Fear Street (Trilogy) (2021)

JULY 2-16, 2021

GENRE: SLASHER, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX)

Even if I hated every minute of the three Fear Street films, I'd at least give Netflix credit for a. attempting something new (for the completely uninitiated, that would be a trilogy of interconnected films released over a three week period) and b. not dumping all three films at once. Some of their binge-loving client base may have scoffed at the notion of having to wait an entire week to see the next chapter (I'd love to see these self-entitled babies deal with watching the first two seasons of Lost in the manner we had to put up with), however I feel it was not only hopefully something they'll consider more often, but also motivated viewers like me to keep coming back.

Because here's the thing: I barely tolerated the first entry, 1994. After a decent opening (one so beholden to the opening of Scream they might as well have just named the soon-to-be-dead character "Drew" for good measure) we spent the next 15 minutes meeting our characters, and they were pretty much all insufferable to me. The heroine, Deena, was basically introduced yelling at her brother, and then after a quick chat with her besties (a pair of drug dealers), she met up with her recent ex-girlfriend and started screaming at her as well. Then we're given the rundown of a historical feud between the two towns of Shadyside and Sunnyvale, something either the budget didn't allow to depict or the makers simply thought dialogue would suffice; we're supposed to understand one town is rich and prosperous while the other is filled with degenerates and claptrap houses, but this distinction is never fully made clear (it doesn't help that the two town names are so similar that I've seen multiple reviews/tweets mixing them up). We mostly just see a bunch of jocks on both sides fighting, which is something that happens in pretty much every town.

So, basically, very little is working. Things pick up a bit when the killings start, because at least the characters don't yell at each other as often, but director Leigh Janiak and her writers make the mistake not once but twice of presenting kills nearly back to back only to make us wait again for the next, as opposed to evenly distributing them over the film's dangerously near-fatal runtime of just under two hours. And yes, Scream also has a long time between kills (after Casey and Steve, the next victim is the principal, nearly an hour later), but it also had the attacks on Sidney (house and bathroom) to make up for it, not to mention a more engaging, personal story as opposed to some hazily defined town curse. There's a bread slicer kill that has been championed on Twitter, and rightfully so - but by that point I had already decided this was Not For Me™ and kind of checked out.

Now, if they dumped all three films at once, I'd likely say "OK, well, I'll get to the others when I'm bored" and - judging from my history with many Netflix shows - probably never do that. But because the next one wasn't around yet, and also because I seemed to be in the minority for 1994, a week of social media hype for the first film and what could happen in the second resulted in me getting more and more interested in watching the second installment, 1978. It didn't hurt that this one promised the appearance of Gillian "Britta" Jacobs (as a brunette no less, my Achilles heel!) and a summer camp setting that suggested something more Friday the 13th-y than the debut entry could muster. Also, while its excess didn't bug me as much as some others, the '90s soundtrack in the first movie would obviously not be a *thing* in 1978, so I was a little curious about what sort of classic rock tracks Netflix would license for a movie aimed at kids who probably considered the first film's soundtrack to be "old" (I realize now that my listening to Dark Side of the Moon in high school is, time-wise at least, the same as a kid in high school now listening to Incubus. Christ).

In short, while most Netflix dumps mean that after a few days no one remembers them, a week of seeing folks' anticipation for the next one had me thinking maybe I should give it another shot. And thus on the day it was released I found myself watching a sequel to a movie I didn't care for, and - thankfully - finding it to be a better use of my time. It still had an alienating way of introducing our leads (more yelling! With bonus physical assault this time for good measure) and some pacing issues, but Janiak thankfully spaced out her kills (and even offed a few of the kids at the camp! *cue "Nature Trail to Hell"*), kept the licensed soundtrack selections to a minimum, and gave us a little more context for the war between the two towns that made it a little more clear to me. Also, it got around one of the crippling flaws of the first one, which is that its trio of killers would just run right by a potential victim if they didn't have any of the "marked" blood on them, which made it feel more like It Follows than a proper slasher, and also severely impacted the suspense when we knew someone would be safe if they didn't have any blood on their shirt. Remember that scene in Jason Takes Manhattan when he just storms through the subway chasing our idiot leads instead of wiping out all the trapped victims, and how disappointing that was? That's what 1994 felt like to me during *all* of its stalk scenes.

No, this guy will go after anyone from Shadyside, which is half the cast. This means we're denied a few things we should have gotten to enjoy, like this or that Sunnyvale jerk getting their due, but at least the potential body count is still high and varied enough to keep things suspenseful. On the other hand, the film revolves around a collossally dumb twist that does not work in the slightest (spoiler ahead, skip the rest of this long paragraph if you want to be "surprised"), which was established in the first film in a very clunky way by introducing Jacobs' character as "C. Berman" as opposed to her full name. The second film focuses on what happened to her and her sister in 1978, with Jacobs telling us her sister died, and then we meet the younger versions: Cindy and Ziggy. So, obviously, Ziggy dies and Jacobs is Cindy, or else she'd be "Z. Berman", right? Well, that's what they want us to think, but there is never even the slightest bit of doubt that Jacobs' character is Ziggy, and Cindy will be the one to die at the end of 1978's story. Near the end, we learn Ziggy's real name is "Christine", to explain the initial, but... why not just omit the word "Ziggy" in the first place? If we only know her in the present as "C", then she could be Christine or Cindy, and we'd still have a mystery, right? But with the clunky "C." nonsense, any halfway intelligent viewer would notice the attempt at subterfuge (ironically, I talked to a few people who were half-watching and never even noticed there was a twist attempt but still had no doubt that Jacobs was playing the grown up Ziggy). Plus, she is telling the story to 1994's survivors, and near the end one of them is like "Wait, YOU'RE Ziggy!" - how the hell was she telling this story about her own tragic past without revealing which person she was in the story? It's just so dumb, and needless.

This aside, I liked the movie more than the first; still had some issues, but overall I found it more my speed, and didn't even need social media peer pressure to get me interested in the third, even if the trailer suggested it was ditching the slasher stuff entirely in favor of witchcraft. Ironically, despite my preference for body count fare, I think the 3rd one, 1666, was the best of the lot; not only did it have almost NO pop songs (because duh) allowing Marco Beltrami's solid score to shine a little brighter, it also dropped just about every problem I had with the others (wonky pacing, aggravating characters) and finally giving us the story of Sarah Fier, the accused witch who may or may not be the root of all of Shadyside's problems. The cast from the other two all come back as their own ancestors (or just others; Sarah is played by the same actress who plays Deena in the 1994 segments, though they aren't related and the movie even tells us that the real Sarah didn't look like her, but thematically it works) and struggle with the old timey accents, but the entire period detail is unconvincing so it fits in a way; almost like you're watching a '90s kid interpret the events through their own mindset as opposed to one rooted in reality (with the Deena/Sarah casting fitting perfectly in that sense).

Fier's story turns out to be more interesting than we'd been led to believe thus far, culminating in a pre-death send off speech that is far and away the highlight of the entire trilogy. And (surprise of sorts coming in) the 1666 part of the tale is only about half of the movie; we then return to 1994 for the finale that ties everything together in an effective way, with the 1994 kids teaming up with Jacobs (1978's survivor) to settle the business that started in 1666, once and for all. Whether it will be enough to win over anyone who flat out hated the first two movies, I don't know, but if you feel the way I did about them I think you'll agree that the way they built on each other almost even retroactively improved the others. I can't say with certainty that I'll ever make time to rewatch 1994 again, but if I did, I think I'll enjoy it a bit more, if only for the sequels filling in all the town rivalry backstory that was driving so much of the first film, and knowing the characters eventually redeem themselves. Also, I tend to find any movie that suffers from a slow pace is usually easier to watch a second time around, now that you're adequately prepared for its lapses.

The final shot of 1666 sets up a sequel, and given the response it seems Netflix would be silly to fail to deliver on that promise, especially given the wealth of RL Stine source material to draw from. Also, I would be remiss not to mention that, as with the recent Freaky, the films do an excellent job at offering representation (both with regards to race and sexuality) without making a big deal about it, which to me is the best way to do it - without making themselves a target for the ignorant, such folks will likely watch without even realizing how natural and easy it can be. So even if the series had to gradually win ME over (to be clear for the skimmers among you, my ranking is 1666 > 1978 > 1994), it's great that the younger crowd it's aimed at will likely see someone they can identify with in this kind of film, something my non straight white horror pals of the same age never really got when we were growing up, as both LGBTQ and POC characters were always secondary at best (the Black guy in Friday the 13th Part 2 doesn't even die! He just disappears! And I don't think the series ever had a queer character at all). On that front, the series is a resounding success, so if they can work on their storytelling a bit and how/when to dole out exposition in a way that is engaging instead of obtuse, they'll have something that truly lives up to the films that clearly inspired them.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Welcome!

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.

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House of Wax (2005)

JULY 11, 2021

GENRE: BREAKDOWN, SLASHER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Even if I disliked 2005's House of Wax, I'd be forever indebted to its existence, because in the Fangoria writeup on the film around the time of its release, director Jaume Collet-Serra noted that it was actually more of a remake of Tourist Trap than its Vincent Price namesake. Knowing next to nothing about Tourist Trap, I tracked down a copy and quickly fell in love with it; in fact it's one of the very few DVDs in my collection that I've watched more than once or twice, as there's almost always another good excuse to revisit it. But, sort of as a bonus in retrospect, I quite liked House of Wax too, and watching again for the first time in over fifteen years (Jesus...) proved it has held up nicely.

In fact I'd almost say it was the best Dark Castle movie if not for Orphan, which is, incidentlly, also from Collet-Serra. I credit him with 50% of Wax's succes, if I'm being honest, as the script (by the Hayes brothers) is nothing particularly special on its own. While it admirably moved away from the Price film (naming a character "Vincent" is about the only connection it has beyond the title) and even Tourist Trap (albeit to a lesser extent), it's for the most part a fairly generic slasher on the page. Our characters run through all the cliches: taking a shortcut, having car trouble, poking around creepy places... in some ways it's almost admirable how unambitious it is on that level, as if they knew whatever flourishes they added would be ignored and any such ideas should be saved for another screenplay where inventiveness might be better received (as any Friday the 13th filmmaker can tell you, the more you divert from the formula, the more you risk angering the fanbase). The one thing they do bring to the table is allowing cell phone use and even letting someone be alerted to danger by a phone message, instead of going the usual "no service" route early on like most of these things. So I'll give the writers that much.

But Collet-Serra is giving 110%, so that you might not even notice how on-rails it can be at times, especially to anyone who had seen the then-recent Texas Chainsaw remake, which it often resembles right down to surprisingly killing the heroine's boyfriend first (a move that might even play better now since said boyfriend is Sam Winchester himself, Jared Padalecki, i.e. a guy you'd think would outlast the three other dudes). Crane shots, diopter shots, long lenses... at a time when TV directors were getting these gigs and giving the movies no personality at all, this newcomer was clearly fired up, doing the sort of work that should make it no surprise he'd be helming big budget Liam Neeson movies in a few years. That he wasn't afraid to hold back on the gore/violence (even against the heroine, who loses a finger and probably wouldn't want to apply lipstick anytime soon after her ordeal) was just icing on the cake; even if shot for PG-13 I suspect his efforts would have been noticed and put him on the list of people to keep an eye on in the future.

The other half of the movie's strength comes from the production design. By now this was sort of a guarantee with the Dark Castle movies, but they hit their apex here with the titular house, which (unlike the original) was indeed made entirely of wax, allowing the fiery finale to showcase some truly icky visuals even though blood/violence wasn't really a factor by that point. There's something incredibly gross about seeing our heroes endlessly sinking and clawing through the mud-like house as it slowly caves in around them (I think I heard on one of the bonus features that it was peanut butter), and after seeing a million scenes of the angry killer smashing through a door to get at his would-be victims, it's kind of great to watch one casually slice through it and then peel it apart without really breaking a sweat. Even if you hated the rest of the movie, that ten minute climax would be something you'd dig, I think.

And the wax figures (read: corpses covered in wax) are no slouches either, as Elisha Cuthbert and Chad Michael Murray run across well over a dozen as they make their way through the town and give us closeup looks at many (one of which the camera lingers on for a bit as if setting something up, but turns out was a *payoff* for a deleted prologue showing her demise). As we learn on the behind the scenes, most if not all of them were actually living people wearing wax masks, as opposed to just dressing up mannequins or whatever. While this may have been a needless expenditure (not to mention set the filmmakers up for gaffes when the actors inadvertenly moved a bit), it pays off - we've seen dummies/corpses propped up in any number of movies, but the unspoken fact that they're legitimately alive gives their scenes (particularly the movie theater sequence) an extra dose of atmospheric creepiness.

As for the cast, they're, you know, doing their job. Even Paris Hilton seems to "understand the assignment" as the kids say today, and I can't tell if it's funny or sad that, despite her notoriety (and the film's "See Paris Die!" ad campaign) she's actually more likeable than anyone in, say, Texas Chainsaw 3D or some of the other films in this vein that came along later. Hell, I'd root for her over most of the people in the two Fear Street movies that have been released thus far, and it ain't out of any particular fondness for the woman - she's just more sympathetic. Her death IS great though, and I'll always wonder if they pumped it up a bit after she was cast. Also, having not seen it since it came to DVD (i.e. long before Friday the 13th 2009), it was funny to see that Chad Michael Murray's role in the film is a lot like the one Padelecki played in F13, as if he took that role if only to make up for being killed off so quickly here. "Now it's my turn!"

Scream Factory's blu-ray has a new transfer that looks fine to my eyes (as I've noted in the past, I'm not particularly diligent when it comes to tracking these things; as long as I don't have to adjust my existing settings or say "Hey, this looks like shit", I think it's a good presentation) and carries over all of the bonus features from Warner's own DVD/Blu. They also add four new interviews, including one with Hilton, who is very proud of her work here and speaks highly of the cast, Silver, etc. Unfortunately, as was the case before there's almost nothing from Collet-Serra across the board; he pipes in with a few soundbites on the fluffy making of, but that's about it. I would have loved to have known why they cut the original opening, as not only did it have a great kill but the movie took its time to get to the carnage, so it would have bought it some goodwill for those who were getting impatient.

Somewhere on those older features Silver notes that the movie will be in theaters on Halloween, but that ended up not being the case as it was moved up to May, and I'd love to know more about that. Not only did that potentially eat into their post production time, but it also may have cost the movie a few million at the box office, as if they waited they would have the star of Supernatural as another marketing hook (the show premiered that September) but also nabbed the people who tend to get more excited about horror movies in October than they do in May. I assume it was because the October schedule ended up being sort of competitive with IP offerings (The Fog, Doom, and Saw II, all with far more built-in awareness than a 50+ year old Vincent Price movie offered), but again, this is the sort of thing the director would probably address if he was on hand to give his thoughts. Oh well. Maybe for the eventual 4K UHD? I'd be down to get it again; that peanut butter wax will look more viscous than ever!

What say you?

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The "Original" Cut of Cursed

Sorry for the relative quiet the past two weeks here, but there's an excuse besides laziness for once: I was researching and then writing this mega-article about the original version of Wes Craven's Cursed, which I was finally able to watch thanks to an anonymous friend (read: don't bug me about how to see it for yourself). The article is up now at the Screamfest site, so if you're starved for some BC-ified rambling, or just a Cursed fan who happened by, head on over and check it out. Regular HMADing will resume shortly; yes I watched Fear Street 1994 but didn't like it much, so hopefully 1978 will either be more to my liking or, if not, give me enough to write something on why it's not working for me (though given its serial nature I think I'd still like to wait for the final installment before passing judgment). I also have the new House of Wax blu on deck (yay!) and Purge 5 when I get a chance to see it. So it'll pick up soon, promise!

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