Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015)

SEPTEMBER 25, 2015


I shrugged off the original Hotel Transylvania, finding most of the humor to be beneath me (lots of fart jokes) and the narrative not taking advantage of the setting and its characters (as the title suggests, a hotel in Transylvania, owned and frequented by monsters). Knowing it was for kids I didn't care much, though the same season offered the superior Paranorman and Frankenweenie, proving that there was a way to make a solid film for kids that adults could enjoy, so over time I just kind of forgot about it. So when I say that I saw Hotel Transylvania 2 on opening night, I want to stress that it wasn't out of undying excitement for it - merely a matter of scheduling, as my Saturday was busy and I was on baby duty Sunday night - and there was no way I'd go see a kid's movie during the day. So an 8:45 Friday night option made the most sense, as it would likely be kind of empty save for the other curious adults*, right?

Alas. I barely even got a seat, and sure enough it was pretty packed with noisy kids up way later than I ever got to stay up on a Friday when I was their age (let alone go to the movies). Now that I'm a dad I've gotten less intolerant of the little brats talking during the movie, though I still can't condone seat-kicking. Thankfully, a few seats to my right remained empty (I know they were sold due to the seat-picking screen, so I hope they were some kids buying for this and going to see Green Inferno) and I was able to mostly focus on the film - which I am happy to say is a big improvement on the original. I know it's hip to hate on Adam Sandler these days, but I credit him and frequent collaborator Allen Covert for the increase in quality - it's the same director, same co-writer (Robert Smigel, an SNL vet who otherwise has never written a film with Sandler, or at least credited as such), etc - so who else can we thank for getting it right this time, since Sandler didn't get writing credit on the first and Covert only supplied a couple voices?

For starters, they give the other monsters more to do. The plot concerns Dracula's grandson, who is the spawn of his vampire daughter (Selena Gomez) and her human husband Johnny (Andy Samberg, surprisingly given almost no funny lines - though his dad is Nick Offerman so that more than makes up for it) and thus no one knows if he'll be human or a vampire. Dracula, obviously, wants him to be a vampire, and thus him and his pals (Wolfman, "Frankenstein" (grr), Mummy, Invisible Man, a green blob thing) go out on an adventure to try to bring out his monster side. So the others get a chance to do something on their own - Frankenstein will show him how to scare people, Mummy will show him how to inflict curses, etc. They all go horribly wrong, of course, but at least they are actually embracing what these characters are this time instead of just using them for fart gags.

They also take some shots at modern day "Everyone's a winner!" hand-holding, when Dracula takes the tyke to the camp where he learned the ropes of being a vampire - flying, catching rats, etc. There he is horrified to see that the little vampire children no longer hunt rats but merely pick them up off a T-ball post, and learn to "fly" by jumping off a 2 foot high ledge onto a safety net (with a harness), instead of diving off the 1000 foot high rickety tower as he did. Hell they could have used this as the focus for the entire movie and made the message "Stop babying your kids" instead of "It's OK if you're _____ (gay, weird, a vampire, whatever you want to plug in) because your family will love you anyway", but I appreciated the detour. There are also some good background gags for adults, something that I don't recall being in the original (favorite: an ad for a tour that will take you to all the best mythical locales: The Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis, and Detroit). There's even a Count Chocula reference!

And as a new dad (SORRY) I got a kick out of the earlier stuff, before the kid gets older (he's 5 for most of the movie, but we track him from birth to his first words and all that). Baby-proofing the castle was particularly fun, with one of those impossible baby gates being placed in front of what seems like a bottomless pit - it's not exactly genius comedy, but again - it was using the idea that these things are in fact monsters for more than just an inventive set design and color scheme. It even has a villain of sorts, a demon named Bela who terrorizes the kid and Drac's daughter Mavis during the finale, with all the monsters (and Johnny's human relatives) banding together to fight them off. It's not exactly scary, and Bela should have been introduced earlier, but it's still more in line with the finale I'd want from a movie about monsters than a rom-com-y race to the airport like the original.

Oh, and they toned down the fart/poop/etc jokes. There are a couple, and the kids ate up one of the demons being hit in the groin, but I go in expecting that sort of shit and I don't really care. It's not the focus - that's what's important, and while his other movies of late leave much to be desired I must laud Sandler for giving a little something for everyone this time around while also diving head first into the concept this time. Indeed, my biggest complaint about the original was that it seemed like a long set up for something better later, and here we are! I can't forgive them for not bringing back the weird sponge thing from the first movie though; they should have made him a primary character.

