Seance: The Summoning (2011)

NOVEMBER 27, 2012


I can only assume that it was my tardiness seeing The Exorcist (I was 19) that allows me to be easier to please when it comes to movies like Seance: The Summoning (despite the subtitle, it doesn't seem to be a "sequel" to fellow Lionsgate release Seance). Like Exorcismus and some others, I had heard nothing but rants and "worst movie ever!" type pans about the flick, but I didn't think it was that bad at all. So I think for some folks, they saw Exorcist at an impressionable early age and had their minds fucked forever, and now any similar movie doesn't even come close to having the same impact, and thus "sucks". Or maybe I've just seen so many that I can't even tell good from bad anymore, I dunno.

One thing I definitely liked about this one - no priest character! Whether he's introduced early on and sticks around, or disappears until he's needed like the recent (much worse) Devil Seed, the priest character in these things just makes it harder to forget Friedkin's classic. So I was pleased and even kind of charmed that the movie only really has four people, a group of college kids who go to a morgue in order to conduct a seance. Why? Well, that's kind of novel too - one of them claims to be a medium and another doesn't believe her. So off they go, with the skeptical one betting the "medium" that if she can't summon a spirit, she'll be deemed a fraud and then she has to come to his band's show. I like movies where the characters' goals are pretty weak (I say this as the world's only Pick of Destiny fan - that movie focused on their hopes of winning 500 dollars), so I found this kind of endearing; they weren't after world domination or anything, dude just wanted a hot girl to come to his show.

But this is a modern horror movie, so of course someone has a camera. Fear not, it's not a found footage film, but there are just enough scenes of one of the four walking around with a camera for it to start to get grating. Luckily (spoiler), the one who is most adamant about filming everything is the first to die, and relatively early to boot, so the camera motif is more or less done with after 30 minutes or so. However, while I love an early death, this does result in the rest of the movie feeling rather repetitive, as the two survivors spend the rest of it trying to exorcise the now-possessed friend. Again, this helps shed some of the unavoidable Exorcist deja vu, because that movie built up to its exorcism while this one more or less uses it as the core of its plot, but by the 70 minute mark I had gotten kind of tired of listening to the possessee's "demon" voice taunt the other two characters. And no one else shows up, either - it's the weekend and thus the morgue is closed (is this true? I see the LA City Morgue doesn't have weekend hours, so I assume it's a legit excuse), so there's nothing much to break up the action.

Except, of course, when the possessed guy says something horrible and one or both girls leave the room. For a change, the obligatory strained friendships (again, it's a modern horror movie) actually have a payoff - turns out that the born-again Christian, who keeps pushing her faith on the others, actually had an abortion some time ago, and the father was none other than the possessed one (who is the other girl's ex). So that causes some wrinkles that actually tie into the characters' motivations and such, instead of the usual "Let's just have the Final Girl's day get worse by finding out her boyfriend fucked her best friend" type of bullshit that I'll never understand.

Oh, and it has the best plan for the demon's soul ever (spoilers ahead!). None of that "come into meeeeeeeeee!" nonsense - our heroes plan to transfer the demon to a damn rat that they find running around. And what do you do with a rat that's possessed by a demon? You do like Ozzy might (bat, rat, whatever) and bite its goddamn head head off. I've seen 50 of these movies, and I am pretty sure that's a first. So even if you find yourself getting bored with the repetitive plotting/lack of action, or are opposed to the Catholic faith and thus are sick of being told how you need to have Christ in your life, it's totally worth the wait.

The making of isn't worth navigating the menu to play, however. As with a thousand other DTV movies' behind the scenes pieces, if this is your favorite movie for some reason, fine, but otherwise I couldn't detect any value in watching it. The actors took the roles because they were interested in the levels they'd get to play, everyone got along, etc. It's 22 minutes long, I watched it less than 20 hours ago, and I honestly can't tell you one specific thing about it other than that they blessed the set and everyone filmed their interviews in front of an ugly brick wall. The trailer is also included, as is one for Knock Knock 2, which looks to have zero relation to the original even by Lionsgate standards, since that one was a straight slasher set in New York and this is a found footage haunting movie set in Los Angeles, but whatever. Like there's some die-hard Knock Knock fan out there who will be upset about the change? Indeed, according to my review - I can no longer remember a frame of the film - I liked it and I don't even care.

What say you?


Howling V: The Rebirth (1989)

NOVEMBER 26, 2012


Since I don't even love the original all that much, my opinion on the matter probably doesn't mean much, but Howling V: The Rebirth is probably the best sequel, despite having a. zero relation whatsoever to the others and b. not even a lot of werewolf action. But what it DOES have is a goofy spin on the "Ten Little Indians" scenario, and unlike the last film, doesn't try to pass off Europeans as Americans - they're playing actual Europeans!

The setting is a castle in Budapest, and our core group of protagonists have been assembled from all over under mysterious circumstances (we learn that they all have the same birthmark and are all orphans). Turns out the guy who owns the place believes one of them to be a werewolf, and has gotten them all here to figure it out. I'm not sure if part of the Count's plan involved hanging back and doing nothing while the wolf picked a bunch of them off to make it easier, like a sick violent game of Guess Who?, but either way that's what happens. It's not too difficult to figure out who it is (I had two suspects; one was right and the other was the Count's 3rd act pick), but there's some fun to be had as options are canceled out via throat rips and such.

I must put emphasis on SOME fun, however. It's a rather slow-paced affair, with more than a couple deaths largely/entirely off-screen (presumably to keep someone as a potential suspect when in reality their corpse will turn up near the end) and a lot of wandering down hallways and tunnels. The location is fine, but director Neal Sundstrom (co-director of the MST3k classic Space Mutiny) doesn't exploit it enough, favoring establishing shots of snow falling on the castle instead of anything that might give us an idea of its layout. When they're in the maze of hidden tunnels, fine, but I couldn't even understand where the dinner table was in relation to their rooms, making it hard to get a sense of the danger anyone might be in when you see the wolf attack in one location before cutting to the next.

And why is the wolf out at all? The Count tells us that the wolf won't appear until the full moon is revealed from behind the clouds, but we see it fully formed throughout the film. Weirder still, when the moon IS fully shown, the character that's actually a wolf doesn't change! He/she just smiles as their eyes get a bit yellow, and that's it; the movie ends without them transforming. It's odd enough that the sequels to a film with one of the best wolf transformations ever created never even TRY to measure up, but it's even weirder when it contradicts what it's setting up as its storyline. Unless they were just trying to prove that the Count was an idiot or something? I don't get it.

There are actually a lot of things that have no payoff. One of the servants destroys the film in a guy's camera, even though he never took any incriminating photos with it that I can recall, and the thing about their birthmark doesn't make much sense - if they're all descendants shouldn't they all be werewolves? And also related? If so, no one considers the amount of distant incest going on, since there are a couple of hook-ups along the way. They also seem to be suggesting that there are two (or more) werewolves at times, but if that's the case it's never resolved. I can't help but wonder if the few wolf shots we DO see were added later by a worried producer - it would certainly make more sense if we never saw one, given the whole "it will appear when the full moon is clear" thing.

