Jersey Shore Massacre (2014)

AUGUST 23, 2014


A while back, I was stunned to discover that Jersey Shore Shark Attack was a fairly enjoyable movie. Not a GOOD one, mind you, but certainly not the type that made me want to quit HMAD, unlike some other shark movies - and even more surprising since I loathe its namesake MTV show. Then again so did its filmmakers, I think, since they didn't exactly try to make them endearing or anything. And since I actually suggested tackling other sub-genres with the same approach, I figured I'd give Jersey Shore Massacre a shot; at best it'd be just as mindlessly entertaining as the previous movie, at worst I could walk next door to see something else*.

Well they did it again. I'd never watch it again - not even the few minutes I missed when the "projectionist" inexplicably began fucking around, stopping the movie for a while and then skipping ahead (blu-ray?) to "roughly" where we left off - but it held my attention and even genuinely entertained me at times. Plus, I can't even recall the last time I saw a new slasher movie in theaters (Hatchet III, I think?) so the sheer novelty of that was enough to win me over, as you know damn well how much I love my slasher movies.

The weird thing is, it seems writer/producer/director Paul Tarnopol does too, as the movie is chock full of what I have to assume are intentional homages (or lifts) from slasher fare of yore. But the choices are more inspired; he doesn't settle for Halloween or Friday the 13th references - he pulls out some deep cuts. A 3rd act sequence recalls Madman, there's a plot twist straight out of Just Before Dawn, and he even pays homage to a kill from Jason Goes To Hell (the only memorable one, so there's no need to wonder which one). He also lifts the great Slumber Party Massacre scene where they barricade a door in an upstairs bedroom only for the killer to come in through the window somehow. The line between ripping off and paying homage is pretty thin when it comes to something as junky as slashers (a genre more or less built on people ripping each other off), so I don't really care what he's doing - the point is he's SEEN these movies, so he's more qualified for the job than I expected from a "JWoww production". I assumed anyone who knew how to say the words "action" and "cut" would have been good enough.

Oddly, while the Shark one, if memory serves, just had one of the cast members in a cameo and thus the slams on him and his castmates weren't too surprising, it's kind of weird/fun that this has the same approach given that JWoww was the producer. Maybe she didn't notice, or hates her co-stars now, but either way this film shares Shark's tendency to make Jersey folks out to be total buffoons and assholes. One of the protagonists is a date rapist, another (who looks like Corey Haim and is apparently a parody of JS cast member Pauly D) drives a woman out into the middle of nowhere and leaves her there because she's a bit overweight, and it takes all of 7 seconds for the females of the group to hate some Hispanic girls who they repeatedly call "Chonga" (a racist term this movie introduced me to! Thanks?). Even the obvious Final Girl is a bit of a jerk; when one of the 'roided out males punches a mime for no reason at all, seemingly breaking his nose, she looks concerned for a second, then forgets all about him before he's even out of sight. You expect her to go over and apologize, invite him to the party, let him be the kindly male lead... but nah. They punch him and that's that.

Tarnopol also takes much glee in killing these goons. The film is much gorier than I expected, to the point where I assumed "torture porn" might come up in someone's review. There's a pretty grisly death involving a bike (?) chain being wrapped around someone's neck, and another guy gets his tattoos removed via belt sander. I figured it'd be more horror-comedy and the cast would mostly be left standing by the end (as was the case in Shark Attack) but no (SPOILERS!), the Final Girl is exactly that; the only other survivor of note is Ron Jeremy, the guy who was supposed to rent them a beach house (he screws up, hence why they go to a more horror movie friendly isolated cabin) who shows up again at the end to make a horrible porn joke. As is often the case I didn't bother watching a trailer beforehand (the title alone enticed me!); watching it now I realize that they actually made this a tagline ("You're not the only one who wants them dead"), a tactic I can't recall ever being used besides for House of Wax ("See Paris DIE!"), which is another movie this one recalls, incidentally.

