If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.


Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)

JANUARY 7, 2017


A week or so ago, I pointed out how the last time a new Underworld movie came out (2012's Awakening), there was no such thing as Thursday evening shows for the new movies - if you didn't want to deal with going over the more crowded weekend, you had to go at midnight, which was difficult for me given my well-documented battle with Cinesomnia. So, now that Thursday night shows at 730 or so is the norm, I was excited that I'd be able to watch Underworld: Blood Wars at a normal time, before I get real sleepy and end up being more confused with these movies than I am when wide awake. Alas, for whatever reason, Sony seems hellbent on burying this one - not only did they not have much of a marketing campaign for it (I've seen next to no posters/billboards around town - that town being Los Angeles), but they also skipped the Thursday shows entirely, with only a handful of theaters opting for an old-school midnight showing. I even went to a theater that had a 7:45 showing listed, only to be told it was pulled, disappointing me, my friend, and (this made me sad) a dad and his two teen sons who all showed up expecting to enjoy the latest round of vamp v. wolf action.

Now I'm sure there are complicated and possibly even legitimate reasons for this, but to the above-average moviegoer (i.e. the people that go to the early shows on Thursday night), this suggests that they're trying to hide the film, a bizarre course of action for a franchise entry. Even if they thought it was a stinker, why make it seem like one by hiding it from the people who probably wouldn't care much about what critics think anyway? Especially for a series that's on a high; while the last one cost more than usual, it also MADE more than usual - nearly $200m worldwide. A franchise hitting highs with its 4th entry is pretty rare, so while I don't get why they dilly-dallied making the next one (the five year gap is the longest for this usually "every three years" series), I'm more confused that they seem to be content with letting it wither and die, even with yet another cliffhanger ending that sets up the already promised sixth entry. Will it actually happen?

Based on the box office so far (which I finally got to add to, by myself, on Saturday), I wouldn't exactly hold my breath, though the reduced budget means they might be able to justify another in the same ball park if they can play up the "final chapter" element (as Resident Evil is currently doing) and sell another batch of boxed set Blu-rays (maybe even 4K ones - who wouldn't want that for Kate in her leather suit?). If this turns out to be the last we see of the Lycan vs Death Dealer battle, at least it goes out on a relative high, in that it follows Underworld series tradition of being better in some areas than its immediate predecessor while lacking in others, making a ranking of the franchise - a time honored tradition for any horror series - rather difficult. If I absolutely had to rank them right now, it'd be something like Evolution > Awakening > Blood Wars > Lycans > original, but that could completely change depending on my mood (though I suspect the original will always be at the bottom, given its punishing length and lack of any good action scenes). They each offer something I like while frustrating me in other ways, unlike most franchises where I can clearly peg which ones I love and which ones I don't. For Underworld, they're all... not bad!

So what does this one offer that the others don't? For starters: SWORD FIGHTS! OK, that's not really new - Rise of the Lycans had them, but this is the first time they've used them in the present day, when they had their machine guns and what not at their disposal. They still have the guns of course, but it's fun seeing Charles Dance aka Tywin Lannister getting in on the action in a manner Game of Thrones never afforded him, as he was always just sitting around killing people with his words instead of weapons. Speaking of Thrones, they seem to be influenced a lot by the show; not only does it have other actors from it (new bad guy Marius is played by Tobias Menzies, aka Edmure Tully, and one of the vamp elders is played by Sam's dad), but a new character looks and acts exactly like Jamie, and there are seemingly more political chess-playing maneuvers than usual. But fear not, for those who find Thrones too talky - there's still plenty of violence to enjoy between conversations, and thankfully it's not all just "Selene vs whoever else" this time around. Even the gun action is stepped up a bit; there's a pretty great bit where a vamp and a lycan (in human form) are firing machine guns at each other as they walk toward one another, eventually riddling each other with bullets from only a few feet apart while barely flinching - it's laughable but in that awesome kind of way, not unlike the Fast & Furious guys defying gravity and what not. Selene also gets a pretty good fight on an ice lake with another giant Lycan, slightly more satisfying than the parking garage one she had in the fourth movie.

And that's the other thing that I liked more about this one than Awakening - it's been largely shed of that one's overly stylish, futuristic decor, largely due to the return to Europe for filming as opposed to the previous film's Canadian production. While I can appreciate a fresh look (it certainly helps to know which one you're watching), when I rewatched Awakening the other day I couldn't help but think it felt like a half-assed attempt to make it feel like a Resident Evil film, with all the secret labs and evil scientists running shady corporations. This one returns to the Gothic feel of the first two entries; set in the modern day but letting its characters favor old compounds and castles instead of bland looking office buildings. A good chunk of the action takes place at a coven that was set up by Amelia back in the day (which, for this series, means the 13th century), and then later Selene and David (Theo James) travel to an even older area that's hidden in this world's version of Siberia (guessing, since we see the Northern Lights as they make their way there and it's in an ice-covered area). Modern tech shows up when necessary - a car, a security system, etc. - but otherwise this feels like they wanted to return to the "old and new" feel of the original, as opposed to the last one's "just new" look.

However, they also shed something else from Awakening - its characters. David and his father return, but Eve and Sebastian are gone, and in the latter's case he isn't even mentioned (when we last saw him he was fending off attackers to buy Selene and Co. some time, so I guess he's just dead). As for Eve, it's not clear how they got separated - since it took five years I guess they felt they couldn't just pick right up where Awakening left off with a new actress for Eve (even though they'll replace Scott Speedman...?), but since the plot revolves around the Lycans hunting Selene to get a hold of her, it's very odd that their separation is left so vague. Selene keeps denying that she knows where Eve is, and we're not even sure if she's lying or not because it's not clear how they got split to begin with. The film doesn't pick up x number of years later, best I can tell, but it still feels like I missed a movie in between that detailed a. how Eve and Selene got split and b. where all of the new enemies came from, as they're kind of established as big players right off the bat. I mean, both races are dying out, shouldn't there be few surprises concerning this kind of thing? Wouldn't they already all know about this Marius guy (the new Lycan villain) at the end of Awakening if he was such an important factor now, a couple days later?

