jason in front of him? They’re on a porch, it’s not like there’s a lot of horizontal room), and the kids who all take off to the bar should have come back at some point (I’d argue that their drunken excursions cost the audience too many kills - Ted should have been killed at least). There’s also Terri’s peculiar search for her dog - she keeps saying “Muffin?” but she’s looking straight ahead at eye level. And even though it’s shorter than the original, at times it actually feels longer, particularly during the endless chase at the end (which goes on for so long Miner actually has fade outs during the damn thing).

It is evened out, however, with the lengthy scene of Terri skinny dipping.

The new cash-in DVD release isn’t as extensive as Part 1’s, but it’s a quality over quantity deal. An interview with Peter Bracke (author of "Crystal Lake Memories") is pretty interesting, as is a panel from Fangoria’s 2004 New Jersey con with 4 of the Jasons (a panel I was actually in attendance for!). There’s also a rather silly look at some convention called Scarefest, where the festival organizers go on and on about how wide the aisles are and how much the attendees like the hotel, all the while skirting around the fact that those same fans are asked to dish out 20 bucks a pop to have these folks sign their own property. Another of those worthless “Lost Tales From Camp Blood” is also thrown in for whatever reason, and it's even worse than the first one. Finally, the film’s trailer is included.

I want to talk about the trailer, because it was pretty interesting for a few reasons. One - it uses the roman numeral II instead of “2”, which is what is used on the film itself (it’s notable because if not for the later Friday films, no one would know how to use Roman numerals today). Also, it blatantly lies about the events of the first film, claiming that 12 of Alice’s friends were killed, when in actuality only 9 people died in the entire movie, 3 of which Alice never met. The reason, of course, is to recycle the “13/body count” thing from the 1st movie’s trailer. So they start at 14, and truthfully stop at 23, as 2 has a total of 10 deaths (even though the clips don’t match up with the numbers). But that’s sort of unproductive, because it inadvertently makes it look like the movie has a lower body count than the original! What a wacky spot.

Overall, it’s up there with 1, 4, and 6 as the best of the Fridays. It just plain works, and proves again that a gimmick (3D, telekinesis, Freddy) is never a good idea. The sequels always turned out better when they stuck to the basics.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Friday the 13th (2009)

JANUARY 30, 2009

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PRESS SCREENING)

Ever since I saw the teaser at Comic Con, I have been on board with Platinum Dunes' Friday the 13th remake. I liked the cast, I liked Jason's look, and I liked that they seemingly were trying really hard to make an F13 film that would sit comfortably with parts 1-4 (swap out 3 for 6, and that's the best of the franchise, by far). And while the end product is satisfying and occasionally great, there are some blunders that keep it from being the "ultimate Jason" movie that it could have easily been with another pass or two at the script.

Let's start with what works. The opening scene, which quickly explains the events of the original Friday, is a great idea. You can't ignore the mother, but you don't want to dwell on it either, so they blend it with the opening credits and get it out of the way. Also, Derek Mears is a great Jason - he's got the physicality and presence to match up with the best of them, and Scott Stoddard has done a great job with the makeup, making him look human, but not "just a guy in a mask", like he often appeared in the earlier films. You really feel that he's a guy who's lived in the woods for his whole life. And I really liked that they didn't come up with a bunch of "unique" kils - Jason sticks to the basics (machete, axe, bare hands) for the most part. He even uses an arrow for the first time since the original I believe. Like I said in my review for Part 2 - it's the films without gimmicks, with Jason just being Jason, that turn out the best.

But for every plus, there is a minus. The biggest is the rather awkward setup. After the "Mrs. Voorhees" prologue, we are introduced to a group of kids. But Jared Padalecki and the other top billed actors are not among them, so you know they aren't long for this world - they are ultimately just there to provide some fodder and introduce Amanda Righetti's character, who Padalecki will spend the entire film looking for once he is finally introduced. The odd thing is: this throwaway group is actually more fun and "Friday"-esque than the real group that comes along later. So while you are enjoying their antics and interactions (not to mention the fact that Righetti and America Olivo are among the most beautiful actresses in franchise history), you know they're all goners, and you just kind of want to get on to the actual movie. It's essentially a second prologue, albeit one that lasts about 15-20 minutes. As a result, by the time the REAL group came along, I felt like I was already watching a sequel. And furthermore, this limits the amount of time that THESE kids can spend together before separating and meeting their demise, which is a drag.

There is one bright spot in the main group though: Travis Van Winkle's character. He's a douchebag, but the kind of douchebag that you love. Nearly every one of his lines is laugh out loud worthy, particularly his interactions with Padalecki, and he steals the movie away from everyone that isn't Jason. Padalecki, on the other hand, is almost a non-factor in the movie. He's playing a variant of the Rob character from Final Chapter, but he just doesn't fit into the film at all. Maybe it's because he's a much more familiar face than the others, but whatever the cause, he sticks out like a sore thumb. The other kids are natural and fun and function as they are supposed to, no complaints there.

But I couldn't help but be distracted by one of the guys, who has an unfortunate resemblance to actor Mike Vogel from the Chainsaw remake. I know it's the same director and DP as that film, but I wasn't expecting their Friday to look SO MUCH like it. It technically looks great and beautiful, I never once buy that they are in New Jersey (it was actually shot in the same town as Tobe Hooper's original Massacre), and Marcus Nispel/Daniel Pearl have filtered the hell out of everything (really orange daytime, really blue nighttime) - nothing in the movie looks natural, resulting in a movie that actually looks the complete opposite from a Friday film, which is naturally lit and thus kind of bland. They went from one extreme to another, and thus at times I felt like I was watching a sequel to their Chainsaw film whenever Jason wasn't on screen. At one point, Padelecki and one of the girls discover a wheelchair in the underground tunnel system that Jason uses (he's sort of a Rambo-y survivalist here, with traps and everything), and while it's supposed to be a little reference to Friday 2, the first thing that popped in my mind was finding Franklin in Hooper's Chainsaw 2, because so much of the film felt from that universe instead of Friday's.

