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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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

Wolf Creek 2 (2013)

APRIL 15, 2014

GENRE: SURVIVAL
SOURCE: ONLINE (SCREENER)

Some are better than others of course, but I've only had one truly miserable Christmas Day, as far as I can recall. It was 2005, I had just moved to CA, specifically for a job I didn't end up getting, forcing me to work at Best Buy (and more demeaning, the E! network) to pay bills. Worse, my wife was still in Boston working her real job (and thus ACTUALLY paying the bills, since neither BB or E! were enough to live on), so all I had was my cat Butters, who as usual didn't buy me anything. Since I wouldn't be able to have fun, I figured I'd go see some depressing movies - Munich and Wolf Creek - as they would fit my mood. But while I actually quite liked Munich for the most part (pretty much everything except that sex scene, good god), I had little affection for Creek, finding it unpleasant, not very well paced, and erring a bit too close to what critics will call "torture porn". But after hearing some positive word about Wolf Creek 2, including from a few who also didn't think much of the original, I got excited - and sure enough they were correct: this is a better film.

Oddly, the most suspenseful bit as right at the top of the movie, as serial killer Mick (a returning John Jarratt) is pulled over by a pair of asshole cops, who are determined to ruin his day despite Mick's friendly cooperation. We WANT to see him killing these assholes, in other words, which is a perfect way to start off this kind of sequel. If you were to poll horror fans about how they'd like a sequel to Wolf Creek to play out, 99 out of 100 would say "Follow Mick" instead of "Follow that one guy who lived", so why not kick things off with not only a murder, but one where we can kind of be on his side? It's a tricky balance for these "horror heroes" like Freddy or Pinhead, where they're more interesting than their victims but still have to be the bad guy in the narrative, but returning director Greg Mclean pulls it off in this sequence.

From there it becomes a Richard Franklin homage, with a Road Games like cat and mouse structure (including two big car chases) and a Psycho-ish twist that finds both of our would be protagonists killed, with a good Samaritan who tried to rescue one of them taking over as the hero. For a few minutes I actually thought the movie would keep changing protagonists with Mick himself being the only constant, especially when now-hero Paul (Ryan Corr) is himself rescued by a couple of helpful strangers - maybe he'd get killed and Mick would go after these two for a while, and so on. Alas, it's more of a Hitcher scenario from there on out, which deflates the suspense but keeps the movie from being too much of a retread of the original. I got a bit nervous when, post cops, we meet a couple of tourists making their way around Australia (even stopping at that same crater from the first one), but when things switch gears they stay switched for the most part, giving the sequel its own identity without straying too far off the path.

It's interesting how both of Mclean's post-WC films have seemingly addressed criticism head on, almost as an apology from the filmmaker. After many decried Wolf Creek's misogynist tone (of the 3 protagonists, the two females got killed, quite horribly - while the male lived), he gave us Rogue, in which the croc only managed to kill male members of the cast, leaving each and every female alive when the credits rolled - including one that suffered what looked a lot like an unavoidably mortal wound. And another complaint about Wolf Creek was that Mick took too long to appear, which is fixed here since he's in almost every scene. There's really only about 15 minutes or so that he's off somewhere else, and our hero never gets too far from him during the 2nd act, which is basically one big chase scene. And the 3rd act is mostly in Mick's hideout, where Mclean seems to be paying a bit of homage to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 with the series of tunnels and a skeleton adorned with Christmas lights (though that might have been in WC1, I can't recall). Jarratt seems to be relishing his expanded role, offering plenty of colorful phrases (his reaction to a kangaroo is pure bliss) and a demeanor that is equal parts annoyed and cheerfully drunk.

Two quibbles keep it from being a full home run, and one has SPOILERS so skip this paragraph if you don't want the ending partially given away. The first is that it's a bit too long, and could benefit from some tightening (particularly the 3rd act) and maybe one less scene of someone trying to flag down a car only for the driver to ignore them or almost hit them. We get it, the Outback is a terrible place for outsiders - this is overkill. The other (again, SPOILERS!!!) is that the ending is a bit too similar to the first film's, which kind of makes it feel like it could be skipped entirely if we are given a Wolf Creek 3. The "based on true story" element is a stretch (and we know that by now), so I'm not sure why they opted for something that almost seems like they're just trying to be true to the story - go all out! Or maybe lead us into THINKING that we're seeing the same ending, only to pull the rug out from under us. Again, the 3rd act dragged a bit as is, so for it to all come down to a rerun was a bit disappointing.

