Monday, August 31, 2020

Home Sweet Home

Film: You’re Next
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

Home invasion movies, especially if you expand that subgenre to include movies like Vacancy, have experienced something of a renaissance in the past decade or so, but they’ve been around for a long time. Wait Until Dark is a home invasion movie, after all, and there are movies that have home invasion as an important plot point from decades before this. For modern home invasions, movies like The Strangers are a convenient template, but so is You’re Next. After all, You’re Next is not simply home invasion; there’s much more of a plot here than just people breaking in and killing indiscriminately.

But, at it’s heart, that’s what You’re Next is. It’s going to be a film where we start with a sizable cast that is rapidly and consistently whittled down to just a couple. It’s also a game of cat and mouse between the people in the house and the killers, who are rather terrifyingly disguised The Strangers-like, but with animal masks. They are, in no order, Tiger, Fox, and Sheep.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

All Style, No Substance

Film: Underworld
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

Every now and then, a movie comes along and changes the game for everyone. You can tell this happens when it seems like everything for a couple of years references that movie. In 1999, that movie was The Matrix. Dozens of movies that followed did references to bullet time and other aspects of that movie world. Underworld is clearly an attempt to capitalize on the same sensibilities as The Matrix. I’d love to say that the vampire/werewolf plot aspects are a direct pull from the Twilight books, but this came out a couple of years before those books.

There isn’t a specific reference to bullet time in Underworld, but everything else seems to come directly out of the same universe filtered through there being vampires and werewolves. The story we’re told is that there is a long-standing feud between the vampires and the “lycans,” which is clearly an abbreviation of lycanthrope. We’re not going to call them werewolves; we’re going to go with lycans because it…sounds better? Cooler? Less stupid? Regardless, everything outside of the froufrou name for the werewolves is straight out of The Matrix. That’s everyone clad in leather, massive gun battles, people leaping around in ways that people in the real world can’t, and more. Oh, and it also has that washed-out black-and-white with steel blue look that so many science fiction movies seem to want to have. It’s not black-and-white, but it’s monochromatic, because…reasons.

Thursday, August 27, 2020


Film: Body Bags
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

Ah, the anthology film, that most horror-centric of subgenres that isn’t quite exclusive to the genre. After all, there have been comedy anthology films and a Western anthology or two, but nothing screams low-budget horror movie like a bunch of unrelated short films loosely connected by a framing story. That’s exactly what we’

re getting with Body Bags, made for television, albeit it made for Showtime.

The word is, evidently, that Showtime wanted a serial to compete with Tales from the Crypt. Body Bags was that attempt, and it was scuttled before it really got started. The three filmed segments were put together with a cobbled framing story, and this was the result. There’s a great deal in Body Bags that is a lot of fun and works really well. The first is that it is absolutely loaded with cameos. The second is that the shorts here aren’t five or even 15 minutes long. They’re all closer to half an hour, giving them a good amount of room to really tell the story without diving head-first into jump scares and gore.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Nothing Good

Film: Pelle the Conqueror (Pelle Erobreren)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

There is a moment in Pelle the Conqueror (Pelle Erobreren if you prefer) that I think will stay with me for a very long time. It’s a moment of substantial and real cruelty that is entirely believable in the characters. The film’s namesake, Pelle (Pelle Hvenegaard) has a coin which is the only money he possesses. His friend, Rud (Troels Asmussen) tells him that if Pelle will give him the coin, he will allow Pelle to whip him with a nettle bush as hard as he likes 100 times. Pelle accepts, breaks off a nettle, and beats his friend savagely, taking out all of the frustrations of the dozen years of his life on his friend’s back. It’s terrible and brutal, and very real.

Pelle the Conqueror is a misery parfait movie, a film where terrible event is piled on top of terrible event and in which nothing really good happens to anyone. The smallest happiness is repaid by brutality, and the slightest hint of breaking free of the terrible cycle that we are presented with is rewarded with horror, degradation, and suffering. This is contrasted with the truly beautiful Danish countryside, giving us the juxtaposition often seen in a film like this one—the beauty of the landscape serving as counterpoint to the vicious and ugly lives led by the people who work on it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Be Kind, Rewind

Film: V/H/S
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.

