Saturday, September 9, 2017

Hoop-Tober 2017

So since I'm doing so well with the History of Horror Challenge I decided to pick up a second film challenge for the month of October. If you want to play with Hoop-Tober with me, an explanation of what it even is can be found here, and you can view my list and follow me on letterboxd and whatever over here. I tried to make my list as short as possible, and have some overlap with my history of horror list because I'm lazy as fuck. Anyway, here's the list of films with the requirements they satisfy.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) Country: USA - Decade: 1970s - John Carpenter
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Country: USA - Decade: 1930s -  Pre 1970 - James Whale - Sequel
Day of the Dead (1985) Country: USA - Decade: 1980s - George Romero 'of the Dead' Series - Sequel
Diabolique (1955) Country: France - Decade: 1950s - Terrible Oversight
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) Country: UK - Decade: 1960s - Pre 1970 - Hammer Horror - Sequel
Dumplings (2004) Country: China - Decade: 2000s - Cannibals
Eaten Alive (1976) Country: USA - Decade: 1970s - Tobe Hooper
Eaten Alive! (1980) Country: Italy - Decade: 1980s - Cannibals
Evil Dead 2 (1987) Country: USA - Decade: 1980s - Sam Raimi - Sequel
Kwaidan (1964) Country: Japan - Decade: 1960s - Pre 1970
Scream 2 (1997) Country: USA - Decade: 1990s - Wes Craven - Sequel
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) Country: USA - Decade: 1980s - Tobe Hooper - Sequel
The Undertaker and His Pals (1966) Country: USA - Decade: 1960s - Pre 1970 - Cannibals
The Unknown (1927) Country: USA - Decade: 1920s - Pre 1970 - Tod Browning
We All Scream for Ice Cream (2007) Country: USA - Decade: 2000s - Tom Holland

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Old Dark House

The Old Dark House (1932)

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The next category in the History of Horror Film Challenge was either Tod Browning or James Whale. I picked James Whale specifically because The Old Dark House has been on my list for years and now I've finally gotten around to watching it. Amazing.

It's about a miserable couple (Raymond Massey & Gloria Stuart), a rich guy and his chorus girl girlfriend (Charles Laughton & Lilian Bond), and another guy (Melvyn Douglas) who are forced to stop at an old dark house due to a rain storm fucking up the roads. The house is inhabited by a bitchy old lady (Eva Moore), her neurotic brother (Ernest Thesiger), and their mute, violently drunk butler (Boris Karloff). And then they like have dinner and talk and shit.

This movie is incredibly charming and at times very funny. Basically every line Ernest Thesiger delivered cracked me up. There's a point where the couple wind up upstairs and find the aging father of the weird siblings (John Dudgeon), who is also particularly funny.

It also does a pretty damn good job at summarizing the gothic horror genre, making it sort of a gothic horror comedy, which is a genre combination which probably hasn't been done well since.

On a technical note, the lighting was especially fun, even including a 1930s jump scare, where the wife lady is making shadow puppets against the wall and the violent butler's shadow just appears from behind her shadow, which startled me pretty good. Normally I'd complain about there being a jump scare but seeing as this was made in '32 and it was actually still scary I'm going to give it a round of applause.

The actors are all really good in a fun, 1930s way. Melvyn Douglas, who I mainly know as the fucking ancient dude from Being There is smoking hot as the romantic lead in this, so that's nice for me anyway.

It was disappointing that Karloff was given virtually nothing to do, basically reprising his role as Frankenstein's monster and drunkenly lurching about the house. I guess at this point in history he hadn't really done too many speaking roles so I can't fault them that too much.

While the actors may have been delightful, the characters were kind of stupid. There's a part where the bat-shit fucking insane, manipulative, pyromaniac other brother (Brember Wills) gets released and almost everybody just goes and hides. Like, they were given the information that this guy was definitely going to try to burn the house down if he got out, and you can't hide from fire so I don't know what the point of that was.

The writing is decent, like I said earlier, there are some pretty funny lines, and they actually manage to pack quite a bit of character development into the movie. Charles Laughton and Lilian Bond especially go from being the most obnoxious people in the world to sort of likeable by the end without it feeling too forced which is impressive.

The other issue with the movie is that not a lot happens for the majority of it. Most of what's going on for most of the movie is dinner, and then a bunch of strangers being weirdly frank with each other while waiting for the power to get knocked out. Yes, it's a gothic tale, nothing happening is par for the course. No, that's not a valid excuse.

This movie is still fun and surprisingly influential. One of the big things I noticed was how much the movie Dolls borrows from this movie, mainly because I watched Dolls not that long ago.

All in all, this is a delightful older movie and definitely a must watch if you like your scary to be silly. If you're not into silly, or not into movies with very (very) little action, then this is not for you.

Merits
- "Have a potato" (+2)
- Old timey jump scare (+1)
- Boris Karloff is in the film (+1)
- Charles Laughton is in the film (+1)
- Ernest Thesiger is in the film (+1)
- Melvyn Douglas, the unexpected smoke show (+1)
Total: (+7)

Demerits
- Characters are dumb (-1)
- Nothing happens for an hour (-1)
Total: (-2)
Final Score: +5

Directed by: James Whale.  Written by: R.C. Sherriff, Benn W. Levy based on the novel by J.B. Priestly.  Starring: Melvyn Douglas, Lilian Bond, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Ernest Thesiger, Eva Moore, Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Brember Wills, John Dudgeon.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Curucu

Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956)

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This is the second film I've gone out of my way to watch for the History of Horror Challenge, giving me a whopping 6/51 films in the year long challenge. I'll get through 'er, it's alright.

Anyway, this film was supposed to fill out the "Universal Monsters" requirement for the challenge. I picked it because I had seen pretty much all of the standard Universal Monster flicks so I had to drag the bottom of the barrel.

Curucu is about a bushwhacking adventure dude (John Bromfield) who is bushwhacking his way through the jungle to get to the bottom of a mystery involving a giant bird monster killing people. There's also a lady doctor (Beverly Garland) with him trying to find an herb that the indigenous people use to make shrunken heads.

This movie isn't especially well preserved, which, combined with the fact that I had never fucking heard of it, lead me to worry about what I was getting myself into. The picture and audio quality were pretty bad at times so it was difficult to tell what was going on when the plot was supposed to be set up, although once they got into the jungle it was okay.

Like I said, that's mostly a preservation issue. The budget of the movie, according to wikipedia, was $155,000 (which is like $1.3 million in 1956 money). That's not an extremely massive budget but it's still pretty decent, and the whole thing was shot on location in the Amazon. I had the misfortune of watching the black and white version of this movie that's on youtube, rather than the original colour version which I probably would have enjoyed a lot more.

There is tons of footage of South American wildlife including, but not limited to, crocodiles, anacondas, iguanas, water buffalo, a coati, a marmoset, a margay, a leopard, and a capybara. I seriously had to pause the movie every couple of minutes to get a look at the animals. Sometimes they're interacting with the cast, a lot of the time they're not, once they used a pitiful green screen effect to put the actors in the path of a herd of water buffalo. Doesn't matter, it still delighted the fuck out of me.

The movie also has some things to say about the conflict between indigenous culture, and European culture. It comes up over and over again and is, really, the main theme of the movie. Whether it's the main character literally assaulting a guy for telling locals they should leave the plantations and go back to the jungle, or a confrontation between a Catholic priest and a local spiritual leader over whether or not Curucu is real, indigenous-European relations are at the forefront of the movie.

And I would have gotten away with it, too... (Source)
Just scrolling through other reviews of this movie, one of the main complaints seems to be that the advertising of the film was misleading. It's advertised as a monster movie, and it really isn't. It's an adventure film and the really shitty looking monster is shitty looking because it's actually the local guide (Tom Payne) wearing a costume in an attempt to discourage white people from going further into the jungle and causing harm to his people. So it's basically Scooby Doo with a social message.

