Monday, May 29, 2017

Does Medicare Cover Werewolf Bites? Asking For a Friend

Of all the monsters that populate the horror genre, werewolves are easily my least favorite. Sure, history has provided the occasional good one, but 95% of the time, cinematic lycanthropes would belong better on a Party City commercial than a movie screen. Maybe it's just impossible for a human body to ever find the right mix with a canine wolf walk, but even the most tautly told thriller can be instantly killed by the presence of a poorly constructed costume. Some films succeed in spite of this (Dog Soldiers, Ginger Snaps), but so often I wonder, why bother?

Nevertheless, when enough people recommend a movie, I'll give it a go...even if includes werewolves. 

Quick Plot: Ambrose (the always extremely welcome Nick Damici) is a widowed blind Vietnam veteran moving into a quiet retirement community called Crescent Bay. After an awkward goodbye with his somewhat estranged son Will (Ethan Embry), an adorably promising flirtation with friendly neighbor Delores, and a cheerfully rude greeting to the catty welcoming committee (led by Rutanya Alda!), Ambrose settles in for what he assumes will be the first of many uneventful evenings.

It only takes one night of a full moon for Ambrose's new digs to be attacked by a mysterious canine-esque creature. With his loyal dog and Delores torn apart, Ambrose immediately suspects what every horror fan already knows: there's a werewolf in town, and in one month, he or she will undoubtedly return.

Ambrose decides, as one without much worth living for does, that he'll take the next thirty days to prepare for battle. During that time, he also begins catching the local senior van to attend church. It's there that he meets Tom Noonan's Father Roger, a priest who might have a few secrets hidden under his collar. 

Written by fairly new on the scene Eric Stolze (not the one you're thinking) and directed by the great Here Comes the Devil's Adrian Garcia Bogliano, Late Phases does the smartest thing any horror movie can possibly do: it focuses on retirees. Now in truth, Nick Damici is not by any means an old man (if the internet is to be believed and my math to be trusted, he's 58 at the time of this writing and wearing a heavy dose of prosthetics onscreen), but Late Phases gives him enough of a stiffness to let us believe he's closer to the end of his life or, perhaps more importantly, close to the point where he's ready to be done with it all. 

The film slowly drops clues about Ambrose's past, as well as why his current relationship with his son is so strained. His neighbors are similar fleshed out in ways that, plain and simple, make them far more interesting than the usual spat of pretty 20somethings who film most horror movies during their CW show hiatuses. When Delores calls her adult daughter, we watch this sad woman sigh at the excuses on the other line. When she's gutted by a werewolf moments later, the exasperated "I'll call you back Mom" closure takes on a whole new meaning.

I wish Late Phases was at good at its monster game as it is at characters, but unfortunately, it stumbles in its third act with, not surprisingly, some rough werewolf design work. On my end, I was invested enough to the point that I forgave its shortcomings because damnit, I was enjoying this movie. Sure, some of the "who's that werewolf?" mystery was probably less interesting (and mysterious) than the script intended, but I could watch Nick Damici rebuff fussy church ladies all day. Is this a good movie? I thought so. Is it a good HORROR movie? That's a different question.

High Points
Aside from the aforementioned concept of setting a werewolf film in a retirement community, let's give a nice nod to the humor of Late Phases. This isn't a horror comedy in the least, but Stolze's script, Bogliano's tone, and of course, Damici's performance manage to find some genuinely funny moments that never feel forced

Low Points
But some of those werewolf suit seams are laughable in a different way

Lessons Learned
When you're blind, it always looks like you're paying attention

Selling headstones with a senior citizen discount isn't great for business longevity

Mean girls never change, they just get older

Late Phases has its share of problems, but I found this to be a joy of a movie. Damici is such a wonderful presence onscreen, and it's a huge bonus that the film understands how an imperfect, grumpy AARP member can make for a compelling protagonist. It's the kind of choice I'd like to see more movies make...especially those that don't involve poorly constructed werewolves.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Parts of a Whole

In a time of uncertainty, let us take comfort in the things we know we can always count on: the sun shall always rise, Law & Order shall always air in reruns on at least two channels at any given time, and Darren Lynn Bousman will always make ambitious and heavily styled horror movies. 

