New movie

Today's movie was an independent film that I wasn't supposed to see yet (and I enjoyed it!) Ordinarily I would watch something else to have a proper entry for the day, but Mondays are just too nuts as I am writing all of my reviews for the weekends, catching up on work, etc. So, sorry about that - hopefully it won't be too long before I can post a review.


Seventh Moon (2009)

AUGUST 30, 2009


And now I begin my, what, 5th review that starts off with how much I love Blair Witch Project and in turn, how rather disappointed I am with one of the directors’ subsequent films. Come on guys, you gotta get back together, or else we will never know if it was just a fluke or if you’re really the Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman of horror movies; doing decent work without but only truly creating magic with the other (with Dan Myrick’s The Objective being that one Air Supply song Steinman wrote, I guess, though that might be stretching the comparison). But oddly, Eduardo Sanchez’s Seventh Moon suffers not from the script this time (as all of their other solo films have), but with its presentation.

You remember how people were complaining about Blair’s camerawork making them sick and stuff? That movie is positively Kevin Smith-ian steady compared to this one. Even simple establishing shots look like they are shot with a handheld camera that has been zoomed in as far as possible, by a guy standing on a truck that is careening down a hill. And since many establishing shots are simply of the damn moon, you can really see how shaky it is when the only visible object on screen is darting around like a goddamn kid with a laser light.

But worse than the shaki-cam (which doesn’t usually bother me) is the complete lack of light in the film. There are maybe three total minutes in the film with fully visible images. Everything else is like 90% darkness with only highlights and eyeballs to provide any sort of semblance as to what we are looking at. You know how sometimes I joke that Peter Hyams thought that x director’s movie was too dark? Shit, x director would say THIS movie was too dark. Hyams would have walked out.

Sanchez is also obsessed with obscuring the image. An early scene set during sundown hours is shot from outside of a car with rolled up, highly reflective windows, so the only time you can see our characters is when the reflection of a dark tree passes through. Later, the car gets covered in blood and we watch scenes through the same windows, now offering a few holes of visibility in between blood smears/streaks. You DO know that Amy Smart is incredibly beautiful and thus folks in the crowd might want to get a decent look at her every now and then, right? Hell, I don’t think the guy playing her husband ever gets a traditional closeup.

Now all of this stuff is fine in small doses. The Descent certainly didn’t suffer from darkened images, and Blair didn’t suffer from their refusal to use a tripod. But when you combine them and present the entire film like that (literally) it just becomes a frustrating experience. You can’t tell who is who when two guys begin fighting; you can’t see what Amy Smart is shrieking at; hell, you can’t even see a structure that they stumble upon and begin pounding at its door. And even when you do catch a glimpse, the camera shakes around before you can really start to process what it is you are seeing.

You know, for a movie about a goddamn full moon, you’d think it would play a part in the film, such as, I dunno, lighting up the scene.

But like I said, the script isn’t the problem. It’s actually a pretty scary plot; ironically (or intentionally), it’s sort of Blair Witch meets The Descent. The couple is on their honeymoon, their tour guide gets lost and disappears after going to ask for directions, and then shit gets freaky when these white humanoid monsters begin to hunt them. They get lost, they bicker, they’re disoriented... it has all the makings of a good survival horror film - but as Mike Nelson once commented over Giant Spider Invasion, it’s a movie "that takes the bold step of not including the audience.” Disorienting us for a scene or two makes sense; but for the entire film does not. Amy Smart’s character knows she’s in the woods, and SHE knows there’s a white-painted monster in front of her... why can’t WE know these things? We end up understanding what is happening based on the process of elimination. “OK, two people seem to be fighting, neither of them are blond so I guess it’s not Amy Smart. It must be her husband and that random guy who showed up. Oh shit, one guy is down! OK, Amy doesn’t seem upset, so it must be the other guy.”

Actually, my one issue with the script is this scene - they are fighting because the monsters need to eat something (so they think anyway), i.e. a human. So they are essentially fighting to survive - they each want to subdue the other and put the body outside to distract the monster. But why should I automatically dislike this guy? He’s just trying to survive, no different than our “hero”. Something like this could have proposed an interesting moment in the film, but it’s passed up in favor of having the two guys whale on each other for a bit. In the dark.

So I dunno, it’s not a bad movie, just one that’s incredibly frustrating to watch. It’s like when the guy in front of you gets up from his seat or people are walking in front of a low-placed projector - you get the jist of an image, but never the whole thing, and it’s a constant distraction I never quite got used to. The behind the scenes info seems interesting though (despite the fact that they could have shot the bulk of the movie in my mom’s backyard for all of the difference it would make), the whole film was shot in Hong Kong, (obviously) only at night for a period of seven weeks. I learned this from a Q&A session after the film with Smart, two of the producers, and the film’s editor (the editing process seemed interesting too - this guy and another each cut a version of the film without contacting the other, and then Sanchez would blend them). Apparently this stuff will be on the DVD, which will be released as part of the 2nd series of Ghost House Underground from Lionsgate this fall. Hopefully they will do a blu-ray; maybe the higher resolution and improved contrast will improve matters. Either way I’d like to check out the extras and see what Sanchez (who couldn’t attend the Q&A due to his wife recently giving birth - grats to them!) has to say about it.

What say you?

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The Seamstress (2009)

AUGUST 29, 2009


A few minutes into The Seamstress, I “tweeted” that I already ranked the movie above about half of the DTV Lance Henriksen movies I had watched for HMAD, simply because they spelled his name right. So it’s amusing that it indeed falls right in the middle of what I expect for these things; nothing particularly surprising (like the decent Madhouse), nothing terrible (Mangler 2), just sort of... OK (Sasquatch Mountain).

I tend to not like supernatural slasher films, not counting the Jason sequels where he is clearly a zombie. The reason is - there is no need for any chasing/stalking, because it seems the villain in question can just appear behind someone and stab (or in this case, sew) them to death without any buildup. If you’re going to have that sort of setup, you need to have a little more fun (i.e. Shocker), but this movie follows the early 80s slasher model to a T otherwise.

To wit: we have six young people, 3 guys, 3 girls. We have love triangle issues and characters going off to have sex. We even have a woods-based setting. You take any one of these scenes out of context and you can be forgiven for thinking you are watching The Burning or something. But apart from some clumsy humor related to the sexual hijinks (including a guy that goes off to masturbate, a habit that’s apparently just a sort of nuisance to his friends; the Final Girl even waits around for him to finish), the story is rather serious, almost cripplingly so. The backstory is a bit convoluted, and Final Girl is driven to solve the disappearance and likely murder of her father, which means it’s a no-nonsense type journey for her. It’d be like if Hatchet focused primarily on Tamara Feldman (character-wise, she was the film’s weakest link) and left all of the others way in the background. Plus, the characters seem kind of old to be engaging in this sort of grabassery.

And Lance isn’t in it enough, but that’s par for the course these days (does the guy ever spend more than 2 days on a film set anymore?). He plays a very Lance Henriksen-y character; a shady man who you immediately suspect of not really being the villain, and he’s not, but has done enough wrong to warrant his eventual demise (this isn’t spoiling anything, Lance has only survived about 5 of his hundred plus movies). And unlike Screamers 2, it doesn’t take the whole goddamn movie for him to appear; he’s actually in it throughout, just in brief glimpses (at one point they randomly cut to his character sitting in bed smacking a baseball bat into the mattress - then it cuts back to our main group again. OK, thanks for stopping by, Lance).

But apart from some scenes that are too dark to clearly see what is happening, it’s well shot, the actors aren’t terrible (though one of the girls looks a lot like our heroine, making it a bit disorienting at times), the killer’s look is pretty cool, and I never really got bored (it’s only like 72 minutes long), so in that respect it’s worth a look. It’s also got one of the best cheesy taglines in quite some time - “A million ways to die... this is the worst!”, which is something I expect to hear during the trailer reel at Grindhouse night at the New Beverly. So in short, you can do worse, and hey, taking the time to learn how to spell “Henriksen” should be rewarded.

What say you?