I have no idea whether or not the point of this movie was to make us sympathetic towards Tom Payne's character - maybe he was supposed to be viewed as a deranged madman, but when he does his speech about "maybe if you two disappear, they'll leave us alone" seems surprisingly rational for a '50s movie villain. Of course, killing people is not the answer, it's merely an answer, but it still made for interesting moral conflict for a modern viewer.

The issue with that whole thing is that in order to maintain the hero as the hero, he has to defeat the villain and winds up basically burning down the whole village where this group of people lives. The hero was unlikable enough as it was, being a racist, womanizing asshole, so his "triumph" over the "Indians" didn't exactly fill me with joy.

The other problem in general is that after the two leads escape the indigenous village, the movie ought to be over but it's not. They bushwhack their way back through the jungle, now without a guide, and encounter some more animals, and get attack by a snake and also the remaining people from the tribe they just doomed to extinction, except now there's not really any mystery, they're just going back where they came from and trying not to get killed by things. The movie is only an hour-fifteen but the last fifteen minutes drag like a motherfucker, which is unfortunate.

All in all, though, this is a fun adventure movie with lots of footage of wild animals. If you're expecting a Universal Monster movie you're going to be severely disappointed, but if you're ready to relax and look at some exotic wildlife, you're going to have a good time.

Merits
- the main female character's name is the same as my name (+1)
- South American wildlife (+11)
- the plight of the local people (+1)
Total: (+13)

Demerits
- horrible green screen (-1)
- curucu looks stupid (-0.333 penalty reduced because it's not an actual monster, and because curucu stands for social justice)
- the main dude is a douchenozzle also his name is "Rock" (-3)
- there is a dance number (-1)
- casual 1950s racism (-1)
- kiss rape (-1)
- ending is a drag (-1)
Total: (-8.333)
Final Score: 4.667

Written and Directed by: Curt Siodmak.  Starring: John Bromfield, Beverly Garland, Tom Payne.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Feast 3

Feast III: The Happy Finish (2009)

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The third installment in the Feast series follows the survivors of Feast 2 continuing to survive by fleeing the monsters through the town's sewer. This series has a serious downhill trajectory and I have nothing whatsoever nice to say about this one so I'll just pick up my bat and get to bashing this fucking sad excuse for a movie.

Sometimes, in life, there are good movies, and sometimes there are bad movies. Some bad movies can be fun, because they are seriously trying to be good movies and it's funny to watch them fail. This is not one of those movies. This is a movie that goes out of its way to be bad. It's like a Troma movie, but without the indescribable entertainment factor.

Feast 3 introduces more, and new "badass" characters who seem like they have the solution to everybody's problems and then get killed, which was surprising in the first movie but is now just a worn out gimmick.

It's established early on that the monster attack is now nationwide but that is never elaborated on, making the once interesting ambiguity frustrating and pointless.

There's even more puerile humour with close-ups of monster balls, and a scene where the waitress from the last two movies (Jenny Wade) gets decapitated, her head gets eaten by a monster, and then immediately shit out. Which, like... that doesn't even make sense. I get that there's not a lot of scientific accuracy to these movies, and I've been avoiding pointing that out because I don't want to draw too much attention to how much of a fucking dork I am, but what kind of digestive system allows for that?

Oh, also, there's a new monster power introduced in this movie. That's right, in addition to the vomiting that makes people go crazy (that's used like, a couple of times in the previous movies, which is stupid coz why wouldn't you use that if you could), the monsters now can fuck people and turn them into monsters or something. I have two questions - what the fuck is the point of that, and why hasn't this been addressed until now? Because fuck the viewer, I guess, that's why.

I was kind of expecting the two survivors from the first movie to make a return at some point in this series, but they obviously had better things to do with their lives. Balthazar Getty, for example, was on Twin Peaks I guess and Krista Allan was in one of the Final Destination movies which is important.

Not only is the story stupid, but the quality of film making has also dropped, and the action scenes are completely incomprehensibly, with shaky camera work and rapid editing. It baffles my mind that the same writers and director worked on all three movies coz, like, Feast, while not great, was certainly interesting. Feast 2 was kind of blah, and this movie is a fucking piece of shit.

There's one scene where the main characters end up in a confrontation with puke-infected people that could have been scary because the puke-girl is pretty freaky looking and there's a disembowelment, but the lighting and editing is too flashy and seizure-inducing to actually tell what's going on. This was probably to hide the effects budget (or lack thereof), but it comes off as shitty and wasteful.

Also, while I'm talking about lighting, a great deal of this movie is just dark. I don't know if that's because it's supposed to be scary, or if they could fucking afford lights, but there it is.

There's one bit that's actually sort of funny. The latest kickass character shows up and he's like really good at martial arts or whatever, and he ends up losing both of his arms. Now, putting aside the fact that, without treatment, he likely would have died of shock, there's a point where the other characters have climbed up a ladder and Clu Gulager says to the guy, "take my hand!", and buddy just looks at his arm stumps. I didn't actually laugh because my sense of humour had been totally eviscerated by this series at that point, but if I was drunk I probably would have.

But yeah, if you're not an utter asshole like me, you're not even going to get that out of this movie.

This is a movie that actively hates it's audience. I'm going to spoil the ending of the series for you because seriously, do not bother watching this movie. In the end, Clu Gulager and the adulterous wife from the second movie (Hanna Putnam) make it out, and Clu Gulager, totally out of character, is like "we have to repopulate the earth" and starts whipping his clothes off, and then a giant robot comes out of nowhere and smooshes the girl as if to say "ha ha, fuck you for watching my movie". I'm not even joking, that is what happens. Don't believe me? I don't blame you. Here's the scene all up on the youtube.

To that I say, "fuck you" back, and demand a refund of my time.

Merits
- Seriously, fuck this movie (-1)
Total: (-1)

Demerits
- Yet more pooping/diarrhea (-2)
- "Surprising" deaths no longer surprising (-1)
- Monsters still humping stuff (-1)
- Monster ballz (-1)
- New monster powers (-1)
- Farts (-1)
- There's a wizard? I guess? (-1)
- Lighting/editing is stupid (-2)
Total: (-9)
Final Score: -10

Directed by: John Gulager. Written by: Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton.  Starring: Clu Gulager, Diane Ayala Goldner, Hanna Putnam, Juan Longoria Garcia, Josh Blue, Craig Henningson, Tom Gulager, Chelsea Richards, Carl Anthony Payne, Jenny Wade, William Prael, John Allen Nelson.

Feast 2

Feast II: Sloppy Seconds

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Feast 2 picks up immediately following the end of Feast - the leader of a bike gang (Diane Ayala Goldner) finds out that her sister (also played by Goldner) had been killed during the events of the first movie and teams up with the bartender (Clu Gulager) who somehow survived the first movie. They head to the next town and find it overrun with monsters. Along with a few surviving locals, they must try to not get eaten by things.

This movie keeps up the highly stylized vibe of the first movie, doing interview-style character introductions to keep it fresh and, also, to minimize time spent on character development.

There's as much, if not more, blood, and definitely more guts, with intestines spilling out of people left, right, and centre, although there was obviously less money and/or time spent on the effects because they looked a lot shittier this trip.

It also continues with the situation style humour, and has a few genuinely funny moments, including one particularly tasteless and infamous scene where an attempt to rescue a baby goes south (you can watch it here, bearing in mind that, like I said, it is in extremely poor taste. Still funny tho).

Mostly, though, it seems like the filmmakers sat down and asked themselves, "what was good about Feast?", then came to the conclusion that it was not the breaking with genre expectations but, in fact, the gross-out humour, coz this movie has that in spades.

Where the last movie had dick and fucking jokes, this one throws in extra farting, shitting, and vomiting for good measure. You know, because it's fun. There's a scene where one of the characters decides to dissect a dead monsters to discover that inside the body there is a gigantic eye and a mouth. This is not important. What is important is that he makes it fart, puke, piss, and shit on the other characters. Because comedy?

What's more, there's no real rhyme or reason given for the sudden increase in monster numbers. In the first one, there were four, which I guess I could buy, but in this one there's monsters all over the place. Where did they come from? What are they? Sometimes, less is more. In the first movie, that worked. The monsters were there because they were there, it didn't matter why. In this one it feels lazy. It's gone from a bizarre freak event to something major and there's not even any slight attempt at rationalization.

Another big issue with the movie is that the characters are all fucking garbage. There is not one person in the movie that I could identify or sympathize with. They're all a bunch of jackasses for whom I have no patience. Sure, they're zany. But adding wrestlers with dwarfism or a guy with a mustache to your movie doesn't actually make it any more compelling.

In the first movie, the characters were all assholes, but at least by the end of the movie the two unlikely heroes had grown enough that I was rooting for them. In this one, the only person I was rooting for was the waitress (Jenny Wade) because even though she backstabbed everybody in the first movie, by god, she had some will to live.

Even the monsters were less cool in this one. In the first one they had weird skull masks and cloaks and looked all freaky and weird. In this one they were just running around naked for some reason. Why? Who the fuck knows.

The other thing that pissed me the fuck off about this movie is that it just ends mid scene. Some of the characters are trying to get into a building, and that doesn't work, and then monsters break in to the place where the other people are, and then the credits role. So they obviously couldn't think of a good ending for the movie, and didn't want to have everybody die so that they had room for a sequel, which is presumptuous as fuck.

This movie basically hits all the same stops as the first one without any of the wit or punch, but isn't actually bad enough to be entertaining. Avoid, if possible.

Merits
- Stylish (+1)
- Occasionally funny (+1)
- Girl bikers are aesthetically pleasing (+1)
- Baby Toss scene (+1)
Total: (+4)

Demerits
- Farting, shitting, pissing, and puking (-5)
- Dog slaughter (-1)
- Monsters more plentiful, and easier to kill (-2)
- Trash characters (-1)
- Cat rape (-1)
- Ending sucks (-1)
Total: (-11)
Final Score: -7

Directed by: John Gulager.  Written by: Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton.  Starring: Diane Ayala Goldner, Clu Gulager, Hanna Putnam, Tom Gulager, Martin Klebba, Juan Longoria Garcia, Carl Anthony Payne, Jenny Wade, William Prael.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Feast

Feast (2005)

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So if you follow me on Twitter you'll know that I spent my Sunday evening watching the Feast trilogy and, like... tweeting about it. If you don't follow me, then I'm going to boil down my thoughts on these three movies for your reading pleasure. I'm going to cover the first one tonight, and post reviews of the second two next week to keep you on the edge of your seats (also because I am tired).

Feast is about a back road bar full of quirky characters besieged by a family of gross, hairy monsters intent on eating everybody inside. The people, almost all of whom are total assholes, must band together in order to survive the attack. Most of them die.

The movie conveniently skips any character development by giving a quick profile on each of the numerous characters, which is fun and stylish and allows the movie to get to the action almost immediately. We're given a rough idea of who each person is, what horror tropes they embody, and their life expectancy, doing away with needless chit-chat.

For the most part, the movie is pretty cool, utilizing the kind of editing tricks you would see in one of those sexy crime films, making it look all slick and modern. That wears off about halfway through the movie, though, so the style is uneven throughout.

It's not intense or scary in any capacity, but there's lots of blood and gore (and I mean lots) to keep me interested. I mean, it's not Evil Dead level, but it's certainly plentiful. Limbs get severed, heads burst, eyes get pulled out of skulls, and the effects are pretty decent.

What's most interesting about the movie is that it goes out of its way to subvert the horror tropes that it establishes, making for great situational irony. The character (Eric Dane) who seems like the standard "kick-ass hero" (his name is even given as "Hero") gets killed almost immediately upon his arrival. The cute waitress (Jenny Wade) who's set up to either get murdered, become the love interest for one of the male characters, or morph into a gun toting badass does exactly none of those things. And just about any time somebody makes a definitive statement (e.g., "they won't notice me here") the opposite thing happens (e.g., they get eaten right after uttering those words). It makes for a clever, self aware monster movie that never goes where I expected it to. Be that as it may, the black guy still died early on, I'm just sayin'.

Not pictured: monster dick
While the monsters aren't especially fear-inducing, they are pretty cool looking. They've got heads like cow skulls and big old horns and look like something out of The Dark Crystal or an equally terrifying children's film.

They're also shown to be incredibly smart (although not smart enough to, say, set traps or anything like that) and capable of lightning fast reproduction, which makes the human character's situation all the more dire.

 Later on in the movie, the skulls are revealed to be a sort of mask and the monsters underneath are your standard hairy, toothy movie monster, albeit with way more attention given to their cocks than I've ever seen in a monster movie.

This brings me to one of the biggest downsides of the movie. Feast is a horror comedy but, instead of relying on irony (the highest form of comedy), it throws in a lot of Scary Movie grade body humour. Now, before you think I'm some sort of prude, I am not averse to a well executed dick joke. This movie just goes overboard into teenage boy territory. For example, in addition to wanting to eat just about everything, the monsters really like to fuck the shit out of everything, and three scenes - three - are devoted to them humping people, inanimate objects, or each other. Because... that's funny, I guess? NOT TO ME IT'S NOT. Once, I could live with. Three times, not so much. Basically, that sent me from "oh hell yeah" to "oh fuck no" in record time.

The other issue that I had was that there were, like, a fuckton of characters, most of whom were fodder for the first half hour. I understand why that is. You need to show that the monsters are really bad and can kill and eat a whole bunch of people, but I quickly lost track of how many people there were, how many survived, and where exactly all of them were. This left me wistfully confused as I would occasionally remember some character from the beginning and wonder where the hell they went.

Ultimately, this movie is decent. It takes a pretty generic premise and makes it interesting by defying expectations. It would have been pretty good if it hadn't leaned so heavily on juvenile humour, but it definitely shows promise. Boy howdy, I bet the sequels are some good. Tune in next week to find out.

Merits
- Character profiles, including life expectancy (+1)
- So much blood (+1)
- Stereotype subversion (+1)
- Situational irony (+1)
- Clu Gulager (+1)
- Cool looking monsters (+1)
Total: (+6)

Demerits
- Monsters humping stuff (-3)
- Too many characters (-1)
- Henry Rollins (-1)
Total: (-5)
Final Score: +1

Directed by: John Gulager.  Written by: Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton.  Starring: Balthazar Getty, Krista Allen, Clu Gulager, Navi Rawat, Jenny Wade, Henry Rollins, Josh Zuckerman, Duane Whitaker, Judah Friedlander, Eileen Ryan, Diane Ayala Goldner, Eric Dane.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Babadook

The Babadook (2014)


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Now that I'm out of Ti West movies, I'm progressing on to other, non-West films that Zack (found on twitter here) lent me. I was reticent to watch this movie when it came out because, much like with The Bye Bye Man, I thought the title was stupid and therefore the movie would be stupid. Turns out it's actually great. Maybe I should go watch The Bye Bye Man now, fuck, I don't know.

The movie is about a frazzled widow (Essie Davis) trying to raise her weird kid (Noah Wiseman) and generally having a hard time with her life. It gets a whole lot harder when she reads a kid's book called Mister Babadook that releases some kind of horrible demon thing into her life.

Or does it? Up until the last chunk of the movie I wasn't totally sure whether there actually was a Babadook, or if the main character was just hugely sleep deprived and finally asserting herself with her weird, misbehaving, demanding kid. It works as both a horror movie about a supernatural entity, and a drama about the non-supernatural horror of being a single mother, which says a lot about how solid the story is.

