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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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.


FTP: The Return of the Vampire (1943)

MARCH 17, 2019


When Scream Factory announced they were releasing The Return of the Vampire, I didn't think much of it, because I thought I saw it already and didn't love it all that much. Turns out I was thinking of Mark of the Vampire (which also had Bela Lugosi), and had never actually seen this one! He didn't play a vampire as often as you might think (in fact, in Mark he was only pretending to be one), so getting to see him, still more or less in his prime, don the Dracula-ish guise again in a film I didn't even really know existed was a real treat. As a bonus, the movie has a werewolf too, and the makeup isn't far off from Wolfman's, so it's like getting the "Dracula vs Wolfman" movie we were denied since Universal never actually made one.

It's hard not to think about the Universal films when watching it; even discounting the makeup and Bela's appearance, the other characters are cut from the same cloth (professors, doctors, young ladies who catch the eye of Drac- er, "Armand Tesla") and has the same general vibe from start to finish. The biggest difference is the setting; while the Dracula (and Wolfman and Frankenstein) films take place in the 19th century, this one - apart from a lengthy prologue - takes place in the (then) present day of 1943. World War II (specifically bomber planes) even plays a part in the proceedings, something I'm not sure I've seen before in this particular brand of monster movie, which I found kind of fascinating and wish it was a bigger part of the film (perhaps because I'm still disappointed by the underutilized horror element of Overlord). I suspect the low budget forced them to keep it to a minimum, but still - you get to see a vampire vs werewolf climax interrupted by a Nazi bomber!

I also liked how the werewolf was used, as a sort of slave to the vampire. As with Larry Talbot, the cursed guy (Andreas) is a sympathetic monster, forced to do evil deeds by his master but struggling to break free of his control. Naturally, the cops think he's the real villain, and there's only one guy who suspects Lugosi's character of being up to no good, making it engaging even though we in the audience are always a step or two ahead of everyone. There's a real villain to take down and a relatively innocent man to redeem - Wolfman had no real villain and Dracula had no anti-hero, so it really does kind of offer a perfect mix of the two hoscenarios.

Also if you prefer Frankenstein, they got you covered there too - a guy talks to the camera and throws you out of the damn thing.

Since it's 70+ years old everyone involved is dead but that didn't stop Scream Factory from offering a special edition with a whopping three commentaries by film historians, including Troy Howarth who I'm rapidly becoming a fan of (they use him a lot). The others are fine; one focuses more on werewolf movies and the other on Lugosi in general, but if you want something more specific to this film than Howarth's is the one to go with. The transfer is also quite nice; it looks better than some of the genuine Universal ones if you ask me. Here's hoping SF puts out more of the under-represented flicks from the classic era; I know they've been stepping up their game with the 1950s monster movies (I just got Deadly Mantis, in fact) and they'll obviously always be dishing out the 70s/80s fare, but there are a number of interesting gems from the 30s and 40s that fell through the cracks (or are indeed in public domain) that deserve the polishing.

What say you?


Next Of Kin (1982)

MARCH 13, 2019


I've often said the best way to go into any movie (especially a horror one) is to know almost nothing about it, but this proved to be a minor issue for Next of Kin, because all I knew was what the Blu-ray cover showed me - a little girl with a blank expression standing in front of a house, with a tagline that there was something evil in it. So: evil child movie, right? Well after like 25 minutes (which indeed introduced a kid, albeit not the same one on the cover) I started getting suspicious, so I quickly looked at Letterboxd or something and saw "slasher", which perked my excitement back up. Slashers are even more my jam than evil kid movies! But uh... it's not a slasher either.

No, it's kind of a modern "Old Dark House" kind of movie with a little giallo flavor for good measure, without a lot of action and a body count that only really ramps up in the final 15 minutes (and even then it's mostly off-screen stuff). So if I had done any kind of research whatsoever I probably would have known that, and settled in for it accordingly; perhaps it is better to know at least a little about what you're about to commit 90 minutes of your life to see after all! That said, I actually enjoyed the movie once I readjusted my expectations once again, finding myself charmed and lulled by its slow pace and off-kilter presentation.

Our hero is Linda (Jacki Kerin), whose mom (well, mum - it's an Australian movie) has recently passed away and left her in charge of her mansion-like rest home for the elderly, something that she is willing to do but doesn't seem particularly excited about either. But the motions she plans to go through are interrupted when one of the residents is found dead in the bathtub, followed by a series of unusual occurrences like someone leaving all of the faucets/spouts running, or a man seemingly following her while she's on dates with her handsome boyfriend (John Jarratt! I'm always amused on the rare occasions I see him so young). Then she starts going through her mother's diaries and discovers that there might be something fishy going on.

Now, you might read all of that and assume that I'm describing the first twenty minutes or so, but it's actually the other way around - there's only about twenty minutes LEFT after that part. It's kind of a casual mystery, with Linda only rarely showing any kind of fear or trepidation about what is going on. I'm not sure if it's just Kerin's acting choices or the way it was written, but I was rather bemused by how laid back she was about the potential murderer in her midst. Once she finds a bloodied corpse she kinda goes into more traditional theatrics (running, screaming, getting banged up a bit) and the murderer is revealed, but since the character had little part to play in the story it barely even registered who it was at first. It's more a "Oh good, it's NOT John Jarratt!" kind of moment if anything, and of course that only applies to modern viewers who primarily know him as Mick Taylor.

But this kind of went along with the movie's strange atmosphere, giving it a bit of that "late night TV" vibe I enjoy (similar to last month's Possum, another one that wasn't exactly a roller coaster). The location (Overnewton Castle in Melbourne; it now hosts weddings) looks like it was designed specifically for this kind of movie, and while they don't factor into the proceedings all that much the old folks give it a strange energy of its own. There's a bit near the end where Linda is trying to get one of the old guys to safety as the killer makes their way around the halls, and the dude clearly has no idea what's going on but is just doing what he's told (albeit very slowly and, like her in the previous scenes, without any kind of panic whatsoever), so it's kind of funny but also unsettling in a way.

Indeed, there's quite a bit of unusually placed humor all the way until the final moments. My particular favorite example has to be when Linda runs to Jarratt's character for help, finding him nodding off with a beer at a meeting for the local volunteer fire brigade. He's sitting all the way against the wall, so she's trying to get his attention/get him to come with her without disrupting everyone else, failing miserably (and when he does finally wake up he's just as baffled as everyone else). Then she tries to get outside with him to explain and the door is locked - and throughout all of this the poor fire chief is trying to tell all these guys how to do their job. It's very dry, but that's the kind of humor I find myself enjoying more and more these days - less reliant on punchlines and visual gags, and more just the irony of the situation.

So, as you might expect, this is not something you should track down if you're hoping for Australian's answer to the early '80s slasher golden era - the term only gets used because there isn't much else that would work and people love to label things. Giallo comes a bit closer (aided by the somewhat ill-fitting at times but still enjoyable score by Klaus Schulze) since Kerin keeps having childhood flashbacks (it's her younger self on the cover; still unsure why they opted for that, especially since Kerin is quite lovely and would have probably attracted more eyeballs to the poster) and the plot revolves around something a parent did, but if any Argento movie was invoked, it'd be Suspiria, not one of his gialli like Deep Red or Tenebrae. In other words, not for everyone, but will appeal to a particular breed of moviegoer that will shine to things mostly on the strength of how little it "delivers" on what you'd expect it to.

