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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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


Firestarter (2022)

MAY 12, 2022


Nearly every negative tweet I've seen (including the one I made myself) about Firestarter has been met with a reply that more or less amounts to "But the score is great!" and... I don't even think it has that much going for it. It's good music, yes, but it doesn't fit the film at all, which makes me wonder if can be considered a "good score" when the job of a score is to enhance the images, and instead it often feels like the composer wasn't actually watching those images. Not that I can blame them, but still: it's a distraction in a film that could use less of them.

Said score is, as you may already know, by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies, the team behind the Lost Themes albums and the soundtracks to the two newest Halloween films (and they'll be doing the third one that's coming this fall). It'd be a get for any film, but what makes this a particularly interesting bit is that Carpenter himself was once set to *direct* the first adaptation of Firestarter back in the early '80s, as his next film after The Thing. But when that film flopped (a fact that is part of the film's lore and yet still hard to believe), Universal had doubts in his abilities and replaced him with Mark Lester. Lester's film was fine, but didn't exactly break box office records either, and us Carpenter fans will always chuckle that it not only failed to match the box office receipts of The Thing, but also that of Christine, the King film Carpenter made instead. Good call, Universal!

So having him come do the score for this new attempt at making Charlie McGee happen is like a weird little consolation prize, and honestly if he did just hand in some leftover demos from Lost Themes and Halloween (which it definitely feels like at times; one cue is almost identical to "The Shape Hunts Allyson") it'd serve them right for insulting him all those years ago. But even if he gave 110% effort and produced his finest work to date, I don't think it'd be enough to make the movie any better, as it never once demonstrates a reason why this, of all King books (not exactly one of his best), had to be updated for 2022. The story of a girl with superpowers (in addition to her eponymous firestarting skills, she can also move objects with her mind) has been done to death over the years - Stranger Things, the various Carries, the X-Men movies, etc. - so since we already have a Firestarter movie (plus a sequel/would-be pilot) I feel the only reason to do it again would be to really modernize it and do something unique.

Instead it... basically just does the same thing. It's not an exact copy, thankfully; Captain Hollister is now a woman, Rainbird is introduced right off the bat to Charlie and Andy (Zac Efron) as a villain instead of posing as a friend, etc. But the beats are all the same nonetheless, with the one thing that could identify it as a modernization - the use of cell phones and computers - written out quickly, as the McGees don't use such things because they're afraid of being tracked. So it just goes through the same story: the parents being experimented on in college, the mom being murdered, Charlie and Andy taking refuge at a farm, Andy being taken to the Shop's HQ, Charlie mounting a would-be rescue... they color out of the lines a bit, but they don't ever make it their own. I kept hoping for a Pet Sematary '19 style pivot (where the daughter got killed instead of baby Gage), but nope, it keeps on playing out the same...

...until the film's final, baffling scene, which I'll obviously be spoiling here so skip this paragraph if you want to remain as stunned into confusion as I was. After burning down the Shop (we assume; it's mostly played out via sound effects) Charlie walks to the nearby coastline, almost seeming like she's about to drown herself now that she has no one/nothing left. But she does have someone: Rainbird! The villain survives this time around and walks up to her, takes her hand, and then picks her up as if promising to start a new life together, without anything to establish why he'd do so or why she'd go along with it (she knows he killed her mother, for starters). It was only then that the movie's reason to exist became clear: they want a new franchise, with Rainbird stepping in to help her harness her powers (for good or evil, it remains unclear). And that's fine, but why not establish it earlier? Or hell, do it halfway through the movie, so she's in a position to choose between him and her father? They hint early on that she would prefer Andy was dead instead of her mom, so the seed was planted for her to look to someone else as her guardian, but then nothing is done with it until these closing seconds (literally; I mean, the credits play over the two of them walking off together).

Such a "cliffhanger" didn't really help my suspicion that the film was intended as a pilot (perhaps for the very Peacock service it's simultaneously being released on with theaters?) instead of a theatrical feature. It LOOKS like a TV show more often than not, and despite the promise of the title, I swear the big house fire in Halloween Kills is more impressive/destructive than anything we see here. Kurtwood Smith pops up as the guy who invented the serum that gave them their powers, now regretting what he's done, and suggests that once she reaches her full potential, she can destroy the entire world! Which, you know, probably wouldn't be how this film ended (though that'd be amazing) but her powers at the end don't seem all that impressive, as if they were holding back for something later. There are some good gags with Charlie lashing out in smaller ways with her powers (if you're a kitty lover... maybe don't see this one), but when it comes to the big showdown at the Shop, it's obnoxiously restrained. I'm not sure what the budget was, but based on what Blumhouse usually spends on their films ($5-10m), it's almost certainly less than they spent on the previous film nearly 30 years ago, even without factoring inflation in, and it often shows.

