Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking a few times a month, and it's better late than never! Most reviews nowadays are labeled "FTP:" and you should read THIS PRIMER to understand why. Also, while they're marked nowadays, many of the site's older reviews (i.e. 2010 or older) do contain unannounced spoilers, so tread carefully! Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Knock at the Cabin (2023)

FEBRUARY 2, 2023

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I hadn't gotten ten feet from my seat on the way out of Knock at the Cabin before hearing someone complaining about what it changed from the book (Paul Tremblay's The Cabin at the End of the World; another thing people have been whining about since it's not mentioned in the marketing*), a conversation I made sure not to overhear by speedwalking away. Because I haven't read it yet, and I'm sure it's probably a better version of the story and would like to experience it for myself - with the added bonus of having a memory of enjoying a 90 minute movie. I rarely find my memories retroactively ruined by this sort of thing; I've read lots of books after seeing their adaptations and never once decided that the movie was no longer appealing to me.

It's something that's bugged me for years, why people will go to movies based on books they loved as if there was some possibility that they would be word for word adaptations and then get angry when things are changed or omitted. There are very few examples of a movie IMPROVING on a book (Jaws, Godfather... uh... maybe Fletch since Chevy's version doesn't have sex with an underage hooker?), but there's also a subconscious element that may explain why people get so offended at changes: a book is something you have a longer connection to. You carry it around to multiple locations, you spend weeks with it, you re-read passages when you're nearly dozing off or skim paragraphs that are describing something like the character's dinner (shoutout to Game of Thrones readers there). There's a bond of sorts, one you don't really make with a movie (especially in a theater) that you just sit down and watch in one go, without rewind or fast forward capabilities at your disposal. That lack of connection is why it's easier to criticize a movie than a book, I think - the movie is changing something you've had this sort of HISTORY with.

All that's a long way of explaining that because I haven't read the book, I don't know (and at this point, don't care) what it changed. All I know is that it was a very tight and effective little thriller from M. Night Shyamalan, thankfully free of his sometimes crippling flaws as a filmmaker (OK, he still makes a little cameo, but it's fine) and - spoiler of sorts? - devoid of twists, too. The plot is almost unnervingly simple and devastating in equal measures: a group of seemingly normal people, led by Leonard (Dave Bautista) show up at the rented cabin of two men named Andrew and Eric and their adopted daughter Wen, and tell them that they've had visions of the end of the world, visions which so far have all become true, and the only way to stop it from getting worse will be if one of them chooses to kill one of their other family members.

Naturally, they all refuse and think Leonard to be crazy, but each time they refuse he puts on the TV and shows them that the world does indeed seem to be ending, with the news showing breaking reports of fast-acting viruses, earthquakes (and subsequent tsunamis), plane crashes... there's no proof that going through with his request will actually stop anything, but as time goes on they have more and more trouble chalking things up to coincidence or fakery. So it comes down to faith, and a "simple" idea: if you thought doing something drastic would save your child's life, wouldn't you take it, no matter what? I know I would, and I know my wife would too - hell she'd barely even hesitate, if her reaction to similar scenarios in other movies is any indication (whenever there's a zombie movie where someone is bit and asks for their friend/loved one to shoot them before they turn, she is angry that there's any kind of delay on the shooter's part).

Anyway, that's pretty much it for the movie's narrative. A few flashbacks tell us the love story of Andrew and Eric, and there's a kind of beautiful strategy to them, as nearly all of them feature some kind of "this is what gay men have to deal with" moment: a disapproving parent, a lie to help the adoption process (Eric tells the lady that Andrew is his "wife's brother"), a hate crime... with the one exception being the trio's trip to the cabin itself, which is full of love and happiness and (obviously) acceptance. So without leaving the cabin and its tense situation for long (and also, without delaying their arrival there - the movie begins with Leonard approaching Wen), we get some backstory and an easy reminder of why the choice is so hard: the three of them have only really known happiness when they're together, and why should they put that at risk for a world that doesn't accept them? (Wen has a cleft lip and is Asian, so while neither is explored much, we can easily guess she's had her own experiences with being "the other".)

Shyamalan and his writers (including Tremblay; I do own the book and read the first few pages after seeing the movie, and it's nearly identical so far) do a fine job of balancing everything out: the character work, the suspense, and the end of the world scenarios that we see on TV (though I'm kind of confused how we saw footage of someone filming the tidal wave and then getting swamped by it - I guess it was a livestream? There was no tell-tale overlay of emojis and "Friendbook" kind of fake social media header to signify it as such). Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge give excellent performances while spending 75% of the movie tied to chairs, and the script never distracts away from the situation with dumb things we know won't go anywhere (like a neighbor showing up and forcing them to act natural, a hallmark of the home invasion genre that is blissfully absent here). There's a bit of a contrivance involving one of Leonard's team (I know the plot point originated in the book, though I'm not sure if the conclusion is the same) that seems to exist only to stretch Andrew's disbelief in the entire thing (Eric starts to believe Leonard is right at around the halfway point, while Andrew is more stubborn), but I'll allow it if it was the lesser of two evils (the other being one of the aforementioned distractions that such stories almost always have).

Unlike The Happening, where it was part of the marketing (!), not much has been made of the film's R rating, and honestly I don't think it needed it, as it's pretty much entirely for language. Most of the film's violent moments occur off-screen, and while they are grim/tense moments, I feel they could have gotten a PG-13 if not for the F-bombs making it impossible. But regarding the dialogue, I'm happy to report that the foul language just adds to my happy surprise that this is among the least alien-sounding of Shyamalan's films. I've said many times in the past that the filmmaker needed to share scripting duties with someone, because while his direction is always top notch he doesn't always have the best ear for dialogue, which can result in some howlers that derail an otherwise solid scene (or the entire film in Happening's case, but Old had some howlers too). But I can't think of a single line here that sounded like it was being delivered by someone who never spoke to another human being before, so good on you, gents.

Long story short, if you're a die-hard fan of the book who can't accept changes, you should probably steer clear (while looking up the thing about Leonard's teammate I inadvertently caught wind of another major plot point that definitely does not happen in the movie). But if you haven't read it or you're just fine with seeing a different interpretation of the plot, I think you'll enjoy it on the strength of its intriguing scenario and nailbiter suspense alone. Perhaps it doesn't have much rewatchability (beyond appreciating the performances; Bautista is terrific and hopefully continues having the interesting career we once thought Dwayne Johnson would have before he appointed himself the biggest star in the world and stopped making anything good) since so much of it revolves around the question of whether or not the men will believe Leonard (and if Leonard's belief turns out to be correct), but that's fine. Not every movie has to be something you want to watch over and over at the expense of experiencing new things. Like reading books!

What say you?

*Which has been utterly bizarre to me, as outside of Stephen King-level titans, the authors are rarely mentioned in the movie's marketing. "Based on the best selling novel" type language (without the author) is common, but I couldn't find any evidence of Tremblay's novel hitting the NY Times bestseller list or anything like that (though it did win some prestigious awards!). So, along with the name change, it seems like it's just the usual thing of marketing highlighting what will entice people (i.e. the name of the guy who made Sixth Sense), but people seem to think it's like an intentional slight on Tremblay for some reason. The posters tout Shyamalan's name, as they usually do, but again this is pretty much standard when it comes to major filmmakers who are adapting average-selling novels. Even Ready Player One (which WAS a NY Times bestseller, god knows why) didn't mention Ernie Cline or any kind of "based on the book" language on most of the posters and such, only Spielberg's name was highlighted. I'm not saying I agree with it - I'm all for giving credit - but the sentiment seems to be that there's something insidious about it, and it bothers me. If you're gonna yell at Shyamalan, yell at the dozens of other directors (or, more likely, the people marketing their movies) for doing the same thing. My guess is, due to the usual secretive nature of Shyamalan's films, having an easily available book out there would deflate some of the mystery, so they saw no need to tell people who might not even know about the book that they could find out all of its secrets early. Tremblay is fully credited on the film, and they've put out a tie-in edition that, if the movie is a hit, will likely give him a huge boost in sales of this and his other work. So what's the problem, exactly? Just people complaining because they have nothing better to do, I suspect. /end rant.

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: House on the Edge of the Park (1980)

JANUARY 31, 2023

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Unlike most “pile” movies, I remember exactly when I got House on the Edge of the Park – it was my prize for winning horror trivia at last year’s Overlook Film Festival (donated from the good folks at Severin). And it’d probably stay there for a lot longer if not for two things: the fact that I just this week booked a flight and hotel to *return* to this year’s incarnation of Overlook, and the recent passing of director Ruggero Deodato, who died in December at the relatively young age of 82. I must admit I’m not a huge fan of Deodato's work, but I was a fan of the man himself – he was a “character”, as they say, and there aren’t a lot of such types left (read: filmmakers who feel free to speak their mind candidly, not worrying about who might take offense to their personal beliefs). And so, knowing perfectly well I probably wouldn’t enjoy the movie all that much (what little I knew about it compared it to Last House on the Left, a film I have zero intention of ever revisiting), I pulled it out of the pile just to basically get through the movie and then dive into what I was more interested in: the interview with Deodato (presumably one of the last he ever gave for this sort of thing) and the full length documentary on the auteur, housed on a second disc.

But for context and such, I had to watch the film, which I must admit wasn’t as grim/unpleasant as I feared. It really never gets much worse than the opening scene, in which David Hess (as Alex, but basically just a slightly more personable Krug) rapes and murders a woman (the actor’s real life wife at the time!) in her car. After that it’s relatively tame by the standards of these things – without giving too much of its 43 year old plot away, there is only one other death in the film and most of the subsequent sexual scenes are “consensual” in the movie’s own weird way (one woman resists at first, then plays along and even kind of takes control, another goes all Stockholm and aggressively pursues the guy you assumed would be assaulting her). Gray area stuff, basically, as opposed to the fully abhorrent scenes in Last House and other films in this sub-genre. But even the Hollywood remake of Last House left me feeling more in need of a shower after than this did, which I wasn’t expecting.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s still pretty dark at times (Hess slashing up a late arrival to the party is pretty rough, but she survives), but instead of reveling in violence it’s a sort of home invasion thriller, where Alex and his buddy (Giovanni Lombardo Radice in his first film) are a pair of mechanics who are invited to a party by a snobby couple, as a sort of thank you for fixing their car. Once they arrive they realize they’re looked down upon by the socialites, but while Radice’s character (a bit of a simpleton) tries to fit in, Hess of course takes offense to their attitude and starts terrorizing them. But again, it’s not about a body count – in fact it actually gets pretty repetitive: someone tries to escape, Hess or Radice chases after them and threatens them, then they are dragged back to the living room with the others. There are isolated moments of humiliation (when one guy tries to overpower him, Hess roughs him up a bit, tosses him in the pool, and pees on him – I mean, if you HAVE to be peed on by your attacker, there’s no better place to have it happen, if you think about it. Just duck under the water!), but the average shot of the movie is everyone just kind of hanging out while Hess drinks their booze.

Ultimately there’s a twist of sorts, but it doesn’t do enough to change the fact that this is too clearly a quickly made movie without enough of a story or characterization to remain compelling throughout its runtime. The last thing you should feel with one of these things is kind of bored, but while I was grateful that it wasn’t assaulting my senses with unpleasantness, I just didn’t connect to it either. Radice’s character unsurprisingly starts turning on Hess’, but Deodato doesn’t go far enough with it – Radice never commits to siding with the rich folks, so his protests against his friend are about as effective as merely shaking his head in disappointment as opposed to making much of a difference either way. And Hess’ character is too generic a psycho to pull you in the way something like Henry or Red Dragon might, but Deodato doesn’t really add much dimension to the rich people either, so it’s just all rather flat. As repulsive as Last House is to me, at least it has the intriguing concept of the coincidence that the villains end up at the home of the girl they just killed – the similar element here is left as a twist in the final few minutes, so it’s too little too late.

But like I said, it was all just precursor to what I was more excited about: Deodato Holocaust, in which the director holds court and walks us through his career (kind of like that Friedkin doc). It’s a bit uneven, as he obviously spends more time on his bigger films (this, Cannibal Holocaust, Cut and Run) while glossing over others, but there’s a lot of great stuff in here, including a funny anecdote about something he has over James Cameron. I kind of wish his collaborators were on hand to offer their own stories, but perhaps now that he’s passed on they can be wrangled for something that mixes tribute with "now we can laugh about it" kind of stories like the ones he was always happy to offer about them. Indeed, I recommend watching his new interview specifically about House, because he withholds an actor’s name from a story about the man’s coke habit nearly derailing a production, but in the full length doc he’s happy to share (and I was surprised to see who it was!).

House’s disc also has an archival interview with Hess, a long one with Radice, and a historian commentary, which along with Deodato’s own interview fill in much of the film’s backstory and why it’s so threadbare (long story short: it was shot with leftover money from Cannibal’s budget, in two weeks). Radice’s dog makes an appearance in his piece, which is something I’m always delighted by in these things, being reminded that even though we look up to them and maybe stood in line for their autographs or something, they still get annoyed at their pets like everyone else. The soundtrack is also included, making this a fairly exhaustive package for a movie that should fully satisfy anyone who loved it. I, on the other hand, will see that it goes to a good home at a reduced price. I wouldn't even keep Last House if not for my love of Craven demanding a complete filmography on my shelf (Carpenter being the only other one); I certainly don't need to own a minor copycat.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Fear (2023)

JANUARY 29, 2023

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL (or SUPERNATURAL, or both)
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I spied a poster for Fear (stylized as Fear? on the poster, and changed (?) to Don't Fear at the end of the film - more on that soon) at my AMC way back in September, assuming it was some kind of Halloween season release that escaped my attention. I then basically forgot about it until I saw it listed on their app as coming soon, and realized that in the four months in between, I had yet to hear anything else about it. Intrigued, I decided to go see it completely blind; a practice I love but rarely get to exercise outside of festivals. Like, I am stoked for Scream VI, but I know the cast, the basic plot, one or two of its surprises... and have six weeks to go before it's released, so chances are I'll know more by then. But for Fear I remained unsullied until it began playing on the screen. It was kind of exciting!

But I quickly regretted my decision, because during the credit sequence (which was actually pretty well done, admittedly) I learned that the director was none other than Dean Taylor, helmer behind some of the worst movies I saw in their respective years: Chain Letter (2010), Meet the Blacks (2016), and The Intruder (2019). I'm not quite sure how this man keeps attracting funding with a track record like that, as not only are the films not particularly successful at the box office (perhaps they clean up on video?) they're also widely hated on an Uwe Boll-ian level, so I know it's not just me. A quick perusal of his filmography on Letterboxd shows that the highest rating he's achieved so far is a 2.9, which isn't exactly a "win". Most - including Fear - fall below a 2.0, so I know it's not just me walking out his movies wondering what else I could have done with my time.

As a bonus, this one isn't just merely bad, it's also irresponsible. The plot is about a group of friends gathering at an isolated hotel/resort to celebrate one of them having a best-selling book, and we are told that everyone has properly tested beforehand (some even isolated for two weeks) to prevent a covid spread. Which is the sort of thing you'd expect if the movie took place in 2020 or even 2021 before the vaccine became easily available, but for reasons that only make sense to Herr Taylor, the film is established as being set in 2023. So why is everyone so paranoid, you might wonder? Hell, by late 2021 even the most cautious people (such as myself, vaxxed and double-boosted, thank you) were going back to life as normally as possible - I even went out of town for a festival and a few Halloween parties without much worry. So why are these folks going to the two week isolation extreme?

(SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Because it turns out, while the title ostensibly refers to the overused concept of everyone sharing their fears (blood, cops, being in confined spaces, etc) and then being undone by it, the movie as a whole (spoiler, last chance) is one big F U to people who isolated, stayed at home for months (or still are), continue to wear their masks, etc. Early on we learn that there's a new strain of the virus that is more deadly and in the air, and thus no one should go outside for any reason, but one of the group has left her kid at home with a sitter for the weekend (hell of a sitter!) and is worried about him, so she opts to - gasp! - go outside and take her chances so that she can be with him. Meanwhile, pretty much everyone who stays behind (i.e. listens to the news and believes that it can be dangerous) gets killed, with the lone survivor (who escapes the supernatural force by also just going outside and also having faith in JESUS) finding a bunch of townsfolk just walking around normally, and her cell phone going off to show that the friend who escaped is perfectly fine.

Then there's a slam cut to the original "DON'T Fear" title and it really seems like Taylor has clear disdain for the people who holed up and didn't put themselves/others at risk in order to get brunch or a haircut. Again, the setting is 2023, but the film was actually shot in August of 2020, before the vaccine (even tests were a ways off from being easy to find), so it's unclear why they changed it when everything about the movie's setup would make much more sense if it was just set in 2020 (the recent Sick, filmed later, takes place in April of 2020 and really leans into it, so it's not like a "period piece" of 2-3 years ago is impossible). Per Taylor, the film was shot with strict covid regulations, so why the finished feature depicts a pretty cynical attitude about all the caution and rules is curious at best, but by changing it to 2023 it's easy to infer that he believes anyone still being cautious *today* is just a coward, and deserve to be murdered by our "fears" while the people who opt to just ignore the warnings will live happy and full lives. Did some folks overreact, stockpiling enough toilet paper for a decade? Absolutely. But I'll take them over the people who went around screaming about "MUH FREEDOM!" at grocery store clerks because they were asked to wear a mask. And the movie's message seems to side more with them than the TP hoarders.

It would have been the sort of thing that derailed a movie in the last few minutes (kind of like how The Devil Inside was playing just fine to my crowd until the URL at the end turned them against it), but it sucked all the way through anyway, so it was adding insult to injury as opposed to just making a last minute bad call. For starters it takes forever to get going; the "we will be undone by our fears" concept is clear at around the 30 minute mark at most, but it's over an hour before the first person is actually attacked by whatever supernatural/psychological grip the location has over them. It takes so long from the point where they all divulge their personal fears to the time that those fears come back to haunt them that you might actually forget what some of them were, and they're all poorly shoehorned into the proceedings anyway. My personal favorite is that the guy who was afraid of confined spaces isn't the one who ends up being locked in a storage closet - after spending the movie constantly getting lost in the hotel's hallways (so... why wasn't his fear being lost?) he dies when he goes into a bathroom, which I would assume is something he does every day anyway. (Ironically, his subsequent death is one of the few effective moments in the movie - go figure.)

It's also just sloppy and confusing throughout, with some plot points delivered as reveals despite the fact that we had already been given that information (some "dun dun DUNNN" music/editing choices accompany the lead telling us that the hotel was the site of some torture/sacrifices in the past, something he told the same people earlier in the movie). One character is afraid of cops because of the time he was pulled over and forced out of his car, and then near the end another character says they will call the cops, so it seems they'll show up and that'll be his undoing, right? Nope, the cops never come, but he starts going crazy anyway, and accompanying flashbacks to the source of his trauma show him stabbing the cop - is that what actually happened, or a hallucination? Hell if I know, or care. Another girl is afraid of losing her necklace (ok, fine) but her death has nothing to do with it, while also showcasing some kind of hazing gone wrong prank that wasn't clearly established beforehand. So basically, Taylor and his co-conspirators can't even stick to their lame/tired concept as they slowly (the goddamn thing is 100 minutes long) make their way to basically telling me and anyone else in the audience who wore a mask that day that we're losers.

I can give the movie credit for two (2) things. One was the aforementioned bathroom death, which involved the character repeatedly whacking their head into the sink while screaming "Let me out!" Said character was one of the few who were interesting, so having them go out in such gruesome fashion struck a tiny nerve. The other is that I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this group of late 20s/early 30s friends had no dark secrets between them. I thought for sure that the lead's girlfriend (who has seemingly been neglected lately due to his career taking off) would turn out to be having an affair with one of the other friends, or that there would be some bed-hopping at the very least, but nope - everyone is pretty cool with each other outside of conflict that occurs within the narrative (i.e. one guy starts coughing, so some want to isolate him while others think it's inhumane). In a movie that steals from Evil Dead, The Shining, The Mist, and who knows what else, I have to begrudgingly respect that they had the relatively original idea for a modern horror movie to let the group of friends actually like each other for a change.

But that's, you know, not nearly enough to give this even a "OK for background noise" pass. I suspect the success of Terrifier 2 will mean seeing more indie stuff like this on the big screen as theaters look for something/anything to get butts in seats in between Marvel movies, and that's great, but I also suspect a lot of it will be really bad, like this. They won't recall that Terrifier was a viral/word of mouth hit, playing single showings to packed crowds and gradually expanding it once it was clear that people wanted to see it, as opposed to dumping it out on nearly 1,000 screens at once as they've done with this thing. So for the sake of all the good indies that deserve their shot, let's hope there aren't any movies as bad as Fear in the pipeline, and that the next chance taken by the likes of AMC is on a movie that is actually more entertaining than their endless pre-show reel and trailer collection. I'd rather watch the GD Morbius preview again than suffer through another film as insulting and inept as this.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: Gags The Clown (2018)

JANUARY 23, 2023

GENRE: MOCKUMENTARY, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

The only thing easier to find than a bad killer clown movie is a bad found footage movie, so the deck was pretty stacked against Gags The Clown even before I found out it was based on a viral phenomenon, giving me unpleasant flashbacks to Slender Man. But to my pleasant surprise, it got out from under the shadow of all those red flags and turned out to be a pretty good little chiller; the sort of thing that, back in the regular days of this site, I would be grateful to for being above average and giving me something to remember. Hell it might have even ended up in my book!

The key reason that it works, beyond wisely not giving Gags any kind of (likely annoying/underwhelming) backstory, is that the creative team of Adam Krause and John Pata (former directed, latter produced, both wrote) understand that having multiple POVs in this sort of “found footage” movie (they dislike the term, and they’re right that it’s not, but I’m referring to it as one for the sake of brevity) keeps it from ever getting too dull, with minimal “why are they filming?” moments that have derailed so many others in this sub-genre. Our characters are a news team tasked with covering the ongoing appearances of the creepy clown around town, a trio of teens who are using the hysteria to play pranks, a right-wing podcast host who wants to be a hero for his viewers, and a pair of cops who are on patrol the night Gags has seemingly upped his game. And they each have different, motivated ways of depicting their POV – the podcast guy is streaming live, the cops have their body cams, the teens are just filming everything with their phones, etc. There are occasional uses of security cameras and such to give a different view on the proceedings, and every now and then I wasn’t quite sure what camera was being used, but for the most part it’s a very well thought out way of telling the story in a non-cheating way but without too much of the tedium that proves to be a crutch for so many of its predecessors.

And (minor spoiler) eventually all of the characters converge in a single area, so it actually feels like a true ensemble film as opposed to something more episodic and disconnected, which it seemed it might be at first. But unlike Mockingbird, which had a similar structure (and also involved a creepy clown), the tone doesn’t change wildly between these segments, while the aesthetic itself does, so we get some variety in the proceedings but no whiplash from suddenly feeling like a different kind of movie, as Mockingbird did whenever it cut to the guy pulling off Jackass-style pranks. The POV might keep changing, but there is a genuine sense of mounting escalation to the proceedings, and even when they all meet up it doesn't feel like a forced "well let's get to the ending" decision, but a natural one. It's really well done in that regard.

That said it does get a bit repetitive at times, in particular with the right-wing guy (who reminded me of my old coworker, which made me chuckle) who – another spoiler here – turns out to be all talk, which was obvious from the start since he was clearly modeled after Alex Jones/Bill O’Reilly type of “tough guys” who were also afraid of putting a mask on during the height of the pandemic. But knowing he’d get what he deserved kept it afloat, and with three other teams to check in with, at least we’re never with him for too long. I just wish his story had more pull throughout; it’s not until he comes face to face with Gags that his storyline becomes more compelling.

The disc has a ton of extras, including the short film that they were making when all those viral photos surfaced back in 2016 (which, amusingly, was more traditional found footage and felt almost as long as the movie despite being a fraction of the length). There’s also some charming footage of the premiere in Wisconsin; a nice reminder that the film was an independent/regional production that came together from good natured people who were happy to help the filmmakers. Indeed, on the commentary, they note that a certain scene was supposed to be shot at a local fun park, only for the owners to turn them down – it was apparently the only time they were denied anything by their neighbors (luckily, a local traveling carnival was happy to help, turning on all the rides the night before they opened so they could have proper production value, with the carnies all going along with whatever was asked of them). Maybe because the right-wing guy had me thinking a lot about all the division in the world (especially in the pandemic era, which this predated), it served as a nice reminder that most people are inherently good and willing to help their fellow man. Thanks, Gags.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: Suffer Little Children (1983)

JANUARY 18, 2023

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

After watching Skinamarink last night, I wanted something a little more traditional for a horror movie viewing. And yet of all the movies in the pile (less than 70 now! Down from 150 or so!) I managed to single out Suffer Little Children, which comes from the same line that brought us the WTFery of Things and Sledgehammer, and might be more incompetent than the two of those put together. But I could at least tell you what it was about without needing prompts from the official synopsis to fill in some gaps, so it got one over Skinamarink in that department.

In fact if this was made with any degree of skill, I might genuinely enjoy it, as the plot kind of rules. Our setting is an orphanage where a new resident is dropped off with just a note saying they could care for her. The note identifies her as Elizabeth, but nothing else about the girl is known, nor can she speak to explain things herself. But it takes all of 12 seconds for us to be clued into her nature, as another girl there makes fun of her and is quickly knocked aside by a door that slams on her after Elizabeth gives it an evil stare. But instead of laying waste to all the kids who live there, Elizabeth recruits a few of them into her budding Satanic army, which ultimately leads to a mega bloodbath – the kids either join or get killed with all of the adults who work there. So it’s some low key Children of the Corn kinda stuff (albeit predating that film’s release by a year), but without any of the respectability that movie offered. As poorly made as it is (shot on video by film students for 7,000 bucks), it’s no surprise that it ended up attracting the attention of the Video Nasty folks, on account of all the child on child (or child on adult) violence that occurs in the name of Satan.

(They probably clutched their pearls over the finale too, where another biblical character enters the proceedings. It may be 40 years old but I wouldn’t dare spoil the surprise.)

In fact I kinda liked it even as is, and probably would enjoy it more if it wasn’t padded and weighed down by the subplot of a former resident who has become a major pop star. He stops by his old place to meet the kids before performing a charity concert set to benefit them, and strikes up a relationship with Jenny, the overworked social worker who runs the place along with another guy who clearly has a crush on her. The rivalry between the two men and the budding romance between Jenny and the faux Rick Springfield is tedious stuff at best, and has no real payoff beyond the mild novelty of a horror movie about Satanic cults where the rock star is completely innocent, even oblivious, to those shenanigans.

I also have to dock it for a confusing (even by this movie’s standards) bit immediately following a date between the two, where Jenny is suddenly upset about an event with the kids. From her scattered outbursts, it seems she took the kids to the pool and Elizabeth instigated some of the kids to distract her by pulling off her bikini (!?) while she attempted to drown the others? The vague recollection suggests the scene was meant to actually be included at some point and the dialogue here serving as more of a recap, but not seeing it - after suffering through five minutes of the runtime devoted to their date instead! – felt like a real cheat, robbing the middle of some much needed action. I assume budgetary/production limitations kept them from being able to properly film such a major scene, but why have the epilogue to it? Just cut the whole thing so we're not aware of what we're missing.

Still, the super gonzo final five minutes or so make up for it, and it’s only 75 minutes with credits anyway, so hardly a waste of your time as long as you have an appreciation for this sort of thing. I basically break down movies into three categories: under 80 minutes, 80-99 minutes, and 100+ minutes. 80-99 minute movies just have to be competently made and/or amusing more often than not to get a pass, and anything over 100 has to be genuinely good. But for these sub-80 minute movies? Give me one or two things I’ll remember a year from now and we’re good. And this one does! Even if I somehow forget what I described above, I'll always remember that this 1983 movie begins with narration explaining that it's a reenactment of events that took place in 1984, because that it just too incredible to let fall out of my memory. So the system works!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Skinamarink (2022)

JANUARY 17, 2023

GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE, WEIRD
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

We’ve all been duped with a misleading trailer once or twice, but in the case of Skinamarink, I’m hard-pressed to think of a MORE honest promotion for a horror movie. Outside of the oft-repeated “in this house” not appearing in the film (I can’t tell if the trailer voice is meant to be, you know, TRAILER VOICE or if it’s trying to pass off the line as dialogue), the vibe of the trailer is exactly what the film is, albeit for 100 minutes instead of two. So if you watched the trailer and thought "OK, this is more of a teaser, the real movie can't be like that, right?" - you're not gonna be happy if you buy a ticket.

“But the trailer is just a bunch of random shots of ceilings and stuff?” you might be thinking, and yes, that is correct and that is also what the film offers for its entire runtime. There is some dialogue, but it’s delivered by off-screen characters and often so hard to hear that the film provides subtitles for the majority of it. There are four people in the cast (two kids and two adults) but they could have been sitting right next to me in the theater and I wouldn’t have recognized them, as we never see any of them that clearly. The film’s real star is a nightlight that appears several times (occasionally knocked around by the ghostly presence) or maybe the orange Lego brick separator that shouldn’t have existed in the film’s 1995 setting (I like to think it was another demonstration of the ghost’s powers, myself).

The plot, which is made more clear in the two line description on IMDb than from the film itself, is about a kid who sleepwalks and hurts himself a bit, waking up the other family members in the process. Over the course of the evening, their house begins to change – the windows and doors disappear, their toys start collecting themselves into a massive pile, and then the parents also disappear, leaving the two kids (4 and 6ish) alone with whatever supernatural force they’re being terrified with. It seems to all unfold over one night, but a late on-screen title suggests it's going for much longer, though without any exteriors (or characters, really) I guess it doesn't matter much.

Now, that probably sounds like a pretty straightforward haunted house movie; a sort of “Poltergeist but from the kids’ POV” effort that maybe would make good gateway horror for your own young’ns. But no: as I said, most of that plot is hard to suss out from what you see on screen, which is mostly hallways and floors and assorted toys. The camera rarely moves, the characters appear even less, and the lo-fi approach (super grainy, not always clear VHS type imagery, albeit presented in a 2.40 image) makes it hard to tell what you’re actually looking at on several occasions. Sometimes this is used for an effective scare, like a seemingly empty shot of a wall (or something similarly featureless) that slowly reveals the little girl (I think?) standing there, but most of the time it gives you that inclination to dart your eyes around the frame, looking for something that might appear in a corner or from behind whatever random object you’re looking at.

If you’ve gotten this far you can probably figure out if this is a “for you” movie or not, and alas I fall into the “not” category. I didn’t hate it or anything, and I admired the experimental nature of the effort (doubly so when you consider it was playing in multiplexes, with a trailer for Ant-Man 3 beforehand), but at 100 minutes I got pretty restless waiting for it to switch gears (spoiler: it never does). The problem is, for me, that the movie is basically – occasionally even effectively! – trying to depict the sensation of a bad nightmare you probably had as a kid, in an attempt to get under your skin and creep you out, and I am simply not easily susceptible to such things. I heard that the best way to watch the movie was all alone in your house in the middle of the night with all the lights off, and I don’t doubt it, but I’ve seen a number of films I found scary in theaters (including Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, both of which have been namechecked in the film’s hype), so it should more or less work on the big screen.

In fact, one of the things I was most taken by during my experience was how quiet the crowd was, and it was nearly sold out. A couple people walked out, unsurprisingly (I had to laugh when two girls finally gave up with maybe ten minutes left, something I saw happen at Inland Empire, which was a film I had already mentally compared it to), but no one expressed their frustration until the lights came up at the end, or checked their phones or whatever (at least from where I could see, about dead center of the auditorium). If anything, everyone seemed to be trying really hard to maintain the same sort of quiet intensity the film offered – at one point someone attempted to recline their seat, and the squeaking sound from the leather parts rubbing together had them stop almost instantly. The only other time I’ve seen that sort of commitment from an audience around here was during the first Quiet Place, and considering this was an AMC, with people laughing and cheering for the Nicole Kidman ad, I must say I was practically stunned at how well behaved everyone was and how they all seemed to be aware that they shouldn’t be disrupting the other patrons. More like this, please!

At any rate, I hope those who enjoy this sort of thing (though I can’t really think of anything else to compare it to) get a chance to see it in the most ideal circumstances possible. And again, I’m glad to see a multiplex take a chance on something like this at a time when even family-friendly Disney stuff is tanking because people are so accustomed to staying at home unless it’s a predetermined blockbuster like Marvel or Avatar. But I slept just fine when I got home (except for when my idiot cat woke me up because it managed to stick its head through the handle hole of a plastic bag, then proceeded to run around the house knocking into everything trying to get it off), sans nightmares or fears that my windows would disappear. Making it an experiment that failed, at least for me. But an interesting experience all the same, and if it's not playing near you, it will be on Shudder soon, as they are the co-distributors (which saddens me as it makes it much less likely that there will be a Blu-ray with commentary, as I'd be interested in listening to one if provided). And yes, SOON, so please don't impatiently steal it.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)/Ghost Warrior (1984)

JANUARY 16, 2023

GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

One of the oldest “residents” of my dreaded (but now smaller!) pile is a double feature of The House Where Evil Dwells and Ghost Warrior, a pair of genre films from the early 80s that attempted to bridge Japanese and American audiences now that we were all friends again. In fact, it’s been sitting there so long (I wasn’t even living in the same house at the time!) that the disc is now out of print, so maybe I shouldn’t have opened it and just sold it on eBay for a few bucks. I really should start just sorting them chronologically to avoid such dilemmas.

But alas, I am still cursed with having to know if a movie is any good before I part with it, and if I sold this unseen then I’d be missing out on the insanity of Dwells’ third act! A chunk of film so insane it almost makes up for how slow the previous hour was. After a lengthy 19th century prologue in which a Samurai returns home and finds his wife in bed with his buddy, prompting him to kill them both and then himself, not much happens for a while. We flash to the modern day where an American family has just moved into the house so the husband (Eddie Albert) can start over his writing career in Japan, and his wife (Susan George) and daughter can… I dunno, buy Noh masks, I guess.

Anyway, the ghosts of the trio from the prologue are there, and despite the husband’s clear hatred of the other two, now they all kind of work together, doing basic haunted house stuff like tossing dishes around and making faucets turn on. But they also influence the wife to start banging the husband’s best bud (Doug McClure!) who found them the house in the first place, so you can probably guess why our ghosts have put aside their differences: they want to recreate the circumstances of their own deaths so their spirits can be freed. Not sure how that works (or how they even figured it out) but after all the tedium in the middle – occasionally peppered with some sex (weirdly, despite the affair element, the wife seems to go at it with more gusto with her husband than the other guy? You’re affairing wrong, lady!) things finally pick up in the end.

First, the daughter is attacked by a giant talking crab (!), which she escapes by jumping out the window. This puts her in the hospital and then sent back to America while the parents, now clued into the history of the house, get things packed up to go back as well. But then the ghosts put their big plan into motion, possessing all three of them and giving us the delightful sight of Albert and McClure having a full on kung fu battle. Eventually weapons get thrown into the mix, and… well, the ghosts get what they want! And I sat wondering who was gonna take care of the daughter, since the movie doesn’t have an answer for that.

It's the kind of movie I would have loved to have seen at one of those all night horror marathons when we don’t know what is going to play. By the 3rd movie (at best) I’m starting to get tired and frequently doze off (I am relieved when a movie I’ve seen before ends up playing, as then I can just let myself sleep guilt-free), so this one would have knocked me out pretty quick and then the rapturous response to the crab scene would have woken me back up. So I would have missed the dull middle and assumed that the movie as a whole was pretty action packed/crazy. It wasn’t BAD, per se, just, you know, kind of a “filler” movie, not helped by my usual indifference to haunted house motifs. And it’s nothing I could see myself watching again, because… well, I’m sorry, but how can I be entertained by a mask falling off the wall when I know they could have been giving us more talking giant crab scenes?

The other movie, Ghost Warrior (aka Swordkill) wasn’t even really horror, but instead more of an action/thriller with some occasional gore. It’s the story of a Samurai named Yoshi who falls into the water after losing a battle after failing to protect his wife. The body is frozen and uncovered 400 years later, and when thawed he actually comes back to life. So it’s a fish out of water kind of thing (one highlight: learning what TV is via a W.A.S.P. video) as the scientists who found him (an asshole guy and a kindly woman) try to communicate with him. But after an orderly tries to steal his swords, he kills the guy and escapes, wandering around LA and getting into mischief like killing a few gangbangers who were trying to rob an elderly man.

This could all be fine, but the constant cutting away to the scientist people drains the movie of most of its energy, as their goals are not particularly interesting nor are they even that villainous (basically they just want to kill him because he shouldn’t be alive in the first place, which I can’t really argue with!). And Yoshi never makes much of an effort to communicate or anything, so the fish out of water stuff grows tired and is awkwardly spaced out to boot (with like 20 minutes left in the movie, he learns what a lamp is). The occasional fights are fine, but there’s just no real drive to the narrative, and it’s not helped by the interminable final chase, where the nice scientist helps him evade her jerk coworkers through a forest, with about 9 million cutaways to one of the searching helicopters, presumably because Charles Band wanted to get his money’s worth from the rental.

So, yeah, you aren’t missing much from the films’ current inavailabilty. The action/light horror blend of Ghost Warrior is much better realized in Ninja III, and House’s crazy moments aren’t enough to elevate it above “OK timekiller” status. No features beyond the trailer are on the disc either, so I’m guessing the films were part of a package Scream picked up around that time, or just happened to be a personal guilty pleasure of someone who works there (like how I’d put out The Hitcher remake if I worked for them and had that power). I took a quick glance at eBay and found that the OOP discs are selling below retail price, so I’m guessing there isn’t much of a demand for it either. A curious release that waited seven years for me to finally pick it out of the stack, and will now be traded in for 19 cents off a record I’ll probably only listen to once – the disc has just as sad a fate as the characters featured on it.

What say you?

P.S. For anyone who could possibly care – yes this is a “From the Pile” disc but since it’s so long I made it a regular entry. FTP reviews are supposed to be pretty short, and in my wildest (very boring) dreams I like to assume you fine folk see the "FTP" moniker and know it won't take as much time out of their day to check out.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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