The Conjuring review

Hey folks, a couple people have asked for my review of The Conjuring - I wrote it up for Badass Digest when I saw it at the LA Film Festival a month before it opened. So you can read it HERE! I meant to link it at the time but forgot. In short: it's real good! But since it's already made like 80 million dollars I'm guessing you know that by now. My bad.


The Demented (2013)

JULY 25, 2013


Don't let the 5-6 reviews a month fool you - I've been watching probably 4-5 movies a week since "retiring" (mostly for my Netflix gig), but haven't had the energy to review most of them because they were so bad and I honestly couldn't think of anything to say about them. But I'm making an exception for The Demented, a zombie movie from Anchor Bay hitting stores next week, because I really want to know - what, exactly, was the impetus to make this movie? Sometimes when I write a negative review I purposely leave out the filmmakers' names so that they don't come leaving anonymous nasty comments (knowing that they will after seeing it happen to a friend for that particular film or filmmaker), but I'm going to mention them all specifically in hopes that they DO find this and inform me.

The film's script and direction is attributed to Christopher Roosevelt, but not only is it his first credit for either, there are fourteen (FOURTEEN!) credited producers, so I am wary to put much of the film's blame on him - something about many cooks and broth comes to mind. There are only six people in the movie not counting the random zombies and maybe a couple of background extras, which means there are 2.3 producers for each character with a name - that is not a formula I would expect to produce a particularly great movie. So I'm just as curious (if not more so) to hear from them - I'll skip the execs and associates, and stick with the straight up "producer" credits for this purpose: Shirley Craig, Christine Holder, Mark Holder, Damiano Tucci, and Steven R. Monroe, who directed the not-bad I Spit On Your Grave remake and brought along that film's lovely star, Sarah Butler, to play one of our six here.

So if any of them are reading this, please, enlighten me - why exactly was this movie made? It's rare that I've seen a movie THIS painfully generic - at first I thought the laughably stock characters (six friends off on a weekend of fun, of course) was lulling us into a false sense of security, like maybe there was a Cabin in the Woods style twist coming that REQUIRED us to instantly know (or think we know) exactly how all of this would play out. But no! After 20 minutes or so there's a missile attack that turns its victims into zombies, and we are treated to mindless, completely uninspired and almost laughably recycled zombie attack scenes, with a cast member dutifully being offed every 15 minutes. One cast member exits a bit earlier than I expected, and the ending is surprisingly grim (though it doesn't seem to fit, and it's clear that they shot two endings and opted to use both, treating one as an out of nowhere hallucination or something), but otherwise there isn't a single moment in the movie where I had even the slightest understanding of why this movie was made.

I mean, don't movies start with an idea? Don't they want to set it apart from the 5962 other zombie movies that have come along in the past 5-6 years? Even the worst of the lot tend to have a relatively new hook behind them - take the godawful Doomed, for example. It's inept, terrible, and every other bad word you can throw at it, but at least I understood how it came together - someone had the idea to combine zombies with a reality show featuring a video game type scoring system. A concept! The concept here is six friends (one of whom of course has been cheating on her boyfriend with one of the other one's boyfriends, because the movie is dedicated to doing things we've seen in too many other movies) run away from zombies. The zombies have some weird thing where they stand still when they can't see a victim, but not enough is done with this wrinkle, and otherwise they're the same fast, "infected" style undead that in my opinion keep the scenario from ever being really scary - slow ones that you THINK you can easily avoid getting you is much scarier, to me.

Hell I'd even forgive the threadbare story and non-existent angle if they were at least showing off a ton of new ways to kill zombies and/or show zombies killing people, but the movie fails miserably there, too. A number of deaths are basically off-screen, and while the digital blood is thankfully kept to a minimum, unfortunately so are zombies themselves - there's only a couple dozen (being generous) and it seems most of them are dispatched by a car hitting them (sans splatter). A few nice stunts, sure, but so what? WHY AM I WATCHING THIS??? I seriously began just trying to imagine the pitch meeting for this movie and honestly couldn't think of a single thing that anyone might have said that would have perked up the ears of someone about to put his or her money on the line to make it. "What's that, you say? The guy who gives his girlfriend a promise ring at the beginning dies? No one will see that coming! I want to be in The Demented business!"