Then again, this helps keep the plot more streamlined and thus easy to follow, so if you skipped Awakening you wouldn't be as completely lost as someone who, say, watched Evolution without seeing the original. As always there's a recap of the whole thing at the top, given by a bored sounding Beckinsale, so as long as you see that and have some passing knowledge of the series, you should be fine. Characters occasionally say aloud things that they both know for our benefit, just to make sure everyone's up to speed, but really the whole thing boils down to what the title promises - blood. The Lycans want Eve's blood, the bad guy vampires want Selene's blood, and that's pretty much it. Every 15-20 minutes we get another big action scene, a traitor or two will be exposed (the trailer gave away the biggest, but thankfully it's an "end of act one" twist so ultimately not a big deal), and Kate Beckinsale will wrap her legs around the world's luckiest Eastern European stuntman when she takes him down - it's pretty much status quo for the Underworld series.

That is, until the 3rd act (SPOILERS AHEAD! Skip this paragraph if you don't want to know the context of why she has lighter hair in the film's poster), when Selene is killed and revived by a group of vampires who are tuned into some witch type powers, including the ability to teleport. The revival makes her become one of them, so now she can zip around like Jason Voorhees in Manhattan, adding to her already impressive stable of superpowers. This gives her renewed value in the vampire world, to the extent that they make her an elder at the end - it almost seems like a way to set up a future where Beckinsale's presence is reduced in favor of "on the ground" participants in this endless war? I can almost see her making a cameo in an Underworld TV show pilot just like Sam Jackson did for Agents of Shield, or taking the "and" role in the next film as new heroes take the spotlight. I mean, she's basically invincible at this point, so they almost have to scale her back somehow to keep it fresh/interesting. The film moves along just fine without her for that 15-20 minute chunk where she's "dead", and I actually liked Lycans a lot when I saw it (I only rank it low now because it's really dull on the action front, giving it very little rewatch value), so as much as I love the woman I don't think she needs to be front and center for the Underworld series to sustain itself - but keeping her out entirely would probably be something they'd have to gradually work towards, not introduce out of the blue (indeed, Lycans is the series' lowest-grossing entry, so clearly people want her around).

But even that development doesn't exactly send the film skyrocketing to another level, so ultimately whether or not it has any value depends on how you feel about the others. They're preaching to the choir here at this point; like the Saw franchise, at a certain point they were no longer interested in scoring new fans, just making sure they didn't lose any more of the ones they already had. Die-hards may nitpick about hiccups in the mythology (with the original writers all having since moved on, I'm sure there are some inconsistencies), but for others like me who find them enjoyable enough but probably wouldn't bother reading an official tie-in novel or watching a Kate (or Rhona Mitra)-less TV show, I think it will provide a pretty entertaining 90 minutes at the movies. They still use CGI wolves more often than not (another casualty of Len Wiseman's reduced involvement; say what you will about the guy, but he has a preference for practical FX), and Scott Speedman's absence has yet to be fully resolved (it feels like they keep Michael alive but MIA just in case they can get him back), but overall I had a good time and hope that the 6th film comes to pass. But if it doesn't? I'm sure I'll get over it.

What say you?

P.S. I saw it in 2D, so I dunno how the 3D was, if you were wondering. I will no longer pay extra for it since projection standards are so low around here (indeed, the film did not fill up the screen, either on the sides OR the top/bottom. I complained, but naturally the theater did nothing to fix it.) But I'm guessing that big ice battle looked great.


The Rezort (2015)

DECEMBER 30, 2016


There's a long-standing theory that if Halloween III was just titled Season of the Witch, it would have been a bigger hit*, and we'll never know if it's true or not. But I DO know that if The Rezort didn't have such a stupid title, I might not have had such low expectations for it going in, so there's definitely something to be said about how important a title is and how it affects one's perception of what they're about to see. With the dumb misspelling (which I mocked repeatedly on Twitter), I figured this was some Asylum level zombie schlock in the vein of House of the Dead or something, but as it turns out, the errant Z is the only goofy thing about the film - it's actually a fairly serious, largely enjoyable zombie flick, the kind that I thought would be playing multiplexes in the wake of World War Z, but always seem to be DTV efforts.

I also would have had higher expectations if I knew beforehand that the film was directed by Steve Barker, who previously impressed with the first two Outpost films (he did not make the 3rd one, and it was not very good). Like Outpost, the movie takes a B-movie kind of plot and carries it out with an A-level amount of effort, elevating it above its brethren in ways the average watcher (who doesn't overdose on this junk like seasoned viewers might) might not notice. Sure, it's not a great movie, but it's worth seeing, which is more than I can say for the likes of Zombie Massacre 2 and Army of Frankensteins (or even Cell, which had a bigger budget than those two and this combined), and if you're looking for more traditional zombie action than Walking Dead provides (i.e. without all the tired monologues and "humans are worse" stuff), it should satisfy and then some.

Oddly enough the last zombie movie I remember liking more than I imagined I would was Zoombies, which was heavily inspired by the Jurassic Park films, and this actually goes a step further by pretty much directly copying JP's concept, albeit with zombies you can hunt instead of dinosaurs you can look at (if they show up). The titular "rezort" is a pricey vacation spot on a private island for folks to come and take down masses of captured zombies, both in the wild (roaming around in fenced in areas where the shooters are safely on hills nearby) and in shooting gallery type scenarios where they're secured to targets that pop out as you make your way through corridors and alleyways. And like in JP, too much of the security relies on malfunctioning computers and electric fences, and when Nedry- er, a blond woman messes with the system, the zombies get free and our protagonists need to make their way back to safety without any protection in place or vehicle to use.

And that's pretty much it, and I say that as a compliment - it's refreshingly straightforward and fast-paced enough to be exciting but without making us numb or leaving character development by the wayside in their attempts to keep "stuff happening" at all times. Our heroes are a pretty decent and varied lot, from a typically brooding mystery man (Dougray Scott) to a jilted would-be bride who got the trip as a wedding gift and decided to go solo, to a pair of 16 year olds (no age limit, I guess) who won the trip on a contest sponsored by the Call of Duty-esque online shooter that they play. These two provide the movie with one of its few jokey moments, as they are apparently amazing at their video game but (no surprise) can't aim worth a damn in the real world, blasting away at the dirt and the zombie's feet when going for headshots. They're probably the closest the movie gets to annoying characters, and they're not even that bad (and they're SUPPOSED to be obnoxious, anyway), which was also a relief - I actually liked pretty much everyone and wasn't happy to see anyone die when they did. Hell, even the obligatory asshole who leaves his friends behind to save his own ass wasn't really that much of a prick.

