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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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


The Nun II (2023)

SEPTEMBER 15, 2023


I assume it’s only because The Nun was released in September (i.e. the start of the spooky season) that it became the highest grossing entry of the Conjuring universe, as nearly all the of others were released in the summer and didn’t get that same “well it’ll give us a few scares, so let’s go” boost. Because I don’t think anyone would dare to claim it was their favorite entry – it was a pretty by-the-numbers jump scare machine with the flimisiest connection yet to the main series (even the otherwise cast off Curse of La Llorona had one of the supporting characters make an appearance). But it’s the big numbers on boxofficemojo, not user reviews, that decide whether or not a film gets a sequel, so here we are five years later with The Nun II, which brings back two of the previous film’s heroes along with (duh) the titular Nun.

But it does so awkwardly, and starts the movie off on a weird note that takes a while for it to recover from. It opens on a priest being immolated by the nun in a church in France, and then reintroduces Maurice, aka “Frenchie”, the kindly villager who has relocated to France himself, now working at a boarding school. If you don’t recall, the end of the first film had him being possessed by Valak the demon (the same spirit inside the nun, I think? I can’t really follow this gibberish across several years/installments), with a credits scene showing he was still possessed decades later as the Warrens attempted to exorcise him prior to the events of the first Conjuring. Since this movie takes place in between those two events, we know he’s possessed, but that is hidden from us until we also catch up with Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who is now living at a convent in Italy and trying to live a peaceful, demonic nun free life (aren't we all?). Alas, we learn that the priest we saw immolated at the beginning was merely the newest in a string of mysterious deaths of clergy folk, and the cardinal comes calling to tell Irene they need her help because they are pretty sure it’s the same demon she fought before.

And here’s where it gets confusing: after explaining away Demian Bichir’s character as having died of cholera in between movies, the cardinal tells Irene she’s the only other person alive who has dealt with this demon. But… she isn’t? And we already got reacquainted with the other one who did? It’s very awkward; it really felt like we should have met up with Irene first and then, when she gets the assignment, have her say something like “Well, there is someone else who faced Valak…” and THEN catch up with Frenchie/Maurice (he goes by the latter). But the way it plays out, it almost seems to be suggesting he’s a different character entirely for a while until his first “the demon takes over” moment. Which is another awkward thing about the movie, as we all know he’s possessed but he doesn’t become a full menace until the third act, so until then he just has these weird moments that affect no one else, so that he can keep being the handsome hero for the character scenes.

It also takes a while for Irene to get to the school, as she’s on a fact finding mission with another nun played by Storm Reid. Honestly I would probably prefer a movie about the two of them making their way through a spooky version of National Treasure or Indiana Jones (there’s a scene where they literally need to have a beam of light point the way to a relic!) than go through the usual jump scare motions with the girls at the school, but that wouldn’t sell tickets so I get it. At least once she finally gets there and reunites with Frenchie the movie kicks into higher gear, and the third act is actually pretty exciting as all hell is breaking loose. There’s a random goat devil beast running around, plus the possessed Frenchie and the Nun, all of them causing havoc as our heroes constantly run through the halls and smash through windows and what not. Sometimes it seems like a character disappears for too long of a time, such as the obligatory kindly teacher who has a burgeoning romance with Frenchie (poor Irene the nun can’t get any of that, so they just give each other longing looks), but it’s all exciting enough not to matter too much.

That said, I had to dock this section a point for not killing any of the mean girls who torment the teacher’s daughter, a soft spoken type who is also BFFs with Frenchie. Early on they steal a bracelet from her, and later they trap her in a room with the demon (not intentionally, but the intent was still the same – scare the hell out of her!), so along with the film’s R rating it really feels like they’re going to get a justified demise. But no! One of them is stabbed in the shoulder by the goat thing, and that’s it. Why even bother with all this mean girl stuff if there’s no payoff for it? They don’t apologize to her or anything, and the girl’s mom even puts herself in harm’s way to protect the jerks (as does Reid, who alas has nothing of her own to do once they arrive at the school). The R is earned from a trio of onscreen/fairly gnarly kills, but those brief moments are it – it felt very PG13 otherwise. To be fair, the first Conjuring famously got an R for simply being too scary (James Wan intended it to be PG13 but the MPAA wouldn’t budge), but at this point it seems they’re just slapping the R on out of tradition. There’s nothing in here that elevates it above Insidious 5 (PG13) in that department, so if they’re going to keep making this an R rated franchise, they should at least earn it. These films tend to outgross the PG13 Insidious ones, so the R clearly isn't hurting ticket sales. Embrace it!

