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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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


Unmasked Part 25 (1989)

NOVEMBER 8, 2019


I remember reading about Unmasked Part 25 (aka Hand Of Death) in Fangoria as a young teen, wanting very much to see it but not being able to find it at any of my video stores. So over the years I kind of forgot about it, until Vinegar Syndrome announced they would be releasing it on Blu-ray for the first time, accompanied by a DVD copy since it never hit that format either (at least not in the US). And it had been so long that I had forgotten everything that Fangoria article (or review?) said that made me want to see it, so it was a nice blend of "I really want to see this movie" and "I have no idea what this movie is" - a pretty rare feat.

Luckily it's not a "go in blind" type so I can tell you what it is: a satirical take on the masked slasher movies of the '80s, in particular Jason Voorhees. Our killer, "Jackson", wears a hockey mask that doesn't really resemble Jason's (it kind of looks like the one on the *poster* for New Beginning though) but it's quite obvious he and he alone is the chief inspiration for the character here. They even set the events of the climax on Friday the 13th to hammer it home, ignoring whatever potential jokes they could get out of taking the piss on Freddy or Leatherface. Anyway, he's a Jason-like guy doing his Jason-like thing, but he's getting bored with it - he feels like he's in a rut and only killing randos because that's what is expected of him. But during his latest murder spree he meets a blind woman named Shelly, and rather than kill her (since she can't see, she's not instantly frightened of him) he strikes up a conversation with her and the two fall in love.

From then on it's kind of like Red Dragon's scenes with Reba McClane, as you're left with the rather uneasy feeling of kind of wanting this guy to find peace at last while also constantly worrying that he's going to kill this innocent woman we've gotten to know as opposed to the all-but anonymous jerks he usually offs. But the key difference is that director Anders Palm and writer Mark Cutforth find the humor in the concept, such as when she asks him to engage in rough sex with her and he's quite prudish about it, or when they go to a costume shop and he gets insulted by the idea of her wearing a mask (liking it to how she'd feel if he was pretending to be blind). Eventually his murderous urges start coming back and he feels compelled to do his thing, but for the most part, it's like a weird rom-com bookended by gory slasher scenes.

And yes, GORY. This was notoriously when the MPAA was at their worst for the slasher movies, leaving the likes of New Blood and Jason Takes Manhattan virtually bloodless, and this one was edited for release as well, but the difference is, the producers/studio didn't lose everything like they did for those F13 flicks, allowing Vinegar Syndrome to restore/release the film completely uncut. It was almost kind of disorienting to see how bloody it got at times, because I'm so used to everything from this era being sanitized, and as a bonus the splatter is actually quite well done for the most part, with lots and lots of prosthetics and blood bags doing their heroic duty as Jackson lays waste to two separate groups, with the occasional isolated murder here and there for good measure.

To be fair, the comedy is a bit dated, but it's important to keep in mind that the whole "meta horror" thing hadn't taken off yet. It's not a "spoof" of the films - there are no sight gags or even direct references to the movies we love (even the name Shelly is probably a coincidence, since it was used for a male character in F13 3 - wouldn't they go with Alice or Ginny?), it's closer to a "What if?" kind of scenario, one that might have worked even better if they straight up licensed the Jason character and used him this way. One thing that didn't quite work is that it takes place in London, with Jackson stalking someone's flat in the opening sequence, as opposed to the woods or an isolated home (he does go to one of those at the end, however - though it's more like "we have a really big yard" as opposed to "no one is around for miles"). So it throws off the "let's imagine Jason is getting tired of doing his thing" when he's completely out of his element - he should be kind of excited about the change of pace!

Basically it's a sillier version of something like Behind the Mask, where your love of slashers - and familiarity with their tropes - plays a big part in how much you're enjoying the film. I mean if you absolutely hate "body count" movies (or worse, never saw one) you'd probably find this unbearable, unlike something like Scary Movie which can appeal to a wider audience - this is as niche as it gets. Even the lo-fi look (it was shot on Super 16, swoon!) and plentiful gore lend it credibility that even some straight slashers (especially modern ones) don't bother to earn, and yet it's all in service of a funny (if slightly worn thin by the end) joke. Vinegar's Blu looks fantastic and comes with a pair of commentaries, one with Palm and the other with Cutforth (both moderated by writers), plus the trailer that kind of misleads what the film is ("it's a movie, within a movie, within a movie!" - huh?) and also spoils the ending for some reason - below is a scene instead so you can get an idea of the humor without having the story spoiled. At any rate, it's a nice package for a film that fans - and the curious - would have been happy to finally have at all. No, it won't be for everyone, but if you're a fellow slasher enthusiast like me you'll certainly appreciate the effort.

What say you?


Doctor Sleep (2019)

NOVEMBER 7, 2019


When Michael Crichton wrote The Lost World in 1995, he made the unusual choice to write it as a sequel to Jurassic Park, the film, as opposed to his novel, as Spielberg allowed Ian Malcolm to live whereas he was killed in the original text. Crichton waved away the discrepancy with a half-assed explanation of Malcolm being revived, and the resulting film was able to use the same basic plot of the novel (with some big differences), thanks to Crichton essentially saying the movie version of Jurassic Park was canon, not his own novel. Well, I haven't read Doctor Sleep, but I wouldn't need to in order to correctly assume that Stephen King made no such concession for Stanley Kubrick's version of the events of The Shining, leaving Mike Flanagan in the unenviable position to adapt King's sequel novel (published in 2013) in a way that honored the text but also the iconic Kubrick film that - let's be honest - is the version more people would know nowadays.

And no, that's not me dismissing the book or its own popularity: it's still huge and it holds up quite well (I re-read it earlier this year, in fact), and while it's not my favorite King novel, it is certainly one of his most essential. But in pop culture, the mental image of The Shining is Jack Nicholson saying "Here's Johnny!", it's the hedge maze, it's that damn (overused, now) carpet pattern, etc - all things that are specific to Kubrick's take on the material, which King has famously and repeatedly criticized over the years (me personally? I quite like both versions, though I agree Jack being nuts from the beginning does hurt the story of the movie itself, not just compared to the novel). The best compliment he's ever afforded it, until recently, is that it's a good horror movie but a terrible adaptation, and so his Doctor Sleep novel didn't pay it any mind; it takes place in a world where the Overlook had burned to the ground and Dick Halloran was still alive.

How Flanagan gets around these discrepancies is part of the fun of his film, so I won't get into them all. And in fact, I CAN'T, since again I haven't read it and thus cannot speak for every change or "blend" Flanagan makes in the movie version. All I know is from what I learned on the book's synopsis on the wiki page, and I can sum up with "he keeps the basic plot but changes things as necessary to fit within the Kubrick order of events". For example Dick is indeed accounted for, but as a ghost that acts as a sort of conscience for Danny (Ewan McGregor) as opposed to a living human being as he was in the novel, and (spoiler for those who haven't seen the trailer) while the book climax took place on the grounds where the Overlook once stood, Ewan is able to walk around and revisit all those classic spots: the elevator that gets flooded with blood, the axe-damaged door, etc.

