Monday, March 12, 2018

When You Wish Upon an Evil Chinese Music Box

If Kazaam has taught one thing, it's that Shaquille O'Neal always had bigger career potential as a product spokesman than film actor. 

If it taught us one more, it's that magical wish granters always have a price.

Quick Plot: Teenage Clare hasn't exactly had a charmed life. As a little girl, she witnessed her mother (Law & Order's favorite surprise lesbian Elisabeth Rohm) commit suicide. Dad Ryan Phillippe (yes, we're at the point in time where Ryan Phillippe is dad to a teenager and yes, that makes me feel old) is now an out-of-work saxophonist who makes some cash off his dumpster diving findings. 

Also, she's like, super not popular.

Life takes an upturn when Clare's dad brings home a mysterious box from a cemetery garbage pile. The ancient Chinese writing seems to suggest it grants wishes, leading Clare to give it a go, wishing her high school nemesis "rots." Cue the mysterious skin disease. In a completely unrelated turn of evens, Clare's beloved golden retriever mysteriously dies.

It takes a shocking number of similar granted wish/dead pal pairings before Clare can admit the obvious: the haunted box will grant her seven wishes, but each one must be paid for with the violent death of someone close. With the benefits of Clare's wishes growing bigger each time, can she stop herself from, you know, continuing to murder her friends and family?

Directed by the better-than-everyone-says-it-is Annabelle and way-worse-than-you-know-even-though-you-might-not-know-it-existed The Butterfly Effect 2's John R. Leonetti, Wish Upon is kind of a delight. A good chunk of the credit probably goes to Barbara Marshall, whose script is equally in tune to teenagers as her previous credit, Viral.

Played with a perfectly immature intensity by Joey King, Clare is a selfish, impulsive young woman who makes for a fantastically complicated protagonist. It's easy to judge her (admittedly very irresponsible and immoral) actions, but the film does a successful job of putting us into her mindset. As the poor, motherless artist bullied by the rich pretty kids, we understand why she'd be so easily seduced by something that can make her dreams come true. It's almost like a horror version of Lady Bird.

Wish Upon isn't a modern classic, but it's a solid, well-paced and made little horror movie that's simply much better than it could have been. The entire cast brings something interesting, from veterans like Phillippe and an ill-fated Sherilyn Fenn to the diverse, realistic teenagers (which includes Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's rising star Ki Hong Lee, Stranger Things' own Barb, Shannon Purser, and the incredibly charismatic Sydney Park). 

High Points
EVERYONE, this movie has a Most Popular Girl montage. A MOST POPULAR GIRL MONTAGE I SAID

Low Points
The Final Destination-ing of the death scenes is fun at first, but by the fourth case of teasing out what random contraption is going to slay which character, it feels a little tired

Lessons Learned
The price of quality ancient Chinese translation is a quality batch of wontons

When it comes to making wishes through evil box genies, use your adjectives wisely


Wish Upon is streaming on Amazon Prime and makes a great way to enjoy 90 minutes of your life. You probably won't think much about it after the fact, but it's perfectly engaging during its run. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Spy Who Slo Motion'd Me

Hypnosis may be the only way to reveal why I had 2000's Doomsdayer at the top of my Netflix queue, as I have absolutely no memory of hearing about it. Having been a Netflix DVD subscriber for 9 years or so (and yes, I remember my very first disc and it was Punisher: War Zone and really nothing has ever lived up to that moment), my list now runs a good 300+ films that aren't (yet) available via streaming. As a result of that plus beer, I simply can't be held accountable for my viewing choices at this point in life.

Quick Plot: An elite anti-terrorist organization called Protocol 23 is charged with constantly saving the world from power-hungry billionaires with spectacularly dressed henchmen. In this case, said billionaire is played by Udo Kier, and said henchman wears a spectacular red suit with a perfect bowtie.

Kier plays Max Gast, and if that's not enough for you, his wife Elizabeth is played by none other than Amazon action goddess Brigitte Nielsen. Oh, and when we first meet Max, he's smoothly poisoning his snooty investors in one of those movie-perfect corporate board meetings for daring to block his attempts at nuking the world.