One final gripe concerns Jason's mother issues. Righetti looks like her, so he keeps her chained up. How is that "fun"? Between that and the traps he had lying around the area, it started to become dangerously close to Saw/Hostel territory (I actually wrote "Jigson" down in my notes). To its credit, he simply chains her up and her attempts to get free don't involve any self-inclicted pain, but still: the sight of a girl chained up and screaming is not what I think of when I think of "sticking to the tone of Fridays 1-4" (Brad Fuller and Andrew Form's own words). I know it's a "re-imagining" and yadda yadda, but they should have figured a way to come up with their own unique story (which they have) while keeping the light tone intact. Maybe we just have different ideas of what the first few films were like - I think of completely political incorrect teens, fake scares, and keeping the Final Girl out of harm's way for the entire film so she can find all of her dead friends later, but none of those things are present here.

However, silver lining and all - the "search for missing sister" setup allows for the film to have essentially two Final Girls. Righetti is one, the other is Danielle Panabaker as the "nice girl" of the 2nd group. You know the fates of every other character*, so it was nice to have a little bit of suspense whenever one of the two girls were in danger, because you suspect that one of them will buy it, you're just not sure which. It's one of the best ways around an inherent flaw in the slasher formula I've ever seen.

I know the review sounds mostly negative, but that's because I glossed over the great things about it, so you can enjoy it for yourself, while backing up my problems so you know I'm not just bitching. Everyone knows I am in Michael Bay's corner (I was the only one to cheer when his name came onscreen), and I've enjoyed all of PD's other remakes. And I enjoyed this one too; if 1-4 were their goal, then they have come pretty close to making it (it's better than 3, actually). I was hoping for something closer to 1 or 2, and maybe with time I will feel that way (I should note that some of my fellow horror nerds, such as Devin from CHUD and Ryan from Shock, loved it almost unconditionally). It's the best since 6 by far, which in itself is a huge accomplishment, as I was starting to suspect that it was just not possible to make a good Jason film anymore. The Dunes have done that; I just hope next time they make a great one.

What say you?

*At one point the token black guy goes to look for his missing (dead) friend, and says something like "I will surprise you at every turn!". Some guy in the back of the theater yelled "I'm surprised you weren't the first to die!!!" I laughed heartily for a solid 5 minutes.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Animals (2008)

JANUARY 29, 2009

GENRE: CRAP, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: DVD (SCREENER)

Horror Movie A Day will be celebrating its 2 year anniversary next week, which means I’ve watched nearly 800 movies (factoring in all of the times I watched two movies for the day). And out of all of those, never did I come as close to just shutting a movie off and watching something else as I did with Animals, a yet-to-be-released atrocity that will hopefully never find a sod stupid enough to put money into distributing it.

(Note - a lot of my problems with the movie, i.e. the editing and camerawork, are really hard to explain in words, so bear with me if the review doesn't quite do justice to this movie's ineptitude.)

I can only pray that the book (by John Skipp and Craig Spector) that the movie is based on is at least interesting on some level. It’s a silly premise (basically, a love triangle between three shapeshifters), but if it has well drawn characters and exciting setpieces it could definitely be enjoyable. The movie offers neither of those things, only wholly incompetent filmmaking. Director Douglas Aarniokoski (who previously helmed the “how did this manage to get a theatrical release?” Highlander: Endgame) clearly has zero understanding how to structure a scene or compose a shot (though DP Matthew Williams - who is ironically the DP of Plan 10 From Outer Space - is just as much to blame in that area). I had no idea what was going on during several of the action scenes, though after a while I didn’t care either.

Aarniokoski also films the entire movie hand-held, which is almost impressive when you consider that the film has zero of the energy or excitement that usually comes along with this filmmaking style. Even the sex scenes, which feature Nicki Aycox topless, aren’t even remotely titillating. And that’s a major problem when the story is supposed to be showing us what it’s like when people give into their carnal urges and all that crap. Shouldn’t I be watching the movie and going “Holy shit! I wish I could turn into an animal and kill my asshole boss and then fuck the shit out of the hot girl from Jeepers Creepers 2 on the hood of my car”? Yes, but instead, I keep finding myself staring at the “time remaining” display.

Worse than the camerawork is the editing. Someone had the genius idea to constantly re-use shots while putting them in slo-mo, an idiotic “style” that wears out its welcome after the 3rd or 4th of its 100 appearances in the 90 minute film. It’s also one of those movies where they cut back and forth between like 5 minutes of time (so instead of an A-B-C-D-E-F sequence of events, it goes A-C-B-E-D-F) and toss in flashbacks to footage we just saw whenever a character is “thinking”. In short - the movie is all over the place. Aarniokoski used a pseudonym, so maybe he's not happy with it either, but assuming its the usual reason (post production tinkering), it doesn't change the fact that it's just terribly shot to begin with.

But the real killer is that it takes itself seriously, so it’s not even enjoyably bad like House of the Dead or whatever. You’d think a bad movie about people who fuck and turn into animals would be a laugh riot, but I was stone cold silent for almost the entire thing. The one exception: at one point a girl walks up to a bathroom and slips on the blood coming from under the door. In theory, that’s fine. But there’s a rug in the hallway, leaving only about 8 inches of hard floor for her to slip on, so she “slips” after just her toe touches the blood. Not only did I laugh, I rewound it to watch it again so I could say I laughed twice.

