Psychomania (1973)

JULY 31, 2012


I've lived in my current apartment for almost 7 years, and in that time I've never fully cleaned my room. I'll dust the desk or something every now and then, and I TRY to keep all my junk (screeners, magazines, bills, etc) under control, but it's usually a losing battle. So since I'm on vacation this week, I figured I'd clean it top to bottom, starting to the right of the door and working my way around. Without turning this into a blog on my cleaning, it became a bigger project than I originally imagined (bookcases were moved, for a hint), and I was working on it almost right up to the time I left for Psychomania (aka The Death Wheelers) at the New Beverly.

Needless to say if you're a regular HMAD reader, this meant I ran an even higher risk than usual of falling asleep during the movie, as I was pretty exhausted from moving furniture, running back and forth to the living room (where things would be put "out of the way" and then needed again) and cleaning for 10 hours straight. And that, my friends, is the best compliment I can give the flick, as I didn't doze for even a second - my brain knew better than to deprive itself of another potential all-time favorite WTF moment.

I almost hate to spoil it, but it's just too good and it's only 8 minutes into the movie to boot. Our main character is talking to the family butler, and suddenly demands he answer three questions as he opens up a bottle of beer. "Why did my father die in a locked room? Why don't you ever seem to age? And what is the secret of immortality?" As he finishes the last one, he suddenly produces a giant sandwich (the beer disappears) and takes a huge bite. The randomness of his questions coupled with a hoagie that apparently shapeshifted from a bottle of suds combined to make the quintessential Grindhouse night scene, as the theater erupted in confused laughter, causing us to miss the next 10-20 seconds of dialogue.

There were others throughout the film, which proved to be one of the most entertaining movies I've seen for Grindhouse night in a while (not counting the Hong Kong nights, which are their own separate category of WTF). The nutty plot was a big selling point - our biker does indeed learn the secret to being immortal and convinces the rest of his gang to follow suit, with varied results. Apparently you cannot hesitate even for a second - you really have to WANT to die, or else you, well, will. Kind of an ironic rule. Anyway, those who do come back become even bigger jerks than they were before death, so while they used to settle for knocking over traffic cones and goosing female pedestrians, now they're causing major damage and even killing folks on occasion - including a baby, I think.

This angle isn't really explained; I just chalked it up to Pet Sematary rules and thought nothing else of it. What's awesome is the hilariously inept police investigation to stop them, which includes having the one biker who didn't kill herself to PRETEND that she did so that they could nab the others when they came to wake her up. So all of the cops just pretend they're dead as well, laying inside the morgue with their eyes shut. Of course, this doesn't work because she gets up and finds the bikers before they arrive there - thus the cops just laid there while she got up and left? Amazing.

Oh, and frogs. Frogs are everywhere in this movie, because they appear to be the source of the resurrection power that this family uses for their own enjoyment but seemingly nothing else. Seriously, they're all immortal, but all they do is chill in their big British house all day instead of having fun. I kind of love that idea, that they've possibly done everything that they want and are now just kind of bored. Sadly, the guy playing the butler committed suicide shortly after the film's production, and his suicide note actually chalked his actions up to being bored with life - I'm glad I learned that afterward or it might have given the viewing experience a melancholy feel.

It also has the best in-movie song I've heard in ages. When it starts it seems like it's just the soundtrack selection, but then we see one of the bikers ("Chopped Meat") leaning against a tree, playing guitar and singing the tune. Here it is for your enjoyment (seems to be out of sync):

I also loved the instrumental credits theme, which set a very creepy, ominous mood that the film mostly avoided. There are some minor bits of full on terror (including an off-screen massacre that's kind of disturbing if you think about it), but mostly it comes off as a thriller with a darkly humorous touch. It also feels like a regular biker movie at times, as we're treated to three full riding scenes that are quite enjoyable. As I've mentioned in the past, there aren't too many action/horror films period, let alone ones that work, but I think this one did a fine job of balancing the action bits (including - yes! - a vehicle falling down a hill and exploding) and the horror elements. The random comedy is a very nice bonus.

Severin put this out on DVD a while back, with a new transfer and some bonus features that I would love to watch RIGHT NOW. But we got something even more special - an original Technicolor print! Now, I'm no genius when it comes to this stuff, but from what I understand, Technicolor prints do not fade - the colors are as vivid as they were the day it was printed. And I don't doubt it - it's not exactly a bright and colorful movie, but the colors/detail really popped in high contrast scenes (like the green frog with a yellow/white/gray background). The tradeoff is that the print was forty years old, so it was scratched to hell. Wasn't a major issue - the prints they show on Grindhouse night are always a bit "lived in" so it was nothing new, and it was worth it for the upgrade in color anyway.

I wonder how well it would play at home when you're by yourself. Some of the nuttier stuff might not have been as funny without it being magnified and projected on a 40 foot screen for a hundred people, and there are some draggy bits here and there. Hopefully it's just as fun - I'm sure theatrical screenings are rare, which makes me even happier I opted to go (I almost considered skipping it so I could relax at home for a bit and then just watch something on DVD) as I got the best possible experience for it.

What say you?


The Witchmaker (1969)

JULY 31, 2012


I can credit the kitchen sink nuttiness of Psychomania for keeping me awake through that one, but how the hell did I manage to make it all the way through The Witchmaker as well? Where the other film was insane and kept the crowd laughing, this one was mostly just dull, and I started finding more enjoyment from watching the audience numbers dwindle as it lurched toward its conclusion.

Ironically, they all missed the movie's saving grace, when our heroes (well, the ones that are left) finally spring into action and try to stop the devil cult. Chase scenes, people that are invisible because they have garlic on, naked girls in muddy swamps... it's finally a movie deserving of being paired with Psychomania! There's also a surprising character death and a funny little twist at the end (plus history's strangest "knocked out cold" moment - a guy basically stubs his toe and falls down unconscious), making the final reel worth the effort to get there.

But man, that first 70 minutes or so is a chore. While not completely stripped of entertainment value, as there are a number of strange lines and inept actions (love when the girl comes to refill the heroes' coffees - she pours MAYBE an ounce out for each), it's just so damn tedious. The group arrives, and after explaining why they are stuck there (it's an island in the middle of a swamp, no phone, and the hero idiotically refuses the offer for the boat guy to check in on them halfway through their week's stay), they mostly just sit around talking. Even when the bad guy offs one of their group, it doesn't take long to return to status quo - more talking or sessions with the group's "sensitive".

Not sure if the movie made that one up or if it's a real thing, but it's basically a medium or what have you. The difference is, instead of saying "I see a door, there's a red coat" or whatever, she just calls out coordinates? If it's explained, I missed it (I ran to the bathroom twice; once just to splash water in my face when I noticed I was starting to yawn - at this point I was determined to stay awake), but either way it makes for very uninteresting seance style scenes. No one on screen is particularly engaged by it; the girl just says "98, 87, 92..." or something and someone jots it down. One only lasts like 20 seconds; she says the numbers and then says she's tired and everyone's like "OK, good night all!". Riveting!

