Monday, April 27, 2015

First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Then Comes the...

My honeymoon was not a horror movie. It involved Domino’s cheesy bread served with champagne, the Saved By the Bell Lifetime movie, and a day ogling baby gorillas at the Bronx Zoo. 

In other words, it was pure bliss. 

But a horror movie called Honeymoon released the year of my marriage? I’ll take it.

Quick Plot: We open on gooey excerpts from the sweet wedding video of Paul and Bea, a happy young Brooklyn couple celebrating their titular honeymoon in Bea’s parents’ isolated lake cabin. Left without cable, internet, or cell phone service, the happy pair plan to spend the next few days making each other breakfast, swimming in ice cold pre-summer water, and obviously, having lots and lots of married cuddle time.

This being a horror film, things don’t quite go according to plan. Paul catches Bea in an unusual sleepwalking detour to the woods, later revealing some mysterious bug bites and a trail of sticky goo. Shortly after the pair bumps into Bea’s hotheaded childhood friend and seemingly abused wife at the town’s only restaurant, Paul starts to notice Bea acting 

Is it an affair? A demonic possession? A dark childhood secret yet to be revealed?

Obviously, I’m not going to tell you, though I will say Honeymoon is well worth finding out. This is a small film, the feature debut from director Leigh Janiak centered almost entirely on two performances. Rose Leslie (aka Ygritte the WIlding) and Harry Treadaway could probably have used an extra American dialect lesson or two, but they establish a sweet and more importantly, believable chemistry that is absolutely vital to selling their plight. There is no doubt in our minds as the audience that these two people are in love, making what befalls them all the more heartbreaking.

What’s also quite impressive about Honeymoon is its minimalism. This is a film clearly crafted with a small budget in mind, and as a result, Janiak wisely generates her atmosphere with nothing more than her actors and a smudge of goo. We eventually get a little Cronenbergian action, but it’s been earned in such a way that we only need a little to sell the horror. Much like another low budget marriage-based cottage-set horror film that I loved, Honeymoon doesn’t try to do anything it can’t. This is a story of marriage, paranoia, and some supernatural darkness that gets paid off well. It’s not feel-good, but it’s definitely, well, good.

High Points
So much of Honeymoon depends on its two leads, and while there’s nothing spectacularly unique about Bea and Paul (I’ve lived in New York long enough to know a thousand couples like them), Leslie and Treadaway establish their connection so well that you can’t help but believe in their affection

Low Points
If you’re working with two British actors who aren’t necessarily experienced with an American accent, maybe you should just...I don’t know, let them be British?

Lessons Learned
One must first apply the batter before throwing your french toast on the griddle

When stuck in the middle of nowhere, pack A LOT of moisturizer

Hockey is the one with the ice skates

Honeymoon is an extremely solid little genre film that brings a very disciplined energy to its brisk 86 minute running time. I definitely hope to see Leigh Janiak continue to work in the field, especially if it means seeing more of this kind of perfectly balanced tone of intimacy and human to human horror. The movie is streaming on Netflix and makes for a solid and effective time. Give it a go.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Maximum Underdrive

I will never try to convince anyone that Maximum Overdrive is a good movie, but I will also never waver in my undying, unreasonable, and eternal adoration for all that it is.

You could torture me. You could reason with me. You could tie me to a hard chair and invite Stephen King himself to stand there lecturing me as to why it's a terrible film, all the while poking me with a hot cattle prod. Heck, you could have Stephen King force feed me raw onions while he uses a creepy ventriloquist dummy to explain why Maximum Overdrive is not in any way good, and you know what? I will not give in.

I love it.

The idea that someone else decided to adapt King's story or remake this movie was, quite obviously, extremely exciting for me to learn, despite the fact that all who had seen it testified that it was not worth my time. I was prepared to walk away and remove it from my radar because really, if I need to see pinball machines electrocuting Gus Fring, I could quite easily put in my well-worn Maximum Overdrive DVD any day of the week (or every day of the week). When it popped up as a free stream on Amazon Prime, I found myself gravitating back towards this by all accounts waste of time. When I saw this tagline:

I knew there was no escaping it. I had to watch Trucks. No ventriloquist dummy could convince me otherwise.

Quick Plot: At a dusty rest stop far away from civilization, a few scattered and unhappy white people begin to notice that trucks are developing a violent mind of their own, possibly due to a fuzzily explained nearby toxic waste accident. Tragically, there is no mention of comets or lasers. 

Our scruffy survivors include Demon Knight's Brenda Bakke as an independent trail guide, a widowed mechanic dad and his teenage son, a divorced white collar dad and his terribly awful teenage daughter, an aging hippie, elderly clerk, and a few jerks in trucker hats who I think are supposed to be villainous but honestly, I never cared enough to know for sure. 

Made in Canada on a TV movie budget, Trucks is certainly a passable horror movie filled with a few genuinely fun and wacky sequences. The acting is more than acceptable, and the special effects budget clearly included generous donations from someone who just really liked to blow things up. Heck, in many ways, this is probably a much "better" movie than Maximum Overdrive.

But I have no desire to ever see it again.

Ever play an unbranded board game modeled on a far more famous one? The dollar store's version of Monopoly (perhaps named "Moneypoley" or "Real Estate Game"), for example? It's structured the same as Parker Brothers' pride and joy, but there's just something missing. Maybe the paper money is printed on thinner stock or the dice have stickers in place of carved dots. It's fine, and if you gave it to a child raised in a Skinner box who had never fought with his brother over who got to be the thimble, that child would enjoy it with no complaint. But it's just not real.

Even with maximum explosions.

That's kind of how I felt about Trucks. Its credits announce it as being based on Stephen King's short story (which I haven't read), and it never pretends to be a remake of 1987's AC/DC scored cocaine-fueled classic. This is a somewhat seriously told tale of trucks gone bad. Yes, it is very hard to tell such a tale seriously, even in the hands of Visiting Hours screenwriter Brian Taggert.

There are touches of fun, to be sure. A scene wherein a motorized toy pickup truck terrorizes a mailman is rather adorable. There's also a very neat sequence where a HAZMAT suit is inflated by a cleanup crew car, only to animate in such a way where it essentially becomes an invisible man axe murderer. These are good things.

But U-Turn, U-Die good? Not nearly. 

Trucks just isn't that much fun. The humans aren't colorful enough to sustain our attention and the actual trucks lack any defining feature to give a memorable face to the evil. By late ‘90s direct-to-video (or Canadian television?) standards, it’s fine. 

Just not soda-can-to-the-groin fine.

High Points
Look, I really DID enjoy the aforementioned kills for their surprise...

Low Points
Even if the inconsistency of what machinery acts evil and what doesn't remains an issue for a purist like me

Lessons Learned
Kids of the '90s firmly believe turquoise and silver should be worn separately or banned

When you're stressed, it's good to meditate

You can't be a redneck if you're from Detroit

Trucks is streaming on Amazon Prime and probably lurking somewhere in its entirety on youtube. It’s not the worst way to kill 90 minutes, particularly if you have any affection for tiny mechanical Tonkas braining a U.S. postal employee. It won’t inspire a LEGO set,  but you know honeybun, what can?
Damn straight.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Who Is That Masked Man?

I’ll say this first: Bruiser, a film written and directed by George Romero, contains no zombies.

And now I’ll say this: Bruiser contains Peter Stormare turning the word ‘salami’ into a verb used to mean sex. Really, what more does one need?

Quick Plot: Henry is a nice guy bound to finish last. His beautiful, awful wife Janine respects her toy poodle far more than her hard-working husband, who in turn toils away at a fashion magazine run by a flamboyant womanizer named Milo Styles.

Guys, let’s talk about Milo Styles. Because he is amazing.

Peter Stormare is one of those character actors that makes most viewers perk up anytime he shows up onscreen. I don’t know if it was Romero or Stormare’s idea, but his Milo is one of the most over the top creations I’ve ever seen on film. 

It’s not just that he sexually harasses every woman (and man) on his staff or that his wardrobe consists of the kind of silk button-ups that can magically turn into v-necks at the sniff of cocaine. Or that he speaks with the kind of typical Peter Stormare accent that sounds like it comes from a small European nation where mass transit is conducted via oxen and the peasants revolt every five years. Stormare gives Milo 120% of his energy, and all of it is aimed at making the man a cruel, misogynist, oversexed, and incredibly enthusiastic hedonist. It is a glorious thing.

Not so glorious for Henry, who discovers that Janine is not only stealing from his investments with the help of his best friend, but is also shagging Milo on the side. As if things couldn’t get any worse, Henry wakes up one morning with his face covered in a sort of plastic Momenshuntz mask, similar to one his pal (and Milo’s put-upon soon-to-be ex-wife) Rosie made for him. 

Left without a face or wife, Henry embarks upon a mission of vengeance so fierce it requires the police work of the only man fit for such a job. 

Tom Atkins is no Milo Styles, but he DOES refer to women as dames, which makes me way happier than it probably should.

To seal the deal, we spend the last twenty minutes at the world’s most ridiculous late ‘90s masquerade rave. Note that the ‘rave’ in question is technically a work party required for all magazine employees and their children, which sort of explains why its dress code was ripped from The Road Warrior, the entertainment is a Misfits performance, Halloween-themed appetizers are passed about, and it all ends in lasers. 

Yup, Bruiser is an odd one, especially coming from the man better known for shuffling corpses and the occasional medieval times reenactment motorcycle gang. This is more in line with the Falling Down-type story of a mild-mannered man finding his inner badass. 

It works well enough. Henry gets us on his side quickly because his targets really are awful human beings. More importantly, we see that he’s not willing to cause collateral damage. He has a code, and it makes Bruiser much more compelling for it. There’s something strangely sweet and positive in the attitude of the film, as if Romero really wanted to tell a sordid, violence-riddled story where the good guy wins. Just with casualties.

And lasers.

High Points
Storemare for president. Storemare for the next Bond villain. Storemare for the next Pretty Little Liar. Storemare for all.

Low Points
I get that the models in the film were supposed to be dumb, but did they also have to be such terrible actresses?

Lessons Learned
You can always gauge the moral compass of a character by how he parks

Bed may be a gift from the gods, but a handicap port-a-potty is the best place to salami around

Everybody needs a bastard in their life

Fun Fact
When you Google image search for ‘Bruiser’ and ‘movie,’ you are indeed reminded that Legally Blonde happened. Because Bruiser!

Bruiser isn’t quite the treatise on male empowerment that it might think it is, but it’s a pretty darn fun little movie. As Henry, Jason Flemyng makes a likable protagonist worth rooting for, Atkins brings his signature charm, and Stormare sashays away chewing scenery as if it were the world’s most delicious Bubblicious gum. The movie is streaming on Netflix and fine for a good 90 minutes of your weekend afternoon.

Monday, April 6, 2015


Some of us were born with looks.

Some with money.

Some with incredible athletic ability.

Others with drive.

Some with a combination of everything great in the world

And many with brains.

I am by no means the smartest crayon to ever escape the box, but like many a person who relies on my knowledge or ability to obtain knowledge, the idea of losing that tool is positively terrifying. I could function without a hand, should a Jamie Lannister-esque fight ever be lost. I could work with a scarred face or slowly rebuild my bank account should I ever be swindled by a charming singing monorail salesman. I could do these things in spite of great tragedy because at the end of the terrible horrible no good very bad day, I have my mind.

Now imagine I don't.

Alzheimer’s is a terrifying, tragic condition that I hope to never experience firsthand. To lose memories to senility is one thing; to lose life moments and your very fundamental ability to piece them together is, I can only imagine, a living nightmare both for you and those around you. Of COURSE there is a horror movie centered on the disease, and I don't think it will spoil anything to say the shame is that, while The Taking of Deborah Logan is a good film, the horror story it tells can simply not come close to the terror it creates simply by documenting the disease.

Quick Plot: Psychology grad student Mia is making a documentary film about Alzheimer’s and, more specifically, its effect on the primary caregiver to the afflicted patient. With her two-man film crew, Mia heads to the countryside home of the Logans, a mother/daughter team in financial and medical trouble.

Mom Deborah (the fantastic Jill Larson) has just entered the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a tragedy made even worse when we learn that the single mom was a smart, determined working woman who ran her own switchboard business for twenty years. Grown daughter Sarah (Anne Ramsay, known forever to me as A League of Their Own's first baseman Helen Haley) copes with the age-old mechanisms of humor and vodka. 

(and the occasional double play)
Deborah's condition seems to worsen at an expedited speed, leading to midnight episodes where she awakens the household in fits of screaming and self-mutilation. Little by little, Sarah and Mia begin to piece together a bigger mystery that connects Deborah to a long-vanished neighborhood child killer who may have had a close relationship with an evil force.

The Taking of Deborah Logan is presented as a sort of cross between found footage and a documentary. Mia IS making a straight medical documentary, but later scenes that go into the 'action,' if you will, wouldn't really have ended up in the final product. So that's one minor drawback: at one point, I couldn't remember what I was supposed to be watching. Was this a documentary that spun out of control, or is this a more a Lake Mungo-esque situation? 

The confusion is one strike, and the inevitable "I can't see anything when you run with a camera in a dimly lit cave" complaint is certainly another. Those issues aside, first-time director Adam Robitel has assembled a fascinating, scary, and sad genre film that stands a good head above most of its found footage brethren. 

It starts with the performances, and in the title role, Larson is just as good as you might have heard. The actress (probably best known for soap opera work) creates something of a masterpiece in Deborah, channeling everything from the conservative Catholic mother who feels uneasy around her gay daughter to the fragile hospital patient and potentially possessed monster. We see a shockingly vivid picture of exactly who Deborah was, something made all the stronger by seeing how different she now appears. 

The shame of The Taking of Deborah Logan is that, as you might suspect, the ultimate plot is just nowhere as interesting as its leadup. The driving ghost story isn’t terrible, and would work just fine in its own movie. But when you wrap it in a narrative that’s just so much more heartbreaking and compelling, it’s hard to leave the film without feeling a little let down. First-time director Adam Robitel (whose credits primarily include editing and documentary video shorts) definitely shows a lot of strength in getting great performances, creating interesting characters, and building some decent scares, but with this film, those things never quite override the limits of the subgenre.

High Points
It’s always a good thing to see a genre film filled with multiple strong female characters (granted, it shouldn’t HAVE to be a thing to note, but it’s 2015 and still not the norm, so I shall). The Taking of Deborah Logan belongs to its women, from the mother-daughter pair to Mia, who’s presented as a capable student that doesn’t fall prey to the typcal found footage cliches, and even Deborah’s primary doctor who just so happens to be a woman

Low Points
It's petty to ask after watching a decade's worth of found footage films, but I mean, I JUST WANT TO SEE WHAT'S GOING SO CAN YOU LET ME DO THAT ALREADY?

I tried.

Lessons Learned
White people sure do love their attics

As a police officer, one should probably be prepared with the basic tools of investigation. Such tools include a standard flashlight because, you know, you're a police officer and should probably keep one handy in your glove compartment

Always expect a burlap bag to be filled with extremely venomous snakes. If you’re not living by this rule, I really don’t even know how you’ve made it this far. 

The GAH! Thing
Everyone has that 'THING' that makes them cringe. For many, it's eyeball or fingernail trauma. A shockingly large portion of horror audiences curl up into Poffle ballls as soon as an Achilles tendon is severed. Following Deborah Logan's Hummel figurine snack and Oculus's lightbulb bite, I've found my ick: chewing on non-edible objects. IT IS THE WORST.

Well, that and ventriloquist dummies.

And caterpillars. 

This world we live in is a hard world.

Streaming on Netflix at a breezy 90 minutes, The Taking of Deborah Logan is definitely one to watch. Jill Larson’s performance alone makes it worthy. Found footage style fans will find plenty to enjoy here, though I ultimately think the film falls short by not finding a way to work its more human narrative into its typical ghost one, but it’s still a strong debut for director Robitel. I wanted more, but I still managed to get a lot.