Carrie (2013)

OCTOBER 30, 2013


Any hope that the remake of Carrie would overcome the odds and manage to convince me it had a creative reason to exist was erased literally the second the film began, as the first credit appeared and I recognized the "Trajan" font that has become synonymous with generic studio horror over the past decade. Sure, they used it in the ads as well, but the fact that they went all in and put it in the movie practically shouted at me, loud and clear, "This is another reason why people will hate on remakes, sorry." And you might think I'm being ridiculous to lose all hope in a movie because of its damn font, but since the next 90 minutes did nothing but confirm I was right, over and over again, maybe you can give me the benefit of the doubt, eh?

Indeed, the most fascinating thing about the movie was how bland and mechanical it was. Director Kimberly Peirce and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa repeatedly said over the past year or so (the movie was delayed 6 months for reasons still unknown, unless it was the obvious: "It's not very good so let's put it out at Halloween when people will see anything genre-related.") that they weren't remaking Brian De Palma's film but going back to the original text, which is all I can hope for with such things. As I've explained a million times before, I don't consider Carpenter's The Thing to be a remake any more than I do Coppola's Dracula - it's a new take on written material, with anything in common from a previous movie more coincidental than anything. But there's no way in hell you could believe that here; every single thing that De Palma and his screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen changed from Stephen King's novel has been magically changed again here - even the things that didn't quite work when they did it in 1976 (SPOILER: Mrs. White once again dies in a Christ-pose courtesy of a dozen or so telekinetically thrown knives). This is probably why Cohen once again has screenwriting credit even though he didn't work on the film - this is not common for remakes even of movies that AREN'T adapted from books or whatever (the only times I can recall it happening are The Hitcher and The Omen remakes), so the fact that he's still getting credited for HIS adaption is pretty telling.

In fact, the only things that I can see that were taken from the book and NOT in De Palma's (if they were in the 2002 TV movie, I don't know - still haven't seen it) are superfluous. One is the fact that Sue Snell is pregnant, a "plot point" that amounts to exactly one line of dialogue and one moment of morning sickness for which we are led to believe her guilt was to blame. Another I wouldn't even have noticed if not for the fact that De Palma's version "spoke" to me - the gym teacher's name has been reverted back to Desjardin after De Palma/Cohen switched it to the much cooler name of "Collins". And that's pretty much it - there isn't a single thing from the book that we didn't get to see in 1976. It truly baffles me that with the bigger budget and advances in FX that they couldn't think of anything of note to do differently during the TK sequences, especially with CGI at their disposal to pull off things that would have been impossible then. The non-destruction of the town is a huge puzzle - in the book, Carrie destroys the entire city, pretty much, but this movie, as with the original, limits her carnage to the school and a bit of the surrounding area (a few minor explosions from sewer holes and a sinkhole on one street), plus her house.

I also didn't get why they didn't use the book's framing device, which had it all in flashback. Not only would it have been proof that they were truly going from King's text, but it also would have been more modern - the "start at the end" thing is a pretty common trope these days (too common, if you ask me), but often it's not very justified; it just tells us who lives and spoils part of its own ending more often than not. But some random survivor (not difficult; apart from the people I've already mentioned, no one has much of a character here - there isn't even a "Norma" type standin among the girls) telling the tale, over shots of a completely decimated town - that would actually WORK. But no, apart from a scene of Mrs. White giving birth (the most significant "from the book!" element), the movie begins and ends exactly the same, failing to make use of its source material at every turn. Even when things seem like they might be a bit different, Peirce and Sacasa hold back - the girls are playing volleyball in the pool this time, and thus I thought they'd have Carrie have her period there, letting the blood mix with the blue water for a disturbing visual, but no. They go into the shower room (in 2013? That even still happen anywhere?) and things proceed as you'd expect.

So is it any good? Let's assume that I'm the target audience, i.e. teenagers who haven't seen the original (or read the book, but come on, does that need to be clarified in this day and age?). In that case, yeah, it's fine I guess. At the risk of sounding pervy, I don't understand the point of giving the role of Carrie to the most attractive girl in the cast, but Chloe Moretz does a fine job of earning our sympathies, while also fumbling about awkwardly enough for us to understand why the boys wouldn't at least give her a second look (she's less effective in the 3rd act; I don't think ANYONE can pull off moving their arms around REALLY HARD to show telekinesis - probably why they didn't have Sissy Spacek do it). And the rest of the girls are sufficiently horrible without going too overboard into cartoon villainy (though Chris' boyfriend, played by some guy with nowhere near the charisma of John Travolta, comes close), with bonus points for casting Hart "Ellis" Bochner as Chris' dad - a fine shorthand for an audience to understand she comes from an entitled upbringing. The less said about Julianne Moore, however, the better - her over-the-top scenery chewing most definitely will not earn her an Oscar nomination (a Razzie might not be out of the question), though it makes Judy Greer (as Desjardin) shine even brighter by comparison; if there's any reason for a fan of the original to see this, it might be her.

But a younger audience might be just as confused as I was as to how old-fashioned it was. Apart from the "plug it up!" scene being filmed with a camera phone, it's a bizarrely outdated film - the same character with the iPhone at one point even runs home to check her email, as if it wasn't something she can do with her portable device. And when Sue has to make her mad dash to the prom to stop Carrie from being humiliated, she does so by driving, looking around for a way to get into the school, etc - rather than just text her boyfriend the news. Fuck, I'm sick to death of found footage, but there's a way to do the finale that way that would have actually worked on a narrative level (and again, would have been a good way to update the novel's flashback structure), and yet it goes curiously unexplored. It's not uncommon to wonder why a not-great movie didn't do this or that when you're removed from it, but wondering AS IT'S HAPPENING is a sure sign of a film that has completely failed to engage the audience. Hell, I'm not exactly an expert on De Palma's film (I've only seen it twice) or the novel (read once, at least a decade ago), so considering my poor memory I should have been able to more or less "forget" how everything turned out, but the movie's insistence on sticking to the previous film just kept giving me deja vu. Hell even with The Omen (a closer copy) there were a couple of "re-surprise" moments, but I never once got that here. Only the occasional line (like a rather funny one about Tim Tebow) let me know that they HAD indeed written some semblance of a new script. So it's got one up on Psycho '98, I'll give it that much, but to me a good remake should interest viewers new and old - this one almost goes out of its way to alienate the latter.

And then they twist the knife one last time, offering up a ridiculous shot of a tombstone cracking (via not-very-good CGI) to close the film in place of one of the all time great final scares in horror history. But in a way it's kind of perfect; the film starts on something new and ends on something the same only worse, precisely mirroring the likely intentions of Peirce and her cast. It wouldn't surprise me if the studio demanded something "safer" (while still - admirably - R-rated), and certainly the recent (re)wave of school shootings probably didn't help the movie any, but I didn't pay 8 bucks (matinee!) for their initial ideas. With so many paths they could have chosen, they took the least effective one at every turn, and the film's less-than-stellar box office performance - without a single competitor in a year that horror has been doing quite well - proves that their non-risk didn't pay off. Next time do it right or don't do it at all.

What say you?


HMAD Screening: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

UPDATE! Not only will screenwriter Dan Farrands be joining us for a Q&A, but he will be bringing a very special treat - a 35mm print of the legendary "Producer's Cut"! To hell with blurry bootlegs! BE THERE!!!

