Offspring (2009)

NOVEMBER 30, 2009


I have liked each Jack Ketchum film I’ve seen a bit more than the one before, so I was hoping Offspring would continue the trend. And since it involved cannibalistic children, I figured it was a shoein for one of my favorite movies of the year. But alas, the film simply doesn’t work, due to an almost criminally bland approach to everything but the kill scenes, laughable costumes for the children, and an unnecessary mean streak that even I, lover of Silent Night Deadly Night, couldn’t appreciate.

The casting is one major issue. Now, it’s a low budget movie and all, but with the other three Ketchum films (Red, The Lost, and The Girl Next Door) garnering praise and a few great actors in each, I’m a bit baffled why everyone in this film was a complete unknown. There’s a major character death that occurs around the halfway mark that should be a huge shock, but it doesn’t really work because I had no attachment whatsoever to the character. Since there are so many other plot threads to deal with in the first act, they never really develop the guy beyond setting him up as a stock hero. At least with a well-known or even recognizable actor in the role, the audience would form that instant attachment to him and thus spare the need for excessive and time-consuming character development anyway. So what should be one of the film’s most shocking events is hardly even interesting.

And again, the costumes are just horrendously silly. If your villain looks like some stage kid in a leftover costume from Hook, then how am I supposed to ever buy into the reality of the situation? I kept waiting for Rufio to show up (and then die). It should have been priority one for the filmmakers to make sure their cannibals looked as menacing and real as possible, but it appears as if they threw them together right before turning the camera on (same goes for their wigs too - Jesus Christ).

Also, Ketchum’s script (adapted from his own novel, something the credit designer decided to split into two separate title cards for some goddamn reason) is overly vile, for no reason. There’s an ex-husband character who we hate before we even meet him, because we know he slapped the wife around and forgot his kid’s birthday. So why spend five minutes on a scene where he picks up a teenage hitchhiker and tries to seduce her (and then throws her out of his car when she refuses, but not before groping her breast)? This is time that can be spent further developing the “hero” guy. Then, later in the film, he sells out his ex to the cannibals, and smirks as they rape her. Again - why? Like we don’t already hate this guy? And then they don’t even offer us a particularly nasty demise for the asshole. He should have been castrated or torn to shreds by the children, but nope, he gets a simple decapitation. Big deal.

And even at 75 minutes, it’s a very repetitive and largely plotless movie. Countless scenes revolve around a group of cops and an ex-cop playing catch up and trying to figure out what is going on - scenes that would be a lot more interesting if we the audience didn’t already know exactly what was going on. It’s fine to have a scene or two of characters with less information than the audience, but if you make a habit of it, all you’re doing is slowing the movie down (or, in this case, obviously padding out a non-existent story into a feature length running time). Plus, if these cannibals live so close to the family, why haven’t they ever noticed each other before?

The DVD has a lot of extras, but none of them changed my mind on the film. There’s a standard 20 minute making of fluff piece of little use, especially if you’ve already watched the eight “webisodes” that cover the same goddamn material. Then there’s a little piece about one of the actors being arrested for driving with a suspended license, which I guess is supposed to be funny. The full script is also available, a feature I haven’t seen for quite a long time (I skimmed a lot of it and didn’t see a single difference from the film).

Finally, Ketchum, director Andrew van den Houten, and DP William Miller provide a decent enough commentary track, giving props to crew members, pointing out shooting locations, and, of course, describing the hurdles one needs to jump in order to make a low budget movie. But like I’ve noted I dunno how many times before - there is never any good reason to shoot this sort of movie if the funds/resources to do it correctly aren’t available. It’s not like there was a dearth of killer children movies; Christ there was another one in the same damn set (The Children). And certainly the relative success of the other three Ketchum films would attract funders with deeper pockets. My guess is that they got the rights cheap and did the movie quickly before their option expired.

Lots of folks tell me the book is better; I will give them the benefit of the doubt, but the tone of Ketchum’s script was just as big of a problem for me as the low-budget trappings, so I am wary to spare him any of the blame for this film’s shortcomings. The best thing I can say about it is that at least it was shorter than Vinyan.

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Summer School (2006)

NOVEMBER 29, 2009


I've largely sworn off watching these no-budget indies that clog the horror section of Netflix's instant viewing selection (which itself is an act I only resort to when I have no physical rentals to watch - drawback of a holiday weekend), but Summer School demanded my attention. Why? The plot synopsis began "After watching an endless string of horror films for his movie-review Web site, sleepy teen Charles (Simon Wallace) can't stay awake...." - holy shit! That's me! Except I'm not a teen, and my name isn't Charles.

Sensing that the "can't stay awake" part would mirror my own activity during the film, I decided to make use of the new feature on Xbox that allows you to watch the film "with" friends over their Xbox Live service. So I roped in my good friend Matt, 3000 miles away, and the screen became a little MST3K type "living room", with our avatars at the bottom and the film on a giant plasma TV in said room (I wish there was an option to blow the film back up to full size though - the updated service also has improved quality to the streaming image, and it never once had to rebuffer throughout our viewing). I think this is a great idea, for the record. I'm not big on the idea of streaming movies as a rule, but I cannot deny how much more fun it was to watch this movie with a buddy laughing along at all the dumb moments.

And dumb moments are aplenty in this thing. Apparently under the impression that people like "It was all a dream" endings in their horror films, Ben Trandem and about a half dozen other writers and directors load their film up with about ten scenes where our hero wakes up in his classroom, signaling that the portion of the film we just watched (and possibly enjoyed) was a dream. The different dreams are each mini-versions of horror movies: a vampire tale, a sort-of slasher, even a good ol' fashioned "running afoul of hillbillies" sequence. So our hero (the not me guy) will wake up from the vampire story, walk a few feet, and find himself in a hillbilly movie. And then he wakes up from that and finds himself in a slasher. And so on, and so on. It gets tiresome after 30 minutes - and there's another 60 of the same fucking thing left to go.

It wouldn't be so bad if the "horror movies" were in any way interesting, but they are all largely bland, and once we learn the movie's gimmick, never become believable anyway. The closest they ever get to "OK maybe this one is legit" is the hillbilly one, because for once the bad guys aren't the other characters from the film's "real" story (a summer school class, plus their teacher and a security guard). But even that is botched, because the story begins with Charlie walking out of his very suburban school and directly into middle-of-nowheresville, and thus is the only one that even the dumbest viewer would know right from the start is yet another dream.

I was also puzzled by the schizophrenic score. The first 20 minutes of the film are "aided" by a non-stop jazz riff, and then once it finally goes away we are treated with a score that switches gears every few minutes; Carpenter-esque drones, Old Dark House-y clattering, etc. Worse (better?), it drowns out the dialogue at times. Then again, the dialogue itself is often balanced poorly; character A will be crystal clear and character B will be muffled or speaking at a few decibels lower than the other. Granted, I know balancing audio is the most tedious part of editing, but Christ, if you're going to make people pay for this thing, the least you can do is put a little effort into its presentation.

