Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

The First Purge (2018)

JULY 3, 2018

GENRE: SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

When the last Purge movie, Election Year, was in production and even when it was released, it seemed pretty unlikely we'd ever have to deal with an actual Trump presidency, but the fact that he had gotten that far was already troubling enough. Had Russia not interfered on his behalf and illegitimately gotten him elected, The First Purge might have been a different movie, but even if it was the same it likely wouldn't resonate the way it has/will. While the movie goes out of its way for a moment to make sure it's not a direct slam on the GOP (the series' "New Founding Fathers" are said to have replaced both Democrats AND Republicans), it's hard to forget it's just a fictional story (a light sci-fi one at that) when the actual government is barely any less openly racist and Nazi-esque as the one depicted in it. At least if Hillary won it'd be closer to contrast than lateral move.

As the title suggests, this is a prequel about the first time the government decided that one night a year we could break any law (read: kill people) with almost no restrictions. For the last three movies we've wondered how this all started, and now we know: as an experiment confined to Staten Island. An experiment designed by a woman, in fact - Marisa Tomei plays a psychologist of some sort who comes up with the concept in the tradition of the Stanford Prison experiment or something of that nature, with the government funding it to see if it can really help people release some of their tension and live a relatively crime-free existence for the other 364 days of the year. But as we learn about halfway through, the government doesn't really care if guys like me discover that going outside and smashing some windows or whatever will keep us from going off the rails - they want minorities and poor people to be executed en masse, and find this way is easier than, oh, I dunno, rounding them all up and deporting them. Let's hope 45 is too busy golfing to watch the film.

Our main asshole is the Chief of Staff, played by Patch Darragh (made to resemble Sean Spicer a bit), who is frustrated that no one seems particularly interested in purging at first. Apart from a guy who was already insane and probably would be out killing people that night anyway, and a pair of old (homeless?) ladies who have a grand old time lining their street with homemade bombs made out of teddy bears, the residents of Staten Island don't really seem all that excited to kill each other. Most of them just stay inside their homes or group up at a church, while the rest go so far as to throw an impromptu block party (finally, a non murder crime! We also see a guy try to rob an ATM, but he's killed, natch). So Darragh's character gets pretty pissed off and arranges to have a militia (one that includes KKK members) go in and start killing everyone they find, at which point the movie turns into a standard Purge sequel.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised by that, since the film is once again written by James DeMonaco, who wrote and directed all of the others. He turned over directorial duties to Gerard McMurray, who is a much stronger director (this entry has more memorable images than the first three combined), but it's clear DeMonaco needs to let others handle the writing as well, as he runs out of ideas early on and even starts cribbing from himself at one point. The film's climax, where antihero Dmitri (Y'lan Noel, who we will be seeing a lot more of after this, I suspect) storms an apartment building to rescue his old flame Nya (Lex Scott Davis) is essentially the same as Purge: Anarchy's extended sequence where the (also hired) militia guys storm the apartment building where that film's protagonists were trying to hide/stay alive. It's bad enough the main complaint about the series is that it leaves so much unexplored, so when it actually starts repeating itself it's almost kind of insulting. Plus, at this point the whole "first time" element feels lost, as no one seems to be particularly shocked that this is really happening (and as always we get little slices of anonymous violence outside; shots that could be from any other entry where the Purge is an annual tradition that people are used to).

And it's a shame, because if the back half was as good as the first, it'd be far and away the best entry in the series. Our new characters aren't exactly the most unique we've ever seen; Dmitri is just another bad guy with a conscience (which extends to his crew; when one is shot and bleeding out, he insists Dmitri just let him die so he can go rescue other people - aww!), and the others are fairly stock as well. But the actors give them more life than the script asked, and we're also never torn away from their perspective to show what's happening to a couple of white idiots who decided to go shopping ten minutes before Purge started (that'd be Anarchy's "heroes"). For those two and the family in the first film, we get the sense that Purge night is the only time they're ever forced to deal with anything scarier than a brief power outage, but here we spend all our time with folks whose lives are shitty enough the rest of the year without having to worry about their government strolling into their homes and legally murdering them. Even Dmitri has some problems; he can't exactly trust anyone in his line of work and his conscience keeps eating at him - when he finds out Nya's younger brother has been working for one of his underlings, you can see he's legitimately upset about it, seeing the kid as a little brother of his own and knowing that he could be in danger.

We also get to see some of how the NFFA got things going. Again, it's just confined to Staten Island, so while we know they eventually go nationwide it's interesting to see that they didn't just spring it on the entire country at once. This gives the film a bit of an Escape from New York flair (the score even apes it directly at one point, so I suspect it's intentional), with everyone locked off and a ticking clock for our heroes' survival. Because of this limited scope, people could have just left the island prior to the bridges being closed off, so they pay these poor/desperate people five thousand bucks a piece to stick around, with added incentives for "participation". Everyone gets a pair of high tech contacts to wear for when they purge, so that they can monitor behavior (because it's a science experiment, of course), and they even survey people asking them why they'd want to purge in the first place. Some prequelitis rears its ugly head from time to time (at one point the NFFA sends drones equipped with machine gun - why did they stop using them? They're pretty useful here!), but given the low budgets of this series I think they did a good job of showing us how it could really come to the level of insanity we saw in the others.

But once the block party is abruptly canceled by the arrival of Skeletor (the aforementioned insane man who - attn Purge Wikia contributors - notches the first ever Purge kill), who starts wiping out some of the revelers, it becomes a pale retread of the other sequels for the most part, as our half dozen or so protagonists find themselves on the streets of their city that's now a war-zone, seeking shelter until the morning. Tomei's character has no part in the third act at all, and the KKK guys might have been more striking had Election Year not already used Nazis in the same context. Usually a prequel is enhanced by having seen the others, but in this case I think the movie would work better if you hadn't already seen the others (well, maybe the first, since the concept was so underutilized it barely mattered anyway). It's like they wasted good ideas and even some of the social commentary on the Grillo entries, making them seem almost second-rate here when they should be at their most meaningful. When Dmitri strangles one of the NFFA's hit squad (who is wearing a blackface faceguard) it's certainly a powerful visual and drives the message home - but it's also the 20th time we've seen someone in a Purge movie get the upper hand over the well-armed attackers out to eradicate them.

I also had trouble with its closing moments, where our survivors walk out in the morning, checking in on their neighbors and such. It's a nice moment - but it also feels a bit mean spirited, as we know that not everything will be OK. The Purge will continue to evolve and get worse for people like them, and they also now have a target on their heads after taking out some of NFFA's death squad. The optimism at the end of the third film felt right, but it didn't quite work here given its prequel nature, and instead I just felt kind of sad knowing the worst was yet to come for these folks, so it was kind of at odds with itself and also what it was trying to say. Am I to infer that good people (and, er, drug dealers) will persevere despite the seemingly insurmountable odds against them? Or that no matter what they do they will always be fucked over? If this was a proper "Purge 4" I'd find it inspiring, like in a "keep fighting the good fight" way, but given that there are at least a dozen full blown Purges ahead of them I simply find myself feeling as miserable for these fictional people as I do for our real life world.

Speaking of the real world, there's only one overt Trump reference in the film, and I wouldn't dare spoil it - I'll only point out that it's amazing, and that after the dialogue makes it clear who they're referencing I urge you to reconsider the person's headgear and where they were located. Otherwise, the only real tie to the non-fictional world we usually try to escape at the multiplexes comes from a reference to the NRA, who are (of course) the backers of the New Founding Fathers. So even though they're *not* the Republicans of today... they're pretty much just the Republicans of today (it's kind of like in Red State where they mention Fred Phelps to make it "clear" that Michael Parks' character wasn't supposed to be him). As before the heroes tend to use smaller guns and improvised weapons as opposed to the rifles used by the villains, but by mentioning the NRA so explicitly (I don't recall them coming up in the others) it tosses the subtlety of this tradition out the window.

