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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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

Cub [Welp] (2014)

AUGUST 25, 2015

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Hurrah! I haven't gone soft! If you've read the majority of my recent reviews, you'd know that I get worked up about dead kids/bad parents/killer kids/etc type material in my horror movies now that I have a child of my own, but Cub played just as well to me as it would have two years ago. The plot is about a killer lurking around where a cub scout troop had set up their camp in the woods, and damned if I didn't think at one point "I hope they have the balls to kill at least one of these little kids!" That's the guy I used to be! Welcome back, unfeeling asshole!

As for my "prayers", they were answered, though I won't go into anything specific like a number. Being that it's a slasher film you know that the six adults are goners (well, five of them - more on that soon), and that's just enough to satisfy bloodthirsty slasher fans such as myself, especially since it's only 84 minutes long and it's not like we're being barraged by the things every week like in the early 80s. But fear not, if you want to think about the reality of the world Jonas Govaerts (and co-writer Roel Mondelaers) created here, some parents will be getting sad phone calls about their 12-ish sons. It may not be as gruesome as Weird Al's "Nature Trail To Hell" ("There's a homicidal maniac who finds a cub scout troop/And he hacks up two or three in every scene!") but my jaw dropped at one point, so that should count for something.

I'm not sure WHY it didn't get under my skin, though I suspect it has something to do with the anonymity of the kids. We really only get to know a few of them (there's about a dozen), with the others just sort of there in group scenes and given identities in throwaway dialogue (like a game of "Simon Says" when a couple of them are disqualified by name). And we spend most of our time with one of them, Sam, introduced as the obligatory quiet kid who didn't really want to be there and of course the only one to notice something is wrong. See, the scout leaders (both 20ish guys) tell a story of Kai, a werewolf boy who haunts the woods and will get you if you're bad - standard boogeyman stuff invented to keep the impressionable kids in line. But as it turns out, there really IS a Kai (or at least, someone who fits the "made up" description), and he's the one stealing their food and such, but of course no one believes Sam - they just think it's him telling stories to cover his own crimes.

But there are some twists to this seemingly traditional "Boy Who Cried Wolf" scenario, played against the backdrop of a standard (but well-done) woods-based slasher movie. Before long we discover that there's a full grown, typically silent and hulking killer in the area as well, operating not unlike Jason in the Platinum Dunes remake: he's got a lair, as well as traps set up around the woods that provide a hefty chunk of the movie's kill scenes. I particularly liked the one where setting off the trap resulted in an arrow firing into a hornet's nest, and continuing on to impale a victim, nest now pinned to him. We can all agree that CGI should appear as often in slasher movie kill scenes as nudity in a kiddie flick, but this is the rare exception where I had no problem with it - the CGI hornets won't win any awards, but it's being used for a fun/inventive kill that couldn't be done traditionally. They go practical where it counts (blood) and that's what matters most.

So then you have to ask yourself if the killer and "Kai" are working together, or if the latter is actually just some innocent and hungry feral kid. As Sam takes a liking to him (and Kai later protects him from an animal attack) you will also start to wonder if Sam will live up to his reputation as a weirdo, or find a way to get through to his fellow scouts who mostly hate him and save the day. In other words, there's more going on on a narrative level than you might expect from a movie that involves a killer in the woods, more than making up for its few missteps - such as a bizarre omission that I had to double check (via Twitter) to make sure I hadn't just dozed off or gotten a glitched disc or something. Early on we meet two local assholes who become instant enemies of our two hero scout leaders, but while one of them gets his obligatory death (the hornets, in fact), the other just disappears. I kept waiting for him to show up looking for his brother, and then kept assuming Sam or someone would stumble across his body, but that moment never came. Two of the cub scouts also basically vanish after a close call with death, which irked me even more than the asshole guy's unceremonious exit. It'd be like if Lynda and Bob disappeared from Halloween after we saw Michael watching them fool around on the couch.

Then again, this is a first time feature from a guy who used indiegogo to fund the film (they're listed at the top along with the regular production companies), so just being watchable already puts him above par for the course. That it's actually quite good and a fine modern slasher (one of the best I've seen since Cold Prey, in fact - not a huge number of options, I know, but still) is damn laudable. The Blu-ray has some bonus features, including a short film and a music video, but some are actually relevant to the film. A pair of deleted scenes is probably the most intriguing, particularly the first which shows a glimpse of Sam's seemingly very normal home life, so I'm glad they cut it as it makes him more of an enigma. The other supplement worth a look is a breakdown of the VFX, which were mostly used to add depth to the shots (more trees, mountains, etc) but you'll probably be surprised to discover the use of CGI in another shot. It's a reminder of how the knee-jerk reaction to visual FX is a silly one - it's a tool that should be used invisibly (or to the best of current abilities for things that can't be achieved in any other way), and thus it's nothing to shit on in general.