Sometimes people like to compare low-brow movies to McDonald's, the "not every movie needs to be a steak, sometimes you want junk food" defense. Hell, I'm sure I've used it myself more than once. But this isn't a McDonald's hamburger - this is a HOLOGRAM of a McDonald's hamburger. It looks like a real movie, but if you inspect it closely, you'll realize there's absolutely nothing there. I sincerely hope someone involved can explain what I'm missing here; I'm truly at a loss, and unless I hear otherwise I'll just assume this is one of the most cynical cash-in productions I've seen in years, and that includes sequels. I'd rather watch an incompetent movie with an idea than a (mostly) competent one that I struggle to even remember a specific detail about the second I shut it off.

Oh and it was shot in Louisiana, so you can't even enjoy the scenery all that much as you've probably seen it in 15 other movies.

What say you?


Blu-Ray Review: The Fog

JULY 17, 2013


I would kill to see the original cut of The Fog, which was assembled, deemed unworthy by John Carpenter, and reshaped into the minor classic we have today. The commentary tracks and interviews explain some of the key differences (many to the opening reel), but he also redid his score, which I'd really really like to hear. I'm sure he wasn't wrong - the resulting soundtrack is one of his all time best, in my opinion - but even the worst John Carpenter score is pretty good. If nothing else, seeing this cut would probably be beneficial to those who dismiss the finished film as a lesser JC entry - maybe they could appreciate how much it had improved.

For us folks that already know better, the new Blu from Scream Factory is a godsend. Dean Cundey's photography never looked so good, and it's the rare film of his with Carpenter that wasn't so cramped (Halloween and Escape From New York had to hide their true shooting locations; Big Trouble In Little China was primarily indoors, etc). The shots of DJ Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) are reference quality good - not bad for a 33 year old, low budget horror movie. And the improved sound lets every note of Carpenter's impossibly underrated score hit your ears gracefully, plus the low dialogue issue that plagued a few other Scream Factory releases (including the team's Halloween II) has seemingly been fixed for good.

Oh, and you get the movie itself. I get why it might not work on some; the pacing is a bit odd - especially with regards to its (story dictated) six kills, as three are wiped out in the first 20 minutes and one of the others technically occurs during the film's end credits. As Carpenter explains on the commentary, the movie has three acts (not evenly spaced): the first night that the fog and its murderous ghosts appear, the day after (where the ghosts/fog are MIA), and the second night when they come back. This means a lot of stuff has to happen fast in act 1 as they can only appear from 12-1am - we always laugh about Tom Atkins' quickness in Halloween III where he hooks up with Stacey Nelkin a day after they meet (and after a lengthy road trip), but he's even quicker here, as he picks up Jamie Lee Curtis sometime after midnight and is already in post-coitus cuddle before 1am. Dude should teach a class or something.

But some pacing/structure clunkiness aside, I really dig this one. I almost wish it wasn't coming out until October; it's such a perfect "chilly weather" movie (even though it takes place in the spring). I even turned off my lights to watch it, which I never do - it just seemed appropriate for the low-key campfire story it was emulating (spelled out in the opening scene!). And even though the ghosts are out of commission during the day, Carpenter still packs the film with decent jump scares - that one in the boat, where there's a fake jump instantly followed by real one, still works great. Speaking of which, listen carefully when Jamie Lee screams after the body falls on her - anyone else convinced that's her scream from Halloween (when she goes over the railing) dubbed into the movie? I was hoping Carpenter would mention it on the commentary (which he shares with Debra Hill) but since neither of them even seemed to remember that Charles Cyphers was in Halloween I doubt they'd remember a quick audio switcheroo.

Plus it's a treasure trove for Carpenter fans; only Escape From New York has more of his regulars appearing (all of them besides Nancy Loomis really, if you count Jamie Lee's voice as the narrator). Cyphers, Atkins, Curtis, Loomis, Barbeau, and Buck Flower are all here, plus two timers like Darwin Joston and John Strobel (the guy in Escape who gives Kurt his injection). And the rest of the cast is rounded out by greats like Hal Holbrook and Janet Leigh, so you can't really complain that their roles coulda gone to Donald Pleasence or... well, JC didn't really have any "regular" middle aged women, I guess. And it's got his all-stars behind the camera too; Cundey, editor/production designer Tommy Wallace, Ray Stella on camera, Hill producing... this and Escape are like the Rosetta Stones of his work (I've always found it kind of funny that The Thing is considered by many to be his best movie when it's remarkably low on regulars - hell he didn't even do the score himself!).

