Sunday, September 23, 2018

9 Questions I Have For Star Trek 6

I watched Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country back to back with The Final Frontier. I don't really have anything constructive to say about it, so instead of a review, I've prepared a list of questions I would ask this movie if it were a sentient entity.

Why are the Klingons Dying?
At the start of the movie, there is an accident on a Klingon moon where they mine moon minerals or whatever. The moon is destroyed by the accident, and because of this, the authorities proclaim that the Klingon race is going to die out in fifty years or so, without ever drawing any strong connection between those two things. It's just like, ope, this mining planet blew up and now the Klingons are all going to die.

Why is the Federation so Fucking Racist?
So the Klingons are dying and stuff and they come to the Federation for help and every single person in the Federation is just like "mmmyeah fuck the Klingons". They're a galaxy wide federation of planets, presumably consisting of dozens if not hundreds of different peoples, and everybody except Spock is racist as shit.

Why is David Warner There?
David Warner appears in the film, but playing a different character than he did in Star Trek 5.

Why Do Movies Love to Use Out of Context Shakespeare Quotes?
Lots of movies do this, but this one ups the ante not only with its inappropriate name (in case anybody doesn't know, the "undiscovered country" is a euphemism for death from Hamlet. Here, it's a euphemism for... peace? I think?), but also by having the villain just spout memorable lines from Shakespeare plays seemingly at random.

Why is Klingon Blood Pink?
In this movie, we learn that Klingon blood is pepto bismol pink. I want to know what possible O2 carrier they could have to make their blood that colour.

Why is Michael Dorn There?
Michael Dorn plays Colonel Worf who's like TNG Worf's grandfather (?) and also a really shitty Klingon lawyer. That pretty much answers my question, I still think it's a stupid idea.

What Terrible Sin Did Iman Commit in Her Past Life to Deserve Kissing William Shatner?
Iman is easily one of the most beautiful woman on the planet and she kisses William Shatner right on his nasty mouth.

Why is Christian Slater There?
WTF is going on with this movie.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Star Trek 5

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

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I have a confession to make. I've been a big ol' dorky fan of original Trek for as long as I've been able to be a fan of things, but when it came to the movies, I'd only ever seen 2-4. I still haven't actually managed to sit through Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but now I can say that Star Treks 5 and 6 have come along shit all over everything I hold dear.

In this movie, a rebel Vulcan (Laurence Luckinbill) hijacks the Enterprise and takes it on a quest to find God at the centre of the galaxy. Also, there is a Klingon (Todd Bryant) who is mad at Kirk and chases them for some reason. Also, David Warner is there.

There isn't a whole lot I can say that's good about this movie honestly. Even from the opening scene it's a bad movie - my boyfriend just put it on unannounced and for probably the first five minutes or so, until the bad Vulcan reveals he's a Vulcan, I was like "what is this? Is this a movie? Is this that scientology movie?"
To emphasize my point, according to Wikipedia
the first solo free climb of El Capitan was
in 2017, by this guy.

Don't get me wrong, the movie is 100% the fun kind of bad rather than the soul-crushing kind of bad (which, spoiler alert, the next movie almost achieves), and I enjoyed every minute of it, so bear that in mind I guess.

This is the one that Shatner directed and came up with the story for, so there's a lot more attention than usual drawn to how cool Captain Kirk is. For example, there's an early scene in the movie where he's just casually free-climbing one of the world's most challenging rock formations which is... I'm not going to say impossible but it's certainly not possible for a seriously out of shape 60-ish year old dude.

I was interested in the budget for this movie which, according to wikipedia, was 33 million dollars in 1989 money (or ~67 million dollars in 2018 money), which I guess is not that much money to spend on a movie. Anyway, what I'm trying to say here is that the production values are pretty low. That works well on the TV series, but doesn't really lend itself to a movie.

The acting and dialogue is awkward and bad at worst, and fucking weird at best. There's this whole thing where Uhura and Scotty act like they've been fucking this whole time, which is all well and good I guess, except that there was never any indication at any other point in the movies or TV series that I can summon to memory that Uhura and Scotty were fucking, or were going to fuck. One of the things I really like about old Trek is that, for the most part, Uhura is not a potential romantic partner for one of the male leads but a character in her own right (the sexual tension between Uhura/Spock and Troi/Riker are both things that annoyed the living shit out of me about the new Star Trek movies, and Star Trek: TNG, respectively). That said, if Uhura were to fuck another main character, fucking Scotty is less obnoxious than fucking Kirk or Spock. I have mixed feelings about the situation.

