Ritual (aka Modus Anomali) (2012)

AUGUST 28, 2013


Not as much as I'm sick of found footage, but thanks to HMAD I've gotten pretty tired of movies that start off with a guy with amnesia and/or locked up somewhere with no idea of how he got there. Saw of course was the one to kick this trend off (thanks to Cube, a terrific movie, not getting a big enough release to be ripped off much), and thankfully it's mostly died down now in favor of, well, found footage movies - but as Ritual proves, there's still some life left to the sub-genre. Note - there will be vague-ish spoilers ahead, so stop reading if you want to go in as blind as I did! Just know that it's more thriller than horror, and have fun!

So once again our main character doesn't know who he is or why he's been buried alive in the middle of the woods, and spends a good chunk of the movie getting those answers. He finds his wallet fairly quickly so he can at least know his name (John, of course) and that he has a family, but the rest of the answers are always eluding him. When he stumbles across his home he finds his wife dead, but his children seem to be missing, and thus goes about trying to find them before whoever has done this to him comes back and finishes the job. It's pretty much a one-man show for most of the runtime; the sons show up on occasion to give us a little more context, but otherwise it's just John, running around and evading his pursuer. The movie is admirably almost completely free of dialogue - apart from his occasional "Where the fuck am I?" type shouts, we really only hear lines when the sons show up - without these scenes the movie might be incoherent. In a way, it's the glut of such films that helps inform us of what is happening early on (his amnesia, for example - not an easy thing to get across when there's no one to say "I don't know who I am" to), because you will probably be familiar with the behavior of someone in that situation from other

But that's the first hour. In an unnervingly slow reveal (again, with almost no dialogue to speed things along), we discover what's going on, and it's pretty damn sinister. I actually was on the right track with my theory, but I chalk it up to having seen too many movies and thus catching little "cheats" that a casual viewer might not pick up on (or think much of if they do). And I was still wrong, so kudos - and the way that the English title comes in once that final piece is in place is kind of awesome. Interestingly, the original title (Modus Anomali) translates to "Anomalous Mode", which would sort of be the OPPOSITE of a ritual, no? Either that translation I got is wrong or they actually have the better title now.

Now, as I said, it's not much of a horror film. There's a bit of a home invasion aspect to it once some of the backstory is revealed, and on occasion John's attempts to elude his pursuer feel like something out of a Friday the 13th stalk scene, but it's closer to something like The Vanishing or Kidnapped (2010) than any Saw/Strangers type movie. Plus, expecting a horror film does a disservice to its best shock moment, as it's the sort of thing you would probably expect in a horror film (it's actually similar to a moment in The Descent), but in a thriller is a drop-dead "Holy shit" moment. However, in terms of "How evil can someone be?", it's scarier than most films, so there's that.

On that note, if you're the type to hate a movie that doesn't explain why a villain does a particular thing, skip it. The movie offers about as much motive as the original Halloween did - "just because" seems to suffice for its screenwriters, and that's fine by me. As with Kidnapped, a big part of the film's appeal isn't so much the cleverness of its screenplay, but in how they use the basic language of cinema to do something a little off-kilter. In that, it was the long takes (and occasional split screens - that one where the two shots join up in real time still impresses me), and we had to just connect a few dots ourselves, like the opening scene that we just have to assume is the group's previous victim. Here, without any dialogue, and pretty much only one character, director Joko Anwar requires you to pay close attention to the clues, and just trust him in a way - everything makes sense (except, again, the possibly "Why?") but every single thing is conveyed with images, not a line of dialogue telling you. I guess the best way to explain it would be to imagine the big scene at the end of Usual Suspects, with Chazz Palminteri seeing all the names on the board and putting it together, but WITHOUT the voiceover and flashback footage actually linking those things up.

In other words, it's not a movie that you can tweet or text during if you want to follow everything (it's almost funny to imagine someone running to grab a drink or something and coming back after the first big reveal). I bring it up because while I was watching, I paused for some work stuff and figured I'd check Twitter before resuming the movie, only to discover yet another misguided and selfish goon had written an op-ed about how "e-screenings" should be encouraged (best was that she pointed out 46% of people admitted to tweeting at the movies - even if that number was true, which I highly doubt, that's still not even the majority, so how does that help your cause?). I'd actually pay money to have a bunch of entitled assholes playing with their phones throughout this particular movie give a thorough plot synopsis after. Memento would be a good one too. Maybe Inception...

The point is, most movies are meant to be paid attention to, not something you have on in the background. And in this day and age, I applaud Anwar and his crew for making one that absolutely requires the viewer to be immersed in order to keep up, rather than spoon-feeding the important info. Thus, an easy one to recommend when it comes your way (it just hit physical media, and I believe it's going up on Netflix Instant soon).

