Stitches (2012)

MARCH 30, 2013


Early on in HMAD, I had a dream of finding a really good slasher with a clown killer, only to be disappointed over and over and figuring it would never get better than Clownhouse (which is hard to defend because of all the ickiness surrounding it). The best until now has been 100 Tears, which is entertaining but in the same ballpark as "so bad it's good" territory, not actually something I'd recommend to those looking for a solid modern slasher film. Thus, it's fitting that the penultimate HMAD is Stitches, which is indeed the great clown slasher I've been looking for for the past six years. If I WASN'T "retiring" tomorrow, I'd come across a bad one a few months down the road and think "I shoulda just quit when I saw Stitches."

Indeed, I only have one minor complaint about the movie - it takes a while for our title character to be reborn. This is a supernatural revenge type of slasher; our party clown is killed when the bratty kids who he's trying to entertain accidentally trip him, landing face first on the business end of the big knife used to cut the cake, and 6 years later he crawls from the grave to exact revenge at the now teenaged kid's house party. There's a lot of setup, and all that is fine, but I wish he coulda been reborn maybe 10 minutes earlier - there's only one kill in the first 50 minutes, something you can get away with if there's a lot of stalking, but apart from a not entirely successful attempt at misleading us (a kid comes to the party dressed as the clown in order to play a prank on our hero), the horror is kept at bay for a bit longer than I'd like. Maybe one of the kids could have gone to Stitches' grave and gotten killed moments after he was reborn, so we didn't have to wait until he got to the party for the fun to start.

But once he gets there, oh man. Ross Noble plays the clown, and I love the choice for him to retain the droll demeanor he had when he was alive, rather than overact and go overboard with the puns and such. On the commentary the director says he was influenced by 80s slashers and namechecks Nightmare On Elm Street, but he seems to be more of a Dream Warriors fan than the more jokey/cartoonish Dream Master/Child entries (and if you have any doubt, look for a very cool little nod to that 3rd Elm Street - first to spot it and leave a comment wins a no-prize!), where Freddy had some dark jokes but was still scary. I likened the film to Dr. Giggles on Twitter, but I was referring more to his implements and MO, not so much his dialogue and acting.

As Giggles used medical instruments for each and every kill, all of the murders here are based around familiar clown tricks - when he reaches behind your ear, he doesn't pull out a quarter, but your actual ear. A guy gets a bunny pulled out of his throat, and another is turned into a human balloon animal. And even better - they're all practical FX! You would think - especially in this day and age - that a head being expanded, with eyes bulging out and such before exploding would be created almost entirely digitally, but no - a series of fake heads were applied over the actor's, allowing him to keep moving naturally and even talking while we in the audience get to enjoy a terrific, flesh and blood creation. On the commentary, director Conor McMahon (who also made the enjoyable Dead Meat) explains that there was one effect that they were going to do with a computer, and after a month of trying and not getting satisfactory results, they opted to do a practical effect that took a few hours (and looks great). I recently got into a Twitter discussion with a movie producer (one I'm friendly with, this wasn't a FIGHT) who claimed that low budget productions such as the ones he makes often don't have time for real FX on the set, and "have" to go CGI, and my argument was that you'd end up spending that much time later anyway, so I'm glad I have this sort of evidence to back me up the next time the subject arises. Make the time to do it right - it should be part of whatever planning you do to figure out the shooting schedule in the first place, ESPECIALLY for a slasher movie.

But more than the kills, they really dive headfirst into the idea and legacy of donning a red nose and white facepaint, as Stitches is resurrected by a sort of clown cult that is never fully explained (sequels?), just that a clown who doesn't finish a party can never be at rest. And the backstory just modifies a factual thing in which a clown's face is painted on an egg, which encapsulates his spirit or something (in reality it's also done to protect their copyright). So he's got Crow-like healing powers, and the only way to stop him is to break this egg, which is thankfully stored nearby in a crypt with a bunch of others. You also get to feel a bit sorry for Stitches; even though he's introduced as a typical movie clown (why are they ALWAYS having sex with floozies while wearing the makeup?), the kids are way more rotten to him than he deserves.

I should stress they're only all jerks when they're young - the older versions are mostly likeable and realistic. One thing I really liked is that they all haven't remained close - how many kids from your 10th or 11th birthday party were invited to your 16th? So two of them are kind of antagonists to the others, and one has mostly abandoned them for a different group, and that sort of thing. Plus the timeframe (six years) is compressed enough for it to be believable that they're all still in town - it's goofy when it's like "Twenty years later" and everyone is still around AND hanging out all the time. Stitches ONLY goes after the kids who were at the birthday party, even when he has an opportunity to grab another victim along the way (which leads to one odd moment where a female character one of the targets is hooking up with just completely disappears - I even rewound part of the movie to see if I missed something to explain her absence but found nothing), so I was pleased that they found a realistic way to keep them all together without making it too much of a stretch that all of his intended victims would be in one place.

Also: male lead in a slasher! There's a love interest of course, but like Hatchet, it's nice to see what a me-like guy can/would do when placed at the center of a mad murderer film, since they're my favorite genre but usually the guy I'd identify with ends up dead pretty early on. And he's got a best pal that's likely to die, allowing for more suspense than you usually get in this sort of thing, which would normally focus on the girl and MAYBE let her male love interest live. And I like that he's not very popular; kids just come to his party for the booze and what not - no one besides his actual friends show him any respect. There's a hilarious bit where he's outside, shouting at a window trying to warn his pal to get out of the house, and some jerks just crowd around him and mock him the entire time. That's another thing I liked - it takes a while for Stitches to scare off everyone that he's not interested in, forcing him to be a bit more stealthy and also keeping suspension of disbelief at bay, unlike say Scream where everyone not involved just happens to want to leave at the same time.

The young actors are the focus of the 20 minute making of, as they discuss their favorite horror movies (or why they don't like them), working together, etc. Noble also offers some insight, as does McMahon (who cameos in the film as a wallflower student), but it's mostly promotional fluff that I had little interest in (though not ACTUAL promotion as it includes some spoilers). Same goes for the blooper reel, as most of it seems like "You had to be there" stuff and the best goofs (like Noble catching his umbrella on the boom mic) are played over the end credits anyway (awesome titles by the way). The trailer's fine, but really the only bonus feature of real value is the commentary by Noble and McMahon, which is a perfect blend of set anecdotes (apparently the house owner inspected the mess they were making every night, confused why they were leaving it), nuts and bolts stuff about the FX, and Noble displaying his terrifically dry sense of humor (he gets exasperated trying to find something to say about the end credits, eventually thanking Dolby for existing). He also talks about some of the challenges the makeup presented, such as his lack of depth perception as one eye is permanently closed.

Now here's the ironic kicker - it's the sort of movie I'd usually end the review by saying "I'd love to see this with a crowd!" but I actually had to pass up the opportunity to do so, as it's showing in LA on April 1st - my first "day off" from watching horror movies in over six years. As much as I've been dying to see this (it's been on my radar since last year's Cannes festival), I had to put my foot down - if it was April 2nd, fine, but goddammit I've been looking forward to going a whole day WITHOUT having to watch something and review it later, so I wasn't going to back down now. So I watched by myself on a (pretty spectacular looking) Blu-ray - hopefully someday down the road there will be another screening so I can do it right, but since I've already seen tomorrow's final movie, I'm glad my final "discovery" is the sort of thing that made sifting through all those bad ones worthwhile.

What say you?


Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill! (2006)

MARCH 29, 2013


Holiday slashers are all too rare these days, and with Easter being one of the less frequently used days as a center of inspiration for such fare, I was hoping Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill! would go all out, embracing both the rarity of the subject matter and the fact that it's a sub-genre long overdue for a comeback. But alas, it's strangely low-key, and not nearly as exploitative or gonzo as I would have expected - in fact, it's shockingly... serious?

I mean, don't get me wrong - it's still a slasher with someone in an Easter Bunny mask (another disappointment - not a full costume!), and the deaths are graphic (and loaded with practical blood!) as any good slasher should be. It's also a whodunit of sorts; we're supposed to think that the mentally challenged boy who is being tormented by his mom's boyfriend (and a child molester pal of his) has snapped and is killing everyone, but the way it's set up is too easy, and thus we know it can't be the case. But there's a strong emphasis on character development and a LONG setup before our first kill (almost 45 minutes!), making this more of a drama that TURNS INTO a slasher movie than anything else.

And that's even weirder when you consider that the opening seems to be taking cues from Silent Night Deadly Night, misleading me some as it got me hoping this would be equally depraved (and action packed). The first scene is a store robbery, and Nicholas (who is 16 but acts like a 5 year old; not sure what exact disorder he has) is obviously really into Easter the way Billy was into Christmas before being scarred forever. So I figured the robber (who is the mom's boyfriend) would do something awful, he'd snap, and he'd go on a rampage making his way to his mother, who is working on Easter much to his disappointment. But they never leave the house save for a couple cutaways to the boyfriend (who has gone out for a couple of hookers), and again even though we know the guy's a scumbag it takes quite a bit of screentime before this even really resembles a horror film.

Most of that time is spent on getting us to sympathize with Nicholas, something that might have been easier with an actual handicapped actor in the role instead of a guy pretending. He's not a bad actor, but there's something slightly exploitative about his strange form of retardation, and it took a while for me to realize that this wasn't supposed to be like a Troma thing (where his issues would be played for laughs). On the bonus features we learn that they originally DID cast an actor with Down syndrome but he had to back out because of personal issues, and that would have been a lot more beneficial as we could not only easily identify his issue (and hopefully understand how he would normally act) but also know for sure that he wasn't being made fun of in any way.

Another odd thing is that the boyfriend seems to genuinely love the mom, adding a bit of dimension to his otherwise deplorable character and more weight to the ending when we find out who the killer is. It works for that specific thing, but during the movie I was wondering why anyone who clearly had compassion for a woman could also hate her son so much; it might have made more sense if he was just using her as a convenient lover and didn't want to deal with the kid too. But at least there's some surprise to how this angle plays out, as there's a subplot about a homeless man that's way too easy to figure out its significance, made to be a big reveal - if you haven't guessed it by then, you're not very good at movies.

But kudos to the creative team for trying and occasionally succeeding at making something more dramatic and serious out of a potentially bad-taste goldmine. I suspect I'd enjoy the film more on a second view, now that I know it's not a full blown holiday slasher like Silent Night or any of the various Halloween-set slashers. And on a second view I could also try to imagine what it would have been like with the original cast, who are revealed in the film's lone supplement besides the commentary, which also has to be the first of its type I've ever seen. Titled "Fuck Up", the 17 minute piece explains the headaches surrounding the production's original casting of Joe Pilato as the boyfriend. Joe apparently was going through some sort of addiction at the time (drugs or alcohol wasn't specified) and making the other cast members uncomfortable with his erratic behavior, and was forced to leave the production as they couldn't afford to wait on him to clean up with a filming schedule already set in stone. Not much is explained here about why the Down syndrome actor had to leave, but it also cost them Lynn Lowry as his mother as the actor they cast instead was black and thus the mom had to be too. So actor Timothy Muskatel (who was originally cast as the child molester) got bumped up to the boyfriend, and another actor hired as the despicable perv (who makes the guy in Hardware look harmless). Truly, out of all the hundreds of bonus features I've seen I don't think I've ever come across anything this up front and honest concerning casting; usually they might drop a hint on a commentary about "a previous actor" and you have to go digging to find out who they mean - this actually has footage of the original actor being let go!

The commentary by Muskatel and director Chad Ferrin also talks about this a bit, as well as some other production woes, the worst being when a shady distributor gave them a bad check and then released the movie on Amazon himself, screwing them out of revenue and holding up the film's proper DVD release for quite a while (the movie is copyright 2006 - the disc was produced in 2010). They also talk about the actual production and the usual shortcomings of low budget (under ten grand) filmmaking, and throw in some TMI stories and other off the cuff remarks that make it a pretty good listen. But that's it for real bonus features; the only other thing is the trailer (which DOES sell a more full blown, trashy slasher) and spots for other releases from distributor Breaking Glass. Considering the weak transfer (non-anamorphic on a 2010 disc?) and movie's pacing issues I'd have a tough time recommending a purchase, you can get through the disc in less than four hours and probably wouldn't want to revisit it much, but I'd say it's worth a look if you're a die-hard slasher fan and are curious about an attempt to blend something ridiculous ("killer Easter bunny") with something more dramatic and realistic.

What say you?


The Hotel!! (2002)

MARCH 28, 2013


Every Thursday, landscapers come and drown out everything for about three hours, and if I have the morning off that's when I'd be watching my daily horror movie. So I try to stick to foreign films when that happens, because I'll be reading anyway and thus don't mind if I can't actually hear a few lines, rather than keep turning up the volume and hoping that I don't blow out my speakers. And I have had my eye on The Hotel!! for a while now, as it was from Thailand but sounded more like a slasher movie, which could be interesting (plus it was 108 minutes, making it a tough sell), so I made today "the day" as, well, I won't have to worry about the landscapers for an obligatory horror movie on Thursdays anymore.

Sadly, the slasher element only lasts for the first couple of kills; the film switches gears and focuses more on typical ghostly revenge plotting, with the kills taking on a more ridiculous, Final Destination type of approach - one guy is pinned down by shards of glass before a final one lops off his head, a far cry from the simple stabbing that had occurred 20 minutes or so before. The ghost story isn't bad, but as a slasher fan, AND as someone who has seen enough pissed off Asian ghosts to last a lifetime, I wish it didn't take such a familiar route to tell its story of a bunch of siblings who inherit a hotel and then try to figure out what's going on when guests and renovators start dropping like flies shortly thereafter. Maybe it's because the You're Next trailer just hit today (at long last!) but I was kind of into the idea of someone targeting a family for some reason to be revealed, with lots of slashing, but no - we actually find out who the bad guy is at like the halfway point.

And that's problematic, because even if you're way more excited about ghosts than slashers, the movie really starts to drag in the 2nd half, with an endless flashback scene explaining why he's so pissed off and an overlong, action-lite finale where the ghost makes his case to the woman he still loves. There's also a silly bit where the survivors are flushed out to the ocean as the hotel crumbles, which is really pushing things. I don't know what I like less - 70 minute movies that are stretched to 80 with credits and other filler, or 90 minute movies that are stretched to 108 by dragging their damn heels and not knowing when to quit.

There's also some jarring tonal shifts, particularly surrounding a cop who is investigating one of the earliest murders and sticks around for a while. He acts all goofy at times, but other times he feels like he can almost be the movie's hero (shades of The Guard Post), so I never knew what to make of him. There's one brother (or cousin? I couldn't quite get a grasp on the family tree) who is introduced as the idiot they all love to tease, but then he never displays much of that behavior again. At times it felt like a Dark Shadows movie, where there were all these characters fighting for screentime because they were important and the fans would be mad if they weren't there, except as far as I know The Hotel!! is a standalone movie.