Speaking of weird and perplexing dialogue/acting, this movie has one of the strangest scenes I think I've ever seen in it. Here's the whole scene, totally out of context, but the part I really want to talk about is towards the end. Kirk and Bones are trying to decide what campfire song to sing. Instead of singing American Pie or Mr. Brightside like normal people, they settle on Row, Row, Row Your Boat of all things. Then they struggle to remember the lyrics. To Row, Row, Row Your Boat. But that's not all. Later, when some freaky space shit is happening, Kirk solemnly mutters, "Life is but a dream". Yes, the central theme of this movie revolves around Row, Row, Row Your Boat. The mind boggles.

There's actually one pretty good scene in the movie where Vulcan-Satan is revealing peoples' daddy issues and we get to Bones - turns out his father was dying of some horrible, incurable disease, so he mercy killed him just days before the cure for the disease came out. Which is like... holy fuck. It explains why Bones was always such a grouch through the series (fun fact, my personal Star Trek head-canon is that Bones was a closeted alcoholic and chain-smoker, which this pretty much corroborates).

Buuuuut there's also just a lot of other weird, poorly planned out shit. For example, the Klingon ship that's chasing the Enterprise is there at one point, and whoever's on the bridge is like, "There's a Klingon ship - they're cloaked!" I'm sorry, but is not the point of a cloaking device to evade detection? Ships can't fire when cloaked in Star Trek, so I don't understand the point of cloaking at all at this point. The whole subplot with the Klingon ship is just there. It doesn't serve any function, nothing happens because there is a Klingon ship chasing them, and the whole problem is easily resolved by a tertiary character who also doesn't serve any other explicit function in the movie.

I have a couple of personal problems with the main plot as well (that is, the search for God at the centre of the galaxy).

Problem 1: As the most rational people in the galaxy, do Vulcans actually believe in God? And if so, why?

Problem 2: If there is a God, why would it live at the centre of the galaxy rather than the centre of the universe? And when it turns out that the surface of the planet it lives on is just the American desert through a purple filter, why is nobody disappointed?

Problem 3: The crew of the Enterprise is awed and not at all suspicious when they first meet this God, despite having literally met fucking Apollo in *ahem* season 2 episode 2 (spoiler alert, he was kind of a dick).

Problem 4: The crew surmises that the entity is not, in fact, God, because it is needy and vindictive, which, having skimmed the Old Testament, sounds very much like God to me.

Anyway, this movie is stupid as fuck but I had a lot of fun watching it. Would recommend to fans of bad movies, and Star Trek completionists. Normal people probably won't get anything out of it.

Merits
- There's a cat/woman stripper with three tiddies (+3)
- David Warner appears in the film (+1)
- Uhura's fan dance (+/- 1?)
- The Great Barrier is brightly coloured and exciting (+1)
Total: (+5)

Demerits
- Movie wants us to believe that Shatner can climb El Capitan (-1)
- Horrible green screen (-1)
- People from earth are referred to as "Terrans", a thing that pisses me off (-1)
- Row, Row, Row Your Boat (-2)
- The dialogue is, like, 80% puns (-1)
- They go to Paradise City but there is no green grass or pretty girls (-1)
- Half of the movie is Sybok locking Kirk, Spock, and Bones in different rooms (-1)
Total: (-8)
Final Score: -3

Directed by: William Shatner.  Written by: David Loughery.  Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Laurence Luckinbill, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, George Takei, David Warner, Todd Bryant.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Crescent

The Crescent (2017)

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The Crescent is the story of a recently widowed woman (Danika Vandersteen) and her very young son (Woodrow Graves) who move into a big empty house by the beach to relax after the sudden death of their respective husband and father in a boating accident. The woman struggles with raising a little kid by herself, while being freaked out by the weird neighbours, and haunted by strange occurrences that may or may not be the product of her sleep deprived brain.

It was made in Nova Scotia and captures the desolate, foggy beauty of this province that's so perfect and weirdly underutilized for horror. I'm going to blame the dearth of Nova Scotian ghost movies on the NS film tax credit getting gutted a few years back. Thanks a fucking lot for that one, Premier McNeil.

But I digress. This movie is half grim, Maritime drama, half haunted house movie and works effectively as both. The two main characters aren't extremely deep, but are well written enough to be both likable and believable, such that I didn't want to see either of them come to harm, which makes the drama engaging, and the horror more dreadful.

The acting from the two leads is phenomenal. Danika Vandersteen does an excellent job as the young mom, increasingly exhausted, overwhelmed, and grief-stricken while hiding all of those things from her son and herself. Woodrow Graves (whose parents are the director, and producer of the film) steals the fucking show though because he's, like, two or something and manages to knock the role out of the park. I don't even know how it's possible for a two year old to act convincingly in a movie but goddamn does he ever. There's a chunk of the movie where Vandersteen's character is incapacitated and Graves carries the movie by himself which would be insufferable with a weaker actor but here is poignant and heart-wrenching.

The look of the movie is very stylish, alternating between bleak, grey realism, and trippy Mario Bava eye-fuck colour show which appealed to me strongly. It reminds me of the aesthetic of weird, experimental horror from the 60s and 70s, while feeling still modern and not derivative of older films.

The story moves slowly, but not in a way that feels boring or draggy. Instead, there is a mounting feeling of dread, which combined with the jarringly discordant and creepy soundtrack, actually made my stomach hurt by the end of the movie (this sounds like a bad thing but it is not).

The use of CG effects (or really any effects) is sparse but well executed, making for a real "what the fuck" moment towards the end of the movie.

The ending of the movie itself is kind of weak, taking way too much time (including an extended flashback) to explain what the fuck was going on. I'm not going to go into the details of it like I normally do because I want to encourage people to watch this movie, but I would have preferred for it to have been a bit more subtle, leaving the viewer (me) with a sense of unease and bewilderment at what I just saw. One of the great things about The Shining, which this movie homages very deliberately, is that the ending is open to interpretation and you have to decide for yourself to a certain extent what the fuck it's supposed to mean.

It does fall a bit into Stephen-King-too-much-going-on territory. Like there's ghost-zombies that make you kill yourself, AND the horror of trauma and grief, AND a freaky hermit crab man. Any two of those things would have been great, but all three is overkill.

That being said, overall this movie is good. It rises above being a run of the mill ghost movie due to the superb acting and creative vision of the filmmakers. I strongly recommend giving it a watch if you like "slow burn", semi-experimental ghost horror, and I look forward to more from this director. You can watch the official trailer here.

Final Score: I watched this movie in the theatre so I didn't take very detailed notes, I'm just gonna give it an 8.

Directed by: Seth A. Smith.  Written by: Darcy Spindle.  Starring: Danika Vandersteen, Woodrow Graves, Terrance Murray, Britt Loder, Andrew Gillis, Andrea Kenyon.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Extinction

Extinction (2018)

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In this practically brand new Netflix movie, a guy (Michael Peña) starts having dreams and hallucinations of an alien invasion, which distress his wife (Lizzy Caplan) and daughters (Amelia Crouch & Erica Tremblay). Then aliens invade and everybody has to survive and stuff.

Extinction seems like a generic alien invasion movie for the first act, but starts to get weird and interesting when the aliens land. The core family drama of a detached man doing what he has to do to protect his wife and children held my interest and made me feel invested in the characters.

When the events of the invasion diverge from what the guy saw in his dreams, my interest was thoroughly piqued as I tried to figure out what the hell was going on. There's an absolutely mind bending twist that I did not see coming at all and I feel like I can't really discuss the rest of the movie without revealing so... stop reading now if you don't like spoilers I guess?

Still with me? Alright, here it is: the dreams the guy was having are not actually visions of the future, but memories of the past. The aliens aren't really aliens but human beings. The people aren't really people but androids who defeated their human masters in a brutal war and exiled them to Mars decades previously. I spent a full minute going "wooooooaaaaaaaahhhhh", which isn't something I get from a lot of sci-fi action movies. So that was pretty cool.

It makes the main character, and his family, who were up until that point fairly two-dimensional characters, a lot more engaging. These people endured unspeakable trauma and had to straight up murder the shit out of a bunch of people in order to be free. By the end of the movie, I really wanted to see them be okay and not get killed which honestly is not usually the case for big sci-fi action explosion movies like this one.

It also raises the usual, but still interesting, questions about, you know, what is the value of memories and relationships, and what makes humans human. It's the baseline philosophical delving for any work with one or more humanoid robots in it, but I really like robots so I dug it.

That said, the movie has some issues which range from trivial problems to serious flaws.

First off, there's never any explanation given for why Michael Peña (and, briefly, one other guy) is having flashbacks at all. At the end of the movie, Explainatron McExpositionbot (Mike Colter) reveals to us that following the defeat of humanity, most synths had their memories of the war replaced with normal ones so they wouldn't be stressed out about the atrocities they had to commit, or the possibility that humans would some day return and wipe them out. He does not, however, explain why some people have spontaneous recall of those memories, while others (such as literally every other character in the movie) do not.

Furthermore, suppressing almost everybody's memories of the war seems like a really bad idea coz if the humans ever did come back nobody would know what was going on and would freak the fuck out, which is exactly what happens. I rest my case.

Moving on, at no point in the movie do they ever make clear what the technology level of the synth society is. It's obvious from the get go that it's set in the near future because all the buildings look like iPhones but people still listen to vinyl for some fucking reason. But there's a part where this drone descends on the city and I just assumed that it was a natural occurrence until it starts exploding shit because I had no idea what the norm is in this universe.

