Malevolence 3: Killer (2018)

AUGUST 14, 2023


According to Amazon, I purchased my Blu-ray of Malevolence 3: Killer in October of 2018, which means it’s been sitting there for five years waiting for me to finally get the energy to watch it. Why would I need "energy", you ask? Because despite being a big fan of the first two films (the second one was simply called Bereavement when released, though it’s been since retitled Malevolence 2: Bereavement), I knew this one was compromised due to the tragic death of one of its main actors with only about half the film being shot. Being an independent production that was already strapped for cash, writer/director/bunch of other things Stevan Mena couldn’t afford to just reshoot with a different actor, so after sitting on his completed footage for about two years, he figured out a way to salvage some of the man’s performance and his story with some new actors, adding new scenes, changing the ending, etc. So basically, a Frankenstein’d movie, most of which never turn out all that good.

And guess what: it’s not very good. It’s not a disaster, but it’s not a very good trilogy closer either, and I’d be curious if the original version would have even been all that much better. For starters, Mena shot the movie on digital this time, so it was already losing the old-school charm of the others, which were shot on film (Super 16 in Malevolence’s case), which along with the period settings truly made it feel like some lost slasher of the golden era for these things. Neither film was particularly inventive when it came to the story, but it was the “back to basics” approach (more so in the first one; Bereavement was closer to survival horror than traditional slasher) that made it stand out in the post-Scream, “everything has to be ironic” era. It was just a straightforward slasher, with some green but not intentionally “bad acting” performances, that made it work as well as it did. But here, by shooting digitally (and doing almost nothing to sell the supposed 1999 setting, as Killer narratively takes place only a day after the original) it instead feels like another generic slasher from the 2010s, with little to distinguish itself from so many others.

But more troublesome is how little it connects to the first two. For those uninitiated, Malevolence was the middle part of the story, with Bereavement, despite coming out later, actually the first part. I assumed there was some solid reason for doing it this way that would become clear with this new film, but we learn almost nothing about killer Martin Bristol here, and there’s no real reason for him to go after the people he kills in this one. You know that scene in Halloween II where Michael kills that one neighbor girl after he robs the Elrods of their kitchen knife, and how it seems like an unnecessary detour considering he’s supposedly going after Laurie? (Hardcore fans know the scene was added later to get another kill in, but that’s irrelevant.) Well that’s kind of how this whole movie feels, except it's just the padding with none of the connected payoff. We pick up immediately after the events of Malevolence, which ended on Martin going after the two survivors (the blonde woman and her daughter). Whether it was the aging or actor availability or what, we don’t get a proper resolution to this cliffhanger – their bodies are just found later, and Martin sets his sights on a trio of college girls who rent a house together somewhere in the suburbs.

(He also kills the woman who lives next door to them, which results in the Final Girl having to look out for the woman’s daughter – a plot point that also surfaced in The Third Saturday in October Part V, another throwback slasher. Did I miss this plot happening in one of the OGs?)

Why these particular people, you may ask? Your guess is as good as mine! It was established in the first one that he wasn’t exactly cruising the town for victims, offering more of a Jason style “they were in his territory” kind of a motive (for lack of a better word), but here he’s just slicing up folks around town at random, which gives the film a properly high body count and even a few '80s style unusual kills (lawnmower blade!), but it doesn’t quite gel with the MO he displayed earlier, so even though it’s the same actor it feels like a different character entirely. His whole “inability to feel pain” thing doesn’t even really come up; he is shot near the end and naturally escapes, but that’s common among all masked slashers, so it’s not exactly notable. Malevolence offered the twist that the killer was not the guy who kidnapped the kid in the first scene, but the (now older) kid himself, and then Bereavement showed how he got to be that way, but now it’s just standard stalk 'n slash fare, with zero payoff for the confusing timeline stuff. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to just say it’s X number of years later and the FBI Agent Perkins (Kevin McKelvey, I believe the lone returning cast member besides Jay Cohen as the killer) still obsessed with finding him, as opposed to halfheartedly saying it’s the next day when there’s no real in-plot reason for it? And then they could say these girls were living on the ground that used to be his factory/home, since razed, which would at least give him some sort of motive for setting his sights on them.

Of course, it’s possible that this is where the death of the actor put a wrench into things, as he was playing one of the FBI guys along with Perkins. Mena’s solution was to give Perkins a couple other agents to assist him, so basically every time we see him he’s with one of the three, to give the impression that there’s a whole team working on this and whenever Perkins is with one, the other two are following up on a different lead. But that leads me to believe that while perhaps the “buddy movie” element (as Mena refers to it) was lost, it didn’t have too much effect on the plot as a whole, as he hired two new actors to handle the deceased performer’s role in the scenes he didn’t film, assigning them his original dialogue. And I can’t imagine for a second that whatever changes he was forced to make to the script had him somehow omitting the reason Martin was going after these random girls who don’t appear to live anywhere near him, and that’s a big part of why the movie doesn’t measure up to the others. Long story short, I don’t doubt the film took a hit from the actor’s loss, but it seems there was something “less than” about the whole project from the get-go.