I also like that we get just enough of a glimpse of how the park actually operates on a normal day, something I wish Jurassic World had offered more of (I really wish the Operation Genesis game was revived for new consoles, post-World - I'd play the hell out of that) even though I understand that "things going wrong" is what we're here to see. There's a great bit where one of the guides mutters his "great job, you're doing awesome" to what is probably his 1000th group of middle-aged businessmen living out their Rambo fantasies as they shoot down (secured, distant) zombies, and they also make them gun train and such before heading out. Also, unlike Jurassic, they actually have a goddamn plan for when things go to shit, though it's hardly enticing: they basically just blow the island to smithereens via jets dropping explosives on it (like at the end of The Rock, sans Nic Cage and his green flares), so our heroes have two threats - staying away from the zombies, and getting off the island before it's blown up. Not the most original scenario on the planet, but it works as well as it needs to, with some added personality and a few clever touches here and there for flavor.

It's also not as overly digital-ed as I've come to wearily "accept", for lack of a better word. Bullet hits tend to be digital (foregone conclusion nowadays - I think they lost the recipe for squibs), but when things get up close and personal they favor practical work. There isn't much gore, I should note, but there's enough to satisfy, and the "less is more" approach extends to the zombie numbers - Barker understands that seeing 1,000 digital zombies isn't nearly as interesting as seeing a few dozen real ones for "shit hits the fan" moments, so everything's on the up and up there, too. Really, the only thing working against it (besides the phony looking news footage at the top and bottom of the film - why can't digital artists ever make these graphics look legit? They're using the same programs the stations have!) is that you and I have both seen plenty of "We have to escape the zombies and get to safety" movies before, and it operates more or less exactly like them; the setup is new enough but once everything goes to hell it doesn't much matter (they wipe out the anonymous park goers and staff members pretty quickly). There is a pretty interesting concept regarding where the zombies come from, but it's underplayed (saved for a sequel? The movie ends almost exactly like Outpost 2 did, now that I think about it), and we never learn much about Scott's character - these things probably could have given it a little more of its own identity if embellished.

But as it is, like I said, it's not an essential viewing, but it's much better than I had any reason to believe it would be given the current state of indie/low-budget zombie fare and movies that misspell words for their title. I've ranted before about how people seem to forget that there's a middle ground, and not everything is "amazing" or "shitty". Sometimes (in fact, a lot of times) it's fine to watch a movie that's just enjoyable for what it is, and nothing more. Rogue One is currently on the verge of breaking $500m in the US alone, which will put it in the top 10 of all time, and that too is a movie that's just perfectly OK (but it has Darth Vader and some familiar music, so people see it over and over). It's a shame that these two movies, that I'd give the exact same grade to if I was a grading type, will be judged in entirely different ways by the masses (and by history; I doubt anyone will remember The Rezort in ten years) just because one has the right title to connect, and the marketing to get it out there (indeed, this has actually been playing fests for over a year but I never even heard of it until I was assigned to watch it for my job). Hopefully a couple of you will check it out and feel the same way. And yay, I get to end 2016's batch of reviews on a high note! Happy New Year!

What say you?

*Halloween III actually sold more tickets than Halloween 4, the series' "comeback". I always found that funny.


Resident Evil (2002)

DECEMBER 28, 2016


Even though I saw it when it came out, it's still hard to remember that when the first Resident Evil movie came out in 2002, it was the first zombie movie in multiplexes in nearly a decade (the last one was My Boyfriend's Back, which shouldn't even count since it was a Disney comedy). There were a few indie/foreign ones, of course, but the sub-genre - which had never really been a major box office success in the US - was deader than slashers are now. However, video game movies were chugging along at a fairly steady rate, with the previous year yielding Tomb Raider, which is and remains the biggest game-to-movie hit of all time. While nowadays the zombie aspect would be what got it in theaters, back then it was almost a red flag - it's kind of crazy how much things have changed in the past 15 years. Imagine a world with so few zombie movies that we would flock to this one out of sheer desperation!

Given how no other game to live-action movie series has lasted past a 2nd entry, it's also crazy that the series is still going, with the sixth and so-called Final Chapter* hitting theaters next month after a lengthy gap between it and the previous installment, 2012's Retribution. These things came out like clockwork every 2-3 years, but with Retribution's muted reception Stateside (it cleaned up overseas) and Milla Jovovich's pregnancy, we had to wait over four years, which might as well be an eternity for my increasingly forgetful mind. So I figured I'd revisit the series to refresh my memory (I'm gonna try to do the same for Underworld, a series of films I couldn't follow in the first place), and review this and Apocalypse since those came before HMAD (I might also give Retribution a proper review if I have the time, since the joke doesn't work as well now, as people probably forget it came out on the same day as The Master). I honestly don't know if I ever watched this one again since it first came to DVD, so my memory is dim enough to qualify it as a proper HMAD review (instead of a "non canon" one), so it was kind of fun to go back and watch it with fresh-ish eyes.

One thing I never really appreciated before is how the movie really does function as a prequel to the game series, as I forgot that it didn't have a single actual character (well, human character anyway) from the game(s). I recall being mildly annoyed with it at the time, but looking back, it makes sense. While the game series eventually did do their own prequel (later that year, if memory serves), at that point we never really got the whole story of how the outbreak occurred, where the hunters came from, etc. Not that the movie is canon with the game series in any way (it's probably contradictory, if anything), but it's a fine way to go about working within the parameters of that world without boring players with an exact retelling or pissing them off with changes. They throw in references to the hallmarks - the T-virus, Umbrella, Raccoon City, etc. - without screwing up the characters we may love. Indeed, one thing that always bugs me in the movie series as it's gone on is how certain characters are treated, i.e. Barry in the last one. As the franchise has gone on, Alice (Milla's character, an original) rarely meets other original characters, but finds herself allied by game heroes more and more often. It puts those films at a disadvantage that this first one didn't really have to deal with - it kind of has a blank slate here.