As always, Scream has ported over all of the bonus features from the previous special edition (from MGM): the Hill/Carpenter commentary (recorded around 1995) is fun, though as always with JC he tends to get obsessed with pointing out different locations within a single scene and occasionally just narrates the movie. But their memory (save for Cyphers) is pretty sharp, and he discusses the changes to the film and points out which scenes were added mere weeks before the film opened. There's a promotional behind the scenes piece created in 1980 that is amusing to watch, as well as a solid retrospective that has (then) new interviews with most of the cast and crew. Plus the outtakes and other little bits - I went over with a fine tooth comb and promise you that everything is here except for the liner notes inside the MGM DVD case.

And then there's new stuff! Jamie Lee was one of the few omissions on that older retrospective, but they make up for it here with a 20 minute interview that was shot in 2013 - and it's a must-see. Not only do they thankfully shoot her with a real background (her own house, maybe?) instead of those ugly greenscreen backdrops they use on all their other interviews, but she is wonderfully candid and tells a ton of great stories, and ends with a heartfelt message to Carpenter. It's one of the best interview pieces I've seen in a while, and certainly the best on these Scream Factory releases - do more like this! Maybe it's the more comfortable setting that got her to open up as well as she did where so many others just feel like they're telling the same stories they've told before (regardless of whether you've heard them)? Sadly, they didn't do the same for the other new interview, with Cundey - he's got the goofy backdrop, and doesn't seem to be having much fun. He doesn't focus on Fog exclusively (neither did JLC, for the record), but goes over his entire career with Carpenter, which for reasons I still don't know seem to have ended with Big Trouble in Little China (though he says he'll work with him anytime).

The other new video segment is a lengthy episode of Horror's Hallowed Grounds, where host Sean Clark takes folks around on the shooting locations as they exist today, explaining where they were used in the film and where certain things should be prior to their remodeling ("this wall wasn't here before, it was the door that they came through..."). Some of his shtick is eye-rolling, but it's certainly a fun approach to bonus features that I welcome the inclusion of, particularly in this case as it turns out that the convenience store I drive by on Laurel Canyon every time I head over the hill is the one that was seen at the beginning of the movie! Had no idea. Now I'll have to stop and steal some orange juice. Clark also moderates the new commentary track featuring Barbeau, Atkins, and Wallace, which falls silent a few times but is very charming otherwise; they're all good friends then and now, giving it a warmth that you rarely hear on these things (at one point one of them even recognizes one of the others' homes before they do - it's endearing!).

So, unsurprisingly, another winner for the Scream Factory line. Sure, they're working off of a bit of a template at this point, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? And as an OCD sufferer, if another new bonus feature meant having to leave out some of the stuff from the previous release, I'd rather not have it. I can get rid of my old DVD knowing that this has everything it gave me (and more!), unlike other special editions which always take a "start from scratch" approach. It PAINED me to get rid of my "From Crystal Lake to Manhattan" F13 DVD set when my newer editions lacked some of its supplements, but I just couldn't justify the extra shelf space. This makes "letting go" a cinch, and since Blus are thinner, gives me room for more of their releases! Everyone wins.

What say you?


Beneath (2013)

JULY 14, 2013


I've discussed my fear of fish a couple times before on this site, so it's probably not too surprising that I found Beneath to be scarier than the average Jaws ripoff. Not that I would laugh in the face of a shark, but with them I know where I stand, and since I can barely swim I probably wouldn't be going out into the ocean far enough for one to get me like that idiot Kintner boy. But a regular lake, like the one I went in hundreds of times growing up? Sure, I'd go in there, and according to this movie, I'd promptly be eaten by a giant (but not TOO giant) man-eating catfish. So my fear has only been restored, and will stick to well lit, very tiny swimming pools.

In fact, there's something in the movie that unsettled me more than any of the actual kill scenes - a long overhead shot of our heroes in their boat as the fish makes its way over to them, bumps the boat, and just sort of hangs out nearby for a bit before going under and swimming away again. It's a scene that was probably dictated partially by the limitations of the practical (YES, practical!) monster - it can't do much and was probably being operated by guys in the water swimming around and going as fast as they can, but that's what makes it work. It's so casual about its "attack" that it unnerved me more than any scene of it rapidly approaching on someone in the water - it's close, and it's posing a real threat at all times.

Indeed, the movie more or less takes place in real time, which is crucial to point out as the kids don't seem to be that far from the shore. They have no oars (and eventually the fish pops a hole in the side, forcing them to bale water as they cautiously paddle with their hands), which accounts for their slow progress, but a viewer not paying close attention will probably just get annoyed, thinking that they are going too slow only to make the movie work. I mean, I'm sure there is some license taken with the timeframe (not unlike a 30 second sequence in a movie about a bomb going down from 10), but it's something director Larry Fessenden and his writers clearly tried to explain away by only rarely skipping over a chunk of time. So the situation becomes more nerve-wracking, especially once the boat begins to sink and the fish keeps coming back for fresh blood.