And as a horror movie fan, I am kind of insulted by the way we are depicted in this film, i.e. as introverted would-be psychos. I'm guessing that Trandem and co. are not fans of the genre (which would explain why they were so bad at creating even reasonably decent facsimiles of horror films for their dream sequences), and thus end up delivering yet another "Watching horror movies turns you into a psycho" moron message (NOTE - As Planet of Terror points out below, this is not the case. I stand corrected. Feelings on the film remain, however). As I explained earlier, the plot is about a kid who "overdosed" on a series of horror films in order to review them for his website, which I guess we are to assume isn't his normal behavior. Maybe those who just watch 1-2 horror films a month will be OK? As Matt hilariously pointed out halfway through the film, "Maybe it's a cautionary tale aimed directly at you."

Of course, the final scene of the film reveals that, once again, it has all been a dream, and that Charlie has mistakenly gone into summer school on a Sunday. As he walks out of the school, he is immediately hit by a car. So what is the point? They do the whole thing about horror films turning him crazy, but with this new "reveal", all it does is explain that watching horror films makes you forget what day it is. Or does he even watch horror movies? It's like the filmmakers wanted to have their cake and eat it too. Luckily, it's shitty cake and no one else would want any.

Pros I should mention: the cinematography is decent, and the DV image looked good even on the lo-res Netflix stream. And one of his dream "movies" is about a crazed Nazi who shoots up the school, which isn't a horror genre I am familiar with but plan to seek out some titles that fit the bill. Hopefully they are better than this.

....Fire Blanket.

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Lady In White (1988)

NOVEMBER 28, 2009


After trying and again failing to be scared by The Haunting, I thought I’d try an experiment of sorts: seeing if a film that DID scare me as a youth would have the same effect on me now (or at least, remind me exactly what scared me about it in the first place). And the perfect candidate was Lady In White, which scared me when I saw it as an 8 or 9 year old but hadn’t seen since around the same time (my movie-watching habits as a kid were as thus: watch it three times when rented, once again on cable, and unless it starred Chevy Chase or one of the 80s action heroes, never watch it again). But I always wanted to give it another look, and that is why I bought it 10 years ago on DVD, and why I finally opened it today.

Well, sadly, I wasn’t scared by it this time around. The first 20 minutes would be the part that terrified me, when our young hero (who, like me as a kid, wrote stories in the classroom that would occasionally be read aloud to my fellow students, though if I had any female admirers, they never made their intentions known to me) is locked in a cloakroom (this is 1960’s speak for coatroom) and harassed by a ghost and then a child molesting killer. And that’s probably why it was the only part of the movie that I remembered, because the rest of the movie (which I didn’t recall anything about beyond someone being shot in a car) is more of an adventure/mystery thing, since the ghosts are all benevolent and the killer pretty much disappears until the final reel.

Plus, even though I had long since forgotten the killer’s identity, it’s pretty easy to figure out who he is when watching it with a wiser mind. When a movie stops cold to deliver depressing background information on a secondary character, chances are that guy is the killer, something 8 year old me wasn’t privy to. But, to be fair, I honestly think the movie is largely aimed at kids. It has some adult themes (the child molesting thing is largely underplayed, but racism is a pretty big factor in the murder investigation/outcome), but it’s all played with a rather light touch.

For example, throughout the film there is a running gag about Frankie’s VERY Italian grandparents (they run through every cliché in the book short of saying “That’s a spicy meat-ah-BALL!”) arguing about the grandfather’s smoking habit, and even in the final act we are still getting these moments of levity. Then there are a couple of bullies who keep popping up to make Frankie’s life worse, and he has the usual sort of rivalry/camaraderie with his older brother (not enough horror movie climaxes have the hero accuse his brother of jerking off in their shared bedroom). It’s pretty easy to see why I liked it so much as a kid (it even takes place in Massachusetts!), because so much of it is aimed at adolescent nostalgia, particularly the opening scene, with Frankie and his brother riding their bikes to school and getting into all sorts of good natured mischief along the way. Writer/director Frank LaLoggia’s commentary confirmed that all of this sort of stuff was largely autobiographical (strange that two of my favorite movies as a pre-teen, this and Stealing Home, were very much rooted in their filmmakers’ own childhood experiences).

I am also impressed by the period settings for such a low-budget film. I never once doubted that we were in the 1960s, with the circular screened TVs and original monster models and little record players. The effects, on the other hand, betray the film’s limited resources - the entire finale (set on and off a high cliff) is a bit stunted due to some abysmal bluescreen compositing.

It was also nice to see Lukas Haas in such an early role again. He never quite got as big as he should have been, but he’s a terrific actor all the same, and even a lousy movie like While She Was Out benefits a bit from his presence. Likewise, character actor Tom Bower pops up as the sheriff, and it’s funny to see how the guy has barely aged in 20 years (he plays Nic Cage’s dad in the just released Bad Lieutenant, and damned if he looks any different).

I think the film would be a terrific gateway horror film for children of around 9 or 10 (assuming they weren’t like me and already privy to Leatherface and Freddy Krueger). It’s scary without being gory or even violent, and like I said, has a lot of adolescent mischief that children would likely enjoy more than any adult viewer. Plus, even the scary scenes are infused with an optimistic charm (probably resulting from the filmmaker drawing so heavily on his own childhood), which is rare for horror films and thus would be nice to see before being exposed to the more cynical modern films. So parents, show them Lady in White, and THEN let them see Hostel or Cannibal Holocaust.

Elite’s DVD is non anamorphic (it IS a ten year old disc), but it is loaded with extras. First off, it’s a director’s cut version, with about 6 minutes added back into the film. It’s funny - while I couldn’t remember much about the movie and only had my memories triggered a few times, I sensed which scenes I was seeing for the first time for the most part. In addition, a few deleted scenes offer some more of that whimsy (more smoking grandpa!), but no more Sydney Lassick, who only appears in the film in a single scene (actually one shot, and a wide one at that - only his voice gives away his identity). Then there is an odd little piece that is half archive behind the scenes footage and half soundless outtakes from the film set to music, plus a bit from the film’s premiere (Hey LaLoggia - button your goddamn shirt!). Then there are a bunch of promotional materials (trailers, stills, etc), as well as a short film/trailer that was put together in order to drum up financing for the feature. LaLoggia also provides a commentary, which is far more interesting than his coma-inducing track for Fear No Evil, but there’s still a lot of overly dry technical talk and frequent gaps; I wish he had Lukas Haas join him. The DVD also provides the soundtrack, composed by LaLoggia himself, which is very Jerry Goldsmith-esque (2nd movie this week with a score like that!) and thus wonderful.