Don't get me wrong, if you downright HATED the first there's little here to change your mind, but if you're like me, who thought the first movie was infinitely better on paper than in execution, you will probably agree they got a lot closer to getting it right this time, and if you're a parent taking your kids to see it, I think you'll find yourself enjoying it to a degree. I mean I was by myself and really only going to get a new review up, and I was still laughing fairly frequently and not at all embarrassed to be there. When Will is old enough in a couple years, I won't dread him watching this one.

What say you?

*Even though it was almost entirely kids and their parents, my assigned seat was between a couple of college kids and another adult (she looked a few years younger than me) who was also by herself - and believe me if I was single I definitely would have chatted up the like-minded woman who would go to a movie by herself on a Friday night just to enjoy some monster jokes. But anyway - I like that us "old people" all had the same idea, to sit near the front and hope for the best. You know how they offer "Mommy & Me" screenings? They should do the opposite for kids' movies, have special adults only ones for us weirdos.


Goodnight Mommy (2014)

SEPTEMBER 13, 2015


I have been hearing great things about Goodnight Mommy (German: Ich Seh, Ich Seh, or "I see, I see") for about a year now thanks to festival appearances, but so far I had successfully avoided knowing anything about its narrative - I didn't read any reviews, watch the trailer, etc. I didn't even know what kind of movie it was until Sam Zimmerman said a few words about it in his intro for a piece about Bloody Birthday, and while I was kind of bummed to blow my total ignorance so close to seeing it (like, 3 days - after a YEAR of avoiding any details!), it just got me more excited about it. I didn't put the sub-genre tag in the review in case you're just as blind (or even if you've only seen the trailer, which kind of brilliantly teases a different kind of film), but technically it wouldn't really count as a _____ movie anyway - in fact it's kinda got its foot in a couple of doors.

But whatever label you want to throw at it, I think we can all agree this is a very good suspense flick; the sort of thing you might only watch the one time but will be kind of knocked out by it. There are pretty much only three people in the movie: a mother and her twin sons (other characters pop up briefly, such as a deliveryman, but none more than a few minutes), and watching their fractured family unit crumble over the course of the 90ish runtime is the main draw - I suspect the movie won't inspire a lot of repeat business beyond appreciating the performances. The basic plot is about how the two young boys start to suspect that their mother is not really their mother (her face is covered in bandages after an operation), and the depths they go to in order to prove they are right. Susanne Wuest as the mother has an extremely tough role, as she has to stay a bit aloof in order for the film's central mystery to work, but can't do anything that would be construed as a "cheat" once you have all of the information about her character. So she has to be sympathetic and potentially evil in equal measures, without ever doing anything that would tip her too far in one direction - almost until the very last minute of the movie.

And like The Visit, the movie focuses on two child actors who thankfully aren't annoying (before you argue, the rapping kid in Visit was a good actor with an annoying trait - that's not the same thing), with a story that works best if you keep in mind that it's two young minds shaping the action. Some of their decisions are silly (others terrifying), and none of them should have an adult in the audience saying "What *I* would do is...". Of course you'd do whatever seemingly intelligent thing came to your mind - you're an adult. These are just frightened, lonely kids, so super-gluing someone's lips shut without realizing that they'd have to feed her later is totally within the logic that such young minds would possess. I had a bit of trouble telling the two apart (kind of the point in some scenes, I think), but they're pretty great, and even when things get dark you can see their childish enthusiasm shining through - making it far more disturbing.

One thing kind of kept me at bay though, and while I won't explicitly say it, I'll talk around it and it will probably be obvious what I'm talking about, if not right now then pretty much as soon as the movie starts. So skip the next paragraph if you're not into vague spoilers!

