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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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

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

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

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


New Beverly All Night Horrorthon (2017)

OCTOBER 7, 2017


For the past couple years I've written up my New Beverly All Nighter experiences for BirthMoviesDeath, but I had to post something else this week and HMAD's been getting neglected so I figured I'd bring it back here for a change. It was a fitting one to do it with - for the first time ever, I had seen every film that they showed, which I attribute to truly HMADing it all those years ago (i.e. not the couple times a month thing I do now). Four of the movies indeed have HMAD reviews tied to them, and the other two I had seen before I started the site; I was legit kind of stunned that Phil Blankenship and Brian Quinn - who go out of their way to find rarely shown stuff rather than expected "draws" - didn't find anything even I had never unearthed. I assume that it will never happen again, so let me pat myself on the back a bit for this one-time achievement.

Of course, regular readers know how much I "love" to fall asleep during the movies, so thankfully I didn't miss anything I hadn't seen before when I inevitably dozed off. A couple of the films they've shown in the past were so rare that you can't really find them (such as Screams of a Winter Night, which Amazon doesn't even stock on used VHS, let alone DVD or whatever), making my naps frustrating as I can't see what I've missed, but this year's crop, while obscure (and largely to my liking), have all been released on DVD, some even on Blu-ray. But as they assumed, I had never seen any of them on 35mm before, and given that they played one of my all time favorites on what is said to be the only surviving prints, I have no complaints about the lineup overall. Nor did the crowd, it seemed - only a small handful of people left during the evening, a far cry from years' past where the (always sold out) theater would be only about half full by the end.

This is, of course, due to the secretive nature of the marathon, as we are not told the titles of any of the films that are playing. It's only when the title (or, if you're a credit junkie like me, the "So and so presents" card) appears on screen that you know what you're about to watch, and so it's hard to justify leaving when you could be denying yourself the chance to see a favorite film on the big screen, possibly the only chance you'll ever get to do so. Sure, you can leave when the 6th film starts if it's not to your liking, but there's always a reward for staying and they tend to be worth waiting another 90 minutes to obtain, in addition to the bragging rights. So what did we see this year? What was our prize? Read on to find out!

4:40pm - I leave my house. I wanted to leave earlier, but my wife had things to do and I was watching our kid. Luckily my friend Jared, as always, got there insanely early to tough it out (it was 90+ degrees that day - October in Los Angeles kind of sucks) and ensure we got our preferred seats in the second row, which has slightly more leg room than the other rows - a godsend for me as I broke my big toe (the right one) the other day and was not particularly comfortable, so every little extra bit of room I could get, I wanted. There was some attempt at a "no seat saving" system where people got numbered tickets to file in, and those people could only save one adjacent seat, which was stressing folks out as we waited outside. I don't think it's particularly fair to try to break friends apart when they might be unable to get there as early (would they rather people cut the line?), especially when so few seats open up during the evening, but I can see how people saving excess number of seats until the minute it starts would be a problem. Hopefully they can rethink this process and do it fairly for future events.

6:15pm - The doors open and the numbered folks file in, but the system kind of falls apart and we all get to sit together anyway, and everyone else seemed to be happy with their seats as well (nor did anyone ask "Are those free?" for the two or three seats that were vacant as other friends were still waiting to get inside). Had the system worked as intended, I might have been stuck far away from my friends all night, which sucks when I was the one who secured our damn tickets! But whatever; it all worked out - no harm no foul! For the next hour and change we just yak about the usual stuff: what will show? When should we get pizza? How often am I going to fall asleep? I also buy two holiday themed sodas: a pumpkin cola and a ginger beer that had a werewolf on it (I no longer recall what the werewolf had to do with the ginger beer part of it). I decided that I would refrain from sugary stuff this year as it tends to give me a little energy boost but then crash, increasing my likelihood of falling asleep, but I can't pass up a pumpkin cola. Plus I knew I'd be getting pizza later and ain't nothing tastes better with pizza than a cold soda, dammit.

7:30pm - Phil and Brian take the stage for their intro. They promise that one of the prints that will be playing had never been shown anywhere before, and that the others probably hadn't played since their original release. They also note that they have a cutoff date of ten years, so if a film had played around 2007 or later, it would be ineligible. Since that's when I started going to the theater a lot, that dramatically increased the likelihood that I hadn't seen any of the films on 35 before, as they rarely show the sort of films I would have been able to see in my multiplex back in the day.

7:37pm - The lights dim for the first time and we are treated to an insane Disney short about the history of Halloween, hosted by a mushy pumpkin puppet and peppered with clips from Mickey cartoons, The Headless Horsemen, the Haunted Mansion ride, etc. It was ostensibly meant for kids, but I suspect any 4 year old watching it would have nightmares and/or hate the holiday as a result, since it actually goes into its Druid origins ("DRUIDS!!!" the narrator bellows at you) and warns about poisoned candy. As an adult? It might have been my favorite thing of the night, because it was so misguided and insane (like some of the films were) but also MEANT FOR CHILDREN.

7:45pm - Trailer reel #1! Traditionally, the trailer reel hints at what the movie will be, though it can be tough to decipher the clues as it could just be that a star from the trailer is in the movie, or they have similar settings, or were just also out during the same year - or a combination of those things. Inexplicably, I had a guess after the first trailer (April Fool's Day) because it was another movie from 1986, but then the next few trailers were sorority slashers (House on Sorority Row, Sorority House Massacre, Hell Night) and I started doubting my first choice, although I couldn't think of anything else that would fit. But then the trailers ended and the title came up - and I was right! Somehow from "also 1986 slasher" I managed to guess...

7:55pm - KILLER PARTY (1986)
Turns out the 1986 thing was a coincidence - the trailer was included because both films are set on, you guessed it, April Fool's Day, an element I had forgotten as I hadn't seen Killer Party in about twenty years. All I really remembered is that the film had a double fakeout opening (it starts on a scene that turns out to be a movie someone is watching, and then it turns out that someone is the star of a music video that our heroine is watching), that the killer wore one of those Bioshock-style diving suits, and that Paul Bartel was in it. Things I didn't realize then and was delighted by now: it was written by Final Chapter's Barney Cohen (who named Bartel's character after TFC director Joe Zito), the requisite nerdy guy was played by Ralph Seymour from Fletch, and it was shot at the same college used for Urban Legend.

It's also a total blast; the pacing is a bit wonky but there is plenty of humor (intentional and not) to keep things lively in between kills, and it's got a great inversion of the usual "Final Girl" stuff as the one you expect to take on that role ends up being possessed and offing everyone (though two people die before the possession happens so I'm not sure who killed them). It's got some Porky's/Police Academy level pranks that an uptight blogger might refer to as "problematic" today because they don't understand that attitudes change over time, but thankfully the New Bev crowd has an open mind and is largely intelligent enough to put a thirty-plus year old film in its proper context instead of judging it by today's less cavalier attitudes. That said, it's also a product of the time when the MPAA had no tolerance for blood, so the movie often feels like a TV edit - but in a way it kind of adds some mystery to the movie. Given the April Fool's setting and off-screen kills, it's possible to suspect everything is just a big prank, and then be surprised when it turns out that our heroine really did just murder like ten people because she was possessed by some vengeful ghost.

9:25pm - The movie ends with rapturous applause. In retrospect, it was probably the winner of the night, as it was one of the least seen movies out of the six and it was arguably the most crowd-pleasing, as the others lacked the comedic angle that made Killer Party such a great way to kick off the festivities. At this point I order pizza with some friends, and miss part of the trailer reel to run across the street and pick it up. In keeping with my "no sugar" rule I skip the dessert pizza for the first time ever, but I do get the garlic knots. I ain't kissing anyone, so whatever.

9:45pm - Trailer reel #2! I missed most of it, but it was H-Man, Frankenstein 1970, Konga, and Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (I walked in during the tail end of Konga). Since movie #2 was always a black and white film, and I missed the first couple of "clues", my only guess from Konga (a simian) and Transplant (mad science) was that it was The Ape, a dreadfully slow poverty row thing with Karloff that I watched on one of my budget packs, but it turned out to be...

10:00pm - THE MANSTER (1959)
I was close! It was another mad scientist movie I saw on a budget pack, though it was much better than The Ape. I forgot how much I loved the film's protagonist, an average Joe who is injected with a drug that not only turns him into the titular monster, but also loosens his inhibitions and leads him to start boozing it up and cheating on his wife. The "highlight" is when his wife, who expected him to return home by now (he's an American working in Japan), shows up and tells him to choose her or his girlfriend. He walks up to his wife, seemingly ready to apologize, then turns to the mistress and snarls "Come on, let's go find someplace and finish the evening!" I also loved how the actor was my age but looked way older (and said he was only 35, which brought the house down even though it was pretty close to the truth), and the abrupt ending is even funnier with a crowd. I dozed for a little chunk of the middle and missed my favorite line, however (click on the full review for the explanation, I hate repeating myself) so that was a bummer.