But the first hour and change work like gangbusters, and I'm always happy to see a sequel more or less fix what didn't work (at least, for me) about the original and deliver something more enjoyable overall. Sure, the tone is different - the first one was grim and dark, whereas this one is a bit more spiritedly macabre (which is just a way to say it's kind of fun to see all this death, again, like TCM2), and thus appealed more to my sensibilities. Can't say it'll end up on my top 10 of 2014 list if I were to make one (I probably won't), but it'd be a frontrunner for biggest surprise - and in some ways that's just as impressive. Hopefully it won't take another 6-7 years for Mclean to make his next film - supposedly he's got something cooking with Blumhouse right now, but that's hardly a guarantee for a speedy release (just ask Bryan Bertino or Oren Peli). I've gushed before about Australian horror, and I think he could be one of the big ones if he'd only have more output!

What say you?


PLEASE, GO ON...

Oculus (2013)

APRIL 10, 2014

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

A funny thing occurred to me moments before buying my ticket to Oculus tonight - I actually had no idea what the movie was about. I hadn't seen a single trailer or TV spot (yay for DVR!), and the posters around town just showed some typical supernatural horror images that told me nothing. So why was I there, if not compelled by what I had seen or learned about the film's premise? Simple: it was the followup film from Mike Flanagan, who made the terrific Absentia a couple years back*, and thus I'd be there even if it wasn't horror. But also, I was curious where I'd stand on the movie, as all week I had seen fellow horror writers arguing about the movie's merit or lack thereof - whose side would I be on, if any?

Sadly, I inch closer to the ones who didn't like it very much. I didn't HATE it by any means, and I'd even give it another look a few years down the road, but I was left disappointed for sure. And this is where my ignorance (by design - I actually wish I could see all movies with a blank slate) may have hurt a bit; had I known it was a haunted mirror movie, I would have gone in with a "this is a haunted mirror movie" attitude instead of a "This is the new film from a filmmaker who really impressed me the last time out". I'm not sure there has ever been a good haunted mirror movie - my favorite thing in the genre would probably be the Jim Steinman spoken word piece "I've Been Dreaming Up A Storm Lately", where he rambles about a mirror that shows him a reflection of someone and then he has to find the person that matches it (yes, this is the same scenario as the David Warner segment in From Beyond the Grave, which had the good sense to be an episode instead of a feature). When I think of the full length films in this sub-sub-genre, I think of Mirrors (eh), the Amityville sequel (worst in the series?) and the horrendous Witchboard 3. This is actually better than all of those, but that's such a low bar to clear it's not even worth pointing out.

But hey, at least now I know what it's about! A young man is being released from a mental institution on his 21st birthday, greeted by his sister (Karen Gillan, who only took about 5 minutes to make me understand why so many people watch Doctor Who) who doesn't seem to hold any real grudge against him for killing their dad (hence the lockup). Before long, she's convinced him to come back to their childhood home and help her with an experiment - proving that the giant black mirror that their father (Rory Cochrane) had bought (and had conveniently been more or less dropped b.ack into her hands) possessed some sort of supernatural energy, and was actually to blame for their parents' deaths. They set up a bunch of cameras, and Gillan explains a bunch of confusing "rules" about the scenario - an alarm will go off every hour to remind them to eat, no one can use a cell phone in the vicinity of the mirror, etc.

She also offers up a complete history of the mirror's "crimes", and that's where the movie starts to falter (well, unless you count the less than impressive performance from the guy playing Gillan's brother, which just makes her presence more enticing). It's just too much info at once; strange for a movie that really only has two people in its present day sequences. There's no reason that they couldn't have saved some of the background on the mirror's victims for a bit later, or just had the brother read up on it on his own - especially since it doesn't really matter in the long run. The victims appear as ghostly menaces, but they're not full blown characters - it'd be like if Lin Shaye stopped cold 20 minutes into Insidious to explain who all those random ghosts were in The Further. The REAL story that we care about is what happened to their parents - the other stuff is best saved for DVD bonus features for those who wanted to explore the mythology a bit more.

So it's no surprise that the movie works much better when it's in flashback mode, showing us when the happy family moved into the house, how the mirror started to affect Cochrane, how his strange behavior and the kids' insistence that they saw a woman in his office led matriarch Katee Sackhoff to believe that he was having an affair, etc. In the present day, they're just trying to prove that the mirror is evil, which we kind of already know, so it's not particularly compelling - however there is still the question of how things played out in the past. Did the brother kill the father out of self-defense, or was he possessed as well (and if so, is he still)? How did the mother die? And what's with the food thing? But even though I was enjoying these scenes more, I couldn't help but be concerned that the movie was more interesting when showing us things where we knew the ending (if not the specifics), and rather dull when focusing on the present day where the outcome wasn't already known to us.