But even if it was rated PG, I think I’d feel the same way: the formula for this franchise is getting pretty creaky after nine entries (three Conjurings, three Annabelles, two Nuns, and La Llorona). At least the Conjurings (and Annabelle 3, briefly) have the Warren characters to give them a boost, since they are so charming and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are endlessly appealing to watch, but the other films have yet to give us characters that engaging. Taissa’s Irene has a slightly meatier role to play this time, as she finds herself trying to mold Reid’s character into a good nun while also dealing with her spooky past and unresolved longing for Frenchie (who she also may have to kill to stop the demon), but nothing they can give her to say will ever really stop distracting us from the baffling casting choice to have “Lorraine Warren’s sister” take lead on two films when she’s not actually related to her. They even double down on it this time, with a series of flashbacks about Irene’s mother who was sent to a mental institution for babbling about demons and such, with Irene saying she hasn’t seen her since – a perfect opportunity to just say the woman got out of the hospital, met a man, and gave birth to a daughter named Lorraine. But no, they still do nothing with this connection, and it doesn’t help that Taissa looks more like Vera than ever in a few shots.

And too many of the films have the same structure, in that there’s a place where the haunting is and then our protagonist is elsewhere getting back story. Scare scene, exposition dump, scare scene, exposition dump, over and over until they finally all get together in the house/school/whatever for a third act blow out. Sometimes the heroes will have jump scare scenes of their own, with the filmmakers hoping we don’t notice the discrepancy of the supernatural force seemingly being in two places at once. Even the scares seem to be generated from a template, where they see a scary thing and then the scary thing makes a “surprise” second appearance, always after an extended quiet moment where the little girl looks down a hall or into a darkened corner or something. There’s a decent one here where the Nun suddenly turns into a bunch of birds that fly at the hero, but otherwise they might as well have just deep faked these actors’ faces over the ones in previous Conjuverse movies, save a few bucks.

Speaking of the Nun, she's curiously not in the movie all that much. I'd estimate Bonnie Aarons has less than two minutes of screentime in the 110 minute film, which is weird for a sequel in a series named THE NUN. I think we spend more time looking at *images* of her specter (like in that silly magazine article collage from the trailers, and another bit where the little girl thinks she sees her but turns out to be a distinctive pattern on a crumbling wall) than her as an actual presence, and when she does appear she's mostly just standing there. I momentarily wondered if Aarons actually returned at all or if they just deep faked her image over a double for the handful of shots they bothered to include the character, as the role is that minimal and inert. With the house full of teenaged girls (again, some quite mean!) this could have been a slasher of sorts with the Nun wiping them out one by one until Taissa arrived to stop her, but instead she's treated as an afterthought. Very weird.

I dunno. There are worse entries (namely, the first Nun and La Llorona), but the sameyness is also leaving me indifferent even though there are improvements here and there. Like yes, this one’s better, but it’s also pretty similar, so we lose the novelty. With so many stories to mine from the Warren’s basement collection, it seems silly to keep making sequels to the spinoffs, even if they tend to improve on their originals (Annabelle Comes Home remains the best of the entire spinoff collection in my eyes). At least with a different demonic entity and a new cast to meet, the genericness of the scare scenes can be offset by everything else being fresh – what happened to the Crooked Man movie? But instead the end of this one just reminds us that another Conjuring is coming. Maybe Patrick Wilson can direct that one too? At least we can maybe get a new Ghost song out of the deal.

What say you?


FTP: Teen Wolf Too (1987)

AUGUST 28, 2023


I've had Teen Wolf *and* Teen Wolf Too sitting in the pile since they came out from Scream Factory 5-6 years ago, upgrades from a barebones double feature release on DVD that must have made their fans very happy. But I was not among them; I saw the first film as a kid and didn't think much of it then, and never bothered with the sequel. And it turns out my 6-7 year old self was correct in thinking the first one wasn't very good, but what I only now realized was that watching them back to back did the sequel no favors, since it's pretty much the same movie that wasn't that good in the first place.