If you're already a fan, fear not - Severin's Blu-ray follows the "rules" exactly, offering a pair of commentaries (one with Jarratt and Kerin; the other with director Tony Williams), some interviews taken from Not Quite Hollywood (which featured the film), a rundown of a deleted action beat from the climax that further explained the fate of its villain (the original footage is lost but they had a few frames to show off), some thoughts from the awesome Kier-La Janisse, etc. They're all worth a look/listen (if you liked the film, of course) but my favorite might have been the trip to the shooting locations as they look today, as I found it kind of fascinating in spots. For example the rusted out car that Linda runs by in one scene is STILL THERE, nearly forty years later, even though the area around it looks fairly different. And it was good to see that aside from some touch up work and signs for their wedding business ("Bridal suites this way" kinda stuff) the house is kind of pretty much the same, with a lot of the exterior decor (a gazebo, a well, etc) intact. Bonus: after already deciding it was my favorite bonus feature, the credits for it popped up and it was produced by my boy Jamie Blanks!

It's easy to see why the film has remained obscure; it's kind of hard to label, the mystery isn't particularly involving, and far too much happens off-screen. But watching late at night, when it's been cold and windy here (we have shit insulation, so if it's windy outside it's pretty much windy inside too), it kinda gave me a bit of a proper fall vibe, which of course is very much welcome when we're almost exactly as far removed from Halloween as possible. It's one or two memorable moments short of being a must-see, but for those who like their horror to be atmospheric and just a bit "off" (example: the heroine spends a large chunk of the film's closing moments making a pyramid out of sugar cubes), I think you'll be happy to discover it.

What say you?


FTP: Feral (2017)

MARCH 5, 2019


One thing I like seeing in zombie movies - but rarely do - is a finite number of undead threatening our heroes. For obvious reasons, most present an insurmountable swarm of the damn things, and end with any real resolution to the threat; I mean, if it worked just fine for Romero (a few times, in fact) there's no reason anyone else should feel the need to bother coming up with a conclusive... er, conclusion. Feral is one of those rare exceptions; there's only one zombie at the start and naturally over the course of the film he creates a few others, but unless I missed something they're all dispatched by the end, case closed!

Then again it's not presented as a usual zombie movie. Don't get me wrong, it most certainly is: the undead creature our heroes encounter bites one of them and they die, only to come back as a similar creature, and others that are bitten eventually turn into them as well. But at first glance it seems to be more of a "monster in the woods" kind of movie, with six campers getting deep enough into the woods where going back to their car instantly won't be easy, and the zombie thing itself looks more like one of the Descent lurkers than any green-faced kinda shambling "walker" you might picture. Bonus, the characters know what zombies are (from movies - they don't BELIEVE in them) which keeps the exposition about what they are/how they work limited to what specifically makes them different than whatever you see on Walking Dead or what have you. I can appreciate that.

If only the rest of the movie was as novel! Our characters are more thinly drawn than slasher victims, without an iota of their usual ability to be memorable. They're led by Scout Taylor Compton, who refers to herself as a doctor even though she's still in med school, and part of the thrust is the non-bitten people squabbling over whether or not they should reduce the risk to themselves by offing the infected, something Compton is vehemently opposed to. If this was some kind of Crimson Tide scenario where we the viewer didn't know "what the message said" (in this case, what would happen or maybe even if someone was actually bit or just injured) there might be some more punch to it, but as anyone watching has seen several thousand zombie stories by now, it makes it quite hard to side with her.

I'll give it this though: they don't waste much time getting to the scary stuff; one of the campers gets bit in the first ten minutes or so, sparing us too much of their personal drama (at least no one's cheating, but a jealous ex isn't that much of an improvement). Interestingly, the movie kills off the males of the group first, but with the surviving women making such dumb decisions it doesn't quite land as a feminist movie either, so there's not really any benefit to it. To be fair, it's competently made, the zombie makeup is good, and it never overstayed its welcome or anything - it's a perfectly "fine" movie, in other words. But there's nothing in it you'll remember twenty minutes later either; indeed, my wife actually watched a chunk of it with me before going to bed (I honestly can't remember the last time she partook in "Horror Movie A Day" type activity, as she usually has too much work to do) and the next morning when she asked how it turned out, I had trouble answering a few of her more specific questions. No permanent spot on the shelf for you, Feral!

What say you?


FTP: What We Become (2015)

FEBRUARY 28, 2019


Since I started "From The Pile" I started going through emails to see if I could figure out when it arrived, because I'm kind of curious which disc has been sitting there the longest waiting for me to get around to watching it. What We Become is from fall of 2016, which (sadly) isn't even close to the oldest, but what's interesting is that the longer I waited, the better the movie came off. Had I watched it then, I'd be pretty bored, because at that time I had only recently given up on Fear the Walking Dead and the film is basically built around the same basic idea: How does a family (as opposed to the usual motley group) react to a zombie outbreak as it occurs?

But now it's been a few years since I saw anything like that, so I was more or less engaged by it even if it wasn't doing a single thing I hadn't seen before. To be fair, it's apparently Denmark's first ever zombie movie (!) so maybe they weren't privy to all these other movies/shows we have access to, but it's hard to try to keep that in mind as you watch - we gotta meet halfway on these things. Even things like "if you get bit you turn" come off like things that need to be explained (at one point it's practically presented as a twist), which I thought we were long past by now. The actors are good and the characters are realistic, but they're hamstrung by the script's insistence on treating their scenario as wholly unique.

Worse, its most interesting element keeps getting sidelined; the father of the family unit is having trouble connecting with his teenaged son, and tries to shield him from the reality of what's going on the same he is doing for his much younger daughter - it's like a "I don't want my little boy to grow up" taken to the worst extreme. But with an overabundance of neighbor characters who eventually shack up with them and focus on someone we know is a goner from the stupid flash-forward opening (I know it's a four year old movie, but for what it's worth: STOP DOING THESE!) this intriguing and somewhat touching plot strand is largely discarded as the zombie hordes get harder to control. The two characters never even have much of a final scene together, making the early parts showing their strained relationship kind of a waste, ultimately.

In fact the film as a whole is better when the zombie thing is still largely unknown. The little teases we get in the first half hour or so are pretty great: people getting sick, a car accident that the police don't even stop for because there's a bigger emergency elsewhere, etc. And there's some minor "zombie procedural" elements that I enjoyed seeing, like how the military folks have to come by and retrieve waste and resupply people with water/food, shown as an annoyance akin to having to move your car for a snowplow or something. But once the outbreak gets to traditional ZOMBIE MOVIE! proportions, it's the same old stuff we've seen a bunch of times, though thankfully the focus remains on the family (and their neighbors) with minimal intrusion from the military types or "evil humans". Indeed, the father ends up being the "villain" at one point, when he resorts to holding a gun on a woman who is after the same supplies he is.

If they made this more about the dad and the extremes he went to in order to protect his family (and maybe patch things up with his son) this could have been more interesting, but alas it misses that "must-see" mark and settles for being just another zombie flick, of use mainly to those who can never get their fill of such things. For everyone else, it's pretty good, but your excitement will depend on how long it had been since you watched something like this, I suspect.

