Blu-Ray Review: Dead Silence (2007)

MARCH 23, 2023


For those who came late or just forgot, in the early days of this site, the reviews were more like "reactions", aimed at people who saw the movie already and wanted to chime in after I posted a few scattered thoughts I had about it. One such example is Dead Silence, which says almost nothing about the movie and instead focuses on the poor marketing campaign, and why I think it's a more proper "scary movie" than Saw (not to say a BETTER movie, mind, just more genuinely scary). And ironically, I also note that I'm excited that it's a Universal movie, because that'd mean it'd come to HD-DVD*, which at the time was a. fighting with Blu-ray to be the champion for next format, and b. what I had instead of Blu-ray (I ended up caving about a year later, when it was clear HD-DVD was going to lose that war). Because now it's on the even better 4K UHD format, and in turn I'll finally, you know, talk about the movie.

Even its own filmmakers have dismissed it at one time or another (screenwriter Leigh Whannell flat out called it a "bad movie" on his blog, which is now defunct but archived if you hunt for it), due to studio interference and rewrites by another writer that turned the movie into something different than what they had in mind. The most amusing thing is that they wanted a PG-13 movie, only for the studio - eager to cash in on their Saw notoriety - to insist on adding gory violence to ensure an R rating. Wan and Whannell had the last laugh though; after this, the team went back to their independent roots and made the PG-13 Insidious, which was just as big of a hit as Saw was and spawned a franchise of its own. For younger horror fans who grew up on Insidious and Conjuring, it's probably hard to believe that once upon a time a studio would second guess James Wan about a horror movie, but as a fan of this film from the start who felt kind of sad that it was so poorly received, it's great to have the ultimate seal of vindication all these years later with a Scream Factory release.

Don't get me wrong: it's not a perfect film by any means. The pacing is a little wonky and Ryan Kwanten isn't the most compelling lead in the world (he's gotten better over the years though!), but as someone who always appreciates a studio horror film that goes off the beaten path a bit, I find lots to enjoy here. I mean, it's an original story about an evil ventriloquist, at a time when every other horror movie out was either a Saw wannabe or a remake. It probably threw Wan's fans for a loop (looking back, the twist reveal being accompanied by flashback cuts was clearly someone's call to make it more in line with his previous film), but I feel in a post-Malignant world, people are more attuned to the filmmaker's off-kilter sensibilities, and will be able to reevaluate it if they dismissed it back then.

There's also something that's still kind of unique about it, in that it's a supernatural film starring two guys. Most horror films, especially those with ghosts/possession type plots, focus on women (i.e., well... Insidious, Conjuring, and Malignant, not to mention Whannell's Invisible Man), but Kwanten is front and center for nearly every scene, with Donnie Wahlberg's suspicious but patient cop as co-lead. Their "we don't get along but want the same thing" kind of dynamic reminds me of Witchboard (complete with one of them dying near a boat!), and while Whannell specifically noted Wahlberg's shaving habit as something the other writer added, I apologize but I still find it very amusing for some reason. The women, however? One dies in the opening, another only has a very brief part (but is the only person to survive the film, fwiw), and the other two are the villains. It's not misogynistic or anything to my eyes, just a different, relatively rare shift in focus for this kind of fare.

And the dolls are super creepy! By now we know that Wan prefers that his dolls stay pretty still instead of running around like Chucky, so along with the Malignant-esque kookiness (I absolutely adore the hidden hallway bit) I think it's amusing that for "the Saw guy", THIS film is more of a precursor to the rest of his career, with Death Sentence being the only post-Saw movie that feels like it's from that same filmmaker. The scene where the dolls all slowly turn one by one to look at our heroes is a terrific sequence, and he gets a lot of mileage out of light/shadow making it seem like Billy (why the same name?) is moving more than it is. Speaking of, since this is supposed to be a review of the 4K transfer as well - it's much easier to spot the OTHER Billy in Mary Shaw's lair, and Charlie Clouser's terrific score sounds better than ever.

The disc's packaging only advertises a fresh interview with Whannell for its new features, but it also has a new one from Wan and another from the guy who did the puppets. Each runs 12 minutes or so and are sadly not as candid as some other Scream Factory chats have been in the past, but Wan and Whannell both seem (rightfully!) happy that the film has found its audience over the years and seem less harsh on it than they were back then, though they both spend more time talking about how much they love each other and their time at film school together than they do the movie, making me wish they just had the two of them sit down for a commentary so we could benefit from that dynamic and maybe actually talk more about the film itself, but alas. All of the old features are also brought over, including the original bookends for the film that I feel shouldn't have been cut, but I assume it's far too late for anyone to bother making a new cut. The unrated cut of the film is also included, but (as with the features) is only available on the standard Blu-ray - the 4K UHD disc has only the theatrical cut. But that's fine; the unrated one has a few scene extensions that are take or leave, but is mostly devoted to a very dumb idea of giving Mary a longer CGI tongue during the kill scenes, and it looks stupid. Stick with the R rated one and just swap the disc out for the bonus features if you're so inclined!

The team's attempt to make a modern Hammer movie was an admirable one, and for the most part it worked in my opinion. There's also a bit of House of Usher to the proceedings, with a family curse and a decaying building (the theater), so if you're into those kind of movies (which, like this one, tend to be a bit sluggish with their pacing, with the atmosphere and vibe making up for it) and haven't seen this yet, I think you'll enjoy it especially as it is now itself a bit of a relic (sixteen years old this month!). And if you saw it at the time and walked out disappointed that it wasn't Saw, give it another look! That may be the very thing you appreciate most about it now.

What say you?

*The look and sound of perfect.


65 (2023)

MARCH 20, 2023


I find most conspiracy theories (and the people who make them) to be total nonsense at best, but I will entertain the notion that IP obsessed studios like Sony purposely make a movie as forgettable as 65 every now and then. Because they spend a lot of money on such things, and there's zero chance it'll be a hit, but when they announce yet another nostalgia chasing sequel (indeed, another Ghostbusters started shooting this week) and people complain that they never make anything original, they can point at something like this and say "Yes we do, and you don't show up, so why should be bother?" $100m to justify and defend the billions they spend on sequels and reboots seems a small price to pay, no?

Because the thing is, the movie isn't terrible or anything - it's just... THERE. The concept sounds fun on paper: a passenger vessel crashlands on an unknown planet, where dinosaurs are the only lifeform and an asteroid is inching ever closer to the atmosphere. "Like the one that killed all the dinosaurs?" you ask, and yes - in fact it's exactly that one, and that's why the movie is called 65 (as in million years ago - and don't worry if you didn't piece that together yourself, as the title screen literally spells it out for us). But it's not a time travel thing; we're just told that in the vast infinity of space there are other systems with people who, you know, speak English and play with Legos. It's almost like they started with the idea to make the fact that this was Earth into a 2nd act reveal/twist, but then opted to just tell us right at the beginning without realizing that the movie no longer had any compelling reason to exist.

However, therein lies one of the issues with the movie: Adam Driver's pilot and the little girl he has to protect - the only two survivors of the crash - don't KNOW that this is "Earth, 65 million years ago", so there's no real in-movie hook to their predicament. A time traveler who happens to land 24 hrs before the asteroid wiped out all the dinos would probably figure that out and understand the gravity of the situation, but neither of our characters do for the majority of the runtime. And since they are the only two people in the entire movie (except for Driver's wife and daughter, who are seen briefly via flashback and are not on the planet), there isn't much suspense to the proceedings, either. Will this PG-13 movie from a major studio kill its main star any earlier than the final scene, if that? Or the 9 year old girl who just lost her parents? If you believe either of these answers could be "yes", then you might love 65!

(And yes, I know that this comes from Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who came up with the - ahem - "original" script for A Quiet Place, which did indeed kill a child, but the key difference is that the kid died in the first scene to sell us on the concept, and left us with three others to worry about including the baby. That's not the same thing as "Adam Driver has to protect the only other person in the movie.")

For the rest of us who know better, even at 90 minutes it starts to get a bit tiresome, because there's simply no danger involved in any of it. It's like riding one of those immersive screen rides where the IMAX size movie screen makes you think you're on an out of control roller coaster or being flung around the city by the Green Goblin or whatever, but in reality you know you're just sitting in a seat that tilts back and forth. You get the illusion of a thrill, like when a dino snatches the girl by her coat and starts to drag her off, or when the two of them are separated by a tunnel caving in, but there's simply no chance at all that one of them will rescue the other within minutes, and then we will watch them walk around for another ten minutes until the next action scene is rendered. It's all just, you know, fine.

Since there wasn't much to genuinely engage me during the movie, I kept thinking of two ways that it easily could have been improved. One just required a different perspective: tell the story through the eyes of the little girl, with Driver as someone she (and in turn we) wasn't sure she could trust. Not only could this provide a possible secondary threat to our hero, but also - once we know he wasn't really a bad person - generate more suspense during the action scenes, because he could die at any moment if she was our audience surrogate. They don't even speak the same language, so that could have been used for more tension through her eyes (well, ears), because he could be saying "I want to help" but she'd have no idea. The other thing that might have helped would be if it was set up as a more Enemy Mine kind of scenario, with someone that's Driver's equal in terms of audience trust/recognition (Oscar Isaac?) and the two of them have to learn to trust each other if they're going to survive the dinosaurs and get off the planet before the asteroid hits. Either way, there'd be some narrative intrigue that the movie sorely lacks.

All that said, it's at least a reasonably OK timekiller. Since the Jurassic Park movies are usually our only source of big screen dino action, it's nice to have one where they are the primary threat, as those films (particularly the most recent one) seem hellbent on human villains taking up the majority of the screentime. The designs look a little weird as a result, because my mental image now and probably forever of say, a raptor is going to be how they look in Spielberg's universe, but they're at least well done in terms of feeling like flesh and blood presences for the most part. And there's a pretty great jump scare early on that is perfectly executed, with directors Beck and Woods drawing your attention to one side of the image before springing a dino on the other. The marketing was sure to remind us a lot that this came from the creators of Quiet Place, which did the movie no favors since that movie got more suspense out of a nail on a stair than this one managed with dinosaurs and asteroids, but at least they could pull off a few decent monster movie thrills.

Basically, it's the sort of movie TNT or SYFY will run at 2 am and/or 4pm for the rest of our lives, and you'll half-watch it while doing the Wordle or whatever, and later in life you might be able to surprise someone with the reveal that it played in theaters. There's nothing really wrong with that - it's OK for movies to be OK! - but it just makes me sad that they couldn't put more effort into it and make it something worth championing. I'd love to tell you to go check out this original genre film over all the sequels playing alongside it (seriously - the other movies in the theater were all franchises: Scream 6, Avatar 2, Creed 3, Ant-Man 3, and Shazam 2), but the sad fact remains that it peaks early with the ludicrous title reveal and never generated a moment of genuine tension until its final scene. Even at 90 minutes (and bless em for it!), there are simply better things to do with your time and money (and health - happy 3 years of Covid, everyone!).

What say you?


Scream VI Issues (Spoilers, Obviously)

I'm blessed with having many friends who are also horror fans, and as we are all of a certain age, the first Scream is very important to us. For some it was the reason they got into horror in the first place, for others (like me) it was the thing that got us BACK into our favorite genre after Hollywood largely abandoned it in the first half of the '90s and (being pre-internet and, as kids, without much money to import stuff from Japan or the UK) we didn't have much to look forward to. That we "felt seen" by the film thanks to folks like Randy and (for the next generation) Kirby, fans tend to get a little more heated and protective of the series, albeit sometimes for different reasons. The rankings for this series are absolute chaos, which is kind of beautiful in its own way, but it also means it's increasingly hard for the filmmakers to deliver a film that satisfies even the hardcore fans, because what we want out of these things seems to be very different.

Anyway, because of all this, I found myself having repeated discussions about Scream VI over the past few days, and I got tired of repeating myself. So, for that and for the fact that my review had to be vague about many elements because I didn't want to spoil anything there, here are my specific criticisms/issues with the film's third act (which is honestly where all my concerns were; the first 75 minutes or whatever are largely fantastic). Spoilers, obviously! No indvidual warnings, if you read further it's all on you! Also, I spoil Sick, so if you haven't seen that yet you a. should and b. are warned about that, too.

OK, the big problem for me was the reveal, in that it not only sucked but also rendered a lot of the movie idiotic. Having Dermot Mulroney (who was kind of terrible throughout, I thought, though at least his phoniness makes sense in retrospect) say "Of course it's me!" felt like the writers trying to get ahead of the criticism that it was pretty lazy, and that rubbed me the wrong way. Sure, you can almost always guess at least one killer just based on process of elimination or basic slasher 101 rules, but here even the damn motive was clear all along, thanks to his and Quinn's vague mentions of a dead son (or brother, to Quinn), which is the sort of thing that anyone with even a passing understanding of how movies work could tell you was a dead giveaway. The film is a little over two hours long, and so you gotta figure they were trying to get it UNDER that mark however they could - they wouldn't mention this unseen, unnamed dead person twice unless there was a reason. That it was a copy of Scream 2's "avenging parent" motive was already weak enough (it was also identical to Sick, something Kevin Williamson seemingly should have noted to them in his executive producer status), but that it was all so obvious from well over an hour before made it kind of insulting on top of it.

Similarly, having Ethan also be in on it was a huge cheat, because he was the only other person around on the subway with Mindy. There was zero reason for him to do anything but simply get off the train at their stop, something the filmmakers didn't even have to show - once she was stabbed, they could have cut back to the "Kill box" stuff and let the nearly nonstop action/reveals of that scene distract us from not knowing Mindy's fate/wondering where Ethan was. Hell, they could have gone one step further and had Chad or Tara get a text "from Mindy" saying she was off the train and almost there, rather than show us exactly what did happen. But no, we have the killer plead with strangers to help, call 911, etc, while helping her off the train to ensure she had a better chance of survival. Even if you buy into their "we are going to frame Sam" plan, it didn't make any goddamn sense at all. The only reason the scene existed was to fool the viewer, which is always a cheap, insulting move. Even S4, as sloppy as it was at times, never had Jill be attacked by Ghostface unless someone else (Sid, Kirby) was there to witness it.

Then there's everyone being indestructible, which I can at least see their point with: no one wants these beloved characters to die. I get that, even if I don't fully agree with it. Personally, I feel we should get mad, and we should believe that anyone is in danger. That's what S2 did when it killed Randy, and S5 did when it killed Dewey - and guess what my two favorite sequels are? And no it's not because I got to watch these people die, but because they gave me that heightened sense of genuine suspense, the closest thing a sequel can get to the first film's "Holy crap Drew Barrymore is already dead?" feeling of unknown territory. In those instances, I wasn't quite sure what would happen; sure, maybe Sid would forever be OK, but Gale? But here, they fell right back into S3/S4 territory, where you spend time with people who are seemingly impervious to stab wounds, and then they pad the body count with anonymous victims. Say what you will about S2 (I've recently discovered it's among the least popular entries with younger fans, not sure why that is but to each their own!), but even the most random people in the movie: Phil and Maureen in the opening and the two bodyguards for Sid, have some basic identifying traits (Maureen is a biology student and likes Sandra Bullock! Officer Andrews is a gemini who may be gay!). But I defy anyone to name Gale's boyfriend without looking it up, and even he got more of a personality than the randos in the convenience store or Quinn's bathtub boyfriend. For all their talk about how this was the most violent and bloody one yet, to me it never registered that way at all, because I didn't care one iota about the majority of the film's victims. It has the series' highest body count at 13, but only three (3) of those people were actual characters: the film professor in the opening scene, Sam's shrink, and Anika (Mindy's girlfriend). The other ten were five anonymous people (three at the store, Gale's bf, Quinn's bf) and five Ghostfaces (two opening guys - one we never see - and Richie's family).

That's just kind of gross to me. I'd trade all five of those whoever people for one death that actually meant something. Gale doesn't even blink when her boyfriend dies (she even agrees with Ghostface's joke!), and likewise Anika's death didn't seem to bother Mindy all that much; she's still making jokes and whining about "missing the monologue" a day later. So when you add that sort of thing to the fact that Gale instantly went back on her word and wrote a book about Richie (without ever so much as finding a picture of him with his family, I guess - something Kirby the Ghostface obsessed FBI agent also couldn't bother to piece together), it feels really crass that death has no affect on people (maybe because they themselves are seemingly invincible so they see dying as a weakness?). I don't have a lot to defend about S3, but even there both Gale and Sid seem affected by Cotton's death; neither of them loved the guy, but they at least gave him a moment's reflection when they heard of his passing. If death doesn't mean anything to these people, why should it mean anything to us? It was never about a body count with these movies - hell it was kind of "off brand" even in S5 when Ghostface killed that security guard (offscreen), but at least there was some logic behind it, to further isolate Tara. If their plan was to frame Sam, why chase her and her sister into a populated store (one probably with cameras) and kill three people? Answer: so we could get something unique for the trailer. For all the praise about the film's setpieces (and they are well executed, the direction is not the issue here), I started getting the suspicion that they came up with al of these sequences first and then figured out a way to string them together without a lot of thought behind it.

Short of some dumb Roman-esque "I put them up to it" reveal in the next movie, there's not much we can do about the crappy motive here. But they can still salvage their inability to let anyone actually die from their injuries (Chad in particular had such a great "death" with the quiet "Go." to Tara) by at least acting like people who were nearly dead when they all return in Scream VII. Considering Dewey at least had his nerve damage/limp, Chad should be in a wheelchair or something. Have all of them afraid to go outside, keeping all sharp objects out of their houses, something, anything. Let's not forget Chad in particular was seemingly dead last time too (his own girlfriend even thought so) - did he really seem like a guy who was that damaged only a year ago? Gale has now been shot/stabbed in her lower chest three times and survived from it - assuming she's roughly the same age as the actress who plays her, how does that affect a person who is nearly 60? Make their survival mean something besides "they're still around for the next one because we love them", because that's not a real excuse. Otherwise it seems they've lost sight of what made the Scream movies special: they took place in the "real" world, where things didn't work like they did in the junky slasher movies we loved. Jason coming back over and over is the sort of thing these characters should be scoffing at - at this point they're not much different. And when you consider that every single Scream universe character who was alive at the end of Scream 5 is still alive at the end of Scream 6, they really need to do something to justify this movie's existence in the canon for the long run, because was otherwise it was just treading water.

It bums me out. There's so much to like in the film, but nearly all of it is in the first two acts. Whiffing the reveal and repeatedly walking back mortal wounds just all feel like a waste of time in the long run; empty calories as a movie. They were on point with the previous film, so I'm just curious what went amiss this time for them to bungle the mystery so badly (hell even Roman was a better villain), and if they got scared of killing anyone ever again after last time's petitions to redo the movie and keep Dewey alive (yes, the same toxic fans the movie was mocking got toxic). I had to laugh that there was so much handwringing about Sidney's absence when it turned out to be the least of the movie's issues. Her not being there was fine, and explained well! Why WOULD she travel across the country to deal with this when there was zero indication the killer had any interest in her? There shouldn't be more perma-safe characters than actual victims in these things, and having Sid show up would just mean yet another person that THREE GHOSTFACES couldn't manage to actually kill, though she'd probably get a few stabs in the stomach yet again for the trailer. If you're not going to kill someone, don't attack them with the intent to do so! Remember in S3 when they just knocked Dewey out rather than deal him another dozen stabs he'd survive from? That's the sort of approach they should start taking to these climaxes - unconscious, but not bleeding to death for 20 minutes while the killer monologues and then just walking it off. It's Scream, guys - not Scary Movie. At least try to make it dangerous again.

What say you?


Back To The Drive-in (2022)

MARCH 11, 2023


Note - this isn't much of a standard review, just a sort of Collins' Crypt type unloading about my conflicted feelings about the closing of one of our drive-ins, with a little bit about the movie for good measure.

Five weeks after theaters closed down in March of 2020, I ventured out to the Mission Tiki Drive-in in Montclair, CA, which was about a 70-75 minute drive from where I live. I saw The Hunt and watched a bit of The Invisible Man (which I had already seen in regular theaters) before heading home, feeling it was a fine way to get that moviegoing itch out of my system while I waited for theaters to reopen in "a few weeks", as was the plan then. Of course, that didn't happen, and it would be over a year until they reopened in Los Angeles. Naturally, this meant I was heading to the drive-in on an almost weekly basis, to see new movies of course (it's my thing!) but also just to get out of the house. So I was pleased to see that the Tiki was one of the many drive-ins featured in Back to the Drive-in, a documentary that focuses on their resurgence thanks to covid and how they are now struggling again in 2021, making it a bittersweet experience because they closed for good about a month ago.

Not that it was too much of a surprise; for starters, the Tiki was already set to be closed in 2020 anyway, as the owner had sold the land to some tech company who plans to make it a warehouse/business park of some sort (I've heard Amazon, not sure if that's true or just rumor). Since construction was a silly endeavor with covid running rampant, they basically got an extended lease on life as they were filling up the lots for all four of their screens even on weeknights, something that probably hadn't happened in decades. Not that it would change their fate, but it seemed as long as they were turning healthy profits, they'd stick around for a while. Unfortunately for them, theaters did reopen, and the crowds dwindled again. For a while I kept going once a month even with theaters open, because they would occasionally book a movie that wasn't playing in any of the theaters anyway, but as the world slowly got back to normal(ish) it got harder and harder to justify that drive. The last time I went was in June of 2022 for a double of Bob's Burgers and Dr Strange 2; a few other plans to return (in December they had the very amusing double of Violent Night and Christmas Bloody Christmas) just didn't work out.

Still, I figured they'd have some kind of announcement, like "We will be closing at the end of the month if you'd like to say goodbye!" but they didn't bother with anything like that. An online rumor from a very rude reporter was the only indication that the end was nigh; the theater itself didn't even bother to confirm that a certain Sunday was their last night until the next morning, denying folks a chance to make one last trip. So I had to laugh that they were barely featured in the film compared to the other venues, wondering if their same terrible communication skills (they'd also routinely neglect to use their existing social media channels - Twitter, IG, Facebook - to alert customers about things like the credit card machine being down, meaning if you didn't have cash you'd have to leave to go back into town and find an ATM) also kept them from being as accessible to the documentary crews as the other places were.

So why am I sad that it's gone? I mean, it's a fair question: it was a long drive, shoddily run (the hand dryer in the men's room was busted the entire time), and the programming wasn't really inspired, as they often showed the same movie twice (sometimes on two screens, so something like Black Widow or Spider-Man was taking up four of the eight available slots on a given night). But they also gave me something to do when times were darkest, and since I was one of the few people she felt comfortable with in the peak covid days, allowed me to spend time with a friend who I hadn't gotten to hang out with much in the years prior, and, natch, now I once again barely ever see. I find myself now weirdly missing getting out of my car to go to the bathroom and watching silent clips from things like Tenet or Croods 2, or the time I finally got sick of the headlights behind me and when walking over to ask them to turn them off, realized the car's occupants were in the backseat and most likely not watching the movie (or seeing the very tall man approach their car in the dark - sorry for the scare, frisky young lovers!). It was a fun little thrill, sneaking a couple beers in to watch the likes of Unhinged (the Russell Crowe road rage movie), while also catching a heavy whiff of nostalgia from the old school snack bar, with its cracked/ancient light up menus and (bless!) plastic straws for the fountain soda. It reminded me that while I use Amazon as easily as the next guy, I actually do prefer the simple life, and find a lot of the world moves too fast for me as I get older. The drive-in, with its antiquated ways, was like having that slower world again, even if it was for the most undesirable of reasons. And now it's gone, and I have to commute to work again (I was work from home for the first two years of the pandemic; slowly but surely we are returning to being in the office full time), and I see my friend once every other month if that... all the weird benefits that covid-life brought to the table are now gone. And we still have covid. It sucks! I never thought I'd be nostalgic for the summer of 2020, but that's exactly what this doc did, and seeing it so close to losing the Tiki forever probably didn't help.

Luckily for people elsewhere, the other drive-ins still offer those simple pleasures! The doc showcases venues across the country, in Nebraska, Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas, etc. so we get a variety of the different things they have to deal with, weather wise (the one in Massachusetts is beset by fog; the midwestern ones are susceptible to tornadoes and floods) and also how they operate. Many have playgrounds for the kids to enjoy while they wait for the movie to start, others have beer gardens. Some have themed merch/snacks to go along with the programming (one theater is showing Big Lebowski, and we see the owner make a White Russian with an extremely upsetting vodka to creme ratio). Programming the pre-show entertainment, having the right number of staff on hand for the crowd (or lack thereof), dealing with the weather, etc... by the end of its 100 minutes you'll get a pretty good idea of the day to day routines of these joints. Some are clearly operating with the mindset of "let's make this place super great!" while others are just hoping to turn a profit at the end of the night, but they all seem to genuinely care about movies and offering families an alternative option for their outings. More than once I thought "I wish our drive-ins did that!" (we had three during covid; the Tiki and another has since closed, the other is still open but costs more and doesn't offer double features, so again it's that "bang for my buck" dilemma); one even had an inspired double feature of Fast 9 and Streets of Fire! In contrast, ours paired Fast 9 with Fast 9.

Unfortunately there isn't too much else to it; by the hour mark you'll probably have your fill of seeing drone shots of nearly empty lots while the owner laments that the theaters reopening (based on the marquees we see, the bulk of the film was shot in summer of 2021) has cut down on their crowds again. You almost wish most of the movie had been shot the year before, when it was packed, with the 2021 stuff being the third act "the show must go on!" kind of material that now makes up the entire movie. Without "spoiling" things, the obligatory on-screen text for the end of a documentary is pretty bleak here - the Tiki isn't the only casualty since production began. And it takes a bafflingly long time for the filmmaker to focus on the actual patrons of these places. Do they care if they close or not? Did they come to the drive-in prior to Covid, and will they return when the theaters reopen? And how far are they coming to enjoy the venue? I admit I let my patronage lapse once I could just drive to the theater down the street, but I would have kept going more often if it wasn't such a long drive. When there's no other options, fine, but two and a half hours round trip to watch a dimly projected Jungle Cruise is a hard sell. Once my friend lost interest in joining me it got even harder to muster up the energy, especially in the summer where the shows started later (waiting til sundown) and I had to take that long drive back by myself. So it would have been nice to hear from the regulars, even if only in a montage of testimonials ("I live next door", "I drive two hours to get here every Saturday!", "I was conceived here when my parents came for Top Gun and now I'm here for Top Gun Maverick!", that sort of stuff) to get an idea of how these places impact the lives of anyone outside of the owners, even if just to break up the repetition a bit.

The director/producer/editor/etc April Wright made a documentary before about the drive-in (2013's Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the American Drive-in Movie) as well as one about the decline of movie palaces, so perhaps she's already covered this stuff in detail before and wanted to focus on something else. And that's fine, and it's not even that it's a bad movie, just a somewhat meandering one; it seems it could be cut down to 30 minutes and presented as a bonus feature on the Going Attractions' 10th anniversary blu-ray. It was my own personal connection to the Mission Tiki - which was just ripped away without warning only a few weeks ago - that kept me as engaged as I was, and that obviously won't be the case for everyone. Best case scenario, the people who live near the drive-ins that are still open will be inspired to frequent them a little more often, now that they've seen the blood sweat and tears it takes to keep them up and running from day to day. Unfortunately for folks like me, it's a little too late.

What say you?

P.S. Obviously this isn't a horror movie, but one theater does note that the horror movies showing are pretty crowded while the family films are not, so it's a nice reminder of how our genre can be counted on even in times of trouble.


The Silence (2019)

MARCH 10, 2023


My wife got me a horror novel subscription box for Christmas, so every month I get two books at random. As expected, it'll be hit or miss what interests you, but this month's had The Silence by Tim Lebbon, and I was surprised because I had seen the movie advertised on Netflix but wrote it off as a Quiet Place ripoff. Seeing that it was based on a novel got me curious and, sure enough, it was published in 2015, three years before Quiet Place was released. So did the writers of that movie (who coincidentally have a new movie out today that seems lifted from Twilight Zone and the finale of Battlestar Galactica) read this book and write an unauthorized adaptation? Or was it just coincidence that they ALSO had an idea for monsters who couldn't find you if you stayed quiet and ALSO focused a lot on the deaf daughter of the family unit?

And to make matters worse for them, they actually even started shooting before Quiet Place came out, but alas was released a year later. I haven't read the book yet (it came with one from Bentley Little, a name I've heard a lot but have never read, so I chose that one first), so I can give some benefit of the doubt and assume it was REALLY GOOD and the movie just whiffed it, regardless of when it came out or what other movies it ended up resembling. Almost from the start it has a sense of phoniness to it, starting with the curious casting of Stanley Tucci as the father of this very bland family. Tucci is an absolute dynamo of an actor, who can steal a movie away from any other performer in history (Christ, he even did it to Meryl Streep!), but sticking him in a role like this is in the "Bruce Willis in Death Wish" hall of shame for misguided casting choices. He seems downright uncomfortable at times going through the "normal dad" motions (having the boys talk with his daughter, agreeing to pick up medicine on the way home from work...), and the closest they get to making it interesting - his bestie is John Corbett, who borders on emasculating him at times - is unexplored.

Anyway, if you've seen Quiet Place (and what horror fan hasn't at this point?) you know the drill: the monsters can hear just about anything, and thus to stay alive and live a very boring life of doing nothing you can't make the slightest sound. Since things are just starting here there's not so much of the curious world building to wonder about (like QP's marked trails - who made those? Was it a trial and error process with a lot of brave volunteers?), but they also aren't as thorough with regards to the "make a sound and you'll die" element. They whisper, they walk around freely, they cock guns, Kiernan Shipka's character even Facetimes with her boyfriend a couple times before the wifi is shut down... all without adding to their danger. I guess we are to assume these creatures aren't AS sensitive (or quick) as their counterparts, but that just means the movie's that much less tense.

I mean, there are a couple of decent sequences, like when they're all trapped in their car and the dog keeps barking, forcing Tucci to... well I couldn't tell if he killed it or not, it SEEMED like he either snapped its neck or choked it, but then when he opens the trunk and lets it out, it seems like its running off on his own. But either way, it's a bummer of a scene, because you know it has to be done but it doesn't make it any less heartbreaking (it reminded me of the original Fallout, where I had to kill poor Dogmeat before the final mission because you couldn't make him wait anywhere and it would be impossible to stealth around the final area with him at my heels). There's also a random vignette of a subway car where the passengers basically send a woman (speficially her crying infant) to her doom, which I thought meant we'd get more of that sort of thing throughout, but nah - it's just padding, but at least GOOD padding. The family basically gets an old lady killed, which is pretty funny, and there's a pretty good self sacrifice scene where a character grabs on to the obligatory evil humans and then screams, so that the monsters will get them all and let Shipka's character flee.

And yes, evil humans. Sigh. They take a long time to show up and even longer to do anything (honestly there's like ten minutes of the movie left by the time they go on the offensive), but they're just as generic as anything you've seen in Walking Dead or whatever. It's a religious cult who seems to have already began preparations to repopulate the world (guess who they want), but apart from cutting their tongues out to ensure silence they're as generic as they come in these things, and by withholding their menace to the film's final few scenes makes them come off not as a genuine story element but yet another thing that exists only to pad the runtime out to the minimum 90 minutes. The book isn't short (360 pages), so perhaps there's just a lot of internal stuff (it's first person from the Shipka character's POV) that obviously can't be translated directly to screen, or they just wanted to cram every single element in while still keeping the runtime (and thus budget) down rather than focus on one story thread and discard the others. Either way, I have little doubt the book will be better.

Weirdly, the damn poster suggests a more interesting idea, showing Tucci and Shipka alone, walking a highway road. That sort of "road movie" feel with just the two of them, presumably after the rest of their family (wife, son, wife's mother) got wiped out early on, might have been a little more engaging. But nah, they're only on the road for the first 15 minutes or so after the news reports start coming in, then they hole up in one house for pretty much the rest of the movie save for a trip out for supplies (where the poster shot came from), which doesn't help it on any level. Sure, send the two top billed stars out for an extended sequence, that'll really improve the movie's tension. Ultimately, the biggest problem with the movie isn't its similarity to another one, it's that it's just not very suspenseful or well done. Even if it came out first, I suspect the general reaction would be "Cool idea, hopefully someone does it better someday." And then John Krasinski, of all people, did just that. Kind of like how Armageddon came after Deep Impact and it was like "Oh yeah, THIS is how you do it!" (and I made that joke before even remembering who produced Quiet Place, heh).

What say you?


Scream VI (2023)

MARCH 7, 2023


At this point, it's safe to say Scream 2 will always be my favorite sequel in the series: it has the best setpieces out of all of them, a likeable supporting cast, Sid's best hair (look - my Neve Campbell crush was half the reason I saw the first movie to begin with, leave me alone!), and - considering they had to rewrite it after leaks - a solid reveal with the whole Debbie Salt/Mrs. Loomis* thing. And it's due to those other things that makes the reveal work as well as it did: if the film wasn't so exciting (the AV chase!) and if it didn't have a big cast of people they weren't afraid to just let live/not be red herrings (Joel the cameraman, David Warner, the sorority girls, etc), maybe we would have had time to notice that Sid never saw Debbie Salt, who she'd obviously recognize (Gale did, but Debbie played it off as someone who bugged her at one of her symposiums). It's something I thought of more than once during Scream VI, which apes that film fairly often, and ultimately to an unfortunately detrimental degree.

But I'll get into that later (there will be some vague spoilers at that point, and I will warn you in advance), and for now just focus on what works. For those who don't memorize my opinions on every movie, I'll remind you that I really liked Scream 5, feeling that it successfully pulled off what 2011's Scream 4 failed to do: let the core trio of Dewey, Gale, and Sid play second fiddle to a new cast of characters that could keep the franchise going. Throughout S4 it felt that no one could decide who to focus on, and seemingly ultimately landed on "neither", leaving the movie feeling rather aimless and clunky (why does Alison Brie's nothing character get the most extended death sequence?). 2022's revival did it right, leaving our old heroes out of it entirely for a good half hour or so, and organically weaving them into the story starting with Dewey (the only one still in town). That it had some solid commentary about entitled fans and franchises pulling "requels" to appease those fans was just icing on the cake.

And it killed Dewey, and yes, that was a good thing to my eyes. Did I *want* to see Dewey die? No, of course not, I loved him and it made me sad, and on the three times I've rewatched it I keep hoping somehow it'll play out differently. But he had to die, because A. Scream 4 botched the impact of Sid's dreaded "return to Woodsboro" and they needed something of that magnitude for her to come back there (a mere injury wouldn't do), and B. we had to believe - for the first time since Cotton died at the beginning of S3 - that our characters weren't safe. It's a slasher series with a shockingly high number of survivors at the end of each movie (Jason would NEVER!), but it can go on forever if they keep introducing new characters we love (and of the four newcomers who survived Scream 5, I loved three of them - sorry Sam) in each movie while occasionally saying goodbye to others. And that doesn't even necessarily mean killing them; by now everyone knows Neve isn't in this one due to some salary disputes**, but her absence is explained quickly (Gale says she's taken her family to somewhere safe) and honestly I feel that's how it should have been even if Neve wanted to do the movie for free. Any in-movie use of Sid would either be something no one on the planet would want to see (her death, after surviving so many others) or yet another person left standing at the end of this one.

Wait, I'm jumping to the third act again when I promised to get to what works! Sorry. OK, so: the opening is TERRIFIC, featuring a surprise we haven't seen in any other film so far and - my heart! - a tip of the hat to Jason Takes Manhattan, which I've been making jokes about ever since they announced that this one would be set in New York. And the change of scenery is nice; they don't use New York much at all (it was, like JTM, shot in Canada) which is disappointing considering how much of the marketing has been focused on "Ghostface in the Big Apple!", but still, a big city is a change of pace from the others, and while the beats keep cribbing from S2 they don't even have a single scene set on the school that Tara, Chad and Mindy are all attending together (with Sam moving there too as a good protective big sister). And they use the crowds to their advantage: there's a convenience store scene where Ghostface takes out a few customers while chasing Sam and Tara, the subway scene from the teaser trailer with all the other horror icons standing around (it's set on Halloween), and the aforementioned opening murder occurs within a few feet of busy foot traffic. So while it sadly lacks a single iconic New York visual (come on guys, even Jason got to prowl around Times Square on a way lower budget!) unless you count the subway (something many big cities have), it at least makes pretty good use out of the idea of a slasher in an urban environment.

And the character work is on point; Sam and Tara's relationship is still brittle but in a different way. Whereas before Tara resented Sam for leaving, now she's sick of her overbearing ways, and feeling Sam's inability to get past what happened is forcing her to dwell on it too ("I'm not going to let three days define my entire life!" she says at one point, and somewhere Laurie Strode feels attacked). The payoff to this thread is corny but well earned, and the fact that I'm discussing the character work in part 6 of a slasher series is pretty incredible on its own, regardless of well it's executed. And Chad and Mindy are as delightful as ever; Mindy's got a new girlfriend and gets to explain the rules of franchises (I'm not sure how it's any different than a sequel, but there are some good laughs in the scene) and Chad's realizing he's got feelings for Tara, which is much better than his weird "let me track your phone" stuff in the last one. As I've mentioned in other things, I hate the common trend of modern horror (slashers in particular, but anything with a group of friends is guilty) where they seem to hate each other and/or are betraying one another, so it's always nice to see people who genuinely care for each other, repeatedly putting themselves in harm's way to protect one another, etc. Early on, Chad is trying to find a date at a party when he's informed that some frat douche is trying to hook up with a drunken Tara, and the speed in which he forgets what he's doing and rushes to protect her is so damn sweet (this is before their romantice feelings start bubbling up, to be clear).

As for the legacy folk, Gale is in three or four scenes, which felt right. They already established she lived in New York now, so it's easy enough to work her into the story, but I was disappointed she ended up writing a book about Richie anyway, despite her promise (as for whether she ALSO wrote the promised book about Dewey, we aren't told, but I'm guessing not). That said, I admit it felt a little weird to see her without the others to play off, something they try to work in by having her at odds with Kirby (from S4, if you've forgotten), who might as well have been a different character anyway - she's now an FBI agent? I kept waiting for her to announce she was just posing as one and just wanted to meet other survivors or something, but nope: she's just an FBI agent now, I guess. She gets a cute little scene with Mindy where they share horror opinions, but otherwise it felt like they wrote her in to appease the her fans without having an actual use for her, to the extent that she doesn't even come off as a genuine red herring because she was shoehorned in so awkwardly. The new characters, unsurprisingly, don't get to leave much of an impact, but I did enjoy seeing Henry Czerny as Sam's shrink, and they wring every possible bit of tension out of the series' habit of murderous love interests with Sam's new boyfriend (Josh Segarra), who lives across them and, like Derek in Scream 2, will keep you guessing about his intentions until his last on-screen moment.

Oh and they thankfully don't lean on Stab too much. After three movies in a row where it played such a big focus, I was relieved that the meta-series' usage was confined to a few mentions and visuals (the posters, mostly) in that "shrine" thing that we've seen in the trailers. The killer's hook this time around is to leave behind Ghostface masks that were used by the previous killers, which had me thinking it was all some megafan's nonsense, but as is often the case in Scream movies, once someone points out a "pattern" with the killings, the concept is basically dropped. But that's fine, because more of that probably would have meant more Stab stuff, and While part of me is still curious about what exactly those later sequels entailed (I recently learned that, in the canon, Robert Rodriguez ended up coming back to direct Stab 3 after Roman Bridger obviously couldn't finish it - what the hell was that conversation like?), I'm happy to just let the whole Stab element be backgrounded like it was here and in Scream 2, where it just propelled the opening sequence and was otherwise ignored. In fact there's little mention of real movies, either; Kirby and Mindy's scene, a few lines in the opening (in which a character specifically trashes the Stabs, heh), and the random appearances of masks via the Halloween costumes are about the extent of it. Not an issue really, but it adds to the fact that the meta jokes and commentary are toned down here, as the focus is primarily on scares and suspense, which is another thing it borrows from the second film.

(OK, HERE COME THE LOW KEY SPOILERS!!! No identities or specific deaths will be directly mentioned, but I will get into 3rd act issues and you might be able to just figure them out by process of elimination or whatever, so just be warned!!!)

So I keep mentioning Scream 2, and that's unavoidable. During her rules scene, Mindy even notes that the killer or killers are following the original pattern (yup, there are TWO patterns this time!). First time was in Woodsboro, then it was at a college - and now THEY'RE in college after dealing with him in Woodsboro. And the pacing/structure is very similar to that film (it's also over two hours long, as S2 was), Sam sends her boyfriend off by saying it's for his protection but it's also because she's not sure he can trust him, there's an outdoor daylight scene where they try to lure Ghostface out on the phone (Mindy again notes the similarity here), etc. The finale, set in the shrine, even has the giant sun from Sid's play (the thing Derek was tied to) in the background the whole time again! And, alas (vague spoiler here!) the motive is even identical to one of the killers' in S2, which I'd prob just wave off if not for the fact that the killer's identity was pretty obvious from the getgo and the actor/actress portraying them is way over the top, as if they were acting for one of the Stab movies or even "Scary Movie 6" instead of the real deal. Plus, I mentioned how the "Debbie Salt" thing worked earlier? There's nothing like that here, despite the fact that at least three characters should have been able to make a connection between the new killer and the past event their motive is tied to.

Also (spoilers again, but still no specifics) at about 80 minutes into the movie a character is brutally attacked, and they survive. And before I could even decide if it was a good or a bad thing, another character is brutally attacked... and they also survive. And then in the finale, two (2) characters are attacked even more viciously than those others were... and they BOTH survive!!! Now, I'm not bloodthirsty, and I like these people - I'm not *wishing* for their deaths or anything. But that's what we sign up for when it comes to this kind of movie, the knowledge that not everyone is going to make it. And when you're offing five people who don't even have names (two barely seen boyfriends, three people in the convenience store) to make up for it, it starts to feel weightless, and far too safe. I was no longer concerned for anyone's survival in the last half hour of the movie, which when added to the weak reveal (which also involved a cheat but I can't even begin to explain that without spoiling something, names or not) made me rapidly lose my engagement with it. I was all in for the first hour and change, but as soon as Ghostface seemingly lost their ability to actually kill anyone, my interest deflated. Dewey's survival worked in S2 because it was like an olive branch after losing Randy, plus Gale's emotional reaction to it (dropping her reporter act in the process) helped sell the moment - here it's just a parade of people brushing off what seemed like fatal wounds. It'd be like if, after they wheeled out Dewey in S2, they were also like "Oh, Derek's gonna make it too!" and then Hailey and maybe even one of Sid's bodyguards came running up to let her know they were OK as well.

I mean, I could forgive one of those two things (the "safeness" and the weak reveal) if the other was delivering the goods, but both? Not so much. As I've said for years, better a movie starts off on the wrong foot and then recovers, rather than starts strong and then whiffs it at the finish line, which means as I sat there almost rolling my eyes at the reveal (and then literally doing so at the film's final "they survived!" copout) I was starting to forget all the great stuff that came earlier, walking out feeling slightly let down. I still liked the movie overall (this has been a very consistent franchise), but for a while I was like "this could be better than 5 if they stick the landing!" and then I ended up at "well, still better than 3 or 4," which I already know this team was capable of doing. And aping my favorite sequel just made it easier for its blemishes to stick out (kind of like how part of the reason I can't enjoy F13 New Blood is because they're clearly trying to emulate Final Chapter, my favorite). I'm sure when I watch it again I'll be a little more forgiving since I'll know beforehand, not to mention knowing that the marketing was largely misleading (Ghostface's "You've never seen one like ME!" is not actually in the movie, but it's also woefully inaccurate, so that's probably for the best) but I'm just as sure that I won't be rewatching it as often as my favorite entries. But I swear, it has nothing to with Sid's absence! I didn't even miss her! Let her retire!!

Ranking: 1, 2, 5, 6, 3/4 (I keep flip flopping on those last two, so I'm just leaving it as a tie from now on). Also: the film is available in 3D, but it wasn't shot that way, and apart from the opening title I can't think of one moment that might have been fun to see with the image-dimming glasses on. I wouldn't bother unless you're a full on junkie for the format.

What say you?

* We find out her full name is Nancy Loomis in this one. Heh.

** Maybe too much of a deep cut but if Sid was somehow intrinsic to this story, JC Brandy would be the first person I'd call to replace her. It's even part 6 again! And no other series could pull off a meta joke like that and play it straight.


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