The relationship between the mom and the kid is also really interesting and probably realistic, I don't know. It's worth noting that I am a person who hates children so I probably got something entirely different out of this than a regular person. Both the mom and kid seem to have some pretty serious issues - the mom's suffering from chronic depression and probably PTSD from witnessing the sudden death of her husband and the son is just really poorly behaved - but they're both weirdly likable. They seem like actual people and the actions that they take never seem forced or out of character.

For example, the movie sort of falls into the "children are fucking freaky" subgenre, but it doesn't go out of the way to make it so. The little boy doesn't speak backwards, or act way too mature for his age, or see dead people, he just acts like a kid would act which is alarming enough because children actually are fucking freaky.

That makes the mother's reactions to him throughout the movie, and her eventual realization that she legit loves him, more potent. She's not just dealing with weird monsters and supernatural shit, she's chronically exhausted from dealing with the regular day-to-day shit, the weird monsters and supernatural shit are what push her over the edge.

The horror of the movie is thus really tangible. It doesn't come from jump scares or gratuitous violence, it comes from real, accessible, believable people being put into an extreme situation. It's scary in the way that The Exorcist is scary. Sure, we all remember the power puking and the head spinning and the bloody vagina, but what really freaked me out about The Exorcist was not the body horror stuff, it was the idea that your life can be torn apart by forces you cannot comprehend, control, or stop.

Also, it's creepy as fuck.

The use of the monster is minimal, instead we get to be scared by peoples reactions to the monster, and anticipation about seeing the monster. And when it is on screen, it's pretty fucking horrifying. You never get a full blown look at it, but it's very reminiscent of Nosferatu, which the filmmakers even point out by showing us clips from Nosferatu. Again, this adds to the idea that the woman might actually be just losing her shit. She watches Nosferatu on TV, she visualizes a monster that looks like Count Orlock, why not.

Lookit them fingers
The movie never feels gratuitous at any point. There isn't a whole lot of violence and there's very little blood - there's one scene where the mom vomits a whole shit load of blood but it's done as tastefully as I've ever seen blood vomited which... I mean, that's impressive, right?

The two lead actors are really good - a child actor can fucking make or break a film, and Noah Wiseman is 100% convincing as a six year old kid. His character is both well acted and well written so he never feels cloying or unlike a child. Essie Davis is fucking great - she's not as good in the second half of the movie when she starts Jack Torrence-ing all over the place, but she more than makes up for it in the first half.

The movie looks beautiful, and, unlike a lot of movies with really pretty cinematography and no substance, it's really visually interesting. It's definitely very arty, but not in an obnoxious way. By that I mean, the artfulness of the photography and editing doesn't detract from the functionality of the film as entertainment. But there was stuff for my eyes to do while my brain was processing what was happening. Also, there's all kinds of visual cues to tell you what's happening, like the change in the colour palette of the mother's wardrobe - shit like that just makes it interesting to watch.

I don't say this often because it's something that you don't notice unless it's really bad or really good, but the music and sound editing was really good. I don't actually know how to articulate how good it was, so I'm just going to leave you with that.

I haven't even started to unpack the themes and symbolism of the movie yet, and I'm not going to because you could (and people probably already have) write an essay about what the fuck is going on in this movie. You can make an argument that the Babadook itself represents whatever you want it to, the most obvious things being the woman's grief over her husband's death, her love for her son, and LGBTQ+ issues (I took some time to try to find out why exactly the Babadook has been lauded as an LGBTQ+ icon, some very good point were made). You can actually make any movie be about anything you want it to be, who gives a shit, but this movie in particular really lends itself to interpretation.

Because the Babadook is this unstoppable thing that never goes away, and changes the main character's lives rather dramatically, and, spoiler ahead, ends up semi-peacefully cohabiting with the family instead of being destroyed, it is very easy to put ones own struggles in place of the monster (for example, my struggle is depression, the Babadook could totally represent depression). And that's okay. I'm not a philosopher but I am here to tell you that you can imagine any movie meaning anything as long as it doesn't hurt anybody.

Hell, if all you want it to represent is a scary ass fucking monster from a kid's book that like comes to life and possesses people and makes them kill their kids, that's totally okay too. This movie works as a monster movie too.

All in all, this really is an excellent piece of filmmaking and it blows my fucking mind that it was Jennifer Kent's feature debut. Good for her, my god.

Merits
- Looks good (+1)
- Australian accents (+1)
- Good acting (+1)
- Dog is adorable (+1)
- Realistic female masturbation (+1)
- Sound design (+1)
- Good drama (+1)
- Tasteful (+1)
Total: +8

Demerits
- Dog Slaughter (-5)
Total: -5
Final Score: +3

Written and Directed by: Jennifer Kent, based on her short film "Monster".  Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Hershall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West, Tim Purcell, Hachi.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Sacrament

The Sacrament (2013)

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The last and, arguably, the best of the stack of Ti West movies Zack (@LightisFading on Twitter) lent me, like, ages ago, The Sacrament is about a journalism crew (AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg) from Vice and their photographer friend (Kentucker Audley) going to some jungle somewhere to shoot a piece on a creepy hippy community and hopefully convince the photographer's sister (Amy Seimetz) to come home. It goes exactly where you think it's going to go, but it's so uncomfortable that it's okay.

I'm not typically a fan of found footage movies - I get that they're so plentiful because, generally speaking, they're really cheap to make, but that doesn't make them good or even entertaining. Cameras jiggling around in the dark doesn't really do a whole hell of a lot for me, and most found footage movies are so poorly thought out that it would have been better for them not to have been made at all.

This movie, though, both grounds itself in the real world, and gives itself an excuse to not look like something a child filmed, by setting up that the characters are doing one of those Vice documentaries.

It lends a level of credibility to the whole thing which is further enforced when the community members describe why they decided to abandon society and go live in the jungle. All of them are from poor, marginalized neighbourhoods, or, in the case of Amy Seimetz' character, drug users. It seems rational that they would want to fuck off away from modern society. I can see the appeal.

Plus the head of the community (Gene Jones) is weirdly charismatic. I mean, yeah, he's creepy as all fuck, partially because most people have heard of the Jonestown massacre and that's the first place our minds go when we see some weird neo-Baptist setting up a community in the jungle. But he also talks a weird kinda sense, it's hard to not see his point, at least in the first part of the movie.

The second part of the movie gets really upsetting, really quick. Spoiler alert, the inevitable happens and the community members commit mass suicide while the camera guy and reporter try to get out alive.

Really, the story is not very complicated. Guys go to community, community leader crazy, everyone die, guys attempt to escape with varying degrees of success. It doesn't need anything more complex. It doesn't even need strong characters, let's get real, I didn't really give a shit about any of the people in the movie.

This movie prevails exclusively on atmosphere for the first part, and sheer unpleasantness for the second part. I will admit that I'm a pretty sensitive person, and I was extremely uncomfortable through the last twenty or so minutes of this movie. Which is good, I guess, for me anyway.

That's partly due to the hyper-realism of it. While the front part of my brain knew that this was a movie, there was that little nagging bit in the back that was telling me it wasn't and that was very upsetting.

The only things that bugged me about this movie actually were little technical things which, obviously, I'm going to nitpick the fuck out of.

Firstly, there are two cameras in the story. The one that the camera guy has, and the photographer guy's camera shoots video. There are scenes in the movie where one of the cameras is not present, and yet there are still at least two angles being filmed. I could explain this away as an editing thing, except when they're two shots of the same person talking. Then it's just like, man, there shouldn't be another camera there.

Secondly, at the end of the movie, one of the cameras gets left behind at the commune which is basically getting burninated so my question is... did somebody go back and retrieve the footage? When did anybody have the time or inclination to do that?

These little things kind of impede my enjoyment of the movie. However, if you're not a gigantic asshole that loves picking everything apart and hates being entertained, this movie is a damn solid thriller and one of the best found footage movies I've ever seen.

Merits
- Looks nice (+1)
- Vice backstory is a good hook (+1)
- Realism (+3)
Total: +5

Demerits
- Is a found footage film (-1)
- Number of cameras doesn't add up (-1)
Total: -2
Final Score: +3

Written and Directed by: Ti West.  Starring: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones, Kate Lyn Sheil, Talia Dobbins.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Lost in Space

Lost in Space (1998)

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In the future, global warming has rendered the planet nearly unlivable. In order to prevent the extinction of human life, some people made some kind of thing (I think there's like a drive in space ships, and also a star gate or something? I don't fucking know) that will allow quick space travel between Earth but they're only sending a scientist (William Hurt) and his family through so they can like pave the way or whatever. But there's this faction that wants to stop that for some stupid reason and they send another scientist or doctor (Gary Oldman) to sabotage the mission but they betray him and he gets stuck on the ship and then something something and everybody's lost in space/the future.

Honest to god this movie had about six hours of clunky exposition and I still have no fucking idea what in the sweet name of jesus was going on. But that's not important. What's important is that after a long ass amount of set up the family, and their cocky, horny pilot (Matt LeBlanc), and Gary Oldman are lost in space. And time. They're also lost in time. That's really important.

I'm just going to quickly run through the two or three things that I actually liked about this steaming pile of shit before I talk about what a piece of shit it is.

The youngest daughter of the family (Lacey Chabert) has a vlog that she updates sporadically. It's sort of annoying, because her character is annoying, and doesn't do anything whatsoever for the movie, but it's a neat device to inject some character development, albeit for a pointless character.

The main (ish?) monsters are these goo-spider things which were okay. I'm always down for goo spiders. Also, one of the goo spiders scratches or bites Gary Oldman and then later when they get lost in time, Gary Oldman has turned into a gigantic half-man half-spider for some reason which had a really cool design. Unfortunately, the CGI looks like absolute shit, and the Gary Oldman/spider is given next to nothing to do and gets unceremoniously kicked into some kind of space-time vortex. Also, while the design of the monster is cool, the idea of the monster is stupid. That's the best compliment I can give this movie.

This exemplifies the term "it looked better on paper" (Image Source)
On a neutral note, I kind of feel bad for Matt LeBlanc. He's not bad as the gung-ho action badass pilot guy, but I could not take him seriously as not-Joey from Friends. Which is unfortunate because like I said, he's not that bad in the role, and it's not his fault that this movie is fucking terrible.

This movie has two major problems. The dialogue, and the plot. Both of which are pretty important things to nail down before you start, you know, shooting a movie.

The dialogue is particularly offensive, even for a stupid action movie. Like, Gary Oldman speaks in alliterations fully half the time I swear to god. I get that this movie is based on a TV show from nineteen-sixty-fuck, so his dialogue is probably based on that but that doesn't make it any less fucking annoying.

A lot of the characters narrate whatever they're doing, except the girl doing her vlogs which is the only time it would be appropriate. Despite constantly explaining what's going on and why, the movie still doesn't make any fucking sense. How does that even happen.

Also, they have the stupidest fucking lines like "I love you, wife", and "I'll wait later". What the fuck does that even mean? At that point you're just fucking waiting to wait. It's stupid, is what I'm saying.

You know what else is stupid? Everything else in this movie. The emotional crux of the movie is William Hurt and his wife (Mimi Rogers) dealing with their marital issues and William Hurt not being such a shitty dad to his kids. Which, on its own, is a solid core, but all of the "family discord" scenes feel so forced, and they ultimately fall to the wayside of the random adventures the group has throughout the movie.

The action scenes and the main plot are so inane and incomprehensible that there is absolutely no tension whatsoever in the movie. Also the main plot points seem really tangential to each other, giving the plot a fractured, episodic quality. This may have been intentional on the part of the filmmakers, trying to emulate the feeling of watching a season of a TV show, but that doesn't make it okay because movies are not TV shows.

This asshole. (Image Source)
Everything just seemed so pointless. Furthermore, literally the only thing I know about the show Lost in Space is that it's a sci-fi version of Swiss Family Robinson, and there's that robot asshole that waves his arms around and yells "Danger, Will Robinson!" and one time fought the robot from Forbidden Planet. I really like that guy, he's the best. He basically doesn't show up until the last act of the movie and he hardly says "Danger, Will Robinson" at all. In fact, he's so inconsequential to the plot that I said "Danger, Will Robinson" a fraction of the number of times I said "How you doin'?" while watching this movie. That makes me sad.

There's also some internal logic problems that really bugged me. Specifically, what they had a pilot for. When they first launch the ship, Joey sets a course and then goes into hypersleep like everybody else. Why couldn't a computer do that? I get that he becomes useful later on, after everything that's not supposed to happen does, but that's no excuse. Maybe they were preparing for every eventuality. But if that were the case, why not bring a second family so that if everything did go wrong and they crash landed on some alien planet that they would have to colonize, they'd be able to stave of inbreeding for a generation? Huh? Explain that one, movie.

You know, for kids! (Image Source)
The absolute worst offense in this movie though is the fucking CG monkey thing they pick up on another ship that does nothing. It does nothing. Say what you want about how fucking ridiculous and stupid Jar Jar Binks is (which is very), how he was only created to sell toys or whatever, at least he was involved in the plot of the Star Wars prequels in some way. His presence was justified. This fucking abortion over here, though, doesn't affect the plot in any way and is only there to blink its eyes and mewl grotesquely. And it's name is Blarp. Fuck that.

Merits
- Lacey Chabert played Gretchen in Mean Girls and made me think of how much I love Mean Girls (+1)
- Robbie the Robot (+1)
- Cool monster (+0.25) [points removed for crappy CGI and overall pointlessness of monster]
- Gary Oldman is in the movie (+1)
Total: (+3.25)

Demerits
- Too much exposition and doesn't actually explain anything (-2)
- How you doin'? (-1)
- Alliteration amplifies Andrea's anger (-1)
- ^Irony (-(-1))
- The dialogue in this movie physically hurt me (-3)
- It takes them for fucking ever to become Lost in Space (-1)
- Gary Oldman is not playing Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg in this movie (-1)
- Blarp the... fuckin... alien... monkey thing (-5)
Total: (-13)
Final Score: -9.75 Stars

Directed by: Stephen Hopkins.  Written by: Akiva Goldsman.  Starring: William Hurt, Matt LeBlanc, Gary Oldman, Mimi Rogers, Jack Johnson, Lacey Chabert, Heather Graham, Jared Harris, Dick Tufeld.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Split Second

Split Second (1992)

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Shout out to Jack from the Rogue Riffers Podcast for sending me this movie.

Split Second is about a weary police officer (Rutger Hauer) trying to solve a mysterious string of murders in a post-global warming sci-fi nightmare.

This follows the sci-fi noir aesthetic a la Bladerunner, complete with pollution causing it to be always nighttime, and throws in some spikey leather clad BDSM strippers for good measure. The look is sort of inconsistent, though, with the majority of the characters dressing like regular people and nothing really special about the set design.

The first half of the movie feels a lot like the Ian Rankin novel I read one time - there are some spectacularly grizzly murders that have some connection to Rutger Hauer's past, and there's some half assed hinting that maybe he is the murderer that doesn't actually go anywhere. There's a little bit of sci-fi stuff thrown in there, like there's always water on the streets, and there's big ass rats running around everywhere, but that could also describe Halifax on a particularly rainy day.

According to Rutger Hauer's new partner (Neil Duncan), the murders are connected to astrology, the lunar cycle, and the Chinese zodiac, thus the killer believes themself to be some kind of supernatural being is eating their victims hearts to gain their souls or whatever.

