Monday, July 21, 2014

For Meat Lovers Only

I can't remember what made me seek out the Netflix Very Long Wait disc of Frightmare, other than, perhaps, the fact that this somewhat hard to find film WAS a Very Long Wait on Netflix. 

We covet what is just out of reach.

Quick Plot: A black-and-white prologue introduces us to Dorothy and Edmund, a married couple so in love that he fakes insanity to share her asylum sentence after she's caught killing and eating people. 

And you thought your parents were crazy.

Some years later, Edmund's eldest daughter Jackie is a grown woman attempting to care for her half-sister Debbie, a wild 15-year-old who might have inherited her mother (and Jackie's stepmother)'s taste for human flesh. Across the countryside, Edmund and Dorothy have been released to spend their golden years in complete sanity and peace.


Poor put upon Jackie learns the hard way that blended families can be cruel. As her psychologist boyfriend investigates her past, Jackie begins to suspect--pretty rightly--that Dorothy might not have been quite as cured as the hospital administration seemed to think. Using her skills as a tarot card reader, Dorothy begins luring new meals into her secluded home. 

You have to give it to the old broad: you can never be wrong telling someone's fortune if you're pretty certain the reading will end with you eating them.

Directed by Peter Walker, Frightmare is a fun if minor little horror film. As the wickedly murderous clairvoyant carnivore, Sheila Keats makes quite a special villain. Her buggy eyes,  cackling voice, and extreme enthusiasm for, you know, eating people is the kind of thing that makes any movie a little more fun. 

Other than that, Frightmare is fairly uneventful. There’s a nicely timed ambiguous ending, a few good axings, and most notably, an old lady eating people. 

It is quite simple to please me.

High Points
I'm a sucker for any film with an aggressively discordant score, and for that, Frightmare suits me just fine

Low Points
Perhaps I've been watching too much Season 5 of Buffy as of late, but MAN does this 15-year-old brat get under my skin

Lessons Learned
Being in an asylum for 15 years MUST cure you

It takes two to tarot 

Orphanage, convent, it's really all the same

Frightmare isn't necessarily worth its 'Long Wait' status on Netflix, but it was a fun enough little watch that will easily entertain those who enjoy British horror with a sense of humor. If it's in the cards, check it out. Otherwise, Killer's Moon is still streaming...

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Splunkin' We Shall Go

Sanctum must have come out at a time when I went to movie theaters regularly, for I recall its theatrical trailer beat by beat. Oddly enough, none of that advertising clued me in to the fact that this James Cameron-produced 'adventure' story was more 'nature wants to kill you with slow pain' and less 'Avatar underground.'

Clearly studios have no idea how to get a gal like me into a cinema.

Quick Plot: Welcome to a giant hole located in scenic New Guinea, where a team of commercial explorers (or something) are cave diving to find a pathway to the ocean. Leading the wetsuit-wearing daredevils is Frank (played by Richard Roxburgh in a far cry from his villainous role in Moulin Rouge), a grizzly Aussie saddled with a fairly ungrateful teenage son Josh (Rhys Wakefield, the lead mask-wearing gentleman in The Purge).

When Josh fails to bring some much needed cargo down to the crew, Mother Nature decides to use it as a teaching moment and bring disaster and death to all. This comes in the form of a cyclone that yields torrential rain on those silly enough to be cave diving, primarily Josh, Frank, the cool yet dumbly named Crazy George, villainous financier Carl, and his beautiful yet dumbly dumb girlfriend Vic.

What follows is a sort of museum adaptation of The Descent, minus the monsters or interesting character dynamics. Despite what its lowly Rotten Tomatoes score might suggest, this isn't necessarily a terrible thing.

Directed by documentarian Alister Grierson, Sanctum was heavily marketed as a sort of adventurous action film from the people who brought you Avatar. This isn't entirely wrong, as it was apparently filmed using the same high-tech 3D camera equipment. James Cameron is listed as an executive producer and while his involvement isn't directly known, this does indeed feel as the kind of film he'd sit back on his golden couch and watch (I like to imagine said golden couch includes a unicorn-skin blanket and popcorn cooked in dodo bird oil).