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Sorority Row (2009)

AUGUST 28, 2009


A lot of my fellow journalists (I use the term incredibly loosely on both accounts) were annoyed about having back to back screenings for back to back junkets, but I think it was pretty brilliant on Summit Entertainment’s part. After the crushing bore that was Whiteout, a goddamn documentary about telephone wire would seem fun, let alone something like Sorority Row, which followed the Black Xmas template of hiring 5-6 incredibly cute CW-ready stars, putting them in a house where they act catty with one another, and then having someone kill them in a film that borrows the concept but little else from an old-school slasher film.

But unlike Black Christmas (the original I mean), the original House On Sorority Row isn’t often heralded as one of the all time best entries in the sub-genre, so hopefully people won’t be as harsh toward this one. It’s nothing spectacular, but like Xmas, it offers up traditional slasher fun without any of the Scream-type humor of the late 90s films (which this often feels like) or excessive brutality like a lot of modern ones. The kills are bloody, yes, but not vicious. After seeing H2’s overkill (“Why stab someone once when you can stab them 34 times?” Rob Zombie seems to be thinking), it’s nice to see a simple impaling every now and then.

It’s also refreshingly fast-paced. The prank that sets up the I Know What You Did Last Summer-esque plot occurs in the first 5 minutes, with the slasher claiming his/her first kill a few scenes later. The original took FOREVER to get to this point, and there was a lot of dilly-dally after that (then again, it had a slightly more complicated plot). And at first I was afraid that the compact cast (six girls) would mean a low body count, but it’s actually about double that (and they’re not extraneous kills either, given the killer’s motive).

I do have two issues. This first one isn’t spoiler-y, but the next one is, so a heads up now (I will warn you again later). My biggest problem with the original was that the killer had this really creepy Jester costume that you never saw until the end of the film. I was hoping that the remake would make up for this and put him in a few scenes at least. But no! The costume isn’t used at all, and worse - it’s just a big hooded coat like in Urban Legend. I don’t know why so many modern slashers are so reluctant to even try to make an interesting, costume-worthy killer, but that seems to be the case. Then again, I guess it makes the occasional memorable killer (like Chromeskull from Laid To Rest, or Babyface from The Hills Run Red) look even more badass in comparison.

OK, here’s the sort of spoiler-y part. Without actually saying who it is, I just want to say that the identity of the killer is a bit of a letdown. It’s not a cheat, like Ben Willis from IKWYDLS (a character who was never even mentioned until about two minutes before his reveal), but it’s equally as anticlimactic, because it’s someone we didn’t really give a shit about; a red herring character at best who most slasher fans will probably assume will be found dead as a surprise (like Pacey in Urban Legend). Oddly, I had actually guessed the motive for the killer, but the wrong person. It’s nice to be wrong with these things, but I’d rather have it be someone I canceled out as a suspect for being too obvious (Billy in Scream, for example) than someone I never even considered because I couldn’t even remember the character’s name.

As for the surprising R rating (I thought for sure this would be a PG-13 deal), it’s well-earned, though if you’re hoping for lots of nudity you’re shit out of luck. None of the main girls disrobe (though Jamie Chung offers a brief side boob), instead only a couple of the random house girls are seen topless. Some of the deaths are pretty gory, and follow Happy Birthday To Me’s template of being somewhat goofy (there are at least two deaths via something being forced in someone’s mouth). And (and this is what really won me over), the girls swear like sailors. Hell, even Carrie Fisher has a potty mouth. But unlike Zombie’s Halloween, the girls (particularly Harshman) sound natural when they swear, and don’t get excessive with it. Plus, some of them ARE bitches, so it makes sense to call each other that every now and then.

I know this won’t be a favorite among anyone, because it’s so by the numbers, but dammit, I miss this sort of “nothing special” slasher movie. So many of them nowadays are fixed on gimmicks, or 3D, or trying to outdo one of the other films - it’s nice to see one that’s simply a traditional slasher movie. It even has a nonsensical sequel setup, another tradition that’s been somewhat phased out. Well played.

What say you?

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Whiteout (2009)

AUGUST 28, 2009


There is nothing worse than watching a movie and spending most of it thinking of all the different ways it could be better. Unfortunately, Whiteout is one such film. There are a bunch of interesting elements in the storyline, but rather than focus on one and make something truly enjoyable, the myriad producers and screenwriters decided to put in ALL of them, resulting in one of the most weightless films I can recall.

For example, the movie takes place in Antarctica, in the days leading up to a point of the year when it is going to be dark (and thus even less inhabitable) for six months. But rather than use this in any meaningful way, the “tension” relies on whether or not our main characters will solve the crime at hand before the plane has to leave. First of all - we know goddamn well that they won’t get on that plane, so this should have been an event for the end of the first act, not the second. Secondly - the crime itself (the theft/coverup of some unknown Russian cargo) isn’t nearly compelling enough for anyone to even CARE if they solve the crime or not, because it doesn’t seem like any of our characters are in any danger. As a result, we have little investment in what passes for a ticking countdown story (as opposed to say, Die Hard 2’s “your wife’s plane has 67 minutes left before it runs out of fuel” stuff).

See, the theft stuff boils down to greed. Three guys find a treasure (we don’t know what it is until the very end, and it’s as generic an answer as you can possibly imagine) and one of them decides to kill the other two to keep it all for himself. But he does that fairly early on, and doesn’t seem to wish any harm toward Kate Beckinsale or any of the other good guy characters, so again - so what? The filmmakers try to mix it up a bit by adding in a “twist” that reveals another character was actually working with the killer guy, but this doesn’t work either, because we once again have a distinguished actor in a nothing role for the first 80 minutes of the movie, leaving us no choice but to suspect him as being villainous once he survives the first act (which is the only other path to take for an actor of this caliber in this sort of role).

There’s also some half-baked backstory about Beckinsale’s past. It seems back when she was working in Miami (a setting that probably only exists to get in a few scenes of Kate wearing more revealing clothing; we also have a nonsensical shower scene to make up for all of the “covered in a parka and snow hat” nonsense), her partner sold her out. As a result, not only does she not trust people, she doesn’t trust her own judgment. Hence why she took this easy post, because she doubts her skills as a marshal. And this would be fine, but they don’t make her arc incredibly compelling in any way. Not only does it hinge on whether or not she solves a dull case, but her new “partner” (Gabriel Macht) never comes off as a legitimate suspect, let alone a red herring. Like everything else in the movie, he’s just sort of there, and again - most people will figure out the bad guy’s identity after twenty minutes or so anyway (before Macht even appears).

And the MUSIC! I dunno if director Dominic Sena is insane, or composer John Frizzell had dirt on someone and blackmailed them, but whatever the reason, I have never seen such liberal over-use of the film’s score. It’s bad enough that it sounds exactly like the Bourne films’ score by John Powell, but it plays over nearly every single scene. Even otherwise quiet dialogue scenes are counter-productively drowned out by the incessant “Dun dun DUN DUN DUN DUN dun dun” instrumental score. None of it matches to what is happening on the screen, and it’s a constant distraction. Of course, it may help to fully drown out some of the clunky “investigative” dialogue, such as when the movie stops cold (heh, pun just realized) to have Beckinsale and Macht figure out which blood splatter belongs to which corpse.

Here’s how I would have made this movie. It starts off with a murder. Beckinsale arrives after doing a patrol, word of the murder gets back to her, she starts to investigate, despite protest from her buddy, who wants her to just pass it off to someone else before they all leave to avoid the 6 month darkness. She thinks she can solve it in time, and rounds up a suspect or two. Macht can arrive at the base around this point. Then the plane has to leave early for whatever reason, and through the usual movie plotting bullshit, it leaves with Beckinsale, Macht, her buddy, the suspects, and maybe 2-3 others behind. Now they are trapped for 6 months and they know one of them is a killer. Boom! Done. Instead, the movie just treads water and doesn’t isolate them until the final 15-20 minutes.

And the fact that they are trying to sell this to horror fans is downright laughable (though not as laughable as the opening on-screen title that tells us that Antarctica is the “coldest place on Earth”. No shit.). There’s one scene that plays like something out of a slasher movie, but the “slasher” is caught and anti-climatically revealed in the next scene after he’s been arrested. The main villain doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and they don’t even really play up the psychological aspects of being isolated and/or the possibility of living in complete darkness for half a year. Like the plot elements, it seems they just tossed in some horror stuff in order to make the movie as “well-rounded” as possible, since it also plays like a mystery, a procedural (I actually made the awful joke “this movie should be called Really Cold Case”), a thriller, and even an action movie during the (admittedly cool) shootout/plane crash sequence that opens the film.