What say you?


Bad Milo (2013)

AUGUST 27, 2013


Between the fact that it's about a monster that comes and goes out of a dude's butt and that it had Gillian Jacobs, Peter Stormare, and Ken Marino (I doubt I've laughed as hard all year as I did at his "Maybe he picked the locks" line in We're The Millers) in its cast, I'm a pretty easy sell for Bad Milo. Add in scene stealers like Patrick Warburton and Kumail Nanjiani and the fact that said monster is PRACTICAL and not a goddamn CGI effect? It starts to seem like a movie made to entertain me specifically - basically it's just missing a Meat Loaf song and maybe a shoutout to Fletch (actually, Marino DOES get a hand up his butt. Mooooooooooon riverrrrrrrrrr).

That said, I do wish the movie was a bit funnier. It's a horror comedy that leans heavily toward the latter genre; it's only at the very end that Milo's antics are played for suspense and scares (the fact that he purrs and whimpers like Gizmo when he's not killing folks makes him kind of lovable), and even the kill scenes are sort of played for laughs, like when Marino purposely lets Milo loose in order to kill someone who has been an annoyance in his life. There's a slight Little Shop of Horrors feel to the material, as Milo needs to be fed (and refuses traditional food), but the hook is that Marino can't simply walk away or even kill the damn thing, as it's a part of him. Any pain Milo feels, he does as well, and since it's the living embodiment of his emotions, if he killed Milo he'd turn into a vegetable.

So the concept is hilarious, but once you get used to it, the movie doesn't take the opportunity for as many big laughs as you'd expect given the plot and cast. I was chuckling a lot, but rarely did I laugh out loud - something that might be an issue if you can't even get past the admirably batshit idea behind it. The production value is painfully low at times (rarely have I seen a faker news station graphic than the ones shown here after every kill), but that wouldn't be an issue if they just kept us laughing more often. Jacobs in particular gets very little to do beyond being the wife, which is a shame as she was even able to shine during the 4th season of Community. The best bits are between Marino and Stormare (as his shrink), because Stormare can make anything funny and Marino's deadpan responses never stopped amusing, though I also quite loved the fertility doctor (he gets the best line in the movie, after performing what appears to be very good oral sex on a girl who asks if he learned how to do that at school, his reply is "Yeah, in a way.").

Otherwise, it's a delight. Stormare is tasked with giving much of the exposition, and sells it beautifully, without ever even suggesting that it's ridiculous. If anything I wouldn't have minded SOME disbelief from the characters - at the end Milo runs around a party and even then folks just sort of react as if it were nothing more than a rabid squirrel, and Jacobs barely even blinks when Marino asks her to help him put Milo back up his ass (the movie gets some mileage out of the fact that this seems to be impossible, as Milo is about as big as a pillow - we never actually SEE the process, just hear it). But it's admirable that they have the entire cast play it straight(ish) and not waste time on people saying things like "That's ridiculous!" - why bother, when we know it's already true? Plus, I liked that there was a minor psychological aspect to it, as Milo is "summoned" from stress, and thus of course Marino is having the worst week of his life: his job is in jeopardy, his wife wants a baby, his mother is dating a guy younger than he is, etc.

Another thing that impressed me was the puppetry for Milo. Again, he's a practical creature, so the interactions are superior than they would be with some lame CGI effect (the spooning scene as seen on the poster is a particular highlight), and the animation is quite good as well - considering how small he is relative a human, there's a surprising amount of detail in his facial expressions and mannerisms. It's a shame that the focus on that didn't apply to the blood - his first kill contains some of the lamest looking CGI splatter I've seen in quite some time - but if that meant more time/money spent on making sure the title character looked perfect, so be it. I want a toy!

The pacing is also spot on, with Marino's doctor discovering Milo (he thinks it's a polyp) in the first few minutes and the little guy claiming his first kill by the end of the first reel (I'm saying that with irony - there are no "reels" anymore). There's some padding to get it up to (almost) 90 minutes, including the dreaded "Let's start at the end to give you a taste of the horror to come" gimmick, which I truly hate (and even more so here as they inexplicably try to make a "twist" out of it by editing a character out of the scene the first time we see it? I didn't get it at all), but it's forgivable, and never wears out its welcome. And, thankfully, there's not a lot of poop humor - I was worried there would be a surplus of jokes at the expense of his constant trips to the bathroom (or dumb sight gags, like taking "War & Peace" with him to read while he went), but there's actually almost none of that. Most of the humor stems from dealing with the reality of a completely gonzo situation, so while it doesn't always land, it's the most respectable approach to take, and thus it's fine by me.