Much of the grandeur is lost on the small screen, but that doesn't mean we're not still feeling a bit of a clog in our throat as characters negotiate shoddy breathing equipment fathoms below civilization. The script has little to offer in the way of good dialogue or character nuance, but I tend to forgive a movie that substitutes said ingredients for an unlikable character dying a horrible death via chain scalping in a cave.

Yes, I said scalping, and yes, that is essentially what happened. Something oddly ignored by the original American marketing for Sanctum was just how brutal a film it is. We're talking visibly broken bones, the bends, mercy killing (in multiples), and aforementioned scalping. The happiest moment involves bat poop, for goodness sakes!

High Points
Really this is a lesson, but it's one I preach so hard that I'm simply too happy to not highlight the fact that Sanctum teaches us--in a truly visual way--the important of a hair tie when cave diving for your life

Low Points
You know, when lines like "We go down here, even GOD won't know where we are!" are written with such enthusiasm and spoken with a mild amount of it, I suppose one could find fault

Lessons Learned
Panic is a vulture that sits on your shoulder (because why not?)

Trust the cave. I mean, it's trying to kill you in all sorts of horribly painful ways, but still,just trust it

As Frank's costar Nicole Kidman learned in Moulin Rouge, coughing up that tiny touch of blood can only end one way

Listen to the nice man with the cute accent and just put on the dead girl's wet suit already. Chicks, man. Amiright?

Now streaming on Instant Watch, Sanctum isn't a total waste of your time. Sure, the idea of an angry wilderness taking out insignificant humans has been done with more terror (The Descent) and poetry (The Grey) in recent years, but I found myself genuinely involved in the film's action. This isn't particularly good, but those of you who have sat through a 45 minute nature film in IMAX at your local nature museum only to wonder how it would go if the movie incorporated more bloodlust will certainly find some worth.

Monday, July 7, 2014

There Ain't No Hole In a Jug Face

A horror film set in the backwoods that DOESN'T involve pretty white tourists or a number after its title?

Count me in.

Quick Plot: Somewhere in the woods of southern America lives a clan of semi-civilized folks practicing a sort of He Who Walks Behind the Rows-esque faith. We learn most of the details in a hauntingly beautiful credits sequence that displays oil crayon drawings narrating the families' history.

Some time in the past, people were dying of smallpox. Naturally, the best solution anyone could find was to have one of its citizens craft moonshine jugs in a trance state. If and when the potter produced a jug that bore the face of someone in the community, it was deemed that The Pit--which is exactly what it sounds like, minus the sociopath teddy bear, trollogs, and obnoxious little boys--wanted said model's blood. Said model had his or her throat slit over The Pit, and smallpox was eradicated.

Traditions die hard, but they die harder than John McClane's attitude in the backwoods of Tennessee. In the present day, these, well, juggalos, of a sort, continue to live by the rules of The Pit, occasionally sacrificing one of their own when the current potter Dawai (played by The Woman's Sean Bridgers in a role that couldn't be further from his misogynist patriarch in that film) matches his creations to a resident. 

This is, as you might expect, a problem in a small interwoven community where there can only be so many jugfaces for so many jugs. Young Ada (played by another Woman refugee, the wonderful Lauren Ashley Carter) learns this the hard way when she discovers she's next for The Pit. Complicating matters is the fact that she's also been set to 'be joined' with the only male around her age who isn't related to her, and further by the fact that she's a few secret months pregnant with the baby of the only male around her age who IS related to her. 

Move over, Bella Swan: this chick has REAL problems. 

Running just over 80 minutes, debut filmmaker Chad Crawford Kinkle's Jug Face tells a tight story while creating a much bigger world. We don't get a detailed history of this community--they don't even a name, come to think of it--but Kinkle's skill at fleshing out their world without flourishing it is incredibly impressive. We don't NEED Ada's fascinating but silent grandfather to flash back to previous generations. Everything that matters exists in these characters' faces.

