Monday, May 25, 2015

The One & Only Goes Berserk

Boy do I love this woman.

Look, I know that Joan Crawford was probably not the best human being to ever sashay across this planet. But while her reputation may have been irrevocably damaged by wire hangers and rose gardens, one can’t deny that the woman commanded the kind of screen presence that makes you want to pick up a cigarette, pour some scotch on those rocks, take a sip, lean back, and say, “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

Then you quickly eat some cake and brush your teeth because cigarettes and scotch are horrible things.

Quick Plot: Monica Rivers is the ringmaster and co-owner of a struggling circus because cinema has never known a circus that wasn’t struggling. One night, her popular tightrope walker meets a rather unfortunate and grisly fate, toppling to his death as onlookers chow down on peanuts and cigarettes (ah, the ‘60s). 

The good news is that a circus that puts out a good accident/possible homicide experiences a huge boost in ticket sales. Business, you see, never changes.

It doesn’t take long for The Great Rivers Circus to double down with murder, this time taking down Monica’s stuffy co-owner. The culprit remains a mystery, but a solid batch of suspects are introduced. Among them:

Frank Hawkins, a young tightrope performer who shows up just after the initial death to show off his skills. Also, this twentysomething hunk pretty immediately puts his moves on the sixtysomething Monica because, duh, she’s Joan F*cking Crawford

Matilda, the bitter blond magician’s assistant who seems a little too eager to shine suspicion on her employer

Bruno, the loyal dwarf who seems to resent anyone that disagrees with the fabulous Monica

Angela, Monica’s daughter recently expelled from a posh private school (yes, the Mommie Dearest similarities are not unimportant)

Plus a whole gaggle of bearded ladies, strong men, clowns, lion wranglers, and other circus folk, sometimes singing straight at the camera with a loyal tuba backup.

Much like Strait-Jacket, Berserk! plays out like a mystery peppered with camp. In this case, said camp comes courtesy of some pretty glorious fixings. We’re talking showgirls in jumpsuits being stepped over by a giant elephant! 

A tightrope walker in tight silver pants wearing a bag over his head as he passes over a row of bayonets. 

Gloriously tight silver pants

A poodle parade led by a star! 

Best of all, 61 years young Joan Crawford effortlessly casting a spell on her much younger paramour (and the film never mentioning their age difference). 

The final reveal--which I won’t spoil--gets even juicier, even if it feels more than a little ridiculous. That’s a good thing, especially considering director Jim O’Connolly would later NOT do a good thing by making a horribly boring movie about Joan Crawford bonding with a Bigfoot-ish thing.

Thankfully, Berserk! is no Trog. I don’t know that the world could survive another Trog.

Instead, Berserk! is just FUN. Poodle parade fun! Sawing a woman in half in front of children fun! Well-timed lightning saving the day fun! The appeal is simply limitless. 

High Points
It’s not just that Joan Crawford is a screen goddess. It’s that she clearly cared about Berserk!, as silly as it may be. Not only did Crawford provide her own (fabulous) wardrobe, she also gives a committed, cheeky performance in a film that’s a fairly far cry from Mildred Pierce

Low Points
Boy is that some well-timed lightning!

Lessons Learned
A circus isn't a charm school!

Lions are quite sensitive


The French Revolution could have been avoided if Louis XVI partied like Joan Crawford

The Winning Line
“She’s attractive. In a common sort of way.”

Could anyone say this with the same punch as Miss C?

Berserk! is no Baby Jane, but boy is it a good time. Fans of the circus will get to see circus tricks! 

Fans of fit men in tight silver pants get to watch a fit man walk a tightrope in tight silver pants! 
(Really tight)

Fans of Joan Crawford get to see her sexy gams!

Everybody wins. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Worth a Swim

When it comes to horror, I live for the moment.

Or not. I dunno. My point is that over the last few years of being an active participant in the online horror movie discussion community, I've grown so tired of hearing diehard genre fans moan and grumble about how the modern state of horror cinema. Every month I discover hidden gems on Netflix. In an age where access to new movies is nearly unlimited, I'll admit that there are plenty of clunkers hogging queue space, but mixed in between are your Dead Withins and Jug Faceand a whole host of direct-to-whatever-format-that-isn't-a-movie-theater treasures lurking about. Sure, they pretty much all have the same generic cover art, but poke around just a tad (be it on IMDB resumes or your favorite blogs' reviews) and I promise you that you will find movies to satisfy your grumpy mood.

That's how I came to 2014's quietly released The Canal. Facebook group friends and fellow bloggers had been heavily endorsing it, so a Netflix DVD later, I live to share.

Quick Plot: David is a film archivist happily married to the beautiful career woman Alice. 

