HMAD Second Chances: Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

DECEMBER 22, 2014


I first watched Silent Night, Bloody Night only a few weeks into HMAD's run, and I didn't think too much of it at the time. I will chalk it up to three things: one is the season; it's a Christmas (ish) movie that I watched in March. Not that a movie has to be timely to be enjoyed (Die Hard is awesome every day of the year), but for non-bona fide classics like this, it certainly helps to be in the seasonal mood. The second thing was the transfer; I'd have to pull it out to be positive, but I'm pretty sure the copy I watched on Amazon was an improvement, as there was only one brief section where it was too dark to see clearly, and the rest would have been one of the better transfers on my Mill Creek sets (for what little that is worth, yes yes I am aware). When you're straining your eyes and ears, it's going to just make the experience a less than pleasant one, even if it's the best movie of all time.

The third is what I already mentioned - it was early into HMAD's run. I hadn't been exposed to too many bad movies yet, so the grading curve has changed. I've also mellowed out a lot, and thus I'm more forgiving of lousy editing or confusing plot development than I was 6-7 years ago. I'm guessing there are a lot of movies in this "perfectly decent" category that got negative reviews as a result, and if I had the time I'd go back and revisit more of these older films to see if my opinion changed, but that likely won't ever happen so just accept this one "apology" as a Christmas gift to you longtime HMADers.

One of the things I definitely didn't give the movie enough credit for the first time around is a genuinely good mystery/whodunit, which skirts on the edge of being a cheat without actually going into that territory (which, if you think about it, is something they should all do, otherwise it'll be too easy to solve). The ownership of a house is at the movie's center, and someone unseen is knocking off just about everyone involved with it (the lawyer handling the sale, the town's mayor, etc), with all signs pointing to the owner's grandson, who showed up in town just as A. the murders started occurring and B. someone escaped from the nearby mental institute. Of course, if it IS him it'd be way too easy, but picking who it is out of the other suspects isn't so easy. Again, it's a bit of a cheat, but as always I have to hint that movies are a visual medium and if you merely HEAR about something then it probably isn't as cut and dry as we've been led to believe.

But how the mystery is explained does leave something to be desired, as it's done both with clunkily inserted flashbacks and at least two narrators. I know someone sitting there reciting pages of exposition isn't exactly thrilling, but I'll take that over the feeling that you're suddenly watching a different movie, as major plot points are spelled out/explained via people we don't see in the main part of the movie. If the IMDb is to be trusted, and it never should be, the movie was shot over a period of 2 years, so perhaps this sort of thing is the result of losing actors/locations and having to smooth over plot holes with new stuff that wasn't intended to be there originally.

The funny thing is, if that WAS the case, then maybe that would explain the POV shots, completely rare at the time and, like the flashbacks, a bit erratically used here. Still, the movie is a proto-slasher, and whenever you credit Halloween with some of these techniques someone will correct you and say Black Christmas did it first, but this actually came before both of them! And with the movie involving creepy phone calls and, as the title suggests, Christmas, it's a bit suspicious at times - was Bob Clark and/or Roy Moore influenced by this little drive-in cheapie? It languished in obscurity until the 80s (apparently it took an Elvira airing to come back into what passes for its popularity), so it's possible no one of note would have noticed the similarities back then, and Black Christmas itself was kind of obscure for a while (it was not a big success, and had multiple titles - including Silent Night EVIL Night, hilariously enough - that made it harder to stake a claim to anything).

Like Black Christmas, the holiday isn't really important to the plot the same way it is for Silent Night Deadly Night (or even the Black Christmas remake). There's a poorly decorated tree in Mary Woronov's house, and I guess the holiday is why no one's around, but otherwise that's about it. There's some snow on the ground but most of the movie takes place inside anyway, so that's hardly a holiday trapping. But there's something about it that taps into that darker, lonelier side of Christmas, for the folks without families or spouses nearby to spend it with. I remember when I first moved to LA, my wife was still in Mass (where this movie takes place! Filmed in NY though) when Christmas rolled around, and so I spent it alone; I went to a depressing double feature (Munich and Wolf Creek) and ate takeout from Fatburger. I think that's when I started playing Final Fantasy VII again too (this was my 4th attempt, and the first successful one as I finished it this time!). In short, it was pretty dire, and that's the kind of Christmas presented in this movie - our hero arrives in town and knows no one, our heroine is waiting for her dad to come over for their annual meal together (just the two of them), and it's just dark and quiet and sad. Plus there's a guy axing people to death.

Speaking of Arlington, I was tickled all over again by the movie's depiction of the city. It's a pretty bustling suburb, bordering on regular city (its only a town over from Cambridge, so that sort of spills over), but the movie would have you believe it's a very sparse small town, where your neighbor is a mile away or whatever. Since it wasn't shot in MA I assume they just picked a random name from the Big Book Of Massachusetts City Names rather than check to see which ones looked like the town in their movie. If you're a MA resident, think more Western Mass, like Sunderland or something - that's what their "Arlington" is like here. It doesn't really matter to the plot or anything, but it amused me as a former resident who now lives in LA - if you're faking LA somewhere you'll get caught instantly, but I bet most Bloody Night viewers figured it was pretty accurate.

Due to its public domain status, the movie is a budget pack staple, and while I guess there's an edition from Film Chest that is pretty good (albeit still full frame), the odds of a proper special edition are slim. Director/writer Theodore Gershuny and most of the cast (Patrick O'Neal, John Carradine, James Patterson, Walter Abel, etc) are dead; Mary Woronov is the only one of note still around, and she divorced Gershuny sometime after this movie's completion so my guess is her memories of the experience aren't fond (then again, maybe they'll make for an amazing commentary). I just compared the one on Amazon Prime Instant to the one on Youtube and Amazon's is much better (the Youtube one matches up with my memory of the Chilling Classics version; I'd have to dig it out to be sure and I assure you I won't be bothering to do that), so if you're a Prime member you'll be fine with that rather than shelling out money for a DVD that's probably not much better, if at all (the reviews claim it's merely better than they've seen; no one's exactly calling it demo quality material). Either way, give it a look if you're not in the mood to rewatch Black Christmas this year. The proto slasher elements alone make it a must see for fans of the sub-genre, but unlike some others, it's got more value than merely being a curiosity. As busy as I am, I'm glad I gave it another chance.

What say you?


Lord Of Illusions (1995)

DECEMBER 21, 2014


I was a bad horror fan in the late summer of 1995, skipping Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions in theaters during its brief, not particularly successful run. On the weekend it opened, I opted to see Desperado instead, as my horror fan status was eclipsed by my "Oh hey Quentin Tarantino is in this!" excitement (ironically, QT would provide a quote on the Illusions DVD box), and the next week school started and my trips to the movies became less frequent while I got back into the swing of things. But while it's a shame for the movie's fortunes (my matinee dollars could have surely changed it from dud to smash!), there is a silver lining: I've never actually seen the truncated theatrical version of the film. When it came to VHS (!) it was the director's cut, and that's the one that's on this new Blu release from Scream Factory.

...and this was only the 2nd time I watched the film.

Yeah, I'm as shocked as you are. Somehow even though I've always known it was compromised I managed to see Nightbreed two or three times over the years (until Scream Factory fixed that as well), but I just never found the time for a 2nd go around with Harry D'Amour until now. It's a testament to Barker's ability to leave an impression that despite the fact that it's nearly 19 years later, I still remembered certain scenes in detail (the opening in particular) and even a few plot points, such as the fact that Swann's death was staged and that he was discovered by D'Amour after attending his own funeral. The various KNB-addled prosthetics were also crystal clear in my mind, though Fangoria might deserve credit for that one; if memory serves Illusions was the cover story on the first issue that I bought as a guy who planned to get it every month (up until then I just bought random issues when it had a topic I was highly interested in).

So what do I think? Well it might only be my 3rd favorite of the films Barker directed, but it's still a pretty damn good movie. Pitched as "Chinatown meets The Exorcist", I think the central mystery doesn't QUITE compel as well as it should (Angel Heart did the "supernatural meets noir" thing better, in my opinion), since Harry's role in it is largely circumstantial - he doesn't really get full on invested in it until the 3rd act. And apart from possibly Swann's non-death (which shouldn't be, since Kevin J. O'Connor was 2nd billed and anyone who saw the trailer would know there was more to his role than could have been seen prior to his death) there aren't a lot of surprises or twists to the mystery; it's pretty obvious that this guy Butterfield is trying to resurrect Nix and is going after the people who killed him in order to a. get revenge and b. find Nix's body. Large parts of the narrative would occur whether Harry was there or not, so in that respect it could be a bit stronger.

However, crossing these particular genres is a tough thing to do, and kudos to Barker for succeeding. I mentioned Angel Heart earlier, and there aren't really a lot of other options; Cast A Deadly Spell (and its sequel) are among the very few others. It's not surprising that it's a rare beast; a mystery by design is going to be rather talky, with a lot of exposition dumps - the very opposite of what a horror film is often trying to do, which is show not tell. So they don't exactly complement each other as well as, say, mixing comedies and dramas. And I love that Barker gave himself an even bigger challenge - he was working from his own short story, but not adapting it to the letter. The characters are the same (though Valentin, Swann's creepy assistant, was a demon in the story and more of an ally to D'Amour throughout) but the plot is fairly different. Swann's really dead, the plot mostly concerns his corpse, and there is no mention of Nix or any cult. Basically, if Barker didn't write the script himself, fans would be livid that some hack had bastardized their story.

Oddly, even though it's only 60 pages or so, it would have worked as a feature as is, so maybe someday someone will adapt it more traditionally. Since Valentin and D'Amour are teamed up trying to accomplish a task with people on their tail, instead of Chinatown it can be "Midnight Run meets The Exorcist", a movie I'd definitely want to see. On the commentary, Barker never really explains why he significantly overhauled his own work; I can only assume that he had the Nix idea as its own thing and got the idea to add his pre-existing character of Harry D'Amour to the proceedings (he DOES mention, on the making of, that Harry entering one of his stories even surprises HIM sometimes), but this major revision does explain the rather odd setup of a cult leader who is also a magician - the two worlds needed to connect and I guess that's what he came up with. It works OK enough; Nix isn't a major character in the movie anyway (he's really only in two sequences, the opening and the climax) so it's easy enough to forget the odd way we're brought into this world by the time the main plot kicks into gear.

But that brings me to what I considered the biggest revelation I had while watching: Barker is a phenomenally good director. Since Hellraiser was so low-key and Nightbreed a studio product that was compromised early on, it's hard to gauge his skills as a filmmaker from those two alone; after all he was working from solid source material of his own design. But here, he's basically telling a whole new story for the first time while balancing two very different genres, and he does a damn good job at it. Again, the mystery elements aren't exactly Raymond Chandler-esque, but even with all the talk he keeps the pace up (it's 121 minutes long but only felt like 90 to me), and gives us a wide variety of interesting characters - any one of them could have been the lead in a story. In fact he gives us so many intriguing types that he doesn't even have time for all of them; I mentioned Nix is only in two scenes, but that's twice as many as Vincent Schiavelli's pretentious illusionist that Harry fucks with - I would have loved more from him (plus I just miss Schiavelli in general). And Butterfield is just as creepy as Decker; he doesn't have a mask but for some reason while I think it's kind of alluring on a woman, heterochromia (two different colored eyes) creeps me out on dudes.

My only other gripe I could have made in 1995 - the CGI FX are decidedly CD-ROMish, and that's being polite. The fire serpent is OK, but that origami thing and some of the other visions are just terrible, and having the film on a pristine blu-ray doesn't do such moments any favors. They don't overwhelm the film like a few other 1995 horror films (Hideaway, anyone?) but for a movie that's all about making people believe in illusions, I sure wish they could have done a better job with these sequences. Then again, origami-man shares his scene with Famke Janssen, so even if it was Jurassic Park level photo-real it'd still pale in comparison to one of the finest visual effects ever created.

There's a surprising amount of vintage bonus material on the disc, most of which was from the special edition laserdisc - so much that Scream didn't really have to add much to it. Barker's commentary is fantastic, dividing his time equally between production info, the themes of his script, and general thoughts on horror itself, making it a must listen even if you hate the movie for some reason. Only near the end does he kind of run out of steam and occasionally just narrate the on-screen action or take pauses, but for a solo commentary on a 2 hr movie that's to be expected. There are three deleted scenes of minimal value (with forced Barker commentary drowning out the dialogue), and a fluffy vintage making of for your nostalgic pleasure. But the real perk is an hour long documentary that was newly created/edited using the existing behind the scenes footage and EPK interviews. It's a solid look at the film's production, with minimal repeated insight from Clive and priceless set footage - I particularly liked watching poor O'Connor patiently hanging on a wall (for the scene where Nix slams him into it; he's got some sort of rig attached to his back to keep him suspended) while the DP and camera operator argued about lenses.

The only all new material is an interview with storyboard artist Martin Mercer, which I found to be pretty interesting. It's not often they get to talk at length about their role, and Mercer touches on something that I never really considered - his job could find him at odds with the film's DP, as part of storyboarding is framing and specific camera movements, which is the other guy's job. But storyboarding can be a crucial element in securing a green light for a film, and that's the sort of thing that happens before a DP is hired anyway (for the record, he says that on this particular film he didn't have any such issues, just something he's encountered on other shows). We get to see some side by side comparisons of his frames with the finished product, always the least interesting special feature in the world to me so I just fast forwarded those parts until he started talking again. It's a bummer they couldn't get Clive or any of the actors to talk about the film in retrospect (might be the first SF release to lack a new interview with one of the actors), but since the wealth of this material was previously unreleased, it's still a good reason to upgrade from the DVD (the all new transfer is another perk). And for completionists' sake, the theatrical cut is offered on a 2nd disc, so you can enjoy the movie without two of its best scenes (both in cars, oddly; one is Valentin driving D'Amour to the funeral, the other is D'Amour driving Swann to his house) and also without the film's most disturbing sequence: the cult members getting ready to go to Nix's compound, after killing their families.

I hate that Barker never directed another feature; I assume his health problems played a part in it, but with two box office disappointments in a row (and more compromise than he was comfortable with, though he doesn't seem as frustrated by Illusions' cuts as Nightbreed's, presumably because he got to present his preferred version almost immediately, albeit on video) it's not likely he'd have much luck within the studio system again anyway. The independent scene would/should have embraced him if he was up for it, and perhaps someday he will be. He's certainly provided filmmakers with a wealth of material to draw from (I would LOVE a feature of "Son of Celluloid", personally), and post-Hellraiser he's had pretty decent luck with other people adapting his work (Dread, Midnight Meat Train, and obviously Candyman are all worthy adaptations; Book of Blood is the only non-sequel stinker that I can recall). But with Lord of Illusions he proved that he can deliver even when drastically changing from the source material, and I think we'd all prefer that if someone were to revise his prose, then there's no one better to do it than Barker himself.

What say you?


The Pyramid (2014)

DECEMBER 7, 2014


If you skipped As Above, So Below this year because you were waiting for The Pyramid to satisfy your urge for a movie about a bunch of explorers getting stuck in a tomb with only their video cameras to protect them, I have some bad news for you: you chose wrong. While no classic, As Above was a hell of a lot better than this silly Syfy level movie, and the constant deja vu did it no favors, since you've seen this done better already; it'd be like if Deep Impact came out AFTER Armageddon. Before I saw it I was confused why Fox was only putting the movie out on 580 screens since it had a couple of names (Alex Aja produced, American Horror Story staple Denis O'Hare stars) that would seemingly make it an easy sell, but by the time I was over I had to wonder why it was going theatrical at all.

