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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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

The Pyramid (2014)

DECEMBER 7, 2014

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

If you skipped As Above, So Below this year because you were waiting for The Pyramid to satisfy your urge for a movie about a bunch of explorers getting stuck in a tomb with only their video cameras to protect them, I have some bad news for you: you chose wrong. While no classic, As Above was a hell of a lot better than this silly Syfy level movie, and the constant deja vu did it no favors, since you've seen this done better already; it'd be like if Deep Impact came out AFTER Armageddon. Before I saw it I was confused why Fox was only putting the movie out on 580 screens since it had a couple of names (Alex Aja produced, American Horror Story staple Denis O'Hare stars) that would seemingly make it an easy sell, but by the time I was over I had to wonder why it was going theatrical at all.

At least, theatrical in 2014. If this was 2001, I'd totally get it. The horrible CGI on the movie's creatures would make Mummy Returns fans feel right at home, and they actually play a nu-metal song over the end credits, like just about every movie from Dimension's late 90s/early 00s heyday. If not for the fact that last year's social unrest in Egypt played a (minor) part in the movie's plot, I'd actually entertain the notion that it was something that was shot years ago and was being dumped now to settle a bet or something. I mean, it's not the worst movie I've seen theatrically this year (Jinn, Ganzefeld Haunting, Cabin Fever 3... hell it might not even be bottom 5, which used to mean little but with the baby I only go to the movies like 2 or 3 times a month), but it was just so damn stupid at times, with a shocking lack of any real suspense (and a horrible ending), that even those moments that work don't really help in the long run.

Two of those moments involve out of nowhere deaths, or, to be more accurate, out of nowhere injuries that lead to deaths. In one, a giant piece of rock crushes the leg of one of our heroes (I use the term lightly), which made for the movie's best jump scare. The other could have been a Sam Jackson in Deep Blue Sea level moment, but they chicken out of letting the character die right away - instead he survives a bit longer in order for one of the other characters to film his death (with night vision camera) and provide some more exposition for good measure. In fact, now that I think about it, just about ALL of the movie's six characters (two documentary jerks, three science types, and a soldier) sort of die twice; they suffer what appears to be a mortal injury only to hang on for a bit and die later. One even survives being buried in sand! It happens so often that the film lacks any punch; not only do we eventually realize that the filmmakers (or their producers) don't have the stones to follow through on anything daring, but also means that when someone actually DOES die it's a nothing moment, as we've already expended our sympathy the first time around.

It's funny, one positive thing I noted during the movie, fairly late into it, was that for once the "We're filming everything because we need the camera's light" excuse made sense, as it really WAS pretty dark around them. There's a thing in many horror movies that we just have to accept/figure out for ourselves, which is that the DP is showing us more than the characters can see, making them look a bit ridiculous as they hold their hands out in front of their face and walk slowly around a room/cavern/whatever we can see perfectly well. Here, most of the time it was more or less blackened out... except for when the damn Anubis shows up, looking like a PS1 cut scene in some shots. Suddenly there's an off-screen light source or something, letting us take in every detail of this poorly rendered laughingstock of a villain. If they were smart they would have turned the brightness/contrast DOWN making it darker than it was to begin with, hiding the blemishes of their CGI monster that must have taken anywhere from 4 to 5 minutes to render.

The reliance on bad CGI results in a pretty hilarious continuity error, too - one character is attacked by the mummy cats (yep), who are all CGI and are making CGI wounds all over her. Maybe someone just realized how terrible they all looked, because after the attack is over, the other characters race over as he/she is dying (this is their second death, of course - they were first seemingly killed by falling on some spikes) and all of the wounds/blood are completely gone. It's very rare I notice a continuity error in a movie even if it's the 3rd or 4th time I've watched it, so to see something on my first viewing is pretty telling at how sloppy and uninvolving the film was. It's also rare I feel bad for an actor, but just based on my limited exposure to Denis O'Hare (basically AHS, which I've only liked two seasons of, and a cameo in Town That Dreaded Sundown) I know he deserves better than this.

This review took over a week to write; I saw it on its opening weekend and today (Thursday the 18th) is probably the last time it'll be in a first run theater. If the point of a review is to advise folks whether or not to see it, I've completely botched the job as it's too late to matter. However, since it's basically a Syfy movie it might play better at home, so when it hits VOD and you're in the mood for something that feels a decade older than it is, and it's cheap enough... no, even then you should watch something else. Even if it's free, there are just so many better options, and it's not even bad enough to really sink your teeth into and laugh at. It's just bland and forgettable, which to me is the greatest sin.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Ouija (2014)

NOVEMBER 23, 2014

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

It's been a long time since I've written a full review for a movie I'd almost deem "Crap", but dammit if Ouija wasn't THAT insulting that I felt I had to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be) and hopefully warn off anyone else who stupidly looked at this thing's 50 million gross and 2 week reign as the #1 movie as some indication that it might be at least halfway decent. In a year that saw movie after movie fail to even break 20m, I am baffled why THIS managed to strike a chord, and you can't say "Teens are dumb" because they were smart enough to stay away from The Quiet Ones, and that was also PG-13 and had the same star (Olivia Cooke, the only reason this ISN'T being tagged "Crap" because I continue to be impressed by her flawless American accent). I guess the Halloween thing can account for some, but not why I found myself in a fairly crowded theater 3 weeks later (and on a Sunday afternoon to boot). Why are people STILL going to see this goddamn movie?

Because believe me, I can still be entertained by movies aimed squarely at teen horror fans. Prom Night, Haunting in Connecticut, etc - these movies are harmless and even enjoyable at times, so you can be assured I'm not simply "above" this sort of thing. But CHRIST this one is lazy and generic, without a single inspired moment in the entire thing, save for maybe the framing of the opening death scene, which was given away in the trailer anyway. Throughout the movie I just kept wondering when it was going to kick into high (or, 2nd) gear, until I realized that there were only about 10 minutes left and thus it never would. I know the fact that it's a Platinum Dunes production automatically puts a target on it, but even their biggest critics should be able to admit that there was SOME spark of life in their Friday and Chainsaw remakes - this just joins The Unborn and Horsemen as evidence that they should probably just stick to remakes.

It's hard to imagine even teens getting too worked up about the movie, which ironically could have benefited from more fake scares or something, just to stir the audience awake (oddly it's the one movie I DIDN'T doze off during in the past month). It takes forever for the malevolent spirit from the Ouija board to start killing the bland group of friends at the movie's center, and those moments are pretty much the only ones of terror in the damn thing. Unless the director thinks that watching some teens play with the board and say "Who's moving it?" is terrifying enough on its own? Otherwise I'm actually kind of baffled where the scares were supposed to be. Every now and then there will be a bland moment like a door opening on its own and momentarily creeping out Cooke or one of her pals, but they and thus the audience forgets all about it in the next couple seconds.

Hell, the movie can't even do exposition right. It takes an hour for anyone to bother trying to find out who the spirit might be, and this of course leads to our heroine pretending to be a relative in order to get into a nursing home, because that's what people do in these movies and damned if Stiles White and Juliet Snowden will dare to introduce anything that might be considered a "wrinkle" into their horribly generic script! And wouldn't you know it, the old lady is Lin Shaye, so we can momentarily think about Insidious and get back in a good mood, and hopefully not think too hard about why she's being so nice to Cooke so that we can be all the more SHOCKED when it turns out she's kind of crazy and on the bad ghost's side. The plot, such as it is, pretty much boils down to yet another instance where our heroes need to find a long-dead corpse and either bury it properly or burn it (the latter, in this case), something you probably could guess in the first five minutes even though every single thing about it is confined to the third act.

So what fills the rest of that runtime? It's been 3 days and I honestly can't remember. I DO recall laughing that all of our heroes are very retro, because they still develop photos of casual hangouts and film themselves goofing off with a regular video camera instead of their phones, as if Snowden and White wrote this in 2001 and never bothered to update it for the smart phone age (cells DO appear, but only to deliver text messages). And the production was too cheap to secure posters from any major (real?) bands, so they all have generic posters in their rooms (hung at odd angles, of course), but no actual CDs or things of that nature. License plates are also generic - Cooke's car has 2GAT123, which is the "555" of license plate numbers. I also remember that there's a laughably awful bit of foreshadowing where Cooke instructs her boyfriend to check out a pool cover, and we see him struggle to reach it and close it, which I guess makes his inevitable fall into the pool/getting caught in the pool cover scene an hour alter all the scarier?

But mostly I just remember thinking how insulting the whole thing was, and how I felt bad for the teens that this was being peddled to. Obviously you can't go into Inside territory when you're aiming your movie at kids who aren't even old enough to drive, but come the fuck on here. You don't need me to list the good PG-13 horror movies, because every horror site has compiled one as easy hit bait as if it's a super rare thing that a non-R horror movie is good (spoiler: it isn't). This movie was seemingly designed exclusively to watch at sleepovers, but even on that level it's a complete waste of time and money. Even the IMDb trivia can't even be bothered to put any effort into things; one of the entries is simply "The main character is also on Bates Motel". That's not trivia!

Go to hell, Ouija. Even Haunted House 2 had more energy than this.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Late Phases (2014)

NOVEMBER 21, 2014

GENRE: WEREWOLF
SOURCE: ONLINE (SCREENER)

It's a good thing I waited until today to watch Late Phases, instead of on Tuesday when I originally planned to, because I probably would have been a damn blubbering wreck then. You see, Tuesday would have been my dad's 69th birthday, and since I'm now a dad myself (my baby is 6 months old tomorrow!) this one hit me pretty hard as is, because I hate that he's not here to see his grandson and theoretically tell me I'm doing a good job. And thus, the last thing I'd expect to make it worse would be a werewolf movie, but damned if the thing isn't half Lycan entry, half father-son drama. So thanks for the busy week that delayed my plans, universe - watching 3 days later, I was pretty much OK.

Also, thanks for making a good werewolf movie! Longtime readers of this site know I'm not always enamored by such films; the only ones I like are the ones EVERYONE likes: American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps (though I prefer the first sequel), The Howling - which took me a couple viewings, etc. The only one that might raise an eyebrow is Silver Bullet, and I'd be lying if I said that part of why I enjoyed Late Phases is that it seemed either writer Eric Stolze or director Adrián García Bogliano was also a fan of this not-exactly-beloved 1985 flick (or the story it was based on), as it not only had a disabled character at its center (the crippled Corey Haim character there; here it's the blind veteran played by Nick Damici) but also a mystery about who the wolf was that ended up having a connection to the local church.

Now, I don't think that's really a spoiler - unless they opted for a Ginger Snaps route of not explaining who the human behind the wolf was, the movie only offers a couple of potential suspects and they're all involved with the church. But really, it doesn't seem like the mystery is as compelling to anyone as the human drama at the movie's core, in which the rather dickish Ambrose (Damici) learns to be at peace with himself. As a proud soldier, the illness that took his sight obviously had a major effect on him (though he proves to be a pretty good shot anyway when the time comes), and as a result he's become borderline insufferable, and even worse now that he's been placed in a retirement community populated by overly pleasant people that annoy him. The only one that (kind of) tolerates him is his son, played by Ethan Embry, and eventually he tires of his attitude as well.

As this is a Bogliano film as well as a Glass Eye Pix production, I wasn't expecting much werewolf action to occur until the final few minutes, as both director and company specialize in "slow burn" type horror, letting the mood and atmosphere suffice to provide the horror for the first hour or so, and then unleashing hell. But surprisingly, we get some almost as soon as Ambrose arrives at the community - a neighbor's dog is attacked, he is spooked, and a bit later his own dog is killed by "something". It's chalked up to a "bear or large dog", but we know what it is, and so does Ambrose after a while, demanding someone make him a silver bullet (natch) so he can exact revenge for his dog. Basically, it hits all the beats of a traditional werewolf movie, but in a very casual way that allows the filmmakers to spend more time on the characters. There's a sweet little friendship between Ambrose and a priest played by Tom Noonan, and I'm pretty sure their final scene together is the only time Damici smiles throughout the movie - Noonan was able to crack the gruff exterior, mostly by being as stubborn as he is. It's a shame they only have I think three scenes together; I could have watched a whole movie of them trading barbs while becoming pals.

Noonan is just one of many genre vets that appear in the film, making this resemble a rather peculiar (but admirable) lineup for a horror con at times. You get Lance Guest (Halloween II), Rutanya Alda (Amityville II), and Caitlin O'Heaney (probably hired for Wolfen, but I'll remember her from He Knows You're Alone), plus Larry Fessenden in his usual bit role, and Twin Peaks' Dana Ashbrook for good measure. And outside of horror you can appreciate the first acting gig in a decade from Tina Louise, best known as Ginger from Gilligan's Island (much to her chagrin, from what I understand), and the lovely Erin Cummings from Spartacus and the unfairly dumped Made In Jersey. Maybe it's just my poor choices, but I can't recall the last time I watched a genre flick where nearly the entire cast was not only someone I recognized but someone who I enjoy seeing on my screen, so that was a highlight for sure.

I do wish the film was tighter, however. There are a pair of cops who appear too often for my tastes (since they can't seem to see what (literally) a blind man could), and an odd running gag concerning the bored security guard at the community's front gate (the payoff seems to be that the gate is locked for once when Embry's character needs to get inside - any random excuse could have impeded his arrival). And for some reason there are back to back scenes that seem to exist to reveal who the werewolf is? Like he does the same thing (biting a random person while in human form) and both times are played as surprise/shock moments? It's like they wanted to make sure you didn't miss it the first time or something. That said, now that he's been revealed and we can get to a full transformation, it's a pretty fantastic one - practically designed and delivered in one shot, where they pan to another character's horrified expression before panning back to the guy transforming. Love the shot of all the human teeth bursting out onto the floor! My screener wasn't the best quality (and watermarked to boot) so don't quote me on it, but I'm pretty sure it was all done without CGI (at least, on the wolf - I'm sure it wasn't REALLY an unbroken shot but made to look seamless with some digital fudging), and the wolf itself is definitely a guy in a suit. Maybe it's not the best looking one in history, but I don't even care - in this day and age, just the fact that ANY production is going about it the right way is enough to satisfy me. That it's a low budget indie makes it nothing short of miraculous.

The movie is the latest one to have a miniscule theatrical release on the same day it hits VOD. I'll never understand this model, but I guess it's OK you have choices? I hope there are enough people like me who value the theatrical experience enough to go that route instead of watching it on their cable box (or worse, computer), and believe me I would have went that route if it was playing near me (apparently Los Angeles isn't "select" enough anymore). It's not exactly Interstellar levels of "You must see it on the big screen!", but it's been a damn long time since a quality "solo" werewolf movie was playing (don't give me the Wolfman remake, that thing was a mess). For the past 10 years they've been the opponents of vampires (Twilight and Underworld series) or in crap like Red Riding Hood - it's about time they get the spotlight to themselves again, and in a worthy movie to boot.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Stephen King's A Good Marriage (2014)

NOVEMBER 21, 2014

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: ONLINE (SCREENER)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What say you?

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

PLEASE, GO ON...

October Mini-Review Roundup!

NOVEMBER 7, 2014

GENRE: ALL!
SOURCE: SCREAMFEST and SCREENERS

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

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

(in alpha order)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Mockingbird (2014) / Mercy (2014)

OCTOBER 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

I'm Not Dead! At Least, Not Yet

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

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

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

P.S. Joy Ride 3 is pretty bad.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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