Monday, March 26, 2018

I'd Call It Summer of CHEER

You watch enough movies and you become afraid...afraid that there just isn't enough wonder left in the junkyard of Amazon Prime's made-for-TV genre section from the 1970s. 

Then you watch Summer of Fear and find a new reason for living.

Quick Plot: Rachel is a teenage (I think?) tomboy living with her parents and brothers on a Californian ranch. Most of her days are spent riding her beloved horse Sundance, finding boxes to stand on to kiss her foot+ taller boyfriend Mike, and hanging out with her BFF Carolyn (FRAN DRESCHER!!!).

Life takes a downturn when her aunt and uncle die in a car accident, leaving their college-aged (I THINK?) daughter Julia orphaned and alone in the mysterious Ozarks. Despite having not seen the young woman in over ten years, Rachel's parents take the beautiful but slightly odd Julia into their home. 

You don't need a winter's bone to sense something is amiss. Before she's even unpacked, Julia is stealing the affections of Mike, fitting better into Rachel's homemade dress, and stirring up a wild spirit in Sundance. The friendly neighborhood professor (MACDONALD CAREY FROM DAYS OF OUR LIVES!!!) confirms Rachel's suspicions that her cousin is a practicing witch, leading our frizzy-haired heroine the challenge of unmasking the evil in her own home.

I don't know how else to say this other than to employ a lot of exclamation points:


Based on a novel by I Know What You Did Last Summer YA scribe Lois Duncan and directed by a young Wes Craven, Summer of Fear (aka Stranger In Our House) feels like it should be the centerpiece of a slumber party hosted by drag queens. The world's most flammable cars explode mid-air, uncles and brothers shamelessly flirt their younger female relative, and Linda Blair's hair grows five inches with every reel.

Seriously, whatever is happening on Linda Blair's head should have had its own trailer. It's like someone shaved all four of my cats, sewed the fur together into a blanket, spilled the same serum used in Village of the Giants all over the mess, then tried in vain to brush it out. 

AKA, perfection.

High Points
Sure, Rachel is a tad whiney and not necessarily the brightest at setting traps for her evil sorceress cousin, but as a scrappy teen, Linda Blair is a pure joy to watch 

NOT a Low Point
I normally balk at the "special appearance by" credit so prevalent in the '80s, but if said guest star is MacDonald Carey, Days of Our Lives's Horton patriarch himself, it is indeed special

Lessons Learned
The Ozarks are a bed of a lot of folklore and mysticism

In the late '70s, it was customary to keep an autographed photo of your solid feller on your nightstand

If your cousin is from a rural region, it's totally acceptable to have a crush on her

Film Trivia of DreamsIf IMDB is to be trusted, Summer of Fear was filmed a house that was eventually owned by Sinbad. For some reason, this pleases me greatly

Summer of Fear is a thing of glory, at least if you have an unreasonable affection for cheese that involves catfights, witchcraft, and tame rat kings that settled on Linda Blair's head for safety. You can find it on Amazon Prime. Obviously.

Monday, March 19, 2018

You've Got a Stalker

Oh Amazon Prime, you with your grainy late '90s horror titles that no one but the last Blockbuster shelf has ever head of.

I love you.

Quick Plot: As a child, Jana Mercer witnessed a mad man named Calvin Hawks (Dr. Giggles himself, Larry Drake) slaughter her family. Twenty years later, she lives a something Sandra Bullok-in-The-Net life, venturing out at night for interior design jobs, doing video therapy with Sally Kirkland, and otherwise keeping mostly to herself.

Meanwhile, in his dungeon-like prison cell, Calvin has full access to a laptop and AOL. Naturally, he uses his time to instant message the one that got away just in time to make her extra ready for his shocking parole.

As Calvin makes his way home, Jana reconnects with a mysteriously reappearing high school crush, heading back to the very neighborhood where the crime took place. Calvin stocks up on a quality sushi knife and begins to re-hone his skills, practicing first on a batch of pumpkins before moving on to an amazingly sweater vested librarian.

Written and directed by Larry Brand, Paranoia is a strange little late '90s relic somewhat saved from obscurity by Amazon Prime. It wallows a little too deeply in some overwritten ramblings regarding the nature of pain and evil, but manages to entertain enough in 90 minutes, especially with the somewhat bonkers final reveal.

Plus, this movie utilizes a grand dummy death, and as we all know, no movie with a grand dummy death can ever be that bad.

High Points
I'm not saying Paranoia is the feminist revenge fantasy we all want and deserve, but Brigitte Bako's Jana is a refreshingly strong woman who takes action in a satisfyingly badass way

Low Points
A gal can only hear so much musing about what it means to love pain before she wants to gouge her own skin with carefully placed thumbtacks

Lessons Learned
Never underestimate the appeal of Peter Tork to late '90s punkette

If you don't like walls, stay off Park Avenue

Sushi knives should be suitable for buttering toast and slaughtering pumpkins

I'm not telling anyone to put plans on hold in order to watch Paranoia, but those with an Amazon Prime subscription and 90 minutes to get some tasks done with something on in the background could certainly do worse.

Monday, March 12, 2018

When You Wish Upon an Evil Chinese Music Box

If Kazaam has taught one thing, it's that Shaquille O'Neal always had bigger career potential as a product spokesman than film actor. 

If it taught us one more, it's that magical wish granters always have a price.

Quick Plot: Teenage Clare hasn't exactly had a charmed life. As a little girl, she witnessed her mother (Law & Order's favorite surprise lesbian Elisabeth Rohm) commit suicide. Dad Ryan Phillippe (yes, we're at the point in time where Ryan Phillippe is dad to a teenager and yes, that makes me feel old) is now an out-of-work saxophonist who makes some cash off his dumpster diving findings. 

Also, she's like, super not popular.

Life takes an upturn when Clare's dad brings home a mysterious box from a cemetery garbage pile. The ancient Chinese writing seems to suggest it grants wishes, leading Clare to give it a go, wishing her high school nemesis "rots." Cue the mysterious skin disease. In a completely unrelated turn of evens, Clare's beloved golden retriever mysteriously dies.

It takes a shocking number of similar granted wish/dead pal pairings before Clare can admit the obvious: the haunted box will grant her seven wishes, but each one must be paid for with the violent death of someone close. With the benefits of Clare's wishes growing bigger each time, can she stop herself from, you know, continuing to murder her friends and family?

Directed by the better-than-everyone-says-it-is Annabelle and way-worse-than-you-know-even-though-you-might-not-know-it-existed The Butterfly Effect 2's John R. Leonetti, Wish Upon is kind of a delight. A good chunk of the credit probably goes to Barbara Marshall, whose script is equally in tune to teenagers as her previous credit, Viral.

Played with a perfectly immature intensity by Joey King, Clare is a selfish, impulsive young woman who makes for a fantastically complicated protagonist. It's easy to judge her (admittedly very irresponsible and immoral) actions, but the film does a successful job of putting us into her mindset. As the poor, motherless artist bullied by the rich pretty kids, we understand why she'd be so easily seduced by something that can make her dreams come true. It's almost like a horror version of Lady Bird.

Wish Upon isn't a modern classic, but it's a solid, well-paced and made little horror movie that's simply much better than it could have been. The entire cast brings something interesting, from veterans like Phillippe and an ill-fated Sherilyn Fenn to the diverse, realistic teenagers (which includes Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's rising star Ki Hong Lee, Stranger Things' own Barb, Shannon Purser, and the incredibly charismatic Sydney Park). 

High Points
EVERYONE, this movie has a Most Popular Girl montage. A MOST POPULAR GIRL MONTAGE I SAID

Low Points
The Final Destination-ing of the death scenes is fun at first, but by the fourth case of teasing out what random contraption is going to slay which character, it feels a little tired

Lessons Learned
The price of quality ancient Chinese translation is a quality batch of wontons

When it comes to making wishes through evil box genies, use your adjectives wisely


Wish Upon is streaming on Amazon Prime and makes a great way to enjoy 90 minutes of your life. You probably won't think much about it after the fact, but it's perfectly engaging during its run. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Spy Who Slo Motion'd Me

Hypnosis may be the only way to reveal why I had 2000's Doomsdayer at the top of my Netflix queue, as I have absolutely no memory of hearing about it. Having been a Netflix DVD subscriber for 9 years or so (and yes, I remember my very first disc and it was Punisher: War Zone and really nothing has ever lived up to that moment), my list now runs a good 300+ films that aren't (yet) available via streaming. As a result of that plus beer, I simply can't be held accountable for my viewing choices at this point in life.

Quick Plot: An elite anti-terrorist organization called Protocol 23 is charged with constantly saving the world from power-hungry billionaires with spectacularly dressed henchmen. In this case, said billionaire is played by Udo Kier, and said henchman wears a spectacular red suit with a perfect bowtie.

Kier plays Max Gast, and if that's not enough for you, his wife Elizabeth is played by none other than Amazon action goddess Brigitte Nielsen. Oh, and when we first meet Max, he's smoothly poisoning his snooty investors in one of those movie-perfect corporate board meetings for daring to block his attempts at nuking the world.

Who can stop this blue-eyed tyrant? That'd be Logan, Jack Logan, a slick P23 agent not opposed to shagging his points of contact. In case you haven't guessed it by now, Doomsdayer is a sort of Asylum Studio adaptation of James Bond, only with more slow motion, less name actors, and a glaring lack of a theme song.

Let's get to the first point first: by my estimation, the original cut of Doomsdayer probably ran a brisk 37 minutes. Director Michael J. Sarna comes from a stunt background, and I'm guessing his respect for the craft led him to stretch every crash, fight, or reaction shot to its max, thus padding out the running time.

If one were to make a drinking game of how much slow motion was used in this film, one would be dead.

There are more shots of slow motion in Doomsdayer than there are white men in Congress.

There are more shots of slow motion in Doomsdayer than there are steroids in Russian locker rooms.

There are more shots of slow motion in Doomsdayer than there are chains in Chain Letter.

It is that kind of movie, and I am not complaining.

Our Q-esque character is introduced walking away from an explosion set off behind him without reacting (in slow motion, of course), because you know, that's how things work here. Max regularly has his minions tortured (aka "reassigned") but also displays genuine remorse for the millions of civilians he'll be nuking in the name of a new world. Even better, he truly loves Elizabeth and cares for his right hand man. It adds a nice layer of depth amid half-priced double entendres and martini jokes.

All of it...yes all of it, in complete slow motion.

High Points
Udo Kier is and has always been a gift to terrible movies, and that fact is no different here

Low Points
How great would a terrible attempt at a Bond-esque theme song been?

Lessons Learned
Never reveal how happy and content you are with your life and marriage out loud, unless being kidnapped and forced to build a doomsday device was on your list of things to do

Doomsdayer came to via Netflix's DVD queue, so it's probably not the easiest to track down. While I wouldn't recommend anyone other than slow motion fetishists invest much work into finding it, I certainly had a good time in a ridiculous, extremely slow motion way.