And that's the other thing - the movie didn't really strike me as scary. It's refreshingly low on jump scares, which is impressive for a movie about looking at a mirror - but it never quite gels as a low key, creepy thing either (which Absentia excelled at, I should say). There's a pretty great bit involving an apple, and the chain of events that result in the parents' deaths is exciting, but otherwise it always feels like it's missing an ingredient or two. The concept is fun and I like that they take a more scientific approach to their attempt at proving that it's evil (she's even prepared for the electricity going out, adorning the entire house with battery operated lanterns), but it just never snaps to life. I had forgotten that it was based on a short film that Flanagan had done before Absentia, but once I recalled, the movie's lax pacing and lack of increased stakes made sense - they stretched out a 30 minute concept into (well) over 90, rather than use the short as a jumping off point for an expanded, more elaborate story. Instead of going forward, he went backwards, fleshing out the story of the protagonist's childhood and splitting the character into two (in the short, the lone male seeks answers; now it's the female while the male sort of protests). Personally, I'd have had the experiment end at the end of the first act and spend the next hour on the what if scenario - they have undeniable proof that a mirror is haunted, now what?

On the other hand, I'm happy that this kind of movie is playing in wide release. Sure, it's a Blumhouse release, so it'll get lumped in with the Insidiouses and Paranormal Activities of the world in terms of expectations, but it's not likely to appeal to the same audiences (though the R rating should hopefully ward off the teens who would give it WORST MOVIE EVER! "reviews" afterward due to the slower pace and lack of dumb jump scares). It's original and demands your attention, which is unusual for a wide horror release - even if it doesn't really work all that well, I appreciate the effort to do something than another goddamn found footage haunting story (which this easily could have been, given the cameras used in the experiment and the younger versions of the kids' obsession with tech devices). I have also heard rumblings of re-editing, which could make or break a movie like this - snipping 10 minutes out of a Paranormal Activity movie can't really hurt, but a movie that's trying to draw you in and give you more of a skin-crawling effect needs time to work its mojo.

So: oh well. Again, maybe I'll like it more on a second view, but as of right now I won't be joining the argument on Twitter; I didn't dislike it enough to give it any more shit than I already have (mostly concerning its hideous end credits, which look like public access dreck), but I certainly can't join the ranks of its supporters. It's an OK-ish movie that I had higher hopes for, and that's about it. Flanagan already has another movie in post, so I hopefully won't have to wait another 3 years to see what this obviously talented filmmaker has up his sleeve - I may not have loved this, but as with guys like Ti West, I know that they'll never make anything generic, and will give us something to talk about after - since opinions will always vary, that's all we can really ask for.

What say you?

*The only other thing I knew about Oculus was that Absentia's lovely Katie Parker was supposed to be in it. Sadly, the scene was cut, which just proves my theory that a longer version will probably be better.


PLEASE, GO ON...

Jinn (2014)

APRIL 8, 2014

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL, THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

The found footage movie Afflicted has gotten some good notices, sounds like something I'd enjoy, and has the backing of CBS Films (who gave us The Woman in Black and Last Exorcism 2)... however, it only opened on ONE screen here in Los Angeles. Worse, it was the Mann's Chinese 6 (or whatever they call it now), which is a horribly overpriced, inconveniently located theater that I avoid as much as possible. On the other hand, we have Jinn, a movie that's been on the shelf for years, is reviewed positively only by its own filmmakers on the IMDb, and a distributor I've never heard of behind it - and yet I had at least 3 theaters around me where I could see it, in addition to another dozen around the Los Angeles county. Something is clearly broken with this current system, a thought that crossed my mind several times during this interminable and barely coherent horror/action blend.

Some movies you can just tell are gonna be a slog as soon as they start, and Jinn did nothing to prove my instinct wrong after its exposition heavy opening scene, where we are told the history of Jinns and Shaitans, followed by more exposition given by a pair of characters in a poorly lit room. Then we meet our hero Shawn, and we get more exposition, and then freaky stuff starts happening, prompting Ray Park to show up and... offer more exposition. Sure, he kicks some folks (and stars in the nuttiest action scene I've witnessed in quite some time), but his job is to just explain some stuff and transport our hero to two other characters who will go on to explain the movie's convoluted and never even slightly interesting backstory. There are five people of note in the film, and three of them spend most of their screentime rambling about the history of its creatures, why Shawn is involved, what needs to be done, etc. It's like an entire season's worth of Supernatural gibberish packed into 90 minutes, without any of that show's humor, interesting characters, or breaks in the ongoing story to take down a monster or have a little fun (Castiel working at the gas station earlier this year? Hilarious!).

That the lead character possesses no charisma at all is another crippling flaw. I can't fully blame the actor, perhaps he's great (he's got a lengthy resume, even appears in Captain America 2). But when his role has him do nothing but stand there and listen to others ramble for large chunks of the runtime and keeps him from doing any of the real action until its 3rd act (by which point any reasonable human being would have given up on the thing, but I am not a reasonable man), it's hard to find him all that compelling. Before he undergoes his "Chilla" (ritual to become a Jinn, if I'm following correctly) and does some fighting, the biggest action sequence is the one I mentioned, with Park doing everything. During this fight scene, Shawn stands near a car that he can't get into because it's locked, prompting Park to shift focus away from fighting to use the Force to transport the keys from the valet station (at a mental institution?) to the other man. That Park was single-handedly killing the shit out of all of the bad guys and probably could have finished them off in another 20 seconds and just brought him the keys the normal way is besides the point, I guess.

