House II: The Second Story (1987)

NOVEMBER 30, 2011


Much to the dismay of Phil Blankenship, I was not a big fan of House, which I finally saw for the first time at his first New Bev all nighter back in 2008. And now I disappoint the equally awesome Matt Serafini, who told me that he’d cock-punch me if I didn’t like House II: The Second Story when I mentioned I’d be watching it. Well, hopefully he'll reconsider, but I guess Phil can take some solace in that it makes me think House wasn’t so bad after all, because I was enjoying that one occasionally, whereas this one I only found myself entertained for a 10 minute segment featuring John Ratzenberger.

In what I assume was an intentional “carrying of the torch” casting decision, Ratzenberger plays a similar role that his Cheers-mate George Wendt played in the first film, namely that of a guy who seemingly walked in from a different, better movie. When Ratzenberger first enters and starts casually knocking over Arye Gross’ shit and addressing everything with a laidback response (including the presence of an alternate dimension), I began wondering how infinitely more fun the movie would have been had his character been in it all along.

Because most of the movie is given to Arye Gross and Jonathan Stark (Billy Cole!) mugging their way around the house, or just being plain unfunny. I kept hoping Royal Dano (as Gross’ great grandfather, a cowboy who is resurrected) would just shoot them and take over from there, but no dice. The movie also wastes the rest of its cast, including a fairly amusing Bill Maher as some yuppie and the lovely Jayne Modean as would-be love interest, both of whom exit the movie with little fanfare and are never mentioned again. The movie doesn’t even bother to reunite Gross with his girlfriend (New Blood’s Lar Park-Lincoln), who takes off after a misunderstanding, as is demanded by the screenwriting rules of the 1980s. To say it’s sloppy is putting it mildly – this movie seems to forget plot elements as soon as they introduced (and forget about even trying to connect it to the first film).

It’s also barely a horror movie, heavily skewing toward the comedy portion of things. In fact I remember why I never bothered watching it as a kid – the PG-13 rating told me it would be “lame” (benefit of being a kid who could watch R rated movies – I didn’t have to settle for this sort of shit). In fact I’m surprised it even got that much; I assume because it’s technically a horror movie the MPAA figured a PG wouldn’t fly, even though absolutely nothing happens in the entire movie except for a cheap zombie (Gramps’ enemy) losing his head. But with all the sci-fi/fantasy elements surrounding it, I’m sure they could have made a case for a PG and gotten it. Almost all of the Star Trek movies got them, those always had similarly non-violent deaths.

And that would be fine if it were funny, but the attempts at comedy are so half-hearted and weak that most of them barely register as jokes. I guess it’s supposed to be amusing when Gross begins chasing a baby pterodactyl puppet around the house, but I didn’t even crack a smile (Pterodactyl was funnier!). Stark’s mugging as he played the “wacky best friend” also got on my nerves after a few minutes, which is unfortunate since Gross seems far more interested in hanging out with him than his hot girlfriend. Other than Ratzenberger, my biggest amusement was seeing how well Gross and Stark accepted their new zombie friend – they don’t seem to consider it weird or scary at all. I’d like to think that after watching a couple thousand horror movies I wouldn’t be too fazed by finding a zombie cowboy in my basement, either. I’d be more surprised to discover I had a basement.

At one point I had to check the IMDb to make sure Charles Band had nothing to do with this thing, what with the alternate dimensions, tiny creature puppets (a cute little “dog” thing), and even a few sorcerer type baddies for good measure. That’s the sort of shit he puts in all his movies! But no, this is the work of his slightly more respectful producer rival Sean Cunningham. The composer credit gives that much away, in fact – instead of Richard Band, we have Harry Manfredini, which means half of the score is lifted from Friday the 13th sequels. To be fair, this is otherwise one of his more spirited efforts, with some old Western/adventure style cues to go along with his usual horror junk.

But I guess that can sum up the movie’s problems quite nicely, huh? When Harry Manfredini’s score is one of the brighter spots, you know you’re deep into bad horror movie land. Probably why the movie has a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. At any rate, if I ever get around to seeing House IV (there is no real House III, see Horror Show for minor explanation), at least it ignores this one and returns to the slightly more enjoyable story of the original film.

What say you?


Kidnapped (2010)

NOVEMBER 29, 2011


The home invasion genre doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to plotting; even the slasher film has more “think outside the box” potential. They all have their own touches, of course, but if you say “that movie where the people are terrorized in their own home by a couple of dudes in masks”, you’ve just described like 90% of the genre. You gotta add the specifics to be more clear – so if someone said the above and added “and the entire movie unfolds in about 15 or 16 long shot takes”, then you know they’re referring to Kidnapped (Spanish: Secuestrados).

And for the most part, that’s the best thing about the film, which is almost depressingly light on story and not even particularly scary. Filmed normally, this might be one of the weakest in the genre, as the robbers are merely after money (no plot twists whatsoever here), the complications are as cliché as they come (the boyfriend comes over! A cop comes snooping around!), and no one on either side of the equation is particularly interesting. One of the robbers is strangely calm, almost coming off as an intellectual of sorts, but this character tic is just that – it doesn’t amount to anything or have any bearing on the “story”.

It’s also TOO damn grim – the movie actually closes (SPOILER!) on a shot of one of the family members being repeatedly stabbed in the chest. Even when everyone dies there’s usually some sort of “epilogue” to let the audience decompress a bit, but this literally ends on one of the most upsetting moments in the entire film. There’s also an unnecessary rape scene, as if the movie wasn’t unpleasant enough in its third act.

But on a technical level, it’s damn impressive. Again, the entire movie unfolds in long takes; I almost tried counting them but realized I’d be focusing on the wrong thing – there are less than 20 I think though. This isn’t an easy thing to do in ANY genre, but it’s even more laudable in a violent thriller of this nature, where things (and faces) are smashed up and everyone needs to be in their exact right spots for things to go smoothly. A mistake could take quite a while to reset for a second take, and if said mistake occurred at the end of a complicated 6-7 minute shot… I wouldn’t want to be the guy who fucked it up, that’s for damn sure.

This also results in some terrific performances, particularly the two female characters who (sigh) are terrorized the most (the dad barely gets a scratch on him over the course of the movie). Without the constant cutting (and what I assume was an in sequence shooting schedule), their growing panic and breakdowns come across far more believable than you usually see in these sort of things. The dad is also pretty good, though I had to wonder if (anti-spoiler?) we’re supposed to suspect he might be in some way involved? He seems oddly calm at a few key points, and I was unsure if it was just an actor issue or if they were trying to trick the audience somehow. Director Miguel Angel Vivas does pull off one misdirect quite well, so it’s not too much of a stretch to assume he might have been trying it here.

