Welcome!

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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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

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

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

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

PLEASE, GO ON...

Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions (2021)

OCTOBER 5, 2021

GENRE: SURVIVAL, THRILLER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Something seemed "off" when I saw Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions in theaters over the summer, primarily that it didn't really open up any more about the world of Minos than was seemingly promised by the (overlong) conclusion of the first film. Not that I expected a full rundown, since it seemed Sony would love to have a new genre franchise and thus would need to space out such reveals to keep the story going, but it often felt more designed for people who hadn't even seen the first one, with a lengthy recap at the top (not just a repeat of the final scene like Friday the 13th Parts 2 and 3, it's a full 90 second TV style refresher, missing only the announcer saying "Previously, on Escape Room!") and what amounts to a status quo reset, as if a third film could double as part 2 for anyone who skipped this one.

So I wasn't entirely surprised when Sony announced that the blu-ray would have an extended opening and ending, totaling 25 minutes of new footage. However it only ended up eight minutes longer than the theatrical version, so some stuff (and at least two characters!) do not appear in the longer version. This review will assume you have seen or at least have read a thorough synopsis of the theatrical version, so if that's not you, I'll just say that a. both versions are on the disc if you want to compare and b. the new cut is improved, though the film as a whole isn't as interesting/exciting as the original, due to both the usual sequel hurdles and an utterly baffling plot setup that goes far beyond my limits of acceptance for movie logic.

And alas, that doesn't change at all in this version: our "champions" are still coincidentally trapped on a public subway car that is disconnected and sent off track into a Minos labyrinth. That would have been fine if it was another group of random people, but the fact that they're all selected to have been there (they've all beaten Minos before) is just ridiculous even by these movies' standards. We see how returning heroes Zoey and Ben are lured there by a pickpocket, but what about the other four? Also, what if someone else was in that car? It was just a normally operating subway during a busy New York day - it's not only silly that these six champions were the only ones on it, but it's also kind of a missed opportunity. It would have been great to have five experts and one rando who had no idea what an escape room even was, let alone how to solve this one's much more difficult puzzles. Not only would it have been fun from a narrative standpoint, but it'd also allow them to meet us halfway with the giant leap of logic we're asked to take. Also, not for nothing, but wouldn't this have been a good idea for Escape Room 6, an Avengers-style meetup of all the previous films' survivors? The other four people are just random to us (and to Ben and Zoey), so their "champion" status ultimately doesn't mean anything. Zoey's still the one solving everything.

The rooms are pretty good; nothing as eye popping as the first one's upside down room, but the electrified subway car has a pretty good puzzle at its core (pulling the stop handles that correspond to each letter of the alphabet to solve a game of Hangman) and the laser-trapped bank vault are exciting and benefit from being the first two, when you're unsure who will die first. It's kind of a tradition to quickly kill off excess survivors in a sequel (think Dream Master wiping out Joey and Kincaid in the first reel, and then again in Dream Child with Dan), so Ben making an early exit wouldn't be a big shock, adding immensely to the suspense. Sometimes they rely a bit too much on the characters just simply knowing things off the top of their head (like what kind of plastic wouldn't melt with acid), but they are each great little setpieces and thankfully none feel like rehashes of the first film's games.

That said it just feels too similar as a whole to the first movie, which is where the lack of "inside Minos" stuff hurts a bit. Even the first film had more, technically, with the betting board and what not, backroom glimpses we don't get at all in the theatrical version and only get briefly in the alternate version. (Again, I am assuming you've seen the theatrical if you've read this far, so turn back now if you don't want any of it spoiled!) In the extended version, the film opens completely differently (except for the recap), showing three new characters, an unhappy couple and their daughter, with the mom (Tanya van Graan from The Empty Man, completely uncredited) seemingly wanting a divorce from the husband, who appears to be designing Minos escape rooms and is neglecting her and the daughter as a result. Mom is then trapped in one in her own home (a sauna puzzle that cooks her when she fails to solve it), and then we flash forward to the present day with Ben and Zoey planning their New York trip.

But in place of Zoey's psychiatrist scenes (the shrink doesn't appear in this new version), we get the grown up daughter, now played by the Orphan herself, Isabelle Fuhrman. Now she's seemingly trapped by her father and having to design games, and if you've seen the movie already and thinking "Wait, isn't that what Deborah Ann Woll's character was doing?" you are correct, and then you'll be sad to know that Woll doesn't appear either (despite still being credited). Fuhrman more or less fills that same narrative spot - meeting up with Zoey and asking for her help to design puzzles so that they can both be set free (with Ben once again trapped alone, albeit in a different one - he's in a sauna kind of like the mom instead of the flooded room), which I guess means if this is the canon version of the story going forward (if there is a 3rd film), Woll's Amanda is still dead.

It's an interesting choice to look back at; at some point they decided to omit Fuhrman and her family, and all the new wrinkles that came with their characters' reveals (the ending has a little twist to it I won't spoil here), and instead bring back a "dead" character for a movie that seems more designed for people who hadn't seen the first one anyway? Naturally, none of the disc's three brief bonus features shed any light on this decision, so we may never know why they decided to toss over a quarter of the film in favor of something less interesting, not to mention adding a pretty dumb epilogue (the plane scene, with Zoey hearing her psychiatrist's ringtone, was also added later and thus not in this extended version). They took a B grade movie and turned it into a C+, for... reasons?

At any rate, again, both versions are on the disc, so you can decide which one you prefer. I think the extended one is better, but that also leaves me in the undesirable position of saying "they weakened this movie by adding Deborah Ann Woll," i.e. someone who should be in every movie as far as I'm concerned. The aforementioned featurettes are all fluffy nonsense that you can live without, and if you've already seen the movie the new stuff doesn't drastically change the overall "eh, it's fine" feeling of it as a whole, so a rental to check out the long cut will probably suffice. If you haven't seen it yet, watch the extended one, then watch the theatrical and tell me which you prefer - I'm curious if I'm alone in thinking they should have gone with the one with Fuhrman all along. It definitely dips into more horror territory (in fact I could almost stretch this into another sub-genre! Hint hint!), so there's something that should appeal to anyone reading this.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Night of the Animated Dead (2021)

OCTOBER 4, 2021

GENRE: ANIMATED, ZOMBIE
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.

Several million years ago, I spent a week of HMAD reviews on Night of the Living Dead and its many incarnations (the 30th anniversary, the Savini remake, etc.), and while it wasn't the "best" the most interesting was NOTLD Re-Animated, which took the audio from the film but replaced all the imagery with a variety of animated scenes: traditional animation, stop motion, 8-bit video game style, etc. It wasn't the greatest thing in the world by any means, but it was interesting to see how the film could be reinterpreted; even with the same dialogue and music we've heard a million times, scenes would have a different tone just from the aesthetic. It's a strong contrast to Night of the Animated Dead, which is basically a shot for shot remake (the script is about 95% identical, more on that soon) but with one animation style throughout, so after five minutes (if that) you'll know whether or not you're going to like it.

...I did not like it.

The credits list a lot of animators, so I'll refrain from critiquing that aspect of it - I didn't particularly care for the style, but others may find it great, and that is the hallmark of animation. There are people who absolutely love pixel-art type animation; I find it to be an eyesore. There's no right or wrong, so beyond saying it wasn't for me, there's no real point in going on and on about that aspect of it. You can watch the trailer and decide for yourself if it's something you'd enjoy. That said, there are some inventive gore gags that are the invention of this film (obviously not something that could have been done in the 1968 original); I particularly liked what actually kills Tom when the truck explodes.