While I was no longer frightened or even particularly thrilled by the film, it’s still a charming ghost tale with a lovable cast of characters and a fairly skilled balance of real world drama (i.e. the race stuff) and a traditional murder mystery, making it the rare 80s horror movie with a fully developed story (Fright Night may be a great movie, but there’s hardly any plot to it at all) as well as a breezy sense of fun and charm.

What say you?

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Subject Two (2006)

NOVEMBER 27, 2009


You gotta love On Demand sometimes. While I hate that most of the free movie offerings are pan & scan, impossible to fast forward through (at least for me, only 2x speed is allowed and when you hit play it keeps going for another 15 seconds of the movie), I DO love that I can see a movie like Subject Two, which even with HMAD-ing I might not ever have caught, because sites like Netflix and Blockbuster never bother to work their small indie films into their suggestions coding (which is why if you queue the film, they'll tell you might like Cabin Fever and Eight Legged Freaks (?), but not if you do it the other way around).

As my buddy Mike from Icons Of Fright pointed out, this movie will appeal to Larry Fessenden fans. Indeed, I watched the film before Mike made his comment, and found myself thinking of his films at different times. The snowbound locale obviously brings Wendigo and Last Winter to mind (Wendigo especially, during a late-film sequence revolving around an accidental shooting), and the film as a whole is sort of like Habit, in that it's a rather sad version of a traditional horror story, in this case Frankenstein. Writer/director Philip Chidel wisely chose to focus the film more on the "monster" than the doctor, but also kept the doctor from being an all-out villain, allowing you to sympathize with both men.

And that is even more surprising when you consider how many times the doc kills this poor sod throughout the film. As he points out about halfway through, there is no roadmap for restarting life, so whenever Adam (the titular "Subject Two") has an unexplained outburst or some sort of ailment (his hands and feet keep going numb, for example), Doctor Vic (heh) takes him out again in order to see what the problem is and how to solve it. The end of the film offers an even better explanation for this sort of "trial-and-error" method, which I suspected early on but then sort of forgot about as the film proceeded (I had the right idea, but wrong motivation, which is why I forgot about it as the characters were developed). And I liked how Adam never really seemed to mind being killed over and over. Even the first time he is resurrected, he didn't lash out or go into hysterics (which would have been a waste of time as he obviously would have had to eventually stick around and let himself be experimented on, otherwise there wouldn't be any movie).

The two actors are quite good too. The Bradley Cooper-esque Christian Oliver totally sells the idea that when you are 'reborn' you have trouble with certain motor skills and speaking mannerisms (he talks sort of like Yoda at first), making them all feel natural and not like ACTING! And even though the film's final revelation sort of makes it impossible to really develop a backstory for Dr. Vic, Dean Stapleton makes the most of it, and again - manages to be sympathetic despite spending half the movie stabbing/shooting/choking the hero. You get that he not only wants to succeed in his experiment, but also help Adam regain (and possibly improve) his life. Also he looks eerily like a young Jack Nicholson, which amused me to no end.

Now, as it is not a full-blown horror movie, the climax might feel like a bit of a letdown to some. We are accustomed to a fire and some overturned tables at the end of our mad scientist movies, and the constant references to Frankenstein only further enforce our inherent belief that the last 10 minutes of the film will involve some sort of spectacle. But no, it sort of peters out; not really on a down note, but hardly a happy one either. Let's call it ambiguously optimistic. Either way, again - all of the tables remain upright. I wouldn't have minded a bit more action to it. Then again, considering how bad the special effects makeup is at times (the film's budget was sub-Blair Witch, to be fair), maybe it's for the best that they stuck to walk n' talks.

Apparently, the DVD has a whole bunch of stuff, including deleted scenes and a commentary, so I am kind of bummed that I watched it on cable and not on DVD, as I would have liked to know more about the project's background and see if maybe one of those deleted scenes had a bit more about the aforementioned final reveal. But alas, time does not allow for me to go back and rent movies I already reviewed (or even watch them again - even the ones I really love, if I buy them, they sit in shrink wrap for eternity). This is part of why I am so down on the idea of everything going digital - it's a nice convenience, sure, but it also feels like a major step back if all you get is just the movie (at a lower quality to boot). I would be really upset if we started seeing a shift toward 'movie-only' disc releases because the studios figure more people are watching the film via On Demand or streaming services anyway.

What say you?

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Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

NOVEMBER 26, 2009


Now THIS is a Dracula movie (thank you Samantha for recommending it)! After so many ho-hum films that I have trouble discerning from one another, Dracula A.D. 1972 finally puts its own stamp on the legacy, by transporting Dracula to the then-modern times of 1970s London, where the "big daddy" is resurrected by a group of drug-addled hippies looking for something to do in between hitting up clubs and going to "Jazz Spectaculars".

Now, obviously the film is very dated, but not in the way that a Dreamworks animated film dates itself (i.e. lots of "current" pop culture references). It's dated in a good way, in that it accurately depicts the specific time it was made and thus works both as a film in its intended genre as well as a time capsule-y look back at a period that has past. If the film was made today, everything would be a parody; sort of like The Wedding Singer did for the 80s. But it's a genuine look (and an often funny one at that - the opening party scene rivals the boat party in Raw Force in sheer craziness), which makes it valid.

It also works as a Dracula movie, surprisingly enough. It all boils down to the same old shit (putting a girl under his spell, fucking with Van Helsing, etc), but the very different locale and stronger than usual emphasis on his influence on others makes it stand out without going too far off the beaten path. There is one thing about running water being one of his weaknesses - don't recall that from any other incarnation. I certainly liked how his minion wasn't some Renfield-ian weirdo, but a typically 70s handsome guy who wanted to dabble in the dark arts and got his friends mixed up in it (I got a very strong Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things vibe from some of these character scenes). Drac eventually gives in to his wish to be "turned", and we get to see how differently the two go about using their vampire powers. Usually if Drac turns someone, it's a woman, and she just settles for quickly trying to subdue Van Helsing and is then staked. But this guy, as a vampire, has his own series of vampire-related activities (which leads to a pretty good twist).

One thing I definitely didn't "dig" was the scene where Van Helsing (actually his grandson) has to literally spell out for the audience that "Johnny Alucard" (best name ever, by the way) spells "Dracula" backwards. We look over his shoulder and he has written down "ALUCARD", with "DRACUL" under it, and a series of lines connecting the letters. He then writes down the final "A". Now, obviously he has figured this out for himself in his head, so what the hell are we watching? Why is he writing it down? It's like when you figure out a math problem in your head and the teacher is like "show your work" and you gotta go back and spell it all out for some goddamn reason.