It’s a damn shame that Netflix Instant betrays those performances by only offering the dub track, however. I know I usually prefer the dubs since subtitling is often so poorly done, but in this case I think I would have much preferred the original language, especially since most of the dialogue was incidental anyway. The dub actors had the complete wrong tone of voice in their line readings more often than not; what was obviously harmless, almost silly bickering about a knick-knack between the two adults was dubbed as if it was a serious matter. There were also a number of awkward translations that, even if retained in the subtitles, would have at least SOUNDED right. The IFC DVD release has the original language from what I understand, so why Instant is only offering a dub is beyond me. Oh well, it’s just another thing for me to use as ammo whenever some schmuck tries to convince me that this service is superior to physical media.

Having largely tired of unpleasant movies such as this, I assume those who are still “excited” (for lack of a better word) at the idea of spending 85 minutes watching folks suffer (mentally or physically) will enjoy it even more than I did. By no means is it a bad film, and I can’t even really fault its story when Vivas (and co-writer Javier Garcia clearly wasn’t interested in a twisty narrative. Hell, if you apply this same sort of approach to a genre I’m still enthusiastic about it’d be one of my favorites of the year. A solid film I never want to watch again.

What say you?


Last Of The Living (2009)

NOVEMBER 28, 2011


Like a jazz riff, zombie comedies are all pretty much the same, relying on their own little inventions and moments to stand out amidst all the others. Last Of The Living is a good example – at its core is just another version of Shaun of the Dead, with two slackers (there’s actually three, but counting the other guy is like counting NPH as part of Harold & Kumar) sort of lazily dealing with a zombie apocalypse with video games before finally springing into action (using their video game expertise, no less). But it more or less works as a fun excursion, with the New Zealand setting and a pretty good pop/rock soundtrack (including a theme song!) adding some flavor.

One thing I particularly liked was that they actually address what exactly still goes on after zombies first start appearing. When our heroes pass by a music store, one of them wants to see if they have an album that was finished recording just before the breakout. The others argue that there’s no way that the label bothered pressing the album to disc and sending it to stores when there were much pressing matters to worry about, and then they break in to see who’s right. It’s something I’ve often wondered about myself in these things, particularly in the Romero films since they span decades (until he rebooted the timeline in Diary anyway). Like in Dawn, they have technology that didn’t exist in 1968 (the time of Night), so did the world keep developing things and manufacturing “non-essential” items, or was this just a goof (or an example of fluid time, not unlike comic books). Since these movies aren’t usually taxing my brain, I can ponder these pointless things without losing my way with the storyline.

The chemistry between the guys is fun too. Too many of these things end up having one guy be the “serious” one and the other more of a loudmouth, and while you can Morgan and Ash in those categories, it’s not as much of a contrast as say, Mike and Brent from Deadheads. It’s more like Trey and Matt in Baseketball, where the difference is fairly inconsequential and only seems to exist to provide SOME semblance of conflict. But it’s equally balanced – Morgan is slightly more inconsiderate but he’s also the one who takes charge more often than not, whereas Ash takes things a bit more seriously but is also a bit of a nebbish who’d be long dead if not for the fact that Morgan was watching his back.

Oh, and they actually call the things zombies, which is always a plus. Just last night I watched two characters on Walking Dead argue if they should be called “Walkers” or “People”, and I just sat there thinking “What about ZOMBIES?” Again, after over 40 years of this type of zombie, I think they’ve made their presence known to the world like vampires or werewolves – you don’t see anyone in a recent vampire movie trying to come up with something to call them. I know the argument is that they’ve been around for nearly two centuries, but how long does a monster need to exist before he is accepted as “canon”? It’s not like it took 100 years after Stoker’s novel for the basic vampire myth (which is what made it popular, much like Romero’s film did with zombies) to be something we all took for granted.

I was also impressed on a technical level; it’s not the prettiest movie ever, but it’s energetic and well-staged for the most part, and they got some great production value – not a lot of low budget horror movies have the bulk of their climax set in an airplane, and their journey takes them through several locales, giving it a scope that even Shaun lacked. Speaking of scope, it’s scope! Ballsy move for low budget – you risk showing off more of the obviously not really deserted world around you, but I think they do a pretty good job of showing a “dead” world (certainly better than I Am Omega anyway). Director Logan McMillan also works in a lot of fun transitions with sliding doors and such, though after a while he mostly settles for standard Star Wars-ian wipes (guess he ran out of ideas but wanted to keep the basic theme going).

One thing that baffled me was the rather melancholy opening and downer ending, which went against the more care-free tone of the rest. Shaun (I hate to keep comparing, but it’s the one everyone knows, and it’s also the best) found a nice balance between the need to take things seriously but retain the overall spirit of the film – I think McMillan was a bit off here (the death of a major character is also much too casually dealt with, too). And he should know better than to include fart jokes – at that point he’s just ASKING for an unfavorable comparison to Edgar Wright’s film.

I’m also baffled how it ended up on a budget pack with 3 other movies already – it’s only a couple years old, and it’s a lot better than the usual drivel on these things. You guys got a shit deal!

What say you?


The Booth (2005)

NOVEMBER 27, 2011


Some folks think that it’s important to know as much as possible about a movie before going in, but I am the total opposite. Beyond knowing for sure that it’s horror, I’d be perfectly happy not knowing a single thing before I sat down, and that includes the filmmaker in some cases. Certainly had I realized that The Booth (Japan: Busu) was from Yoshihiro Nakamura, the same man behind A Boy And His Samurai (my favorite non horror movie of the year), I would have had much higher expectations. Because it was just “OK”, but luckily I wasn’t expecting much to begin with.

Let’s start with what I liked. For starters, this is a J-horror film from the 00s, but it does NOT have any long haired ghosts or any of the other generic trappings of these movies (including Dark Water, which Nakamura also wrote). Hell there’s even a plot point about a girl being found in a river, which may or may not have something to do with our protagonist, yet we are spared the “dripping ghost” shots we’ve come to expect. Similarly, it doesn’t try to make us afraid of a particular electronic device like some of the others (cell phones, cameras, videos, etc). Even though the entire movie takes place in a booth of a radio call-in show, the “ghost” is tied to the area itself, not the phone. At first I was like “oh Christ, they’ve REALLY run out of ideas”, but the movie could have taken place anywhere and the “ghost” could have used any object to contact him – indeed, at times he just seems to be hearing it “live”, not over the air.

Now, I keep putting “ghost” in quotes, and I hope it’s not spoiling anything to say that part of the fun of the flick is deciding whether he’s just paranoid (think “Tell Tale Heart”) or if there’s an actual ghost after him. A series of flashbacks clues us in to not only the answer, but also rounds out the DJ’s character to let us know that he’s kind of a dick to everyone, not just the girl who may be taunting him through the airwaves. Thus, it’s much more character driven than most J-horror films I’ve seen; more interested in getting into a character’s head than providing “boo!” moments at frequent intervals (indeed, there’s only like 2-3 traditional attempts at scares in the whole movie).

The problem is that it’s just too long, even at 74 minutes. This is very much a Twilight Zone type tale (or better yet, Tales From The Crypt, whose characters were usually this sort of mildly despicable), and would have been amazing if presented as one instead of a feature. As a result there’s a lot of repetition in the plotting (it’s also told more or less in real time, which always results in potential recycling regardless of the type of story it’s telling); the scene with the chess player in particular feels like it’s just regurgitating things we already knew.

