Sisters (2006)

JULY 31, 2011


In college I had to take a “Humanities” course, which focused on art, music, philosophy, and literature, and while I didn’t mind the typical classes and occasional paper writing too much, I performed miserably at the exams, particularly the music part. Basically the teacher would play a section of some classical piece and we’d have to remember the composer, composition, and year it “dropped”. I got a zero on one test – my brain just cannot hold that sort of information no matter how hard I try. Thus, my viewing experience watching Douglas Buck’s 2006 version of Sisters wasn’t a total loss, because it helped me identify one such piece for good.

See, because of this 'affliction', I often run into the problem of hearing a bit of classical music and having no way of identifying it, because I obviously can’t just Google a few of the lyrics. And recently, it was driving me nuts that I heard one such piece in a trailer for a documentary, recognizing it as being used in several documentary trailers and other places. I spent a good hour Googling the trailer, the movie, terms like “documentary trailer music classical”, etc, before finally giving up. And then, 15 minutes into Sisters, a character puts on said piece and even discusses a bit. So now I know – it’s Bach’s Cello Suite 1. I shant ever forget! Also – stop using it in trailers all the time! Move on to Suite 2 at least.

Anyway, that’s about the only good thing that came out of watching this movie. The original Sisters isn’t one of my favorite De Palma films, but it has a personality and some wonderfully off-kilter touches (final shot with Durning watching the cow, for example), plus some great suspense bits, such as when the police come over with the reporter looking to investigate her claims that she saw a murder. This version strips away all personality, leaving just the meat of the (not particularly great) story, adding almost nothing, and actually making the climax MORE confusing than the original’s.

In fact, the only bit about the entire movie that works only does so if you’ve seen the original, which is a problem when pretty much everything else is a copy. The film actually starts at the institution (solving one of the original’s problems, which is that the institution stuff was clunkily introduced late in the film), and the “normal” twin meets up with a guy in a less silly manner – they both volunteer at the hospital, as opposed to meeting on a very terrible game show and somehow ending up on a date. So I’m thinking that this is going to be a very different movie, and then the male “hero” (Dallas Roberts, who was great in Joshua but has almost nothing to do here) spies a cake shop – oh shit! He’s doomed!!!

But from then on it’s pretty much the same damn movie, except without the humor or directorial style (nice random diopter shot, Buck – too bad there’s a little more to it than that). There’s no detective character, no pestering mother, etc. I’m not one to complain about changes in a remake – the more the better, I say (as long as they are justified). But here they aren’t changes so much as they are omissions – these characters and plot points are dropped but replaced with nothing. There’s a bit more with the doctor (Steven Rea*), but as the movie goes it just feels less and less like its own thing and more and more like a direct lift of the original’s ideas, sans the style or quirky appeal.

And again, the last act is even more confusing than the original’s. I admit I sort of got lost in the big “reveal” at the end of the original, having trouble telling what was just the creation of Grace character’s fractured psyche and what was real, but that was as complicated as Sesame Street compared to the random assault of hallucination/dream-like images, out of nowhere “reveals”, and general batshittery going on at the end of this version. Suddenly, our heroine (Chloe Sevigny, who also deserves better) has dark hair and seemingly believes she is the twin sister, who we discover died during the separation process. We also learn that she herself had a fucked up childhood (sexual abuse is hinted at) and may have been a guest of the hospital herself. Or something.

Now, usually I don’t like to admit that I couldn’t comprehend a movie’s climax, but when the writer (or someone involved with the production) makes an IMDb account under a vague name and offers a “theory” for what it all meant in order to combat all of the “What the fuck is going on?” posts, I think it’s safe to assume it’s not just me – the filmmakers just did a piss poor job making sense out of their story. So thanks, anonymous production person, for clarifying what was happening while offering a little “personally I thought it was a great movie” aside – way to erase any doubt that you’re actually the writer or director.

Other changes are largely of the modern variety; Grace no longer witnesses the murder through a window but via a bunch of spycams that are set up around the apartment, monitored in the doctor’s office that she is snooping around in when the murder occurs, for example. Folks have cell phones and can use the internet to look up information, though the scene with the news footage seems a bit anachronistic – why is it presented like a 1960s or 70s newsreel? Wouldn’t it have been just a few years ago?

Ultimately, the most curious thing about the movie is that Larry Fessenden is listed as one of the executive producers. I assume this has to be some sort of honorary credit, because his entire career is built around original movies, so I can’t imagine he’d make an exception for such a generic, ill-conceived remake (the ONLY true De Palma remake to date, as far as I can tell). I may dislike some of the films he’s produced, but the worst original film is still better than a lazy remake that wastes the time of a talented cast.

What say you?

*Seriously, between this, Company Of Wolves, In Dreams, and Feardotcom, seeing this guy – who I otherwise like – in a horror movie is almost a guarantee I’m going to be yelling “WHAT?” at my TV a lot. Come to think of it, the only thing about The Reaping that I didn’t understand was the point of his character. Is he doing this shit on purpose?


Blu-Ray Review: Stake Land

JULY 31, 2011


Still resting comfortably in my top 5 of the year, Stake Land is now on DVD and Blu-ray, packed with bonus material and (on the Blu at least) a gorgeous transfer that actually improves on the digital showing I saw at the Sunset 5 during its perfunctory, largely unadvertised theatrical release. And since it’s a movie that I actually enjoy more on repeat viewings, I’m glad it’s finally widely available for folks to check out in a proper presentation (i.e. not some streaming OnDemand horseshit).

As I said in my original review, the movie is not unlike The Road, but far superior: less award-wanting acting, more danger. Nick Damici’s script isn’t too concerned with long bouts of exposition, allowing the actors to work with their eyes and gestures instead of their words (probably the sort of thing that attracted Kelly McGillis, who hadn’t been in a feature for years). And while there are no big all out attack set-pieces, there’s actually quite a bit of action; I don’t think there’s ever more than 10 minutes in between some burst of violence (either at the hands of a vamp or one of the religious cult members who seem to be more vile than the damn creatures). Also, without spoiling – none of the heroes are safe, with one kill in particular being a painfully harsh shock moment.