Who can stop this blue-eyed tyrant? That'd be Logan, Jack Logan, a slick P23 agent not opposed to shagging his points of contact. In case you haven't guessed it by now, Doomsdayer is a sort of Asylum Studio adaptation of James Bond, only with more slow motion, less name actors, and a glaring lack of a theme song.

Let's get to the first point first: by my estimation, the original cut of Doomsdayer probably ran a brisk 37 minutes. Director Michael J. Sarna comes from a stunt background, and I'm guessing his respect for the craft led him to stretch every crash, fight, or reaction shot to its max, thus padding out the running time.

If one were to make a drinking game of how much slow motion was used in this film, one would be dead.

There are more shots of slow motion in Doomsdayer than there are white men in Congress.

There are more shots of slow motion in Doomsdayer than there are steroids in Russian locker rooms.

There are more shots of slow motion in Doomsdayer than there are chains in Chain Letter.

It is that kind of movie, and I am not complaining.

Our Q-esque character is introduced walking away from an explosion set off behind him without reacting (in slow motion, of course), because you know, that's how things work here. Max regularly has his minions tortured (aka "reassigned") but also displays genuine remorse for the millions of civilians he'll be nuking in the name of a new world. Even better, he truly loves Elizabeth and cares for his right hand man. It adds a nice layer of depth amid half-priced double entendres and martini jokes.

All of it...yes all of it, in complete slow motion.

High Points
Udo Kier is and has always been a gift to terrible movies, and that fact is no different here

Low Points
How great would a terrible attempt at a Bond-esque theme song been?

Lessons Learned
Never reveal how happy and content you are with your life and marriage out loud, unless being kidnapped and forced to build a doomsday device was on your list of things to do

Doomsdayer came to via Netflix's DVD queue, so it's probably not the easiest to track down. While I wouldn't recommend anyone other than slow motion fetishists invest much work into finding it, I certainly had a good time in a ridiculous, extremely slow motion way. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Few Inches To Spare

Another year, another slew of little villain-centric movies covered here at the Doll's House. And if, like me, you STILL thirst for one more bit of killer kid cinema, let us all be thankful that the doctor is in the house.

Over yonder at Senseless Cinema, the probably not medically trained Doctor Pseudonymous puts his expertise to use with a review of the definitive "evil children who hug adults to death with black fingernails" classic, The Children.

Far down under, we have a glorious trio of posts from dear friend of the Doll's House, Chris Hewson. Head on over to Not This Time, Nayland Smith for plenty of shortness, including

Jodie Foster in Candleshoe

And not one, not two, NOT EVEN THREE but FOUR Herbie movies!

And if your eyes are getting tired and your ears need a workout, allow me to say that on episode 99 of The Feminine Critique, we tackled 2016's far better than you think it is The Boy, as well as the classic Canadian oddity that is Pin.

Don't forget! If you have something to contribute, you can always email me at deadlydollshouse (at) gmail (dot) com for an inclusion here. When it comes to Shortening, we're always hungry!

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Girl Who Is a Gift

Does the world need another zombie movie? Well no, but I'm sure there's some heathen out there who thinks we're fine without another Step Up sequel. 

My point is simple: entertainment is rarely about need. Nobody thought we needed Toy Story 2 and 3, but isn't the world a better place with them? 

So hey, you want to give me a zombie movie in 2016? Make it good and I'll take it with joy.

Quick Plot: Preteen Melanie is bright and good-natured, a pleasant, creative individual who's first to raise her hand in class. She's the perfect teacher's pet save for one fatal flaw: her taste for human flesh.

Melanie, you see, is a second generation "hungry," aka evolved zombie who can function as a normal human being so long as she doesn't smell saliva, blood, or other bodily fluids.

In the near-apocalyptic future of The Girl With All the Gifts, the remaining uninfected are putting most of their resources into developing a cure for the virus (in this case, it's fungal-based and can spread through spores). Children like Melanie are treated like lab rats, much to the disapproval of teacher Helen (the always welcome Gemma Arterton) who disgusts her military escorts with her sympathy for the kids. Scientists like Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close! In a zombie movie!) see hungries as a disease to be cured by any means necessary.

When Melanie's facility becomes overrun with activated hungries, a ragtag team of survivors bands together to seek shelter. Helen, Dr. Caldwell, the bitter Sargent Parks, soldier Kieran, and Melanie wander a hungry-swarming world together with very different motives.

Based on a novel by Mike Carey (who also wrote the screenplay), The Girl With All the Gifts presents an intriguingly thought-out system for a zombie horror setup. The science is explained easily, and some of the more fungus-ish tics lend both believability and uniqueness to the setup.

That's all well and good, but a decent pitch for zombie attacks doesn't necessarily a great zombie flick make. Enter Sennia Nanua in her film debut as one of the most lovable characters to ever come out of the very well-trod genre. With her eager-to-please sunniness and wry sense of humor, Melanie is a genuine delight. Your heart immediately goes out to any kid strapped into a wheelchair on a daily basis and treated with such disgust as the soldiers do towards the hungries, but it's Melanie's intelligence and moxie that make her the kind of child you can build a film around.

The Girl With All the Gifts is directed by Colm McCarthy and damnit, it is a delight. I laughed. I jumped. And you know what else? I damn well cried. 

This is a joy.

High Points
There's a lot to admire throughout The Girl With All the Gifts, but its key strength is right there in its title. As Melanie, Nanua is incredibly charming and engaging. I can't remember the last time I rooted so hard for a character in a zombie flick.

Low Points
This is a movie that finds a way to make a cat's death charming. I have none.

Lessons Learned
Velcro is equally as impressive to zombie children of the future as it is and has been to a generation of living kids who couldn't tie their shoes

Don't play with anybody that looks dead

As Arrested Development should have taught us, always leave a note

Obviously, I adored this movie. It moves well, it has a winking sense of humor around its horror and a true affection for its characters. You can find it streaming on Amazon Prime. And you should. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Tiny Living, Big Killing

When future generations look back upon this time, I'm sure they'll find a lot of cultural choices to make them scratch their heads. Sure, electing a sociopath buffoon and enjoying entertainment scored with laugh tracks will undoubtedly make the cut, but let's not forget one of the stranger trends of the aughts: tiny houses.

Leave it to the Lifetime Network to make the first horror movie out of it.

Quick Plot: Samantha is a landscape artist happily married to Kyle, a builder who runs his business with best friend Mark. Their relationship becomes strained by a miscarriage and some fertility issues, leading Kyle to storm out the door and clear his head via the one thing he finds relaxing: coast climbing.

In a world where people drool over the cuteness of 300 square feet, coast climbing is apparently a common stress-relieving activity.

Kyle disappears, presumably down the coast that he was, you know, climbing. A mournful Samantha retreats to Kyle's last project, a tiny home development isolated deep in the mountains. Before long, Samantha senses sinister forces at play. Poisonous spiders show up in her bedroom, knives fly past her head to the magnetic space-saving pot holder gifted by her supportive sister, and a creepy baby doll shows up with an ominous message. 

The suspect list mounts in that very paranoid Lifetime way. Could it be the friendly, bearded hipster who lives down the mountain? Mark and/or his wife? Samantha's caring sister? Or, considering Samantha has dramatically thrown her depression medication away, are all of these seemingly hostile acts merely figments of her lonely imagination?

Tiny House of Terror is directed by TV veteran Paul Shapiro with all of the Instagram filtered lighting you need to make it feel of its time. Samantha is sympathetic enough for a millennial widow, and the film's mystery is rewardingly solved with a bonkers climax. 

Hight Points
I won't get into spoiler territory, but the reveal is pretty kooky in that ridiculous way that only Lifetime can deliver

Low Points
The film's treatment of anxiety and depression is, to put it mildly, a pile of crap

Lessons Learned
Surviving a series of life-threatening acts will do wonders for your fertility

A true sign of the times: never delete texts from your loved one. In an age where voicemail is on its way out, that last emoji-filled message might just be the closest you'll come to hearing your late partner's "voice" again

When a soul-crushing darkness overcomes you, it's probably not the best idea to toss out your anxiety pills 

Tiny House of Terror is probably airing on your local Lifetime or LMN network during the next Trendy Home Killer marathons. It's not particularly worth seeking out, but if it shows up on your TV screen, it's certainly not the worst way to kill 90 minutes of your time. The twist is rewardingly wacky, and some of the random spurts of horror have that just over-the-top enough feel to make this one stick.