Happy Death Day (2017)

OCTOBER 16, 2017


Full disclosure: my friend was a co-producer on Happy Death Day. Fuller disclosure: I was so tired when I watched it that I actually forgot about that until it was like halfway over, and I was already a big fan of what it was doing by then. But still, I usually avoid reviewing anything that my closer friends worked on, and I'd follow suit here if not for the fact that HOLY SHIT A SLASHER MOVIE IS NUMBER ONE AT THE BOX OFFICE! I mean, every third review I write probably has some kind of reference to a slasher movie that I love, because let's face it: it's my favorite kind of horror movie, and it's not often my needs are being served by Hollywood these days. The last original slasher film (no sequels/remakes) to come out in wide release from a major studio was My Soul To Take, all the way back in 2010 - that's far too goddamn long (and that one was so crazy it was easy to forget that it was indeed a slasher at heart).

So if you think I'm biased or whatever, too damn bad - I'm too happy to have this kind of movie again and I don't want my raves about it to be limited to a few tweets. It's not a perfect film, but it gets so much right that it barely matters, and that they do it with the limitations of a PG-13 rating is just gravy. Hilariously, I rewatched Friday the 13th: The New Blood a few days earlier and was once again aghast at how bloodless the movie is (thanks to the MPAA), and so when watching this I couldn't help but chuckle that it actually has more on-screen impact wounds and blood - with a PG-13 rating by design - than the *still R rated* bloodless Friday the 13th movie (no actual nudity in New Blood either, for the record - I think it might actually get a PG-13 in its current form if not for a few F bombs). For all the complaints about how these movies *need* to be R rated, it's really just a lot of crap - as long as the killer has a good look (check), there are a number of kills (check, albeit with an asterisk, as I'll explain later), some suspense (check!) and a character you want to see survive (check x2), there's no reason they can't serve their purpose just because the murder scenes lack bloodspray.

Of course, it helps to have a hook to make up for it, and that's where the film really shines. Yes, it has a timeloop gimmick that is identical to Groundhog Day's, albeit with a few key differences - one being that our heroine Tree (Jessica Rothe, who will be an A-lister in 2-3 years if this is any indication) doesn't have infinite lives like Phil Connor did. As she learns after four or five deaths, her body is retaining the trauma of whatever killed her (just as her brain is retaining the memories of what happened) and weakening as a result, so eventually she will shut down for good. Also, we don't see anything of her life prior to the loop day - the film opens on her waking up on that day, whereas Groundhog Day gave us a good 10-15 minute glimpse of Phil's life and demeanor before the first time we heard "I Got You Babe". So while the mechanics are the same, there are enough differences to the presentation to justify borrowing the concept (which is not exclusive to Groundhog Day anyway - it was first done in the story "12:01"), and as a bonus someone even points out that Tree's dilemma is a lot like the movie.

But like Phil, she is also someone who is kind of an asshole and seemingly has to become a better person if she wants to actually see tomorrow. It doesn't take long for us to see all of her faults as a human: she's a drunken mess who looks down on most of the people around her (she's a sorority sister, if that helps clarify what we're dealing with here), treats her roommate like shit, sleeps with her married professor, ignores calls from her dad, and mocks one of her sisters' choice of lunch foods. Basically, in slasher terms, she's the girl you want to die first (and will usually die last; since we've already mentioned New Blood, she's basically Melissa), and the thrust of the movie is split between her trying to solve her own murder, but also learn to become more like a Final Girl. It's kind of genius when you think about it (at least if you're a slasher aficionado who understands and embraces these archetype roles) and Rothe does a terrific job at finding that balance - she has to do terrible things in her first day (or two) but without ever crossing the line into full blown monster.

Another smart move on screenwriter Scott Lobdell's part is to mix up the other deaths so that Tree (which I think is a nickname for Theresa) is the only one we see die multiple times, keeping the body count "high" even though no one dies permanently. So on the first day it's just her, but on the second day she lives a bit longer because she knows when to run in the opposite direction, which allows the killer to off someone at her next location before killing her again. Then on the next day she does a lot of things differently, and someone else gets killed. And so on and so on, so that by the end of the movie we've seen just about every single character get killed - as you would in a straightforward slasher - but without it being part of the repetition. Since the killer is seemingly only after her, only offing other people who happen to get in the way, we are spared any sort of "Tree has to figure out how to save each victim in time" kind of video-gamey scenario (think Bill Murray realizing he's running a few seconds behind and needs to run to save the kid from falling out of the tree on that day). That's a big part of the movie's success, I think, as it allows for constant new developments as opposed to getting a pretty rigid day "right". It also allows the deaths in the third act to have more weight, as Tree is closer to getting it right and thus runs the risk of letting someone die permanently in order to keep herself from inching closer to death by letting herself die again in order to save them.