Keeping tradition (I co-hosted Halloween III in 2011 and did Halloween II last year), this October's HMAD show at the New Beverly will be an entry in my favorite franchise, and this year we're going with Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, which was the last in the series to be released in the fall instead of the summer, and also the last in the original timeline. H20 would of course reboot the series and retcon 4-6 out of existence (H3 of course is in its own world anyway), and then Rob Zombie came along to remake it all together.

It's also, sadly, the last appearance of Donald Pleasence, who died shortly after the film had its principal production, but BEFORE it had some reshoots and re-edits. As a result, he's unfortunately not in the film as much as the previous entries, making those moments all the more special - the actor originally said he'd do 19 of the films before quitting, but these would be the last nutty lines we'd ever hear out of the true Dr. Sam Loomis. Luckily, in his absence we have a very young Paul Rudd (only his second or third film, in fact) and the lovely Marianne Hagan as the film's leads, and great character actor Mitchell Ryan as Dr. Wynn, a colleague of Loomis' who plays a major role (I'm gonna pretend some folks haven't seen it yet).

Also, and this is the reason I chose the film over H20*, it's got a TON of Halloween atmosphere, perhaps even more than the original offered. The streets of Haddonfield are completely drenched in decorations and trick r treaters (even in the daytime), and the big party has terrific seasonal production design as well. Plus, it's the best mask of any of the sequels, in my opinion, another thing elevating it above its more financially successful followup. The high body count should also make for a fun midnight show - I want a big cheer when that asshole John Strode gets his! And who doesn't love the Brother Cane song from the credits?

As always, the show will be at the New Beverly Cinema, located at 7165 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, 90036 (two blocks west of La Brea). Street parking is easy to find (just check the signs as there are some permit zones) and tickets are a mere 8 bucks at the door or in advance via BrownPaperTickets. The screening will be on Saturday, October 26th at 11:59 pm, and yes I'll have some DVDs to give away for easy trivia questions. Working on special guests, but since a couple folks have already asked: Mr. Rudd is a no-go - we DID ask him, and he replied within like 30 minutes, but alas it's his kid's birthday that weekend and thus he will be celebrating (he lives in New York so it wasn't really likely anyway, but the fact that he replied so quickly proves it wasn't a waste of time to try!). Also, if you want to make a full night of it, on a separate bill the Bev is having a fine double feature of He Knows You're Alone and (previous HMAD show) Psycho II that night, also 8 bucks for the pair. For less than 20 bucks you can see three fun horror flicks on glorious 35mm in one evening! Not bad at all.

Finally, enjoy the poster from Jacopo Tenani, who did this in the midst of putting together a Suspiria-themed gallery! Very cool of him, and once again it makes me sad I can't find a place to print small runs of these for a price that would make sense, as I'd love to have them for myself and a few folks have asked. This is one I would definitely love to have as it's more striking than any key art ever created by Dimension for the film. Oh well. But at least we can enjoy it on our monitors, and I'll see you at the movie!

*I was hoping to do H4 for its 25th anniversary, but 1, 4, and 5 are tied up due to the Screenvision screenings, sadly.


Screamfest: And All The Rest (2013)

OCTOBER 18, 2013


Hey look - I didn't even do full reviews of every movie I saw when I was doing this shit full time. You think this year will be any different? HELL NO. Read on for capsule reviews of the films I saw at Screamfest that I didn't think enough much of, or simply didn't have the time, to write up full HMAD-y rambles. And in one case I couldn't because it boasted end credits by yours truly!

My pick for the weakest film of the fest (which was thankfully short on found footage movies; the only other one was Delivery and that one's good), this one had the ingredients for a fine traditionally shot creeper - a great location (an actual glacier!), a lovely leading lady (Anna Gunndís Guðmundsdóttir), and a Thing like cast of blue collar scientist types who get wiped out by SOMETHING that is disturbed during their work. But as with Apollo 18, they opt to go the POV route and kill the suspense and momentum of the narrative. And (also like A18), there are only two characters, so it's deathly dull as well since nothing of note can happen to either of them for quite a while. Bonus points for the ending, which (spoiler) switches to traditional filmmaking in order to explain how the footage got back to civilization, but it's too little too late - they should have done that at the halfway point, allowing for a speedier than usual FF sequence and then a real finale.

This is the one I worked on! But as always, I never got to see it before making my credits, so I had no idea if it would be something I'd be embarrassed to be associated with, however tenuously. Luckily, that wasn't the case - this was a damned entertaining blend of film noir and supernatural/psychological horror. Angel Heart would be a good point of reference (and not just because they share a New Orleans locale), so if you dug that film you should find a lot to like here - including sex scenes that would make the MPAA blush (we were seeing an unrated version; no word on how the censors will feel about certain activities). Kudos to Adam Geirasch and Jace Anderson on their best film yet, and look for this one next year (it's already been picked up for distribution!).

The plot synopsis includes "Held prisoner in a house full of antique toys, she must overcome her deranged captors or become a living doll", which led me to believe that the other dolls were former humans and she'd literally become one of them. But no, there's nothing supernatural about it, and the dolls don't really factor into anything beyond some mildly creepy set dressing. So once I realized it was much more straightforward, I had fun with this blend of Misery and The Baby, with our heroine being held against her will by a deranged woman and her fully grown "baby" daughter, who suffers from some sort of mental handicap that basically has her acting feral. It's a bit TOO simplistic; the movie mostly revolves around her attempts to escape (which we know she won't do until the movie's over, if that) and her boyfriend's attempts to find her. A potentially exciting subplot involving her best friend (who has been sleeping with said boyfriend) coming to pick her up and being taken as well is dealt with far too quickly, and the end is a bit abrupt, but it's an admirably gonzo slice of Spanish horror. Since most of their films are a bit more subdued, it's nice to see them have a little more fun.

There were three movies with rape as a plot point in this year's festival; I allowed myself one. Nothing personal against such fare, but it's a long, busy month and I can only do about 1/3 of the things I'd like to (not even counting all the usual things I have to skip: I haven't turned my Xbox on in weeks, or been to Harmontown, etc). So why spend some of that limited time watching something that will just depress me? But the solid cast (Sean Pertwee, Kevin Howarth, Anna Walton) prompted me to give it a look, and while it certainly didn't change my mind about such movies, at least MOST of the depravity was left off-screen, and had a unique hook at its center: our heroine is deaf and thus couldn't often even HEAR her fellow captors' pleas for help (the title refers to a house where young girls are drugged and rented out to soldiers to do with as they please), and unlike the others isn't chained up and is free to go about the house - something that comes in handy when she turns the tables on the antagonists in the 3rd act. As these things go I've certainly seen worse, and it's based on a true story (for real!), so it's got more merit than the usual I Spit On Your Grave wannabes, but I couldn't wait for it be over so I could go look at a puppy or something.

Part of why I was so annoyed by all of the shorts with full film crews (100 or more people, in some cases) is because this feature length movie had about 20 total people on both sides of the camera. Hell, there was even a short with a shockingly similar storyline (and also shot in upstate New York) that supposedly needed like double the manpower to pull it off. Thus, I walked away more impressed by this; it's not the most exciting movie ever made, but I liked how small scale and personal it was, going for drama more than overt horror and usually succeeding. I was also impressed with the makeup; it's about a Stand-like virus that has wiped out most of the country, with one of our two heroes getting infected early on (the movie is about his decline as his partner tries to keep him alive), allowing us to see the various stages of the disease. First it's just some boils on the face, but by the end they look like a botched experiment from The Fly (his foot in particular was an icky highlight), also impressive in light of that short which didn't offer much insight into what was killing everyone.

