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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

NOVEMBER 24, 2021

GENRE: MONSTER, ZOMBIE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

One thing about covid that's interesting is that it's given movies a new possible reason to be underwhelming, as the logistics of mounting a production under these circumstances can be pretty daunting on top of the usual hurdles filmmaking must entail. So when you add in the fact that there has been and possibly will never be a foolproof formula for adapting a video game into a successful movie, it's almost a miracle that Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is even watchable, let alone "OK" and even kind of fun at times. But I could never shake the feeling that it could have been closer to "genuinely good" if it was produced in 2019, or (hopefully?) a year or two down the road.

Literally from the start, something seemed off about the film. It opens on a flashback of our eventual heroes, Claire and Chris Redfield (I'm going to assume you have at least passing familiarity with the games, just fair warning) at an orphanage, with the former being woken up - seemingly not for the first time - by a mysterious figure no one else thinks exists. The scene seems to last twice as long as any opening flashback of its type should, and there are other examples throughout the film that had me wondering if these scenes weren't supposed to take up as much screentime as they do, but merely had to be padded out in order to get the film into acceptable runtime (which, nowadays, means over 100 minutes, as anything shorter suggests it was compromised) as there were other scenes that had to be scrapped because there was no way to do them right under covid restrictions.

Similarly, there are at least two occasions in the movie where it felt like a scene was dropped, with characters appearing in new locations when they were far away the last time we saw them (in one instance, the character seemingly abandoned their spoken plan entirely and went in the opposite direction). There are also some dropped subplots, like armed mercenary types from Umbrella who are seen executing townsfolk, only to never appear again, let alone be a continual threat to our heroes. It's possible these scenes were indeed filmed and merely dropped for pacing or whatever, but when you consider the aforementioned scenes that go on for so long or simply have no followup, only an 11th hour hack job on par with the "glory years" of Dimension could explain these gaps.

No, I suspect covid and/or perhaps a reduced budget had writer/director Johannes Roberts forced into the unenviable position of having to streamline his ideas into something that could still be coherent and offer up the requisite number of scares and thrills. The movie's heart is clearly in the right place, something that will be very apparent to fans of the games who were left cold by Paul Anderson's dismissal of most of its canon. His films had pretty much all of the franchises' main players show up in some capacity, but the plots never really even came close to the storylines from the games (not surprising since they all revolved around Milla Jovovich's Alice, who has no game counterpart).

In contrast, Roberts definitely dives into the first two games, with Chris and Jill heading to the mansion to investigate what happened to a previous team, while Leon and Claire are out in the city as the latter searches for her brother. The movie presents these narratives as occurring simultaneously (the games were a couple months apart, if memory serves), which works just fine in some cases, but also keeps the two leads apart for far too much of the runtime. With Roberts using the Carpenter font and setting up a big chunk of the film's first half in a police station, it's not hard to think about a potential Assault on Precinct 13 style narrative, where you'd have all these characters with different motives all having to band together to fight zombies and monsters (either at the station or the more famous Spencer Mansion), but the movie is almost over by the time Claire and Leon finally meet up with the others.

(Speaking of Leon, the guy playing him is awful and grating. However you feel about how the character was used in the 5th entry in the previous franchise, at least that actor looked and felt like the actual Leon. This guy's like obvious cannon fodder you have to put up with for the whole movie, and seemingly ends every one of his scenes on some variation of "What the f___?" Maybe non gamers won't notice/care, but considering how much of the rest of the movie seems designed to please them, it's a really bizarre choice.)

Instead, we just keep going back and forth between the two groups, which means there are a couple of good sequences on their own (love the bit of a Licker making its presence known by lumbering on the floor above, making the hanging lights sway in succession until it's obviously right above our hero), but a noted lack of tension. Every time we switch to the other team, it's like hitting a soft reset, and by the time things start getting going with their story, it's time to check in with the others again. Plus, two small teams means there's entirely too much "safe" action - there's a noted lack of non-game characters who are around for more than a scene or two, and you don't have to be a game fan to know that the Redfields, Leon, and Jill are not going to die in this would-be franchise (re)starter, so apart from a few well done jolt moments, there's not a lot of terror to be found. There are bits in that first game - some recreated here! - that can still get a little yelp out of me, but too much of this film felt more like the 5th and 6th games, where action took precedence over horror. People say these movies are as fun as watching someone else play a game, but this goes further - it's like watching someone *expertly* play these games, robbing the viewer of true carnage.

I also couldn't understand the point of the 1998 setting apart from being faithul to the games. Umbrella seemingly controls every aspect of this town, so a simple "no cell phones" excuse doesn't work - they just would have blocked them anyway. It's actually kind of ironically funny when a character is given a Palm Pilot and has no idea what it is; if the movie was set in 2021, anyone under like 35 (as the character is) would be just as confused anyway. Roberts tosses in some '90s pop songs (no Steinman though, so Strangers 2 remains his peak in that department), but otherwise there isn't much point to the setting; for the most part you're likely to forget that it's supposed to be set nearly 25 years ago. And really, given its covid-era production (it was shot in late 2020) it almost seems like a missed opportunity to not draw on it for their plot about a virus spiraling out of control.