I'm not sure if this counts as a complaint, but it's still worth mentioning - the movie really struggles to fill its bare minimum runtime. There's an overlong section where they watch a bad slasher movie called "Fat Camp Massacre" or something like that, so of course we get full scenes to pad things out. I guess it's supposed to be foreshadowing, but since a few people have died already at this point it's a bit late. Bizarrely, Tarnopol shot the main movie in 2.35 scope, but shows these movie-in-the-movie scenes at 1.78 - the reverse of how most filmmakers would do it. Mistake, or is he a rebel? Another scene that could have been dropped if it wouldn't keep the movie under the minimum is an inexplicable bit where a has-been local rapper named Italian Ice, who claims Vanilla Ice stole his career, performs his one hit song seemingly in its entirety. The character appears out of nowhere (seriously, he just starts talking off-screen and then we see him sitting at their table as if he was there all along), sings, then leaves the club and is never mentioned again, so I'm puzzled by his inclusion. Hilariously, when I watched the trailer I discovered that there was more that I missed when the projectionist screwed up, but the way it happened in our theater seemed natural (it cut as the girls were trying to decide what to do, and when it came back they were going to the beach - apparently there's a full sequence in between there where they go on a tour of the woods and learn about the Jersey Devil). So this clearly could have been cut as well, since it sort of WAS and I had no idea anything of significance had been missed. The projectionist even asked if this was where we (yes, there was one other guy there) left off, and I was confident all we missed was someone saying "Let's just go to the beach!".

The AVClub or one of those sites basically called this movie the death of cinema, but as always I assume the writer rarely if ever watches stuff like this and assumes it can't get any worse. On an average week of HMAD this might even be one of the better movies I watched, and it certainly wouldn't be the worst (if it was, that'd be a pretty good week!), so I hope you keep that in mind should you take this as any sort of recommendation. It's not a good movie, I will stress, but having seen a lot worse, and that it improved on my expectations, I walked away relatively impressed. If you enjoyed the shark one you will probably like this too, but if you're hating it after 10 minutes, just fast forward the next 20 until they start dying horribly (plus you want to stick to the end to appreciate the legitimately amazing sight gag involving a cop trying to plant a gun), and enjoy for different reasons! You win either way!

What say you?

*On the adjacent screen was a 30 minute documentary called Metallica: This Monster Lives, which I guess is a sort of update/sequel to their incredible documentary Some Kind of Monster. I can't condone paying full ticket price for something that barely lasts longer than the trailer reel, but I'm damn curious about this.



I've been doing HMAD shows at the New Beverly for almost 5 years now, and in that time only one movie has sold out: Nightmare on Elm Street 4. Granted it's the series' biggest hit (until FvJ came along anyway), and we had a lot of cast, but I was still surprised that it was more of a draw than even Scream or Halloween II (both quite crowded, but not quite sold out). At the time, I promised the crowd to come back in 2014 for the next one, and I'm a man of my word, so on August 23rd, at 11:59pm, I'll host the 25th anniversary screening of Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, in glorious 35mm!

I've always gone back and forth on this entry; sometimes I just can't deal with "Super Freddy" and the weirdo plot involving Alice's unborn child, other times I appreciate the darker tone (compared to 4 and 6 anyway) and less populated cast, making it feel more like the original than the crowded 3rd and 4th films. And unlike Michael and Jason, I actually enjoy getting little pieces of Freddy's backstory, so the flashbacks here (including one with Robert Englund sans makeup) were highlights. Also, while it's a bit vague in the finished product (this one had a lot of rewriting during production), I liked the concept behind this group of teens, where they all had less than desirable home lives and overbearing parents. By this point we can assume none of the kids being targeted were actually children of the parents who killed Freddy all those years before, so I like that they were able to at least attempt a thematic "sins of the parent" idea, even if it doesn't fully play. Also this is the last sequel I need to see on 35mm, so I can cross off another entry on my bucket list!

But really the reason this one is worth watching is for Lisa Wilcox, promoted to full heroine after having to awkwardly share the limelight with the Dream Warriors in the last movie. I'll never get why they didn't have her back for the 6th one since she didn't die and was quite loved by the fans, but it's their loss - and I'm happy to report that Ms. Wilcox will be returning to the New Bev for Q&A, as I guess she had enough fun last time to spend another Saturday night talking to us nerds! She said she would reach out to one of her co-stars, hopefully that works out and we can announce him/her as well!

The New Beverly is located at 7165 Beverly Blvd in Los Angeles, 90036 (2 blocks west of La Brea). Street parking is easy to find - Formosa is your best bet, usually (just watch the signs on the other side streets as some of them are permit only). Tickets are 8 bucks cash or card at the door, or online at BrownPaperTickets. I'll have some DVDs to hand out for dumb trivia questions, and as always the Q&A will be BEFORE the movie, so get there on time! The nightmare begins at 11:59 pm on Saturday, August 23rd!