See, of course they can't just be a group of close friends who would die to help the others - it's a modern horror film, so if anything they barely like each other. But it's the rare case where this actually pays off, unlike a slasher type where it's just something to add (fake) drama. Here, their tenuous friendships and inadvertently revealed secrets (yes, as always, a character's infidelity is an issue) are enough reason - when ALL of their lives are on the line - to "vote off" someone on the boat every now and then to distract the fish enough for them to risk dipping their hands into the water to paddle. It can be a bit silly - they definitely could have done without everyone defending why they shouldn't be killed, as two of them basically have the same excuse ("I'm going to be famous someday!"), and the movie has already done enough for us to not really like any of them that much - but it's a fun little wrinkle all the same, and adds some tension even when the fish isn't nearby. I actually had no idea who'd ever be next to go (the movie curiously kills off one of its two females first), so even though I wasn't particularly rooting for any of them, I still found myself caught up in the "who will be next" scenes since it was never an obvious choice.

Of course, if you're not afraid of fish, then there probably isn't enough here to make you forget that you're essentially watching a feature length version of "The Raft" segment from Creepshow 2. Even with the voting and real time element, it still feels padded and repetitive at times, so if you find the monster silly instead of THE MOST TERRIFYING THING EVER, I can see this being a bit of a chore for you. There's a hint at a baffling mythology (the fish isn't some new discovery - locals know about it?) that probably should have been saved as a reveal instead of something we learn right off the bat, as it automatically clues us in not only to the danger, but to one character's rather confusing plot arc - why did he bring the girl he loved out there when he knew there was a giant killer fish in the area? It's worth noting that this is the first feature Fessenden has directed that he didn't write himself; it's a shame he didn't bring a bit more of his style into the plotting. He can be hit or miss, but his movies at least never feel like traditional horror flicks, nor do they offer up cliches (there's even an idiotic "guy pretends to be taken by something in the water to scare his friends" scene - have these been amusing in the slightest in the past 30 years?). It's a full 90 minutes, so unless they had some sort of contractual minimum runtime (very possible since this is a Chiller production and will thus be airing on their channel someday, I'm sure), they could have trimmed some of this silly fat and had an even better film.

But it works as an old school, "late night" or "regional" monster movie, not unlike Glass Eye's recent Hypothermia (and superior to that one - better monster!). The lack of CGI is so refreshing that I'm willing to overlook some of its scripting issues, and I'm glad to see Fessenden directing again as it's been over 6 years since Last Winter (which I should revisit; my primary complaint seems to be that it was too slow, something that usually is less of an issue on a 2nd view). Maybe he was just getting into shape for something that fits more in his filmography - if so, as a "stretch" it's a pretty entertaining one, and given all the attention this weekend on Sharknado, I was mostly just happy to watch a monster movie that was taken seriously.

What say you?


The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh

JULY 11, 2013


Sometimes a movie is worth seeing not because it's full on great, but (and this goes for horror in particular) because it's doing something ambitious and unique, so as long as it's WATCHABLE and professionally done, it deserves to be seen by fans of its genre. Such is the case with The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh - it's not the best movie of the year or anything, but it's definitely one of the most interesting and unusual horror films I've seen in quite a while (and that's still a lot - I've only reviewed about a third of what I've watched since "quitting"), and thus comes highly recommend to more mature fans.

And I don't mean to insult younger horror fans by saying that; while I DO feel that they might be bored (the movie is almost completely free of "action"), the real problem is that I think you need to be a bit older to appreciate the point of the movie, which deals more with regret and loneliness than typical horror elements. Our hero is an estranged son who comes back to his mother's house after she died in order to collect the objects he wants to sell as antiques (he's a dealer) before selling off the property, only to discover that his mom - who he hadn't spoken to in years - had bought all of his wares herself, hoping that it would reconnect them. Kind of a bummer premise, right? Granted, there are some haunted house style elements and a mystery involving her death and the angel cult (!) she was part of, but the focus remains on her despair and his growing realization that she was right.