But seriously, don't waste Gillian Jacobs on "the wife". She should be in starring roles by this point as it is. At least give her her own little subplot (or, even, identify what she does for a living or what those pills she takes before bed are for).

What say you?


Evidence (2013)

AUGUST 21, 2013


I don't come up with too many horror movie ideas, but I had one about a slasher/survival horror hybrid centered on a bus crash that I thought was pretty good, so I was curious to see Evidence, which seemed to be along the same lines but with a found footage element, and also in the desert (mine was in the harsh winter, limiting how far anyone wanted to go from their shelter). That it wasn't a traditional found footage movie is the only reason I watched it (see HERE), though it did little to change my mind that there are more of these movies than we ever could have needed.

The gimmick here is an inspired one; it's literally about found footage, as our (traditionally shot) heroes are sifting through the evidence of a massacre, trying to figure out who their killer is before they can get too far away (if they're still alive at all). Luckily for them, nearly every person involved had a camera or a cell phone to shoot video with, and thus things like fingerprints and DNA are of no use to them - they can watch the crimes themselves and use high tech video equipment to do impossible things, like zoom in and enhance shaky/blurry cell phone footage to get a pretty clear shot of someone's name on a duffel bag, or invert the color of an image to pull shadow highlights and create a crystal clear shot of their killer. Stephen Moyer plays the cop who designed this software, and thus spends most of the movie staring at a monitor and shouting things like "Increasing the DPI detail and adding a de-blur filter!", while Radha Mitchell looks on, occasionally gasping at the sight of someone being killed (luckily, half of the people shot their own deaths, giving us a nifty perspective on the proceedings).

There are two benefits to this, the obvious one being that it doesn't have as many "Why are they filming?" moments or downtime - the bus crash occurs about 10 minutes after our first video shot (there are 10-15 minutes of setup before the found footage aspect kicks in), and things are pretty frenetic for the rest of the runtime. The other benefit is that the videos aren't edited yet, nor do they know which order they go, so we occasionally get to see things happening out of order, layering in information that we already saw other characters reacting to. I almost wish they did more with this idea, but it would probably get confusing since it's all dark (and glitched - a fire has rendered a lot of the footage corrupted), and they also make the peculiar choice to cast same sized, similar looking women to play three of the female leads (the 4th is Dale Dickey, playing yet another white trash weirdo). With a lot of the footage presented in detail-light "negative" vision (as opposed to the more traditional green-tinted "night vision", for some reason), it's often very difficult to tell which one is which, and same goes for the two not-very-imposing male characters with short hair. One died and I thought for sure it was the other guy, and then couldn't understand where he went. PLEASE, I know casting is beyond control in some cases, but you can at least give the characters plenty of accessories and hairstyles to differentiate if you're taking a lo-fi approach to the movie like this one does.

So that, the over-reliance on glitches to provide scares (via the sudden ZZZZT! noise), and the ridiculous resolution that managed to be even stupider than the intentionally dumb one I theorized as a joke (that Moyer was the killer and did all this to show off his awesome "Enhance!" skills*), unfortunately kills what could have been a cool movie, and certainly one that extended "found footage" lease on life for another month or so. In fact, one might recall another movie that blended mock-doc and traditional footage, which also had a lot of promise but was sunk due to lousy execution - The Fourth Kind, and they might do without even realizing that it's from the same director: Olatunde Osunsanmi. He didn't write it this time, but it's almost criminal how he seemed to have learned nothing from last time - both films suffer from a failed attempt to make the footage and the narrative scenes equally compelling. With no personal stakes in the case and almost zero time spent developing them, there's no real reason to care much about Moyer/Mitchell's story, and since the killer isn't threatening to strike again or whatever, it doesn't make much of a difference if they solve the case or not.

Likewise, since it's after the fact, it's obvious to anyone who's ever seen a movie before that one of the two (unnamed for an hour or so) survivors is the killer, limiting the options as there isn't a big cast to begin with and two of them are dead almost as soon as they arrive at the junkyard. A lengthy chunk of the movie is devoted to figuring out Dickey's character and listing her husband as a suspect, but this is just a waste of time, something Osunsanmi (or screenwriter John Swetnam) must have realized himself as it ends on a shrug with 25 minutes of the movie to go. Hilariously, Dickey's character seemingly teleports onto the bus (despite filming everything, her arrival is MIA, though the final twist could explain this if you want to put some thought into it/give the killer's intelligence even more credit), and rarely interacts with the cast (her big scene is a self shot bit in a bathroom mirror), so lopping her and her husband's storyline out of the movie entirely wouldn't take much effort, nor would it make any difference to anything but the runtime.