There isn't really any explanation for what technology the humans have either. For example, they seem to have the ability to produce a 3D hologram of the city (and the underground tunnel system) with which they can locate their stolen guns which have biometric security and some sort of tracking device. What would be vastly more useful would be some sort of... thing to detect where the synths are in the city/tunnels. Surely they could lock on to their... biosynthetic... signal? My point is, if you can some made up technology there had better be a good reason why you can't have other, different made up technology. Furthermore, there's no reason given for why the humans dress like alien monsters. Buddy says that they've been living on Mars for a couple generations so they weren't sure if the air on Earth was still breathable, but why not just wear a normal looking spacesuit?

The dialogue is mostly mediocre - there's a good stretch through the middle of the movie where somebody screams "what's happening?!" at least every five minutes despite it being very clear that aliens destroying the city is what's happening.

The majority of the action and danger in the story, at least in the first half of the movie, seems really artificial and manufactured to serve the plot. For example, there's a scene where an enemy is breaking into the family's apartment, and instead of hide in the closet like she's told to, the youngest girl sneaks out looking for her stuffed toy. That serves as the catalyst for the girl to come face to face with one of the human attackers (Israel Broussard) so he can be confronted with a moral dilemma about killing synths, but makes exactly zero sense in terms of normal child behaviour. No, I don't have any children, but I used to be one, and I had nightmares and/or hallucinations about alien invasions all the time which would leave me completely paralyzed and unable to get out of my bed let alone run towards where I thought the danger was coming from.

The same thing happens multiple times with the same character. At another point, the family is trying to get to this sewer opening and avoid being shot up by space craft, so they're running across the road one at a time to safety. When it's the little girl's turn, she stops in the middle of the road to look at the fucking alien spacecraft which, like, no, a child wouldn't do that, I don't give a shit how curious it is.

The main guy also has an inexplicably vast amount of control over what happens in the world. At one point, he convinces a team of robot resistance fighters to release Israel Broussard's character simply by saying "wait!" or something. At this point, I was convinced that the twist was going to be that the whole movie was a dream, but that turned out to not be the case so what the fuck.

Finally, the whole thing is a very thinly veiled allegory for international immigration tensions. I don't mind science fiction to be about more than what it is about (97% of the genre would be unreadable if I did), but this movie really fucking hammered me over the head with it. The whole issue between humans and "synths" started because humans were all shitty about synths taking their jobs or whatever and got violent towards them, which is like, okay, that's about the level of message I'm down with in a movie. But then at the end the main guy narrates this whole speech about how "we aren't so different, them and us" or whatever which is a great message, sure, but also annoyingly blatant, especially where it's preaching to the choir in my case.

So yeah. Extinction is a fairly compelling sci-fi drama and I enjoyed it quite a bit despite its major shortcomings and disinclination to explain itself.

Merits
- This has some Scary Door level shit going on (+2)
- Movie made me have feelings (+1)
- The wife actually helps fend off an attacker at one point, you go girl (+1)
Total: +4

Demerits
- Too allegorical (-2)
- The guy being up front and honest with his wife is almost as annoying as people lying to their wives (-1)
- Vinyl-spinning hipster future aesthetic (-1)
- The "alien" space ships pretty much just look and sound like the craft in War of the Worlds (-1)
- Shitty greenscreen shots (-1)
- What's happening?! (-1)
- Little girl is the absolute worst (-2)
Total: -9
Final Score: -5

Directed by: Ben Young.  Written by: Spenser Cohen, Eric Heisserer, Brad Kane.  Starring: Michael Peña, Lizzy Caplan, Amelia Crouch, Erica Tremblay, Mike Colter, Israel Broussard.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Leatherface

Leatherface (2017)


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Leatherface is the prequel to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D - I assumed that Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D was the same movie as Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 (also called Leatherface) and this movie disregarded Texas Chainsaw Massacres 2 and 4, but Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D is actually a do-over of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which this film presumably retcons along with Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 and 4. I drew a schematic of the series (below) to guide you on this journey.
Basically, fuck you

The movie is about the notorious Sawyer family before they were inbred cannibal hillbillies with a chainsaw-wielding madman, and merely inbred cannibal hillbillies. The boys murder the daughter of the local sheriff (Stephen Dorff) for what the hellsies, prompting him to send the youngest son to a home for disturbed children where his name is changed. Some years later, a group of young people, including a psychopathic necrophiliac couple (James Bloor & Jessica Madsen), the mostly gentle giant Bud (Sam Coleman), one of the nurses from the institution (Vanessa Grasse), and a perfectly normal not-at-all-a-killer handsome regular sized dude (Sam Strike) escape from the institution. The group goes on some sort of spree across Texas, pursued by the increasingly violent and sadistic sheriff.