It also gets a bit silly at times. A character shows up for work with what seems like the type of wound that a doctor would make you stay overnight to treat properly, yet she just gets bandaged up by one of the other radio station crew members as if it’s a mild scrape. It’s just there to serve part of the twist, and I appreciate the idea, but I think it would have made a bit more sense to have the character come in after having been treated by an actual nurse (I assume we are meant to think the person is a ghost at first; if so it’s not successful). They also get a lot of mileage out of the DJ’s panic about forgetting or not having the names of the songs he’s about to play – do radio DJs in Japan actually tell you the songs they’re playing without fail? I know I’ve certainly never been able to identify good tunes I’ve heard because the DJ was more interested in telling us about their upcoming Acoustic Christmas show or whatever instead of saying “Hey, this is Angie Aparo.”

But it’s entertaining enough, and watching the guy unravel in real time is quite fun. When I think of the other real time movies I’ve seen (or 24), the protagonist is the guy we’re rooting for, not the one you eventually kind of want to see dead. Not that he’s a full blown VILLAIN, but he cheats, he treats others like shit, etc – I’m certainly not hoping that ghost leaves him alone. Ryuta Sato does a laudable job of walking that line between hateful and sympathetic; if the movie was remade in the US I could see a guy like Bradley Cooper having fun with the role, as he excels at playing that sort of “likable douche” character.

Tartan’s DVD has a few extras, most of which focus on Sato. Nothing too exciting, and it’s a shame that Nakamura wasn’t heard from more, especially as this turned out to be his final horror movie as of this writing. His previous films were mostly horror, but after this he has stuck to dramas and comedies – did he just lose interest, or was he just taking jobs in order to build up some clout in order to the sort of movies he was more interested in? Either way, we got Boy And His Samurai out of the deal, so it’s not the worst thing in the world, but still, kind of a bummer he has seemingly left the genre behind. Japan’s Cronenberg!

What say you?


Snowbeast (1977)

NOVEMBER 26, 2011


Instead of the usual Monster or Predator tags, should I just make "Jaws Ripoff" its own category here at HMAD? Snowbeast in particular follows Spielberg's movie quite closely, providing all of the major plot points (albeit in a different order) as if they had some sort of checklist to go by. Opening scene death of a local girl, check. POV shots of victims instead of showing the monster, check. Happy locals killing the wrong animal, check. Main characters finally deciding to go out there and take care of it themselves, check.

And of course, the "close the beaches" plot, which in this movie is the 50th annual celebration at the ski resort where the entire movie takes place. The dialogue is even pretty much the same, with the main town spokesman (Sylvia Sidney!) having to tell our hero that the town depends on those tourist dollars. And as with Jaws, the monster ends up causing chaos at the event around the halfway point, which makes Sidney regret her actions. I mean, why is it ALWAYS this exact scenario? Is there a single movie of this type where they DO close everything when it is first suggested, only to end up having a few kids sneak in and party anyway? Hell it would even be cheaper - you wouldn't need to hire a bunch of extras to point, scream, and run away.

But as long as you know it's been Jaws-ified, the movie is pretty fun. 70s made for TV horror was pretty well done - its no surprise that a lot of these movies played theatrically in other territories. Can you imagine any TV movies of the past 5-10 years playing theatrically? Half of them look cheaper than the shows that they're temporarily replacing that week. But hell, this one even has cigarette burns on it for when the reels changed! There's no real on-screen violence, but they make for it with a hilariously awesome/cheesy fade to red whenever Snowbeast is about to lunge at a screaming victim.

There's also no on-screen monster, at least not in full. We see his arm/paw or his head or whatever, but never a wide shot showing Snowbeast in all his glory, which is a bummer. I don't know if Standards & Practices didn't allow it or if they just opted not to show what was probably not the best looking costume, but it's a shame either way. There are photos online HERE of actor Mike London in full costume, so it's almost puzzling that there's no real reveal in the film itself, even when he's (spoiler) dead. Even if it looked shitty when he was running around, why couldn't they toss in a shot of the damn thing lying on the ground?

Taking up much more screentime is the most casual attempt at cuckolding that I've ever seen in a movie. Hero Robert Logan (from Across The Great Divide! Amazing movie) openly tries to take Bo Svenson's wife (who is his ex) away from him, and it seems like she's not exactly resisting at first. Hell even Svenson is pretty cool with it; at one point he sees them share a quick smooch and laughs about it with Logan. I'm sorry, but if I saw my wife kissing one of her exes, I'd be pretty pissed off, I think. I certainly wouldn't sit down with the guy and share a drink and laugh about it, or go in a hot tub with him after to discuss our Snowbeast problem.

Some of the dialogue is priceless, too. The script was by none other than Psycho scribe Joseph Stefano, and when he's not just copying Jaws he finds some funny little exchanges here and there. I particularly loved when Logan tells the sheriff that he'll recognize a victim when he sees her face, to which the sheriff replies "She doesn't HAVE one." There's also a lengthy bit where Logan and Svenson's wife (Yvette Mimieux) discuss the sex dreams she's been having about him, also quite casually. Also: "The TIARA!!!" (I'll leave that one for you to discover on your own).

There's also a lot of skiing and snowmobiling, which is fine by me. Nowadays, everyone's on a damn snowboard, so it's nice to go back and watch legit and untainted skiing footage. The Colorado resort is quite beautiful, and everyone with their hideous 70s clothes (Logan's post-tub robe in particular is more terrifying than Snowbeast ever dreamed of being) provides a nice, colorful contrast with all that white (I was also happy to see that it looked OK - I had watched a movie the night before and every time a scene had a lot of white in it, the screen would show these vertical lines. Thought my TV or player was failing, guess it was just that particular disc). It wasn't even that bad of a transfer, considering it was on a disc with three other movies (on the same side) from one of those Mill Creek type companies. Oh, public domain!

The climax is a bit lame though. Snowbeast topples a curiously large pile of logs that's in the middle of the woods, which knocks over the group's RV (some of the logs even end up inside the main cabin, which is physically impossible given their position to each other). So Logan, Svenson, and Mimieux run off, wander around for a bit, and then go right back to get some guns. Meanwhile, Snowbeast is still just sort of hanging out nearby - he didn't even really chase them! Really clunky, and makes the whole running sequence seem like padding in a movie that's already pretty short (86 minutes). That does seem quite short for a TV movie of that era, but apart from a kill scene that was cut and replaced with another less violent one, I can't find anything relating to deleted scenes, so perhaps they just had a lot of commercials, or it aired in a 90 minute block?

Syfy remade this one recently, interestingly enough starring John Schneider, who SOUNDS exactly like Robert Logan. At least, it has the same name and "Bigfoot in the snow" concept; it doesn't have anything to do with skiers or "Winter Carnivals" from what I understand (it hasn't aired yet), so maybe it will be less Jaws, more Lake Placid? I guess I'll find out when it airs. Or in 20 years when it ends up on a budget pack and I'm somehow STILL doing this.

What say you?