Luckily when they leave the house the movie can boast some nice swamp atmosphere (boosted by the lush Technicolor), and we get to spend some time with the far more entertaining villains. There are two primary baddies; one is Luther, who seems like a mute idiot at first but proves to be a formidable (and chatty) foe, one who never forgets to offer a "Hail Satan!" to the goofy statue that represents the Beast. Then there's Jessie, who is an old crone at first but thanks to some mumbo jumbo she thankfully turns into the absolutely stunning Warrene Ott for the rest of the movie. Their conversations are hokey but charming, and things pick up even more when they hold a sabbat and invite a bunch of other witches, who materialize out of thin air.

But it just takes too long for the groups to converge. Luther comes around and kills someone every now and then, but the near total lack of reaction from the hero group makes them weightless, even when hero Alvy Moore tearfully explains that the deceased was one of his favorite students. I also couldn't figure out where the two locations were in relation to each other, so I was curious why they didn't stumble across the cult HQ while they went out looking for their missing colleague early on. Seems like they had an easy opportunity to have them meet up earlier, and failed to take it. Five yard penalty, movie!

Interestingly, whereas I don't think I'd enjoy Psychomania as much at home by myself, I think this one might have IMPROVED from a solo viewing. The atmospheric elements and slow burn pace tend to sit better with me in a more intimate environment, and even if I stayed awake, perhaps my brain was just not up for two movies in a row. Apart from the pace there was nothing really wrong with it - the actors were mostly solid, it looked terrific, and the plot wasn't too cliched, so I'm willing to put this in the "have to be in the right mood" category. Maybe I'll give it another chance someday.

What say you?


Amityville 1992: It's About Time (1992)

JULY 30, 2012


I think I watched Amityville 1992: It's About Time as a kid, as some of it felt familiar to me... but for some reason I remembered Terry O'Quinn being in it, and he's in the one about the haunted mirror. Maybe they're all just so similar that it's hard to tell them apart even when you haven't seen them. At any rate, I vow to have reviews for the entire series up before I wrap up the site (thankfully, the 1992 referred to the year of release and not the actual sequel number).

I will also finish Hellraiser, which came to mind as this entry was directed by Hellbound's Tony Randel, and brought that series' "pleasure and pain" aesthetic over. As with Possession and (the later) Dollhouse, there's a bit of an incest angle here - Megan Ward's character tries to bang her brother after she turns evil, but he pushes her away even though he is seen checking her out twice, one time before the haunted clock has even started working its powers. But she also leads a guy to his doom by leading him to a puddle of goo and letting it swallow him whole while she writhes around mostly naked nearby. Weird stuff.

And yeah, haunted clock. This was part of the post Amityville 3D "miniseries" of entries where objects from the original house found their way into the hands of other families/homes. This was the first of the DTV entries (the first "haunted ____" entry was made for TV), and it's a touch better than Dollhouse thanks to the graphic kills (courtesy of KNB) and a cameo by Dick Miller. I also harbor a crush on Ms. Ward from my younger days (thanks to Encino Man and the short-lived Dark Skies), so I enjoyed seeing her playing a girl next door type (nice ugly ass suspenders, Meg) and then vamping it up for the 3rd act.

But it just goes through the motions. Once again the family unit is fractured - the mom is dead and her role is being filled by the dad's ex girlfriend. It's very awkward; they're no longer together but she lives there and even has her boyfriend over once or twice (she also bangs the dad for old time's sake or something), and picks up the kid from school when he gets in trouble, makes plans to go shopping with Ward... what kind of ex does all of this? It feels more like a bizarre leftover element from a different draft of the script where she was actually their stepmother.

Oh, and the dad goes nuts again. They mix it up a bit by having Ward go crazy too, but once again the dad is always cold and becomes obsessed with the history of the Amityville house, drawing pictures of it and making models and such (he's an architect so at least his ability to create these mini-masterpieces has some credibility). The film's few new ideas are underdeveloped, such as when the son flicks a light switch and the room changes to some version of itself from the past - it's barely mentioned again, let alone a major plot point. And maybe I missed it, but what's with the Nazi stuff? How does that fit into a haunted clock movie?

The film peaks early on when the dad (Stephen Macht) is attacked by a dog. Not only is it pretty terrifying since the dog just won't quit and it goes beyond the possibility of simply being a dream (if it WAS it would be the most offensive example I've ever seen), but the FX are hilariously over the top. At one point the dog is chewing away on the leg and it looks like there's only a couple of tendons keeping it attached as one half is flopping around independently of the other, but later we see it being treated and it's just a surface wound (a big one, to be fair). He then mostly disappears for the 2nd act, so when he comes back in crazy mode it's even more obnoxious, as we weren't even treated to his steady decline into madness.

Oh, and (spoiler) they pull the "let's redo it" twist at the end, which is only slightly more insulting than "it was all a dream". The clock turns back time all the way back to the night Macht brought it over, except this time the "mom" smashes the thing to bits because she has retained her memory of what happened even though no one else did. Well, maybe the son did - he's just as shocked by the destruction as the others, but then he sees the old lady across the street who had given him some exposition during the original timeline and gives her a knowing look, so who knows. And if you DO know, do you CARE?

In closing, I want to give a shoutout to the boom mic, which should have been given 6th billing thanks to his co-starring work in the kitchen and hospital scenes. If there's one thing that digital has over film, it's the fact that there's no longer any excuse for boom appearances thanks to the ability to playback the footage on set. But I'd rather see a boom mic than be unable to tell a character from a dark background because the camera couldn't tell if it was a 1 or a 0. That's another thing about these older cheapies - they were laughed at when they came out but they look better than even the higher profile independent films nowadays.

Anyway, two to go...

What say you?


Grave Mistake (2008)

JULY 29, 2012


According to the IMDb, Shawn Darling served as the director, writer, producer, editor, composer, music editor, location scout, puppeteer, camera operator, props guy, make-up designer, and sound recordist for Grave Mistake, plus played one (or more?) of the zombies. Suffice to say, if there was anyone to praise or blame for the film, it would be him, as that has to be a record (and I swear I saw his name a few more times in the end credits) for most jobs performed on a single feature.

Ordinarily I scoff at this; I believe that the more jobs you take on a film, the less focused you'll be on doing any of them to the best of your ability, but apart from the script, I think this was a pretty solid effort for a locally produced, next-to no budget horror movie. The pacing was fine, there was a lot of action, the zombies looked good... as long as you know that you're not going to witness the second coming of zombie horror (and have a good tolerance level for the awkward acting and low production value that this sort of movie can't really avoid), then it makes for a decent timekiller. Had it been on the Decrepit Crypt set (it certainly resembles one of those movies), it would have been the uncontested highlight.

