Monday, October 30, 2023

Road Under Construction

As someone who devoured the Game of Thrones novels only to sadly come to accept the fact that George R.R. Martin was now bored of writing them and had no actual plans to finish his story on the page, I know the heartbreak of an incomplete tale. 

This is important information for today's film. 

Quick Plot: St. Charles is a quiet little town, one so small that it only employs two men on its police department despite having a history of serial killings and a major scarecrow festival coming up (don't get too excited...about anything, really).

High schooler (sure) Joe is moody, probably because she's been keeping a positive pregnancy test in her purse. Side note: a positive pregnancy test is something you pee on. Generally, it seems like poor hygiene to store it loosely next to your chapstick and wallet.

Anyhoo, Joe reluctantly agrees to boyfriend Corey's experimental double date with pals Rachael and Joe. The girls would be happy for something low key, but the boys have more ambitious plans: driving to the titular Munger Road in the hopes that they can capture ghost activity on camera. 

Meanwhile, Chief Kirkhoven and his loyal Deputy Hendricks are busy on the trail of escaped child murderer Father Shea Gunther. Through the slowest, least efficient investigation possible, they stumble on underground tunnels and bones, but no homicidal former priest. Could it be because he's busy messing with the teenagers' car up on Munger Road?

Maybe? Here's the wild thing about this movie, thus far the sole release from writer/director Nicholas Smith: IT'S INCOMPLETE.

At the risk of spoiling something that I don't know if it's fair to actually call a film, Munger Road ends with a literal "TO BE CONTINUED." We don't know who's really dead, who really killed them, or, perhaps more importantly, WHO'S GONNA WIN THE SCARECROW FESTIVAL.

Also, what IS a scarecrow festival?

Sigh. I never enjoy beating on a low budget film, especially when it's clear the project was done with heart. Smith creates some good atmosphere within certain sequences, including a great transition in camera perspective during one of the movie's found footage shots. 

But to what end? Munger Road 2 apparently never found the funding it needed, so 12 years in and we're left with an unfinished 90 minute story that offers absolutely no satisfaction.

And worse, no scarecrows.

High Points
Watching Bruce Davison twirl a shotgun around like a second string member of a middle school color guard troop gave me an epiphone: I wish he would star in more bad movies. I mean this as an incredibly sincere compliment. He has such an immediately comforting AND comfortable presence onscreen in virtually any material, making it easy for an audience to be invested. More bad movies could benefit from him on the cast list

Low Points

Lessons Learned
Illinois teenagers have great memories when it comes to 3rd grade science lessons, but terrible instincts when it comes to understanding the very concept of time

Never enter a church with a shotgun

There may indeed be a difference between telling someone she's acting like a bitch and actually calling her a bitch, but dudes, trust me: she doesn't want to hear it, and you're wrong for having said it in the first place

Someone needs to warn viewers that they're not watching Munger Road: they're watching Munger Road: Part 1 (2 Pending Production, Proceed At Your Own Risk). Fine, that title is probably a little mouthy, but at least it's honest! So yes, obviously, I do not recommend this movie unless you have some masochist satisfaction from not being satisfied. You do you. 

Monday, October 23, 2023

The Hunt (said with Australian accent)

I suppose it has something to do with being the only 5-year-old at the movie theater watching The Running Man, but the hunting humans subgenre of action horror has just always packed a lot of appeal. Even the worse ones--and golly, Amazon Prime has some very low-priced duds--offer a little more automatic intrigue over a basic slasher or Saw trap-themed gorefest.

Onward today with the unimaginatively titled The Hunt! 

No, not that one.

Wait: did this 2009 movie get retitled on Amazon Prime with the same title as a marginally successful mainstream film in order to scoop a few viewers who might watch the entire thing without realizing their mistake? 


Quick Plot: On the last Friday of every month, a group of loosely connected wealthy frenemies take part in the titular hunt, wherein they kidnap a batch of strangers and, well, kill them. The "hunt" part seems a bit like false advertising, as once the subjects are (easily) captured, the killers mostly just tie them up and torture them in their various styles until they're done.

The twist at this particular iteration of the game is that the soon-to-be-victims are loosely connected as classmates of "The Inquisitor", a former huntee who survived her game and now gets to play with the rest. On the menu are a sleazeball named Ricky, rich snob Sarah, deaf runner Ariel, her goth sister Callie, and Callie's computer expert buddy Chris.

The killers aren't that much more interesting. There's the big bad: a boring rich man. His daughter is a marginally more watchable martial arts expert. There's also a mysterious "sniper", cruel hacker, and sadistic ex-military guy trying to channel his inner Mick Taylor. 


Written and directed by Jon Cohen, The Hunt (or The 7th Hunt, depending on where you see it) isn't terrible. It's just kind of nothing. You can't expect more from a low budget horror that came out of the grimy ashes of the post-Saw era wildfires. It would just have been nice to have found something. 