Unfortunately this results in one of the movies' few blunders, in which a major subplot is introduced too late into the proceedings, severely crippling its ability to look like anything but a big red herring. Seems there is a mass murderer in the hospital that Tree ends up at a few times, and for a bit she believes he is in fact the masked killer who is after her. But since the story was so hastily introduced, no intelligent audience member could possibly believe that this guy might be the killer, as it would be too much of a cheat and writers will know better by now than to pull a Friday the 13th (or I Know What You Did Last Summer) and make the killer in this whodunit someone we hadn't even really met. No, without spoiling anything I can say that the killer's identity is a satisfying one, and it's a shame they couldn't introduce this red herring character earlier/more gracefully so that we might actually buy into the idea for a while. In fact I pegged one character as the killer fairly early on (what can I say, I'm really in tune with these kinds of movies) and the introduction of this generic villain did absolutely nothing to change my original theory, which is a clear sign that it's not really working as intended. Then again, I suppose some of the teenagers in the audience who aren't even aware of the existence of things like Prom Night and Night School, let alone seen them, would be able to spot these "tells" as well as seasoned slasher fans, so maybe it worked like gangbusters on them.

Tree also utilizes a Sherlock Holmes-ian level of deduction on a few occasions, which seems not so much like a character trait but merely the writer wanting to move things along and having no better way of doing it. Luckily, such bumps in the road are instantly paved over by Rothe, as well as Israel Broussard as Carter, the owner of the dorm room that she wakes up in every day with little awareness of who he is at first. Seems she got super hammered on the never-seen previous day and he ended up taking her back to his room, but nothing sexual happened - he's a nice guy who let her stay in his bed while he slept in his roommate's. By the 3rd or 4th day she realizes he's a good guy and tells him about her predicament, but of course he can't remember anything once the reset button occurs. It's through their relationship that you can really see her grow as a person, as she goes from yelling at him and telling him that he isn't allowed to tell anyone that she was there to warmly welcoming him in front of her sorority sisters after six or seven cycles (and of course, he is reset every day and barely knows her beforehand, so none of her behavior seems out of character to him as she always gets a blank slate to start the day from). Lots of slasher films (hell, horror films in general) end up pairing off the Final Girl with the male survivor, but it's rare that you actually see their romance blossom in a believable fashion - it's usually just "well we're both alive so let's kiss" as opposed to the natural progression of two people getting to know each other. How often do you get to say a slasher film is also kind of adorably sweet?

But fear not - it passes the most important test of a slasher (for me anyway), which is simply "Would you want an action figure of the killer?" The answer is yes, I very much would - the school mascot mask (some kind of man baby?) is a perfect fit for this goofy horror blend. And yes, "goofy" is what I'm going with; I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a "horror comedy", as it's dealing with some grim material and rarely opts for jokes or sight gags that might make you laugh out loud, but there's an underlying breeziness and even a few weird moments that make it more than just a teen slasher with a twist. If anything I'd kind of liken it to Princess Bride, of all things, in that it manages to satisfy fans of a number of genres at once (horror, romance, sci-fi of sorts, and coming of age drama) without ever leaning too far in one direction. The few hiccups are of no real consequence in the long run, and I suspect Tree will be a favorite Final Girl among the younger generation the same way old farts like me embrace Ginny from F13 Part 2 and Nancy from Nightmare on Elm Street: proactive and smart, but not so mousy that girls wouldn't want to be just like them (I mean, I love Laurie Strode, but who is like "Yes! I want to be the one all my friends use so they can have fun!"). It's also another win for Chris Landon, who directed the last decent Paranormal Activity movie (The Marked Ones) and the uneven but better than its reputation Scout's Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse, which also offered a surprisingly winning "the hero has to mature" story in the middle of horror carnage. Here's hoping he sticks around in the genre, but I pray neither he or anyone else messes things up with "Happier Death Day" or whatever.

