Don't Go In The House (1979)

OCTOBER 31, 2012


While you can get nitpicky with the exact order, the OVERALL scheduling of the Video Nasties midnight series at the Cinefamily this month was intended to be a gradual decline into true depravity. Thus, the first week would be the tamer efforts, while the final selections would be the ones that truly deserved the scorn of censors, which is why I Spit On Your Grave was given the next to last slot (with Cannibal Holocaust taking the coveted "Nastiest" title). However, some unknown issue (print availability, I assume) forced them to swap out Grave with Don't Go In The House, and I pity the person who sat down assuming it was equally depraved.

Really, if you take out the infamous blowtorch scene (the movie's original title was The Burning; thanks Cropsey!), it's hard to imagine a censor batting an eye at the rest of the movie even back in 1979, let alone today (whereas Cannibal Holocaust largely remains a "How did this even get MADE?" affair). Indeed, this scene is pretty hard to watch - the FX are solid, and even if it was clearly a Barbie doll in closeup or something, there's no way that a chained up and naked woman being immolated with a blowtorch doesn't make you feel a bit dirty for watching it.

But that's only a half hour or so into the movie, and it's also the only, er, "nasty" bit. The rest is a pretty tame Psycho wannabe (making this big/only shock's placement, roughly at the end of the first act, just another influence from Hitchcock's film), with our "hero" Donny going about his day and occasionally trying to pick up women to bring home to kill. He fails as often as he succeeds, and at least one other kill isn't even on-screen. Please note - I'm not pointing this out to complain, merely to stress, again, that the British censors were insane to outright ban some of these movies.

Thus, because of this one 30 second scene, British audiences were robbed of an imperfect but peculiar psycho killer movie in the vein of (fellow Nasties) Maniac or Driller Killer. Dan Grimaldi gives a solid performance as Donny; he's got a bit of a Dustin Hoffman demeanor to him, and is on-screen for pretty much every second of the movie, so if he was a shit actor the movie would be unbearable (or hilarious). He doesn't talk much though. Unlike Norman Bates, who would get pretty chatty at times, Donny keeps pretty quiet; he offers quick responses to those who talk to him and you can practically see him wince whenever he has to talk first, like in the scene where he goes to buy a new outfit in order to go to a disco with his pal. Having no idea how to clothes shop, he waits until someone leaves and then asks the clerk to look at the same thing they were! It's pretty awesome.

Speaking of his pal, this guy is somehow scarier than the murderous Donny. Despite the fact that Donny is a standoffish weirdo (we meet him as he watches/doesn't help a coworker that is burning alive due to an incinerator mishap), the guy forces himself into Donny's life, calling him all the time, encouraging him to go have beers with him or maybe just come over to talk. At first I thought perhaps the guy was gay and interested in him, but the whole disco thing comes about because he wants to meet up with some girls (without his wife knowing). And after something ugly happens there, he tracks down Father Gerritty, Donny's priest, and begs him to help him find Donny before it's too late. All of this for a guy he saw at work sometimes? Whenever I see someone from work out in public, it takes me a few moments to even recognize them. I sure as hell wouldn't look for their priests.

Another interesting thing about the movie is the New Jersey setting. You'd think there would be a lot of horror movies filmed there, given its proximity to (presumably more expensive) New York and variety of locations (woods, beaches, small towns, cities) in a relatively small area, but then and now it's actually pretty rare to see one. Donny's house in particular looks like a great horror movie house - it's almost a shame that they don't set most/all of the movie there, as it sort of resembled the Spider Baby mansion.

I also wish the movie wasn't so repetitive. We get a number of flashbacks to the mother abusing him (with fire, of course); they're all pretty much the same and don't tell us anything new. And the girls all blend together, which I'm sure is part of the point, but doesn't help make the movie any more exciting when the climax revolves around whether or not he'll kill a girl who we just met five minutes ago. Psycho's switch of focus worked because Norman was sympathetic (and we didn't know he was also the killer, just covering it up), but here only a sociopath would root for Donny to get away. It gives the movie a sort of matter-of-fact feel, and the goofy epilogue does it no favors as it practically suggests that there's a supernatural element at play. I'd say cut it, but if you took that and the repeated flashbacks out, the movie would only be like 60 minutes long.

If you're a fan of Psycho ripoffs, you can certainly do worse. The title makes no sense and it can be a bit too slow for its own good, but a solid performance and above average filmmaking are enough to make it worth your while. AND it has some awesome disco tunes, so there's something.

What say you?


The Tingler (1959)

OCTOBER 30, 2012


I gave up on Jaws 3-D, I to this day haven't seen Rocky Horror in a theater, but I put my foot down and REFUSED to ever see William Castle's The Tingler until I could do so in Percepto - aka the gimmick where joy buzzers were placed in certain seats and went off at a few key moments in the film, adding to the fun. The Cinefamily has done it a couple times now, but this was the first time I was able to make it, and got there early enough to ensure I had a seat with a buzzer.

And my diligence paid off, as there really is no reason to watch the movie at home without Percepto (or another in-theater gimmick that I won't spoil - somehow I had managed to avoid hearing about it, so maybe you aren't privy either). The plot is ludicrous even by Castle standards, and worse, it's SLOW. It takes almost an hour for the damn thing to make its first appearance, and by design it doesn't DO much, just crawls (reads: is pulled by visible strings) along near people and occasionally attacks by wrapping around their necks, but as soon as they scream it crumples to the floor and goes into a Tingler coma. In fact we never even see what would happen if the Tingler was "attacking" and you failed to scream - would it crawl inside your throat? Kill you by strangulation and then move on? Resuscitate you itself to demonstrate how meaningless it all is?

Or would it just attach itself to the new victim's spine, replacing the old Tingler? In this movie's (admittedly cool) concept, the tingle you feel up your spine when you're scared is actually this parasitic creature waking up (and growing to a size that's a bit too exaggerated, even for this movie), and after hero scientist Vincent Price discovers this, he sets about trying to extract one. After a botched LSD trip, he finds one when the wife of a friend of his dies... because she is mute and thus can't scream. The movie's OTHER idea (which is actually more insane) is that a mute person is unable to relieve their body of the stress caused from getting scared, so when a mute is REALLY scared they simply die. The simplicity of the movie's "rules" is what makes it so silly - obviously neither of these things would have just been noticed after centuries of medical study, so perhaps if they ever remake this one too, they can make it a little more complicated. Maybe a Tingler only appears when you're frightened by seeing your mom strap on a dildo and sodomize your grandfather or something else that's equally rare.

But really it's the slowness that would keep me from ever wanting to watch this as a regular movie. Unlike 13 Ghosts or House On Haunted Hill, the gimmick doesn't enhance the movie, the gimmick IS the movie. Strip out the showmanship and you're left with a slowly paced, nearly zero body count horror movie where the monster moves at a snail's pace and never really does anything. The design of the thing is cool, but the insane size and laughably bad "animation" cancels that out. And the end is abrupt; Price wanders away from a murder, an unexplained supernatural event happens, and then it ends, leaving us wondering if Price's assistant ever returned or at least let out that dog that was in his car (he picks it up on Price's orders, but as he goes to get it out, Price says he doesn't need it anymore, so he walks inside and leaves the dog in his backseat. Never mentioned again).

However, Price still makes it fun to watch, as always. He's not as devilish as he was in his other Castle effort (Haunted Hill), but he's got a similarly love/mostly-hate relationship with his wife, who is stepping out on him ("There's a word for you", she says, after he confronts her about it. "There's several for you," he quickly replies, and the next four lines are drowned out by the audience's cheers). It's a perfect Price role, as it toes the line between hero and villain, but then you add in his perfectly dry delivery and considerable charm, and suddenly it doesn't matter that you're 40 minutes in and the title character has yet to appear. I also like the random way that he met his future accomplice - the guy just wanders into his lab while he's performing an autopsy, claiming that the guy he's working on is his brother-in-law who was sentenced to death for murdering two women. From then on, they are best friends, and since his wife is a mute she never talks about her brother being a killer or if it had anything to do with her being mute.