High Points
As you expect in this kind of story, one of the targets is a rich blond snob, but surprisingly, she ends up making for the most sympathetic victim. If only we had more of her

Low Points
Most of the running time

Lessons Learned
When trying to escape from a violent man, the best exit is to run straight into his chest

Finger count doesn't correlate with ball size

Lunacy pays well

Eh, The Hunt is far from the worst thing to come out of that ugly 2009 era of torture-y horror, but boy, remember how rough that era was? 

Monday, October 16, 2023

Angel of Muzak

I've spent most of my adult life assuming I'd seen Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge, mostly because it was so often summoned in conversations as "you know, that '80s mall horror movie with the escalator death." The number of conversations I've had where I just continued talking about The Kiss (the OTHER '80s mall horror movie with an escalator death), never realizing there were TWO '80s mall horror movies with escalator deaths, well, in hindsight, there were a lot of miscommunication.

Quick Plot: The town of Midwood's long nightmare of shopping in the rain has come to an end. There's a new mall opening!

The teens scoop up part-time jobs, while mayor Morgan Fairchild struts around with a multi-tiered perm and even bigger shoulder pads to match her confidence in capitalism. There's new fashion on sale and arcades to roam. Pauly Shore serves frozen yogurt with sides of gross props because in the '80s, it was a requirement for any goofy dark-haired sidekick to love horror prop humor. Things are going so well that nobody REALLY notices how some of the mall's more immorally minded employees are turning up dead in wild ways.

Mall restaurant Melody and local newspaper photographer Peter are the exception. Melody is already on edge, having recently lost her beloved boyfriend Eric to a mysterious fire. Eric was a fine young man who happened to live on property needed for the mall's construction. Surely there was no connection!

A cobra-in-the-bathroom bite, skateboard accident, and of course, impalement by miniature scaled model of mall later, and we have one very satisfied Emily. I don't know much about its origins (the screenplay is credited to Friday the 13th: The Series alumni Scott Schnied and Tony Michelman, Frederick R. Ulrich, and eventual Evil/The Good Wife showrunner Robert King), but director Richard Friedman seems to be having a LOT of fun. There are even hints of a pre-Josie & the Pussycats subliminal capitalist messaging. All this in the same mall set used for Chopping Mall? You can't get me to Shudder fast enough. 

High Points
I don't know that I've ever been so enthused by a CAR CHASE in an '80s horror film, but when you toss pedestrians in the way in an indoor mall parking garage, I am IN

Low Points
The ingenue is rarely the most layered character in any story (particularly one with "Phantom" in the title) and while Kari Whitman is appealingly sweet as Melody, the film never gives her enough time or complexity. Her declaration of being in love with Peter comes out of nowhere, which is a shame when there certainly was an opportunity to explore what it means to move on from modified widowdom

Lessons Learned
A reporter's instincts can get out of hand quickly

Removing a body from a cemetery is both illegal AND sacrilegious

Major stockholder means major profit

Golly did I have fun with this one! It's got everything you want in an '80s mall-set horror film, including Morgan Fairchild in a cobalt blue sequined V-neck evening gown. Have at it!

Monday, October 9, 2023

The Brides of CPAP-Ula

Hotels are such a natural setting for horror that it's kind of shocking we don't get more. Maybe it's the intimidation factor of The Shining, a ghost that hangs over virtually any hospitality-themed genre flick. One solution? Lean into it.

Quick Plot: Ruthie (GLOW's Gayle Rankin) has inherited an independent hotel somewhere in upstate New York from her grandmother, who deliberately skipped over Ruthie's mysterious and by accounts, incredibly irresponsible mother. Ruthie would be happy to sell the property and move on but her girlfriend Cal convinces her to at least consider the esteemed role of hotel proprietorship. Deep in emotional debt to the loyal Cal, Ruthie agrees to take a second look.

The weather is cold and the Ubers limited, but Ruthie and Cal bring along Maddie (inconveniently Cal's ex) who in turn brings Fran (even MORE inconveniently the woman Ruthie recently cheated with) to spend a weekend surveying the possibilities while also utilizing two commercial kitchens and an indoor swimming pool.

Tangled former lovers aside, it really does sound like the perfect holiday.

Naturally, things go very, very wrong.

Are the ghosts of the reasonable amount of people who died in Comely Suites haunting the quartet? Is Fran a witch? Ruthie a chainsaw-wielding maniac? Molly Ringwald's TED-Talking hospitality guru pulling the strings?

Many questions are asked in writer/director Stewart Thorndike's Bad Things, and pretty much all of them go defiantly unanswered. This is a film that seems fully aware that it's not going to satisfy most viewers with its aggressively ambiguous finale. 

A bad ending doesn't necessarily ruin a film. I'll recommend Yellowbrickroad until my dying breath knowing full well it leaves everyone (me included) scratching their heads in the final seconds. But in the case of Bad Things, the confusion is so wild that it's pretty impossible to find any kind of satisfaction. 

I don't think that's an accident on Thorndike's part. I just don't understand the choice. 

It may have been the large empty unit surrounded by still snow, but I found myself thinking a lot about Oz Perkins' The Blackcoat's Daughter. It's another film that does tremendous things with a sort of cold (literally AND figuratively) atmosphere but never seems to find the human throughline to connect the audience to the material. 

Bad Things is a frustrating film, perhaps all the more so because I'm pretty sure it's SUPPOSED to be. Normally that would make me mad (and it doesn't NOT make me mad) but there's enough strangeness in the details of Bad Things that I wasn't, well, IRATE. I know that's a terribly unclear summation, but in some ways, it's probably the best I can do. 

High Points
So many hotel-based horror films seem to rely on the natural creepiness of Victorian style turrets or easy colonial ghosts, but there's a whole different sense of unease here in Comely Suites. The walls are muted pink, the paintings generic, bedcovers stiff...there's a lot of eeriness to mine in the utter blandness of this kind of space, and Thorndike and her production team make the most of it

Low Points
Seriously: what actually happened in these 90 minutes?

Lessons Learned

Fatherly and flirty is not the sexy combination you think it is

More often than not, it doesn't pay to stay friends with your ex

Hospitality is an experience, not a space


Overall, I can't say I liked Bad Things, but I continue to find it intriguing. There's definitely something THERE, though ultimately, the movie seems content to not give it to us. I can't particularly recommend it, but I'd be more than happy to hear someone who got more from the film speak for it. As you might guess, it's streaming on Shudder.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Maybe the Biologist Ate Your Baby


Like anyone with a modicum of taste, I will watch anything that stars (or is directed by) Rebecca Hall. She may very well be the best actor of her generation, and thankfully for us, horror continues to be the best place to find rich roles for women. So onward into some dark territory we go!

Quick Plot: Margaret seems to be the model of early middle age success. She's a single mother by choice to a college-bound teen daughter while acing her managerial role in a pharmaceutical research company. She runs hard, dresses well, and has full control over her sexual relationship with a married coworker. 

But like many characters Rebecca Hall plays, she's also hanging on by a thread.

It's severed when a blast from her past returns: David, the older biologist who wooed her as an impressionable 18-year-old, shows up for a medical conference and instantly throws her back into the nightmare she barely escaped a lifetime ago. 

Resurrection is one of those movies that is better watched without knowing too much of its story, and to actually describe where the film goes in its second act is meaningless without the otherworldly talents of Rebecca Hall laying it out in a jaw-dropping one-shot 8-minute monologue. It's dark, it's upsetting, and unfortunately for me, it's also a bit unsatisfying.

Before I go into details that involve spoilers, I should say that I don't necessarily NOT recommend Resurrection. It's haunting and unusual in its storytelling, and most importantly, boasts an incredible performance from one of the best actors working today. Also, I'm selfish in wanting to hear more discussion on whether it hit or missed the mark for others, so please, if you DO dive into it (streaming now on Shudder), share your thoughts in the comments. 

So, spoilers ahead.

My primary issue with Resurrection is one that comes up with a lot of women-not-being-believed stories: based on how I interpreted this one, it seems to be saying this one shouldn't. 

The film is coy with David's existence, which in itself is a bit maddening. We see no one but Margaret interact with him directly, lending plenty of support to the theory that he's not really in this space at this time, though writer/director Andrew Semans throws a bit of a cheat card with one direct reference to his presence at Margaret's office. Sometimes that kind of ambiguity feels right and even necessary, but in the case of Resurrection, it's just confusing. 

By the time we get to the film's final, violent act, the viewer has to make a choice in their interpretation. Either this is a supernatural tale and Margaret rescues her 22-year-old infant son from her ex's belly, or, certainly more likely, Margaret has had a mental crack spurred on by her daughter's upcoming transition to college, pulling her deep into the well of trauma created long ago by David's abuse and (possible) infanticide. 

I've been turning over Resurrection in my head for about a week now, and I do think that with that time, my initial annoyance has softened into more curiosity. Semans is exploring deep and rich territory with the best muse one could ask for. This is a film designed to challenge you.

High Points
Rebecca Hall, obviously and forever

Low Points
Aforementioned takeaway message

Lessons Learned
Wearing a sweatshirt is a sign of weakness

Internships, even in the biotech industry, will destroy you

Sperm donors are easy to come by if you have the confidence of a Rebecca Hall

As I said earlier, I wouldn't discourage anyone (in the right mood) from watching Resurrection. It's sharply made and riveting through its entire 100 minutes. It's rare to catch yourself holding your breath during a movie, but Resurrection demands it. I just wish it didn't leave me feeling so muddled. My initial annoyance has definitely passed though, so maybe on a future viewing, I'll discover something completely new. That in itself is exciting for a film.