Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween: Water

I was a sunny 16 in 1998, toiling away behind the concession stand of now closed movie theater when Jamie Lee Curtis returned to the genre that made her famous. Halloween: H20 (we'll get to that title, don't you worry) didn't impress me then, it feeling far too tame and sleek, a false-classy picture trying to distance itself form the Dead Teenager chapter of cinema it had birthed.  Thirteen years and Netflix Instant Watch later, it felt right to revisit the film and see how well it held up.

Also, I was really thirsty and H20--I'll stop now. 

Because I won't later.

Quick Plot: Twenty years after Michael’s ’78 autumn slaughter, Laurie Strode is now living an assumed identity as the headmistress of a snooty prep school in Northern California. Having faked her death  to avoid being associated with parts 4-6 in case her brother came back, Laurie now spends her days slurping down Chardonnay, necking with the school guidance counselor, and coddling her 17 year old son John (played by the “introduced” Josh Hartnett). John does as a good-looking young man in a Kevin Wiliamson-inspired film does and mopes about his independence, looks sharp in a ruffled school uniform, and dotes upon Michelle Williams. 

If only Halloween night’s biggest challenge was sneaking away for a cafeteria sponsored party! Sadly Michael emerges from...well...

a discount mask shop I guess to stab Dr. Loomis’ former nurse in the search for Laurie’s new digs. That turns out to be easy enough that a two-day drive in the vintage car belonging to a murdered woman gets him to his little sister just in time for the entire school to take a vacation without her, her boyfriend, son, son’s girlfriend, sassy security guard, and a few pieces of easy knife fodder.

So. H20. Halloween 7. Halloween: 20 Years Later. Halloween: Liquid

The title is killing me.
A lot of things about Halloween: Water are killing me. Not EVERYTHING. Without question, we can agree that Halloween: Hydrogen + Oxygen surpasses the miasma of its predecessor and Bustariffic followup. But for the film to so haughtily dismiss Parts 4 and 5 as if they’re pure tripe, not classy enough for the return of horror royalty...well, amongst other issues (H Two Oh?), it irks me.
Jamie Lee Curtis is wonderful as Laurie Strode. Was in the ‘70s. Was in the early ‘80s. And yes, still was in the ‘90s. We never doubt for a moment that this is our favorite final girl all grown up, a damaged but secretly strong woman who’s been waiting in fear for the majority of her life. It feels RIGHT watching her stand up to the Boogyman.

Sorry Tyra. There’s an art to this sort of thing.
Unfortunately, a great scream queen doesn’t necessarily make a film. Halloween: The Water Movie is riddled with issues, most of which are indicative of its time and place as a late ‘90s studio horror film. I stopped counting fake-out jump scares when I reached ten within the film’s first thirty minutes. That was exhausting, but then something great happened: I was able to almost NOT watch anything that happened onscreen because these dramatic SOUND CUES would PUNCH ME IN THE EARS whenever something EXCITING was about to HAPPEN..

Or if there was just another jump scare jumping my way.
So that’s part of Halloween: The Liquid You Need To Stay Alive’s problem. Two parts, actually. And there’s a third:
It’s too frickin’ nice.
Now I don’t need the nihilism of a Rob Zombie universe just become the word “Haddonfield” is mentioned. I just need to be scared, to believe the black-eyed boogyman is going to stab his way through whatever blocks his ultimate target. I can’t do that when 1) Michael’s atrocious mask displays some charming baby blues and 2) I don’t buy for one moment that he’ll kill anyone of mild sympathy.

Take, for example, an early scene where a passing driver and her young daughter pull over to a questionable rest stop bathroom. Director Steve Day of the Dead 2008 Miner stages a tense setup as these two female innocents hide behind dingy doors while the black-clad Michael sneaks in. We catch a glimpse of him through the bathroom crack, a terrifying image that wouldn’t give these ladies a chance. Except, of course, he does. All he wants is a ride, which is easy enough to get by grabbing a pocketbook and 


Ooops, just a spider. 

