Chawz (2009)

JUNE 30, 2011

GENRE: COMEDIC, PREDATOR
SOURCE: DVD (SCREENER)

Well, you can’t really accuse Chawz of “ripping off” Jaws, because they’re pretty upfront with its influence (though the original title is Chaw or Chawu; I guess they tossed a Z on to really hammer it in). Tae-Woong Eom’s hero is pretty much a younger version of Martin Brody, a small town cop tagging along with experts as they hunt down a monster even though you know it will ultimately come down to him vs. the monster. They even have a more or less direct remake of the “I think we captured the wrong one” scene, right down to cutting the mistakenly captured animal to see if any of his human victims were in the stomach, not yet digested.

But the movie pays homage to a variety of flicks, and thus it’s not so much a “Jaws with a boar” movie as a sort of smorgasbord of geek faves, not unlike Doomsday or Attack The Block. Eom’s character arc takes as much from Hot Fuzz (Pegg’s character) as Brody, as he is relocated to a quiet “crimeless” town after getting into trouble in the city for being too good at his job, and the goofy police squad antics in the middle of what is kind of a grim story reminded me of The Untold Story, albeit without chopsticks. Hell they even take a page from Beowulf at one point, with the boar rampaging around a tavern during a celebration, seeking to get back its baby (so it’s Jaws 3 too!).

Luckily, the movie’s focus on humor over actual horror keeps the lifts from being annoying. I doubt director Jeong-won Shin would deny any of his influences if asked about them – he’s clearly just out to make a fun film that pays homage to films he digs, and as long as you’re on board with the humor, you should have fun too. There’s just enough giant boar action to satisfy monster movie fans, and the blend of CGI and puppet (I think?) is far more successful than most modern films of the genre.

However, if the humor doesn’t work for you, then you should steer far clear. I chuckled and smiled a lot, but the movie’s 122 minute length is nearly unforgivable at times. There are a pair of female characters in the movie that serve no purpose whatsoever – one a crazy local who wants to be a mother to a child that’s not hers, and the other Eom’s mother, also rather insane. Cutting one or both of them out entirely wouldn’t really effect the story in the slightest, and would singlehandedly get the movie down to a more manageable 105 minutes or so. And many other scenes could use trimming; there’s a bit near the end where the heroes are using a railcar to escape the rampaging boar, which is exciting and fun at first but feels like it runs twice the length it should. Then again, maybe I’m just sensitive after having suffered through Transformers 3, where every single scene in the movie either should have been cut in half or cut entirely.

But what made it work for me was the likable characters. In another reference of a sort, it’s kind of like a Lake Placid (or pretty much any Michael Crichton adventure) team, with a hunter, a cop, a state official, a wildlife expert, and a badass ultimately joining up to hunt down the monster, each with their own motives (“Study it!” “A hunting challenge!” “Protect the town!”, etc), But unlike most films with this setup, all of them are likable and get along. One of the better joke scenes involves the wildlife expert wanting to film everything for a documentary, and she doesn’t catch a crucial discovery on camera, so she asks them to “do it again”. You’d expect one of them to be like “I don’t have time for this nonsense”, but they all happily oblige, ridiculously overacting for the camera and seemingly have a grand ole time. And this has another perk – it’s actually kind of hard to tell which of the others will die. You know how in Jaws you can pretty much guess that Quint will die, Brody will live, and then Hooper is the only wild card? Well this has at least three such wild cards, and the only guy I thought for sure would get killed ended up being sidelined for most of the boar action. So you end up with a movie like Tremors, where it’s not about whittling down the cast but making everyone well-rounded and likable enough that you want them to live. As with Jaws, the body count ends up being pretty low, but there’s a lot of near-miss action to enjoy (which Jaws didn’t really have besides Hooper in the cage).

Oddly, the Korean film was shot mostly in the outskirts of San Francisco (there are even a few American characters speaking English; it’s actually kind of jarring to hear something you comprehend after 30-40 minutes of a foreign language), so I am kind of bummed I watched the film on a screener instead of a real DVD, as I’d probably enjoy watching the making of that’s on the release disc. Our productions are always going around the world to shoot, but it’s much less often that foreign productions come to the US – guess they don’t have very good woods in Korea. The DVD also has some deleted scenes, thus putting an end to my internal debate over whether or not the movie even had an editor.

Oh but I kid Chawz! It may be a little rough around the edges, and Shin may need a producer that can rein him in a bit (though, excessive as it may be, the “turn to camera and smile” end credits were awesome), but at least it’s a coherent movie without any ghosts whatsoever, which makes it a true anomaly for K-horror.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)

JUNE 29, 2011

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

I had heard that Slumber Party Massacre III was more like the original, which is true for the first half or so, which feels like a remake at times (again with the guys playing pranks to worm their way into the party!). But as the film goes it gets kind of dark, with a pseudo-rape, a surprise/sort of unnecessary kill near the end, and a killer who is more of an angry jerk than a creepy stalker (or a singing rockabilly dude).

Not that I minded this in theory, but it’s a little awkward when the movie starts off with goofy sight gags and the usual silly, borderline parody approach to slasher movies that the previous two films explored, and then dips into what feels more like a takeoff on the Richard Speck case, as the killer makes his presence known to the girls when most of them are still alive, terrorizing them in the house that they can’t seem to escape. Plus, unlike the rather quiet (silly) nature of Russ Thorn, he’s constantly yelling profanities and throwing the girls around, which isn’t as fun.

He has a drill though, just like his predecessors – in fact it’s pretty much the only tie to the others that I can find in this one. It takes place in the same sort of vague Los Angeles neighborhood as the original (and first 10 minutes or so of the 2nd), but Courtney and Valerie aren’t mentioned and there doesn’t seem to be any legend in the town of the bad things that happen to girls when they have slumber parties in this part of town. Also, it’s actually kind of a whodunit at first, with a few red herrings and kill scenes where we don’t see anything but the murderer’s hands (later he dons a creepy mask; sadly they drop this idea not too long after that). Also, it’s sort of a half-assed approach to a whodunit, as his identity is revealed somewhat unceremoniously long before the film concludes. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

The body count also seems to be higher than the others (especially if you go with the theory that II was all in her head), with a couple rather anonymous victims and more girls to boot (more guys too, actually). And while the drill may be getting a bit old, there are still a few new gags with it, such as when a girl grabs it while it’s turned off and then he revs it and chews the shit out of her hands. He also employs other weapons besides the drill; one girl is electrocuted with a vibrator (one that plugs into the wall, for some reason), and he takes out another guy with the stake part of a “For Sale” sign.

But of course all of them are still symbolic of the penis (the vibrator obviously much more blatantly so), and speaking of his phallic weaponry, as with the others this was written/directed by women. However the guys are slightly less obnoxious this time around, making it feel a bit less “feminist” (using the term very loosely here). It’s also unintentionally anti-environment, as none of the movie would have happened if one girl hadn’t gone back to the beach and picked up some trash that they had left behind after their volleyball game (as she drops her address book in the process, which the killer finds).

It’s also anti-police, with the cop they call refusing to believe that they are in any trouble. Hilariously, his partner is sort of taken aback by his behavior, and thus offers to check in on the girls “in an hour or so” when he gets off his shift. I love that – he’s pissed that his partner won’t do his job but still doesn’t really think it’s worth dropping everything to investigate. It’s the opposite of the girls’ responsibility; perhaps I wasn’t the only one to notice that the girls were total slobs in the previous film – there’s a lengthy “subplot” about one of them dropping a slice of pizza on the carpet, and not only do three of them sit around trying to clean it, but the others watch them clean as if the entire night’s enjoyment depended on them getting it cleaned. I’m sure it’s supposed to be irony (as the place will be covered in blood later) but it’s ridiculous to see a bunch of teenagers sitting around looking at someone apply Resolve instead of dancing or fucking or whatever.