I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that the slasher movie will never be as dominant as it once was, but as long as we keep getting the occasional gem like this, it makes up for the reduction. Sort of like your favorite band putting out an album - as much as you might love it, there's always that sort of sad feeling that it'll be 2-3 years before they make another. The Hollywood attempts to revive it are non-existent; not counting sequels to proven franchises (and even that doesn't always work out - see Scream 4) the last wide release original slasher that I can think of was My Soul To Take, which barely counts (more traditional - you have to go back to 2006 with See No Evil). It's the little indies and foreign films like this and Stage Fright that are keeping the genre alive for lifers like me, and I personally thank filmmakers like Govaerts for fighting the good fight.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Sinister 2 (2015)

AUGUST 21, 2015

GENRE: KILLER KID, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I was a pretty vocal champion of the first Sinister, and when I tallied up my favorite genre films of that year it came in behind only two others (and this was back when I saw 365+ horror movies a year, of course). One of those two films was Citadel*, so you can imagine I was pretty damn excited when the director of the latter signed on for Sinister 2, which would retain the writers of the first film. I didn't think it particularly NEEDED a sequel, but I figured the creative team and new characters (obviously) would give it enough of a spark to warrant a pass, especially in a year that's been painfully short on R-rated horror. Alas, as the saying goes: if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. The trailers didn't excite me much, but I still went in optimistic... only to leave disappointed. At best it felt like a DTV sequel (one that would have a much higher number than "2") that I'd watch at home and say it wasn't bad for a DTV sequel before forgetting that it existed, but that's hardly a ringing endorsement.

It's got a couple things in its corner, so I'll get to those first. The home movies return, and while none of them are as good as the original's "Lawn Work", there's a pretty good mix of pretty evil shit on display, including one family who is killed by the kid doing the "rat and bucket" torture we saw in 2 Fast 2 Furious. You almost get the impression the writers sat around coming up with crazy scenarios, not unlike the Saw guys coming up with the new traps. And while I originally groaned at the use of Night of the Living Dead on a TV (way overused in horror films due to its public domain status), it's the rare case of it actually making sense - the scene they're watching is of the little girl killing her mom. Sure, it's foreshadowing something we already know is gonna happen since this is a sequel to a movie where a little kid killed their parents, but for those three or four people watching this without having seen the first, it's a fun little throwaway clue.

And while I missed Ethan Hawke (and his fantastic sweater), James Ransome's Deputy So-and-So returns and takes center stage, so I was kind of charmed that this awkward, kinda goofy guy not too much unlike myself was the hero in a horror movie. When I heard he was returning as the lead I figured they'd shed him of his quirks and make him more of a traditional hero, but nope! If anything he's even more skittish, so it's kind of fun seeing that kind of character reacting to the usual horror movie nonsense (jump scares, reveals, etc). There's a scene where he has to stand up to some crooked cops, and when he actually succeeds he lets out this huge gasp, as if he was shocked it actually worked - I loved that bit. Even during the big climax, he's kind of a goon, pitifully hiding behind a desk and almost instantly getting trapped when the ghosts push it against the wall.

But his expanded role also hurts the movie in two ways. One is that they continue the "So-and-so" joke to a distracting degree. In the first he was a supporting character who only really dealt with Hawke's character, so it was a harmless, amusing little gag. But not so much here - he shows up at Shannyn Sossamon's house (she's the single mom with two boys who serves as this movie's main family) and she never asks his name, nor does her ex or the cops he brings with him when they show up later and try to get the boys back from her (it's the rare movie to present a nasty custody battle between two characters we don't really know). Like they have no idea who he is, and no one bothers to ask (even after he confronts them! Not even a rhetorical "Who the hell are you?"), which is absurd. A friend even calls him on the phone and calls him "Deputy" (even though he's no longer a deputy, having been fired for his transgressions in the first film), and while text messages from Sossamon's phone play a minor role, we only see his screen, never hers (which would almost assuredly have his name listed). I mean, Christ - was it really that important to retain this "detail" that they had to go out of their way to avoid giving him a damn name?

The other is more damaging - he's way behind the audience, even though we're supposed to be seeing these events through his eyes. An hour into the movie (more?) he visits a colleague of the Vincent D'Onofrio character from the first film (who sits this one out, he's mysteriously disappeared but left all of his research to this guy), who plays him some recordings from Norway (!) and we learn that Boogie always needs some sort of physical record - not necessarily film as we've seen so far (audio, artwork - anything works as long as it's evidence of his existence, which allows him to continue it). That's fine, but the movie then adds to the exposition dump and stops cold to inform So-and-so (and thus the audience) that Boogie... uses kids to do his deeds! You know, something we learned in the last movie and have been watching 60+ minutes of this one fully aware. The scene is shot/written/edited as if it should be just as big of a surprise to us at it was to him, and it was only at this point I realized So-and-So hadn't actually known that all along. I assumed all of his research (he's got one of those big boards, with red yarn connecting spots on a map and everything!) and the fact that he's been traveling around burning down "Boogie houses" to try to stop the cycle had informed him of the obvious link that the kids were doing it - never even crossed my mind he wouldn't have been aware of it by that point.

But at least his scenes are still entertaining in their little way, unlike the ones with Sossamon and her kids, which are tiresome and weighed down by a sub-Lifetime movie storyline about her one-note, abusive ex. There's a kernel of a good idea about Boogie's target being a dysfunctional family instead of the seemingly all-American normal ones we see in all of the home movies, but the husband's cartoonish villainy (he beats So-and-So to a pulp for no real reason, slaps one of the sons around for not eating his mashed potatoes, etc - it's about one step away from William Forsythe's stepfather asshole in Rob Zombie's Halloween) keeps it from ever being remotely interesting, because it's too simplistic and cliched to register. The original had the fine subplot of Hawke's declining career (and accompanying financial struggles), giving him (and his wife) some three-dimensional qualities you aren't always going to find in horror, but this mustache-twirling tyrant is seemingly the only thing that gives Sossamon's character a personality at all. She restores furniture, and hides a smoking habit, and... uh, that's it. If the husband hadn't found her it's possible she'd just be fixing up her old chairs and not really noticing that her sons were in some serious need of counseling.

