Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)

FEBRUARY 28, 2024


There are currently 11 Hellraiser movies, and as many reviews tagged "Hellraiser" here on HMAD (well, 12 now if you feel like seeing for yourself), so I actually forgot that I never reviewed Hellraiser: Inferno back in the day, as it seemed "complete." I knew I saw it pre-HMAD, but same went for 1-4 and I got those taken care of along the way, so I'm not sure how/why Inferno (the 5th entry, if you've forgotten) got skipped over in those rewatches, especially considering in my memory I actually thought it was pretty good. So for anyone who has been waiting over a decade for me to finish up the Doug Bradley era of the franchise: today's your day!

The biggest complaint about the DTV ones (well, maybe not Hellworld) is that Pinhead doesn't appear in them very much. It's an odd complaint considering he's barely in the original, either, but I was amused that it's similar to the hate for the 5th Friday the 13th movie because Jason isn't in it. He's not in the first one either! How often do you hear fans complaining that a sequel is trying to bring things back to the original, which is usually the favorite? Wackiness. But yeah, he's barely in it, and his first appearance seems shoehorned in to try to rectify that, but it's a bad call.

Because really, the worst thing about the movie is that it's "Hellraiser 5" instead of a movie called Inferno. I get the "Where's Pinhead?" complaints in a way, but the film is structured in a way that doesn't rely on him the way the previous sequels did. The Lament Configuration gets more screentime, I think, as it appears almost instantly at a crime scene. Our protagonist is Joseph (Craig Sheffer), a corrupt cop who pockets the cash from victims' wallets, lies to his wife to go sleep with prostitutes, and does up close magic for other grown adults - in other words, he's kind of awful. Anyway he finds the LC at a crime scene and, as a bit of a puzzle nerd, keeps it for himself and maybe, just maybe, opens it.

Now, in any other Hellraiser movie, that would mean Pinhead would show up and start causing problems. But here his brief experience after Joseph fiddles with the box is treated as a nightmare, and as the movie continues following Joseph's investigation that started with the crime scene, feeling more like something like 8MM than a supernatural horror film. Not that the case isn't gruesome; a child's finger was found and the killer, known as "The Engineer", seems to be keeping the kid alive, so Joseph becomes hellbent on finding him. As the investigation gets more dangerous and disturbing (he has visions of cenobite type figures, the hooker he slept with is murdered, as is one of his informants, etc.) he starts to wonder if the box has somethng to do with it. And guess what? It does!

So unfortunately it's one of those sequels in which the audience is too far ahead of the characters, unless they for some reason are watching this as their first Hellraiser movie and have zero knowledge of the series when sitting down for it. If that's you, great, but you're also like 1% of the crowd at most. Curiously, writer/director Scott Derrickson (this was his debut as director) did the same thing with Sinister 2 (which he wrote but did not direct), giving the hero a mystery to solve that we already know the answer to. It's hard to recover from that sort of disconnect when it's treated as a "what's going on?" kind of mystery film, as opposed to Friday the 13th part whatever when a new group of idiots arrive at Crystal Lake without knowing anything about Jason. They're not exactly poring over newspaper clippings and police reports to figure out who the hockey masked guy is, you know? They're unaware and then they're dead, and it's fine.

But if you ignore the Hellraiser-ness and just go for the ride of this dirtbag getting what's coming to him, it's a solid time. The Jacob's Ladder/David Lynch-esque touches keep it visually engaging throughout, and Derrickson gets every bit of his meager budget on screen. Plus it's just enjoyably weird at times, in particular when Sheffer goes to a saloon in the middle of nowhere (already weird!) and proceeds to get his ass kicked by two long haired Asian cowboys. He also spends an extended (dream/hallucination/whatever) scene shotgunning his parents who have become cenobite/zombie things, and his own family ends up on a rotating pillar like the one from the first movie. And if you're a Nightbreed fan, please enjoy the fact that Craig Sheffer has now played two (2) Clive Barker characters who are set up by their psychiatrist, though here it's (spoiler for 24 year old movie ahead) actually Pinhead in disguise.

