Blood Hook (1986)

DECEMBER 31, 2011


Once I make my "HMAD Today is" post on Twitter I rarely take it back - I credit Twitter with cutting out 99% of the "Are you really watching one every day?" inquiries, and thus I feel it's kind of important to stick to my word. However, as I went to my queue to start playing the movie I had originally announced for today (11/11/11 - the Asylum one, not Bousman's), I noticed that Blood Hook would actually be removed from the service tomorrow, so I had to make the "emergency substitute" or else I'd have to add the movie to my disc queue, where it would likely keep getting pushed down in favor of more promising sounding titles.

But had I realized who the director was, I probably would have seen the movie a lot sooner than "the last day it was available". Jim Mallon was of course one of the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and because I love that show dearly I am always interested in its crew's other endeavors (on that note, if you haven't read Kevin Murphy's "A Year At The Movies", please do so - not only is it great, it was one of the inspirations for HMAD!). I wasn't even aware that he had any credits of note prior to MST3k, let alone directed a horror movie - this was exciting!

And thus I can't help but wonder how someone who had no idea who Jim Mallon was would react to this movie, which seems to be a spoof of "local legend" slasher movies (and, as Mike Nelson's "Death Rat" novel was, a spoof of midwest living in general). However, it is played so straight that I honestly could not tell if it was supposed to be funny or not - it was only because I had MST3k on my brain that led me to believe that this was supposed to be a spoof of bad horror movies, as that was obviously a sort of pastime for him.

However, even if it is indeed supposed to be funny, the movie more or less ditches the "comedy" as it unfolds, and thus the entire third act is pretty much laugh free as we learn who the killer is (via a rather anticlimactic reveal, for the record) and our heroes figure out a way to stop him. The "motive" for his killings and their plan to take him out is pretty goofy, but I've seen sillier in movies that were most certainly not meant to be funny, so that's not exactly strong evidence. And the last scene is borderline dramatic as the killer's brother (I think?) realizes what he has done and reluctantly decides to help the police track him down (he got away during the climax), before a sequel is set up in the same exact manner as nearly every other horror movie of the era.

But the laughs in the first act or so are a delightfully dry surprise. It's never laugh out loud funny, but there were enough random bits to keep a smile on my face, like when a tourist goes on and on about how the tax dollars should be paying for road signs as if there was absolutely no other thing in the world one could use tax dollars for. And I absolutely loved the strange subplot about a young mother who assumed her toddler son would be safe when she left him alone in their backyard, which was in close vicinity to bear territory ("I don't let him have any sweets, so they won't be attracted to his smell," she tells us).

And really, the only other option for Mallon would be to go bigger/sillier in the 3rd act, which could be disastrous - I think the idiotic finale to the otherwise mildly amusing Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday The 13th is a good example, where it got so "crazy!" that it was no longer "funny". So at least here, right around the time that you're probably going to get tired of the joke anyway, it just becomes a regular slasher movie.

Not only that, but one that's not too bad, all things considered. Mid 80s slashers are usually pretty lousy, and by then pretty much every avenue had been exhausted, so I was a bit charmed by the fact that this movie was offering something a little new. The killer uses a giant piece of hooked bait and a rod to "catch" and kill his victims, which I must admit I've never seen before, and I was surprised how bloody it got - some of the injuries (no one dies quickly) are actually pretty gruesome. Yet the bloodspray is rather normal - Mallon did not have his FX guys go overboard in order to make it funnier, which adds to the "is this supposed to be funny?" feeling.

On that note, the direction certainly seems to be suggesting a straight up horror movie. A big part of comedy is timing and editing, obviously, but Mallon shoots many scenes in master shots, which makes some moments come across more awkward than anything else. Even a giant part of the climax takes place in a single wide shot, in which our hero subdues the killer, frees his girlfriend from her restraints, has some dialogue with her, etc. It's the sort of thing that might be exciting with closeups and back and forth editing, but there is none, and again, by this point they've abandoned the odd/funny dialogue and stereotypical sleepy midwestern "local" characters. His direction also limits the strength of the kill scenes; the killer is off-screen most of the time (we see only the titular hook), which makes them a bit confusing as the hook almost seems to be operating on its own. And what's with all the fades to black?

The score (by Murphy, in fact) also isn't particularly comedic - in fact it just sounds like a John Carpenter score mixed with a few of Brad Fiedel's Terminator cues. It's actually pretty good, doesn't quite fit the movie at times but added to my enjoyment all the same.

At any rate, it's certainly not what I was expecting, and it's kind of a shame that it's no longer on the Netflix service (though it was from Starz Play, which means it was a lousy transfer anyway - maybe it'll come back through more respectable means), as it's the kind of movie that can entertain you if you're scrolling around looking for a time-killer. But unless you're a die-hard MSTie and want to see what a horror movie directed by Gypsy looks like, it's not quite good enough to warrant hunting it down (well, I guess slasher completists should give it a look too). Now, if only Mike, Kevin, and Bill could do a Rifftrax for it!

What say you?


Bag Of Bones (2011)

DECEMBER 30, 2011


I still remember reading "Bag Of Bones" my freshman year of college; it was one of the first full length Stephen King books I actually finished, and I believe my first in hardcover (I had bought it at the school book store along with my textbooks, which my parents were buying as a gift - suckers!). And I didn't like it much, but I was somewhat intrigued by the possibility of the feature film, since at one point Bruce Willis was attached to star, and perhaps a good filmmaker could fix the narrative issues with the source material and thus the MOVIE Bag Of Bones would be the rare King adaptation to improve on the book.

Well, all of that hope went out the window as soon as I saw Mick Garris was directing it. Mick's a nice guy and loves the genre, but I think he's a rather lousy filmmaker who has somehow gotten King's blessing - perhaps because unlike Kubrick he has nothing to say and thus won't change much of the original material? If you look at his filmography, it's basically just a bunch of King adaptations and a few other one-off projects like Psycho IV and Critters 2, where again he is working in a world he had not created. Not that a filmmaker can't succeed while sticking to adaptation - hell, almost Kubrick's entire career was made of films based on novels - but this is material that needed someone who COULD bring something to the table, and Garris just isn't that guy.

The main problem I had with the novel is faithfully reproduced here - our hero's journey has him solving a murder that he has almost zero connection to. In movies like The Ring (which this apes at times, and like many Asian horror films the climax comes down to giving a murder victim's corpse a proper burial) they get around this problem by making the stakes personal - Naomi Watts didn't know anything about Samara, but when her son fell under the curse, she became determined to stop it. Mike Noonan (played by Pierce Brosnan here) doesn't have that connection - he goes to an old family estate and starts seeing ghosts, and he has no family to protect. There's the nice widow (Melissa George) and her daughter, but by the time they finally become close the movie's almost over, and without spoiling much, this gets botched as well. We're supposed to believe that he could be a surrogate dad for the kid, but they've barely spent any time together - I was just wondering why George apparently didn't have any family or friends that might make a better option to help with her daughter instead of a visiting novelist she just met a few days ago.