I Am Omega (2007)

NOVEMBER 25, 2011


A few minutes into I Am Omega, I wondered if the location that the main character had made into his home/fortress was on the same property that parts of Hatchet II were filmed on, in Santa Clarita. The layout and look of the buildings (more like glorified shacks) were quite similar, and it's a frequently used locale, so it must be pretty cheap (i.e. something that The Asylum could afford). I never did learn for sure (only that Santa Clarita was indeed a shooting location for this film), but either way, the two films have almost identical fonts on the end credits!!! Weird.

(Hatchet on left, Omega on right)

Anyway, for an Asylum "mockbuster" it's pretty good. While I don't doubt that it was quickly made in order to cash in on its big budget cousin (I Am Legend, obviously), it doesn't seem to be made up on the spot like Paranormal Entity and Monster were. Someone clearly actually wrote this thing; if not a whole screenplay at least a very detailed treatment must have been used for the actors to go by. Conversations are rare, but when they occur they have some semblance of structure, instead of lousy actors trying to improvise (which usually just results in people saying the same thing over and over). Only in its final scenes does it start to feel like they were just tossing ideas and subplots around at random - why does one character suddenly decide to engage in proxy necrophilia, pushing his buddy's corpse on the lady parts of our heroine? Furthermore, why does it serve as the finale of this zombie movie? Shouldn't there be, er, zombies around, somewhere?

The funny thing is that this problem exists in all versions of I Am Legend, even the original source novel: the first act is always the best; the third the weakest. Surely no one (or at least, I) didn't expect the Asylum version to be the first to figure out how to end this story in a way that fully satisfies, so I can't get on its case too much for not sticking the landing. Maybe someday someone will figure it out, but I'm not holding my breath.

Another thing I found amusing: this movie requires you to know the story that they are ripping off. Without any knowledge of Matheson's story or any of the previous film versions, you'd probably be pretty confused as to what exactly is going on for the first 45 minutes or so. Apart from a few random shots of an empty downtown LA (something you can see pretty much any weekend morning anyway), there is nothing to indicate that the world has been taken over by mutant zombies, and/or that our hero (Mark Dacascos) is one of the few people left alive. If you're ignorant to the "Legend" story, then this movie comes across more as the tale of a weird hermit who occasionally ventures out into the mountainous area near his home and plants bombs for some reason, and every now and then talks to a corpse that he may have killed himself for all we know. It's not until the end of the second act, when he goes into the city with a couple other guys on a rescue mission, that the whole "dead world" concept is made fully clear. And actually you're still sort of filling in blanks yourself at this point, it's just not AS impenetrable.

As for the bombs, you got me. He's setting them around the city right above gas lines, which are all helpfully marked by pieces of paper taped to nearby poles that read "NO DIGGING - GAS LINE". That much makes (horror movie) sense, but why he's doing it in the first place is a bit vague. Especially when he doesn't appear to be in any serious danger where he's at - he's got a well protected place to live, plenty of books to read, a running fridge, and even some beer! So why destroy the entire city, exactly? If Los Angeles was some sort of quarantined area and the rest of the state was fine, I guess it would make some sense, but as far as we know the entire country (world?) has been overrun by this unexplained event, so what good does blowing up the City of Angels do anyway?

I also wonder when he set the bombs in the Valley or even Hollywood, since he only sets one a day and they're all timed to go off at once - he'd have to have started like 2 years before and been a really good estimator to set those first few timers properly. How many hours in a year? Then again the whole countdown angle is remarkably botched - at one point we see a bomb actually counting UP as he races out of the city. Why they didn't just work in that he had to manually set them all off at once (Armageddon style!) is beyond me, but this lovingly stupid approach provided some entertainment value, so thanks for that.

Also thanks for hiring Mark Dacascos to play the hero (Richard instead of Robert), who can at least make the fight scenes a little more interesting. There never seems to be more than 2-3 zombies on-screen at once, and he takes care of most of them fairly quickly with a few gunshots, so the action is pretty dull for the most part. But every now and then he'll kick them around a bit before shooting them. This of course makes the whole "blow up the city" angle even sillier - he can take care of himself easily and doesn't seem to be too worried about the zombie "threat" anyway. Was he just bored? Does he plan to blow up the entire country city by city?

That's not even the silliest plot hole. The whole rescue mission makes zero sense, as the other guy (Geoff Meed, who also wrote the film) apparently plans to kill the girl anyway. So why even bother trying to rescue her? She's alone in a city overrun by zombies, and the city is going to blow up anyway (something Meed knows about). Wouldn't it be easier to just leave her there to die? Richard had no interest in her until they forced him to help (by blowing up his house, something he has zero reaction to) - did they actually just do all of this to rape her?

The direction can be as baffling as the writing at some points. Closeups of weapons firing rarely match the wide shots, particularly when he runs down a street shooting zombies - the closeups are of a non-moving individual firing a different weapon. Richard also flashes back to ancient Super 8 footage of his wife and son, even though he has a modern laptop that clearly sets the film in the present day. I also laughed out loud when Richard takes a piss while standing in the desert - they cut to a low angle of his legs, but we see no stream hitting the ground in front of him. So is he peeing on his own pants/shoes? Luckily I know the director got better: it's Griff Furst, the same guy who made Mask Maker. I don't know if he just wasn't trying very hard here or wasn't given the time/money to do things properly (like hand Dacascos a squeeze bottle filled with Mountain Dew to squeeze above the camera line), but it's good to know he was able to graduate from this sort of junk.

And to be fair, Furst DOES put some effort into the proceedings, particularly with a cool long tracking shot that goes from an interior closeup to an exterior high angle of the house, and a few other flourishes. And the stuff with Dacascos hallucinating and going crazy is genuinely decent - I almost have to wonder why they didn't stick with that (cheaper) stuff instead of trying to simulate big action that they couldn't afford.

But really, who cares? The movie came out on DVD in time for the theatrical release of Will Smith's film, and that's all that matters. Luckily it's fairly entertaining in its own clumsy way for the most part, and it only cost me 25 cents (the four pack was among the 99 cent DVDs at this morning's Black Friday sale at Best Buy - I also scored the awesome Walk Hard for the same price!). Hopefully the other films on the set will be as equally "eh, fine" and thus justify their cost. I could have bought a donut instead of these things!

What say you?


Butchered (2010)

NOVEMBER 24, 2011


If gratuitous nudity in a slasher film is more important to you than good kills, a memorable killer, or anything resembling an actual plot, then Butchered should shoot straight to the top of your Netflix queue. It's not a terrible film, but I couldn't help but wonder if the director would rather be making softcore porn at times, as there are still scenes of our attractive cast going off to fool around in the final 15 minutes of the film!

It also begins with a rather unnecessary torture-y scene of a naked woman who is chained up and being cut (including on the breast) by who I assume is our killer, but it doesn't fit with the way the guy operates in the rest of the movie. He's no torture maven, and he doesn't even seem to care for knives - he uses an axe for every kill (he makes do with a large rock at one point, but that girl survives, only to be killed later... via axe). Nor does he string anyone up or anything of that sort - coming up from behind and swinging his axe for an instant kill is his MO.