11:15pm - The movie ends and I take one of many trips to my car to get another bottle of water, as I will be skipping the usual coffee this evening as well. I realized last year that it's pointless - I fall asleep anyway, but then start feeling weird because of all the extra caffeine in my system (we get free refills all night - I usually partake two or three times). I figure water is healthier, and then leaves my system free of caffeine so I can actually drink a cup at the normal time in the morning.

11:30pm - Raffle time! I don't win anything.

11:40pm - It's tradition to show more than just movies, and we get one such extra now: a 1983 short film named Disciples of the Crow, based on Children of the Corn, making it a "dollar baby" I believe. It's pretty faithful to the story until the ending - Vicki and Burt are not killed, but drive off (albeit with an overheating car), hoping to find rescue. It's basically how The Mist story ended, actually. I guess it was released on VHS with some other dollar babies, and you can see it on Youtube if you're interested - it was fun to see it adapted without all of the padding that the two feature films had added (King's story is only like 20 pages), but the abrupt ending was disappointing.

12:00am - Trailer reel #3 kicks off with Madman, relieving me as that meant the movie would not BE Madman, which I have little patience for. It's followed by Pranks (aka Dorm that Dripped Blood) and I realize that they're both slashers from 1982. I have a guess, but it's too good to be true and I've never considered myself that lucky. Then we get Visiting Hours and The Slayer, both also from 1982, and I start getting hopeful as 1982 wasn't a huge slasher year and there aren't a lot of options. Then Without Warning comes up, showcasing Jack Palance and Martin Landau, which all but confirmed I was right and we were about to see...

12:10am - ALONE IN THE DARK (1982)
Yes! YES!!!! I love this movie and always requested it for HMAD screenings, but a print could never be found. Phil finally dug one up, and while it wasn't exactly pristine (faded and scratched - though no disruptive damage except around the tails) I was beyond ecstatic to finally see it on the big screen. I was actually just talking about it a few days ago with Eric Vespe ("Quint") as it was on TCM or one of those and he was taking shots at Valentine for stealing the nosebleed thing (and I of course had to defend my boy Jamie Blanks, who freely admitted he was paying homage to the film, rather than pretend it was a coincidence as some filmmakers do), but didn't even dare assume it might show up at this or any other screening since the prints were apparently impossible to find. Oddly, I could have seen Erland van Lidth ("Fatty") on the big screen twice this week, as he also appeared as Dynamo in The Running Man which showed at Beyond Fest, but I bailed after Predator (it was a double feature with Arnold Q&A) as my foot was hurting real bad and missed out. Didn't realize he had passed away, making Phillip Clark (The Bleeder himself) the only surviving member of the four psychos that terrorize the Potter family. Donald Pleasence is gone too, of course, so they better get cracking on a special edition of this underrated gem before there's no one alive left to talk about it.

1:40am - The movie ends and I go to my car to charge my phone, as it's nearly dead by now and I need it to keep track of the times for this very article. I lucked out this year and got a spot on Beverly a block away - I'm usually way down on one of the side streets, which would have been a nightmare with my foot making me hobble around. I think this is when I took all the pictures too.

1:55am - Trailer reel #4 has Demon Seed, Rosemary's Baby, The Brood, The Seventh Sign, and Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. I guess Manitou early on, and kept holding out hope even though I knew the evidence was starting to point directly at...

2:05am - IT'S ALIVE (1974)
Hadn't seen this one since I reviewed it, which was long before I had a kid of my own. So now I totally get the dad trying to save the thing at the end of the movie, and felt horrible for the poor "baby" when it howled or whatever. It's crazy how I take completely different things away from some films when I watch them as a dad, and I hope time allows me to revisit others in the same vein, as it might be worth writing about in some fashion. Anyway, the print was a bit faded, but it was a great find and turned out to be the last movie of the evening that I saw more than I slept through (I went out for about 20 minutes in the middle somewhere).

3:45am - The movie ends and as has been tradition for the past couple years, a large supply of donuts are delivered to give everyone a sugar high to power through the final two films, which will be presented without intermission. I am tempted, but I stick to my "no sugar" rule and settle for a now-cold slice of our pizza. I retrieve my phone, which didn't charge up as much as I wanted (turns out I still had a few apps running in the background, slowing its ability to recharge) and send out my last tweet of the evening, as I'm too tired to bother until later. From here on the times are VERY approximate as I was also too tired to keep notes.

4:00am - Trailer reel #5 kicks off with The Dead Are Alive, followed by The Blood Drinkers, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here, and The Werewolf vs The Vampire Woman. I had guessed it was a Paul Naschy film from Phil and Brian's intro (promising an international horror icon whose films don't show here all that often), but I was so tired I couldn't remember his name, coming up with a jumbled version of his Waldemar Daninsky character ("Vladimir Pazinsky", I think) instead. Jared reminds me of it when I say "They did a Scream Factory boxed set this year", though since he has so many films I was not expecting it to be one of the films that was actually on that set, namely...

4:10am - NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1981)
This print was actually titled The Craving, as it was the US release that was also slightly cut from what I understand, though hell if I know what was missing. This is one of his slower paced films, but they usually like to show such fare in this slot in case people WANT to take a nap, and many do. At one point in between my own frequent dozes (I had just rewatched the movie when the boxed set came out) I looked around and except for Jared, everyone I knew was asleep. It's a pretty good movie, and I was very happy to see the lovely Azucena Hernández on the big screen (not to mention my first time seeing a Naschy film on 35), but it's just not the sort of thing any reasonable person could stay engaged with at 4 o'clock in the morning. If you were there and hadn't seen it before, give it a shot under more suitable conditions!

5:50am - Trailer reel #6 offered Dr. Giggles, Lawnmower Man, Candyman, Dead Alive, and Army of Darkness - all films from 1992 (yes, pedantic people, Army of Darkness came out in 1993, but it is listed as 1992 on IMDb due to festival appearances). Our only other clue came earlier from Phil, who told us that the film had only made $5,000 during its theatrical run. I couldn't guess for the life of me; the only thing I could come up with was Popcorn, but I seemed to recall that it made a lot more than that (and it turned out it was from 1991 anyway), but Jared, soundtrack expert that he is, heard maybe three notes of the opening theme and correctly identified...

6:00am - THE VAGRANT (1992)
Oof. I was NOT a fan of this one when I watched it in 1995 or 1996, despite the starring trio of character actors I loved (Bill Paxton, Michael Ironside, and Marshall Bell), and while I was curious about a revisit, I dozed through two big chunks (including the ending) so I can't provide a reasonable "second look" opinion. I can say that for the first 30-35 minutes I saw before falling asleep the first time that I was still baffled as to who exactly the movie was aimed at, as it was a horror-comedy without any real scares or funny jokes. Bell's makeup as the title character is outstanding and it's fun to see Paxton as a beta male, but it felt like one of those movies that got made without anyone giving the script a second draft. Scream Factory recently released the film on a pack with a few others, so I'm sure I can borrow it from someone to see if what I missed will make the movie click for me, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Just watch Of Unknown Origin instead - it's similar (yuppie white collar guy sees his house torn apart by an unwelcome guest, becomes unraveled) but doesn't feel like it came out of the oven before it finished baking. I should have left, but I wanted my prize, dammit!

7:30am - Vagrant ends and we are treated to a typically insane Woody Woodpecker cartoon where he attempts to murder a witch who stiffed him 50 cents on broom repair, followed by the National Anthem (no one makes any kneeling jokes, that I heard anyway). We pack up our things and head to the lobby, where we are gifted with... pint glasses commemorating the event! I recently acquired a love of vanilla whiskey mixed with ginger ale, and the glass is perfect for such a concoction (I down them while playing Friday the 13th - JGrayland23 is my PSN name if anyone ever wants to try to play) so I was very glad I suffered through what I saw of The Vagrant instead of heading home earlier. Normally everyone takes a picture in front of the marquee but in a span of ten seconds I saw most of the people I was sitting with walk off in different directions, so I shrugged and headed for my own car, taking solace with the thought that I'd be getting that much more sleep when I got home.

As I get older it gets harder and harder for me to stay awake for any reasonable amount of time for these things, but I'd rather die than keep trying. It's just too fun overall to decide to skip it just because I end up unconscious for sizable chunks of it (and really, with a 40 minute drive home after, it's really for the best that I am not trying to do it when I've been awake for what would be nearly 24 hours at that point). Even if I've seen every movie, it's been on VHS or DVD and probably by myself - ever since they switched to an all secret lineup there has only been a single film that I had seen on the big screen before (Messiah of Evil in the 2015 edition, which I had seen at another repertory theater seven or eight years prior). As time goes on that could change, as they might start showing films I managed to see during their original run (I wouldn't be surprised to see something like Tales From The Hood or Man's Best Friend show up in the lineup someday), but thankfully Phil and Brian's tastes (and collections) are too eclectic to predict, and I highly doubt there will ever come a day where I have no reason to be excited about their selections. And if my kid ends up liking horror movies, maybe someday I can take him, so I have even more reason to want to see this tradition continue. As the show literally sold out in two seconds it seems to be popular enough to sustain (though as rental fees and the like go up, I'm not sure how profitable it is compared to showing a single film), so hopefully it continues until we're all dead in 2046.