It's here where Kinkle demonstrates a lot of talent, not just in his storytelling efficiency but also in his casting. Carter has one of those faces that every director should love, with deeply expressive eyes that can convey layers of history without dialogue. Ada isn't necessarily a likable character; her choices lead to the death of several innocent characters, and she continues to make them even after she recognizes this. In another actress's hands, Jug Face would be a tough film to connect with. Sure, we're on Ada's side because who wants to have their throat slit over a bloody hole, but when you think of the greater good, should we be?

Jug Face was made after it won a screenplay contest, and it's easy to see why. In the realm of rote American horror, this is an original tale. The film has some weaknesses (primarily in the final execution of some of its more supernatural details) but overall, it succeeds at being engaging, disturbing, and most importantly, fresh. It's such a pleasure to be able to say that. 

High Points
It's always nice to see horror's fairy godfather Larry Fessenden onscreen, and he does not disappoint here. As Ada's father, Fessenden gets to create a fully rounded character in playing both a responsible community leader deeply devoted to his faith, and a genuinely caring dad charged with making some truly awful decisions

There's a jug band musical sequence that involves spoons and washboards, and it is fabulous

Low Points
So without spoiling anything, at some point in Jug Face, there's a ghost and it's just as cheesy as you really don't want it to be

Lessons Learned
No man will ever get to bear babies

Always know where the red paint is stored, particularly if an engagement is in your near future

The only thing worse than being jug faced by your friend, whipped by your dad, and impregnated and abandoned by your brother is having Sean Young for your mom

Jug Face isn't a great horror film, but it's so fresh in its premise and strong in creating its universe that I'm simply thrilled to recommend it. It also benefits tremendously from an outstanding cast that takes the film seriously, something you don't always find in the lower budget realm of horror. It's now on Instant Watch and well worth that quick 80 minute stream. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Load Up the Calamine Lotion

Poison Ivy is one of those much-referenced ‘90s sexy thrillers that I’m guessing less people have seen than used as a punchline. I do not tolerate such hijinks.

Quick Plot: Darlene Connor--er, Sylvia Cooper--is a lonely teenager making minor attempts to revolt against her wealthy, recovering alcoholic dad (Tom Skerritt and later, Tom Skerritt's butt) and beautiful but dying mother (Cheryl Ladd). To her surprise, the socially awkward Sylvia befriends the blond, beautiful, and rebellious new girl on a scholarship named (sorta) Ivy.

They each buy one half of a best friend necklace, help each other with their homework, and team up to win the big science fair competition.

Wait, that must have been the R-rated editions. Let me change the settings on this DVD.


While she begins with the lovable smile of Drew Barrymore, it only takes a month or so for Ivy to draw our her inner Crush-era Alicia Silverstone (pre-chewing up food and spitting it in her baby's mouth, naturally).

Directed by The Rage: Carrie 2's Katt Shea, Poison Ivy is certainly a film of its early '90s time period, most notably in its smoldering saxophone infused score. The film was fairly infamous and went on to spawn three sequels, all (as far as I can tell from quick synopses) with the same basic formula of a mystery hot chick befriending a wallflower and overtaking her life. We've seen it before and I can't imagine living in a world where we won't see it again.

That being said, I was surprised at how much fun I had with Poison Ivy. Barrymore, an actress I've always found to be likable but limited, manages some of her best work with Ivy, conveying a trashy sweetness in early scenes and carefully transitioning to her sexy inner sociopath. Sarah Gilbert was always the best thing on Roseanne (and considering the talents of Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman, that says a lot) so it's no surprise to see her nail a similarly alienated teen. 

Also, this film is SLEAZY. I'm talking "Tom Skerritt orally pleasing an underage Drew Barrymore on the bed that this dying wife is sleeping on" sleazy. Maybe I should have saved that bit for the--

High Points
I mean, this film has Tom Skerritt orally pleasing an underage Drew Barrymore on the bed that this dying wife is sleeping on. You can't say the film doesn't go for it

Low Points
It's not necessarily the film's fault that since its debut 22 years ago, Lifetime has produced dozens and dozens of movies with the exact same premise and beats

Lessons Learned
TMJ almost killed Burt Reynolds

You can’t put 200 people on the sidewalk just cause you don’t like an editorial

When in doubt, never forget the powers of a sexy saxophone score

Poison Ivy is a Long Wait on Netflix, leading me to believe it's out of print (oddly enough, the same goes for Shea's The Rage). While this isn't the kind of movie you need to start eBaying madly, I do certainly recommend a watch if it crosses your screen. Particularly if you’re in the mood for true and utter sleaze.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ladies & Gentlemen, The Face Blindness Movie

Faces In the Crowd required the work of four separate film studios.

Four separate studios who each have their own elaborately graphic designed logo.

Naturally, I expect greatness.

Quick Plot: Anna is your typical impossibly beautiful kindergarten teacher living with her handsome but dull boyfriend Bryce. After a regular girls' night out with a BFF that includes Lori Grimes (aka Sarah Wayne Callies, showing she can be way more fun than grating) sporting spectacularly weird red hair, Anna witnesses popular serial killer Tearjerk Jack (yes, it's a dumb name but that's just the beginning) finishing off his latest victim near a completely empty bridge. Just as she catches a glimpse of his mug, Anna tumbles off said empty bridge only to awaken in a hospital with face blindness.

There's some much longer medical term for it, but let's face it: this is the face blindness movie, just as Jack was the aging disease movie and Shame was the sex addiction movie.

We keep things real simple around here.

Face blindness, in case you didn't know, is an extremely rare condition in which the sufferer cannot remember faces once the people wearing them leave his or her sight of vision. This is exceptionally sad if you're Milla Jovovich and you cannot see just how impossibly beautiful a kindergarten teacher you are.

Also, it's incredibly inconvenient if you're a kindergarten teacher and can't tell your students apart.

It's even more inconvenient if you're the only witness to a brutal crime committed by a man man who just keeps a'killin'.

Enter the police force, represented here by two men because that's all police forces in big cities that might be New York if New York had a yellow 4 subway line and a dangerous amount of rollerbladers generally need. Detective Sam is played by Julian McMahon with a vital goatee and even more vital inconsistent not-British accent. The only other person of note in the entire police department is a psychologist who keeps appearing at chance moments and is, you know, totally not supposed to be the only character you suspect of actually being the real killer.


Did I mention that, for really no reason, there are A LOT of rollerbladers in this film?

Written and directed by Julien Magnat, Faces In the Crowd is supremely entertaining. As proven by her enthusiasm in the Resident Evil canon, Milla Jovovich is always the actress you should cast when you need some magnetism in a lousy script. She seems to be both trying to give a genuine performance but also conveying the understanding that yes, this is indeed a dreadful script. 

Lessons Learned
Contrary to popular opinion, no, it does not get tiring being a slut

Faces are the barcode of the human race

Everyone knows everyone on Koel Island

Never wait for backup in Not-New York City, unless you have at least a half hour to ward off a killer and die of a gunshot wound

Kindergarten teachers in Not-New York City prefer to use professional headshots for their Facebook profile pictures

The Winning Line
SPOILERs follow, so beware:

"I love you!"
"No, you don't. You'll find someone else." (cough cough, die)
Most passive aggressive final words ever? Even if they ARE delivered by a man who just made himself a makeshift goatee out of blood to break through his sorta girlfriend's face blindness (I'm so not kidding), that conversation is hilarious

Whew boy. Faces In the Crowd is not incompetent as a film. Jovovovich takes things seriously while still demonstrating a sense of humor in her performance, and the sleek urban (but seriously, not) landscape looks good on camera. Of course, it's everything from the adorably PG-rated hobo (they even call him a hobo!) to the soft focus sex scene that makes Faces In the Crowd such an unintentionally entertaining film. The script seems to be written by a middle school student who just finished reading her first mystery novel, and folks, that's not necessarily a bad thing.