I wish there was more on the DVD, such as an interview or even text article about the film's screenwriter, Don Houghton, discussing his inspiration for this nutty concept. Or maybe one with Lee where he could talk about how it fits in with his long legacy of playing the character. Sadly, the only thing is a trailer, which has the rather odd line "1972: A LEAP YEAR in horror!" - huh?) and as usual spoils pretty much every kill. Oh well.

As usual, I am seeing these things all out of order. If I am following the filmography on IMDb correctly, this is their 7th film, of which I have only seen parts 1, 2, and 4. The opening of this film depicts a pretty rousing fight between Van Helsing and Dracula on top of a runaway wagon - I assume this fight occurred in one of the other movies (maybe even one I've seen - my memory is for shit). Hopefully I will see all of the ones I missed before I get any further into the "series". After this unique entry, I'm sure I can handle another traditional Dracula film without getting too bored (this is, after all, the 14th Dracula movie I've watched for HMAD, not counting off-title duplications like Nosferatu and Count Yorga). But in the meantime, if you know of any other "off" ones like this, by all means suggest them!

What say you?

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Infestation (2009)

NOVEMBER 25, 2009


We all have that friend who hates every movie he sees. Why we even speak to this person, I have no idea - mine even dislikes American Werewolf In London for Christ’s sake. But even he had praise for Infestation, and rightfully so - it’s the giant bug, indie version of Zombieland, where we follow a group of survivors led by a personable slacker across a post-apocalyptic world through a series of fun but admirably low-key setpieces.

For starters, I have to give props to Chris Marquette as the hero. I’ve never shined to this actor (appearing in such woeful films like Freddy vs. Jason and Just Friends doesn’t help), but he totally nails it here, playing a very me-esque laidback dude who admits to sort of enjoying the idea of being one of the last people alive (these feelings only surface when I look at my credit card bills and mounting un-played video game collection though). His off-the-cuff non sequiturs and totally honest reactions to the events around him (“If I get bit and turn into one of those things... don’t hurt me. Just run away”) totally won me over, and even though the movie doesn’t really re-invent the wheel in any meaningful way, made the film engaging all the way through, even during its weak, Sci-Fi Channel-y conclusion.

More on that, before I return to praise. In the Jurassic Park book, the ending involved Grant entering a nest and destroying it. Spielberg dropped this in favor of a chase through a kitchen and lobby of the main park building. Why? Because going into a nest is boring and generic, whereas the idea of a dinosaur eating you as you walk around a kitchen is terrifying. I understand the need for a big finale, but I wish they could have come up with something a bit more interesting (and funny) than the umpteenth “Let’s kill the queen and a whole bunch of eggs” climax that we’ve seen in Aliens and a dozen other sci-fi movies.

Back to the love though - another thing that really works is the sort of “no one is safe” approach that sees three of our would-be heroes killed within minutes of their introduction. Oddly, it’s the best implementation of this approach I have seen since Feast, which was of course the “Project Greenlight 3” movie (Infestation is written and directed by PGL S2 winner Kyle Rankin). You know Marquette is safe, and his cute love interest too, but everyone else is fair game, and even in the film’s final moments I was still afraid for the lives of two other characters (not to mention the fact that throughout the film they kill off people out of the order you might expect, and in at least one case, in a manner you probably won’t see coming).

I also liked how they pulled off the first “Guy wakes up without remembering what happened to him” opening to a horror movie that didn’t annoy me in quite some time (Saw maybe?). Instead of the Roland Emmerich style 60 minutes of introducing our characters and then letting the destruction begin, the bugs attack prior to the start of the film, allowing us to learn about the survivors as they run and hide. Yes, this means we get little explanation for the giant bug invasion, but so what? The outcome will be the same irregardless of the reason, so why bother with it? There are two somewhat jarring flashbacks that tie into the romantic subplot, but neither of them waste time telling the audience why what they came to see is happening. I cannot deny that seeing 2012 (which I enjoyed as dumb fun) spend three reels explaining why shit was about to blow up made me enjoy this “let’s get a move on” approach more than I might have a few months ago, but either way - unless it ties into something about the characters, I really don’t think these types of movies require an explanation.

I was also tickled by a brief appearance by Bulgarian production actor extraordinaire Todd Jensen. This guy has appeared in at least three other recent Bulgarian-lensed films (It’s Alive, Wrong Turn 3 and Train), and I always enjoy seeing him pop up. Why? Because it lets me know that the film is being filmed in Bulgaria, and thus I don’t spend any time wondering how they managed to shut down a busy metropolis for a low budget horror movie. I’m actually just pretty convinced that Bulgaria is simply a giant backlot for low-budget horror films and that no one actually lives there. Except Todd Jensen.

The music also rocks. It’s a very Jerry Goldsmith-y, Amblin-esque score, which totally fits the film’s balance of horror and good-natured humor. In fact, I’m actually kind of surprised that it’s rated R (largely for language and a random nude scene; the kills aren’t particularly gruesome for the most part); I can almost guarantee that if the film had a theatrical release it would have been cut (easily) down to a PG-13 and, more importantly, not have been weakened by it. I mean, I enjoy a good F bomb as much as the next guy, but I don’t think I would have thought anything of it if someone said “Go to hell!” instead of “Fuck you!” (incidentally, I just watched an episode of 24 where Jack referred to a bad guy as a “piece of crap!”, and I was instantly snapped out of the moment because it was such a tame outburst for a tense moment).

Also, Ray Wise is in the movie. It’s a well known fact that Ray Wise can make even the worst movies slightly enjoyable when he is on-screen, and his repartee with Marquette (he plays his dad) saves the generic climax from being a total loss. The scene where he refuses to let Marquette look at a map “without being taught how to read it” is a wonderful little bit of father/son relations, and their final moment together is a perfect blend of humor and sentiment, akin to Ed and Shaun's final "sorry" fart joke at the end of Shaun of the Dead.

The DVD is sadly kind of slim. Rankin provides an engaging commentary (though he overuses the “I won’t name names - it was ____” joke), but he alludes to deleted scenes and also making of footage (the latter of which he even specifically says is on the DVD) that are nowhere to be found. Still, he packs in a lot of good info about the film, and gives credit where its due to his producers, sound guys, VFX folks (the bug effects are actually pretty impressive for the most part), and actors - he even admits one of Marquette’s best lines is an improv. Not a bad way to revisit the movie, and he helps explain the unintentional ambiguity of the final shot.

If you’re the type of person who hates humor in their horror, then this movie won’t change your mind. But in the aftermath of such terrible “humorous” giant bug movies like Eight Legged Freaks, as well as the increasingly dour Tremors sequels and the underwhelming Snakes On A Plane, Infestation was like a minor godsend for me. If you dug Zombieland I think it will work for you too.

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The Haunting (1963)

NOVEMBER 24, 2009


Routinely making appearances on any “all time scariest movies” list is Robert Wise’s The Haunting, which is what prompted me to watch it sometime I think in 1996 or 97 (before the 1999 remake at any rate). And I wasn’t scared. But having no recollection of anything about it other than an attraction to co-star Claire Bloom (which hasn’t changed), I figured I would make it my horror movie for the day after seeing it on TCM’s On Demand lineup. Has my opinion changed?

Nope. I don’t know what power the film has over people (even my wife remarked “that was really scary for an old movie”) but it just doesn’t scare me. It doesn’t tense me up, it doesn’t make me afraid of sounds in my house, nothing. There’s the odd sort of creepy moment (“Who’s hand was I holding?”) but nothing that elevates it over any other well-made horror film. Now, that’s not to say it’s not a good movie - in fact I think it’s quite good. But I look at it more as a character drama than a horror film.

It was then and is still now kind of ballsy to have a heroine in a horror movie be so pathetic, and that’s precisely what Nell is. There are rare moments in the film where she’s not moping or whining, not to mention borderline suicidal (“I sleep on my left because it’s bad for the heart” - what the fuck? Also I sleep on my left, so thanks for the heads up, movie!). In fact, the film is ultimately a tragedy about poor Nell; a woman who had a shit life and ultimately lets her fears get the best of her. All of the events that really cause her undoing have little to do with the haunted house - her family treats her like crap, she falls for a guy only to find out that he is married, and is ultimately thrown out of the place she went to in order to enjoy herself for once. Poor sod.

And the supporting cast is more likeable than average. Bloom’s character is particularly interesting - she seemingly has romantic feelings toward poor Nell, but also spends half the film trying to get a rise out of her (often for her own good, though the paranoid Nell often doesn’t see that). The doctor isn’t the usual sort of crazed asshole who puts everyone at risk in order to further himself, and is actually quite charming and personable. And then there’s the other guy, Luke, who serves no narrative function that I can tell, but has a lot of great random lines (upon seeing a bunch of beautiful statues, he wonders if he should chop them up and sell them as tombstones). And since it’s a haunted house movie, there’s a creepy old caretaker woman who pops in every now and then. I always like them, especially when they don’t turn out to be the villain. And all four primary cast members are still alive, which is unheard of for a horror film more than 40 years old.

It’s also one of those films where people actually talk over one another (you know, like in real life), and one of the very few I can recall that’s a horror film (where dialogue isn’t usually worth noting at all). It certainly re-enforces the idea that Spielberg is obviously a big fan of the film - not only does he often have people talking over each other in his films, but he also produced the remake in 1999, and “produced” Poltergeist, which for my money is the quintessential haunted house film and, like Haunting, favors character development over a bunch of random scares.

Speaking of the remake, I flat out did not like it at all (and this was long before PG-13 remakes were the norm, though then again this film was rated G). All it did was add a whole bunch of effects, most of which were lousy anyway. In fact, the only thing I liked about the movie was a random line of Owen Wilson’s (where he suggests “a good hallway” for Liam Neeson to check out), which is hardly what I would call an effective film. Even though this one didn’t really scare me, I at least enjoyed watching it. Don’t look for a review on that one anytime soon, unless they show it at the Bev (by law I am required to attend any screenings of horror movies there).

As I said, this was on TCM, so we get a Robert Osborne intro/outro, where he rambles on and on about the filmmaker’s other films and provides some background info about its production. He also slams the remake in the outro, which is pretty awesome. I would love to have his job on a dedicated horror channel. “Tonight we bring you John Carpenter’s landmark Halloween. Now, even though it was set in the Midwest, the entire film was shot right here in Los Angeles! And the remake sucked balls.” I would also demand a little staircase to walk down at the beginning of every segment, but take the time to point out that it didn’t go anywhere.

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Dumplings (2004)

NOVEMBER 23, 2009


While it’s not too uncommon to see short films expanded into features, it is pretty rare that I see the short film first. It’s also rare to see them back to back, as is the case with Dumplings (aka Gaau Ji), which was one of the stories in Saturday’s Three... Extremes. After watching that film, I learned about the feature version of Fruit Chan’s story, and was surprised, as I thought it was the least suited to an expanded version, given the rather straight-forward story (which was rather thin even by short film standards).

I was even more surprised to discover that the film was LITERALLY an expanded version of the short. With the exception of an expanded role for the husband (Tony Leung), and the ending, everything plays out exactly the same, just longer. There aren’t any new characters or anything like that, and it begins and ends in the exact same points in time (unlike say, Grace - the short ended at Grace’s birth, which was the end of the first act of the feature). Instead, a scene that was 3 minutes in the short might last five or six now, but without any real addition to the story or even character development. For example, the “what’s that smell?” dinner scene. In the short, she figures out that it’s her smell rather quickly, but in the feature it just plays out for like 30 seconds, as people smell the air, each other, the food, etc. (they also add in a hilarious “oh the smell is gone now” bit of dialogue when she leaves the room).

I mean, yeah, it’s nice to have a little breathing room and flesh out the husband character a bit, but I honestly don’t think that the film needed expanding. Again, it’s a pretty thin story, and the central “twist” (the dumplings being made from baby fetuses) is not a reveal or anything - it’s introduced in the first scene. So there’s not a lot of suspense, nor is there even the “oh shit” moment when our character realizes what she is eating.

That said, it’s still a strange and entertaining little movie. The baby-eating is treated so casually that you almost never really find it as sickening as it really is, which is impressive in a terrible sort of way. And like I said in the review for the short version, it’s nice to see Bai Ling playing someone with a little more depth and realism to her. If I were to judge from her performances in The Crow and Crank 2 and such, I’d guess she was just some weird Asian woman with a penchant for scenery chewing, not an actual actress. Hell, I didn’t even recognize her at first.

Also, she keeps a poodle on her counter nearly at all times. You’d think that the weirdest part of a movie with baby eating would be baby eating, but no - I was continually weirded out by this little pooch sitting on a counter for no reason.

And as an editor, I was pretty impressed with how they were able to expand it by adding shots into existing footage (at least, that’s how it looked to me - every actor is the same, every shot is the same, costumes are the same, etc - if they reshot the stuff from the short, they didn’t change a damn thing to my eye). I actually began wondering if it was not an expanded short, but if the short was merely a cut down version of a previously existing feature, because the new stuff blends so seamlessly with the original footage.

The ending here is also a bit more fitting, if not as horrific. Since the movie is about this woman becoming stronger, it’s great to see her get the ultimate revenge on her husband, as opposed to stooping to complete desperation as she does in the short version. The expanded role for the husband also means we are treated to some more erotically charged sex scenes, such as his kitchen romp with Bai Ling (this bit also reveals a bit more about her character that I don’t recall being in the short, though I did walk out of the room for a moment during my viewing of that one).

