Monday, November 25, 2019

Seriously: Take the Stairs

In space, no one can hear you scream. -- Alien
There's something wrong with the Davis baby...It's Alive! 
Be afraid. Be very afraid. -- The Fly

Sure, those are GOOD taglines, but do any beat the following:

Take the stairs! Take the stairs! For god's sake, take the stairs! 

I have long been fascinated by1983's The Lift, a Dutch killer elevator flick with a great poster and even better tagline. Now streaming on Shudder, it was finally my chance to see whether it lived up to its hype. 


Quick Plot: A quartet of obnoxiously drunken diners are the last customers to exit a restaurant, slobbering their way into an elevator that immediately tries to suffocate them. The elevator company dispatches its best technician, Felix Adelaar, who sees nothing out of the ordinary.

The next day, that very same elevator claims two fresh victims: an elderly blind man who strolls right into its empty shaft and a night watchman who gets decapitated in glorious dummy fashion. Felix returns with a repairman's vengeance, teaming up with a nosy reporter named Mieke to investigate Deta Liften, the ominous elevator manufacturer apparently working with an experimental technology company. Mieke takes Felix to discuss their theories with a nerdy technology professor, who proceeds to launch into a very long monologue defining computer chips. 

It's as fascinating as it sounds.

For a movie about a killer elevator, The Lift is shockingly dull. It starts off weird in a good way, but gets so messily lifeless as it goes along that it becomes genuinely hard to even pay attention. There's weird entertainment value to get from the snippets of Felix's suburban home life, from his terrible son's antics to his wife's shockingly fast-growing jealousy. Unfortunately, The Lift rather oddly drops that thread entirely so that Felix can focus all of his energy on saving a few building wanderers from the clutches of a possessed elevator.

The bigger problem is that once Felix removes all distractions, so does the film. The final 15 minutes become a one-man show as Felix battles various parts of a machine, making for one very long service call. 

To say I was let down by The Lift is, well, pretty much the best unintended pun I've stumbled upon in quite some time. Perhaps writer/director Dick Maas was too, since he remade his own movie in 2001 with a so-close-to-Mulholland Drive-fame-Naomi Watts and always-close-to-my-heart Michael Ironside. 

That one's not good either. 

High Points
I will never argue with a dummy decapitation, especially when it happens to a character whose last conversation involved bragging about how he contracted so many STDs in the navy that he was now immune to the effects of penicillin 

Low Points
I think I'd rather walk up the 14 flights of stairs so often referenced here than sit through that microchip monologue again

Lessons Learned
It's not easy to find someone who does the heavy clean

Working for the vice squad will make you numb

Girls don't grow chest hair, but they do get lumps (providing they learn how to stop talking at the breakfast table)


I'm glad I finally got to watch The Lift. I just wish I could have enjoyed it more. Or really, at all. As the poster says, take the stairs, take the stairs, because you're really much better off avoiding The Lift. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Family Ties

I've often described myself as a film snob with bad taste, and never is that truer than when I dive deep into the realm of Lifetime-inspired (yes, not even Lifetime-branded) domestic thrillers about handsome strangers obsessing over beautiful but very naive women. 

This one folks, is something special.

Quick Plot: Jamie is heading back home with her awful son Preston to spend some time with her parents in their sprawling small town California home. At the local bakery, she clumsily spills coffee on the incredibly handsome square-jawed stranger who instantly bonds with the seriously awful Preston and seems to show up in every quaint location Jamie heads to. Could there a holiday romance in the air?

Wait, sorry, wrong genre. See, this is REALLY confusing, because Deviant Love is a production from Marvista Entertainment, which is essentially the equivalent of the Asylum Studio for the Hallmark movie. This has long been centered primarily on those cozy cardigan Christmas tales involving overly ambitious career women throwing their established lives away in return for a woodworking widow played by a one-time soap opera actor and the true spirit of Christmas, usually symbolized by a lot of public domain carols. 

Here's the crazy thing: for about 7/8ths of its brief 86 minute running time, Deviant Love IS one of those movies. All of the (pun somewhat intended) hallmarks are there: sage old parents, supportive sister, cloyingly terrible child played by an actor far older than his character's intended age, copious stock footage showing overhead panning of a city skyline, etc. All we're really missing is a town square tree lighting and Candace Cameron Bure interrupting the commercial breaks to hawk some JC Penney accessories.