So, yeah, it's a mess, but if you ignore its placement in a werewolf series and just try to focus on the "who is the killer" murder mystery, it's kind of enjoyable, with enough Euro-flavor to satisfy me (I need to find a new giallo or something, and soon). I also like how they milk the mystery until the last shot of the movie, rather than have the reveal and then a big chase like a typical slasher (which the movie basically is since the damn wolf is only in it for like 9 shots). It's also got some charming but mean-spirited lines, like when a girl says she's an actress and one of the protagonists replies "Oh yeah, what restaurant do you work at?" BURN. I also like how happy him and one of the other guys are later when they discover a third male in their party has hooked up with one of the females - for a bunch of strangers in a weird situation, they bond pretty quickly, and the few squabbles seem justified (though one lady, played by Blackie from Twin Peaks, is just wholly unpleasant for the first half). Ah, the good ol' days, when horror movies weren't constantly populated by unlikeable assholes!

The movie has never been given a good release on DVD, available in a full frame transfer (seemingly from a VHS tape) alongside the 6th film, subtitled The Freaks. I'll watch that one later this week, and then there will only be one left for me to review - another complete franchise given the HMAD treatment! Hopefully one of those remaining two will be better than "That was OK" to make it more worth my while.

What say you?


Amityville: A New Generation (1993)

NOVEMBER 25, 2012


For years I thought I had seen Amityville: A New Generation as a kid, because I could swear I had seen one with Terry O'Quinn as the dad, but while he's in this one, he plays a cop that's investigating the murders, and in fact this is the only one in the series that revolves around a group of friends instead of a family unit, so I have no idea what the hell I saw. Is there a haunted house movie with O'Quinn in the lead as the in-over-his-head dad? Or did I merely dream up a better movie than this one?

In my review of Dollhouse, I pondered why none of them had ever tried a new kind of setting, only for a reader to point out that New Generation (which is part 7, if anyone is keeping track) took place in an inner city boarding house. And now that I've seen it, I understand why they went back to houses - this one is so far removed from the brand that it could have easily been snipped of its ties and released as a stand-alone film. Or, as Mirror, Mirror 2, since the actual one hadn't come out yet (there are FOUR of those movies, by the way) and even when you consider the "haunted objects from the original house" storyline set up in part 4, this one doesn't really fit. See, the the building never really becomes haunted - it's just an endless series of people looking into the mirror, seeing something creepy, and then dying later in a similar fashion to their vision. The "evil" in the object never infects the rest of the place like the lamp and dollhouse did in their entries, so even if this WAS in a house instead of an apartment building, it would be an anomaly.

And, again, it's about a group of friends, who are pretty much all struggling artists. There's a painter, a photographer, some sort of video installation guy... it's an interesting idea for a horror movie "group", but the bland story and even blander kill scenes never really jive with the art stuff, so they might as well have been a group of waiters. Basically it's just an excuse for some decent (for a DTV movie) production design and some semblance of a big climax, where one of the characters has invited a whole bunch of folks to see his new piece and things go horribly awry. Actually, horribly isn't the right word - this has a pretty low body count, which is weird when you consider that the "group of adult friends" idea should lend itself to more deaths than a family that included 3 little kids. I'm pretty sure no one dies in the film's final act, which is pretty bizarre, and certainly doesn't help the fact that the movie is a snooze.

So how did a mirror from Amityville end up in the main set from Rent? Well, the photographer takes a pic of a homeless guy, and tells him that the photo will make a lot of money and thus hands him 10 bucks for his trouble. The homeless man in turn gives him the mirror, claiming it's been in his family for generations, stopping short of looking at the camera and saying "THAT'S WHAT THE TITLE IS REFERRING TO!". Of course, this causes some minor continuity issues, as the guy's name is Bronner and that wasn't the name of any previous Amityville family, so I'm not sure when he lived in that house to get the mirror, but whatever. As it turns out, he's the long-lost father of the photographer guy, who is now convinced he'll turn out to be a crazed murderer like his father, even without the magic mirror on his mind since it's mostly focusing its attention on his pals. So that's another problem; there's a potentially interesting movie about a guy finding out his dad was insane and worried he will follow suit, but it's underdeveloped because half the runtime has to be devoted to people looking at a mirror and dying later. And neither story has fuck all to do with any established part of Amityville lore, so I can't fathom why I'm supposed to care about any of it.

The only saving grace the movie has (besides a surprising amount of skin, if you like your horror to somewhat resemble a movie that would show on Cinemax and possibly star Andrew Stevens) is the number of genre faves who pop up in bit roles. I already mentioned O'Quinn, but you also get David Naughton as the building's landlord (I think?) and would-be victim, Tom "Thanks for the ride, lady!" Wright as a morgue attendant, Lin Shaye as a nurse, and even Richard Roundtree as one of the other residents; maybe not a big name in horror but certainly someone worth feeling bad for to be collecting paychecks in junk like this. And if you're a really good horror fan, you'll recognize the Naughton character's wife as Barbara Howard, who played poor Sara in Final Chapter ("I think I'm in love..."), and Robert Rusler, aka Grady from Nightmare on Elm Street 2. Speaking of Elm Street, the guy playing the homeless dude really REALLY wants to be Robert Englund, particularly in the 3rd act once his back-story has been explained and he spends most of the movie cackling and trying to sound menacing by snarling every line.

But, you know, you can see all of these people by flipping through a few issues of "Fangoria", and at least then you'll probably learn some trivia or find out about a good movie you missed. I think there's a limit on how many haunted mirror movies a person should see in their lifetime; no need to waste one on this.

What say you?

P.S. The DP is none other than Wally Pfister, who has been the DP on every Christopher Nolan film except for Following. I'm guessing he doesn't use any of this stuff on his reel.


Terror Tract (2000)

NOVEMBER 24, 2012


It didn't take long for me to realize I might enjoy Terror Tract at least a little more than the average made for cable horror movie, as it featured a pretty funny "food chain" gag in its opening moments - a bird eats a worm, a cat eats the bird, and then the cat is hit by a car, its remains eaten by a dog. And the driver of the car is the late, great John Ritter, who doesn't seem remorseful about what he did and continues on his way. He's playing a realtor who is in the process of showing a couple a house on the block, and thus provides the framework for this uneven but mostly enjoyable little anthology.

It's actually a pretty cool idea for a wraparound - each time he shows them a house, he is forced by law to tell them about the bad things that happened there, and it seems that no one ever just moves away from this neighborhood. But it also has its own little storyline, as Ritter tells them that he is vying to win a company sales contest, and if he can sell them a house by 5 pm, he will win. We learn there's more to it than that, and while it doesn't quite pay off satisfactorily (who is he talking to on the phone?), it's more inventive than the usual "Hey let me tell you some scary stories and then there will be a twist at the end where I turn out to be a ghost or something" scenario.

It's a shame that the three stories aren't so creative. As stand-alone tales they are fine, Tales From The Crypt-ian pieces that deliver the expected amount of carnage, but the thing is that I felt like I had seen them all before, making it easy to call their twists and thus ruin some of my fun. None are far and away better or worse than the others, which is rare in an anthology film, but in some ways I think I'd rather two (or even just one) standout tales with one (or two) duds than three "Yeah, that was pretty good I guess."