The car stuff is about as interesting as the movie gets. I've seen thousands of movies in my life, and I've more or less watched the credits for most of them, so believe me when I say that this has to be the first feature film that not only dedicates a sizable chunk of its endless (15 minutes) end title sequence to the team that built the "Firebreather" car that Shawn drives/shows off in a lengthy sequence that serves no other purpose beyond "let's show off our cool car". Even more hilarious, this portion of the credits is followed by, I shit you not, a list of every person who has one along with their custom number from its limited run! And here I thought the promise of a sequel at the top of the credits (not a scene setting one up - an actual "THE JINN WILL RETURN!" onscreen message, though we get the monster coming back at the very end of the titles too) would be the most laughably brazen thing about them. Really, I had more fun watching the titles; they weren't as interminable as the film and at least showed some balls that the (PG-13) feature itself lacked.

See here's the thing - I'd rather watch a completely awful piece of rubbish like The Mangler than ego-driven nonsense like this. Director/writer/editor/producer/co-star/car designer/visual effects consultant (seriously)/3-4 other titles I've forgotten Ajmal Zaheer Ahmad is clearly full of himself and interested more in showing off his car than making a good movie. In fact I'm surprised he wasn't playing the main character himself, a la The Room, which this could have been the next of had it not been so damn dull. The plot may be gibberish, but it's got competent acting (William Atherton even pops up, but not as an asshole!), halfway decent production value, and a cool monster courtesy of Robert Kurtzman. In other words, it's not bad ENOUGH - it's just a hollow shell of a movie with zero passion on display. There's no insanity like The Room, nor anything as jaw droppingly awful as the finale of The Mangler, with a giant laundry machine stampeding around dimly lit hallways... it's just THERE, boring us to tears with every new long-winded explanation of a mythology that couldn't possibly excite anyone. I'm all for using real life mythology as a backdrop for a genre flick (the Chilla, for example, is a legitimate and very difficult ritual - though it doesn't help you fight monsters as far as I know), and it's rare to see Islamic customs being used in this sort of thing, but it's got to have a compelling hero with a strong motive at its core - otherwise it's just window dressing. Our hero is just some guy with a fascinating car. Maybe the car should have talked and taken over hero duties itself.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Stage Fright (2014)

APRIL 6, 2014

GENRE: MUSICAL, SLASHER
SOURCE: ONLINE (SCREENER)

If they had thrown in a Community reference, there would be no doubt in my mind that Stage Fright was made for a very specific audience of one: Brian Collins. I mean, putting Meat Loaf into a movie is already a guaranteed butt in the seat, but Loaf SINGING, which is incredibly rare (out of 60+ films, he's only sung in about 5 of them)? And in a SLASHER movie? One with a custom mask instead of a giant coat like half of the modern slashers are given? And with a song during the end credits ABOUT THE END CREDITS??? Which are done with the "Carpenter" font that accompanied most of his films? These are all niche-y things that I've confessed my love for time and time again, so to have them all in one movie is pretty damn rare, and thus I didn't pay too much attention to pans OR raves from pals who saw it at SXSW last month - this movie was too in sync with my personal tastes for anyone else's opinion to matter much.

The funny thing is, even without the Loaf and the other things, I'd be excited to see the movie since it was the feature debut of Jerome Sable, who was the genius behind The Legend of Beaver Dam - hands down my favorite short of the past 5 years or so. It could have been a straight up drama and I'd be curious to see how he fared with a feature length narrative, but since it didn't stray too far from Beaver Dam's inspired "slasher meets musical" approach, I had high hopes. Were they met? Well, sort of - it's not exactly a home run, and there were times where I was flat out disappointed, but overall I was entertained and had a dumb smile on my face for many sequences. It may not be perfect, but for a feature debut, it's a damn good start.

It definitely feels like a film from someone used to shorter pieces, however. The first 5-10 minutes are damn near perfect, offering a gory murder and a full musical number from the majority of the cast - perfectly setting up the concept and showing their hand to potential lameos in the audience who thought they were there for one thing or the other. And then Loaf comes in and starts singing the 2nd number, and while it's not very good (it's probably the weakest in the film, admittedly), it calmed my fears that he'd be a minor character who exited the movie early (I was also relieved that he sang - he's been in a few other music-heavy movies without actually singing himself). Indeed, this is actually one of his bigger acting roles in quite a while (of the ones I've seen; he does a lot of indies that sound unbearable and thus I avoid them), showing up quite often and lasting all the way to the final reel. His mustache is ridiculous, but you get to hear him yell "FUCK!" over and over at one point, so it's a good treat for his fans, especially if they are like me and thus disappointed his roles in Tenacious D and Burning Bright (two of his more promising sounding gigs) were relegated to a single scene each.

