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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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

Old (2021)

JULY 24, 2021

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

In retrospect, a string of box office duds may have been the best thing to happen to M. Night Shyamalan. After a couple misfires in a row (regardless of how you or I felt about them; in fact I'm quite fond of After Earth), the filmmaker either found himself unable to get big budgets or simply chose not to pursue them anymore. Either way he went off and made The Visit, which was a big hit (and proved, again, that filmmakers who knew how to make real movies were also better equipped to make found footage ones) and started a healthy relationship with Blumhouse and, by extension, Universal Pictures. Both outfits are known for letting filmmakers do what they want as long as the budgets are kept in check, a godsend for someone like Shyamalan who, as Old repeatedly proves, has idiosyncratic tendencies that either balance out or simply exacerbate certain weaknesses in his screenplays.

Luckily for me, I'm usually on board with such quirks, and was not surprised to discover how much I enjoyed the film, same as I have pretty much everything he's made thus far. I didn't see Last Airbender or his first two, pre-Sixth Sense films, but of his filmography otherwise, I'd slot Lady in the Water as the only one I didn't enjoy on some level; even The Happening (a close second last in that ranking) has plenty of ironic entertainment value ("Cough syrup") and a fairly solid first half. Like Stephen King, the filmmaker tends to whiff some of the early promise on a misguided ending, but while I wouldn't consider Old's denouement a home run, it's thankfully free of the collapses that made Glass and The Village harder to watch a second time when their solid setups ended up having lousy outcomes.

(SPOILERS ARE AHEAD THROUGHOUT THE REVIEW! Consider this an all purpose warning!)

It's possible that having pre-existing material to draw from helped him a little this time around; I've long said that he could benefit from a writing partner that could reign in some (emphasis on some) of his harder-to-swallow tendencies and refine his ideas into something a little less clunky. Here he is adapting a French graphic novel called Sandcastle, and while I haven't read it myself, some internet sleuthing has led me to discover that the basic plot is the same but he added his own ideas, including the ending. But even though he's being "unfaithful" to the text, I think that having it to fall back on and give him a loose road map of how to proceed with the story kept things working more or less smoothly.

By now you've all probably heard the elevator pitch: some people find a beach that ages them rapidly (someone does the math in the movie, and I think they come up with every half hour being about one year in real time) and also can't seem to escape. This gives the film a depressing ticking clock; they're not trying to stop a bomb or anything like that, they're simply trying to come up with a plan to escape while also gradually realizing that their time on this earth is being whittled away and thus maybe it's better to just make the most of what time they have left. Shyamalan isn't shy (sorry) about hitting us over the head with the basic idea of not wishing your life away; in the opening scene the mom (Vicky Krieps) scolds one child for wanting the ride to the resort to go faster ("Just appreciate what you see around you right now!") while also daydreaming of when her daughter will be older and have an even more beautiful singing voice than she does now.

I of course am guilty of the latter; I frequently bemoan my son being too young to enjoy this or that movie, needing assistance with things that require me to get off my lazy ass, etc.* But I also get sad when it's clear he's gotten *too old* for certain things; I packed up some of his Mickey Mouse Clubhouse DVDs the other day and nearly started crying, thinking of all the times he would excitedly dance to the theme song (and encourage me to dance along with him), an activity he's long since outgrown and will be one of many I'll wish to enjoy just one more time when I blink a few more times and watch him go off to college. That whole "live in the present" thing is so hard to keep in mind, so a movie (a horror/thriller no less) revolving around that concept of our time always being taken away from us is very appealing to me, the kind of thing that will allow me to forgive some blemishes.

I say this because, you know, it's an M. Night Shyamalan movie. By now you should know that will mean some strange performances from dependable actors (Ken Leung in particular seemed kind of bewildered at times), kooky dialogue, a distracting cameo by the man himself (luckily it comes pretty early - he's the guy who drives them to the beach), and - yes - a twist that you either have to roll with or let it kill the whole experience. Interestingly, this time around the twist itself is perfectly fine, in fact it's one of his better ones in many ways - but he adds another wrinkle to it that I found unnecessary. I'll have to spoil it to make any sense, so once again I'm going to warn you off, but I will confine it to the next paragraph, so just skip that one if you're here for minor spoilers but don't want the reveal given away.

For those still here, I kind of loved the surprise twist that the people who died on Old Island were in fact specifically targeted to go there due to their various illnesses, as there is a team of scientists and doctors using the island's mysterious aging properties to find cures for all of the world's diseases. It's a trial and error process, but it apparently works - we learn at the end that one of the victims' deaths proved to be the final key in creating a cure for epilepsy. Had the movie ended there, with the knowledge that these people weren't dying in vain, it would be fine, but Shyamalan opts to have it both ways, and let two survivors spill the island's secrets to the police, shutting down their operation. Sure, what they're doing has some serious moral issues, but I think the film would have been even more successful if the filmmaker let us debate about that for ourselves on the way out of the theater, instead of using his lead character to remove any such ambiguity when he "heroically" shuts it all down and prevents cancer or (since it was shot only a year ago) covid from being cured.

But again, these kinds of slip ups aren't rare in his filmography, so you should be prepared for something like that anyway. However, you might be more surprised by how gnarly the film gets at times, with the rapid aging element being used for less obvious highlights as our group of twelve characters spend their awful day at the beach. For example, wounds tend to heal quicker than they should, which means a few basic "someone gets cut and the wound instantly turns to a scar" kind of things, but also broken bones healing quickly despite being in the wrong place, or a surgery to remove a tumor being thwarted by the skin closing itself back up as they reach in to extract it. Shyamalan's films always kind of tiptoe around being full blown horror films, and while this is no exception, I feel it's the first one that enters EC Comics territory when it comes to some of its effects.