The movie tries to be a buddy cop movie for a little bit, but Rutger Hauer's character is a narcissistic assbag, and Neil Duncan's character is an unapologetic weiner so I didn't really care if either one of them lived or died or got along or didn't so who gives a fuck.

Furthermore, Rutger Hauer has zero chemistry with Neil Duncan. Or with Kim Cattrall, who's supposed to be his love interest, to the point that scenes between the two of them are borderline gross. Or with me, the viewer. That really upped the don't-give-a-fuck factor.

The movie also tries to be funny at times but between American-style humour and British-style humour not getting along, and the painful, cardboard performances, it just falls flat on its ass. Like, Rutger Hauer is a fucking good actor. I watched this movie mostly because I had a crush on the guy (which is cured now, thank you very much), and he's done some truly great performances. In this movie, his line delivery is so fucking bad it makes me wonder if a) he didn't give a sweet fuck about this movie, or b) he's actually not a good actor, he just had good direction in other movies. That's how bad it was.

It also tries to be a science fiction movie, but there isn't really any point for setting it after the global ice caps have melted except maaaaybe to hop on the eco-horror bandwagon. Except they didn't really draw any stronger of a connection between the monster and global warming than they did to the monster and the signs of the zodiac. And really, would the monster have any idea what the zodiac is? It lives in a sewer. I feel like that's the product of sloppy rewrites to change this from a slow ass murder mystery to a horror movie. Like, actually more than anything this movie reminds me of an only marginally better Shocking Dark.

Ultimately, this movie tries to be like four different kinds of movie (sci-fi mystery, buddy-cop, action-comedy, and eco-horror) and fails miserably at all of them.

About half way through it starts to get mildly interesting (and almost justifies its sci-fi setting) by announcing that the killer has recombinant DNA containing fragments from rats, Rutger Hauer, and their other victims. At this point I'm like "hell yeah, weird mutant sewer monster" but it takes like another half an hour for anything to come of that revelation and by that point it's kind of a let down.

So, we've got this monster, right, and it lives in the sewers and eats peoples hearts so it can assimilate their DNA because of astrology somehow, and also it's drawing maps on its victims to guide Rutger Hauer into the sewer, and also using Kim Cattrall as bait for some fucking reason, because it killed his partner and it really wants to kill him but anytime it has the chance it kills somebody else. At what point did the writers realize they had no fucking idea what this monster was? I guarantee it was a long time before I did. I mean, I said "what the fuck am I watching" at least six times during this movie but that was because of the unfocused plot and genre-hopping, not because of the lame, unfocused monster.

And when we finally do get to the final battle with the monster, it's literally just Alien but not as cool. It even says on the cover for this movie "Bladerunner meets Alien" just to hammer home that it's a blatant rip-off of two better movies that I would much rather be watching.

Merits
- Rutger Hauer's leather pants (+1)
- Sexy BDSM future (+1)
- Pete Postlethwaite! (+1)
- Chocolate (+1)
- Spectacularly grizzly murders (+1)
Total: (+5)

Demerits
- I was tricked into watching a murder mystery (-1)
- Astrology (-3)
- The main character's name is Harley Stone. That's the worst sci-fi protagonist name since fucking Hell Tanner (-1)
- And - and - he has Harley Davidson decals in his fucking bathroom like a fucking weirdo what the fuck who does that (-1)
- Don't-give-a-fuck Factor (-1)
- "I'm bored" Factor (-1)
- Monster is a shameless Alien rip-off (-1)
Total: (-9)
Final Score: -4 stars

Directed by: Tony Maylam.  Written by: Gary Scott Thompson.  Starring: Rutger Hauer, Neil Duncan, Kim Cattrall, Michael J. Pollard, Pete Postlethwaite, Alun Armstrong, Ian Dury.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Maniac Cop 2

Maniac Cop 2 (1990)

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Apparently sent immediately after the events of Maniac Cop, it turns out that maniac cop (Robert Z'Dar) didn't die when he got impaled and cast into the river at the end of the first movie and is still thirsty for vengeance. But I mean, he was already dead in the first movie, right? Or was he just disfigured and brain damaged? I don't know how this movie works.

Anyway, the first thing he does with his re-life is go and kill Bruce Campbell and Laurene Landon, presumably because they were contractually obliged to be in this movie but not happy about it. They are replaced by two other cops who have no discernible personality traits except one is grumpy and the other is not grumpy (Robert Davi and Claudia Christian, respectively) He then teams up with a Charles Manson looking mother fucker (Leo Rossi) who gets his jollies by killing strippers. I don't know why he teams up with that guy or really what else happens in this movie because I wasn't paying attention.

This one manages to have an even more arbitrary and uninteresting plot than the first movie, but there was a lot more violence so it seemed more exciting.

Pretty much the same things happen in this movie as did in the first, as far as I can tell. Maniac cop kills a couple of civilians for no really good reason, maniac cop takes out a police station (this time, though, he goes around smashing through glass doors like a fucking mad man), maniac cop has some beef with somebody.

His kills were more brutal in this movie though. There's one particularly inspired scene where he impales a guy on the hook of a tow truck and then drive away like a fucking asshole. He also gets set on fire at the end of the movie and still runs around killing the guys that killed him in jail.

I have mad respect for whoever did the stunts for this movie coz there's a couple pretty damn long shots where buddy is on fire and just fucking going like a champ. That shit's dangerous. You go, sir. Also, whoever was walking through those glass doors I mentioned earlier, that was probably a bitch to do too.

Still, I don't really understand this movie. Like, what did maniac cop need a murder friend for? I will admit I was not paying attention for large swaths of movie, but I feel like a movie should command my attention, and if it can't do that, it should make character's motivations simple enough for my easily-distracted brain to grasp. The script was all over the place too and there was a lot of unnecessary information that ended up with me just tuning everything out.

But yeah, he doesn't just have a murder friend that he hangs out and does murders with. I could understand maybe if I liked to murder people on the regular, maybe I would like to have a friend who shared that interest. That makes sense to me. I didn't get why he went to the bother of busting him out of jail, and then taking him to the prison with him to get revenge on the guys who killed and/or disfigured him, and then killing him along with those guys. So there was probably a more complicated reason for it. Or maybe not? Maybe it was just for lols, I don't know.

Also, what the fuck is the deal with maniac cop? Is he dead? Is he not dead? Was he alive in the last movie and dead now? In the last movie he just had some Joker scars going on but in this one he's pretty fucked up looking. Like he's missing an ear and a lot of skin and shit. And I'm pretty sure taking a steel beam through the chest isn't survivable without serious medical attention which maniac cop would not have had time to get, so, okay, he's definitely undead in this one. But what about the last one? Why doesn't the movie tell me? That's not mysterious in a movie like this, it's lazy, and the fact that, even though I "supposedly" don't care, I've spent two reviews asking this same question is really bothering me.

Despite the fact that this series (so far, fingers crossed for Maniac Cop 3) makes no fucking sense whatsoever, this one was action packed and ridiculous enough that I didn't care so much about it's shortcomings.

Merits
- Bruce Campbell, Danny Trejo, and Sam Raimi are in this movie (+3)
- Chainsaw stopping action (+1)
- Window smashing action (+1)
- Car towing action (+1)
- Fiery action (+1)
- Titties! (+1)
Total: (+8)

Demerits
- Bruce Campbell makes it, like, ten minutes (-1)
- Is maniac cop a zombie? What the fuck (-1)
- Why (-1)
Total: (-3)
Final Score: 5 Stars

Directed by: William Lustig.  Written by: Larry Cohen.  Starring: Claudia Christian, Robert Davi, Robert Z'Dar, Leo Rossi, Laurene Landon, Bruce Campbell, Michael Lerner, Clarence Williams III.

Maniac Cop

Maniac Cop (1988)

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A police officer (Robert Z'Dar) starts murdering innocent people seemingly at random. Another cop (Bruce Campbell) becomes the prime suspect when he is framed for murdering his wife (Victoria Catlin). With the help of the officer with whom he was having an affair (Laurene Landon), and some other cop (Tom Atkins) - I think he was their superior or something but I have no idea how police rank works - he finds out that the mysterious maniac cop was once a regular cop who went to jail for copping too hard and got murdered by fellow inmates... but did he really? He did. But... did he really?

This has a little bit more substance than the average slasher flick - half the movie is basically a mystery concerning the identity of the maniac cop, the other half involves like a conspiracy or some shit to do with how maniac cop got sent to prison in the first place. That's not necessarily a good thing.

I spent most of this movie trying to figure out what exactly the point of it was, then I realized I didn't care and just sat back and enjoyed Bruce Campbell.

I understand why this movie is a cult hit. It's got Bruce Campbell in it, and though his performance is pretty half assed, fuck, it's still Bruce Campbell. Plus the maniac cop himself is pretty savage. Basically, he's Jason Voorhees with a badge. But overall, man, the whole thing seemed kind of daft.

I got the feeling throughout that the filmmakers didn't really know what they wanted to do with it. Like, it was really serious which was not what I was expecting. Not that the subject matter doesn't necessarily warrant a serious treatment, but it also seemed like they were really lazy about making a serious movie. It was like they wanted to make a movie that made a statement, but they didn't care enough about actually making a statement.

They had the perfect opportunity to say something about the weird relationship between police and civilians and, I mean, they do. The best part of the movie is when the story of the maniac cop is leaked to the media, causing everybody in New York to get scared and hostile towards the police, culminating in an officer getting killed by a woman he pulled over for running a light or something stupid. That caught my attention because it's a really good premise and I wanted to see the results of a fall out between the people and law enforcement while the maniac cops stalks and murders both parties. It's a great idea for the movie.

It also has some interesting things to say about the limitations of the police force, with regards to the use of excessive violence towards innocent people versus equally violent people. Which is a really interesting dilemma, but this movie doesn't dwell on it.

Instead, this movie shoots off in another direction, focusing on Bruce Campbell and Laurene Landon's struggles - i.e., being on the run from the law despite being cops - and the confusion over whether or not maniac cop is actually alive or not. Like, okay, he died after getting the shit stabbed out of him, but he was resuscitated, but the prison doctor didn't tell anybody and sent him to his wife, but he was basically a vegetable, but he got better, but he can get shot a lot of times with no ill effects, like what the fuck, I don't care. It's almost as frustrating as trying to figure out whether Jason was undead throughout the Friday the 13th series or whether he was fully alive at some point.

I keep drawing comparisons between this movie and Friday the 13th because it rips that movie off pretty good. Particularly in the relationship between maniac cop and his maniac wife or girlfriend or whatever (Sheree North), also a cop, who helps him with framing Bruce Campbell for the murders. The idea that this woman would continue to help her partner despite him killing all kinds of people is sort of interesting, but then she just gets unceremoniously killed while he's ripping through the rest of the police department, so there goes that.

Furthermore by the end of the movie we find out that the maniac cop is out for revenge against some guy, I forget if he was the mayor or the police commissioner or what, but he was behind maniac cop getting sent to jail. So if his motive was to kill the people responsible for him going to jail, why the fuck was he just going around killing innocent people? Why not just go kill the people he wants to kill? Because this movie doesn't know what the fuck it's about, that's why.

Anyway, I just didn't really care about anything that happened in this movie and it wasn't schlocky enough to hold my attention in that way. That being said, I think the idea definitely has all kind of potential and it's something that could benefit from a remake, especially since the tension between police and civilians hasn't dissipated in the last thirty years.

Merits
- Bruce Campbell is in this movie (+1)
- Jason Voorhees as a cop (+1)
- Music was occasionally groovy (+1)
Total: (+3)

Demerits
- Most ineffective cops ever (-1)
- Way too serious (-1)
- I don't give a shit about any of the characters in this movie (-1)
- The plot makes no sense (-1)
- Maniac cop makes no sense (-1)
Total: (-5)
Final Score: -2 Stars

Directed by: William Lustig.  Written by: Larry Cohen.  Starring: Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Tom Atkins, Sheree North, Robert Z'Dar, Richard Roundtree, William Smith, Nina Arveson, Victoria Caitlin.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Innkeepers

The Innkeepers (2011)


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In the final weekend before an old hotel is closed and demolished, the last two employees standing (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) and a weird spiritual former actress (Kelly McGillis) investigate the possibility of a ghost on the premises. They are not disappointed.

It took me almost half the movie to realize that I actually watched this with my roommates on Netflix several years ago. I was pretty drunk at the time so I didn't remember the movie so much but I remembered that I didn't like it a whole lot on that viewing. Which, in retrospect, was unfair because I enjoyed it a lot this time around.

I think the main issue that I had the first time around was that I was expecting a horror movie, and this isn't really a horror movie. It's also not not-a-horror movie. It's a dry workplace comedy that slowly morphs into a horror movie. It's a little unfocused, but hey, I like dry comedy, and I like horror, put those things together and I like this movie.

The first half of the movie is all about the ins and outs of shitty, low pay customer service jobs. The characters have to deal with such challenges as an obnoxious guest with an obnoxious kid, employees of neighbouring business, taking out the garbage, and workplace bromance. The actors are good and the characters are totally real and relatable - they're bored shitless and amusing themselves by investigating occasional spooky doings at the hotel. Honestly, I wouldn't have minded a whole movie of this.

Suspense builds as the ghost or ghosts get progressively more involved and frightening. Since I had already emotionally bonded with Sara Paxton's character, her fear gave me fear. This is exactly what I want from a horror movie.

I liked the hippy dippy actress character too, who serves the role of medium in the ghost plot, and the catalyst for Sara Paxton to start questioning her life trajectory in the workplace comedy plot. She offers a variation on the seance which I have not seen done in movies, using a crystal pendulum to detect the presence of spirits, which is cool, different, and modern given the recent resurgence in popularity of crystals. The movie also features some more high-tech ghost hunting equipment which I know literally nothing about but was probably very well researched given writer/director Ti West's track record.

The comedy part of the movie is really funny. For the most part it's dry as fuck, which is my jam, with a few laugh out loud zingers. And the horror part is really scary, similarly relying mostly on the possibility of something happening, with a few jumps scares, and scary lookin' ghosts. The middle bit manages to be both funny and scary without feeling like a horror comedy. It's more like a comedy with scary bits, or horror with funny bits. Or both, the tone is on an almost perfect gradient from comedy to horror.

Then I got to the last act of the movie and I remembered the other reason I didn't like it the last time I watched it. The ending is fucking garbage. The main character, who up until that point had been very realistic and behaved like a smart human being starts acting like a goddamn idiot for no real reason except that the plot needs her to. Sure, there's a scene at the end where Kelly McGillis tells Pat Healy that nobody could have done anything to help her. Fuck that bullshit. I'm not adverse to the idea of predestined outcomes but not when those outcomes are derived from people completely changing their behaviour.

Like, Sara Paxton and Kelly McGillis go down into the basement, where the ghosts are, to do stuff with the crystal, and Kelly McGillis is like "aw shit, bad shit is gonna happen if we stay in this hotel" so they go to leave and then Sara Paxton gets distracted by the other remaining guest having killed himself then she's like "oh where's Kelly McGillis at, I guess I'll go look in the basement". Why would you think that. Oh, you heard a noise, whoopty fucking ding, the ghosts have been making noises all movie. If you yell "so-and-so, is that you?" and you don't hear, "yeah bro it's me just shuffling my feet on the floor" it's probably a fucking ghost.

Secondly, Sara Paxton gets trapped in a part of the basement with one of the ghosts and then dies, and it's implied that she died of like asthma or whatever because she dropped her inhaler on her way down the basement stairs. Seriously? What the fuck is that shit? It reminded me of I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives In, On, or Adjacent to the House where the girl just drops dead of a heart attack, although to be fair, in this movie Sara Paxton was shown using her inhaler all the time so it wasn't out of the blue. So it wasn't really like that movie at all, and not actually a problem. Fuck me.