Leatherface seems like it has a lot of stuff to say about an array of social issues plaguing America at present - it addresses how the foster care system fails children with its depiction of a thinly-veiled lunatic asylum masquerading as a home for troubled youth; class division, with the matriarch of the family (Lili Taylor) marrying into money and hiring a lawyer in an attempt to be able to see her child; gun control, in one scene where the scary girl takes a gun from a restaurant patron's side holster, then goes for the shotgun behind the bar, proclaiming "I love Texas"; Texan Pride, when same girl tells the sheriff "kiss my Texan ass"; and police brutality, with the sheriff indiscriminately killing and torturing unarmed and restrained teen-convicts. While these social elements are all interesting, most of them are negated by having the characters with whom we most sympathize be vile, degenerate monsters. One could argue that having both the protagonists and antagonists be horrific, unpleasant people presents a fair and unbiased look at both sides of the issues the movie seeks to tackle, but what it actually does is make the movie boring and unenjoyable.

The only likeable and/or complicated character in the movie is Bud, who seems to genuinely want to do the right thing but is manipulated by his companions to the point that he doesn't know what the right thing to do is, but other than that there is next to no delving into his character. This is in part because the movie so badly wants us to think that Bud is going to turn out to be Leatherface, because he's huge and quiet, but capable of extreme violence when threatened. This would have absolutely been a more interesting direction for the character. Instead, Leatherface decides that Leatherface was once a small, polite, mild-mannered boy, the person one would least suspect to become Leatherface, making him automatically the person I most suspected.

The gore is pretty gross, although there's entirely too little of it. One of the big mistakes that the movie makes is forgetting that people watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies for the violence, gore, and rampant misogyny, not the family drama.

If you're going to make a horror movie about family drama, at least try to make that drama somewhat interesting (see Rob Zombie's Halloween, a movie which did everything wrong and still managed to pique my interest). At the start of the movie, the Sawyer family is already torturing a dude for stealing their pigs, dropping an engine on a girl for no reason, and giving a chainsaw to the youngest son for fun. The origin story of Leatherface, according to this movie, boils down to "well he's a fucked up murderer because his family is all fucked up murderers and they nicely asked him to fucked up murder some people". Killing people who trespassed on their land I can get. That's a specific situation that could gradually spiral into something else. But they lure the sheriff's daughter (Lorina Kamburova) into a barn and murder her for no real reason other than they're bored, which is not even at all a jump away from killing other people out of boredom.

There's a lot of stuff in the movie that doesn't get any satisfactory explanation or backstory - for example, what happened to Lili Taylor's other kids? When the sheriff's daughter gets murdered, the sheriff declares that the oldest brother will be sent to the electric chair (some other characters say that he won't because there's no solid evidence against him, but the sheriff is crazy and crooked as fuck so... I don't see why that's an issue) and that all the other children will be rounded up and sent into foster care or institutions. Towards the end of the movie, all the kids are back on the farm, and it's super unclear how they managed to get there.

The nurse, who is kind of the main character I guess, is absolutely fucking useless throughout. She tries to escape roughly every fifteen minutes (in a ninety minute movie) and always fails, then stands around doing jack shit to help while somebody rescues her. One of her escape attempts leads to Bud getting killed by the police, which triggers Niceman McMilderson's transformation into Leatherface McMurderboner. She even tries to save the sheriff from the Sawyer's house even though she knows he's an asshole. All of this I would expect - though not necessarily like - in an older movie, but in this age of female-led powerhouse horror (for more thorough analysis of feminism and horror I refer you to Anatomy of a Scream) it seems lazy and dated.

Ultimately, the worst thing about Leatherface is that it takes itself way too seriously. There is not one ounce of joy to be found in the movie. There's a scene where the errant teens shoot up a restaurant full of people, which is reminiscent of something out of Near Dark or Natural Born Killers but with all the fun sucked out of it. Even the shittiest entries in the original continuity were weird and goofy, but this is a turgid slog.

Merits
- Lili Taylor appears in the film (+1)
- The Power of Moms (+1)
- The Power of Friendship (+1)
- Gore is okay (+1)
- Some cool things made of bones (+1)
- There's a girl with burnt titties which is sort of unusual (+1)
Total: (+6)

Demerits
- Rips off/"homages" Friday the 13th for some reason? (-1)
- This backstory sucks (-1)
- The Halloween remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies (-1)
- The timeline of this series is all fucked up (-1)
- ECT in horror movies is cliched as hell (-1)
- Two characters get their fuck on while escaping from the mental institution which is the most obnoxiously out of place sex scene in a mainstream movie since Shoot 'em Up (-1)
- Way too serious (-1)
- The group has a bonfire inside a god damn camper and don't die of smoke inhalation (-1)
- Necrophilia can probably give you weird diseases (-1)
- The nurse is a dumbass (-2)
- The movie is so boring at one point the characters are covered from head to toe in blood and it's not even people blood (-1)
- Movie forgets that smell is a sense that humans have (-1)
- Predictable as shit (-1)
Total: (-14)
Final Score: -8

Directed by: Julien Maury, Alexandre Bustillo.  Written by: Seth M. Sherwood.  Starring: Vanessa Grasse, Sam Strike, Stephen Dorff, Lili Taylor, James Bloor, Jessica Madsen, Sam Coleman.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Lights Out

Lights Out (2016)


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I took a break from trawling youtube to trawl netflix, and Lights Out was the first thing listed under "scary movies" that I hadn't already seen. It's about a dysfunctional family harassed by a ghost-demon-monster thing that can't go in the light.