So really, if you’ve seen one there’s not much reason to see the other. The feature offers a bit more backstory and depth (and a brief making of on the DVD, but it sadly doesn’t discuss the re-cutting at all), but is otherwise the exact same story told in less than half the time. And then you get to watch Chan-Wook Park’s short, which is better than any version of Dumplings anyway. Your call.

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Repulsion (1965)

NOVEMBER 22, 2009


Horror or not, I really should watch more of Roman Polanski’s films. I haven’t outright loved any of them, but they’re all interesting, and like Kubrick, he doesn’t seem to be interested in making the same type of movie over and over. And even though Repulsion is part of a loose thematic trilogy (along with Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant), it only shares basic plot elements with Rosemary (I haven’t seen Tenant yet, so I cannot judge), i.e. a female lead, an apartment building - it’s hardly a case of a director repeating himself.

And it’s quite accomplished, despite being one of his earliest films and his first in English. 90% of the film takes place in the apartment, and it’s to his credit that the film still has an energy to it. Most films that are confined to a single small location (i.e. Speed) rely on the action of the story to keep from feeling too cramped, but since Repulsion is by design a slow moving film, it’s even more impressive that from a strictly visual point of view, the film can hold viewer interest.

It might get a bit too slow at times though, and I think the film as a whole might be improved with maybe 10-15 minutes chopped out. I understand that we are watching her slowly descent into madness, but at times its so slow it just seems like nothing is happening at all. And I might even have proof of that - Polanski makes the hilariously odd choice of denoting the passage of time via rotting potatoes, but there are 2 such shots (spread out over maybe 15 minutes) in which I couldn’t tell any difference in their deterioration. It’s a tough enough sell as is - our heroine barely speaks, is alone most of the time, and is hardly pleasant to be around - we don’t need to be bored on top of being uncomfortable.

One thing I definitely liked was the ambiguity of it all. Any remake/ripoff would spend 10 minutes or more explaining why she was crazy, and have flashbacks to the day that photo was taken to explain why she’s looking off into the distance, and other useless shit that only morons would possibly appreciate. But here, her less-than-detailed persona allows the viewer to make up their own reasoning, without it being forced down our throats. And since her victims come to her place of refuge and she acts out (i.e. kills them) out of her own fears, we don’t NEED a motive or anything. I always bring up Halloween as an example - by making him Laurie’s brother, it actually retroactively renders some of the first movie nonsensical (why is he tailing Tommy and Annie then?). Polanski doesn’t have to worry about such things - the motive is what you decide it is. (For what it's worth, I assumed her sister was the favorite of their father growing up, which made her feel inadequate and also begin to start hating men in return).

Also, given Polanski’s once again topical legal issues, there’s something sort of perversely interesting about watching his film about a young girl who is petrified at the idea of being attacked by older men.

Criterion recently re-issued their 2003 Special Edition on Blu-Ray, which is what I watched. Despite being 45+ years old, the film looks immaculate in high def; you can often see individual strands of hair on Catherine Deneuve’s increasingly messy appearance. The extras are a bit slim, but worth a look. First up are a pair of trailers that spoil most of the movie, which are always fun to look at once you’ve actually seen it. Then there’s a 2003 retrospective doc featuring Polanski and several of his crew (but no actors), where they cover the usual stuff (how the film got put together, petty clashes with producers and such, etc). And it starts with Polanski telling the interviewer that he refuses to explain anything about the film, which makes the other piece all the more interesting. That would be the making of, which was produced for television when the film was first released in 1965. In the piece, Polanski is quite open about the film, and even frustrates himself trying to explain a minor little detail about the film’s dialogue style. There’s also a hilarious bit where he talks with Deneuve about how he doesn’t want anyone in the film to do anything strange for no reason, right before inexplicably jacking up the tripod arm that she is leaning on. And as someone who watches these sort of things several times a week, I was fascinated by how much of its focus was on actual information and filmmaking, instead of sound-bytes, talking heads, and overuse of film clips like the studio sanctioned shit we get for modern films.

There is also a commentary track by Polanski and his leading lady, but my plan to watch the 20 minute making of and then fall asleep with the commentary was thwarted by the fact that the making of was in French, which translates to “puts me to sleep instantly” (such a lulling language...), so I woke up at 2 am with the menu on a loop and still holding the remote in my hand. I watched the making of the next morning, but due to the fact that it’s on Blu-Ray, had no way of listening to the commentary at work like I usually do. I’ll try to get to it in the next couple days though. Hopefully it’s in English.

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Blood: The Last Vampire (2000)

NOVEMBER 22, 2009


Had I known Blood: The Last Vampire was not a feature length anime, I wouldn’t have agreed to review it for Anchor Bay, because HMAD is all about the features baby! Also it meant having to review Ghost In The Shell 2.0, which IS a feature but not even horror. I don’t have time for these shenanigans! Oh well, at least Ghost is considered a classic (I’ve actually been longing to see it for quite some time, thanks for the kick in the ass, AB!) and Blood is, short or not, a fun little vampire tale that I was happy to check out.

At a scant 45 minutes, there isn’t too much of a plot to discuss: our heroine is on the trail of a vampire who is a student at this one particular school, she finds it rather quickly, and they fight. Then they fight again a few minutes later. The end. There are some other subplots that seem a bit underdeveloped (why is the David guy having her kill a non-vampire at the beginning of the film?), but it moves along so fast you probably won’t realize it until it was over and you had to write a review.

(See what I did there?)

I’ve never been a big fan of anime, however, and part of the reason is the stuttery animation. People never move as fluidly as they do in traditional hand-drawn animation (i.e. Disney), and it seems like half of the time nothing is actually moving, and the animators are simply playing with rack focus shots and such in order to give the shot some life. The stories are larger than life, but the animation often seems like the result of several cut corners.

I do like the actual STYLE of the film though; meaning, if I were to pause the screen at any time, I would like what I saw. The vampire is a great looking bat/rat type thing, and the characters are all well defined (I never confused one character for another, something I cannot claim for others I have seen). And I LOVED the bit where the teacher goes to the school dance and is accosted by a traditional “big red collar and slicked back hair” type vampire. And even though the short length keeps it from getting too wide-reaching, I liked the scope of the tale - we go from a subway to a little school to a big army base to a runway, all in the span of 40 minutes, each with their own major setpiece. Plus, like I always say, any movie where a young girl slices another young girl (who is a vampire) in half can’t be all together bad.

The special edition contains a strange bonus feature titled “Digital Media Version” (as opposed to the “Telecine” version that is the main feature). Maybe someone with a sharper eye and better TV set can spot a difference, but I am not one of them. Either way it seems like a random way to fill up the disc; would anyone really sit through the entire movie again just to see the difference between a film transfer and a digital transfer (of a cartoon where people aren’t moving half the time anyway)? Of far more use is the making of, which is VERY technically oriented but worth a look all the same, if for nothing else than to see how these sort of things develop as opposed to a traditional feature.

