Monday, January 27, 2020

Best of the Year!

As is tradition, we celebrate the anniversary of this blog (ELEVEN YEARS DAMNIT!) by looking back at my favorite movies covered over the last year. 

Let the countdown begin!

9. Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things
Less a good movie and far more a weird one, SAMDDT (seriously, I can only write that title out so many times) is a bizarre crime story of sorts that has more on its mind than its cheap execution allows it to really explore. It's an odd film to end up on any "best" list, but I found it just so darn odd that I feel the need to do everything I can to get more eyes on it. Certainly a weak recommend, but when you'll understand when you finally experience the weirdness that is (deep breath) Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things.

8. Invaders From Mars

While not quite on par with some of the '50s more lasting science fiction like Them! or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, William Cameron Menzies' alien thriller does manage to create some uniquely artistic visuals. There's plenty of gee whiz! action, adults not believing children, secret government action, and of course, quickly costumed Martians in body suits and face paint. When you think you've seen it all before (you have before and after, in many ways), just look behind the actors to the glorious art deco set design. It's something. 

I've never been coy about my deep, deep love of extreme Lifetime thrillers. While Scorned wasn't made for that network, it was clearly inspired by the type of Angry Woman thrillers Lifetime has long wrought. The brave, goes to eleven AnnaLynne McCord plays this genre's most dangerous type of villain: a mentally ill woman off her meds and on a rampage to take vengeance on her cheating boyfriend (PLAYED BY BILLY ZANE NO LESS) and disloyal best friend. It doesn't exactly rewrite women's rights, but McCord's commitment is a thing of true beauty.

Always my favorite of the Pretty Little Liars, Ashley Benson proves that, despite what countless found footage horror films would like you to believe, it is indeed possible to create an incredibly likable, relatable protagonist. In Ratter, Benson plays a pleasant young grad student who for reasons we never know, has attracted the intense fixation of an unseen obsessive hacker who's tapped into all of her devices to watch her every move. What writer/director Branden Kramer understands so well is just how cruel and invasive stalking is. We see the the light in Benson's eyes dim as she slowly comes to the realization that her life is no longer hers. I don't have any real desire to ever rewatch Ratter, but it'd be a crime not to recommend it. 

When you've spent a good chunk of your 37 years on this planet consuming horror films, it's always an exciting day when you discover there are still over-the-top '80s slashers you haven't seen. Blood Rage is gleeful in its gory Thanksgiving bloodfest, with a prime dose of blousy alcoholics, irresponsible babysitting, and severed body parts that just don't stop moving. What's not to love? 

If you're going to make a rape revenge flick, you darn well better make Coralie Fargeat's Revenge. A simple, oft-told tale told the right way, Revenge is a gorgeously shot hunt that follows a resourceful wronged woman as she takes down the men who abused her. With a horrifically sun-scorched desert setting, Fargeat's unrelenting thriller does what it needs to do with the right blend of brutality and empowerment. 

I've spoken to many other film fans who found Radio Silence's Ready or Not a bit too cruel, which I can fully understand and respect. That aside, Samara Weaving is a genuine treasure, and watching her face off against old money armed mostly with antiquated weapons and her extreme pluck is a delight. The glorious Nicky Guadagni adds an iconic touch as the wonderfully bitter Aunt Helene. The fact that a movie this fresh made it to theaters (and made enough money for it to be considered a small success) in itself is something worth celebrating. 

I maintain my complicated love for the flawed but incredibly unsettling YellowBrickRoad, so I was eager to see one half of that film's directing team's other work. Written and directed by Andy Mitton, The Witch In the Window is an incredibly unsettling haunted house flick that does so much right in just 77 minutes. An absentee dad (YBR's wonderful Alex Draper) takes his son (a fine Charlie Tacker) on a flip job in rural Vermont only to encounter the titular ghost. Bad things happen, and while there is little you haven't quite seen before, Mitton builds tension so carefully that you'll still find your heart in your throat. The performances and smart writing make the characters people you genuinely care about, making The Witch In the Window all the more effective. 