As with the other films, a commentary with the director and a couple of the cast mates is included, once again moderated by the guy who runs the website. Look, I’m certainly not one to complain about moderators, but after three movies this guy has really gotten on my nerves; constantly asking the directors to acknowledge their continuity errors and correcting their fuzzy memories on cast members’ whereabouts (and HE’S wrong on one of them, when they discuss Marta Kober he goes on and on about how she’s been missing for years, even though she did a convention in New Jersey the year before this DVD was released). I mean, obviously he’s an expert, so why not just let him do his own commentary and let these other folks have one to themselves? It’s also annoying how they are recorded, with the movie on mute for them but not for us. So at times we hear them try to remember what is going on in the movie, who is saying what, etc, even though we can hear it perfectly well. And once again there are long gaps of silence at times, which I assume means another person got edited out? But it’s a decent enough track when they’re talking; I particularly like how they explain that some necessary reshoots (movie was too short and too not-nude for some of the producers) introduced plot holes – not something you hear too often on a commentary.

Likewise, there’s also a 15 minute interview piece featuring whoever they could find/get (the director and I think maybe four of the actors), which inexplicably has a credit sequence that runs longer than the one on the actual film (and unlike the other two, doesn’t have outtake interviews running along with it). But it has Brandi Burkett, who is one of the prettiest girls in the series and still looks terrific. Obviously I have about 20 minutes’ worth of nostalgia for the film instead of 20 years, but it’s always a disappointment when an actress you were smitten with as a young lad turns out so ghastly; indeed, Ms. Kober (who was Sandra in Friday Part 2 - she's the one who got speared on the bed) now resembles one of those folks you see panhandling on freeway exits (as does Violet, the 80s chick from Friday 5). So it’s nice to see when one of them is still all together and hasn’t let bad plastic surgery or what appears to be a drug-filled lifestyle ruin their appearance (which, for an actress, more or less means their life).

Interestingly, this film actually played theatrically and did quite well, grossing well over a million bucks despite only playing on 80 or so screens. However the DVD is full-frame, because I guess that was the only way to get it with all the uncut footage (I assume it was wider for theaters, anyway?). At any rate, it's a shame that these sort of movies would never get real theatrical play anymore - it's rare I get to see a new slasher movie with a theatrical crowd, and thus I am jealous of the folks who were able to go buy a ticket for Slumber Party Massacre 3 back in 1990 at the same time movies like Ghost and Presumed Innocent were cleaning up at the multiplexes, and didn't have to pretty much rely on midnight revival screenings to get that experience.

Now, the question is – do I seek out Cheerleader Massacre, the unofficial “fourth” film in the series? It’s from Jim Wynorski but does NOT have killer robots in a mall, so I have little faith in its potential to be any good.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Wake Wood (2011)

JUNE 28, 2011

GENRE: KILLER KID, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

I hope I’m not spoiling anything by tagging Wake Wood as a killer kid movie, but I mean, the lifts from Pet Sematary are so blatant at times it might as well just be a remake, so I don’t think anyone with even passing familiarity to that story will be surprised when our resurrected little girl starts taking out a few townsfolk toward the end of the second act. Oddly, it’s actually kind of a shame it goes down that route, as the movie was much better/more interesting without that stuff, but alas.

Even with its blunders its still the best of the new Hammer films, all the more impressive when you consider it’s been on the shelf for two years (it was shot in 2008!). Let Me In was technically a good movie, but it was a too-close copy of a film that was released only a year or so before, and the less said about The Resident, the better. But this one has a bit of that old Hammer feel, with an isolated European town populated with creepy folks, a gloomy atmosphere, etc. Only the largely terrible score and sub-par digital photography give a modern feel to this otherwise old-school morality tale.

Oh, and the digital blood. It’s kind of funny; the blood in a lot of the older films has that weird melted pink crayon look to it, and now it looks artificial in a completely different way. It’s not a particularly gory film (though gorier than I was expecting), so it’s not too damaging, but still, I think it’s time we give CGI blood splatter a rest until they can get it right. I watched the new Transformers movie today (a boring and incomprehensible waste of time for the most part), and it amazes me that they can have a giant robot laying waste to Chicago and it looks flawless, but they still can’t manage to get a little blood geyser looking right. And really, it’s not too hard to set up a squib or condom filled with Karo syrup, so for the life of me I cannot understand why so many filmmakers go down that road when it never looks good.

Anyway, the movie plays better as a sad drama than a horror flick, which is fine by me. The movie wastes no time in setting the grieving parent plot in motion, and that could have caused a problem if the actors weren’t up to the task, but Aiden Gillen and Eva Birthistle sell their grief fairly well even though we never got to see much of them in “happier times”. I also liked that they didn’t waste too much time explaining how the townsfolk came across this dead-raising ability, or what their little abacus thing was for, or any of that stuff that doesn’t really matter. The more you explain a somewhat ridiculous plot like this, the harder it will be to focus on the characters, so by keeping it simple they end up with a far more effective tale, with a tragedy at its core that actually works.

But as I mentioned, the killer kid stuff doesn’t really gel with the rest. Basically, their ritual works most of the time, but the person they bring back has to have been dead for less than a year. If it’s more, then they come back “wrong”, and that’s what happens here (Gillen lies about how long she has been dead). However it doesn’t quite work the same as in Pet, where the folks ALWAYS came back murderous, and right away to boot. So while the moral of that story was “When someone dies, they should stay that way”, the moral here is, I guess, “Don’t lie to creepy cult types about when your loved one died, because it screws up their success rate”. It’s actually scarier when the “rules” are broken, such as when they venture outside of the town border and the girl starts to bleed from all over (sort of like what happened to an uninvited Abby in Let Me In, actually), and I think the movie might have even been more effective if the focus was more on the “play by the rules” angle than her apparent soulless return.

This also would have given Timothy Spall a bit more to do. If this was a 70s film, his role would be played by Christopher Lee or someone like that (indeed, it feels a bit at times like Wicker Man, especially during the crazy “parade” scene early on), but they would also give him some juicy stuff to do in the 3rd act. Spall is sort of phased out as the movie goes along, never really becoming a full blown villain (or a surprise hero), which is a shame as I was hoping to see him get to cut loose a bit.

And I had initially suspected his performance was trimmed a bit in editing, but there’s nothing much of note to his character in the deleted scenes collection, which runs about 17 minutes but includes an extended version of the “resurrection” scene so there’s really less than 10 minutes of excised material. Most of it is worthless, and all presented without context (one bit is literally just a shot of Gillen tending to a horse at some point), rendering it a rather worthless way to spend 15 minutes, especially when neither David Keating or Brendan McCarthy (the director and screenwriter, respectively) appear to explain why it was cut in the first place. But that’s the only extra of note besides the trailer, in which you will learn that the film was cropped from 1.78:1 to 2.39:1 for the feature presentation, as the trailer shows more information at the top and bottom of the frame. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted it shown in the wider aspect ratio, but I did notice a few shots in the film that were noticeably cramped (plus a few others that seemed stretched, like when their car breaks down and they pull to the side of the road) so I dunno. This is why you include the filmmakers on your DVDs!