What say you?


New Beverly All Night Horrorthon (2017)

OCTOBER 7, 2017


For the past couple years I've written up my New Beverly All Nighter experiences for BirthMoviesDeath, but I had to post something else this week and HMAD's been getting neglected so I figured I'd bring it back here for a change. It was a fitting one to do it with - for the first time ever, I had seen every film that they showed, which I attribute to truly HMADing it all those years ago (i.e. not the couple times a month thing I do now). Four of the movies indeed have HMAD reviews tied to them, and the other two I had seen before I started the site; I was legit kind of stunned that Phil Blankenship and Brian Quinn - who go out of their way to find rarely shown stuff rather than expected "draws" - didn't find anything even I had never unearthed. I assume that it will never happen again, so let me pat myself on the back a bit for this one-time achievement.

Of course, regular readers know how much I "love" to fall asleep during the movies, so thankfully I didn't miss anything I hadn't seen before when I inevitably dozed off. A couple of the films they've shown in the past were so rare that you can't really find them (such as Screams of a Winter Night, which Amazon doesn't even stock on used VHS, let alone DVD or whatever), making my naps frustrating as I can't see what I've missed, but this year's crop, while obscure (and largely to my liking), have all been released on DVD, some even on Blu-ray. But as they assumed, I had never seen any of them on 35mm before, and given that they played one of my all time favorites on what is said to be the only surviving prints, I have no complaints about the lineup overall. Nor did the crowd, it seemed - only a small handful of people left during the evening, a far cry from years' past where the (always sold out) theater would be only about half full by the end.

This is, of course, due to the secretive nature of the marathon, as we are not told the titles of any of the films that are playing. It's only when the title (or, if you're a credit junkie like me, the "So and so presents" card) appears on screen that you know what you're about to watch, and so it's hard to justify leaving when you could be denying yourself the chance to see a favorite film on the big screen, possibly the only chance you'll ever get to do so. Sure, you can leave when the 6th film starts if it's not to your liking, but there's always a reward for staying and they tend to be worth waiting another 90 minutes to obtain, in addition to the bragging rights. So what did we see this year? What was our prize? Read on to find out!

4:40pm - I leave my house. I wanted to leave earlier, but my wife had things to do and I was watching our kid. Luckily my friend Jared, as always, got there insanely early to tough it out (it was 90+ degrees that day - October in Los Angeles kind of sucks) and ensure we got our preferred seats in the second row, which has slightly more leg room than the other rows - a godsend for me as I broke my big toe (the right one) the other day and was not particularly comfortable, so every little extra bit of room I could get, I wanted. There was some attempt at a "no seat saving" system where people got numbered tickets to file in, and those people could only save one adjacent seat, which was stressing folks out as we waited outside. I don't think it's particularly fair to try to break friends apart when they might be unable to get there as early (would they rather people cut the line?), especially when so few seats open up during the evening, but I can see how people saving excess number of seats until the minute it starts would be a problem. Hopefully they can rethink this process and do it fairly for future events.

6:15pm - The doors open and the numbered folks file in, but the system kind of falls apart and we all get to sit together anyway, and everyone else seemed to be happy with their seats as well (nor did anyone ask "Are those free?" for the two or three seats that were vacant as other friends were still waiting to get inside). Had the system worked as intended, I might have been stuck far away from my friends all night, which sucks when I was the one who secured our damn tickets! But whatever; it all worked out - no harm no foul! For the next hour and change we just yak about the usual stuff: what will show? When should we get pizza? How often am I going to fall asleep? I also buy two holiday themed sodas: a pumpkin cola and a ginger beer that had a werewolf on it (I no longer recall what the werewolf had to do with the ginger beer part of it). I decided that I would refrain from sugary stuff this year as it tends to give me a little energy boost but then crash, increasing my likelihood of falling asleep, but I can't pass up a pumpkin cola. Plus I knew I'd be getting pizza later and ain't nothing tastes better with pizza than a cold soda, dammit.