How did this little low budget Australian post-apocalyptic thriller become one of my all-time favorite sports film? Written and directed by David Webb Peoples, The Blood of Heroes follows a scrappy team of "juggers" as they travel the wasteland in search of the big game (in this case, a variation of rugby with a dog skull and more violence). Rutger Hauer is the aging captain and retired pro, a man who's seen so much that he lost one eye doing it, while Joan Chen plays the promising rookie intent on making it big. The quick, lean storytelling is all that's needed, but Peoples weaves in some subtly modern touches of gender equality, sexual freedom, and best of all, true sportsmanship. 

Monday, January 20, 2020

Lessons Learned Yet Again

It's that time of the year! Mid-January, when the weather is crumby, the optimism surrounding our resolutions are fading, and depending on your profession, we're weeks to months away from any real days off.

Or, if you're a reader of this here blog, the annual year-in-review, starting with our roundup of some of the most important lessons learned over the last 365 days of movie reviews!

Fine Dining
Old meatloaf smells like werewolf crap -- Summer of '84

You can take coconut liqueur any darn way you like -- Blood Rage

The key to making good tacos is cover up crappy meat with tons of spices -- Scorned 

Travel & Tourism
People don't go to Vermont for the oysters -- The Witch In the Window

Always pack a comfortable, quiet pair of sneakers for whatever may come up on your honeymoon -- Ready or Not 

When visiting a wealthier friend, always try to time your visit around his impending death. If everything lines up just right, you'll get to spend the next few weeks living in his mansion rent-free -- Color of Night 

Any town with a an overabundance of mannequins is not a place to spend the night -- Happy Hunting 

Economics 101
All the money in the world can apparently only buy one shirt for painting and one bikini for daily swimming exercises -- Imaginary Friend 

Home Remedies
Horse tranquilizers are great for fighting migraines -- Ma 

In a pinch, perfume makes a decent, fragrant antiseptic -- Don't Grow Up

The way to stay alive when spending 18 hours a day mixing your liquor choices is to occasionally supplement your diet with some potassium -- Friend Request

Facial scars heal fast if they're accompanied by aggressive opera music -- Braid

Self-Defense Tips
One can never be too cautious when plotting a landing -- Targets 

Brooms and baseball bats are decent weapons for self-defense, but when you really get down to it, nothing beats a full a roll of Saran Wrap -- The Hive 

Smart women sleep in their sports bras -- Revenge

Fashion Through the Ages
1950s suburban moms slept in heavier makeup than 2019 Hallmark Christmas movie leads -- Invaders From Mars 

Bangs were the big trend of the mid-1800s -- Candyman 3: Day of the Dead

Supernatural snake women shed their skin in one clean body suit -- The Snake Woman 

Silk is real, and it is fabulous -- Blood of Heroes  

In the future, global warming will make weather so confusing that you'll need a winter hat and an open chest hoodie -- Death Race: Beyond Anarchy

Friendship Is Magic
Never remain friends with a group of young white people who decide to film themselves, not because you'll almost inevitably die in a blur, your last words being, "What the f*ck," but more because if two decades of found footage horror has taught me anything, it's that young white people who enjoy filming themselves are almost certainly an awful combination of bland and rude -- Hell House LLC

The power of besties involves being able to provide quick synonyms on call -- Truth Or Dare 

Hair & Makeup
The shorter your haircut, the longer your makeup will stay on your face -- Finders Keepers

Quaaludes are murder on the skin -- Hell Night 

Psychiatric hospitals are a wonderful training resource for shaping your eyebrows -- Mercy Black 

Dating Advice
The best way to stay under the radar when ordering drinks for your underage boyfriend is to flag the waiter from across the room to shout for two more alcoholic beverages, even though you've just taken a single sip from your first -- Fatal Fashion 

Nothing turns a woman on more than man's ability to make netting out of tree fiber -- Eden 

Some women find childlike men attractive -- Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things

Gun Safety
Really, I think this can all be summed up with one pretty handy suggestion: maybe don't go hunting with powerful firearms when you're still rather drunk? -- Calibre 

Never bring a rifle to a bird fight -- Kaw 

Self-proclaimed world's best damned personal assistants have a unique set of skills, including excellent shotgun aim 

