Monday, December 28, 2020

When It's All There, Right In the Title...

Despite my Long Island heritage, the
Amityville Horror franchise is a pretty large blind spot in my genre fandom, so when one of its many, many entries popped up on Shudder with one of the best/dumbest subtitles I've ever seen, how could I not give it a go?


Quick Plot: Architect Jake returns home after a business trip to New York--well, a little east of New York, that is--bringing with him an antique clock that he thinks his teenage kids will adore. 

Cause, you know, if there's one thing teenagers in any decade dig, it's antique clocks. 

Good girl Lisa and bad boy Rusty have been under the care of Andrea, Jake's all-too-generous ex-girlfriend who can't seem to shake her old relationship off.

They are not overly impressed by the clock. 

Jake, on the other hand, quickly falls under its spell (because obviously, it's evil). After being attacked by the usually friendly German Shepherd next door (in a delightfully The Beyond-like sequence), Jake is injured enough that poor saintly Andrea moves back in to help, just in time for her ex to begin displaying some werewolf-ish aggression.

Meanwhile, daughter Lisa's haunting takes on a different manifestation: horniness. 

Only Andrea and Rusty seem to be immune to the clock's possessing spirit, and both enlist the help of those closest to them to solve the mystery. For Andrea, that means her current squeeze, a pretentious psychiatrist just begging for a vicious death. For Rusty, it's his best friend: the eccentric old lady next door who always has a chess set ready for when he wants to cut class chess with the eccentric old lady next door.

As Jake gets angrier and Lisa hornier, the clock's evil intensifies. 

It's pretty sweet.

Directed by Hellraiser 2 and Ticks' Tony Randel, Amitvyille 1992: It's About Time is exactly as much fun as its silly title implies. There are wacky, creative genre sequences laced with an odd sense of humor. A pre-Final Destination-ish drawn-out near death experience involving an ice cream truck, a mirror possession, toy train set seduction that turns into a body melt. It's a weird thing to enjoy, but you also kind of have to appreciate that it flirts with some sibling seduction, clearly an homage to The Amityville Horror II: Possession. 

I can't speak to how It's About Time measures up against the rest of the rarely universally loved Amityville series, but by golly, it sure is fun on its own. You might even say ...

High Points
The Sterling's house is so wonderfully late '80s awful that it genuinely makes the whole film pop

I do not have the ability to express how happy the film's final line made me, mostly because it's a feeling that might be bigger than anything else I've experienced in my entire 38 years of life

Low Points
As is true of many an early '90s horror film, there's a sort of lack of commitment to a full out spooky or comedic tone. While it works out when you watch it 30 years later, I do wonder what the real intention was meant to be

Lessons Learned
Unleashed architects are one of the more dangerous sorts to be haunted

Life is like a Skullcrusher song

Ice cream truck drivers can radio in emergencies

Sit yourself down and watch this weird little movie. I know what you like. 

And in case you forgot...

Monday, December 21, 2020

Black Mirror Revisit: Hated In the Nation


I had very specific feelings of dissatisfaction after watching Hated In the Nation a few years back. While there are obviously some interlocking hints and easter eggs that suggest a larger universe at play, the beauty of Black Mirror, and similar standalone anthology series, is that each episode is self-contained. You might end the hour on a note of absolute despair, but at least that despair won't feel incomplete.

Clocking in at 90 minutes, Hated In the Nation is Black Mirror's longest episode, a movie-length mystery that makes a bold decision: being the only installment with an open ending.

Boy did that piss me off on first watch.

The Talent:
Hated In the Nation is another Charlie Brooker-penned episode, with the directorial duties in the hands of television veteran James Hawes (who also helmed season 5's Smithereens). In front of the camera, we get an incredibly likable cast of Kelly Macdonald, Benedict Wong, and Game of Thrones' Faye Marsay, equally devoted to solving a mystery as she was to murdering Arya Stark. 

The Setup:
There's a serial killer at large in modern England, but instead of knives and magazine collage police letters, his trademarks are robotic bees and social media games. 

Detective Karin Park is on the case, assisted by young and hungry constable Blue Coulsen. Blue's got that millennial edge of understanding modern technology, which is quite important when your murderer is using hashtags to determine his next target. 

And oh, what juicy targets he has! Ann Coulter-y journalists who hate the disabled, tunnel-visioned rappers who mock kids before thinking about the fallout, influencers using holocaust memorials for photo ops, and of course, politicians! A daily poll calculates which figure gets the most #deathto mentions, and before you can issue a carefully curated Instagram apology, a horde of robot bees has been dispatched to your flat. 