Ultimately, it's a film that works best when it's at its least Purge-like, faltering only when it falls back on the now familiar site people walking cautiously around urban alleyways, ducking the murderers running rampant until they get to the next safe spot and the script can cut to someone else doing the same thing. I liked the characters (particularly Dolores, a cranky middle aged woman who is mostly just annoyed by the whole thing) but there are possibly too many of them this time around, and as a result the more interesting ones don't get much time to shine. Tomei in particular must not have been on set for more than a day or two, and Harris (plus his two best buds; they refer to themselves as the Three Stooges) disappears for long stretches as well. Perhaps if they sprung the NFFA rigging the experiment as a twist for the end, it would have been more consistently great. Instead, they tell us this at the halfway point, leaving the rest of the movie with very little surprise or momentum as it makes its way into its depressing outcome (that the experiment was a "success" and will continue). Again if you haven't seen the other sequels this won't be as much of an issue, but I couldn't help but be disappointed that it started out so riveting and ultimately just settled for status quo, saying everything that it had to say early on and then just letting guns do all the talking. Hopefully the upcoming TV series (previewed during the credits, which is tacky AF) or inevitable Purge 5 will be more consistently engaging.

What say you?

P.S. Per the timeline of the series, the first Purge is indeed around 2017 or 2018, but they refrain from naming an exact year. The only clue to what time period it is comes from a poster in Nya's apartment, so keep an eye out. It's a huckster move worthy of Trump himself.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Unearthed & Untold: The Path To Pet Sematary (2017)

JUNE 29, 2018

GENRE: DOCUMENTARY
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

My mom was a (casual) Constant Reader, so she would often rent the movies based on Stephen King novels when they came along, and I'd watch them because I could (as opposed to the ones I asked her to rent, like Friday the 13th sequels). I think the first I saw was (heh) Maximum Overdrive, but Pet Sematary was the first I vividly remember watching, being freaked out by Zelda like so many other kids (and adults), and of course the death of Gage was probably the most upsetting thing I had seen in a film up to that point. In fact when I had a son of my own I put it at the top of my list of movies I wouldn't watch again until he was an adult, because I worry enough without the visual reminder of how easy it is to lose your whole world if you take your eyes off him for a second. BUT, I still think highly of the film (and its source material), so I was excited to check out Unearthed & Untold, which was a labor of love documentary about the 1989 film.

Like Just Desserts, the full length documentary about Creepshow, Unearth & Untold is basically the retrospective doc you might find on a big special edition of the movie, albeit released on its own. And also like Just Desserts, they couldn't manage to land King for an interview, but they shouldn't feel bad about that - George Romero himself couldn't convince him to sit down for that one. So we have to settle for a few clips from a public speaking engagement King gave a while back to hear from him, but they got literally everyone else that's still alive: director Mary Lambert, every cast member I can think of (even the guy who played the truck driver!), the DP, the composer, the Fangoria writer who covered the production for the mag... save King, I can't imagine anyone watching this and thinking "It's a shame that _____ isn't here" (Fred Gwynne being the only other omission of note, but he died in 1993 so you'd have to be a total asshole to complain about his absence). We've all seen retrospective docs for a particular favorite film only to be disappointed that major players weren't on hand, so considering the only holdouts here are a dead guy and a guy who almost literally never does anything of the sort, the two filmmakers have really pulled off an impressive feat here.

And the film's cast and crew would suffice, but they went ahead and got a few locals who were around for the film's production (which, per King's demand, was actually shot in Maine - a rarity for the films based on his novels: for example both versions of It and Dead Zone were shot in Canada, despite being Maine-set), including the owners of the house that was used for the Crandall residence. Unlike Jaws and its notoriously dickish Martha's Vineyard residents, the locals were actually pretty accommodating and happy to house the production for the most part, and remain proud of their little piece of movie history even today. Since it's "King Country" it's sort of like a badge of honor to get one of the few Maine productions for one of his films, not to mention one that he took a more active role in than usual, adapting the screenplay himself (also rare; he adapts his short stories often but has only taken on the tough job of paring his doorstop novels down to 90-120 minutes) and contributing a cameo as the priest. I was so charmed by the people I could have happily watched a documentary just about their experiences, to hell with the actors.

This approach might have prevented, or at least softened, one of the movie's noticeable flaws: it lacks any actual footage from the film itself, using only behind the scenes and promotional stills or home video footage when film clips would traditionally be shown. I thought you could use anything under "fair use" law but perhaps there is a limit (which would obviously be exceeded in a documentary specifically about the one film), and I know Paramount is stingy about clips having heard filmmaker pals' war stories about dealing with them, so it was almost certainly a budgetary restriction, i.e. nothing I hold against the movie. But it is a bit distracting to keep hearing about this or that scene, such as the fire at the end or how they pulled off getting little Miko Hughes in the shot with the truck, without any of the finished product to hammer those points home. And this extends to the music too - Marky Ramone pops up to talk about the Ramones' legendary theme song, and we don't get to hear it. Again, this is aimed at fans of the film and so it's not like you won't know what these scenes/songs are like, but it does lead to the occasional awkward presentation.

The other thing I noted as "off" is that it lacks a narrator to guide us into a new topic, and instead the filmmakers themselves show up as talking heads to fill that role. But the things they say are obviously scripted in order to set up a particular aspect of the film ("One thing that really makes the movie stand out is the music" kind of things), so their inclusion is a bit jarring when juxtaposed with the off-the-cuff, candid interviews with everyone else. A narrator would have made more sense, I think - hell they could have tried to get Blaze Berdahl to do it, as the former Ellie Creed is now a successful voiceover artist anyway. Speaking of Blaze, Ellie was actually played by twins, with her sister Beau sharing the role, but Beau's credit was buried as if she was a stunt player or something - one of the many stories we get to hear. Ultimately that's the main draw of the movie anyway, and of course I'd rather have some funky editorial decisions than a perfectly polished movie where no one has anything interesting to say.

Indeed you hear so much (these people have great memories, I tell you) that it's a shock there was anything left, but Synapse's disc release of the film (it was available on streaming platforms last year) has another 20-25 minutes' worth of excised material, primarily other anecdotes that didn't really fit in anywhere. As it is the movie doesn't always gracefully switch topics or present everything in the most flowing nature (Heather Langenkamp pops up to talk about her husband, who did makeup on the film - but doesn't tell us that connection until the second time she appears, much later in the doc), so I'm glad they made a few snips to get it into a more manageable shape. The filmmakers also contribute an interview where they talk about the origins of the project (it took them five years to make it), along with a commentary (two, actually - there's also a podcast they did that you can play over the film? I didn't bother, but hey, it's there) and some other smaller bonus features. Long story short, the disc is definitely packed enough to get your money's worth, even if it's basically all just "disc two" material.

It's a shame that it takes so long and so many willing participants to put these kind of things together, because ideally we'd have one for pretty much every movie of note. The film was a hit when it came out (speaking of box office fortunes, its less successful sequel goes unmentioned) and is usually name checked as one of the better adaptations of King's work, so it's an obvious candidate to get this kind of treatment - but if you're a bigger fan of something like Needful Things or even Maximum Overdrive, you'll likely never get treated as well. As labors of love go, it's one of the more impressive that I've seen, and Paramount would be foolish to not try and work something out to have it packaged with the original film for a mega special edition release next year when the remake comes out (and it also celebrates its 30th birthday). If that doesn't happen, it's worth the dough to pick it up on its own, and since Synapse also released Just Desserts maybe we can start lobbying them to do some others. I think it's time Silver Bullet got its due...

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

JUNE 22, 2018

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

One of the movie sites posted an article the other day about the thing that made Jurassic Park so memorable while its sequels all failed to even come close to measuring up: there was no sense of wonder anymore, no reveal to behold. John Hammond didn't tell Alan and Ellie that he had genetically recreated dinosaurs on his island - he let them (and, in turn, us in the audience) discover them with their own two eyes. They can never again make us believe dinosaurs were back like they did in that one glorious scene in the first film, as Alan looks over a landscape straight out of a kid's jigsaw puzzle, with several (herbivorous) dino species walking around and doing their thing. As with the other sequels, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has characters seeing the creatures for the first time and giving it the classic Spielbergian "People looking in awe" shot, but it's not as meaningful to us anymore - we need more than that to win us over with the followups, because these creatures are just as familiar to us as any other animal at this point.