Ultimately, in its own strange way, it functions just fine as a simple "Don't wish your life away, appreciate your life and that of your loved ones" message movie. There are some genuinely sad moments in the film, stemming from both the adults finding themselves facing their twilight "years" by nightfall, and from the children who had their entire adolescence stolen from them. When two adult actors decide to make a sandcastle, out of context it seems silly, but in the film's reality, it's a pair of 6 and 10 year old children whose minds haven't developed enough to fully process what has happened to them over the past day. Yes, there are some inconsistencies with the aging (there are four versions of the son, one of whom is played by Hereditary's Alex Wolff, but only three versions of his sister), but again, there's a "just go with it" quality to Shyamalan's output that any moviegoer should be accustomed to after a dozen films. If you're the type to laugh off his work, this one certainly won't change your mind, but for those who have stuck around for the long haul, I hope you'll agree that this is one of his better films, and admirably more personal despite the concept.

What say you?

*I SHIT YOU NOT he interrupted me as I was writing this very sentiment to help him put a game in the Xbox. Basically I want him to age to the point of being able to figure that out for himself but NOT get too old to want to play said game(s) with me.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Fear Street (Trilogy) (2021)

JULY 2-16, 2021

GENRE: SLASHER, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX)

Even if I hated every minute of the three Fear Street films, I'd at least give Netflix credit for a. attempting something new (for the completely uninitiated, that would be a trilogy of interconnected films released over a three week period) and b. not dumping all three films at once. Some of their binge-loving client base may have scoffed at the notion of having to wait an entire week to see the next chapter (I'd love to see these self-entitled babies deal with watching the first two seasons of Lost in the manner we had to put up with), however I feel it was not only hopefully something they'll consider more often, but also motivated viewers like me to keep coming back.

Because here's the thing: I barely tolerated the first entry, 1994. After a decent opening (one so beholden to the opening of Scream they might as well have just named the soon-to-be-dead character "Drew" for good measure) we spent the next 15 minutes meeting our characters, and they were pretty much all insufferable to me. The heroine, Deena, was basically introduced yelling at her brother, and then after a quick chat with her besties (a pair of drug dealers), she met up with her recent ex-girlfriend and started screaming at her as well. Then we're given the rundown of a historical feud between the two towns of Shadyside and Sunnyvale, something either the budget didn't allow to depict or the makers simply thought dialogue would suffice; we're supposed to understand one town is rich and prosperous while the other is filled with degenerates and claptrap houses, but this distinction is never fully made clear (it doesn't help that the two town names are so similar that I've seen multiple reviews/tweets mixing them up). We mostly just see a bunch of jocks on both sides fighting, which is something that happens in pretty much every town.

So, basically, very little is working. Things pick up a bit when the killings start, because at least the characters don't yell at each other as often, but director Leigh Janiak and her writers make the mistake not once but twice of presenting kills nearly back to back only to make us wait again for the next, as opposed to evenly distributing them over the film's dangerously near-fatal runtime of just under two hours. And yes, Scream also has a long time between kills (after Casey and Steve, the next victim is the principal, nearly an hour later), but it also had the attacks on Sidney (house and bathroom) to make up for it, not to mention a more engaging, personal story as opposed to some hazily defined town curse. There's a bread slicer kill that has been championed on Twitter, and rightfully so - but by that point I had already decided this was Not For Me™ and kind of checked out.

Now, if they dumped all three films at once, I'd likely say "OK, well, I'll get to the others when I'm bored" and - judging from my history with many Netflix shows - probably never do that. But because the next one wasn't around yet, and also because I seemed to be in the minority for 1994, a week of social media hype for the first film and what could happen in the second resulted in me getting more and more interested in watching the second installment, 1978. It didn't hurt that this one promised the appearance of Gillian "Britta" Jacobs (as a brunette no less, my Achilles heel!) and a summer camp setting that suggested something more Friday the 13th-y than the debut entry could muster. Also, while its excess didn't bug me as much as some others, the '90s soundtrack in the first movie would obviously not be a *thing* in 1978, so I was a little curious about what sort of classic rock tracks Netflix would license for a movie aimed at kids who probably considered the first film's soundtrack to be "old" (I realize now that my listening to Dark Side of the Moon in high school is, time-wise at least, the same as a kid in high school now listening to Incubus. Christ).

In short, while most Netflix dumps mean that after a few days no one remembers them, a week of seeing folks' anticipation for the next one had me thinking maybe I should give it another shot. And thus on the day it was released I found myself watching a sequel to a movie I didn't care for, and - thankfully - finding it to be a better use of my time. It still had an alienating way of introducing our leads (more yelling! With bonus physical assault this time for good measure) and some pacing issues, but Janiak thankfully spaced out her kills (and even offed a few of the kids at the camp! *cue "Nature Trail to Hell"*), kept the licensed soundtrack selections to a minimum, and gave us a little more context for the war between the two towns that made it a little more clear to me. Also, it got around one of the crippling flaws of the first one, which is that its trio of killers would just run right by a potential victim if they didn't have any of the "marked" blood on them, which made it feel more like It Follows than a proper slasher, and also severely impacted the suspense when we knew someone would be safe if they didn't have any blood on their shirt. Remember that scene in Jason Takes Manhattan when he just storms through the subway chasing our idiot leads instead of wiping out all the trapped victims, and how disappointing that was? That's what 1994 felt like to me during *all* of its stalk scenes.