There is, however, the matter of Naveen Andrews’ performance. I am not familiar enough with his work to know if he’s aware how bad the movie is and is playing his role with a wink in his eye, or if he’s legitimately trying to be a badass. I know he CAN be a badass (check out his fight with Keamy on the S4 finale of Lost), but he’s just laughably cheesy here, snarling and growling before the blue CGI ghost thing that’s supposed to be a werewolf (it looks like an evil version of Jack Skellington’s dog) takes over for him. Man, I love Lost more than almost anything, but between this, Speed Racer (Matthew Fox), The Fog (Maggie Grace), Pulse (Ian Somerhalder), and Deck The Halls (Jorge Garcia), I am starting to fully appreciate the fact that the Hawaii shooting location severely limits the number of terrible movies these folks can make.

Back to the CGI ghost wolves - you’d think that they could at LEAST come up with different animals for them to turn into (you know, since the movie is called ANIMALS and not WOLF-TYPE THINGS), but both Andrews’ and Marc Blucas’ “animal forms” look identical, rendering their big battle at the end rather pointless, since you can never tell who has the upper hand. It culminates with Blucas repeating a line Andrews had previously directed at him: “You have no idea what you stuck your dick into.” Now, when Andrews said it earlier in the film, he is referring to Aycox, who Blucas has been fucking (which is how he got his animal power). It’s also the closest thing to a good line in the entire movie. But when Blucas says it back as a one-liner before killing Andrews, it doesn’t make any fucking sense, because Aycox’s character (the only thing the two have in common) had nothing to do with their fight. It makes it sound like Andrews stuck his dick into Blucas.

What else is terrible... well, the music for one thing. It’s all generic techno bullshit, and doesn’t fit the onscreen action or mood at all. Blucas also has an annoying narration (“This is Jane, a friend. Everyone hits on her, but she turns them down. We’ve never been down that road.”), which is especially annoying when they cut from his narration to Andrews’ voice-over (a byproduct of the criss-cross editing). There’s also a subplot about Blucas’ murdered boss that goes absolutely nowhere.

I honestly cannot understand what drew anyone to this movie. Who could read this script and think ‘Yes, I want to be in the Animals business.’ Blucas is always appearing in garbage, but what’s everyone else’s excuse? And who put the money up for this thing in the first place? God, people PLEASE: stop making such atrocious and unappealing shit! Don’t forget: every time someone makes a shitty horror movie, an angel is sodomized.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Gorgon (1964)

JANUARY 28, 2009

GENRE: HAMMER, MONSTER, POSSESSION
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

When is a horror movie not really a horror movie? Answer: when the goddamn monster disappears for a full hour until the final 2 scenes of the movie. Such is the case with The Gorgon, a Hammer entry that gets the cast (Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee), the director (Terrence Fisher) and the setting (colorful castles and villages) correct, but adds in a wholly underwhelming script by John Gilling.

Luckily, the basic plot was interesting enough to maintain just enough interest to keep me awake. There’s a mythological creature turning folks into stone, and a whole bunch of stuffy British guys are fighting over the opportunity to stop it. Cushing is also involved in a jealous rivalry with some other guy over his assistant (the classy Barbara Shelley), who clearly wants to nail the other dude. It’s an interesting role for Cushing, he’s not really the villain, but he’s hardly a Helsing-esque hero either. It’s more of a Vincent Price type kind of sinister/kind of tragic role, and I hope I see other Cushing roles like this (readers: to the recommendation thread!).

Lee also plays sort of against type. He’s a professor or scientist or whatever, but he plays it like Adam Goldberg might, with an air of laid back detachment. Which is just a pretentious way of saying he seems either drunk or high or both throughout the entire movie. He also doesn’t really do much. I was all excited for the idea of another Cushing/Lee face-off or team-up, but the two only interact once in the entire movie. It’s like Hammer’s version of Heat. Bring on Hammer’s Righteous Kill!

I also noticed something interesting - neither Cushing or Lee are given dramatic entrances. Both of them are introduced as casually as every other character in the movie. I started wondering if this was always the case with older films; is giving the big star a really big, impressive first appearance in the movie a relatively new thing? Nowadays, if Christopher Lee shows up in a movie, they’ll probably show his feet first or maybe have the camera spin around from back to front or whatever.

But back to the point - the scares and horror are just not there in this one. After the monster kills two folks, and scares another guy, nothing even remotely horror-related occurs until the final 10 or 15 minutes, leaving a 45-50 min chunk of the 85 film comprised of nothing but folks yammering on and Cushing fiddling with his seemingly unrelated science experiments. And even the horror is pretty weak; most of it is comprised of the wind blowing open a wooden door (an event that occurs I think four times in the film).

The snake head monster is as goofy as they come, with Star Trek-esque levels of cheapness on display. You know those plastic snakes you buy at crappy toy stores, you hold one end and the rest sort of pendulum swings back and forth? It looks like they broke the heads off a few of those and glued it to one of Winona Ryder’s hats from Autumn In New York. Maybe that’s why the damn thing only appears in about 35 seconds of the movie.

The ending saves it though. You find out who the Medusa-thing has been possessing, and it’s a surprise (to me). Plus, it’s a real downer, because you like the person, and it’s worth noting that the monster/person dies rather gruesomely, and instead of ending right there (as any other Hammer film would do), there’s another minute in which someone else you like dies as well. It’s like they broke protocol just to leave you kind of sad, which I appreciate.

Oh well. Not every Hammer movie can be a classic.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

DVD Review: Repo: The Genetic Opera (2008)

JANUARY 28, 2009

GENRE: MUSICAL, WEIRD
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

Now that Repo: The Genetic Opera is on DVD, I figured I’d review the film’s extras in case you had some hesitation about buying the DVD. Or, more specifically, the Blu-Ray. While the DVD has a pair of commentaries and two featurettes, the Blu-Ray has a lot more content (since the film is only 97 minutes long, I am puzzled why so many of these features were left off of the standard disc), including additional songs. But even on standard def it should still take you about four hours to go through all of the supplemental material.

The bulk of that time will be spent on the two commentaries; one is with Darren Bousman along with Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith (who wrote the songs/script) and music producer Joe Bishara. As Bousman points out himself, this isn’t a commentary where everyone talks about how much fun they had; the participants spend a great deal of time discussing the various struggles in getting the film made, from songs that producers wanted cut from the film to having a union member turn on an electronic prop. The other track, with Ogre, Bill Moseley, and Alexa Vega (and Bousman again) is more fun – Moseley likes to make wisecracks and Alexa has a penchant to sing lyrics along with the movie (not just hers). It’s more anecdotal than informational, and thankfully Bousman does not repeat himself (unlike Eli Roth, who tells the EXACT SAME STORIES on all three of his Cabin Fever tracks).

Then we get the trailer and a pair of featurettes, one about the transition from stage to screen that is pretty jam-packed with info considering how short it is (10 minutes), and the other about the song “Legal Assassin”. It’s a good piece but it’s taken directly from the website (it’s even presented in a little animated window), and thus the quality (particularly on the audio) is hardly demo quality. I wish LG had taken the time to remaster this properly for a DVD presentation, but considering their dismissal of the film as a whole, I guess we should be lucky the film is on DVD at all.

The Blu-Ray has all the same features, and more. Two additional featurettes (one on Amber, the other on Blind Mag) in the same vein as the Legal Assassin are again, presented in lousy standard def, though unlike on the standard DVD, they are full screen. Then we get “select scene commentary” with Bousman and Paris Hilton. Bousman admirably tries to keep Paris talking, but her comments are pretty short and to the point (“this was fun”, “I like this scene”, etc). Then there are four “sing along” tracks for the more popular songs, which is a nice offering for those who don’t already sing along anyway.

Of most interest to fans will be a collection of deleted scenes, which also have optional commentary by Bousman and Hilton. The first two are full blown songs, the other two are just brief interludes; all of them were cut for pacing reasons. My only gripe is that they are presented without context; “Needle Through A Bug” in particular makes absolutely no sense unless you listen to Bousman’s commentary, which explains at least some of what is going on (why Graverobber is hanging upside down throughout the scene remains a mystery).

The audio/picture is, of course, much better on the Blu-Ray, though tech nerds should remember that the film is intentionally soft focus and thus the image isn’t as “sharp” as they are used to. Still, detail and colors are much better (check out all the detail in Graverobber’s hair during “Zydrate Anatomy”), and the HD master audio track is superb. Since Repo’s theatrical appearances (at least in my experience) were in sub-par screening rooms and/or filled with people singing along, it’s actually the best I’ve heard it yet – a few lyrics I never quite deciphered are now as clear as day.

Repo was unfortunately not a big success in financial terms, and thus the DVD sales will determine any and all future the film has (sequels, director’s cuts, etc). So those of you who might be inclined to wait for the “ultimate DVD” or whatever (especially considering Bousman’s presence, since the Saw films ALWAYS have two editions) – there won’t BE one if folks don’t support the original release. Given the deep love and respect that the filmmakers have for the film and its fans, I am sure that any future release of Repo would be akin to the LOTR releases, with nothing recycled in terms of extras, making it a more enticing doubledip. Plus, the Blu-Ray can be found at a lower than average price, so I urge both fans and newbies alike to pick this one up. And if you are still on the fence regarding whether to upgrade to Blu-Ray: this release, with so much BR exclusive content, is a fine example of the studios’ efforts to steer you in that direction.

Testify!

PLEASE, GO ON...

Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990)

JANUARY 27, 2009

GENRE: COMEDIC, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

The last thing I expected Prom Night III: The Last Kiss to be was INTENTIONALLY funny, but there it is. It’s a lousy horror movie, in that there’s nothing scary or even minorly suspenseful about it (something I could just as easily say about the first two installments), but yet it entertains, coasting along on its laid-back approach and oddball humor.

The key provider of the comedy is the droll PA announcer that pipes up during pretty much every establishing shot of the hallways or immediate grounds of the high school where most of the movie takes place. “The chess club meeting has been canceled, members are to report to the library and play with themselves.” Juvenile to be sure, but damned if it didn’t make me crack up, and that’s probably the weakest quip of the bunch.

Another source of humor is the completely blasé attitude of the hero whenever Mary Lou kills someone. He reacts as in the same way, if not even stronger, as someone might to a dog that piddled on their floor. This, of course, is awesome to someone like me, who misses the old days of horror movies in which human life was never really respected by villains OR heroes.

And it’s a good thing that all this stuff kept me entertained, because the horror aspect was a total bust. Mary Lou starts off by killing anyone who would impede the success of our hero, but after a while she’s just killing anyone (even the guy who is attempting to move in on the hero’s girl; you’d think she’d WANT him around). Then the final 20 minutes inexplicably turns into a zombie movie, and damned if I even understood what the hell was going on in the final scene. I don’t mind the kitchen sink attitude in some movies, but there’s a difference between being random and simply making it up as you go along, so after a while it began to wear a little thin.

One random thing I did enjoy, to whatever extent one enjoys such things: like yesterday’s movie, this had a character doing something completely inappropriate and then using the ill-fitting excuse “I was looking for a contact lens”. I am willing to bet that I am the only person in the world who can claim such a thing.

I also liked that, for the first (and I think last) time in the Prom Night series, the film was actually connected to the one before in a manner that didn’t involve actor Brock Simpson. Mary Lou was, as you all didn’t really care, the villain of the 2nd film, and even though she looks completely different and such, I liked that they seemed to be trying to establish some semblance of a mythology and connective tissue. It made it feel less cheap.