Plus the crime happened so long ago, most of the potential witnesses or suspects are dead, so lengthy flashback scenes that we have no real investment in provide the backstory sans any sort of anchor for the audience. We know who is dead and who did it, so who cares? I didn't care much for Ghost Story (which King was sort of ripping off here, I now realize), but at least the guilty parties were characters in the narrative, not long-dead ciphers, and we got pieces of the tale throughout, rather than in one long chunk at the end. Seriously, out of nowhere, halfway through the 2nd part of the movie, a guy we've never even heard of shows up and explains everything to Mike. And this is AFTER the other murderer died (via suicide), and he was just some generic old man villain in a wheelchair that just made me wish I was playing Deadly Premonition.

Brosnan's casting is another issue. I like him as an actor (and he was a great Bond stuck in mostly shitty movies) - but he's too old compared to the two female characters. He's at least 10-12 years older than his wife (Annabeth Gish), and more than 20 years older than George, which makes the latter's instant crush on him all the more puzzling - would a young hot blond woman really need to wait around until a guy old enough to be her dad moved to town? Brosnan is also remarkably "hip" for his age: he's constantly playing with his iPad, he listens to the sort of pop rock you might expect a teenaged girl to have on while she's trying to drown out the sounds of her parents fighting, etc. Someone closer to 40 than 60 would have made a lot more sense.

Part of his character arc makes zero sense as well - his suspicion that his wife was having an affair when she died (which they changed from an aneurysm in the book to getting hit by a bus, for some reason). His main clue seems to be that she was seen having dinner with someone (THE WHORE!!!) and that she "didn't tell me she was pregnant". Well, she died right after buying a pregnancy test, so how would she have told him something she didn't yet know herself? They even show the test lying on the ground (still in the box!) like five times, so every time he brought up her "secret" I wanted to throttle him. I can't recall if this was an issue in the book or not, but either way it's a wholly worthless subplot that goes nowhere.

Speaking of plot holes, the ghost of his wife leaves him messages with magnet letters on the fridge. Why a nearly 60 year old man with no children even had these in the first place is beyond me, but there's only one of each letter, so he has trouble understanding some of the messages - why not just buy more letters, then? I guess he's already figured out that she's a movie ghost and thus chooses to be vague and cryptic despite having the power to communicate in a variety of ways, but if there's a reason why he can't at least give her a few more vowels to use, it escaped me.

But ultimately the main problem is Garris and screenwriter Matt Venne never getting around the fact that the book was a first person narrative and thus needed heavy retooling to make for a more interesting movie (especially one split into two parts; I wasn't surprised to see that the second half didn't have as many viewers as the first). Watching a guy - even one as charismatic as Brosnan - putz around his house and talking to himself for nearly an hour straight is hardly the best way to draw an audience's attention. Plus, there are two major elements to the narrative - the mystery, and Mike's healing process over the death of his wife, neither of which can properly be conveyed in scene after scene of Brosnan just sitting with his iPad or whatever. The movie comes to life only in those few scenes where he's actually interacting with the people in the town who have all the answers, but there are so few of those. In fact, apart from the flashbacks, there's only a single scene in the film that he is not present for - there definitely should have been more, allowing us to have more of a vested interest in the story that barely involves him. It's like everyone only exists when he's around, and have no life outside of helping/hindering him in this rather silly ghost story (which he takes to rather well, actually - there's almost no disbelief on his part).

The other main element is his grieving, which the book internalized at length (as many King protagonists do - it seemed like half the book was just his thoughts). So we'd have stream of conscious ramblings and the general "what he is thinking" text, endearing ourselves to Mike Noonan. In the movie, we have an aging ex-Bond sitting sipping whiskey and occasionally talking in single line phrases to a stuffed moose head. And the things they DO change aren't for the better - I already mentioned the random bus crash, but the book also had a gap of a few years in between her death and him going to the house, but it only appears to be a few weeks here, which makes George's character less reasonable - can the guy grieve a bit? A month is barely enough time to get over a breakup, let alone the sudden death of his soul mate. I was also annoyed by the cute King references - the book takes place in King's universe (Ralph from "Insomnia" even popped up), but the movie takes place in ours, so someone mentions Annie Wilkes from "Misery" and Brosnan's agent (Jason Priestly, utterly wasted) mentions a newly discovered Bachman book. Maybe if the movie was more fun they would work, but it's otherwise morose and flavorless, making these little jokes fit about as well as a square peg in a round hole.

Rebuttal time... not much to report on though. Ms. Gish is aging nicely and will make you miss her when she's gone (especially since she's largely represented by a not very flattering photo for most of the middle of the film). Garris doesn't hold back on the gore, particularly in the film's final two on-screen murders, one of which I had forgotten about from the book and thus actually worked as a good shock moment (guessing non-readers will shit themselves if they've made it that far). And I actually really thought they were in Maine or at least the US (North Carolina?) until Julian Richings showed up, because that dude never leaves Canada for anything (seriously, does he not leave the country? He's been in enough horror movies to qualify as a sort of "horror regular" but they're always Canadian productions), so I knew right then that it was Canada after all. Also, a minor thing, but I liked when Brosnan searched for "Dark Score Crazy" (without quotes) in order to do some research but just got back unrelated things like song lyrics and such - most movies would just go with a "No matches found" thing to make their point; this was a bit more realistic and had to have taken some effort to mock up, so well done.

Oh well. Again, I wasn't a giant fan of the original novel, and I can't think of a single Garris movie I truly enjoy (though his Shining adaptation wasn't as bad as some might say, however I think Kubrick was right to replace the topiaries with a maze), so it's not like a rushed cable adaptation (they just shot it like 3 months ago) held much promise. It's just a shame it didn't even meet those low expectations.

What say you?


Body Puzzle (1992)

DECEMBER 29, 2011


Coming home the other night to four gialli from RaroVideo was a wonderful surprise; I had only given them my address the day before and wasn't even sure if they accepted my request for review discs. Naturally, I zeroed in on Body Puzzle, which was directed by Lamberto Bava (but wasn't one of his TV movies) and had a plot that sounded like Pieces - the title is pretty self explanatory in that respect. The only thing that concerned me: it was made in 1992? Isn't that a bit too late in the period for a giallo?

Well, maybe. But as it turns out, it's actually a pretty good - if somewhat too Americanized - entry in the genre, and is sadly one of the last Italian horror movies of note before their film production industry abandoned the genre all together in favor of comedies and family films a few years later. And it would be over a decade before Bava directed a theatrical feature again, so at least he went "out" on a relative high note before retreating back to TV.

As with Argento's Trauma, it's a bit more accessible and mainstream than his other gialli (Macabre, Blade In The Dark); in fact it's pretty much the least convoluted and incoherent one I've seen. For starters, there's no mystery to the killer's identity - we see him kill a guy pretty early on and he only wears a mask when he's around the heroine (Joanna Pacula), who he seems attached to but doesn't want to harm. At around the one hour mark we learn his motive, which again is rather easy to understand (and kind of cool). The obligatory "huh?" moments come at the very end, when we find out that he THINKS he's another character, plus some nonsense involving the cops looking at the wrong person in a photograph. It's one of those subplots that probably makes a lot more sense on paper than on-screen, and it seems like if the cops could be bothered to match a face to a name of a dead guy that they wouldn't have had so many problems, but oh well.