The good news is, unless you are simply Pavlovian with your reaction to Easter eggs and references to the games (I admit to laughing out loud at a "Jill sandwich" gag), you don't need to be a fan of the games to get as much enjoyment out of it as you can - I suspect newcomers and hardcore fans alike will agree that it misses the mark. It's certainly a decent enough timekiller, but never really rises above its straightforward goal of "being more faithful." Yeah, sure, you nailed that - but most if not all of Anderson's movies are more engaging and exciting, regardless of how they "ruined" this or that character. So in my book, that's not really an improvement; I'd rather a filmmaker tossed everything and made a movie that stands alone rather than watch one where more time was spent on matching the floor plan of a building than thinking of interesting things for the characters to DO in that building.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Maniac Cop 2 & 3

NOVEMBER 21, 2021

GENRE: REVENGE, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: 4K UHD (OWN COLLECTION)

To me, the true sign of a new format hitting its stride and being here to stay (so, unlike Divx or HD-DVD) is when high profile direct to video stuff starts coming along. You can always count on the studios to jump into the fray with their classics (it seems Warner Bros puts Goodfellas out on a new format the second it exists), and the boutique labels will test the waters with their big guns (i.e. Scream Factory with Halloween 1-5), but it's not until I see the likes of Maniac Cop 2 and Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence hitting 4K UHD that I can truly breathe easy and know that this is the format we will use for another eight or nine years until something better comes along yet again.

In fact, the original film still isn't even out on the format, making the sequels' appearance all the more wonderful. It was certainly a win for me, as I have never actually seen either of them; I remember a friend putting on MC2 one night when having me and a few other like minded "horror guys" over, but we all talked and drank through the entire thing, so when I sat down to watch it properly (a decade later to boot) it was basically like seeing it for the first time. More than once I've gotten questions about the films wrong during horror trivia, so I had them penciled in to finally get around to seeing anyway - what a treat to get to see them all properly remastered and what not!

Anyone who has watched the credits or behind the scenes stuff on the Fast films will know the name Spiro Razatos, as he has served as the main stunt coordinator for all of the mainline films since Fast Five, but he got his start as a regular stunt guy and later coordinator in smaller genre films like this - one of his first credits as coordinator was the infamous Silent Night Deadly Night 2, in fact, which explains why such a junky film has such amazing stunts (I'm still blown away by the car almost hitting Santa Ricky). William Lustig, who directed all three films (though he didn't shoot all of the 3rd one, more on that later) wisely retained his services each time out, and it's what he brought to the table that makes these films so much more fun than you might expect. The stunt work here, especially in MC2, outpaces what you'll find in movies that cost five times as much.

Razatos' work also helps make up for the fact that, you know, Tom Atkins isn't around anymore. While the vengeful titular character (played by Robert Z'Dar in all three) can be resurrected time and time again, the people he kills stay dead, so Atkins doesn't come back for MC2 and (spoiler for 30 year old movie ahead) surviving co-star Bruce Campbell is wiped out in his third scene, which was probably a real shock to audiences then but for me was pretty much the only thing I remembered about it. He is more or less replaced by Robert Davi, who has considerable presence, but is really used better as an antagonist or foil, not a leading man hero. And it doesn't help that his character seems completely different in the 3rd film, though it makes sense when you listen to the commentary by Lustig and Joel Soisson (who finished the film when Lustig quit; the two have patched things up) and realize the role was indeed written for a new character, but due to the demands of their foreign distributors, they had to bring Davi back via rewrite (unless I missed it, it's unclear how, if all, Davi's character - who survived MC2 - was originally meant to be handled in the 3rd film).

Luckily, Lustig stacked his supporting cast with so many ringers that it hardly matters who the lead is. Davi's Die Hard co-stars Grand Bush and Paul Gleason pop up in the third one, as does Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, and Ted Raimi. And in MC2 you get even more! Leo Rossi, Clarence Williams III, Charles Napier, Michael Lerner, and Danny Trejo are all on hand, as is Sam Raimi, reprising his newscaster role from the first film (Ted is the newscaster in 3, but I'm not sure if he's supposed to be the same guy - either way, it's a funny recasting). I was actually disappointed to see producer/writer Larry Cohen didn't rope Michael Moriarty into one of them somewhere.

Lustig has said that the 2nd film is his favorite of all the ones he's done, and while I can certainly see why he'd feel that way, I gotta be honest: I think I actually preferred 3, if only by a hair (I gave them both three stars, if that's how you measure success). Maybe it's because my expectations were so low due to knowing that it had problems (Lustig even took his name off; he's credited as Alan Smithee), but while MC2 is a lot of fun it's basically a straight up action movie with some supernatural elements tossed into the mix, and has that Predator 2 problem (hey, Davi is in that one too!) where the hero spends most of the movie trying to figure out what we already know from the first movie. So the action is top notch, yes, but the story itself is never very involving even by sequel standards.

Badge of Silence, on the other hand, apes Bride of Frankenstein (!) and has Cordell sort of protecting a would-be successor, a female cop who likes to jump into the fray and worry about things like paperwork later. She is brain dead from a shootout, so Cordell stalks the hospital, murdering doctors who don't care about trying to save her while Davi tries to clear her name (some tabloid guys who filmed the shootout made it look like she killed an innocent witness). Not only does this keep the film from feeling too much like a retread (and also doesn't make 2's weird mistake of focusing on a different villain for most of the middle of the movie), but the voodoo-tinged elements and Bride aping puts it back into horror territory. There are still a pair of great action scenes (hard to top 2's car chase, admittedly, but this time Cordell is on fire the entire time so that gives it some oomph), but overall it comes off more as a traditional revenge movie like Dr. Phibes or something, albeit filtered through Lustig and Cohen's warped/grindhouse sensibilities.