I WILL, however, take the creative team to task, because there are two unforgivable things about it that would leave me cold on the film whether it was stick figures or the greatest 3D animation ever produced by mankind. The first is that this is literally just the same script from the original live action film; they snip some dialogue here and there or speed up some of the action (much less boarding up of windows, for example), but apart from the film's final minute every line of dialogue, every action, every character motivation, etc are all taken word for word from John Russo and George Romero's script. On the making of (the disc's lone extra), the director says "Once we had the script locked down..." (prefacing how they approached the animation) and I had to wonder what exactly he had to "lock down" beyond taking a sharpie and crossing out a few things here and there, generously assuming they made those snips that early in the process and not when editing the animated picture together.

And yes, this means it's not even modernized, which seems to be the only reason to remake a movie like this in the first place (besides money, of course). As hard as it may be to swallow, we're actually further away from the "modern" version Savini made than he was when updating Romero (it's been 31 years since that one; Savini's was only 22 years after the original), so there's obviously lots of new things they bring to the table even if it was in live action, even more when given the freedom of animation (as they intermittently prove with the gore gags, which obviously don't have the same kind of impact in cel-based animation as they would on actual actors). When Barb and Johnny pull up to the cemetery and the radio broadcast once again crackles back to life, I was kind of aghast - what purpose does it have to stay in 1968, when new technology could open up possibilities of how they get their information (or misinformation; think of how an actual zombie outbreak would be handled on twitter!).

That leads me to the other red flag: Romero, Russo, etc are not credited anywhere on the film, not even with a token special thanks. The credits skip over a screenplay credit of any sort, just the director and a bunch of producers, so we can assume that not only is the Romero estate not being paid for the very ideas they are recreating (seriously, the characters even all wear the same clothes), but they don't even acknowledge the creators with the bare minimum. It's an incredibly gross realization, and honestly if the credits were at the top of the film I wouldn't have even bothered to watch the rest of it. It's only after an hour of their weird recreation that the viewer can discover (through very slow credits that bring the film up to a still laughable 70 minutes) no one involved bothered to credit the people who created the story in the first place. It's one thing when you're making a sequel and forget to credit the people who made the original when you might be bringing back one or two of their characters, it's another thing entirely to take their dialogue and actions verbatim and not even give them a "thank you" (the making of even has clips of the original, but still no one utters Romero's name).

So who, exactly, is this for? I mean, any horror fan knows that NOTLD's public domain status means anyone can make a buck off of it, but the other remakes - even the 3D one with Sid Haig - all put their own spin on the narrative, something that does not occur here. There are exactly two creative moves of note here: one is actually showing Ben's flashback to the diner and truck explosion instead of just hearing him tell the story, and the other is at the very end we listen to the posse make idle chit chat about the houses in the area ("That house has three chimneys!") instead of the still photographs that ended the original film. But those are hardly substantial enough to believe anyone would go to the trouble of remaking the entire film to "fix" two minor issues some people may have when watching it, and since the animation style isn't exactly revolutionary or unique, I have to assume that despite the lengthy animator credits, this was very cheap to make and was easy to profit from once they had distribution, and that was the extent of their creative ambition. Cool.

At least they put some effort into hiring a recognizable voice cast. The generally likable/leading man type Josh Duhamel is a left-field choice for the awful Mr Cooper, but he puts in a good performance, as does Dulé Hill as Ben. The women are all wasted though; Katie Isabelle would have been great for Barbara if they were going for the asskicker version seen in Savini's version (which impressively started off identical but then switched gears for a very different third act), but as anyone knows she doesn't exactly say much once she's at the house (here I will mock the animation to say they seemingly loved her turning boderline comatose, allowing them to "animate" entire shots where she doesn't move at all), and Nancy Travis as Mrs. Cooper sees some of the character's already limited amount of dialogue excised, making me wonder why they bothered hiring a name for her at all.

But, shocking as it may seem, a few good vocal performances and some amusing gore gags are not enough to recommend a movie that tells the exact same story we've seen before before slapping you in the face by not even crediting the people who actually wrote it. If you absolutely love the animation style (sadly nothing like the one on the cover, which seems like false advertising when it comes to animation; it'd be like if Disney showcased 3D models of their characters on the Blu-ray reissues of their cel-based classics) then I guess it can provide 60 minutes of background viewing amusement, but even then I'm sure any reasonable viewer would constantly wonder why it is they were half-watching the story like this when even a colorized version of the original on 1.5x speed would be a better and more respectful use of their time.

What say you?

P.S. Since WB does not release unrated movies, there's an MPAA R rating at the top, rare for a DTV release. Since the language says "Under 17 requires accompanying parent or guardian" I had a mental image of a 15 year old trying to watch this by themselves only to be stopped by a door to door carder. *KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK* "Open up! Movie police - where are your parents?!?" It was more amusing than the film, that's for sure.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Halloween Kills (2020- oops, 2021)

OCTOBER 21, 2021

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FESTIVAL SCREENING)

One of the more annoying things about the press cycle for Halloween (2018) was seeing it referred to as a "remake" of the 1978 film, a baffling mistake even if you hadn't seen the film (did they think Jamie Lee Curtis was being de-aged 40 years to play a babysitter?). But ironically, Halloween Kills ends up being a spiritual redo of the 1981 Halloween II; not only does it pick up immediately after the 2018 film, covering the same night, but it also has Laurie (Curtis) confined to a hospital bed for the bulk of the runtime, recovering from the previous film's injuries. It's also a more successful "later that same night" continuation, as David Gordon Green is much better at aping David Gordon Green than Rick Rosenthal was at aping John Carpenter - you can watch these two back to back without any of the whiplash that accompanies 1978 to 1981.

It also revives H2's "angry Haddonfield residents" idea, confined to a single scene (one of my favorites in that film, incidentally) where townsfolk are shown rioting outside the Myers house with the cops trying (barely) to calm them down. However, here it's expanded into what is essentially the B plot of the film; if you recall in H40, Michael Myers wasn't the only one who escaped from the prison bus, and one of those patients (specifically, the guy with the umbrella from that film's opening scene) is still on the loose but also kind of terrified, because after a chance encounter with Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall*) outside a bar, half the town is now convinced he is Myers, chasing him around while chanting "EVIL DIES TONIGHT!" Eventually they get completely out of control, as mobs tend to do, and you get the idea Michael could just take the rest of the night off and the body count might still rise.

It's a solid concept, and helps ward off the film's inherent rehash quality caused by its "same night and Laurie is in bed" setup that we've seen before (for all its callbacks, H40 never felt like a redo of any other entry). However, the actor playing the innocent patient is a bizarre choice for someone to be mistaken for Michael Myers, as he's shaped more like Danny DeVito, and mistaken BY PEOPLE WHO HAVE SEEN MICHAEL (i.e. Tommy) to be the tall, lanky man of their nightmares. The whole "pegging the wrong guy" thing has been a big problem because of social media over the past few years, and it's a missed opportunity that they didn't utilize that sort of thing to tell this story instead of relying on a previous victim's eyewitness "it's him!" account that makes little sense given their history. By the time Laurie finally sees this poor sod and tells the rampaging mob that it's not him, it's too late - they're all riled up and ignore her. And yeah, that's the inevitable conclusion for this plotline, but it would have worked so much better if it wasn't built on such a shoddy foundation.