The first is a traditional "love triangle gone bad" tale, with a woman cheating on her husband (Fredric Lehne) with a younger dude. Lehne catches them in the act, there's a scuffle, and he ends up dead. So now the couple has to get rid of the body, but there's complications, and the wife keeps having nightmares (the segment is called "Nightmare") about him coming back as a slimy zombie thing, and Lehne's best friend is suspicious... you know the drill. Like a slasher, it hits all of its beats when you expect them to, but during the lulls you can easily daydream thinking about the other antho-segments or even features that had the whole Diabolique thing going on, albeit without any clever twists. That said, it was nice to see Prison Break's Wade Williams in a bit role (the suspicious friend); in fact the movie as a whole is something of a serial drama fan's wet dream, as Lehne represents Lost AND Supernatural, Reunion (!) star Will Estes and Desperate Housewives' Brenda Strong shows up in the 3rd story, and the second segment has the best coup of all: Bryan "Walter White" Cranston.

"Bobo" is slightly better than the other two, but part of that is due to the pleasure of seeing Cranston, pre-Breaking Bad (practically pre-Malcolm in the Middle, actually; it was shot before that show premiered but aired later), demeaning himself by getting out-smarted by a monkey. As I learned in Dead Space, there's no such thing as a bad Cranston performance - dude gives it his all regardless of the material, which is a big help as the tale is basically the "Cat From Hell" segment from Tales From The Darkside, or a Cliff's Notes take on Of Unknown Origin, but with a monkey instead of a cat/rat. It's goofy enough, and surprisingly grim (I figured the pet control guy would be the only human casualty, alas...), but the monkey is way too crazy to let it go without a back-story. Cranston's daughter finds it - wearing a little suit! - in the backyard and keeps it, but there's no real push to find out where he came from or why he's so psychotically attached to the girl when he hates everyone else. I don't know if I need a full feature about it, but it lacks the "good enough" explanation of Cat, or the full-blown Moby Dick dark parody of Origin, to really live up to either. And if Cranston hadn't ever gotten the fame/respect/roles he deserves, I'm not sure how much of this would work as well as it does.

The third definitely deserves a feature, if only because the Granny Killer would be an amazing addition to the late 90s/early 00s slasher canon - the creepy mask and voice, plus the giallo-inspired kill scenes, are among the best things Tract has to offer. Unfortunately, Granny is sidelined for most of "Come To Granny" (which is also the shortest of the bunch), as it focuses on Estes' character, who has psychic visions of Granny killing people and believes a shrink (Strong) will be the next victim. Strong, of course, suspects Estes himself is the killer, and thus we should too, so naturally (spoiler) he isn't. Part of the thing that bugs me about anthologies (and short films in general) is how many of them go for twist endings, and they're not usually too successful because there isn't enough there to distract us away from seeing the warning signs. Obviously Estes can't be the killer himself, because the story is from his POV - we'd have to see it from Strong's in order to work, or he would have to be telling a really meaty story to draw us in so we miss any clues that lead us to believe he might be the dangerous one (there's a very underrated horror/thriller from 2002 that is a good example of that - I won't spoil the title since I'm still convinced only 29 people have seen the movie). But again, it's the shortest of the bunch (even the wraparound seems to take up more time), so the "twist" isn't one - it's actually the only possibility.

And then we return to Ritter and the couple, which DOES have a decent surprise in store and then a riotous final sequence where a character sees how insane the entire neighborhood is, as if Ritter was only scratching the surface concerning the ridiculous violence that goes on in this "perfect" little suburban block. It got me thinking about how it could have launched a fun little anthology TV series, where each week would be about a different resident, with Ritter as its Rod Serling. Alas, it lives on now only as one of his final films (he died 2 years later) and as the "other movie" on the DVD with Cherry Falls, which similarly had a lot to like but also some dodgy execution. Hopefully the DVD will go back in print someday so it only costs a couple of bucks (as opposed to 30 or more) to check out these little movies that almost could; they're worth a look for sure, but not at THAT much of a cost.

What say you?


Cherry Falls (2000)

NOVEMBER 23, 2012


As one of the few current defenders of post-Scream slashers (well, at least of the two by Jamie Blanks), it's just as surprising to me as it is to you that I've never seen Cherry Falls, which was ALSO directed by an Australian! The film's fate is mostly to blame; it never got a theatrical release in the US, premiering on basic cable and dumped to DVD with another cable movie called Terror Tract (tomorrow's HMAD), which is now out of print to boot. But a visit to the home (and DVD shelf) of my good friend Rob G (of Icons Of Fright fame) yielded a week's worth of HMAD-ready entries, including this poor, orphaned slasher flick. Was it worth the wait?

Yeah, I guess. I didn't love it or anything, but it's a perfectly decent slasher, aided by one of the weirdest Final Girls in genre history (Brittany Murphy) and the always enjoyable Michael Biehn as her dad, also the sheriff. I was never crazy about Jay Mohr (Walken impression aside), but having him in a serious role is the lesser of two evils, I suppose - it's better to find it impossible to take someone serious than it is to constantly roll your eyes at lame attempts at humor. And as with any slasher of the period, you can enjoy a few familiar faces in early roles: DJ Qualls has a nearly wordless bit part as a shy virgin, my boy Nolan Ross from Revenge (aka Gabriel Mann) plays Murphy's boyfriend, and in the movie's "Drew Barrymore" role: Jesse Bradford, who (like Barrymore) has successfully transitioned from child actor to adult (he's the lead on Guys With Kids). Zachary Knighton from The Hitcher remake (respect) is in there somewhere too, but I didn't spot him.

Back to Murphy, seriously - her character and her relationship with her dad are more interesting (even creepier) than the slasher plot. She's very spastic; given Murphy's young death I feel bad for saying so, but she basically acts stoned for most of the movie, like she took some E and then drank a Red Bull or three. She comes home from school and makes weird sounds and then "eskimo kisses" her mother, all but asks her teacher (Mohr) to take her right there on his desk, and basically acts more like the "spunky" friend than the lead. I guess this is supposed to be one of the film's attempts at playing with the sub-genre's "rules", but it doesn't come across that way - it just looks like she's nuts. And when Biehn realizes that the killer is targeting virgins and thus asks her if she's ever gone all the way, she says no and then says "Are you disappointed I'm not a virgin?" What kind of dad (especially one played by a hardass like Biehn) would be DISAPPOINTED that his little girl hadn't been deflowered? He also teaches her some self-defense moves that result in him rolling around on top of her for a bit longer than necessary. I dunno, it's weird.

As for the killer plot... it's funny, I had the identity spoiled for me years ago, but as I watched it I realized there was nothing TO spoil - excepting a really confusing, go-nowhere scene where a guy walks into the police station ranting and raving that he's the killer, the movie doesn't bother offering a single red herring, limiting the suspects to exactly one (unless you assume there are two killers, but after Scream no one else ever tried that in fear of being labeled even MORE of a knockoff). Murphy is attacked after finding a fresh corpse during a scene where most of the cast is accounted for at a town meeting, and her boyfriend (the one exception of note since none of the other students are prominent enough to qualify as a candidate) is on a date with her at the same time Bradford is killed. I won't say who that leaves, but even if you somehow missed it, he reveals himself with a shrug pretty much at the top of the 3rd act, making me wonder why they even bothered trying to establish it as a whodunit.

