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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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


Pride And Prejudice And Zombies (2016)

FEBRUARY 4, 2016


I wasn't expecting Pride And Prejudice And Zombies to be any good. I can count the number of good PG-13 Screen Gems horror movies on one hand with fingers left over, and I am just not a fan of mash-ups in general - adding things you like into other things you like is fine for ice cream sundaes, but otherwise it's just not appealing to me to see Yoda driving around on the Ecto-1 or whatever other dumb shit people post on the internet. And yet, the script/concept is actually not too bad for the most part - it's not played for laughs (thankfully) and the zombies are surprisingly used sparingly (and more or less utilized as a version of the plague). No, it's actually the flat direction and horrendous editing that does the movie in, leaving it watchable, even fun at times, but rarely as engaging as it could have been.

I debated over whether or not to read up on the original Austen story before seeing the movie, because (brace yourselves) I've never read it, nor have I seen any of the straight adaptations that have sprung up over the years (and given my mash-up opposition it should go without saying I never read Seth Grahame-Smith's novel, either). Ultimately I decided not do any such prep, as I feared knowing the ins and outs of the story would put me in a position of being ahead of its characters but also rolling my eyes at how they kept shoehorning zombies into familiar scenes. Luckily, as it turns out that wasn't even the case anyway - long stretches go by without any undead action, and from what I understand the movie actually reigned in a lot of the book's silliness - ninjas and cannibals apparently played a major part, but there's nothing like that here. There are a few instances where I might have grinned at how they "zombified" one of the Austen book's scenes, like when a character got sick from the rain in the original (and here is injured when her musket backfires as she tries to kill a zombie), but for the most part I think I would have liked the movie less if I knew the source material in any detail (I knew it involved a love triangle and that's about it).

Because really, that stuff was fine, and was certainly more interesting than anything involving zombies. Lily James is as wonderful to watch in fetching period dresses as she is kicking ass, and I've never heard of Sam Riley (Mr. Darcy) before, but his voice alone made me wish I was English, and (I say this meaning no disrespect) it was great to have a regular looking guy as the lead in a Screen Gems horror movie, as they tend to cast the most CW-y looking motherfuckers on the planet for these things (his friend, Mr. Bingley, more than makes up for that "gap", as he looks like he was assembled in a Chace Crawford factory). Their unusual romance was fun to see unfold (as was my realization that Austen's source novel is probably to blame for every "they hate each other then they love each other" narrative in rom-com history), as it was dictated by so many external factors beyond the obligatory "wrong foot" first meeting. Fear not, the "Pride" and "Prejudice" of the title is still very much a factor in the narrative, and despite my initial assumptions, never really got overshadowed by the zombie action.

In fact most of the zombie stuff is front-loaded; we meet Mr. Darcy as he kills one (that POV of a head being twisted off that they used in the trailer), and James and her sisters are introduced only moments before they too get to show off their zombie-killing prowess (their dad, Charles Dance, cares more about their ability to fight than taking on the usual womanly roles of the day - namely getting married and producing heirs). Then they all go to a party and zombies show up there too! It seemed at first like they just took the source story and added "then zombies show up and ruin everything" to every scene, but after the first reel it dips back into a sped up version of Austen's story, with minimal zombie interference until the 3rd act. Most of their appearances in between are fleeting, like when the girls (who look nothing alike, for the record - it's like they went out of their way to find girls who could never conceivably come from the same genes) travel to a neighboring town and come across a downed carriage on the way - its inhabitant is a zombie, they kill her and move on with the romance/social class stuff. This sort of approach does result in one terrific jump moment (even I got legit startled, which almost never happens), but will likely frustrate anyone who showed up hoping for a full blown zombie epic with some period romance stuff thrown in as flavor.

If anything, it's really the other way around, at least until the climax, which leaves Austen behind for a while (unless the Wiki I read skipped over the rescue scene and bridge explosion). At this point it starts feeling more like a period zombie movie, but it's rushed through, and by that point I was far more invested in seeing if Liz would end up with Mr. Darcy anyway. There's some half-baked nonsense about four zombie horsemen that never really pays off (the book has two sequels, so maybe they're hoping there will be a film series - there's certainly a sequel setup in the closing credits), and I like that the zombies talk until they eat brains (at which point they become typical moaning undead), but it doesn't add up to a compelling undead story. Perhaps they felt shoehorned by the original text and trying to stick to it? Whatever the reason, perhaps streamlining some of the original elements (for starters, there are five sisters, but two of them serve no purpose) would have given them more time to flesh out the zombie elements, making them feel a little more organic to the original story that they were aping. I mean, it's a fully developed story to begin with, and the zombies don't seem to be replacing anything in the original narrative (like evil soldiers or something), so adding another story on top of one that they're not doing much to reduce and trying to cram it into 108 minutes doesn't seem like the sanest plan.

And that's what makes it so frustrating, because the movie would actually work really well if director Burr Steers and his editor gave it any life (no zombie puns, damn you). They're smart enough not to overload the movie with action (and in turn, more CGI gore), but nothing ever really excites when it should, and one or both of them seem to actively oppose standard coverage. There are several scenes where it feels like we should be seeing James' reaction to something, only for them to not show her at all (including a major moment with Mr. Darcy near the end), and scenes often come and go with zero finesse or grace. I thought perhaps the movie was way too long and it got hacked up, but there's nothing in the trailer that's missing from the feature, which is the usual sign of such re-editing. But then again, the IMDb trivia talks of a 'long take' sequence that was cut after preview screenings, so obviously there was SOME reworking, which might explain the breathless opening credit sequence, where Dance narrates the history of the zombie plague over an animated scene, all of which feels like a quick way to recap what was probably excised original material featuring the actors. But Steers also can't seem to get a handle on action scenes either; the PG-13 doesn't seem to be a major factor (that startling moment I mention involves a zombie's head being blown apart) and even the one on one fights between humans lack a pulse. It's just all very much on rails, with editing that draws attention to either the movie's hollowed out presentation (there are at least two scenes where a character suddenly appears in a different spot than they were in the previous shot, as if there was a middle to the scene that got hacked out) or the editor/director's incompetence. So you can't help but wonder if the zombie element was even necessary; everyone looks the part and could probably become someone's favorite version of a particular character - but the polarizing "hook" will keep those would-be fans at bay, and then the zombie stuff doesn't really deliver. No one's satisfied!