It also appears to be re-edited. It's only 94 minutes (again, even the older film was 20 minutes longer, at a time when films were generally shorter than they are now) and there are characters who seem important (Kurtwood Smith as the inventor of the serum that gave them their powers, a bully at Charlie's school) but disappear without resolution to their stories. And when Charlie is storming the shop, a guy in a flameproof suit takes off his helmet and says "Charlie...", and the manner that he delivers the line and the way his face was revealed under the helmet suggest that it was someone who we had met before, only we hadn't. The fate of Irving the good Samaritan is left unclear (in the original and the book, Charlie goes back to him after Andy is killed), and I also couldn't quite understand what brought him into the story in the first place, as they approach him needing a ride - but their car was working perfectly fine the last we saw it? I guess they were afraid of being tracked or something, but it still feels like a scene or two was skipped.

Long story short, if you have to watch, do so on Peacock, where maybe strong viewer numbers will convince them to do a series (I mean, we got a MacGruber revival, so anything's possible). I wouldn't mind a Charlie and Rainbird show (both actors are strong and there's obviously a lot of baggage between them that can be worked out over time) where they're like, on the road and helping people, 1970's Incredible Hulk style, and anything that can justify this one's existence can only help. Otherwise, I just don't get why this movie was made beyond giving Carpenter a nice little payday. Beats another Fog remake, I guess.

What say you?


FTP: Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

MAY 10, 2022


The mostly American slasher film is more or less evolved (or devolved) from the European giallo film, but that doesn't mean the Americans didn't attempt to do something more giallo-y from time to time. What's funny is that one of the most famous is 1978's Eyes of Laura Mars, which is co-written by none other than John Carpenter, who cemented the slasher with Halloween in the very same year. Carpenter doesn't have much nice to say about the film; it was a script he wrote that was rewritten (and rewritten again after that if I'm understanding) and made without his involvement, so attributing it to him is akin to giving him credit/blaming him for something like Halloween 5.

Anyway, it's a decent little thriller. Faye Dunaway is the titular Laura, a fashion photographer who starts seeing murders as they happen (kind of a useless skill since it's too late to stop them), and Tommy Lee Jones is the detective who at first suspects she's involved and then falls in love with her as he starts to believe her/becomes a protector. We know she's not the killer, but the victims are all connected to her in some way, a plot that sadly means anyone who has ever seen a movie before can probably figure out who the culprit is by the halfway point or so. Whether this was an inherent flaw that dates back to Carpenter's script and was never fixed, or is something that occurred via the rewrites, I don't know. All I know is I wish it was more of a surprise.

What WAS a surprise was seeing Jones in a romantic, good-natured kind of role. There's a part where he is interviewing a pair of ditzy models and clearly amused by how dumb they are, and it's possibly the first time I've ever seen him in a scene that you could imagine Ryan Reynolds or someone like that doing instead. I mean I've seen him go BIG (Batman Forever, for example) but this kind of low-key charm is definitely a change of pace, and if there are more performances like that from him I hope I stumbled across them someday. I also loved Raul Julia (billed as simply "R.J" for whatever reason) as Dunaway's pathetic ex, another against type performance from someone who usually has a commanding presence, a guy you don't want to mess with or simply the coolest guy in the room. The only other time I remember seeing him as a loser was in Overdrawn at the Memory Bank! And he's worse here, like a worthless anteater.

Supposedly this movie is what got director Irvin Kershner the gig on Empire Strikes Back, but I have to assume from both his filmography as a whole and his commentary track here that he's perhaps not the most interesting guy in the world and his successes are largely due to the other people around him as opposed to what he was bringing to the table. In fact I didn't even finish the commentary because it was that dull; he mostly just narrates the movie as if it were hard to follow, only occasionally dipping into insight or behind the scenes info (if I'm understanding him correctly, Julia's in the movie because he happened to be in the hotel where they were shooting something else, and he had the idea to cast him?). After an hour I figured life was too short to listen to the rest since I wasn't learning anything about a movie that wasn't particularly memorable to begin with. I have the novelization though (chalk it up to my longtime habit of buying anything remotely Carpenter related), maybe I'll give it a look someday. Might be fun to be inside the head of the killer, if that's offered.

What say you?

P.S. I literally had no idea I owned this disc (which you can buy HERE, Amazon has retired the little window ads), which I've been wanting to see for a while due to the Carpenter connection. How/when it ended up in the pile is a mystery more involving than the one in the film!


Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness (2022)

MAY 5, 2022



OK, with few exceptions, I've seen all the Marvel movies on opening weekend, either because I liked/loved those characters or I just feared spoilers. But even if I hated the first one (I didn't, in fact it's probably on the upper half of my rankings if I were to try) I would have been out ASAP for Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness, because it was the first new movie from the GOAT Sam Raimi in nearly a decade. And I didn't like that one (Oz), so it was the first since Drag Me To Hell (2009!) that I had a chance of enjoying. It's insane to me to think that it's been 13 years since I last enjoyed a Sam Raimi movie - that's longer than the gap from Evil Dead 2 to For Love of the Game!