As for the actual Shape, he's having the time of his life! This may have the highest body count of any film in the series; I didn't stop and count, but the previous record holder is 20 (a tie between H5 and Zombie's first one**) and thanks to two massacre scenes, along with the standard standalone victims in between, it has to go beyond that. One of them is the one in all the trailers, with Myers taking on the firemen who were actually trying to rescue the big dummy, and from there he kills his way through the town on a path back to his home (so no, he doesn't go to the hospital this time, the other big switch from Halloween II). Some of his victims include minor characters from the last film, so a fresh rewatch might be in order if you don't think you'll recognize every bit actor from the now three year old movie (even if this came out on time I doubt anyone but the hardest hardcore fans would realize that a pair of characters here are ones we've met before). Not that it matters much as far as understanding the movie, but it's kind of an amusing irony; in this revival that removes Michael's personal mission against Laurie, he ends up inadvertently finishing the job with everyone else that ever came within spitting distance of him.

Oh yeah, Laurie. She's livelier here than the last time she went to Haddonfield Memorial (maybe if Jimmy actually brought her that Coke she woulda been a little more animated?), and given her injuries in the last film it makes more sense that she's out of commission for a while, so long story short I don't mind that she's not up and about - it'd be pretty silly (even for this franchise) to have her back prowling the streets looking for her not-brother so soon after taking that beating. And she ends up sharing a room with someone else who survives an attack (no spoilers), giving both characters some rather sweet character development time - plus one of the few deep-cut Halloween nerd references that actually worked for me. It was kind of surreal to have Curtis show up to intro the film, bursting with her usual candid energy (translation: lots of F bombs) only to watch her mostly lie in a bed for two hours, but whatever faults the movie may have, her somewhat limited screentime and confined performance was not one of them. And for all the people who missed the fact that Michael coming to her house in the last one was NOT his goal, this movie reaffirms it, with Laurie hearing it herself that he never intended to go after her again.

But yeah, those aforementioned faults? It's gonna be a polarizing film, for sure. The "EVIL DIES TONIGHT!" stuff paves the way for some truly terrible dialogue, as does the return of some of the original characters. Pretty much everyone who survived the first movie is back in some form or other, and while it's lovely to see Sheriff Brackett again (and yes, played by Charles Cyphers), his role comes off as fan service more than an organic addition to the story - by the time he's repeating "Everyone's entitled to one good scare," you might find yourself regretting ever wanting them to bring the character back in the first place. As for the others: Lonnie (the great Robert Longstreet from Midnight Mass and Hill House) is probably the best revival, as Cameron's dad/Tommy's former bully, now pals with him, Lindsey (Kyle Richards, who is actually pretty great), and Nurse Chambers (Nancy Stephens), forming a group of "survivors" who get together every Halloween to toast their escape from the boogeyman.

In theory it's not a bad idea, but the mix of returning actors and people taking over from others stunts the "reunion" aspect of it all (particularly for Hall, as he's now the third person to play Tommy Doyle in the main franchise), and like the not-Myers guy they chase around, it's kind of built on a giant leap of logic. I'm just trying to imagine the scenario in which Chambers (who, in this version of the timeline, never did anything else beyond drive Loomis to Smith's Grove and get her car stolen) found herself palling around with two kids to form this little group. It's a minor ripple of the same problem that kind of plagued the 2018 film: it erased the series' entire history, but also kind of relied on it to explain why anyone today acted the way they did. Yes, assuming she didn't die in H20, I'd expect the woman who took care of Loomis and comforted Laurie in H2 would find herself keeping in touch with these people she actually encountered, but none of that happened, now. Might as well invite the guy from the hardware store to join them. As with Brackett, it's a "nice to see them again" kind of thing, sure, but their reasons for being there are flimsy at best, and also retroactively mess up the previous film - if they're all still so haunted by Myers, and have kept in touch with Laurie, why is it they're only finding out about his escape/return now? News of his escape hit the news that morning. Seems to be a "sidequel" kind of approach would have been better to bring them back to the story, showing what they were up to during the day and how they processed the possibility of facing their monster again.

Their return also means a lot of clunky dialogue to remind the audience who they are, which poses an interesting scenario - seems to me that people watching will either know exactly who Lonnie Elam is without needing the reminder, or won't care anyway, as it ultimately means very little in a movie with something like 40 characters. There's Laurie and her family, a couple who join Lindsey and Chambers' posse, the firemen, the couple who owns the Myers house (the best of the lot, I should add), the cowboy Sheriff, Cameron, Brackett, another couple who lives near Laurie (guess what happens to them), and - oh yeah - a handful of other characters who appear in the lengthy flashback to 1978 showing how Michael got captured in the first place (a scene more or less meant for the 2018 one but never shot). So with all that going on, does it really matter than Lonnie was the bully kid who Loomis scared away from the Myers house? Nope, but we get a dialogue exchange reminding us!

More on the flashback stuff - you can skip this paragraph if you've avoided the trailers - it works pretty well; even the Loomis standin looks pretty great (they still can't quite nail the voice though). And it helps to establish once and for all that even Halloween II was wiped out in this timeline (ironically not helped by a shot of the film appearing when they feel the need to explain who Brackett is), so I really wish they had found the place for it in the last one as originally intended. The problem with it is that most of it appears early on, adding to the strange editing choice that keeps Laurie from appearing for like twenty minutes, as we get the flashback AND another scene that shows us where Cameron was and how he gets reintroduced to the story before finally catching up with our hero. I think if they found a way to sprinkle the flashback stuff throughout the film (it largely focuses on a character who is around in the present day, so a Lost-style series of quicker flashbacks could have worked) it would have all landed better.

To sum up the last few paragraphs: the movie has a pretty rough first half hour, as it's trying to marry the need to set up all of the new ideas (the Myers house, particularly Judith's bedroom window, ends up being a "thing" throughout the movie) plus the "immediate continuation" approach, and it's not particularly successful. You might feel frustrated just waiting for Laurie AND Michael to reappear and start doing their thing. The sheer amount of kills and scenery changes keeps it going once all that stuff is out of the way, but it's one of those things where it might be difficult to get a general audience - i.e. the people that turned the last film into the most successful entry of the franchise - to go along with these relatively ambitious ideas before they get to the stuff they came for.

Unless they came for suspense, as there isn't a lot of it. Kills? Sure, but very little of the build up the best entries offered *before* the finishing blow(s). Weirdly, all of the best moments for that sort of thing occur in the Myers house (take THAT, Halloween Resurrection!); the flashback, the current day owners, and a few of our heroes all take turns creeping around the place looking for its former resident, and those scenes have lots of the slowly building dread that I tend to prefer over yet another hacked up victim. But otherwise, he's just more like a force of nature, barely even pausing between kills at times. I don't particularly like the brother angle, but one thing it offered was a more restrained Shape when he was out and about Haddonfield; one of my favorite scenes in Halloween II is where he is just making his way through the town square, ignoring all of the people around him that didn't interest him. This version of the character would kill them all without any resistance, and maybe that sounds appealing to you, but to me it just gets almost tiresome. I'd rather get five great chase scenes that end in deaths than twenty kills without much of a setup.

Also (another paragraph to skip, though the spoilers are vague) the ending is pretty grim, not to mention rushed. Michael successfully takes on a mob in a way that seems absurd even for this series (it's like a Jackie Chan fight scene where everyone waits their turn to get kicked, or in this case killed) and then seemingly teleports to kill a major character elsewhere, all in the span of like 45 seconds or so. And then it cuts to credits, a cliffhanger of sorts because we all know Halloween Ends is coming next year. So it's a movie that starts wonky and ends abruptly - that's a lot to ask out of an audience who might be hesitant about going to the theater (or signing up for yet another streaming service). I'm sure when Ends is out it'll play better (kind of like how Saw V is fine when you're marathoning), but for now I suspect there will be a lot of frustrated viewers, and they also have to really bring their A game in that one to make up for the seeming loss of _____ in the proceedings, as they were a welcome addition and will be missed (then again, it IS a slasher series and thus I know the body count has to be higher than the number of survivors).