I mean, honestly, if more people actually saw the second film (in which original star Michael J Fox is only mentioned; new star Jason Bateman is said to be the character's cousin) it'd probably be namechecked along with Home Alone and Hangover sequels for being so lazy when it came to plot points. Bateman's character turns into a werewolf when stressed, butts heads with the head of the school he attends, ignores the "girl next door" type who is in love with him in favor of a snobby girl, becomes popular due to his werewolf antics helping him with a sport (basketball there, boxing here), etc. At no point does the film even try to do anything different, and eventually I realized that perhaps it wasn't Bateman's substitution that was the problem, but that it gave the filmmakers license to repeat everything, whereas with Fox at least they'd have to give him SOMETHING different to do unless they wanted to just give the character amnesia.

But at least they allowed Bateman to play a different character, as others weren't so lucky. The wacky Stiles returns with a different actor, as does Coach Finstock, who (as with the first film, at least for me) is the only one who got any laughs out of me. The actors playing Coach look and act a lot alike, but the two Stiles are very different, which makes me wonder why they bothered saying it was the same character if it wasn't going to be the same actor and they'd have different vibes (beyond a general "the cool buddy" presence)? It's not the only odd decision in the movie, but it's one that will likely bug people the most. The only two people who DID return are Mark Holton as (oof) Chubby, and James Hampton as Fox's character's dad, who is Bateman's uncle (Bateman's parents are vaguely dead, another recycle from the first which had Fox's mom's unexplained death), neither of which I assume were enough to make up for Fox's absence among fans (nothing against Bateman, of course. He's fine.)

The only real change is that it seems they decided since the first one wasn't that funny anyway, they'd just largely omit jokes altogether this time around. There are a few antics and sight gags here and there, and again the Coach is amusing because he's always so checked out (Bateman asks if he has any advice while the former is getting his ass kicked in the boxing match, and Coach replies "No?" as if he didn't even understand why he was being asked - it was my only audible laugh for the entire film), but mostly it's just kind of coasting through each scene and setpiece as if the sheer silliness of a guy (occasionally) becoming a wolf would be enough of an audience pleaser. I mean, it barely worked the first time around, and now we don't even have the novelty? It's the rare sequel that would actually work slightly better if you hadn't seen or even been aware of the first movie at all.

It's also odd that they don't really explore the werewolf legacy, as you'd expect a sequel to get into the mythology of such things. But honestly I feel Bateman spends even less time than Fox did in wolf mode (he once again opts to have his final sports match in human form, leaving the wolf out of the last act entirely), though the design is pretty bad and there are no transformation effects to speak of, so whatever. At one point Hampton transforms into a wolf and then back to human in between cuts (Bateman asks him to do so, as he's embarrassed about it all), so apparently it's something that only takes about a second or two. Outside of the repeat of the school head being threatened by a werewolf who is protective of the lead (Hampton in the original, Bateman's teacher here, played by Kim Darby), one could tune in to the final 20-25 minutes of this movie and not even realize it was about a werewolf at all.

The weirdness continues into the bonus features, which are presented as interviews with a few key players (director Christopher Leitch, a few of the supporting actors), but have clearly been broken up from a longer retrospective (which is what was offered on the first film), as the participants appear in the other folks' interviews as well, as do people who worked on the first movie and a film historian type. I assume they wanted to make the package more attractive by touting five bonus features instead of just one, but I mean... I'm pretty sure the people that wanted this movie were going to buy it regardless. None of them were particularly enlightening beyond the relief that no one seems to be of the illusion that the movie was very good, though the new Stiles does note that he was originally doing improv that the director liked, and perhaps would have made the movie funnier, but the producers didn't care for it and told them both to just stick to the script from then on. No new ideas or creativity allowed onscreen in Teen Wolf Too!

What say you?


FTP: Bloody Knuckles (2014)

AUGUST 21, 2023


I must apologize to Bloody Knuckles, for I recently dubbed 11.22.63 as the oldest disc in the pile but according to Amazon, this film hit disc nearly a year before that. Now it’s possible I got it through trivia or something, but it’s from Artsploitation, and I was definitely on their list for a while (and to the best of my knowledge, they don’t donate anything to our monthly trivia game), so it’s a safe bet that it’s been there for a whopping eight years now, just waiting to catch my eye. But that’s the thing – the spine is so minimalist I literally never noticed it! I’ve obviously spent a lot of time looking at these discs over the past few years (since I became hellbent on finally watching them all – I’m down to the last 20 or so!) and I can’t even really see the title on the spine, so I have apparently just glossed right past it every time I went hunting for something to watch.