Mena provides a commentary, as always, but while he starts off about the actor’s death and how he almost considered abandoning the movie entirely, after that initial explanation he rarely speaks about that element, instead focusing on the usual low budget pitfalls, working as his own DP this time (in addition to composing and editing as he had done for the other two), etc. Most surprising and delightful: he points out that the teenaged girl from Malevolence actually came back to play her corpse, even though you only see her legs because she had aged too much (again, it’s supposed to be the next day) so they couldn’t show her older face. The dedication! I wish he spent a little more time explaining what the scenes he couldn’t use (and says he’ll never release out of respect for the actor) would have entailed, however; he makes it clear that not everything was able to be given to the other two actors he hired, but doesn’t get into specifics. It’s very possible that the reason the stuff with the girls is so random is because it was only meant to give the film some kills in between longer FBI scenes, only for it to become the focus, but if so he doesn’t say as much. He also notes that they didn’t have a dedicated documentary team, which explains why the “making of” on the disc is just a collection of random, narration-free behind the scenes shots and outtakes. Oh and he says his sound team didn’t even realize it wasn’t film until he told them, which I guess means it’s a good thing that they’re sound guys and not visual guys, because yikes – it’s not even a good digital look!

Of more use is a ten minute piece on how he composed the music, which is interesting as he’s not trained in such matters but the score, while obviously owing a lot to Carpenter along with everything else on screen (his lifts from Halloween, a sort of tradition for this series, are more overt than ever), is one of the film’s/series’ best assets. The disc also opens on a reel of trailers for all of Mena’s films, including this one, which is amusing as I had managed to go five years without seeing a frame of it only to have some of it shown/somewhat spoiled right before I finally sat down, as I assumed it was a different movie at first because why would there be a trailer for it beforehand? But it seems he’s gotten the rights back to all of his films (the other two in this series and Brutal Massacre), which were released by Anchor Bay (RIP), so good for him. Considering the uphill battles he’s fought on this series (and how Brutal Massacre is essentially autobiographical) it’d be annoying if they got swallowed up in some merger and making money for execs who probably didn’t even know what they were.

Oh well. Again, I don’t think the film was ever going to measure up to the first two, but I was disappointed to see it fell short of those already lowered expectations. Like I said, it’s not unwatchable or anything, but it’s just so perfunctory – if it wasn’t part of an established franchise I don’t think anyone would have ever paid it any mind. There’s no real hook to any of it (he doesn’t even wear his creepy sack mask, or any mask at all), it’s not particularly well made, there’s no atmosphere… the generic subtitle turned out to be kind of a warning. I feel bad for Mena as I know he is capable of delivering when he’s got the resources to do so, and let's not forget that even the Fast & Furious team, with its blank check budget and CGI miracles, couldn’t completely fix their movie after their own actor was lost halfway through. But maybe he should have gone with his gut and just abandoned it, so we could just imagine a more fitting finale than what we ended up getting.

What say you?


The Last Voyage Of The Demeter (2023)

AUGUST 13, 2023


I didn't start writing about horror movies until 2006, and at that point, The Last Voyage of the Demeter was already on its second round of rewrites after the initial version started falling apart. Since then a series of directors have come and gone, and considering the final version has seven known writers in addition to Bram Stoker, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the film feels hollow; whatever original spark may have existed in its original draft has been sanded (rewritten) away, so all that's left is a technically proficient and occasionally engaging monster movie, but without any genuine excitement or obvious passion. It's just THERE.

The concept is fine: taking the Demeter chapter from Stoker's Dracula (which, I hope I don't have to explain, depicts how he got from Transylvania to London) and expanding it to a full length feature, pitched more or less as "Alien but on Dracula's boat" (a scene where the ship's men fret about their bonuses seems to be a direct tip of the hat to Ridley Scott's classic). But not only is it not as novel as it might have been once upon a time, since they basically already did that in the second "episode" (basically a movie) of BBC's Dracula from 2020 (which is terrific and should be seen by anyone reading this, if they haven't already), but it also lacks the mystery of that film. The crew of the Nostromo didn't know what they were dealing with, and neither did we - we learned along with it. Here maybe our heroes don't know who/what Dracula is, but we in the audience do, so we're always several steps ahead of the characters, several of whom are fairly anonymous (there are two mates who I literally couldn't tell apart), unlike Scott's memorable crew. A better comparison might be Alien 3, where there were a few standouts (including a Game of Thrones guy! Charles "Tywin" Dance there, Liam "Davos" Cunningham here) and a bunch of glorified extras (prisoners, in that case).

Also, Alien's timeline made sense, whereas this film's month long journey is shown to be doomed almost from the start, when "something" (read: Dracula) kills all of the livestock meant to serve as the crew's food. After two weeks Drac starts helping himself to the crew, which would be fine if there were like 30 guys on board, but there are a total of ten, one of whom is a victim already stored away in one of the Count's wooden crates and thus not in any danger until she gives off her obligatory exposition. The first victim is explained away as possibly drunk and fell overboard, but it's not long until most of them have seen the creature, at which point the movie should be basically one non-stop hunt, right? Like in, er, Alien? Nope, they keep going as normal, with the Captain (Cunningham) demanding two men take each watch at night, an amusing line because at that point there's only like four left anyway. And it's not a particular big boat, so why they can't find him in a single day (when he's sleeping, of course) is just silly, let alone after several. Since the whole "Bulgaria to London by boat" aspect doesn't make a lick of sense anyway (look at a map if you're confused as to why), there's clearly some huge liberties with geography, so why make up the arbitrary month-long time it would take when it just weakens the story?