What say you?

P.S. If you have epilepsy or other issues with strobing lights, please be warned that the title at the top (which is repeated at the end, for some reason) is presented in a full screen flashing letter format (think Enter the Void). There's nothing like that in the film itself, and it suggests something more extreme than the narrative actually offers, so I have no idea what they were thinking. Just wanted to do my part in warning folks - the disc packaging really should be doing that for us.


Possum (2018)

FEBRUARY 24, 2019


I haven't memorized it or anything (in fact I only saw it once) but I absolutely loved Garth Marenghi's Darkplace when I watched its all-too-brief run (six episodes) a few years back, and was thus excited to see what creator Matthew Holness would come up with for his first feature length film, assuming it would have a similar horror/comedy blend. But I quickly realized that Possum was nothing like Darkplace; it'd be like if you watched Elephant Man or The Fly expecting the usual Mel Brooks hijinks, and if anything the film might play better to those who have no idea who Holness is at all. The film has not one note of identifiable humor, and Holness (who also starred in Darkplace, for those uninitiated) remains behind the camera; the only time you'll see him is in the behind the scenes footage on the DVD.

Instead, the film puts Sean Harris in nearly every frame (and often by himself) as Philip, an ex-puppeteer who may or may not be a murderer. The title refers not to the animal, but the name he's given a puppet of a spider that he seems unhealthily attached to, carrying it around with him at all times (though thankfully concealed in a bag) even though he seems to be afraid of it. The nature of this puppet and his connection to it is one of the film's many mysteries, most of which aren't fully spelled out for the audience before the credits roll, so if you're an "I need answers" type this is most certainly not the film for you. It can occasionally be hard to tell what's a dream/hallucination and what is really happening, and there are repeated images that suggest the narrative isn't chronological to boot. Add in the long stretches of silence and other "arty" touches and you have a movie that makes something like The Witch look as simple as a slasher flick.

But that's the narrative. On a "this movie is freaking me out" level, it's a winner - the movie isn't even a full 90 minutes long but it's got enough nightmare fuel to last a week (indeed, it gave me a legit nightmare; a low-key one to be fair, but still). It probably didn't help his (clearly not high) budget, but Holness smartly shot on film, which goes a long way into helping evoke the 70s thrillers he was emulating. On one of the interviews on the DVD he says it's a movie that exists for late night viewing, something he'd want people to stumble upon and be unsettled by - he certainly pulled that off, and I don't think it would really work if it was shot digitally (the recent Ghost Stories was also aiming for this specific feel, but missed in part to its unmistakably modern digital photography). Even the titles recall films of that era; if not for Sean Harris starring and the very, very rare non-period detail (like a television, the odd car, or a day-player's outfit) I could see someone being fooled into thinking it really was some lost indie from 1977.

Harris is terrific, by the way. He's probably most famous as the chilling villain from the last couple of Mission Impossible films, and it's a huge departure from those - he's kind of pathetic and awkward, a far cry from his calculating Solomon Lane. I almost didn't even recognize him at first, and given his reported "method" acting ways I don't envy what he probably put himself through to achieve his performance. It's not a flattering role in any respect, and again he's pretty much the only person in the movie (besides his uncle, who he lives with), so it couldn't have been a fun or easy shoot for him (or anyone around him, depending on how strictly he followed the "rules" of this approach) if he had to remain in character for so much time. Familiar character actor Alun Armstrong is also quite good as his uncle, who seems to be responsible for some of Philip's timidness (to what extent, of course, is one of the film's mysteries), and is pretty much the only other person in the movie who appears more than once. If Holness were to beef up his role a bit, it could even work as a stage production since the uncle never leaves the house (and Philip never seems to stray too far from it).

So as you might have figured out for yourself by now, the movie requires some patience, perhaps a bit TOO much at times, as it's often fairly repetitive. Holness based it on one of his short stories, and the "expand to feature length" seams show, particularly in the middle of the film which seems to be stuck in a cycle of scenes where Philip decides to rid himself of the puppet by ditching it somewhere, only for it to come back (or even retrieve it himself). Since I was already creeped out early, this padded middle section ended up deflating some of that unsettled feeling as opposed to ramping it up, leaving me hoping for a big shock to the system that would send me out feeling - at the very least - as disturbed as I was at the 20-25 minute mark. Your mileage can/will vary of course, since everyone scares differently, but I couldn't help but think maybe taking a page from Audition or something like that and leaving horror out of it for a bit would have helped maintain that unnerved feeling throughout.

Otherwise, as these things go I'd put it up there with Soft For Digging and older fare like Haunts and Magic in the "what is UP with this person?" low-key, methodically-paced horror, and as Holness intended it gives off plenty of that late night syndicated viewing vibe that unfortunately doesn't really exist anymore. Movies like Let's Scare Jessica to Death or Malatesta's Carnival of Blood similarly seemed designed for that very specific audience, but in those cases the films might have actually been found that way by a number of their fans. The best chance something like this has of being "stumbled upon" would probably be if it ended up on Shudder and someone caught it thanks to their (very cool) "Shudder TV" option, which leaves out the scrolling around for something to choose and just has things running nonstop as a regular TV network would. And those people will get the most out of the film, I think, as they won't have any idea or preconceived notion of its content - everyone else, you need to keep your expectations in check (and your phone out of reach for when you might be tempted to grab it) so that its restrained approach can be allowed to deliver.

What say you?


FTP: Mermaid: Lake of the Dead (2018)

FEBRUARY 22, 2019


I'll give Mermaid: Lake of the Dead this much - despite the familiar (read: WAY OVERUSED) last three words of its title, it's not a zombie movie. Not that we're as inundated with the things as we were in the '00s, but that "of the dead" is always going to suggest such things, so it was like a nice little surprise that it turned out to be something else. Unfortunately, it was actually the *other* thing we got too many of in the previous decade: a vengeful ghost movie! More than once I was reminded of things like Shutter, The Grudge, and (thanks to the watery stuff) The Ring, but without the originality (or scares) of the original versions of those films or the big budget gloss of their remakes. So it just was... you know, THERE.

I mean if you love these kind of things maybe you'll dig it - the mermaid angle (while not quite the usual thing of fairy tales - she just comes from the water) gives it a bit of novelty, and it never gets too slow in its 82 or so minutes. But again, I had my fill of this kind of scary movie, and need something unique to really hook me in (like Unfriended's screen gimmick) or at least a complicated plot like the Whispering Corridors movies to keep my interest. This, on the other hand - well let's put it this way: I watched a chunk of it while on an exercise bike and I found myself glancing at the odometer/calorie/heart rate display far more often than necessary. It had some decent scenes - I particularly liked when a car was driving along when it suddenly began filling up with water (as opposed to one that was actually sinking) - but not enough of them to elevate it beyond "yeah, fine, I guess."

Part of the problem is that the ghost should be more sympathetic than she ever comes across. The backstory is kind of sad, but the ghost is just doing Samara/Sadako kinda things most of the time (often aided with questionable CGI - the teeth effect REALLY needed some work) or setting up jump scares. On the other hand, I was surprised that the guy (named Roma) is a genuinely good dude - his buddies get him some strippers for his bachelor party, but he's like "Ehhhh you guys enjoy I'm gonna go outside" and pretty much races back to his fiance in the morning. Ironically, if he DID stay inside with the strippers he probably would have been safe from the mermaid since she sets her sights on him when he goes outside and takes a dip in the lake where she "lives" (he's a champion swimmer, so it's not too unbelievable). Moral of the story: take the lapdance, don't exercise.

