Monday, May 26, 2014


As the daughter of a woman so tortured in Catholic school that she’s been flinching at rulers for several decades, it’s surprising to realize just how little I know about nunsploitation.

Thankfully, Netflix Instant remains the best teacher a gal can have.

Quick Plot: Welcome to the Spanish Inquisition, that glorious period of history where a little accusation was all you needed to prevent your daughter from marrying the strapping son of your long-term rival. Of course, you also have to send said daughter to a miserable nunnery where she’ll be saphically molested and Christian-ly tortured, but that was just the style at the time.

Separated by abbey vows and pope declarations, the young Esteban and Lucita try their darndest to make it work with the ambiguous help of a frazzled verger and stoic mother superior. Mixed in are mysterious stabbings, dashing swordplay, and your standard fill of bare nun breasts.

Despite its title and copious Christian boobage, The SInful Nuns of St. Valentine is a far tamer and disciplined film than you might expect. Yes, we have a few naughty nuns and tastes of medieval stretching, but director Sergio Grieco (he of the original The Inglorious Bastards) keeps everything quite grounded. There’s a simple Romeo & Juliet-ish premise with a few colorful villains tossed in the lovers’ way. 

Plus, nun boobs. 

The culmination of all comes with a fairly nifty and disturbing climax, as the titular ladies are sealed up in their stark, poorly stocked abbey to die of starvation, suffocation, and slapping. It’s certainly the scene that makes The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine memorable, and thankfully, the film actually gives it enough support to make it work.

High Points
Between the assertively weird musical score and the classic European filming locations, The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine has the feel of something crafted to be genuinely beautiful

Low Points
It’s just kind of a shame that the sound quality is only slightly better than my own podcast

Lessons Learned
It’s proper etiquette to sheathe one’s sword before surrender

You can’t say mass with vinegar!

This leads me to think that one should say mass with honey

Starving nuns going mad will do some sinful things, but vegetarians need not fear: cannibalism is always the absolute last thing on their list of survival tactics

As a 90 minute Netflix stream, The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine is a refreshing switch from 90% of Instant Watch post-2010 genre offerings. The film isn’t nearly as trashy as some of its ‘70s peers, but there’s a nice balance between quality and sleaze to keep weirdos like me thoroughly entertained. Good times if your standards are strange!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Farther Into the Further

As I mentioned a few months back in my review of The Conjuring, I will always root for James Wan. 

Even if he continues to deny me gratuitous shots of Patrick Wilson’s rear. 

Quick Plot: When we last left the Lamberts, astral projectionist Dalton was safely returned to the realm of the living, but dad Josh might have brought back something ominous and aimed it squarely at Lin Shaye's psychic investigator Elise. Before picking up at that fateful night, Chapter 2 takes us back to 1986 when an adolescent Josh was first learning how to forget his supernatural talents.

Let's just get this out of the way: the scariest thing about the occasionally scary, occasionally silly sequel is in how it shares something in common with A League of Their Own.




Look, I understand that both Lin Shaye and Geena Davis have very distinctive voices. Asking a young (or old) lookalike to capture that timber ain't easy, so dubbing over replacement actress's voice makes sense. 

It's just also really freaky.

Anyway, the flashback just reminds us that Josh Lambert has some astral talents, although the Josh Lambert we see now might actually be possessed by Parker Crane, a troubled serial killer who met young Josh when his doctor mom (Barbara Hershey in the present, House of the Devil's Jocelin Donahue thankfully not dubbed by Barbara Hershey in flashback form) took him to the hospital where Crane committed suicide. Or maybe it's Crane's even more deranged mother, the kind of Sleepaway Camp-esque harpie who never met a makeup cake she didn't love.

Still with me?

With the full Insidious team returning, Chapter 2 is a genuine continuation of the story first begun in 2010. That installment proved quite fruitful at the box office making it something of a no-brainer to slap on a sequel. Thankfully, Wan and screenwriter/actor Leigh Whannell put some effort in expanding the story, rather than, as so may horror followups are want to do, simply repeating the formula beat for beat.

