Monday, September 18, 2017

Eat Me


Font choice is not something one should ever take lightly. Consider the prologue of Souleater, which opens in the past with subtitles overloaded with serif, leading me to try to figure out if "beavy" meant something different in the 13th century. 


Quick Plot: Welcome to Bixby, home of Tucker's Motel, a diner, and a house in the woods that contains a souleater. Put that on your postcard and mail it.


If you're like me, you may very well hear "souleater" and think "sin eater" and be taken back to The Order, a film with better font choices but far less energy than today's feature. If you recall, a "sin eater" is a handsome centuries old cursed Catholic who helps sinners get into heaven via a side door that opens with sin eating. A souleater (one word, apparently) just eats souls.

On hand to fight the souleater is weathered priest Father Dolan and his protégé, Spencer. The pair teams up with the local po-lice (including the film's big name grab, Peter Hooten) and Demon and Pike, a pair of grizzled bikers looking for Pike's soul-teasing daughter. There's TRON-esque night vision, mild CGI (that in fairness, makes The Order look even worse), and when in doubt, zombies.


Directed, co-produced, co-written, edited, sound edited, and title designed by Michael Lang, Souleater is, without question, an indie horror film. It doesn't look great, it doesn't sound great, and nobody will be having nightmares after it's over. That being said, it's clearly made with heart and enthusiasm by all involved. The actors aren't going to show up on the list of Oscar nominees anytime soon, but nobody is phoning anything in. That's something.


I can't say Souleater is a good film by most measures, but in its very specific realm of micro-budgeted horror, I can't say it isn't more watchable than a lot of what's out there in bargain bins. 

High Points
I wouldn't be surprised if it was simply a case of casting convenience, but it's always refreshing to see a cast primarily made up of actors on the other side of middle age


Low Points
I could quibble with the dialogue and performances all I want, but at the end of the day, what really gave me the most pain with Souleater was its damned font decisions

Lessons Learned
Priests are second only to rock stars when it comes to leaving a motel room in ruins


The key to impressing a small town Florida deputy is to demonstrate a modicum of skill level with chopsticks

People just won't take you very seriously if your first name is Demon


Never hit a lady in front of bikers

Rent/Bury/Buy
If you enjoy slightly-more-professional-than-homemade horror movies, then Souleater can go on your Amazon Prime watchlist. Personally, I don't have much of a palette for this level of film in my grumpy old age, but I can certainly acknowledge there's still charm in DIY filmmaking for some genre audiences. If that's you, then have fun. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

All In the Family


Here's a new test for the entertainment threshold of a film: let's say you ride the bus every day, as I do here in New York. You get used to the occasional mad man or woman shouting from the backseat about the wrongs of the world or the assets of, say, Aisha Tyler or Cheetos. Sometimes it's far more interesting than anything I might otherwise enjoy on my commute via a movie or magazine. Others, it's not worth the time it takes to hit pause and remove an earbud discretely.

I watched today's feature during my ride home from work, and sure enough, on this fateful Friday, there was indeed a raving yeller who had a LOT to say about current events. And you know what? Said nonsense was indeed less interesting, at least at that moment, than the low budget little horror film I had downloaded to my phone. Now I have much to say about The Chosen and much of it is not positive, but I'll give the film this: it was more entertaining than the angry homeless man on the Bx19. 


Best DVD cover tagline ever.

Quick Plot: Cam is an aimless 19-year-old with a complicated but loving relationship with his recovering alcoholic mother Eliza, recovering heroin addict sister Caitlin, and thus far, safely balanced niece Angie. When Eliza goes away for a long weekend, Cam disobeys her orders by bringing Angie to visit her mother Caitlin, who lives in an unpleasant apartment with some unseemly neighbors.


The sympathetic Cam hears a little too much fighting next door and barges in, breaking up a rumble between a crazed young woman and a blood-marked man who quickly escapes as Angie watches and, it would seem, becomes possessed by the angry child soul-snatching spirit of the biblical Lilith.


With the help of aforementioned crazed neighbor and a mysteriously disappearing/reappearing nun, Cam learns some hard facts: Angie has six days left on earth, after which time Lilith will drag her to hell. The only way to prevent this is to sacrifice six blood-related humans, marking them with a symbol and letting Lilith do the rest. 


Cam is dubious but must have seen enough horror films to know disappearing/reappearing nuns should not be ignored, so when he walks in on his grandmother in the midst of a stroke, he decides to give his finger painting skills a try. Sure enough, some black Lost-ish smoke comes to take her body away. One down, five to go.