Oh and the end of the movie rips off Point Break, of all things.

The only good thing I can say about this movie is that because they told us it was a horror movie, I got to sit down (on camera!) and talk to Kate Beckinsale, whom I consider to be one of the most beautiful women in the world. Unfortunately it was difficult to come up with questions to ask about a movie that I (and seemingly, she - though to be fair they shot the damn thing over two years ago) didn’t care about in the slightest, so I just asked the sort of generic questions that I normally would groan at (“How cold was it on the set?”). The only thing of interest about the interview would be watching me stammer as I lose my train of thought (twice!), and I edited that shit out anyway to make myself look like less of an asshole. Still, it’s only 4 minutes, free to watch, and far more enjoyable than Whiteout, so check it out below! (I had to make it smaller than its default size to fit nicely on here, so it's a bit clunky. The play button IS there on the bottom right corner, but you wont have any other controls. Head over to Bloody-D if you're having trouble.)

What say you?

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Ghost Image (2007)

AUGUST 27, 2009


Those who can write, write. Those who can’t, write movies like Ghost Image anyway. And then schmucks like me rent them, lured in by attractive stars (Elizabeth Rohm and Stacey Dash) and the titular promise of a ghost. And as a bonus, Rohm’s character is a video editor, much like me. Despite the gender difference, I should be able to identify with her character much easier than say, Jonathan Parker (football hero) or whatever it is Jared Padalecki’s character did for a living in Friday the 13th. But unfortunately, I am a real person who does real things, so I couldn’t identify with anyone in this movie.

Why the synopsis bothered to point out her occupation is a bit of a puzzler, because she doesn’t edit a goddamn thing in the movie. In fact, one of the movie’s biggest problems is that nothing feels genuine, and the “editing” scenes are a prime example. Apparently, the only reason she’s an editor is to provide an excuse for her to have a really nice computer with three monitors. Unfortunately, no one involved with shooting these scenes has apparently ever seen an NLE before, because her “editing” software has no interface at all. Instead, all three of her monitors show the same image, full-screen, and all she ever does is watch footage. So her ‘editing’ style seems to be no different than any 12 year old kid hooking up the family DV camera to the TV with a set of composite AV cables. Unfortunately, screenwriter James Schulte passed away before the film went into production, so he obviously couldn’t be there to point out how fake these scenes were coming across.

The film’s police and lawyer characters follow suit, in that they seem written by someone who never actually even as much as spoke to a cop or lawyer before, but merely watched a few of Rohm’s episodes of Law & Order and went from there. Roma Maffia’s cop is seemingly limited to woodenly trying to get a rise out of the suspects, and the lawyer guy simply says things like “I’d ask for an attorney... but I AM one”. And plot holes abound; the 3rd act of the film revolves around Rohm escaping from police custody, but somehow no one on this police force thought to check her apartment, because that’s where she is (they don’t even bother staking the place out from outside).

It’s also needlessly convoluted in its attempt to give the film a few red herrings, despite the fact that anyone with half a brain will know that the killer is Stacey Dash’s jilted ex girlfriend. Why do we know this? Well, besides Rohm and Maffia, she’s the only other actor of note in the film and yet never really does anything until the end. Also the film opens with her blowing the future stiff a kiss and looking pouty when he goes to his new girl (Rohm). But instead of a basic love triangle, the writers (there are three) throw us an attempt at a curveball by having literally EVERY CHARACTER have romantic tangles within the group. There’s a redhaired girl whose boyfriend is in love with Rohm, who is with the guy that got killed, who used to date Dash, who is now dating the lawyer that is also seemingly after Rohm (or something - I lost track after awhile). And yet they’re all friends who seemingly meet for drinks every single night. Can’t these fucking people date outside their little circle?

Another obvious red herring is Rohm’s backstory, which involves her inadvertently causing the deaths of her parents and little sister in a car accident. Most of the “horror” in this movie stems from her seeing images of her bloodied little sister, which is supposed to make us think that she is cracking up and may have been the killer herself. But again, we know this can’t be true, because that would require the movie to have some fucking balls, when in reality it’s a PG-13 movie that can’t even be bothered to show us the car accident that takes the life of one of the film’s two casualties.

So it doesn’t work as a horror movie, and it doesn’t work as a mystery, and it doesn’t even work as a character piece since all of the characters are single-dimensional pieces of cardboard. Does anything about it work? Uh... well, Rohm is nice to look at (why did you leave Angel, you jerk!). And the ending is kind of a bummer in the traditional sense, but it didn’t actually bum me out because the movie didn’t give me a reason to give a rat’s ass about the people involved.

The DVD tries hard to change my mind though, offering up the whole shebang of extra features. There’s a 25 minute making of, a full 20 minutes of deleted scenes (mostly character stuff, and apart from making the movie longer, some of them should have been left in), some “funny” outtakes, and even a music video for “Shattered”, the song that plays over the menu and end credits. Look, I LIKE cheesy pop ballads (in fact, I had OAR’s “Shattered” on a few minutes ago), but this song was grating once, let alone three times. The making of is probably my favorite thing on the disc, due to the way that director Jack Snyder treats us like idiots, explaining what a rack focus is and giving a filmography for just about every actor in the film. He does the same thing on the commentary (why did I even listen to it? Like I was dying to watch the movie again today?), offering pearls of wisdom like “Filmmaking is telling a story with pictures” over a fairly standard shot of Rohm sitting in shock, surrounded by friends who eventually fade out to show how it’s a while later and she’s still sitting there. The man has a gift, if talking to people as if Ghost Image and its supplements were their first experience with cinema. Oddly, the only thing of note that pops up in the commentary is that the film was shot 2.35:1 but the DVD is 1.78:1 - but they don't bother explaining why they'd willingly cut 25% of their image out.

One final note - has any actress aged as minimally as Stacey Dash? She’s someone whose age is only betrayed by math - she’s been around for over 20 years (I first saw her in Richard Pryor’s Moving, in 1987), so I know she has to be at least forty by now, but if I had to guess by looking at her I’d say 28, 29. And that’s probably the only downside of looking so young - had she looked her age, she probably wouldn’t have even been considered to play a role in Ghost Image.

What say you?

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The Last Horror Film (1982)

AUGUST 26, 2009


There are still a few “You’ve never seen that?” holes in my horror watching, and one is Bill Lustig’s Maniac. I remember trying to rent it once and finding it rented out, and that pretty much ended my quest. I should fix that. But anyway, The Last Horror Film (aka Fanatic) seems to be a sort of thematic sequel to that film, as it is also a sleazy slasher movie with Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro. As it’s the more (in?)famous of the two, I assume it’s also better, but Last Horror Film is not without merit.

The most interesting thing about it is the setting. Few films are set at film festivals, and I am pretty sure this is the only one set entirely at Cannes. And it’s not faked - they really shot the movie there. They filmed guerilla style during the 1981 festival, apparently taking liberal use of those “By entering this area you agree to have your likeness filmed....” signs. And it’s great, because all of the movies you see being touted are real (For Your Eyes Only! Excalibur!), and the occasional celebrity sighting also adds a unique authenticity that no other “movie about movies” has offered, as far as I know.

The actual movie isn’t quite as unique, but it’s still entertaining. The slasher scenes are a bit ridiculous (especially the guy who decides to play pranks on his girlfriend in the middle of an isolated park late at night - AFTER two of his colleagues have been murdered) but they are wonderfully sleazy at times too, so it evens out. And (spoiler) it’s not as cut and dry of a plot as you might think; there’s actually a cool twist that I didn’t see coming.

Unfortunately it’s also a bit repetitive. Spinell sees Munro somewhere, tries to get to her, is thwarted, and then he freaks out. Then someone gets killed. This cycle repeats over and over, and the stakes are never really raised - you can take any one of these cycles and place it in a different spot of the movie and it wouldn’t make any difference. And while the backdrop may be unique, it never really factors into the kill scenes (likely due to the complete lack of permission to be shooting there at all), which is kind of a bummer. I would have liked a big chase/kill around a theater or during a press conference or something.

Also there’s a lot of nonsense that just seems to be there to fill up time (or break up the repetition, so for that I thank them). Dream sequences where Spinell sees himself winning a chocolate Oscar, or dancing around in drag, also start to get monotonous, and hammer home a point that had been made before he even gets to Cannes (i.e. he’s a weirdo and wants to be a filmmaker).

The soundtrack, on the other hand, is fantastic. The original songs by Jesse Frederick and Jeff Koz sound like ELO, which is perfectly fine by me. Someone put this soundtrack out, and then send me one.

Troma’s DVD release (this is one of their distribution deals - they were not involved with the film’s production as far as I know) is packed with the sort of stuff you’d expect: a bunch of trailers, some recollections of Spinell (from co-star Luke Walker and Maniac director Bill Lustig), and some Troma nonsense. Walker and Troma’s Evan Husney provide a wonderfully blunt commentary that kicks off with Walker telling an anecdote about the woman in the opening scene’s fake breasts. He talks a lot about sneaking around Cannes to get footage (paraphrase: “See, there’s Kris Kristofferson. He doesn’t know he’s in this movie, I’m sure.”) and has the mouth of a sailor, so it’s definitely worth a listen.

This is the type of movie I would love to watch at the New Bev or whatever, because sitting at home alone just doesn’t do it justice. It’s not quite Pieces, but it’s in the same neighborhood. Someone book this movie so I can see it properly, dammit!

What say you?

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Frayed (2007)

AUGUST 25, 2009


Before I begin my Frayed review proper, I must apologize to actress Tasha Smith-Floe. At some point during the film, I made a joke that the only reason she was in the movie was due to her slight resemblance to Megan Fox. But later I discovered that the film was shot in 2005, long before Fox had taken over our national media. So, Ms. Smith-Floe: my bad. And you’re nowhere near as annoying as that waste of flashbulbs.

Anyway, Frayed is a pretty damn good movie, but it comes with a caveat. At this point I will be spoiling the ending, so please stop reading if you haven’t seen the film yet. Just check out the film, then come back and see if you agree with my assessment.

Still there? OK. Spoilers begin now.

Frayed makes a great example for why folks shouldn’t watch as many horror movies as I do. Had I not been overdosed on so many slashers and psychological thrillers and such, I might not have noticed the telltale signs of a “big twist”. The setup doesn’t seem to lend itself to such things; it’s a fairly standard slasher plot, right down to the escaped mental patient and kids camping in the woods. But if you know all these movies as well as the filmmakers obviously do, you’re probably going to instantly wonder why we’re following a hospital security guard who was attacked by the killer instead of the kids in the woods, and why all of the flashbacks to the killer show him as a child and never as an adult, and also why so many kills occur off-screen. Yes, the guard is actually the killer, and the killer in a clown mask is just his High Tension-esque hallucination. It’s a great twist, and for the most part they do it without cheating (the two “fight” on a couple occasions), but again, it’s a bit too easy to spot if you’ve seen those movies. Hell, even someone with enough exposure to slasher films will probably start to question why so many kills are occurring out of the sight of our Final Girl.

Other than that (and a bit of a length issue - 110 minutes? Really?), it’s one of the best slashers I’ve seen in quite a while. The opening scene is one of the best horror openers in recent memory, and the film as a whole favors suspense and atmosphere over a body count. I do not make kind comparisons to Halloween easily (i.e. usually it's "Fuck you for ripping off Halloween!"), but for the most part I’d be comfortable with making that association here. Had I spent another half hour or so completely buying into the ruse (I figured it out 15 minutes in), I’d probably have liked it even more. But in a way that’s even more of a compliment to the film - I wasn’t buying half of what they were showing me, but I was still engaged by it.

I also loved the killer’s look. Finally, a killer clown that’s not a complete letdown! The mask looks like it was made from a pillowcase and a mop, but it works in a demented, low-key way, and gave me slight Clownhouse flashbacks (good, suspenseful parts, not weird, pedophilic parts) to boot. After Final Draft, Fear Of Clowns, Amusement, etc, I had begun to give up hope that I would ever enjoy a killer clown movie.

Another thing that worked in the film’s favor was the realistic portrayal of the Final Girl. She smokes, she (lightly) drinks, and she at least plans to have sex. Despite the heavy Halloween influence, she is not a mousy Laurie Strode type - she’s a good, but NORMAL kid. Her friend (Smith-Floe) is the traditional “wild girl” best friend, but again, in a normal way. So many modern slasher movies paint their characters as total extremes (My Bloody Valentine’s women, for example), so it’s nice to see two girls that are largely believable. Kudos to whichever writer (the film boasts a positively Dwight Littleian FIVE credited screenwriters, including directors Rob Portmann and Norbert Caoili) was responsible for the characterizations.

And for a first time film from the team, it’s quite impressive on a technical level. I don’t quite understand the technical aspects, but it sounds like they put film lenses on HD cameras, resulting in a look that costs little but looks far better than most digital shoots. Only the inherent difference in capturing motion betrays the digital source; if you pause it at any point you will swear it’s film. And apart from the flashbacks to a certain photo (I’m not going to spoil EVERYTHING) that the killer keeps having, the editing is refreshingly old-school as well. Long takes, no avid farts, no hyper-edited action scenes where you can’t tell what the hell is going on... good stuff. I just wish they cut down on the photo scenes; not only DO they suffer from post-MTV editing, but they also tip off the twist that you shouldn’t be expecting anyway. Cutting a few out (or all but one, just to set it up) would have worked wonders.

While many recent Lionsgate DVDs have been unusually slim with extras, this one delivers the goods. An enjoyable commentary with the filmmakers is worth a listen, they point out little hints that I had missed, which is always fun. They also bring up “Quitter” socks, based on the HBO special from behind the scenes of Lethal Weapon 2 where Chevy Chase and Mel Gibson complained about the quality of socks Warner Bros was giving them, a gag I always had an affinity for. Then a trio of featurettes detail the production and effects work - not really in-depth, but well constructed nonetheless. Then there’s the trailer for it and a reel of other LG releases, which is thankfully short (only four trailers!). The transfer is quite good as well.

Not sure why they’ve been sitting on this one for so long (last week’s Cravings was a few years old too), but I’m glad they picked it up and gave it a respectable release. I’m guessing most folks WON’T be able to spot the twist so early (if at all) and will enjoy being duped, the way I was with some of the twist films it reminded me of (such as Alone In The Dark) that I saw before I became such a pain in the ass. Recommended!

(And Lionsgate - will you add me to your screener list already? Damn. I see no quotes on the cover; you could have had “One of the best slashers in years!” on there!)

What say you?

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My Name Is Bruce (2007)

AUGUST 24, 2009


Having learned nothing from Last Action Hero, Bruce Campbell directed and starred in My Name Was Bruce, in which he pokes fun at himself with presumably hilarious results, tied to a plot that doesn’t sound too different than one of his actual movies. And like Hero, it’s a terrific concept that largely falls flat, which is a shame as this could have made up for 15 years’ worth of annoying Army of Darkness quotes.

However, it fails for different reasons. Last Action Hero’s “Jack Slater” films were completely ridiculous and never once believable as a legitimate action movie (thanks to cartoon cats, black and white characters, etc), and having a typical action movie ending in the “real world” didn’t help matters. But at least it was funny, something Bruce never quite achieves. Sure, there are a few decent lines (nearly all of them at the expense of Campbell’s big-screen misfires, such as McHale’s Navy and Serving Sara), but the puns, small-town redneck jokes, and endless mugging just gets tiresome after about 20 minutes. And like Hero, the blending of real Bruce with exaggerated Bruce is distracting; his real movies are mentioned just as often as fake ones, which sort of goes against the point of the concept. We all know that Cavealien is not a real movie - so why keep mentioning it in the same breath with Evil Dead 2 or whatever?

Worse, the comedy completely overshadows the horror element. The monster appears in just three scenes, the first of which is Campbell-free, and in the 2nd he just runs away from it as soon as it appears. I knew it was more of a comedy than a horror film, but the balance is so skewed you could be forgiven if you forget there’s any danger at all (why the monster doesn’t just come into town and kill everyone is never explained). At least if the movie was funny, this would be easier to accept, but that is not the case.

What really sinks it is the confusing concept. I already mentioned the fake vs. real stuff, but there’s also this kid who is Bruce’s biggest fan that makes things even more baffling. The kid (who is all gothed out - yes, all horror fans are goth kids) kidnaps him to have him help save the town - but if the kid is such a fan, wouldn’t he know that the guy is an ACTOR and thus wouldn’t be any more equipped to help them than anyone else? And for a fan, he’s a pretty shitty one - not only does he not know Campbell’s birthday, but he also needs to look at scripts to remember what his movies were about.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not a complete disaster. There’s an earnestness to the whole thing that I found charming, and Campbell of course is always worth watching. Cameos from the likes of Ted Raimi and the always welcome Ellen Sandweiss help a bit, as does one of the few genuinely hilarious bits (Bruce keeps shooting the townspeople as he runs away from the monster). But if I had to guess, I would say the script by Mark Verheiden (who has written a lot of great stuff, including several key BSG episodes - but on the other hand, none of it was in the realm of comedy) was much more elaborate in the early stages, and had to be whittled down in order to accommodate the small budget. So I can cut it some slack for that, but again - funny lines don’t cost any more money than bad ones, and it seems making up a bunch of movie posters (and in Cavealien’s case, a full blown scene) would cost more money than just licensing one of his real lesser efforts to use for such situations. So the film as a whole, while not without its moments, is largely a missed opportunity (not to mention that Three Amigos did the whole thing much better 20 years ago).

The DVD is jam-packed, but like the film itself, it’s nowhere near as amusing as the folks making it want it to be. A bunch of random behind the scenes clips (many hidden as Easter eggs) and “hilarious” interviews in which the actors or crew people pretend to hate Campbell are what make up most of the selections, but the real meat of it is the hour long documentary about the film’s production. It’s not a bad piece, but it contains more of that pesky unfunny comedy. For example - they try to liken the film’s production to Apocalypse Now, but it seems the worst things to befall the production are a couple of malfunctioning cars and some bees. In other words, the type of stuff that happens to every movie. Worse, Bruce is always “on” - so his actual insight as a filmmaker (or even an actor) is kept to the barest of minimums; a quick shot of him surveying the damage to his property (the film was shot in the acres surrounding his Oregon home) and muttering “Shit” as he toes a muddy pothole in his driveway is about the closest we get to actual honest behavior from the guy. The rest of the time he’s just flipping people off and interrupting interviews. There is also a commentary track, but this being a Blu-Ray I would have to watch it at home, and I’m sure it largely repeats the same stuff I ‘learned’ from the extra features.

I have been putting off seeing this film for a while, mainly because everyone I knew who saw it said it sucked. But with the Evil Dead trilogy screening at the New Beverly this weekend (I’m going Saturday - join me!), I was in a mood for a new Bruce adventure before shelling out a few bucks to re-watch the ones I’ve seen several times. The shame of it is, I’ll have more fun watching Evil Dead 2 for the 20th time than I did watching My Name Is Bruce once. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend reading Bruce’s novel “Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way” instead - it’s a similar blend of fact and fiction, but far more entertaining. And goth free.

What say you?

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The Final Destination (2009)

AUGUST 23, 2009


I never would have guessed that the original Final Destination, which I saw opening night in 2000, would spawn one of the decade’s most popular franchises, to the point where they can began dropping the numbers from the title and actually change its grammar in the process. Because here we are with The Final Destination (they picked an unused “The” up from Fast & Furious, I guess), which is the fourth film in the series, and the first to be shot in 3D.

In a way, it’s a no-brainer that there would be a 3D entry to the Final Destination series (part 3 - the weakest in the series by far - was a contender during initial pre-production; I’m glad they saved it for this superior entry). The deaths have always involved projectile elements of some sort anyway, so why not add another dimension to their travels? In fact, the film has the unique benefit of having a whole bunch of “Comin’ at ya!” moments that won’t be annoying to watch in 2D - the films always had these sorts of shots anyway. It’s like 3D blew up just so New Line could finally deliver a complete Final Destination movie experience.

If not for the sameness of it all, The Final Destination would be the best in the series. In a way, it’s almost charming how strictly it sticks to the established formula, but at the same time, the template is seriously showing strain. As always, there’s a group of people in a crowded area, and then some Rube Goldberg-y event occurs, causing everyone to die. But then we see it’s just a dream, and the dreamer convinces some friends to leave the area, and assorted strangers are pulled into the scuffle. Then the event occurs, and everyone’s like “How did you know?” And then survivors start to die in incredibly complex manners, while the main guy (or girl) notices a pattern and tries to save someone by ‘breaking the sequence’. Which he does, but then they all die later. And like the other sequels, there’s a scene where someone pulls up news articles about Flight 180 (the first film’s original title, which would have been troublesome for sequels). Thankfully, they have dropped 3’s ridiculous “the photos give a clue” idea, but on a story level, this one adds nothing new to the concept.

But while it might be the same, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun. It’s the shortest film in the series (barely 80 minutes), and also boasts a slightly higher “death scene” count than usual, which results in minimal time spent on things no one should be giving a shit about in these movies (character, exposition, etc). Even the “Look, this has happened before!” stuff is kept to about 30 seconds at most, and unlike the same team’s FD2 (1 and 3 are Morgan and Wong, 2 and 4 are Ellis and Bress), they don’t spend time tying it in with the earlier film(s). The awesome opening credit sequence plays over X-ray style animations that re-create the deaths from the other films, that plus the newspaper article scene (more like shot) are the only callbacks. In short, if you haven’t seen any of the others, you need not have to worry about being lost in the plot.

And there are few ways to win me over as easily as putting Shinedown’s kick-ass song “Devour” on the soundtrack during the film’s opening moments. It’s a great fucking song (you can play it on Rock Band), and matches perfectly with the racing footage. And the 3D work here is phenomenal; there’s a shot from ground level as the cars race into the background that ranks as one of the all time best 3D “holy shit” images. And a chunk of rubber from the burst tire (which sets off the accident) actually made me and the guy next to me flinch, which is pretty impressive considering how many 3D movies I’ve seen this year already (I think this makes 5).

Another thing I really dug was how they used a lot of misdirection in the kill scenes. They know we all know the trick, so they go out of their way to introduce “red herring” objects into the scenes. As it turns out, the actual kills are largely pretty simple this time compared to the others. For example, one woman is simply killed when a lawnmower hits a rock, which flies into (and back out of) her head. But before that, we see the guy pouring gasoline, a ceiling fan coming loose, a broken chair, a burning can of hair spray... it’s funny to see people giggle as soon as an object is introduced, because you KNOW it’s going to be part of the sequence, and then feel kind of relieved when its action/reaction causes no harm (and THEN they are killed by something else entirely). My biggest problem with the 3rd film was that they were trying too hard to make the kills elaborate, at the expense of basic coherency (I still have no idea what the hell is happening during the hardware store scene in that one), so it’s nice to see them tone it back a bit while still delivering the gory goods (in 3D!).

The kills are largely relatable this time too, with some playing on basic fears and urban legends. Pool drains, the aforementioned lawnmower/rock combo, the thing that keeps your car from moving in a car wash... all of these things are stuff people are really afraid of, and folks squirm at the site of these events every time. The key one is when Kirsta Allen’s character gets a manicure as she sits on a broken salon chair. The camera lingers on shots of her getting her nails cleaned with a small knife, because you know that if the chair slides back down she’s going to lose that nail, which is one of the most painful onscreen injuries known to man.

It’s also much funnier than usual. We’re supposed to laugh at the deaths, so that’s a given. But the characters are largely funnier than usual, particularly the douchey character Nick Zano plays. He’s sort of like Trent from the new F13 (he even has a sex scene!), and it’s a shame that he dies halfway through, because his insensitive, irreverent quips are missed (“I finished four minutes ago...” is a definite “memorable quote” for the IMDb).

One thing that sort of kills the fun is a racist redneck character. It’s one thing when he whistles “Dixieland” as Mykelti Williamson’s character passes by, it’s another when he actually uses the N word a few minutes later. And an old veteran comments about killing “a bunch of your people” to a young Asian man, which again, isn’t really funny. I know it’s weird to be complaining about unfunny racism in a movie in which we’re supposed to laugh at the site of people being killed, but the spirit of fun is definitely absent from these moments.

I am curious how the box office battle between FD and Halloween 2 will play out. TFD is clearly the better film (and the 3D angle makes a theatrical viewing even more enticing), but no FD film has done as well as Zombie’s first Halloween, and like I said, the formula has gotten a tad stale. Being that they are both R rated horror films, I’d love to see both do well. Pony up the dough, folks! Of course, two weeks later we have Whiteout and Sorority Row, followed by Jennifer’s Body a week after (and Pandorum a week after that!). It’s nice to have all of these choices, but I worry that the audience will be spread too thin across six films, resulting in none of them being successful. Hopefully I’ll be wrong. But even more, I hope those others are like TFD, by which I mean are worth your money AND time.

What say you?

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Seeding Of A Ghost (1983)

AUGUST 22, 2009


If I were to ever add “Kitchen Sink” or maybe just “Batshit!” as a HMAD genre, then Seeding Of A Ghost (Chinese: Zhong Gui) would be the example I used to explain what I meant by it. Even after an hour of the film, I still hadn’t quite gotten a grasp on what type of movie it was. It starts off as a rape-revenge movie, then it’s a just plain old revenge tale, then it’s a martial arts film, then it’s a Big Trouble In Little China-esque battling wizards movie, and then, finally, a monster movie. I can only assume they never threw a vampire or some aliens in due to a lack of time or funds.

As you might have guessed, the film is far from boring. Plotlines are barely introduced before they are resolved and led into the “real” plot, which of course is just another introduction to another, bigger storyline. You know how on The Simpsons they have an otherwise inconsequential first five minutes that just gets them to the main plot? This movie does that for its entire running time. The finale doesn’t even involve our two initial main characters.

Of course, one of them dies early on (the plot synopsis - the author of whom must have had an aneurysm trying to sum this movie up - claims that the film is about a woman’s spirit seeking revenge on those who raped/killed her), so she can be forgiven. But she is sort of resurrected as a goblin-y looking thing, who makes love to her husband’s essence or something... look, I have no idea what the fuck was going on during large chunks of this movie. All I know is, it all ends up with (stick with me here) the friends of the wife of the guy who was having an affair with the woman who died being terrorized by a little monster that seems stolen from Rob Bottin’s workshop circa 1982. And that is the best possible way to end any movie.

And I love that none of this stuff is foreshadowed. There is nothing in the film prior to its occurrence that would tip you off to the fact that you might be watching a guy get sodomized by a giant matchstick at some point. If an American made this film, there would be a seen early on with a guy about to sit down, and then his buddy would be like “Hey don’t sit there, you’ll get a giant matchstick up your ass!”. I appreciate the filmmakers allowing such moments to come as a complete surprise.

For 1983, the effects are pretty decent. The monster is pretty great, and there are some animated visual effects (during the essence-fucking scene, for example) that still hold up pretty well. I also enjoyed all of the fighting; despite the horrid sound effects, the fight choregraphy is spectacular, and it’s nuts how many seemingly-life threatening injuries all parties suffer during these fights (at one point, the “hero” jumps on the bad guy’s chest, which causes the guy to cough up a large quantity of blood. But he lives, only to get haunted (possessed?) by a ghost that makes him eat worms, which causes his mom to puke up some rice. And that’s another great thing about this movie - even the minor characters get fucked over, despite having no involvement with the two inciting incidents (the affair and the rape).

Interestingly enough, when I put the DVD in, it started at the 53 minute mark. Not only does my DVD player not have a reasonable “resume” feature, but I obviously never put the DVD in before, so I found this quite strange. However, once the movie was done I began to wonder if it would have made any difference if I started the film at the halfway mark, watched it until the end, and then watched the first half afterward. It’s not like the plot (for lack of a better word) has any meaningful or discernible progression.

But it’s a wonderfully silly and entertaining movie all the same, and I urge you to check it out. My Horror People Dear Reader partner in occasional crime, Simon Barrett, is urging me to try to get a screening of it going at the New Beverly, but I think it would be better suited for the (far more distinguished and popular) special “Hong Kong Grindhouse” screenings that Brian Quinn puts together every other month (that’s how I saw similar films like Till Death Do We Scare and Encounters Of The Spooky Kind II). Either way, I would love to see this on the big screen with a crowd of like-minded drunks.

The only extras on the DVD are a bunch of trailers for other Shaw Brothers films. I did not watch them, because I imagine that the trailer for this film would spoil a lot of the wackiness (matchstick, monster, etc), so I don’t want other films to be spoiled in the same manner. But if you know of any similar films from the Shaws, please recommend them through the usual channels.

What say you?

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The Morgue (2008)

AUGUST 21, 2009


As I had to miss the Blair Witch reunion screening last night (in order to attend Halloween 2), I took my viewing of The Morgue* as a sort of consolation prize, as it top-lined Heather Donahue in its cast (and to even it out, I have Dread Central's video of the event playing in the background as I write). Other than that godawful Freddie Prinze movie that came out a year after Blair, I don't think I've ever seen her in anything else. Josh is really the only one to walk away with a decent career - he's been in a few big movies and a lot of (often well-praised) smaller ones. Mike, on the other hand, moves furniture. But that is probably preferable to appearing in The Morgue.

I'm gonna spoil the hell out of this movie, but like a lot of movies, I'm only "spoiling" it if you've never seen another movie before. Everyone else will be able to spot the twist within 10-15 minutes (and from what I understand, the DVD synopsis gives it away too - the back of my screener copy just talked up the cast and tried to make "DVD Premiere!" sound like a positive thing).

So once again, we have a movie with the "dead the whole time" twist, only nowhere near as successful as pretty much any movie you can think of in this sub-genre. Having just watched Room 6, Morgue's flaws were all the more apparent. The former might have suffered from the predictability of the twist, but at least it was still an entertaining and occasionally compelling movie in its own right. Morgue never entertains once, and the inherent inertness of this plot just makes it feel longer than it is (even sadder when you consider a promised 90 minute run time was actually only 84). And Donahue is killed off almost instantly, which doesn't help matters since she's the film's only real draw for horror fans (and who else would be interested in this nonsense?).

And I could forgive the obviousness of the twist, but not how equally lame the rest of the script was. Not only is the twist taken from Reeker, but other plot elements are as well. The big event is another car crash, and flashbacks explain how every single action in the film can be explained by something that occurred to the characters' bodies. So when the hero guy kicks a scalpel away from the "killer", it's not an actual event, but merely an "echo" of the moment in the waking "real" life of the morgue attendant, who hit his elbow on a counter and dropped said scalpel. Stupid shit like that - it was fine in Reeker, because not only was that movie's twist NOT as obvious, but there was a sense of goofiness throughout the movie that allowed this little extra bit to fly. Morgue is rather serious throughout, so to have this inane plot device tossed in at the end is rather counter-productive. Worse, literally the last 10 minutes of the movie is built around explaining these types of moments, so even though you won't care, the movie sort of holds you hostage for a while until everything is clarified.

The dialogue and character actions aren't much better. Apparently, when you're a ghost, you overreact on every single matter, nor do you ever do anything that resembles a human being's action. Two guys burst into the morgue, bloodied and quite obviously on the run from police. Does our heroine freak out or try to call the cops? Nope, she gets them a first aid kit and leaves one of them alone in a room to call for help (spoiler! He doesn't). There are also clumsy attempts at character development that never pan out - heroine and her boyfriend have broken up - why? We don't know. Donahue and her husband are also at odds, but again, there's no scene or even throwaway line to explain this (or why the guy is just a complete asshole). Bill Cobbs' character lost a child - not explained. The cops are also looking for a missing child, a red herring that is just total distraction as the film never gives us a single reason to assume it has anything to do with our story.

Not helping matters is the pointless editing. Someone will be walking down a hallway, and suddenly a shot of a statue will be faded in and out. Huh? There are also numerous "transitions" that are just back-tracked shots of the same corridors, usually with other super-imposed images that serve no function. If I had to guess, I'd say it was some attempt at visualizing the pre-death flashes we supposedly see, but they are not even remotely effective. You want a good type of such things? Watch Armageddon, when Bruce dies. He sees Liv Tyler in her wedding dress and running through a field and other nonsense - it's corny as hell, but at least it makes visual sense.

Christ, even the score doesn't work. It often sounds like "Spooky Sounds" CD music that you buy for your haunted house at Halloween-time, or romantic comedy drivel. It also stinks of being canned, as if the composer made it without actually watching the movie. And I can't say I blame him, but still - the film would have been better off without it.

And why do people in movies always turn photos over on their dresser or mantle or whatever when they are mad at the person in them? How about just putting it away or tossing it in a closet? If I went over someone's house and saw a bunch of overturned photos, I would turn them back over for them. "Hey, this fell. Oh, it's your ex. I can see why you'd want to put the least amount of effort into concealing this."

Nothing about this movie works. The only reason that I'm not dubbing it crap is because it's shot reasonably well, newcomer Lisa Crilley is an engaging presence, and the setting, while vastly under-utilized, gave me pleasant Phantasm flashbacks, so it wasn't a total waste of my time.

What say you?

*Strangely, the FBI warning at the top of the film listed it was the "Property of Artisan Entertainment". As horror fans know, Artisan was the company that distributed Blair Witch, and was later absorbed by Lions Gate. Until now, I haven't seen the Artisan name on anything in years - in fact, the Blair Witch screening was attributed to LG.

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Halloween II (2009)

NOTE - Download my commentary track HERE!

AUGUST 20, 2009


When you go to a trial, the lawyers can argue their point at the beginning and the end, but during the actual trial part, they’re supposed to just present the facts, without any sort of argument or opinion. For a while, I considered doing the same thing for Halloween II, because it’s been nearly 16 hrs since the film concluded and I still don’t even know if I liked it or not. I can answer any question you may have about it, but I cannot tell you if it’s “good” in any traditional sense. When someone asked me to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, I answered “both”.

Of course, many of you wonderful folks began coming to HMAD due to my review (and “differences list”) of Rob Zombie’s 2007 film, as I was one of the first to have one up. It’s also still the longest review in HMAD history (and I suspect this one might come a close second, so you best get yourself a coffee or something) (*Robert Stack voice* UPDATE! This one is actually a page and a half longer. Christ!), because clearly, it’s a film that demands some sort of discussion. I see a lot of movies that, good or bad, I just don’t have much to say about, but Christ, I’ve written three reviews of Halloween 07, plus recorded a commentary. It always seems to come up in the few blog/podcast interviews I’ve done, and to this day it’s a topic of heated discussion amongst friends. Well, incredulously enough, I think H2 might be talked about even MORE, mainly due to all of the strange imagery and hallucinations that are peppered throughout the film, principal of which is a recurring vision of a Deborah Myers and white horse.

As anyone can probably guess from the trailers, Sheri Moon returns, appearing as an angelic vision to Michael (and Laurie), along with his younger self (played by a new actor that is nowhere near as effective as Daeg Faerch. These scenes get more and more surreal as the film progresses, to the point where it looks like the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” video as filtered through a Saw film (there’s even a big glass coffin like the one at the end of Saw V). Again, these scenes are nothing like you’ve never seen in a Halloween movie, but I didn’t mind that, and in fact I found them quite entertaining (in fact, I found the whole movie entertaining). I mean, the movie starts off with a definition of a white horse as symbolism - things are weird right off the bat, so it’s not like they spring it on you halfway through.

Now, some may bitch that this sort of stuff has no business in a Halloween movie*, but again - this is NOT the Halloween series as we knew it! Rob is free to change whatever he likes; anything outside the norm is perfectly acceptable. Bitching about it being different is like claiming that Dracula 2000’s “Dracula is Judas” nonsense doesn’t jive with what happened in Tod Browning’s 1931 version of the story. If he wants to make a vague ending, he can (I’ll get to that later). If he wants to have a Halloween film in which Michael Myers never really stalks anyone, he can. And yes - if he wants to leave out the theme music - HE CAN. It’s his goddamn series; it’s Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2, not Halloween 9 (or 10, now).

(For the record, the classic main theme never does appear in the film, only the end credits, but the “Laurie walking around” music does show up near the very end - a nice, sort of creepy touch).

Now, it’s no secret that Rob didn’t really want to do H2 at all. He swore up and down that he wouldn’t do it, but then it seems he sort got bullied into it by Dimension/Weinstein, who held up his Tyrannosaurus Rex project until he committed to doing H2 himself, and fast. So it’s not implausible to look at the film as a giant “fuck you” to them (and to his first film’s detractors; a cover (or remake, if you will) of “Love Hurts” - easily the most maligned moment in his first film - plays over the end credits). He made a weird movie, and while there are kills and pumpkins and such, it’s much unlike every other Halloween movie. Free of any sort of remake burdens (imposed by the studio or himself), this seems to be 100% Rob Zombie’s film. It’s got the degenerate rednecks, the weird humor (“COW!”), the uncommercial ending, the rockabilly and classic rock music... everything. There are also strange, “Film critic in Devil’s Rejects” type scenes, providing a warped sense of humor that was largely absent from the last one (Loomis bitching about his “old Loomis” photo is worth the price of admission alone). Again, Halloween purists may cry foul, but me - a fan of Rob’s previous films, and a non-moron who is able to separate the two incarnations of Michael Myers, I found this stuff refreshing; the type of movie I wanted his first one to be. I WANT a new take on the character(s). I WANT things to be different. By the end of Resurrection, every tie to the ‘true’ series was dead: Loomis, Laurie, Jamie, etc., which means if they made a Halloween 9, I probably wouldn’t have liked it anyway. But my problem here is not in that it doesn’t feel like a traditional Halloween movie... it’s that it doesn’t feel like Rob made a true sequel to his own film.

Part of that is the location. It’s supposed to be Haddonfield, but it looks nothing like the one in the first film (two scenes were shot in their original LA locations, making the difference even more apparent). The suburban aspect is completely missing; now we get isolated farmhouses and large fields. There’s a brief scene where Loomis does a news report in front of what I assume is supposed to be the Myers house, but it doesn’t look anything like it or any other house from the last film. The Halloween atmosphere is much improved; there’s a brief trick or treating scene, a big party, and the girls are wearing costumes this time around (Rocky Horror inspired ones - a telling choice for a film that is likely going to be a midnight favorite in 20 years; I’ve already told Brian Quinn from Grindhouse to book it for 2029), but at the expense of the “regular American town” feeling.

The overall look is also different, thanks to both a new DP (Crank 2’s Brandon Trost) and a different film stock (Super 16 - woo!). Both are fine (though I never thought his original looked “glossy”, as Zombie says now), but it’s also back to the 1.85:1 ratio, which feels cramped at times, particularly during the frenetic kill scenes. But it’s also a smaller film (i.e. no differing time periods, fewer characters), so the “intimate” look isn’t really bothersome otherwise, and even appropriate during the (few) quiet scenes.

The biggest change is Loomis though. His role in the film is largely superfluous; it isn’t until the final scene of the film that he actually interacts with anyone else we care about. Every single one of his scenes revolves around him making appearances to promote his new book, but only two really resonate. In one, he signs books at a bookstore, only to be accosted by Lynda’s father, who tries to shoot him. In the other, he appears on some late night talk show, where he is the B guest to Weird Al Yankovic. All of these scenes serve to show that Loomis has become kind of a douchebag; an attention-seeking prick who clearly hasn’t even bothered to keep in touch with Laurie and certainly no longer cares about his patient. He only shares a single scene with them, and it’s so brief that it’s almost weightless. And his scenes are so disconnected, they become almost confusing. The bookstore one, for example, takes place right after we see Laurie walking into a bookstore to buy the book - it took me half the scene to figure out that they were in different stores. Apart from the Myers house scene, we never know how far Loomis is from Haddonfield - if he’s not there, how does he get to the shack so quickly at the end, and if he IS there, why hasn’t Brackett or Laurie run into him until then? Via Twitter, Rob claimed that his first cut of the film ran nearly four hours - I’m sure this is an exaggeration, but the film clearly has marks of a rushed edit (it’s worth noting that a large chunk of the footage seen in the trailers is not in the finished film, nor are many of the scenes described in the set visit reports from Fangoria and other sites), and the Loomis scenes seem to suffer the worst from it. Hell, Rob could have cut Loomis out of the film entirely, save for the final scene (and even in that he barely makes an impact) and it wouldn’t make any difference. Half the fans thought he was dead anyway (he has no signs of having his eyes gouged out/head crushed in this film - guy’s a hell of a healer).

