Christmas Blood (2017)

DECEMBER 24, 2018


Back when I ran HMAD proper, I tried to make sure I saw at least one new Christmas-themed film every year around this time, because there are so many I haven't seen and don't usually find myself in the mood for such fare in say, April. It's a tradition I meant to keep after "retiring", but like most of my optimistic plans for the site's future, it hasn't exactly panned out; even when I manage to see one, like last year's Better Watch Out, I usually lack the time to write them up (for the record, that one is pretty good but the twist is far too easy to spot ahead of time, and the film takes a bit of time to get back on track after trying so hard to misdirect us). So after last month's Mrs. Claus I'm happy to be sitting here again with a review of Christmas Blood (Norwegian: Juleblod), making up for last year's absence.

Alas, while it's certainly better than Mrs. Claus, it's not exactly a new classic that will join the likes of Black Christmas or even Black Xmas. I'll give it this much: they score lots of points by going big with the concept. Our killer is another axe-wielding Santa Claus setting his sights on a house full of lovely people, but they're just a few of the many, MANY targets he has. As we learn in an opening crawl (after a pretty good prologue where he takes out a guy and his present-snooping daughter), Santa has compiled a "naughty list" of admitted criminals from all over Norway, and every Christmas he whittles that list down from his initial 300+ (!!!). After being taken down and institutionalized in the opening sequence, we cut ahead seven years where he has escaped and picks up where he left off. You gotta love such a widespread scenario that - if all goes well - makes sequelizing easy, as they don't need a continuing victim hero like Sidney Prescott or even much of a new story. "It's Christmas again and now he's after these people on his list" is all they really need.

And we get a cop on his tail, which fills in some of the questions one might have about this particular MO since it's known (basically, the departments work together to check in on all of the people on his list) and breaks up the house-slasher stuff. But here's the weird thing: rather than take advantage of this scenario by having Santa hit up a few victims in one area (dealing with the lone patrol checks as necessary) he sets his sights on one group, so the filmmakers never really embrace the freedom of their own concept. If you think about the biggest hurdles for a slasher, finding a reason for everyone to stay in one spot (and not notice when people go missing) is one of the harder to overcome, and they had this easy way around it but opted not to take it. And they really should have, because (like Mrs. Claus, oddly) the house isn't exactly perfect for this kind of thing - it's kind of cramped and not even isolated, forcing the action outside often enough to make you think "Isn't it supposed to be super cold, and also where are the neighbors?"

Weirder still, the person on his list is already dead, so he's not even sticking to his "thing". The person on his list is a woman who drunk drove and ran over a kid, but the grief about this led her to a recent suicide. Lucky for Santa (and non-discriminating slasher fans), she has a daughter, and that daughter has several friends to comfort her, and those girlfriends have love interests to pad things out. So even though they set up a slasher where the victims kind of deserve it for once, it ends up being another thing where he's going after people who never did anything wrong, which is fine when we know that's the score (see: Friday the 13th) but when they establish "criminals get their due" and don't deliver, it feels like more of a bummer than it should. I'd rather it was just crass from start to finish.

(Santa also goes out of his way to murder two of the people at the house who are made to leave, rendering the backstory even less relevant.)

Another problem is that it takes too long to get to the kills, in a movie that's too long overall (an hour and forty five minutes) to boot. It's just before the hour mark when Santa starts offing the people in the house, by which point some folks might have already checked out (I myself might have, but I had to wait for laundry so it was either this or find something else). That first sequence is a pretty good one, to be fair, with Santa toying with the two victims and giving a good chase before taking them out, but after that all the kills lack the same panache. Most of them don't even have much of a buildup: Santa just shows up and chops them with his axe (or smashes their head with the blunt side of it), and then we cut to the others or to the cops that are trying to pin down where he might be tonight. He occasionally seems to teleport as well, which wasn't even that acceptable when Jason did it in Manhattan - at least build up your goodwill before cheating the audience, brah.

Finally, the end isn't worth the wait; if it was great some of the other flaws could have been forgiven, but alas. (SPOILERS!) In the prologue Santa is shot several times, including once in the head, but survives - and we kind of buy it, because we don't see where the bullets hit (and maybe the hat got the blunt of the round!), and also maybe there's a MBV-like twist where this Santa isn't the same one. But no, it is, and when he gets taken down by the same cop, you'd think this time he'd make sure the bastard was dead. Instead he inexplicably wanders away, so of course Santa disappears, and you have to wonder if he's actually a damn zombie already (along with the teleporting thing, maybe this IS Part 8 of their plan and the next bunch of films will be prequels?). It's also a downer; after Santa is dispatched, the Final Girl (whose mom is the one he was ostensibly after) rushes to a friend he attacked, a familiar beat that usually ends happily - but no, in this one the girl dies, adding to the bummer nature. Nothing in the film feels like a triumph, even momentarily.

On the plus side, the girls are mostly likable and normal, so the only reason you're wanting Santa to start killing them is because, well, it's a slasher and that's what we came for. And he does so with practical glee - there's more than one instance of spilling guts (if that's your bag) and one girl is killed because so much blood from the other victim poured on her that she doesn't seem to be able to see enough to get away. Also, they don't overuse their Santa, which is a blessing - he sticks to the shadows and stays quiet, so that when he does speak near the end it's kind of a creepy moment. I wouldn't have minded if they had personalized his look a bit - in wide shots he might as well just be Billy Chapman - but in this era of "THE NEW HORROR ICON!" it's nice to see one that keeps it simple and doesn't earn top billing. Last but not least, the score is Carpenter-ish but not punishingly so, and doesn't directly ape any of his themes in its attempt at homage (looking at you, Strangers 2), so it's not distracting - it's just a pretty good idea of what he might have done if he scored this movie with his new band.

Plus, you know, 'tis the season and all. My slasher itch has been well scratched lately thanks to Hell Fest and Halloween, but otherwise I might even be kinder to it, as it's not exactly BAD, just zigs where it should have zagged more than once, leaving it kind of in that neutral "Well, if it's on and you got nothing better to do, you can do far worse" kind of territory. I'll probably keep it but only because I collect slashers (and Christmas movies); the odds of me watching it again land somewhere between Jack Frost (Keaton) and "one of the lesser Silent Night Deadly Night movies", though those would have improved if it was twenty minutes shorter at least. I've included the Amazon link for my fellow collectors - everyone else that's still intrigued can do with a rental, as the disc has only one extra: the trailer that's right below this paragraph. So uh, happy holidays!

What say you?


Wildling (2018)

DECEMBER 4, 2018


While people keep singing the praises of A24 and Neon, I'm gonna humbly request IFC Midnight get some more love for their steadily improving library of acquired indie/foreign gems. By partnering with Scream Factory, more eyeballs are getting on titles like A Dark Song and Autopsy of Jane Doe, and now we can add Wildling to that impressive (if still spotty - please steer clear of Desolation) roster. Like their earlier release The Cured, it's a dramatic and atmospheric (read: "slow" to those who demand a jump scare every three minutes to hold their attention) take on a classic movie monster, in this case the werewolf; checking the boxes that fans of such films expect while making sure the characters and story are always given priority.

And it hooks you in early, thanks to Brad Dourif in what seems like a rare good guy role. He is "Daddy" to a young girl who he seems determined to protect from "the wildlings" outside, telling her that she's the last child alive after they got all the others. During this opening montage sequence, it gradually becomes clear that he's trying to keep her in rather than them out - she is confined to a room with an electrified doorknob and isn't allowed to interact with anyone who happens to visit him, and when he starts giving her a mysterious drug any reasonably astute horror fan can probably figure out SHE's a wildling and he's trying to prevent her from turning into one.

This scenario might have been a perfectly good movie on its own, focused only on this man and the girl he sees as a daughter but also a monster, but after an incident I won't spoil she is taken in by the town's sheriff (Liv Tyler) and given the chance to live a normal life: she goes to school, makes a few friends, even learns about internet porn courtesy of Tyler's brother, who is at least twenty years younger i.e. closer to her age/a potential love interest. At first he's dismissive of her, but as they grow closer she also starts finding it harder to subdue her monstrous side - will she end up killing these folks? Will she be hunted down by the same folks who killed the rest of her kind?

