If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.


Centigrade (2020)

FEBRUARY 26, 2021


My heart sunk when Centigrade began and it showed our two protagonists already trapped in their car (that's the one line plot of the movie, for those unaware), because I feared the never-welcome "12 hours earlier" text would come along any second to show how they ended up in that predicament. But thankfully, that moment never came! Writer/director Brendan Walsh instead opts for the lesser of two evils: characters telling each other what they already know in order to convey information to the audience, and in turn he is able to keep the film confined to the car and his cast confined to just the people in the car - no flashbacks, no third party appearing as a would-be savior when we know damn well they won't be rescued halfway through the movie, no nothing. Even Buried had a bigger cast list.

So how DOES our hero couple end up trapped in their own car? Turns out they were driving back to their hotel and got tired, so they pulled over to rest, underestimating both how long they would sleep and also how brutal the storm was/would get. It takes place in Norway, so maybe this is just how it is there, but the scenario doesn't quite make sense as they seem to be in the total middle of nowhere despite returning to their hotel from a book signing - wouldn't these things be relatively close together? Or at least within a fully developed part of the country? Since they are trapped in the car (the ice/snow has frozen the doors/window and also covered it up) it seems setting it super far from anywhere was just kind of overkill - the plot would work even if they were just in a parking lot of an abandoned gas station or something.

But those shots showing how covered their car is/how far they are from civilization are among the only shots in the film that are set outside the car; without spoiling any particulars, there is less than five minutes in the 90 minute movie where the camera isn't inside the six-seater SUV (or similar; I'm not a car guy) with our two heroes. The leads are Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) and Matt (Vincent Piazza) and I truly hope they liked each other in real life, because their characters are at odds from earlier events and - unless the film employs the most convincing split screen technology in history - are stuck together for just about every frame of the film, as where can they really go? Even when the focus is on one character, you can usually see the other behind them. If the two actors couldn't stand being near each other, this must have been the least pleasant shoot in history.

Naturally there's an even bigger complication: Naomi is pregnant and just about to pop, and if you don't think she will actually have to have the baby inside a frozen car with no medical supplies, you haven't seen a movie before. Amusingly enough, Rodriguez is an old hand at this; she was the mom in Hours, which was one of Paul Walker's last movies and also involved her character having to give birth while also battling the elements (Hurricane Katrina, in that one). I hope she does another one during an earthquake or something so we can have a makeshift trilogy. But if you've seen Hours I want to assure you that's where the similarities end; Ms. Rodriguez is around for much longer in this one, and gets to deal with the ickiest use of placenta since the song "Lightning Crashes".

Unlike most movies of this type, there's a built in excuse to stretch it out for several days (weeks, in fact), as they're eventually able to open the window a crack and get some water, and since they're on vacation of sort (she's an author doing a book tour) they have extra clothes to bundle up. Frozen is one of the gold standards for this kind of movie in my opinion, but with that one there was a five day timer (when the ski lift reopened) that the characters simply couldn't wait out due to not having access to any water or lengthy protection from the elements. Here, with an unlimited water supply and ironic insulation from the ice that's keeping them stuck (it's called "The Igloo Effect"), Walsh is able to keep them in there for nearly a month without it being too ridiculous (it's supposedly based on a true story, but as is often the case that should be translated as "We got the idea from a few news stories about people who were in a very minor version of this situation"). Hell, in 2012 a man survived twice as long, so implausible as it might seem when "Day 24" appears on screen, you can't say it's impossible, and the lack of a definitive "this is when we will die" mark keeps the tension high.

This situation also keeps armchair quarterbacks from having too many opportunities to scoff and say "I'd just do this". They don't have any tools (the headrest for one of the seats is their closest thing to a "shovel"), and the risk of smashing a window that's butted with who knows how much heavy snow/ice on the other side has them wisely opting to play it safer and just try to dig a hole through the open part of the window, because if they just smash it and still can't get through they've also lost part of their insulation. In many of these real life situations, it's the people who basically did nothing that survived, so each sort of "OK, I'm going to get us out of this!" type of move is foolish.

It also helps that the characters, while not in perfect harmony, aren't insufferable either. Their occasional spats are mostly out of panic and frustration as opposed to their deep-seeded problems; their biggest blowout is probably in the first scene when they first wake up and realize that they're stuck. The most unlikable character is probably the damn baby, who (naturally) cries a lot, increasing their frustration while also reminding parents of how miserable they were when their own newborn arrived. Anytime you feel your little one has grown up too fast, this would make an excellent movie to remind you that no, them being able to talk and sleep through the night and feed themselves is a wonderful thing.

Like all films of this type, you'll probably never want to watch it a second time, and IFC/Shout hasn't bothered to make it any more enticing to buy as the disc has no extras beyond the trailer (it also has a descriptive audio track, which is nice to see and hopefully becomes a standard), but it's certainly worth a rental if you enjoy such films. I recently watched another one called Breaking Surface, about two women who go scuba diving and one of them gets trapped by a rockslide, and while it had its share of nail-biter moments it also kept deflating the tension since the one who wasn't trapped kept leaving to go get air, tools, etc, which made it more of a routine ticking clock rescue movie, focusing on things like "She can't find the key to the trunk" instead of her sister, stuck under a rock with dwindling air supply. The best of these types stick with the situation you at home will hopefully never be able to identify with in the slightest, and in that regard Centigrade hits all its marks with the added bonus of being impressively boxed in from the production side of things (which makes a lack of a commentary or making of fairly disappointing). And it reaffirmed that I never ever want to drive in snowy conditions again, so: win win!

What say you?


The Vigil (2019)

FEBRUARY 21, 2021


One thing that is difficult for me (and I'm sure others) to remember when watching anything involving Catholic customs is that people who are part of another religion (or abstain from the idea entirely) might not understand the significance of this or that thing. The easiest example coming to mind is probably Dracula 2000, explaining that the title character was actually Judas Iscariot. For me, a good Catholic boy who had only recently stopped going to church every weekend after 20 years of following the practice, this needed no explanation, but someone raised without this story being recited to them a couple times a year might be like "Wait, who?" So with that in mind, I appreciate when a movie like The Vigil comes along to remind me how it feels to be completely unfamiliar with the customs and "laws" of other beliefs.

Luckily, the movie gives us enough explanation to get the basics (a Fangoria article about the film actually gave more context than necessary). The story hinges on the Jewish concept of the shemira, in which a body must be watched from the time of death until it buried. The watcher, a shomer, is supposed to read prayers of comfort for both the family of the deceased as well as the person's spirit, who may need the prayers to help them understand what has happened. It's actually kind of a lovely idea! No one does that for us Catholics, that's for sure. We just have a wake the day before we're buried, where people come nod at our corpse, shake hands and extend condolences to whoever is near the coffin*, and then make small talk nearby.