Oh well. It's not unwatchable, but with the gimmick mostly just providing frustration and the mystery a complete bust, there isn't much to recommend here beyond the gonzo kills (the killer uses a blowtorch to dismember one victim - points for creativity!); Moyer and Mitchell are both engaging performers but they were clearly only hired for 1-2 days' work, so fans of theirs will walk away disappointed by their limited screentime. Even the similar Surveillance at least kept me more engaged before getting to its own (somewhat obvious) ending, and that had a weirdo threeway scene to boot.

What say you?


X-Ray (aka Hospital Massacre) (1982)

AUGUST 12, 2013


I know I still have a few missing entries when it comes to golden era slashers - Night School in particular bugs me - but I hope that X-Ray (aka Hospital Massacre, Ward 13, and even the hilarious Be My Valentine... Or ELSE) is the only one of note that I hadn't actually HEARD OF until fairly recently. It was actually only when I revisited New Year's Evil for a BadassDigest article a couple years back (not when I first watched the movie for HMAD) that I saw it advertised at the end of the film, promised as coming soon (with the "Be My Valentine..." title) the way the next James Bond movie is promised at the end of the credits on those movies. And at first I assumed the film was never made since I couldn't find one under that title, but some digging turned up the X-Ray title, and thus, here we are (thanks to Scream Factory).

Of course, if it was a great movie it would be more well known, but it's a pretty decent slasher that should satisfy fans of that era, and it's certainly better than Visiting Hours (which came along a few weeks later and made considerably more money), if we're comparing our hospital horror movies. The whodunit angle is so lazy that they shouldn't even have bothered, since they not only follow the template of making him the most normal guy our heroine encounters, but they don't even change his name! In the opening flashback scene, we see a kid give a girl a Valentine, which she scoffs at. Angry, he kills her playmate and then, I guess, spends years studying and training to become a doctor, just on the off chance that the girl would happen to come to his hospital someday for a checkup so he could finally get his revenge. Even by slasher standards this is a bit flimsy/ridiculous, but the fact that he's even got the same name (well, a very common nickname of it anyway) makes the whole idea of making it a reveal kind of a puzzle.

But otherwise, it delivers the goods. The kills aren't very inventive, but they're surprisingly bloody considering how dickish the MPAA was at that time (with the very lax Valentine's Day setting, it's impossible not to think of My Bloody Valentine*, which barely had any red splatter at all), and the body count is acceptable - 6 or 7, plus the opening flashback (which is off-screen since it's a kid, but man - the reveal of his body is a knockout). Speaking of the opener, young Barbi Benton is played by Elizabeth Hoy from Bloody Birthday (she was Debbie, the girl of the murderous trio), and the kid doing the killing is her Bloody buddy Billy Jacoby (Curtis). A shame that they couldn't have gotten the other kid to play the one who ends up dead, it would have been a wonderfully weird reunion. But they make up for it in the credits by billing him as "Young Dave" (along with "Young Susan" and "Young ___ (the killer)"), despite the fact that he died and thus never got to be "Present Day Dave".

Another thing I loved was the aggressive score by Arlon Ober, who coincidentally also did the music for Bloody Birthday (as well as The Incredible Melting Man!). It seems his primary influences were Black Christmas and Jerry Goldsmith's score for The Omen, but being a post-Friday the 13th world, I couldn't help but wonder if the odd vocals mixed within his cues were in some way making fun of Harry Manfredini, as they seem to be parodies of his "Ki-Ki, Ma-Ma" motif (one sounds like "Little Caesar" over and over). The movie may or may not deserve its obscure status, but the score definitely deserves a CD release. How about it, Death Waltz Records? Likewise, the movie has all these weird attempts at red herrings, as well as oddball patients that add a ton of strange atmosphere to the movie, like the three old ladies (I'm convinced one of them is a dude in drag, by the way) who harass Benton for no reason other than to thankfully give the movie a bit of unexpected flavor.

Of course, smoothing over just about any flaw in the film (such as the rather repetitive structure; two kills are the result of a panicked person finding the previous body and, seeking help, running into the killer, mistaking him for a friendly doctor) is Ms. Benton, who deserves any superlative meaning "pretty" one could use to compliment a human being. Maybe not the best actress in the world (this appears to be her only starring role in a feature film, though she did lots of TV), but the role doesn't require much from her beyond getting annoyed/terrified, so it's fine, and it's endlessly amusing to see her smoking in a hospital four or five times (her lighter even provides the movie with one of its better suspense scenes). Of course, in 1982 it was pretty much OK to do this, but now it's almost like her character is a rebel, rather than just dating the movie.

