Monday, September 30, 2013

Let's Get Physical

As some of you might know, about a year ago, I picked up this disgusting and highly improbable hobby called ‘jogging.’ It’s a strange, sometimes communal activity that can involve any of the following:

-Neon colored clothing made from materials possibly designed by NASA


-Goose poop hopscotch

-Excessive use of petroleum jelly

-Skunk dodging

-Gratefulness for the NYC Parks Department’s maintenance of water fountains

-Double stuffed Oreos

-Sweat from regions of the human body hereto unknown as sweat-producing

-A fanny pack

Why people will themselves to do this, I’m still figuring out even as I wake up at 5:30 in the morning to trot down to a park in full panting mode. In light of this new lifestyle of sorts, my dear friend and running pal Betsy and I have started a blog, Fitness With Some Fat.

As you can guess, it has little to do with genre movies (save for my constant need to point out that being able to kind of run might potentially help me come slasher spree or zombie outbreak) so I don’t necessarily expect it to have appeal to most of my readers. But if anyone has any interest in what keeps us motivated to jog, how to make vegetable pasta dishes, or is just dying to learn more about the true horror story that is a bowel movement on a long run, then I cordially invite you to head over and add or glean whatever wisdom might happen.

Some of it even involving Grover. 'Cause that's how we roll.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Boy Next Door

Allow me a hipster moment, if you will:

I liked her first.

Yes, I'm referring to Academy Award winner/box office champ/soundbite extraordinaire Jennifer Lawrence, whose talents I've been praising since a little indie called Winter's Bone got thrown into the discussion of films that should be, but never would be, nominated for an Oscar. Now everyone and their grandmother has something positive to say about the girl who would be Katniss Everdeen, allowing me a certain warranted measure of I Told You So henceforth.

Anyhoo, House At the End of the Street:

That's its roof. At the end of the street.

Quick Plot: After about 10 minutes of animated logos from different studios, we're introduced to a prologue wherein a young girl named Carrie-Anne slaughters her parents. Four years later, a very blond mother/daughter pair move in to a house at the other end of the street on which said murder took place, forever driving the property value down and making a lot of white suburbanites angry.

Elyssa (Lawrence) is a rocker teen with an attraction to project boys. With her long necklaces and raccoon eye shadow, Lawrence is like the strangely displaced niece of her 2012 best actress competition Jessica Chastain in Mama. Where the latter had to deal with two flaxen-haired feral children with an unhealthy attachment to a mysterious mother figure, Lawrence's Elyssa gets saddled with a single dreamy flaxen-haired loner harboring an unhealthy attachment to a mysterious sister figure.

Coincidence, or SOMETHING MORE?

Eh, probably the first one, especially since House At the End of the Street is way more fun to pair up with Sleepaway Camp than Mama. I'm not quite spoiling anything here, but trust me: director Mark Tonderai might have spent a few summers at Camp Arawak before finishing his film.

House At the End of the Street was ravaged by critics and horror fans when it debuted in the dreaded wasteland of January releases. Look, I'm not saying it's good--because seriously, it's not--but for whatever reason, I ended up having way more fun than I expected with it. Maybe it was the way Oscar winner Lawrence coyly delivered the line "I'll be right back" (yup, that happens) or how Elisabeth Shue rotates between cool mom, overprotective mom, and hot mess wino mom all within one awkward dinner party scene. By the time Gil Bellows sauntered into a dangerous situation with a foreshadowingly damaged flashlight, I simply couldn't be angry.

Theatrical horror is a constant source of controversy among the dedicated fanbase. Passionate moviegoers like to hurl guilt-loaded insults at people who pay money for dreck and bypass what they perceive to be quality. In theory, I understand this, but when this situation usually turns into "People paid to see Paranormal Activity 3 but didn't support Hatchet II. THEY'RE NOT REAL FANS!", I take offense.

Personally, I kind of hated Hatchet II, and definitely hated being told that I wasn't a true horror fan for not heading down to my AMC theater to show that I wanted more Unrated horror in the world. As I've said before, (in audio form even!), the horror genre will always exist in its true glory in the realm of home media. From the VHS days of the '80s to VOD of today, the modern cinematic audience does not need bucket seats stained with popcorn oil to appreciate or support a film. Let the teenagers spend their allowance on House At the End of the Street. Their decision does not mean I won't get the pleasure of cozying up with my cats to watch The House Of the Devil from the comfort of my own couch.

That was a minor tangent, but probably more thought-out than the plot of House At the End of the Street. 

High Points
I think the oddly timed reveal of the film's first big 'twist' was part of the attacks lodged at this movie, but I kind of liked how House At the End of the Street showed its hand earlier than expected. It threw me off, whether intended or unintended, and in the world of lazy theatrical PG-13 horror, any surprise is a good one

Low Points
During the big finale, there's a genuine shock in terms of a lead character being fatally injured. Then the movie remembers it's aimed at a mass market and 'fatally injured' turns into 'mild flesh wound'

Lessons Learned
Just cause someone's a wasted slut in high school doesn't mean her daughter will be too

Double murders are somewhat of a drag on the real estate market

There are probably easier ways to keep an older boy from dating your daughter than to invite said older boy over for what's supposed to be a pleasant dinner party then suck down an entire bottle of red wine and slobber into an awkward fight with your teen. Easier, but none as entertaining...

Look! It's...
Ally MacBeal's lost love/Goblin's earnest dad Gil Bellows in the role of the Dumbest Policeman Since Those Germans In The Human Centipede

Pet Peeve of the Week
As a test, I spent about 5 minutes this morning removing a knife from its holder to see if it was humanly (or Emily) possible to achieve that oh-so-iconic "SLICE!" sound. Guess what? KNIVES DON'T MAKE NOISE WHEN REMOVED FROM HOLDERS. If you could tell that to EVERY FILMMAKER EVER, I'd be very grateful

Well, I streamed House At the End of the Street on my way to and from work one day, and dangit, I couldn't help but be amused. This is NOT good. Really. It's PG-13 horror with a few sprinkles of 'What the F-Word Used Non-Sexually Since We're PG-13?" It reveals its twist before it even built doubt as to where it was going. And yet, I found myself far less angry than I was watching the more ambitious (in theory) Silent House and to an extent, the constantly shooting-itself-in-its-CGI-foot Mama. Don't watch it expecting anything of quality. But for a mindless 'really?' kind of viewing, one could do worse.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Pilgrim's Progress

Even a bad medieval-set action fantasy movie is probably going to more interesting than just ANY old bad action movie. 


Quick Plot: Meet Solomon Kane (the poor man's Hugh Jackman, James Purefoy), a saucy 17th century pirate who quickly changes his ways after an encounter with a demon that wants to steal his soul. Resolved to live a life of peace, Kane donates his plundered fortune, removes his hoop earring, and joins a monastery for one year until a spooked priest evicts him.

On the road, Solomon meets a friendly family of Pilgrims led by Kobayashi himself, Pete Postlehwaite  Together they pray and wax nostalgic about wartime life, but their Walton-esque future is threatened by a gang of demonically possessed black-eyed warriors who kidnap the prettiest Pilgrim (Peter Pan's Rachel Hurd-Wood) and slaughter most of the rest. Most importantly, they finally awaken the bloodthirst inside Kane, prompting him to slice and behead his way through forests in search of the Big Bad.

I first heard about Solomon Kane via a 2009 review by the great Gentleman's Guide to Midnite Cinema podcast following its North American debut at TIFF. For whatever reason, the film never received never received a theatrical release stateside. My interest in the material was based not on author Robert E. Howard's famous character, but for the fact that Michael J. Bassett was writing and directing.

Bassett has quickly become the kind of filmmaker I love. His prior efforts include the trench warfare-set ghost story Deathwatch, the survivalist action thriller Wilderness, and the 3D sequel Silent Hill: Revelation. The first two were made with little money but never showed financial strain in the final product. Personally, I found all three films to be flawed but far more enjoyable/effective than most of their competition.

Solomon Kane was, according to IMDB, made for $45 million, and though the final product is something of a mess, it also looks outstanding. Sure, we get the occasional pixels of CGI blood, but the landscape and set design never betray its budget. We're also treated to plenty of weird gore stuff, including crucifixion, mirror demons, wraith thingies, and head possession (makes sense when you see it). There's also plenty of hokey slow motion missteps, but I think that's automatically included in a fantasy action movie.

I guess what I'm saying is that I enjoyed Solomon Kane, even if I feel like I shouldn't have. It doesn't have the all-out bite of the far more fun and trashy Conan remake, but Pete Postlehwaite wore a Pilgrim hat, the villain looked like a chunkier version of Street Fighter 2's Vega.

Also, every time our hero touched his sword, something went "whoosh!"

Call me simple, but these things entertain me.

High Points
I love me a score that works overtime when needed

Low Points
Poor Solomon Kane. He might have been living with the guilt of his past sins, but his real problem in life was the fact that he had such awful ears in a world before hearing aide technology. As far as I can tell, that's the only way to explain why hordes of enemies could sneak up on him time and time again (and time and time, since I think I counted at least four) 

Lessons Learned
In the 17th century, nobody stood up to evil. Also in the 17th century, Christians used teeth whiteners while heathens brushed theirs with dirt and acid

If a creepy isolated preacher is eager to show you something, it’s probably not a stamp collection

The benefit of being evicted from a monastery is that the parting gifts include a pretty kickass Gandalf staff

Is Solomon Kane a good movie? Goodness no. The symbolism is heavy handed, the character relationships rushed, self-importance quite glaring, and dentistry, inconsistent. But does it involve a few beheadings, sword battles, and scenic cliffs? These things are all true, which is why I had some fun with a movie that you should probably wait to see on Instant Watch. The DVD does come loaded with special features for the more dedicated, with a commentary track, deleted scenes, making-of, and interviews with Hugh Ja--er, James Purefoy and the positively charming Bassett.

Monday, September 9, 2013

If a Tale From the Crypt Doesn't Have a Cryptkeeper, THEN WHAT IS IT?

PEOPLE! Are you aware that in 2001, Jennifer Grey, Craig Sheffer, and Tim 'Best Actor of All Things Ever' Curry starred in a Tales From the Crypt movie? A TALES FROM THE CRYPT MOVIE?

Now before you go a'swoonin, I have some bad, bad news.

This is not really a Tales From the Crypt movie.

But words don't lie! you shout with fervor, jabbing your pointing finger to the dreadklocked Cryptkeeper looking over the cover art's action. See? The movie is called Ritual and it's clearly Jamaican based and hence, THE CRYPTKEEPER HAS DREADLOCKS! Surely he'll open the film wearing a happy face t-shirt while making some inappropriate jokes about ganja and adding t's to all his words. I mean, THAT'S WHAT TALES FROM THE CRYPT MEANS.

Unless the year is 2001 and Miramax was scared off by Bordello of Blood's poor box office performance, thusly removing all references to the Cryptkeeper from  A TALES FROM THE CRYPT MOVIE.

Not that I'm bitter about that or anything...

Quick Plot: A gooey opening scene in Jamaica gives us an incredible melting character actor investigating the mysterious illness that befell his patient, rich land owner Wesley Claybourne. But then he melts.

And we still haven't had a Cryptkeeper pun.

Back in the U.S., Dr. Alice Dodgson (aka Nobody Puts Baby In the Corner With a New Nose) attempts to save a dying young patient with experimental medication, losing the kid's life and her medical license in the process. Jobless, she accepts the now vacant role of personal physical to the aforementioned Wesley on a sprawling Jamaican plantation as ratlike older brother Julian (Nightbreed's Craig Sheffer) looks on suspiciously.

Helping out is Caro, the Claybourne's sexy childhood friend, and Jennifer Grey's Left and Right Nipple, which should have at the very least earned their SAG card for the amount of work they have to do under a tight white camisole. You know what else works hard? Dream sequences. All 972 of them.

See, there's an art and craft to using the 'shock! scare! dead main character! oh, it's all a dream!' trick. When handled correctly, it's an outstanding little device that almost every basic horror movie requires. On the other hand, when about 40% of your film's running time is composed of said 'shock! scare! dead main character! oh, it's all a dream!' sequences, they lose their power rather quickly. This is especially evident when Nobody Puts Baby's Prominent Nipples In the Corner With a New Nose recaps her most recent nightmare with the line "I just had the most horrifyingly real dream of my life!" Just try to watch that scene and not respond "as opposed to the 12 other horrifyingly real dreams we've witnessed?"

That being said, Ritual isn't a terrible movie. Filmed on location in Jamaica, it looks gorgeous, and the actors are all more than adequate. Does it feel like a Tales From the Crypt episode? Somewhat. Greedy characters get their karmic slap, bodies get melted or zombified, breasts get displayed and jungles get trod upon.

But the puns? Ah, what I wouldn't do for a pun...

High Points
If nothing else, this movie includes copious doses of Tim Curry petting cats and making lecherous smiles at women. That in itself sort of puts this into the 10 range

Low Points
Aside from the obvious--THIS IS A TALES FROM THE CRYPT MOVIE WITH NO CRYPT--Ritual ends on the sourest, meanest, most unnecessarily misogynist note that in no way was warranted by its otherwise fine 100 minutes. I was absolutely disgusted by the final shot of this film. Now one could argue that it's the usual comeuppance doled out by any Crypt morality tale, but it's not really the case. Let's get into SPOILERY specifics:

So the villain is, in a worthy twist, revealed to be Caro. It's fine for her fate to be zombiehood, since she was planning on doing the same to her friends, but then Ritual decides to get playful by showing her as a zombie bride being lain on a bed by the film's OTHER still-living villain, a corrupt and cruel policeman whom she had previously insulted for being fat. So as punishment, she'll get to spend the rest of his life being raped. He, keep in mind, was as much of, if not MORE of a villain (WHO KILLED TIM CURRY DAMNIT) but you know, he's fine. I understand the idea of throwing in a final punch, but this one is so miscalculated that it almost ruined the otherwise unoffensive and slightly entertaining film on the whole.

Lessons Learned
Everyone in Jamaica carries machetes for work and protection

Voodoo is like disco, but with less poom poom

It is customary for hospitals to fire surgeons via snail mail

If naming a character Wesley, consider how the line "As you wish" might sound and whether you're looking for a Princess Bride reference in your voodoo zombie horror movie

Bonus Material
As I watched this on Netflix Instant, I was denied the apparently extra of the Cryptkeeper segment tagged onto the DVD. HOWEVER, IMDB has kindly provided the dialogue spoken by everyone's favorite ghoul on the quotations page for Ritual. Do yourself a favor and take a look. It's oozing with mons and is written phonetically. 

The Internet is a wonderful place.

Look! It's...
Everyone's favorite Pennsylvanian insurance salesman/Glee sex offender Stephen Tobolowsky in a small role as Alice's boss

If you're looking for some throwback Tales From the Crypt action, then Ritual really isn't it. That being said, those in the mood for some voodoo horror along the lines of The Serpent and the Rainbow or, as the credits claim as a basis, I Walked With a Zombie will find plenty to enjoy. The story and characters are better thought-out than a lot of other straight-past-your-cineplex offerings, and there's an added bonus of pretty people and pretty kickass practical effects. Plus, Tim Curry petting a cat while being smarmy. 

That's all this gal needs.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Craftettes

As a female who was 14 in 1996, I consider virtually every day of the year the right time to watch The Craft. Imagine my glee then to discover that way back when Fairuza Balk was pulling her hair and Robin Tunney was rocking a strawberry blond wig, a small studio financed a quickie Catholic schoolgirls-turn-to-Satan movie starring Clea DuVall and Jennifer Rubin as a nun in a fanny pack.


Quick Plot: After a black mass-y prologue, we’re sent to the present (or really 1990s version of it) where a girls' Catholic school is about to relax for Easter break. A gaggle of students stay behind due to the typically Harry Potter-esque reasons of being orphans, having rich parents that don’t want them around, or trying to avoid abusive dads that have birthed a very dangerous habit of masturbating during confessional.

Said girl with the habit of touching herself during Lord's Prayers is Jamie, played with full panache by an often naked Sheeri Rappaport. As you might guess, it’s Jamie, the girl who performs a topless striptease in front of her window to an audience of uniformly attractive construction workers who ends up falling hardest for Lucifer’s charms. If you’d like, we can henceforth refer to this character as Fairuza Two.

Rooming with Fairuza Two is a goody two-shoes Stanford hopeful named Faith (or Robin Tunney Two Point Oh, if you’d prefer) who has the handy skill of reading fluent Latin and the inconvenient drawback of being a fairly terrible actress, at least during the apparent two-week shoot time of Little Witches. Like me, actress Mimi Rose speaks too loudly, which, as you might expect, IS QUITE ANNOYING (now I know how everyone I converse with feels; sorry guys). She’s also taxed with the dullest role and paired with a hunky (at first) virginal (see?) love interest whose delivery of dialogue rivals Siri on Valium. 

Once Fairuza Two and the remaining students discover a book of spells in a hidden lair, the girls spend some montages preparing to summon Satan or gain knowledge or do something that involves naughtiness. The details are fuzzy, but you can count on a few naked teenagers, some deep demon voiceovers, and a not-that-epic-at-all showdown between the screechy Faith and funtime Jamie.

Directed by Jane Simpson, Little Witches is not a particularly good movie, but if IMDB's 2-week product claim is correct, then it certainly could have been worse. There’s plenty of muted sleaze to keep things somewhat interesting, plus bonus supporting turns by a few genre gems. It doesn’t have a toilet bowl full of snakes on the OTHER witchy thriller of 1996, but it’s nice to know there’s another one.

High Points
Rappaport really does do her damnest to keep her scenes alive. When she’s paired with capable costars (including an always welcome Clea DuVall), Little Witches can appear to be a decent movie. When she’s paired with, well, Mimi Rose, at least she keeps things interesting

Low Points
The presence of the late, great Zelda Rubinstein is always welcome. The waste of her time is not.

Lessons Learned
The trick to fishing is to say three Hail Marys before throwing the line in the water

The trick to not being killed by a demon is to enact stricter supervision over troubled teenagers

The trick to surviving a Good Friday black mass is to shove a Eucharist down the chanters’ throats with all the fervor of Kristy Swanson at the finale of Flowers In the Attic


Hey, for a 90 minute instant watch, Little Witches offers some goofy 90s charm. It doesn’t quite have the nerve to revel in its sleaziness, but there’s still enough to go around, especially if you put it next to the far less fun 5ive Girls. Those who enjoy this decade’s horror output will chuckle at some of the nostalgia, although looking at Little Witches now, it’s hard not to think of it as a pre-Asylum adaptation of the funner, more expensive The Craft. Then again, a cheap quickie version of The Craft costarring Clea DuVall and, in case I haven’t mentioned it, Jennifer Rubin as a nun with a fanny pack is kind of something special, wouldn’t you say?