If you Google “Stake Land score” (no quotes), the first thing that comes up is my original review, which I should be proud of but actually kind of bums me out. Jeff Grace’s work here is his best ever, and actually IS available (via iTunes), so I don’t see why the link to buy it isn’t higher than the link of a blogger praising it, but whatever. I’m glad it’s released, and if I had one complaint about the evolution of DVDs over the years (besides forced trailers at the top) it would be that isolated scores w/composer commentary seem to be a thing of the past – I would have loved to have heard him talk in between his cues.

Grace does appear on one of the two commentary tracks, but doesn’t say much. Director Jim Mickle is the main participant, and along with Grace there’s the sound designer and the DP and a couple producers – gets a little crowded. Unsurprisingly, most of the track is technically oriented, discussing how shots were pulled off, where locations were, etc. There’s a fun camaraderie among the gang, and Mickle admirably points out a few mistakes (including a minor plot hole involving the trunk of the heroes’ car), making it a good track, but since Mickle also takes charge of the other track, featuring Damici, actor Connor Paolo, Larry Fessenden, and one of the other producers, I wish that they had just let Mickle and Damici have their own track to discuss the story and other natures, and then had another with all of these guys (even one edited together from multiple recordings) so we could get a little more insight on their contributions. Still, both were enjoyable to listen to and chock full of information, with very little overlap.

And both are of far more use than the behind the scenes doc, which runs about an hour but says almost nothing. Halfway through there’s some interviews with the principals, but otherwise it’s just an hour of random b-roll of the production, more often than not without any context whatsoever. It’s nice that they give title cards to pretty much every crew person of note, and it’s not without entertainment value, but it could have been cut down to 20 minutes and had the same effect, and it’s a shame that there’s no real insight to the process offered. Near the end, Sean Nelson jokes about how they should be able to shoot the following scene in two takes, but the scene in question is the triumphant single shot sequence where the vamps attack the town they have just arrived in – they could have spent an hour just detailing the production of this shot/sequence, but that’s all there is to it.

Of much more interest to me was the collection of video diaries, each focusing on a different aspect of the production. All five are fascinating, showing some of the emails that led to the development of the script in the pre-production diary, and another (yes!) gives a glimpse into the post production process, including the scoring sessions. I also loved the one about the visual effects – many created by Mickle himself – where you see a lot of before/after shots and probably get shocked as to how many elements (graffiti, road signs, etc) were created invisibly with CGI. I also enjoyed the character origin short films, which were shot for the website and released leading up to the film’s theatrical bow. As expected, they are hit or miss depending on your personal tastes (and possibly how much/little you liked a particular character); I enjoyed the ones focusing on Mister, Belle, and Willie the most (Mister’s also explains the significance of the skull necklace he wears). I also dug the general “Origins” piece (directed by Fessenden himself), which runs a bit long but has a terrifically gruesome final moment. The film’s trailer rounds out the supplements.

Dark Sky and co have also provided a terrific transfer for the film; again, I honestly think it looks better than it did at the theater I saw it at, and the sound mix is better than most big budget productions – the one-take siege sequence might end up being demo material for your surround speakers. The intentionally muted colors look perfect, and in turn during those rare warm scenes (Danielle Harris’ character's introduction, for example) just look all the more wonderful. In short, you’d probably be pretty stunned to hear how much the film cost to produce after watching this disc.

I tweeted last night that this was one of my top 5, and was met with some derision, so I should probably point out that I have a deep love for these sort of “isolation” movies (Cast Away is one of my all time favorite films), and several scenes reminded me of a dream project I’ve been writing in my head for the past couple years, which didn’t bum me out but more made me realize that it’s probably a good idea. The slower pace and Malick-esque stretches of silence and “beauty shots” may not be for everyone, but if you can appreciate the tone and approach they were taking with the material, I’m sure you’ll have no qualms about adding this disc to your collection.

What say you?


Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991)

JULY 30, 2011


I like when the sub-genres are right there in the title, don't you? Unlike the previous movies, Puppet Master 3: Toulon's Revenge is actually pretty straightforward, telling the tale of Toulon getting revenge against the Nazis for killing his wife (and also, I assume, just the general fact that they are Nazis). We also learn that many of the puppets are infused with the souls of Jews (or at least, sympathizers) that were killed by Nazis for one reason or another, making their revenge all the more sweet. It makes more sense than having them kill psychics, at any rate.

And thus, as I was told more than once, this is the best of the Puppet Master films, as it tells a simpler tale and puts the puppets in a true heroic role. The problem with the other two films is that they were supposed to be the bad guys (until the climaxes anyway), but I couldn't stand any of the "heroes", making them rather uninteresting affairs. But I mean, who doesn't like to see Nazis getting killed? And when it's a puppet drilling a hole through one of their backs or dropping killer leeches into their mouth, all the better. I've seen enough of them get shot/tossed off railings to last me a lifetime, but this is the first time I've seen one get his Achilles slashed by a little toy doll.

Another thing that works in its favor is showing the origin of two of the dolls. I can't remember if we were told anything about their backstories in the other films, but it was a nice surprise to see how Leech Woman came to be (infused with the soul of Toulon's wife, gunned down by the Nazis). Blade's origin is a little less interesting; it's a Nazi doctor who eventually turns against his comrades and aids Toulon - it's a nice little character arc, but not sure if it was worth keeping Blade - easily the coolest puppet - out of the movie until the very end. We also get the origin of Six Shooter, a new puppet who wasn't around in 1 or 2 but apparently sticks around for all of the following installments. Not sure if his absence and/or reappearance in PM4 is explained, guess I'll find out later this week (I got the next couple films in the mail to review - god help me), but it would have been fine by me to see him get created/killed in this one movie as a one-off puppet. He LOOKS cool, sure, but all he does is shoot - the others' weapons are far more entertaining.

Also: real actors! Usually the Full Moon budgets only stretch to a day's worth of work from someone like Angus Scrimm or whoever, but Richard Lynch plays the film's main villain, a Nazi higher-up named Kraus (sadly, Hitler does not actually appear in the film and thus does not meet the business end of Tunneler), and he's always a great villain. "Mr Pitt" himself Ian Abercrombie is also in it for quite a bit, as the aforementioned turncoat doctor, and Guy Rolfe takes over as Toulon (third actor in as many films) and is easily the best one yet, giving the character a humanity that was absent in the other entries. Apparently he appears in a few more films, so I'm glad they (for once) stuck with one actor to play the role.