The movie also does a decent enough job of finding ways to keep her there. The hospital isn't contained or in some out of the way locale, and despite the Valentine's setting the staff doesn't shirk their duties (this has to be the only slasher of the era where no one goes off with their partner to fool around), so Benton spends a while just trying to find her doctor, and then the killer replaces her file with someone else's. Thus, when someone looks at her X-rays (movie name: justified!) they see something suspicious and keep her there, and then even though they were of her lungs the staff decides she has mental problems, putting her under observation and confining her to a room. Hilariously, since she was just there to pick up her test results, her boyfriend spends most of the movie sitting outside in the waiting parking lot, taking a very long nap before finally coming inside to see what the hell is up.

Shout's blu-ray/DVD combo comes with an interview with director Boaz Davidson, who admits that directing horror isn't his forte (though he likes the genre) and talks a bit about making the film, though it seems like a re-edited portion of an all purpose interview more than one specific to this film, as only a couple of the 13 minutes focus on it. Still, worth a listen, and the film Schizoid, starring Klaus Kinski, is also included. I'll get to that one soon (it's not the Pete Walker Schizoid), as it's another film that never made it to DVD and might have been lost forever if Scream Factory wasn't hellbent on devouring our wallets every month. Thanks to them, there's hope for a proper release of Cathy's Curse!

What say you?

*When I was like 15 I dreamed up a sequel to MBV that took place in a hospital. If MBV was a bigger hit and actually GOT a sequel, they could have beaten these guys to the punch!


Jug Face (2013)

AUGUST 9, 2013


Spielberg recently made some comments about tiered pricing for movies; he predicts someday that an Iron Man sequel would cost 25 dollars whereas something like his Lincoln would cost only 7. It's a scary scenario (more for the former; Iron Man movies are fine, but what if it's as bad as Wolverine Origins?), and if he's right, it will leave movies like Jug Face in a worse position that they're already in - horror's hot as hell right now, but it's going the same VOD first, thankless and minimal arthouse theatrical release later route as so many of its peers. It's already getting harder for these movies to get much attention without the benefit of a big marketing campaign or wide theatrical release - what about five years from now?

But, if he's right about the pricing, it'd be cool to see a movie like this playing at 1/3 the cost of the other films, which would hopefully inspire folks to check it out. There isn't much to it; it's one of those movies that I couldn't even give too much of a plot description without feeling like I was spoiling too much, so there is definitely some merit to the idea that maybe an audience, now used to films running over 2 hrs, should pay less to see this minimal, barely 80 minute movie. Especially when you consider that stuffing a lot of exposition down our throats is not part of the deal. Our characters routinely sacrifice members of their community to "The Pit", with the idea being that it will also heal them when necessary, and, like Children of the Corn and its sequels, their silly-sounding deity turns out to be real, but the key difference is we don't get much information (or even a real look) at it.

However, the gore and violence is kept to a minimum as far as the pit is concerned - the real meat of the movie stems from the many tragic effects of our protagonist's attempt to save her skin. Early on, she gets pregnant with someone she most certainly shouldn't have even been getting to first base with, and at the same time, finds out she is next to be sacrificed to the pit. So she hides the evidence of both, leading to a chain of events that sees many people killed for no reason - some by the hands of other townsfolk (which is to say backwoods hillbillies, led by Larry Fessenden), others by the pit, angry that it did not get its intended sacrifice. There are some weird ghostly beings and unexplained visions that flesh out the extent of the pit's power without ever really coming down hard on its origins (or how the hillbillies figured out what it wanted), enough to put this into the horror category - but mostly it feels like a hill person version of Fargo or even The Crucible, with one selfish act spiraling into unimaginable tragedy.

And no one is more tragic than Dewai, played by Sean Bridgers (the Will Ferrell-y guy from The Woman, nearly unrecognizable here with thick glasses and a fantastic beard). He's the potter who makes the titular Jug Faces, which when revealed will tell the town who needs to be sacrificed, and gets roped into helping "heroine" Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter, another The Woman alum) cover up her misdeeds and ends up getting the brunt of the punishment. While most of the focus is on Ada, Dewai was the most sympathetic character by far, and Bridgers is fantastic, playing many scenes with just a few sad, lovelorn looks to convey his state of mind. Hopefully at the end of the year, when folks are doing their "Best of horror" lists, his performance is remembered.

Like I said though, there isn't much to the movie, in turn leaving me without much to say. There are a couple of minor characters that seem to exist just to pad things out to that 80 minutes, and what seems like 5 different scenes of Ada hiding her jug face. And Sean Young's character just baffled me, hating her daughter for no reason right from the start, making it a shrug of a moment when she actually has a reason to treat her the same way she's been treating her throughout the movie (Fessenden turning on her after being the loving on was much more effective). Maybe they figured Young would be yelling and angry all the time anyway so why bother trying to get her to play someone a bit warmer?

