NOVEMBER 7, 2014
SOURCE: SCREAMFEST and SCREENERS
The fact that HMAD only had a single review throughout October really saddens me. I let you guys down, and myself. Granted it was insanely busy (in addition to the usual stuff, I now have the kid AND we moved. AND I took on a rather easy side job but one that forced me to be on my toes at all times and thus not able to write properly), but I still think I coulda found the time to at least post SOMETHING from Screamfest or the various movies I had to watch for my Netflix gig. Then again, it's been so insane that I haven't worked on my book in a month or seen Annabelle or Ouija yet, if it makes you feel better.
Anyway, the time has passed for all of these movies; after a few days my memory blanks too much to write a full review unless I took notes (which, of course, I didn't). I have half a Dark Was The Night review written that stops mid sentence and it'll never get finished because I simply can't recall enough to discuss without it being so vague that you'll question if I even actually saw it (which I did! I have witnesses AND a tweet from Kevin Durand saying it was nice to meet me at the premiere!). So you get capsule reviews of that and all the other movies I saw this month. This sort of clears the deck and now I'll be back to posting 1-2x a week, I hope. Fair enough?
(in alpha order)
COME BACK TO ME (Screener)
A surprise little gem, this movie seems like another "disturbed young person gets obsessed with their married neighbor" kind of thing, like The Crush or whatever, but we ultimately learn there's something far more sinister (and rather inspired) going on, resulting in, no lie, one of the best and ballsiest downer endings I've seen in ages. It feels a bit TV movie-ish at times, but that might even work in its favor when you consider the decidedly non-commercial ending.
CYPRIAN'S PRAYER (Screamfest)
This is a microbudget (5k!) possession movie from Bulgaria, and actually set there! Usually Bulgaria is subbing for any number of European countries (or even isolated US locations), but this is a rare exception. It's a pretty good entry in the post-Exorcist sub-genre of movies where a girl is possessed and a jaded priest has to save her, though it doesn't really do much new until the final few minutes. Also, the director curiously kept inserting (terrible) CGI effects where they weren't needed, as if to add production value. The lo-fi aspect was one of its strong suits - embrace it! Don't muddy it up with garbage pixels!
DARK WAS THE NIGHT (Screamfest)
I didn't get to as many films at the fest as I'd like, but of the ones I did this was my favorite. A character drama wearing a monster movie's clothes, it seemed like a Stephen King short story adapted to feature form, and I mean that as a compliment. The afore-namedropped Kevin Durand plays a small town sheriff who is grieving over the death of his son and overly protective of the surviving one, a handicap that is put to the test when a (spoiler?) Wendigo type creature makes its way into town after losing its habitat due to deforestation. The monster only makes a few appearances, as Tyler Hisel's script keeps the focus on Durand and other town members, letting the monster inform the drama rather than the other way around. It doesn't always work perfectly (there are two instances where it seems the movie will kick into higher gear only for that to not happen), but my own fears of not being able to watch/protect my son every second of the day (the boy died via accident under his watch, so he's of the "I should have been able to save him" opinion) were enough for me to not care and invest 100% into the narrative. This is the sort of thing I'd like to see more of at the fest - movies with commercial premises, just done differently.
GOAL OF THE DEAD (Screener)
I groaned when I saw the title of this one, as I've seen enough "_____ of the Dead" movies to last a lifetime - and the fact that it revolved around soccer was another red flag, though it made it easy to make jokes ("Oh so it's 90 minutes of nothing happening and ends in a draw?"). However, I ended up enjoying it quite a bit, even though I was a bit conservative with my joke about the runtime as it's actually a hair over two hours long. But it earns it, offering up several likable characters, each with their own arcs (the superfans who have to sneak into the game, the disgraced player returning to his hometown, the arrogant rookie who wants to leave the team for a better offer, etc) and a winning emphasis on folks working together and generally being pleasant instead of the usual zombie grim-fest. The zombie action is nothing special, but I quite enjoyed the spectacle of how the virus is spread: puking what looks like milk on each other. Also: best placement of a title sequence ever. I actually applauded even though I was watching alone.
HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME (Screamfest)
A very close race with Dark as my favorite film of the fest, this is a twisty, very sad haunted house drama about a woman who is accused of murdering her family in the 1980s and returns to it in the present day after serving her sentence. We see both timelines unfold, not unlike the recent Oculus, but if you consider the title you'll know that those two timelines really aren't that disparate in this particular house. There's some fun to be had seeing events unfold from two different perspectives (think Timecrimes or Insidious 2), but it never feels gimmicky - it's all in service of a very touching tale of the lengths a woman will go to in order to keep her family safe. This rightfully won some awards at the fest, and I pray it gets released as is in the US instead of snapped up just to be able to do an English remake (like [Rec] was).
JOY RIDE 3 (Screener)
More Saw wannabe nonsense, this time from Declan O'Brien of "the bad Wrong Turn entries" fame. I didn't exactly love the original movie (I actually said the sequel was better at the time I saw it, though I'm sure that's not true if I were to watch them back to back), but I can't see how fans of those will be happy here, since Rusty Nail has become a traditional killer in the Hitcher/Mick from Wolf Creek vein, and has mostly dropped his usual MO of playing with his victims in favor of Saw-level death traps (particularly in the opening sequence). There's no sense of perverse playfulness, just chases and kills. It's not terrible as these things go, but I guess I'm just not a fan of this series.