At any rate, it’s a sign that the new Hammer might actually work out after all, and I hope Woman In Black (another remake!) is another worthy addition to their legacy. Not sure why it was delayed for so long, but don’t let that fool you – Wake Wood is worth a look, and does the Hammer name proud.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

JUNE 27, 2011

GENRE: COMEDIC, SLASHER
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

Even though I was bored for half of the running time, I suspect Slumber Party Massacre II is a movie designed for big crowd/theatrical viewing, not by yourself at home. I laughed and shouted “YES” on a few occasions, but I am willing to bet that if I was at the New Bev or whatever, I’d be laughing throughout and cheering at the movie’s rampant ridiculousness far more often. I mean, Christ, the killer has a drill on his guitar, and he actually stops and SINGS in between two of the kills (also most of his dialogue consists of song lyrics). This movie cannot be contained on a television screen!

But it's also one that takes forever to start killing people. The movie is only 75 minutes long but it’s not until around the 50 minute mark or so that we have our first real kill. Until then, all (brief) action comes courtesy of our heroine Courtney (the young sister from the first film, albeit played by a different actress here) “seeing things”, which I guess are premonitions of what is eventually to come. She also has some flashbacks to the first film, nearly all of which she wasn’t present for because then it would be even more obvious that it’s a new actress (Wings goddess Crystal Bernard, for the record). Her older sister Valerie also returns (also a new actress), but doesn’t appear much because she has gone crazy due to the previous Massacre and is now locked in a mental institute. Granted, the change of actresses hurts a bit (especially when you consider the actress who originally played Valerie killed herself due to her stalled career – according to the commentary track on SPM2, they didn’t even bother TRYING to get her to come back to play the role she originated), but I was actually kind of surprised that the sequel had this much of a connection to the original.

Especially when you consider that the only thing I knew about the movie was that it was a new killer and was a borderline musical. Since the tone was totally different I just assumed it was an unrelated ripoff that they slapped the title on after production had completed, so this tie was a nice surprise. And it makes the change in killer even more of a ballsy move – the movie was released in 1987, when Freddy was reviving the “horror hero” genre, so for them to create a new killer instead of bringing back Russ Thorn wasn’t probably the best move financially, but I appreciate the attempt at doing something new.

Seeing the first film isn’t a necessity, however. This one brings you up to speed and again, the change in tone/actress would probably be less of a distraction to newcomers. Newbies can enjoy the movie’s wacky musical numbers (our protagonists are the members of a fairly decent 80s girl band), and be less annoyed by the horny male characters, who are EXACT COPIES of the guys in the original, complete with a window watching scene. Once was enough with this particular subplot, though I like that one of them was wholly enraptured by a dirty novel – there are four hot girls nearby, prone to naked pillow fights and what not, but he sits there and READS bland descriptions of sexual activity in a yellowed paperback. OK, dude.

And while he may not be as creepy/hilarious as Thorn, The Driller-Killer is a wonderfully stupid/awesome killer. He looks like a slightly gothed out reject from an amateur production of Grease, and you gotta love that they bring back the drill motif and combine it (however illogical it may be) with his guitar. I just wish they had a drill fight at the end; the movie inexplicably ditches the house setting and has our last two girls run into a construction site, which I thought only existed to set up such a scenario (or at least some sort of power tool clash), but she just burns him. Way to somehow make me scoff at a man being immolated, movie.

He’s not the only weird thing about the movie. The girls have particularly odd diets, such as when they make a feast out of corn dogs and champagne (together at last, I guess?), and one of Courtney’s visions inexplicably involves her friend growing this weird tumor on the side of her face which then explodes pus all over her. There’s also a lengthy sing-along in a car in the first few minutes, which would have been OK if the song wasn’t basically the same two lyrics over and over. And part of the plot involves the girls going to one of their father’s brand new condo for the weekend, but they totally trash the place (one just pours champagne all over the floor), so wouldn’t it have made more sense to say it was a place they were getting rid of and thus didn’t care what condition they left it in?

As the original, the film was directed by a female, which is incredibly rare for a slasher. Deborah Brock took over from Amy Jones, and also wrote the script, a necessity since Roger Corman hired her to direct the film in a hurry because he already sold it overseas based on the title. Thus it lacks the original’s alluring schizo charm (as it was written as a parody but filmed straight, or vice versa depending on who you talk to), because it’s a singular vision, but at least it’s a little more obvious that you’re not supposed to be taking it seriously. But the fact that all of the males are either morons or murderers is kind of off-putting; it’s not like the male written/directed slasher films make all of their females sluts and idiots. Would it have killed her to make ONE relatively normal guy? Even the protagonist’s boyfriend is kind of creepy, though that could be due to the strange “looking directly into camera” shots that were obviously an influence on (fellow Corman protégé) Jonathan Demme for Silence Of The Lambs.

Brock provides a commentary along with one of the producers and the fan site guy who was on the first one. It’s not a particularly good track; there are too many long gaps of silence and the moderator’s attempts at getting them to discuss some of the production’s more curious aspects (such as the actress replacement) result in one word answers more often than not. The few good tidbits have already been transcribed into IMDb trivia, so unless this is your favorite movie I’d say skip it. There’s a collection of interviews (on the other disc with SPM1) that’s a far better use of your time, though like with the first film there are a ton of absentees; I can see why Crystal Bernard wouldn’t want to bother, but no Atanas Ilitch? They should have spared no expense and moved heaven and earth to find him!

What say you?

P.S. Part 3 is on this disc too, so look for my review of that in the next couple days!

PLEASE, GO ON...

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark (2010)

JUNE 26, 2011

GENRE: MONSTER, REMAKE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FESTIVAL SCREENING)

They took our cell phones away before Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, which made me regret getting to the theater early so I could get a good seat (I was in the “spillover” theater, which had a lot of empty seats – could have arrived late and been OK) as I had nothing to entertain me while I waited for the movie to start. But it’s probably for the best, because I probably would have just gone into the little aisle on the side of the theater (where no one can see you but you can still see the screen) and started checking Twitter/email while keeping one eye on the flick. Not that it was a terrible film by any means, but it just failed to engage me in any way, and never actually required my full attention - yet the lack of anything else to do ensured that I gave it anyway.

The biggest problem for me was the fact that the movie relied on scaring an audience with two things that almost never really scare me: CGI monsters and kids in danger. The monsters looked terrific, sure, but I never found them the least bit terrifying, especially when they started talking on camera. Creepy whispers coming through the vents – sure, works great. A little walking CGI rat going “We want YOUUUUU!” just makes me laugh, though it was not the intention. They also appear far too frequently in scenes that accomplish nothing besides spooking a character, so they run into the same problem as the Nightmare On Elm Street remake, where the villain loses not only his mystique but also his ability to appear threatening long before the film concludes, because he keeps popping out, seemingly with the intent to cause harm, and then fails to do so.

As for kids in danger, that’s how the movie really lost my interest. There’s a bit where a handyman is working close to the grate where the little things are hiding, and that’s actually suspenseful/scary, because I don’t know for sure that this guy is going to be OK. The little girl, on the other hand? R rating or not, little Sally won’t get more than a scratch on her throughout the entire movie, yet I’d estimate 90% of the movies scares involve the things harassing her, which loses its novelty before the movie is even halfway over. They NEVER go after the live-in housekeeper, any of the anonymous construction guys, Pearce’s business associates, etc – you know, people who might actually get killed, and it’s not until the climax that they ever put her father (Guy Pearce, as welcome as always) and stepmom (Katie Holmes, returning to the horror genre after a long break) in any real harm, but by then it was a bit too late to get me on board. It’d be like if the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park never tried to eat anyone besides Lex. It’s worth noting that the original had no little girl from what I understand (haven’t seen it), with the monsters terrorizing what would be the Holmes character here.