Both films come with a decent smattering of bonus features, though the only ones on the 4K disc are the trailers and the commentaries. Nicolas Refn moderates Lustig on MC2, and it's not the best track I've ever heard - Refn is bizarrely obsessed with the film's financing and distribution history as opposed to what is happening on screen, so while there are some good insights here and there (including a pretty funny story of how they landed Davi in the first place), I spent most of the time wishing Lustig had just gone solo and maybe talked more about, you know, the actual movie. However, even if you hate Badge of Silence, I think you'll enjoy the (new) commentary with Lustig and Soisson, as the two have let bygones be bygones but occasionally stumble into awkward territory (on occasion they can't remember who directed a certain scene, Soisson brings up a Fangoria where Lustig mocked him, etc), making it the sort of candid track we rarely get to hear anymore. The rest of the bonus features, all from the previous releases, are on the included standard Blu-ray, and include a Q&A from a screening of MC2, a few deleted scenes, and a retrospective doc for each films. As those Blu-rays are nearly a decade old I'm sure anyone who really wanted them has seen them by now, but it's good that they're all included; as with the commentaries, the retrospectives don't hold back on unpleasant matters about the films' respective productions, so that's always a plus.

A remake (by Refn, in fact) has been in the works for a while, though I'm sure the real life crimes of police officers make a story about a framed cop a hard sell right now, unless they plan to lean into it and update the story for today's world. On the other hand, some folks might take pleasure at scenes of Cordell mowing down entire precincts (as he does in MC2), so I dunno. A remake will certainly get Synapse inspired to remaster the original (again, assuming it's still under their control), so for that alone I'm all for it - these two are going to look lonely on my shelf without the original next to them! (I only had the DVD, and got rid of it a while ago because it was such a bad transfer; I assume if I were to buy the Blu-ray they will announce a 4K before my purchase even got delivered, so I'm gonna let someone else take that bullet.) If you already own the Blus and don't care much about improved transfers, there's definitely no need to upgrade 2, but MC3 is worth buying for the new commentary for sure - or just to, like Lustig himself, give it a fresh look and realize it's really not all that bad.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Antlers (2021)

NOVEMBER 3, 2021

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

If my memory hasn't failed me, Antlers is the last of the delayed horror movies whose trailers appeared nearly every time I went to the drive-in over the past eighteen months (the others were Candyman, Night House, and Spiral). When you add in the times I've seen it before the normal theatrical excursions I've had since (including Night House itself!), I've probably seen the trailer thirty times by now, which could be a record? But if anything it makes me appreciate the movie all the more, as it doesn't really give the whole thing away; despite my overexposure to two minutes' worth of its footage, it was a pretty fresh viewing experience.

Not that the trailer was misleading or anything; it tells you what we're dealing with (a Wendigo) and also shows that its young protagonist, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas, who is terrific) is feeding it and keeping it locked up. But the devil's in the details, and thankfully that's where the trailer didn't show too much, opting for atmospheric scare shots and a general vibe as opposed to spelling everything out. Even basic things, like the fact that Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons' characters are siblings, were things I learned from actually watching the movie, which was just kind of amusing when you consider how long (not)Fox Searchlight has been trying to sell me on it.

That said, while I enjoyed the movie a lot, it does suffer a bit from being based on a very short story by Nick Antosca. The basics are accounted for in his story (teacher, kid, "pet" Wendigo) but if they were to film it to the letter, it'd probably be about ten minutes long. That means adding a lot to the feature, including more on the Wendigo (not even mentioned in the story; Antosca just describes a man-eating monster with, yes, antlers), a bully for Lucas, a prologue about his family, and an abusive past for Russell and Plemons' characters. But it never quite shakes that "expanded from a short story" feeling; Plemons' sheriff character basically has to keep saying "my hands are tied!" or something every time something happens to allow it to keep going to hit feature length, because if the cops were more proactive the movie would be over in about a half hour or so. I think it takes something like three characters to go missing before he finally starts asking questions.

Which means it's great that they casted Plemons, because how can you not love that guy? Let him bumble about, bless him! But he and Russell's character also had an abusive upbringing, and here the script could have used a little more expansion. Not that I want awful details about whatever their dad did to them, but their mom is barely mentioned, and Russell eventually ran away (feeling guilty for leaving her brother to deal with the abuse alone), but has returned to town for... reasons? It's never really explained why she came back at all. We can assume it has something to do with her being an alcoholic; Russell completely nails a wordless "newly sober person dying for a drink" moment with just a mere pursing of her lips (before we even see the booze she's eyeing), but again, details are not forthcoming. In a more densely plotted film, it would be enough (honestly, for a horror movie it's, if anything, an above average amount of backstory), but when the plot is basically "a teacher finds out her troubled student is living with a monster" and little else, these shortcomings are easier to notice.

However, the monster stuff is all great! The creature itself, rarely even glimpsed until the final reel, is a terrific design (fans of The Ritual will be into it) that justifies the film's kind of silly title, and there's a jump scare kill that even gave me a jolt. I was a bit disappointed when I read the story after to discover that the film denied us the second monster Antosca had envisioned (I don't want to spoil the particulars), but the solo act works fine. And thanks to Thomas' performance, it's actually a fairly upsetting sequence of events; you really feel for this poor kid and how much he has lost/loses in the film. Plus, without getting into spoilers, one could compare to something like The Wolf Man or The Fly in that "Antlers" is not a monster by choice; a key flashback moment about an hour into the film is pretty surprising when you discover how far along the doomed character was before losing their humanity.

It's also a lovely looking film, albeit for a grimy-ass town. As usual, Canada is used for our Northwest (Oregon, specifically; a switch from the story's West Virginia setting), but it's a pretty good fit - nothing really stood out as being "off" to my eyes. They didn't even cast Julian Richings or Stephen McHattie! The major characters played by Canadian cast members are Michael Eklund and Graham Greene, whose role definitely could have been fleshed out more (he has no counterpart in the short story but feels like a character whose significance was reduced due to the adaptation process, funnily enough). And producer Guillermo Del Toro brought his Pan's Labyrinth composer Javier Navarrete along for the ride; it's not an "all timer" score or anything but it at least doesn't sound like every other goddamn movie out there. I saw the new Bond the next day and while I liked it a lot, Hans Zimmer's score was lazy even by his modern standards - half the action climax was set to a barely reworked version of his Dark Knight theme. So any time I see a movie with a score that isn't constantly reminding me of fifteen other movies, I feel I should point it out. Encouragement is key!

