Spooktacular! (2023)

SEPTEMBER 28, 2023


Last weekend I went to Universal Horror Nights, and as is often the case, I was dismayed at how it seems to be operating under the rule that no guest should be allowed to be immersed in the scary worlds the mazes attempt to scare you with. As it's housed within a working studio lot, you have to walk pretty far to get to some of the attractions, behind soundstages or through the bright lights of Springfield. You may wait in line for Stranger Things while Glenn Morshower barks orders about Transformers the entire time, and the mazes seemingly have more employees waving flashlights (to instruct you to keep moving, don't ever slow down to appreciate the production design!) than scare actors. It's expensive and not particularly good, and always makes me long for the days of Spooky World in Massachusetts, so I'm glad Spooktacular! was shown here a few days later, because if I saw it first and THEN went to Horror Nights, I'd probably be even more disappointed with it.

For those unfamiliar, Spooky World was built over the grounds of an old dairy farm in central Massachusetts, about a half hour west of Boston (and about the same southwest of my hometown). Launched in 1991 with just a hayride, the park expanded throughout the '90s, adding haunted houses, a creepy circus, and other fright-themed attractions, with the hayride serving as the centerpiece. Again, it was only a half hour away from the city, but it was far enough to feel "out of the way", with the location itself giving proper vibes of countless "stumbled on seemingly abandoned property" horror flicks. But it also had the horror museum, with props from movies like a Xenomorph suit and an OG Michael Myers mask, and in this museum you could meet folks like Kane Hodder, Tom Savini, or Linda Blair. So it was sort of a convention and a horror-themed amusement park Brundlefly'd into one memorable experience; an annual must-go destination for horror kids such as myself (it was only open in October, as Halloween hadn't yet become the two month event it is now). People would come from around the country to check it out, because there was nothing else really like it then.

It's a fact (well, a mostly true fact - Knott's was doing something similar since the '70s, though it was naturally an extension of a traditional theme park as opposed to an exclusively Halloween-tinged location) that the doc tries several times to explain, but with all these kinds of things so ingrained into our culture now, it's really hard to wrap your head around the idea that it was a wholly unique experience, and that such things didn't usually exist in Massachusetts. To us horror kids, the idea that we could meet Jason or Freddy (and I did!) without having to travel to Hollywood was a surreal notion. And we could do so after going through state of the art haunted houses? And then get a donut with hot cider? Incredible!

Luckily, the doc doesn't just cater to the nostalgia of folks like me who had been there. It gives a complete picture of how it began, the upbringing of founder David Bertolino, how it expanded through the '90s, covers a few unfortunate incidents (traffic jams caused by bigger-than-expected turnouts, a blown transformer causing the park to lose all its power, even the fabled "Perfect Storm" (the one from the Clooney movie) derailing a publicity stunt), and finally explains why the park first moved to a newer/lesser location and then shut down for good not long after that. Even I didn't know a lot of this stuff, so it worked not just as a memory generator, but a genuinely engaging history of an interesting topic, which is the goal of any doc.

And it's funny! The editor uses conflicting memories to great effect, with an employee touting the hayride intercut with Tom Savini laughing at how corny it was, or another employee noting that her marriage fell apart thanks to partaking in the cast members' frequent after-hours (or during-hours) rendezvous in some of the more out of the way spots in the heavily wooded area. And of course some of the old video clips feature priceless New England accents, which are always good for a chuckle (as a former resident whose accent occasionally resurfaces, I give you permission!). There's one moment where the "license to laugh" doesn't quite work though, as some on-screen text about Tiny Tim (a frequent guest) made the audience laugh, only to feel terrible a moment later when a followup note about his death appeared under it. But that said, it does mark a turning point in the park's meteoric rise, as a number of misfortunes (primarily some righteous townsfolk deciding to play hardball and reject previously approved permits to operate some of the houses) and the unsuccessful relocation to Foxboro (on the grounds of Gillette Stadium where the Patriots play) followed shortly thereafter.