I'm not here to answer those questions, but I can tell you that the film does a good job of balancing its sad nature with some violence, including a gnarly throat rip. Again, like The Cured (which kept coming to mind because, like it, Wildling is a movie that's just been sitting there on my floor hoping to get noticed for who knows how long) this isn't a movie that will satisfy those looking for the popcorn thrills generally promised by their sub-genre, but knowing that going in I was kind of surprised at the carnage it offered. A pair of clear villains are established, and you're expecting them to go out spectacularly, but a third act plot point introduces some random hunters that allows for bonus bloodshed, sort of like a reward for being patient with the slower-paced first hour.

That said, ironically the movie kind of races through one of the dramatic plot points, making me wish that earlier part had been stretched out some. As I mentioned, when Anna is first brought to Tyler's house her brother is kind of antagonistic toward her and sees her as a weirdo (for good reason), but they become quite close over what seems like an afternoon. I wouldn't have minded seeing their bond strengthen more organically, as opposed to a "Well you know they have to get past their opposition eventually so why not get on with it?" kind of approach. It's not a crippling flaw or anything, but it was a bit distracting, as if the editor chopped out a chunk somewhere to move things along. The disc has a few deleted scenes, but it's mostly more with the younger version of Anna and also when older Anna and Ray had already bonded.

Speaking of young Anna, they did a phenomenal job casting younger versions that actually look like they might grow into the lead actress, particularly the middle one. It's the holiday season, and thus naturally Silent Night Deadly Night is on my mind, which has what may be the least likely progression of actors showing the same character across three periods, so perhaps it's just making this one look all that much better? But seriously: it's one of the best matches I've seen - I figured they were actually sisters until the IMDb told me otherwise. Casting just did a fantastic job across the board, really - we're even treated to James Le Gros as a mountain man who aids Anna from time to time. Haven't seen him in a genre movie since Bitter Feast, always good to see that guy pop up (no Phantasm jokes! He was fine and it wasn't his fault!).

Ultimately what works best about the movie is kind of a spoiler, but I'll try to be vague and say that Anna isn't treated as the villain, or even a doomed hero - there's an optimistic slant to her predicament. Most movies of this type end in one of two ways, but this one opts for a third version I can't say I've seen too often. There are sad moments in the movie, for sure, but overall it's kind of an uplifting entry in the sub-genre, one that didn't bum me out as so many indie horror films tend to. So it's a good-natured movie where someone gets impaled! Definitely worth looking for, and I look forward to what writer/director Fritz Böhm does next - he has an extensive VFX background (which he puts to good use here, but thankfully for things like backgrounds, not just the creature stuff) and such folks don't have the best track record, but he clearly has more on his mind than, say, the Strause Brothers. Here's hoping he continues that approach for his future endeavors.

What say you?


The Possession of Hannah Grace (2018)

NOVEMBER 29, 2018


For what it's worth, there's nothing particularly terrible about The Possession of Hannah Grace - it's actually kind of OK for the most part, and it's mercifully brief (85 minutes) compared to the seemingly now-standard two hours (or more) length of everything else playing right now (even Wreck it Ralph 2 is in that vicinity - as was Incredibles 2. KIDS DON'T HAVE THAT MUCH PATIENCE!). It's just that it's nothing particularly memorable either; you'll be more or less engaged by it and forget about it by the time you get home. At this time of the year, it's an odd choice for a wide release: counter programming only really works when it's something on the total end of the spectrum from the Oscar bait and family films. Most folks will just choose to save the 15 bucks and stay home.

But if you're like me and determined to see every one of these things, at least you won't be in for a miserable time like Slender Man or Rings. And if you've seen enough possession movies in your life, you'll probably be as amused/relieved as I was to see that the obligatory exorcism scene is actually the first one in the movie, and no it's not a flash-forward, either. The exorcism isn't going well, and so her father decides the only thing to do is to just kill his daughter in the hopes that the demon will be trapped inside of her corpse. Then we skip ahead a few months and meet our real main character: Megan (Shay Mitchell), a recovering junkie and ex-cop who takes a thankless gig working the night shift at the morgue. Guess whose body shows up on her second night on the job?

The poor dad also shows up, trying to destroy the body in the morgue's incinerator, which of course marks him as a crazy person. Then spooky things start happening and Megan gets the idea that maybe there's more to this corpse than there should be. So it's kind of like Autopsy of Jane Doe (but written before that film's release, I understand) meets the unseen sequel to an exorcism movie, which is kind of a fun concept, with the added bonus of some mild "is she just going crazy/having withdrawals" flavor as Megan struggles with PTSD (her partner got killed in part because of her failure to stop a suspect). And thankfully, it's not just a fake scare-fest either; there's one early on that's so telegraphed I assume the director wanted to let the audience know well in advance that he just had to get this sort of thing out of the way and we shouldn't put much stock into it, but otherwise it's virtually free of such nonsense.

It's also a relatively "quiet" horror film, especially considering that it's a Screen Gems release, as those folks have never found a loud clanging noise they couldn't amplify when the time was right (i.e. when it had been more than five minutes since the last one). There are a few scares that involve Grace's corpse (or her father) doing something in the background behind her, without her noticing, and there's no loud musical sting or anything like that to accompany such moments - you might even miss them if you're focused on Megan instead of the space behind her. Even some of the more traditional scary scenes (i.e. a fight to the death) run without music, and other times the film was so quiet I could actually hear A Star is Born booming from the adjacent theater ("Shallows", specifically). I should note that this is an R rated film, so I guess they figured if teens weren't coming they didn't have to make sure they had something to get them to look up from their phones every few minutes.

Oddly, it's only when the film switches into "exciting action" mode that it starts to fall part some. You can probably figure it out for yourself but eventually the movie tells us what's going on: since the body wasn't destroyed, the demon inside of Hannah's corpse needs to kill to get stronger and be up and about again. Fine, but it doesn't actually correlate to what we see, as the demon seems to be doing just fine while housed in the mangled cadaver (Cadaver was the film's original/better title, for the record, before they ran it through their The Scary Word Of A Girl's Name generator), nor does it seem to be any less powerful as a result of its predicament. In fact, the most elaborate of its kills is the first one she pulls off at the morgue, a ridiculous sequence where she uses some form of telekinetic power to lift a person into the air, pretzel up their body a bit, and then make them fly directly into one of the morgue's body drawers - this is her at her weakest? She also doesn't even seem confined to the morgue - one or two kills later occurs on the hospital's roof, where she does something similar and then returns to her drawer, for reasons I can't quite understand. If there was some escalation to her abilities, and/or noticeable limitation to what she could do, maybe this would work, but as presented it doesn't make a lot of sense. When doing these kind of things it's super important that the "rules" are clear and consistent to maintain suspense, but they bungle that. They also try to make Hannah dying months ago into a "Dun Dun DUNNNN!" kind of moment but we already knew that from the opening, so I'm not sure what the thinking was there.

It's saved (relatively) by the characters, all of whom are good folks who don't deserve to die. Megan's backstory is fresher than most (though I'm not sure if having her be distraught over NOT shooting someone is the most timely idea), and there are no real antagonists: her ex boyfriend, the security guards, the paramedic who drops off corpses, etc. are all personable and decent, and I liked that her rehab sponsor was another woman, Lisa (Castle's Stana Katic), who helps her get the gig and checks in on her (so hey, it even passes the Bechdel test!), as opposed to the usual "sponsor as romantic interest" concept. Some characters exist only to give exposition - there's an early scene where the guy in charge shows her the ropes and pretty much everything he says is just setting up a scare later ("These lights are automated" "The door won't open without this keycard" "Here's the incinerator") - but otherwise it's a refreshingly adult group of people going through the silly motions of what would normally be a PG-13 movie, so I was kind of charmed by that.

(Also, Megan and Lisa share some Dunkins coffee, properly establishing the Boston setting which was slightly bungled by setting it at the non-existent Boston Metro Hospital, even though it was really shot there instead of Canada or wherever.)