See, as we learn over time, the reason he left is because he didn't buy into her afterlife beliefs - no such thing as angels or heaven. "You're there, and then you're not," he says, and so of course part of the movie concerns whether or not he was right. Being a genre film you can probably guess which side the movie takes, but there's more to it than that, which I'll let you discover for yourself as the movie has a final twist that hammers home the dramatic part of writer/director Rodrigo Gudino's film. It's a bit subtle - I actually missed it the first time around (I watched it twice, as this was one of my Netflix assignments and as usual I got caught up watching the movie and forgot to note if anyone smoked or swore - two things I need to mark down for my assigned titles), and it turned what was already kind of a sad movie into a full blown gutpunch. If you're feeling the least bit guilty about not spending enough time with your own mom (and I am, but that's what happens when you move to the other side of the country), this movie will drive you over the edge. Make the phone call or Sunday afternoon visit BEFORE watching!

But, admittedly, as much as I appreciated the movie's unusual pacing and storyline (someone needs to make a full blown horror movie about a cult that worships angels instead of Satan!), it DOES get a bit too slow for its own good. Vanessa Redgrave is 2nd billed as the mother, but she only appears in a shot or two (she was primarily cast for her voice, as the mother narrates chunks of the movie from what appears to be a letter to her son) - and that is indeed the 2nd most prominent character in the movie. We never see a single other person in the film proper until the very end, just a few voices on the phone or people in a film that he watches about the cult. Actor Aaron Poole (who looks like the similarly named Aaron Paul from the side, oddly enough) has the entire film to himself, and while he's a good enough actor to handle the task, the script doesn't have him doing all that much for most of the runtime. For example, with 20 minutes to go including (the very slow) credits, we see him call tech support for the house's security system so that he can access the surveillance footage after seeing "something" outside - the entire call (including being on hold) is shown, which is just padding it a bit to get it up to its bare minimum feature length of 80 minutes. With trimming (the girlfriend, for example) and tightening, Gudino could have made a 30 minute "short" film that would get the prime slot at genre festivals' short blocks, and everyone would be blown away - as a feature, it takes maybe a bit too much patience at times.

Needless to say, there are no deleted scenes on the disc, as I suspect they used every frame that was shot to get the movie to its runtime. However, there are some fine bonus features, including a short film from Gudino (so he DOES know how to make one! I kid, I kid) that I couldn't quite follow but had a very interesting approach to "live action" (and also featured Julian Richings, Canadian genre actor icon who also appears briefly in the feature). Of most interest is the refreshingly straight forward commentary by Gudino (moderated by someone whose name escapes me, but he's got a delightfully thick Scottish accent), where he doesn't play the obnoxious "I leave it up to you to decide!" card with regards to the movie's mysteries - he actually explains the ending almost right off the bat, and points out a few other little things I had missed. He even says that people who listen to commentaries probably want answers, so maybe he can teach a class on such things as he's clearly more tuned into his audience than many of his peers. It seems that the track was recorded as a podcast of sorts, so he's not too screen specific as it appears you can listen to it on its own and get what he's saying, so there's not a lot of technical info about the production (though I was surprised to discover that the house was made up of several different locations - it's pretty seamless onscreen!). The making of is also worth a look, as its production team clearly wanted to ape the offbeat style of the movie rather than deliver typical EPK bullshit, though I didn't find much use for the interview with the composer, mainly because I am a complete idiot when it comes to music and thus didn't fully understand what he was saying. If you're a composer or music buff, however - it's one of the longer composer special features I've seen in a while, so there's that. Some photo galleries round things out.

At first I didn't know what to make of the movie, but as it went on (and then on my second viewing) I found a lot to admire. I can't deny I was a bit bored at times, but I was also drawn in and even kind of lulled by its melancholy tone and admirable "no generic horror bullshit" approach. Give it a chance; I honestly can't think of another "horror" movie that is anything like it - the closest I could think of was Premonition, the underrated Sandra Bullock thriller, as it also focused on how letting a relationship crumble can have depressing (and slightly scary!) consequences, but that would be selling it short as that movie was mainly more interested in being a thriller. This is the real deal - I've asked for more dramatic horror and got my wish!

What say you?


Public Service Announcement: STOKER Blu-Ray

JULY 4, 2013


I originally planned to re-review Stoker when it came out on Blu-ray, but after re-reading my original review from February, I realized it wasn't necessary - my feelings on the film haven't changed one iota. Sometimes at home a movie no longer grabs me as much as it did before (Shark Night is one unfortunate example - so fun in theaters, so dull at home), other times I find I like it a lot more on a second go around (such as Wind Chill). But Stoker - nope! I still love it, and it's still a must-see movie. The only difference is now I can add "Why the hell didn't you go see it?"

Seriously, I highly doubt there will be a movie unseating it from its current perch at the top of my favorites of the year (You're Next might have, but I saw it in 2011!), and I've talked to several others who feel just as strongly about it, such as Sam Zimmerman from Fangoria in THIS (must-read) piece. But we couldn't convince anyone to SEE the damn thing when it came out in theaters this past March; it had a solid opening weekend on a mere 7 screens, but when it expanded it played to nearly empty houses, ultimately grossing less than the Oscar nominated short films collection (!). Between this, Sunshine, and Joshua, I have to wonder - do folks just have some sort of opposition to Fox Searchlight horror films that I'm not privy to?

So now that it's on Blu, I'm here again to ask, hell, BEG you to check it out. It's an incredible film that might even play better at home (at least, on a good home theater so you can appreciate Director Park's compositions and the terrific sound design), since so much of it is subtle and personal, not to mention taking place largely within the home of its main character. And the transfer is terrific; you'll be able to appreciate every strand of Nicole Kidman's hair during that incredible dissolve I mentioned in my review, not to mention soak in the outstanding production design in all its glory. I was also impressed with how many languages they offered - Spanish and French are kind of standard for region 1 releases, but this has Thai, Turkish, Polish, and other dubs, plus as many (and more!) for subtitles. I wouldn't swear on a Bible or anything, but I'm pretty damn sure this is the first time I've been able to listen to the movie in Czech while reading Icelandic subtitles.

The bonus features are enjoyable, but nothing really qualifies as a must-see. The making of "A Filmmaker's Journey" is the best of the lot; running just under a half hour it covers the usual ground with a refreshing lack of too much generic EPK feeling, and the deleted scenes are worth a look, particularly the extended staircase scene between India and Charlie. The shorter featurettes are fine and cover different aspects in "detail", but they're a touch fluffy and promotional, plus sometimes recycle material that you should have already seen on the proper making of piece. Then there's an inordinate amount of material on the film's South Korean and London premieres; I guess it's interesting to see how they approach such things over there compared to here in the States, but it made me feel like I was watching E! news instead of anything about filmmaking. And if you love the song on the end credits (I did not), you're in luck - there's a music video and other stuff about it (inc. one of the featurettes), and musician Emily Wells is alongside Park for most of his premiere appearances.

But even if it was a barebones disc, it would be worth whatever they're charging to own it. I know the "slow" pacing and peculiar story will be a turn off for some, but if you're a fan of Park's CRAFT (meaning, "Oldboy RULZ" isn't the extent of your appreciation of his work) and/or of offbeat, more dramatic horror/thriller fare, I can't possibly see how you wouldn't want this in your collection.

What say you?


The Mutilator (1985)

JULY 3, 2013


Ah, youth! My brother in law gave me a copy of The Mutilator that he had bought (or was given? I forget) at a convention, which means it's just an unofficial dupe taken from an unrated VHS source. Since the self-justifying thieving scum will come out of the woodwork to call me a hypocrite for watching it while slamming them for stealing new movies that are playing in theaters, let's just remind everyone that this has never been officially released on DVD (Amazon sells an all-region PAL copy that's just as shady as this one) and the VHS is, obviously, long out of print, leaving no other way to see the movie without buying a very expensive used copy of the latter (which, hate to tell you, isn't much different - you're still sending 100% of your money to a 3rd party and 0% to the filmmakers). If you honestly see no difference between this and downloading White House Down to watch on your iPad, you're an idiot.

Anyway, it's a pretty glorious late-to-the-party slasher, on par with Honeymoon Horror (one of the last HMADs from the daily era), in that it's a bad movie that is endlessly entertaining all the same, made by folks who were clearly jumping into the slasher game to make a quick buck before the well completely ran dry. And like the Honeymoon creative team, writer/director/producer Buddy Cooper has never been heard from again - we can assume that the same-named boom operator on one of Darren Aronofsky's short films (the only other thing on Cooper's IMDb page) was NOT the same guy who ten years prior made one of the goofiest slasher movies ever seen. Code Red was apparently working on a DVD version only to abandon it when they could not locate a 35mm version of the film to master it from, so it's possible we will never get a complete backstory on this one (though someone on Youtube did track Cooper down for a brief Q&A, if you're so inclined).

If I were to interview Cooper, at the top of my list would be to ask what possessed him to write (and perform!) such a ridiculously upbeat, ill-fitting theme song for the film, titled "Fall Break" (which was the film's original name). It does indeed discuss the INTENDED plot of the film - grabbing friends, going to the beach for some fun, etc - but it's really jarring even at the top of the film when nothing much bad has happened yet (just the obligatory tragic prologue set ten years prior), making it borderline insane when played at the end, once everyone is dead and we're being treated to outtakes - some of them gory - over the cast credits. I mean, listen to this thing:

As for the slasher plot itself, eh. It's pretty standard for the most part - six pals go off to an isolated house, two of them go off to bang fairly early on and get killed for their trouble, the others wonder what happened to them and thus keep going off by themselves to find them. The death scenes are a decent mix, some are off-screen but the on-screen ones make up for it, including a pretty fun decapitation of a would-be red herring and the infamous gaff hook scene (which includes another decapitation). I also loved the insane final kill, where the killer, bisected but still alive, slices off the leg of a cop who was trying to help, while laughing as if he had won despite the fact that his legs were a few feet away.

It's also bizarrely a whodunit to the characters but not to us. In the aforementioned tragic prologue, we see a kid accidentally kill his mom with his dad's rifle, and now that it's ten years later the dad decides to get revenge by killing off everyone his son cares about (except for his girlfriend, making it the rare slasher where the killer has a motive to kill the friends instead of the target, and yet still manages to blow it). But the son doesn't realize who the killer is until they've pretty much dispatched him, leading to a ridiculous "reveal" ("Oh my god, it's my DAD!") which will hopefully make you laugh hard enough to overlook the fact that they had wrestled a few minutes earlier - why didn't he recognize him then? To his credit, Cooper occasionally tries to make it seem more complicated; in addition to that random cop (he shows up all overly friendly, like many a surprise killer), there's a story about someone who got run over by a ski boat a few years back - there's even a framed picture of the victim for some goddamn reason - but it's never mentioned again.

Another thing I loved was the character of Ralph, as the standard "goofy" guy of the group. He's not pathetic or nerdy, but he's endlessly cracking jokes and making goofy faces, even when he's by himself. Early on he "cons" the guy at the convenience store into letting him use the senior citizen discount (a mere 10%) if he buys a 2nd six pack of beer (we then learn that the clerk seemingly anticipated this!), and it's one of the weirder diversions I can recall, establishing him as a budding lawyer which will of course have no bearing on anything. And why do characters going off for a weekend always only buy one or two 6-packs? How is that possibly going to be enough?

Really, the only thing that disappointed me (I wasn't exactly expecting a masterpiece) was that Frances Raines' character was the first of the group to be dispatched. As the only one I recognized thanks to Disconnected (and the only one besides the hero* to appear in anything else before or since), I figured she was going to be the Final Girl, so I guess it kind of works as a surprise that she's the first to go, but it still bummed me out as she was a pretty awkward character and thus every line she said made me laugh (like when she says she wants to "get high score on the video machine"). That said, it's kind of hard to tell who will be the final girl out of the other two until one says she won't have sex right before a scene where the other says she can't wait to do it when her fella gets back from his door-locking mission. Dead giveaway!

But it's got that je ne sais quoi that's missing from pretty much every post 1980s slasher, making it worth hunting down if you're like me and worship at the altar of these things, or if your mom ALSO refused to rent it for you as a kid due to the lurid box cover (which has two versions, neither of which feature the characters that are actually in the movie). Given the fish hook kill, I guess she made the right call (I was only like 7 or 8 when I asked; along with Bloody Birthday I think it's the only one she ever vetoed). That's good parenting! Plus if I saw it before I had the internet I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the half-assed attention to detail when the cop says he is investigating a "10-38" when referring to a possible break in - a quick search revealed that a 10-38 refers to a traffic stop.

What say you?

*He voices one of the Pokemon. Seriously.


6 Souls (aka Shelter) (2010)

JULY 1, 2013


Whoever decided to change the title to 6 Souls from its original Shelter should be slapped, mocked, and fired (in any order), as it not only makes the movie sound like a generic thriller, but it also spoils the damn movie! I'll explain in detail in a bit, but it would be like calling The Usual Suspects "The Interrogation of Keyser Soze" or something, not to mention generally gives away something that's supposed to be a twist in the narrative itself (in addition to giving us the exact count, I mean). I'd bet my left nut that the decision was to get the movie higher up in alphabetically listed VOD queues (as a "6" would be near the top, whereas "Shelter" would be way far down), but it's a huge slap in the face to the filmmakers.

And they've been through enough, frankly. The movie was actually shot in 2008 (!) and is just now being released here in the States (it opened in some markets in 2010 under its original title). Needless to say, it's from the Weinsteins, whose vaults probably have movies that were produced in the 90s. Having watched it, I can almost see why they'd have trouble marketing the movie to a mass audience - the midway genre shift alone would be a tough nut to crack in a 2 minute trailer (which thankfully doesn't fully spoil much - they're showing late movie events but without context it's not exactly the same as, say, Cast Away's trailer having Hanks back on land talking about the island), but then they also had to get around the fact that its star (Julianne Moore) had appeared in three genre misfires in a row (Blindness, Next, and the terrific but box office failure Children of Men). But still, it didn't deserve to be all but dumped direct to DVD (it played a couple theaters to save face, but its gross went unreported) or shelved for so long - give it a chance!