But without the need for red herrings, we're allowed a more straightforward narrative, as the supporting characters (including Giovanni Lombardo Radice!) don't act suspicious and killer-ish for no reason - they help our hero cop, make their presence known, and move on. It's actually closer to procedural than giallo at times, which again makes it feel a bit more American than Italian. Hell, the male lead isn't even a chauvinist asshole! Pacula makes him dinner and they make love, but it's all very respectable. If this movie was from 1975 he would have smacked her around for some reason, or had another girl on the side at least.

The kill scenes are decent; there aren't too many but apart from an oddly bloodless kill in a pool (impressive otherwise), they're sufficiently blood-soaked and varied - the pool, a candy store, a bathroom... not the usual locales, at any rate. But the best comes near the end, when a teacher is killed in front of her class - the hook being that they're all blind children, so they have no idea what is happening, and instead just laugh along to the story that is playing on a tape (see, if she could just READ to them instead of being lazy, the kids might have been alerted. Let that be a lesson to you). And the dog (a lovable St. Bernard) lives, so that's another check in the "pro" column for this movie.

The script is a bit clunky at times, however. We're given not one but TWO hilariously on-the-nose bits of foreshadowing regarding the dumb waiter in Pacula's house, just in case we weren't clued in enough the first time that it might be used later in a scare scene. They also let the killer interact with her much too early in the narrative, which informs us that he doesn't mean her any harm - this is something that should have been a surprise reveal at the end of the second act. As a result, we're only afraid for the cop (Tomas Arana), which is kind of weak. Also, though this might have been a post production decision, the killer's "theme song" ("Night On Bald Mountain") is way overused anyway, but it's overused in the film itself as well - it's a groaner the FIRST time you hear it, let alone the tenth or so. At least it's not "Moonlight Sonata", but still - an original composition would have been preferable.

The disc has no extras, though it comes with a nice booklet (remember those?) featuring an essay on the film/Bava and Giallo in general from Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, as well as a mini bio on Bava. I should also note that the back of the DVD claims this remastered version (which looks terrific and is uncut at just under 100 minutes) has "new and improved subtitles", which would be nice if the disc wasn't in English with no alternate audio track or any subtitle options at all. But I assume this is just a mistake on the DVD case designer - many of the actors (including the two leads) are clearly speaking English anyway, so if it was an Italian track THAT would be the dubbed one. The other discs I got from Raro include interviews and such, and the design on the packaging is very Criterion-esque - these are pretty nice discs to add to your collection, in other words. Hopefully they continue to acquire more of the less-heralded gialli that haven't already been released on DVD a half dozen times.

What say you?


Spellbound (2011)

DECEMBER 28, 2011


After a botched start earlier this year, Moviepass is back! For those unfamiliar, for a monthly fee (which seems to vary by location; mine is 29.99) you can see one movie a day in participating theaters. Thus, if you can find the time to go every day, you’ll be seeing everything for a buck or so – thus inspiring you to see more movies. I was gonna wait for Blu-ray for Sherlock 2, but opted to check it out in order to get the most value out of the thing. Likewise, I had no problem driving to Koreatown to see Spellbound (aka Chilling Romance), as their CGV Cinema was on the list of eligible theaters.

At first glance one might wonder why exactly this particular movie is being reviewed for HMAD. The movie is more or less a traditional romantic comedy, with a couple of attractive folks having a “meet-cute”, getting to know each other, falling in love, breaking up over something trivial, and finally reuniting (a scene that even has a race against time at the airport!), thanks in part to their colorfully wacky friends and relatives. So where’s the horror? Well, as with many a rom-com, our female lead, Yu-ri, has some hang-ups and baggage, except in this case it’s not an ex-boyfriend or a weird form of amnesia – it’s the fact that she is haunted by ghosts.

And I’m not talking about Patrick Swayze or Greg Kinnear, I’m talking full blown traditional Asian horror ghosts, who have a nasty habit of appearing in the middle of the night and scaring the bejesus out of her and anyone who gets close to her. The scare scenes are surprisingly, well, scary – her situation is not played for laughs. I even jolted a bit on two of them, and they’re all given the creepy, subtle approach – a character will move past a doorway or something and we’ll see one standing there in the background, or one will appear in a window, looking down on our heroes who are having a nice conversation outside.

Obviously, it’s a bit of an odd idea, but it mostly works. The two leads are terrific, and even though I was mostly there for the scare scenes, I was often quite charmed by their “date” scenes, particularly when they get drunk at a restaurant and then decide to “go somewhere else” (they just go to a different table). There’s a funny running gag about her tendency to rip shirts, and both of them are prone to out of nowhere revelations and worries about the most random things (his first order of business when they finally get together – subscribing to a couple’s discounted cell phone plan). And I won’t spoil the specifics, but they discuss a new film that has officially replaced New Moon’s “Face Punch” as my favorite fictional movie.

Two things work against it, however. One is that it’s too damn long; the movie takes forever to get to the point where they finally get together (Yu-ri’s hang-ups and his girlfriend – with whom he has almost zero connection to – stand in the way for the first hour or so), which is fine for a movie like Sleepless In Seattle where the whole thing is about the two of them finding each other. But these two meet and start working together (Jo-gu is a magician who runs a scary magic show, which adds to the movie’s horror quota) in the first 5-10 minutes, which means they should be making out by the 45 minute mark, where here it’s more like 75. No, right around the time where any other rom-com would have the leads start their romance, Jo-gu is helping her on a date with a pal of his, as if anyone might think that they’ll just be friends for the whole flick. It’s an amusing scene and features a great Jenga gag, but it definitely could have been trimmed down or even deleted entirely. They’ve already mixed up the formula with the ghosts – there’s no need to delay the inevitable.

Another issue is that the ghost scenes never fully mesh with the comedic/romantic scenes – many of them just come and go out of nowhere (there’s also a bat attack that feels like they just assumed the movie needed another random scare). Not that it’s ever scary, but Ghostbusters was able to really tie in the romance between Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver with the supernatural elements – Spellbound lacks that satisfying blend. Near the end we learn the true nature of the main ghost that has been haunting her, and it’s a nice little tragic story, but I can’t help but wonder if it would have been more satisfying had it been discovered by Jo-gu in an attempt to help rid her of the problem. Instead it just plays out in random flashback in a rather abrupt sequence near the end, and he barely even mentions it.

There’s also a minor subplot about him being “unbreakable” that doesn’t really pay off either. Basically there are a lot of good ideas here, and actors capable of pulling them off, but it’s like the writer forgot to tie them all together. If someone walked in during one of the scare scenes, they’d never guess it was a rom-com, and vice versa. And that is fine at first, but after a while I feel it would have been an even better movie had they threaded the two concepts together. Hell, apart from the brief appearance of a ghost (played for a gag with one of the supporting characters), the final 10 minutes or so is entirely horror free.

But no one in Korea seems to care, as it is currently their biggest box office hit. And it should be – I’ve been saying for years that they need to try new things with their horror movies instead of doing the same old vengeful ghost stories. And while I meant “make more slashers and monster movies”, I’m totally OK with lightening up that sort of tale and combining it with another genre. I AM a sucker for a good rom-com every now and then, after all – in fact I could even see this being remade in the US with someone like Adam Scott and whoever hasn’t already played a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (which Yu-ri basically is) in a more generic rom-com in the past 5 years. Paging Alison Brie…

What say you?

