The Stone Tape (1972)

DECEMBER 30, 2012


I did not know that I could watch Amazon OnDemand on my Xbox until today; I might have to look into their "Prime" service since it apparently comes with 11,000 free movies and I'm guessing a few of them could be HMAD titles. Similarly, I never heard of The Stone Tape until the other day, when I saw it written up in "Rue Morgue" and listed as an influence on Carpenter's Prince Of Darkness, a film I quite enjoy, as you know. Good to know that I can still learn stuff, I guess. I figured my brain was for shit at this point.

Anyway, being a 1970s television movie for the BBC, I wasn't expecting much action or a high body count from the flick, nor did I receive it. It's very talky; I'm not sure how commercials worked back then but if it aired today I don't even think they'd have a scare to show before each break, as they are rather infrequent (one of them is below, since I unsurprisingly couldn't find a trailer). Luckily they're pretty good, all things considered, and like Salem's Lot or (in my case) Don't Go To Sleep, probably warped a few young minds who tuned in and didn't know what they were in for. The final two scares in particular (one involving the film's only death, I think) are pretty bone-chilling, especially when you consider how chatty and generally pleasant the rest of the movie is.

I also enjoyed that Nigel Kneale's script didn't waste too much time on skepticism. Our heroine sees the ghost roughly 8 seconds after entering the room where its trapped, and when she tells the group they all go to check it out and hear/see it themselves as well, as opposed to the "There's nothing here!" nonsense that 99% of all haunting movies feel compelled to include. There's only one guy who doesn't hear it, and that actually has a fun idea behind it - one of the scientists suggests that a haunting works something like an allergy, where the element (dust, smoke, a cat, whatever) is there but will affect everyone differently. It's a pretty great idea, I think, though they don't dwell on it too much. The movie suffers from an overpopulation, so this "control" character who can't hear it like the others doesn't really factor into the proceedings all that much, as there are other scientists to deal with and fight for the remaining 45 minutes of screentime.

The dialogue can also be a bit rambunctious; at one point says that something "gets in the way, like all this jokey talk", and it was an incredibly apt thing to say as I had already noted that the group of scientists spend way too much time ball-busting one another. I actually had trouble following the reasons that they were setting up shop in this location, because when the main guy is explaining it, every other line of his speech is interrupted by some jovial ribbing, either directed at him or another guy in the room. Sure, it makes them more "fun", but with so many of them being rather anonymous in the grand scheme of things (a problem with Prince of Darkness as well, oddly enough), I'm not sure it was worth the distraction.

But again, I'm not familiar with BBC television movies (or plays, I guess - sorry if anyone is against my counting this as a movie. It's 90 minutes long, features a bunch of sets, and has a creepy opening title sequence - video look aside, it seemed like a movie to me), so maybe their audiences were accustomed to this sort of stuff. I assume they were also OK with the casual racism (the scientists are trying to invent a new recording medium to compete with "the Japs" - a comment that is delivered by a guy pulling his eyes into slants)... the point is that it's kind of dated by today's standards, but I can't really hold that against it since at the time they probably didn't have much reason to think it would still be available to watch 40 years later on something called an "Xbox".

Thus, it'd be interesting to see an update (even as a TV movie), since I quite like the idea of doing a Poltergeist type movie without the Frelings - just the scientists who usually show up halfway through (Insidious is another example - imagine a movie with just Specs and Tucker!), and even if some of the science goes over my head, it's at least a bigger stakes scenario than the usual family unit, since a bunch of scientists are easier to kill off than a mom or dad of a family unit (and forget about the kids). And unlike a family, scientists have a built in reason to stick around and solve whatever mystery is at hand, so as long as they refrain from taunting alien snakes or getting high in their spacesuits, such a film would reduce the amount of time an audience spends yelling at the protagonists. More science-driven horror movies!

What say you?


Rats: Night Of Terror (1984)

DECEMBER 29, 2012


The most surprising thing about Rats: Night Of Terror (Italian: Rats - Notte di Terrore) is that despite coming from Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso (the guys behind Hell Of The Living Dead), it's actually not particularly gory or violent, and it saves its only truly batshit moment for the closing shot. Otherwise it's a pretty straightforward, somewhat too-slowly paced tale of a group of survivors who come up from underground to scavenge for supplies and end up trapped in a building with a bunch of bloodthirsty rats.

And by bloodthirsty I mean "occasionally the filmmakers will dump a bucket of the poor things on one of their actors". Those scenes are a delight, because it looks to me like they're actual live rats (not rubber) being tossed haphazardly over an understandably freaked out actor, but more often than not the actors will scream and fret about the rats, and then Mattei will cut to a shot of a bunch of the things just sort of chilling, sniffing around, crawling over one another... basically everything a rat can do EXCEPT advance or make any sort of threatening behavior toward the humans they're supposedly trying to kill. Sometimes they don't even bother with the cutaway; we just have to take the actor's word for it. To be fair, Mattei DOES use a bunch of rubber rats for one shot, where they're placed evenly on a conveyor belt or something and glide past the camera, so in comparison the real rats that are just hanging out look terrifying.

Now, this is the early 80s so obviously there's no CGI to use - but why did they opt for normal sized rats (actually guinea pigs painted brown/gray, according to an interview with Mattei on the disc) instead of giant ones, which they could use puppets or trick photography to give some sense of menace? I'm used to my Italian horror movies being silly, but not in this fashion - at no point did I feel they were in any real danger from the film's only villain. Even when they were just being dumped all over the characters, you can see the rats just sort of freaking out and scampering AWAY from their "target", so it all comes across more than a bit flat.

Otherwise, it's still pretty enjoyable. Mattei was going for a bit of a Night of the Living Dead thing here, so the survivors bicker fairly often, and one guy plays Cooper and turns on the others, but we have laid-back rats instead of zombies. Mattei stages a few memorable death (or, post-death) scenes, as the rats have a thing for crawling inside bodies and exiting when witnesses are around to see it - one crawls out of a woman's mouth, so you can use your imagination to figure out where it crawled IN, and at one point a body actually bursts apart as several of the things make their way out. They're also fans of propping corpses against doors and such like a slasher killer, so I found that pretty amusing even if it didn't make a lick of sense. It's not very gory (just about every makeup effect of note is seen on a corpse), but there's some variety to the 6-7 deaths all the same. And the hero is named Kurt and more or less dressed like MacReady from The Thing, so I'm completely on board with that.

It's also rife with bonkers dialogue, particularly from the character of Video (they all have stupid names), who bemoans never getting to play a real video game but yet can't recognize a computer when he sees one (he claims it needs "a kick in the balls" when he can't get it started). I also loved the bit where they find "food", which is mostly sugar and flour - a couple of them bite into sugar bags and eat it, which I kind of get (who hasn't eaten a sugar packet?), but when they do the same for flour I started getting confused (and also instantly began singing "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" from Book Of Mormon). This also has the movie's most delightfully weird bit, as a guy dumps the bag over the lone black member of the group as part of the celebration, and she immediately begins dancing around while shouting about how she's now whiter than the rest of them.