Wherever the blame should lie, it doesn't change the fact that adding zombies to a Jane Austen story is the least of the movie's problems. It's been in development for ages (Natalie Portman was originally going to star; she gets a producer credit alongside about twenty others) with several directors having come and gone, both inspired (David O. Russell? Lord and Miller?) and "this could have been awesome" (Neil Marshall, David Slade). Instead we get a guy whose last two movies were Zac Efron vehicles (and wrote the classic How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days!), with zero action/horror on his resume, so I have to wonder if Sony just gave up trying to find someone suitable and just grabbed a yes man from a list, knowing that with all the producers involved they needed someone who'd follow directions instead of being all "auteur" about it. So as a result, it's about as good as you'd expect from someone whose last directorial gig was an episode of The New Normal. However, it's better than you'd expect from the one-joke premise, and as Super Bowl counter-programming, I'm not sure there's ever been a more fitting concept than combining horror with a "chick flick". Normally we'd be seeing separate movies offering these things (a standard female-driven movie from one studio, some crappy horror movie from another), so on a fiscal level it's a genius move. Just a shame that it doesn't work as well as it apparently could have. Maybe I'll read the book and see if it improves things. Ninjas are cool, I guess.

What say you?

P.S. Lena Headey's role is so brief that it should have gone unbilled, and true to form, in the one scene she shares with her Game of Thrones dad, Steers can't be bothered to show both of them in the frame at the same time. As for Matt Smith... let's just say my interest in seeing what Doctor Who was about after Lego Dimensions has been greatly reduced. He's only in the movie for like 15 minutes - as a supporting character! - and he drove me insane, so how the hell am I supposed to watch hours of this guy as the hero? And no, it's not because his character shares a name with my son (William Collins), he was annoying me before I even realized that.


Howl (2015)

FEBRUARY 1, 2016


I've said it plenty of times before, but I don't know if I have regular readers anymore so I'll repeat: if you stick a bunch of strangers together in one location and force them to band together to fight off a common enemy, chances are I'll like it (bonus points if the group includes cops/prisoners). And with The Descent being my favorite horror movie of the '00s (or second to Inside, depends on my mood), it's probably pointless to explain that I enjoyed Howl, which reunites Descent's star (Shauna MacDonald) with its FX creator for a story about, you guessed it, a bunch of strangers stuck in one spot (a disabled train) and forced to band together to fight off a common enemy, in this case werewolves. A B-movie to be sure, but a GOOD B-movie. A B+ movie, if you will.

The aforementioned FX guru, Paul Hyett, made his directorial debut on The Seasoning House, which wasn't really my cup of tea (it focused on a group of woman who were forced to be prostitutes for soldiers, some of them very awful people) but I admired that he went against tradition for his debut, making a movie that centered on character and narrative instead of creatures and other effects. For his followup, he split the difference, directing a story that allowed him to put his considerable FX backdrop (he did all of Neil Marshall's films, Attack the Block, etc.) to good use without losing sight of the characters. Over 90 rather fast-paced minutes, we get to care about the folks on board the doomed train (it hits a deer and they're unable to get it going again due to damage caused by...SOMETHING!), and by focusing more on the chase/evasion parts than the kills for the first 65-70 minutes, it's harder to peg who will live or die (or, at least, the order in which it will happen).

If anything I was kind of disappointed that (spoiler) just about everyone dies. For so much of the movie, Hyett seems more interested in letting the characters bounce off each other and prove their merit (or dickishness) than offing them one by one, with casualties being rare compared to "defend yourself against the monster and get away" types. Hell, even when they all get off the train and try to make it back to town only to get scared back, no one dies - and that's actually a perfectly good place to off someone! Nothing can keep someone from wanting to try to go back outside like seeing one of their fellow passengers get torn to shreds, so the fact that Hyett (and screenwriters Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler) lets them all survive that sequence was rather refreshing. Not to mention more suspenseful; I was so sure someone would die that when hero Ed Speleers was taking time to get back on the train, I wondered if they would pull a Psycho and let him be the first* to go to hammer home the "no one is safe" idea.

Well, they don't do that. Speleers gets back on the train, but one of the other passengers is injured in the scuffle and starts getting sick, so you can probably figure out what's going to happen there. Interestingly, the werewolves are much more man-like than I've usually seen - the injured passenger transforms but it's not the usual "look", with lots of hair and a wolf head and all that. No, it's almost exactly dead center between man and beast, almost like a hairy caveman more than anything else. It's... OK, it's kind of a silly looking design, if I'm being perfectly honest, but I love the attempt at doing something different (and of course, the fact that it's practical), so as long as you don't look too closely at the face (for some reason it made me think of Garbage Pail Kids) it should satisfy anyone looking for some basic creature action. Hyett doesn't blow his wad early - the first couple of attacks are POV-driven, or in one of the movie's best death scenes, from inside the train as the monster outside attempts to pull a passenger through the mostly closed door. Jaws it is not, but most of these things barely top Jaws: The Revenge, so keep your expectations grounded and you'll easily recognize that the movie is doing more right than wrong.

Same goes for the logic. We're told that the nearest station is only a couple miles away, but that might as well be a thousand to the ill-prepared passengers. They're all coming home from work, so it's late, they're tired, and most importantly they have no supplies or anything to defend themselves. Even making a run for it while the werewolf is distracted with bait (one of the elderly passengers; at least, that's what the resident dickhead character keeps suggesting) isn't a sound plan, as (spoiler, though revealed early) he's got buddies out there. So even though no one dies when they first try to make a run for it (before they even know there's anything out there beyond the dead deer), you get why they stay inside for the rest of the movie, and of course there's no cell signal in the spot they've stopped, because come on, it's a horror movie. At this point saying aloud that there isn't a signal where everyone is located is no more necessary than pointing out that a monster has claws. It's just understood.