7:30pm - Phil and Brian take the stage for their intro. They promise that one of the prints that will be playing had never been shown anywhere before, and that the others probably hadn't played since their original release. They also note that they have a cutoff date of ten years, so if a film had played around 2007 or later, it would be ineligible. Since that's when I started going to the theater a lot, that dramatically increased the likelihood that I hadn't seen any of the films on 35 before, as they rarely show the sort of films I would have been able to see in my multiplex back in the day.

7:37pm - The lights dim for the first time and we are treated to an insane Disney short about the history of Halloween, hosted by a mushy pumpkin puppet and peppered with clips from Mickey cartoons, The Headless Horsemen, the Haunted Mansion ride, etc. It was ostensibly meant for kids, but I suspect any 4 year old watching it would have nightmares and/or hate the holiday as a result, since it actually goes into its Druid origins ("DRUIDS!!!" the narrator bellows at you) and warns about poisoned candy. As an adult? It might have been my favorite thing of the night, because it was so misguided and insane (like some of the films were) but also MEANT FOR CHILDREN.

7:45pm - Trailer reel #1! Traditionally, the trailer reel hints at what the movie will be, though it can be tough to decipher the clues as it could just be that a star from the trailer is in the movie, or they have similar settings, or were just also out during the same year - or a combination of those things. Inexplicably, I had a guess after the first trailer (April Fool's Day) because it was another movie from 1986, but then the next few trailers were sorority slashers (House on Sorority Row, Sorority House Massacre, Hell Night) and I started doubting my first choice, although I couldn't think of anything else that would fit. But then the trailers ended and the title came up - and I was right! Somehow from "also 1986 slasher" I managed to guess...

7:55pm - KILLER PARTY (1986)
Turns out the 1986 thing was a coincidence - the trailer was included because both films are set on, you guessed it, April Fool's Day, an element I had forgotten as I hadn't seen Killer Party in about twenty years. All I really remembered is that the film had a double fakeout opening (it starts on a scene that turns out to be a movie someone is watching, and then it turns out that someone is the star of a music video that our heroine is watching), that the killer wore one of those Bioshock-style diving suits, and that Paul Bartel was in it. Things I didn't realize then and was delighted by now: it was written by Final Chapter's Barney Cohen (who named Bartel's character after TFC director Joe Zito), the requisite nerdy guy was played by Ralph Seymour from Fletch, and it was shot at the same college used for Urban Legend.

It's also a total blast; the pacing is a bit wonky but there is plenty of humor (intentional and not) to keep things lively in between kills, and it's got a great inversion of the usual "Final Girl" stuff as the one you expect to take on that role ends up being possessed and offing everyone (though two people die before the possession happens so I'm not sure who killed them). It's got some Porky's/Police Academy level pranks that an uptight blogger might refer to as "problematic" today because they don't understand that attitudes change over time, but thankfully the New Bev crowd has an open mind and is largely intelligent enough to put a thirty-plus year old film in its proper context instead of judging it by today's less cavalier attitudes. That said, it's also a product of the time when the MPAA had no tolerance for blood, so the movie often feels like a TV edit - but in a way it kind of adds some mystery to the movie. Given the April Fool's setting and off-screen kills, it's possible to suspect everything is just a big prank, and then be surprised when it turns out that our heroine really did just murder like ten people because she was possessed by some vengeful ghost.

9:25pm - The movie ends with rapturous applause. In retrospect, it was probably the winner of the night, as it was one of the least seen movies out of the six and it was arguably the most crowd-pleasing, as the others lacked the comedic angle that made Killer Party such a great way to kick off the festivities. At this point I order pizza with some friends, and miss part of the trailer reel to run across the street and pick it up. In keeping with my "no sugar" rule I skip the dessert pizza for the first time ever, but I do get the garlic knots. I ain't kissing anyone, so whatever.

9:45pm - Trailer reel #2! I missed most of it, but it was H-Man, Frankenstein 1970, Konga, and Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (I walked in during the tail end of Konga). Since movie #2 was always a black and white film, and I missed the first couple of "clues", my only guess from Konga (a simian) and Transplant (mad science) was that it was The Ape, a dreadfully slow poverty row thing with Karloff that I watched on one of my budget packs, but it turned out to be...

10:00pm - THE MANSTER (1959)
I was close! It was another mad scientist movie I saw on a budget pack, though it was much better than The Ape. I forgot how much I loved the film's protagonist, an average Joe who is injected with a drug that not only turns him into the titular monster, but also loosens his inhibitions and leads him to start boozing it up and cheating on his wife. The "highlight" is when his wife, who expected him to return home by now (he's an American working in Japan), shows up and tells him to choose her or his girlfriend. He walks up to his wife, seemingly ready to apologize, then turns to the mistress and snarls "Come on, let's go find someplace and finish the evening!" I also loved how the actor was my age but looked way older (and said he was only 35, which brought the house down even though it was pretty close to the truth), and the abrupt ending is even funnier with a crowd. I dozed for a little chunk of the middle and missed my favorite line, however (click on the full review for the explanation, I hate repeating myself) so that was a bummer.

11:15pm - The movie ends and I take one of many trips to my car to get another bottle of water, as I will be skipping the usual coffee this evening as well. I realized last year that it's pointless - I fall asleep anyway, but then start feeling weird because of all the extra caffeine in my system (we get free refills all night - I usually partake two or three times). I figure water is healthier, and then leaves my system free of caffeine so I can actually drink a cup at the normal time in the morning.

11:30pm - Raffle time! I don't win anything.

11:40pm - It's tradition to show more than just movies, and we get one such extra now: a 1983 short film named Disciples of the Crow, based on Children of the Corn, making it a "dollar baby" I believe. It's pretty faithful to the story until the ending - Vicki and Burt are not killed, but drive off (albeit with an overheating car), hoping to find rescue. It's basically how The Mist story ended, actually. I guess it was released on VHS with some other dollar babies, and you can see it on Youtube if you're interested - it was fun to see it adapted without all of the padding that the two feature films had added (King's story is only like 20 pages), but the abrupt ending was disappointing.

12:00am - Trailer reel #3 kicks off with Madman, relieving me as that meant the movie would not BE Madman, which I have little patience for. It's followed by Pranks (aka Dorm that Dripped Blood) and I realize that they're both slashers from 1982. I have a guess, but it's too good to be true and I've never considered myself that lucky. Then we get Visiting Hours and The Slayer, both also from 1982, and I start getting hopeful as 1982 wasn't a huge slasher year and there aren't a lot of options. Then Without Warning comes up, showcasing Jack Palance and Martin Landau, which all but confirmed I was right and we were about to see...

12:10am - ALONE IN THE DARK (1982)
Yes! YES!!!! I love this movie and always requested it for HMAD screenings, but a print could never be found. Phil finally dug one up, and while it wasn't exactly pristine (faded and scratched - though no disruptive damage except around the tails) I was beyond ecstatic to finally see it on the big screen. I was actually just talking about it a few days ago with Eric Vespe ("Quint") as it was on TCM or one of those and he was taking shots at Valentine for stealing the nosebleed thing (and I of course had to defend my boy Jamie Blanks, who freely admitted he was paying homage to the film, rather than pretend it was a coincidence as some filmmakers do), but didn't even dare assume it might show up at this or any other screening since the prints were apparently impossible to find. Oddly, I could have seen Erland van Lidth ("Fatty") on the big screen twice this week, as he also appeared as Dynamo in The Running Man which showed at Beyond Fest, but I bailed after Predator (it was a double feature with Arnold Q&A) as my foot was hurting real bad and missed out. Didn't realize he had passed away, making Phillip Clark (The Bleeder himself) the only surviving member of the four psychos that terrorize the Potter family. Donald Pleasence is gone too, of course, so they better get cracking on a special edition of this underrated gem before there's no one alive left to talk about it.

1:40am - The movie ends and I go to my car to charge my phone, as it's nearly dead by now and I need it to keep track of the times for this very article. I lucked out this year and got a spot on Beverly a block away - I'm usually way down on one of the side streets, which would have been a nightmare with my foot making me hobble around. I think this is when I took all the pictures too.

1:55am - Trailer reel #4 has Demon Seed, Rosemary's Baby, The Brood, The Seventh Sign, and Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. I guess Manitou early on, and kept holding out hope even though I knew the evidence was starting to point directly at...