And keeping with the spoilers, while I'm sure it's not the first movie to do so, and also kind of changes the canon version of what Hell is in this world, I like the idea that he's stuck in an endless loop of being made miserable as his eternal punishment for the misery he inflicted on others when he was alive. He has to keep seeing his family die, chased around by demons, etc. and when he tries to kill himself to get out of it, he just ends up back at the beginning of the loop again. I try not to think about the afterlife too much, but the idea of hell just being in a cycle of reliving your worst memories for eternity sounds far worse than some kind of "you just burn forever" kind of scenario.

Plus I have to admire that it took efforts to return the series to its roots. I like Hellbound as much as the original, but I have little use for 3 or 4 (though in the latter's case it COULD have been good if the Weinsteins hadn't Weinstein'd it), and none of them really seemed to get that the Cenobites weren't supposed to be the main attraction. Like the original, this is a movie about someone whose endless thirst for hedonistic pleasure results in them delving into things they shouldn't, resulting in their very gruesome and supernaturally-charged death. It doesn't mention any of the other films' events; even when the history of the Lament Configuration is explained to Sheffer's character, it's more of a vague idea of what it's been through as opposed to "And then one time this douche who ran a nightclub got a hold of it...". So I appreciated that they were at least trying to get things back on track, even if it was kind of a silly thing to do now that the series was going DTV and thus only the most die-hard fans would likely be bothering to watch.

The blu-ray I have is paired with Bloodline, from an Echo Bridge release. Since I recently got Arrow's 4K UHD set of 1-4, I looked to see if Inferno had ever been available on its own so I wouldn't have TWO Bloodlines in the house (I mean, I only have one Godfather. It just doesn't seem right to have twice as many "Pinhead in Space!"s), but all I found was another EB multipack that added Hellseeker and Hellworld to the mix. I nearly bought that one before I realized Deader got left out, so it's a set of 4-6 and 8? Why? More annoying, Deader DID get its own release, also from Echo Bridge, but it's long out of print and goes for over 300 bucks on eBay, which... no. I'm not even sure what studio owns these movies anymore, but maybe since they did it for Amityville, Vinegar Syndrome (or someone like them) can make a nice set of Bradley's DTV era (so, Inferno through Hellworld) and I can get rid of this janky-ass disc that doesn't even have subtitles, let alone the bonus features from the DVD.

What say you?


Out Of Darkness (2022)

FEBRUARY 12, 2024


Having never seen the trailer*, I only knew two things about Out of Darkness when I sat down for it: 1. That it was, alas, not based on the book by Sidney Prescott, and 2. That friends who saw it described it as "boring." But that's not a particularly enlightening description, and it's subjective af to boot. I also know people who think Session 9 is boring, whereas I'm the guy sitting there wishing it was longer. And yet I have found the last couple Michael Bay movies interminable, even though they're certainly not lacking for action sequences. A slow paced movie can reel you in or turn you off depending on so many factors (your mood, the vibe of the crowd, even the presentation) that "boring" is about as useful as identifying the font in the end credits in determining if a movie will be for you.

At any rate, I didn't find it boring. Indeed I was really into it for the first hour, despite the fact that-yes-there weren't a lot of traditional action or scares in that chunk of the film. The plot concerns a group of six nomads in the year 45,000 BC, searching for a new land because the one they left was cursed. They arrive on the shores of this new world looking for strong shelter and game to hunt, only to find it suspiciously barren and the nearest caves a few days' walk away from the beach, a daunting task when they have no food (and one of the two women is pregnant to boot). Will they survive long enough to get there? Should we put too much thought into the fact that the main couple of the group is named Adem and Ave?