It's an interesting approach, but I ultimately can't help but wonder if Flanagan would have ended up with an even stronger film had he just gone with one or the other instead of trying to serve both masters. From what I understand, Doctor Sleep is not one of King's best works (though that might be due to enhanced expectations for following up one of his masterpieces more than the quality of the book itself), but the plot is quite interesting: a grown up Danny, now fighting his own demons (i.e. booze) has his "Shining" reignited by a young girl named Abra who also shines and has drawn the attention of a group of, well, vampires of a sort, ones who find shiners and feed on their "steam" (think of it as the midichlorians to the Force, easy enough with Ewan around!). Children tend to provide better "steam" as they haven't used up their powers or allowed them to become tainted by the drudgery of the world, they only go after youngsters, so the girl is rightfully terrified and reaches out to Danny to help her. Can he overcome his demons and his own horrific past to stop these monsters?

Well, if you got two and a half hours, you'll find out. I must admit, while the length (only a few minutes longer than the original Shining film, in fact - and certainly shorter than the King-approved miniseries version) didn't scare me off when I heard it, I found the film a bit overstuffed, and couldn't help but wonder if some of its subplots/characters couldn't have been streamlined. It doesn't help that the trailer (again, spoiler if you haven't seen the marketing) sells the movie on "Danny returns to the Overlook" and that doesn't happen until the final 20 minutes or so, meaning you're spending two hours and change on what feels like a lot of pieces being put into place. We have to meet the "True Knot", the name given to the vampire-like villains and see how they operate, we have to catch up with Danny, we have to meet Abra and see her whole deal, etc, etc. And Flanagan tries to give them all equal balance, so the movie feels like it lacks momentum at times, as we cut from Danny getting a new job to the vampires getting a new recruit to Abra trying to block out the sounds of her schoolmates' thoughts, and then back to Danny working his OTHER job (yes, he has two), and so on - it's about an hour in before their worlds start to collide.

And not for nothing, but the completely recast group keeps it from feeling like a sequel the way it might on paper - Ewan is terrific but I never quite bought him as the grown up version of that kid I've watched race around the Overlook hallways so many times. The other returning characters are played by essential look-alikes, and with one exception they are quite good/not distracting, but they're also minimal presences in the film - it's mostly a Danny we don't recognize interacting with entirely new characters, so it lacks that "it's nice to catch up with them" element that can allow something like Force Awakens or Halloween '18 to dilly dally a bit. Hell it barely even feels like a horror movie for the most part, and Flanagan has seemingly toned down some of the story's more supernatural elements - something in the book that is accomplished with shining powers is done with a shootout here.

That said, there is one horrific sequence that is downright disturbing to watch, when the True Knot tortures a young boy before murdering him (pain causes better "steam", apparently). The kid's cries for help are downright gutwrenching, far more than anything in either of the It movies - I've been pretty good lately with my "Now that I'm a dad I get bothered easily" issues but this ramped them right back up again. And it's made "worse" by the casting of Rebecca Ferguson as Rose, the leader of the True Knot, because she's such an inviting presence (this is a woman who has stolen two Mission Impossible movies away from Tom Cruise, mind you) that you're not in any rush for her to be killed or imprisoned for her crimes - she's so captivating I almost wish the movie had just focused on her entirely at times, taking a sort of Lost Boys/Near Dark kind of approach where they attempt to recruit Danny (or Abra) into their number and after a while he decides he wants to break free from them, if only so we didn't have to go stretches without seeing her (or her crew, which for the most part is left underdeveloped) and allowed them to interact before the two hour mark.

Luckily, the dramatic elements work well, so I also found myself wishing that the movie was stripped of its supernatural elements entirety and just focused on the survivor of a horrific event (his father trying to murder him in a snowbound hotel) trying to put his life back together. Again, McGregor is quite great in the role, and I was quite taken with his scenes of hitting rock bottom (a brief drunken hookup has a horrific outcome) going to AA meetings, working as an orderly in an old folks' home, etc. It's very much in line with Flanagan's Hill House series, which also wasn't afraid to put the scary stuff on the sideline for a while in order to work on character development and drama - I just think he found a better balance there than he did here. There's nothing particularly bad or even "just OK" about any one element* in the film - it just never really congeals as a full narrative until it's almost over.

Because of that I suspect I'll like it more on a second viewing, and perhaps with a reading of the book in between. Those who did read it already seem to agree Flanagan improved on it, so perhaps I did myself a disservice going in so blind - they were prepared for its somewhat wobbly structure, whereas I barely even knew what it was about. Flanagan gets a lot right: the casting (a lot of his regulars, plus welcome additions like Ferguson, Cliff Curtis as Danny's best friend, and Jocelin Donahue as Abra's mom), the recreated Overlook, the music, etc, and it's gotta be worth something that I didn't doze off even for a second despite feeling tired during the trailers. The filmmaker has yet to disappoint me, but he's not God - perhaps there's only so much he can do when trying to live up to forty years of our love of The Shining, through an adaptation of a book that by most accounts was a bit of a letdown. Ultimately it's one of those movies where I feel guilty for not liking it more, because there's so much to enjoy/appreciate but it also lacks that je ne sais quoi that sends me racing to social media to encourage everyone to see it.

What say you?

*OK, there is one that's kind of bad, but it requires spoilers, so I'll just be vague and say it involves one of Flanagan's regular actors showing up at a crucial moment during the third act. On paper it was probably fine, but on-screen... sorry, it just didn't work. People were full on laughing at it, and it wasn't supposed to be funny. It's quick, thankfully, but it definitely damages the climax a touch.


Two Evil Eyes (1990)

NOVEMBER 4, 2019


Should movies do away with opening credits, and let people watch them "blind" (granted, the internet and the like would have already revealed the same information, but let's pretend) so that the movie can be judged on its own merits without the big names behind the camera adjust their expectations or biases? It could only help Two Evil Eyes, a film that's perfectly fine and easy enough to recommend to those who enjoy Edgar Allan Poe adaptations and/or anthology style films, but unfortunately doesn't come close to living up to the potential established by its opening titles, which tell you it's from George Romero and Dario Argento. The only other movie that can boast a partnership between these two titans of horror cinema is Dawn of the Dead, aka one of the greatest horror films of all time. Two Evil Eyes, on the other hand, might not even be one of the best horror films of 1990.

Hell, it's not even the best Romero-related film of 1990, as he wrote a segment of Tales From The Darkside as well as the script for Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead remake, both of which are superior. And he doubles down on reminding us of his legacy by populating his segment with a number of actors from Creepshow, which will likely leave audiences wondering why this film didn't follow suit and have four or five tales that ran shorter instead of two that run about an hour (with no framing device). To be fair, that was indeed the original plan: Romero and Argento were originally going to be joined by John Carpenter and Wes Craven, but when their other commitments got in the way and dropped out, the two men decided to just split the film in half, though why they never decided to add some kind of framework or "host" is beyond me.

So it makes for a strange viewing experience - the closest example would be Grindhouse, I guess, but at least that offered two complete features, plus the fake trailers to sell you on the overall "double feature" experience. There's no such frills here; the movie starts with Romero's "The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar", then shifts to Argento's "The Black Cat" without any segue or intermission. And while I suppose it's possible some people prefer Romero's, the vast majority agree that Argento's segment is superior, so to sit down and watch this as a movie means you wait an hour for it to get good, or skip past it entirely to get what amounts to a Masters of Horror episode length experience that will leave you unfulfilled if "watching a movie" was your plan for the evening. There's not even any real connection between the two to make it fun; I was hoping some supporting characters would appear in both segments (both take place in contemporary Pittsburgh), but no dice.