The plotting of the "Fuck Fest" also felt a bit lacking. Basically, word gets out that the killer is after virgins, so all of them gather at an out of the way farmhouse to basically have an orgy (after some dancing and partner selection). I was hoping that this would be used in the same way as Stu's house party in Scream, where a chunk of the kids leave for whatever reason and the prominent ones stay behind for some fast paced slasher action, but most of the finale occurs at the killer's house, as he explains his motives, how Biehn factored into it, etc. Then Mann shows up, there's some scuffling... long story short, by the time anyone gets to the orgy, there's only like 10 minutes of the movie left including credits, so the killer just sort of anonymously slashes away as he runs through trying to get to Murphy/Mann, but doesn't seem to kill too many, if any (a brief epilogue shows most of the recognizable faces still alive). So like Scream 4's "Stab-A-Thon", they set up this goldmine of potential carnage, but botch it by setting most of the action somewhere else. There's a fine line between circumventing expectations and simply screwing up - this section is clearly the latter. I understand the MPAA had their way with the sequence, but it doesn't change the fact that the bulk of the time it's going on, our principal characters are off in a different location entirely.

The backstory is good though; it admirably blends a crime worthy of the punishment being dished out (instead of, say, "You're more famous than me, Sidney, and it makes me mad!") and ties into the MO as well. The guise is kind of goofy, but in a way it sort of harkens back to 1960s horror, as it's a flesh and blood person dressing in a way that makes the people who see it think they are seeing a ghost. I found that kind of charming, and kudos to the actor for keeping it on for the finale (albeit without the face obscured) - I'm sure it wasn't the most flattering moment of his career to spend a reel of a movie running around in a wig and wearing lipstick. On that note, I couldn't help but wonder if the mask-less disguise (the face is just covered by shadows and the long hair) is what kept the movie from having too many slasher scenes and/or why he was revealed so casually - it must have been difficult to come up with sequences that would work without making it too obvious who the killer was. In fact there are really only two in the movie, plus a chase. Another victim is killed off-screen entirely, and by the time anything else happens he's already been revealed.

It's not hard to see why it never got a theatrical release; by the time it was finished (late 1999) the new slasher cycle was already dying down, and it lacked the starpower or gloss of the studio productions. In fact, had I not known of its history, I would have assumed it WAS a cable movie that had some R rated bits thrown in for foreign release - it feels small and cramped, with few exteriors of note and an abundance of long scenes that take place in bland locales (offices, Murphy's home, etc). It also ends on what may be the cheesiest digital effect of all time, which must have been the final nail in its coffin. Sure, it deserved a better fate than being dumped to USA, but some of its ideas deserved better execution as well.

What say you?


Blood Rage (1983)

NOVEMBER 22, 2012


Since he's just as much of a horror encyclopedia as I am when it comes to this shit, I believed Eli Roth when he said that there were no Thanksgiving based slasher movies, which is why he planned to make his own (I believe we can officially give up hope on that one though; it's been over 5 years and no progress whatsoever has been made). However a couple years ago I found out about Home Sweet Home, and now there's Blood Rage (aka Nightmare At Shadow Woods, which limits its Thanksgiving setting to a conversation or two, but still counts.

It's also better than Home Sweet Home on just about every level (except for holiday mentions). The killer is equally bland looking - no costume, normal clothes, but he has an identity and a motive (of sorts), which puts him above the admittedly amusing but completely lazy "Killer" from that film. Our guy here is Terry, a young man with a twin brother named Todd, who has been locked up in a mental institution for a murder that Terry committed when they were like 8 years old. One night (Thanksgiving!) Todd escapes from the institute, and when word reaches the family home, Terry sees an opportunity to go on a killing spree, partially egged on by the news that his mother is planning to remarry (there's definitely a bit of an Oedipal thing going on here, but it's not as explicit as, say, Night Warning). Todd can be blamed for everything, he can get his mother to himself again, and we in the audience get to enjoy a lot of skin and dead idiots - everyone wins! Except Todd.

Director John Grissmer and writer Bruce "Not that one" Rubin keep things moving, to the extent that I thought this was going to be like the Friday the 13th or My Bloody Valentine remakes, with an extended epilogue before the real movie began. As soon as he hears about Todd's escape, Terry kills the would-be step-dad and two institute employees (including Todd's shrink) that came to deliver the news, leaving pretty much just Mom. But luckily, all of Terry's pals that we saw earlier in the day - one of whom actually kind of resembles Roth - come back into the picture, and he can keep on killing until Todd actually shows up (it would have been funny if Todd opted to return to the hospital 20 minutes later and left Terry unable to explain how he could have killed everyone). Thus, the body count is more than sufficient, and I enjoy that Terry has a Voorheesian opposition to sex, killing most people during sex or some sort of romantic encounter. One such bit is incredible enough to rewind (on a 25 year old VHS tape being played on a 20 year old VCR, this is dangerous territory); two of the teens are making rather tender love on a diving board, with the male lightly kissing his lover's lips in a very sweet way. Then we hear Terry casually say "Hey, stop that!" like one would scold a furniture scratching cat, and then Grismmer cuts to a wide shot just in time to see Terry nearly take the guy's head off with his machete and then throw him into the pool.

That one's rather tame, but another great thing about the flick is that it has a lot of solid, un-tampered with by the MPAA gore effects courtesy of future Oscar nominee Ed French. The first kill has some sliced fingers, the stepdad loses his hand (and then squirts blood everywhere, total The Hand style), and the shrink gets cut in half! They did the "bury them up to their waist" trick, but it works well, as she's still stuttering around with her legs 5 feet away and blood pouring out on both sides. And later, the distraught Todd finds her and sort of puts her legs back in place, akin to when someone closes a person's eyelids after they've perished. Bliss.

This scene is followed by a terrific little subplot that just works perfectly. A little girl comes around looking for her cat, and Todd tells her to go home and lock herself in, and not answer the door for anyone because a bad person is around - in other words letting us know for sure that he's not out to harm anyone. But it has an extra little payoff; later, during the Final Girl chase, she's shouting for help and knocks on that girl's door, who honors Todd's wishes and refuses to open the door to help her. It's the sort of callback that you never see in these types of movies, and one of several things that elevated it a notch or two above the typical 80s slasher for me.

I was also impressed by the performance of Mark Soper as both brothers (the child versions are played by actual twins, or the best split-screen FX work ever seen in 1983). He does a fine job of making them distinct personalities, and admirably manages to make Todd sympathetic with his limited screentime. And his portrayal of Terry is wonderfully laid-back; his explanation to the step-dad about Todd's escape is one for the ages, casually remarking "Looks like you're going to meet the whole family - my psychotic brother just escaped." I also loved his repeated references to cranberry sauce when he sees blood on his own weapons. "That is not cranberry sauce, Artie. That is NOT cranberry sauce!" would be something people say as often as "Garbage Day!" if this movie (oddly enough, released just a few weeks after Silent Night Deadly Night 2) ever had a proper release. It was made in 1983 but released theatrically in June of 1987, under the Shadow Woods title, and edited to boot. This VHS release of Blood Rage is the only one that has the gore; the film was briefly available on DVD, but it was the cut one. Thus, you can kind of see why Eli has never heard of it.