And once again the awesome Jacopo Tenani has designed an eye-catching promo ad for the show - if you are so inclined to use it on your blog to tell your friends about the screening, please credit him!


The Possession Of Michael King (2014)

AUGUST 7, 2014


I forget if it was here or in a BAD article, but I recently came to the conclusion that the reason I am less critical of possession/exorcism movies than many of my peers is that I saw The Exorcist relatively late considering when I started watching horror movies - I was 19, well over a decade after my first viewings of Texas Chain Saw, Friday the 13th, etc. So I was already a bit desensitized (and had probably seen a couple of its knockoffs), and thus it didn't give me the nightmares and permanently scarred psyche that those who saw it when they were 10 or 12 have had ever since. And in turn, when a movie like The Possession of Michael King comes along and fails to be "as scary as The Exorcist" (now and forever the point of comparison), it's not as big a deal to me - I quite like Friedkin's film and recognize its power, but it's not so important to me than the average knockoff can't ever be enjoyed.

Incidentally I saw Exorcist for the first time right around the same time (possibly even the same week) as Blair Witch Project, which remains the alpha and omega of found footage movies, at least with regards to how realistic the device is implemented. I can't recall if it says so in the film or if it's just part of the well-established lore surrounding the film thanks to the website and Sci-Fi Channel specials, but the story goes, the police found Heather and Josh's footage out in the woods, all out of order and unmarked. Having no idea what to do with it, they gave it to the local film school and asked them to piece together the events in order so that they could use it for their investigation. So any "movie-like" moments had that built in explanation, not that they indulged in it beyond adding comic relief at the top of the film. Michael King, on the other hand, lacks any sort of explanation for how we're seeing what we are, which had me (and my friend) questioning the presentation. Why did it have score? Who put it together for us to watch? Why do his home videos of his wife, clearly shot with a digital camera, have an 8mm color tint and framing to them?

However, it otherwise DOES justify the gimmick a lot better than many others of late; after the wife's death via car accident (which he blames on a psychic telling her to be somewhere to catch a job opportunity that never actually came - had she carried on with her original plans she wouldn't have been in the spot where she was hit), our hero Michael takes it upon himself to make a documentary to prove that psychic readings, demons, spirits, etc are not real. His hope is that by proving there is no truth behind any of this stuff he can help someone else avoid the same fate as his wife - so of course within 15 minutes we see proof that demons and such are in fact real. He tries to rationalize it at first, and then spends a good chunk of the movie trying to vanquish whatever has possessed him. All of this is pretty standard stuff, we get jump scares, moments where he can't remember what he just did, he scares his family members... other than the rare sight of a male going through these motions (Regan, Emily Rose, Nell Sweetzer... demons sure love the ladies) it's nothing to write reviews about, really.

But then there's a twist of sorts - the demon pretty much completely takes over, and his sister has taken his daughter out of harm's way after he clearly kills the family dog. So you have a third act that's almost entirely a one-man show where a fully possessed guy is smashing up his house, talking about bugs, or (when briefly getting control) trying to kill himself. And even the "Why are they filming?" question has a good answer for once - not only did he set up cameras around the house (because of course) but he has a little pen-sized cam on his neck (two of them actually, it's a sort of collar) that I guess the demon didn't see the need to remove. So you get unusual angles on the action (particularly during a bit where he assaults the guy who helped him conjure the demon), and a refreshing lack of people filming their friends getting murdered, which is what most FF movies end up doing. Again, there's no real explanation for how we're seeing this footage (he seemingly destroys the computer that I assumed had contained all the footage), but at least the in-moment logic works.

It's unfortunate that writer/director/producer/etc (the giant ass credits at the end made his repeated crediting of himself all the more obnoxious) David Jung insisted on attempting to make the audience deaf by the end of his 80 or so minute movie. Not one for subtle scares, he constantly goes for the increasingly tiresome (particularly in FF movies) approach of adding loud distortion out of nowhere to make the movie theoretically more terrifying. It may work on occasion (i.e. the first time), but by the end it gets pretty numbing and obnoxious - you can sense when they're coming (the movie will get quiet) and plug your ears while rolling your eyes. I like that he used camera distortion to add to the effect (as if the demon was possessing the camera as well), but as with all types of scares, less is more - had he been a bit more selective with this concept, the movie as a whole would have been better. You could sense the audience getting tired of having their ears assaulted; eventually it became a bit like one of those internet gags where they tell you to stare at a picture and then Pazuzu will appear accompanied by a loud noise - except 20 times in a row.