And the director's MO is to cut away from every impact. While there's some gore and a few shots of people with axes embedded into their torso, none of the kill shoots actually occur in camera - there's always a cut to another angle right before the axe lands home, allowing the production to save time/creativity on old-school prosthetics. Nothing out of the ordinary for a modern slasher - most of them are just as lazy. But this one is specifically aiming to recreate those old early 80s slashers, with the thin story (escaped killer targets our teens for no real reason), the sex = death "moral", the laughable sequel setup... the whole nine yards, really. By siding so closely with those films of yore, all they're doing is reminding us how much effort guys like Tom Savini used to put into this stuff to deliver what the die-hards came to see.

Not sure if the island setting was the best idea, either. Not that it can't work for a slasher movie, but I think it needs someone who is visually gifted (and probably operating with a higher budget) in order to make something out of all those similar looking sandy/sparsely populated with trees areas. Also, if you think of all the great slasher films, they almost all have one thing in common: interior structures. Even the Friday the 13th films (this one's closest cinematic cousin) didn't spend too much time in the actual woods or lake area - they'd be in the cabins or houses that kept popping up within walking distance of the lake. As with a lot of cheapo horror movies, the geography of the location is hard to picture as a whole. Some might think it's scarier to not know how far everyone is from one another, but I don't subscribe to that logic. To me, knowing EXACTLY how everyone relates to each other in physical space adds immensely to the experience. If the killer can just randomly appear at any moment, it just feels like cheating to me.

Ironically, the film's best scare DOES take place in a house, early on (and largely unconnected to the rest of the movie). However I can't really give it too much credit, because it's a very obvious swipe of the famous nurse kill in Exorcist III, right down to the sudden zoom in when the killer finally appears. When your most effective bit is something you took frame for frame from another film, it's not really the most promising sign of your film's quality overall.

But the target audience probably won't care much. The pacing can be a bit slow, but it hits all the marks it's supposed to, and again, the generous nudity (nearly every female cast member disrobes or at least wears a very tiny bikini). It's also fairly well directed other than the lack of impact shots, and that's probably due to not hiring a decent FX man more than anything else. I don't know who to credit for that though; there are three directors credited, which must be a record for a non-anthology film (speaking of which: buy Chillerama on Tuesday!). I assume one of them shot the pointless torture sequence, and maybe one of the others tackled the largely inconsequential scenes with the girl who "stars" in the Exorcist 3 bit, leaving the third to handle the actual movie part of the movie? It's only 70 minutes long with slow credits, so I'm guessing the first cut ran short and this other stuff was commissioned to pad it out to (barely) feature length. It's a modern day The Terror!

In the spirit of the movie I'll go off on a minor tangent here that adds nothing but time to the review - this is actually available in a four pack from Echo Bridge called "Backwoods Butchers". Now, I have paid for other similar collections from the Bridge, such as "Dark Forces" (supernatural horror) and "Midnight Horror" (zombies), and this movie was better than just about anything I've endured on those things, with the exception of... Backwoods Bloodbath? Why isn't that movie on the "Backwoods Butchers" set instead of the Dark Forces one? Were they worried that the title would be too self-explanatory? Whatever, Echo Bridge.

What say you?


Frightmare (1974)

NOVEMBER 23, 2011


When I watched/enjoyed Schizo, I made a mental note to check out more of Pete Walker’s films, but now it’s two and a half years later and I’m finally getting around to doing that. Frightmare (aka Cover Up, for some reason) is worth a look, but not quite as good as Schizo, and now I’m wondering if it’s worth checking out his others, since this is one of his most well-regarded. Then again, as I re-read my review of the other film, it sounds equally slow and stuffy, so maybe I just need to be in the right mood.

And by stuffy I mean, well, British. Part of my problem with this movie is that it’s far too “proper” to work as a crazy cannibal film, and the contrast doesn’t quite pay off. Certainly good horror films can be made out of putting certain ideas in an unusual context (such as Bloody Reunion, a rare Korean slasher film), but the blend just didn’t work for me here. I’m sure the ratings board didn’t help either, but you can look at any given moment of the film and see nothing more than well-dressed middle aged British folks standing around talking and drinking tea – the cannibalism (read: horror) element is so underplayed and infrequent, the occasional murders don’t shock as much as cause me to say “Oh, finally, proof this is a horror movie.”

Plus there are four people in the cannibal family unit, with their dysfunction played for minor black comedy – remind you of any other 70s horror films? I don’t think Pete Walker set out to make The British Chainsaw Massacre or anything, but even back in 1974 I’m sure some folks were watching this and thinking “I’d rather just watch Tobe Hooper’s film.” The body counts are similar, but the key difference is that he built up the atmosphere and suspense of the film’s situation, making it a far more effective horror film.

He also gave us someone to root for. The closest thing to a heroine in this movie is one of the cannibal’s daughters, who herself seems a bit off, and probably more likely to side with them (or her sister) than the closest thing to a hero – her psychiatrist boyfriend, who spends a chunk of the movie muttering and conversing with others trying to get to the “bottom” of things, which would be more exciting if we weren’t always a step or two ahead of him. I don’t know about you, but I find watching people “discover” things that we in the audience have already been told to be quite boring. Now, I’m not talking about knowing that Michael Myers is in the room before they do – I am referring to scenes that serve no purpose other than for a character (a hero, in fact) asking questions or reading documents that allow him to learn things we learned from other characters five or six scenes ago.

That said, it does have some oddball charm, particularly in the scenes with Sheila Keith as the mother/head cannibal. I don’t know what her claim to fame was, but it felt like the type of unhinged performance that a previously “respectful” actress might give, not unlike Betsy Palmer in the original Friday the 13th or maybe Mia Farrow in the Omen remake. I quite enjoyed the bit near the end where the shrink hero goes to see her under the guise of wanting a reading (she acts as a Tarot reader to lure in victims), only for her to see right through him (and then kill him). It’s a fun, clever little bit – too bad there weren’t another dozen of them.

I was also quite smitten with both of the actresses playing the daughters. Both Deborah Fairfax and Kim Butcher are strikingly beautiful, and I was baffled to learn that neither of them had much of a career after this (Butcher only made a single other film). Not only were they obviously the type of girls you’d love to have on a poster, but both were pretty good actresses to boot (particularly Fairfax, who has the most depth of all the characters here). Unlike the equally attractive lead of Schizo (Lynne Frederick), however, there’s seemingly no scandal or anything that caused their careers to be cut short – they seemingly just walked away. On the commentary, Walker points out that one of them was working as a waitress shortly after the film’s release, and then the moderator says she now does voice work, but Fairfax’s last credit was in 1991, as a doctor in a non-animated series, so if that’s true it must not be particularly notable work – is she merely in a walla group or something?

