Let's Get Physical (Copies Of The HMAD Book)

MARCH 31, 2016

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: AMAZON & CREATESPACE

Because you demanded it, but mostly because it's a better fit for it, Horror Movie A Day: The Book is now available in glorious print format! I didn't plan it this way, but it just happens to be on the three year anniversary of quitting the "a day" part of the site (which was partly due to wanting to write a book), so that's kind of neat. Clocking in just under 600 pages, you can order it now and it will be shipping out soon (give those poor printers a chance to catch up!). In a few weeks it can even potentially show up in your local Barnes & Noble or whatever other bookstore you peruse, but I'm still unsure how all that stuff works - self-publishing is obviously very new to me. I know that it CAN be sold anywhere books are sold, but I don't how to get it to that point and if I need to do anything to help that process. Working on that.

And yes, self-publishing - the original publisher of the e-book is not involved with this release beyond giving me their blessing to do it. They told me a certain number of e-book sales that it would have to reach before they'd do the print one on their own, and I knew it was a pipe dream when their other books hadn't hit that number despite being more high profile (i.e. Hulk's book, with his 50,000 followers and an intro from Edgar Wright). So I did the print one on my own via Amazon's Createspace, and so far I am very happy with the results. I got a proof copy (two of them actually since I didn't like some of my own formatting choices the first time around) and I can assure you it's a high quality book - I was very hesitant to use any "self" service as I figured the books would look cheap and flimsy, but it's not the case at all.

Right now you have two options, and please read carefully. If you're an Amazon Prime member, then you should go through Amazon and buy it there to get your free shipping, of course - the link is below in the usual spot. However, if you're NOT a Prime member, I would like to humbly ask that you buy it directly from Createspace at THIS LINK HERE. "Isn't Createspace just Amazon's own company anyway? What's the difference?" you might be asking, and I'll explain - for whatever reason, the royalties I get from Createspace are much higher than Amazon's. And this isn't me looking to get rich or anything - in fact, the set price of $24.95 is barely over the minimum they'd let me sell it for given the manufacturing costs (again: it's almost 600 pages, and at a larger 7x10 size to boot). But after having to split my pot so many ways with the e-book (which I still haven't seen a dime for, I should mention) and owing so many copies to the people who helped out (i.e. the artists, who worked pro bono), this thing is putting a dent into my wallet, not filling it. Long story short - if you're not getting free shipping or some other kickback from Amazon, the price for you won't be any different, but it'll kick a few extra pennies my way to buy direct from Createspace. Those pennies add up when you have a kid and a day job that is constantly under threat of being eliminated.

Speaking of money, I know some of you bought the e-book just to help raise the numbers for the physical version, and for that I thank you and have a special (albeit limited time) offer. IF you bought the e-book version sometime between the day it was released and yesterday, March 30th, you will get that $4.95 PLUS another dollar off the cost of the physical one, and free shipping as well. If you'd like to take advantage of that offer, email me at FrightReviews (which is a G[oogle e]mail address) with proof of your e-book purchase date, either via your receipt or screenshot (on Amazon it should say right at the top "You purchased this book on February 20th" or whatever - screenshot along with your logged in name so I can verify it's you). Then Paypal 19 dollars ($24.95 - 4.95 - extra 1.00 = 19.00, and again I'll cover shipping) to that same email address and make sure your shipping address is included. This is a pretty good deal I think - it's basically like getting the e-book free and another buck off for good measure.

Is anything different in the physical version? Yep! For starters, it's got some minor edits throughout; things that were a bit clunky or unclear have now been clarified, and a couple of formatting things that were "off" have been fixed. Additionally, I have added a complete title index at the back if you'd like to just look through all the titles and flip to one that sounds interesting (I know this is what I'd always do with Ebert's guides - look to see if he had any of his Halloween reviews and flip to that page). And most importantly, it's a lot easier to flip through! As my still swollen wrist can attest from my formatting checks with the e-book, swiping endlessly to find a particular entry isn't fun, so this is the ideal way to peruse. And, I don't know if it counts as a selling point, but there's a back cover with some choice quotes, a little bio, and a cute pic of me sitting with my beloved baby boy, who is using my lap/chest as a crib. Plus an ISBN!

Basically, it's my preferred version, and it's a bummer that the original publishers weren't interested in providing one all along. I definitely see the benefit of a device with unlimited books on it, but the feedback I got throughout this whole publishing process was that it's not ideal for everything you want to read (certainly not for a book few will sit and read cover to cover). I would have loved to have stayed with those folks and had it sitting on the shelves at their locations, but alas it wasn't feasible for them, and I am grateful that they allowed me to do it on my own. Luckily the Createspace process was fairly harmless (perfecting the dimensions of the cover was probably the hardest part) and also quick - their proofing and verification processes were superfast, and even though they said it'd be 3-5 days before the book was available on Amazon, it showed up within an hour of giving it the greenlight. For anyone else out there who wants to do a physical version of their e-book, I highly recommend it.

As for autographed copies (some people have asked; I'm not being egotistical!), I'm not sure. A local signing is in the works, and obviously if you see me on the street and have your copy on you for some reason I'll sign it however you like, but as far as ordering them that way, it'll be kind of pricey. Basically they'll have to ship me a copy to sign and then I'll have to mail it out to you myself, so we're talking probably 35-40 bucks for the book and the extra shipping step. If anyone actually wanted to spend that much, I am more than happy to do it, but I can't imagine my scribble is worth that much to anyone but my mom (even if it's a reminder that she utterly failed at teaching me any penmanship skills). If you're really that interested in it, email me and we'll figure something out.

Now I'm sure! There will be a signing at Dark Delicacies here in Los Angeles, but out-of-towners can order it. That price is unfortunately the same (around 40 bucks with shipping) but it will be sent in a timely manner, which you wouldn't get from me, and you can take some comfort in knowing that you're supporting a really great independent bookstore instead of just Amazon. More info is available on my post HERE. Lastly: reviews. I learned recently that if a book gets 50 reviews on Amazon, it gets featured in their newsletter, given better placement in searches, etc. This would be a big deal to me, so if you could take the time to submit a review, it would mean a lot. Again, they just need 50 reviews - nothing about the LENGTH of that review. It can just be your 4 or 5 star mark (or 1, be honest!) and "Great book" or something - long as it's from a verified purchase that's all they need. Promoting this thing (either version) has been incredibly difficult as it's not something I'm particularly good at (and the original publisher has bigger fish to fry), so any help I can get in terms of letting people know it's available (again) is something I will be extremely grateful for. A lot of you guys did a terrific job on Twitter/Facebook, spreading the word on the e-book, so if I could beg you to offer up that kind of help again, you'll be on my good side forever. Even my kid doesn't get that sort of love, thanks to his obsession with pulling out all of my CDs and putting them back in the wrong order, the jerk.

Anyway: enjoy! It's totally done forever! I can zip up the big messy folder with all the files and move on to my next book, which is about- oh I can't spoil that just yet. I can say it WON'T be HMAD-centric like this one, but fear not: I'm still committed to updating the site 1-2x a week for as long as I am able to. Viva la HMAD!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Dark Age (1987)

MARCH 29, 2016

GENRE: PREDATOR
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REVIVAL SCREENING)

When John Jarratt appared in Rogue, I figured it was just Greg McLean recruiting his Wolf Creek star for a bit role, something to amuse fans of that film since he was such a vicious killer in Creek and then in Rogue he was probably the sweetest character in it (he was the guy who wanted to leave his wife's ashes on the river). However, I now realize that while that may have been part of it, it was probably McLean tipping his hand to Dark Age, an Australian killer croc movie that preceded HIS Australian killer croc movie by twenty years. Jarratt (looking a bit like Simon Cowell, right down to the white t-shirt) is the star here, playing a hybrid of Brody and Hooper as he works to stop a giant "Numunwari" from killing any more people.

And in case you weren't sure of the Jaws influence, like that film it offs someone a bit older in the opening scene (a couple of poachers, in fact) before setting its sights on someone smaller - MUCH smaller. Alex Kintner comparatively lived a full and well-rounded life compared to the little toddler that gets munched in the first 15 minutes, and director Arch Nicholson doesn't risk anything crazy like ambiguity or subtlety - we get a shot of the croc's giant mouth crushing the little boy, which was horrifying enough for me but made worse by the audience laughing/cheering it on (it WAS a grindhouse night, so I can't fault them or be high and mighty - two years ago I would have been cheering the loudest). Nicholson then twists the knife, showing the kid's little toy boat floating in the water nearby, now sans its tiny little owner. I mean it wasn't exactly Pet Sematary, but good lord, that one was rough for me (you can see it on Youtube if you like, though it cuts out before the boat "coda").

But in a way, this horrifying (to me) sequence makes the movie's 2nd half even more insane/kind of incredible, as Jarratt joins forces with some local Aborigines to SAVE the baby-eating killing machine, because it's a rare animal and the Aborigines respect it as some sort of god. The plan is to tranquilize it and bring it to an isolated lake where it can eat the fish or whatever and not bother anyone, so the movie switches from Jaws to Free Willy and we kind of go along with it. It's a lot easier to do this when you consider the evil poachers, including one who survives the opening scene attack AND another one later (though he loses his arm that time), as him and his drunken fellow poachers spend the whole movie drinking, shooting every croc they see (and some of these shots seem pretty realistic to me - if they were all puppets/animatronics then the FX team was terrific) and also terrorizing our human heroes for good measure. Without them, you might just think Jarratt is insane and that the creature should be killed, but these guys are all mustache-twirling evil bastards, making it a lot easier to just side with whoever or WHATEVER they're against (it helps that we never meet the family of the little boy who was killed - no slaps in the face from a grieving mother here).

Because of this switcheroo, the movie kind of loses steam as a monster movie and feels like more of an action thriller in its 3rd act, with Jarratt and his Aborigine friends driving a truck with the (tranquilized) croc through some swamps and such, the poachers in pursuit. It's got shootouts, car wrecks, even a goofy bit where they stop to weigh the thing at a highway weigh station (complete with nailbiting suspense as the weigh station employee nearly discovers what they're really hauling). The evil poacher guy finally gets his just desserts in the closing minutes, but otherwise there's probably a solid half hour where it's easy to forget that the movie was once traditional Jaws-y fare. Such genre-swapping isn't uncommon in "Ozploitation" fare, but I certainly didn't expect any of our heroes to get shot to death in this giant crocodile movie.

Then again, by that point the movie had offered a little bit of everything; there's a pretty sizable amount of screentime given to Jarratt and his on/off girlfriend's relationship struggles, with possible infidelity, her housekeeping skills, his workaholic ways, etc. all given their due, to the point where it could have turned into a romantic film just as easily as a Free Willy precursor. The local assholes (there are more than the poachers; Jarratt has a wino buddy who gets chased by a trio of standard punks) give the movie some Mad Max flavor as well, and then the Aborigines offer the genuine Aussie flavor that I don't recall being much of a part of Rogue. And I hope none of this sounds like a complaint - on the contrary, it made the movie quite delightful (seeing as it was part of a double feature with Alligator, it could have looked terrible by comparison if it didn't follow its own playbook), not to mention more engaging - you were never quite sure where it would end up next. At one point Jarratt, the asshole poacher, and about ten other guys go off to look for the best, making me think it might turn into a Dirty Dozen kinda deal where they'd be offed one by one as they try to take it down, but it ends up being a fairly quick sequence where they kill pretty much every croc BUT the one they want. I only point out all of the plot turns for those who might be expecting wall to wall carnage, since the first 15 minutes don't hold back at all - it's just one of the script's many examples of setting up familiar beats only to go off on a different path.

As for the croc itself, it looks pretty great. It's a silent, slower stalker - often floating just high enough to break the surface of the water with its tail scales or maybe the top of its head, and making its fuller appearances count. After just seeing Alligator on the big screen for the first time, I was happy that they didn't go with any miniatures - Alligator is a great goddamn movie (and even better with a crowd), but man those miniature shots are painfully bad at times, so seeing more in a movie that presumably had less money to work with would have been a bit too much to bear. So yeah, he doesn't DO much in a lot of his shots (especially near the end when they're bringing him back to the water - he had woken up by that point but it sure didn't look like it), but when he does I never doubted they were dealing with a real animal. As much as I love Alligator, I can see all the tricks on display (miniatures, forced perspective, etc.) but here, for all I know it was a real giant croc.

All in all, a terrific double feature. It's been a long damn time since I was able to go to the Bev for a Grindhouse night (and I don't think I was able to stay for both movies last time), and I'm not sure if I've ever (yes, EVER) stayed awake throughout both movies in their entirety. Usually I'm fine for the first one but by the 2nd or 3rd reel in the second movie I'm fighting off sleep (and often losing that battle), but I was totally alert throughout, likely a mixture of the high brought on by a big-screen viewing of Alligator (seriously, that movie is infinitely more entertaining and well-written than it has any right to be; I wish John Sayles had stuck around in the horror genre forever) and the coffee I drank in between the two movies that kept me awake until 2 am (I didn't have any in the morning, so my system probably let the caffeine work as intended for a change). But also, I suspect it's because the movies, while seeming very similar on the surface (Jaws wannabes with very similar creatures - to this day I can't tell a croc from a gator at a glance), were textbook examples on how to take a basic story and make it your own. It's always saddened me how similar all those Syfy movies are, because there is clearly a lot of ways you can go about writing/directing the parts in between the giant monster eating people. Look to these films, monster movie makers - Jaws may be the king of such fare, but that's not the only one that can inspire how you make yours.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

MARCH 25, 2016

GENRE: MONSTER (really!), PSYCHOLOGICAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I learned something interesting a couple years ago about the writing credits on a movie. If there's more than one screenwriter, they're listed with either an "&" or an "and" between them, and there's a reason for the non-conformity: the "&" means the two writers worked together, whereas the "and" means one rewrote the other's script. Alas, even though Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice feels like the sort of movie that would skip an opening title sequence and save it for the end titles, we learn right off the bat (heh) that the film's two credited writers, David Goyer and Chris Terrio did not work together - there's an "and", not an ampersand, and by god does it show. At times I wondered if one actually rewrote the other script or if they wrote completely separate ones and Zack Snyder just took whatever he liked from each with no rhyme or reason, but either way, even if this movie makes a billion dollars I wouldn't expect either of them to consider it their finest work.

To be fair to them, I'm sure if they were hired to write a movie where Batman fights Superman (and then probably teams up with him against a villain) and nothing else, they'd probably do a fine job (well, Terrio could; Goyer has given us little reason to have faith in his abilities unless he's backed up by filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro or Christopher Nolan). But that's not what they were hired to do - they're also writing a prequel for a Justice League movie, a prequel to a Wonder Woman movie, a sequel to a Batman movie that doesn't exist, a sequel to a Superman movie that established Lex Luthor, and, when time allows, a sequel to Man of Steel, which may have problems but is comic movie perfection compared to this mess.

