Monday, January 20, 2020

Lessons Learned Yet Again

It's that time of the year! Mid-January, when the weather is crumby, the optimism surrounding our resolutions are fading, and depending on your profession, we're weeks to months away from any real days off.

Or, if you're a reader of this here blog, the annual year-in-review, starting with our roundup of some of the most important lessons learned over the last 365 days of movie reviews!

Fine Dining
Old meatloaf smells like werewolf crap -- Summer of '84

You can take coconut liqueur any darn way you like -- Blood Rage

The key to making good tacos is cover up crappy meat with tons of spices -- Scorned 

Travel & Tourism
People don't go to Vermont for the oysters -- The Witch In the Window

Always pack a comfortable, quiet pair of sneakers for whatever may come up on your honeymoon -- Ready or Not 

When visiting a wealthier friend, always try to time your visit around his impending death. If everything lines up just right, you'll get to spend the next few weeks living in his mansion rent-free -- Color of Night 

Any town with a an overabundance of mannequins is not a place to spend the night -- Happy Hunting 

Economics 101
All the money in the world can apparently only buy one shirt for painting and one bikini for daily swimming exercises -- Imaginary Friend 

Home Remedies
Horse tranquilizers are great for fighting migraines -- Ma 

In a pinch, perfume makes a decent, fragrant antiseptic -- Don't Grow Up

The way to stay alive when spending 18 hours a day mixing your liquor choices is to occasionally supplement your diet with some potassium -- Friend Request

Facial scars heal fast if they're accompanied by aggressive opera music -- Braid

Self-Defense Tips
One can never be too cautious when plotting a landing -- Targets 

Brooms and baseball bats are decent weapons for self-defense, but when you really get down to it, nothing beats a full a roll of Saran Wrap -- The Hive 

Smart women sleep in their sports bras -- Revenge

Fashion Through the Ages
1950s suburban moms slept in heavier makeup than 2019 Hallmark Christmas movie leads -- Invaders From Mars 

Bangs were the big trend of the mid-1800s -- Candyman 3: Day of the Dead

Supernatural snake women shed their skin in one clean body suit -- The Snake Woman 

Silk is real, and it is fabulous -- Blood of Heroes  

In the future, global warming will make weather so confusing that you'll need a winter hat and an open chest hoodie -- Death Race: Beyond Anarchy

Friendship Is Magic
Never remain friends with a group of young white people who decide to film themselves, not because you'll almost inevitably die in a blur, your last words being, "What the f*ck," but more because if two decades of found footage horror has taught me anything, it's that young white people who enjoy filming themselves are almost certainly an awful combination of bland and rude -- Hell House LLC

The power of besties involves being able to provide quick synonyms on call -- Truth Or Dare 

Hair & Makeup
The shorter your haircut, the longer your makeup will stay on your face -- Finders Keepers

Quaaludes are murder on the skin -- Hell Night 

Psychiatric hospitals are a wonderful training resource for shaping your eyebrows -- Mercy Black 

Dating Advice
The best way to stay under the radar when ordering drinks for your underage boyfriend is to flag the waiter from across the room to shout for two more alcoholic beverages, even though you've just taken a single sip from your first -- Fatal Fashion 

Nothing turns a woman on more than man's ability to make netting out of tree fiber -- Eden 

Some women find childlike men attractive -- Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things

Gun Safety
Really, I think this can all be summed up with one pretty handy suggestion: maybe don't go hunting with powerful firearms when you're still rather drunk? -- Calibre 

Never bring a rifle to a bird fight -- Kaw 

Self-proclaimed world's best damned personal assistants have a unique set of skills, including excellent shotgun aim 

Mythology Uncovered
Contrary to popular cultural portrayals, trolls actually resemble burn victims with tiny Trump hands -- Charlotte 

Modern Hobbies
Horror-themed scavenger weekends operated under most of the same rules as your average strip club -- Ruin Me 

Crime Solving For Dummies
When hiding evidence, consider a place slightly less exposed than the living room shelf

One can never have too many candles or flashlights on hand to fight off an evil bullied spirit, even if the lights are working just fine -- Can't Take It Back 

When sneaking around in a remote cabin where the owner is confirmed as being out of the way, always remember to bring a good flashlight because under no conditions would you turn a light on in a remote cabin when the whole reason you're there is because no on else is near -- The Shortcut 

The only thing less effective in solving crime than the NYC police department is Stephen Rea in a cameo -- Greta 

