Pin (1988)

OCTOBER 31, 2010


Happy Halloween! I did a good job picking a movie today I guess; while most of the movie-watching world was subjecting themselves to time honored favorites or maybe finally checking out a classic they've heard about from their friends ("Hey, it's Halloween, maybe I'll finally watch The Exorcist..."), I of course have to watch something I've never seen before, and at this point, there aren't a lot of classics I've missed. But Pin turned out to be an original and fairly creepy movie, improving my "HMAD on Halloween" record after the previous two duds (last year's barely horror Elsewhere and 2008's awful Teenage Zombies).

If you liked Magic you'll probably dig this "younger" version. It's similar in that they try to hide whether or not Pin actually has a life of his own for a while, and eventually Pin and his owner are dressed alike, but there's one key difference - Leon (our "hero") is not trying to hook up with an old flame. Instead, he has really creepy and overprotective tendencies toward his sister (Hey-O!), nor does he use Pin to get revenge or anything. Pretty much the entire movie takes place in the family home, and you get the idea that if Leon's sister moved away, he'd just sit around talking to Pin for an eternity. Having a life, apparently, doesn't seem to be high on his list of priorities.

And damn if that thing ain't creepy. It starts off as a medical dummy of sorts, with the insides visible due to translucent "skin" (their father is a doctor - they don't just have this thing for the hell of it). And it's anatomically correct, something we learn in two rather icky ways. In the first, the father (Terry O'Quinn!) is telling them about the birds and the bees, something the little sister takes a keen interest in (she says something to the effect of "I'm going to be good at it!", and later becomes a bit of a slut in high school, though this plot point is largely forgotten). And Leon spies his father's assistant using the damn thing as a dildo, which freaks him (us) out. For a while I thought this would be some Cronenberg-ian dummy horror movie, but thankfully (or not, depends on your tastes) Pin's "sex life" is phased out of the movie after the first 20 minutes or so.

But it gets even creepier-looking later, when Leon dresses it in their father's clothes and molds a clay face over it. I mean, Christ, look at this thing!

And he's always got it propped up on chairs and shit - imagine coming home and seeing that goddamn thing sitting there! He also gives it a wheelchair, which he controls himself (by this point we know it's just Leon making it do stuff). In one of the film's few horror-terror scenes, he has it chase around a would-be girlfriend, and it's the stuff of nightmares. I kept thinking of “the uncanny valley”, a theory that the Japanese devised a while back that posits that the closer a robot looks to human, the less an actual human is likely to "trust" it. Same thing goes for cartoons (which is why Final Fantasy's humans are less identifiable than say, Goofy, even though we can't even identify what the hell he is). And with this movie, we can add full sized medical dummies to the list. And it was creepy even in its "invisible skin" mode.

Back to O'Quinn, since I have Lost on the brain, I was tickled with him being a father to a kid with an unhealthy obsession with his sister, since he was very much a father figure to Boone on that show, and Boone, of course, totally boinked his sister (OK, step-sister, but from the time they were like 8!) right before they got on the plane. The man has a niche.

Creepy dolls and the looming threat of incest aside, it's a very subtle (read: kind of slow, but in a good way) film, the type we never really see anymore. There really isn't a lot of action, and even the big moment in the climax is kept off-screen in order to preserve a (not very surprising) surprise for the final scene. It's all about the performances, and David Hewlett (who also appeared in the Cronenberg-ish Splice) is terrific as Leon, spending the entire movie on that thin line between tragic hero and crazed villain. A minor twist involving the sister's boyfriend allows you to keep your sympathy for the guy right to the end, and the opening prologue (when Leon and his sister were children) is brief but long enough for us to get the impression that his closed off upbringing was unhealthy and likely to blame for the way he is.

There's also a wonderfully low-key "subplot" of sorts involving the plastic on the furniture. Their overbearing mother demanded to keep the plastic on, and when she died, the first thing Leon did (to his sister's delight) is tear all the plastic off so they can sit comfortably for once. It comes full circle with the final scene where if you're paying attention you can see that the plastic is back on, now that Leon is no longer in control. It's probably the saddest part of the whole movie, and yet director Sandor Stern doesn't make too big of a deal about it. I love that sort of thing; nowadays someone would probably point it out in dialogue, because most modern filmmakers assume their audiences are idiots (and are correct, for the most part).

I do have one question though - the opening title has ellipses after the title ("Pin..."). Why? Is it supposed to be like a stern, authority figure's way of saying it, like SNL's "Gilly..."? Like, "Pin... what are you doing?" Or was the credit creator just messing with us? Perhaps the DVD commentary can explain, as it has one, yet I opted for Netflix instant, which turned out to be a bad idea since it was a shit transfer (full frame, very lo-res). It also completely stopped playing twice for no discernible reason. All hail this alleged "better" way of watching movies!

What say you?


Mirrors 2 (2010)

OCTOBER 30, 2010


If one factors in a handicap for the pedigree (the director of Return to House on Haunted Hill vs the director of High Tension), the cast (Nick Stahl vs Kiefer Sutherland), and the budgets (no idea, but Mirrors was a theatrical summer release and this was tossed DTV), Mirrors 2 is actually a better film than the original. Whereas the original was a disappointment, this was a decent enough viewing, hampered only by its familiarity and clunky, exposition-filled third act.

It’s also a bit too similar to Shutter, which is also a FOX remake of an Asian film (which should have gone DTV itself). Like that film, our “villain” is actually an innocent victim seeking revenge against the folks involved with her sexual attack, which is all well and good, but it also results in a movie where the villain is never posing a threat to our heroes. She’s only after the four folks who helped in her murder (and its coverup), neither of which are Nick Stahl or Emmanuelle Vaugier. So as a result, our heroes don’t really DO anything in the movie, just sort of run around seeing stuff happen and explaining it aloud to the audience. At least in Shutter we had the Rachel Taylor character to learn about the story and her husband’s involvement, but here we don’t have that tragic connection. There’s a brief hint that Stahl’s dad (William Katt, who looks like an old David Spade) might be involved, but the ghost doesn’t get him and then he doesn’t appear in the movie again, so he’s just pointless padding. Nice to see the guy though.

But it delivers a few nice kills (courtesy of KNB), and a couple more than were in the original to boot. It’s the same thing – the reflection does something and it causes the equal harm to the real person, but they get a bit more creative with it – we see reflections on shower glass, pizza cutters, etc. The final villain gets killed inside the mirror – we just see his blood being splattered all over the image (from the inside) as he gets his just desserts. There’s also a cool effect where we see the “mirror world”, with the cracks in the image stretching out in three dimensional space. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a visually interesting and unique idea. As with Return to House on Haunted Hill, Victor Garcia displays a knack for strong visuals, he’s just once again saddled with a lacking script. Hopefully his Hellraiser sequel turns out good and allows him to move up the chain a bit and take on an original property for once.

Also, even though the movie is “safer” than its original (no grim ending here), they take advantage of the DVD/unrated leeway. The deaths are gorier than the ones in the original, and we get a lengthy and hilariously gratuitous shower scene, featuring Christy Romano, who’s the type of actress you figure would never do her own nude scene. Why? Because she’s the voice of Kim Possible! I felt kind of dirty when I found that out, but goddamn – the lass has a body worth showing off.