Anyway, I liked most of this movie but I dunno who I would recommend it to because it doesn't fully commit to being a horror movie or a comedy, but it is well written and scary so... I guess if you like those things then you will maybe like this movie.

Merits
- Shitty service jobs are shitty (+1)
- Scary ghosts are scary (+1)
- Dry humour is funny (+1)
- I, personally, related to the main character (+1)
Total: (+4)

Demerits
- Stupid ending is stupid (-1)
- Asthma cliche is cliched (-1)
Total: (-2)
Final Score: 2 stars

Written and Directed by: Ti West.  Starring: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

House of the Devil

The House of the Devil (2009)


Image Source
So a few months ago Zack (@Lightisfading on twitter) lent me a stack of Ti West movies to watch. So far I watched In a Valley of Violence like a month ago, and I watched this movie today. House of the Devil is about a college student (Jocelin Donahue) who takes a babysitting job from an eccentric older couple (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) and ends up being a human sacrifice in a Satanic ritual.

It's set sometime in the 1980s, which normally would bug the shit out of me - one of my biggest pet peeves about modern horror is how trendy it is to set things back then. There's no specific reason why this irks me so except that, you know, things are happening now so why not dig into that. However, this movie actually makes a point for being set during that time by mentioning that in the '70s a lot of people were really worried about Satanic cults. Nowadays the thought of Satan-worshipers being even remotely frightening is laughable, but this movie manages to dispel my dislike of new retro horror and modern Satanism in one sweep of historical context.

The other thing about this movie's setting is that it doesn't just say "okay this movie is set in nineteen-eighty-whatever", it goes all the way to make a movie that looks and feels like it was made in nineteen-eighty-whatever. From the grainy film quality, to the title sequence, to the way the shots are set up, to the score, it all feels like a movie that my dad had on the top shelf of his VHS wall. The main actress, Jocelin Donahue, looks like she wouldn't have been out of place in a Dario Argento movie or one of the Friday the 13th sequels, and even the way that the plot is structured feels like a film of that era.

Thus, regardless of whatever I think of the movie as a movie, it's impressive as a well-researched history project and noteworthy for that merit alone.

It's also impressive that they managed to dredge Tom Noonan (i.e., the Toothfairy from Manhunter, which we reviewed on the podcast here) and Mary Woronov (who was in, like, all the Roger Corman movies but I remember her best from Death Race 2000) up out of the pre-grave for this movie, both of whom gave great performances. Tom Noonan goes for a creepy yet strangely charming vibe, while Mary Woronov is weird and terrifying. Both are highlights of the movie despite only being in it for a combined twenty minutes tops.

The movie is set up to follow all the beats of a classic horror flick, lulling me into a false sense of security and then taking sudden detours from the formula which are refreshingly startling. For example (this whole next paragraph is a spoiler so skip if you wish), the main character's friend (Greta Gerwig) seems like she's probably going to be a pretty important character but instead gets an unexpected murderin'. Since a lot of horror movies these days are just entrail-festooned murder orgies that have me almost completely desensitized to any sort of human-on-human violence, the fact that an onscreen death in a horror movie was actually shocking to me is worth mentioning.

Furthermore, the characters have the common sense to use fucking guns. I don't know how many movies I've watched where I thought "jesus christ, why don't these fucking murder jockeys just have guns and shoot their victims". Well in this movie they do, and the plot still functions. No more excuses, other movies.

When the movie does finally get to the Satanic stuff (which takes over an hour to get to), it's pretty fucking weird so props there. They've got some weird ass witch fuckin demon thing, which I guess was the mother that the girl was supposed to be looking after, and a goat skull and shit, so that was legit. Even for a person such as me, who thinks that Satan worship is fucking stupid, it was weird enough that it was unsettling.

This fuckin thing. What the fuck is this fuckin thing? Image source.

I have two qualms with this movie. The first is that it takes for-fucking-ever for anything to happen. I'm not joking, there's twenty minutes of set up to establish that the main character needs money before she even really gets to talk to Tom Noonan over the phone. And like, okay, the character is likable, and I get that this movie is only ninety-five minutes long so they had to pad it out a bit, but still. It makes the movie seem less like it was made to tell a story and more like it was made to say they made a movie in the same style as an old movie, which totally took me out of the mood.

The second qualm is really going out on a limb but bear with me while I explain this shit. So, there's a big long stretch of the movie where the only thing that really happens is the character calls and orders a pizza. The number for the pizza place, and money to buy the pizza, was given to her by Tom Noonan before he left for the evening. So she calls the pizza place and the guy on the phone says "it'll be 30 minutes". It then takes thirty minutes of real time (not time in the movie, actual time) for the pizza to get there which really built a lot of tension. I was sitting there thinking, when the fuck is this pizza going to get here? Did they forget about her? Did something happen to the delivery guy? Did something happen to the pizza?!

Anyway, the pizza finally gets delivered by the creepy couple's adult son (A.J. Bowen) and comes with a serving of roofies, eventually causing the main character to pass out so the movie can get into high gear.

Because ordering a pizza was the only thing that happened for a pretty long chunk of film, it made me really pay attention to that one thing, coz obviously the movie was telling me that that was important. And it is, actually, it is important. Coz like, suppose Tom Noonan had been like "here's some pizza money" and Jocelin Donahue was like "thanks" but then later it turned out she was on a diet and brought her own chicken and rice with her and didn't order the pizza, then the Satan family's entire plan is fucked. What was their back up plan if she just didn't order a pizza? Or if she did order a pizza but too late so the roofies wearing off didn't coincide with the lunar eclipse (which gets mentioned like three times but is somehow not as important as this pizza).

So, okay, let's say she doesn't order the pizza, that seems a little implausible if somebody is offering you free pizza, but she also had pizza for lunch so fuck maybe she was pizza-ed out. Would that mean the Satanists would have to just come back and overpower her the old fashioned way? I mean, there were four of them and one of her so it probably wouldn't be difficult. If they could do that why go to the trouble of leaving the son's phone number and money under the assumption that she would probably order a pizza, then when she did order a pizza, the son would have to go to an actual pizza place, buy a pizza, drug it, and then bring it to the house. That just seems like so much fucking work, and leaving a shitload up to chance.

I really feel like it would have made a lot more sense for those people to just wait for her friend to leave, then come back and grab her. Like, they know she doesn't have a car too, so it's not like she can really get away. Or is it really important to Satan that his victims be terrorized and fed pizza for an hour and a half before being offered up as an unholy vessel? Since that was never mentioned in this movie, or anywhere else, I'm going to assume no and that the reason was that they needed to make the movie ninety five minutes.

All in all, though, my weird nitpicking aside, this movie is a very well crafted horror flick that goes beyond just an homage to horror greats. Sure, if you're really into film history you'll probably get a lot out of this, but even if you just like horror movies that are more atmosphere than gore, then this is a movie for you. Even though the weird logic gaps really stood out to me, this is still the kind of horror movie I would like to see a whole lot more of.

Merits:
- Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, and Dee Wallace appear in this film (+3)
- A gun is used, three times (+3)
- The house is gorgeous oh my god I want to live in it (+1)
- Weird-ass ritual (+1)
- Eye pokin' action (+1)
Total: (+9)

Demerits:
- Movie is set in the '80s. Penalty reduced because of sound reasoning, and commitment to aesthetic (-0.334)
- Lunar eclipse mentioned three times by three different characters just to make sure you know it's important, but ends up being less important than the pizza (-3)
Total: (-3.334)
Final Score: 5.666 stars

Written and Directed by: Ti West.  Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, A.J. Bowen, Greta Gerwig.