Another thing I learned last night was that the film actually has a small connection to the Cinefamily. In the 50s it WAS a silent movie theater (like its old namesake suggested; it was only recently renamed to Cinefamily), and apparently William Castle was walking by, bemoaned that it was the last of its kind, and then had the idea of a monster loose inside of a silent movie theater. The silent part of it didn't have a damn thing to do with it, but it's a cool little anecdote all the same, and I'm sure Castle would love the full circle-ness of it, as people like me now bemoan that places like the Cinefamily are among the only ones still showing movies on 35mm (though not exclusively, as the New Beverly is for all intents and purposes*), and also keeping his gimmicks alive. It's a shame we don't have a modern day counterpart; there's 3D (and occasional "4D", where they blow fog and fake snow into the theater), but no one that makes it as specific to the movie as Castle did - Percepto wouldn't have made sense with 13 Ghosts, nor would Illusion-O have any place here. He'd probably weep at people converting random films to 3D just to cash in on a trend.

So if it comes to your town, I can't recommend it enough - it's among the most fun I've had at the theater all month, which is saying a lot since I've gone almost every day to SOMETHING (my friend also scares more easily than I do, so that helped my amusement). Also if you're a Price fan it's another solid, vastly entertaining turn from the man. However as a standalone movie, it's one of Castle's lesser efforts (of the ones I've seen), a bit too slow to get to the fun parts, and so silly that it's hard to even call it a horror movie.

What say you?


Midnight Matinee (1989)

OCTOBER 29, 2012


And lo, my search for the great movie-theater based slasher movie continues. Midnight Matinee (originally simply Matinee, likely changed to avoid confusion with Joe Dante's underrated film) is a pretty dull affair, spending more time on its routine cop/thriller scenes than the slashing. Hell, I'd even be more excited if they just focused on the day to day operation of an independent movie theater, but even that stuff is kept to a minimum.

According to the IMDb (must be true!), the film was actually a made for TV production, but the occasional graphic violence and even an F bomb or two makes me wonder how that can be true. I guess it's possible that it was made for TV here but with theatrical release in mind for other territories, hence the occasional R rated bits, but if that's the case then those poor bastards seeing this thing in theaters (instead of for free on TV) got even more ripped off. Its at least serviceable as a late 80s TV movie; as a theatrical release it would need, oh, 50 or so minutes replaced with something that might be considered "exciting" or "interesting".

I'll give it this much - it certainly doesn't starve for red herrings. The movie takes place over what seems like a week, so they can easily get around the usual slasher whodunit issue of certain people being accounted for during a murder scene - someone will be alone and then killed, and then it will cut to the next morning or so. So there's a shady reporter, the assorted staff members of the theater, the guy behind the movie they're about to premiere, etc, etc. I wouldn't say the reveal was mindblowing, but it certainly wasn't immediately obvious who was behind these very infrequent murders, either.

But then again, that actually adds to the movie's problem - introducing so many people and fleshing them out to be believable suspects takes time away from the killer doing his or her thing. Plus, many of them are still alive by the end, so if one were to plot out a red herring to victim ratio, it would skew heavily towards the former. There's a sweet spot between killing off everyone too soon leaving minimal suspect possibilities and leaving too many alive so that there's an abundance of suspects (My Bloody Valentine and the first Scream are fine examples), but this movie never finds it.

In lieu of action, it does offer a pre-X-Files William B. Davis, as the director of the film "Bad Blood II" (the festival's centerpiece, I guess). He doesn't do much, but it's fun seeing him with darker hair and playing yet another cryptic character. Also, unlike "CGB Spender", he only dies once, rather than dragging on his increasingly pointless storyline until the bitter end. Don S. Davis also pops up as the manager of the theater, doubling the "people who I recognize from other movies/shows" count of this thing.

Other than their brief turns in front of the camera, the only thing that amused me about the movie was all the little nods to other, better horror movies. The opening scene of the movie is a fake clip from the movie they're watching, featuring an homage to Kevin Bacon's murder from Friday the 13th, and another movie later references Nightmare On Elm Street. Then there are some real posters mixed in with the fake ones created for the movies in the movie - I was delighted to see Pin every time Davis is shown at his desk. There's also one that I THOUGHT was fake for a movie called Frankenstein General Hospital, but I found out it exists for real. However, my good friend Phil Blankenship informed me that it's so bad he actually got rid of his copy, and if you know Phil, you'd know that he isn't the type to make a habit out of narrowing down his movie collection. But was it worse than this? Will I ever know???

To the best of my knowledge, the film was never released on DVD in the US. A couple of PAL copies are on Amazon, but even those seem out of print. I'm all for film preservation, so I hope there will always be one copy of the original negative being kept somewhere. Otherwise, there's no need to seek this out - it's slow, it lacks any personality, and it's just another example of how NOT to make a horror movie set around horror movies. We need more to get it right before we bother seeing another one that gets it wrong.

What say you?


Lake Placid: The Final Chapter (2012)

OCTOBER 28, 2012


I'm not exactly sure who the audience is for the Lake Placid movies; they're not very good followups to a not very successful original, and despite their sequel nature, in reality they're just as anonymous as any other Syfy original - is there anyone who will tune in to THIS CGI monster on the loose movie that they're airing when they usually skip them? But then again, this is Lake Placid: The Final Chapter, so perhaps they're planning on calling it a day. Certainly using this particular subtitle has never seemed silly in hindsight.

Oddly, this is the first time they've actually had an actor return. Despite seemingly being killed in Lake Placid 3, Yancy Butler returns as the tough hunter Reba, and takes on a slightly bigger role (if my memory is working, that is) in a story that, for once, acknowledges the crocodile threat that has plagued this Maine town for over a decade. They now have one of those giant Jurassic Park style electric fences that supposedly contain all of the beasts (which can't be killed because of nature and science and blahhh), so I was kind of relieved that they were at least TRYING to reward anyone who has actually watched all of these (*raises hand* - but only for HMAD purposes! I doubt I'd even have bothered with LP2 otherwise, and I certainly wouldn't have continued).

Unfortunately that's pretty much the only difference. Otherwise it's the same old shit, adults trying to capture or kill them for one reason or another, while a group of teens gets trapped in the croc's area and finds themselves being picked off one by one. It's funny how we call a lot of these movies "Jaws ripoffs" but in reality a lot of them crib from Jaws 2, in that they're more like slasher movies with with a monster instead of a guy in a mask. None of the kids are particularly interesting; they're saddled with the usual relationship bullshit (the daughter of our hero - a new character played by Elizabeth Rohm - likes a guy who is sneaking off with one of the other girls when no one's looking) and most of them are played by bland Bulgarian actors, so there's absolutely no need to care about any of these scenes beyond judging the quality of the death scenes.

And since this is a Syfy movie, there's not a lot of "quality" to them at all. Some of the IDEAS are pretty good, like when a girl gets caught in a hunter's trap and the croc jumps up to eat her head as she dangles upside down, but the terrible creature FX and oft-digital blood kills what little merit they had. I mean, I've certainly seen worse, but I'm hard-pressed to think of one really good effect the entire movie, which is sort of counterproductive - shouldn't they at least make a couple for the trailer? Instead, we get things like the opening "chase", where the heroes are driving for the safety of the fence (which has warning signs on the INSIDE! Do the crocs know how to read?) as they're pursued by the biggest of the group. But they shouldn't be so worried, since the damn thing disappears every time director Don Michael Paul (Who's Your Caddy?) cuts to a wide shot of the jeep and what SHOULD be the croc behind them. You know, so we can get a sense of things like scale and distance?