At least, theatrical in 2014. If this was 2001, I'd totally get it. The horrible CGI on the movie's creatures would make Mummy Returns fans feel right at home, and they actually play a nu-metal song over the end credits, like just about every movie from Dimension's late 90s/early 00s heyday. If not for the fact that last year's social unrest in Egypt played a (minor) part in the movie's plot, I'd actually entertain the notion that it was something that was shot years ago and was being dumped now to settle a bet or something. I mean, it's not the worst movie I've seen theatrically this year (Jinn, Ganzefeld Haunting, Cabin Fever 3... hell it might not even be bottom 5, which used to mean little but with the baby I only go to the movies like 2 or 3 times a month), but it was just so damn stupid at times, with a shocking lack of any real suspense (and a horrible ending), that even those moments that work don't really help in the long run.

Two of those moments involve out of nowhere deaths, or, to be more accurate, out of nowhere injuries that lead to deaths. In one, a giant piece of rock crushes the leg of one of our heroes (I use the term lightly), which made for the movie's best jump scare. The other could have been a Sam Jackson in Deep Blue Sea level moment, but they chicken out of letting the character die right away - instead he survives a bit longer in order for one of the other characters to film his death (with night vision camera) and provide some more exposition for good measure. In fact, now that I think about it, just about ALL of the movie's six characters (two documentary jerks, three science types, and a soldier) sort of die twice; they suffer what appears to be a mortal injury only to hang on for a bit and die later. One even survives being buried in sand! It happens so often that the film lacks any punch; not only do we eventually realize that the filmmakers (or their producers) don't have the stones to follow through on anything daring, but also means that when someone actually DOES die it's a nothing moment, as we've already expended our sympathy the first time around.

It's funny, one positive thing I noted during the movie, fairly late into it, was that for once the "We're filming everything because we need the camera's light" excuse made sense, as it really WAS pretty dark around them. There's a thing in many horror movies that we just have to accept/figure out for ourselves, which is that the DP is showing us more than the characters can see, making them look a bit ridiculous as they hold their hands out in front of their face and walk slowly around a room/cavern/whatever we can see perfectly well. Here, most of the time it was more or less blackened out... except for when the damn Anubis shows up, looking like a PS1 cut scene in some shots. Suddenly there's an off-screen light source or something, letting us take in every detail of this poorly rendered laughingstock of a villain. If they were smart they would have turned the brightness/contrast DOWN making it darker than it was to begin with, hiding the blemishes of their CGI monster that must have taken anywhere from 4 to 5 minutes to render.

The reliance on bad CGI results in a pretty hilarious continuity error, too - one character is attacked by the mummy cats (yep), who are all CGI and are making CGI wounds all over her. Maybe someone just realized how terrible they all looked, because after the attack is over, the other characters race over as he/she is dying (this is their second death, of course - they were first seemingly killed by falling on some spikes) and all of the wounds/blood are completely gone. It's very rare I notice a continuity error in a movie even if it's the 3rd or 4th time I've watched it, so to see something on my first viewing is pretty telling at how sloppy and uninvolving the film was. It's also rare I feel bad for an actor, but just based on my limited exposure to Denis O'Hare (basically AHS, which I've only liked two seasons of, and a cameo in Town That Dreaded Sundown) I know he deserves better than this.

This review took over a week to write; I saw it on its opening weekend and today (Thursday the 18th) is probably the last time it'll be in a first run theater. If the point of a review is to advise folks whether or not to see it, I've completely botched the job as it's too late to matter. However, since it's basically a Syfy movie it might play better at home, so when it hits VOD and you're in the mood for something that feels a decade older than it is, and it's cheap enough... no, even then you should watch something else. Even if it's free, there are just so many better options, and it's not even bad enough to really sink your teeth into and laugh at. It's just bland and forgettable, which to me is the greatest sin.

What say you?


Ouija (2014)

NOVEMBER 23, 2014


It's been a long time since I've written a full review for a movie I'd almost deem "Crap", but dammit if Ouija wasn't THAT insulting that I felt I had to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be) and hopefully warn off anyone else who stupidly looked at this thing's 50 million gross and 2 week reign as the #1 movie as some indication that it might be at least halfway decent. In a year that saw movie after movie fail to even break 20m, I am baffled why THIS managed to strike a chord, and you can't say "Teens are dumb" because they were smart enough to stay away from The Quiet Ones, and that was also PG-13 and had the same star (Olivia Cooke, the only reason this ISN'T being tagged "Crap" because I continue to be impressed by her flawless American accent). I guess the Halloween thing can account for some, but not why I found myself in a fairly crowded theater 3 weeks later (and on a Sunday afternoon to boot). Why are people STILL going to see this goddamn movie?

Because believe me, I can still be entertained by movies aimed squarely at teen horror fans. Prom Night, Haunting in Connecticut, etc - these movies are harmless and even enjoyable at times, so you can be assured I'm not simply "above" this sort of thing. But CHRIST this one is lazy and generic, without a single inspired moment in the entire thing, save for maybe the framing of the opening death scene, which was given away in the trailer anyway. Throughout the movie I just kept wondering when it was going to kick into high (or, 2nd) gear, until I realized that there were only about 10 minutes left and thus it never would. I know the fact that it's a Platinum Dunes production automatically puts a target on it, but even their biggest critics should be able to admit that there was SOME spark of life in their Friday and Chainsaw remakes - this just joins The Unborn and Horsemen as evidence that they should probably just stick to remakes.

It's hard to imagine even teens getting too worked up about the movie, which ironically could have benefited from more fake scares or something, just to stir the audience awake (oddly it's the one movie I DIDN'T doze off during in the past month). It takes forever for the malevolent spirit from the Ouija board to start killing the bland group of friends at the movie's center, and those moments are pretty much the only ones of terror in the damn thing. Unless the director thinks that watching some teens play with the board and say "Who's moving it?" is terrifying enough on its own? Otherwise I'm actually kind of baffled where the scares were supposed to be. Every now and then there will be a bland moment like a door opening on its own and momentarily creeping out Cooke or one of her pals, but they and thus the audience forgets all about it in the next couple seconds.

Hell, the movie can't even do exposition right. It takes an hour for anyone to bother trying to find out who the spirit might be, and this of course leads to our heroine pretending to be a relative in order to get into a nursing home, because that's what people do in these movies and damned if Stiles White and Juliet Snowden will dare to introduce anything that might be considered a "wrinkle" into their horribly generic script! And wouldn't you know it, the old lady is Lin Shaye, so we can momentarily think about Insidious and get back in a good mood, and hopefully not think too hard about why she's being so nice to Cooke so that we can be all the more SHOCKED when it turns out she's kind of crazy and on the bad ghost's side. The plot, such as it is, pretty much boils down to yet another instance where our heroes need to find a long-dead corpse and either bury it properly or burn it (the latter, in this case), something you probably could guess in the first five minutes even though every single thing about it is confined to the third act.

So what fills the rest of that runtime? It's been 3 days and I honestly can't remember. I DO recall laughing that all of our heroes are very retro, because they still develop photos of casual hangouts and film themselves goofing off with a regular video camera instead of their phones, as if Snowden and White wrote this in 2001 and never bothered to update it for the smart phone age (cells DO appear, but only to deliver text messages). And the production was too cheap to secure posters from any major (real?) bands, so they all have generic posters in their rooms (hung at odd angles, of course), but no actual CDs or things of that nature. License plates are also generic - Cooke's car has 2GAT123, which is the "555" of license plate numbers. I also remember that there's a laughably awful bit of foreshadowing where Cooke instructs her boyfriend to check out a pool cover, and we see him struggle to reach it and close it, which I guess makes his inevitable fall into the pool/getting caught in the pool cover scene an hour alter all the scarier?