P.S. If anyone knows where I can get Jo-gu’s buddy’s tree sweater from the movie, please let me know. I would wear that thing everywhere.


Cheerleader Camp (1988)

DECEMBER 27, 2011


I forget for which Saw it was (I think IV) but during his interview Spooky Dan asked Betsy Russell (aka Mrs. Jigsaw) if they could talk about Cheerleader Camp, and her response was “Do we have to?” Since it was the only thing I knew about the movie besides its funny cover (cheerleader w/skull face), I wasn’t expecting much about the movie, especially since it was a late 80s slasher movie – mostly a dire lot of films once you remove the sequels to the big franchises (and even a lot of those were lousy – New Blood or Dream Child, anyone?).

Well, it’s OK enough I suppose. I guessed the killer instantly (like, during the scene where we learn the character’s names), our murderer is never seen (I prefer costumed killers, or at least on-screen ones), and the pacing is terrible, saving most of the kills for the 3rd act, but there’s a strange comical vibe to it that kept me more or less entertained. And since a number of folks tune into these things only to see hot girls and cheap thrills (as opposed to, you know, a good story, assured filmmaking, etc), I think the filmmakers have succeeded in delivering exactly what they were expected to; nothing more, nothing less.

OK, maybe a little less. It certainly could have used another death or two in its first hour. This movie must hold some kind of record for number of potential victims left alive at the end of the movie – our killer is seemingly only interested in the five girl squad at the center of the story, and not the numerous other cheerleaders who mostly disappear whenever the plot doesn’t require their presence. I wasn’t expecting all 30 of them to get offed, but 1-2 might have not only made the movie more exciting, but also would have given us a few more options as to the killer’s identity. Why would anyone who worked at the camp be specifically targeting these girls? Thus, attempts to make Buck Flower look like the killer, while amusing, are not very successful – we know the killer is one of the five Gator cheerleaders or one of the two males who accompany them.

There are also too many damn dream sequences; even the average NOES movie didn’t have SIX friggin’ nightmares in the first hour, and even if they did, at least they had some bearing on the plot. Here, heroine Alison (Russell) is constantly having weird dreams about death and/or her boyfriend (Leif Garrett!) cheating on her, because I think they are half-heartedly trying to get us to think that perhaps she is the killer, another botched idea. We know her whereabouts during one of the earlier kills, so that doesn’t work anyway, but even if we didn’t – who is going to believe that this generic slasher movie is going to go down that path?

She’s also in it too much. Ms. Russell is a knockout (and still is) and better than most of her co-stars, but the silly script gives her far too many terrible lines to say (many of them self-deprecating things along the lines of “I don’t know who I am anymore”), and as with any slasher, the more time you spend with your heroine means the less time the movie spends actually being scary/suspenseful. You don’t want to completely ignore her, but there has to be a good balance between her and her friends in order to hit all the marks, and that’s an area that the movie fails miserably – even in the final 20 minutes or so it would still take me a moment to remember which one Pam or Theresa was when their names were mentioned (if only I had seen the trailer before! Very helpful!).

In the plus column, the movie has some fascinatingly odd moments, particularly centered around Tory, the team’s mascot. The girl takes her job very seriously, even wearing the mask (indoors!) while trying to wake Russell up from a nightmare, which doesn’t help much – poor Betsy wakes up and sees a giant plastic alligator shaking her around. There’s even a mascot competition, where anthropomorphized chickens, raccoons, etc all dance around to the less than enthusiastic cheers of their teammates (spoiler – the chicken wins). This leads into the actual cheerleader competition, and together the scenes run so long I began to wonder if the director forgot he was supposed to be sending these girls out into the woods one by one in order to meet their maker. But the character of Timmy helps – he’s the 300 lb videographer for the team who somehow endears himself to our main girls and some of the ones on the other teams, despite the fact that he’s openly pervy (at one point he films the girls skinny dipping - while in drag - and they’re sort of charmed by it!) and even more or less forces his tongue down a girl’s throat, who resists at first but then reciprocates. Awww.

The movie also has what has to be a first/last: the survivors get drunk to celebrate the death of who they think is the killer! A lot of whodunit slashers have some sort of “Everything’s OK now” type sequence, only for someone to out themselves and ruin the fun, but this is the only one I can recall where one of them seems to genuinely enjoy what has just happened (the death of at least three of his friends), proposing a toast and even wondering why Betsy isn’t as enthusiastic. Oh, and the rap song in the trailer? That’s actually in the movie. Not even during the end credits, where most movie theme songs go – it kicks in right around the 20 minute mark, as if to ensure your attention for the rest of the film when it might be starting to wane (and wane it did, since we had I think three dream scenes already by this point).

The gore is actually pretty decent too. My favorite girl of the bunch (who had a couple of other credits before turning to softcore porn) gets a pair of garden shears through the back of her head, so that the blades come out of her mouth - sweet! Later a girl gets hit by a car against a tree, but somehow this eviscerates her (the rest of her body is intact). There’s a good bear trap on head gag too, and all of this makes up for the sadly off-screen nature of many of the other kills. In an attempt to hide the obvious identity of the killer, we get a lot of characters killed under vague circumstances, to keep the number of suspects high. Even if I hadn’t been sure of the killer’s identity (and motive!) for the bulk of the movie, this would get on my nerves – you can get away with 1 or 2 off-screen deaths, but any more than that and you need to deliver A+ material for the rest of the runtime. This movie, even if everything WAS on-screen, is on the low end of a B.

Anchor Bay’s 2004 DVD offers the alternate title sequence under its original title Bloody Pompoms, as well as three trailers that are all exactly the same except one has a different guy doing the voiceover (and the Pompoms title is used on two). Just covering the bases, I guess. Thus, the only real extra is a commentary by producer/director John Quinn and producer/actor Jeff Prettyman, which is typical of guys like this, who never again worked in any meaningful way in the genre and whose resumes are as random as they come. There’s precious little about the genre or even the storyline, but plenty about signing contracts and securing locations, and a lot of mutual back-slapping. Some of their comments are a bit off-putting (one girl’s later boob job is critiqued), and ignorantly douchey (“I set my cruise control at 100 mph while driving back and forth between the set because there was no one around!”), but luckily they fall silent quite a bit. Mr. Quinn passed away last year, so I hate to speak ill of the dead, but both of them come off as the arrogant sorts who churn out the horror movies that give the genre a bad name. The things in the movie that actually work are probably of the “happy accident” variety; someone who actually gave a shit about the genre might have been able to turn this into something a little more substantial than “decent enough slasher”. Oh well. Bonus points for using the "Carpenter Font" for the opening titles.

What say you?

P.S. An attempt at a sequel somehow morphed into a movie called Camp Fear, which stars Russell as a different character and boasts a plot that somehow combines an evil motorcycle gang, the Loch Ness Monster, and a druid Priest! I already like it more than this.


The Sylvian Experiments (2010)

DECEMBER 26, 2011


With my Blockbuster being so choosy lately with what DTV/indie/foreign horror movies they stock on the shelves, I have to wonder why they opted to make The Sylvian Experiments (Japanese: Kyofu) one of them. Apart from the “From The Creators Of Ringu” blurb on the cover, there’s not much about it that can entice a prospective renter (Paranormal Activity-esque cover notwithstanding), especially since it’s not even available dubbed – Sucker Punch is sitting right there next to it for the “I’ll rent whatever” crowd!