With a little more character work this could have been a contender for my top 10 of the year (if that was something I bothered to do), but as is I'm just happy to see an original and professionally made "Hollywood" monster movie again, since they are so rare in this world of James Wannabe efforts and sequels. I don't think the long delay helped it any (even Del Toro's name didn't seem to help it much; though maybe that wouldn't have been the case if there wasn't a genuine GDT film coming out in a few weeks), but I'm glad I got to see it in a theater instead of having it become another covid casualty, sent to streaming for audiences who never take one eye off their phone the entire time. Keep up the good fight, filmmakers, and I'll keep buying tickets.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Blu-Ray Review: Demons & Demons 2

NOVEMBER 2, 2021

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

Technically I saw Phenomena (as Creepers) and Zombie (as "Zombie 2" aka "Dawn of the Dead 2") first, but Lamberto Bava's Demons was the first time I watched a movie specifically to watch "an Italian horror movie", borrowed on VHS from a friend who was a little more cultured than I was at that point in my life (16 or 17?). So hundreds of gialli and zombie and whatever the hell those "La Casa" sequels are later, it's fun to go back to what more or less started my affinity for their brand of horror. Synapse has remastered the first film along with Demons 2 and packaged them as one, with lots of bonus features old and new, giving me a fine excuse to revisit them for a rare home viewing. Since they both tend to show relatively often around here, I can't even remember the last time I watched the first one at home - it might have been the Anchor Bay DVD sometime in college? And Demons 2 was a HMAD review from the first few months!

Needless to say the films look the best I've seen. There's a 4K UHD release as well, which is what I requested for review, but they sent me the standard Blu-ray set, which doesn't have as many bonus features and, obviously, lacks the Ultra High Def image I was looking forward to. But suffice to say even the regular Blu looks pretty great for both films, minus the occasional damage to the master print that isn't any fault of theirs (a few exterior shots in Demons 2 look like they are... vibrating? I don't know how to describe it), allowing Sergio Stivaletti's makeup effects to truly shine. The man loves having teeth fall out and get replaced with bigger, gnarlier teeth, and those shots display his practical mastery in all their glory. Italian and English audio is available for both films as well, so long story short it's safe to say these will be the definitive editions for these oft-released films.

And they hold up well! It's been a while since I've seen either of them, and I was pleased to discover that after all these years, Demons remains a favorite when it comes to Italian horror, placing only under a couple of Argento's films if I were to rank the whole lot of them. The opening sequence on the subway still plays great, the pacing is strong, the supporting cast is entertaining... everything is pretty entertaining even before the damn demons show up. And yes, I know I called it a zombie movie when they're demons, but as with 28 Days Later, they function the same way (get bitten and change, swarms attacking, etc) so I feel the label is fair. The key difference is that the more overt supernatural elements allow Bava, Stivaletti, etc. to have a little more fun and imagination with their gore/horror scenes - there's a sort of Evil Dead-esque kitchen sink attitude to the proceedings that keeps you on your toes.

This is even more evident in the second film, where a demon literally comes out of the TV (in an effect that looks like CGI before they had access to such a thing! They figured it out!) and another little Gremlin-y kinda puppet demon runs around for a while. Plus there's an evil dog out of The Thing for good measure. The sequel as a whole isn't as good as the first, and I don't recommend watching them back to back due to the sameyness (it's amusing that of the two returning cast members, one seems like he's playing the same guy while the other is a total 180 from his previous character), but it's good fun all the same, and (spoiler for 35 year old movie ahead) I like that it ends hopefully, instead of the out of nowhere downer end of the first in which our heroine suddenly becomes a demon and is nonchalantly dispatched in a world being overrun. The do-over approach in the sequel doesn't extend to its denouement; our survivors walk out into a bright sunny day and there's no indication that things are about to get worse. Yay!

As mentioned, the Blu-ray version doesn't have as many bonus features as the 4K set, but based on my research it seems everything that got left out are legacy bonus features a fan might have on previous releases anyway. The handful of new features are present on both versions, including a historian commentary for each film. The first movie is blessed with the usually fun track from Kat Ellinger, who is joined by Heather Drain, and the pair do the usual historian stuff but frequently pause their own insightful observations or history lesson by noting a particularly amusing gore effect or line reading, keeping things from getting too dry. This is sadly not the case for the second film, which is a solo track by Travis Crawford that can be a bit of a snoozer at times, as he rarely addresses the film at all and occasionally even seems to be forgetting he's doing the sequel, as he gives a history of movie-theater set horror films that seems ill-fitting for a film that does not take place in a movie theater. He also bizarrely ends it on a downer note about Asia Argento (who made her debut here), discussing her assault by Harvey W, her own sexual assault accusations from a younger actor, and the suicide of her partner - all over scenes long after her character had exited! It's weird, and once again had me thinking that these things need two people conversing over them to stay engaging.

The other new features are visual essays. On Demons 2, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas contributes "Together and Apart", a look at both films and how they use space and their respect locations (and mediums) to tell their stories, noting things like Cheryl going from a crowded subway car to an empty, gothic looking subway station, and how the climax of Demons 2 has the heroes have their final showdown in a television studio, a fitting visual metaphor since TV was the source of all the carnage in the film. If you're not a fan of the films you'll find it ludicrous that anyone involved put that much thought into it, but Alexandra makes a strong case that the films are smarter than they appear on the surface. On the first film, Michael Mackenzie runs through Argento's career as a producer, which naturally means it's not particularly Demons-centric (if anything he seems to have more to say about everything else, in particular Michele Soavi's later Church and Sect films) but if you're an Argento fan you won't mind much; it's not often you get to hear anyone exploring his work outside of his own directorial efforts.

That said, it would have been nice to hear more about the films' actual director, Lamberto Bava. The UHD version has an interview with Bava ("Carnage at the Cinema") but it didn't make the cut for this stripped down release. Instead we get TWO interviews with Argento himself where he says a lot of the same things, though amusingly he says in one he probably won't work with Bava again and in the other says he would love to do that, plus a lengthy chat with Claudio Simonetti (in English; Argento's are in Italian) where he talks about his work on this film and, of course, his other collaborations with the maestro, and an interview with stuntman Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, which is fun until he depressingly notes that Italy only produces about 25 films a year now, down from hundreds as was the case at the time of these films.

Bava thankfully gets to pop up on Demons 2's own set of bonus features, a lengthy chat (also in Italian) where he notes some of the story issues and also that most of the script for The Church (which began life as Demons 3) is his, even if his name was removed from the credits. This is backed up by his son Roy (aka Fabrizio) Bava, who offers his own look back at the work he did with his father over the years, even alluding to being jealous of his relationship with Soavi at one point. Stivaletti also gets to discuss his work on the two films, and finally composer Simon Boswell talks about HIS unintentional career as a composer (he basically fell into it and never really left), which kicked off with Demons 2. It's curious that none of the actors from either film are on hand; I've seen a couple of them at conventions and screenings, so it's not like they're not willing to discuss them (or hard to find), but based on what I can tell from the listing on the 4K UHD version, they don't show up on there either. Also, not surprising, but worth noting - the original commentary for Demons that was on the Anchor Bay DVD remains MIA, as it has for a while now. I was hoping to hear it again because the moderator asks Bava what is happening when the helicopter crashes through the roof, prompting Bava to say "I don't know" - so good. Alas, as with a lot of AB bonus features, it seems to be unavailable for other labels to include, which is a shame.

These remasters are only available together, which might be frustrating for fans who only want the original and have to pay extra for the unwanted sequel, but for those who enjoy both, I really can't see them ever being improved (beyond somehow acquiring those legacy features). Yes, it's a shame that only the 4HD set includes all of the bonus features (on the UHD disc itself; there's none of that obnoxious "movie only and the supplements are on a separate blu-ray" here), but even the stripped down 1080p set has hours of extras in addition to the excellent transfers, so you can't really go wrong with either of them (my guess is that anyone who truly cares about bonus features anymore is also the kind of person who will have upgraded to 4K by now). And if you've somehow never seen the films, there's no better time than the present to enjoy a film about someone who hesitantly goes to a movie theater only for some kind of awful disease to spread throughout the crowd! Wait.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin (2021)

NOVEMBER 1, 2021

GENRE: MOCKUMENTARY, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: STREAMING (PARAMOUNT PLUS)

Like most people in the world (including its crew, more on that soon!) I was disappointed with The Ghost Dimension, the alleged "finale" of the Paranormal Activity franchise that didn't really tie anything up and if anything just added more plot threads to the already overburdened canon for the once simple franchise. So when I heard that the revival film, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin (no relation to Patrick Swayze OR Australian sugar cubes) would be a standalone entry with no ties to Katie, Toby, etc, I was kind of relieved. Not only would I get to spare myself a refresh of the last few entries to properly arm myself for the storyline, but maybe there would be a "back to basics" kind of approach that would allow the series to actually be scary again.

Alas, my hopes went out the window in the first scene, when I saw that the film was presented in widescreen. As I've said before, the appeal of the "found footage"/POV aesthetic is that, when it works well (i.e. the first film) you can believe you're watching something that actually happened, which doesn't quite work when it looks exactly like every other movie out there. Some scenes don't even bother to try to sell the illusion of a first person perspective and present their moments in a traditional 3rd person manner, which isn't the worst idea (if anything I've called for it to be tried), but without changing the aspect ratio or putting up a timestamp/red dot "recording" kind of overlay, there's often no real way to know if you're watching POV footage or not. As with IMAX sequences in otherwise standard films, or Freddy's Dead with its "put your glasses on now" gimmick, there needs to be a clear "break" to prime the audience for this kind of change, but that never happens here. There's a dinner scene that is either switching back and forth between the two, or suggesting a very nimble cameraman - the fact that I'm not sure is kind of a problem.

So the movie curiously hamstrings itself with the found footage approach, but "cheats" out of it on occasion with no discernible rhyme or reason, and I spent half my viewing wondering why. The plot calls for cameras, of course; our heroine, Margot, is making a documentary about her search for her mother, who abandoned her as an infant and left her not knowing any of her family. Via 23andme she discovers a relative in an Amish community, so her and her cameraman (plus a kooky boom guy they hire) head there, and thankfully it only takes about nine seconds after their arrival for things to not seem right (I'll give it this much, it doesn't drag out the spooky goings on as much as some other films in this sub-genre). And apart from a few snafus with the POV approach (like an early scene where there is clearly two cameras filming the action but only one has been established), so far it's all more or less in the usual wheelhouse for this sort of thing - but it's at this point it seems that it would have made more sense if the characters dropped the cameras and the filmmakers presented the rest of the story traditionally, with perhaps one or two cam sequences for good measure and also trailers.

In fact, given the religious/demon elements that the film centers on, I couldn't help but think of [Rec] at times, and in turn, think about how that series' 3rd film took this approach, starting off with cameras and then switching out of that mode in order to give the story its ideal presentation. That's not what happens here; the narrative is actually pretty interesting (SPOILER: you might be reminded of The Sentinel), but it's constantly being held back by the needless POV structure. The best of the other films had their characters set up mounted cameras to avoid us in the audience having the "why are they filming this?" questions (no one will question why an oscillating fan is still filming!), but there's no such luck here. As a result, in order to get key information the characters have to film themselves doing everything, even going to the auto parts store to buy a car battery (considering they're in Amish country and have to rely on a tempermental generator to charge things, you'd think they'd be a little choosier with when they turned the cameras on). With every interesting story reveal, I kept thinking how much more engaged I'd be if I wasn't forced to constantly wonder why the cameras were being brought out, or - given that the cams WOULD be abandoned at times - why the director wasn't switching out of it there as well.

And yeah, you can "just go with it" the way you did for things like Parks & Rec (which aped The Office's documentary structure but never actually had a camera crew present in its narrative), but that doesn't quite work for a horror movie. By constantly being flip flopped between being a fly on the wall or being "in their head", the scare potential is constantly being betrayed by (attentive) viewer confusion. When a character descends into a long shaft, it could have been an atmospheric creepfest, and a typical horror film would have a very wide shot to illustrate the depth of the hole and how isolated the character was, but instead we get her POV... sometimes. Sometimes it goes up to her friend's POV, who is sure to grab his camera and look at the hole as he operates the winch. As a result, it ends up being kind of a dull scene (not helped by the fact she goes back up almost instantly), hampered by nonsensical character decisions being made in order for us to see all of it. There's another scene where they have to restart the generator during a snowstorm, and I couldn't help but think how tense it might have been with traditional angles and editing, instead of me wondering "Don't they have flashlights? Why are they risking dropping their expensive camera in the snow to film themselves trudging through snow? Do they plan to use this footage in their family documentary?" It's that sort of thing, over and over, until I just kind of checked out. As with 3D, the POV aesthetic is a tool, and a good one when wielded correctly, but when misused it's just a turn off, at least for me. If you're going to ask me to deal with shakey camerawork, a lead character who we rarely see, etc., there should be some benefit to the approach, but I could find no such thing here.

Which is a shame, because the climax is great. If you participated in any of the "drive thru" haunts that cropped up last year due to covid, you might feel right at home when two survivor characters attempt to escape the burning farm as various possessed (or just angry?) townsfolk chase after them, as does the film's new demon - it really felt like one of those Halloween Horror mazes that I drove through last year because doing them in person wasn't possible. Also the final scene is pretty chilling, as is the implication for what could happen next if this film proves to be a success for Paramount Plus (and yes, I AM annoyed I couldn't see this in theaters; it's actually kind of ironic given its widescreen presentation that this is the first one that actually went direct to video). But alas, too little too late.

Not to mention that this is a weird way to try to revive a dying franchise after six years. Someone from the film likened it to Season of the Witch, and while that is an acceptable point of reference in theory, it doesn't quite work the same way. Halloween III came out one (1) year after Halloween II, a film that seemingly finished off the Michael Myers story for good. This film is coming after a narrative that was riddled with unanswered questions, and after several years to boot, so the fact that it's unrelated AND doesn't even really FEEL like an entry in the series (they don't even do "Night #1"!) makes the Halloween III comparison a poor one. What the series needed was something like H20, a soft reset that brought back the elements and characters we enjoyed and got things back on track while ignoring specific beats that weren't working. I mean, even Spiral had more connection to its older franchise than this had - this often felt like an unrelated movie entirely that was slapped with the PA name.

It was released alongside Unknown Dimension, a documentary about the franchise thus far, covering each film in sequence. One might think it's too new of a franchise to warrant the "Crystal Lake Memories treatment", but one should consider that the films' blu-rays have been noticeably bare bones so far - no commentaries, no behind the scenes pieces, etc. Some have deleted scenes or extended versions (sans any commentary explaining why the scenes were excised), but that's been about it, so this doc is really the first time we've gotten to hear the cast and crew (pretty much everyone of note is here) talk about how their film(s) came together. One entry was basically shot and reshot up until the release date, which finally explains why its trailer had so much footage that wasn't in the film itself. In fact it might have even been the first time I actually saw what any of the directors looked like besides Oren Peli, because I've met him (a good place as any to note I am in the film as well, as a "horror expert" or whatever the hell they call me when I do these things).

It's also refreshingly candid; the director of Ghost Dimension alludes to there being too many cooks in the kitchen and having the 3D element forced on him, and Jason Blum flat out says that one and PA4 are bad. And that makes me wish they had waited a bit longer so they could be frank about the new film as well; the cast and crew appear near the end, speaking from the set about how they want to bring the series back, but noticeably absent from this section is the film's writer, who has noted (via Twitter) that there were unfortunate compromises on this new one as well. If the IMDb is to be believed (...) another film is on the way, apparently (subtitled The Other Side, so we might get someone filming their trip to the dentist to get braces), and will return to the world of Katie and Kristi. But honestly I don't care so much about that as I do the producers taking a good hard look at what made the first film as good as it was and trying to revive THAT, with or without video cameras.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Beyond Fest Recaps

OCTOBER 12, 2021

GENRE: LOTS OF THEM!
SOURCE: BEYOND FEST (duh)

After last year's (kind of awesome) drive-in incarnation of Beyond Fest, the boys were back in theaters for 2021 - just not their usual theater. The usual home base, The Egyptian, is still being remodeled after being sold to Netflix (who promises there will be no major change in programming), so the fest spread itself out to three theaters in the area: the American Legion (right near the Egyptian), the Los Feliz 3 (a couple miles away) and the Aero (wayyyyyyyyy further away). This allowed them to keep the festival up to standards, programming wise, but also meant making hard decisions with what to see. Usually you could just go back and forth at the Egyptian between its two theaters, but now, if you wanted to see something at the Aero and then something at the Los Feliz, you had to fight traffic and possible schedule delays to make it there on time.

On the flipside, they actually did account for that, giving a decent amount of time between screenings (with ideal traffic, it should only take about a half hour so to go between the two major theaters*) but that also presented another issue: if you DID want to watch back to back programs at one theater, this meant a lot of downtime in between. Normally, this would just mean "Let's go grab a drink to kill time," but this is covid-era and doing such things causes hesitation. Long story short, I didn't see as much as I'd like, and had to make a lot of Sophie's Choices when it came to what I saw. I was really bummed about missing Starship Troopers in particular; such a great big screen experience but alas I just didn't want to make the long drive when I knew I'd probably end up dozing off.

Luckily, I enjoyed everything I saw! I kept it mostly to "new to me" titles; one exception was Collateral, which I had only seen at home when it first came to DVD and had been wanting to revisit ever since I moved to LA - just never got around to it. But it was worth my procrastination; it was like a whole new movie in theaters, as I never realized how funny it was when watching alone at home. The scene where Tom Cruise calls Jamie Foxx's boss out for being a jerk provoked thunderous laughter and applause, in particular. Plus, with each passing year I gain more appreciation for LA geography and, specifically, jokes about its traffic, so that whole "meet cute" with Jada Pinkett played better than it would have if I did give it another look x number of years ago when I was new to town.

But obviously I stuck to horror movies, and while I was hoping to write up a few full reviews I am just swamped this month with other work, trying to do fun stuff with my family, and keeping up with the movies as they come (I already lost my opportunity to catch a few things I missed at Fantastic Fest; they gave me access to some of it through a screener library and it expired before I got to really poke through it). So rather than hope for free time to give these full reviews and risk never getting it, here are mini-reviews for everything that I saw! Except for Halloween Kills of course; obviously I was gonna make sure I had time to ramble about my boy.

ALISON'S BIRTHDAY
This played as a double feature with Woodlands Dark & Days Bewitched, which featured it. Luckily I didn't retain whatever reveals the documentary may have given away; all I really knew was that it was an Australian folk horror film, something I haven't seen nearly enough of and thus was eager to check it out (I also may have arrived a few minutes early to see my WD&DB credits on the big screen again, because I am shameless). Like a lot of these films, it requires a bit of patience as it's basically all building toward something that won't happen until the very end (the title tells you what!), but what it lacked in action it more than made up for in both creepy vibes and the performance of Lou Brown as Peter, Alison's boyfriend. He's introduced as kind of an aloof/indifferent dumb blond boyfriend kind of guy, but when Alison's sinister family starts trying to isolate her from him (and everything else) he gets more proactive, and thus more awesome. He starts off as easy fodder but by the end you're almost rooting for him more than Allison; there's a sequence where he escapes would-be murderers that had the audience cheering for his actions. Add in a meanspirited ending (it's dark like most of these films are, but they add a button that makes it funny to jerks like me) and you have a perfectly good example of this kind of film, that requires patience that pays off for those who are willing to take the ride.

THE FEAST
Not to be confused with "just" Feast (the delightful monsters in a bar movie), THIS Feast concerns a politician who throws a dinner party, much to his trophy wife's chagrin. She hires someone to help, a local girl named Cadi who doesn't speak much and seems to love nature. Given the politician's plans to drill into the land, you don't have to be too smart to realize perhaps Cadi doesn't just plan to serve appetizers and help set the table. It's not a fast-paced film by any means, but it goes into very unexpected directions and racks up some impressive gore (plus a gorging scene that is more disgusting than any traditional kill moment), served alongside a welcome (if hazily defined) pro-environmental message. Also, there's a curious moment early on where you wonder what exactly Cadi is doing with a certain object, and then like, an hour later it pays off, prompting one of my favorite kind of audience moments: when everyone realizes what is happening at different times (proud to say I was among the first to laugh/squirm). If you like A24-style pacing, give this one a look when it arrives next month from IFC Midnight.

SALOUM
I'm always on the lookout for more action horror hybrids, and this 80 minute crackerjack paced flick scratched that itch for me. It's set during the real life Guinea-Bissau coup from 2003, so a little history lesson (read: quick scan of Wikipedia) might be in order to give a little more context for what our antiheroes are attempting an escape from, but "mercenaries hide out and run afoul of monsters" should still be enough for a genre fan to enjoy. There's a few good twists and some surprising humor, plus an excellent use of ASL (one character is deaf/mute and two others simply know it as if it were common, a nice little addition to the "be inclusive by just DOING IT" method I prefer) and a very unique (if - presumably due to the budget - underseen) monster. After two slower-paced films, it was nice to have something a little more exciting on my schedule, I must say.

THE SADNESS
I read up on this Taiwanese zombie (fine, "rage") film in Rue Morgue, plus heard a few things out of Fantastic Fest, that made me wonder if I should go out of my way to see it, as it sounded overly violent ("repulsive" was used, I believe) and rapey, things I have less and less interest in seeing as I get older. But then I remembered no one in my house ever leaves (thanks Covid!) so if I were to ever see it it would have to be in a theater with like minded viewers instead of at home, with the volume turned way down and perhaps having to apologize to my wife if she happened to walk by and see something awful.

Luckily, the people making those claims apparently haven't seen too many horror movies, as there's nothing here that a seasoned viewer hasn't seen in some form or other over the years, and while comparing assault or murder scenes is icky at best, I'll say that if you've seen the Human Centipede sequels, 28 Days Later, and literally any I Spit On Your Grave type film, you've seen much worse. Shot during - and directly inspired by - the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, I found it to be a pretty great backdrop for what turns out to be a pretty good zombie movie, using the "our two heroes are separated and go through a lot of crap to reunite" narrative that reminded me of the Train to Busan prequel Seoul Station, except in live action and with lots and lots of practical gore. Yes, it can be unpleasant at times, but given the angry circumstances that inspired it, who can blame the filmmakers for dialing such things up a notch? But focusing on that stuff, which amounts to maybe 30 seconds in the 95 minute film, is doing it a disservice; I'd be pretty pissed if the pearl-clutching had driven me away from something I turned out to enjoy quite a bit.

THE EMPTY MAN
This is the one I had seen before, but like most, it was at home on streaming (HBO), and I wanted a big screen experience for two reasons. One is that it's a fairly long movie and so as you might have guessed I didn't get to watch it in one sitting there, which is never ideal but is also just how my life works when I am home - I need to physically leave the house in order to have the time to watch a movie without being interrupted (at least before like 9pm, but after that I'll just fall asleep anyway). The other is that it seemed to have a pretty good sound mix, something I can't quite grasp at home when, again, people are interrupting or sleeping (so, low volume), which is fine for my millionth viewing of Jaws or whatever but frustrating for a first time view. Add in a Q&A with director David Prior, and you have a recipe for a "Worth the drive to see something I can watch at home" excursion.

And it was even better a second time, as I also suspected. The end has a reveal that makes you rethink what you've seen along the way, so watching it with that knowledge, ALONG WITH the much improved presentation (little blue HBO Max rebuffering dots, how I did not miss you) made it an ideal experience. I know some folks say the opening sequence is too long, but I love it - it's like a short film prequel before the feature version with James Badge Dale (Chase!). Also, on the big screen I was able to notice the missing girl has the lyrics to Pearl Jam's "Daughter" in her library, which is pretty much the only pop culture reference in the entire film and would be classic rock to the character (born roughly seven years after that song came out), so I wish I was able to ask Prior about it but alas my raised hand was not seen. Prior's Q&A was also pretty great; he's an interesting guy and was being as candid as he could regarding the film's botched release (a victim of both covid and the merging of Fox with Disney, the latter company obviously not one to put out R rated horror films on the regular). If you haven't seen it yet, I highly encourage a viewing - this is gonna be a cult fave like Session 9 or something down the road, I suspect.

BLOOD FOR DRACULA
As someone who doesn't particularly gravitate toward vampire movies, my main reason for wanting to see this was actually just the Q&A with Udo Kier, as he is always a riot and I'd happily attend him just talking without any movie at all. I also don't exactly jump at seeing anything with Andy Warhol's name on it, so it shouldn't be a surprise I never saw this before and wasn't expecting to enjoy it all that much. But man, I have rarely been happier to be wrong: this movie is WONDERFUL. Dracula (Kier) needs virgin blood because "tainted" blood from people who have enjoyed their life is making him sick, so he and his butler travel to another part of the country where there is a religious family with four proper daughters for him to choose from, with the cover story being he is seeking a wife and believes they are suitable. But as it turns out, two of the daughters are sexually active (with each other, even - hey-o!), complicating things as the Count grows weaker.

This could have been a melancholy, The Hunger kind of film about an aging vampire withering away, but instead it's just hilarious. Kier's frustrated outbursts kept me laughing throughout, as did the strange supporting cast's little tics and random asides; Roman Polanski even pops up as a bar drunk who challenges the Renfield type character to a game of "Do What I Do", a scene as pointless as it was amazing. Kier spoiled the best line in his intro, but no matter - in context it was still incredible, and I was kind of blown away by how much I enjoyed it. It might even be my favorite Dracula movie? Certainly the best "alt" version of the story (as for straight adaptations I'm still partial to the 1979 one).

FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN
In reality the same team (Kier and several other cast members, director Paul Morrissey, etc) made this one first, but it played second after Dracula, which was a wise choice from my POV since Dracula is the better film and I wouldn't have wanted to have my energy sapped a bit by this tonally similar but less frequently funny one. Like their later film, this is a sexed up, perversely funny take on a classic story (guess which one?), with Kier as the title character and the same actor (Arno Juerging) as his assistant. Their work here seemed to have inspired Rocky Horror Picture Show quite a bit, so that might make a good double feature one day. In turn, I wish I could verify for sure but I think the ending is inspired from, of all things, Bay of Blood! Both films have been restored (by Severin and Vinegar Syndrome, respectively) and I can't wait to revisit them down the road; just because it was so good for Dracula, and I ended up dozing for a bit in the middle of Frankenstein (per the Wiki synopsis I didn't miss anything of note) and also had to make a bathroom run, so I missed two brief chunks.

All in all, a terrific lineup for what has become my favorite LA fest, programming wise. The mix of repertory and newer stuff is always on point, the hosts are all lively and fun to listen to (with or without their T-shirt cannons), and I find it is very rare that I regret bothering to venture out for this or that evening as I do for some other festivals (both here and - perhaps moreso - other states where I start getting homesick on account of watching underwhelming stuff). Hopefully next year it can return to the Egyptian and I will be able to attend even more (though, that said, the Hollywood Legion is pretty nice and has a bar!), but kudos to them for pulling off all their usual shenanigans and programming without any noticeable handicaps due to the changed (and untested!) venues, which has been disastrous for other festivals in the past. Running these things smoothly relies on familiarity and shorthand, two things that are in low supply when you're doing everything in a different place, with different staff, etc (and during a pandemic, which hasn't ended in case you haven't heard!), so it's a testament to their organization skills and can-do attitude that there was literally no visible issues with anything they had to do adapt to for this incarnation. Even the lines moved super quick despite having to check for vaccine status! My hat is off to them, and see you again in 2022!

What say you?

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...

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