The ensemble cast is pretty good; Speleers should probably be a bigger star but the failure of Eragon (his first movie, and the central point of the marketing due to his handsome looks) has kept him off the A-list, and now he's probably losing parts to the kid from Kingsman. But he's got the chops and is a notch or two above who we can usually expect from a Syfy-level movie like this (budget-wise, I mean, not quality). MacDonald is a lot of fun as a kind of bitchy career woman, and Elliot Cowan is a great asshole; you ALMOST like the guy at times, because he makes no apologies for his alpha male bullshit and philandering ways. Late in the movie we learn that MacDonald's character actually had an interview to work for him, but when he suggested continuing the application process at his apartment (the one he keeps separate from his wife and children), she left. Normally this would end the scene, with our asshole character put in his place, but instead he doubles down, explaining why he acts like this (in short, he's tired of female execs being trained/counted on and then leaving for months after they have a child, so he wants to know that a woman wants the job badly enough to stoop to his cutthroat level), and you can't help but respect his honesty. You know he'll get his just desserts eventually, so why not let him be as slimy as possible? It's kind of refreshing.

The Blu has about a half hour's worth of behind the scenes material, nothing too interesting or revealing, but I like that they spend time on the coloring/grading process, an oft-overlooked part of the movie's creation (and in some movies' case, a process that's never done at all). Hyett and his FX team also go into some basic detail about the creature design, going deeper into the "half-man" look and offering some amusing behind the scenes footage that shows the full creatures terrorizing the cast while wearing bright green boots (the design has some CGI embellishments). They're OK, basically; if you loved the movie you'll enjoy the extra look at its creation, for sure, but it's hardly essential viewing. Mostly, I'm just happy they offered that much, as the physical disc market continues to dwindle and even big movies have next to nothing included on them (the Poltergeist remake, for example, had not one bit of production-related material on it) it's actually something of a surprise to see anything but the trailer on the "bonus material" section of the Blu menu.

Hyett has another movie in the can already, a period piece that sounds like it's about witchcraft, so that will hopefully be another minor gem from this increasingly dependable filmmaker. There aren't a lot of FX guys who go on to make solid movies, but he's two for two (Seasoning House IS a good movie, but falls into that Serbian Film/Dear Zachary (not horror) category of movies that just bum me out way too much to want to see again), and I like that he's exploring different sub-genres each time out. Maybe he'll rope in ALL of the Descent cast (the cast's chemistry is an oft-underrated aspect of that movie) for a slasher someday! A man can dream...

What say you?

*Sean Pertwee is actually the first to die, as the train's conductor who goes out to investigate what he hit. But I don't think he even speaks an on-screen line before getting offed, so he barely counts as a character. Also, don't watch the movie if you're excited to see Pertwee take on werewolves again, because it's a very poor attempt at stunt casting. Obviously the nameless conductor is going to die. They needed to pull an "Eric Dane in Feast" move with Pertwee to really mess with the audience's expectations.


The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

JANUARY 29, 2016


Hammer knew their strengths (or at least, knew the box office) and thus didn't step outside their comfort zone too much when it came to horror sub-genres. Their first real ghost movie, for example, was 2012's The Woman in Black - nearly fifty years after their heyday. And if I can trust what I've read online, The Plague of the Zombies is their only zombie movie, which shocks me since it was so influential on Night of the Living Dead, you'd think that, during their waning era in the '70s, they'd want to cash in on the trend that they helped pave the way for by trying it again. Whether it would have made any difference in the downturn that led to their 30+ year absence from the horror genre, I'm not sure - but they certainly proved here that they could pull off zombies as well as vampires or mad scientists.

Indeed, the film has a vague Frankenstein-esque feel at time, particularly Frankenstein Created Woman, as it also has a scene where a girl is terrorized by local thugs and shares that film's teacher/student relationship between the two male leads. However it should be noted this one came first, so maybe they were just borrowing elements for Frankenstein instead of Plague using familiar/successful material to fall back on as they waded into new territory with the undead. And it's not like they had a lot of movies to draw from in that area - in the 34 years since White Zombie, there had only been a couple dozen other zombie films, many of them not likely to have influenced anyone on anything, ever (Voodoo Island or Voodoo Man, anyone?) and several of them only technically falling under the description, like the sci-fi/action serial Zombies of the Stratosphere, which had drone-like aliens but no walking undead.

All that is a long-winded way of explaining why I can forgive them for the movie's only real blunder, but it's kind of an obnoxious one - the half-assed attempts at a mystery for the villain. We know who it is - he's the only suspect, the zombies are usually seen around his house, he takes the heroine's blood after she cuts herself on a wine glass... but for some reason he wears this tribal mask even during scenes where only his own men are around, so there's no need to be hiding his identity. And even when it's taken off during the climax the director drags it out for another few seconds, obscuring his face (via POV of a woozy character) before finally revealing that it's... the guy you knew was the bad guy as soon as he was mentioned. So why hide it? I mean, I'm sure there was some history of the mask being used in these voodoo rituals, but the way it's used in the film it feels like they're trying to conceal a mystery. Plus, the guy playing the villain, John Carson, is a delight and I wish the movie included him more - he's in relatively few scenes overall, in fact, mask or not.

Instead it's mostly André Morell's show, as the well-to-do doctor who travels to this little town (along with his daughter) to help out one of his former students, Peter, who is the town's doctor. The area has had a number of mysterious deaths and Carson's character, the local squire, won't let their bodies be autopsied, so Morell and Peter investigate together, and you can probably figure out what's going on just from what I've already explained (and the title). This first hour or so works best; there are more exteriors than in most Hammer movies, giving it an even richer atmosphere than their brand is already known for, and the zombie scenes are actually kind of terrifying if you remember that this was a relatively foreign idea back then. Peter's wife is one of the victims and we get to see her rise from her grave after reanimating - this had to be one of the first examples of such a scene that wasn't a vampire, so the lack of fangs (and vague romanticism that comes with vampire territory) gives it a much creepier vibe. I also enjoyed the bit where Morell sticks up for Peter at the pub, as he's being harassed by the surviving family members of "plague" victims for not doing his job properly, at which point Morell strolls in, explains that he was his best student, then buys all the jerks a round (there's one extra who's WAY over enthusiastic about his sudden reevaluating of the other man's worth) to take the high road.