It doesn’t help that there’s no mystery to the movie whatsoever. It could have been kind of fun to wonder if the little girl was just crazy or if there really were little creatures in the walls, but they tell us right off the bat that it’s the latter. Yet Pearce spends the entire movie not even entertaining the notion that she could be telling the truth, which more or less requires him to act like an idiot for most of the runtime. You thought the dad in Orphan was a dolt? At one point the little girl (who looks exactly like Katie Holmes, a casting blunder since their lack of a real family tie is a huge part of the story) manages to squish one of the damn things and cut off its arm, but the plot point is just dropped because it would require Pearce to spring into action instead of continuing to play a guy who just thinks his daughter is having issues.

This also results in a number of wholly useless scenes, such as when a shrink comes over to talk to Sally. Again, we know she’s not crazy, so why waste time having a shrink try to find out what her problem is? And not for nothing, but having the wife of Mr. Scientology in a movie in which shrinks are presented as worthless boobs is slightly off-putting. There’s also a lengthy bit where Pearce has a bunch of business associates over for dinner, with Sally running around with her flash-bulb equipped camera (the light scares the creatures off, of course) and trying to keep the things from causing too much chaos – it’s like a slightly less comical version of the scene from Chamber of Secrets where Harry is trying to stop Dobby from dropping a cake on Vernon’s boss, and also serves little to no narrative function. It’s a decent enough setpiece, sure, but it seems like the sort of extraneous thing a studio would put back in for the DVD and inspire arguments over whether or not it should have been left in the movie, like the motion detector gun sequence in Aliens. But either way, no one would miss it if it was gone.

And that was my issue: the movie wasn’t really interested in telling an interesting story (the origin of the creatures, or even their aversion to light, isn’t explained), only providing scares – and I wasn’t finding it scary. The best jolt scare in the movie is given away in the trailer, and they’re all pretty much the same: the monsters either knock something over or turn off the lights, and then rampage around like less humorous Gremlins until an adult enters the room and they all manage to hide again before being spotted. Plus I didn’t even get what the hell they were taking so long for; we are told that they need a human body to sustain them for a number of years, but if that’s the case why don’t they just kill someone? Why all of the fucking around, tearing up Holmes’ clothes and such? We can see them wield weapons, and they can get out of their grates/walls easily enough, so why not just slit someone’s throat in their sleep and be done with it? It’d be one thing if they needed Sally to be a certain age before they take her and were just screwing around to amuse themselves while they waited, or some sort of nonsense along those lines, but if there were any “rules” to their mission they weren’t explained.

Speaking of sub-par storytelling, let’s discuss its biggest hurdle – the R rating. Producer/co-writer Guillermo Del Toro came out before the movie (as did Ms. Holmes, BC’s dream girl for years thanks to Dawson’s Creek and also much taller than I ever realized) and expressed his disappointment with the rating, saying it was intended to be PG-13 due to the lack of gore or torture (yet someone gets their teeth smashed out 5 minutes in), but they ended up getting an R basically for “scariness”. So I know that will keep out the kids who will identify/feel scared for the little girl, and suspect it will mislead the adults into thinking that their R rated Del Toro film will be a little more intelligent than it is. But again, almost everyone I talked to after (fellow writers my age or older) enjoyed it, so what the hell do I know?

I can agree with my pals on one thing though - it looks and sounds terrific. The house deserves to have a dozen horror movies set inside of it, and the CGI creatures blend terrifically with the live action. The animated opening title sequence is probably the most captivating part of the movie, which is of course not a good thing, but hey – at least it’s not just text over black. Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders’ score evokes other horror/fantasy fare like Coraline, and thankfully never gets too overbearing. And again, the sound design on the creatures when they are sticking to whispering through the vents works like gangbusters, and will make for a great demo option for home theater enthusiasts who want to show off their surround sound.

But ultimately I just expect more from the talent involved on the story side of things (co-writer Matthew Robbins also wrote the far more interesting (but studio mangled) Mimic, and Spielberg’s Sugarland Express), and without being able to feel scared for the character placed in most of the danger, it didn’t work as a thrill ride either. I don’t do scores, but if I did I’d give it like a 5/10 – not good enough to really enjoy but not particularly bad either. It was just there, looking nice but leaving no impact.

They had some excellent empanadas at the after party though. I will defend those to the death.

What say you?


PLEASE, GO ON...

The Guardian (1990)

JUNE 25, 2011

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (BACKYARD SCREENING)

As one of the few members of the Kevin Costner fan club, I was surprised how many folks made jokes about his 2006 film with Ashton Kutcher when I tweeted that today's movie was The Guardian (1990). I figured no one even remembered that film existed, much like just about every other Costner flick (save Open Range) from the past decade or so. But I guess it's just more memorable than William Friedkin's only straight up horror film post-Exorcist (Bug barely qualifies IMO), which I think is a shame.

Of course, saying "From the director of THE EXORCIST" and even recycling the damn font in the opening credits probably didn't help much, since this is a completely different kind of horror movie. Whereas Exorcist was a dramatic, intelligent, and slowish paced take on a supernatural occurrence, The Guardian is balls out ridiculous almost right from the start, and its 90 minute running time doesn't leave much room for character development or slow burn chills. Hell, our first kill comes almost completely out of nowhere, when (I assume) the evil nanny causes the protagonists' #1 nanny choice to crash her bike and fall off a cliff so that she can get the job.

Oh, and it's about a Dendrophiliac druid that sacrifices babies to a man-eating tree. I know Scary Movie has been chosen as the cinematic point in history where subtlety died, but I guess that's only because Troy had yet to see this movie, where nothing is left to the imagination and each kill is more ridiculous than the last. At one point, a gang of thugs harass our antagonist (the nanny, not the tree) in the woods, and she pretends to be scared and runs, leading them to the tree, where it proceeds to beat one guy's head in with its branches, tear another one in half, and EAT (!) the other. I wasn't expecting much gore in the movie period, let alone such glorious splatter only a half hour into it.

Sadly the fast pace doesn't always keep up; the movie stops cold for a way too long sequence where a potential love interest for Camilla (Brad Hall, who appeared in Troll - dude's got a thing for plant love, I guess) first follows her out to the tree, where he sees her more or less engaged in foreplay (or is it a post-cuddle?) with the tree. Then he is chased back to his place by coyotes, who take another 5-10 minutes to kill him. I mean, we know this guy's a goner as soon as he is introduced, so why is this taking so long?

Especially when you consider another 2nd act issue - the near total disappearance of the mother. Any "parent suspects something is amiss with their child (or nanny taking care of it)" movie worth its salt always has one parent that's a lot smarter than the other, and here it's the dad. He goes off to investigate Camilla's background when he starts getting a bad vibe from her, but instead of the mother arguing with him or whatever, she just disappears from the movie entirely for a lengthy section. Thus, when the dad confronts Camilla, the mom's "You're being ridiculous!" anger isn't really earned, because we aren't hip to why she'd be so quick to defend this woman that they've only known for a week or so over her own husband.

It gets back on track from this point on though; unlike Orphan which actually had the parents separate over this sort of issue (never said that movie was PERFECT), Camilla doesn't bother pretending to be innocent for long, and thus not five minutes later she's babbling about sacrifice and taking the baby away right in front of the mother. Then we get a lot of wonderfully insane stuff, including Camilla showing off her surprise ability to fly (!), and a gloriously batshit finale in which the dad takes a chainsaw to the tree (which bleeds!) as the mom battles Camilla, who is starting to turn into a tree herself.

