Nope (2022)

JULY 21, 2022


There's an argument to be made that Nope is the weakest of Jordan Peele's three films, but the key takeaway is that it's still very good and worth seeing, which is pretty good for a "low point." And over time it might even change; the relative messiness of Us' third act reveals will continue to nag at me and weigh that experience down on rewatches, but I feel that with this movie, future viewings will merely highlight things I missed the first time around. If I'm right, it'll slowly improve its (already high) standing and, fifty years from now, might still rank high on what I hope is a lengthy (and competitive) list of genre must-sees.

See, the thing with Peele's work here is that almost nothing is a throwaway. His background as a comedian has a fun little twist here; sometimes there's a line that just seems like something he's throwing in as a pop culture gag, such as a reference to The Scorpion King, but then it actually has a payoff later. Keke Palmer's character accidentally photo bombs some kids who are taking a novelty picture at a theme park, and it's a cute little moment that shows her carefree attitude (and also a weird reference to Holes of all things), but it's also establishing a device she will use on purpose nearly two hours later. Tracking every instance of such things would be impossible on a first time viewing, so I would bet money on finding more when I find the time to see it again (given the 130 minute length, I'm guessing that'll be on Blu-ray).

And they're not always joke based, either. That part in the trailer (speaking of which - this review is fairly spoiler free, but only to those who have seen the trailers, so if that's not you I'd read further with caution!), where Palmer's Emerald tells the story of their family ranch, with Daniel Kaluuya (as her brother OJ) noting she missed a "great" before "great great grandfather" is a fine little detail that tells you he's more on top of the history than her, but later on we hear their father's version of the story on a commercial, and you realize she's just reciting his lines (hence missing a "great") from an ad that's forever burned into her memory. We don't get too much in the way of dialogue about their family history (I'd guess 90% of Kaluuya's lines consist of two or three words at most, in fact), but these subtle moments fill in quite a bit on their own.

There's also some traditional humor; in fact it might actually be the funniest of his three films. Kaluuya's understated manner paves the way for not one but two invocations of the film's title, both hilarious (he also turns the simple act of locking a door into a kneeslapper). Palmer's energy can always be counted on to lighten the mood when necessary, and most of the supporting cast (Brandon Perea in particular) gets more than one moment to shine. The darker comedy is also spot on; without spoiling the particulars, a moment where Steven Yeun's character gives a shoutout to an old friend has one of the bleakest sight gags in recent memory. I keep wondering if Peele will continue to make genre films or if he'll branch out into dramas or action (Keanu doesn't count; he didn't direct that one!), but for now I'm just thrilled we have someone taking the "it can't be scary AND funny" myth and dispelling it so easily time and time again.

But yes, aliens. The actual nature of the otherworldly menace is a surprise I won't spoil here (I wouldn't even say as much as I have if the new trailer didn't spell it out after being fairly cryptic with the first one; for the record, it's that older one I've embedded below), but I will say that it yields a higher body count than I expected. And there's another "villain" in the film that is even more horrific (Peele himself has been spilling the beans on this one, so it's fair game); a chimp actor who freaked out on the set of a crappy '90s sitcom and beat his co-stars to a pulp during a taping. This seemingly pointless backstory actually has two reasons for being: one to establish the backstory of Yeun's character, who runs the Old West themed park that is located near the heroes' horse ranch (he was a young actor on the show who witnessed the entire thing), and the other to show how animals have long been a disposable element in Hollywood, as if they were more like props than living creatures.

And that ties into one of the film's major themes, of how chasing the high of Hollywood can leave you a truly broken individual. When one of the horses is briefly spooked, it's enough for the production (already showing zero respect to the animal or its handlers) to fire them on the spot and replace it with a CGI version. Perea's Angel is dumped instantly by his girlfriend the second she lands a CW pilot, and nearly every character of note sees the alien presence not as something to fear or escape from, but a potential avenue to riches and fame. This idea is hammered home fairly early, though you might not realize it at the time, when Yeun delivers a monologue about his childhood trauma, proudly noting that it was spoofed on SNL (where he, an Asian child, was played by that week's host: Scott Wolf - an incredibly on point bit of racial commentary), seemingly oblivious to the tragedy that inspired it. It's not a movie that glamorizes show business, is what I'm saying, and among this film's relatively small group of characters, it's clear that the closer you are (or desire to be) part of that world, the more messed up you are. As nearly anyone can tell you, it's not only a hard business to break into at all, but an even harder one to stay relevant in, and it is subtly but no less depressing that these characters are clinging to their last hopes of "making it" in their way, ultimately risking their lives just to try to get a picture of the alien ship on the hopes they can get back in the spotlight.

It's a note that hit hard for me in an unexpected way; there's a scene shot on Runnymede St in LA, a street I myself once lived on (not in the spot shown to be clear) but was forced to leave when the owners decided to sell. Financial restraints kept us from buying it ourselves, and now we're on our third home here, each subsequent one further away from the area I more or less moved out here to be a part of (Hollywood/Burbank) only for the jobs I get to never allow me to actually live there. The people I work for? They live there, while I have to move further away when rent goes up. I hope this isn't coming off wrong; to be clear I'm very grateful for what I have, but I also never truly forget that I left my family and friends behind all those years ago only to end up doing the sort of work I probably could have done in Massachusetts, still basically living paycheck to paycheck. And I know for a fact I'm not alone in that situation, so seeing that street sign was a sobering reminder that I'm not exactly far removed from the heroes in the film. I COULD move back home, but who knows? "Maybe things will turn around...?"

(Speaking of dying dreams and local connections; the Fry's electronic store in Burbank makes an appearance, with its clerk being one of the film's major characters. The chain went out of business last year, so while folks elsewhere won't think anything of it, us here in Los Angeles might feel a little sad seeing it again. That said, as my friend Nick noted, the clerk being helpful may be the most out there sci-fi concept in the entire film.)

But it's also a tribute to Hollywood and moviemaking, with a low-key "the show must go on" kind of element to the proceedings. The alien presence emits a sort of EMP when it draws near, which makes their plans to get video of it all but impossible but also prevents them from driving away when it gives chase. But then they use it to their advantage when the ship is in its stealth mode - they track its movements by setting up Skydancers (aka "inflatable tube men") all around the area, connected to portable batteries. So when a tube man deflates, they know it's there, and when it deflates another, they know which direction it's headed. "Macguyvering" something is an every day occurrence on a shoot, as things always go wrong and yet a million reasons make waiting impossible, forcing the crew to come up with a solution that might seem silly but will get the job done. Incidentally I was an extra on a friend's music video just the day before, and (as I have in the past) marveled at how many unsung heroes it takes to pull off just a quick shot of something simple, so seeing crew types and their quick thinking get their due made me happy.

All that stuff is all well and good, but I couldn't help but think the film could have been a little tighter. Michael Wincott plays a cinematographer who is roped into their plans to film the ship (he's a film guy; their digital cameras are of course useless with the power drain) and it takes forever for him to make his return after being introduced early, and there are other moments that, in retrospect, seem like they could have been saved for the Blu-ray, with Peele telling us they were cut for pacing. With most of the alien carnage left to our imagination (there's a real Jaws vibe to the third act, by the way) it occasionally feels like there's more buildup than payoff, at least in the traditional visual sense. The surprisingly sad backdrop to the film kept me engaged, but that won't be the case for everyone (particularly those who believe anyone with even the loosest connection to Hollywood is "an elite"). Also, if you were excited about Keith David's appearance: don't get your hopes up, as if you've seen the trailer you've also seen most of his screentime. Not really a knock on the film; more on the marketing for giving away what was obviously supposed to be a surprise for genre fans instead of a selling point.

Basically it's a "chewer" kind of film, the one that you'll keep thinking about for a while after, which makes it a bit odd that this is Peele's first summer release (the other two came out in the later months of winter) and is about an alien invasion. That, along with its reported $70m budget, will have folks primed to see more action/spectacle than is offered, even if it wasn't abundantly clear from his earlier films that he's interested in ideas, not 'splosions. So I hope people go in with the right frame of mind to fully appreciate what it offers instead of dismissing it for what it doesn't.

What say you?

P.S. The freakiest thing about the experience wasn't even in the movie. Right before I left to drive to the theater, Gowan's "Strange Animal" came up on shuffle. I hadn't heard it for a while and considered letting it finish before I got in the car, but didn't want to risk a long concession line or something making me miss the beginning. So I sighed and shut the song off only a few seconds in... and then it showed up in the film! It's the theme song for the sitcom! I couldn't believe it. If IMDB is accurate/complete, the only other movie it's ever been in is Another Wolfcop, which is the only reason I know it in the first place. And I was right, the line WAS long so I missed most of the trailers. Got to see Nicole Kidman tell me how great AMC is though, on a screen that had a shadow over it from some fixture on the ceiling.


Blu-Ray Review: Planet of the Vampires (1965)

JULY 26, 2022


When most horror fans think of Mario Bava, their mental image is likely something from Black Sunday or Black Sabbath, maybe Shock if the big scare (the one they ripped off in Annabelle) is burned into their mind. But for me, who has never really taken a shine to the senior Bava’s work (Lamberto is more my speed), I just picture Planet of the Vampires; specifically, the astronauts in their goofy/awesome suits standing in their rather sparse spaceship, yammering on about this or that. And I know that sounds like my feelings are negative on the film, but on the contrary, it’s perhaps my favorite of his (or at least tied with The Girl Who Knew Too Much), and thus I was delighted to hear that Kino Lorber Classics would be reissuing it on Blu-ray with a new transfer and some more bonus features.

Because my mental image of the film is also blurry, as my only viewing was on Netflix back when a. it was called “Netflix Instant” (to differentiate from the DVD service that I’m not even sure if they still have) and b. Netflix would include 1960s Italian sci-fi among their offerings. Back then, the quality control wasn’t as tight nor was the service itself, so a lot of movies kind of looked like crap. But I had to laugh, because one of my issues with the film was that it was hard to tell some of the men apart, but watching now in proper high def it wasn’t really a concern. Ironically, even a 16K mega-remaster in immersive 3D wouldn’t completely solve that problem, because it’s partially baked into the film anyway! Per the commentary by Tim Lucas (who, when it comes to Bava, I tend to trust without question) one character is given two names, and another is seemingly recast halfway through the film. I assume that these are just mistakes stemming from the film’s dubbing (the actors spoke at least four languages among them, so almost nothing we are hearing is what they were actually saying), but still: nice to know that my “wait, who’s he?” kind of feelings aren’t just from a mushy transfer or my own mental shortcomings.

Also, it was my first time watching it since seeing Prometheus, which seemed to take influence from it and has had me wondering for a while now whether Ridley Scott and co. did it on purpose to be cute. Vampires’ influence on Alien has been noted but also debated over the years; Scott denied ever having seen it (as did Dan O’Bannon, though he apparently later recanted), so it's hard to levy any "intentional!" sort of claims at it. It’s also unknown if Bava ever saw it himself, though he definitely read the novelization (Lucas notes someone witnessing it firsthand), and he passed away in April of 1980, long before the rise of horror mags and blogs that would probably still be bugging him about it today if he was around. But back to Prometheus; I remember seeing it on opening night and chuckling that they were borrowing from Bava’s film again – the spacesuits alone seem to be proof that this time around the homage couldn’t be chalked up as coincidental. And it didn’t stop there; that film’s plot not only had the characters going back and forth to the other ship from their own quite a bit (as opposed to the single trip in Alien), but it also had a possession angle of sorts, with the crazed Fifield’s attack on the others feeling very much like the “vampires” in this film possessing the heroes and attacking their crewmates. Long story short; maybe it was a coincidence for Alien, but this time around, there was no denying that they were looking at Bava's film for inspiration.

Of course, Prometheus was also a polarizing film with regards to its answers to the mystery of the “space jockey”, so it was nice to go back and be reminded that there is no such explanation offered here when our heroes find a giant skeleton. One theorizes that it was another race of beings that was answering the same distress call that they were, but that’s all it is: a theory. Given the multi-national cast, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were more explanations for this or that in the script only for them to get wiped out due to the complications of dubbing everything, especially when so much of the dialogue is technical jargon as it is, with even simple things like “minutes” given different names. It’s ultimately all explained in a way (spoiler for 60 year old movie ahead: the astronauts aren’t from Earth as you might just assume), but I can still easily believe that they wanted to cut back on such stuff whenever possible in order to make it easier for everyone.

Kino’s Blu looks terrific and is loaded with extras, though most are trailers for other Bava movies as well as not one but two Trailers from Hell segments (one with Joe Dante, the other with Josh Olson). The two meaty supplements are the commentaries; the aforementioned one by Lucas (which appeared on their previous release in 2014), and a brand new track with Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw. Lucas’ unsurprisingly sticks to Bava and the actors, with some of the background history of AIP and their relation to Bava, while the other two have a little more fun and talk about its placement in the sci-fi genre as a whole, occasionally poking fun at some of its production design (the “meteor rejector” being in the middle of the room, for example). Both tracks note the Alien connections (as well as The Thing, albeit to a lesser extent) but don’t dwell on it, though I was surprised to hear how little Prometheus was mentioned, since as I noted, the influence is in my opinion even more direct there.

(Unfortunately “One Night of 21 Hours” - the original story the film was based on, which was included in their previous Blu - is not carried over here. Not a dealbreaker, but worth noting.)

It’s a shame Bava didn’t do more full on sci-fi; his use of color is a great match for the otherworldly landscapes the genre offers, and he clearly has a great deal of affinity for the “science” part of the equation (Newman notes that after Star Wars, sci-fi usually meant something else with very little “science fiction” involved). And he did a pretty good job of depicting an alien planet and a spaceship on a very low budget, all with in camera effects to boot! So imagine what he could have done in the 1970s when the budgets started getting bigger and the technicians learned even more tricks to pull off the impossible. Oh well. At least we got this one.

What say you?


FTP: The Last Matinee (2020)

JULY 18, 2022


When Bloody Disgusting first started acquiring (mostly foreign) films for release, they had a deal with AMC Theatres to show them a couple times a week. As a then writer for the outlet I felt duty bound to go, but given the very sparse crowds I'd see on those occasions, it wasn't a surprise that the partnership didn't last. But if it did, it would have added a fun meta layer to see The Last Matinee on the big screen with one of those very tiny crowds, because the movie itself is about a handful of people seeing a foreign horror movie in a big theater, only to be wiped out by a killer.

The logic largely holds out, too - the theater seems to have around a thousand seats but only eight of them are occupied. We have a couple on a first date, an old man, a kid who snuck in, a trio of teens, and a lone teen girl who just happens to be the unrequited crush of one of those previously mentioned three, all spread out throughout the theater where the killer can strike without anyone noticing if they're paying attention to the screen. And he only has to do that a couple times; eventually one guy goes to the bathroom and he gets him there, he gets the teen and his crush at the same time, and when he goes in for his next kill he's finally spotted. I mean, in reality would it work? Probably not, but in the context of a slasher movie (i.e. where it's best not to think about such things) I think writer/director Maximiliano Contenti did a fine job of making it work.

I also appreciated that the movie they were watching was a real one, but not a budget pack public domain staple like Night of the Living Dead or whatever. In fact, the film (Frankenstein: Day of the Beast) was directed by Ricardo Islas, who plays the killer here, adding to the meta fun: Islas' work as a director is distracting everyone from noticing that Islas himself is killing their fellow patrons. To be clear, he's not playing himself - he's dubbed with the hilariously awesome name of Asesino Comeojos, or "The Eye Eating Killer." And yes, that's what he does; he kills folks with the usual sharp implements, but then he gouges out their eyes with an ice cream scoop (!) and occasionally eats them, though most he keeps in a big jar like they're pickles or something. It's goofy, yes, but disturbing in equal measure.

The disc is surprisingly packed for a DVD; I forgot they could put this much on there (and the transfer of the film is quite good; I actually forgot it was the lesser format). Contenti provides a commentary (in English; the film and other extras are in Spanish) that can be a little dry but is otherwise worth a listen as he rattles off production stories, casting process, FX secrets (the eyes are some kind of vegetable I'm blanking on right now, covered in sugar), etc. He also notes, somewhat apologetically, the insane number of production company logos at the top; I counted fourteen (eight of them animated), but as he notes that's just the reality now. There's an enjoyable making of with the cast and crew, some deleted scenes, short films, the trailer, and an Unsolved Mysteries kind of thing about the "real case" that inspired the film (please note: this is fictional). Contenti said that his previous film about a killer puppet would be on the disc as well, but that (along with the full Frankenstein feature) is a Blu-ray exclusive. Still, it'll take you another couple hours to go through what IS there, and that's always a nice surprise nowadays.

If you're one of the ninnies who whine when there's no explanation for a killer, you should steer clear (ditto for Halloween and Black Christmas too, you goon), but if you just want old-school body count fun I think you'll dig it. I had a blast, aided by the funny coincidence that the film actually took place on July 18th, the day I finally grabbed it off my shelf having wanted to watch it for a while now (I blame the format; it's a DVD and my eyes tend to gravitate toward the blu-rays since I know I'll get more money for trading them in once I finally watch). And as someone who has never gotten a hand job in a theater, I felt better about missing out after seeing what happened here: the dude (who I identified with as he noted that he likes to go to the movies without knowing a single thing about the film he's about to see) makes a mess of his pants so he retreats to the bathroom to clean it off, and that's where he gets killed. Not worth it imo.

What say you?


FTP: The House of Seven Corpses (1974)

JULY 14, 2022


To be fair to The House Of Seven Corpses, I've already seen a "house" with roughly 993 more corpses, so at no point was I expecting a fast paced, ultra violent affair. But I was still disappointed, because it turns out it's one of those movies where if you were to ask someone what the plot was, they'd basically be spoiling the third act. Even the official synopsis explains that it's about a film crew who inadvertently use a real incantation as dialogue in their film, which awakens a ghoul that proceeds to kill them all one by one. Awesome, right? Well, it's 87 minutes long and the ghoul doesn't awaken until a bit past the hour mark, so.

I mean, as a Jason Takes Manhattan defender I've certainly listened to countless "He's only in New York for the last 20 minutes!" kind of complaints over the years, but I think we can all agree that while the NY part of the film isn't as prominent as the title suggests, at least he's doing his usual thing for the entire movie, racking up a then-high body count in fact! Here, before the ghoul finally wakes up, there's nothing really horror about the movie at all beyond the fact that the crew is, unsurprisingly, making a horror movie (oh and someone kills a cat). Only the film's opening scene tries to trick us into thinking that what we're seeing is real; every other example for the next hour, such as a character's death in the film they're making, is presented as it really is, with the makeup guy standing next to her and the director calling "action!" and all that.

Luckily, it's still mildly entertaining anyway, thanks to the relentless assholery of John Ireland as the film's director. He snarls at his actors, yells at his crew, and treats the shooting location's owner (John Carradine!) as a crazy loon - there's basically no point in the movie where you won't be wanting the ghoul to kill him, but given it's otherwise uninvolving plot, his behavior becomes kind of charming in its own way. It's from the 1970s so I don't have to tell (warn) you that some of his treatment of his female co-stars is off-putting (one example I'm not even sure how it would have been acceptable even then), but knowing that he'll eventually get what's coming to him makes it easier to digest.

Otherwise though, it's just too little, too late. The ghoul's rampage is pretty quick, and there's another twist with a crew member being part of the "curse" that doesn't even make much sense, coming out of nowhere and with very little follow-through. Director Paul Harrison quit directing after this, his first feature in a career that otherwise saw him directing TV variety shows and his most notable work after this was writing a few episodes of Days Of Our Lives, so I think we can all safely assume that making horror movies wasn't his forte. The commentary provides more traditional entertainment value, with co-producer/production manager Gary Kent telling his stories with the assistance of Lars Nilsen from the Alamo Drafthouse. Neither of them believe the film to be high art, so they occasionally goof on its plotting a bit (Nilsen notes the laughably small crew they're using to make the movie) and seem to enjoy each other's company. There's also a lengthy interview with Carradine, but not only is it not specific to this film, he downplays his horror association, making it an odd inclusion for this horror film. But if you're a fan of the man, you'll enjoy his stories all the same.

What say you?


FTP: They're Inside (2019)

JULY 13, 2022


It's been a minute since I watched a found footage movie (assuming I logged them all here, the last one was Paranormal Activity 7, back in November), so I want to thank They're Inside for reminding me that when done well, it's a technique I do rather enjoy. It's a shame the marketplace was glutted by so much crap after the first PA, because there's seemingly unlimited potential to make it work within any sub-genre, not to mention the ability for literally anyone to compete due to the inherent lo-fi nature of the gimmick (unlike the similar slasher boom of the early 80s, where you'd need a proper FX guy and usually a memorable location to keep up with the Halloweens and Friday the 13ths). As a result, I *still* feel my heart sink a little when I realize something's going to be a POV film.

But this one mostly works just fine. It helps that there's a genuine reason to be filming most of it: our heroes are making a movie and one of them is collecting footage for the behind the scenes. Sometimes it's her camera we're seeing it through, sometimes it's the camera that's being used to film the movie itself (seemingly every scene they shoot is interrupted by something strange happening outside, a creepy visitor, etc), and eventually it's mounted hidden cameras that the killers have placed around the home. I didn't quite buy the reality of this aspect; some of these shots seem to be from cameras that there's no way the characters couldn't notice, but if it's the alternative to the documentary girl filming everything even when things get hectic, I'll gladly take it.

The only other issue is that it is, basically, "The Strangers: Now In Found Footage", which I'm sure has probably been done before anyway (I don't keep track of this stuff as well as I used to, but Strangers and the FF boom both came in 2008/9, so combining them HAD to have happened before, right?). The filmmakers acknowledge it on their commentary, so it's not as mercenary as it might have felt a decade ago, but it still leaves you with seemingly unnecessary deja vu from time to time. Luckily, while their masks/demeanor are similar, they don't share the "because you were home" randomness of their actions - there's a legit reason for them to go after this director. It's delivered in a somewhat clunky way (without spoiling, they basically have to rearrange the chronology of the film's events at times in order to prevent having a 15 minute exposition bout at the end), but as with the mounted cameras thing, it's a lesser of two evils deal.

Plus, it's genuinely well made! Not something you can say about a lot of these movies, but there are several moments where I was impressed with the filmmaking, in particular a lengthy (nearly ten minutes, I think? With only one cleverly hidden cut) shot featuring not one but two graphic on-screen deaths that had me actually wondering how they pulled it off without the ability to cut away. There are other surprisingly gruesome deaths in the film (outside of the commentaries, the main bonus features are two of the actors having their heads cast with plaster - guess what for?), so along with the genuinely creepy nature of the whole thing, it actually makes for an effective mini-slasher, found footage or not.

With a few less contrivances in the script this would stand as a must-see, but even as is, it's one of the better examples of a reality-based found footage film, proving you don't need ghosts, witches or Cloverfields to justify the approach. Also, BECAUSE the last one I saw was Paranormal 7 (which was ultimately crippled by being forced into it), it was nice to be reminded that the POV style doesn't have to be a crutch or something to actively try to get away from as long as you take the time to brainstorm some workarounds. Good stuff.

What say you?

P.S. I truly hope this isn't necessary, but trigger warning: the film occasionally discusses - but thankfully does not show - a woman who was sexually assaulted by her father when she was little. Icky af, but more than that, given the current news re: Roe vs Wade and how some states apparently feel that sort of thing doesn't qualify as an exception, I can see how it might be far more upsetting than any of the traditional horror elements.


Slumber Party Massacre (2021)

JULY 10, 2022


One of the downsides of traveling to only *part* of a film festival is that you might end up missing the movie you were most excited to see. That was the case with last year's Fantastic Fest; as always I could only attend the first few days instead of the whole thing (I believe it runs for just over a week) and sure enough, the Slumber Party Massacre remake that had been on my radar since it was announced was slotted for Monday night, and I was leaving Monday morning. I still got to see some stuff I was excited for (The Black Phone, Titane), of course, but I knew there would be other opportunities to see those with a crowd. SPM, however, was made for the Syfy channel, which meant future theatrical showings would be rare, if they existed at all.

So alas I had to settle for home, with no one to laugh with or, if my "blind to horror references" wife was with me, explain why I was laughing at the sight of a telephone truck. I still had a pretty good time, but during every crowd-pleasing moment I couldn't help but sigh that I missed my chance to see it with, well, a crowd. The pandemic has made me cherish a good crowd more than ever, and at the same time they're harder to find (watching movies at home for a year or two has left even more people unaware of how to properly behave in a theater), but at Fantastic Fest that wouldn't have been an issue. Anyone being a jerk in a Drafthouse would have been removed, theoretically (their LA location doesn't enforce the policy, I've noticed - not sure if that's a company wide relaxation).

Anyway, it's the kind of remake I always appreciate, in that it has the same basic premise (the one promised in the title) and a few nods but is otherwise its own movie, so that it can succeed on its own merits and, in turn, make its own mistakes. I always think about the Halloween remake and how it actually had its own identity for the first half, to the extent that maybe I could grow to like it on a second viewing now that the shock had worn off, only for Rob Zombie to not only start copying Carpenter's film scene for scene, but even keep the dumb sister twist from the sequel, rather than course correct something even Carpenter himself said was a bad idea. By creating their own story, writer Suzanne Keilly and director Danishka Esterhazy can't use the 1982 film as a scapegoat if something doesn't work.

(Obviously, one thing they've retained is keeping the tradition set by the original, of women writing and directing these films. And it's nice that nowadays it's (slightly) less novel to see.)

Luckily, for the most part it works just fine. After a 1990s set opening where all but one girl is killed, we flash forward to the present, where the survivor's daughter is about to make a girls trip of her own (right off the bat they're doing something different even in the cold open - it's a rented cabin in the woods as opposed to their "safe" suburban home), and said mom is understandably nervous - real "Keri Tate" energy about her nearly adult child being away from her for a couple days. And due to some well-worn horror movie traditions (i.e. their car breaks down) they end up not at their intended destination but... the same cabin/lake where her mom was attacked! What are the odds?


Well the odds are, as they say, stacked, because one girl's teen sister who tagged along for the ride finds a bloody corpse almost instantly, and then tells the others that the original killer must be back. It's only like 20-25 minutes into the movie at this point, so any astute fan would know that's far too quick for everyone to be on the alert - but then Reilly and Esterhazy show their cards. All the girls pull out weapons, and reveal to the younger sister that this was their plan all along: to pose as the usual group of oblivious girls and lure Thorn out so they can kill him. The reveal is slightly hampered by some forced awkward writing (the main girl, Dana, is introduced listening to a podcast about her mother's attack, so she knows where it happened, but also has no reaction when they "find out" they have to stay there), but it's such a great idea that I let it slide.

Naturally, things don't go fully as planned. The other cabin across the lake is being rented by a group of dudes who are fans of the podcast, and they think the girls are "man-haters" who might kill them. So there's some mild paranoia, not to mention some hilarious role reversal stuff (the guys have a shirtless pillow fight) and a running gag about how two of the guys are named Guy, keeping the energy level high to make up for the fact that there isn't much in the way of actual stalk n' slash kind of material. With everyone knowing that Thorn is around, they obviously aren't going to go off to have sex or any of the other F13-y kind of things you'd expect when a group of girls meets up with a group of guys (the credits even copy F13 3D's font/style, so they clearly want to get the viewer in that kind of headspace). I wouldn't have minded some of that early on before their true motive was revealed, but as with the mother's backstory thing I mentioned, I can see how it would strain credulity even further.

Plus there are more reveals/surprises that I won't spoil, making it a pretty enjoyable 90 minutes overall. Not all the humor lands (there are at least three too many "the drill is his penis" visual gags) and more could have been done with the idea that the girls are fully prepared to take on a slasher killer, but it's rare to watch a remake and also have the "I'm not sure what will happen next" kind of thinking, so it's forgivable. And I appreciated that they gave a little love to Slumber Party Massacre II as well, with one of the guys finding a familiar guitar and trying to use it as a weapon (if there's anything specific to the third film, I missed it). The references to the original were also largely subtle instead of grating (the phone van I mentioned doesn't even get a closeup, it's just in the background of a shot for those who can get it - no one else will feel they're "missing something"). They recycled a few character names (and Thorn himself is basically the same guy, but not ACTUALLY the same guy) but I think the most overt "remake" moment was actually just kind of goofing on one of my favorite parts of the original, where the girl comes running out of the house and stabs the killer even though he's already dead.

I also liked that it was just Russ Thorn again. Not the actual same guy, it's definitely a remake, but there's no real whodunit aspect to the proceedings nor does he wear a disguise. Post Scream, there was talk that you couldn't even do a slasher anymore, and while that isn't true, there has definitely been a sharp decline in the number of named killer types (i.e. "Michael Myers") beyond sequels. Most prefer to do it as a mystery now, and while I like those too, there's something charming in just having a random psycho again. I recently watched another newish slasher called Varsity Blood (which ALSO had everyone clued into the killer's presence too early - is it too much to ask to let these kids party for a while?) and the backstory was super convoluted; one of the would-be victims explains the obligatory past tragedy while dropping the names of people we hadn't even met yet, making me feel like I needed to take notes. As a result, the killer's reveal meant almost nothing to me, as it was someone who I had mostly just heard about instead of seeing. Not the case here. It's just Russ Thorn, and all we need to know is that he's a fan of drills and denim jackets.

As it was made for Syfy it isn't too explicit in any department, though there are some nice prosthetic gags here and there. The disc has an alternate ending that is more of an extended epilogue (unnecessary) and a director commentary that I started listening to but she is a soft spoken type and I have the AC on all the time in this hellscape, so I will have to get to it when the house is otherwise quiet (or when my idiot cats stop thinking that a headphone wire is something they need to attack). But the movie itself is one I can see myself throwing on every few years when I'm in the mood for a few cheap slasher thrills with a below modern average number of things making my eyes roll.

What say you?


FTP: Hoax (2019)

JULY 1, 2022


Few movies have gotten me in their corner as quickly as Hoax, as it opens with a campfire scene and someone telling a story that begins "I don't want to scare anyone... but I'm going to give it to you straight about Bigfoot." This paraphrase of Paul's Jason story in F13 Part 2 (and reused in Final Chapter to tell the story of the first three films) is my kind of movie reference - not too on the nose, and will easily just go over the head of someone who didn't catch the homage without giving them that "I'm missing something" feeling that sours many such shoutouts. It's the first of many relatively obscure references that occur in the film, only a few of them grating, many just harmless or easy to miss - the commentary revealed one I hadn't spotted for myself!

And for the most part, the movie itself is pretty bearable, even fun at times. It LOOKS crappy, with that overlit video style that resembles porn more than a standard horror movie, but the characters are well rounded/fairly likable (even the obligatory jerk human has his charms here and there) and it doesn't waste too much time letting the sasquatch do its thing. Alan Howarth's score is pretty good (and obviously a step or seven above what you get in most stuff on this budget level) and the Colorado scenery is nice - they really did shoot out in an isolated part of the state and it shows. The only thing it fails to do, really, is separate itself from the countless other bigfoot/sasquatch movies that have been made over the years - there's only so many times in one's life you can watch a skeptical character try to explain away obvious evidence of a big hairy monster with "maybe a bear?" before your brain kind of checks out.

Worse, the way they DO try to put their own mark on things is to introduce... well (spoiler ahead!), the Sawyer family, basically. An hour or so into the film our two primary heroes are kidnapped by a family of backwoods cannibals, who proceed to tie them to chairs and start slicing "meat" (skin) off the male with an electric cutting knife. Turns out the "bigfoot" is just one of the hulking sons wearing a costume, which would be fine if a. it wasn't just trading one overused trope for another and b. we didn't clearly see that his costume was different than the quick shot of the sasquatch we saw earlier. Having the real guy crash their party (and inadvertently save our heroine) woulda been fun, but this whole TCM wannabe sequence seems shoehorned into the movie, as if they shot it without these folks and came up 20 minutes short of a feature runtime, prompting a late addition. The real sasquatch and these phonies never interact, and our skeptical heroine (spoiler again) dies without ever seeing the real one for herself. It's a remarkably unsatisfying and frankly, kind of annoying conclusion to what was otherwise a decent timekiller.

If you are a fan of the film from a festival screening or something, or just a collector of Bigfoot films, the Epic/Dread blu-ray release at least gives you a little more bang for your buck. There are two commentary tracks, which wasn't uncommon in the glory days of the DVD format but is next to extinct now for a new film (hell even getting ONE track is something of a surprise these days). I listened to the one with the crew, which informs me that the team are old friends from film school and enjoy working together, so there's a pleasant camaraderie to the experience that more or less makes up for the occasional silences (unusual for a group track). Then there's a full hour of various behind the scenes things; interviews with the actors, behind the scenes tales, etc. A little fluffy to be sure, and some of the soundbytes are repeated (there's a play all but no indication they're meant to be watched as a "documentary", to be fair), but hey - with the two tracks that comes out to four hours' worth of extra material, which is about three hours and 45 minutes more than you'll get on anything from Universal or Paramount these days.

And look: it's hard to make a good sasquatch movie. I just reread a handful of my own reviews for a bunch of them (as I no longer recall even watching many of them - apparently one had Alice Cooper?) and I found most to be pretty bad or (at best) "so bad it's good" kind of fare, with only Willow Creek standing out as a legit good one. Also, a lot of them were found footage, so I laud this team on at least going with a traditional approach even though there's a reality show component built into the plot. If not for the abysmal idea to spend most of the third act focused on backwoods weirdos (since the F13 love was apparent early on, I can't help but think this mother-led clan was based on Ethel and Junior from New Beginning) it'd probably be in the "win" column by default. Alas.

What say you?


FTP: Olivia (1983)

JUNE 26, 2022


Some of the worst movies I've ever seen are from Ulli Lommel, so it means almost nothing at all to say Olivia (aka Double Jeopardy) is, in comparison, not too bad. It's more competent than most of his work that I've seen, not QUITE as dull as some of his other films of the era (Devonsville Terror comes to mind since it shares star/Lommel's once-wife Suzanne Love), and has an all timer nonsense kill involving a toothbrush (!) that would be enough to keep the blu-ray if the movie as a whole was slightly better. It's a good example of why it's good to overdose on these things; had I not seen the likes of Return of the Boogeyman and Curse of the Zodiac, I might not be able to appreciate what little the movie has to offer. Compared to most movies? Bad! Compared to the average Lommel flick? A masterpiece!

I'll give it this much: it's impossible to tell where it's going from one scene to the next, but not in an incoherent way. No, it's hard to do that because the script is so aimless, with each 10-20 minute stretch seemingly just setting up the next one, as if they took the "exquisite corpse" approach to crafting the narrative. It starts off in the past, where a young girl named Olivia sees her prostitute mother beaten and murdered by a john, then cuts to the present where she is now a young woman (Love) who is married to a real jerk, one who won't even let her get a job to experience some independence. One night when he's out working, she decides to try being a hooker like her mom, killing the first customer. So you're thinking, OK, this is gonna be one of those sympathetic serial killer kind of movies where she kills a bunch of dudes and then finally her husband, right?

Nope. She doesn't do that ever again. A short while later she meets Mike (Robert Walker Jr., aka "Charlie X"), who is kind and caring, and they fall in love. The husband sees them kissing on London Bridge, and goes out to attack them both. In the scuffle, the husband goes over the railing and plummets to his seeming death, at which point a frantic Olivia runs off into the night. Then we cut to a few years later (again!) where Mike is overseeing the transfer of the London Bridge to Arizona (a plot point that I've seen in ANOTHER horror movie, the David Hasselhoff vehicle Terror at London Bridge!). One day, while on the bridge, he looks down at a tour boat hundreds of feet away and - using some kind of eagle eye vision I didn't know he had - zeroes in on the tour guide, recognizing her as Olivia. But is it really her?

I mean, yeah. Why wouldn't it be? It almost seems like Ulli got confused and meant to seemingly kill HER on the bridge instead of the husband, and then have her reappear later as a reincarnation or lost twin or whatever, some kind of Vertigo riff, but there's no reason to believe Olivia was ever dead anyway. Nor does it make much sense that she pretends not to know Mike for a while, so it just adds to the "What is this movie ABOUT?" feeling. Then the husband comes back and the horror/thriller element finally returns, but it's too late to make up for the fact that the first hour of the movie feels like a prologue. I can't even imagine trying to watch it again, because now it'd seem even slower as I just wait for the toothbrush kill.

I actually got more out of the bonus features, with (apart from some behind the scenes super 8 footage of minimal interest) is comprised of four people who worked on the movie and others with Lommel, telling stories about his odd behavior and filmmaking style. Love's is the most revealing, as she explains that Lommel's father discovered his wife/Ulli's mother was having an affair, and drove his young son to the hotel that they were having their rendezvous. When the lovers came out and Ulli (being 8 and not understanding the concept of an affair) tried to run over to see his mother, his father refused to let him, explaining that she was a "WHORE!" and not worth their time. So that explains why a lot of his movies tend to have rather insane misogynistic streaks (particularly The Raven), as - per Love - it clearly made an impact and made him kind of crappy to women in real life (she notes that their marriage dissolved over him having his own affairs). One of the other interviewees (the editor I think) tells a story of how he swindled an actor out of ten grand by promising him a role in the movie if he invested in it, only to pretend shoot some made up scenes over a weekend without even putting film in the camera. We also learn he hated Nixon, so at least he wasn't totally crazy.

Some friends gave this surprisingly strong reviews on Letterboxd, so maybe it's a "just me" kind of thing - feel free to check it out for yourself, maybe you'll like it a lot, too! But my theory is that their expectations were even lower than mine to start, because the above average competence and coherence on display didn't nearly make up for the shaggy plotting, and I can't imagine anyone thinking this was a must-see. The extras were more engaging! Indeed, Lommel died in 2017, so this and any other future releases will be lacking his insight, but that's fine - I think if any more come my way I'll just skip the movie and head right for the candid interviews. His collaborators will have the better stories anyway!

What say you?

P.S. In lieu of the usual trailer (which I couldn't find), here's someone's video essay as a defense. They didn't convince me, but hey! Good effort.


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