But he is not the main character. That would be the very lovely Allie MacDonald as Camilla, whose mother (Minnie Driver in a cameo) was murdered after a performance of "The Haunting of the Opera", a "Phantom"-esque musical that she was starring in at the time of her demise. It's now 10 years later, and Camilla works as the cook at a musical theater camp, which has just opened for the season and will be putting on a production of... you guessed it, "The Haunting of the Opera". Camilla wants to work out some of her demons by auditioning for the role her mother inhabited, something the director doesn't think much of but the producer (Loaf), who has also been sort of her father figure, allows. As you might expect, people start dying at the hands of a killer who looks like the one in the play, which has been retrofitted to take place in feudal Japan (hence the Kabuki mask).

However, not ENOUGH people die at his hands. Because there are a bunch of kids around, logically there can't be much of a body count until the night the show premieres, as they would obviously be freaked and demand to leave the camp. But since the plot involves auditioning, rehearsal, etc - there's a lot of down time in between the opening kill and the next, to the point where you might forget you're watching a slasher movie. The killer makes a few appearances in between, snarling at photos of all the would-be victims and singing quick rhymes about how much he hates their music or whatever, but that doesn't count - they really should have opted to have a kill scene somewhere in between; a telephone repairman or something would suffice - anyone they could kill off without anyone noticing/caring that he was missing. Curiously, there aren't a lot of songs in here either; we hear snippets of the ones from the play, but otherwise there isn't another full blown musical number for a while - the movie just kind of drags until opening night.

Luckily, once we get there the movie really comes (back) to life. Just as a good short will have a knockout closing moment, the movie quickly makes you forgive its earlier lapses; the Kabuki Killer gets really active, there are more songs (including a hilarious metal one from the killer that I was humming later), and Sable finally finds the best balance between the needs of his story AND both of his genres - it all works almost perfectly (though I was bummed to discover an off-screen kill - in a movie that needed more as is, you shouldn't be robbing us of one!). The killer reveal isn't too shocking, but there's an extra twist to it that worked well, and a character gets a shockingly gory demise that I was legitimately surprised by - it's like some Grand Guignol shit all of a sudden. Plus, again, the end credits have a song about the movie, something I always love anyway (and he even thanks people for reading the credits! God, if they had just hired me to do their titles I'd have a permanent nerd boner at that bit).

I do wish that the younger cast members were given more to do, however. I get why they wouldn't be part of the slasher stuff, but after their glorious opening number where they sing about how happy they are to be at camp where no one will make fun of them or beat them up for liking musicals, they're basically just background players. Most of the focus is on the older people: Loaf, MacDonald, the director, the creepy janitor, a big NY theater guy who is coming to see the play... some of the kids could have easily have been the star of their own movie (particularly the one with glasses who was there to avoid his dad, and the one with the lisp), but after the play has been announced they're just sort of THERE. Friday the 13th Part VI had the same sort of scenario; little kids couldn't be Jason fodder like the adults, but they found enough for them to do (the kid reading Sartre still kills me) to give them a real reason to be there - here it was basically just cancelling out a ton of suspects/victims without any real payoff.

But like I said, it's a good start for a filmmaker who clearly isn't interested in doing generic fright fare, and seems to embrace the challenge of doing a horror comedy. With James Gunn and now Drew Goddard off making superhero stuff, we could definitely use a talented filmmaker to fill the void in this particular sub-genre. Stage Fright is by no means perfect, but how many of our great horror filmmakers really hit it out of the park their first time? If this is Sable's Dark Star or Hollywood Boulevard, then I am perfectly fine with that, and eagerly await his Halloween/Gremlins.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

HMAD Screening: LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III

Die-hard HMAD fans (let's pretend they exist) will recall that there have been TWO HMAD screenings of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 at the New Beverly, which is fine because it's awesome. However, for as far back as we did it the first time, I've been wanting to do the 3rd film, which I actually prefer. However, a previous inquiry turned up nothing - it seemed New Line didn't have any prints (understandable as it was not a very big, and certainly not a very popular, theatrical release), and I'd be denied yet another of my dream screenings. It's actually the only one I haven't gotten to see theatrically; I saw the two Dunes and the 3D movie during their initial runs, and I saw TCM1 via a couple of repertory screenings (and, obviously, I hosted TCM2).

Well score one for persistence! We tried again, and unless they're just being dicks, a print of Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III has been found and will be shown in glorious 35mm this Saturday, April 5th at 11:59 pm! And, I'm guessing for many in the crowd, it'll be the first time they saw it on film, as the release was even smaller than (the unrated!) Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and was pretty much gone from theaters after two weeks, ranking as the lowest grossing of the six Chainsaw films. The advertising budget was also seemingly atrocious; I was only 10 at the time, but I remember being confused that on the day it opened it was given the "also playing" type listing in my newspaper's movie showtimes section, usually reserved for movies that had been playing for weeks or even months to make room for big ads for the films that were just opening.

Then again, maybe they just spent all of the dough on this incredible teaser, which I remember scared me the first time around:

Whatever the reason, the movie found most of its audience on video, and clearly didn't kill the series: three films have been made since. Yes, the MPAA did quite a number on the movie, rendering at least one kill scene incoherent, but the movie still works despite that, unlike some other late 80s franchise entries (cough, New Blood, cough). The cast is terrific: Joe Unger, Tom Everett, and a fresh faced Viggo Mortensen are entertaining enough to (almost) not miss Bill Moseley or Jim Siedow, and RA Mihailoff made for an imposing Leatherface. As for the heroes, you got the lovely Kate Hodge and the immortal Ken Foree (this was actually the first of his films I had ever seen and I was impressed at what a badass he was; it's like thinking Bill Murray is funny based on his cameo in Little Shop of Horrors and THEN discovering Ghostbusters or Stripes). And TCM2's Caroline Williams pops up somewhere in there for good measure. The family unit is solid and the black humor ("F-O-O-D") is spot on, and at a scant 81 minutes, the fast pace keeps things exciting throughout, unlike the occasionally laggy part 2.

All of which should make for a kickass screening. I'm doing my best to get a few of the above out for Q&A; director Jeff Burr (who was the first "horror" celeb I met when I moved to LA!) has relocated to Georgia and thus won't be around, but I've been in touch with him and he is stoked about the screening and might be sending some goodies for the pre-movie trivia! Keep your fingers crossed! As always, the screening is at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, located at 7165 Beverly Blvd, two blocks west of La Brea. Street parking is plentiful, and tickets are a mere 8 bucks cash or card at the door, or online via Brownpapertickets. We kick off at 11:59 on Saturday the 5th - be on time so you don't miss a second of Leatherface goodness!

And give props once again to Jacopo Tenani, who designed the sweet poster below! If you'd like to post about the screening on your own site/Tumblr/Facebook, feel free to use the image - just be sure to give him credit and maybe include the link to his site to see all of the other great art he's done for us over the past couple years!

See you there!

P.S. Yes, I know you think I'm "wrong" about there only being six movies. The one with McConaughey does not exist as far as I'm concerned.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Machine Head (2011)

MARCH 26, 2014

GENRE: SLASHER, THRILLER
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

Look, everyone around my age bought a Bush CD in the 90s. No judging, it's just what happened. And so anyone from that group will probably do the same thing I did when I saw the title of Machine Head, which is make a dumb joke about how it was based on a Bush song. But here's the kicker: your joke, and the damn song, is infinitely better than the movie, and you'd be better off dusting off Sixteen Stone (or even Razorblade Suitcase) and listening to it twice instead of watching this almost comically dull and clunky slasher/home invasion hybrid. I've seen worse movies this year (hence the lack of a "Crap" tag), but I don't know if I've seen one where I was constantly wondering if I was just having a rather bland dream. Surely no one actually MADE a movie this botched?

If I knew beforehand that it had been on the shelf for 2-3 years I wouldn't have been so optimistic. But then again, sometimes you just know within minutes that something is amiss, and this is one of those times. An opening sequence that has no bearing on anything else in the movie features a poorly executed first kill, and then we cut to our heroine, who has the shittiest tan I've ever seen (it reminded me of watching Star Trek in HD where you can see the Spock makeup falling apart around the ears) and is offering all of the exposition over her phone. Yadda yadda spring break, yadda yadda her dad's client's house (which looks a lot like the one she lives in, so I'm not sure what the appeal was), yadda yadda no boys allowed but of course her boyfriend and his two idiot friends are coming... etc. It's no more/less generic than any other slasher film, admittedly, but there's something abrasively phony about the whole thing; I kept expecting someone to yell CUT! and reveal that this was an INTENTIONALLY fake movie within the world of our real movie. That feeling never really went away throughout its 80 minutes.

The body count is 9 or so, but nearly all of them occur off-screen. I advise you not to put much stock in the cover, which has the trio of girls (or A trio of girls - their faces aren't seen so it could be anyone) all dirtied and with one carrying a bloody axe - they're all killed pretty quickly and cleanly, as the R rating for this film is due to language and brief nudity. And note I said nudity, not sex - the guys are all killed at once en route, so there's no sex after the intro where we meet the heroine and her boyfriend. Not that I'm the sort who needs a healthy dose of T&A to enjoy my slashers, but why bother with the spring break backdrop if you're not going to indulge? This could have been anything - even one of their birthdays - for all the point it had to the movie, which exists in a bizarrely empty universe. Even establishing shots are seemingly filmed in a ghost town, a peculiar approach for a slasher that is sort of set up as a whodunit (the killer is rarely seen, and his motive, even though it's meaningless when revealed, is hidden).