I mean, the runtime is under 90 minutes – SURELY I would have gravitated toward it by now as long runtimes are the very things that prevent me from ever pulling out certain titles (anything over two hours might as well punch me in the junk while they’re at it, since they’re obviously not trying to appeal to my interests). Plus it’s a Canadian horror comedy, which tend to be hit or miss but when they DO hit I find them pretty enjoyable one time watches, which again is an ideal “pile” movie: something I like watching but not so much that I want to keep it in the permanent collection. So the lesson here is to design spines that are just as attractive as the covers, because for space-starved folks like myself, the spines may be all we ever see.

Anyway it’s a pretty breezy movie about an indie comic book artist named Travis who has recently put out an issue that mocks the local crime lord, Mr. Fong. Fong doesn’t find it very amusing, as you might expect, so he cuts Travis’ hand off to teach him a lesson (and, yes, prevent him from making any more comics). Travis becomes depressed and starts drinking the day away, but one day wakes up to see his disembodied hand back in his room, moving around on its own and even communicating with him via a type-to-speech program on his computer. And then the hand starts going about taking revenge on Fong and his men, paving the way for a showdown where Travis and his hand must literally/figuratively come together and take down the bad guy.

Yes, it’s pretty dumb, but there’s an odd charm to the whole affair, due in part to how little the sight of a disembodied hand scampering around like Thing seems to bother anyone. Travis treats it as an annoyance and everyone else just kind of goes with it, which makes it funnier. Never like, falling out of your seat laughing-level funny, but (to use the word again) a breezy kind of funny; I found myself smiling through most of it, not to mention impressed with the hand effects on what was clearly not a big budgeted movie. There’s a lot of random humor (I like that the bad guys’ response to stealing a purse is to go to the movies with the cash), plus a surprisingly timely gag where a couple who is into S&M sex play has “Giuliani” as their safe word. This was 2014, pre-Trump stuff and here I am watching it just days after the dummy got a mug shot for his crimes. That’s just gold right there.

The only issue I had was that it’s a horror comedy with some unpleasant moments, which throws the tone off. Several of Travis’ pals are brutally killed in the film, and it seemed excessive and unnecessary for this kind of movie. It’s hard not to think about Idle Hands, and the way they handled his pals’ deaths in that movie worked for its slacker tone, but here the deaths – in particular a throat slashing – seem more in line with French extreme fare from the 00s. Maybe they just wanted to show off their FX work or something, but it really kinda bummed me out in what was otherwise a “hangout” kind of genre film. Because when you have brutal deaths of nice people in this sort of thing, it feels like you’re supposed to be taking everything seriously, which is a problem for a movie about a disembodied hand running around and occasionally flipping people off. To be fair there is some South Park-ian “let’s offend everyone” type humor at times (the movie starts off with a mentally disabled man melting and ends with a gag about a Nazi dildo, so…), but the deaths aren’t played for laughs, so it doesn’t quite fit the vibe.

Director Matt O’Mahoney offers a commentary, though it seems somewhat edited at times, as more than one stretch of silence made me wonder if I had accidentally toggled it off, and he checks out before the movie even ends. That said it’s a decent enough track; I was happy he acknowledged the Street Trash vibes of the opening, and he tells a story about an actor who bowed out of the movie at the 11th hour because he inexplicably decided to ask his church group for permission to act in it (!) and they unsurprisingly said no. He also gets a little bit more into the film’s underlying message of freedom of speech and artists’ rights, something I wish was a little more prominent in the movie, but at least he’s on the right side of such things so that’s fine. He also pops up in a series of interviews with various outlets, including a trip to DiabolikDVD, which is like the Criterion Closet for folks who like movies where peoples’ heads get cut off on the regular. There are also some short films and deleted scenes, so it’s a decent package but could have used some insight from O’Mahoney’s collaborators, in particular Krista Magnusson who played the hand.

O’Mahoney has made several shorts, so it’s not too shocking the film has some pacing issues that seemed like they were solved by just adding in other things at random, but it kind of fits the weird vibe so it’s easier to forgive than in some other “short filmmaker tries something longer” debuts. Another pile movie, Motivational Growth, had similar issues while targeting the same kind of audience, and they were both made around the same time – must have been something in the air around then, i.e. something I appreciate and mostly enjoy if not outright love. I find myself gravitating more toward offbeat stuff lately while getting less and less interested in traditional fare like Last Voyage of the Demeter, so I hope there are more in this vein coming along (I was disheartened to see O’Mahoney hasn’t made anything since, short or not), and also that they end up in my ever shrinking pile!

What say you?


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