Well, 2nd weirdest. This movie has the odd distinction of having a totally bonkers final minute that I somehow managed to call 20 minutes before, albeit mostly as a joke. There's something admirable about it, to be sure, but at the same time it kind of diminished the power (lack of a better word) of the film's rather surprising social commentary, in that humans and rats had switched places. In our day, we ran the world while the rats were forced to live in the sewers, but now it's the other way around, and thus (considering the limitations described above) the rats spend the movie doing the same thing we do to any rats that surface just to find food or something - we exterminate it. And to some degree this is just hammered home by the finale, but does so in a silly way that puts the movie into full-blown Syfy movie territory as opposed to something more grounded (and thus more interesting).

Mattei doesn't talk much about the ending... or the actors, plot, etc on the 8 minute interview that serves as the disc's only extra of note (the typically overlong trailer - in which the movie is called Blood Kill - and a Mattei bio are also included). He only spends about two minutes on Rats before moving on to discuss Hell Of The Living Dead in greater detail, including the reveal that the infamous tutu bit in that movie was made up on the spot. It's odd that he doesn't have much to say about this film, since he's claimed its his favorite of all the ones he's made (early on in the interview he says his films are like his children, then later says he wishes he could reshoot them all - poor kids), but maybe the interview was conducted specifically for that movie and they just tossed it on here since he mentioned Rats a couple times. The bio is pretty good, giving some credit to co-writer (and co-director?) Fragasso, who worked with Mattei a lot back in his pre-Troll 2 infamy.

It's certainly no Of Unknown Origin, and probably a bit too slow and not violent enough for those accustomed to the gory nonsense of most Italian horror of this period, Rats is not without its own charms, and it's interesting to discover that Mattei and Fragasso once put together a movie that actually makes relative sense. If it's playing with something else at a repertory theater's double bill, it's worth sticking around for, but I wouldn't lead with it. I also wouldn't recommend watching it if you, like me, have been itching to play Fallout lately - underground dwellers in a post-apoc world coming up and encountering rats? Where are the stimpacks?

What say you?


The Afflicted (2010)

DECEMBER 28, 2012


Ever since I started HMAD, I've done my best to see all theatrically released horror films in theaters, though a few always pass me by (usually in October, when there's just too much going on to hit everything). But it's rare to stumble across something like The Afflicted, which not only played but made a decent amount of money (over 200k on 13 screens - to compare, the far more recognizable V/H/S played on 19 and only made half that) - yet I never even heard of it until it popped up on Netflix Instant. And I'm the guy actively LOOKING for stuff like this - clearly there's something broken in the system.

Anyway, it's a decent flick, though I'm not sure what the point is. It's based on the real life story of Theresa Knorr, a woman with a few children who went batshit crazy and began abusing her two oldest daughters, including forcing one into prostitution in order to make money to pay bills. A terrible, depressing story to be sure, but I'm not sure if it was crying out to be dramatized and turned into a horror film in the vein of The Girl Next Door (another true life case of horrid abuse), because there isn't much there in terms of plot or even characters - beyond the six person family unit (including Kane Hodder as the father, who exits the movie quicker than Jason did in Jason Goes To Hell), there are only two other people in the movie: a scumbag who pays to deflower (rape) one of the daughters, and a TV preacher that the mom fancies.

That's the angle that the movie should have exploited, but he gets sidelined for long stretches where we just see the mom (Leslie Easterbrook) smacking around one of the daughters for one reason or another, or drinking and muttering to herself. The description made it sound like something along the lines of Frailty, with her convinced that demons were around and that she was doing this stuff under the guise of "protecting" her children, but without that heavy religious influence (and the fact that the preacher sort of turns hero toward the end), she just comes across as a standard psychotic. For a while I just assumed they were sticking closely to the story out of respect or something, but the ending is completely different from reality - in real life Knorr is still in prison, thanks to testimony from the daughter, but in the movie (spoiler) the daughter kills her and then commits suicide.

Luckily the performances make up for the thin story. Easterbrook can be a bit over the top, but anyone who just knows her as Callahan from the Police Academy movies will be in shock to see her Piper Laurie-ing it up here, and the girls playing her daughters - despite not looking anything like her or each other - are also quite good. Kane's role is too brief to say much about, though it's always nice to see him out of the makeup, and kind of amusing to see him as a victim. It's also well made across the board - I wouldn't have been bewildered to have been watching this in a theater like some of the junk I've seen recently (Saint Dracula!), though their credit guy deserves a good smack to the balls for spelling the Prophet guy's name as "Cowboy Profit" in the end titles.

Not much else to say, really. I wasn't bored or annoyed watching it, but again I'm not sure what the point was - everything the movie offered could be described in its brief plot synopsis. Girl Next Door introduced some thriller elements, plus a strong dose of Stand By Me-ish nostalgia/coming of age drama mixed with terror - this doesn't really have either; it just matter of factly tells its story. The daughters never make much of an effort to escape (the son is almost a complete non-entity), and there's no way to feel much sympathy toward Easterbrook's character (they also don't explore the idea that she's able to act normal when confronted by school officials or whoever). Similarly, the performances are good, but they're not the sort of "Holy shit this is award-worthy" tour de force work that are enough to overlook the story issues. It's basically the most "OK" movie ever made. Grats?

What say you?

P.S. Since it's available on Netflix Instant, does anyone want to play music detective? The music that underscores the birthday party in the opening scene (around 1:40 in the movie) is definitely something I've heard before, but it's not any of the songs listed in the credits. Can anyone identify it and let me know what it is? I'll give you a dollar.


The Thompsons (2012)

DECEMBER 27, 2012


Before I begin reviewing The Thompsons, I just want to apologize for my earliest reviews from 2007. Not only are they way too snarky, they're pointlessly vague, so when I realize I can't remember much about (Thompsons' predecessor) The Hamiltons and decide to look at my own review to help, I find it useless. If I had the time I'd re-review them all and write em up properly, but alas... (I wish I had a picture of all my Xbox games here to put in, but take my word for it - there are a lot of them still in shrinkwrap).

Anyway, what I CAN garner from that review is that I felt the movie was "meh" (writing!) and that it foolishly attempted to build a twist out of what was kind of obviously going on with the youngest member of the family. Luckily, now that we know what they are (pseudo "vampires" that need human blood to survive and grow teeth/red eyes when enraged but otherwise share no traits with the traditional vampire), there's no silly twist or reason to hide anything from the audience. Instead, this time The Butcher Brothers (yep, they're sticking with that, for some reason) opt for a convoluted, non-chronological first half, which starts with one of the Hamiltons (now the Thompsons) trapped in a coffin, and narrates to us how he got in there.