See, the other key difference is that this time we're seeing Boogie work his "charms" on the kid, focusing on the would-be killer instead of his eventual victims. And the boys are twins, so the filmmakers get to have some fun with the idea that either one of them might be Boogie's next disciple (or, even cooler, maybe they'd fight over who got to be the chosen one). This means we get a lot more of the ghost kids that everyone hated in the first movie (that scene where Hawke walks around his house as ghost kids jump around like assholes all around him is the only part of the movie I didn't like), as they visit the more obvious kid (the quieter one) every night and make him watch another home movie. They even load the film for him! But he keeps resisting their attempts to recruit him, so finally his brother - more aggressive, like his dad - takes his place. But again, while this may be exciting to someone who hadn't seen the original (or even the trailer for this one, which focused heavily on its final reel), we know where it's headed, so watching them stretch it out, crawling to its inevitable conclusion, is far from riveting cinema. The only question is whether or not this kid will succeed - will he kill his family, or will someone stop him this time? As you might expect, waiting for the final 5 minutes for the movie to spring its only real source of suspense at us isn't really that great of an idea.

And that's the thing about the movie as a whole - there's no sense of surprise. The new details about Boogie aren't that exciting (he's... been to Norway?), the characters are all way behind the audience's knowledge of what's going on, and (spoiler of sorts) they don't really have the balls to do anything crazy. The R rating is mostly earned from the 8mm movies of people we don't know being killed and Sossamon's potty mouth, and I sincerely doubt the MPAA would have given it an R simply for being too scary like they did with The Conjuring. The jump scares aren't that effective (the best one was spoiled in the trailer) and there's no impending sense of dread like the original offered - I almost started to wish one of the boys suffered from night terrors. With the audience already likely to show up they should have used the opportunity to go even darker this time, taking the risk they can certainly afford (it's a Blumhouse movie, after all - profitability is guaranteed), but instead they went the other way - it felt tamer. Hell, they couldn't even trigger my over-reactive dad mechanism - normally over the past year I'd be bummed out/worked up with so many dead kids, but if anything I just felt bad that I brought my son to daycare early this morning so I could get to the theater and see this almost shockingly half-assed affair. I'd rather listen to the goddamn Alphabet Song for the millionth time (it seems every other toy he owns will play it) than watch a horror sequel go through the motions so soon in a would-be franchise.

What say you?

*Attack the Block was the other. No connection to Sinister 2, far as I can tell. Though I DID momentarily ponder how interesting an inner-city, apartment complex setting might be for this sort of thing.


PLEASE, GO ON...

The Harvest (2013)

AUGUST 17, 2015

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

I hope you haven't had it up to here with me talking about my baby Will, because otherwise you'll be skipping quite a bit of this review of The Harvest, John McNaughton's long-awaited return to feature filmmaking. But I'll save that for the next paragraph and just let you know that this is a pretty great dramatic thriller, and that's not me acting like a fearful producer or publicist - whatever you might hear, this is NOT a horror movie in the usual way. Scary (to parents), sure, but even the thriller elements are confined to a few key scenes - you should watch this as a sad/dark character drama first, thriller second, for it to work at its full potential. Granted, a new McNaughton film should be enough to excite you, but some might hear his name and "horror" and expect another Henry - this is most certainly not the case.

But honestly, I'd rather watch Henry's most uncomfortable scenes on a loop for an eternity than ever have to face the situation our protagonists do here. Michael Shannon and Samantha Morton play a couple whose only son is suffering from illness, unable to walk and mostly confined to his bed. Andy makes the acquaintance of Maryann, a new girl in town who lives nearby with her grandparents, but his parents are hellbent on keeping them from spending too much time together (though Shannon seems at least slightly more open to the idea). Around the halfway point we discover why (SPOILER): there's another child in the basement, in a coma and about the same age as Andy. Maryann does some sleuthing and discovers that there was a kidnapped boy that fits the description, and if you're unsure what they're up to, look at the title again (and did I mention that Morton's character is a doctor?).

So basically you have 100 minutes of every parent's nightmare rolled into one. The kidnapped boy's parents aren't in the movie, and thank Christ for that because it was hard enough watching Shannon and Morton deal with their sick kid - I don't know if I could handle seeing the anguish of parents whose child had been snatched away from them. Plus it would make my mental turmoil even harder to deal with - I am very much of the opinion that there is absolutely nothing I wouldn't do to keep my son alive and well, but would that extend to taking someone else's child? Luckily for that theoretical other kid I'm not a doctor, so if Will ever needed an organ donor I'd have to go through the proper channels, but putting myself in Morton's shoes - she had the ability to keep her son alive (and presumably, no way of getting him higher on the organ transplant list) and acted on that. Bad as I feel for the other, unseen family, I can't really side against her on that one. I panic every time Will coughs - no telling what I'd do if it was anything serious.