Hell, even Robert Englund seems a bit bored. Like Bill Moseley and Lance Henriksen, he's unfortunately stuck in a lot of movies that don't deserve actors of their caliber, but they all always give 100% regardless, single-handedly making their lesser movies worth a look. But I dunno, maybe it's because his character makes no sense (a hunter who wants to sell croc eggs, and even kidnaps one of the teens to help him at one point), or he just knew it wasn't worth the effort, but it's an uncharacteristically low-key turn from the icon, and (not a surprise at all) his role is much smaller than the TV spots would have you believe. Speaking of which, I couldn't find any of them on Youtube, but someone assembled all the death scenes, which is probably what most folks are only interested in anyway.

Oh, and they set up another sequel that promises more of the same goddamn thing. Yes, Friday had another 6 sequels (plus a remake and a spinoff) after The Final Chapter, and most were nothing new, but at least they TRIED to make us think they'd move on from Jason, with the "Tommy is crazy" ending of that classic (best?) entry in the series. But here, some random jogger gets killed by a crocodile in the closing moments, setting up a 5th movie that will in no way be any different than the others. One of the things that made Lake Placid 3 relatively enjoyable compared to the 2nd one is that they had some new territory, setting the finale in a grocery store and a gas station, but here it's just the woods and the lake (and, again, that old lady's house), with the town scenes kept to a minimum and without any croc action. If they DO make another of these things, can they PLEASE move away from the lake area for at least one act? And don't pull that "It's called LAKE Placid" bullshit, first of all titles mean nothing in horror (what the fuck does ANY Dimension sequel's subtitle mean?), and secondly, the town is called Black Lake anyway - the actual Lake Placid isn't even IN Maine. And like anyone watching these things is going to get picky? Set it on the goddamn moon for all anyone cares.

But then again, it doesn't matter what they do. Unless it's somehow conceived, produced, and released in the next 5 months (when HMAD ends), I'll never see it (well, OK, if they DO go to the moon...). For me, this truly is the Final Chapter. Adieu, mostly lousy series!

What say you?


Silent Hill: Revelation (2012)

OCTOBER 27, 2012


The first Silent Hill was and remains one of the best video game adaptations (not so hard) and one of 2006's stronger horror films (slightly harder, that was a damn good year), but it had a major hurdle: it was damn near impenetrable. I had to give the film a second look to understand it, which is not ideal for what is a rather lowbrow form of entertainment (horror movies based on video games). So it's kind of funny that the late-arriving sequel Silent Hill: Revelation suffers from the opposite problem - it never STOPS explaining things to us.

Seriously, at one point the film has nothing but exposition for what seems like 15 straight minutes, with our now grown hero Alessa (or Heather, now) from the first film listening as her new pal (an AWFUL Kit Harington; stick to being Jon Snow, dude) explains what's going on now, just after she explained what happened in the first film and between, and just before she enters the town and gets another mouthful from Deborah Kara Unger, returning from the original for this one scene. There are other such scenes throughout, to the extent that the movie feels like a Metal Gear game - you "play" for a bit (meaning, Heather will run around, encounter/fight off a monster or two, escape) and then you watch a cutscene of people standing around yammering about the nigh on incomprehensible plot.

I compare to Metal Gear because I've never actually played a Silent Hill game; perhaps they similarly consist of a lot of stop and go. I do know the basic plots of a few, enough to catch a few in-jokes (the movie's final scene has at least two) and recognize the monsters, but not much about each game's detailed story or the gameplay. And for that, I have to give Michael J. Bassett (taking writing and directing duties here) for pulling together a movie that kind of works for everyone - they explain everything about the original for those who haven't seen it, it doesn't seem as murky to non-game players like me, and (I assume) that he's worked to make sure game fans are happy as well, as it would be weird to cater so much to the other two groups while ignoring what would probably be the target audience - game fans who of course HAD seen the first film.

And to the movie's credit, it kind of made me want to run home and play it (I own I think Silent Hill 2 or 3? The latter part of one of my many "buy two get one free" endeavors), but of course me being me I went from the theater to see another movie (Alex Cross, a tedious "thriller" boosted by Tyler Perry's alien screen presence). There's definitely a great concept in there, and unlike its closest rival Resident Evil, it seems like each game tells a stand-alone story that enhances the overall mythology of the town itself, rather than bring back the same protagonists (and villain) and just ship them off to new locales every time. In fact, you'd think that would be the ideal property for a movie series, as they wouldn't be as beholden to the previous film's cast and storyline, and can merely work in background information to enrich the experience for fans while not alienating the newcomers. So it's odd that it has taken six years to get this sequel off the ground (the original was a hit), but even odder that they actually brought back its characters.

I do wish they had introduced some new monsters, however. Almost all of the things we see here - Pyramid Head, the "nurses" that move when they hear sound, and the generic mutated freak things - were in the first movie, and I have to assume that the eight or nine games have created more baddies than that. Unless I'm mistaken, the only new one is a creepy mannequin-spider thing that is unfortunately also the only all CGI creation, lessening its impact. Thus the scares get a bit familiar, since we've seen a number of them already in the first movie - except now they're in 3D! It's kind of fascinating, the first film often resembled a 3D movie being watched in 2D, as Christophe Gans frequently framed his shots with a lot of depth and things in the foreground sticking out (there are even a couple of "comin at ya!" shots). So now, in ACTUAL 3D, when Pyramid Head sticks his axe in our face, it should be a really cool moment, but I was just reminded of when he did it in the first film. However, the overall effect is quite good - even with the abundance of chatter, the nonstop ash "snow" and moving about from one decrepit location to another keeps you from feeling like you could just take the glasses off.

As for the rest of the cast, eh. Sean Bean is solid as always, but his role is limited. Ditto for Martin Donovan as a PI who may or may not be on their side, and Radha Mitchell's role shouldn't even have been credited since it amounts to a single SHOT. Adelaide Clemens as Heather is in pretty much every frame of the movie, and if you can get past her resemblance to Michelle Williams (except when she's angry, then she turns into Jennifer Lawrence), she's quite personable and fun to watch - a great horror heroine in that you root for her but get the impression that she can take care of herself. But while it's a relief when Harington gets captured and is thus off-screen for a while, I do wish there was someone else to go on the journey with her for an extended period, as the movie feels a bit like "The Odyssey" (not an intentional way, I don't think) where she meets someone, has a conversation/fight, and then they're never seen again. I don't think any of the names in the cast save Bean have more than 1-2 (brief) scenes, so there's a slight lack of tension in the earlier scenes in the town - you know she's going to be fine until the ending, and no one else is around to get attached to. The first film had the great duo of Mitchell and Laurie Holden, and you got to care about them both and thus be upset when Holden was murdered - this movie lacks that.

But as a (at times literal) "carnival haunted house" type horror movie, it works. Sure, the original is better, and I suspect the six year wait is more problematic than any of the actual film's issues, but I was never bored, the emphasis on practical FX was admirable, Clemens was engaging, and the script did a decent job of completing not only the first film's story but also this new one. It could have used another protagonist, and I'd gladly swap out one of its exposition scenes for another set-piece, but all things considered (including the horrible word of mouth from friends), it could have been a lot worse. In short: it was fine.

What say you?


Nightmare (1981)

OCTOBER 26, 2012


It's always a shame when a bit of notoriety is the only thing people really remember about a particular movie. More than once I've heard the story about how Tom Savini was originally credited as the makeup man behind Nightmare (aka Nightmares in a Damaged Brain - the UK title that will likely appear on a Video Nasties list), but sued to have his name removed and refuses to talk about the film in interviews. But rarely have I heard anything about the movie itself, so I was happy to see it on 35mm as part of the Nasties series.

Even better, it's probably my favorite of the new ones I've seen thanks to Phil's nightly program, or at least tied with Night Warning. It's a bit slow at times, but it's an interesting blend of slasher and serial killer film, filtered with a touch of the usual Italian silliness of the period - when a kid comes home from school sulking because the other kids at school picked on him re: his brother being a potential murderer, you know you're watching an Italian production. I also loved the random bit where his stepfather randomly explains the plot of Blow Up, and when their angry mother instructs them to get into the living room and watch TV, in the same manner and tone of voice a mother would usually say to turn OFF the TV and go to bed early as a punishment. I'd say every 10 minutes or so produced another such moment that seemed to be written by someone who had never actually spoken to a human being before, so it was quite enjoyable.