2:05am - IT'S ALIVE (1974)
Hadn't seen this one since I reviewed it, which was long before I had a kid of my own. So now I totally get the dad trying to save the thing at the end of the movie, and felt horrible for the poor "baby" when it howled or whatever. It's crazy how I take completely different things away from some films when I watch them as a dad, and I hope time allows me to revisit others in the same vein, as it might be worth writing about in some fashion. Anyway, the print was a bit faded, but it was a great find and turned out to be the last movie of the evening that I saw more than I slept through (I went out for about 20 minutes in the middle somewhere).

3:45am - The movie ends and as has been tradition for the past couple years, a large supply of donuts are delivered to give everyone a sugar high to power through the final two films, which will be presented without intermission. I am tempted, but I stick to my "no sugar" rule and settle for a now-cold slice of our pizza. I retrieve my phone, which didn't charge up as much as I wanted (turns out I still had a few apps running in the background, slowing its ability to recharge) and send out my last tweet of the evening, as I'm too tired to bother until later. From here on the times are VERY approximate as I was also too tired to keep notes.

4:00am - Trailer reel #5 kicks off with The Dead Are Alive, followed by The Blood Drinkers, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here, and The Werewolf vs The Vampire Woman. I had guessed it was a Paul Naschy film from Phil and Brian's intro (promising an international horror icon whose films don't show here all that often), but I was so tired I couldn't remember his name, coming up with a jumbled version of his Waldemar Daninsky character ("Vladimir Pazinsky", I think) instead. Jared reminds me of it when I say "They did a Scream Factory boxed set this year", though since he has so many films I was not expecting it to be one of the films that was actually on that set, namely...

4:10am - NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1981)
This print was actually titled The Craving, as it was the US release that was also slightly cut from what I understand, though hell if I know what was missing. This is one of his slower paced films, but they usually like to show such fare in this slot in case people WANT to take a nap, and many do. At one point in between my own frequent dozes (I had just rewatched the movie when the boxed set came out) I looked around and except for Jared, everyone I knew was asleep. It's a pretty good movie, and I was very happy to see the lovely Azucena Hernández on the big screen (not to mention my first time seeing a Naschy film on 35), but it's just not the sort of thing any reasonable person could stay engaged with at 4 o'clock in the morning. If you were there and hadn't seen it before, give it a shot under more suitable conditions!

5:50am - Trailer reel #6 offered Dr. Giggles, Lawnmower Man, Candyman, Dead Alive, and Army of Darkness - all films from 1992 (yes, pedantic people, Army of Darkness came out in 1993, but it is listed as 1992 on IMDb due to festival appearances). Our only other clue came earlier from Phil, who told us that the film had only made $5,000 during its theatrical run. I couldn't guess for the life of me; the only thing I could come up with was Popcorn, but I seemed to recall that it made a lot more than that (and it turned out it was from 1991 anyway), but Jared, soundtrack expert that he is, heard maybe three notes of the opening theme and correctly identified...

6:00am - THE VAGRANT (1992)
Oof. I was NOT a fan of this one when I watched it in 1995 or 1996, despite the starring trio of character actors I loved (Bill Paxton, Michael Ironside, and Marshall Bell), and while I was curious about a revisit, I dozed through two big chunks (including the ending) so I can't provide a reasonable "second look" opinion. I can say that for the first 30-35 minutes I saw before falling asleep the first time that I was still baffled as to who exactly the movie was aimed at, as it was a horror-comedy without any real scares or funny jokes. Bell's makeup as the title character is outstanding and it's fun to see Paxton as a beta male, but it felt like one of those movies that got made without anyone giving the script a second draft. Scream Factory recently released the film on a pack with a few others, so I'm sure I can borrow it from someone to see if what I missed will make the movie click for me, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Just watch Of Unknown Origin instead - it's similar (yuppie white collar guy sees his house torn apart by an unwelcome guest, becomes unraveled) but doesn't feel like it came out of the oven before it finished baking. I should have left, but I wanted my prize, dammit!

7:30am - Vagrant ends and we are treated to a typically insane Woody Woodpecker cartoon where he attempts to murder a witch who stiffed him 50 cents on broom repair, followed by the National Anthem (no one makes any kneeling jokes, that I heard anyway). We pack up our things and head to the lobby, where we are gifted with... pint glasses commemorating the event! I recently acquired a love of vanilla whiskey mixed with ginger ale, and the glass is perfect for such a concoction (I down them while playing Friday the 13th - JGrayland23 is my PSN name if anyone ever wants to try to play) so I was very glad I suffered through what I saw of The Vagrant instead of heading home earlier. Normally everyone takes a picture in front of the marquee but in a span of ten seconds I saw most of the people I was sitting with walk off in different directions, so I shrugged and headed for my own car, taking solace with the thought that I'd be getting that much more sleep when I got home.

