Welcome!

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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Stephen King's A Good Marriage (2014)

NOVEMBER 21, 2014

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: ONLINE (SCREENER)

A couple months back I got a press release for Stephen King's A Good Marriage that included specific instructions not to refer to the movie as simply "A Good Marriage". It HAD to have the "Stephen King's" as part of the title, which is amusing because he didn't direct it and even Carpenter doesn't seem to mind if you refer to, say, John Carpenter's Vampires as Vampires (on the flipside, Wes Craven refers to New Nightmare as "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" when discussing it). Not sure why he's so possessive about this particular movie, but I assume it has something to do with the fact that it's the first time he's adapted one of his stories for a theatrical feature since Pet Sematary*, which is kind of a big deal. Still, I hope anyone who broke this rule wasn't too harshly punished.

Anyway, it's a pretty good little thriller, more or less overcoming a pretty big hurdle: the original short story doesn't exactly cry out for adaptation. Maybe if there was another season of Nightmares & Dreamscapes it'd make for a good premiere episode (especially if King adapted again, to help promote it), but if I was in charge of deciding which of his stories get turned into movies, it wouldn't be one I'd focus on, or even consider at all. It's a pretty simple tale of a woman finding out that her husband is a serial killer, and (spoilers ahead) after sort of dealing with it for a while, she decides to kill him and make it look like an accident. And that's about it. There's a mini-climax in which it seems she might get in trouble for what she did when a cop comes snooping around, but that blows over. It's all good.

If I had to guess, the drive to make this into a movie was likely "Let's get two good actors in the roles and let them have some fun." In that case, the film is a resounding success; Joan Allen and Anthony LaPaglia are as good as they've been in years, with LaPaglia in particular displaying a gift for King's folksy wordplay (his delivery of "snoots", referring to a couple of bitchy girls, is pretty perfect). The most delightful thing about the story is how Allen's character seemingly treats his serial killer habit the same way a wife might deal with her husband having an affair or hiding a gambling problem - she's just kind of pissed off at him and makes him swear not to do it again. And in turn, LaPaglia is the apologetic husband who tries to move past it; he compliments her dress for their daughter's wedding, continues to gently nag her about her candy addiction by leaving her notes inside of her sweets stash, etc. The scene where he casually confesses his crimes (as he gets ready for, and then into, bed) is a dry/dark comic masterpiece, and both of them are perfect. You can imagine that the idea of seeing this one scene play out on-screen was the impetus for making a movie in the first place, with King just embellishing other things from his story in order to make it feature length.

So the daughter's wedding, a long way off in the story and thus never much of a plot point, becomes a full sequence. The candy habit that is mentioned once or twice becomes a running gag, with Darcy finding one final note long after he's gone. And the cop that investigates him at the end almost dies himself, doubling his runtime in the narrative as she goes to visit him at the hospital. The old Corman/Poe movies often added the first two acts in order to lead up to where Poe's stories usually began; this one basically adds a middle to what is otherwise a pretty straight adaptation. The straight up changes King made are minor (the box Bob hides evidence in was a gift from his wife in the story, but in the movie it was a craft from his daughter, which is way better), but if he were to film the story as written it'd only be about 50 minutes long. So the wedding and that other stuff fills in the gap, which adds to the appeal in a way. In the story there's only a bit of time in between her finding out and her doing something about it, but here we get to enjoy the idea that she could forgive him and treat it as a road bump in their, ahem, good marriage.

And that's the other thing I liked (at this point I should explain I only read the story AFTER I watched the movie) - the movie avoids the expected cliches and beats. She discovers evidence that he's a killer pretty early on, but rather than go through the whole thing of having her investigate, or him lie, he just admits it instantly. The same thing goes for the rest of the narrative; the daughter is getting married, and I suspected "OK so maybe the movie will build up to the wedding where it all come out and there will be a big blowout", but no - no sooner did I finish the thought than did the wedding occur without incident. Also, we meet Stephen Lang in the opening scene and then he disappears, so I had a feeling that there would be a dumb twist where it turns out HE was the killer and LaPaglia was just covering for him (and thus she killed her husband for nothing), but no, he's the cop investigating "Beadie" (the nickname for the serial killer). It doesn't go many places (outside of a couple of quick nightmare moments, the movie has almost no on-screen violence, no chase scenes, etc), but the ones it does go aren't the ones you'd expect from its Lifetime-y plot setup.

However I do feel kind of icky after reading the story, because King admits that he was inspired by the BTK Killer, which drastically devalues the comedic appeal of the movie. The story has a few smirk-worthy moments, but without seeing LaPaglia's bemused expression as he casually admits his crimes to his wife (it's the same expression I use when scolding my own wife for forgetting how to operate the universal remote, which I bought specifically to make the process of watching TV much easier for her) it doesn't come across as particularly FUNNY. To be fair, the murders occurred before I was even born and there are things that occurred in the past couple years that people make much worse "jokes" about, but it still kinda bothered me. Maybe it's the dad gene (two of BTK's victims were children) making me over sensitive again, I dunno. So, just for the record, possible caveat.

The movie got a brief theatrical release, but I can't imagine it was very successful - this is an "at home" movie if there ever was one. It's nothing spectacular, and wouldn't rank in the top 15 King adaptations (there have been at least 40) or anything, but it charmed me in an odd way, and will probably play best to married folks that can readily appreciate the humor in the concept. It's almost a stretch to call it a thriller (and it's certainly not a typical horror movie; King's name alone is the only reason I'm even bothering to write about it here), but it's got two great performances and a unique concept, making it a win in my book despite the queasiness about the approach.