And it's not even that stuff that smacked my gut over and over, as it deals with other parental nightmares too. There's a scene where Shannon looks at a photo album and sees a picture of him with their son, both happy (and, twisting the knife, the boy about Will's age), coupled with another scene where he tries to bond with the kid as he plays a video game, failing miserably - that one hurt just as much as the sick kid stuff. My dad and I didn't have much in common, and that hurt enough when he died - it hurts even more now that I have a son of my own, wondering if the same thing will happen to me someday (his current obsession with bouncing balls is troubling - Stephen Hawking could probably beat me at any sports game). I can't reconcile the idea that the little boy who laughs maniacally when I come home from work and races over to me to clutch at my leg might someday have nothing to say to me, so seeing it happen to Shannon (one of our greatest actors who can sell that pain with a mere flutter of the eyes) was no picnic.

(Oh, on the sports note - it even has a scene where a kid is nearly killed playing softball. Like I said, it's EVERY parent's fear in one movie.)

Worse, Morton is even more tyrannical when it comes to sheltering him from having friends. When she learns he's snuck her into the house to play video games she freaks out: throws out his toys, demolishes the corn he was growing outside (title has two meanings!), and worst of all, shows no concern for when he falls out of his bed trying to plead with her to stop. And then she slams his fingers in the door when she storms out! It's brutal to watch; luckily I don't really fear my wife or I ever stooping that low but it was still far more upsetting for me to see than any random murder in a typical horror movie (similar to the scenes in Babadook when the mother loses her cool with her kid - and this tyke isn't annoying!). Ultimately we learn a bit more about why she's so uncaring toward his wellbeing, softening those blows (if retroactively), but man - to sum up, this movie is not an easy watch at times, and I wonder how unnerved I'd feel about it two years ago, when I was still just a childless schmuck who only had two cats to worry about.

Because all that said, the movie itself leaves a little to be desired. Strip away my omnipresent parental hangups, and what's left is a pretty good but slightly undercooked drama that hinges on a couple of reveals and some great performances. In fact I can't help but wonder if it might work as well or better as a stage play, as most of it takes place in their house (and the few scenes that don't could easily be transplanted there) and the performances are the main reason to see it. The thriller elements aren't strong enough for it to really stick out in that regard (there's even a "get out of the house before someone catches you" scene, which is to the thriller as a car not starting is to a horror movie), and some plot points could have used another draft or two to clarify or strengthen - particularly the kidnapped boy's origins. The final scene is also technically happy but kind of confusing as well (can't explain without spoilers), as if it was tacked on late, or given the slightly long runtime, if there was more to the final scene that was cut to move things along. Unusual for a Scream Factory release (with IFC), the disc doesn't have any extras at all, so there's no deleted scenes or commentary to clarify such things.

But it's definitely worth a look, whether you're a parent or not. It's a shame some are trying to pin it as a horror movie, because I think that will just set viewers up for massive disappointment (indeed, I was kind of assuming it was a slow burn thing with something far more insidious going on in the basement; luckily I reset my expectations in time). Sure, it's ironic that this non-horror movie unnerved me more than 99% of traditional scare flicks, but the label evokes something this movie doesn't even attempt to offer, so it's misleading and kind of insulting. And it's not like McNaughton only works in the horror genre (out of 7 or 8 features, only 2 are horror), so it's even stranger attempt. A couple of startling moments does not a horror movie make - and it's not worth potentially turning away horror-phobic viewers from seeing such great performances.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Human Centipede 3 [Final Sequence] (2015)

AUGUST 1, 2015

GENRE: COMEDIC, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: STREAMING

"It’s actually much tamer than I was expecting" - BC, Human Centipede 1 review
"I kind of admire the attitude Six took with his approach to a followup, and... I find myself actually excited about the upcoming third film." - BC, Human Centipede 2 review

With that, on the behalf of anyone else who gave these movies a pass I'd like to apologize for the existence of The Human Centipede 3 [Final Sequence]. Apparently, people like me didn't learn our lesson last time, and now Tom Six has taken it upon himself to push our endurance even further, with a film so ugly that racial slurs barely even register. The "point" of this movie (and possibly the series as a whole) is pretty easy to discern, when Dieter Laser's character (a sadistic prison warden - he's not playing his HC1 character), dressed in attire much like that of Tom Six himself, comes across a prisoner who WANTS to be part of a human centipede. Laser instantly shoots him dead while screaming "I don't want anyone liking this!", and then it finally hit me: we were never supposed to enjoy even the first film of this series.

Seriously, what else could one possibly take away from that moment? It can't be coincidence that Laser is dressed as Six (since Six even appears in the movie as himself, wearing a nearly identical outfit, it's not like it requires you to have insider knowledge to see the connection, he puts it into the goddamn movie), and he is literally angry that someone might actually be enjoying the idea of a human centipede. So I have no choice but to believe he was somehow angry (or at least, surprised) that people made comments like mine on his first movie, prompting his much more vile sequel, and then when some folks (again, like me, albeit not nearly as enthusiastic as I was for the first) didn't write him off after that, he decided he had to be a bit more blunt. OK, Mr. Six - you win. I hated your new movie and won't watch a fourth one if you inflict one upon us. Are you happy now?