Part of what got me excited for the film was the comparisons to Hammer movies, but I'm not sure which ones they were watching because two of the issues I had would never happen under Terence Fisher's watch. One is that the film is too damn long, running just under two hours when most Hammer movies had the good sense to come in at 90 or less. Sure, all movies are longer now, but usually there's a story that demands such length. Here the plot is "Dracula is on a ship and kills everyone", a mystery that even a complete novice wouldn't have a chance to see unfold because it (sigh) starts at the end, with the doomed ship already crashed on the shores of England, crew dead/missing. There's no real point to any of this material (there's no real twist to the other end of this framing device), and lessens the impact of the boat crashing on the rocks when it happens.

The other thing is that Hammer movies notably, at times even laughably ended as soon as the monster was dispatched; if credits weren't already rolling more than 60 seconds after Dracula or Frankenstein's Monster met his (temporary) end, something was amiss. Here, we get an extended and very obnoxious scene where the film's lone survivor (I won't spoil it because I guess it technically counts as a surprise as to which one it is, when you consider the rest of the cast) has voiceover explaining that they're not finished with Dracula and blah blah blah setup for The Second Last Voyage of Demeter or whatever you'd call a sequel to a film with such a definitive title. Even if the film hadn't tanked at the box office, ensuring no sequel would ever exist, it would have been a pretty weak way to end the film, and again goes against whatever "Hammer style" approach they were taking. Those movies all ended definitively and would be retconned or explained in a sequel IF ticket sales encouraged them to make one! At some point they got it backwards, and it sucks.

On the plus side, it was cool to see Dracula as a monster again, as opposed to the usual handsome guy (especially since Universal already had one of those this year with Renfield, a far more inspired film). He talks a little, and it's an actual actor in makeup as opposed to a CGI creation, but there is nothing typically *human* about their appearance, and director André Øvredal uses it sparingly, sticking him in shadows and lightning-strike glimpses even in the third act. And the R rating is fully earned, with very gruesome throat gouges, a couple icky demonstrations of what happens to vamps in the sun, and other bloody showcases (he sure wastes a lot of his food, but whatever). Luckily, Øvredal doesn't apply that sense of showmanship to the animal deaths - they're all killed offscreen (including a dog, just fair warning). Tear a guy's head off, sure, but do not show us a pig being bitten!

And the cast was fine; Cunningham is always a pleasure to watch, as are Corey Hawkins (as the newest member of the crew and also the doctor) and David Dastmalchian (first mate), all of whom commit to their performances and keep things lively even when they're repeating beats from previous scenes (sometimes it feels like Dastmalchian's character merely forgot about earlier events whenever a new body turns up). I didn't recognize anyone else, but the script didn't give much for anyone else to really work with; even the lone female doesn't particularly stand out beyond, well, being the lone female. She's tasked with some of the exposition and thankfully spared a romance with Hawkins (or decidedly less consensual attention from the rowdier mates), so it could be worse, but at one point Noomi Rapace was cast in this role (assuming the basic plot was always the same across twenty years of development) and it's clearly not a role she'd have much interest in, considering how thin it was. Bear McCreary's main theme was pretty good too, though I can't deny I wish Thomas Newman had stuck with the film (yep, even composers came and went on this thing), as he doesn't do a lot of genre work but one of the few exceptions was The Lost Boys, so it would have been interesting to see him return to vamp fare with another 35 years of experience to draw from.

I get sort of sad when a movie like this comes along and doesn't grab me, because on paper it's the very thing I wish to see more often: an R rated monster movie designed to actually be scary. And I'm a sucker for contained location horror, plus it basically unfolds like one of my beloved slasher films. But it just never really came together for me, always feeling like it was just putting its pieces into play before stepping things up, only for that escalation to never really come. There are some inspired moments, such as Hawkins' heartbreaking reveal that the reason he, a Cambridge-trained doctor, was in Romania looking for work is because he was hired based on reputation only to arrive and be shunned because he was Black, and a funny little bit where Dastmalchian questions how his education could be any use at the sea, but those moments are a. few and far between and b. notably not part of the horror-driven scenes. Øvredal knows how to make suspense in confinement work (Autopsy of Jane Doe is an all timer), but he never managed to really raise my pulse here - there was more tension in the damn Nun II trailer beforehand (that magazine flipping bit) than I ever felt on this Voyage.

What say you?


King On Screen (2022)

AUGUST 9, 2023


I think it's safe to say that there isn't a horror movie fan alive who has never seen a Stephen King adaptation. Every few years there's a new must-see film, so even if you're a teen fan reading this you've probably seen at least one half of Muschietti's It or the new Pet Sematary, and I doubt there's a major genre enthusiast over 30 who hasn't seen The Shining. And if you have ever watched TNT on your cable package, you've seen Shawshank Redemption - it's just a cold hard fact. On The Kingcast, the guests always share their origin stories, and you hear some variation of "I saw the movie young because my parent loved the book and took me to see it" over and over - he's just inescapable in that way. Nearly all of our great horror masters: Carpenter, Cronenberg, Romero, Hooper, etc. all took at least one crack at one of his stories, like a rite of passage of sorts. King on Screen is basically a celebration of that fact, offering 100 minutes of anecdotes and analysis from those folks who helped introduce him into our permanent conscious.