Or so he thinks.

It’s obvious (to us, anyway) that Alice is having an affair, a revelation poorly timed with David’s discovery that their historical home (shared with their adorable 4 year old son Billy) has hosted several grisly murders. Before you can figure out if that’s a ghost or camera spot, Alice turns up dead in the titular nearby canal.

Naturally, David is the prime suspect even after it’s ruled that Alice’s death was an accident. As he continues his own investigation into his house’s haunted history, David begins to see possible apparitions or demons determined to repeat past crimes. In the process, he also appears to be going completely insane, at least in the eyes of his nanny and coworkers. 

Written and directed by Ivan Kavanagh, The Canal has been slowly garnering some quiet but dedicated praise from the horror community. Perhaps that raised my expectations a little too high as I appreciated The Canal, but was far from wowed by it. 

The story itself is hardly new, though the performances are particularly strong. We can’t quite get on David’s side with some of his decisions, but Rupert Evans imbues him with enough heart that he certainly has our sympathies. Perhaps more importantly, Calum Heath’s Billy is so adorably natural and adorable that we REALLY want the best for this broken family. When David watches a horrific shape stalk his son via Skype, we’re as scared as he is.

That being said, The Canal was sort of hit-and-miss for me. The pacing is inconsistent in a way that left me bored for far too long, but grabbed me when it amped the tension up to 11. It's not a groundbreaking tale, but with the lights off, I can easily see The Canal successfully creep into its audience. It has such a central heart to it that we genuinely fear how bad things may go down. While it didn't grab hold of me the way I was hoping, I was fully invested. That makes a huge difference.

High Points
No spoilers, but let me just say that just as you think the story has closed out on a somewhat typical note, there's one major gut punch in its final ending

Low Points
I wanted to be under the spell of this film, but that just didn't happen

Lessons Learned
Horrible things happen in every old house

The stegosaurus is easily the best dinosaur

Nothing says crazy more efficiently than a bulletin board filled with newspaper clippings

In the realm of 2015 horror offerings, The Canal is good. It's well-acted, well-shot, and occasionally quite scary. I found myself a tad underwhelmed, in part because I'd heard such great things from fellow genre movie fans. Perhaps my expectations were just a tad too high. That aside, this is well worth your attention. Viva la 21st century.

Monday, May 11, 2015

I Will Remember You

Sometimes I’m really grateful to have been a fat child.

Though I was never bullied (this despite being chubby, a nerd, in band, theater, AND the badminton team) there were also a lot of factors that thankfully excluded me from the A-crowd. 

Shocking, I know
If horror movies about popular kids tormenting the uncool have taught me anything, it’s that the uncool will eventually be reincarnated as an evil and incredibly powerful spirit bent on delivering horrible horrible vengeance to all that took part or witnessed said acts of torment.

Yeah, it’s good to be a geek.

Quick Plot: Sandy is the pretty and popular high school president happily celebrating her graduation with valedictorian brother Eli, quarterback boyfriend Jake, and a small bunch of generically attractive young actors whose names I couldn’t possibly be asked to remember.

I’m guessing something like Parker, Hunter, Tyler, Buffy, Oober, and Eyefoan.

Anyway, Sandy + the Holograms decide to celebrate their newfound adulthood the way you do, by playing their version of drunken freeze tag in a creepy cemetery. No one thinks it too odd when a random generically attractive young woman shows up (in the middle of a creepy cemetery) to join in the fun. Things change when the game ends and the creepy random generically attractive young woman hanging out in a cemetery asks Sandy if she remembers her. Sandy doesn’t, so CRGAYW gives a gentle smile and leaps away into what should be certain death, providing you’re not in a horror movie.

There’s no sign of a body, so the kids continue their fun the next day with a trip to the beach. Well, some do. Before you can figure out how to use a selfie stick (or whatever kids these days do with their free time), they start getting knocked off by an angry ghost bearing a more than a slight resemblance to the CRGAYW.

Been there, done that, most horror fans would say at this point. Forget Me Not, however, has a few little tricks up its sleeve. As Sandy’s friends die, their entire existence seems to disappear to everyone except Sandy. Naturally, this leads everyone to question the once-perfect blond’s sanity, as she begins to piece together the cause.

Cue the expected flashback to Sandy & Co. making a fool out of a young epileptic orphan named Angela. This being a horror movie, the prank leads to a coma, which leads to a ghosting, which leads to a whole lot of creative killing and frantic Ten Little Indians-esque countdowns.

Directed by newcomer Tyler Oliver (with a script credited to Oliver and Jamieson Stern), Forget Me Not calls to mind the recent Mine Games in combining the expected tenets of a pretty-people-in-peril slasher with some new twists. It works well, if not spectacularly. There are a few too many generically attractive characters at the start so that as they start dying off and only Sandy could recall their names, I identified more with her blank friends in wondering who the heck TJ and JT and Samsung Galaxy actually were. My first note at the start of the film was “five minutes in and I already hate everyone.” That’s never good.

Thankfully, the setup of Forget Me Not eventually brought me into Sandy’s sad loop so that as the numbers dwindled, I genuinely did feel sad at the thought of her losing not just her friends’ lies, but their very existence. There really is a tragedy in that, and Forget Me Not makes the most of it in showing how each life’s erasing would have such a deep impact on Sandy. It takes a little too long to find its heart, but when Forget Me Not does, it finds the right weight to be a little more than a typical dead teenager flick.

High Points
A CGI ghost is a CGI ghost, but Forget Me Not manages to give them some new twists with a pretty cool design and some eerie jerking movements

Low Points
So which one was Ashley and which one was Mary Kate and which one was Pantene?

Lessons Learned
You know you’re watching a movie starring millenials when the opening credits include the following first names: Courteny, Bella, Chloe, Brittany, and Brie. No offense to anyone who bears such a moniker, but I have a hard time imagining any of these names proceeded by ‘grandma’

As everyone probably already knows, duct tape is the most handy material in this world, but what they probably don’t know is that it’s equally useful in the ghost dimension

With every impossibly empty horror movie hospital comes the impossibly unlocked hospital rooftop

Sex with a stranger is worth a lot of margarita mix and Wonder Bread

Forget Me Not isn’t anything overly special, but it’s a well-made little supernatural slasher that manages to bring some new energy to the genre. Those looking for a breezy Instant Watch horror filled with pretty faces and some rather brutal violence shouldn’t be too disappointed.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Part Of Your World

"It takes a lot of money to look this cheap." -- The Goddess Known As Dolly Parton

"It takes a lot of production companies to make a movie that feels rather cheap." -- The Woman Who Can Do Nothing But Worship At the High Heels of Dolly Parton Known As Me

Quick Plot: A young couple who speak English through Serbian accents are about to enjoy a sexy night of skinny dipping when a siren song lures the male into the water and a man who knows what you did last summer hooks the lass. 

Moving on, a pair of "Americans" named Kelly and Lucy travel to Montenegro for some relaxing with Lucy's ex-boyfriend. That makes about as much sense as taking an exotic beach vacation when you're terrified of water, but both things do indeed happen, so we accept reality as it is presented and enjoy the sun.

Alex, Lucy's ex, brings his new fiancee Yasmin to the group. They're soon joined by Bobby ("just like DiNero!") and make the obvious decision to spend a day exploring an abandoned prison island, despite the warnings of local mysterious stranger Franco Nero.

Admittedly, I would be THRILLED to spend my vacation exploring an abandoned prison island. The last time I saw Franco Nero warn anybody about anything, it resulted in death by figure skating and Shelley Winters singing Shortening Bread in The Visitor, so really, that's just a plus.

As one might imagine in a film called Killer Mermaid, our quintet of pretty people are eventually hunted down by, well, a killer mermaid's fisherman minion. Killer mermaids have them, see.

Please note a key word in the above paragraph: eventually. It is vital to your viewing of Killer Mermaid for, you see, this movie takes its time. Before we get to a CGI Ariel devouring her prey, we must first deal with Kelly's devotion to her journalism job and fear of water following her brother's drowning, Lucy's pining for her ex, her ex's rather easy affair with Lucy, Yasmin dealing with it all by drinking to the point of puke, and an incredibly uncomfortable dance party that made me question the existence of the human soul.

But then, you see, there is a killer mermaid.

Originally titled Nymph, this is a film whose title and poster definitely lead one to expect a goofier tale. Killer Mermaid is neither incompetent nor scary, putting it square in a rather mediocre camp of Netflix Instant horror. Its premise is different enough to make it more memorable than a standard slasher or backwoods massacre, so it certainly makes good on its brief (if a bit belabored) running time. One could do worse.

High Points
Boy is the Serbian waterfront a pretty location to film a movie in!

Low Points
I’ve been trying to forget the uncomfortable impromptu dance party, yet every time I close my eyes, it haunts me so...

Lessons Learned
Fish doesn't grab people

Nothing will confound a mermaid with more success than a mere net

True places are never on the map

If you watch Killer Mermaid without reading any tone into the title, this proves to be an average horror flick for a lazy 90 minute stream. The location is beautiful, the actors are attractive and somewhat animated, and you know, there IS a killer mermaid. It won't blow your mind with its power or badness, but it's a decent pretty watch that can also serve as an attractive and rife flick for MST3K style riffing.