I have very few nice things to say about this movie so I'm going to get them out of the way quickly.

The fact that the monster can't go in the light yields a couple of pretty cool scenes - for example, there's a police officer at one point and they're shooting at the creature and the flash from the gun stops it so it moves forwards like a choppy flipbook which is neat.

I also really liked the main female character (Teresa Palmer) - she's supposed to be a kinda gothy metalhead, I guess, which doesn't really work, but what I like is how unsentimental she is. She has serious commitment issues, which I respect, and doesn't get all mushy until the very end of the movie which is cool. This puts her in contrast with her mother (Maria Bello) whose character is really sentimental, clinging to the past and letter her emotions control her and also manifest as a thought form that terrorizes her children.

The characters are reasonably well written for the most part, with the exception of the boyfriend character (Alexander DiPersia), whose main personality trait is that he's clingy. The first scene he's in, he's trying to pressure the main girl into letting him spend the night, which I guess is supposed to highlight her commitment problems but for me - a woman with commitment problems - just incurred immediate dislike of the guy. He also gets some pretty stupid dialogue, like when he first meets the girl's little brother (Gabriel Bateman) he's like "I didn't know you had a brother", even though she has a picture of her and her brother in her apartment. That made me mad because this guy is trying to pursue a relationship with her and insinuate himself into her life and whatever, but obviously never bothered to ask "who's the little kid in this picture of you?"

The only scares in the movie are jump scares which is obviously not a good thing - one got me early in the movie because I was hoping this wasn't that kind of movie, and that filled me with rage for about the first forty five minutes of the film. I feel like I've done this before, but I'm going to break down again why jump scares suck for anybody who thinks that "any scare is a good scare". With some very well handled exceptions, a seasoned viewer can tell when a jump scare is coming and react accordingly - I prepare by just taking one earbud out so it isn't so loud. In this movie, I could even predict whether there was going to be an actual jump scare, or a fake-out (e.g., oh my god is the monster behind that shower curtain, no, it's just the kid). To reiterate, jump scares are generally a lazy, predictable substitute for making a movie that's actually scary, and they make me hate you. Stop doing it.

Another lazy device in this movie is that apparently everybody in this family likes to buy shitty, defective light bulbs for some reason. The bulbs flicker like they're fucking strobe lights, and one bulb fails entirely, allowing the monster to kill a guy. It makes me wonder if the monster, which has an ill-defined suite of powers, also has the power to make light bulbs flicker? That power seems pretty useless except in the case where one light flickers so much the bulb burns out, but if that's a thing the monster can do why does it only do that once?

Also the climax of the film involves a power outage on the block which may or may not have been caused by the monster? I mean, they don't explicitly say that it was, but they don't say that it wasn't either, which is also kind of lazy. I know, power outages are not an usual occurrence, but for it to just go out on a clear night when a family just happens to be fighting a photosensitive ghost demands explanation. And again, if the monster can make the power go out, why doesn't it do that all the time? Why does it wait until its victims are prepared for it?

Speaking of being prepared, it's amazing to me how unprepared these people actually are for even a regular power outage. They only have, like, two flashlights and three candles, for a huge house. To contrast, I have a small apartment and have about forty five candles, a really big and bright flashlight,  a smaller and less bright flashlight, and several battery operated strings of holiday lights. Why? Because I like to be able to see what I'm fucking doing.

Back to the monster - I have some serious questions about the monster in this fucking movie. Question one - how dark does it need to be for the thing to attack? Coz like, sometimes it seems to be restricted to areas of pitch black, and other times it can come out when it's merely dim. Also there is at least one time when a character is in a room where the lights are on, and the monster is in the closet which has the door open but is completely, absolutely dark. I'm not a physicist, but I'm reasonably sure that that is not how light works.

Question two - does the monster occupy physical space or not? It can interact with, and physically harm, humans so I'm going to go with yes, but it also disappears when light is shining on it, but appears to be in the same place when the light goes away, but also can't move between shadows through places where there is light except sometimes it can. What I'm getting at here is that there are absolutely no rules for how this thing functions in the world which, okay, it's a ghost, but by not having any consistent rules it begs the question, why can't it just go wherever? Like... I dunno, inside your eyelids when you close your eyes. Is there any reason it can't?

