From The Pile: Boo! (2018)

SEPTEMBER 21, 2022


While most "Pile" movies are acquired for free (trivia, unsolicited mailings) every now and then I head over to the local Dollar Tree and scoop up a few. It's not the main purpose of my journey; I don't want to sound mean but it's often a place I can find movies I did the credits for, and since "end title creator" is not on the shortlist of people the producers will gift a copy to, I grab them when I see them here (or Big Lots, or whatever) for my pitiful little collection of movies I worked on. And so since I'm there anyway and will be waiting in line, I occasionally grab something like Boo!, which looked reasonably entertaining enough to hand over the princely sum of one dollar to find out if it was.

Alas, it was not.

The concept is fine: it's Halloween night and someone has left a chain letter (called a Boo) at their door, with the standard "Pass it on or you'll be cursed" message. However, this particular house's patriarch is a righteous Christian man (real fire and brimstone type) who refuses to celebrate Halloween due to its pagan connections, and promptly burns the letter. This being a horror movie, creepy things will now happen to him, his wife, and his two children (one college-aged, the other like 12) until they pass the curse on or whatever, right?

Well, sure (emphasis on the "or whatever"). Unfortunately it takes a very, very long time for this to happen, and in the meantime we just watch endless scenes of the younger kid drawing, the mother smoking or drinking, and the teen girl sneaking out with her boyfriend. Sometimes they have visions of scary things happening (for example when the mom, out for another smoke break, sees a baby carriage in the middle of the street out of nowhere) but after a couple we realize that they're just that: visions. Nothing ACTUALLY happens in this movie until the final few minutes, by which point any reasonable viewer - even those who only paid a dollar for the damn thing - would have checked out.

It doesn't help that it shares surface details to Hereditary (whether they're coincidental or, well, NOT coincidental is unknown; it's shot almost entirely in one house and had its first public screening nine months after Ari Aster's film did, so it's certainly possible), right down to the four family members looking absolutely nothing alike. And as with that film, the family has some secrets and resentments, all of which come out in stressful situations, but not ONCE does anyone go for a car ride and get their head knocked off, or crawl on the ceiling, so I kept wondering why I was watching a very low key wannabe when the real deal (which I didn't love either, to be clear) had enough memorable insanity for two or more movies anyway.

Ultimately I walked away with two things. One: the Madea Boo! might have actually been scarier (it was certainly more fun to watch) and two. the DVD cover's blurb "From the executive producer of Insidious" was doing them no favors, because this film's director is no James Wan, and its cast lacked anyone with the presence of Rose Byrne or Lin Shaye, and the writer wasn't Leigh Whannell, and... you get the idea. Not that I ever put any stock into those things ("From the producer" is second only to "From the studio" when it comes to the most worthless attempts at a selling point), but certainly others were duped into thinking it'd be of the same level of quality or scare quotient. And some of them might have paid more than a buck.

Oh and it barely has any Halloween flavor whatsoever so it's not even worth it on that level.

What say you?


Jeepers Creepers: Reborn (2022)

SEPTEMBER 19, 2022


There is precisely one good thing to say about Jeepers Creepers: Reborn, and that is that the jerk who directed the first three is seemingly not involved in any way. Unless he used a pseudonym, his name does not appear anywhere on the film; in fact, despite how bad it was I stayed through all of the end credits to make sure he wasn’t even given as much as a special thanks. Instead they have the audacity to actually dedicate it to the kid he abused all those years ago (a crime for which he pled guilty and served time, something that almost seems novel in this day and age when monsters are routinely allowed to carry on without any accountability), seemingly to assure us that this was in no way anything he was connected to beyond creating the idea over 20 years ago.

But this isn’t “Part 4” (so he doesn’t even get a credit for creating the characters); as we learn early on, this is more like a Halloween III kind of deal where it exists in the world where the previous movies are just that: movies. Specifically, movies based on an urban legend that is treated like Bigfoot or the Jersey Devil, as opposed to the unknown quality he had in the others (outside of the handful of people who seemingly knew he was around and just looked the other way). In all honesty, that’s not a bad start for a “sequel”, in that it acts more like a remake of sorts and allows the new creative team to pick and choose what they like about the Creeper as we know him and chalk anything they discarded up to a fake part of the legend.

Unfortunately, they do next to nothing with this potential, burning most of it off in the Creeper’s first appearance, where he is born (whether the 23 year/23 day cycle is true here too is unclear, but let’s just assume it’s supposed to be the beginning of his latest) sort of half formed and barely able to move until he finds a victim and consumes him. I was hoping that they’d do a Hellraiser kind of deal where with each new body he got closer to being back to full strength, but nah – the one corpse (and an animal) seemed to be all he needed. So that’s disappointment #1, and I thought that they’d make up for it with his seeming target: a “Horror Hound” convention (in quotes because it’s nothing like a real HH con, despite using the branding/logo prominently) populated by a bunch of cosplaying horror fans. The idea of him hiding in plain sight, with everyone chalking him up to being a guy in costume, with the potential for a body count that would even top JC2 (the bus one), seemed to suggest a decent enough timekiller.

But nope, wrong again! The convention is quickly forgotten and we instead follow a handful of folks (our two heroes, a local guide, and a Youtube personality with her two man crew) to an isolated mansion that has supposedly been retrofitted as an escape room. And even then! I thought that might be an OK consolation prize for a concept; visions of the protagonists trying to escape the Creeper but having to solve a cipher puzzle to open the door were amusing me. But my optimism led me astray for what was thankfully the last time; the escape room element is a giant nothing burger, and at no point for the remaining 45-50 minutes did I ever think that maybe things would turn around. To be fair, even if they did stay at the convention and have him wipe everyone out the film would still be saddled with one of the least interesting hero couples in a horror movie I’ve seen in quite some time, made worse by the complete lack of chemistry between the two actors. The closest thing the movie has to a decent character is the aforementioned local guide, who is introduced as a creepy carnie type running a knife throwing game, the sort of dude you expect to be revealed to be working with the villain (think Vilmer in TCM4), but turns out to be a solid ally who is also the only one who ever manages to actually fight back against the Creeper during his intermittent attacks.

Also, having him take on dozens of people outside (it’s a convention that looks more like the bootleg parking lot booths *outside* of the convention, but whatever) would stretch the film’s clearly too-small digital FX budget, as there are shots in the film that almost qualify as the sort of thing you see in test screenings after being reminded by the director that not everything is finished. Nearly every shot of the Creeper outside looks like he’s been pasted in, Poochie returning to his home planet-style, and there are other moments I flat out laughed at because they looked so bad. My personal favorite was near the end, when some cops arrive on the scene. We see our survivor’s POV as they hear the cars approaching, but we can’t see them in the long stretch of road that’s in front of them. There’s a quick cut to their faces, where we can see the red/blue lights flashing, and then it cuts back to their POV and now there are two cop cars there, officers already out of the vehicles with guns drawn. And they too look they were added in later, but even if they looked Oscar-worthy it still wouldn’t have changed the fact that we should have seen them in the prior shot anyway.

It's also loaded with go-nowhere plot points, because (naturally) this is intended to be the start of a new trilogy and no one making movies anymore seems to understand that the reason certain films became trilogies (BTTF, Matrix, etc) is because we absolutely loved the first film and felt we got a complete experience (a reminder that BTTF’s “To be continued” thing was added later) instead of what amounted to a TV show pilot. That’s not the case here; the Creeper wants the heroine’s baby for some reason (even though she’s only a few weeks along, so I don’t know what exactly the plan was or why they needed HER specifically – was no one else in this town closer to their due date?), and there’s a group of locals who are seemingly part of a cult devoted to the Creeper – it’s all very Halloween 6-esque and even less satisfying, if you can believe it. There’s some mild voodoo stuff thrown in for whatever reason, none of it interesting or serving any real purpose, and I’m still trying to understand how the “escape room” element was supposed to work if the Creeper didn’t show up. There’s nothing in the house beyond the Creeper’s little altar (and his record player, where he plays a different old timey song named "Jeepers Creepers"), so what exactly were they going to do? Just wander around the empty house? And why didn’t the producers find his altar when they went to set up whatever it was they did?

It's part of the main problem with the film, which is that everything feels phony. There’s a long opening with Dee Wallace where we eventually learn it’s just an Unsolved Mysteries type segment that the hero is watching on his way to the convention, and yet it comes off as more legit than the “real” stuff that follows. The convention setting is a joke, their escape room is barren of any puzzles or props, people keep going off for the most bizarre reasons (why, in the middle of absolutely nowhere and worried about his shoes, does a guy trek a half mile off the road to take a piss?), the actors all seem as if they only met each other seconds before the camera was turned on, etc, etc. And yet, weirdly enough, the convention is filled with legit costumes? BOTH Pennywises are there, the Shining twins, Billy from Saw, etc. A Michael Myers even slashes someone’s throat in an effect that’s actually better than half the ones we see the Creeper commit. I’m not sure if any of this stuff was legally cleared, but I wouldn’t bet on it, especially considering that the production company has already had one lawsuit filed against it for shady business practices.

There is literally nothing about this movie that works, and it’s too dull to even count as “so bad it’s good” fare. I was truly hoping that they could at least make something mildly passable that I could embellish a bit in hopes of basically saying “They got rid of the gross guy and now the series can move on without him, and this is a good start!” or something like that, but instead it left me with the icky feeling that they were instead making his movies (none of which I love, mind you – I only really like the first half hour of the original and a few bits here and there of the sequels) look better in comparison. I truly hope this is the last we ever see of this series. I sure as hell learned my lesson once and for all.

What say you?


House on Haunted Hill (1999)

SEPTEMBER 13, 2022


It wasn’t long into House on Haunted Hill that a devastating fact occurred to me: it had been 23 YEARS since I had last seen it, on opening weekend in theaters. I mean, there are some reviews on this site where I had decided to watch it as “new” because it had been maybe ten years since I last watched and thus didn’t remember it very well anymore. Hell, more than once I watched a movie thinking I hadn’t seen it yet only to find my own review of it later – and even those were only about half that length of time. TWENTY THREE YEARS!!! Texas Chain Saw Massacre wasn’t even that old when I first watched it.

Anyway, it likely goes without saying that I didn’t remember much at all about the movie, not even why I didn’t like it much (basically all I remembered was that I didn’t feel compelled to give it another look). But my tastes have changed a lot since then, so I figured – along with the seasonal appeal* – it might be fun to finally watch the blu-ray I was sent years ago. Alas, I still don’t think much of the movie, but at least this time I can write down why, so in another 23 years, when I get a copy on 16K Ultra Mega Highest Possible Def Brain Implant Disc, I can hopefully find the brainpower to find this old review and realize that there’s probably something else I should do with my increasingly limited time left.

The weird thing about the movie is that it sets up a more fun, trickster-y narrative than it ends up being, and never quite recovers from the tonal shift. We quickly meet Geoffrey Rush (channeling James Woods just as much as, if not more than, Vincent Price) as he takes some reporters on his fiendish new roller coaster that uses some kind of holographic tech to simulate a derailed car in front of the one that the actual riders are on, and then his wife (Famke Janssen in full fatale mode) in a bubble bath, plotting some future scheme. So even if you haven’t seen the original, you’ll probably get the idea that the movie is about the two of them in a sort of War of the Roses-type battle with the rest of the cast (Ali Larter, Taye Diggs, etc) caught in the middle.

But alas, there’s precious little of that. I think they only have two more scenes together before splitting into different parts of the house, with Janssen “dying” at the halfway point (if that far?) and Rush clearly not behind the spooky shenanigans that are occurring, as he is frightened by a corpse when he’s by himself. It’s the rare remake (in my opinion anyway) that could have benefited from copying more of the original; the tête-à-tête between Price and Carol Ohmart was one of the 1959 film’s greatest assets, and these two are just as up for having fun – but the script barely lets them sink their teeth into the dynamic. And there isn’t anything else fun in its place, unless you are as amused by Chris Kattan’s mugging as audiences presumably were in 1999 (I couldn't even stand him then, so you can imagine how well his shtick landed for me now).

Instead it’s a rather repetitive affair once Famke is removed from the group, as it focuses almost entirely on Larter, Diggs, and Kattan wandering around the dungeon-y basement levels of the house, peppered with occasional scares and appearances by Rush, who they keep thinking is the real bad guy. Alas, we know he’s not, so there’s no real drive to the mystery of it all, and it’s hard to root for the heroes when they keep trying to basically kill the innocent Rush every time he shows up to try to help them (and himself) escape the damn place. And despite a fairly prominent billing, Jeffrey Combs doesn’t appear nearly enough as Vannacutt, the actual villain, the ghost of the insane doctor who ran the asylum that the house used to be.

And that leads me to what really kills the movie for me: the crappy “Darkness” that serves as the primary villain for the film’s final sequence, where the survivors are chased through the house by what is basically a swirling mass of visual effects. It’s NOT CGI (as I may have mistakenly referred to it in the past), but it’s not a flesh and blood being either – it’s a bunch of footage that has been composited together (and not that well, though a bit of phoniness is fitting with the source material) and floats around to give chase but respectfully keeps its distance whenever the heroes are hampered by a broken floor or whatever. It’s just not an exciting conclusion in the slightest, after what’s been a fairly hit or miss series of events to begin with. A knockout ending coulda saved it in an “all is forgiven” kind of way, but instead it blows away what minimal goodwill the movie had built up by that point.

Not that it’s without merit. Again, Rush and Janssen are having a blast, so all that stuff, however brief, makes it worth a look. And the cast is kooky enough to admire; Lisa Loeb and James “Spike” Marsters show up as the aforementioned reporters, Peter Gallagher in a rare genre turn as Janssen’s secret lover, and – hell yeah – Peter Graves even pops up as himself on a true crime show Janssen is watching. Plus Combs, who wasn’t exactly someone you’d see in the multiplexes all that often (between this and the previous year’s I Still Know, it’s a damn shame that the most mainstream audiences ever saw of this terrific actor were in two of his junkiest movies). The production design is also top notch; I realize that I didn’t love any Dark Castle movie until House of Wax (their I think fifth film?) but I’ll go to bat for the sets in everything prior, at least.

Plus, I was surprised how damn WEIRD it got at times; Malone is not a mainstream-leaning guy, and it was kind of charming to look back, with fresher memories of FearDotCom and Parasomnia in my mind, to realize he was getting some of that anarchy through on his first major studio release. The scene where Rush is locked in a deprivation tank is a spectacular highlight (one I unfortunately couldn’t fully watch due to the strobe lighting throughout), with Combs appearing as a sort of painting inside a zoetrope from hell – it’s a legitimately great piece of wtf-ery, in a fairly big budget movie from the same company that would be releasing You’ve Got Mail a few weeks later. Had the script dived fully into that sort of stuff after tossing the comic tone of the first half hour, I might be on board with the film as a whole, but alas, too much of it is simply spent on endless hallway wandering with the only two people you can be pretty sure are going to survive anyway.

Scream Factory’s blu-ray comes with their usual mix of older bonus features and newly created ones. The highlight is actually one of the older ones; a trio of deleted scenes with introductions by Malone, who explains why they were cut. Many of them feature Debi Mazar as Larter’s boss, which explain why Larter’s character is using a different name in the film, and there’s even a full action scene where she falls into a sort of zombie pit, which was cut for time as it was slowing down the climax some. Malone also provides a commentary, though he spends most of his time explaining this or that effect or makeup design, not too much on the story (he also pauses quite a bit, which serves as more proof that solo commentaries are almost never a good idea). He also provided a new interview, along with composer and the VFX supervisor; alas, none of the cast could be roped in to relive their experiences, though by all accounts past and present they were all great to work with and fully cooperative – no one was treating this as some junky horror that was beneath them, even when it came to the less glamorous parts (i.e. getting covered in blood and such).

I wish I could like these earlier Dark Castle movies more; I genuinely loved the idea of reviving the old William Castle properties and using modern gimmickry (i.e. CGI) to bring new life into them, but as I said, it didn’t really click for me until House of Wax, and after that they basically stopped doing remakes anyway. They all seem to start better than they end (Ghost Ship being the best example), so I always end up feeling disappointed, as it’s obviously better to have a good/great finale after a so-so beginning instead of the other way around. I never fully dislike any of them, but until Wax I was always walking out thinking “Eh, worth the one watch but I never need to see it again.” And then I end up rewatching them again 15-20 years later anyway and not really changing my mind. Someone please stop me from revisiting Gothika if that one ever lands in my lap!

What say you?

*As I've said before, the season isn't complete until you've watched at least one Vincent Price movie, and the OG House on Haunted Hill is a perfect option. I probably would have just watched that again if I hadn't already gotten my Price fix earlier in the week with Pit & The Pendulum. But for everyone else - the 1959 Hill is the way to go if you only have time for one this year!


Tropic of Cancer (1972)



I knew it was unlikely that either of the other films on Forgotten Giallo v5 could measure up to my beloved Nine Guests for a Crime, so I wish I had started with Tropic of Cancer (Italian: Al tropico del cancro) as it’s a perfectly enjoyable giallo on its own but lacked that je ne sais quoi that made the other one such a delight, giving it a bit of an unfair shake. However, what it lacked in sociopathic (read: hilarious) characters and applause worthy reveals, it made up for in relative novelty and – for reasons both good and bad – a mystery that wasn’t too easy to figure out.

For starters, it’s the only one of these things I’ve ever seen that was shot in Haiti, a rather novel location for any film but truly inspired for what boils down to the usual stuff (black gloved killer, red herrings, infidelity, booze. etc). And it’s not just the unique scenery – the island’s history of voodoo factors into the plot. While the movie is ostensibly about an unhappily married couple (Anita Strindberg and Gabriele Tinti) who visit the island and get caught up in the murders, the real main character is Anthony Steffen (who I thought resembled Franco Nero a bit, only to amusingly learn that Steffen was his successor for the Django movies) as a doctor named Williams, who has come up with a new wonder drug using some of the voodoo-centric drugs that are available there. Naturally given the kind of movie we’re dealing with, people start turning up dead and they all have a connection to the formula – Williams’ assistant, a would-be buyer, etc.

Alas, the script (co-written by Steffen himself) neglects to really tie Tinti and Strindberg’s characters into the story, making them inconsequential to the whole thing until Tinti tries to sell the formula himself near the very end. So there will be scenes of Williams investigating this or that, or a murder, or someone scheming to get the formula, and then… this bitter couple going shopping or something. I recently watched that movie where Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston get caught in a murder mystery while on a late-coming honeymoon, and couldn’t help but think that if this movie was the serious version (I can’t say “less funny” since I probably laughed as much here as I did in that tepid junk) of that one it might have worked better, with the two of them playing detective and also maybe fixing their marriage in the process. Instead Tinti just gets more abrasive and Strindberg, surprising no one, ultimately beds Steffen, which barely fazes her husband anyway. Ultimately, like 90% of the plot would play out the same if they weren’t even there, which makes it hard to stay fully engaged by the proceedings.

That said, there’s still enough “oh, that’s new” kinda stuff to keep it fun. Starting with, well, male junk! A lot of it! I’m all in favor of equality, but when it comes to nudity there is certainly a huge imbalance as you maybe see one penis for every hundred shots of breasts. Here, I didn’t exactly grab a stopwatch but I swear we see more nude males than females, so good on them for trying to level the playing field. There’s a scene where a stoned Strindberg makes her way through a hallway of naked men (she herself is covered up) that is almost certainly the sort of hallucinatory thing that has likely burned into the memory of a younger viewer and has no idea what movie it’s from – hopefully this release unlocks the mystery for those folks. There’s also a flamboyantly gay man that no one ridicules or oppresses in any way, so the movie really feels like it’s progressive and a real standout in a genre that’s commonly more misogynist than not.

I should warn you though, there is some random (and unnecessary to everything) footage of a slaughterhouse at one point, with our “heroes” visiting a plant and Strindberg being rightfully disgusted by the sight of an animal having its throat slit. I know we shouldn’t be ignorant about these practices (especially if we consume meat, as I do) but there’s a time and place, you know? That it’s yet another scene of these characters doing something that has little to do with the plot makes it seem even more extraneous. Otherwise it’s pretty light with the violence; one of the showstopper kills is actually essentially off screen, as the victim is trapped in a paper mill of some sort and presumably suffocates, so it’s weird (though perhaps part of the point) that the most gruesome image in the film is that of a (presumably) legit death of an animal.

As for bonus features, there’s another essay by Rachel Nisbet, though as with the one on Nine Guests it plays out over a still shot of the title card, so I couldn’t really concentrate on it as my eyes needed to focus on something else after a while and, naturally, I merely got more interested in that. It’s important to play these things over photos or appropriate footage, even if it takes a little more work! There’s a lengthy interview with director Giampaolo Lomi that’s pretty good; he discusses his cast (there’s a pretty funny anecdote about how he tried to avoid showing that Strindberg’s breasts were fake but couldn’t; another first for me) and also Haiti, including a rather long discussion of its history of dictators – a rare history lesson on a giallo supplement!

The other film on the set was A White Dress For Mariale, which gets points for weirdness (the movie it most reminded me of was Gothic, of all things) but the lethargic pace and unfinished mystery left me cold for the most part. There’s a pretty funny scene where a guy is mauled by dogs (where they cut between the actor pretending to be attacked by the dogs that are clearly not doing anything to harm him, and the dogs tearing up the world’s least passable dummy) and an all timer version of the “a young child sees one of their parents being unfaithful” motif that finds its way into every third giallo film, but the fleeting moments weren’t enough to keep me invested. Luckily I watched that one after Nine Guests, so Tropic of Cancer was a step back in the right direction. Still, the ideal order if you're thinking of picking it up would would be Mariale, Tropic, then Guests.

Overall I’d say Nine Guests alone was worth the cost of the box, but Tropic of Cancer (and even Mariale) both offered some variety to their time honored body count traditions, making this an overall satisfying set and, perhaps needless to say, enough to make me hope that there’s a volume 6 (and 7, 8…). Even if the movies are hit or miss, the sheer variety they offer within the genre, plus the basic fact that they’re being rescued from disappearing entirely, make it a worthwhile endeavor every time. Plus it reminded me that I still haven’t gone through volume 4 (which I bought myself, they didn’t send it for review or otherwise I would have gotten to it sooner), so perhaps there’s another Nine Guests-level delight already sitting on my shelf. Hurrah!

What say you?


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