Less familiar is the feeling of walking out of a Jurassic Park sequel and being satisfied, but I'm happy to report that Fallen Kingdom clears the very low bar set by its predecessor, improving on it in most ways and more or less hitting the same territory as Lost World in my book (I have come to discover peoples' rankings of this series vary wildly, so I should just quickly clarify that Lost World is the only sequel I kind of liked, with Jurassic World coming behind it, and I don't like much about JP3 at all). If I gave a shit about its two main characters (Chris Pratt's Owen and Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire, both returning from the first JW) I might elevate it as the unquestionable best sequel, but neither of them are even as interesting as Vince Vaughn's character there, let alone Jeff Goldblum's Malcolm, which handicaps its ability to really pop for me. Malcolm, by the way, returns for his first appearance since that film, though if you've seen trailers you've pretty much seen his entire role as he only appears in two quick scenes (actually the same scene split, I think? Unless he came back to the same room to tell the same people that they're wrong again) delivering a monologue from his chair. Any random asshole from InGen (or whatever they're called now) has about as much screentime, so if he is your main draw to see this I would advise just playing the new video game.

The new characters aren't much better, though I will say that the film as a whole at least has more of a focus this time, and - as long as you buy that they'd return to the island at all - the story and its characters at least make sense from scene to scene. Nothing in this movie is as stupid as in the first film when Claire suddenly remembers that the dinos have trackers *after* they thought the Indominous Rex had escaped from its pen and inadvertently let it out (runnerup dumb moment: the trackers can zap the dinos into submission if they get out of line, but no one bothers to use that fail-safe once they all start eating the guests), and that helps immensely - I never once rolled my eyes or got angry at decisions the movie was making. I mean it's got its fair share of unbelievable moments (Pratt outruns a volcano eruption!) but I got the idea that Colin Trevorrow and his writing partner Derek Connolly were putting more effort into the screenplay this time instead of just jumping around at random to whatever else they thought might look cool.

I did check my watch a few times though; this sucker is LONG (128 minutes, just shy of Lost World's record as longest entry) and I was really starting to feel it during the film's second half, which if you've seen the trailers by now you are probably aware takes place in a big mansion as opposed to the island. This is probably the biggest logic stretch in the movie; unless he was simply a big Resident Evil fan I don't know why the human villain wouldn't just set up a normal lab elsewhere instead of using the one in the basement levels in the mansion where his (non villain) boss lived, but if he did there'd be no other way to get a little kid in there (the boss' granddaughter), so I guess we have to just roll with it or else they would have to, for once, attempt to make one of these movies without a goddamn kid to keep saving. This sequence features more human villains than monsters and far too much time spent on a scene where yet another evil jerk auctions off a few of the dinos they grabbed off the island in the first half, so while it also has some of the best scary moments, it could have really used some tightening.

Speaking of the human baddies (another thing these movies can't seem to get away from, though hilariously the only exception is JP3 which is my least favorite, so maybe they're on to something), the movie hilariously casts Ted Levine as the commando guy in charge of the rescue mission, who tells Chris Pratt that he's got his back and is happy to let him lead the way instead of treating him as some underqualified punk. But it's Ted Levine, so of course he's gonna turn out to be an asshole, and thankfully the movie doesn't waste much more time trying to get us to think otherwise. The same can't be said for the other "surprise" traitor to the cause, as they let him look like a good guy for a half hour or so even though we KNOW he's bad news because he's so nice when introduced. Just once I'd like to see these types of characters introduced as villains to us before they con our heroes, so that we can squirm a bit during those scenes, rather than attempt to trick us - is literally anyone in the audience going to be surprised when the guy starts doing dastardly things? BD Wong's Dr. Wu shows up again too, though in a fairly limited capacity and not really doing anything outright evil, still just trying to make new dinosaurs and getting frustrated whenever he's questioned. Add in Toby Jones as the prickly company man running the auction and all the random goons who work for all of the above and you have a movie with far more human villains than a dinosaur movie should require.

Then again there are more dinos than usual, too. The first film had some more in the background and on displays and such, but ultimately focused on five types: not counting the Triceratops that never moved, we got T Rex, Raptor, Gallimimus, Brontosaurus, and Dilophasaurus. Here there are at least twice that many playing an active role in the proceedings, and they're well balanced - each one gets a kill and/or iconic kind of moment. The obligatory new one is the Indomiraptor, which is a raptor mixed with the Indominous Rex (which itself was made from raptor in the first place, but whatever), taking the size and basic appearance of the former. That's the one you see with the big ass claw hand terrorizing the little girl in the billboards and trailers, and he's a pretty good addition to the mix even if he's pretty much just another raptor. Our lone actual raptor this time is Blue, the one from Jurassic World that Owen trained and will usually not try to kill him when it has a chance. Thankfully it's not a full on "hero" - Owen and the others still have to be super cautious around it and the slightest distraction puts it back in "I'm just gonna kill everything" mode, but it's kind of fun to see the basic building blocks of a buddy movie between a guy and a dinosaur.

The bigger dinos don't get as much screentime, for obvious reasons since the second half takes place in a mansion and thus a T Rex or Brontosaurus couldn't exactly be wandering around. So we see them mainly during the first half's island scenes, including the occasional skirmish between beats while the humans just try to stay out of the way (alas, just like Goldblum, that giant sharkasaurus is barely seen outside of what the trailer showed us). There's a rather sad moment where the humans, having escaped the island and its volcano, watch as a howling brontosaurus (brachiosaurus? I can't tell these things apart) reaches the shore and finds itself with nowhere to run as it's consumed by lava - and if you assume it's the one that sneezed on Lex in the first film, it's an even bigger bummer. Accidental stomping aside, there are a number of these animals that pose no threat to humans, and this entry more than the others really tries to hammer home the idea that it is rather incredible to think about co-existing with them. It's just the raptors and T Rex types that make it an impossible situation, and the movie has a number of moments where it's just their "big dumb animal" ways that get people in trouble. For example, there's a bit where Toby Jones races into an elevator and gets the door shut just in time, and as the dino turns around to find other prey, he whacks the door open button with his tail, so he looks just as surprised as Jones when the door reopens and he gets another shot at eating him. I loved that little bit - it's a cause and effect of its size and being in an environment it was never meant to be in, not an intentional decision of intelligence, and it's the sort of thing we'd have to take into consideration even with an otherwise harmless Albertadromeus (the smallest herbivore species, from what I understand).

Another thing that this movie adds to the mix that was lacking from the previous one: actual direction! JA Bayona gives us a number of terrific visual moments: the aforementioned brontosaurus being consumed by lava is a knockout, as is the first appearance of the big shark (its only real appearance that wasn't spoiled in the ads). He finds ways to pull off smaller moments that will catch your eye as well; my favorite being a closeup of a child's horse toy with the silhouette of a similar shaped dinosaur on the wall behind it (I'm not doing it justice with my clumsy description, but when you see the movie you'll know what I mean). There's also a lengthy single take where Claire and one of the new characters (a tech nerd whose name escapes me) are trapped underwater in a Gyrosphere, showing their desperate attempts to find a way out before they drown - as dinosaurs drown all around them after escaping from the volcano (speaking of which, where the hell was this volcano in the other movies?). The back half of the movie is basically a home invasion film with dinosaurs, so it's got moments that recall the kitchen sequence in the first film, and Bayona knocks this stuff out of the park - it's just a shame nobody had me caring as much as I did about Lex, Tim, Alan, etc. There's a moment where I thought Pratt might actually get killed, but I wasn't really that concerned - it'd be more of a "Well that was ballsy" kind of moment as opposed to one that would genuinely make me sad. But if they killed Sam Neill off in one of these I might actually cry.