Anyway, it doesn't take too long for the film to announce itself as a Raimi one. There's a bit relatively early with the same kind of canted angles and zooms that became something of a calling card, and zooms into people's eyes and that sort of thing - anyone who says the MCU machine is generic and that the filmmakers' voice is missing should shut up after this one (even more interesting when you consider that Raimi was not the original director, with the first film's Scott Derrickson bowing out during pre-production for reasons unknown, making it even more likely that this might end up feeling anonymous). And then in the second half it goes all out, with full own swirling demonic (and talking!) skeletons, zombies, the Classic (!), etc. Hell, the plot even revolves around a spellbook containing dark magic. There's more of his style on display in this "Marvel movie" than there is in some of his other films where much less was riding on its success.

(I'm not going to get into major spoilers, but I am assuming you've seen the trailers. If not - tread lightly!)

And yeah, it does kinda sorta qualify as horror, at least in the same way that Army of Darkness does. Both films are adventure/fantasy blends with heavy supernatural tones and a few scary bits, so I think it's fair to include here (plus I've done too many "FTP" articles in a row and wanted to do something meatier!). The plot is as much of a sequel to WandaVision as it is to Doctor Strange (more on that soon), with Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) realizing she can be united with her children in one of the many parallel universes but needs access to them to get there, and the key to that is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the power to jump between them only doesn't know how to control it. So Strange basically gets caught in the middle, trying to protect America while also hoping to save his former friend/ally from becoming an unredeemable monster.

So how does that make it horror? Well Strange first encounters America when she's on the run from a giant eyeball monster, and later Wanda uses some kind of magic nonsense that essentially melts people (not too gory, but "gooey" enough for a PG-13 movie that six year olds are likely to be watching). As she gets more crazed, she uses more violent means - one major character is sliced in half! She also makes like Samara at one point, climbing all jerkily out of a reflective surface, and later when she tries to possess another universe's (normal) Wanda, it's played as a straight up Insidious/Conjuring kind of scene. Benedict Cumberbatch gets to play multiple versions of Strange, and one of them is evil (again, this was in the trailer), which might scare younger viewers when their hero is suddenly "being mean." And then as mentioned, demons and zombies enter the mix, though I can't get into specifics without spoilers so you'll just have to trust me. I mean, if we allow Captain America 2 to count as a spy thriller and Logan as a western, I think it's more than fair to call this a horror movie, at least when stacked against the others (and, again, Raimi's own genre-mashup Army of Darkness).

It also satisfies as another cog in the Marvel machine, with some world building, references to other films (Strange talks about his recent adventure with Spider-Man), and - of course - a mid credits scene that adds a new actor/character to the mix. We are also treated to what may be the debut of a major Marvel player who has been sidelined thus far in the MCU, though given the multiverse concept it's not necessarily the one who will be getting their own movie later. And yes, as the trailers gave away, Patrick Stewart shows up as you know who, a scene that still packed a punch despite the advance spoiler (it's helped by a particular music cue that older fans will cream over). The multiverse stuff isn't as deep as you might think given that it's in the title (honestly, Spider-Man did a better job of fleshing out the possibilities, since most of its use here isn't about tying in other iterations of these characters), but I think that's a good thing. Otherwise it'd threaten to make Strange a supporting player in his own movie, but Raimi and writer Michael Waldron (who was the guru behind the Loki show) manage to find that balance.

Where it does kind of lack, however, is in the "trippy visual" department, which was one of the calling cards of the first film. I toyed with actually going to see this in 3D, and I'm glad I ultimately opted for 2D (especially since my left contact was bugging me the entire time, goddamnit) as there was only really one big sequence that would have been fun to watch with the added immersion (you've seen a snippet in the trailer, when Strange's face is turning into blocks - it's part of a montage of him and America rapidly traveling through several universes). Strange's powers here are more of the "make a shield" or "wave my hands around and pull something out of nowhere" variety, without any of the city warping kinda stuff that was seen throughout the first film (though there is an out of nowhere bit involving sheet music that, for me, made up for it, but I know will have some people whining almost as much as they do about "emo Peter"). So if that was a big part of the first film's appeal for you, you might be disappointed to see it more or less replaced with the horror elements. Likewise, Chiwetel Ejiofor does return as Mordo, but in a variant form that is still an ally, so his promise as a Big Bad at the end of Strange 1 remains unfulfilled for now.

The other thing that might disappoint folks is that you really probably should watch WandaVision, as Wanda's character won't really make sense to you if the last you saw her was at the end of Endgame. The movie wastes no time with turning her into a villain; I thought it'd be a mid-movie shift but nope, Strange goes to her for help once he realizes witchcraft might be involved, and within the same conversation realizes she's actually the one who is trying to get America's powers (which will kill her) in the first place. And her whole thing is about her kids, who, of course, didn't exist in the previous MCU movies. It won't be incomprehensible or anything, but the movie sure does assume you've seen them and spends little time recapping WandaVision's storyline for those who may have missed it, which might be a constant distraction when you're used to Wanda being on the good side of things. Ultimately, it's kind of weird that if you're a Raimi fan who isn't Marvel-versed and want to have context for what you're about to see, it's probably more important to watch WandaVision and No Way Home than it is to watch the first Doctor Strange movie.