The killer plot was a bit lax, however. Most of the action in the film comes courtesy of a flashback scene of a young man chopping off a woman's head when he catches her having rough sex with his father. We see this part of it a few times, but it's not until the end of the movie that we get the complete story, i.e. what he does AFTER dispatching this woman (a prostitute, I think), and he doesn't kill too many in the present day either. However, the "Nasty" label is appropriate; not only are the gore scenes elaborate (if a bit fake looking - there's photographic proof that Savini was at least on set, but these are in no way his FX), but there's a touch of sleaze as well - kids covered in blood, a guy going to a strip show booth and freaking out, etc. It's not really SLEAZY, like Maniac, but it's got a whiff of it, if that makes any sense. Like a contact high, but for being exploitative.

It works, though. There's a touch of psychological horror too - the film begins with our murderer having nightmares, and one of his doctors asks about dreams and whether he sees himself in the dream as another character. And given the flashback structure and a key bit of info that they try to make into a twist (doesn't work, though the way it's "revealed" is pretty hilarious), I actually started wondering if the entire movie was a dream, and that the adult killer we were seeing was actually a kid the entire time (like, he was dreaming about his past but putting his present day form into the story). Luckily, it wasn't that convoluted - the nightmare stuff is pretty straightforward. Dude has nightmares about the time he killed his dad's hooker, got it.

However, this stuff DOES give the movie an excuse to pad itself a bit with a few scenes of his shrink and a cop trying to figure out where he's going after he got out of the hospital. The cop in particular is a delight, he has this really whiny voice (it sounded like a guy doing a Richard Drefuss impression) and a computer that is incredibly advanced for 1981. At one point he finds out about a stolen car in South Carolina that is also the site of a possible homicide, and rather than consult the file or even click "more info" or something, he types in "WHY POSSIBLE HOMICIDE?" and the computer explains it to him! He also uses it to project where the guy is going (and it's right), so it's a wonder he didn't just put legs on the damn thing and let it go out and find the guy itself.

And there's a legit great slasher finale, with the guy donning a creepy old man mask (he's unmasked through most of the film) and stalking the kids' babysitter and boyfriend before turning his attention to the children, one of whom finds a gun. He then displays a Myers-esque resistance to gunshots, which allows for a good "he's not dead yet!" moment as well as the kid realizing perhaps he needs a bigger gun. For a movie that was kind of slow up until the final reel, writer/director Romano Scavolini sure knows how to reward our patience - Mr West, please take note. I do wish the silly cop got involved a bit more, but if he did he'd probably get killed, so I can take comfort knowing he's still out there, using his amazing computer and shrieking like a 5 year old about minor inconveniences...

Speaking of outbursts, I feel I should congratulate Phil Blankenship and the Cinefamily for seemingly reversing their ways with regards to audience management. I've barely gone to the Cinefamily for years because I can't stand the crowds there, who MST3k every movie (even Robocop was heckled!) and use their cell phones without anyone from the theater keeping them in line so they don't ruin the experience for everyone else. But Phil was quite diligent, giving a guy a warning and then having him come outside for a full explanation of why he shouldn't be a dickhead (not common sense to some, unfortunately). Dude seemed a bit "off", so maybe there was more to it than the simple (ill-conceived) wish to draw attention to himself, but either way I'm happy to see that ANY disturbance is being dealt with. I dig the programming there, but I don't care if they're showing London After Midnight - I can't bring myself to go if I think I'm going to be constantly annoyed by a heckler or cell phone obsessive. If things are turning around (not sure how it works when Phil ISN'T there), I'll be happy to add them back into my "rotation". MOVIES!

What say you?


247°F (2011)

OCTOBER 25, 2012


After Frozen came out and got some great reviews (which would have translated into biggish box office if Anchor Bay put it out on more than a few dozen screens), we started seeing a few survival movies pop up or at least get announced (including one in a ski LODGE that was buried by an avalanche). But 247°F is the first where it literally seems like someone just watched Frozen and said "OK, let's do that, but with HEAT", and thus came up with a similar premise: three people are trapped and slowly dying to extreme temperature. Except in this case it's a sauna, so we get more skin and fewer wolves.

The title refers to the temperature where the skin would actually start to melt (SPOILER) but sadly we never actually see that happen. That's just what they're trying to prevent, and while it takes a bit longer to get them locked into the sauna than it did for the kids in Frozen to be stuck (at least, it seems like it), the rest of the movie is more or less about the various options that they have, weighing the pros and cons of executing them, etc. For example, there's a thermometer in the room, which is connected to the heating control on the other side of the door (who designed that?) - if they destroy it, it might shut the heater off entirely, OR it might make it burn even harder. Later, they smash the tiny window on the door to let some cool air in, but the drawback is that the thermometer will register that cold air and turn the heat up to compensate. It's an interesting mix of push and pull (unlike Frozen's more or less one-way-out options, like jumping off the chair), and I like that the blond dude (Friday the 13th remake's Travis Van Winkle) was actually quite intelligent and logical, always explaining the risks and rewards of whatever they may try, as well as being the one that came up with the best ideas. In fact it's not until later in the movie where the characters start to behave in ways that might look "stupid" to an audience, but as with any of these, I ask you - what did YOU do when you were stuck in a room at 200 degree temperatures without much water or any supplies?

I also liked the directorial choice to not show us what exactly was blocking the door, only giving us the same sort of glimpse that the characters were given (through the broken window, which is smaller than even a head could fit through). Unfortunately, it's actually serving an attempt at suspense that never quite works. See, one character goes outside of the sauna, and we hear a commotion, and then the door is blocked. We then see the guy who owns the place (Tyler Mane) carrying a shovel and a covered wheelbarrow, so the idea is that we're supposed to think he killed the other guy and locked them in - and since Mane IS "Michael Myers" to audiences, it should all work like gangbusters, right?

Well, no. Here's the thing - movies are a visual medium, and if you're not showing us something huge, it's obviously because there's some sort of trickery at play. It MIGHT have worked if they never left the room, but all the repeated cutaways to Mane "doing SOMETHING" gives it away - it's specifically trying to make us think he did something that he didn't, which means he didn't or else they would have shown it. Thus, the ruse never works even for a second, and then the tension and suspense about their fate(s) is heavily deflated in the final 10 minutes, as things in the sauna are more or less settled and we merely watch a bunch of flashbacks explaining how the door got jammed (it's everyone's fault!), where the other friend was the entire time, etc. Maybe as a novel this concept could be pulled off, but in a feature film, anyone with even the slightest understanding of how movies work will be able to see right through it.

See, Frozen worked BECAUSE they didn't try to make us think anything more sinister was at play. We saw how they got stuck right away, and apart from the wolves there was no "antagonist". So the time was spent enriching the characters, drawing out their various attempts to get off the chair, etc - in other words, it was focused on the situation, as opposed to this, which pads itself out with a bunch of extraneous, go nowhere scenes that are designed purely to trick the audience (and, again, they don't work). Thus, the urgency of the situation itself is deflated a bit - every time it starts to really get moving, they cut to Mane and his shovel, or his dog barking or something. The movie is about them being trapped in a sauna, so the dog sure as hell isn't going to get them out of there at the 50 minute mark.

In fact, it's at its most tense right after they first get stuck. Winkle tries opening the door while Compton yells at him, panicking as she is recently claustrophobic (due to a car crash) - as a viewer, I actually felt the frustration and wanted to scream and kick at the nearest object myself. The color timing also helps sell the danger, slowly turning redder/more orange as the heat increases and they start to slow boil, so it's a bummer that one of their plans - shorting out one of the lights in hopes that they're on the same circuit as the heating control - leaves them in near total darkness. I don't know about you, but I associate darkness with being cold, so for the film's final 20 minutes or so, I had a tough time remembering that they were in danger of melting.