That said, there is still a lot to like here, and I ended up putting it somewhere in the middle of my ranking***. It actually started reminding me of the underrated Halloween 5 in many ways; it's taking some big swings, and while not all of them work, I have to respect the attempt, even moreso with this than H5. We're talking about what is essentially "Halloween 12" (yep, with Ends it'll surpass the Friday the 13th series in total entries for the first time), so they almost have to take risks just to keep it from feeling like a rerun. One thing they've definitely fixed from the 2018 one is the number of off-screen kills, something that was noticeably prevalent there but barely occurs here - almost every death is shown (and pretty graphic, there's a splattered head that even made ME wince). If you're the sort of fan who equates a body count with quality then you're gonna love the flick for sure. And Carpenter's score is another winner, once again reviving the themes and bringing new stuff to the table.

It also has some legitimately sad moments, something that a slasher often doesn't have time for. Remember Oscar the incel from the last one (and his gruesome spiked fence death)? His mom shows up at the hospital and sees his corpse, and it's a pretty devastating moment, as is the one where Allyson realizes that her father is dead. In fact all of the character work is pretty on point (clunky introductory dialogue aside), as even the most anonymous victims (like Laurie's neighbors) have some personality that you can't always expect out of a slasher sequel. I wish cowboy Sheriff had more to do (especially with Brackett around; what a contrast! No one will care to bring this guy back in forty years), but thankfully cases like his are the exception instead of the rule.

Long story short, it's got all the pieces there, they just don't always fit together as well as I hoped. I've rewatched the 2018 one a bunch, but I feel this one won't get grabbed off the shelf as often, at least until I can follow it up with Ends and see the whole story. Overall I like it, but at the same time it's just kind of jumbled, a "for die-hard fans only" kind of affair that asks more of its audience than the last one did, and I don't watch these movies to furrow my brow and wonder why they were doing something the way they were doing it. I think if I was 12 when I saw this I'd love it and grow up defending it, but now, with limited time for watching stuff at all let alone rewatching it, I can't help but feel slightly disappointed that this one doesn't have the same pull that the last one did.

What say you?

* With the film debuting on Peacock and thus will be easier to manipulate the footage, I expect - no, DEMAND - someone deepfake Paul Rudd into a few of Hall's scenes ASAP.
** Actually, Halloween III has 21! But that's not Myers, so it gets asteriskized!
*** 1, 3/4, 2018, 2, Kills, 5, RZH2 (d-cut) Curse/H20, RZH1, Resurrection

PLEASE, GO ON...

Blu-Ray Review: Alone In The Dark (1982)

SEPTEMBER 30, 2021

GENRE: SLASHER, THRILLER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Scream Factory has been putting out Warner/New Line titles for over three years now, so I was starting to lose hope that they'd add Alone in the Dark to their library, as it seemed like a tailor-made option for the outfit. Unlike some of their WB releases (like Trick r' Treat, which already had a packed Blu-ray just a few years prior), Alone had never been released on Blu-ray, and was also the sort of under the radar title that could benefit from the exposure. A "get", if you will. But better late than never, as they say, and it's well timed to come out around the "spooky season" where its thrills will go over well with folks who have yet to bless their lives with this underloved gem.

The only flaw the movie has is its title; I suspect I'll spend the rest of my life feeling I need to clarify I do not mean the Uwe Boll film (for a total flop, it sure has left a permanent imprint on people's memories). Otherwise, it's a rock solid home invasion/slasher hybrid that focuses on its characters (most of them adults) and even finds some measure of sympathy for its quartet of killers. The plot is, on its surface, generic "escaped mental patient" kind of stuff, but there's so much more going on, not the least of which is that the main "villain", played by Jack Palance, is (spoiler for 40 year old movie ahead) allowed to walk away at the end, backing down from his previous intent to murder his new doctor. The ultimate point of the movie is that the people on the outside are no more dangerous or "crazy" than the ones who have been locked up, and thus Palance's Frank is apologetic when he realizes his whole "revenge" plan was based on a misconception (he thought his new doctor killed his old one, and learns he was wrong). You get the idea that if they had their proof their old doc was alive, they wouldn't have bothered to escape at all.

That said his partners are more bloodthirsty; Martin Landau's Byron is pretty chilling (it's he who eggs on the mailman attack, wanting the man's hat) and Erland van Lidth as "Fatty" fulfills the "hulking brute" quota, getting most of the kills himself. The fourth one is "The Bleeder", who hides his face and ultimately parts with the group after murdering someone during the riot that ensues from the blackout that allowed their escape in the first place. Watching as an adult I feel dumb for not catching the payoff for this character (who has a nosebleed when he kills someone, and yes, the similar tic in Valentine was an acknowledged homage), because I remember kid me being stunned, but it's still a pretty good little twist, presented with the same sort of misdirection that allowed My Bloody Valentine's surprise reveal to work as well as it did.

The highlight of the film is Donald Pleasence as Dr. Bain, who runs the facility and is unquestionably nuttier than any of the patients within it. This was one of the first non-Loomis performances I saw of the actor when I was a kid, cementing him as someone I loved to watch, and I was sad to learn on one of the bonus features that he didn't have a good experience making it and didn't think much of the film as a whole. Apparently the production was not pleasant; Palance could be a pain in the A, there were some very cold night shoots (one actor's fake blood froze on him), and director Jack Sholder was not only making his first feature, but was dealing with some uncooperative crew (including the DP and the FX guy, two very key roles on a horror film like this).

With that in mind it's not much of a surprise that the only actor they could rope in for an interview was Carol Levy, who plays ill-fated babysitter "Bunky", and in fact that was a pull from the mid-00's DVD, as is the commentary with Sholder and an interview with the Sic F*cks. The new features are a lengthy interview with Sholder where he tells a lot of the same stories he did on his older commentary, a tour of the shooting locations (the punk club is now a Wendy's!), and yet another interview with the Sic F*cks, both of which run longer than their appearance in the film (they mention/gripe about a deleted scene that saw them arrested during the riot, but it hasn't been reinstated). Granted the trio of veteran actors (as well as van Lidth) are all deceased, but the actors who made up the hero Potter family are all still around and some still working (the mom was in a few episodes of the buzzy Mare of Easttown), so it's a shame none of them are on board to offer their thoughts on what will likely be the last home video release of this film. I like Sholder's work, but the man himself is kind of prickly (and obnoxiously dismissive of the slasher genre), so hearing someone's own take on their experiences would have been nice, if only to balance out Sholder's snottiness.

The other new extra is a historian commentary, which curiously combines one guy from the Hysteria Lives podcast (there's typically three) and Amanda Reyes, who usually tackles made for TV horror (she literally wrote the book on it, in fact). It turns out to be a good idea though; as I've said before the HL commentaries can be very same-y as they often just rattle off every other slasher movie they can think of whenever something similar happens, but with just one of them that stuff is kept to a minimum. Reyes, meanwhile, brings in lots of historical context not just about the genre, but mental health practices of the era and what may have influenced Sholder's script. So it can sometimes feel like two tracks jammed together (she'll give a history lesson about a psychiatrist who may have inspired Pleasence's character, and then he'll be like "the stab through the bed idea was also in Friday the 13th" or something, but hey: best of both worlds?