Interestingly, it's a Russian horror film, which we don't get brought over here all that often. But then again, outside of the folk tale it's loosely based on, there's almost nothing in it that makes it distinctly Russian, and since the Blu-ray defaults to English, you might not even realize it unless you pay close enough attention to notice that the voices don't quite match the actors' mouths (though the dub job is above average, I should note). Hopefully Scream Factory keeps looking for foreign horrors to bring us; even if this one isn't exactly a winner it's a step in the right direction, and is a nice change of pace from the library titles that are their bread and butter. I can see the appeal - it's a terrific looking film, accessible despite being foreign, and has just enough traditional terror to sell it to the crowds that eat these things up. But alas, these things just almost never grab me. Now if it was some flesh and blood human wearing a mermaid costume while offing a group of college kids who wronged them... then we'd be cooking.

What say you?


FTP: Emelie (2015)

FEBRUARY 17, 2019


Unlike most "pile" movies I had a legit excuse for putting Emelie off for so long (almost three years): I was warned away from watching it due to my hypersensitivity about kids being in danger after having my own kid. Will wouldn't have even been two yet when this Blu arrived, and I can't remember who exactly told me I shouldn't watch it if I was still getting worked up about these things, but their warning worked: I've come across it a few times over the years and always shook my head, not wanting to deal with whatever parental traumas awaited. But the pile must be destroyed, so - after a quick confirmation that the kid was still safe in bed - into the player it went.

Now, if I was one of those horrible monsters who hired rando babysitters off the internet, I might have gotten worked up about the movie's plot, in which a new babysitter turns out to be a sociopath. But Will is only ever trusted in the hands of people we've known even longer than we've had him, so unless they're playing an extremely long game of 4D chess I don't think any of them will try to disappear with him anytime soon. So I guess that bit of disconnect helped me watch it as I do any normal suspense film, free of setting off my sensitive dad alarms. Maybe if the day ever comes where there's something so extraordinary coming along (Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman performing together? John Carpenter being handed a mic and sitting down with Rob Zombie's Halloween?) that I cannot miss it and my usual babysitters can't help, I'll consider a stranger and maybe then I'll find this movie unwatchable, but for now I was fine.

But don't get me wrong - it was still a very effective chiller, and due to that warning I spent the entire viewing wondering when something horrifying would happen and have me hovering over the stop button, making it an extremely tense experience. There's a scene where the youngest kid (there are three, age range like 4-12 maybe?) gets a hold of a gun and I haven't gotten that worked up at a scene in ages. And with the girl not even trying to hide the fact that she's not right (the parents have barely left before she's making one kid eat an entire box of cookies and letting the youngest one climb on stacked chairs) it gives the movie an unsafe feeling almost right from the start, having me constantly wondering how far it'll go.

It also unfolds a very compressed timeframe; maybe three hours? So it's not quite real time, but close enough that they get a similar effective but without having to strain any credulity (or just bore you) the way most of those experiments unfold. And as a bonus, Emelie (Sarah Bolger from Moth Diaries) has a tragic backstory that evokes just the right amount of sympathy for her so she's not a cartoon villain, but not so much that you ever want her to succeed either - the balance is perfect. The kids are all good too; they're believable enough as siblings, don't do any of that cutesy "wise beyond their years" shit, and - most importantly - they believably go along with the nutty things Emelie asks them to do, because they're young enough to still be in that "do what the adult says, no questions asked" mode. So you can see that they're unsure about it, but worried about getting in trouble or whatever if they don't do what she says.

So it's a perfect "pile" movie, really! It's a good flick that there's no reason to watch again, so I can have the joy of a positive viewing experience but not permanently add to the clutter of my collection! Everyone wins - except for the Dark Sky publicist that expected this review three years ago. Sorry about that.

What say you?


FTP: Observance (2015)

FEBRUARY 14, 2019


Digging through emails, it looks like poor Observance has been sitting in the dreaded pile since the summer of 2016, and I assure you it's not even close to the oldest title in there. But at least I have a good excuse for letting it pass me by - that's when I moved into my current home, and to this day I feel bad because the very first thing I watched in that home was the first episode of 11/22/63, which I specifically asked for to review (unlike this) and never finished it because it took all month to actually finish moving in. If memory serves I didn't even have the surround sound hooked up yet and just watched that one episode through (shudder) the TV speakers. Wonder how it ended?

Anyway, if you're the type of person who needs to understand what's going on in their horror movies, I'd steer clear of this one - it's got that "I'm gonna channel my inner David Lynch" feel to it and leaves the viewer with way more questions than answers. However, if you just want to feel uncomfortable/unnerved it's actually a pretty good entry in the Repulsion/Tenant sub-genre of "someone in an apartment goes nuts" movies. Actually, it reminded me even more of Occupant, a similarly uneven but mostly admirable indie version of this kind of movie, but I doubt namechecking that one will ring as many bells. I was stunned to learn that it only cost $11k; it looks just as good as any other indie (you know, the kinds with 6 or even 7 figure budgets) and has a pair of solid actors in the lead roles (plus bit parts for John Jarratt and Benedict Hardie, who played the main henchman guy in last summer's Upgrade). As "calling card" kind of movies go, I must say if I was a studio exec I'd be trying to land director Joseph Sims-Dennett as he clearly knows how to maximize his budget.

But I'd hope he'd work with a writing partner, or let someone else handle that part entirely. Even in the realm of "you're not supposed to understand everything" types the script seemed to be just sort of tossing things for the hell of it as opposed to not spelling everything out. The plot concerns a desperate man who agrees to a surveillance job of a woman who is about to marry into some well-to-do family, only for him to start hallucinating and suffering from body horror type ailments as the job drags on much longer than expected, but I was never quite able to discern the connection between these two things. Occasionally it starts to be seemingly building toward the idea that maybe HE is the one that's actually being observed, but it never pans out. And I'm at a total loss with the ending; it's certainly a surprise and rather grim, but also far too abrupt.

Still, when it works it works rather effectively, especially the body horror stuff. Our guy gets some kind of huge (bed?) sore on his back at one point, and its ooze/blood has stuck to his shirt, forcing him to pull it off over his head as quick as he can - it's like a "rip the band-aid off" kind of thing, but times a hundred. And he pukes up some mysterious black ooze - the same stuff that appears to be filling up more and more of a jar every time he sees it? Couldn't tell you what that was all about, but I do know it gave me the proper unsettling feeling. This was a festival movie, and it probably worked even better in that setting, as you'd be more "trapped" (like its character) than you are at home, free to pause and what not - I highly encourage an uninterrupted viewing for it to provide the most effect on you, if you plan to check it out.

What say you?


Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

FEBRUARY 9, 2019


"I pray neither [Director Chris Landon] or anyone else messes things up with "Happier Death Day" or whatever."