However, this includes at least two occasions where he more or less says "Oh wait, let me back up a little more and tell you this other thing first", rendering it more confusing than it needed to be. I thought maybe they were going for an "unreliable narrator" sort of thing, where we'd learn that part of his story was made up, or maybe there'd be a twist to how everything really went down (like Memento where he goes back far enough to reveal the truth behind why he killed Teddy), but no - there's not much of a payoff for it. And if I'm piecing it all together in order in my head correctly, they can't even claim there would be a pacing issue - the first thing that would happen would be a pretty fun scene at a diner in the desert, and it wouldn't be long before there was another action scene at a pub. I don't get it.

Otherwise, it's an entertaining followup, and better than "Meh" which means it's probably better than the original (don't hold me to that though - I used Wikipedia to help me remember more about its narrative but I'm still a bit hazy). Again, they don't need to hide anything this time, so there's a lot more action, though once again he youngest member (Lenny) is sidelined for the bulk of the film. Whereas before he was chained in the basement, this time he's seriously injured and the other members spend the movie trying to find a way to cure him. This leads them to England, where they discover another family of "vampires" who they think can help. Things don't work out, of course, and there's a fun war between the two clans. Sure, it'd be nice if all the bloodshed was practical (yep, more odd floaty digital blood on display here), but it's fun to see vamps go at it in the name of family, especially when you consider that they don't have regenerative powers or whatever.

Plus I quite liked the whole thing about family sticking together - it's not something you see too often in a vampire movie, and despite the long gap between the two films, the primary actors return (Lenny is different, but since he's barely in either of them it doesn't matter much). And that's something that's rare in horror in general - how often CAN a sequel bring back more than 1 or 2 people anyway? So it's interesting to see them all come back, a bit older and with the actors clearly enjoying their return to this world. It also gives Francis (the one who was filming everything in the first movie) a lot more to do - he's almost the guy in charge this time, as David's role is mostly limited to watching over Lenny until the final reel. It's another issue with the strange structure of the first half - it's a while before we see them all together, but if they had put the movie in order we'd see it right away, which is sort of the thing you'd want in a long-awaited sequel.

It's not a long movie (82 minutes), but the DVD/Blu (available as a combo - I love this approach, by the way) doubles your value with behind the scenes material that takes almost as long to watch. The presentation is a bit curious - there are six featurettes that run an average of 13 minutes each, and each of those is broken into chapters. But there's no rhyme or reason to any of it; you'd expect one to be about the genesis, one about casting, one about post, etc, but all topics are just sort of scattered around - the 5th piece still has stuff that you'd think would have been covered in the first one. But they cover a TON of ground, and explore areas not often seen in horror docs, like the fight coordinating and production design. They also spend a curious amount of time on financing and how to secure producers, so if that's your thing - enjoy! The trailer for this and some other releases from XLRator are also included, though with Bigfoot: Lost Coast Tapes and Gangsters, Guns & Zombies among them, the latter isn't much of a bonus.

The True Blood influence is apparent, but if the popularity of that (and Twilight) helped get this sequel made after six years, so be it. I can't exactly say I was dying for a followup, but I'm sure many were, and I think they delivered a stronger film in the process. Hopefully if they do the 3rd one (discussed in the bonus features) they stop with the attempts at twists and trying to be clever and just focus on the characters and story, and thus really knock it out of the park.

What say you?


Madness (2012)

DECEMBER 26, 2012


Sometimes I wonder if I should have created a category called "Repulsive", because some movies like Madness are just as terrible and shoddy as the others in the list, but will probably be enjoyed immensely by sociopaths and the non-discerning, not to mention those goons who equate the amount of violence with the quality of their horror film. Well, 2 minutes into Madness, a man stomps on a woman's stomach so hard that blood and who knows what else comes shooting out from between her legs, which is followed by a credits sequence where we watch a poor little mouse run around before he gets stomped to death as well. Enjoy!

Sadly that's about as novel as the movie gets, which otherwise follows the route of Texas Chainsaw, Wrong Turn, etc. without the bonus of such nutty concepts like "an actual storyline", "characters to care about or even like", or "the slightest goddamn point". Now, Wrong Turn is actually a good example of how to do this sort of thing - the filmmakers were trying to make that sort of movie, which had been dormant for a long time, and did so with some style, a decent trio of villains, a good cast (Jeremy Sisto!), and a genuine understanding of what made those earlier movies work. The guys behind this offer none of those things, and make it even worse than most by inexplicably trying to pass of Sweden for "outside Minneapolis".

This one really puzzled me. The villains speak Swedish (even though they're supposed to be backwoods Americans), at least for the most part - they occasionally speak English too. But the hero characters are all speaking very stiff, heavily accented English at all times, making me momentarily wonder if this was a parody of some sort, when one asks another where he's from and he says "Minneapolis", which is about as believable as any Van Damme or Schwarzenegger character trying to be passed off as an American. Except even less so, because at least they're engaging performers and we can accept this bit as part of the fun, whereas this is a movie where that character will later be raped by one of the hillbilly mutants and then weep for a minute (though the actual rape has been excised from this print, making me wonder why the censors didn't just cut the entire movie out). Fun does not seem to be on anyone's mind here.

And even that would be fine if they had something to say or even the slightest semblance of a story, but there's none. The number of killers is equal to the number of heroes, which seems to provide nothing but an excuse to keep the face-offs coming every few minutes, reducing the need for things like dialogue or a plot that went beyond "Kids are killed by mutant hillbillies". In Chainsaw they wanted meat - what do these guys want? They don't eat them - one girl is even brought down to the river, chained to a stone, and drowned - why? It's not even a trespassing issue like some of the others - they go out of their way to get the kids and bring them to their area. There's absolutely no interior logic or point to any of it, even by the low standards of Texas Chainsaw wannabes. For a moment I considered that the guy getting raped was a sort of mean-spirited irony, since the only reason he got involved with the female characters was because he wanted to get laid, but the rest of the movie effectively counters that idea, as it's loaded with evidence that the filmmakers weren't really thinking that much about anything.

Normally I'd use this space to point out the movie's few strong points, like the practical gore and surprisingly not-too-grim ending (meaning two characters actually survive), but then I remembered that there's a post credits scene where a surviving hillbilly uses a sniper rifle to gun down a child and her mother when they stop for gas. So, no. It doesn't deserve any sort of counterpoint. This is the reason the horror genre will always find it difficult to be respected, and my life is poorer for having watched it. But then again, it's my own fault for watching the whole thing when it started off with this title card:


What say you?


12/12/12 (2012)

DECEMBER 25, 2012


A true Christmas miracle - The Asylum legit blew my mind (in a good way) during one of their movies! Roughly 18 minutes into 12/12/12, the protagonist couple, happy after the birth of their child (even though he's a mutant), begin to make love. There's a fade to the exterior to show some time has passed, and then they go back to the mom, who is clearly receiving oral pleasure. She's all into it, and then screams... and her husband, sleeping next to her, asks what's wrong. OH SHIT! IT WAS THE BABY!!!