And that's a shame, because I really did dig the movie. I figured it would mostly be a "so bad it's good" type affair like SNDN 2 (and 1, if I'm being honest), but apart from a few clunky moments (like the bizarre voiceover during the shrink scene) it's a pretty solid slasher of that era, with an appreciable mix of crass moments and characters (like the floozy neighbor who encourages her BABYSITTER to help herself to the alcohol stash) and genuine slasher terror, with some fine gore FX and a surprisingly grim ending to sweeten the deal. So it certainly doesn't deserve to be so obscure - did I mention Ted Raimi plays a condom salesman who acts like he's selling drugs? A young Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) is in there too, apparently, but I didn't see him and I don't want to stress my VCR out by using it twice in 24 hrs by looking for him. Incidentally, the last time I used it, I think, was for its fellow obscure holiday slasher To All A Goodnight - I need to make sure it stays healthy for the next one to come my way.

What say you?

P.S. Big thanks to my buddy Jackson for lending me his copy so I could have a rare holiday appropriate HMAD viewing! Also: yay! This will be the last time I have to eschew my old tradition of watching Dawn of the Dead on Thanksgiving morning so I would have time for a new HMAD entry!


Zombie Apocalypse: Redemption (2011)

NOVEMBER 21, 2012


When I first loaded up Zombie Apocalypse: Redemption, I thought it was a sequel to the surprisingly enjoyable Asylum film Zombie Apocalypse, which had Ving Rhames. And this one had Fred Williamson, who I figured was playing the same character since they're both black badass types who are undeservedly stuck in this sort of shit at this stage in their career. But I checked to see if they were indeed the same one, only to discover that this is actually a sequel to a DIFFERENT Zombie Apocalypse, one I never saw. However, I noticed no returning characters of note, so I figured I was safe to watch it, same as you can watch Romero's zombie films in any order that you like - the minor bits of continuity aren't significant in any way.

The weird thing about this movie is that it's basically the last 20 minutes of Dawn of the Dead stretched out to feature length. There's a team of survivors and a team of bandits endlessly fighting over some supplies, and the zombies are just sort of an obstacle. It offers enough z-action, but the intro tells us that there are 10,000 zombies for every human on earth, so I was kind of expecting to see them more often. Then again, most of the headshots are presented with lousy CGI blood, and the makeup is as basic as you can get (Walking Dead has really spoiled me on finding new ways to both design and kill zombies), so it's no big loss that we don't see them as often as human villains.

However, it IS a shame that the human villain is so cheesy. The film is mostly pretty serious, but the villain seems like he was modeled after Willem Dafoe's over the top cartoon bad guy from Streets Of Fire, except a. we don't get a sledgehammer fight and b. the actor here ain't no Dafoe. Every time they cut to him, and then again every time he opened his mouth, I felt my interest in the movie drop rapidly, which is problematic when it's not that interesting in the first place.

To be fair, it's not too bad, it just lacks personality. It's a typical action movie story of a guy with a dark past joining up with some folks, some of whom immediately distrust him, but by the end he's practically running the show. Replace the zombies with random prisoners and the movie is basically No Escape, with Williamson in the Lance Henriksen role and the same "we just got back from the bad guys' camp let's go to the bad guys' camp!" repetitive plotting. Some folks die, others live, and you won't really care much either way - though there is a rather endearing subplot about the hero's issues with Williamson's right-hand man. They butt heads for the first half hour or so, but then they bond when... well, when the hero knocks him out cold so he can take charge on a particular mission, which inadvertently results in one of the other guys getting killed. After that, they have a funny little exchange where they bust each others' balls, and from then on they are best buds. I dunno, it's weirdly executed but kind of charming all the same.

I was also impressed with the overall production; cheap CGI effects aside, they commit to their post-apocalyptic world and play it fairly straight, minimizing the potential to annoy me. I read the plot of the first film and it sounds like a typical zom-com, with two slacker types as the heroes, so I am relieved that returning director Ryan Thompson opted for something more dramatic here. Hell, a few more familiar faces in the roles (and if it was on film) and this could be any late 80s early 90s action/horror flick, something that would air on Cinemax after the big Wings Hauser movie for the night but before the softcore porn. And I would tape all three movies in SLP mode!

Really, Thompson's biggest problem is that there are just too many damn zombie movies out there these days, and he's merely hitting the expected beats without a lot of personality or creativity. One could assume he took the bad reviews of the original to heart and set out to do something more serious this time, but never really developed anything further than that. I didn't hate watching it (except for the villain scenes), but I never felt really engaged by much of it either, and at 100 minutes that's a bit much to ask anyone who has seen even 1/3 of what's come along in the past 5-6 years. Perhaps he should have reigned in the more ambitious ideas of the backstory (i.e. drop the opening text!) and cut the cast in half, giving everyone more time to be a meatier character while putting them in a story that was a little more exciting. With so many options in the genre, and so many ways to watch them (DVD, streaming, cable, etc), you gotta be more than competent to stick out. I mean, hell, I have to hunt for stuff almost every day and even I somehow missed the existence of these two films (the first one came out in 2010 and has a mere 76 user votes on IMDb - even a ), so it's not like they have a big marketing push or anything - make it weird or different so when people like me stumble across it we have a reason to help pimp it out! I can't tell people to check it out just because it's not as incompetently made as a number of the ones I've suffered through recently. Good try though.

What say you?


Back From Hell (2011)

NOVEMBER 20, 2012


Usually you can tell from the box art or the synopsis that a movie is going to be found footage, but apart from the clunky tagline ("A Demonic Exorcism Releases The Evil Inside") that hints at Last Exorcism and Devil Inside, there wasn't anything that tipped me off to Back From Hell (originally Ex Inferis) true nature as yet another goddamn POV movie. I was actually intrigued by its Evil Dead meets religious mumbo jumbo plot, but as soon as I saw people talking to a very shaky camera, my excitement dipped.

Now, I actually quite like the format when it's done right, but with the recent successes, we're seeing ripoffs at a rate unseen since the slasher boom of the early 80s, and with that many wannabes, you know that a lot of them aren't going to be very good. And it's exacerbated with this particular "genre" (it's not a genre, it's a stylistic choice, but that's a whole other discussion), because it requires a lot of planning and thought to do right. You can probably dumb luck your way into a decent slasher as long as the killer looks cool and you come up with a couple of decent death scenes, but not with the POV format. In order to work, these movies HAVE to think things through, starting with the most important "rule" - remembering that your camera is being held by a character.

And that's where writer/director Leonardo Araneo fails miserably, as the guy holding the camera often seems less engaged in the proceedings than ACTUAL cameramen in traditionally shot movies. Not only does he barely speak, but when major things go down, he has no reaction at all! It goes beyond the usual "Why is he still filming?" issue - this guy is borderline sociopathic, standing there and perfectly framing up things like friends attacking one another, or even performing impromptu C-sections. Honestly, you could watch several five minute segments of the movie and not even realize it was supposed to be from a character's point of view. He also films everything for no reason, including leaving it filming while they sleep before anything major has happened, and entire dinner scenes. Does he not need to eat? I also liked when he realizes all hope is lost but still thinks to fix the camera and film himself and another survivor wandering off into the background, just in case something interesting happens for the benefit of whoever might watch the tape later, I guess?