Directed by newcomer Ben Jehoshua, The Chosen is an odd little duck. Much like Perkins' 14, it's built on a strong premise that feels like a new enough spin on a familiar and straightforward concept. It clearly values its characters, taking time early on to establish the family dynamics in detail, from Eliza (played by Catherine Keener's sister Elizabeth and yes, I guessed the family connection before looking at the credits)'s recovery and faith to the lazy but maybe deep down, caring Uncle Joey. Cam is a nice kid, and murdering six of his relatives is not something the film treats lightly...


At first.


Somewhere during the running time, The Chosen gets kind of silly. Perhaps its ridiculousness corresponded inversely with the budget running out, as the CGI--which becomes all too prominent towards the film's back half--is, plain and simple, rather laughable. Maybe Jehoshua was smart in lightening his film's tone as the visual look became impossible to present seriously. Think of it as a sort of reverse Heidi effect.


What starts as an earnest family tale about a kind young man trying to protect his niece turns into an odd maybe horror comedy. I say "maybe" because I honestly don't know if I was supposed to be invested or amused at how quickly Cam goes from apologetic to enthusiastic about his murders. By the time the credits abruptly roll to a rap tune, I could only shrug and accept it all in stride. 


High Points
The film's first death is truly upsetting, as the elderly Nanny suffers an attack while falling on cracking knees and gasping for air. It sets a sad and realistic tone that unfortunately, the film doesn't seem to have had the resources to follow through 



Low Points
I totally understand how difficult it must be to make a horror film on a limited budget. I also totally understand that if you know your budget won't pay for LucasFilms levels of CGI, perhaps you should use the bargain bin type more sparingly


Lessons Learned
If doubtful about your girlfriend's claim that you're the father of her unborn baby, save a trip to Maury and get a paternity test the old fashioned way with a simple sacrificial offer to a demon


Duct tape is strong, but whiny prep cousins just might be stronger

Always remember where your uncle's gambling-related bruises are located


Hey! It's- 
The painting from Ever After!


and yes, I know it's actually a real Leonardo da Vinci piece and reproductions are common, but you can't expect me to see an Ever After visual reference and not immediately spin a prequel where the family is actually related to Drew Barrymore's character and why can't I have that movie or at the very least, ANY Ever After sequel right now?


Rent/Buy/Buy
The Chosen has (quite a few) problems, but it also shows a little more heart and earnestness than you often find with movies of its ilk. I can't say it's good or scary, but for a good 90 minutes, I enjoyed watching it, at least more than I did watching the man wearing one shoe complain about the bus temperature. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Because Nothing Has Ever Gone Wrong In An Abandoned Mental Asylum


Abandoned mental asylums! Hot young people! Literal face/offs! What more is a straight-to-Netflix horror movie SUPPOSED to have?

Quick Plot: After a pleasantly grimy prologue wherein a nude heroin user shoots herself in the face, we move on to a quick newsreel about the long-shuttered Exeter School for the Feeble Minded, an asylum that did far more harm than good to most of its young charges. 


Some time later, teenage Patrick is helping his priest, Father Conway (played by Stephen Lang so obviously, a suspicious priest) clean and rebuilt the Exeter building into a youth center. Naturally, Peter's awful friends use said employment position to throw the kind of midnight rave that ends up involving more vomit than alcohol. 


As the crowd dwindles to an acceptable number of mostly extremely attractive twentysomething actors playing teenagers, Exeter proves to be as haunted a place as you assume any abandoned mental asylum would be. Token hot blonde Amber decides the best wind-down is to play Light As a Feather, Stiff As a Board (heLLO 1990s slumber parties!) with Patrick's kid brother Rory as the test subject, only to unleash the demonic spirit of a wronged dead teenager who once occupied Exeter's most dangerous wing. 


As you do.

I stumbled upon Exeter on a random "You Might Like" scroll on Netflix, and I queued it up with the kind of low expectations one must temper when watching a direct-to-streaming film with a bland title and cover. About twenty minutes into the film, I found myself thinking, "this is a very professionally made top of the lower barrel of horror films." Sure enough, when I saw Marcus Nispel's directing credit, everything made sense.

See, as much as Exeter does little new or surprising with its premise and style, it does all of it quite well. There's nothing overly memorable about the gaggle of attractive twentysomething teenagers, but all the actors give completely acceptable and believable performances (playing twentysomethings playing teenagers). Some of the CGI borders on the ridiculous, but plenty of surprise hits of violence actually shock. 


Nispel has a mixed track record when it comes to horror, ranging from the shockingly better than it had any right to be TCM remake to the worse than it had every right to be Friday the 13th reboot. Perhaps what Exeter demonstrated to me was that there is indeed an art to these kinds of fairly disposable but still highly watchable genre films. 


Consider, if you will, Satanic or Bleed (a movie I had to scroll through months of blogs in order to even remember the title). Both are similarly told low (but not micro) budgeted horror movies about pretty people spending one night battling literal demons. And both lack anything of substance.

Exeter certainly has a few aces up its sleeve. Stephen Lang (who I'm guessing is pals with Nispel after they filmed the gloriously kooky Conan remake) is always going to elevate his material, and the actual abandoned mad house setting does a lot of heavy lifting. The screenplay by Kirsten McCallion (who also has a credit on Texas Chainsaw 3D, a movie I'm in the minority for rather enjoying) is solid enough for what it's trying to do, throwing in some decent twists and leaning on dialogue that mostly sounds appropriate for its teenage characters. It's a far cry from a best of the year candidate, but in the ever crowded market of this exact subgenre, Exeter is certainly one of the better ones you'll find.


High Points
Literal face/off aside, Exeter finds a decent balance in tossing in some quality chuckles throughout its run time, both in its dialogue and clever cuts

Low Points
I mean, I suppose it would have been a more pleasant experience if I actively rooted for the partying twentysomething teenagers



Lessons Learned
Following a guy in the woods is how rapes happen

Backwash will seriously compromise the efficacy of holy water


Never be the feather during a levitation game with a full bladder

The Winning Line
"Wait til I sober up. We'll drop my little brother off and get Denny's."
Who says romance is dead when you can a first date with a line like this?



Rent/Bury/Buy
Hey, I'm not saying Exeter is The Invitation of your current Instant Watch selection, but it's one of the more solid horror movies you've probably never heard of to fall into the Netflix bad poster graveyard. Don't expect your world to change or nightmares to get more interesting, but if you're looking for a simple solid 100 minutes of attractive people being creatively slaughtered by a demon, I think I've found the flick for you. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Priest's Tale


Did you like A Knight's Tale? Like, did you LOVE A Knight's Tale and think, in your wildest fantasies, that most of the cast and crew should reassemble for another movie, only this time, it should be a super serious Catholic-themed thriller with terrible CGI?


Boy is it your lucky day!

Quick Plot: Alex (William Thatcher, I mean, Heath Ledger) is a sad priest, possibly because he's forced to be celibate but is also Heath Ledger and therefore one of the most handsome men in the world who should be able to have sex with anyone in the world. When Father Dominic, his mentor, commits suicide, Alex is sent to Rome as one of the last of the Carolingians, an order (or, excuse me, THE Order) specializing in demons and the supernatural. 


Alex is joined by his fellow Carolingian/squire, Thomas (a pre-Robert Baratheon Mark Addy) and Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), a woman Alex once successfully performed an exorcism on. Mara has spent the last few years recovering in a mental asylum, but that's done nothing to dampen her good looks or artistic ability. Also involved in Alex's case is a cardinal named Driscoll, who just so happens to be next in line to be pope.

So what exactly is a ridiculously handsome and moody priest looking for? Why, a SIN EATER, of course.


Yes, I said "sin eater," and you should get used to it because a LOT of people in this movie say "sin eater" and it never quite sounds right, no matter how seriously they say the words "sin eater."


A sin eater (not gonna stop) is a man/demon who can relieve someone on their deathbed of their evils (or, you know, EAT THEIR SINS), thereby granting a non-worthy heretic a bypass into heaven. Because of his handiness with the supernatural and presumed ridiculous good looks, Ledger's Alex essentially becomes headhunted to take over the position (that of sin eater). 


Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (yes, the guy who did A Knight's Tale), The Order is a movie in desperate need of a sense of humor. Casting one of Hollywood's leading heartthrobs only to saddle him with a priest's collar and moodiness that makes Jon Snow look like a party boy isn't the best place to start, and the "are they serious about this?" levels of CGI incompetence doesn't help. 


Things do admittedly perk up int he film's final act, with the introduction of an underground zany devil's playground and unleashed Peter Weller. It's unfortunately too little, too late to make The Order any kind of real fun, but it does justify having the film on in the background while you fold laundry or eat cheese or stream A Knight's Tale on another device. 


High Points
It's completely unreasonable, but I'm giving this movie 9000 bonus points for casting John Karlsen in the role of "Eden's Manservant". Karlsen, you see, plays the king in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure but more excitingly, plays Blossum, the manservant to Phinneas T. Prune in the best/worst Christmas movie ever made (and now featured, finally, on Mystery Science Theater 3000), The Christmas That Almost Wasn't. 


Low Points
I forgive the octopi-like CGI because it at least adds some laughs to the otherwise extremely blah pace, so my low point? the otherwise blah pace

But I mean, that CGI...

Lessons Learned
Being in a mental asylum should never hold your eyebrow grooming back


Only doctors can identify if something is a birthmark

Never drink wine with Caravaggio


Rent/Bury/Buy
I watched The Order via HBO Go, but it really feels like the kind of flick best viewed with commercials on TNT. It's not good, but I guess it's somewhat different from what you might expect of the time. And you know, if A Knight's Tale is your jam, I would guess this was made to be your peanut butter, only without a Queen soundtrack holding it all together. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Perkins' Dozen


Quick Plot: In 1999, fourteen children were abducted in the town of Stone Cove (and yes, you will constantly hear "Stone Cold" in your head and everything is better that way).


Ten years later, the town has mostly moved on from the tragedy, with only policeman/grieving father Dwayne Hopper still trying to solve the case. While this has done little help his marriage to the unhappy Janine or parenting of the teen rebel Daisy, it looks like on a fateful night exactly a decade after the disappearance of his son, Dwayne may have met the man responsible for his pain.


While covering the overnight shift at the local holding cell, Dwayne catches the eye of a mysterious prisoner named Ronald Perkins. Something is off about the self-identified pharmacist. Is it that Dwayne has never met him, despite them both being lifers in such a small town? That much like the man who took his son, Perkins seems to be missing a finger right where young Kyle once took a bite? Or that he's just an incredibly creepy dude who is obviously, without a doubt, the man responsible for Stone Cold--er, Cove's pain.


Hopper asks one of his off-duty pals to investigate Perkins' home, a secluded ranch with a very mysterious basement. As you might guess, those fourteen children reemerge, having been caged, abused, and injected with a steady supply of PCP and other drugs.

What follows is an interesting take on ye olde zombie trope, as Perkins' victims raid Stone Cove, tearing its citizens apart with their own bloody hands. As he tries to take charge, Hopper finds himself torn between protecting his town and not further punishing fourteen insane teenagers (one of whom is his own son) who can't really be blamed for their own actions.


Perkins' 14 is director Craig Singer's followup to Dark Ride, and it's a full traveling carnival better (I think that's how math works, right?). The story itself comes loaded with a nice balance of conflict, as our monsters easily have our sympathy for the abuse they've suffered. While none of the characters make ANY smart decisions when it comes to surviving the night, it's easy to consider the fact that if you were being chased by 28 Days Later-ish creatures, you might not be thinking too straight either. 


It's probably for the best that our characters lack fundamental survival instincts, since the gore on display is one of Perkins' 14 strong points. We get our fair share of disembowelments, all done with gloriously juicy practical effects. I would have preferred to actually see most of the action, but bad lighting seems as common as poor cell phone service in the realm of 21st century horror. 



High Points
From a storytelling point of view, the whole setup (which was apparently submitted via a web contest by Jeremy Donaldson) is strong, and Richard Brake's Ronald Perkins is chillingly villainous in his clean-cut evil


Low Points
I can forgive the film's low budget for some of the rough lighting choices, but the actual geography of some of the more intense sequences is muddled and poorly defined, thereby muting the tension



Lessons Learned
When it comes to not-quite-zombie zombie movies, animal activists are always the worst


Affairs are always improved with warm champagne

Best thing about filming in Romania? The creepy eastern European children's parks, of course


Rent/Bury/Buy
I watched Perkins' 14 via HBO Go, so if you have access to that, it's certainly a decent way to spend 90 minutes of your time. After Dark's 8 Films to Die For typically have mixed results (the same series that gave us Lake Mungo and Mulberry Street is also responsible for Tooth & Nail and, you know, Dark Ride) and this one falls fairly squarely in the middle. The fresh premise probably deserves better treatment, but for a straight-to-DVD (remember those?) zombie-ish movie, it ain't bad.