Hey everyone! Just wanted to let you all know that my new book, Collins' Crypt: Remastered is now available HERE at Amazon. As the title suggests, it's a collection of many of my Crypt articles from Birth.Movies.Death (RIP) from over the past decade, but with a few nips and tucks to improve grammar, correct the odd typo, etc, while also adding notes/updates where appropriate. I always tried to make sure my pieces were still of value weeks/months/years later (unlike the casting news stories that make up the majority of movie sites' content), and when going through the pieces and curating which ones to include, I was happy to see that most of them were indeed just as relevant now as they were when they were written.

But the real draw (I hope!) is that the book contains eight brand-new Crypt essays that were written exclusively for this collection. So yes, while the majority of the book is something you can - and may already have - read for free (albeit with ads and broken images), you're getting a decent amount of new material, for around the usual cost of a monthly Patreon subscription. Except you'll only have to "subscribe" once, and you already know you're getting plenty in return! Show of hands: who else has signed up for a friend's Patreon only to see them let it basically lapse while still collecting your monthly fee? It sucks, right? Well, this avoids the potential ripoff you endure out of loyalty! Some of the new pieces include a comparison of the two versions of Exorcist 4, an apology of sorts for being excited for a Wes-free new Scream film, and a celebration of the insanity that is Hausu. Plus: a new installment of the much loved Minute by Minute series - the first one in over eight years!

If you enjoy it, please take a moment to submit a rating and/or review to help get it on more eyeballs. I'd love to do more volumes (a second one is already partially planned out) but only if it sells enough to warrant all the work it takes (not to mention paying an editor and cover artist). And of course, plug on your socials if you feel so inclined; it's just so hard to get something on anyone's radar these days, so every bit helps. Thank you in advance, and Happy Holidays to you all!


Mill Of The Stone Women (1960)

DECEMBER 14, 2021


One fun thing about diving so deep into older films is that I (and I assume most others) can usually tell more or less when a film was made just by looking at the film stock; I can usually get within a five year period after looking at a single shot in motion, regardless of the fashions or the age of any recognizable actors. It was a skill that threw me for a loop when watching Mill of the Stone Women, because for some reason I thought it was from 1972 but could tell just by looking at it that it had to be at least a decade older. And I was right - it was produced in 1960, and is in fact the first Italian horror movie made in color. I love seeing the firsts!

Ironically, if my eyes (and looking at the back of the damn Blu case, which noted the year) hadn't told me otherwise, I'd be convinced the film was a response to not only the Corman/Poe/Price films, but later Hammer Frankenstein entries that made Peter Cushing into more of a villain than the 1958 original. But no, it (obviously) came before those, being produced more or less at the same time as Corman's first Poe film (House of Usher) and having only the first two Hammer Frankensteins to draw from. The real influence (besides the Frankensteins and other Hammer films from the late '50s) were the two wax movies: House of Wax and Mysteries of the Wax Museum, as the titular Mill is actually a museum of sorts where historical women made of "stone" can be gawked at by townsfolk and tourists.

Being that it's a horror movie, there's no real surprise to learn that they're not stone, but the plot is still more interesting than you'd think. Turns out it's kind of a two birds with one stone (heh) kinda deal, as the resident mad scientist is indeed killing women and using them for his attraction, but he's doing it for a noble (to him) reason: his daughter Elfie (Scilla Gabel, an absolute stunner - thank you, remastered Blu-ray) has a rare blood disease that kills her whenever she gets excited or distraught, so he and his assistant find women with the right blood type, drain them out to revive his daughter, and use their corpses to keep his museum going instead of using actual stone or whatever earthly materials. It's a very environmentally friendly horror plot, I must say.

But being that this is a genre film from the olden days (61 years old! They didn't even have feature movies that old when this came out!), it takes a while to get to that stuff. It can be a bit "slow" at times, even when you consider its age, but then again, being that it was their first attempt at something like this (in full lurid color - there's even a brief nipple shot, which kind of stunned me) it shouldn't be a surprise that it wasn't exactly roller-coaster paced. Luckily, the hero, Hans (Pierre Brice) isn't as dull as a lot of the guys in those Corman movies it resembles - in fact, the plot kicks into gear because he cheats on his girlfriend with Elfie on the day he meets her, the dog. And it's his "I shouldn't have done that, sorry" dismissal that leaves her emotional enough to instantly drop dead, so he's feeling justifiably guilty on two levels for the rest of the movie - it's one thing to cheat on your girl, but to basically cause the other woman's death as a result? Damn.

Most of it takes place inside the mill or their homes, but there are a few exteriors that were lensed in gloomy Holland, giving it that proper foggy atmosphere that will make this an easy recommendation for the Halloween season. But even the interiors are quite nice to look at; both DP Pier Ludovico Pavoni and director Giorgio Ferroni have a lot of "sword and sandal" type movies on their resumes and are thus accustomed to having bigger areas to shoot in, but they clearly didn't let themselves be hamstrung by the confines of relatively small sets - the mill in particular is top-notch work, at least inside (the exterior miniature isn't very convincing, alas). The colors are also all vivid and lush; apparently they wanted to assure the money men that color film was worth the extra dough. I can't say the movie wouldn't work in black and white, but when coupled with its occasionally sluggish pace, it'd certainly be less memorable.

Arrow's deluxe set for the film includes a whopping four versions, but alas I did not have time to go through them all. The one to go with is, naturally, the Italian version, as it is the most complete, but it should be noted that the film has an international cast all of whom are speaking their native tongues, so you're still going to encounter some dubbing. You can just go with the English version (the content of the film is the same, I believe?) if reading the subtitles is an issue, but as is often the case the dub track and the subtitle track offer varations on nearly every line, so basically no matter what you're dealing with compromise. On the second disc there's a French version, which has a scene that was added at the insistence of its French producers (a conversation that clarifies some of the character's histories with one another), but is missing a few others, so it wouldn't be the best place to start. And the other version is of no use to any newcomer, as it removes those scenes AND the added French one, from what I understand. But I like that they went out of their way to include it; I'm sure it's someone's preferred version due to having it on VHS or whatever, so hey, now they can have their hacked up take looking all lovely on the remastered high def transfer.

There are also some bonus features, including a video essay by Kat Ellinger (I am a big fan of these; they're like Cliff's Note commentaries) and an interview with Liana Orfei, who plays one of the unwilling eventual Stone Women. There's also a commentary by Tim Lucas, who is the go to guy for Bava and thus it wasn't much of a surprise that the conversation turned to him a few times (he launches a convincing argument that Bava actually ghost-directed a couple of key scenes), though I was cerrtainly not expecting a history of LSD to be included. Overall it's not a bad track but one of the ones where I wish he was paired with someone to bounce off of and keep it a little more lively, as Lucas always sounds like he's reading from a report and thus it can be a bit dry to listen to even when the information is sound. The deluxe edition also includes a book that has two essays (one on the film's overall legacy, the other tracking its multiple versions) as well as some review excerpts from the time, which is interesting as not all of them are exactly glowing.

It's definitely a "not for everyone" kind of film, as its horror elements are relatively muted and it will probably remind any seasoned viewer of more exicting films, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. The pre-giallo era of Italian horror is one area I am definitely not as well versed in (as I've noted, I "appreciate" Bava more than I "enjoy" his films, for the most part), so I'm always happy to fill that gap in a little more, and anything that might have helped influence my beloved Tourist Trap is obviously something I'm going to admire. And I love seeing so much care for it on Arrow's part; it's not exactly a film that people are beating down their doors for them to release, and yet they offer it this deluxe release with a book, a poster, four cuts of the film... basically, everything a fan could want, even if there aren't a lot of them out there. Every movie deserves this kind of treatment!