What say you?



Flatliners (2017)

SEPTEMBER 30, 2017


Full disclosure, right off the bat - someone pulled a fire alarm during my showing of Flatliners and we had to file out with about twenty minutes left in the film. As I was not particularly enjoying it to that point, the idea of going back to watch it all again just to see what I missed seemed absurd (especially at this time of the year), so I had someone fill me in on how it ended up. If that means you cannot accept my opinion of the film, then feel free to shut the page now. But don't tell me I'm being "unprofessional" - I paid to see the movie and since the whole theater had to file out there were like 1000 people waiting for their complimentary tickets, and I had less interest in waiting in that line than I did in seeing the rest of the film. The following critiques are still valid, and seeing the ending instead of having it described in detail would not have made a difference.

Anyway, your guess is as good as mine as to why Sony opted to remake Flatliners, of all the things in their library. I know they've pulled some questionable moves in the past, such as with Total Recall, but at least that was a much bigger hit in its day, had room to explore (it was based very loosely on a short story, so they could have tried a straighter adaptation), and if nothing else could let Len Wiseman do his action thing with a big budget and appealing cast. Flatliners, on the other hand, was a minor hit from that same year (the Total Recall remake was five years ago already, if you can believe it), so it doesn't have the same longevity or name value. All it really had was the hook - med students purposely dying to see what's on the other side, then being revived to share their experiences - only they all bring back the ghosts of their haunted pasts. A great concept to be sure, but not one that needs to be retold in a PG-13 manner (and, curiously, on an even lower budget, which has to be a first for a studio remake).

In fact I wouldn't have even bothered with it at all if not for the fact that it was actually designed to be a stealth sequel of sorts to the original, as opposed to a traditional remake. Kiefer Sutherland was cast in the film as the same character (Nelson) he played in the 1990 film, so I found that to be an interesting angle and figured it was worth a look on the strength of that alone. He appears a few times as the Chief of Staff (or whatever, I'm not good with job titles - a guy in charge at any rate) that's guiding our new heroes through med school, but I kept waiting to see when he'd be like "Hey, you guys are hacks - me and my friends did this 27 years ago!", as there was seemingly no reference to his past or even that their experiment had been done before. It wasn't until Monday morning that I got my answer; apparently, test screening audiences found the connection too confusing (apparently he didn't make his history clear until the end of the film, which even I have to admit is a bizarre approach to take), and so it was dropped. I believe someone refers to him as Nelson at one point, but I might have just misheard as he is credited as Barry Wolfson (and that's the name on his labcoat), so let's just assume I heard it wrong and that they have successfully scrubbed the final cut of any connection to the original, making it the straight up remake I didn't want to see in the first place, with Sutherland's casting now just appearing as a gimmick, like Andrea Martin playing the house mother in Black Xmas, or Sean Connery showing up as the King in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

So now it's just a remake, and a rather dull one at that. As with the original, the students are all plagued by visions of people they've wronged in the past when they come back from the dead, though they're at least slightly different stories (and the characters themselves are different, though Diego Luna's character never flatlines, much like Oliver Platt's in the original). However, the changes aren't really that drastic; there's another bullying incident, but this time it was cyber-bullying where one of our heroes shared nude photos of a rival classmate in order to humiliate her. And instead of one guy losing his fiance due to his sexual habits, our William Baldwin stand-in is wracked with guilt over one of his many one night stands resulting in a pregnancy that was aborted (and he was too chicken to even go to the clinic with her). Julia Roberts blamed herself for her father's death, and here it's Ellen Page blaming herself over her sister's death. The only exception is Nina Dobrev's character, who screwed up at the hospital one night and killed someone by giving him the wrong medication, and I can't help but wish they tied ALL of their regrets into their life as med students, as it would help differentiate between it and the original.

Another big change is that when they come back they've also unlocked parts of their brain a bit. Page's character is able to recall everything she's ever learned, Kiersey Clemons' character becomes uninhibited, and another guy starts being more intuitive and "seeing" people. But then they inexplicably drop this idea once everyone starts having their visions, and it ultimately has zero bearing on anything. It reminded me a bit of the Rob Zombie Halloween in that way, where even if it wasn't all working they were at least trying something new, but seemingly got cold feet and decided to just copy the original more and more as the film went on. There is one major change (spoiler ahead, but without specifics!), in that one of them is killed for good at a certain point, whereas all five of them survived in the original, but while it's a good shock when it occurs, as with the "unlocked brain" stuff it fails to have any real weight on what happens after.

But don't worry, if you haven't seen the original or completely forget it*, you'll just be merely bored by the damn thing. It's not even really a horror movie for the most part; they have some freaky visions in the back half but there is very little immediate danger, and there's a disconnect that makes some of the scares just a total cheat. For example, the guy haunted by his cowardice re: abortion is haunted by the ghost of that one-time lover, and at one point she stabs his hand - but later we learn she's not even dead, so I'm not sure how she has a vengeful ghost to chase him around (or, exactly why it came back when he flatlined). Dobrev gets the bulk of the scare scenes since her visions are of someone who is actually dead and has a reason to be mad at her, but they're all the generic kind of modern studio horror scares where a creepy person will suddenly appear next to our hero and then disappear again - it gets tiresome, even in a movie that has limited such occasions. In fact many of them seem like they were just added in to give the trailer editors something to work with.

The acting is equally inconsistent; Luna's character is all "We must stop this, this is insane!" one minute, and then laughing/dancing with the others to celebrate the latest successful flatline the next. Though that might be the result of what seems to be a hasty post-production and/or reshoots, as they obviously had to tinker to remove the sequel aspect to it, and there are other signs of sloppiness - there are at least two scenes where the aspect ratio changes a bit, as if they forgot to apply the same masking to every shot. There's also a sixth med student, Brad, who seems like he was supposed to play a bigger role at one point, but disappears for so long that I forgot who he was when he briefly reappeared in a later scene. Maybe for Blu-ray they will have a longer cut or deleted scenes that flesh out some of this stuff, but I don't think it will be enough to save it.

Then again maybe there isn't anything else except for Kiefer's reveal. The trailer doesn't have anything that didn't end up in the movie (almost a guarantee for such occasions - see Diego Luna's last big film - Rogue One - for an example), so it's very possible that the script (by Ben Ripley, who wrote the engaging and entertaining Source Code) was more interesting at first and it got rewritten to the point of having no identity by the time they started shooting it. Either way it's a shame; the cast is good and even if he's not exactly an iconic character it would have been cool to see how Nelson was living his life all these years later, but for whatever reason, the film we got is the worst kind of remake: there's not enough difference to justify its existence, and everyone's too competent to make it an entertaining fiasco. It's just THERE, as indifferent as the audience who barely seemed to care when they were asked to leave before it limped to its conclusion.

What say you?

*I'm not a huge fan of it either; it's fine, and the dead kid beating the shit out Kiefer scared me a lot when I was eleven, but I've barely thought about it since.


Eyeball (1975)

SEPTEMBER 27, 2017


Usually, the first movie at a New Beverly double feature is the one people would really want to see, followed by a second, lesser film that plays for the die-hards while everyone else goes home feeling that they got their money's worth. But last night they started with Autopsy, a decent but not particularly exciting thriller where almost nothing happens onscreen, following it with the far more crowd-pleasing Eyeball, which had the gloved killer murder scenes and rampant silliness (including an all timer entry for the Baffling Giallo Motive Hall of Fame) that Autopsy didn't bother with. Had the order been swapped, I probably would have just went home when I inevitably started dozing off during the second film, but instead when I woke up I stood in the back for a while to make sure I stayed awake for the rest, not wanting my "Cinesomnia" to make me miss another minute.

Luckily, someone had the movie on Youtube, so I was able to watch the 10-15 minute chunk I missed when I went home (wasn't much; just a random murder that barely got mentioned again - if you've seen the movie, it's of the girl that gets killed near the pigpen). But even if I never woke back up it'd be enough to know this was much more to my liking than Autopsy (which was fine - just nothing I'd ever bother with again), and it even had a more slasher-y hook - our victims weren't all related to some crime that occurred or being offed for an inheritance (as was the case in Autopsy), but a group of strangers on a sightseeing tour, with someone getting killed pretty much every time they stopped somewhere. This keeps the scenery changing and obviously provides plenty of variety for the kill scenes (many of which are outside, in potential view of any number of witnesses), but the main bonus is that the red herrings aren't extraneous.

