Monday, May 27, 2024

Worth Every Quarter

I need to find some kind of term for the kind of "credits heh?" movie that I find so often on Amazon Prime. You know what I mean: you queue up a film you know little about only to say, "heh" multiple times as names you know well show up. It's a positive turn of speech that comes from the top of your throat, not a full-out "wow", more a shortened form of "hey". In the case of 1993's Arcade, which was released by Full Moon right as I stopped renting those movies every weekend, it's a parade of incredibly important '90s faces (at least to young me).




And of course, LUCAS

Quick Plot: Teenage Alex has had a rough year. It happens when you're the one to find your mother's dead body from a self-inflicted gunshot. Thankfully, she has a solid group of pals and a loyal boyfriend Greg, all of whom enjoy afterschool hours down at an arcade called Dante's Inferno.

One afternoon, the gang is excited to be part of the test audience for the less than creatively named virtual reality game Arcade. Skeptic Nick goes first and falls in love, but when Greg takes up the controls, he seems to vanish. The teens are a little distracted by the complimentary home versions to notice for a while. 

Alex senses something is wrong, especially when she takes a turn and discovers the games seems to know she's looking for Greg. Nick begrudgingly decides to do some research with her, only for them to discover the rest of their friends have been sucked into Arcade. A trip to the development headquarters yields some disturbing answers: in order to keep upping interest from a bored generation of gaming teens, the company has resorted to using human DNA. It goes as well as you think it would.

Full Moon Entertainment was probably the first film studio I knew by logo. To young video store regular Emily, its presence implied killer dolls. Was there anything better?

Released (kind of?) in 1993, Arcade feels like a far more professional production than some of the Demonic Toys offshoots that would come shortly after. Sure, the actual visuals are as dated as you'd expect, but the general video game theorizing still has relevance a lifetime later. Screenwriter David S. Goyer would go on to a far more glamorous career in the DC and Marvel universe, but as someone who usually groans when I see his name above the title, I can say with surprising confidence that this might be my new favorite of his credits. 

It's not the deepest compliment to ever say that this is top tier Albert Pyun (this is the same prolific B-movie maestro who directed Alien From LA). Still, Arcade IS good! Maybe my expectations were low, but this film had a lot of charm. The early '90s aesthetic goes pretty far, plus we have a genuinely strong young cast easily holding our interest. The ending is satisfyingly pleasant, then even MORE satisfyingly winking if you catch the Amazon Prime 'extended' version. All in all, well worth a few quarters. 

High Points
Megan Ward isn't the most dynamic of final girls, but her Alex is a believably hurting teenager, and by the end, I was fully onboard in rooting for her triumph

Low Points
90 minutes is absolutely the right length for a 1993 low budget horror movie about virtual reality gone wrong, but with a cast this stacked, it's hard not to feel like this film deserved a LITTLE more time with some character interactions and development

Lessons Learned
To sublimate is to mess up

Nothing gets executive attention like the threat of a virgin sacrifice

Any Star Trek: Next Generation fan would know: never buy anything Q is selling, even if it's free

I can acknowledge that I'm a VERY particular demographic. Arcade might not have worked for 11-year-old me, but 31 years later, it's incredibly satisfying in a fairly dumb way. Give it a go via Amazon Prime.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Putting the Kill In Your 401K


It's shocking to me how rare the horror genre dips into workplace culture. Setting your film in an office opens up such a great opportunity for a diverse mixture of ages and skills, yet it's all too rare to see it explored. For every ten summer camp sessions or ski trips, we seem to get one Belko Experiment.

Like Severance (one of the all-too-rare co-worker slashers), The Conference takes an office team and moves them to a corporate teambuilding excursion. So yes, we get more cabins than cubicles, but it's something.

Quick Plot: Who needs family farmland when you can have an exclusive mall and residential housing for white people? That's the attitude of boss Ingela and project manager Jonas as they take their corporate team out to the woods for a work retreat in celebration of the big upcoming ribbon cutting ceremony to break ground. 

Two things stand in the way: Lina, the rare businesswoman with a conscience who went on sick leave right before Jonas finished some fudgie paperwork, and Sooty, someone who has found the oversized mascot head for the mall and wears it as he machetes his way through the cabin staff and their guests. 

All in all, it's just a hair worse than trust exercises and work-mandated potato sack races.

Directed and co-written by Patrick Eklund, The Conference is exactly what you hope to find in a horror comedy. We get a memorable slasher mask, inventive kills, clever comedy, and biting satire about corporate greed. What's not to like?

High Points
This is a big SPOILER, so skip ahead if that's not your style: The Conference is very much a traditional slasher, but it has a refreshing ending in NOT killing all but our final girl. In my younger years, such an act of mercy might have annoyed me, but today, it feels...nice. Some people deserve to live (or at the very least, to not die horribly at the hands of a vengeful farmer) and it felt genuinely GOOD to walk away from this movie seeing some of the perfectly fine and surprisingly capable characters limp off into the sunset (and hopefully, a very nice severance package)

Low Points
Considering the substantial size of the cast (by slasher standards), it feels like there could have been a little more time spent in introducing the characters and the roles within the company. The ones who DO get that attention (Jonas, Ingela) are clearly established, but as we round the last act, it's a bit frustrating to not necessarily remember some of the last employees standing

Lessons Learned
There's a big difference between goals for the climate and goals for the environment

Charcoal burners were once the proletariat of the forest

There are plenty of white gang members in Sweden (though they rarely make the cut in feel-good corporate video ads)

I had a grand old time with The Conference, streaming now on Netflix. It's a sharp satire with some successful laughs, plus plenty of fresh horror violence, including gore you've never quite seen before. Put on your away message and have a go.

Monday, May 13, 2024

My Buddy Cop


Monday, May 6, 2024

A Shallow Descent

I like hiking. It's a great way to exercise while taking in the best our planet has to offer. It can make your body and mind feel satisfied in a way that few other activities can.