Anyway, being a horror movie, you might assume this is about creepy things happening during a shemira, and you'd be correct. Our hero is Yakov (Dave Davis), a man who has recently abandoned his Orthodox ways and even goes to a support group where he discusses the loss/change in his life with others who have done the same. However, his old Rabbi (I think? I apologize if I get the terms mixed up) waits outside the meeting and asks him to be shomer for a man named Litvak, who recently died and is set to be taken by the mortuary in the morning. Luckily for Yakov, the body just needs a watcher for the final six hours; his wife has been doing it, but suffers from dementia and needs to rest. However, the Rabbi has an ulterior motive, in that he hopes Yakov will rejoin their community and that this will give him the push he needs. Yakov doesn't really want to do this, for obvious reasons (he doesn't even know the family) but the man offers to pay him a few hundred bucks that he desperately needs as he is out of a job and rent is due. So he agrees, obviously. Otherwise there's no movie.

It doesn't take long for the odd things to start happening, and writer/director Keith Thomas ramps up the instensity at a fairly gradual pace. At first it's just lights flickering and things like that; he stages a great bit where a spider (?) scurries under the chair that Yakov is sitting in, prompting him to spend a few seconds nervously checking his clothes and trying to look behind his back, a feeling I believe all humans can identify with. Eventually he's seeing things and getting video texts of someone watching him during a brief period where he dozed off (which he is not supposed to do, if I'm understanding), and by the end we're into full surreal territory, with figures stretching out of the walls without actually breaking through (think Freddy coming out of Nancy's bedroom wall). Thomas also get a lot of mileage with a simple cracking sound that plays when the entity keeps mangling Yakov's hand; remember the sound of Mr. Glass' bones breaking when he fell down the subway stairs in Unbreakable? Think that but if it popped up several times in the film and without any indication to the audience that it was about to happen. Gah!

Along the way we also learn why Yakov has abandoned his faith, and it's not only heartbreaking, but also fairly justified in a way you don't often see in relgious themed horror (or even drama for that matter). It's not the usual "Someone I love died so how can there be a God?" kind of thing, but (vague spoiler) something happened specifically because of how Yakov looked as a Jewish man, attracting attention from some bullies that probably wouldn't have given him a second look otherwise. Thomas smartly keeps the details under wraps for a while, letting us just sympathize with Yakov as a young man trying to find his place in the world and scaring us a few times before letting us know exactly why he is seeking this huge change and what it has to do with his religion.

Thomas also gives us what is an increasingly common and welcome sight in modern films: letting us "see" someone's inner thoughts thanks to writing/rewriting text messages. It used to be we'd get those clunky scenes of someone practicing a phone call (and we still do; The Way Back had a good one just last year) but this is a tool they can use to get the same kind of brainstorming out but much quicker. Yakov has attracted the attention of one of the women in his group and she is texting him for the first time while he watches the body, so we not only see him Googling "how to talk to women" (heh, poor sod) but also struggling with basic small talk. When he replies "Hey" to her "hi!" and then pauses over whether to add a period, it's wonderful. In a second of screentime we get what might have been a page's worth of exposition about how he was nervous and didn't want to blow it.

Some of that shorthand doesn't always help the movie, though. There are a pair of flashbacks to a tragedy in Mr Litvak's past (tied into why there's an entity haunting him in death) and they really could have been fleshed out a bit, due to their significance to the story. The first occurs right at the top of the story and the other is near the end, so even though it's not a long film you might have even forgotten about the earlier appearance by the time the followup comes along, so that coupled with the vagueness of their context makes it feel underdeveloped. I also wasn't quite sure how Yakov got back inside the house after falling outside; the wife (familiar character actor Lynn Cohen, who has since passed away) bandages his wounds but she certainly couldn't have gotten him inside? With the number of surreal/hallucinatory moments in the film it's possible he never actually left at all, but his wounds are consistent with the fall he took, so a little clarification here would have been good.

Overall, it's an effective little chiller, nothing less or more. I am happy that Jewish horror fans can get a film of their own (one without a golem no less!) and found Yakov to be a solid lead, but I almost got the sense that Thomas had a banger of a setup but never quite figured out how to end it. It feels a bit padded at times too, which again suggests that the knockout premise was enough to get a greenlight without a fully fleshed out script (or perhaps budgetary restrictions forced them to gut parts of it). At its best (the first half) it gives the same kind of proper spooky vibes as The Autopsy of Jane Doe, with a dash of the (already forgotten) Possession of Hannah Grace; I'm a sucker for the "one night on the job" kind of genre tales and it more or less checks those boxes with the added Jewish element giving it some flavor. Just wish it had a little bit more so I could elevate it to "must see".

What say you?

*I will never forget at my dad's wake when someone who knew him from basketball (he was a volunteer ref and announcer for the local teams) came up to the coffin, said his silent prayer, and then proceeded to tell some of my father's old coworkers how sorry he was for their loss, while ignoring my mother and I standing right next to them. Really need a guest list for these things to keep out the randoms who might inadvertently make you burst out laughing.


Satan's Blood (1978)

FEBRUARY 11, 2021


One fun thing about the various Rosemary's Baby/Exorcist knockoffs of the 1970s is seeing what particular things the filmmakers deemed necessary to recycle for their own version, as if they felt explicitly tipping their hat would keep them safe from plagiarism ("it's an homage!"). For example, I've always been tickled about Beyond the Door having their weird kids drink pea soup straight from the can, and of course my beloved Cathy's Curse certainly seemed to think a swearing little girl was essential. In Satan's Blood (Spanish: Escalofrío), director Carlos Puerto lets you know that we're in Polanski territory instantly by having the elderly neighbors of our heroes stare at them in a knowing way, as if to say "Yes, these people are the Minnie and Roman of this film" before anything else remotely spooky has happened.

In fact the only other thing that might remind you of Rosemary by that point (only about five minutes into the film) is that Mariana Karr's character Ana is pregnant, a plot point that has no bearing on pretty much anything that follows. Despite the similar vibes, her pregnancy ends up being a total non-starter in the grand scheme of things; her husband Andres (José María Guillén) tells her she shouldn't go dancing, but that's about it - she spends the rest of the movie smoking and drinking without any concern. And she isn't even remotely showing (at four months! Bless her!) so if they snipped out the quick conversation about it early on I don't think it'd even cause any continuity or plot hole issues.

It also provides a very flimsy excuse for why Ana is bored, so much that when another couple pulls up next to them at a stoplight and the man claims that he went to school with Andres, she quickly agrees to their invitation to come over their house for a while ("We have wine and cheese" the man's wife offers, sweetening the deal to hang out with strangers). They barely even flinch when the drive turns out to be an hour away, and let's not discount the fact that Andres has no memory of the man whatsoever. I myself wouldn't accept this sort of out of nowhere invitation from someone I DID remember, but that's why I have never found myself as the lead in a Spanish horror film.

Or why I've never gotten to be in an orgy. See, they don't care about the baby, but the new couple is... well, horny. I'm not exactly sure what other motives they had (I'll get into spoilers in a bit for one possible explanation), but they sure enjoy having lots of sex with our heroes. After playing with a Ouija board (per 1970s supernatural movie law) all four of them disrobe and begin enjoying one another in all possible combinations except male on male (though we do see a penis or two, so they're not THAT conservative). Later when it's time for bed the couples enjoy each other on their own, as if reinvigorated by their little foray into group sex. And the woman (Sandra Alberti from Trauma, also recently released from Vinegar Syndrome) tries seduce Andres AND Ana on separate occasions, for good measure. These people would be absolutely miserable if they were still alive to deal with covid!

But in fact (spoilers here!) they're actually already dead. After a number of weird things happen, most of which are never explained (why is there a random would-be rapist hanging out in the house? No one - even the woman he attacks - ever really looks into his whole deal), our heroes finally escape the house and return home, only to discover their belongings are gone. The couple from next door - apartment 66 by the way, because subtlety - invites them in to calm down, and when they enter they see all the people from the house they just escaped. Everyone surrounds them and stabs them to death, and then we cut to a new couple who is out for a drive. At a stoplight, the couple looks over and sees... Andres! Telling the driver they're old friends. So the cycle begins again, which is cool, but I couldn't begin to tell you what the purpose of any of it was. If the only goal was to kill these people why did they drag it out for so long? Can't even say it was "to have more sex" because the horniness dies out by the next morning and there's still plenty of time left (and thus, chances to kill them).

That said, please don't take this as a criticism on the movie, at least from my perspective. I found the whole thing delightful, and - as noted on the historian commentary by Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger - it's part of the "anything goes" mentality for Spanish horror that makes them so appealing. Unlike (most, not all) American films that have similar setups, there's really no way to predict how this one would end, even with the telltale shifty eyed look from the neighbors early on. Even when I was rewatching with the commentary I found myself surprised on occasion, like "Oh yeah, I forgot there was a random bit of possible cannibalism at one point." There's even a random evil doll element in this movie that would cause enough nightmares for a specific killer doll movie, but instead it's just one of the many oddities you'll find. I love that!

Apart from the historian track (which echoes some of their earlier ones in that it spends a lot of time on the general sub-genre as opposed to anything about the specific film) the disc also offers a lengthy retrospective documentary featuring Alberti, writer/director Carlos Puerto and editor Pedro del Rey. Alberti appears more than the other two combined, I think, but it makes sense since she has the most colorful anecdotes, discussing the film's nudity, a ripoff she saw (she doesn't say the title; from the historian track I THINK she is referring to Black Candles), the other actors, etc. For his part, Puerto sighs about some of the changes that producer Juan Piquer Simón (yes, the Pieces genius) imposed on the film but also takes responsibility for the film's lapses, so that's refreshing. An English dub track - which apparently changes the tone of some scenes by sounding more comical - is included for the film as well, for those who don't want subtitles.

Deighan and Ellinger point out that so many of these films are hard to find nowadays (and even those that are available are often presented shoddily), feeling that Spanish horror has never been given as much reverence from these companies as genre efforts from other European countries (namely Italy and France). So I'm glad Vinegar Syndrome has been focusing so much on it lately; it's a pretty sizable hole in my own viewing history (due in part to the aforementioned availability issues) and I've been having a blast diving in with their nearly monthly releases (I missed the second volume of their Forgotten Gialli boxed sets though, so I gotta pick that up to do my part to help convince them for a third volume). I can see a younger version of me hating this movie for its hazy plot details, but as I get older and more mellow, I find myself drawn to this kind of thing more often, and I look forward to more.

What say you?


A Glitch in the Matrix (2021)

FEBRUARY 5, 2021


(No, this is not a "horror movie". But it's creepy and terrifying all the same, and I don't have anywhere else to write right now, so don't give me any crap about it!)

On the floor in my bedroom is a Christmas card from 2019 (not a typo); it's one of many things in the house that aren't exactly where they should be, but fell or whatever at one point and isn't bothering anything, so no one bothers to pick it up. I pass by it every day and think "I should clean up," but then I continue doing whatever it is I was doing and forget about it until the next day when I see it again. It's something I thought about at a key point in Rodney Ascher's A Glitch in the Matrix, a new documentary that tackles the growing (and in some cases, somewhat convincing!) theories that we are perhaps not flesh and blood human beings, but - like Neo in The Matrix prior to swallowing the pill - just avatars in a simulation run by some higher power.

"What does that have to do with some trash on your floor?" you're asking. Well, one of the talking heads explains how video games work at one point; how everything we see is just ones and zeroes and, when the situation of the game changes, the bits of data that are a flower at one point are later rearranged to become a person. As video game consoles and PC get stronger and faster, the games are able to have more things on screen at once, and will load faster when you enter new areas, and you don't really think much of it beyond "this is still too slow" or "this is so much faster!" as the machine does exactly what that guy described: changing flowers into people, generally speaking.

"...WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH YOUR TRASH!?" I'm getting there, relax, hypothetical reader! OK, so, I don't think about the stupid card every time I enter the room and see it on the floor, right? If we're in a simulation, I have to assume at some point the computer will have reused those bits of data to make something else and will eventually just stop taking time out of its day to recreate the damn thing on my floor every day, because by now, after it's been there for months, it's obviously not something I'm ever going to bother to do, and furthermore if it were to just disappear one day I wouldn't think much of that either. I'll assume my wife picked it up, and by the time I'm ten steps away I'll have forgotten that it was ever there.


I'm also playing Breath of the Wild finally, and like anyone who has played that game knows, it is constantly throwing other things at you to check out, including silly side quests that might take an hour and net you nothing but some food to eat. But I fancy myself a completist (at least for named subquests I start; I probably won't have the patience to find every goddamn Korok seed) and at one point I found the item that the person wanted, returning to the town to give it to them. Once I did that, they moved on and, best as I can tell, never returned to that spot that they had apparently been hanging out in for how many virtual days as I fought monsters, climbed towers, etc without caring much that they put their little virtual life on hold until I returned.

...so what if the damn card is a "side quest" I need to "complete" before I can get rid of it? What if the game overlords are leaving that innoccuous (and probably not particularly large, data-wise!) item there until I pick it up, regardless of how many other things I have done with my life since I first noticed it?

This long-winded pair of anecdotes illustrates the driving force behind Ascher's doc, in that even though it seems completely ridiculous to think we're all avatars in the biggest game of Sims ever constructed, our video games are increasingly making it easier to understand how people can believe in it, and also - though your mileage will vary here - easier to believe in it yourself. While the title suggests that the Wachowskis film will be heavily featured (not unlike The Shining in Ascher's Room 237), I was surprised to discover it was just as reliant on other movies and quite a bit of video games. In the first 50 minutes or so, we see just as much footage from Impostor (!) as The Matrix, as the former was based on Philip K. Dick and his stories (and subsequent film adaptations) form the basis of a lot of these theories.

But it's the game examples that really prove to be eye-opening. There's a clip from Red Dead Redemption 2 that shows how the NPCs are just going about their own lives and will make choices that have almost nothing to do with the player's actions, and like my Zelda example you get the impression that if the player were to just sit in one of the game's saloons or something they could watch little stories unfold within the virtual world. This, in the same medium that has allowed people to "break" games like Pac-Man because the (four) ghosts move along set patterns that can be memorized. It's been less than forty years between the two things, so how far will they come in another forty years? And when we see it, will it really be so hard to buy the idea that we might be in such a game ourselves? If a criminal loves to return to the scene of the crime or taunt the police in hopes of getting caught, wouldn't the same logic apply here? That the puppet masters program people to make these games (and docs like Ascher's - and yes this is addressed in the film) as a way of tipping their hat to see if we can figure it out?

Don't worry, I'm not about to buy into it. Right now on my wall there's a little dent, and a spot where they did a lousy job repainting over a crack or something from the previous tenant, and those are the sort of things that I can't imagine any "dev" bothering to include when there's a strong chance I might have never noticed them - it'd just be a normal, unremarkable wall. Yes, it's weird when you think of a song that you haven't heard for a while and then it's on the radio, and I had a "glitch" experience myself (before the movie even came out in 1999)*, but I lean towards this being a biproduct of the brain being something that we have yet to fully understand, combined with the uncertainty and randomness of how we connect as human beings. And my religious upbringing throws another wrench in the works - maybe God does those things just to let us know they're listening, even if - as we are shown every damn day, especially THESE days - they opt not to intervene with what happens down here.

On that note, religion doesn't factor too much into the film's theories and explanations; it's brought up of course, but never really dwelled on. Instead, Ascher focuses on some specific examples of people who not only believe they're in a simulation, but are actually fine with it. While it can lead to dangerous situations (one interviewee is phoned in from prison, as they murdered their parents thinking it was just a game), these guys are for the most part sort of zen about it. He also covers their appearance in game like avatars, an odd choice that actually ends up working quite well, especially when they do mundane human actions like scratch an elbow or look off to the side when trying to clarify what they're saying. It can be slightly distracting at times, but I got used to it far quicker than I expected I would when first presented with the image of some Dark Souls-y armored guy yammering about simululation theory.

The film runs just under 110 minutes, but honestly could have run for hours or even days; I do not envy the editors and Ascher working to get what was probably a surplus of fascinating interview footage into something manageable (especially when you account for the addition of film clips and animation eating into the runtime). It has inspired me to read up on the topic (feel free to recommend any notable books in the comments!), but more importantly it has gotten me to not write off the idea as such nonsense as I have in the past. Again, I still don't believe in it, but if you told me five years ago that we'd have a President that got banned on Twitter for encouraging a coup that failed, I wouldn't have believed that either. The movie hits VOD today, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Ascher's other films (I think it might be his best?), but even more I recommend it to people who think the idea is completely ludicrous. Challenging one's beliefs and opening your mind to other ways of thinking - even if you don't ultimately feel the same way - is what makes us human. The people that are fine with never learning anything new are like those ghosts in Pac-Man: an example of someone's limitations being something someone else can exploit for their own gain.

And yes, I just picked up the card.

What say you?

*Back in college, I was on my way to get my mail one day when I noticed my friend come out of her dorm, with an unfamiliar man exiting the same door about fifty feet behind her. I didn't think too much of it (I only noticed the man because I didn't recognize him, and these dorm buildings were fairly small so I knew all the residents, but he also looked too young to be anyone's dad) until I returned from my errand, only a few minutes later, and saw the same friend followed by the same man exiting the same door once again. It freaked me out but good, and then a month or two later when I saw the Matrix I had my own "whoa" moment thinking about the similarities. But, you know, it was probably that she forgot something and the unfamiliar guy was a repairman who was going back and forth to his truck for parts.


Sputnik (2020)

FEBRUARY 1, 2021


One of the things that really devastated me about 2020's (and, so far, 2021's) endless stream of cancellations is that I didn't get to go to any festivals of note. Screamfest and Beyond Fest had scaled down drive-in versions, but given my aversion to seeing genre fare for the first time on a murky drive-in screen, I didn't attend them as often as I would had they taken place in their usual venues. So I ended up only really going to the films that were already on my radar; as much as I love going in blind and discovering things at a fest, I couldn't muster up the energy to drive an hour and sit uncomfortably to see a subpar presentation of a film I wasn't already interested in seeing. But had these fests (or others, like Fantastic Fest) gone on as normal, I have no doubt that I would have seen Sputnik at one of them and been even more impressed than I was with the Blu-ray at home.

And that's because I wouldn't have been told beforehand how good it was. I rememberered hearing a few raves out of whatever virtual means it premiered on over the summer, and even if I hadn't, this very Blu-ray slaps a Rotten Tomatoes' FRESH! logo right there on the box art (studios: PLEASE stop doing this! Use a sticker on the cellophane if it means so much to you to tout an arbitrary accomplishment), informing me that those who saw it found it to be very blurb-worthy. Normally I bristle at these shenanigans, but luckily I still knew almost nothing about the film's plot, so beyond feeling ready to have a "what's the big deal?" kind of reaction (wouldn't be the first time with these particular circumstances) I was still able to have that same kind of blank slate that I would get at a festival, where I often just see whatever I can fit into my schedule without bothering to look into what it's about or anything like that.

Ironically, if I knew the basic premise I might have liked it even more, as my expectations would be happily subverted. The opening of the film shows two astronauts returning from a space mission (in 1983; it's a period piece though it rarely matters much beyond dated tech like a TV that needs an antenna) and discovering that they brought something back with them, which is, you know, the setup for 800 movies that air on Syfy. One astronaut is seemingly killed and the other is being kept in a military lab of some sort, where he is questioned about the mission and what he remembers about their return. Feeling they need more than they're getting from him, the government jerks bring in Tatyana Yuryevna, a doctor who has recently gotten into hot water for ignoring protocol in order to save her patient - i.e. just the sort of person that might be able to help the poor astronaut.

Why does he need help, you ask? Well, as it turns out (and as the film reveals in a wonderfully casual way), the poor sod is now infected with an alien parasite, one that exits through his mouth every night and leaves him unconscious as it does the sort of thing movie alien monsters tend to do. Then it returns, with the astronaut waking up and seemingly having no memory of the nightly ordeal or that he is carrying another being inside his body. The science behind it serves two purposes; not only does it explain how something so big can be inside of him (the oxygen in the air enlarges it, and it shrinks again as it returns) but also offers a sort of ticking clock scenario, as the two form a symbiotic relationship, so one can't live without the other.

Based on that you will probably assume eventually the thing doesn't WANT to go back inside the guy's body and it becomes a chase kind of movie, with the creature killing various military goons while our hero tries to find a way to save the man she is starting to get close to, but I will only say that that isn't true, and the story takes more surprising turns than the initial premise would have you believe. The runtime (just under two hours) should be enough to inform you that this isn't going to be a schlocky Asylum kind of movie, but what's great about it is that it DOES deliver those same kind of cheap thrills all the same. There are some splatter effects in this that rival the deaths you see in the likes of the Wrong Turn or Hatchet series, which I was certainly not expecting after the first act, which suggested something akin to Arrival, where science and logic were the order of the day.

And even without those elements, the film would still be a winner due to its two-hander setup, where you're rooting for both Tatyana and Konstantin the astronaut, who ultimately learns more about his situation and has a whole new set of problems to worry about. He is a flawed man, but not a bad one - this isn't like Species II where the guy turns into a villain as the alien parasite gets stronger, so you're always on his side even if he occasionally does morally unsound things. Ultimately, alien or not, he just wants to reunite with his family, which I think anyone can appreciate and might even take on more weight with certain viewers in the current climate. Obviously the movie was made pre-lockdown era (it was actually a victim of one of the first major cancellations, as it was set to premiere at Tribeca in April of 2020), but it's going to be much easier to sympathize with Konstantin - confined to a few rooms and devoid of much interaction with other humans - than it might have been a year or so ago.

It's even more impressive that this is the first feature from director Egor Abramenko. His previous effort was a short named The Passenger that this film is seemingly an expanded version of (same plot, per IMDb, and also the same composer - Oleg Karpachev, whose work here is incredible), though that short's writer isn't listed as a writer here, so I'm not sure what the deal is there. But whatever its origins, it never FEELS like an expanded short film like many such things do; the film may be long but it's paced well, doling out reveals at a steady clip while never losing sight of the characters. Even the villain gets shades of grey; you can tell just by looking at him that he's going to be an antagonist eventually (you might expect to see him in a police lineup with guys like Stephen Lang, Neil McDonough, and Gary Oldman), but he's got a strange honesty about him that made him more endearing than the average "we want the alien for weapons!" baddie. His underling, another doctor that gets somewhat sidelined by Tatyana's presence, also keeps things engaging as you're never sure if he will side with her or not. In other words, the gore visuals are great and appreciated, but they're the cherry on top, not the lone bright spot they sometimes are in these kind of things.

As for the creature itself, it's an all CGI creation, which is a bummer, but at least it's a largely well done effect. And more importantly, the design itself is good! It's not one of those JJ Abrams-y monsters that have no discernible thought behind them; you get the idea that Abramenko or one of the writers could actually tell you things about its bodily functions that are never important to the onscreen actions. I might even be able to recognize it from a still image five years from now, unlike say, the Cloverfield monsters (any of them) which left my head the second I walked out of the theater (or shut off Netflix in the last one's case). That's really all I ask of these beasties, yet so many modern filmmakers can't seem to manage, as they prefer to just go nuts with their CGI designs until it's just a giant blob of stuff with a vaguely human or animal form.

The disc is coming next week from Scream Factory, but as is sadly often the case with their IFC Midnight releases, there are no bonus features to speak of - just the trailer. Seems including the Passenger short would be a no-brainer, so I wish that had been included at the very least, though not as much as I wish it defaulted to the original Russian language track. It's there, as are English subtitles of course (there's also a descriptive audio track, which is nice), but it defaults to an English dub, and - at least on the PS4 - there's no way to just toggle the audio or subtitle track with its respective button. Instead you have to bring up the pop up menu and enable them there, which is just frustrating and takes much longer. Scream Factory's discs are among the least user friendly on the planet anyway (no resume play, no return cycling of the menu options, etc. Most of their initial releases didn't even have subtitles!) but this is a new one that is hopefully just some strange error in the mastering and not yet another simple accessibility option that they won't be offering for whatever reason. Get it together, SF!

What say you?


The Final Girls (2015)

JANUARY 22, 2021


I forget exactly why I skipped The Final Girls when it came out in 2015; I don't *think* it was the PG-13 rating but it's not out of the question that it was that or some other silly excuse. But more likely I caught wind of the fact that it wasn't really a slasher, but more of a coming of age/mother-daughter bonding kind of movie using the backdrop of a slasher movie to tell its story, as the plot is about a young woman being sucked into an old slasher movie that starred her now-deceased mother, giving her a chance to spend time with her again. I'd compare it to Happy Death Day 2U in that regard; the slasher stuff is just a means to an end as opposed to the focus. There's nothing wrong with that, of course - but it would have been enough for me, with a one year old son (and at that time, a book to finish!) to think I could wait for Blu-ray or whatever.

And then I just sort of forgot about it until last night, when a question about it came up at trivia and I didn't know it. Slasher stuff is my responsibility for the group, and I feel I definitely would have known the answer had I seen the movie recently enough. The question, for the curious, was "What is the name of the sequel to Camp Bloodbath?" (that's the slasher movie the heroes of the film get sucked into) and the answer was "Cruel Summer", which was revealed in the film alongside the Bananarama song of the same name. Since the soundtrack was peppered with so many hit songs (far more than I would expect from a low budget film of this type) I suspect it would have been rattling around in my brain for a bit, as I guarantee five years from now one of my stronger memories about the film would be its song selections (Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes", a favorite of mine, plays a key part, and even though it's not from the '80s I can always enjoy the inclusion of Warrant's "Cherry Pie").

But there's one thing that will stick out forever for sure, and not in a good way: the casting of Malin Akerman as one of the stars of Camp Bloodbath. In the real world opening sequence (set in the present day), she's a down on her luck actress, going to shoddy looking auditions and resenting that she's still only really remembered for a slasher she did nearly 30 years prior. Her daughter (Taissa Farmiga) supports her continued attempts to be a big star, but it's clear that for her, it's over. And then it's REALLY over, as she gets killed in a car crash on the way home. Farmiga's Max survives, and a few years later attends a revival screening of the two Camp Bloodbath movies scheduled to honor her mom's memory. A fire in the theater breaks out, and when trying to escape through a hole in the screen, Max and her friends end up inside the film, which for her friends means some goofing off and telling the characters that they're just movie characters (and that they can't have sex or they'll die) but for Max means a chance to stop her mom from dying in the movie where she couldn't stop her from dying in real life.

All well and good except... you know, Akerman doesn't look appreciably younger in the film, even though it's been thirty years. The film opens with Farmiga watching the Camp Bloodbath trailer on her phone, and when her present day mom shows up after her bad audition she basically looks the same, just a bit tired. Most movies would have a different actress entirely playing the younger version, or at least taken the time to age her up for the present day to hammer home how long it had been, but they do neither here. So we're either supposed to believe she was in her teens in Camp Bloodbath, or in her fifties or even sixties in the present day scene? To be clear, I find Akerman quite charming and have enjoyed her work over the years, so it's not her fault or anything, and given the importance of the bond between the two women using a different actress for the other time period wouldn't work. But her casting is wrong for this particular part; I hate to sound ageist, but the role really needed someone much younger to play the role of "a shy girl with a clipboard" who is supposed to be having sex for the first time, and aged for the one scene where she needed to look older. It's like they cast for the present day when they should have cast it for the past, which is just weird. It's like the Wet Hot American Summer gag, and maybe it's even an intentional joke about how the actors in these movies are always older than their characters, but the idea of Max getting to spend time with her mom in her youthful glory days doesn't quite work as a result when their age dynamic is identical to the present day.

But beyond all that, it's a cute enough timekiller, with some occasional deep cuts for slasher fans (including an obscure reference to Pieces, which delighted me) and a game cast keeping it lively. Angela Trimbur's resident bimbo sexpot character occasionally borders on perhaps mentally challenged, so they could have reigned that in a bit, but everyone is clearly having fun running through the world's most generic slasher movie. I groaned when Thomas Middleditch showed up as a Randy Meeks type, because that guy sucks and I feared it meant he'd be commenting nonstop throughout the film, but he's actually the first to die, which was a wonderful little gift from the filmmakers. The "rules" are never clear and seem to change based on the scene's requirements, so you can't get too hung up on that sort of thing (at one point they find themselves in a time loop when they try to change something, which seems odd when a big part of the plot revolves around how their interruption caused the movie's original plot to change course - where is the line re: how/why things can be affected?), but unlike the mother daughter stuff - which wants to tug at your heartstrings - it's easy to ignore how none of it makes any goddamn sense and to just enjoy the ride. Nina Dobrev in particular showed off some solid comic chops as the "mean girl" (and also managed to deliver an emotional beat that the Akerman/Farmiga relationship never quite landed), and the best laugh in the movie is probably Tory Thompson's relief in discovering that even though he himself wasn't real, new wave music was.

Also, I was happy to see that part of the plot revolved around a revival screening, the sort of thing I miss dearly (indeed, the last time I saw a movie with a regular crowd was the New Beverly's showing of Jason X). For all they botched with the other stuff, they got the atmosphere pretty right here; there's a few guys dressed as the killer, everyone is laughing appreciably at bad lines, etc. Hell, the fire that sends them into the movie is caused by a guy sneaking in a bottle that rolls down the entire auditorium, the sound of which has interrupted countless midnight movies (and yes, even woken me up once or twice). The vaccine is coming along, sort of, so hopefully I can celebrate this fall the way I prefer: sitting in a theater watching movies like Camp Bloodbath, instead of being stuck at home.

The script supposedly went through a lot of changes over the years (it was written to be R, and bounced around studios), and they could never come up with a good ending (the one that we get is apparently a mix of two different finales, neither of which tested well), so it's possible some earlier incarnation would have been more satisfying to me. And I'd also be willing to bet that the central relationship between the two leads would work better on paper when you can imagine two distinct ages for a person (or even just better makeup; since it's about the same timespan, think the difference between the two versions of Lea Thompson that we get in Back to the Future) instead of constantly having to remind yourself that the two main characters are technically supposed to be about the same age for the majority of the film. But the results more or less get by on a sort of breezy charm, peppered with a few good gags for slasher aficionados and the visual treat of seeing that obnoxious asshat Middleditch being run over.

What say you?


Bug (1975)

JANUARY 11, 2021


Sometimes it's legitimate ignorance/confusion, but one type of joke I often can't stand is when there are two movies with the same name and when you say you are watching or enjoying one, someone will make a crack about the other (one basic example: you say you're enjoying Jack Palance in Alone in the Dark and someone will ask if he's in a scene with Tara Reid, who starred in the other, awful one). The reason for this is that I am already annoyed I have to clarify which one I mean, because so many producers are too lazy to come up with a title that hasn't already been used, so when I take the time to specify and STILL get a hacky joke reply, it's just twisting the knife. I bring it up because when I said I was watching Bug, I specified that it wasn't William Friedkin's while simultaneously thinking that the two films couldn't be less alike - only to discover they actually DID have a number of similarities by the end.

I mean, if you haven't seen Friedkin's 2006 thriller, the quickest way to sum it up would be "Two people gradually go insane while barricading themselves in a room", whereas *this* Bug is, in general, a typical 1970s nature gone amok movie about a breed of cockroach type bugs that begin decimating the populace of a small southwestern town. And given that it was produced by William Castle and directed by Jeannot Szwarc - whose work here helped him get the Jaws 2 gig - it's reasonable to expect the same kind of schlocky thrills you also got from the likes of Frogs and Giant Spider Invasion, right? Well, for about 45-50 minutes that's indeed what you get, and then... well, it turns into a movie about a guy going insane while barricading himself in a room. Hell, I can go further with a SPOILER and note that the protagonists also burn to death, which means that Friedkin's Bug, while obviously not a remake, shares more surface similarities with this one than some legitimate remakes did with their originals (Prom Night and the most recent Black Christmas come to mind). It might actually be an interesting double feature, especially on a crowd of people who had never seen either and only knew that they were in no way related despite having the same title.

Until it pivots, it's certainly a fun killer bug movie, if a bit TV movie-esque (no surprise; Szwarc came from TV and, after Jaws 2 and a couple other features, returned there and hasn't come back). An earthquake sets the little things loose in the opening scene, so you get the Star Trek sort of "shake the camera and have all the actors tip themselves to the side" goofiness that's always enjoyable and also more visually exciting than the usual man-made explantion you get in this kind of film (i.e. the pesticides in Kingdom of the Spiders). It's like a bonus mini-disaster movie! From there we get a few isolated attacks, including one in, believe it or not, the Brady Bunch kitchen! Seems that this film was going into production right around the time that show had gotten canceled, so to save money they just slightly redressed their set and shot the scene there. Since the victim is a Mrs Brady-esque lovely lady, it almost feels like a strange, Adult Swim kind of sketch to see someone in that iconic room being killed in the most ridiculous way possible.

See, these bugs don't bite people to death or whatever. Instead they... well, they basically fart fire. Our hero scientist James (Bradford Dillman) gives it a more scientific explanation of course, but "they fart fire" is how it looks, and it's this little superpower that causes all the deaths. In the Brady kitchen, one of them gets in the poor woman's hair and starts a fire, one she doesn't even notice at first while she is puzzling over her recipe. In another scene they cause a truck to burn up, and since they are also attracted to fire and eat ashes, this is the most pyro-driven killer insect movie I think I've ever seen. There are like four different scenes of Dillman lighting a newspaper or something on fire and sticking it near them in order to lure them somewhere, which at the time was kind of obnoxious but when it was over I actually appreciated the repetition, as it was lulling me into thinking this was gonna be the usual deal and the climax would involve them finding the nest or something and blowing them all up.

Nope! You see, that lady in the kitchen was Dillman's wife, and after her death he becomes obsessed with the bugs and studying them in order to find a way to eradicate them permanently. And this is where the movie pivots into nuttier fare, with the non-Dillman cast more or less disappearing as we focus almost exclusively on him in his house for the final thirty minutes. But it's not like, him facing off against the bugs as a last man standing thing; instead it enters into Phase IV territory (the bug footage was actually shot by the same guy, incidentally) as the roaches start communicating with Dillman by forming words out of their bodies. It's like the writers had gotten 60 pages into their standard nature gone amok script, went to see Phase IV during a break, and got inspired to change course but never bothered to thread their new ideas into what they had already written.

But I liked that! One thing I love about 1970s genre fare that was never as prevalent in other decades is that they were often pretty grim, killing off heroes and/or ending on a note that suggested the evil thing was just getting stronger (even Kingdom of the Spiders, a pretty goofy movie throughout, ends on a major downer), but the TV movie aesthetics had me thinking this would not go that route. Plus, even though Rosemary's Baby had already come and gone (well, not GONE but you get it), William Castle's name still suggested whimsy and fun, an element that is entirely absent from the film's back half. Hell if anything the end was dark even by the standards of this sub-genre, since the insects are seemingly specifically driving this guy crazy after murdering his wife, AND they evolve into something bigger/stronger for good measure. Hahaha, GRIM. I love it!

The disc has but one bonus feature of note: a commentary by Troy Howarth that is a little more defensive than I'm used to for him. He tends to be one of the more engaging historians they get for these things, but here he seems to be particularly annoyed that Dillman never got as much respect as an actor as he believes the man deserves. I don't disagree, necessarily, but it starts to overwhelm the track at times, at the expense of learning more about the other players involved. The movie is almost over before he even really starts to give a little background on Szwarc, for example, but by then we've heard him defend Dillman's presence five or six times. Calm down, man!

I tried to focus on the track, but I did zone out a few times, so maybe Howarth mentioned this himself, but I think it's amusing that this movie - released two weeks before Jaws - starred the guy who'd star in one of its most famous knockoffs (Piranha) and was directed by the guy who'd direct the actual Jaws sequel, both films released a few weeks apart just three years later. After Jaws came along there was definitely a shift in these sort of things, some holding on to the darker elements of the earlier movies while attempting to make things more commercial, so I think it's funny that the director and star of what had to be the last one released (perhaps even made) prior to Jaws changing the game forever went on to make films that literally owed their entire existence to it.

Long story short: I'm gonna program a film marathon of Phase IV, Bug (1975), Jaws, Jaws 2, Piranha, and Bug (2006) someday, hope you can make it.

What say you?


The Craft: Legacy (2020)

JANUARY 5, 2021


When I revisited The Craft a few weeks ago I noted that it was kind of the "2nd best" option for a lot of things (i.e. 2nd best Neve Campbell/Skeet Ulrich genre movie, 2nd scariest Fairuza Balk movie, etc), and now we can add another to the list: it's the 2nd best Craft movie. Blumhouse's The Craft: Legacy (yes, that's the very stupid on-screen title) isn't exactly a home run, but if I had a teen daughter of my own, it would be the one I rather she watched with her friends at a sleepover or whatever. Not only does it lack the F-bomb that gave the first one an R rating, keeping her ears pure (surely this theoretical daughter would NEVER have heard her father use such terrible language, no sir!) allowing it to stay in PG-13 territory, but after a similar first half it pivots into something that carries a stronger message to impart on the impressionable young women watching.

And that is the fact that this time, the girls stick together. There's a little split at the end of act two, but it unfolds in the opposite way of the original - this time, the good girl heroine Lily (Cailee Spaeny) starts losing control of her powers and the other three bind her AND themselves from using magic anymore, seeing that they're going down a path of using the powers for less wholesome things and betraying the witch's code or whatever. Basically, they stop themselves from ending up like the girls in the original! But when Lily needs help, the trio quickly rush to help, their bond strong enough to overcome the villain and end the movie on a "friends stick together!" note instead of "now everyone hates each other and the heroine seemingly hasn't learned anything" one of the original.

Plus the villain is a man, so that'll go down well with the target audience (spoilers ahead, though I mean, no one should be surprised by any of this). This film is a Blumhouse production (a rare partnership with Sony; nice to know they can access IPs beyond Universal) and seemingly came from the same "All Men Are Bastards!" development execs that gave us the Black Christmas remake, as once again the film is allotted exactly one (1) male who seems to be a good guy while the others are all shitheads. And they even rope in another aging heartthrob as their leader; Black Christmas gave us Cary "Westley" Elwes and here we have David Duchovny, as Lily's stepdad that is the head of a Pagan cult seeking to usurp Lily of her power. Duchovny is clearly enjoying himself in a rare villain role, and as such it's a shame they make some very lazy attempts to hide his true nature for a while instead of letting him cut loose throughout. As soon as he, Adam, introduces his sons* Jacob, Isaiah, and Abe (aka Abraham) we know he's into some religious nonsense, and then we learn he writes books on the power of masculinity, so we also know he sucks. But it's like another hour before we find out he's also a warlock. LEAD with that, then you have something!

But alas, like the original, the horror elements are pretty light, though without that R rating (or an unhinged member of the coven; no one is taking up Fairuza's mantle here) it never feels "lacking", either. It does a better job of coming off as a coming of age/life lesson kinda thing with some light genre elements sprinkled in to give it some kick, kind of like how so many '80s comedies had a random action sequence for the climax, and I never really minded that the film was a bit of a stretch to refer as "horror". I DO wish they had given the other girls a bit more dimension, however - if you thought the first one neglected to really flesh out the trio of new pals, you'll be even more disappointed here, as we know next to nothing about any of them by the end of it. One of them is transgender, one of them is Black, and the other one is... fun? I guess? The performers are fine and share a great chemistry (a big step up from the original in that department, where it seems their witch stuff was their only link) but I don't think any of them are even afforded scenes of their own; they are joined at the hip throughout.

That said, I kind of appreciated the "not a big deal" approach with regards to the transgender character (played by Zoey Luna, an actual transgender actress, thankfully). Rather than turn it into a *thing* that might alienate the very people who could use the exposure, writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones just has them say so in a rather amusing way (she notes that she can't give birth but that "trans girls have their own magic!") and doesn't really address it much again. Even Lily, identified as a bit of a sheltered type who never really had any friends except her mom, doesn't even react to it - Luna may as well have just been telling her that she likes coffee. Some might say this is a way of ignoring it or a missed opportunity to educate, but from my (white man, yes, I know) perspective it's a good way to depict the way it SHOULD be, i.e. no big deal. If it became a major subplot, not only would there be potential "getting it wrong" kind of moments, but it'd also give transphobic jackasses some ammo for their poorly thought out missives, claiming the movie was "pushing a lifestyle" on impressionable viewers or whatever. Instead it's just there, and no one cares any more than they do about us cisgendered types. It's kind of beautiful in its low-key way.

I also very much enjoyed how they used the Skeet Ulrich replacement character of Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine). Whereas the douchey jock became a sort of lovesick lapdog in the first one, Timmy is basically turned "woke" by their spell, and what's initially played as comic relief eventually evolves into giving the film one of its most emotionally charged beats. At first he earns a few chuckles by suddenly becoming a staunch ally of women (introduced as a loudmouth bully, he now complains about another guy being disrespectful to a female student, and extols the virtues of Princess Nokia), but as he gets closer to the girls and plays sleepover games with them, he ultimately admits that he is bisexual and how he has to hide it because neither sex will see him as anything but "a gay guy". It's a fairly heartbreaking scene, and it's a shame that the film's plot machinations result in it being more or less left there, as (spoiler) he continues playing the "Skeet role" to the same conclusion, if you catch my meaning.

And that brings us to what holds the movie back a bit - it seems tampered with. His exit from the movie is very awkwardly handled, plus Duchovny's coven plays no part in the proceedings after they're introduced, and the various subplots with his sons (one of whom seems to not want to follow in his older brothers' footsteps) go absolutely nowhere - they just disappear from the film. The trailer has a completely different "We are the weirdos" reprise (different scene, different person giving the line), and - worst of all - shows another scene that is not only absent from the movie, but ends up spoiling a major twist in a way (SPOILERS AHEAD for those who have not seen the trailer!). In the spot, we see Lily open a book and see a picture of Nancy (Balk's character), but that doesn't appear in the film (I'm not even sure where it would occur), which tells the people they are advertising the movie to that this is a (very loose) sequel instead of a remake like I'm pretty sure it was originally pitched as. So anyone who saw the trailer knows that Balk is going to show up in some capacity, which makes the film's final scene a total non-surprise even though it is clearly designed to be one.

SPOILERS CONTINUE HERE! The reveal also doesn't really make any sense. We learn Lily is Nancy's daughter, which is how she got her powers, fine - but uh... when did Nancy have her? The film is, as the original was, set in the time it was produced, so it's been 23-24 years give or take. As a high school student she is at MOST 18 years old (she seems to be younger), so that would mean Nancy somehow got knocked up in the institution that she was in when the first film ended and where she remains now, which is just... ew. Having her be the daughter of Robin Tunney's character would make much more sense both from the logistics as well as the nature of her character, so I am curious if this was the original plan and availability got in the way, or if it was supposed to be set earlier and it got fudged in a TCM3D kind of way by a production not bothering with the hassle of making it a period piece. Either way, it doesn't really work with or without the trailer more or less giving it away.

So it's a shame it has these fumbles, because it gets more right than wrong, but is hard to recommend overall when it has so many unresolved plot points and underdeveloped characters. The deleted scenes do not help much (though it does explain who they are talking about when auras are introduced; one character has a grandmother with powers who had a minor role that got totally excised), and the featurettes are, as can be expected nowadays, fluffy nothings, so don't go looking there for any clues as to what might have changed along the way. But again, I think it's an improvement on the original simply for the more satisfying climax (not counting the stupid potential sequel setup) and a stronger bond between the girls - it's legit endearing seeing them pal around, and also seem more like actual teens for what it's worth (at 21-22 the oldest one here is about the age Fairuza - the *youngest* of the original quartet - was then). Ultimately, you'll see some backlash from fans of the original because it was this formative thing for them and this new one doesn't live up to their 20+ year history with the title, but they're forgetting that this is going to be a formative movie for young girls now. And I, the 40 year old man with no dog in the race, thinks this one's better.

Plus, Blumhouse's revival standard of black goo (from Fantasy Island and Black Christmas) that they stole from X-Files makes another appearance and this time it infects Mulder himself, which is pretty funny.

What say you?

*Another SPOILER here: the epilogue laughably avoids the question of what happens to his teenaged boys now that he is dead and Monaghan is, obviously, moving on with her life. Do they just leave them to their own devices?


Anything For Jackson (2020)

JANUARY 1, 2021


For the past nearly fifty (!) years, every possession movie made has been compared (not always fairly) to The Exorcist, so it's kind of insane to think that it took this long* for someone to get around that very tall hurdle and simply invert the premise. Anything For Jackson has the girl tied to a bed, the freaky visuals, the rituals... but the plot is completely different, which means that if Friedkin/Blatty's masterpiece crosses your mind, it'll likely be of the "Huh, I guess you CAN make something that doesn't feel like it owes a debt to it."

The title refers to a little boy who died in a car accident, whose grieving grandparents (Julian Richings and Sheila McCarthy) want him back so badly that they dabble in the dark arts and find a spell that can bring him back by injecting his soul/ghost into a child that is about to be born. Of course for that they need a pregnant woman, which they find through Richings' job as a general practitioner, and arrange to have the woman come to their house for an appointment so they can kidnap her and carry out the ritual in the days leading up to the baby's birth. Naturally, she isn't exactly on board with this idea (despite being unsure if she wanted the child in the first place), so it unfolds a bit like your standard survival thriller, with the "villains" having to ward off snooping neighbors and the like, but with the fun wrinkle that the grandparents are a. a bit clueless about what they're doing and b. have no intentions of harming her.

On point A, I want to stress it's not a dark comedy. There are some bits of humor here and there, but it's usually subtle and dry - most of what there is stems from the couple's petty grievances with each other, the kind that can only be born out of a longtime relationship. Richings and McCarthy have terrific chemistry, and while it's not much new for McCarthy (Sam Coleman from WNTW News!) to play normal people, it's a true delight to see Richings not only taking on a rare lead role, but playing a relatively normal person instead of the usual creepy weirdos he has played in genre films for the past few decades. Sure, he's a guy that kidnaps a woman and perform a satanic ritual, but he's also a kindly doctor who will point out an askew hem on his wife's dress. And, while they're going about it in a very weird way, he's not only just a grandfather who wants to play with his grandson again, but he's also doing it all for his wife's sake, knowing her grief is even more unbearable than his own. It's not every day you can describe a Julian Richings character in a horror movie as "sweet", is what I'm saying.

As for the mom, Shannon (Konstantina Mantelos), she thankfully doesn't spend too much time on escape attempts we know won't work, and ultimately more or less realizes they mean well and aren't "bad people" in the traditional sense. In fact beyond knocking her over the head so they can get her inside and up into the room that she is confined to, they don't commit any violence at all in the film. But there's still a body count, because when they perform the first part of the ritual they accidentally let in other spirits, ones that aren't as benevolent as their grandson. These ghosts take to messing with the couple's heads, giving them horrifying visions (including one that might reduce the sales of dental floss among viewers) and possessing others. I was just starting to roll my eyes at the dedication of their usual snowplowing guy who kept coming back to clean up their driveway (despite Richings telling him not to, in fear he'd see something he shouldn't) when the plotline wrapped itself up in fantastically gruesome fashion.

There's also a bit of humor to be found in the performance of Josh Cruddas as Ian, an occult expert (and resident of his mother's basement) who assists the couple on occasion. It's an interesting character, as he doesn't really care much about why they're doing what they're doing, but is curious if it'll work, so he walks this line between being annoyed at their naivety but also mild amusement about what they manage to do right. His character proves to be more interesting than you'd initially suspect, and is another thing to help illustrate the movie's overall point that you can do a possession film without invoking Regan McNeill.

And it arrives at a perfect time, as my Shudder subscription will be due for renewal soon and with disrupted income due to covid, I am forever looking for ways to tighten the belt. Since the app on Xbox One is so buggy and it's somehow STILL not available on Playstation I don't use Shudder as often as you'd expect given my "I will watch any legitimate horror movie ever made at least once" approach to life. In addition to my son's aversion to such fare, my wife works from home doing therapy via Zoom and the like, so I can't have people screaming and such in the background even during the day when he's at daycare, so I can't watch anything until he's asleep (10pm, the little shit!). By then I myself am about to pass out, so I often watch movies broken up - it took three sittings to get through this, in fact. So when you factor that along with the other, more family-necessary services that ARE easy to watch (i.e. Netflix and Hulu), it feels like a bit of a waste to keep a Shudder sub going when I only use it maybe once a month*. BUT, things like this are exclusive, and I'm super glad I watched it, so the price seems right as of this time. If you haven't subscribed yet, AND you - unlike me - have the ability to use it more than 30 half asleep minutes a day, I highly recommend jumping on board. Their library continues to expand with both the older stuff you'd be excited to have at your disposal, and new films like this that would be instantly buried and forgotten on all-purpose services.

What say you?

*Luckily for them I watched this *after* the Castle Freak remake, another exclusive (at least for now) that... well, it wasn't terrible, but it was unnecessary and poorly cast (the girl playing blind was laughably bad at it), so it certainly wouldn't inspire a renewal to keep content like it coming my way.


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