Oh, the exclamation points. Only one appears on the poster, but IMDb and the on-screen subtitle give us two, and I'll be damned if I can explain either of them. I can assume the second one on the movie was just a subtitling error, because there are plenty of those - verb tenses and the like are atrocious, and sometimes words are just skipped entirely; I think he means "hotels" when a character says "because Lots of large have been build there", though why he felt the need to capitalize "Lots" is still a mystery. Bad subtitles always confuse me - someone's being paid for this, right? Can't they find someone who can understand both languages to do it, instead of handing a guy the script and hoping his word for word translation gets the gist of it? It's fine for a Hong Kong movie consisting primarily of guys punching and kicking each other, but when it's a plot/character driven film like this, it'd be nice if they could put a little more effort into it.

For all its problems though, I will defend it for one bit at around the halfway point, when a cat suddenly lands on the table between a few characters in the middle of a discussion. It's identical to 2895 other cat scares you've seen, but one guy demands an explanation - he first points out that no one owns a cat, and when that is explained by the cop (he suggests one of the renovators brought it with him), another guy backs him up, pointing out that there's no tree near the window for the cat to have jumped from. In all these years, I think the only other cat gag that had this much thought put into it was the intentional spoof of such things on Community, which doesn't count. But sadly it's also what kicks the ghost story into full gear, so it's also the beginning of the end of my enjoyment of the movie. Oh well. I've seen worse, but I'm not surprised it's so obscure (zero user reviews/board posts, and only a single external review - in German! - on the IMDb), either.

What say you?


Bride Of Re-Animator (1989)

MARCH 27, 2013


For a movie that replaced a director that I quite like (Stuart Gordon) with one I'm not too crazy about (Brian Yuzna), Bride Of Re-Animator could have been a lot worse, I guess. There's nothing particularly BAD about it (except the absence of Barbara Crampton, of course), but it lacks that spark that made the original so memorable. I used the word "perfunctory" when talking to a friend about it, and I haven't thought of a better one to describe it - lazy wouldn't be fair given the amount of pretty great practical FX work, but otherwise it just sort of does exactly what you'd expect it to once you read the plot description.

While Crampton is gone (and replaced by a different actress for a scene that was cut anyway), Yuzna was smart enough to bring back Bruce Abbott and Jeffrey Combs as Cain and West, the misguided young doctors who have continued to work together while West furthers his experiments in giving life back to dead tissue. The film begins in Peru of all places, with the two working as field medics during a civil war, but they are quickly back in Arkham, Massachusetts (read: Sherman Oaks and other Los Angeles suburbs) and up to their old tricks. I was a bit bummed that they didn't stay in Peru longer, as it would have given the film more of its own identity and thus allowed it to stand on its own, but luckily the script found a few new things to bring to the table.

First and foremost: a police presence! They didn't do much to attract suspicion beyond the hospital in the first one, but it would have been really dumb if they went back (it's only eight months later) and no one had any questions for them. The main antagonist is a cop who instantly takes an interest in the massacre at the morgue and the frequency of missing body parts, and it doesn't take long for us to find out why - his wife was one of the bodies that got re-animated during the first film's climax, and she's STILL up and about (albeit under observation at a hospital), so naturally he wants to know why. This leads to a lot of scenes where he watches West or Cain do something suspicious, or questions them (or Cain's new girlfriend), or snoops around, so it gets a bit repetitive, but I like how they handled his character. Being that he's a cop and investigating guys that are up to some immoral stuff, it'd be hard to actively root AGAINST him unless he had a skeleton in his closet, so when we find that out it makes it easier to cheer on West, who's as driven as ever.

Dan, on the other hand, is even less interested in these experiments than he was in the first film, and has clearly had it up to here with West, to the extent that he even decides to move out at one point. I wish they had explored their sorta-friendship a bit more - what do they do when NOT trying to bring the dead back to life? Are they actually friends or do they just want to keep an eye on the other? It's part of the problem with creating exciting/interesting characters in a horror movie - you can only do so much with them as the producers, who never care about such things, will cut all that "boring" stuff anyway so we can get back to the splatter. So the issue intensifies in a sequel; we've now spent three hours with these guys and still don't know much about them beyond how they feel about zombies and unfavorable scientific practices.

Luckily, said splatter is terrific, as are the new creations (by Screamin Mad George, KNB, and others). West's new plan is to replace dead body parts, as opposed to bringing entire bodies back to life - someone loses a hand or a foot, and he can rejuvenate one and replace it, presumably much quicker than a regular transplant. But he can't help but test his ideas in unusual ways, so he makes things like a little critter that's just four fingers and an eyeball, or an arm attached to a leg, and the FX wizards have these things running around and interacting with the actors in believable ways, all for a budget that I'm sure wasn't very big. Amazing, isn't it? If only today's horror movies had such dedication and creativity. Not all of them look great (another returning character's head is put on a bat - it's clunky at best), but they all show a hell of a lot more effort than whatever swirling mass of pixels we get in the latest studio horror flick (I'm still sore about Mama - singlehandedly kept me from loving the movie).

As for the Bride, like its namesake it barely appears, but the story leading up to her is a good one - Dan has become deeply focused on a female patient at the hospital, and West has managed to get a hold of Meg's heart, convincing Dan that that is what he misses about his now deceased lover. The outcome isn't as tragic as it was for Frankenstein and his monster, but it's a solid concept that is deserving of the name (unlike, say, Bride of Chucky). And her (spoiler) destruction is awesome - she basically just falls apart, with parts of her back just sliding off and limbs plopping to the floor. Plus she gets to fight Dan's (totally human/not undead in any way) girlfriend for a few minutes, which is hilarious. Actually the climax as a whole is pretty nutty (and less abrupt than the original's), as the original zombies come back, West's creatures get loose, Bat-head causes more problems, etc. There's even a dog with a human hand somewhere in there.

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the bonus features focus on the FX. There's a 22 minute piece that shows a clip of each one followed by some behind the scenes video of its creation, with very little in the way of direct interviews or voiceover from Yuzna or any of the various makeup teams, and a quick look (WITH voiceover) at a deleted concept featuring the Bat-head thing. Even the commentary by Yuzna and a bunch of other folks focuses mainly on FX as opposed to the actual production, story, etc. In short, if you love FX and their creation, this is a great disc to have, but otherwise there isn't much that will interest you. There's a look at the deleted Meg scene (most of it devoted to showing it being filmed, curiously) and some other promotional stuff, but otherwise the only other bonus that I'd recommend is the (curiously unlisted) commentary from Combs and Abbott, who offer occasional (and brief) shooting anecdotes and such but mostly just goof on each other's acting and dialogue. The two have a great rapport and clearly aren't pretentious about their work in it, making for a very enjoyable track as long as YOU don't take the movie too seriously, either.

All of this stuff is spread across both sides of this particular release of the disc, which offers the theatrical version on one side and the unrated (one minute longer) on the other. It also offers something I don't think I've ever seen on a disc before - the option to matte the film for theatrical sized viewing. Apparently it was shot full frame but if you want you can crop out some of the top and bottom to give it a 1.85:1 frame, but it's not anamorphic so you'll have to zoom in on your TV for it to look right, which of course just makes it blurrier. In other words, just turn the matting off and enjoy the legs and 20% more headroom for the actors. Hopefully Lionsgate (or whoever owns Artisan releases now) will re-release on Blu-ray someday, with a better transfer (it looks like shit no matter what form you watch it in) and all the bonus features together on one side of the disc - I'm not even sure I found everything since the menu layouts are so confusing (and the commentary tracks are only available on the theatrical side, so pity the person that watches the unrated version and assumes there's no other difference between the two sides!).