That's not to say it's particularly great or even better than the others (I have trouble ranking them since none are great and they kind of blur together, though I know Extinction is my LEAST favorite, at least in my memory - I'll do a ranking when I finish this refresh!), but it's nice to watch without rolling my eyes that a game character was awkwardly shoehorned in (like Claire in Extinction, an obvious replacement for Jill), or being confused at the narrative. They never really adapted any particular game, but they certainly retained the games' insistence on being convoluted. No one stays dead, people just disappear in between entries, clones are thrown into the mix... all I want is to see Milla Jovovich kicking monsters and zombies, why can't they just be satisfied with that? Why all of the gobbledygook? But this one's pretty straightforward - Alice wakes up with amnesia and within a few minutes a bunch of commando badasses take her under their protection (along with another guy played by Eric Mabius) and explain the situation to her as they work to contain the outbreak and make their way back out. I forgot that Wesker and his ilk aren't even in the movie - there's no real human villain until one guy turns on them late in the film. It's just the zombies, monsters, and lasers.

It's also got a lot of door opening, a fun little nod to the older games that used such actions as loading screens. Paul WS Anderson defends it on one of the bonus features, saying that you never knew if a door would lead to an empty hallway or a pack of monsters, and so he tried to incorporate that here - it's actually kind of successful in a "what will be next?" way, though it rarely offers that sort of creeping dread that the game did. One key difference is that the game had you alone and often severely underpowered, making even a single zombie a bit of a challenge in some instances - but these are hardasses with machine guns and three or four other people watching their back. So the film is never scary in the traditional sense, opting for a more action driven style that isn't necessarily a bad thing in theory, but makes Anderson's attempts to live up to the game in that sense very underwhelming. Silent Hill did a fine job of retaining the game's sense of atmosphere and terror, I think - if Anderson was even trying to scare the audience here, he kinda botched it.

But he keeps it moving, and unlike the game he doesn't backtrack - our characters are always moving from A to B to C, not going in circles like the game often had you doing back then (they've since moved past that, and, perhaps partly because of the films' success, also moved more toward action than horror). He's got a big hard-on for Aliens, and so he follows Cameron's lead by offing the badass types at an even clip while letting the "civilians" take charge as it goes, with Alice in the Ripley role. Most of the action revolves around turning this thing on or opening that door, with the backstory about the virus delivered mostly via flashback or expository dialogue from Mabius' character. He also keeps the enemies fresh - they first fight a bunch of zombies, then the dogs, then different zombies, then a hunter, in addition to the ticking clock scenario adding to the excitement. The CGI is a mixed bag, of course, and the film isn't as bloody as it could have been with an R rating (the film's most famous kill, of the laser grid slicing a guy up into little chunks, is almost entirely off-screen, though we get to see that cool oozing eye at least), but the sheer variety makes up for it, and it's of course fun to see two females as the leads in this kind of thing. The games always had a female and male combo, but since the two male characters of note don't do that much (one of them turns villain) and they're the ones on the poster, it does the games one better - you get Jill AND Claire, essentially, instead of one or the other. Even better, no one makes a big deal out of it - one guy questions Michelle Rodriguez's ability to open a heavy door early on, but otherwise it's not any battle of the sexes statement or anything - they're just competent fighters and the guys respect that, end of story. When filmmakers go overboard making their female heroines superior to the males and constantly showing off said superiority, you end up with angry trolls perceiving it as a threat or an insult on men, and all the fun gets taken out of it. Just let them simply BE and only the worst of the worst will be whining into their little void, while the rest of us can simply enjoy or dislike the movie on its own merits without it becoming a target for some ongoing political/social commentary.

Now, you can't bring up this movie without someone whining about how they fired George Romero and hired a guy whose name elicits the same sort of derision usually reserved for Michael Bay and Uwe Boll. Alas, as someone who was also sure that a serious crime had been committed, I read Romero's script back in the day, and it kind of sucked. It was more or less a retelling of the first game, albeit with some odd changes (Chris and Jill were lovers, blah), but it was just dull as dirt. Granted, I played the game so I knew the beats, and presumably a good chunk of the audience would not be as familiar, but I've also read books that got turned into movies and found them engaging, so there's more to it than that. And with that one change he'd already be annoying a good chunk of the gamers, so even though I don't think Anderson made a particularly great film, I DO think his is better than what Romero's would have been like (if that script was used) and that he made the right call to go into prequel/blank slate mode so people could judge it on its own accord. Granted, it'd be a better example if the movie was really good instead of OK, but we gotta take what we can get here.

What say you?

P.S. Since someone might be wondering - as far as the games go, I played 1-3 on the PS1, Code Veronica and 4 on PS2, and 5-6 on Xbox 360 (and RE1/Code Veronica were the primary draws when I bought my PS1/2, respectively). I never finished 2, 4, or 6, however; I got stuck on 2, had too much trouble with the controls on 4 (I've since bought the Xbox version but haven't played yet), and just plain didn't like 6 enough to finish it. I own Zero and the Revelations games but haven't played them yet. I also did the RE-themed "escape room" recently and we were told that we were the 2nd fastest group yet. Boom!

*No horror film with that (or similarly "final") subtitle has ever proven to be the last one.


31 (2016)

DECEMBER 21, 2016


It legitimately angered me that I wasn't able to see Rob Zombie's 31 in theaters during its confusing theatrical run last fall, where it played for one night (one SHOW, actually) on September 1st or something like that, then again two weeks later for a more traditional run, albeit one I could never find. Per BoxOfficeMojo it actually played until about Halloween, but damned if I ever saw a theater playing it. It is the only one of his films that I haven't seen theatrically, and probably will remain so as it's not likely to have any revival screenings anytime soon/ever. But it's more than my collectivist "gotta see em all!" mentality that annoys me about missing the film on the big screen - it's because I seem to be among the relatively few people who enjoyed the damn thing, now that I've seen it on Blu-ray and spent a good chunk of the viewing wondering what people hated so much about it.