Anyway, as I mentioned "Valdemar" isn't exactly up there with the best of Romero's work, which makes sense when you learn on the bonus features that his heart wasn't really in it (Romero wanted to do "Masque of the Red Death" but his ideas proved to be too costly for the production, forcing him to find a different story). "Valdemar" is a strange consolation choice; the original story doesn't have much of a plot, so Romero invented one around the basic idea of a guy caught in a limbo between life and death thanks to a form of hypnotism called mesmerism. Unfortunately, his story isn't all that exciting or unique: it's the ten billionth "woman and her lover kill her husband to get his money" tale, one you could have seen - in half the time - in any number of episodes of HBO's Tales From The Crypt series, which had debuted the year before and was becoming a minor powerhouse for the genre. It picks up in its final 10 minutes (mostly thanks to Tom Atkins showing up as a cigar chomping cop) but by then it's too late to save this from becoming one of Romero's least interesting productions.

Luckily, Argento's fares much better, to the extent that I wish they simply turned his into a traditional feature sans Romero at all (except for maybe as producer). In fact it's a bit longer than Romero's segment as is, so it'd only take another 15-20 minutes' worth of footage to qualify as a feature, which they could have easily added in without really padding things since it has a rather underdeveloped subplot about a local serial killer (played by Savini himself, another Dawn holdover that might enhance your expectations for the film) and a somewhat rushed climax, as if they were making sure the film didn't cross the two hour mark (it comes in literally seconds under, in fact). And it benefits from a better story; Argento updated Poe's classic tale for a modern setting, changing the protagonist into a crime scene photographer - allowing him to work in other Poe references, such as a "Pit and the Pendulum" inspired murder scene - but otherwise stuck fairly close to the narrative Poe wrote nearly 150 years prior.

Plus it's fun to see Harvey Keitel going through the horror movie motions, as he didn't exactly dive into the genre all that often. And he's one of those guys who never phones anything in, so he's fully committed as the drunken asshole murderer who repeatedly kills a cat (and others along the way), but taking it seriously instead of hamming it up - it's a great performance from an actor who I wish embraced the genre more often. And Argento clearly didn't have trouble adapting to working in America - it's got a number of his nutty camera shots (a falling key being one notable example), splatter, and out of nowhere plot turns - come for the contemporary Pittsburgh setting, stay for the nightmare scene set in medieval times! Any fan of the filmmaker can tell you that his decline was about to start, so having missed the film for so long it was great to see "new" Argento that more or less lived up to his talents, before declining budgets and changing studio politics forever handcuffed his abilities, resulting in sub-par efforts.

However you feel about the film, it's inarguable that Blue Underground has put together a fantastic package for it, starting with a new transfer that looked pretty fantastic to my eyes (though I have nothing to compare it to, having never seen it before) and a mother lode of bonus features old and new that require their own disc. The film was previously released on special edition DVD, and it seems they have carried over all of those supplements (including interviews with Romero and Argento) while adding several new ones, including interviews with Madeline Potter (who plays Annabel, Keitel's wife) and composer Pino Donaggio and a very fresh commentary by Argento biographer Troy Howarth, which must have been recorded in the past few months as he notes the death of actor Bingo O'Malley (Valdemar), who only died in June. He's perhaps a bit too enthusiastic about Argento's segment, claiming it's among his best work, but he gives plenty of background on the production, the two filmmakers' careers as a whole, actor bios, etc - he barely ever stops to breathe. The limited edition release also includes Donaggio's score on CD as well as a booklet with an essay by the great Michael Gingold, so if you plan to go through everything on the set, you best take a day out of work.

Ultimately, it was an intriguing and noble experiment that didn't quite stick the landing due to the compromises on participants (a TV show concept was even floated, which would include American AND Italian maestros contributing episodes) and - in Romero's case - story selection, but is still worth a watch thanks to Argento's segment and the sheer novelty of the whole thing. Plus, if you've followed the careers of its two directors, you'd know that this was at the end of their glory years - Romero would only make five more films over the next 27 years until his death, none of them exactly great, while Argento would make one more attempt at breaking into American filmmaking with Trauma before going back to Italy and doing what he could with their own declining film business. Maybe the film itself isn't a classic, but it's from a time when that was still a possible outcome for these masters.

What say you?


Thank you!!!

Hey folks, just wanted to send out another big THANK YOU to everyone who bought a "coffee" (i.e. Ko-Fi) to help out with my medical bill as a result of my bleeding ulcer/two day stint in the hospital. Believe me, I tried making STX pay for it since the stress of them delaying The Boy 2 *again* is probably to blame, but alas they wouldn't accept responsibility. I truly appreciate everyone who donated, and I also hope that you got my personal reply to your donation - because apparently some went into spam! I feel awful about the idea of someone thinking I didn't even say "thank you" so I sincerely hope those instances were few and far between. At any rate I seem to be OK now, and since the doctors couldn't really pinpoint a cause, I'll just keep doing what I'm doing and hope it doesn't come back! Viva la BC!


Countdown (2019)

OCTOBER 31, 2019


Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, producers will stop funding horror movies that are based around modern technology of any sort. Anything that revolves around cell phones or video games tends to be lame at best, and they also usually date themselves pretty quickly as they center on tech that is constantly updating. Luckily for Countdown, the concept of an "app" will probably give it a longer shelf life than some others (those Chat Roulette inspired ones will have to be explained to new viewers, I think), but it still falls back on the same tricks as so many of those others, and ends up falling flat in nearly every aspect when it comes to its horror thriller narrative.

The concept itself is fine: a new app tells you when you'll die, and it's disturbingly accurate, giving our hero a real reason to panic when she downloads it and gets told she has less than three days to live. So it's in the same vein as The Ring's "Seven days!" kind of plotting, and the movie offers a handful of supporting character deaths along the way to give it a bit of a pulse, but it unfortunately relies on a James Wan type demon for its scary business, when it would have been more fun to rip off Final Destination and offer Rube Goldberg-ian death traps to get the people offed on time. For example, the first one we see is a girl who is alone in her bathroom when her time is up - at which point some invisible force pulls her up to the ceiling and drops her down on the side of the tub, smashing her skull. Not a bad death on its own, but it's devoid of any drama/thrills when we know exactly when it'll happen and it just... does? Without fanfare or even any setup?

So basically we wait the entire movie to see how our hero Quinn (Elizabeth Lail) gets around it, and it's never particularly engaging either. At least with a slasher movie (even a generic/bad one) there's some element of basic suspense: will they get away from the killer, even momentarily, or is there a second killer out there, etc. But here, it's like the screenwriters wanted to go out of their way to remind you that nothing much exciting was going to happen. Halfway through Quinn and her love interest (due to die a few hours before her) meet up with a priest who is obsessed with demons and the like, and he informs us that if someone were to prove the app wrong (i.e. die *before* their time) everyone would be freed of their death-counter, but don't bother to have any fun with this scenario and let people live recklessly knowing that they can't die as a result. And by giving everyone we care about more or less the same amount of time left to live, there's never any sense of rising pressure - everyone's due to die near the end of our 90 minutes, no sooner, so we wait.