Hell, even Richard Band's score is pretty good this time around, and also used sparingly (well, sparingly compared to other Full Moon films). Sadly, it still suffers from one of the most obnoxious "trademarks" - an excess of washed out daylight scenes. I don't think I've ever seen such bright, borderline cheery NAZI OFFICES in my movie-watching life. Toulon's makeshift lab in the latter part of the film is pretty dark, and there's a nighttime action scene where the puppets free Toulon from Nazi capture, but otherwise everything always looks like high noon (with a few extra lights off camera for good measure). Even the climax looks like it might be interrupted by a bunch of folks heading off to the beach. This is a horror movie, for Christ's sake! Set some scenes at night, or at least throw some shadows into the mix.

Another thing in its favor, however, is some of the best animation yet. There aren't a lot of "Puppet POV" shots; instead we actually see them walking around quite often, and even sharing a few long shots with actors via splitscreen (I think?) instead of the usual composite shots. They still inexplicably remain stiff whenever they are picked up (at one point Abercrombie holds Jester and says something about how remarkably alive they are, yet the thing doesn't as much as blink). Six Shooter's antics are also quite fun to watch - it's like they finally figured out that people want to see puppets doing stuff, not assholes wandering around a hotel.

Oh, and it's ten minutes or so shorter than the others. Automatic win. Also, I looked at the Wiki entry to see if Six Shooter was around for the other (modern day) installments, and discovered that a few of the others are WWII-set as well. I know I'm all about watching a series in numerical order, but if you haven't seen any of the films yet, might be fun to watch them in chronological order by plot, which would make Retro Puppet Master the first film, followed by this one (with Legacy being the final installment, even though it's just largely a clip show from what I understand). If you do this, let me know how it works out for you.

What say you?


Beowulf (1999)

JULY 29, 2011


Apparently assuming that Mortal Kombat's box office success was due to the techno music and a white-haired Christopher Lambert, producer Lawrence Kasanoff brought these elements into what was shockingly the first feature version of Beowulf, which - to be fair - more or less stuck to the original story. Unfortunately these things, and several others, combine to make a pretty bad movie regardless of its respect to the source material.

For starters I couldn't tell if it was supposed to be the future or the past. There are several anachronisms, both technical (nice modern eyeglasses!) and superficial (few are the historical epics that have a hip comic relief black guy - not saying they definitely didn't exist, but they definitely don't fit the mood/tone/etc), but the castle itself looks like some wizard tower in long shots, and I swear there's a loudspeaker in there too. Also, again, the techno music. I'm not going to lie, I really don't like techno at all, but it can work if appropriate to the movie - Swordfish comes to mind, for example. But not only does it not belong in this setting, it doesn't even fit the on-screen action! Early on, Lambert enters the castle and just sort of looks around, but the music suggests some high octane action sequence is occurring. The occasional tracks with vocals are even more ill-fitting; an unnecessary distraction that just makes a bad movie worse.

Granted, even the best James Horner (dismiss him for Titanic or whatever all you want; the man scored Aliens and Braveheart - respect) or John Williams score wouldn't save this movie, but at least it would be less of an obnoxious viewing experience and merely a boring one. This movie actually cost MORE than Mortal Kombat but is shockingly low on fighting and violence; I have no idea where the dough went but it's certainly not on-screen. None of the actors save Lambert could have cost much to hire (Rhona Mitra and Patricia Velasquez being the only other ones I recognize, but this was one of the first film roles for both), and pretty much the entire movie takes place inside the rather bland (and hardly expansive) castle.

But more problematic is the aforementioned lack of action. Lambert is playing the title character, obviously, but barely ever really shows the supposedly legendary fighting skills, nor does anything nearly as badass as the 2007 Zemeckis version, who tears off his own arm in order to save the day. Mostly all he does is dive and flip around and occasionally use a grappling hook. Cool. And we don't get to see Grendel doing a hell of a lot either; for a monster that has this entire castle fearing their lives 24/7, he's pretty slow and unambitious. At one point the movie turns into a slasher movie, as he slowly stalks and even toys with a single guy before killing him. We're told over and over that he's unstoppable and all that - why the hell doesn't he just wipe the whole place out?

Well, he does, at one point, but we don't even see it! Actually it might be his mother that does it, it's vague (that's what happens when major plot points occur off-screen). At this point of the story we're supposed to believe that Grendel is dead and his mother is looking for revenge, but then Grendel reappears when Lambert and Mitra (the only survivors at this point) enter the main hall and see everyone dead, including Roland. Roland is played by a guy who looks a bit like Everett McGill, and is set up as a potential rival/eventual trusted comrade to Beowulf, but he dies off-screen along with everyone else. I mean, fine, if your 20 million budget wasn't enough to show a bunch of random Romanian extras being slaughtered in close-up by a latex tentacle, fine, but you can at least offer us a death scene for our 3rd lead.

On the other hand, the less we see Grendel, the better. In the trailer and in some shots he looks normal, but they added a bunch of ridiculous filters over it, including a sort of purple cloud that makes no sense whatsoever. It's actually not a badly designed monster, and some of the CGI work is decent (much better than the mother/Grendel hybrid thing that appears at the end, which actually does the unthinkable and makes the Scorpion King in Mummy Returns look good in comparison), but these "bonus" elements just make it laughable. He also talks at one point - I don't know who ever came up with the idea that an otherwise silent killer uttering a single word would be cool, but he's a moron. The only successful example I can think of would be Hills Run Red, which worked because he sounded so normal (and spoke a complete sentence). But this single, strained, monster-voiced word nonsense has got to go.

As for Lambert, well, you know what to expect. He's not a particularly good actor, but he's got a presence; like a more everyman version of Schwarzenegger. I think he's at his best when playing "normal" characters - Fortress and Gunmen come to mind. Obviously Highlander is his claim to fame, and he's fine there because part of the character is a guy trying to blend in, so it works. But here, when he's supposed to be this legendary warrior, it doesn't quite have the right effect (especially with that ridiculous dyed hair). Also, for his fans - he doesn't do the laugh until the very last shot of the movie, which is a bummer since any respectable audience member will be laughing quite frequently.