Writer/director Levan Bakhia offers a pretty thorough commentary, wisely not spending too much time on boring production stories (i.e. "It rained on this day..." type stuff) but elaborating on certain character decisions that may not have translated on-screen as well as planned (another reason why this might be a better piece of written work). For example, Winkle does something even though he knows it won't help in the long run, but it would help him and the others on a psychological level - on-screen it might just look like he wasn't thinking clearly. He also praises the cast, talks about shooting in Georgia (the country), etc. It can dip into narrative mode at times ("So now he is walking outside..."), and he strangely exits as soon as the film cuts to end credits without even saying goodbye, but it's worth a listen simply because it's the rare commentary where the filmmaker focuses more on his job as screenwriter than as director. A few deleted scenes, all of which occur before they are trapped, are also included; nothing special though there is a pretty funny bit where Mane's character accidentally startles Scout, followed by a pronounced "I didn't mean to SCARE you...". It's the rare in-joke that I actually found amusing, and I wouldn't have minded if it was left in the film. On that note, it was great to see Mane as a nice guy; he's actually got a charming screen presence, but his giant-ness (he's 6'9!) unfortunately means he's often cast as "the heavy".

It's a shame the filmmakers didn't trust in their basic scenario and felt the need to try to trick audiences into thinking they were watching a slasher or something; these movies work best when they play up the very real threat of a natural cause of death - everyone in the audience can probably identify with being stuck somewhere dangerous (albeit temporarily), but few have probably dealt with a serial killer. Using that wasted time on rounding out their characters a bit (we never learn much about the other girl) and/or elevating the threat they face (running out of water, hallucinated reasons to start fearing one another, etc) would have made this a terrific little thriller, rather than a merely serviceable one. You'd think that the "stuck in a sauna" concept would be this movie's problem, but that part was fine - it was everything else they botched.

What say you?


Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994)

OCTOBER 24, 2012


Usually it takes quite a few sequels for a horror franchise to start ignoring its own rules and basic concept, so kudos (?) to the screenwriters of Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings for messing up the original's ideas as soon as humanly possible. In some ways it almost feels like a remake - the basic plot is the same, but the specifics are all different, as if the film was written by someone who only read a poorly written summary of the first movie and figured they got the gist.

The biggest difference is that Pumpkinhead isn't summoned specifically for revenge. Some asshole kids are screwing around with black magic and somehow resurrect Tommy, a deformed boy who was murdered by local pricks 35 years prior. So Tommy, who was Pumpkinhead's son (huh?) takes the form of the demon and goes about murdering everyone who was responsible for his death. What was a fine, intriguing take on the old "A man seeking revenge should dig two graves" idea has become an over-stuffed, supernatural version of Terror Train or whatever, without any real lesson to learn or anything.

The over-population doesn't help - once Tommy-head kills the six guys responsible for his death, he switches gears and goes after the kids who resurrected him, because they also killed his mom, an old crone (not the same old crone from the first film) played by Mother Superior from Silent Night Deadly Night. In fact the whole movie is a treasure trove of genre favorites: Kane Hodder pops up in one of his earliest non-makeup roles, Joe Unger from Leatherface is one of the first victims, Andrew Robinson ("Jesus....wept...") is the sheriff, and Linnea Quigley appears as one victim's girlfriend. All of that is likely courtesy of Jeff Burr, a genre enthusiast who brings a lot more to these DTV movies than they usually deserve.

But anyway, it's just awkward to have him suddenly decide, an hour later, to get revenge for his mother's death, especially when it's not even clear that he KNEW they were at fault for it. Why didn't he multi-task throughout the movie? Seems like he could have gotten rid of them right away and then focused on the dudes who were scattered around town (luckily none of them moved away). Instead, the movie lacks any real tension, because the now middle-aged men barely ever appear before they are about to die, thus whenever they cut away from the kids fretting about what they have done or Robinson investigating the last murder, you know it's just to kill off another person we haven't met. By the time he starts going after the kids, I started wondering if they had two potential scripts and just filmed scenes from each at random and rammed them together in editing.

Also, no one becomes Pumpkinhead, which to me was the original's coolest idea - with each kill, the person who called him (Lance, in that case) would start turning into the demon himself, which is why he tried to stop things. But here, there's no incentive for anyone to stop Pumpkinhead - he's going after murderers that have gotten away with it for decades, not some teens who accidentally killed someone. If anything, we're rooting for him, and worse, we have no one to really sympathize with. Ed Harley was a great protagonist who was at odds between what he wanted and what was right, but this doesn't even really GIVE us a main character. Robinson's sheriff is too bland to really give a hoot about, and his daughter (Ami Dolenz) changes from scene to scene; one minute she's the voice of reason among the friends, the next she's making out with her boyfriend (the biggest asshole of the bunch) as if nothing happened.

Oh, Punky Brewster is in it. Someone will bitch if I don't mention it, so there you go.

But if you ignore the first film, it's a perfectly enjoyable slasher/revenge movie. There's a new death scene every ten minutes, and some of them are pretty inventive - love the "shish-ka-bob" bit. The "blood wings" mystery is slight enough to be intriguing without going overboard with "mythology" (it's not a "Mark of Thorn", in other words), and Burr keeps things moving along - I was never bored. I was also amused that the entire movie was shot at the Sable ranch, which has been home to many a horror film. It's funny because usually it's used for movies that are supposed to be out of the way (Motel Hell, for example), but this is supposed to be a regular Midwestern town and it looks like everyone lives in a field. When we DO see a town, it's brief and suspiciously small - I couldn't tell if it was a set or if they ran out of the Ranch real quick and shot in a real town for as much as they could without a permit.

It also has a theme song! You all know how much I love theme songs, especially when they have ridiculous, plot-centric lyrics like "Now you gonna pay the price/You gonna pay the price for Tommy!". But this is, to my knowledge, the first and last horror movie theme song that may have been played specifically for a President of the United States, as Bill Clinton's brother Roger was the guy singing these goofy lines. Roger also appears in the film as Mayor Bubba, cementing this as the worst thing to happen to Bill Clinton in 1994.

Two more sequels followed; not sure if they went back to the original "rules" or followed this one, or simply made up their own. All I know is, Lance Henriksen came back as a ghost for one (both?) of them, and walked out of the movie when it played at a festival here, so take from what you will. There is also a direct sequel/spinoff video game for this one, which was mid 90s CD-ROM and thus probably impossible to play nowadays without a clunky emulator. Like Highlander, it's a franchise that probably shouldn't be, but unlike Highlander 2 (which also rewrote its original's mythology) at least this is watchable and even kind of fun once you remove it from its namesake. A perfect movie to watch for free on a website!

What say you?


Airborne (2012)

OCTOBER 23, 2012


I hate when a giant blunder early on keeps me at bay for an entire movie. I might have been able to enjoy Airborne a little more if not for a ridiculous setup, where a huge storm is coming in and yet they allow one final plane to take off - despite the fact that it's as big as one of those Airbus planes and there are only like 15 people on board. So they're cancelling every flight, yet they'll send this huge beast into the sky with a passenger list that could fit on one page with a giant font? Even if the weather was perfect it seems like they'd just tell these folks to wait for another flight rather than lose so much dough - there's no way the ticket sales were enough to cover the operation.

Otherwise, it's not too bad. The basic concept is pretty cool: people start disappearing on the plane, and tensions flare between those who panic about their missing seat-mates, and those who want to keep order and (among the flight attendants) exert their authority. So it's sort of like a slasher on a plane, which hasn't been done to my knowledge, and that's cool, even though the murders are occurring off-screen and there HAS to be something more complicated than that, because even with the idiotic notion that this plane would be flying, it wouldn't make any sense.

Finally, around the 50 minute mark, the movie described on the back of the DVD kicks in - the pilots are found dead and something is unleashed on the plane that turns people into psychos. I'm not sure why it took so long to actually get started, but what follows is pretty exciting - the plane lacks a pilot (autopilot can only do so much), there are a pair of would-be thieves attempting to hijack some precious cargo, and there's a virus of some sort that's infecting people at random. Add in the people on the ground (led by Mark Hamill) and you have a solid horror/thriller hybrid; the 28 Weeks Later version of one of those Airport movies from the 70s (or, OK, Turbulence).