I'm not exaggerating when I say the first hour of this film seems like a collection of deleted scenes: there is zero connection between most of them, with more "and then this happens" storytelling (for lack of a better term) than I have ever witnessed in a major film. At times it made me long for the relative cohesion of the Amazing Spider-Man or Transformers movies, because as bad as they are at least I could usually track the characters from point A to B, a feat that is impossible here. For example, there's a scene where we've just cut to the Daily Planet offices, and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) wonders where Clark Kent is - it's the sort of scene that should belong right before we cut to Clark/Superman doing something far more exciting than sitting at his day job desk. But this is BVS (I have taken to calling it Beavis, for the record), so after he inquires about Clark we cut to... Lois Lane, meeting with a source as she works on her next story. Then we cut to Lex Luthor, doing his thing. So why is the Fishburne scene there, exactly? It doesn't inform the narrative in any way, it doesn't offer insight into any of its characters, and it's probably long forgotten by the time Zack Snyder bothers to return to Clark - not to mention that we never know why Perry was looking for him in the first place. You can ask that "why am I watching this particular scene?" question about a lot of them, though that one stuck out as particularly egregious.

And that's because a lot of the other disconnected scenes have an answer: because DC has a bunch of movies down the road planned, and since they didn't have the patience to do this right like Marvel (mostly) did, they need to get a lot of the Justice League pieces into place in time for that movie, which is coming in 2017 and starts shooting next week I think. If you want to compare to what Marvel has done (and there's no reason not to, since they're obviously swiping from their "shared universe" playbook), if Man of Steel was their Iron Man, kicking the whole thing off, then this is their Avengers - without Iron Man 2, Captain America, Incredible Hulk, and Thor in between. At the very least the movie often feels like it should have had another Man of Steel film and the debut of Ben Affleck's Batman (which, as confusing as it is with Nolan listed as a producer on this movie, is NOT a recast version of the character Christian Bale played - it's a "remake" just as Bale's was to the Burton/Schumacher series) before this one, because there's a lot of ground to cover just to get Batman worked into things - at the expense of Superman's runtime. Indeed, Affleck is billed over Cavill, which is kind of weird since Cavill's the one who is coming back and "Batfleck" is technically being introduced - this transition would have been a lot smoother if they had settled into their roles and with their characters more clearly defined. At one point Bruce Wayne pauses to reflect on a beat up Robin costume with a scary Joker message scribbled on it - a moment that carries exactly zero weight since we have never even seen ANY version of Robin with ANY version of Joker in a live action movie since the 1960's*, let alone in this particular incarnation. I get the inclination for wanting to focus on a Batman that's been around for 20 years when the story begins (as opposed to another goddamn origin tale), but there's gotta be a way to do it without it feeling like you actually missed a movie.

Now, I mostly liked Man of Steel (and I should note I'm nowhere near as big of a Superman fan as I am of Batman), but one thing that felt odd to me and certainly didn't sit well with a lot of Supes fans is that he was kind of a brooding jerk in the movie, as opposed to the uplifting hero we're used to from the comics. In Man of Steel I was fine with this - they were doing the Superman version of the Nolan Batfilms, and it was a total 180 from the 2006 Superman film (that I didn't really like at all). But when this brooding Superman faces off against Batman, the appeal is mostly lost, because darkness is Batman's thing. Lex has this little speech about their impending fight (which he orchestrates) and spells out their opposite standings: "darkness vs. light!" and things like that, but where's the light? It's not night and day, it's 11pm and 1030pm. Snyder attempts to dig himself out of the hole he dug by simply making this Batman even darker than usual (meaning he kills people, without a moment's hesitation or contemplation), making Superman seem more "golden" in comparison, but it's not a particularly successful gambit. Plus, with a new Batman that we've only known for an hour, it's hardly an iconic meeting anyway - the ideal version of this movie would have been released in 1994 and featured Michael Keaton facing off against Christopher Reeve. Instead they made Speechless, and we get this.

Back to all the sequel setups. Also along for this clumsy ride is Wonder Woman, played by the otherworldly Gal Gadot (Gisele from the Fast movies), though she's never really introduced in the narrative. She appears as a mysterious thief who steals one of Bruce Wayne's little spy gadgets because it has a photograph on it that proves she's at least 100 years old, and I guess that'd be a problem in a world where everyone knows Superman is an alien and they're OK enough with him that they build statues in his honor despite having gotten thousands of people killed during his fight with Zod (which we see from Bruce Wayne's perspective in an opening scene that is also far and away the best the movie ever gets). Anyway, she's in civilian mode for 80% of the bloated runtime, but when Lex creates Doomsday (out of Zod's corpse - OK?) and sets him on a warpath against our other heroes, she springs into action, getting off a plane at once and suddenly reappearing in her WW costume (did she have it on her carry-on?) to join the fight. I'm not even sure if her name (Diana Prince) is ever even fully revealed, though with so much information crammed and offered haphazardly throughout the film I suppose I myself could have been in it somewhere and I wouldn't have caught me. And again, if they didn't have to spend so much time re-explaining Batman to us (including yet another parents getting murdered scene) they probably could have used a little more time on introducing her - after all, except for a quick bit in Thor we didn't really meet Hawkeye until Avengers. Not everyone has to have their own movie before they all meet up, but they certainly need more than ONE MOVIE TOTAL before throwing everyone together.

And yes, three other JL members are introduced, quickly, and in a scene so abysmally bad I couldn't believe that they stuck it into the middle of the movie instead of at the end of the credits, where its lack of connection to the narrative wouldn't be as jarring. Despite having plenty on his plate, Bruce sends Diana (this is probably where her name is shown, now that I think of it) an email with some videos attached (he got them off the doohickey that she had stolen from him - she gave it back because she couldn't break the decryption), and those videos are of Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg (who is created by Joe Morton, which I thought was inspired casting), who Bruce assumes are all aliens like her and Superman I guess? I dunno. It's really awful, and just adds to the problem - it only exists because DC is doubling down on their impatience by releasing Justice League before any of the other stand-alone films come along besides Wonder Woman's. Flash and Aquaman are coming AFTER the JL movie, so now they're basically going ahead and making Avengers 2 before making Hulk or Captain America (or even a proper Batman movie, not to mention the seemingly non-existent Man of Steel 2 unless they change their schedule plans). And just to make all this crap even more frustrating, the picture has Chris Pine standing next to Gal Gadot - it's such a pointless distraction that I had to laugh. Ebert famously referred to another Ben Affleck movie as a two and a half hour trailer (Armageddon) - if he was alive he might be forced to take it back and use it to describe this film, because it is almost quite literally a two and a half hour trailer for all of the movies that they've dated and cast but haven't actually made yet. And they're using time that should be spent on THIS movie's plot to set them all up, rather than do it organically like their competition has done. You know, Age of Ultron wasn't that great, but they've earned enough goodwill by this point that we're still stoked for Civil War next month - who can possibly be excited for Justice League (also from Snyder) when he can't even handle doing 2-3 heroes in a movie? And when it's the first time we'll really be seeing half of its members?

When you strip all that crap out, you're left with the skeleton of what might be a pretty fun comic book movie where Lex Luthor arranges for Batman and Superman to fight, only for them to realize what he's up to and join forces to stop him, at which point he springs another villain on them to battle. Lex's plan is easy enough to engineer since Batman already hates Superman for all of the destruction he caused in Metropolis (it took out a Wayne Enterprises building, in fact), though the script curiously has Lex deal only with Superman - Lex and Bruce Wayne's entire relationship in the movie is shown in the trailer. I guess since Lex doesn't know Bruce is Batman that he didn't think much of him, but why not have him figure that out? After all, he's got files on Aquaman for some reason, so it's not completely impossible for him to have at least given a passing interest in who the masked vigilante one town over (yep, Gotham and Metropolis are neighbors here) might be. Wait, why am I suggesting MORE subplots for them to toss in? Perhaps with fewer characters in the mix there might be time to explain why anyone does anything, so I wouldn't be muttering "Wait, what?" to myself so often. For example, Batman crafts a spear out of Kryptonite to fight Superman with, but once they patch up their differences he tosses it aside. Lois Lane then throws it into the water (why, I have no idea), but later Batman realizes he can use it to fight Doomsday, who is currently just sort of standing there on an uninhabited island. His plan, for some reason, is to lead Doomsday back to Gotham (where the spear is, probably near some innocent people**) to get it, rather than just fly back and grab it while Doomsday chills out not bothering anyone. Once Batman arrives on the scene, he suddenly forgets all about the damn spear, but luckily for him Lois suddenly knows how much they need it and dives into the water to get it, while Batman sits most of the Doomsday fight out. Huh?

At least I get Doomsday's motives: he's a giant ugly monster and therefore wants to kill our heroes, as is tradition. Lex, on the other hand, has a plan that makes no real sense, and we're never given much of a reason to fear him as a villain. Except for showing Bruce's parents dying (which is necessary for a later, very silly plot point involving a funny coincidence about Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne to really register), Snyder and his writers just assume you know who all of these people are, why they're important, etc. So Lex (who, it should be noted for those who forgot, was not in Man of Steel) just shows up and everyone's already suspicious of him for some reason, and he's already obsessed with Superman because... uh, he is in the comics, I guess. I mean, I know that the primary audience for these movies are comic fans, but it's a baffling decision to alienate non-readers by not giving even rudimentary background information on who anyone actually IS. If you hadn't seen a Batman movie before, you'd be completely baffled as to who Alfred is, why the Waynes were important, etc. Plus, fans of the comic will be angry about all of the changes anyway (Batman killing people, Lex being so young, Doomsday being made out of Zod's corpse, etc.) so who exactly was Snyder trying to please here, anyway, besides WB stockholders?

He sure as hell wasn't out to win over families. I felt legitimately sad for all of the excited kids who were running into the theater before it began, because they probably spent most of the following 150 minutes alternating between being bored and terrified. Both of the heroes are jerks, there are scary nightmare scenes throughout (I momentarily wondered if WB was roping Freddy into the mix), and there's a shocking lack of any big action scenes until the final half hour, which is just a CGI fest on par with the terrible finale of last summer's (otherwise superior) Fantastic Four movie. There's even a suicide bomber scene, and the only time we see Batman doing anything "regular day" is when he's rescuing some sex slaves (that he's also terrified in the process). And people thought Batman Returns was too fucked up for kids? It's Schumacher-level goofy compared to this, and I honestly feel bad for kids whose parents will (rightfully) deny them permission to see a new Superman movie because it's too grim and upsetting. Since there's such animosity between Marvel and DC fans I won't use Spider-Man 2 as the example of a perfect, well rounded comic movie (as much as I'd like to), so let's use the first Batman (1989) instead - it's got some adult-leaning elements, but I'd still be OK showing it to my kid when he was 7 or 8, i.e. the age kids probably start really reading comics and wanting to see their heroes in big-screen adventures. This? There are a couple of R-rated movies I'd feel more comfortable showing him first.

OK, a million words later you're probably still wondering why you're reading a review of a Superman movie on Horror Movie A Day. Two words: Ben Affleck. You gotta understand how much I truly love the guy - he was a Boston boy (like me!) who won an Oscar right when I was about to start film school. Later that year he co-starred in what would ultimately be one of my all-time favorite movies, and in 2003 he starred in a movie based on one of my three favorite comic characters: Daredevil. That movie wasn't that great and it's hardly one of his best performances, but as a fan of the character I was happy to see a guy I really liked in the role - one of those other three favorite characters was Spider-Man and it's not like I had any real affinity for Tobey Maguire. So who is the 3rd in that group? You guessed it: Batman. Most of the comics I read nowadays are of the non-hero variety, but I make two exceptions: Daredevil and Batman (Spider-Man lost me forever a few years back... maybe it's OK again now but I grew tired of all the dumb retcons and resets). That one of my favorite actors has played two of my favorite heroes is pretty nuts, I think, and as someone who has rooted for him time and time again (even in the mid-00's... some dark times those were) I couldn't have been more excited to see him take on this role and hopefully get back some cred in the eyes of comic fans. So far, it seems he has - even the harshest reviews seem to point out that he's great in the role and that they can't wait to see him in a solo movie (not to mention Jeremy Irons, who is a wonderfully gruff Alfred) without all of this other bullshit weighing him down.

Long story short, I want to stress that I was very much excited for this movie and had no reason to go in wanting to hate it or any of that; even with all of the bad reviews coming in (and trailers that didn't exactly leave me hopeful) I was still optimistic that I'd at least enjoy it as a fun timekiller, same as Deadpool. I in no way could have predicted that a sequel to a movie I enjoyed that added my boy Affleck to the mix as FUCKING BATMAN would leave me feeling annoyed and bored in equal measures. And even if I WAS planning to hate it, if there's anyone who can overcome that sort of thing it's Zack Snyder - I went into Dawn of the Dead fully expecting to despise it, and walked out a huge fan. But alas, I would estimate that there are maybe about 20 minutes of the movie that I actively enjoyed - that is not what I'd think of as a "fun timekiller". And since I couldn't quite convey why I was so disappointed with 140 character tweets (and my other site kind of already clogged with BvS coverage), I figured I'd "October Extras 2" this thing and offer anyone who might give a shit what I think about a comic movie something to read over the weekend. Fear not, I'll be back to reviewing killer scarecrow movies in due time.

But then again, there IS a monster and a lot of scary nightmare scenes, so I guess I couldn't have picked a better one to review here!

What say you?

* A movie that got a very funny shoutout in the teaser for The Lego Batman Movie, which was NOT the same one that's available online. It was by far the highlight of the moviegoing experience, and I suspect the movie will do very well - the teaser went over like gangbusters.

** After all the shit Snyder and co. took from Superman killing thousands while bashing Zod around, the movie hilariously keeps having reporters and army types explain (via quick voiceover) that this or that area is uninhabited, or that everyone has left for the day or whatever. But still, leading him back to the mainland when he's on an island is completely fucking ridiculous, and even dumber when you consider that the reason Batman hates Superman in the first place is because he took his very destructive fight to areas where people are around. Hypocrite!


PLEASE, GO ON...

Summer Camp (2015)

MARCH 22, 2016

GENRE: ZOMBIE
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

In a way, it's almost kind of charming to watch a foreign horror movie that's kind of generic. We US horror fans (well, the more well-rounded ones) often look to foreign sources when American horror is in a slump, but the problem with that is that we're often selecting from the creme of the crop (via recommendations, since they're not exactly loaded with such fare in Redbox kiosks). Other countries make perfectly OK, forgettable horror movies too, though it's rare that they get theatrical releases like Summer Camp has. I'm not sure how wide the release is; it's on six screens here in LA but it's not listed on BoxOfficeMojo - using past, similar experiments as a guide I would guess somewhere in the 40-50 screen range in the US, a fine number for a foreign horror flick. The [Rec] films, to compare, played in fewer than ten theaters.

In fact that's a pretty obvious point of comparison, as Summer Camp is directed by those films' producer Alberto Marini, making his debut here. And Jaume BalaguerĂ³ is the executive producer, so it's kind of a reunion (Paco Plaza is nowhere to be found, however), not to mention that the film belongs to the same sub-genre of "infected"/zombie movies (I'm sick of the idea that the difference is big enough to matter - it's like separating Jaws from Deep Blue Sea as if the details change the fact that they're both killer shark movies). Relax, though - it's not found footage! The similarities end with what I've listed, and there's also another big difference: the movie is actually in English, starring recognizable actors from American productions (the awesome Jocelin Donahue, Diego Boneta from Scream Queens, and Maiara Walsh, who is sadly best known to horror fans for playing the Emma Stone role in that terrible Zombieland pilot). The screening actually had Spanish subtitles throughout, which was a new one for me - and possibly the reason that the only other guy in the theater with me left after 10 minutes.

Had he stayed, he would have been rewarded with... an OK movie. There's a fun wrinkle to the usual "oh no he/she's turning!" zombie movie plot that I'll get into soon, but otherwise it gets pretty repetitive and even drawn out despite only being 80 minutes long with credits. And the title never really comes into play; the movie is about a group of counselors getting things ready for the arrival of the kids they'll be overseeing at the titular camp (yes, very early Friday the 13th), but it's actually being held at a house, so it never really feels like a camp at all - especially since the kids (spoiler!) only arrive in the final five minutes, at which point the far more awesome plot described on the IMDb finally kicks in (they say it's about the counselors defending themselves from the infected children). Those final few minutes are great, but it's one of those things where you can't help wonder why they didn't make it the thing that happened at the halfway point, as it promises more fun than the movie actually delivered. It'd be like if you knew From Dusk Till Dawn had vampires but the RV/Fuller family stuff lasted 90 minutes and then the movie ended after that first big attack.

Instead, we get an endless series of scenes where two of the heroes run or hide from the third one, as this is a unique virus in that it wears off after a while. Unlike a traditional zombie, killing the infected person isn't a good idea, because they will be back to normal soon, which adds a fun twist to the mix but ultimately doesn't really have much zing to it due to the limited cast (a fourth counselor is killed off almost instantly, which minimizes the possibilities). Marini gets some mileage out of Walsh not once but twice knocking out Donahue (whose infection had already worn off, something Walsh's character hadn't realized), but that doesn't sustain a 45 minute stretch where the only real difference is which actor is the one wearing the zombie makeup. There are some random locals that pop up from time to time, but none of them count as real characters and their appearances are usually limited to showing up for a scare and then getting killed moments later. This leads to the other novel idea, that our heroes legitimately feel guilty about defending themselves but also of the things they did while infected (which they can't remember, but obviously know they did SOMETHING once they see another infected in action). It's never as compelling as the filmmakers probably hoped, but it's at least something you don't see very often, and for that I laud them.

Less laudable is Marini's direction, as he utilizes shakey-cam almost nonstop, to the extent that I suspect it might even give Adam Wingard a headache. He also favors cramped, close-up action, so many of the big attack scenes are little more than a jumbled mess of flailing arms and shouted incidental dialogue like "Go!" and "Shit!" Like the plotting itself, it got mighty tiresome after a while, and I'd come to relish the quieter scenes because even if they weren't particularly exciting they'd at least be easy enough to process. And speaking of repeating tricks, it's kind of endearingly goofy the first time two of our infected heroes scream in each others' faces (it reminded me of football players smashing helmets together and yelling "HOOHH!" or whatever) but by the 3rd or 4th time it was just plain stupid to see. Worse, the narrative requires everyone to get infected a second time, which as you can guess certainly doesn't help the film's cyclical feeling. What I wouldn't give for two more characters to mix up the dynamic (it's pretty much always Boneta and one of the girls vs. the other girl) and give the attack scenes more variety.

And the repetition isn't limited to the infected attacks - Boneta loses his glasses twice, Walsh stops everything to make a phone call to her mother twice, Donahue does something self-serving twice... you get the idea. Again, this is an 80 minute movie - when you're repeating stuff in such a compressed timeframe, it's much more noticeable (you can get away with that sort of thing in Titanic, for example), though Marini DOES nail one element that seems like it's going down that same route, involving a sharp branch that's sticking out in the woods that people are constantly running around in, starting in the very first scene. He goes back to it a couple times, and it's not a matter of IF someone will eventually get impaled on it, but WHEN (and WHO, for that record). That opening scene, I should note, has a great payoff of its own but also has a fun little twist for people who have watched a lot of modern horror movies that start at the end and then rewind to how things got to that point (including Cub, another camp in the woods movie) - it seems like this is going that route, only to have a much better explanation for what's happening.

To be fair, twisting those expectations and cliches is something that carries throughout the film, with the infected people becoming human again, the characters who you think are heroic turning into spineless jerks, etc... but the obnoxious direction and endless repetition clouds those ambitious spins. At times it feels little more than a Cabin Fever remake (something we actually just got for real - I haven't seen it yet), and I couldn't help but wonder if I saw it at a festival with a big crowd (and perhaps a few adult beverages) that it might play better. Sitting alone in a theater didn't seem fitting for this particular style of movie (ironic since some of this team's other movies, like Sleep Tight, would be almost perfect for such a setting), and after glancing at a couple of (mostly positive) reviews I wasn't surprised to see how many of them were based on festival screenings. If you've picked up my book (hero!) you'd know I devoted an entire chapter to movies that I think would be better to watch at home, perhaps even alone - this is certainly not one I ever would have selected for that chapter. If I were to include it at all, it'd be in the August chapter - movies that are best watched when you're not really wanting to be blown away by a horror masterpiece. Again, it's an OK movie and I'm happy that it got a theatrical release, but unless those screenings are packed, I suspect you'll find its flaws too easy to notice.

What say you?


PLEASE, GO ON...

The Boy (2015)

MARCH 16, 2016

GENRE: KILLER KID
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Now that it's finally finished, for the foreseeable future the highest compliment I can bestow on a movie is "I wish I could have put it in my book". Since it took a little longer to write than planned ("little longer" = over a year past my original idea of a release), I often wished I hadn't set a cutoff date for applicable entries (March 31st, 2013 - the last day of daily watching/reviewing), as it kept me from including gems like The Canal and Lords of Salem in the chapters where they would be perfect matches. And now here we are again with The Boy, one of the best evil child movies I've seen in years and almost the very definition of the kind of movie I wanted to highlight in the book: under the radar gems that were maybe imperfect but ultimately DIFFERENT enough for that not to matter.

And it doesn't help that it shares a title with the film that is, for now, the year's most successful horror movie. Normally when two movies share a title, one's bad and the other is good (Alone in the Dark - Uwe Boll's being the bad one, obviously), and/or they're spread far enough apart that it's fine, but THIS Boy is hitting Blu-ray only a few weeks after the other one hit theaters, so even saying "the new one!" doesn't help. I will probably using "the creepy doll" or "NOT the one with the creepy doll" to differentiate (actor names are useless for some people, so "The one with David Morse" might not be enough). I don't do top 10 lists anymore (thank Christ), but if I did I wouldn't be surprised if both Boys ended up on it, and for some reason that annoys me. Like I'd almost rather one of them sucked and was forgotten than have to keep explaining which one I'm talking about if I was using general terms (i.e. "The Boy has a great score!"), because I would obviously like to talk about both.

One key difference is that the other Boy had a twist that changed the sub-genre on us, but that's not the case here. If anything, I wish it DID, because the cover gives away the ending (spoilers ahead for those who haven't seen the cover yet! If you plan to VOD, don't read any further!), showing the kid standing in front of the burning motel where the entire movie takes place. I guess we can hold out hope he just sets a fire with no one inside (the place is empty throughout most of the film, after all), but around the film's halfway point his father (Morse) mentions that a bunch of kids coming from prom will be staying there that weekend, and when they show up they're a bunch of jerks, so it's zero surprise that they're goners - seeing the nice girl survive a Friday the 13th movie is more of a shock. I mean, I guess it's nice that they don't puss out like in The Good Son*, but I can't help but wonder if they would have been just as successful going with a subtle image, enticing as many buyers/renters but without showing us a still from its climax.

Then again, promising mass destruction (and presumed mass death along with it) might help, as the film is a whopping 110 minutes. As I'm a sucker for this kind of material (and uncharacteristically having trouble falling asleep the night I watched it - I figured I'd only see about half and finish it in the morning, but I watched it all AND the making of featurette!), I didn't mind the length too much; there were a couple of things that probably could have been cut or at least trimmed, but the slow, methodical pace is one of the things that I liked about it. Director Craig William MacNeill (who also edited, and co-wrote with Clay McLeod Chapman) favors long takes and slow zooms, giving it a very '70s feel that I very much enjoyed (the score also screamed 1970s, specifically Texas Chain Saw Massacre), and if the movie was whittled down to 88 minutes it wouldn't have that same luring effect. Still, when someone can watch nearly three episodes of something on Netflix in the time it takes to watch the film, I would be shocked if I didn't read a lot of "too long!" and "I shut it off before anything happened, how did it end?" type posts.

So what fills up that time, if he's not going on a killing spree in the first five minutes? Mostly, a lot of scenes that perfectly illustrate the kid's sad and lonely existence. There are long stretches that don't even really have dialogue as he wanders around the motel grounds, finding little things to do, watching the roads for signs of life, etc. The motel that he works at with his father is more desolate and under-populated than Norman Bates', and he wants nothing more than to go to Florida to be with his mom, who ran away with one of their few guests some time before. His dad isn't much of one (we learn he was raised the same way, which explains why he doesn't know any better) and the very occasional guests can't really count as friends since they come and go. When he disables a family's car to force them to stay another day, it's the rare moment in a killer kid movie that works as an act of the sinister things to come, and as a rather heartbreaking moment, as he's doing it so he can spend more time with their same-aged son.

But that's nothing on the film's most wrenching moment, when Ted is beaten up by the prom kids after one of them catches him sneaking into their room and trying to murder a passed-out girl (the jerk teen assumes he was copping a feel). He's left on the ground outside, and starts crawling his way to the office, screaming for his dad - it's the only time in the movie (I think) that he actively asks for his father's help, as despite the fact that he's obviously a budding serial killer he's also still a little boy who needs his dad. But Morse is drunk and takes the opportunity to scream at him for bothering the guests, which is pretty much the straw breaking the camel's back as far as Ted's humanity goes - you get the idea that if Morse had just comforted him and acted like a father, maybe he could start readjusting into a normal kid (or he'd recognize that his son needed help and get him some before it was too late). As a dad, this scene devastated me, and again - it was so unique to see the "Oh shit now everyone's gonna die!" moment in one of these things also act as one that was truly sad; I legitimately felt terrible for the kid even though I knew he was about to immolate a bunch of other people's children.

The 3rd main character in the movie is Rainn Wilson as a mysterious widower, carrying a box of his wife's ashes and the possible guilt of being the one who killed her in the first place. His character is meant to act as a sort of surrogate father to the kid, but it falls a bit flat since we never really know his intentions. There's a local cop played by Bill Sage (from the great We Are What We Are remake) who is suspicious of him, and some really clunky dialogue to set up Wilson as a potential arsonist (which Ted never hears, so how he's able to use that to pin the fire on Wilson later is beyond me)... it was necessary to give Ted a way out at the end, and their scenes together are good in and of themselves, but it felt like it was missing something. I don't want to get too cynical and suggest they had to work in a role for another name so that they could sell the movie, but that's honestly what it felt like. His attachment issues were made clear by the other guests (and like them, Wilson has to stick around until his car is repaired of the damages Ted caused), so they were slightly redundant as well as underdeveloped. Not a crippling flaw, but when the storyline concludes I couldn't help but wonder if I had missed something.

Though if I did, I wasn't missing as much as the people who watched the movie when it showed on Chiller, as it was cut down to around 90 minutes to fit a two hour block with commercials. The IMDb boards have explained some of what was missed (including one of the scenes I alluded to being something I could cut), but the ones they mention don't add up to twenty minutes, so if I had to guess they either trimmed those great long takes throughout, or worse, sped the movie up (I've seen them do it on other movies, running a film at something like 120% speed, just enough to make it run a little faster but not make everyone sound like a chipmunk). That sort of presentation, along with the commercials breaking up the atmosphere (it was shot in Colombia, but they fake the lonely southwest very well) must have made for a very unsatisfying viewing, so thank Christ I missed it when it aired and saw it properly. Obviously if I knew there was a killer kid movie featuring David Morse (one of my all-time favorite character actors) on a channel with a pretty good track record for their originals, I would have sat down and watched the premiere, but it went completely off my radar until Scream Factory announced it was coming to their lineup.

But like their other Chiller releases, it's got the logo but it's not a full blown traditional SF release - the only extra is a rather shoddy making of piece (nope, not even the trailer - which is surprisingly true to the film's tone!), where none of the actors are mic'd and some of it looks like it was shot with a cell phone. Worse, Wilson pulls that obnoxious "it's not a horror movie, it's a psychological thriller" bullshit on us, so you can feel free to skip the whole thing, or at least fast forward to the end, where the producers explain that they have two sequels mapped out (!) and hope to be making them soon. As of this writing they don't seem to be doing that, but I guess the plan is to show Ted at different stages of adolescence, so maybe they enjoyed Jared Breeze's performance enough to wait until he ages a bit so they don't have to recast? I'd be down with that. Horror Boyhood!

What say you?

*An easy film to compare it to, since not only is David Morse in it (does he not age? How can he STILL look like a guy who could be the dad to a 9 year old?), but it's produced by Elijah Wood. I like to think they were making it up to us killer kid fans for that copout movie.

PLEASE, GO ON...

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

MARCH 13, 2016

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

It is one of the great ironies that the title Cloverfield is meaningless - it's the name of the street that JJ Abrams' production office was on back when the film was made, and has zero relation to anything in the movie if memory serves. But now the name *does* mean something, namely giant monsters, so the fact that they took a script called The Cellar, and filmed under Valencia (another LA street name), only to release it as 10 Cloverfield Lane is kind of insane - it's literally the last thing they ever should have called the movie. The trailers aren't really misleading - they're not *hiding* that ugly goddamn monster from Matt Reeves' 2008 film, it (spoiler) just simply isn't in it.

(SOME SPOILERS AHEAD! Nothing "Vader is Luke's father" level, but whether or not the John Goodman character is crazy or not is addressed!)

That's not to say the movie lacks any genre elements; I've withheld the exact one from the listing above, hoping you haven't had it spoiled elsewhere. As you can tell from the ads, the movie primarily takes place in a bunker, focusing on Mary Elizabeth Winstead's character as she tries to figure out if her host, John Goodman as the paranoid owner of the bunker, is crazy or if there really is something outside that will kill them should they exit his carefully designed shelter. Had the movie been called The Cellar, or Valencia, we'd walk in totally unsure about that - but they had to basically call it "Cloverfield 2", so we know that whatever Goodman's other issues may be, he's not crazy - there IS something out there. Again, it's not exactly the familiar monster we saw rampaging around New York eight years ago (Jesus, it has been that long?), but it's not something so simple as a nuke or toxic waste spill or whatever - there's something... JJ Abrams-y about it.

But ultimately, what it is doesn't really matter - there's only like 10 minutes left of the movie by the time we see it, and it's probably the least interesting part about it (beyond seeing Winstead do some minor action heroine stuff - to think they could have just had her tag along with Willis for Die Hard 5 instead of inflicting Jai Courtney on us!). The big draw, and the reason the movie works as well as it does, is the Twilight Zone-y simplicity of three people in a bunker, no one knowing the truth of what's out there or if they should trust anyone else they're with. It's clear that Goodman (who has never been better) is a bit "off", but is he dangerous or just a kook? We see enough of his OCD tendencies (watch him set down cups and things of that nature, he's always adjusting them) to know that his angry outbursts and strange rules might just be part of what's obviously some mental issues, but that doesn't mean he's going to kill her (or Emmett, the third person who may be harboring secrets of his own). Likewise, even if he's right and there's something dangerous out there - that doesn't mean she's safe INSIDE, either.

Even Goodman gets in on the fear factor - he's perfectly accommodating at first, but when she tries to escape by setting a fire in her room (stabbing him with a sharpened crutch as he enters), he won't let her out of his sight for fear of his own safety, which is plausible enough for me. I'm guessing that like me, none of you have ever been trapped in a bunker that was meant to sustain you for years - I'd be mighty paranoid about anyone who'd be eating my food, breathing my air, etc. The dynamic keeps changing; just when things get really dicey, Goodman has a perfectly good explanation for his behavior, and when things get "settled in" (they even do a jigsaw puzzle together!) we learn another strange thing about Goodman's past that puts things in new perspective. It's a perfectly executed one-location mystery, and the narrative turns are all earned and exciting - I was actually kind of amazed when the credits began to roll, because the movie (which I knew was a little over 100 minutes) just flew by for me. I can't even remember the last time that happened; I've gotten too used to Hollywood movies making you feel every minute of their bloated runtimes (why is Batman vs Superman two and a half goddamn hours long?).

And for a guy who has only made a (not very appealing to me) Portal fan film so far, Dan Trachtenberg proves to be a pretty promising director here. A film with three people set entirely in a cramped bunker could be a very dull one to look at, but he keeps it interesting from start to finish - all the more impressive when you consider he wastes little time getting Winstead into the bunker and not cheating with exteriors (there's a little window by the main door, but we can only see the same limited field of vision that she has from inside). I remember Phone Booth sure took its time getting Colin into the damn booth, and other "one location" movies also had a lot of set up before getting there, but I think she's in the bunker by like the 5 minute mark after a couple very brief scenes that set up her character (she's a budding clothing designer who just broke off her engagement to a very familiar sounding guy we hear over the phone).

In her car, and on some mail in Goodman's bunker, we see that the year is 2015, so one thing nagged at me - if this is set in the Cloverfield universe, even if it's not directly related, why does no one mention "giant monster" as a possibility for what's going on? Goodman proposes military weapons, Russian nukes, and even aliens, but it seems like there should have been a throwaway line - "another thing like New York?" or something like that. Unless they pulled a Transformers and somehow covered up the massive destruction (in TF2 it seems no one remembers that a bunch of giant robots destroyed downtown LA), but if that was the case I'd think Goodman's conspiracy theory nut would have been privy to it. I guess this is what happens when a totally unrelated movie is reconfigured at the 11th hour to be tangentially related to one that people have wanted to see a followup to for nearly a decade.

If that sounds like disappointment, it's not really - just sort of speaking for the number of Cloverfield fans who will certainly feel duped by the film's somewhat bait-and-switch approach. I'm more disappointed that it's come to this, that a really great original movie has to be (barely) shoehorned into another franchise just to get people to see it (somewhat ironically directed by a guy who made his calling by doing a fan film, as original shorts that are just as impressive don't get any coverage). Sure, they throw in Slusho and a couple other things like that as Easter Eggs, but that'd be like saying Natural Born Killers is a sequel to Reservoir Dogs because Tom Sizemore's character in the former is mentioned in the latter. The connections are slim, and the style of movie is completely different - if you go in hoping that the ads were just hiding these big connections, you're not going to be pleased. But if you can strip away their attempts at shared-world nonsense and focus on what it actually IS, then you should realize it's one of the best contained thrillers in ages, and possibly even a better film than Cloverfield was anyway. Enjoy it for what it is, and forget about what it isn't.

What say you?


,

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Other Side Of The Door (2016)

MARCH 4, 2016

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

I have a son now - have I mentioned that? (pause for groans) But seriously, as mentioned in, oh, every other review I've written for the past two years, having a kid changed how I approach horror movies, in particular ones like The Other Side of the Door, as the movie is about a woman (Sarah Wayne Callies, someone I'm always happy to see) who loses her son in a car accident and tries to kill herself to end her grief. The family's nanny, Piki, feels sorry for her and tells her about a place that will allow her to contact her son; she can't SEE or TOUCH him, because he's (see title), but she can talk to him and say what she needs to say. Under no circumstances, Piki warns, should she open the door no matter what - and this being a horror movie, you can guess what she does (spoiler: she opens the goddamn door).

Since he dies in flashback (he's already dead when the movie begins), thus softening the blow, this was probably the most conflicting moment for me to watch as a horror fan who is also a parent; two years ago I'd probably end up hating the movie because of this moment. Because the horror fan part of me is rolling his eyes, yelling at Callies for doing the one thing she was instructed not to do - but the dad in me was wondering why she took so long to do that. If my son was taken from me and I had a chance to talk to him on the other side of a door, you can bet your ass that I'd have the damn thing opened before he finished saying "Daddy is that you?", damn the consequences. I have come to realize I am far more sensitive than some other parents when it comes to things like this (they're able to separate the "it's a dumb horror movie" element enough to know that such a thing would be impossible in the first place, whereas I am not), so I just want to make that clear when I say I enjoyed the movie. When the plot hinges on something that 90% of the audience might consider completely stupid (it's the equivalent of a road trip movie that goes to hell because our heroes opt to take some creepy ass "shortcut"), I know it's bound to keep them at bay for the rest, but for me I was totally fine with it.

But I think the real reason it didn't affect me as much as I feared once I knew it was about a dead kid (I didn't know much about the movie before I sat down) is because it's more or less a Pet Sematary remake, with a grieving parent being told of a place that would bring their loved one back to them, albeit with warnings that are ignored. Bad things happen, more people die, and at the very end we realize no one's learned their damn lesson. In fact, Mary Lambert is actually thanked in the credits, which made me wonder if they had to run the movie by her to make sure there was nothing legally actionable about the movie. I kid; there's obviously enough of a difference that no one could be held accountable any more than Costner and Reynolds could be sued over Waterworld re: Road Warrior, but speaking strictly as an easily upset dad, the similar beats of a story I know very well kept me from freaking out for the most part, because I've more or less been down this road before (and in far harsher manner - nothing here is remotely as awful as the little coffin spilling over at the funeral in Pet - good lord that is traumatizing).

One of the biggest changes (besides the dynamic - it's the mom, not the dad, who goes off to the magical burial place) is the setting. India, to be specific, which gives the film a unique look and invaluable production value - the authentic, slightly rundown (and giant) family home alone sets it apart from the countless anonymous middle/upper class homes we've seen over the past few years in (name a Blumhouse movie). But there are some city-set scenes that also give it plenty of personality the plot occasionally lacks, and the script wisely skips past the "stranger in a strange land" element - we learn early on that they moved there for the husband's job several years ago, so they're obviously pretty comfortable in the locale instead of bumbling about needing everything explained to them.

The husband is played by Jeremy Sisto, who is always an interesting guy to watch and chooses his horror projects carefully (or at least, he has since Hideaway). Callies is the main star here, with Sisto usually off at work or something and thus not witness to any of the spooky goings-on. It doesn't QUITE land maybe as well as they hoped, but this allows a late-period wrinkle where Callies starts to confess what she's been seeing to him and he starts wondering (as do we) if she's just crazy, that her grief finally got the best of her. It'd be a fun twist to take (and would make the Pet Sematary lifts actually kind of inspired - distracting us with a familiar story to distract us away from the more plausible answer), but (spoiler) they don't opt for that route. Sisto finds out about all the supernatural stuff in a pretty good way, however, and he makes the most of his slightly reduced screentime. Indeed, one of the few times my "dad gene" kicked in was when he broke down at the sight of his son's toys and clothes on fire, which is something the wife had done to try to ward off his evil ghost.

Unlike Gage Creed, their kid doesn't really come back in a flesh and blood way - we see him in flashes, but for the most part he's just a "presence", with chairs moving by themselves and books being dropped at Callies' feet when he wants to hear a bedtime story. But modern horror movies need something physical to cause people to jump, so we learn early on that there are these creepy Rob Zombie-looking dudes who live on the flesh of the dead, and once Callies opens the door they start menacing her on a regular basis (read: when the movie needs a jump scare). The director is fond of showing one of them off in the distance, startling the characters into walking backwards a bit into another (obviously much closer) one, a trick that gets a bit old but is still preferable to fake ones where she's scared by her husband or a coat rack or whatever the hell. In fact I don't think the movie actually has any of those cheap shot ones at all, though I did leave for a bit to get a drink (this theater allows alcohol and it was my birthday, so I indulged) so maybe I missed one. Either way, it's hardly Insidious in terms of effective jolt moments, but at least they aimed to make them honest jolts, and however successful they ultimately are is kind of up to the viewer anyway.

I knew so little about the movie before going in that I didn't realize until it was over (there were no titles at the beginning of the film) that it was directed by Johannes Roberts, someone I consider myself a fan of based on his previous two films. One was Storage 24, a fun little flick that takes a slasher template and applies it to an alien monster movie (and sets it inside a personal storage warehouse), and the other is Expelled, which I saw as F and liked enough to put in my book. It's his first wide(ish) release in the US, and it's a shame that Fox didn't seem to have much faith in it, doing the same thing they did with the inferior The Pyramid in the December before last (namely, putting it on a few hundred screens and not really advertising it). It's not the best movie of the year or anything, but it's a solid entry in the "careful what you wish for" sub-genre of supernatural horror (the minor allusion to "Bobby" from Dead of Night should make some old-school fans smile) and, for genre fans, a far better showcase for Ms. Callies than Walking Dead ever offered her (seriously, did the writers just hate her guts or what?). It'll be a big Redbox hit, at least.

What say you?


PLEASE, GO ON...

The Curse (1987)

MARCH 1, 2016

GENRE: ALIEN, PREDATOR
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Thanks to Scream Factory, I have become privy to a brief wave of Italian/American co-productions that peppered (some) theaters and (more) video stores during the late '80s and early '90s, many of which they've released as double features (such as Witchery/Ghosthouse). The partnership made sense - with the decline of drive-ins hurting indie schlock producers here in the US and the Italian film system facing its own crippling problems, it was mutually beneficial to work together. The Italians found a way to keep working, and the Americans got names like Lucio Fulci or Umberto Lenzi to rope in horror fans that might otherwise overlook such fare. The Curse is probably the most famous of the lot (it opened in the top 10 at the box office!) and offers the most curious list of credits - Fulci and Ovidio G. Assonitis (of Tentacles/Beyond the Door fame) from the Italian side, with the Americans offering up a pretty great cast: Claude Akins, Wil Wheaton, The Funhouse's Cooper Huckabee, and even a post-Dukes John Schneider.

You'll also see familiar tough guy character actor David Keith (not Keith David) in the credits, but he doesn't appear on camera - he actually directed this thing, his first time calling the shots and the only one of his three directorial efforts that he didn't give himself a nice role. At first I figured it was just the poorly-chosen pseudonym for Assonitis or some other Italian (as most of them used aliases), especially since all the others I've seen had Italian directors while the casts were predominantly American, but nope - it was Jack Murdock himself calling the shots. Apparently it was also his own farm that was used for the film's exteriors, while the rest was shot in Rome (which you can kind of tell because the dubbing is pretty bad whenever they're inside*), and there's a pretty even split between the two - 50/50, like the crew itself.

The American side of things is probably why the script is based on HP Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space", since very few Italian horror films are directly adapted from anything like that. Lovecraft isn't even credited, though the film is actually pretty close to his narrative for the first hour or so, before FX and action mostly take over. The biggest change is how much the hero of the story is sidelined in the movie - Schneider's Willis fills in for Pierce (the hero in Lovecraft's story) but he's only in like four or five scenes, with the focus given almost entirely to the family on the farm that is primarily affected by the alien meteorite. Schneider doesn't even meet them until the climax, if memory serves, spending his scenes either alone or with the local realtor/greedy bastard who is trying to make sure Schneider's surveyor character will give the go-ahead for some big construction deal (as always, whenever the movie's dialogue concerns real estate shenanigans, I tune out. Probably because I'll go to the grave without ever owning any land/property). I don't know if Schneider was busy working on something else and they could only get him for a few days, or his scenes were cut for one reason or another, but he feels very disconnected from the narrative/main characters, making his rescuer role in the climax really awkward.

The folks are rescuing are Wil Wheaton's character and his sister (played by Wil's real life sister, who the credits "introduce" for what would be her first/last big role in an intermittent career peppered with a lot of short films and "Female Student" type roles), as the rest of their family has gotten infected and turned into pretty gross looking monsters. Akins is their dad, a very religious man who quotes Bible verses while shunning his wife's affections, i.e. the sort of guy you can't wait to see get messed up good. I was surprised to see Akins being so game for the makeup FX work - this is a guy who had been acting for nearly forty years for guys like Howard Hawks, so you could easily see him scoffing at the idea of being done up like a zombie with neurofibromatosis. But he's totally into it, and it's kind of awesome to see him going through those motions. It's also awesome to see Wheaton literally headbutt his jerk brother to death. I mean, technically the fall kills him (they're near a railing), but still - amazing MO for fratricide.

Now you might hear those examples and think that this is a crazy, action-packed movie, but that is far from the case. In fact, had they credited Lovecraft I might not have been so surprised at how relatively slow-paced it was, coming from the Italians I always count on for the wackiness. I didn't recognize the HPL connection for a while; as the plot starts with an alien element crashing in the Midwest, I just took it as any old 80s horror that starts the same way - Killer Klowns, Critters, Invaders from Mars (plus, again, the hero of the story was turned into a random supporting character). There are a few isolated incidents along the way (most memorably an attack on the little girl by some deranged chickens), but otherwise there isn't much gore or violence until the final 15 minutes, when all hell has broken loose (at least, at the farm). Here we get some pretty delightful miniature work (where it's obvious that it's a miniature, but not laughably so) and some crazy FX sequences, like all of the wood panels inside the house curling themselves away/off the walls as the structure collapses. The infected family members also prove to be hard to kill, giving it a vague zombie movie feel for a bit too. It's perhaps a bit TOO slow at times, with too many characters being jumbled about, but if you came for the same sort of nuttiness those other Italian/American movies offered, you'll certainly find it here.

What you won't find is Wheaton or anyone else offering comments on the film - the only bonus feature is the trailer, which has one of the clunkiest segways in voiceover history. It's a pretty standard 80s horror trailer, but near the end movie trailer voice says "Wil Wheaton from Stand By Me, now stands alone against... THE CURSE!" The fact that he doesn't notwithstanding (he stands with his sister! And Pa Kent!), how much of a reach can you possibly make before you're just being incoherent? At least the shorter trailer for video (not on the disc; I found it when looking for the full trailer below) goes with a standard "Stand by Me's Wil Wheaton" instead of trying to make it a thing. Reminds me of that awful blurb for Joy Ride that said something like "Paul Walker goes for an even bigger ride than he did in Fast and the Furious!" It was on one of the home video boxes! So awful/amazing.

The disc also has the sequel, which is apparently completely unrelated (as are Curse 3 and 4, the existence of which I am only now aware of), but it DOES have Shiri Appleby in one of her first movies, and stars horror royalty Jill Schoelen. It also has the plot description "After a young man is bitten on the hand by a radioactive snake, his hand changes into a lethal snake head," so you can be assured that I'll be finding the time to watch it soon. Hopefully Scream will get the rights to the other two; I am kind of charmed that there's this little franchise of goofy movies that I had almost zero awareness of their existence. Maybe someone can get the survivors of each one together, Fast Five/Avengers style, and catapult this franchise into the stratosphere. The Curse Shared Universe (TCSU) must come together!

What say you?

*Many Italian studios aren't sound proof (with at least one major one right by an airport), so even though everyone is speaking English they had to be redubbed anyway.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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