It’s one of the few points of interest on the commentary, which is even drier than the film itself. Walker’s memory isn’t the best; he often just repeats whatever the moderator is saying, and the moderator is much like Greg Mank on those Cat People discs in that he enjoys pointing out other roles of the performers as if we couldn’t just look at the IMDb ourselves. Die-hard fans of the film may be more interested, but I found little use for it (though I was surprised to hear Walker say he didn’t like horror movies – why did he keep making them, then?). The trailer is also included, and it is worth a look since they show pretty much every action moment in the film.

There’s definitely an audience for this slow but quirky cannibal tale, and I might even find myself in it someday – just not today. I do recognize that it’s better than the other Frightmare (which is wholly unrelated), but so are most films.

What say you?


The Child's Eye (2010)

NOVEMBER 22, 2011


There is a baby born with the head of a dog in The Child’s Eye, and yet the title is STILL the most baffling thing about it. I assume this is meant to be a sequel (at least in a spiritual sense, like Halloween III) to the other Eye films, but there is nothing about eyes in the plot, and the only children around don’t really seem to have a point of view about anything, being that they’re half dog. Really weird, and yet (sadly) far more interesting than pretty much anything in the movie itself, which alternates between being deathly dull and presenting largely pointless scare scenes designed around “Comin At Ya!” moments.

Oh, yeah – it was a 3D movie. As far as I can tell they haven’t ported over the 3D version for Blu-ray owners with 3DTVs, so until that day comes we’re all stuck watching a movie that features a dozen pointless shots meant to wow an audience wearing heavy dark glasses. Not only are they laughably pointless, but they’re also extended forever – a guy holds a cleaver “out” for like 10 full seconds before they cut to the next shot/move the movie along. But otherwise I don’t see any reason for this to be in 3D; it’s a very flat, uninteresting movie that takes place primarily in cramped rooms and basements, with actors in closeup or medium shots – there’s not a lot of depth to anything besides the few exterior scenes (a brief riot scene might be fun in the format). In other words, it’s the sort of movie that gives weight to the “3D is pointless” argument, since even the format’s defenders (of which I am one) would probably see little value in this particular presentation.

It doesn’t help that the movie’s mostly a chore to sit through until the final 15 minutes, which I’ll now have to spoil in order to keep the review from being a total slam. Like most of these movies, the climax is flashback heavy, explaining why the ghost is doing what it’s doing, and I must admit that it’s more interesting and tragic than originally depicted. Around the halfway point we get a flashback showing us what happened, but the teller got the story wrong, and we learn that the guy we thought was the vengeful murderer was actually a tragic hero of sorts. I also like that the dog faced thing we’ve been seeing wasn’t just some weird nightmare creation – the humans at the center of the backstory actually gave birth to twins with dog faces. If nothing else, you can’t accuse the movie of not giving us anything new.

But why did they confine it to the final 15 minutes? Until then it’s just the same old shit we’ve seen a million times – our kids see weird things, ghosts stand around near them doing nothing, etc. And we don’t even SEE the ghosts too often – more often than not they are depicted via rattling chairs or ladders (meant to suggest the ghost is sitting there or climbing up/down). You gotta love that they decided to make Hong Kong’s first new 3D film and opted to keep a ghost – who SHOULD be flying in our faces – offscreen and represented by a twitching piece of wood. Worse, the characters have no real stakes in what is going on - they’re mostly just observing the family (two ghosts, two still alive) work their shit out and trying to stay out of the way.

The Pangs also botch things by more or less getting rid of all three male characters at the 30 minute mark, leaving just their three girlfriends to wander around the hotel looking for them (it’s the reason they don’t just leave, I guess). The first 20 minutes or so leaned heavily on the impending breakup between two of them, but once the guy disappears with the others, this subplot becomes entirely worthless until the very end. And by keeping the guy out of the movie so long, what should be a somewhat emotional reunion (plus a “stay together” message) doesn’t register at all. It would have been far more interesting if they were the only two protagonists – by putting him in the same boat as his anonymous friends (and having his girlfriend joined by equally anonymous friends in her “search”), they lose focus of the potentially tragic romance angle. Worse, they kill some of the goodwill that the ending had earned for the film by presenting a pointless epilogue where the two talk about how they stuck together after all. It’s amazing that the guys who managed to such a great job with this sort of “horror and people regretting their actions” mix in The Eye 2 and Re-Cycle can botch something so universally identifiable as the breakup of a long-term relationship.

I don’t know if the dialogue is their fault though. For a change, the subtitles matched the dub language perfectly, but I suspect that the dub is just as dumbed down (perhaps actually dubbed based on the subtitle track). The dubbing actors speak very awkwardly, as they are likely trying to match up with the lips of the original actor, but since the subs are just as awkward, you might as well just use the dub track and thus be able to focus on the image. I’d even argue that the strange line-readings made the movie more tolerable; surely hearing the Cantonese language wouldn’t be as entertaining as hearing someone say “half child half dog monster” in a flat manner (no pause between “child” and the second “half”).

Along with a bunch of trailers (including one for Lionsgate’s nearly four year old Eye remake – give it up!), there’s a 25+ minute set of interviews with most of the cast, the Pangs, and an FX guy, often accompanied with behind the scenes footage. It’s not very well edited (one actress talks about how they were able to watch 3D footage right there on set with the glasses over footage where no one is actually doing that), but it’s good enough for this sort of thing, especially if you’re a 3D nut since they talk about the problems that a production must overcome when working with the format.

Oddly there is another “sequel” called Missing that follows the original concept of someone seeing things that happened when they were not present, so this would be the 5th Eye if it even counts as part of the series. Either way, it just adds to my suspicion that the Pangs, despite a few quite good films, are not the masters of the genre I originally though. At this point I’ve disliked more than I’ve liked, I think. Christ, they even made me hate a Nic Cage movie (Bangkok Dangerous), something that almost never happens. With all the junk he makes, I’m usually at least entertained on some level, but Bangkok was almost a walk-out movie for me. Anyone who can make me consider walking out on Cage is not to be trusted.

What say you?


Shark Zone (2003)

NOVEMBER 21, 2011


Last night I was able to see Jaws in 35mm for the first time in years, thanks to the New Beverly, and it reminded me of why I wish more shark movies were actually good. I’ve seen Jaws a dozen times or so, and everything about it is just so damn perfect, it actually bums me out that so few others manage to rise above “so bad it’s good” fare. I mean, Halloween is a perfect slasher, but it’s not the ONLY good slasher movie, you know? Sadly, Shark Zone manages to be worse than the “true” Shark Attack sequels (it’s listed as a sequel, just not titled Shark Attack 4 for whatever reason), as it retains the incompetence but ditches the batshit silliness of the previous film.

At times it seems director Danny Lerner is actually going out of his way to make himself look bad – how else can you explain the fact that the treasure that is being discussed in the opening scene (in the Atlantic Ocean) ends up off the coast of San Francisco, which apparently has a nude beach now? Or that he not only recycles footage from the other Shark Attack movies and some documentaries, but Shark Zone itself? Nearly every attack shot is used twice, sometimes even in the same scene. If you mute the sound you’d probably be convinced the movie was skipping.