Well, not them, specifically - Hooper and Romero have passed away; Carpenter and Cronenberg presumably couldn't be reached or simply said no if they were. But there are two dozen or so other filmmakers who are on board to discuss their films and those of their colleagues, from the obvious choices like Frank Darabont, Mike Flanagan, and Mick Garris, to some deeper cuts like Scott Hicks (Hearts in Atlantis) and Jeff Beesley (Dolan's Cadillac). It's that range that kind of proves the point on its own, without even having to watch the film. I mean, what else could connect an Oscar winner like Taylor Hackford to B-movie extraordinaire Mark L. Lester? As someone (Darabont, if memory serves) points out near the end of the film, King's gone from being someone who infused his work with pop culture to BEING that pop culture himself, to the extent that his work is a shorthand for parody and homage across a variety of genres. A montage of visual references to Tim Robbins' hands to the sky moment in Shawshank depicts everything from other genre movies to kids' cartoons, and it's kind of beautiful to see.

It's a great moment in a documentary that has quite a few, but what it lacks is cohesion. After a clever but too long opening that packs in as many references as it can during a short scene of a woman traveling to deliver a painting (Cujo walks past as she enters a store that advertises "strawberry pies that make you thinner", etc), the film is just an endless series of talking heads from the filmmakers (no actors, no other writers, no historians - just white male directors, more on that soon) talking about King's impact in their careers and movies as a whole. And that's fine, but there's no rhythm to any of it; filmmaker Daphné Baiwir just bounces around at will, without going in any particular order in terms of the films' releases (or that of their namesake novels, either) and little to no natural bridge from one topic to the next.

And the topic is usually just a particular film, rather than grouping them by theme (like, "The ones about writers" or "The TV adaptations" or whatever). There's some biographical info on King early on, and his accident is covered with some detail around the halfway point, but other than that it's just a film coming up and a few people talking about it, sometimes going on tangents that have nothing to do with King specifically. At one point it feels like you're just watching a documentary about The Green Mile, as you get anecdotes about some dummy bodies not looking right and needing to be reshot, Tom Hanks sticking around to read his lines off camera for the other actors, etc. Fine stories on their own (Darabont is one of those guys who can make any story fun to listen to), but what does that have to do with the world of King adaptations, outside of the fact that it merely IS one of them? You got Darabont, why not spend some time talking about the movies that never got made, such as his take on Long Walk (I bring that one up because another attempt, this time from André Øvredal, apparently just fell apart), instead of how he came to cast Michael Clarke Duncan? It's just very scattershot like that throughout.

And as mentioned, it's all just white guys talking. To be fair, there's a slim group of NON white guy options if they were limiting themselves to just the people who directed his books (as opposed to actors or producers), and Baiwir said at a Q&A that they were turned down by those rare exceptions like Mary Lambert and Kimberly Pierce, but one of the few times the movie ever has a specific topic is how well King writes women (including a very funny anecdote from Hackford where a film professor looked at his unisex name "Taylor" and assumed it was a woman, saying Dolores Claiborne worked as well as it did because Hackford could bring a woman's perspective to the material), and it's a little weird to see it play out without a single, you know, woman. All these dudes saying that King delivers on that front, none of them actually able to confirm it as one themselves. Maybe they all asked their wives or sisters to check.

It also sometimes dwells a little longer on lesser material simply because the director was there. Like it was nice of Tod Williams to give his time, but as Cell rightfully ranks as one of the worst theatrically released King adaptations in history (a few of the Children of the Corn sequels actually have higher Rotten Tomatoes averages), maybe we don't need to hear about it more than, say, Stand By Me or Christine. It's also odd how, given the topic of "King + Movies", it skips over Maximum Overdrive (his lone directorial effort) and mostly brushes past Sleepwalkers (his first original script for a movie), especially the latter considering Garris is there. And Castle Rock, a show that exists because of the incredible world he had created, where characters could come in and out of the story like a kid smashing all his action figures together, is also largely MIA, despite basically proving the doc's point that his characters are what makes him so compelling as opposed to this or that scary scene.

It's funny; the end credits (set to "Pet Sematary") has a bunch of odds and ends from various interviews, but it's really not much more random than the bulk of the film itself. Again, the stories themselves are mostly fun to listen to, and I never found myself arguing with any major point they were making, but as a whole it felt like an overlong DVD bonus feature that might run five minutes, where the cast and crew of an adaptation gush about the original novel for a few minutes and that's it. With a little more structure and guest variety (why not talk to the writers, who had the unenviable job of whittling down his massive tomes?) it could be essential viewing - they certainly had enough talent involved to warrant the attention of any King scholar. But as is, it's mostly just something you can throw on in the background, chuckle at a few of the stories or observations, and then kind of forget about it. And it seems to me that King has earned a little more than that.

What say you?


