Cure (1997)

JULY 31, 2009


I really liked Cure (Japan: Kyua). I didn’t understand all of it (the much lauded final shot is seemingly left entirely up to your own conclusion), and it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, but I liked it. I didn’t doze off once (a rarity for a movie I have to “read”), I didn’t shout at the screen for something to “happen!” despite the fact that it’s often very slow, and when it was done I pondered watching it again to see if it would help fill in some of answers to questions I had, unlike recent puzzlers such as Antichrist or Wendigo.

I think what I dug was the detached style of the film. Almost every scene unfolds in a wide shot, with minimal edits. I was struck by how many scenes involved a character walking from one side of the frame to the other - conventional filmmaking would employ a cut (and a closer shot), which would distract, even if only on a subconscious level. By shooting the film this way, you feel like you’re on the outside looking in, as opposed to most serial killer movies, in which the director tries to get you as close as possible to the goings on.

I also liked the abruptness of the murder scenes. After a while you can kind of spot them coming, but they all unfold sort of like the nurse scene from The Exorcist III, where you’re watching someone do mundane things in a single shot for minutes and then BAM! someone comes out of nowhere and does them in. Again - for all the talk of their ghost films, to me, our Eastern horror filmmakers are far more effective when dealing with horror of the non-supernatural type.

And the killer is terrifically entertaining. He can hypnotize people through repetition, so he pretends (I think) to have the shortest short term memory since Sammy Jankis. So he’ll ask if you’re married, and you tell him you have a wife, and he’ll ask what she does, and when you say “She’s a doctor” or whatever, his reponse is “Who’s a doctor?”, as he has “forgotten” the initial question. You’d think it would be annoying, but it’s actually kind of charmingly quirky, and then when you realize the sinister motivation for it, it’s pretty damn creepy (another reason I’d like to go back and watch it again).

And he is matched with the lead cop, played by Kôji Yakusho. He’s an interesting character: he’s got a crazy wife and he’s obviously been around the block a few times. And he’s not without humor either; when interrogating a murder suspect, he first asks if he saw this type of killing on a movie. Heh. Some of the movie seems to exist in his own head, and that gets kind of confusing, but either way it’s the rare J-horror film with a hero as compelling as its villain, and when the two finally meet it’s like seeing Deniro and Pacino finally face off (in the film and in all of movie-dom) in Heat.

The only extra on the DVD is a lengthy interview with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (who also helmed the equally slow but yet compelling Kairo), but he doesn’t talk about the film so much as he does his own beliefs and philosophies. It’s an interesting chat, but I’d be lying if I said I wish he (or some other feature on the DVD) helped answer a few questions I had. Being that it’s a foreign film that was released prior to the Asian boom in the States, it’s not widely discussed over here, and I hate to trust in the IMDb messageboards for answers. But it was recommended by HMAD readers Zed and Becca, so I hope they and whoever else has seen it weighs in with their thoughts.

(Personally, I think the detective has taken on the role of the killer - but I have no idea what the hell that shot of his wife all cut up and being rolled vertically down the hall was all about. Another figment of his imagination?)

What say you?

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The Collector (2009)

JULY 30, 2009


As an avid fan of Project Greenlight, nothing makes me happier than the continued success of Season 3’s screenwriting team of Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton. While the folks from the other seasons have gone on to do... nothing, as far as I know, these guys are everywhere in horror. From writing the Feast trilogy (with PGL winner John Gulager at the helm - another success. Why did they cancel the show when they finally got it right?), to taking over writing duties on Saws 4-7, and constantly being attached to in development movies such as the Hellraiser remake, they have certainly shed their “contest winner” stigma and carved out successful screenwriting careers (quick - name another writer or writers with six produced films in the past two years to their name). And now they’ve taken it up a notch, with Marcus directing their script for The Collector, a film they have been wanting to make before they even wrote the first Feast.

While it was at one time considered to be molded into a Saw prequel, and the use of “traps” certainly bringing some familiarity to the piece, this is NOT a Saw-type film. If I had to compare it to a pair of films in the time-honored Hollywood tradition (“It’s ____ meets ____ !”), I would say it was a cross between The Strangers and the final 20 minutes of Home Alone. The traps here are not like the ones in Saw, they are fairly basic (some are even identical to those from Home Alone, such as nails on the stairs) and avoidable. What they lack in complication, though, they make up for in sheer quantity - the goddamn things are everywhere. How the Collector had time to set them all up, I don’t know, but suffice to say they lead to a constant sense of dread. A Jigsaw kidnapee is usually free to run around the dungeons and warehouses without having to worry about literally falling into a trap - they either wake up inside of one or have to put themselves willingly into one in order to get a key or whatever. Here, our hero, Arkin (Josh Stewart) has to constantly watch his step, lest he set off a trip wire or run face-first into razor wire stretched across the room at face level. There is something incredibly nerve-wracking about a guy who constantly has to be escaping a pursuer but unable to really haul ass.

And in a bold move that pays off, Dunstan doesn’t leave too many of the traps to surprise - a sweeping shot throughout the entire house pretty much shows every single one of them. At first I was a bit disappointed that I knew where they all were and more or less what they would do, but as the film progresses, I realized this was actually to the film’s benefit. If we HADN’T seen them all, it would become kind of laughable when they appear; “Oh, yeah there’s a room with bear traps too”. But knowing that they are all there allows Dunstan to get them out of the way and focus on people screwing up and activating them. We KNOW those bear traps are there, it’s just a matter of knowing who will set them off and when.

More on Dunstan’s directing - working with Bousman and Gulager has not been an influence on his editing/shooting style. There is no hyper-editing or super-close-up “what the hell am I looking at?” type camerawork here, which works fine for those films but would have been annoying here. He uses a lot of long takes, and stays far back enough to allow you to see the characters and their surrounding dangers. He also avoids the first time director habit of being flashy - there are a couple of off-kilter POV shots, and close-ups of how the booby traps work, but otherwise it’s directed like an old school horror film. The opening shot, for example, is a slow tracking shot of a house (not the main house) from across the street as a couple arrives home, perfectly setting up the creepy/suspenseful tone of the film. Hopefully this won't be a one-off directorial gig.

Another thing that works quite well is that our hero is essentially a criminal. He’s there to rob the family, only to more or less get forced into being their savior (mainly because he is unable to escape the house anyway). This sort of setup always appeals to me, and the guy’s intentions (to pay off a loan shark that is after his wife) are honorable. He is never really confronted by a family member as to why he’s there in the first place (they ask, but he never answers), which could have been a nicely uncomfortable touch, but on the flipside, such things would allow you a breather that the film never offers.