Question three - why can it sometimes come into the light? This question is sort of related to the previous one in that there are no fucking rules for how this monster works. The only rule that is solidly laid out is that it can't come into the light, at all. Except that sometimes it can, like at one point it takes a kid's sketchbook when she turns her back on it, even though the sketchbook is underneath a fucking lamp. Also, towards the end they use a flashlight to burn it, even though previously it just disappeared whenever light was shone on it which goes back to the physical space question.

Question four - this isn't actually a question but the origin story of the ghost-monster is hilariously bad. Eventually we learn that the monster used to be a little girl named Diana who befriended the mom when she was in a mental hospital as a child. Diana had severe photosensitivity (like, severe enough that lamp light gave her burns. I'm not a doctor, but my boyfriend has mild photosensitivity, and from what I understand the reaction is caused by ultraviolet light, which regular lamps, and candles, do not emit) and psychic powers that she used to make people her friends and/or kill themselves, but only sometimes. Again, there isn't really any explanation of what powers she has exactly or why she doesn't use them all the time. Doctors at the mental hospital tried to treat her by shining a really bright light on her which made her literally turn to ash. I am not joking. I laughed my fucking ass off. But it also made her turn into a super powerful ghost for some reason. I can't even with this movie.

Question five - why doesn't black light work? At one point in the movie, the kids find a black light and use that to see. It turns out that the monster isn't harmed by the black light for some reason. Like I said before, from what I understand about light sensitivity, it's an extreme sensitivity to UV radiation, which is what a black light emits and therefore should probably be harmful to a person with this condition. I will accept that, maybe, the condition the monster has is actually magic and for some reason only light in the visible spectrum will hurt it. I can suspend my disbelief for that. But the lamp that the kids were using was definitely emitting visible light, so there's still no reason that the monster would not be affected.

Question six - why does the monster rip peoples eyes out? Is it because it tried to hide inside their eyelids but it was too big? You know what, I don't even give a fuck anymore, the monster in this movie is fucking stupid, I've made my point.

Want to know another really stupid thing about this movie? The ending. Towards the end of the movie we learn that the ghost-demon thing is basically the semi-physical manifestation of the mom's depression, sort of like the Babadook. Remember in The Babadook when the woman learns to live with the monster because, even though you can't make depression go away, you can manage it so that it doesn't ruin your life? Well, in this movie the Only Way to solve the problem is for the mom to blow her own fucking brains out with a handgun. Yes, the ultimate message of this movie is that you can get rid of your depression by killing yourself. Fuck this movie, right in the ear.

Merits
- Unsentimental woman (+1)
Total: +1

Demerits
- Jump scares are the ketchup of horror films (-1)
- Why not buy CFL bulbs, they use less power and last longer so they're good for your wallet and the environment (-1)
- Boyfriend is a dink (-1.5) [points restored for him like saving them or whatever]
- Convenient power outage (-1)
- Hand cranked flashlight, for extra uselessness (-1)
- Buy some more candles, jesus (-1)
- How can these people afford this massive house? (-1)
- The monster makes no fucking sense (-8)
- It's like The Babadook if The Babadook was a piece of shit (-2)
Total: -17.5
Final Score: -16.5 stars

Directed by: David F. Sandberg.  Written by: Eric Heisserer.  Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Alexander DiPersia.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Spookies

Spookies (1986)


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A boy (Alec Nemser) runs away from home because his parents forgot his birthday. He comes to a spooky old house, and is then unceremoniously killed by some kind of goblin-cat-man hybrid wearing a pirate costume (Dan Scott). Then, a group of young people, plus their old man friend, come to the house and are murdered by various monsters, because this wizard in the basement (Felix Ward) needs their souls to restore his dead wife (Maria Pechukas). This movie is extremely fucking weird.

From what I read about it, a movie about young people getting killed in a spooky old house called Twisted Souls was filmed and almost finished when blah blah blah productions something rights legal stuff happened and somebody else came along and slapped a whole bunch of bullshit about a wizard, a goblin man, and a runaway kid into the movie. There have been whole articles devoted to the weird shit show of this movie's creation so I won't get into it too much except to say that I quite liked the haunted house stuff, and not so much the wizard stuff. It's a shame that the original filmmakers didn't go on to much after this because some of their work here is quite inspired.

The only really good thing about the latter part of the movie is that the zombie effects are okay (oh yeah, there's also zombies in this movie). They're not great but they're pretty gross so I'll accept it. There's also a scene towards the end where the resurrected wife manages to escape the house and gets chased by zombies for almost five minutes. It's a long, unrelentingly horrifying scene, which probably would have been better in a different movie but still, it was well done.

