Monday, January 31, 2022

Best of the Year (well, MY year)

Yes, I know most best-of lists are supposed to bow in December, but for almost 13 years, I've been doings a little differently, and now that this website is reaching teenagerhood, don't even TRY to tell me how to live my life. 

That's right: it's the last Monday in January, which means Happy Day I Round Up My Favorite Movies Watched & Covered Here of the Year.

A countdown:

10. Amityville: The Evil Escapes

2021 was a year of a lot of things for me, but on the positive side, it shall forever be known as That Time I Discovered How Awesome Later Amityville Sequels Are. The fourth in the franchise (and first made for TV) is directed by Pin’s Sandor Stern (a Game of Thrones-is name if I’ve ever heard one) and, make no mistake, is about a haunted floor lamp. Honestly, that would probably be enough to keep me entertained for 90 minutes, but The Evil Escapes has so much more to offer than its gloriously stupid premise: Patty Duke, teenagers who are actually very pleasant and kind, Long Island yard sales, and a handful of Maximum Overdrive-ish appliances-on-attack moments that have to be experienced to truly be appreciated.

9. Island Zero

As horror fans, we have very differently defined standards when it comes to how we evaluate movies. Island Zero probably wouldn’t make any traditional film critic’s best-of list, but it was impossible for me not to admire how smartly it made its choices, trusting a low profile but well-experienced cast to sell its invisible monsters premise in bad lighting and minimum special effects. It's not easy, but shockingly, director Josh Gerritsen makes it work.

8. 1BR

I love a good Stepford spin, and writer/director David Marmor's 1BR manages to find some new angles into the horrors of new neighbors. Throw in a surprisingly grand ending and you've got a solid, original genre film that might not break any barriers, but is immensely satisfying.

7. Doppelganger

No, Doppelganger is not actually the best anything, but by golly, this mess of an early '90s attempt at sexy thriller gave me so many jaw drops that I felt like a Tourist Trap mannequin by the grand finale. Now granted, there are things that are genuinely awful about Doppelganger: a plot that doesn't make sense, a bland lead (double negative points for him being a "nice guy" struggling screenwriter/irresponsible cat owner), a possibly exploited young Drew Barrymore, and the sense that nobody involved understands that a psychiatrist sleeping with his underrage patient is sexual abuse. Look, we were IDIOTS in 1993, so check your conscience at the door and indulge in the glory of one of the weirdest mysteries you've never heard of. To go into any detail would be a spoiler, so please: just turn it on for free via Tubi and see what I mean. 

6. Amityville Dollhouse

Looking back at my review of Amityville Dollhouse, one phrase stuck out: enthusiastic weirdness. It's pretty high on the list of compliments I can give, and Dollhouse brings it without restraint: giant puppet mice, zombie dads, laser portals, lustful stepmothers, violent bookshelves, and so much more. This movie will not scare you (unless you have a deeply unresolved fear of, well, bookshelves) but from beginning to end, you will have fun.

5. The New York Ripper

Despite being a lifelong horror fan who came of age during the booming age of VHS rentals, giallo has never been my cup of cappuccino. Most Argento leaves me cold, and so many of the wackily titled, colorfully blooded releases of the late '70s to mid '80s just feel like they're not speaking to me. Yet there's one filmmaker from this specific era who consistently delivers work I connect with: Lucio Fulci. The New York Ripper is one of his sleaziest outputs, an obvious Video Nasty seemingly made just to top the list. This is a movie that includes a woman entering a dive bar, sitting at a table with strangers, and allowing them to remove their shoes to stick their dirty bare toes into her vagina. It's a story about a deranged killer brutally murdering women who display any kind of public sexuality, and yet, AND YET I SAY, this film manages to NOT be misogynistic. It's ABOUT misogyny, and it utilizes some horrific storytelling to explore it. Not for the faint of heart or hygiene, but well worth a gander.

4. Lucky

One of my 2022 goals as a film lover is to get better about revisiting movies that I watch and say, "I think I really liked it but I really should experience it again in order to fully get it." I have yet to go back to Lucky, but it's at the top of that list because it's the prime example of the type of film that stays trapped in your head as you try to unravel it. Screenwriter Brea Grant plays a self-help author stuck in a variation on ye olde Groundhog Day scenario, where a masked man is trying to murder her no matter how many times she defeats him. To everyone else, she's "lucky." After all, she's financially successful, attractive, married, and hunted, sure, but not sexually assaulted. The way Grant and director Natasha Kermani twist a simple stalker tale into how women are perceived is pretty genius. At barely 80 minutes long, it manages to throw a batch of complicated questions at its audience and explore their various answers while still leaving you wondering. It's unusual, and it works.