But that's nothing compared to the bizarre introduction of the heroine's two little sisters. They're played by actual sisters, making the fact that they look absolutely nothing like the main girl even more distracting. Worse, there's two of them but only one seemingly has any sort of presence, as if there was only one in the script and the other girl just kept stepping into frame, which just makes their inclusion even more distracting and odd. One of them is said to be a "demon seed" but apart from being bitchy there's nothing really "evil" about her, and besides ALL of the characters are kind of insufferable, which is a given since this is a modern slasher film made by people who clearly hate and/or have never seen a good one. The only saving grace from the guys getting killed before showing up at the house is the fact that if they DID arrive, there would almost certainly be some infidelity subplot to make us hate them even more.

And then there's the actual horror element of the movie, more broken than anything else. At times it's almost like witnessing a shared psychosis of some sort, as there's no physical presence for the killer until the final 10 minutes (beyond the opening, pointless kill and the quick bit where he offs the boyfriends), so you're watching a movie about a bunch of girls freaking out at every door creak or car engine outside or whatever. There are no stalking or chase scenes, the killer has no physical presence (you maybe see an arm or something), and the "twist" at who the killer is (or at least, why he's doing it, since again the killer himself is a non-entity) is ridiculous but not crazy ENOUGH. It's also the sort of reveal that would usually come along with flashbacks at how it all worked (like a Saw movie), but instead it just ends right then and there. "Oh, by the way, ____ is the killer." *Credits*

Fear not, the direction is just as bad as the script. My favorite example would have to be what sets off the movie's idea of a plot, which is when our car full of girls gets harassed by a cool muscle car on the road. It's like an early bit from Duel or Joy Ride or whatever; he's on their ass, tries to pass, they shriek "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" or whatever, and then he zooms off. What makes it special is that none of the footage matches at all - the wide shots showing both cars are clearly shot in a different area than the road we see in the closeups, and other cars behind the villain appear and disappear from shot to shot. It's bad enough when this happens with expensive 35mm cameras, but when they're using sub-par digital, there's no real excuse for it - they could have had 3-4 cameras shooting the sequence simultaneously to ensure some continuity when they cut it all together. This stuff almost appears to be from different movies entirely. Ditto for the lengthy scene of a cop walking around, possibly seeing the killer, realizing he's gone, and then driving off. We never see him again, so it doesn't even count as a red herring - it's just a weird way to kill 5-6 minutes in your 82 minute (with lengthy end titles and an admittedly decent opening title sequence) movie that has maybe 2-3 minutes' worth of entertainment in it.

In short, save your money for Glycerine or Little Things.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Return To Nuke 'Em High Volume 1 (2013)

MARCH 23, 2014

GENRE: MUTANT, SPLATTER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Overall, my biggest complaint about Return To Nuke 'Em High Volume 1 is hinted at in the title - this is very much a volume 1 in that it just sort of stops at one point, without any real climax to tide us over until volume 2 comes along. Kill Bill definitely works better as one unit (and no, simply watching volume 1 and 2 back to back isn't the same - there's a small but key difference in "The Whole Bloody Affair" that makes the whole thing work so much better), but it had that big showdown at the restaurant, and the inciting action for volume 2. This has a weird sequence with some action, but hardly counts as a showdown, and then the movie just sort of hangs out with itself for another 15 minutes before the titles roll. Maybe if we had a firm release date for Vol. 2 (which is in post) it'd be less of a bummer, but leaving us in limbo is mean-spirited!

Because otherwise, this is actually a pretty delightful romp that lives up to other modern Troma productions and, in my opinion, easily tops the original Nuke 'Em High, which is one of my least favorites. I'm no expert on their stuff, mind you - I've only seen about half of their films (I don't count the ones they picked up; only the ones Lloyd directed himself or at least had a heavy hand in production), but of those this seems to be the most consistently entertaining and on point in quite a while. The benefit of splitting it up is that it would have been 2.5 hours or so, which sounds ridiculous but in reality isn't too farfetched an idea: Terror Firmer is 2 hours, and I feel I walk away from nearly all of their films saying that they were too long. This clocks in at a perfect 85 minutes, enough time to let the story (such as it is) breathe a bit, but without lagging all that much or going off on pointless tangents.

I truly enjoyed how it updated the scenario and more or less stayed in continuity with the original film (which we are given a brief recap of early on, earning a huge laugh by skipping over the sequels), even if it's sort of a remake. The school has been rebuilt and the power plant is gone, with a food conglomerate (Tromorganic) taking its place and offering healthy alternative food that is seemingly just made out of the leftover toxic waste. It doesn't take long for the student body to start turning into mutants; after a few isolated incidents (including a terrific sex scene gone awry, with melting bodies and such) the Glee Club is turned in its entirety into Cretins, and the usual sort of awkwardly paced but gloriously insane Tromatic carnage begins. It's been a long time since Kaufman helmed a feature himself (I believe Poultrygeist was the last one), and as I've said before - the movies he makes for the company are almost always infinitely better than the ones they pick up or that he merely produces (Cannibal: The Musical being a rare exception), so you know you're in good hands.

The humor is also on point; there are some truly tasteless jokes about Sandusky and the Colorado movie shooting, but as with South Park, pulling punches in some areas just make the other jokes more offensive in a way. I was laughing pretty often, particularly at the "so idiotic it's brilliant" bit where a bit of foreshadowing is followed by the shadow of a number 4 on a wall. I also particularly enjoyed the pair of teachers who are inexplicably arguing about Justin Beiber, pause to look at a burning student running down the hall, and then continue their argument. As always, you have to be in the right mood for it, but some of their films don't even work when you ARE in such a state, so when they nail it, it's worth noting.

It's also, I think, Lloyd's first digital film, and I'm happy to say it actually looks better than a few big budget digital films I've seen (Kaufman > Mann), not to mention offers more vivid colors than usual - all the better for any scene involving dismemberment or puke. The plot may be gibberish (and incomplete), but any scene taken on its own has every dollar of its meager budget on screen, qualifying it as a success. The only drawback: I was kind of sad to see that the shitty Troma logo has been retired in favor of a new high def one - why did they splurge when it was part of the charm? But fear not - even if it matches worse than usual, we still get to see the Kabukiman car flip, and everything else about the film lives up to Troma tradition (Lemmy pops up, male nudity is as common as female, Toxie makes an appearance...). It's a fine mix of old and new, and since digital is cheaper/faster (not better!), it proves to be a good fit for the brand.

I say that because as always, the extra features aren't exactly congratulatory - most of them focus on things that went wrong, Lloyd getting annoyed at one crew person or another, etc. There are three such pieces, and while they skip over the film's actual production (presumably being saved for Volume 2), it's almost amazing they got that far considering how many issues arose with figuring out effects, casting (poor Asta Paredes, the star of the film, is seen having to test chemistry with about a dozen actors. Translation: making out with a lot of random dudes), and having to use an old morgue as the film's production office. The two commentaries (one with the cast, the other with Lloyd and select crew) back up these issues with even more stories, thought it's not in an angry or bitter way - everyone seemingly knows what they signed up for and are proud of the finished result. In short, the tracks are fun and useful; there's no better way to learn about filmmaking than being a PA, and these tracks can give a glimpse of what you can expect if you wish to join the Troma team on their next production (if they ever came to Los Angeles, I'd probably do it). A quick teaser for Volume 2, a music video and a highlight reel of Lloyd's other films round things out - it's not as jam-packed as other Troma releases, but again I assume they're saving some of the meatier behind the scenes stuff for Volume 2.

Hopefully the 2nd installment comes sooner than later; not only am I legit excited about seeing it, but I suspect it'd be easier to sell audiences on this one if they knew when they'd get the rest of the story (The Hobbit made more money than it deserved, but I wonder if it'd have done as well if audiences weren't told in advance when parts 2 and 3 would be arriving). It's the first time they've attempted something akin to a serialized narrative (previous Troma sequels, such as Toxic Avenger 2, can't even decide if they're direct followups or parodies), and I'd love to see it pay off - maybe it can get Anchor Bay or someone to back an Avengers-style teamup with all the Troma heroes in one film (instead of quick cameos), offering a true celebration of the past 30+ years of their specific brand of demented horror comedy. With Lloyd pushing 70, I fear he'll retire without ever getting to make a true Troma epic, with a crew of passionate fans that have also had the benefit of 10-15 years' worth of DVD/Blu-ray special editions to prepare them for the less than stellar working conditions that have led to underwhelming productions in the past. I think it'd be glorious.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Want to watch me die (twice)?

Since I'm being lazy with my Nuke 'Em High review, enjoy this trailer to tide you over! It was for something called Drexel Dance, which is a fake movie trailer competition that just had its 6th iteration. I was told to wear my most 70s-ish clothing and come to a dark alley in downtown Los Angeles, where I had to mimic a bunch of stuff I didn't quite understand - all I knew is that it would eventually look like I was getting killed by Brea Grant, so I was sold. So now I get it! And it looks pretty badass! It's the work of Jason R. Miller, who also directed/edited/did FX for the "Infected" short film I posted a while back (where I played a monster), and also just released his debut feature film Unidentified, which boasts end titles from yours truly.

Check it out below, and if you like it let him know on Twitter!

PLEASE, GO ON...

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