Ultimately, the best thing about the movie is that it makes an effort to have its own identity, as opposed to leaning so much on nostalgia like the last one (it even occasionally ribs that one a bit; when Claire is reintroduced, it's with a shot of her feet - NOT in heels this time). It barely even uses the iconic John Williams theme, and we are spared too much of that "hey look it's that mangled thing from the other movie" kind of nonsense that permeated the last movie. On a very basic level the movie is similar to Lost World (heroes go to the island for a rescue mission, deal with a lot of human assholes, then a dino escapes to the mainland), but the lengthy mansion section, larger real world connection (Peter Jason shows up as a senator tasked with deciding whether or not the animals should be spared; Claire works for a Greenpeace-y kind of organization trying to make sure they are preserved, rich assholes from around the world want to buy them for their own individual reasons), and one other plot point I won't spoil here set it apart from that film in ways Jurassic World never managed with regards to the original Jurassic Park. Hopefully, if their next one apes Jurassic Park III, they retain that film's one big strength (it's short) and embrace some of the more unusual ideas that they've been toying with in these newer entries. At this point, having a T Rex suddenly show up to inadvertently save our heroes' lives is kind of a boring moment, but if they stick with the things that weren't already perfected in the others, there's no reason this series can't finally live up to its potential. At least this is a good start in getting us there.

What say you?

P.S. Unless you actually want to read the credits, there's no reason to stick around for the post-credits scene. The end of the film proper (meaning, before the credits) has a number of shots of dinosaurs in various spots, and the post-credits scene is nothing more than another such shot, albeit with a more specific background than the others offer.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Night Of The Lepus (1972)

JUNE 15, 2018

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

I assume availability issues are the main reason that Night of the Lepus was never lampooned on MST3k (it was never released on VHS, and the show was long done by the time it finally hit DVD), having to settle for a Rifftrax episode instead. But in a way I'm kind of glad; if it was on the show I probably would have seen it for the first time that way, and found it hard to give it a chance on its own, as my impression would be "this is a bad movie" as opposed to something I didn't really know much about at all. Sure, the plot sounded goofy, but I could say the same about Frogs and that movie kind of rules, so I gave the killer bunnies the benefit of the doubt.

Well, it's not quite Frogs-level good, but it ain't Manos-level bad, either. It's actually pretty fun and charming as long as you don't expect it to be scary or find its FX to be all that successful. As with most B-movies that employ miniatures, the illusion almost never works, because they always goof up by adding things like water, dirt, or fire in shots that are supposed to make us believe that what we're seeing is much bigger than it is. The problem is that these natural elements have a sort of a standard size to them, so whenever a little splash or water or cloud of dirt sprays across the thing that they're trying to scale (in this case, a rabbit) it just looks like exactly what it is, and my mind goes to "Why is this bunny running around in a model?" instead of "HOLY SHIT THAT BUNNY IS HUGE!" A lot of stock footage is also used, giving the film a minor Ed Wood touch ("Nobody knows what`s causing the explosions, but it`s upsetting all the buffalo!"), which probably didn't help matters.

The split screen/forced perspective shots are far more successful; they still have problems (matte lines and such) but the editor tends not to dwell on them as long as the miniature shots, and we can at least fully grasp the scale since a human will be in the shot too (though the scale seems to change throughout the movie anyway). One shot in particular works fantastically, when a guy crashes his truck and runs out of it on the right side of the screen, with the bunnies coming in from the left. The split line is hard to see and there's no interaction yet (they get him a few seconds later, the poor bastard) so the effect is pretty much flawless until that point, and if they were all on that level I'm sure the movie would have earned a few more good reviews.

Because really, they've pretty much turned everything into horror villains, and when you think about it a rabbit is no less threatening than a cat - they got claws and teeth, they're fast, and if you underestimate one you're a dead man. And to the movie's credit, it's played straight and no one really even laughs (in character) about the threat; they find out about it and kind of spring into action just as quickly as Brody in Jaws or whatever, presumably saving the jokes for later. It's even got a halfway decent explanation for the outbreak - the decrease in coyotes in Arizona has led to the rabbit population getting out of control, which isn't as cute as it sounds (crops being eaten, their holes causing horses to trip, etc.), but no one wants to just kill a bunch of fuzzy wuzzies, so they do something more "humane" - make them sterile via some new experimental drug. But it doesn't work (does a movie serum EVER work?) as it just makes them bigger, and one of the test subjects gets out, gets to the lady bunnies, and we're off to the races.

Like that one shark movie, the director doesn't show off his monster right away; we find a dead body, then a guy gets attacked by an unseen predator, etc. It's a while before we see the giant rabbits, and even after then the movie can be a bit slow at times, favoring occasional isolated attacks of side characters all over town instead of getting everyone together and picking them off one by one like in Tremors or, yes, Frogs. Curiously, almost none of the primary characters are killed or even attacked; the movie racks up a decent body count but it's pretty much all anonymous folks or ones we barely see before their death, like the waitress who sees the bunnies coming and mostly just looks kind of puzzled until they smash through her diner window and gouge her throat. But like I said, the movie's kind of charming and this just adds to it - the script finds a way to make them threatening without bumming us out that this or that fun character had to die in the process.

Plus, everyone's pretty friendly! There are shockingly no human villains of any sort; hell, the plot wouldn't even have happened if not for a cowboy (Rory Calhoun) refusing to kill a bunch of rabbits with poison, only changing his pro-life status after they turn into monsters and kill some of his acquaintances. Everyone gets along, works together, and (spoiler?) has a nice game of football at the end once the threat is over, a little detail that I loved since I figured this was one of those movies that would just cut to credits as soon as the last rabbit was dead. They even tell us that the coyotes are back, so yay! Our cats and little dogs will be safe and the bunnies won't come back to kill us anymore. It's one of the most optimistic horror movies ever, really.

It's also one of the most surprisingly bloody entries of the sub-genre, with gallons of that melted crayon style fake blood tossed around both our human victims and the rabbits themselves. Even a couple of little kids who are killed offscreen get the treatment, so between that and the whole "killer bunny" thing I suspect this movie must have really warped the minds of any younger kids who saw it at a drive-in or perhaps on late night TV. It definitely has SOME semblance of a legacy, as Scream Factory's Blu-ray has not one but two film historian commentaries, allowing you to be a complete expert on the cast and crew's filmographies if you watch them both. The one by Russell Dyball is more irreverent than Lee Gambin's, as he's quicker to note the film's more ridiculous elements, but both men seem to agree that while it's hardly a classic, it's got more merit than its detractors will claim (Dyball even notes how Vincent Canby, of all grouches, kind of came around it, dubbing it one of his favorite bad movies, which is better than just being a bad movie you dismiss outright). The disc also has the trailer, which hides the fact that it's about killer bunnies (unless you knew Latin), reminding me of Of Unknown Origin's bizarre trailer, which looked more like an alien movie than a killer rat one.

I love seeing these old nature run amok movies from the 70s. They're all pretty similar (this one is a LOT like the later Kingdom of the Spiders, right down to the Arizona setting and a Star Trek actor as one of the leads - DeForest Kelley here, sporting a Ron Swanson 'do) and I have a blast watching them every time, even when they keep stopping to let their paycheck cashing cast (Janet Leigh took the movie because it was close enough to home to get a gig and not lose too much time with her daughters) yammer on about what was happening instead of showing more of it. Because for every scene like that, you get one where Leigh fires a rifle at a bunny a few times and then tells the guy it was attacking - without as much as a smirk - "It's OK, the rabbit is gone!" That's just gold, right there.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Hereditary (2018)

MAY 31, 2018

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL, SUPERNATURAL (?)
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PRESS SCREENING)

Like its fellow A24 genre films (The Witch, It Comes At Night), some folks are debating whether or not Hereditary is "really" a horror movie, which is a ridiculous waste of time because yes, it is. I suspect these arguments always begin with some stuffy critic who liked the film and feels ashamed to be recommending something in the same genre that gave us Freddy vs. Jason or whatever, or (on the other end of the spectrum) some numbskull horror fan who can't bring himself to qualify a film as one unless it's loaded with gore. As a fan of the genre and all of its potential I find it insulting, but if you are sadly someone who thought The Witch wasn't horror (I myself can go either way with It Comes At Night) then you'll likely have some of the same issues here, and should probably stay home and watch something that fits within your depressingly narrow guidelines.

