Monday, September 27, 2021



Logistically, it must be pretty tough to set a movie entirely in an airplane. You can't just use one out of rotation as a set, and building interiors that need to feel cramped but offer enough room for a camera crew can't be cheap. So while the glorious possibilities of claustrophobic tension and fiery crashes should be a no-brainer for the horror genre, I imagine budgetary restrictions limit our output to the handful of plane-set genre flicks out there. 

It's a shame, because as the overrated Snakes On a Plane, underrated Flight of the Living Dead, and barely rated Quarantine 2 show us, trading out a summer camp or apartment complex for 45 ton capsule of metallic engineering will always make things a bit more interesting. 

Quick Plot: A credits sequence gives us glimpses of a serial killer's souvenir collecting, but put a pin in that: it's time to board the redeye from LAX to JFK.

We get sprinkles of conversations that introduce us to the passengers and crew: a newlywed couple with incoming in-law drama, a returning army veteran ready to reunite with his family, an armed air marshal, rookie co-pilot, sweet flight attendant, sassy flight attendant, and to kickstart the plot, token "there's a man on the wing of the plane!"-guy whose fears seem completely out of line.

I mean, there's no one on the wing of the plane: it's a batch of female ghosts haunting the airplane restroom, of course!

Welcome to Flight 666, the rare original non-mockbuster produced by The Asylum Studio, with a cast and crew of Asylum veterans who clearly know how to make a movie on the cheap. It will likely shock you to know that Flight 666 is, well, fine. 

There's nothing terribly scary about the CGI toilet ghosts, but when you see "The Asylum Studio" float by in the intro, savvy genre fans will inevitably lower their expectations at the same ratio that the price of a water bottle increases the minute you step foot in an airport. 

But for all of their Atlantic Rims and Titanic 2s, any Asylum film's quality is ultimately in the hands of its filmmaker, and on more than a few occasions, the people behind the camera clearly care about the final product. Flight 666 is directed by Rob Pallatina, an editor who has 71 credits to his name since 2021. Take THAT, Thelma Schoonmaker!

Yes, those credits include titles like Pool Boy Nightmare and 2, 3, & 5-Headed Shark Attack.

And yes, I instantly Googled "4-Headed Shark Attack" and thank the kind folks at Reddit for answering what must be a commonly asked question.

I can't speak to Pallatina's other 5 directing credits (which seem to involve more Nazis and killer doctors than shark heads) but as a debut, Flight 666 suggests solid workmanship. He wrangles a large cast to deliver perfectly decent performances, and makes acceptable use of B-level CGI. The screenplay (by Jacob Cooney and Brandon Stroud) is shockingly patient, taking a good hour to reveal its ghostly secrets and giving us something of a surprise with its villain reveal. 

No, Flight 666 isn't Shakespeare or, say, Hereditary, but it's an adequate time waster that makes the best of its limited resources. There aren't many other haunted-house-on-a-plane movies, so if that's an itch you've had, this might be the only viable scratch. 

High Points
It's so easy to rile up your conflict by including the token a$$hole in your ensemble, so credit to Flight 666 for managing to avoid the usual eye-rolling arguments and allow its cast to mostly function as we'd imagine human beings would in the situation of, you know, being trapped on a haunted plane

Low Points
The flip of the above statement is that none of the passengers are especially interesting

Lessons Learned
First class passengers are extremely cooperative and will have no objection to moving back to coach if the air marshal asks nicely

The word "terrorism" just gets everyone worked up

A copilot's most important job is to relay the information that's been spoken out loud on the intercom to the pilot sitting in the same small space as that intercom


Flight 666 isn't necessarily a good movie, but it kept my attention for 90 minutes and even managed a few surprises along the way. One could do worse (especially on Amazon Prime).

Monday, September 20, 2021

She Bakes. She Knits. She KILLS.


The world we occupy can be a tough, challenging place. War, cancer, 5-day work weeks, inefficient supermarket line systems, economic unrest...all that terrible jazz that adds up to our minds being torn in a dozen directions. Sometimes, we need to trust a certain form of order, a code, if you will, that offers a stability we know will never let us down.

For me, that constant is the Lifetime thriller. 

Quick Plot: We open, Mikey-style, on the slow motion drowning of young Megan under the ill-advised supervision of her barely older brother Tom, now a grown, Lifetime-handsome architect living in an impeccably white house with his equally white wife Melissa and child Annie. Melissa is about to launch her online jewelry business so as you can imagine, life is TOUGH for the beautiful Ferridays.

Excuse me, I should be more specific: Melissa's company makes bracelets. That's it. Beaded or gently welded bracelets built in her luxury bonus room that includes its own wine cellar.

Do Lifetime movies save a few bucks by turning using flipped rooms in home renovation reality shows as their set? Such are the questions I ponder, and folks, we haven't even met the TITULAR KILLER GRANDMA.

Played by the insanely perfectly named Nana Visitor, Grandma Yvonne is of course the same mother who watched her daughter die in the prologue. It seems she's been spending most of the last 30 years institutionalized, in part voluntarily, although additional flashbacks reveal she's been racking up a body count and eager to continue if it means getting full custody of her Megan stand-in, Annie.

Before you can write a thank you card for that hand-knit blanket, Grandma has smothered Annie's regular babysitter with a throw pillow (which she dutifully fluffs before leaving the scene of the crime) and stabbed Melissa's suspicious pal Courtney. Somehow, the young detective (fresh from the scene of a clearance sale at Journey's) makes no connection. 

With her summer camp friendship bracelet business about to hit it big, Melissa has no choice but to trust her husband's estranged, knife-wielding mother with the full care of her kid. Yvonne does what I would probably do in her position: replace Annie's stuffed unicorn with a creepy Beavis-faced doll and dress the kid up like a zombified Wednesday Addams.

Naturally, it takes Tom and Melissa far too long to draw connections between the timing of the many dead people in their sphere and the return of Yvonne. Knives are drawn, stairs tumbled down, and through it all, the Ferriday household remains so impeccable that you could lick the walls just to clean your tongue.

You don't come to Killer Grandma for logic, nor do you expect deep characterization to challenge your brain. This movie is exactly what its cover art and title promise: ridiculously attractive and well-made-up people saying they have to put on makeup before solving the world's most obvious crime. It's stupid, it's pretty, it's weirdly paced...

It's perfect.

High Points
Clearly, director Danny J. Boyle (right, not that one) had to film Killer Grandma quickly, but one must appreciate his attempts to replicate the Vivika A. Fox/Uma Thurman Kill Bill kitchen fight on a dime

Low Points
Is it me, or do we never REALLY learn the details of Grandma's institutionalization? We see one flashback showing her murdering her husband, but despite some extreme exposition-heavy conversations with her therapist (I ask with my shoulders shrugged) it's incredibly cloudy as to how much is known about Yvonne's crimes, and Tom's noncommittal attitude about just how dangerous his mother might be doesn't help. I know this is the type of movie that has to be cut within a hair of the right timing for a shampoo commercial, but it still feels weirdly un-detailed 

Lessons Learned
Girlfriends are supposed to say goodbye

There's a big market out there for non-Etsy based ugly bracelet makers

Sharks don't do boundaries

Head trauma and suffocation are easily interchangeable to modern coroners 

It's really very simple: if the statement "there's a Lifetime movie on Hulu called Killer Grandma and it's exactly what you think it is" doesn't make you immediately turn on Hulu to watch Killer Grandma, then Killer Grandma is simply not for you. Have at it, or don't. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Black Mirror Revisit: Men Against Fire

Last year, I compiled a non-definitive ranking of Black Mirror episodes. Once a month, I revisit an episode, starting from the bottom. Herein lies #10!

The Talent:
Charlie Brooker pens the script and puts the direction in the hands of TV veteran Jakob Verbruggen. The cast is led by the Roots remake's Malachi Kirby, with supporting turns from Dawn of the Dead's Michael Kelly and the glorious perfection that is Madeline Brewer.

The Setup: 
Stripe is a young soldier deployed somewhere off American soil, stationed in a small village where the goal is to eliminate "roaches" - I Am Legend-ish creatures who could do serious harm to the human race. While making his first kill, a roach zaps Stripe with some kind of device that messes with his military-issued brain implant.

On the next hunt, Stripe sees the roaches not as sharp-toothed monsters but regular old fashioned humans.

Turns out, we're not so different from our enemies after all.

The Ending:
Stripe learns the truth about the implant: it's there to block and alter human senses, making it easier for soldiers to commit acts of violence without remorse. The creatures he'd been hunting are part of an ethnic group that's been targeted by different governmental bodies for extinction. Stripe watches playback of his military exploits, realizing how he's simply been slaughtering innocents.

He's left with a choice Odysseus wouldn't envy: remove the implant for good and head to military prison, where he'll get to watch his past on loop, or have the program reset and return to his role as a dutiful soldier. Not unreasonably, Stripe goes for the latter choice. Upon his final deployment, he returns to the home of his dreams, only for the non-implant blocked audience to see it's an empty dump.

The Theme:
War is hell, as the old saying goes, and to be good at it, you have to surrender some of your soul.

The Verdict:
Men Against Fire was one of the first Black Mirror episodes I ever watched, which likely explains why my initial ranking was so high. I did, and still somewhat do appreciate the inherent Twilight Zone-iness of its premise and execution. It's a simple (and in hindsight, fairly obvious) twist that does its job.

That being said, on second watch, Men Against Fire's shortcomings are a bit more obvious. There's a heavy "tell don't show" element at play, particularly in the therapy sessions where Stripe's doctor just lays on piles of exposition explaining the history of PTSD. Malachi Kirby is a striking presence as Stripe, but his character is shortchanged. We don't need huge set pieces in Black Mirror, but there's something particularly cheap-feeling about the visuals here, as if this was the last episode filmed with whatever budget was leftover following

Technology Tip:
Begging for no vaccine/Microsoft jokes here, but I think it's fair to say that no thinking human being should willingly accept a sensory-altering IMPLANT being inserted inside your brain.

The Black Mirror Grade
Cruelty Scale: 
8/10; Nobody wins here
Quality Scale:
6/10; The ideas are better than the execution
Enjoyment Scale:
6/10; Once you know the twist, the episode just feels a bit of a downer.

Up Next (Month): It's back to the beginning for Black Mirror's series premiere, The National Anthem

Monday, September 6, 2021

Do You Want to Buy a Duck?

Few would ever classify Lucio Fulci as a master of cinema, but the man had a certain appetite for excess that makes a lot of his work hold up as damn enjoyable entertainment today. I've never been the biggest fan of gialli, but Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling almost justifies all of the issues I usually find with the genre. 

It's somewhat odd that it's taken me this long to tackle his other best-known giallo, especially considering its deep Manhattan roots. But to dive into an Italian slasher of the '80s generally means gearing up for watching mysteriously gloved hands murder abused women, something that requires a certain, you know, MOOD from its watcher. 

Look: it's been a rough few years, and some of the meaner horror I used to love has lost a bit of its appeal on any given day. That being said, the aspect I love most about Don't Torture a Duckling is that its reveal (which I won't spoil here) was very much ABOUT violence toward women. Fulci seemed to understand that there was a way to use this kind of violence not just for thrills, but to also throw out some ideas. 

With that in mind, let's get quacking, New York style.

Quick Plot: We open with your basic Law & Order pre-credits sequence, as a man plays fetch with his enthusiastic golden retriever only for her to ditch the stick for a decaying lady's hand hidden amongst some shrubbery on the city shore. Our lead detective Fred is on the case, slowed down a bit by heavy drinking and general scuzzy apathy. When another victim is found brutally slaughtered on the Staten Island Ferry, it becomes clear that a serial killer is on the loose.

A New York Ripper, you might even say...

We follow a few more potential victims through the city streets: Jane, the sophisticated wife of an impotent but sexually adventurous man, who encourages her to have random sexual encounters and bring back the details. There's the ill-fated star of an onstage sex show Jane watches, Kitty, Fred's regular sex worker, and last, a college student named Fay who narrowly escapes a subway assault and might be the key to solving the crime. 

The murderer continues to taunt the police, making ominous phone calls in a duck voice as his nude bodies pile up. Fred, a fairly terrible cop, inches toward answers which naturally arrive in a flashback-heavy manic conclusion.

It should come as no surprise that The New York Ripper was dubbed a video nasty: we're not 10 minutes in when we have a closeup of a female nipple being carved up. Those with an aversion to visceral violence against women will probably want to skip past this title on Shudder.

And yet, I say, as I think of how The New York Ripper compares to, say, the better-made, but (to me) less female-friendly Tenebre: there is some kind of method to the madness. While the reveal (which I won't spoil) doesn't quite click everything into place at the same level as Don't Torture a Duckling, it does hold the rest of the story up in a way that just doesn't always happen in giallo. 

All that plus an echoing saxophone-infused score, super aggressive camera zooms, and surprise doll room. 

I think I liked this movie.

High Points
I don't know that Fulci ever intended to be a sex-positive presence in genre cinema, but like Don't Torture a Duckling, The New York Ripper ends up revealing certain aspects of our attitudes towards female sexuality

Low Points
The New York Ripper is a movie floating in a sea of sleaze, and yet, AND YET, it DARES to give us TWO scenes of a crusty coroner sweating over a brutally maimed body while NOT eating a gooey sandwich. A roll of Lifesavers? Mr. Fulci, I have EXPECTATIONS

Lessons Learned
A nosy landlady is a lazy detective's best friend

Yes, watching women's body parts sliced up by a dirty knife can be upsetting, but nothing, NOTHING is more disturbing or nightmare-inducing than seeing a stranger stick his dive bar-floor toes into a woman's vagina 

If you want your coffee made, get a wife, not a prostitute 

The New York Ripper is far from the apex of this era of genre cinema, but it's a fairly fascinating artifact that probably ages differently every decade. At this particular moment in time, I could find a lot to appreciate (I'd say "enjoy," but considering this movie involves a dirty bar toe bang, I'm not sure what that would say about me). It's on Shudder, and worth your eyes so long as you're aware of what you're dipping your gross toes into.