So the movie has a kinda twist to it that I spotted pretty early on; it's one you've seen in other movies that is usually a bit harder to see coming, and some have suggested that the filmmakers aren't even trying to hide it from you. Which I could believe, but A. I've ALSO seen movies where this was the case and they made sure to flat out say it after like 40 minutes to make sure everyone was on the same page, and this movie lacks that moment. And B. if it WAS supposed to be obvious, what purpose would that serve? There isn't any narrative benefit to knowing it like 10 minutes in (as I did), and it kept distracting away from certain scenes because I couldn't help but wonder how things were being seen through another character's eyes, and also I kept looking for holes in my own theory, hoping I was wrong (I know that's hard to follow if you haven't seen the movie or don't know the twist, but believe me it tracks!). Like, it seemed SO obvious to me that I thought they were trying to make you think that just to throw you for a loop later, but that's not how it plays out - and it kind of killed part of the fun for me. If you've never seen a movie with this particular idea before, I'm sure you'll miss it entirely - the filmmakers can't possibly be assuming the general audience has seen a dozen of them. Once the movie confirmed my suspicions (in the final 5 minutes) I was denied what should have been a fun little "How did I MISS that?" moment of replaying scenes in my head. Instead I was just happy that they finally caught up.

Thus, for me, the main question was "is the mom really the mom, or an impostor?", which I thankfully didn't know either way until the very end. The movie is thankfully vague enough that either answer would be satisfying, though - not spoiling it either way - if she WAS really their mom, it's hard to garner a lot of sympathy for her for quite some time (even after they start getting more direct with their interrogation) because we're seeing everything through the boys' eyes. You could possibly shoot this entire movie again from her perspective and make it an entirely different kind of horror experience. Also, they repeatedly use Brahm's Lullaby throughout the movie (which is in German, by the way), which was funny to me because it's the rare time the lyrics are used (usually it's just the melody), and I have my own lyrics I use to get my son to sleep that I've been singing for so long that I had kind of forgotten the real (admittedly better) ones.

Like many a festival favorite, I suspect some of the "blown away" type raves were due to people being able to sit down without having any idea of what they were about to see (and also possibly being one of 4-5 movies seen in a single day, with the others being average). It's a slow burn film (the idea that the mom may not be the mom doesn't even gel until around the halfway point) centered on a plot device that's been employed in any number of horror movies (including some with twins), so until the 3rd act there really isn't anything novel to it. It's a really good film, don't get me wrong - but don't be surprised if you'll walk out wishing you had been the first to see it.

What say you?


The Visit (2015)

SEPTEMBER 11, 2015


I will defend M. Night Shyamalan as a director to the death. As a screenwriter he... is imperfect, to put it nicely, but even his worst movies (Lady in the Water) display a great visual sense, careful editing, and actors giving solid performances (a bad director can make a good actor look otherwise - see: Phantom Menace). So it's no surprise that, like Barry Levinson with The Bay and Bobcat Goldthwait with Willow Creek, he has managed to rise above the trappings of most found footage/"documentary" horror films, due to actually knowing how to make a film and understand that the POV aesthetic is just another tool at his disposal. The Visit isn't Night's best film or anything, but it's one of the best of its type in ages, and should help cement a minor comeback for the once untouchable filmmaker.

And that was a relief, because I've been seeing the trailer for months and every time, certain moments got a big reaction from the crowd (with such dire releases as of late, it'd be more engaged than they ever got with the feature they were seeing). The grandfather sticking the gun in his mouth ("I was just cleaning it!") and the girl getting into the oven were always the big ones, and thus it seemed Night finally had a hit on his hands - it would have been a bummer if the movie didn't deliver. But with the pretty full crowd I saw it with, those moments and several others played just as expected, with one jump scare even startling me a bit, and another, more icky moment (for those who have seen the movie, the "You have a problem with germs, right?" part) had them all reacting as they should. I was actually just talking to someone the other day about how horror-comedies should be a bigger/more popular sub-genre, because if they're working right the audience will be laughing AND screaming. This one delivers that AND collective audience disgust (in that one isolated moment) as a bonus!

But I wouldn't call it a comedy/horror, as it's listed on IMDb. Night said he actually had a cut of the movie that was straight up comedy, and I'd be very curious to see how that would work. Sure, there are funny moments, and like 90% of these movies the first 10-15 minutes are loaded with "look how wacky these people are with their camera!" stuff, a tradition that goes back at least as far as Blair Witch (Heather goofing off with marshmallows comes to mind), but it's still a horror movie about two kids who are trapped with their increasingly strange grandparents. Their various health issues (discontinence for Pop Pop, sundowning for Nana, and dementia for both) are scary and SAD, not really funny (well, Pop Pop's discontinence is the butt of a few jokes, and yes that pun is intended), and yes, there is a body count (all off-screen, but still). Maybe it's a comedy compared to Night's other movies (The Happening notwithstanding) but the terror is always real - the humor all stems from reactions and intentional tension breakers - that's not a comedy, to me.