Unsurprisingly, the recent live-action feature version, which I have heard is both “mind-blowingly awful” and “incredibly bad” (talk about polarizing the audience!) - the release of which is probably what prompted this new edition of the nine year old film in the first place - is not mentioned at all. Assuming that what I’ve heard echoes my sentiments toward the film should I ever see it, it’s a shame that it turned out so bad, because my two main concerns with the animated version were its rushed story (I later learned that the "film" was actually the middle part of an intended three episode series) and somewhat stunted animation, two things a 90 min film could have corrected. Oh well.

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Three... Extremes (2004)

NOVEMBER 21, 2009


I cannot recall when I purchased Three... Extremes (aka Sam Gang Yi), but I would guess that it was the result of a “Buy 2, Get 1 Free” deal at Blockbuster in which I had two I really wanted and then spent a while looking for something for free. It was pre-HMAD anyway, so my interest in Asian horror was next to nothing, and I had yet to see any of the films of Miike or Chan-Wook Park, so their names meant nothing to me to boot (and I STILL haven’t seen anything from Fruit Chan). But longtime HMAD reader pot head pixie recommended it, so I figured it was about time I actually made good on my purchase.

I also just learned that the film is actually a sequel to the simply titled Three, which is the same deal (anthology with three Asian filmmakers) and was released in the states as 3 Extremes II. I’ll have to check that out.

Anyway, it’s a pretty good anthology, despite the lack of a wrap-around (Thailand isn’t represented - why not have the Shutter guys shoot one?). Chan-Wook’s story Cut is the best (and the longest), depicting a stranger who chains up a director and his wife in their home (or is it?), forcing the director to watch as he chops off his pianist wife’s fingers. The story isn’t incredibly exciting, but Park’s always interesting camerawork and surprising humorous touches give it unexpected life, and the final twist is pretty chilling (and I didn’t see it coming, so bonus points).

Miike’s is, unsurprisingly, the hardest to follow, even though it’s probably the most “commercial” (for lack of a better word) of all of his films that I’ve seen. Imprint had the aborted fetuses, Gozu had... well, everything in its final 20 minutes or so, and Audition had the torture (both on-screen and the more psychological variety stemming from its running time). But this is simply a story about an act of jealousy resulting in tragedy, with very little on-screen violence. However, half of it (or more) takes place in the dream world, and the ending offers no concrete evidence as to whether or not we are watching another dream or the reality of the entire situation. It’s not a bad film (it’s actually probably my favorite of his stuff so far), but it seems to be, ironically enough, hampered by it’s “short” length, and may have been better suited for a feature where the back-story could be fleshed out a bit more.

Fruit Chan’s Dumplings is the most straightforward, and I was surprised to learn that it was the only one that HAS indeed been turned into a feature (which is on Disc 2 - Monday’s movie!). I’m curious to see how the feature expands what is a pretty simple (yet horrific) story about dumplings made from baby meat. I think it works perfectly well as a short, and it was nice to see the off-the-wall batshit Bai Ling being sort of restrained and playing a real character instead of some cartoonish stereotype.

The cool thing about the film is that it’s the rare anthology that offers different filmmaking styles instead of merely giving us different horror types (i.e. one zombie tale, one slasher type, a ghost story, etc). None of them delve into the supernatural and they all deal with people who want more from their life but go about it in the worst possible way. Yet they all feel completely different, due to the filmmakers’ varying styles. Miike of course has the quiet horror thing down to a science, and Park offers up his unique blend of absurdity and reality, not to mention the larger than life visuals. Since I am not familiar with his work, I don’t know if Fruit’s other films are like this, but his film offers a more traditional style, albeit with the odd choice of spoiling the “secret ingredient” for the audience long before it is spoiled for our main character. I wish American filmmakers would band together for something similar - take a basic theme and have them each do their own take on it. Certainly Sam Raimi would come up with something different than Wes Craven, who in turn would make something completely opposite of what Rob Zombie did. And then have Carpenter do the wraparound, because he wouldn’t have to worry about telling a good story (something that has eluded him for well over a decade, though I hear The Ward is, if nothing else, a lot of fun at least).

For a “Two Disc Special Edition”, it’s pretty slim. Dumplings is an actual film so I wouldn’t really call it bonus material. The only real extra for Extremes is a Miike commentary over his film The Box. As slow as the film is, he talks even slower, and I actually dozed off a couple times listening to him (dude’s got a soothing voice - if filmmaking doesn’t work out, he should record audiobooks of children’s bedtime stories). He doesn’t explain much, though he does seem to suggest that the end of the film is indeed the reality and thus everything was a dream (or a dream within a dream, I guess). If you’re interested in some nuts and bolts stuff, I would recommend it, but if you need story clarification, you won’t get much of it here.

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New Moon (2009)

NOVEMBER 20, 2009


Has it really been a year since I saw Twilight and wondered what all the fuss was about (prompting me to get Twi-curious and read the book - which I finally finished last night)? Time sure flies when you’re watching legitimate horror movies that don’t draw the ire of every single male in the entire world, as if it’s some sort of sin that there is a franchise that doesn’t “belong” to them. Well, here we are with New Moon (the added “The Twilight Saga” title doesn’t actually appear on-screen), which furthers the non-adventures of vampires and werewolves who spend all their time fawning over a fairly dull girl rather than do vampire or werewolf type things.

If you recall, I had no real problem with the first film (or the book for that matter - it may have taken me a year but that was over a course of maybe 6-7 reading sessions, including the final 150 pages just last night). I am not the target audience for either (not that they are different; Twi-hards may argue otherwise, but there is nothing of actual significance that was changed from the book to the film), and yet I found mild amusement and occasional entertainment (not to mention eye candy for the film version) anyway. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, if something isn’t aimed at me, I can’t slam it if I don’t enjoy it, a distinction I wish people could make as they clog the internet with “Fuck Twilight” type sentiments. But, and this is important, I didn’t feel particularly compelled or engaged by any of it either. Who does Bella end up with? I don’t care. And judging by New Moon, that’s all the series is really about anyway - not vampires and werewolves.

I was hoping that this entry would step it up a few notches, especially with all the werewolves around. But like the vampires in the first film, they don’t really do a hell of a lot. We keep HEARING about potentially exciting things that they (or the vampires) are doing - killing hikers and such - but the film (and I assume the book, if this one is as faithful to the source material as the original was) never expands on these concepts. Even the one legit kill in the entire movie occurs in a quick flashback, as Jacob (the werewolf) just sort of mentions it to Bella later on. “Oh yeah we killed him.” Great, the closest thing the series has had to an actual villain and they give him the same “death scene” granted to Dr. Farthing in Dirty Work. After two movies, I still don’t know why they are vampires and werewolves to begin with - if Edward was just some straight edge dude and Jacob was, I dunno, a rodeo champion, you’d end up with the same exact movie (save for the sparkling).