As with Prophecy 5, Echo Bridge goofed and inserted the original Dimension disc inside their new packaging (you can tell because a 2011 release from another company probably wouldn't have a teaser for Scream 3 at the top of the disc). Of course, this just means a (presumably) better transfer and a few bonus features. One is the trailer, which hilariously copies Kombat even more by giving the movie a medallion like logo (with a profile of Lambert carved into it!) and saying "in the future..." even though the movie seems to exist in the past with a bunch of anachronisms (none of them weaponry - I'm guessing a few shotguns probably could have taken down the Grendel, and if this was really the future they would have had some, no?). Then there's a two minute, wordless featurette that's merely a bunch of random behind the scenes footage set to that goddamn techno score. So, very un-special features, but still more than you'll get with the actual Echo Bridge disc, which will give you a cheesy menu and possibly a washed out transfer instead.

So there you have it - the R rated, live action version of Beowulf that is somehow less scary, less gory, and less exciting than its PG-13 animated counterpart. It should be noted that director Graham Baker and screenwriter Mark Leahy haven't made a film since, and Krasanoff now produces Lego movies while pursuing his endless quest to get another Kombat movie made. As for Lambert, he is getting another chance at big-screen glory with a plum role in Ghost Rider 2, a movie I am actually excited for despite not thinking much of the original OR anything Neveldine/Taylor have done post-Crank. I think them paired with Cage and what appears to be carte blanche (and an R rating?) from the studio can produce magic, and Lambert - well, he'll certainly be having a grand ol' time.

What say you?


Goblin (2010)

JULY 28, 2011


The near miracle of my Blockbuster actually stocking a new DTV horror movie was enough to make me interested in Goblin, as it is literally the first new release I’ve been able to use for a HMAD there since February (The Traveler). I know DTV horror movies continue to exist, but whether it be their financial troubles or the fact that I’m probably the only one who rents these things, they just don’t put them on the shelves anymore, which means that there are probably a bunch of minor gems like Goblin that are passing me by.

Now, I stress minor. The first half hour or so is pretty bad, literally racing from one cliché to the next (the lack of cell phone signal AND the electrical problems in the house are revealed in one sentence) and focusing on a very unlikable teenaged girl, who, like many sullen annoyances before her, is angry at her dad for remarrying, hates the stepmom, resents having to help take care of her new infant half-brother, etc. Again, just once, can a teenager get along with her (it’s always a girl, too) new stepmother? Granted, I never had to deal with that personally, but my dad remarried (to my mother, he was married before her) and his daughter from his first marriage gets along great with my mom and always has. Hell she even stays with my mom when she visits even though my dad has passed away. To be fair, yes, she’s a little old to be petty and surly like a horror movie girl, but again, they always got along – it IS possible!

But then, something magical happens around the halfway point: our titular goblin eviscerates the ever loving shit out of one of the obligatory “cute guys in town” that have come along, distracting our heroine and her best friend away from watching the baby. Not that I was surprised he got killed – his name might as well have been Fodder – but it was so delightfully violent. The goblin is a sort of Sleepy Hollow-esque local legend and appears largely as a specter, so I wasn’t expecting too much in the way of gore – it was a nice little surprise to see entrails and what not being thrown around.

And it just gets better (spoilers ahead)! The best friend is killed, which I was a bit surprised by, figuring the “safe” family unit would extend to the friend, leaving everyone else as fair game. So when she got torn apart, I figured “Oh, I guess then her new boyfriend will survive instead” – but I was wrong again! Dude gets his throat slashed in the climax. Bonus: stepmom bites it too! In fact, there’s still a ways to go when she dies (well, gets fatally wounded, she sticks around for a while gasping for breath and what not), which serves not only as a great shock moment, but also a great way to keep me focused on the film. With the stepmom (who is not an “evil” type, it should be noted – she actually dies trying to protect the bitch of a stepdaughter) dispatched, I was no longer convinced of ANYONE’s safety, something that is increasingly difficult to pull off with me as, as you may have noticed, I watch a horror movie a day. Anytime I can be surprised at even one death is laudable; if you can actually get me to believe that no one is safe, I’m full blown impressed.

It’s just a shame that the production value and other elements don’t measure up to the script’s willingness to think outside the box a bit (a baby gets tossed into a fire in the first scene, it should be noted – the goblin curse involves the death of all infants). For one thing, the goblin is atrocious looking. Luckily they stick to a sort of vague black robed figure for the most part, but when we do see the creature underneath, it’s sadly one of the lamest CGI creations I’ve seen in some time, and yes I’m including Sharktopus. I know “looks like a video game” is an easy criticism to throw around at bad CGI, but in this case it’s incredibly apt – when he is fully shown near the end before getting offed, I swore I was looking at a cut-scene from a Philips CD-i game (how’s THAT for an obscure gaming shout out?).

Another issue is that the movie takes place on Halloween (nice little shoutout to Halloween too, with the ominous date/title card over an otherwise pleasant daytime exterior), but you’d never be able to tell for the most part, as they let a few lines of dialogue (and said title card) to tell us that it’s Halloween instead of things like costumes, decorations, etc. Hell I can’t even recall seeing a damn pumpkin in the movie. Granted, the movie primarily takes place in a house that has been abandoned for a while, but even the few town scenes don’t look very festive, which makes me wonder why they’d go out of their way to say it takes place on Halloween, when all it does is raise expectations within the horror genre. No one expects greatness from a movie set on, I dunno, March 4th.

And what’s with Syfy hiring actors from Battlestar Galactica to be in their original movies, and then viciously killing them? Last month we were “treated” to Sol being murdered by the Ice Road Terror as his poor wife watched (and then got killed herself), even though his character was a pleasant, helpful heroic type that neither deserved or needed to die, and now Doc Cottle gets the same treatment. He plays the “crazy old man who’s actually right” type character, trying to warn our heroes early on and later giving all of the exposition, and even with so many good guys dying off I figured he might have a shot of making it out alive, but no. Goblin actually tears him apart even though a terrible human villain character is right there. She dies a few minutes later too, but the fact that Cottle gets it first (and so viciously) just makes it all the more mean-spirited. Hey, it’s not the actors’ fault that the show devolved a bunch of pseudo-religious horseshit! Stop passive-aggressively taking it out on them!