I was also pleased to see that it was shot in Baton Rouge. It’s actually kind of backwards – the original was shot in Romania, which is usually where they do DTV stuff like this, but the sequel went somewhere less generic. They don’t really use the city much (compared to say Hard Target), but even the minor suburban streets and such that we see add a layer of production value and character that these things usually lack. Again, it’s not really that great of a movie, but it’s one with a lot of effort put into it on the production side of things, and that is to be commended.

Two things really irked me though. One is a flashback featuring Stahl proposing to his wife in the weirdest way possible – he’s driving and has her climb into the back seat to find his “phone”, but it’s really the ring he wants her to find. Who proposes to someone when they can’t even kiss or embrace after the “Yes”? Unless, of course, he was expecting her to say “No”, in which case it would be a good idea to have her in the back seat to dispel some of the awkwardness. The other is even worse – Stahl finds a “MISSING” poster that he saw Vaugier putting up earlier (in her only scene until the 50 or so minute mark), which clearly displays the date the girl disappeared. And he uses the poster to find her, and then asks, TWICE, when she disappeared (she also offers the information right off the bat, before she even knows what he’s doing there). Is he mentally disabled or something? Why can’t he remember? Christ even I remember the date (September 22, a Wednesday) and I have no involvement in the proceedings. Perhaps the prop guy wasn’t supposed to put the date on it, but even so, why does he need to be told three times?

The pair of deleted scenes on the DVD don’t provide an answer... or anything, really. One hints that Stahl and Vaugier might hook up when all this crazy killer mirror stuff is over, the other just adds more exposition that doesn’t matter to the climax. The other extras are pretty good though; a making of that’s really a better than usual collection of interviews with the actors describing their characters and talking about filming their death scenes when applicable. It actually starts with the film’s climax, however, so don’t watch it until you’ve seen the movie, if you planned to for some bizarre reason. The other takes a look at KNB’s FX work, which is quite enjoyable. KNB is one of the best FX houses of all time, as far as I’m concerned, and they’ve really done a great job of combining practical and CG effects to keep everyone happy, so I’m always happy to watch them do their thing (and kudos to FOX for shelling out the dough to hire them for a DTV flick). Then there’s a bunch of trailers for stuff like Dollhouse Season 2, for some reason.

If you haven’t seen the original, I’d suggest just watching this one. You won’t be as familiar with the basic premise, and the film is practically a remake for its first half hour (did Stahl have to be a night watchman again, like Sutherland was?). But the backstory is slightly more interesting here (and less confusing), there are more kills, and its 20 minutes shorter. On the flipside, no one says “Be careful of the water, it creates reflections!”, so you make the call.

What say you?


The Initiation Of Sarah (1978)

OCTOBER 29, 2010


Since old school TV movies like Duel, Don't Go To Sleep, etc are just as good if not better than comparable theatrical features, I figured The Initiation Of Sarah, made for TV in 1978, would be a perfectly decent Carrie ripoff. After all, it boasted a story by credit for Tom Holland, and was remade recently, so it must have SOME merit, right?

Yes, it does. SOME. Unfortunately, "some" is not "a lot", and thus the movie is mostly pretty forgettable, with a snail's pace and a lack of the "balls" that those other TV horror films had. Whereas Don't Go To Sleep has a little girl killing her whole family, this supernatural sorority girl can't even bring herself to kill the horrible girl who humiliated her. At least, I don't THINK she kills her - she just makes it really windy at the sorority (?) and the girl gets old crone face, but it doesn't seem like she dies (the epilogue makes no mention of it). Instead (spoiler!) she uses her power to kill the evil witch who runs the rival sorority, killing herself in the process. So our body count is 2 - our hero and a villain (Shelley Winters, by the way). Apart from the wind, the only other thing Sarah does with her powers is make the water too hot in the shower while the 'bad' sorority girls are in there, but she lets them go before any real harm comes to them. So it's the equivalent of Carrie going the prom and just turning the punch sour and maybe letting Chris get minor burns. In other words, WEAK revenge, lady.

Until this non-epic non-showdown, it's just a lot of yammering, as Sarah's sister Patty gets initiated into the "bad" sorority (i.e. the popular one) while Sarah gets inducted to their rival's house, populated by less attractive girls and a total lack of sisterhood (when Sarah and Patty visit the house to check it out, no one even bothers to welcome them, nor do they have any sort of pledge period). And this of course puts a strain on their relationship, as Patty is not allowed to talk to her in public (a pledge rule) and it makes Sarah feel less wanted. It's sad, sure, but it lacks any real punch. Maybe if Patty had gone to the "dark side" and turned on her, it would be more tragic, but from the start Patty defies her new friends and defends Sarah when they pick on her. So there's no real weight to the "conflict".

(It SEEMS like there is, however - one of the sorority sisters looks exactly like Patty, rendering some scenes confusing for me.)

Since it's a 1970s movie, it's fun to see some future stars looking young. Morgan Fairchild plays the bitchy sorority sister who hates Sarah the most, and Airplane!'s Robert Hays plays the William Katrole, duping Sarah into thinking he likes her, leading to the prank that sets her off (though true to this movie's nature, he instantly feels guilty and takes the high road, snubbing Fairchild). Of course, when I say "young" I mean compared to now; none of these people would pass for fresh college graduates let alone freshmen - the average age of the cast seems to be about 26.

My favorite character is probably Paul Yates, the teacher who falls for Sarah despite the fact that, you know, that's totally WRONG. But no one seems to have any problem with it, and he has the best introduction of all time: after Sarah saves Patty from an accident that she caused (one of the few "action" moments in the first 80 minutes of the movie), he walks up and says, all in one breath, "Hey, that was good going, she could have been killed! My name is Paul Yates." His delivery is hilarious too - he says "she could have been killed" almost as if he was impressed, like someone saying "she's really good!" in response to a dance routine or something. Also he looked like my ex-godfather John, who went crazy in the 90s, embezzled a bunch of money from his car dealership, and disappeared. Wonder what happened to that guy.

ABC Family or one of those remade this movie (with Fairchild returning) not too long ago, though that sort of pedigree leads me to believe that if anything, its even tamer (though the trailer - which I put below since I couldn't find one for the original - at least promises a demon of some sort). It's weird that an unabashed ripoff of a successful movie wouldn't even try to one up it (Carrie's a great film, but no one can accuse it of being fast paced), but maybe someday someone can do the "Supernatural Sorority Loser" movie right.

What say you?


30 Days Of Night: Dark Days (2010)

OCTOBER 28, 2010


I wasn't a big fan of 30 Days Of Night, but it was at least a good alternative to other vampire stuff that was out there, boasted some impressive gore and beautiful cinematography, and assembled a good group of characters to keep you from knowing who would die and when right off the bat. The sequel, 30 Days Of Night: Dark Days, boasts none of those things, and is ultimately just a generic DTV vampire movie with a script that borrows heavily from Blade (and sequels) and From Dusk Til Dawn, not to mention its source material that wasn't that memorable to begin with (they would have been wise to come up with their own story, I think).