Otherwise, it's a blast. It's not too long (just over two hours including the credits), so that's a relief as these things have been getting a bit too demanding of our free time lately (No Way Home was 2.5 hrs, and Eternals was even longer), and has plenty of action and spectacle to go along with all the mumbo jumbo. There's even time for character work; Strange's relationship with Christine (Rachel McAdams) has a throughline with a rather sweet denouement, and even though she spends most of the movie trying to kill our heroes, they still find time to humanize Wanda when necessary. I'm sure some folks will be let down that Strange doesn't visit a multiverse with Nic Cage's Ghost Rider or something like that (i.e. the people who seem to think that a Marvel movie/show's only value is what it's promising for the next one) but if you are a fan of the enterprise as a whole I think you'll be pleased to see more flavors being added to the mix. And if you're a Raimi fan, I can't imagine how you'd walk out disappointed after seeing him do his thing with what appears to be a blank check - and yes, he does bring the *other* BC along for the ride.

What say you?

P.S. Danny Elfman's score is quite good, but there's a quick part where it sounds like he is aping Christopher Young's Hellraiser-y kind of compositions, which I truly hope is an intentional little joke about his break with Raimi (spurned by Raimi wanting Elfman to make music that sounded like Young's) which led to Young composing Spider-Man 3 and Drag Me To Hell. Since they have obviously patched things up (Elfman did Oz too), I like to think they laugh about it now. It's about a minute into track 19 ("Stranger Things Will Happen") on the score release, you tell me if I'm crazy.


FTP: High Voltage (2018)

MAY 3, 2022


There's a Dollar Tree next to my supermarket, so every now and then if I'm not pressed for time/too tired I will check out their selection of discount DVDs (with the occasional Blu) and see if there's any HMAD-worthy fodder. One such trip yielded a copy of High Voltage, which had a few name actors (David Arquette, Luke Wilson, and Perrey "DeSilva from Child's Play 3" Reeves) but more importantly was a rock n roll horror plot about a singer who gets electrocuted and now, with the power to zap/drain people (like an electric vampire, basically), uses that skill to make the band more successful. Sounds pretty fun, right? Certainly worth a dollar at any rate, yes?

No. Like, "Betty Gabriel in Get Out" levels of "No." Honestly I don't think I've seen a movie this bad since I was watching this stuff every day. And the biggest problem is that they take this goofy plot far too seriously, to the extent that it seems more like a melodramatic adaptation of the least interesting episode of Behind the Music ever produced more than a horror movie. Arquette (who I figured would be a glorified cameo like his other famous co-stars, but is the actual co-lead) is a washed up musician named Jimmy who peaked in the '80s and is now coasting on his glory years with Hollywood hanger-ons when he discovers a talented but green singer named Rachel (Allie Gonino). She's the one who gets electrocuted after their first (disastrous) gig and gets the power, which helps her with her stage fright and in turn makes her an overnight star, something that could be kind of fun (with Arquette tapping into his own comic energy as a sort of Renfield/Billy Cole) in the right hands.

Alas, in the hands of writer/director/producer Alex Keledjian (who created Project Greenlight, respect) the electrocution stuff, while given some goofy flair in the moment (she's got like, electro-scars up her arms and such, as if to visually remind us that this is indeed a genre film) is for all intents and purposes treated like a drug addiction, and Arquette spends most of the movie staring somberly at her decline, arguing with his protege (the band's guitarist who wants to get her help) or offering a hackneyed narration that occasionally seems to be used to smooth over plot details that aren't depicted very well on screen. Perhaps the script had more scenes that couldn't be shot (or they just got chopped out of the edit in an attempt to improve the pace), but either way the film's timeline is very unclear, where a new scene could be a day or a month after the previous one. But even the climax of the film seems to be missing (Arquette voiceover explains what happens, a huge disaster at a concert that we don't see at all), so I'm guessing it was the budget thing. Or just bad filmmaking.

Honestly there's nothing here to recommend. I wouldn't even mind that it's played so overdramatically if it worked (there are no bad plots, only bad executions), but the characters aren't interesting, their success is too vaguely depicted, and it simply just isn't all that engaging. It's too drawn out and maudlin to work as a compelling "rise and fall of a talent" kind of piece, and the inherent silliness of the "electric vampire" concept, even when as underplayed as it is, makes it impossible to take seriously anyway. It's almost like Keledjian WANTED to make a drug movie but couldn't get funding without genre elements, shoehorning them at the last minute and as minimally as possible (it's like 25-30 minutes in before she even gets zapped, in fact). Arquette's manic energy is his key asset as a performer, but he's dialed down for 90% of his screen time (the only time he seems to be having fun is during a montage of the band making either a music video or an album cover, couldn't tell), so I couldn't help but think that the money they paid him could have been used to bulk up the production value and maybe given the movie some semblance of verisimilitude. I paid a buck and still feel ripped off. Everyone else should VOD (or wait two more weeks for the Blu of) Studio 666, which remembers that rock n roll is supposed to be fun.

