Friday, October 31, 2014

It's That Day!

Be shafe. Be kind. Be generoush to trick-or-r-treatersh.

And mosht of all, be sure to check your cornersh.

Happiesht of Hallowensh to ush all!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Everybody Walk the CGI Dinosaur

Seeing The Asylum logo at the start of a film typically promises a few things. The movie you are about to watch has been made cheaply. It has been filmed incredibly quickly. If the title includes a 'Vs.', you can probably bet on seeing an '80s pop icon or two in the cast. If the title is suspiciously similar to a recent, fairly successful mainstream film, the odds are high that the movie you are about to watch will not be particularly good (with the occasional Paranormal Entity-esque exception, of course).

Now let's say you see The Asylum trademark but do NOT see a Vs., an '80s pop icon, or any clear and obvious connection to a modern blockbuster?

Well sometimes, those are okay. Not great--never great. But here and there, a studio that prides itself on low cost and high quantity can, with a thoughtful writer or director on board, produce something of genuine entertainment.

Quick Plot: A tense (just kidding) prologue gives us a full-on Jurassic Park-ish intro as we see a bunch of expendable science types slaughtered by a dinosaur puppet. Just when you get excited by the idea of puppets in an Asylum film, our credits roll and the threat of bargain-priced CGI becomes real.

Treat Williams, a man for whom my lust has never waned (Hair's Berger then, Handsome Dad In Asylum Movies now), is Gabe Jacobs, a widowed firefighter with a teenage daughter named Jade. As you would expect from any Asylum movie where a teenage daughter to single dad is a character, Jade spends the majority of her screentime rolling her eyes and texting because, you know, TEENAGERS.

Gabe's brother or friend or daughter's former babysitter or something is a security guard at a fancy high school auditorium/Biotech company of sorts hosting a black tie presentation. CEO Ronny Cox is proudly announcing to a whole bunch of extras that in addition to curing burn victims, his research company has now brought dinosaurs back to life. Naturally, this leads to a bunch of terribly rendered CGI creatures breaking out of terribly rendered CGI glass cages.

The moment I knew I kinda liked Age of Dinosaurs was quite clear. As chaos reigns inside the theater, what with the virtual dinosaurs leaping and biting and hundreds of spectators yelling and dying, the action cuts to the lobby where Jade has been sitting in order to text (TEENAGERS!). When a dinosaur leaps at Jade, she lets out an understandable scream. Cut, of course, back to the loud, death-filled interior of the auditorium where Gabe immediately stops, his brother/friend/security guard/friend not quite explained in the film screenplay makes eye contact and shouts "I heard it too!"

As an owner of four cats, I know whose meow is whose, at least most of the time. Is it wrong of me, however, to assume that it's hard/impossible to identify an individual's scream, particularly when there are a whole lot of other shouts/dinosaur roars/bodies being crunched by roaring dinosaurs noises going on?

Asylum is not a studio known for its quality, but it generally understands its audience enough to know what they need. When it's going for high profile concepts, I usually find the style a little too obvious (sorry, Sharknado) but some of its quieter output can be rather fun. In the case of Age of Dinosaurs, director Joseph J. Lawson isn't working with the best material and resources (you know there's a problem when even the news reporter character stutters) but he finds the right light-but-not-obviously-ridiculous tone to make the 90 minute running time what it should be: dinosaurs amok.

This is the kind of film that has Treat Williams earnestly beg a helicopter pilot to "Step on it!" and, even better, "aim for that pterodactyl!" Naturally, his zinger when the aiming pays off? 

"Bye bye birdie."

And that's not even The Winning Line!

High Points
This is also the kind of movie that has extras flee a theater, only to focus on a large chubby man when a shrill female scream sounds. I approve

Low Points
Sadly the energy of Age of Dinosaurs withered away once it rounded the hour mark. Maybe it was the clear budgetary limitations that became more obvious once the action moved out of a confined space (observe the 'dinosaurs are hunting humans in the mall!' which really just turns into 'people run out of a mall/now a dinosaur is running through an empty mall!' effect), but the film just kind of flatlined after its main novelty wore off

Lessons Learned
Scientific intellectuals really like their Jameson(s)

Guns don't kill dinosaurs. Axes and hockey sticks kill dinosaurs

Never drive on a quarter a tank of gas. You'll come to regret it when chasing dinosaurs on the streets of LA

When a teenager passes through your bar and shouts "Run!" you should listen

The Winning Line
"Now there's a woman who has curves in places most women don't even have places!"
I think this is a compliment, but gentlemen, a word of advice from a lady: don't ever use it to impress one

As you would expect from anything produced by The Asylum, Age of Dinosaurs isn't actually very good. That being said, this is a fun enough time killer that could easily make you smile here and there while folding laundry or reorganizing your DVD collection. Hit it up on Instant Watch the the moment strikes.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Is That Store Brand Electric Kook-Aid?

Don't ask me why, but I love cults. I mean, I don't LOVE as in I want to hug them or have their children or, heaven forbid, BE IN ONE, but I just find the concept truly fascinating. The idea that someone can have such an explosive combination of charisma and ego that can drive dozens or hundreds of people to follow him or her blindly is horrifying. 

I recall quite the media stir when the Heaven's Gate cult made its move, the suicide of 39 people mysteriously clad in Nike sneakers. David Letterman couldn't get enough of its joke factor, but it was a documentary I watched as an impressionable teenager that truly haunted me. The key element was that this TV special--I've never been able to find it again--showed footage of some of the Heaven's Gate members before their full-on entrance into the community, then included interviews recorded with them after. All had shaved their heads and wore plain, genderless clothes. You could barely tell one apart from the other, much less match them to the 'normal' person they had been shown as earlier. Most striking was the look in their eyes as they talked about their community. It was perfectly blank. And again, identical on every subject.

I don't remember ever being quite so unnerved. Perhaps it was just really good editing, but the idea that your friend or sibling or spouse could transform into a minion with no discernible person of their own was terrifying. Granted, some of my favorite sitcom moments used the same idea to great comedic effect, but it doesn’t really minimize the horror.

With The House of the Devil, Ti West came upon the modern horror scene like its own version of a new messiah. I was let down by The Innkeepers, haven’t been able to get through V/H/S, and found his installment in The ABCs of Death rather eye-rolling. But I root for the guy. And he made a film about a cult. So let’s do this.

Quick Plot: A pair of Brooklyn documentary filmmakers named Jake and Sam (Joe Swanberg and A.J. Bowen, two talented men fast becoming the faces of 21st century horror) learn that their friend Patrick has received a mysterious message from his ex-addict sister (Amy Seimetz). She's living with a private community in an unnamed country and asks him to visit, although she can't/won't give any specific details about its location.

Intrigued. Sam and Jake decide to join Patrick on the trip, cameras and go get 'em attitude in place. As soon as they're greeted by local guards wielding machine guns, the mood starts to change.

Welcome to Jonestown. Because, let's face it, that's exactly what The Sacrament is. 

You know that standard credit that rolls at the end of every movie? The "characters in this film are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental." Well, The Sacrament has one. And that's kind of ridiculous.

Ti West knows how to make a good horror film. He can build suspense. He can use music effectively (even forgiving the fact that this is found footage, so the soundtrack would have mysteriously been added after the fact). He has a great hand with actors. All of that is clear with The Sacrament. 

It's an effective film. It's unsettling, as any tale about a cult led by a creepily charismatic leader willing to herd them into mass suicide (or “suicide,” as it were) would be. The problem, of course, is that it’s not an original tale. It's also not admitting to be, you know, what amounts to a dramatization of one of America's most unsettling real-life horror stories.

The story of Jonestown is readily documented in various books and films (several of which are also streaming on Netflix). The Sacrament, however, never claims to be about Jonestown. It also never deviates in any notable way from the events that went down in Guyana in 1978. 

So what's the point? Is West just trying to turn a historical event into a modern horror film? If he's trying to say something about the nature of cults, well, he's not doing so in any way that history hasn't already. It makes for an incredibly odd viewing experience. Especially when, even at the very end, we get a roll of text that sums up the fictional massacre as if it were real. And then credits roll. Because it wasn’t real.