The demon is also pretty goofy looking, and doesn't appear enough to register as an actual villain, so it fails there, too. To pick up some of his slack, we get a human antagonist in the form of Peter Facinelli, a doctor at the hospital where Quinn works as a newly instated registered nurse. It takes all of three or four seconds of his screentime to recognize that he has eyes on Quinn, and sure enough before long he's offering her a #MeToo on a silver platter, cornering her and reminding her that he gave her a recommendation and thus she "owes" him. A timely plot point to be sure, but they even botch this by (spoilers ahead!) having Quinn try to murder him, because his countdown gives him another 50 years to live so if he dies now the app would be proven wrong, and the demon is nothing but a stickler for his own dumb rules I guess.

Now, I have no love whatsoever for guys like Facinelli's character, but does groping her and lying about it (before she can complain he tells HR she's obsessed with him) warrant killing the guy? I can appreciate the basic idea of killing an asshole to save yourself, but I mean, half the movie takes place in a hospital - surely there's some drunk driver who survived a crash that killed a child that might be a better candidate for being murdered? Or hell, maybe explain the situation to him and have him kill himself to make amends? No, they go with the "let's have our hero spend most of the finale trying to murder a man who has no direct bearing on her situation" route. Stupider (spoilers again) still, he just disappears at one point, as the demon basically intervenes to keep her from killing him and winning, so she tries plan B while he is just never seen again. OK, movie. Then again, this spares her from trying to explain why she just killed a man when the hospital HR people already think she's got problems, so that's a win for her.

Interestingly, while it fails miserably as a horror film, it's actually kind of entertaining as a comedy - and I don't mean in the unintentional "bad horror movie" way, either. There are two supporting characters - the aforementioned priest, played by PJ Byrne (an actual Final Destination vet) and a cell phone dealer/repairman played by Tom Segura - who are legitimately hilarious in their combined 15 minutes of the film. When we meet Byrne he's just sitting in the rectory snacking on communion wafers like they're chips, and Segura only agrees to help our heroes because they give him a credit card he can use to impress his Tinder date, a running gag that continues into the credits. I don't know if the actors were just trying to bring life to their material by improvising, or if the writers perhaps realized that it'd be in their best interest to include genuine humor in the proceedings to offset the unintentional laughter their "scare" scenes would receive, but either way these two guys (plus a handful of other moments, including a good bit with a racist conspiracy theorist they're happy to risk getting killed by convincing him to install the app so they can look at the terms of service.

And yeah, that might be the funniest part of the whole movie: part of it revolves around the fact that no one reads the user agreements. Not only does the demon stick by his rules, he also doesn't hide his intentions, laying things out in the endless TOS that everyone just scrolls past and accepts (hell, even when they get the guy to install so they can read them, they still "blah blah blah" part of it). Between that and the humor I almost got the sense that this was a satirical thriller about our obsession with apps that got rewritten into a pretty dumb supernatural horror movie in the Rings/Chain Letter vein, which would explain why the horror element was so half-assed (and why it randomly dipped into Flatliners-esque territory in the final 20 minutes, with our heroes seeing the demon in the form of loved ones whose deaths they blame themselves for). Or maybe the whole thing was just cobbled together quickly to get it into theaters to have something "scary" out for Halloween. Either or.

What say you?


Killer Nun (1979)

OCTOBER 15, 2019


I have only seen a handful of nunsploitation movies, so when I say that Killer Nun (Italian: Suor Omicidi) is one of the more interesting I've seen, you must take into consideration that it doesn't have a lot of competition. Still, as one of the few present day set ones, and a lack of torture or excessive nudity, I'm sure I'd say the same even with a little more hands-on experience with this unusual sub-genre, as director/co-writer Giulio Berruti is aiming for something a little less sleazy and exploitative and a little more psychological than, say, The Other Hell, but not "art house" like The Devils - it lands somewhere in between, presenting a decent (if easy to solve) mystery and some truly memorable bits of insanity and violence.

Speaking of Other Hell, there are two scenes in this movie that had me momentarily convinced that I had seen it before and just forgotten until my memory was jogged by these particular moments. It took a bit to remember they are from that other film, which also came later, so perhaps Hell director Bruno Mattei had seen this one and was intentionally "paying homage" to it? But otherwise they're fairly different; for starters this film has no supernatural elements whatsoever, grounding it in reality even more than the present day setting, which as I mentioned was somewhat rare as the films tended to go back in time to eras where the Church had more power. But it makes sense; the plot hews closer to a standard 1970s giallo than anything else, so a period setting would throw off that vibe I suspect.

Anita Ekberg plays Sister Gertrude, an older nun who is suffering from mood swings and blackouts as a side effect from brain surgery, a procedure that left her addicted to morphine on top of everything else. She is also starting to be openly hostile to the patients that her and the other sisters are caring for (it's a sort of rest home/convent, I guess?); in one insane scene she freaks out on an elderly woman who has put her dentures into a cup, and after chewing her out she throws the teeth on the floor and stomps on them over and over while the poor woman just cries hysterically (and later dies of a heart attack). But someone is also straight up murdering people around the joint, and she believes she herself is the killer (nun), chalking it up to the next logical step of her increasingly mean temper.

Naturally it's not that easy; if she WAS the killer she wouldn't be saying she was. Only someone with next to zero experience with mystery thrillers would have trouble pegging the real culprit, but that doesn't matter much - the fun is seeing both Gertrude and the real killer gradually lose their grip on sanity over the film's 90 minutes. Berruti throws in a few freak-out scenes (usually surrounding Gertrude's morphine usage) that help make up for the film's rather subdued "horror" elements (it goes on a few stretches that barely qualify as thriller fare, such as when Gertrude decides to head into the city to find a rando to screw), and it ultimately more or less fits the giallo definition - Berruti merely sticks closer to the dramatic side of the equation than the horror one that Argento and his imitators often did.

The real MVP of the film (besides that dentures scene; it's really something) is the score by Alessandro Alessandroni. It doesn't sound like a typical genre score, almost closer to western or something, but it works perfectly, and I thank Arrow for putting a decent length loop of it on the menu for me to enjoy whenever a bonus feature ended. As always the disc is well packed with interviews, plus a pretty good historian commentary by Adrian J. Smith and David Flint, where the men go into the history of nunsploitation a bit, comparing it to others using key scenes as examples, and on occasion rib a few of its wonkier moments. They also note how the film is indeed technically a giallo, but also sets itself apart from them as the murderer's identity is easy to solve whereas a true giallo the killer is on occasion a character who was so extraneous that more than once the reveal had audience members saying "Wait, who is that?". I wouldn't have minded more on the true story, howver; they note that it's a real thing that happened in Belgium, but offer up no other details and online info is a bit hard to come across to back it up. But otherwise it's a well rounded track, and reaffirms my belief that historian tracks are always better when there are two or more participants, as they otherwise tend to get too dry.