Someday I'll get around to seeing the 3rd film, Beyond Re-Animator, which I've never heard a good thing about (I got mixed word on this one, which is appropriate). It lacks Bruce Abbott but adds the stunning Elsa Pataky, so I might end up enjoying it to some degree, and maybe mixing things up a bit more can be a good thing. As I was saying in my review of Futureworld (for BadassDigest), too many horror sequels are basically just remakes, and this one can almost be accused of that at times (the structure is almost identical) - if Beyond is at least TRYING something new, I can at least appreciate the effort. Still: give Gordon the money he needs to do House of Re-Animator, dammit!

What say you?


Children Of The Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992)

MARCH 26, 2013


Let the record show that I'll go above and beyond to live up to my word - despite having lots to do at home (I still haven't finished my taxes, which is bad because I'll need the federal refund in my hand so I can pay the state tax I owe) I drove out to the Fry's in Burbank so I could buy a copy of Children Of The Corn II: The Final Sacrifice. Why? Because in one of the reviews for the eight (EIGHT!) other Corn films I promised to see them all before the site was done, and that's just a few days away. So I couldn't put it off any further, and I doubt it will appear on Netflix Instant in the next few days.

So now I own almost all of the damn things, as it was only available on a multipack with parts 3-7. Oddly, part 8 is the only sequel that I'd probably entertain watching again, if only to swoon at actress Kelen Coleman and laugh at the stock footage from Bad Boys II. It also lacks the original and its remake, but I already own those (I think? Maybe I traded em in), so now I have another franchise in my collection that I don't really want (I also have most of the Puppet Masters thanks to another multi-pack, and all but the most recent Resident Evil sequel; a series of movies that are "OK" at best and "slightly less OK" at worst). But the set was a mere 4.99, which is less than the cost of seeing the film theatrically.

Yes, theatrically. This somehow managed to hit theaters in early 1993, presumably because King adaptations were kind of hot again thanks to Sleepwalkers and Lawnmower Man, the latter of which seems to have influenced at least one scene here, when the main Corn kid gets possessed by He Who Walks Behind The Rows via a bunch of laughably bad computer animation. And even more miraculously, it did decent business, selling just under 7 million's worth of tickets - enough to put it ahead of movies like Kalifornia and Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm at the end of the year - not bad for a 900,000 budget. However, it would be the last real release for a Corn film, and probably will stay that way; parts III and 8 got dumped in a couple of theaters each for whatever reason, but I highly doubt we'll ever see it return to our multiplexes under any circumstances.

Anyway, it's no more theatrical or impressive than any of the following installments; if anything it's actually LESS so since unlike parts 3-5 it doesn't offer any future stars (though there's a Michael Hall listed as one of the Children, and Michael C. Hall was from the same area the film was shot - however I assume someone would have pointed this out by now if it was the same guy), and the FX can be pretty atrocious as well. Nothing as bad as Urban Harvest's Barbie doll climax with He Who Walks, but that one Lawnmower Man-y scene is just so goddamn ugly, as is He's "underground mole" effect, where you can clearly see the wrinkles on whatever fabric they are using as "dirt". The dummy old lady is pretty bad too, but that scene is so hilarious (they remote control a lady's wheelchair so that she is hit by a truck and flung through the window of a bingo parlor) that I'll let it slide.

On that note, what's with this movie's strange hatred of the elderly? They barely kill any "parent" age type adults on their own (they knock off a bunch of them in one fire a bit past the halfway point), but there are like four extended scenes of them terrorizing someone on Medicare, including an insane bit where they drop a house on an old lady after killing her cat. And yes, there's an obligatory Wizard of Oz reference; the lady shouts "What a world!" as the house crushes her, with her legs sticking out of the side for good measure. I mean, yeah, we don't watch these movies to see the adults getting away, but the focus on senior citizens gives it an extra layer of mean-spiritedness that doesn't seem in line with the others in the series.

Actually, more than any Corn film it reminded me of A Return to Salem's Lot. Both films are followups to King stories, and start with a father taking his jerk son (who hates him) to an isolated town, which the kid of course hates until he meets a girl. And again, their father-son bond is put to the extreme as the younger man is forced to choose between his monstrous new pals and his own father, a plotline that doesn't really come up too much in the genre which makes me think that it's not just a coincidence. It's like one of the producers wondered how to make a sequel without a King novel to work from and happened upon Return, then instructed his writers to follow its lead but maybe try to make it better. Oh, and they both came along eight years after their original, for the record.

Part 6 is the only film to ever bring back an actor, but for what it's worth they put some effort into making this a proper sequel (unlike say, part IV, which doesn't even have He Who Walks), with the kids from the Gatlin massacre being moved to a new town as no one suspects them of being murderous. And our hero is a reporter who wants to find out more about what happened in that film (I guess the screenwriters forgot that the ending of King's story was changed for the movie? Where did the Horton/Hamilton characters go? They could have cleared things up pretty well, I think). And there are some half-assed attempts to explain their behavior, both with Indian ritual (there's a wise Native American character explaining everything, because that's how horror movies used to do things) and some sort of toxin that was on the corn and possibly causing their mental instability, as opposed to just "crazy cult of kids worshiping a deity with a really dumb name". But alas, it's just not very interesting; hero Terence Knox is a thoroughly boring character, and I spent most of the movie wishing his son would meet the business end of a sickle (or the giant thresher which features prominently in the 3rd act). And the kid playing the main cult guy overacts a bit much for my tastes (he also resembles a punk version of Justin Long, the least threatening actor I can imagine), so there's none of the inherent creepiness that John Franklin provided in the first one. The elaborate kill scenes are kind of fun, but the rest of it is entirely forgettable (indeed, I think I saw this one as a kid but couldn't remember a goddamn thing, even the parts I enjoyed this time).

Yesterday I was talking about mixing things up in horror movies (with In The Spider's Web's mix of spiders and human villains), and this provides another example - there's a tornado scare at one point, something that's provably pretty common in the area where these movies are set (not the original town, for the record, but close enough for the events of the first film to reverberate). Yet I think this is the only time a tornado really came into play for the series, which seems like a giant missed opportunity. They could do it cheap - just have the threat of a tornado scare a bunch of adults and a few Corn-loving psychos into some bunker and let things play out. Yeah, you'd lose the corn, but after nine goddamn movies, do we need to see another endless cornfield? The CHILDREN are the important part here, not the corn, and it worked OK for part III to ditch the fields for interiors. The remake was in 2009; maybe in 2017 they will remake Final Sacrifice and improve upon it!

What say you?


In The Spider's Web (2007)

MARCH 25, 2013


With no new releases since 2011, it seems the Maneater series of films is kaput, which is... well, not a SHAME, but somewhere between a shame and a blessing. It's a thing that exists, I guess. It only took about 6 minutes of In A Spider's Web for me to remember why I haven't watched any of them for a while, but I've enjoyed a couple of them, and admire their dedication to killer animal movies in this found footage/possession horror movie obsessed world. Then again, these are the sort of movies I won't miss much when the site is done, so I guess if they were still pumping em out I wouldn't have seen them anyway.