The Ending:
Here's where I initially had very intensely negative feelings on Hated In the Nation. Unlike every other segment of Black Mirror, this one ends on a cliffhanger. The detectives have identified their killer, albeit after he's flipped the switch to sic his minions on the 380,000+ citizens who ever cast a vote in his game. He's fled the country before they can actually arrest him, leaving Park to publicly clean up the pieces while Coulsen secretly follows his trail.

The Theme:
Hated In the Nation feels more invested in crafting a sleek mystery than exploring any deep thematic territory, but there's certainly much to mine in terms of responsibility when it comes to both our actions and reactions on social media. 

The Verdict:
I'm happy to say that this is the first case in my Black Mirror rewatches where I've been able to flip my rating to the positive side. Knowing to expect a lack of closure let me ease into the character work much more smoothly, and you know what? It's a treasure! Mcdonald and Marsay have fantastic mentor/mentee chemistry that develops so smoothly over the runtime that Park's slight smile at Coulsen's "got him" text is incredibly satisfying. 

The other key part of Hated In the Nation (social media fallout) feels a little more rote now, but it's handled well. Hawes and Brooker breach the "young people explaining computers to their elders" in a way that's natural to anyone who's had to give Zoom tutorials in quarantine, and it's not like we're ever going to stop debating how much we should invest in what someone says on the internet.

Technology Tip:
Hated In the Nation has three very hefty lessons that ultimately mean life or death:
1- Maybe don't take a good idea technology (environment-saving robot bees) and merge it with government surveillance
2- Don't be an idiot on social media
3- Don't judge people for being idiots on social media

Really, hard to argue with any of those points (side note: just how much higher is this episode going to ultimately rank?!)

The Black Mirror Grade
Cruelty Scale: 4/10; Until the final roundup, most of the victims are pretty despicable, but none deserve the truly cruel method of death that's described as being so awful that most victims ultimately kill themselves just to end the pain

Quality Scale: 8/10. It's good!

Enjoyment Scale: My initial watch probably would have lingered around the 5 territory, with a 7 while watching and a 3 for the open ending. On this viewing, I'm happy to up the overall pleasure scale to an 8. I'd totally take a Blue & Karin detective adventure spinoff!

Up Next (Month): James Hawes gets another round in the director's chair with my #18, Smithereens

Monday, December 14, 2020

Hello Mary Lou! It's...Urban Legends 3

As we begin the welcome process of closing down 2020, it's nice to think back to the handful of good things this year of horrors has brought us. Among antibodies? 

Oh, and on a personal note, my rediscovery of Urban Legend and first time enjoyment of its sequels.

Quick Plot: It's prom night, 1969, and shy Mary has snagged herself a popular jock as her date. Strings are attached, as it turns out said gentleman caller and his pals are really just out to roofie a few unsuspecting seniors via some laced punch. Mary ends up dead, though if you say her name three times, you just might flash forward to 2005's Sam (a young Kate Mara), regaling her slumber party pals with some urban legend tales involving poor Bloody Mary, trapped forever in a locked treasure chest.

Turns out, Mary has been waiting 35 years to come back for her revenge, doling it out creatively on the teenage offspring of all her former classmates responsible for her fate. We've got a Final Destination 3-esque tanning bed demise, CGI spider eggs disguised as a pimple, death-by-peeing-on-an-electrical fence, and more. 

The Final Destination 3 similarities don't end there: any specific connection to the first two Urban Legend films is essentially brushed away by a "hey! I found this article on the internet about other urban legend-inspired killings." I suppose you could count the more uncomfortable ties as well: as in the first Urban Legend, a dog is killed (part 2 was kind enough to only do so in its movie within the movie) and as with Loretta Divine's Reese, the film's only black character can easily be charmed by complimenting her on her resemblance to Foxy Brown.

Directed by Pet Sematary (and Pet Sematary 2)'s Mary Lambert, Bloody Mary is clearly itself a fan of the horror genre. That's not surprising when you see that the script was cowritten by Krampus/Trick 'r Treat's Michael Dougherty. It shares some DNA of the post-Scream self-aware dead teenager flick, but also has some deep affection for older films, particularly the glorious Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. 

The early aughts were a weird time for pop horror. Scream-infused slashers were slowly dying away, while The Ring's success made J-Horror the hot new style. Saw would burst onto the scene in 2004, bringing with it a whole new movement in nihilism and gore. Landing on DVD in 2005, Blood Mary feels in some ways like a carefully blended combination of these styles. There's dated CGI attempting bordering on silly, a ghostly dark-haired girl showing up to make faces, and a batch of beautiful young white people awaiting a truly horrid fate. 

That sounds kind of terrible, but when put together with just the right touch, it's a weirdly dumb good time.

High Points
While it's a little inconsistent, the overall tone of Bloody Mary feels just right. Teenagers are dying in bizarre and brutal ways, but, well, most of them are kind of awful to begin with, and Lambert's touch feels like it carries just the right weight to make the deaths land in decent taste (yes, I realize I'm saying high school students being burned to death in tanning beds or castrated by electric fences is tasteful, but some of you know what I mean)

Low Points
There's really only one relationship with any real heart, and that's Sam and her brother David. While it's refreshing to have a genuinely loving sibling bond, it also makes the ending and lack of, well, dealing with a key aspect of the ending rather unsatisfying

Lessons Learned
The most effective morning beauty routine involves wearing a perfectly matched Victoria's Secret bra and panties set and slipping into high heels before putting on your makeup

Complete confidence means nothing if your mom's a dirty alcoholic

Being isolated from your pals after watching your frenemies murdered will do wonders for the health of your hair

Look! It's- 
Pre-"I didn't even want to be in the Nightmare On Elm Street remake" Rooney Mara, Kate's little, now more famous sister as "Classroom Girl #1." Naturally, I got very distracted from the plot of Bloody Mary with my much more interesting new fantasy version of Whatever Happened to Baby Mara?

Bloody Mary is a fun time capsule of early 21st century teen horror, one that feels charmingly less hip than some of its more CW network-cast quickies. I watched it via Netflix disc (yes, I'm that old) and there's a cute making-of featurette that certainly took me back to a simpler time. It doesn't quite pack the same satisfying winks as the first Urban Legend, but it's a worthy entry into what turned out to be a surprisingly fun-filled series. 

Monday, December 7, 2020

Fatal Amanda


Ah, the sweet, sweet sounds of a steamy saxophone solo scoring a hot tub love scene. 

Must be the ‘90s—

er, probably made in the ‘90s!

Quick Plot: Poor Amanda grew up hard: after years of abuse at the hands of her stepfather, she took matters into her own fully armed tween hands. She was sentenced to a juvenile mental asylum where, upon growing into a beautiful young legal woman, Amanda became the new target of a sleazy but well-respected doctor. Released into his custody, she quickly seizes control of her life the only way a traumatized woman can: sodomizing him to death with a curling iron.

A girl's gotta do...

After burying her doctor/abuser in his newly rented backyard, Amanda discovers that her neighbors, Richard and Laurie, have some spyware laced around her own perimeter. Laurie, an aspiring jazz singer, is out on tour, leaving lonely Rolling Stone editor (?!) Richard all alone and very open to Amanda's charms. 

I guess Amanda is attracted to Richard? For some reason?

After she skillfully downloads and erases incriminating footage, Amanda proceeds to seduce him because what man isn't aroused by corn-on-the-cob in a hot tub?

Naturally, Richard regrets his lapse in judgement while Amanda's obsession grows. She attempts to take out Laurie via a poisoned beer, successfully stages Richard's hacker pal's suicide, and, in what's obviously her cruelest action, MURDERS THEIR DOG.

Folks, I'll have you know, I now have a contributing account on because this wonderful website somehow didn't have the records on Up Against Amanda. 

With the plot beats of Fatal Attraction and the performance energy of Showgirls, Up Against Amanda brings serious campy fun by way of writer/director Michael Rissi. Made in 2000 (despite feeling like an early '90s artifact), it has that try-hard USA Network feel that has since become all too glossy on Lifetime. 

We’re talking a LOT of camera zooms, random shots of spooky dolls, and of course, some very sweaty saxophone cues. In other words, this movie is everything I want in the world, missing only a shopping montage and dance break. 

High Points

This kind of Lifetime-adjacent thriller lives and dies on the enthusiasm of its villain, and full credit goes to Justine Priestley for giving Amanda everything she's got

Low Points

It's unpleasant enough to have a harsh reminder of child rape in what's otherwise such a goofy movie, but to replay Amanda's childhood flashback two times right before the credits feels both mean and, well, lazy?

It's rare that I make a point of calling out font, but I really must say, the water squiggle effect used in the opening and closing credits genuinely made me feel seasick

Lessons Learned

Back in 2000, jazz singers sought fame and glory in the smoky city of...Nashville

It's not the smoke that kills. It's the smoker

The slower the car roll, the longer the death gurgle


Up Against Amanda is trashy fun made even more entertaining by its grand time stamps. Queue it up on Amazon Prime, open up a beer, let it go out of your sight for ten seconds, then spend the next 100 minutes almost taking a sip.