Since the park operated before camera phones (or even high def video cameras), most of the footage of the park is blurry and even marred with tracking issues. But to make up for it, the rise and fall tale is illustrated with clips from Vincent Price movies, which works surprisingly well most of the time. As founder Bertolino considered Price a role model, it works to show him in clips from the likes of House on Haunted Hill, House of Wax, The Tingler, etc. to add a little "show, not tell" flair to the story so we're not always looking at talking heads or cruddy VHS footage. So when the townsfolk start coming after Bertolino and his team, we get a clip from Last Man on Earth, with Price trying to keep the monsters from breaking down his door. And some old phone messages about guest complaints are laid over footage from the same film as his character listens to reel to reel tapes. Sometimes it's a little corny, but for the most part it works really well, and as someone who firmly believes that Price's films embody the "fun but scary" vibe of Halloween more than any other, it's remarkably fortuitous that Bertolino felt that kinship with the actor, as footage of someone like Karloff or Lee wouldn't have yielded the same successful results.

Sometimes there are some narrative dead ends (they note trying to get Robert Englund to come, but instead of noting that the attempt was successful, they pivot to a story about how the "Horror House of Wax" at the park came to be), and the edit could be a little tighter as we see a few clips twice (such as John Krasinski gushing about the park on Seth Myers' show), but it was for the most part a terrific doc, smartly balancing nostalgia bait with an honest look at its history, as Bertolino is on hand to note a few of his less successful ideas. The allowance of humor and the Price clips make it far more accessible than I thought it would be to someone who had never been there or even heard of it, and despite the covid-era production meaning a lot of folks are shot via Zoom (plus the aforementioned VHS clips) it's quite professionally put together, impressive for a team with almost no documentary experience among the principals. And for two hours, I almost felt like I was there again, which is a feeling the Horror Nights of the world can't generate even when I'm doing very similar activities. Well done, and thank you.

What say you?

P.S. I can't find an embeddable trailer, so just go here to check it out.


FTP: Uncle Peckerhead (2020)

SEPTEMBER 25, 2023


For the most part, the worst thing I can say about Uncle Peckerhead is that it often reminded me of two better movies. Luckily, both of them are relatively obscure compared to the movies most small budget horror films ape (i.e. Conjuring or whatever the newest hit slasher was), so it’s possible one could watch without having seen them, and maybe you’ll be more engaged by what it has to offer. But if you’ve seen Green Room and/or Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal, be prepared for a lot of déjà vu.

Luckily it’s not as hard to watch as Green Room (even if star Anton Yelchin didn’t ultimately die of a gruesome accident in real life, I don’t think I could ever watch his arm injury scene again), it’s just got a similar backdrop: a very poor punk band trying to make a go of it when playing for next to nothing and stealing gas from other cars in the parking lots they often sleep in. The scene where that film’s The Aint Rights plays to a pizza parlor has a very close cousin here, and the plot also kicks off in the same way, when our hero goes back inside the club and sees something they weren’t supposed to. The key difference is that what they weren’t supposed to see there was your standard murder, and here it's their roadie, Peck, turning into a zombie monster and devouring the greedy promoter that just ripped them off.

And that’s where the Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal element kicks in, as Peck seemingly means our hero band (a trio named Duh) no harm, and is actually a pretty helpful addition to their band, so they kinda let his murderous ways slide (and occasionally help cover up evidence of such digressions) as their band is getting more successful due to his influence – he’s quite good at selling merch, for example! But you know how this sort of story goes – they’ll enjoy the success for a bit, and then realize it’s not right, so their ally turns into a foe. So maybe Little Shop of Horrors would be a more apt comparison, but the dry humor and the fact that the monster is a person (not a plant) had me thinking more of Eddie, so I’m sticking with it!