Ultimately, the biggest problem with the movie is that it doesn't feel like something that would normally get a wide release. It reminded me of the better entries from the 8 Films To Die For or Ghost House Underground series: smaller, imperfect films that got their job done as a Saturday night rental, but would get creamed if put in the multiplexes. The small scale of it is admirable and refreshing, but I just had too much trouble with Hannah's corpse seemingly having no limitations to what it could do, keeping it out of what almost could have been "must-see" territory. As is, it's the equivalent of one of those studio comedies that are only really worth watching on a plane - a decent distraction and nothing more. Now that Moviepass is dead it's harder to justify the ticket price for such fare (though if you have AMC's A-List it's definitely worth one of your three weekly options), so unless you're a huge fan of Shay Mitchell I'd say you can wait until it hits Redbox to check it out.

What say you?


Mrs. Claus (2018)

NOVEMBER 13, 2018


If you're not a discerning slasher fan and want to start diving into your seasonal horror collection, then I've certainly seen worse than Mrs. Claus (formerly Stirring). It's watchable, it's got plenty of kills (and they're done practically), and even if the mystery is so obvious the killer didn't even really need the mask, it's still a whodunit as opposed to some lame attempt at a new wisecracking "icon", which sinks so many of these things. Also, I have to give it props for hiding an additional twist in the audio for those who watch the end credits - there's no "post credits scene", but if you listen you'll hear a line of dialogue that suggests the killer had an additional helper. That's kind of novel!

But if the movie hadn't made a huge blunder I probably wouldn't have caught it, because the only reason I was watching the end credits all the way to the end was to see if it listed the filming location, because while the plot (and pretty much entire film) is set in a sorority house, it looked more like a two bedroom apartment to me, and it kept the movie at bay the entire time. Alas, it didn't list any of its locations, but I did learn that there were apparently more producers on this movie than actual crew members, and I can't help but wish one of them produced a better location for the bulk of its action.

See, location is crucial for a slasher of this sort - we need to know how far apart people are, the killer needs room to stalk/chase his victims, etc., but none of that stuff works here because everything seems so cramped. There are no chase scenes at all, really - someone will just enter a room or their car and then the killer pops up and kills them. We never see Mrs. Claus unless she's about four seconds away from offing someone, which further undoes the need for a mask at all - we barely ever get to see it, so they might as well have just taken a cue from the original Friday the 13th and done everything with POV and feet. And without any sense of geography for the "house", there's not a lot of tension the director or editor can manage when someone's in danger: are their friends in the next room, another floor? The way it looks in the movie, it shouldn't even be possible for Mrs. Claus to make her way around without being seen by the other characters.

It doesn't help that everything is a direct lift from To All A Goodnight, right down to the identical setup (a tragic death at the sorority), and motive for the killer. Hell it even cribs the same damn twist (spoiler: they're not acting alone), so it started to rub me the wrong way since To All A Goodnight is a pretty obscure entry in the slasher canon and thus could be stolen from without some folks noticing, unlike Halloween or Friday the 13th where the filmmakers tend to make those films' influence more apparent to avoid any such "ripoff" claims. I'm sure the "sorority house during Christmas break" setting will make more folks think of Black Christmas, a film that this one otherwise shares little in common with, but there aren't enough grains of salt in the world to make me believe that David Hess' film wasn't on the minds of this one's screenwriter.

But again, at least the kills are practical! And plentiful - I was worried they blew their fake blood budget on the first one (the obligatory "tragedy", in which a picked on sorority sister viciously stabs the meanest one before hanging herself) as it was almost unsettlingly bloody, but I don't think they hold back on any death scene - everyone gets stabbed or impaled in some manner or other, with the red stuff pouring/spraying in a manner that suggests they wanted to rub it in to MPAA-mangled predecessors like F13: The New Blood. Occasionally the deaths are Christmas-themed, like a guy who gets a giant decorative candy cane shoved down his throat, and I started to wish they embraced this sort of thing more often to help make up for the movies' lapses. If someone got beheaded by a giant nutcracker or run over by a reindeer, I would have forgiven all that other stuff.

Oh well. Even though I wasn't expecting a classic, it didn't quite do it for me even when I factor in its low budget hurdles. The bad acting and non-existent production value I can look past, but when they're swiping so heavily from another film that had its own issues (and wasn't exactly a big budget affair itself) it's hard to really get excited about it. There's zero excitement or engaging material to be found unless someone is being killed, and with no buildup to these moments, you'll find yourself just waiting for the next one. Luckily they're never too far apart (possibly the one thing it has over To All A Goodnight), but still - keep your phone or a magazine handy, as there's little reason to bother with anything in between. Hell they even bungle a defense of Christmas Vacation over other holiday staples by leaving it to the film's resident douchey asshole guy to say it! I find that offensive! Let the male hero be the one to rightfully acknowledge its merit!

What say you?


Overlord (2018)

NOVEMBER 8, 2018


In a bit of irony, Paramount has played up Overlord's horror aspects in its marketing, despite the fact that it actually spends more time on its war plot than anything that'd feature in Fangoria, offering a rare case of the money people saying "It IS a horror movie!" Not that it's NOT horror at all - it's just that those elements are not featured as heavily as one might expect from the trailers, which showcases all of them and sets them to ACDC's "Hell's Bells" to give the impression that this is some balls out crazy action/horror blend in the vein of the Resident Evil films (or, to stick with AC/DC, Maximum Overdrive!). In reality, the genre elements are barely even hinted at for the first half of the film, and even once they are the war plot is still very much the focus - the Nazi zombie monsters are just another thing they have to deal with as they attempt to complete their mission.

The mission is basically straight out of a Call of Duty game level - after their plane is partially blown up in flight, the four survivors of a WWII squad are hellbent on completing their objective: destroying a signal-blocking tower that will prevent US naval ships from communicating as they head toward the beaches on D-Day. As with the COD games (at least the ones I've played), there's no ridiculous "go kill Hitler" kind of narrative - their mission is part of a bigger whole, and if this is somehow your first World War II movie you won't get a hell of a lot of background info on what's going (even D-Day is presented as something they figure you already know, and, not for nothing, but you should). There are some skirmishes with Nazi soldiers along the way and when they get closer to town they meet Chloe, a French woman who lost her parents and is trying to protect her little brother from the ongoing war atrocities. Not everyone makes it out, our protagonist Boyce butts head with his superior Ford re: saving lives or finishing the mission, Nazis do slimy things to innocent people... it's very much a war movie, albeit one with a smaller scope than the likes of Saving Private Ryan or Inglourious Basterds.

The horror stuff comes in later, when they get closer to the tower that they need to take out, which is perched on top of a church. Inside that church's basement is your standard evil Nazi doctor with brightly colored syringes and scary-looking operating tables, and he is working on perfecting soldiers that can last for a thousand years. Naturally, the imperfect formula means his test subjects turn into nearly invincible mutants, and a few of them cause more headaches for our group of guys. Honestly, there are no surprises left for this portion of the plot if you've seen the trailer - you'd know the formula gets used on one of our heroes, that one of them chases Chloe around, etc. There are a few one-off visuals of other experiments, like a disembodied head that can still speak (yes, there's a very good chance someone involved has seen Re-Animator), but for the most part the zombies might as well be standard Nazis on steroids for all it matters to the plot. I almost got the impression that the pitch was something akin to From Dusk Till Dawn, where there would be zero indication that this was a horror movie until it turned into one, full-stop, only for that approach to get tweaked with through development until it was a little less crazy.

I know that all sounds like I was disappointed with the film, but I wasn't - I actually had a lot of fun with it; if anything I'm more disappointed with the marketing team for spoiling so many of its surprises instead of focusing on the war plot that the movie was actually about (I suspect a low Cinemascore will be forthcoming). All of the characters were quite likable and played well by actors mostly known from television, with the exception of Wyatt Russell as Ford, who once again proves he inherited a sizable amount of his father's considerable charisma. He plays the hardass "we have to get the job done, to hell with collateral damage" type of soldier who softens a bit over the course of the movie (they're all kind of cliches, but it's a war movie, so that's to be expected), but it's impossible to ever dislike the guy, and he gets to kill most of the Nazis which makes it easy to admire him. And near the end of the film, when he's a bit banged up from the events of the movie and grunting more, he starts to look and sound like RJ MacReady a bit, so that was kind of fun.