What say you?


FTP: Sharkansas Women's Prison Massacre (2015)

MAY 2, 2022


I try not to generalize, but let me be clear: you're a complete idiot if you sit down to watch a movie called Sharkansas Women's Prison Massacre and expect tight plotting, strong characters, etc. And hell, even if the movie had a more ominous title like "From The Depths" or some nonsense, the credited "Directed by Jim Wynorski" (who also co-wrote) should revert expectations back to the former. So as long as you are aware of its title and director (who can be hit or miss even with his unique set of standards), I think it's fair to say that this actually skirts with "not bad" territory, all things considered.

Since the plot itself is ridiculous (land fracking unleashes prehistoric land sharks) Wynorski and his collaborators are never encumbered by much in the way of human logic, nor do they ever make us wait too long between attacks. All in, this makes the movie move along better than a number of its shark movie peers, so since "don't bore me" is all you can really ask of this sort of thing, I recognize that I've certainly seen worse. Our victims are a group of female prisoners who are doing their cleanup community service, one of whom is about to be rescued by her lover (Dominique Swain), so along with the two cops that are assigned to their group, you get this kind of low key Assault on Precinct 13 thing where some of the prisoners are just trying to keep their head down and don't want to go along with the escape, ending up siding with the cops. And then all of them have to band together to dodge land sharks.

Even better, it doesn't do the thing that annoys me about most of these Syfy-esque shark/monster movies, where they just randomly cut to a new person who we don't know and kill them 30 seconds later just to keep the film's "action" level high. After the sharks are unearthed they kill some dudes in the opener, and then for the rest of the film they're after the prisoner/cop group or a pair of other cops (one of whom is played by Traci Lords, who "understood the assignment" as they say), whittling down their numbers instead of boosting the body count with interchangeable randos. I guess "focus" would be the word I'm looking for here, which is sadly kind of novel with these things, though it helps me appreciate this more than I probably would otherwise.

It shouldn't shock anyone to learn that the shark FX kind of suck though. Since they are land sharks they spend most of their time just kind of tunneling through the ground like the Graboids from Tremors, except with bad CGI making the crumbled up "rocks" look more like giant puffs of popcorn (and when the shark passes by, the area resets itself with flat unbroken ground, naturally). There isn't much in the way of good deaths, either - a big one near the end is just sort of vaguely represented by blood in the water. They even use cheap VFX for body parts; Lords and her parenter find a victim in the woods that is in pieces, and each chunk of leg or torso or whatever is clearly generated over a shot of the ground. Like they couldn't find one (1) FX guy in Florida who had a few fake body parts from a previous shoot just lying around and would be willing to donate them for a few hours?

It's also an ugly film, so be prepared for that. The entire thing seems to be shot at the brightest time of the day with extra lights for good measure - it's not until near the end, when they make their way through a cave to safety, that concepts like "darkness" and "shadow" are shown on screen for the first time. You've likely seen more interesting cinematography on the Spice Channel circa 1997. Again, no one should be LOOKING for this sort of thing here, but unlike the silly plot and bad CGI, it almost seems like they have to go out of their way to make the film look this garish and would be better off just pointing a phone at the actors, so I should mention it.

Wynorski and two of the girls provide a pretty amusing commentary; they're not afraid to call out some of the film's sillier moments and dialogue readings, so it's just as low key charming as the film itself. Long story short, for a movie you could "watch" without your phone ever leaving your hand (or even your vistion), you can do much much worse, and given the ever abhorrent state of the world, such silliness is only going to be more and more welcome, I feel. Long as you keep it in moderation, I feel there's always room for this kind of B-movie nonsense as long as the filmmakers and actors know exactly what they're making and find the right tone with their edit, and - perhaps more importantly - you're in the right mood for it when you watch.

What say you?


FTP: Bite (2015)

APRIL 23, 2022


I just now realize that I don't have a "Body Horror" tag here, so someday if there's time I'll go through and mark them all accordingly. For now they're likely to be found under "Hero Killer", the clunky name I gave to movies where the main character is tragically infected/ bitten/ whatever by something and it turns them into a monster. Not all of them would qualify as body horror, but Bite certainly does, with The Fly being a clear influence on the protagonist's makeup progression - there's even a fingernail gag for good measure.

But it also reminded me of Thanatomorphose (all three films are Canadian, interestingly, another tag I somehow forgot to make over the years despite having them for many other countries), in that our heroine, Casey, pretty much never leaves her apartment once afflicted. In the most convenient plotting decision of all time, her fiance lives in the same building but not with her, due to his overbearing mother - also the landlord! - insisting that they wait until they're married before living together. Or even having sex, as it turns out, which is probably why Casey screws around with a rando dude at her bachelorette party. Thankfully, the movie doesn't take the puritan route and blame that encounter for her issues, as they seem to stem from a bite she gets in a lake when innocently hanging out with her friends. So basically, her condition would play out the same whether she was faithful or not - it just gives the movie a little extra bit of drama to pad the runtime.