Nevermind, he’s gone. Carry on.
Look, I don’t WANT to see a cute little girl filleted on the roadside. And I kind of understand the idea that building this early tension is supposed to put us on edge for the later carnage. And that the original Halloween was far from the gratuitous bloodbath folks misremember it as. But when every three minutes, a scene ends with a false danger, it’s hard to EVER care.
It doesn’t help that in true studio form, the body count ends up being too small to form an adequate trivia night team in heaven. The main victims have the word “Main Victim” all but tattooed on their pretty faces, while the ones that SHOULD die because their characters ARE PUT IN EXTREME DANGER BY ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS CREATURES IN CINEMA manage to run, stab, get shot, get stabbed, and pretty much tango with Michael before ending the film with their attractive mugs barely bloodied.

One of my problems with the Scream series (SPOILER ALERT) is its obvious reluctance to ever kill the characters fans adore. Dewey clearly survived Part 1 because test audiences were angry, probably scooted through Part 2 for the same reason, and will continue to limp through Scream 86 (or rather, Sc86m, which won’t make sense but neither does ACHE TOO OH so who’s complaining?) until David Arquette actually dies and his clone leaves the acting world to pursue a career in puppeteering. 

Wait, what were we talking about again?
High Points
I can’t hate a movie that opens on a close-up of a shiny steak knife as it slams downward into a fertile pumpkin

There’s a nice subtle touch in crafting Michelle Williams’ Molly as a Laurie-esque character. We don’t get much of her, but just the one scene of having her be the only student to answer an English literature question has a sweet sense of good girl nostalgia
Low Point
While it’s a good gesture to dedicate the film to Donald Pleasence, was studio warfare so intense that they couldn’t use his past dialogue for the early narrated “Dr. Loomis” moments?

Don’t name your film after water. Just. Don’t.

Lessons Learned
People like to read descriptive adjectives (as opposed to the non-descriptive adje--um)
When a bullet grazes you, it also knocks you out and makes you bleed profusely to the point that in no way could you possibly be mistaken for alive
Swinging a knife is about as noisy an action as turning on factory equipment or mowing one's lawn

Credits Curiosity
Initially, I was charmed to see a teenage Joseph Gordon-Levitt mucking around in a hockey mask and stealing his neighbor’s beer to earn a rollerblade throat slash. It was a cute pre-credits cameo that’s even more charming 13 years later when Levitt became a genuine star (rather than a grown-up Angels In the Outfield seer). But see...he dies before the credits. So why does his name even come up?

And just who edited all those jump scares? A soon-to-be 3D titan known as Patrick Lussier
Trick It/Treat It/Drink It/Bathe In It
Halloween: The Awfully Titled Sequel is silcker than most anything else in the series, with better than usual performances and some genuinely well-staged scenes of suspense. At the same time, it's flawed in a way only good money could buy and personally, rather indicative of what went wrong with theatrical horror in the 1990s. It's certainly worth a viewing for Halloween fans, as seeing Jamie Lee Curtis battle her big brother is as rewarding as it should be. But as a depends on your tolerance for 98,778,425 and counting jump scares and an equal amount of obnoxiously aggressive sound cues.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Quick Stops!

I know--and hope--that all of you are in the midst of Halloween celebration/preparation/domination, but should you require any audio accompaniment, might I recommend a download of this week's Gentleman's Guide to Midnite Cinema? Aside from being one of the very best movie podcasts out there, episode 155 features li'l ole moi discussing the finer points of genre classic Near Dark with GGTMC's Large William, along with a whole lot of other podcasting superstars. Get thee to iTunes!

The Pax will be waiting
Also of note (and on the page): I took a ride on my (satanic) broomstick over to The Lightning Bug's Lair to drop a batch of 13 recommendations for best devil-made-me-do-it horror (or animated musical) movies. A few of my favorites showed up--because how does one NOT include something as amazing as this--so you might guess what you're in for, but I promise a few surprises and more importantly, a fine review of The Omen by the Bug himself. Fly away!