So what's the difference between this and the last one? Well, once again (as predicted) we learn that the previous movie was just a movie, one quite enjoyed by an accountant played by Laurence Harvey (the actor who played the protagonist in HC2, also as a new character who doesn't notice the physical resemblance to the guy he's watching on screen) but very much hated by his boss (Laser's warden character). The warden is a total psychopath who abuses his prisoners in a variety of ways (including waterboarding with boiling water) and forces his assistant (Bree Olson, the film's only female character) to fellate him on the regular. Somehow even worse than that is Laser's insistence on screaming every one of his lines in an accent that can best be described as a bad, half-drunk Al Pacino impression, which I assume is supposed to be funny but often just made me reaching to turn on the subtitles. Harvey fares a bit better playing a weak-willed right hand man of sorts, though his role mostly consists of endlessly pleading with Laser to hear an idea he has.

After a half hour or so of this bullshit (which includes Laser eating from a jar of severed, dried clitorises, plus other prisoner torture scenes, including a graphic castration), Harvey finally gets to explain his idea: turning all of the prisoners (500+) in a giant human centipede, which will not only satisfy his boss' need for inflicting trauma on his prisoners, but also save the state some money on food and other expenditures (plus deter crime on the outside world, as no one would want to commit murder, rape, theft, etc if it meant they might end up in one). The warden is into the idea, and shows the prisoners the first two films to let them know what they're in for. This causes a riot, in which Olson is beaten nearly to death for no real reason (other than to allow Laser to rape her while she's in a coma), but it's settled rather quickly and the warden is free to carry out his plan. This involves killing a few more prisoners (including one with a colostomy bag who wouldn't be able to fit into the centipede properly) and other tone-deaf attempts at humor, so by the time the centipede is actually formed the (painfully long 102 minute) movie is just about over.

Speaking of the length, I'm almost willing to bet that the movie was never actually edited. Full-screen titles usually include the editor's credit, and in the rare instances that he/she is not given the respect of their own card, they'll be listed pretty early in the scrolling part of the credits. But here it's buried beneath the caterer, almost at the very end, making me wonder if the "editor" was merely the person responsible for taking all of Six' garbage footage and putting it in order. Scenes go on forever, any number of them could have been cut outright (if anyone can justify the dream sequence where Laser is stabbed and then raped in the wound, by all means let's hear it), and there's no flow whatsoever - it's just THERE. Sure, they might have spent some time making sure the color matched and the sound editing was up to standards, but I honestly can't see Six, an editor, and maybe a producer sitting there debating over whether or not to trim down the scene where Laser fires his gun into the prison's ceiling over and over for no discernible reason. Christ, even though fellow abuse factory Salo is actually longer, its less of an endurance - and that's not even played for laughs!

The sad thing is that there's a kernel of an interesting idea here, though it would have worked better if the first sequel hadn't already explored the idea of someone seeing the movie and trying to copy it. It's taken to ridiculous extremes, of course (and it involves a human caterpillar, which is the same thing but also with their limbs removed), but since the prison is basically a torture camp I think it's almost amusing that the maven of such activity would get "better" ideas from a horror movie (the prisoners also shout things that are taken verbatim from bad reviews of the movies, which I found pretty hilarious). I also somewhat enjoyed the doctor character, played by 80s mainstay Clayton Rohner, who was kind of giddy about trying something so insane. Perhaps if Laser was restrained (or the role just given to someone else entirely) Six could have at least pulled off some of the humor he was going for, but Laser is just so atrocious, bordering on unwatchable, that he drags down any comedic potential around him (he's in pretty much every frame of the movie so there's rarely a chance to escape the black hole of his performance). And the movie would still be garbage anyway, since Six' only concern is making sure no one walks out saying "It wasn't as fucked up as I expected".

In fact it's so bad it kind of makes me retroactively dislike the original. Some bad sequels are worthwhile because they just serve as a reminder of how good we had it once upon a time, but my take away from this one is that we were supposed to hate that one too. Had we all done that, maybe Six would have been satisfied with whatever it is he was trying to accomplish and moved on by now. This could have been the newest original film from an intriguing new director, and instead it's a terrible 3rd entry in a series that never should have been one. So what incentive do I have to go back and watch the first, when I'll end up lamenting at what a joke Six had become? I'll just do what I/we should have done in the first place and ignore it.

What say you?

P.S. Sadly this isn't even the worst movie I watched this week. I also suffered through Toolbox Murders 2, which is as good as you can expect a movie that's been on the shelf for four years to be. Within the first 5-10 minutes I was reminded of Ulli Lommel movies like Curse of the Zodiac, so that should be a strong enough warning for you to stay as far the fuck away from it as you possibly can.

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Vatican Tapes (2015)

JULY 25, 2015

GENRE: POSSESSION, RELIGIOUS
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I can give The Vatican Tapes some props for two things. One is its score from Insidious/Conjuring composer Joe Bishara, which does what the movie itself fails to do and never recalls The Exorcist, instead opting for its own ideas and pulling them off quite well (I even stuck around to listen to it during the credits). The other is that, despite what the trailers suggested, the movie isn't found footage. Not even close to it, in fact. I thought it'd be like a Lovely Molly kind of situation where it divides its time between traditional filmmaking and POV stuff, but apart from a few scenes in the beginning and a rarely used (unmanned, mounted) camera during the exorcism, it's shot like every other movie.

Alas, that's pretty fitting, since the script itself is like every other movie, at least the possession/exorcism ones. It saves its most (only?) interesting elements for its final moments, perhaps setting up a pretty intriguing sequel that we're likely never to see, as the film's sub-million opening weekend take* isn't exactly going to send producers scurrying to get Vatican Tapes 2 off the ground. Instead, director Mark Neveldine (half of the team responsible for Crank and then 3 terrible movies after it) and the script by too many people to remember (though one was Chris Morgan of the Fast & Furious series) spend the majority of the runtime on the same old shit we've seen a million times. Girl (Olivia Taylor Dudley from the also "Wait, it's NOT found footage?" entry Chernobyl Diaries) has an encounter, weird things start happening around her, hospitals get involved, answers are not given, and finally a priest is called in. Would you be surprised to learn that the film's climax involves two priests, a worried parent, and a possessed girl strapped to a bed?

Now, just a few days ago I gave Inner Demons some love, and in many respects it also commits some of the Exor-sins this movie does - so why is one OK and not the other? Well the approach the Inner Demons team took is a big one; the idea of the demon being held at bay by drug use is an intriguing one, and it also justified its POV aesthetic with the inclusion of the reality show team. Here, they can't even use the sparingly used camera properly, with the boyfriend inexplicably filming Angela as he takes her through the house and outside "to show her something" (a surprise birthday party, one she secretly knows about, which at least explains why she doesn't ask why he's filming her walking around). And the narrative has no such hook; there's a brief bit where she appears to be in two places at once at the hospital (sleeping in her bed, and in the nursery, attempting to drown a baby), but it's largely a go nowhere subplot, with Neveldine and his writers content to race through this stuff and get back to ripping off Friedkin and Blatty.

Except for when they opted to rip off ZAZ, of all people. There's a scene at the top of the exorcism sequence where Angela starts to gag and the priest reaches into her mouth, pulling out an egg. Two more follow, and it's basically one of the movie's big "scary" setpieces - and all I could think about was the same scene being played for laughs in Airplane! Somehow the 1980 movie parodied this one 35 years earlier (if the Airplane gag was supposed to be making fun of anything specific in that moment, I never caught the reference, and some Googling didn't help), and it sticks out even more when you realize it's the closest the movie really gets to finding a pulse beyond those final 5 minutes. Neveldine also throws in some GoPro type footage during a brief out-of-control-bus scene that will remind you of the Cranks, and I couldn't help but wonder if there was a disconnect, with him being hired to make the "EXTREME" version of an Exorcist movie and him taking the job to show he could do something besides that sort of thing (kind of like when, with both seeking to do something new, Wes Craven signed on for an Eddie Murphy comedy and Eddie Murphy signed on for a Wes Craven horror movie). These brief moments belong in that hyper-silly/exciting world, not the world of the rest of this interminable affair.

It also wastes the cast. Michael Peña is one of those guys who shows up and makes any movie better (he's great in Ant-Man, the sounds of which were occasionally booming into this tiny screen at the local multiplex), but the script gives him very little to do, particularly during the exorcism sequence where he mostly just stands around and lets the older priest do the fun stuff. Dougray Scott has some fun "overprotective dad" stuff going on with Angela's boyfriend, and the backstory of her mother is fairly novel, but like Peña as the movie continues he is reduced into the background more often than not, and the antagonistic relationship with her boyfriend has no real payoff. Plus (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD) both he and the boyfriend die during the climax with little fanfare, as if they were never important to begin with. Peña at least gets to survive and be the hero of the sequel that exists only in our dreams, as he gets drafted into the secret cabal of Vatican personnel who go around investigating cases like these, while Angela, now revealed as the Antichrist, goes around healing people for some sinister, never to be known agenda.

With the movie offering very little to excite me until that point (the lovely Kathleen Robertson shows up for a bit during the hospital sequence, but these scenes are ultimately inconsequential), I spent a lot of time wondering why so many exorcism movies are content to follow Exorcist's template so rigidly. Here it's even more frustrating since the post-exorcism scenes are the film's best - what if they skipped over the usual crap involving "freak accidents" (birds seem drawn to her) and "The Catholic Church does not perform exorcisms lightly!" type padding where the skeptical priest has to be convinced, and got to where any intelligent audience member knows it was going by the 45 minute mark? Then they could use the rest of the movie on something new, leaving our Exorcist memories largely behind. It's almost comical how, 40+ years later, the most prominent examples of these sort of movies not going by the numbers are the actual Exorcist sequels. Hell, the 3rd one didn't even have an exorcism at all until reshoots were demanded. And then there are The Last Exorcism and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, two that also go off the beaten path and were rewarded with huge box office, as if the public was saying "Yes! Thank you for doing something new!" and were then rewarded with more of the same old crap (Last Exorcism 2 notwithstanding, offering a different kind of crap).

Oh well. I admit I was hardly excited about the movie, as its trailers did nothing for me and I'm no fan of Neveldine's (even Crank is really a one-time only deal for me; I had a lot of fun watching it but never the desire to see it again). But I can be won over when I have low expectations (see, again, Inner Demons, and, keeping with the possession theme, The Atticus Institute from earlier this year), so I could have just as easily walked away a fan of this one if it was putting enough effort into the proceedings. But alas, when your title sequences offer more chills than the movie itself, there's a big problem, and ultimately the film just continues this year's vastly underwhelming output for horror (It Follows might be the best theatrical release and I saw it in 2014!). Nothing is really hate-worthy, but after all these C- types, I almost long for a loathsome piece of shit - at least then I could be engaged on some level.

What say you?

*To be fair it's basically a limited release, at 427 screens or something like that, but the number of theaters isn't as important as the number of people IN those theaters, and that's where the movie's poor showing is plainly evident, with an average of less than 80 people showing up per day at each theater - not even enough to fill one screening. Someone on Twitter told me they were the only person in their theater and the manager tried to get them to leave so they wouldn't have to show it at all!

PLEASE, GO ON...

Inner Demons (2014)

JULY 21, 2015

GENRE: POSSESSION
SOURCE: STREAMING

If you roll your eyes at nine found footage movies in a row, but enjoy the 10th, does it make it all worthwhile? Inner Demons is not going to challenge Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity as the go-to example for how these movies can be effective, but it's still one of the very few of late that I didn't want to slap, so that's gotta be worth something, right? And it's even more notable when you consider how many possession-driven found footage movies there are (2nd most popular after ghosts, I think); the movie could have been doubling down on its uselessness, but it actually struck a minor chord with me. I'll be seeing The Vatican Tapes this week; if I actually like that one MORE than this I'll be fairly stunned.

Part of what makes this movie work is, thankfully, a decent reason for the cameras to exist. Sure, by the end they're using them in situations where no real human being would (and I think I spotted a few impossible cutaways) but like I've said in the past - you just have to meet us halfway on that one. Give us a solid reason for filming in the first place (many don't) and maintain that movie-logic for a while, until we're hooked into the story, and then it won't really matter as much as long as you're not going overboard (i.e. people standing there filming a zombie biting their friend's face off). This one is particularly interesting - it's presented as the footage from the crew filming an episode of an Intervention-type reality show, with their subject being a formerly sweet, good Catholic girl who started dressing goth and using drugs. As it turns out, the drug use isn't for recreation - she is shooting up in order to control the demon that's taken up residence inside her. When she is sent to rehab, and thus unable to use, her conditions actually worsen.

If anything I wish they had stuck with the intervention angle longer. Given their religious background there's a good reason for a priest to be there, and they could have had the demon dishing out dirt on her friends/family who had assembled to help her, rather than random other patients at the rehab facility. The movie's logic also takes a hit here, as there is plenty of fairly concrete proof that the girl is possessed (or SOMETHING) thanks to the facility's security cameras that give the movie much of its footage during these scenes, but no one bothers to check the tapes I guess. It's only when one of the intervention crew guys gives her a fix to control the demon that things get back on track, as she is kicked out of the rehab center and sent home in time for the big climax. The rehab scenes are fine on their own, but since the other addicts don't get much involved with the story it seems like a missed opportunity for some Bad Dreams/Dream Warriors style character moments, and they could have just locked her in her bedroom and brought a doctor in to serve the same story points.

But the attention to detail is what really makes it work. Director Seth Grossman actually has a background in reality shows (including some work on the actual Intervention), and it serves the opening well, giving us authentic reality show footage along with the behind the scenes dealings in between it (i.e. asking a subject to modify their reply and start over so it's more sound-byte worthy). Grossman did a pretty good job of assembling a believable history and backstory for its fictional characters too - old photos, acquaintances as character witnesses, etc. Horror movies in general (meaning, not just these kinds) tend to suffer from a lack of world-building, where the characters all seem to have been willed into existence moments before the movie began and seemingly have no lives beyond what they are doing in the 80 minutes we're spending with them, so it's nice when a filmmaker takes the time to make his characters a bit more fleshed out and lived in - ESPECIALLY when they're doing it under the guise of "reality".

Another boon: Lara Vosburgh is great as Carson, the infected girl. The Venn diagram of "found footage movies" and "great performances" doesn't have much of an overlap, so it's definitely another happy surprise. She's got a tough role to play - especially when she begs for a fix in order to keep the demon at bay (a literal fix!), as it's kind of heartbreaking that she'd rather risk her own body/mind than become a monster that everyone hates. Throughout the film you see these tiny glimpses of the very sweet girl that's being eroded by both the drugs and the demon, and Vosburgh handles these moments perfectly, never swinging too far into one direction. Grossman keeps the usual possession visuals to a minimum (black eyes, some minor contorting... nothing particularly eye-catching) and wisely let Vosburgh herself be the effect - damn fine choice.

I saw this movie because I was tagging it for Netflix, and my heart sank when I saw it was another FF movie. So I began just kinda keeping one eye on it while I started filling out the form (if you missed previous explanations - tagging is basically plugging in all of the data that allows their computers to make recommendations, in this case it'd probably come up if you liked Last Exorcism), but after 15-20 minutes I realized I was doing myself a disservice by being so technical with my viewing - it deserved a legitimate viewing! It's not the funnest way to watch a film, because you have to be on the alert for things that might not register if you're not actively looking for them (like drinking; if someone has a beer with their dinner it's gotta go on the form - this is not something you notice when you're watching a movie to enjoy it), and that robs you of the experience a bit. Fine for a documentary or maybe even a comedy, but horror is a different beast. Watching it that way is no different than someone pulling out their cell phone in a theater - it's distracting you with reality, and the movie can't get under your skin as effectively. In other words, the movie earned my respect, and after those 15-20 minutes I closed the tagging form and watched it like I would any movie, going back to double check whatever I may have missed later. Sure, it took longer, but I got to see a pretty decent movie as a result! And you guys got a new review, something I can't usually do for the aforementioned reasons.* Win-win.