What say you?

*Since someone won't pay attention to my wording and say I'm wrong: Sleepwalkers was an original screenplay, not adapted from anything he ever published. And the other things he wrote (like The Shining mini-series) were television productions, not theatrical features.

PLEASE, GO ON...

October Mini-Review Roundup!

NOVEMBER 7, 2014

GENRE: ALL!
SOURCE: SCREAMFEST and SCREENERS

The fact that HMAD only had a single review throughout October really saddens me. I let you guys down, and myself. Granted it was insanely busy (in addition to the usual stuff, I now have the kid AND we moved. AND I took on a rather easy side job but one that forced me to be on my toes at all times and thus not able to write properly), but I still think I coulda found the time to at least post SOMETHING from Screamfest or the various movies I had to watch for my Netflix gig. Then again, it's been so insane that I haven't worked on my book in a month or seen Annabelle or Ouija yet, if it makes you feel better.

Anyway, the time has passed for all of these movies; after a few days my memory blanks too much to write a full review unless I took notes (which, of course, I didn't). I have half a Dark Was The Night review written that stops mid sentence and it'll never get finished because I simply can't recall enough to discuss without it being so vague that you'll question if I even actually saw it (which I did! I have witnesses AND a tweet from Kevin Durand saying it was nice to meet me at the premiere!). So you get capsule reviews of that and all the other movies I saw this month. This sort of clears the deck and now I'll be back to posting 1-2x a week, I hope. Fair enough?

(in alpha order)

COME BACK TO ME (Screener)
A surprise little gem, this movie seems like another "disturbed young person gets obsessed with their married neighbor" kind of thing, like The Crush or whatever, but we ultimately learn there's something far more sinister (and rather inspired) going on, resulting in, no lie, one of the best and ballsiest downer endings I've seen in ages. It feels a bit TV movie-ish at times, but that might even work in its favor when you consider the decidedly non-commercial ending.

CYPRIAN'S PRAYER (Screamfest)
This is a microbudget (5k!) possession movie from Bulgaria, and actually set there! Usually Bulgaria is subbing for any number of European countries (or even isolated US locations), but this is a rare exception. It's a pretty good entry in the post-Exorcist sub-genre of movies where a girl is possessed and a jaded priest has to save her, though it doesn't really do much new until the final few minutes. Also, the director curiously kept inserting (terrible) CGI effects where they weren't needed, as if to add production value. The lo-fi aspect was one of its strong suits - embrace it! Don't muddy it up with garbage pixels!

DARK WAS THE NIGHT (Screamfest)
I didn't get to as many films at the fest as I'd like, but of the ones I did this was my favorite. A character drama wearing a monster movie's clothes, it seemed like a Stephen King short story adapted to feature form, and I mean that as a compliment. The afore-namedropped Kevin Durand plays a small town sheriff who is grieving over the death of his son and overly protective of the surviving one, a handicap that is put to the test when a (spoiler?) Wendigo type creature makes its way into town after losing its habitat due to deforestation. The monster only makes a few appearances, as Tyler Hisel's script keeps the focus on Durand and other town members, letting the monster inform the drama rather than the other way around. It doesn't always work perfectly (there are two instances where it seems the movie will kick into higher gear only for that to not happen), but my own fears of not being able to watch/protect my son every second of the day (the boy died via accident under his watch, so he's of the "I should have been able to save him" opinion) were enough for me to not care and invest 100% into the narrative. This is the sort of thing I'd like to see more of at the fest - movies with commercial premises, just done differently.

GOAL OF THE DEAD (Screener)
I groaned when I saw the title of this one, as I've seen enough "_____ of the Dead" movies to last a lifetime - and the fact that it revolved around soccer was another red flag, though it made it easy to make jokes ("Oh so it's 90 minutes of nothing happening and ends in a draw?"). However, I ended up enjoying it quite a bit, even though I was a bit conservative with my joke about the runtime as it's actually a hair over two hours long. But it earns it, offering up several likable characters, each with their own arcs (the superfans who have to sneak into the game, the disgraced player returning to his hometown, the arrogant rookie who wants to leave the team for a better offer, etc) and a winning emphasis on folks working together and generally being pleasant instead of the usual zombie grim-fest. The zombie action is nothing special, but I quite enjoyed the spectacle of how the virus is spread: puking what looks like milk on each other. Also: best placement of a title sequence ever. I actually applauded even though I was watching alone.

HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME (Screamfest)
A very close race with Dark as my favorite film of the fest, this is a twisty, very sad haunted house drama about a woman who is accused of murdering her family in the 1980s and returns to it in the present day after serving her sentence. We see both timelines unfold, not unlike the recent Oculus, but if you consider the title you'll know that those two timelines really aren't that disparate in this particular house. There's some fun to be had seeing events unfold from two different perspectives (think Timecrimes or Insidious 2), but it never feels gimmicky - it's all in service of a very touching tale of the lengths a woman will go to in order to keep her family safe. This rightfully won some awards at the fest, and I pray it gets released as is in the US instead of snapped up just to be able to do an English remake (like [Rec] was).

JOY RIDE 3 (Screener)
More Saw wannabe nonsense, this time from Declan O'Brien of "the bad Wrong Turn entries" fame. I didn't exactly love the original movie (I actually said the sequel was better at the time I saw it, though I'm sure that's not true if I were to watch them back to back), but I can't see how fans of those will be happy here, since Rusty Nail has become a traditional killer in the Hitcher/Mick from Wolf Creek vein, and has mostly dropped his usual MO of playing with his victims in favor of Saw-level death traps (particularly in the opening sequence). There's no sense of perverse playfulness, just chases and kills. It's not terrible as these things go, but I guess I'm just not a fan of this series.