Granted, this might be the most "fan-friendly" movie Zombie has done yet, so if you're not already on board with his sensibilities I can't imagine this would change your mind - it'd be like buying a greatest hits album from a band you've never liked hoping to finally become a fan. As several people have pointed out, if someone never saw a Rob Zombie movie before and had to guess what it was about, demented clowns killing carnies on Halloween would probably be the scenario they imagined, and that's pretty much exactly what this is, with the only question mark being "is Sheri Moon one of the clowns or the carnies?" She's one of the carnies, as it turns out, and with the film often recalling his Devil's Rejects films it's interesting to see her as the heroine instead of villain this time around.

But, Halloween aside, I AM a fan of his films (and really, it's only the stuff he swiped from Carpenter that I really don't like in his first Halloween; I've always said I like the institution stuff - i.e. when he was at his most creative), and while I would have liked to see him branching out again like he did on the underrated Lords of Salem, it's also fun to see him back in his comfort zone, fully embracing the things he likes. Let's put it this way - if he didn't make this movie, in 20 years some big fan of his WOULD, calling it an homage/tribute to Rob Zombie (not unlike the way Neil Marshall's Doomsday was a tribute to Road Warrior and Escape from New York), so I like that Zombie just already made his own homage. AND he got fans to pay for it (the film was crowdfunded), which I appreciate as well; I'm not big on the idea of making movies this way (especially from proven commodities), but I love that Rob got his supporters to fund the exact movie his detractors often accuse him of making. There's something kind of beautifully dickish about that!

So as a fan, I knew what I was in for - the endless F-bombs, the sleaziness (one major villain character is introduced vigorously sodomizing a woman who is just as into it), the horror references (said villain is also watching Nosferatu at the time), etc. But for whatever reason I didn't know that the heroes were adults; I thought it was a group of kids for some reason (I didn't know Sheri was one of the good guys beforehand), so when the protagonists were introduced and included Meg Foster in their number, I got more interested. There's something pretty compelling to me about a woman who is in her sixties going through these motions; there's less of that tragic sense of "their whole life was ahead of them" that you get from the better slasher movies (or if you're just oversensitive) and more of "This woman has probably dealt with enough shit in her life, she doesn't need this too". When Foster dons a chainsaw and fights back against one of the murderous clowns, it's a terrific moment (and the one that had me pause the film to tweet that I really didn't understand why so many people hated this one).

As for the villains, they're ridiculous caricatures and little more; all named ____ Head (Doom-Head, Psycho-Head, etc) and pretty much only in two or three scenes each. While I won't say who lives or dies among the heroes, I don't think it's spoiling much to say that the movie carries on the grand horror tradition of presenting a scenario that the villains have seemingly succeeded at dozens of times in the past, but THIS TIME the tables are turned as their new would-be victims apparently become the first ones to ever put up a good fight back. The title is also the name of the game, played out every Halloween and hosted by Malcolm McDowell and Judy Geeson, in full Barry Lyndon-type garb for no real reason (I won't deny that it makes for a fine visual, however). They offer odds on each members' survival and, when a Head is dispatched, discuss among themselves who to bring in next. So it's kind of got a Running Man vibe in that regard; when the heroes take down one of these renowned killers an even bigger bad is brought in, until they are forced to go with a notorious monster of a man who will assuredly bring them the quick victory that has eluded them this time around. They'd make great toys or model kits, and each one has their own little hook, but there's an episodic nature to their introduction/departure that gives the film a bit of a repetitious feel - it might have been more fun to spring them all at once and let it play out as a five on five deathmatch throughout.

That said, it never really gets boring, and Zombie keeps the scenery changing just enough to keep it from seeming too samey, impressive for a low-budget movie shot in a warehouse. There's a circus type room, some typical tunnels, even a few exteriors - like the villains, there's a sense of progression that elevates it above what it could have easily been in the hands of a less capable filmmaker. Because, and I'll never stop repeating this, Rob Zombie IS a really great director, he just needs a writing partner to flesh out his films and maybe keep them from feeling like they're all part of the same skeevy universe. Lords of Salem felt like a step in that direction, and I can't help but wonder if it was more of a success if he would have continued down that path and maybe even felt compelled to direct someone else's script for a change (the closest he's gotten to letting anyone else write his stuff is when he copied what Carpenter and Hill already wrote in 1978). On paper this is probably close to terrible, but his visual sense keeps it engaging; the film is actually quite great looking at times (particularly in the rare daylight scenes) and, as you will see on more than one occasion on the making of documentary, he's constantly working to make his sets and backdrops more alive. This isn't a guy who will just defer to his DP and production designers while taking the credit as the director, he really gets in there and makes sure his low budget isn't reflected by what's on-screen.

In fact, if you know you'll hate the movie (or already do) I would like to encourage you to rent the disc just to watch the documentary (if you have time, that is - it runs 132 minutes) and see how hands-on he is - you'll see him lugging parts of the set around and dressing them accordingly, and going over nooks and crannies with the crew instead of just sitting in his chair waiting for them to do everything like some of his peers are happy to do. His lack of a filter is also on full display (when a crew member doesn't show up, he mocks him and says that they got a replacement that was better anyway - heh), and you don't even really have to watch the whole thing to see that love or hate the guy, you have to admit he doesn't phone anything in when it comes to the actual directorial craft (it's the writing process that seems to be where he rushes through things). Unlike Michael Lives, it also feels more like a real doc; once again the post production process is skipped over entirely, but there is more with the actors and other crew to round it out, as opposed to that other "doc" which just felt like four hours of random behind the scenes footage. And thankfully very little of what we learn here is repeated on his commentary, which does get into the writing a bit more and offers a few more of his hilariously blunt observations ("No idea who any of these people are" he mutters over the executive producers' credit), though as with his writing, I wish he'd bring someone in on his tracks as they tend to be pretty dry for the most part, and he clearly gets bored after a while - perhaps if he was joined by Sheri or one of his longtime crew he might have a little more fun.