Also I kind of liked that the horror element remained a B-story and that the A-plot was always in focus. There are a lot of horror movies set during World War II, and I noticed that unless it was a "we got a distress call from this bunker and have to check it out" story I tend to forget what exactly our heroes were there to do in the first place, as they usually have to devote all their attention to whatever supernatural threat has sprung up along the way. Given Normandy's massive importance to our eventual victory in the war, it's a good call that the Nazi monster/zombie things never overshadow their objective, or even feel like a more weighted threat. It's just part of the escalation of things that try to prevent them from taking out that tower - from crashing the plane to Nazi patrol squads to bloodthirsty creatures, nothing will stop Kurt Jr and his pals from getting the job done!

I do wish the mad science plot was slightly more inventive, however. When I realized it was just another botched super-soldier serum thing I kind of rolled my eyes a bit; granted, these kind of movies rarely see theatrical releases (in IMAX no less) so the mainstream audiences have probably not seen too many, if any at all, but I expected producer JJ Abrams to bring something a little more peculiar to the table. There's a brief scene where Royce is chased by a dog that seems a bit demonic - perhaps more of that sort of thing would have elevated this into more of a must-see. Also, early on one of our guys steps on a landmine and is presumably killed, only to be found later hooked up to one of the scientist's operating table/machine hybrids. He is freed, and you wait the whole movie for this to have a payoff, and... it doesn't. The Nazis apparently just cured him with no drawbacks? It's very odd, and adds to the feeling that someone just threw in some horror stuff at the 11th hour (or, if you want to go with conspiracy theories, had to remove Cloverfield-y plot points) instead of really fleshing it out.

But it's a good time all the same, which is all that really matters. If you're gonna sit there with a list of quotas ("I demand 10 Nazi zombies, five zombie dogs...") instead of just engaging with the movie then you're probably going to walk away disappointed. If you haven't seen the trailer at all (or somehow just saw the part that focused on the war element) you're likely to enjoy it more than those expecting a carnage-fest. It's got some terrific action beats (Royce's forced parachute deployment is astonishing) and a small but memorable group of actors who bounce well off one another (even the kid is charming instead of annoying), serving a plot that's refreshingly straightforward without being disposable. And (unfortunately) proof once again that marketing teams can fuck over their own movies by focusing on the wrong things and prepping audiences to expect a different kind of experience.

What say you?


Buy Me A "Coffee"?

Hey all, here to share a bit of some sad news: my beloved cat Butters had to be put down last week. We noticed he was eating less and not as active (even by cat standards) last Monday, but he otherwise seemed to be normal - helping his brother with his bath (and then swatting him away when he got tired of it), making his way upstairs to use the litter box, etc. So we didn't think much of it, but then on Tuesday when he again didn't come right away for food, I picked him up and brought him to the dish - where he promptly flopped over as if he didn't have the energy to stand. I took him to the vet right away, and then they instructed me to take him to the emergency hospital where they quickly determined he needed a blood transfusion right away or he'd go into cardiac arrest, as he basically didn't have any blood count. So they did that, and ran tests, and were even able to get him kinda back to normal for a little bit, but then he declined again. The tests showed he had problems with his bone marrow and his heart in addition to the unexplained blood loss, plus he wasn't eating. Every option - which even the doctors seemed to practically be talking me out of - involved heavy and risky surgery (as trying to help one thing could race up problems with the other), so on Halloween night I had to say goodbye and let him go painlessly.

Of course any pet loss is difficult, especially with a 4 year old kid who doesn't quite understand the concept of death, but this one stings even more as he was originally my father's cat, who we inherited when Dad had to move away from MA to FL and couldn't take him with him. We never saw Dad again as he passed away down there a few months later, so having Butters around was a comforting reminder of my old man, and now I don't have that either. Long story short, I'm pretty sad - and about to get worse. See, animal hospitals don't provide refunds when they can't actually save your furry pal's life, and in a couple weeks I'm going to get a very, VERY big bill for all the procedures and intensive care they provided trying to save him, which would have been tough to manage even if I had the comfort of thinking "At least it was worth it". I didn't want to set up a GoFundMe or whatever, and I truly hate to ask, but if anyone would like to offer a bit of relief via Ko-Fi, it would be greatly appreciated. I've (hopefully!) been entertaining you guys for these past 11 years on my own dime, with no paywall or obtrusive ads, and I'd like to keep doing that, but alas if these bills prove to be insurmountable I'll need to focus my time on paid endeavors, which means HMAD would likely be abandoned, and I'd hate to do that. So if you can spare a few bucks to keep that from happening, consider it an investment!


Thank you in advance, and hug your furry ones for me. And please, never ever assume that you'll have more time with them, because the last thing I thought when I brought him to the vet would be that he would never be coming home. They're tiny and they can't talk - the doctors can only do so much when they don't know where to start, and illnesses don't take as long to ravage them as they do for us. Take nothing for granted, especially your time with them.


Suspiria (2018)

NOVEMBER 4, 2018


If you go back through my tweets about the idea of remaking Suspiria, you'd see that I did a 180 on the idea. At first, like many, I was aghast at the idea of remaking this particular title - it was just such a singularly odd film and so deeply entrenched in Dario Argento's sensibilities that I felt trying to mimic it in any way would just come off as phony at best. It didn't help that the filmmaker attached was David Gordon Green, whose comedies (at least, the ones I had seen) didn't leave me with much confidence that he'd be the guy to do this. But after the trailer I came around a bit, as it certainly didn't look like a carbon copy, and after the first volley of reviews I completed my transition: I was legit excited to see what new director Luca Guadagnino was doing with the material.

However, in an ironic twist no one could have seen coming, I walked out almost wishing David Gordon Green had directed it instead, because he proved to be such a good fit for Halloween and perhaps could have made something more in line with my own (admittedly kooky) tastes. I didn't dislike this new Suspiria, but I had trouble connecting to it more often than not, and felt a few of Guadagnino's choices kept me at bay when it wasn't particularly necessary. I suspect it's the sort of film I'll like more on a second viewing, but as it runs two and a half hours I'm not entirely sure when or even if I'd ever be willing to give it that much of my time again. I could watch the original again (which required no "warming up") and still have time for half of another film I perhaps haven't seen at all. Or I could go for a taco.

Before I get into my issues with it I'll say this much: this is definitely NOT a soulless, "let's cash in on the name" kind of remake that largely gives the "sub-genre" such a bad name. Guadagnino and screenwriter David Kajganich kept the basic concept of Argento's original - a girl named Suzy Bannion enters a European dance studio that turns out to be run by witches - but precious little else, making it very much its own thing and keeping cutesy nods to the barest of minimums. The closest it gets to winking at the audience is casting Jessica Harper (the original Suzy) in a bit role, but even that feels more like a genuine creative choice (given the part she plays and its use in the overall story) than a producer's idea of giving the fans something to cheer for. I went long stretches without even thinking about the original - basically every time someone was in danger I wondered if they'd walk into a barbed wire pit, that's about it.

And for whatever problems I may have had with it, I was never thinking "this sucks" - if anything I was trying my hardest to engage and walk away the fan of it I hoped I would be, rather than checking out as I normally would for a film that was seemingly on a different wavelength than I am. The actors were terrific across the board, for one thing - Dakota Johnson as Susie (they changed the spelling, yes) is wonderful and continues to prove that she's a million times better than the 50 Shades material she's sadly still best known for. She's got a tough role; she's a bit naive at first, almost ditzy, so we can see how transfixed she is by the school and Madame Blanc, played by Tilda Swinton, but she pulls it off deftly. She also has to dance - a LOT, as this film actually has some concern about the dancing that they're ostensibly there to learn. Johnson apparently trained for over a year to get the dancing down, and Guadagnino cast mostly actual dancers to play her fellow students as opposed to actresses. It'd make a good companion piece with Climax, now that I think about it.

As for Swinton, well, she can't look out a window or take a sip of water without finding a way to make it fascinating, so it should be no surprise that she's great, but what IS surprising is that her character is kind of the most normal person in the movie. Unlike the more sinister original incarnation of the character, Blanc here is torn between wanting to stand by her coven (despite wanting to take control of it due to a lack of faith in its current leader, Markos) and wanting to protect Susie, whose dancing prowess and innocence have Blanc having understandable misgivings about sacrificing her. Unfortunately (widely publicized spoiler of sorts incoming) she also plays the role of Josef Klemperer, the film's only male character of note, and it's a distracting choice that did the movie a disservice in my opinion. Someone made a good point, that it smartly tied into the film's feminist approach (that a woman had to act like a man to make her voice heard), but I dunno, it just felt like a great actor trying an experiment that rendered a hefty chunk of the movie feeling phony and almost goofy.

See, Klemperer is a psychiatrist who didn't believe his patient (Chloe Moretz) when she said that the school was run by witches, and now that she's disappeared he feels guilty and responsible - and he's also carrying a lot of baggage from losing track of his wife during the Holocaust, still holding out hope that she is alive and living somewhere under an assumed identity. It's a tragic, meaty character... but the entire time I was just distracted by the (very obvious) fact that it was just Swinton in old man makeup. I kept hoping it'd have some in-film point to it, but it doesn't; it serves only to add more "food for thought" in a movie that's already overstuffed with it, and as a result the character never truly came alive to me, which hurt because Klemperer is kind of our detective here, since Susie is less curious than the original incarnation, giving us less of an "in" to the proceedings. We're also continually updated on the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181, though as my knowledge of that even is limited, I couldn't begin to tell you what connection it had to the story of a witch monster running a dance studio. There's a strong (and timely) message of what women can do when they work together (hammered home when we learn the true fate of Klemperer's wife), but it gets muddled with all this other stuff that I'm apparently too dim to connect to the rest of it. As for the traditional horror elements, they're often jaw-dropping, particularly an early sequence where Susie inadvertently acts as a human voodoo doll for another dancer, who - if I'm following it right - is mimicking Susie's movements with her arms and legs, but with her torso not being controlled the same way, resulting in some human pretzel visuals that are as horrifying as they are impressive. The replacement for the barbed wire is suitably ghastly, and - well, I don't want to spoil anything, but if you ever thought the original ended rather abruptly, you'll be happy to know you get a long and detailed look at the final coven sequence, which ends... messily. Guadagnino also likes to make quick edits during a simple motion (someone turning in their chair, or opening a door), which can make the less "horror" scenes still feel uneasy, and he also throws in the occasional very fucked up dream sequence for good measure.

In fact, for better or worse it often reminded me of David Lynch's work, especially the most recent (and best) season of Twin Peaks. It's a little messy, and there are tonal shifts and weird choices, but it's kind of fascinating in its own way, and demands you give it your full attention to let it work its magic over you even if you're not always sure what was happening. But that was a TV show, so when there was an episode that didn't work as well, he'd usually get me back with the next one - a movie is a different experience. I truly wish I could say I flat out loved it instead of being mixed, especially when so many of its cast and crew brought their A-game (even Thom Yorke's score is quite good, and I haven't exactly been a fan of what he's been doing since OK Computer), but it's certainly a memorable and distinct piece of art. Since that's a critique some have made about the original, in that respect it's one of the most successful remakes ever. I walked out of the theater kind of bewildered, but after a couple days found myself closer to "I liked it" than "I didn't" (which, again, suggests I'd enjoy it more a second time around), so if nothing else you know it's not a disposable cash-in. Long story short: it's worth watching, despite itself, and proves once again that horror remakes can be valid if their creative teams are gung-ho about making them and not just taking a job from a studio hoping to make easy money on a dormant IP.

What say you?


President Evil (2018)

OCTOBER 30, 2018


I'm not sure how often I've mentioned Trump here, but just to make sure we're all on the same page: I hate the guy. I barely tolerated him when he was a cartoon reality host, so the fact that he's in charge of the country (and left totally unchecked by the people around him) it's downright terrifying - and I'm a white American male! I can't imagine the horrors faced every day by... well, pretty much everyone that ISN'T a white American (or Russian) male, as they all seem to be on his enemy list. However, I know for a fact that I've mentioned quite a few times here how much I love Halloween, so it's no surprise that President Evil caught my eye, as it's a Halloween parody with a guy in a Trump mask in the place of Michael Myers, stalking minority women (a Muslim, a Mexican, and a Haitian) on the eve of the mid-term elections. The trailer hit a few weeks ago and I assumed it was a gag, but no - it's a legit feature film, running 81 minutes.

Even more surprising, it's not played for laughs as often as you might think from the concept of a slasher starring Trump. Given the serious threat he poses to minorities, it makes sense that the filmmakers don't play their deaths for laughs, so this is not a Scary Movie kind of spoof - it's often played so straight that it might be more fitting to label it a ripoff like Offerings or whatever, but of course it's hard to ever take the killer seriously when he's wearing a deformed mask of our even uglier Commander in Chief. There are some gags at his expense, sometimes even in the "scary" scenes (I particularly liked when he tried to do the classic "sit back up" move from Halloween but struggled, rolling on his sides and making several attempts before finally rising), but for the most part, the jokes are confined to the early scenes. When people start actually dying, the filmmakers seem to be of the opinion that we're not quite ready to laugh at this asshole again.

As for those early gags, they're hit or miss. For every funny bit, like the graveyard keeper rattling off the names on the tombstones as he tries to find "Stormy's" (the stand-in for Judith) grave, all of which are the names of people who have been fired or have quit his administration, there's a pretty dumb one, like a creeper priest named Rudy (as in Giuliani). A good rule of thumb: if they're cribbing from something in Halloween, it tends to be pretty funny - it's when they go off Carpenter's track that your eyes will probably roll. That said, there are occasional tips of the hat to other movies; one character dies like Marty Balsam in Psycho, and there's an out of nowhere nod to Cuckoo's Nest that killed me because it was so random. But again, this sort of stuff is fairly front-loaded, and the film's final lines makes their intentions perfectly clear: it's OK to have a few laughs at the absurd premise, but ultimately, we need to fight back.

If you choose to ignore the political messaging and just enjoy a Halloween parody, I trust you'll be as impressed as I was at how much they clearly studied Carpenter's film. In addition to nabbing a number of the same shooting locations (including the Myers house, albeit in a different context that's befitting of its current state), director Richard Lowry (who acted as his own DP) even nailed the shots and timing of several key sequences - I half expected him to go all out and blow some smoke into the shot when they do the "behind the bushes" scene, since it's otherwise an exact match (and again, shot in the same spot). He even occasionally uses this familiarity to pull a surprise on the audience; every now and then there will be a scene playing out as you know it, and then something different will happen, or he'll do things in a different order, which keeps it more engaging than it otherwise would have been. The music is also close enough to be worthy of potential legal action, though given Carpenter's dislike of the guy I'm sure he'll give it a pass (they also "homage" the Suspiria music at one point, which is another "Oh these guys have done their homework" kind of moment that I assume JC would appreciate).

Less successful is the Russian subplot. Pretty much all of Trump's famous scandals are accounted for, so obviously there would be something about the fact that the killer (named David) is a Russian puppet, but the way they go about it is just plain dumb. Our Loomis counterpart is actually another bad guy, a Russian named "Lutin" who dabbles in black magic as well, allowing the film some brief, unnecessary nods to The Omen on top of everything else. It would have been funnier - and more in the spirit of Halloween - to have Loomis be a Michael Cohen stand-in, someone who was once on his side and now sees him for what he really is, but they go with this nonsense instead and it never really clicks. Worse, they even dip their toes into the "Trump and Putin are lovers" stuff, a joke that has been rightfully decried as homophobic. It's a weird movie to judge on this or that element, but when so much of it was more entertaining than I had any reason to expect, it was a shame on those occasions where it turned into the sub-Friedberg and Seltzer kind of movie I assumed it'd be in the first place.

Otherwise, it's entertaining enough to warrant a look as long as you fall into that same category as me (someone who loves Halloween/hates Trump), and if you're an Amazon Prime member you can watch it for free so there's no risk there. Die-hard Halloween fans - especially those who don't live around Los Angeles - will probably find some amusement regardless of their political leanings just because they stick so close to that film's structure, and you get to see what a lot of the shooting locations look like now, but I assume they will be fast forwarding over anything that's of Lowry's own design, and I can't even say I'd blame them for the most part. But the commitment to a very niche gag kind of won me over, and gave me a few laughs on what's been a very trying day*, so I give it my endorsement, albeit with caveats. Hopefully, the real evil will be gone soon (2020 at the very latest) and the movie can serve as a unique footnote about a very dark time in our history, one we watch with a sense of relief that America was able to survive him after all.

What say you?

*For those who don't follow me on Twitter where I've been posting updates: my cat had to be rushed into the emergency animal hospital this morning after he became so weak that he couldn't even stand up. Turns out his blood count was so low that they had to give him a transfusion right away before he went into cardiac arrest, and they still do not know what is wrong with him. He's still there while they monitor and run more tests (and possibly give another transfusion), and since he's getting a bit old - crazily, I've had him for 15 years *today* - I'm not sure if any treatment they can give is something that will be worth doing. Needless to say, it's very upsetting, and very expensive (feel free to "buy me a coffee" here if you wish to help offset a bill that will likely amount to a month's pay even if they decide there's nothing they can do for him), so I'm stressed and sad and trying to figure out how to possibly tell my four year old that his occasional bed-mate isn't coming back (and not ruin his Halloween since he's been asking how many days until he could go trick r treating since early September). So, thanks, you weird little movie, for keeping my mind off all of that for 80 minutes.


Blood Fest (2018)

OCTOBER 12, 2018


I recently bemoaned the less than record-breaking box office of Hell Fest on Twitter, and someone replied that Blood Fest coming out at the same time didn't do it any favors. To be fair, he had a point - both films are about some kids who find themselves being killed for real in a Halloween haunted park attraction - but they are very different in both plot and tone. Ultimately it'd be like suggesting that Incredibles 2 should have tanked because Avengers Infinity War also came out so people didn't have any more interest in superhero ensembles (and, nothing against Blood Fest, but it wasn't a wide release and the Blu-ray was released after Hell Fest's debut, so it's not like there was much of an audience that theoretically had its fill). So if you avoided Hell Fest because you saw this already, boo on you! BUT - if you DID see Hell Fest and were considering skipping this, I think it's worth a look.

The biggest difference, of course, is that the kids are aware of the danger they're in right away in Blood Fest, as the host of the park (writer/director Owen Egerton) tells them as much during the opening ceremonies (one of the film's "grain of salt" necessities is that this particular park requires everyone to arrive by a certain time and also pay attention to a guy on a stage instead of going off and doing whatever). In Hell Fest, the characters are stalked by one silent killer who is able to do his thing without drawing attention to himself, but here they lock the doors and try to kill every single person inside (Egerton has hired killer clowns, chainsaw murderers, etc. for the occasion). So it's more survival horror than traditional slasher, even before some dimly explained supernatural elements (zombies, vampires) are added to the mix.

The other key "they're not really alike" element is that this one is kind of played for laughs, though it's not a spoof or anything like that. Scream would be a reasonable point of reference for the tone; the stakes are very real, but the script finds humor throughout thanks to the characters and, yes, many references to horror classics. But they're not above making up movies, either; in order to get around what would be astronomical licensing fees, the characters talk about Halloween and Friday the 13th and what not, but none of the movie posters or attractions (based on movies, I believe?) are drawn from anything you or I have seen. The main one we see is a series called Arbor Day, which has a Jason-like killer and a complicated backstory that directly mocks Halloween's (we're told parts 5 and 6 had some hooey about an alien mark, a clear swipe at "Thorn"), and the film's Robert Englund-esque thespian collecting paychecks to play the killer is one of the people trapped inside with our heroes, which allows for a few more gags but also a minor "Don't meet your heroes" subplot as the guy turns out to be a dick (and of course, warms up to them throughout his time in the film).

One thing it DOES have in common with the other film is how good it looks for what couldn't have been a lot of money (in fact, a lot less than Hell Fest, from what I understand). The kids spend a lot of time in rather anonymous hallways and such as opposed to the haunts, but there is still an impressive sense of scale to what we see, with untold numbers of extras and a gigantic body count. There's enough practical blood to forgive the digital spray, and on that note they actually use CGI correctly for the most part - sizing things up, recoloring shots, etc. There's a bonus feature that shows the before and after shots for many of the film's digital tricks, and I was legit surprised to see how much it was used invisibly, as opposed to "let's make a CGI monster go after them" or whatever. It occasionally looks fake, sure, but the intent is spot on which makes it easier to forgive.

I was also impressed that Egerton wasn't afraid to kill off his characters (so it actually tops Scream in that regard). Since there was a breezy charm to the proceedings I assumed most of our named characters would get out alive, but no - the body count is sufficient and I was often surprised to see someone die when they did. The backstory and "surprise" villain (working with Egerton's character) was a bit dumb, i.e. the kind of thing you'd expect in a movie with no body count whatsoever aimed at younger people (think the live action Scooby Doo films), but they committed to delivering real stakes as if this was a deadly serious film as a whole. So there is some occasional tonal whiplash, and I doubt anyone would ever find it scary or even particularly suspenseful as a result, but it's never a crippling thing - it's just kind of slight as a whole, like a movie you want to casually hang out with as opposed to really invest yourself into.

Along with the aforementioned VFX showcase, the disc comes with a pretty fun commentary by Egerton and some of the actors, where they discuss the usual stuff along with some irreverence and trivia (apparently the Halloween 6 gags were supposed to be more plentiful!) - if you liked the movie's brand of humor, you will like the track. There's also a deleted subplot that I think is supposed to be an in-joke for fans of Rooster Teeth (their online comedy outfit, of which I have next to zero experience with) and some other deleted scenes that unfortunately don't have a "Play All" function nor do they include any explanation for their removal, which always bugs me. On that note, the disc also has like six trailers that you have to manually skip one by one, without access to the menu - another strike against the disc! Why do companies do this? Trailers are advertisements, and the only time we should be forced into watching them is if we are watching the product for free and they need to find another way to get their investment back. If I bought the disc, I shouldn't be subjected to such things, especially not over and over again. If we care about their other movies, we can choose to watch the spots - don't make us kill our remote batteries that much faster by not letting us bypass the lot of them by pressing "menu". Back to the deleted scenes, it includes what would have been the second funniest line in the movie, so give the video store one a look if nothing else. There's also a look at the design of the film, but it's also sans any kind of insight from the filmmakers so it's not particularly useful beyond reasserting that they worked hard on the film.

A sequel is more or less set up at the end, and I'd be fine with spending another 90 minutes with the people who survived. Not all of the humor was my cup of tea (the trailer gave away the one line that really had me burst out laughing), but I was endeared both by the content and the ambition, and I am familiar enough with Egerton (via Twitter and the like) to know he's a real fan of this stuff and not just using it as the butt of his jokes. It's a fine choice for the current season, and the disc has enough bonus content to justify the purchase cost should you choose to go that route. Good work, folks.

What say you?


Halloween (2018)

OCTOBER 17, 2018


For a while there, it looked like I may never get to use my "Halloween Series" tag on this site again unless it was for yet another re-release of one of the films on Blu-ray that inspired me to write something. Multiple incarnations of a new entry in the series fell apart (one just a few weeks before shooting), Dimension seemed to be having problems getting ANYTHING done, and the other "old guard" franchises like Freddy and Leatherface were either on ice or barely getting released, so it just seemed like no one would want to bother. But through some combination of miracles and presumably a healthy number of zeroes on a paycheck, the series was revived by Blumhouse, and they even managed to get Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter on board. Two years and change after it was announced, Halloween (hereafter "H40" so as not to confuse with the same-named original) is now here, and thanks to a few festival and test screenings a lot of info and spoilers are out there, leaving only one question: Was BC, bastion of Halloween continuity and nitpickiest asshole on the planet, satisfied?

As a matter of fact, I was.

This will be a long review, as per tradition, so I just wanted to get that out of the way so you could move on, especially if you've managed to avoid any major spoilers or plot information. I won't get into specifics, but I will be talking about spoiler-y things in general later, so maybe wait to read the rest now that you know it's passed my smell test. It's not a perfect film - there are two blunders at a crucial time in the narrative, and it seems some character beats got left on the cutting room floor (at 105 minutes, I can't exactly blame them for trying to trim wherever they could), but it gets all the important things right: Jamie is at the top of her game (far better than she was in H20), it has a terrific, crowd-pleasing finale, and (most importantly?) the Carpenter score is PERFECT. Yes, some hardcore fans may bristle at the "none of the sequels happened" slate-wiping approach, but if you'd rather make John Carpenter sit down to write music for a scene where a Druid cult talks to Busta Rhymes just to ensure every previous movie got its due, I'm not sure anything can ever make you happy in life.

Might as well start with that approach. The biggest hurdle this movie has to overcome is getting the fans to forget everything else that's happened, including/especially the whole "Michael is Laurie's sister" thing. For many fans (including this one), this has always been the case, either from seeing a sequel first or just hearing about it - it's horror's version of "Darth Vader is Luke's father", i.e. common knowledge to people who haven't even seen the films. And the film does a pretty good job of establishing the non-existence of those other films (better than H20 did, for sure - fans have made attempts to explain how 4-6 could have still happened in H20's timeline, and even though they're wrong, it's at least somewhat possible. This time? Not a chance in hell), as well as waving away the sibling idea through dialogue ("Just something people made up") - but then engineers a plot that sends Michael to Laurie's front door.

So it's kind of a "having cake and eating it too" thing; they want to restore Myers to the "boogeyman" who kills at random, but they also want to give people a showdown between him and his most famous target. To be fair, he does seem fairly content wandering around Haddonfield and murdering folks and only crosses paths with Laurie because she's obsessed and hunting him down... for the first 75 minutes or so. But then there's a plot twist (which I'll get into later) and it's hard to forget he's back to being a random murderer, as he ends up at Laurie's house when he seemingly could have just returned to town and found more people to kill there (Laurie, understandably, lives in isolation outside of town). They're not related anymore, and he sure as hell doesn't work for a Druid cult, but the third act is reverse engineered to bring him to her front door anyway.

Speaking of Laurie, the other thing we have to just kind of shrug off is... you know, H20. I don't love that film, but despite the fact that this film is superior in every way, the "I've waited forty years..." stuff never quite lands with the impact it should, because we know it's only been 16 years (since Resurrection), and we've already seen a damaged Laurie have her reunion with the guy in the white mask, which steals a lot of H40's thunder. If you are indeed the ideal audience member for this movie, i.e. one who saw the original and none of the other sequels (and stayed oblivious to the sibling twist), I am eternally jealous of you, because I never managed to fully shake/ignore my memories of those films*, even though many of them were inferior. When Jamie first sees Michael again in this film, as he's being transferred (as always, they transfer this guy on literally the worst night of the year to do so, Halloween Eve), she breaks down and cries, and you want to feel that forty years of buildup that Laurie is feeling - but I'm just like "Well at least she knows it's not a paramedic wearing his mask this time."

But like I said, this approach is preferable to the alternative of saying those movies DID exist, and trying to find a way to explain how it can all work is best left to fans with nothing better to do. For whatever split personality vibes you might get from it, the simplicity of the film is what makes it work as well as it does, and we get to spend more time with Laurie as a human being than as the guide through forty years of conflicting sequels. And it helps demystify Michael, helping us think of him as an everyday real world killer as opposed to a supernatural maniac like Jason or Freddy. Our entry point to the story are the two people behind a true crime podcast, and one of them makes a plea to Laurie for her to go to Smith's Grove (we are led to believe she never has done this) and confront Michael, and say the things that she's been bottling up for the past four decades. She doesn't get to do that, but it got me thinking of how in a normal world, if someone were to survive an attack, they'd likely have to sit in a courtroom with that person and perhaps get some things off their chest there. By removing all the Druid silliness, it's possible to think about that happening, and it becomes a really effective moment. We all laughed in Halloween 5 when they put Myers (with his mask!) in a jail cell, but this version, who has only killed five people and survived a few gunshots (and a needle stabbing - I love that the mask has the hole in it), it doesn't seem strange at all - a character even points out that there are plenty of worse people out there in the here and now (any shooting spree perp you remember killed far more people, for example). It's hard to put aside Laurie's history as we've seen it over the years, but for whatever reason I quickly bought into the idea that this Myers is just another guy who went on one (1) killing spree and got locked up after.

And on that note, one of the things the movie never quite cracks is explaining how Myers got captured in 1978. Originally there was a plan to open the film then and show it (with some minor retconning of the original ending), but it was scrapped at some point, leaving only vague lines of dialogue here and there to sell the idea. Again, Halloween II didn't happen either, so there was no explosion - he was just GONE at the end of the original, and presumably didn't walk back into Smith's Grove himself. But through scattered lines of dialogue it seems he was apprehended shortly after going out the window, with one of the arresting officers being Hawkins, who is played by Will Patton in the film. He's a new character that's kind of treated as a fan favorite coming back to the fold (hell, he even gets a better introduction than Laurie), and even when the film is closer to the end than the beginning they feel the need to remind us that Hawkins was there that night. You gotta love a movie that not only tells us that six other films never happened, but seemingly made one up in between. Not that I want them to change the original's ending, but I wish they did have that flashback or something to not only reinforce the fact that Halloween II's events never happened (explosion aside, it's an easier launching off point since he was at least down for the count, not MIA) but to spare us the awkward dialogue later.

That said, Hawkins is a terrific new character; he's not a sheriff but he fills the Brackett/Meeker role admirably, without coming off as a pale retread of either. He's introduced playing a pinball game, clearly establishing the small-town boredom a veteran cop in that situation must be feeling, but he also knows not to dismiss the idea of Michael Myers running loose in the city. These films have never really found a way to make up for Dr. Loomis' absence in the wake of Donald Pleasence's death, but having a quirky character actor like Patton (who I've loved for over 20 years and was ecstatic to hear that he was cast in a Halloween film) chasing Myers through the town, sometimes alongside a crazed Laurie Strode, is about the best consolation option I can imagine. The "new Loomis", per Laurie, is Dr. Sartain, who we're told was a student of Loomis' (who has now just passed away, presumably of old age) and picked up where he left off in trying to reach Michael. Due to an injury he suffers during Michael's inevitable escape he is sidelined for a good chunk of the narrative, which is for the best since once he wakes up and joins the hunt it's hard not to think about the real Loomis.

OK here's the somewhat spoiler-y paragraph, so skip this one for sure if you want to be unsullied! Sartain is also involved in one of those aforementioned blunders; I'll refrain from getting into it but you'll know exactly what I'm talking about when it happens. In addition to being wholly unnecessary, it will also likely remind you of a bad call in one of the other sequels, which baffled me to no end - they were trying so hard and mostly succeeding in getting us to forget about those, why risk giving us the unpleasant flashback? Especially at the point it occurs in the film, which is roughly the end of act two. Some breathless editing aside, the film is working like gangbusters until then, and while this minor subplot is thankfully done and over with about ten minutes later (and, while not spelled out, we can assume explains something a little hokey in the film's setup), it's a shame that they have to kind of work to get us back on board when they were so close to finishing up with a home run. If the movie's a hit (and tracking suggests it very much will be), I hope they just agree once and for all that there's only one Loomis and we don't need any attempt at a substitute.

The other adults are Judy Greer and Toby Huss as Laurie's daughter and son-in-law, and to no one's surprise they are kind of sidelined. We're told that Karen (Greer) was taken away from Laurie when she was only 12 because the social service folks didn't care too much for how she was being raised (more or less the same way Sarah Connor raised John), so they're not on the best of terms as Karen thinks she's just wacko and of course will realize in the end that Laurie was right. But they don't do much beyond roll their eyes at Laurie and fret about their daughter Allyson, giving Greer yet another opportunity to make the most out of a role that, until the third act, may as well have been filled by Central Casting (see also: Jurassic World, Ant-Man, the new Apes films...). She gets one of the most crowd-pleasing moments in the franchise near the end, and Greer is one of those actresses who will always add a little flavor to her screentime (keep an eye on her at the dinner scene in particular; the focus is on Laurie but she's engaged), but I was hoping she'd get to do more throughout. The movie really could have used a one on one scene between the two women (perhaps there was one; when Karen says that Laurie came to see her earlier that day, it's unclear if she's lying), as we never quite get a glimpse of what their relationship was really like.

Luckily, we do get a bit of how Laurie is with her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), as she takes the money she got from the podcast and gives it to the girl in secret. We get the idea that these two hang out more often than Karen knows, which is lovely and sweet (likewise, later on when Laurie has a bit of a breakdown she cries on the girl's shoulder, a reversal of what you'd expect from a granddaughter/grandmother relationship). Allyson and her friends are less prominent than you'd probably expect from a slasher movie, and in fact the other blunder I mentioned (vaguely spoilerish?) is that her boyfriend kind of disappears from the story after pissing her off, without a comeuppance and/or a Brady-style redemption moment. I know it's weird to be like "We need more time with the asshole boyfriend!" (in one of the Easter Egg moments, we are told his father is Lonnie Elam, of "Get your ass away from there!" fame), but it ties into the overall issue that Allyson kind of gets marginalized for a chunk of the film, even disappearing for a bit entirely and suffering a disconnect from the rest of the proceedings when they do cut back to her, as if to say "Don't worry, she's still out there!" It's fine to see Jamie Lee do her thing, but I almost felt kind of bad for Andi, getting to be cast as "the new Laurie Strode", essentially, and then watching the real one do all that stuff. She's practically never even in direct danger from Michael, when all is said and done - though if you ever yelled at Laurie for something she did in the first movie, the film's closing shot seems to be specifically for you, hinting that she'll get her moment down the road.

I do want to digress just for a moment here while I'm on the subject of Laurie and her relationship with Allyson and Karen - I think it's safe to say Laurie ended up going to that dance with Ben Tramer, and kept the party going in the back of his car later, if you catch my meaning. It's forty years later and Allyson is 17, so the earliest Karen could have gotten pregnant is when she was only 22 herself (factoring in both nine month periods), and even earlier if Laurie didn't go out and celebrate surviving the night by having some unprotected fun. It's one of those things no one was probably really thinking about too hard, but it's kind of amusing how everyone that came up with Laurie having a kid (the others being Jamie Lloyd and John Tate) decided that she would have them during college, if she even went at all. Girl forgets her chemistry book ONCE and it's a downhill slide into blowing off her studies forever...

Well it's been 2,600 words so maybe I should talk about the suspense and kills in this slasher movie. I'll just let you know straight up: there are perhaps a number, perhaps even too many off-screen kills in the film, so if you are the type of slasher fan who judges a film based on its death sequences first and foremost, you're going to go away displeased. Michael racks up a fairly high count (I want to say 16?) but we only actually see about half of them, which is in line with Halloween 4 but in a film that's 20 minutes longer, and without any larger scale "Michael kills x number of people in the ____" aftermath scenes like that one's police station and ambulance. I didn't mind it for the most part, but there's one in particular I feel we are really cheated out of seeing; I can't say WHO, obviously, but the character is being proactive when we last see them, and then later their corpse is found, in an awkward manner to boot, leaving us to wonder how exactly things went down and robbing us of our last moments with one of the film's more endearing characters.

But when we DO see Michael in action, oh man. It's a terrific mix of stalking and brutal violence; he gets his Dick Warlock on around the film's halfway point, making his way through a crowded Haddonfield street where residents just assume he's another trick r treater, but takes cues from (don't take the wrong way!) Tyler Mane on occasion as well, ramming heads into walls over and over and stomping on heads (hey, the man's been cooped up for 40 years, so he's got some shit to work out!). I wouldn't have minded a little more playfulness since they were going back to OG Michael (the guy who'd put a sheet on his head and knock plants over to scare people), but he's the scariest he's been since H4, easily. The climax in particular is pitch perfect; it's almost like a home invasion movie with Laurie trying to find Michael in the house, knowing he's hiding in one of her many closets - it's the first time I as an adult have been able to get tensed up watching one of these movies, and it felt GOOD. I also liked how quick and simple the kills were; David Gordon Green and Danny McBride seem to realize that "creative kills" are more of a Jason thing anyway, so his bare hands and kitchen knives serve his purposes 99% of the time, as they should. The mask looks great and new Michael actor James Jude Courtney is a good match for Nick Castle (who also returns for a key moment or two); whatever complaints the fans may have about the continuity and such, there's no way a true fan could dismiss how Michael is depicted this time around.

Speaking of continuity, obviously they had to keep any sort of callbacks to the others to the barest minimum, so there aren't a lot. The most prominent is the Halloween III masks, which are seen in the trailer and messes with nothing since that movie existed in a different universe anyway, but there's a quick nod to Halloween II in the form of one of its briefly seen characters. And it's hard not to think about H20 (or RZ H1) during a gas station bathroom scene, but otherwise they keep their more overt winking confined to the original. I mentioned Lonnie earlier, but there's an even better deep cut for the hardcore; I won't tell you what it is, only to pay attention to radios whenever they're used (also, pay close attention to the set decor in Karen's old bedroom). And near the end, they put a spin on one of the original's iconic moments that had the crowd cheering. Indeed, one thing I noticed about this one compared to others (and other slasher movies in general) is that the crowd-pleasing moments involved the protagonists, not the villain. No one cheers for Michael the way they might for Jason, and I think it's a big part of why the movie works.

In addition to those moments and the expected screams (Green may not be known for horror, but the man can craft a jump scare), the crowd was also laughing a lot, and it was intentional. Perhaps it's not too shocking since the script was co-written by Danny McBride, but there's a lot of genuine humor here, and it's only very rarely ill-placed (a long scene between two cops rambling about Banh Mi sandwiches comes to mind). The two kid characters in particular are hilarious (don't worry, kid haters - they're not in it much; their combined time is probably still less than Lindsey's in the original), and Ray is pretty funny in that hapless dad kind of way (if Breaking Bad never happened you might see Bryan "Malcolm in the Middle" Cranston playing him). Even Laurie gets a couple of chuckles; she's no Keri Tate here, so when she sees a glass of wine she'll happily slurp it down instead of hiding it from her boyfriend. One thing that always bugged me about H20 is that Jamie Lee was basically just playing herself for the most part, but this seems more in line with the Laurie we remember, except now she has a perfectly good reason to be so cautious.

Finally, we come to the music. Oh man. If you've listened to John Carpenter's Lost Themes albums as well as the recent Anthology release (where they redid a bunch of themes, including Halloween's) you'll get a pretty good idea of what it sounds like, and it's just as good as you probably imagine. Occasionally it sounds pretty much identical to the original cues (at least to my ears, which I fully admit are not particularly musically inclined, which is why I rarely discuss music but I figure it's probably sacrilege to not even try for this particular film), but for the most part it sounds familiar enough to recognize the standard themes (though I'm not sure if the slower "Myers House" one ever showed up) but not so much that you'd get the idea Carpenter (along with his usual bandmates, his son Cody and also Daniel Davies) just collected a paycheck. It's gonna get spun a lot by fans of the series and those who just love JC's particular style independent of the films - I wish to hell I had it already so I could have it playing while I wrote this review (I went with Lost Themes for the zillionth time - most of my book was written to that, so it's fitting, heh).

To sum up: it works. No, it's not perfect, but most of what keeps it from that status (besides, you know, the fact that few films ARE) have nothing to do with what the filmmakers did or didn't do - it's just that this material is so well traveled by now, it's just hard to avoid deja vu. But that's the thing about sequels, which gets exponentially harder as the series goes on: you want to give people something new while also retaining the things that make people like it (which will vary - some folks LOVE that Laurie is Michael's sister and are upset that this movie dismisses the idea), and I don't envy anyone who gets hired to find that balance. Everyone here gave it their all, but despite what the script says the movie is still "Halloween 11", ultimately, and can't fully escape the baggage - good or bad - that's on the table with it. But under those circumstances, beyond a few editing choices I fail to see how this could have been any better than it is, and it's pretty damn good. For the first time in the nearly 30 years I've been a fan of this series, I've walked out of a theater happy with the new Halloween film I just saw. Thanks to everyone who finally made that possible.

What say you?

P.S. Someone will ask, so fine, and if there's no space between entries that means it's REALLY close: 1, 4,3, H40,2, 5, RZ H2 (d cut), H20/Curse(either cut), RZ H1,Resurrection.

*After writing this review I watched the movies back to back at the Beyond Fest screening, and it WAS easier to ignore the others without any breaks in between. I recommend a viewing of the original immediately before heading out to the theater!


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