LEPRECHAUN: ORIGINS (Screener)
Last year, I was a guest on the Harmontown podcast, talking about Horror Movie A Day (it was right after I quit the daily part). For some reason, Harmon only wanted to talk about the Leprechaun films, which I had largely avoided over the years due to the fact that I didn't like the ones I had seen and figured my one or two reviews would suffice. But I know enough to know that this isn't a goddamn Leprechaun movie in any way shape or form - it's just your usual crappy Syfy channel monster flick, right down to the Canadian locations subbing for somewhere else (Ireland, in this case) and terrible effects. This Leprechaun doesn't talk, doesn't have a hat, and... well I don't know how to describe him really since the movie constantly hides him from our view, letting a baffling "Predator POV" type thing take the place of a traditional presence. And I have no idea what the "Origins" title refers to since he's already a "thing" when the movie starts (our heroes are being led to his domain to be a sacrifice to make amends for the gold they stole from it years ago), so it's even more offensive. I'm not a franchise fan at all and even I'm insulted that this thing is considered part of the series and is included on the new boxed set. It'd be like including the lousy 1990 indie Scary Movie (with John Hawkes) in a boxed set of the famous parody series.

PARLOR (Screamfest)
I don't know why this piece of junk was selected to open the festival, but it certainly didn't bode well for the event. Even if it came out in 2008 I think we'd be mocking it for being a derivative Hostel wannabe, so to see it in 2014 was just bewildering. As is often the case with these things, a bunch of partying vacationers are led to a mysterious place (in this case, a tattoo parlor) where they are dispatched, gorily, in order to keep a very secretive/exclusive business operation running. In between scenes of (admittedly impressive) gore FX, actor Robert Lasardo waxes philosophic about tattoos. It's as dumb as it sounds, but it made for a fun time at least; the crowd didn't take long to start laughing at the wooden dialogue and terrible performances, and I suspect the directing team was unaware that the film they made was going to be laughed at. So that was amusing.

SEE NO EVIL 2 (Screamfest)
As one of the 9 or so people who really liked the original film, and the easiest mark in the world when it comes to Danielle Harris movies, I really should have liked this movie more than I did. It's a serviceable enough slasher, and Katharine Isabelle gives it some spark that it probably doesn't deserve, but the script makes the fatal mistake of letting the entire group of would-be victims learn about Jacob Goodnight's new killing spree almost instantly, and so instead of using the location for stalk scenes or even basic "Where did ____ go? Let's go find him/her." scenarios, the bulk of the movie is little more than our 4-5 heroes running up and down what appears to be the same three hallways over and over. Every now and then Jacob will catch and kill one of them, but the kills are all pretty dull (an overlong opening title sequence showcases a bunch of medical tools (it takes place in a morgue), seeming to suggest that they'll be creatively mis-used, but he pretty much sticks to one or two weapons, or just his bare hands). They also botch the "it's the same night" aspect by constantly referencing Twitter for some reason, and he only gouges one pair of eyes, which is his "thing". But the Soskas directed it, so you'll hear it's amazing and a big step forward for the genre and all that, because they took a picture with whoever said that.

SEED 2
I don't even know where to begin with this one. The few people who enjoyed Seed probably didn't care if they made a sequel, and yet they made one anyway that doesn't jive with the first film in the slightest. Now it's some Texas Chain Saw/Hills Have Eyes wannabe thing, with Seed in the Leatherface role and horrendous lo-fi digital video replacing grainy, sun-drenched film. The film is told all out of sequence for reasons I can't really discern, beyond giving them license to put the movie's most graphic and gratuitously violent scene at the beginning even though it's part of the climax. Uwe Boll "presents" but doesn't do anything else, and I swear to Christ, even his harshest critics will probably miss him. Hilariously, it's been retitled Blood Valley: Seed's Revenge for DVD, but that doesn't make any sense since the first film was already his revenge and in this one he's just a henchman, basically. So dumb.

WRONG TURN 6 (Screamfest)
Hey, remember when I was talking about Bulgaria subbing for other locations? Once again it's being used to simulate West Virginia, for some reason. I had high-ish hopes for this one since Declan O'Brien was no longer directing, but alas, it continued to prove the rule for this series that the Canadian entries (1, 2, and to a lesser extent, 4) are superior to their Bulgarian-shot brethren. I am fairly confident that this one was an unrelated spec that got retrofitted as a Wrong Turn movie later, which is why we have our usual three mutants inexplicably working for a pair of incestuous rich assholes at a hotel/spa in the middle of nowhere. Our protagonist is a relative who has inherited the hotel and gets wooed into joining their strange way of life, much to the dismay of his friends. No one takes a wrong turn - the heroes are all exactly where they planned to be, and Three Finger and his pals only make fleeting, often extraneous appearances (like when they kill an old lady for no reason). I also couldn't begin to tell you where it fit into the timeline; anachronisms aside the series has had some semblance of continuity until now (with the order being 4, 5, 1, 2, 3), but this neither picks up from 5's cliffhanger-ish ending nor leads directly into the original or any other entry. It's an improvement over the last one I guess, but that's saying almost nothing. I just wonder if I'll be stupid enough to watch the inevitable Joy Ride vs Wrong Turn.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Mockingbird (2014) / Mercy (2014)

OCTOBER 11, 2014

GENRE: MOCKUMENTARY, SURVIVAL (Mockingbird);
POSSESSION (Mercy)
SOURCE: ONLINE (STREAMING SCREENER)

Because they are so cheap to make, Jason Blum's "Blumhouse Productions" are usually a sure thing at the box office - most of them are pretty good (Insidious, Sinister, etc), which helps, but with budgets capped at around 5 million they almost CAN'T be considered bombs as long as there's a good marketing hook to ensure a curious opening weekend. So when he created a sub-division (called "Tilt") to release some of his movies direct to VOD (with very limited theatrical runs for a few), you have to wonder if they're just horrible movies, or if they just have nothing that can yield a terrific trailer. Such is the fate of Mockingbird and Mercy, both of which could boast a "From the director of _____" claim as well as Blum's usual "From the producer of Insidious and (whatever the latest hit is)" one, but aren't being given the chance to turn into a surprise hit like The Purge or whatever.