It also recycles Shark Attack 2’s hilarious dismissal of how vocal chords work. Once again the sharks roar underwater, and once again we have scenes where people carry on normal conversations despite the fact that they all have breathing apparatuses in their throats. But I started thinking – maybe they’re all communicating telepathically and we’re just HEARING what they’re saying, like in Breaking Dawn’s amazing wolf pack “council meeting”? Sadly, this theory had to be abandoned when a woman managed to scream when the roaring shark bit her, mouth not moving at all and apparatus still firmly in place. No one screams telepathically!

Lerner also fails to keep any momentum going in his film (which he wrote with another guy who doesn’t have a single other IMDb credit to his name). A good chunk of the final reel takes place in a major city as some goons kidnap our hero’s kid in order to force him into helping them locate the aforementioned treasure, which is being “guarded” by the sharks (a plot point mentioned in the Netflix description despite not coming into play until the 3rd act). There’s also some hilarious inconsistency with regards to how our characters treat one another, especially the hero and the mayor, who butt heads in one scene but talk like equals in the next, and on more than one occasion!

Speaking of the mayor, this movie wins the no-prize for the all-time dumbest “close the beaches” sequence. Having just watched Jaws again, you see how perfectly simple the whole thing was – the mayor made his case, and Brody – the new chief who the town already looked at as an outsider – begrudgingly went along with it. But when tragedy struck again in front of all of those important tourists, the mayor saw the error of his ways and did the right thing. Here, the sharks attack the beach in full force, killing what seems like a dozen people (the poorly matched stock footage and recycled shots make the attack scenes more than slightly confusing), and THEN the mayor does the whole “this town’s livelihood depends on those tourist dollars!” speech. You mean the tourists that just got eaten? Who the fuck is going to want to come to the beach now anyway? You won’t even have to go through the formality of closing it if these folks had any sense in their heads.

I also realized halfway through that Lerner would essentially remake this movie with Sharks In Venice, which also seemed more interested in treasure hunts and 80s style all-purpose “foreign” bad guys than sharks. It even had the same “dead father” back-story for the hero. But at least that one had a cool shooutout and some nice Venice imagery. This has… uh… well, there’s a nightmare scene early on that’s pretty great, I’ll give them that one But when your best scene is A. a dream and B. in the first 15 minutes, the movie has problems.

In other words, they were right to change the title, because this doesn’t live up to the high standards of total lunacy of the “true” Shark Attack sequels. And no, I still haven’t seen the original movie, but that’s OK – I saw Jaws 4 before I saw Jaws, after all. And Lerner didn’t have anything to do with that one (only his father, Avi), so maybe there’s a chance it will at least be somewhat competent. Until then…. “Show me the way to go home…..”

What say you?


Mask Maker (2010)

NOVEMBER 20, 2011


Much like last week’s Forget Me Not, Mask Maker (formerly the much better Maskerade) is a surprisingly competent “real” indie movie tossed in the streaming section with the sort of productions that make you wonder if Best Buy should require a permit before you buy a video camera. It’s not as clever or interesting as Forget (which a lot of you are checking out and enjoying – sweet!), but it’s an above average modern slasher that does more right than wrong.

First of all – I liked the group of “kids”! They’re a bit older than usual (they’re in grad school, I think?), but they still act like every other slasher teen victim ever: they go off to the house, horse around, drink n’ fuck, etc. But they’re actually likable and well-rounded for slasher folk; I legit felt a bit sad for a few of the deaths, and even the most annoying of the group (who dies first) would be the only bright spot of something like Dark Ride or whatever. Some of their dialogue is cringe-worthy, however, and I think the script (credited to THREE different people – why?) sometimes tries a bit too hard to make them feel like real people with their playful jabs at each other and in-jokes – it comes across as forced on more than one occasion, and given that it takes a while to get to the killings, this might be a bit too much for a modern audience who are accustomed to folks being killed off starting at the end of the first reel.

And that’s the sort of balancing act that can be really tough for someone making a slasher movie; you want the audience to like the kids, and thus you need time to develop them into real people, which means you can’t kill them off right away. Start the killing too soon, and the audience loses interest after a while, because there’s no reason to care about anything that’s happening. Director GE Furst almost found the right balance here; much like House Of The Devil, he just went a bit too long in the “character” part of the film; take five minutes out of this stuff and apply it to the kill-a-thon, and your movie is twice as good. There ARE a couple of one-off kills in this first part (in flashbacks, plus a very awkward electrician early on), but it’s past the 45 minute mark by the time they off one of the core group – somewhere between 35-40 would have been more suitable, especially since they had already done a pretty good job of giving them some depth and earning our sympathies.

But I don’t need to point this out to Furst and his writers, because they clearly know their slashers. The climax simultaneously borrows from Friday the 13th Part 2 and Final Chapter (plus involves actor Terry Kiser, from New Blood), the title refers to our hulking killer’s penchant for wearing his victim’s faces much like in the Chainsaw remake (his house looks a bit like the one in that film too, actually), and the tragic back-story recalls Hatchet, Madman, and other flashback driven slashers that offer up a little more than the usual “guy in a mask kills people” movie. Furst also has his killer stand around in the background watching his intended victims, not unlike a certain Mr. Myers. Hell I think I even caught a minor homage to 2005’s Venom, of all things.

I’m not dismissing the movie for that; if anything it added to my enjoyment. Even if it shows a bit of a lack of originality, I’m always comforted knowing that the people who have made the movie at least have SOME appreciation for the genre. Sometimes I’m convinced the guys behind things like The Woods actively hate slasher movies, or simply never saw one, and just assume that they can do one anyway. And again, it’s shot incredibly well, which is all the more surprising considering Furst’s background in Asylum productions like I Am Omega (he also helmed Lake Placid 3, which was a vast improvement on its predecessor). Thus, I think this guy might deserve a shot at a real production. He clearly knows how to put a movie together, and make even the most generic stories entertaining – imagine what he might be able to pull off with some dough and a good script.

One thing bugged me though (spoiler ahead!!) – our final girl bites it in the end. Now when it’s one of those Wrong Turn style movies, I think that everyone SHOULD die – the killer has been doing this forever and thus shouldn’t be taken down by some random girl. But here, Mask Maker has been incapacitated for decades and only starts killing because some curse has been lifted – he should be rusty, if anything. So at the end the curse puts him out of commission again, but a dumb cop removes it, and then he goes after and kills the girl who has already started making her way back home. While it’s a nice shock and all, I think for this sort of slasher it doesn’t do anyone any good to kill her off – she’s already been through enough. The curse being lifted again was enough to end the movie on a down/“there will be a sequel” note – killing the girl off on top of it wasn’t necessary, especially when the killer had to go out of his way to do it (when he had no specific beef with her to boot). I know I usually champion grim endings, but I definitely could have done without it here.