He also doesn't light things very well. There's a sort of unwritten rule that we accept in these things during night shoots, that the only reason they're filming is to keep the light on so they can see as they stumble around in the dark, but the other characters have flashlights that are BETTER than whatever light he has on his camera! But even during daytime interiors the movie is severely underlit; I suspect some of it might be a poor transfer, but that doesn't explain ALL of the movie's murkiness.

Another crippling flaw in this movie is that it's too damn talky. Not only is that a problem for any movie of this nature, as it requires our guy (again!) to forget he's a human being, sitting there silently filming his friends have heart to heart conversations or personal moments, but this is an Italian production with everyone speaking English. Thus, their accents can be a bit impenetrable at times (some even seem to be speaking phonetically), so make sure to keep the subtitle button handy. Not that it's much of a help, since the guy doing it was clearly doing a rush job, so you get things like "You sit, fuck" instead of "You sick fuck!" and "Mr. Paranoid" becomes "Mr. Paralite".

But the final, "OK this movie just simply isn't worth my time" blow is the fact that it doesn't make a lick of sense, as Araneo apparently thought having a bunch of underdeveloped ideas would be preferable to sticking to one that had probably been done better in five other found footage movies anyway. In a way I can appreciate it - this IS an Italian horror film, after all, and thus there's a sort of charm to see it ripping off American counterparts while eschewing things like coherence, but the POV thing keeps it from ever being fun - these movies, good or bad, have to be grounded in something we can familiarize ourselves with in order to work. That's why the best ones tend to be focused on situations we can identify with - being lost in the woods, hearing strange sounds in our new house, etc. That or they focus on interesting characters actually making a documentary, like Last Exorcism. This movie just never gives us an entry point; it begins awkwardly and is paced like the journey of a 12 year old that just stole a stick shift car.

Araneo also doesn't know when to quit, tossing in renegade angels, cosmic cubes (!), quarantined areas, etc into his storyline, as if an excess of STUFF would bring the movie to life. No, it just makes the experience more frustrating, because some of these ideas sound pretty great (like the possibility that it's an angel, not a demon, that has possessed one of the group), but they're ruined by the bad photography, brain-dead approach to the aesthetic, blank slate characters, and a general feeling of indifference. They can't even get the horror scenes right; the guy that's possessed sounds like Adam Sandler doing his devil voice from Dirty Work, and there are no major FX either, leaving the film with the curious stigma of seeming phony by keeping it real.

Oh, and it's 6 minutes longer than the back of the DVD promises. Salt in the wound, movie...

What say you?


Fear (1996)

NOVEMBER 19, 2012


I'm doing another Chiller special soon, and without spoiling the topic (hasn't been announced yet), Fear is one of the movies on the list. At first I was kind of confused, since I always thought it was a straight up PG-13 thriller about a girl with a violent jerk for a boyfriend, but then I discovered that it was actually R rated for "Strong graphic violence and terror", and IMDb even lists it as a horror film (plus it was recommended by HMAD reader Keith a while ago - shoulda listened!). So I could kill two birds with one stone - watching one of the films for the list (most of which I had seen), and getting in my daily "new" horror flick.

As it turns out, it's not a great film, but it's well-made and entertaining enough, without much time wasted, and a fine reminder that Reese Witherspoon was much more enjoyable in her early years, before every movie had to be about two guys fighting over her. What struck me most is that it really earns its R rating - Mark Wahlberg fingers the young future Oscar winner, snaps a dude's neck, more or less rapes Alyssa Milano... plus drops the F bomb with some frequency (I always thought his "SO LET ME IN THE FUCKIN' HOUSE!" was the one time use, again, thinking this was a PG-13 movie).

It also works in the film's rather tense finale, as it takes on a sort of home invasion scenario as Wahlberg and his punk friends terrorize Reese and her family (plus Milano) at their typically ridiculous, state of the art "secure" home, which has such niceties as a keypad entry with the complicated code of 1-4-3-2. And you gotta hand it to the script by Christopher Crowe - the first dead bad guy is courtesy of the family's young son, who runs one of them over as he tries to escape in the family car. But also, there's an odd benefit to the casting of William Petersen as the dad - Wahlberg keeps threatening to shoot him in the head, and holds the gun to Petersen's noggin enough times to make us think he will do it, because after all, it wouldn't be the first movie to shock us by blowing ol' Bill's head off.

Until then it's kind of the usual sort of Play Misty For Me/Fatal Attraction type thriller, albeit with the roles reversed from those. "At first he seems so perfect, but then..." To be fair, they don't waste a lot of time proving to us that he's crazy - we're only about 30 minutes into the movie when he beats the shit out of Reese's male friend after mistaking a friendly hug for something romantic. But they had to get there early for a puzzling, not very successful "twist" of sorts - after avoiding him for a few days because of this, she goes back to him, seemingly just to piss off her dad. So there's an odd break in the tension, because now we just have to twiddle our thumbs as things seem perfect again, because we know that won't happen. I mean, hell, we knew he wasn't perfect as soon as the movie started, but we can accept the usual buildup - it's bizarre to have to go through it again.

They also fail to capitalize on their R rating in one respect - Milano's character lives. I had no doubt that the family unit would remain intact (with Petersen as the wild card), so I figured the only reason she was even there was to raise the stakes a bit during the finale. But alas, she's just sort of hanging out in the background for the bulk of it; even when she interferes with one of the thugs she just takes a hit and is once again ignored. Come on, even the When A Stranger Calls remake had the stones to kill off the slutty friend! You OWE us this!

As for Wahlberg, he's fine. It's so hard to take him serious as an actor because of his rap background and questionable career choices - I think he's best used in more comedic roles like Big Hit or Ted (or even Boogie Nights); even though I know he can kick my ass without breaking a sweat, I just have trouble getting around the goofier parts of his career when he's supposed to be a dangerous character. It doesn't help that the movie has some terribly half-assed moments, like his instantly blood-free chest when he does the "NICOLE 4 EVA" tattoo on himself.

But the biggest hurdle for a modern audience would be its occasional "timely" jokes (I had to momentarily rack my brain to remember what "Cane me in Singapore!" was supposed to mean) and overly 90s soundtrack, which gives us not one but TWO Bush songs, one of which ("Comedown") is actually used twice. As is The Sundays' cover of "Wild Horses", and some Toad The Wet Sprocket for good measure. However, the score might not seem too dated at all, and I realized something spectacularly awesome about it around the halfway point. See, I couldn't help but feel I had heard it before, but it wasn't until I looked up the composer that it came together. The score was composed by Carter Burwell, and those cues seemed familiar because I had just heard them (again) in Breaking Dawn Part 2, his third Twi-film. Now, I quite like his work, but I admit he does have a certain "sound" and thus some of his scores do sound alike. But even on that level, his Twilight themes were almost direct lifts from this, and thus I'd like to think that this was an intentional little joke on his part - I'm certainly not the first to suggest that Edward was more of a psychotic stalker than boyfriend, much like David is here. I would love for Burwell to admit that he was making a very subtle joke about Edward and Bella's "love" with his choice of music, but I'd be satisfied knowing that anyone else made the connection.

Compared to many 90s horror/thrillers, particularly those surrounding teens, it holds up well. With so many that followed (Swimfan comes to mind) being PG-13, it's refreshing to see one where the "dangerous" person actually comes across as a real threat, and except for that 2nd act slowdown the pacing finds the right balance between letting us understand why Reese would care about this guy and getting to the point. And even if you hate the 90 minutes preceding it, Wahlberg's final moments are pure bliss, and the movie has a Hammer ending - as soon as the threat is out of the way, the movie ends. I can definitely dig that sort of efficiency.