You might think a movie that takes place entirely in a house, with only 3 or 4 possible victims, would be kind of slow paced, but that is not the case here. Arkin is constantly on the move, attempting to dodge the Collector and rescue family members (this would make an excellent XBL marketplace game). I don’t think it’s spoiling much to say that he’s not always successful in his rescue attempts, and even though the victims are nice innocent people (as opposed to our thief hero), the death scenes are insanely over the top and applause worthy. They aren’t played for laughs (nothing about the movie is, actually), but knowing the team’s sick sense of humor from the Feast films, you can almost sense the morbid glee they must have felt when staging some of the deaths (again: ROOM FULL OF BEAR TRAPS!). And there’s always a little darkly humorous touch in the deaths, such as when a guy is electrocuted thanks to a toppled TV and fish tank combination. As the guy wriggles and fries, we see a hapless fish trying to swim its way to safety. I love shit like that - not only is it a funny sight gag, but it also answers a question some audience members are bound to have (“Are the fish OK?”).

I should note part of my enjoyment may have stemmed by seeing so many actors from my favorite shows in it. Supporting actors from Lost, Prison Break (RIP) and Friday Night Lights all turn in small roles, and that is fine by me. Also, the patriarch of the family is played by Michael Reilly Burke, aka the Bundy that got his ass kicked by Tiffany Shepis in Ted Bundy. But the real draw is Josh Stewart, who carries the film easily. I’ve never seen the guy before, but I am sure that will change after this - I can’t recall the last time I saw a relative unknown take the lead (he’s pretty much in every frame of the movie) in a wide theatrical release, especially without a big star in a smaller role to anchor it, but it’s a gamble that paid off. Character development can be a bit slim (we never know why his wife had to deal with a loan shark to begin with) but you still care about this guy, thanks to Stewart’s appealing performance.

My only issue with the film is the score by Nine Inch Nails drummer Jerome Dillon. Some of it works fine, such as during the battle between Arkin and the Collector, but often times it just sounds like leftover NIN music (of which I’m not a fan), and gives the film a Saw feel that it otherwise doesn’t have. It’s also incredibly loud at times, though that might have been the fault of the theater’s surround system. A minimalist score, something like Carpenter’s for Halloween, would have been a better choice, in my opinion.

The fact that this movie has gotten a wide summer release from an independent studio should be enough to tell you that it’s worth a look. It’s up against heavy competition (I still wish people were seeing Orphan, actually), but this could be a major boon for independent horror productions if the film were to open well. So please guys - if the Saw films (which also have no major stars) can make 60-80 million a piece, there is no reason why this film can’t make at least half that. I’m tired of repeating myself: if you don’t want an endless stream of remakes and PG-13 teen horror films, then for the love of Christ, go see an original R rated film when you get one. Thanks to Haunting In CT and the MBV/F13 remakes, horror’s been doing OK this year (compared to last year), but you all dropped the ball with the best ones: Drag Me To Hell (PG-13, yes, but not designed as one) and Orphan. You have to take a chance on unproven commodities so that the money men continue to do the same. And unlike Hatchet or Midnight Meat Train, this is a WIDE release: 1400 screens. There’s no way you can claim “it’s not playing near me” on this one, so get your ass in the theater.

What say you?

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Shatter Dead (1994)

JULY 29, 2009


After Redneck Zombies, I wasn’t really in the mood for another “backyard” zombie film this week, but being the colossal moron I am, I told my fellow Horror People, Dear Reader commentator and all around fonzanoon Simon Barrett that he could pick my movie today, as it is his 40th birthday. The only requisite I gave him was that it had to be something from Netflix instant view, because I don’t like him enough to go out of my way to get something. And because I apparently stepped on his foot or maybe slept with his wife in a previous life, the bastard got back at me by making me watch Shatter Dead.

It certainly starts off promising, with a lesbian sex scene (one of them is an angel), followed by a strange zombie scene where a woman walks past a bunch that are homeless, and then blows one up for stealing her gas. I liked the idea of a “Zombies are just part of life” motif, such as in Zombies Anonymous, so I was intrigued. Unfortunately, after this, there is almost zero zombie action in the film, which just becomes one of those art-school dramas where people sit around in poorly lit apartments discussing what it means to be alive and all that crap. I can barely tolerate these things in 10 minute student films, but when stretched to an interminable 80 minutes, the filmmakers might as well be smashing my scrotum with a block of wood, Antichrist style.

Every now and then there is some action, such as when a zombie who apparently stepped out of a poorly planned frat costume party begins spouting some religious babble while he and other zombies kill everyone for about 5 straight minutes. There is a lot of splatter here, plus the time-honored indie zombie scene where a fetus is torn from a woman’s body (how do these guys always find a way to work that in?), but then its back to more pontificating into the in-camera mic; “What is it to be alive?” type shit. The last half hour is just the heroine (or is that heroin? Hey-o!!! ...she looks like a junkie is what I’m saying) and her zombie boyfriend in an apartment, with him rambling nonstop about how beautiful it is to be dead while she threatens to shoot herself in the head. If you love everything you hear at a poetry slam, you’ll probably like these interminable scenes. The only reason I was able to sit through them is because the douchebag boyfriend looked like a hair metal version of Joe Lynch.

There is also a surprising amount of nudity in the film. Not that I mind nudity much, but a lot of it seemed gratuitous (the afore-mentioned lesbian angel scene is never explained, nor does she appear again, best as I can tell), not to mention was seemingly just there to pad the film out to feature length. Also, none of the women are particularly attractive, so if it’s meant to titillate, it pretty much fails. Even when the coke whore (sorry, lead actress) blows a gun (for real), I was just sort of bored and somewhat grossed out. If that was the intent, fine - but why would anyone want you to find the lead character unappealing? What incentive do you have to finish the movie?

Like Antichrist, I’m going to just chalk this one up to “Not my thing”. I like zombies, obviously, but writer/director Scooter McCrae apparently doesn’t, or he would have used them in his movie more. I may not have liked Redneck Zombies much, but at least director Pericles Lewnes (who pops up in this movie, strangely enough) definitely wanted to make an actual zombie movie. Scooter seems more interested in recycling what he sort of remembered from a Philosophy 101 class that he spent watching fetish porn. Maybe there’s a niche audience for zombie movies without zombies and a lot of ugly nudity and pretentious babble in their place, and if so, I wholeheartedly recommend this thing. Me, the most entertained I got was when I consulted the Wikipedia page to see if it had any explanation for the angel scene. It didn’t, but the synopsis seems to have been written by someone who was as bored as I was with the movie. The DVD apparently includes lots of extras, but even if I had rented the disc proper I can’t be sure I’d want to spend any more time on Shatter Dead (p.s. 2nd movie in a row with a title in which I am unable to find the relevance).

In conclusion, the moral of the story is: Never listen to Simon, unless he’s talking (with me) over a public domain horror movie. Then listen to each and every word with baited breath.

What say you?

P.S. I couldn't find the trailer so I put in a clip of the only real action scene in the entire movie. Enjoy, I guess.