For more context on nunsploitation, there's a video essay by Kat Ellinger that runs nearly a half an hour and covers a lot of ground, and, much like the commentary, uses films like The Devils and School of the Holy Beast to show how Killer Nun fits into the sub-genre as a whole. It's a bit dry of course (it's an essay!) but it's an essential viewing for anyone like me who has yet to fully dive into this particular kind of film, if only to get an idea of which ones will be more your speed and which might be a bit too out there for you. Then there are some interviews with Berruti, editor Mario Giacco, and actress Ileana Fraia, whose 24 minute interview runs about 10 times as long as you'll see her in the film (she's neither of the leads and plays a character who is sent away relatively early).

If you've never seen any of these kind of films, this might be a good place to start. It's not overly graphic or violent (though there's a murder by facial acupuncture that comes close), the blasphemous elements are rather minimal (hell even Exorcist has that defaced statue), and it's got one foot in the giallo door, easing the transition for those who are a little strict with their definition of "horror" since several nunsploitation films wouldn't otherwise qualify. Arrow's presentation is outstanding and there are enough goodies to keep you busy if you're a fan, making it a solid package all around. Plus, you can easily find it here in the US, so it's got one up on The Devils!

What say you?


Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

OCTOBER 18, 2019


I've long been baffled by Hollywood's unwillingness to cash in the zombie trend; the original Zombieland made a boatload of money and a couple years later, World War Z somehow managed to become Brad Pitt's highest grossing movie ever despite well documented production troubles. And yet, there have only been a handful of major zombie movies since, as if the studios all decided to let the indie scene (and AMC TV of course) handle things rather than cash in like they usually do when there are two hit horror movies in the same sub-genre. Still, I still assumed Sony would have been quicker to finally get Zombieland: Double Tap going, as it's been a full decade since the original - might as well be a hundred years for a horror property. A big franchise can take that much time off and make its return an event, but not a fresh one like this - they really should have been on Zombieland 4 by now.

But since it took so long, they must have a ton of new ideas and a really good hook that got everyone to finally commit to making a sequel, right? Well... not so much. While there are a few fresh ideas, such as an advanced zombie that is nearly impossible to kill (bullet to the head doesn't work) and some fun new characters, it unfortunately feels like so many other comedy sequels, in that it's closer to remake than "next chapter", hitting a number of the same beats and more or less sticking to the same pattern of action scenes - a slo-mo driven opening set to Metallica and a big finale with a swarm of undead advancing on our heroes who are in an elevated position, with a few scattered and brief fights in the middle somewhere. It got to the point where I almost wished it DID have evil human characters (the lack of which was a big selling point for me in the original) to at least mix things up a bit.

So what IS the story here? Basically, after holing up in the White House for a while, we see that Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) are more content with their life than Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone), and after Columbus tries to spice things up my proposing to Wichita, the two women bail. However, when Wichita makes a surprise return a month later, she tells the boys that Little Rock in turn ditched her in favor of a new group of friends (hippies, some of whom are actually in her age group), and thus the trio set out to find her to make sure she's OK and maybe convince her to stick with her sister.

Things are slightly complicated by the presence of Madison, a ditzy blonde played by Zoey Deutch. Columbus found her in the mall, learning she had been holed up in a Pinkberry for years, and as he had just been dumped by Wichita (and Madison in turn had been without any human contact for years) the two quickly hop into bed, leaving Wichita both jealous and annoyed when she returns. So basically they have the ingredients for a new dynamic (while checking in with Breslin every now and then with her hippie pals), but the script seems in a rush to retreat to more familiar scenarios and character interactions, so her role is a strictly supporting one, not a "full fledged new member". Other new characters show up, but most of them are only in it for a few minutes before they're turned into zombies and removed from the proceedings, which isn't enough time to give the film as a whole its own identity.

It also lacks the surprising pathos that helped make the original such a winner. Columbus discovering his parents were dead (and, specifically, Tallahassee being the one to shield him a bit from the news), the true nature of Tallahassee's "puppy"... there's nothing like that for either our returning characters or the new ones, making it feel even more weightless. This along with the limited zombie action (and even appearances; despite a number of wide shots of their car traveling, there's never any stragglers just kind of wandering around nearby - the things apparently only work in groups) has it almost feel like there's no actual danger in the world, let alone any psychological turmoil such a scenario would leave on them. Sure, Madison is funny enough, but would it have killed them to establish any sense of humanity for the character? Or Rosario Dawson's Nevada, who we know even less about? I kept thinking about how well Last Man on Earth (RIP) handled this sort of thing; you'd be laughing at Will Forte in a dinosaur suit one minute and nearly left in tears the next. Considering how much they recycle from the original - why drop one of the best things?

Especially when, you know, it's not that funny either. It's got a few laughs for sure, but rarely anything laugh out loud-worthy (one of the few exceptions: using Madison the idiot to pitch an idea we actually do have in our world - but not in theirs since things stopped in 2009 - summing up how fairly stupid it is when you think about it), and when they recycle things that were so great in the first film - like a driving montage where the seating arrangements keep changing - it just reminded me how much fresher the first one felt. Things truly reach their nadir with the arrival of Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as a pair who act/talk just like Tallahasee and Columbus (Middleditch's character has "Commandments" instead of "rules", and we watch the two compare their minor differences for what seems like an eternity), leaving me actively annoyed instead of merely kind of bored.

As for the zombie action, it's fine. There's a pretty great one take sequence where our heroes fight off a pair of the new "T-800" zombies (so-named because they're just as hard to kill), and the finale, while brief, has some solid crowd-pleasing moments as a Monster Truck is used to wipe out an entire swarm. But apart from one brief chunk of the climax, no one ever seems in any real danger - including the random hippies who stupidly decided to melt all of their weapons. There's like two dozen of them, most of whom never even speak, so it baffles me they couldn't at least heighten the tension by letting the countless zombies actually get a few of them, especially when there's not even a "we don't need weapons after all" point to be made, as a (smuggled in) gun ends up saving the day anyway.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting a grim drama like Walking Dead or Day of the Dead, but the first film managed to keep things light while reminding us on occasion of the real tragedy and danger at play - Double Tap just focuses on the laughs, and half of them either don't land or are just recycled from the first one. It's amusing enough, but after ten years I can't help but feel disappointed that they didn't come up with any new ideas of note - perhaps the long delay had them wanting to play it safe? God knows there are enough people out there who fear change, so it's possible that they are the target demo here, getting more of the same and only the bare minimum of new material so that it doesn't qualify as a remake. They'll love it, I'm sure, but me, the best I can say is that it more or less held my attention and gave me a few laughs, but I'd be hard pressed to remember much about it by this time next week (I've already forgotten Middleditch's name, in fact). It's nice to spend some time with these folks again, but that can only go so far - eventually there has to be a solid reason for their return, and I never found one here.

What say you?


3 From Hell (2019)

OCTOBER 15, 2019


With the exception of Lords of Salem, you rarely hear anyone say their favorite Rob Zombie movie is anything but The Devil's Rejects, his 1000 Corpses sequel that dropped the Texas Chainsaw-y kinda stuff in favor of a violent revenge thriller that pitted the Firefly family against the brother of a guy they killed in the first film. I wouldn't say Zombie ever sided with Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding in that film, but he clearly didn't want us rooting for their hunter (William Forsythe) either, allowing them a few minutes of "triumph" after offing him before they too met their grisly and deserved end in a hail of police bullets. We never actually saw them die, but it seemed pretty unlikely that a dozen cops firing on them would leave any of them alive, and so when he announced the long awaited (?) sequel 3 From Hell, my assumption would be that he'd be returning to the more traditional horror elements of the first film by introducing a supernatural angle.