In any whodunit (slasher or giallo) you end up with people who enter the movie for no reason other than to be sneaky, like Sykes in Prom Night or the overly aggressive real estate guy in Phenomena, but here everyone's around for the whole time - we pretty much meet every character in the first ten minutes, and throughout the movie we get reasons to suspect any of them (the priest, especially). The chance that it all adds up to total logic once the real killer is identified is doubtful, but it's fun to have your suspicions cast upon someone you've been with for a while as opposed to someone who just showed up an hour in with a sneaky look on his face. And a lot of the shady behavior is ultimately explained; the men are all kind of assholes (it's a '70s Italian movie, so that's to be expected - upstanding male characters are as rare as unicorns) and therefore they aren't murderers, but they DO hate their wives or whatever and will go after anything that moves (like the aforementioned pigpen murder victim - one of the "innocent" guys hits on her and she scratches him, something he confesses with his wife right next to him). It's kind of Clue - you get the sense they could have revealed anyone as the murderer and it wouldn't exactly be dissatisfying, even if you had your heart set on one particular person.

The motive, however, is just divine. I won't say who the killer is, but their reason for murdering people and taking their eyes is: "I was like you... before this friend of mine ripped out my eye playing doctor with me... leaving an empty socket!" That's it. We don't even get a flashback to this event, which is a damn shame as I would absolutely love to know how these people play doctor where such ocular catastrophes would be possible. And if I'm following the sentiment correctly, the person is now killing people and taking out their eyes because they lost theirs? There's no other real reason for it? It delighted me for two reasons: one, it reminded me of the Clickhole article "When Doctors Told This Woman She’d Never Walk Again, She Made It Her Mission To Ensure No One Else Would Either", and two, the killer's connection to other character(s) was kind of a coincidence, I guess, because the motive had zero to do with their relationship.

The silliness isn't limited to the motive, thankfully. The tour guide, who drinks in between "On your right you'll see..." kinda stuff, has a tendency to practical jokes on one of his unsuspecting tourists, such as a fake spider that he lets loose when she's trying to eat. After his pranks go off he laughs hysterically, and the editor violently cuts to the next scene before anyone can ask why a grown man is so entertained by this nonsense. Later he's potentially fingered as the killer because of his pranks, which is a bit odd, but it's the closest thing to a payoff for this baffling little running gag. I also love the obligatory "a photo holds a clue" scene that we get in every other giallo, because instead of something like a shadow or maybe someone standing in a dimly lit window, we get a full focus shot of the killer in broad daylight, holding the knife in their red-gloved hands!

And yes, red-gloved. Red is like a whole motif in the movie, putting even Sixth Sense to shame with how it's used very specifically to tie into the killer. They also wear a red raincoat (it's another of the movie's goofy moments - everyone on the tour gets a standard "one size fits all" raincoat, but later the police make everyone try them on to see if one belongs to the killer), and then we see red flowers or lights or whatever whenever a killing is about to occur. It's nothing unique, but I like how overboard they go with it; even in this rather faded print (it was an original from 1975) it really popped. That along with the music made it a must-see for giallo fans, even if they couldn't get on board with the "silly even for a giallo" reveals. But if you're like me and think the insanity adds to the entertainment value, this is an ideal one to watch; I especially like the flashbacks where a guy realizes his wife is left handed, like it was something he never noticed yet has distinctive memories of her opening mail and lighting a cigarette.

The film was directed by Umberto Lenzi, who did a number of gialli but I seem to have missed just about all of them, as I only know him from his '80s stuff like Nightmare City and Cannibal Ferox (and from using my dad's name, Bob Collins, as one of his pseudonyms). I feel I really dropped the ball on bulking up my giallo intake for the site (in my defense, Netflix and Blockbuster didn't exactly have bountiful stock of such fare, and the site's "budget" didn't allow for blind buying anything all that often, let alone obscure Italian flicks that might not even be uncut and/or anamorphic), which is why I try to always make it to the Bev when they're showing some, as it's pretty much my only source to catch what I missed. I'm sure there are dozens that never even got US releases, so it's a good thing Quentin is a fan and is sure to program them fairly often, as I'd hate to go through life without experiencing that out of nowhere "playing doctor" line simply because a proper Blu-ray of the film never found its way into my home. Support your local giallo-loving repertory theater, if you have one! Or just move here and come with me to these things, because I usually sit by myself and thus don't have anyone to wake me up when my usual 4-5 hours sleep proves to not be enough and I start dozing during a movie I am enjoying.

What say you?


Jeepers Creepers 3 (2017)

SEPTEMBER 26, 2017


Much like Cropsey, the Creeper is a cool villain that deserves better vehicles to show what they can do, as Jeepers Creepers 3 continues the series' tradition of being better on paper than in execution, forever trying to recapture the magic of the first film's first act. That 30-35 minute stretch of the original, where it's mostly just the two kids in their car being pursued by the Creeper, is nearly perfect, but the next hour, and its first sequel, are handicapped by weird narrative choices, clunky pacing, and an abundance of characters. For a while, it seems like the 3rd film would stick to what worked about the original and deliver on the promise (to the best of the filmmaker's abilities when working with a lower budget this time around), but alas the usual issues start rearing their ugly head.

All except for one, which I might as well get out of the way now - it's thankfully not as skeevy as the other two, or the director's other films that I've seen. No shirtless boys, no gross metaphors (I'm still somewhat repulsed by JC2's "he can get in through the backdoor!" sequence), etc. An early cut of the film apparently included a brief reference to the heroine being abused by her stepfather (and another character saying something like "Can you blame him?") but thankfully they were excised (the backstory was changed; the stepfather is now said to have disliked the girl, prompting to her to live with her grandmother instead), leaving the film free of anything that would remind you of the filmmaker's abhorrent past. And on that note, as always I will simply remind you that he plead guilty and was imprisoned for a while (unlike some others who deny their crimes and walk free), that many people who have worked with him since have sworn that there was nothing uncomfortable about their production(s), and that he is but one of the many people who worked on the film and deserve to see their hard work recognized. I don't condone what he did, but I'm not going to take it out on, say, Jonathan Breck (the Creeper), either. I matched the cost of my ticket to support the GoFundMe for his victim, who is trying to spread awareness of what happened to him and child abuse as a whole - I urge you to support him as well if you have the means to. It's also worth noting that he volunteers at a workshop for juvenile sex offenders, encouraging them to do as he does and work his issues out through creative means - i.e. going out and actually working on problems, as opposed to just tweeting how much you don't like that they exist.

If you care about the film at all you probably have heard by now that it takes place in between the first two films, which has two benefits for the production: they don't have to make it look like the future of 2024 (now a lot closer than it was when the first two films were released) and they didn't need to bring back Ray Wise and (likely) kill him off in order to explain how the Creeper got away from the makeshift prison he was in when we last saw him in JC2. But I figured it'd take place on some random day in the middle of that 23-day spree, so I was surprised when the film began (after a 1978 prologue that I'll talk about in a bit) right at the end of JC1, with the surviving cops regrouping and trying to figure out what the hell just happened after Darry (Justin Long's character) was taken from their "protection". Only one cast member (besides Breck) really returns, Brandon Smith as Tubbs, the high-strung desk sergeant who spent most of his screentime in the first film just kind of growling and muttering at the psychic lady - but he was the only one of the cops that had a distinct presence so I doubt anyone will notice/care that his fellow officers aren't the same, and it's pretty admirable to do the "immediately picks up" sequel thing for a movie that was made sixteen years later.

As for Gina Phillips as Trish, she's top billed on IMDb, but it's practically a spoiler to announce that she's in the movie at all, since she doesn't appear until the film's closing shot, in an epilogue not unlike JC2's: she's basically waiting around to fight the Creeper when he returns in 2024 (I'm not sure what year her scene takes place in - she has a modern laptop, so I'm guessing it's just some form of "present day". The slow pan up to reveal her face is treated as a major surprise, so I don't know why they announced her return for what's basically a twist cameo (oddly, another sequel coming around soon did the exact same thing with its most famous survivor, but knew better than to put that person on the damn cast list), but hopefully no one was only interested in the movie to see her grand return, as it seems we will have to wait for Jeepers 4 to see what Trish has been up to all these years. Unlike Smith (already an older guy) there's no way Phillips could pass for her 16 years younger self, and thus it was obvious that she wouldn't be in it all that much once the 2001 setting was established, so hopefully the next film finally cuts to the Creeper's next spree so she can take an active role in the proceedings.