But mostly I just remember thinking how insulting the whole thing was, and how I felt bad for the teens that this was being peddled to. Obviously you can't go into Inside territory when you're aiming your movie at kids who aren't even old enough to drive, but come the fuck on here. You don't need me to list the good PG-13 horror movies, because every horror site has compiled one as easy hit bait as if it's a super rare thing that a non-R horror movie is good (spoiler: it isn't). This movie was seemingly designed exclusively to watch at sleepovers, but even on that level it's a complete waste of time and money. Even the IMDb trivia can't even be bothered to put any effort into things; one of the entries is simply "The main character is also on Bates Motel". That's not trivia!

Go to hell, Ouija. Even Haunted House 2 had more energy than this.

What say you?


Late Phases (2014)

NOVEMBER 21, 2014


It's a good thing I waited until today to watch Late Phases, instead of on Tuesday when I originally planned to, because I probably would have been a damn blubbering wreck then. You see, Tuesday would have been my dad's 69th birthday, and since I'm now a dad myself (my baby is 6 months old tomorrow!) this one hit me pretty hard as is, because I hate that he's not here to see his grandson and theoretically tell me I'm doing a good job. And thus, the last thing I'd expect to make it worse would be a werewolf movie, but damned if the thing isn't half Lycan entry, half father-son drama. So thanks for the busy week that delayed my plans, universe - watching 3 days later, I was pretty much OK.

Also, thanks for making a good werewolf movie! Longtime readers of this site know I'm not always enamored by such films; the only ones I like are the ones EVERYONE likes: American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps (though I prefer the first sequel), The Howling - which took me a couple viewings, etc. The only one that might raise an eyebrow is Silver Bullet, and I'd be lying if I said that part of why I enjoyed Late Phases is that it seemed either writer Eric Stolze or director Adrián García Bogliano was also a fan of this not-exactly-beloved 1985 flick (or the story it was based on), as it not only had a disabled character at its center (the crippled Corey Haim character there; here it's the blind veteran played by Nick Damici) but also a mystery about who the wolf was that ended up having a connection to the local church.

Now, I don't think that's really a spoiler - unless they opted for a Ginger Snaps route of not explaining who the human behind the wolf was, the movie only offers a couple of potential suspects and they're all involved with the church. But really, it doesn't seem like the mystery is as compelling to anyone as the human drama at the movie's core, in which the rather dickish Ambrose (Damici) learns to be at peace with himself. As a proud soldier, the illness that took his sight obviously had a major effect on him (though he proves to be a pretty good shot anyway when the time comes), and as a result he's become borderline insufferable, and even worse now that he's been placed in a retirement community populated by overly pleasant people that annoy him. The only one that (kind of) tolerates him is his son, played by Ethan Embry, and eventually he tires of his attitude as well.

As this is a Bogliano film as well as a Glass Eye Pix production, I wasn't expecting much werewolf action to occur until the final few minutes, as both director and company specialize in "slow burn" type horror, letting the mood and atmosphere suffice to provide the horror for the first hour or so, and then unleashing hell. But surprisingly, we get some almost as soon as Ambrose arrives at the community - a neighbor's dog is attacked, he is spooked, and a bit later his own dog is killed by "something". It's chalked up to a "bear or large dog", but we know what it is, and so does Ambrose after a while, demanding someone make him a silver bullet (natch) so he can exact revenge for his dog. Basically, it hits all the beats of a traditional werewolf movie, but in a very casual way that allows the filmmakers to spend more time on the characters. There's a sweet little friendship between Ambrose and a priest played by Tom Noonan, and I'm pretty sure their final scene together is the only time Damici smiles throughout the movie - Noonan was able to crack the gruff exterior, mostly by being as stubborn as he is. It's a shame they only have I think three scenes together; I could have watched a whole movie of them trading barbs while becoming pals.

Noonan is just one of many genre vets that appear in the film, making this resemble a rather peculiar (but admirable) lineup for a horror con at times. You get Lance Guest (Halloween II), Rutanya Alda (Amityville II), and Caitlin O'Heaney (probably hired for Wolfen, but I'll remember her from He Knows You're Alone), plus Larry Fessenden in his usual bit role, and Twin Peaks' Dana Ashbrook for good measure. And outside of horror you can appreciate the first acting gig in a decade from Tina Louise, best known as Ginger from Gilligan's Island (much to her chagrin, from what I understand), and the lovely Erin Cummings from Spartacus and the unfairly dumped Made In Jersey. Maybe it's just my poor choices, but I can't recall the last time I watched a genre flick where nearly the entire cast was not only someone I recognized but someone who I enjoy seeing on my screen, so that was a highlight for sure.

I do wish the film was tighter, however. There are a pair of cops who appear too often for my tastes (since they can't seem to see what (literally) a blind man could), and an odd running gag concerning the bored security guard at the community's front gate (the payoff seems to be that the gate is locked for once when Embry's character needs to get inside - any random excuse could have impeded his arrival). And for some reason there are back to back scenes that seem to exist to reveal who the werewolf is? Like he does the same thing (biting a random person while in human form) and both times are played as surprise/shock moments? It's like they wanted to make sure you didn't miss it the first time or something. That said, now that he's been revealed and we can get to a full transformation, it's a pretty fantastic one - practically designed and delivered in one shot, where they pan to another character's horrified expression before panning back to the guy transforming. Love the shot of all the human teeth bursting out onto the floor! My screener wasn't the best quality (and watermarked to boot) so don't quote me on it, but I'm pretty sure it was all done without CGI (at least, on the wolf - I'm sure it wasn't REALLY an unbroken shot but made to look seamless with some digital fudging), and the wolf itself is definitely a guy in a suit. Maybe it's not the best looking one in history, but I don't even care - in this day and age, just the fact that ANY production is going about it the right way is enough to satisfy me. That it's a low budget indie makes it nothing short of miraculous.

The movie is the latest one to have a miniscule theatrical release on the same day it hits VOD. I'll never understand this model, but I guess it's OK you have choices? I hope there are enough people like me who value the theatrical experience enough to go that route instead of watching it on their cable box (or worse, computer), and believe me I would have went that route if it was playing near me (apparently Los Angeles isn't "select" enough anymore). It's not exactly Interstellar levels of "You must see it on the big screen!", but it's been a damn long time since a quality "solo" werewolf movie was playing (don't give me the Wolfman remake, that thing was a mess). For the past 10 years they've been the opponents of vampires (Twilight and Underworld series) or in crap like Red Riding Hood - it's about time they get the spotlight to themselves again, and in a worthy movie to boot.

What say you?


Stephen King's A Good Marriage (2014)

NOVEMBER 21, 2014


A couple months back I got a press release for Stephen King's A Good Marriage that included specific instructions not to refer to the movie as simply "A Good Marriage". It HAD to have the "Stephen King's" as part of the title, which is amusing because he didn't direct it and even Carpenter doesn't seem to mind if you refer to, say, John Carpenter's Vampires as Vampires (on the flipside, Wes Craven refers to New Nightmare as "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" when discussing it). Not sure why he's so possessive about this particular movie, but I assume it has something to do with the fact that it's the first time he's adapted one of his stories for a theatrical feature since Pet Sematary*, which is kind of a big deal. Still, I hope anyone who broke this rule wasn't too harshly punished.

Anyway, it's a pretty good little thriller, more or less overcoming a pretty big hurdle: the original short story doesn't exactly cry out for adaptation. Maybe if there was another season of Nightmares & Dreamscapes it'd make for a good premiere episode (especially if King adapted again, to help promote it), but if I was in charge of deciding which of his stories get turned into movies, it wouldn't be one I'd focus on, or even consider at all. It's a pretty simple tale of a woman finding out that her husband is a serial killer, and (spoilers ahead) after sort of dealing with it for a while, she decides to kill him and make it look like an accident. And that's about it. There's a mini-climax in which it seems she might get in trouble for what she did when a cop comes snooping around, but that blows over. It's all good.

If I had to guess, the drive to make this into a movie was likely "Let's get two good actors in the roles and let them have some fun." In that case, the film is a resounding success; Joan Allen and Anthony LaPaglia are as good as they've been in years, with LaPaglia in particular displaying a gift for King's folksy wordplay (his delivery of "snoots", referring to a couple of bitchy girls, is pretty perfect). The most delightful thing about the story is how Allen's character seemingly treats his serial killer habit the same way a wife might deal with her husband having an affair or hiding a gambling problem - she's just kind of pissed off at him and makes him swear not to do it again. And in turn, LaPaglia is the apologetic husband who tries to move past it; he compliments her dress for their daughter's wedding, continues to gently nag her about her candy addiction by leaving her notes inside of her sweets stash, etc. The scene where he casually confesses his crimes (as he gets ready for, and then into, bed) is a dry/dark comic masterpiece, and both of them are perfect. You can imagine that the idea of seeing this one scene play out on-screen was the impetus for making a movie in the first place, with King just embellishing other things from his story in order to make it feature length.

So the daughter's wedding, a long way off in the story and thus never much of a plot point, becomes a full sequence. The candy habit that is mentioned once or twice becomes a running gag, with Darcy finding one final note long after he's gone. And the cop that investigates him at the end almost dies himself, doubling his runtime in the narrative as she goes to visit him at the hospital. The old Corman/Poe movies often added the first two acts in order to lead up to where Poe's stories usually began; this one basically adds a middle to what is otherwise a pretty straight adaptation. The straight up changes King made are minor (the box Bob hides evidence in was a gift from his wife in the story, but in the movie it was a craft from his daughter, which is way better), but if he were to film the story as written it'd only be about 50 minutes long. So the wedding and that other stuff fills in the gap, which adds to the appeal in a way. In the story there's only a bit of time in between her finding out and her doing something about it, but here we get to enjoy the idea that she could forgive him and treat it as a road bump in their, ahem, good marriage.

And that's the other thing I liked (at this point I should explain I only read the story AFTER I watched the movie) - the movie avoids the expected cliches and beats. She discovers evidence that he's a killer pretty early on, but rather than go through the whole thing of having her investigate, or him lie, he just admits it instantly. The same thing goes for the rest of the narrative; the daughter is getting married, and I suspected "OK so maybe the movie will build up to the wedding where it all come out and there will be a big blowout", but no - no sooner did I finish the thought than did the wedding occur without incident. Also, we meet Stephen Lang in the opening scene and then he disappears, so I had a feeling that there would be a dumb twist where it turns out HE was the killer and LaPaglia was just covering for him (and thus she killed her husband for nothing), but no, he's the cop investigating "Beadie" (the nickname for the serial killer). It doesn't go many places (outside of a couple of quick nightmare moments, the movie has almost no on-screen violence, no chase scenes, etc), but the ones it does go aren't the ones you'd expect from its Lifetime-y plot setup.

However I do feel kind of icky after reading the story, because King admits that he was inspired by the BTK Killer, which drastically devalues the comedic appeal of the movie. The story has a few smirk-worthy moments, but without seeing LaPaglia's bemused expression as he casually admits his crimes to his wife (it's the same expression I use when scolding my own wife for forgetting how to operate the universal remote, which I bought specifically to make the process of watching TV much easier for her) it doesn't come across as particularly FUNNY. To be fair, the murders occurred before I was even born and there are things that occurred in the past couple years that people make much worse "jokes" about, but it still kinda bothered me. Maybe it's the dad gene (two of BTK's victims were children) making me over sensitive again, I dunno. So, just for the record, possible caveat.

The movie got a brief theatrical release, but I can't imagine it was very successful - this is an "at home" movie if there ever was one. It's nothing spectacular, and wouldn't rank in the top 15 King adaptations (there have been at least 40) or anything, but it charmed me in an odd way, and will probably play best to married folks that can readily appreciate the humor in the concept. It's almost a stretch to call it a thriller (and it's certainly not a typical horror movie; King's name alone is the only reason I'm even bothering to write about it here), but it's got two great performances and a unique concept, making it a win in my book despite the queasiness about the approach.

What say you?

*Since someone won't pay attention to my wording and say I'm wrong: Sleepwalkers was an original screenplay, not adapted from anything he ever published. And the other things he wrote (like The Shining mini-series) were television productions, not theatrical features.


October Mini-Review Roundup!

NOVEMBER 7, 2014


The fact that HMAD only had a single review throughout October really saddens me. I let you guys down, and myself. Granted it was insanely busy (in addition to the usual stuff, I now have the kid AND we moved. AND I took on a rather easy side job but one that forced me to be on my toes at all times and thus not able to write properly), but I still think I coulda found the time to at least post SOMETHING from Screamfest or the various movies I had to watch for my Netflix gig. Then again, it's been so insane that I haven't worked on my book in a month or seen Annabelle or Ouija yet, if it makes you feel better.

Anyway, the time has passed for all of these movies; after a few days my memory blanks too much to write a full review unless I took notes (which, of course, I didn't). I have half a Dark Was The Night review written that stops mid sentence and it'll never get finished because I simply can't recall enough to discuss without it being so vague that you'll question if I even actually saw it (which I did! I have witnesses AND a tweet from Kevin Durand saying it was nice to meet me at the premiere!). So you get capsule reviews of that and all the other movies I saw this month. This sort of clears the deck and now I'll be back to posting 1-2x a week, I hope. Fair enough?

(in alpha order)

COME BACK TO ME (Screener)
A surprise little gem, this movie seems like another "disturbed young person gets obsessed with their married neighbor" kind of thing, like The Crush or whatever, but we ultimately learn there's something far more sinister (and rather inspired) going on, resulting in, no lie, one of the best and ballsiest downer endings I've seen in ages. It feels a bit TV movie-ish at times, but that might even work in its favor when you consider the decidedly non-commercial ending.

This is a microbudget (5k!) possession movie from Bulgaria, and actually set there! Usually Bulgaria is subbing for any number of European countries (or even isolated US locations), but this is a rare exception. It's a pretty good entry in the post-Exorcist sub-genre of movies where a girl is possessed and a jaded priest has to save her, though it doesn't really do much new until the final few minutes. Also, the director curiously kept inserting (terrible) CGI effects where they weren't needed, as if to add production value. The lo-fi aspect was one of its strong suits - embrace it! Don't muddy it up with garbage pixels!

I didn't get to as many films at the fest as I'd like, but of the ones I did this was my favorite. A character drama wearing a monster movie's clothes, it seemed like a Stephen King short story adapted to feature form, and I mean that as a compliment. The afore-namedropped Kevin Durand plays a small town sheriff who is grieving over the death of his son and overly protective of the surviving one, a handicap that is put to the test when a (spoiler?) Wendigo type creature makes its way into town after losing its habitat due to deforestation. The monster only makes a few appearances, as Tyler Hisel's script keeps the focus on Durand and other town members, letting the monster inform the drama rather than the other way around. It doesn't always work perfectly (there are two instances where it seems the movie will kick into higher gear only for that to not happen), but my own fears of not being able to watch/protect my son every second of the day (the boy died via accident under his watch, so he's of the "I should have been able to save him" opinion) were enough for me to not care and invest 100% into the narrative. This is the sort of thing I'd like to see more of at the fest - movies with commercial premises, just done differently.

I groaned when I saw the title of this one, as I've seen enough "_____ of the Dead" movies to last a lifetime - and the fact that it revolved around soccer was another red flag, though it made it easy to make jokes ("Oh so it's 90 minutes of nothing happening and ends in a draw?"). However, I ended up enjoying it quite a bit, even though I was a bit conservative with my joke about the runtime as it's actually a hair over two hours long. But it earns it, offering up several likable characters, each with their own arcs (the superfans who have to sneak into the game, the disgraced player returning to his hometown, the arrogant rookie who wants to leave the team for a better offer, etc) and a winning emphasis on folks working together and generally being pleasant instead of the usual zombie grim-fest. The zombie action is nothing special, but I quite enjoyed the spectacle of how the virus is spread: puking what looks like milk on each other. Also: best placement of a title sequence ever. I actually applauded even though I was watching alone.

A very close race with Dark as my favorite film of the fest, this is a twisty, very sad haunted house drama about a woman who is accused of murdering her family in the 1980s and returns to it in the present day after serving her sentence. We see both timelines unfold, not unlike the recent Oculus, but if you consider the title you'll know that those two timelines really aren't that disparate in this particular house. There's some fun to be had seeing events unfold from two different perspectives (think Timecrimes or Insidious 2), but it never feels gimmicky - it's all in service of a very touching tale of the lengths a woman will go to in order to keep her family safe. This rightfully won some awards at the fest, and I pray it gets released as is in the US instead of snapped up just to be able to do an English remake (like [Rec] was).

JOY RIDE 3 (Screener)
More Saw wannabe nonsense, this time from Declan O'Brien of "the bad Wrong Turn entries" fame. I didn't exactly love the original movie (I actually said the sequel was better at the time I saw it, though I'm sure that's not true if I were to watch them back to back), but I can't see how fans of those will be happy here, since Rusty Nail has become a traditional killer in the Hitcher/Mick from Wolf Creek vein, and has mostly dropped his usual MO of playing with his victims in favor of Saw-level death traps (particularly in the opening sequence). There's no sense of perverse playfulness, just chases and kills. It's not terrible as these things go, but I guess I'm just not a fan of this series.

Last year, I was a guest on the Harmontown podcast, talking about Horror Movie A Day (it was right after I quit the daily part). For some reason, Harmon only wanted to talk about the Leprechaun films, which I had largely avoided over the years due to the fact that I didn't like the ones I had seen and figured my one or two reviews would suffice. But I know enough to know that this isn't a goddamn Leprechaun movie in any way shape or form - it's just your usual crappy Syfy channel monster flick, right down to the Canadian locations subbing for somewhere else (Ireland, in this case) and terrible effects. This Leprechaun doesn't talk, doesn't have a hat, and... well I don't know how to describe him really since the movie constantly hides him from our view, letting a baffling "Predator POV" type thing take the place of a traditional presence. And I have no idea what the "Origins" title refers to since he's already a "thing" when the movie starts (our heroes are being led to his domain to be a sacrifice to make amends for the gold they stole from it years ago), so it's even more offensive. I'm not a franchise fan at all and even I'm insulted that this thing is considered part of the series and is included on the new boxed set. It'd be like including the lousy 1990 indie Scary Movie (with John Hawkes) in a boxed set of the famous parody series.

PARLOR (Screamfest)
I don't know why this piece of junk was selected to open the festival, but it certainly didn't bode well for the event. Even if it came out in 2008 I think we'd be mocking it for being a derivative Hostel wannabe, so to see it in 2014 was just bewildering. As is often the case with these things, a bunch of partying vacationers are led to a mysterious place (in this case, a tattoo parlor) where they are dispatched, gorily, in order to keep a very secretive/exclusive business operation running. In between scenes of (admittedly impressive) gore FX, actor Robert Lasardo waxes philosophic about tattoos. It's as dumb as it sounds, but it made for a fun time at least; the crowd didn't take long to start laughing at the wooden dialogue and terrible performances, and I suspect the directing team was unaware that the film they made was going to be laughed at. So that was amusing.

SEE NO EVIL 2 (Screamfest)
As one of the 9 or so people who really liked the original film, and the easiest mark in the world when it comes to Danielle Harris movies, I really should have liked this movie more than I did. It's a serviceable enough slasher, and Katharine Isabelle gives it some spark that it probably doesn't deserve, but the script makes the fatal mistake of letting the entire group of would-be victims learn about Jacob Goodnight's new killing spree almost instantly, and so instead of using the location for stalk scenes or even basic "Where did ____ go? Let's go find him/her." scenarios, the bulk of the movie is little more than our 4-5 heroes running up and down what appears to be the same three hallways over and over. Every now and then Jacob will catch and kill one of them, but the kills are all pretty dull (an overlong opening title sequence showcases a bunch of medical tools (it takes place in a morgue), seeming to suggest that they'll be creatively mis-used, but he pretty much sticks to one or two weapons, or just his bare hands). They also botch the "it's the same night" aspect by constantly referencing Twitter for some reason, and he only gouges one pair of eyes, which is his "thing". But the Soskas directed it, so you'll hear it's amazing and a big step forward for the genre and all that, because they took a picture with whoever said that.

I don't even know where to begin with this one. The few people who enjoyed Seed probably didn't care if they made a sequel, and yet they made one anyway that doesn't jive with the first film in the slightest. Now it's some Texas Chain Saw/Hills Have Eyes wannabe thing, with Seed in the Leatherface role and horrendous lo-fi digital video replacing grainy, sun-drenched film. The film is told all out of sequence for reasons I can't really discern, beyond giving them license to put the movie's most graphic and gratuitously violent scene at the beginning even though it's part of the climax. Uwe Boll "presents" but doesn't do anything else, and I swear to Christ, even his harshest critics will probably miss him. Hilariously, it's been retitled Blood Valley: Seed's Revenge for DVD, but that doesn't make any sense since the first film was already his revenge and in this one he's just a henchman, basically. So dumb.

WRONG TURN 6 (Screamfest)
Hey, remember when I was talking about Bulgaria subbing for other locations? Once again it's being used to simulate West Virginia, for some reason. I had high-ish hopes for this one since Declan O'Brien was no longer directing, but alas, it continued to prove the rule for this series that the Canadian entries (1, 2, and to a lesser extent, 4) are superior to their Bulgarian-shot brethren. I am fairly confident that this one was an unrelated spec that got retrofitted as a Wrong Turn movie later, which is why we have our usual three mutants inexplicably working for a pair of incestuous rich assholes at a hotel/spa in the middle of nowhere. Our protagonist is a relative who has inherited the hotel and gets wooed into joining their strange way of life, much to the dismay of his friends. No one takes a wrong turn - the heroes are all exactly where they planned to be, and Three Finger and his pals only make fleeting, often extraneous appearances (like when they kill an old lady for no reason). I also couldn't begin to tell you where it fit into the timeline; anachronisms aside the series has had some semblance of continuity until now (with the order being 4, 5, 1, 2, 3), but this neither picks up from 5's cliffhanger-ish ending nor leads directly into the original or any other entry. It's an improvement over the last one I guess, but that's saying almost nothing. I just wonder if I'll be stupid enough to watch the inevitable Joy Ride vs Wrong Turn.

What say you?


Mockingbird (2014) / Mercy (2014)

OCTOBER 11, 2014


Because they are so cheap to make, Jason Blum's "Blumhouse Productions" are usually a sure thing at the box office - most of them are pretty good (Insidious, Sinister, etc), which helps, but with budgets capped at around 5 million they almost CAN'T be considered bombs as long as there's a good marketing hook to ensure a curious opening weekend. So when he created a sub-division (called "Tilt") to release some of his movies direct to VOD (with very limited theatrical runs for a few), you have to wonder if they're just horrible movies, or if they just have nothing that can yield a terrific trailer. Such is the fate of Mockingbird and Mercy, both of which could boast a "From the director of _____" claim as well as Blum's usual "From the producer of Insidious and (whatever the latest hit is)" one, but aren't being given the chance to turn into a surprise hit like The Purge or whatever.

Mockingbird is the bigger surprise, even though it has no stars. As it's the followup (finally!) film from Bryan Bertino, who wrote and directed the quite good (and quite profitable) The Strangers, I had high hopes for this one and expected to see it on the big screen, with his struggles to get a Strangers sequel (or anything else) going making this one even more alluring. "At least it's SOMETHING," I thought, worried but not totally convinced it'd be a stinker when it was announced that it'd be joining some other films in Blum's dump pile. Alas, I can't recall the last sophomore effort from a filmmaker that left me so disappointed; even though Mockingbird is, at times, a found footage version of The Strangers, Bertino never managed to engineer any real suspense, and despite a 82 minute length I found myself checking the time remaining display an alarming number of times.

It's got an intriguing hook (and a terrific beginning), at least. One night, three people find a video camera at their door, and are initially happy at their good fortune (one of them assumes it's their prize for a survey they filled out at the mall), only to get weirded out when they discover that the cameras' off buttons don't seem to work and they get creepy messages insisting that they never stop filming. It's a good way around the common found footage "Why are they still filming this?" problem, and it's set in the 90s so there are no cell phones or high tech gizmos to use to keep things "visually interesting" (meaning, they don't cut to security cam footage or a Skype call and ruin the whole POV aspect). The three people don't seem to know each other, but it's not exactly a spoiler to say that they will eventually meet up as they run through their tormentor's hoops. Videos arrive that prove that our heroes are being watched, one couple learns that their daughters are in danger, etc.

It's all well and good at first (except for the grating title cards), and doesn't take too long to get to the "scary/exciting" parts, but that's the problem - these things SHOULD be scary or exciting, but they're not. The constantly changing POV does it no favors - perhaps if presented as a sort of anthology that showed one journey in its entirety before cutting back to another POV from earlier in the night, it'd work better, but the character of Beth has no one to play off of (she's on the phone with someone for a bit at first, but otherwise it's a solo show), so whenever they cut to her it kills the energy built up by the others. Also the tones vary from one scenario to the other - the couple (who we meet first, and I think spend the most time with overall) is a straight up family-in-crisis/home invasion type thing, where their daughters are missing and the tormentors are being the most aggressive (RIP kitty). But Beth is on her own, so her scenes have her just kind of creeping around the house (and later, the yard separating her place from a giant estate), opting for more subtle creepout moments than the in your face thrills of the other.

And then there's the clown story, which is practically played for laughs. In that, an annoying loser who lives with his mom is tasked with dressing up like a clown and going around town pulling odd pranks or getting hit on purpose or whatever, like a Jackass movie but with just one of them. The scenery keeps changing and again it's more comedic than scary, so again we have the issue where the tone of the movie keeps changing, ruining any of the scenarios' chances of being effective as a whole. There are isolated moments, like when Beth has to confront a mannequin with a looped recording saying "Pick it up! Pick up the box!", which is fairly unnerving on its own, but before long it's back to the clown doing jumping jacks or whatever the hell. I'd bet money that there WAS a cut that presented each storyline in its own contained way, and it didn't work either so this was done to spice it up - I'd be very curious to see it the other way if I'm right.

It's no theory for Mercy though - this movie ("from the director of The Haunting In Connecticut!") definitely went through some tinkering. Running a mere 77 minutes (!), the film tries desperately to cut around what was clearly an earlier introduction for Dylan McDermott's character than currently presented, but they miss a shot. So you see him sitting with our main characters for a second, with no indication of who he is or how he relates to them, and if you haven't read the credits you'll just be sitting there saying "Wait, what the hell is Dylan McDermott doing there all of a sudden?", and then it's not for another 10 minutes that you see him again, this time with a (sort of) proper introduction. Even the most casual viewer could sense something was amiss, and the movie as a whole seems like the majority of the first act was chopped out to get to the "good stuff" quicker.

To be fair, it's not too bad - grandma (Shirley Knight) is either suffering from dementia or possessed by something, and of her three kids only Frances O'Connor has the patience to help take care of her, and she ropes in her kids (including Walking Dead's Chandler Riggs) to assist. But it's clear that meds and specialty foods aren't going to keep her calm, because WITCHES, man, so Riggs has to solve the mystery and get threatened by the non surprise villain and blah blah. It's like a 70s TV movie, actually, and while that's all well and good in theory, it's got the blandness without the charm (oh, and it'll cost you 20 bucks to watch as of this writing, instead of airing for free on one of the only 3 channels you had). Still, at least most of the tinkering is seemingly confined to the first act, and it's got a fun turn from Mark Duplass as O'Connor's asshole brother - he's basically playing a Rob Corddry type, and it's delightful.

And I don't know if it was just some weird thing the writer threw in, or taken from the Stephen King short story it's based on (I haven't read it, far as I can recall) but Riggs' older brother is a budding chef, so you have scenes of him trying to get people to eat sushi, and McDermott giving him a gift card to the grocery store... it's like, they cut McDermott's intro (and I think part of his backstory), but left in THIS? It's so random that I kind of liked it, and even though they don't have the balls to kill him off I appreciate the moment where he gets supernaturally attacked (like something out of a Final Destination movie) by refuse from a woodchipper. And even though he's like 12 or whatever, Riggs gets in on the action; Knight even throws him across the room during the climax. So if you ever wanted to see Paul Blart's mom smack Carl Grimes around, this will be your favorite movie ever. Everyone else... it's FINE, but so forgettable I'm already having trouble remembering how it ended (not the case with Mockingbird, which I watched first - I specifically remember that horribly dumb ending that retroactively ruins the best moment in the movie).

I know it's pretty rare to do a double up review here (obvious joke: it's rare to post anything at ALL here lately, yes yes), but it's hard not to lump them together - they're both Blumhouse castoffs that were at one point set to be wide released by Universal, finally being dumped on VOD on the same day. I may not care much for either of them, but I didn't love Purge either and that went on to make a zillion dollars for Universal and Blum, so my curiosity of "what happened" with these two is pretty piqued (certainly more than it was by anything on screen in either movie). That they're going out with M titles is also telling - this is an age where movies routinely get retitled in order to get better placement in the alphabetized VOD listings (a movie I did the titles for got changed from an S title to an "F" for this very reason), so they're leaving them right in the middle of the road, effectively burying them on VOD, as well as WITHIN VOD. They're doing the same with Stretch, a new Joe Carnahan film starring Patrick Wilson (who appeared in two of last year's biggest genre moneymakers, Insidious 2 and Conjuring), and the remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which I reviewed (positively) for Badass Digest. I'm not sure how many other Blumhouse projects will be met with the same fate, but it'll be a bummer if only the Purge and Insidious franchises get a shot from now on - what happened to taking low stakes gambles?

What say you?


I'm Not Dead! At Least, Not Yet

Hey all, I know it's been quieter than the post-daily version of "quiet" here, but there's a good excuse! One is that my infant son is more or less sleeping through the night now, so I'm getting more sleep too! That's good for health, but bad for sitting around watching horror movies to pass the time. Another is that the HMAD book is coming along nicely; I won't have it ready for this year, sadly, but maybe during next year! Hurrah!

Third is that I'm moving soon (need a bigger place for Will), so my time that I used to use writing up reviews is now spent looking at real estate listings and calling realtors and asking if they allow cats. So it's all good and exciting stuff, but I know that means that HMAD gets shafted, and I don't care much for that. Luckily, Screamfest is starting soon, so I'll be bound BY LAW to post a few reviews from that. And I hope to see Annabelle soon (yep, the mighty BC from HMAD hasn't seen the only hit horror movie of the year), so that'll be another one to look for. In the meantime, head over to Badass Digest for my review of the new Town That Dreaded Sundown remake, as well as a month-long retrospective on the Saw series that I'm writing with fellow Badass Britt Hayes! Yay for Saw!

Also, if you are in or near Lubbock, Texas, please come to the Dismember The Alamo event at their Alamo Drafthouse on October 25th! It'll be four horror movies (secret titles) selected by yours truly, and I'll be handing out Scream Factory blu-rays and such. Plus it's at an Alamo so you get great food/drink while you watch my very carefully selected lineup! So that's another thing that will reduce HMAD posts but it's a hell of a lot more awesome than me spending a weekend writing/formatting a review of Joy Ride 3 or whatever the fuck.

P.S. Joy Ride 3 is pretty bad.


Tusk (2014)

SEPTEMBER 21, 2014


There's a scene in the 3rd season of Project Greenlight where Kevin Smith admits that he doesn't like horror movies, but after Red State and now Tusk, I think it's safe to assume he is basing his opinion on very few genre films, because it's abundantly clear that he doesn't know how to make one of his own. With a talented filmmaker one could see a movie like this and assume that the director wasn't beholden to the genre's "rules" and tropes because they were above them, but by his own admission Kevin Smith is not a talented filmmaker. An interesting one, sure, and he has displayed a unique voice as a writer, but it's clear he's just fucking around at this point, and I couldn't help but think that Tusk might actually have been better if he knew enough about horror movies to avoid cliches, or at least do something interesting with them.

For example, our hero (Justin Long) is summoned to an isolated house owned by a weird guy in a wheelchair (Michael Parks), who offers him tea when he arrives. Since the character is not British, the introduction of tea tells every single person who has ever seen a horror movie that it's poisoned and it won't be long before we see a POV shot of a blurred vision before Long slumps to the ground. But Kevin Smith either doesn't know that or thinks so little of his target audience that not only does Long exaggeratedly drink from the cup seemingly every time the director/editor cuts away from Parks (who is telling stories throughout this sequence), but he even has the actor specifically mention how unique the tea is and how it's nothing like he's ever had before. A more clever filmmaker might have used this as a ruse, making us smartypants horror fans THINK he was being drugged only for something else to happen, but no - eventually we see a POV shot of a blurred vision before Long slumps to the ground.

And thus I couldn't help but think - does Smith actually not even know how generic a device this is? Or is he mocking it, and if so, where is the laugh? The movie as a whole seems like a spoof of Human Centipede, with our lonely mad doctor creating a human/animal hybrid (in this case, a walrus) using at-home surgery, but if so Smith never bothers to let us know that - it's possible he hasn't even seen it. Is "inadvertent parody" a thing? He is clearly not above this brand of humor; the movie opens with a spoof of the infamous "Star Wars Kid" viral video (timely!) and one of his biggest hits was Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, which is ostensibly a sequel to Dogma and the other films but also loaded with ZAZ (late period ZAZ, I mean) level gags like Good Will Hunting 2 and a 4th Scream movie where the killer is a monkey (which, as it turns out, was a better surprise than the actual Scream 4 offered a decade later). Clearly, if he meant this to be a Centipede spoof there would be some specific reference to let us know that that was what he was doing, right?

Because the problem with the movie is that it simply isn't funny. A group of 20somethings sitting a row or two behind me were laughing at everything in the first few minutes, signaling that they were most likely part of his devout fanbase (and if you think he doesn't have very loyal fans, just bad-mouth him on Twitter and see what happens), but even they got pretty silent after a while. There are few discernible jokes in the film's 2nd half, and there's only one attempt at a scare scene in the entire movie (which actually works, believe it or not), involving Long's character trying to call his friends for help while Parks closes in on him, so if it's not a parody and not even much of a regular comedy, and it's certainly not a horror movie, what the hell is it?

However, there is a small chance you find the back half of the film very funny. To do so, you must appreciate the comic stylings of Guy Lapointe, played by an A-lister (not Ben Affleck, sadly) using a fake name and a disguise that might even prevent recognition, not unlike the folks who didn't realize the head of the studio in Tropic Thunder was Tom Cruise until his credit came up at the end. I admit I laughed at a couple of his lines, but as a whole his character and the performance are so grating I can't imagine how anyone would be completely enthralled by it even if they were just as big of a fan of this actor as they were of Smith. He's got a goofy accent, he acts like a 3rd rate USA network detective (all quirks, no character), and worse, he stops the movie cold and takes up the time that should be used on showing Wallace's transformation (yes, the guy who gets turned into a walrus is named Wallace. Because comedy.).

You see, among the movie's many other problems is that there's no second act, really - Wallace is a full human (minus a leg), and then the next time we see him he's completely engulfed by the makeshift walrus suit. Seeing stages of this transformation would have been interesting (at least, more interesting than watching _____ piss away more of the goodwill he's been squandering for a while now), but Smith denies us the chance to see how it even worked. Wallace's face is clearly shown in the walrus suit, but how much of his body is in there? Surely his lungs, heart, and other vital organs were kept intact, right? With Human Centipede we know exactly what was done, but here I spent a good chunk of the movie distracted, trying to figure out how exactly Parks' character was able to keep him alive through the surgery. I know I'm probably not supposed to care, but since Smith failed to provide anything worth caring about, I had to fill my head with SOMETHING.

To his credit, these monster scenes are obviously like nothing else in Smith's filmography, and Robert Kurtzman's FX are impressive (I love the various ears stitched around the walrus body). The introduction of the villain is riddled with fart jokes, so Smith clearly hasn't matured all that much, but he at least avoids too many cheap gags in the walrus scenes, and Parks is such a good actor that he manages to make this utterly ridiculous character into something of a tragic figure (he actually has a valid excuse for wanting to turn someone into a walrus, believe it or not). But Smith keeps retreating into comfortable territory, and our hero is too clearly based on himself - when Wallace boasts that his podcast and speaking engagements make him far more money than he ever made in the earlier part of his career, you will probably be able to hear your eyes rolling. But of course, he's also the most well-read podcaster in history, recognizing Hemingway quotes and such so we know he's also really smart. And, as always, his female lead is some sort of science fiction creation, a gorgeous woman who recognizes that our hero is a moron (and a two-timer, to boot) but will still happily blow him because she knows there's a good person in there somewhere, and we just have to take her word for it since all we've seen is how awful he is. This time the woman is played by Genesis Rodriguez, an impossibly attractive woman who, like her character, can and should be doing much better.

On the plus side, it's a step up from Red State, and Smith continues to improve as a director (or he's just hiring better DPs, either or), so there's something - he even tries to implement flashbacks to show us things we didn't see the first time, a new thing for him. The score is quite good and everyone except _____ turns in fine performances, so if nothing else it feels like a real movie, something even his much bigger budgeted Cop Out can't claim. And as annoying as _____ is, I couldn't help but kind of admire that a guy who gets 8 figure paychecks on the regular would dive right in and do something this wacky for a movie that cost 3 million bucks. But without any clear sense of what kind of movie he was making (the script was based on his stoned ramblings from an episode of his podcast, by the way), it never really comes to life, failing as a comedy and as a horror film. Maybe it IS a Human Centipede spoof, maybe it isn't - it doesn't matter. The point is, Human Centipede is actually funnier, and since he's clearly not interested in trying to scare us, there's something fundamentally broken here that makes Tusk nothing more than a curiosity at best.

What say you?


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