The best thing about it is that it admirably kills folks "out of order"; the first two victims of note are the seemingly mentally challenged "survivalist" guy and a kid - both of whom you'd expect to last a lot longer. This allows for some unexpected tension that even the poor acting couldn't ruin, because I never felt that any of the (mostly likable) characters were safe. And there's another zombie attack every 15-20 minutes, so it mostly held my attention - something even the bigger budgeted zombie films of late can't manage.

The zombie makeup is also impressive, considering the number. I'm sure some of the background ones got quick appliances and a quick coat of blue/gray face paint, but the "hero" zombies look pretty damn good to me. And I like the quick turn style of this particular "strain" - it's done with (fairly good) CGI, but seeing someone turn zombie just moments after being bitten was pretty cool. The more advanced CGI effects aren't particularly great, but they're used sparingly and usually for things that couldn't be done practically (at least, not without an expert like Savini to help), like blowing half of a guy's head off as he staggers forward.

Oddly, the bulk of the CGI appears to be for composite shots? Perhaps it was just the way it was lit or something, but I swear the characters aren't really inside of a hardware store or whatever location for several of the shots. You know how the rolling background in car shots always has that detached look that separates it from the interior? Many interior scenes looked the same way, but I couldn't see any green tinted hair or anything, so perhaps it was just a lighting issue of some sort (the transfer was pretty lousy, so that didn't help either). They definitely weren't driving though; at one point the hero - while supposedly driving at fast speed - turns to the back of the car, takes out a zombie, argues with one of the other passengers, has a heart to heart with another one... all without ever looking back at the road. It's like that bit in Last Action Hero but without the apparent humor.

No, sadly the humor comes from that old standby of zombie movies - naming everything after zombie "legends", so you have characters with names like Savini or Nicotero (there's also a Linnea, which I don't think I've heard before). The most grating is "Campbell's Mental Institution" - since when do places like that have a possessive in their name? Darling is also too eager to toss in some in-jokes, with his other movies playing on TV and an overlong, poorly edited commercial for a BBQ place starring the boom operator and her family. There's clearly a lot of effort here, so this wasn't intended to just show to friends and family, so I wish he was a bit more discerning when it came to this sort of stuff, as non-friends (i.e. 99% of the presumed audience) won't have any appreciation for this stuff, and it sticks out like a sore thumb to boot.

I was also a bit puzzled by the secondary group of characters, who are introduced as being part of some sort of LARP group - a convenient way to have them equipped with weapons AND armor. Not only does Darling cut back to them so infrequently that I kept forgetting that they even existed, but the hero of the group comes off as a psychotic. His fiance is killed early on, but instead of breaking down like a normal human being, he seemingly snaps, sticking "in character" and using "Olde English" for the rest of the movie. But it also seems to be being played for laughs, which would just make him an asshole who kept playing his silly game even though his girlfriend was murdered. It's really weird, and the uneven distribution between his group and the other one makes it even harder to get a firm grip.

But look. I've seen dozens of these things that couldn't even get the basics right, so I can forgive pretty much all of the above. I was impressed by the film's scope and effort, and that's a hell of a lot more than I was expecting, especially considering the low entertainment value of most of the indies I find on these Echo Bridge 4 packs (like The Dead Sleep and Witchcraft 13). Kudos to Darling and his crew, and I look forward to seeing their future endeavors.

What say you?


Detention (2011)

JULY 28, 2012


I was curious to check out Detention after some promising word from SXSW, but two things kept me from buying a ticket for its very small theatrical run. One was the director's abhorrent behavior on social media sites, calling people idiots for liking the Saw films and generally just being unpleasant - kind of a turn off, and left me cold on the idea of supporting the film (he paid for the release himself, from what I understand). The other was that most of the folks who really liked it compared it to Scott Pilgrim, a film that wore me out after about 40 minutes. While I may love Jim Steinman songs and other things dubbed as "excessive", I DO have my limits, and it just seemed like the movie would be something that annoyed me after a while, and thus I figured I'd wait until it hit home video.

So I'm quite surprised to report that I actually more or less enjoyed the movie, despite some issues. The hyper-stylized approach wasn't as pervading as I had feared, and the slasher plot, which I figured would be discarded as the movie dove into nuttier territory (time travel, mostly), actually had a satisfying resolution. If you can get through the first 15 minutes, which is where most of the stuff that really irked me occurred, and accept that the slasher angle is just one of many, then you'll probably enjoy it to some degree.

That first 15 minutes though, yikes. The film isn't ten seconds old before a character is already spewing out pages of dialogue, and as it continues you're also asked to read on-screen info, watch flashbacks, and process shots that rarely last most than a second. Then the person behind all of this information is killed, and then we meet our heroine, who takes us through a similar graphic/flashback/voice-over heavy spiel telling us HER story. In fact, I began to seriously wonder if the entire movie would be this sort of information overload, with the filmmakers demanding you keep up (or watch the movie again) in order to take anything from it.

But luckily it slows down after that. It's still hyper, but the on-screen graphics are more or less done away with, and once we get everyone's back-story and relation to each other out of the way the movie's Ritalin kicks in and we can focus on the story, which finds a killer named Cinderhella picking off our group one by one, something only our heroine (a very charming Shanley Caswell) seems to notice. The problem is Cinderhella is the "hero" of an in-movie slasher series, and since everyone is so self-absorbed and drama-addicted, it's assumed that she's just looking for attention or trying to win over the guy across the street, who is dating her former best friend.

And yeah, the slasher plot is sort of half-assed, but I've seen far worse examples (Don't Go In The Woods comes to mind, and that's not something I wish to occur). But it's given JUST enough care that you never forget about it, and I was shockingly wrong with my guess of who the killer was, so that's always laudable. Plus, the kills are appreciatively gory, with an acceptable mix of CGI and on-set makeup providing some pretty great murders - I particularly enjoyed one character's casual beheading late in the film. The Cinderhella mask is also perfect for this sort of thing; sort of creepy, but not so much that you're scared of it (it IS a comedy). Oddly, the killer from the actual Cinderhella movie (who we see torturing someone in a parody of Saw) is much goofier than the "real world" counterpart, so there's something.

It's also got some other out of nowhere genre elements, adding to the movie's kitchen sink appeal. But the surprising thing is, except for the guy who has "Fly blood", they all tie together in a satisfying way. Early on we see a Polaroid of what appears to be someone performing a sex act on the school's mascot (a grizzly bear), and through the movie's time travel plot we not only find out its origin, but also get a payoff for another gag involving a character who they meet in detention. And without spoiling the specifics, one character's obsession with the 90s has a nutty explanation that helps solve the central mystery. For a movie that can sound like it was written during an epic coke binge, I was surprised how relatively tight it was, paying off nearly everything despite how random it seemed at first.