What say you?

*That might be kinda funny though, review a movie based only on its clinical data. "The problem is, the movie offers plenty of profanity and smoking, but not nearly enough drinking or live music performances. Furthermore, the setting is nondescript..."

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Gallows (2015)

JULY 9, 2015

GENRE: GHOST, REVENGE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

This will be a (slightly) shorter review than most HMAD entries, because quite frankly, The Gallows didn't give me a lot to work with. I almost didn't bother to write a review at all (was gonna just tweet a few things) but a quick check on Alexa revealed how far the site has plummeted since I stopped updating daily, which is concerning since part of that non-frequency is due to my writing a book that I'll need people to come here on the regular to know when it's available. So you'll get a review of a lousy found footage movie that you can read at a red light, and I'll spare my twitter followers more thoughts on this shockingly flat, long past its prime entry in the now-over POV race.

Oddly, the one thing the movie gets right is that it feels like a genuine video shot by an obnoxious high school kid. As anyone who has read my takes on some of the other major FF releases can vouch for, I particularly hate when there's no logic behind the footage we're seeing - impossible cutaways, people filming things for absolutely no reason just so they can ensure the camera is on when something scary happens, people standing there filming their friends being killed - all of these things drive me up a wall and keep me from engaging in the film. But here, I bought like 75-80% of the footage as something I could imagine filming myself in that situation. One scene even plays out mostly while looking at the characters' feet (attn: fetishists), because they're arguing and that's what people would do if holding a camera up before things got heated - they'd drop it to their side and engage as a human being. It's only in the film's final scene that the camera logic is completely out the window, but by then I stopped caring anyway.

Because while they got the camera right, they screwed up everything else. The movie has almost nothing to it beyond the one line plot synopsis: some kids break into their high school at night, get stuck, and are menaced by the ghost of a kid who died in a school play 20 years ago. There are a couple of reveals concerning why it's after these kids specifically (well, one of them), but it's an empty attempt at making the film more interesting, because (spoiler) the connection our hero has to the original incident involves his father, and that's a character we see briefly, 30-40 minutes before this revelation, and never again. For it to have any meaning, he'd have to re-enter the picture and explain his side of the story, but that doesn't happen. So who cares?

(That it's a reveal even though the picture of his father has been hanging up in the room that he's been practicing a play every day for weeks is something we can just let slide, I guess.)

Dropped characters are just the order of the day in this movie, actually. Early on our hero goes out of his way to film a janitor going about his business and saying "working late tonight?", to which the janitor answers in the affirmative - this seems to establish his presence/another victim for later when they go inside after hours, but nope. Ditto for the Jonah Hill-y stage manager who the protagonist torments (if you haven't guessed by now, the guy with the camera is an asshole), as they are engaged in some back and forth pranking/retaliation that goes nowhere, since he doesn't show up in the locked off school either. I suppose one could defend these things as mere misdirection, but that only works if they're directing your attention away from the real threats or suspects, which do not exist in this one-note movie. It's either padding to fill out the barely feature length run time (an exact 80 minutes, with credits and a scene we see play out twice), or sloppy writing. Take your pick. It's a toss up to me, but I might give "sloppy writing" the edge based on how many jaw-droppingly bad bits of exposition are shoehorned into the dialogue, a problem that starts in the movie's very first scene when an audience member filming a school play (starring his own kid, one would assume) starts talking about how one of the actors was a last minute replacement.

It's also not scary at all. As always I use the audience to gauge the effectiveness of these things to see how well they're working since I'm immune to jumps and such, but the scattered audience members who joined me for this 9:15pm screening were, I guess, equally just annoyed that they were missing Hannibal for this, because I swear I only heard one person shout at one of the scares (far cry from its hilariously overblown ads suggesting that it's the scariest movie ever or whatever). Worse, there's no sense of dread - it's clear who the villain is, more or less what he wants, and the idiotic twist that explains how he connects to one of the other characters is too laughable and out of nowhere to add to the non-existent tension. Even the light supernatural elements about doors that can't be opened fail to register, and I say this as someone who can count sneaking into my own high school after hours (ironically to obtain a videotape) as one of the more intense moments of my adolescence, since I'm sure being caught would result in some sort of major disciplinary action. Shouldn't I be even the slightest bit worked up to see this sort of thing on-screen in a legit horror movie? Having a connection to the material is a key factor in how much you respond to horror movies (hence why I now have trouble with evil/dead children movies since becoming a father), so it's an even bigger indictment of the movie's failures that I was unable to feel anything but apathy.

Thankfully, the trailer's awful "Smells Like Teen Spirit" cover is not included. That and the believable camerawork are about the only positives I could find in this thing. It didn't exactly have a high bar to clear for me to say something like "best wide release found footage movie in years!" (I specify wide release because the indie scene still produces some minor gems, like Afflicted), but it couldn't even manage that. It's maybe better than Paranormal Activity 4 and Devil's Due, but that's about it. This is the sort of movie where I wouldn't even bother yelling at someone for taking out their phone - I'd be thankful that they offered something that actually engaged me.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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