Monday, November 30, 2015

Mommy Dearest

Ah, Amazon Prime and your recommendations for me. A 1994 made-for-TV thriller about a psychotic woman who tracks down the adult daughter she gave up for adoption and infiltrates her family, Hand That Rocks the Cradle style? BE STILL MY HEART.

Quick Plot: Susan is happily married with a baby and stepson, as well as a live-in nanny who's totally hip to the raving fashion trends of the early '90s. One day, she receives a call from a private investigator telling her that her birth mother is looking to reconnect. Because it's only 1994 and the term "Lifetime Movie" didn't quite have the same meaning, poor Susan goes for it.

At first, everything is all warm cups of tea, museum trips, and floral patterned business suit joy. Edie (Diane Ladd), Susan's birth mother, seems truly sweet and caring. 

Thank goodness there's a super duper heavyhanded musical score in place to tell us the truth.

It doesn't take long for Edie to hitch a ferry ride back to Susan's isolated island home and have gloriously awkward dinner with the adoptive parents who sense what the piano/flute duet has already banged us over the head with. Count down from 20 to when Susan's mother mentions being diabetic to Edie calling in a perilous prescription of insulin and casually injecting it into her rival's daily supply. 

Yes folks, this is THAT kind of movie. 

A great one.

The kind of movie that has the friendly nanny comment to Edie that the baby is shy around strangers, only for the soundtrack to crescendo with the force of Bette Davis chugging Coca Cola and smashing the cans on Joan Crawford’s head as the camera cuts to a sharp closeup of the spurned grandmother. Naturally, said nanny is buried in the backyard two scenes later. 

Susan’s husband Martin and stepson Dylan are reasonably suspicious, though it takes them a little too long to put two and two (dead people) together. It’s really not until Edie mounts one of the weirdest attempts at son-in-law seduction that Martin walks out. It takes a strong man to resist a middle-aged woman draping her cozy bathrobe over her shoulders as she shaves her inner thigh without cream.

Edie is a delight, and I don’t just say that because her recipe for martinis is simply a huge pour of gin with an olive dropped in the glass. The way she vacillates between loving mother and insane murderess is the kind of high camp only television movies can nail. Toss in an incredible dummy death and you’ve got yourself a winner. 

High Points
I get that Diane Ladd earns her top billing as unhinged Edie, but the real star of Hush Little Baby is the incredibly aggressive instrumental soundtrack. A glorious thing to behold, that there is
Low Points
Considering this movie gave me everything it promised in 90 minutes, I have nothing to say here

Lessons Learned
Food is primarily designed to go in the mouth

There's just never a right time to tell your daughter that her mother isn't dead

Oatmeal cookies are the perfect high fiber breakfast

Sharing a drag with your newfound step-grandmother is a much better idea in theory than execution

Along with dozens of other cheddary confections of the early ‘90s television movie boom, Hush Little Baby is currently streaming on Amazon Prime in full fuzzy glory. Those with access and a softness for well-aged cheese will have a fine fine time. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Because There's No Such Thing As Too Much Good Son


Er, I mean, LISTEN!

I hitched a pod ride with the one and only Elwood Jones to discuss two of my favorite young adult classics, the glorious coming of age tale Stand By Me and the insane pre-Orphan powerhouse that is The Good Son. Head on over to your podcast listener of choice for the MBDS Showcase's latest episode

Dress well.

And don't forget your comb. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Open Wide

When a person like me hears “was it as bad as Smiley?” in regards to something as bad as The Secret Village, you can count down from two before I proceed to find Smiley streaming on Amazon Prime to see just how rough a watch will be.

And then I question everything I know about my taste level when I finish and say, “you know, that really wasn’t that bad.”

Quick Plot: A little girl introduces her babysitter to a “Skype for strangers” chat site called The Den--

Oops. Wrong movie. This one’s called Hide & Chat and has the exciting twist that if you type “I did it for the lulz” three times, a masked man with a smiley face burlap mask will appear and brutally murder the stranger on the other side of your webcam. Naturally, the shocked babysitter goes home to immediately hop on Hide & Chat, befriend a stranger, and be fatally lulzed.

We next meet Ashley, an innocent college freshman moving in with her harder partying pal Elizabeth--

Wait. That’s not it. Though she may indeed be played by The Den’s Melanie Papalia, Ashley’s roommate is named Proxy. Because that’s apparently a thing (as are the names Binder, Crash, Kells, and Zane). 

Proxy is all about corrupting the willing Ashley, introducing her to pot, alcohol, and group of fellow college students who enjoy web pranks. It doesn’t take long for the obnoxious gang of millenials to spruce up a typical keg party with an invitation to Smiley.

Ashley is horrified by the tale so naturally, her and Proxy go home and triple lulz a stranger together to prove that it’s real. When she tries to report the events, Ashely receives the typical dubious stares from the police officers. It doesn’t help when we discover she’s bipolar and not currently on medication. 

What follows is many a dream upon dream upon dream sequence, as well as a few red herrings and a random performance by Broadway’s Roger Bart as a whiskey happy professor. Directed by newcomer Michael J. Gallagher, Smiley’s biggest problem lies in its tonal confusion. Ashley’s troubles seem to be taken seriously, but the movie as a whole can’t seem to decide if there’s genuine tragedy in these internet horrors. 

High Points
Filing under “other things this film has in common with The Den,” Smiley opens with a shockingly effective jump scare

While we’re on the “things this has in common with The Den,” let’s give a hand to the incredibly likable Caitlin Gerard, who manages to be extremely sympathetic in the lead role, even when the movie doesn’t quite know how to maximize her talents

Low Points
I actually dug the twist ending, but when you start to think back to some of the logic of it, I don’t know that it holds up

Lessons Learned
You don’t get to be king of the internet assholes without making a few enemies (and apparently, a lot of shitty mixed drinks)

Computer geniuses prefer to be called nerds

Dungeonmasters usually don’t get the princess

Common Mistake
I did not do it for the lutz

I did not do it for the lutz

Instead, I did it for the lulz

Pneumonic Device For Life
Look, there’s no shame in admitting that like 95% of the general population, you can never remember which one is Keith David and which one is David Keith. Well folks, I have the key to never mixing this up again, providing you were a fan of Six Feet Under. It goes something like this:

David & Keith were a couple.

This is David.

This is Keith.

This is David Keith.

This is Keith David.

Problem solved. 

Guys, I’ve seen worse horror movies than Smiley. Wayyyyyyyy worse movies. I realize that isn’t a ringing endorsement, but I guess I was just expecting something far less watchable based on word of mouth. It has plenty of dopey moments, but Gerard makes for a sympathetic lead and the internet twist on Candyma/Bloody Mary lore has its own appeal. I’m not telling anybody to invest in a watch, but it’s streaming on Amazon Prime and well, it’s one way to pass the time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Broody Seeds


Just wanted to send out a friendly reminder that I also host a podcast. And more importantly, this week, I host a podcast about The Brood and The Bad Seed. Listen via iTunes or whatever fancy dancy technology you use. 

Bottoms up!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Skyping For Sociopaths

Another day in the 21st century, another found footage horror film on Instant Watch.

This is how we live now.

Quick Plot: Elizabeth is an enterprising young lady attempting to get a research grant that will allow her to spend more time on "The Den," a video chat website that lets you talk to other users across the world. In between adorable stuffed animal penis performances and the occasional decent conversation, Elizabeth stumbles upon the profile of a seemingly normal teenage girl who very quickly begins asking some unusual questions.

It doesn't take long for Elizabeth's new pal--or whoever might be manipulating the profile--to infiltrate her computer, capturing a steamy evening with her and her boyfriend and sharing the video with Elizabeth's professional connections. Things get worse when Elizabeth enters The Den to discover her normal teenage girl pal tied up and murdered right on camera.

Naturally, it's a hard crime to sell to local policemen. Even Elizabeth's boyfriend and programmer friend believe it to be a well-executed prank. We as the audience know better once Elizabeth's computer sends another friend a message to come over, only to have Elizabeth follow up with a visit that reveals her friend to be dying in a bath of her own blood.

As horror fans, we've all probably seen A LOT of found footage indies, some of which have relied as much on Skype-based conversations as they have the dreaded shaky cam. Much like the similarly toned (and very underrated) Megan Is Missing, The Den mixes up the point of view by primarily taking place primarily inside Elizabeth’s computer, sort of like that recent Modern Family episode.

Such a decision could have yielded a very annoying movie, but thankfully, director Zachary Donohue manages to keep The Den’s pacing and mystery strong throughout its fairly brief running time. Lead actress Melanie Papalia is also quite natural and makes you genuinely care about her fate. This is a dark film with more than a dose of nihilism at its core, one that could have ultimately felt nasty and unpleasant if mishandled. It’s vital that Donohue treats his material with weight. Once the real danger becomes apparent, The Den never toys with making light of just how terrible and sad its world really is.

High Points
As Elizabeth, Melanie Papalia is instantly likable and worth rooting for. Found footage video cam horror can't be an easy acting job, but Papalia keeps you on her side throughout the film. It helps that the film actually lets her make pretty smart decisions and impressive self defense instincts as things escalate 

Low Points
...perhaps save for the initial “look lady, you’re putting yourself out there in a world filled with bonafide weirdos. You might want to be a tad more careful 

Lessons Learned
The Internet is filled with people that really like boobs

Never give the boyfriend that you're not that into the password to your computer

Did Strangeland teach us nothing other than nobody really wants to see Dee Snider’s nipple rings? Seriously people, stay out of chat rooms. We should have learned that in the ‘90s


Now streaming on Instant Watch, The Den is a fairly effective little sliver of found footage horror. It’s not necessarily the best of its subgenre, but I found it to be involving and disturbing. Most importantly, the fact that its lead character puts up such a good fight makes it a little more notable than many of its peers. I wouldn’t want a sequel to this particular film, but I eagerly look forward to what director Donohue does next.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Strike Up the Bagpipes

When you've seen one horror movie with a Netflix cover showing a woman on the ground reaching for help, you've probably seen them all.
I hadn't seen this one, so I did. And now I can the previous sentence to say, "I actually had pretty much seen this one."

Quick Plot: Ed and Sarah are a British city couple looking to settle in a more spacious and picturesque local. When a beautiful farmhouse in remote Scotland shows up on the market at a bargain price (in part because the previous owner and his extensive family could no longer afford it) they move in with full DIY enthusiasm.

Before the couple has a chance to reroute their mail, a group of rubber pig mask wearing locals brings on the home invasion, leaving us with a 45 minute chase through the woods.

It's not nearly as interesting as it sounds.
The Blood Lands has been shoving its cover in my face every time I log into Netflix, and the pedigree of the wonderful Pollyana McIntosh (The Woman herself) and short running time made it an easy sell. Clearly, I need to raise my standards.

The location is pretty. The leads are fine (even if they also happen to be yuppie jerks with little to no charm). But essentially, Simeon Halligan's The Bad Lands (aka White Settlers) is a five minute chase scene from something like The Strangers or You're Next stretched into a full-length feature. The villains have no discernible personality other than "hating British city folk who buy their rightful home" and "wearing rubber pig masks." The music is probably the film's best feat, but this isn't the score to Halloween or It Follows. It's just, you know, okay.

It's rare that I'm so baffled by why a movie was made, but when you get to the end of The Blood Lands, I think you might furrow your eyebrow with the same confusion that I did. This is a movie constructed and presented like your standard home invasion horror, but it's weirdly afraid to commit to it. We have a ridiculously long buildup surrounding uninteresting characters, an extensive cat and mouse hunt that offers nothing new, and an incredibly tame ending that leaves you shrugging. These things are not good.

High Points
I've always been a fan of McIntosh, and it's also nice that her character generally shows good instincts in fighting back

Low Points
Aside from the whole "what's the point of this movie at all" thing, here comes yet another film to feature a character discovering another bound and gagged and first ungagging them before, oh, I don't know, untying his hands so that a) he can ungag himself and b) he can help you when the person who presumably gagged him in the first place comes right back

Lessons Learned, The Scotland Edition
Scottish people hate the English with more fervor than I hate onions

Things you won't find in Scotland: network signals, working electricity, traffic, bears

Things you will find in Scotland: bear traps. Glorious, glorious bear traps

The Blood Lands isn't an incompetent film, but it sure is an incredibly frustrating one. It goes on too long with no payoff, and considering the film doesn't crack 90 minutes, that's a pretty rough selling point.