Speaking of the 90s, I also appreciated the specificity of the references. Nothing drives me bonkers more than when a period piece has a sort of "Greatest Hits" approach, name-checking only the biggest bands and movies of the time. No, here we get someone talking about watching a laserdisc of Freejack or trying to work "We gotta Fled" into conversation - that's attention to detail I can respect. There's also a montage showing a character through different years, and while some of it is top hit stuff (impressive for a different reason - the rights to secure the song must have taken a toll on the movie's small budget, put up by the director himself), for 2005 it's The Bravery's "Honest Mistake", which is the sort of song you'd hear a lot but wasn't necessarily a huge crossover hit (a lazier person would probably go with one of Kelly Clarkson's songs of that year).

The only thing keeping it out of "love" territory (besides a supporting role from Dane Cook, who just this week reminded the world of what an awful person he is) was that the tone jumped around just as often as the genres. Whenever the movie dipped into sincere mode (like the skateboarding "date" between Caswell and Hutcherson), it felt like it belonged in a different movie, and while some of the slasher scenes are played for laughs, others seemed like they were legitimately trying to scare the audience - it's gotta be one or the other. As a result it was a very schizo viewing experience, because I could never tell whether or not I was supposed to give a shit about anything that was happening. Since Scream comes up a lot whenever people discuss the film, I might as well use that as an example of how to have the biting humor and winks but still feel something for the folks being stalked. Here, more often than not I'm pretty sure we're not (one character explodes, and the witnesses simply shrug), but those moments of (relative) emotion throw it all off.

On the Blu-ray's "Cheat Mode" these are referred to as breathers for the audience, but that's a bit odd as anyone that can handle the movie's breakneck pace and delivery probably wouldn't need (want?) the break. But it's also one of the few times on the feature - which mostly amounts to a multi-participant commentary, where we see the speakers in typical interview settings - that the storytelling is addressed. Most of it is given to the actors discussing their characters or how they felt while shooting this or that scene, and LOTS of fawning over one another. Not that I expect anyone to be like "Dane Cook is a piece of shit", but I think anyone bothering to watch the movie this way would rather hear from the director or screenwriter (who pop up less frequently than you'd expect) about a certain scene than hear the actress explain what a big fan she is (or Cook himself saying that he's like Aerosmith and appeals to many generations). There are occasional bits of trivia ("This was the last scene to be shot"), some on-set photos and raw footage of takes, but I'd say 90% of it is the actors just being actor-ly, so if that's not your thing, you can probably skip around and sample it on your favorite scenes.

The other bonus features aren't much more exciting; the screen tests for Caswell (solo and with some of the others) are again, only exciting to people who love the acting process, and only a die hard Dane Cook fan can possibly appreciate four minutes of him blowing takes by laughing at his own improvised lines. The best is the rehearsal for the big fight between the killer and the hero, as it's done with stunt guys (heroes!) and someone bothered to go through and put in the CGI graphics of dismemberment or destruction when appropriate. For a movie that he financed himself (and considering how outspoken he is on Twitter), it's strange that Kahn barely appears in any of the bonus features - he provided two commentary tracks for Torque (also mocked here), why not a single one for something a little closer to his heart?

At any rate, it's not an easy film to digest, and even if you're on board your tolerance level may vary. For me it had just enough admirable creativity and applause worthy lines ("How could you, strange unknown black guy?"), and after 300+ slashers for HMAD, I can always respect one that goes off the beaten path. However, I should stress that movies like this should be the exception, not the rule.

What say you?


The Yellow Wallpaper (2011)

JULY 27, 2012


As I've said in the past, the reason I'm not too big of a fan of haunted house movies is that so many of them are the same - family arrives in a new house, seemingly innocuous things start happening (electricity behaving strangely is a common offender), one family member starts acting weird... and then (at least nowadays) a big bunch of CGI crap occurs until everyone leaves. So when The Yellow Wallpaper started off with a family moving into a new house, I got worried that it would be another forgettable entry in the genre.

Luckily, the cliches are kept to a minimum, and as it turns out it's actually a rather unique take on the material, deftly blending psychological terror into the mix in a manner not unlike The Shining. If I were to distill the movie down to a formula, I'd say it was The Shining mixed with The Innkeepers and a dash of Lovecraft, albeit set in late 19th century America. If that sounds interesting to you, and you can handle a slow pace, then I can recommend the film easily.

The main thing I liked was that all of the characters were a bit off, so it avoided the usual pratfall of turning the family members against one another. While they have their spats, there's no clear "villain" like Jack in Shining or George in Amityville - it seems any one of them could snap. The husband is the most likely suspect due to years of haunted house movies telling us he's the one, and he's on edge throughout most of the movie as he blames his wife (and himself to a degree) for the death of their child, with the added issue of them now being completely broke as a result. And the wife is seeing things and spends most of the movie in a daze (plus the original short story is about her descent into madness), which is where the psychological element comes into play - it's possible that everything we're seeing is just her imagination. Then there's her sister, a woman who feels that she's never accomplished anything in life and is now too old to find a husband. So basically they all got baggage, and it's not hard to think that we're watching a domestic tragedy unfold via the imagery and structure of a haunted house/ghost movie.

But then things get weird. Wolves attack out of nowhere. Some dudes have a duel nearby. Any trip away from the house results in wandering around a desert landscape that in no way belongs in the vicinity of a Georgia plantation. Michael Moriarty shows up. However, the weirdest bit involves... well, Thor. I can't think of any other way to explain it; the husband is in that desert area and stumbles across a blond guy wearing a silver chestplate - I honestly thought I had fallen asleep and was combining things in my head, but I rewound a few seconds and sure enough it was actually in the movie. I've been watching Twin Peaks lately (and recapping them along with two other Badass Digest writers!) so this felt at home to me, as that show is also prone to total out of nowhere "huh?" moments. Except there's 30 episodes of that so I can always assume it'll be explained later, unlike this 100 minute movie - Thor never returns to explain himself.

Now, I'm not saying this is a bad thing; on the contrary, it was the odd little touches like this that kept me entertained. It's a slow film, and the supporting cast's appearances all amount to cameos (fourth billed Veronica Cartwright doesn't even show up until the halfway point or so), which limits the variety of the scenes, but the strange tone and creepy atmosphere makes it intriguing all the same. Reflecting Skin also came to mind a couple times, and like that movie it doesn't matter that not everything makes total sense - it's more about the experience as a whole. Thus it's certainly not a movie for the cell phone crowd; it demands full attention in order to get sucked in, and if it was more popular I'm sure I'd be seeing an IMDb board full of "Worst movie ever, I couldn't even finish it!" type drivel. Oddly, most of the posts on its board are from before its release, as for whatever reason it was shot in 2006 but only released in late 2011.

The IMDb also lists a runtime of 115 minutes, so I had to wonder if it was trimmed some during those 5 years. It didn't FEEL trimmed (if anything it drags at times - the epilogue in particular seems to go on longer than it needs to), but perhaps some of the unexplained things weren't intentional. The original short story wouldn't be of much help either since the movie goes off in a new direction, so I'll just have to try to remember to look into it from time to time to see if anyone can shed some light on the discrepancy.