I DO want to talk about the opening title sequence, represented with what can best be described the "motion comic" version of a child's chalk/crayon drawings. It runs just under three minutes and pretty much acts as a prequel, telling what I assume is the story of the first jug face sacrifice, though I'm not sure if what is happening actually comes across unless you've seen the (much clearer) movie that follows it - perhaps it could have been used at the END of the movie? But either way, it's a gorgeous, creative sequence; the type I wish I saw more often, and even if you don't realize it at the time, is also pretty much the only background info on the pit that the movie offers (which means that if you're watching at home and you fast forward the "credits", you'll be left with even less information.

In short, Jug Face is one of the more unusual genre films of the year, and should satisfy fans of the people involved (Lucky McKee is an exec producer), as they have a knack for these sort of "hard-sell", more dramatic horror films. 2013 has been a blessedly "original" one for the most part - very few remakes and sequels are popping up, while original properties like The Conjuring, The Purge, and You're Next (I assume) clean up at the box office, which can only help films like this get a little bit of exposure (as opposed to a time like in 2006, where you were either a remake/sequel or you were nothing). As long as people can get on board with the wacky plot, they should be satisfied with this little gem.

What say you?


HMAD Screening: Nightmare On Elm St 4

UPDATE: Tickets are almost gone! We sold out of the initial batch, and have released a few more - these might be it! Don't miss out!

First off, HUGE thanks to everyone who came out for last month's HMAD screening of Friday the 13th Part VII! It was one of the biggest turnouts I've ever had for one of my shows, which made me (and the theater!) very happy. And a special thanks to editor Barry Zetlin who came out to talk about the film's infamous battles with the MPAA ("The NO Blood" should be the subtitle). The print was also better than expected, and a guy dressed in pretty terrific Jason costume (same design as the film) took pics with the crowd after, so all in all it was a pretty great time.

And I suspect this month's show will be even better! Just like Friday 7, Renny Harlin's Nightmare On Elm St Part 4: The Dream Master is celebrating its 25th birthday this month, almost to the very day of the showing! On Saturday, August 17th at 11:59pm, I'll be hosting a very rare 35mm screening of the film, which remains (and probably always WILL remain) the biggest ticket seller of Freddy's solo adventures (his fight with Jason scared up a few more), scaring up nearly 50 million in 1988, good enough to rank #19 for the year ahead of star vehicles like Tequila Sunrise and even the final Dirty Harry movie. That was the peak of Freddy's popularity, in fact - the merchandising machine was going full steam, he was coming off the 3rd (and still best) film Dream Warriors, the TV show was about to hit the air... good times. Also, on a personal level, I'm stoked to see it on the big screen, as I remember BEGGING my mother to take me to see it on that weekend in August, only to be turned down (though she rented it for me when it hit VHS that holiday season). After 25 years, I will finally have my revenge! TAKE THAT, MA!

Of course, as an 8 year old I never dreamed I'd be hosting my own shows someday, and I certainly wouldn't have though I'd get to sit up there and chat with some of the film's stars beforehand - but that's precisely what I'm doing! Actors Andras Jones (Rick), Toy Newkirk (Sheila), Rodney Eastman (Joey), Brooke Theiss (Debbie), Tuesday Knight (Kristen), and Lisa Wilcox (Alice) will be on hand for pre-movie Q&A (schedules permitting), which is nearly the ENTIRE cast of Elm Street kids from this entry! That is amazing!!!! Needless to say, it's going to be A. an awesome time and B. more than likely just as packed, if not more so, than it was for Friday 7, so get there on time for a good seat! I probably won't have any crappy DVDs to giveaway (save your tears) so we can spend more time talking to our honored guests Scream Factory has donated a few Blu-rays to give out, including Prison, the film that got Harlin the gig directing Nightmare 4! - so don't be late!

As always, the screening will be at the New Beverly Cinema at 7165 Beverly Blvd in Los Angeles, 90036 (two blocks west of La Brea). Street parking is plentiful, with Formosa being the best bet. Tickets are 8 bucks cash or card at the door, or in advance at BrownPaperTickets. I know it's usually not necessary, but they just went on sale today and 1/5th of them are gone, so I suspect this screening WILL sell out - keep an eye out here as I'll be updating with the count to let you know if you are about to miss out!