Now that I think about it, even the "preaching to the choir" kind of complaints aren't totally fair. Sheri aside (and Jeff Daniel Phillips, who follows his solid LoS turn to prove he's actually a fairly engaging actor, which I never would have guessed from his Halloween II stuff), he keeps his regular acting troupe to a minimum, working with more newcomers while NOT bringing in his go-tos (Ken Foree, Sid Haig, William Forsythe, etc. are nowhere to be found), and he's never dealt with a confined location before, either (House of 1000 Corpses kept cutting to that one girl's dad out and about, if you recall). And the Halloween setting is about as significant as Thanksgiving is to Blood Rage (meaning: not at all), so even things that seem like he's copying himself aren't really doing that. He also returns to composing for the first time since 1000 Corpses, working with John 5 and others and doing a pretty good job (though I must admit my favorite cue was clearly a lift from The Fog theme). It's not his best film by any means (it's actually his weakest after Halloween, but again I'm a fan of them all so that's not really a dis), but I think it deserves a fairer shake than I've seen it get so far (I remember even some of my fellow Lords of Salem defenders telling me how awful this was after its Sundance screening), and perhaps now that people can easily find the goddamn thing it will earn a few more fans. All I know for sure is, he hasn't lost any of my support with his work here, and as always I look forward to what he does next.

(In film, that is - I never have liked his music either with White Zombie or solo, ironically enough.)

What say you?


Sendero (2015)

DECEMBER 16, 2016


A while back, I saw a film called Hidden in the Woods, which was seemingly designed to offend as many viewers as possible, or at least inspire some self-righteous asshole to try to resurrect the Video Nasties list. I wouldn't say I loved the film or anything, but I appreciated its sheer audacity, throwing everything from incest to cannibalism at you and never letting another five minutes go by without another gory (mostly practical) murder scene. I'd never want to watch it again, but at least I was engaged on some level, which is more than I can say for Sendero (aka Path), which also hails from Chile and also tosses a lot of these same elements at you, albeit without much of the bravado. Where Hidden was laudable in its rampant disregard for human life and basic taste, this just seems like yet another ripoff of Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the like, with only fleeting moments of inspiration to keep it from being a total waste of time.

At least writer/director Lucio A. Rojas doesn't waste time either letting us know what kind of movie we're seeing, or making us wait to get to the horror stuff - our heroine and her pals are more or less introduced making plans for a drive, the car breaks down at the ten minute mark, and they run afoul of the bad guys shortly after that. No points for originality, but at least they score high marks for efficiency, I guess. Unfortunately, just because he was in a rush doesn't mean he had anything new to show us, and the next hour is little more than a series of chase scenes where they try to escape. To its credit, there isn't a lot of torture-y stuff - on the rare occasions anyone is tied up it usually isn't for long, and most of the people who die in the film (on either side) do so quickly. It's not particularly unpleasant, in other words, so if you're turned off by torture stuff but are in the mood for one of these things, it can at least offer you that much.

But man, if a scene goes by that doesn't make you think of another, superior film, it's because you weren't paying enough attention. Chain Saw is an obvious one, but they dip into Mother's Day, Frontieres, a mild touch of Martyrs (or Texas Chainsaw 4 - basically some rich asshole shows up and calls the shots, but they don't explain much about him) and even Calvaire for a bit. That last one is the most intriguing; while one of the captors does the usual gross things to the females, groping and licking them (but always getting stopped by one of his partners before going any further), his brother (?) has a thing for the males instead, and pleasures himself while standing over one after rubbing his chest a bit. Then the other guy stops HIM from going any further, and punishes him by raping him (though he doesn't put up much of a fight, if any). I've seen innumerable male on female rape scenes in these things, but apart from Calvaire (which was much more vague, if memory serves) I can't recall male on male, so... there's something, I guess? But merely putting a male in a spot usually reserved for females (and making the victim one of the villains as opposed to a protagonist) doesn't really change things that much - it's still yet another rape scene in a horror movie that could have used that screentime on something more interesting.

However, all of this could be forgiven, or at least given a pass, if not for the film's biggest sin: its editing. Rojas is the culprit here as well (though Cristian Toledo is co-credited), and I don't know if they just didn't have the footage to cut things together or were going for a certain effect that didn't quite land, but either way it was some truly abysmal work. There are at least two occasions where he is cutting between two action scenes (a fight in the house and a chase scene outside, for example), and there is zero rhythm to how it's presented - the back and forth seems more random than anything, keeping us from being engaged by either scenario, let alone both at once. And in one such instance a character seemingly teleports from one situation to another, suggesting these were separate scenes that played out normally, but spliced together to try to intensify things or something. He also fails more than once to clearly show us important details, like when Ana and her boyfriend stumble upon a truck with a family inside, and ask them for help. Rojas never cuts to the family's faces, so we're not even sure how many of them there are - and thus we just have to assume the little girl that appears out of nowhere a few minutes later was in the truck/is the daughter of the driver. No film is perfect and there are always going to be shots the director missed, but the idea is to keep the audience from ever noticing that, and they really drop the ball in that department.

Speaking of the family, one of the film's unintentionally most entertaining elements is how many good Samaritans are killed throughout the runtime. Since our heroes are almost always on the run, they are constantly stumbling across random people who live in the town (an isolated ranch/farm kinda place), and they're always murdered by the bad guys moments later. In fact, I'm pretty sure more random innocent people are killed than there were in the protagonist group to begin with, which might be a record since most movies only opt for one, MAYBE two such characters (usually a passing motorist or a cop answering a call). But in what becomes true Rojas form by the end of the film, it's unclear who actually murders the last one - it might be one of the bad guys we've met, but the way it's shot and from the vague hints we get that the bad guys are powerful/wide-reaching (so we get a bit of Hostel, too?), it could be a new antagonist brought in to help clean up the mess or whatever. The movie just randomly ends here, which would annoy me if I was at all invested in it.

At least the gore FX are satisfying; Rojas clearly knows that prosthetics are the best and offers a number of sufficiently goopy and bloodied corpses and body parts. There's a pretty great head bashing that rivals Dave Foy's (unrated!) death in Hatchet II, and a wonderful sight gag where a guy's skin is torn off and we see his heart (I think?) pumping since he's not actually dead yet. It's interesting that many of the low/no budget foreign horror films I see tend to make sure they don't skimp in this department like their American counterparts, though when you consider the usual excuse you hear for going digital (no time to do it right) and look at all of the editing blunders on display here, you can't help but wonder if the Americans have a point. Would Rojas have had time to get all those reverse angles and inserts if he wasn't lovingly showing a fake head getting bashed in? Perhaps, but would the movie actually be any good with better editing? Less likely; it might be less puzzling at times, but it'd still lack any decent ideas or exciting plot turns. Maybe not every viewer will have seen so many of these things, but I am willing to bet there will be very, very few who manage to get surprised at a single thing in it anyway.

