Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween!

No pumpkins in my corner this year, but I did manage to grease my wheels in time to move Dorothy along her way. 

Hope everyone else has a wonderful high holy day filled with full-sized candy bars, crunching autumn leaves, and especially gooey silver shamrocks!

Monday, October 29, 2018

It's the Great Pumpkin...Thing

There is something inherently fascinating about a terribly boring movie. 

Trick or Treats embodies this well.

Quick Plot: For reasons never given, Joan has her husband Malcolm committed to a typical '80s movie coed insane asylum. 

"Several years later" (specifics are rarely to be found in Trick or Treats), Malcolm is mad (BUT STILL NOT CLEAR IF INSANE) as hell and decides to not take it anymore. He escapes via the age old "grown man wearing a wig and skirt being enough to convince every person he comes across that he's a woman who should be hit on" trick to wreak his vengeance on the woman who wronged him.

And oh boy, that woman. Joan still occupies the same upper middle class suburban home, but has now filled it with new husband David Carradine. Also, she might be a magician. Or he might be one. Or they're semi-famous tuxedo-clad magicians eager to climb the magician social ladder by accepting an invitation to a lavish Vegas ... magician Halloween party? 

The details are murky--a LOT of Trick or Treats is--but it's clear that Joan and Malcolm's awful son Christopher is planning on continuing the family trade, or just being a terrible child who delights in playing obnoxious pranks on strangers. Babysitter/struggling actress Linda is called to watch him while mom and stepdad go gallivanting in Sin City, but not before Carradine gets to sexually harass the young blond and have an intense staring contest with his demon seed stepson. 

Linda is immune to Carradine's charms because, you see, she's in love with Brett (Steve Railsback), a community theater actor who promises to stop by after he finishes playing white Othello in his big premiere. 

SPOLIER ALERT! Brett never actually shows up because, I assume, the movie forgot about him or ran out of the money needed to bus Railsback to a different set. Note that I did not forget that he is playing, for reasons unexplained, white Othello. 

You know what else this movie forgets about? The dog. Joan clearly instructs Linda to feed the dog. 

We never see a dog.

Look, even  Blade Runner has detailed plot holes but the ones in Trick or Treats are so weirdly specific that it's REALLY hard to ignore. 

At some point, Malcolm makes his way to Linda (prior to that, we have SEVERAL painfully non-funny-but-someone-probably-though-were-funny scenes where he trades clothes with a nurse, punches a security guard, gets hit on in LA's red light district, and forces a homeless man to give him his outfit, underwear included). A cat and mouse chase ensues, with Christopher's obnoxious dime store magician tricks occasionally helping out. 

I don't know that I have enough words to effectively explain just how strange a movie Trick or Treats is. Much of that probably comes from writer/director/cinematographer Gary Graver, a man with one of the most fascinating IMDB profiles I've ever seen. 

Somewhere between serving as Orson Welles's final DP and making a LOT of cleverly titled porn films (Maverdick and Cape Rear sound the most fun), Graver tried out his mainstream auteur chops and, well, ended up making Trick or Treats. I have to believe that So I Married a Lesbian was better written. 

There's just so much weirdly wrong in Trick or Treats to the extent that you start to wonder, much like Cats: The Movie, if everyone involved was being blackmailed (though the child actor playing Christopher, being Graver's real-life son, was probably just earning his allowance). Or perhaps it was some kind of elaborate training session for lead Jacqueline Giroux to practice hanging up phones. Because SERIOUSLY: she has do it about 30 times in the movie, and never once does she put the phone back in its receiver the way any biological human being would.

Again, when a movie is this bad, you notice the details. Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

High Points
Most of the characters seemed to know most of their lines and only stumbled over their words every other scene or so. I feel like that took a lot of work

Low Points
I know the running time said 90 minutes, but I'm pretty sure Trick or Treats went on for at least eighteen hours. Or possibly days. Or lifetimes...