Again, if slow burn horror isn't your thing then there's no reason to seek this out, but those who can handle the action-lite structure and a puzzling story that requires full attention will find a lot to like here. The cast is terrific, the period setting depicted quite well, and even though his role is brief, any movie with Michael Moriarty is automatically OK in my book. A nice little find.

What say you?


Deadtime (2012)

JULY 26, 2012


I’m used to covers being misleading and showing more technical skill than the films inside, but Deadtime is the rare instance where the cover is the extent of the movie’s creativity. The cover shows a guitar where the neck has been replaced with a disembodied/bloody arm (or perhaps just wrapped in the skin of one), which sells the movie’s concept quite nicely, but is wasted on a dull, cliché-ridden time-waster that seemingly went off a checklist of what NOT to do in a slasher movie.

And what would that checklist entail? Let’s count em out!

1. Unlikable characters. Nothing new, but puts a spin on things – the characters aren’t just annoying, they’re CONSTANTLY ANGRY. I’ve never seen a movie where everyone seemed to be on edge at all times, like the actors were filmed shortly after being stuck in traffic for 5 hours and then spilling a hot coffee on their lap when they finally got out of the car. To be fair, it does yield some pretty funny insults here and there, but it’s pretty sad when I actually start longing for the usual stereotype characters (the jock, nerd, etc) who had no reason to be friends. Since they’re a modern British rock band I assume all of the in-fighting is supposed to be a take on Oasis, but if that’s the joke it wears thin, quickly.

2. Bad kills. For the most part, this movie offers two options for the kill scenes – off-screen, or CGI. Unsurprisingly, I was less offended by the former, because at least when they do the off-screen kills you can use your imagination (or they can use it to conceal a twist, like in My Bloody Valentine when Axl “drowns”), but there are still too many. However, they’re better than the CGI ones, which look terrible and, like the cover, waste some fun ideas. I’m not saying CGI has no place in horror – as someone rightfully pointed out on Twitter, the Final Destination films are heavily CG-based – but in this sort of masked slasher movie, it’s a huge letdown to see them relying on it so much. Sure, some of those FX in Friday the 13th don’t hold up too well on Blu-ray, but that was 32 years ago! What’s your excuse for these looking like shit on the day the damn thing was released on standard def DVD?

3. Idiotic plotting. The best slashers keep the characters oblivious for most of the runtime, so that they have an excuse for continuing to go off alone (or with a lover). But here, someone is killed around the 30 minute mark, and everyone finds the body. We’re then told that they’re trapped inside (and with no cell phone service and blah blah), which could have at least turned into an exciting chase type movie. However, they pretty much go back to normal – people still go off to fuck, argue about the band’s new album, etc. So the pacing is non-existent, and by having everyone discover the body, the writer paints himself into a corner. Unless they’re on a spaceship or maybe the top of a techno-based highrise, I never buy the “We’re trapped here” thing, especially for a rundown building like this – seems they could have just kicked a hole in a wall to get out.

4. Lack of clear geography. For a movie that spends about 90% of its runtime in one building (the music studio), you’d think you’d get a good sense of its layout after a while. But no, I had a lot of trouble understanding how the rooms were connected, where characters were in relation to each other, etc. At one point there’s a shot of the hero running down some stairs somewhere, and then they cut to another room with someone else. Where is he? Was he running toward or away from them? How far apart are they? These things should at least be generally clear in ANY movie, let alone a single location slasher where “Where’s ____?” is asked in every other scene.

5. Overlong ending. Strangely enough, right around the 55 minute mark, I began wondering if there was ever a whodunit slasher where the identity wasn’t as important to the 3rd act as you’d expect, with the twist not necessarily being who it was but what he was actually trying to do. So it’s crazy that, 7 minute later (with nearly 40 minutes to go), we do indeed find out who the killer is. Now, if the killings were just a means to an end, with him working for a demon or some nonsense (I’m not the screenwriter!) this could work, but there’s nothing particularly novel or original about his plan. So the next 35 minutes is just the final five minutes of any other slasher stretched out to eternity. He explains his motives forever, he chases the others around forever, the epilogue goes on forever, it takes three attempts to actually kill him... there’s even a bit where the hero runs into a room and sees the killer fighting an innocent guy, and thus he has to pick which one is the real killer. These scenes work when WE don’t know (Jason Goes To Hell comes to mind, at the end with the sheriff and the deputy), but when we DO, and the movie has already outstayed its welcome, then it’s just another red mark.

Oh and it looks like ass, but I’m used to that by now. The ability to properly shoot, post, and output a movie is something of a niche form these days, and I guess I just have to accept it, and try not to weep when a filmmaker actually has to clarify “Shot and edited on film” at the end of his blockbuster movie (that would be Christopher Nolan/TDKR, for the record).

The DVD comes with a pair of extras, a brief look at the studio, and a 22 minute making of that left no impression. Considering the movie’s plot and number of rock songs (some of which are pretty good), I’m kind of surprised that there isn’t a music video, but it’s clear that doing things “right” wasn’t on the agenda here. And besides, putting more effort into the film or its bonus features would take time away from writing fake IMDb reviews (3 of the 4 on there right now are plants), and that’s what’s REALLY important nowadays. Why make a good film and rely on legitimate reviews when you can lazily make any old thing and write some fake ones? Thanks for driving the genre even further away from respectability, Deadtime crew!

What say you?


Non Canon Review: The Faculty (1998)

JULY 25, 2012

LAST SEEN: 2000 (?) (DVD)

I remember reuniting a big chunk of the usual movie-going group for The Faculty, as it came out during Christmas break of our first year at college and thus everyone was together for the first time since the end of summer. But with the fun of seeing everyone again, I didn’t remember much about the movie until a few months later, when Dimension inexplicably re-released it and (during another visit back home) my friend and I saw it again (after Analyze This, if memory serves). And then I declared that it wasn’t perfect, but it was a charming attempt at blending the rampant teen genre of the late 90s with an acknowledged Body Snatchers story.

Actually, it’s in that scene where the movie hits its low point; as Elijah Wood and Clea Duvall discuss the possibility that previous alien invasion movies and books were warnings about when it happened for real, Wood includes Roland Emmerich along with Spielberg and Lucas, because in 1998 we still looked fondly on ID4. Now the joke almost needs to be explained, because his films are more about generalized destruction (or Shakespeare’s authenticity!), so a younger audience might not remember that he made an alien invasion film that was (sadly enough) the biggest hit of 1996.

Otherwise, the script hadn’t dated as badly as I feared, especially compared to Kevin Williamson’s other post-Scream films. The soundtrack is more offensive than anything, with the likes of Creed and Shawn Mullins covering Alice Cooper and David Bowie, not to mention the awful supergroup Class Of 99 churning out a Pink Floyd cover that was grating THEN. Now it’s almost comical. But the dialogue isn’t too overly clever; only Jordana Brewster’s character seems to have walked in from Woodsboro.