(NOTE - Some spoilers follow, including details about the film's third act!)

Alas, the title isn't meant to be taken literally - the Fireflys simply miraculously survived their wounds (we're told they were shot about 20 times each) and that's that. I don't know if it was the lowered budget or simple laziness on Zombie's part, but it's kind of distressing that he'd wave away a fairly definitive ending to his best movie with such a half-assed excuse to keep them around (it's in the same eye-rolling territory as Halloween: Resurrection's "she beheaded a paramedic"). Alas, by "them" I mean Otis and Baby; due to star Sid Haig's health issues, Zombie was forced to rewrite his script a bit (Haig fell ill just before production began, apparently) and fill his role with a new character named Foxy (said to be Otis' half brother) played by Richard Brake. The filmmaker was only able to get Haig for one day to give Spaulding a single scene where he is interviewed on Death Row by a documentary crew, and that's it - we're told in the next scene that Spaulding had his lethal injection and died without any fuss the next day.

Yep, he survives being shot 20 times (not to mention the torture from Forsythe) only for a few fluids to do him in. It feels like a disconnect, which got me thinking perhaps there WAS some kind of "they're unkillable" element in the original script that Zombie had to abandon in order to give Spaulding a proper sendoff? The filmmaker has never been one to be too forthcoming with abandoned story ideas (indeed, the making of doc shows Danny Trejo apparently filming scenes for a part of the movie he has no role in whatsoever, but Rob doesn't explain it there or in the commentary), so we'll probably never know - it's kind of a victory that he even admitted the "Foxy for Spaulding" switcheroo. And Brake is fine, but the movie never quite feels like the "end of the trilogy" it should because of Haig's unfortunate inability to participate two weeks before shooting, when sets had been built and actors/locations secured, etc (i.e. too late to wait for Haig to get better, which, as we sadly now know, he never did - RIP Sid!).

But that said, I don't think Rob changed the script so drastically that he created what the real issue is with the movie, which is that it feels too much like Rejects. If I were generally sum up the film, I'd say that Baby and Otis escape the law, meet up with a relative, terrorize and ultimately kill an adult family, then head to a brothel for safety, only for the owner to sell them out to a guy that wants to kill them as revenge for a loved one they killed earlier - that sound familiar at all to you? One of the things that made Rejects work as well as it did is that it took a few of the characters from Corpses and plunked them into a different kind of movie, something I was hoping he'd do again here, but if anything it's not only the same kind of movie, but it recycles a few too many of the same beats as well. Ironically, if not for Brake's presence it'd come off as a Wake Up Ron Burgandy kind of thing where we might as well just be watching alternate scenes from the last movie.

To be fair, it's not really all that bad - it runs a bit long but I wouldn't say I was ever bored, and Bill Moseley and Sheri Moon deliver their expected animated performances, both of them clearly enjoying revisiting their most iconic roles (well, a tie with Chop-Top for Moseley). Baby is crazier than ever, and her scenes in prison are a hoot - there's a guard played by Dee Wallace who seems kind of obsessed with her, and they have a strange allure that almost gives you a glimpse of what a Rob Zombie Ilsa movie might look like. He even lets the characters just stop and talk about their lives every now and then, and while I never stopped missing Spaulding (Otis giving him a bit of a eulogy takes on new meaning with Haig's real life passing since the film was completed), Brake's character had some amusing monologues and a fun chemistry with Moseley - the two of them arguing about Cagney vs Bogart is a highlight. If there's any such thing as a "lighthearted" Rob Zombie movie, you'll see glimpses of it here. And the torture-y kinda stuff has been toned down somewhat; the new "villain" isn't as vicious as Forsythe and the Fireflys off most of their victims fairly quickly (or off-screen entirely in a few cases).

Then again, the bad guy (Aquarius, the son of the Danny Trejo character from Rejects, who is offed by Otis after a chance "reunion" while on a chain gang) doesn't even exist until the movie's final half hour or so, even though they set him off in the first ten minutes or so by killing Trejo. Their antagonist for the first half of the movie is the warden of the prison they're at, played by Zombie regular Jeff Daniel Phillips. More than once it seems like the character is being groomed to embrace his dark side and become a sort of willing accomplice to them, like Robert Downey Jr in Natural Born Killers, who they'll happily use until they don't need him anymore, but nah - he exits the film just past the halfway mark, almost as unceremoniously as Spaulding is written out. It's very awkward, and gives the film a kind of episodic feel that it doesn't quite benefit from in any way that I can see, since our "heroes" just kinda hang out for a while until Aquarius enters the picture. Sure, it's a surprise when these things happen, but it robs the movie of cohesion and momentum - it feels patched together and even kind of sloppy at times. I've long held the opinion that Zombie is a much better director than a writer, but there isn't much here I'd want to use to prove my point.

At least, not in the movie itself. The feature length making of on the disc shows, in some ways more than ever, how hands-on and detail oriented he is when it comes to his sets and staging the action. We see him fixing up a costume, dressing the set, walking actors through their movements, working things out with the camera crew, etc - he is not a guy who will sit in his chair in video village and wait for everyone else to do the work. As always, he frustratingly ends the doc as soon as filming wraps instead of showing us the post process (again, my man isn't all that into showing alternate ideas), but it's an otherwise thorough look at what was a tight - and unfortunately re: Sid, somewhat melancholy - shoot. Rob provides his usual commentary as well, noting a few on-set issues (Clint Howard was apparently late to set for his bizarre but kind of awesome scene) and why this or that scene was difficult, but it can be a frustrating listen since they didn't turn down the sound of the movie as much as you'd normally find on a commentary, so it can be hard to concentrate on what he's saying when you can clearly hear the dialogue or music he is talking "over".

I liked 31 more than most, but it was one of his lesser films for sure, and now this ends up more or less in the same place. After seemingly hitting his creative peak with Lords of Salem (which followed his Halloween II, which I've come to like more and more over the years), it feels like he's kind of phoning things in now, which bums me out - the movies aren't terrible or anything, but they also lack any real spark. After 14 years, what exactly made him decide to return to the Firefly family when he's not really doing anything different? If this was a "Rob Zombie Presents" kind of deal, with some old buddy of his taking over writing/directing duties and respectfully not putting too much of his own stamp on things, I could forgive the sameness, but I kind of expect more from the man himself. Hopefully it's just a brief rut and he'll come back swinging on the next one - which will ideally be something entirely new.

What say you?

P.S. Amusingly, I have this movie on 4K UHD, whereas I never even upgraded the first two from DVD to regular Blu-ray. It's kind of crazy that an entire format passed by while the Firefly family lay dormant.


She Never Died (2019)

OCTOBER 10, 2019


Back in the proper days of HMAD, I used to inadvertently watch sequels to movies I hadn't seen fairly regularly. Mostly it was things like the Hammer series (Dracula and Frankenstein), when I knew I was watching the 5th part of a franchise I had little familiarity with, but every now and then there'd be something more along the lines of She Never Died, which is a "sister" sequel to He Never Died, a movie I hadn't seen and wasn't even aware it was a sequel prior to sitting down to watch it. In fact if I wasn't moderating the post film Q&A with director Audrey Cummings and star Olunike Adeliyi I probably would never have known it was related to another movie; I found out while doing some basic research sitting in my chair waiting for the movie to start, at which point I hoped it wasn't a Saw II kinda deal where the movie would barely make sense without knowing the previous film's plot.