But why do they take so long getting there? The people disappearing stuff takes up an entire act, when it should have been 5 minutes or so, tops. Obviously the people ARE still on the plane (or at least, their bodies are), so why do they delay the inevitable by having people argue about where they could be, if they were ever on the plane to begin with, etc. This isn't Flightplan, and Christ, even THAT got on with what it was really about quicker than this. In comparison, the reveal of the killer virus comes only like 2 minutes after the thieves reveal themselves - they out themselves and their plan, and then realize that both of them thinks that the other was responsible for another death on the plane. If I were to "Minute by Minute" this movie, the first 50 minutes would be a bunch of nearly identical descriptions, and then the next 30 would seem like I was skipping 5 minutes at a time.

As for Hamill, well, whatever. His role is kind of pointless; I get the need to show what the reaction is to the guys on the ground, but it's nowhere near as interesting as what's happening up there. I remember Air Force One doing a good job with this scenario by having the drama about whether or not the Vice President should be in charge, but otherwise these movies should stay in the air as often as possible. It's a shame he wasn't on the plane - since their actual ages don't matter, he would have been great as the guy who owned the mysterious vase that causes all the problems.

So I'm at a loss. On one hand, the movie botches a cool idea and makes it impossible to buy into its reality with such an implausible setup (did I mention that one of the flight attendants is a last minute substitute? And that the person he was replacing didn't think much of it? Not a lot of security concerns on this airline, I guess). On the other, the final 25 minutes are exciting, even kind of "awesome" when one guy takes charge and realizes what has to be done (think Deep Impact), and even though the pacing of the reveals is terrible, at least it's not always easy to tell where the movie is going or what is really going on. The plane set is also impressive, and while there aren't enough people on it, they're all fairly well characterized, with a nice mix of "types": an old guy, a pair of military dudes, a mobster and his bodyguards, some horny college kids, a weirdo...

I do know this much - there is no need to buy this DVD. Even if you enjoyed it more than me I can't see why you'd ever want to watch it again, since much of its merit is derived from simply not knowing what was happening and whether or not the problem would be contained - there are no great action scenes, amazing FX work, or hilarious characters that you'd want to revisit over and over. And it's as barebones as they come; the menu offers PLAY and SCENES - not even a subtitle option on this disc. Redbox would probably be your best bet - it'll be cheap, you'd have no need to keep it more than a day, and you won't have the spoiler-filled, misleading back of the box synopsis to lead you astray. Win-win-win!

What say you?


Screamfest: And All The Rest...

OCTOBER 22, 2012


I'm big on tradition, and just about every year, on the opening night of Screamfest, I meet up with my pals Mike and Simon for a meal at Johnny Rockets, where we pore over the schedule, mock one another's tastes, ponder last year's movies and where they are now... it's a great time. But there was no Johnny's this year; the festival relocated from Hollywood to Downtown LA, which is much further from where we live, and more expensive to boot. So while the three of us still met up with some others at a restaurant near the theater, it just didn't feel the same, and I only saw those guys once a piece for the duration of the festival. Bummer. However, the downtown locale was no match for my goal of seeing EVERY HORROR MOVIE EVER, so as always, here's my full(ish) coverage of the 9 day festival! Enjoy!


The Collection
Round two with this one, which I found just as fun a second time around. Sure, the plot is thinner than most slashers, but the intent was to deliver carnage and black humor in a movie that owed just as much to Argento as Bruckheimer. A blast, and will be great counter-programming in late November when its released (in the slot I said You're Next should have had - your loss, Lions Gate).


Nothing! For one of the first times ever, I missed an entire day at Screamfest, as they didn't have any movies during the day (unusual for a Saturday) and by the time they started at night I would already be at the New Beverly (I've always missed the Saturday night movie at Screamfest because of this). A bummer, really, because I love both of them so much - I felt like I was cheating on my spouse with an old girlfriend.


Fear Of Water
The first full day of this horror festival begins with a mystery thriller that doesn't even come close to genre material, focusing on the first ever murder on a small island. Our hero is a bright but insecure cop who butts heads with the big city detective who comes in to solve the case, and the movie is basically a procedural mixed with a character piece, with our hero learning to grow a pair and sort his life out as he connects the dots on the Laura Palmer-ish victim's murder. But while it may not be a horror film by any means (even "thriller" would be pushing it), it's a fine mystery, with an impressively complex (but not complicated) back-story that eventually lets nothing go to waste, with the final resolution tying in everything from major 3rd act reveals to throwaway lines of dialogue from the first few scenes. Highly recommended for mystery fans.

Short Block 1
Had to leave this one early so I could move my car before my validation expired (it would be 25 dollars instead of 5), but I liked seeing more stop-motion courtesy of Skeleton Girl, and another fine piece called Shhh that's actually based on Guillermo Del Toro's own childhood stories. There was also a stylish Giallo-ish thing appropriately called Yellow that would have made an amazing music video; as a short film it just felt repetitive and overlong.

Short Block 2
A big improvement, featuring more stop-motion (a strange, Twilight Zone-y piece called Odokuro), a fun zombie bit called Anniversary Dinner, and the best of the lot, A Boy's Life, which told the tale of a lonely boy, whose father was recently killed in military service, convinced of a monster under his bed. The Spielberg influence is evident (film buffs will recognize the title as ET's original moniker), and the actors playing the kid and the mother are terrific. Great ending too; in short - one of the best shorts I've seen in recent memory (at least, until Friday night!).

True Love
Another one that wasn't really horror, but close thanks to its Saw-ish setup of two people trapped in a room. However they don't have to prove themselves worthy of living - they just have to save their marriage. Our married protagonists (in separate rooms) are presented with a series of questions like "Do you trust your wife?" and "Will your husband do anything he can to make you happy?" and given Yes or No options. The wrong answer will result in a video clip showing the person that their spouse HAS been untrustworthy, and thus the film documents their growing mistrust of the other as other complications (a lack of water, sleep deprivation, etc) pile up around them. So it's Saw meets... Reservation Road? Look, it's a nutty concept, but it mostly works - could have done without the video game aesthetic that creeps its way into the 3rd act, but the solid leads (the stunning Ellen Hollman manages to be sympathetic even once we learn she's had at least one affair - not an easy task) and fun twist on the "lock some folks up" scenario make up for it.

Would You Rather
Like Among Friends, this movie mostly takes place around a dinner table and centers on folks being mutilated as part of a "game". But they're not friends here; they're random strangers selected by a mysterious billionaire who promises tons of cash and an easier life for whoever wins the game, which involves the titular scenario being played with deadly choices ("Would you rather stab the person to your left with this ice pick, or beat the person to your left with this torture stick?"). And said billionaire is played by Jeffrey Combs, so you know it's going to be an entertaining flick - he's really firing on all cylinders here, having a blast in a role that Vincent Price would have played if the movie came out in the 50s or 60s. The game's winner is obvious from the start, but it's fun seeing who goes first/who lasts the longest, and the pitch black humor (Bevans!) helps make up for the occasionally paint-by-numbers, Saw II style "survival of the fittest" plotting. And it offers TWO Community guest stars - Britta's war criminal one-time boyfriend Luka (Enver Gjokaj) is the male lead, and Cornelius Hawthorne (Larry Cedar) pops up as one of Combs' staff.


Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal (review HERE)

A lot of friends had really dug this one, but I just couldn't get into it. A lot of it reminded me of movies like Virgin Suicides and Welcome To The Dollhouse (not a fan of either), with a touch of Ginger Snaps - which was the only thing keeping me interested. Kudos to actress AnnaLynne McCord for playing the role in very unflattering makeup (she's usually a knockout; it's extraordinary how nearly unrecognizable she is), and in fact all of the performances were great (including Traci Lords as her mother), but I felt they were wasted on a somewhat aimless, tension-free story (not to mention an obnoxiously abrupt ending). I wouldn't discourage anyone from seeing it, however; sometimes I recognize that a movie works for its intended audience despite the fact that I'm not part of it, and this is one of those times.