That's the closing line of my review of the original Happy Death Day, and well... here we are. I got the title wrong, but Landon did indeed return for Happy Death Day 2U, which also reunites the entire original cast (save for a few one-sceners from the original like the cop who pulled Tree over for speeding) and picks up immediately where it left off. Luckily I was also wrong about how good it might be - it's not AS good as the surprisingly great original, and it barely even qualifies as a slasher movie this time around (more on that soon), but it's inventive and fun, and equally charming while also tugging at the heartstrings a bit, more than making up for the reduced novelty factor in the process.

(There are spoilers for the first third of the new film ahead, as well as for the entire original, so if you want to go in blind I'd skip this review, but if you haven't seen the original yet I IMPLORE you to do so before you watch the new film as it will not only be harder to follow, but you won't get nearly as much out of it on an emotional or comedic level).

The hardest part about sequels - especially to films as high concept as the original HDD - is that you usually have to focus on one aspect that made the original so memorable and enhance that (while introducing new elements), or else you end up with a glorified remake by trying to just do the same thing again. Given the way the original worked, Christopher Landon (who wrote solo this time around; the original screenplay was credited to Scott Lobdell, who is not involved with the followup) had a few options: take a page from the Final Destinations and introduce a new cast with someone else stuck in a similar situation, ditch the "Groundhog Day" element and make a more traditional slasher, or dive deep into the sci-fi stuff and background the killings that won't really matter anyway? If you've seen the trailer you'd know that he opted for the third choice, coming up with a film that has more DNA with Back to the Future II and My Science Project than Halloween II or whatever else you might have assumed it'd be compared to.

As I said, even though it's been a year and a half for us the movie doesn't jump forward in time - it actually starts a few minutes earlier than the end of the first, showing Ryan (Carter's clueless roommate) making his way from his car back to his dorm room, with just enough notable encounters (a barking dog, a near-miss with a skateboarder, etc) to give us the idea that maybe he will be stuck in a loop now. But now we learn more about him - he's a science major and working on some kind of energy machine in the campus' incredibly large lab, much to the chagrin of the dean who is trying to shut down the experiment. After we run through all of this setup, Babyface returns and kills him, at which point he wakes up in his car again and runs through the routine.

But this is, of course, the NEXT day, the one where Tree has finally escaped her loop, so when Ryan enters the room and starts asking about deja vu, she instantly realizes what is going on and together they figure out that his experiment must have been what caused her time loop in the first place. Things are further complicated when the three of them catch Ryan's killer and discover it's... Ryan? Yes, somehow the machine caused two parallel universes to overlap, putting two Ryans in one world in a variation on the butterfly effect, but in an attempt to fix that timeline Tree ends up getting sent back to "her" day again, where Carter doesn't really know her yet and her roommate is still alive and trying to kill her. Or is she?

It takes a bit, but Tree eventually realizes that while she is back to reliving that Monday/her birthday, it's one from one of those parallel universes, so things are slightly different. Her roommate is NOT trying to kill her this time (in fact she's carrying on the affair with the doctor, who doesn't even know who Tree is in this scenario), and Danielle is a nicer person - in fact so nice she's actually dating Carter, which naturally makes Tree even more desperate to get the hell back to her own timeline. But then she finds out about another thing that's different, and suddenly her choice isn't so easy - Carter aside, this world seems to be a better one for her, with the added bonus of no one trying to kill her. Don't worry, dark comedy fans - she still dies a lot in the film, but it's a plot motivated reason as opposed to failed attempts to outrun a masked killer.

As you might have gleamed from that information, the slasher element is heavily backgrounded this time, to the point where it barely even matters. The subplot about Ryan's killer is finished once Tree goes back a day and starts going through that one again, and in that universe the killer isn't really concerned with her (though they cross paths, naturally). Given the nature of the film's plot, there's very little wiggle room to introduce new characters, and even by this high-concept movie's standards it'd be a stretch to think someone else wanted to kill this version of Tree, so there's only a few chase/slasher kind of scenes, with long stretches in between them to boot. It's a character driven followup, which is rare for any genre but especially horror - it'd be like if Halloween II followed Laurie Strode's attempts to readjust to the world while Myers was just off chasing someone else most of the time.

So if you're only here for the horror, you're going to be disappointed. However, if you're one of those folks who walked out of the first movie wondering how it is she got stuck in a loop in the first place, you'll be delighted to know that this movie answers that question, with at least three scenes of a science student explaining science-y concepts to the clueless Tree (including one with everyone's favorite: someone poking a hole through a piece of paper). And if you loved Jessica Rothe as Tree, you'll be even happier - despite the Ryan-centric opening scene she's still very much front and center, and it's incredibly satisfying to watch her continue her personal journey in an organic way. The film's funniest sequence comes rather early, when she first wakes up in the day again and storms her way through the now familiar gauntlet, screaming at everyone and everything ("SPRINKLERS!") while a very confused Carter and Ryan follow behind her. Once again they use the "every time she dies her body gets weaker" subplot to give it some tension (though as with the original there's no real consistency to it - one day she's passing out from the damage her body is incurring, the next she's fully functional and just sort of worried about it), and it really works - Rothe totally sells the conflict of not knowing if this next death might be her last while also trying to make sure everyone is saved.

The stuff with the dean is kind of a misstep, however. It just adds a complication in a film that didn't really lack for them, and results in a lengthy chunk of the third act being devoted to our heroes trying to get the machine back from his office and into the lab so they could run one final test. There's some really bad comedy in there involving Danielle and there's no real tension to derive from it - we know damn well they're going to get it back, so why even bother with any of this? The experiment failing and/or Tree having to reset one last time to save this or that person gives it the stakes it needs to be engaging, so I don't know why we had to be subjected to this silliness, especially when it means less time spent on making the new slasher storyline more involving. Perhaps if they opted to let the Babyface catch on to the loop (let's not forget, they're actually completely separate elements even in the original) and make THAT the thing that threatens their ability to get the machine up and running, it'd be less of a departure (and simply be more satisfying, though if you're amused by Danielle and the Dean's antics I'm sure you'll be happy either way).

Otherwise, it's better than it has any right to be, and as a bonus it makes for a great double feature. Even though a year and change has gone by with this young cast, they do a great job with the makeup to look like no time has passed (and yes, Tree finally breaks down and yells about how sick of that shirt she is), so take that, Halloween II! But more importantly, the script has a number of payoffs and jokes that work much better with a fresh and thorough memory of the original - we watched them back to back at the Egyptian for this special event (with Rothe and Landon doing Q&A in between) and more than once there was a moment that I can guarantee wouldn't have landed as well had I just gone off my 16 month old memory of the first film. So I highly encourage a refresher if you have the time, in order to get the most out of it. And stick in your seats through the credits for a setup for a third film (pay close attention - there's an obvious "this is what HDD3 would be about" part, but a much more subtle hint about what it could REALLY be about), which I'll happily see just to enjoy Rothe's performance for another two hours, though I wouldn't be surprised if it drops the slasher element entirely by then.

What say you?


The Prodigy (2019)

FEBRUARY 5, 2019


Just this week I once again had to defend Orphan again, as it somehow landed on some site's list of the 20 worst twists in movie history or some nonsense. My only theory for why that reveal (which I'm gonna have to spoil in this paragraph so skip ahead if you inexplicably still haven't seen it) gets dragged so often is because people don't take the time to consider that it was a brilliant way to circumvent what seems to be a rule at the major studios, which is that evil children can't really do anything vicious. By making Esther (still played by a child actress) into an adult with a growth deficiency, the filmmakers were able to get away with letting her cut loose (the nun!), while cinematic cousins like Mac in The Good Son didn't really do much of anything beyond toss a dummy off a bridge (with no one being seriously hurt, we're assured). The Prodigy ends up somewhere in the middle of those two, but overall lands closer to Orphan on account of how surprisingly dark it is.