LEPRECHAUN: ORIGINS (Screener)
Last year, I was a guest on the Harmontown podcast, talking about Horror Movie A Day (it was right after I quit the daily part). For some reason, Harmon only wanted to talk about the Leprechaun films, which I had largely avoided over the years due to the fact that I didn't like the ones I had seen and figured my one or two reviews would suffice. But I know enough to know that this isn't a goddamn Leprechaun movie in any way shape or form - it's just your usual crappy Syfy channel monster flick, right down to the Canadian locations subbing for somewhere else (Ireland, in this case) and terrible effects. This Leprechaun doesn't talk, doesn't have a hat, and... well I don't know how to describe him really since the movie constantly hides him from our view, letting a baffling "Predator POV" type thing take the place of a traditional presence. And I have no idea what the "Origins" title refers to since he's already a "thing" when the movie starts (our heroes are being led to his domain to be a sacrifice to make amends for the gold they stole from it years ago), so it's even more offensive. I'm not a franchise fan at all and even I'm insulted that this thing is considered part of the series and is included on the new boxed set. It'd be like including the lousy 1990 indie Scary Movie (with John Hawkes) in a boxed set of the famous parody series.
I don't know why this piece of junk was selected to open the festival, but it certainly didn't bode well for the event. Even if it came out in 2008 I think we'd be mocking it for being a derivative Hostel wannabe, so to see it in 2014 was just bewildering. As is often the case with these things, a bunch of partying vacationers are led to a mysterious place (in this case, a tattoo parlor) where they are dispatched, gorily, in order to keep a very secretive/exclusive business operation running. In between scenes of (admittedly impressive) gore FX, actor Robert Lasardo waxes philosophic about tattoos. It's as dumb as it sounds, but it made for a fun time at least; the crowd didn't take long to start laughing at the wooden dialogue and terrible performances, and I suspect the directing team was unaware that the film they made was going to be laughed at. So that was amusing.
SEE NO EVIL 2 (Screamfest)
As one of the 9 or so people who really liked the original film, and the easiest mark in the world when it comes to Danielle Harris movies, I really should have liked this movie more than I did. It's a serviceable enough slasher, and Katharine Isabelle gives it some spark that it probably doesn't deserve, but the script makes the fatal mistake of letting the entire group of would-be victims learn about Jacob Goodnight's new killing spree almost instantly, and so instead of using the location for stalk scenes or even basic "Where did ____ go? Let's go find him/her." scenarios, the bulk of the movie is little more than our 4-5 heroes running up and down what appears to be the same three hallways over and over. Every now and then Jacob will catch and kill one of them, but the kills are all pretty dull (an overlong opening title sequence showcases a bunch of medical tools (it takes place in a morgue), seeming to suggest that they'll be creatively mis-used, but he pretty much sticks to one or two weapons, or just his bare hands). They also botch the "it's the same night" aspect by constantly referencing Twitter for some reason, and he only gouges one pair of eyes, which is his "thing". But the Soskas directed it, so you'll hear it's amazing and a big step forward for the genre and all that, because they took a picture with whoever said that.
I don't even know where to begin with this one. The few people who enjoyed Seed probably didn't care if they made a sequel, and yet they made one anyway that doesn't jive with the first film in the slightest. Now it's some Texas Chain Saw/Hills Have Eyes wannabe thing, with Seed in the Leatherface role and horrendous lo-fi digital video replacing grainy, sun-drenched film. The film is told all out of sequence for reasons I can't really discern, beyond giving them license to put the movie's most graphic and gratuitously violent scene at the beginning even though it's part of the climax. Uwe Boll "presents" but doesn't do anything else, and I swear to Christ, even his harshest critics will probably miss him. Hilariously, it's been retitled Blood Valley: Seed's Revenge for DVD, but that doesn't make any sense since the first film was already his revenge and in this one he's just a henchman, basically. So dumb.
WRONG TURN 6 (Screamfest)
Hey, remember when I was talking about Bulgaria subbing for other locations? Once again it's being used to simulate West Virginia, for some reason. I had high-ish hopes for this one since Declan O'Brien was no longer directing, but alas, it continued to prove the rule for this series that the Canadian entries (1, 2, and to a lesser extent, 4) are superior to their Bulgarian-shot brethren. I am fairly confident that this one was an unrelated spec that got retrofitted as a Wrong Turn movie later, which is why we have our usual three mutants inexplicably working for a pair of incestuous rich assholes at a hotel/spa in the middle of nowhere. Our protagonist is a relative who has inherited the hotel and gets wooed into joining their strange way of life, much to the dismay of his friends. No one takes a wrong turn - the heroes are all exactly where they planned to be, and Three Finger and his pals only make fleeting, often extraneous appearances (like when they kill an old lady for no reason). I also couldn't begin to tell you where it fit into the timeline; anachronisms aside the series has had some semblance of continuity until now (with the order being 4, 5, 1, 2, 3), but this neither picks up from 5's cliffhanger-ish ending nor leads directly into the original or any other entry. It's an improvement over the last one I guess, but that's saying almost nothing. I just wonder if I'll be stupid enough to watch the inevitable Joy Ride vs Wrong Turn.
What say you?