There are a couple of other little bits like that in the flick, where I was actually impressed with the concepts (the executions, not so much) enough to give the movie a pass, once you factor in the Asylum-ness of it all. It's kind of amusing that they can't even get their fake quotes right; on the back they make up an unnamed critic saying that it's a "Terrifying Supernatural Thriller In The Tradition Of The Omen And Rosemary's Baby!" but it's actually a ripoff of the former and It's Alive, with the baby making his way around and killing folks (or brainwashing them into killing themselves, Omen style). There isn't anything really Rosemary-ish about it; the mother has the baby in the first ten minutes and as the film proceeds she becomes a sort of supporting character as we focus on the baby's journey around town as well as a priest and some other cult types who are after it for one reason or another. So I guess there's some End of Days in there too.

Also, like End of Days, it's about an event that means nothing. Their version of 11/11/11 already covered this sort of ground anyway, but 12/12/12 is far less interesting, though to be fair the movie actually starts on 12/12 and builds to 12/21, so I guess they were going for some Mayan shit, but that didn't happen either. So I'm not sure why they were playing up the dates - at first I thought it was a sequel to that film, which was an Omen ripoff and thus 12/12/12 could be the kid as a teen or in his 20s or something, but it has no relation at all beyond using the same font. And that's fine, since that was not one of their better movies and this IS, but why tie it to a date and give it a shelf life? Just call it "Evil Baby" or something and let the money come flowing in long after some nonsensical date has passed.

Anyway, as long as the baby is killing folks, the movie is perfectly enjoyable. The FX aren't great, but they're largely practical and often hilarious - he even chokes a guy with his umbilical cord! And there are plenty of deaths - the movie even has a sort of "In Memorium" montage at the end! - so it never gets too boring, and there are more locations than the norm for an Asylum movie. It's just when it slows down that you really run into problems, though anyone familiar with the company won't be surprised at any of them: the bad, improv-y sounding dialogue, the miscast actors, the weird camera angles that I guess are supposed to make it look more professional - it's all there.

Oh, and people who don't act like human beings. My favorite was the mailman, who catches a one second glance at the mutant baby and feels compelled to immediately call a random friend and tell him all about it, going on and on about how ugly it is. After a full 90 seconds of this, he is brainwashed and kills himself with his box-cutter, having served his purpose as "guy who gave us an extra minute to pad the runtime with by inexplicably making a lengthy phone call". There are a couple of characters like that, where they have their own little vignette (usually on a phone to an unseen character) before being dispatched, but it's kind of charming in a way - I like to imagine the writer or whoever thinking that it made the world more realistic and fleshed out, when in reality it just gave these awkward actors another place to not-shine. Again though, all part of the charm.

The usual gag reel (which is actually funny, because a lot of it reeks of no one paying attention) and making of are included, along with the promo celebrating their 100th film, which probably does them no favors. "You've made 100 movies and they're still this awkward?" But as I've said before, on the average they're getting better - I'd take my chances with any of their 2012 movies over something from a few years ago. So what they're a little slower than other studios? As long as they're making movies that feature mutant babies using telepathic powers to kill random Los Angeles residents, I'm in their corner.

What say you?


A Cadaver Christmas (2011)

DECEMBER 24, 2012


Some movies benefit from a sort of cinematic Stockholm Syndrome, where after a while you find yourself enjoying what was originally an ordeal. Such is the case with A Cadaver Christmas; in the first 30 minutes I was rolling my eyes at the humor and finding the flashback ridden narrative to be a needless method of padding out the runtime, but then it started clicking, and by the end I was having a pretty good time.

The biggest hurdle is the over-acting, as almost everyone seems to think that if they make wide-eyed expressions and say their lines in an exasperated manner, they will automatically be funny (and this is definitely a zom-com that cares more about the laughs than the zombie action). And the humor was too "busy" as well - the approach to a joke was basically Guy 1 will say something funny, Guy 2 will misunderstand (comically), Guy 1 will get annoyed and demonstrate that annoyance, and then Guy 3 will pop in with a non sequitur or something to further annoy Guy 1 intentionally. I find this kind of humor works best when a. everyone's timing is perfect and b. the audience has already built up a relationship with the characters - unfortunately the "a" part is never really true and the "b" part takes a while to get to.

But once it starts to click (right around the hilarious "Follow me!" gag involving a lengthy elevator wait), it's a pretty fun little flick, with lots of splatter and an admirable approach to killing people off. I honestly figured this would be one of those movies where almost none of the leads die, because if someone's dead they can't add much to the comedy, but they pull off two pretty great surprises in that department, including one around the halfway point or so. And kudos to lead actor Dan Hale (who also produced, and gives himself at least four on-screen credits for doing so, in case you miss one I guess) for playing the entire film with blood on his face. And I'm not exaggerating - the only time we see him without it is in the few pre-zombie flashbacks; he gets covered in it pretty quickly after they appear and never finds the time to wash his face throughout the rest of the narrative. I put some of that shit on for like an hour or so and it was driving me insane - he had to do it for weeks.

Or, months, technically. On the making of piece we learn that the movie was shot in three sessions over the course of a year, which probably accounts for some of the wonky performance issues and occasionally clumsy plotting (what is the point of the frat guy "initiation"?), but that makes the film's strengths all the more impressive in some ways. No glaring continuity issues, no shifts in the film's visual look (some movies with such gaps in production come back with different cameras, or even DPs), etc - it's all pretty seamless, and that can be tough even for a regular production for a narrative that is confined to one night. I wasn't crazy about the ending, however - it ends on a bit of a downer that the movie doesn't deserve, and seems to suggest that they screwed something up with regards to how they dispatched the zombies, but it's not very clear. Perhaps the scripted ending was less obtuse and it wasn't all shot?

Speaking of the script, I really dug the back-story with regards to why there were zombies everywhere - the obligatory well-meaning scientist was looking for a way to obtain useful blood from a corpse in order to prevent the need for blood donors and shortages of the rare type. Perhaps this was done before, if so I never saw it (or don't remember), and thus I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to being an interesting and cool new idea. However, putting the "film damage" filter over the entire movie is NOT a new idea, and it was never a good one to begin with - I see its value for flashback scenes or for dressing up what's supposed to be an old home movie or something, but the entire film has scratches and specks and all other manner of distracting, clearly fake artifacting. However, I'll give them credit for one aspect of their "throwback" approach - the film appears to be a period piece (no cells, standard definition TVs, everyone has rotary phones) but they don't draw much attention to it, as if it was just a movie made in the late 70s or early 80s - i.e. the right way to do a period piece, even if it's a comedy (i.e. NOT making ironic jokes about how "insert trendy item here" will always be popular).