As I get older it gets harder and harder for me to stay awake for any reasonable amount of time for these things, but I'd rather die than keep trying. It's just too fun overall to decide to skip it just because I end up unconscious for sizable chunks of it (and really, with a 40 minute drive home after, it's really for the best that I am not trying to do it when I've been awake for what would be nearly 24 hours at that point). Even if I've seen every movie, it's been on VHS or DVD and probably by myself - ever since they switched to an all secret lineup there has only been a single film that I had seen on the big screen before (Messiah of Evil in the 2015 edition, which I had seen at another repertory theater seven or eight years prior). As time goes on that could change, as they might start showing films I managed to see during their original run (I wouldn't be surprised to see something like Tales From The Hood or Man's Best Friend show up in the lineup someday), but thankfully Phil and Brian's tastes (and collections) are too eclectic to predict, and I highly doubt there will ever come a day where I have no reason to be excited about their selections. And if my kid ends up liking horror movies, maybe someday I can take him, so I have even more reason to want to see this tradition continue. As the show literally sold out in two seconds it seems to be popular enough to sustain (though as rental fees and the like go up, I'm not sure how profitable it is compared to showing a single film), so hopefully it continues until we're all dead in 2046.

What say you?



Flatliners (2017)

SEPTEMBER 30, 2017


Full disclosure, right off the bat - someone pulled a fire alarm during my showing of Flatliners and we had to file out with about twenty minutes left in the film. As I was not particularly enjoying it to that point, the idea of going back to watch it all again just to see what I missed seemed absurd (especially at this time of the year), so I had someone fill me in on how it ended up. If that means you cannot accept my opinion of the film, then feel free to shut the page now. But don't tell me I'm being "unprofessional" - I paid to see the movie and since the whole theater had to file out there were like 1000 people waiting for their complimentary tickets, and I had less interest in waiting in that line than I did in seeing the rest of the film. The following critiques are still valid, and seeing the ending instead of having it described in detail would not have made a difference.

Anyway, your guess is as good as mine as to why Sony opted to remake Flatliners, of all the things in their library. I know they've pulled some questionable moves in the past, such as with Total Recall, but at least that was a much bigger hit in its day, had room to explore (it was based very loosely on a short story, so they could have tried a straighter adaptation), and if nothing else could let Len Wiseman do his action thing with a big budget and appealing cast. Flatliners, on the other hand, was a minor hit from that same year (the Total Recall remake was five years ago already, if you can believe it), so it doesn't have the same longevity or name value. All it really had was the hook - med students purposely dying to see what's on the other side, then being revived to share their experiences - only they all bring back the ghosts of their haunted pasts. A great concept to be sure, but not one that needs to be retold in a PG-13 manner (and, curiously, on an even lower budget, which has to be a first for a studio remake).

In fact I wouldn't have even bothered with it at all if not for the fact that it was actually designed to be a stealth sequel of sorts to the original, as opposed to a traditional remake. Kiefer Sutherland was cast in the film as the same character (Nelson) he played in the 1990 film, so I found that to be an interesting angle and figured it was worth a look on the strength of that alone. He appears a few times as the Chief of Staff (or whatever, I'm not good with job titles - a guy in charge at any rate) that's guiding our new heroes through med school, but I kept waiting to see when he'd be like "Hey, you guys are hacks - me and my friends did this 27 years ago!", as there was seemingly no reference to his past or even that their experiment had been done before. It wasn't until Monday morning that I got my answer; apparently, test screening audiences found the connection too confusing (apparently he didn't make his history clear until the end of the film, which even I have to admit is a bizarre approach to take), and so it was dropped. I believe someone refers to him as Nelson at one point, but I might have just misheard as he is credited as Barry Wolfson (and that's the name on his labcoat), so let's just assume I heard it wrong and that they have successfully scrubbed the final cut of any connection to the original, making it the straight up remake I didn't want to see in the first place, with Sutherland's casting now just appearing as a gimmick, like Andrea Martin playing the house mother in Black Xmas, or Sean Connery showing up as the King in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