Also, it’s an incoherent mess, without enough of the gonzo “fun” style of an equally baffling Italian movie to make up for all the head-scratching. Lucio Fulci could helm a quickie knockoff of My Soul To Take and dub it in Esperanto, and it still wouldn’t be as baffling a movie as this, which combines pretty much every genre ever – Mad science! Ghosts! Possession! Psychological head trip! – and fails to engage on any level. I was getting confused by the ten minute mark; after 70 minutes or so I gave up even trying to decipher what exactly was going on or why I should care.

On paper it’s easy enough to explain – a doctor obsessed with the brain (particularly the sylvian fissure) is experimenting on her daughters, and it doesn’t work out too well for anyone. However, the movie’s fragmented structure and seeming lack of any “rules” makes it hard to even take that much out of it, let alone any of the subplots or intricacies of the main story. Why she is doing this, why she had to use her daughter (or daughters, one might have been part of the experiment – again, it’s unclear), who is working for her, why our heroine sleeps with her sister’s boyfriend while in between searches for her, etc – I couldn’t even begin to theorize, let alone offer a definite answer.

As I’ve said before, when I spend too much time trying to understand what is going on, it becomes impossible to get scared or even tensed up at the horror scenes, because I have no context for what is at stake. A jump scare might still work (I assume that any standalone stalk-kill sequence from a F13 movie would work just as well if you hadn’t seen everything that led up to it), but this sort of horror requires a little more grounding in order to be successful. I couldn’t even tell by the end if the mother or the experimented on daughter was supposed to be our uber villain. The entire movie just felt trying to follow the last level of a Final Fantasy game after a year’s break from playing (if you’ve never played one, they all go off the rails near the end); more than once I wondered if I was supposed to have done some research first.

Thus, when one of our protagonists suddenly sees two ghosts coming toward him at a hospital, it’s not particularly scary to me. It’s not the actor’s fault, or even the FX (pretty good for what is obviously a low budget production), but I just had no idea what the hell was happening. I should be shrieking or at least getting goose bumps, not wondering if the DVD had skipped the 20 minutes leading up to it. And at the end of it all I’m not even sure if it actually happened or not, which just adds to the frustration.

At least there’s some occasional batshit dialogue to enjoy. Whether it was just a bad translation or not (which, to be fair, could have caused some of the confusion in general – another reason to always provide a dub, for a “second opinion” since the dubbed track and subs rarely match), I don’t need to know what is going on to enjoy a howler like “She will give birth to the afterlife. We will all be eaten.” And if “Her own child will take her virginity" was the actual line, then this could be the greatest movie of all time if I am ever able to decipher it. Or at least, it would make for a great double feature with Rise Of The Dead.

Even if you’re a J-horror junkie, I can’t see this one being one of your favorites. I may not be a big fan of the Grudge/Ju-On films, but I can at least more or less follow their basic stories, and understand why they work for so many. This… I just don’t know what the hell anyone can get out of it other than a brief suspicion that they were having a stroke.

What say you?


Blu-Ray Review: Apollo 18 (2011)

DECEMBER 26, 2011


There weren't too many people arguing with me when I reviewed Apollo 18 this past September during its (technically successful) box office run; there's a guy on Twitter who seems more defensive of it than any of its own filmmakers, but otherwise the consensus was that the movie didn't work. The found footage aspect was a terrible fit for the setting and story, and even with a barely feature length runtime, it was too slow and its scares too minimal to compete with the other big mockumentary films (the Paranormal Activity series, Rec and its remake, etc). Does it fare better at home on a second go around? And more importantly, does the Blu-ray's extensive collection of deleted scenes and alternate endings hint that this was once a much better film?

The answer to both is a very VERY soft "yes". Knowing that the movie was a pretty dull affair took out the initial "When is something going to HAPPEN?" frustration and allowed me to just accept the movie for what it is: an ambitious but deeply flawed attempt to meld the found footage approach with, well, the damn moon. On paper it actually sounds pretty awesome/intriguing - a secret lunar mission, 16mm film shot by the astronauts that has been recovered by some conspiracy website, etc. Plus, I was sort of charmed by the filmmakers' handicap - here they are one of the most expansive locations in the universe, and yet they're limited to a cramped module and its immediate surroundings. On top of that, they're limited to showing everything through the lens of dated camera technology - no zoom lens, no endless digital tape to let a camera record all night, not even real portability with the camera.

But all of that is exactly why the movie mostly fails. As with all found footage movies, the "why are they still filming?" question is a hurdle they need to jump, and in this particular movie they decide to keep filming because nothing happens. A rock ends up on the floor, and later they find a dead Cosmonaut, and that's pretty much all that happens until it's too late - one of the astronauts gets infected and they end up more or less marooned, and by then any sane audience member will have too many other issues with the narrative to care much about why our hero keeps turning his camera on. To their credit, the character is a terrible cameraman, and either he or the editor appears to have ADD as not a single shot in the movie lasts more than a few seconds (jump cuts occur more commonly than normal ones). The movie takes place over the course of a week or so, but only their constant marking of the time ("6 days, 5 hours...") will tell you that - the obvious lack of day/night cycles and choppy editing style makes it impossible to tell how much time has passed since the previous scene.

Another issue is the lack of characters. The 3rd astronaut spends the entire movie orbiting above them, and thus is seen very rarely and never interacts with them except over a radio. So it's just these two guys, who are hard to tell apart when they're suited up and don't really have much of a conflict until the 3rd act. With so much of the sound off-sync by design, I often spent a scene wondering who was filming, and that sort of thing kept me from ever getting engaged with the narrative the way I could with say, Blair Witch Project, where if I see Mike and Heather walking along I know Josh is the one shooting. The constant changing of stock type (and excessive film damage) doesn't help much either - and sometimes the camera must just be floating around the ship because you see both of the guys in the shot!

But I'm just repeating myself - if you want more about the movie you can go back and read my original review. I did enjoy it slightly more this time around, but not nearly enough to say "I was wrong, this is actually pretty good." I still spent most of my time watching it either bored or confused, but at least this time I could pause it for a while.

However, I wasn't expecting to have a 180 on the film - I was most curious about the deleted scenes, alternate endings, and audio commentary that the Blu-ray disc provided (along with a standard def AND digital copy of the movie! I can now watch Apollo 18 literally anywhere! I might put it on my iPod just for the hell of it). As expected, many of the deleted scenes would have helped the film - it wouldn't be a real Dimension movie unless they cut out the sort of brief character bits and plot clarification scenes that would help an audience actually give a shit about what was happening on screen. Some of the scenes are just filler or earlier versions of what ultimately was reshot (the original Cosmonaut stuff was superior to the final version, unsurprisingly), but overall there's enough to suggest that this could have been a B- movie at one point, instead of the low C (if I'm being generous) it gets now.

The alternate endings that are separated from the deleted scenes are just four versions of the same scene of one of our heroes dying, some of which ended up being used in different context in the final cut. All of it (I think?) would have been tied with another alternate ending that is included with the deleted scenes section (?), in which (SPOILER!) the orbiting astronaut* survives and goes back to tell his story, which would also explain how the damn film got back to Earth in the first place. Can't say if it was BETTER (other than the plot hole it creates I kind of like the colliding shuttle/everybody dies sequence), but it's interesting to note that this could have been the rare found footage movie where one of the main characters survives.