Besides the making of (which is pretty interesting and covers a lot of ground and filled with lots of good anecdotes, like how the film's one actress missed her surprise birthday party because she was stuck on set), the disc also features an overlong gag reel that I'm guessing was assembled more for the cast/crew than fans, since much of it feels like you had to be there to get what is funny. It's nice to see the footage unaltered, but rule of thumb - if the reel couldn't have fit in its entirety during a standard end credit roll, it's probably a lot funnier to them than you. Several trailers for the film are also available; kind of interesting to see the different approaches they took to start things off (they all pretty much end the same, however), though I'd rather the disc space was given to the original short film they made that inspired the feature - they talk about it at length on the making of - why isn't it here?

It's got pacing issues and the gags miss as often as they hit, but overall I found the film endearing and mostly enjoyable. The holiday setting was a bit underplayed, but it still made for a fun way to kick off my all day Christmas movie/special marathon (which included Gremlins, Inside, and Lethal Weapon - I am awesome), and the making of won me over even more with their dedication and good humor about their struggle to get it done. Kudos, good sirs.

What say you?


The Living Dead Girl (1982)

DECEMBER 23, 2012


I was actually looking for an unseen giallo when I stumbled across The Living Dead Girl (French: La morte vivante) in Netflix's "Foreign horror" section, but I remembered that it was EIGHT MONTHS AGO that I promised to see some more Jean Rollin films before I quit, and made no such promises to you giallo fans. And it worked out, because I really enjoyed this one, and it cemented my desire to rectify this somewhat embarrassing gap in my foreign horror intake.

I call it a vampire movie but it's not really one; she needs human blood to survive but none of the other tropes are accounted for - she goes out in the daytime, prefers to rip folks' throats out with her bare hands to biting them, and if garlic or holy water can stop her, no one ever thinks to try (I considered "zombie", but she talks, and again - not big on the biting). Also, unless I've always missed something from the lore, vampires aren't born when earthquakes strike after their coffin has been opened by grave robbers.

This scene is amazing, by the way, more than making up for the fact that the opening "scene" featuring bloodied, writhing lesbian vampires was just an overlong logo (more than 60 seconds!) for Redemption, the distribution company for the DVD. No, the real opening scene features a pair of guys who are hellbent on stealing the "jewellry" (a typo that made its way to the film's wiki page, for some reason) from this crypt, but have terrible timing because an earthquake hits during the process, which knocks her awake and sends one guy to the ground, where he hits his head and is out cold. The quake also knocks over a barrel of toxic waste nearby (hey, why not), and it trickles down the slanted ground to where the guy is, at which point he wakes up and shows a half melted face from instant contact with a small dribble. And now that she's awake she kills the other guy almost instantly, so it's a pretty great way to kick off what is not a very action packed movie. Sure, the FX are cheesy as hell, but there's something quite charming about how casually vicious she is when killing folks, making up for the less than stellar prosthetic and makeup work. There's also enough fake blood being sprayed around during this and the rest of the kill scenes to make up for 3-4 CGI-heavy chores like Gangsters, Guns, and Zombies.

From then on it's a bit slow, but in a way that actually works in its favor - you think it'll be talky and not much will happen, and then there will be another gory murder out of nowhere. After dispatching a couple of folks who are screwing around in her house, Catherine's childhood best friend Helene finds her, and once she realizes what her friend needs to survive, she starts helping by bringing random people from town over for Catherine to eat. But what makes it interesting is that Catherine is slowly regaining her humanity; with each kill she becomes more human again (and thus less interested in killing people). However, Helene has gotten a taste for it, and by the final reel she's killing folks herself, not even for Catherine's thirst. It's one of the more interesting takes on the "needs blood to survive" monster that I've seen in a while, which makes sense since it's 30 years old and thus from a time when ideas took precedent over casting familiar faces and cashing in on brand name titles.

In fact this stuff works so well that it's a bummer that Rollin felt the need to introduce a pair of would-be heroes. There's a pair of English speaking (but still subtitled) photographers on vacation, and the female snaps a few photos of Catherine (another non vampire thing) and becomes obsessed with finding out more about her. Of course this results in her being told that the woman had died years ago (we never find out how/why, one of a few random plot gaps), and so she just meddles more and tries endlessly to convince her boyfriend that it's worth his attention as well. It has a very satisfying conclusion, but this "B" story is nowhere near as interesting or compelling as the "A" story, and is probably directly to blame for the fact that when I tweeted that I was watching the movie, two people replied more or less telling me that it was boring.

On that note, thanks to HMAD reader Worsel for recommending this one when I watched Rape of the Vampire (my only other Rollin experience); it was a damn good call, as this was right up my alley. And another big thanks to Twitter follower @fisty for letting me know that this was not the only Rollin available on Instant - they actually added nearly a dozen of them a while back (funny how they never showed up on "newly added" - wonder how many other additions I've missed because they'd rather pimp new movies), which means I'll be able to check out a number of the other recommendations easily. Everyone wins!

What say you?


Legion: The Final Exorcism (2006)

DECEMBER 22, 2012


Fuck Citizen Kane. No, really, I wish it didn't exist. Because it's one of the greatest movies of all time (and holds up rather well, thankfully), it understandably inspires many an aspiring filmmaker to believe that they, like Welles, can star, direct, write, and produce a film themselves, when in reality it's only the rare genius like Welles that can pull it off (Shane Carruth is another; if you haven't seen Primer yet, please go do that). Thus, we as a people are cursed with lots of movies like Legion: The Final Exorcism (aka Costa Chica: Confession of an Exorcist), for which David Heavener performed the same roles Welles did on Kane, but with vastly different results.

Sadly, I can't even say it's the Citizen Kane of horror movies with demonic pigs, because Amityville probably has that covered, but I can't help but wonder if it might have been at least a little better had Heavener (awesome name for a guy making an Exorcist wannabe, though) let someone else handle a duty or two. I certainly think he could have used someone else's hand in the script, for starters - perhaps someone who knew about the Catholic faith to know that their priests aren't allowed to marry and/or have children, and thus the main character's tragic back-story (their death seemingly caused him to quit being a priest) makes little sense to anyone who might find this stuff interesting anyway (meaning: Catholics). At least, unless he knows something I don't? His IMDb bio says he also performs Christian music, so he must have some knowledge of this stuff - did they change that rule since I was a regular (the 90s)?

Also, perhaps another writer would say "Hey, should we be ripping off Exorcist THIS much? I mean we got the priest who has lost his faith, the possessed girl with an absent father, the foul mouthed demon, the priest saying "TAKE ME!" when performing his exorcism..." To be fair, I've seen movies that rip it off even more, but usually those are more competent in other areas, whereas this film is laughably cheap looking, poorly edited (was this a TV movie? It looks like it's going to commercial breaks a few times), and stars a guy who opted to give himself a near-constant, badly recorded voiceover, one that sucked me out of the movie every single time since it sounded like the disembodied narrator for a true crime TV show instead of the main character reflecting on his adventure.