At any rate, the movie itself is the main draw of course, and the transfer is terrific (perhaps a bit too good, as you can occasionally get a half-decent look at the Bleeder's face where it was previously either cropped out or too dark to see anything). Even if it was just the movie, it would be a reason to celebrate; there are horror fans who buy everything Scream Factory puts out even if it's a blind buy, which means it's a good chance this movie is about to finally be discovered by folks who will love it as much as I do. AND they'll finally know what that weird movie Jennifer sees on TV before settling on Dick Cavett in Dream Warriors!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Fantastic Fest: Day 4

SEPTEMBER 26, 2021

GENRE: COMEDIC, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: FANTASTIC FEST!

Sunday was my last day at the festival, alas; my budget and my lingering covid fears only covered up to four days (three nights' hotel stay) in Texas before racing home. Unfortunately, it was also kind of a low-interest day of programming as well; I ended up skipping one block entirely because there was simply nothing playing that interested me (in hindsight, I should have used the time to see Shang-Chi, finally, but I forgot it was an option). On the flipside, the light schedule meant I could have a lengthy brunch with some pals I barely saw during my stay (in fact, two of them I *only* saw because I attended this off-site revelry), so that was nice. I had a terrible iced chai and some delicious avocado toast, so it evens out.

Anyway:

Movie #9: THE TRIP

Tommy Wirkola is a polarizing filmmaker among my peers; I distinctly remember being told by nearly everyone I knew not to bother with Dead Snow, only to find myself enjoying it quite a bit (and the second one, while not as good, had an epic climax set to "Total Eclipse of the Heart", so I was obviously in the weeds for it). His newest one is the first I've seen from him with no supernatural elements whatsoever - The Trip is a violent black comedy/survival thriller about an unhappy couple who go off to the family cabin to try to find their spark, but it turns out both plan to murder the other one while they're there and make it look like an accident. Alas, a trio of escaped prisoners put a cork in those plans, forcing the couple to work together if they are going to survive long enough to kill each other later.

So it's basically The Ref meets Funny Games or Desperate Hours or whatever; i.e. home invasion films where the villains aren't just out to quickly murder the inhabitants and move on. It runs too damn long (just under two hours!) but Wirkola keeps the energy up for most of the runtime, utilizing flashbacks on occasion (to show how certain characters ended up there after making surprise appearances) and putting his quintet of actors (including Noomi Rapace as the wife, a rare comic turn for the actress) through the wringer. Very little of it is extreme, but there is SO MUCH bodily harm in this film, as everyone (good or bad) is constantly whacking other characters with hard objects, or they're simply slipping in all the rapidly pooling blood. If he had pared it down a bit (the climax goes on forever; if you've seen it, it really didn't need the additional boat sequence) it'd be a minor classic, but as it stands it's a pretty amusing modern day War of the Roses, where both parties are kind of awful and yet you find yourself rooting for them anyway.

Movie (?) #10: FANTASTIC FEUD

OK, yeah, this isn't a movie. But you do need a ticket to attend, and it is in a theater, so I'll count it, damn you!

So for the uninitiated, Fantastic Fest usually has a lot of wacky events alongside the movies, but this year due to covid and what not they had to get rid of most of them. The Feud was one of the few exceptions; it's basically a chaotic mix of standard movie trivia and Family Feud, where the two teams try to guess the most popular answers from previously held surveys in order to score the most points and gain control of the board for a bit. If neither team knows an answer, it's turned over to the crowd, with whoever has the right answer being allowed to award the points to the team of their choosing (so yes, it's technically possible for a team to win the game without ever actually answering a question correctly). The teams are given buckets of beer, and the crowd is obviously allowed their own beverages (full service is kept active as it would be for a movie screening), so by the end of the night it's usually pretty loud and hilarious.

Anyway, I try to attend whenever I go to the festival, though sometimes there's a can't miss movie playing at the same time and I have to miss it. This year's timeslot competition was VHS 94, which I do want to see, but is playing here in LA as well so I figured I could catch it then. Plus, I didn't want to miss my chance to actually be on one of the teams, an offer I was given by one of the organizers like a year ago and wasn't sure if he would remember.

Well... he did! I was IN!

My teammates were Owen Egerton (who made the enjoyable Blood Fest), Heather Wixson (my fellow horror writer and author!), and Danishka Esterhazy, who directed the upcoming Slumber Party Massacre remake. Since that film was one of the ones that made me decide to attend the festival after all (I was on the fence for obvious reasons) only to discover it would only be playing after I left, I figure this was a nice consolation prize to get to answer trivia questions alongside her for two drunken hours (though I must admit I think Owen and I were the only ones partaking of the free beer we were provided).

I won't drag things out: we won! Handily, in fact. The aforementioned survey portion was a big help, as we took control more often than not (I even correctly guessed the top answer for "Worst Die Hard Ripoff", which is of course A Good Day To Die Hard) and added an excess of points to our total - the final score had us actually doubling the other team's score, which is, in hindsight, insane. Also, I broke a chair racing up to the podium to buzz in for a Mist question, so that was fun. Since we won it ultimately didn't matter, but I'm still sore for missing a Hellraiser question during a "Movie Math" category (where the sequel subtitle was subbed in for numbers, i.e. Bloodline = "4") where I miscalculated and got Hellbound ("2") instead of Hell on Earth ("3"). Stupid BC!

Anyway, it was a blast, and a fine way to finish off my FF'21 journey. After the Feud I went outside and saw my good friend/sometime boss Phil Nobile leaving, and he offered me a ride back to his AirBnB that I would have been stupid to pass up, since that's where I was stashing my suitcase (as I already checked out of my hotel, as I've learned in years' past it makes no sense to keep a room for the final night when I always stay out late at the festival and then leave early in the morning; I'd never use it!). We chatted for a bit while waiting for a Lyft to take me to the airport, where I slept in one of their uncomfortable chairs for a little bit before getting on the plane back to LA.

Here's hoping all this idiocy is behind us by the time it rolls around again. I don't know if I can ever attend annually again until my son is capable of taking care of himself (this is only the second time I've been since he was born), but I definitely don't want to put up with the hassle and cost of travel for another stripped down one like this. I enjoyed the movies I saw and loved seeing friends when I did, but I was also kind of lonely more often than not. The spaced out/assigned seating meant I didn't actually get to watch a single movie WITH any of my friends who were there, and the lack of events (karaoke in particular) made it feel less like a festival and more like me just going to the movies a lot over the course of four days, many of which I could have watched at home via screener (not that I feel that the theatrical experience is equal to my home setup, but again - I was watching them alone! At least at home I could have invited someone over). They did the best they could with the circumstances, and if I lived next door I'd certainly be there for the next one, but I have to choose my battles when it comes to these sort of things, and I think for as long as covid continues to wreak havoc on everyone's fun, I will choose the "stay home and grumble about a few tweets and photos of people having fun" option.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Forever Purge (2021)

SEPTEMBER 29, 2021

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

The trailer for The Forever Purge suggested it was finally going to get out of the creative rut the series was in, by both taking things out of inner cities for once (into the Texas/Mexico border area, specifically, though it was filmed in California) and also setting the action in the daytime. And by tackling immigration issues as opposed to a more general form of racism that dictates the Purgers' actions in the last couple films, this seemed primed to be a shot in the arm for the franchise going forward, the way pitting Jigsaw against the healthcare system in Saw VI bought that franchise some goodwill (if not a return to box office glory).

Alas, most of the film's highlights ended up being... well, what we saw in the trailer. What it DIDN'T show much of is the same old crap that makes up too-long chunks of it; I almost had to laugh when, despite the above changes, a major turning point in the film occurs... at night, in a grimy alleyway. In other words, writer James DeMonaco (who has written all of them, plus the TV series) may have been inspired by current events for this particular entry, but apparently couldn't help himself from reverting to status quo, all but sinking the fresh ideas in the process as it becomes yet another standard Purge movie.

In turn this will end up being another standard Purge *review* from me, as I plead for literally anyone else on the planet (including my own 7 year old child) to write one of these, so that we can get different perspectives on the matter. Not for nothing, but Mr. DeMonaco is one (1) person - a white man from Brooklyn to be exact - and thus has one (1) perspective on race issues in America: his own. I don't wish to belittle his talent (he co-wrote The Negotiator, a movie I quite like), but merely wish to stress that these films are beoming increasingly political and have introduced so many great characters and ideas (this one also works in the theft of the land from the Native Americans), and thus in turn should turn screenwriting duties over to more of them, with DeMonaco stepping into a more godfather-y kind of role going forward. He's at least trusting directorial duties to others (Everardo Gout this time), but there's only so much they can do to mix things up when the script is still coming from the same sole brain.

Worse, it's not a particularly good script even by this series' standards, with a lot of the drama resolved by not one but two instances where our protagonists are split up by circumstances and just so happen to find each other again in a chaotic unfamiliar city. Our leads are a married couple named Juan and Adela, border crossers who have found employment (Adela in a restaurant, Juan on a horse ranch) and spend Purge night locked in a safehouse with others like them, waiting out the night and listening to the chaos outside. However, as the title suggests, the end of the 12 hour purge means nothing to the "Forever Purgers", who continue doing the same sort of thing (read: targeting POC) when the sun comes up. And so now, for irony's sake, they need to cross the border *to* Mexico for their own safety.

They're joined by some white folks, of course, led by Josh Lucas as Juan's boss from the ranch (run by Will Patton, whose limited appearance was given away on the trailer). Lucas' Dylan is ever so slightly bigoted; you almost get the sense they had a focus group to determine how condescending and prickish he could be before an audience just decides he's a total jerk that should die. Naturally, this single day's experience will get him to reconsider 40+ years of his attitude; I assume it's supposed to be a real powerful moment at the end when he says "Gracias" to Juan, but it's just corny as all hell and unearned to boot - Dylan's actions throughout the film are to benefit his (pregnant) wife, there's never a real bonding moment between the two men where it's clear one is helping the other because it's the right thing to do. It's just convenient to have two guns firing at skull masked purgers instead of one, is all.

(Without getting into spoilers, I'll also note that the body count among primary characters is far too low this time around; there are only two deaths of note and the other characters barely acknowledge it. Doesn't help the whole "this is more dangerous than ever!" approach when it allows the highest number of survivors.)

The script also denies itself a strong villain; early on we meet Kirk, another ranch hand (the only white one, I believe) who takes the rancher family hostage, ranting about how they're part of the problem since they hire immigrants. But when Juan mounts a rescue on his employer and his family, Kirk is killed off, and it's another half hour before another alpha villain comes along, this one a traditional redneck-y type with zero flavor whatsoever. And even he is sidelined after his introduction until the finale, so when it comes time to face off against our heroes, it's really no more engaging than it's been for any of the anonymous ones they've fought along the way. And don't hold out hope for the guy on the poster (and subsequent Blu-ray package), as he doesn't appear at all.

Ultimately, all the best things about it are too fleeting to make much of a difference. I was happy to see Resolution's Zahn McClarnon show up as a heroic character, since he usually plays bad guys (he's menacing af in Doctor Sleep), but his role amounts to only a few minutes of screentime. And there are some pointed lines of dialogue here and there - I particularly liked referring to the Americans escaping to the Mexico border as "Dreamers" - but when your best lines are delivered by offscreen newscasters in voiceover, something is definitely "off" about the proceedings. Even the Newton Brothers score, as good as you'd expect from the dependably great composers, can barely be heard in all the other noise (between this and Midnight Mass they've basically taken over my eardrums this week - not a complaint!). As for the action, it's fine; the trailer highlights the sort of Mad Max-y elements it takes on at times, but there isn't much more to them beyond what the spots already showed, and otherwise it's just the same old gunfights with digital blood spraying around whenever another anonymous character is dispatched by our suddenly marksman heroes.

This is the first time I've gotten a Blu-ray of a Purge movie (I should note this is my second viewing; I did see it at the drive-in over the summer* but never got around to reviewing) so I don't know if this is the usual, but for what it's worth there isn't much in the way of bonus features. There's a deleted scene in which the ranch hands trade stereotype jokes at each others' expense (good natured ball bustin'), which perhaps should have been left in to illustrate that Kirk shared some kind of friendship with the others. There's a brief look at the costume designs, which is a good idea considering the look of the random Purgers shows more spark with each new entry than anyone else on the creative side of things. And there's also a pretty fluffy "making of" that essentially doubles as a behind the scenes trailer, with everyone (NOT DeMonaco, pointedly, or Lucas for that matter) saying how this one is the most challenging and thought provoking one yet, trying to sell us on the movie we presumably already saw. And that's basically it; it was only last week that I was impressed by F9's bonus material package (also via Universal), so I know they're still capable of making worthwhile special editions, but this ain't one.

Frank Grillo says he is coming back for a new Purge (it'd be his third), which is fine since his two are the best ones, though I can't say I'm super excited about it if it's once again going to have the same writer (not to mention that Grillo seemed like he was playing two entirely different characters in his entries). What the series really needs is outside the box thinking, letting a film stand out from the others. It's crazy that Don Mancini can manage to create unique flavors for each of the Chucky movies when it's just about a killer doll (i.e. a seemingly limited concept) but DeMonaco can't shake the sameyness from a franchise with so much potential. Changing the location is a good start, but based on the evidence here, it isn't enough of a mixup to restore the franchise's fascinating potential.

What say you?

*Right near some of the shooting locations, as it turns out! Shot in Ontario, which is where I usually get Wendy's before going to the drive-in itself one suburb over (Montclair). Gonna kinda miss that place now that theaters are open and I am both vaccinated and weary enough to just roll the dice on those instead of driving an hour away to see things like this.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Fantastic Fest: Day 3

SEPTEMBER 25, 2021

GENRE: DOCUMENTARY, PSYCHOLOGICAL, THRILLER
SOURCE: FANTASTIC FEST!

Day 3 was the "busiest" on my schedule; it was three movies like the day before, but one was twice as long as the average movie and another was a late-starting world premiere, which meant it would undoubtedly start later than scheduled, but also wouldn't be something I could easily rewatch (via screener link or the like) if I were to pull a Collins and doze off. Luckily I stayed awake (and this would be true for all the features I saw at the fest - a first!), so it seems this new approach of going back to my room and relaxing whenever possible (since there was little to nothing else going on, and a staggered schedule which meant even seeing friends in between movies was a crapshoot) instead of standing around drinking and singing karaoke or whatever was a wise one!

Movie #6: WOODLANDS DARK AND DAYS BEWITCHED

Full disclosure: I did the end titles for this documentary on the history of folk horror films, so I didn't rate it on Letterboxd and won't be saying much here, because that feels icky to me. That said, I found it to be an incredibly informative doc about a somewhat off the radar sub-genre; indeed, I don't even have a "folk horror" tag on the site (I usually just lump them in with "Supernatural" and/or "Cult"). Not only did I learn some history (always a plus), I walked away with a nice handful of new (well, technically old!) titles to check out, a few of which will be on Severin's upcoming boxed set centered on the doc, which will be available on its own as well for those who don't want to splurge for 20+ movies at once.

Movie #7: MASKING THRESHOLD

I'll have a full review up on WhatToWatch soon (unlike BMD, they have to go through a longer process from the time I submit something to when it actually goes live), so I won't ramble too much here except to say I kind of loved it, but know perfectly well it'll be a very polarizing film. Shot almost entirely in macro closeups with narration from someone who we never really see (someone said it was like a 90 minute unboxing video, which from an aesthetic POV is pretty accurate), the film tells the story of a man who is driven insane by an extreme case of tinnitus he has tasked himself with curing on his own after the doctors proved to be no help. Unfortunately his experiments are increasingly uncouth; he starts off with determining the aural qualities of everyday objects and ultimately - through his own actions - discovers that his affliction can react to the "sound" of something's (or, indeed, someONE's) life ending. A fascinating experimental film that was my favorite surprise discovery of the fest.

Movie #8: THE BLACK PHONE

One great thing about a festival is that every now and then you can find yourself seeing the world premiere of a fairly major film before there's even been a trailer to spoil its surprises. All I knew about Black Phone is that it reunited the core creative team of Sinister: producer Jason Blum, the writing pair of C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson (based on a Joe Hill story), with the latter directing, and even star Ethan Hawke. As a huge fan of Sinister, I would have been there on day one when the movie opens in January, but it would have been after seeing a trailer or two and, most likely, even gotten a few cheers/jeers worming themselves into my brain and messing with my expectations. Instead I got to see it without even knowing the plot, let alone how well it was or wasn't received by my peers.

And yay, it was good! Not quite on the level of Sinister, but then again that film (concerning murderous kids) is more in my wheelhouse than this one, which is a period piece (1978 to be exact) about a local boogeyman named The Grabber (Hawke) who has already taken a few kids in the area and has now set his sights on our young hero Finney (Mason Thames), with The Grabber dumping him in a basement with only a mattress and the eponymous phone to keep him company until the villain does whatever he plans to do (since the movie is entirely from Finney or his sister's POV, we naturally don't know what The Grabber is actually doing until we see it happen to Finney). The Grabber insists the phone is broken, but it starts to ring... and that's where the fun begins.

The nature of the calls is something folks can discover on their own when the movie opens (or, likely, from the trailer) so I won't spoil it for now. I'll just say that Thames handles the material quite well, though he kind of gets the movie stolen away from him by Madeleine McGraw as his younger sister Gwen, who is quick to protect him from bullies (both of them suffer from an abusive father, so taking punches is sadly something they're accustomed to) and swears like she's been possessed like so many other little girls of '70s cinema. As for Hawke, his face is almost always obscured by a mask (designed by Tom Savini!) so it's mostly his voice informing the audience of who it is, but he is unnerving af - the man should play more villains.

The period detail is also terrific, largely depicted through the wardrobe and set dressing (dig that shag carpeting!) as opposed to obnoxious references and a greatest hits soundtrack. I like a lot of Blumhouse films, but production value isn't always one of their strong suits as they tend to take place in modern (read: bland) suburban homes, but here there are several exteriors and not once was I zapped out of the illusion (kudos to their location scouts for finding a North Carolina suburb that hasn't "enhanced" itself all that much for the past 40+ years). That aesthetic and the kid-heavy plot had me thinking that this would be a beloved fave for fans from my generation, had it actually been made in 1978 and allowed us to grow up with it. It's rated R, but mostly for language (The Grabber's more overt crimes are largely offscreen, thankfully), and Thames' appearance had me thinking of young Mike from the first Phantasm, another movie seemingly designed for young boys to transition into more adult horror and/or give them one last terrifying nightmare before they grow out of the adolescent idea that the movie monsters might be under their bed. Instead, it'll just be a great option to show our own curious kids.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Fantastic Fest: Day 2

SEPTEMBER 24, 2021

GENRE: KILLER KID, POSSESSION, ZOMBIE
SOURCE: FANTASTIC FEST!

This was the first year I was able to attend the opening night of the festival, so it was nice to not have to rush for once. In years' past, when I'd always be arriving on day 2, I'd sometimes have to go from the airport straight to the theater (dumping luggage into a generous pal's car) before I miss any more of it, but this time around it was kind of lovely to head into Friday with a piece already written. But as others WERE arriving on this day, today felt a little more like a typical day at the fest, albeit still with more empty seats than I'm used to seeing and much less revelry/chaos in the surrounding area.

Anyway:

MOVIE #3: THE INNOCENTS

An evil child movie out of Norway, I reviewed this one properly for WhatToWatch if you want to head there and read my full thoughts. For those who don't want to click over, I'll sum up by saying it was very good (if a touch long) and featured terrific child performances, which is the sort of thing that can sink this type of film, so: well done, casting folks!

MOVIE #4: AGNES

I reviewed this one too, but I realized later I should have added that the very thing that turned me off might be what makes others most excited about the film. I forget that due to my relatively late arrival to the Exorcist table, I tend to enjoy demonic possession movies more than my peers, who are often scarred by adolescent Exorcist viewings and walk out of similar films feeling like they were complete crap, unable to even come close to matching Blatty/Friedkin's power. So by abandoning the exorcism angle halfway through, such folks might be relieved by Agnes' switcheroo. Alas, ultimately this was a "not for me" after an engaging first forty minutes.

MOVIE #5: BLACK FRIDAY

I had a ticket to see Let The Wrong One In at this time, and it turned out to be an apt title, as I myself let the wrong *theater* in to my schedule - the film was playing a half hour away at a different Alamo Drafthouse (normally the fest is entirely set at the South Lamar location, but thanks to covid nonsense this year forced them to spread it out across three venues). Since I had no car and didn't want to rely on Lyft or friends to get me elsewhere (and then back), I opted to just flat out ignore the non-Lamar entries on the schedule, but somehow I got mixed up with this thankfully one exception. Luckily, there were seats available for Black Friday, which I wanted to see anyway, so it all worked out in the end.

Alas, the movie itself is kind of disappointing; on paper it sounded like it was delivered straight out of my subconscious: the employees of a toy store (including Devon Sawa and Bruce Campbell) have to take on a zombie outbreak on Black Friday, a ridiculous "event" I happily partake in every year. And it was filmed in Boston for good measure, so this had the potential to be one of my favorite movies of the festival and perhaps something I eagerly revisit every holiday season. But unfortunately, it seems they had to pare down a more ambitious script (financing horror comedies is never going to be easy, so I can't hold it against them), and what was left simply never found a proper groove.

It's not a total waste of time; the zombie makeup work by Robert Kurtzman is solid and the supporting cast is pretty good (Michael Jai White is a highlight), and Sawa is in fine form, but there's just no real ENERGY to the proceedings. Every time it seems like the movie is going to ramp up and kick into higher gear, things slow down again - there's an awful lot of chatter in between action scenes. And while I've never worshiped the man like some of my peers, even Bruce Campbell's most loyal fans should be able to admit that he's kind of on autopilot here, playing a role that doesn't cater to any of his strengths as an actor. Not that I want him tossing out one-liners (honestly, that'd be worse) but the role seems written for someone more nebbish (I kept thinking Mark Proksch would have been a good fit), and rather than dive into the challenge he opted to just kind of become anonymous. And since he likely didn't come cheap, I couldn't help but think that the movie might have been better if they put his salary toward other things.

It also might have helped if the store wasn't so generic (and the Boston setting has no bearing on anything, I don't think they even specifically say it's there and there's only like two exterior shots anyway). I'm sorry, but what exactly were the shoppers so excited about to line up at midnight to obtain? The things we see on the shelves are like, nutcrackers and bouncy balls and things of that nature. The lone licensed product I noticed (besides Wise potato chips, an east coast brand) was an Xbox One (yes, the older model), which wasn't even much a doorbuster option even when it was new, let alone now when it's a generation old. Plus, they shoo pretty much all the shoppers out of the store almost instantly, so there isn't even much in the way of zombie fodder, which had me thinking that they should have just leaned into it - what happens when a crappy store is open on Black Friday and no one shows up? Then they could have a built in excuse for the minimal zombie action AND avoided the impossible to buy premise of dozens of deal hungry customers lining up to buy jump ropes.

(That they do almost nothing with the "Black Friday shoppers are zombies anyway" kind of joke is another disappointment, but luckily we have that one 1978 zombie movie to cover that idea to a degree.)

Again, it's not a complete misfire - there are some good gags and performances in there, and the finale involves something I was certainly not expecting, but it ultimately felt like a movie almost specifically designed for streaming audiences, in that you're fine to look at your phone for most of it, looking up only when something exciting happens, and then tweet that it's "fun!" before forgetting everything about it. For folks who seemingly prefer that their movies not demand too much of their attention, they will love it, I guess.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Fantastic Fest: Day 1

SEPTEMBER 23, 2021

GENRE: SLASHER, WEIRD
SOURCE: FANTASTIC FEST!

One thing I truly miss about Birth.Movies.Death (RIP) was that it gave me a consistent outlet for writing about non horror things whenever I was inspired to do so. Now that it's gone and I have to scramble for freelance work elsewhere (and worse, actually pitch the piece/myself to get it approved, something I never had to bother with at BMD) I can find myself with something to say and nowhere to say it. And yes, I have HMAD to do whatever the hell I want, but I'd prefer to keep it "clean".

But given the genre-adjacent spirit of pretty much everything playing at Fantastic Fest (which I'm attending in person for the first time in five years), I figured I'd "dirty" up the joint a bit and give mini reviews to the stuff I saw that don't have a place to review in full elsewhere. Not only will it make the publicity people happy (extra coverage for them!) but it'll keep me from the increasing problem of seeing a festival movie, not putting my thoughts down in full, and then literally forgetting if I liked it or not when it comes along later.

So without further ado...

Movie #1: TITANE

Julia Ducournau's Raw was my favorite movie of the last Fantastic Fest I attended, so it was some nice serendipity to finally make my return and see her equally long-awaited followup right off the bat. The film won the Palme d'or at Cannes a few months ago, which I found fitting personally as my introduction to this prestigious award was when Pulp Fiction won it over 25 years ago (Jesus Christ...), and like that film Titane is a triumph in surprising storytelling. Our protagonist, Alexia, suffers a bad car accident as a child and gets a plate in her head (the title is French for "titanium" and - after hearing multiple variations - is pronounced "tee-TAHN"), but rather than fear cars she comes out of it... well, loving them. Like, really loving them.

She has sex with cars is what I'm saying.

But she has a more traditional movie character vice: she's something of a serial killer, murdering a guy who hits on her (yayyy!) and then a love interest (aw) and the rest of the people at the girl's house, and finally her own parents for good measure. And if you think I've just spoiled the entire movie, relax - that's just the first half hour, and I haven't even mentioned the top billed actor. That's why I compare to Pulp Fiction; when the girlfriend character is introduced (via the most hilariously gnarly "meet cute" I've ever seen, I think) it seems like she could be the film's co-lead, a calming presence for our psychotic lead that can maybe have her find her own peace... only for the poor girl to be dispatched just as suddenly as the would-be rapist. Instead, Alexia goes on the run and does what any woman would: cuts her hair short, tapes down her breasts, and batters her own nose (anyone who delighted at Emma Roberts' self-attack in Scream 4 - try this on for size) so that she looks like a young boy.

Specifically, a boy who went missing a decade earlier and whose father, Vincent, is still trying to find him. Believing that she is indeed him, Vincent takes "Adrien" (yes, the names were both used in Raw) home and tries to get him to readjust, as well as giving him a job with him at the fire department. With barely any spoken dialogue to establish this, it's pretty clear the man has been desperate to fill the hole his son left; one of the younger guys at the fire department has obviously been something of a replacement (and now himself replaced by "Adrien", whose story he doesn't believe), and as Alexia's ruse becomes easier to see through, Vincent just ignores the signs out of desperation, as if he knows damn well it's not his son but as long as he doesn't say it out loud he can keep on believing it.

In short (I won't reveal any more of the film's narrative; indeed I left out one of its primary plot points), what seemed like a mix between Crash (Cronenberg), American Psycho, and that documentary The Imposter ends up also tugging at the heartstrings as well, the final ingredient for the most deliriously entertaining cinematic stew I've seen in quite some time. As she did on Raw, Ducournau displays a knack for implementing pitch black or offbeat humor where you least expect it (wait til you see why "Macarena" makes an appearance) as well as getting fearless performances from her actors. It will be a divisive film for sure (one friend admitted to shutting off his screener), but for those of you who don't mind going for a ride that has no interest in standard movie conventions, I suspect you'll be just as enraptured as I was.

Movie #2: THERE'S SOMETHING INSIDE YOUR HOUSE

This one is definitely a traditional horror movie, so I COULD write a whole review but I just don't have too much to say. It's pretty good though, and has a great hook for a slasher mask: the killer wears 3D printed masks of his victims (said killer complaining about how hard it is to make the masks during the climax is a line/delivery on par with Stu's "My mom and dad are gonna be SO MAD AT MEEEE!"). Not only is it a creepy visual, but it actually ties into the theme, of people running away from themselves (our heroine is new to town after fleeing her old town thanks to being involved in a tragedy) as it operates as something of a widespread I Know What You Did Last Summer. The victims all have dirty secrets (hazing beatings, an anonymous racist podcast, etc) that establishes pretty early that this isn't revenge for any particular crime but someone with an axe to grind against the town's residents as a whole (which, along with the corn-filled Nebraska setting, made me think of the recent Clown in a Cornfield novel, which I recommend!).

Unfortunately even with this seeming surplus of potential villains, anyone with a GED in Slasher School will probably be able to figure out who the culprit is pretty early on, which dampened the fun a touch for me. But what it lacks in proper whodunit mastery it excels in making characters to care about who also seem real and - bless - genuine friends! There's like one little spat at around the hour point but otherwise our group of heroes (intentionally filling in stereotypes: a jock, a stoner, etc) spend all their time together in harmony - they literally put their heads together and look up at the stars at one point. It's also impressively inclusive but without making a big deal out of it, which (as I've said before) is the best way to go about it, by just doing it as if it didn't need to be spelled out or addressed from a soapbox - because isn't!

It's coming soon from Netflix, which is a shame as it means a sizable chunk of its audience will be watching it with one eye on their phone (though maybe it'll make the reveal more surprising?), but for those who fawned all over Fear Street 1994 earlier this summer, I hope you give it a proper viewing. For my money, it's doing a lot of the same things, but doing them better.

What say you?

P.S. My laptop - which I am using for the first time in over two years - is a piece of shit. The spacebar doesn't work well and it has a habit of shifting the cursor to some random spot, so I start typing my next word in the middle of an earlier, unrelated sentence, screwing up my train of thought to try to fix it. Needless to say there might be some weird typos in here that I missed, and I simply don't have the patience to try to format it (italics and such), so for that I apologize. I'll clean it up when I get back home.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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