I’ve been begging for more cult-based horror for as long as I’ve been writing about it. I find the concept fascinating and rife for exploration. But why explore territory if you’re not going to make a single original observation? Sam and Jake are almost set up to be the hipster New York journalists without any real understanding of the world that’s not theirs, but the film backs away from that, instead making them fairly genuine guys just trying to get out alive and help if they can. They don’t really even get much of an arc. 

Ultimately, the only interesting character is Seimetz’s Caroline, mostly because her story is one we haven’t heard before. We’ve seen the footage of Jim Jones preaching and heard the documentation of what the aftermath of his massacre looked like. Had the film maybe dug deeper or explored a viewpoint we don’t already know, at least it would have felt new. Instead, it feels unnecessary and even, extremely tasteless. 

High Points
When your cast includes a batch of young actors who have spent the last few years in improvised low budget filmmaking, it’s no surprise that the performances are far more natural than your average found footage horror movie

Low Points
Aside from the already explained bafflement I had at the motivation behind the film, there are a few major issues with transplanting a story from the '70s into the 2010s (whatever this decade is called). The People's Temple drew in crowds in a big part because of where America was at the time. I'm not saying this country is now an eden of its own to black citizens or the elderly or anyone not falling in line with the U.S. government, but The Sacrament never makes any kind of effort to justify why so many different types of people are willing to give everything to a false messiah.

Lessons Learned
People in fashion should own boots

Cell phones won’t get reception in the middle of a creepy religious commune, but thankfully, there are plenty of spots to plug in and keep your battery well charged

Helicopter pilots have a pretty high tolerance to pain

I don't really know how to recommend The Sacrament. It's a finely made film, extremely unsettling where it needs to be and strongly acted by a cast that's comfortable playing the found footage naturalism (the fact that Joe Swanberg directed the improvised Drinking Buddies certainly helps). Personally, I just don't understand why Ti West would simply retell the story of Jonestown without, as far as I felt form this viewing, bringing anything other than a good filmmaker's eye to it. Am I missing something? The film is streaming on Instant Watch, so I'd be happy for readers to check it out and share their thoughts. I haven't felt this conflicted about how to feel about a film in quite a long time.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Would You Like To Hear More?


There's really never not a good time to talk about Starship Troopers, Paul Verhoeven's masterpiece of satire, action, and vaginal faced brain bugs sucking Patrick Muldoon's innards out of his soap star dreamface.

I bring up the fourth best film of all time (although all-time best use of ex-90210 cast members) not just because it's Friday, but more because you can hear me discuss it with From the Depth's of DVD Hell's great Elwood Jones over at the debut episode of his podcast Mad, Bad, and Downright Strange.  

And that's not all!

My husband and I took a break from watching Jeopardy! and Murder, She Wrote to record a special guest episode of Married With Clickers, one of my favorite film podcasts out on the interwaves. The topic? 

Only one of the most underrated horror comedies of all time. You can head here to hear the episode. While you're there, be sure to check out the other great offerings of horror reviews for the month. 

Hold on tight! One more...

If you haven't been listening to my regular podcast, The Feminine Critique, then our last episode might bring you back in the fold. My partner in crime Christine and I tackled Mike Flanagan's recent WWE produced (???, seriously) hit Oculus. It's a much stronger and deeper film than its marketing may have suggested. We have lots to say on the matter. 

And now, because I love you, I shall exit with a Clancy Brown slideshow:

Yup. That settles everything.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Order On the Set

I recall hearing quite the glut of negativity aimed at Wes Craven's 2010 3D slasher My Soul To Take. The film seemed to rile up such bitter venom in all who viewed that I naturally have spent the last four years anxiously awaiting its arrival on Netflix Instant.

Try as I may, I just couldn't bring myself to wasting my valuable 1-disc-at-a-time plan on a movie that by all accounts was going to be unworthy. Most mediocre slashers are guaranteed a ticket on the Instant Watch circuit, but this one just refused to take the ride. 

Full disclosure: I finally watched My Soul To Take when it aired on the SyFy Channel (in MY day, by the way, we called it The Sci-Fi Channel; in my younger days, it was better known as The Home of Every Quantum Leap Rerun). What this means is that for all I know, scenes were edited or removed to fit into the 2-hour-with-commercials-not-for-Quantum-Leap running time. I'll never know what My Soul To Take looked like to the non-cable eyes, but I will assume it had less awkward mutings on curses and more importantly, 100% less blurred out newborn nudity.

I'm really not kidding: SyFy blurs out baby nudity. Somehow I find this incredibly disturbing. It makes something so natural and non-sexual (because: baby) into something that's apparently sexual or at the very least, harder core than Rated M. 

Anyway, I guess I find the politics of editing infant nudity way more intriguing than Wes Craven's bizarrely lazy tale of teenage stereotypes trapped in a convoluted yet unexplained curse of sorts. Still, I have a non-paying job to do, so let's get on with it!

Quick Plot: 16 years ago, the town of Riverton housed a vicious serial killer played by Raul Esparza--

This is going to be a REALLY hard review to get through, isn't it...

Sidebar, your honor: Raul Esparza is probably best known to the general American audience as the current ADA on Law & Order: SVU  (though Broadway audiences are more familiar with his musical work in everything from Cabaret to Company and so on). The man is, let me say this, 5'3.


I'm just, you know, pointing out that the sadistic and active murderer of this film is not too much taller than me.

Moving on, Esparza is a family man who opens the film building a white dollhouse in his basement--


Yes, the dollhouse bears a more than coincidental resemblance to something you might pass on Elm Street. And yes, this will not be the only sidebar to point out a similarity between My Soul To Take and that OTHER franchise.

So. Esparza's a family man with a wife about to deliver a baby whose nudity will be blurred out. He's also the host to multiple personalities--or souls, as the film occasionally discusses--that kill. According to the film's science, this makes him a violent schizophrenic--


Are we still, a full decade into the 21st century, calling multiple personality disorder the same as schizophrenia? Have we NOT gotten past this misconception? Isn't this to psychiatry what a misuse of its/it's is to grammar nerds? Isn't Wes Craven a pretty well-educated man who at least could have double checked this on Wikipedia?

Anyway, the Riverton Ripper or Reaper or whatever you want to call him is caught by, as usual in a Wes Craven film, completely unqualified police officers who somehow let him shoot/stab several last minute victims AFTER being captured. It's sort of resolved by an ambulance accident that, 16 years later, one can still see because in 16 years, why would a town ever do something as minor as remove the burnt vehicle of a fatal car accident from the street?

Did I mention it's now 16 years later? You're forgiven if you didn't catch that detail since all of the characters shown 16 years earlier haven't aged a day. This includes supporting unqualified policewoman Danai Gurira (Michonne from The Walking Dead) who hasn't even changed her hair style in 16 years. 

Gurira's character in 1994
...and 2010

You know what HAS changed in 16 years? The baby, he of the blurred out baby nudity, is now a creepy high school student named Bug played by The House At the End of the Street's Max Thieriot. What's more interesting is that on that fateful night, there were six other babies born who might have required blurred out nudity in a deleted scene. Today, these teenagers are known as the Riverton Seven and take part in an annual performance before their peers and that burned out but still unmoved ambulance, wherein they ceremoniously slay the puppet embodiment of Raul Esparza to ward off his spirit--I mean schizophrenia--I mean, souls.  

Among the Riverton Seven are:

The token jock jerk
The token Asian artist kid
The token blond brat
The token religious girl
The token weird kid (nickname: Bug; hobby: birdwatching)
The token weird kid's friend with an abusive father 
The token blind black kid, who in the most disappointing SPOILER twist of all, is not the killer

When the awkward Bug fails to complete the Riverton party charade, the kids quickly begin to die in horrifically boring ways. Meanwhile, Bug begins to display some of his friends' personality quirks, such as being able to construct an elaborate condor costume for show and tell (because that's what high school biology apparently is in 2010) or capturing his pal Adam's movements in one of those mirror games you play in Acting 101 class. Mind you, it's not exactly clear or interesting in any way, and all of it makes me long for a much-needed rewatch of Nightmare On Elm Street 4.


I love that one. I know most horror fans see Renny Harlin's goofy take as the series' beginning of the end, but I find the visual creativity and super elaborate death sequences to be the best in the bunch. It references Kafka! Plus, it's the installment that resurrects Freddy Krueger via dog pee. 

What was I talking about again?

Right. So. Stereotypes die. Wes Craven displays a strange understanding of high school politics, envisioning a society where a bitchy super senior who goes by the name of Fang serves as a sort of fascist dictator who can enact edicts about levels of bullying and matchmaking. Maybe I just didn't "wake up and smell the Starbucks" (actual line of dialog) but I think modern teenagers aren't quite as Napoleonic as Wes Craven seems to believe.

There is so very much wrong with My Soul To Take. Aforementioned 'what the hell kind of teenagers ARE these people?' being just a teeny tiny part of it all. It's clear that this film was repackaged five times or so for test audiences, as minor plot threads seem to be introduced only to dangle lazily until you accept that you shouldn't care about them. The nature of why a schizoph--er, multiple personality carrying musical theater star could have such magical Shocker-ish abilities to inhabit and pass on multiple souls is never justified with any kind of mythology. One cop (who uses great anti-aging cream) suggests something about soul jumping. The kids sort of discuss it. Apparently, it happened in the movie and the script forgot to mention it.


I’ve now written over one thousand words about My Soul To Take. I think nine out of ten soul holders would agree that that’s at least 900 too many. And yet, I’m not done. So let me leave you with a few more bullet points worth noting. We’ll call them evidence:

Exhibit A: The Riverton Ripper uses a knife that has the word “vengeance” carved in the blade. This is an exhibit because never in the film does any real sense that the Riverton Ripper sought vengeance come into play. Other than, perhaps, the fact that the motive for Freddy Krueger hunting the children of his killers was vengeance. 

Exhibit B: I started keeping track of how many times a character turns around as the music CRESCENDOS and he/she is about to scream before realizing “oh hey! It’s just a friend.” I gave up after three.

Exhibit C: The very first shot of the killer--not musical theater multi-soul holder killer, mythical soul sharing 2010 killer--sprinting at his first victim was almost cool. 

Exhibit D: Maybe I’m reaching, but once the Nightmare On Elm Street winks started coming, I couldn’t stop seeing them. Everywhere. Bug’s best friend visits him by climbing in through his window. Maybe it’s nothing. Or maybe it’s a rather meh director trademark.

Exhibit E: It’s been at least a few hundred words since I mentioned it, and this has less to do with My Soul To Take than it does with The SyFy Channel or FCC, but seriously: the innocent biological genitalia of a BABY was blurred out, yet underage children being gutted, decapitated, and gutted again (the kills were incredibly not creative) was considered perfectly fine to show in full glory on television. Just something to consider, America.

Exhibit F: The end credits roll over an animated sequence of sorts involving condors. It’s sort of adorable. Until you remember that this is the credits sequence for a horror film that has, up to now, taken itself rather seriously

The prosecution rests.

High Points
Well, it's hard to hate a movie that includes a dramatic scene wherein the lead character gives an interactive book report on a condor while his friend is dressed as said condor and said friend dressed as condor vomits and poops on the film's minor villain

Low Points
Aside from this not being a very good movie, the mere premise of a whole bunch of kids being born on the same night can't NOT make me think of Bloody Birthday, and how much greater a viewing experience that film is (not just compared to My Soul To Take, but really, compared to 99% of cinema in existence. Have you SEEN Bloody Birthday???)

Lessons Learned
A good show 'n tell needs shock and awe (artificial bird poop and vomit helps as well)

It's not okay for everybody to be killing each other all the time

Epinephrin kicks ass

Computer imagery enhancement was at its peak in 1994

Hey. Relax. If things get too tough, just turn on the prayer condition

Yup. My Soul To Take is bad. It also earned over 1700 words from me, so it might be bad--


It is bad. No might about it.

Yet it somehow led me to write quite a bit. So whatever that says about the movie, that’s that.