No, this guy will go after anyone from Shadyside, which is half the cast. This means we're denied a few things we should have gotten to enjoy, like this or that Sunnyvale jerk getting their due, but at least the potential body count is still high and varied enough to keep things suspenseful. On the other hand, the film revolves around a collossally dumb twist that does not work in the slightest (spoiler ahead, skip the rest of this long paragraph if you want to be "surprised"), which was established in the first film in a very clunky way by introducing Jacobs' character as "C. Berman" as opposed to her full name. The second film focuses on what happened to her and her sister in 1978, with Jacobs telling us her sister died, and then we meet the younger versions: Cindy and Ziggy. So, obviously, Ziggy dies and Jacobs is Cindy, or else she'd be "Z. Berman", right? Well, that's what they want us to think, but there is never even the slightest bit of doubt that Jacobs' character is Ziggy, and Cindy will be the one to die at the end of 1978's story. Near the end, we learn Ziggy's real name is "Christine", to explain the initial, but... why not just omit the word "Ziggy" in the first place? If we only know her in the present as "C", then she could be Christine or Cindy, and we'd still have a mystery, right? But with the clunky "C." nonsense, any halfway intelligent viewer would notice the attempt at subterfuge (ironically, I talked to a few people who were half-watching and never even noticed there was a twist attempt but still had no doubt that Jacobs was playing the grown up Ziggy). Plus, she is telling the story to 1994's survivors, and near the end one of them is like "Wait, YOU'RE Ziggy!" - how the hell was she telling this story about her own tragic past without revealing which person she was in the story? It's just so dumb, and needless.

This aside, I liked the movie more than the first; still had some issues, but overall I found it more my speed, and didn't even need social media peer pressure to get me interested in the third, even if the trailer suggested it was ditching the slasher stuff entirely in favor of witchcraft. Ironically, despite my preference for body count fare, I think the 3rd one, 1666, was the best of the lot; not only did it have almost NO pop songs (because duh) allowing Marco Beltrami's solid score to shine a little brighter, it also dropped just about every problem I had with the others (wonky pacing, aggravating characters) and finally giving us the story of Sarah Fier, the accused witch who may or may not be the root of all of Shadyside's problems. The cast from the other two all come back as their own ancestors (or just others; Sarah is played by the same actress who plays Deena in the 1994 segments, though they aren't related and the movie even tells us that the real Sarah didn't look like her, but thematically it works) and struggle with the old timey accents, but the entire period detail is unconvincing so it fits in a way; almost like you're watching a '90s kid interpret the events through their own mindset as opposed to one rooted in reality (with the Deena/Sarah casting fitting perfectly in that sense).

Fier's story turns out to be more interesting than we'd been led to believe thus far, culminating in a pre-death send off speech that is far and away the highlight of the entire trilogy. And (surprise of sorts coming in) the 1666 part of the tale is only about half of the movie; we then return to 1994 for the finale that ties everything together in an effective way, with the 1994 kids teaming up with Jacobs (1978's survivor) to settle the business that started in 1666, once and for all. Whether it will be enough to win over anyone who flat out hated the first two movies, I don't know, but if you feel the way I did about them I think you'll agree that the way they built on each other almost even retroactively improved the others. I can't say with certainty that I'll ever make time to rewatch 1994 again, but if I did, I think I'll enjoy it a bit more, if only for the sequels filling in all the town rivalry backstory that was driving so much of the first film, and knowing the characters eventually redeem themselves. Also, I tend to find any movie that suffers from a slow pace is usually easier to watch a second time around, now that you're adequately prepared for its lapses.

The final shot of 1666 sets up a sequel, and given the response it seems Netflix would be silly to fail to deliver on that promise, especially given the wealth of RL Stine source material to draw from. Also, I would be remiss not to mention that, as with the recent Freaky, the films do an excellent job at offering representation (both with regards to race and sexuality) without making a big deal about it, which to me is the best way to do it - without making themselves a target for the ignorant, such folks will likely watch without even realizing how natural and easy it can be. So even if the series had to gradually win ME over (to be clear for the skimmers among you, my ranking is 1666 > 1978 > 1994), it's great that the younger crowd it's aimed at will likely see someone they can identify with in this kind of film, something my non straight white horror pals of the same age never really got when we were growing up, as both LGBTQ and POC characters were always secondary at best (the Black guy in Friday the 13th Part 2 doesn't even die! He just disappears! And I don't think the series ever had a queer character at all). On that front, the series is a resounding success, so if they can work on their storytelling a bit and how/when to dole out exposition in a way that is engaging instead of obtuse, they'll have something that truly lives up to the films that clearly inspired them.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

House of Wax (2005)

JULY 11, 2021

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

Even if I disliked 2005's House of Wax, I'd be forever indebted to its existence, because in the Fangoria writeup on the film around the time of its release, director Jaume Collet-Serra noted that it was actually more of a remake of Tourist Trap than its Vincent Price namesake. Knowing next to nothing about Tourist Trap, I tracked down a copy and quickly fell in love with it; in fact it's one of the very few DVDs in my collection that I've watched more than once or twice, as there's almost always another good excuse to revisit it. But, sort of as a bonus in retrospect, I quite liked House of Wax too, and watching again for the first time in over fifteen years (Jesus...) proved it has held up nicely.