But the climax isn't as engaging, sadly. There's a fire, because of course there is, and we get Carson and his guys trying to outrun the zombies, while Morell, his daughter, and Peter make their escape from the inferno - you know exactly how it will play out, and there are no other stakes in play, so once Carson is finally unmasked (removing the last bit of hope that maybe they were going to pull a twist on us and reveal Peter was the villain all along or something) there's really nothing left to latch on to beyond "Will it cut to credits as soon as they escape the fire, or will director John Gilling give them a reaction shot or two first?" Well, I wouldn't dare spoil that for you, so you'll just have to see for yourself - just don't be surprised if you start missing the earlier tone of the movie, where you were kind of sure what was going on but enjoying the process of Morell figuring it out. There's a great bit where him and Peter are digging up a grave only for a constable to interrupt and try to arrest them for grave-robbing, then back down when he sees that the grave is empty (turns out his son died from it earlier in the year, so now he's on their side and wants to get to the bottom of what's happening). I'm used to the police always being a hindrance to our well-meaning (but occasionally shady) heroes in these things, so it was nice to see a uniformed officer as an ally for a change. Also, it's funny, because I'm finally used to pre-Romero zombies having a certain look to them, and the ones here are closer in appearance to post-Romero zombies (almost like the Fulci ones, really), throwing me off yet again.

Speaking of what I'm used to in these movies - I could have sworn I actually saw it back in 1998 when I grabbed a few of the Hammer VHS films (one of which, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, I finally watched for this site - 15 years after buying the damn tape), but absolutely nothing rang a bell. In fact the only strong memory I had involved two males next to a river, and there's nothing like that here. So either I watched something else (besides Dracula, the others - per my memory - were Quatermass and the Pit, Rasputin, and this) or dreamed up my own movie after dozing off during it, which is sadly likely. But I still vividly remember seeing their plastic clamshell cases in the little dorm room bookshelf I had next to my bed, next to my (also clamshell) copy of Casablanca that I picked up around the same time. This was when DVD was starting to really explode (and before I had a player), so VHS copies were on sale a little more often as the stores wanted to clear space, and I was bulking up my collection. Then I ended up getting a DVD player that spring and so a lot of these impulse buys never got watched. I definitely watched Casablanca in that dorm room though. Good movie.

I wish I kept the VHS so I'd know for sure, and also because it might actually look better. As this was one of those old Anchor Bay DVDs that's no longer in print (kinda surprised Netflix still had it - maybe I'll just keep it forever), the transfer kind of blows, as it occasionally looks like it has that motion smoothing garbage on or something. And the extras aren't anything worth having - just an episode of "World of Hammer" or whatever it's called (the clip show narrated by Oliver Reed) and the typically overblown/hilarious trailer ("DRUMS!") that gives away most of the scares and part of the ending. Again, if someone could put together a boxed set with a lot of the Hammer one-offs like this (meaning: not the Frankenstein/Dracula films - they should get their own dedicated and COMPLETE sets), I'd pay handsomely for it. I want a library of Hammer films for my own entertainment and also for my son when he's older (they're perfect for when he's old enough for some minor bloodshed but not ready for splatterfests), but these out of print discs with transfers that weren't even good enough for their original retail cost aren't going to cut it. This would be a great entry point for him, in fact - it's close enough to the now-standard version of a zombie movie (meaning, Romero-esque) but without excess gore or even a nihilistic tone - a zombie movie where all of the heroes survive! The only one older than this that I'd really want him to see sooner than later is The Earth Dies Screaming (and maybe White Zombie, if he's OK with the more important black & white films i.e. the Universal Monsters). But either way, I just want more worthy releases for these films - I have only a few scattered movies and that number doesn't even include most of my favorites. Let's get whatever rights issues solved before 2021, 2022, please?

What say you?


The Boy (2016)

JANUARY 22, 2016


If this was 2007, my review of The Boy would include another genre tagging and I'd be gushing about how it pays homage to ______, which I wouldn't have expected given that I had sat down for a creepy killer doll movie (yes, a doll, not a puppet - I just never bothered making two separate tags and I'm not gonna start now). But over the years I got more and more reserved when it came to spoilers, almost to the point of being one of those annoying spoilerphobes that yell at you on Twitter for saying something like "Kylo Ren is the bad guy in Star Wars". I will ALLUDE to the film's later reveals, but not say anything specific that might tip you off, though just to be safe I hope you just wait until you see the movie before reading. Unless you want to know if you SHOULD see it, and in that case - yes, you should.

"But isn't it from the director of The Devil Inside and Stay Alive," you may ask? Yes, and I didn't know that until I saw his name (William Brent Bell) in the credits. But I was a minor defender of those films (neither are great, but nowhere near as bad as their reputations), and this is much better at any rate. Of course, I'm a sucker for creepy doll movies, and since I was so disappointed by The Forest I was just happy to see a movie with less interest in jolting the audience every five minutes with a fake scare. Not that it lacks them - this IS a PG-13 January horror movie after all, so by law there must be at least two (2) nightmare scenes and every character must be introduced to the heroine (Lauren Cohan) by inadvertently scaring her, but Bell keeps them to an acceptable minimum. Plus, he kind of has no choice but to include some, because the nature of the film restricts him from using the doll much.

If you paid attention to the trailer, you'd notice that the doll never moves, and there's a good reason for that. This isn't Child's Play - the question of the movie is whether or not the doll IS alive as its "parents" think, and you take the journey with Cohan, meaning you find out the answer only when she does. The parents go on vacation early on, leaving her alone with Brahms (the doll's name, and also the name of their son, who died in a mysterious fire), and obviously if the thing got up and told her to make it breakfast (one of the tasks she is asked to perform, much to her confusion) on that first day, she'd hightail it out of there and there would be no movie. So she has to think they're crazy at first, and then as strange things start happening she (we) has (have) to wonder if maybe the parents aren't so crazy after all. Bell knows that if he shows the doll as much as blink, he is locked into that answer (otherwise he'd be cheating) and so you have to be patient - you know the truth when you need to, which is to say, the movie's 3rd act.

As you might expect from that description, this means that there isn't a lot of action in the movie, so some might even call it "boring". I'll admit, I think the pace could have been tightened here and there, but when you consider the bigger picture, it all fits. Cohan has to spend a reasonable amount of time assuming her employers are crazy - if she thinks Brahms is really alive after the first strange noise or "Didn't I leave him in the other room?" type moment, we lose sympathy for our heroine. Like any sane human, it takes her a while to start considering that maybe the doll is in fact alive, so Bell and writer Stacey Menear have to rely on the audience's intelligence (risky move nowadays) to accept that the movie isn't particularly exciting. They also run the risk of making her kind of unlikable in a way - if you believe that Brahms is alive and harmless, then you start thinking about how the poor little guy is sitting there with a blanket over his head for hours on end, and being ignored even longer. Eventually/obviously she does start suspecting that Brahms is alive, and then she has to convince the only other major character - Malcolm, the delivery man played by Rupert Evans from The Canal. This casting amused me, because in that movie he was the one trying to convince someone that he wasn't crazy when explaining something that sounded insane, so now he gets to be on the other side of the conversation. Charming actor, that guy - hope to see him in more hero roles soon.

But it's mostly Cohan's show - she's in every scene (except for one, I'll get to that in a bit) and carries the movie easily. Naturally, she has a tragic backstory, though it's not just some random shit - it actually informs her journey with Brahms. Turns out her abusive ex (the one she's running off to England to escape) hit her a bit too hard one night and caused her to miscarry, so when she learns the couple's own sad history, that they lost the real Brahms and have seemingly avoided dealing with it by treating a doll as if he was their still-living son, she starts sympathizing with their plight. It's rare that a modern horror movie going out on 2000+ screens can be considered a character piece, but that's exactly what The Boy is - it's about this woman coming to grips with the fact that she was denied a chance at motherhood. At a certain point, you should stop caring about whether or not Brahms is real and be more focused on whether or not she will be able to fully recover from her loss, making the horror element kind of a bonus in a strange way. It's not much longer after this reveal that the answers start coming, and so that's where I'll stop discussing the matter.

However I do have to go back to that one scene I mentioned. The entire movie is Cohan's POV, to the extent that even when she's talking to her friend (sister?) back home we don't cut away just to give the movie a change of scenery. Malcolm comes and goes with groceries but they never show him in town, loading his car up or anything - the furthest away from her that they get is when she's trapped in the attic and Malcolm is outside knocking on the door. So I'm baffled that Bell opted to not only break this rule to go hundreds of miles away to show something the parents are doing while on their holiday, but does so about 40 minutes before that information is necessary to us in any way. Not only does it cancel out the possibility that they never actually left and are the ones moving Brahms into different rooms or whatever, but it also severely lessens the impact for when Cohan discovers what they did (via a letter that they send), right near the end of the movie. It's obvious that the script went out of its way to make sure we were never ahead of Cohan's character at any point, so for the life of me I can't understand the thought process behind this glaring exception. I mean, sure, they could show the scene when she finds the letter, because at that point we know all the secrets, but why so long before?

The other complaint I have isn't about the movie, but about some people who are accusing it of ripping off ______. The title would give it away, I can only say it's a recent film, not from the US, that people (including me) really liked. Anyway, they're wrong - there's a similar plot element, yes, but in one that element describes the antagonist and in the other it concerns the hero, so those naysayers are already grasping at straws. Add that to the fact that this element has been used in dozens of movies and that ______ didn't come out in the US (save a few festival appearances) until this one was already in production and I'd say that it's likely just a coincidence, and if you watched the two of them back to back you'd see very different movies that happen to share a similar plot device in their 3rd act. That said, I am confident Menear was definitely paying tribute to the _______ title I mentioned in the first paragraph (a sequel, I'll hint at that much), but anyone who would knock the movie for that is a fool. If anything it's all the more reason to champion it.

(If you're reading this review before seeing the movie, I hope realizing all these things I'm talking about during your viewing doesn't get too distracting!)

Long story short, if you're patient and not the kind of person who gets unreasonably angry when their expectations are not met (i.e. the sort of person who still can't get past the lack of Michael Myers in Halloween III to realize it's an awesome movie), then you should really enjoy this one. My audience mostly turned on it (the guy behind me was basically MST3king it, but he seemed unbalanced so I just rolled my eyes instead of telling him to shut the fuck up) but others that I trust (and who were NOT defenders of Bell's earlier films) have also given it their blessing, and I think lots of folks will be pleasantly surprised if they give it a fair chance. And if not, well, you should at least admit it's better than The Forest (which, oddly enough, also has a Bear McCreary score and stars an actress best known for her role on a trendy cable show), as far as this month's horror options go.

What say you?

P.S. This week's Collins' Crypt piece at Birth.Movies.Death will have the spoiler since it'll be part of a longer article about Bell's output, if you absolutely must know what it is and inexplicably only want to hear it from me.


Martyrs (2015)

JANUARY 20, 2016


I am cursed from seeing Martyrs at Screamfest. In 2008 the original was one of the only movies for the entire festival that I missed (I had to get to the New Beverly for something, probably Phil's all-nighter), and in 2015 I ended up sleeping through half of the remake, which is why I didn't review it even though it was one of the fest's high profile screenings. So once again I had to settle for watching it at home (with the windows closed this time!), finally putting together those random chunks of the movie that I saw in a way that a. made sense and b. weren't getting gummed up with my memories of the first film. See, when I say I slept through half, it wasn't like, the LAST half or a big chunk of the middle - I'd fall asleep for 10 minutes, see 10-15, fall asleep for another few minutes, stay awake for a bit, fall asleep for 20 minutes... you get the idea.


Now, if this was a new movie, it'd render the viewing experience completely incoherent, but as it was a remake, I was just sort of filling in the blanks ("Oh right, the monster thing was in her head") and more or less getting it. I mean, if you fall asleep just before Marion gets into the shower in Gus Van Sant's Psycho, it's not like you won't know where she went if you wake up thirty minutes later. However, this remake took my favorite approach for these things, which is to start off more or less identical and then take a turn somewhere. So by the end, I was having a lot of trouble with my "fill in" process, because I was using elements that were no longer in play and mixing up the two lead characters, and that's because of the film's biggest change - Lucy doesn't die at the end of the first act. Long story short, by the end I knew I had to give this movie a total rewatch, and make sure I was actually seeing things in the right context instead of some (admittedly kind of appealingly funky) blend of what I was seeing, what I had seen seven years earlier, and what I was possibly just dreaming in between.

Of course, all anyone cares about knowing is whether or not this remake is "pointless" or whatever other derogatory term you might want to throw at such fare, and in that case no it is not. There will be some backlash, I'm sure, but the movie gambles with some big changes and for the most part they pay off. Most importantly is that it's an easier film to watch, and I know some might say that it SHOULDN'T be, but we already have the nearly unbearable version of this story. Pascal Laugier directed it in 2008 and it's available from Amazon and other fine retailers. The whole point of a remake, at least to me, is to either fix a story that got broken the first time around, or just try it a different way whether it worked fine or not. It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure book - you pick your options and see how things turn out, and then you flip back to page 1 and try some other things. Maybe it'll be a better experience, maybe not - the point is that you TRY (unlike Gus Van Sant).

So Lucy (Troian Bellisario) lives this time, and it's she, not Anna (Bailey Noble), that goes through the torture during the 3rd act, albeit nowhere near as excessive as in the original. There are some truly unsettling moments, of course, but as the director hilariously said at the screening, he wanted people to be able to actually see it this time (alluding to the original, which was either cut heavily or banned outright in several countries). I don't think there's anything wrong with the idea of telling a story in a way that will make it more digestible for a larger audience, and since the horror genre isn't exactly drowning in inventive narratives or multi-dimensional villains, I'm all for a way that can allow more people to see this particular story. As you might have guessed, none of that stuff changed - the title has the same meaning, the girls are still being tortured for the same reason, etc. It just has some different ways of going about it, one that allows a little more character development for Anna (as she now gets to do something besides scream and get beaten for the film's final half hour or so) and some other little tweaks that I won't divulge here.

Plus I liked how it worked for newcomers and old fans. People who had never seen the original won't be surprised to see Lucy survive, but the film manages to replicate the original's sense of confusion during its first act or so, when you're not sure who your heroes are, how the things you're seeing are connected, etc. The pieces fall into place when they need to, so I assure you that if you're confused at first - it's intentional, and it pays off. And this goes for those who have seen the original, as they're likely to feel ahead of what's going on at first and lulled into a sense of security, only for Lucy's survival to kick off a new chain of events that they might NOT fully grasp until they're supposed to. This sounded like one of the least necessary remakes in history when it was first announced (a long time ago, and with Last Exorcism director Daniel Stamm attached - he's no longer involved), so it's ironic that in the grand tradition of horror remakes (and in particular the ones from last 10 years or so) it's actually a lot closer to the "THIS is how you do it!" end of the spectrum (with We Are What We Are and The Crazies) than the "You fucked it up!" area occupied by Halloween and pretty much every post-Grudge Asian horror remake.

That said, there are two decisions I wasn't crazy about in October and haven't really warmed to here. One is an audience-relief kind of moment near the end that is a bit of a groaner (though, without spoiling things, I can say that it's softened by the action another character takes just before it, which is more in line with the point). The other is that while Anna is the one we're with the whole time (and the one that the lady explains their purpose to), she doesn't really put through anything, making her kind of a bystander in the narrative. Lucy survives and gets put through the ringer again, but (perhaps to keep the violence level down) we barely get back to her once she's recaptured, staying with Anna as she avoids the torture folk (I wish they had a cult name or something to refer to them!), rescues another victim, etc. It feels like we're watching the B-plot of the story during the 3rd act, making it lack a real anchor to the proceedings. Not that I want to see Anna get tortured (or anyone else), but I couldn't help but think, rather than have both of them survive, if they killed Anna off halfway and made it all Lucy's story, the new filmmakers would earn their points for changing things (albeit not as much) but retaining the strong grip on the audience that the original had. Laugier made us experience Anna's awful plight - here they let her off and background the one going through the real suffering. It's not a crippling flaw, but it'll certainly give the kneejerk remake haters something that will be hard to argue with should I ever have to defend the movie in a debate.

But it all comes back to the story itself, which I find just as fascinating now as I did when I saw the original (which, if you recall, I also felt had some issues). What really could have ruined things is letting us know what the girl (Lucy or Anna) was whispering at the end, and they don't make that mistake - we are still allowed to draw our own conclusions as to what she saw. For those who haven't seen the original, this would be the rare instance where I recommend starting with the remake, because you will get to experience this unique and thought-provoking tale in a manner that's not as difficult to watch. If you feel it's too tame, you can always go back and watch Laugier's take, which, ultimately, is probably the superior film if I'm being honest. That said, it's not like Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street where the difference between the two films is night and day, and considering all that was stacked against it (director switch, kind of a dumped release, a relatively quickie remake that was probably largely inspired by the language change than any real narrative necessity), I think it deserves some measure of respect, and certainly a watch. After all, it's not like Martyrs is the sort of movie you watch over and over - if it's been 6-7 years since you gave it a look, go with this one! Even if you hate every scripting decision, it has a terrific score by Evan Goldman. I WILL win that debate should it ever come up, dammit.

What say you?

P.S. The writer is Mark L. Smith, who also co-wrote The Revenant. I find it amusing that if you look at his resume and see a Martyrs remake and a Leonardo DiCaprio movie that will probably (sigh) win Best Picture, you'd think Martyrs would be the one that was ultimately buried by pointlessness and an excess of torture inflicted on its protagonist. Nope! It's the one stealing all of Hateful Eight's rightful audience!


Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015)

JANUARY 15, 2016


It's been a long damn time since I've watched a sequel to a movie I hadn't seen, let alone a part 3, but I was forced to watch Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! for one of my freelance jobs, ending not only that OCD-driven streak, but also ending my successful avoidance of this series. That's right, I have never seen a frame of the first two Sharknado films, because they just seemed like the sort of thing I would hate (bad movies on purpose) and as they were all released post-HMAD's daily grind, I had even less of an interest. Did seeing part 3 change my mind and convince me to go back and watch them? No, but I'll say this much: I was wrong, at least for this one, as I didn't hate the movie.

Before watching I joked about not being able to follow its complicated narrative without having seen the first two movies, so I was kind of amused that I WAS a bit confused when it started, as Ian Ziering (I know enough to know he's the hero of these things) was running in a panic right off the bat, and I had no idea why. However the Wiki synopsis I read for Sharknado 2 didn't suggest any sort of cliffhanger ending, so I dunno, maybe they just wanted it to be more exciting than showing him walking. Anyway early on he gets a medal from President Mark Cuban for his shark-killing heroics, and then a sharknado strikes the White House and things start all over again. I'll give it credit - it doesn't make you wait long for action, ever - the damn things appear every few minutes and wreak lots of bloody havoc. None of the FX are any good, but clearly quantity over quality was the MO here, so I can't fault them for it - I've seen enough Syfy/Asylum movies that only had a few FX and they still sucked anyway, so why not stuff as many in as possible? It's not like the sharks will look better if the FX guys had fewer shots to deal with on what I'm sure is a minimal budget.

And I assume a hefty chunk of that budget went to casting, as the movie is jam-packed with cameos, some even somewhat impressive - Ann Coulter? George RR Martin? Others were just plain wacky, like Jackie Collins in what was probably her last time on camera, and Michele Bachmann in her first ever narrative movie appearance. The Wiki has even more listed, such as Steve Guttenberg's character from Lavalantula (Ziering appears in that one; they share a universe I guess), and also says that the appearance by a pre-scandal Jared Fogle was cut, though he was in the version I watched (yay?). Maybe some of them appeared for free just to join the fun, but still, just roping everyone in and increasing the catering/transportation budgets to accommodate them probably put a dent in the couple million Syfy threw at this thing.

Luckily, Syfy is owned by Universal, and from that they were able to secure some (free?) production value, shooting a big chunk of the movie at Universal Studios in Orlando. They didn't get to show much of the park in terms of the licensed characters (sorry, no sharks devouring Minions), but you can't help but laugh at a shark eating someone posing for a photo with Jaws in front of the familiar lagoon they have set up. Plus it's a welcome respite from the usual shitty Asylum sets - the NASA control room (yep, they go into space eventually, and yes, sharknadoes attack there too) in particular is laughable, looking more like the control tower to one of those tiny regional airports where you take people for scenic tours. I also couldn't help but be amused that the film's plot actually helped dictate another Asylum production tradition: ugly lighting. With sharks constantly swarming overhead, it makes sense that it always looks cloudy and grey throughout the movie, so kudos on that one, fellas.

It's also got just enough cutesy in-jokes to warrant some of my respect. They throw in a few Jaws references, of course (Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath plays Martin Brody, as he apparently did in the previous film, and also a slightly more inspired "General Gottleib"), but there's also a Universal tour guide named Babs (and yes, "Ask for Babs" comes up) which I can't help but appreciate. GRRM is killed (spoiler) sitting next to someone in a wedding dress, and Ziering's 90210 license plate (as does the one from Jaws) makes an appearance. It's even got some legitimately funny lines, like when they're trying to explain to an army guy what's going on and someone says "Bio meteorology is not really an exact science yet." And somehow, the Today Show hosts (all of them, I think) talking about sharknadoes with the same everyday gravitas as they might an earthquake never stopped being funny to me. Basically, there's just enough genuine wit and "We're just having fun" attitude to keep me from getting annoyed.

It does wear thin though. If this didn't have to be a Syfy premiere (i.e. 88-90 minutes to make two hours with commercials), I suspect it would be 70 minutes long at most. The space stuff feels like a 4th act (it really should have climaxed at Universal, since so much of the movie is devoted to Ziering trying to get there and save his family) and, like all Syfy movies, there are too many "OK let's just cut somewhere at random and show anonymous people getting killed" sequences of no concern to the plot. Jared's is one such scene, in fact, so it was probably easy enough to cut for Syfy though I haven't the slightest idea of why they'd put it back in now that, if anything, we know even WORSE things about him than we did when the movie premiered in late July (the worse allegations didn't surface until August, if memory serves). For the first half hour I was thinking "I've been too hard on these things, this is actually fun!" but by the time it ended I was getting pretty sick of seeing digital sharks and random extras being digitally eaten or covered in digital gore.

But there IS an energy to it, which is more than I can say for most Asylum or Syfy stuff that I've seen. If you recall, most of the other Asylum movies that got attention (like the Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus one) were actually terribly boring movies that only had enough action for the trailer, but this, if anything, could almost use a little LESS carnage so it doesn't wear out its welcome (maybe commercial breaks would help?). With all of the attention (read: Twitter hashtags) that the first two got, I'm sure they were given a little more money to put this together, and if so they used it wisely - I can't imagine there's a single movie in their history that offers this many names, this many locations (the story takes them from Washington, to Florida, to outer space), or this much production value - there are two big scenes set on roller coasters! It's like a real movie!

Just not a very good one. I mean, it's pointless to critique the screenplay or acting, because this is a machine that exists for people on social media to band together and live-tweet it, so I don't really care that it's not a winner in those regards - it'd be like complaining that the latest Paul Blart movie didn't have any really exciting action sequences. But again, it gets too repetitive, and this is to someone who hasn't already seen the other two movies, which I can only assume are more or less the same (I understand the first one wasn't as cameo driven, however). To a series fan (?) this might be a case of enough is enough, but they have a 4th one coming (and, sure enough, are using Twitter to decide if Tara Reid's character will survive the encounter that ends this one on a cliffhanger), so I guess we will see if the joke has grown stale or not. Either way, if I'm forced to watch that one too, at least I'll know that there's a good chance I won't hate it. More than I can say about a possible new Paranormal Activity or Hellraiser.

What say you?


Contracted: Phase 2 (2015)

JANUARY 11, 2016


There aren't a lot of zombie sequels, and of the few, they generally follow an unwritten rule that there shouldn't be any strong continuity between them, if at all. Likely because of the game backdrop, the Resident Evil series is an exception, and Re-Animator sort of counts (I never really think of them as zombie movies, more mad scientist movies). But otherwise, they're always stand-alone: none of Romero's movies are connected in any meaningful way, The Dead 2 was basically a remake in a different country, the ROTLD's didn't have much to do with each other (4 and 5 were connected, if memory serves, but not even the film's owner wants anything to do with those), etc. Contracted: Phase 2 bucks that trend, however, as it not only picks up the second the first left off, but actually requires you to see the first in order to make sense out of a couple of its plot points (including the setup for a 3rd film). Even more surprising, it does this with a different creative team, making its rare approach something of a minor miracle in the horror genre - a new filmmaking team with some respect for what came before?

Of course, whether or not the movie is GOOD is a different matter. The first Contracted wasn't a masterpiece by any means, but it was an interesting approach to a zombie movie - what if, instead of having the outbreak happen in the first 10 minutes (or already ongoing, as many modern ones do), we just follow patient zero? The heroine got what she thought was an STD early on and proceeded to spend the movie degenerating in the usual ways (discolored eyes, veiny skin, hair and teeth falling out, etc), but it wasn't clear until the very end that she was becoming a traditional, human-flesh eating zombie (see the movie Thanatomorphose for the non-zombie version of a similar scenario). You would think that a sequel would have the outbreak further along and give us some traditional undead action, but (probably for budgetary reasons) they opted to more or less do the same thing, showing the slow transformation of Riley, one of the original's minor characters who was stupid enough to have sex with the protagonist when she was all but ready to eat him.

It's always a gamble to see a supporting character take the lead in a sequel, and it largely works here, even if there isn't an element of surprise. Riley was the sort of character you expect to die horribly in the first movie because he's nice and sweet, the type of person who has no place in dark horror movies, so the fact that he survived at all was already a surprise - I wouldn't have expected him to take main protagonist duties in a followup. Riley's lovesick angle is dropped (in fact, a new character pines for him and he barely shows interest) and we meet his sister and his best buddy, who happens to be a doctor, but it's not all new faces. Three other characters from the original return, but only one of them is given a proper reintroduction. That would be "BJ", the guy who gave the girl in the first one the disease when he date raped her, and is up to his old tricks in this one - we see him injecting a hooker with something, proving his infections are in purpose. BJ is played by actor Morgan Peter Brown this time instead of Simon Barrett (who, if memory serves, was barely seen in the original, making it a fairly seamless recasting), and the role is bulked up considerably - we hear his silly "I will end the world" MO and he even gets to shoot up some cops at the hospital during the climax.

The other two returns are treated as a surprise of sorts, for the hardcore Contracted fans I guess - they just show up and we have to know who they are. I don't know how many people will be watching if they haven't seen "Phase 1", but if such a person exists I assume they will quickly understand why zombie movies usually don't bother with a continuing storyline. I'm not sure anyone really cares about what BJ and [REDACTED] are up to, because that wasn't the appeal of the first film or even the bulk of the followup. BJ's scenes here are fine, but they ultimately just build up more mystery instead of settling it, trusting that we will see Phase 3 for the answers to questions we didn't exactly have when we sat down. Don't force our investment, movie!

But watching Riley's journey is still a decent enough premise for a sequel, especially when it's only like 70 minutes or so without credits (and two stingers). One interesting thing is that he actually contacts the police about BJ instead of doing all of the investigating on his own, allowing him to try to go on with his life. So he goes to work (where another infected person shows up), goes on a date, etc. And in one inspired bit, he goes to a wake for the girl who got killed in the first movie, where he has to endure her awful hipster friends, including one who sings a painful (read: hilarious) song about her with lyrics like "Alice, come drink from my chalice..."). There are other little bits of humor like that sprinkled throughout the movie, which I wouldn't go so far as to say it SAVES it, but certainly keeps it squarely in "perfectly fine" timekilling entertainment.

As for the gore gags, they're similarly OK. Riley doesn't get AS decrepit as the original girl, but there's a pretty horrifying blood pissing scene to make the guys squeamish, plus a nice bit where he confronts his love interest about her own symptoms, and a would-be hero, thinking Riley is bothering her, intervenes and pays the price. The makeup work on their skin/eyes/lips/etc is quite good, though it seems like it takes longer for Riley's symptoms to really get bad, so we don't get into really gross stuff for quite a while (except for the blood piss, but that's always been a particularly tough one for me to watch). The movie offers a few more infected parties (four, I think?) but they're used for quick jolts of action, not so much for deteriorating body horror that the first one excelled at. I wish there was a look at the makeup FX process in the bonus features, but alas we only get two: a trailer and an extended trailer, and if you think I bothered to watch both to note the differences, you sir/madam have never had a child or a crippling video game habit that demanded your free time.

Overall, I give them credit for trying something different for a zombie sequel (and with Marvel, the Fasts, etc, you can't really blame anyone for embracing continuity), but when it ultimately feels like an extended setup for a 3rd movie, I can't help but feel kind of annoyed. Maybe if Phase 3 (if it ever exists) is a knockout, I'll be more forgiving, the way I softened on Saw V when the next one proved to be such a fine return to form, but that's a big IF. Die-hard fans of the original, if they can get past the fact that it's not from writer/director Eric England (who doesn't seem to be too thrilled about this one's existence, if his Twitter is any indication), will enjoy seeing the supporting cast take the spotlight, and sequelphiles can add it to the admirable world of "picks up the second the last one ended" followups (joining Halloween II, the Hatchet sequels, etc), but as its own entity, it falls short of being a success. Watchable, sure, but I can't imagine a scenario where I'd ever want to watch it again.

What say you?

P.S. If the new director's name sounds familiar to you, it's because it's the same Josh Forbes who made some headlines last year when he launched a (successful!) crowdfunded campaign to buy his ticket for the MTV Video Awards, where he was nominated for his Walk The Moon video. MTV, apparently, doesn't give nominees a ticket unless they're famous (and thus wouldn't bother to go as they'd probably have something better to do with their time). He lost to Fall Out Boy, for the record.


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