It’s time to dive head-first into that most horror-y of subgenres, the anthology film. V/H/S came out in 2012 to something like fanfare, at least in terms of horror anthologies. Truthfully, horror is one of the only genres where the anthology works at all, and really this is true only because it’s not that hard to get a good scare worked up in a few minutes. That said, the problems that other genres have with anthologies are still suffered by horror movies. There’s not enough build-up to really care about the characters, which means that deeper emotional levels are difficult to achieve. With horror, that means we’re going for the gross out rather than real terror most of the time, and I’m just not that interested.

Of course we’re going to have a framing story here. In this case, our frame is a group of guys who go out and commit a variety of crimes and film themselves doing so, and then sell the tapes of their work. These crimes include petty vandalism and a series of sexual assaults on women in parking lots. When the film starts, we learn they have been offered a large sum of money to break into a particular house and steal a specific video tape. When they arrive, they find a dead man sitting in front of a collection of televisions and a huge set of unmarked V/H/S tapes. And, of course, things are going to go downhill from here.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Finally, the Hockey Mask

Films: Friday the 13th Part 3
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

I genuinely have to wonder how the Friday the 13th series of movies happened based on those that I’ve seen so far. The first one is certainly iconic, and I’ll admit that the second one at least builds on the mythology of the first one. But the third one, Friday the 13th Part 3 (or Part III if you prefer) is essentially a remake of the previous film with slightly different characters.

I mean this literally. The only “innovation” when it comes to this movie is that, like many a film series from this era, they opted to make the third episode in the series in 3D. It went about as well as it did for most of the movies of the era, in that it’s clearly made in ways to exploit things popping out of the screen rather that adding some sort of depth to the field. Since this is a slasher movie, a lot of what is going to be popping out at us is weapons and body parts.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Against the Crowd Blogathon 2020

Film: The Killing of a Sacred Deer; Soldier
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library (Sacred) and personal collection (Soldier) on the basement television.

Every year, Dell over at Dell on Movies hosts several blogathons. Because this blog is fairly regimented in what it does, I don’t tend to participate in them despite enjoying them a great deal when I read through the various posts. I decided this year, as I come close to completing my Oscar lists, that I’d play as well. The problem was finding movies I knew would fit the bill for this blogathon. The idea is to find two movies. The first should be one I dislike that most people like while the second should be one I like that most people don’t. My issue was finding movies that fit this bill that I hadn’t already reviewed. I can make this blog as flexible as I like, but I won’t review the same movie twice. Still, there had to be movies that qualified, right?

For whatever reason, the world seems to love the films of Yorgos Lanthimos. I didn’t hate The Favourite, but much of this is because it’s the first of his movies where the entire cast doesn’t recite likes like they have a gun to their head. There’s a reason, I think, that Lanthimos loves Colin Farrell, who seems more than willing to say his lines as if he is reading out the contents of cells in an Excel document. Nowhere is this more evident than in the somehow-beloved The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

R'lyeh Deep Ones

Film: Underwater
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on the basement television.

There are some people who have discovered the secret to a happy career. Daniel Radcliffe, for instance, never has to work again if he doesn’t want to. So what he’s doing instead are the projects that he really wants to do. An actor concerned with making money doesn’t do Swiss Army Man or Horns. The same is true of Elijah Wood, acting in low-budget horror movies, evidently for fun. Robert Pattinson has done some of this as well, although he is moving to some more high-profile pictures of late. And then there’s Kristen Stewart, Pattinson’s erstwhile squeeze and Twilight partner. She’s made her money and now she’s doing projects like Underwater because she can.

You know what? Good for her. She probably never has to work another day in her life if she doesn’t want to, so she’s taking risks. She did the same thing with Personal Shopper, acting in a very small movie that wasn’t going to get a lot of play because it was a good script and a good role (and she nailed it). Stewart may have to work for years to earn respect after her Twilight roles, but she’s doing so, and even if she never gets the kind of acclaim the career she is building deserves, she’s at least doing what she wants.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

High School Zombie Musical

Film: Anna and the Apocalypse
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on the basement television.

I suppose that Anna and the Apocalypse was inevitable. We’ve had zombie comedies before and we’ve had zombie romances before, so it was really only a matter of time before we got a zombie musical. Anna and the Apocalypse does diligent work in sticking to the conventions of zombie movies as well as most of the conventions of musicals (there is no clear reprise, though) in telling its story. In that respect, it’s relatively impressive.

We’re going to go through the three basic stages of a zombie comedy as established by Shaun of the Dead. We’ll spend the first act being introduced to the characters and some element of their personality while hinting at the zombie apocalypse to come. The second act will kill off a few characters while establishing the seriousness of the situation. The third act will involve either killing everyone off or a few of the characters escaping to an unknown fate. Like I said, it follows the established rules of the subgenre.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Mars...? Attacks...?