Luckily, it was not - far from it, in fact. If I'm understanding correctly, there is only one returning character, who appears at the very end of the movie in a scene that seems like it's setting up a sequel anyway (i.e. a scene that would probably have you thinking "oh I bet this will be cleared up in the next one"). So if you haven't seen it but want to see this one, I can assure you you're not going to have any trouble, as they merely exist in one universe - it'd be like saying you *had* to have seen Jackie Brown before you saw Out of Sight, simply because they share Michael Keaton's character (an example I bring up because Jackie star Robert Forster just passed away and I want to remind you all of how great that movie is, and how incredibly great he is in it).

Adeliyi plays Lacey, a homeless woman who is fixated on a man named Terrance who frequents a mysterious building near where she sleeps at night. The same building seems to be under surveillance by Godfrey, an aging detective who is apparently tracking this case despite objections from his superior. Before long the two of them meet and realize they share a common enemy, but while Godfrey wants to put him away, Lacey... well, she wants to eat him. Specifically his bones - Lacey is a cannibal but also seemingly has Wolverine-like regenerative powers that require marrow to work, and while she saw Terrance kidnap someone and bring her to his building (which is home to a human trafficking ring), she really wants him because "he has long fingers."

So yes, the movie has some dark humor to go along with its various sub-genres (cannibalism, survival horror, revenge thriller, plus another one that is treated as a surprise but will be obvious to anyone who saw "the original"), but it all works quite well, if you ask me. Maybe because I never saw the other one, but I was never ahead of the movie at any point - characters I thought were definite goners survive the film, while others who I thought would play a bigger part end up being sidelined. Lacey's antihero shtick is a bit well-worn, but Adeliyi's deadpan deliveries of the comedic lines and her physical prowess during the fight scenes kept it from being an issue, and she's surrounded by equally colorful characters that make up for it even more.

Even the villains are charismatic and amusing in their own way; Terrance and his sister/business partner Meredith have a very matter-of-fact way of talking about their business, and more often than not their conversations about their horrible line of work dovetail into something mundane like whether or not Meredith remembered to call their mother. This adds to the film's dry/dark sense of humor, which fell right in line with my sensibilities, and given that I didn't know it was going to be funny at all, I found this sort of stuff to be more compelling than the (minor!) genre elements that got the film into the festival in the first place. A second act scene where Lacey and Terrance come face to face for the first time is incredibly funny; it's almost a shame that this wasn't an "enemies team up to defeat a bigger enemy" kind of deal, if only to watch the two of them interact some more.

Really, the only flaw of the movie is probably due to the budget: it occasionally feels like they had to scale back things that may have been envisioned differently. We see very little of the trafficking business (this may be why the villains end up being kind of likable?) and Godfrey's police department looks more like the back office of a big box store or something, plus there's an abrupt cut near the end that robs us of what should be a big crowd pleasing moment (it plays as a visual gag instead, and it's a decent one, but doesn't quite live up to what we didn't get to see). Even the things that tie it into He Never Died seem underplayed, mostly laid out in what amounts to a puzzling epilogue - the movie honestly could have ended a few minutes sooner and would be stronger as a whole.

Otherwise, it's a winner. No, it's not really horror (some choice gore moments are really the only "horror movie" thing about it), but the way it blends some of the genre's tropes together and comes up with its own take on the material is quite refreshing, which is far more important to me than a movie checking off "zombie" or "monster" movie boxes anyway. From what I've learned about the first film, and what this one sets up at the end, it seems like they have an interesting little mythology coming together, and I hope their plans work out (a TV series followup to He Never Died is apparently in the works). If the money isn't there to properly bring it to cinematic life, it seems like it could easily be adapted into comic form, but I know I can't be the only one hoping to see Henry Rollins and Olunike Adeliyi fighting side by side down the road. Here's hoping!

What say you?


Pledge Night (1990)

OCTOBER 10, 2019


Since original slasher movies were no longer really hitting theaters by the late 80s, the few that were still being made (more or less exclusively for the video market) tend to be a bit "off" in one way or another. The lack of having to care about mainstream appeal, the drive to do something different in a genre few were still paying attention to... there were several reasons why these films don't bother to stick to the proven formula. And with Freddy escaping the pack to become the most commercially successful of the horror icons (hitting his box office peak in 1987-88), it's no surprise that the killer of Pledge Night, Sid (played by Joey Belladonna from Anthrax) is cut from similar cloth, i.e. he's horribly burned and has a tendency to say something "funny" before and/or after a kill.

But again, the movie's carving its own path, so he also doesn't show up for almost an hour (there are two killers - a crazed pledge at first, then Sid). The elements are all there for a standard kind of slasher movie; our protagonists are the pledges for a fraternity, on their final night of hazing before being sworn in as brothers, and the "little sisters" are hanging around to prepare the food and other things they need to do for their oft-disgusting trials - the fodder is established quite quickly. But writer/producer Joyce Snyder was more interested in showing what frat hazing was like than the killer stuff, despite the objections of director/editor Paul Ziller, making it come off as more of a comedy as there's almost nothing to even hint at this being a horror movie in the first 40 minutes or so. Naturally, that might be too much to ask for some folks.

In fact, even though it's a standard "victim of a prank comes back" type of backstory, they don't even show you that part until quite a ways into the runtime, as opposed to the opening scene like pretty much every other revenge slasher like this, which could have bought them some time. And with the relatively large cast, the late start for the carnage means the killer works his way through everyone fairly quickly once he finally gets going, so don't hope for much suspense or chase scenes (it's been a dire week for well paced slashers here at HMAD). It's almost like they just wanted to make a movie about hazing and got forced to add some horror elements in the last week of production.

That said, the hazing half of the movie actually kind of works on its own, despite the lack of slashing. Per Snyder, they're all real things that frat pledges have to go through, and they never make it look particularly fun - sleeping on the hard floor with no blankets, digesting things that probably shouldn't be digested, etc. There's even a bit where they pour honey on the pledges' faces and then drop cockroaches on them - and yes it's actually done for real on camera, making it the most horrifying thing in the movie by far. And it's not just a string of dares; they occasionally have to pep talk one another to get through the next step, allowing the movie to actually humanize (slightly) a frat guy, which is no easy task. The humor is a little dated of course, but it's earnest and in line with frat comedies of the 80s, so there's a sincerity that I found charming. And while they aren't exactly "woke" they're not horrible human beings either - only the head guy who was carrying out some of the harsher punishments (including an ass-branding) fell into "I want to see this guy die" territory; the others were all more or less in that sweet spot of "I don't love this guy so much that I'll be sad when he dies but I'm not rooting for his death either."

So it's a shame that Sid (the killer) doesn't have any real motive for killing them specifically, as they weren't the ones who killed him 20 years earlier. With the Freddy influence apparent I guess it's more of a "revenge on their kids" kinda deal, but with the only parent we see being the mother to the one person Sid doesn't want to harm (for very obvious plot reasons), if that was the intent it doesn't land. It actually worked better when it was Dan, the aforementioned first killer who is just a frat guy who snapped and started offing his brothers. With the simple "he's crazy" plot, it all works just fine - but suddenly Sid just tears through Dan's body (think Freddy's Revenge), and it's like you're watching the sequel already, where the human killer had been offed so they had to go the supernatural route for part 2.