Unfortunately, Artisan didn’t care as much, and the DVD that I spent my hard earned 3 dollars on is actually a TV cut of the film, a fact the DVD (which lists an R rating) never addresses (i.e. with a warning like “This film has been modified...”). I noticed something was up when a guy was clearly dubbed to say “Dork” instead of “Dick” at one point (yet “Fag” was left in for another scene – I guess it’s more acceptable to general audiences to take a shot at a homosexual than at the male anatomy). The uncut version, which has nudity and gore and presumably more harsh language, is not available on region 1 DVD, and that is a shame; I for one wouldn’t mind looking at the knockers of the girl who played Mary Lou. And with Blu-Ray coming along, and the economy in the crapper, I doubt a deluxe DVD edition of a 19 year old DTV movie is high on anyone’s priority list. Oh well.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Bloodwars (2008)

JANUARY 26, 2009

GENRE: VAMPIRE
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

See? I swore off watching nonsense like BloodWars (aka The Thirst: Blood War), yet I am an optimist at heart. So I watch it, and then remember exactly why I swore off watching this shit in the first place. Granted, this is hardly a Dark Harvest-ian no-name affair – the film features Tony Todd AND C. Thomas Howell, which at least suggests some semblance of a budget. Sadly, one can only assume the entire budget went to their salaries, because it sure as hell ain’t present on the screen.

For starters, it takes place in a college. The cafeteria is a few card tables with folding chairs next to a small buffet line that wouldn’t even cut it in a high school. Even my college, hardly a "Country's 10 Best Schools" candidate, had gourmet food and a separate dining hall. The hero’s dorm room looks suspiciously like the spare bedroom in your grandmother’s house, complete with a nice couch and tasteful art on the wall. The only thing that feels legit is the frat guy’s house, only because it, like all other movie frat guy houses, is a piece of shit rundown thing on a suburban street.

But what really sinks the movie is a complete lack of blood, wars, or any combination of the two*. I found out later that the title was originally just The Thirst, but even that hardly qualifies as appropriate. Most of the movie is about a bunch of folks who stepped in off of a LARP session in order to tell the tale about a bunch of dueling vampire clans and the guys who are after them, and also of the love triangle between a vegetarian, a girl, and a rapist frat guy with supernatural powers.

I’d like to dedicate a paragraph to the latter. He has some sort of telekinesis, but he doesn’t seem to be a vampire or anything. And he goes down pretty easily when him and the hero fight over the girl after he attempts to rape her (this actually is a no win for her – the hero guy becomes a vampire as the result of this fight (don’t ask), and later more or less rapes her as well). So why he has powers, I have no idea - He’s the son of a sentry (the monk-esque vampire hunters), but those are the good guys, so why he acts like a total dick is beyond me. But also, the guy, and all of the other characters, are supposed to be college students, but they act like grade schoolers. I once wrote a short script called The Bully which detailed what would happen if there was a bully in college demanding lunch money and such, and it’s pretty much exactly the same thing I see here. Except mine was played for laughs.

Another big problem is that the entire movie is just people TALKING about cool stuff. It’s like watching others play Dungeons & Dragons. They talk about cool sounding battles and powers and everything, but its just folks sitting at a table talking about doing them. There’s some decent martial arts stuff near the end of the movie, but it’s far too little too late.

And the cast! Tony Todd plays the head vampire guy, and it looks like he borrowed his costume from Dracula 3000. C. Thomas Howell has a cameo as a redneck (there is nothing about that phrase that makes sense), and Sean Connery’s son Jason plays a vampire who seems to be an even bigger bad guy than Todd, or something. Since the movie was all talk and no show, I had trouble following it after awhile, because it was all gobbledy-gook. A few hot women kept my eyes at attention, but my ears tuned out right around the time one sentry says to another “My news is grievous: your son has passed. I believe it was the Maltus Coven.”

Thankfully, there are no extras to wade through. My OCD thanks the DVD company and the entire cast and crew for not putting any more effort into the disc than they already wasted on the film itself.

What say you?

*One of my all time favorite bad lines in an otherwise solid movie is in Exorcism Of Emily Rose, when Laura Linney tells the jury “She was not sick, or crazy, or any combination of the two.” There is only ONE possible combination of two things!

PLEASE, GO ON...

Fantastic Flesh (2008)

JANUARY 26, 2009

GENRE: DOCUMENTARY
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

I wouldn’t mind watching more documentaries for HMAD; it would certainly mix things up a bit, and since I like to learn things, a documentary would probably be much more helpful than whatever I watch today for my ‘legit’ daily entry (editor’s note: BC’s prediction was correct). But they would have to be full length films in order to count, and Fantastic Flesh doesn’t quite make the cut at a scant 58 minutes.

I assume Flesh is from the same producers that gave us Bloodsucking Cinema in 2007, which was an entertaining but flawed look at vampires in cinema. This one takes the same approach, albeit focusing on the role of makeup effects. It’s a much more interesting subject to be sure, but unfortunately it shares some of the same problems. For starters, and this is of no fault to anyone but the rights holders to certain films, we get a lot of talking heads, not enough of the actual final product (or better, showing the actual process). When you’re talking about something purely VISUAL, you want to see the work itself, not Greg Nicotero or Mick Garris commenting on it.

Another odd issue is that a lot of the films seem to be from the year 2005 for whatever reason. I don’t doubt the validity of Chronicles of Narnia (it won KNB an Oscar after all), but The Island? Sin City? Neither of those films are something I would immediately think of when considering the legendary advances in makeup (if I was to make a doc concerning greenscreen and compositing, then Sin City would be top of my list). Granted, the film is produced by Nicotero and thus KNB’s work is bound to be shown more than others, but still. They’ve done other films that are more relevant – Jason Goes To Hell, for example, isn’t even mentioned, despite having some pretty great effects (and was one of the last major horror films to come along before CGI became the standard).