Mythology Uncovered
Contrary to popular cultural portrayals, trolls actually resemble burn victims with tiny Trump hands -- Charlotte 

Modern Hobbies
Horror-themed scavenger weekends operated under most of the same rules as your average strip club -- Ruin Me 

Crime Solving For Dummies
When hiding evidence, consider a place slightly less exposed than the living room shelf

One can never have too many candles or flashlights on hand to fight off an evil bullied spirit, even if the lights are working just fine -- Can't Take It Back 

When sneaking around in a remote cabin where the owner is confirmed as being out of the way, always remember to bring a good flashlight because under no conditions would you turn a light on in a remote cabin when the whole reason you're there is because no on else is near -- The Shortcut 

The only thing less effective in solving crime than the NYC police department is Stephen Rea in a cameo -- Greta 

When questioning an old acquaintance about brutal murder, it's best to do so over a glass of champagne -- Staged Killer

Technology Through the Ages
Antivirus software remains as ineffective in 2016 as it was in the '90s -- Ratter 

The Young Adult
Youngest siblings have far better facial memory recognition than the eldests -- Deviant Love 

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

Really talented deaf teenagers don't even need to face you to read your lips -- The Silence

Know Thy Style
You know you've found your villain when his vanity license plate reads "FERRARI" -- The Furies

Know Thyself
No-good bohemians make terrible decisions in the middle of the night -- The Gorgon

Morgue Fun
Unlike their American male counterparts, female Spanish morticians trade sandwiches for shameless flirting -- Open Graves 

Nothing makes a dieting detective hungrier than a visit to the morgue -- In Darkness

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 Possession of Hannah Grace 

How To Not Teach a Lesson
If you're trying to send a fervent anti-abortion message with your movie, maybe don't end it with a soundtrack that incorporates obnoxiously screaming babies -- The Unborn Child 

Now that you're fully prepared for whatever life (or in some cases, the afterlife) throws your way, come back next week when we look at my favorite films covered here in 2019!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Tale As Old As Time

Call it "Emily saw The Running Man in the theaters at age five and has never been able to shake it," syndrome, but 32 years later, I still can't turn down a hunting humans adjacent horror flick.

Quick Plot: Maddie is trying to get her pal Kayla to take a few more chances in life, but Kayla's lifelong epilepsy has helped her to build something of a wall. What's the best way to challenge your lifestyle? Why, get kidnapped by a shadow organization that drops young women in a sprawling forest and releases a gaggle of masked maniacs to hunt them down, of course!

That description makes writer/director Tony D'Aquino's The Furies sound a little familiar, but the script has an interesting twist up its very bloody, occasionally armless sleeve: the Leatherface-ish killers are each charged to protect one of the prey. When the "beast's" assigned "beauty" dies, his head explodes. 

It's messy. 

Once Kayla figures out the game, she tries to rally the rest of the contestants to work together to mixed effect. Younger home-schooled Rose is eager to latch on, while more pessimistic Sheena is hardly eager to trust a stranger whose safety puts her own life at risk, especially after a few ill-timed stabbings throw into question who can really be trusted. 

The Furies is a brisk watch, wasting no time to drown us in some very gooey practical effects. The action itself is quite cruel and vicious, but thankfully, the film is smart enough to avoid any implication of sexual violence. There's a traditional fairy tale gendered element to the division of the female hunted and their male protectors, but Kayla's resolve goes a long way in attempting to spin that around.

Unfortunately for the overall effect of The Furies, this is a film that seems to have ambitions that exceed its own running time. I won't spoil the ending, but it's riddled with some very odd choices on D'Aquino's part. What could have been a very slick and satisfying action horror instead might as well end on a "Come Back For Chapter 2" notice. It's a strange choice, and while the action and performances before it make The Furies a more-than-entertaining watch, the decision to rob its audience of resolution doesn't leave anyone feeling positive.

High Points
Much credit to lead actress Airlie Dodds, who backs up strong screen presence with the perfect balance of victim-turned-badass in an intelligent, believable way

Low Points
Vague spoiler alert: I don't necessarily have an issue with a film leaving some unresolved mystery, but when that lack of resolution seems built entirely on a sequel that may or may not happen, it's impossible not to walk away feeling rather dissatisfied

Lessons Learned
You know you've found your villain when his vanity license plate reads "FERRARI"

Never trust someone if you can't see their face...particularly if that's because it's hidden by a flesh mask covered in blood

Have you learned nothing, women in horror movies who are so intense in their new self defense skills that they never look before they stab? Apparently, as so many films post-The Descent have taught us, no. No they have not

The Furies felt full of untapped potential, but it was still built on some very strong elements: quality cast, decent if undeveloped story, and outstandingly gross gore. It needs a sequel to really satisfy, but for a quick watch on Shudder, it's certainly an effective, fast-moving time killer. 

Monday, January 6, 2020

It's a Twin Thing

Just when you think you've seen every over-the-top '80s slasher, the internet shows up to remind you that this world is far richer than you knew.

Quick Plot: Young Terry and Todd are resting in the backseat of a station wagon while mom Maddy (Mary Hartman herself, Louise Lasser) makes out with her date. Disgusted, Terry pulls Todd outside to wander the grounds, quickly finding a loose hammer and using it to smash a naked teenager's face in. Without skipping a beat, Terry covers his shocked brother's face in blood, leading everyone to believe Todd's guilt. 

Ten years later, an institutionalized Todd has finally made a breakthrough, which we find out via one narrated scene by his psychologist (apparently a producer who was forced into the role when the cast actress backed out last minute). Maddy refuses to believe the boy she's raised into a nice young man is actually a sociopath, leaving her to storm out in fury. 

Back home, Maddy hosts Thanksgiving with high spirits, announcing her engagement to her cheery guests. Terry, on the other hand, immediately turns to ice. 

Meanwhile, back at the hospital (or "school," as Maddy chooses to say), Todd has run away. His psychologist and her stoner teenage assistant (remember: the '80s) arrive to search the 10 acres of land surrounding his neighborhood. Before anyone can suggest doing something crazy like, you know, calling the police, Terry's bloodthirst has rekindled.

What follows is a strange, strange ride into, what little Judy rightfully described in Dolls as "the longest night in the world." Between condoned drunk babysitting, tennis matches, diving board sex, dismemberment, vacuuming, and a LOT of wine, Blood Rage has a lot of...stuff to do. Rarely is it good by any classical definition, but for the most part, it's weirdly entertaining. 

Lasser throws herself into her role, notching her performance up to 11 as a supreme blousy alcoholic unable to face the truth about her child. She largely acts by herself, slurring through one-sided phone calls with abandon. As both the Bundy-esque Terry and shellshocked Todd, Mark Soper manages to create two distinctly odd characters, and the young (or rather, "young") cast of pals he slices through sell their over-the-top, gooey deaths in glory.

Much like The Mutilator, Blood Rage is fairly mean-spirited tale, sparing few and delighting in the others' gruesome murders. Still, it's goofy enough that you can't take anything too seriously as an audience member, even if the actors are admirably committed to giving it their all. This is the kind of film that repeats the line "that's not cranberry sauce" as our killer licks blood off of his stained machete. It's hard not to be entertained.

High Points
Though she doesn't get much in the way of character development, it's a nice touch that our final girl chooses to save a stranger's baby in the midst of fleeing her insane boyfriend

Low Points
It's never a good idea to cast very similar looking people in similar roles, and the only two young females being blond with the same body type 


Lessons Learned
A more mature term for a stepfather would be "new manager"

You can take coconut liqueur any darn way you like

If you substitute the word 'lunatic' for 'maniac' and change the gender, you just get away with not getting sued for using the tune of "Maniac"*

*Fun fact: according to the beacon of undisputed knowledge that is Wikipedia, songwriter Michael Sembello originally intended "Maniac" to be used IN a slasher film, with the opening lyric "He's a maniac that's for sure / He will kill your cat and nail it to the door." 

Look! It's-

Ted Raimi as the '80s grooviest drive-in bathroom condom salesman

I don't know why I haven't been eating my second round of turkey to Blood Rage for the last 32 years of its existence, but it sure is nice to know there are always buried treasures floating around the streaming universe of Amazon Prime and Shudder.