That alone could be a compelling tale, but before long it's clear that there's something out there watching them, and eventually it grabs the youngest member and vanishes into the darkness. Since he is the boy's father, Adem (who is also the group's leader, a position a couple others in the group are starting to doubt he deserves) wants to follow, but is convinced to wait until the daylight so that he isn't lost (or worse) as well. As the film proceeds, his role as "heroic leader" begins to diminish, becoming a borderline villain at one point, so again even without the (monster?) out there the movie could have a compelling thrust. The idea of an alpha male being broken down by the pressure of being the leader, his own ego, and his inability to protect that what matters most is certainly something that I could watch for 87 minutes.

(Side note: yes, that is the actual runtime. A glorious gift from the cinema gods. Even with trailers I was home two hours after the start time!)

But no, there is obviously something out there reducing their number, and the movie unfortunately lost me when it was revealed (spoilers ahead, though it's kind of obvious after the second attack scene). It is not an animal or a monster (or a demon, as one member of the group seems to think) but merely Neandrethal people who were there first, and they don't even mean harm. They took the boy, yes (and it's unexplained why they did it in the manner they did; why not wait until daytime and present yourself in a less terrifying fashion?), but not to kill him--they actually brought him back to their shelter and fed him. Our main group's paranoia and mistrust is what gives the movie its body count, so ultimately it's a MESSAGE MOVIE with the rather well-tread idea that maybe we shouldn't just assume "the other" means us harm, and that ultimately we're our own worst enemy. Not that that is an inherently bad idea, but even with the acknowledged/appreciated short length it retroactively makes the movie feel long when it all boils down to the same moral of any dozen Twilight Zone episodes that were an hour shorter.

Plus (still spoilers! Skip to the next paragraph if you want) it denies us prehistoric monsters (or even a badass sabretooth tiger or something along those lines)! I feel we've been really shortchanged over the past decade when it comes to normal sized monsters; we get plenty of Godzilla types but almost nothing when it comes to 10-12 foot long beasties, other than sharks which are way overused. The hints we got about the "creature"--the kidnapping of the kid, the discovery of some giant skeleton and what seems to be enough blood to cover a cliffside, a character's jaw torn straight off--don't really gel with what we learn about it later, so it feels like a cheat on top of a copout. And when it's in favor of a lesson we can get out of a few memes on Twitter (well, maybe not these days), I couldn't help but leave disappointed after such a promising first hour.

On the plus side it looks great even after the script takes a nose dive, and the cast does a fine job of quickly creating six distinct characters (when it's almost all dark and they're all wearing animal skins/furs, it could have been easy to get them mixed up, but I never did) while also speaking a made-up language called Tola, which is based on Arabic and Basque. Since it was on the same screen I saw Silent Night two months ago, I couldn't help but wonder if the movie would have worked just as well without any dialogue at all, leaving grunts and facial expressions as the sole mode of communication. Other than the story of how they got there and why, I can't think of a single moment that required dialogue to really grasp, especially when the dialogue is weirdly anachronistic (there's an F bomb!) or just clunkily spelling out its obvious message. Great score by Adam Janota Bzowski, who also composed Saint Maud (if memory serves the score was one of the few things I liked in that one).

So I get why people were bored, but I wasn't one of them. Instead I was just annoyed by the "twist", as it undid what was working about the movie while also giving me flashbacks to a certain sorta-horror movie from 20 years ago (you can probably guess the one, if not just go look at the box office for 2004 and you'll see it pretty quick), though the context was different (and that movie offered an even more annoying twist later). Still, it's always nice to have an original horror movie in theaters (a foreign one at that!), especially one that mostly delivers: it's nice to look at, has a couple of good jolts, etc. I just wish they hadn't tried to go all "elevated" in the home stretch, as if making a straightforward survival horror movie wasn't good enough and they were hoping to get picked up by A24 instead of a lowly major (Sony, in this instance). Felt weirdly insulting, honestly.

What say you?

*I had to laugh that I uncharacteristically went to the movies on a Monday, because for the past 3-4 months I have had to see the One Love and Madame Web trailers before every single movie I have gone to see, and therefore had to suffer through them again this one last time as both finally opened the following day. I was so close to never having to see them again!