Deviant Love is directed by Marvista veteran Michael Feifer, the versatile genius who can apparently switch between the hijinks of The Dog Who Saved the Holidays to presumably differently toned Drifter: Henry Lee Lucas within one calendar year. Frozen's Emma Bell does what she can with the rather terrible Jamie, a woman all too eager to believe that her estranged husband is running a drug cartel and spying on her via the refrigerator once her good-looking stalker suggests it. 

As you can probably guess, Jamie's new romance isn't quite as healthy as she'd like to believe, but since her family is somehow even more controlling than the obsessive compulsive suitor with paranoid schizophrenia, it's an uphill battle to get her to see the light, one that ultimately involves repressed memories, a family funeral, and some glorious slow motion. What more do you really need?

High Points
I can't in any way complain about the film's big reveal, which is stupid and weird and wonderful in every possible way

Low Points
Look, I know we're not working with big studio budgets or talent pools, but this movie was filmed in LA: is it really that hard to find three passable child actors? Isn't every citizen of that city carrying a SAG card and headshot?

Lessons Learned
High school friends are always catty and jealous

Only boring kids get bored. Well, boring and positively terrible

Youngest siblings have far better facial memory recognition than the eldests

Dreamboard Alert
Much like the similarly grand Staged Killer, Deviant Love's villain is big on visualizing his fantasies and how to achieve them


Hey, Deviant Love ain't Citizen Kane, nor is it Mother May I Sleep With Danger, but it's just ridiculous enough to make for a bonkers 90 minutes. Head to Netflix and enjoy.

Monday, November 11, 2019

We're All His Victims

In some areas of my life, I’m something of a completist. No, I haven’t made it any priority to make sure I’ve seen the 73 sequels to Children of the Corn, but with only three Candyman films, it always left a minor itch that I’d never seen the third, least respected Day of the Dead. 

So. This is that.

Quick Plot: Caroline is a young LA-based artist who can’t seem to stop painting the man haunting her dreams. Yes, said tall dark handsome stranger is none other than Candyman, still embodied by Tony Todd in full, sexy whispering glory.

Why this young blond, you might ask? Caroline, you see, is the daughter of the late Annie Tarrant, whom you might remember as the main young blond in Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh. Kids grew up fast in the ‘90s, meaning it took just four years between films for Caroline to go from fetus to new adult prey to her great great great grandfather.

Candyman finds his way into Caroline’s reality through the usual path, one tread nearly identically two films prior. In this case, her manager, Miguel, convinces Caroline to call Candyman’s name in a mirror at her big gallery opening. 

It goes as well as expected: everyone close to Caroline (including her black female friend, because why change a formula with any self-awareness:?) is brutally hacked up by an 18th century rusted hook, with all circumstantial evidence pointing towards our very white lead. It doesn’t help that the lead detective on the case is a racist jerk eager to take some vengeance on the hot blond who’s spurned his advances for a Hispanic man. 

I don’t know if anything I’ve said so far has given anyone reason to see Candyman: Day of the Dead, and if it has, I apologize. While the Bill Condon helmed first sequel has some high points (namely its usage of New Orleans), Turi Meyer’s third go ‘round lacks just about anything worthwhile. Todd’s screen time probably adds up to less than ten minutes, and much like the previous installment, is essentially reduced to him begging a bland white woman to be his victim. 

It…hasn’t aged well.

Yes, it’s easy to criticize most horror franchises for being slavish to their formulas. But Jason slaying good-looking teenagers and Freddy creating surreal nightmare landscapes for his final girl’s pals work for specific reasons. Three films in, and every Candyman leans on the same exact conflict: Blond woman summons Candyman, who kills those around her, makes her a suspect, begs her to join him, and she refuses. That’s it. 

Couldn’t, I don’t know, this NOT be another tale of a blond woman? Or, I realize this SLIGHTLY varies the framework and couldn’t POSSIBLY be put into action, but what if, I don’t know, blond woman actually says, “You know what? Why not? Let’s DO this.”

Sure, I suppose we do get to finally meet that “congregation” that Candyman has long been teasing, but considering this is 1999, the sight of them being choker-clad goths doesn’t give us much. Straight-to-video horror sequels of the '90s rarely brought much to the genre, but Candyman: Day of the Dead seems to not even try. Yes, that's true of every Children of the Corn save for part 3, but knowing just how good the first film is and how much potential the character has, it's hard not to feel truly let down.

High Points
I suppose there’s something new in the film’s resolution, which turns the tables on the public face of its villain in a way that offers some redemption to the otherwise icky racist tone it toys with

Low Points
Seriously, Candyman, you’re a badass horror villain played by a great actor: set your sights higher

Lessons Learned
Bangs were the big trend of the mid-1800s

Racist cops use daily racial harassment to hide just how much they like someone

I would never judge anyone’s sex life, save for this case: if you incorporate dripping honeycomb into your bedroom activities, you just might deserve to die via CGI bee swarm

Bleh. The law of diminishing returns has never been quite so harsh as with the Candyman series. If your nagging curiosity still lingers, you can find this one on Amazon Prime. 

Monday, November 4, 2019

Pretty Little Mortician

I will never deny my adoration of FreeForm (formerly known as ABC Family's) Pretty Little Liars. Even without its often adorable nods to horror (witness its Carpenter referencing and Terror Train parody Halloween episodes, for one), it's a glorious combination of soapy overplotting and kooky playfulness. While the young actresses at its center vary in quality, I have deep affection for all and root for them to have successful careers.

Especially if they involve horror films. 

Quick Plot: We open in the last minutes of a failed exorcism of the titular Hannah Grace. Two priests don't make the cut, and Hannah's grieving father takes a shortcut by suffocating his possessed daughter with an adorably hand-stitched pillow. 

Three months later, we move the action to a Boston hospital where former cop and recovering addict Megan (aka Emily Fields, Shay Mitchell) is beginning her job at the morgue's graveyard shift. After a ridiculously fast, notebook-less irresponsible orientation, Megan survives her first night of intaking corpses, scanning their fingerprints, photographing their injuries, and locking them in freezers. 

While it doesn't sound like a great position, Megan takes the job in stride. Staying busy at night helps her to stay out of trouble, and with her AA sponsor just a few floors above, it seems like she's on track for a reliable, if not sunny career change after hesitating to save her partner in a deadly shootout. 

This being a horror film and not a drama about recovery, Megan's world is soon shaken with the arrival of a mysterious Jane Doe. Much like The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the entire morgue begins to feel off. Some unethical, but clever police sleuthing leads Megan to identify the body as none other than young Hannah Grace, though certain factors, like eye color and time of death, don't seem to add up.

As you can probably guess, Hanna's second night on the job becomes a little more stressful as Hannah's infected body takes over, sparing no security guard, EMT, or nurse in its wake. 

Directed by Diederik Van Rooijen from Brian Sieve's script, The Possession of Hannah Grace didn't are well when it debuted in theaters last year. Part of it may have been the R-rating, which can often limit an audience, particularly when the face of its film is mostly associated with a show aimed at teenagers. Had it hit PG-13 (something that probably would have just required very minor tweaks) it might have done better, especially since those who licked their popcorn salty fingers at the R-rating tease might have wondered what the MPAA was thinking that day.

Rooijen mines some great tension from his wonderful setting, a sprawling, empty basement morgue that oozes its coldness from the screen. Mitchell is fine as Megan, though a deeper movie could have probably done more with capturing the daily pain of a guilt-ridden addict. There's probably a more effective film to be made that truly taps into this. 

It's not that The Possession of Hannah Grace is a terrible film, despite what critics might have made you think. There's just something missing from the final under 90 minute product that keeps it from leaving much of an impact. 

High Points
In a few key sequences, Rooijen makes a decision so rarely done in modern horror: he refrains from using music or obvious sound cues to highlight something creepy happening in the background. It's not necessarily consistent throughout the film, but every now and then, he lets small touches unfold without forcing the audience to hear them. Boy do I wish we had more of that in the genre

Low Points
It's true of many a studio horror film, but the dull CGI on display in certain sequences feels particularly lazy, especially when other pains seem to be taken to create visual personality to Hannah and her destruction

Lessons Learned
Getting defensive is not the same as getting pissed

In no world is it a good idea to try to induce a jump scare from the new employee who gets to spend midnight-to-7 all alone in a basement filled with dead bodies

The Boston police department has dangerously lax standards when it comes to password criteria

Sandwich-In-the-Morgue Watch
I had very deep concerns that despite being set in a morgue, The Possession of Hannah Grace would deny us the joy of watching an employee in a lab coat dripping thousand island dressing onto a steel table as he devoured the kind of triple decker so expected in a horror film. We don't quite get the full messiness of a stacked sub, but Megan and some coworkers do indeed chow down on some fries, so that's something

My expectations were pretty darn low for The Possession of Hannah Grace, so it's hard to say whether it's decent or just far better than I figured going in. Regardless, it's certainly not as bad as you've probably heard, and when it comes to a shelved studio possession horror film, I think you'll be satisfied enough.