Of course, the best way to experience the film is to not know anything at all, not even what genre it might be under in the virtual video store someday. The film is, at its core, about a family unit being undone by a series of incidents, some of which are quite horrific in nature, and knowing about even one of those things coming will curtail its ability to fully unsettle you as it does for its characters. First time feature filmmaker Ari Aster manages to get you unnerved as soon as the film begins; nothing horrific happens for a good half hour, and I thankfully avoided its trailer and knew very little of its plot ("a woman and her family deals with the death of her mother" is all I could have told you about it), but that didn't matter. The combination of his slow moving camerawork, the exquisite production design, and the score all put me on edge - the shock moments were tension relievers, really.

In order to keep that same unawareness for you I won't say much about its specific plot (not that I usually offer much of a synopsis anyway, but you know what I mean). The film opens on the obituary listing for an elderly woman whose only immediate family member is her daughter, played by Toni Collette. Collette and her own family (Gabriel Byrne as her husband, and two teenagers) don't seem too broken up by the loss; the woman was in hospice for a while and we get the idea she wasn't exactly a cookie-baking, big-hug giving kind of granny, so it's a mix of "we knew it was coming" and "OK, see ya" kind of attitudes. So we watch them go about their day to day; the kids go to school, and the parents get back to work (Collette is an artist who makes miniature dioramas for a gallery; Byrne is a therapist of some sort) but there's a lingering feeling of dread over it, and you're just kind of waiting for something awful to happen.

And then it does, and it is indeed awful. It's one of those rare moments that's so horrific I kept assuming it was a dream, thinking no film would dare do it. It doesn't help the family unit any; Collette in particular seems to suffer a bit of a mental break as a result, diving deeper into her work, which itself takes on a grimmer tone. It's from that work that the film earns one of its biggest laughs (it's actually a fairly humorous movie at times; not a comedy, but think along the lines of how movies like Joshua used humor and you'll be on the right track), one of the best darkly comic sight gags I may have ever seen, capped off by an oblivious reaction from Collette that made me love her even more than I already did. She's one of those actresses that simply can't be "bad" or even miscast - she's always hitting it out of the park, in all genres (she's actually in another movie that comes out tomorrow called Hearts Beat Loud, and it couldn't be less like this one), and even by those standards she's terrific in this. A nomination or two would be a lock if not for the fact that it's a horror movie.

As for Byrne, he doesn't get as many highlight-y kind of moments, taking the quieter route of a man trying to keep the peace. There's a dinner scene where Collette and her son (Alex Wolff, who is really the star of the film's back half) have a blow out and he barely speaks, rather than join in and let that familiar righteous anger we've seen in other films (I mean this man has played the actual Devil) come shining through. He seems a bit older than the role might have called for in the script (in addition to being more than 20 years older than Collette, he's almost 70 in real life; the younger of their children is like 13), but it kind of helps the strange unease the movie offers throughout. In fact, none of them really look alike in any way, and I kept thinking perhaps we would find out someone was adopted, or Byrne was their stepfather or something, but nope. It's just Aster and his casting people choosing four great actors to play a family even if it might cause snickers from any DNA scientists that might have wandered into the theater.

They should be promptly told to shut the hell up, however, because the sound design on the film is as award-worthy as Collette (and, again, will likely have zero shot because the Academy just tends to nominate action movies) and is probably the best reason to see the film in a (good) theater, unless you have a real home theater (i.e. a soundproof room that won't be interrupted). The daughter, Charlie, has this vocal tic (kind of a cross between a tongue cluck and... whatever you call that thing where you put your finger on the inside of your cheek and pull it out real quick) that she uses on occasion, and it's just so perfectly "off" that I was both delighted by it and properly creeped out every time it was used. And a sudden outburst was mixed in a way that I legit thought it was coming from someone in the theater, allowing me to be as startled by it as the characters. There's also a scene where we hear a pounding, assuming it's fists, only to discover... well, it's not fists, but it IS an example of how effective a horror type moment can play with proper sound design.

So it's all well and good, in fact great, until the final half hour or so. Without spoiling any details, I will say that the more we learn about what's going on, the less invested I found myself. The unsettling dread was largely gone and replaced by people telling us what they found out from looking at old photos, which is what I expect in bad Ring ripoffs, not this kind of movie. I don't know if I'd be happier if they simply never told us why certain things were happening (or at least left it up to interpretation), but ultimately it was at odds with what was working best about the film. Not enough to cripple the movie or anything, but like I've said before, it's better to have a strong finish to a so-so opening than the other way around. And that's especially the case for a longer movie like this (it's over two hours!), where you gave it so much of your time only for it to go off the rails. Maybe down the road I will talk more about my issues with it when everyone's had a chance to see it, but for now I'll just say that I was not expecting to be reminded of a certain classic horror film in its closing moments, and would like to watch them back to back someday to see if I can figure out why it worked for one and not the other (if you see the film and aren't sure which one I mean, hit me up on Twitter or something and I'll private message you).

One thing is for sure: this movie is going to get a low Cinemascore this weekend. I'm actually kind of stunned A24 is putting it out on over 2,000 screens, figuring they would go the platform route and let word of mouth from the normals build up a bit, as opposed to selling it entirely on festival buzz. And I don't mean that as a slight; movies with low cinemascores aren't "the worst movies ever made" or whatever, they're just the most polarizing, and indeed I tend to like a lot of them (some of the F's include Soderbergh's Solaris, Killing Them Softly, and mother!). After I saw the movie I finally watched the trailer, and was dismayed to see that it not only includes two major spoilers (one of which was actually made up for the spot, via recutting some dialogue in a particular scene to tell us something we don't know until much later in the actual film) and also comes off as a sort of Insidious-y kind of haunted house movie, which it isn't at all. To be fair, it's a hard movie to promote in the usual way, as it dips its toes into several horror sub-genres and also isn't exactly packed with trailer-ready images, but that makes me wonder again why they're attempting to woo multiplex audiences. But since I didn't think the movie was perfect (for you Letterboxd devotees, I gave it 3.5), I can enjoy the bewildered takes I'm sure I'll see, without getting too worked up about it like I would if the movie was a personal favorite.

What say you?

P.S. If anyone involved with the Blu-ray is reading this, I IMPLORE you to have a piece on the production design! Both for the miniatures and the house itself, which occasionally felt off-scale like a dollhouse might.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Sweet 16 (1983)

MAY 30, 2018

GENRE: SLASHER, THRILLER
SOURCE: STREAMING (AMAZON PRIME)

I remember reading somewhere along the line that Sweet 16 was not really a slasher film, and just sort of in the vicinity of one, lumped in more for its cast (Friday the 13th Part 3's Dana Kimmell stars, and a few years later co-star Don Shanks would play Michael Myers, which didn't help the somewhat erroneous association) than its body count or vibe. So I kind of wanted to see it out of curiosity, but never put much effort into it - I sure as hell wasn't gonna blind buy it or anything like that. But it's on Amazon Prime now, and I pay like 100 bucks a year for the damn service and rarely use it outside of the "free" shipping (I gotta check to see if I'm getting $100 worth of free shipping every year...), so I figured I'd finally see what all the non-fuss was about.

Ironically, I found it more slasher-y than expected! Sure, it doesn't quite fit the mold of the era, but it's got a body count of I think five (Halloween's count!), a whodunit approach, and even a dumb sequel setup ending. But it's also missing a number of the key ingredients, particularly a proper Final Girl; Kimmell's character spends most of her screentime trying to take after her sheriff father (Bo Hopkins) and solve the case, only to sit out the entire climax while Hopkins solves the mystery himself. And since the killer is only targeting dudes that hit on the other main girl, Melissa (she's the one turning sixteen, with the climax being at her eponymous birthday party), she's also never on the killer's radar. That along with the lack of any chases keeps it from full on slasher territory, in my opinion, but I wouldn't throw a fit if it was in between Splatter University and Terror Train on someone's shelf.

Actually, what it REALLY feels like is a giallo more than anything else, albeit without the style. With the POV kill scenes (as opposed to a masked/costumed killer one could see and say "Oh, the Sweet 16 killer!") and occasionally icky moments, I found myself thinking about those films than Happy Birthday to Me or whatever. For starters, like most gialli it's impossible to discern the motive until someone shows up at the end and tells us about some buried secret, unlike a slasher where even if you don't know who the killer is you know what their deal is (i.e. My Bloody Valentine - whoever the Miner is, he doesn't like people celebrating Valentine's Day). And then when we do hear the motive it sounds very much like any number of Italian films, with the killer trying to work through some childhood trauma by offing everyone that reminds them of someone in their past, in this case their father. In fact, I recently watched an actual giallo called Eye in the Labyrinth that more or less had that same idea, oddly enough. In place of those older films' rampant misogyny we get some racial discomfort, with people suspecting a local Native American man (Shanks) as the killer simply because he's an Indian, and the local good ol' boys have some choice attitudes towards him even before the murders start. So if you ever wanted to see what a Texan giallo was like, you should check this out.

Anyway I kind of enjoyed it. The mystery is pretty good; I didn't peg the killer until it was revealed, which is always a plus (as long as it's not a cheat, that is) and again it had a couple more kills than I was expecting, changing the suspect pool. It's a shame that Kimmell's character didn't do more of the sleuthing, however, especially in the back half where it becomes pretty clear that Hopkins couldn't possibly be the killer, canceling out a perfectly good suspect and a potentially interesting plot point. If her dad WAS the killer, she'd have to choose between her only parent (the mom is deceased) and some strangers, which would have been interesting to see play out. Then again, I don't think she's the best actress in the world so perhaps it's better in the long run for the movie to not give her too much of the movie's heavy lifting. Plus it's funny to watch Hopkins going through microfiche as he solves the mystery, while the lab tech who is in love with him practically throws herself at him non-stop even though he barely seems to notice.

As for Melissa, it's odd - the plot revolves around her, but she's kind of a secondary character. She's introduced as a sort of vixen/troublemaker, i.e. the kind of girl who might end up getting killed early on (think Laura Palmer), but then she softens a bit after people start dying, for reasons that don't have much of a payoff. The thing is, she never really has any scenes to herself besides a shower scene that's inserted for no real reason (and is a bit of an eyebrow raiser since the character is only 15 - the actress was 20 in real life, but still), so it's kind of hard to get a real grasp on her or even see her as the major character the plot insists she is. We spend more time watching Hopkins be a cop than anything else; hell I think Michael Pataki as the town's mayor might even have more screentime, even though he ultimately doesn't have anything to do with the narrative. Sure, we need red herrings in a movie like this, but when they come at the expense of developing a primary character, it's not the best maneuver.

Ultimately it's the kind of movie I'm glad I didn't see until I was an adult; had I rented it when I first heard about it at age 13 or so, I probably would have been bored/disappointed with the lack of kills. But now that I am more familiar with gialli and also simply more patient, I could mostly get on board with its low-key approach to the material. It's got a great mix of young faces and character actors (in addition to Hopkins and Pataki, you got Susan Strasberg and Patrick Macnee as Melissa's parents) and just enough action to keep it from being the "Lifetime Thriller" type film it often resembles. Like the other day's Girls Nite Out, it's a "slasher completionists only" kinda deal, but for different reasons. Basically: it's fine.

What say you?

P.S. If you don't have Amazon Prime, you can also see the movie on Pluto TV, a free service that mimics a cable lineup. Only downside is that their ad breaks are inserted at random, sometimes mid-sentence, so it can be an off-putting viewing experience (not to mention annoying since the ads repeat a lot). But hey, it's free, so you get what you pay for.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Girl's Nite Out (1982)

MAY 25, 2018

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: STREAMING (YOUTUBE)

As slasher plots go, setting a killer loose on a group of college kids engaged in an all night scavenger hunt is a pretty solid one, and as slasher costumes go, putting your murderer in a goofy bear mascot outfit (complete with googly eyes) is pretty much the dumbest idea. Girl's Nite Out (aka The Scaremaker) does both, which alone would make it if nothing else one of the weirder entries in the slasher canon's golden era, but the movie goes a step further with a third act that defies any conventional wisdom about body count flicks, elevating a quirky but ultimately forgettable slasher into "You have to see this goddamn thing" territory for slasher aficionados. Everyone else should probably steer clear, though.

Despite the promising setup, for an hour or so the movie is just another weak slasher from the twilight of the slasher boom. The pacing is particularly damaging; the scavenger game doesn't even start for over forty minutes, forcing you to endure an endless party scene, a basketball game, the Final Girl's boyfriend Teddy's endless wooing of another woman before things finally get slashy. To be fair there are a couple of quick kills to tide us over until that point, but the first is of a gravedigger and seems like it was possibly added later to get another kill in, and the second is actually kind of a dumb move, as it's of Benson, the guy who usually wears the mascot costume. Why they'd cancel out a good red herring in a whodunit is beyond me; my only guess is that they were going for a "show the bomb under the table" vibe for all the subsequent scenes where someone sees the killer and thinks it's Benson, but for the most part he attacks almost as soon as they see him, and he never once uses his "in" to get someone alone (think Terror Train when he takes out Mitchy). As much as the movie needed some action in its first half, I would have rather they sprung his death as a surprise on us later.

Then again it's not particularly difficult to figure out who the killer is, since the performer is someone you'll probably recognize and they only appear in a couple of inconsequential early scenes, so as soon as you think "Hey where's ____? Why would they hire them to play that random?" you'll instantly realize you know exactly why - so they can turn up later as the killer (I've referred to this as "Orser's Rule", after actor Leland Orser, who showed up as an anonymous technician in Bone Collector, a rule otherwise beneath him at that point, making the film's mystery a complete non-starter). I won't spoil their identity for those who might not recognize the actor or actress, but I have more to say about the film's climax, so skip the next paragraph if you want to be as charmingly confused as I was.

So once the killing gets started, the movie becomes a pretty normal slasher (save for the goofy costume), as the murderer offs all of the girls playing the game while leaving the men alone (not that many of them seem to be playing anyway). The killer's weapon is cool at least - a homemade "bear claw" made out of knives taped together in between the fingers (so, basically a cheap version of Freddy's glove, but keep in mind this film predated Wes Craven's by two years), and there's some decent stalk and slash action in this 20-30 minute chunk of the film, if not quite enough to make up for its interminable first half. But then things go a bit haywire once our heroine Lynn (Julia Montgomery) finds the body of one of her friends and calls the cops... because they actually show up! And then we watch them interrogate the male characters for ten minutes, at a point in the film where we should be watching our killer chase her around for a while before she unmasks them and they explain themselves before chasing her again. The game is called off, and everyone goes home while we watch people get questioned and ruled out.

And it gets weirder, as Lynn goes home and we suddenly switch focus to Dawn, the girl Teddy cheated on her with. After Dawn's own boyfriend throws her out for her cheating ways, she realizes the killer is watching her and she runs to the nearest phone to call Teddy, who is trying to comfort Lynn, still upset about the whole "finding the dead friend" thing (I don't think she knows about the cheating). Teddy races off to help her, only to find her attacked/dying already, and then the unmasked killer steps out unceremoniously and stabs him, just as the head of campus security (Hal Holbrook!) shows up and calmly explains that he knows they're the killer. The killer rambles a bit, reveals another corpse behind them, and... it goes to credits. Teddy and Dawn's fates are left unresolved, Holbrook never makes any attempt to arrest/subdue the killer, and our would-be heroine Lynn is left out of the climax entirely. I was so delighted by the rule breaking that I now kind of love the movie despite being bored through more than half of it.

I wish I knew for sure that this unusual approach to a slasher movie's final reel was intentional, a way to throw the audience off after they've gotten so accustomed to how these things work after the past couple years. But sadly, I suspect the wonkiness was just the result of the film's unfortunate production schedule, in which the cast and crew allegedly had to shoot most of the movie over a weekend as they were using an active college campus and couldn't be disrupting normal activity. So it's possible that they didn't get to shoot everything and had to make do with what they had, even if it meant not having an actual ending for their movie. This would also explain the lethargic pace and endless scenes of little importance - they probably didn't have much, if anything, to cut to in order to pare down scenes (many of which are indeed single takes of two people talking), and if they cut these flab scenes entirely the film wouldn't be long enough to get released. And they probably wanted to use every bit of footage they had of Holbrook, who spends all but one of his scenes alone in his shots as they probably only had him for a few hours. Whenever he interacts with another character, there's nothing to establish them both in a single shot or even a body double to show how far apart they are or anything like that, resulting in more than one awkwardly staged conversation (the first time we see him is particularly clunky, as he seems spliced in from another movie entirely).

Now, all of this stuff will be amusing to slasher fans who are used to the basic template, but if you're a casual horror fan with no specific affinity for the sub-genre, you'll probably just see this as a stiff, bad movie. So I want to be clear that I only really recommend it to the people who live and breath these things, who can identify which movie a Jason mask is from based on its markings and things like that. In fact, Friday fans in particular will appreciate the movie more than the average bear, as Part 2's Lauren-Marie Taylor (of "The one with the puck" fame) appears as one of the non-Final Girls (who is apparently having an affair with her second cousin), and her death scene is one of the film's most memorable. As for me, I'm hellbent on seeing every slasher movie ever made, and I only just heard about the movie this week, so I hope my quest continues to uncover these oddities and make it all worthwhile. My usual stance is that if you've never heard of a movie in a genre you're particularly interested in there's probably a good reason - I hope I am proven wrong again (and again) in the future.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Bad Samaritan (2018)

MAY 4, 2018

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

As the credits rolled on Bad Samaritan, one of the four other people in the theater - the only one who didn't bolt as soon as the credits began - turned to me and said "Well that wasn't very good, was it?" I agree with her, but even if I didn't, I'd be tickled by the encounter, as it's very rare that a stranger will offer their opinion to me in the middle of a theater (or anywhere, for that matter), but then again it's very rare you can see such a nothing movie like this on the big screen. How it escaped the VOD hell it deserved to get a 2,000 screen release is beyond me, but in a way it's kind of charming to see a movie with almost no stars, a bare minimum of action, and a generic plot playing in an auditorium adjacent to the newest Avengers (which I could occasionally hear through the walls, as daring me to switch theaters).

The plot is sort of combined from Marcus Dunstan's films The Neighbor and The Collector. Our protagonist goes into a house intending to rob it (Collector) and finds a woman chained up (Neighbor), because it turns out the owner (David Tennant) wasn't just some rich douchebag, but he's also a psycho. However he is unable to free her (she's chained up, the chains bolted to the floor) so he runs out and calls the cops, but unfortunately - as is often the case - the bad guy cleans up all of the evidence by the time the cops get there to investigate. That's not the worst idea for a movie by any means - it's always fun to see a criminal go up against a bigger criminal, torn between covering his own ass and doing the right thing - but director/producer Dean Devlin and screenwriter Brandon Boyce do that thing where they seemingly WANT to make every wrong choice possible over the course of their film, keeping it from ever being as thrilling or even as stupidly trashy as it could be. Instead, it's just a giant slog; it takes nearly an hour for Tennant to target our thieving "hero" (Robert Sheehan) and start making his life a mess, and then another 30 minutes for Sheehan to finally start fighting back.

But even if they arrived at this in half the time, it'd still be a misfire, since Tennant's got a weird escalation for his villainy. In a span of less than ten minutes he hacks into Sheehan's Facebook account and dumps his girlfriend via wall post ("It's over, bitch" - LOL), then gets his parents fired from their jobs (OK, not funny, but still rather benign), then... he appears out of nowhere, repeatedly slamming the girlfriend's head into a wall before throwing her over a railing and leaving her for dead. It's the most violent act we see in the film, against a character who was already kind of written out, so it's unjustified on a narrative level and just plain bad on a tonal one. His MO is to "break" people the way one breaks a horse (and yes, this is an actual line in the movie; one of two times I laughed out loud at how dumb something was), but when most of what he's doing is ruining other people's lives I'm not sure how it's supposed to break Sheehan - it just fires him up to get back at him, since he's not really doing much to him directly. Tennant busts up the kid's shitty old Volkswagen, but it never has any effect on his ability to get around - and later he inexplicably leaves his Maserati just sitting there for the kid to take anyway!

Tennant, by the way, is the only reason to watch the movie. The horse breaking stuff is ridiculous enough to amuse, and he seems to be enjoying playing a douchey psycho, screaming like Nic Cage in a few scenes and donning phony accents in others when he has to set Sheehan up for this or that go nowhere subplot. For example he poses as a neighbor to report a break-in when he knows Sheehan and his partner in thieving are going back into the house to try to rescue the girl (or at least find some proof that she was/is there), but they run away before being caught. Worse, when a detective stops by later, he sees the window they used to break in and treats it as if it's some unusual thing - and weirder still, Tennant lies and says he broke the window himself? Why? The cops were already there for the break-in, i.e. it's on the record, so why is he covering it up? And why didn't the detective put that together in the first place? I guess it doesn't matter, because despite being established as the doubting authority figure who will eventually become our hero's ally (and possibly killed), the detective just walks out of that scene and the movie as a whole, never mentioned again. Every single scene with him could have been deleted and it'd have no bearing on the plot.

It would improve the runtime, however. If this thing was like 80 minutes it MIGHT qualify as "silly dumb timekiller" material, but if you got two hours to kill you should be watching something legitimately good, or playing a game, reading a book, etc. The last 15 minutes or so are delightfully stupid at times, and there's a legitimately great line courtesy of Kerry Condon (the trapped girl), but it takes too damn long to get there, with almost nothing even remotely as amusing to tide us over until that point. Tennant blows up his own house for no discernible reason (Devlin must be trying to work Emmerich out of his system), but other than that there's no real action or anything, just a few scattered moments of out of nowhere violence. It's so hard to find payoffs too; Tennant puts a tracker on the kid's car, but only uses it once before just destroying the car anyway. We get a followup scene with a family they robbed prior to Tennant (they run a valet service at a restaurant; if someone lives close enough they take the car back to the person's home, access it, grab some stuff that won't be noticed right away, and return the car before the owners finish eating), suggesting that these people might keep coming back to haunt them in some way, but nah (I later learned the actress playing the mom in the family is Devlin's wife, so I guess he just wanted to give her another scene even if it had no purpose). It's almost like the editor worked backwards, taking what could have been an OK-ish movie and adding things back in until it was just a messy chore.

I'm also baffled that it's being pushed as a horror film (I went in fully expecting a thriller, for the record - its horror-free state had no bearing on my disliking of the film), as it even skirts over most of the thriller elements. Tennant is said to have done this before, and we see a corpse in a pit, but otherwise his more sadistic/serial killer-y actions are left not just offscreen but unused at all. We see a torture room of sorts in his garage, but it's never used and he even takes it all down before the cops show up, so it doesn't even function as a possible destination for one of our heroes. Condon's character has a few injuries but it's never shown how she got them - she's already been kidnapped when the film begins and we spend so much time on Sheehan and Tennant that she is left on the sidelines for large chunks of it, another thing the movie botches since the climax is about her rescue and yet I still wasn't entirely sure of her name. The R rating is pretty much just for language and an isolated shot of a breast; the few acts of on-screen violence are brief. Hell they don't even have any good cat and mouse stuff between the two leads - except for a brief scene where Tennant enters Sheehan's home while he's showering, the two are never in the same space until the final few minutes. There's rarely a reason to even get tense, let alone scared, and the marketing folks are doing no favors trying to sell it to the genre crowd.

They do get one thing right, however: use of technology. Sheehan scores a major victory at one point, getting a shot of Tennant in the act because his friend accidentally pressed the "video call" when fumbling with his phone on a regular call, which I myself have done several times. When he hacks into Facebook, it's actual Facebook, not some poorly mocked up variation, and Sheehan uses Photoshop to boost the contrast and invert the colors of a picture, letting him see an address on a checkbook (as opposed to the usual "enhance!" bullshit where someone gets a perfectly clear image of something that was probably like 10 pixels wide on the original). Tennant also has a "smart house", and while some of it is ludicrous (why would a table fan have bluetooth tech?), I can attest to how slow a Ring type device can be to show you a live image when you request it - the one I got after a few packages disappear often shows me a frame or two of the mailman walking away, too slow to record them actually walking up to my door and leaving the package. For some reason they didn't want to trust Google Maps, however - after Sheehan gets that address, and he's unsure of where the town is, he doesn't just click over on the very computer he's using to see where it is/how far a drive it will be - he moves over to the giant map of Oregon that his 14-ish brother has on his wall and finds it that way. Maybe that's why Devlin made so many alien movies - perhaps he is one, and is just unaware of how human beings actually act? It'd certainly explain the scene where an entire classroom seemingly has their notifications turned on for Sheehan's wall posts even though it's established he doesn't even go to the school.

Oh well. It's not the first time I've seen an interesting concept botched (hell, Boyce has been previously guilty of it - he wrote the thrill-free thriller Wicker Park), and I'm sure it won't be the last. Maybe someday someone will edit a third of the movie out and let it stand as an amusing diversion for Tennant's fans (I should note I never watched Doctor Who and the only thing I know him from is the Fright Night remake, which was even worse than this), but until then I wouldn't even recommend it as the VOD rental it should have been in the first place. In retrospect I should have moved seats to sit with that older lady; maybe we could have MST3k'd it and salvaged the two hours.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Endless (2017)

MAY 2, 2018

GENRE: CULT
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

If you read my book (hint hint) you'll recall that the first movie in each chapter is representative of that month's particular sub-genre; the idea being that if you were to just watch those twelve movies (having not heard of them before, or at least never inclined to watch) you'd hopefully agree the book would have been worth your time/money. Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson's Resolution got that "coveted" slot for its month (October, which was "horror-adjacent" films), and I was just as big of a fan of their followup, Spring, so it's fair to say I was quite excited for their newest film, The Endless, which has been playing in limited release for a couple weeks now. Alas I only just now found time to go see it, at the non-ideal time of 10pm on a weeknight, i.e. practically a guarantee I'd fall asleep especially considering its 110+ minute runtime - but I stayed awake!

I mean I could just end the review right there; longtime readers shouldn't need to be sold any further on the film's merits ("If Collins stayed awake, this must be worth checking out!"), but for you new readers I guess I'll do my due diligence and get into things like "plot" and "characters". Ya jerks.

I didn't know much about the film beforehand, only that it had something to do with a cult and that it featured Benson and Moorhead in the lead roles, playing their cult characters from Resolution (if you haven't seen that one, I assure you it's not 100% essential, though it will give you a little more context and appreciation for at least one development later in this film). We only met them briefly in Resolution, giving a low-key pitch for their cult to that film's hero Mike, but when we pick up with them here they've left the cult and are trying to adjust to a normal life in Los Angeles, working as housekeepers and trying to keep the bills paid. When Aaron (they use their real first names, though they play brothers, hopefully keeping the idea that they're "playing themselves" at bay) receives a tape in the mail from one of his old "commune" friends, he goads Justin to paying them a visit and see how they're doing.

One might find this a rather ludicrous idea, but it actually works. The hook is that Justin was the one who really wanted to leave and kind of dragged his brother away from a life that almost kind of suited him, and since their outside life is shit there isn't much of an argument he can make for it besides "out here things might get better". Justin finally agrees to go more or less hoping Aaron, now older, will see it for the joke that it is (or that it's just too weird) and finally let go of it so he can blossom in the real world, but obviously things don't go as planned. Aaron starts getting easily swayed back into the fold (having Callie Hernandez instigating things probably doesn't hurt; I'd follow her into a cult sight unseen, let alone one I already had a connection to) while Justin becomes increasingly aware that things there can't be easily explained away by "they're crazy/brainwashed".

I won't say much more about what happens, only that it's very much in line with the unique brand of unsettling but also occasionally funny sort of things that peppered Resolution (so, if you hated that movie, I'd steer clear of this one, but know that I pity you). Again, seeing the earlier film isn't a necessity, but since Aaron and Justin were clearly in the same area as that film's Mike and Chris, it's a foregone conclusion that they'd be plagued by some of the same phenomena, some of which sheds light on the other film's mysteries. Not everything is explained (from either film), but again it doesn't matter - the real drive of the film is seeing these two guys work through their issues with each other and hopefully come out of the situation OK. The two filmmakers have been working together for almost a decade (more? I'm just going off IMDb's historical record) and their brotherly bond comes across throughout the film, and so it's easy to not worry too much about how the tape got sent to them or what that one weird thing we saw was and focus more on their current dilemma, hoping they can escape together or at least find their peace if they do end up going their separate ways. Unlike Resolution, the other characters we meet get fleshed out a bit, becoming people that could be in their own spinoff film (the Resolution Cinematic Universe?). In that film everyone that wasn't Mike or Chris only really appeared once, if memory serves, but here we get to know a few of the cult members and learn a little bit about their deal. I was particularly intrigued with Hal (Tate Ellington), the leader of the group who is patient with Justin's eye-rolling and, at times, almost seems a bit jealous of his ability to walk away from it all. I don't know if it was intentional or just me reading into it, but I kept getting the impression he was about five seconds from asking Justin if he could hitch a ride with them when they left, only to refrain out of some kind of guilt (for the other people) or fear, akin to convicts fearing their parole. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that they aren't just weirdos in the woods and that there is something definitely supernatural/otherworldly going on, and that also adds another layer to it - it's not that he's afraid he's wrong, it's that he's afraid because he knows he's right.

It helps that there's nothing outwardly evil about the cult. Justin says they castrate members, but this turns out to be a lie he told just to get Aaron to leave with him. They're not branded (so it's better than the one Chloe from Smallville ran!) or anything like that - they just live out in the woods, making beer, and have a few unusual rituals. Ultimately it's not really ABOUT the cult, but I think it really works in the film's favor that an audience member watching could kind of see the appeal (whereas if you're watching, say, The Sacrament, and thinking it's a good deal - seek help). My position on all religions - even Scientology to a degree - is that as long as you're not harming anyone, you should always go with the one that gives you the peace you seek, and who cares if it may look/sound weird to an "outsider"? By refraining from any kind of "drink the Kool-aid" kind of insanity, there's no real reason to look down on Aaron for wanting to stay behind; we only fear for his wellbeing due to the strange things that are in the area, independent of the group.

Speaking of fear, overall this is even less of a traditional horror film than their others; if not for the "sequel" status for a previously reviewed film I probably wouldn't count it as one at all, really. It's got a couple of jolts and some undeniably creepy moments (the guy in the tent, gah!), but when compared to cult-based horror like Race with the Devil or Starry Eyes it's closer to drama territory. Perhaps that's due to the fact it's twenty minutes longer than its predecessor but has about the same number of incidents, so they're just more spread out? It's not a mark against the film at all - I gave it 4 stars on Letterboxd, if that helps - but if you thought Resolution had no business in the horror section and were "let down" because of it, then it's probably best to skip this one.

Everyone else, enjoy! It's doing really well in limited release, so hopefully it'll lead to something bigger for the pair next time out. There are a couple instances in the film where the small budget was taking a toll on its visuals; nothing that should lessen your enjoyment or anything (I've seen worse in movies that cost literally 100x as much), but it got me wondering what they might do with a bigger budget - just not one that was so big they'd have to lose their voice in the process. Maybe a Blumhouse "Tilt" joint or something along those lines? But even if they shoot movies on their phone in their own homes I'm sure they will be interesting and worth checking out - they're three for three in my book, which is kind of extraordinary nowadays as I've seen so many filmmakers (particularly filmmaking teams) impress with their first film and never measure up again (cough, Bustillo/Maury, cough). Good job, gents.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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