Lisa Frankenstein (2024)

FEBRUARY 8, 2023


Hello! I am a 43 year old straight male who didn't think Lisa Frankenstein was particularly good.

Normally I don't bother describing myself in a review, but I feel here it might be useful, because I want it to be clear that I am first to admit I'm not the target demographic for this particular movie, and maybe you simply won't care that an old white dude thinks about it. But that said, considering it's Diablo Cody's first return to the horror/comedy genre since Jennifer's Body*, which I enjoyed quite a bit (with some reservations), it's not totally out of the realm of possibility that I could have enjoyed this more than I did. And I did like it at times, so it's not a disaster, it's just... *off*. And as a result, disappointing.

The plot is perfectly fine and has loads of potential. Kathryn Newton, still playing high schoolers 12 years after Paranormal Activity 4, stars as Lisa, a goth-y outcast who works at a tailor shop (sewing skill foreshadowing is a rare but admirable note in a Frankenstein movie) and longs to be dead like the 18th century guy whose grave she visits. One night a convenient lightning bolt wakes the guy up, at which point he beelines for her house. After a few "WTF?" moments she has him shower and puts him in some fresh clothes, and he becomes her protector/ servant/ confidante. And every now and then the two of them kill people who annoyed her in order to secure a body part to replace something that's MIA on him (his hand, an ear, his... well, spoiler).

As with her previous horror-com, Cody has a weird tendency to introduce completely random plot points that seem to suggest a more fleshed out narrative, only to just shrug them off. In Jennifer's Body it was the thing with the orange balls/waterfall "portal" and the school's gym becoming a swamp. Here it's the backstory for Lisa, as we learn her mother was killed by a Ghostface type masked slasher a year before, leaving her nearly mute. The way it's presented suggests it will play a part in the present day (i.e. the killer will come back, and/or be revealed to be someone she knew), but nope. Her mom was murdered by a masked slasher and I guess he didn't do anything else after that. Why have something so specific if there's nothing further to it? Why not just kill her in a car accident or something? Similarly, what happened to this guy for him to lose a few body parts? It's bizarre Lisa never once thinks to hit up the library and see what she can learn about her new boyfriend, even if to confirm he wasn't, you know, the same kind of murderer who killed her mom.

The weirdest part is how casual she is about the rising body count. She was supposedly traumatized by an earlier act of violence, but now seems pretty blase about doing it herself? It's just a really odd disconnect, and (also like JB) the film's third act is rushed through without any genuine resolutions to these plot threads. Lisa never shows any real remorse for their murders, including that of someone who did absolutely nothing wrong (earlier she goes after a guy who tried coercing her into sex, so we can "go girl!" that one, but this other guy... nope. And he gets it worse!), so it's not even easy to root for her after a while. Like you can have all the weird plot points you want, but if the character development is equally haphazard, there's a problem.

One thing that's not botched, and actually quite endearing, is that the only (living) person who genuinely cares for Lisa is her stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano). Even her own dad is kind of zoned out when she tries to talk to him, but Taffy supports her, tries to get her out of her shell, etc. Normally a stepsister is just another thorn in the side of an introverted character like Lisa, so to see them get along and care about each other was refreshing. That said, Carla Gugino as the stepmother is so cartoonishly mean that it more than makes up for Taffy's refusal to be a stereotype, but far be it from me to decry the sight of Ms. Gugino chewing some scenery. She can do whatever she wants.

Much has been made of the film's 1989 setting, but I never really saw a purpose for it other than, I suppose, having an easy excuse to make pop culture references. Gugino fretting about her Precious Moments figurines, the family going to see Look Who's Talking, a gag about the Sports Illustrated football phone (30 years after Wayne's World 2 already did a better one, but whatever)... there aren't as many as some other period pieces focused on the era, but there are enough to establish it even if you ignore the clothing and hairstyles, which are all on point (take it from me, an Old who was actually around then). Weirdly, the movie takes a while to firmly establish that it's the '80s, and given the Tim Burton influence, one could just assume that it was just being retro with its production design as a choice (sort of like how Edward Scissorhands LOOKS like the 1950s/60s, but clearly isn't since they have VCRs and such) instead of using it to specify a timeframe.

