FTP: Bite (2015)

APRIL 23, 2022


I just now realize that I don't have a "Body Horror" tag here, so someday if there's time I'll go through and mark them all accordingly. For now they're likely to be found under "Hero Killer", the clunky name I gave to movies where the main character is tragically infected/ bitten/ whatever by something and it turns them into a monster. Not all of them would qualify as body horror, but Bite certainly does, with The Fly being a clear influence on the protagonist's makeup progression - there's even a fingernail gag for good measure.

But it also reminded me of Thanatomorphose (all three films are Canadian, interestingly, another tag I somehow forgot to make over the years despite having them for many other countries), in that our heroine, Casey, pretty much never leaves her apartment once afflicted. In the most convenient plotting decision of all time, her fiance lives in the same building but not with her, due to his overbearing mother - also the landlord! - insisting that they wait until they're married before living together. Or even having sex, as it turns out, which is probably why Casey screws around with a rando dude at her bachelorette party. Thankfully, the movie doesn't take the puritan route and blame that encounter for her issues, as they seem to stem from a bite she gets in a lake when innocently hanging out with her friends. So basically, her condition would play out the same whether she was faithful or not - it just gives the movie a little extra bit of drama to pad the runtime.

Unfortunately the script seemingly forgets to really deal with it for close to an hour, which makes the third act seem largely tacked on. Turns out one of Casey's friends is in love with the fiance, and angles to steal him for herself by showing him proof of Casey's infidelity. So an hour in, once Casey's already killed a couple people, it becomes a love triangle movie where one party is already a goopy monster, which would be fine if it was executed with a sense of humor, but director/co-writer Chad Archibald plays it pretty straight. It's fine as these things go (at least the best friend wasn't screwing around with him the entire time), but it could have been weaved into the first hour a little more successfully so it didn't seem like an attempt to make sure the movie hit 90 minutes.

The uneven plot is saved by the production and makeup design, however. Casey was bitten by some kind of insect/fish hybrid and thus has side effects of both, but the nastiest element has to be the fact that she starts giving "birth" to fish eggs all over the place, covering her apartment with the slimy beads along with other layers of goop on the walls and such. It is a truly disgusting visual, made weirder by how people come in and act more like she's merely forgotten to take the trash out for a couple days or maybe let the litter box overflow. If I entered that apartment I wouldn't get more than one foot past the doorway before scanning the joint and hightailing it out of there, but her friends and the mother in law are just like "ew, she needs to clean up."

Still, it's worth watching the movie just for that, so it wasn't surprising that one of the Blu-ray's featurettes focused on Elma Begovic's performance and makeup process. It ultimately took over four hours to apply her final stages, which is an incredibly impressive endeavor for what was clearly not a huge budgeted film. The other featurettes are pretty standard, save one which focuses on Archibald's wedding, which coincided with the film's premiere at Sitges. Kind of a self indulgent piece to include, but hey, good for him/them. There's also a commentary, which is a bit dry despite the multiple participants so I only got through about half before falling asleep. Also, they briefly touch on something I did appreciate about the movie: it starts off like a found footage movie, allowing your heart to sink for a few minutes before boom! It switches to standard third person perspective. Bless.

The same team made The Drownsman, which was also a pretty good little movie (one I actually noted thankfully didn't have a love triangle element, sigh) and I'll Take Your Dead, another fine one time watch, so I guess they know what they're doing and how to pull off reasonably effective genre films with their limited means. But they all lack that je ne sais quoi that makes them must sees (or, in this specific case, an upgrade from "the pile" to the permanent collection); this is probably my favorite of the three but I also wouldn't exactly take to the streets encouraging everyone to drop what they're doing and watch it. Archibald has been producing as of late instead of directing (Dead was his last, in 2018, after helming a film just about every year), but I get the impression he is more of a producer than a director anyway, so perhaps it's a good thing - he and his team can use their experience to get films made but hire directors with a little more moxie and get something that really knocks it out of the park. Either way, at least they're not making cynical crap and blowing a chunk of their budget on hiring Tony Todd or someone to do a pointless cameo, like a lot of these teams do. All the dough is on the screen, and for that I laud them.

What say you?


FTP: Beyond Darkness (1990)

APRIL 19, 2022


Many moons ago, Scream Factory put out three of the films that were at one point released as "La Casa" (Evil Dead) sequels in Italy, under their original titles. I wrote up a pair of them for HMAD (Witchery and Ghosthouse), but for the third, Beyond Darkness, I switched gears and included it in a BMD (RIP) piece about the wacky La Casa series. That was seven years ago, which meant I couldn't even remember much about the movie, up to and including why I ended up with a second version, this time from Severin with some new bonus features. But I made it my inaugural viewing for The Pile 2.0: Now It's A Shelf!

Yes, it has been upgraded, again. If you'll forgive the slightly bloggy diversion here, I recently decided to rotate my living room layout 90 degrees in order to cut back on the glare that has been severely impacting my Elden Ring adventures. But in the process of mapping that out, I realized that this would also allow me to put all of my DVDs/Blu-rays together for the first time in I think 16 years (they are currently in three different racks in opposite sides of the room), and that to honor such an occasion, I should ditch my older ones for newer, matching shelves since they'll be next to each other. In turn this meant I'd have a spare rack for "The Pile", which got so big that it had to be converted to "The Box", for which the only space it would fit was behind the couch where I never saw it. Hence: a vast slowdown in FTP reviews (out of sight, out of mind). Now that they're all in a rack where I can see them, I plan to get through them more often! I swear!

Anyway, Beyond Darkness. Well, it's easy to see why I couldn't remember much of it, because it's pretty low key and mostly just reminds me of better movies. Even a non horror fan could probably spot the influence of both Amityville (family moving into new house where a tragedy occurred) and Poltergeist (one kid disappears in the house and needs to be rescued from an alternate dimension housed within it), but there's also some Shocker in there, with a vengeful electric chair appointee coming back for revenge, and the score even kind of resembles that film's at times. For a little bonus (for me, anyway), the mom is played by Barbara Bingham, aka the nice teacher who gets blown up in Jason Takes Manhattan. With my mind constantly thinking about other movies, it didn't leave much time for me to focus on what it was bringing to the table, if anything.

I did spend some time thinking about the poor Italian saps who thought they were seeing "Evil Dead 5", however. The other two "sequels" created out of hucksterism weren't exactly Raimi-level energetic, but they certainly had some of that silly flair, which is sadly in short supply here. There's a (possessed?) black wooden swan that rocks menacingly, and at one point Bingham runs around with a meat cleaver, but I'd estimate 95% of the movie is either talking or people slowly walking around the house looking worried, which doesn't exactly produce the same kind of thrills that a legitimate round with the Deadites would provide. Interestingly, part of the plot DOES involve an ancient book that should be destroyed, but I assume that's more coincidence than a conscious storytelling decision to try to make it fit with the previous "La Casa" films. Long story short, while the movie isn't exactly good, I'm glad it has been able to live on with its proper title, so that people can give it a fair shake without the expectations that originally accompanied it. It's not a bad movie really, just a bit too uneventful compared to the films it was clearly inspired by, though it'd come off even worse if watching it as part of a series it doesn't resemble at all.

Severin's disc has a lengthy interview with Claudio Fragasso as well as co-writer Rossella Drudi, both of whom are seen fidgeting with their covid masks during the interview, which makes me think "Oh good, this could have been an ugly Zoom interview but they did it right." Fragasso isn't as candid as he's been in other things, only really getting animated toward the end of the piece when he talks about how his US pseudonym (Clyde Anderson) was mistaken as a new director from a critic who had previously trashed Fragasso, prompting him to call the guy, play along with the ruse, then tell him to F himself. Classic Claudio! Actor David Brandon, who plays the obligatory "priest who has lost his faith", also contributes an interview, but he was having trouble remembering anything specific about the production ("I was in New Orleans once for a movie, not sure if it was this one...") so I didn't last long with it. Still, considering Scream just put the movie out a few years prior (bundled with another movie, Metamorphosis) Severin was smart to (during covid!) put together some bonus features, all of which last over an hour, to sweeten the pot for any Beyond Darkness fans who likely already settled for the other release.

Anyway, I hope these "Pile" reviews are now more common now that its inhabitants will be staring me in the face instead of hidden in a box behind me. Though I assume I will need to finish Elden Ring before I can really start to put a dent into it. I think I'm like 3/4 of the way through? So it's 90 minutes for a movie or 90 minutes running through Caelid to boost my strength stat. A difficult choice to be sure.

What say you?


Morbius (2022)

MARCH 31, 2022


Today was the anniversary of when I "retired" from Horror Movie A Day, giving up the "A Day" part of the deal in favor of, you know, having a life. But I still slum my way through stuff every now and then that I really should just shut off/walk out of after twenty minutes or so and try to find something better to do with the remaining hour or whatever. So with that in mind, I had to almost begrudgingly appreciate Morbius for feeling so much like one of those movies that I wished I never had to think about again once they were over, but knew writing up a review would bring a few eyeballs over to the site (which the likes of my beloved Cathy's Curse could not, being that it did not star an Oscar-winning actor nor have a global fanbase based on its studio name).

To be fair, I've seen worse movies. Hell I've seen worse vampire movies, Marvel movies, Jared Leto movies... it's the worst Al Madrigal movie, I guess? Not really a damning indictment, my man usually chooses well! But it's been a while since I've seen a movie that's had all of its reason for being stripped away through what was probably a lengthy production process and what appears to be the result of some post-production tinkering. We've all joked about how long we've been seeing the trailer for this film (it premiered before covid shut the theaters down over two years ago), but that lengthy exposure has only made it more apparent that we were clearly being denied a look at a lot of things that trailer promised. Madrigal and Tyrese seem to have gotten the worst of it, as at least half of their trailer footage isn't in the film (that bit where they are in the woods? Nothing even remotely close to that happens in the film, no mere "they re-edited the scene and lost that line" excuse can be given), and Jared Harris is probably close behind, with one of his big scenes also MIA and with no obvious spot where it could have been placed.

We also get a confusing opening that starts in the present so we can see Leto ASAP, only to then flash back to 25 years ago to meet the younger version of Michael Morbius, a comic movie staple that they for whatever reason didn't have enough faith in to present chronologically (Black Widow did it for an entire reel!). It's as a child that he meets Lucien, who suffers from the same ill-defined disease Michael does (something about blood, naturally, given the vampire-themed premise), and makes a promise to someday find a cure for both of them. Then we cut back to the present day, where Michael has just turned down a Nobel Prize (a seemingly interesting scene that we don't get to see, only hear about without much explanation) and is really close to finding his cure. But Lucien (Matt Smith) is in even worse condition it seems, so time is running out, and Michael uses some bats and blah blah blah, look, he inadvertently becomes a vampire.

I mean, even if you didn't know much about the comic character you could probably figure out what was going to happen (Lucien will take the serum and become a villain that Michael has to stop), but few could guess that the film's final edit would leave so much to our imagination. Lucien is rich, I guess - why? What does he do? How did Michael get the bats from Costa Rica back to New York, since they're said to be incredibly dangerous (he has some sort of wire cage with him when he draws them out of their cave, but we see them flying through it quite easily). How does Tyrese know that Michael likes to make origami, since that's how he connects the doctor with a bunch of corpses he finds on a ship? Why does the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital in 1981 have a better security camera setup than this present day one in New York, since half the movie hinges on someone else doing something Morbius is blamed for, when security footage could prove his innocence?

But my favorite thing is this, which takes a bit of explanation first. As kids, Michael gives Lucien the nickname "Milo", because that was the name of his first roommate at their children's hospital, who has presumably died, and there have been others - the idea being why learn a new name when they're not going to last long, right? So they're all "another Milo" to him. Kind of a heartbreaking but endearing nickname for Michael to use for Lucien, who doesn't die but ends up being his best friend until adulthood. But... Jared Harris calls him Milo too, even when Michael isn't even around (Michael himself goes back and forth). Given that the real Milo is a child/patient of his who died, it's remarkably coldhearted for the doctor to use that nickname as well, on top of just being confusing (it'd be like if your dad referred to your wife/husband by your own pet name for them, "Bunny" or "Lovey dove" or whatever).

It's a small thing, but it perfectly encapsulates the shrugging attitude toward about 90% of this movie, where Smith seems to be the only one willing to fully embrace the silly material. Because ultimately, the only reason this movie exists is for Sony to plant another seed for their long gestating Sinister Six movie, a would-be Avengers level event if they could ever manage to get that far. Now, even a casual Marvel fan could tell you that Morbius was not a known member of that team, but since they have no other heroes to use beyond Spider-Man (who often ropes in his pals to help him battle the team when they strike), they're presumably counting on having a few antiheroes like Morbius (and Venom, likely) to help him out against the likes of Kraven, Carnage, Electro, etc - they have the whole library to choose from, so the sky's the limit.

We can assume Vulture will be part of the group though, since he pops up in what has to be the most confusing/terrible post-credits scene in one of these things since 2014's Amazing Spider-Man 2 (a movie so hated that it forced them to partner with the Disney Marvel stuff and salvage what was left of Spider-Man's box office appeal). We've seen Keaton's character (from one of the MCU Spider-Man films) in the trailer, but of course that scene isn't in the movie. Instead, he only appears in the first post credit scene, beaming in from his own universe into this one (sure, why not) and joking that he hopes the food here is better. OK, whatever - not sure how he quickly establishes he's in an alternate universe within seconds, but fine. Then he returns in full Vulture costume for the second scene (so, Keaton's voice only), meeting up with Morbius somewhere and saying that they should work together. Even if it wasn't confusing (he just beamed into this universe, how does he even know who Morbius is? Any why would he seek out Morbius when the film just spent 100 minutes establishing him as a hero, not a villain - and certainly no one with any sort of issue with Spider-Man?), it's just so goddamn cynical to remind us on our way out the door that none of what we just sighed our way through actually mattered in the long run. It's just so we can presumably be excited to see Leto share the screen with Keaton and Tom Hardy someday.

For those who do not care about the MCU stuff and just wanted a vampire movie, I have good news! You'll be just as annoyed by the movie as the comic fans! Being that it's PG-13 I wasn't expecting much in the way of violence, but it's bizarre/distracting that Morbius is repeatedly seen slashing at throats and such without a drop of blood to be seen, as if they were going out of their way to remind us that we were seeing a neutered version of its events. Even when he fights the villain, we're spared anything that can really show off his powers (his super strength is another trailer highlight that is omitted; he mostly just uses his echolocation and flight), with most of their big showdown consisting of the two of them swirling around swirling debris, with an endlessly swirling camera occasionally slowing down enough to let us know what is actually happening (they appear to hit the ground so hard that they cause a crater into the sewer? I couldn't quite parse it out). There's a pretty good bit with a nurse in a hallway being stalked by "something", but otherwise they spend more time differentiating him from a vampire (sunlight is OK, mirrors work, etc) than letting him be one. So he's barely a vampire, in a movie that goes out of its way to reference the director of Nosferatu, as if honoring a vampire connection they otherwise seem to be trying to subdue.

I truly wasn't expecting to be thinking so much about Halloween 6, as this film is similarly so mangled by reshoots and editing that it leaves character motivations, plot threads, even what should be major turning points for the narrative all left to our imagination. I was hoping that the 1:45 runtime was actually by design, but it seems that if they left it alone it'd probably be yet another comic book movie in 2.5 hr territory. And it probably would be better! But now they've soured most of it for the audience with this cynical "bare essentials" version that often resembles the trailer we have been terrorized by since the Before Times™, racing from one scene to the next so they can get us to the MCU cameos that much quicker. Sony cannot lose the rights to these characters fast enough; say what you will about the Marvel Studios brand, but at least they know how to actually make us want the films in the first place. Here I can't imagine anyone wanting a Morbius 2 unless it's a complete overhaul.

What say you?


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