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.

- Unsentimental woman (+1)
Total: +1

- 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 (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.

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

- 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.

Friday, June 8, 2018


Nightmare (1981)

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A schizophrenic man (Baird Stafford) with vivid nightmares about a gruesome decapitation is released from a psychiatric hospital because he is cured of his violent tendencies. He then immediately travels to Florida to stalk a single mom (Sharon Smith) and murder a whole bunch of people.

The only good thing in this movie was the gore effects which, according to the credits and poster, were created by Tom Savini, but according to Tom Savini, were created by somebody else. Whether or not Savini was actually responsible for the effects in the movie is shrouded in controversy - I'm going to go ahead and believe the guy when he says he wasn't, but I will say that whoever did end up creating the effects did a really good job of imitating Savini's work because they looked great and fabulously gory. That's all I have to say about that.

Another controversy of the movie is that the British distributor apparently went to jail over this for refusing to comply with local censorship laws which, again, I'm not really here to comment on other than to say it's insane to me that people can actually be incarcerated over film censorship. Also it says a lot for this movie that the most interesting thing about it is how much other people were pissed off by it.

For the most part, Nightmare is just confusing. Title cards tell us what day of the week it is so that I guess the passage of time makes more sense, but they end up having the opposite effect by implying that the killer guy went from being incurably mentally ill, to cured, to released in a span of less than twenty-four hours.

It's unclear how his release worked too. Like, on the first night he's shown in a psychiatric ward being given sedatives for his screaming night terrors so obviously he's being held there, and there's a mention of him having murdered somebody or whatever so he's probably not allowed to leave. The next day he's released, then the day after that he fails to show up to a meeting with his psychiatrist, prompting the police to assume he's fucked off to go kill people. At that point, we learn that he hasn't showed up to his job in two weeks, which makes exactly zero sense.

There are so many other small logic/sense problems with the movie - for example, the police have this really advanced super computer that answers questions and has seemingly limitless information on people, and yet they also didn't know that (spoiler) the killer guy has a wife and kids that he might try to get in touch with. In another part, a police officer (or paramedic?) shows the shitty kid his friend's brutally murdered body, out in the middle of the street, and starts questioning him about where he was at the time of the murder. He doesn't even take him to the station or whatever, he just does this out in the open.

In addition to being confusing and disorienting, Nightmare is also extremely boring. There is a lot of nothing going on, and no characters that are remotely sympathetic. The woman who is being stalked and harassed by the killer is a terrible mother who divides her time laying in bed, fucking her boyfriend, and yelling at her kids. The boyfriend (I actually forget the character's name so I'm not sure who played him but process of elimination tells me Mik Cribben) is almost okay because yknow he's actually trying to make an effort with this horrible woman and her horrible kids, except he also sometimes tries to keep her from going home to her kids so she can blow him or whatever which is a dick move. Also he lives on a boat which immediately tells me he's an asshole. Also he makes a casual reference to the Antonioni film Blow Up which is just a weird thing to do. The only one of the kids we get any information about (CJ Cooke) likes to play extremely elaborate pranks and terrorizes his mother, siblings, and babysitter. The babysitter (Danny Ronan) blatantly neglects the children. The killer almost seems like he was supposed to be a sympathetic character - he's driven to kill because of this recurrent nightmare of a horrifying decapitation. But at the end of the movie it turns out that it's a memory of himself, murdering his dad and the woman his dad was with. So like... fuck you, guy?

The weirdest thing about Nightmare is how much it feels like a hardcore right wing American fantasy. At the end of the movie, the killer is stopped by the shitty kid, who knows where his mom keeps the Family Gun and apparently has wicked good aim. So there you have it - arming our children can prevent murder.

But wait, there's more. The reason the killer guy killed his dad and dad's.... lady friend, is because he saw them having sex. Not just regular sex, but mild BDSM sex, with the dad tied up and the woman hitting him with stuff. So obviously exposure to sex is bad for children (as opposed to exposure to handguns which is beneficial in this movie), and exposure to dominant women is even worse, sending the kid so far over the edge he goes for an axe and fucks shit up.

As an adult, the killer guy abandons his family, leaving a single mother to raise the children and apparently doing a terrible job of it because at least one of her kids is a shit head. She's shown laying around in bed most of the time and having liaisons with her boyfriend, and doesn't seem to have a job of any description, which shows, I guess, that women are lazy and useless, especially single mothers.

I think I've made my case. This movie thinks guns are good, and sex and women are bad. I think this movie was bad, so we'll just have to agree to disagree.

- Tom Savini-ish gore effects (+2)
- Babysitter's boyfriend's extremely earnest acting (+1)
Total: +3

- Soundtrack sounds like a shitty 70s porno (-1)
- Too much scream, not enough dream (-1)
- Movie makes no fucking sense (-1)
- Passage of time confusing (-1)
- All of the characters are shitty people (-2)
- The kid character is seriously fucking terrible (-1)
- Nobody calls the cops when they should (-1)
- That's not how police/computers work (-3)
- Killer puts a mask on late in the movie for no good reason (-1)
- Guns good, sex bad (-3)
Total: -15
Final Score: -12

Written and Directed by: Romano Scavolini.  Starring: Sharon Smith, Baird Stafford, CJ Cooke, Mik Cribben, Danny Ronan.