I will never forgive you, Home Alone 2: Lost In Let’s Just Substitute Every Detail People Loved About Our FIrst Film With Something Similar And Waste The Talents of Tim Curry.

Yes, we still have Kali’s baby monitor providing ambient scares, old houses opening creaking doors without help, and controversial comic relief in the form of Whannell and Angus Sampson’s ghostbusting team. The trademarks continue, but the story has a new direction to take in going both forward and back. 

Does it work? That question will probably most depend upon where you fell on Insidious. For me, I found it refreshing in how Wan managed to avoid so many genre cliches (i.e., characters turning on lights when entering dark rooms and moving out of houses that are clearly haunted) and genuinely unnerving in its first hour of unique jump scares. Its surreal ending didn’t work for me, but I could still appreciate the overall product as solid entertainment.

Chapter 2 has the same tone as its predecessor but works quite hard to develop the ghosts that have been hunting the Lambert males with typical Wan creepy clues. Eerie dolls show up in abandoned hospitals, a grand piano mysteriously plays a haunting tune, and a bitter Bette Davis channeling ghost screeches at anyone with the nerve to investigate her otherworldly crimes. This all reveals something of a Psycho-inspired serial killer backstory that feels a little too complicated for the fairly simple ghost story it’s supporting.

Once it establishes its premise, the film cuts between Renai (the very worried Rose Byrne)’s attempts to protect her children, Josh’s creepy is-he-or-isn’t-he-possessed mystery, Barbara Hershey & the ghosthunters (band name pending) investigating the past, and flashbacks (or maybe ‘furtherbacks’) to Josh’s initial meetings with Parker and his mommy dearest. It’s a lot, and as a result, the Parker stuff doesn’t have enough time to register much. Considering it’s ultimately the device meant to fuel the scare-factor of the end, it’s a minor shame. 

High Points
Joseph Bishara, who also did the music for Insidious and The Conjuring, really makes his score count. The screaming violins are used in a unique and extremely eerie way that manages to feel fresh despite being, you know, the jump scare accompaniment to a ghost story

Low Points
Aforementioned lack of focus in the Parker Crane backstory

Aforementioned lack of Patrick Wilson’s hiney

Lessons Learned
Abandoned hospitals keep impeccable hard copies of their records

Likewise, baby dolls made in the '80s have remarkable power supplies

The living version of someone is always better

Rhode Island Reds are the manliest of dollhouses

Insidious: Chapter 2 is a true continuation of the first film's story, which is somewhat refreshing in comparison to other sequels that simply repeat their predecessors' formulas without exploring anything new. That being said, it doesn't feel quite as sharp or disciplined as The Conjuring, though some of the scares might still register the desired effect if watched in a dark and quiet room. Fans of the first film might find some enjoyment in this installment, but it’s ultimately fairly unnecessary and unremarkable. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Cowboys & Zombie Thingies

In the realm of straight-to-Netflix-Instant horror, we find a lot of repeated patterns. Pretty young people traveling to a supernaturally haunted location. Saw ripoffs with single three-letter word titles. 

We’ve seen a lot.

It’s why any time a movie with an uncommon setting or preference will catch my attention. In today’s case, that means a horror western starring Wesley Snipes (in between IRS hearings) as a gunfighter forced to battle the rising undead whom he has already killed.

Yeah, I’m in.

Quick Plot: Aman (Snipes) is a whispery badass in fringe who issues some serious vigilante justice to baddies. The problem, as so many of us experience in our daily lives, is that every time Aman puts a rapist or murderer down, the body eventually comes right back up. Such creatures, as you might guess, are known as ‘gallowwalkers.’

Yes, it’s one word, and yes, SpellCheck is having a major freakout about it.

Thankfully, Aman befriends the amazingly named Fabulos. There’s nothing that amazing about Fabulos aside from his fabulo(u)s name, but having a handsome sidekick provides Aman a sounding board for exposition. Here’s the scoop:

A pregnant prostitute found herself in a nunnery that happened to be located in a gateway to hell (or to the Sunnydale smart, a hellmouth). There, she gave birth to a son who was then sent away to wander the world until he befriended a slaughterhouse owner who raised him beside her daughter, whom he eventually fell in love with. One day, the man (I’m sorry: Aman) left his lover alone for a few hours and came back to find her gang raped and impregnated by a band of nogoodniks. Aman left her to seek vengeance, during which time she had a blond dreaded hair son and died. Meanwhile, Aman found the villains and killed them (including the leader’s loyal hooker), only to quickly discover that his place of birth now causes any man who dies at his hand to come back.

That sounds vaguely interesting, right? We’ve got hell-guarding nuns, slaughterhouse mamas, black hats, hookers with hearts of gold, hookers being shot in the heart, and zombie bad guys. THIS SHOULD BE AWESOME.

It could be, if aforementioned sequence wasn’t narrated by Snipes with less tone variance than Brad Pitt’s entire performance in Interview With a Vampire. Still, we stick with Gallowwalkers because, you know, horror western.

Honestly, a lot of it is. This is the kind of film that has, for no real reason, a beautiful Old West prostitute being kept around by the big bad villain because her skin texture will be perfect to garb the resurrected corpse of his beloved son. For goodness sakes, said beautiful prostitute is called a “painted cat” and later kills a priest with the line “forgive me father, for I have skinned.” There is very little reason why Gallowwalkers isn’t the greatest film since 7 Mummies.

Nah, I kid. VERY FEW THINGS come close to the glorious ridiculousness of Seven Mummies. Directed by the fabulo(u)sly named Andrew Goth, Gallowwalkers is a far better film than the one that involved stock footage tarantulas and kung fu flying mummies dressed like jawas. Henner Hofmann’s cinematography is genuinely gorgeous, and some of the design choices (particularly in the villains’ bag/bucket/alien twizzle headed garb) offer a surprisingly surreal touch. I say, without irony, that Gallowwalkers has some chops.

It’s also a little silly. From the Village of the Damned-styled villagers to the never-effective use of the big bad demon voice, some viewers will find a lot to chuckle at in this film. Snipes was right in the middle of his IRS criminal proceedings, and perhaps the real-world stress of that contributed something to his bizarrely listless performance.

Gallowwalkers is not, by any means, of high quality in conventional terms, but it tries to offer something new. In the world of modern horror, that’s always welcome.

Also, there are A LOT of beheadings. Beautiful, ridiculous, hilarious beheadings.

High Points
Filmed in Namibia, the setting of Gallowwalkers is positively stunning. It’s always nice to see a genre movie embrace sunlight, and while it doesn’t always flatter the CGI head explosions, the bright pallet is genuinely refreshing

Low Points
While I appreciate any film that tries to include a strong female character or two, Angel (that’s the ‘nice’ hooker) is ultimately such a wasted opportunity

Wesley Snipes is a good action star. Wesley Snipes is not a good narrator

Lessons Learned
Wearing a hat in the rain is a good idea

Trouble with the damned is they never stay put

Makeup in the Old West held up amazingly well to the elements

One just can’t go wrong with a white shirt (particularly if you one has no skin)

Skullbuckets present quite a few challenges to peripheral vision, even if you’re Diamond Dallas Page

Hey, for a 90 minute stream on Instant Watch, Gallowwalkers has a lot more to offer than most of its competition. No, it’s not a ‘good’ film per say, but it’s visually quite striking and in terms of its story, there are a lot of fresh choices. Know what you’re getting, then, when the mood strikes you, go get it.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Eat Me (says the ecstasy)

There has, and probably always will be, an eagerness for film fans to declare that there are no good horror movies being made in the present day. Horror is dead! grumpy bloggers cry, waving their fists in defeat and citing theatrical releases as their evidence of doom. 

Man do I hate cynical horror fans.

There is, in my annoyingly sunny opinion, never a bad time for cinema. There is, quite often, a bad time for mainstream cinema heading marquees, but anyone relying on theatrical releases in this day and age--particularly when it comes to horror--is denying themselves access to some truly fantastic and unique independent filmmaking. 

Courtesy of Bloody Disgusting Releases (a label with a patchy but sometimes positive track record), Alyce Kills is yet another example of how if you dig a tiny bit (or just scroll through Netflix Instant long enough), you'll find something worthwhile.

Quick Plot: Alyce is a sullen twentysomething barely making rent by fudging numbers at a hedge fund company for a supervisor who hates her (and happens to be the badass star of Once Were Warriors, Rena Owen). The only real happiness she seems to have in life comes courtesy of her best friend Carroll (Hatchet's first Marybeth, Tamara Feldman), a sexy free spirit drama queen who once pushed Alyce away when she felt her pal was getting a tad too Single White Female for comfort. 

Now reunited but not without their history, Alyce and Caroll embark on a night of drinking ruined by Carroll's discovery that her boyfriend has been cheating on her. To soften the blow, the gals do the sensible thing: see a skeevy drug dealer, take some ecstasy, and bring a bottle of champagne on Alyce's apartment building roof. 

What can possibly go wrong?

When a drunken Carroll makes a pointed jab at Alyce's obsession, things get very, very messy.


Miraculously, Carroll survives her fall only to be bedridden with a mangled face and irreplaceable jaw. Alyce has it worse.

Guilt-ridden and unable to cope, Alyce begins a downward spiral down the rabbit hole, enjoying the wonderland offerings of horny but well-educated drug pushers, awkward funeral actions, unfulfilling sex, and a whole lot of unrestrained violence.

Written and directed by Jay Lee, Alyce Kills follows an interesting pace all of its own. Lee gives us long conversations between Alyce and Carroll to open the film, nearly lulling us into the rhythms of modern mumblecore on a whole lot of booze. Once Carroll takes a tumble, the tone rather drastically changes as Alyce becomes increasingly unstable. It keeps us on our toes as viewers, particularly when we go from quiet hauntings to all-out beheadings.

In the titular role, Jade Dornfeld has the challenging task of carrying the film on petite and very conflicted shoulders. Much like Najarra Townsend's in the recent Contracted, we never REALLY get to know Alyce. We see bits of her in a cold, empty daily life and see how quickly it all falls apart, but it's hard to truly know what's going inside her troubled head. Thankfully, Dornfeld is engaging and intriguing in her performance. Rather than get us on Alyce's side, she seems to keep the character just out of our reach. It works.

Alyce Kills is an uneven movie, but that's part of its charm. I never quite knew what to expect, and in an era where movie fans continuously complain about the lack of originality, that's as big a compliment as one can give.

High Points
Alyce Kills is a weirdly funny film, one that kind of drags you down a completely different tone than what you started with. So long as you're along for the ride, you might find yourself laughing out loud, and that's a good (or maybe, sick) thing

Low Points
I suppose some viewers will take issue with Alyce being a rather unlikable character, but her mousy neediness and cowardice is ultimately what makes her so interesting to watch

Lessons Learned
Intensive care patients are woefully undersupervised in urban hospitals

Just because your drug dealer throws out terms like pre-war German expressionism does not mean he's a standup gentleman

No matter how smart it seems in the moment, hanging out on the roof of a high building is not, contrary to popular belief, the best idea you've had while high on ecstasy 

Alyce Kills will probably polarize a lot of viewers, which is the kind of statement that makes a film fan like me jump to add it to my Instant Queue. The film has a unique tone that won't work for everyone, but those looking for something new in horror might be quite pleased with what they find. Once again, I'm just happy to discover another fairly new filmmaker giving us a fresh look at the genre. Cheers to all.