And check out the poster, inspired by the film's creepy opening sequence! It once again comes courtesy of the awesome Jacopo Tenani, who designs these posters and thus spares you all from my horrible Photoshop jobs. You can see more of his great art (including a really cool Suspiria piece) at his site HERE, and I highly urge you to do so! Send him some love if you can, and see you at the theater on August 17th!


Frankenstein's Army (2013)

JULY 31, 2013


I talked to one of the FX guys behind Frankenstein's Army at last year's Comic Con, and got positively giddy about the movie's premise - a group of soldiers discover a bunker overrun with Nazi "Zombots" created by none other than Frankenstein himself. He showed me a few of the creatures, talked about a few others, gushed over Karel Roden as Frankenstein... but never once mentioned that the film, set in WWII, was a goddamn found footage movie. Even then, in 2012, I would have rolled my eyes a bit at the thought of yet another mock doc, but over a year later, having finally seen the film, it just really made me sad.

Obviously director (and a zillion other credits, including both "idea by" and "story by", which has to be a first) Richard Raaphorst couldn't have known how badly overrun the sub-genre would be by the time his movie saw release (it was shot in early 2012), but it WAS his responsibility to justify the approach within his narrative, and that is where he misses the mark. Even if you ignore the myriad anachronisms (sync sound on a color film camera that shoots 16:9 footage?) and laughable mistakes (the camera guy says he just loaded his last roll of film with 25 minutes of the movie left to go - and he also somehow loaded it while covered in blood and frightened out of his mind), there is never a point in the movie where I understood why it HAD to be presented in the first person format. Paranormal Activity, Blair Witch, Cloverfield... all of these films provided the excuse and maintained the necessary "meet me halfway" balance with the audience - ALL of em have their "Why are they filming?" parts and some suspension of disbelief with regards to battery power and tape, but this has NOTHING. Our guy mentions needing to document the trip in case their target isn't able to be captured alive, but why film so many of his fellow soldiers' conversations that he doesn't take part in, or stand in the middle of a battlefield (!) to film a shootout with an enemy troop? Why does he always helpfully pan back and forth between a monster and his comrades that are shooting at it (again, sometimes standing directly between them)?

And that's the biggest problem - the single camera (well, sort of - they also frequently cut to a different angle with no lapse in time) keeps the action at bay, and thus reduces the time we get to spend with the movie's incredible creatures. I didn't care much for the film, but I almost hope it's a huge hit just so they can justify an action figure line, as each creature is something I'd love to have on a shelf. As I described them in that Comic Con piece, they look like Bioshock's monsters mixed with something Clive Barker might come up with, and I was impressed at how they all had their own unique look, even though we didn't get to see them all that much. There are a couple of extended fight scenes (such as the one with Propeller-Head), but for the most part our camera guy will stumble across one of them while running around the bunker's hallways, focus on him for a second or two, and then turn and run the other way before we could even really tell what their "power" was. It started to feel more like a maze at Universal Horror Nights or something, where you'll find a room/monster that you wanted to just soak in and enjoy the design, but couldn't because you were being ushered through as quickly as possible. It's a good thing our sociopathic protagonist is a savant at running backwards through dark, unfamiliar areas, or else we would see them even less than we do. And they're all practical creations, best as I can tell, so it's not like they had to hide bad CGI or limit their rendering time or something - film the movie normally and show em off!

But if you do your best to ignore the found footage aspect, it's not too bad. Even in their limited screentime, the monsters still help make it one of the more visually interesting horror films in quite a while, and it's nice to see a WWII set horror film about a discovered bunker that wasn't based around psychological trauma or a supernatural presence. The cast is compact enough to keep everyone straight even with their limited character development (having trouble telling the soldiers apart is almost always a problem for me with these things), and it's certainly one of the faster paced entries in the war/horror genre (again, so many of them are based on psychologically-tinged elements, which translates to a slow burn affair). And Roden IS indeed a delight as Frankenstein, clearly having a ball spouting mad scientist nonsense and digging into brains and what not as he worked on new creations.

I also appreciated, on an admittedly weird level, that they didn't shy away from making our protagonists into assholes. One soldier kills a bunny for no reason, another orders a child to be used as bait (doesn't end well), and they laugh when a captured enemy soldier is killed. Usually I detest this sort of thing, but in a found footage movie (especially one where I'm basically only watching for the production design) I know everyone's gonna die anyway, so they might as well go for broke. And one guy who had a bit of a Michael Fassbender thing going on largely refrained from doing anything too dickish, so there's still someone to root for, sort of. It's not much of a surprise that there's a traitor among them, though then we're treated to yet another giant "guess we gotta go with it" moment, where the traitor explains why he needs to be kept alive, even protected by the others, or else the movie would end.