Mockingbird is the bigger surprise, even though it has no stars. As it's the followup (finally!) film from Bryan Bertino, who wrote and directed the quite good (and quite profitable) The Strangers, I had high hopes for this one and expected to see it on the big screen, with his struggles to get a Strangers sequel (or anything else) going making this one even more alluring. "At least it's SOMETHING," I thought, worried but not totally convinced it'd be a stinker when it was announced that it'd be joining some other films in Blum's dump pile. Alas, I can't recall the last sophomore effort from a filmmaker that left me so disappointed; even though Mockingbird is, at times, a found footage version of The Strangers, Bertino never managed to engineer any real suspense, and despite a 82 minute length I found myself checking the time remaining display an alarming number of times.

It's got an intriguing hook (and a terrific beginning), at least. One night, three people find a video camera at their door, and are initially happy at their good fortune (one of them assumes it's their prize for a survey they filled out at the mall), only to get weirded out when they discover that the cameras' off buttons don't seem to work and they get creepy messages insisting that they never stop filming. It's a good way around the common found footage "Why are they still filming this?" problem, and it's set in the 90s so there are no cell phones or high tech gizmos to use to keep things "visually interesting" (meaning, they don't cut to security cam footage or a Skype call and ruin the whole POV aspect). The three people don't seem to know each other, but it's not exactly a spoiler to say that they will eventually meet up as they run through their tormentor's hoops. Videos arrive that prove that our heroes are being watched, one couple learns that their daughters are in danger, etc.

It's all well and good at first (except for the grating title cards), and doesn't take too long to get to the "scary/exciting" parts, but that's the problem - these things SHOULD be scary or exciting, but they're not. The constantly changing POV does it no favors - perhaps if presented as a sort of anthology that showed one journey in its entirety before cutting back to another POV from earlier in the night, it'd work better, but the character of Beth has no one to play off of (she's on the phone with someone for a bit at first, but otherwise it's a solo show), so whenever they cut to her it kills the energy built up by the others. Also the tones vary from one scenario to the other - the couple (who we meet first, and I think spend the most time with overall) is a straight up family-in-crisis/home invasion type thing, where their daughters are missing and the tormentors are being the most aggressive (RIP kitty). But Beth is on her own, so her scenes have her just kind of creeping around the house (and later, the yard separating her place from a giant estate), opting for more subtle creepout moments than the in your face thrills of the other.

And then there's the clown story, which is practically played for laughs. In that, an annoying loser who lives with his mom is tasked with dressing up like a clown and going around town pulling odd pranks or getting hit on purpose or whatever, like a Jackass movie but with just one of them. The scenery keeps changing and again it's more comedic than scary, so again we have the issue where the tone of the movie keeps changing, ruining any of the scenarios' chances of being effective as a whole. There are isolated moments, like when Beth has to confront a mannequin with a looped recording saying "Pick it up! Pick up the box!", which is fairly unnerving on its own, but before long it's back to the clown doing jumping jacks or whatever the hell. I'd bet money that there WAS a cut that presented each storyline in its own contained way, and it didn't work either so this was done to spice it up - I'd be very curious to see it the other way if I'm right.

It's no theory for Mercy though - this movie ("from the director of The Haunting In Connecticut!") definitely went through some tinkering. Running a mere 77 minutes (!), the film tries desperately to cut around what was clearly an earlier introduction for Dylan McDermott's character than currently presented, but they miss a shot. So you see him sitting with our main characters for a second, with no indication of who he is or how he relates to them, and if you haven't read the credits you'll just be sitting there saying "Wait, what the hell is Dylan McDermott doing there all of a sudden?", and then it's not for another 10 minutes that you see him again, this time with a (sort of) proper introduction. Even the most casual viewer could sense something was amiss, and the movie as a whole seems like the majority of the first act was chopped out to get to the "good stuff" quicker.

To be fair, it's not too bad - grandma (Shirley Knight) is either suffering from dementia or possessed by something, and of her three kids only Frances O'Connor has the patience to help take care of her, and she ropes in her kids (including Walking Dead's Chandler Riggs) to assist. But it's clear that meds and specialty foods aren't going to keep her calm, because WITCHES, man, so Riggs has to solve the mystery and get threatened by the non surprise villain and blah blah. It's like a 70s TV movie, actually, and while that's all well and good in theory, it's got the blandness without the charm (oh, and it'll cost you 20 bucks to watch as of this writing, instead of airing for free on one of the only 3 channels you had). Still, at least most of the tinkering is seemingly confined to the first act, and it's got a fun turn from Mark Duplass as O'Connor's asshole brother - he's basically playing a Rob Corddry type, and it's delightful.

And I don't know if it was just some weird thing the writer threw in, or taken from the Stephen King short story it's based on (I haven't read it, far as I can recall) but Riggs' older brother is a budding chef, so you have scenes of him trying to get people to eat sushi, and McDermott giving him a gift card to the grocery store... it's like, they cut McDermott's intro (and I think part of his backstory), but left in THIS? It's so random that I kind of liked it, and even though they don't have the balls to kill him off I appreciate the moment where he gets supernaturally attacked (like something out of a Final Destination movie) by refuse from a woodchipper. And even though he's like 12 or whatever, Riggs gets in on the action; Knight even throws him across the room during the climax. So if you ever wanted to see Paul Blart's mom smack Carl Grimes around, this will be your favorite movie ever. Everyone else... it's FINE, but so forgettable I'm already having trouble remembering how it ended (not the case with Mockingbird, which I watched first - I specifically remember that horribly dumb ending that retroactively ruins the best moment in the movie).

I know it's pretty rare to do a double up review here (obvious joke: it's rare to post anything at ALL here lately, yes yes), but it's hard not to lump them together - they're both Blumhouse castoffs that were at one point set to be wide released by Universal, finally being dumped on VOD on the same day. I may not care much for either of them, but I didn't love Purge either and that went on to make a zillion dollars for Universal and Blum, so my curiosity of "what happened" with these two is pretty piqued (certainly more than it was by anything on screen in either movie). That they're going out with M titles is also telling - this is an age where movies routinely get retitled in order to get better placement in the alphabetized VOD listings (a movie I did the titles for got changed from an S title to an "F" for this very reason), so they're leaving them right in the middle of the road, effectively burying them on VOD, as well as WITHIN VOD. They're doing the same with Stretch, a new Joe Carnahan film starring Patrick Wilson (who appeared in two of last year's biggest genre moneymakers, Insidious 2 and Conjuring), and the remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which I reviewed (positively) for Badass Digest. I'm not sure how many other Blumhouse projects will be met with the same fate, but it'll be a bummer if only the Purge and Insidious franchises get a shot from now on - what happened to taking low stakes gambles?

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

I'm Not Dead! At Least, Not Yet

Hey all, I know it's been quieter than the post-daily version of "quiet" here, but there's a good excuse! One is that my infant son is more or less sleeping through the night now, so I'm getting more sleep too! That's good for health, but bad for sitting around watching horror movies to pass the time. Another is that the HMAD book is coming along nicely; I won't have it ready for this year, sadly, but maybe during next year! Hurrah!

Third is that I'm moving soon (need a bigger place for Will), so my time that I used to use writing up reviews is now spent looking at real estate listings and calling realtors and asking if they allow cats. So it's all good and exciting stuff, but I know that means that HMAD gets shafted, and I don't care much for that. Luckily, Screamfest is starting soon, so I'll be bound BY LAW to post a few reviews from that. And I hope to see Annabelle soon (yep, the mighty BC from HMAD hasn't seen the only hit horror movie of the year), so that'll be another one to look for. In the meantime, head over to Badass Digest for my review of the new Town That Dreaded Sundown remake, as well as a month-long retrospective on the Saw series that I'm writing with fellow Badass Britt Hayes! Yay for Saw!

Also, if you are in or near Lubbock, Texas, please come to the Dismember The Alamo event at their Alamo Drafthouse on October 25th! It'll be four horror movies (secret titles) selected by yours truly, and I'll be handing out Scream Factory blu-rays and such. Plus it's at an Alamo so you get great food/drink while you watch my very carefully selected lineup! So that's another thing that will reduce HMAD posts but it's a hell of a lot more awesome than me spending a weekend writing/formatting a review of Joy Ride 3 or whatever the fuck.

P.S. Joy Ride 3 is pretty bad.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Tusk (2014)

SEPTEMBER 21, 2014

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

There's a scene in the 3rd season of Project Greenlight where Kevin Smith admits that he doesn't like horror movies, but after Red State and now Tusk, I think it's safe to assume he is basing his opinion on very few genre films, because it's abundantly clear that he doesn't know how to make one of his own. With a talented filmmaker one could see a movie like this and assume that the director wasn't beholden to the genre's "rules" and tropes because they were above them, but by his own admission Kevin Smith is not a talented filmmaker. An interesting one, sure, and he has displayed a unique voice as a writer, but it's clear he's just fucking around at this point, and I couldn't help but think that Tusk might actually have been better if he knew enough about horror movies to avoid cliches, or at least do something interesting with them.

For example, our hero (Justin Long) is summoned to an isolated house owned by a weird guy in a wheelchair (Michael Parks), who offers him tea when he arrives. Since the character is not British, the introduction of tea tells every single person who has ever seen a horror movie that it's poisoned and it won't be long before we see a POV shot of a blurred vision before Long slumps to the ground. But Kevin Smith either doesn't know that or thinks so little of his target audience that not only does Long exaggeratedly drink from the cup seemingly every time the director/editor cuts away from Parks (who is telling stories throughout this sequence), but he even has the actor specifically mention how unique the tea is and how it's nothing like he's ever had before. A more clever filmmaker might have used this as a ruse, making us smartypants horror fans THINK he was being drugged only for something else to happen, but no - eventually we see a POV shot of a blurred vision before Long slumps to the ground.

And thus I couldn't help but think - does Smith actually not even know how generic a device this is? Or is he mocking it, and if so, where is the laugh? The movie as a whole seems like a spoof of Human Centipede, with our lonely mad doctor creating a human/animal hybrid (in this case, a walrus) using at-home surgery, but if so Smith never bothers to let us know that - it's possible he hasn't even seen it. Is "inadvertent parody" a thing? He is clearly not above this brand of humor; the movie opens with a spoof of the infamous "Star Wars Kid" viral video (timely!) and one of his biggest hits was Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, which is ostensibly a sequel to Dogma and the other films but also loaded with ZAZ (late period ZAZ, I mean) level gags like Good Will Hunting 2 and a 4th Scream movie where the killer is a monkey (which, as it turns out, was a better surprise than the actual Scream 4 offered a decade later). Clearly, if he meant this to be a Centipede spoof there would be some specific reference to let us know that that was what he was doing, right?

Because the problem with the movie is that it simply isn't funny. A group of 20somethings sitting a row or two behind me were laughing at everything in the first few minutes, signaling that they were most likely part of his devout fanbase (and if you think he doesn't have very loyal fans, just bad-mouth him on Twitter and see what happens), but even they got pretty silent after a while. There are few discernible jokes in the film's 2nd half, and there's only one attempt at a scare scene in the entire movie (which actually works, believe it or not), involving Long's character trying to call his friends for help while Parks closes in on him, so if it's not a parody and not even much of a regular comedy, and it's certainly not a horror movie, what the hell is it?

However, there is a small chance you find the back half of the film very funny. To do so, you must appreciate the comic stylings of Guy Lapointe, played by an A-lister (not Ben Affleck, sadly) using a fake name and a disguise that might even prevent recognition, not unlike the folks who didn't realize the head of the studio in Tropic Thunder was Tom Cruise until his credit came up at the end. I admit I laughed at a couple of his lines, but as a whole his character and the performance are so grating I can't imagine how anyone would be completely enthralled by it even if they were just as big of a fan of this actor as they were of Smith. He's got a goofy accent, he acts like a 3rd rate USA network detective (all quirks, no character), and worse, he stops the movie cold and takes up the time that should be used on showing Wallace's transformation (yes, the guy who gets turned into a walrus is named Wallace. Because comedy.).

You see, among the movie's many other problems is that there's no second act, really - Wallace is a full human (minus a leg), and then the next time we see him he's completely engulfed by the makeshift walrus suit. Seeing stages of this transformation would have been interesting (at least, more interesting than watching _____ piss away more of the goodwill he's been squandering for a while now), but Smith denies us the chance to see how it even worked. Wallace's face is clearly shown in the walrus suit, but how much of his body is in there? Surely his lungs, heart, and other vital organs were kept intact, right? With Human Centipede we know exactly what was done, but here I spent a good chunk of the movie distracted, trying to figure out how exactly Parks' character was able to keep him alive through the surgery. I know I'm probably not supposed to care, but since Smith failed to provide anything worth caring about, I had to fill my head with SOMETHING.

To his credit, these monster scenes are obviously like nothing else in Smith's filmography, and Robert Kurtzman's FX are impressive (I love the various ears stitched around the walrus body). The introduction of the villain is riddled with fart jokes, so Smith clearly hasn't matured all that much, but he at least avoids too many cheap gags in the walrus scenes, and Parks is such a good actor that he manages to make this utterly ridiculous character into something of a tragic figure (he actually has a valid excuse for wanting to turn someone into a walrus, believe it or not). But Smith keeps retreating into comfortable territory, and our hero is too clearly based on himself - when Wallace boasts that his podcast and speaking engagements make him far more money than he ever made in the earlier part of his career, you will probably be able to hear your eyes rolling. But of course, he's also the most well-read podcaster in history, recognizing Hemingway quotes and such so we know he's also really smart. And, as always, his female lead is some sort of science fiction creation, a gorgeous woman who recognizes that our hero is a moron (and a two-timer, to boot) but will still happily blow him because she knows there's a good person in there somewhere, and we just have to take her word for it since all we've seen is how awful he is. This time the woman is played by Genesis Rodriguez, an impossibly attractive woman who, like her character, can and should be doing much better.

On the plus side, it's a step up from Red State, and Smith continues to improve as a director (or he's just hiring better DPs, either or), so there's something - he even tries to implement flashbacks to show us things we didn't see the first time, a new thing for him. The score is quite good and everyone except _____ turns in fine performances, so if nothing else it feels like a real movie, something even his much bigger budgeted Cop Out can't claim. And as annoying as _____ is, I couldn't help but kind of admire that a guy who gets 8 figure paychecks on the regular would dive right in and do something this wacky for a movie that cost 3 million bucks. But without any clear sense of what kind of movie he was making (the script was based on his stoned ramblings from an episode of his podcast, by the way), it never really comes to life, failing as a comedy and as a horror film. Maybe it IS a Human Centipede spoof, maybe it isn't - it doesn't matter. The point is, Human Centipede is actually funnier, and since he's clearly not interested in trying to scare us, there's something fundamentally broken here that makes Tusk nothing more than a curiosity at best.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Devoured (2012)

SEPTEMBER 7, 2014

GENRE: GHOST (or) PSYCHOLOGICAL
SOURCE: STREAMING (SCREENER)

There's a moment in Devoured that positively broke my heart, likely due to my recent entry into fatherhood. Our heroine Lourdes finds a birthday card that had been left behind in the restaurant where she works (as a maid, though we are shown she has cooking skill), and I assumed she just meant to bring it to a lost and found or something when she put it into her pocket. But no, later we see her crossing out the personalized message that was written in it and making it out to her son, who is back in Mexico, living with her mother while she tries to make ends meet in NY. I already feel guilty that I can't afford a house for my family, so the notion of being so poor that I couldn't even afford to buy him his own birthday card just killed me.

Indeed, the movie works more as a sad drama than a horror film. It doesn't take too much effort to figure out why Lourdes keeps seeing Carnival of Souls-like apparitions in her apartment and at the restaurant (the only two locations in the movie, pretty much), and there are a few too many phone calls where we don't see the other person on the line, sort of giving away the mystery by the process of elimination. It's a movie that obviously ISN'T TELLING US SOMETHING, but the story is so slight (and somewhat repetitive) that any halfway astute viewer can probably at least figure out the bulk of the mystery. Strange, director Greg Olliver makes it even more obvious with a prologue that starts at the end of the story, something that should just be hinting at what's to come but actually more or less cements the outcome by around the halfway point, when we've seen enough to figure it out. Without that prologue it might have been a bit more of a surprise; I'm baffled why they included it unless they just had to pad the runtime for contractual reasons or something (we even see a good chunk of the scene play out at the end the same way we did before, even though one or two shots would have sufficed to remind us where we were).

But, again, my mind is a bit more primed to notice the tricks such movies pull, thanks to 6 years of HMAD-ing. So hopefully the majority of viewers won't get tipped off in this peculiar way and let the surprises work as intended (and, I should note that I only correctly assumed part of the reveal - some of it was still a minor shock), allowing full enjoyment of this drama/horror blend. It's a tough sub-genre to pull off; horror films aren't exactly known for the deep characterization that a drama requires, and Olliver (and writer Marc Landau) double down on the difficulty by implementing a story that requires obscuring some key information about our heroine. Throughout the movie we see glimpses of her spending time with her son - it's unclear if these are flashbacks or dreams, and we also have to wonder why she doesn't seem all that fazed about the apparitions sometimes - is this a recurring problem, or a new development? As the movie is low on dialogue (she spends many scenes alone) and slightly repetitious by design (we want to understand how soul-crushing her life is as she struggles to raise money for her family) we get more time to think about these things than we might normally, which might be why I was able to determine the twist so early on (that plus, again, I'm hardwired to spot certain things that I can't really explain without spoiling it! Though I will stress she's not a ghost).

As for the scares, they're pretty stock (ghost shows up! Now he's gone!) but there's one that seems inspired by Audition that was pretty nifty, and the question of whether or not she's just seeing things or if they're really there lends the movie some added tension whenever someone else shows up. There's a cop (or firefighter? I forget now) who she strikes up a friendship with after accidentally spilling coffee on him (a meet-cute in a horror film!), and he often shows up just after a scare scene - will she tell him why she's so scared, or keep it to herself so she doesn't look crazy? That keeps us on our toes, as do the myriad number of things we KNOW have deeper meaning (like that back closet, or the guy who seems to follow her into the kitchen after hours) that you won't be able to detect even if you figure out the main thing. The pieces are all put in place at once at the end (with an accompanying Saw-style "let's look at this stuff again now that we have new context" montage); I wish they were spread out a bit more, but suffice to say you shouldn't have any questions by the end. And you'll be sad, so bonus!

And that's pretty much it. I always struggle with these reviews; I don't want to tip you off with more info about the plot that might give something away, and the things I like AND dislike also would require me to inadvertently spoil things, which I don't like to do for smaller release films that are just now seeing release. It's not a perfect movie, but I admired what they were trying to do, and they get enough right to warrant my blessing. Marta Milans does a fine job carrying the movie (she's in nearly every frame) and even with the cramped, minimal locations Olliver finds new angles often enough to keep it from being visually stale (though I couldn't quite piece together the layout of the kitchen/freezer - was it behind the restaurant, or down another level?). It's also a "real New York" horror movie, like Larry Fessenden's Habit, showing areas that haven't been depicted over and over in movies while avoiding any obvious landmarks. All in all, worthy of your VOD rental, if mainly to see how long it takes you to figure out its twist... if you can.

What say you?


PLEASE, GO ON...

Willow Creek (2013)

SEPTEMBER 6, 2014

GENRE: MOCKUMENTARY, MONSTER (?)
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Well it took what seems like a half dozen tries, but I've finally found a good found footage movie about Bigfoot. You'd think it'd be the easiest thing to pull off since it's a well known story and there are probably hundreds of legitimate home videos of idiots walking around in the Pacific Northwest looking for him, but as far as my (admittedly spotty) memory is concerned, Bobcat Goldthwait is the only one to do it. Willow Creek doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel when it comes to doing a found footage movie, but it gets so much right that others get wrong that it FEELS like it does; had I watched it in early 2013 (when I was so tired of FF films I swore them off for a while) I'd probably declare it a masterpiece in comparison.

Don't get me wrong, it's a good movie on its own right - the pacing is acceptable for this sort of thing (read: can be a bit slow, but with only two characters instead of the usual 3-4, that's an acceptable issue), the characters likable, and the scares effective. But it's just amusing that it succeeds mainly for doing found footage RIGHT; you'd think that would be the one thing that you can count on, but so many of them botch even the simplest elements that we sadly DO have to point out when a filmmaker actually considers his narrative and characters when taking this approach to creating a film. When the hero turns on his camera because something just happened (instead of the more common mistake of inexplicably having the cameras already rolling for no reason and just so happening to get something exciting in the frame), I was relieved - this one knew what it was doing.