The plot is pretty straightforward: suburban parents have a son named Miles (the usual way, i.e. not adopted) and in addition to his heterochromia (different colored eyes) he seems to be gifted; he speaks early, he can figure out complex toys as a toddler, etc. After checking in with him a few times as he grows, we get to when he's eight, and his behavior starts leaning toward the disturbing side of things - including a possible attack on his babysitter and a definite attack on a schoolmate. Mom (Taylor Schilling) starts taking him to different specialists, but as soon as Colm Feore shows up you know he's gonna be the one to crack the mystery, because you don't get Colm Feore to be in your movie to be another cog in the wheel. The trailers have part of his explanation, but in the full scene he also explains how Miles can be cured of this new development.

Unfortunately that's at about the halfway point, and there are no other wrinkles to the plot. Worse, the opening scene (which I won't spoil here) gave us almost all of the information we needed anyway - a peculiar match cut in the first five minutes spells it out to any audience member with half a brain, so Feore isn't revealing so much as he is confirming the problem. It's a strange choice for this sort of thing, to the point where I wondered if they were purposely trying to lead us astray so they could pull out a more surprising reveal later. Whether or not they do is again something I won't spoil here, but either way it's odd to spend so much of the movie being ahead of its characters, watching them discover things we already learned for ourselves in the film's first sequence.

And that adds to my ongoing curiosity regarding the film's script and if it was reworked at a late stage. Not only is the information doled out earlier than necessary (and occasionally even repeated) but there are a few dropped story points that struck me as odd. Early on Miles causes a babysitter to fall down the stairs and cut up her foot (and perhaps break a bone or two) but the scene ends with her calling for the boy, unaware that he was at fault - and then it just cuts to later, with Miles saying he can't remember what happened. The babysitter's fate is never confirmed, nor is she ever mentioned again (same goes for Feore's character, who makes a phone call to give Schilling some more info and seems to be setting himself up to play a bigger part, only to never reappear). Likewise, he attacks one of his schoolmates at his fancy genius school, and later we see him attending what seems to be a regular public school - did he get kicked out of the other one, or did they decide it was best for him to be in a more normal environment? Schilling and her husband are also drawn with as much depth as a slasher victim - we're never told what they do for a living or anything like that, and a hint about a miscarriage or something ("We weren't sure we'd ever have you" she tells baby Miles) is never fleshed out either.

Yet, it still works for the most part! Maybe I'm more lenient given my well documented love of this particular sub-genre, but I had a good time watching it all the same. The trailer spoils one of its two best scares (and yes, it's swiped from Shock, but I suspect unlike Annabelle this is an intentional tip of the hat as there are some other similarities), but the other got me good and is more of the "Gah! CURSED IMAGE!" variety than a jump, and there's another more subtle one involving a simple line of dialogue that delighted me in its surprising harshness. Indeed, the film as a whole is shockingly dark/unsettling at times, particularly in the Feore sequence when Miles (in evil mode) tells him how the rest of their little session is gonna go. And the end is also less studio-friendly than I was expecting, which is always a plus.

Speaking of Annabelle, like that film I suspect it will work better on parents than non, because it plays on those very particular emotions albeit in very different ways; that one juiced up its scares by putting the kid in danger, this one opts for a "Would you do this if it was YOUR kid?" kind of thing though again, no spoilers so no details (I blame Pet Sematary's trailer debut for being so spoiler conscious - people were legit crying "spoiler!" at a trailer. Incidentally, same writer! Jeff Buhler wrote Pet and this). I also got some of the same creeped out vibes I get from body horror movies at times, and when you think about it it kind of makes sense. Someone once compared not knowing where your child was to having one of your own organs out in the wild somewhere, and it's true even for fathers who, as you hopefully know, never actually had the child inside of them and attached to them the way mothers do. So when Schilling starts suspecting the kid is evil and noticeably bristles when he tries to hug her or whatever, you really feel how skin-crawling and conflicting it must be for her, to be afraid of her own child's touch. There's a bit where he climbs into bed with her and tries to snuggle - it's one of the most unnerving things in the entire movie, without the need to have any violence or jump scares.

So I guess your mileage will vary depending on how much you enjoy this sub-genre. Nicholas McCarthy (whose movie The Pact is one I highly recommend, and am happy to see him getting a wide release) checks all the boxes one expects from this sort of thing, but the screenplay as presented on-screen is almost too mercenary at times, as if they didn't want to distract the audience with pesky things like "subplots" or "complications" or even "other characters" (these people have no friends or neighbors, apparently; even a brief Halloween scene seems to exist in a world with no other people). It'll scratch your itch if you have one, but goes no further than that, making it hard to recommend in general the way I could for the likes of Orphan or Home Movie. But whatever may have happened to the script or finished cut along the way, what we got is still effective at what it does, and a good way to tide us over until the seemingly more ambitious Brightburn comes along later this year.

What say you?

P.S. Hover at your own risk because it enters spoiler territory, but the movie also shares some DNA with this pet fave of mine, so that was a fun realization. However it'd be a huge red flag for most people (and again spoils some things) so let's keep it on the DL for now. Just feel free to tell me you agree (without using the name!) on Twitter or in the comments, I like to know who my peeps are for this particular film.


FTP: Boardinghouse (1982)

FEBRUARY 1, 2019


As a fan (well, "fan") of Sledgehammer and some other early shot on video oddities, I was excited when I won Boardinghouse at trivia a while back, because while it sounded like something I would enjoy I was also leery of blind buying the damn thing (especially on DVD, gross!). Now I could see it for free and not mind if it turned out to be really bad! But man, I wasn't prepared for just HOW bad it was; it actually took me several attempts just to finish it, and that was the 96 minute version - there's another that runs an hour longer, something I have to assume is akin to waterboarding or flying on Spirit Airlines. I know there's some appeal in seeing something this amateurish and weird, but whatever that je ne sais quoi is that makes the likes of Things and (to go out of horror) The Room into a compelling experience, it's definitely absent here.

I can give them some leeway on the removal of nearly an hour of footage - I can't imagine even something like The Godfather would be much use if more than a third of the film was lopped out. But thanks to MovieCensorship, a site that runs down the differences between two cuts of a movie, I know that a great deal of the footage is just padding or scenes running longer thanks to more cutaways and the like. Entries like "The shorter version cuts away a few seconds before she gets to the door" are common, so unless you believe that watching someone walk all of the way to a door is essential to the film's coherency or merit, I think you'll agree that this movie wasn't "ruined" by getting hacked up. Obviously some of that footage is meatier than the example, but after reading through the entry (which is very long since so many of the cuts are of a few seconds here and there) I am certain that the film couldn't be saved thanks to how it was made in the first place.