What say you?


Giallo Essentials Vol. 1

DECEMBER 7, 2021


Vinegar Syndrome has released a few volumes of "Forgotten Gialli", with obscure entries in the sub-genre that are, as can be expected, pretty hit or miss (otherwise they wouldn't be forgotten), but it's been a while since they put one out. Luckily, Arrow has picked up the slack and gone in the opposite with a collection they have dubbed Giallo Essentials, collecting a trio of previous releases at a lower price point than buying them individually. As far as I can tell the discs are identical to their standalone counterparts, and the boxed set doesn't save you any space either, so if you already own them there's no reason to pick this up. However, if you haven't already been blessed by The Fifth Cord, The Possessed, and The Pyjama Girl Case, then it's a no brainer to pick this up.

The only one I had actually seen before was The Fifth Cord (Italian: Giornata nera per l'ariete), and you can read my full review HERE (feel free to chuckle at the "source" - remember when we called it that? Or when they actually had obscure films like this on the service? Memories...). No sense of repeating myself too much, except to say that it's just as good a second time around (possibly better, since I got to watch it in Italian this time), especially since it had been so long that I forgot who the killer was anyway. I also forgot how people apparently found it hard to follow, which baffles me as much now as it did then - this is one of the most coherent entries in the entire genre! I always try to be optimistic, but ultimately I may have to just accept that a lot of people are simply very stupid.

The disc has a lot of bonus features I obviously wouldn't have had access to on "Netflix Instant" even if they existed then (looks like the majority were created in 2018). It's a solid mix of recollections from people involved, including star Franco Nero and editor Eugenio Alabiso, as well as the historian efforts like a commentary from Travis Crawford and a terrific video essay from Rachael Nisbet that highlights underappreciated director Luigi Bazzoni's visual style, particularly his penchant for filming characters in front of or behind blinds or glass (sometimes both!), embellishing their feelings of being trapped or whatever. Gialli critics like to assume it's all just a bunch of zooms and "male gaze" kind of stuff, and there certainly is a lot of it across the genre, but things like this really help illustrate that these filmmakers aren't just a bunch of horny hacks.

Bazzoni codirected the earlier The Possessed (Italian: La donna del lago) with Franco Rossellini, which is sort of a "proto-giallo" that is not only shot in black & white (not unlike Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much, widely considered the real origin of the genre) but is also based on a true story. One that, according to the historian commentary by Tim Lucas, actually had more murders than the film offers! It's more of a sad drama with some thriller elements than anything one might conjure when thinking of a giallo - for starters, I don't think the hero of the film is ever in any real danger until the final moments. He's a struggling author who has returned to a hotel where he once stayed, hoping to get his creative juices flowing but really hoping to get reacquainted with one of their employees, who he had a brief fling with on his last visit. Alas, the girl (Tilde) is nowhere to be found, and since we're technically in giallo territory it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that she has in fact died. The reports say suicide, but...

So, yeah, the movie is about a guy trying to solve a months-old murder, but it doesn't seem like the killer is active and ready to strike again, which is why it feels more like a drama about a lost love. The thriller elements are enjoyable, but I think anyone expecting Deep Red or Don't Torture A Duckling style excess will be disappointed, to the extent that it might be even doing the film a disservice to include it on a GIALLO ESSENTIALS set - it'd be like putting Peeping Tom in a set with The Burning and Silent Night Deadly Night or something. Not that I didn't enjoy the film - on the contrary, I found it quite engaging and enjoyed the change of pace, but some viewers may not adjust as quickly and feel bored. Just a warning! Enjoy it for what it is, don't dismiss it for what it isn't!

The third film on the set is also kind of light on the violence, but it too is based on a true story so you can't really blame them for having some tact. The Pyjama Girl Case (Italian: La ragazza dal pigiama giallo) is based on a real life mystery involving an unidentified body, and uses the names and more or less the same motive as the person ultimately convicted of the crime, although many believe the case was never truly solved (for starters, the victim had different color eyes than the woman the murderer claimed he killed!). At any rate, it's an engaging film that splits its time between the detectives (including a hilarious Ray Milland as a grouchy old-school cop that scoffs at psychoanalysis) and a woman named Linda who is desperate to find love. She is currently dividing her time between at least three men, each having something the other lacks, presumably trying to feel out which one would be best in the long run.

One might assume she is the killer's next victim, but (spoiler for 45 year old movie ahead) after a while it shouldn't take too many brain cells to realize that the film has a split timeline, and she is in fact the dead woman that the other characters are trying to identify. It's an unusual approach to this sort of thing, and director Flavio Mogherini treats it as a twist of sorts, neglecting to note that half of the scenes are essentially flashbacks by coloring them differently or doing on-screen "Six months earlier" kind of text. Saw fans will be accustomed to this sort of thing (given that it's set in Australia, I'd be very curious if the Aussie directors of Jigsaw are fans, as it did the same thing albeit more overtly in service of a twist), but a casual viewer might just be puzzled why the two sets of characters aren't interacting and - perhaps more importantly if they sat down for a giallo - why no one else was being killed.

That said, as with Possessed I found it quite involving, aided greatly by both Milland's delightful performance (wait til you see his final send off to a pervert suspect) but also the lovely Riz Ortolani score, which also includes a pretty haunting/amazing theme song sung by Amanda Lear (listen here if you've never been blessed). Ortolani is on hand for an interview along with actor Howard Ross and editor Alberto Tagliavia, but for my money the highlight of the video extras is a lengthy interview/essay by Michael Mackenzie, who speaks about the "globalization" of giallo, i.e. how many of them feature plots of visiting Americans (or any non-Italian really) being caught up in a murder mystery in Italy, or an Italian going somewhere and, yes, being caught up in a murder mystery. To his knowledge (so I'll believe him) this is the only one set in Australia, which certainly gave it some new flavoring even if Mogherini seemed a bit obsessed with showing the Opera House in Sydney. There's also a Troy Howarth commentary, but it's a little icky at times - he is clearly quite infatuated with the actress playing Linda (who is indeed beautiful), laments at the brevity of a lesbian scene, and at one point basically admits to masturbating. I know I complain about them running off the filmographies of the actors, but I'd rather listen to that, I must say.

A second volume is already on the way, including Torso, What Have They Done To Your Daughters, and Strip Nude For Your Killer, all of which definitely fall in "your mental image of a giallo" territory. And I've seen them all (in fact I think I have the original Arrow releases!), which is a bummer because I was hoping to discover more, but I like that they're being released so close together. A new fan to the genre can get both and enjoy a trio of traditional entries, and then another group of more offbeat, dare I say classier (or at least, less sleazy) titles that, when you group all six together, really shows off the range and potential of this somewhat underappreciated genre. Add in all of the bonus features and you can basically go from newbie to halfway decent scholar for the price of two boxed sets!

What say you?


Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

NOVEMBER 24, 2021


One thing about covid that's interesting is that it's given movies a new possible reason to be underwhelming, as the logistics of mounting a production under these circumstances can be pretty daunting on top of the usual hurdles filmmaking must entail. So when you add in the fact that there has been and possibly will never be a foolproof formula for adapting a video game into a successful movie, it's almost a miracle that Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is even watchable, let alone "OK" and even kind of fun at times. But I could never shake the feeling that it could have been closer to "genuinely good" if it was produced in 2019, or (hopefully?) a year or two down the road.