When questioning an old acquaintance about brutal murder, it's best to do so over a glass of champagne -- Staged Killer

Technology Through the Ages
Antivirus software remains as ineffective in 2016 as it was in the '90s -- Ratter 

The Young Adult
Youngest siblings have far better facial memory recognition than the eldests -- Deviant Love 

Girls don't grow chest hair, but they do get lumps (providing they learn how to stop talking at the breakfast table) -- The Lift 

Really talented deaf teenagers don't even need to face you to read your lips -- The Silence

Know Thy Style
You know you've found your villain when his vanity license plate reads "FERRARI" -- The Furies

Know Thyself
No-good bohemians make terrible decisions in the middle of the night -- The Gorgon

Morgue Fun
Unlike their American male counterparts, female Spanish morticians trade sandwiches for shameless flirting -- Open Graves 

Nothing makes a dieting detective hungrier than a visit to the morgue -- In Darkness

In no world is it a good idea to try to induce a jump scare from the new employee who gets to spend midnight-to-7 all alone in a basement filled with dead bodies -- The Possession of Hannah Grace 

How To Not Teach a Lesson
If you're trying to send a fervent anti-abortion message with your movie, maybe don't end it with a soundtrack that incorporates obnoxiously screaming babies -- The Unborn Child 

Now that you're fully prepared for whatever life (or in some cases, the afterlife) throws your way, come back next week when we look at my favorite films covered here in 2019!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Tale As Old As Time

Call it "Emily saw The Running Man in the theaters at age five and has never been able to shake it," syndrome, but 32 years later, I still can't turn down a hunting humans adjacent horror flick.

Quick Plot: Maddie is trying to get her pal Kayla to take a few more chances in life, but Kayla's lifelong epilepsy has helped her to build something of a wall. What's the best way to challenge your lifestyle? Why, get kidnapped by a shadow organization that drops young women in a sprawling forest and releases a gaggle of masked maniacs to hunt them down, of course!

That description makes writer/director Tony D'Aquino's The Furies sound a little familiar, but the script has an interesting twist up its very bloody, occasionally armless sleeve: the Leatherface-ish killers are each charged to protect one of the prey. When the "beast's" assigned "beauty" dies, his head explodes. 

It's messy. 

Once Kayla figures out the game, she tries to rally the rest of the contestants to work together to mixed effect. Younger home-schooled Rose is eager to latch on, while more pessimistic Sheena is hardly eager to trust a stranger whose safety puts her own life at risk, especially after a few ill-timed stabbings throw into question who can really be trusted. 

The Furies is a brisk watch, wasting no time to drown us in some very gooey practical effects. The action itself is quite cruel and vicious, but thankfully, the film is smart enough to avoid any implication of sexual violence. There's a traditional fairy tale gendered element to the division of the female hunted and their male protectors, but Kayla's resolve goes a long way in attempting to spin that around.

Unfortunately for the overall effect of The Furies, this is a film that seems to have ambitions that exceed its own running time. I won't spoil the ending, but it's riddled with some very odd choices on D'Aquino's part. What could have been a very slick and satisfying action horror instead might as well end on a "Come Back For Chapter 2" notice. It's a strange choice, and while the action and performances before it make The Furies a more-than-entertaining watch, the decision to rob its audience of resolution doesn't leave anyone feeling positive.

High Points
Much credit to lead actress Airlie Dodds, who backs up strong screen presence with the perfect balance of victim-turned-badass in an intelligent, believable way

Low Points
Vague spoiler alert: I don't necessarily have an issue with a film leaving some unresolved mystery, but when that lack of resolution seems built entirely on a sequel that may or may not happen, it's impossible not to walk away feeling rather dissatisfied

Lessons Learned
You know you've found your villain when his vanity license plate reads "FERRARI"

Never trust someone if you can't see their face...particularly if that's because it's hidden by a flesh mask covered in blood

Have you learned nothing, women in horror movies who are so intense in their new self defense skills that they never look before they stab? Apparently, as so many films post-The Descent have taught us, no. No they have not

The Furies felt full of untapped potential, but it was still built on some very strong elements: quality cast, decent if undeveloped story, and outstandingly gross gore. It needs a sequel to really satisfy, but for a quick watch on Shudder, it's certainly an effective, fast-moving time killer. 

Monday, January 6, 2020

It's a Twin Thing

Just when you think you've seen every over-the-top '80s slasher, the internet shows up to remind you that this world is far richer than you knew.

Quick Plot: Young Terry and Todd are resting in the backseat of a station wagon while mom Maddy (Mary Hartman herself, Louise Lasser) makes out with her date. Disgusted, Terry pulls Todd outside to wander the grounds, quickly finding a loose hammer and using it to smash a naked teenager's face in. Without skipping a beat, Terry covers his shocked brother's face in blood, leading everyone to believe Todd's guilt. 

Ten years later, an institutionalized Todd has finally made a breakthrough, which we find out via one narrated scene by his psychologist (apparently a producer who was forced into the role when the cast actress backed out last minute). Maddy refuses to believe the boy she's raised into a nice young man is actually a sociopath, leaving her to storm out in fury. 

Back home, Maddy hosts Thanksgiving with high spirits, announcing her engagement to her cheery guests. Terry, on the other hand, immediately turns to ice. 

Meanwhile, back at the hospital (or "school," as Maddy chooses to say), Todd has run away. His psychologist and her stoner teenage assistant (remember: the '80s) arrive to search the 10 acres of land surrounding his neighborhood. Before anyone can suggest doing something crazy like, you know, calling the police, Terry's bloodthirst has rekindled.

What follows is a strange, strange ride into, what little Judy rightfully described in Dolls as "the longest night in the world." Between condoned drunk babysitting, tennis matches, diving board sex, dismemberment, vacuuming, and a LOT of wine, Blood Rage has a lot of...stuff to do. Rarely is it good by any classical definition, but for the most part, it's weirdly entertaining. 

Lasser throws herself into her role, notching her performance up to 11 as a supreme blousy alcoholic unable to face the truth about her child. She largely acts by herself, slurring through one-sided phone calls with abandon. As both the Bundy-esque Terry and shellshocked Todd, Mark Soper manages to create two distinctly odd characters, and the young (or rather, "young") cast of pals he slices through sell their over-the-top, gooey deaths in glory.

Much like The Mutilator, Blood Rage is fairly mean-spirited tale, sparing few and delighting in the others' gruesome murders. Still, it's goofy enough that you can't take anything too seriously as an audience member, even if the actors are admirably committed to giving it their all. This is the kind of film that repeats the line "that's not cranberry sauce" as our killer licks blood off of his stained machete. It's hard not to be entertained.

High Points
Though she doesn't get much in the way of character development, it's a nice touch that our final girl chooses to save a stranger's baby in the midst of fleeing her insane boyfriend

Low Points
It's never a good idea to cast very similar looking people in similar roles, and the only two young females being blond with the same body type 


Lessons Learned
A more mature term for a stepfather would be "new manager"

You can take coconut liqueur any darn way you like

If you substitute the word 'lunatic' for 'maniac' and change the gender, you just get away with not getting sued for using the tune of "Maniac"*

*Fun fact: according to the beacon of undisputed knowledge that is Wikipedia, songwriter Michael Sembello originally intended "Maniac" to be used IN a slasher film, with the opening lyric "He's a maniac that's for sure / He will kill your cat and nail it to the door." 

Look! It's-

Ted Raimi as the '80s grooviest drive-in bathroom condom salesman

I don't know why I haven't been eating my second round of turkey to Blood Rage for the last 32 years of its existence, but it sure is nice to know there are always buried treasures floating around the streaming universe of Amazon Prime and Shudder. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Logan’s Cat Run

A figure writhes in a burlap sack, abandoned by a giant in the middle of an empty alleyway.

This is not Audition. It is something much, much more disturbing.

By this point in time, you’ve probably already read an awful lot about the bizarre realm of hell that is the Cats movie. No, not Cats: The Movie!

Though seriously: if you’re part of the 99.8% of humankind that has not witnessed the 69 minute near-home movie featuring the voices of Michelle Rodriguez and Jeremy Piven, are you really living?

Anyhoo, the opening shot of Cats did indeed make me think of Audition.

And I looked up to the gods and I sang, give me more.

I knew what I was getting into. You don’t look at the internet the week of Christmas 2019 without seeing the headlines. “A Cat-Astrophe!” “Empty the Litterbox!” “Cats Is a Dog” “JUDI DENCH HAS HUMAN HANDS!”

Sure, by the time you’re reading this, your cinema might have the “improved” print, wherein some visual effects were updated a full 10 days after the film’s initial release. Yes, the ever-so-human fingertips were certainly problematic in Cats, but the real, deeper issue came down to the very design. Why even HAVE human hand shapes when fingers are one of the key elements that separates us FROM cats?

Two minutes into Cats, it becomes very, very clear that nobody on the design team of Cats ever actually looked at a real cat. 

You know how Barbie dolls don’t in any way work as examples of human anatomy? Their heads are too large, their legs too long, their pointed feet too tiny to support such long legs and large heads?

Invert all of that and you essentially have the cats of Cats. What they still have in common with Barbie and Ken? Nipple-less breasts and no genitalia.

And yet, AND YET I SAY, will it shock you to hear just how many times Tom Hooper makes a point of having a crotch shot or groin injury?

In fairness, the one set of children in the otherwise drunken adult crowd I saw the film with on a Saturday afternoon seemed to REALLY like it anytime a cat received a groin injury, so there’s that. 

For the rest of the heavily intoxicated audience, Cats packed plenty of alternative entertainment value. The collective gasping at the mustached Shimbleshanks’s wardrobe reveal, a Village People-esque trouser set with sexy suspenders and no shirt! 

The group’s caterwauls when Mr. Mistoffolees’s catchy tune was interrupted by lingering shots on his extremely human fingers! 

The sudden shouts of horror because just when we had finally let our guards down to enjoy some simple tap dancing, the film reminded us that it had found a way to summon H.P. Lovecraft with its human-faced miniature CGI dancing rats.

There is something truly grand about the ambitions of Cats. Long in development hell and expected to be an animated film, this version GOES for it in a way few movies these days do. 

Did it tell its actors?

Watching Cats, I was reminded of the tragedy of Rent: (Not) Live!, wherein a dress rehearsal was used for the final product due to a cast member’s last minute injury. It felt incredibly unfair to its actors, who performed a rehearsal to check their marks, saving their voices with no clue that their practice would air in front of millions.

My point is, did Idris Elba KNOW this is what his Macavity would look like?

Was Taylor Swift shown any kind of rendering of her distractingly large, presumably useless yet very prominent feline breasts?

Did Rebel Wilson see even an early drawing of the CGI kicklining cockroaches she would have to eat on camera? 

Fresh off his public speaking up for the overweight community after Bill Maher’s pointed insults, was James Corden informed that his song—which boils down to four minutes of fat jokes—would play right after Rebel Wilson’s number…which is also visually reduced to four minutes of fat jokes?

And, for some reason, Rebel Wilson stripping off her cat suit to reveal an Esther Williams style…cat suit, a visual gag that gets reused identically an hour later.

By the time Taylor Swift showed up as a naked cat in high heels, sprinkling magical catnip on the quivering feline horde, I was two bourbons deep and could no longer deny the oddest cinematic connection I didn’t see coming this year.

The fine folks at the Alamo Drafthouse already did a great job of showing the parallels between Cats and Logan’s Run, but seriously: substitute LSD-spiked sangria for Swiftian glitter, and Gaspar Noe’s Climax is pretty much Cats in French. The body count is a little higher, but considering the crux of Cats’ plot is Judi Dench choosing one cat to die and fly to heaven on a chandelier hot air ballon, are they so different?

One could make a dozen drinking games out of Cats, all of which would leave its participants, well, ascending to cat heaven on a chandelier hot air balloon. Drink every time you think the cats are going to kiss, but instead stop to perform more snake-like nuzzling movements. Drink when you finally believe you understand the scaling of cats to their surroundings, only to immediately have that undone when a fork that was once the size OF a cat is now dainty enough to fit in her paw hand. 

Drink whenever the human actors are finally in a human acting zone that lets you suspend your constant confusion at what you’re watching, only for said human actor to suddenly perform a cat action so first-day-of-acting-class-exercise that you spit out your popcorn (the otherwise quite good Ian McKellen and his random lick-water-from-bowl motions is especially guilty here). When your eyes just can’t move away from the horrors of human feet with mild CGI cat fur, when they dart away and land on Jennifer Hudson’s Halloween manicure, when a line of spoken dialog hits and it, without fail, includes the tritest cat pun your kindergarten teacher once made…

Accept it. You are drunk. You are dead. Judi Dench is INDEED speaking directly to you, her eyes aimed right at the camera for her final monologue summarizing everything and nothing, “a cat…is not a dog,” she declares, and you’re tempted to ding your empty glass with a knife or shimmy your cat shoulders in agreement. 

It is the only thing that makes any sense in this cruel, genital-less world. 

Cats. Now...and forever