Fast X (2023)

MAY 17, 2023


NOTE: No, this isn’t a horror movie, but I have a weird affinity for these movies IN PART because of their Saw-like continuity and tendency to retcon previous films, so it's like an adjacent kinda thing? But also I just have nowhere else to ramble about them outside of Facebook or whatever. And it’s my site and I can do what I want! That said: I'm assuming anyone reading is a fan of these things, so if you're not well versed in Fast and/or Furious lore (i.e. who the characters are), don't bother since a lot of this won't make much sense.

One of the ways my OCD manifests is a need to complete/finish things, even if I’m not enjoying it. This happens a lot with video games, particularly open world types: I finish the main campaign, but then feel like I *have* to go around and find all the collectibles or do all the side missions I skipped along the way. Sometimes I find it enjoyable (weirdly, the Mad Max game was a total delight for me, though it was not a particularly well received game at all), others not, but either way I usually have this feeling of “It’s over, why am I still here?” but keep going anyway. And that same feeling is what I have gotten from all the Fast & Furious movies since the end of Furious 7, where Paul Walker’s character literally drove off into the sunset. The real life reason for this send off was of course, tragic and awful, but as no one involved could bring themselves to kill Brian off (especially considering how Walker's real life death was, alas, in the same kind of car crash his character routinely walked away from) or recast him, this was the best way to end things. It’s a perfect finale, and I’ve sobbed at it more than once.

But money! So they kept making them anyway, and each film has to struggle to explain Brian's absence. It hasn't been the most gracious workaround, but I’m happy to report that of the three films since (not counting Hobbs & Shaw, in which none of the other “family” members appear anyway) Fast X has the most plausible explanation for his absence. Sure, the villain (Jason Momoa) has a specific beef with Dom AND Brian because he’s the son of the warlord guy they killed at the end of Fast Five, but after a quick action scene with Jordana Brewster’s Mia, she joins Brian and their children in hiding, and Momoa’s Dante is seen more than once intercepting their calls and blocking communication, so it’s a (movie, specifically a Fast movie) plausible enough explanation – they can’t get a hold of him, he's not going to give his position away, and Momoa’s too busy with the main target (Dom, of course) to worry about it, I guess. In the previous film, Mia joined along the whole time while her and Dom’s brother (John Cena) tried to kill them, so it was odd that Dom’s surrogate brother (and now actual brother in law) wouldn’t at least make a phone call. And the one before that made even less sense, as Dom was seemingly evil and they were trying to understand why… without the aid of the guy who knew him best? I mean it’s still a little weird, but it works better than anything else they’ve tried, so I’ll give it a pass.

That’s not to say I didn’t miss the character, and the film is still lesser because of the hole he leaves in the ensemble. But this time around they engineered a narrative that didn’t have me questioning his absence nearly as often. Part of that is because Dom barely interacts with any of the family, again – as with the previous two films, the plot seems written around the fact that Diesel is a jerk who no one wants to work with. After the obligatory barbecue scene at the beginning, I don’t think he has a single scene with any other family member besides Michelle Rodriguez’ Letty, and even that is brief. But they wisely scatter ALL of the family this time around, so while it’s kind of an episodic structure that ends up feeling like a lot of wheel spinning prologue for the next two films (this is said to be the first part of a trilogy that will be the series’ finale), at least it manages to escape the shadow of the behind the scenes issues that plagued Fate and F9 (and even F7, though at least the excuse there was more valid than someone being a diva). Like, yeah, Brian isn’t around – but John Cena doesn’t have a single scene with Dom either, and Letty never really interacts with anyone after the first 15 minutes, and there’s still no explanation for where Hobbs is, so now it’s more like par for the course as opposed to an outlier.

Also, unlike the ridiculous idea that Dom would ever ring Roman up for help (seriously, the two characters have never directly interacted in a single one of these movies), this time around Roman is trying to lead his own op to prove he can be a leader, so there's a built-in excuse why he wouldn't have called Brian AND there's no actual point where Dom seemingly specifically wants him around. So Roman enlists Tej, Ramsey, and Han to secure some whatevers from whoevers (it’s purposely vague because it’s all a setup anyway, so whatever), leaving Dom and Letty at home to do whatever it is they do when they're not traveling the globe and destroying things. But Cipher shows up at their door and tells them about Dante, and before long they realize Roman and the others are in danger, so they hop on a jet I guess (they seemingly get there roughly five minutes later) to try to stop them from taking part in their setup heist. But they're too late, the op is already underway when Tej and Ramsey realize that someone has set them up, and their would be heist is actually having them inadvertently delivering a bomb to the Vatican (!). Dom arrives in time to manage to prevent that much of course, but the bomb still destroys some other stuff, and the Agency (Kurt Russell’s black ops company, now led by a new guy since Russell’s character is still MIA for whatever reason) turns on him and the rest of the family, arresting Letty while the others manage to escape. So everyone is scattered – you got Roman and the others trying to make their way to the group’s safehouse, Dom tracking down Dante, Letty in the Agency’s jail with Cipher (who is now – sigh – an uneasy ally as Momoa left her for dead and stole her army), and Jakob (Cena) also trying to get to the safehouse, with Dom’s son in tow.

The movie basically takes turns with these four groups (plus checking in with Momoa whenever he’s not with Dom), giving some characters a chance to interact in new ways (this is the first time Cipher has had a scene with anyone else besides Dom, and her fight with Letty is one of the movie’s highlights – took three movies but they finally did something with Furiosa besides have her glower at monitors) and moving fast enough to hopefully not ever think too much about where, say, Luke Hobbs is, or why Helen Mirren keeps showing up for single scenes with Diesel. But there are simply too many characters at this point; Jason Statham eventually shows up for a few minutes to provide Roman and the others with some weapons and cars (his promised face off with Han is a big wet fart though; we’ve pretty much seen the extent of it – and his entire performance, in fact – in the trailer), and we even meet Elena’s sister, because why not? It wasn’t even until the movie was over that I remembered Michael Rooker was supposed to be in it again, not sure what happened there.

In fact, in a weird way it’s almost a relief that a couple of cast members are MIA for whatever reason, because the biggest hurdle for the movie has been this series absolute refusal to kill anyone off permanently (minor spoiler – there’s another resurrection in this one, and even Dante is said to have died for two minutes during Fast Five’s finale, as he is retconned into one of the guys in the cars that got destroyed during the bridge sequence). Yes, we love all these characters and don’t necessarily want them to die, nor be asking where they are during the increasingly silly and personal stakes that each film establishes, but I couldn’t help but think of Avengers: Infinity War a lot during this one, where even with a bloated runtime they still barely managed to find anything to do for major players. Remember the first time you saw Infinity War and thought “Why is any random Thanos monster in this movie more than Black Panther?” You might end up feeling that way here; in fact I think Momoa actually has the most screentime of any other actor, including Diesel. Since there are like five threads running through it including his, any time you cut away from someone you know it’ll be 20 minutes before you see them again, reducing most of the cast to cameos (there are three “withs” and two “ands” in the cast credits). And I haven’t even mentioned new additions like Brie Larson (as Mr Nobody’s daughter) and the return of Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), who jumps out of an exploding car and the rest of the movie entirely after one action sequence. Even Diesel seems to be in it less than usual; it's 140 minutes long, but there’s no time for anyone.

Except Momoa. And honestly, I think 90% of my affinity for the film is thanks to him. This series has had few memorable villains in retrospect, since so many of them end up being allies (Cipher makes the FOURTH antagonist from one movie to join up with them in a future one, or five if you count Owen Shaw since he helped out in Fate), making rewatches a little awkward when you’re reminded of how many terrible things they did before their change of heart (Cena in particular doesn’t even seem like the same character he played last time). But Momoa is having an absolute blast, preening and practically dancing around the sets during his scenes, almost like a Nic Cage type go for broke performance. One has to assume there’s no way he can be retconned into another sidekick, but as stupid as that would be it’s almost a shame, since it’d be wonderful to see him bouncing off the others. Again due to the episodic structure of the story, he never interacts with any of the other regular cast members besides Dom and (briefly) Cipher; he keeps talking about breaking Dom’s “family” but if he ever even shares the screen with all those other people on the poster I must have missed it. Oh wait, he grabs a doohickey from Brie Larson, so there’s something.

The other thing I liked about this one, oddly enough, was that the action was less insane. Fate had the “zombie car” sequence, and in the last one they went to space (and honestly that wasn’t even the silliest moment). But here, the most mega part is probably the first big one, where the out of control bomb (a giant rolling boulder-type one) smashes through Rome on its way to the Vatican. The rest is, relative to this series, grounded, back to the levels of (appropriately) Fast Five and Furious 6. This allows them to do more things practically again (kind of hard to avoid CGI when flying a rocket car in space) but also keep the absolute nonsense to a minimum, because we’re already accepting enough of it with regards to the plot and the insanely large cast, so it’s almost a relief when you see an action scene that almost stays within the realm of the earth’s laws of gravity and physics, or at least meeting us halfway. Speaking of physics, Dom pulls off a targeting maneuver with the bomb that even Bullseye from the Marvel comics might be impressed by (never play pool against this dude), but there are only two other moments as ridiculous in the film, and they’re both in the trailer (Dom sandwiching the two choppers together, and driving down the side of an exploding dam). It’s the most expensive movie in the series by far, but it seems most of it went to the multiple locations and paying everyone’s salaries, instead of concerning themselves with topping the previous entry's spectacle, which is - to the series' detriment - been the MO for over a decade now. Is this a good movie? In the traditional sense, no. It’s convoluted in ways that aren’t always fun (there’s a double cross near the end of the movie that renders the character’s actions in the previous hour completely pointless) and focuses on a revenge mission where the villain – fun as he is – never seems to be able to accomplish anything (even the lone death that matters in the film was a character’s self-sacrifice, not a direct result of Dante’s bloodthirst). And even knowing it’s the first part of a two (now three, apparently) finale, the ending is pretty abrupt and unsatisfying. But it’s a lot of fun to watch all the same, and – more importantly, at least to me – it rises above the last two movies to get within spitting distance of ridding me of that “playing a video game after I finished the campaign” feeling. Or I’m just more used to it, now that it’s the third (or fourth, with H&S) entry that’s been operating under those circumstances, where the movies are designed around the death of one lead and the polarizing nature of the other. Plus, if you’ve heard the news about the film’s final tease, you know it sends you off an exciting high, which – especially after the “wait, that’s it?”ness of the actual ending – is always a good thing. That said, I hope they just wrap it up with one movie instead of two, because I can’t see their luck extending that far.

What say you?

P.S. Since it seems necessary: 5, 6, 7, 1 / 4, Tokyo, X, Fate, 9, 2, Hobbs


FTP: Motivational Growth (2013)

MAY 16, 2023


One thing that frustrates me about the indie horror scene is how often I see things that really aren’t that much different from the big studio offerings, at least in terms of the stories they are telling. Sure, the films from the Screen Gems and Paramounts of the world will boast bigger stars and production value, but it’s nice when there’s a distinction re: what they’re about. Which is to say I can’t imagine a movie like Motivational Growth coming out on 3,000 screens with trailers for the newest Marvel sequel attached, and that’s exactly what I want from my indie horror. Not all the time, of course – there’s always some room for the generic slashers and possession tales at any price point! But it’d be nice if things like this movie were the norm, not the exception, when it came to very low budget genre offerings.

Because this is a movie about a guy named Ian who never leaves his apartment and has a talking mold growth in his bathroom that encourages him to get his life together, a plot that kicks off when his only friend, Kent, dies. And Kent is a vintage television set.

So, yeah. Weird movie, right? And admittedly, it’s not exactly one I’ll be pulling off the shelf all that often – it can be a bit repetitive, for example. Writer/director/editor Don Thacker comes from a short film background (and has made several more since) and that sort of shows; you can almost hear him wondering how to get things padded out to 90 minutes at times, especially given the fact that the film never leaves the confines of the apartment (save for some hallucinated scenes in which Ian sees himself as a character on some old (fictional) TV shows). So it’s a lot of “someone shows up and talks to Ian, who makes them leave before talking to The Mold for a bit before someone else interrupts” kind of circular plotting, and the film is even broken up into ten chapters, which we learn on the commentary was implemented in case he couldn’t get funding for a feature and had to break it up into ten shorts. There’s a plot, and it’s building toward something, so it’s not like you can just remove this or that chunk, but it still occasionally suffers from the weight of that episodic structure.

But it’s a movie about a talking mold! And said mold is voiced by Jeffrey Combs (somewhat misleadingly given name above the title prominence on the cover; he never actually appears in the film), who gives a terrific performance, injecting it with enough personality that you grow to like him/it while also retaining more than just a hint of malevolence. A phoned in vocal turn or one that was simply too far in either direction could have been disastrous for the movie, but Combs absolutely nails it. And it doesn’t hurt that The Mold is a practical effect, brought to life through puppetry and forced perspective type filmmaking as opposed to a CGI effect, which also could have made the movie less than bearable. It’s a perfect marriage of effect and performance, the likes of which we rarely see outside of, I dunno, The Muppets or something. Also, speaking of effects, it's a pretty goopy film at times; it's not EXACTLY body horror, but it skirts on the lines and wouldn't be totally out of place on a shelf with such fare. There's a decaying corpse that legit left me kind of icked out, which doesn't happen all that often.

And going back to the indie stuff, even if you were somehow left with the impression that this was a cynical cash grab, or the result of a few tech bros looking to double their crypto fortune by throwing together that looked good on a spreadsheet, the bonus features more or less all revolve around the fact that this was Thacker’s dream project, with everyone working to fulfill his singular vision. In interviews, behind the scenes pieces, and the commentary (where he’s joined by Combs and lead actor Adrian DiGiovanni), the filmmaker speaks of his influences, the biblical motifs he threaded throughout the narrative, the reasons he wanted to do The Mold practically and why he went to the trouble of casting/recording Combs first to make sure DiGiovanni’s performance would always be in proper tune with his. Even Combs admits he doesn’t understand everything in the film, and that’s a good thing! Better than showing up to rattle off a few lines as the unseen madman in some Saw knockoff, right?

So in short: more like this, please. Again, it’s not my favorite movie of the year or anything like that, but it was completely unique (even some mild comparisons to Little Shop of Horrors or Bucket of Blood type “kill to improve your life” stories are suggesting a very different kind of movie) and never left me in a position of “OK I know how the next five minutes are going to play out, let me look at my phone for a bit.” All I really want from this lo-fi stuff is to realize when it’s over, or even at some point during, that it’s NOT going to be one of those movies that I end up rewatching (and maybe even re-reviewing) in six or seven years because even if I was entertained, it was so “stock” (respect to Lars) that I’ve forgotten I’ve seen it. Short of a brain injury or some kind of degenerative disease, there’s no way I could forget having seen the talking mold movie with a random Game Genie reference. Well done, Mr. Thacker.

What say you?

P.S. Great chiptune score! Per the commentary it was actually recorded with an NES, somehow. Love it.


The Third Saturday In October Part V (and Part 1) (2022)

MAY 4, 2023


One of my favorite spoof films is They Came Together, which came from some of The State/Wet Home American Summer guys and tackled romantic comedies. The thing that made it work so well was that it wasn't doing the Scary Movie kind of spoofing, where it took specific scenes from iconic entries in the genre and added fart jokes or whatever, but just parodied the specific tone of such films, so that everything felt kind of familiar but not directly taken from a movie you might not have seen (and miss the joke) or one you might love and perhaps even find funnier (romcoms are, you know, comedies). A similar approach was taken for The Third Saturday in October and its sequel, though it's not so much of a spoof as a winking homage to such things, and thus some humor is unavoidable since, let's face it, these movies are kind of silly.

In fact the title alone may be the best gag; people repeat it throughout both movies with a straight face, even though it's technically as meaningless as "Friday the 13th" or "Prom Night". And yes, both movies; while I'm not sure how they can convey this information every time, the idea is to watch Part V first and then watch the original, in homage to how many of us growing up watched the big franchises out of order (I myself started with part 4s for both Halloween and Friday the 13th). But honestly, while I did that as requested, I can't think of any instance where it paid off within the films themselves. The casts are entirely different, with the killer the only returning character of note, leaving us to wonder when/where the survivors of part 1 made their exit. The backstory is that both films are part of a low budget Halloween knockoff franchise that has been lost to time, which is a fun enough idea, but since I found the first movie to be slightly better, I wish I had just watched them in numerical order, since I'd have the novelty that was lost by starting with Part V, which - true to tradition - was by design a lesser "for fans only" kind of affair.

Plus, both films are basically the same with regards to their plot: the villain (a serial killer who survived the electric chair and continued his rampage in the first scene of the original; so even part 1 has story before it) makes his way across town, killing a few people at random, before focusing on a single house where a group of characters has gathered to watch a football game. The title refers to how the in-movie characters describe the annual meetup between two rival college football teams (which is a real thing!), and it's a perfect setting for this sort of thing: you get some autumnal/Halloween atmosphere but it's not ON Halloween, a date that's owned by another guy and is often silly to try to use for your own slasher film (I couldn't help but notice how little Scream VI bothered to capitalize on the setting outside of its subway scene). I'm not sure it's necessary for the sequel to tie itself into the date again; few of the Friday the 13ths actually took place on one (let's not forget that parts 2-4 all take place across the same week, so whatever one actually landed on the 13th, the other two did not), but they DEFINITELY didn't need to make the groups of characters so similar: both have an obvious nice guy character trying to spark a relationship with the Final Girl and a random old dude with them (I guess this would be a nod to Chuck and Chili from F13 3D), so when watching back to back as instructed, it can get hard to remember which is which. One can only assume that parts 2-4 mixed it up a bit and Part V was intended to bring things back to its roots, like Scream 5 was.

But all that matters is the slasher carnage, I suppose, and in that department it's pretty good. There's a lot of great practical FX to enjoy, and as one might expect the kills in the "later" Part V are ridiculous, just as Jason's got as the series went along. In fact I'd even say the first film was closer to Halloween, not just in visual references (they do the crane shot, they do the low angle suburban street with the date/location posted on screen, they even match the end credit font) but in tone. There are fewer kills in the original, with slightly more emphasis on suspense, and spend just as much time with an obsessed older guy tracking the killer (he even has a Marion Chambers-like partner) as we do with the young folks the killer is after. The kills we do get are far bloodier than they ever got in Carpenter's original, so that throws off the whole "this movie is really from the 1970's" vibe, but otherwise it's very clearly aping the less violent, more atmospheric early days of the slasher.

Part V, on the other hand (supposedly released in 1994) has several kills out of nowhere and often with silly implements - one girl is murdered with a boiling hot slice of pizza, for example. Curiously, Part V is in scope widescreen whereas the original is 1.85ish, which goes against the Halloween vibe but also only highlights one of the main issues with the films, which is that there isn't much proper stalking. There are scenes of the killer driving around or something (he also occasionally stops to watch the game himself after a kill), but when it comes to the kill scenes, he always just pops out and does it without much buildup or fanfare. The climax for part 1 goes on forever, and it's not because he's giving chase - they just drag it out with other stuff like the Loomis-y guy trying to figure out where the killer is headed after they let him get away again. I would have happily traded any of this stuff for a solid five minute stalk n' chase scene, something even the lesser F13s and Halloween always included.

So the scope image just has more dead air, in a "franchise" that already has too much. Both films spend far too much time on aimless chatter and weird moments (the "meowing" stuff in part 1 is borderline Lynchian with its bizarreness), a complaint one could levy at any number of old slashers (Final Exam comes to mind, and the vibe of both films is very much in line with Slumber Party Massacre and its sequels), but when they're going so far out of their way to remind us of Halloween and F13, these diversions seem misguided. And not for nothing, but some of the touches just betray the whole "these are actually old movies" concept; the title sequence in Part V is far too choreographed and "modern" to buy as anything we would have seen in the last millenium. They were going for Halloween (1978) but actually ended up closer to Halloween (2018) territory, with a lot of the weird indie energy David Gordon Green injected in that film (like the Bánh mì sandwiches discussion and things like that). Part V even has what amounts to a torture scene, for some reason? Jason would never!

They certainly nail the LOOK, however - it's one of the best approximations of such things I've seen, in both the sets and production design (never once did I see anything that really threw it off, and "chef's kiss* to whoever put up the shelf full of Disney VHS clamshells in Part V) and the film-looking image itself, with just the right amount of film damage (not overdone like all those bad Grindhouse wannabes) to really sell it. The synth music is also spot on, though such things are overused now in the Stranger Things era, so while it's technically on point it also, you know, sounds like half of the stuff out there now (not their fault, of course - just an observation of how widespread the whole "let's pretend it's old" concept is nowadays). The performances are spotty, which is also correct for the thing they're going for; either they're actually not the best actors or they're really good at acting bad on purpose. No one is going too over the top, which is the important thing - even the Franklin Hardesty-esque guy in Part V refrains from dialing it up to 11 (something Paul Partain himself didn't manage).

Basically, it's aimed at a very specific audience who will love it, and everyone else will either be bored or simply wish they were watching one of the genuine slashers from the era, some of which may be crude but had the innocence of the whole thing on their side. They can get the camera shots right and lay in the Carpenter font/music and all that, but the soul of these throwback productions will always have that unmistakable lack of naturalness to it, which will always keep them apart from the genuine junk from that era. Maybe you can fool someone with a brief scene or two (though the cheesy mask, which he acquires late in the first film and sports throughout the fifth, never would have flown), but when you watch a whole movie - let alone two of them - you'll catch the slight whiff of condescension before long. I don't doubt that the filmmakers have an affinity for these movies, but what makes those old ones continue to work is that they weren't aware of their shortcomings. Making a crack at them - even a subtle one, as is often the case here - just kills the vibe for me. I'd probably love a fake trailer (probably easier to fool someone with that approach too), but watching three hours of this sort of thing was a bit too much for what amounts to an experimental joke - it felt like watching an entire Stab movie or something (plus Stab 5). And if you took them straight, there's better options even for 1994 (Pumpkinhead II is a bad Pumpkinhead sequel, but it's a decent revenge slasher on its own, with some energy that is often lacking here), let alone all of slasherdom.

TLDR: niche, but the commitment to the bit is admirable, and for that I give them both a passing grade.

What say you?


When A Stranger Calls Back (1993)

MAY 2, 2023


I didn’t think much of it in 1993 when I first/last saw When A Stranger Calls Back, but it was way ahead of the curve when it comes to “legacyquels.” It came along 14 years after the first film (an eternity in horror) and didn’t include any of the characters from the first film until the half hour mark, not unlike what Scream 5 did. And that’s a franchise that owes some debt to the OG When A Stranger Calls (besides the phone call stuff, it only dawned on me watching this film that Sid opening the door to Dewey holding up the mask is a spoof of Charles Durning's first appearance in the first film, a moment that's kind of recreated here). But unfortunately, it also suffers from all of the same problems as the first movie, which I guess is fine if you thought that one was perfect, but while it has its strong points, it’s hard not to feel disappointed that it conjures up bad déjà vu.

For starters, Fred Walton and Steve Feke once again bizarrely lose track of key characters only to reintroduce them later, as if they finished a cut of the movie and realized they were like a half hour short of a proper feature runtime but didn’t have the same cast members available to pad it out. In the original 1979 film, Carol Kane’s babysitter character Jill seems to be done with the story, only to be randomly shoehorned into an extended climax after they wrap things up with the other woman the film’s killer was after for the majority of the movie. Here, we start with Jill Schoelen as Julia (couldn’t they come up with a more different name?), who gets a knock on the door from a guy asking to come use the phone to call AAA for his broken down car. She agrees, but when she discovers the phone is dead (heh) she inexplicably decides to pretend she called, rather than just tell him (presumably she feels he wouldn’t believe her, but in the scenario where he’s telling the truth and NOT a psycho, it’s not going to take much for him to figure out they’re not coming and get angry with her anyway).

That aside, this 20-odd minute opening is a terrific way to kick things up, with some solid suspense and an all timer jump scare when she realizes he’s actually in the house and not safely outside. Then, as with the original, we flash forward a few years to catch up with her, and she’s now battling some serious PTSD. In the original, the guy was caught and the kids were found dead, but this time around the killer AND the kids all vanish into thin air, leaving her with serious doubts about her safety and her sanity along with the guilt of being a terrible babysitter. It’s at this point that Jill re-enters the story, now working as a counselor and self-defense coach (her family isn’t mentioned, not sure what happened there), and she is obviously sympathetic to Julia’s plight. So you might be thinking that it’s gonna be a nice two hander where Jill helps Julia and they work together to get the guy or something, right?

Nope! Instead, in a completely off screen and awkwardly explained moment, Julia is shot in the head (seemingly a suicide attempt, though it’s never made clear) and is in a coma, at which point she doesn’t really have any function in the rest of the movie. At one point the killer goes to her hospital room and punches her comatose body for a while (it’s a truly unnerving and weird scene), and then she wakes up in the film’s epilogue, but that’s it for her. It’s a sort of Psycho type move, I guess, and I’m not saying it couldn’t work, but Walton and Feke never quite figure out where to go from there, so we get extended scenes of Jill feeling paranoid herself (why the guy starts going after her is never made clear – but it’s also unclear what he did for five years and in turn why he started going after Julia again. This guy’s whole MO is very confusing), and then even more extended scenes of John Clifford (Durning’s character, who also returns) trying to figure out who the killer is, remarkably zeroing in on the idea that the guy is a ventriloquist and then finding him just as quickly at an open mic night. With no other suspects (this isn’t a whodunit) it’s not particularly engaging to see him do the detective work, but whatever – I guess it’s nice that someone of Durning’s stature would even return to this in the first place, so I’ll allow it.

But the filmmakers also randomly start trying to earn some sympathy for the killer at around an hour into the movie, showing him try to perform his ventriloquist act to an unappreciative crowd, prompting the manager to toss him out. The first film had a lot of this sort of stuff, and while it didn’t work for me I could at least see the point behind it – a “slasher” type movie where we see what the killer does on his day to day when he’s not murdering people. One assumes they decided to try it again here, but it comes so late into the movie that it just feels like more padding, adding to the film’s already sluggish and unfocused narrative. Things finally get good again for the climax, where the killer decides to go after Jill in her own apartment, with a hilarious but still kind of creepy reveal for how he’s hiding in plain sight. But while it’s a solid sequence, it’s hard to forget that it’s also been an hour since the movie had any real juice to it (save for the aforementioned hospital scene), so it’s a “too little too late” scenario.

Walton, Kane, and Schoelen all contribute interviews, and while the actresses’ are fine, I almost wish I didn’t watch Walton’s, since (spoiler of sorts? Not sure how to qualify this) he reveals that Julia was indeed supposed to die in the hospital as a result of the killer’s attack on her comatose body, but the studio refused to allow it and made him rewrite to keep her alive. While this might have made more sense in the narrative (they didn’t really change much about their script it seems, apart from the silly epilogue, which Walton doesn’t like either), it also means one of the movie’s best WTF moments would have just been a generic “finish her off” kind of scene of little interest. So I’d rather keep thinking that! Oh well. The original short film “The Sitter”, which prompted the feature length original film, is also included, though if you’ve seen both movies (not to mention the remake, which stretches out the opening for the entire runtime) there’s little use for it at this point, though I had to laugh that the ice maker gag – which was something I lambasted about the remake having forgotten it was taken from the film – actually originated here! So basically, Calls Back is the *only* one of these four films that doesn’t try to scare us with the sound of ice falling into a dish. Here we get ventriloquism instead. What a weird series.

What say you?


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