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Hush (2009)

JULY 28, 2009


Have you seen Breakdown, with Kurt Russell? If not, you should. If you have, just imagine you’re watching it while bouncing around in the back of a pickup truck, and viola! You’ve seen Hush. Because, a few decent scenes and a nice twist aside, it’s the exact same movie - a guy spends the night chasing after the truck that he believes has taken his woman - except writer/director Mark Tonderai films the entire thing in shaki-cam, an effect that runs the gamut from reasonable to downright annoying, sometimes in the same scene.

I’m not really an opponent of shaki-cam. People supposedly puked while watching Blair Witch, but I never had a problem with it there. And in the hands of a master like Paul Greengrass, it can be a truly effective device. But Tonderai is not such a master. For every nice use, like when he makes it look like a POV of the bad guy in order to mis-direct us, there’s a dozen times when it’s just distracting and without any benefit to the story or tone of a scene. Do we really need to have the camera jerking around when our hero is merely feeding a dog? Get a goddamn tripod, mate.

Oh yeah, this one is from the UK, so I guess it’s OK that there isn’t a single original idea within its barely feature length running time (91 minutes - but 10 of them are credits). Like 28 Days Later, every single story bit can be found in an earlier, better film, but as long as everyone’s driving on the left and saying “Oy!” it’s apparently acceptable. Hence why the cover has quotes comparing the film to the best of Hitchcock. To my eyes, all I saw was a hodgepodge of Breakdown, Duel, Joy Ride, and The Vanishing, with little to add to the template. The closest the film gets to an original idea is the hero’s job - he is in charge of changing the advertisements in gas station restrooms. I have seen a lot of movies in my day, and I am 100% positive that Hush is the first one with a character under this particular employment. Well done.

Besides the lack of originality, the movie really blunders by not giving any sort of motive or backstory to the villains. We find out that there are three of them; one is introduced as such and then never appears in the proper film again (there’s a quick bit with him during the end credits), and another is killed within moments of THEIR reveal. That leaves the main bad guy, whose face we never see and who never utters a word. This isn’t always a problem (Duel, and of course Halloween), but those films were bare basic narratives, so it was OK for the villain to follow suit. Here, the guy has this giant compound with laser sensors, and has folks in his employ, plus a few other victims chained up in his lair - you can’t have all this stuff and not give even the slightest explanation for why its there! It’s the same issue I had with Laid to Rest; if you’re going to give your villain all these “toys”, you need to explain what they are for.

Another thing that irked me was the repetition. There are at least four scenes where the hero has to flatten himself against a wall or on a car seat while the bad guy snoops around, only to be distracted away at the last second and allow our hero to get away. And some of them are painfully contrived, like when he is hiding in the bathroom and the killer comes in. Rather than act like a normal person in this situation and stand on the toilet, he instead grabs onto the little coathook on the door and suspends himself. What? Luckily, this leads to one of those few good scenes (two cops walk in, and then the four men all wash hands next to one another), but it’s not worth the eye-rolling that precedes it.

Another thing I liked was the sound editing. Throughout the film, we continually hear things that don’t match up to the image, such as a phone conversation over a shot of the person still sitting down before they get up to make the call. Because it’s been set up, it allows Tonderai to pull a fast one during one particular scene (think the “FBI raid” scene from Silence of the Lambs) without it really being a cheat. Nice work.

The DVD comes with a whopping 22 featurettes, which run anywhere from 1-3 minutes, focusing on a different scene, actor, or crew member. Much is made about the film’s rear projection (which is often good but in one case, completely botched as the projected footage is scaled too low in comparison to the car) and other low-budget techniques, but not a single one addresses the script in any meaningful way, which, as is usually the case, is the root of the film’s problems and thus not related to any budgetary limitations. Shaki-cam aside, the director does a good job and I never suspected the low budget until it was mentioned, so it’s a shame that the script was so generic and under-developed. Hopefully next time around, Tonderai will have a better story to work with, or at least one with some personality.

Oh one last thing - if you're going to give your movie such a generic and terrible title, shouldn't it at least have something to do with the plot? Yeah, the guy has to keep quiet every now and then, but how is that different than any other thriller? Alternate title suggestions: Make Phone Call, Run, Hide, Yell "No!", or Drive Frantically.

What say you?

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Apartment 1303 (2007)

JULY 27, 2009


I can’t quite recall where I heard about Apartment 1303, or even if the review was positive or not (I thought it was in Rue Morgue but a quick check against the last 5-6 issues proved fruitless). Since there is no remake, it’s relatively obscure here in the States (its Wikipedia page is laughably slim - it basically asserts that the film exists and nothing else), which is a shame as I think it’s one of the better ones of the “Angry ghost” genre.

For starters, it makes sense. The ending gets a tad puzzling (was everyone besides our heroine a goddamn ghost for the entire movie?) but I’d rather be confused at the end rather than throughout the entire movie, only to have it all explained in a flurry of exposition, the way the Ju-On films tend to operate (and even then I’m still a bit baffled). And even though we’re still dealing with vengeful ghosts, the actual story is a bit unique. Seems this pair is of a mother and daughter who had the least healthy relationship this side of Joan Crawford, which draws a parallel to our heroine, who has her own mother issues (exacerbated by the seeming suicide of her sister) to deal with. Unlike many of its peers, Apartment 1303 actually takes time to develop its characters, which made it easier to forgive the familiarity of the horror scenes. And Noriko Nakagoshi is terrific in the lead; there’s a scene where she watches a home movie of her sister and begins wailing (good score here too) that’s really sad to watch - both in a “oh that’s sad that she misses her sister” way as well as a “Wow, I think this is the first time I’ve seen a character show an emotion besides fear in one of these movies” way.

Also she smokes. I hate smoking and will gladly berate a complete stranger who makes the inane request for a light, but since the habit has been phased out of movies (except for the RAVs, of course) it’s sort of charming in a way when a filmmaker doesn’t conform to the style. People do and always will smoke - seeing someone in a film do it actually grounds it in reality (as opposed to not smoking and causing a distraction, such as John McClane’s lack of a butt break in Die Hard Faux).

Another thing I dug about the movie was how short it was. Finally, a 90 minute (and some change) Asian horror film! Then again, I don’t see how it could be any longer; it’s sort of a thin premise (all the action is limited to the title “character”) and since only people that live in it end up dead, there’s only so many times a character can move in and instantly kill themselves before even the most skeptic movie character would order the place to be permanently sealed off. Indeed, late in the movie a new set of girls moves in, and while it’s nice to see 3 kills for the price of 1, I still got a sense of “Really? Again?”

But the end goes all out like a Poltergeist movie. Director Ataru Oikawa (he did all those Tomie films people keep telling me to watch) cranks the fog machines to 11, a ghost with crazy tendril like hair begins dragging people around, lots of yelling, lots of ghosts... as I said, I wasn’t quite sure what the hell was going on, but after the rather slow first 80 minutes, it’s a welcome spectacle. And another downer ending, which you all know I always love.

My only real complaint is that the heroine never rents the place herself. I was kind of hoping for a 1408 style setup, where she finally decides to “see for herself” and we spend the last part of the movie with her in the apartment, fighting off the supernaturally charged desire to jump out the window, with the ghost hitting her with everything she had. A more typical haunted house scenario would not only be less repetitive, but it would also help the film gain its own identity outside of all the Ju-Ons and Shutter and One Missed Call (more bad mothers!) type films that everyone’s probably already seen.

The disc has no extras (phew!), but I did discover from the Blockbuster envelope that the film is based on a book. If it has been translated, I wouldn’t mind reading it, provided it’s as “to the point” as the film. I don’t need another 700 page epic to add to my collection.

What say you?

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Redneck Zombies (1987)

JULY 26, 2009


Last night I attended a roast for Lloyd Kaufman at Comic Con, and it was probably the most fun I had the entire time I was there. People lovingly mocking their peers for 2 hrs is far more interesting than interviewing bored starlets about their slasher remakes or waiting in line to see a panel. Also, it got me in the mood for some Troma, but unfortunately all I had at my disposal by the time I got home from San Diego was Redneck Zombies, which is probably the most prolific Troma release that they had nothing to do with.

As I have said before, I like the actual Troma productions (i.e. the ones Lloyd directs or at least produces himself), but the indies that they merely distribute tend to grate. They have the gross out gags, the potty humor, and the terrible acting, but they are often missing the charm that a Poultrygeist or Terror Firmer has. And while Redneck is certainly better than Slaughter Party or whatever, it’s still a bit of a chore to get through at times.

And by “at times” I mean most of the first hour. I can forgive the lack of action due to the budgetary restraints and all, but good Christ is it boring whenever the zombies aren’t on screen. The redneck “humor” grows stale after about 15 minutes (never been a big fan of this type of humor anyway), and the attempts at more traditional humor pretty much all fall flat. Even the zombie scenes themselves drag; there’s an endless sequence of rednecks drinking the infected liquid that turns them into zombies, packed with every cheesy video filter director Pericles Lewnes had at his disposal. At one point I got up to pee, came back, and the sequence was still on (and far from over). There’s also some nonsense with a “Tobacco Man”, who looks like Bubba from Dark Night of the Scarecrow and speaks in gibberish. What these scenes have to do with anything, I have no idea.

Once the zombies begin attacking in full force it picks up considerably. The effects are actually pretty decent, and the nuttiness of it all is endearing. I particularly liked the bit where a zombie that looks like Herk Harvey is attacking a girl. She reaches for a weapon, but all she can reach is a mousetrap, which snaps on her hand, at which point she uses it to club him. Heh. I also liked the honesty in the opening credits; it lists a Director of “Videography” instead of Photography.

And, you know, kudos to everyone. Yeah it didn’t turn out so great, but the spirit and enthusiasm to make a film (the first film to be shot on video that got a national distribution) is evident in every frame, and in that respect the film is a resounding success. It’s clear Lewnes just got a bunch of friends together and made a movie, and speaking as someone who has tried and largely failed at doing that (I need more job and girlfriend-less friends), the fact that they even assembled a 90 minute movie at all is enough to mostly forgive its leaden pace and uneven structure. With a better editor, this could be more than something I only appreciate and instead actually enjoy, a la The Dead Next Door.

The DVD comes packed with extras, which isn’t much of a surprise. There are about 45 minutes’ worth of interviews with pretty much everyone involved in the film; some of them are only a minute or two, and they are all annoyingly over-edited (it’s OK to let the actor pause for a moment!), but there are a lot of great anecdotes to enjoy. There’s about 15 minutes of deleted/extended scenes, nothing you’ll miss. An eight minute trailer reel is interesting, mainly because there’s one with Don LaFontaine doing the narration, lending the film a bit of authenticity that I wasn’t aware it had. Some outtakes are mildly amusing, and then there’s the usual batch of Troma promotional material. Finally, there’s a commentary, but as I am so far behind on reviews I had to skip it for now. Maybe someday.

Lewnes never directed another horror movie; instead he’s worked in small roles (DP, 2nd unit, special effects) on a few true Troma productions and made a few documentaries. Considering what he pulled off with nothing, I would be very interested to see what he could do with a real crew and some money (the budget was less than that of Blair Witch Project!). I know the film has its fans, such as HMAD reader Miss Kolleen, but in my case I admire it more for its effort than its execution, and would probably never want to watch it again. The abundance of shot-on-video horror films over the past 10-15 years has sort of diminished Redneck’s novelty value, but it’s still enjoyable enough at times to warrant a look, especially if you’re a budding filmmaker yourself.

What say you?

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Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004)

JULY 25, 2009


In a way, it’s sort of admirable that the Tremors series has always involved the writing/producing and, with the exception of the first film, directing of S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock. Few horror series get that far with the original creators on board; even Whannell and Wan left the Saw series after the 3rd film. But as I watched Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was precisely the series’ problem.

While technically better than the 3rd film, the 4th is structured so familiarly that I got bored before the graboids even showed up (though, it’s worth noting, it takes longer for them to appear than usual, which didn’t help). As always, they can take care of one fairly easily, only to have to constantly think of different ways to stop the “learning” monsters. People stand on secure ground, the market is attacked, an elder character is killed... all the same things that happened in all of the other movies happens again here, beat for beat, scene for scene. I was hoping that by setting it in the Old West that it would inject some fresh blood to the proceedings, but since the town of Perfection has always been a bit out of date by design, it hardly even feels different when the steam engines and horses aren’t on screen.

See, the problem is, they kept changing up the monsters, when it’s the locale itself that had gotten old. Why not send them to suburbia, or a metropolis, or even a lake somewhere? Who the hell cares if they can make smaller ones that fart? This one, being a hundred years ago, more or less keeps the giant ones from the first movie, except they have some tongue type things. And, I am guessing due to the lower budget, they don’t really appear much. There’s an opening scene in which you see nothing, and then two minor attack scenes in the middle before the somewhat abrupt climax.

Instead, we spend most of our time with the characters, who are easily the least interesting group yet. Michael Gross plays Burt’s great grandfather, but he’s sort of an asshole, and the movie is designed to explain why the Gummer family is so interested in guns, as if we really needed to know that. Billy Drago is a hoot as a gunslinger, but he is only in the film for a 25 minute stretch. The only other bright spot is August Schellenberg, who plays a laconic Indian who claims that he was the inspiration for the familiar cigar store Indian statue. This and other moments provide the bulk of the humor, and I should note that it’s easily the least humorous of the series, which is another sore spot. The nice thing about the first and most of the 2nd films was that even when the monsters weren’t around, it was still fun. Not the case here, since the characters aren’t interesting or fun enough to distract you from the lack of graboid action.