What say you?


Incarnate (2016)

DECEMBER 1, 2016


January comes early! Incarnate may have gotten released today, December 2nd (in the US at least; it came out overseas last year - it was shot in 2013, mind you), but it feels like a typical January horror offering, in that it's perfectly watchable but nothing more, and sounds like an interesting movie on paper but either didn't get the money, time, or talent (or all three) to really come to life. Movies like Legion and The Rite fit into this category, and it's interesting how many of them deal with exorcisms and other biblical-minded scenarios - why no faith in the sub-genre that produced the most successful horror movie of all time? It's the sort of thing you can wonder about while watching this movie, since it's fine but doesn't demand much of your attention to follow along, nor will you be rewarded for giving it your all.

Hell it doesn't even have a lot of scare attempts, which to me personally is a blessing since this stuff doesn't work on me anyway (there's a halfway decent one in the opening sequence, with someone/something fluttering by the camera without the would-be victim seeing, but there are only a handful of others), but will likely be a bummer for the younger audiences who might be enticed by the fact that we haven't had a big horror movie in a while (Ouija 2 was six weeks ago), and allowed in because of the PG-13 rating. And it's got Two-Face and Melisandre in the cast, so that might also be a selling point, but it's definitely more adult-leaning, opting for character-driven intensity over traditional scares. Again, this is all perfectly fine to me, but the problem is these attempts aren't very successful - it might be for adults, but the execution is remedial.

The biggest problem is that it feels like a first draft of a script, where the writer got all the beats and expected plot turns down (and did a fairly decent job with them as well), but never went back and fleshed things out. Aaron Eckhart's character is being haunted by a demon named Maggie, but there's precious little time given to explaining where she came from and why she has nothing better to do than make his life hell. Maggie's newest target is a little boy with divorced parents, and what could have been an interesting approach (an abusive father having to regain his son's trust and love) is discarded almost instantly, nor do the parents get much of a chance to talk about the situation. See, the boy is obviously quite endangered because of the demon, but the mom (Carice van Houten) doesn't even tell the dad, because he got drunk one night and accidentally broke the kid's arm - that's kind of a dick move on her part, really. Not that I wanted them to magically fall in love again, but when we're told that the demon finds the weak and downtrodden because it's easier to possess them, you realize that the dad being cut out of the kid's life was part of that sadness, and the mom was partially to blame - and there's no real consequence to her for that. Hell I'm not even sure if she realizes it, which just adds to the movie's overall failure to really dig into its more interesting elements.

The script's lack of follow through extends to the production design, sadly. The movie's coolest idea is to treat possession/exorcism with a more sci-fi approach, allowing Eckhart's character to enter the possessed person's mind and help them break free of the demon's hold. These scenes start off with settings that are unique to that person's dreams and fantasies (a park and a carnival for the kid, a fancy nightclub for a lawyer that Eckhart is working with when his character is introduced), but ultimately end up all looking the same - Eckhart asks the person their favorite color and then a door appears, in that very color! And beyond that door is... uh, an empty small room, with a window that they have to jump out of in order to break free. We're told these areas are constructs of the possessed person's mind, so why are the three we see all exactly the same after the first room or two? Is the demon actually constructing this place, and if so, why do they only imagine what looks like a generic hotel in downtown LA? There's a real world location in the film (a friend of Eckhart's who collects artifacts) that has more visual flair than these dream world ones, which seems like a real missed opportunity to give the film some arresting setpieces.

But, again, it's not really that bad. The Inception-y concept may not be fully realized, but it's certainly more interesting than watching the millionth priest shout at the millionth Regan wannabe (and yes, they throw in an Exorcist reference to make sure we know they've seen it too), and I like that Eckhart's character treats it from a completely scientific approach instead of a religious one. In fact he's hired by the Vatican to help out on this particular case, a fun inverse of the usual "when science fails turn to god" approach for these films - it's the little touches like that this that keep the movie treading water where so many other possession films (let's go back to January stuff and invoke Devil's Due) have sunk. In fact I'd be curious if the script WAS more ambitious but scaled back when it got sold to Blumhouse, who refuses to spend any of the money it makes on its giant hits (the average budget is like 6m and their average gross is about 50m). To be fair, it doesn't seem as reshot/re-edited like some other Blumhouse movies, where the second guessing is apparent and frustrating, though some of that test audience-dictated action rears its ugly head near the climax, where they had a visualization of the demon that either looked silly or fake (or just didn't fit with the otherwise grounded movie) and thus tried as hard as they could to cut it out entirely, leaving only a (confusing) arm in a couple of brief shots.

I also liked how Eckhart dove into schlubbing it up for his role, something I wasn't even aware of until it happened in the movie (I only saw half of one trailer for the movie, a while back, so I wasn't even really sure what it was about beyond possession stuff). When we first see him, he's in total handsome suave guy mode, i.e. what you expect Aaron Eckhart to look like on any Saturday night on the town. But that's a dream, and in reality he's got long hair, borderline homeless guy clothes, and he's also paralyzed from the waist down - he goes from Tom Cruise in Cocktail to Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July, basically. Given how much flack he took for being a "sexy" version of the monster in I, Frankenstein, I liked that his return to the horror genre was lacking any of that vanity (be it his or the producers') except for when the plot required it. He's also not even all that sympathetic, flat out telling van Houten that he didn't care as much about saving her son as he did getting revenge on Maggie - you know the movie won't actually get so dark that he'd let the kid die if it meant taking out his tormentor, but the sentiment was still appreciated. Basically there was just enough to hold my attention (I stayed awake despite it being a late show!), and in fact I suspect if I was still living up to the "A Day" part of this site I'd like it even more, because I'd be more worn down by all the movies that couldn't be bothered to add anything unique or interesting at all.

