Monday, December 25, 2017

Happy Holidays!

Whether yours is filled with chestnuts or latkes or Wookie porn disguised as holograms of Diahann Carroll, I wish you all a wonderful season of warm fuzzy happiness in whatever form you most prefer.


Monday, December 18, 2017

Many Reasons For the Season

So I queued up Red Christmas via Netflix because hey! I like a good seasonal horror flick. With Christmas looming, why not devote that Monday to a new yuletide slasher?

Then I slogged through the mean-spirited coal that was Red Christmas and thought to myself, you know Emily, this year has been ugly enough without ending it on such a negative, punishing, anti-choice, mixed garbage statement of a movie. Let's find a happier note to play, something seasonal but positive.

So here are a few random things to love about horror movies during the holidays. And if nothing here works, just screw it all and queue up The Muppet Family Christmas for the 9,00th time. No judgement here. 

The Crypt Keeper Singing Holiday Jingles

Easily the best item ever to be purchased in the '90s by a teenage Emily at the Spencer's Gifts, this album (originally on cassette tape, natch) includes a dozen holiday tunes with the lyrics rewritten to be more fitting of the singer, John Kassir's pun-wielding, tale-spinning Crypt Keeper. Can't get your Walkman working? Revel in the kindness of strangers with YouTube accounts.

The Very Fact That There Exists Not One But Two Killer Snowman Movies

And yet, the unrelated but weirdly similar Michael Keaton family film of the same name is somehow far creepier

The Choice to View Christmas Evil As a Magical Tale of a Lonely Santa-Loving Man Ascending to Angel Status

My (and John Waters) favorite holiday genre film can be viewed as a lot of things: a an early entry into the slasher Santa trend, tragic tale of mental illness taken to extremes, the chance to spot a way-pre-Home Improvement Patricia Richardson in a tiny role. For my money, it's something even more special (that's also all of those things). The key to keeping Christmas Evil on the right side of your heart is to make the conscious decision that SPOILER ALERT! Harry Stadling's van doesn't crash and burn after his killing spree is over, but rather, transcends into the heavens, transforming into a magical sleigh and changing our sad sack factory worker into the real deal Santa. 

Margot Kidder In Black Christmas, Goddess

Easily on the top five list of Film Characters I Want To Lost a Drinking Game To. She. Is. Divine.

Vincent Cassel's Insanity In Sheitan
The movie itself? Somewhat insufferable. The MAN himself? 

A god. Or, well, technically agent of the devil. 

The Most Feel-Good Pop Montage In the Least Feel-Good Slasher

I've said it again and I'll say it an estimated 781 more times before I die: Silent Night Deadly Night is memorable for a bevy of reasons, but none more so than the weirdly placed, tonally mismatched "The Warm Side of the Door" sequence, wherein a sweet country tune cheerfully plays as our soon-to-be-mass-murderer learns about friendship, work ethic, and the joy of having alcoholic bosses.

Eric Freeman's Case For The Academy Awards Adding a Category for Best Performance By a Pair of Eyebrows
I mean...

Clint Howard's Phallic Coven Mask
Everybody forgets Silent Night Deadly Night Part 4 because it doesn't have The Warm Side of the Door or eyebrows, but you what it does have? Murderous roller blades. Also, this:

Ray Wise & Lin Shaye In Dead End
A good but flawed little Christmas Eve ghost story, Dead End deserves to be seen more, mostly because, you know, Ray Wise and Lin Shaye. 

Disco Cameo Greatness
Don't Open Til Christmas is filled with a lot of wonderful things, among them, a smily plastic mask, Halloween costume holiday parties, charmingly innocent peep show conversations, a sleazy male flutist, and insanely slow motion overwrought flashbacks. But you know what REALLY makes it exciting? That it has Caroline Munro randomly performing a disco number. Because if that's not the real reason for the season, what is?

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Ugly Americans

As an American who lived abroad for a few years during my twenties, I can safely say that yankee expats can sometimes be the worst. While I like to think I was generally respectful and open to the cultures I was experiencing, I also spent a drunken dinner or two with a variety of fellow non-natives who didn't always charm those around them. Watching 1979's bizarre Bloodbath, I witnessed a nightmare version of those days. 

Thankfully, Dennis Hopper never taught ESL at any of my schools.

Quick Plot: A gaggle of awful Americans party together on a mysterious and beautiful Spanish island. Chicken (Hopper in full loon mode) shoots heroin and makes racist jokes. Treasure Evans (the treasure that is Carroll Baker) is a washed up movie star who kills time with booze and local men while waiting for her agent to call. Finally there's Allen (screenwriter Win Wells), a gay hedonist looking for just the right young fellow to seduce.

As our ugly Americans frolic and sin their way across the island, the locals take part in their own mysterious traditions, from child marriage to child sacrifice. A caravan of hippies arrive just as things start getting truly weird, with hallucinations and dead bodies turning up every scenic way you turn.

Directed by Silvio Narizzano, Bloodbath (aka The Sky Is Falling, which makes a whole lot more sense in terms of a character being named Chicken) is a surreal, strange little movie that plays with religious iconography and Manson-esque cult violence. The oddest thing about it (of which, seriously, there are many) is that for being such a product of the late '60s/early '70s, it comes with a 1979 date.

I don't know how much I can say I enjoyed Bloodbath, but it certainly was an experience not like much else. For Dennis Hopper, however, I'm guessing it was pretty much casual Friday.

High Points
It's always a pleasure to see Carroll Baker, but it's even more of one when she gets such a juicy mess of a person to play

Low Points
It may be more Amazon's fault than the film's, but it's a shame that the visual quality feels so compromised

Lessons Learned
Never call a snotty Britishman an expatriate if he's simply living abroad

Real pearls are what you would call "proper'

There are few things worse than a white expat with easy access to liquor

Bloodbath is certainly not for everybody, but if you're looking for something way off the beaten path, it's definitely one to try. You can find a poorly lit grainy version streaming on Amazon Prime if your eyes are up for it.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Time Traveler's Abs

Back when I watched The Butterfly Effect 2, I was angry. Here was a case of a potential franchise with a good central premise being applied in the worst possible way on the least possible interesting characters and situation. 

While it's far from a masterpiece, The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations (because every franchise eventually needs an entry subtitled "Revelations") makes a batch of good decisions that put its predecessor to shame. Easy tip for new filmmakers: want people to enjoy your movie? Don't center it on a white millennial startup tech salesman.

Quick Plot: Sam is a handsome young butterfly effector. Somewhere between presumed four hour ab workouts, he finds the time to assist police on murder cases by butterfly effecting and care for his agoraphobic sister Jenna. Advising him is a friendly weed dealer/former high school teacher named Goldberg who somehow knows a thing or two about butterfly effecting and when not to do it...namely, if it involves saving someone close to you from a violent death.

Some years earlier, Sam made that very mistake, going back in time to spare his sister from a house fire only to lose his parents in the tradeoff. Now a somewhat happy and well-adjusted young man, Sam's life is rocked once again when the sister of his brutally murdered high school girlfriend comes to remind him that there's an innocent man on death row.

Against all common sense and rules of butterfly effecting, Sam heads back to the scene of the crime. In the process, the murder adds another victim and seems to officially launch the birth of a serial killer who continues to take the lives of other young women. Sam continues to butterfly effect at various points in the past, disrupting his life and status each time.

But never his four-hour ab workouts

Like Part 2, The Butterfly Effect 3 (REVELATIONS!) has nothing to do with the rest of the franchise, which is perfectly fine. The other key part to that is how it trusts its audience enough to not dwell on the details of butterfly effecting, assuming (probably rightfully) that they've seen the first film and get the general gist. In a world where every superhero movie has to be an origin story, this is refreshing.