And now that I've compared it to Night's other films, I guess we have to talk about "the twist". I will not reveal it explicitly, but will talk around it, so skip the next paragraph if you want to go in more blind.

Ultimately we learn what Nana and Pop Pop are really all about, and I wrestle with the idea of even calling it a twist - it's more of the reveal at the end of the 2nd act that prompts what happens in the 3rd (it's not like Bruce Willis realized he was a ghost with 30 minutes left of Sixth Sense). Like a good twist, it might make you want to watch the movie a 2nd time, but only to double check that it never became impossible to work (as opposed to just spotting the clues you missed), so again it's not really a big "holy shit" moment. It's also not even that hard to figure out; I called it about 20 minutes before we are told, and that's without me even putting together one of the major clues until a few hours after I saw it. But I loved that Night seemed to be making fun of himself a little and setting the audience up for something more extreme than what it is, as Nana tells a very odd story about fish people (or something?) that I would be willing to bet was his way of acknowledging some of his past work while also trying to mislead us. It's an M NIGHT SHYAMALAN movie after all - aliens or monsters or ghosts or whatever the hell have to be involved, right? Even if you're smart enough to know that Nana's story can't be suggesting the actual answer, you're probably going to start thinking more along those lines than you already did when you saw his name in the credits, making the actual answer all the more satisfying. It certainly worked on one younger guy coming out of the film with his girlfriend, who told her that "Usually his twists are so fucking stupid!" after saying how much he enjoyed this one. Plus he doesn't dwell on it; we learn what it is and that's that - there's no one coming in to explain the entire backstory. You can piece it together with the info that's laid out and that's all you need to know, really (if anything, the more you think about it, the more questions you'll need answered to explain how it would have worked, so best to just not do that).

As for the POV element, like I said it works really well. I've read a few tweets suggesting that it's yet another movie that doesn't need to be shot this way, but not only does Night justify it several times (the girl is making a documentary about her estranged family, and also enjoys filming others but can't stand to look at herself), he also utilizes it better than most. So even if some of it IS a bit wonky (the chase under the porch, for example - why wouldn't they drop the camera?) he gets a lot more right than wrong, and I've always said that you just have to meet the audience halfway on these things. NONE of them hold up to total scrutiny, but so many don't even get the basics right that it's just relieving to see one that does (and then some). And even better, he actively refuses to do any of the usual shit until the very end where he kinda has no choice. The girl, being an astute filmmaker and documentarian, refuses to let the brother set a camera up to see what happens when they're not around - i.e. the thing that makes up the bulk of every Paranormal Activity movie. Likewise, and correct me if I forgot one, but I don't think there's a single moment in the movie until the big climax where a camera is dropped in such a particular way that allows it to see all of the subsequent action perfectly, another hallmark/annoyance of these movies.

I suspect it'll play even better to kids. The boy of the sibling pair is kind of annoying; the actor is good (and I appreciated that the two of them got along for the most part - it's not some bullshit where they hate each other but come together over their shared terror), but for whatever reason his main character trait is that he fancies himself a freestyle rapper. He's proud of his 347 Youtube hits for one of his videos, compares himself to Tyler, The Creator (!), and raps at least three times in the movie, including one over the end credits. He also has a bizarre thing where instead of saying "Ho" he will say female singers? So when he's freaking out he'll yell "Shania Twain!" or something? I didn't get it, and it was hardly my favorite part of the movie - but I'm sure 12 year old boys will find it funny enough, and the movie is definitely harmless enough with its PG-13 elements (Nana's old lady butt and one F bomb) that you can be comfortable showing it to your budding horror fan children. Devin compared it to Goosebumps, and that's apt - maybe a bit harsher, but definitely along those lines of campfire story horror, preying on basic fears (being away from home, strangers, etc). And unlike adults, they won't have that knee-jerk reaction to M Night Shyamalan's name, with some unfounded bias clouding the experience.

Now, if this is a hit, can we get that 2nd Night Chronicles movie? Been waiting five goddamn years!

What say you?


The HMAD Book Needs Your Vote!