I also didn’t buy the end, where the surviving characters agree never to tell anyone about the graboids, thus providing the thinnest possible explanation for how all of this happened without them being discovered (my idea? Just kill all of the humans at the end of this one.). Not only is it generic, but it also doesn’t make much sense - I can see why they wouldn’t tell people from out of town, but why wouldn’t Gummer tell his children, especially when his whole thing is about being prepared? Kind of silly. Killing Gummer at the end, after knocking a woman up to ensure his bloodline, would have made more sense. Of course, that would be a total downer ending for an easy-going, fun series like this, but so what? Mix it up a little!

It’s not a total loss, at least. The score is terrific, not something you can often say about the 3rd DTV sequel to a horror movie. And a few of the little callbacks to the series are worth a grin (I particularly liked seeing how the market came to be). The effects are also the best of the DTV films, utilizing miniatures and puppets while keeping the CGI to a minimum. And even though the monster action itself is largely repetitive, Wilson comes up with a few nice shots to make up for it, like when a wagon goes over a bridge as a graboid smashes its way under it. There’s also a terrific, if a bit preposterous, kill with a giant saw blade stuck into the ground.

But moments do not make a movie. Maybe if this was the only sequel, it would be more of a success, but after 3 movies of this stuff, changing the time period is simply not enough to keep it from feeling like you’ve seen it all before. In fact, the biggest surprise is a commentary track (by Wilson), as I believe it’s the first of the series to have one. It’s not a particularly interesting track; he points out a few bits that have been planned for earlier films (such as a guy on the top of a telephone pole that is being swallowed by a graboid) and interesting shooting locations (under the Hollywood sign!), but he’s also quiet and mellow, so good luck staying awake through the whole thing. The only other extra is a typical and clip-heavy EPK making-of, which is entirely skippable unless you wholeheartedly love the film.

What say you?

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The Caretaker (2008)

JULY 24, 2009


I grabbed The Caretaker to take to Comic Con mainly because it had no extras whatsoever, unlike the other films that I was watching (many of them rentals that I wanted to get out of the way). So it’s kind of funny that I learned the next day that it was at Comic Con LAST year that I got the damn thing; according to my friend Ryan, we got them in a gift bag or something. Good to know. Movie’s a complete waste of time, but at least I know how I acquired it in the first place.

The script isn’t the worst thing ever. There are some truly horrid lines and “jokes”, like a girl who for some reason doesn’t understand the term “female charms” in a double entendre setting, and repeated references to Myspace that make the film already feel dated, but the backstory is fine and the pacing harkens back to the older ones, where it’s half setup and half execution (as opposed to a “Kill every 10 minutes” structure that you get in most modern slashers). It’s a formulaic script, hitting every beat that you expect and doing very little new (it’s actually quite reminiscent of Prom Night IV, of all things), but there’s a certain comfort in that. Unfortunately, that comfort can only be obtained if the performances and direction follow suit, and in this movie, they most certainly do not.

Let’s start with the “actors”. Our only two names are Jennifer Tilly and Judd Nelson, and it’s pretty obvious that their casting blew the entire budget since the other actors are all amateur and terrible (not to mention that the film as a whole resembles a short film a real director might put on a DVD and say “Hey this is what I did when I was twelve.”). Tilly’s role is entirely worthless in the grand scheme of things, and if not for the fact that her cleavage is always on full display her scenes would be the absolute worst in the film. You could edit her character out entirely and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference, plus they carry an absurdist tone that the rest of the film lacks, making them stick out even more. As for Judd Nelson, well, he only has two scenes. And since one is early on, you could be watching the film on mute (not the worst idea) and know what his other one is going to be about (hint: he’s the killer).

Oh wait, the guy that played the Creeper in Jeepers Creepers also pops up as a limo driver who acts creepy for no reason other than to try to make you think that maybe Judd Nelson isn’t the killer. It doesn’t work.

Worse than the actors, however, is the film’s horribly cheap feel. A slasher movie should have iconic shots of its killer, if nothing else, but director Bryce Olson and DP Vern Nobles can’t even be bothered to give him a decent reveal. More often than not he just sort of lumbers into the frame without fanfare, and the terrible lighting means you never even get a good look at him. His weapon (a sharpened fruit picker) is pretty cool, but you never see it make an impact; the five or six drops of blood in this movie are on wounds that were already made. The non-killer stuff is just as bland; two-shot, two-shot, wide-shot, close-up... there is simply zero flair to anything on the screen. Plus it all takes place in a standard house that wouldn’t even make a good location for a porno, let alone a slasher film.

Again, the disc has no extras, so who knows what these guys were trying to accomplish. Other than possibly giving one pause the next time they go picking grapefruits, there is nothing in this movie that clearly demonstrates why it was even made in the first place.

What say you?

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The Manson Family (2003)

JULY 23, 2009


Of all the “legendary” serial killers, Charles Manson is probably the most widely known, but I’ve never really had any interest in his case. Someone like Bundy or even Charles Whitman is much more interesting to me, as there is a normal life and then a snap. Manson was seemingly crazy his entire life, and his claim to fame is that one day he told some of his moron followers to go kill some folks. But I recently took more of an interest due to taking part in a “ghost hunt” at a house next door to the infamous murders, where the ghosts of Sharon Tate and the others are supposedly haunting. I didn’t see anything while I was there, but it still got me to finally get around to watching The Manson Family, which I’ve heard about a couple of times and was sort of curious about even beforehand.

On paper it sounds like a great idea: It’s the whole-ish story told in a documentary style through the eyes of the followers. Manson is usually the focus, but since he’s not the one who actually committed the murders, other films have a strange disconnect where you’re following this one guy around and then the climax revolves around other people while he smokes weed at home or whatever he was doing. Indeed, Manson (Marcelo Games) all but completely disappears after the first 30 minutes or so, popping up only briefly in a handful of scenes.

And for a while, it works. The crazy cutting, insane sound design, and shockingly brave performances (particularly the Wil Forte-looking Marc Pitman) were quite compelling and unique; even succeeding in presenting an acid-induced state of mind. It’s sort of like a cross between the more psychedelic scenes in Natural Born Killers and the dinner scene from Texas Chain Saw Massacre, except for an entire film. But that’s also the problem. It’s not exhausting, it’s just tiresome. The rapid edits and super-imposed images and other assorted nonsense starts to feel less exciting and instead more juvenile, like a high school kid trying to be “edgy”. And Games' performance as Charlie (no one says the name Manson, for some reason) pales in comparison to Jeremy Davies’ from the TV movie Helter Skelter, which aired around the same time this film was finished.

Not helping matters is a ridiculous framing story about some punk kids planning to off the reporter making the documentary. Every now and then we have to watch them do their thing, and it completely throws the tone/pace off. Finally, the ending is just complete horseshit, they kill the reporter, and then each other after one of them explains what “Charlie Don’t Surf” means. I assume the point is to show Manson’s continuing influence on the scumbags of today, but it’s just such a poorly shot and acted scene that it fails to accomplish anything besides making an already overlong movie longer. Plus, it’s pure fiction, awkwardly edited into what seems like a fairly faithful recreation of what actually happened.