But the biggest problem is the recasting. Nothing against Kiele Sanchez, but she's no Melissa George, nor does she attempt to play the role in any similar way - which is a big problem when the movie is essentially about her journey to put her life back together after the events of the first movie, while dealing with the emptiness she feels over the loss of her husband. Since the character is so far removed from the one we know/already care about, and the two actresses look nothing alike, it just seems like a brand new character - one that they haven't really developed. She's just some broad. Sorry about your husband and all, but why do I care? This also makes the would-be shock ending carry no weight whatsoever; in the comic it was horrifying, but here it just feels like a typical sequel setup/lazy horror movie ending.

Sanchez of course was clumsily inserted into another geek series: Lost. She played Nikki, a character hated by pretty much everyone (including the show's writers, apparently). Luckily, she had a fellow castaway with her here - Harold Perrineau (Michael, best known for shouting WALLLLLLLLLT!) plays one of the vampire hunters she joins up with and eventually takes over (yeah, in addition to the various vampire movie "homages", there's also a bit of a Matrix vibe to her journey). They are matched by a pair of 24 regulars - Mandy (Mia Kirschner) and Sean (Rhys Coiro) are also on board. The only exception among the main cast is Diora Baird, who is known more for her horror films than serialized fan favorite TV shows. Of them, Perrineau fares best, since he is introduced, does almost nothing, and gets killed 10 minutes later, likely inspiring jealous feelings from his castmates who have to stick around a lot longer.

Also, for alleged vampire hunters who have turned this into their life's mission, they sure do suck at it. Stella does most of the killing, and they go into danger shockingly unprepared. If you're battling vampires, why only bring guns? How about some UV lights or holy water (if that works on these particular vamps, I don't think it's ever mentioned in either film)? Stella even has a bunch of them - in one of the film's few good scenes, she holds a conference about how vampires are real, points out that some always follow her, and then floods the room with UV lights that she rigged up to "out" the vamps in the crowd. Why not bring some along? Oh, because then they couldn't have an easy way to get to the film's primary form of an action scene, which is to charge into a room, kill maybe one, get in trouble, and then run away.

And it's a shame, because production wise, it's not that bad. It's not as good-looking as it's bigger budgeted predecessor, but it's miles ahead of the usual DTV fare - I could almost picture seeing this in a theater. The vampire makeup is just as good (though they overuse the digital blood), and there are some really cool deaths, particularly a beheading that involves hanging hooks. And I liked the final fight between Stella and Lilith (Kirschner) - ain't nothing wrong with two hot ladies throwing down whilst covered in blood. I will assume that the budget prevented them from getting too crazy though - the original was pretty hard R at times for a theatrical major studio release, but this is pretty tame for the most part.

I will also give it credit for adding a bit more drama to the proceedings. Coiro's character is borderline suicidal, and him and Stella form a bond and share a number of quiet moments that I wasn't expecting to see in this sort of thing. Hell even their obligatory sex scene is kind of sad; two broken folks trying to feel and all that. And the sequel does have its own identity while keeping ties to the original - the locale has changed, the plot is different, etc, but apart from the recasting, it's not so far removed that it feels like a different movie entirely that they just slapped the 30 Days title on in post production. But the film as a whole just doesn't gel - the action is lazy and repetitive, the characters act like idiots, and the most interesting asset they have (a vampire who has retained his human side and aids them) is left on the sidelines for far too much of the movie.

Writer/director Ben Ketai provides a commentary track (one of the producers is there too but he barely says anything). It's a decent track, blending story discussion with technical nuts and bolts stuff. Sort of like the movie itself - it's "fine" but wholly unnecessary. A brief making of is also included, but it's the sort of glossy and fluffy nonsense I have no patience for.

I own something like 12 different mini-series of the comic, but I've only read the first two (which would be the original and the "Dark Days" sequel). I don't recall much of the book but this one hits a few of the bullet points (the ending, the UV "surprise" at the conference), so kudos for blending the "needs" of the comic fans with the needs to make a movie on a certain budget. And at least if there's a part 3 I will go in blind, because I assume that between now and then I won't suddenly have the urge to read comic books from 3-4 years ago that are likely buried underneath the long boxes of my newer titles. But I'm certainly not holding my breath.

What say you?


Blu-Ray Review: Altitude (2010)

OCTOBER 28, 2010


Here we have a rare example of an ambitious low budget film with lots of effects and a risky setting (a tiny plane) that falls apart due to the things that come for free – a good script and likable characters. Altitude cost less than 10 million, but sports 600 CGI enhanced shots, which is on the level of a Lord of the Rings film, and impressively keeps up a good pace and interesting photography despite the fact that 90% of the film takes place in a seven-seater plane that the actors can’t even stand up straight in. But man oh man, the script seems hell-bent on dragging it down.

For starters, they have managed to create the least likable group of teens in a horror movie in ages. Christ, I liked some of the Friday the 13th Part VII assholes more than these clowns. I spent half the movie wondering why anyone was even friends with each other. The main girl (Jessica Lowndes, who I like but is possibly the least believable pilot since Julie Haggerty) seems to hate Bruce, her sort-of boyfriend, and her best friend’s boyfriend Sal is a complete asshole right from the start, and later we discover she has cheated on him with the other guy in the plane. Who am I supposed to like, exactly? I understand the need for conflict to ramp up the tension, but why do they have to be so hateful before anything bad even happens? And why can’t good people fight? I fight with friends every now and then, even when we’re not trapped in malfunctioning planes. You don’t have to paint someone as a completely unsympathetic asshole just so you can have another character be at odds with them.

I mean, seriously, at one point Sal grabs a rare comic book that Lowndes bought for Bruce and tears a page out of it (which, given the information we learn later in the movie, means that that is one meta comic book), laughing at him for being a “baby” and reading comic books. I’m sorry, in what universe do human beings act like this anyway, but since when is collecting rare comics a “childish” activity? If the guy thinks it’s lame, fine, but who destroys an acquaintance’s property just for “fun”?


And because these people are so unlikable or annoying, the twist just completely fails to work. Technically it’s actually an interesting twist, if not wholly original (certain episodes of Twilight Zone and the book/movie Sphere covered the same territory), but it just becomes laughable here. The poster and trailer promise a monster, and it IS there, but we discover it’s just Bruce’s manifestation, and that it can disappear in the blink of an eye if he focuses on something else. Thus, at one point Lowndes literally saves the day just by kissing him. I agree with the film’s notion that making out with Ms. Lowndes can solve your problems (a theory worth exploring!), but at this point I wanted the monster to kill these pains in the ass, not disappear because the kid stopped being such a goddamn baby.

There’s also another twist, one you can probably see coming early on. It seems Bruce is such a worry-wart weirdo because his parents died in a plane crash when he was young (one he survived). And the pilot of that plane was none other than Lowndes’ mother! Their plane crashed when they collided in mid-air with another plane that came out of nowhere and had no record of being in flight. Anyone want to guess where the movie ends up? Again, not a bad twist in its own right, but the execution is sloppy. Its telegraphed way too early, the idea that these two would be friends 15 years later is way too convenient, and it just seems far too Deus Ex Machina-y for my tastes.