It’s also a treasure trove of great character actors (including the tragic Daniel Von Bargen, having a blast as a social studies teacher who doesn’t even care what chapter they’re on) and “faces to watch” – this was the first time I had seen Brewster or Severance’s Laura Harris, and was only Josh Hartnett’s second film after H20. And you got Piper Laurie, Robert Patrick, and Famke Janssen hanging around, plus a pre-Daily Show Jon Stewart, sporting a hilarious goatee and scoring one of the film’s most awkward lines (about putting a pen in his eye – it makes no sense at all other than to foreshadow the fact that he gets a pen in his eye an hour later).

I also like that it takes its time developing each of the kids on their own (almost none of them seemed to have much of a relationship with the others; Shawn Hatosy dated Brewster’s character and she worked on the school paper with Elijah Wood, but I think that’s it) before putting them in pairs, finally having them all converge around the halfway point. I assume Dimension’s budget forced them to trim down some set-pieces (even Rodgriguez’ Spy Kids movies have more action I think, and the ending here is quite abrupt), but I think it actually works in its favor – it’s a charmingly low-key affair, and works best when it’s just the kids standing around or working on a plan. Even if it’s a direct lift from The Thing, the scene where they test each other to make sure everyone’s human is easily the film’s highlight, mixing humor (they have to get high to prove they’re not alien) and suspense, since Williamson’s script had done a good job of keeping just about everyone a viable suspect. Actually it had been so long since I watched the movie that I forgot who was an alien in the scene; I remembered who the ultimate villain was, but couldn’t recall who was merely infected here.

On that note, I still don’t get how the character that gets their head removed (and spider-ized like, again, The Thing) manages to survive at the end. I can buy the “once the queen is dead the infection dies and the host is OK” process, but this person LOST THEIR HEAD. Otherwise, it’s also kind of charming to see that the body count is rather low, with everyone happy/changed at the end. The angle about the alien race allowing people to let go of their peer-pressured needs to fit in and such is sadly underplayed, but there’s enough of it to appreciate the epilogue (though why Zeke would join the football team is a bit of a puzzle). In fact, I am still curious if the movie was re-edited or something; it’s not noticeably short (104 minutes, just a few less than Scream) but I’ve always found it odd that Rodriguez almost never mentions it when discussing his work.

Nor did he provide a commentary, which is another rarity. In fact the film has never had any special features whatsoever, and this new Blu-ray follows suit – not even a trailer is included (indeed, the trailer had a few clips that weren’t in the movie). However, the transfer is terrific – one of the best I’ve seen on a Blu from Echo Bridge, and obviously a huge improvement from the DVD, which wasn’t even anamorphic. There are a few selections for sound as well – DTS lossless is the way to go, but there’s a 5.1 Dolby Digital track and PCM audio as well. Sounded great on my (not particularly stellar) system, I even turned it down as it was kind of late and didn’t have to fiddle to hear dialogue scenes.

Available for like 6 bucks at most outlets, it’s definitely worth the upgrade if you’re a fan, and if you’ve never seen it or haven’t checked it out from theaters, I think it holds up well. Some of the CGI effects aren’t really helped by the high def transfer, of course, but otherwise I found it just as enjoyable as I did back then. I’ve been debating whether to try to find a print for a HMAD screening – now I know it’s a good idea.

What say you?


Paranorman (2012)

JULY 25, 2012


My dad (who incidentally passed away 8 years ago today) was 35 when I was born, but I was also his third child. So I’m starting to feel like I’m “running out of time” when it comes to having kids, as I’m 32 and still on my, er, zero-th kid. Thus, when I see a terrific family movie like Paranorman, I get kind of bummed out – will technology advance to the point where my theoretical kid finds it too “old” by the time he exists for me to show it to him? I’m already terrified he’ll never be able to appreciate things like Legos or whatever.

See, the movie is very much a kids/family film, but it’s also a total joy for horror fans, and thus is exactly the sort of movie I’d want to show my children, assuming they wanted to be like their old man and live a life filled with Fangoria magazines and Dr. Loomis action figures. While it’s “scary” and dips into more mature subject matter at times (the back-story is essentially that of the Salem Witch Trials), I think I’d be OK showing it to a 5 or 6 year old, and an older kid should be able to enjoy it even if he’s already been introduced to Craven and Romero.

Because, as you learn early on, Norman is pretty awesome, and by that I mean he’s like us. He watches silly B- movies whenever he can, he’s got horror posters all over the wall… even his toothbrush has a zombie on it. And, as you might expect, his family and schoolmates think he’s weird and pick on him, but of course when something bad happens he’s the only one that can stop the town from being destroyed. So it’s a terrific moral for kids who might think that they’re different in some way, as it’s that very quality that allows Norman to be the hero. And he’s still a horror nerd at the end, instead of pulling a Grease and ending the movie on “change your ways to fit in!”

It’s also chock full of little references that will mean nothing and won’t distract those who aren’t in a position to understand them. The most overt is the Halloween ringtone gag that you’ve seen in the trailer (along with a Jason mask), but there are some other clever bits as well, like a gas station named Gunnar’s. And I’m not sure if you ever see the entire sign in the movie (it’s partially obscured by someone’s head) but the tavern is named “Bar Gento”, which is just plain awesome. I’m sure there were others in the sets and backgrounds, but I try not to spend my first time seeing a movie looking for Easter eggs.

Though, if I DID, this would certainly be the one to do it with, as I was consistently amazed by the sets and amount of characters that populate them. Save for a few CGI elements here and there, the entire movie was done with stop-motion animation, utilizing dozens of sets and characters that stand nine inches tall and have hundreds of heads for different facial expressions. It’s by far the most advanced of its type I’ve ever seen (topping even the same team’s Coraline), and I honestly can’t wait for the Blu-ray as I assume it will have behind the scenes pieces about the creation of this world. I’ve tried stop-motion myself a few times and have always loved it, but even by primitive, one character/one set (i.e. my bedroom floor) works took hours and hours – I can’t imagine how much manpower it takes to pull off, say, a crowd scene where they’re all waving torches and mucking about.

The 3D is also spectacular; not only can you engulf yourself in these sets, but the shots have a lot of depth to them (as opposed to comin at ya type stuff), fully bringing the world to life. And the slight dimming that occurs from the glasses (it SHOULD be slight, at least – you have to count on the theater knowing what they’re doing) actually adds to the horror feel, as you get a touch more of that cold New England look that the film has, but without losing any of its rich color.

My only minor issue was that the script didn’t quite gel as much as I’d like, particularly with regards to the ghosts. Early on, we see that Norman can see the spirits of pretty much everyone (and everything – a ghost bird!) that had died in the town, but this element never really factors into the rest of the movie – the ghosts are nowhere to be seen once the zombies rise from their graves and begin wreaking havoc. Instead, Norman teams up with some other teens (his pal, his sister, the town bully), and he keeps insisting that he’s the only one who can stop the curse, but the movie no longer shows us how he’s any different than them with regards to how to stop it. The film’s villain is also strangely underutilized – the first time we really see her is when Norman is basically starting the final battle. Not sure if all of this is a way to keep the film from potentially being too scary for kids, but it resulted in some abruptness to the storytelling, which should be the main goal.

But it’s a small complaint, as the movie never stopped entertaining me, and it’s much funnier than I was expecting – the dude trying to hide his weapon during the town meeting killed me, and Norman’s parents (Jeff Garlin and Leslie Mann) cracked me up almost every time they were on screen. Jon Brion’s score is also quite wonderful, and the rest of the cast is pretty great; Anna Kendrick in particular was terrific in her first feature voice role, and I was happy to see McLovin’ was playing a bully instead of his usual obnoxious nerd. I also like that they didn’t model the characters after the people doing their voices, as I find that distracting and weird.

All in all, a terrific “PG horror” entry that showcases the best stop-motion work I’ve seen, giving something for everyone to enjoy. I’d go see it again (with the 3D surcharge!), which is the highest compliment I can give nowadays. Enjoy!

What say you?


100 Ghost Street: The Return Of Richard Speck (2012)

JULY 24, 2012


It’s always fun to rent movies on Tuesday, the day they come out, because that means I’m the first and thus don’t have to worry about the disc being scratched or covered in awfulness (seriously, I’ve rented discs that looked like they were sexually abused). But there’s even more excitement when it’s a quickie Asylum production, because I might be seeing it before it even has an IMDb page – which turned out to be exactly the case for 100 Ghost Street: The Return Of Richard Speck. A quick search for “100 Ghost Street” turned up only the Asylum’s home page and a bunch of torrent links, so this review might be one of the first things you see in a day or two. Sweet!

As with many of their found footage films, it lacks a credit sequence (the website just has N/A for everything), so I’m not even sure who to credit for essentially remaking their own Gacy House and doing a better job this time. Maybe it’s someone who knows what they are doing, or maybe the crew from Gacy House learned from their mistakes and managed to churn out something that’s slightly more entertaining. Either way, assuming they don’t make more of them that continue to improve, if you absolutely have to watch one film about a paranormal team going to visit the home of a notorious serial killer and being dispatched by his ghost, then 100 Ghost Street is the one to choose.

Actually I’m not sure if they’re a paranormal team, however. The on-screen text just says they’re a “TV Crew” filming a documentary, so maybe they haven’t been well-versed in EVP and such. No matter, they’re just as (in)competent as the folks in Episode 50 or whatever, so it doesn’t really make a difference once the ghost makes its presence known and (spoiler) they realize they’re trapped inside the place. They DO have some pretty great equipment though – there’s a parabolic microphone for recording ghost sounds and even a little remote controlled robot camera that can investigate tight air vents and the like.

I was also impressed at how quickly the movie gets on with it, killing a random tech guy in the first few minutes and harassing the heroes with regular frequency starting around the 20 minute mark. As with Gacy, things get a bit sleazy when the ghost rapes one of the protagonists, which they can again justify since their villain WAS a rapist, but then again they make up a bunch of other stuff (including the title address – where the hell did they get that from?). And, of course, they could have simply just made up a fictional serial killer that DIDN’T rape people and thus it WOULDN’T be a pretty offensive movie from the ground up, but I’ll cut them some slack since the movie isn’t AS offensive this time (none of the heroes constantly dub things “retarded”, for example).

The acting is also better, with some nice chemistry between the Final Girl and her would-be boyfriend – there’s a bit near the end that’s actually touching (and here I’ll remind you that we’re on the Asylum grading curve). Some of the dialogue is still cringe-worthy, and I’d guess maybe a full 30% of the movie consists of people saying “Sarah?!” over and over, but again, it seems like they were putting some effort into making this somewhat believable this time. And there’s no séance scene, so we’re automatically in better territory. Again, since they’re just a TV crew, their attempts at calling him out are understandably a bit cheesy, and the movie works better when sticking to their blue collar, “I didn’t even want to be here” attitude, which is more plausible than these other ones I’ve watched lately, where supposed budding paranormal investigators say things like “Do an EVP”.

Back to Gacy, they actually make a little joke about him – comparing Speck’s mere eight victims to Gacy’s 33, one says that they should have gone to his house instead. This got me thinking about how amazing it would be if Asylum started an Avengers style shared universe, where characters from their Paranormal Activity ripoff movies began interacting with the folks from their giant monster films. It would be so wonderful for the 49 or so people like me who actually watch Asylum movies on a regular basis.

For a movie without credits or an IMDb page I guess it’s no surprise that there aren’t any bonus features either – just an endless trailer reel for other Asylum movies (including one with Sean Astin – how the hell did he go from LOTR to starring in Asylum junk in less than 10 years?). Hopefully I remember to check back in a few months when the filmmakers have been (presumably) outed, but then again maybe I’ll find out when they’re put in charge with writing a Chernobyl Diaries sequel or something. Either way, thanks for not being terrible. I used to think being merely forgettable was worse, but after 5+ years of HMAD, I’m starting to appreciate forgettable movies like this, because at least that usually means “competent” as well.

What say you?


The Summer Of The Massacre (2006)

JULY 23, 2012


There’s a movie called The Summer Of Massacre that supposedly has the world record for on-screen kills in a horror movie, and that’s what I thought I was renting. Instead, I got The Summer Of The Massacre, which adds a “The” but takes away about 150 deaths and, I can only hope, production value. Adding insult to injury, I actually OWN this damn movie already, as its included in the Decrepit Crypt set, which I “retired” due to the fact that the movies were all awful.

Unsurprisingly, Massacre is no exception. It’s laughably cheap, poorly directed/edited/acted/written, and is so blatant with its copying of Texas Chainsaw Massacre that it even copies some of its opening narration word for word from the mouth of John Larroquette. In fact I taped that part off the screen for your enjoyment (it goes very fast, might want to freeze frame so you can enjoy all of the typos and grammatical errors):

And that was as good as it got. Thus, same as it was for most of the other Decrepit Crypt movies I’ve watched, I spent most of the runtime wondering if I should just quit HMAD on the spot rather than finish it, because watching it served no purpose. I’ve already said everything I possibly can about this sort of crap, and now I even have people ragging on me for watching movies like this when I have so many titles on the recommendation thread I may never get to. So it’s not even worth watching for YOUR amusement!

For what it’s worth, the PRECISE reason this movie is a failure is the fact that it’s not really a movie, but a series of identical sequences strung together. Once our group of obnoxious young heroes go through the motions (traveling somewhere remote, getting lost, breaking down), there is no discernible difference to the rest of the movie – one of them goes off, encounters the killer (Hammer Head), runs around screaming as he grunts in pursuit, followed by a clumsily staged fight where every blow is off-screen, more running/screaming/grunting, followed – at long last – by their death. Then it starts over again. These scenes feature no dialogue beyond things like “NO!” and “Oh god!” or whatever, and the lack of any sort of actual prosthetic/makeup appliance means there’s never a good kill to at least make up for the tedium that preceded it. Hell after a while I began to wish that the director had opted for some cheap/bad CGI just to spice things up a little.

Also, the killer is the lamest in memory. He’s got a cheap mask on and wears a tie/shirt for some reason, and his weapon is a tiny little mallet that would fit in the top tray of your toolbox. His entire function in the movie is to run around grunting as he chased after his victims, all of whom manage to get away from him at least once (because if he did them in quickly, the movie would be even shorter than its 76 minute runtime), but that’s not even the main problem. If you notice, the Chainsaw films always have Leatherface as part of a family – that’s because by himself he’s boring, another generic mute killer. Apparently director Bryn Hammond didn’t pick up on that, so one of the few things he DOESN’T copy directly from Tobe Hooper (or Jeff Burr, or even Kim Henkel) ironically makes his movie even worse. Here he is getting stabbed by corn:

And here’s the kicker – this movie can be bought on its own for 15 dollars on Amazon. As shitty as it is, at least if it was confined solely to the Decrepit Crypt set I could shrug it off; the consumer is paying about 20 cents a movie, and thus the filmmakers are probably being compensated with pennies, identical to the ones they used to make their movies in the first place (as with others, this had no discernible budget – non-actors, consumer grade camera, sound seemingly recorded with the camera mic instead of separately, no sets, etc), and they should be happy that their movie got that much of a release. But as a consumer, I can’t condone the idea of slapping a professional cover on this nonsense and charging full price like it was a real movie – I can get a Blu-ray of The Dark Knight cheaper, in fact! You can and should watch better movies for free on Youtube.

In short, sorry for wasting your time by reviewing yet another terrible movie no one in their right mind would ever want to watch anyway.

What say you?


[Rec] 3 (2012)

JULY 22, 2012


There’s a twist of sorts roughly 15 minutes into [Rec] 3 that I’m not sure if we’re supposed to “spoil”, but since I can’t see how they can even advertise it without giving it away, I guess it’s OK. But I’ll do so after the break, so if you’re just seeing this review on the main page, you won’t even catch a whiff of it. For you guys, I’ll just say that this is a departure for the series that is quite entertaining and gory, but will disappoint if you wanted “more of the same”.

There are two key differences this time. The first is that it’s not found footage, though they do a fine (and hilarious) job of easing the audience into that switch. As the film begins, we’re seeing everything through the lens of a guy filming his cousin’s wedding, and there’s a professional wedding video character for a second angle on the proceedings – it’s pretty much status quo, right up until the first outbreak (nicely tied into the events of the first film – this one takes place on that same night, just in a different part of the city). Then the groom notices the guy filming and questions why he would be still filming everything instead of helping, and promptly breaks the camera. It’s only then that the title comes up, and when they fade back up, we’re in traditional movie mode – director Paco Plaza even changes the aspect ratio to 2.35:1 to further cement the change, and our first shot is of the camera on the floor as it dies.

Of course, the dialogue is a bit meta, with the groom essentially saying what someone says every time they watch a found footage movie. It’s a risky move for the guy who made one of the best films in the genre, to start off a sequel by mocking the very core of the genre, but as the film proceeds you can see that it’s not even its biggest gamble. Because not only is this not a found footage movie, it’s also not a serious one either – in fact it’s pretty damn goofy, often running closer to Dead Alive territory than the relatively somber tone of the others, where humor was sparse and used to deflate the tension every now and then. Here, it’s almost the opposite – the scares work because the audience has gotten used to giggling and cheering as the bride and groom separately fight off infected family members as they attempt to reunite.

And if you think I just mean “the gore is a bit more over the top” when I say the movie is goofy, you’re not even close. One of our heroes is the guy they hired to entertain the kids at the wedding, and he’s wearing a “SpongeJohn” (SpongeBob would be copyright infringement) costume for the whole movie, which is as silly as it sounds. But there’s more - the groom dons a suit of armor he finds in the church, the bride chainsaws off the train of her dress that would slow her down after telling her friend that she only invited her to be nice (the friend says she only came because she found a cheap ticket online), and an old man’s faulty hearing aid causes problems at the most inopportune time.

Now, all of this stuff is quite amusing (and makes the movie a must-see with a crowd), but then I didn’t know what to make of certain moments that might have been kind of touching if the tone of the movie beforehand was more on the serious side. Late in the film we learn one character is pregnant, and when faced with certain death she tells her baby daddy that he would have been a good father – it’s rather sad! But the audience was laughing as if it was another example of it being super silly. Then again I still tear up at Armageddon so maybe I’m not the best person to ask about the emotional beats in silly movies.

One thing bugged me on definite level, however – the zombies themselves. This time around, they’re slow and stumble around like in a Romero film, which is the total opposite of what we saw in the other two films. In fact, even though one of the guests had a bite that could cause the breakout at the wedding, we see a few random infected jumping through the windows and running around, so I’m not sure why the rest of them are on “slow zombie” side of things. At one point they even wait around so two human characters can finish their conversation! The religious angle still applies (if anything it’s more overt than the others) so it’s clearly the same strain – wonder what prompted this change other than “eh, if we’re changing the tone/format might as well change this too.”

On that note, I’m curious if Plaza and co. are just sick of these movies and wanted to have fun. This is the most silly movie any of them have been involved with to the best of my knowledge, so it feels like they wanted to try something and figured their best chance of doing so was to shoehorn it into their established, popular franchise, not unlike how Peter Berg was only able to get his original aliens on water movie made by refashioning it into Battleship. I think it’s funny/ballsy, but I can see how die-hard fans of the series might be insulted, not unlike Michael Myers junkies who hate on Halloween III.

My only other complaint is that it was too short, running a mere 80 minutes with credits. Not that a movie has to be 90-95 to satisfy, but it feels like there are a few missing beats in the story here, particularly with regards to the rest of the wedding guests. The zombies apparently decimate all but a handful within moments, which severely limits some of the potential for the comedy they aim for. For example, the groom’s friends seem like a fun group of party animals, however all but one of them just disappear and presumably become zombies instantly. Other characters are also written out too quickly, such as the awesome Atun (the professional wedding filmographer) and “Royalties”, a guy who was there to track which songs were being played to make sure the artists were compensated (I can’t help but wonder if this was a sly joke about the filmmakers themselves, as the first [Rec] was widely available through torrent sites and such for a while before it was finally given a proper release in the US). I know there’s a 4th film coming along as well – perhaps they had to split the budget between the two? It definitely felt a bit stunted at times, like they had to trim it to the bone.

Thus, it’s definitely a movie you want to see with a crowd if you can. At home (available now via VOD), its flaws might be a bit of a hurdle, but with everyone having a good time, laughing and cheering along, it was a blast. And with so many damn found footage movies coming along, it’s nice to see one of the format’s big guns doing their part to mix things up a bit.

What say you?


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