Resolution (review HERE)

Under The Bed
The plot could have used another wrinkle or two, and there's a really odd plot hole (the movie is about two kids who believe there's a monster under the bed, and their stepmom sees the damn thing but never says anything), but this is a cool, The Gate-style mix of Amblin and monster movie, and unlike Super 8 it doesn't puss out and turn sappy in its climax. Instead, it turns gory, and kudos to the filmmakers for making a movie that goes from PG to R in an instant - sure as hell won't help them secure wide distribution. Kickass practical monster, too!


Thale (review HERE)


Wrong Turn 5 (review HERE)

It has faults, but you gotta love the concept (basically, Aliens meets Scanners), and even if that doesn't win you over, certainly a GIANT APE WEARING ARMOR will? In fact one of those faults is that they give us Battle-Ape in the first 20 minutes or so, but have him exit the film shortly after, when he obviously deserves his own movie. Still, it's paced well and has some nice twists, which makes up for some rather bland characters and the murky photography. And considering how bad the last "secret military base" movie at Screamfest was (Stormhouse), it was a near-classic in comparison. Worth a look.


Short Block 3 and 4 (review HERE)


Nightmare Factory (review HERE)

Outpost: Black Sun
The first Outpost was one of the most oft-requested HMAD titles, so it's kind of funny that I got an early look at its sequel, which nicely continues and expands the mythology set up in its predecessor. Some of the novelty is gone, obviously, but the multiple locations, focus on two non-military protagonists (though there's another squad), and potential threads for the 3rd film (already in post-production) give it its own unique flavor, though newcomers might be a bit lost. However, the dark/blue photography might even give Len Wiseman a migraine - can you put some goddamn color in the next one, please?

The Factory
Shot in 2008 (!), this Dark Castle thriller about a cop looking for his kidnapped daughter who has been taken by a serial kidnapper/killer is a shockingly routine post-Seven/Silence of the Lambs procedural that wastes the talented cast (John Cusack, Jennifer Carpenter, Dallas Roberts) and our time. The only note of personality in the entire thing is the hilariously idiotic twist, the potential of which is sadly deflated by an abundance of foreshadowing (I figured it out 30 minutes in) that I can only assume was implemented to keep people from saying it came out of nowhere. And with Dark Castle parting ways with Warner, I suspect this one isn't going anywhere anytime soon (though it's coming out on Blu-ray in Australia later this year!)

Prince Of Darkness/John Carpenter Q&A
If you want my thoughts on the film, check out the non-canon review from a while back. But I thought I'd talk a bit about moderating the Q&A with Carpenter, which I think I did OK with considering that I wasn't aware that it would be BEFORE the movie until today. I had prepared questions for post-movie viewing, but obviously those wouldn't work if the audience hadn't seen it yet. So I prepared some more basic (read: boring, to me) questions in between the other movies, and got to double my nervousness in the process! Hurrah! Still, it went well, and I got in most of them before he requested we turn things over to the audience. As with before, he seemed to want to keep things brief, but I can't really blame him - if left unsupervised he'd be up there forever, and I apologize to the several folks who had their hands up when the time came for "one more question" (per Carpenter, not me/Screamfest, hahaha). Screamfest also honored him with a career achievement award and put together a tribute reel featuring footage from most of his movies (nothing from Memoirs!) and some goofy "Gangnam Style" parody with Lo Pan from Big Trouble In Little China. In short, it was a pretty awesome event (save for the ugly DVD presentation of Prince), and I was honored/flattered/petrified to be a part of it.


Nothing for me. Today was just encore screenings of the films that won awards (check out a list of winners HERE), and since I was just sick of going downtown, I opted to sit it out even though, as is tradition, the big awards winner happened to be the film I missed. Add in missing it at Fantastic Fest and I think it's safe to say I'm somehow cursed from seeing American Mary, but damned if I won't try (if it won five awards it must be at least PRETTY good, right?). Hopefully I'll kick myself for going to Beverly Hills to watch Bigfoot instead.

Overall, I gotta say, this was the strongest lineup I've ever seen at Screamfest; while nothing was an instant classic like Inside (2007) or Trick 'r Treat (2008), every single night offered quality, original horror films - in fact the only outright bad one was Wrong Turn 5, and that didn't even count since it was a free promotional screening that got tied into the festival. Even The Factory was far from "crap", it was just generic. And the short program on Friday night was, no hyperbole, the best short collection I've ever seen - I have NEVER seen even ONE batch, let alone two, that didn't have at least one stinker, but not only were they all solid or better, it produced some all time favorites.

It's just a shame that the audience for the festival was pretty much halved by the move downtown. Developers and publicists can claim that downtown is the next hotspot for LA, but in reality, it's a long, traffic-filled drive with horrendous parking situations, unless you opt to use the not very convenient public transportation (I had to skip an after-party one night and a Q&A on another in order to make the last subway back to the valley). Plus, it's not a good venue for a film festival, as there are limited dining options in the vicinity - no fast food joints at all, just (expensive) sit down places that the festival doesn't allow time for. I've long felt that Screamfest overloads its schedule and forces you to wolf down whatever you can get your hands on in the 20 minutes between films, but at least at Mann's there's a Johnny Rockets, a pizza joint, a Quiznos, a hot dog place... there's absolutely nothing of the sort at the LA Live Regal, unless you count the taco truck across the street. So only other option is to spread the screenings out, but then it's impossible to use the subway as the 2nd movie won't get out until well after midnight (the last train).

Hopefully it was a one-time experiment and it will come back to Mann's next year, or perhaps a new venue entirely. I think the Laemmle Noho 7 would be a fine choice, personally - it's adjacent to a cheap parking structure, there's plenty of dining options (and yes, a Starbucks), the subway is close for those who want to use it, and the concessions are cheap enough that even those who don't mind eating movie food nonstop can enjoy it without breaking the bank (a small soda at the Regal is 5 bucks). It was really depressing to see so many screenings not even close to full (even the Carpenter event was only about 2/3s sold), and that is 100% due to the location - how else to explain why Paranormal Activity 4 was nearly empty when I saw it there on a day where it was breaking records? NO ONE GOES DOWNTOWN.

Otherwise, a terrific year for the fest; the sort of lineup that got me excited for the future of horror - a variety of plots, stuff coming in from around the world (Norway, Australia, etc), and (thank Christ) not a single found footage movie. Ya done good, Screamfest!

What say you?


Puppet Master: Axis Of Evil (2010)

OCTOBER 22, 2012


Most folks agree that Puppet Master III is one of or even THE best in the series, so to return to that time period with that film's director (David DeCoteau) should have been a good sign for die-hard fans of the series when Puppet Master: Axis Of Evil was released a couple years back. Sadly, it's still a modern Full Moon production, so whatever effort the writer or director (or cast, or key grip, or caterer...) puts into the thing is largely wasted, as producer Charles Band refuses to give his productions the money they deserve.

I mean, seriously. The series is the company's bread and butter, and the merchandising and constant DVD releases must have made them SOME money over the years, right? So why are these films getting short-changed? It's one thing to shit out another Gingerdead Man movie for a couple thousand bucks, but come on! I don't even like the movies that much and even I am kind of upset at the way the latter entries are treated - I can't imagine how painful it is for the long time fans whose support is what brought the film to life in the first place.

The main issue, again, is that they don't actually animate the puppets anymore, despite the fact that that should be the top priority for a Puppet Master production. Long gone are David Allen's awesome stop-motion creations, replaced by what appears to be a guy wiggling the things around just below camera, as they are almost exclusively shot in close-up. There might be some minor rod or even animatronic work for the occasional wider shot, but it's akin to re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, really.