So now it's just a remake, and a rather dull one at that. As with the original, the students are all plagued by visions of people they've wronged in the past when they come back from the dead, though they're at least slightly different stories (and the characters themselves are different, though Diego Luna's character never flatlines, much like Oliver Platt's in the original). However, the changes aren't really that drastic; there's another bullying incident, but this time it was cyber-bullying where one of our heroes shared nude photos of a rival classmate in order to humiliate her. And instead of one guy losing his fiance due to his sexual habits, our William Baldwin stand-in is wracked with guilt over one of his many one night stands resulting in a pregnancy that was aborted (and he was too chicken to even go to the clinic with her). Julia Roberts blamed herself for her father's death, and here it's Ellen Page blaming herself over her sister's death. The only exception is Nina Dobrev's character, who screwed up at the hospital one night and killed someone by giving him the wrong medication, and I can't help but wish they tied ALL of their regrets into their life as med students, as it would help differentiate between it and the original.

Another big change is that when they come back they've also unlocked parts of their brain a bit. Page's character is able to recall everything she's ever learned, Kiersey Clemons' character becomes uninhibited, and another guy starts being more intuitive and "seeing" people. But then they inexplicably drop this idea once everyone starts having their visions, and it ultimately has zero bearing on anything. It reminded me a bit of the Rob Zombie Halloween in that way, where even if it wasn't all working they were at least trying something new, but seemingly got cold feet and decided to just copy the original more and more as the film went on. There is one major change (spoiler ahead, but without specifics!), in that one of them is killed for good at a certain point, whereas all five of them survived in the original, but while it's a good shock when it occurs, as with the "unlocked brain" stuff it fails to have any real weight on what happens after.

But don't worry, if you haven't seen the original or completely forget it*, you'll just be merely bored by the damn thing. It's not even really a horror movie for the most part; they have some freaky visions in the back half but there is very little immediate danger, and there's a disconnect that makes some of the scares just a total cheat. For example, the guy haunted by his cowardice re: abortion is haunted by the ghost of that one-time lover, and at one point she stabs his hand - but later we learn she's not even dead, so I'm not sure how she has a vengeful ghost to chase him around (or, exactly why it came back when he flatlined). Dobrev gets the bulk of the scare scenes since her visions are of someone who is actually dead and has a reason to be mad at her, but they're all the generic kind of modern studio horror scares where a creepy person will suddenly appear next to our hero and then disappear again - it gets tiresome, even in a movie that has limited such occasions. In fact many of them seem like they were just added in to give the trailer editors something to work with.

The acting is equally inconsistent; Luna's character is all "We must stop this, this is insane!" one minute, and then laughing/dancing with the others to celebrate the latest successful flatline the next. Though that might be the result of what seems to be a hasty post-production and/or reshoots, as they obviously had to tinker to remove the sequel aspect to it, and there are other signs of sloppiness - there are at least two scenes where the aspect ratio changes a bit, as if they forgot to apply the same masking to every shot. There's also a sixth med student, Brad, who seems like he was supposed to play a bigger role at one point, but disappears for so long that I forgot who he was when he briefly reappeared in a later scene. Maybe for Blu-ray they will have a longer cut or deleted scenes that flesh out some of this stuff, but I don't think it will be enough to save it.

Then again maybe there isn't anything else except for Kiefer's reveal. The trailer doesn't have anything that didn't end up in the movie (almost a guarantee for such occasions - see Diego Luna's last big film - Rogue One - for an example), so it's very possible that the script (by Ben Ripley, who wrote the engaging and entertaining Source Code) was more interesting at first and it got rewritten to the point of having no identity by the time they started shooting it. Either way it's a shame; the cast is good and even if he's not exactly an iconic character it would have been cool to see how Nelson was living his life all these years later, but for whatever reason, the film we got is the worst kind of remake: there's not enough difference to justify its existence, and everyone's too competent to make it an entertaining fiasco. It's just THERE, as indifferent as the audience who barely seemed to care when they were asked to leave before it limped to its conclusion.

What say you?

*I'm not a huge fan of it either; it's fine, and the dead kid beating the shit out Kiefer scared me a lot when I was eleven, but I've barely thought about it since.


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