3. Slaxx

What could have surfed on its simple premise of being "the killer pants movie" is instead a tight, funny, weird, and earnest message about the cost of capitalism. Also, IT'S A KILLER PANTS MOVIE.

2. Dark Waters

Few things are more exciting to lifelong horror fans than discovering films from the past that you never even knew existed, and thus was the case with 1993's Dark Waters, a Wicker Man-esque tale beautifully filmed on the alien-feeling shores of a post-Soviet Ukraine. A young woman travels to a remote island inhabited by horrifying locals and a mysterious convent, only to be wrapped up in a mystery that makes us all question the stakes in the battle of good and evil. Dark Waters is slow and out of time, making it one of those movies best watched on a dark and stormy night without interruption. It has a rather bonkers finale and a million unanswered questions. I loved it.

1. Anything for Jackson

While several titles available on Shudder made this list, Anything for Jackson is easily the one I go to to say, "this is why horror fans need to subscribe." On paper, this was already made specifically for me: older characters, a snowbound setting, and a filmmaking team (director Justin Dyck/writer Keith Cooper) from the not-quite-Hallmark school of Christmas movies. But Anything for Jackson still managed to surprise me with three distinctly terrifying monster designs, a whole cast filled with aching performances, and a stunningly complicated sense of morality. It's genuinely sad AND scary, and while it calls to mind other titles,  it's truly an original, one-of-a-kind tale. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

Lessons Learned, the 2021 Edition

Come January 25th, this little website will celebrate its lucky 13th anniversary. Everyone has their own birthday traditions (mine involves nachos) and The Deadly Doll’s House is no different. The last two weeks of January serve as my way of wrapping up another year, something I do in a very specific way:

1- Round up one lesson from every film covered in the hopes of giving us all some much-needed education

2- Discussing the best films I covered here over the past year

The good stuff comes next week, so today, break out your notebook and listen to grandma give her advice. Some of it just might save your life.

Reading Is Fundamental

There are only two people in all of Canadian Manhattan who read Robert Frost -- Falling For You

Dating 101

Half a bottle of tequila filled margaritas are great and all, but have you tried paying attention to your girlfriend so her face isn't burned off by your haunted fireplace? -- Amityville Dollhouse

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About In-Laws But Were Afraid to Ask

When your boyfriend tells you that his family is racist and horrible, you should probably listen -- Await Further Instructions

Before committing to spending the rest of your life with your in-laws, it's probably best to have actually these said in-laws -- After Darkness

The Red Scare

Communism is when you're all equal, but not really -- Slaxx

A Writer Writes (Sometimes)

Common writers' afflictions include weak eyesight and being bad with names -- Doppelganger 

Wannabe writers who want to be writers just to say they're writers will always find excuses not to write -- The Honeymoon Phase

Screenwriting Rules of the Genre

The best way to convey turning evil: sudden smoking habit and a clean double axel -- Look Away

Efforts towards inclusivity onscreen should always be appreciated, but when watching a horror film, always remember that a character with a hearing aid exists solely for said hearing aid to eventually be used against him -- Child's Play 

The best way to establish a character as being smart is to keep having her say "thesis!"--Stay Out Stay Alive

If it's an '80s horror movie that includes a handful of attractive young people, one of them just has to be named Tina -- Ghost House

Chekhov's Law of Nipple Rings In Torture Porn tells us that if you introduce nipple rings in the first act, you must use use them as tools of extreme pain in the fifth -- Train 

Crime Solving For Dummies

A nosy landlady is a lazy detective's best friend -- The New York Ripper 

Drowned little girls must stay in the water for several hours as the police conduct thorough investigations -- Mikey

Apartment Hunting Red Flags

Any community that doesn't welcome pets is, obviously, completely evil -- 1BR 

Fine Dining

Never start a dinner party before assessing your wine supply -- The Beach House

The only way to properly slice tomatoes is with a bread knife -- The Hunt

Common courtesy is to bring a 12 dollar bottle of red to a dinner party -- The Dinner Party

Nothing tastes better after millennial murder than a fresh fireside s'more -- Odds Are

Tidbits On Travel

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

Maybe don't shoot the mystery gasoline-flavored alcohol that locals won't drink? JUST A THOUGHT -- Death of Me

Pack every suitcase as if it might be the only source of your necessities. You just never know -- Sweetheart

Rules of Religion

Here's a really hot tip: the life of a nun, even one associated with demonic cults, is a serious drag. Don't do it girls. -- Dark Waters

Public libraries make suitable settings for satanic rituals -- Anything for Jackson

Raising the Next Generation

Moody teen twins have a bond no slightly more optimistic adult can dare break -- The Plague

Adolescent testosterone combined with too much Nietzsche is a dangerous combination -- Extracurricular

Better With Age

At a certain age, a disgusting purple mummy finger isn't the worst thing -- Amityville: The Evil Escapes

Medical Mysteries

The secret to successful surgery is good interns -- Madhouse

The Body Human

Head trauma and suffocation are easily interchangeable to modern coroners 

-- Killer Grandma

Event Planning

The party's over when the clementines run out -- Break

Much like the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, there's little need to have medics on hand at an outdoor directly-in-the-sun sporting event taking place during a heat wave  -- Impact Point

Happy Holidays!

Always peek at your Christmas presents. You never know if they include technology that might save your life -- Island Zero 

History Never Dies

Men were telling women they'd be prettier if they smiled since at least 1986, though back then, the price of such assholery was a cruel and immediate death -- Nightmare Beach

Survival Basics

Being hunted by a mystery madman is no reason to let your complicated hair routine get stale -- Lucky

Never underestimate the user-friendly quickfire power of a nail gun (as if we didn't already know) -- Dead Body

When your clock to a violent death is audibly clicking, you should definitely take all the time in the world to artistically determine the order of who gets tortured first -- Vile

As if we didn't already know this, remember: when the radiation poisoning sets in, life will be terrible and harsh and you'll have to work very hard to survive a very terrible and harsh life, so...I don't know, jump INTO the blast rather than away from it? -- Aftermath

Monday, January 17, 2022

They Grow So Fast

Is the real dream of any horror creator, be they a novelist or filmmaker, to eventually get to lend their name over the title of a movie they have nothing to do with? I imagine the paycheck is nice even when the budget is low. Perhaps no one knows this better than Clive Barker, a man who has probably started to name his swimming pools after Hellraiser sequel subtitles and who, in 2006, got to add "Clive Barker's The Plague" to that list. 

Quick Plot: A plague (or fine: Clive Barker's THE Plague) has struck all children under the age of 10, putting them into a comatose state save for two daily seizures that keep their bodies from atrophying. All children born since have come out the same way, leading to governments trying to regulate individuals from even trying to procreate. Ten years later, society is understandably a mess (though not surprisingly, the private healthcare industry is in great shape).

It's also been a rough ten years for Tom Russell (James Van Der Beek), the former smalltown quarterback who ended up in prison after a bar fight turned fatal. Tom returns home to his brother David, armed with the most on-the-nose (and incredibly abridged) copy of Grapes of Wrath ever to be printed and a desire to make good. David could use the help, since his son Eric is one of the lost generation. 

Before Tom has a chance to make more Dust Bowl analogies, Eric --along with the rest of the now-19-year-olds-- awakens from his coma, quickly bashing his father's head in before Tom pushes the silent but super strong kid out a window. 

As you might expect, Eric was just the beginning. The world's best-rested teenagers are ready for action, with their main goal seeming to be the eradication of everyone over the age of 19. Tom quickly teams up with his nurse ex-wife Jean, her brother Sam, the police chief and his wife (the other big name, Dee Wallace), and a pair of just over-the-coma age twin teenagers who can occasionally blend in with their younger, more violent counterparts. 

What starts as a meditative Children of Men-ish speculative horror fiction quickly turns into a messy blend of zombie-ish sieges and religious discourse. Some brief googling leads me to believe The Plague lost a lot between script and final under-90 minute streaming watch. It's a shame, because the premise is clearly rife with possibility, and some of the details (the twins' confusion over where they belong, Tom's need for forgiveness, STEINBECK) are too specific to have been intended for the underdeveloped rush job they ultimately get. 

Director Hal Masonberg (who co-wrote with Teal Minton) doesn't have many credits, but he shows some promise here. Yes, there's a sheen of very cheap and fast filmmaking, but there are also some suspenseful payoffs and for the most part, a cast that knows what it's doing and gives their all, even when the Village of the Damned-ish storyline wanders into a completely different tone of supernatural spirituality. Overall, it's more than a bit a mess, but still: you can see kernels of something decent.

In case you haven't guessed, 39 years of watching horror movies has loosened my standards. 

High Points
When the opening credits were nothing but classical piano, I was worried that we were stuck with the kind of genre film that wasted its budget on a post-Dawson's Creek and was working through a public domain dump for its score. But you know what? The Plague's music, when it IS purely instrumental, is quite good at building the right mood

Low Points
It's always a bad sign when the most fascinating part of your film comes 5 minutes in via a news update about how the world has changed, then you realize the movie you're watching is never going to address that again and instead center all of its physical and speculative action in this one small personality-free town

Lessons Learned
Never trust a grieving mother alone with the zombified version of her daughter 

Moody teenagers have a bond no slightly more optimistic adult can dare break

Sigh. (Clive Barker's) The Plague is busting with promises it just didn't have the ability or resources to deliver on. It's certainly more interesting than most other films of its ilk and budget streaming on Amazon Prime, so you could do worse. Go in with modest expectations.