Meg 2: The Trench (2023)

AUGUST 7, 2023


I was recently talking to someone about why sequels are such a tough nut to crack, because a movie's grosses aren't equal to the people who actually liked it and will return for more, but common wisdom means spending *more* money on a followup, meaning you have to earn new viewers (and then some) to make up for the ones who won't be fooled again. And also, everyone who loved a movie did so for different reasons, and unless you're making the exact same movie it's impossible to satisfy all those needs; having more of one thing means having less of another. So it's a shame I hadn't already seen Meg 2: The Trench at the time, because it was a perfect example of that very dilemma. If your favorite thing was Jason Statham, you'll be stoked to learn he's even more Statham-y in this one! But if your favorite thing was Li Bingbing or Ruby Rose, I got some bad news! And if your favorite thing was the sharks themselves... well, they're back, of course. Lateral move there.

The first film was a surprise hit in 2018, so naturally a sequel would follow (Statham's busy schedule and covid made it take longer than it presumably would have), but one concern is that despite the grosses, it wasn't a beloved movie. The main issue folks had (including me, though I mostly still had a good time) was that it took far too long for the shark to get to a populated area, and its PG-13 rating kept it from being as carnage-heavy as you might as well be when it's a big/dumb/loud summer movie. So how do you do a sequel that addresses those issues for those who had them, but apply the "if it ain't broke" rule for those who didn't have any problem with the pacing or gore levels?

Turns out they just kind of played it safe in every department except for the choice of director. The first film was directed by Jon Turteltaub, a perfectly serviceable guy who makes normal/enjoyable movies like the National Treasures and Phenomenon; an odd choice for a killer shark movie to be sure, but the exact guy you need for a megabudget film that can more or less appeal to everyone. This time they got Ben Wheatley, who is the complete opposite of Turteltaub, in that his films serve very niche audiences and are even hit or miss among those folks (I like Kill List and High-Rise, but found Free Fire and In The Earth to be rather interminable), making him an equally odd choice for this kind of movie but for very different reasons. Alas, Wheatley didn't make a movie for his fans; there's a few inspired touches here and there (the practical mouth chomp seen in the trailer among them) but if you told me it was Turteltaub again I wouldn't have doubted it. But hey, Wheatley makes interesting things and if taking a paycheck gig like this means "from the director of Meg 2" secures funding for something he and his fans are more into, that's fine with me.

Anyway, as the title implies, our characters spend more of the movie in the trench this time, having designed some new submersibles that allow them to quickly penetrate the thermocline layer that keeps the trench's inhabitants from going up to the surface, without leaving the big hole that allowed the Meg to escape last time. But once they're down there they discover an illegal drilling operation, and the evil guy running it sets off a few bombs to try to kill Statham and all his pals, which naturally fails but the explosion manages to cause a giant hole in the thermocline, allowing even more stuff to get through. But it also broke our heroes' submersibles, so they have to walk to the drilling operation's base and find a different way to get to the surface. All this stuff takes up around a third of the runtime, and while it's exciting enough on its own (it's like a cross between The Abyss and Poseidon Adventure), there is precious little shark action within it, so if you felt the first film didn't have enough of that sort of thing, I have to warn you that they offer about the same exact amount this time. There are more Megs, sure, but it doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, and they never do anything together besides provide overhead shots of their fins traveling across the screen. There are little "Raptor Sharks" to allow for some on-land action (I don't know what they are exactly, but they swim like fish but can run around on land too and there's a "the grass parts as they approach the humans" scene straight of Lost World, so "Raptor Sharks" is my term!), but this stuff is rarely anywhere near as satisfying as seeing the big one do its thing.

But like I said, if you are a fan of Statham, they have upped the "Statham movie" quotient considerably. In the first film his role coulda been anyone believable enough to swim/drive boats/occasionally fire a weapon, but this one seems tailored for his usual screen persona. In the opening scene he sneaks onto a ship that's been illegally dumping toxic waste into the ocean and gets to kick a few asses, and then once they get to the drillers' base he gets an extended one on one fight with the bad guy that could have been in any big action movie from the 80s and 90s. And then the movie settles into full on Die Hard mode for a bit, as the bad guys take control of Statham's company base and it's up to him and a few others (including Cliff Curtis, among the handful of returning cast members) to take them out. Shark? What shark? I'm having fun with all this stuff! But I can definitely see it being a make or break moment, especially for those who were hoping that the sequel status plus a genuine horror guy with Wheatley would mean more chompy chomp.

Finally, the sharks all beeline to a populated area, this time something called "Fun Island" which is a destination resort for partying 40 year olds, it seems. They get around the obvious geographical handicap by having what seems like a half mile long bridge out to a quartet of tanning/pool/tiki bar type "pods", i.e. somewhere the sharks (and the giant octopus, whose appearance is barely longer than it appeared in the trailer; I'm not even sure if Statham is aware of its existence) can logically swim to/under in order to claim victims who are too far from the beach to just run to safety. The body count SEEMS higher, but it's like Cropsy doubling his count in The Burning with the canoe massacre - a shark eating five people at once doesn't make up for the time it could have been eating people one by one. And Wheatley seems afraid to kill off many named characters; I don't think a single "good guy" character dies in the second half of the film, saving all the carnage for bad guys (duh) and anonymous beachgoers.