At right around 90 minutes long, the story moves quite well, wasting no time on subplots. Directed by Seth Grossman from a script by Holly Brix, it plays like a straight murder mystery with a much more standard horror movie feel than the other installments. It even makes intense use of its Detroit setting, milking the city's reputation for crime and abandonment several years before It Follows and Don't Breathe. When you add that with the ridiculous (in a good way) twist ending, you end up with something far more satisfying than you'd expect...especially if you suffered through the slog that was The Butterfly Effect 2. 

High Points
I won't reveal it here, but the aforementioned ending is rather glorious, and the subsequent coda has a weirdly black comedic tone that makes the movie feel a little more memorable than your typical third installment

Low Points
At the risk of spoiling a big reveal, there's a sparseness (which might be a nice way of saying low budgetness) about The Butterfly Effect 3 that keeps the cast of characters so slim that our suspect list can't help but limit the surprise factor

Lessons Learned
Detroit is such a dangerous place that even a bear trap will get you when you least expect it

Seeing your mother bludgeoned to death will not leave you unharmed

Proper butterfly effecting requires a steady supply of ice cubes and journals


While it's probably a little below par of the first Butterfly Effect, Revelations is still a decent and engaging watch (and it goes without saying but I'll say it anyway: miles better than part 2). It's streaming on Amazon Prime and requires no familiarity with any of the other films. If you're looking for a darker crime thriller version of the first film, go for it. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Survivor: Edward Furlong Island

Gather 'round kids, and let me tell you tales of the turn of the early years of this century. The world was a different place, a little colder in some ways and kinder in others. Most notably, reality TV was a new religion that washed over the world like a plague. 

Competitions sprang up for every possible scenario. Survivor and Big Brother were training wheels for what came after: Boot Camp, Love Boat, Strip Search, and so on. Everyone knew someone who was constantly sending audition tapes to network after network for unnamed shows that teased of minor fame and heavily taxed big winnings. It was the new American dream.

2005's Cruel World was clearly made at the height of the trend, something you can guess by the fact that Joe Millionaire is referenced in such a way that it clearly assumes everyone in the audience knew exactly what that one-season Fox show was about. While it's no ahead-of-its-time classic like Series 7: The Contenders, this one has some fun.

Quick Plot: Philip (typically greasy Edward Furlong) is still bristling from his embarrassing loss on Lovers Lane (no, not that one), a dating show where he was rejected by the beautiful Catherine (Jaime Pressly), now married to the winning contestant and living in the very mansion where the program was filmed. Bitter and insane, Philip returns to exact his vengeance on the happy couple before setting a much more complex plan into play.

With the help of his dim but incredibly strong brother Claude, Philip invites a gaggle of attractive, fame-hungry 20somethings to the mansion under the guise of filming a new Big Brother-esque reality competition. Because it's 2005, none of the "contestants" have any reason to suspect shenanigans. After all, there were some pretty terribly produced reality shows at that time hosted by dudes like this:

Naturally, being voted out of the house has bigger consequences than losing out on a cash prize and being confined to a deli interview on Late Night (seriously; in the early days of Survivor, David Letterman was so annoyed with CBS forcing him to interview reality show castoffs that he wouldn’t allow the guests in his actual studio). Each elimination is a murder at the hands of Claude or, as the game gets more intense, fellow contestants. 

Directed by Kelsey T. Howard with a clear venom towards the reality genre, Cruel World has a tricky time nailing its tone. There’s a nastiness to its opening, savagely disposing of a happy couple before thrusting a batch of somewhat horrid young people at us. As the cast gets thinned out, the contestants become a little more human and sympathetic. That kind of makes it worse.

I don’t mean to imply that I hated Cruel World. As someone who watched my share of Temptation Island, it felt like a recent time capsule that found a good look into the reality TV boom. I wish the satire was sharper and characters more tolerable, but on a certain level, this is a film that has aged somewhat well in terms of its social politics. It doesn’t make it any more pleasant to actually watch, but hey…it’s more than I expected from an Edward Furlong movie I’d never heard of streaming on Amazon Prime.

High Points
In a post-Gamergate world, there's something incredibly disturbing and  sadly believable about Cruel World's central villain, a socially awkward but tech-smart young white male so embittered by not his dream girl that he'd go to such violent lengths to right the perceived wrong

Low Points
There's an art to ending your film with a nasty stinger, and then there's "just throw some mean twist at the end without any context so we leave our audience feeling kinda crappy"

Lessons Learned
Want to throw your attacker off? Pee on him when he least expects it

Before leaving for a mystery reality competition, carb load

If you arrive at a reality show filming to discover you’ll be sharing a house with Andrew Keegan, assume the role of the smarmy villain has already been cast and promptly choose another one, like cowboy or token gay guy


I hesitate to fully recommend Cruel World to the general public (well, the general readership of the Doll's House, which is an entirely different thing of its own). It has a mean streak and sense of ugliness that I don't generally enjoy, but for anyone with a solid foundation of the reality TV craze that defined the early 2000s, there's a whole lot to appreciate. You can find it now on Amazon Prime. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

We All Have Nightmares of Stage Fright

There are LOT of films with the title "Nightmares," which makes me want to use 1980s's Nightmares' alternate title, Stage Fright, except I've already reviewed TWO movies with that title and you know what? I'm just confused now.

Quick Plot: Young Cathy is supposed to be fast asleep in the back seat of the car en route to visit Grandma, but the little girl wakes up just in time to see her mother making out with a man in the passenger seat who is in no way her father. Her shock causes an accident that throws her mother through the windshield. Confused and well-intentioned Cathy pulls her mother back inside, accidentally slitting her throat with broken glass shards.

Some years later, Cathy is a talented but nightmare-plagued actress who goes by the name Helen Selleck. After accepting a key role in an experimental play directed by one of Australia's most prominent theater kings, she hesitantly begins a romantic relationship with Terry, her soap opera bred costar. 

As the rehearsal process begins, a rash of glass shard-based murders follows. While they seem specifically based on Helen's wrath, all the killings are done in a sort of POV style that never shows us the identity of the murderer(ess). 

Until, well, SPOILER, I think maybe?

...we have it confirmed at the end that yes, yeah obviously, duh, it's Helen.

So obviously, Nightmares isn't necessarily the cleanest of low budget Ozsploitation slashers to now air in grainy Amazon Prime glory. The film seems to hold back on Helen's wrath as if it hadn't decided whether the killer's identity should be a mystery or not, only to dump it on us at the end as if we knew all along. It's...strange.

As is most of Nightmares really, which is why it's extremely ridiculous fun. Directed with a clear hatred towards highbrow critics by John Lamond, Nightmares is at its best when it's playing with the flamboyant bitchiness of the theater world, from its ascot clad director who insults his cast Shakespearean level language to the bisexual critic who flaunts his influence with relish. The actual horror is muddled in its execution and whatever Hitchcockian points the film wanted to explore with its sex-scared lead gets lost amongst the shards of glass and randomly inserted T&A, but Nightmares remains, if nothing else, an awkwardly entertaining good time.

High Points
As someone who spent a fair amount of time around theater people, I appreciate how Nightmares finds some snarky ways to target some of their more obnoxious habits (cut to Emily's college memory of being publicly shamed for introducing myself at an audition with "I'll be doing a monologue from Macbeth")

Low Points
You know, the fact that the story seems more confused than the lead character

Lessons Learned
Surviving a brutal car accident can change a lot of things about you, including eliminating any trace of your Australian accent

Never whistle or wear green in a theater in front of obnoxiously superstitious theater people

There's no such thing as a one hour call

Nightmares is not by any conventional definition a good movie. It's a messy, weirdly shot oddity that nevertheless entertained me for the right and wrong reasons. Dive in when you want some 1980 era Aussie sleaze.