Unfortunately the script seemingly forgets to really deal with it for close to an hour, which makes the third act seem largely tacked on. Turns out one of Casey's friends is in love with the fiance, and angles to steal him for herself by showing him proof of Casey's infidelity. So an hour in, once Casey's already killed a couple people, it becomes a love triangle movie where one party is already a goopy monster, which would be fine if it was executed with a sense of humor, but director/co-writer Chad Archibald plays it pretty straight. It's fine as these things go (at least the best friend wasn't screwing around with him the entire time), but it could have been weaved into the first hour a little more successfully so it didn't seem like an attempt to make sure the movie hit 90 minutes.

The uneven plot is saved by the production and makeup design, however. Casey was bitten by some kind of insect/fish hybrid and thus has side effects of both, but the nastiest element has to be the fact that she starts giving "birth" to fish eggs all over the place, covering her apartment with the slimy beads along with other layers of goop on the walls and such. It is a truly disgusting visual, made weirder by how people come in and act more like she's merely forgotten to take the trash out for a couple days or maybe let the litter box overflow. If I entered that apartment I wouldn't get more than one foot past the doorway before scanning the joint and hightailing it out of there, but her friends and the mother in law are just like "ew, she needs to clean up."

Still, it's worth watching the movie just for that, so it wasn't surprising that one of the Blu-ray's featurettes focused on Elma Begovic's performance and makeup process. It ultimately took over four hours to apply her final stages, which is an incredibly impressive endeavor for what was clearly not a huge budgeted film. The other featurettes are pretty standard, save one which focuses on Archibald's wedding, which coincided with the film's premiere at Sitges. Kind of a self indulgent piece to include, but hey, good for him/them. There's also a commentary, which is a bit dry despite the multiple participants so I only got through about half before falling asleep. Also, they briefly touch on something I did appreciate about the movie: it starts off like a found footage movie, allowing your heart to sink for a few minutes before boom! It switches to standard third person perspective. Bless.

The same team made The Drownsman, which was also a pretty good little movie (one I actually noted thankfully didn't have a love triangle element, sigh) and I'll Take Your Dead, another fine one time watch, so I guess they know what they're doing and how to pull off reasonably effective genre films with their limited means. But they all lack that je ne sais quoi that makes them must sees (or, in this specific case, an upgrade from "the pile" to the permanent collection); this is probably my favorite of the three but I also wouldn't exactly take to the streets encouraging everyone to drop what they're doing and watch it. Archibald has been producing as of late instead of directing (Dead was his last, in 2018, after helming a film just about every year), but I get the impression he is more of a producer than a director anyway, so perhaps it's a good thing - he and his team can use their experience to get films made but hire directors with a little more moxie and get something that really knocks it out of the park. Either way, at least they're not making cynical crap and blowing a chunk of their budget on hiring Tony Todd or someone to do a pointless cameo, like a lot of these teams do. All the dough is on the screen, and for that I laud them.

What say you?


FTP: Beyond Darkness (1990)

APRIL 19, 2022


Many moons ago, Scream Factory put out three of the films that were at one point released as "La Casa" (Evil Dead) sequels in Italy, under their original titles. I wrote up a pair of them for HMAD (Witchery and Ghosthouse), but for the third, Beyond Darkness, I switched gears and included it in a BMD (RIP) piece about the wacky La Casa series. That was seven years ago, which meant I couldn't even remember much about the movie, up to and including why I ended up with a second version, this time from Severin with some new bonus features. But I made it my inaugural viewing for The Pile 2.0: Now It's A Shelf!

Yes, it has been upgraded, again. If you'll forgive the slightly bloggy diversion here, I recently decided to rotate my living room layout 90 degrees in order to cut back on the glare that has been severely impacting my Elden Ring adventures. But in the process of mapping that out, I realized that this would also allow me to put all of my DVDs/Blu-rays together for the first time in I think 16 years (they are currently in three different racks in opposite sides of the room), and that to honor such an occasion, I should ditch my older ones for newer, matching shelves since they'll be next to each other. In turn this meant I'd have a spare rack for "The Pile", which got so big that it had to be converted to "The Box", for which the only space it would fit was behind the couch where I never saw it. Hence: a vast slowdown in FTP reviews (out of sight, out of mind). Now that they're all in a rack where I can see them, I plan to get through them more often! I swear!

Anyway, Beyond Darkness. Well, it's easy to see why I couldn't remember much of it, because it's pretty low key and mostly just reminds me of better movies. Even a non horror fan could probably spot the influence of both Amityville (family moving into new house where a tragedy occurred) and Poltergeist (one kid disappears in the house and needs to be rescued from an alternate dimension housed within it), but there's also some Shocker in there, with a vengeful electric chair appointee coming back for revenge, and the score even kind of resembles that film's at times. For a little bonus (for me, anyway), the mom is played by Barbara Bingham, aka the nice teacher who gets blown up in Jason Takes Manhattan. With my mind constantly thinking about other movies, it didn't leave much time for me to focus on what it was bringing to the table, if anything.