Plus, the movie is more or less about Bella being torn between Edward (the vampire) and Jacob, and yet when the two suitors finally come head to head, they... do nothing. 130 minutes of pining and longing and moaning and mumbling comes down to two guys standing there (well, one guy and one wolf) glaring at each other. Come on, movie! Even if they don’t actually fight in the book, the movie doesn’t have to follow their lead. See, with a book you have the option of putting it down for a while and finding something more exciting to do. But we can’t leave the theater and watch the rest later - we’ve been sitting patiently for two hrs, you owe us a brawl.

To be fair, there is (slightly) more action than in the original. The highlight is a hilarious (but far too quick) fight between Jaco-wolf and some other wolf, and we are also blessed with the sight of Robert Pattinson being thrown around the chamber of the Volturi, which is sort of like the vampire government or something (they are pissed at him for letting humans know how silly it is to be afraid of vampires since all they do is walk around pouting and sparkle in the sunlight). And since Bella is convinced that if she puts herself in danger that Edward will come rescue her, we get a lot of her riding motorcycles and diving off cliffs and such. Granted, someone driving a motorcycle isn’t really “action”, but it DOES mean that Bella isn’t talking, so it’s an improvement.

Because really, the biggest problem I have with both movies (moreso in this one, though) is that Bella is a thoroughly uninteresting person, and the movie is 100% about her (I think there’s a only single scene in the entire film in which she isn’t present). At least in the first movie we had other characters talking in order to introduce themselves and other characters (Anna Kendrick is sadly given nothing to do in this film - five yard penalty, movie!), but with all of that out of the way, we just get Bella mumbling and whining for just about all of the film’s running time. I began to suspect that the reason Edward and the other vampires cannot hear her thoughts is because she didn’t have any. Now, I understand that her lack of a personality allows all of the devoted fans to see themselves in her, but I can’t see why they can’t at least give her an interest or two. Would it really be so hard to identify with a girl who liked The Beatles if you were more of an Elvis kind of girl? She’s more tolerable in the film’s 2nd act, when she starts hanging out with Jacob and starts to let her sarcastic personality show through a bit, but once he makes his feelings known she’s right back into mopey, helpless mode again, and now it’s even MORE intolerable because we already dealt with her being like that over Edward in the first part of the movie.

Exacerbating this is the fact that I am actually kind of intrigued by most of the other characters, and yet they are kept on the sidelines for the entire movie. With the exception of Alice (and thank you, various authors and casting people, for putting Ashley Greene in a central role for the film’s otherwise interminable third act), the Cullen family has a total of maybe 90 seconds in the film, even though the plot’s kick-off point involves Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) going apeshit when Bella gets a paper cut. Where do they all go? How do they cure Jasper’s bloodlust? How does Edward feel about his brother trying to eat his woman? These questions are not only unanswered - they’re barely even asked. But if you want to know what Bella does from the months of October-December, the movie gives you that (in the film’s most idiotic scene, she sits by her window as the months go by in montage - and despite tell-tale signs like falling leaves, Halloween decorations, and snow, we still get on-screen titles telling us what month it is. Thanks, I couldn’t tell for myself).

They also don’t really develop any of the werewolf folk, who are again, far more interesting (theoretically) than Bella. I couldn’t even tell if Jacob was turned into a werewolf in this film or if he already was one, and there’s some nonsense about thrill-seeking werewolves that he doesn’t get along with that, again, goes nowhere. And poor Graham Greene pops up as a guy who is seemingly human but knows about the wolves and tries to help keep their existence under wraps, but the movie never bothers to explain that or give him any sort of back-story. Instead, he just covers a wolf-print in the woods before he falls down a hill and dies of a heart attack (a plot contrivance to help the “Edward thinks Bella died” subplot move along).

But for all of these problems, it’s no worse than the first one, in my opinion. For every problem, there is something that is improved (more action, more Charlie, less school). And while I missed Carter Burwell’s quite good “Lullaby” and other themes, the new score by Alexandre Desplat is quite good (at least, when you can hear it - they were seemingly hellbent on making sure every song on the soundtrack was featured prominently in the film). And even though it’s kept to a minimum, I still enjoy how welcoming the Cullens are toward Bella, as it’s far more interesting than the usual “She’s not one of us so we hate her” type relationship you might expect. Plus, the subject matter means that when Bella puts herself in danger, there actually IS a chance she can get seriously hurt or killed, because we know she can be brought back to life via vampirism (and if she was a more interesting character, this would mean the film would have genuine suspense at times; alas, I’m sure she’d be just as dull as a vampire as she is as a human). So there’s something.

Also, I would be a very happy boy if Face Punch was turned into a real movie. One could balk that the biggest action scene in a vampire/werewolf film occurs on a theater screen (actually off, we just hear it while we watch Jacob and Mike both attempt to hold Bella’s hand), but that one snippet is so over the top and ridiculous, I couldn’t help but wonder what the entire thing would be like. I also like all of the fake posters (one movie appears to be about a killer parking meter), though I swear I saw Pontypool thrown in there for good measure.

Speaking of being ridiculous, I must apologize to my fellow movie goers for laughing at “inappropriate” moments. Surprisingly, the mostly full crowd of mostly teenage girls was pretty tame for this 10 am opening day screening - a few gasps at a shirtless Jacob were about as loud as they got (compared to my crowd for the first film, who cheered every time Pattinson appeared on-screen, and sometimes even before if they knew he was coming). I, on the other hand, laughed for about ten minutes straight when Jacob instantly pulled off his shirt (one of only two he wears in the entire film - even Victor Salva would get uncomfortable after a while) to use as a bandage for Bella. I also chuckled heartily at every shot of Pattinson walking, as every single one of them is in slo-mo, to the extent where I began to wonder if he was just a slow walker.

So there you have it. I am no more (or less) interested in this saga than I was after I saw the first film, but since I paid to see it this time, I feel a bit disappointed (as disappointed as I can be when a movie I don’t really care about fails to make me care about it). Since I do think that Stephenie Meyer has created a few interesting characters (the Cullens, the Blacks, and hell, even poor Mike, the sod who for some reason wants Bella over Jessica), I can’t help but wonder how much better the films would be if the filmmakers weren’t so faithful to her novels, and instead used them as a springboard to tell more interesting stories that make good use out of all of the characters, instead of keeping them on the sidelines while the focus remains on her weakest creation (it’s sort of like Juno in that regard - I liked everyone else, but I don’t like Juno the film because I didn’t like Juno the character). Luckily, they are popular novels, and if Dracula, Frankenstein, etc are any indication, it’s possible that in 20 years or so, someone will find a way to make "Twilight" as compelling to everyone else as it inexplicably is to its hardcore fans. Til then - see you all at Eclipse, next summer!

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