But that said, it’s a pretty fun watch. The trio of band members (two girls, one guy) are likable and easy to root for, and honestly could have made for the basis of a straight indie comedy without “Uncle Peckerhead” worked into the mix. Since they never have money for a motel they often crash at rando’s houses, giving the film a steady stream of new faces/dynamics, and their rivalry with an emo band led by a pretentious Jared Leto type provides the film with its funniest moments (though as an old school Simpsons fan I would cite an out of nowhere Poochie reference as my favorite gag). It’s never really laugh out loud funny, but it provided pretty of amiable smiles, which is fine – if the comedy part of a “horror comedy” is a total failure (and many are), it drags the whole movie down, so getting decent results in that half of the equation is something of a win on its own.

It’s just too bad that the ending is garbage! I won’t spoil it outright, but it tonally didn’t fit with the rest of the movie to my eyes, sending me out on a downer instead of another wry smile that the previous 85 minutes had been providing with regularity. I’m not sure why they went the way they did with it, but man, it’s been a while since I’ve seen so much goodwill get tossed out the window at the 11th hour. I’d almost rather it sucked the whole way through, at least it’d be consistent. I guess I see the intent, that at the end of the day the band deserves some punishment for what they allowed to happen, but it swings too far into the other direction and ends abruptly to boot, leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Your mileage may vary of course, but be prepared for some whiplash.

The disc comes with a group commentary (arranged via Zoom or something, as it was recorded in the early days of the pandemic – at least we know they’re smart!), to which I couldn’t always tell the participants apart but they have a good chemistry and never fall silent, loading the track up with production stories, the occasional jab at each other’s expense, and praise upon the other crew members, many of whom wore multiple hats on the production. A short film about a demon that has a few of the same cast members is also included; the back of the blu-ray promises it’s in the same universe as the film but I don’t see how that’d be possible with the doubling performers. There’s also an 11 minute compilation of Duh’s music if you’d like to listen without the movie’s audio distracting from it. A fairly low-key release for a similarly enjoyable but ultimately just shy of a must-see movie.

What say you?


Black Circle (2018)

SEPTEMBER 22, 2023


If there was one benefit to watching horror movies every day for six years – and also, due to the point of the site, thinking about and then writing about them – it’s that I was able to fine tune my ability to tell the difference between a bad movie and a movie that just wasn’t for me. There was definitely a time in my life where I could have hated Black Circle and told folks to stay away from it because it was terrible or something, but now I know better. Now I know that there’s a select group of genre fans who will eat this up (and not because they’re drunk and having “so bad it’s good” fun), and I am simply not in that group. Thank the Beneath the Mississippis of the world for helping me learn the difference.

To be fair, this one had me hooked in at the beginning, at least. Our hero Celeste is your typical slacker in her twenties who isn’t making enough of her life, and apparently her sister Isa was once the same way. But now she’s doing quite well at her job, dressing nicely, etc – she’s got her shit together, in other words, and chalks it up to listening to a self-help record from the 70s (that’s what the title refers to, for you young “music is only available through streaming services and nothing else” types). Isa lets Celeste borrow it to see if it can yield the same results, and it does, but almost instantly Isa shows up all frazzled and insane sounding, claiming she’s being followed… is the record to blame? Well, yes, otherwise they wouldn’t have named the movie after it.

So for a while it follows the usual haunted object kind of movie scenario – Celeste sees ghostly figures, has weird dreams, etc. One can assume that she will have to track the record maker down to save her and her sister before it’s too late, like Naomi Watts figuring out where the VHS tape comes from, and they’d be right… but fewer could assume the hard left the movie takes into lo-fi sci-fi as opposed to supernatural horror suggested by the first half hour. At a certain point, out of completely nowhere, we meet a young couple who can communicate telepathically and have been sent by “The Supreme” (don’t ask, we never get much more info) to warn Lena (Christina Lindberg from Thriller aka They Call Her One Eye*), who is indeed the one that made the record, that Celeste and Isa are about to arrive. For a while this trio basically takes center stage of the film as if it’s been about them all along, and the film never quite recovers from the switch for me.