I've got pumpkins to kill kiss tell secrets to snort cuddle with carve. 

Yeah, that's it...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sega Cornesis--I mean, Children of the Corn: Genesis

I challenge anyone to find anyone who knows someone whose cousin’s neighbor’s ex-girlfriend knows someone that would call Children of the Corn the best horror franchise of all time. It just won’t happen, and I’ll bet Joplin’s laser pointer on that.

It’s not that the Gatlin series has the worst individual films in horror. Of the ones I’ve seen--which is almost hard to count since so many just blend into boredom--none really fall below the trashy fifth Friday the 13th or glorious ridiculousness of Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2. Perhaps that’s the whole problem with the series: for all its low budgetry and dark premise, it also doesn’t take any real risks.
The original film boasts some of the most disturbing moments of the 80s, mostly because I’m a sucker for kids’ crude crayon drawings and stabby teenagers. 

Part 2...well, we had evil corn and a pretty kickass runny nose death. 

The third installment--which I haven’t seen in years and can’t speak currently on--SEEMED to be quite fun, while after that, the slew of we’re-not-even-trying-to-rise-above-the-VHS-market last few films seem notable solely for the inclusion of random before-they-were-famous stars (Naomi Watts, Eva Mendes). Most recently, SyFy attempted a revamping of the series with the painfully shrill 2009 remake.

The strange thing about this is that in terms of potential, Children of the Corn is BUSTING. I know other horror buffs look down on killer kids, but a prepubescent wielding a knife feels as natural a combo to me as cheese on a pretzel (you know, like a Combo). 

And yet...and yet...there’s hardly anything special about the Children of the Corns. Save for the original’s Isaac and Malachi, nobody remembers the villains. The kids never hitched their pitchforks to outer space. Roseanne never stopped by for a cameo. But the series continues to pump out mediocre entry after mediocre entry, including today’s feature, Children of the Corn: Genesis.
Quick Plot: In 1973, a Vietnam vet returns home 20 miles away from the infamous Gatlin to find his entire town has been taken over by elementary schoolers. As he stares down a li’l killer, the man has some war flashbacks and turns his gun on himself, only to instead have a child hurl a doll at his face, fall out a window, and bring us to the opening credits.

I hope to someday have my life advance twenty years by having a doll thrown at my face.
Cut to present day, “somewhere in the desert of California,” where a married couple is stranded with car trouble and eager to become horror movie bait. Tim and the newly pregnant Allie do as you do in a horror movie and head to the nearest creepily isolated farmhouse, where they’re greeted with awkward aloofness by Billy Drago (always a sign that you’re in the wrong part of town when it comes to cinema) and his mail order Ukranian bride Helen. The hosts let the couple stay the night until a ride can take them to a garage in the morning, providing they follow THE VERY SIMPLE INSTRUCTIONS of not snooping around where they shouldn’t.

Easy, right? Just go to sleep, wake up, go home, and regale your friends at the next dinner party with anecdotes of the time you almost got murdered in the desert of California. Use the car ride to think of all the embellishments you’ll add to the tale. Sure, there may be what mildly sounds like a child’s screams just around the outhouse, but considering you’re already freaked out by your situation and JUST WANT TO GET OUT OF IT, you should TOTALLY investigate after that goodnight pee, right?

So yeah, Allie gets caught by Billy Drago, who then explains--after Tim gets manhandled by Helen--that he ordered his mail order bride without knowing she was pregnant, then ended up with a demon seed who now lives in a shed behind the outhouse. Or something. There’s some telekinesis involved, a policeman getting snatched up by the sky like the Julianne Moore alien movie no one saw, marital bickering, a car crash that the Internet tells me is completely borrowed from the vaults of the Bad Boys 2 editing room, and a good 72 minutes in, the first appearance of a bonnet.

So clearly, Genesis is a slow film.
Yes, a Children of the Corn film is slow. It’s a good hour before we see any real violence and a good post-credits sequence before we figure out just what behind the rows is going on. On one hand, such a style is interesting for a series that generally sticks to a different kind of formula. Except on the other, it’s boring. So there’s that.

High Points
Though nobody’s gunning for an Oscar (or heck, Scream Award) the performances are more than decent across the boar--eh, corn field
Low Points
Slow motion can be used effectively. Slow motion is not used effectively in Children of the Corn: Genesis. Slow motion is also used ineffectively at least seven times in Children of the Corn: Genesis
Lessons Learned
If you're still in California, there simply HAS to be cars
Pregnant does not equal dying
It’s really hard to get sweet iced tea in LA (you have to special ask for it)
Creepy backwoods preacher men aren't particularly interested in your newfound decision to go vegan

After serving your duty in the military, you get discharged with your very own handgun
Children of the Corn: Genesis isn’t an awful film or by any means the worst in the series, but it’s a fairly dull one that I don’t need to revisit anytime soon. When it hits Instant Watch, it might make for an adequate 80 minute stream, though any further effort should be avoided. The DVD includes a fairly pretentious interview with writer/director Joel Soison, so there aren’t extras to bump it to a buy. Unless you indeed are that cousin’s boyfriend’s neighbor’s teacher’s dog walker’s sister’s bodyguard’s girlfriend who does indeed ADORE the series, I’d say wait to catch it on cable. Or just watch Drago mug in 7 Mummies instead.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I'm On a (Haunted) Boat

Every now and then, a movie so loosely called ‘a movie’ arrives in front of my eyes. Sometimes this kills me with boredom or discomfort (season’s greetings, Deadly Little Christmas) but others, something truly wonderful happens. Something Unborn Sins-like you might even say.
Movies--rather, ‘movies’--can do many things. They can make you laugh, cry, scream, learn, or, in the case of today’s Instant Watch New Classic, sit back with your mouth hanging agape and say...YES.
Quick Plot: A group of horrible teenagers spend the weekend on the Horrible Pothead Teenager’s new boat. 

So not only are these teenagers horrible, they’re also rich, making them even more horrible.
After a cleaning-the-boat AND drinking-on-the-boat montage, the Horrible People pause to discuss, as you do, what they’re afraid of. Clearly they haven’t seen House of Fears or they’d know that such a conversation will immediately lead to their death via their phobia, which of course includes the following:
-being left alone
-drowning (gee, THAT’S easy)
-something someone mumbled that I couldn’t actually understand

So let's just say it was Mumbles
-crazy demented people
-other dimensions
Just as we decide we’re going to unleash a crazy demented bundle of interdimensional bugs on these Awful Awful Characters, screenwriter (and director, and costume designer, and director of photography, and art director, and set designer, and writer of a few original songs, and body double for the blond) Olga Levens shows us mercy and pulls the classic prankster-who-cried-wolf-actually-dying trick.

See, Horrible Pothead has some health issues and isn’t supposed to swim, but Horrible Blond Skank goads him into it. Aaaaaaaaand he doesn’t surface. So Horrible Blond Skank frantically dials 911--in the middle of the ocean--to no avail because there’s OBVIOUSLY not going to be any service, while Horrible Mousy Brunette dives in. But Horrible Blond Skank spots a giant CGI shark--of whom we will never see again--so Horrible Mousy Brunette comes out of the water, pleads with Horrible Asian Stud to help, so he then proceeds to scream and threaten violence at Horrible Blond Skank.

OH! And two scenes earlier, Horrible Asian Stud--who previously dated Horrible Blond Skank--hits on Horrible Mousy Brunette. One scene after that, Horrible Mousy Brown FLASHES BACK TO the Horrible Courting Scene that was one scene earlier and looks longingly with a wistful look. Because Horrible Asian Studs who slap your own Horrible Best Friend are clearly ones you don’t let get away.

So now everyone is miserable which makes them act like even more horrible people. To calm themselves, they tell ghost stories because, you know, duh. What else do you do when you’re lost at sea and mourning the dude who brought you there? 
This sequence is amazing, because it lets the previously quiet Horrible Australian Girl tell a tale that involves a gnome.

Yup, Haunted Boat has sharks AND gnomes. Rather, A shark and A gnome. Beat that, The Reef!
But don’t get too excited because like the Horrible CGI Shark, the Forest Gnome (who I can’t call horrible, because come on, forest gnome!) is gone for good. Sigh.
Next comes a seizure, because that’s cool. Horrible Australian Girl foams at the mouth, prompting Horrible Blond Skank to shout, with skill Meryl Streep could never know, “I’m NOT staying on a boat with an epileptic!”

Look honey, this is 2011. They have rights too.
The two remaining dudes--Horrible Asian Stud and Not Actually That Horrible Nerdy Guy--take the boat’s raft out to find some help. While gone, an albino not-doctor (who’s also actually not that horrible) comes on board to find bugs crawling out of Horrible Australian Girl’s ears. But then Horrible Blond Skank aims a flare gun at his face and he “has to go!”

Least offensive shot of an albino available
Yeah, because that makes perfect sense.
Then other stuff happens maybe kinda I dunno sure sorta. The ending--SPOILER!, except I actually have no idea what happened so not twist? I *think* that we find out that Horrible Mousy Girl actually imagined the whole thing? Or that her friends just didn’t exist and she went on a boat by herself? Or that they did exist and she went on the boat with them after having this zany adventure on her own? Or that God is a cloud and rainbows show when he cries and unicorns have feelings too but snowmen will hurt you if you let them know your weaknesses? And a baloo is a bear and wuzzle means to mix and all work and no play makes Homer something something?

I haven’t been this confused since Safety In Numbers. Luckily, I’m confused in a far better way. See, if you recall, I HATED that other ending-on-a-boat low budget slasher because it was joyless. Haunted Boat is an awful, awful film, but it’s so adorable in its ambitious incompetence that I absolutely adored it. 
Even if everyone inside of it was Terrible, Horrible, No Good and Very Bad.

High Points
I’m not being completely sarcastic when I say Haunted Boat has its potentially creepy moments. None of them *actually* work because, you know, nothing in the film actually works, but a few of the ghostings did catch me by surprise and were occasionally executed with some genuine skills. Some.
Low Points
I understand that obtaining the rights to music can be an expensive part of an indie film’s budget, and hence often demands a few public domain tunes. But there are still a few considerations one should take when choosing tracks, like not following what I imagine is a local band’s hard rock shoutiness with the classical violins from the De Beers commercials...and then reusing the De Beers music at the climax of the film

Lessons Learned
You know how gross it is when your body decomposes
Girls can never be trusted
If you’re from the Valley, you are also not smart

The Winning Line
“Here’s some Volume. It will calm her down”
I rewound this moment twice, just to make sure. While it doesn’t quite match Tara Reid’s pronunciation of New-Found-Land, I do consider it amazing. And further proof that if you're from the Valley, you're not that smart
Why Oh Why Question of the Day
As I mentioned in my review of Goblin, I simply don’t understand why a filmmaker insists on making every one of its teenage characters a disgusting person. It’s not entertaining in the least for an audience to despise every person on screen, even if you think it makes their death scenes more rewarding. I’m far more affected when I actually care about a character and THEN have to see him or her undergo horrors than when I just want them out of my line of vision

I toast not you
Haunted Boat is a horrendous little film, but connoisseurs of the ridiculous will find it weirdly enjoyable and well worth a 90 minute Instant Watch. Or maybe I’m just pushing it to see if anyone else can explain the ending, because despite four years of good grades in college, I just don’t think I’m smart enough. And I'm not even from the Valley.