And when you consider the film’s production (at times more interesting than the film itself), it’s a wonder such things were even bothered with, as the money used to shoot/edit these scenes could have been allocated to improve the sections of the film that actually work. The film was shot without an actual budget; writer/director Jim Van Bebber would film when he could, over a period of ten to fifteen years (shooting and editing times are a bit muddled). He would show rough cuts at festivals to get money to shoot more footage that would be edited in for its next showing. I would have liked to have known why he even stopped shooting and finally said “it’s done”. There is no real narrative to the film itself, it is only dictated by what happened in real life, so it’s conceivable that he could have kept on filming to include well-known events that the film skips, such as Manson’s dealings with Brian Wilson.

So I dunno. I would certainly recommend seeing at least some of it, just for the sheer brashness of it all, but it’s sort of one of those things where you can watch it for 20 minutes or 4 hrs (it’s 95 minutes long, for the record) and come away with the same reaction. The film offers zero insight into the man, so Manson-philes won’t learn anything new, and the film is too “in its own head” for someone with zero knowledge of Manson to understand what the hell is happening.

What say you?

P.S. I understand there is a boxed set with a documentary about the film’s production, but this was a Netflix rental, so all I got was the film. The only extra on the disc is the trailer. If anyone has seen the doc and thinks I should check it out, by all means let me know!

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Messengers 2: The Scarecrow (2009)

JULY 22, 2009


Much like Martin Barnewitz’s last film (Room 205), Messengers 2: The Scarecrow has a few really good moments, but you have to wade through tedium to find them. Nothing about it particularly angered me, and I was never completely bored, but it failed to really resonate either; most of the movie left my head by the time I sat down to watch the commentary a few days later. One thing stands as a definite plus though - you don’t have to watch the original to understand it.

As PG-13 horror movies go, The Messengers was pretty much middle of the line. The central concept was fairly interesting (well, OK, the concept that the trailer discussed was - the whole “they only speak through children” thing wasn’t really prominent in the actual film), it introduced Kristen Stewart to horror fans, and gave a rare villainous role to the preternaturally charming John Corbett. Oh and the Cigarette Smoking Man was in it, so there’s something. But it was bogged down by some obvious tinkering, generic ghost gags, and an overall sense that no one involved was really giving a shit. So while it was watchable, it’s certainly not worth going out of your way to see just to ensure you are well-versed in the Messengers universe so you can enjoy a killer scarecrow movie.

In fact, I have yet to discover anyone that can definitively place where the film falls in relation to the first. By all accounts, this one is a prequel, but it’s not about the family that was discussed in the first film. No year is given - no one has cell phones or modern cars, but then again it’s about poor farmers so they wouldn’t have those things anyway. So really, other than “name recognition”, I’m not really sure why they bothered putting it in the series anyway - it’s not like the original was really loved, and the rating is now an R, so it won’t even attract the same fanbase. At least Boogeyman 2 (which I liked) had some ties to the original to ensure that the fans would be less disappointed by the fact that it was otherwise a completely different type of movie.

Because whereas the first film was more of a typical haunted house movie with some Eastern flare (courtesy of original directors the Pang Brothers, who were replaced in post), this is more a straight up “Careful what you wish for” supernatural tale, with a scarecrow seemingly killing people in the name of our hero, played by Norman Reedus. So like, a banker threatens to take the property away because Reedus hasn’t been paying his bills, and then he gets run over by a truck (this scene is AWESOME). In the morning, Reedus finds the guy’s wallet and gold watch underneath the scarecrow. A romantic rival is also dispatched, and also his crops have begun flourishing. There are no Messengers to speak of.

One flaw is that we’re supposed to suspect that Reedus may be going crazy and doing all the killings himself, but this never seems like a viable outcome. Given how the scenes are depicted, it would be a major cheat for this to be the case as it would mean that what we were seeing wasn’t really happening (shades of High Tension), so I never really entertained this notion. Instead, I just kept wondering when the damn scarecrow would come to life, which is probably why I found the film to be dull on more than a couple occasions. There are only so many times I can see Reedus find or see something peculiar, get a puzzled look on his face, and then get distracted by his wife or one of his kids to end the tension and his train of thought (the dude never follows through on a single unexplained event).

And I can’t really call this a flaw, because it’s simply not the intention, but I was surprised how humorless the film was. There’s a snarky line here and there, but otherwise it’s all taken very seriously, which is a surprise when you consider that the film was written by Todd Farmer, who wrote Jason X and My Bloody Valentine 3-D. Those films were imbued with a winking tone and a general sense of “Hey we’re here to have a good time, have a beer”, but that’s not the case here. I was sort of hoping for a more fun, 70s/80s throwback approach to the killer scarecrow storyline, but it was not the case. On the plus side, it’s good to know that Farmer is (unlike myself) capable of working outside of his comfort zone.

I certainly enjoyed the R rating-ness of it all though. There aren’t a lot of kills, but they are sufficiently gory, and there’s some wonderfully colorful language to enjoy as well. But the real surprise was the unabashed nudity. Reedus sees a woman bathing herself in the nude in the middle of his cornfield, and then later she borderline rapes him. Reedus and his wife also engage in a couple of sex scenes; one romantic and one rough. Outside of slashers, where it’s sort of a rule, sex scenes are becoming more and more infrequent in horror films, so when they pop up (heh) it’s a nice little bonus.

The only extra, besides Sony’s increasingly unwieldy trailer reel (this movie just came out this week - do we really need a trailer for Boogeyman 3, which came out over half a year ago?), is a surprisingly enjoyable commentary by Barnewitz and Farmer. Two incredibly interesting things are revealed right from the start - one being that it was the first time that the two men met in person (production communication was kept to Skype, Gmail chat, etc), and the other being that the film was actually just a slightly re-worked version of Farmer’s script for the first film! Apparently, his original script was heavily rewritten by others for the first film, so much that he was able to make a sequel using his pre-rewrite script, which has to be a first. He also discusses the film’s original (superior) ending, in which you would find out that Reedus had actually killed his entire family and had been talking to ghosts the whole time. Not only would this have been more interesting from a storytelling standpoint, it would also at least be more in line with the backstory that was given in the first film, and we’d only have to accept that Reedus became John Corbett. But back on point, it’s an engaging track throughout, and Farmer is one of the few writers I’ve listened to who is well-spoken and respectful when it comes to the subject of being rewritten. He also helps the Danish Barnewitz with some unfamiliar American phrases, and also explains what a gourd is.

The cover has two quotes, neither of which are particularly helpful or even really praise. One is just “The Shining Goes Country”, which is probably what the pitch was, and the other is “Bloodier Than The First Film”, which is a no brainer considering the difference in rating. I only wish they had come to me, as I would have said “I’m fairly sure that it’s marginally better than the original.” And then they could have taken the last four words and had a good one to use. Next time, Gadget....