What say you?


Alligator X (2010)

NOVEMBER 18, 2012


If there was any justice in the world, Alligator X (aka Xtinction: Predator X, which is much stupider) would be the 9th sequel to the 1980 film Alligator, and would be set in space, possibly with the 3rd act revolving around a half robot "Uber-Alligator". But alas, it's unrelated to that and any other film, and instead of space it's just the 59056th horror movie shot in Louisiana in the past 5 years, because that is the only state in the Union, I guess. Also, the goddamn alligator barely appears; the film's REAL primary villains are a couple of redneck assholes who rack up about as many kills and at least twice the screentime.

Worse, it looks like ass when we do see it. You'd think with so few shots to worry about, director Amir Valinia would use his 2.5 million budget wisely and deliver at least on the level of Syfy originals, but NO! This is sub-PS1 cut-scene level shit, which is unforgivable when it appears so infrequently. It's one thing if he's in every scene and thus their budget was spread too thin, but come on! With less than 5 minutes to worry about you can't get any better than this? You suck.

It also changes size depending on the scene, a huge pet peeve of mine. I can see how it would happen, and can forgive a shot or two, but it happens over and over, so much that I wasn't actually sure which one was the "correct" size. I swear, he's practically Godzilla-sized in the big showdown, even though moments before he was only slightly bigger than a regular gator in comparison to the human victim he just bit in half.

But even if the FX were Oscar-worthy, it wouldn't help the fact that this is a very dull, painfully generic film, where our hero is a cop that's trying to woo the troubled local gal that first stumbles across the gator (during her swamp tour), and there's a human villain that wants to use the thing for research and other exploitative means without caring about the humans that will die along the way, and the supporting cast includes a dimwit deputy and some local fishermen... you have seen this movie 1200 times, just usually at least marginally better.

It also fails to give Mark Sheppard an interesting character to play. He's a fun character actor (with an AMAZING voice), but he's playing stock horror/sci-fi human villain #23 here, without any of the shades of gray that can make him memorable. Hell, on Supernatural he plays the goddamn Devil (more or less), and even there there are more sides to him and even a slight bit of humanity (depending on the episode, though it seems to be pretty much gone at this point) than he's given here. Hope the paycheck was good. Also, nothing against the guy, but why do I see Lochlyn Munro playing so many cops? He's not exactly the most imposing or authoritative looking guy in the world, you know?

I know this is short for me, but honestly I can't think of anything else to say. It's a bad film, made by people who either don't care (or aren't competent enough) to make a good one. Had I known that it was from the same director as Lockjaw I wouldn't even have bothered, because this didn't promise a random ripoff of Pumpkinhead OR its top-billed star (DMX) giving most of his screentime over to a stunt double. Plus, any further effort from me would guarantee that I've tried harder than they did (though to be fair the presence of four names on the script suggests maybe a good script was just rewritten out of its identity), and I think we all have better things to do.

What say you?


Citadel (2012)

NOVEMBER 17, 2012


Making a horror movie that's a metaphor used to be pretty common; the 50s giant monster movies were playing on fears of the new nuclear technology, many 70s horror films were responses to Vietnam or the recession, and pretty much any classic zombie film is a comment on SOMETHING. But that's rare these days; even the zombie films of late tend to be pretty empty-headed and direct, so it's nice to see Citadel make baby steps back into that direction, as the movie is more about the fears of being a new father more than it is a straight horror movie.

However, it's not exactly a metaphor - it's closer to the actual plot. While one can just look at his single dad issues as another obstacle for him to overcome, it seems pretty obvious that director Ciaran Foy is much more interested in hero Tommy's struggles with his infant than he is having him face/fight the pint-sized demons that attacked his wife while she was still pregnant (she remained in a coma for months after giving birth, eventually dying). You just need to use your imagination a bit - the demons are all kidnapped children that were "changed", and of course any parent feels like a failure if their child is taken, so it's all about him making sure he's a better parent than those others. It's just, instead of worrying that the kid isn't being fed properly or given proper upraising to be able to measure up to the other kids when he goes to school, he has to worry that his kid will be a demon.

It's a pretty original concept, one that mostly works like gangbusters. It's rare to have a male as the lead in a horror film (especially one about parenting), and it's even rarer that one is as sympathetic as Tommy is here. Foy wastes no time in setting up his plight; the mother is attacked in the opening moments, and quickly establishes the fallout - in addition to now having to raise the child alone, Tommy has become agoraphobic as a result, and (in a plot point that was slightly muddled) he now lives in an isolated part of town as the result of some urban redevelopment program, one where the bus doesn't stop after a certain time of day and the cops don't come at all. In short, his life is shit and kind of scary even without the little demons terrorizing him.

Since they're all wearing hoodies to hide their faces, it's actually kind of similar to Them (Ils) at times, especially during the centerpiece home invasion scene where he has to barricade himself in the bathroom. Foy wisely never lets the film get too bogged down in their motivations or an explanation for their powers, and does so in a way that doesn't feel like he's saving stuff for a sequel (a common problem in modern horror, and films in general, in this "trilogy" obsessed landscape). He DOES, however, seem to be holding back on the priest character (simply named Priest, or Father), who plans to destroy the demons and the building that they congregate in, aided by a young boy who may be a reformed demon himself. I could have watched a whole movie about these two, but Foy sidelines them for most of the narrative, to the extent where I was sure that the film's reported 85 minute runtime must have been an error, because it was over an hour in by the time Tommy joined up with them.

Indeed, if I had one issue with the film it would be this wonky pacing. The first hour works fine, but it seems like there should be a full second hour to come after it, rather than 25 minutes with credits. A major character's fate is left somewhat ambiguous (we are told this person is dead, but neither Tommy or us ever get close enough to confirm that, and they are attacked in the same manner Tommy is TWICE in the film and he didn't die), and the "main event", as it were, plays out in one long shot (with bad CGI), robbing us of the full impact of the heroes' actions. It also has a pet peeve of mine in movies, when a character sacrifices themselves for the greater good but the way it's all staged, it seems like they could have easily gotten away as well. It's not as bad as, say, Lost, when Charlie had plenty of time to just go on the other side of the door with Desmond and then TELL HIM "Not Penny's Boat", but it still felt a bit like the character was choosing certain death over the mere possibility.

But there was so much to like, it didn't bother me much, and it's hardly the worst thing in the world where one of the biggest complaints is that I wanted it to be longer. Sure, it might making writing a review hard, because most of the exciting/interesting things to talk about occur in its second half and are thus too spoiler-y to discuss (something I try to avoid for original theatrical releases, especially those in limited release) - one could even accuse the movie of being too simplistic. But to me that was sort of a plus; again, too many movies nowadays are concerned with establishing a big mythology and paving the way for sequels without finding out if we the audience give a shit enough about the world/story to WANT another one. Thus, it's refreshing to see one that's stripped down to the essentials, putting character first and striking a fine balance between horror movie elements and real life terror - it's rare that I've seen agoraphobia handled so well on-screen, or at least in a way that got me to feel terrified along with him (meaning it might not be clinically accurate - I don't know enough about it). And yes, I would watch a sequel (or a prequel about Priest!).