And no, I'm not referring to the shot on video aesthetic - it actually looks fine for that sort of thing, and in fact I've seen movies made twenty years later that looked much worse. No, the problem is that the director cast himself in the lead role of a guy who is a sex magnet for every woman in the film, which is icky and implausible in equal measures. And since it's a lot cheaper to film a guy being hit on by a lady or two than to have a big chase/kill scene, we spend most of the movie watching the women fawn all over this guy, and not nearly enough time on the killer doing his thing. So that leads to the other problem - it's one of the most meandering "slashers" I've ever seen; the setup is fine (the owner of the titular boarding house nabs a group of comely ladies who all move in around the same time but then start getting picked off one by one) but the killer takes too much damn time to do that. Instead we get scenes of the hero going to work, meeting clients, one of the girls working on an album, a pie fight, a pool party (including a bizarre catfight), and horrifying sex scenes.

I know all that makes it sound like a lot of fun but I assure you, the lack of any momentum makes these moments just as dull as everything else. I think the thing that makes The Room "work" is that it's actually kind of a threadbare story about a guy whose fiance is cheating on him with his buddy, but keeps tossing in all these non sequiturs to keep it lively. But most of the things this movie offers are exactly what you'd expect from a slasher - they're just too spread out and done too poorly for it to ever be any fun. In fact, the only amusement I ever got out of the damn thing (besides the electronic score, which occasionally sounds like an Asylum mockbuster of Halloween II's) was when they clearly edited something out, as a scene would just randomly fade out before any discernible point to it had been made; presumably they had to keep part of it for continuity or to avoid cutting an actor (read: friend of producer) out entirely. I can't help but wonder if they kept going and got the thing down to like 75 minutes if it would actually work?

P.S. The menu is horribly designed too. This whole affair was a waste of a trivia prize!

What say you?


FTP: Darkness Rising (2017)

JANUARY 28, 2019


It was about a year ago that I first tried to watch Darkness Rising, not getting too far before falling asleep. Why I didn't try to finish it then is a mystery (smart bet: other stuff I *had* to watch arrived and it just got forgotten) but it's a perfect "FTP" entry in that I have very little to say about it and am happy to finally feel comfortable with dropping it off at a Goodwill or something, knowing that it isn't anything I ever need to watch again. It took me four sittings to finally get through it all, which is kind of a problem for an 80 minute movie, wouldn't you agree? I mean it only took me one to get through Slender Man.

At least it starts promisingly enough, with a woman, her boyfriend, and her cousin breaking into her (condemned) childhood home to retrieve some things and maybe finally figure out why her mom went crazy twenty years ago. They're only there for about seven seconds before they start seeing things, and then their minds start to work against them - a suburban Shining of sorts! But then more stuff happens, and then more stuff happens, and then... yet more stuff happens, as if the writers were afraid to leave any haunted house/supernatural cliche on the table. People's eyes turn black as they turn on their friends, angry dogs appear out of nowhere, ghostly figures pop out, creepy phone calls are received... at a certain point I gave up trying to make sense out of any of it, assuming they were just purposely going for a kitchen sink thing in the spirit of Evil Dead, albeit without the humor or DIY charm.

And the comparison isn't really a stretch, because the film is bookended with scenes of Ted Raimi himself, in period garb, though like most of the rest of the plot I couldn't quite discern the point of the scenes other than to say "Hey, Ted Raimi!", as if they wanted to pay their respects to the film they were emulating. To be fair some of these random sequences kind of work - I enjoyed the bit where they were trying to leave the house only for a dog and its many copies to block them at every exit, and even if it wasn't played for laughs I was amused when one of them was plagued by visions and poured bleach in her eyes to stop them, only for it to not work (bonus: the other girl uses toilet water to rinse her eyes!). But it's hard to get particularly worked up in the plight of the characters when there were no clear rules to the threat, and while the house is serviceable for this sort of thing it gets mighty repetitive watching just these three people (apart from Raimi's scenes, the entire film takes place within the house in one night, with no other characters) wander around the same hallways and bedrooms. Sam Raimi might have been able to make this work with some inventive camerawork and editorial energy, but these folks do not. Movies this short shouldn't be such a struggle to get through, especially for someone with my level of experience of watching anything/everything.

What say you?


FTP: The Hoarder (2015)

JANUARY 25, 2019


The second lowest grossing film of all time is Storage 24, a movie about a monster killing all the randos in a storage facility, which grossed a total of 72 dollars during its theatrical "release" (one screen, but still - that's like six tickets!). The thing is, it's actually a pretty decent little movie (it's from Johannes Roberts, who has since gone on to bigger fortunes with 47 Meters Down and the Strangers sequel), and would be the one I recommend if you only could watch one horror movie about randos trapped in a storage unit. However, this one, The Hoarder, isn't all that bad either (and the title makes it a terrific place to start FTP reviews), offering up reasonable amounts of gore and a fairly decent twist in its sub-90 minutes.

Now, those things are nice but moot if you hated everyone in the movie, but that's thankfully not the case here which is what makes it worth a look as opposed to unwatchable dreck. Our characters (led by Mischa Barton) aren't the most savory lot in the world - Barton has a history of snooping on her boyfriends, there's a cop that's there to retrieve some bribe money, there's a prickly divorced couple splitting up their belongings, etc... - but they're not hateful or even all that obnoxious. They're flawed, and so even though there's no real sadness to seeing any of them get offed, I never found myself rooting for the killer either. Plus, the twist kicks it up a notch, and I give kudos to director Matt Winn for how he didn't cheat in the kills that occurred prior to the reveal. It's not a mindblowing twist, for the record - just one that gives it a little oomph at a point where the movie could have started getting too repetitive.

So it's a perfectly OK timekiller; the sort of thing you can safely watch at the end of the day and maybe pass out during (I didn't, for the record - I watched it midday!) without feeling too bad, but also not kick yourself for staying awake through and having to find something ELSE to doze off to instead. I wish there was a little more variety to the environment, but I guess it's more realistic that it'd be aisle after aisle of identical doors that lead into the various units, so I can't fault them for that (and to be fair they do utilize the basement and some offices to mix it up a bit). I wouldn't ever pay for it (this one was a trivia win, so all it "cost" me was whatever birthday I forgot in order to keep the full title of the 6th Puppet Master movie rattling around in my head), but if I was still watching/reviewing every day it wouldn't surprise me if this was one of the better movies I saw in a given week.

What say you?


Introducing From The Pile (FTP)!

One of my OCD symptoms is an inability to abandon something without it nagging at me forever; I traded in a game I wasn't enjoying over a decade ago and to this day it bothers me and I feel I should buy it back so I can finish it off at least. I've had to talk myself out of buying it again several times, and whenever Gamestop has a B2G1 I always check to see if it's an option (it's the tie-in game for X3, for the record). Similarly, if I get a movie for review (unsolicited), or win it at trivia or something, I find myself unable to dump it until I give it a look, but with my limited time usually spent on watching the films I DID ask for or simply went out of my way to see, this pile of unwatched screeners and winnings just keeps getting bigger. I keep them next to my couch and the stacks often fall over, burying things that I might actually need to watch, unearthed until I feel like cleaning up.

So for this New Year's I resolved to get that pile down to something manageable (say, eight or nine movies tops - it's about ten times that right now), so I've been doing my best to watch a couple a week. As expected, none of them have been particularly great so far, but that was always the "fun" part about the site - digging through all those forgettable movies to find the ones that made it worthwhile. Now to be clear, last week's 10 To Midnight wasn't one of them - most of them I watch and just don't feel like writing a full blown review, so I settle for a Tweet and move on. But I'm trying to wean myself off of Twitter, and I want to update the site more often, so I came up with an answer to both problems: From The Pile!