Speaking of the editing, for a film with so many obviously missing, potentially interesting scenes (Annie’s lament that Laurie “isn’t the only one who got messed up” is also missing, in fact, Annie as a whole is largely absent from the film), it’s got a bunch of seemingly pointless ones. Loomis’ bickering with his publicist grows tiresome after the first time; unfortunately there are about three more such scenes. En route to work, Laurie stops to play with a pot-bellied pig for a while - huh? And since Howard Hesseman is billed along with the other principals (instead of grouped with the other minor characters), one must assume he had a bigger role, and that they left in his pointless “damn the man” type rant (he runs an indie music store/coffee shop where Laurie works) simply because it was the only thing left of his performance. Luckily, the cameos in this one aren’t nearly as distracting, mainly because they are for the most part performed by regular character actors (Mark Boone Junior was a nice surprise) instead of convention staples.

And even moreso than in the last one, Michael’s rampage seems to make little sense. Despite the fact that, as far as we can tell, he hasn’t even seen Laurie yet, he goes out of his way to kill her new friend and a guy said friend just met (in HIS car no less - even if he knew her, how’d he know WHERE they were?). There’s a lengthy scene where he disposes of Lou (Daniel Roebuck) and two employees of the Rabbit in Red lounge, which again, doesn’t seem to serve any purpose. As extraneous as I felt some of the kills were in the first one (Danny Trejo, for example), they can at least be justified by the fact that the victims were part of Laurie’s life or crossed Michael’s path in some way, but I got nothing for these sequences. Hell, I can even buy him killing Lou in the FIRST movie, as he might need Deborah’s work records to find Laurie or something, but here it just seems like he did it out of boredom. He also starts killing on October 29th, so why he doesn’t get to Laurie until the end of Halloween night is a bit of a puzzler as well. Plus, the kill scenes are so disconnected, they can’t possibly carry a modicum of suspense, because you know there’s no reason to be cutting to these people unless they were about to die. In a Friday the 13th movie, everyone is at the camp, and there are occasionally scenes of people going off alone and coming back unharmed. The fragmented style of this film renders a great deal of it to be anticlimactic; you know how the next five minutes are going to play out as soon as there’s a location switch.

There is one exception - the opening scenes at a hospital. It’s perhaps ironic that the best part of the film would be the one that strays closest to remake territory, but that’s the way I see it. Michael chases Laurie around the hospital for a bit, outside into the rain, and then around a little guard shack. It’s somewhat suspenseful, it has cohesion, and the kills are scary while providing the brutality Zombie has brought to the table. Unfortunately, the entire scene is a dream of an event that never occurred (per Zombie’s own admission in one of his many interviews this week).

Another issue is the timeframe. It’s only been a year, but when Laurie is talking to her shrink, the shrink says “Halloween is a big trigger for you”, as if it’s a recurring problem every year, something that wouldn’t be possible if it had only BEEN a year. And I forget the exact reference right now, but someone mentions Austin Powers, Loomis has a widescreen TV in his hotel room, and his assistant constantly fiddles with a Blackberry, which just makes the early 80s feel of everything else (the music, the styles, the cars, etc) feel out of place. And if Michael IS still alive, where has he been all this time? Just sitting in his shack, waiting for Halloween-time? Does he have a calendar?

There’s also a slight problem with the “sister” issue. Namely, it’s not clear that Laurie hasn’t learned the truth yet. It’s been a year (or two), Loomis has been writing his book - the word hadn’t gotten back to her yet? She finds out the day the book hits shelves? No journalist got an early copy and contacted her? In fact, I wonder how many people will be baffled as to why she’s so upset when she begins reading the book in her car, because they probably assume she knows that by now. In the original Halloween II, they took the time to point out that Laurie Strode was only vaguely familiar with Michael Myers, and the plot never required her character to learn that they were related. Just seems kind of weird, and given the attempt to paint her as a truly messed up character, it’s a missed opportunity to not have her learn this information much earlier in the film. By the time she finds out, the film is already on Halloween night mode, which means the time to stop for lengthy character stuff has passed in favor of killing. Of course, on the flipside, this means less scenes that require Scout Taylor-Compton to act messed up (not her strong point), and less dialogue for Rob to write (likewise).

Oddly, the body count seems less this time (but again, kills seem to be on the cutting room floor - Fangoria’s set reporter mentions something about someone being hung - there’s nothing like that in the movie). I count about fifteen, as opposed to I think 20 or so in the original (Christ, please don’t make me watch it again to be sure). And considering how easy it would be to lose 5 of them (Lou and company, Laurie’s new friend and her boyfriend), it overall feels like a tamer film. It also seems less gory - the first two kills are pretty bloody, but after that it’s largely aftermath - we see Michael stabbing or whacking someone over and over, but no blood (or even direct contact in several occasions, just swings), and then we see the mangled corpse. It’s just a bit repetitive - Michael delivers what is obviously a killing blow, and then proceeds to stab/whack them ten more times for good measure. Anyone who hated the lack of suspense/stalking in the last one will be even more disappointed with this; apart from the scene at the hospital, there is no stalking at all. AGAIN - Zombie’s version of Myers isn’t Carpenter’s creepy stalker type, so that’s not my concern. I just got a bit bored with the sameness of all the kill scenes. At one point he snaps a guy’s neck, and I half expected him to proceed to break it 10-12 more times. Maybe Rob even got bored with it; the two most significant kills, which are also the last two in the film, are largely off-screen.

Which brings us to the ending, and, obviously, I’m going to spoil part of it here. The conclusion takes place in a shack that Michael has been presumably living in (Jason from F13 2 rented it out to him, I guess), and the police/reporters are unable to see what is actually happening. We see Michael kill a returning character (for sure this time), and then Laurie tells him she loves him (She actually says “I love you, brother!” - and all I could think of was that crazy Asian guy from American Idol) before stabbing the ever-loving shit out of him. But then it gets weird - she stumbles out of the shack wearing Michael’s mask, and Brackett has a look on his face that is equally shocked and saddened. We then fade to Laurie in an institution, who is giving a young Michael-esque smirk. My instant thought was that we had just witnessed a High Tension homage; that Laurie was the one actually killing everyone all night. This theory doesn’t completely hold up, but then again, neither did High Tension’s. Others suspected that the ENTIRE film was a dream, and still others just assumed that everything happened as we saw it and that Laurie has just gone crazy from the events, a la the real Laurie in Halloween: Resurrection. And an open-ended conclusion is fine - IF the director intended it that way. But in this interview with LatinoReview, he basically sets the record straight on what the ending was, which is nice - but it shouldn’t have been necessary if he didn’t intend it to be open to interpretation.

Well I’ve run out of notes, so I guess I’ll try to wrap this beast up. I still don’t even know what my overall opinion is of the movie; I plan to watch it again on release (unlike most horror fans it seems, I support theatrical releases - even if I have seen them), and maybe I can decide then. Was I entertained? Certainly. Did I feel like I was watching the vision of one guy (albeit somewhat compromised due to time/budget/edit issues)? Yes. Did I feel compelled to yell at the screen? Only once (when a character calls 911 from the Brackett residence, she stumbles about and wastes time looking for the address, rather than just point out that it’s the home of the goddamn sheriff). And as with the last film, certain scenes are great (hospital, pretty much every scene with Brackett, bookstore), others are pointless (again - what the hell is up with the pot-bellied pig?), but even with the whacked out hallucination scenes, it never feels as schizo as the 2007 film. So in all of those respects, the film is a success of sorts. But it’s also rushed, suspiciously lackluster, and never remotely scary or suspenseful, so in THOSE respects, the film is possibly even more of a failure than the first one.

And I say all of this on the authority
of someone who has seen it twice.

So I give it a ? out of 10.

What say you?

* I heard people bitching about a scene where Michael eats a dog. If it’s just because we actually SEE it, then fine, but if the actual idea is what bugs you - shut your damn mouth, because that was something in Carpenter’s film (“he got hungry...”).

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