What say you?


Breaking Dawn [Part 2] (2012)

NOVEMBER 16, 2012


"You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?!?"

Intentional humor is pretty rare in the Twilight films, but damned if that bit didn't make me laugh like a loon with the OTHER PEOPLE in the crowded theater for the 9:30 am opening (school) day showing of Breaking Dawn Part 2. Usually my laughter is a singular sound, as the other folks showing up that early tend to really care about the characters/events in these movies and thus doesn't find it as amusing when one of them gets their head lopped off or says something that, to their ears, is poignant and beautiful.

That said, I've never been as down on these movies as some of my peers, who go out of their way to claim that they've ruined the genre (and Comic Con) before admitting they've never actually watched one of them. I mean, I certainly won't ever give any of them a second look (maybe an Alice/Ashley Greene highlight reel...), but apart from the interminable New Moon, I was never less than at least mildly entertained by them, either. I guess I have been blessed with the ability to not hate a movie because it was targeted at someone other than myself, and instead can usually find something to enjoy despite the fact that I'm not "supposed" to be in the movie's corner. Let's put it this way - I've walked out of more Halloween movies feeling disappointed than I have Twilights. Give me something amusing once per reel, and as long as the teen girls and 40ish women around me are cheering and squealing when appropriate, I have no problem dubbing the films as successful.

Obviously, being the 5th movie (or the 2nd half of the 4th, if you're cynical, though both felt like complete stories to me, if a bit unnecessarily padded), they're not looking to convert any haters/newcomers this time, assuming they ever were in the first place. Despite the trailers focusing heavily on the big battle between the evil Volturi and our vamp/wolf heroes, it's actually pretty light on action, which is even more surprising when you consider that (as I later discovered) the battle wasn't even in the book. If not for Bill Condon and (perhaps) Melissa Rossenberg realizing that the 5th movie in a fantasy/horror series should have a big climax, this movie's action would be limited to a quick chase scene that turns out to be a misunderstanding, a standalone vampire kill during a recruitment montage, and a brief skirmish between Bella and two wolves when things get heated regarding Jacob's "imprinting".

I'm not sure if the book went into that last bit more, but after hearing about it a while ago, I must say I was a bit bummed that it didn't have much significance to the movie. Jacob is basically in love with Edward and Bella's newborn child, who grows to be about 8 in a few months, but other than this one conversation, it never really plays as anything but a guy helping his friends protect a child. All it would take would be a quick line that Jacob felt the need to protect Renesme just as he did Bella out of loyalty or whatever, and the movie wouldn't really be any different. Again, maybe it's not a big deal in the book either, but I was excited at the idea of Taylor Lautner (by far the weakest actor of the trio) doing his angry young man routine and getting into eyebrow-offs with Robert Pattinson as he defended his right to be with this baby that he was destined to marry, but after it's first introduced (with that Loch Ness line), he's back to just sort of constantly hanging out at the Cullens' house and making bad jokes about them being cold or wanting blood or whatever.

So yeah, it's mostly more of the same. A whole bunch of new characters are introduced, and they each get a moment or two, not always integrated well with the rest of the narrative. Joe Anderson, as a weary, standoff-ish vampire, literally wanders into a scene to deliver a monologue out of nowhere, as if they realized they hired a good actor and hadn't given him anything to do - I can almost see a PA herding him back onto the set as he was prepared to leave the shoot, after filming all of the cutaways and crowd shots that his role otherwise amounted to. When the end credits came up, it was the first time I actually caught the names of nearly half of its characters, and that includes a few that weren't even in the movie. To either honor its legacy, or just to get Anna Kendrick in the movie SOMEHOW, the ENTIRE cast of the series (including both of the actresses who played Victoria) is given a full screen credit alongside a film clip, like it was a video yearbook or one of those "In Memoriam" sequences from the Oscars.

And it comes after a well-meaning but slightly unfortunate bit where Bella projects a montage of their history into Edward's mind (or something), so we see clips from when they first met, their first kiss, etc. The problem is we can see how much Mr. Pattinson has aged in 5 years, which goes against the whole "ageless" thing, so maybe they should have just had him reshoot those bits or something. The movie's budget isn't exactly on-screen (the FX during Bella's first "hunt" are sub-Escape From LA), so there should have been room for him to reshoot these 10 or 11 shots and thus prevent distracting an audience away from the point by marveling how much younger he looks. That said, having recalled how terrible they looked at first, I can at least take comfort knowing that the wolf FX have improved greatly, and while I missed the "shattered glass" effect that David Slade used in Eclipse when a vamp was killed, I was quite satisfied with the amount of decapitations and dismemberments during the final battle; bloodless as they may be, there's nothing funnier than seeing a particularly goofy character get his head knocked clean off.


It's a shame that the big battle is just a dream though. Had I known it wasn't in the book I would have guessed right from the start that it was a dream, as there would be no way in hell that Stephenie Meyer, hater of the letter "A" and film series producer, would allow Condon to kill off so many of the primary characters if they didn't die in the book as well. It's basically a Final Destination lift; the future-seeing Alice envisions a (terrific) 10-15 minute battle with a huge body count, and then BAM! We snap back to the present and realize it was just a premonition. Honestly, the big deaths are handled better than they were in Harry Potter 7B (where Harry enters a room and we see a few big characters lying dead), and there are some legitimately great moments in that sequence - I particularly liked when one wolf sacrificed itself to save Mrs. Cullen. But none of it happened, nor does anything else happen to make up for it - everyone agrees to a truce and walks away. The film's body count for named characters is exactly 1, which must be a letdown even to the teenaged girls. They spent three books (I don't think the Volturi were in the first one, right?) setting up this war between the good and evil vampires, and neither side takes any real loss? Just some in-betweener who came out of nowhere (at least in the movies) and thus we couldn't have cared much about them anyway? Weak.

But hey, at least no one has to watch their favorite character die for real. In my case that would be Charlie (Billy Burke), who plays a part in the series 59657th and final scene of Lautner taking his shirt off (it's actually pretty funny if you think of Charlie as speaking for the straight males in the audience). I've long worried that he'd be doing his job as a cop or as Bella's father and end up dead since he's pretty much the only human character left at this point, but he's sent off on a fishing trip and presumably living happily ever after. And even in the dream, neither Alice or my boy Emmett get killed, so I would have been fine if it was all true.

Thus, it's a perfectly fitting sendoff for this polarizing series, which has never been as good as its biggest supporters OR as bad as its harshest critics have claimed. They don't aim very high, nor do they sink very low (it's not even the worst vampire movie I've seen this week; in fact it's the best!) - they just offer the bare minimum of vamp action to get folks like me to give them a pass, and from what I understand never change much from the text that can either improve or "ruin" the narratives that the die-hards know inside and out. After 5 movies I still don't get what made this particular saga such a phenomenon, but I understand even less why anyone feels the need to hate on them so much. I do wish that Condon had brought a bit more of the fucked up horror of the first half into this one, but he has once again given some class and personality to a movie that would have made just as much money if it was directed by whoever happened to be closest to the camera. So kudos to Summit for hiring a real director for these installments, and I hope that their success will give him a bit of the clout he deserves.

What say you?


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