Monday, October 15, 2018

Always Room For Growth

Let's get one thing straight: I will fight to the point of near death over the honor of 1956's The Bad Seed. It is brilliant, chilling, funny, smart, and simply the best.

Now let's slap that Lifetime Flowers In the Attic filter on a retelling and see what happens with Rob Lowe at the helm.

Quick Plot: Emma Grossman is a precocious 9-year-old whose current life goal is to win the citizenship medal in her exclusive private school (which for some Lifetime set availability reason, is set inside the kind of castle-esque manor best suited for wedding photos). When poor pubic speaker Milo wins instead, Emma's blue eyes narrow with the kind of ice cold fury that sends unsuspecting third graders to their deaths.

Widowed dad David (double duty puller Lowe) is a caring and concerned parent, but one also busy being the sole breadwinner with the (again) very Lifetime-ish profession of wildly successful furniture designer. He hires a carefree ex-snowboarder named Chloe as Emma's nanny, which briefly works out well since both sitter and charge are complete sociopaths.

That's right: if The Bad Seed didn't scream Lifetime to you at first glance, adding an eager-to-seduce pill-popping blond certainly helps. Not surprisingly, this is not the most subtle of remakes. While we don't get Rhoda Penmark's signature pigtails and tap shoes, we do get weaponized wasps' nests and poisoned hot chocolate, not to mention the rare "special appearance" credit that is ACTUALLY special because it's PATTY MCCORMACK AS A CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST.

This is the kind of film that follows the shot of a young woman being burned to death with a closeup of a fancy restaurant char broiling a fine steak. Subtlety rarely finds its way onto this network, and if anything, I wish Lowe pushed even higher over the top. Ultimately, we're left with a mild missed opportunity, but for all the woes we have about the time we're living in, the fact that we have a Bad Seed movie that includes Patty McCormack winking at the camera shows some positivity after all.

High Points
I've enjoyed screenwriter Barbara Marshall (Viral, Wish Upon)'s work immensely thus far, and while The Bad Seed does feel a tad Lifetime-limited, little touches, like Emma being a huge Shirley Temple fangirl, really show a special touch

Low Points
The Bad Seed is certainly not the first film to do this but it does give me an excuse to voice my hatred of water shots that insist on using liquid drops on the camera lens.I get what it's TRYING to do, but really, all it does for me is draw attention to the fact that what I'm watching is a product being filmed

Lessons Learned
Public speaking and spelling are not skills measured for citizenship

Some things never go out of style, be they class medals or little pink electric chairs

Always count your Xanax

The Bad Seed aired on Lifetime, so it's really only findable via your On Demand cable provider at this point in time. It never quite reaches the campy heights you (okay, I) want, but it's fun, disposable entertainment that hits most of the required notes. I certainly would have preferred a little more piano playing and pigtails, but my standards are obviously quite high. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Fatigue of the Dead

Another zombie movie following a handful of scrappy survivors in the countryside? Surely you've never seen anything like THIS before!

Quick Plot: Alice is living her life, fixing breakfast for her young daughter and taking a time out to pee on a pregnancy test stick. Delighted at the results, she phones her husband only to hear his frantic warnings to stay inside and not open the door for anyone...

Which naturally, her toddler has just done, granting access to a crazed 28 Days Later-style zombie. Alice makes it out alive and into the arms of friendly stranger Steven, bidding goodbye to her now eaten firstborn and old life.

Four months go by. Alice and Steven have settled into your typical drive-til-you-have-to-siphon-gas-and-keep-driving routine with a pair of siblings. Somewhere across the countryside, a mysterious woman is being held prisoner for some kind of unexplained medical experiments. Eventually, these stories will sort of kind of meet.

Anger (or Age, its alternate title) of the Dead is an Italian(ish) zombie film written and directed by Francesco Picone, with a terrifying executive producer credit for Uwe Boll. The production values are higher than your average streaming zombie flick, with performances that range from slightly painful to decent. So that's a good thing.

The problem with Age/Anger of the Dead (which, side note: did they choose that title to get a few extra eyes due to its alphabetical placement?) is that it sporadically commits to a deeply cruel streak. Granted, this is a film that opens with an adorable toddler being eaten alive in front of her mother's eyes, so perhaps we have no right to be annoyed at its insanely nasty final shot. 

Still, it would have been nicer had Picone found a little more consistency in tone. Having a mushy moment of love interrupted by a zombie bite tells a darkly funny story. Implying the systematic rape of a female prisoner tells another.

High Points
You can't argue with a zombie movie that doesn't waste time, opening on immediate chaos and moving fairly swiftly from there

Low Points
Seriously: Age/Anger of the Dead deserves better than a 2.9/10 rating on IMDB, but the fact that it ends on such a sour, mean note makes it a little understandable that someone's gut reaction might go that low after finishing the film 

Lessons Learned
Always keep the sharpest object of your home in your toddler’s sock drawer

Enjoying the fresh air on a lovely day is great, but when the undead are roaming the roads, maybe it's worth the splurge of air conditioning instead of keeping your window wide open

When fleeing running zombies, most drivers take their keys before abandoning their cars

New Rule
We all know of the classic Chekhov's Law involving guns and to a lesser extent (but larger in the horror world) bear traps, but it brings me great joy to add a new one to the roster: Chekhov's Law of Naming a Character Alice and how one cannot do such a thing without including at least one "You're not in Wonderland anymore" reference

Anger of the Dead is slightly more watchable than a lot of other low budget zombie films of recent years, but it ends on such a horribly mean beat that I almost wish I hadn't watched it. Some of its action works just fine, but the ultimate mood is so negative that it genuinely destroys any goodwill. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Hazing Is Hell

It's weird when I discover an '80s slasher that I didn't know existed. Surely it must be a long-buried diamond shining through the rough!

Or maybe it's just Final Exam.

Quick Plot: After the most "couple making out in car gets hacked by a mysterious killer" scene of a couple making out in a car getting hacked by a mysterious killer (with the world's most glorious dummy death to boo), we move the action to the last week at Lanier College, an isolated liberal arts school.

Jocks bully the nerds, sorority sisters pine about their boyfriends, good girls study hard, and the frat bros stage the world's worst aged mass shooting prank in order to pass a chemistry final. As a result, the local grumpy sheriff vows to never listen to the students' calls again, which is great when, you know, your job description implies that you're responsible for their safety and stuff.

After a good 58 minutes of college shenanigans, Final Exam finally turns into a slasher. A tame, rather suspension-free slasher that hunts down its characters with all the energy of a long distance runner hitting a wall and crawling to the finish line. 

Written and directed by My Best Friend Is a Vampire's Jimmy Huston, Final Exam was a prime target of the Video Nasty witch hunt. While it hits most of the beats of the Dead Teenager subgenre, it's also surprisingly tame. Despite centering itself on young coeds, the film shows no nudity (unless you count an unlucky frat pledge in his underwear). Most of the violence involves little blood, and ironically, the hardest scene to watch is the boy-that-aged-poorly shooting prank.

There's some fun to be had with some of the characters, all played by unknown actors who mostly manage to create real people worth caring about (or in the case of the horrid frat boys, wishing true violence upon). Still, nobody comes to this kind of film looking for minor drama about being pinned or seducing your married chemistry professor after your piano recital. Unfortunately, with its blank villain, Final Exam's final act doesn't particularly justify an hourlong after-college special.

High Points
As hard as I'm being on the film's odd pacing and insistence on getting to know these kids, there is some decent character work by Cecile Bagdadi and Joel S. Rice. A film about the insecure brainy beauty and self-aware death-obsessed genius could have genuinely made an interesting story in itself

Low Points
Not every '80s villain needs a complex backstory, but it's a little unsatisfying to learn everything there is to know about a film's victims and absolutely nothing about our killer aside from his extreme skill at catching arrows with his bare hands

Lessons Learned
Fraternities in the 1980s (and possibly today) were populated by certified sociopaths

When breaking in to a professor's office for the expellable offense of stealing an exam, you should probably avoid wearing a t-shirt with nothing but your name printed on the back

Having a sheriff come to your aide during his early dinner time is an actual crime

Final Exam is certainly worth a watch for slasher completists, but it doesn't offer that much else for the casual horror fan. It's streaming in fuzzy glory via Amazon Prime.