But there was enough I liked to give it a pass. Michael's driving force was rather touching (it's very rare I feel sad for anyone in a modern horror flick, let alone a found footage one), and other than a painful "homage" at the very end I thankfully wasn't being reminded of Exorcist every 5 minutes (or Last Exorcism, an even more apt comparison given the found footage approach). The occasional bits of humor were well implemented, and the pacing was fast, which is always tough for a FF film. And it was vastly more entertaining than the ghost hunter guy who talked before the movie and played some audio recordings of potential EVP - it's hard enough to buy into this stuff when we're seeing it on Ghost Hunters or whatever, but when it's a guy just playing audio? We just have to take his word for it that the "get out" we hear wasn't added later or staged at the time? And that was one of the better ones; another one he played sounded like someone's cell going off. Ooooh. This pointless diversion kept me from sticking around for the Q&A as I had to get back to my own demonic entity (a piss-happy baby), which I felt bad about since my friend was moderating, but made me feel guilty about my own Q&As as they are always before the movie (since we're at midnight and the guests probably don't want to stick around until 2 am). I hope I'm not that boring when you just want to watch the movie!

What say you?


Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (2014)

AUGUST 4, 2014


I don't know why Image/RLJ is putting Cabin Fever: Patient Zero into theaters (or at least, A theater) beyond, I guess, the ability to say it was a theatrical release when selling it elsewhere or marketing to someone. Maybe it was a contractual thing? It's certainly not because of the quality - it's technically proficient and boasts some pretty terrific FX courtesy of Vincent Guastini, but the script is laughably bad and the concept flimsy; at times it manages to make the average DTV movie look good. So if you absolutely must see this thing, watch it on VOD or Blu-ray where it belongs - don't shell out $12.50 like I did, with the minor optimism that it was getting this shot because it deserved it.

I mean, it certainly couldn't be the name brand alone that got it there, right? Eli Roth's original was over a decade ago, and it wasn't exactly a trend-setter - his next film, Hostel, was the one that helped launch a wave of similar films; I don't recall being inundated with "Cabin Fever ripoffs". And the first sequel was fun but released without much fanfare due to the well publicized production issues (with director Ti West wanting his name off the film, for starters), making it hard for me to believe that the words "Cabin Fever" have the same drawing power as, say, "Hellraiser" (another series that curiously got back its (barely) theatrical mojo with its last installment). And it doesn't seem like a very lucrative gamble - there were 4 others in the screening with me (the one show this theater - the only one in Los Angeles showing it - offers per day), and even less over the weekend when my friend Joe went - he said besides him and his friend, the only other person in the theater was incredulous that they watched it, only to reveal he was the father of one the actors which is why he "had" to sit through it! Hah!

Furthermore, if it's the name brand they're banking on, why the hell did they make a movie that barely feels like a Cabin Fever movie? It's definitely the same flesh-eating virus, so this doesn't appear to be a case of someone slapping a franchise name on an unrelated movie like the Italians used to do. The first two may have had different sensibilities and influences, but they were both Troma-ish with their gleeful application of the humor and gore blend, keeping actual scares to a minimum in favor of gooey fun. Not the case here; beyond a somewhat amusing catfight between virus-stricken ladies that are literally tearing each other apart (sadly shot in the dark so you can barely appreciate the carnage), there's nothing really fun about the movie at all. Considering that the plot is about a bachelor party gone horribly wrong*, it's insane to think that the movie never really has any of the debauchery that the other films reveled in - even the pisspoor (and way too obvious) attempt to match the "fingerbang misfire" scene from the original lacks any perverse joy. You're just wondering when they'll get to the obvious reveal (one of our heroes goes down on his girlfriend, who already shows signs of infection. Guess what happens when she climaxes?), and probably even let down that they only offer a shot of his face instead of the, er, infected area (come on, you know Eli woulda had 3 cameras on that thing!).

And those are the only highlights! The rest is pretty tame and not particularly interesting or exciting. The subtitle refers to Sean Astin's character, whose family has been ravaged by the disease (off-screen, before the movie began) and seems to be immune, which prompts a couple of scientists (including one that has her cleavage exposed at all times, another thing that SHOULD be exploitative fun but just seems like a jackass producer making a suggestion no one questioned) to quarantine him and run tests to see if his blood can provide a cure. Meanwhile, our hero is being taken to his bachelor party by his brother, his best friend, and a female childhood pal who is with his brother but clearly has her sights set on him. The party is nothing more than sitting on a virgin beach and drinking beers/smoking weed, which is not only kind of lame in conception but also lame for a horror movie about a flesh eating virus - there are actually fewer people here than in the first film (to say nothing of the well-populated sequel). There is a brief hope that they will just bring the virus to the wedding and let havoc be wreaked, but nope - the bride and everyone else at the wedding is written out almost as soon as they are introduced. I guess at one point this was pitched as "Hangover meets Cabin Fever!" but somewhere along the line any notion of fun or even all out chaos was dropped. I'm sure they didn't have a blank check, but even if they were forced to limit how many infected victims we see, they didn't have to keep what was left from being fun.

Here's what they DID keep (assuming there ever WAS any idea of doing more, of course): our heroes (brothers) fighting over a girl, generic drama about the hero abandoning his best friend/business partner to work for his father-in-law (the specifics of either job are never made clear), a convoluted "twist" about how the virus has been spread, an endless sequence where two of our heroes walk through dimly lit tunnels and encounter what appear to be zombies, and even an honest-to-God "old gypsy woman forewarns of danger" scene. The latter is a particular eye-roller, it's the equivalent of smashing a fruit cart in an action movie car chase, or running to the airport in a rom-com - at this point it's practically passe to even make fun of such things, let alone try to do it straight. Jake Wade Wall has never written a good movie (his best is the 2007 Hitcher, which was so close to the original they had to list Eric Red - who had NOTHING TO DO WITH IT - as a co-writer instead of the usual "based on" credit you'd see in a remake), but a lot of this is terrible even by his standards.

Another issue is that there's no real reason for keeping the two storylines separate, as there's no twist to the moment where they finally converge. I spent a good chunk of the movie assuming there was some Saw II style scenario where we were seeing one present timeline and another that occurred days or even weeks before, but no - when the bachelor party guys stumble across Astin and the scientists it's clear that their respective events have been occurring more or less simultaneously. So why are they kept apart for as long as they are? When the guys are heading to the island they spot the building on the opposite side from their destination beach, and it's quite clear that it's the medical facility, but yet the movie doesn't actually "reveal" that for another 45 minutes. Part of the problem with both storylines is that they're way too underpopulated, with four characters each; at least if they were combined earlier (there's only like 20-25 minutes left when they meet up) there could be some additional tension as alliances are created or shattered. It might have also allowed them to reveal their stupid twist in a less clunky way (without spoiling it, as the credits roll we get a bunch of flashbacks poorly explaining how ____ was able to manipulate the others, though WHY this person is doing it is still unclear).

All of the above is more disappointing when you consider that everything that isn't the script actually ain't all that bad. The acting is fine, director Kaare Andrews stages some solid sequences (particularly the opening, slo-mo bit with Astin reacting to his dead family), the score has a touch of Ravenous to it (awesome!), and again, Guastini's FX are terrific. The underlit photography aside, there's nothing technically wrong with the movie (great titles, too), but it's all in service of a script that is convoluted for no reason and focuses on horribly vague characters, not to mention not very likable ones. Most of the characters in the original were assholes too, but the sense of humor made it work - we liked seeing them get what was coming to them, when applicable. These guys are just jerks, but the serious tone makes me think I'm supposed to be a bit concerned for their well-being. Even when it DOES get a bit exploitative, like the catfight, it doesn't feel like anyone's heart is really in it.

So we have a wholly unrelated sequel (CF2 had a few returning characters, if you recall - this doesn't even take place in the same country) with a tone that is a complete 180 from the others, making me wonder who exactly this movie is for. Won't CF fans be annoyed at the lack of humor, not to mention weirdness? Where's this movie's "Pancakes!"? Is it a prequel to the others, since the virus appears to be new? If so, why set it so far away? I know there's a fourth film (seemingly with a different creative team; Wall is not writing, thankfully), so maybe that will bridge them together more successfully, but will anyone show up to find out? I can't imagine, 12 years after the first film and 4-5 after the not-loved 2nd one, that anyone will be salivating over another entry after this one. Not every horror fan shares my OCD obsession with sticking with franchises until they are completely done (if I can stick around through all 11 Puppet Masters when I've only liked 2 of them, I can certainly get to a 4th Cabin Fever). Horror fans may be more forgiving than with other genres, but even we have our limits.

What say you?

*Also the plot of Hostel III. I guess this is just what you do when making threequels to Eli Roth movies. Least we know if Thanksgiving ever gets made they have a story to end the trilogy!


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