Monday, November 30, 2009

Mill Creek Quadracinema! Disc 11

As many a horror fan/DVD junkie knows, Mill Creek Entertainment puts out amazingly priced 50 or 100 movie packs filled with an assortment of public domain or incredibly cheap genre films. The cuts are usually fuzzy and drab, often trimmed to be less fattening than a Jenny Craig Thankskiling dinner (I’ve been hesitant to watch my copy of Unsane, aka Dario Argento’s Tenebre with good reason) but with so many rare films to choose from, you occasionally stumble upon a shiny piece of turkey meat well worth the grease. 
The biggest challenge in conquering those quadruple (sometimes quintuple) featured double discs is knowing where to start. Not only are some packs filled with obscure choices, you also have to research alternate titles and running length. If, that is, you actually care.
So in an early attempt to set and fulfill a New Year’s resolution, I’ve decided to devote one day a month (unless I get more proactive...or less) to a single disc from one of the four 50 packs I own (for the record, those are Chilling Classics, Tales of Terror, Nightmare Worlds, and Drive-In Movie Classics). What follows will be a loose and condensed review (plus, naturally, Lessons Learned) of the four-five films on any given disc to let you know what’s worth a watch and what will make better use as a coaster.
Today’s picks come courtesy of the 50 Chilling Classics edition, Disc #11

1. Edgar Allen Poe: Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon, aka The Mansion of Madness, Dr. Goudron’s System, Dr. Tarr’s Pit of Horrors, House of Madness, The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Feather (1973)

Plot: A reporter and a few friends travel to a forest set mental asylum to research the bizarre and experimental treatment practices of the infamous Dr. Tarr (rather, Dr. Maillard), whose efforts include allowing patients to enact their twisted fantasies to the fullest of their imagination. Colonial dressed looters tie men up and rape their wives, bird enthusiasts act as chickens, and most horrifically, naked women ride horses and undoubtedly encounter some very unpleasant itching. It all leads up to an interestingly climactic trial/feast/battle with a tortoise (seriously) reminiscent of Marat/Sade and what I dream my ThanksKilling dinner will be like from now on.
Notable Cred: Writer/director Jose Lopez Moctezuma also directed the better known Alucarda
Verdict: The grainy transfer does a terrible injustice to what is an oddly intriguing little film. Its 88 minute running time is inexplicably too long, particularly in early scenes that do little more than show a bunch of inmates prancing through the woods like wannabe merry men. Still, once it hits its third act, Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon is rich in surrealism, both in its wacky visuals and oddly overproduced (yet somehow maddeningly appropriate) instrumental soundtrack. Definitely one to watch when you’re in the mood for a little seen period film.
2. The Bloody Brood (1959)

Plot: A sadistic Beatnik gang decides watching and/or causing people to die is the hippest new cat on the skiddooing block (I wasn’t alive in the ‘50s; I’m trying my best to capture a dead language). After feeding a delivery boy a hamburger laced with ground glass, the unlucky kid’s big brother (and total square)  goes undercover (sorta) to investigate and bring those no goodnik daddios to justice.
Notable Cred: Peter Falk stars as Nico, the sociopathic leader of the murderous cool cats
Verdict: While my teenage days of Mystery Science Theater 3000 marathons have made it a challenge to view any black-and-white thriller without the help of snarky silhouetted robots, this is a decent little pick of a very different era of filmmaking. Not for those with no taste for black-and-white slow boilers, but it’s more than passable for 66 minutes. Dated? Of course, so pop it in if Beatnik badness is your thing. Scoo-pah!

1. Alien Zone, aka The House of the Dead, Last Stop on 13th St., Zone of the Dead (1978)

Plot: Anthology goodness! The framing story is set in a mortuary, where the keeper proudly tells a passing guest (and adulterer) four stories about his clients. Like any Tales From the Crypt or Creepshow tale, all feature nasty and selfish baddies who get what they deserve. A breakdown:

Story 1: A child-hating schoolteacher gets her comeuppance at the hands of out-of-season trick-or-treaters in cheap plastic masks. Short and surprisingly creepy

Story 2: A preppy killer lures women into his apartment to videotape himself strangling them. Nothing special, but quickly paced and to the point. Oh, and with no actual story to be told so there's that.

Story 3: The longest and probably best made, although in comparison to the others, it drags far too much for my taste. London’s two most esteemed criminal investigators (as rated by Rolling Stone Magazine) try to solve a case with a few twists at the final result. Standard detective story that fans of the sub-genre will probably enjoy more so than I did.

Story 4: A professional jerk who despised the idea that someone would take the time to choose between 23 different types of hamburgers gets trapped in an elevator shaft and tortured with near iron maiden action, only to instead become an alcoholic. Odd and underdeveloped, but interesting enough in a nonsensical way.
Notable Cred: I’ll point it out just because it’s a general rarity in ‘70s genre cinema (well, a general rarity still in a good deal of cinema): Alien Zone (a title which makes absolutely no sense, by the way) was directed by Sharron Miller, a female filmmaker better known for her work in television.
Verdict: Surprisingly fun, with highs and lows in the storytelling. There are a few dud performances (particularly in the framing story) and others that keep shaky material watchable, but overall, I enjoyed this anthology far more than I expected to. Minimal gore and no nudity; just a solid little collection of cheap and fun tales that’s way better than anything Uwe Boll ever made. A mediocre endorsement if ever there was one!
2. Slashed Dreams ahka (Also Hilariously Known As) Sunburst (1975)

Plot: A dime store knockoff of Joni Mitchell provides the soundtrack that blankets about 80% of this cutely awful rape flick, following a college couple as they spend 30 minutes going to class and campus parties before getting into an argument with their peers and deciding to escape to the woods to meet their Thorough-esque friend Michael. Yeah, ‘huh’ is the best description of the prologue. Once hiking, they meet a bear and two rednecks that make the Gogans from Pete’s Dragon look  as rough as the fellas from Deliverance. Kathrine Baumann (not awful) is briefly raped by the pair, but thankfully, hippie friend Robert England (giving a rather likable performance) is there to make tea, while the defeated boyfriend attempts to fight back. Then doesn’t. But according to the final song, it’s all good. Because there's poetry. And friendship. and sunbursts.
Notable Cred: Englund in plainface
Verdict: Unless you’re a diehard fan of folk music, a Robert England completist, or someone that really enjoys rape revenge but hates the whole unpleasantness about it (and actual revenge aspect), Slashed Dreams is not, I repeat, NOT worth your time. It does, however, make for some pretty fun viewing about how nice it is to have friends.

Lessons Learned
Rape takes about 90 seconds to suffer and fifteen minutes to overcome
No man gets a haircut before killing himself
Police in the 1950s just didn’t do fences
Any man that wants your stockings for a magic trick is up to no good
Never trust a burger served by Beatniks
Always wear a bullet proof vest when planning on making a casual arrest, as no gunman will ever think to shoot you in the head
Beatnik dancing is all about having a loose neck

Sexual abuse is a lot like making tea
If I’m ever on death row, my choice of execution method will now be “beheading at the hands of well-choreographed mental patients dressed as exotic birds”
Many private detectives find the term “private eye” mildly insulting

Never turn your back on an overcrowded holding cell filled with disgruntled people and ample arm holes

Yup, something about these things truly freak me out.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Black Sunday

R.I.P. ThanksKilling Season (Yes, I will indeed refer to it as that from now until the day I die.)

And now onto Christmas business...

It may be shopping season, but you can bet your coupon book you won’t find me inside a heavily trafficked, swine flu spreading mall on any upcoming weekend this December. To prevent myself from being stampeded in a more painful manner than Lou Diamond Philips’ horse-trod friend in The First Power, I’m holding my own couch potato shopping spree with a marathon of all the best mall-centric horror. As a bonus for this season of gift giving generosity, I’m including a few suggestions for what to buy your loved one, inspired by these films but thankfully, available through any online retailer.

Dawn of the Dead(s)
It’s so good, there are two version of two more via the original’s deluxe DVD set, including an extended director’s cut and Dario Argento’s more compact and less humorous European release. Romero’s original hits upon all the hallmarks of a super shopping plaza--dressing rooms, arcades, ice rinks, great deals on hard candy--while also guilting its audience into acknowledging the consumerist culture zombification of the general public. Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake tries to make its characters act deeper than their freeloading ways suggest, but ultimately, the audience is hard-pressed to agree with Ving Rames’ plan to leave the safest, most comfortable and accommodating location one could hope to loiter in during a time of disaster. How could one surrender such a place when it’s scored to the relaxing chords of Richard Cheese?

Gift Idea: If you’re still in the ‘70s or now inhabiting Texas, I’m sure a fully featured shotgun would make any sweetheart sigh with stars in his or her eyes. While many folks have issues with firearms, most would most likely understand you’re only looking out for their safety in the wake of an inevitable zompacalypse. For a less controversial couples holiday present, consider a video camera (for you know, videotaping exercise?), telescope for those late night stargazings dates that best help one forget the very recent death of a parent, crowd pleasing DVD like National Lampoon’s Animal House, or border collie mix for security and affection.

Bio Zombie
You can only watch Dawn of the Dead so many times before you ask yourself: how would this improved by the presence of Bill Espresten Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan? Sadly, it seems doubtful that Keanu Reeves will ever break out his Wyld Stallions denim and would be incredibly depressing if Alex Winter squeezed back into his midriff-baring tee shirt. Thankfully, there’s Bio Zombie, a 1998 Hong Kong zomedy that plants two humorously rude mallrats into a zombie invaded shopping complex. It’s hard not to have a good time with jokes about Titanic, human appendage sushi, and low budget noshing. The only drawback? The film takes place after closing hours, thus limiting the feasting to lingering leftovers and some likable employees.

Gift Idea: A Precious Moments figurine to show your tender side and take your love back to his or her first Communion. 

Chopping Mall
The title says it all. Well, not really, as ‘chopping’ calls to mind axes and not killer robots using lasers to punish shoplifters and scandalous store employees sneaking into a mall for an overnight sleepover. But hey, it’s still gravy when you get to watch bratty teen delinquents picked off one by one by security guards that make Terminators look like Quakers. Now if only the inevitable Paul Blart franchise goes enough entries in to feature a crossover...

Gift Idea: An aromatic stick of pepperoni, a little known aphrodisiac for the Saturday sale-grubbing crowd

I previously mentioned this film when discussing misleading titles, as we never see more than one of the titular monster in this 1989 horror dud. Still, tis the season for an Xmas themed mall massacre, and to my knowledge, Elves marks the first and somehow only meeting of two hallmarks of the holdiay season: Grizzly Adams and Nazis. What, you didn’t know Josef Mengele was working on creating a superrace of angry little people for world domination? Did you even pass junior high history? Sadly we’re not here to discuss Hitler’s relationship with vertically challenged henchmen (yes, that was added just so I can throw a reference out to Hard Rock Zombies) so Elves makes this shopping list due to its partial setting inside a giant department store. Like Chopping Mall, the promiscuous leads sneak in after hours to seduce some teenage boys and battle a fairly ridiculous monster. This one just happens to be a very pink, very short German.

Gift Idea: Sportswear. Yes, the girls model some frilly teddies made of more lace than a casserole doily, but it’s the blue bathing suit on the blond that the ladies and gentlemen deem sleepover worthy. Plus, it’s much easier to maneuver a killer elf when you don’t have to worry about frilly fabric getting stuck in automatic doors. Just because an outfit is intended for intimate occasions does not mean one should ignore its practicality in the event of Nazi sorcery sponsored slaughter.

Eight Legged Freaks
Holing yourself up inside an armored supercenter is certainly one way to evade an arach attack. The downside? Once locked in, there are only so many tools that prove successful at combating gigantic toxic waste infused spiders before they suck out your innards in a colorfully PG-13-esque manner.

Gift Idea: An easy to carry, strongly scented bottle of reasonably priced perfume or cologne. True, your lady or male friend/teacher/relation may not be thrilled with the smell, but any old brand will show you care...especially when said gift receiver finds him or herself standing face-to-fuzzy-face with Shelob’s descendent who, conveniently enough, is quite sensitive to flowery sprits. 

The Final Destination
It was only a matter of time before this perfectly toned dead teenager franchise took to the malls. Between automatic gates and ink blot security tags, it’s a wonder this fourth installment wasn’t set entirely inside an indoor shopping center. Instead, we get treated to seeing what would actually happen if your loose shoelaces get stuck at the top of your average escalator. The results, as you might expect, are fabulously not fun (for the characters; those of us watching are having a great time).

Gift Idea: Comfy velcro-based sneakers. Anything else is the equivalent of coating your loved one in honey, sugar, and blood, then tying them to the coastal point where sea meets land and the Grim Reaper’s esteemed collection of killer bees, ants, and sharks come to feed. 

Am I forgetting a few more reasons to invest in a PayPal account? Share below and remember your parking space.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Let's Have a Corey Feldman Christmas

Sometimes, you just need a little simplicity in your life. Thankfully, Netflix’s Instant Watch is there for some of those sometimes when simplicity can best be defined as 86 minutes of watching a badly punning baby doll battle adorably supernatural puppets and Corey Feldman.
I speak, of course, of 2004‘s Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys, a non-Full Moon produced direct-to-obvious-obscurity piece of lighthearted entertainment. It’s cheap. It’s cornier than Gatlin and I enjoyed--in, of course, a way only those with a well worn sense of bad movie ridiculousness can--every awful minute of it.
Quick Plot: It’s the Christmas season in an extremely sunny, albeit shot-on-video land I’ll assume is the backlot of a discount studio somewhere in Bulgaria. With powder in his hair and a Christian Bale spewed frog in his throat, Feldman plays Robert Toulon, the great grandnephew of the Puppet Master himself. Robert is a doll doctor working to infuse a few familiar puppets with Toulon’s famed life serum, aided by the help of his teenaged (um, sure) daughter Alexandra. 

Meanwhile, Vanessa Angel (channelling Carrie Fisher’s back-and-forth British/American accent circa A New Hope) is Erika Sharpe, head of a gigantic toy corporation whose contract with a demon named Bael is about to expire. Or something. Whatever the conditions are (they have something to do with her being a spoiled child who got everything she wanted, including her father’s soul sold to Bael), Erika decides that her trio of demonic toys--played by refugees from, guess what, Demonic Toys--aren’t nearly as special as Toulon’s quartet of Blade, Pinhead, Jester, and Six Shooter. Naturally, she plans on puppetnapping the four, sacrificing Alexandra to Bael, seducing Toulon, and killing all the children of the world on Christmas morning. 

The last part is by far the most promising. Sharpe Toys has issued three must-have gifts for the holiday season, although what child would want a Victorian baby doll that poops, a Jack-In-the-Box that strangles, or a teddy bear with teeth is never explained. Savvy early ‘90s horror fans will of course recognize the Demonic Toys as being discount versions of their former selves, but there’s certainly a way to consider Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys as fan fiction of one beloved and one mildly liked series. What’s even more exciting is the sadly underused Halloween III storyline, wherein all the sold and donated toys are set to greet the world’s Christmas celebrating children with massacre upon being unwrapped. (For those of other denominations, there is nary a mention of whether or not the toys were programmed for the eighth night of Hanukkah.)
The movie, you may have guessed, is extremely not good. Still, anything involving carnivorous teddy bears that finds a way to incorporate lasers is some kind of wonderful.
High Points
Who gives the best performance? It’s a tough three-way battle between Feldman’s eyebrows, Angel’s lips (which seem to be in danger of eating her face) and costar Silvia Suvadova’s bulging blue eyeballs
Erika Sharpe’s wardrobe is by the way, half the fun of the movie, starting with what I would describe as an exotic bathrobe paired with a sensibly pink pencil skirt. Formal wear? A Chinese evening gown accessorized with a dead flamingo’s plume and finally, her to-go dress that resembles Barbie’s 80s career woman look, or possibly the costume for an extra in How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. 
Low Points
Obviously, I wasn’t expecting realistic CGI or even Family Dollar budgeted practical effects, but Bael’s design made some of the lesser demons on Buffy the Vampire Slayer look frightening
Just because the actress playing Feldman’s daughter is probably around his age does not mean it’s okay for Toulan to ask “You ARE a virgin, right?” with a slightly too curious leer
As a child, I was genuinely freaked out by the nasty visage of Baby Oopsie Daisy in the first Demonic Toys. Because Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys didn’t have the full blessing and resources of Full Moon, the new foul-mouthed villain has lost all the icky expressiveness of his original look


Lessons Learned
Meeting the board of directors is not always a positive thing, especially if you happen to be a busty secretarial virgin

Note to Feldman: In order to outrun a fart-flying baby doll, it’s probably best to move your arms
Christmas morning officially begins at 6:20 AM Bulgarian time
Always flirt with the incompetent policewoman for minor assistance in your save-the-world endeavor
No money or effort should really be put into Puppet Master Vs Demonic Toys, but that doesn’t mean I’m not recommending a watch. Loyal Full Moon devotees will probably be disappointed by the utter fluffiness of the film, which lacks the darker edge of the early Puppet Master films and instead goes all out for campiness. Yes, it tries far too hard, but there’s something to be said for a Christmas themed, cheaply made horror comedy aware of its own silliness. Click it on for a Netflix Instant Watch when your brain has no business working.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Day We've All Been Waiting For

Paranormal Activity, eat your $11,000 heart out. Better yet, let a killer turkey wearing the skin and mustache of your father do it for you and save $7,500 in the process.
ThanksKilling is, as you would expect, an amazing feat worthy of holiday feasting. Shot in 11 days by undergrads on vacation, it provides a hearty and much needed serving of November themed cheesiness, perfect because a) in light of Halloween, New Year’s Evil, Silent Night Deadly Night, Uncle Sam, and every other festive horror film to honor a day off, there’s still never been an adequate Thanksgiving equivalent and b) Thanksgiving dinner typically involves no cheese.
Quick Plot: In 1621 (aka “the olden days”) the first Thanksgiving ended with a close-up of a large breast (provided by porn star Wanda Lust, dressed partially as a Pilgrim). Shortly after this shot, a wild and axe-wielding turkey makes his entrance, spilling blood into the opening credits and spewing profanity with anachronistic glee.

505 years later--because apparently, ThanksKilling takes place in the near future, when college students continue a rapid decline of IQ into Idiocracy territory and talking turkeys are not a terribly surprising sight to behold--a forest hermit’s collie lifts his leg over the turkey’s grave. Like Freddy Krueger four films in, the gobbling terror rises to call women bitches, slaughter some fools, and abuse the art of punning. 
His major prey is a quintet of college idiots that can’t stop whooing about Thanksgiving Break! I don’t recall those three days of freedom being an occasion to rip off my tank top or flash my not-friends, but then again, I also never knew the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in an extremely warm climate where tank tops and cutoffs were appropriate for late November weather. So basically, America is filled with little known facts about our most gluttonous holiday.

Fortunately, there are things called ‘books’ that sheriffs keep hidden in their garages, providing our young characters with something called ‘answers’ (carefully coded in mathematical formula, natch).  After meeting the bloodthirsty bird en route home, Kristen (the good girl), Ali (the airhead), Billy (the big guy), Darren (the nerd) and Johnny (because as Deadgirl taught us, every film about young people needs a jock named Johnny) find some of their family members slaughtered and lament the end of homemade pumpkin pie (seriously). 

ThanksKilling is a pretty ridiculous film, but gobbly goodness is it a fun time. Seeing a turkey wearing a Groucho set of disguise glasses shouldn’t be funny, but seeing that same turkey, in those glasses, drinking coffee with a sheriff (who is himself dressed as a turkey) and trying to chat about the weather did indeed make me giggle. And (SPOILER ALERT), watching the same turkey wear that sheriff’s face a la Hannibal Lector/Otis Firefly and convincing his daughter he simply got a haircut...well...yes, I really enjoyed this movie.

High Points
A montage about reading has a vague Wet Hot American Summer going-into-town feel that is actually quite funny, as is a quick romanticized friendship scene scored to an original song reminiscent of South Park
There’ s something hugely refreshing about a film that knows not only to not take itself seriously, but to also not force artificial emotion on its audience. Yes, stock characters meet their fate in the expected order, but there’s no wasted time mourning such artificial people, thankfully sparing the audience any extra actorly challenges

Low Points
Was it poor editing, or were the filmmakers just incredibly proud of themselves and their Jon Bonet Ramsey joke that they decided to use it three times?
Lessons Learned
Never call a turkey a duck
If Monster taught us anything, it’s that picking up hitchhikers in the hopes of having sex with them typically does not end well
You can tell what type of animal pecked out a rabbit’s guts by examining the beak marks
Just because something laying on the side of the road glows does not mean it belongs in your stomach
Learning how to read takes about the same amount of time as having safe sex with a turkey
Winning Line
“I’m gonna drink your blood like cranberry sauce.”
Now I feel bad for the turkey. He apparently has never had a very fulfilling Thanksgiving dinner, or he’d know that cranberry sauce shouldn’t be so thin as to be drinkable.
At 66 minutes, you can’t really NOT watch ThanksKilling, especially since it’s currently streaming on Netflix. It still boggles my mind that there’s never been a true Thanksgiving-themed horror film, and while this is no Black Christmas, it does have a solid Jack Frost-iness to it, straight down to the gravy-flavored condom filling in for a snowman’s unsanitary carrot. A good half of the jokes fall flatter than a poorly made souffle, but ThanksKilling has a genuine heart that should satisfy those fans of Troma, Full Moon, or any penny budget movie massacres oozing in corn.

JUST a Popularity Contest?

The polls are open and my pride is more vulnerable than a grizzled character actor in a slasher film.

That's right you lovely literati: The Ms. Blogosphere voting hath begun, and as the petroleum jelly slowly erodes my pearly whites, I kindly request your support in the form of one click from your index finger (or, as Fozzie in The Muppet Treasure Island would say, the man who LIVES in your finger).

This is a friendly competition run by the blogging superbeasto B-Sol over at The Vault of Horror intended to honor and celebrate female horror bloggers for all our movie musings, thrilling introspection, and Bruce Campbell adoration. You can catch my original interview here and vote once (just once total; it's just like a REAL some countries) between now and December 4th by going to The Vault's homepage .

Any help would be appreciated, especially since we really should be focusing more on building up our future for our children and like, some people don't even have maps.

Wait: wrong competition. This is the one where I'm Mimi Rogers and I'm supposed to kill Kathy Ireland, yes?

I'm all confused. Just vote once. Then check out some of my fellow bloggistas for all their bloody wisdom. And leave Kathy Ireland alone.

I'll just be over here, warming up for the talent portion of the evening, wherein I'll be performing MacArthur Park on the tablah.

No, I am serious.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Twinkle Twinkle Little Sociopath

The surprisingly fertile sub-genre that is Evil Children Unleashed could inspire any horror fan to pump out a few kids of his or her own. It’s not that we long to suffer death or insanity at the pudgy little fingers of adorably twisted spawn; we just really like watching them work.
The beauty of Joshua, aside from it being an eerie little thriller, is that it’s ready made for a double bill. Play it before the more recent evil child-mothered-by-a-slowly-slipping-into-madness-Vera Farmiga and you’ve got a good four hour block of cheerily twisted tube tying/vasectomy-getting inspiration (unless, of course, you agree that Rhoda Penmark earned that penmanship medal).
Quick Plot: New money New Yorkers Abby (Farminga) and Brad Cairn (Sam Rockwell) welcome the birth of their angelic daughter while their 9 year old son, Joshua, slowly starts to reveal subtle signs of sociopathy. School hamsters die. Baby Lily goes from sweet to colicky. A stuffed panda bear is gutted and yuppie parents suffer through a talent show more painful than the early rounds of American Idol. Something is indeed rotten in the state of the Upper East Side.

As if Joshua’s blossoming bloodthirstiness and Lily’s increasing volume wasn’t enough, there’s also Mom’s manic depression to deal with, an illness that seemed to have been under control for some time before the actions of the film. Nana doesn’t help matters by using her babysitting as an opportunity to convert Joshua to Born Again Christianity, while Brad struggles to hold his big bucks executive investment job under the surprisingly humorless tutelage of Michael McKean. The only stable presence is Abby’s fantastically wonderful brother Ned, the kind of guy who buys you Broadway tickets, gives your kid free piano lessons, and sips a homemade martini while talking you down from psychosis. 
A side note: everybody should have an Uncle Ned in their life.

Ever so slowly, the Cairn family descends into dysfunction. It’s an oddly paced fall made even more unsettling by the cold sterility that seems to follow them in their expensive NY high-rise. Clearly, director George Ratliff (he of the fine documentary Hell House) found some inspiration in Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, adding minor homages with a modern feel in images like Lily’s baby stroller (updated with a pink fleece canopy). It helps that Joshua remains restrained, both as a character and film. There are no supernatural explanations or even feats of unbelievable strength committed by the titular bad seed. He’s simply too smart, too misunderstood, and too far over the line to come back.
High Points
As a film, Joshua is as much about its New York setting as it is a twisted little boy. Ratliff does an excellent job utilizing actual landmarks, like Central Park’s Alice In Wonderland statue, and stepping inside common city institutions like elite private school parent conferences

The film’s final song, provided by the Dave Matthews Band, is as haunting in the last scene as it is when replayed immediately over the end credits
Rockwell does a fine job as not the brightest dad on the high tax bracket block, a man trying in vein to click with a son so completely different from his own relaxed persona
Low Points
Much like The Omen remake, Joshua’s biggest misfire comes in the all-too-obviously evil of its banged villain. There’s never any real mystery to Joshua’s intentions, in part because young actor Jacob Kogan (who is delightful in the behind-the-scenes extras) never gets the chance to play believably nice. A little more ambiguity would have added a good deal more suspense.

Lessons Learned
A bad lullaby can literally be sickening
There’s really no reason to save a home movie of your firstborn screaming his head off and his mother going, quite literally, crazy. Isn’t there a baseball game worth recording on this spare VHS?
Ancient Egyptians had a groovily hungry god named Apep who may have been related to the Sarlac Pit
Any character that refers to public bathrooms as “the little girl’s room” have and deserve very bad things coming their way
Child abuse can be instantly diagnosed with one crayon drawing
Joshua is simultaneously familiar and unique. On one hand, we’ve seen countless incarnations of cute little psychos dining off the kids’ menu, but Ratliff’s style and some nifty characterizations of the Cairns makes for an effective little film. The DVD is loaded with extras, including a commentary and interviews. If you enjoy these kind of creeping horrific dramas, then Joshua isn’t a bad investment if found at a decent price. I wasn’t completely overwhelmed by the film, but I was absolutely taken in by its slow unfolding and truly haunted by its final scene. Give it a try when you’re in the mood for something slow, then crank up the trash with an Orphan followup.