Film: War of the Worlds (2005)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

I suppose that when I think about it, it’s not terribly surprising that Spielberg did a remake of War of the Worlds. Now, in retrospect, it’s kind of a warm up for Super 8. While the plots are significantly different, there are some similarities between the two movies at least on the surface in that both are alien invasion movies. And, true to Spielberg’s fixation with absent or bad fathers, we’re going to get at least a part of that story in the form of the Tom Cruise character.

Ray Ferrier (Cruise) works a union job and is seen leaving his job site to return home. It’s evidently his weekend with his kids, teenage rebellious son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and younger daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning). Ray, we learn is something less than a model parent, and Robbie especially seems to resent the time that he’s forced to spend with his father. After a little bit of an introduction to give us the family dynamic, we dive head-first into the alien invasion that is the bulk of the story. I’ll say this for Spielberg’s version: we don’t spend nearly the sort of time the source material does setting things up. Instead, it’s pandemonium, lightning attacks, and chaos from about half an hour in to almost the end.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Rail Shooter

Films: The Prophecy
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

There’s a part of me that wonders why, when a movie is about to get religiously freaky, we’re always going to be dealing with the Catholic Church. It’s as if someone somewhere decided that Lutherans and Baptists don’t get possessed or have to deal with demonic forces. I’m guessing that a great deal of this comes from The Exorcist, a film that is still exerting a great deal of religious and spiritual influence over demon-infested movies. It’s something that comes up over and over again, though—if you need to get rid of a demon, you have to go Catholic. If you’re going to get possessed, you’re probably Catholic, too.* That’s very much the case with The Prophecy.

Boiled down to its base essence, The Prophecy is the story of an almost-priest turned cop named Thomas Dagget (Elias Koteas). On the verge of taking his vows as a priest, Thomas is overwhelmed by a vision of the fabled war between angels—the one that is far more a part of Milton than scripture. Unable to continue, Dagget becomes a cop. He encounters a case one day that seems to not just touch on the supernatural, but to be fully enveloped in it. A body is discovered that is hermaphroditic, has no eyes, no signs of bone growth, and blood chemistry similar to that of a fetus. Of course, this is actually an angel, in this case put down by another angel named Simon (Eric Stoltz). This body also possesses an ancient hand-written Bible that includes an unknown chapter of Revelation that speaks of a second war in heaven.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Most Misleading Title in Years

Film: The House on Sorority Row
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

There are expectations when it comes to an early-‘80s slasher movie. You expect a few nasty kills with some sort of sharp implement, a couple of jump scares, and a decent amount of T & A. I’m not a huge nudity guy when it comes to movies in the sense that it’s not something I generally look for in a movie. But, as I say, there are expectations that need to be dealt with. A slasher movie of the vintage and name of The House on Sorority Row? This should be crammed full with shower scenes and gratuitous nipple shots. And, because I’m making this a point of discussion, it clearly isn’t.

If I’m not a huge T & A fan, why is this an issue for this specific film? Because—and I know this is probably going to catch me some shit here from at least a few regular readers—slashers of this era don’t really have a lot more to offer. We know going in that we’re going to get some sort of mutated killer. He’ll have either physical deformities, be mentally aberrant, or both (probably both), and that he’ll kill off half a dozen to a dozen people, many of them scantily clad nubile women. Depending on how daring the director is, we might get a few quality kills, but will more than likely get something akin to a raised knife (or cane with pointy bits in this case) and implied flesh piercing with said object. Honestly, the least the filmmakers could do is give us a bit of skin.

Saturday, August 8, 2020


Film: Doctor Sleep
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.

One of the problems with sequels is that there are a lot of expectations with them. John Carpenter wanted to turn the Halloween franchise into an anthology, with a completely different story every year. He tried with Halloween III and got buried for it, even though now, decades later, it’s considered a pretty good horror movie. Often, a sequel happens after a movie gets a great deal of acclaim, and the sequel is frequently a disappointment because of those expectations. So how do you do a sequel after 40 years? Well, they did it with Halloween from 2018, and did it pretty well. Doctor Sleep attempts to do the same thing with The Shining.

Before we dive head-first into Doctor Sleep, I want to discuss this idea of sequels and what Doctor Sleep does right in that respect. A sequel to what is widely considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made 40 years after the fact is, honestly, a big ask. What we expect, of course, is that we’ll spend the movie at The Overlook dealing with the unquiet ghosts of the past. The truth is that we do get there eventually, but not until the third act. Doctor Sleep wants us to earn that return to Room 237. So, we’re going to deal with something entirely different that is going to lead us back to that doomed hotel. By the time we get there, we’ve had an entirely new story to get us there.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Oh, Mickey, You're so Fine

Film: Bloody Pit of Horror (Il Boia Scarlatto)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

I’ve watched a lot of movies for this site. I’ve seen some things I can’t unsee, I’ve been introduced to movies I have loved that I would never have watched, and I have seen some terrible cinema. That said, it’s been a long time since I have seen a movie as powerfully stupid as Bloody Pit of Horror (or Il Boia Scarlatto, if you prefer the Italian). This movie is kind of an Italian version of a “roughie”; it exists so that Mickey Hargitay can perform weird tortures on scantily clad women.

Bloody Pit of Horror has the thinnest veneer of a plot to string it together. A writer named Rick (Walter Brandi), his publisher Daniel (Alfredo Rizzo), his secretary Edith (Luisa Baratto), and a number of other people are driving through the countryside looking for a place to take pictures to serve as the covers for Rick’s horror novels. They come across a castle that appears to be uninhabited, so they break in to take pictures of scantily clad women being harassed by ghouls and skeletons.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Barber vs. Barber

Film: Marriage Story
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the new internet machine.

I’m not going to pull any punches at the start of this review so that you’re not left in any suspense. If you’ve seen Kramer vs. Kramer, there’s not a lot of new territory for you when it comes to Marriage Story. At one point in the movie, a divorce lawyer says something along the lines of criminal lawyers see bad people at their best and divorce lawyers see good people at their worst. This is a movie about a divorce, so the audience gets to fill in for the role of the divorce lawyers in this case. Worse, I’m not so sure that these are good people.

So yes, this is a story of divorce. It’s worth noting that one of the last times Noah Baumbach (who wrote and directed this) delved into the topic of divorce, the movie we got was the absolutely gutting The Squid and the Whale. It’s more of the same this time, only this time, there’s only one child, he’s younger, and the story is going to move between New York and L.A. At its heart, though, this is a story about two people doing everything they can to hurt each other emotionally and mentally. It’s unappealing at best. There’s a reason I’ve waited this long to watch it, and there’s a reason I saved one movie from last year’s Oscars to watch after this, so I didn’t end my 2019 Oscar watching on something that made me want to pull out my own spine.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Because "Train Car of Horrors" Wouldn't Sell

Film: Dr. Terror’s House of Horror
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

Anthology movies seem to be horror movies almost by default. I think that’s because you can tell a quick horror story and get people to care at least a little bit about the characters quickly. There’s a natural empathy for people put in danger, and that’s what horror is all about. Still, I prefer movies that have one main story rather than watching anthologies. Anthology films always seem to offer short shrift on the good stories and have too many stories that aren’t that interesting clogging things up. Even one that has a lot of heft behind it, like the awesomely-named Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors doesn’t have the heft it should based on the cast.

Our framing story takes place on a train. Half a dozen men end up sitting in the same train car. It turns out that one of these men is Dr. Schreck (Peter Cushing), which he tells the other men means “terror” in German. Dr. Schreck has a tarot deck with him that he claims will tell the future of each of the other five men, should they wish it. If you guessed that we’re going to get five stories, each one being the future of one of these men, well, you’ve seen the set up to an anthology film before.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Nic Cage Has Always Been Nic Cage

Film: Vampire’s Kiss
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.

There is an entire online cottage industry of meme makers creating memes of Nicolas Cage in his various weird roles. Several of these—the crazy eyes Nic Cage, the Nic Cage with a cigarette and pointing—come from Vampire’s Kiss, a bizarre late-80s kind of horror movie/drug trip. Based on his career, Cage clearly has the ability to be engaging in a role and fantastic on camera. Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation attest to that at the very least. But anyone who thinks his slide into the more sewer-y and bizarre end of the Hollywood kiddie pool is something new has never seen Vampire’s Kiss.

Seriosly, Cage had been unhinged multiple times in movie roles in the past, but I don’t know that he’s ever been quite as unhinged as he is in this. I honestly don’t know if Vampire’s Kiss was conceived of as a comedy, but it certainly became one based on the way that Cage acts in many a scene.