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. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

You Can't Have Prom Without the Prom Ride

I recently listened to an interview with horror producer extraordinaire Jason Blum, he behind what virtually amounts to every studio horror hit of the last ten years (among them the Paranormal Activity franchise, Insidious, The Purge world, and Get Out, to name a few). I bring this up because one of the questions he was asked speaks heartily to today's film: is there still room for found footage in the horror genre?

Blum's immediate answer was a hearty no, followed by a little more explanation. In summary, he said (and I agree) that the only time to employ the dreaded double F style is if the movie absolutely requires it to the extent that it only makes sense AS a movie if it's done that way. 

Prom Ride, a very low budget but not terrible little horror film, does not understand this in the least.

Quick Plot: In the weeks leading up to prom, a bunch of attractive young people buy their dresses, play fart pranks on each other, and stage elaborately choreographed dance invitations, just as kids today apparently do. When the big night finally comes, Alejandra's parents treat their daughter and her seven pals to a souped up hummer limo. 

Before you can say Hello Mary Lou, the vehicle gets run off the road as their pleasant chauffeur (thus far the only tolerable character in the film) is murdered just outside the car windows. Cue a LOT of screaming, followed by an almost Jigsaw-esque game of torture with the teens as participants. 

It is as positively delightful as it sounds.

Written and directed by newbie Kazeem Molake, Prom Ride is clearly a beginner's movie. On one hand, it has some ideas and shows potential skill; on the other, it's pretty impossible to fathom how any viewer could possibly enjoy what happens onscreen. 

Look, I'm the token oddball who was charmed by the VERY elaborate dance number and way the filmmaker decided to superimpose handmade graphics over the screen to simulate video camera footage. I'm the same token oddball who can make a case for the young actors not being terrible, but just being forced to say terrible lines. And hey, the prom dresses were kind of cute.

So in summary, if you have a choice of watching Prom Ride or staring at your shoes, I'd say go for the movie. If your choices broaden to include youtube tutorials on how to do prom hair, reconsider.

High Points
As someone terrified of all things high heeled, I can appreciate a good gouging via stiletto

Low Points
Guys, it's 2017, and we've now had a full decade of found footage as the de facto style in low budget horror (remember the innocent aughts when it was all Saw ripoffs about imperfect strangers waking up in torture rooms? Sigh). Sometimes, it's a gimmick that makes sense to the action or can be justified for the film's overall tone. In the case of Prom Ride, a film that never claims to be composed of found footage, why, good god WHY, would Molake randomly stage shots as if they were recorded via phone or security camera? It does absolutely nothing for the action but makes it incomprehensible

Lessons Learned
Don't be fooled: it is indeed possible to do a sit-up with your eyes closed

A proper prom proposal should require at least four weeks of intense dance practice and intermediate choreography

When half your teenage friends order virgin cocktails, you shouldn't be surprised when the waiter asks for your ID upon ordering an alcoholic beverage

The (Losing) Line
Character 1: That would suck balls.
Character 2: That's what she said!
All Characters: (uproarious laughter)

I don't think anyone not related to the cast or crew will actually enjoy the experience of watching Prom Ride, but as I so often say in these corners, it's far from the worst thing you'll find streaming on Amazon Prime. 

Monday, November 6, 2017


There are certain personal beliefs of mine that I feel very confident about. Among them, that Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fifth season is the best but that the third season is my favorite, that Clancy Brown has never and will never give a performance that isn't the best thing in whatever film he's in, and that the best use of a tonally inconsistent song in a horror movie is Silent Night, Deadly Night's feel-good montage set to "The Warm Side of the Door."

Then a movie like The Mutilator shambles along with its jaunty "Fall Break" ditty and I question everything I know about life.

Quick Plot: Poor Ed Jr. just wanted to clean his papa's gun collection for the old man's birthday, but unfortunately, the gift has some unintended consequences when Ed Jr. accidentally shoots his mother, killing her on the spot. The lessons in this case write themselves.

Some years later, Ed Jr. is a college student mulling over the best way to celebrate fall break (FALL BREAK!) with his girlfriend and two other couples. In case you had the slightest doubt, the answer is, without question, to have a montage to the jauntiest original tune you've ever not heard called indeed, "Fall Break" (also apparently the working title for The Mutilator).

Because this world is cruel and we apparently can't have an entire 90 minute film set to "Fall Break," Ed Jr. decides instead to take his pals to his father's isolated beach condo for a long weekend. Before you can even attempt to get "Fall Break" out of your head, a mysterious man (or just Ed Sr.) begins brutally murdering the young people in especially grisly ways.

Written and directed by Buddy Cooper, The Mutilator is far from the top tier of '80s slashers, but it also gives you nearly everything you want (PLUS "FALL BREAK") from the genre. The acting is rough in an absolutely charming manner, with the young cast clearly trying their best with zero camera experience to help back them up. Every trope you find appears in goofy earnestness, from the doe-eyed brunette constantly defending her virginity to the prankster getting murdered in the middle of a joke. 

This is a good old fashioned dumb slasher, and I say that with full affection. Aside from "Fall Break" (FALL BREAK!), you won't find anything overly revolutionary, but between pitchforkings, vice killings, and a decapitation AFTER OUR KILLER HAS ALREADY BEEN TORN IN TWO, there's a lot to love here.

High Points
Is this really up for debate? Guys, FALL BREAK. If you don't believe me, have a listen and try, JUST TRY I SAY to get this out of your head

Low Points
Maybe the fact that it's been two weeks and I still can't get FALL BREAK out of my head?

Lessons Learned
Chlorine probably prevents herpes

When sleeping in an unfamiliar room, always stay fully clothed with your jeans belted an your shirt buttoned up. You just never know when you'll be called out of bed to investigate the murder of your friends by your insane father

It's very easy to get lost in a larger-than-average swimming pool

The Mutilator is incredibly satisfying to fans of '80s slashers. No, it's not good by any measure, but it's time stamped in such an adorable and low budget way that it's simply impossible to be too hard on it. You can find it streaming on Amazon Prime in all its grainy glory.