But it gets the job done. The backstory is fleshed out enough to be cool without being complicated, and without TOO much exposition – it’s not like Hatchet II where Tony Todd talks for what seems like four hours. And Treat Williams pops up in the flashback scenes as a key player in the killer’s origin, which is a nice surprise (you thought I’d say “treat”, didn’t you?), since he’s not the type of guy you see too often in horror movies. One guy that you DO see a lot is Michael Berryman, who also makes a brief appearance, thankfully as a non-villain. He plays a cryptic local who dishes out minor clues to heroine Nikki Deloach, who is quite easy on the eyes but also believable when it comes to the action stuff. Some of the performances are forgettable, but overall the quality of the cast matches the direction, in that it proves that a little bit of effort goes a long way. It’s not going to end up on my top 10 of the year list or anything, but when someone asks me to recommend them a new slasher on Instant, it will certainly come to mind. Bring on the sequel!

What say you?


Brainscan (1994)

NOVEMBER 19, 2011


Someone on Twitter was amused that I referred to "14 year old BC" as if he was a different person, but in many ways "he" is. Not only have my sensibilities changed, but my entire life is different. Case in point: I couldn't convince my mom to drive me to the theater to see In The Mouth of Madness when it came out in theaters, and thus the first time I got to see it in 35mm is when I hosted a screening with the film's producer (Sandy King, who came again for last night's Vampires - thanks to everyone who attended!). Thus, when I revisit movies I didn't like as a kid, I often find myself appreciating them more, because not only is my life completely different and my tastes have vastly changed/"matured", but I'm also looking at them from the perspective of someone who at least knows WHY a movie can turn out bad. However, Brainscan is not one of those movies.

It was rare I didn't like a horror movie at that age, especially one with a kid roughly my age as the hero. But I watched Brainscan once or twice when it hit VHS and it just didn't work for me; only Edward Furlong's phone calling robot and impressive collection of Fangorias made any sort of impact. Of course, that was over 15 years ago and I can barely remember what happened to me last week, so apart from the aforementioned phone calling robot ("Igor, dial 555-FEAR." "YESSSS Masssterrrr!") I couldn't remember anything about the movie, and thus figured it was time to give it another look. After all, the writer of Se7en (Andrew Kevin Walker) and the director of Out For Justice and Rolling Thunder (the late John Flynn) surely created something that 14 year old me just wasn't able to appreciate yet, right?

Nope. The movie just doesn't work for me, and I'm not gonna try again when I'm 50. The main problem I have with it is that almost nothing happens on-screen, and what little that does takes place in a small radius around Furlong's house (which is one of those anonymous upper-middle class neighborhoods you've seen in a million Canada-shot horror movies - i.e. boring). There are four discs to the game, and each time Furlong puts one in it plays out in one of two ways: we watch him creep around his neighborhood until the game snaps him out of it, or they just skip the sequence entirely. Either way, only one of his alleged killings occur on-screen, which is a slap in the face to the movie's R rating. In fact I wonder why they bothered - with the teen hero and emphasis on his crush on the girl next door, this probably should have been a PG-13 movie without any strong violence. At least then there'd be an excuse for not having any action.

Plus (spoiler) it's all a dream, making the lack of action even MORE obnoxious. If you're building toward a "but none of it happened anyway so it's OK!" ending, why not go all out? Have Furlong kill the ever loving shit out of the entire supporting cast! Maybe they assumed people would hate the ending anyway so why rub salt in the wound by showing them cool stuff that didn't happen? I guess it makes some sense; I get a lot more annoyed waking up from a "I won the lottery" dream than a "I went to work and for some reason my friend Chris from grade school was now my boss" one.

They also don't seem to understand how games work, which is a problem for a movie built around a video game. Furlong gets the "interactive CD-ROM!" (that's another thing, it's woefully dated) in the mail and pops it in his computer, and somehow this allows him to be sort of electrocuted as well as hypnotized. So this stuff already existed in his computer, I guess? You can put whatever you want on a CD-ROM, but a PC would have to have those capabilities to begin with in order to work. Nitpicky, sure - but when you're trying to tap into the gamer market, wouldn't it be wise to at least TRY to make your concept plausible in even the slightest way? Hell even Nightmares did a better job at this sort of thing.

Then there's The Trickster, who is quite possibly the lamest attempt at a horror icon ever conceived. For starters, he doesn't DO anything; just talks to Furlong in a mocking tone and occasionally eats his food. I guess they were going for a Freddy style wisecracker, not really taking into consideration that by 1994 the horror fans had realized that "funny" Freddy wasn't so funny, and at least he had a couple of legitimately scary movies in his history to buy him some goodwill. What the hell did the Trickster ever do for us? Nothing. He LOOKS cool, I'll give him that, but without a single good moment (no, sucking Furlong through his mouth with the cutting edge CGI of 1994 does not count), he might as well just be some random weirdo on the cover of a cheesy metal album.

Another nitpick - too many moments that make no sense in the context of the fact that the entire thing is Furlong's dream. At one point he goes downstairs to talk to the police, and we stay with Trickster, who turns on Three Stooges and makes himself comfortable. That alone was a bit of a stretch, but then after the cops leave, rather than stay with Furlong (inside), we stick with the cops as they go outside and discuss things that Eddie would have no way of knowing, plus a cute little argument about who should drive. As I was saying yesterday, a good twist only works if you can go back and feel silly for not catching it - these sort of scenes have no business in a narrative that should be entirely from one person's POV in order to make sense. To put it bluntly: it's a cheat.

I'm truly baffled what Flynn saw in this thing. Walker's resume is consistently spotty, and everyone's gotta start somewhere anyway (this was his first feature credit), but what's Flynn's excuse? His previous feature was Out For Justice, which was one of Seagal's bigger hits (and it was fucking AWESOME), but from there he did a couple of TV movies and then this, something that should have been given to some hack or even a newcomer. This was before it became fashionable to hire video directors to make this sort of stuff; I can't help but wonder if a young guy with a lot to prove would have at least made this more visually interesting than Flynn, who I guess was just cashing checks at this point.

Speaking of music videos, I did chuckle at the fact that everyone had an Aerosmith "Get A Grip" poster in their room; Furlong was the star of one of the videos ("Living On The Edge") from that album, and then their video for "Amazing" dealt with similarly ignorant "this is what technology can do in the near future!" ideas. Also a year later would produce the first Michael Bay film, who is the most commercially successful music video director to break into film, with future Walker collaborator David Fincher probably being the most acclaimed. And hey, they both have directed Aerosmith videos! I don't really have a point here, just reproducing my train of thought while watching the movie, since nothing on-screen was doing its job of keeping me focused. The soundtrack was also occasionally worth acknowledging, full of era-centric alternative acts like Mudhoney, Primus, and Butthole Surfers, in addition to George S. Clinton's cool but repetitive main theme, which plays roughly every 23 seconds over the 95 minute film.

Oh well. As an example of what 90s teen horror was like before Scream, I guess it's worth putting on in the background and glancing at every now and then while you catch up on your Farmville or something, but overall it's just too dull and silly to maintain my interest. So the audiences that ignored it in 1994 (it only grossed 4 million bucks) were right to do so; this isn't some lost gem or "before its time" movie that should be rediscovered. Rest assured, I will NOT be hosting a midnight screening of this one at the New Beverly.

What say you?


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget