Beyond Fest Recaps

OCTOBER 12, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What say you?


Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions (2021)

OCTOBER 5, 2021


Something seemed "off" when I saw Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions in theaters over the summer, primarily that it didn't really open up any more about the world of Minos than was seemingly promised by the (overlong) conclusion of the first film. Not that I expected a full rundown, since it seemed Sony would love to have a new genre franchise and thus would need to space out such reveals to keep the story going, but it often felt more designed for people who hadn't even seen the first one, with a lengthy recap at the top (not just a repeat of the final scene like Friday the 13th Parts 2 and 3, it's a full 90 second TV style refresher, missing only the announcer saying "Previously, on Escape Room!") and what amounts to a status quo reset, as if a third film could double as part 2 for anyone who skipped this one.

So I wasn't entirely surprised when Sony announced that the blu-ray would have an extended opening and ending, totaling 25 minutes of new footage. However it only ended up eight minutes longer than the theatrical version, so some stuff (and at least two characters!) do not appear in the longer version. This review will assume you have seen or at least have read a thorough synopsis of the theatrical version, so if that's not you, I'll just say that a. both versions are on the disc if you want to compare and b. the new cut is improved, though the film as a whole isn't as interesting/exciting as the original, due to both the usual sequel hurdles and an utterly baffling plot setup that goes far beyond my limits of acceptance for movie logic.

And alas, that doesn't change at all in this version: our "champions" are still coincidentally trapped on a public subway car that is disconnected and sent off track into a Minos labyrinth. That would have been fine if it was another group of random people, but the fact that they're all selected to have been there (they've all beaten Minos before) is just ridiculous even by these movies' standards. We see how returning heroes Zoey and Ben are lured there by a pickpocket, but what about the other four? Also, what if someone else was in that car? It was just a normally operating subway during a busy New York day - it's not only silly that these six champions were the only ones on it, but it's also kind of a missed opportunity. It would have been great to have five experts and one rando who had no idea what an escape room even was, let alone how to solve this one's much more difficult puzzles. Not only would it have been fun from a narrative standpoint, but it'd also allow them to meet us halfway with the giant leap of logic we're asked to take. Also, not for nothing, but wouldn't this have been a good idea for Escape Room 6, an Avengers-style meetup of all the previous films' survivors? The other four people are just random to us (and to Ben and Zoey), so their "champion" status ultimately doesn't mean anything. Zoey's still the one solving everything.

The rooms are pretty good; nothing as eye popping as the first one's upside down room, but the electrified subway car has a pretty good puzzle at its core (pulling the stop handles that correspond to each letter of the alphabet to solve a game of Hangman) and the laser-trapped bank vault are exciting and benefit from being the first two, when you're unsure who will die first. It's kind of a tradition to quickly kill off excess survivors in a sequel (think Dream Master wiping out Joey and Kincaid in the first reel, and then again in Dream Child with Dan), so Ben making an early exit wouldn't be a big shock, adding immensely to the suspense. Sometimes they rely a bit too much on the characters just simply knowing things off the top of their head (like what kind of plastic wouldn't melt with acid), but they are each great little setpieces and thankfully none feel like rehashes of the first film's games.

That said it just feels too similar as a whole to the first movie, which is where the lack of "inside Minos" stuff hurts a bit. Even the first film had more, technically, with the betting board and what not, backroom glimpses we don't get at all in the theatrical version and only get briefly in the alternate version. (Again, I am assuming you've seen the theatrical if you've read this far, so turn back now if you don't want any of it spoiled!) In the extended version, the film opens completely differently (except for the recap), showing three new characters, an unhappy couple and their daughter, with the mom (Tanya van Graan from The Empty Man, completely uncredited) seemingly wanting a divorce from the husband, who appears to be designing Minos escape rooms and is neglecting her and the daughter as a result. Mom is then trapped in one in her own home (a sauna puzzle that cooks her when she fails to solve it), and then we flash forward to the present day with Ben and Zoey planning their New York trip.

But in place of Zoey's psychiatrist scenes (the shrink doesn't appear in this new version), we get the grown up daughter, now played by the Orphan herself, Isabelle Fuhrman. Now she's seemingly trapped by her father and having to design games, and if you've seen the movie already and thinking "Wait, isn't that what Deborah Ann Woll's character was doing?" you are correct, and then you'll be sad to know that Woll doesn't appear either (despite still being credited). Fuhrman more or less fills that same narrative spot - meeting up with Zoey and asking for her help to design puzzles so that they can both be set free (with Ben once again trapped alone, albeit in a different one - he's in a sauna kind of like the mom instead of the flooded room), which I guess means if this is the canon version of the story going forward (if there is a 3rd film), Woll's Amanda is still dead.

It's an interesting choice to look back at; at some point they decided to omit Fuhrman and her family, and all the new wrinkles that came with their characters' reveals (the ending has a little twist to it I won't spoil here), and instead bring back a "dead" character for a movie that seems more designed for people who hadn't seen the first one anyway? Naturally, none of the disc's three brief bonus features shed any light on this decision, so we may never know why they decided to toss over a quarter of the film in favor of something less interesting, not to mention adding a pretty dumb epilogue (the plane scene, with Zoey hearing her psychiatrist's ringtone, was also added later and thus not in this extended version). They took a B grade movie and turned it into a C+, for... reasons?

At any rate, again, both versions are on the disc, so you can decide which one you prefer. I think the extended one is better, but that also leaves me in the undesirable position of saying "they weakened this movie by adding Deborah Ann Woll," i.e. someone who should be in every movie as far as I'm concerned. The aforementioned featurettes are all fluffy nonsense that you can live without, and if you've already seen the movie the new stuff doesn't drastically change the overall "eh, it's fine" feeling of it as a whole, so a rental to check out the long cut will probably suffice. If you haven't seen it yet, watch the extended one, then watch the theatrical and tell me which you prefer - I'm curious if I'm alone in thinking they should have gone with the one with Fuhrman all along. It definitely dips into more horror territory (in fact I could almost stretch this into another sub-genre! Hint hint!), so there's something that should appeal to anyone reading this.

What say you?


Night of the Animated Dead (2021)

OCTOBER 4, 2021


Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the DVD I reviewed in this Blog Post. The opinions I share are my own.

Several million years ago, I spent a week of HMAD reviews on Night of the Living Dead and its many incarnations (the 30th anniversary, the Savini remake, etc.), and while it wasn't the "best" the most interesting was NOTLD Re-Animated, which took the audio from the film but replaced all the imagery with a variety of animated scenes: traditional animation, stop motion, 8-bit video game style, etc. It wasn't the greatest thing in the world by any means, but it was interesting to see how the film could be reinterpreted; even with the same dialogue and music we've heard a million times, scenes would have a different tone just from the aesthetic. It's a strong contrast to Night of the Animated Dead, which is basically a shot for shot remake (the script is about 95% identical, more on that soon) but with one animation style throughout, so after five minutes (if that) you'll know whether or not you're going to like it.

...I did not like it.

The credits list a lot of animators, so I'll refrain from critiquing that aspect of it - I didn't particularly care for the style, but others may find it great, and that is the hallmark of animation. There are people who absolutely love pixel-art type animation; I find it to be an eyesore. There's no right or wrong, so beyond saying it wasn't for me, there's no real point in going on and on about that aspect of it. You can watch the trailer and decide for yourself if it's something you'd enjoy. That said, there are some inventive gore gags that are the invention of this film (obviously not something that could have been done in the 1968 original); I particularly liked what actually kills Tom when the truck explodes.

I WILL, however, take the creative team to task, because there are two unforgivable things about it that would leave me cold on the film whether it was stick figures or the greatest 3D animation ever produced by mankind. The first is that this is literally just the same script from the original live action film; they snip some dialogue here and there or speed up some of the action (much less boarding up of windows, for example), but apart from the film's final minute every line of dialogue, every action, every character motivation, etc are all taken word for word from John Russo and George Romero's script. On the making of (the disc's lone extra), the director says "Once we had the script locked down..." (prefacing how they approached the animation) and I had to wonder what exactly he had to "lock down" beyond taking a sharpie and crossing out a few things here and there, generously assuming they made those snips that early in the process and not when editing the animated picture together.

And yes, this means it's not even modernized, which seems to be the only reason to remake a movie like this in the first place (besides money, of course). As hard as it may be to swallow, we're actually further away from the "modern" version Savini made than he was when updating Romero (it's been 31 years since that one; Savini's was only 22 years after the original), so there's obviously lots of new things they bring to the table even if it was in live action, even more when given the freedom of animation (as they intermittently prove with the gore gags, which obviously don't have the same kind of impact in cel-based animation as they would on actual actors). When Barb and Johnny pull up to the cemetery and the radio broadcast once again crackles back to life, I was kind of aghast - what purpose does it have to stay in 1968, when new technology could open up possibilities of how they get their information (or misinformation; think of how an actual zombie outbreak would be handled on twitter!).

That leads me to the other red flag: Romero, Russo, etc are not credited anywhere on the film, not even with a token special thanks. The credits skip over a screenplay credit of any sort, just the director and a bunch of producers, so we can assume that not only is the Romero estate not being paid for the very ideas they are recreating (seriously, the characters even all wear the same clothes), but they don't even acknowledge the creators with the bare minimum. It's an incredibly gross realization, and honestly if the credits were at the top of the film I wouldn't have even bothered to watch the rest of it. It's only after an hour of their weird recreation that the viewer can discover (through very slow credits that bring the film up to a still laughable 70 minutes) no one involved bothered to credit the people who created the story in the first place. It's one thing when you're making a sequel and forget to credit the people who made the original when you might be bringing back one or two of their characters, it's another thing entirely to take their dialogue and actions verbatim and not even give them a "thank you" (the making of even has clips of the original, but still no one utters Romero's name).

So who, exactly, is this for? I mean, any horror fan knows that NOTLD's public domain status means anyone can make a buck off of it, but the other remakes - even the 3D one with Sid Haig - all put their own spin on the narrative, something that does not occur here. There are exactly two creative moves of note here: one is actually showing Ben's flashback to the diner and truck explosion instead of just hearing him tell the story, and the other is at the very end we listen to the posse make idle chit chat about the houses in the area ("That house has three chimneys!") instead of the still photographs that ended the original film. But those are hardly substantial enough to believe anyone would go to the trouble of remaking the entire film to "fix" two minor issues some people may have when watching it, and since the animation style isn't exactly revolutionary or unique, I have to assume that despite the lengthy animator credits, this was very cheap to make and was easy to profit from once they had distribution, and that was the extent of their creative ambition. Cool.

At least they put some effort into hiring a recognizable voice cast. The generally likable/leading man type Josh Duhamel is a left-field choice for the awful Mr Cooper, but he puts in a good performance, as does Dulé Hill as Ben. The women are all wasted though; Katie Isabelle would have been great for Barbara if they were going for the asskicker version seen in Savini's version (which impressively started off identical but then switched gears for a very different third act), but as anyone knows she doesn't exactly say much once she's at the house (here I will mock the animation to say they seemingly loved her turning boderline comatose, allowing them to "animate" entire shots where she doesn't move at all), and Nancy Travis as Mrs. Cooper sees some of the character's already limited amount of dialogue excised, making me wonder why they bothered hiring a name for her at all.

But, shocking as it may seem, a few good vocal performances and some amusing gore gags are not enough to recommend a movie that tells the exact same story we've seen before before slapping you in the face by not even crediting the people who actually wrote it. If you absolutely love the animation style (sadly nothing like the one on the cover, which seems like false advertising when it comes to animation; it'd be like if Disney showcased 3D models of their characters on the Blu-ray reissues of their cel-based classics) then I guess it can provide 60 minutes of background viewing amusement, but even then I'm sure any reasonable viewer would constantly wonder why it is they were half-watching the story like this when even a colorized version of the original on 1.5x speed would be a better and more respectful use of their time.

What say you?

P.S. Since WB does not release unrated movies, there's an MPAA R rating at the top, rare for a DTV release. Since the language says "Under 17 requires accompanying parent or guardian" I had a mental image of a 15 year old trying to watch this by themselves only to be stopped by a door to door carder. *KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK* "Open up! Movie police - where are your parents?!?" It was more amusing than the film, that's for sure.


Halloween Kills (2020- oops, 2021)

OCTOBER 21, 2021


One of the more annoying things about the press cycle for Halloween (2018) was seeing it referred to as a "remake" of the 1978 film, a baffling mistake even if you hadn't seen the film (did they think Jamie Lee Curtis was being de-aged 40 years to play a babysitter?). But ironically, Halloween Kills ends up being a spiritual redo of the 1981 Halloween II; not only does it pick up immediately after the 2018 film, covering the same night, but it also has Laurie (Curtis) confined to a hospital bed for the bulk of the runtime, recovering from the previous film's injuries. It's also a more successful "later that same night" continuation, as David Gordon Green is much better at aping David Gordon Green than Rick Rosenthal was at aping John Carpenter - you can watch these two back to back without any of the whiplash that accompanies 1978 to 1981.

It also revives H2's "angry Haddonfield residents" idea, confined to a single scene (one of my favorites in that film, incidentally) where townsfolk are shown rioting outside the Myers house with the cops trying (barely) to calm them down. However, here it's expanded into what is essentially the B plot of the film; if you recall in H40, Michael Myers wasn't the only one who escaped from the prison bus, and one of those patients (specifically, the guy with the umbrella from that film's opening scene) is still on the loose but also kind of terrified, because after a chance encounter with Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall*) outside a bar, half the town is now convinced he is Myers, chasing him around while chanting "EVIL DIES TONIGHT!" Eventually they get completely out of control, as mobs tend to do, and you get the idea Michael could just take the rest of the night off and the body count might still rise.

It's a solid concept, and helps ward off the film's inherent rehash quality caused by its "same night and Laurie is in bed" setup that we've seen before (for all its callbacks, H40 never felt like a redo of any other entry). However, the actor playing the innocent patient is a bizarre choice for someone to be mistaken for Michael Myers, as he's shaped more like Danny DeVito, and mistaken BY PEOPLE WHO HAVE SEEN MICHAEL (i.e. Tommy) to be the tall, lanky man of their nightmares. The whole "pegging the wrong guy" thing has been a big problem because of social media over the past few years, and it's a missed opportunity that they didn't utilize that sort of thing to tell this story instead of relying on a previous victim's eyewitness "it's him!" account that makes little sense given their history. By the time Laurie finally sees this poor sod and tells the rampaging mob that it's not him, it's too late - they're all riled up and ignore her. And yeah, that's the inevitable conclusion for this plotline, but it would have worked so much better if it wasn't built on such a shoddy foundation.

As for the actual Shape, he's having the time of his life! This may have the highest body count of any film in the series; I didn't stop and count, but the previous record holder is 20 (a tie between H5 and Zombie's first one**) and thanks to two massacre scenes, along with the standard standalone victims in between, it has to go beyond that. One of them is the one in all the trailers, with Myers taking on the firemen who were actually trying to rescue the big dummy, and from there he kills his way through the town on a path back to his home (so no, he doesn't go to the hospital this time, the other big switch from Halloween II). Some of his victims include minor characters from the last film, so a fresh rewatch might be in order if you don't think you'll recognize every bit actor from the now three year old movie (even if this came out on time I doubt anyone but the hardest hardcore fans would realize that a pair of characters here are ones we've met before). Not that it matters much as far as understanding the movie, but it's kind of an amusing irony; in this revival that removes Michael's personal mission against Laurie, he ends up inadvertently finishing the job with everyone else that ever came within spitting distance of him.

Oh yeah, Laurie. She's livelier here than the last time she went to Haddonfield Memorial (maybe if Jimmy actually brought her that Coke she woulda been a little more animated?), and given her injuries in the last film it makes more sense that she's out of commission for a while, so long story short I don't mind that she's not up and about - it'd be pretty silly (even for this franchise) to have her back prowling the streets looking for her not-brother so soon after taking that beating. And she ends up sharing a room with someone else who survives an attack (no spoilers), giving both characters some rather sweet character development time - plus one of the few deep-cut Halloween nerd references that actually worked for me. It was kind of surreal to have Curtis show up to intro the film, bursting with her usual candid energy (translation: lots of F bombs) only to watch her mostly lie in a bed for two hours, but whatever faults the movie may have, her somewhat limited screentime and confined performance was not one of them. And for all the people who missed the fact that Michael coming to her house in the last one was NOT his goal, this movie reaffirms it, with Laurie hearing it herself that he never intended to go after her again.

But yeah, those aforementioned faults? It's gonna be a polarizing film, for sure. The "EVIL DIES TONIGHT!" stuff paves the way for some truly terrible dialogue, as does the return of some of the original characters. Pretty much everyone who survived the first movie is back in some form or other, and while it's lovely to see Sheriff Brackett again (and yes, played by Charles Cyphers), his role comes off as fan service more than an organic addition to the story - by the time he's repeating "Everyone's entitled to one good scare," you might find yourself regretting ever wanting them to bring the character back in the first place. As for the others: Lonnie (the great Robert Longstreet from Midnight Mass and Hill House) is probably the best revival, as Cameron's dad/Tommy's former bully, now pals with him, Lindsey (Kyle Richards, who is actually pretty great), and Nurse Chambers (Nancy Stephens), forming a group of "survivors" who get together every Halloween to toast their escape from the boogeyman.

In theory it's not a bad idea, but the mix of returning actors and people taking over from others stunts the "reunion" aspect of it all (particularly for Hall, as he's now the third person to play Tommy Doyle in the main franchise), and like the not-Myers guy they chase around, it's kind of built on a giant leap of logic. I'm just trying to imagine the scenario in which Chambers (who, in this version of the timeline, never did anything else beyond drive Loomis to Smith's Grove and get her car stolen) found herself palling around with two kids to form this little group. It's a minor ripple of the same problem that kind of plagued the 2018 film: it erased the series' entire history, but also kind of relied on it to explain why anyone today acted the way they did. Yes, assuming she didn't die in H20, I'd expect the woman who took care of Loomis and comforted Laurie in H2 would find herself keeping in touch with these people she actually encountered, but none of that happened, now. Might as well invite the guy from the hardware store to join them. As with Brackett, it's a "nice to see them again" kind of thing, sure, but their reasons for being there are flimsy at best, and also retroactively mess up the previous film - if they're all still so haunted by Myers, and have kept in touch with Laurie, why is it they're only finding out about his escape/return now? News of his escape hit the news that morning. Seems to be a "sidequel" kind of approach would have been better to bring them back to the story, showing what they were up to during the day and how they processed the possibility of facing their monster again.

Their return also means a lot of clunky dialogue to remind the audience who they are, which poses an interesting scenario - seems to me that people watching will either know exactly who Lonnie Elam is without needing the reminder, or won't care anyway, as it ultimately means very little in a movie with something like 40 characters. There's Laurie and her family, a couple who join Lindsey and Chambers' posse, the firemen, the couple who owns the Myers house (the best of the lot, I should add), the cowboy Sheriff, Cameron, Brackett, another couple who lives near Laurie (guess what happens to them), and - oh yeah - a handful of other characters who appear in the lengthy flashback to 1978 showing how Michael got captured in the first place (a scene more or less meant for the 2018 one but never shot). So with all that going on, does it really matter than Lonnie was the bully kid who Loomis scared away from the Myers house? Nope, but we get a dialogue exchange reminding us!

More on the flashback stuff - you can skip this paragraph if you've avoided the trailers - it works pretty well; even the Loomis standin looks pretty great (they still can't quite nail the voice though). And it helps to establish once and for all that even Halloween II was wiped out in this timeline (ironically not helped by a shot of the film appearing when they feel the need to explain who Brackett is), so I really wish they had found the place for it in the last one as originally intended. The problem with it is that most of it appears early on, adding to the strange editing choice that keeps Laurie from appearing for like twenty minutes, as we get the flashback AND another scene that shows us where Cameron was and how he gets reintroduced to the story before finally catching up with our hero. I think if they found a way to sprinkle the flashback stuff throughout the film (it largely focuses on a character who is around in the present day, so a Lost-style series of quicker flashbacks could have worked) it would have all landed better.

To sum up the last few paragraphs: the movie has a pretty rough first half hour, as it's trying to marry the need to set up all of the new ideas (the Myers house, particularly Judith's bedroom window, ends up being a "thing" throughout the movie) plus the "immediate continuation" approach, and it's not particularly successful. You might feel frustrated just waiting for Laurie AND Michael to reappear and start doing their thing. The sheer amount of kills and scenery changes keeps it going once all that stuff is out of the way, but it's one of those things where it might be difficult to get a general audience - i.e. the people that turned the last film into the most successful entry of the franchise - to go along with these relatively ambitious ideas before they get to the stuff they came for.

Unless they came for suspense, as there isn't a lot of it. Kills? Sure, but very little of the build up the best entries offered *before* the finishing blow(s). Weirdly, all of the best moments for that sort of thing occur in the Myers house (take THAT, Halloween Resurrection!); the flashback, the current day owners, and a few of our heroes all take turns creeping around the place looking for its former resident, and those scenes have lots of the slowly building dread that I tend to prefer over yet another hacked up victim. But otherwise, he's just more like a force of nature, barely even pausing between kills at times. I don't particularly like the brother angle, but one thing it offered was a more restrained Shape when he was out and about Haddonfield; one of my favorite scenes in Halloween II is where he is just making his way through the town square, ignoring all of the people around him that didn't interest him. This version of the character would kill them all without any resistance, and maybe that sounds appealing to you, but to me it just gets almost tiresome. I'd rather get five great chase scenes that end in deaths than twenty kills without much of a setup.

Also (another paragraph to skip, though the spoilers are vague) the ending is pretty grim, not to mention rushed. Michael successfully takes on a mob in a way that seems absurd even for this series (it's like a Jackie Chan fight scene where everyone waits their turn to get kicked, or in this case killed) and then seemingly teleports to kill a major character elsewhere, all in the span of like 45 seconds or so. And then it cuts to credits, a cliffhanger of sorts because we all know Halloween Ends is coming next year. So it's a movie that starts wonky and ends abruptly - that's a lot to ask out of an audience who might be hesitant about going to the theater (or signing up for yet another streaming service). I'm sure when Ends is out it'll play better (kind of like how Saw V is fine when you're marathoning), but for now I suspect there will be a lot of frustrated viewers, and they also have to really bring their A game in that one to make up for the seeming loss of _____ in the proceedings, as they were a welcome addition and will be missed (then again, it IS a slasher series and thus I know the body count has to be higher than the number of survivors).

That said, there is still a lot to like here, and I ended up putting it somewhere in the middle of my ranking***. It actually started reminding me of the underrated Halloween 5 in many ways; it's taking some big swings, and while not all of them work, I have to respect the attempt, even moreso with this than H5. We're talking about what is essentially "Halloween 12" (yep, with Ends it'll surpass the Friday the 13th series in total entries for the first time), so they almost have to take risks just to keep it from feeling like a rerun. One thing they've definitely fixed from the 2018 one is the number of off-screen kills, something that was noticeably prevalent there but barely occurs here - almost every death is shown (and pretty graphic, there's a splattered head that even made ME wince). If you're the sort of fan who equates a body count with quality then you're gonna love the flick for sure. And Carpenter's score is another winner, once again reviving the themes and bringing new stuff to the table.

It also has some legitimately sad moments, something that a slasher often doesn't have time for. Remember Oscar the incel from the last one (and his gruesome spiked fence death)? His mom shows up at the hospital and sees his corpse, and it's a pretty devastating moment, as is the one where Allyson realizes that her father is dead. In fact all of the character work is pretty on point (clunky introductory dialogue aside), as even the most anonymous victims (like Laurie's neighbors) have some personality that you can't always expect out of a slasher sequel. I wish cowboy Sheriff had more to do (especially with Brackett around; what a contrast! No one will care to bring this guy back in forty years), but thankfully cases like his are the exception instead of the rule.

Long story short, it's got all the pieces there, they just don't always fit together as well as I hoped. I've rewatched the 2018 one a bunch, but I feel this one won't get grabbed off the shelf as often, at least until I can follow it up with Ends and see the whole story. Overall I like it, but at the same time it's just kind of jumbled, a "for die-hard fans only" kind of affair that asks more of its audience than the last one did, and I don't watch these movies to furrow my brow and wonder why they were doing something the way they were doing it. I think if I was 12 when I saw this I'd love it and grow up defending it, but now, with limited time for watching stuff at all let alone rewatching it, I can't help but feel slightly disappointed that this one doesn't have the same pull that the last one did.

What say you?

* With the film debuting on Peacock and thus will be easier to manipulate the footage, I expect - no, DEMAND - someone deepfake Paul Rudd into a few of Hall's scenes ASAP.
** Actually, Halloween III has 21! But that's not Myers, so it gets asteriskized!
*** 1, 3/4, 2018, 2, Kills, 5, RZH2 (d-cut) Curse/H20, RZH1, Resurrection


Blu-Ray Review: Alone In The Dark (1982)

SEPTEMBER 30, 2021


Scream Factory has been putting out Warner/New Line titles for over three years now, so I was starting to lose hope that they'd add Alone in the Dark to their library, as it seemed like a tailor-made option for the outfit. Unlike some of their WB releases (like Trick r' Treat, which already had a packed Blu-ray just a few years prior), Alone had never been released on Blu-ray, and was also the sort of under the radar title that could benefit from the exposure. A "get", if you will. But better late than never, as they say, and it's well timed to come out around the "spooky season" where its thrills will go over well with folks who have yet to bless their lives with this underloved gem.

The only flaw the movie has is its title; I suspect I'll spend the rest of my life feeling I need to clarify I do not mean the Uwe Boll film (for a total flop, it sure has left a permanent imprint on people's memories). Otherwise, it's a rock solid home invasion/slasher hybrid that focuses on its characters (most of them adults) and even finds some measure of sympathy for its quartet of killers. The plot is, on its surface, generic "escaped mental patient" kind of stuff, but there's so much more going on, not the least of which is that the main "villain", played by Jack Palance, is (spoiler for 40 year old movie ahead) allowed to walk away at the end, backing down from his previous intent to murder his new doctor. The ultimate point of the movie is that the people on the outside are no more dangerous or "crazy" than the ones who have been locked up, and thus Palance's Frank is apologetic when he realizes his whole "revenge" plan was based on a misconception (he thought his new doctor killed his old one, and learns he was wrong). You get the idea that if they had their proof their old doc was alive, they wouldn't have bothered to escape at all.

That said his partners are more bloodthirsty; Martin Landau's Byron is pretty chilling (it's he who eggs on the mailman attack, wanting the man's hat) and Erland van Lidth as "Fatty" fulfills the "hulking brute" quota, getting most of the kills himself. The fourth one is "The Bleeder", who hides his face and ultimately parts with the group after murdering someone during the riot that ensues from the blackout that allowed their escape in the first place. Watching as an adult I feel dumb for not catching the payoff for this character (who has a nosebleed when he kills someone, and yes, the similar tic in Valentine was an acknowledged homage), because I remember kid me being stunned, but it's still a pretty good little twist, presented with the same sort of misdirection that allowed My Bloody Valentine's surprise reveal to work as well as it did.

The highlight of the film is Donald Pleasence as Dr. Bain, who runs the facility and is unquestionably nuttier than any of the patients within it. This was one of the first non-Loomis performances I saw of the actor when I was a kid, cementing him as someone I loved to watch, and I was sad to learn on one of the bonus features that he didn't have a good experience making it and didn't think much of the film as a whole. Apparently the production was not pleasant; Palance could be a pain in the A, there were some very cold night shoots (one actor's fake blood froze on him), and director Jack Sholder was not only making his first feature, but was dealing with some uncooperative crew (including the DP and the FX guy, two very key roles on a horror film like this).

With that in mind it's not much of a surprise that the only actor they could rope in for an interview was Carol Levy, who plays ill-fated babysitter "Bunky", and in fact that was a pull from the mid-00's DVD, as is the commentary with Sholder and an interview with the Sic F*cks. The new features are a lengthy interview with Sholder where he tells a lot of the same stories he did on his older commentary, a tour of the shooting locations (the punk club is now a Wendy's!), and yet another interview with the Sic F*cks, both of which run longer than their appearance in the film (they mention/gripe about a deleted scene that saw them arrested during the riot, but it hasn't been reinstated). Granted the trio of veteran actors (as well as van Lidth) are all deceased, but the actors who made up the hero Potter family are all still around and some still working (the mom was in a few episodes of the buzzy Mare of Easttown), so it's a shame none of them are on board to offer their thoughts on what will likely be the last home video release of this film. I like Sholder's work, but the man himself is kind of prickly (and obnoxiously dismissive of the slasher genre), so hearing someone's own take on their experiences would have been nice, if only to balance out Sholder's snottiness.

The other new extra is a historian commentary, which curiously combines one guy from the Hysteria Lives podcast (there's typically three) and Amanda Reyes, who usually tackles made for TV horror (she literally wrote the book on it, in fact). It turns out to be a good idea though; as I've said before the HL commentaries can be very same-y as they often just rattle off every other slasher movie they can think of whenever something similar happens, but with just one of them that stuff is kept to a minimum. Reyes, meanwhile, brings in lots of historical context not just about the genre, but mental health practices of the era and what may have influenced Sholder's script. So it can sometimes feel like two tracks jammed together (she'll give a history lesson about a psychiatrist who may have inspired Pleasence's character, and then he'll be like "the stab through the bed idea was also in Friday the 13th" or something, but hey: best of both worlds?

At any rate, the movie itself is the main draw of course, and the transfer is terrific (perhaps a bit too good, as you can occasionally get a half-decent look at the Bleeder's face where it was previously either cropped out or too dark to see anything). Even if it was just the movie, it would be a reason to celebrate; there are horror fans who buy everything Scream Factory puts out even if it's a blind buy, which means it's a good chance this movie is about to finally be discovered by folks who will love it as much as I do. AND they'll finally know what that weird movie Jennifer sees on TV before settling on Dick Cavett in Dream Warriors!

What say you?


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