In fact I'd almost say it was the best Dark Castle movie if not for Orphan, which is, incidentlly, also from Collet-Serra. I credit him with 50% of Wax's succes, if I'm being honest, as the script (by the Hayes brothers) is nothing particularly special on its own. While it admirably moved away from the Price film (naming a character "Vincent" is about the only connection it has beyond the title) and even Tourist Trap (albeit to a lesser extent), it's for the most part a fairly generic slasher on the page. Our characters run through all the cliches: taking a shortcut, having car trouble, poking around creepy places... in some ways it's almost admirable how unambitious it is on that level, as if they knew whatever flourishes they added would be ignored and any such ideas should be saved for another screenplay where inventiveness might be better received (as any Friday the 13th filmmaker can tell you, the more you divert from the formula, the more you risk angering the fanbase). The one thing they do bring to the table is allowing cell phone use and even letting someone be alerted to danger by a phone message, instead of going the usual "no service" route early on like most of these things. So I'll give the writers that much.

But Collet-Serra is giving 110%, so that you might not even notice how on-rails it can be at times, especially to anyone who had seen the then-recent Texas Chainsaw remake, which it often resembles right down to surprisingly killing the heroine's boyfriend first (a move that might even play better now since said boyfriend is Sam Winchester himself, Jared Padalecki, i.e. a guy you'd think would outlast the three other dudes). Crane shots, diopter shots, long lenses... at a time when TV directors were getting these gigs and giving the movies no personality at all, this newcomer was clearly fired up, doing the sort of work that should make it no surprise he'd be helming big budget Liam Neeson movies in a few years. That he wasn't afraid to hold back on the gore/violence (even against the heroine, who loses a finger and probably wouldn't want to apply lipstick anytime soon after her ordeal) was just icing on the cake; even if shot for PG-13 I suspect his efforts would have been noticed and put him on the list of people to keep an eye on in the future.

The other half of the movie's strength comes from the production design. By now this was sort of a guarantee with the Dark Castle movies, but they hit their apex here with the titular house, which (unlike the original) was indeed made entirely of wax, allowing the fiery finale to showcase some truly icky visuals even though blood/violence wasn't really a factor by that point. There's something incredibly gross about seeing our heroes endlessly sinking and clawing through the mud-like house as it slowly caves in around them (I think I heard on one of the bonus features that it was peanut butter), and after seeing a million scenes of the angry killer smashing through a door to get at his would-be victims, it's kind of great to watch one casually slice through it and then peel it apart without really breaking a sweat. Even if you hated the rest of the movie, that ten minute climax would be something you'd dig, I think.

And the wax figures (read: corpses covered in wax) are no slouches either, as Elisha Cuthbert and Chad Michael Murray run across well over a dozen as they make their way through the town and give us closeup looks at many (one of which the camera lingers on for a bit as if setting something up, but turns out was a *payoff* for a deleted prologue showing her demise). As we learn on the behind the scenes, most if not all of them were actually living people wearing wax masks, as opposed to just dressing up mannequins or whatever. While this may have been a needless expenditure (not to mention set the filmmakers up for gaffes when the actors inadvertenly moved a bit), it pays off - we've seen dummies/corpses propped up in any number of movies, but the unspoken fact that they're legitimately alive gives their scenes (particularly the movie theater sequence) an extra dose of atmospheric creepiness.

As for the cast, they're, you know, doing their job. Even Paris Hilton seems to "understand the assignment" as the kids say today, and I can't tell if it's funny or sad that, despite her notoriety (and the film's "See Paris Die!" ad campaign) she's actually more likeable than anyone in, say, Texas Chainsaw 3D or some of the other films in this vein that came along later. Hell, I'd root for her over most of the people in the two Fear Street movies that have been released thus far, and it ain't out of any particular fondness for the woman - she's just more sympathetic. Her death IS great though, and I'll always wonder if they pumped it up a bit after she was cast. Also, having not seen it since it came to DVD (i.e. long before Friday the 13th 2009), it was funny to see that Chad Michael Murray's role in the film is a lot like the one Padelecki played in F13, as if he took that role if only to make up for being killed off so quickly here. "Now it's my turn!"

Scream Factory's blu-ray has a new transfer that looks fine to my eyes (as I've noted in the past, I'm not particularly diligent when it comes to tracking these things; as long as I don't have to adjust my existing settings or say "Hey, this looks like shit", I think it's a good presentation) and carries over all of the bonus features from Warner's own DVD/Blu. They also add four new interviews, including one with Hilton, who is very proud of her work here and speaks highly of the cast, Silver, etc. Unfortunately, as was the case before there's almost nothing from Collet-Serra across the board; he pipes in with a few soundbites on the fluffy making of, but that's about it. I would have loved to have known why they cut the original opening, as not only did it have a great kill but the movie took its time to get to the carnage, so it would have bought it some goodwill for those who were getting impatient.

Somewhere on those older features Silver notes that the movie will be in theaters on Halloween, but that ended up not being the case as it was moved up to May, and I'd love to know more about that. Not only did that potentially eat into their post production time, but it also may have cost the movie a few million at the box office, as if they waited they would have the star of Supernatural as another marketing hook (the show premiered that September) but also nabbed the people who tend to get more excited about horror movies in October than they do in May. I assume it was because the October schedule ended up being sort of competitive with IP offerings (The Fog, Doom, and Saw II, all with far more built-in awareness than a 50+ year old Vincent Price movie offered), but again, this is the sort of thing the director would probably address if he was on hand to give his thoughts. Oh well. Maybe for the eventual 4K UHD? I'd be down to get it again; that peanut butter wax will look more viscous than ever!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The "Original" Cut of Cursed

Sorry for the relative quiet the past two weeks here, but there's an excuse besides laziness for once: I was researching and then writing this mega-article about the original version of Wes Craven's Cursed, which I was finally able to watch thanks to an anonymous friend (read: don't bug me about how to see it for yourself). The article is up now at the Screamfest site, so if you're starved for some BC-ified rambling, or just a Cursed fan who happened by, head on over and check it out. Regular HMADing will resume shortly; yes I watched Fear Street 1994 but didn't like it much, so hopefully 1978 will either be more to my liking or, if not, give me enough to write something on why it's not working for me (though given its serial nature I think I'd still like to wait for the final installment before passing judgment). I also have the new House of Wax blu on deck (yay!) and Purge 5 when I get a chance to see it. So it'll pick up soon, promise!