Interestingly, per the IMDb Sam Raimi was attached to direct this for a while, something I didn't know at the time I watched it. True or not, there's definitely an Evil Dead "homage" to this material, as not only do we have tree branches attacking/dragging our heroes around, but our hero wears a half buttoned up blue shirt as he wields a chainsaw and gets completely drenched in blood as he uses it. But I find it hard to believe Raimi would copy himself like this, so perhaps this is just a weird coincidence that was added by Friedkin, who came in and reworked the script. The movie is based on a book called "The Nanny", but unlike some others based on books I'm not too eager to read it; it was the nonsense on-screen that caused me to enjoy it - reading "and then the tree swallowed him whole" wouldn't be as exciting as actually SEEING it happen. It wasn't the interesting character or complex story that I was digging, in other words. But if anyone has read it, let me know what sort of madness it included!

Sadly the movie tanked and Friedkin once again left the horror genre, though even if it was a smash I doubt his career would have been much different; he's always jumped around genres regardless of the box office. But it's a shame that there hasn't been a bigger cult audience for this movie; it's one of the few non-bland/generic horror films to come out of the early 90s, and Jenny Seagrove ranks as one of the better (and certainly sexier) female horror villains to come along post Hammer (though it's interesting that I went straight from watching this to my screening of From Dusk Till Dawn, featuring a Salma Hayek dance that could instantly send a young man through the entire process of puberty). Sadly the DVD is out of print in Region 1(other regions have it - with a Friedkin commentary! - but not sure if they are still available), which probably doesn't help its stalled cult momentum, though it is now on Netflix Instant, which according to thousands of idiots is better than DVD anyway. As long as it's legal, just see it post haste!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Entrance (2011)

JUNE 24, 2011

GENRE: INDEPENDENT, SLASHER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FESTIVAL SCREENING)

On a technical level with regards to its slasher elements, Entrance is a pretty great flick. There are a couple of earned jolts, some surprisingly good kills, and a slow burn creepiness not unlike The Strangers or Ils, not to mention the creative approach - our "Final Girl" is in every single frame of the film, which doesn't allow for her slutty best friend to go off alone or even cutaways during the scare scenes. By design the slasher film is a fairly limited concept, so anytime I can walk away impressed by how the filmmakers handled their well-worn material on the directorial side of things, I am happy.

However from a storytelling angle the film sort of misses the boat. It's not a very long film (80 and some change with credits, which includes one of the largest soundtrack listings I've seen since Dazed & Confused I think) but it is padded to a fault, particularly in the first act before the stalker/slasher elements kick in. The idea is to show us how lonely life is becoming for our heroine Suziey (Suziey Block), but we get the point long before the filmmakers think we do. Whereas we only need to see her "normal" (read: boring) day twice to get the idea that nothing much happens to her, they show us certain parts of it four or even five times. What kicks the "plot" into gear is when her dog disappears, and from then on they go easier on the repetition, but getting there might be too much for an audience, especially for a film most folks will be watching at home, not in a theater where you can't fast forward (or just walk out if you're an asshole).

Luckily, Block is an engaging presence, and her character is likable enough to follow. She's not particularly interesting, but that's part of the point, so it's not a big deal that you don't get to know too much about her by the time the end comes. It's worth noting, however, that you'll still learn more about her than you will about the girl in Innkeepers (which I think was in the same theater), and thus my theory that I would have enjoyed that movie more had I been less annoyed with its main character was solidified; Entrance is just as slow paced and thin on story, but I was much more engaged here, thanks to Block's sympathetic character. To be fair, she loses her dog, which is pretty much the easiest way to earn someone's sympathy, or at least mine. There's a bit where she comes home and looks down at the floor, seeing no one to greet her, and I almost choked up (my family dog died in January of 2010, so the next time I went back home I actually had my mom take the day off of work so I wouldn't lose my shit when I walked into the house and didn't have my pal there like usual). But it's not a manipulative storytelling decision like in some other films; I was already liking her character before the little guy vanished.

And by vanished I mean "was taken". Again, with Block in every single frame of the film (I honestly do not think I am exaggerating; if she exits the frame it's not for more than a second or two - and I should note the trailer below is all footage that's NOT in the film) they could have botched the possibility for scares (we never even really get a good look at her stalker), but just about every major horror scene works great. The "dognapping" bit in particular was creepy as all hell, because it plays out entirely through sound design, with the guy making those ticking sounds you make when you call for an animal and the dog pattering about and then whimpering, all while we watch poor Suziey sleep. The movie looks like it cost about a hundred bucks (oddly no one asked the budget at the post Q&A, a rarity for a festival screening) due to the rather unimpressive HD look, but the sound design was top notch at times.

I also liked the simple look of the killer; his mask was sort of like the Cherub from Valentine, but with typical hipster garb instead of the black overcoat. And by keeping him sort of out of focus or in shadow, they got a bit of that old school Halloween vibe that you know I'm gonna like, especially in this modern day where the killers are so front and center for most of the movie and thus lose all of their mystique before the second half, let alone a sequel. As for the kills, we don't get to see too many, but that doesn't mean they aren't effective. I don't want to get too spoiler-y since the movie isn't out yet and it's probably a one time only type deal for most people (including me, though I'd listen to a commentary for sure), but the final 22 minutes, when the slasher stuff really hits the fan, is all one "unbroken" shot (edits hidden by camera movement), and there's a great balance between on-screen (surprisingly vicious) kills and "find the dead friends", and it works great I thought, with poor Block running around both gagged and with her hands tied behind her back. The ultimate denouement is a bit of a letdown, though I was too impressed with the technical qualities of how they pulled off the entire climax of their film to get too annoyed by it.

One thing I thought was a bit odd, though I assume it was a budgetary issue - we don't really see a lot of Los Angeles. Part of the theme of the film is how LA can be a lonely place, and how despite that you should love it (it borders on Haggis' Crash at times; luckily the killer stopped short of outright saying he was killing people just to make a connection), but we only see a tiny bit of Silverlake and a few shots of Sunset Blvd and what I think was the Skirball overpass on the 405. I mean, they don't need to go all out and show her going to the Tar Pits and a Dodger game, but I'm not sure how well this aspect of the story will come across to someone who doesn't live here. Unlike other major cities, LA is very spread out, with traffic and a near useless subway system making people without cars (as Suziey is, due to a breakdown she can't afford to fix) sort of helpless - this might not make sense to folks who assume LA is like Manhattan or Chicago and thus not having a car isn't much of an issue.

Like most festival films, there is no distribution in place for it yet, and I can't see the big studios fighting over rights to a strange little indie slasher, but hopefully it will find a home with Magnet or IFC and find its audience on VOD or whatever. I can't say for sure that I would have been as impressed had I not seen 240+ (mostly lousy/generic) slashers in the past few years, because just about all my enjoyment stemmed from the unique approach in how it was shot (the script would have probably bored me to sleep after 10 pages - and YES, I stayed awake for the flick! That's two late movies this week!). Slasher fans who are sick of the same old "5-6 kids in a car" scenarios should seek it out once it becomes available. And I'm sort of tickled by the idea of someone watching it without knowing it was a slasher, assuming it was yet another indie "girl finds herself" comi-drama, only to get their mind blown when a dude takes a pair of scissors to one of her friends' heads.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)

JUNE 23, 2011

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST, SERIAL KILLER
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX INSTANT)

I’m all for combining real life unsolved mysteries with the plots of horror movies, with Jack The Ripper being the most common example (though I particularly liked From Dusk Till Dawn 3 chalking up Ambrose Pierce’s disappearance to vampires), but sometimes they can go a little overboard and kill the fun. Such is the case with Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, which was already high concept enough what with a guy turning into a very attractive and seemingly horny woman (the Freudian/homoerotic subtext alone could cover a movie), but then they have to tie it into Jack the Ripper AND the Burke & Hare cases.