One final, more crippling flaw is the total absence of Stan Winston. The film is even dedicated to him, and while the other big timers get their due (Dick Smith, KNB, Savini), Winston’s work is skipped over entirely, and the man himself is only mentioned once or twice in passing. Even if a rights issue prevented his work from being seen, there’s no excuse to skip over him completely, especially with so many celebrity guests on hand to gush about the other makeup gurus. Stills or behind the scenes footage (which belongs to whoever shot it, not the company who put out the movie it was for) would have sufficed. We get 5 minutes about a fucking Transformer and nothing about Terminator???

Otherwise, it’s a great look back at all of the amazing movie monsters and effects that us horror nerds have enjoyed all of our lives. For all its omissions, there ARE a lot of great movies represented properly: The Exorcist, From Dusk Til Dawn, Dawn of the Dead, etc. Since it aired on Starz and not Monsters HD, it could have very easily just focused entirely on non-horror films like Narnia, so to see Rhodes get torn apart in Day of the Dead in the same piece as a shot of Mr Tumnus running around is pretty great, and further proves how wide reaching the work of “horror” guys like KNB has been over the years. My favorite bit in the entire movie comes when Nicotero talks about Dances With Wolves, how Kevin Costner saw the dead bodies that KNB made for (the comedy) Gross Anatomy and assumed they could make dead buffalo as well. To these guys, it doesn’t matter if you’re Costner or Craven, they will deliver top notch work all the same.

As a purchase though, it’s too general a focus to be of much use to die-hard makeup effects fans, especially since much more in-depth looks at each film (even the non horror ones) can be found on their respective DVDs, which fans probably already own anyway. It’s enjoyable enough, but you’d probably never want to watch it again, and the disc contains no extras whatsoever. Because of this, I would think that the best possible audience for this movie would be parents who find their kids’ interest in gore and makeup to be abhorrent. The kid can show this to his parents and watch their shock to discover that the same guys who made a vagina monster eat a guy’s head off in Dusk til Dawn were the same ones who made all the lovable woodland creatures in Narnia. As Nicotero says, their job is to provide the paint and brushes for the director to create their artwork, and even if you dislike the end product, any film fan should have the highest respect for what these guys do (i.e. if you don’t like a Picasso, you don’t blame whoever made the paint itself). Hopefully someday a more in-depth look at the creators themselves will come along (hell, an entire TV series would be ok by me, each week focusing on a different creator or team), but until then, this is better than nothing.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Non Canon Review: Friday The 13th (1980)

JANUARY 25, 2009

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)
LAST SEEN: 2004

I wonder what it was like for folks to see Friday the 13th during its initial theatrical run, or even a year or two later. Because for me, like many other fans I am sure, Friday the 13th means Jason. The first one I saw was Final Chapter, which had Jason, hockey mask, and the formula down pat. One of the universal memories for a lot of fans in my age group is finding out from a friend, or from an actual viewing, that Jason didn’t appear in the film at all except as a slimy mongoloid child in a lake. “His mom’s the killer? What the-!!"

As such, it’s probably the ONLY horror franchise in which saying that “part ___” is your favorite won’t get you roasted alive. It’s not very often you hear someone claim that Halloween 6 or Nightmare on Elm St 4 represents the best of the series, but with Friday the 13th, it’s equally uncommon to hear “the first one is the best”, at least in my experience. Obviously, the primary reason would be the lack of Jason, but in this most recent viewing, I was hard-pressed to find any other reason for putting it a notch or two below some “traditional” entries.

For starters, it’s the only one besides Jason Lives that has more of a focus on suspense than a body count. Only ten folks are killed in this one (a low for the series, though that’s hardly a surprise), and half of them are off-screen. But rather than have everyone die the second they split away from the others, as they do in the sequels, everyone gets a pretty lengthy stalk/atmosphere scene (and in Brenda and Bill’s case, that’s all they get, since their death is hidden from our eyes).

The characters also have far more personality than the later films (again, except for Jason Lives, which like this one, has a much smaller group to deal with). I love the scene where Officer Dorf comes along, because everyone (except Alice, who must be off dealing with whatever vague problem she has “out west”) gets a little moment to show their personality. They talk to themselves in the bathroom, doing impressions and such, make off the cuff remarks... they’re real people. There’s also a sense of camaraderie that a lot of the other entries lacked – even though these kids just met or barely knew each other, they seem more like a real group than say the kids in New Blood, who are supposed to be close friends and yet don’t gel together at all.

Plus, I liked the idea that the lake is actually part of the real world. We see diners, cops, truckers... it feels easier to identify with, like a place I would go to or actually have gone to in Maine or whatever. Again, some of the later sequels felt less natural because they were always so devoid of life beyond the people that were about to get killed.

And yet it still has that lovably cheap charm that is present for the entire series. The most laughable example is the “thunderstorm” that Kevin Bacon sees, which is clearly just a guy shining an orange light on his face from a few feet away. But you also get the scares that make no real world sense at all (was Crazy Ralph just waiting in the closet all day, hoping someone would need a can of soup?), people without peripheral vision, etc. And I think every single corpse blinks or takes a breath.

I wonder if the campers/counselors at
Tomahawk Lake run into as many problems.

One low-budget aspect that’s not as charming is the editing. It downright sucks at times: shots linger on forever (there’s at least two shots of Alice leaving a shot, and then we just look at a tree or whatever for another 10 seconds), and the film as a whole is about 10 minutes too long. There’s a fine line between developing character (having the kids play Strip Monopoly) and padding the runtime (watching all three of them take their turns back to back, with only a boot coming off). If they needed to be 95 minutes for whatever reason, maybe they should have shot an additional scene at the beginning with Mrs. Voorhees (or even someone mentioning that she EXISTED), which would make the reveal much less of a cheat. Though to Sean Cunningham and all 45 writers’ credit – they don’t really make much of an effort to make her look innocent, she pulls up in the jeep we know belongs to the killer, and more or less reveals her intentions about 12 seconds after meeting Alice), rather than waste time thinking she’s an ally only to slowly let her true side out.

Folks have demanded a proper special edition for years, and thanks to Platinum Dunes’ remake, we finally got one (I suspect that 90% of all horror remakes exist solely to make money off the original film again), and on Blu-Ray to boot. The video quality is quite good on the BR, particularly in the daytime scenes (look at the level of detail on the bricks and stones when Annie is walking through the town). It’s a very grainy film, and kudos to Paramount for not de-graining it for its high def release, which is a disastrous process that other films have suffered the indignity of on their ‘remastered’ Blu releases (Dark City, for example, now resembles something shot on DV). And the cut footage, which totals 10 seconds, is well integrated back into the film. The new 5.1 mix SOUNDS good, though the surrounds are mostly ignored. Considering all of the POV shots, I was hoping for a lot of tree branch crackling type noises to be coming out of my rear channels, but I honestly forgot that I was listening to a 5.1 mix once the film began. Still, it’s clear and richer than the original mono track (which is included) for sure.

A wealth of extras are also included, though for the most part they cater only to new fans (presumably those who will come out of the new film and then discover that it was a remake), as it’s just a bunch of stuff die hards already know (Betsy Palmer thought the script was a piece of shit! Tom Savini’s friend played Mrs. Voorhees at the end of the movie! It was cold in the lake!). There’s some reunion footage and a basic retrospective, both run about 15 minutes, with everyone telling the stories you expect. Another new feature is a lame short film focusing on a pair of Jason-esque murders. Without any explanation for its inclusion, this is the worst kind of filler nonsense, and it should have been excised in order to up the bit budget of the film itself. The one sort of interesting (to a well versed nerd like me) piece is an interview with Cunningham, shot in his own home. Again, it’s not like you’ll learn a lot, but it’s a nice and honest self-examination of the guy who is attributed to ‘creating Jason’ (something he more or less takes no credit for). There’s a commentary by Cunningham and a bunch of others, though it seems to be edited together from interviews instead of a screen-specific track. Again – if you’ve already read the books or even a bunch of Fangorias on the subject, you won’t really learn anything new. We also get the awesome original trailer.

Blu-Ray owners get two more extra features, another sort of generic retrospective about the film, and a look at Savini’s creations. Ironically enough, even they are exclusive to the Blu-Ray, they are presented in standard def and are also incredibly dark (which is great when Savini is talking about his legendary work, because you can’t fucking see any of it). They also seem to be re-edited from a full length (or at least, wider-ranging) doc about the series as a whole, as people from all of the films are thanked during the end credits despite the fact that only part 1 is represented either with cast, crew, or clips. In short – if you’re not a Blu-ray owner, I wouldn’t consider this to be the disc you lose your 1080p virginity on, but if you have BL already, by all means enjoy the crisper picture and less shelf-hogging package.

A landmark film that is known as much today for what it DOESN’T have compared to what it does, Friday the 13th is a must see for any horror fan. It holds up fairly well, and is nowhere near as half-assed or reprehensible as some critics would have you believe. And the great thing about it is that it proves a point that I have been trying to make since Horror Movie A Day began: I don’t care if a film exists solely to make some money (Cunningham and the others freely admit that it was made “to keep the lights on”), as long as the people involved put some effort into making something that will actually entertain, rather than use their “independence” as an excuse for its faults. That’s something the Michael Feifers of the world clearly don’t understand and possibly never will.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Mute Witness (1994)

JANUARY 25, 2009

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

Some 15 years ago, Fangoria was singing the praises of a film called Mute Witness, comparing the opening 40 minutes to Halloween. That’s not praise I will accept easily, especially without seeing it for myself. But since the review pointed out that the film needed to be seen in widescreen, and I didn’t have a laserdisc, I didn’t bother to watch it. When it finally hit DVD in 2003 I picked it up immediately, and now I finally watch it six years later.

(I would like to submit this story to anyone who claims I need instant gratification.)

To its credit, the opening is pretty exciting, in that it’s well shot, has some nice setpieces (like climbing down a shaft) and an interesting location (a movie studio, where a shitty slasher movie is being shot). Unfortunately, it’s not particularly suspenseful, because it all concerns our heroine, and we know damn well she won’t get killed (also, knowing that it only lasts about 40 minutes kills the momentum a bit, though that’s not the filmmaker’s fault by any means).

After that though, it’s a sort of by-the-numbers “Hitchcockian” thriller, complete with a Macguffin and lightly humorous supporting characters. And again, it’s still well made and all, but the entire time I felt like I was watching a movie I had seen 10 times already; entertained but not involved or surprised at anything. Even the would-be twist ending involving squibs was expected (it didn’t help that director Anthony Waller foolishly shows the woman’s un-shot back in between shots of her “bullet riddled” front).

Waller does do a good job of finding ways to keep the woman’s muteness tied into the story. She gets stuck with one of the killers and can’t explain to her friend why, she can’t call for help, etc. It’s not as gimmick-y as I expected, the movie as a whole wouldn’t really work had she had the ability to communicate (as opposed to the mute girl in Hellraiser II, a disability without any sort of payoff or real narrative function whatsoever). However, I would have liked a scene where she sees a murder about to happen and can’t alert the victim or something – all of the scenes revolving around her communication problems are about endangering HER - but oh well.

Speaking of language quirks – a lot of the dialogue in the movie is Russian, yet these lines are not subtitled. Even with the English sub track on, the Russian words are skipped over. Since our villains more or less exclusively speak Russian, this results in full conversations occurring without the benefit of knowing what is being said. It’s one thing when they make obvious, short statements (like if a guy points at someone and yells a word or two in another language, and then his comrades begin to give chase, you can pretty much guess that he’s saying “after them!” or something), but when it’s a full conversation – one about the object that is causing all of the trouble no less – it’s a bit odd to be left completely in the dark.

One thing that DID surprise was how much nudity was in the film. The murder that sets off the narrative occurs after some hot n heavy lovemaking, and our heroine even disrobes (twice), once in a silly scene in which she tries to get the attention of a guy across the street. Speaking of which, the other surprise was how (intentionally) sitcom-y the movie got at times; her two friends in particular run around like they just stepped in out of Dharma and Greg or something.

It’s also Alec Guinness’ last film. He appears in a few shots (his role was filmed like nine years before the rest of the movie; Bela Lugosi style) as The Reaper, leader of a snuff ring. Even in the nearly wordless role, he shows genuine class.

All in all, I’d say it’s a decent thriller that was lucky to come along during a horror draught. Everything in the film has been done better, but at the time it was released, in the mid 90s (pre-Scream) when no one was making horror movies, it was a breath of fresh air. I wish I hadn’t waited so long, but oh well. Beats the hell out of my idea for a thriller, in which a guy who can’t smell is chased around a flower shop by a giant sewage man. I call it DEATH STINKS.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Boogeyman 3 (2008)

JANUARY 24, 2009

GENRE: SLASHER, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

I was really hoping Boogeyman 3 would at least live up to the surprising quality of Boogeyman 2, which eschewed the supernatural nonsense of the original in favor of a straight up slasher. But the supernatural force is back, and while it still plays out like a slasher film (as opposed to the haunted house-ish original), it still severely underwhelms in any category.

For starters it doesn’t seem to make any damn sense. The opening scene has a girl who looks like she’s 15 getting naked, and then dragged under her bed by the boogeyman. But then she resurfaces a few scenes later, not even injured. Did the boogeyman drag her under there and then just chill out? Plus, the movie steals a page from New Nightmare and introduces the concept that the BELIEF in the boogeyman is what makes him come to life. This results in a potentially great finale, in which our heroine takes credit for the murders in order to kill everyone’s belief in him and spare their lives. But then we get not one but TWO epilogues that prove he’s still around, which renders her sacrifice pointless and the movie even dumber (it doesn’t help that the 2nd epilogue, which concerns the predictable fate of a pair of new students, runs about 5 minutes too long).

Another crippling factor is the over-generic-ness of the entire college. Everyone listens to vague instrumental music that suits their character (i.e. the black pothead listens to some Hendrix-y “trippy” rock), and all of the posters on the wall are equally nondescript. I understand that the film is a low budget production and thus having a Metallica poster or the newest U2 song is out of the question, but come on! I’m sure a band like Saliva would let you throw something up for cheap. The saddest example comes when a kid is shown playing a fake Warhawk type game with a generic PS2 controller. It’s weak enough, but several shots of his room reveals that he doesn’t even have a game console (generic or otherwise)! And when he pauses the game it just freezes the image, there’s no ‘pause menu’ type screen. All of this just keeps an audience from ever believing a single thing that occurs, supernatural or otherwise.

The writer seems pretty excited about the tragedy!

Also, a major plot point requires most of the college to be listening to the campus radio station. I don’t know about yours, but at my school, NO ONE listened to the campus radio. I had a show once, and when I’d have a contest for a free CD, I would just ask for someone to call. No trivia, no “be caller 20” nonsense, just call. And I’d never get a winner.

One department that they DO deliver on is the gore/splatter. Like 2, this is far removed from the PG-13ity of the original; the deaths here are impressively gory, and there are sets literally drenched in blood. Christ, our heroine plays her final scene looking like the broad from The Descent. And since you don’t really care about any of the kids thanks to their generic interests, seeing them die is hardly a problem. I noticed a while back that whenever a character is really likable, they don’t usually make a crowd-pleasing “awesome” death for their demise (Randy in Scream 2, for example, is pretty much killed offscreen).

It also continues one tradition of the series – an incredibly thin link to the previous film provided by a file photo of the actor who they couldn’t afford to bring back. Last time the Tobin Bell character revealed that he treated Barry Watson’s character from the original, this time the girl at the beginning is shown to be Bell’s daughter. We know this because she goes into her house and stops to look longingly at a photo of him, before reading his journal (which is accompanied by a voiceover guy trying really hard to sound like Bell). I really hope that Boogeyman 4, should it come to pass, focuses on the locksmith who inexplicably provided a key lock for her bathroom:

The extra features are slim. No commentary track (thank Christ), just a pair of worthless deleted scenes and a trio of behind the scenes pieces that are more or less exactly what you’d expect (though the 2nd one, concerning the Bulgarian location, is at least kind of interesting due to the fact that it’s Bulgaria and not Canada). Sony also provides a few trailers for most of their other upcoming DTV sequels (Screamers 2 is left out for some reason).

So it’s not terrible, but still pretty weak. The college campus setting is always welcome*, and some really interesting ideas are presented, but screenwriter Brian Sieve lives up to his name and lets them all fall through the cracks. If there was ever a movement to do remakes for DTV sequels, this one would be near the top of my list.

What say you?

*Both the college in the movie and my own college in Massachusetts have a Hammond building and a Sanders building. If their school’s cafeteria was located on a suspended building over a major street (as mine was), then I would have called shenanigans.

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