Not really horror, but a unique take on a revenge film, where a man (Eisenberg) suddenly fixates on another (Goldberg) and lashes out when the gestures of friendship are not returned. So it's basically the 2nd half of Cable Guy stretched to a feature, with things getting darker and heading into Coen Brothers territory (a fair point of reference since they are special thanked as "Gods" in the end credits along with Tarantino and a few others). It can be a bit repetitious, but it's a great "go in blind" movie as you're never sure where it's heading, and both actors are terrific; offering a steady anti-chemistry and straddling the line between sympathetic and hateful (yes, both of them). Director Oren Carmi also offers a few great long takes (including one in a cramped apartment where the blocking keeps teasing the expected moment where an unconscious character springs back into action), and as he explained in the Q&A after it's not exactly easy to get funding in Israel for such dark material, so kudos to him for taking a tough project and making it even more of a challenge. This just start its festival run, so it probably won't be out for a while - keep an eye out if you like your movies dark and JUST off-kilter enough to stand out but not so much that it turns into a farce.

And sadly that's all I saw besides the films I reviewed in full (The Dead 2, Torment, Demon's Rook, and Beneath). It's ironic; I was all excited about Screamfest being closer this year, but because of so many other things going on I ended up missing more movies than usual. I have screeners for a couple of others, but I'm bummed I missed seeing films like Haunter and 308 (Cannon Fodder was one I purposely skipped - life's too short for another zombie movie with wall to wall terrible digital blood, as seen in its trailer). I also didn't see as many shorts as I would have liked, though of the three blocks I DID attend I found this year's crop to be rather underwhelming; the best was The Banishing, which took a haunting tale and spun it into darker, BC-approved territory (I also loved that it featured a girl who instantly googled "Banishing spells" when her little sister began claiming there was a ghost talking to her). I also quite liked The Barista (which began with a riff on Unbreakable and went to a much funnier place), Dembanger (which detailed the reasons why you shouldn't accept random Facebook requests), and Skypemare, which has a pretty self-explanatory title and featured the lovely Cerina Vincent. And while I didn't care much about the plot, the stop-motion Butterflies was a marvel to look at - not sure if I just didn't hit the right blocks, but even more disappointing than the underwhelming entries was the lack of variety - it was the only animated one I saw.

So, overall, not the most memorable fest, but at least it only had one stinker (and even that was at least competent and mildly entertaining at times), and I loved the new locale as it offered free parking if you were lucky (not a chance in its last three venues) and affordable concessions (ditto - I'm usually broke by week's end). Plus there were a lot of foreign films which is always a plus, and things ran completely smooth; apart from the opening night movie (a given) nothing started late or had to get pulled/replaced. And you can't argue about the eating options: the hot dog place, Chipotle, a wings place, Panda Express, a pie shop (!), and Starbucks were all within a block. That's good quick-eating. Please bring it back to the Noho Laemmle next year!

What say you?


The Demon's Rook (2013)

OCTOBER 13, 2013


I recently read an article about people who accidentally leave their babies in the car, how they're not bad people or whatever, but victims of a strange tic in the way that our brains work when working through a routine. One likened it to driving to work (it's the most easily identifiable example) - you can get in your car and get all the way to work without actively thinking about any of it, because you've done it so many times. And that's part of the problem I had with horror movies after a while and also part of why I quit doing this every day: there were too many of those "drive to work" movies, where I could watch the whole thing and retain absolutely nothing about the experience, making writing a review next to impossible. Happily, there are movies like The Demon's Rook that, while imperfect, at least know enough to make an impression.

The coolest thing about the movie is how damn WEIRD it is, and also how it seems to be that way by careful(ish) design and not just a bunch of dudes making shit up as they go along and throwing things in at random. On the surface, it's not particularly complicated or unique: a guy comes back to his hometown and must battle an evil demon that has been wiping out the town - could be any random Stephen King novel, right? But when you add in the specifics, it truly forges its own identity, and the script by Akom Tidwell and James Sizemore (who also directs, stars, and performs a half dozen other crew positions) adds flavor at every turn - a mouse running over a piano, a kid asking a demon for pancakes, a guy performing an impromptu hoe-down with his friends because he's so excited about getting married... all these things keep the movie from ever being the slightest bit boring, a HUGE achievement when you consider it runs 105 minutes (longest movie I saw at the festival) and is the first film from just about everyone involved.

But the weird thing is, it's not very funny. In fact, no matter how ostensibly goofy the narrative gets at times, everyone plays it straight, never going for laughs or (worse) campy "so bad it's good" attitude. They're all fully committed to this odd little tale, and that's what makes it work as well as it does - nothing can kill a low budget movie like this quicker than everyone thinking they're comic geniuses, or having the attitude that if they laugh at themselves on camera, the audience will too. This also allowed me to forgive some of its missteps, such as seemingly going out of their way to find a kid who looked absolutely nothing like Sizemore to play his younger self, or curiously having nearly every character be an artist of some sort (there's like 9 scenes of people drawing before being distracted by demon carnage in some form or another).

Another thing I really appreciated was the FX work (also by Sizemore, who taught himself). Not only is it all practical (I will never, ever, EVER get tired of seeing an actor get squirted with real blood - and in this day and age, it's even more admirable and awesome), but there's an impressive variety to all of the demons, including the tree-like head demon villain and the one sort-of good one, who looks a bit like the freak from The Funhouse. It's like an indie Nightbreed - every demon/monster gets its own unique design even if they're not featured very prominently.

In fact, my only real gripe was the ending, which was more of a downer than it needed to be, and abrupt to boot. I understand that this was one of those productions where cast members would constantly drop out and the movie was shot entirely on weekends over a long period, so perhaps something happened and they had to come up with a new ending or something, but either way it just feels tacked on and unnecessarily grim. At 105 minutes I don't think it needed to be LONGER, but if that's what they indeed wanted to go with, I wish it could have all ended at the big massacre that we know has been coming throughout the film (we keep seeing posters for a big concert - no horror movie has such an event unless something big and violent is going to happen there). That sequence ends and then we go to the next morning, with some shuffling about before the action kicks in again, briefly, before just ending like a Hammer movie. Throughout the movie I was impressed by the first-timer's better than average direction and editing, so it's a bummer that it gets kind of clunky in its final moments.

On the other hand, they did such a great job of telling their story visually that we (meaning me and the folks I watched it with) didn't even realize that the theater had fucked up and cropped out a small portion of the top and bottom of the frame - including the subtitles for the demon language. There's a 10 minute sequence at the halfway point, where hero Roscoe reveals how he was taken by the demons, taught their ways, and managed to escape - all of which told in the gibberish demon language. We could always tell what was happening, and assumed that it was a creative decision to keep the audience from understanding exactly what was being said the whole time. It wasn't until the end credits that we realized the framing was off, as there was a still frame credit for all of the executive producers and the title "executive producers" was missing. So we got to see a scope version of the movie thanks to the Laemmle Noho 7 staff not understanding how to frame things properly (this is why being a projectionist isn't something just anyone should be doing without proper training). Luckily, the film showed twice and they got it right the other time, so it was just our crowd that got this unusual version, one that just sort of added to the weirdness (thanks to one of the producers I got to see the subtitled version later - it was mostly gibberish even in English, so if you were also at that screening, it wasn't exactly a huge revelation).

In short, this is the sort of indie horror I wish I saw more often - it's not trying to fit into any particular hot sub-genre (it feels a bit zombie movie-ish at times, but it's a very small element), it's competently (and CONFIDENTLY) made, and doesn't try to make up for its shortcomings with horrible attempts at humor. It may run a little long, but ultimately I'd rather watch something like this for 9 straight hours before enduring another 80 minute Saw or Paranormal Activity wannabe.

What say you?


Torment (2013)

OCTOBER 11, 2013


This morning I looked at BoxOfficeMojo and discovered that You're Next still hadn't even hit the 20m mark, which is so depressing since it was originally projected to make almost that much in its first weekend (and certainly deserved to). I still don't understand why the public rejected the movie, but I DO know that if it was a hit, movies like Torment would be able to get better deals for distribution than they might now, as it's in the same "home invasion" sub-genre and even has some similar elements (including killers wearing animal masks). Hopefully it will still find its way out there, as I found it to be a solid entry in the growing "folks terrorize people in their own home" series of films.

The first forty minutes or so work best; it's not long after our hero family (a man, his son, and his new wife Sarah, played by Katharine Isabelle) arrive at their vacation home that they realize someone has been in there: dirty dishes in the sink and in the bedrooms, a hole in the basement door, and - worst of all - one of the kid's stuffed animals has been taken. Assuming it to be burglars that have since moved on (and receiving no real help from the local police, embodied by Stephen McHattie, in case you weren't sure that this was a Canadian production), they go to bed... only to discover that their son is missing in the middle of the night.

From then on it's almost a realtime account of the two parents running around trying to find their son while dodging their attackers, who kill the cop, injure Sarah, and quite disturbingly have cut the heads off the kid's giant stuffed animals to make into masks. There are some terrific setpieces throughout this portion of the film, with director Jordan Barker (returning to Screamfest after his enjoyable ghost thriller The Marsh played there in 2006) doing Carpenter proud with some fine use of widescreen and background gags - I particularly loved when a barely visible light turned out in the background behind our hero, letting us (but not him) know the killers were still around. And he milks every second of the more suspense driven parts, with Isabelle or Robin Dunne (the husband) making their way down a hallway, not sure if the killer or killers are waiting to jump out of a room or from a closet behind them. And we know they're brutal killers from the opening scene where they kill a neighbor family (another thing that might bring You're Next to mind; I couldn't find if this was shot before or after YN began making its festival rounds), so there isn't much of a "safe" feeling for anyone but the kid - and he's MIA!

The Strangers may also come to mind, but here's where the film differs greatly from that one - the killers have a motive and explain why they are targeting this guy. It's not a terrible concept, but unfortunately the villain speaks with a voice not unlike Bane's from The Dark Knight Rises, and thus it's almost impossible to keep up that level of tension when I keep having the instinct to burst out laughing. I'm sure the thinking was that it would be creepy and unsettling, but it's just kind of goofy, and I'm of the opinion that these particular movies are scarier without any motive (YN being an exception since it was also more of a fun approach to such things), so the final 20 minutes or so aren't as strong as what came before. But it's got an appropriately grim ending and an admirably left-field twist (one that also registers as more goofy than creepy, to be fair), and it's only like 75 minutes without credits, and thus is never boring.

I also enjoyed seeing Isabelle in a likable, "normal" role, since her biggest genre turns so far have been Ginger Snaps and American Mary, both of which had her playing not particularly sympathetic characters. She's a lovely woman and a solid actress, and I was worried she'd only do horror movies that were in line with those, which would get tiresome. Good to see she's not "above" more traditional "final girl" type of roles, and also that she's playing her age instead of following the lead of some of her peers and trying to keep passing for college students when they're in their 30s (the irony being she'd have no trouble passing for someone ten years younger). And it's always good to see McHattie; he is used well in his two scenes and is pretty much the only other person in the movie besides the family and their pursuers, so it's good that they got an icon of sorts.

In short, it's not a game-changer, but it gets the job done and only has a few minor missteps. Sure, I'd rather a movie with a better 2nd half than the first, so you go out on a high note, but it's not like Mute Witness where you might as well shut the damn thing off once the truly suspenseful/scary part is over with and the movie has to get bogged down with its plot. And I liked it a lot more than any of the shorts in the following block, which only produced one I really enjoyed (Dembanger, about the drawbacks of accepting random friend requests on Facebook). There's this new trend where short films are just basically pitches for feature films, and are equally underdeveloped (as they are saving a lot of the narrative for the feature) and too damn long, and I'm getting kind of sick of it. I also tend to dislike guests of a short who are rude when the other ones are playing, such as the folks for Thirteen, which was also the weakest of the lot to boot. This is part of why I'd rather they didn't do a block and just attached them to the features, but oh well. I also enjoyed Woodland Heights, tho it too could have been a bit shorter. Hopefully the programmers just assumed Friday night would be tough and just sacrificed the weakest ones of the bunch in order to save the really good ones for the other nights, though that wasn't the case last year - Friday night's two short blocks in 2012 were among the all time best I've ever seen. Either way: MAKE SHORTER SHORTS. I didn't love ABCs of Death but at least I knew nothing would be more than 5-6 minutes; I saw one in the Screamfest program guide that runs just under a half hour - that's not a short film, that's an episode of a TV show!

What say you?


The Fall Of The House Of Usher (1960)

OCTOBER 11, 2013


I'm sure I've said this here before, but I'll risk repeating myself just to be sure: If you go all October without watching a Vincent Price movie, you're doing something wrong. I see folks watching hardcore gore films for the season, and I'm not going to say they're WRONG, but to me the old Price films are far better suited to get you into the Halloween mood, as they've got a devilish charm that matches the spirit of the holiday - something a splatter movie doesn't quite have. And Scream Factory seemingly agrees; their big release for the month is a boxed set featuring six of his classics, starting with The Fall Of The House Of Usher (sometimes just House Of Usher), which was also the first of his seven (!) Poe adaptations with Roger Corman.

And it's also where I started with the set, as I saw the film pre-HMAD and thus never wrote a review of it before (the other films on the set are mostly reviewed here, albeit without the audio commentaries and other bonus features Scream has assembled for this release). Plus, it had been so long that I couldn't remember much about it beyond the fact that it was similar to a couple of their others in that it involved a guy coming to an isolated manor owned by Vincent Price and inquiring about a loved one, finding himself at odds with the man, and, after some reveals, narrowly escaping with his life as the house (and Price) perished behind him. Corman was famous for reusing sets and such, but I suspect he was cribbing from his own scripts quite a bit as well.

That said, it doesn't diminish from the movie's power (plus it was the first one anyway), as this is a terrific start to the "franchise" and very much worthy of its inclusion into the National Film Registry (one of the few horror films to earn that honor - even The Wolfman hasn't been honored as of yet). Of course, it's not much of a horror film, as it's never made clear whether or not Usher (Price) is right when he says that the house is alive and cursed, or if he's just been driven mad due to his ailments, but it's still got a few tropes of the haunted house film. Our hero (Mark Damon) hears strange noises, is almost killed by a falling chandelier, and as per cinematic law there's a crypt in the basement (complete with cobwebs and a rat), giving the film the SENSE of a haunted house without actually being one. Nice trick, that.

Horror or not, though, it's another wonderful performance by Price, who sheds his dry sense of humor (and his facial hair!) to play a tough role of a man who may or may not be a villain. Throughout the film he urges Damon's character (fiance to Usher's sister, also "cursed") to just leave, and if you take his word about the house's power as fact, then he's just trying to save the guy's life. However, if he's just insane, he's dragging his sister (and their poor butler, the only other character in the film) down with him, making him less sympathetic. Price can easily play this gray area, and he even manages to invoke a few minor chuckles along the way; when Damon suggests that the house can't be responsible for the things that have happened, Price replies "Oh you think this is NORMAL?" without missing a beat.

See that's the cool thing about the movie - it can very easily just be a perfect storm of unfortunate events giving the illusion of a curse. The house is said to be on a fissure, so the constant shifts and rumbles may be just as "cursed" as any home along the San Andreas fault, and Price's symptoms can be explained away as Hyperacusis (sensitivity to sound), Photophobia (light), etc. It's interesting that we never see the sister react as strongly as Price, she SAYS that the light hurts but doesn't flinch, whereas Price is constantly grimacing whenever lightning strikes outside. Corman's decision to never come down hard on either side makes it more interesting, and either way it's a more melancholy film than one would expect from Corman OR Price.

Indeed, it's one of the more faithful of their Poe adaptations (at least one of which was actually based on another author's work entirely, using only Poe's title). In the original story the hero wasn't involved with Usher's sister, and actually was a close friend of Usher's instead of a "rival" as is the case here, but otherwise it sticks to the concept and the ending, with the house sinking into the moor, taking its inhabitants with it. And the story was long enough that they didn't have to add in a bunch of other stuff to make feature length, such as Pit and the Pendulum. Eventually they'd figure out that they could just do anthology films using three short stories rather than try to pad out one of them, but I never got the sense that this one felt like it was stretching even if it does come in at exactly 80 minutes (including an intro that just plays the theme over a title card before the actual credits begin).

Ironically, the one thing that COULD be construed as a time-stretching diversion, a nightmare scene around the one hour mark, is one of the film's highlights. For starters, it actually RESEMBLES a real dream one would have, and is presented as one right off the bat instead of the usual horror movie trick of trying to fool the audience. And it's got all these crazy colors and Price at his creepiest (and it's the only time in the movie you see anyone besides the four principal actors), so even if it could easily be removed, plot-wise, I doubt anyone has ever complained about its addition.

The Blu-ray has TWO audio commentaries, though one isn't full length and rather unnecessary to anyone who's already read up on Price's life. Ignoring the film entirely, it just has an expert on the man and a decent (if exaggerated) impressionist talk about the actor's love of art and cooking, and how he began his acting career. So she provides the background info, and then the impressionist guy plays Price with (what I assume are) direct quotes from his autobiography or something. Bizarre concept, but I'm all for trying new things. Of much more use is the full commentary by Corman, recorded in 2001 or so (he says it's been 40 years). As I've said before his commentaries are always must-listens (for his newer Syfy films, they're of far more value than the films themselves), and this is no exception; he covers the genesis of the project, his approach to the sets and blocking, and tells some of his always hilarious anecdotes about cutting corners or doing things the "wrong" way in order to get more production value (one highlight is explaining how he had a guy keep the fire marshal distracted during the shooting of the finale so that they could get away with more dangerous shots). Finally, a 40 minute audio interview with Price is included; there isn't much to look at (they change the shot a few times) and it seems to be part of a larger chat as it ends with House on Haunted Hill, but it's a delight to listen to him tell stories of the early part of his career. The trailer and some stills are also included, making this a special edition that would have been a good value had it been sold on its own.

The other films on the set are Pit and the Pendulum, The Haunted Palace, Masque of the Red Death, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and Witchfinder General. A fine collection, though not even close to complete, so hopefully this will just be the first volume of an annual tradition (since most of them are owned by MGM, who seemingly has a strong partnership with Scream/Shout!, it's not a stretch to believe more could be coming). Volume 2 - the other 3 Poe films, the Phibes sequel, Theatre of Blood, and Madhouse, perhaps? Even without a bunch of bonus features (the set also includes a booklet with an essay on Price and stills/posters for all six films), it'd be great to have all of them in a shelf space-saving package and in typically solid high def transfers. Hopefully horror fans still have leftover money in their wallets (they've been knocking out must-have releases almost every week for the past two months) to pick it up and ensure that further sets are worth putting together.

What say you?

P.S. Keep an eye on Badass Digest and Fangoria for reviews of some of the other films. I won't have time to go through the whole set before it hits shelves on October 22nd, and I've already reviewed most of the other films here on HMAD anyway, but Phibes was another pre-HMAD entry and the number of bonus features on the others assures I can find something new to say about one of them (either Masque or Pendulum, I would guess).


The Dead 2: India (2013)

OCTOBER 9, 2013


Taking a cue from George Romero, The Dead 2: India takes place in the same universe as its predecessor, but is in no real way related (we hear a radio broadcast about how Africa is besieged with reports of violence and cannibalism, and that's it) in front of the camera, and thus doesn't require a viewing of the original. Therefore, I would actually suggest starting with this one, because it makes improvements on what is basically the same movie (albeit in the new locale), so if you haven't seen the original it will all be fresh to you, whereas for me some of the novelty had worn off, resulting in an enjoyable experience but one I might have been more blown away by had I not seen the Ford brothers' first pass at this material.

Like the first film, the Fords avoid the two main proponents of most zombie films, the first being a single or primary location (mall, farmhouse, spaceship, whatever). Our heroes are constantly on the go; I don't think hero Nicholas (Joseph Millson) stays in any one place for more than 5 minutes - which does lead to some minor repetition as he's constantly stopping, poking around, running afoul of the undead, and then getting away in the nick of time, usually with a newly found vehicle. But the upside is the scenery is constantly changing, and the pace never lulls. As with the original this is a deadly serious look at a zombie apocalypse, so it's easy to think about The Walking Dead, which often lets long stretches go by without any zombie threat - not the case here. There are never more than maybe a dozen on-screen at once, but they're ALWAYS around and slowly lumbering toward Nicholas and Javed, the young orphan who is helping him navigate his way through the wilderness in order to reach Mumbai, where his pregnant girlfriend is locked in the presumed safety of her home.

But unlike Walking Dead - and this brings me to the second thing I was happy to not see - zombies are the ONLY threat. There are no evil humans to speak of, only a few brief encounters with scared fellow humans that do things to set our hero back (such as the guy who steals Nicholas' (found) motorcycle so he could get back to his OWN family). Fans love The Governor or whatever, and that's fine, but over the years I've grown tired of seeing the threat of zombies reduced as human villains take center stage. This is unique to this genre; some monster movies may have an evil scientist or whatever, but they usually get theirs long before the film's conclusion, keeping the threat on the monster. If Robert Kirkman were writing Jurassic Park, he'd have a few scenes with Raptors, no T-Rex, and the big showdown would be dino-free as Alan Grant faced off against Nedry or the asshole lawyer. So it's nice to see a more focused, straight-forward approach in a modern zombie film, albeit without humor and on a bigger scale.

And the kid's not annoying! Some of his deliveries are a bit clunky, but he's endearing and has a wonderful moment where he explains why he keeps risking his life for a tiny doll that he carries around with him; it's pretty heartbreaking but without any precociousness (as his the bulk of his performance), so for my money it's a step up from the original's pair, since the white guy was such a wooden actor and didn't have a particularly interesting arc (Dembele, on the other hand, could have carried the movie on his own, far as I'm concerned). Again, it's a bit similar - they have different goals and have to stick together to survive as they make their way from point A to point B, but with Millson being a more engaging performer and having a sweet bond with the kid, it's the superior take on this idea. And it's certainly better than any of the scenes with his girlfriend and her father, who disapproves of her dating a white man and seemingly can't figure out that locking his door is the best thing to do (nearly every time we cut to them, he's looking outside at zombie carnage, risking their lives to take another peek). Neither of them are particularly good actors, and even with the minor threat involved in their scenes (her mother has been bit), they just kill the momentum every time.

My only other concern was (and I'm sick of saying this) digital blood flying around during most of the impact shots. I'd actually rather they were just bloodlessly going down than see a bunch of distracting pixels flying around, reducing the impact of every gore moment. I understand the Fords had a difficult shoot and were probably rushed more often than not, but just skip the blood all together, or at least for standard "Hero runs across the room and dispatches a few random undead" shots - it's one thing when it's a big kill scene in closeup - do what you gotta do there - but I doubt anyone would wonder why there was no blood in a wide shot of a zombie with its back to us being gunned down. That said, the zombie makeup is pretty spooky; the whitened eyes alongside their lightly colored attire (no hero zombies; they're all rather anonymous) made for a nice visual.

Also, it means nothing, but I love how simple the title is. It'd be typical to call it something like "The Dead: Retribution" or whatever, but if the series goes on, and each entry got its own meaningless subtitle, fans would likely just say "The one in India" anyway, so it's great that they cut to the chase. Here's hoping The Dead 3: China (Howard Ford claims this is one idea) sticks to the proven formula while once again improving the characterization (perhaps a female lead?) while avoiding the cliches that have long since become stale.

What say you?


The Godsend (1980)

OCTOBER 10, 2013


A good rule of thumb is if Donald Pleasence shows up at your door, acting all Donald Pleasence-like, it's best to just phone the police and lock yourself in the bathroom until rescue (this is even more true since 1995, when he passed away). Well, since she looks a lot like him, the same rule applies to his daughter Angela, who moseys on into the home of the Marlowe family, gives birth, and then disappears, prompting the Marlowes to raise the child as their own alongside their four other children. Thus, she is The Godsend of the title, which of course is an ironic one as you can probably tell by glancing at the genre tagging - but the real surprise is how grim this movie is.

See, most killer kid movies have the little bastard take out a mailman or family friend or something, but usually leave the family unit intact. Someone might end up in a hospital, but instances where they kill one of their siblings or a parent are pretty rare - so I was kind of shocked when young Bonnie killed the youngest Marlowe child (they were sharing a crib!) 10 minutes or so into the movie. And then a few minutes later another one ends up dead (of course, we don't SEE these events and the parents believe them to be accidents, but we know better), which was a bit of a shock as I figured after the first one they'd flash forward a few years to when Bonnie was like 10 or something and would proceed to do the usual killer kid thing of going after randoms.

But no! I won't spoil specifics, but tragedy keeps striking the Marlowe family, and even when you think there's going to be a triumph, screenwriter Olaf Pooley (working off Bernard Taylor's novel) twists the knife one more time, ending the film on the downest of down notes. In fact, it's the insular nature of her vengeful acts that produce the one problem I had with the film - it's kind of slow and repetitive. It takes a while for anyone to suspect that maybe it's not all accidental, so it's death, grief, things get back to normal, death... repeat. And then there are weird jumps in time that give the film a bit of a clunky feel on top of it, something that's probably the result of adapting a full novel into an 86 minute film. But since they can't really show Bonnie doing anything, it's a pretty action-free movie until the final 20 minutes, so while I don't share the "it's boring" opinion I've heard from a few others, I can certainly see where they're coming from.

See - and if you're a longtime reader you know this - I love these kind of movies, and have always felt that there aren't enough of them (this is only the third this year, and one was a lame Children of the Corn sequel). So I'm kind of an easy mark here, and you'll have to take my praise with a grain (or two) of salt. Yes, it's kind of a bore, and the bland filmmaking doesn't help - it's shot rather much like a TV movie and primarily set inside bland locales. But, you know, our murderer is a young child who racks up her first victim when she's only a few months old, so I can forgive everything pretty easily. That said, there really isn't much to it; we never find out much more about Pleasence's character, and there isn't much of a supporting cast. Maybe it WAS a TV movie, I dunno.

The film is featured on Scream Factory's new release titled All Night Horror Marathon, which also features The Outing (which I actually SAW at an all night horror marathon), The Vagrant, which I saw and hated as a kid and am too busy to give it another chance, and finally What's The Matter With Helen?, a 1971 thriller from director Curtis Harrington. More melodrama than horror, it was too damn slow for my tastes, and it didn't help that the poster (and accompanying box art) spoils the film's twist conclusion, which would be akin to making an Empire Strikes Back poster showing a family tree with Vader above Luke and Leia. And it's too clearly a ripoff of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, with the two aging leading ladies (Shelley Winters and Debbie Reynolds in this case) trying to eat the others' scenery - it's even got a showbiz plot for good measure. The final 20 minutes or so are fun in melodramatic shocker kind of way, but getting there is a chore even if you DON'T know what's coming. Helen is the only of the four films that was previously released on DVD (and it was a late swap for another title that they had to pull due to some legal issues), so the set has some novelty if you're a fan of any of the others since you can finally ditch your inferior VHS version, and it's only 9.99 - a price worth paying for any movie you like, in my opinion.

Final note - if nothing else, The Godsend demonstrates the value of the word "The". There's another evil child movie simply called Godsend, and that one sucks. Let this be a lesson to all of you film titlers out there.

What say you?


Beneath (2013)

OCTOBER 8, 2013


On Monday night I joined a podcast to talk horror movies, and my hatred of unlikable characters came up, how I was sick of seeing horror movies where I wanted everyone to die and found myself rooting for the bad guy, something that shouldn't be the case (with earned exceptions, as with all things). So it's a shame I hadn't yet seen Beneath (not to be confused with the killer fish movie), as I could have used it as an example of how to do it right. Our protagonists are a blue collar group of coal miners, gruff but likable, and clearly FRIENDS (I didn't mention it, but I'm also sick of the group of people who will kill each other if Jason/Freddy/whoever doesn't get to them first). In fact I even likened them to the oil drillers in Armageddon; they bust each others' balls but clearly all love each other and would risk their lives to save the other guy, something bound to come up as we are told right off the bat that there's a tragedy and they will be stuck down there, seemingly with only one survivor.

Actually, before I begin the praise, let me add another "STOP DOING THAT" to the list - starting a movie at the end and flashing back to however many hours or days ago that it all got started (four days, in this case). The movie opens with a rescue team poking through a pile of rubble and someone shouting "We got a live one!", and then we go back to the night before they went down there, giving the audience an assurance that someone makes it out alive. But that's silly - all it does is deflate a lot of the suspense, because it's obvious who will live, and the script doesn't take advantage of this assurance by pulling a fast one - it ends exactly as you would have expected even without the flash forward. On occasion this can be used effectively (I like to mention Fallen as an example), but this isn't one of those times.

But otherwise it's a pretty tense, admirably ambiguous blend of The Descent and Session 9, offering the claustrophobic panic of the former with the "is it psychological or is there a supernatural presence working against them" dread of the latter. Of course we can't see too much at first without having our answer, so there are a lot of off-screen events - characters will walk into darkness, and then we will cut to another area and interact with some other characters for a moment before they hear that first guy scream, run over to the spot, and find him dead (or missing). But the jump scares are often quite good, and director Ben Ketai keeps finding fun ways of blending the two elements of danger - there's a fantastic bit where our heroine (Kelly Noonan) is inside an inflatable tunnel that is being deflated by the pickaxe attacks of an antagonist, putting her at risk of being stabbed or suffocating until she can find her way out.

The acting is also solid, and it's great to see a horror film with mostly grown men serving as "the group". The team is led by Jeff Fahey, who is top billed though clearly wasn't always around for shooting (note how many scenes where his character is technically there but Fahey doesn't actually appear); it's really Noonan's show, along with Cabin Fever's Joey Kern as her love interest. The rest of the guys are slightly familiar character actors, a good approach as it makes it impossible to guess who will be first/last to go, and again since they're mostly likable you don't WANT any of them to get killed. There's one guy who turns into a dick the second the shit hits the fan, but it's just panic - I've seen movies where someone acts just as abhorrent before they even run into any trouble. Plus (spoiler) he's one of the first to go to boot, so it's not really an issue.

I do wish it had more survival elements. Fahey explains that there's enough food to last them a few days, but we never see them eat any of it, and at one point their makeshift shelter is ravaged - did they get the food? Water? There's also an issue with the air becoming toxic, but there's never any real sense of it being an issue - even when the antagonist destroys their oxygen tanks. It's a modern horror movie so of course we get a compound fracture (complete with the obligatory closeup of a bone sticking out of the skin with someone saying "I have to set it!" before counting to 3), but otherwise the only physical issue seems to be Fahey's cough, as he is presumably suffering from black lung disease or something of the sort. Indeed, this is his last trip down to the mine as he is retiring against his will, and his daughter (Noonan) is making things worse by tagging along for the first time as she prepares to speak against coal mining at her law school. The personal stakes are a touch generic, but Fahey and Noonan make it work, particularly in the sweet scene before they leave for the mine, with Fahey instructing her to follow his lead and write a note for her mother/his wife, something he has done every day for 35 years just in case there's a disaster and he doesn't come back. It's these little moments that give the film more of a personality than the average claustro-horror flick, enough to make up for what seems like a lot of missed opportunities to use the scenario for some truly scary/unsettling setpieces.

However, nothing makes up for Ketai's obnoxious insistence on using shaki-cam throughout the film, with the camera jerking around even during simple conversation scenes prior to them even going into the mine. I get and don't even mind the style during scenes of actual tension and danger, but when it's just someone catching up with an old flame, I really can't understand why I should be reaching for Dramamine. If you want to go hand-held to save time (or simply because a tripod won't fit in the small area), fine, but there's no reason to be bobbing around like a goddamn drunk.

Beneath kicked off this year's Screamfest, an event I look forward to with great relish every year as it's not only how I got involved with Bloody Disgusting (which led to the creation of this very site) but it's also close enough that I don't have to fly or even drive very far. In fact, this year it's even closer, being held at the Laemmle NoHo 7 I frequent all year (cheap or free parking, reasonable concessions, less than 10 minute drive from my house, etc) after last year's horrible downtown experiment. And the move clearly worked; the film sold out not one but TWO screens, a good sign for the festival as a whole. I won't be able to make every movie this year due to work duties (blah!), but I'll be there almost every night - come say hi! Buy me a soda!

What say you?


Curse of Chucky (2013)

OCTOBER 9, 2013


After the debacle of Seed of Chucky (the least attended entry in the Child's Play series), I figured Chucky would be dead until the inevitable remake, but I was delighted to be proven wrong when Curse Of Chucky was announced, as it would essentially be Child's Play 6 (no rebooting), and would retain the presence of Don Mancini, who had written every entry so far (unheard of in the horror genre) and would also be directing. Now, he also directed Seed, which should have given me pause, but his promise to return the series to its scary roots and largely leave the campiness of the last two entries behind was enough for me to give it a chance. And, I'm happy to say, it worked out well - this is the first time in the series' history that I've liked an entry more than the one before it (I know folks love Bride, but give me Andy Barclay - even the military academy variant - over Katherine Heigl any day of the week).

Even better, it's not an H20 kind of deal where they just ignore some of the sequels to stress that this was a "back to basics" approach. At first I assumed it almost HAD to be - how do you follow up the completely horror-free Seed in a scary film and not break continuity? Indeed, for the first half hour or so I was convinced that was indeed the case; Chucky was a pristine plastic doll once again, free of the scars he earned over the past couple of films, and there was nothing about Tiffany or Glen, or any other characters we've met along the way. But then, once heroine Fiona Dourif (a lovely, charming presence in her first lead role, and no her name is not a weird coincidence - she's Brad's daughter) starts to suspect that something is wrong with the Good Guy doll that was mailed to her and "adopted" by her young niece, she Googles "Chucky doll" and the first five entries match up to the events of the previous films (even the military academy! Yessss), putting to rest any fears that Mancini (and producer David Kirschner, another series mainstay) had opted to ignore the entries that weren't as well loved by the fans.

And there are more ties to previous entries, though spoiling them would be ruining your fun (unlike Dread Central and some other sites, who opted to put one such reveal in a headline). But the real surprise is that it actually dives into the character of Charles Lee Ray for the first time since the original Child's Play, which I found interesting as Mancini has previously said that he wasn't a fan of this concept (it was added by Tom Holland and other writers - Mancini's original script had no serial killer or voodoo). This allows Brad Dourif to appear on-screen in one of these films for the first time since 1988, and while the attempts to de-age him aren't entirely successful (the wig they gave him makes him look like Tommy Wiseau), it's great to see him still committed to this character, which could have been an easy paycheck for an actor of his abilities, something he also could have just turned down as the series continued (in 2004, Return of the King* was winning Best Picture right around the time he was doing his lines for a 5th Chucky movie!).

In fact, it's Dourif's continued presence that brings me to one of the odder aspects of this entry - the "Good Guy" voice is completely different. The usual lines ("I'm your friend til the end!") sound way off, even though there's seemingly no in-movie explanation for this (and would seemingly be an easy enough thing to duplicate). Similarly, his face is much different, even though it's the same doll (unlike in say, part 3, where his blood just went into a new doll). It's not that big of a deal in the long run, but it was kind of perplexing that they'd go out of their way to retain continuity for certain things but not even come close on others. That said, the puppetry behind the doll is pretty good; there are some unfortunate CGI touches on the face and at least one all digital shot that looks horrendous (I almost want to bet money that it was taken from the aborted video game), but otherwise they stick to a practical puppet just like in the old days, and considering the lower budget (about half of the money spent on the original - the previous "lowest budget" entry - and that's without even factoring for inflation) it's a pretty effective display of old and new tricks working together.

Faring even better with the limited funds is the set. The movie takes place almost entirely in one night and in one location, as Mancini wanted to put Chucky into a 1930's style "Old Dark House" movie, with constant lightning, creaking doors, windows opening on their own, etc. Hell there's even an inheritance subplot of sorts - Fiona's character is being visited on this night by her greedy sister, who wants her to sell the house (it belonged to their recently departed mother) and split the money. She brings along her husband, child, and nanny, and there's a priest (A Martinez) around for good measure - only thing missing is a Bela Lugosi-esque butler. And like those films, he milks the suspense for a while regarding the identity of the villain, except not quite as successful since we kind of know it's Chucky (though it would be ballsy to have the doll arrive but just be a doll, with a human character doing all the killing). Still, the best suspense bit in the entire movie is mostly Chucky-free - we see him pour poison into one of the bowls of chili that are about to be served, and then we get to watch everyone eat without knowing who has the poisoned bowl.

I do wish he made his grand re-appearance earlier - hands and feet are all we get until about the 50 minute point, and I get the thinking but at the same time - it's Child's Play 6, we don't need to milk it like Jaws. Plus, at 96 minutes its the longest entry, and didn't really need to be as the story only gets complicated (for lack of a better word) in the 3rd act, when the Charles Lee Ray stuff comes into focus. I thought this might have been because I was watching the unrated version, but (for a change!) the extra stuff IS the sort of thing the MPAA would have a problem with - there are some surprisingly gruesome kills that rated folks won't get to see in all their glory. The R rated version is also missing a fun post-credits scene (one without any sort of violence) for whatever reason, so make sure you're watching the unrated one (it runs 96 minutes instead of 94). Don't get it from Redbox!

The Blu-ray also has a few more bonus features than offered on the DVD. Both owners will get a pretty bland 15 minute EPK making of (hey, the actors all liked working together! Hey, the set was sort of like a character itself!) and some deleted scenes of little merit, but the commentary track by Fiona, Mancini, and FX man Tony Gardner is quite enjoyable - all bases are covered and Mancini offers some thoughts on what he was going for and why he opted to return to the darker style of the original (though he neglects to mention if the shot of Chucky sitting up behind Fiona was indeed a reference to Halloween! I tweeted the query but he didn't answer me) (UPDATE - he answered in the affirmative! Bump my non-existent grade up a half point!). He also explains why the remake never happened (legal issues between MGM and Universal), so hopefully that is dead forever and they can just move on with a 7th film (which he also teases). Exclusive to the Blu-ray are a pair of more interesting featurettes; one has the cast and crew discuss the legacy of the series and talk about their favorite kills (props to the actor who seems to be the only person besides me with a fondness for part 3), and the other shows how the puppet was created for this entry and how they blended a practical animatronic device and CGI for some shots (I'm still baffled why his face is totally CG for the electrocution scene - it doesn't look anything like the way he looks in the rest of the film).

I'm sure it's mostly nostalgia driving my appreciation for parts 2 and 3 (and being older, may also explain why I didn't care much for Bride or Seed), so for me the best possible approach for a new film would be to go back to the style of the original, which holds up nicely (I can tell when it's my nostalgia - this isn't one of those times). It's a shame Universal didn't think this could be a viable theatrical release (especially this year, when October is barren of major horror releases for whatever reason), but if the smaller budget meant they were able to do something a bit riskier (i.e. hiding Chucky for half the film), I'm all for it. It's not a home run, but it's the first time I walked away satisfied from a Chucky movie since I was 11 years old, so for that I'm pretty grateful.

What say you?

*Technically, he only appears in the extended edition of that one. But still.


House On Haunted Hill (1959)

OCTOBER 2, 2013


Every horror fan knows who Vincent Price is, but unless you were around at the time (or have done your homework), you might assume he was already an icon when he signed on to House On Haunted Hill for William Castle back in 1958. But in fact it's only his 4th horror movie EVER (one of which was The Fly, where he played a supporting character), which in a way makes his performance all the more spectacular - there's something sort of iconic about the role and how it is used in the film, to the extent that you might assume the script possibly called for a "Vincent Price type" and then they just went ahead and got the real thing. So if you, like me, adore the man and his horror roles - this is the one that started it all, really (his other two films - House of Wax and Mad Magician, were years prior and he was still doing costume epics and musicals - after this such films were the exception, not the rule).

That it's a fun flick makes it all the more essential viewing, especially during this time of the year. Sure, it probably won't cause any nightmares the way The Haunting would a couple years later, but it's so damn ENTERTAINING that it hardly matters, and it's not like any William Castle flick is known for terrorizing its audience anyway. No, he was all about the showmanship and the gimmicks, with the movies being just part of the spectacle (at least at this point in his career). And unlike The Tingler, this one works even without the bells and whistles ("Emergo", in this case - a skeleton that would float over the audience at key moments in the film), taking an "Old Dark House" scenario and adding Price to the mix. And it's better than most of those ODH movies from the 30s and 40s; the pacing is better for one thing (Price introduces each of our characters via voiceover at the top of the film, saving some time on doing it the traditional way), and it's not about someone trying to steal an inheritance from their niece or whatever, so that's a big plus.

Plus (spoiler for 54 year old movie ahead!), I don't know if it's intentional or not, but either way it's kind of genius that the not-always-great effects make sense in the plot, since we find out that Price has literally been pulling the strings on many of its events. The reveal doesn't quite explain everything (how'd they get the wife on the 2nd floor window?), but it's so funny to me that anytime you see a string or a shitty prop, you can justify it as realism! Of course, this lessens the amount of true scares the movie can offer (not to mention the possible body count - Price isn't going to kill these random folks), but it still has some fun little jumps, and naturally makes for a fine choice to show your kids if the season has gotten them begging you to watch some horror movies.

But if they're too young they likely won't be able to fully appreciate the dry banter between Price and Carol Ohmart as his wife Annabelle. There's a wonderful bit where he's talking to their guests and says "If I die tonight..." and then pauses to laugh and give a knowing look in his wife's direction - I've seen the movie more than once and it cracks me up every time. Indeed, the one thing I liked about the remake was that it retained the love-hate relationship between these two characters, with Geoffrey Rush having a ball in the Price role (and the ravishing Famke Janssen in Ohmart's), and it's that sense of playfulness that also elevates this above most films in the sub-genre, which were content to have bland heroes and heroines going through the motions at their center. I'm kind of curious how well received Price's performance was in 1959 - again, he's an icon now, and it's hard to remember that he WASN'T when this was originally released. It feels like a pretty typical kind of character for the actor, but back then - 4-5 years after his other horror turns - it might have been oft-putting. "Why's the guy from Ten Commandments being so sinister?"

The downside is, he's so damn fun that it makes the other characters kind of boring in comparison, and the movie can be a touch draggy when he's not around. Hero Richard Long is handsome and charming, but watching him wander around looking for hidden rooms or comforting Carolyn Craig every time she gets scared will never be as entertaining as watching Price and Ohmart spar. Elisha Cook Jr. is also on hand, playing one of his several dozen "scared, kind of drunk guy" characters, and I can only hope if ghosts ARE real that he is currently haunting the fuck out of whoever cast Chris Kattan to fill his role in the remake. I mean, sure, Price is irreplaceable but you can certainly do worse than Geoffrey Rush, and Janssen was a step up as far as I'm concerned. But KATTAN? That's insulting! But back on point, I wish some of its 75 minutes were devoted to more scenes of the entire cast interacting (usually fun) or maybe some more action for Long - it'd be even more fun and take some of the weight off of Price's shoulders.

This is the 2nd "classic" I've watched this month (yesterday's Frankenstein was the first); I'm putting together a list of "must see" movies for October and also looking for ones I've never actually reviewed on HMAD during the old days (I can't believe it's been over 6 months since I quit the daily part), plus I'm on a bit of a Price kick thanks to Scream Factory's new boxed set. However that's on Blu-ray and I'm stuck at work with only a DVD player, so it had to suffice until I got home and I honestly couldn't remember if it was any good. But I needn't have feared - this is a perfect movie for the season and holds up splendidly, and thanks to its public domain status chances are you already own a copy on one multi-pack or another (I think I have 3 copies myself). I doubt there are enough skeletons left to do any proper "Emergo" screenings, but if it's playing at your local repertory theater I highly encourage seeing it on a big screen.

What say you?


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget