Monday, August 29, 2016

I Smell a Sequel

When you watch as many horror movies as I do, it's sometimes hard to decipher one from the other. When I found an interestingly premised little flick on HBO Go, I had no reason not to give it a shot. When its title card revealed it to be a sequel or prequel or cousin to a movie I knew I had seen but had no memory of, I knew, well, that I just watch too many movies.

Reeker, a slick little direct-to-DVD-before-we-said-direct-to-streaming genre movie, was something I KNEW I had seen a few years earlier. Had I rented it on Netflix? Randomly checked it out from the library? It wouldn't have aired on any channel that I watch. I hadn't reviewed it, which meant it may have been consumed by me pre-DeadlyDollsHouse era.

Was there even such a time?

Anyway, at one point in my life before 2007, I watched David Payne's Reeker. I remember that it had a twist ending, one that worked well enough but has since been done to death. I also remember that it was called "Reeker."

That's enough background to venture into the sequel, right?

Quick Plot: Back in the '70s, a rather unqualified desert police officer caught a sadistic serial killer who was sent to the gas chamber. Now, said unqualified desert police officer is passing his sheriff's badge over to his equally unqualified son at an isolated truck stop diner, where some very bad things are about to happen.

Also at the diner is a trio of bank robbers willing to take hostages to find safety, a bitter waitress because according to the rules of cinema, all are, and a doctor who will undoubtedly have her work cut out for her, especially once the smelly spirit of the aforementioned murderer descends upon the outpost to kill, resurrect, and kill again.

The setup, as you may deduce, is fairly standard. Where No Man's Land stands out is how it combines over-the-top gore with an oddball sense of black humor. One almost has to wonder if writer/director Payne looked at his iffy CGI, shrugged his shoulders, and said something to the effect of, "Well, we can't NOT talk about this." It certainly gives No Man's Land a touch of uniqueness. This isn't an Evil Dead 2 laugh-out-loud visual jokefest, but the film toes an interesting line in balancing its horror with some self-aware chuckles.

That's not to say that No Man's Land is great or even, well, that good, but it has its own personality. In the wake of assembly line low budget horror, it's not always that easy to distinguish yourself (as evidenced by my non-remembrance of Reeker).

High Points
The opening scene has a rather great and shocking twist that sets a promising tone right out of the gate

Low Points

If only I found any of the characters interesting enough to care

Lessons Learned, Nevada Police Academy StyleEven when you're nervous, it's best to avoid dropping your gun right in front of a homicidal lunatic before running away

The physics of explosions are beyond mere cop comprehension

When confronted with the supernatural, why not just drink? (and no, "wearing the sheriff's badge" is not actually the answer to this question)

No Man's Land has a certain kind of charm about it, and those looking for some lighter gore may find this satisfies that particular itch. Based on my experience, I don't think seeing the film's predecessor is mandatory. Or at least, REMEMBERING Reeker isn't.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

I'm Doing a Thing! A Shark Thing

New Yorkers, dig out your speedos and join me this Thursday night in Brooklyn for a special thing!

I'll be joining the Kevin Geeks Out roster this week for a shark-taculor evening celebrating everything from Amity's elected officials to Fonzie's big leap. Tickets are just $16, and that price covers hearing me ramble on about my favorite use of a shark in a non-shark-centric film from the last decade.

Oh come on now. You know me better than that.

Put on your favorite SS-inspired Rat King armor and come listen to a variety of funny folks talk about your favorite carnivores on screen. Oh yeah, and I'll talk about John Turturro's dance number in The Nutcracker 3D. AS IF YOU DIDN'T KNOW THAT.

See you there!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Olympic Horror

Every four years, summer has a reason to exist.

I'll say this simply: I love the Olympics. The tanned muscles on display. The human interest stories so filled with forced sentiment that you vomit through your tears. The "It's a Small World" parade of nations. 

It's a beautiful thing.

Also, for those of a more macabre sense of humanity, a potentially horrific one. When you really consider the nature of these incredible feats of fitness, aren't you just sort of waiting for something truly awful to happen? 


where you just constantly wait for the muscular oarsmen to crack and tear the chirpy coxswain to chum

The horrors of gymnastics 

that insane body cult that puts the viewer in a constant state of Final Destination 5


where you watch men and women grab and lift bars designed to remind you of Debbie's fate in Nightmare On Elm Street Part 4


or how I image food foraging will be after the nukes are dropped in the year 2043

Every swimming event

where you eagerly wait for the dolphin-like water sprites to finally transform into the human-eating fish people from that Buffy episode with Wentworth Miller

Speed walking

the sport that reminds you just how horrifying it is to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with nary a port-a-potty in site


one of the rare events that seemed okay and like something you did every day as a suburban kid until THIS HAPPENS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR EYES


where you're bored and fidgety so you just start dreaming about Cthulu-like creatures crashing the action to make  you care

Table tennis 

where large men attempt to volley a tiny prop often used to make zombie googly eyed monsters and then you think, wait, what if that really is the eyeball of an zombie googly eyed monster?


where you watch human gazelles sprint at speeds you like to imagine you could summon if ever chased by a werewolf


because I've watched enough Oz to know it's not that hard to replace a non-stabby knife with a real one



Go for the gold. And be really, really careful. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hell Is Other Skypers

Like it or not, this is the age of social media and it would be darn silly for the horror genre to not embrace it (particularly considering its large teenage audience makes up a good chunk of the participants). Titling your film Unfriended and setting it in the realm of Skype may, on paper, seem a tad too trendy, but let’s face it: this is how we live now. 

Quick Plot: Blaire and her friends are high school seniors having a Skype group call that keeps being interrupted by a mystery account user. Is it just a glitch, or someone eavesdropping? More importantly, is said someone the vengeful ghost of Laura Barns, a former frenemy who killed herself after an embarrassing video was posted online?

Like The Den, Unfriended is a film that takes place entirely on a laptop. While that might sound insufferable, director Levan Gabriadze manages to make it quite compelling. The cast is game and all equip themselves well, despite the fact that they're all essentially acting straight to a webcam. They speak like what this 30something writer believes to sound like real teenagers, and for the most part, aren't making stupid decisions merely to move the plot along.

We should get one thing very straight: the characters of Unfriended are fairly awful and highly unexceptional people. That doesn't necessarily work against the film's favor. Like a lot of teen-centered horror films, the film isn't asking your heart to bleed for its eventual victims. At the same time, its sextet of Skype users isn't so over the top Heather Chandler-esque that we're actively rooting for each one's demise. It's an interesting balancing act.

That fine line has been a vital part of virtually all found footage or internet-based horror films over the last ten years or so. There are times when the awkwardness of shaky cam combined with a lack of character sympathies can be all out insufferable (see: Crowsnest). In other cases, it's simply a tool that can be built upon to make the viewer think more about the kinds of characters he or she might normally dismiss and beg for an early slasher kill (see: the highly underrated and incredibly disturbing Megan Is Missing).

Unfriended sort of finds a new place: it gives you characters that you believe are real, characters you don't like but don't necessarily need to see tortured, and plays their story out before you. Less than 80 minutes long, it wisely keeps the pace moving and mixes up its webcam storytelling when needed. While the concept of bullies getting their comeuppance isn’t new (where would 85% of ‘80s slasher be without it?), Unfriended has plenty of fresh ideas. It also manages to be genuinely unnerving in plenty of moments, making it, you know, a pretty darn effective little horror movie. 

High Points
Credit really does have to go to the young cast, who manage to give natural performances in a fairly unnatural context

Low Points
As much as it makes perfect sense for the particular story being told, it doesn’t make it any easier or more pleasant to watch a bunch of teenagers screaming at each other

Lessons Learned
Chat Roulette can be a surprisingly useful resource for potentially protecting yourself from vengeful ghosts

You know you're not the sharpest crayon in the box when your default browser is Yahoo

On the flip side, you know you're an aging blogger when you watch a teen-centered horror film and have to google a slang acronym used by the film's killer

As a bonus, aging bloggers everywhere get a free lesson: STFU apparently means "shut the f#ck up." Who knew? (aside from everyone under the age of 34)

Unfriended easily justifies its gimmick and manages to be a genuinely good, occasionally rather scary horror movie. It’s not quite at the top tier of this subgenre, but it’s definitely high up. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Game of Scones

There are few actors who can be the sole reason I check out a film. The sinfully underrated Pollyanna McIntosh is one of those few. 

You might know her as the silent Fifth Element-y assassin Angel in Hap and Leonard, or the standout businesswoman in the clever Exam. More likely, you’d spot her as the titular The Woman, a film that was all but made because McIntosh was so damn good in the otherwise passable dollar store version of Offspring. Even when she’s working with little (the bland The Blood Lands, for example) McIntosh brings it all, sort of like a Debbie Rochon but with much better results. 

Add in Davos Seaworth (or actor Liam Cunningham, whichever you prefer) and you can bet your haggis that I’m giving Let Us Prey a go. 

Quick Plot: Rachel Heggie (McIntosh) is starting her first night as constable in a small Scottish town. Her sergeant is a religious, misogynist prick, while her fellow two officers, Warnock and Mundie, are more concerned about their affair than enforcing the law. From a crime-safe perspective, Mayberry was in better shape. 

As soon as she clocks in, Heggie witnesses a drunken teenager named Caesar drive straight into a mysterious, possibly homeless man named Six (Cunningham) who all but disappears upon impact before being brought in by Mundie and Warnock. 

Six is locked up in a now-crowded jail cell with the punky Caesar, a wife beating schoolteacher, and the local doctor, who is called in to check on Six but soon joins him when he inexplicably tries to stab his patient. Sgt. MacReady leaves his young staff to take care of his own sinful matters, as Six reveals a certain kind of sensory power.

Six, you see, is something of an avenging angel, an ageless creature who can see one’s past crimes at the mere touch of a hand. Not surprisingly, all the assembled parties have some grisly skeletons in their closets. 

Directed by first timer Brian O’Malley, Let Us Prey is an incredibly pleasant surprise of a horror movie. As expected, McIntosh’s character is a believable badass, and her character has a rewarding, surprising arc. Once the story is established, the plot pretty much follows the beat you expect, but it does so in an intense, never dull fashion. I certainly could have used more of everything--more character development, more establishment of the town, more time for the sinners to show some layers--but hey, any film that makes you want a sequel is certainly a good thing.

High Points
It’s a tad heavy-handed, but the score and photography--particularly during the opening credits--are so darn dramatic that they send a pretty strong and effective sensory overload to keep the stakes high

Aforementioned glory that is Pollyanna McIntosh and Liam Cunningham

Low Points
It might have been nice to have a little more nuance to the rest of the characters, who mostly end up as stock jerks

Lessons Learned
A speaker implies. A listener infers

Never call a psychotic repressed Christian homosexual “old”

Even small towns keep a reliable supply of battering rams


Let Us Prey isn’t perfect, but it’s a solid, quick-paced little tale that I found to be highly enjoyable. The cast is obviously tops, and the photography is, at times, truly gorgeous. It will be exciting to see what else we get from Brian O’Malley. This one’s on Netflix Instant, so go for it.