Not only does this present a major anachronistic issue, being that Burke & Hare operated 50-60 years before the Ripper murders (and in another country to boot), but it also means we lose focus of the most novel idea in the film – changing Hyde’s sex. I don’t know how much of a horror movie it would be if that was all there was to it, but it would certainly be more perversely interesting, especially since Jekyll is in love with Susan, a girl who lives upstairs, and then Hyde in turn falls for Susan’s brother. Again with the homoerotic subtext - when the brother starts putting the moves on Hyde, audiences must have been fairly shocked at what was really happening between the lines if they put that much thought into it. And whether it was meant to be funny or not, I’m unsure, but I laughed like a loon when he/she changed for the first time and wasted no time groping “her” own breast. Kinky shit.

Sadly, they either couldn’t or didn’t want to do much with that aspect of the movie, and thus as it goes on, the movie doesn’t really play out much differently than most other Jekyll & Hyde movies. It’s a good idea to tie it into Jack (probably why it’s been done a couple times, including Edge of Sanity – I assume this was the first to do it though?), but while a movie like From Hell can work as a genuine possible solution to the case (within reason), there’s no way to really believe that Dr. Jekyll, the sex-changing mad scientist, was responsible for the atrocities in Whitechapel. So it’s not as chilling, but just sort of fun – something that I’m sure any descendants of the Ripper’s real victims probably don’t appreciate.

And then when they bring Burke & Hare into the damn thing, it becomes about one character short of being a lost prequel to the League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. Again, it’s kind of a fun idea to have them be the guys supplying Jekyll with his bodies (and committing the first few murders, I think? I was a bit hazy on that), but it doesn’t really work as a real theory, and thus it’s impossible to take the movie seriously even though that is what they are going for.

Because that’s another issue – it’s too damn stuffy. I mean, a lot of Hammer movies are classy and feature upper class characters, but half the time I felt like I should have been sipping a cognac while I was watching. The kills are few and far between, and of course they never bother to humanize any of Jack’s victims (since they’re all hookers), so pretty much all of our characters, good or bad, are rich jerks. There are occasional bits of dry humor – I particularly enjoyed Jekyll’s reaction to a wanted posted that described the killer as a tall man with a tall hat and dark cloak (the very outfit he had on at the time), and some of Burke & Hare’s quips are worthy of a chuckle, but not nearly enough. In fact, the plotting and history bungling seems more fit for an AIP film with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre, where they would be having fun more consistently.

But it’s not without merit. Ralph Bates is a terrific Jekyll, toeing the line between driven scientist trying to do good and crazed madman perfectly. And kudos to the casting folks for finding an actress (Martine Beswick) who was not only quite sultry but also had enough of a physical resemblance to Bates for the concept to work without resorting to putting someone in drag. I also like that they both shared a mole on their cheek, something I don’t think anyone ever noticed. There’s a bit early on that seems to have influenced Mrs. Doubtfire, with one character looking for Jekyll and another looking for Hyde at the same time, and he/she has to switch back and forth – I wish someone had made the connection earlier, especially since no one seems particularly shocked at the end when (spoiler) Jekyll falls off the roof and dies in mid-transformation. There’s also a great stalk scene in the final reel as Hyde tries to get Susan in the foggy streets of London, which works not only for the atmosphere but also because it’s one of the very few potential victims in the movie that has a name.

So, overall, not a classic Hammer film, but not a disaster either. Mildly enjoyable, just above a time-waster. Would love to see someone tackle the concept (Cronenberg?) and really dive into the psychosexual aspects of the idea rather than more or less do the same old thing.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Anneliese: The Exorcism Tapes (2011)

JUNE 22, 2011

GENRE: MOCKUMENTARY, POSSESSION, RELIGIOUS
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX INSTANT)

Seems to me that if you didn’t have a lot of money for effects and things of that sort, that you’d welcome the idea of spending time on “cheap” things like conversations. But the makers of Anneliese: The Exorcism Tapes weren’t that bright, and thus what could have been a decent Exorcism Of Emily Rose/Last Exorcism ripoff (it was based on the same case as the former, filmed like the latter) is instead pretty terrible, ranking as one of the worst films from The Asylum that I’ve encountered yet.

Now you might think that’s not saying much (“They all suck!”), but it really is. If I said a movie was the BEST Asylum movie, THAT would be dim praise – the bar is pretty low. But having seen their dreck like Monster, Halloween Night, and Paranormal Entity, the fact that this one is even WORSE than those is almost laudable. And the fact that it’s based on a true story (for real this time) somehow makes it even more terrible, with its occasional exploitative elements and laughably bad attempts to make a modern house in Glendale or Silverlake (somewhere around there) look like 1970s Germany.

They also botch their entire concept, attempting to pass itself off as “found footage” from the events that occurred in June of 1976. I’d have to consult Wikipedia to be sure, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that they didn’t have HD camcorders back then, and the crude efforts to make some of the footage look like 8 or 16mm are just as tacky. They even add digital tape noise over some of the footage, which only draws MORE attention to its anachronistic idiocy. They get the 1.33:1 aspect ratio right, I’ll give them that much.

But even ignoring all that (I assume the ideal Asylum viewer – an easily duped schmuck – won’t notice anyway), it’s a lousy movie almost from the start. The biggest problem is that they hit the ground running, which they probably think makes the movie more exciting but actually just makes it impenetrable. The Exorcist works because we spend 30-40 minutes with Regan as a normal girl before she turns; and the aforementioned flicks work because they give us interesting characters in the lead roles (Laura Linney in Emily, Patrick Fabian in Last Exorcism). But in all three, the exorcism is something they build to, whereas here, the priests arrive in the first scene and are doing their thing within the first 10-15 minutes.

Worse, not only do we never get a chance to latch onto any of the characters or really give a shit about what is going on because of the mad rush to “get to the good stuff”, but it also makes the movie incredibly repetitive after a half hour, because they’ve already shown us all their tricks. Every now and then someone dies (made up people), but not only will you probably not care, you might even have to pause to remember who they even were. Between the crew, doctors, parents, and priest, there are like 8 people there at all times, all introduced more or less simultaneously, and I was hard pressed to tell some of them apart, especially due to their silly attempts to “dirty up” the footage. A big chunk of the movie is shown from a black and white/washed out fixed angle from the corner of the living room, with everyone talking over each other. “Who the fuck is talking?” will be a common thought running through your brain when you watch this flick, if you bother to do so (please don’t).

Hilariously, the best parts of the movie are when we look at a black screen, accompanied by some text and a German logo of some sort. These are when we hear the real Anneliese tapes, and while it’s a bit crass, they at least offer the chills that these movies should effortlessly provide. The bits of text at the top/end of the film are also more interesting than anything we see, again because they are sticking to the facts, and also because they stay on screen so long (I had time to read one of them FIVE times), it fills up the running time. Anything to keep me from having to watch these mostly terrible actors spit out their (seemingly at least partly improvised) dialogue!

I also will give kudos to Nicole Muller, the girl playing Anneliese. She looks a bit younger than the real girl was at this time (24), which I assume is intentional because no one ever makes an exorcist movie with a character in her 20s (I guess it makes it more disturbing when she starts telling the priest to fuck her or whatever). But whatever her age, the actress gives it her all, pulls off the voices convincingly, and generally proves that she deserves better than this. Everyone else should be thrown out of Hollywood on the grounds of their terrible fake German accents alone.