Speaking of the timeline, as I mentioned the film opens with a prologue set during a different Creeper spree - 1978's, to be exact. At first I figured it was just a way to get a kill in the movie, but not only does the victim have a role in the main part of the film (as a ghost/hallucination/whatever), but it's also a fun little bit of connective tissue - it's the victim that Darry and Trish talk about in the first film, when she realizes they're on the same road as "that old story". It's a throwaway detail that doesn't mean anything, but it's a nice little nod to the first film that registers as the kind of thing you'd never get in a series that kept changing hands like the Friday the 13ths, where such world building is a total mess due to people coming in without respecting what came before. Using the whole buffalo is always a surefire way to win me over, and I like that it's a little detail that won't bother anyone who doesn't remember or never even saw the original. This is the best way to do a callback, in my opinion - it's fun for the people who'd notice, but doesn't hamper the ability for a newcomer to enjoy it.

Unfortunately, the flipside of the "in between" approach is a major one - you're watching the whole movie knowing that the Creeper won't be killed or even stopped for any meaningful amount of time, as he's up and about in Jeepers Creepers 2. I mean it's not like I ever think Jason or Freddy is truly dead at the end of their films (even in the ones that promise as much), but there will at least be the catharsis of seeing the heroes triumph over them and walk away thinking the nightmare is over forever (and those guys are usually down for some time - Jason was in the bottom of Crystal Lake for at least a decade at one point). It's practically a guarantee from the start that the movie won't offer that, and (spoiler?) it doesn't - I'm still not even sure how to describe the Creeper's final moment in the film, and the heroine never gets any major victory over the damn thing. At one point she uses one of his own weapons against him (a very crowd-pleasing moment, actually) but it barely even phases him - he's after her again moments later, so it's about as much of a victory as Laurie stabbing Michael with the knitting needle.

The other big problem is that the movie is very disjointed. There are basically three separate plotlines going on, two of which would be perfectly enjoyable if fleshed out to their own movie, but hurt by the constant cutting around as they very rarely intersect. One is basically a redux of the original - two teens (potential lovers this time, not siblings) have caught the Creeper's eye, and he's going after them. After the usual setup stuff they find themselves trapped under a car as the Creeper stalks/kills a few people around them, and later the girl is trapped inside the Creeper's trademark "BEATNGU" truck (p.s. we learn that his license plate is a homemade one, killing sixteen years of "Creeper at the DMV" jokes), giving it some claustrophobic flair that recalls the best moments of the first sequel, and here's where the prequel element also pays off somewhat - we're never sure that she's "safe", as she isn't around in the "next" installment, giving the director license to kill her off (not unlike Platinum Dunes' Chainsaw prequel). Their scenes are the best in the film, and mostly why it's overall at least on par with JC2, making me wish that they just stuck to them the whole time - it might come off as a remake of the original with such a limited cast, but at least it would be focused and suspenseful, and a marked improvement over the other followup.

The second storyline revolves around Tubbs and a group of hunters led by Stan Shaw, who is basically just Creighton Duke with a team. These guys have apparently been tracking the Creeper and have professional versions of the truck-mounted weaponry Ray Wise used in the other sequel, but given the low budget there is precious little time devoted to them actually doing action-y things. Worse, those scenes suffer the most from the film's bad CGI - the Creeper himself always looks great, but his weapons look like cartoons in some shots, particularly these Mario Kart-esque bomb-shell things that he shoots from his car and can apparently track their targets. My friend said they looked like the Langoliers from the miniseries, and it's pretty apt - plus the fact that the Creeper now apparently has Thor-like powers over his weapons (at one point he literally has his axe fly from the ground into his hand as if by telekinesis), something I don't recall in the others. His truck is also booby-trapped, which results in a few interesting moments, but again is one of those things that makes me wonder why he didn't use them the day before - the harpoon that can puncture vehicles would have been handy all those times he was chasing Darry and Trish, no?

The third subplot involves Meg Foster, who plays yet another crazy old lady that lives in this town. Her son is the guy who dies in the prologue, and his ghost keeps coming back to tell her to get out of town because the Creeper is coming to get "it" back and kill anyone nearby. After a while we finally learn what "it" is - one of his old hands, which is buried in a pot in her field. When someone touches the hand they will spazz out and see the Creature's origins, I guess? Anyway, it's a subplot that's just as interminable as it is goofy, and it doesn't even have a payoff - the Creeper finally comes across it near the end, but he doesn't need an old hand (he's already grown a new one), so he just crushes it and howls at the moon, as birds drop from the sky around him. I don't know what the point of any of this nonsense is, but I DO know if it was all cut from the film it would barely make a difference, and seems like it's there only to keep the director's tradition of including goofy, unexplained supernatural subplots in his films. As a result, Foster's role is limited to either screaming at a ghost (we occasionally see it from other people's POV, showing her yelling at nothing) or standing around watching people touch the hand or whatever. She's the grandmother of the girl that's trapped in the Creeper's truck, so I kept hoping she'd mount a rescue or something, but alas - the two barely ever interact in the entire film, adding to the disjointed feeling.

But for a movie that was practically willed into existence after a number of false starts over the years, the fact that it's decent is kind of a miracle. The budget is lower but not to the extent that it can't deliver what fans want (in fact, I think we see the Creeper more than ever), and while it eventually loses its luster, it's interesting to see how much of the film is set during broad daylight. With some tighter editing (the director's usual editor Ed Marx, who has cut all of his films dating back to 1999's Rites of Passage, did not return this time) it could have worked fairly well, but the jarring shifts between characters who rarely interact, and the fact that you know the movie is building toward an anticlimax (though there is a nice little twist that ties into JC2) is something the movie never fully overcomes. It's worth a look for series fans, for sure (and you can get another chance on October 4th if you missed this "one time" screening), but don't expect to be converted if you weren't on board with those.

What say you?

P.S. I left his name out on purpose. People are on a witch hunt this time for some reason, and I don't get why since it's not exactly a secret and has been widely known since Powder (before the internet), but I'm not in the mood for a bunch of anonymous assholes to blast me - a father, by the way - for "lining the pockets of a monster" after finding this review by searching for his name (I can't very well leave the name of the movie out, alas). Does me seeing the film mean it's more likely he'll make another film? Maybe. I don't think it means he'll go out and hurt someone else, though, and besides, the kid's mother has said she has no problem with him continuing to work, so I don't see why I should feel any different than her. At any rate, comments are moderated (as they always are for every review) and won't get posted if they're vile, and if you're so offended by me seeing the film I encourage you not to yell at me on social media, which does nothing (except raise more awareness of the film's existence - several people told me they only knew it was playing because of tweets blasting the filmmaker), but instead match my $12.50 ticket price to RAINN or a similar organization, or donate to the GoFundMe I linked above.


Friend Request (2016)

SEPTEMBER 22, 2017


I've seen a couple people make the joke that Friend Request looks like something one might mock up for a film that needed a cheesy horror movie playing in the background (you know, for the two or three movies per decade that don't just use Night of the Living Dead), but for what little it's worth, it's actually the best of this year's crop of college kid-centric horror flicks. Unlike Rings, Bye Bye Man, and Wish Upon, I didn't spend the running time rolling my eyes or trying to keep track of how many plot holes it already racked up - I was actually enjoying it in a low-key, timekiller way until its endless and misguided third act. Props for trying something a little different in one of these things, but it didn't quite work due to not being properly set up, and probably accounts for the film's low grades more than anything else.

And by "one of these things" I mean yet another movie where our heroes get freaked out by a vengeful ghost for an hour or so and then decide that the only way to stop the thing that's been killing their friends is to drive to the old _____ (burnt out commune, here) and put the body to rest or whatever. It's amazing how these places are always a couple hours' drive away from where the protagonists live - just once I want to see one where they discover the old factory/asylum/warehouse/whatever is actually located in another country and they can't find a flight. OR, less jokingly, they discover the place is a full day's drive away, but relatively early in the film, and turn the 2nd half or so into more of a road chase, so that we can at least get a change of scenery and a kind of ticking clock scenario that you don't often get in these sort of movies. But alas, they follow the template of The Ring fairly closely, which might have worked better if we didn't have a genuine (well, technically genuine) Ring movie just six months ago.

Hilariously, like Rings, this one's been on the shelf for a while - it was actually shot in early 2014, and released in Germany last year. Why it took so long to come here is unknown, but oddly enough the movie's approximation of Facebook is a pretty close match to what we have now*, so it didn't feel as dated as you might expect for a nearly four year old production about the internet. They never actually use the name "Facebook" (I call it Fauxbook), but the social media site that the ghost uses to spread her terror is pretty much identical, with little variations in the terminology (like "Spread" instead of "Share") to keep them from being sued I guess. It's a good choice, I think - previous films have built their versions from the ground up, which automatically disconnects the audience its catering to as we instantly recognize it as phony. Here, you might just assume it's the real FB, and so the movie's central concepts - accepting strangers as "friends", the jealous rage one gets when seeing their friends having fun when they weren't invited, etc. - work as intended, without the usual distraction of seeing all the characters being obsessed with a social media app the audience recognizes as fake.