Heavener himself isn't TOO bad in the lead role; he's obviously no Jason Miller, but again, I've seen worse. Still, with another actor playing the lead (even Roddy Piper, who has a bit part as the possessed girl's uncle), maybe he could have focused more on his direction and producing, so that scenes like the one where he goes to the (Van Nuys!) police station don't resemble cell phone footage. Most of the other actors are even worse, particularly the girl at the morgue, though the possessed girl (Roddy's daughter, apparently) is pretty good, embracing the physicality required when she's going full demon and handling the quieter moments just as well.

Still, what minor things it gets right doesn't change the fact that this is another by the numbers exorcism flick, albeit with a lot of unintentionally hilarious stuff that's supposed to be scary. I don't know what's funnier - the talking demon pig or the chicken attack, but it doesn't matter because neither of them are supposed to be making me laugh. It's a bit gorier than most of the others (particularly the two films from which it stole its new name), but apart from a nice face chewing, there's nothing special about any of it - it's just there to (I assume) try to distract us from all the liberally stolen plot points from other films. And Heavener makes matters worse for himself by attempting a plot twist stolen from Lethal Weapon 2! Apparently (spoiler?) the demon was trying to get at him years ago when it "accidentally" killed his family instead, but at least in Lethal it was just a fun coincidence for the villain - here we learn that the demon was apparently doing all of this for another chance to get him. Yet, he still gives some extra back-story to the reason THIS girl was possessed (involving some sexual abuse), making it more muddled and nonsensical than it seemed when all we knew was that it had a demonic talking pig. FOCUS, Mr. Heavener!

Any doubt in my mind that Dave fancied himself a maestro was forever destroyed when I popped in the disc's only extra beyond a trailer reel - a making of that starts with him chomping on a cigarillo and ends with him saying something like "See you next time!" and a closeup on his director's chair, with everything in between either showing him directing or having him operate the camera as he talked to his actors. It's like, the movie was pretty much all him (he even sang the song over the credits, which had some fun misspellings like "Exorsicm" and "Redemtion"), but he even had to hog the making of himself. But hey, the guy's made like 15 movies like this and still acts, so whatever system he has in place for making these things must be working. I've never seen any others; perhaps some of them are a little more original and interesting. But will they have Roddy Piper actually saying "They Live" (not once but twice), or can we only get that bit of meta-nonsense in this?

What say you?


Blood Surf (2000)

DECEMBER 21, 2012


The Mayans got nothing on Blood Surf (aka Krocodylus), which came a lot closer to ending the world (and by world I mean HMAD) than they did, because despite their terrible math skills and fondness for human sacrifice, nothing they ever did was as atrocious as a particular scene in this pretty lousy movie. That said, it's a good thing they were wrong, because if I had to spend all of eternity knowing that the last movie I watched was a piece of crap killer crocodile movie, I'd renounce all religion and ask to be sent to a void nothingness.

So what was the scene, you ask? Well, as this is a killer croc movie that's also a Jaws ripoff, we get about as many scenes on land as on the water, so there's a bit where they're trying to lure the croc into a trap they've set up on the island. Assuming Mr. Odile was a ladies' man, the two female leads suddenly stop and flash the thing in order to distract it and keep it going in the direction they want. Now, I'm already groaning loudly, but then one of them puts the cherry on top and says "I guess that's what you'd call a 'Croc-teasing'!" AAAAAAAAARGH!!! GO TO HELL, MOVIE.

Now, maybe if I was drunk off my ass I'd laugh at that, but I was regrettably sober, and even drunk I'd probably still find plenty to dislike about this clunky, brain-dead movie. For starters, they squander their biggest asset - that it's a killer croc movie and NOT a killer shark movie, despite the fact that it starts out as one. It would never sustain an entire film, but there's actually a new idea here - extreme sports guys have decided to intentionally get sharks to come after them while they surf (by putting their own blood in the water), which will then be filmed and used for whatever channel airs idiotic sports like "Shark Surfing", I guess. So you're figuring it's a killer shark movie, and while very stupid, at least it's not too Jaws-y.

But then we discover that it's not a shark they have to worry about, but a 31 foot crocodile (I'm not a croc-ologist, I'm not sure if any species of croc grows that big normally or if this is some rare "monster" - if the latter there's no nuclear waste/science experiment/whatever explanation), followed by a decent enough chase from the shoreline to the middle of the jungle on the island where they are now all trapped. And then some pirates show up, and you're thinking that this will be one of those "enemies work together to fight a common threat" deals, which is fine. Alas, it is not to be; the pirates more or less exit a few minutes later and then everyone's back on a boat, captained by a guy with a score to settle with this particular creature. In other words, they had the rare opportunity to make us only THINK they were ripping off Jaws and then surprise us by going off in a different direction, but instead they opt to just go ahead and rip off Jaws more than was previously thought necessary. Nice one.

And they botch it even further, killing off the Quint guy with like 25 minutes to go, leaving him unable to even get close to settling his vendetta. Our heroes are one of the idiot surfers and the two "croc-teasers", one of whom gets chomped when she decides to get close to the thing even though there are still 7-8 minutes left until the credits. Also, of course the two survivors have a bit of an attraction to each other, but it's a bit odd because her name is Cicely and he shortens it to "Cic" (or "Sis" to the ear), so if you miss their introduction you might spend the movie thinking that they're brother and sister and will thus find the final scene where they finally go at it either super disturbing or kind of hot, depending on whether or not you're from Kentucky (OOOH, SNAP).

As for the monster, it's probably the least of the movie's problems, for a change. It's a rubber monster, one that changes sizes constantly, but at least it's not a CGI thing 100% of the time, and they go with the puppet for just about every closeup, saving the digital model for the wide shots (I'm guessing they didn't have a full puppet, just the head, tail, and a claw or two). They also have a miniature model for its (not actual) demise, which is probably the weakest effect in the movie as the set around it is still pretty much just normal rocks and grass, plainly giving away its mini-ness. Oddly, the director is James Hickox, who made his debut on the not bad Children of the Corn III, which ALSO had a rather poor miniature effect in its climax. Still, even bad miniature work takes more effort than generic CG models, and there's enough practical stuff to forgive the other issues. And besides, I'll never tire of seeing an actor actually being inside of a giant monster head as it chomps down on their limbs - who cares if you can practically see the serial number on the model? It's still a million times better than a cartoon.

Either because they don't know what they're doing or simply figured no one would care, Netflix's stream of this high caliber flick is squeezed horizontally into a 1.33:1 image, so if you're watching on your browser everyone will look thinner and taller than they should. However, if you're watching on Xbox (not sure about other consoles), you can tap the image size button (right-most one on the interface) to put it on stretch mode, which is ironically used for people who are watching legit 1.33 images and don't want the black bars on the left and right. But in this case, it's the only way to see the image properly. Not that it's worth the trouble, and if you're watching this thing anyway you deserve the potential headache from watching 90 minutes of Squeeze-o-vision.

"Croc-teasing". Christ in heaven...

What say you?


Gangsters, Guns, and Zombies (2012)

DECEMBER 20, 2012


According to the IMDb, which has never been wrong about anything, ever, Gangsters, Guns, and Zombies only cost 1,200 pounds (just under 2,000 in American dollars), which I wish I could believe. It's clearly a low budget movie, but unless the entire cast and crew worked for free, the equipment was all owned (or stolen), and every single location was secured guerrilla style, the movie would have to cost several times that (and that would STILL be assuming a lot of favors and volunteer work was in play). But, if it DID cost that much, I could more or less forgive it for being such a bland, by the numbers zombie movie.

There's actually only one sort of new idea in the entire movie - the first 50 minutes pretty much take place entirely in a van, as our bank robber heroes are making their way to a safehouse. They stop every now and then (each time losing another member of their group), but otherwise they're always on the go, with the camera staying in the van as they bicker and make plans, every now and then showing some random zombie attack outside (or just holding endlessly after the van passes by to show a zombie run into a tree - I guess it's supposed to be funny?). It's sort of like that sequence in between the dock and the mall in Dawn of the Dead, where they're flying the chopper and observing stuff, stopping for gas when they need to, just 3x as long and not nearly as compelling.

Ironically it only improves once they stop for good, holing up with a foul-mouthed old woman and her granddaughter. For the next 20 minutes we're faced with the usual house-bound zombie movie stuff (i.e. one of the humans turns on the others), but at least the zombie situation has finally become an actual threat to our primary characters. The entire time they are driving, it's like they're in a bubble, no different than your involvement when you drive past a car accident on the other side of the highway and peek at some of the damage through the divider. So the filmmakers trade a sort of new idea that didn't work for one we've seen a million times that does; not sure if that's actually a good thing, but at least, nearly an hour into the movie, I finally felt some sense of fear for the characters. Even when they stopped in places, there wouldn't be much of a threat, and those who died along the way usually did because of their own idiocy, not from being outnumbered or whatever. To be fair, the ending was actually pretty good, with a surprisingly high number of survivors (with the exception of slashers, I actually like endings with more than 1 or 2 people left standing), but it was too little too late, and the "action" portion ended abruptly and unsatisfyingly anyway.

It also lacks any real visual style, which again I can forgive if the budget would barely cover my month's rent, but even if that was the case (and again, I don't think it was) they should have worked within their limitations and came up with a scenario that was fresh enough to forgive the shoddiness. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's competently made, and the "go go go" plotting keeps any locations (except the van) from wearing out their welcome, but I am hard-pressed to think of one really cool shot or kill. And it's especially problematic when this is the umpteenth movie that seems to be the result of someone wondering what a Guy Ritchie horror movie would look like (see: Dead Cert, or the far more successful Cockneys vs. Zombies), which means everyone swears worse than I do, the bulk of the characters are criminals that we're supposed to like, and - of course! - everyone is introduced via black & white freeze-frame shots in a rapid fire montage, something that hasn't been interesting or "cool" since, oh let's be generous - 2002?

AND ENOUGH WITH THE FUCKING CGI BLOOD. In this case I can't even chalk it up to the budget - I don't care if the movie cost 12 cents, you can't tell me for a single second that it costs more money to just throw some strawberry syrup mixed with thickener than it does to have some guy who clearly hates the horror genre render out a blood geyser with a bunch of 1s and 0s. Especially when it's just in a field or some backroad - you can't use the "we weren't allowed to make a mess" excuse that unfortunately results in so many red pixels floating around. And I do mean floating - as bad as it looks to begin with, they for some reason make it worse by having the spray act more like the tail end of a dying firework, just sort of fading as it awkwardly drifts into the air (you can see one such shot on the trailer, which is misleading since it barely shows the van where at least 1/3 of the film is set). Just knock it the fuck off. Use real fake blood or have a damn good excuse for doing it the wrong way.

It bums me out to see such anonymous filler when I only have 100 movies or so to go. That recommendation thread is loaded with films that I'll probably never get to review (if I see at all), but because of time constraints, what seems like an increasingly slowed rollout of "library" titles to Netflix Instant, and general availability, I have to "waste" remaining entries on stuff like this. At least in this case someone I know seemed to enjoy it, so I had some sense of familiarity with it and a "good enough" reason to watch (as opposed to say, a movie off the Decrepit Crypt pack), but still - I'd rather avoid such half-assed offerings like this for the remainder of HMAD's run. Low budget or not, new ideas and interesting characters are free.

And don't quote Dawn of the Dead (or Ghostbusters, for that matter) in the middle of your zombie movie! I'd rather forget that there are vastly superior movies I could be watching instead.

What say you?


Black Rat (2010)

DECEMBER 19, 2012


Are certain filmmakers legally prohibited from telling stories in a conventional manner? There is absolutely no reason for Black Rat to be presented in such a convoluted way, telling its fairly traditional revenge story with the use of excessive flashbacks (including three to the same moment in time) and at least one unnecessary plot twist, unless there was some law preventing them from just telling the damn story and letting the audience get attached to what is happening in it. It's not as baffling as say, the Ju-On films, but still - keep it simple!

It's especially frustrating here, because the revenge slasher demands that we sympathize and identify with the characters more than the usual spookfest ghost movie, but the mangled timeline makes it hard to get a handle on the victim and why they're hellbent on seeking revenge. Take a movie like Terror Train - we get why Kenny is so enraged, and we fully understand that the bulk of the protagonists deserve what's coming to them (well, at least Doc). But here, the victim (Asuka)'s tragedy doesn't quite correlate to what she (or someone acting on her behalf) is doing to her peers in the present - all that we really learn is that they didn't like her much. Hey man, some folks just don't gel with one another. No need to kill them because they didn't invite you to karaoke or whatever.

But it's the chronology that really stings; even with their "crime" being far less villainous than Terror Train's (or Slaughter High, Carrie, etc), it would be easy to get on board with it if the info wasn't presented near the end. I kept waiting for some "holy shit" moment, where we learn that they had done something horrible to her, but instead with each bit of info I found the killer's actions less justified, with many of the flashbacks merely stressing what we already know - Asuka needed better friends. Not that there's ever a 100% OK reason to kill someone, but if it's the "I Know What You Did" scenario or something, we can at least go along with it long enough for the ride - we shouldn't be asking ourselves why they deserve to die before they even do so.