At least we start getting some answers as to what is going on. As it turns out, what the record does is separate all the negative parts of yourself (so that all that’s left is the ambitious and “good” parts, hence the life improvements), but those parts end up being a doppelganger that believes itself to be the original and wants to take over for good. Lena and her X-Men-like charges work to fuse the two back together, and naturally things don’t go smoothly. Not a terrible idea, but at this point the movie just tailspins into nonsense, with both of the sisters’ doubles making erratic appearances while the others carry out the experiment, drawing itself out until all the creepy stuff of the first act becomes a distant memory by the time it finally ends an hour later. The “70s self-help techniques are bad” backstory recalled The Brood a bit, but as the telepaths took over I started thinking more about the silly Scanners sequels instead.

Personally, I’d rather a movie be confusing at first and slowly start to gel together until I’m fully engrossed in its off-kilter vibes (Cloud Atlas comes to mind as a good example; I was almost ready to walk out after 20 minutes but I stuck with it and by the end of the first hour I was completely on board) instead of the other way around, but as I said, there’s definitely folks for whom this will check every box. It reminded me of things like Beyond the Black Rainbow or Altered States, i.e. trippy sci-fi without spaceships and laser guns, and again that sort of thing is fine, but I wish it hadn’t lured me in with the promise of a traditional curse/possession type horror movie. Maybe a second viewing would improve things, now that I knew what direction it was going, but not enough to completely change my tune, since the movie gave more than ample time to adjust to the cerebral slant of the back half. Sure, I was disappointed it forgot about being a horror movie as it went on, but I was also left cold by its confusing presentation and abrupt story turns. I actually rewound the movie for a bit assuming I merely missed something with the introduction of the two telepathic kids, but nope – they just show up out of nowhere and the reveal of their powers is given no fanfare, introduced as casually as one might inform the audience what kind of pet or job this new character has. It’s a lot to ask!

I should note that it’s also a curious film that probably works best late at night when your brain is operating at a different level (and you are perhaps stoned), but it also has several hypnotizing scenes (including a lengthy one that kicks the film off, before we meet Celeste) that are quite effective. And by that I mean I fell asleep the first time I tried watching, literally during one such scene. I course corrected and watched the rest around lunchtime the following day, so that I’d be safe from dozing, but it would probably take a month to get through it if I tried only at night. I’m sure this played midnight slots at festivals back when it was making its run, and for a properly wired audience it was probably quite mesmerizing. But I just had to take it as it was, and I just couldn’t ever get back on its wavelength after Lindberg was introduced, and the film practically daring me to fall asleep again at regular intervals didn’t help.

But if you’re a fan of Lindberg, you’ll probably a. be happy to see her again (this and another film from around the same time were the first features she made since 1982!) and b. be even happier that the blu-ray has an hour long interview with her, conducted by Bogliano. I wish it was a more traditional one where we don’t see the interviewer at all, since he is constantly saying “sure” and “right” as she speaks which gets incredibly annoying, but she covers a lot of her career, why she stopped acting, how Thriller is perceived then vs now, etc – it’s a pretty thorough chat. Bogliano also provides a commentary where he almost never stops speaking, name checking his influences and pointing out who did drawings or what crew member played this or that bit part in between explaining some of his choices, mentioning some post production trouble (some money never came through), etc. Then there’s the short film, which is basically just two early scenes from the film, albeit slightly truncated, with a different ending, giving it a traditional short film twist ending instead of proceeding with the narrative as the feature does. A featurette and trailer are also included, so it’s a pretty well rounded package that the film’s fans will certainly get their money’s worth from. But a blind buy is not recommended unless the above mentioned titles are all in your all time faves list.

What say you?

*Which was randomly the “pile” movie I watched before this one, having no idea she was in both. It wasn’t horror and it was just an unpleasant r**e revenge movie, but if you like that sort of thing, I guess it qualifies as one of the more interesting ones since it spends the middle of the narrative showing how she trains in secret to be the avenging woman of the finale that her peers just suddenly turn into.


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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