This one comes from the BH "Tilt" label, but got a wide release anyway (most of the others, like their Town That Dreaded Sundown remake, went more or less straight to VOD), though I can't imagine it really paying off. According to Thursday preview numbers it won't even make as much as this year's fellow castoff The Darkness, which is a shame since it's better and worthy of a followup if the interest was there (and since Darkness is their lowest grossing wide release genre film, that means this will take its place). Ironically, it'll probably find its audience on VOD and Netflix, where people will throw it on for background noise and end up finding it a bit more interesting than they might have expected. Eckhart gives a fine performance and the supporting cast is solid, and it's got thankfully very few silly moments (the potential for one is raced past before we can react to it - someone dies during an exorcism attempt and the body is taken away by uniformed medics, yet none of them or a cop can be seen asking for an explanation). And it's always nice to see Blumhouse moving the fuck away from ghosts for a change, so props to that as well.

What say you?


Zombie Massacre 2: Reich Of The Dead (2015)

NOVEMBER 18, 2016


I didn't review the first Zombie Massacre when I saw it back in 2013, so my memory of it is non-existent. I did tweet that it "wasn't very good", noting Uwe Boll's cameo as the US President to be the highlight (back in 2013, jokes about random maniacs being the President were still funny), but I had to look up someone else's review to double check that the film did not take place during World War II like its sequel, Zombie Massacre 2: Reich of the Dead. It didn't, but it DID involve soldiers, so as unrelated sequels go it's at least got that much going on - I mean I guess there could be some tangential connection, like someone in this movie was the grandfather of a character in the first one, but if you think I'm gonna try to cross-check for the sake of this goddamn movie you clearly don't know me very well.

(Which would make sense, because 99% of you are strangers and probably should NOT know me very well. If you do, we need to set some boundaries.)

The same filmmaking team is behind this movie, but they've changed their MO considerably - the first had the Boll cameo, a lot of action, etc. It was, for lack of a more honest term, fun, whereas this is somber and slow-paced to a fault, like they were trying to mix elements from Black Hawk Down (wounded, trapped soldiers) and Jacob's Ladder (more on that soon) within the context of a zombie flick. On paper, that's a great idea, but almost nothing about the execution seen here could be considered successful. The languish pace is the biggest problem; it's not that it's slow in the "slow burn" kind of way, but more like they only had a 30 page script and opted to just stretch it to feature length. Not since Meet Joe Black have I seen a film allow so many dead pauses in between lines, where even a simple "I'm going over there." "OK, be careful!" kind of conversation can take up a full 30-40 seconds of screentime. And, not for nothing, but Meet Joe Black is a movie about trying to savor every moment, so that approach makes sense - not so much when you're in the middle of a devastating war and also adding zombies to the mix.

It doesn't help that you can actually count the number of zombies in the movie (I didn't actually do that, but it's under 30, I can almost guarantee), with the first one not even showing up until over a half hour into the film - weird for ANY zombie movie, let alone a sequel. Even the ones where the zombies are created in the film and thus need to be set up don't make us wait until the 2nd act to see one, and the war-driven action that we watch until that point is hardly exciting or original. There are only four soldiers, and (not counting some anonymous Nazi soldiers and the zombies) they make up a full half of the cast, which would be fine if they were well-rounded and compelling people, but they're all just generic soldier types you've seen in a dozen or more war films. You know that scene in Saving Private Ryan where Giovanni Ribisi tells that heartbreaking story about pretending to sleep so he wouldn't have to talk to his mom? They go for something like that, but it's like the Asylum mockbuster version of such scenes, and the not-particularly-good actors' delivery doesn't help much. And that's one of the movie's better scenes!

Luckily, the FX are improved over the original. They still use CGI blood spray for bullet hits, but there's some practical red stuff to enjoy, and since there's barely any action our eyes aren't being assaulted by laughable CGI explosions and and the like. In fact, across the board the movie is technically fine - it's well shot and I never doubted I was in 1940's Germany (low budget period pieces are rare for a reason), and it's even got a stylish opening credit sequence (one that was probably only commissioned to help get the runtime over 80 minutes, but still). Alas, there's only so much they can do when their script is so minimalist; it's the kind of movie where I felt like I just missed something because 40-45 minutes had gone by and so little had happened. There's an evil Nazi mad scientist guy who pops up in the 3rd act, giving the movie a bit of spark (the actor playing him is also the best of the bunch, which helps) but it's too little too late, and it also lacks a big action climax that would at least send us home with a bit of an adrenaline surge.

Instead, the movie ends on a confusing and bizarrely unexciting note, to the extent that I wondered if there was a glitch in my screener or if this was actually the first half of a movie that they decided to split in half, Harry Potter 7 style. Neither is the case, so your guess is as good as mine why it ends like this, which seems to suggest a vague kind of Jacob's Ladder twist? I mean, that was my interpretation anyway; a quick check of the IMDb message board confirmed others had very little clue what had just happened, with "It was all a dream?" type questions popping up but very few answers. I'm sure the filmmakers have an answer, but damned if the movie was interesting enough to track it down - I was just happy it was finally over and I could do something else with my time (I ended up watching the Stranger Things pilot again since it had been three months since I first gave it a try - still not drawn in, guys). Still, if you were inexplicably a fan of the first film and were excited about a sequel, I almost feel bad for you - it's different tonally, completely unrelated, and ends on a giant question mark, which would seemingly only promise another entry like this one instead of a true sequel to the original.

Incidentally, that's how I felt about the 3rd Outpost movie, a series that also involved zombies and World War II. The 2nd film ended on a cliffhanger, but then the third one was inexplicably a prequel - and it presumably killed the series for good, as that was a few years ago and there's still no word on a proper 4th film. It's an unfortunate occurrence in franchises; the producers know that the title alone will get the fans of that series to pick it up and thus don't really care, but it still baffles me when filmmakers (like this, the 3rd Outpost movie was with the same people) go in a different route, presumably bumming out the people that supported the previous film enough to keep them employed for another. And then it just sours the brand name, so what's the upside? Beyond making the first movie look like a classic in comparison, I mean. Well, whatever. Donald goddamn Trump is our President now, so the days of a bad horror movie being of any concern at all are behind us.

What say you?


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget