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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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

Mockingbird (2014) / Mercy (2014)

OCTOBER 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

I'm Not Dead! At Least, Not Yet

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

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

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

P.S. Joy Ride 3 is pretty bad.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Tusk (2014)

SEPTEMBER 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Devoured (2012)

SEPTEMBER 7, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

What say you?


PLEASE, GO ON...

Willow Creek (2013)

SEPTEMBER 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

As Above, So Below (2014)

AUGUST 31, 2014

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

As a big fan of the underrated Devil, I was excited to see a new film from the Dowdle brothers, despite the fact that it was a POV "found footage" movie, a sub-genre (of sorts) of which I've grown quite tired of seeing. But even the promise of someone saying "Keep filming!" for the millionth time couldn't deflate my enthusiasm for As Above, So Below based on its plot, which seemed to be a blend of The Descent's claustrophobic "we're trapped underground!" terror and the psychological torment of Flatliners, with our heroes being inexplicably haunted by things from their past as they try to find their way back to the surface. I always wanted more Descent-type movies, and the French Catacombs deserve better than Catacombs, so... favorite horror movie of the year, right?

Sadly, no. It's fine, and I'd even watch it again someday (and would love a commentary, as they really filmed inside the 'combs, unlike the other film which was mostly shot on stages in Bulgaria), but the Dowdles (or their producers) bungled a couple of things that kept it from ever really popping, resulting in one of those movies where I'm actively questioning the choices that they are making. It's one thing to question a plot point or some poor writing on the drive home - but when it happens during the viewing, when you should be completely engulfed in its situation, the movie clearly needs some fixing.

At the risk of sounding ADD, part of the problem is that it's too long. 104 minutes is above average for any horror movie, let alone one with the found footage gimmick (Blair Witch is barely over 80), and they could have shaved 10 minutes off by simply reducing the number of times the characters find themselves seemingly trapped until a hole in the ground is discovered, forcing them to descend even deeper with the hopes that this new path would lead to a place where they could finally start to make their way back up again. None of us have ever been there, so it's not like we'd realize that they had jumped into a new tunnel all of a sudden (as a result of just chopping out one of these sections entirely), and even if we DID know the layout, the low lighting and shaky camera (though not as bad as some others) would likely help obscure such a transition anyway. There's no variety of note to these plot points, so it actually starts to border on ridiculous - we keep seeing them go down but never up, and while that could be fun (there's some discussion that they're actually descending into Hell itself), the movie doesn't really dive deep enough into such a scenario to justify all the repetition we endure to get there.

After the movie I tweeted the following sentiment (paraphrasing myself! Fun!), that if the Dowdles had used 10 minutes of the screentime devoted to this stuff and applied it to character and story, it would have been a minor classic. They definitely have enough of the Descent-y, claustrophobic nightmare maze thing (the movie's highlight, easily, is one character's panic attack when "trapped" in a tight tunnel), but not nearly enough of the "Flatliners stuff", for lack of a better term. Early on, the male hero discovers a piano that belonged to his family when he was a child, something that would obviously not be located inside of the catacombs, and their tour guide sees his personal graffiti tag in a tunnel he's never entered. But then this sort of stuff is only given intermittent screentime for the rest of the movie; there's definitely a "Past sins coming back to haunt us" element at play, but the Dowdles treat it as an afterthought. One of the characters has a burned hand, and you would expect him to explain it BEFORE his inevitable death, but no - by the time he sees the burning car with his friend (brother? lover? who knows?) inside, and gets sucked into it (not a spoiler, it's the highlight of the trailer), his burned hand had long been forgotten. Had he sat down and confessed his secret (apparently, he left someone to die in a burning car, escaping with a minor burn on his hand) at any point before, this scene would be much more harrowing - there's a setup and a punchline, but no meat to the tale to make it stick. And another character doesn't even really GET the past sins thing - he just sort of awkwardly confesses an illegitimate child near the very end (after the other surviving characters have figured out what's happening and aired their dirty laundry), and it seems more like a last minute addition to explain some random jump scares earlier than a genuine plot point.

But the Dowdles have proven themselves in the past, so I have to assume that this obviously long movie was trimmed of its slower moments (i.e. the parts where characters would talk) in an attempt to make it more exciting, Dimension style. There's no way I can believe that they'd be fully satisfied with say, the character of Mole, who has one of the more interesting backstories (he's been down there for years, having gotten lost/presumed dead on a previous expedition) but completely disappears from the narrative after committing a murder out of nowhere. There's also some stuff with a cult that just gets dropped, and again a major event involves a character whose connection to our protagonist isn't even clear (and the tragedy is too similar to the male lead's own sob story). Someone, Ryan Turek I think, said that this stuff feels kind of Fulci-esque, but was it that way by design? I'm all for weirdness and confusing plot points, but this doesn't seem like the kind of movie that would embrace such storytelling - and with the ending bordering on happy, it doesn't fit the mood anyway. If they wanted to honor Fulci's storytelling, what you THINK is happening at the end when they push down that manhole would be exactly what happens - not what actually does. It's like the movie WANTS to get weird and ambitious but keeps holding back, rendering it kind of flat as a whole.

That all said, it's got its merits. The aforementioned panic attack scene is terrific, and while it causes some confusion (since everyone has a camera on their helmet) the POV aspect is better implemented than many of its studio brethren (cough, Devil's Due, cough), though that shouldn't be a surprise since this is the Dowdles' third film to use it (after Quarantine and the faux doc Poughkeepsie Tapes). But my favorite thing about it was how it also sort of functioned as a National Treasure/Indiana Jones type adventure, with our heroes deciphering riddles and encountering traps on their way to find the famed Philosopher's Stone*, giving it an extra bit of excitement and identifying our leads as smart folks. They even think things through; there's one riddle where they have to pull out a stone that corresponds to the order of planets, and in a dumb movie they'd just base it on the 9 planets we learned in grade school (yes, counting Pluto), but someone recalls that at the time the riddle was devised they didn't know about Neptune or Pluto. And then they start to count on that, but then they recall that this was before Copernicus, and thus the order was based thinking that Earth was the center and the moon was a planet. It's that extra bit of smarts that make these scenes work better than they have any right to. I also had to laugh; around the end of act 2 they come across a new message that needs to be deciphered - throughout the movie everything has been more or less a riddle that (I assume) was made up for the movie, but for whatever reason I mentally joked that this one just said "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here", which is a standard horror movie reveal - but then they translate it, and THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT IT WAS! I was floored.

The characters are pretty likable too, another plus. The guide guy is established as a sort of dick, but they do away with this element quickly as he is just as terrified as the rest of them and they experience the same sort of things. So when they see his tag on a wall in a room he says he's never been to before, and they think he's fucking with him, it's not long before they're seeing their own impossible things and realize he wasn't lying. It's nice to see a modern horror movie with 5-6 protagonists that all like each other and work as a group (standard occasional bickering aside). Just a shame that some of them never get any real development and the movie has them repeating the same actions so many times that we start to get sick of looking at them - I wasn't hoping that someone would die because he/she was a terrible person, I just wanted a death to force the movie to change gears a bit! Still, it gets as many things right as it does wrong, which is enough to put it near the top of the quality list for what has been a pretty underwhelming year for wide release fright fare (it's pretty sad that this and Oculus, neither of which left me fully satisfied, are the best of the lot). Hurrah for being better than bad!

What say you?

*I couldn't help but wonder, do they change it to "Sorcerer's Stone" in the UK to even things out with Harry Potter?


PLEASE, GO ON...

RIP HMAD screenings: 2009-2014

Fewer things have meant as much to me as when Phil Blankenship let me co-host a 20th anniversary screening of Shocker at the New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles back in 2009. I wrestle with the notion of "guilty pleasure" movies, but for the sake of argument if such a thing exists, then Shocker is mine - I know it's got problems, and it's hardly the best Wes Craven has done, but dammit I love it anyway, and having literally worn out the soundtrack on tape (twice, but the second was bought used so maybe it was already on its way out) as a kid it felt amazing to hear those songs piping through the New Bev's speakers. This is a place that often shows Truffaut and Fellini films - and we're here listening to "Demon Bell" ("I wanna hear you SCREAM LIKE HELL!").

But it wasn't just the hosting that meant so much to me; it was a validation of HMAD, sure, but the thing that made me proudest was that it was at a theater I loved so much and consider an important part of Los Angeles' culture. I hosted screenings at a few other theaters around, and while I enjoyed them all I never felt as much of an honor as I did when I'd walk up to the New Bev stage and grab one of its mics. I first went to it a couple months after moving to LA, and while I never got to go as often as I'd like (which would be several times a week, since you can get a pretty thorough film education from its programming), I got there enough to make friends with fellow regulars, including the delightful Clu Gulager, who attended more of my screenings than just about anyone. I also obviously got to know Michael Torgan, the manager who carried on his father Sherman's legacy after he sadly passed away in 2007. In a city full of people who are selfish and care only about themselves, Michael was kind to a seemingly inhuman degree. For the past few years I don't think he's ever let me take my wallet out of my pocket (same goes for my wife when she'd accompany me), and when the Alamo did its Halloween screening there in 2012 he not only let me in to see the movie (it was a sold out event that I couldn't afford), but gave me the Ken Taylor poster they had given him for his trouble. If you've ever tried to obtain one on eBay, you'd know how amazing a gesture it is to give someone theirs for nothing.

I could probably fill up the entire post with other stories like this (such as the time where he programmed Armageddon, a request I can't imagine anyone else besides me ever made), but suffice to say he's a great guy who I have the deepest respect for, and I did my best to repay his selflessness by trying to fill up his theater once a month (or so) with a bunch of horror fans who might otherwise not attend the theater all that often, if ever (though a number of Bev regulars, like Clu, would often attend). After Phil parted ways with the theater back in 2011, Michael asked if I still wanted to host In The Mouth of Madness, which Phil had already booked as our next event, with the agreement that if it went well we'd continue to do them. I stay out of the financial side of things, so I don't know if the shows were always successful (I can almost guarantee End of Days wasn't), but I assume on the average they were or else he wouldn't have let me keep picking movies to show. For the next 3+ years we continued doing shows every month or so, and when I "quit" HMAD last year I assured him that I may be too busy/burned out to keep watching/reviewing movies every day, but that I fully intended to keep the screenings going on the same schedule. Even after we had our baby, my wife knew how much these shows meant to me and graciously allowed me to leave her alone on a random Saturday night, reducing the already minimal time she got to sleep so I could stand in front of a hundred or so horror fans and hand out DVDs before showing a junky (but AWESOME!) movie like Jason Takes Manhattan.

Ideally, I'd show movies I "discovered" via HMAD, but it would prove to be difficult to find 35mm prints of many of those (Raw Meat was one of the only exceptions), so I shifted focus and began doing movies that I never got a chance to see on 35mm, or movies I thought folks should re-evaluate (had we continued, I'd have pushed for Valentine next February). I didn't even love all the movies (including the last one, Nightmare 5), but I knew they'd be draws due to being part of a franchise (such as Jason Takes Manhattan), and thus successful for Michael and hopefully make up for a disappointing turnout like The Descent, which I just wanted to see on the big screen again but apparently few others felt the same. And we got to do something truly special - the first legal screening of the much-discussed "Producer's Cut" of Halloween 6, on a 35mm print to boot. I've been told this screening helped get the ball rolling for this month's official release of the film (via the Anchor Bay/Scream Factory Halloween collection set), something that's been desired for the past 18 years. To have a small part in something that will make so many Hallo-fans happy makes me incredibly giddy - it almost justifies how much Devin's eyes must hurt from rolling every time I submit yet another piece focused on the series for my BadassDigest column.

So believe me when I say I'm devastated about the recent turn of events at the theater. I first caught wind of it when we were selecting this last screening; it was hinted that it might be the last so I toyed with the idea of doing something better (or, Shocker again) to send it off in style, but I forged ahead with Nightmare 5 in the hopes that the gods of cinema wouldn't allow the series to end on such a "meh" note, and that whatever was going on could be reversed. Alas, that does not seem to be the case, and we sadly ended with a whimper - not only is it not exactly a great movie, but our special guests bailed at the last minute and the title never even made it to the marquee at the theater (I was also running late so I didn't get a shot of the line). Clu even missed it, which almost never happens. I do not know all of the specifics of what happened there, as it's none of my business really, but I know that the theater will be closed in September and that the rest of the year's programming has already been selected. I don't technically work there, so they have no reason to keep me in the loop of what's going on - but it certainly seems like the folks that will now be calling the shots are not interested in continuing any current recurring programming series, including ones that are far more popular than my shows. I felt guilty enough doing them without Phil, but I wouldn't even consider doing them unless Michael was the one calling the shots (another great thing about him - he'd put up with me tossing out dozens of titles every month, since he was the one who'd have to locate/book the prints). I'm confident that the theater will continue to show great movies, but part of what made the New Bev so wonderful and perfect was the family atmosphere, something that cannot possibly be felt when the family who started it has been shown the door.

If you ever made it out to one of the HMAD shows, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. We only had one sell out show (Nightmare 4), so each empty seat I'd see on the other nights made me that much more appreciative of the people filling the others (for the record, they were usually around half full, which is actually good for a midnight since it's tough to get folks out that late for a movie they probably have at home). If you ever won a crappy DVD and watched it, I apologize - I made no secret that most of those "prizes" were the movies Amoeba wouldn't even give me a nickel for in trade-in value, though every now and then I'd get an extra copy of something good. I would try to get guests every time; I wasn't always successful of course, but special thanks to Wes Craven and the Shocker cast, Larry Drake, Kevin Pollak, Dan Farrands, Bill Moseley, Ken Foree, Sandy Carpenter (twice!), the Nightmare 4 cast, Brad Dourif (twice!), Patrick Lussier, Don Mancini, John Lafia, Danny Trejo, and anyone else I forgot who came to one of my shows during their free time (and at a late hour) and made those shows that much more special to me and (hopefully) the audience. Another thanks to Phil for opening the door for me there, and a very special thanks to Jacopo Tenani who designed most of the posters for the shows starting with Urban Legend - he'd spare you my dumb Photoshop jobs AND make something eye-catching and unique, with folks always asking if they could get a printed version (which we sadly could never find a way to make affordable). Please head to his site for his continued works!

To send it off, I've compiled a list of all the shows I hosted there under the HMAD name (I did a couple of other Q&As that were unrelated to HMAD, such as with Tommy Lee Wallace for Halloween III, some of which appears on the blu-ray). I THINK it's complete; I stupidly used to delete my posts once the screening had passed, so I had to go by memory and also the existence of the photoshopped posters that were still on my hard drive. If you think I missed one, let me know!

In association with Phil Blankenship's weekly midnight series:
October 2009: Shocker*
December 2009: Dr. Giggles*
March 2010: Terror Train
April 2010: Raw Meat
July 2010: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
September 2010: Maximum Overdrive
November 2010: Hatchet I/II double feature*
Feb 2011: Phantasm II**

HMAD "solo" shows:
April 2011: In The Mouth of Madness*
May 2011: People Under The Stairs
June 2011: From Dusk Till Dawn*
July 2011: Psycho II*
August 2011: Drag Me To Hell
September 2011: The Descent
November 2011: John Carpenter's Vampires*
January 2012: Psycho III*
February 2012: Silver Bullet
March 2012: Child's Play*
April 2012: Christine
May 2012: There's Nothing Out There*
June 2012: Urban Legend
August 2012: Monkey Shines
September 2012: The Faculty*
October 2012: Halloween II
(Series break due to holidays and then the exclusive run of Django Unchained)
March 2013: Final Destination 2*
April 2013: Scream*
May 2013: The Howling
July 2013: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood*
August 2013: Nightmare on Elm Street 4*
September 2013: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (AGAIN!)
October 2013: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (producer's cut)*
December 2013: End Of Days*
January 2014: The Exorcist III*
March 2014: Child's Play 2*
May 2014: Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3*
July 2014: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan*
August 2014: Nightmare on Elm Street 5

*Denotes special guest Q&A
**Denotes special guest that never let me speak

Thanks Michael. Thanks New Beverly. It's been my absolute pleasure.

BC

PLEASE, GO ON...

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