One odd thing about this release is that it’s from Lionsgate (which hid its Syfy roots from me for a while), as Syfy originals usually get released by Image or Anchor Bay. But that means that instead of trailers for Hatchet or whatever, we get a new Saw ad that highlights kills/events from the entire series, hawking the fact that you can now own the entire series on Blu-ray. Sure, but when the hell are you guys going to make a boxed set with all versions, all the bonus material, and new features? Until you do, no one is going to believe that the series is really over! Sadly that’s the closest thing to a bonus feature; I wouldn’t have minded a featurette or something, as the director is one Jeff Lando, who also made the “better than expected” Thirst (which also had a painful first act) and less successful but still watchable House of Bones. Let’s be honest – most of the names I see over and over in this area of the genre just inspire dread (Declan O’Brien, for example), so to see the same guy behind three movies that weren’t a total chore to sit through is sort of comforting. Also, awesome name.

What say you?


Uninvited (1988)

JULY 27, 2011


On the other side of the Mutant disc was Uninvited, a film of equally generic titling. That’s what’s great about big hit movies. If you tell someone you’re watching Pulp Fiction or whatever, the answer isn’t “Which one?”. But tell someone you’re watching Uninvited, and you’re met with “Oh, the one with Elizabeth Banks?” “The 1940s one?” “A film version of the Alanis Morissette song?” (OK, no one probably says that). To be fair, this one drops the “The” from the title, but come on, that barely helps. “The” isn’t even really a word.

THIS Uninvited is the one with Clu Gulager and a mutant cat, which instantly makes it more memorable than the 40 or so others. It’s also possibly the most coked out movie ever made, as the movie starts in a lab (where the mutant cat is “born”) but races through the whys and hows in order to get to where the producers and Without Warning writer/director Greydon Clark clearly wanted to be – a party yacht! What could exemplify 80s yuppies better than a yacht decked out with plenty of floor space for aerobics exercises, endless champagne, and guys in pink shirts? Oh and embezzlers, for that added Trump-ed up 1988 flavor.

Plus the villain could only be dreamed up by two wholly lit assholes sitting around one of their Beverly Hills mansions, talking over each other in a brainstorming session in which every idea is considered a great one. Granted, cats are often presented as villains or at least omens of death in movies, but few grow to mutant size and/or have smaller mutant cats coming out of their host’s mouth. And whether Clark didn’t understand basic continuity or just didn’t care, I don’t know, but either way the cat keeps changing size throughout the movie, sometimes more than once in the same scene. It will be normal size, then at least twice the size of a normal cat, than just sort of bloated... the little “in mouth” mutant cat also comes and goes; every now and then it seems like the thing has long since passed the point where it could readily be identified as a feline, but then two scenes later it will be back to a standard, cute little orange fluffball.

Of course, this just makes the movie far more entertaining than it has any right to be. It’s actually pretty boring; there are long stretches where no one dies via mutant cat, and too much time spent with the mustached asshole human villain berating the other cast mates or talking about his plan with George Kennedy. Hell at one point it seems that the cat might get to sit back and just let everyone kill each other, since Kennedy attempts to murder one of the younger yuppies and Mr. Mustache tries to start the boat when the engines were already overheated, but Garfield finally springs back into action during the 3rd act and eventually helps sink the boat (or, technically, a toy model of it). But the laughably bad continuity makes these scenes more than make up for the movie’s slow parts; at one point it changes size three times in a single attack.

The ending is also a wonderfully ridiculous sequence, as our two nice heroes have managed to make it onto a lifeboat and are seemingly safe, but then the cat leaps from somewhere and claws at the hero’s face. He tosses it into the water and it does it again, at which point the heroine realizes he just wants to avoid drowning. So they decided to take the obligatory metal suitcase filled with one million dollars (equal to the fine a producer would endure if any late 80s movie neglected to include one as a plot element) and toss it off so the cat can float on that. It’s already amazing, but it gets better – first they dump the cash into a bag, thus sparing us the eye-rolling “hero tosses away the dirty money” scene for once (yes!), and then when they toss the case into the water, it turns out that they were right! The cat jumps onto the case and calmly sits, watching them as they float apart. It is honestly one of the most gloriously idiotic/awesome things I have ever seen.

It also helps make up for the movie’s cripplingly bad decision to kill Clu off first (save for a few random lab techs and such as the cat makes its way to the yacht). The great thing about Clu here is that he appears to be acting in a completely different and far more entertaining movie. First he awkwardly tries to hit on some girls at a restaurant, then he stabs a guy in a kiddie pool (and later complains about being freezing from the water), and finally he gets drunk and starts singing to himself while purposely steering the boat off course. Even his death scene is wonderful, as he drags it out to Paul Reubens in Buffy-esque length and finally topples overboard what seems like three minutes later. I could have used an entire movie of him singing and fighting a cat, but as we know, our world is just not a perfect one.

Kennedy lasts much longer, though isn’t nearly as memorable. He mostly just sits around and scowls, apparently saving all of his energy for Naked Gun that same year (“He has a 50/50 chance of living, but there’s only a 10% chance of that.”). Also he’s already been down this road before, having starred in Death Ship, a movie I remember renting but have no recollection of actually watching. Never got released on DVD, far as I know, so Uninvited has one up on it, even if it’s a pretty piss poor release. As with Mutant, it’s a full frame VHS transfer, and given the most obnoxious menus ever, as they replay the movie’s score on a very short loop over and over. I should note that the score for this movie is incredibly bad, and thus the fact that someone sat there and did the necessary authoring to have it play/loop on the main menu (and the chapter selection) just depresses me. Sometimes a static, basic menu is actually better, fellas.

What say you?


Call Back (2009)

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Mutant (1984)

JULY 25, 2011


Sometimes I wonder if I should stop doing “research” about the movies I watch and going through all of the bonus material, and instead just review the film on its own terms. But then I find something when doing said research that is far more interesting than the movie itself, which makes it worth the time and effort. In this case, I learned that Mutant producer Edward Montoro (who also produced Pieces and Grizzly) lost money on this movie and was also facing a messy divorce, and thus grabbed a million or so from the company safe and went into hiding, and hasn’t been seen since.