PLEASE, GO ON...

Werewolves Within (2021)

JUNE 27, 2021

GENRE: COMEDIC, WEREWOLF
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I knew I'd be on board with Werewolves Within's brand of humor instantly, when the film opened with a quote set to ominous music, as many horror movies do, only to attribute (with a Halloween style musical sting) the quote to Mr Rogers. That's the sort of dry/weird joke I love, and the same subtle/nervous comedy kept me cackling throughout most of the movie's runtime, though it won't obviously be as funny for everyone (in particular the gentleman to my left, who was sitting next to my assigned seat and thus was either sitting in the wrong seat or a sociopath, so it wasn't surprising he was also a humorless tool as I don't think he laughed once). That, along with the very limited werewolf action, might make it a tough sell for some.

To be clear, this is not a "horror comedy" the way American Werewolf in London is - it's a straight up comedy that may or may not have a werewolf in it. In the opening scene, a man is killed by something offscreen, and when his body is discovered a month later (you know, when the moon is full again) it is determined that an animal did it. However the residents of this isolated small town also discover that their generators have all been destroyed, which suggests it was done on purpose, something an animal wouldn't know to do. And thus the werewolf theory is brought up, but it's not until the film's climax that we are given a firm answer of whether or not it is indeed a lycanthrope or someone just using the myth to get around and do what they need to do.

Instead it's kind of a riff on The Thing or something along those lines, where everyone is holed up in one spot (a hotel in this case) and accusing each other of being the culprit. The residents are at odds due to a proposed new pipeline that will require some of them to sell their land; some of them are all for the idea (due to the money it'll bring in for them), others lived there specifically for the scenery and do not want it all torn up for what may be an environmental hazard. Add in an affair and some low key political disagreements ("Lock her up" is invoked) and you have the makings of a solid paranoia story, where everyone has a good motive for offing some of the others and (as the title suggests) more than one guilty party - werewolf or not - is likely.

And caught in the middle is our hero, Finn (Sam Richardson) a ranger who just arrived in town and is possibly the only sane person in the film. His guide around town is Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), the lone mailperson and possible love interest for the recently dumped Finn, and the two of them have terrific chemistry that can always be counted on to tide over some of the film's slower spots. Because the script is designed to not tell you whether or not it really is a werewolf until it absolutely has to, not much happens in terms of "horror" for long stretches of the film - in fact, at one point a character is killed off screen entirely in order to preserve the mystery that much longer. Some horror comedies can still work on you even if you're not a fan of the style of humor, because there's enough of the horror element to keep you invested (Slither comes to mind as a well balanced example), but with this one... if you're not laughing a lot after ten minutes or so, you might as well just cut your losses.

Luckily for me I was very much on its humor wavelength. At times I was reminded of Drowning Mona, a dark comedy from 2000 that, despite its cast (Danny DeVito, Neve Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Will Ferrell, Casey Affleck...) has never really found its reappraisal, but if you're a fan of that one you should find lots to like here. I am not as familiar with Richardson as many as I didn't watch Veep or Detroiters, but he's been someone who always managed a few good laughs out of me whenever he popped up in supporting parts (his "Baby of the Year" sketch on I Think You Should Leave was one of that A+ series' best moments) so I was delighted to see him taking lead duties. Half of his role is basically just reacting to the nonsense around him ("Never the left" nearly killed me, for those who have seen it), and most of that nonsense is funny itself, so I rarely stopped chuckling in any scene where more than two or three people were involved.

This unfortunately means that once the body count starts to rise, it gets less funny, though it's still not really coming off a "horror movie" (by design, I should stress). With less people to bounce jokes off, the laughs become a little more scattered, which wouldn't be an issue if they had ramped up the werewolf concept, but alas - that opening scene is about as scary/suspenseful as it gets, at least until the climax. It's not a crippling flaw, but again, if you aren't as amused by its comedic stylings as I was, I can see how this stretch of the film might be interminable. There's also one actor who doesn't seem to realize they're in a comedy, so they tend to throw off the chemistry a bit (and yet are also one of the last to make their exit), so I couldn't help but think if their role was played by someone with a little more pep that they might have smoothed over this minor rough patch.