Not that it's some abandoned masterpiece or anything, but it's a perfectly enjoyable little thriller, and one that dares to go into some rather nutty territory in its second half - which I can always appreciate. It starts off like any old psychological thriller: Moore plays a shrink who doubts the existence of multiple personality disorder, and has just successfully gotten a murderer executed by lethal injection by proving that the "other" he was blaming for the crimes (which would net him a guilty by insanity verdict instead of death) was just an act. But then her dad (Jeffrey DeMunn), who is also a shrink, has her meet with his new patient (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a man who claims to be both David and Adam, with some pretty convincing differences between them that seemingly can't be faked (such as the fact that one of them is color blind). As she begins to doubt her stance on MPD, she realizes he CAN'T be faking... but also that it's not a mere case of a split personality.


Now, this is where the new title hurts the movie. When the man suddenly has a third personality that seems to be that of a rock star who killed himself 15 years prior, it's clear that he's not suffering a mental disorder, but that he seems to be absorbing certain souls for whatever reason. The title doesn't give that much away so neither will I, but the movie's called 6 Souls, not "3 Souls", making the turn of events in the 3rd less and less exciting as it goes on - unless you don't know how to count, there's little surprise what it's building toward and when it'll end. And again, the idea of it being "souls" instead of completely fabricated personalities is itself set up as a surprise in the movie, but with the title telling us right off the bat what's going on, it renders a lot of the early psychiatry based scenes much less interesting than they should be. Longtime readers of the site know that I try to avoid knowing anything about a movie before I sit down to watch it, and this was no exception - but yet I was able to piece most of it together long before the halfway point.

But again, it's not that bad. Moore is always great to watch, even if she seems to be a bit old for the role she's playing (she's only 13 years younger than DeMunn, playing her father, but a whopping 17 years OLDER than the actor playing her brother). Not that she LOOKS that old, but come on, she's been prominent in movies since the early 90s - we know she can't be any less than 45, though the movie is clearly setting her up as 35 at most, which can be distracting. On the other hand, she's got great chemistry with all of her co-stars - pretty much every scene is her and ____ in a one on one conversation (DeMunn and Nate Corddry as her brother/his son only have a brief scene together), and in some movies set up like that you might dread a certain pairing due to poor chemistry. But everyone has their strengths; DeMunn is a delight, playfully balancing his role as an opposing colleague but also an obviously proud father, and her loving bickering with Corddry is charming as well. And the age difference actually HELPS with Rhys Meyers - there's little chance of a romantic pairing, and when he's in David (the nicest/most sympathetic personality) mode she can be almost motherly toward him, which is more interesting than the umpteenth "shrink falls for his/her patient" scenario.

And that second half - man. Even with the title nonsense I was never expecting it go to into territory that reminded me more of a certain 1988 horror film (one with a somewhat frustratingly MISLEADING title, now that I think about it) than Identity or whatever other MPD-based horror/thriller movie, not to mention something that squarely put it in horror territory. It can be a bit hokey, particularly when Moore watches a film from 1918 that is clearly modern-made and just doctored to look old (that sort of phoniness always takes me out of a movie), and the final moment seems to be equal parts cop-out (it's a pretty grim finale) and setup for a sequel. The editing can also be a bit of an issue; at 112 minutes you're already asking a lot of an audience, but there's no need to twist the knife by lingering on say, Moore pouring out some dog food for a hungry pup in someone's otherwise abandoned home. Some tightening could have gotten this down to 1:40 or so, without any real loss of information. Interestingly, the directors, Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, went on to direct the 4th Underworld movie, which was pretty much cut to the bone (it was nearly a half hour shorter than the first film) - can whoever edited that one take a crack at this? What's another delay, anyway?

Oh well. It doesn't always work, but I can't help but love the nutty idea, and the cast keeps it afloat by being so damn likable (and bonus for Rhys Meyers getting show off some of his chops by playing multiple characters). And it's a case of my complete ignorance kind of helping - I didn't know anything about it, so I was as surprised as Moore was when she learned what she was really up against. Hopefully you can go in pretty blind (and with expectations in check) and find something to more or less enjoy as well.

What say you?


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