I did spend some time thinking about the poor Italian saps who thought they were seeing "Evil Dead 5", however. The other two "sequels" created out of hucksterism weren't exactly Raimi-level energetic, but they certainly had some of that silly flair, which is sadly in short supply here. There's a (possessed?) black wooden swan that rocks menacingly, and at one point Bingham runs around with a meat cleaver, but I'd estimate 95% of the movie is either talking or people slowly walking around the house looking worried, which doesn't exactly produce the same kind of thrills that a legitimate round with the Deadites would provide. Interestingly, part of the plot DOES involve an ancient book that should be destroyed, but I assume that's more coincidence than a conscious storytelling decision to try to make it fit with the previous "La Casa" films. Long story short, while the movie isn't exactly good, I'm glad it has been able to live on with its proper title, so that people can give it a fair shake without the expectations that originally accompanied it. It's not a bad movie really, just a bit too uneventful compared to the films it was clearly inspired by, though it'd come off even worse if watching it as part of a series it doesn't resemble at all.

Severin's disc has a lengthy interview with Claudio Fragasso as well as co-writer Rossella Drudi, both of whom are seen fidgeting with their covid masks during the interview, which makes me think "Oh good, this could have been an ugly Zoom interview but they did it right." Fragasso isn't as candid as he's been in other things, only really getting animated toward the end of the piece when he talks about how his US pseudonym (Clyde Anderson) was mistaken as a new director from a critic who had previously trashed Fragasso, prompting him to call the guy, play along with the ruse, then tell him to F himself. Classic Claudio! Actor David Brandon, who plays the obligatory "priest who has lost his faith", also contributes an interview, but he was having trouble remembering anything specific about the production ("I was in New Orleans once for a movie, not sure if it was this one...") so I didn't last long with it. Still, considering Scream just put the movie out a few years prior (bundled with another movie, Metamorphosis) Severin was smart to (during covid!) put together some bonus features, all of which last over an hour, to sweeten the pot for any Beyond Darkness fans who likely already settled for the other release.

Anyway, I hope these "Pile" reviews are now more common now that its inhabitants will be staring me in the face instead of hidden in a box behind me. Though I assume I will need to finish Elden Ring before I can really start to put a dent into it. I think I'm like 3/4 of the way through? So it's 90 minutes for a movie or 90 minutes running through Caelid to boost my strength stat. A difficult choice to be sure.

What say you?


Morbius (2022)

MARCH 31, 2022


Today was the anniversary of when I "retired" from Horror Movie A Day, giving up the "A Day" part of the deal in favor of, you know, having a life. But I still slum my way through stuff every now and then that I really should just shut off/walk out of after twenty minutes or so and try to find something better to do with the remaining hour or whatever. So with that in mind, I had to almost begrudgingly appreciate Morbius for feeling so much like one of those movies that I wished I never had to think about again once they were over, but knew writing up a review would bring a few eyeballs over to the site (which the likes of my beloved Cathy's Curse could not, being that it did not star an Oscar-winning actor nor have a global fanbase based on its studio name).

To be fair, I've seen worse movies. Hell I've seen worse vampire movies, Marvel movies, Jared Leto movies... it's the worst Al Madrigal movie, I guess? Not really a damning indictment, my man usually chooses well! But it's been a while since I've seen a movie that's had all of its reason for being stripped away through what was probably a lengthy production process and what appears to be the result of some post-production tinkering. We've all joked about how long we've been seeing the trailer for this film (it premiered before covid shut the theaters down over two years ago), but that lengthy exposure has only made it more apparent that we were clearly being denied a look at a lot of things that trailer promised. Madrigal and Tyrese seem to have gotten the worst of it, as at least half of their trailer footage isn't in the film (that bit where they are in the woods? Nothing even remotely close to that happens in the film, no mere "they re-edited the scene and lost that line" excuse can be given), and Jared Harris is probably close behind, with one of his big scenes also MIA and with no obvious spot where it could have been placed.

We also get a confusing opening that starts in the present so we can see Leto ASAP, only to then flash back to 25 years ago to meet the younger version of Michael Morbius, a comic movie staple that they for whatever reason didn't have enough faith in to present chronologically (Black Widow did it for an entire reel!). It's as a child that he meets Lucien, who suffers from the same ill-defined disease Michael does (something about blood, naturally, given the vampire-themed premise), and makes a promise to someday find a cure for both of them. Then we cut back to the present day, where Michael has just turned down a Nobel Prize (a seemingly interesting scene that we don't get to see, only hear about without much explanation) and is really close to finding his cure. But Lucien (Matt Smith) is in even worse condition it seems, so time is running out, and Michael uses some bats and blah blah blah, look, he inadvertently becomes a vampire.