Also, actually, to be fair, the relationship between the old wizard guy and his bride is fucked up enough to be interesting. We learn that she killed herself because she couldn't get away from him, and that she also mothered several of his children after being dead. I think that this implies that the crazy monsters in the other part of the movie are their children? I'm not sure.

Speaking of crazy monsters, the monsters in the good part of the movie are really weird, creative, and cool. There's one thing that's got a tentacle and a sucker thing and is electric. There's a woman in the basement who turns into a giant spider, which is totally my jam. The effects were well done so that makes this a fun monster movie. There's also one, possibly infamous scene, with some mud monsters that just... make fart sounds while they attack. It's so absurd I laughed my ass off watching it. A lesser movie would have made a point of the monsters being fart monsters by having one of the characters address the farts, thereby ruining the joke. But no, it's a normal monster attack scene. With fart sounds. That really appeals to my sense of humour for some reason.

The characters in the good part have an unusual dynamic which kept me invested in them throughout the movie. They fall roughly into horror movie archetypes - there's a tough greaser guy and his slightly trashy girlfriend, a frigid mean lady and her whipped boyfriend, a "funny" guy with a puppet, et cetera, but there's also one woman who's boyfriend is like... a good fifteen or twenty years older than the rest of the crew. He ends up being more or less the main character and I spent a lot of time imagining the situation where this woman wants to introduce her older boyfriend to her childhood friends only to realize that they really haven't grown up over the years, they still like to cruise around the country side and party in graveyards and shit, and she's trying to keep it together and make sure her boyfriend has a good time even though he's like not into that shit, and then monsters happen.

Anyway, the original bits of the movie were weird and funny and good, and even though they felt pretty Evil Dead-y, they were really fun to watch. It's a shame that they got chopped up and stuck in between absolute drivel. I would really like to see a proper cut of this movie, I don't know if one exists, but I'd like it.

The other part of the movie is cheap, and heartless. It has that low budget, made for TV feel (as opposed to the rest of the movie which has a low budget but good feel). The goblin-cat-man thing pretty much looks like Demon Cop in a pirate and/or cowboy costume. The sound recording is trash, especially for the wizard guy who sounds like all of his dialogue was recorded literally in a dumpster.

Before I realized that there were two movies haphazardly slapped together, I was really confused about whether the two cars full of people, and the runaway kid, knew each other. The way the opening scenes are edited makes it seem like they are related to each other in some way, but they obviously never come into contact with one another, and the kid just dies out of nowhere.

The parts with the kid were particularly awful and nonsensical. So, he runs away from home because his parents forgot his birthday. Then he comes to this house and just goes the fuck in for whatever reason. Then he comes to a room that's set up with birthday decorations addressed to him. And he's like "oh wow, you didn't forget". Even though they made clear that this is not his house. This is just some house that he happened to wander into. The fact that there is a birthday card in some stranger's house addressed to him does not freak him out at all, he's just like "ha ha, this is great".

I had a few problems with the good part of the movie too, let's be fair. Characters start a conversation and inexplicably don't finish it - for example, at one point the woman is talking to her old boyfriend and she says something along the lines of "it's funny, I grew up with these people-" and then just never finishes that thought. It's not like she got interrupted by something, she just stops talking. Also, the main-ish monster woman (I forgot to mention this but one of the group of people visiting the house gets turned into a super demon by a ouija board) seems to disappear for a large part of the movie before returning and causing more shit. That being said, I wonder if either of those problems were really problems to begin with, or were just fucked up by sloppy editing later.

Overall, that's my opinion of the whole movie. Twisted Souls might not have been a good movie if it had been permitted to exist, I'll never know, but what I saw of it was entertaining and funny, and very well could have been a decent horror comedy if Spookies hadn't come along and shit all over it.

Merits
- Zombies are okay (+1)
- Very cool monsters (+4)
- Old-kid (+1)
Total: +6

Demerits
- Wizard's shitty "European" (?) accent (-1)
- Wizard's shitty old-man makeup (-2)
- Wizard talks constantly to no one in particular (-1)
- crappy made for TV feel (-1)
- There's a chess analogy in there somewhere (-1)
- The kid just dies (-1)
- Greaser guy wants to fuck his girlfriend after seeing two of his friends die (-1)
- The end of the movie is stupid and meaningless (-1)
Total: -9
Final Score: -3

Directed by: Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner, with additional material by Eugenie Joseph.  Written by: Thomas Doran, Frank M. Farel, Brendan Faulker, with additional material by Ann Burgund.  Starring: Peter Dain, Felix Ward, Nick Gionta, Maria Pechukas, Kim Merrill, Lisa Friede, Joan Ellen Delaney, Dan Scott, Alec Nemser, Peter Iasillo Jr., Charlotte Alexandra, Anthony Valbiro, Soo Paek.