Quick Plot: Julia is a low level real estate reporter who harbors deep affection for crime ledgers and 1940s detective noir. With blood red lipstick and a wardrobe curated by the most precious of all ModCloth stylists, she spends most of her time avoiding her kind ex-boyfriend cop Declan (The Ruins Joe Anderson) or dining with the only family she has: her older sister Amanda and ailing young son Charlie.
Also, one assumes, accumulating a LOT of style tips from Pinterest.

One night, Amanda's family is brutally and seemingly nonsensically murdered in their home. Ever the investigative reporter, Julia becomes immediately suspicious when the house is sold less than a week after the massacre, and even more unhinged when she discovers the room in which the murder took place has been completely removed.

A little plucky journalism leads Julia to learn that many a "murder room" has been sold over the last 60 years, and all to the ominously named Jebediah Crone (Sons of Anarchy's Dayton Callie, now with hair). All leads seem to point towards a ghost town of sorts called New English, which perhaps not coincidentally turns out to be the birthplace of the adopted Julia.

With Declan at her heels, Julia takes a visit to New English and meets to always welcome Lin Shaye, playing a loopy townie who reveals some of the town's dark secrets. More are to come, of course, but that will involve the ultimate haunted house, decently rendering CGI ghostings, and a dash of violence that isn't entirely unpredictable.

Abattoir is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, a filmmaker who embodies some of the best and worst qualities of 21st century horror. Bousman cut his teeth on some of the better Saw sequels (parts 2, 3, & in my mind, the underrated 4) before making one of the most polarizing genre movies I can think of, Repo! The Genetic Opera. Unlike his Saw predecessor James Wan, Bousman seems content to stay in the horror genre, continuing to dabble in everything from ambitious remakes (Mother's Day) to horror musicals (The Devil's Carnival).
I genuinely respect Bouseman, and certainly appreciate both his affection for the genre and his energy at telling new stories. Written by Christopher Monfette (who works on the quite good 12 Monkeys TV SyFy Channel series) Abattoir is a genuinely unique tale that, while clearly influenced by common horror tropes, is telling a completely original story.

I just wished I liked it more.
This isn't a bad film by any (genre fan) measure, but it just doesn't fit together as nicely as, say, a mansion in a ghost town composed of a dozen murder rooms. The core concept of a town that was suckered into selling its soul to a false prophet is great on its own, just as the ultimate haunted house made of 60 years worth of violent crime nooks could easily make a decent thriller. Maybe Bouseman's problem lies in the combination. The story has a LOT of big chunks (murder room mystery, ghost town history, adoption secrets, relationship trouble, little boy dying of disease that doesn't mean anything once he's brutally murdered, etc.) and the final product feels as though it never got the script edits needed to make each component count. The cast is adequate (Anderson has always been a fine presence in the genre, and at the risk of sounding cruel, Lowndes is stunning enough to somewhat make up for her fairly bland energy as an actress). Like most of Bouseman's work, there's a lot of visual style that's not quite fully realized in a way that works with the overall tone.  

And yet, I find myself giving the film a mildly passing grade simply because I've never quite seen anything fully like it. It's an admirable attempt to put a spin on a hybrid ghost/detective story, and I certainly appreciate that. 

It just doesn't mean it all works. 

High Points

Low Points
I mean, ugh, it doesn't add up to much

Lessons Learned
In the south, a common expression you might find is "come on in"

Realtors don't have myths

For the many Mad Men fans who've always wondered what became of Sal the art director, worry not: he's comfortable toiling away as the editor of a New York tabloid that nobody reads

Look, for all the complaints about modern horror being stuck in a rut, you have to give a guy like Darren Lynn Bousman some credit for constantly finding new angles in. Abattoir is a highly flawed film, but it certainly gives its audience something new. You can find it streaming on Netflix Instant Watch, so for 90 minutes, why not give it a low expectations try?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Witchy Woman (with a great name)

If you can find a name that's more fun to say than "Baba Yaga," then I suppose I'll have to change the prosed title of my future kitten. 

Quick Plot: Valentina is an independent-minded photographer living in Milan. After leaving a party and turning down the shockingly restrained sexual advances of George Eastman, she nearly gets hit by a car when trying to save a stray dog (INSTANT CHARACTER LIKABILITY ESTABLISHED). Out of the car emerges a mysterious, sexy blond who goes by the totally common name "Baba Yaga."

Before you can realize the actress playing Baba Yaga is none other than the evil grandma in Kindergarten Cop, Valentina begins to have strange, eerie dreams about bottomless holes, witchy seduction, and for less clear reasons, Nazis. 

Real life doesn't get any more normal, especially after Valentina visits Baba in her antique-filled home. It's there where she finds what has to be one of my favorite film dolls, and guys, that's REALLY saying something.

Baba gifts the porcelain leather-clad dominatrix to Valentina, who soon has even stranger nightmares as one of her regular models becomes ill at the sight of it. It doesn't take a genius to guess that Baba Yaga is some form of ancient witch keen on making the beautiful Valentina into a companion. 

Written and directed by Corrado Farina, Baba Yaga was based on a series of European comic books, which most likely explains why still images are used throughout in a sort of panel-ish way. It certainly fits the kind of story that involves a doll coming alive to assist a centuries old witch. There's some wonderfully weird sexiness to be found in Baba Yaga, but it takes a good deal of patience to enjoy. Despite boasting George Eastman and a whole lot of bizarro dream sequences loaded with nudity, this is a film that takes its time to toy with atmosphere rather than story. Not much happens, and when it does, it happens quite slowly. 

I didn't love Baba Yaga, and had I been in a different mood, I honestly might not have liked it THAT much. A movie with a dominatrix doll should instantly top my list of "HOW HAVE I NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE?" classics, but this one was more, "oh, so that's where they're going with that." Enjoyable, but far from dominatrix doll mind-blowing.

High Points
Second only to the trying on clothes montage, fashion shoot montages never fail to make me scream "FASHION SHOOT MONTAGE" at my scream with glee

Valentina is a refreshingly awesome lead, taking full control over her sexuality, making political stands through her art, and, you know, saving a dog from danger

Low Points
Sadly I don't know that the odd atmosphere was quite captivating enough to fight through some of the film's overall boredom (and yes, I realize I say this about a film that includes two topless women boxing in a dream sequence)

Lessons Learned
Snoopy is, in his own way, quite anti-establishment

Fog can be a huge turn-on for some women

Few henchwomen are quite so loyal--or breakable--as reanimated porcelain dolls

Like most releases from Blue Underground, Baba Yaga comes fully loaded with interviews and other special features, so collectors will certainly get their money's worth with a purchase. That being said, this movie is not for everyone. The pacing is slow but doesn't necessarily build up to a grand climax, and while there is certainly some pretty neat imagery, I don't know that all of it adds up to a truly satisfying conclusion. This is the kind of film I'd like to revisit some time down the line to see if it sticks better on second viewing. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tale As Old As Sexy Time

Forewarning: though Netflix's downloads makes The Beast an easy addition to your iPhone, this is not the kind of movie to watch while commuting on a bus or exercising to at the gym.

I learned this the hard way.

Quick Plot: First up is an erect horse penis.

I told you this wasn't the movie to watch next to a judge-y woman on the elliptical. 

Anyway, said erect horse penis is attempting to mate with his partner in a decaying French chalet. Its keeper is Mathurin, an unimpressive man-child with a clever uncle named Pierre who is attempting to secure a marriage between Mathurin and the wealthy, beautiful, and not overly bright Lucy. Doing so will ensure financial stability for all involved, but a few problems stand in the way.

Aside from the fact that Mathurin is, well, kind of terrible, there's also the the less offensive but apparently more serious issue that he was never baptized, and thus, the Cardinal refuses to come and oversee the marriage. Meanwhile, in more pressing issues, Pierre's daughter keeps not getting the chance to complete intercourse with his sexy servant.

I'm giving plot details as if they matter, but truth be told, this is not a movie that thrives by its script. I have no memory of where I heard about La Bete or why I ever put it on my Netflix queue, but when it was moved from the dreaded purgatory of "saved" to "instant watch," I figured this was my chance. 

And how. 

La Bete is described as an erotic fantasy horror film, but unfortunately for me, there wasn't really any horror. Lucy fantasizes about being chased in the woods by a beast with a hard-on (who, oddly enough, bears a rather uncanny resemblance to Splinter from the early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies), but it's played more for porn than scares. 

Yes, that disappoints me. 

Written and directed by Walerian Borowczyk, La Bete is certainly funny (especially when it pokes fun at the rules of aristocracy) and depending on your proclivities, can certainly be sexy. It's also somewhat annoyingly aimless. Without any real driving plot, the film somehow feels eons longer than its 90 minute running time, perhaps because so much of it just moves to the side for Lucy to masturbate with rose petals. If you've ever seen Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast with the cut Christmas song "Home" put back in, you'll kind of have a very clear idea of how too much of a thing can weight a movie down.

Especially at the gym.

High Points
I don't know that La Bete was ever meant to be an adaptation of Beauty & the Beast, but if you decide to think of it that way, it's kind of a wonderfully little wry spin on it, giving the prim belle an insatiable sexual appetite that's simply too much for the hairy creature she's supposed to fear

Low Points
I mean, if you've ever had to ask "how much rose petal masturbation is too much rose petal masturbation," you'll kind of know my issues

Lessons Learned
The secret to escaping a horny forest beast involves wearing a lot of layers

When coitus is interrupted, make due with what you can, be that a pillow or bedpost

Nature is serious, never sad

Long out of print, La Bete is now streaming on Netflix, so if you once put it on your list and now have no real memory of why, this is probably the time to find out. I didn't have a great time with it, but there was enough oddness and jabs in a sort of French comedy of manners style (with more ejaculation than most) that made me certainly not regret delving in. Just remind me next time that I'm planning on watching a film in public to check that it's not classified as mid-core porn.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

Been There, Become That

If IMDB is to be believed, until today's feature, Denmark has apparently never produced an apocalyptic zombie horror film. 

You always remember your first.
Quick Plot: A beautiful suburb in Denmark is enjoying a sunny neighborhood barbecue when a few residents seem to get sick. As news reports slowly filter in and armed soldiers in Hazmat suits show up, it becomes clear (to the audience, who has seen this story told before) that the dead are rising, biting, and taking charge. 

Our focus lies primarily on a happy-enough family that includes the calm Dino, more worried Pernille, teenage son Gustav, and young daughter Maj. Before long, their house gets a tad more crowded with a few neighbors, all now quarantined in their once-happy suburb and trying to survive on limited rations and even more limited information.

In 2017, all horror fans should know the general rule when it comes to making a zombie movie: either bring something incredibly fresh or new to it (The Rezort, Deadgirl) or make it damn good (The Horde). On the first front, What We Become fails. The entire film could almost be summed up as a slow motion adaptation of the opening scene of Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake. The audience knows the situation well before the characters figure it out, and because they're regular people, they don't necessarily handle it with any ingenuity or impressive skill. 

That being said, writer/director Bo Mikkelsen can certainly make a good movie. His cast is strong, particularly young Benjamin Engell as the quickly-growing-up teenager. With its upper middle class suburban landscape, the film looks positively stunning, and the makeup and zombie design has a slightly unique take that helps to differentiate it from, well, the hundreds of it.

Aaaaand, that's where I have to say, am I really watching the exact same film I've seen time and time again? That this is Denmark's first zombie film is impressive, because hey! It's GOOD. But not great, and certainly not unique. Maybe my standards are too high, but in a world where there are as many GOOD zombie movies as there are good Russian figure skaters, it just doesn't seem like enough.

High Points
As the aforementioned 2004's Dawn of the Dead reminded us, there is always something brilliantly incongruous about flesh-eating ghouls ravaging a sunny and green suburb. Mikkelsen and his director of photography Adam Philp do wonders with presenting the film's setting in such a beautiful light, making its slow destruction that much more effective

Low Points
Didn't I JUST finish a rant about the "peekaboo of the ending" teaser trick more and more horror movies have been using as of late to open their film? Why, why, WHYYYYYYYY would you spoil a major element of your film's last act in its first scene? It does absolutely NOTHING for your movie, other than remind me, the entire film, that this is going to happen, and therefore, I shouldn't be too invested in the fate of certain characters when the film has already told it to me

Lessons Learned
In an undead situation, never get too attached to a bunny, no matter how cute its floppy little ears may be

Danish teenagers enjoy smoking, drinking, and listening to music (or so they say when trying to impress hot new girls next door)

In a pickle, a box of fireworks can be life-saving

Look, I'm not saying don't watch What We Become. If you're in the mood for a sharp little early stages zombie flick, it's certainly one of the better ones at hand. I was immediately soured on it from that teaser-style opening, but that's been a very strong, very recent thorn in my side and I'll fully admit it may have led me to be harder on this movie than needed. That being said, I wouldn't be surprised if I completely forget about this movie several months down the line because to someone who watches this kind of movie weekly, there's just nothing that special about it.