And that’s the other thing – it’s actually hard to decipher half of the movie. The German accents are nigh on unintelligible, and a number of seemingly important plot points are revealed via on-screen journal entries written by someone with terrible penmanship. Then you have everyone talking over each other, or interrupting due to not knowing how to improvise properly... it’s just a mess. But even when the dialogue is crystal clear it’s not worth listening to anyway, so it’s not a big loss.

Well, whatever. No one cares about the Asylum movies that are bad, because that’s what is expected. It’s those rare ‘gems’ (Mega Piranha!) that keeps me coming back; pointing out the flaws in their others is sort of like complaining that the guy who robbed your house also had terrible hygiene.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Horror Of The Zombies (1974)

JUNE 21, 2011

GENRE: ZOMBIE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REVIVAL SCREENING)

When I announced that today’s HMAD would be Horror Of The Zombies (aka Ship Of Zombies/Ghost Galleon/El Buque Maldito, or just The Blind Dead 3) over Twitter, I got a lot of responses about how boring it was (one guy even broke out “somnolent” to describe it). Hell, even Brian Quinn, the guy who programmed it, mentioned that of the four Blind Dead films, it’s “not one of the better ones”. But armed with these now insanely low expectations, I had a lot of fun watching it, though I will also admit a. I haven’t seen the other Blind Dead films (I thought I saw the first one, but I had it confused with Oasis Of The Zombies), and b. it IS pretty damn boring.

In fact, if I was watching it at home, one of two things would have happened: 1. I would have fallen asleep, due to the movie’s somnolence (!) plus my tendency to nod off even in exciting movies, or 2. I would have gotten bored, stopped giving it my full attention, and had trouble writing the review later. But at the Bev, I was “trapped”, so checking Twitter or leafing through a magazine wasn’t an option, and my large root beer (plus the earlier hour) helped keep me awake, and thus I was able to see past the movie’s sluggish pace and discover the charmingly nutty movie within.

While not intentionally so, this movie is hands down one of the funniest I’ve seen in years, thanks to ridiculous plotting and (presumably) some translation errors in dubbing an English track over the original Spanish. The professor guy alone earns more laughs than anyone in Hangover II, with his out of nowhere revelations (“I also know exorcisms!”) and frequently nonsensical explanations for what is happening. At one point, someone asks him where he thinks their missing friend can be, so he goes into detail about the “equatorial heat” and other science-y things, and then when the guy asks what that has to do with his missing friend, he replies “probably nothing”. And he brought the entire house down when someone questioned why a boat couldn’t see them: “I TOLD you – we’re in another dimension!”

Whether or not they WERE in an alternate dimension remained unclear, and it’s the rare case where something could either be a cool plot device or just sloppy filmmaking. The boat they are on is cloaked in darkness, but the boat they are trying to signal is in broad daylight. No one says “Hey, why is it light out over there?” or anything of that nature, so I assume it’s just lousy editing. But his “other dimension” explanation could also explain it, which would be pretty cool, like a Bermuda Triangle type thing. I guess it comes down to whether or not you are taking the movie serious or not.

Speaking of poor editing, the unparalleled badness of the model/miniature work also resulted in a number of howlers. You know that scene in Spice World* where they’re like “We can’t afford to show that!” and then they show a little crappy model of a bus making a stunt jump? That looked more realistic than the models here, particularly when the ship catches fire and they cut to a toy boat with a little lighter sized flame in the middle. They even use models to show coffins being tossed in the water, which looked bad enough the first time and yet they show it 2-3 more times even though it’s just the same basic shot of something roughly the size of a domino floating to the bottom of an aquarium. All part of the charm.

But the best part for me was the character played by Jack Taylor. I’ve seen him in a couple other movies, but this was the first time I noticed how much he reminded me of William Fichtner (one of my favorite actors). He’s got that same sort of presence, where he can play a villain that you love no matter what sort of horrible things they do, something they use to great effect here since he starts off as the film’s human villain but is ultimately sort of the hero, at least by default. He doesn’t really DO anything (no one does), but he’s the last man standing, and his henchman Sergio tries to murder him out of nowhere, so by the process of elimination he becomes our Bruce Willis. He also had one of the best lines, when a girl asks about her missing sister and he rudely replies “Don’t butt into this!” (he also joins the professor in coming up with theories pulled directly from his ass, deciding that the zombies will return in a half hour after they ward them off with the professor’s “Exorcism”).

Oh yeah, the zombies. This IS a horror movie, after all. Or at least, tries to be one. For a zombie flick, it’s painfully short on gore, with a lot of the deaths occurring off-screen and/or caused by other means. It’s a good forty minutes or so before the zombies appear, and while they look very cool (I thought they were puppets at first because they were so skeletal and stiff), they don’t do a hell of a lot. Plus there are slow zombies, and then there are these guys, who take 2-3 minutes just to get out of their coffins. Speaking of which, this is the squeakiest goddamn movie ever made – every single door, coffin lid, footstep, etc is accompanied by a long, annoying, “spooky” creaking noise.

In addition to the zombie stuff, there’s a bit of a supernatural element at play as well. I already mentioned the possibility of it taking place in another dimension, but there’s also a hilariously ironic subplot of people falling asleep for up to 14 hours at a time. Halfway through the movie I realized why I had taken a shine to it – all of these characters are like me! One girl in particular seemingly spends more of her screentime asleep than not – at one point she wakes up from a nap, walks around for a bit, and then immediately goes back to sleep again. But as with the dimension stuff, it’s possible that it’s just lazy filmmaking, with the screenwriter not knowing what else to do with her – an out of nowhere flashback to “happier times” begins with her asleep at her desk while reading.

In fact, more often than not the characters have to be asleep in order for the “plot” to work, because the boat is not very big. When our would-be heroine is surprisingly attacked by the undead, she screams for help (oddly, she specifically shouts for Sergio, who had raped her earlier), but no one comes to help because they are all asleep. If they were awake, she probably wouldn’t even have needed to shout, because there’s seemingly a very narrow area where one could be on the ship without easily seeing everything else that is happening on it. The last two folks get off the boat and onto a nearby island, which I thought was kicking off a rousing climax, but then the zombies just wander on shore and the movie ends with them staring into the camera, robbing us of a final death AND anything that can be considered a real ending. I assume that the barrage of “it’s the worst in the series” sentiments I heard means that the other films have more action or at least satisfying conclusions, but if not and this is how these particular films always end, I don’t think I’ll bother seeking the rest out. At least, not on my own – again, it was the crowd experience that made this movie enjoyable. If they book the others at the Bev I’m first in line, but I am a bit wary of renting one on DVD and watching on my couch with so many Xbox games staring back at me.

Ironically, I sort of WISHED I was at home for the 2nd film, The House That Vanished (noticeably retitled from Scream And Die - the new title card cut into the middle of a shot). It was just as slow and gore-free, but it wasn’t as funny, and actually had a plot of note. In other words, for the most part it was NOT the kind of thing you want to watch with a big crowd at 11 o’clock at night immediately after another dull movie. It certainly had its moments – particularly a ghastly (borderline softcore) sex scene between a 50ish woman and her nephew (hey-o!) – but I think I would have enjoyed it more at home, on like a rainy Sunday afternoon or something. Not a bad film, just didn’t fit with the atmosphere IMO. Needless to say I was not as successful in staying awake, though a perusal of the synopsis on IMDb revealed I didn’t really miss much. I saw enough to know this though: star Andrea Allan is one of the most drop-dead gorgeous 70s heroines I’ve ever seen, and also a pretty good actress – a shame she didn’t have much of a career (lot of “Girl on Train” or “Nurse” roles on her resume; this may have been her only lead role). Also, while it had Giallo elements (black gloves, red herrings), it was more of a straight thriller than a horror movie; nothing got scarier than that old lady thrusting against her nephew (neph-EW? No?).