To be fair, this was only their second production, so they hadn't quite gotten their formula "right" yet, perfected (for lack of a better word) in stuff like Sea Beast and High Plains Invaders, movies that weren't necessarily good but better than the average Syfy movie, which is probably all they need to be. To quote the drunken school board guys from Community: "It's better than good... it's good ENOUGH." - that seems to be the level of ambition we're talking about here, so I judge them on a sliding scale. However, Spider's Web just doesn't measure up, and it's not even the writer's fault - it was seemingly written for a much bigger budget, and the producers/director just took shortcuts rather than make it something more manageable.

For starters, the effects are HORRID. I mean sub-Full Moon level bad. Other Maneater productions opted to use real animals and clever editing to have them attack, rather than use CGI or whatever, but it's easier to train a tiger than a spider, I guess. So while you see real spiders in a few shots, whenever they do anything we are treated to some of the worst CGI I've seen in quite some time, particularly in the climax when hundreds of the things "swarm" over a character, who writhes around in agony as the spiders that are supposedly climbing over him move in opposite directions. And that STILL looks better than the one giant spider we see, which I'd say looked like a PS1 game cut-scene but I don't want to insult 1996. There are also a couple of toys on strings every now and then, presumably so we can say "at least it's not the CGI again..." (and the poor computer FX aren't limited to spiders either - someone falls into a pit and it looks slightly more fake than the kids on the roller coaster in Alice Cooper's "Hey Stoopid" video), making me long for the real ones that didn't actually do anything.

The production team did a pretty good job on the webbing though; I'll give it that much. At one point our heroes even cross a bridge of the stuff, and it looked pretty nifty, as do the cocoons a few of them get trapped within. Speaking of which, I know I usually applaud grim endings, but what the hell did that one poor bastard do to deserve his fate at the end? They even cut to him, paralyzed and scared out of his mind, as if he was the film's human villain and we're supposed to cheer for his impending fate. I could see if he went out a hero or something, but he gets left behind and the other male is like "We will come back for you!" and that apparently doesn't happen. Maybe I missed something - did he eat a baby or something at one point?

The real human villain is Lance Henriksen, as a local witch doctor who at first appears to be helping our group after one of them is bit, but proves to be insane and villainous, as Lance Henriksen characters often do. He's as great as always, and it made me wish that the spiders were just a macguffin that would be phased out entirely, since even the best CGI in the world can't match the power of Lance having a great time and chewing scenery (or a spider! He eats one!). Thankfully, there ARE long stretches where he's the focus, but not enough to forgive the movie's unrelenting cheapness or largely bland/unlikeable group of protagonists. I kind of liked the main girl, but only because the actress (Emma Catherwood) was appealing - not so much her character. I did appreciate that the local police official was actually kind of helpful and not corrupt, a rarity for this sort of thing.

Also, it's a killer spider movie, sure, but there's more going on - rituals and organ harvesting, namely. It may reduce the amount of giant spider action, but considering how bad that stuff looks, they were right to find other avenues to provide the horror. Indeed, I wish I saw this sort of thing more often, with the monster being a pawn but also doing whatever the hell it likes without choosing sides. In movies with actual production value (not this one) it can actually be a lot of fun if done correctly, not to mention give you the best of both worlds: you can root for the protagonists when faced with the spider, but allow your bloodlust to be sated when it goes after one of the human villains. Well, as much as it can be when the movie is apparently made for TV and thus has no gore or even real violence - just writhing around as spiders close in and then a fade or cut. Lame. Someone take the script and do this movie right! I suspect it can be at least as enjoyable as a Deep Blue Sea or Anaconda if they actually had some money and more than two likable actors in the thing. Hire the same webbing guys though.

What say you?


Honeymoon Horror (1982)

MARCH 24, 2013


Remember that show Cold Case, where that lady with the terrible hair would solve old crimes? I want to do that, but the "crimes" would be limited to the cinematic disappearances of guys who made movies like Honeymoon Horror. I'd go around the country, tracking down leads and finding these guys and picking their brains (just need to figure out how to monetize it). Writer/director Harry Preston and co-writer L.L. Carney have one film to their name (this one, obviously), and the same goes for pretty much everyone in the cast (one of the girls also appeared in an episode of Dallas), making this a total mystery compared to other slashers of the era, which have been treated to special edition DVDs thanks to places like Code Red and Shout Factory. Where did these folks go? Why did they never make another movie? What were they thinking when they wrote a slasher movie without a prominent female character to root for?

Here's what we DO know: the movie was apparently a big hit for Sony, as it was one of the first direct to video movies (!) and never released on traditional sell-through, supposedly raking in over 20 million in rentals (probably due to the awesome cover, not the actual movie). We can't verify that, as far as I know; nor can we prove the lone entry in the film's "alternate versions" list: "An original "Director's Cut" of the film exists, without the "Sheriff" scenes, which were added later by Malcolm Whitman.". I don't doubt it; before I even read that I was wondering if his scenes were added to pad the runtime since he never interacts with the rest of the cast and his scenes are beyond pointless, and with an M.H. Wittman listed as the film's editor, it's believable (and like everyone else, Wittman has no other credits to his name).

We also know it was shot in two weeks on a noisy location, but the film itself is proof of that. The ADR is laughably bad in the exterior scenes (and even in some of the interiors), to the point where I wondered if some scenes were just shot without any sound at all. And like most films shot in a short period, there's a LOT of padding and "master" scenes, where things like a fight between two characters plays out all in one shot, even when they stumble out of frame entirely. Most of it takes place in a very bland house, said to be a honeymoon resort on a secluded island but looking more like a bed & breakfast just off a main road in New Hampshire or something. It's also RUN like a B&B; the owners are constantly chatting with and bringing things to the couples who are supposedly on their wedding nights - you get the impression that if a killer hadn't shown up and started (very slowly) offing them all, they would be taking them on a nature hike or horseback riding or something.

Let's talk about these two: Elaine and Vic. When the film begins, they're having a romp while Elaine's husband is supposed to be out, only for him to come home early and catch them. The two begin to fight, and Elaine jumps in to protect Vic, resulting in the husband being knocked out cold and lit on fire from a knocked over candle. They opt to just leave rather than help the guy, assuming that he's already dead, and some time later they have turned their home into this resort. And these are our sort of heroes! Three couples show up and have their own little subplots, but the focus remains on these two, who are hilariously nonchalant about what they did. Hell, Vic even busts her balls about it the way one might tease their spouse about the time they left the garage door open all day or something, plus he's constantly leering at the newlywed women as well as a trio of sorority girls that appear in the first act, helping them get the place ready for their arrival.

The killer makes short work of them (albeit mostly off-screen), but then there's only a single other death in the next 50 minutes or so, which is weird for a 1982 slasher as they already had a ton of competition (whereas the early, post-Halloween/pre-Friday ones could be expected to have a low body count). In fact, with the burned madman plot and emphasis on male characters over females, I have to believe that this was a direct ripoff of The Burning more than any of the others, so you're dealing with a copy (this) of a copy (Burning) of a copy (Friday the 13th) of the original (Halloween). And as we learned from Multiplicity, a copy of a copy loses quite a bit of the original's flavor - now we're ANOTHER generation below. And we never even get a good look at the killer until the final showdown, as there's a dumb, never successful attempt to make it seem like the resort's handyman (Joe) is the killer, so they hide him from sight - even after Joe is captured and locked up, thus proving to us that he's not the guy! They just assume he got loose rather than bother to check, and whoever the hell directed this thinks we're dumb enough to believe it's the guy they SAID it was while we hopefully just assume that the opening sequence was nothing but character development.

He's also too choosy with victims - he only goes after the women (and Vic, at the very end), which not only lends it a bit of misogyny (the last thing a slasher needs, since even though a woman is always the one to save the day the feminists still think they're all about men killing women and nothing more) but also kills the pace. No advantage is taken from having four couples in four different rooms; as soon as the first girl is killed the others are all aware of it and go into panic mode, never splitting up for time-honored "goes off alone and gets killed" action. Plus, one of the guys looks just like Vic and two of the girls look a lot alike, making it a bit confusing at times thanks to the non-marvels of a murky VHS tape (which I acquired as a prize at horror trivia the other night!). And the on-screen kills suck; Honeymaniac (my name; it's better than his, which is either Jeff or Frank depending on the scene) usually just taps someone with his axe and then they cut to a prop arm or whatever sliding across the floor. The fake blood looks pretty good though; I watched Futureworld today as well and that had that melted pink crayon looking stuff so this was a sight for sore eyes.

But damn my eyes, I can't help but like it, despite all of the above. I don't know what it is about this era of slasher movies, but I can't really hate on any of them, and even with the slow pace I was never really bored. The horrid dialogue kept me laughing throughout; I particularly liked the guy who told his wife he had to go practice his weightlifting on their wedding night (which in any other movie would result in the now isolated man being clubbed to death with his own barbells, but not Honeymoon Horror! He lives, as do all the other males save Vic), and all of the conversations about making coffee and where the various items (the sugar, the cups) are located. But the real gem here are the extended conversations between the Sheriff and his deputy (the ones added into the movie by Wittman), particularly the ones where one will repeat every single line to the other while on a phone call or something. And that's nothing compared to the endless epilogue, where they finally get off their ass and head out to the resort to check on things, chatting the entire time about nothing and inquiring about plot points for which we already know the answer. Then they find out that Honeymaniac's body is missing, which leads to an instant red herring, as the deputy calls and says he found Joe cradling the body, apparently quite upset about the whole thing. The Sheriff demands he bring them back to the station, but Joe apparently insists on burying the murderer's body himself... and the Sheriff agrees! Then he wards off a NEW newlywed couple by firing his gun into the air five times as some Dukes of Hazzard-y good ol' boy music begins to play and the credits finally roll, 10+ minutes after the last horror thing happened. I was watching alone and laughing like a loon; I can't imagine how infectious and amazing it would be to see such nonsense with a crowd.

Oh, and at one point the other two husbands knock out the 3rd after he finds his wife dead and begins freaking out, and leave his body on the floor next to her corpse while they discuss their next move. So awesome.

And would it surprise you to discover that this thing has never been released on DVD? It shouldn't. I'm curious if it ever even had a print to work from, though I've certainly seen worse VHS transfers, which gives me hope that there's a 35 or 16mm print somewhere, waiting to be discovered and hopefully draw anyone from its cast and crew out of exile. Naturally there's no trailer on Youtube so enjoy this guy making a taco.

What say you?


Lips Of Blood (1975)

MARCH 23, 2013


I have a week left (!) but if I don't find the time for another entry, at least I can say I went out on a high point - Lips Of Blood (French: Lèvres de sang) is my favorite Jean Rollin thus far, and the one I'd most likely revisit or recommend to pals. Everything just worked like gangbusters for me; half of his films I've wondered if I could even really count them as horror, but there's some good vampire action sprinkled throughout, all in service of his most accessible and intriguing story, and a likable male lead for a change to boot.

Well, likable compared to the guys in Iron Rose or Fascination anyway. He actually comes off like a jerk early on, when he sees a photo that triggers a "memory" of his childhood, though he can not recall the specifics or where the castle in the photo is located. So he totally derails his date (bummed that she only appears in these scenes; she's quite striking) as he begins fixating on the photo, asking people where it was taken, who took it, etc., and getting angry when the folks are (rightfully) baffled why he cares so much. But his mood improves when he starts getting closer, especially since the photographer drops her clothes and makes love to him moments after meeting - even after telling him that she has promised NOT to reveal its location. So he gets more intrigued AND he gets laid - score! He's pretty chill after that.

For a while it almost takes on a sort of Giallo feel (complete with a black gloved murderer on a subway) as he keeps investigating and folks get killed, though there's no real mystery as to what's going on here - the castle houses some vampires and now they are free thanks to his meddling. But they appear to be on his side, and eventually we find out who told the photographer not to tell him where the castle is, which isn't a total surprise but it's still more interesting (and coherent) than the motivations I'm used to seeing in a Rollin film. Plus they're full blown vampires - even long teeth make an appearance!

It's also an, er, visually stimulating experience. What I mean is: there is more nudity than in any of his other films that I've seen, I think. All of the vampire ladies (four of them) wear see through gowns at all times, and that's chaste compared to every other female (except for the guy's mother), and everyone's pretty casual about it - when he goes to see the photographer she's got another girl with her just finishing a photo shoot, and she makes no effort to conceal anything when this strange guy waltzes on into the room. And don't worry, ladies - star Jean-Loup Philippe also bares all, and kudos to him for doing so since it's hardly impressive (let's just say I felt less insecure after). It can be a bit gratuitous, but since the movie's plot was so engaging I never really took much notice - if I was bored it might be another story.

I was also endlessly amused by a bit near the end involving a fake head. For pre-1980s horror flicks (especially foreign ones where they weren't taking this stuff as seriously as we did in the States), all disembodied heads look abysmally fake, and we just have to go with it. And (spoiler) there's a point in the movie where our hero is supposed to kill the main vampire girl, and he comes out of the crypt with a fake head, which I (and the other characters) totally believed was her real noggin. So it actually worked as a surprise when we discover he was faking it, having cut the head off a Mary statue (one Rollin thankfully doesn't draw much attention to and thus give it away) and left his would-be lover intact. This leads to the (spoiler) somewhat emo but darkly romantic ending, where he lets her bite him and they live out their days in a coffin together on the ocean. I don't know much about Rollin, but after six or seven of his vampire movies I get the impression that he probably wished he could find a beautiful vampire lady to spend the rest of his life with, and thus I wasn't surprised to discover in the IMDb trivia that Philippe's character was an autobiographical one.

I also liked seeing the "real world" in this one, as opposed to his others which are always so isolated (or at least highly unnatural, like Night of the Hunted). Iron Rose had a party at the beginning, but otherwise was set apart from anything we could recognize. But here, there's a cocktail party, a photo studio, a subway, a hospital... it's vampires entering our world, instead of the other way around. Maybe it's just because my tastes tend to lean toward the more commercial and accessible, but I find it a lot easier to get invested (and, on occasion, scared) when I recognize the world and find it populated with strange characters, as opposed to an identifiable guy going into a weird world. So even though I've enjoyed most of the Rollin films I've seen, this is the one that passes the "I'd go out and buy this" test with flying colors. Thanks to everyone who recommended it, and an even bigger thanks to those who urged me to check out more of his films in the first place.

What say you?


Bates Motel (Pilot)

MARCH 23, 2013


Folks are always asking for me to give the HMAD treatment to one genre show or another, so I thought I'd offer up a few thoughts on the pilot to Bates Motel, which premiered a few days ago. It's executive produced by Carlton Cuse, who was one of the guys behind Lost, but this time we know he can't fuck up the ending, because Bates is a prequel show, focusing on Norman's teen years when his mother Norma was still alive, and when the episode begins they haven't even bought the motel that would become such an iconic presence in the horror genre. So Cuse can't do this to us again!

OR CAN HE? Not 30 seconds into the show we see an HDTV in the background, and a few other modern touches that let us know that this is the present day, and thus it can NOT be a canon "prequel" in any traditional sense - surely Norman would have a lot more trouble picking off victims when they had GPS and cell phones at their disposal at all times. And that's something that excites me; I saw some folks complaining about the fact that it wasn't directly in line with the movies, but (Cuse's track record notwithstanding) this means that the show can surprise us, not to mention conceivably go on forever if the ratings are good enough. I saw someone joke that the series finale would be Marion arriving at the motel, but this is actually a remake that's just using an earlier start point. I hate to use it as an example of anything, but it's more like Rob Zombie's Halloween where we got to see young Michael in the asylum for a while - it's presenting a new angle and building its own mythology, albeit hopefully it's more successful than Mr. Zombie was in terms of quality.

And while some may cry foul, I truly hope it DOESN'T follow the established story to the letter, and opts for something more akin to what Walking Dead is doing with regards to the source comic. It's hitting all the beats (prison, Governor, etc) but changing pretty much every detail (Sophia is still alive in the comic, for example), something that so far Bates doesn't seem to be doing (except for the time period) but doesn't mean it CAN'T. We haven't seen him yet, but Norman has a brother that I'm pretty sure was never mentioned in the movies, and if you compare to Psycho IV, which also had Norman as a teen, we can see that the two versions of the characters are different enough to let this be its own thing.

But on to what's important, especially since I'm sure some viewers have never seen the movies - is it any good? So far, yes. For starters, Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates is terrific casting; she's one of the most beautiful women in the world as far as I'm concerned, but she's also a terrific actress who excels at playing tough women you don't want to cross (see: Running Scared). Psycho IV explored a slightly incestuous angle, with Norman getting aroused when wrestling with her - if they decide to go that route here, we can enjoy the uncomfortable situation of not understanding why a guy would be attracted to his mom but having zero problem understanding why he'd be attracted to Vera Farmiga, letting us be just as confused as Norman. I mean, I'm sure at SOME POINT Norman's going to kill someone, but as of now he's just a confused kid that we root for as our hero (again, assuming someone's watching having never heard of Psycho - there's nothing to tip us off that he's a "villain", at least in this episode).

Norman himself is pretty great too; Freddy Highmore may be best known for the Tim Burton Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, but this can be his defining role if the show lasts. He's got a fascinating voice; it sounds like a mix between a normal kid's and an old man, and almost kind of pained when he's angry or upset. I don't know if it's just an odd side effect of hiding his accent (he's British) or an intentional choice, but I love it either way. It's like a great little tic that helps separate him from Perkins (and, goes without saying, Vaughn), and it didn't dawn on me until later but it's interesting that the other actor who played Norman as a teen - Henry Thomas - was also best known from a kid's movie when he was much younger, and now they've been out of the spotlight for a bit and back as an older teen. I'm always happy to see child actors keep working but also seemingly avoid being batshit insane like some others (ahem, Lohan), and it's just funny to see two of them have now played Norman goddamn Bates.

The new stuff works, too. They waste little time setting up a villain - the house/motel's previous owner, played by W. Earl Brown. He's not too happy about losing his family home to the Bates (via a bank foreclosure), and I hope you don't get too attached to him since he ends up dead by the episode's end. But I'm guessing either his family or the police will be very interested in knowing what happened to him and provide a long-running antagonist for our anti-heroes. There's also a schoolteacher who takes an interest in Norman, something that I'm sure will upset Mother as time goes on as she seems to hate the idea of Norman spending time with anyone except her. And the brother will be an issue I'm sure; we only hear him over a phone where we learn he's a deadbeat and that Mother doesn't want him around, but the actor is listed in the main credits so I'm sure he won't be absent for long.

A couple of things bugged me though, such as the cutesy names - characters named Carpenter and Romero? Come on guys, this is hack humor that belongs in a DTV zom-com, not in a serious show. There's also a rape scene that feels arbitrary and way too out of nowhere; it's the 2nd time we've seen the character and there's no hesitation on his part, even though he was not established as anything but an asshole. There ARE ways of getting us to a. instantly hate a male character and b. establish sympathy for a somewhat overbearing female character without resorting to rape - it comes off as cartoonish, almost. The pilot for Lost is one of the greatest achievements in serialized TV ever, as far as I'm concerned - I expected something a little less cliche and meaty from Cuse. There's also a quick bit at the end that I didn't know what to make of other than "Oh, they saw American Horror Story too!" - I hope it's explained next week as it was completely misplaced.

Otherwise, I'm on board. I can watch Vera read a phone book, so having her as Norma (and an equal presence to Norman's - she's not used sparingly, thank Christ) will keep me around as long as she is, at least. Plus Fringe is gone, so I need a new genre show to fill the hole. Oh wait, Hannibal! Well, in 10 days I'll have a little more free time :).

What say you?


Zombie High (1987)

MARCH 22, 2013


If you notice, "Zombie" is not one of the genre taggings for Zombie High, and yet that's not even the only thing wrong with the two word title. It's also set on a college campus, so they're even more off than they were with "Zombie". I mean, I guess it could be an advanced prep school, but with the average age of the actors being around 24, I'd rather accuse the title of being wrong since they already proved they weren't very good at their job. Hell at one point when everything is being explained and thus they have a perfect opportunity to say "Zombie", Virginia Madsen's character refers to their antagonists as "Vampires". I guess "Vampire Prep School" just didn't have the same ring to it.

If it had just a little more actual horror in it, it'd probably be a pretty decent little 80s movie, especially when you consider that it's a glorified student film. The producer/writer was a guy named Aziz Ghazal who ran USC's camera department and was by all accounts a pain in the ass who ran the place like a drill sergeant, and would have students work on his films for course credit (though the director was 47 years old and never made anything of note before or since, and passed away in 1999). Ghazal would go on to kill his wife and daughter, and then himself, after bungling his attempts to get the book "The Brave" turned into a movie (something Johnny Depp eventually did), a story you can read about here - it's far more terrifying and upsetting than anything in this movie, I assure you.

But I'm pretty sure this was supposed to be a comedy. If not for the fact that Ghazal produced and was involved throughout (the IMDb has a post from the guy who wrote the ridiculous Beastie Boys ripoff song that accompanies the end credits, claiming the lyrics of the song are actually a "fuck you" to Ghazal), I'd suspect it was one of those deals where a comedy was written and the director shot it straight, or vice versa. It SEEMS like a parody of Stepford Wives (with more than a touch of Strange Behavior), and one could see it as a satire of how college fraternities tend to strip members of their individuality, but it's never actually funny or even that amusing. Only the overly 80s feel of it (neon clocks! awful hair! Pin Pressions!) provides the laughter, and that wouldn't have been the case in 1987 when the film was released.

So let's just chalk it up to no one really knowing what they were doing, hence the not-shockingly thin resumes of the bulk of the primary crew members (only co-writer Tim Doyle and a couple of the producers seem to have done all right for themselves). However the cast has kept busy - obviously star Virginia Madsen has gone on to bigger and better things (and also Firewall), but her roommate is none other than a young Sherilyn Fenn, and even odder - the casting person was Fenn's Twin Peaks co-star Eric "Leo" DaRe. But the real shocker is the guy playing Madsen's annoying platonic buddy Emerson - future Freaks & Geeks creator/Bridesmaids director Paul Feig! I thought it was actually a different one when I saw his name in the credits, but sure enough it's him, playing a guy that reminded me a lot of Spitz from Halloween 5. He's just as clueless as Madsen when it comes to noticing that something is not right at their school, but it's not until he too disappears and becomes one of the brainwashed students that she springs into action and something actually HAPPENS in the movie, so thank you for your sacrifice, Mr. Feig.

Another problem is that it takes too long to really bring in the villains of the movie, a sort of Mason-like group of old dudes who are the ones benefiting from the students' brainwashing. If I'm understanding correctly, they remove part of the brain and replace it with a crystal that puts them in their drone-like state, with the excised part of the brain being used to helping them stave off the aging process. The main guy (who sounds like Christopher Lloyd when he's agitated) appears quite a bit, but the others are just anonymous schmoes we only really see in the 3rd act, where the "zombies" aren't posing much of a threat. More often than not, when we see them they're just acting like robots; there's a funny bit where they all dance in slow unison at a school dance, and a long tracking shot of them mindlessly pulling books off the shelf at the library - our villains! So it's a clunkily paced plot with a near total lack of tension - the only thing that really provides any excitement is the arc of a teacher who is part of the group (he looks 30 but he's 102) and is starting to regret it. Will he help Madsen? (Yes) Will he pay for his crimes? (Also yes).

It also seemed like Ghazal watched Re-Animator; the main old guy is similar to Dr. Hill, and the locations are pretty much the same - nondescript college basements and off-campus housing. And both films are called zombie movies but are really about mad scientists trying to beat death in some way or other, with disastrous consequences. But I doubt there will be a Zombie High stage musical anytime soon. We DO have Disturbing Behavior, which also had this sort of idea (though closer to Strange Behavior) and did it better AND gave us "Flagpole Sitta".

What say you?


The Frankenstein Theory (2013)

MARCH 21, 2013


So here's an interesting situation - The Frankenstein Theory thankfully avoids the problem I've seen in a lot of found footage movies as of late, in that it almost never has characters filming things for no reason, doesn't have "coverage" (a problem I was very afraid of since it was from some of the producers of Last Exorcism, one of the worst offenders), and, most importantly, isn't about a haunted asylum. But because it follows the "rules" for the most part (it has a score at times, and whoever found the footage apparently wanted to classy it up a bit with occasional establishing shots even when things have gone to hell), it has another problem: it's kind of a chore to sit through.

For starters, writer/director/producer Andrew Weiner has clearly seen Blair Witch Project and possibly Troll Hunter (the movie is copyright 2011, same year Troll Hunter first started playing in the US), and apes their structure a bit too closely at times, especially in the 3rd act where a character disappears without a trace, howls are heard in the middle of the night when they think they're safe in their tents, etc. The deja vu got to be a bit much for me, and that's for a movie that already hadn't done much to win me over. Perhaps it's just because I've seen a lot of these things, but at no point did I find myself thinking "Oh, that's new!".

But isn't it about Frankenstein? Yeah, technically. The setup is the best part: our flawed hero is a descendent of the real Frankenstein (named Venkenheim), who believes that his creation inspired Mary Shelley's book and that the creature is still roaming around in the Canadian part of the Arctic Circle. So he does what anyone would do: gathers a documentary crew of four (really three; the camera guy is very serious about his job and we almost never see him - he's like Cambot from MST3k) and heads into the wilderness with more film equipment than food, no weapons of note, etc. To be fair, they didn't expect to be gone for as long as they end up being there and they do hire a guide (who is very matter of fact and has a thick accent, which is what made me think of Troll Hunter, though at one point the movie just becomes Jaws as he tells a horrific story about an encounter with a polar bear), but still, don't any of these folks ever hire some off-duty police officers or something when tracking a dangerous monster?

And that's the other thing - it's an awesome concept, but it sadly plays out just like any other FF about trying to find Bigfoot, trolls (natch), etc. Even when Venkenheim (Kris Lemche, the only actor I recognized, though the sound guy reminded me a lot of Joe Lynch) is talking about his ancestor and the science of the monster, the movie never really dives into it enough for it to have its own identity apart from those others. Also (SPOILER), we only really see the monster once in the last shot, and looks pretty great which doesn't help matters any - why didn't you let us see him throughout the movie? And why turn him into a generic lumbering brute, instead of something with a bit of character and intelligence like in the 1994 film (which is one of the few (only?) to use the idea of him being in the Arctic)? It's like they had all these potential paths to take that would turn this into something really memorable, and opted to do the same sort of stuff even a casual fan of the genre has probably seen enough by now.

It's also difficult to tell the characters apart at times, as they're all bundled up (even the coat colors are similar!) and often in the dark - the third act has a lot of night vision where even Lemche (who has a distinctive face) kind of blends with the others. That said, I do like that it was set in the snow, which is rare for these things and boosted the survival aspect to some extent, especially since (again) they're stuck out there longer than planned. Plus, even if it kind of hurt the movie in the long run, there IS some realism to the idea that people shooting a documentary under extreme conditions might end up with footage that isn't exactly movie-ready. But this is a "meet me halfway" genre; we can accept some boredom and not getting everything in the shot, but every now and then it's OK to cheat to provide us with some release. I mean, hell, all of the kills are off-screen - one or two makes some sense but come on, they can't offer ONE SHOT of the guy with the camera walking right into the monster?

And it's a shame, because this is actually the most likable cast in one of these things that I've seen in ages. I loved the interplay between the sound guy and the backup camera operator (not sure if he had any other function), and the girl who was directing was charming and did a fine job of looking out for her team while keeping Venkenheim on track. Venkenheim butts heads with the others from time to time, but it's natural frustrating coming to a head, not the usual just plain dickishness that clouds a lot of these movies. And Weiner keeps shaki-cam and other obnoxious staples of the mock-doc genre to a minimum, and even finds a few ways to add excitement before they even get to the snow: there's an early bit where the director is talking to the camera while driving and almost hits a guy (who then tries to pull her out of the car), and an interview subject who also happens to be a meth-head suddenly turns hostile and pulls a gun on them. So that stuff, along with the setup, makes this the rare found footage movie where the first act is better than the others - usually these things are interminable until the back half, but that's pretty much where this one's problems really start.

However, Weiner definitely approaches this sort of thing more logically than most of his peers, so hopefully he will try again with a more unique script. I was saying the other night on a podcast - the GENRE isn't "found footage", it's applying it TO a genre. You can take any of those sub-genres listed on the right and make a found footage movie out of it, so there's no need to stick to ghosts in buildings and monsters in the woods all the time. I know most of the review is negative, but it's really not a bad movie, and if you've only seen the Paranormal Activities out of this recent wave I'd definitely recommend it if you don't mind a lack of on-screen action (it's not rated but it could be PG-13 save for language). I'm mostly disappointed in the vast chasm between the promise of the setup and the execution - if you strip Lemche's dialogue out it's basically yet another Bigfoot one. Better than the other two I've seen recently, but not enough to stave off the feeling I had already seen it.

What say you?

P.S. Filmmakers, I BEG you - change the damn Final Cut Pro default font for your titles! As soon as I see it, it just sends one word to my head: "lazy". I swear they make it ugly on purpose so that people DON'T use it and you go ahead and do it anyway.


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