Anyway, for those uninitiated, the central conceit is that a fairly popular college sophomore named Laura accepts a friend request (hey, that's the title!) from Marina, a "weird" girl in her class, feeling sorry for her as she has no other fauxbook friends. Marina's nice at first, but then becomes overly pushy, tagging Laura in all her posts and messaging her nonstop about hanging out, missing her, etc. After Laura has a birthday party that she doesn't invite Marina to, the latter freaks out and kills herself - but she films herself doing it and posts the video on Laura's wall. And then continues doing so, from beyond the graaaaaaaaaave! Or, you know, whatever. Anyway, Laura's social circle starts shrinking as the friends begin dying off one by one in mysterious ways, and videos of their deaths are also posted on her timeline. Because of this, the 800 or so other people start defriending her (after leaving comments like "U R SICK!" and such), and Marina's plan becomes clear - she wants Laura to be "friendless", like her.

It's not the worst concept for a movie, really (plus it's not just a generic online ghost - she's actually a witch!), and if they really dug into the psychology of our obsession with social media and used the ghost-y stuff as more of a backdrop, it might have been a really great little slice of social commentary. The 800+ randoms is something that they don't really explore; we get graphics every now and then showing her declining friend numbers, but who are these people? We only ever see Laura with her five besties and her mom - were the others just complete strangers as well? Does she care that these people, who can't even really be called acquaintances, aren't going to see her statuses anymore? There's a minor subplot about how they can't delete their profiles (Marina's ghost won't let them), but it would have been interesting if she simply WOULDN'T delete hers, because she'd lose all her virtual friends. I myself never take anyone on Facebook that I don't actually know, but I know a number of friends who accept every request they get and somehow notice when one of these folks drop them ("Who unfriended me? I had 895, now I have 894!"), so I wish the movie took more time on the idea that these "friends" aren't actually friends at all and Marina is just one of many who were inadvertently scorned by conflating real life friendship with a virtual one.

But instead we just get the usual shit: someone dies, it looks like an accident, there's a suspicious cop who wonders why our protagonist knows two recent victims of tragedy, then another one dies, lather, rinse, repeat. While I was grateful that their phones had nothing to do with their demises, none of the deaths are particularly interesting (or graphic; the film's R rating is mostly for the six or seven F bombs), and you can easily guess the order in which they occur to boot, so it makes it an even bigger bummer that they didn't spend more time on the online obsession angle. Laura is even enrolled in a psych class that is currently on the topic of social media dependency, and the professor has this John Hurt/Jared Harris kind of authoritative presence, making it seem like he might be a more important character down the road, but he's largely dropped from the proceedings after a while. To be fair she's eventually suspended due to being a seeming liability for the school (even though it happens every few minutes it seems, she never thinks to take out her phone or laptop and show the police that she isn't the one posting snuff films and that her account can't be deleted, so the school thinks she's nuts), but again, it seemed like a missed opportunity not to include this guy on the action, if they wanted to *say* something about the very thing the teenagers in the audience will likely start looking at before the credits roll (the opportunities for a meta sequel are RIPE!).

Now I gotta get into spoilers, so skip the next paragraph if you want more surprises.

All that said it's really not all that bad until the third act, where they make a choice that is laudably unexpected and even somewhat daring (for this brand of horror, I mean), by having one of the friends realize that they can be spared Marina's wrath if Laura isn't alive to be alone. So he tries to kill her, and the finale becomes more of a slasher film chase climax, with Marina just hanging out on the sidelines I guess. I admit I didn't see it coming, but that's largely due to the fact that it's not really set up at all. The would-be killer is her friend-zoned buddy Kobe, who is also the requisite hacker type who offers up exposition like "These posts aren't written with any kind of code that I've ever seen before!", i.e. the kind of shit that means nothing in time that they maybe could have spent hinting at his out of nowhere villain turn. He even kills one of the other friends, which makes even less sense, and this all goes down during an endless climax that has Laura travel to the aforementioned commune, but then to another location after discovering the commune is a dead end. When she's not being pursued by Kobe she's just wandering around dimly lit hallways, with Marina making precious few appearances - so when they have Laura go through these motions again at a different place, I felt my last bit of goodwill toward the movie fade away.

It's not a total failure like its aforementioned peers, however. For starters, they believe in James Wan's rule about fake scares, in that there shouldn't be any - two 'classic' ones are set up (a refrigerator door being held open for an unusually long time, and a fogged mirror about to be wiped away) without the expected BOO! moment after, and there are no sudden doorbell/phone ringing kinda ones, either. In fact, the closest the movie gets to one is not only kind of effective in its carnival funhouse kind of way, but it's also thematically appropriate - Laura watches one of those "Hey look at this cute video" things where the subject (a cat, in this case) suddenly morphs into a possessed demon and shrieks. And then there are a few subtle scare moments without any attention being drawn to them, like when a character turns away from his laptop but his reflection on the screen stays frozen in place. Nothing particularly earth shattering, mind you, but it at least shows they were trying to avoid the pratfalls of so many others, and not wasting the audience's energy on false scare moments. It also makes good use of the fauxbook layout/function to introduce us to all of the primary characters quickly, showing their profiles and an assortment of pics/statuses that inform us what they're like and how they relate to one another in a few seconds of mostly dialogue-free screentime, as opposed to awkward expository dialogue that takes a lot longer. It's a shorthand I've seen in other films, but since this one's actually ABOUT this social media platform, it also works as introduction for how *it* works, for the non-computer types in the crowd who might have little idea what Facebook even is, i.e. the parents that will have to bring their kids to this inexplicably R-rated movie.

So basically it's not a good movie but it's also not as bad as many reviews will have you believe, the ones that will be an unfortunate product of the tendency to grade everything on a "fresh/rotten" scale with no room for the middle ground that it actually occupies. Sure, in the wake of It it might seem like the bottom of the barrel, but comparing this kind of thing to that juggernaut is highly unfair. The film actually belongs in the same class as Bye Bye Man and those others I mentioned, and to my eyes it's an improvement on those (though not quite up to par with the similar Unfriended, which took full advantage of its cyber-scenario and didn't skimp on the death scenes, not to mention fleshed out all of its characters as opposed to just the lead), and after Annabelle: Creation I appreciated something a little quieter that didn't seem to have a mandate to throw a scare at the audience every five minutes. They were putting some effort into making an effective horror film in the vein of the 2002 Ring, so even though they missed the mark I can at least appreciate that I wasn't spending 90 minutes feeling like the filmmakers thought I was an idiot. Much obliged!

What say you?

*Unless they updated it digitally - there was an inordinate number of VFX companies listed in the credits, despite the fact that there aren't a lot of obvious CGI effects for the ghost or kill scenes, which are also very brief anyway. So it's possible they went back and updated the Fauxbook screens to be more timely, as we all know how often they change it.


Mother! (2017)

SEPTEMBER 15, 2017


I don't read as much as I'd like, but even if I had all the time in the world I probably wouldn't read the Bible, as I got enough in (Catholic) grade school to know the basic gist, even if some of those particulars are fading in my memory. And I certainly wouldn't read the sort of publications that inform you about celebrities' current dating/marriage status, because there is literally nothing in the world I can imagine caring about less than where anyone besides myself sticks his dick. But if you want to get the most out of Mother! (I'm not doing the lowercase) I might suggest reading up on both, or at least the former while also knowing that director Darren Aronofsky is now dating Jennifer Lawrence, as it helps clarify some of the autobiographical details he has laced his heavily allegorical film with. Though I should stress I didn't know they were dating until after I walked out of the theater, having enjoyed what I saw despite not knowing the current history of its filmmaker.

SPOILERS FOLLOW! The ad campaign has been vague and therefore pretty much any detail counts as a spoiler, but I'm gonna get into it because otherwise there wouldn't be a lot for me to say. You've been warned!!!

If you choose to ignore any deeper meaning or symbolism in the film, you might enjoy it just for its sheer insanity, as this is possibly the nuttiest goddamn movie ever put on over 2,000 screens - and that includes Aronofsky's previous film, Noah, which had giant rock monsters helping to tell the story of the famous ark. It starts off like a low-key home invasion movie of sorts, with Lawrence and her husband (Javier Bardem) enjoying their quiet life in their isolated home when Ed Harris shows up, claiming he thought the place was a B&B and asking to stay the night. Then his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up and Lawrence starts getting a bit weirded out, as Pfeiffer is a bit too forward (it seems like only ten minutes go by after their introduction that she's asking them about their sex life) and Bardem is being way too accomodating. Then more people show up. Then more. And then even more. If nothing else, this movie must have the largest cast for a single location movie ever made, as the camera never leaves JLaw's face for more than a second or two, and her character never leaves the house. But even if no one ever showed up besides Harris and Pfeiffer, it'd still be a terrific exercise in creating tension; from the film's first minute or two we're already made uneasy by how people treat Lawrence, and even though nothing particularly chilling is happening to her, you'll probably start hoping for any break in the anxiety and dread Aronofsky manages to build up with almost nothing happening.

Oh and I'm not calling the characters by their real names out of laziness - they aren't really given any in the film. Bardem is "Him", Lawrence is "Mother" (not "Her", tellingly), Ed Harris is "Man", etc. There's no way to know them until the end credits, so they don't really matter in the long run, but if you missed the biblical connections in the film, crediting Harris and Pfeiffer's children (yep, they show up too) as "Oldest Son" and "Younger brother" should remind you of Cain & Abel, and you can start filling in the others from there - depending on how well versed in the bible you are, of course. It reminded me of Antichrist (a movie I damn near hated), which credited the leads as "He" and "She" and dealt with similar plot threads (marriage, misogyny, etc) while also being the kind of movie that will likely cause walkouts at your screening, though I only saw one (maybe two? I saw two people leave and not come back, but one was sitting in front of me so it was more noticeable that they didn't return - I might have just not seen the other re-enter) at mine. I mean, even though the ads were very WTF? and Aronofsky has never been a "multiplex" kind of filmmaker, folks might STILL find this a bit too much.

But I love crazy, even if I'm not always sure the meaning behind any of it happening. Sometimes it's just kind of awesome to see an Oscar winning actress storm around her house that's been gradually overtaken by insane fans (Bardem's character is a bestselling poet who is mounting a comeback), tearing apart her walls and setting up club equipment for a mini rave in her living room (told you, it's weird). Better, smarter writers than me will write 1,200 word essays on these kind of moments and find fascinating explanations for their inclusion - I on the other hand was just stoked to see character actor extraordinaire Stephen McHattie show up, as I don't think he's been in a wide release from Hollywood in several years (Immortals, maybe? from 2011) and it's nice to see him in something besides some TV show or junky Canadian horror flick. I also had no idea Kristen Wiig was in the movie, so when she showed up I was just as surprised as Lawrence's character, who by that point was having trouble of finding new ways to make a "What NOW?" kind of face as more and more people kept barging into her home and making it their own.

See, even if you ignore the Bible stuff, the movie kind of works as a heightened tale on how difficult it is to share the love your life with his (or her) fanbase, as these people mean well but can be rather intrusive. Bardem points out that he needs to connect with these people to get ideas and be able to create, something he can't get from sitting at home alone with his wife all the time, and Lawrence is devastated that she can't be enough no matter how hard she tries to fulfill his needs (during the movie's few quiet moments she is usually trying to restore his family home, which was largely destroyed in a fire and she is now rebuilding it). This has been read as Aronofsky admitting (defending?) his apparent penchant for being in relationships with his actresses, relationships that haven't worked out, but as a minor creative type I think it's more universal than that, and not even just to men - to all creative folks. Bardem's not wrong - maybe some people can conjure fantastic stories (or whatever their chosen medium may be) without new experiences, but he's not one, and his wife is seemingly devoted to recreating the past and afraid to try anything new (she turns down a drink of some exotic alcohol after insisting she likes to drink, for example).

In fact, if not for a pregnancy plot that takes up the film's second half, I feel the roles could probably be swapped and you could have a healthy chunk of the same takeaway (plus maybe if the roles were swapped it might make me feel less guilty for all of the times I went out to see horror movies so I could write something instead of staying home with my wife). I don't have to deal with it often, but even on my very minor level of (lack of better word here, trust me) fame I occasionally encounter people who just assume we are friends because they follow me on Twitter or whatever, and it feels fairly intrusive if I'm with my kid or even with a few other friends - yet I feel guilty if I just mumble a "thanks" and walk away. The push and pull is, like everything else in the movie, exaggerated to an insane degree, but the same point is being made - anyone in a position to have fans needs their support, and when they overstep their boundaries it can be difficult to tell them to back off, and therefore they're never sure when they've crossed the line. But at the same time we might not inform them of this, so it's not their fault that they are unaware they were off-putting. So in this movie's batshit version of the world, Bardem creating a baby with his wife is no different than creating a new poem to be read - his fans want it, Bardem doesn't want to create conflict with the people who adore him, and that's where the film REALLY goes off the rails.

(Oh, and keeping with the Biblical theme - he's God, by the way. So there's that, but I don't know enough about Aronofsky to make any assumptions with what he's saying there, so let's move on, with respect.)

Indeed, the baby's birth and what happens in its life shortly thereafter is probably where the movie lose the most people. The first half is the buildup to the conception, and the second half is when she's about to pop (it's not "nine months later" per se - the movie is just as vague with time as it is with names, and given that it's not a particularly realistic film by any stretch, it could be the next day for all we know), and once again her home is overrun by strangers (the first batch, with Ed Harris and the rest, are scared off by a burst pipe - i.e. driven out by a flood, in keeping with the biblical ties). If nothing else, you gotta appreciate how much action Aronofsky is able to cram into this damn house - we get raves, riots, shootouts, masses... it kind of reminded me of Snowpiercer in a weird way, with each room of this house being a microcosm not unlike each train of the car was one (hey, Ed Harris was in that too - maybe let's double feature this with that instead of Antichrist). At a certain point it becomes kind of obvious that Lawrence is never going to leave that house, so I kind of love that they staged five action movies' worth of stunt men and scenarios into it instead - I hope like hell the Blu-ray has a production design featurette, if nothing else.

In fact a lot of what I liked about the movie ended up being on the technical side of things as opposed to its characters (ciphers) and narrative (a mish-mash - by design! - of biblical themes and personal struggles). For starters, it's actually shot on film (16mm, I believe), which is such a rarity these days I momentarily thought something was wrong with the projection before I realized it was just film grain. And even though I'm not exactly a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence, I love the fact that we never leave her POV even for a moment, and she's probably in 90% of the movie's shots, if not more (even cutaways to other characters are frequently over her shoulder or something) - we're never made privy to a single detail that she didn't catch herself, easily making us as uneasy and paranoid as the character. There's a scene where Harris is puking, seemingly naked, and (Bible alert!) sporting a fresh wound near his ribs - she wasn't there when he got the injury (or took his clothes off), so we're never informed what the hell that was all about. I love stuff like that, which goes a long way toward keeping me engaged in the film even though I couldn't tell you what was going on and/or necessarily caring about anyone on-screen in the usual way.

Ultimately, it falls into that category of movies I "appreciate" more than I traditionally "enjoy", like Kidnapped or Martyrs, albeit for different reasons (apart from the aforementioned beating, which lasts only about 20-30 seconds, there's nothing "hardcore" about the film's violence). I'd much rather read other people's interpretations, even ones I disagreed with, than watch the film again, though I still encourage folks to check it out if they think they know what they're in for (and no, it's not really anything like Rosemary's Baby, despite what the posters seemed to be suggesting at one point - though it was a nice misdirect for the early goings on). I suspect it will get an F Cinemascore, which puts it in good company with the likes of Solaris, Bug, and Killing Them Softly (the only F Cinemascore movie I DON'T like is Darkness, in fact), and probably won't do anyone's careers any good, but who cares? It's a remarkable achievement both in the "hey, you've never seen anything like this before" way and also the fact that Paramount put up a lot of money to make and release it wide, instead of dumping it in limited release/VOD. The idea that some suburban soccer mom (or even better, her Katniss Everdeem loving daughter) will walk into their local mall multiplex and see this makes me super giddy, and that's more than enough to qualify it was a win in my house.

What say you?


It: Chapter One (2017)



Like pretty much everyone in my generation, I have vivid memories of watching the ABC miniseries of Stephen King's It, rewatching the taped broadcast enough to even remember some of the commercials that played during it. Given its length (3+ hours, plus commercial fast-forwarding time) I'm surprised I watched it as often as I did, as I revisited the film on Blu-ray earlier this year and found myself remembering tiny details (like Ben breaking his newly won award when he stumbles out of his limo) as if I had just watched the movie the day before. However, I've only found the time to read the book once, in I think 2004 when I lived in Boston and was making a dent in my backlog of unread novels during my 45-ish minute per way commute, so it wasn't "special" as it is to many of my peers. But in a way I think this was ideal for approaching this long-awaited theatrical adaptation - I have more nostalgia and connection to the flawed miniseries than the novel that is frequently cited as one of King's best, and certainly the favorite of many of his fans*. Thus, it's easier for me to see what this movie "fixed" as opposed to "ruined", which is how I'm sure some people will describe the deviations from the source material.

Now in the wake of The Dark Tower I must assure you that this is, for all intents and purposes, a very faithful adaptation of the "past" parts of the book. Georgie's murder is pretty much recreated to the letter, and every major beat is accounted for - it's just the details that are different. Some of the kids' individual fears have been changed, so Richie is afraid of clowns instead of the Wolfman, and Stan is terrified of a creepy ass painting in his father's office instead of that mummy/corpse thing. I don't think this matters in the long run, but I've had too many conversations over the years with book fans who get angry when a movie adaptation changes a character's hair color or whatever, so they might get angry at these variations. For the rest of us normal people, if you want to see a movie where seven "losers" band together to defeat an unspeakable evil that appears every 27 years, one that manifests itself as their fears but most of the time takes on the form of a clown named Pennywise, you should be pretty happy with the results.

It's funny, I was running a bit late this morning when trying to get to the theater in time and didn't bother inspecting my shirts before grabbing one, and I happened to pull out my Shining shirt - the most polarizing King film due to the fact that it's an unnerving and terrifying piece of entertainment but also makes many (too many, for some) changes from the novel, i.e. great movie, terrible adaptation. But while Kubrick was changing things to fit his own worldview, director Andy Muschietti and a number of screenwriters only change details in order to keep things fresh, while retaining King's overall tone and atmosphere in a manner few of his films have ever quite mustered. I'm talking Frank Darabont levels of "getting it", where you get the idea anything they changed King himself would probably agree was a good idea (as opposed to Shining, where he still seems annoyed by the changes Kubrick made), and if your memories of the book are just as hazy as mine, you probably won't even realize there's much of a difference at all.

Except, of course, the timeframe. The book starts in the present day and frequently cuts back and forth, a format that was retained for the miniseries, but there is no framing device or flash forward or anything of that nature here. If you've never read the book or saw the other movie, you'd have no idea that we're due to meet these kids again in thirty years - which added a lot to the suspense. The movie runs 135 minutes or so, and by the time they enter the sewers to confront It, it's been made clear that they aren't afraid to make some changes, so it's very possible to think that some of them might not survive the battle, allowing for some terror that was impossible in the other versions as we'd always be seeing the present day version REMEMBER these things, as opposed to how they're presented here, which is "now" (now being the summer of 1989). I wouldn't dare spoil whether or not that occurs, but the fact that I was sitting there, for the very first time, worried that Richie would die? That was kind of unexpected, and a big part of why I enjoyed the film - it was these rather simple and innocuous changes that really helped draw me into the movie.

So let's talk about 1989, since that's probably the most noticeable difference. The original book was published in 1986 and the setting was 1957-1958, so the change fits - it's roughly thirty years ago for the audience it's intended for, just as King's book was, making it a perfectly acceptable deviation, allowing folks my age to smile at the (thankfully few) little period details, such as the theater showing Burton's Batman, and kids talking about Michael Jackson without it being an icky thing (this was pre-accusations). My favorite, surprisingly, was a little running gag about Ben being a fan of New Kids on the Block, a secret only Bev knows and keeps to herself, while teasing him about it whenever possible (one pun seemed to go over the heads of everyone else in my audience; not sure if I'm just "old" or if I'm the only one who found it as funny). Usually I groan at these kind of things, but the screenwriters kept it to a minimum and used them for character moments like this, as opposed to just having them reference every single late 80s property they could cram in just for the sake of appeasing folks who get hard reading Ready Player One.

One such reference actually helped hammer home something that was working subconsciously on me. As the summer wears on, Batman and Lethal Weapon 2 are replaced by Nightmare on Elm Street 5 (the theater only shows WB/New Line movies, naturally), and at the sight of this throwaway little detail it fully clicked: this is basically a big budget, "classy" version of a Nightmare sequel, with Pennywise standing in for old-school Freddy, who would talk and maybe make you grin, but wasn't a full blown jokester like he was in the later sequels. Like Freddy, Pennywise uses the kids' individual fears against them, and the big scare setpieces work as standalone slices of terror that will likely warp the minds of anyone who shares similar paranoia (such as blood, corpses, and of course clowns). Indeed, one of my few complaints about the film is that these sequences are often just kind of presented sans setup, like they will just cut to one kid at home or riding their bike right before something scary happens. In the Elm St movies this disconnect made sense - the kids were dreaming, after all (and usually ended up dead at the end), but here it's like they could be re-arranged in the edit without it really mattering, as it takes a while for them to start confessing to one another that they've seen some freaky shit. I wouldn't say it was a crippling flaw or anything, but there was definitely more than one occasion that I wondered how much time had passed since the previous scene or where the character was going in the first place when they encountered It.

Another thing that gave it some unexpected Elm Street flavor was the minimized adult presence. The Elm Street kids often had single parent situations (if we ever met them at all), and here we only get the barest glimpses of any of them besides Eddie's mom and Bev's dad (who is more terrifying than Pennywise, I think). Bill's mom is only seen once in the entire movie, silently playing the piano, and even though Mike's grandfather (instead of his dad, who is now dead - they kind of mix and match Ben and Mike's stories for whatever reason) is played by the only recognizable adult actor in the movie (Steven Williams), we only see him once as well. It makes sense - it's the kids' story after all - but I wish they could have at least spent a little more time with Bill's parents, since the loss of Georgie hangs over his every move (I actually teared up when he explains how it's easier for him to walk into a house where Pennywise might be than it is for him to walk into his own, knowing his little brother won't be there), and yet his parents never seem to care that he's seemingly never home. A quick scene showing that they're so numb to Georgie's death that they don't even notice if Bill is there or not, OR a scene where we see that he has to sneak out or lie about his whereabouts, might have helped a bit. But maybe that's just my overprotective dad shit kicking in, hahaha.

My only other issue was the CGI for a few of Pennywise's other forms. Bill Skarsgård is terrific as the clown and makes the role his own in the same way that Heath Ledger made us forget about Jack Nicholson for two hours, making it all the more disappointing when he appears as a CGI ghoul of some sort (it's an issue that plagued Muschietti's previous film, Mama, where his practical creation got "fixed" by subpar visual FX). Pennywise's... I dunno what you call it, freaky fast shuffling thing (you see it on the trailer where he tramples through the flooded basement) also got a bit tiresome after awhile - he's at his best/scariest when it's simply Skarsgård talking and making expressive faces without really moving much at all, honestly. The film is otherwise gorgeous to look at, for the record - they got Chan-Wook Park's usual DP Chung-hoon Chung to shoot the film, and it not only nails the period look but lets Skarsgård's eyes do the heavy lifting in darker scenes. There is no question that his sewer introduction will cause just as many, if not far more, nightmares as the miniseries did with its own version of the scene.

The kids are all great too, to the extent that I almost wish they could just wait 30 years to shoot the 2nd half with them reprising their roles instead of recasting, likely with familiar faces. Apart from the kid playing Richie (who was in Stranger Things, though I forget which character he played since I never finished it) I didn't recognize any of them and the movie was the better for it. There's a push for Jessica Chastain to play the adult Bev, and while I normally would never argue with hiring Jessica Chastain for anything, I'm just going to see the awesome actress I've loved in a dozen other movies, as opposed to "Beverly Marsh", which is how I see the girl who played her here, as I've never seen her in anything else and she is absolutely wonderful. Ditto for the kid who played Ben, who might be my favorite character and thankfully got plenty of screentime (and encountered the movie's creepiest one-off visual, one of the dead kids from the Easter Egg hunt disaster). I kept expecting familiar faces to pop up as the parents, but apart from the aforementioned Williams I had just as much of a blank slate with them as I did the kids, and I hope they find a way to retain that for the sequel, allowing us to fully believe in the world instead of seeing people we already know from elsewhere. The movie's gonna make something like 90 million dollars this weekend - they clearly do not need big stars to sell tickets, and it'd be cool to see that kind of feel recreated.

But even if they rope in the biggest stars in the world, I'll be there on day one for the followup, since the creative crew is said to be returning and they clearly have a strong handle on the material. It's not a perfect film, but it's a damn good one and one of the best Stephen King movies ever. And before you say "That's a low bar", it really isn't - if you strip out the sequels that weren't using his material, unnecessary redoes (Carrie 2013, anyone?), and anything Mick Garris was involved with, it's actually a pretty solid collection of movies, most of which are just as good as their source material even if things are changed. I mean, it's not like Lawrence Kasdan was the one to make Dreamcatcher as fucking batshit as it is - it's actually a pretty faithful adaptation! And despite more scrutiny given the book's popularity, not to mention the switch in director from someone people really love (Cary Fukunaga, who apparently wanted to have a scene where Henry Bowers molests a sheep) to someone whose sole film was overshadowed by its producer (Guillermo del Toro), had some people worried that this could be a disaster or, at best, another forgettable misfire like last month's Dark Tower. But no - this is gonna terrorize a generation of kids and win over their parents as well, so now the only fear is if the second half can live up to it.

What say you?

*Mine is The Long Walk, which ain't ever getting made into a movie, I suspect.


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