As for the Monster, he's delightful. Cole Sprouse is pretty much mute, using his facial expressions and body language to do the bulk of his communicating, and he does a fantastic job. I also liked the makeup; since Lisa starts to fall in love with him it's obviously not too grotesque, but it's also clearly monstrous - a tricky balancing act that they pulled off well. The PG-13 dictates we don't see much of his carnage, but one moment is played via shadow and it's kind of amazing, the closest we will get to seeing *that* in a teen-friendly movie. And I definitely appreciated the REO Speedwagon usage; I may in fact be the only person in the audience who actually listened to "Can't Fight This Feeling" earlier in the day just for my own aural pleasure (though that's another weird thing about the movie - Lisa's a goth and has a Bauhaus poster in her room, but the soundtrack itself doesn't have much of such things. There are more Yacht Rock staples than anything you'd hear as house music while waiting for The Cure to take the stage).

And to be fair the humor tends to hit more than miss (which was also the case in Body, it's just not as consistently funny), focusing on the unlikely romance more than jokes (or horror, but I expected that much). Had the characterization and plot been a little more fleshed out and less uneven, it could have been an easy film to recommend to all, not just (for the most part) to teen girls having sleepovers. But even on that level, it sends some weird messages to the impressionable, and even that would be OK if the movie just went full throttle into darker territory. Instead it basically just edges for 95 minutes, always pulling back whenever it feels like it's going to finally kick into high gear and get really memorable, or at least commit to a tone. I don't know if Cody's script had to be sanitized or budget cuts resulted in chopping some grander ideas, but it ultimately just never really came to life for me. It's cute, and intermittently charming, but seems to settle for being "fine", making it feel disappointing considering the talent involved. Great animated opening title sequence though.

What say you?

*Diablo Cody has said that the films exist in the same universe, though there are no ties that I noticed. Also since this film takes place twenty years before that one (and in a different town to boot) I'm not even sure why she bothered saying so, other than to perhaps drum up interest.


Blu-Ray Review: Funeral Home (1980)

FEBRUARY 7, 2024


Today marked the 17th birthday of Horror Movie A Day, and fittingly I spent part of it watching a Blu-ray of a movie that I saw back in the early days of the site. Funeral Home (aka Cries In The Night, which is the title that appears on the film itself but not the packaging) was part of the legendary 50 Chilling Classics set that provided me with such faves as Devil Times Five, Scream Bloody Murder, and of course, my beloved Cathy's Curse. It unfortunately is not as good as those; in fact I actually labeled it "Crap" at the time, which I reserved for movies with no redeeming values whatsoever. But even then I said it probably didn't deserve the same scorn as some of the other movies in there, and it doesn't. I've certainly seen worse.

Funeral Home's main problem isn't even its own fault. It was shot in 1979 and meant to be a thriller, but by the time it was released the slasher sub-genre was kind and so it was marketed (and retitled) to make it seem like one of those. And yes, it has a few deaths committed by an unseen stalker, so in a few scenes it very much feels at home with the Friday the 13ths and such that were so common back then. But it's really more of a Psycho riff, so "proto-slasher" would be more apt, and even on that level it's not particularly exciting. In fact it actually feels a lot like a TV movie from that era; Wes Craven's Summer of Fear came to mind a few times.

But the Psycho lifts get to be a bit grating, especially when the whole movie builds toward a nearly identical climax of the crazed old lady (an actual old lady this time, not her son in a dress) freaking out in the cellar next to a mummified corpse. There's nothing wrong with borrowing from this or that movie, certainly (Halloween took some stuff from the same one, in fact - and I prefer that one!), but you gotta make it your own and add a little flavor, which this movie doesn't actually do. Outside of the four kills (two of which are simultaneous - a couple in a car that the killer pushes over a conveniently adjacent cliff) the movie is just an endless series of scenes where our young heroine Heather (Lesleh Donaldson from Happy Birthday to Me and Curtains, another thing that doesn't help this movie's "not a slasher!" existence) gets suspicious about someone disappearing in the middle of the night, hears an old story that seemingly confirms her suspicions, then readily accepts her grandmother's explanation. It gets to the point where the grandmother NOT being the culprit would have been interesting, but since it sure seems she is (and, you know, she IS), it just leaves the main character - our surrogate - looking like a dope for 90 minutes.