Then again, Bobcat Goldthwait is a real filmmaker. Much like Martin Scorsese using 3D in a far more superior way on his first time out (Hugo) than some others have done after 3-4 tries, Goldthwait knows enough about how to construct a film that he is able to implement this tool (and that's what it is: a tool. Not an excuse.) in an effective way that rarely has you questioning why they're filming or (worse) wondering why he was using the POV gimmick anyway. As many of these films go, our heroes are making a documentary (about Bigfoot, of course), so not only do we have the built in explanation for all the tapes and batteries they must have, but it even makes sense why they film when things get a bit scary - that's exactly what they're there for. Unlike a ghost or whatever, Bigfoot's legacy is centered on the fact that there's only ever been one good film of him (the Patterson-Gimlin one), so sticking around for a few more second hoping to catch another glimpse before running for the hills is easy enough for an audience to buy, unlike some made up ghost that we have zero connection to beyond what the movie has invented before that point. The real mythology and interest surrounding Mr. Foot also gives him some added production value most FF movies can't have, such as a giant mural depicting Bigfoot helping people build houses and such (I guess the idea is that he's a resident and not something to fear), and a Bigfoot diner serving Bigfoot burgers and such. Even if you have for some reason gone your whole life without ever hearing of him, the movie has enough at its disposal to clarify its significance. Most movies just have to settle for having their characters look at (obviously fake) websites to sell their backstory.

Another thing making it work so well is that they make it ambiguous. Early on our heroes are scorned by a local for making fun of a giant Bigfoot statue, and when they enter the woods they run afoul of an angry man who gives them the "go back where you came from and stay the fuck out" speech, so (unlike Blair Witch Project, which never introduced such "red herrings") you get the idea that the noises they hear and the destruction of their tent could just be locals trying to scare off the city folk. A raccoon is also introduced as a possible "suspect", and of course bears are mentioned more than once. Given his comedic background, I was always half-expecting Goldthwait to pull the wool over our eyes and do something that might be construed as making fun of either Bigfoot hunters OR the found footage sub-genre as a whole; I won't spoil if he DOES, but I will say that this makes his scares more effective, as you're always kind of letting your guard down by thinking there's a non-Bigfoot explanation for what's happening.

But the real thing that sets this one apart from the pack is an incredibly nerve-wracking 18 minute single take shot that kicks off the film's 3rd act. I remember back when I made a Blair Witch parody back in 1999 I tried like 25 times to get the obligatory "apology" parody scene done in one take, only to realize later that Heather's version had several jumpcuts and thus I didn't need to bother (which, of course, could be said for the whole affair), and ever since I've always wondered why the sub-genre didn't have more of these epic single take shots. Bobcat must have wondered the same, and so he finally offers one; like others it starts after the first scare has already occurred, and we get to see the skeptical girlfriend (it's the male character who is gung ho about Bigfoot; she's just there to help out and spend time with him) go from "it's nothing, go back to sleep" to hysterical and scared, played out literally in real time. It's worth the price of admission alone to watch this one scene (which has four chapter breaks on the Blu!), and it further demonstrates how intelligently Goldthwait approached the aesthetic - BWP is one of the very few to offer an explanation for the obvious edits and the like (as the police gave the footage to a film school to sort out and tell a story to assist with their case), and this is not one of the others. Thus, it wouldn't make sense to have any cuts (the camera has been placed down, our only two characters are on-screen and not close enough to hit pause), and this isn't the only example - an early scene has the male doing the documentary intro 5 times as he keeps messing up. Unlike 99% of these things, I really felt like this was the full, unedited tape that was found by someone.

I just wish that he hadn't included a couple of moments that seem directly lifted from Blair. Most of these movies end up being compared to it no matter what (just as any possession movie gets an Exorcist namecheck in the review), and that's fine, but he could have reduced it some by not having a bit where our heroes break down over the fact that they walk by the same tree they passed hours ago. In BWP there was a possible supernatural explanation for this, that the woods weren't going to LET them leave, but there's no such element in this movie (unless I misunderstood something), so it just suggests that our characters are fools who can't walk in a straight line. The other isn't as big of a deal - there's a scare scene that starts with loud knocking noises and finally something rattling the tent, another big moment in BWP that I wish he could have avoided reprising.

Dark Sky's Blu-ray has some nice extras, including a deleted scene with a real Bigfoot hunter and a fun behind the scenes look at Bobcat and his DP trying to make the giant footprints in the mud without wrecking them or getting human prints mixed in and killing the illusion. The trailer, which possibly plays up the scares a bit too much, is also included, but the real draw is the commentary by Goldthwait and the two actors, Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson. Both have worked with him before, and so they have a pretty nice rapport and cover all usual bases in a very relaxed and genial way that most tracks lack. Bobcat points out some fun Easter Eggs (like his legs being reflected in a shot where he was lying down in the backseat of the car) and laments forgetting to brush away the fake tracks he made, worried someone will find them and they will become what's known as "false evidence" about his existence. They also discuss how much of the film was created by the actors on the spot (he had a roughly 25 page outline) and how the one-take shot was pulled off, with him and his cohorts listening to the (improvised) dialogue via walkie talkie so that they could dole out their scares at the best possible moments (i.e. when the two of them had explained away the last scare and were about to relax again). The movie is only 80 minutes long, so there's no reason you should skip the track if you dug the film - you got time!

I really wish more veteran filmmakers would try the found footage thing. Many of them are by first timers who, no offense, simply don't understand enough about storytelling to handle what is essentially a crutch. Of course there are exceptions (the Blair guys, Oren Peli), but for every one of those there's a dozen from directors who I'm not convinced could make a compelling film even without something that requires finesse to pull off with any measure of success. Maybe I take these things more seriously than the average moviegoer who just wants a few cheap scares, but I look at it the same way I do 3D: a tool that when used correctly can create a truly memorable moviegoing experience. And like 3D, it's a shame found footage gets used a selling point by producers and filmmakers who simply don't appreciate the power it has when implemented with care. So kudos to Goldthwait for reminding me that it's not the gimmick itself that makes my eyes roll - it's the number of films where it's simply not being used half as well as it is here.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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