Otherwise it's a real gem, and I was happy I got to see it in a theater with a mostly appreciable crowd, as the lack of that sort of energy can be deathly when you're watching this kind of film alone at home (it's coming to VOD like, this week). I was also surprised to see the Ubisoft logo at the top; I knew there was a game with the title but I didn't realize this was actually a licensed adaptation (albeit one that has almost nothing in common with the source material beyond the title and basic concept of trying to figure out who is a werewolf; even the setting is different). Maybe that guy next to me was a game fan, angry at how much they changed? But whatever; the game doesn't have Milana Vayntrub spiritedly dancing along to Ace of Base's "The Sign" or Sam Richardson shouting "BALLS!" over and over at the advice of a self-help tape on how to be more manly, so I'm gonna go ahead and say they made the right call.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Kindred (2020)

JUNE 20, 2021

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

When Scream Factory said they were putting out Kindred, some (including me) assumed it referred to the 1987 movie with Rod Steiger, a mutant baby thing that's right in their wheelhouse. But no, it's a new film (coming from SF via their IFC partnership), a sort of Rosemary's Baby/Flowers in the Attic hybrid about a woman who is having a pretty rough month: first she finds out she's pregnant despite being on the pill, and then her boyfriend gets killed in an accident, prompting her would-be mother-in-law Margaret (Fiona "Aunt Petunia" Shaw) to decide to basically trap her in her stately manor until the baby is born, feeling she's got a right to be a part of its life as it's all she has left of her bloodline.

Not a bad plot for a film, and for the most part it works just fine, though it can feel a bit repetitive the longer it goes. And it does go long; it's over 100 minutes and yet what I already described is pretty much the extent of its narrative. Our pregnant hero, Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) occasionally attempts an escape or tries to get someone to help her, but nothing ever works: she ends up back in the house and/or her would be saviors turn her directly over to the mother and her stepson, Thomas (Jack Lowden). The thrust comes from whether they actually mean to do her harm (i.e. will they kill her once the baby is born) or if they're actually right to be so over protective, as not only does Charlotte not want the baby (at first anyway) but she exhibits signs of some kind of mental illness that causes her to see things and forget things.

The way this is handled is pretty interesting. Early on she cuts her hand on a glass, and we see this, but she doesn't remember it the next morning - as far as she's concerned, they did something to her in her sleep. So any other developments, such as when she wakes up to find Thomas in her bed and he claims she asked him to be there for some kind of comfort, we are left not fully knowing if she is being gaslit or if Thomas is telling the truth. Apart from locking her in a room for a bit (after she becomes violent), they never really do anything harmful to her, so as far as we can see their only real crime is being overprotective of a child that they have no claim to but seemingly only want to ensure it doesn't die due to the mother's increasingly irrational behavior.

So we're dealing with a lot of gray areas here, essentially. It'd be easy to say Charlotte's the hero and Margaret is the villain, but (and perhaps actual parents like me - watching on Father's Day no less - will be more susceptible here) when it comes to the safety of the child, there is no question that despite her domineering attitude, the kid's got a better chance with Margaret. Charlotte, on the other hand, hallucinates a flock of birds attacking her car and ultimately crashes, the sort of thing that might have easily killed them both (she also repeatedly drinks and smokes after discovering she is pregnant). But your sympathies will likely lie with her anyway, because at the end of the day she is repeatedly having control of her own life being taken away. Even boyfriend Ben goads her into keeping the child when she discovers she's pregnant, waving off her hesitation and telling her she'd be a great mom.

The occasionally frustrating vagueness and circular plotting is more or less balanced out by the terrific performances of its central trio of cast members, in particular Shaw who gives an outstanding three and a half minute monologue about the double edged sword of parenting, and how she regrets being selfish when Ben was an infant - it apparently took her a few years for her protective nature to kick in. Director Joe Marcantonio lets it play out in an unbroken shot with an almost imperceptible dolly in, and it's far and away the best part of the movie, an almost literal centerpiece (meaning it comes around the halfway mark) that would have probably bumped the movie up a full star for me, if I were to give ratings here.

Marcantonio provides a commentary for the disc's lone extra besides the trailer, and while it's more technically oriented than I would have liked (as he cowrote the script I was hoping for more narrative insight) it's a pretty enjoyable track all the same. He notes that the presence of tea in the film was not an intentional reference to Get Out, as many have claimed, and also explains that the script was not written for a Black woman, specifically, but she just happened to be the best actress that he saw for the job (he notes he only made one change as a result: instead of the locked room she was originally chained to the bed, but he didn't want people to draw that connection). He also wonders if anyone would listen to it, to which I say "I did!"

He also, at one point, says that he didn't really cut much out of the movie, though he notes several occasions where something was removed, so I guess I should be grateful that the movie isn't over two hours long as it seemingly could have been. He could have cut MORE (there's a random bit with a groundskeeper that has no bearing on anything that I could see), but as this is also the sort of movie that demands a little patience, perhaps by keeping it over 100 minutes he is ensuring the sort of folks who will hate it won't ever bother with it anyway as it's "too long." Ultimately, there are better options for this sort of thing (I'm glad he mentioned Park Chan-Wook on his commentary, as Stoker came to mind more than once during my viewing, both in general atmosphere and in creepy piano usage), but it's not like we're being inundated with them, so there's no harm in a slightly lesser entry joining the field. It's better than that other Kindred, at any rate.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Killdozer (1974)

JUNE 15, 2021

GENRE: TECHNOLOGY
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (BORROWED)

There's nothing worse than a trailer or ad campaign for a film being very misleading, as it does a disservice to the film by angering the people who showed up and all but ensures it won't find its actual fans until it's been written off as a flop. But it's kind of amusing when the only one to blame is myself, as if I was ever pressed to describe what Killdozer was about, I would have said "A guy makes a tank out of a bulldozer and gets revenge on the people who destroyed his home," but that isn't remotely accurate. Turns out I combined the real life story of Marvin Heemeyer (whose modified bulldozer was indeed dubbed "Killdozer", despite the fact that, miraculously, no one was killed with it in his rampage) and the plot of King/Bachman's Roadwork in my head, somehow, and made up a different movie in my head.

Turns out, the actual movie is about a regular bulldozer becoming sentient thanks to hitting a meteor rock during a job, and proceeding to wipe out most of the crew who is working on a remote, uninhabited island, away from anything else for the bulldozer to do. It was a 1974 made for TV movie, so you'd be a fool to be surprised it had some slow parts, but when not much was happening I was entertained by the gradual realization of how I managed to come up with the wrong plot. The "Killdozer" element was easy enough to figure out (Heemeyer) but between the driverless machine running people down and "meteor shit" to blame I can only assume someone said, at some point, "Stephen King must have seen Killdozer" and I merely managed to attribute a different one of his plots to this. The human brain is fascinating, guys.

Would my imagined movie have been any better? Maybe. It certainly would have been more interesting to look at, as there are only six people in the thing and they manage to kill the distinctive ones off first. One was the lone person of color and the other stood out because it was a young Robert Urich, who my dad knew somehow (I forget the specifics and they're both dead so I can't ask) and was thus a common presence in my early TV watching days, as my parents would gravitate toward things he was in and point him out. I doubt this one was ever one they had me watch; plus he dies first so my horror-hating dad wouldn't have watched any further anyway. Worse, there is literally nothing on the island beyond the men, their makeshift camp, and scattered equipment, so Killdozer doesn't have much to destroy, nor do they have anywhere to hide.

So the movie gets pretty repetitive, as you can imagine. Killdozer shows up and kills someone, they bury him, talk for a bit, try something that doesn't work, and then someone gets killed. Lather, rinse, repeat. One could even think of it as a proto-slasher of sorts, but if you think of the blandest body count movie there's at least some scenery changes to enjoy, which doesn't apply here. Worse, the screenplay (co-written by Theodore Sturgeon, based on his short story) seemingly loses interest in itself as it goes, with the deaths getting progressively lazier. The first one it actually kills (Urich is just sort of fried by its activation and dies later), the guy crawls inside a big pipe thinking he'd be safe, only for the 'dozer to batter it around and send him to his doom - not bad. But by the end, it looks more like that bit in Austin Powers with the steamroller, as the guy is in his jeep trying to get it started while the villain rolls toward him. At no point does the man think to simply get out of the car and run, as the thing isn't very fast and also can't exactly turn on a dime, making escape pretty easy. Nope, he just sits there, even has time for a "Oh shit, I guess this is it..." kind of expression as he literally waits to be crushed. Come on, movie. Try harder.

That said, it's still pretty amusing in its way. It was a 90 minute block TV movie, so it's under 75 minutes (just once I wish one of these would come with the vintage ads that aired along with it) and thus even with the repetition doesn't have time to wear out its welcome, and the extraterrestrial origins were a nice surprise. Whatever remote control type invention they came up with (or hidden compartment for a driver) to operate Killdozer was effective enough; I was surprised how many shots there were of it driving along without a visible operator. And the cast is great: Clint Walker is the lead and he's backed up by Urich, Neville Brand, and James Wainwright (if you name a single television show of note from the '70s or '80s, he was probably in it); the "isolated, all male" grouping is rare in horror (The Thing being the most prominent) and they all play off each other well, even allow themselves to get sad when someone dies. I was also relieved that the Black character wasn't "the BLACK character"; no one ever mentions his race or treats him differently, which obviously wasn't a guarantee at this time and can really sap the fun out of these older films when seeing them for the first time today (this does not mean that they should be JUDGED by today's standards, to be clear - I speak only of how such dated attitudes can distract from the experience).

Kino Lorber's disc (which I found at Target, amazingly; you can't even guarantee that they'll have mid-level box office hits anymore now that their physical media section is so tiny, but they had Killdozer) has an audio interview with director Jerry London (a TV director through and through, which should tell you how interesting he is to listen to) and a commentary by historian Lee Gambin, who provides some insight on TV movies at the time, how the film differed from its source story, etc. He also points out some of the other movies that were shot in the same location (such as Hell Comes to Frogtown), though it looked familiar to me when I watched it the first time so I had already looked it up - same spot as Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, which is right around the corner from Six Flags Magic Mountain (eerily, there was a lone bulldozer near the parking lot for a long time I always wondered about). Like the film itself he eventually runs out of gas (vehicle puns!) and leaves with a few minutes left in the runtime, and it's almost never scene specific, so it can be a little less than engaging, but if you're a die-hard fan of this film or any of the actors, there's probably enough in there to warrant a listen. Since the movie's so short and he quits early anyway it'll only take another hour or so out of your life, so you might as well if you bought Killdozer to own forever.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Censor (2021)

JUNE 13, 2021

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

One of my sadly unfinished HMAD projects was to watch all of the "Video Nasties", selecting ones I hadn't seen yet for the day's entry and giving "non canon" reviews to the ones I had. Alas, assuming I tagged them correctly, I only got a little over halfway through the list of 72 films on the "Section 1" and "Section 2" lists (the "Section 3" list was as big as the other two combined and was added later, so it was more of a "Maybe I'll do those once I finish the real ones" project). But the film Censor inspired me to at least make a list of the ones I hadn't got to yet and keep an eye out for them if they appear on Shudder or get added to the extensive/vaunted libraries of companies like Severin or Vinegar Syndrome, so *cross fingers* maybe I will eventually get to them all.

It's one of a few things that made my time with Censor ultimately rewarding overall, despite the film itself stumbled in its final reel. Set during the actual Video Nasties heyday in 1980's UK, the film stars Niamh Algar as Enid, a censor (hey that's the title!) who is tasked with writing up horror films and deciding which parts need to be removed, or if the film can even be passed for a rating at all. Unfortunately, presumably for rights issues, all of the films she watches are fake (not counting a title sequence that gives a few glimpses at real movies), which felt like a missed opportunity given the real world origins of its plot. The lone exception is Deranged, which is never seen but does play a part in the plot, as the film allegedly inspired a man to cut off his wife's face, not unlike an action that film's Ed Gein stand-in committed. Because the film got a rating with only a few cuts (and thus was not one of the banned "Nasties"), she is in hot water from the press and public, taking blame for the man's crimes because she "didn't do her job" and ban the film outright.

This subplot doesn't play much of a part in the grand scheme of things (in fact - minor spoiler - the late reveal that the guy never actually saw the movie anyway is basically tossed offhand) because Enid is far more concerned with the fact that the star of her latest assignment ("Don't Go In The Church", which prompts a pretty funny line about how they're running out of places they shouldn't go into) is a dead ringer for her sister Nina, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances when they were children. Her parents, not wishing to spend their final years hoping for a miracle, have decided to have her declared dead, so this along with the discovery of the actress who may actually be her sends Enid into a spiral. What actually happened that day? Is this actress really her sister? Will "Don't Go In The Church" get banned?

All of these plot threads established by the script by Prano Bailey-Bond (who also directed) and Anthony Fletcher, based on their earlier short titled "Nasty", have the makings of a perfectly good Polanski-type thriller where a woman unravels, but unfortunately everything goes off the rails once Enid's journey takes her to the set of the latest film starring the girl she thinks is her sister. Here, the film's Natural Born Killers-esque penchant for switching film formats and jumping between hallucinations and reality start to get the better of it, and after having me in its pocket for an hour it basically lost me. I couldn't believe how relatively quickly it began clearly heading toward a conclusion; amusingly, I saw it at the Drafthouse, which has a unique way of letting you know when a movie is almost over as they bring you the check for your dine-in service when there are only 30 minutes to go (including the credits). When my server brought the bill, I actually assumed he had it wrong and there was still lots more to go. Nope! It's just the rare film I wished was longer!

(Spoilers in the next paragraph, feel free to skip it!)

We're never given a clear explanation for what happened to her sister; we can suss it out from the little bits of info we're given along the way, but our protagonist never seems to be aware of it, which seems like a missed opportunity. There's also an undeveloped idea stemming from a Wizard of Oz-y type family film she seems to fixate on during a scene at a video store; the film comes into play in the final scene here, but again we kind of have to do a lot of the legwork ourselves (not always a problem, but when a movie is barely over 80 minutes with credits, they certainly could have padded it out with plot clarification instead of, as they do, repeating the entire credit sequence). And I love the idea that these censors are actually acting out of guilt for their own misdeeds and looking to assign blame elsewhere, but we meet at least five of her coworkers - are they all doing the same? If not, then the idea doesn't fully work, because they're just doing a job without any personal traumas informing what they do. Worse, they all just disappear from the story after a certain point, which, again, makes the movie feel incomplete. I assume it's a meta statement on how censors made those older films incomplete by hacking away at them without any regard for creative intent (the film's final shot of a VHS tape of "Censor" being ejected from a VCR points in that deconstructionist direction), but while that's a clever idea, it doesn't quite work when the film's gory murders are seen in full.

Until then, at least, it's an intriguing thriller with a unique (and appealing) backdrop. I was impressed with Algar after seeing her in the Statham vehicle Wrath of Man, and was delighted to see her taking center stage here (except for horror footage presented in full-screen, she is in every scene of the film). Her pulled back hair and matronly wardrobe tells us everything we need to know about how she might feel about the likes of Cannibal Holocaust before she even utters a word, and she handles the character's downward spiral perfectly (more and more of those tightened hairs seem to go out of place as the film continues, a nice little touch). And I hope it was intentional to present the censors' office space as the bleakest and most oppressive one of its type since Joe vs the Volcano, because it made me feel better that these horrible people would at least have to suffer in an equally horrible work environment.

I also loved the throwaway line about a film with "so many" S and F words that they couldn't cut them and just gave the film a "15" rating, because it pointed to the arbitrary nature of these boards when compared to America's MPA/CARA system. A 15 rating means no one under 15 can see the film (even with a parent), but that same rating is given to films that get PG-13s here (i.e. the Quiet Place films) as well as films that get Rs for violence (i.e. the aforementioned Wrath of Man), and even tweens can see the former without parents. So in one country, a 14 year old can't see the pretty much gore/violence free Quiet Place even with his parents, but they can all come here and see the gory/F bomb laden Spiral together. The only rating we have that teens can't see even with a parent is the super rare NC-17, which is pretty much only given to films for excessive violence or nudity (rare would-be exceptions, like The Aristocrats, end up going unrated because the NC-17 is a kiss of death).

So it's frustrating that I ended up being so cold on the film's final reel, because there was so much to like (enough that I'd still recommend seeing it, to be clear) but with a conclusion as good as the rest it'd be in that "Possibly in my top 5 for the year" kind of territory. I didn't even know it was based on a short beforehand, but it makes sense now; short filmmakers tend to have terrific ideas but fumble the endings when they make something longform, because their skill at hooking us early doesn't easily translate into a traditional three act structure. But even if the whole thing stunk, it might inspire those who have never heard of the Video Nasties to look into what is one of the more fascinating topics in horror history, so on that level I'd still call it a win anyway.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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