Had the movie been paced normally, this might have worked just fine, but it's like we waited too long for Dan to start killing as is, only for him to be unceremoniously removed from the film in favor of a different killer. It feels like a bit of a reset, so by the time Sid hits his own groove, the movie's basically about to end. I wish Ziller had put his foot down and gotten to the horror sooner - I think this would be easier to recommend if not for Snyder (who put up the money as well) insisting that they basically make two different movies and stitch them together out of nowhere at the halfway point. Closest comparison I could make is From Dusk Till Dawn, but at least there the vampire twist was basically another obstacle between Seth and freedom - this lacks that kind of character journey to keep following.

Vinegar Syndrome's disc looks quite good and has some nice extras, so existing fans shouldn't be disappointed. It lacks a commentary unfortunately, but Ziller, Snyder, and some of the cast all appear in lengthy interviews, and there's a quick piece on how the shooting locations look today, plus the trailer, which unsurprisingly plays up the horror stuff as if it was a throughline for the entire movie as opposed to its final 25 minutes or so. Luckily, I was warned that it takes a while to get going, so I didn't mind it too much - I was more disappointed that the slasher stuff wasn't all that great once it finally started. It's kind of like Killer Party in that respect, but at least that movie's weirdo nonsense (not to mention earlier introduction of the supernatural plot) kept it better paced overall. So I dunno, it's kind of amusing, and there's nothing particularly bad about it, but it never fully finds its footing either. Your call!

What say you?


The Prey (1983)

OCTOBER 8, 2019


The problem with my ongoing quest to see every slasher film produced in the 1980s is that I've seen all the ones that are good, I think - because otherwise I would have been compelled enough to see them by now, right? But at least those old ones that slipped through the cracks can usually offer something interesting, unlike a modern slasher shot for roughly the same money, on someone's iPhone, with After Effects blood FX. Such is the case with The Prey, which was shot in 1979 but not released until 1983, and has two versions available on Arrow's special edition Blu-ray - I remember reading somewhere along the line that it was a pretty dull entry in the "campers in the woods get killed by a mountain mutant" slasher sub-sub-genre, but I didn't know how wacky its production was, and learning about that was probably more entertaining than the film.

In fact I learned some of the backstory inadvertently, as soon as I popped the disc in. Since I got "check discs", which are essentially DVD-Rs with no labeling of use to anyone, and it's a two disc set, I grabbed one of the discs marked "The Prey" with a bunch of meaningless numbers after it, only to be greeted with a message saying that this was the international cut that the director didn't approve of, which seemed odd to me until I realized I had probably put the second disc in and should get the other. But I was already intrigued, so while the other one was loading up I looked online and saw that the "international cut" ran about 17 minutes longer and added a lengthy flashback that explained the killer's origins, while also removing "most of the film's nature footage". This of course meant nothing to me yet since I hadn't seen the film, so I filed the info away and didn't think much of it...

...until about four minutes into the film, after I had seen what seemed like the 47th shot of a wildlife critter (sometimes stock footage, sometimes seemingly shot for the production). It was then that I realized that maybe this so-called international cut might be the superior one, but I had to know what my slasher enthusiast ancestors dealt with in theaters or cable back then, and put myself in their shoes. The wildlife footage never ceased or even slowed as the film progressed - you're never more than about 30 seconds from another shot of an owl, or a vulture, or a bug, or just some flowers or trees. It's clearly padding since the film still doesn't even hit the 80 minute mark (credits run a bit slow too), but the secondary excuse is to try to draw a parallel between the predator/prey relationship between animals in the woods and the killer with his victims. It kind of works, but its minimal impact would be the same if there was just a handful of such shots bookending the film instead of several minutes' worth of the runtime.

Director Edwin Brown doesn't just rely on animals to get the movie up to feature length - we're also treated to things like the ranger character tuning his guitar, or his boss trying a sandwich, plus any number of (seemingly improvised, poorly) scenes where our heroes chitchat. There's nothing wrong with the blather in itself - the problem is that these practically muttered bits of dialogue are the focus of the scene, as opposed to something we are overhearing to show how oblivious the characters are to the dangerous killer watching them as they yammer on. The killer's presence is always announced with a heartbeat motif and POV shots, so we know when he's there or when we're just suffering through amateur actors trying their best to recreate the sort of "So you DO think about things like that, Laurie!" dialogue Brown half-remembered from Halloween a year before he shot this fluff.

As for the kills, Brown makes the rookie mistake of stringing most of them together in a brief span (maybe four minutes?) near the end of the film, instead of spacing them out, but I guess I can forgive that since Halloween was the only game in town at the time and they weren't exactly spread evenly. The difference is that Myers' presence and trick playing kept that film engaging and suspenseful - the laundry room sequence in Halloween is just as scary as any kill, after all - but this movie lacks that sort of thing, so it's just dull. At least the kills are kind of fun; there's an axe murder, a guy rappelling down a cliffside only to have his progress sped up by the killer cutting his rope, and - my favorite - one of the girls running, only to trigger a trap that loops her upside down and slams her into a tree, smashing her skull. It's clumsily staged, but since the one who got killed is more recognizable than the other, AND she neglected to have sex with her boyfriend earlier when the others were fooling around, so I thought she might be the final girl, making it a surprise that she died at all, let alone got the most memorable death.

Despite not loving the film by any means, I was still curious about the longer cut, so I watched it a couple hours later and was surprised to discover that it's actually a better version, and almost wish I had watched it first after all. Yes, it's longer, but they cut all of the animals out, which makes the film seem less aimless; it's still too slow but in a way that feels more like a failed attempt at building suspense as opposed to simply padding the film out however possible. The reason it ends up longer despite removing all of the padding is because it presents a 20 minute flashback sequence that explains who the killer was and how he ended up being burned - but the real reason for the sequence is because the UK distributor wanted more sex in the film. So they cast this sequence with adult film actors, and while the sex scenes aren't exactly hardcore, they're certainly more graphic than one might expect from a traditional slasher of the era. Ironically, Brown had come from an adult film background and was hoping to show he could do other things with this one, only for an uncredited filmmaker to go ahead and practically turn it into one behind his back.

It's also ironic that the director's preferred version is the weaker of the two, in my opinion. But if you love his cut (or both of them) you will be ecstatic to know how jam-packed Arrow's Blu is. Interviews with most of the surviving cast, two commentary tracks (plus an audio interview with Brown that is presented as a commentary), a THIRD cut that basically adds the gypsy/sex sequence to the version that has all of the animal footage, a Q&A from a convention screening, a visit of the shooting locations... even if I flat out loved the movie I don't know if I'd be able to get through it all in a timely manner. I've said it before, and I'll say it again here: every film deserves a special edition like this, so that the people who love it can get as much behind the scenes info as they desire. I may not be able to count myself among this movie's fanbase (it does exist; the convention-based bonus features prove it), but I'm happy for them that they don't have to go without, especially for a film that never even made it to DVD here in the US. Good on you, Arrow.

What say you?


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