I was also a bit put off by the correlation between the tragedy (a suicide) and the killer's getup - a goofy rat mask, like something a school mascot might wear. It was mangled up a bit, and I guess it could be creepy under the right circumstances, but with the killer's silly "tests" (one has to perform a karaoke song perfectly or she will be killed, another is forced to play soccer) the potential for creepiness was already diluted enough - even a Michael Myers mask would seem a bit silly with this MO, so the rat thing just puts it over the top. Yet at its core the movie is about a very sad girl who committed suicide - are we supposed to be laughing, or feeling bad? Either way, it's not quite compatible.

That said, it's an enjoyable enough slasher, with some fine kills and a fast pace that I found refreshing, since neither are usually the strong points in a J-horror film. And had the story been built toward more interesting reveals, the flashback structure would work - letting us know a bit of the history at a time until it all comes to a head (like any good episode of Lost), with the final piece having everything fall into place in a way that makes us want to watch it again to see what we missed (like "Did we really never see John Locke standing up throughout this episode?"). It wasn't so much that the flashback idea was unnecessary - it was just unnecessary for this particular story, and the extra twist (involving a character we never really got to meet before) made it more confusing, especially since this part of the reveal involved a sequence where the killer seemed to be in two places at once (for a second I thought there was an additional timeline going on, as they both have the same clothes on as well).

Also, despite the costuming issue I just mentioned, director Kenta Fukasaku (who handled a convoluted structure in X-Cross with far greater results, IMO) does a fine job of making the kids distinctive. Even with the same clothes, low lighting, and a structure that basically starts us in the middle of the story and branches back and forth from there, I never got anyone mixed up, which is rare for this sort of thing. It helps that there's a sort of children's story (about rats) paralleling this one, so they sort of tell you who's who right off the bat ("One always smiles" "One is timid", etc). They're not exactly well-rounded, completely interesting characters, but at least I never found myself having "Wait, which one was he dating? Isn't she dead? Oh, wait, no that's the other one" type conversations in my head. Even when multiple people start wearing the rat mask, I had a strong grasp on who was who and where they were in relation to one another in the school, so that's a plus, or else I might have been even more confused.

In short - nothing mind-blowing, and I probably wouldn't recommend it to the typical slasher fan who was just interested in seeing a new killer design or some creative/gory kills, but if you enjoy a "challenge" of sorts I think it will suit you just fine. Bloody Reunion (which Netflix recommended viewing once this concluded) is still the best Asian slasher film I've seen, but this is a solid enough entry in what is a sadly limited sub-sub-genre. Just don't expect to be able to watch with any distractions!

What say you?


Sint (2010)

DECEMBER 18, 2012


I really wish I loved Sint (aka Saint Nick in the US), because on paper it sounds like everything I could want from a holiday horror film: turning one of its icons into a murderer, removing the usual minimum age requirement on victims, and a structure that borrows a bit from Halloween (also: under 90 minutes). But the execution didn't quite live up to my imaginings, and while I still enjoyed watching it, I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed that it ultimately wasn't the sort of kickass movie I'd be recommending to everyone I know in time for the holiday and adding to my yearly traditions - I'm just going to keep telling you to watch Inside, instead.

Before I continue, I should note that Netflix only offered the dubbed version of the film, and it was quite a bad one at that. Everyone had that weird detached sound you get out of poorly made video game cut-scenes, and many of the voices didn't seem to match the actor's appearance (that one bald, Bruce Willis-y looking guy in particular). So it's possible that it may have dampened my enjoyment somewhat, and Netflix really should offer both options if they want this service to eventually remove the need for physical discs entirely (and for the record, I usually prefer the dub, but this one was just shockingly bad).

But even in its native tongue I would have been bummed at how unfocused it was. Early on we meet a typical Final Girl like character, who sticks out from her group of friends (a more promiscuous girl, a trio of guys), but writer/director Dick Maas curiously sidelines her for almost an hour - she finds one of the others dead and then we don't really see her again until the movie's almost over. It's sort of refreshing to focus on a guy hero in one of these things (at times the character seems to be aping Jason Goes To Hell's Stephen, of all people), but I kind of missed her presence, especially since the "hero" was kind of a dick.

Also, it seems like one of those movies where they designed some setpieces (some better than others) and then figured out how to connect them later, which has never worked out (Mission: Impossible 2, aka the worst one in the series, was a famous example of this). There's a great bit where Nick is terrorizing from the rooftops as cars chase him below, but there's no real reason for it to exist, and it could be removed from the movie with barely even an effect on the continuity, let alone the plot. Likewise, the (superior) sequence where two of the three guys are offed is terrific, but it happens so quickly that we're not really invested in either of the other guys' lives, and mainly just seems to exist to give the hero a reason to be involved, which wouldn't be necessary had Maas not forgotten about his girlfriend.

It also takes time away from the movie's Loomis type character, a cop whose family was killed the last time Nick terrorized the area (he only comes out if there's a full moon on December 5th, which is less silly than Halloween 6's thorn constellation nonsense at least). He gets one of the best bits in the movie - blowing away a Christmas gift that he thinks is from Nick (and it also has a payoff, as his boss uses it as the "last straw" in forcing him on vacation) - but is also absent for stretches when we focus on the kid. Once they team up it's all good, but there's a little too much time spent getting everyone together.

Luckily, it has a lot more action than the usual slasher, as Nick has these demon henchmen things that actually do most of the killing, as he's more of a big boss type who will stand around looking awesome but stay out of the fray more often than not. The designs on these guys are pretty awesome (as is Nick's), and it was a nice surprise as I figured this would be more like Silent Night Deadly Night, with Nick showing up and killing off the teens one by one as the cop closed in. Hell it's barely even a slasher movie, more of a gory action flick, but I think that worked in its favor since we've seen the standalone "killer Santa" movie enough times for a while.

Plus I liked how much Maas seemed to be influenced by Carpenter. In addition to the Halloween stuff I already mentioned, the backstory is somewhat reminiscent of The Fog, and the cop teaming up with a "criminal" thing is Assault on Precinct 13-y (or Ghosts of Mars, if you're nasty). He also composed the film himself, it's shot in 2.35 like all Carpenter films, and there's a little bit of an anti-authority bent, so if they ever get that Escape From New York remake off the ground, maybe he should be given a crack at it - he's got the chops, and with a solid framework already in place, he might not be as susceptible to Nick's biggest issue - the spotty storytelling and occasional abandoning of key characters.

Of course, I say this like he's some new hotshot - the guy is almost as old as Carpenter himself, having been making films since the 70s (he gave us the 1983 killer elevator movie The Lift, as well as its 2001 remake and 1988's Amsterdamned, which I've been meaning to see for 20 years since reading about it in "Fangoria"). But hey, for a 60 year old guy, this is a pretty lively flick, and if he has followed in the footsteps of Carpenter and some others of that era, this should be one of his WEAKER films, no? If that's the case, I'm definitely up for seeing some more... just as long as they're in their native language.

What say you?


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