What say you?

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Antichrist (2009)

JULY 21, 2009


You know, I probably won't write a full review for Lars Von Trier's Antichrist. It's just not my thing, it's pure art house melodrama with some weird freaky horror shit thrown in (the end credits list a "Specialist in Horror Films" or something like that - not something you see in a true horror movie, right?). No sense rambling on and on about it; just like I wouldn't bother to read an art house lover's review of Shocker, I can't imagine a full review from me would be of any use to anyone. In short: Not for the squeamish, very slow paced, and impressively simplistic (only three people appear in the film, one only for a single scene). That's about all I'll probably say on it.

What say you?


Nightmare City (1980)

JULY 20, 2009


Lots of folks like to blame Zack Snyder for “fast” zombies, despite the fact that Danny Boyle had them two years before in 28 Days Later. And Boyle may have gotten the idea from as far back as 1985, when Dan O'Bannon used them in Return Of The Living Dead. And given that film’s toxic/military explanation, it’s fairly reasonable to bet that he got the idea from Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City (Italian: Incubo Sulla Città Contaminata), which was released in 1980. In short, anyone who complains about fast zombies being some product of a post Michael Bay world really needs to shut the Christing fuck up and pay attention.

Of course, some, including Lenzi himself, would argue that these things aren’t zombies, and for once I can sort of see their argument. They sort of look like crazed burn victims more than anything else, and their penchant for using weapons, issuing “come on!” type orders to their brethren when they see victims getting away, and focus on the neck when it comes to eating (more like drinking) is outside the zombie norm. BUT, on the other hand, they only die when shot in the head, those they bite become infected, and a lot of the things they do seem ripped off from Dawn of the Dead, so I’m going to have to call this one a zombie movie. Sorry, Lenzi.

It’s certainly one of the faster paced zombie movies; no more than 5-10 minutes ever goes by without some sort of attack, often one on a very large scale. Hospitals, runways, hangars, etc. are the setting for scenes in which dozens of zombies wipe out dozens of random extras. And since they use guns and axes and knives and pokers and whatever the hell else they can find, it never feels very repetitious, because you’re always like “Huh, I’ve never seen a zombie slice a woman’s face off in one of these things.” The gore isn’t always the best, but the quantity over quality approach has a certain charm to it.

There are also a few Fulci Zombi-inspired scenes, including one where the wife of a major character is besieged in her own home. These smaller scenes are also pretty good; not only do we still get the unusual weapon-heavy kills, but they contain a bit of suspense as well. Since the movie’s pace is so breakneck, I was never quite sure who the main characters were, allowing me to suspect that anyone could die. And they often do, so win-win. Some aren’t totally successful though; there is one where our heroes (once I figured out that they were indeed our heroes) approach a priest and it’s supposed to be a surprise that he’s a zombie. Not only is it obvious from the way he’s just standing there, but it’s also botched from a technical standpoint - the way the actors are standing in relation to each other, there is no way in hell that she didn’t see the burns all over his face. Then he awkwardly spins almost 360 degrees toward her to “reveal” his face. Think things through, people!

Speaking of our heroes, I love these two, because during the occasional slow scenes they debate whether we are to blame for this mess (due to mankind’s insistence on having more power) and other existential and philosophical matters. It’s rare to see any sort of reflection or insight from a character in one of these things, so even though it’s a bit clumsy, it adds to the unique flavor this one provides.

Part of the clumsiness may be due to the half-assed dub job. The lip matching isn’t as bad as some others, but several lines have a strange vagueness to them that I found pretty distracting. For example, when an airport is attacked, the newscaster says “An attack at the major airport”, instead of “At JFK” or “At LAX” or whatever (Nightmare City does not appear to have a real world name). Some common phrases are also bungled, such as when a guy urges a panicked person to “Hold your socks on”.

One thing that wasn’t mis-translated was the name of the news studio - BWC! Those are my initials! Every now and then you’d see a guy reporting with a big graphic next to him that said “BWC NEWS” (instead of WBWC or KBWC). And it got me thinking - how awesome would it be to have a news station devoted to you-centric news and topical discussion? “Today, on BWC - BC’s chosen brand of ginger ale: does it give him gas? Then, join us for an exclusive one on one interview with the guy who sat next to him on opening night of Rob Zombie’s Halloween!”

The only extras on the disc are the overlong and quite redband trailer (boobs!), and a 12 minute interview with Lenzi where he talks about how the film seemingly predicted the AIDS outbreak. He also dismisses his lead actor (Hugo Stiglitz), which I noticed is quite common with these Italian maestros. I wish American directors were as frank; nothing would be more hilarious than seeing McG give an interview and be like “Oh, Christ, that fucking Bale guy...”. Italy: the REAL "No Spin Zone".

What say you?

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Vengeance Of The Dead (2001)

JULY 19, 2009


Last night, some friends and I were discussing Project Greenlight, and how only the 3rd season guys (John Gulager, Marcus Dunstan, and Patrick Melton) managed to make a career for themselves, while the winners from the other two seasons were never heard from again (Pete Jones made another film, which played a festival in 2004 and was released on DVD in 2007 - I haven’t seen it). So imagine my surprise when the opening credits for Vengeance Of The Dead revealed that the film’s DP was none other than Peter Biagi, the douche-y DP for Pete Jones’ Stolen Summer!

Now to be fair, the reality show editing process can make anyone look like a douche, so maybe the guy is all right. But the fact that I remembered his name from a show I watched 7 years ago should be a good indicator that he left an impression with his antics. Anyway, this was shot after Stolen Summer (or at least, it was COMPLETED after Summer, Vengeance seems to have been shot over two time periods), and on a technical level, it’s certainly a step down. It often resembles a student film, one shot in 1986 at that. More than once I thought I was watching The Dark Power, and wondering when Lash LaRue would step in and whip the shit out of something.

But it’s not too bad. At 72 minutes (8 of which are credits), it’s not long enough to really annoy or bore you, and there’s just enough weird stuff going on to warrant a look. For starters, the plot revolves around a ghost getting revenge on the 3 men who killed her in a fire. They are all old guys, and since she believes in equal revenge, this means that our setpieces all involve old men being immolated. So if you’re an MST3k fan, think of the climax to The Puma Man (“Burn, an old man, singe all his skin off!”) and times it by three!

The 2nd old man has the best one though, because of the damn near ten minute icky shower scene before it. His granddaughter tells him like five times that she’s about to take a shower, and then strips down and does just that. He goes into the room below it and looks at her undressing through a spyhole, while he planes some wood (that’s what the kids are calling it these days...). He then begins to fantasize about her doing some sort of aerobic routine while coming on to him (“you like this Grampa?”). I understand it’s Morgan Freeman’s favorite movie.

That’s just one of the many wonderfully batshit scenes/lines in the film. A radio report comes out of nowhere to tell us that someone shotgunned three kids, a kid who looks like he’s 19 talks about high school as if it were decades ago (he even describes it as “back when I had my whole life ahead of me”) before building a model rocket with his grandfather, and good ol grampa describes a guy as “a fella that surprised a lot of folks round here some years back when he killed himself”. It’s charming.

Less charming is the music, often ripped directly from 80’s era John Carpenter scores (The Fog and Prince of Darkness, mainly), as well as the really annoying “echo” that all of the (many) flashbacks have. The dialogue is kind of generic anyway, and this dumbass design ensures you have to hear it all twice. This of course, just helps pad the film out; despite its short length it has plenty of stuff that could have been tightened or removed entirely. Christ, even the shower/fantasy scene goes on too long. If a film has a scene where an attractive woman is seducing her grandfather, and I’M the one saying it’s too long, then you KNOW it’s too long.

The ending is particularly harsh. Not only do we find out the identity of the 3rd bad guy (which isn’t too surprising because there are only like 4 people in the entire movie), but our hero is immolated as well. His ghost gets to make out with the ghost of the woman that put him up to all of this though, so I guess it works out OK enough. Besides, he already graduated high school, so his life was pretty much over anyway.

As I watched this on Netflix instant, I don’t have access to the extras. Apparently the disc is jam-packed and includes a commentary. I wouldn’t mind listening to it, but time is, as always, a factor (even worse this week due to Comic Con) so that’ll probably never happen. So I’ll just assume its low points are the result of a troubled production and give a final vote of not too bad. More entertaining than Stolen Summer anyway.

What say you?

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Homecoming (2009)

JULY 18, 2009


Define irony: A film is made for teens and the youngest person in the crowd is a 29 year old guy with gray hair. Such is the sad fate of Homecoming, an independent “horror” film (teen thriller) that was released on two screens this weekend; its only press stemming from the fact that Mischa Barton apparently would rather kill herself than attend the film’s premiere. After sitting through it, I can’t say I blame her.

OK, to be fair, I’m sure the poor lass has other problems than appearing in a really lousy horror movie, but it certainly can’t help any. This is the worst kind of bad movie - the type that rolls along on rails, neither good enough to enjoy or bad enough to entertain. If credited screenwriter Katie L. Fetting was actually some acronym for a script producing robot, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. From the awkwardly structured scene near the beginning where our hero, driving a car, stops to let his girlfriend talk to her ex, to the final shot where our villain opens her eyes to assure us that she’ll be back for more (and that the film retains its strict policy on nothing interesting happening), nothing in this movie could be accused of being interesting or exciting. Christ, newborn infants can probably put the entire film together from its underwhelming trailer.

There are precisely three good moments in the entire film. In the first, director Morgan J. Freeman (the young independent one, not the older, granddaughter-fucking one) takes a shot from Halloween, as the film’s only likable character (played by Final Destination 2's Michael Landes) pulls a Sam Loomis and turns his head at the exact wrong time and misses seeing the very car he’s looking for driving past in the background. In the second, a crazed Barton swings an axe at a phone to prevent Jessica Stroup from making a 911 call, and then cuts her own leg when she pulls the axe out and dangles it by her side. It doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, but it’s an odd little moment nonetheless.

The third is the best though. Throughout the repetitive film, Stroup tries to escape (the film as a whole is sort of Misery meets Fatal Attraction, complete with broken feet) and Barton catches her. During the 3rd or 4th such sequence, Stroup manages to get out to her car, which is locked. In a panic, she sets off the car alarm, which just tells Barton where she is. Barton approaches her, and then digs into the pocket that Stroup is wearing, which has the car keys that Stroup neglected to look for. It’s nice to see such a generic scene have a new punchline. I also like to think that Stroup had seen all of the movies that this film was stealing from, and figured there was no way in hell the keys would be accessible.

I’d like to talk about Stroup for a minute. She’s fucking hot and a fun presence, but she keeps making bad movies (or TV shows). Can someone please get her a decent movie please? I may have been kinder than most to Hills 2 and Prom Night, but like Tiffany Shepis, I’m sick of saying “she is the only reason this movie isn’t Crap”. Hell, put em in a movie together. What hasn’t been remade yet...

Besides the generic-ness of it all, the real reason the movie fails is that it refuses to take any chances. It’s going out “unrated”, but the MPAA could probably be convinced to give this a PG if the filmmakers thought the rightful PG-13 would be too harsh. Mischa drops an F bomb and shoots (largely off camera) the guy you know is dead right from the start, because he’s the hero’s best buddy who has a thing for her. That’s it. She doesn’t die (again, her eyes OPEN! at the end), and despite having no reason to keep Stroup alive, she barely inflicts any harm on her (the foot injury was caused by the initial car accident, Barton merely makes it worse). Even after she kills the other guy in plain view of Stroup, Barton doesn’t bother to kill her. Why? She also keeps all of the incriminating evidence about the death of her mother (Barton poisoned her with some sort of plant mixture) in the house, complete with photographs depicting her slow demise that were taken for no reason other than for Stroup to find them I guess.

The fact that this thing is an independent film is the real shocker. You hear “indie horror” and you assume it’s got something that was too harsh for a big studio to ever dare to release. But Christ, even the theatrical cut (PG-13, in case you forgot) of Prom Night itself was more vicious, not to mention more mean-spirited (the death of her boyfriend was pretty harsh, as was the stabbing of her mother). I guess it’s nice to know that even the little guys are capable of making generic crap that panders to the CW crowd, but it doesn’t make me any less annoyed at spending 7 bucks (matinee, thank Christ) to find out.

Speaking of money, the most appalling thing that occurred during my time at the cinema was not on screen, but in the crowd. A few minutes into the film, a homeless woman entered the theater and took a seat. A guy who looked like an insufferable prick anyway instantly stood up and went out into the lobby, yelling “There’s a homeless woman in there!”. Now, this particular theater only has one entrance, manned by the ticket ripper. For someone to get into an actual screening room, you have to pass the box office, the ticket taker, and at least two concession stand employees. Not to mention, this woman wasn’t exactly svelte, and had her giant luggage roller thingie with her. In short - there’s no way in hell she “snuck in” - she clearly bought a ticket same as everyone else. And had Doucheface McFucknuts considered this before standing up and causing more of a disturbance than the woman did, he could have saved himself a walk and me a paragraph. Not that I can blame him for using any excuse to skip a few minutes of the film, but come on man. She’s a human being too, and if she wants to spend her panhandling money on a shitty movie, let her.

You’d really have to go out of your way to see this thing in theaters, so I won’t bother trying to dissuade you from that. Just make sure you aren’t fooled when it comes on DVD with a new cover, glamour shots of the attractive stars, and a big ol’ UNRATED! tag that will attempt to make you think you’re getting anything BUT a ball-less bore.

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