Hello! I am alive! Been a long time since I posted anything directly to you guys, but I wanted to alert you to the new poll on the top of the page (yes, I finally took down the NOES 5 screening ad, a year+ after it happened). The HMAD book is getting very close to completion (minus some art and a foreward by a very cool writer, I COULD release it now - that's how close!) and while we are definitely releasing it e-style (your Kindles and what not), I would like to get a rough idea of how many people would buy the (more expensive!) physical version if they could. Personally I think the book is suited better for paper anyway, but print is dead not feeling well these days, so it's a risky endeavor and it'd likely be out of my own pocket to get them made. However, if enough people would (seriously!) buy a physical copy if given the choice, maybe I can get someone else to foot that bill (i.e. the people who will be getting a lot of the money anyway). So please take a second to answer if the book is something you're interested in; the e-book will only be 5 bucks but the physical one would probably be around $15 (it'll be 400 pages), so keep that in mind with your vote. Thank you!


Morituris: Legions of the Dead (2011)



If nothing else, the idea of combining Last House on the Left with Tombs of the Blind Dead is one of the nuttier "It's ______ meets ______!" combos I've come across in quite a long time, but ultimately I have to put Morituris in the "not for me" section of my mental video store. It's technically proficient, the actors are fine, it features some really nice (if a bit hard to make out due to the underlit photography) FX by none other than Sergio Stivaletti, so it's not a candidate for "Worst movie ever!" or anything like that. And - for what it's worth - the "twist" (which I'll spoil, by necessity) is well executed in that it's as big of a shock to us as the characters it's happening to, but it's also needlessly unpleasant to the nth degree and ultimately somewhat pointless. Some may love it for that very reason, but that's just not my bag, man.

Now, when I say "twist" I assume it's something people might not know going in, but with the "Banned in Italy!" blurb splashed on the Blu-ray cover and their admittedly Last House-ian story actually taken from a true life crime (known as the Circeo Massacre), I don't think they're exactly hiding the fact that our two female protagonists are about to have a very grim and unpleasant evening. But the film starts out like any number of slashers, with a carload of college-aged friends (three guys and the two girls they just met) heading out to a rave in the middle of the woods. You know something bad will happen to them, likely at the hands of whatever has been watching them once they stop for a break and a little "romance" (we see a red tinted POV accompanied by some metal clanking sounds), but the fact that their would-be new boyfriends suddenly turn on a dime and begin assaulting them is probably not what anyone would expect.

I mean it's really brutal; both of them are punched and kicked repeatedly before they are raped, and their total shock makes it all the worse (one of them even heartbreakingly pleads with the guy who isn't currently raping her to help, as if her attacker was acting alone). To the filmmaker's credit, the rape scenes aren't explicit, with the camera lingering more on reactions than, well, you know - but since the "Legions" have been established already (via the POV), it makes the scene feel endless. You know that at any moment a zombie gladiator could come lumbering through and inadvertently save the girls, but they're apparently OK with just standing there and watching, as their first attack comes long after the girls have been victimized and the guys are seemingly getting ready to kill them and leave their bodies in the middle of the woods.

On that note, even if I was fully satisfied with what happens next I'd still have issue with the movie taking forever to get to the damn title characters. Again, they're already there, it's not like they had to be resurrected first or whatever, so the fact that they're just standing around doing nothing is baffling to me. It's only an 83 minute movie with slow ass credits (and a horrible prologue where a little girl is nearly molested by her uncle before a zombie gladiator kills them both), so when it takes nearly an hour for the things to show up we're definitely in "too little too late" territory, even if the rapey stuff hadn't already put the movie at a disadvantage. Worse (spoilers), it's not that all five characters die that bummed me out - it's that they do so without a single moment of victory. Like, if you want to kill the girls off, fine - but let one of them triumph, even slightly, before that happens, so we're not just being assaulted by unpleasantness nonstop. Let one of them toss a rapist into the gladiator's path (the opposite happens, of course), or even subdue one of the things. Or let the guys get it worse than the girls, if nothing else - alas, this is not what the filmmakers wanted to do.

And again, that's their prerogative, but I've long past the point (roughly 13 years old) that I could find any entertainment value in seeing everyone die and zero victories, even temporarily. I like mean-spirited stuff like Silent Night Deadly Night, sure, but you can feel the filmmakers having fun making such a mockery out of a beloved holiday, and for every deaf priest dressed as Santa getting shot to death in front of children, there's a killer Santa letting a little girl live because she wasn't naughty nice. In this movie she'd be gutted and possibly raped, in either order. There needs to be a balance to secure that BC stamp of approval, is what I'm saying, and this movie doesn't have it. It just wants to let evil triumph at every turn, so much that the only surviving character is a friend of the guys who spends the whole movie torturing a woman in his apartment (including letting a mouse crawl up her vagina) waiting for them to show up. Maybe he'll star in the sequel.

Kind of curious how folks at large will like this. I mean, there have already been several Last House ripoffs (and two remakes, one official and one Chaos) over the past 40 years - is anyone really clamoring for another one, even with zombie gladiators thrown into the mix? And will they be OK with something so endlessly grim? I mean, I've certainly liked movies where everyone dies (the Texas Chainsaw prequel, for example), but that gave the girl a brief victory before offing her too - without that "win", will people be able to stomach this one? I kind of want to dare you to find out, but a dare is something fun and this is a movie with rape and hints of child molestation, so let's leave fun out. Instead, let's just say I've sufficiently warned you, and if you're still interested, have at it. Synapse's Blu-ray looks nice, for what it's worth, and it should be noted that it's uncut - apparently up to 18 minutes have been removed in some countries, and I kind of doubt it was taken from the endless car ride padding. The rape scene FEELS that long, but it's not - so I am guessing they have also excised some of Stivaletti's gore, which is one of the few things the movie had going for it.

What say you?


The Editor (2014)



A few years ago I had an idea for a giallo send-up, but never really developed it because I realized I hadn't seen as many films in the sub-genre as I wish I could say I had, and thus I felt under-qualified to joke about them, even lovingly. The team at Astron-6 either didn't have that hang-up (or, more likely, had just seen more of them), because The Editor is more or less in line with what I would have done, which is to make up a new giallo story (as opposed to directly parodying a particular film) but present it in a comical way that pays tribute while also taking the piss out of some of the sub-genre's traditions. The black gloves, the misogynist heroes, the nonsensical asides that don't add up... it's all here, and for the most part it works a lot better than I expected it to.

In fact, the only major issue is that the performances are all over the place, with some of the actors playing it straight (and thus making it funnier), while others are stopping just shy of actually winking at the camera. When the biggest offender is one of the writer/directors (Matthew Kennedy) it's hard to really say he's "doing it wrong", because it's kind of his call - but I much preferred Adam Brooks' (also writer/director) more subdued performance, as it felt more like something I would really see in one of these movies (ditto Udo Kier, who has a brief role as a doctor that could easily have been transplanted from a genuine entry). I can only assume they figured the joke would be TOO subtle unless some of the actors were letting you know that they were in on the joke (ditto for the dubbing; only a couple characters are dubbed, enough to enjoy the reference without it overpowering the movie), and they might be right.

Because it's actually a pretty good story! They smartly combine an older, standard murder mystery with a more modern (well, modern for the giallo heyday, meaning the 80s) reflexive concept, as our primary characters are the cast/crew of a genre film, a production that is getting quite chaotic as people keep dying. The producer vows to keep shooting at all costs, so maybe the killer is one of the actors, murdering co-stars to beef up his/her role? Or is it the title character, who is said to have spent time in an institution after cutting off some of his own fingers (and nearly killing a colleague) in a bizarre accident? I wouldn't say it's IMPOSSIBLE to figure it out, but it's actually fairly satisfying as a mystery, with the weirdo supernatural elements (such as the editor transporting into his Steenbeck) adding some of that Fulci flair (The Beyond is just as much an influence as Deep Red or whatever). At times, it's actually more successful than Berberian Sound Studio, which was the straight version of a similar story - not a bad feat for a "parody".

And that's the thing, it's more in line with Naked Gun or the recent They Came Together in that it's not doing any direct parodies of any particular film (i.e. the Hot Shots style) - it's just a funny version of the general idea of one. Sure, you might spot a direct reference to Murder Rock or even Dressed to Kill (!), but these are just quick plot points of little consequence - the overall concept and major scenes are wholly original, just "at home" within the sub-genre. It's a tough thing to pull off (and even harder to market - They Came Together was basically sent direct to video for this reason), and I think you genuinely have to love the movies to do it. Like a good roast, you can't just be mocking the roastee out of nowhere - it has to come from a place of real affection. Like, I could do something like this for slashers fairly well (well, if I had any skill as a screenwriter I mean), but if I did a haunted house version it'd just be me mercilessly mocking its tropes and saying "fuck you" to the basic idea of them. I think that's why the Epic Movie guys are so bad at what they do - they're just mocking whatever's popular, instead of taking on a type of movie they care about. You don't have to think the movies are infallible (because they're not), but you DO have to love them anyway, or else you'll end up with cynical crap.

Since the Astron-6 team was behind Manborg (albeit with the core members taking different roles), I was afraid that they'd use visual FX for the blood, since they seem to like that "intentionally fake" aesthetic and also because I know they don't work with very high budgets (a lot of indie producers I have talked to claim that they have to go digital with their blood because they don't have time/resources to do it on set, forced to get it done cheap/free in post production). But no! They spray gallons of the good stuff, and even have two kinds - a more realistic looking dark red, and a more pinkish one for the in-movie scenes, matching the "melted crayon" look of those older films. The digital photography betrays them, but otherwise they have done a pretty good job of matching the look of the films that influenced it - it's got the vivid colors, the zooms, the bold font for the credits (I particularly appreciated that touch), and the music - even some by Claudio Simonetti himself (sourced, I assume - I'm not enough of a connoisseur to know for sure).

As with Manborg (I still haven't seen Father's Day! I should fix that) the disc comes jam-packed with bonus features, including a nearly hour long documentary about its production. As you can expect, it wasn't the smoothest shoot, with the crew almost entirely running out of money with only 20% of its scenes shot, picture cars not working (you get to see Kennedy attempt to finish breaking off the muffler that was already hanging on the ground), and occasional other snafus, the sort of thing you'll never see on a studio Blu-ray. The commentary by Kennedy, Brooks, and co-writer/star Conor Sweeney is also pretty fun; they point out some of the references and other production snafus not covered in the making of, and heap praises on all of their crew (I also enjoyed the note that they actually had the money to pay someone to do one particular effect and thus demanded perfection). There are also a few deleted scenes of minor merit; I think they cut the best joke about the cop slapping the female characters around (it's something of a running gag), but the others were good calls to delete. The other bonus features are a bit too jokey for my tastes (like the poster artist having a sci-fi machine create the art for him), as the "no one is getting paid" gag wears a bit thin, but they're quirky and thus in line with the DIY feel of Astron's productions.

The Editor is for such a specific audience that I can't imagine it will be a big seller for Scream Factory right out of the gate, but I think this will continue to find fans for a long time. It's not perfect (it could be shorter for sure) and there will always be people thinking that they're mocking these movies without any love for them (something the making of should make clear isn't the case, with one of the directors arguing to shoot a scene a different way so that it feels more like The Beyond than CSI - you don't get THAT into it when you just want to make fun of something for the hell of it), but I like what they were going for, and appreciative of the parts that nailed it. The problem with a lot of these modern "love letter" movies is that they're not adding anything of value of their own, but that's not the case here. Astron-6 has created a giallo plot that I wish I could have seen done for real, and I just take solace knowing that when I laugh at it, it's intentional.

What say you?


Backcountry (2014)

AUGUST 29, 2015


On the bonus features for Backcountry, one of the producers proudly explains that they wanted to make this movie to show the woman becoming the hero and (spoiler) surviving, in a manner that suggests that such a thing never happens. Which is odd, because while I liked the movie, all but one of the ones it reminded me of while watching also had the woman survive, to the point where I actually had to stop and think if there was EVER one where the male lived when the female did not - even The Reef, which is based on a true story in which the male survived, was changed to let the female live. Needless to say, it's pretty standard in this sub-genre to keep the female lead alive (if battered), or just kill them both like Open Water, so I have no idea what the hell he was talking about.

But after 16+ years of DVD supplements, I'm used to listening to/rolling my eyes at producers who assume every horror movie is misogynist garbage (and that they're reinventing the wheel), so I won't hold it against the film. I AM a bit puzzled that they hide their bear for so long, even trying not once but twice to suggest that a human villain might be the thing that turns our hero couple's idyllic vacation into a nightmare. I mean, they had to have known that the film's marketing would be BEAR! BEAR BEAR BEAR! BEAAAAAAAAAARRRR! so the fact that it's treated as almost a surprise in the movie is kind of odd, and also puts the film dangerously close to "boring and padded" territory. I mean, sure, we expect (need!) some time to get to know our characters and establish the possible threat, but it's literally an hour into the movie (almost to the second) before he finally shows up, and then after some business he exits again for the final 15 minutes. And I don't mean they hide him, like Jaws ; there isn't an opening attack on some randoms, or a warning from a local - there's just no bear.

Then again, it's a real bear, in real shots with the actors, so you can understand why his presence had to be reduced (why they couldn't crib from Jaws and just have him doing stuff off-screen, I'm not sure). The editing is frustratingly quick-cut during the more exciting scenes, and I'd like to think it was just cutting around whatever safety measures they had in place, or because they could only get a few frames, but it's just as obnoxiously hyper-edited during non-bear scenes, like when our hero Jenn (Missy Peregrym) tumbles down a hill and we get something like half a second of GoPro footage tossed in as she falls. I can't and won't understand what the appeal of this sort of editing is when you're obviously sending the actor (or her stunt double) down a hill anyway - zoom out a bit and show it in longer takes! It denies us the experience of feeling each crunch and smack.

That said, the big bear attack is pretty tense, and surprisingly gory - director Adam MacDonald does not shy away from blood or prosthetic makeup in this sequence, allowing us a glimpse of a half torn-off face, a mostly eaten leg, etc. Some of the things he tries don't really work for me (muting the sound at random points, for example), but it's still a pretty harrowing sequence that is worth the wait - I just couldn't help think if it should have came maybe 10 minutes earlier. See, apart from the boyfriend poopooing Jenn's insistence on bringing bear spray along for their camping trip (it might as well be called Foreshadow Spray), there isn't much of a hint at a bear presence at all until the half hour mark, at which point you get little clues: a footprint, a possible bear howl, etc. And those are good to buy the movie some time, but the give and take is slightly extended too far - it's basically a spoiler to say the bear shows up at all, considering where it happens in the film. This movie will forever be described as "A couple encounters a bear" and based on when that happens it'd be like describing Halloween as a movie about a babysitter who leaves her kids alone to check on her friends across the street.

And the couple's standard relationship woes aren't all that novel, either - Jenn works too much and emasculates him! He doesn't hit the marks on boyfriend quizzes from a magazine! It finally gets interesting when Alex gets them lost and she starts shouting at how he always fucks everything up and he's a loser... and then he admits he was going to propose to her. Again, this is nothing new - horror movies are littered with engagement rings being put on after the would-be groom has been killed, but I can't recall one where the guy was called a loser right before it would have happened. I only wish the bear had attacked right then and there and REALLY killed the moment. However, they DO introduce an amazing wrench in the works via Eric Balfour, as an Irish (huh?) outdoorsman type who takes a liking to Jenn and engages in one of the longest pissing matches in cinema history with Alex - it's like 10 straight minutes of Balfour baiting this guy at every other line (right down to overruling his choice of potatoes or veggies to cook along with the fish he made), and at one point it gets just as tense as the damn bear scene. Again, it's part of a bizarre attempt to make us think that Balfour might be a serial killer or something, but even though their ruse failed it didn't make the scene any less interesting (it's certainly better than the equally bungled bid to make the park ranger look suspicious too).

So as far as these kind of movies go, it's not as good as Frozen or Open Water, but it's a lot better than The Canyon and Open Water 2. If you saw Thirst, which was this but in the desert instead of the woods (and wolves instead of a bear), it's on par with that - a harmless, well-made movie that will remind you why you should never ever travel anywhere. Also, hilariously, in that review I mentioned my weird theory on how a couple's position in bed determines their fate, and this movie is another piece of evidence that my theory is correct, something I had noted long before I re-read my Canyon review (I didn't even remember that I had written this goofy idea down at all, let alone in a review I'd be namechecking). I think the key to enjoying these survival movies depends on how likely you are to find yourself in the situation depicted, which is why I loved Frozen (I ski!) but had more issues with woods/desert ones, since I'm the kind of guy who prefers family campgrounds with electricity and running water than "roughing it".

Oh, most of the bonus features are pretty standard; the commentary has the director and the actors so you get a little bit of everything, though some of it is repeated on the making of piece, and it's far from a must-listen. However, I flat out LOVED "Bear Shots", which is a collection of homemade footage showing the kinds of shots that the director needed of the bear, which was requested from the bear's trainer. Playing the bear in these shots: the director's cats, with accompanying growls and scary music - if you're a cat owner like me it will probably be pretty damn amusing to you. The trailer and a still gallery is also included, because by law they have to be on a Scream Factory release, I think.

What say you?


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