But again, on a technical level, there’s a lot to appreciate and enjoy here. For a single location movie, the camera moves around a lot and keeps things visually exciting throughout. Some of the compositing is bad, but the monster itself looks great, as do the various extensions and such that helped make the plane seem complete on the exterior shots (one of the kids jumps out, attached via rope, to try to fix one of the plane’s problems from the outside). And again, the actors can’t even stand up straight, so it’s impressive that they can fight, move around, etc when necessary without feeling awkward or even cramped. Director Kaare Andrews really uses every bit of space to his advantage, and blends the CG with real world elements better than most big-screen/big-budget fare.

And when they’re sticking to survival/thriller stuff, it’s enjoyable enough, annoying kids aside. Everyone has at least a slight unease of flying, and somehow (at least, to me) these smaller planes are scarier than a big jet, in terms of “Holy shit what if THIS crashes” anyway. As everyone is so confined and panicked, it does create a lot of tension out of very little, not unlike Open Water or Frozen. It’s a monster movie that’s ruined by its monster.

If you do like the movie, or at least interested in combining low budget resources with ambitious scenarios/settings, going through the DVD or Blu-Ray will be worth your while. Andrews provides a terrific commentary that is largely technically oriented, but he is honest about some of the film’s shortcomings and discusses the challenges he faced without sounding whiny or accusatory – he seems to be genuinely grateful to have the ability to shoot a film at all and looked at the limitations as challenges instead of detriments. Then we get a cool look at the film edited together (on fast speed) without any of the FX inserted, so you’re just seeing actors on half of a plane with a lot of green-screen all around. Here he talks more about how certain effects were pulled off or why things had to be done a certain way, not unlike the commentary but with the visual information to help illustrate his points better. Then there’s a 50 minute making of documentary that takes you through the whole production. It’s similar to the one on Frozen in terms of structure and taking a more candid, nuts and bolts approach than a glossy marketing-driven types you see on most DVDs, but it lacks Frozen’s personal touches that elevated that one above most of its type. Still, a good piece, and again, budding filmmakers can take something away from it, which is always good. Some storyboards are also included, though I have little use for such things so I just acknowledged that they were there/functional and moved on with my day.

This is an Anchor Bay release, so do I really need to point out the good transfer? They have done consistently great work with their high-def titles and this is no exception. There isn’t a lot of color in the movie (black, blue, and green – that’s about it) but it looks terrific all the same, with minimal crushed blacks and plenty of detail. The grain amount is inconsistent, but I assume that’s just the film’s editor going overboard trying to hide some sub-par effects rather than a mastering one (and unlike most studios, AB doesn’t try to clear the film of grain, so I’d rather this than no grain at all making everyone look plastic). The surround mix is also quite good, if nothing spectacular (though the rears will get a nice workout with the nearly non-stop rain/storm sounds).

However, as good as they are with transfers, they sure do suck at the coding of the disc itself. For starters, we have to sit through the trailers at the top of the disc – you can only skip them one at a time, no bypassing to the main menu. This is really annoying, especially for a feature heavy disc that most folks won’t have the time to watch all in one sitting. There also doesn’t seem to be any resume capabilities built in, so even if I hit stop halfway through the movie, I’d have to go through the trailers all over again. Also, for some reason you cannot access the bonus features from the pop up menu while watching the movie, another “feature” that is offered on most if not all other studio Blu-ray discs. If Anchor Bay put as much effort into maximizing the format’s potential and user-friendly capabilities as they did their transfers, then they’d truly be the kings of the Blu-ray industry. Although, they did at least finally figure out how to give the disc an image and a name on the nav-bar on PS3 – it used to just say BDMV or something equally unhelpful.

With a few more passes at the script, this could have been a winner. There is much to appreciate on both sides of the camera, and the disc has a lot of great supplements, but ultimately the film itself never quite gelled for me. Rewrite this thing and try again!

Movie Score: 5/10
A/V Score: 8/10
Extras Score: 8/10
Overall: 6/10

What say you?


Community: "Epidemiology"

OCTOBER 28, 2010


My buddy Mike suggested on Twitter that I review tonight’s episode of Community for my HMAD, and after watching it (he was on the East coast and got to see it 3 hrs earlier, the jerk!), I realized how right he was. Not only is it a legit zombie “movie”, but it’s also a way for me to help spread a little love for the show, which I often have no place to do so beyond Twitter.

If you haven’t been watching Community (and based on the ratings, no, you haven’t), it’s a single-camera comedy not unlike Arrested Development or 30 Rock, where it feels more like a real show than a staged sitcom with canned or studio audience laugh tracks (i.e. Big Bang Theory, its now-timeslot rival that I’ve tried to watch a few times over the years and just cannot fathom why it’s even still on the air, let alone hugely popular). And that approach makes episodes like tonight’s work like aces, because you can turn it on for a second and think you were watching an actual zombie movie.

The show, usually, concerns a group of folks who shared a Spanish class in season 1 (this year it’s anthropology) and formed a study group. 99% of the time they don’t seem to even have their books out, let alone be studying in any meaningful way, but the show is very much a college based show – they rarely leave the campus and many of the plotlines revolve around either a new class or a campus event (such as tonight’s). Our lead character is Jeff (Joel McHale), a lawyer who got disbarred for having a fake degree. The other folks are the typical varied lot – the cute blonde who Jeff (at least initially) had a crush on (The Box’s Gillian Jacobs), an old man seeking a new lease on life (Chevy Chase – hence why I started watching it in the first place), a Ken Jeong type actually played by Ken Jeong... it’s a really great ensemble and the best episodes give everyone a moment to shine.

But it’s also kind of a weird show, which probably doesn’t help its ratings. Like 30 Rock, the jokes can be very obscure or just plain random, and it can be uneven at times in terms of the humor. Because the show’s creators put so much effort into making fully realized characters and kooky but plausible stories, sometimes there’s not a lot of room left for laugh out loud jokes, relying instead on the occasional sight gag or just the sheer absurdity of the situation. So there might be an episode where you don’t laugh very much, but it doesn’t make it a bad episode by any means – if anything it just proves how much richer a show it is overall. However, I can see how this might turn someone off, especially with “easier” fare airing on the other channel, with helpful prompts telling you when to laugh.

Tonight’s had a number of laughs though. Chevy dressed as Captain Kirk, which allowed for a couple of zings at William Shatner’s expense, and the other costumes all paved the way for a few jokes apiece (“Why did I think this was a good idea?”). The writers also played with the conventions of horror movies, featuring a cat that was seemingly hellbent on jumping out at our hero at every turn, and careful viewers will note the homages in most of the “death” scenes, which often paid tribute to zombie movie classics.

And even better, it wasn’t all a dream or a fantasy scenario, like something from Scrubs. No, due to ingesting some government research matter that looked a lot like the surplus ration meat that the Dean bought at a discount for the annual Halloween party, everyone got “infected” and began biting each other, which would spread the infection. And the end had a goofy but still not completely out-there explanation that will allow everyone to not only survive but pretty much forget the whole affair, without erasing the existence of the event entirely. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the stuff came back into play in future episodes (i.e. Troy’s voicemail during the end credits).

So check the episode out on Hulu, and if you’re still not convinced, I urge you to watch “The Psychology Of Letting Go”, which aired a couple weeks ago. Not only is it one of the show’s best episodes, but it also makes a perfect example for how rich the show is with details – keep an eye on the background (perhaps watch a 2nd time, or if you missed it and don’t have time, google “Community Abed Background” (no quotes) and see what you missed). The show does OK enough in the ratings to stay on the air, but it would be really nice if a “smart” comedy could match its critical praise with ratings for once.

What say you?

P.S. This episode also had a reference to The Human Centipede. I guarantee you, no other show on the air this week can claim that.


Saw 3D (2010)

OCTOBER 27, 2010


While we can't be for sure until the box office receipts are counted and some time has gone by, Saw 3D is supposedly the final chapter in the series, which is the first franchise to ever deliver a record 7 movies in 7 years (not counting pornos, I guess). But more importantly, it never really drastically altered its MO the way other series did. No supernatural nonsense, no "new directions", no "well let's ignore the last couple movies" like other franchises - while they may not agree with some of the storytelling choices, I think James Wan and/or Leigh Whannell can turn on any of the recent Saw sequels (they haven't been involved since Saw III) and recognize it as part of their series.

Of course, on the other hand, that means that this, the 7th and "final" film, is pretty much a fans-only affair. I think Saw VI works as a stand-alone film beyond some minor references and revelations that won't mean a goddamn thing to a newcomer (i.e. Amanda was responsible for Cecil's drug-fueled outburst that killed John and Jill's unborn son), but even though 3D (why did they have to drop the Roman numerals? I loved that they never dipped into subtitle territory!) follows a similar structure as its immediate predecessor, and much effort has been made to keep it newcomer-friendly, the new story isn't really all that compelling, and everything else is largely concerned with wrapping up the power struggle between Hoffman and Jill.


And even their battle isn't really all that jaw-dropping; it's not until the final reel that it kicks into high gear, with Hoffman going on a crazy killing spree trying to reach Jill (think The Terminator). For the bulk of the film, Jill is just sitting in a police cell (under protection) while Hoffman leaves cryptic clues for Gibson, an IA officer that he has an old grudge with. Since it's the final film, I would have liked to have spent more time with old "friends" instead of new folks, especially when after six films my mind has grown accustomed to trying to figure out how they fit into the big puzzle or relate to the film's other story (something that also sunk Saw V for me) only to discover that this time, they really don't. Gibson has no big reveal or past association with anyone in the other story - he's just a cop that inadvertently helps Hoffman get where he needs to be. Well screw him then! I want more mythology rewriting! Hell, even Tobin barely appears this time around, it's the least amount of screen-time he's has since Saw 1 (unless you count his motionless body on the floor in 1 as "screen-time", then it's the least ever).

The "traps/game" story largely concerns Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery), a survivor of Jigsaw who is being truly tested after being kidnapped after a promotional appearance for his book, which details how he survived and how it changed his life. Like Jeff from III or William from VI, his game often requires him to hurt himself to prevent the trapped person from dying, a method that usually fails. But the similarities to those superior films renders a lot of this stuff sort of dull, because his test is more about Jigsaw getting back at him rather than something that might improve his life, and thus less compelling. Jeff and William were flawed individuals - Bobby's just a spineless jerk.

Luckily, the traps are crazy awesome in this one, and Kevin Greutert and co apparently have been watching some Fulci films for inspiration. The auto shop trap seen in the trailers (featuring Chester from Linkin Park and the super hot Gabby West from Scream Queens) offers some of the most gonzo awesome kills in the series' history, and the "be quiet" trap is impressively unique but also something that Argento would applaud (and curse himself for not doing it first). It also offers some of the more cringe-worthy self-mutilation "requirements"; even I had to look away at one point, as a character does something that finally justifies the suggestions of the Saw III poster.

It also brings some humor to the series, which has been largely absent for a while now. Gibson in particular is a delight, and Tobin's first scene has a wonderfully dry opening when he has to spell his name (he's at one of Dagen's book signings - it's a flashback, obviously). And due to the 3D aspect, the kills themselves are much less icky (save for the self mutilations) and more into over-the-top territory, which means you can laugh and cheer instead of going "ewwww..."

Ah yes, the 3D. I'm sort of on the fence. It's technically great - this movie opens things up a bit (an outside trap, several exterior shots) and even the traps themselves are larger, so if any of the movies HAD to be in 3D, it would be this one. And it was SHOT in 3D (not a convert) so it automatically looks better than most of what we're seeing. But I'm not sure it's the right fit for this particular franchise - it felt sort of weird to have characters throwing things at you, as if they were sort of having fun too. Not that I always want a grim-fest, but it feels a bit campy at times. You may disagree, but I've always felt the series is much more intelligent than its given credit for, however this stuff gives it a slightly goofy tone, like a Final Destination movie more than Saw one.

The next paragraph contains a MAJOR, MAJOR SPOILER! DO NOT READ if don't want the ending partially spoiled, OR if you haven't been following the film's production through the websites or what have you!

Of course, the big question is: How does Dr. Gordon fit into the film, and how much? Sadly, he's only in three scenes (four if you count a new ret-con montage), and oddly I wish it was only the one. He plays a big part in the ending, but by that point you KNOW he does because his presence has been so minimal, and you know they wouldn't have bothered to bring Cary Elwes back just to show that he survived (scene #1) and doesn't think much of Dagen (scene #2). Thus, for the first time ever, I called the twist at the end, which kind of bums me out. And his part prevents what could have been an amazing fight between Jill and Hoffman, who find themselves in what seems to be the Jigsaw evidence room at the police station. How awesome would it have been to see them go at it using a bunch of John's old toys? Instead, one just takes care of the other rather quickly, and then gets their own comeuppance at the hands of our returning friend. It's a pretty awesome ending, but it's not as grand as I had initially hoped - I was sort of hoping for a Freddy vs Jason style epic (gory) battle between the two.

However, one thing is certain - Marcus, Patrick, and the rest of the gang have done right by the fans here. All issues have been resolved, Dagen's AA-style survivors' meeting brings back a lot of familiar faces, and, while they don't beat you over the head with it, you do get a sense of what Jigsaw was trying to accomplish with his "method" and more importantly, whether or not it worked. And ultimately, it's a Saw movie. They didn't pull a Jason Goes To Hell and completely change their MO for the finale - apart from the 3D aspect, there's nothing here that would seem out of place in another entry.

And that's what I think will separate Saw from any other horror franchise, though it may take a while for folks to truly appreciate it for it. The team has remained remarkably constant throughout the series, and they never went the H20 route and decided to ignore a few entries so they wouldn't have to deal with the storyline anymore. While they have obviously gone up and down in terms of storytelling/acting quality, we still have six sequels that each pay respect to the original film and the sequels that preceded it - a rarity that may never be achieved again. Most horror series don't even retain any of the core crew past the 2nd or 3rd film - Don Mancini wrote all five Chucky films, but that's about it (and even then, they changed tone drastically, and had 5 different directors). Love em or hate em, no one can deny that they were putting a lot of effort into rewarding the folks who kept coming back year after year; a true serialized film series.

I'm glad the series ended on a relative high note. It's not one of the best ones, but it's better than IV or V, and could even be matched with II (I'd have to give it another look to know for sure, preferably in 2D to keep things on an even playing field), which would put it about in the middle of the pack - and keep in mind I like all of them (even V, the worst one, I'd give a C+). And it will certainly have a longer shelf life than Paranormal Activity 2, so Kevin Greutert should be ironically happy about the situation* - he ended up doing the better film. I know I had some concerns, but it's ultimately a good time at the movies, and the minor pacing/story issues are pretty much forgotten once that final reel kicks in and Charlie Clouser's amazing theme plays that one last time.

I'll miss you, Saw.

What say you?

*If you hadn't heard, Greutert was set to direct Paranormal 2 when Lionsgate and Twisted decided to force him to direct Saw 3D (forcing out already set director David Hackl) based on his contract, which they had originally planned to ignore, I guess. But he still gave the film his all, and that is to be commended. He also got in a hilarious jab in his pre-movie introduction that not everyone got but made me laugh out loud and cheer ("Lionsgate would like to thank the families of the deceased for their cooperation."). Horror nerd humor and shitty business shenanigans collide!


Blu-Ray Review: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

OCTOBER 26, 2010


I have a confession to make. I’ve seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show at least a dozen times, listened to the soundtrack album for both the film and the original Roxy performance over and over, bought the PC game, and even owned the series of Bobbleheads. But I’ve never once seen the film in a theater, with participation or not. Christ, I’ve seen Shock Treatment in theaters, but not the original classic (I have to be one of a very very low number of people who can make that claim). So it’s sort of fitting that this new 35th Anniversary Blu-ray of the film is largely geared toward recreating the experience in the comfort of your home, since I’ve apparently mentally decided never go to the real thing.

Obviously, though, I enjoy the movie. It’s fast-paced, goofy fun and the songs are catchy as hell. I first got interested due to the presence of Meat Loaf (being a huge fan of his albums), but oddly "Hot Patootie" wouldn’t even place in my top 5 songs of the film. I’m a sucker for “Over At The Frankenstein Place”, “Eddie”, and “Rose Tint My World” (including the awesome “epilogue” by Riff-Raff – “Frank N Furter/It’s all over...”), but really I love all the songs in the movie (I wouldn’t miss “Sword of Damocles”, though that’s mostly due to the terrible dub making it stick out like a sore thumb). Most musicals have a few duds, but as far as I’m concerned, every number here is worthy of singing along.

And the movie itself is enjoyable too. It’s a loving mish-mash of 50s Sci-Fi, Frankenstein movies, and (technically) breakdown horror, with a game cast bringing these generic elements to surprising life. Many of the cast (Tim Curry and Richard O’Brien particularly) have that “offbeat” quality that keeps them from playing more traditional heroes (or even villains), but they are perfectly at home here as Transylvanians. Susan Sarandon is wonderful as the shy prude who goes from being a virgin to a total slut (she nails at least two of the characters, not to mention all the pool shenanigans, all in one night), and Barry Bostwick is a droll delight – I wish he had taken on more genre roles (he DID take Chevy’s place in a short-lived Foul Play TV series however – I have to see this!). And my boy Meat Loaf (billed as Meatloaf here) is only in it long enough to sing one song and get killed, but it’s certainly a memorable sequence.

However, in the past 35 years, the movie itself has sort of taken a back-seat to the general EXPERIENCE of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Folks dress up as the characters, even the minor ones who only appear in a single shot or two. Props are thrown at the screen during appropriate times (i.e. rice during the wedding), and in addition to the songs, talking back to the screen is encouraged – when the narrator (Charles Gray) pauses after “To take you...”, the crowd shouts “WHERE?!” before he finishes his thought (“on a strange journey”), for example. Plus, the most die-hard fans form groups and “shadowcast” the film, which is basically acting out the entire thing in front of the screen, complete with props and lights and everything. In short, if you actually just like the movie and want to watch it in peace, you probably wouldn’t want to hit up a screening at your local indie house (part of the reason why I haven’t bothered – these folks annoyed me enough during Repo and Shock Treatment; I’m sure they’re even more intrusive during RHPS).

But FOX has people like me covered, allowing home viewers to get as close as they can to the theatrical experience but without the mess and expenses (I can’t imagine going out to buy bread and rice just to literally throw it away). Using the Blu-ray exclusive “Midnight Experience” feature, one can add a call-back track (things to shout at the screen), a prop box (little animated things that you can throw whenever you like, however the appropriate prop will blink when you’re supposed to throw it), and even a PIP-enabled full length professionally filmed shadowcast that will play with the film’s audio (if there’s a way to turn on an “audience” audio track, I didn’t find it). It’s a well designed feature that adds enjoyment to the viewing of the film, and you can blow the shadowcast up to full-screen if you want a better look at how much effort these folks put into their costumes and performances.

The biggest new extra feature is actually an American Idol-esque hour long piece about the search to find the cast for this special shadowcast. Tryouts are held in NY and LA, with shadowcast troupes from across the globe facing off against other fans dressed the same. It’s kind of funny to see like 19 different Riff-Raffs in one room, and interesting when you notice that no two are exactly alike. But unlike most competitions, they all seem to get along with their “rivals”, helping each other fix costumes and such. The guy who tried out for the role of Brad and ended up getting the consolation prize (Ralph) seems a bit bitter, but otherwise everyone is thrilled, especially when Barry Bostwick himself offers them personal congratulations (he had come in to help judge the finalists).

The packaging lists “Rocky-oke” as a new feature, but it seems one of the previous releases had to have had this option for the songs, no? Well either way it’s here, with or without the vocals (they seem to strip some of the instruments away with the vocals, however – it sounds terrible). There’s also a trivia track that plays in the top left of the screen (it’s actually part of the “Midnight Experience”, though the trivia is largely about the careers of the cast/crew and other assorted nuggets of info), and a look at Mick Rock’s much heralded set photos (a brief interview with Rock is also included).

The rest of the extras are held over from previous releases, though a few have been dropped as well, so don’t toss your old release at the screen just yet. Of most use to fans is the commentary with O’Brien and Patricia Quinn (Magenta), who don’t even bother to introduce themselves and simply have a nice conversation over the movie. Not that it’s not screen-specific, but what will often happen is, one of them will comment about something on screen and then they’ll go off on tangents from that. They rarely fall silent and bring a lot of trademark British dryness, so it’s definitely worth a listen (and it’s worth noting that the trivia track does not repeat commentary information, as many of them often do). Then the deleted musical numbers “Once In A While” and “Superheroes” are also included (the latter should have been included, though the former is quite bad – however I do enjoy the Roxy version), as well as some alternate takes of the credits. You can also have the option of watching the film with its intended Black & White opening, though the switch to color occurs at a different spot than where O’Brien claims it should occur on the commentary (he says it should happen during "Sweet Transvestite", when Frank takes off his robe, but on the DVD it occurs when Brad and Janet first enter the main “convention” hall during "Time Warp"). Plus some outtakes, the “Time Warp” video and other assorted promotional material. I should note that this “From the vault” portion of the extras are all presented in standard definition (and, at least on my player/TV setup, triggered an incorrect aspect ratio). It’s pretty much the best of the stuff from previous editions, the only thing of note I noticed missing are the VH-1 “Behind the Music” and Pop-up Video selections from the 25th anniversary release (I never got the 30th so I’m not sure what’s on there that’s missing from here).

Unsurprisingly, it’s also the best the film has ever looked or sounded (those film prints must be getting beat up by now, no?). The image was taken from a 4k master of the original negative, and it looks amazing. FOX has even gone a bit easier on their DNR for once – it’s still lacking grain, but not to the extent that everyone looks like a Barbie doll (see: Predator). But since this is a musical, I’m guessing the sound is more important – I’m happy to report it sounds terrific. It’s given a new 7.1 mix that actually works quite well (it was a mono film originally), with the songs sounding perfectly crisp and the dialogue as clear as you’d expect. The surrounds don’t get much action beyond a few effects and songs, but again – it was a mono film to start with. It’s not an aggressive mix, but it’s one of the more natural sounding mix upgrades I’ve heard. The packaging is also nice, with the disc nested in the back of a book of photos (though the flap with all of the bonus feature information is awkwardly designed - it's glued on firmly as if it wasn’t meant to be removed).

The lack of a few bonus features (and that they are presented in standard def) keeps this from being the be all and end all Rocky Horror Picture Show release, but it’s still the best one yet. The new bonus features are enjoyable, the transfer is nearly perfect, and even if a few supplements are missing, it will take you hours to go through the whole thing. And that it’s all on one disc just makes the power of Blu-ray all the more impressive. A must have set for fans new and old.

Movie: 8/10
A/V: 9/10
Bonus: 9/10
Overall: 9/10


Outpost (2008)

OCTOBER 26, 2010


One of my longtime readers has been requesting Outpost for a while now, so I felt a sigh of relief when the movie ended and I realized it was pretty damn good. I’d hate to be like “What the hell, man? Why you making me watch this drivel!” So, good call! Think Neil Marshall directing The Keep and you’ll have a decent idea of what’s in store in this underrated minor gem.

The cool thing about the movie (to me anyway) is that its exciting even before it becomes a horror movie. It starts off as a modern day men on a mission movie, with Ray Stevenson (how is this guy not a bigger star?) leading a team of various ex-soldiers, hired by a mysterious businessman who wants to check out an old bunker from WWII. I love this sort of scenario, and even if it turned out to be a typical action movie I probably would have enjoyed it, since it was actually shot in Eastern Europe for authenticity, and the rogue’s gallery of badasses were a delightful lot.

But then – undead Nazis! I hesitate to call them Nazi zombies, because they don’t turn anyone, they are not seeking their gold, and the gore is minimal, so it’s sort of missing the key features of a typical Nazi zombie movie. But they are undead, and they are numerous. And they even have a pretty good explanation for their existence – the bunker houses a machine designed by Nazi scientists that was aiming to create a super-soldier. The team accidentally turned the machine back on, resurrecting a number (but not too many, which to me makes things scarier) of soldiers, plus a general/commander/whatever type who is spooky-looking as hell.

There were a number of surprising elements too. For starters, the shady business guy doesn’t sell them out. Sure, the soldiers don’t like him much, and they butt heads more than once, but it’s not like he traps them all there and fends for himself like Burke in Aliens or whatever, and it’s he who comes up with the plan to escape. That doesn’t stop him from getting in some great snippy lines towards the others though, particularly when one of them accuses him of having no clue what to do (as if he should) and he retorts “The last time you found yourself dealing with the undead, what did you do?” Heh. I liked the guy.

Plus, the Nazi dudes are pretty vicious. I hope I’m not spoiling anything by saying the number of survivors is pretty low, and they kill the living fuck out these dudes. At one point, three or four of them gather around one soldier, they all draw blades and proceed to stab the shit out of him over and over in unison. Even Rob Zombie’s Michael Myers would think that was overkill (interestingly, actor Richard Brake, best known as the guy who says the F word about 9000 times in Halloween II, is one of the soldiers). There’s also a horrifying scene where they stick a knife inside a guy’s mouth and slide it on his teeth – GAH!!!

It’s also quite well directed. Some might disapprove of director Steve Barker’s decision to leave a key death off-screen, but I liked it, it was sort of tasteful – and really, what’s the “best” way to depict the horrible death of a major hero? Either way, the film is great to look at throughout – the scope imagery fits well, and like The Descent, it’s dark but filled with enough contrast to keep it from being an ugly mess. The early, pre-explanation scenes are quite eerie and drenched with atmosphere, and the big action scenes are as exciting as they should be. And the script by Rae Brunton never lags, nor does it make it obvious who will live or die first – always a plus.

The only technical issue I had was with the music, which was often overbearing and ill-fitting with the scene. It also frequently took on that repetitive and obnoxious dun-dun-DUN-DUN-dun-dun-DUN-DUN motif that you hear in stuff like the Bourne movies or the Kate Beckinsale thriller Whiteout. It’s an atmospheric movie, but the score seems to be straight out of Bruckheimer. Something a little more subtle and sparse would have been far more enjoyable, I think.

The disc’s only extra besides a bunch of trailers are some deleted/extended scenes, nothing of major importance. Seeking more info than the disc offered, I discovered that a sequel is in the works, though whether it was actually shot yet seems to be a mystery – the website says they plan to shoot in early 2010 but there have been no further updates (meaning: it didn’t happen). Hopefully it does, even though it sounds like a prequel (sigh), I think these guys have some chops, and a little undead Nazi action never hurt anybody.

What say you?


The Cat And The Canary (1939)

OCTOBER 25, 2010


I’m not a big fan of “Old Dark House” movies, but I thought it would be fun to watch one on the big screen for once instead of on a poorly transferred Mill Creek budget disc, so off I went to the New Beverly (fittingly, my car “broke” on the way home, more than likely for the last time – I like that it made it to the Bev one last time) to see The Cat And The Canary, which I heard was one of the better ones. Plus, with Bob Hope in the lead, it promised to be slightly more “A list” than the usual poverty row ones I watch.

Well, yes, it is one of the better ones! Hope is a total delight in the film, and makes me want to go back and watch some of his Road movies (I saw a couple as a kid – didn’t really have any appreciation for them then). Some say that comedy has an expiration date, but I still found a lot of his lines pretty funny, particularly his response to “there are spirits all around you” (“Can you put some in a glass with a little ice?”). As suspected, he seems to be the only one that gets any laughs – if you remove him from the movie it’s just another old dark house movie that pretends to have ghosts but is ultimately just about a jerk trying to screw folks out of an inheritance. So it’s pretty remarkable what having a skilled performer can bring to the proceedings (though one of the other guys gets a good laugh in, mocking someone’s attraction to a not-particularly-attractive woman).

It’s also got a pretty good climax, which also helps elevate it above a lot of the others. The “Cat” is pretty creepy looking for an old movie, and there’s a nice sequence of him sneaking around a hidden passageway, trying to catch up to our heroine (Paulette Goddard), and even killing a random cop in the process (still not sure what the hell the cop was doing in there, but it doubles the film’s body count, so no complaints!). And then there’s the final showdown in a shed, with Hope pinned to a wall (I seriously thought he got killed for a second) and the Cat’s identity being revealed as the guy I figured it was almost instantly.

There’s also a slightly weird tone to the movie, as everyone is related and yet they form attractions and romantic relationships. One character goes out of their way to make sure we know the connections aren’t exactly close (“he’s your third cousin twice removed!”) but still – what the hell, people? Seek outside family gatherings to find your next conquest.

But like just about all of these things, it’s just too much talk and not enough scares. I’m fine with it not really being a haunting as they try to make you believe at first (though the chime sounds are thus never explained), but it doesn’t excuse the number of scenes where the tiniest little thing happens and then they spend the next 10 minutes talking about it. It’s also got the weirdest goddamn will I’ve ever heard – the dead guy’s wish is to divide the property up among everyone who still has the same surname as he (Norman), which is just one person. But to get it, she has to stay sane for 30 days, which of course prompts the entire plot into motion (drive her crazy so it will go to someone else). Who the hell puts this much effort into their will? Look, when I die, you all don’t have to do a goddamn thing. Jeff gets Potato Man, Caitlin gets my video games, etc.

This is actually a remake of a silent film from 1927, and has been remade several times since. I wonder if any of them actually go off course and make it really haunted (AND have the “Cat” on top of everything else). I’m trying to remember if any of the ones I watched on the Mill Creek sets ever had any true supernatural origins; I don’t think they did. What the hell, two generations ago? Why were you so against having actual ghosts in your movies?

I hadn’t seen the 2nd movie (The Ghost Breakers - the trailer is below since I couldn't find one for Cat and the Canary) either, but alas I had to go watch the premiere of Halloween: The Inside Story, featuring a guy who looked shockingly like me (he had shorter hair and makeup on). Obviously I can’t review it proper, due to the “slight” bias, but it was obviously the result of hard work and lots of phone calls – no existing retrospective on the film (or series as a whole) had assembled so many of the principles from the film. Pretty much every living cast member and primary crew offered new interviews, including usual holdouts like Kyle Richards (Lindsay) and Tony Moran (Michael sans mask). Even Carpenter and Jamie Lee offered new interviews, which is also a “get” as they have claimed they are sick of talking about it in the past (neither appeared for new interviews in the 25 Years of Terror documentary). And I was pleased with my contributions – I first appeared saying “You gotta love Carpenter’s balls”, and appeared 2-3 more times throughout the two hour (with commercials) piece. Enough to keep me from saying “Why did I bother!” but not enough to be intrusive (as I’ve said in my reviews for other docs, I don’t like to spend too much time listening to people who had nothing to do with the movie, especially when they have so many marquee draws on hand). Not sure if it will hit DVD, but I hope so, as there are a number of “deleted scenes” (you can watch them on the Bio website!), largely concerning the sequels and remake, subjects that they don’t spend too much time on in the finished doc. It’s been a while, so I can’t remember, but I’m sure I had something good to say about the remake!

What say you?


The New York Ripper (1982)

OCTOBER 24, 2010


While doing my usual post-movie “research” (looking at the Wiki and IMDb entries, basically), I was amazed to discover that Lucio Fulci had directed a whopping 56 movies in his career, including The New York Ripper (Italian: Lo Squartatore Di New York). Many were TV projects and obviously not all of them were horror, but goddamn do I feel like I am missing out on the majority of the man’s work. I’ve actually only seen I think 7 of his films (including this) – I need to work on that.

I also need to see more that take place in Italy, or at least not the US. All of the ones I’ve seen take place in America, in whole or in part (Zombi), which I find kind of interesting. And even though this was produced at the height of his popularity/success, it’s one of the weakest of his that I’ve seen (it’s also the only one without any supernatural elements). It’s not Door Into Silence bad, but it’s just boring for the most part. Nothing against the guy, but he’s just not as skilled a director as Argento or either Bava, so he doesn’t bring the visual prowess that they can to the typical Giallo film. Thus, attempts at being visually interesting often fall flat – why is that one stripper’s room completely bathed in green light? No reason other than to try to mimic Argento’s penchant for over saturated colors, as far as I can tell. He does add some offbeat flair to certain scenes – there’s a scene with the police searching a suspect’s home that’s shot entirely from the POV of one of the cops.

No, Fulci’s strength lies in ridiculous gore, which he demonstrates a few times throughout the film (most notably in the hooker’s death, with the sliced eyeball). But since this is a giallo, and not a zombie movie, it just makes the whole thing seem sleazier than it should. Hardly any men die in the film, just women who are often in an advanced (or total) state of undress. As we learn in the conclusion (true to form, key information is kept from us until the last reel, in this case the killer’s invalid daughter), the killer is striking back because he hates that his daughter will never get a chance to be a real women due to her disability. Kind of a creepy motive (he kills promiscuous women because his daughter will never get to sleep around?) anyway, but Fulci’s excessive gore makes it all the more “Grindhouse-ready”.

Our hero doesn’t help much, since he’s got a colorful way of dealing with people – he calls a fellow officer a “bastard” for no reason, calls his prostitute girlfriend a “dumb bitch”, yells at a coroner... he’s a delight. And he’s pretty useless in the movie, since the killer keeps calling him and yet he is unable to prevent a single murder in the entire movie. Hell, he even questions the killer early on but doesn’t figure it out (nor does he apparently do any digging – wouldn’t the daughter’s existence have been discovered sooner?).

Luckily, the film is peppered with enough little moments to keep it worth watching. There’s a lengthy establishing shot (sequence, really) of 42nd street where we can see movies like Final Exam and The Unseen playing, the first real line of the movie is an old man complaining about his obviously aching balls, and the movie stops cold for an extended scene of one of the would-be victims getting a “toe job” from a thug in the middle of a bar (“Chico has silver toes!”). I also liked that the coroner refers to a women’s privates as her “joy trail”. Nice.

And of course, the one thing anyone remembers from this movie – the killer quacks like a duck during his phone calls and some of the murder scenes. It’s actually explained at the very end, which is a shame - I would have preferred that it was just some random nonsense that got thrown into the movie for reasons only Fulci can explain (as I mentioned on twitter – coherency is boring). I also wish he actually talked like a duck the entire time - since he sounds like Donald, it would be mind-blowing to hear him say his wacky nonsense with a Disney-fied tenor. Oh well.

Ultimately, I’d recommend it more to Giallo fans than Fulci fans. It’s got some of his gore (and a cameo!) but it lacks the hallucinatory batshittedness of his best films (well, of the ones I’ve seen). However, it hits all the marks of a Giallo, albeit not a very good one. Your call.

What say you?


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