Then again, maybe they just wanted to ensure they had options for returning characters for Meg 3, since a few of the folks who survived the first film are MIA here. Bingbing's character is killed off without explanation (a memorium photo is the extent of it) and her brother (Jing Wu) steps in to fill her duties at the company (we are told he was off trying to find his own path prior to this film, hence why no one mentioned him before). But Ruby Rose's character is gone, more or less replaced by Skyler Samuels, as is Statham's ex wife (Jessica McNamee), though we get a suitable replacement with Melissanthi Mahut as Rigas. Bingbing was originally announced as returning, so I'm not sure what happened there, but there are moments in the film (that I can't spoil, but vague hints for those who have seen it, Samuels' involves a video call and Mahut's involves a choice near the escape pods) that would have landed much better with Rose and McNamee's characters intact instead of these "find and replace the name" substitutes we have no history with (Mahut even has a line suggesting she WAS around last time). Nothing against the performers (indeed, as a Scream Queens stan I was happy to see Samuels), but I'd be willing to bet that the first draft(s) had the OG characters in these spots and not much time was spent differentiating them when the actresses couldn't/wouldn't return for whatever reason. Cliff Curtis gets more to do though, so that's nice.

As for the 3D: it was OK, nothing essential. I wanted to see it in 4DX for full ridiculousness, but after hearing so many disappointed takes from like-minded pals who saw it earlier, I decided I'd settle for standard 3D at an AMC, where I could A-List my ticket rather than drive all the way downtown for a full priced ticket. Now that I've seen it, I can't say I regret my choice, but I wouldn't have been angry either. It was a pretty good movie, just like the first. I assume it's a catch 22 kind of thing; the FX are terrific and thus the movies cost a lot, which means they can't go R or they'll have no shot of getting their money back. But the FX on an R-rated movie budget would suck, and then we'd complain about that too. So, at least for me, the decision to go full on action movie to fill time is a good one, as you get a different (cheaper) form of excitement. It's a shame a lot of the money shots are in the trailer, but there's one part that isn't, involving a Statham one-liner, that made the entire thing worthwhile to me. I guess it comes down to whether you want shark action, specifically, or just B-movie nonsense of all kinds. If the latter, I think it's an improvement on the original. If the former, I can definitely understand why folks feel let down that this followup has nearly all of the same issues in that regard.

What say you?


Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key (1972)

JULY 31, 2023


Despite being one of the all time most giallo-y giallo titles ever assembled, Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key (Italian: Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave) is utterly meaningless to the story. It’s actually just an in-joke to a note seen in the earlier The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, which shares director Sergio Martino and star Edwige Fenech. Making it even more puzzling is that it’s actually a bit of a loose adaptation of Poe’s The Black Cat, so they coulda beat Fulci to the punch by nearly a decade. Silly!

But regardless of the title, this is a top notch giallo, and my favorite of the ones from Martino I have seen, or at least tied with Torso. Like Argento, he did a few decent ones before really nailing it, and I think this one was his Deep Red (making Torso his Tenebre, if you want to keep going with the comparison). It’s nowhere near as convoluted as Mrs. Wardh (which hilariously had the villains explaining the plot to each other at one point) or as unfocused as All The Colors of the Dark, but it’s still more involving than the usual “trying to get the inheritance and/or jewels” plot (though fear not, it still has one of those shoehorned in near the end; maybe it’s as obligatory as the J&B bottle and has to be in there somewhere?). What’s fun is that it starts off with a seemingly obvious story of a (married) man who just murdered his young lover, only for a second victim to come along and prove his innocence – but only to us, as the cops (and his wife) suspect him of both murders.

Here's the thing though: the culprit is caught with plenty of the movie left, giving you a “OK, where is this going from here?” feeling that is often lacking from these things. I mean don’t get me wrong, I enjoy most that I see, but they definitely get a bit samey, which along with the meaningless titles makes it hard to remember which ones I've seen and which I haven't. Here, Martino takes a few of the standard elements (like the aforementioned jewel stuff) but mixes and matches in a way that keeps it from feeling like a rerun. In fact when I put it on I thought I might have seen it before, only for a few things to assure me I would have remembered it, such as the fact that Fenech’s character seduces her aunt AND uncle in the narrative. Also, the cat is pretty hilarious; its name is Satan and it spends most of the movie tormenting the lady of the house, prompting her to carry out several unsuccessful attempts to kill it. And at the end of the movie it actually helps the police identify the murderer! So good.

Now, I have to warn it’s not all fun and games. The husband is an awful jerk even by the standards of these things, groping his Black servant (and encouraging his party guests to do the same) and sexually assaulting his wife more than once, plus slapping her around every now and then. I mean yeah he gets what’s coming to him, and I feel anyone watching a giallo should be prepared for such material, but there’s just more of it than average. The stuff with the cat and some other goofy touches (one of the all time best/worst “let’s throw a doll off a cliff and hope people believe it’s the human victim” shots, for example) more than makes up for the unpleasantness in my opinion, but your mileage will obviously vary. Maybe it isn't great that I usually shrug off these moments in older movies, because they are gross to be sure, but I feel it's a better attitude than the folks who will try to "cancel" an older film on these grounds. To me, it's a reminder that at least some things have improved, and thus it doesn't feel as childish to be optimistic that other things can someday be better as well.

Unusual for an Arrow release, there is no commentary track, something I was so confused by I actually checked every menu to see if it was just misplaced, and confirmed with a couple of reviews. However, there are five supplements, kicking off with an interview with Martino and backed up by a longer retrospective where he is joined by Fenech and Ernesto Gastaldi, who wrote the film. Some stuff is repeated, but they all enjoy talking about the film, with Fenech in particular being refreshingly open-minded about her work, as opposed to being apologetic for it despite a few decades' worth of changed attitudes in between. Then there are a pair of video essays, one on Martino's work and the other on Fenech's, and finally an interview with Eli Roth, who cast her in Hostel II (which I now realize was probably the first time I ever saw her in anything) and has some strong insight on her work and her placement in the giallo hall of fame, as it were. So while there's no traditional commentary, there's certainly enough here to give a fan a sense of the film's origins and making, plus its legacy in general. I continue to have the same petty annoyance with Arrow's subtitled interviews on these English language discs: they should be burned in as opposed to something you toggle on/off, so us speed readers can play them on double speed and still read everything (most players don't display the subtitles when on fast-forward unless, of course, they are permanently part of the image). Martino's interview runs 35 minutes, but he's not exactly a motor mouth, so it'd be nice to get through it in half the time without missing a thing, as other blu-ray companies have thankfully done. Not a dealbreaker of course, but still, I sigh.

Arrow has put out a series of "Giallo Essentials" sets (a new volume was released last month, I just learned - I'm slipping!), one of which houses Torso, but this one appears with two others from Martino: The Case of the Scorpion's Tail and The Suspicious Death of a Minor, the latter of which I believe is the last of his gialli for me to see. Hopefully someday I'll splurge on it since I don't own Scorpion and enjoyed this one enough to not mind a double dip. Honestly, of the four of his films I've seen the only one I'm not super high on is All The Colors of the Dark, as its more supernatural/cult elements (seemingly inspired by Rosemary's Baby) aren't as interesting to me and don't mesh well with the giallo stuff. So I have little doubt I'd enjoy Minor as well, but I'd like to save it for a rainy day, as it were, as I feel at this point it's going to be harder and harder to find little gems that stick out like this one (Vinegar Syndrome's "Forgotten Gialli" sets produce the occasional winner, but for the most part... well, there's a reason theirs are called "Forgotten" and Arrow's are "Essential"). Still, I'm glad they are preserving these films and putting them together in attractive packages, as they are obviously more niche than a traditional slasher and probably don't sell as well as the likes of junk like Madman (which both Vinegar and Arrow have released), which is why I like to keep buying them. One gem like this is worth a few forgettable entries if the alternative is never being able to properly/legally see any at all.

What say you?


FTP: 11.22.63 (2016)

JULY 24, 2023


I can’t say with 100% certainty, but in my head, “The Pile” began with the blu-ray of 11.22.63, seven years ago. As I’ve explained, most of the discs in the pile were either won at trivia, blind buys, or – most common – unsolicited review copies. And by unsolicited I mean I didn’t ask for them; some studios just send stuff out to everyone on their list, while others only do it when you ask. Well, 11.22.63 was one I requested, but it unfortunately arrived at the worst possible time: when I was suddenly forced to move in the summer of 2016. Like most Los Angelenos, we were renting the place we were living in, and the owner decided she wanted to sell it, and while it would have been nice to just buy it ourselves and spare ourselves a move, we couldn't afford it. So I had to scramble to find a new place with as much free time as work would allow (my wife, who works in the mental health sector, couldn’t really join the “fun” as her day job is much harder to suddenly take time from), and thus I didn’t have much time to watch an eight hour series in a timely manner.

I tried though! I distinctly remember getting the PS4 connected to my TV and watching the first episode one night after a long day of unpacking at the new place (even more specific: my couch was at an awkward angle as unpacked boxes were in the way), hoping that maybe I could do one episode a night and get a review up within a reasonable adjacency of the time of its street date. Except I passed out before I even got through that whole episode (in my slight defense, the premiere was a double length affair), and then something came up the next night, and the next, and before I knew it the street date had long passed and I hadn’t even finished the premiere. And by that point, other things I had requested had come along for review, and rather than let THOSE slide too I just sort of backgrounded 11.22.63 for a rainy day, promising to get to it eventually. Well, that day has finally come!

The funny thing is that I never intended to review it here at HMAD; having read the book I knew it wasn’t horror, despite being from Stephen King. No, I was going to use it as one of my infrequent but welcome “mainstream” pieces on Birth Movies Death, where I wrote about non horror things outside of my usual Collins’ Crypt piece for the week. Obviously that isn’t a possibility anymore (insane that it’s been over three years now since the site died twice), and I probably could have just finally watched it to satisfy my weird feeling of guilt of requesting it only to let it sit there, but since it’s such a legacy player in “the pile” I figured (along with the King connection) it’d be fine to say a few things here and, at long last, fulfill my promise to the publicist who for all I know doesn’t even work there anymore.

Anyway, it’s a pretty faithful adaptation of the book, at least in general. Both tell the story of Jake Epping, an English teacher who is shocked to discover that the reason his buddy Al is able to sell hamburgers so cheap at his diner is because he time travels to the past to buy them. Thanks to a wormhole of sorts in the diner’s backroom closet, Al (and then Jake) is able to transport back to a specific point in time in 1958; whether he stays there for five minutes or five years, he’ll come back to a minute or so later in his own time, and if he steps through the wormhole again, it’ll just be that same moment in the past, every time. Al has decided to use the ability to prevent the assassination of JFK, but he develops cancer and dies before being able to complete the job, passing on the idea (and his notes and such) to Jake. So Jake steps through the hole prepared for a very long journey, but finds a new love named Sadie that distracts him from the mission, and also makes him not want to return to his own time. He also discovers that the past does not want to be changed, so his attempts at following Lee Harvey Oswald and getting proof he was the shooter are always derailed in some way, forcing him to stay until the actual day in question rather than just shoot Oswald immediately and go home (the story wouldn’t work with RFK, or Lincoln, or any other notably assassinated leader where the killer was clearly identified).

I must admit it wasn’t my favorite of King’s books; the weirdly long time frame (five years in between his arrival and the assassination; the show changes it to three) kept the book from feeling very urgent the way the best time travel stories do, and so it just got kind of draggy (it’s also over 900 pages). The show does attempt to speed things up a bit by reducing the number of years in between, but even with that it still feels drawn out, as if King (or the writers of the show) couldn’t decide if they were making a legit procedural about what preventing the assassination would entail (following George de Mohrenschildt! Tracking Oswald’s attempt on General Walker!) or a love story about a man who travels back 50 years and finds himself more at home than he ever was in his own time. Having it played both ways just muddles things up, something the show actually makes worse by inexplicably having scenes from Oswald’s perspective, when Jake isn’t even around. King decides to go with “Oswald acted alone”, which is for the best, but it makes these scenes weirder than they already are with the POV shift, as if they want us to have sympathy for the guy.

They also made the curious decision to upgrade the character of Bill to a full lead. In the book, Bill is barely even a supporting character; he’s a guy who helps Jake kill Frank Dunning (an abusive father to one of Jake’s students) and then has a heart attack and exits the story. Here, his backstory is the same, but after Frank is killed Jake takes Bill along for his quest, telling him he’s a time traveler and having him pose as his brother as he helps keep tabs on Oswald while Jake goes to work and/or romances Sadie. Then Bill starts falling for Oswald’s wife, which causes friction between the two. I assume this was all an effort to give Jake someone to voice what was inner monologue in the book and give it a little more visual variety since it’s a TV show and not a book, but it doesn’t fully work, and at a certain point it’s clear the writers never really figured out what to do with him. There are some other minor changes here and there (for one example, Jake and Sadie kill her psycho ex, whereas the man killed himself in the novel), but this is the biggest and also least successful.

Of course, the biggest issue with the show was the casting of James Franco as Jake. Even disregarding his icky personal life, he’s just the completely wrong choice for this character. The ideal would be Tom Hanks or Bill Paxton/Pullman circa 1995 – an everyman who you can imagine being the sort of kid who would have gone to a Presidential parade, watched the astronauts coming home on TV, etc. You know, that quintessential all American good boy who grew to be a good man. This isn’t a skillset Franco possesses; to be fair he’s actually putting in a decent performance, but it’d be like Weird Al giving 110% to play Abraham Lincoln or something. There’s just no getting around the fact that Franco is best used as a weird/stoner kinda guy, and the role is written for a completely straight arrow. Even some of his Apatow-verse cronies would have been a better option; Jason Segel or Paul Rudd can/have shed their comic persona to solid effect, but Franco never has, and it’s baffling he’d make his biggest attempt to do so here, with a preconceived character that drives nearly every second of the story.

That said, it still more or less works. The suspense scenes (Sadie’s ex attacking, everything with Frank Dunning, the assassination sequence) are all well executed, and the rest of the cast is pretty on point; Josh Duhamel was shockingly scary as Dunning (Duhamel being another actor who’d make more sense to cast as Jake), and I believe Sarah Gadon may have been put on this earth to portray the ideal 1960’s blue eyed blonde. And it was great to see Kevin J. O’Connor as the “Yellow Card Man”, the mysterious person who seems to be aware that Jake is traveling through time. Chris Cooper also shines as Al, though obviously due to the story’s nature he isn’t in it that much (the use of flashbacks to keep him around isn’t particularly successful). And the 60’s setting is pretty well depicted; there are quite a lot of exteriors but I was never taken out of it by poor VFX or obvious anachronisms (cue someone pointing out a 1962 car in a 1961 scene or something dorky like that – those people need lives. Just keep cell phones and Starbucks out of the hands of a 1960s character and I’m fine). I think a six episode structure (as opposed to nine, as the premiere is double length) would have been better as it would streamline the Bill/Oswald stuff that seems extraneous, but after so many examples of the books being robbed of their souls due to being cut down for movies it seems weird to complain that a King adaptation left too much in.

But most importantly: I can finally get rid of it. And now the oldest movie in the pile is, I believe, only like 3-4 years old. That’s some real progress.

What say you?


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