This was the first Grindhouse night I’ve been able to attend in quite some time (work seems to get in the way, schedule-wise, more often than not), and their upcoming shows are movies I’ve seen a bunch so it’ll be a play it by ear type thing (if I can make them at all), but since it was these events that got me going to the New Beverly in the first place, attending them always puts a smile on my face. These might not have been the best movies they’ve ever shown, but as Quinn pointed out in his intro, it would be easy for him to show the same Fulci films over and over and probably draw a bigger crowd, but part of the fun is discovering new movies. I mean, look at me – I’ve been doing this for over 4 years now and it took a screening at the Bev to finally see one of the Blind Dead movies. Hopefully they will continue to mix the “gets” with more obscure stuff like this. Beats watching some DTV junk on Netflix Instant.

What say you?

*Meat Loaf is in it, I had to watch. But it’s really not that bad. And Posh was smoking hot back then. Look, fuck you.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Cyrus: Mind Of A Serial Killer (2010)

JUNE 20, 2011

GENRE: SERIAL KILLER
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

If you like horror movies, chances are you will find something that appeals to you in Cyrus: Mind Of A Serial Killer. It’s got good (and not just cameo) performances by Lance Henriksen and Danielle Harris, plus (sigh) cameos by some others, and it dips into several different sub-genres along the way – serial killer flick, survival/torture horror, a darkly humorous cannibal subplot... however you may feel about the flick, you can’t accuse them of trying to act like they are “above” horror movies – they present enough horror-ready elements and actors for several films over the course of its 90 minutes.

But that’s also part of the problem – it’s too disjointed. Harris’ character is the host of a true crime show called “Last Steps”, and Cyrus is the focus of her new episode (with Henriksen as Cyrus’ best friend, telling the story for him), but there are a number of brief interviews with folks like Doug Jones and Rae Dawn Chong from other "Last Steps" episodes that come/go out of nowhere and never feel fully integrated with the rest of the narrative. Chong isn’t even talking about Cyrus, but some other killer, which would have been fine for the beginning of the movie when we are being introduced to Harris’ character, but not an hour or so in when we’re fully engrossed in Cyrus’ story. And Harris doesn’t even appear in these scenes (there might be some voiceover, I forget), which makes them feel even more perfunctory. If I had to guess, the movie came up short and these things were added later once the other actors had moved on. They’re not bad scenes on their own, and it’s always nice to see Jones out of makeup, but they just don’t really fit with the movie. There’s another one after the credits that goes on for like three full minutes, with some basic death row debate – where the hell would this have fit into the movie? Cyrus wasn’t even a known serial killer, let alone one imprisoned and on death row.

And the decent serial killer stuff is sadly abandoned after a while in favor of torture scenes. Some seem to fit with his MO, such as when he brands one of his victims with an A after he accuses her of being a whore (“Scarlet Letter” reference!), as his wife’s infidelity years before is what set him on his serial killing path, but others are just pointless violence for violence sake, with Cyrus cutting out a tongue and playing Kathy Bates with a girl’s foot and what not. There are still some good creepy moments sprinkled within, such as when he demands a girl breast feed his baby (which is a mummified corpse), and I liked the idea of him “hunting” some of his victims as he was selling their meat in his butcher chop, but the lengthy and unnecessary torture stuff just came across as more padding. Also, Brian Krause as Cyrus spends most of the first half or so of the movie playing the role in silence, and he’s quite good (almost sympathetic) as he plays scenes just with his expressions, but he never shuts up during the torture parts, which makes him a little less scary in my opinion. I would have preferred that they spent more time on Cyrus’ back-story and/or Danielle’s, which would have helped elevate this one a little more above its peers.

But it IS watchable, and for the first 40 minutes or so, pretty darn good. I always enjoy the storytelling/flashback structure in these sort of films, because it allows for a less A to B story, and also allows the writer to use broad strokes or a quick voiceover to fill in backstory and focus on good bits. And not for nothing - it’s Lance Henriksen telling the story, which automatically makes it more interesting to listen to. I’ve seen the guy in probably 50 movies at this point, and I can’t think of an example where he wasn’t giving it all his effort, even in rubbish like The Seamstress, and this is no exception. There’s a great moment early on where he chastises Harris and her cameraman for being “early”, which is followed by a beat and then the chime of the clock striking the hour (thus, by “early” he was referring to mere seconds), at which point he drops his icy stare and begins talking. It’s the sort of thing that a slumming/lazy actor wouldn’t have been able to convey, but Lance nails it.

He also helps make the film’s rather clunky twist work. I won’t spoil it, but it’s one of those misdirection things that few movies try to pull off because it requires too many vague plot elements to succeed, including (in this specific case) Lance having to come across as a possible threat without going too far in either direction. In a weird way it’s sort of like his role in Aliens, where you’re half-expecting Bishop to break down and become a villain the way Ashe did in the first Alien. There’s a possible giant mistake with regards to Lance’s age compared to that of another character, but by that point the movie is seconds from ending and it’s too late to make a stink about it. Plus it’s fun enough to warrant the frequent breaks in Cyrus’ story to cut back to Lance talking to Danielle, something that could have thrown the pace off but is largely successful here.

And most of their scenes take place in the daylight, which is a good thing because this is not a very well shot film. I don’t know enough about lenses and HD models and what not to pinpoint what the exact problem is, but if I can use a technical term: it’s ugly as hell. Especially in the nighttime scenes, where everything is murky and looks like the low grade stuff you’d see on an early episode of COPS. Lighting frequently jumps all over the place; early on there’s a bit where Danielle is giving a report at “magic hour” (where everything is drenched in the orange glow of the low-hanging sun - see: every Michael Bay film), but when they show the POV of the camera shooting her, it’s bright and (normal) sunny. However, the scenes of Jones and the others being interviewed look terrific, which just further suggests that these were done later (perhaps after they noticed their footage wasn’t particularly great looking and either hired a new DP or made the one they had take a few classes).

The disc sports an above-average making of piece, featuring interviews with writer/director Mark Vadik and most of the cast, including the lovely Shawna Waldron, whose character in the movie is a drunken blubbering mess (read: annoyance) most of the time but is clearly a likable and charming woman in real life. One thing Vadik reveals is that he sort of assembled Cyrus’ tragic back-story from a bunch of different serial killers (something I picked up on from the movie, with Ed Gein being one of the most obvious inspirations), and he also explains that Lance had a different acting method than Danielle so he had to let them play around a bit so they could both get to where they needed to be... look, it’s a lot better than the usual “I loved the script and I wanted to work with (whoever happened to cross their mind first)” bullshit. We also get a look at the creation of the mummy baby, which is even freakier looking than the movie lets on – if this movie was a big release, the studio would be stupid not to make little keychains or something as a promotional item. The trailer is also included but it makes the movie look less interesting than it is, stacking the money shots up instead of hinting at the story plots, such as the nature of Cyrus’ barbecue (the one posted below is different and better, IMO).

This is where watching a horror movie a day comes in handy. If this was one of maybe 4-5 smaller horror films I saw all year, I’d probably be panning it. But with so many bland, lazy, or just flat out terrible films on the market, something like this sticks out. It’s got issues, but everyone is putting effort into doing something different, and it never gets too dull or repetitive thanks to the unusual structure. And any movie that gives Lance and Danielle (plus Tiffany Shepis, in a brief, almost unrecognizable role as Cyrus’ despicable mother) something different to do is worth a look for genre fans.

What say you?

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