Look, I've certainly seen worse, is what I'm saying. I was constantly at odds with wanting to love the movie for its creatures and aesthetic, and getting angrier that it was yet another found footage movie where the filmmakers clearly had no interest in even trying to follow the "rules" of the format. Much like 3D, it's a tool that can be used very effectively, and its unfortunately fallen into the hands of those who just want to cash in on a trend without realizing that they're the ones that will ultimately kill it (again). Kind of a shame, but unlike the Amber Alerts or Absences of the world, at least this won't make you want to swear off the format forever.

What say you?


Blood Runs Cold (2011)

JULY 30, 2013


One of the most deplorable movies I watched over the past 6 years had to be Madness, a Wrong Turn/Texas Chainsaw ripoff from Sweden that featured, among other atrocities, a villain stomping on a pregnant woman's stomach. I don't mind extreme gore/violence when there's a point (see: Inside), but this was empty shock value built into a movie without a single original idea in its head. And had I remembered the names of the people who made it, I probably wouldn't have bothered with Blood Runs Cold, which is from the same team (albeit taking on different roles; two of the guys who co-directed Madness only produce here) and looked like a Cold Prey ripoff to boot. Luckily, my memory sucks, and while it's no classic, it proved to be a decent enough slasher, and a huge improvement over their previous feature.

Plus, it looks like Cold Prey 3 won't be coming to the US anytime soon, so this will have to do, as the killer looks almost exactly the same (snow hat, goggles, frostbitten mouth, etc) and could almost conceivably be worked into that series' mythos with little changes to the existing script (that it's from the Norwegian Cold Prey's neighbor is just a bonus). And while we've certainly seen a number of slasher/survival horror movies that have our heroes holing up inside of the killer's home, as they do here, this one gives a pretty funny/unique explanation for it - they thought it was the house they were SUPPOSED to be staying in! Taking a cue from European Vacation, a partially obscured house number causes the error, so our heroine and the old pals she meets up with in town spend the whole movie down the road from where they are supposed to be. It's actually kind of a chilling moment when she gets a text message from her manager asking where she is, that he's at the house and waiting for her.

Of course, for this to work, the killer's house has to be more or less normal - this scenario wouldn't work for say, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with its furniture made from bones and human skin and what not. It's nice to know that not every movie killer has to live in squalor, though it's sort of disappointing that he still has an underground lair like his buddies - do they build the underground tunnels themselves, or just luck out on the real estate market? Anyway, it's that and a couple other touches that kept this one going, and since it's under 80 minutes I can't complain about it wasting much of my time or anything - that's not even enough time for 3 lives to replenish on Candy Crush.

I CAN complain about the fact that it takes a little while to get going (even factoring in that abbreviated runtime), and director Sonny Laguna rubs salt in that wound not once but twice. First, he starts at the end of the movie, showing what should be the "uh oh, the killer's not dead, see you in the sequel!" epilogue right off the bat, killing some of the suspense for no reason other than to get a kill in there. Second, and worse, when our first hero goes off and gets killed, it's off-screen! I don't mind an off-screen kill or two if they're going to use it for a surprise (i.e. without a scene of them walking into the dark and then we hear a THUD - just have someone find their body sans buildup), but when it's the first and we've been patiently waiting, it's a bummer. Luckily, the on-screen kills are practical and sufficiently gory (there's a great decapitation on the pure white snow), and I walked away impressed considering that the movie only cost 5,000 bucks.

Another red flag - as with Madness, they not only set the movie in North America for no reason (North Carolina this time) but have their very Swedish actors speaking heavily-accented English. I really don't get this one - they're obviously aware of Cold Prey, which did a pretty good job at landing US distribution despite the language barrier, so why not follow suit? It's a major distraction, and at no point do they make an effort to explain why this particular story would only work if set in North Carolina (a baffling choice to boot - why not Maine or Minnesota, locales KNOWN for isolated areas and extreme cold? North Carolina winters are typically pretty mild). Long stretches go without dialogue anyway, so it's a really dumb decision - if they're reading this, PLEASE just let your actors speak their native tongue from now on, and/or set your film IN Sweden instead of trying to pass it off as America.

Ironically, the film was picked up for distribution here by Bloody Disgusting's label, most of which is populated by foreign language films (Atrocious, Rammbock, Cold Fish, etc), so it didn't even help/hurt their chances. The DVD has a perfunctory making of and the trailer, the latter of which isn't necessary since there's not much to the movie beyond what you can tell from looking at the cover anyway. A rental to be sure, but if you're a slasher fan you'll get your Redbox money's worth, especially when you consider how dire most snowbound slasher films tend to be (Shredder, anyone?).

What say you?


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget