Fantastic Fest: Day 4

SEPTEMBER 26, 2021


Sunday was my last day at the festival, alas; my budget and my lingering covid fears only covered up to four days (three nights' hotel stay) in Texas before racing home. Unfortunately, it was also kind of a low-interest day of programming as well; I ended up skipping one block entirely because there was simply nothing playing that interested me (in hindsight, I should have used the time to see Shang-Chi, finally, but I forgot it was an option). On the flipside, the light schedule meant I could have a lengthy brunch with some pals I barely saw during my stay (in fact, two of them I *only* saw because I attended this off-site revelry), so that was nice. I had a terrible iced chai and some delicious avocado toast, so it evens out.


Movie #9: THE TRIP

Tommy Wirkola is a polarizing filmmaker among my peers; I distinctly remember being told by nearly everyone I knew not to bother with Dead Snow, only to find myself enjoying it quite a bit (and the second one, while not as good, had an epic climax set to "Total Eclipse of the Heart", so I was obviously in the weeds for it). His newest one is the first I've seen from him with no supernatural elements whatsoever - The Trip is a violent black comedy/survival thriller about an unhappy couple who go off to the family cabin to try to find their spark, but it turns out both plan to murder the other one while they're there and make it look like an accident. Alas, a trio of escaped prisoners put a cork in those plans, forcing the couple to work together if they are going to survive long enough to kill each other later.

So it's basically The Ref meets Funny Games or Desperate Hours or whatever; i.e. home invasion films where the villains aren't just out to quickly murder the inhabitants and move on. It runs too damn long (just under two hours!) but Wirkola keeps the energy up for most of the runtime, utilizing flashbacks on occasion (to show how certain characters ended up there after making surprise appearances) and putting his quintet of actors (including Noomi Rapace as the wife, a rare comic turn for the actress) through the wringer. Very little of it is extreme, but there is SO MUCH bodily harm in this film, as everyone (good or bad) is constantly whacking other characters with hard objects, or they're simply slipping in all the rapidly pooling blood. If he had pared it down a bit (the climax goes on forever; if you've seen it, it really didn't need the additional boat sequence) it'd be a minor classic, but as it stands it's a pretty amusing modern day War of the Roses, where both parties are kind of awful and yet you find yourself rooting for them anyway.

Movie (?) #10: FANTASTIC FEUD

OK, yeah, this isn't a movie. But you do need a ticket to attend, and it is in a theater, so I'll count it, damn you!

So for the uninitiated, Fantastic Fest usually has a lot of wacky events alongside the movies, but this year due to covid and what not they had to get rid of most of them. The Feud was one of the few exceptions; it's basically a chaotic mix of standard movie trivia and Family Feud, where the two teams try to guess the most popular answers from previously held surveys in order to score the most points and gain control of the board for a bit. If neither team knows an answer, it's turned over to the crowd, with whoever has the right answer being allowed to award the points to the team of their choosing (so yes, it's technically possible for a team to win the game without ever actually answering a question correctly). The teams are given buckets of beer, and the crowd is obviously allowed their own beverages (full service is kept active as it would be for a movie screening), so by the end of the night it's usually pretty loud and hilarious.

Anyway, I try to attend whenever I go to the festival, though sometimes there's a can't miss movie playing at the same time and I have to miss it. This year's timeslot competition was VHS 94, which I do want to see, but is playing here in LA as well so I figured I could catch it then. Plus, I didn't want to miss my chance to actually be on one of the teams, an offer I was given by one of the organizers like a year ago and wasn't sure if he would remember.

Well... he did! I was IN!

My teammates were Owen Egerton (who made the enjoyable Blood Fest), Heather Wixson (my fellow horror writer and author!), and Danishka Esterhazy, who directed the upcoming Slumber Party Massacre remake. Since that film was one of the ones that made me decide to attend the festival after all (I was on the fence for obvious reasons) only to discover it would only be playing after I left, I figure this was a nice consolation prize to get to answer trivia questions alongside her for two drunken hours (though I must admit I think Owen and I were the only ones partaking of the free beer we were provided).

I won't drag things out: we won! Handily, in fact. The aforementioned survey portion was a big help, as we took control more often than not (I even correctly guessed the top answer for "Worst Die Hard Ripoff", which is of course A Good Day To Die Hard) and added an excess of points to our total - the final score had us actually doubling the other team's score, which is, in hindsight, insane. Also, I broke a chair racing up to the podium to buzz in for a Mist question, so that was fun. Since we won it ultimately didn't matter, but I'm still sore for missing a Hellraiser question during a "Movie Math" category (where the sequel subtitle was subbed in for numbers, i.e. Bloodline = "4") where I miscalculated and got Hellbound ("2") instead of Hell on Earth ("3"). Stupid BC!

Anyway, it was a blast, and a fine way to finish off my FF'21 journey. After the Feud I went outside and saw my good friend/sometime boss Phil Nobile leaving, and he offered me a ride back to his AirBnB that I would have been stupid to pass up, since that's where I was stashing my suitcase (as I already checked out of my hotel, as I've learned in years' past it makes no sense to keep a room for the final night when I always stay out late at the festival and then leave early in the morning; I'd never use it!). We chatted for a bit while waiting for a Lyft to take me to the airport, where I slept in one of their uncomfortable chairs for a little bit before getting on the plane back to LA.

Here's hoping all this idiocy is behind us by the time it rolls around again. I don't know if I can ever attend annually again until my son is capable of taking care of himself (this is only the second time I've been since he was born), but I definitely don't want to put up with the hassle and cost of travel for another stripped down one like this. I enjoyed the movies I saw and loved seeing friends when I did, but I was also kind of lonely more often than not. The spaced out/assigned seating meant I didn't actually get to watch a single movie WITH any of my friends who were there, and the lack of events (karaoke in particular) made it feel less like a festival and more like me just going to the movies a lot over the course of four days, many of which I could have watched at home via screener (not that I feel that the theatrical experience is equal to my home setup, but again - I was watching them alone! At least at home I could have invited someone over). They did the best they could with the circumstances, and if I lived next door I'd certainly be there for the next one, but I have to choose my battles when it comes to these sort of things, and I think for as long as covid continues to wreak havoc on everyone's fun, I will choose the "stay home and grumble about a few tweets and photos of people having fun" option.

What say you?


The Forever Purge (2021)

SEPTEMBER 29, 2021


The trailer for The Forever Purge suggested it was finally going to get out of the creative rut the series was in, by both taking things out of inner cities for once (into the Texas/Mexico border area, specifically, though it was filmed in California) and also setting the action in the daytime. And by tackling immigration issues as opposed to a more general form of racism that dictates the Purgers' actions in the last couple films, this seemed primed to be a shot in the arm for the franchise going forward, the way pitting Jigsaw against the healthcare system in Saw VI bought that franchise some goodwill (if not a return to box office glory).

Alas, most of the film's highlights ended up being... well, what we saw in the trailer. What it DIDN'T show much of is the same old crap that makes up too-long chunks of it; I almost had to laugh when, despite the above changes, a major turning point in the film occurs... at night, in a grimy alleyway. In other words, writer James DeMonaco (who has written all of them, plus the TV series) may have been inspired by current events for this particular entry, but apparently couldn't help himself from reverting to status quo, all but sinking the fresh ideas in the process as it becomes yet another standard Purge movie.

In turn this will end up being another standard Purge *review* from me, as I plead for literally anyone else on the planet (including my own 7 year old child) to write one of these, so that we can get different perspectives on the matter. Not for nothing, but Mr. DeMonaco is one (1) person - a white man from Brooklyn to be exact - and thus has one (1) perspective on race issues in America: his own. I don't wish to belittle his talent (he co-wrote The Negotiator, a movie I quite like), but merely wish to stress that these films are beoming increasingly political and have introduced so many great characters and ideas (this one also works in the theft of the land from the Native Americans), and thus in turn should turn screenwriting duties over to more of them, with DeMonaco stepping into a more godfather-y kind of role going forward. He's at least trusting directorial duties to others (Everardo Gout this time), but there's only so much they can do to mix things up when the script is still coming from the same sole brain.

Worse, it's not a particularly good script even by this series' standards, with a lot of the drama resolved by not one but two instances where our protagonists are split up by circumstances and just so happen to find each other again in a chaotic unfamiliar city. Our leads are a married couple named Juan and Adela, border crossers who have found employment (Adela in a restaurant, Juan on a horse ranch) and spend Purge night locked in a safehouse with others like them, waiting out the night and listening to the chaos outside. However, as the title suggests, the end of the 12 hour purge means nothing to the "Forever Purgers", who continue doing the same sort of thing (read: targeting POC) when the sun comes up. And so now, for irony's sake, they need to cross the border *to* Mexico for their own safety.

They're joined by some white folks, of course, led by Josh Lucas as Juan's boss from the ranch (run by Will Patton, whose limited appearance was given away on the trailer). Lucas' Dylan is ever so slightly bigoted; you almost get the sense they had a focus group to determine how condescending and prickish he could be before an audience just decides he's a total jerk that should die. Naturally, this single day's experience will get him to reconsider 40+ years of his attitude; I assume it's supposed to be a real powerful moment at the end when he says "Gracias" to Juan, but it's just corny as all hell and unearned to boot - Dylan's actions throughout the film are to benefit his (pregnant) wife, there's never a real bonding moment between the two men where it's clear one is helping the other because it's the right thing to do. It's just convenient to have two guns firing at skull masked purgers instead of one, is all.

(Without getting into spoilers, I'll also note that the body count among primary characters is far too low this time around; there are only two deaths of note and the other characters barely acknowledge it. Doesn't help the whole "this is more dangerous than ever!" approach when it allows the highest number of survivors.)

The script also denies itself a strong villain; early on we meet Kirk, another ranch hand (the only white one, I believe) who takes the rancher family hostage, ranting about how they're part of the problem since they hire immigrants. But when Juan mounts a rescue on his employer and his family, Kirk is killed off, and it's another half hour before another alpha villain comes along, this one a traditional redneck-y type with zero flavor whatsoever. And even he is sidelined after his introduction until the finale, so when it comes time to face off against our heroes, it's really no more engaging than it's been for any of the anonymous ones they've fought along the way. And don't hold out hope for the guy on the poster (and subsequent Blu-ray package), as he doesn't appear at all.

Ultimately, all the best things about it are too fleeting to make much of a difference. I was happy to see Resolution's Zahn McClarnon show up as a heroic character, since he usually plays bad guys (he's menacing af in Doctor Sleep), but his role amounts to only a few minutes of screentime. And there are some pointed lines of dialogue here and there - I particularly liked referring to the Americans escaping to the Mexico border as "Dreamers" - but when your best lines are delivered by offscreen newscasters in voiceover, something is definitely "off" about the proceedings. Even the Newton Brothers score, as good as you'd expect from the dependably great composers, can barely be heard in all the other noise (between this and Midnight Mass they've basically taken over my eardrums this week - not a complaint!). As for the action, it's fine; the trailer highlights the sort of Mad Max-y elements it takes on at times, but there isn't much more to them beyond what the spots already showed, and otherwise it's just the same old gunfights with digital blood spraying around whenever another anonymous character is dispatched by our suddenly marksman heroes.

This is the first time I've gotten a Blu-ray of a Purge movie (I should note this is my second viewing; I did see it at the drive-in over the summer* but never got around to reviewing) so I don't know if this is the usual, but for what it's worth there isn't much in the way of bonus features. There's a deleted scene in which the ranch hands trade stereotype jokes at each others' expense (good natured ball bustin'), which perhaps should have been left in to illustrate that Kirk shared some kind of friendship with the others. There's a brief look at the costume designs, which is a good idea considering the look of the random Purgers shows more spark with each new entry than anyone else on the creative side of things. And there's also a pretty fluffy "making of" that essentially doubles as a behind the scenes trailer, with everyone (NOT DeMonaco, pointedly, or Lucas for that matter) saying how this one is the most challenging and thought provoking one yet, trying to sell us on the movie we presumably already saw. And that's basically it; it was only last week that I was impressed by F9's bonus material package (also via Universal), so I know they're still capable of making worthwhile special editions, but this ain't one.

Frank Grillo says he is coming back for a new Purge (it'd be his third), which is fine since his two are the best ones, though I can't say I'm super excited about it if it's once again going to have the same writer (not to mention that Grillo seemed like he was playing two entirely different characters in his entries). What the series really needs is outside the box thinking, letting a film stand out from the others. It's crazy that Don Mancini can manage to create unique flavors for each of the Chucky movies when it's just about a killer doll (i.e. a seemingly limited concept) but DeMonaco can't shake the sameyness from a franchise with so much potential. Changing the location is a good start, but based on the evidence here, it isn't enough of a mixup to restore the franchise's fascinating potential.

What say you?

*Right near some of the shooting locations, as it turns out! Shot in Ontario, which is where I usually get Wendy's before going to the drive-in itself one suburb over (Montclair). Gonna kinda miss that place now that theaters are open and I am both vaccinated and weary enough to just roll the dice on those instead of driving an hour away to see things like this.


Fantastic Fest: Day 3

SEPTEMBER 25, 2021


Day 3 was the "busiest" on my schedule; it was three movies like the day before, but one was twice as long as the average movie and another was a late-starting world premiere, which meant it would undoubtedly start later than scheduled, but also wouldn't be something I could easily rewatch (via screener link or the like) if I were to pull a Collins and doze off. Luckily I stayed awake (and this would be true for all the features I saw at the fest - a first!), so it seems this new approach of going back to my room and relaxing whenever possible (since there was little to nothing else going on, and a staggered schedule which meant even seeing friends in between movies was a crapshoot) instead of standing around drinking and singing karaoke or whatever was a wise one!


Full disclosure: I did the end titles for this documentary on the history of folk horror films, so I didn't rate it on Letterboxd and won't be saying much here, because that feels icky to me. That said, I found it to be an incredibly informative doc about a somewhat off the radar sub-genre; indeed, I don't even have a "folk horror" tag on the site (I usually just lump them in with "Supernatural" and/or "Cult"). Not only did I learn some history (always a plus), I walked away with a nice handful of new (well, technically old!) titles to check out, a few of which will be on Severin's upcoming boxed set centered on the doc, which will be available on its own as well for those who don't want to splurge for 20+ movies at once.


I'll have a full review up on WhatToWatch soon (unlike BMD, they have to go through a longer process from the time I submit something to when it actually goes live), so I won't ramble too much here except to say I kind of loved it, but know perfectly well it'll be a very polarizing film. Shot almost entirely in macro closeups with narration from someone who we never really see (someone said it was like a 90 minute unboxing video, which from an aesthetic POV is pretty accurate), the film tells the story of a man who is driven insane by an extreme case of tinnitus he has tasked himself with curing on his own after the doctors proved to be no help. Unfortunately his experiments are increasingly uncouth; he starts off with determining the aural qualities of everyday objects and ultimately - through his own actions - discovers that his affliction can react to the "sound" of something's (or, indeed, someONE's) life ending. A fascinating experimental film that was my favorite surprise discovery of the fest.


One great thing about a festival is that every now and then you can find yourself seeing the world premiere of a fairly major film before there's even been a trailer to spoil its surprises. All I knew about Black Phone is that it reunited the core creative team of Sinister: producer Jason Blum, the writing pair of C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson (based on a Joe Hill story), with the latter directing, and even star Ethan Hawke. As a huge fan of Sinister, I would have been there on day one when the movie opens in January, but it would have been after seeing a trailer or two and, most likely, even gotten a few cheers/jeers worming themselves into my brain and messing with my expectations. Instead I got to see it without even knowing the plot, let alone how well it was or wasn't received by my peers.

And yay, it was good! Not quite on the level of Sinister, but then again that film (concerning murderous kids) is more in my wheelhouse than this one, which is a period piece (1978 to be exact) about a local boogeyman named The Grabber (Hawke) who has already taken a few kids in the area and has now set his sights on our young hero Finney (Mason Thames), with The Grabber dumping him in a basement with only a mattress and the eponymous phone to keep him company until the villain does whatever he plans to do (since the movie is entirely from Finney or his sister's POV, we naturally don't know what The Grabber is actually doing until we see it happen to Finney). The Grabber insists the phone is broken, but it starts to ring... and that's where the fun begins.

The nature of the calls is something folks can discover on their own when the movie opens (or, likely, from the trailer) so I won't spoil it for now. I'll just say that Thames handles the material quite well, though he kind of gets the movie stolen away from him by Madeleine McGraw as his younger sister Gwen, who is quick to protect him from bullies (both of them suffer from an abusive father, so taking punches is sadly something they're accustomed to) and swears like she's been possessed like so many other little girls of '70s cinema. As for Hawke, his face is almost always obscured by a mask (designed by Tom Savini!) so it's mostly his voice informing the audience of who it is, but he is unnerving af - the man should play more villains.

The period detail is also terrific, largely depicted through the wardrobe and set dressing (dig that shag carpeting!) as opposed to obnoxious references and a greatest hits soundtrack. I like a lot of Blumhouse films, but production value isn't always one of their strong suits as they tend to take place in modern (read: bland) suburban homes, but here there are several exteriors and not once was I zapped out of the illusion (kudos to their location scouts for finding a North Carolina suburb that hasn't "enhanced" itself all that much for the past 40+ years). That aesthetic and the kid-heavy plot had me thinking that this would be a beloved fave for fans from my generation, had it actually been made in 1978 and allowed us to grow up with it. It's rated R, but mostly for language (The Grabber's more overt crimes are largely offscreen, thankfully), and Thames' appearance had me thinking of young Mike from the first Phantasm, another movie seemingly designed for young boys to transition into more adult horror and/or give them one last terrifying nightmare before they grow out of the adolescent idea that the movie monsters might be under their bed. Instead, it'll just be a great option to show our own curious kids.

What say you?


Fantastic Fest: Day 2

SEPTEMBER 24, 2021


This was the first year I was able to attend the opening night of the festival, so it was nice to not have to rush for once. In years' past, when I'd always be arriving on day 2, I'd sometimes have to go from the airport straight to the theater (dumping luggage into a generous pal's car) before I miss any more of it, but this time around it was kind of lovely to head into Friday with a piece already written. But as others WERE arriving on this day, today felt a little more like a typical day at the fest, albeit still with more empty seats than I'm used to seeing and much less revelry/chaos in the surrounding area.



An evil child movie out of Norway, I reviewed this one properly for WhatToWatch if you want to head there and read my full thoughts. For those who don't want to click over, I'll sum up by saying it was very good (if a touch long) and featured terrific child performances, which is the sort of thing that can sink this type of film, so: well done, casting folks!


I reviewed this one too, but I realized later I should have added that the very thing that turned me off might be what makes others most excited about the film. I forget that due to my relatively late arrival to the Exorcist table, I tend to enjoy demonic possession movies more than my peers, who are often scarred by adolescent Exorcist viewings and walk out of similar films feeling like they were complete crap, unable to even come close to matching Blatty/Friedkin's power. So by abandoning the exorcism angle halfway through, such folks might be relieved by Agnes' switcheroo. Alas, ultimately this was a "not for me" after an engaging first forty minutes.


I had a ticket to see Let The Wrong One In at this time, and it turned out to be an apt title, as I myself let the wrong *theater* in to my schedule - the film was playing a half hour away at a different Alamo Drafthouse (normally the fest is entirely set at the South Lamar location, but thanks to covid nonsense this year forced them to spread it out across three venues). Since I had no car and didn't want to rely on Lyft or friends to get me elsewhere (and then back), I opted to just flat out ignore the non-Lamar entries on the schedule, but somehow I got mixed up with this thankfully one exception. Luckily, there were seats available for Black Friday, which I wanted to see anyway, so it all worked out in the end.

Alas, the movie itself is kind of disappointing; on paper it sounded like it was delivered straight out of my subconscious: the employees of a toy store (including Devon Sawa and Bruce Campbell) have to take on a zombie outbreak on Black Friday, a ridiculous "event" I happily partake in every year. And it was filmed in Boston for good measure, so this had the potential to be one of my favorite movies of the festival and perhaps something I eagerly revisit every holiday season. But unfortunately, it seems they had to pare down a more ambitious script (financing horror comedies is never going to be easy, so I can't hold it against them), and what was left simply never found a proper groove.

It's not a total waste of time; the zombie makeup work by Robert Kurtzman is solid and the supporting cast is pretty good (Michael Jai White is a highlight), and Sawa is in fine form, but there's just no real ENERGY to the proceedings. Every time it seems like the movie is going to ramp up and kick into higher gear, things slow down again - there's an awful lot of chatter in between action scenes. And while I've never worshiped the man like some of my peers, even Bruce Campbell's most loyal fans should be able to admit that he's kind of on autopilot here, playing a role that doesn't cater to any of his strengths as an actor. Not that I want him tossing out one-liners (honestly, that'd be worse) but the role seems written for someone more nebbish (I kept thinking Mark Proksch would have been a good fit), and rather than dive into the challenge he opted to just kind of become anonymous. And since he likely didn't come cheap, I couldn't help but think that the movie might have been better if they put his salary toward other things.

It also might have helped if the store wasn't so generic (and the Boston setting has no bearing on anything, I don't think they even specifically say it's there and there's only like two exterior shots anyway). I'm sorry, but what exactly were the shoppers so excited about to line up at midnight to obtain? The things we see on the shelves are like, nutcrackers and bouncy balls and things of that nature. The lone licensed product I noticed (besides Wise potato chips, an east coast brand) was an Xbox One (yes, the older model), which wasn't even much a doorbuster option even when it was new, let alone now when it's a generation old. Plus, they shoo pretty much all the shoppers out of the store almost instantly, so there isn't even much in the way of zombie fodder, which had me thinking that they should have just leaned into it - what happens when a crappy store is open on Black Friday and no one shows up? Then they could have a built in excuse for the minimal zombie action AND avoided the impossible to buy premise of dozens of deal hungry customers lining up to buy jump ropes.

(That they do almost nothing with the "Black Friday shoppers are zombies anyway" kind of joke is another disappointment, but luckily we have that one 1978 zombie movie to cover that idea to a degree.)

Again, it's not a complete misfire - there are some good gags and performances in there, and the finale involves something I was certainly not expecting, but it ultimately felt like a movie almost specifically designed for streaming audiences, in that you're fine to look at your phone for most of it, looking up only when something exciting happens, and then tweet that it's "fun!" before forgetting everything about it. For folks who seemingly prefer that their movies not demand too much of their attention, they will love it, I guess.

What say you?


Fantastic Fest: Day 1

SEPTEMBER 23, 2021


One thing I truly miss about Birth.Movies.Death (RIP) was that it gave me a consistent outlet for writing about non horror things whenever I was inspired to do so. Now that it's gone and I have to scramble for freelance work elsewhere (and worse, actually pitch the piece/myself to get it approved, something I never had to bother with at BMD) I can find myself with something to say and nowhere to say it. And yes, I have HMAD to do whatever the hell I want, but I'd prefer to keep it "clean".

But given the genre-adjacent spirit of pretty much everything playing at Fantastic Fest (which I'm attending in person for the first time in five years), I figured I'd "dirty" up the joint a bit and give mini reviews to the stuff I saw that don't have a place to review in full elsewhere. Not only will it make the publicity people happy (extra coverage for them!) but it'll keep me from the increasing problem of seeing a festival movie, not putting my thoughts down in full, and then literally forgetting if I liked it or not when it comes along later.

So without further ado...

Movie #1: TITANE

Julia Ducournau's Raw was my favorite movie of the last Fantastic Fest I attended, so it was some nice serendipity to finally make my return and see her equally long-awaited followup right off the bat. The film won the Palme d'or at Cannes a few months ago, which I found fitting personally as my introduction to this prestigious award was when Pulp Fiction won it over 25 years ago (Jesus Christ...), and like that film Titane is a triumph in surprising storytelling. Our protagonist, Alexia, suffers a bad car accident as a child and gets a plate in her head (the title is French for "titanium" and - after hearing multiple variations - is pronounced "tee-TAHN"), but rather than fear cars she comes out of it... well, loving them. Like, really loving them.

She has sex with cars is what I'm saying.

But she has a more traditional movie character vice: she's something of a serial killer, murdering a guy who hits on her (yayyy!) and then a love interest (aw) and the rest of the people at the girl's house, and finally her own parents for good measure. And if you think I've just spoiled the entire movie, relax - that's just the first half hour, and I haven't even mentioned the top billed actor. That's why I compare to Pulp Fiction; when the girlfriend character is introduced (via the most hilariously gnarly "meet cute" I've ever seen, I think) it seems like she could be the film's co-lead, a calming presence for our psychotic lead that can maybe have her find her own peace... only for the poor girl to be dispatched just as suddenly as the would-be rapist. Instead, Alexia goes on the run and does what any woman would: cuts her hair short, tapes down her breasts, and batters her own nose (anyone who delighted at Emma Roberts' self-attack in Scream 4 - try this on for size) so that she looks like a young boy.

Specifically, a boy who went missing a decade earlier and whose father, Vincent, is still trying to find him. Believing that she is indeed him, Vincent takes "Adrien" (yes, the names were both used in Raw) home and tries to get him to readjust, as well as giving him a job with him at the fire department. With barely any spoken dialogue to establish this, it's pretty clear the man has been desperate to fill the hole his son left; one of the younger guys at the fire department has obviously been something of a replacement (and now himself replaced by "Adrien", whose story he doesn't believe), and as Alexia's ruse becomes easier to see through, Vincent just ignores the signs out of desperation, as if he knows damn well it's not his son but as long as he doesn't say it out loud he can keep on believing it.

In short (I won't reveal any more of the film's narrative; indeed I left out one of its primary plot points), what seemed like a mix between Crash (Cronenberg), American Psycho, and that documentary The Imposter ends up also tugging at the heartstrings as well, the final ingredient for the most deliriously entertaining cinematic stew I've seen in quite some time. As she did on Raw, Ducournau displays a knack for implementing pitch black or offbeat humor where you least expect it (wait til you see why "Macarena" makes an appearance) as well as getting fearless performances from her actors. It will be a divisive film for sure (one friend admitted to shutting off his screener), but for those of you who don't mind going for a ride that has no interest in standard movie conventions, I suspect you'll be just as enraptured as I was.


This one is definitely a traditional horror movie, so I COULD write a whole review but I just don't have too much to say. It's pretty good though, and has a great hook for a slasher mask: the killer wears 3D printed masks of his victims (said killer complaining about how hard it is to make the masks during the climax is a line/delivery on par with Stu's "My mom and dad are gonna be SO MAD AT MEEEE!"). Not only is it a creepy visual, but it actually ties into the theme, of people running away from themselves (our heroine is new to town after fleeing her old town thanks to being involved in a tragedy) as it operates as something of a widespread I Know What You Did Last Summer. The victims all have dirty secrets (hazing beatings, an anonymous racist podcast, etc) that establishes pretty early that this isn't revenge for any particular crime but someone with an axe to grind against the town's residents as a whole (which, along with the corn-filled Nebraska setting, made me think of the recent Clown in a Cornfield novel, which I recommend!).

Unfortunately even with this seeming surplus of potential villains, anyone with a GED in Slasher School will probably be able to figure out who the culprit is pretty early on, which dampened the fun a touch for me. But what it lacks in proper whodunit mastery it excels in making characters to care about who also seem real and - bless - genuine friends! There's like one little spat at around the hour point but otherwise our group of heroes (intentionally filling in stereotypes: a jock, a stoner, etc) spend all their time together in harmony - they literally put their heads together and look up at the stars at one point. It's also impressively inclusive but without making a big deal out of it, which (as I've said before) is the best way to go about it, by just doing it as if it didn't need to be spelled out or addressed from a soapbox - because isn't!

It's coming soon from Netflix, which is a shame as it means a sizable chunk of its audience will be watching it with one eye on their phone (though maybe it'll make the reveal more surprising?), but for those who fawned all over Fear Street 1994 earlier this summer, I hope you give it a proper viewing. For my money, it's doing a lot of the same things, but doing them better.

What say you?

P.S. My laptop - which I am using for the first time in over two years - is a piece of shit. The spacebar doesn't work well and it has a habit of shifting the cursor to some random spot, so I start typing my next word in the middle of an earlier, unrelated sentence, screwing up my train of thought to try to fix it. Needless to say there might be some weird typos in here that I missed, and I simply don't have the patience to try to format it (italics and such), so for that I apologize. I'll clean it up when I get back home.


No One Heard the Scream (1973)



The back of Severin's Blu-ray release of No One Heard the Scream (Spanish: Nadie oyó gritar) refers to it as a Spanish giallo, but I feel this is misleading and almost doing it a disservice. Not that I blame the company; it's a hard movie to sum up with a genre label. It certainly starts like a giallo, with our beautiful heroine seeing someone disposing a body and becoming the killer's target, but then it keeps surprising until the very end, going from kidnapping thriller to road movie to something approaching one of those kind of sad romantic dramas about two broken people coming together - I was not expecting to think about As Good As It Gets, but bless this odd little delight of a film, I did.

Not that I'd mind if it was just a standard giallo; it's been a minute since I've watched one and thus I'm due for a fix. I try to space out my viewings of such fare since they tend to run together in my mind, so letting them seep in my brain a little before taking in another seems a good way to keep them straight. But once it became clear that this wasn't going to have a huge body count, I allowed myself to enjoy what it actually was, with the added bonus of knowing I could go find a more traditional one today without overload.

And I shouldn't be surprised, since the film comes from Eloy de la Iglesia, who also directed Cannibal Man (itself recently reissued on Blu-ray from Severin), another film that sounds like one kind of thing on paper but ends up being more interesting/unique than a quickie description would let on. Again, things start off pretty standard here, with Elisa (Carmen Sevilla) seeing Miguel (Vicente Parra, the "Cannibal Man" himself) trying to dump a body in their apartment building, prompting the man to chase her back to her apartment and threaten her. But things swerve pretty quickly; instead of killing her to ensure her silence, he demands she help him dispose the body elsewhere, making her an accomplice that would be in just as much trouble. No, it's not particularly logical, but it's a "good enough" excuse for the two of them to pair off instead of chasing each other for 90 minutes.

No kidnapping/body in the car type scenario is complete without nosy police, and de la Iglesia offers an all timer incarnation of the scene, as they drive past a major bus accident and the cops force them to take a few of the injured to the hospital (it's a small village and they don't have enough ambulances to do it). So they need Miguel to put his suitcase in the trunk instead of the backseat so the injured can sit there, but naturally the trunk is where the body is - it's a terrific little nailbiter, one of those fun ones where you're not sure if you want the cops to find the body or not as we've already started sympathizing with the guy in a way.

See, it turns out his wife was a horrible nag and (by 1970s euro thriller standards, I stress) "had it coming", something Elisa seems to understand if not totally agree with. Partly because she too is seeing how empty her life has become, as she is seemingly... well, not quite a prostitute, but makes her living by occasionally spending weekends with wealthy men. In fact she was supposed to be with one such "lover" at the time she encountered Miguel, but changed her mind and broke off the arrangement with the man, having tired of the lack of passion and genuine concern - she wants a real man! Can it be... this dude who slapped her around a bit and made her help him clean his wife's blood off the elevator? Stranger things have happened in these movies!

Things get a little more tense due to the arrival of one of her younger lovers later, and the end provides a legitimately good twist that will make the movie interesting to see on a second view now that we have a key bit of information about one of our two leads, but the movie is ultimately a two hander about these two lonely/broken people getting their groove back, so to speak. I'm sure it'd fall victim to "Film Twitter" types who have gotten it in their head that filmmakers always defend and support the actions of their main characters, but for those of us who aren't near-sighted morons it's a pretty compelling take on this sort of fare, as your always torn between wanting them to find their peace but also, you know, not get away with seemingly unjustified murder (the fact that we don't actually see it helps).

Apart from noting how lovely the score is (from Fernando García Morcillo, another Cannibal Man returnee; you can listen to the opening credits theme yourself below since I couldn't find a trailer), there's not much else I can say - it's a movie that lives on its performances and how the plot zigs when you expect it to zag, so going on any more would rob you of its pleasures. Again, it may not satisfy you if you want a black gloved killer offing the cast, but if you just want, you know, a GOOD MOVIE, then you should give it a look, especially if you're familiar with Cannibal Man and thus are already accustomed to (and appreciative of) de la Iglesia's seeming disinterest in status quo.

What say you?

P.S. The movie is in Spanish with English subs, but they are specifically *subtitles*, not closed captions, and there are occasional lines in English when she goes to London to see her lover. Just an FYI if you, like me, have to often watch with low volume and count on captions!


Blu-ray Review: The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)



My memory is getting better! Well, maybe not. See, when I requested a review copy of The Brotherhood of Satan from Arrow, it was because I was sure I hadn't seen it and it sounded up my alley. But when I popped the disc in, something about the first scene triggered deja vu, so I did what I should have done in the first place and checked to see if I had indeed seen it, discovering that I had and wrote a review, not even eight years ago (it was actually a post-daily selection! You'd think I'd be able to remember those better!). Want a kicker? Not only did the scene not turn out to be the one from the movie I was thinking of (turned out to be the opening of Hell High, where the girl accidentally kills a pair of teen lovers), but nothing else in the movie really rang a bell.

On the plus side, that's great, because it was like seeing it for the first time, and it's like, really good. Better than my original review lets on, in fact! It's the kind of '70s horror I really love, where on the surface it seems like any other B movie that probably played second at the drive-ins (indeed, per the IMDb, it played with THX-1138), but has that little extra pep in its step that gives it more personality and helps it stick with you. I originally noted director Bernard McEveety's "matter of fact" approach to his job, but failed to note one of its key examples (minor spoiler for 50 year old movie ahead), that the movie's villain is identified relatively early but then returns to act as an ally to our heroes, without the sort of squinty faced/raised eyebrow/dun dun DUNNNNN kind of music that usually accompany such things. If you missed the in between scene where he was clearly established as the villain, there is nothing to point to his true nature in the later scene, which is kind of chilling in a way.

Also, I want to point this scene out for another reason. If you've seen the movie, it's the one where the priest, the doctor, the dad, the sheriff, and the deputy are all in the sheriff's house trying to figure out what to do next. McEveety lets most of the five-ish minute scene play out in a master, with lots of cross talk and all five men in the frame doing something. It was probably a time/money saving measure, but the actors had to all be in sync with their blocking and dialogue to make sure it didn't turn chaotic, something that couldn't happen if the director just stuck a camera in the corner and called "action" on five amateur performers. It's legitimately impressive filmmaking from a technical/logistics point of view, something you don't often find in these sort of things (indeed, as I noted before, the plot setup is very much like that of Manos, a film without one impressive technical aspect).

It also doesn't spell out what is happening right away, and even though it came before things like Texas Chain Saw Massacre, will "mislead" a new audience a few times before it shows its full hand. Things start off with a family driving through the southwest and seeing the aftermath of a grisly accident, only to be accosted by locals when they try to report it. So it seems like a "run afoul of a creepy town" movie, but later we learn what's got the townsfolk riled up, and realize that they're actually innocent. And due to the likely impossibility of the FX it would need to pull off, it's not until we've seen a few deaths that it becomes clear that (spoiler again) it's the toys doing it. Later developments almost give it an Under the Dome type feel, so I can't help but wonder if Stephen King is a fan (or at least saw it and subconsciously got inspired by it).

If he was, I wish he was on the disc, because they seemingly had trouble locating anyone of note to contribute an interview or a commentary. There is an interview with two of the kids, but as it's been fifty years and they were, you know, children, you'd be a fool to think their memories are either that strong or plentiful - they seem to remember having fun and getting to eat as much cake as they wanted during the filming of the party scene, and one of them remembers playing spin the bottle with the others, but the other one doesn't. I guess I can appreciate that it's a fairly brief interview instead of a commentary?

There IS a commentary by Kim Newman and Sean Hogan though, and it is as entertaining as the film. They're fans but do not consider it an unassailable masterpiece, so the track is mostly them kind of giggling at some of its wackier elements (like the cult leader's robe) while pointing out how it fits into the larger cult/devil movie canon, particularly the pre-Exorcist ones that weren't so beholden to more traditional religious iconography (indeed, the priest here is ultimately kind of useless). And there's even more of that history to glean from the video essay by David Flint, as well as the included booklet which devotes one of its two essays to the sub-genre (pre and post-Exorcist). The other is about producer/writer/co-star L.Q. Jones, a Peckinpah regular who apparently also wrote a tie-in novel for this film! Adding it to my wishlist ASAP.

I often wonder how I'd feel about this or that movie from HMAD past that I can now no longer remember much about (even some of the ones in my book, now written six years ago about movies I watched as many years ago then, trigger "Wait, what was that one about?" kind of reactions). How many other gems like this are out there, forgotten and/or written off in my head as decent timekillers at best? I am cursed with generally seeing little reason to revisit a non-favorite film unless I plan to write about it (my stance is that it's time being taken away from watching something new), which means if I remembered seeing Brotherhood I probably would have shrugged off this Arrow release with a "Seen it, eh, nothing special" kind of reaction. My tastes change, my mood may differ... there's any number of reasons that I could be much more endeared with something that was essentially site filler when I take another look at it a decade (give or take) down the road. At any rate, while I usually curse my poor memory, this is one time that it worked in my favor.

What say you?


Candyman (2021)

AUGUST 27, 2021


In a perfect world, Nia DaCosta and Jordan Peele would have been the ones to have the genius idea to change Candyman to a vengeful murdered slave (for non readers, Bernard Rose's film is basically pretty faithful to Barker's story "The Forbidden", but in there Candyman was a white guy and there was next to nothing about race involved or even implied), in a new adaptation/remake where this new approach allowed it to exist on its own without the legacy of the older film being a factor. Instead, they're making a sequel, also named Candyman (I guess this is how followups are gonna be titled now? Thanks a lot, Halloween), adding their different perspective on Black issues after much of the character's history has already been explored. And when it works, it works incredibly well - but the keyword there is "when".

One of my key issues requires me to note something that is apparently a bit of a spoiler with regards to its main character of Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), so be warned. If you're still here, and you're someone who has seen the 1992 Candyman a few times or even once recently, recently, you might recognize that name, Anthony, because that's the name of the baby who Candyman kidnapped and was rescued by Helen Lyle in the film's climax. And anyone with more than a passing familiarity with the film will likely remember hearing the child's mother, played by Vanessa Williams, screaming it over and over again. Thanks to this film having opening credits with Williams' name right there, and Anthony repeatedly dodging calls from his mother, it shouldn't take more than a handful of brain cells to make the connection: Yahya's character is indeed that grown up baby, and Williams is back as his mom.

But for some puzzling reason, the movie treats this like a reveal with only about 25 minutes left in its runtime (during the one scene with Williams, making her up front credit practically something of a spoiler itself). Until then, even with Helen Lyle (represented by photos of Virginia Madsen) being established, it mostly acts more like a remake - complete with a different identity for "The Candyman", the urban legend about a guy who gave out candy to kids but was hunted down by the cops when a piece showed up with a razor blade in it. This idea was alluded to in the original, but everything we are seeing about it conflicts with what we learned in the 1992 movie, making it feel like a total do-over, and in turn the sequel reveal practically comes off as a cheat. As a result, dealing with everything about this character (named Sherman Fields) AND the one we're familiar with (Daniel Robitaille is brought up, though the other reveals from Farewell to the Flesh are ignored - the new team just liked the name I guess), plus the resolution of THIS story all happens in a third act whirlwhind, making it feel like the movie is on fast forward after what was a well structured first hour or so.

Well, mostly well structured. There are a couple of scenes - in particular an attack on a group of high school girls - that don't trigger any alarms at the time, but then the movie reaches its conclusion and you realize that it had no payoff or connection to anything. Did that sequence get butts in seats, since it was heavily featured in the trailer? Most likely, but considering the movie's weighty themes (Black Lives Matter key among them, as both the Fields character and one of our heroes are the victims of racist cops) such exploitation is somewhat ill-fitting. Even if there WAS some kind of payoff it'd feel disconnected (we only briefly met one girl prior, and in a different context; I saw someone noting they didn't even realize it was the same girl), but given how suspicion for the murders eventually lands on Anthony and there are witnesses to his whereabouts at the time, the event is never mentioned again, as if to avoid gummying up the works.

But that could have been great to explore! The cops wouldn't have given a shit if Anthony was on live TV at the time if they wanted him to be their killer just to have a convenient story (a Black man killing five white girls), and it's a shame that they opt to use the sequence for little more than "let's get another kill in here" purposes, as if this was indeed the generic slasher some (including 12 year old me) expected from the original film. I don't want to use the term "window dressing", but something in that ballpark is how some of the film's scenes end up feeling, as it has to function as both "Candyman 4" but also continue the tradition of past Monkeypaw films (Get Out and Us, but also BlacKkKlansman). Those films were free of franchise constraints, something I feel occasionally holds this one back in ways, as DaCosta never fully marries the two. When it's a racially-charged horror movie about how we create boogeymen to forgive ourselves for looking the other way at injustices, it's terrific, but it has to keep going back to being a Candyman movie, seemingly begrudgingly. It's a weird comparison, but I kept thinking of Alien: Covenant, and how Ridley Scott was clearly more interested in the new story of David and Walter, but had to keep tossing in xenomorph scenes to satisfy audiences (or worried producers) and muddying up the waters.

That said, being the fourth entry can help you appreciate that it's the first one to offer anything but a dull white woman as its protagonist (Madsen's performance was fine, she just had to play a stock character). DaCosta wisely opts to split lead character duties between Anthony and his girlfriend Brianna (the always delightful Teyonah Parris, who stole WandaVision away from her MCU legacy co-stars); the former is an artist struggling with a bit of a block, with the Candyman story unleashing his imagination and having him look around the old Cabini Green grounds, while the latter is an art gallery director on the rise. As Anthony becomes obsessed with the Candyman story (he even digs up the unfinished research of Helen Lyle, though in keeping with waiting forever to reveal his past, he somehow doesn't ever see his own mother's name in the news clippings or online articles about the woman who is famous for having "kidnapped" him) Brianna discovers her career upswing is perhaps not due to her own talents but her connection to tabloid fodder, leaving her to question if her relationship with Anthony is a liability or a benefit. And eventually Anthony is kind of sidelined; he is stung by a bee and the pus/raw skin from the bite starts spreading across his body, which along with his increasingly fractured mental state allows Brianna to take center stage as she tries to figure out what is wrong with him and if his stories of the Candyman are true after all.

So basically it feels like a Fly kind of movie, where Anthony is turning into *a* Candyman and Brianna is torn between being frightened by him and wanting to help him. The idea of someone gradually turning into the familiar Candyman figure is an intriguing one, to the extent that I wish it really was just a remake so they could go full force with it instead of coming up with the idea and then reverse engineering how it plays out in order to tie everything back to the original mythos. With Tony Todd as the only Candyman in the previous films (and with him being long dead by the time we met him), the idea of someone being transitioned into the guy we recognize from our Movie Maniacs action figures is something that obviously wouldn't have worked before, so we can't say it's "breaking the rules" (and we did kind of see how Helen became something along those lines), but there's only so far they can go with it when they've established that it's the same canon.

Where it truly shines is in the little moments that speak to the Black experience, something white guys like me can't ever fully understand but can at least appreciate when seeing them happen to the protagonist we're otherwise identifying with. There's a great little moment where Anthony flinches from a cop car despite not doing anything wrong, and an old timer who runs the local laundromat offers the movie's most stinging points about police and the general idea of why we have "boogeymen" characters. It's got occasional bits of humor, mostly courtesy of Brianna (a simple "nope" when confronted with possibly entering a dark basement is an all timer delivery) and her brother Troy, who acts as a voice of reason throughout. He's also the one to introduce the Candyman story in the first place, and if you're familiar enough with the original to remember exactly what Helen did and didn't do, hearing the urban legend about her is not just amusing in its own right, but also offers us a rare occasion where the time passing between entries can be helpful. It's been nearly 30 years since the original film's events, so you quickly get the idea of how a true story can evolve into nonsensical fiction over time as the legend is told and retold by people who weren't there or (certainly in Troy's case) even alive at the time. It's possible someone sitting there who hasn't seen the original film since opening night in 1992 can accept this version (in which Helen runs into the fire with the baby) as what they saw back then, because who can remember details after 30 years?

Those folks will also likely be surprised at Anthony's past, making them (or newcomers entirely) perhaps the ideal audience for the film. Hardcore fans of the series (if any exist for the other sequels) will likely be disappointed by the lack of Tony Todd's presence, but that wasn't a dealbreaker for me - the Sherman Fields character was creepy enough in his own right, as was Anthony's surprise entry into body horror territory. However, the attempt at bridging a sequel and a remake didn't fully work for me; I was too far ahead of the characters to be satisfied with how it worked as, essentially, Candyman 4, but it's those elements were also keeping the movie from fully coming to life as the standalone thing it occasionally seemed to desperately want to be. And by trying to work in so many ideas (police brutality, the effects of gentrification, how people deal with childhood trauma, etc) in a film that has to both function as a reintroduction AND a followup to a classic horror film, it comes off as a bit too crammed and rushed, as if they planned a six episode miniseries and had to turn it into a 90 minute movie instead. It gives you a lot to chew on for sure, but I think I would have walked out more satisfied if DaCosta and crew picked one or two of those ideas and really ran with it/them, instead of overloading with everything and robbing of it of some of its impact as a result. I've been trying to make this review sound less negative (I gave it 3 stars, which by my ratings "code" means it's an enjoyable/average movie), but I just can't get around the fact that a pretty good movie will always seem like a disappointment when it flirts with greatness. I'll probably like it more a second time around when I know it's got some nagging problems - at least it's short enough for a revisit to be more likely.

What say you?

P.S. I hope Clive Barker has a sense of humor about how he is represented in the film; there's a douchey sex predator named Clive and a villain character is seen reading Weave World. Yeesh!


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