From The Pile reviews will be marked FTP and will be shorter than the usual HMAD review (which I'll still do, of course), but longer than a Tweet, naturally. I'll do one for every "pile" movie I watch, regardless of its quality, which will not only give you guys more to read but also offer incentive to get through more of them! Everyone wins! Hopefully you guys enjoy the column - but even if you don't too damn bad. I have to get this crap off my floor. Anyway, the first one will be up later today!


10 To Midnight (1983)

JANUARY 21, 2019


Back in 2010, I had planned to make 10 To Midnight my movie for the day via a midnight screening at the New Bev, but the film (or projector itself? Can't remember) broke and I didn't get to see how it ended. It wasn't available to rent at the time (and I had already started trying to pare my collection down), so I had to wait until another screening happened, but when it did something came up and I couldn't make it at all. So now it's been so long that I couldn't even really remember the part I had seen or where I left off; watching via the new Scream Factory blu-ray was pretty much like seeing the film for the first time. Incidentally, I also revisited Predators this week for my BMD column; it was 2010 where I had my one viewing of that film and that too jogged almost no memories. Long story short, it seems my memory only goes back (at most) eight or nine years now, so maybe I can just start re-reviewing all the movies here since I won't remember any of them.

Anyway, this is a delightfully odd little movie. It's from Golan and Globus, and was somewhat hastily made after the success of Death Wish II prompted the Cannon gents to stay in the Charles Bronson business, but what they made wasn't exactly a "Charles Bronson movie". But if you're an astute movie viewer you can probably tell that just from watching the trailer, as they use the same shot of him firing his gun like six times because it's the only shot he fires in the entire film. See, there's only one bad guy in the plot, and he obviously can't be killed until the very end, so there's not much opportunity for Paul Kersey-esque action beats, and instead Bronson just spends most of the movie bickering with his partner and - in the second half - taunting the killer in order to get him to screw up.

Why does he need to do that, you ask? Well I'll tell you - it's because the killer is too damn good at covering his tracks, but since Bronson is blessed with Bronsonian skills, he just KNOWS the guy is the killer but lacks the hard evidence needed to put him away. So he plants some, but screws up because of all the things he could have done, he opts to douse some of the victim's blood on the killer's clothes - which couldn't possibly be legit because our guy strips to his birthday suit when he commits his crimes. Actor Gene Davis should have won a bravest actor of the year award for sure, because while they usually obscure his junk we can tell perfectly well that he's running around in the woods, around the sets, and even on city streets with the thing dangling around where it could be easily mangled if he tripped or zigged when he should have zagged. So anyway, Bronson has to admit he planted the evidence, and gets fired while the guy goes free.

So for the rest of the movie we watch these two guys antagonize each other - Bronson follows him around to make sure he doesn't do anything, and in turn the killer calls him up and leaves vague threats. Caught in the middle are Bronson's daughter (the incredibly charming Lisa Eilbacher) and his younger partner, McCann (Andrew Stevens) who is also involved with the daughter but keeps blowing her off for reasons I can't quite follow. The film's a bit long for its type, running over an hour and forty minutes when 85 would have done just fine, but it rarely bores and switches gears so many times it's hard to even notice. It's a procedural! It's a serial killer thriller! It's a courtroom drama! It's a buddy cop movie! Hell if they spent a little more time on it it could even count as a character study, since Eilbacher's character has a rocky relationship with her dad on account of his commitment to policework, yet pursues Stevens' character hard, possibly working through some daddy issues.

Alas, we don't get much time with that sort of thing, because director J. Lee Thompson is happy to cut back to Davis doing his thing. He's got a pretty great alibi for the opening kill sequence - he goes to a movie, makes his presence known to a pair of girls, talks to the box office clerk, etc. before sneaking out of the bathroom window and killing a woman. He then returns to the movie (the Aero theater in Santa Monica, to be exact) and again bugs the same girls, so when he is inevitably brought in for questioning, they are located and confirm that he was at the movies during the time of the murder. But after that we rarely see that much cunning - he does something similar with a hooker in the film's final reel, but naturally Bronson's on to him by then so he doesn't get a chance to put the alibi to use, and in between he's mostly just making creepy phone calls (with a bad Mexican accent for "good" measure) and going about his day, where he seems to be the only male employee in an office full of women who rightfully hate him.

In other words, the actual plot/narrative thrust kind of meanders and isn't particularly interesting, but all the weird little details make the movie a blast. You get Bronson angrily presenting a sex toy for men (called an "Acu-suck" - use your imagination), Bronson mocking a guy for being a virgin (actually that's the same scene), Bryan Cranston's brother as a goofy party attendee, Carmen "Reverend Sayer" Filpi as the world's least effective hotel clerk, and - if you're a Los Angeles resident or aficionado - lots and lots of vintage scenery, including the reveal that the Aero hasn't really changed much in 35 years even though the area around it is nearly unrecognizable. Ditto the LA Courthouse, which I recognized instantly despite not having been there for ten years (for jury duty, don't get too excited). Less fun but still interesting - it pretty much boils down to a guy killing women because they won't go out with him, which is still a huge (bigger?) problem today, and unfortunately in the real world we don't have Charles Bronson risking their career to keep these clowns off the street. Some old movies have a weird charm because we see things that aren't really an issue anymore; it's a bummer this can't join that crowd.

Scream's Blu-ray comes with a few interviews and a pair of commentaries. One has a guy I can't stand so I skipped that one, but the other, by Paul Talbott (author of two books on Bronson) is chock full of fun info about the film's production and stars, including the reveal - one I could have guessed myself - that the film's opening scene with Bronson was not intended to be the film's opener, but moved up because the producers were afraid that audiences wouldn't like having to wait a whole ten minutes to see Bronson. So the film opens with this dull scene of him typing out a report, then cuts to a murder, then we get a traditional introduction to the actor when he comes to investigate. It's a bit of a dry listen since Talbott is by himself and reading from notes, so it can be a bit hard to stay focused on, but he goes all out - noting car models, street locations, the wardrobe selections, the whole nine yards. He also offers script passages of scenes that didn't make it for one reason or another, so it's a highly recommended listen if you're a fan. Stevens' interview is also pretty fun; he relates a great anecdote about getting the notoriously quiet Bronson to open up and shoot the breeze with him, clearly (rightfully) proud of his accomplishment.

So it's a pretty nice release for the sort of movie that fans would be happy to just finally be able to own on high def, which is the sort of thing Scream Factory excels at. I'm still on the fence about keeping it, however; it's a fun movie but not one I'm likely to watch over and over, since most of its charm stems from the out of nowhere wacky moments as opposed to its compelling characters or crafty narrative. In fact, I suspect the film's reputation is largely due to how the audience gets sent out of the theater; I won't spoil the particulars, but I will say I'll never forgive myself for missing out on that rescheduled screening and losing out on the chance to watch it unfold with a crowd. I laughed and cheered by myself *at home*, so with the energy of the crowd I might have started crowd surfing or something, it was just that great. Even if the rest of the movie was junk it'd be worth watching for that moment alone, so enjoy!

What say you?


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