The most suspenseful the movie gets is a scene involving the great Alf Humphreys as the town deputy, who also seems to be the only cop that's concerned about all the people who disappear when they stay in this small town. He's kind of a goof and not taken seriously (real Dewey vibes; he even has a sibling who mocks him), and then late in the movie there's a scene where he insists on seeing the room that the car couple stayed in, with the grandmother accompanying him and by this point not even trying to hide that she's evil. So you spend the whole scene worrying about poor Alf, offering the movie some tension the rest could have really used.

However, as I've learned over the years, every movie is someone's favorite movie, and even if I hated it I'd be the first to champion a remaster, because no movie deserves the fate it previously had. Like most of the transfers on that Chilling Classics set, Funeral Home was a cropped, murky mess, to the extent that I can't even quite place the screenshot I offered in my old review (I was going to do a "then and now" kind of thing but I literally can't tell what the image was). Indeed, I was surprised to see it's actually a fairly good looking movie courtesy of Mark Irwin, who at that point was already working with David Cronenberg and continued to do so for another 5-6 years. And it's also got a great score by Jerry Fielding, a frequent collaborator with Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood, something the cruddy transfer wouldn't have allowed me to appreciate either as my ears would be exclusively focused on trying to make out the dialogue. There's a bit of a weird color shifting going on (more noticeably in the daytime scenes) that's probably due to print damage, but otherwise it's a fine transfer and I'm glad that the movie's fans won't have to suffer that Mill Creek version anymore.

Scream Factory has also assembled a pretty extensive collection of extras as well, including an audio interview with Donaldson and the film's 1st AD (offered as a commentary in the setup menu, so don't look for it in the extras), plus traditional interviews with Irwin, some of the set folks, and Brian Allen, whose father was executive producer Barry Allen. His is probably the most interesting interview, since he explains how the movie came to exist and why it ran into the distribution issues that it did (no movie ends up on a Mill Creek pack unless someone got screwed financially along the way). And he owns drive-ins now, which amused me as I can only imagine how many children were conceived in backseats during showings of this movie thanks to it failing to hold the audience's attention. Mike Felsher also stops by the house that's used as the titular home, showing how part of it has stayed pretty much the same almost 45 years later. I'm always charmed by those kind of videos so it was a nice addition.

The best extra, however, is the historian commentary by Jason Pichonsky And Paul Corupe, as they offer the usual bits of insight about the film and its players, but mostly spend the track discussing Canadian horror of the time and also how the films were given 100% tax rebates by the government, which is how we ended up with so many wacky movies at that time (including Cathy's Curse, though they sadly don't mention it by name). They also spend a good deal of time discussing director William Fruet, who had an interesting career that began in stage productions and dramas before finding success in the horror genre (he also gave us Spasms and the incredible Killer Party). Since he either couldn't be located or simply wasn't interested in contributing an interview or commentary of his own, it more than makes up for his absence by covering his biography pretty extensively.

So it's better than I remembered, but not by much (even Donaldson laughs about how boring it is, so I know it's not just me). But still, I'm glad I gave it another shot (and will go back and remove the "crap" tagging from my old review to be fair), though not as glad as I am for its fans that they finally have a decent way to watch it. And it's always nice to see a legit new title from Scream Factory, as they've pretty much burned through everything they are able to access and most of their recent releases are either 4K upgrades of movies they've already done, or "Who asked for this?" special editions of modern horror movies like the Child's Play remake. This felt like a golden era release!

What say you?


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