Not that it matters HOW they're animated much, since they barely appear. The actual film has an admittedly decent (for Full Moon) story about the Japanese and an undercover Nazi (posing as an American) teaming up to destroy a weapons plant, while our hero tries to convince his girlfriend (being used by the undercover Nazi) that her new pal is up to no good. In fact, he's one of the agents who were coming to kill Toulon (who killed himself before they arrived), something we see in a not entirely successful but serviceable (again, for Full Moon) attempt to blend footage from the first film with this one. The puppets are sidelined until the very end, when our hero's brother is killed and the girl taken, prompting him to put his brother's soul (or whatever) into one of the new puppets (Ninja) using Toulon's formula, and then gather the rest for a rescue attempt.

With one or two other big scenes for the puppets, this actually could have been tied with III as its most successful entry. It's got a better story than any of the movies in between, and it's thankfully not as convoluted as some of the others (though I was kind of baffled why they spent the previous movie laying out all of the chronology to date only to follow it up by shoehorning another previously unmentioned prequel story in there). Plus, DeCoteau actually knows how to direct, unlike Band, so there's a sense of effort on-screen - the lighting is decent, the sets look real enough, etc. Yes, these are things that most folks would take for granted in a professional movie they were watching, but you'd be surprised at how many Full Moon productions can't even get that much right. Hell, it's even in widescreen! It was actually kind of jarring when it started and the black bars on my monitor were on the top and bottom instead of the sides for once - this looked like a real movie!

But alas, we're not here for any of that. We want puppet action, and the film offers next to none - Jason appears in Jason Goes To Hell more than the puppets do here, and that's just unforgivable (especially in a film that runs longer than most of them). I don't need wall to wall puppet action to enjoy it, but I certainly need to have occasional reminders that I am indeed watching a Puppet Master film and not some low budget war/tragic romance thing featuring a lot of terrible accents (the Japanese woman in particular manages to sound more offensive than a bad comedian saying "Me love you long time"). Had Band given this production the money he wasted on other films from the same year (such as the atrocious Demonic Toys: Personal Demons), he might have actually had something that was better than merely "an improvement on the last couple". Oh well.

What say you?


Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes (2012)

OCTOBER 21, 2012


For all the shit I gave Paranormal Activity 4, it's sadly not even the worst "found footage" movie to hit theaters this weekend, as Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes somehow overcame its antiquated plot, unappealing actors, and just an overall feeling of cynical contempt from its filmmakers to secure a tiny theatrical release. Not sure about the other theaters (it's not on Boxofficemojo - the THIRD such horror film this month to go unreported, after Smiley and #HoldYourBreath), but mine, the Laemmle Music Hall 3, was playing it twice a day, and my showing (the 2nd) had about 12 other people. Guessing it was not a huge success.

Nor should it be. I know I've seen a few in the genre that are worse, but they were direct to video films - this is certainly the worst I've seen theatrically. Kudos to anyone who can get their independent film a theatrical release of any sort, but I'm really baffled why anyone thought this, even piggybacking onto Paranormal's success, would be a worthy endeavor. The movie carries on as if the last 10 years of found footage films never happened; I could almost picture myself watching this exact movie in say, 2000-2001, post Blair Witch (which didn't produce nearly as many wannabes as Paranormal did). Hell I'd even entertain the idea that it was something that was made a while ago and just finding release now, but since certain elements were clearly inspired by TrollHunter, it had to have been shot in the past two years.

Luckily, they didn't copy that film's penchant for filming out a car window for half the runtime. But the guide character here is very similar to that film's Hans, right down to his (rather charming) matter of fact way of talking about the mythical beasts he is helping the film crew find. But the key difference is, that film's trolls were amazing and featured prominently, whereas this film hides its beasts to an obnoxious degree. It worked for Blair Witch because they (we) didn't know what it WAS (a creature? A crone?) - they allowed the audience to imagine whatever they want, if anything. But they're after a Sasquatch, and while the specifics change we all know what one of those look like.

So why hide it? We see a leg in closeup or a soft-focus figure in the background, so they obviously had a suit to use - why do we only see it for a few seconds in the movie? Well, without spoiling much, the Sasquatch isn't the only thing out there, but director Corey Grant botches this as well - what should have been a twist at the end of the 2nd act that propels us to an unexpected, interesting third act is instead saved for the final five minutes, when it's too late to save the movie even if the other thing was shown properly. There's a great idea in there too concerning what the Sasquatch is really doing throughout the movie, but it's poorly delivered, and it should be something we actually see in action (possibly even succeed), instead of being presented as a theory that we buy only to give the movie the benefit of the doubt. They had to have ONE good idea, right?

Otherwise, seriously - have they not noticed all of the other films in this vein in the past few years? Why is this so uninspired? Everything reeks of cliche, even roping in overplayed ideas from horror in general - when a black character started going on and on about how "a brother can't be going out in the woods" and stressing that it's a thing only white people do, I gave up all hope in the movie - and that was five minutes in! The host of the show is an insufferable douche on and off-camera, so I was constantly questioning not only why anyone would watch his show, but how he was able to secure a crew that would follow him into dangerous territory. And his asshole demeanor is infectious; both he and his cameraman routinely sexually harass their female producer, even goading their nerdy sound guy (who looks like an Andy Samberg character) to join them in complimenting her ass and such.

The dialogue is also cringe-worthy; I can only hope that some of this shit was improvised, because the idea that a human being would sit down and write "Whatever you do, keep filming!" like five times in a screenplay just depresses me. Just about every line from the Samberg guy was meant to be funny, but wasn't (and that's not just me - not a single person in the theater ever reacted to anything he said), and at no point was I ever convinced these guys knew what a camera WAS let alone that they could be the crew of a TV show. However, I must give props to the actor playing the guide, as he was able to deliver the line "You've crossed into an area of Sasquatch theory that I find hard to believe" with a straight face.

And the guy's demands to keep filming weren't ignored - these folks are mighty impressive with their ability to not only catch "surprise" moments on video (like when the guide suddenly abandons them at the break of dawn), but carefully frame anything that happens when they set the camera down. At one point the producer woman is running around, freaked out, yet she somehow manages to put the camera down high and straight enough for it to capture her wandering into a shack on the right side of the frame AND see a Sasquatch darting between some trees on the left. If she was behaving like a normal human being and simply tossed the camera on the ground (assuming she hadn't already), there'd be no way in hell we'd get to see that little jump scare! What luck!

See, that's my issue with almost every post-Blair Witch movie, one that Paranormal found a pretty great solution to (if still not as successful as Blair) - the filmmakers refuse to let a "moment" go unseen by the camera. One of my favorite little bits in Blair is when Josh is telling Heather about some noises he heard the night before, and I also love that Heather is already crying when she picks the camera up and heads to where she found the teeth - you get the sense that there's a life to that world beyond what was captured on camera. And in PA's case, the best moments were filmed by Mr. Tripod, so they got around having to have Micah constantly grab his camera (though he did do that once or twice). But most of the copycats, ESPECIALLY this one, are clearly made by filmmakers who don't actually think about the reality of their "reality" movie, basically writing and shooting a regular script but handing the camera to someone in the scene. Myrick and Sanchez (and Peli, to a lesser extent) "got" it - it's a shame so many others do not.

And Grant pours salt in the wound by obscuring important actions in the film's final moments - if the film has won over the audience by this point, then it's perfectly OK to cheat a little and have the characters suddenly turn into combat photographers, capturing perfect images despite the danger. But not here; I suspect you'll need freeze frame to get a halfway decent look at what "stars" in the film's final image, and even if so you'd still be deprived of a COMPLETE look at it or anything else that has menaced our heroes so far. It's indicative of a lot of movies as of late (including the PA sequels), where they make a film as a pilot for an ongoing series. Somewhere along the line, the decision to make a sequel shifted from the audience's responsibility to the filmmakers, and it's not a good trend. Make complete movies, and then WE will tell you if we want another one.

Needless to say, in this case, I most certainly do not want to watch more of these Tapes.

What say you?


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