I mean, even if you didn't know much about the comic character you could probably figure out what was going to happen (Lucien will take the serum and become a villain that Michael has to stop), but few could guess that the film's final edit would leave so much to our imagination. Lucien is rich, I guess - why? What does he do? How did Michael get the bats from Costa Rica back to New York, since they're said to be incredibly dangerous (he has some sort of wire cage with him when he draws them out of their cave, but we see them flying through it quite easily). How does Tyrese know that Michael likes to make origami, since that's how he connects the doctor with a bunch of corpses he finds on a ship? Why does the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital in 1981 have a better security camera setup than this present day one in New York, since half the movie hinges on someone else doing something Morbius is blamed for, when security footage could prove his innocence?

But my favorite thing is this, which takes a bit of explanation first. As kids, Michael gives Lucien the nickname "Milo", because that was the name of his first roommate at their children's hospital, who has presumably died, and there have been others - the idea being why learn a new name when they're not going to last long, right? So they're all "another Milo" to him. Kind of a heartbreaking but endearing nickname for Michael to use for Lucien, who doesn't die but ends up being his best friend until adulthood. But... Jared Harris calls him Milo too, even when Michael isn't even around (Michael himself goes back and forth). Given that the real Milo is a child/patient of his who died, it's remarkably coldhearted for the doctor to use that nickname as well, on top of just being confusing (it'd be like if your dad referred to your wife/husband by your own pet name for them, "Bunny" or "Lovey dove" or whatever).

It's a small thing, but it perfectly encapsulates the shrugging attitude toward about 90% of this movie, where Smith seems to be the only one willing to fully embrace the silly material. Because ultimately, the only reason this movie exists is for Sony to plant another seed for their long gestating Sinister Six movie, a would-be Avengers level event if they could ever manage to get that far. Now, even a casual Marvel fan could tell you that Morbius was not a known member of that team, but since they have no other heroes to use beyond Spider-Man (who often ropes in his pals to help him battle the team when they strike), they're presumably counting on having a few antiheroes like Morbius (and Venom, likely) to help him out against the likes of Kraven, Carnage, Electro, etc - they have the whole library to choose from, so the sky's the limit.

We can assume Vulture will be part of the group though, since he pops up in what has to be the most confusing/terrible post-credits scene in one of these things since 2014's Amazing Spider-Man 2 (a movie so hated that it forced them to partner with the Disney Marvel stuff and salvage what was left of Spider-Man's box office appeal). We've seen Keaton's character (from one of the MCU Spider-Man films) in the trailer, but of course that scene isn't in the movie. Instead, he only appears in the first post credit scene, beaming in from his own universe into this one (sure, why not) and joking that he hopes the food here is better. OK, whatever - not sure how he quickly establishes he's in an alternate universe within seconds, but fine. Then he returns in full Vulture costume for the second scene (so, Keaton's voice only), meeting up with Morbius somewhere and saying that they should work together. Even if it wasn't confusing (he just beamed into this universe, how does he even know who Morbius is? Any why would he seek out Morbius when the film just spent 100 minutes establishing him as a hero, not a villain - and certainly no one with any sort of issue with Spider-Man?), it's just so goddamn cynical to remind us on our way out the door that none of what we just sighed our way through actually mattered in the long run. It's just so we can presumably be excited to see Leto share the screen with Keaton and Tom Hardy someday.

For those who do not care about the MCU stuff and just wanted a vampire movie, I have good news! You'll be just as annoyed by the movie as the comic fans! Being that it's PG-13 I wasn't expecting much in the way of violence, but it's bizarre/distracting that Morbius is repeatedly seen slashing at throats and such without a drop of blood to be seen, as if they were going out of their way to remind us that we were seeing a neutered version of its events. Even when he fights the villain, we're spared anything that can really show off his powers (his super strength is another trailer highlight that is omitted; he mostly just uses his echolocation and flight), with most of their big showdown consisting of the two of them swirling around swirling debris, with an endlessly swirling camera occasionally slowing down enough to let us know what is actually happening (they appear to hit the ground so hard that they cause a crater into the sewer? I couldn't quite parse it out). There's a pretty good bit with a nurse in a hallway being stalked by "something", but otherwise they spend more time differentiating him from a vampire (sunlight is OK, mirrors work, etc) than letting him be one. So he's barely a vampire, in a movie that goes out of its way to reference the director of Nosferatu, as if honoring a vampire connection they otherwise seem to be trying to subdue.

I truly wasn't expecting to be thinking so much about Halloween 6, as this film is similarly so mangled by reshoots and editing that it leaves character motivations, plot threads, even what should be major turning points for the narrative all left to our imagination. I was hoping that the 1:45 runtime was actually by design, but it seems that if they left it alone it'd probably be yet another comic book movie in 2.5 hr territory. And it probably would be better! But now they've soured most of it for the audience with this cynical "bare essentials" version that often resembles the trailer we have been terrorized by since the Before Times™, racing from one scene to the next so they can get us to the MCU cameos that much quicker. Sony cannot lose the rights to these characters fast enough; say what you will about the Marvel Studios brand, but at least they know how to actually make us want the films in the first place. Here I can't imagine anyone wanting a Morbius 2 unless it's a complete overhaul.

What say you?


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