Lessons Learned
The standard uniform of high end babysitting agencies in the 1980s combined an unflattering nurse-cut romper with a weirdly inviting easy-access front zipper

Movies are ultimately made in the editing room. Side note: I don't think Trick or Treats has an editing room

If your production location includes a pool, you might as well use it in at least 50% of all your film's shots because you clearly just had that pool cleaned and why not get your money's worth?

Make no mistake: Trick or Treats is a terrible, nearly incompetent movie lacking any real intrigue, sexiness, scares, or, well, anything logical whatsoever. That being said, if one were to "find the wine" (as the babysitter so responsibly says) and invite your pals and white Othello-boyfriend over for the night (as the babysitter so responsibly does), then hey: this is a good time. A terrible, incompetent, good time. Thank you, Amazon Prime. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Clowning Around (and around, and around, and around…)

Back in my teenage years, my friends found it ridiculous that I found clowns terrifying. If there’s one good thing about the cultural shifts of the new millennium, it’s that the world has finally accepted the very obvious truth that, you know, clowns are creepy.

Quick Plot: It’s Halloween night, and a college partiers Tara and Dawn are a little too drunk to drive home. Responsibly, they head to a small pizza joint to sober up, only to find themselves followed by a silent but flirty clown (possibly named Art). It’s an unsettling way to chew through a slice, but they slink back to their car (conveniently parked in front of an abandoned, rat-infested apartment building), leaving Art behind to chop his way through the two disgruntled employees.

What follows is a cat-and-multiple-mice chase throughout this randomly empty slum. In addition to Tara and Dawn, there’s Tara’s hard-studying sister Victoria, a homeless woman believing a doll to be her child, and a friendly, if dim exterminator with extremely limited survival instincts.

That latter detail is true of everyone in Terrifier, Damien Leone’s expansion of an earlier short film. While Tara shows early signs of being a competent final girl, she also has the tragic horror movie disease of always running from an injured villain whom she could easily end with one extra stab. This is true of every single character in Terrifier, and it becomes genuinely exhausting.

Serious flaw aside, Leone’s film is fun in a gross, mean way. So long as you head into it knowing you’re going to see ridiculously cruel acts of torture at the hands of a possibly supernaturally powered clown, you’re getting what expect.

High Points
As Art (if that IS his name), David Howard Thornton takes the token creepy clown to incredible levels. The makeup design is on point, but Thornton’s facial expressions and movement style are what truly sell Art as a nightmare

Low Points
I meant what I said earlier. I’m usually the first person to defend a film when an audience member complains about a character’s lack of survival instinct, but when not one or two but THREE would-be victims in Terrifier witness Art brutally murder someone, then temporarily disable him to the point where he’s knocked down for at least a few minutes, only to then, you know, LIMP AWAY even though it’s already been established that there’s no easy way out of this horror house, it’s hard to still care

Lessons Learned
Just because a horror movie coroner isn’t seen eating a sandwich doesn’t mean he won’t immediately request one, preferably with bacon

Possibly the least responsible lesson to ever be learned, but ultimately, the theme of the movie: if choosing between driving home while intoxicated and getting away from a creepy silent clown making eyes at you, stick to the speed limit and hope for the best

Rusty saws are incredibly effective at sawing through solid bone with the speed and smoothness of a Ginju slicing through a tomato

Wacky Credits
Two things jump out in wonderful, very different ways:

Though I know “Music By Paul Wiley” does not mean Olympic silver medalist figure skater Paul Wylie changed the spelling of his name and composed the score, it’s nice to dream that Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie has retired to a life of writing music for cheap killer clown flicks

Meet the Falcones, a busy family who get credited here for acting producing, stunt driving, props, makeup, and, you guessed it, catering

Terrifier is streaming on Netflix, and if you want to fill 80 minutes with some solid clown horror, it fits a certain bill. Just accept that humanity is incredibly dumb, that clowns are intellectually superior, and that bones are very fragile. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Always Room For Growth

Let's get one thing straight: I will fight to the point of near death over the honor of 1956's The Bad Seed. It is brilliant, chilling, funny, smart, and simply the best.

Now let's slap that Lifetime Flowers In the Attic filter on a retelling and see what happens with Rob Lowe at the helm.

Quick Plot: Emma Grossman is a precocious 9-year-old whose current life goal is to win the citizenship medal in her exclusive private school (which for some Lifetime set availability reason, is set inside the kind of castle-esque manor best suited for wedding photos). When poor pubic speaker Milo wins instead, Emma's blue eyes narrow with the kind of ice cold fury that sends unsuspecting third graders to their deaths.

Widowed dad David (double duty puller Lowe) is a caring and concerned parent, but one also busy being the sole breadwinner with the (again) very Lifetime-ish profession of wildly successful furniture designer. He hires a carefree ex-snowboarder named Chloe as Emma's nanny, which briefly works out well since both sitter and charge are complete sociopaths.

That's right: if The Bad Seed didn't scream Lifetime to you at first glance, adding an eager-to-seduce pill-popping blond certainly helps. Not surprisingly, this is not the most subtle of remakes. While we don't get Rhoda Penmark's signature pigtails and tap shoes, we do get weaponized wasps' nests and poisoned hot chocolate, not to mention the rare "special appearance" credit that is ACTUALLY special because it's PATTY MCCORMACK AS A CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST.

This is the kind of film that follows the shot of a young woman being burned to death with a closeup of a fancy restaurant char broiling a fine steak. Subtlety rarely finds its way onto this network, and if anything, I wish Lowe pushed even higher over the top. Ultimately, we're left with a mild missed opportunity, but for all the woes we have about the time we're living in, the fact that we have a Bad Seed movie that includes Patty McCormack winking at the camera shows some positivity after all.

High Points
I've enjoyed screenwriter Barbara Marshall (Viral, Wish Upon)'s work immensely thus far, and while The Bad Seed does feel a tad Lifetime-limited, little touches, like Emma being a huge Shirley Temple fangirl, really show a special touch

Low Points
The Bad Seed is certainly not the first film to do this but it does give me an excuse to voice my hatred of water shots that insist on using liquid drops on the camera lens.I get what it's TRYING to do, but really, all it does for me is draw attention to the fact that what I'm watching is a product being filmed

Lessons Learned
Public speaking and spelling are not skills measured for citizenship

Some things never go out of style, be they class medals or little pink electric chairs

Always count your Xanax

The Bad Seed aired on Lifetime, so it's really only findable via your On Demand cable provider at this point in time. It never quite reaches the campy heights you (okay, I) want, but it's fun, disposable entertainment that hits most of the required notes. I certainly would have preferred a little more piano playing and pigtails, but my standards are obviously quite high. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Fatigue of the Dead

Another zombie movie following a handful of scrappy survivors in the countryside? Surely you've never seen anything like THIS before!

Quick Plot: Alice is living her life, fixing breakfast for her young daughter and taking a time out to pee on a pregnancy test stick. Delighted at the results, she phones her husband only to hear his frantic warnings to stay inside and not open the door for anyone...

Which naturally, her toddler has just done, granting access to a crazed 28 Days Later-style zombie. Alice makes it out alive and into the arms of friendly stranger Steven, bidding goodbye to her now eaten firstborn and old life.

Four months go by. Alice and Steven have settled into your typical drive-til-you-have-to-siphon-gas-and-keep-driving routine with a pair of siblings. Somewhere across the countryside, a mysterious woman is being held prisoner for some kind of unexplained medical experiments. Eventually, these stories will sort of kind of meet.

Anger (or Age, its alternate title) of the Dead is an Italian(ish) zombie film written and directed by Francesco Picone, with a terrifying executive producer credit for Uwe Boll. The production values are higher than your average streaming zombie flick, with performances that range from slightly painful to decent. So that's a good thing.

The problem with Age/Anger of the Dead (which, side note: did they choose that title to get a few extra eyes due to its alphabetical placement?) is that it sporadically commits to a deeply cruel streak. Granted, this is a film that opens with an adorable toddler being eaten alive in front of her mother's eyes, so perhaps we have no right to be annoyed at its insanely nasty final shot. 

Still, it would have been nicer had Picone found a little more consistency in tone. Having a mushy moment of love interrupted by a zombie bite tells a darkly funny story. Implying the systematic rape of a female prisoner tells another.

High Points
You can't argue with a zombie movie that doesn't waste time, opening on immediate chaos and moving fairly swiftly from there

Low Points
Seriously: Age/Anger of the Dead deserves better than a 2.9/10 rating on IMDB, but the fact that it ends on such a sour, mean note makes it a little understandable that someone's gut reaction might go that low after finishing the film 

Lessons Learned
Always keep the sharpest object of your home in your toddler’s sock drawer

Enjoying the fresh air on a lovely day is great, but when the undead are roaming the roads, maybe it's worth the splurge of air conditioning instead of keeping your window wide open

When fleeing running zombies, most drivers take their keys before abandoning their cars

New Rule
We all know of the classic Chekhov's Law involving guns and to a lesser extent (but larger in the horror world) bear traps, but it brings me great joy to add a new one to the roster: Chekhov's Law of Naming a Character Alice and how one cannot do such a thing without including at least one "You're not in Wonderland anymore" reference

Anger of the Dead is slightly more watchable than a lot of other low budget zombie films of recent years, but it ends on such a horribly mean beat that I almost wish I hadn't watched it. Some of its action works just fine, but the ultimate mood is so negative that it genuinely destroys any goodwill. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Hazing Is Hell

It's weird when I discover an '80s slasher that I didn't know existed. Surely it must be a long-buried diamond shining through the rough!

Or maybe it's just Final Exam.

Quick Plot: After the most "couple making out in car gets hacked by a mysterious killer" scene of a couple making out in a car getting hacked by a mysterious killer (with the world's most glorious dummy death to boo), we move the action to the last week at Lanier College, an isolated liberal arts school.

Jocks bully the nerds, sorority sisters pine about their boyfriends, good girls study hard, and the frat bros stage the world's worst aged mass shooting prank in order to pass a chemistry final. As a result, the local grumpy sheriff vows to never listen to the students' calls again, which is great when, you know, your job description implies that you're responsible for their safety and stuff.

After a good 58 minutes of college shenanigans, Final Exam finally turns into a slasher. A tame, rather suspension-free slasher that hunts down its characters with all the energy of a long distance runner hitting a wall and crawling to the finish line. 

Written and directed by My Best Friend Is a Vampire's Jimmy Huston, Final Exam was a prime target of the Video Nasty witch hunt. While it hits most of the beats of the Dead Teenager subgenre, it's also surprisingly tame. Despite centering itself on young coeds, the film shows no nudity (unless you count an unlucky frat pledge in his underwear). Most of the violence involves little blood, and ironically, the hardest scene to watch is the boy-that-aged-poorly shooting prank.

There's some fun to be had with some of the characters, all played by unknown actors who mostly manage to create real people worth caring about (or in the case of the horrid frat boys, wishing true violence upon). Still, nobody comes to this kind of film looking for minor drama about being pinned or seducing your married chemistry professor after your piano recital. Unfortunately, with its blank villain, Final Exam's final act doesn't particularly justify an hourlong after-college special.

High Points
As hard as I'm being on the film's odd pacing and insistence on getting to know these kids, there is some decent character work by Cecile Bagdadi and Joel S. Rice. A film about the insecure brainy beauty and self-aware death-obsessed genius could have genuinely made an interesting story in itself

Low Points
Not every '80s villain needs a complex backstory, but it's a little unsatisfying to learn everything there is to know about a film's victims and absolutely nothing about our killer aside from his extreme skill at catching arrows with his bare hands

Lessons Learned
Fraternities in the 1980s (and possibly today) were populated by certified sociopaths

When breaking in to a professor's office for the expellable offense of stealing an exam, you should probably avoid wearing a t-shirt with nothing but your name printed on the back

Having a sheriff come to your aide during his early dinner time is an actual crime

Final Exam is certainly worth a watch for slasher completists, but it doesn't offer that much else for the casual horror fan. It's streaming in fuzzy glory via Amazon Prime.