Literally from the start, something seemed off about the film. It opens on a flashback of our eventual heroes, Claire and Chris Redfield (I'm going to assume you have at least passing familiarity with the games, just fair warning) at an orphanage, with the former being woken up - seemingly not for the first time - by a mysterious figure no one else thinks exists. The scene seems to last twice as long as any opening flashback of its type should, and there are other examples throughout the film that had me wondering if these scenes weren't supposed to take up as much screentime as they do, but merely had to be padded out in order to get the film into acceptable runtime (which, nowadays, means over 100 minutes, as anything shorter suggests it was compromised) as there were other scenes that had to be scrapped because there was no way to do them right under covid restrictions.

Similarly, there are at least two occasions in the movie where it felt like a scene was dropped, with characters appearing in new locations when they were far away the last time we saw them (in one instance, the character seemingly abandoned their spoken plan entirely and went in the opposite direction). There are also some dropped subplots, like armed mercenary types from Umbrella who are seen executing townsfolk, only to never appear again, let alone be a continual threat to our heroes. It's possible these scenes were indeed filmed and merely dropped for pacing or whatever, but when you consider the aforementioned scenes that go on for so long or simply have no followup, only an 11th hour hack job on par with the "glory years" of Dimension could explain these gaps.

No, I suspect covid and/or perhaps a reduced budget had writer/director Johannes Roberts forced into the unenviable position of having to streamline his ideas into something that could still be coherent and offer up the requisite number of scares and thrills. The movie's heart is clearly in the right place, something that will be very apparent to fans of the games who were left cold by Paul Anderson's dismissal of most of its canon. His films had pretty much all of the franchises' main players show up in some capacity, but the plots never really even came close to the storylines from the games (not surprising since they all revolved around Milla Jovovich's Alice, who has no game counterpart).

In contrast, Roberts definitely dives into the first two games, with Chris and Jill heading to the mansion to investigate what happened to a previous team, while Leon and Claire are out in the city as the latter searches for her brother. The movie presents these narratives as occurring simultaneously (the games were a couple months apart, if memory serves), which works just fine in some cases, but also keeps the two leads apart for far too much of the runtime. With Roberts using the Carpenter font and setting up a big chunk of the film's first half in a police station, it's not hard to think about a potential Assault on Precinct 13 style narrative, where you'd have all these characters with different motives all having to band together to fight zombies and monsters (either at the station or the more famous Spencer Mansion), but the movie is almost over by the time Claire and Leon finally meet up with the others.

(Speaking of Leon, the guy playing him is awful and grating. However you feel about how the character was used in the 5th entry in the previous franchise, at least that actor looked and felt like the actual Leon. This guy's like obvious cannon fodder you have to put up with for the whole movie, and seemingly ends every one of his scenes on some variation of "What the f___?" Maybe non gamers won't notice/care, but considering how much of the rest of the movie seems designed to please them, it's a really bizarre choice.)

Instead, we just keep going back and forth between the two groups, which means there are a couple of good sequences on their own (love the bit of a Licker making its presence known by lumbering on the floor above, making the hanging lights sway in succession until it's obviously right above our hero), but a noted lack of tension. Every time we switch to the other team, it's like hitting a soft reset, and by the time things start getting going with their story, it's time to check in with the others again. Plus, two small teams means there's entirely too much "safe" action - there's a noted lack of non-game characters who are around for more than a scene or two, and you don't have to be a game fan to know that the Redfields, Leon, and Jill are not going to die in this would-be franchise (re)starter, so apart from a few well done jolt moments, there's not a lot of terror to be found. There are bits in that first game - some recreated here! - that can still get a little yelp out of me, but too much of this film felt more like the 5th and 6th games, where action took precedence over horror. People say these movies are as fun as watching someone else play a game, but this goes further - it's like watching someone *expertly* play these games, robbing the viewer of true carnage.

I also couldn't understand the point of the 1998 setting apart from being faithul to the games. Umbrella seemingly controls every aspect of this town, so a simple "no cell phones" excuse doesn't work - they just would have blocked them anyway. It's actually kind of ironically funny when a character is given a Palm Pilot and has no idea what it is; if the movie was set in 2021, anyone under like 35 (as the character is) would be just as confused anyway. Roberts tosses in some '90s pop songs (no Steinman though, so Strangers 2 remains his peak in that department), but otherwise there isn't much point to the setting; for the most part you're likely to forget that it's supposed to be set nearly 25 years ago. And really, given its covid-era production (it was shot in late 2020) it almost seems like a missed opportunity to not draw on it for their plot about a virus spiraling out of control.

The good news is, unless you are simply Pavlovian with your reaction to Easter eggs and references to the games (I admit to laughing out loud at a "Jill sandwich" gag), you don't need to be a fan of the games to get as much enjoyment out of it as you can - I suspect newcomers and hardcore fans alike will agree that it misses the mark. It's certainly a decent enough timekiller, but never really rises above its straightforward goal of "being more faithful." Yeah, sure, you nailed that - but most if not all of Anderson's movies are more engaging and exciting, regardless of how they "ruined" this or that character. So in my book, that's not really an improvement; I'd rather a filmmaker tossed everything and made a movie that stands alone rather than watch one where more time was spent on matching the floor plan of a building than thinking of interesting things for the characters to DO in that building.

What say you?


Maniac Cop 2 & 3

NOVEMBER 21, 2021


To me, the true sign of a new format hitting its stride and being here to stay (so, unlike Divx or HD-DVD) is when high profile direct to video stuff starts coming along. You can always count on the studios to jump into the fray with their classics (it seems Warner Bros puts Goodfellas out on a new format the second it exists), and the boutique labels will test the waters with their big guns (i.e. Scream Factory with Halloween 1-5), but it's not until I see the likes of Maniac Cop 2 and Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence hitting 4K UHD that I can truly breathe easy and know that this is the format we will use for another eight or nine years until something better comes along yet again.

In fact, the original film still isn't even out on the format, making the sequels' appearance all the more wonderful. It was certainly a win for me, as I have never actually seen either of them; I remember a friend putting on MC2 one night when having me and a few other like minded "horror guys" over, but we all talked and drank through the entire thing, so when I sat down to watch it properly (a decade later to boot) it was basically like seeing it for the first time. More than once I've gotten questions about the films wrong during horror trivia, so I had them penciled in to finally get around to seeing anyway - what a treat to get to see them all properly remastered and what not!

Anyone who has watched the credits or behind the scenes stuff on the Fast films will know the name Spiro Razatos, as he has served as the main stunt coordinator for all of the mainline films since Fast Five, but he got his start as a regular stunt guy and later coordinator in smaller genre films like this - one of his first credits as coordinator was the infamous Silent Night Deadly Night 2, in fact, which explains why such a junky film has such amazing stunts (I'm still blown away by the car almost hitting Santa Ricky). William Lustig, who directed all three films (though he didn't shoot all of the 3rd one, more on that later) wisely retained his services each time out, and it's what he brought to the table that makes these films so much more fun than you might expect. The stunt work here, especially in MC2, outpaces what you'll find in movies that cost five times as much.

Razatos' work also helps make up for the fact that, you know, Tom Atkins isn't around anymore. While the vengeful titular character (played by Robert Z'Dar in all three) can be resurrected time and time again, the people he kills stay dead, so Atkins doesn't come back for MC2 and (spoiler for 30 year old movie ahead) surviving co-star Bruce Campbell is wiped out in his third scene, which was probably a real shock to audiences then but for me was pretty much the only thing I remembered about it. He is more or less replaced by Robert Davi, who has considerable presence, but is really used better as an antagonist or foil, not a leading man hero. And it doesn't help that his character seems completely different in the 3rd film, though it makes sense when you listen to the commentary by Lustig and Joel Soisson (who finished the film when Lustig quit; the two have patched things up) and realize the role was indeed written for a new character, but due to the demands of their foreign distributors, they had to bring Davi back via rewrite (unless I missed it, it's unclear how, if all, Davi's character - who survived MC2 - was originally meant to be handled in the 3rd film).

Luckily, Lustig stacked his supporting cast with so many ringers that it hardly matters who the lead is. Davi's Die Hard co-stars Grand Bush and Paul Gleason pop up in the third one, as does Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, and Ted Raimi. And in MC2 you get even more! Leo Rossi, Clarence Williams III, Charles Napier, Michael Lerner, and Danny Trejo are all on hand, as is Sam Raimi, reprising his newscaster role from the first film (Ted is the newscaster in 3, but I'm not sure if he's supposed to be the same guy - either way, it's a funny recasting). I was actually disappointed to see producer/writer Larry Cohen didn't rope Michael Moriarty into one of them somewhere.

Lustig has said that the 2nd film is his favorite of all the ones he's done, and while I can certainly see why he'd feel that way, I gotta be honest: I think I actually preferred 3, if only by a hair (I gave them both three stars, if that's how you measure success). Maybe it's because my expectations were so low due to knowing that it had problems (Lustig even took his name off; he's credited as Alan Smithee), but while MC2 is a lot of fun it's basically a straight up action movie with some supernatural elements tossed into the mix, and has that Predator 2 problem (hey, Davi is in that one too!) where the hero spends most of the movie trying to figure out what we already know from the first movie. So the action is top notch, yes, but the story itself is never very involving even by sequel standards.

Badge of Silence, on the other hand, apes Bride of Frankenstein (!) and has Cordell sort of protecting a would-be successor, a female cop who likes to jump into the fray and worry about things like paperwork later. She is brain dead from a shootout, so Cordell stalks the hospital, murdering doctors who don't care about trying to save her while Davi tries to clear her name (some tabloid guys who filmed the shootout made it look like she killed an innocent witness). Not only does this keep the film from feeling too much like a retread (and also doesn't make 2's weird mistake of focusing on a different villain for most of the middle of the movie), but the voodoo-tinged elements and Bride aping puts it back into horror territory. There are still a pair of great action scenes (hard to top 2's car chase, admittedly, but this time Cordell is on fire the entire time so that gives it some oomph), but overall it comes off more as a traditional revenge movie like Dr. Phibes or something, albeit filtered through Lustig and Cohen's warped/grindhouse sensibilities.

Both films come with a decent smattering of bonus features, though the only ones on the 4K disc are the trailers and the commentaries. Nicolas Refn moderates Lustig on MC2, and it's not the best track I've ever heard - Refn is bizarrely obsessed with the film's financing and distribution history as opposed to what is happening on screen, so while there are some good insights here and there (including a pretty funny story of how they landed Davi in the first place), I spent most of the time wishing Lustig had just gone solo and maybe talked more about, you know, the actual movie. However, even if you hate Badge of Silence, I think you'll enjoy the (new) commentary with Lustig and Soisson, as the two have let bygones be bygones but occasionally stumble into awkward territory (on occasion they can't remember who directed a certain scene, Soisson brings up a Fangoria where Lustig mocked him, etc), making it the sort of candid track we rarely get to hear anymore. The rest of the bonus features, all from the previous releases, are on the included standard Blu-ray, and include a Q&A from a screening of MC2, a few deleted scenes, and a retrospective doc for each films. As those Blu-rays are nearly a decade old I'm sure anyone who really wanted them has seen them by now, but it's good that they're all included; as with the commentaries, the retrospectives don't hold back on unpleasant matters about the films' respective productions, so that's always a plus.

A remake (by Refn, in fact) has been in the works for a while, though I'm sure the real life crimes of police officers make a story about a framed cop a hard sell right now, unless they plan to lean into it and update the story for today's world. On the other hand, some folks might take pleasure at scenes of Cordell mowing down entire precincts (as he does in MC2), so I dunno. A remake will certainly get Synapse inspired to remaster the original (again, assuming it's still under their control), so for that alone I'm all for it - these two are going to look lonely on my shelf without the original next to them! (I only had the DVD, and got rid of it a while ago because it was such a bad transfer; I assume if I were to buy the Blu-ray they will announce a 4K before my purchase even got delivered, so I'm gonna let someone else take that bullet.) If you already own the Blus and don't care much about improved transfers, there's definitely no need to upgrade 2, but MC3 is worth buying for the new commentary for sure - or just to, like Lustig himself, give it a fresh look and realize it's really not all that bad.

What say you?


Antlers (2021)

NOVEMBER 3, 2021


If my memory hasn't failed me, Antlers is the last of the delayed horror movies whose trailers appeared nearly every time I went to the drive-in over the past eighteen months (the others were Candyman, Night House, and Spiral). When you add in the times I've seen it before the normal theatrical excursions I've had since (including Night House itself!), I've probably seen the trailer thirty times by now, which could be a record? But if anything it makes me appreciate the movie all the more, as it doesn't really give the whole thing away; despite my overexposure to two minutes' worth of its footage, it was a pretty fresh viewing experience.

Not that the trailer was misleading or anything; it tells you what we're dealing with (a Wendigo) and also shows that its young protagonist, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas, who is terrific) is feeding it and keeping it locked up. But the devil's in the details, and thankfully that's where the trailer didn't show too much, opting for atmospheric scare shots and a general vibe as opposed to spelling everything out. Even basic things, like the fact that Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons' characters are siblings, were things I learned from actually watching the movie, which was just kind of amusing when you consider how long (not)Fox Searchlight has been trying to sell me on it.

That said, while I enjoyed the movie a lot, it does suffer a bit from being based on a very short story by Nick Antosca. The basics are accounted for in his story (teacher, kid, "pet" Wendigo) but if they were to film it to the letter, it'd probably be about ten minutes long. That means adding a lot to the feature, including more on the Wendigo (not even mentioned in the story; Antosca just describes a man-eating monster with, yes, antlers), a bully for Lucas, a prologue about his family, and an abusive past for Russell and Plemons' characters. But it never quite shakes that "expanded from a short story" feeling; Plemons' sheriff character basically has to keep saying "my hands are tied!" or something every time something happens to allow it to keep going to hit feature length, because if the cops were more proactive the movie would be over in about a half hour or so. I think it takes something like three characters to go missing before he finally starts asking questions.

Which means it's great that they casted Plemons, because how can you not love that guy? Let him bumble about, bless him! But he and Russell's character also had an abusive upbringing, and here the script could have used a little more expansion. Not that I want awful details about whatever their dad did to them, but their mom is barely mentioned, and Russell eventually ran away (feeling guilty for leaving her brother to deal with the abuse alone), but has returned to town for... reasons? It's never really explained why she came back at all. We can assume it has something to do with her being an alcoholic; Russell completely nails a wordless "newly sober person dying for a drink" moment with just a mere pursing of her lips (before we even see the booze she's eyeing), but again, details are not forthcoming. In a more densely plotted film, it would be enough (honestly, for a horror movie it's, if anything, an above average amount of backstory), but when the plot is basically "a teacher finds out her troubled student is living with a monster" and little else, these shortcomings are easier to notice.

However, the monster stuff is all great! The creature itself, rarely even glimpsed until the final reel, is a terrific design (fans of The Ritual will be into it) that justifies the film's kind of silly title, and there's a jump scare kill that even gave me a jolt. I was a bit disappointed when I read the story after to discover that the film denied us the second monster Antosca had envisioned (I don't want to spoil the particulars), but the solo act works fine. And thanks to Thomas' performance, it's actually a fairly upsetting sequence of events; you really feel for this poor kid and how much he has lost/loses in the film. Plus, without getting into spoilers, one could compare to something like The Wolf Man or The Fly in that "Antlers" is not a monster by choice; a key flashback moment about an hour into the film is pretty surprising when you discover how far along the doomed character was before losing their humanity.

It's also a lovely looking film, albeit for a grimy-ass town. As usual, Canada is used for our Northwest (Oregon, specifically; a switch from the story's West Virginia setting), but it's a pretty good fit - nothing really stood out as being "off" to my eyes. They didn't even cast Julian Richings or Stephen McHattie! The major characters played by Canadian cast members are Michael Eklund and Graham Greene, whose role definitely could have been fleshed out more (he has no counterpart in the short story but feels like a character whose significance was reduced due to the adaptation process, funnily enough). And producer Guillermo Del Toro brought his Pan's Labyrinth composer Javier Navarrete along for the ride; it's not an "all timer" score or anything but it at least doesn't sound like every other goddamn movie out there. I saw the new Bond the next day and while I liked it a lot, Hans Zimmer's score was lazy even by his modern standards - half the action climax was set to a barely reworked version of his Dark Knight theme. So any time I see a movie with a score that isn't constantly reminding me of fifteen other movies, I feel I should point it out. Encouragement is key!

With a little more character work this could have been a contender for my top 10 of the year (if that was something I bothered to do), but as is I'm just happy to see an original and professionally made "Hollywood" monster movie again, since they are so rare in this world of James Wannabe efforts and sequels. I don't think the long delay helped it any (even Del Toro's name didn't seem to help it much; though maybe that wouldn't have been the case if there wasn't a genuine GDT film coming out in a few weeks), but I'm glad I got to see it in a theater instead of having it become another covid casualty, sent to streaming for audiences who never take one eye off their phone the entire time. Keep up the good fight, filmmakers, and I'll keep buying tickets.

What say you?


Blu-Ray Review: Demons & Demons 2

NOVEMBER 2, 2021


Technically I saw Phenomena (as Creepers) and Zombie (as "Zombie 2" aka "Dawn of the Dead 2") first, but Lamberto Bava's Demons was the first time I watched a movie specifically to watch "an Italian horror movie", borrowed on VHS from a friend who was a little more cultured than I was at that point in my life (16 or 17?). So hundreds of gialli and zombie and whatever the hell those "La Casa" sequels are later, it's fun to go back to what more or less started my affinity for their brand of horror. Synapse has remastered the first film along with Demons 2 and packaged them as one, with lots of bonus features old and new, giving me a fine excuse to revisit them for a rare home viewing. Since they both tend to show relatively often around here, I can't even remember the last time I watched the first one at home - it might have been the Anchor Bay DVD sometime in college? And Demons 2 was a HMAD review from the first few months!

Needless to say the films look the best I've seen. There's a 4K UHD release as well, which is what I requested for review, but they sent me the standard Blu-ray set, which doesn't have as many bonus features and, obviously, lacks the Ultra High Def image I was looking forward to. But suffice to say even the regular Blu looks pretty great for both films, minus the occasional damage to the master print that isn't any fault of theirs (a few exterior shots in Demons 2 look like they are... vibrating? I don't know how to describe it), allowing Sergio Stivaletti's makeup effects to truly shine. The man loves having teeth fall out and get replaced with bigger, gnarlier teeth, and those shots display his practical mastery in all their glory. Italian and English audio is available for both films as well, so long story short it's safe to say these will be the definitive editions for these oft-released films.

And they hold up well! It's been a while since I've seen either of them, and I was pleased to discover that after all these years, Demons remains a favorite when it comes to Italian horror, placing only under a couple of Argento's films if I were to rank the whole lot of them. The opening sequence on the subway still plays great, the pacing is strong, the supporting cast is entertaining... everything is pretty entertaining even before the damn demons show up. And yes, I know I called it a zombie movie when they're demons, but as with 28 Days Later, they function the same way (get bitten and change, swarms attacking, etc) so I feel the label is fair. The key difference is that the more overt supernatural elements allow Bava, Stivaletti, etc. to have a little more fun and imagination with their gore/horror scenes - there's a sort of Evil Dead-esque kitchen sink attitude to the proceedings that keeps you on your toes.

This is even more evident in the second film, where a demon literally comes out of the TV (in an effect that looks like CGI before they had access to such a thing! They figured it out!) and another little Gremlin-y kinda puppet demon runs around for a while. Plus there's an evil dog out of The Thing for good measure. The sequel as a whole isn't as good as the first, and I don't recommend watching them back to back due to the sameyness (it's amusing that of the two returning cast members, one seems like he's playing the same guy while the other is a total 180 from his previous character), but it's good fun all the same, and (spoiler for 35 year old movie ahead) I like that it ends hopefully, instead of the out of nowhere downer end of the first in which our heroine suddenly becomes a demon and is nonchalantly dispatched in a world being overrun. The do-over approach in the sequel doesn't extend to its denouement; our survivors walk out into a bright sunny day and there's no indication that things are about to get worse. Yay!

As mentioned, the Blu-ray version doesn't have as many bonus features as the 4K set, but based on my research it seems everything that got left out are legacy bonus features a fan might have on previous releases anyway. The handful of new features are present on both versions, including a historian commentary for each film. The first movie is blessed with the usually fun track from Kat Ellinger, who is joined by Heather Drain, and the pair do the usual historian stuff but frequently pause their own insightful observations or history lesson by noting a particularly amusing gore effect or line reading, keeping things from getting too dry. This is sadly not the case for the second film, which is a solo track by Travis Crawford that can be a bit of a snoozer at times, as he rarely addresses the film at all and occasionally even seems to be forgetting he's doing the sequel, as he gives a history of movie-theater set horror films that seems ill-fitting for a film that does not take place in a movie theater. He also bizarrely ends it on a downer note about Asia Argento (who made her debut here), discussing her assault by Harvey W, her own sexual assault accusations from a younger actor, and the suicide of her partner - all over scenes long after her character had exited! It's weird, and once again had me thinking that these things need two people conversing over them to stay engaging.

The other new features are visual essays. On Demons 2, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas contributes "Together and Apart", a look at both films and how they use space and their respect locations (and mediums) to tell their stories, noting things like Cheryl going from a crowded subway car to an empty, gothic looking subway station, and how the climax of Demons 2 has the heroes have their final showdown in a television studio, a fitting visual metaphor since TV was the source of all the carnage in the film. If you're not a fan of the films you'll find it ludicrous that anyone involved put that much thought into it, but Alexandra makes a strong case that the films are smarter than they appear on the surface. On the first film, Michael Mackenzie runs through Argento's career as a producer, which naturally means it's not particularly Demons-centric (if anything he seems to have more to say about everything else, in particular Michele Soavi's later Church and Sect films) but if you're an Argento fan you won't mind much; it's not often you get to hear anyone exploring his work outside of his own directorial efforts.

That said, it would have been nice to hear more about the films' actual director, Lamberto Bava. The UHD version has an interview with Bava ("Carnage at the Cinema") but it didn't make the cut for this stripped down release. Instead we get TWO interviews with Argento himself where he says a lot of the same things, though amusingly he says in one he probably won't work with Bava again and in the other says he would love to do that, plus a lengthy chat with Claudio Simonetti (in English; Argento's are in Italian) where he talks about his work on this film and, of course, his other collaborations with the maestro, and an interview with stuntman Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, which is fun until he depressingly notes that Italy only produces about 25 films a year now, down from hundreds as was the case at the time of these films.

Bava thankfully gets to pop up on Demons 2's own set of bonus features, a lengthy chat (also in Italian) where he notes some of the story issues and also that most of the script for The Church (which began life as Demons 3) is his, even if his name was removed from the credits. This is backed up by his son Roy (aka Fabrizio) Bava, who offers his own look back at the work he did with his father over the years, even alluding to being jealous of his relationship with Soavi at one point. Stivaletti also gets to discuss his work on the two films, and finally composer Simon Boswell talks about HIS unintentional career as a composer (he basically fell into it and never really left), which kicked off with Demons 2. It's curious that none of the actors from either film are on hand; I've seen a couple of them at conventions and screenings, so it's not like they're not willing to discuss them (or hard to find), but based on what I can tell from the listing on the 4K UHD version, they don't show up on there either. Also, not surprising, but worth noting - the original commentary for Demons that was on the Anchor Bay DVD remains MIA, as it has for a while now. I was hoping to hear it again because the moderator asks Bava what is happening when the helicopter crashes through the roof, prompting Bava to say "I don't know" - so good. Alas, as with a lot of AB bonus features, it seems to be unavailable for other labels to include, which is a shame.

These remasters are only available together, which might be frustrating for fans who only want the original and have to pay extra for the unwanted sequel, but for those who enjoy both, I really can't see them ever being improved (beyond somehow acquiring those legacy features). Yes, it's a shame that only the 4HD set includes all of the bonus features (on the UHD disc itself; there's none of that obnoxious "movie only and the supplements are on a separate blu-ray" here), but even the stripped down 1080p set has hours of extras in addition to the excellent transfers, so you can't really go wrong with either of them (my guess is that anyone who truly cares about bonus features anymore is also the kind of person who will have upgraded to 4K by now). And if you've somehow never seen the films, there's no better time than the present to enjoy a film about someone who hesitantly goes to a movie theater only for some kind of awful disease to spread throughout the crowd! Wait.

What say you?


Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin (2021)

NOVEMBER 1, 2021


Like most people in the world (including its crew, more on that soon!) I was disappointed with The Ghost Dimension, the alleged "finale" of the Paranormal Activity franchise that didn't really tie anything up and if anything just added more plot threads to the already overburdened canon for the once simple franchise. So when I heard that the revival film, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin (no relation to Patrick Swayze OR Australian sugar cubes) would be a standalone entry with no ties to Katie, Toby, etc, I was kind of relieved. Not only would I get to spare myself a refresh of the last few entries to properly arm myself for the storyline, but maybe there would be a "back to basics" kind of approach that would allow the series to actually be scary again.

Alas, my hopes went out the window in the first scene, when I saw that the film was presented in widescreen. As I've said before, the appeal of the "found footage"/POV aesthetic is that, when it works well (i.e. the first film) you can believe you're watching something that actually happened, which doesn't quite work when it looks exactly like every other movie out there. Some scenes don't even bother to try to sell the illusion of a first person perspective and present their moments in a traditional 3rd person manner, which isn't the worst idea (if anything I've called for it to be tried), but without changing the aspect ratio or putting up a timestamp/red dot "recording" kind of overlay, there's often no real way to know if you're watching POV footage or not. As with IMAX sequences in otherwise standard films, or Freddy's Dead with its "put your glasses on now" gimmick, there needs to be a clear "break" to prime the audience for this kind of change, but that never happens here. There's a dinner scene that is either switching back and forth between the two, or suggesting a very nimble cameraman - the fact that I'm not sure is kind of a problem.

So the movie curiously hamstrings itself with the found footage approach, but "cheats" out of it on occasion with no discernible rhyme or reason, and I spent half my viewing wondering why. The plot calls for cameras, of course; our heroine, Margot, is making a documentary about her search for her mother, who abandoned her as an infant and left her not knowing any of her family. Via 23andme she discovers a relative in an Amish community, so her and her cameraman (plus a kooky boom guy they hire) head there, and thankfully it only takes about nine seconds after their arrival for things to not seem right (I'll give it this much, it doesn't drag out the spooky goings on as much as some other films in this sub-genre). And apart from a few snafus with the POV approach (like an early scene where there is clearly two cameras filming the action but only one has been established), so far it's all more or less in the usual wheelhouse for this sort of thing - but it's at this point it seems that it would have made more sense if the characters dropped the cameras and the filmmakers presented the rest of the story traditionally, with perhaps one or two cam sequences for good measure and also trailers.

In fact, given the religious/demon elements that the film centers on, I couldn't help but think of [Rec] at times, and in turn, think about how that series' 3rd film took this approach, starting off with cameras and then switching out of that mode in order to give the story its ideal presentation. That's not what happens here; the narrative is actually pretty interesting (SPOILER: you might be reminded of The Sentinel), but it's constantly being held back by the needless POV structure. The best of the other films had their characters set up mounted cameras to avoid us in the audience having the "why are they filming this?" questions (no one will question why an oscillating fan is still filming!), but there's no such luck here. As a result, in order to get key information the characters have to film themselves doing everything, even going to the auto parts store to buy a car battery (considering they're in Amish country and have to rely on a tempermental generator to charge things, you'd think they'd be a little choosier with when they turned the cameras on). With every interesting story reveal, I kept thinking how much more engaged I'd be if I wasn't forced to constantly wonder why the cameras were being brought out, or - given that the cams WOULD be abandoned at times - why the director wasn't switching out of it there as well.

And yeah, you can "just go with it" the way you did for things like Parks & Rec (which aped The Office's documentary structure but never actually had a camera crew present in its narrative), but that doesn't quite work for a horror movie. By constantly being flip flopped between being a fly on the wall or being "in their head", the scare potential is constantly being betrayed by (attentive) viewer confusion. When a character descends into a long shaft, it could have been an atmospheric creepfest, and a typical horror film would have a very wide shot to illustrate the depth of the hole and how isolated the character was, but instead we get her POV... sometimes. Sometimes it goes up to her friend's POV, who is sure to grab his camera and look at the hole as he operates the winch. As a result, it ends up being kind of a dull scene (not helped by the fact she goes back up almost instantly), hampered by nonsensical character decisions being made in order for us to see all of it. There's another scene where they have to restart the generator during a snowstorm, and I couldn't help but think how tense it might have been with traditional angles and editing, instead of me wondering "Don't they have flashlights? Why are they risking dropping their expensive camera in the snow to film themselves trudging through snow? Do they plan to use this footage in their family documentary?" It's that sort of thing, over and over, until I just kind of checked out. As with 3D, the POV aesthetic is a tool, and a good one when wielded correctly, but when misused it's just a turn off, at least for me. If you're going to ask me to deal with shakey camerawork, a lead character who we rarely see, etc., there should be some benefit to the approach, but I could find no such thing here.

Which is a shame, because the climax is great. If you participated in any of the "drive thru" haunts that cropped up last year due to covid, you might feel right at home when two survivor characters attempt to escape the burning farm as various possessed (or just angry?) townsfolk chase after them, as does the film's new demon - it really felt like one of those Halloween Horror mazes that I drove through last year because doing them in person wasn't possible. Also the final scene is pretty chilling, as is the implication for what could happen next if this film proves to be a success for Paramount Plus (and yes, I AM annoyed I couldn't see this in theaters; it's actually kind of ironic given its widescreen presentation that this is the first one that actually went direct to video). But alas, too little too late.

Not to mention that this is a weird way to try to revive a dying franchise after six years. Someone from the film likened it to Season of the Witch, and while that is an acceptable point of reference in theory, it doesn't quite work the same way. Halloween III came out one (1) year after Halloween II, a film that seemingly finished off the Michael Myers story for good. This film is coming after a narrative that was riddled with unanswered questions, and after several years to boot, so the fact that it's unrelated AND doesn't even really FEEL like an entry in the series (they don't even do "Night #1"!) makes the Halloween III comparison a poor one. What the series needed was something like H20, a soft reset that brought back the elements and characters we enjoyed and got things back on track while ignoring specific beats that weren't working. I mean, even Spiral had more connection to its older franchise than this had - this often felt like an unrelated movie entirely that was slapped with the PA name.

It was released alongside Unknown Dimension, a documentary about the franchise thus far, covering each film in sequence. One might think it's too new of a franchise to warrant the "Crystal Lake Memories treatment", but one should consider that the films' blu-rays have been noticeably bare bones so far - no commentaries, no behind the scenes pieces, etc. Some have deleted scenes or extended versions (sans any commentary explaining why the scenes were excised), but that's been about it, so this doc is really the first time we've gotten to hear the cast and crew (pretty much everyone of note is here) talk about how their film(s) came together. One entry was basically shot and reshot up until the release date, which finally explains why its trailer had so much footage that wasn't in the film itself. In fact it might have even been the first time I actually saw what any of the directors looked like besides Oren Peli, because I've met him (a good place as any to note I am in the film as well, as a "horror expert" or whatever the hell they call me when I do these things).

It's also refreshingly candid; the director of Ghost Dimension alludes to there being too many cooks in the kitchen and having the 3D element forced on him, and Jason Blum flat out says that one and PA4 are bad. And that makes me wish they had waited a bit longer so they could be frank about the new film as well; the cast and crew appear near the end, speaking from the set about how they want to bring the series back, but noticeably absent from this section is the film's writer, who has noted (via Twitter) that there were unfortunate compromises on this new one as well. If the IMDb is to be believed (...) another film is on the way, apparently (subtitled The Other Side, so we might get someone filming their trip to the dentist to get braces), and will return to the world of Katie and Kristi. But honestly I don't care so much about that as I do the producers taking a good hard look at what made the first film as good as it was and trying to revive THAT, with or without video cameras.

What say you?


Beyond Fest Recaps

OCTOBER 12, 2021


After last year's (kind of awesome) drive-in incarnation of Beyond Fest, the boys were back in theaters for 2021 - just not their usual theater. The usual home base, The Egyptian, is still being remodeled after being sold to Netflix (who promises there will be no major change in programming), so the fest spread itself out to three theaters in the area: the American Legion (right near the Egyptian), the Los Feliz 3 (a couple miles away) and the Aero (wayyyyyyyyy further away). This allowed them to keep the festival up to standards, programming wise, but also meant making hard decisions with what to see. Usually you could just go back and forth at the Egyptian between its two theaters, but now, if you wanted to see something at the Aero and then something at the Los Feliz, you had to fight traffic and possible schedule delays to make it there on time.

On the flipside, they actually did account for that, giving a decent amount of time between screenings (with ideal traffic, it should only take about a half hour so to go between the two major theaters*) but that also presented another issue: if you DID want to watch back to back programs at one theater, this meant a lot of downtime in between. Normally, this would just mean "Let's go grab a drink to kill time," but this is covid-era and doing such things causes hesitation. Long story short, I didn't see as much as I'd like, and had to make a lot of Sophie's Choices when it came to what I saw. I was really bummed about missing Starship Troopers in particular; such a great big screen experience but alas I just didn't want to make the long drive when I knew I'd probably end up dozing off.

Luckily, I enjoyed everything I saw! I kept it mostly to "new to me" titles; one exception was Collateral, which I had only seen at home when it first came to DVD and had been wanting to revisit ever since I moved to LA - just never got around to it. But it was worth my procrastination; it was like a whole new movie in theaters, as I never realized how funny it was when watching alone at home. The scene where Tom Cruise calls Jamie Foxx's boss out for being a jerk provoked thunderous laughter and applause, in particular. Plus, with each passing year I gain more appreciation for LA geography and, specifically, jokes about its traffic, so that whole "meet cute" with Jada Pinkett played better than it would have if I did give it another look x number of years ago when I was new to town.

But obviously I stuck to horror movies, and while I was hoping to write up a few full reviews I am just swamped this month with other work, trying to do fun stuff with my family, and keeping up with the movies as they come (I already lost my opportunity to catch a few things I missed at Fantastic Fest; they gave me access to some of it through a screener library and it expired before I got to really poke through it). So rather than hope for free time to give these full reviews and risk never getting it, here are mini-reviews for everything that I saw! Except for Halloween Kills of course; obviously I was gonna make sure I had time to ramble about my boy.

This played as a double feature with Woodlands Dark & Days Bewitched, which featured it. Luckily I didn't retain whatever reveals the documentary may have given away; all I really knew was that it was an Australian folk horror film, something I haven't seen nearly enough of and thus was eager to check it out (I also may have arrived a few minutes early to see my WD&DB credits on the big screen again, because I am shameless). Like a lot of these films, it requires a bit of patience as it's basically all building toward something that won't happen until the very end (the title tells you what!), but what it lacked in action it more than made up for in both creepy vibes and the performance of Lou Brown as Peter, Alison's boyfriend. He's introduced as kind of an aloof/indifferent dumb blond boyfriend kind of guy, but when Alison's sinister family starts trying to isolate her from him (and everything else) he gets more proactive, and thus more awesome. He starts off as easy fodder but by the end you're almost rooting for him more than Allison; there's a sequence where he escapes would-be murderers that had the audience cheering for his actions. Add in a meanspirited ending (it's dark like most of these films are, but they add a button that makes it funny to jerks like me) and you have a perfectly good example of this kind of film, that requires patience that pays off for those who are willing to take the ride.

Not to be confused with "just" Feast (the delightful monsters in a bar movie), THIS Feast concerns a politician who throws a dinner party, much to his trophy wife's chagrin. She hires someone to help, a local girl named Cadi who doesn't speak much and seems to love nature. Given the politician's plans to drill into the land, you don't have to be too smart to realize perhaps Cadi doesn't just plan to serve appetizers and help set the table. It's not a fast-paced film by any means, but it goes into very unexpected directions and racks up some impressive gore (plus a gorging scene that is more disgusting than any traditional kill moment), served alongside a welcome (if hazily defined) pro-environmental message. Also, there's a curious moment early on where you wonder what exactly Cadi is doing with a certain object, and then like, an hour later it pays off, prompting one of my favorite kind of audience moments: when everyone realizes what is happening at different times (proud to say I was among the first to laugh/squirm). If you like A24-style pacing, give this one a look when it arrives next month from IFC Midnight.

I'm always on the lookout for more action horror hybrids, and this 80 minute crackerjack paced flick scratched that itch for me. It's set during the real life Guinea-Bissau coup from 2003, so a little history lesson (read: quick scan of Wikipedia) might be in order to give a little more context for what our antiheroes are attempting an escape from, but "mercenaries hide out and run afoul of monsters" should still be enough for a genre fan to enjoy. There's a few good twists and some surprising humor, plus an excellent use of ASL (one character is deaf/mute and two others simply know it as if it were common, a nice little addition to the "be inclusive by just DOING IT" method I prefer) and a very unique (if - presumably due to the budget - underseen) monster. After two slower-paced films, it was nice to have something a little more exciting on my schedule, I must say.

I read up on this Taiwanese zombie (fine, "rage") film in Rue Morgue, plus heard a few things out of Fantastic Fest, that made me wonder if I should go out of my way to see it, as it sounded overly violent ("repulsive" was used, I believe) and rapey, things I have less and less interest in seeing as I get older. But then I remembered no one in my house ever leaves (thanks Covid!) so if I were to ever see it it would have to be in a theater with like minded viewers instead of at home, with the volume turned way down and perhaps having to apologize to my wife if she happened to walk by and see something awful.

Luckily, the people making those claims apparently haven't seen too many horror movies, as there's nothing here that a seasoned viewer hasn't seen in some form or other over the years, and while comparing assault or murder scenes is icky at best, I'll say that if you've seen the Human Centipede sequels, 28 Days Later, and literally any I Spit On Your Grave type film, you've seen much worse. Shot during - and directly inspired by - the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, I found it to be a pretty great backdrop for what turns out to be a pretty good zombie movie, using the "our two heroes are separated and go through a lot of crap to reunite" narrative that reminded me of the Train to Busan prequel Seoul Station, except in live action and with lots and lots of practical gore. Yes, it can be unpleasant at times, but given the angry circumstances that inspired it, who can blame the filmmakers for dialing such things up a notch? But focusing on that stuff, which amounts to maybe 30 seconds in the 95 minute film, is doing it a disservice; I'd be pretty pissed if the pearl-clutching had driven me away from something I turned out to enjoy quite a bit.

This is the one I had seen before, but like most, it was at home on streaming (HBO), and I wanted a big screen experience for two reasons. One is that it's a fairly long movie and so as you might have guessed I didn't get to watch it in one sitting there, which is never ideal but is also just how my life works when I am home - I need to physically leave the house in order to have the time to watch a movie without being interrupted (at least before like 9pm, but after that I'll just fall asleep anyway). The other is that it seemed to have a pretty good sound mix, something I can't quite grasp at home when, again, people are interrupting or sleeping (so, low volume), which is fine for my millionth viewing of Jaws or whatever but frustrating for a first time view. Add in a Q&A with director David Prior, and you have a recipe for a "Worth the drive to see something I can watch at home" excursion.

And it was even better a second time, as I also suspected. The end has a reveal that makes you rethink what you've seen along the way, so watching it with that knowledge, ALONG WITH the much improved presentation (little blue HBO Max rebuffering dots, how I did not miss you) made it an ideal experience. I know some folks say the opening sequence is too long, but I love it - it's like a short film prequel before the feature version with James Badge Dale (Chase!). Also, on the big screen I was able to notice the missing girl has the lyrics to Pearl Jam's "Daughter" in her library, which is pretty much the only pop culture reference in the entire film and would be classic rock to the character (born roughly seven years after that song came out), so I wish I was able to ask Prior about it but alas my raised hand was not seen. Prior's Q&A was also pretty great; he's an interesting guy and was being as candid as he could regarding the film's botched release (a victim of both covid and the merging of Fox with Disney, the latter company obviously not one to put out R rated horror films on the regular). If you haven't seen it yet, I highly encourage a viewing - this is gonna be a cult fave like Session 9 or something down the road, I suspect.

As someone who doesn't particularly gravitate toward vampire movies, my main reason for wanting to see this was actually just the Q&A with Udo Kier, as he is always a riot and I'd happily attend him just talking without any movie at all. I also don't exactly jump at seeing anything with Andy Warhol's name on it, so it shouldn't be a surprise I never saw this before and wasn't expecting to enjoy it all that much. But man, I have rarely been happier to be wrong: this movie is WONDERFUL. Dracula (Kier) needs virgin blood because "tainted" blood from people who have enjoyed their life is making him sick, so he and his butler travel to another part of the country where there is a religious family with four proper daughters for him to choose from, with the cover story being he is seeking a wife and believes they are suitable. But as it turns out, two of the daughters are sexually active (with each other, even - hey-o!), complicating things as the Count grows weaker.

This could have been a melancholy, The Hunger kind of film about an aging vampire withering away, but instead it's just hilarious. Kier's frustrated outbursts kept me laughing throughout, as did the strange supporting cast's little tics and random asides; Roman Polanski even pops up as a bar drunk who challenges the Renfield type character to a game of "Do What I Do", a scene as pointless as it was amazing. Kier spoiled the best line in his intro, but no matter - in context it was still incredible, and I was kind of blown away by how much I enjoyed it. It might even be my favorite Dracula movie? Certainly the best "alt" version of the story (as for straight adaptations I'm still partial to the 1979 one).

In reality the same team (Kier and several other cast members, director Paul Morrissey, etc) made this one first, but it played second after Dracula, which was a wise choice from my POV since Dracula is the better film and I wouldn't have wanted to have my energy sapped a bit by this tonally similar but less frequently funny one. Like their later film, this is a sexed up, perversely funny take on a classic story (guess which one?), with Kier as the title character and the same actor (Arno Juerging) as his assistant. Their work here seemed to have inspired Rocky Horror Picture Show quite a bit, so that might make a good double feature one day. In turn, I wish I could verify for sure but I think the ending is inspired from, of all things, Bay of Blood! Both films have been restored (by Severin and Vinegar Syndrome, respectively) and I can't wait to revisit them down the road; just because it was so good for Dracula, and I ended up dozing for a bit in the middle of Frankenstein (per the Wiki synopsis I didn't miss anything of note) and also had to make a bathroom run, so I missed two brief chunks.

All in all, a terrific lineup for what has become my favorite LA fest, programming wise. The mix of repertory and newer stuff is always on point, the hosts are all lively and fun to listen to (with or without their T-shirt cannons), and I find it is very rare that I regret bothering to venture out for this or that evening as I do for some other festivals (both here and - perhaps moreso - other states where I start getting homesick on account of watching underwhelming stuff). Hopefully next year it can return to the Egyptian and I will be able to attend even more (though, that said, the Hollywood Legion is pretty nice and has a bar!), but kudos to them for pulling off all their usual shenanigans and programming without any noticeable handicaps due to the changed (and untested!) venues, which has been disastrous for other festivals in the past. Running these things smoothly relies on familiarity and shorthand, two things that are in low supply when you're doing everything in a different place, with different staff, etc (and during a pandemic, which hasn't ended in case you haven't heard!), so it's a testament to their organization skills and can-do attitude that there was literally no visible issues with anything they had to do adapt to for this incarnation. Even the lines moved super quick despite having to check for vaccine status! My hat is off to them, and see you again in 2022!

What say you?


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