The commentary isn't as eye-opening as the deleted footage, unfortunately. As it was recorded two weeks before the movie's release, director Gonzalo López-Gallego (who helmed the much more exciting King of the Hill) and editor Patrick Lussier are still very much in promotional/excitement mode, something they actually address near the end of the track when they wonder if they should have waited until some time has past. They also point out some of the problems that the setting imposed on them, such as the fact that there was no scale in any of the shots (which is why I never realized that some of the "moonsters" were indeed bigger than a couple inches; it's a little more obvious now), and discuss an unseen ending where a giant moonster appears behind the surviving astronaut, but otherwise it's mostly the two men discussing how much better the movie is compared to the first cut, praising the FX/sound/camera guys and actors, etc. It's not a bad track by any means, but I was hoping they would go into the reshoots/re-edits a bit more, especially since the excised footage lacks any commentary itself ("We cut this scene because..."). They also don't bother to note that the movie has a whopping ten minute end credits roll, which is ridiculous even when The Asylum does it.

Oh well. You can't say I haven't tried to give this movie another shot, and I really do wish I could have enjoyed it more, as I'm a fan of the found footage genre and would rather see more "experiments" instead of ghost-based entries. If you DO like the film, then this disc should fully satisfy you - it boasts a pretty great transfer and some really nice surround effects in addition to the supplements (where's the trailer though?) and bonus copies. But alas, it's ultimately yet another Dimension movie where the Weinsteins' obvious meddling creates an experience that leaves the viewer constantly wondering what could have been.

What say you?

Film score: 4/10
AV score: 8/10
Extras score: 7/10 (docked a point for the lack of commentary on the deleted scenes)
Disc score: 5/10

*I have a soft spot for the poor bastards that have to fly around instead of walking on the moon like their buddies, because everyone knows the names of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, but fewer know Michael COLLINS, the module pilot of the Apollo 11 mission. We're possibly related!


Steve Niles' Remains (2011)

DECEMBER 25, 2011


I read "Remains" when it came out in single issues back in 2004, and now the box that they are in is buried too deep to bother trying to find (if it even made it in the move to LA - my mom's place in MA still has a lot of my "junk"). Obviously I've read a lot of comics since then, so correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to recall that the comic only focused on the main two survivors for the most part, until the army guys showed up? Because there are four main characters in Steve Niles' Remains, the cable movie adaptation - and that was one of its problems.

I tried looking up reviews or summaries online, but all I can find are reviews and summaries of this movie, which is of no use to me. But the fact that the magician character (Miko Hughes) and the obligatory zombie movie douchebag (Anthony Marks) instantly stuck out as "new" to me (whereas the other two leads seemed familiar from the comic) makes me think I am right, and that they were new inventions for the movie, or at least greatly expanded roles for supporting characters from the comic. It's a puzzling decision to me, for a couple reasons. For starters, Chiller obviously doesn't have a blank check budget, so you'd think keeping the number of characters to a minimum would allow to spend more money on things like zombies and FX.

But even more troubling is that it takes away from one of the most interesting things about the comic, which is the fact that the two leads (a down on his luck dealer and a cocktail waitress) were total scumbags, and yet they were all we had. I know I dislike movies where the heroes are assholes, but when it comes from a source material it's easy enough to forgive, especially when it comes to well-worn territory. It's not like we have to look hard to find a zombie movie these days, so anything that can make one unique in some way should be exploited, not diminished. Not only are the characters much more "audience friendly" now, but the fact that they have to share screentime with two others reduces EVERYONE'S time for characterization and bonding. Even if they softened them up, it might have been fun to see humanity (or, at least, Reno) come down to two self-absorbed losers, but instead we just get yet another "rag-tag group of survivors fight zombies... and themselves!" movie, albeit on a small budget that keeps the action kind of bland.

Now, they haven't exactly become the Brady Bunch, either. The girl in particular is kind of a selfish bitch throughout the movie, though she has a soft spot for the Hughes character (who is gay, an interesting development that is largely unexplored). Her arc is pretty close to the comics, but she just comes across more as an occasionally frustrated woman instead of the original heartless badass warrior. But hero Tom (played by True Blood's Grant Bowler) is just a schmuck, for the most part - his plans don't often work, he gets duped, etc. This allows for some Jack Burton-lite type moments, such as when he tries to smash through a parking garage gate (hilarious sight gag), but Bowler is no Kurt Russell, and thus the act gets kind of old. What should have been a sort of fun battle between these two (think Changing Lanes but with zombies instead of computer hacking and loosened tires) just comes across as a rather anonymous guy who wants to be a hero but isn't quite up to the task, and a girl who can't seem to make up her mind over whether or not she cares about anyone but herself.

It's also got a weird structure, particularly with regards to the obligatory evil military folk. They show up more or less where you'd expect them to in a story, but they get dispatched rather early - there's still like a half hour left when the zombies take the bulk of them out (a lone survivor resurfaces much later). Lance Reddick plays the main hardass (real stretch!), and his character doesn't even get a real death scene. Neither does Marks, who sells the others out in exchange for protection, but we're denied seeing him get his just desserts. And with like 10-15 minutes left to go, one of them finally explains their tragic back-story - something that should have been taken care of in the 2nd act, before he's largely redeemed himself. It'd be like if Al Powell waited until AFTER he took out Karl to explain to John McClane that he hadn't drawn his gun in years.

The rest of the time it's just a lackluster "let's hole up OK let's try to get out of here" zombie tale, with the usual hunts for supplies turning into near-death encounters and crazy schemes being implemented in order to secure rescue (remote control cars with sparklers! A giant human hamster ball!). They really botch the use of the location - Reno didn't shut down for them to make their little zombie movie (it was actually shot in Connecticut; you can even see plates a couple times), so if you're expecting to see a big casino setpiece or even a lot of neon lights you're out of luck - most of it takes place in a nondescript hotel.

At least it delivers on the zombie action. The makeup is quite good, and there's a lot of color to the zombies, with variety as well - there are even a couple of little kid zombies! They're also curiously under-hungry; there are a few scenes where one is ignoring a potential victim because they've already got someone to chew on, which is rare - usually they go after the living as soon as their presence is known. And director Colin Theys has a nifty solution to the "fast or slow zombies?" problem: he offers both. It's the rare zombie movie with an explanation (a radiation bomb), and I guess it effects folks in different ways. I can't remember if that was something from the comic or not, but either way it's a decent enough throwaway explanation that allows for more variety than we usually see, and (theoretically) a way to please everyone.

Also, one change from the comic is actually for the better - the zombies don't talk here. They weren't exactly garrulous (that would be loquacious, verbose, effusive. How about "chatty"?), but I have never shined to talking zombies, even if they're only offering 2-3 word sentences (mostly of the "need flesh" variety). They even recreate the reveal scene from the comic - Tori sarcastically asks a zombie on the street below if she wants to talk; originally the zombie replied, but this one just looks. The final issue of the comic is also largely recreated here, with Tom teaming up with the remaining military person (Tawny Cypress) - much to Tori's dismay - as they set off an explosion and escape the city for good.

So overall, a harmless but forgettable zombie movie. I didn't exactly love the source material, but it was fun, and I think a better movie could have been made from it. On the other hand, I've seen worse just in the past two months, and those weren't working with the handicap of "this has to be suitable for basic cable". And it's a decent enough start for Chiller's original movie programming (if we're comparing to other Niles-centric films, it's better than the DTV 30 Days Of Night sequel, that's for sure!), which I hope continues as the channel continues to grow. As long as it doesn't mean the end of their Chiller 13 specials, as those are an excellent way to spend 90 minutes - what can be better than listening to charming, handsome horror experts discuss the genre? :)

What say you?


To All A Goodnight (1980)

DECEMBER 24, 2011


Finding a golden era slasher I haven't seen is hard enough; finding one I've never even HEARD OF is like winning the lottery. While researching the history of Christmas-themed horror films for my latest Badass Digest article, I stumbled upon To All A Goodnight, which had so many surprising factoids about it that I almost wondered if I had undergone some sort of Eternal Sunshine-esque memory wipe for this particular film - how could it have passed me by?

For starters, it was directed by Krug himself, David Hess. I'm no scholar on the guy, but I've read enough interviews and such over the years that it seems it would have come up in one of them: "I was inspired by Wes when I directed my slasher movie..." or something along those lines. In fact it was his sole directorial effort, made all the more interesting by the fact that he does not appear in the movie. There's a role of a cop that seems perfect for his persona, but it's played by Sam Shamshak, a character actor who made his own debut here. Also of note - the script is credited to Alex Rebar, best known as the title character in Incredible Melting Man.

Even more surprising is its placement in the canon of slasher films - it was one of the first! Despite a thin story that goes through all of the motions you'd expect, and a killer's motive that seems directly lifted from one of the genre's most iconic titles, it was released in January of 1980, months before Friday the 13th - the success of which made several producers realize that Halloween wasn't a fluke, which is why the bulk of the titles slasher fans know and love came out in 1981. Watching it, you'd swear it was a knockoff from 1983 or 1984 (that it stars the preternaturally cute Jennifer Runyon from the latter year's Ghostbusters only strengthens the feeling - she went from starring in a movie to playing bit roles? Wrong way!), but that's what copyright dates and the internet is for.

Again, this baffles me - why doesn't anyone ever mention this thing? Hell, it even has a crazy old guy named Ralph who foretells of doom, and while it's impossible for Friday to have ripped this off (it was already in post when this was released), the sheer number of coincidences should have prompted more discussion. Also, the killer dons a Santa suit for a number of their kills, which makes me wonder why A. the parents groups didn't protest this the way they did Silent Night Deadly Night, and B. why it's not mentioned when folks discuss Silent Night Deadly Night. You can't have a conversation about Halloween without someone bringing up Black Christmas - you'd think I would have come across a smartass saying "Well actually, David Hess did the killer Santa thing four years earlier..." (note - from now on you will, but that smartass will be me). And while we're mentioning movies from 1984, I was also amused by the fact that the heroine's name was Nancy and one of the other girls was Tina - perhaps Wes was actually paying homage to his buddy's movie when he wrote the script for Nightmare On Elm Street?

The only one that might have been an influence was Black Christmas, given the setting (a college sorority house during Christmas break). There's also a house mother character, and a heavier than usual police presence, but otherwise the films aren't much alike - this is a straight up traditional slasher, whereas Bob Clark's film was much classier and more psychologically driven. It also didn't have a "reveal" of the killer, unlike this which has the motive I alluded to earlier, plus a little "bonus" that made up for the fact that I was able to peg the killer and his/her motive after about 40 minutes.

You might have noticed that I haven't mentioned whether or not the movie was GOOD. Well, it's not great by any means, but it's a perfectly serviceable slasher for the most part. The terrible VHS transfer (how did we watch movies like this?) is so dark that it makes most of the kills hard to gauge - they MIGHT be bloody? There's also a scene where Nancy talks to another character that is literally impossible to see until he makes a gesture at the end of their conversation - I assumed he was just cropped out of the shot or something. But there are a lot of them - the body count is around 12, which is much higher than the average for the day (and again, said average didn't really exist yet - it seems like it's trying to "top" movies that were not yet made!).

It's curiously paced though - the 2nd act doesn't have any kills at all, really. It's one of those "a prank goes wrong and years later the involved parties start getting picked off" movies (again, the first?), and said scene takes place 40 seconds into the film. And the killer shows up right away, knocking off 3-4 kids in the first half hour. But then they cut to the next morning and nothing happens until much later. Given that Halloween was one of the few slashers to exist at that point, and that the killer is hilariously dressed in a Santa suit (or a suit of armor at one point - huh?), you'd think there would be a lot of stalking, but sadly one of the movie's biggest faults is that the killer only appears right before he strikes for the most part - there's no scene of him prowling around or watching the girls. He just shows up when he needs to be there, even for more elaborate killings like when he somehow gets up into a tree in order to lower a wire noose around the neck of the movie's alpha male.

Speaking of him, one of the movie's more memorable aspects is the hilarious lack of monogamy among the teens. On the first night, one girl beds the nerdy guy she just met, while another bangs her boyfriend. The next day, the latter flirts with/bangs a cop, which inspires her boyfriend to go after that first girl. But don't feel bad for the nerdy guy, as he has somehow moved on from her and begins pursuing Nancy. Not to sound like a broken record, but the sexual hijinks seem like the result of some producers watching a few of these movies and saying "OK, kids fuck and then they die, got it", but unless they came from the future they didn't have much to go by - Annie and Lynda are pretty faithful to Paul and Bob, and When A Stranger Calls' Jill didn't even have a boyfriend that I can recall.

That's actually one of the many little touches that give this a personality, making up for the rather bland slasher stuff. I particularly liked that the main cop (Samshak) has to specifically warn his middle aged deputies not to bang any of the college girls they're assigned to keep an eye on, because their parents were all important in the town or whatever. I like it even more that the warning was ignored (a girl just up and decides to bang one of them out of nowhere). This girl also miraculously survives the slasher spree, but she's far from OK - after her encounter with the killer she seemingly goes crazy, and spends the rest of the film spinning around in circles and babbling in a sing-song voice. At one point she's carrying on as the killer pursues Nancy, and the killer doesn't even seem to care! It's wonderfully odd.

I also loved the following exchange, between one girl and the aforementioned Ralph:

Girl: "Come on in, we're having cherry pie."
Ralph: "I like cherry pie...."
Girl: "Yeah, you and Nancy both."
Ralph: "I like Nancy too...."

So basically, for the most part it's kind of a "for completists only" affair, but the fact that it predates so many others means it should be given more acknowledgment. Even if you like Friday the 13th or Silent Night Deadly Night more (I do, in fact), respect is due to the film who did these things first. But of course, without ever being released on DVD, as well as Hess' recent death and the fact that pretty much every cast member vanished off the face of the earth after making the film, I highly doubt a remastered special edition is ever going to see the light of day. And that's a real shame, not only is the movie nearly impossible to find (I have the good fortune of knowing Phil Blankenship, whose extensive VHS collection can always be counted on for such matters), but there are few who can discuss its production and/or explain why a Christmas-set horror movie came out at the end of January. Or explain the film's bizarre poster, which suggests that the killer is the ghost of Professor Coldheart? Thus, I guess it's not too surprising that I couldn't find a trailer on Youtube, either. Oh well. If you ever find it, give it a look! You'll be part of an exclusive club!

What say you?


Savage Island (2005)

DECEMBER 23, 2011


You're lucky it's Christmas, Savage Island, and thus I am in a giving mood, because you fully belong in the Crap genre. A failure on nearly every level, there is absolutely nothing in the movie worth defending, other than the fact that (spoiler) it's fairly grim, something I also admired about director Jeffrey Lando's Goblin, which also had the benefit of being watchable.

This, on the other hand, is exactly the sort of movie that makes me almost excited about the fact that I'm calling it a day in 2013, because that means I'll never have to suffer through this sort of crap again. If it wasn't so late by the time I started it, I might have just watched something else, because I could tell right away that it was going to be rough, thanks to a couple that is introduced yelling at each other. Not that this sort of scenario can't work, but it takes certain factors to be successful. Vacancy comes to mind - they were at each others' throats too, but we have a familiarity with the two actors, both of whom are very likable as well. Here, I don't know who these folks are, so when they start giving each other a hard time moments after the first time we've laid eyes on them, what incentive do I have to care about their story?

Worse, it's ugly as sin, as Lando apparently shot the thing with his iPhone (I wonder how many takes were ruined by an incoming call). The daytime stuff doesn't look TOO bad - unprofessional and bearing many of the flaws of digital video, but nothing that would seem out of place on the Decrepit Crypt set. It's the nighttime stuff that truly assaults the eyeballs, as the low grade video combined with what looks like a strict "no light" policy results in some of the ugliest footage ever, often resembling surveillance footage than an actual film. The grain is thick enough to choke a horse, it becomes quite difficult to tell who is who in the shots, and the color all but completely drops out. There are also a number of left to right wipes, none of which are implemented properly - one in particular looks "backwards" as the characters are moving in the opposite direction. Perhaps this was supposed to make us uneasy or whatever, but it doesn't work like that - it just looks like a sloppy movie.

It also feels endless; not a huge problem for a 3 hour movie, but a mighty large one for a "film" that clocks in under the 90 minute mark. The plot of the movie is basically about a family of redneck hicks seeking revenge for the accidental death of their youngest member, and the sides are evenly matched more or less (might be one or tow more rednecks), but 3 of the good guys are taken out rather quickly. So the movie just becomes a repetitive chore as our rednecks terrorize one of our heroes while the other makes largely unsuccessful rescue attempts. There's a surprisingly dark outcome for one of them, and it happens earlier than one would expect that character's exit, but in an 85 minute movie, there should be more than one moment that sticks out.

The only other thing of note about it is that it features familiar (and unfortunately late) character actor Don S. Davis, best known for Stargate SG-1. Granted, he was never the kind of guy who might end up on the cover of a magazine, but he's well known enough to warrant a "What the hell is he doing in this piece of shit?" reaction when he first appeared. I can only assume he was friends with someone on the production and was doing them a favor. Unsurprisingly, he's the only character I liked at all, though his laid back, friendly demeanor in the first act (there's a wood-cutting scene that borders on Norman Rockwell levels of old style charm) instantly disappears the second there's a sign of trouble. Not that it would "save" the movie or anything, but I would have liked it if he wasn't so instantly pro-active - dude grabs a gun as soon as the first redneck arrives on his property!

The film's ending seems to be setting up a sequel; thankfully as of this writing no such thing exists. But if there are plans - you have about 16 months to make it and put it on DVD, or else the only possible audience for the movie (me) will have "retired", and thus won't have any reason to continue following the saga of the Savage family (yes, that's their name - the title is a play on words!).

What say you?


666: The Child (2006)

DECEMBER 22, 2011


Two mockbusters of 2006 remakes in as many weeks? What kind of devilry is afoot here? Luckily, 666: The Child (made to cash in on Fox's 2006 remake of The Omen) is much better than Hillside Cannibals, in that it actually has some semblance of structure, a lot of surprisingly fun, Final Destination-lite deaths, and the lovely (Asylum regular) Sarah Lieving, inspiring me to once again sigh that I only see her in Asylum movies. Can someone upgrade her to Syfy Original regular, at least?

Anyway, the deaths really help keep this one going. They're all pretty splatter-y, and there's a lot of variety - a falling pipe, a trip through a glass door, a doctor's drill... even a good ol' fashioned old lady (a nun!) getting hit by a car. The movie is only 79 minutes long (a whopping 10 of which are just the hilariously slow end credits), but director Jack Perez seems to know how to balance the "talk" to "ridiculous" death ratio so that it feels even shorter.

It also helps that they're swiping from a plot-driven movie, so they have a "guide" of sorts to keep them from going astray. Unlike Hillside Cannibals, it wouldn't help anyone to try to surprise us by killing off most of the cast in the first 10 minutes, because this is a killer kid movie! The template is pretty simple: bring the kid into a new home, get suspicious of the recent deaths in act 2, and take action in act 3. If they raced through that and had the kid kill his new parents in the first act, they'd REALLY have to scramble to keep the thing going.

So they do the "right" thing and copy The Omen beat for beat. Even though the husband is some bland surfer looking dude, it still comes down to him to try to kill the evil child, after his wife (Lieving) has been dispatched. And he even gets shot to death by the police in the process, as the kid has suddenly lost his ability to control random objects and defend himself, I guess. There's even a cult member nanny named... wait for it... Lucy Fer, subbing in for the Mrs. Baylock character. Speaking of the names, "Donald" for the evil kid? That's the best they could come up with?

There's also an old priest delivering the exposition about Donald's true nature, but otherwise the Antichrist stuff is largely downplayed. I mean, there's still 666 imagery and such, but it seems far less based on religious text and superstition than either version of The Omen. They also drop the ball on the kid's relation to the events around him, he's present for some murders but others are of characters that he's barely had any involvement with, nor does he seem particularly threatening (remake) or even curious (original) about said events... he's just some punk kid who looks a lot older than the 9 years old he is supposed to be.

They also don't do nearly enough with the shift from politics to entertainment. Be it due to the budget or just some sort of satire that I'm not sharp enough to follow, his big ambition is seemingly not to enter politics, but to infiltrate the entertainment industry, and thus the movie ends with him... taking a co-host role on a basic cable daytime cooking show. Oh shit! But I guess in the long run it's not too big of a deal, since the sequel apparently ignored this concept anyway and just had him running some generic corporation as an adult, instead of now being the king of late night or whatever it is one could work their way up to after landing a cushy gig peeling the onions or measuring out tablespoons of sugar on a cooking show.

The movie was directed by Jack Perez, who botched Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (though perhaps he knew that, as he used a pseudonym) but also helmed the pretty delightful Some Guy Who Kills People, which I caught at Screamfest and even moderated a Q&A with Perez and some of the other folks from the film. Pretty random career, but at least he has seemingly escaped The Asylum's clutches; hopefully he will continue to find success in the genre. I don't think he'll go on to be our next John Carpenter or anything, but if he can make a decent "mockbuster" (one of the few), I think he can be counted on to deliver the goods on a more respectable production (i.e. one that took more than a week to shoot).

What say you?


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