Of course by now he’s probably dead, as he was reportedly sick at the time, and dudes in hiding don’t really get the best medical care (plus after 30 years that million would be long gone; I’d think he would have surfaced by now to get care and/or a new job). But if not, he’d be about 83 today, and the strongest rumors suggest he fled to Mexico. So to my Mexican readers, if you see a weird American old dude asking for change or something, ask him if he ever produced a couple of Jaws ripoffs.

And I love that it was this movie that played a huge part in this mystery, as it’s pretty much the only notable thing about it. It played in theaters, but it feels very much like a DTV or made for cable movie that you might watch on Cinemax while waiting for their more celebrated programming to start. Incidentally, Mutant (aka Night Shadows, if you care. You shouldn’t, though) co-stars Bo Hopkins, an actor I first saw in a silly action flick called The Final Alliance, which I recorded back in 1992 or so and “accidentally” kept recording in order to get some (rather lousy) Skinemax offering that was on right after. So that was a nice bit of lame serendipity, I guess.

Another thing I learned as I was reading up on its history is that it was heavily rewritten (reportedly under Montoro’s supervision), which might explain why it doesn’t succeed as a “small town harbors a dark secret” movie or a zombie movie, tossing in elements of both without ever feeling like a cohesive (or engaging) whole. It takes far too long to get to the zombie bits, and longer still to get a scene with more than one of them. Even those scenes are botched; there’s a potentially great bit with a bunch of zombie kids in a school, but it’s over in like 30 seconds or so. By the time we get a ton of zombies on screen going after our heroes, the movie is almost over. Worse, it ends on a shitty deus ex machina, as a bunch of cops (led by Hopkins) show up out of nowhere (and at the very last second) to save the day/our heroes from certain death.

And that’s another problem – the balance between Hopkins and Wings Hauser is way too skewed in favor of Hauser. I like the guy, but he’s not really a good fit for this sort of role, and his character is a total bore – he’s a city guy who was on vacation with his brother (who dies pretty quickly) and spends most of the movie trying to find him, a not very exciting journey as we already know he’s dead. Hopkins, on the other hand, is seemingly the only resident of the town that’s not part of the evil plot to dump toxic waste into the food supply (or something along those lines; the movie was boring me so much by this point I was finding it hard to concentrate on the exposition), and also is a much more interesting actor to me. But unfortunately, he disappears for pretty much the entire third act (save the stupid final scene), leaving us with Hauser and his pretty but equally dull girlfriend.

But at least we know he liked women. Hauser’s affection for his brother bordered on creepy at times; not only does he bemoan that this was “the first time we got to be alone together in a long time”, but he also describes his brother as “cute” when inquiring about his whereabouts. I’ve never had a brother, so I dunno, maybe that’s the sort of thing you do, but either way it comes off a bit weird. Hauser also gives the girl the least passionate first kiss in movie history, now that I think about it...

Anyway, after a while I was just entertaining myself by noting the other, better movies this one was reminding me of, such as the fact that the zombies were painted up exactly like the ghouls in Carnival of Souls, which is kind of awesome. Also, they had a toxic, burning touch, sort of like The Children, but used for more than just murderous hugging. In one of the film’s few exciting bits, they press against the glass of a car window and melt it, allowing them to reach through to get their intended victim. Story-wise, it doesn’t accomplish anything that smashing the window would, but it LOOKS a lot more interesting.

Also, shockingly, Richard Band’s score is pretty good. This is one of the few films I’ve seen him compose for someone other than his brother, and I can’t help but wonder if his generic, often terrible scores for those movies are the result of him being just as bored with those movies as I am. Not that this is much better than the Demonic Toys 2s of the world, but at least it’s not a carbon copy of 29 other movies Band had already written a score for. Curious what he’d do on a studio production. But a decent score and some melting glass is not enough to recommend this thing; unless you’re a die hard Hauser fan, I’d opt for Contamination .7, another “toxic town” movie that at least has the good sense to kill old people with mutant trees.

What say you?


Pelt (2010)

JULY 24, 2011


I had passed over Pelt a few times now on the Netflix instant lineup, because it sounded like the sort of thing I had seen about a thousand times already (hey, I’m coming up on that being a literal statement!), what with kids in the woods being stranded and being picked off by a killer who lived there. But as I was still quite tired from Comic Con, I figured it would be perfect, not requiring much of my brain (if any), and if I dozed for a few minutes, I’d be able to easily tell what I missed.

Well on a story level I was correct – this is pretty much by the numbers. Our group gets to the woods, fucks around for a while, some go off alone to fuck and die, the others look for them, etc, etc. It toed the line between slasher and survival horror fairly nicely, with the killer chaining a couple of them up but never dipping into full torture territory, but otherwise didn’t really offer much new to the genre.

However, it was pretty enjoyable all the same, thanks to the weirdest group of jerks ever assembled for one of these things. Seemingly taking a cue from Hatchet (not unlike the movie I used to START Comic Con, oddly enough), the hero isn’t really an alpha male type, but sort of a schmuck – the closest I could compare him to would be the James DeBello character from Cabin Fever. And like in Hatchet, his best pal is the black guy, who lasts a lot longer than many of his predecessors and is also a bit of a loser; the ducky pajamas that he wears for most of the movie are a pretty hilarious touch. There’s also a douche who, when he wants one, will only say “Beer” until he gets one. It’s actually kind of hilarious, at least to my half-asleep brain.

The women are even more memorable. There’s a generic blonde, but she makes out with her best friend in order to fuck with the requisite “old guy at the gas station”, and that best friend is possibly my favorite. Not only is actress Amber Bollinger one of those women you’re just instantly smitten with, but her character is a confessed nymphomaniac who keeps complaining that her vagina (she uses a more colorful word) is numb, professes her love of roofies, and, in a highlight, watches the blonde and her boyfriend screw around, then convinces the blonde’s boyfriend to take her up the “delivery entrance” while the blonde runs off to get a beer. Awesome. I also enjoyed the final girl character played by Ashley Watkins, who is a bit smarter than some of her peers (pointing out a few logic holes in the other survivors’ plans, though hers are often as horror-movie-stupid), and also smokes and swears like the rest of them. At times it seems like they are attempting to make us wonder if Watkins or Bollinger is going to be the final girl, but come on. You can’t be Laurie Strode once you’ve been cornholed.

Where it falls short of “win” is in the killer department. Not only do we not get much of a back-story (which isn’t the end of the world, though a bit of an odd omission for this sort of slasher, when they’re supposed to be a local legend of sorts), but we never get much of a good look at him either. I just watched the damn thing and if someone were to make a Movie Maniacs figure of him, I wouldn’t be able to recognize him. Though he does have overalls, so I’d probably guess Madman or something. For the most part the movie is much more professionally shot than I was expecting (someone on the IMDb thought it was shot with an iPhone – it actually looked better than stuff like 28 Days Later if you ask me), and I was a big fan of the lens flare drenched early scenes, so this oversight was a bit unforgivable – they seemingly knew what they were doing, why didn’t they give us a bunch of hero shots? Hell, in the last kill you don’t even see him at all.

Back to what they got right, I liked that it was set in 1991, which was a nice way around the cell phone issue, but didn’t go overboard with it. Maybe they just didn’t have the dough to do much else to nail down the time period, but if this was a studio movie, you can be sure that they’d be playing, I dunno, Will Smith’s “Summertime” or maybe Alice Cooper’s “Hey Stoopid” on the soundtrack and other obnoxious shit like that. Whenever a movie goes overboard trying to prove what time period it is, it just comes off as even more of a forgery – having just the printed date and a lack of modern devices actually worked better.

I also liked that they didn’t have an opening kill scene, something that is sort of standard in these sort of Wrong Turn-esque films. We get a few close up shots of scattered paper (foreshadowing later events) and then meet our weird, should-be-hated group. After I watched the movie I read someone complaining that “nothing happens until the 28 minute mark” (the movie is 86 minutes long) – I feel bad for that poor bastard if he ever finds himself watching Demonic Toys 2, which is much shorter and takes much longer to get to the first kill. 28 minutes is actually pretty fair, I think. And they make up for this “lack” with a bit of a surprise at the end, which I won’t spoil but made me smile – writer/director Richard Swindell, purposely or not, lived up to one of slasher cinema’s golden rules.

The generic plot and potentially hateful characters may turn some off (on another day I might have hated them myself), but for whatever reason I found them largely charming, and the movie was doused with just enough intentional humor (love the “I’ve seen worse” bit) to keep me entertained. And hot chicks acting crass are just too appealing to me – I could have watched Bollinger’s character do her thing for 90 minutes sans any horror whatsoever and ended up liking it even more. I don’t know if I’d recommend it to the average horror fan, but if you share my sensibilities and have seen enough amateur productions to have a deep appreciation for professional competence on the independent level, I think you’ll find Pelt is pretty enjoyable.

What say you?


Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid (2011)

JULY 23, 2011


Just when I had just about given up on Asylum’s giant monster movies, along comes Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid (to be forever mistaken as Monty Python vs. Gatorade), a delightfully and KNOWINGLY trashy slice of cheesy fun that actually entertains instead of bores – unlike Mega Shark, not all of its best moments are in the trailer, and unlike, well, just about every other giant monster movie from The Asylum, they actually hired a real director (Mary Lambert) and a cast of at least five recognizable faces.

Even Alan Smithee’s filmography isn’t as random as Mary Lambert’s. It’s one thing to jump around genres like Ang Lee or Danny Boyle, but Lambert can’t even be bothered to consistently make FILMS. She followed Pet Sematary (a huge hit) by going back to TV, and followed the Pet sequel with the cinematics for a video game called Double Switch. Then back to music videos, more TV, an EPK for Prince of Egypt (?), shot on video nonsense... what the hell, lady? I mean, anyone with a title like My Stepson, My Lover on their resume is automatically forgiven for most of their transgressions (not The Attic), but it seems like she walked away what could have been one of the more promising genre careers.

But hey, if that means that someone who actually knows how to stage an action sequence is now handling Asylum movies, so be it. At one point Tiffany is driving away from one of the giant gators, and Lambert actually has the thing in the back windshield, partially obscured by the blownout light reflecting on the glass – it’s a nice detail that the usual hack wouldn’t have bothered with. As with all Asylum films, vehicles have a funny way of changing make/model in between shots, but otherwise things never get confusing, even during the climax which takes place across three different battlefields (which alone is more impressive than anything in Mega Shark).

And I don’t know if it was her or the writers, but someone knew that it was time to stop trying to make a real movie with one of these things and just have fun. The problem with movies like Monster is that the actors were trying too hard with a script that was written as if anyone watching would actually care. Not the case here; as soon as you see Tiffany and Debbie Gibson facing off and calling each other bitch in the first 20 minutes, it’s clear that this is going to be a lovably campy trashfest. Plus, it allows for something most of these other movies lacked: the promise of excitement even when the monsters weren’t on-screen. These two (who apparently had some sort of half-assed feud back in the 80s) let their blood boil on a few occasions throughout the movie, so you know it’s a matter of time until they actually catfight. When it finally occurs, about an hour into the movie, it’s well worth the wait, as the two pull hair and toss each other (‘s stunt doubles) around a fancy party, moments before some snakes and gators show up and eat the hell out of everyone (including Mickey Dolenz, for some reason). And then Gibson says “I think we’re alone now” to Tiffany after everyone else has run off or gotten eaten, which of course made me laugh and clap like a moron since that’s pretty much the only song I know from either of them. On that note, why hasn’t Belinda Carlisle been roped into one of these? I know she’s a bit older than these two, but her solo career was popular around the same time (with the same sort of pop music), so I always sort of lumped them together. In fact, I actually preferred her to her younger counterparts; I think the video for “Heaven is a Place on Earth” helped kick off puberty.

(The parts with her dancing, not the parts with the assholes in sunglasses playing with Earth-shaped beach balls.)

Also starring is Tiffany’s cleavage, which should have gotten its own billing. I don’t know if you have seen the documentary I Think We’re Alone Now, which details two very deranged and obsessed Tiffany fans (one of whom actually had a restraining order taken against him back in the day; now she just sort of politely deals with him), but I would pay good money to watch the two subjects watching this movie. Gibson is less, er, eye-popping, but she’s still got her looks, and more importantly, both have screen presence. Maybe not particularly good actors, but it’s easy to see why they were big concert draws. Add in the always delightful Kathryn Joosten (a far better “salty old lady” actress than her overexposed peers, i.e. Betty White) and LA Law vet A Martinez, and you have the most accomplished and enjoyable cast ever assembled for an Asylum flick.

Plus: a shitload of monsters! Despite the singular title, there are a bunch of Pythons and Gatoroids on board, so we get to see just as many of them get killed as we do humans. Of course, this just means the effects suck as much as always, though a few shots look pretty decent considering that the sheer number of them means that they had to stretch their CGI budget pretty thin. They also don’t recycle too many shots, which is another plus. The “Vs.” of the title is a bit of a lie; they seem to team up more than fight each other, but we never have to wait too long for one of them to show up and eat a guy. There’s also a montage scene of the monsters mutating set to a techno version of that traditional “belly dancing” song that’s possibly the best thing I’ve seen all week. Also, they rampage around “downtown Miami” (read: non-descript locations in Los Angeles), which is fun as you don’t often get to see a giant cartoon alligator stomping around the 10 freeway in broad daylight.

And thus, this one has unseated Mega Piranha as my personal favorite of the Asylum’s giant monster movies (I grade their mockbusters on a different curve), thanks to the better cast and genuine (if subdued) professional presentation. Not sure if folks PREFER when they are taken seriously so they can add the jokes themselves (you can almost hear Mike Nelson quipping “I think we’re alone now” at the same time it’s said in the movie), but I’d much rather have it this way. Also, I guess they should all have Tiffany.

What say you?


Witchcraft 13: Blood Of The Chosen (2008)

JULY 22, 2011


Somewhere along the line I unofficially "decided" that I would avoid the Witchcraft series, because I sort of liked the idea that there was this major (in numbers anyway) horror franchise that I had avoided through childhood and continued to do so even with watching one every day. But all that fell apart when I watched Witchcraft 13: Blood Of The Chosen, which I actually thought was unrelated from the series (I also didn't realize it had gotten that far; I thought it had topped out with part 10). Stupid BC.

Now, you might be wondering how I made this mistake. Well, for starters, the film was on a budget set with no budget indies (same set as yesterday's Backwoods Bloodbath), which isn't where you'd expect to find a sequel to a long running franchise, even one as dubious as this. Also, the only real connection I had to the series were its VHS and DVD covers, all of which employed the same font and Roman numeral motif, whereas this had a different font and a standard number, plus the cover didn't have a half-naked witch like usual. And again, I wasn't aware there was an 11 or 12 (well, XI and XII). I just figured it was something they thought looked cool because 13 is unlucky and all that; sort of like how Apollo 18 isn't really a sequel to Apollo 13.

So oh well, I watched a Witchcraft movie, one that certainly hasn't inspired me to rethink my random boycott. I assume the series has seen better days, and maybe I'll check out the original and play it by ear as to whether or not I watch future installments, but there was nothing about this movie that was particularly interesting. Worse, I was surprised to discover that the main character in the movie is actually a long-running hero of the series (albeit played by several actors for reasons unknown), and I didn't like the dude at all, so that's not really helping matters.

Again, maybe in previous films he was a handsome, alpha male type, but this guy looked more like a Kinko's manager (or a low-rent attorney, which is what he plays), yet still managed to bang three different girls over the course of the film. To be fair, two of them are doing so because they are evil and it's part of their plan, but in one case it's supposed to be a twist that the character (who is introduced far too late into the narrative) is evil. So it's just ridiculous to see this guy constantly getting tail, though I was relieved to discover that the actor wasn't also the screenwriter, something that is often the case in these sort of things.

Another issue is that he is a warlock but barely ever uses his powers. It would have been fun to see him using magic to help him with his law work or something, but he saves it for one quick scene in the middle somewhere and the climax. The rest of the time he's just sifting through papers, talking to the other, equally dull characters, or fucking. And the sex scenes are pretty dull too; the women aren't unattractive (his second conquest, the pixie blond chick, was quite cute) but hardly the sort of goddesses they're made out to be, and the uniform lack of acting skills suggests that they weren't cast for their talent OR looks, but simply because they were all the filmmakers could get with their budget.

And there's a goddamn pentagram scene. You've seen it in dozens of crappy horror films/TV shows - the hero draws a circle or puts pins into a map at the location of each murder that occurred, then draws lines and realizes that they form the shape of a pentagram. It's a ludicrous concept that's been used far too often, and I would like to formally request that it be given to rest (unless there's an accompanying scene of the villain actually working out the logistics of this plan*). To top off the groaner nature of this scene, the obligatory bit where the hero realizes his house/office is in the center of the pentagram is hilariously botched, as director Mel House failed to get a wide shot of the location in the middle of the star shape. Maybe he just figured that we've seen this scene so many times in other movies that we'd be able to mentally fill in the blanks.

It's not without its charms, though. It has one of the weirdest one-liners ever, as a guy trying to goad the she-bitch into killing him says "If I wanted to fuck a glass of water, I'd go into my kitchen!" There's also a bit where a fat guy sings along to a particularly lurid country song before getting offed (he's one of the pentagram murders - good thing he drove along that road while they were there, and stopped, or else they wouldn't have gotten that point on their little map plan), which I have posted below in lieu of the trailer, which I couldn't find. And the big reveal at the end, amidst all of the mumbo jumbo (which is where I realized that this was indeed a sequel as they were mentioning the character's different names over the years/movies), we find out that one of the girls he banged was actually a direct relative of his. Hey-o!

Also, there's a bit where he plays detective, which charmed me as my buddy Zane Grant just launched a web comic called Detective Warlock: Warlock Detective, concerning, yes, a detective who is also a warlock. I can say with 99.9% certainty that Zane has not seen this film and that it's just a coincidence, and I can bump it up to 100% certainty that reading his (free) comic, which releases a new part every Wednesday, is a better use of your time. I should also note that this seems to be the end of the Witchcraft series, as it's been 5 years since this one premiered (despite its 2008 date) and there's still no 14 in production - they used to churn em out every year or two. Still, by my count, this is the longest running franchise in horror history; even if you count the reboot for Friday the 13th or the spinoffs for Puppet Master they don't hit 13 films. So, grats, I guess.

What say you?


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