Die-hard HMAD fans (let's pretend they exist) will recall that there have been TWO HMAD screenings of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 at the New Beverly, which is fine because it's awesome. However, for as far back as we did it the first time, I've been wanting to do the 3rd film, which I actually prefer. However, a previous inquiry turned up nothing - it seemed New Line didn't have any prints (understandable as it was not a very big, and certainly not a very popular, theatrical release), and I'd be denied yet another of my dream screenings. It's actually the only one I haven't gotten to see theatrically; I saw the two Dunes and the 3D movie during their initial runs, and I saw TCM1 via a couple of repertory screenings (and, obviously, I hosted TCM2).

Well score one for persistence! We tried again, and unless they're just being dicks, a print of Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III has been found and will be shown in glorious 35mm this Saturday, April 5th at 11:59 pm! And, I'm guessing for many in the crowd, it'll be the first time they saw it on film, as the release was even smaller than (the unrated!) Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and was pretty much gone from theaters after two weeks, ranking as the lowest grossing of the six Chainsaw films. The advertising budget was also seemingly atrocious; I was only 10 at the time, but I remember being confused that on the day it opened it was given the "also playing" type listing in my newspaper's movie showtimes section, usually reserved for movies that had been playing for weeks or even months to make room for big ads for the films that were just opening.

Then again, maybe they just spent all of the dough on this incredible teaser, which I remember scared me the first time around:

Whatever the reason, the movie found most of its audience on video, and clearly didn't kill the series: three films have been made since. Yes, the MPAA did quite a number on the movie, rendering at least one kill scene incoherent, but the movie still works despite that, unlike some other late 80s franchise entries (cough, New Blood, cough). The cast is terrific: Joe Unger, Tom Everett, and a fresh faced Viggo Mortensen are entertaining enough to (almost) not miss Bill Moseley or Jim Siedow, and RA Mihailoff made for an imposing Leatherface. As for the heroes, you got the lovely Kate Hodge and the immortal Ken Foree (this was actually the first of his films I had ever seen and I was impressed at what a badass he was; it's like thinking Bill Murray is funny based on his cameo in Little Shop of Horrors and THEN discovering Ghostbusters or Stripes). And TCM2's Caroline Williams pops up somewhere in there for good measure. The family unit is solid and the black humor ("F-O-O-D") is spot on, and at a scant 81 minutes, the fast pace keeps things exciting throughout, unlike the occasionally laggy part 2.

All of which should make for a kickass screening. I'm doing my best to get a few of the above out for Q&A; director Jeff Burr (who was the first "horror" celeb I met when I moved to LA!) has relocated to Georgia and thus won't be around, but I've been in touch with him and he is stoked about the screening and might be sending some goodies for the pre-movie trivia! Keep your fingers crossed! As always, the screening is at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, located at 7165 Beverly Blvd, two blocks west of La Brea. Street parking is plentiful, and tickets are a mere 8 bucks cash or card at the door, or online via Brownpapertickets. We kick off at 11:59 on Saturday the 5th - be on time so you don't miss a second of Leatherface goodness!

And give props once again to Jacopo Tenani, who designed the sweet poster below! If you'd like to post about the screening on your own site/Tumblr/Facebook, feel free to use the image - just be sure to give him credit and maybe include the link to his site to see all of the other great art he's done for us over the past couple years!

See you there!

P.S. Yes, I know you think I'm "wrong" about there only being six movies. The one with McConaughey does not exist as far as I'm concerned.


Machine Head (2011)

MARCH 26, 2014


Look, everyone around my age bought a Bush CD in the 90s. No judging, it's just what happened. And so anyone from that group will probably do the same thing I did when I saw the title of Machine Head, which is make a dumb joke about how it was based on a Bush song. But here's the kicker: your joke, and the damn song, is infinitely better than the movie, and you'd be better off dusting off Sixteen Stone (or even Razorblade Suitcase) and listening to it twice instead of watching this almost comically dull and clunky slasher/home invasion hybrid. I've seen worse movies this year (hence the lack of a "Crap" tag), but I don't know if I've seen one where I was constantly wondering if I was just having a rather bland dream. Surely no one actually MADE a movie this botched?

If I knew beforehand that it had been on the shelf for 2-3 years I wouldn't have been so optimistic. But then again, sometimes you just know within minutes that something is amiss, and this is one of those times. An opening sequence that has no bearing on anything else in the movie features a poorly executed first kill, and then we cut to our heroine, who has the shittiest tan I've ever seen (it reminded me of watching Star Trek in HD where you can see the Spock makeup falling apart around the ears) and is offering all of the exposition over her phone. Yadda yadda spring break, yadda yadda her dad's client's house (which looks a lot like the one she lives in, so I'm not sure what the appeal was), yadda yadda no boys allowed but of course her boyfriend and his two idiot friends are coming... etc. It's no more/less generic than any other slasher film, admittedly, but there's something abrasively phony about the whole thing; I kept expecting someone to yell CUT! and reveal that this was an INTENTIONALLY fake movie within the world of our real movie. That feeling never really went away throughout its 80 minutes.

The body count is 9 or so, but nearly all of them occur off-screen. I advise you not to put much stock in the cover, which has the trio of girls (or A trio of girls - their faces aren't seen so it could be anyone) all dirtied and with one carrying a bloody axe - they're all killed pretty quickly and cleanly, as the R rating for this film is due to language and brief nudity. And note I said nudity, not sex - the guys are all killed at once en route, so there's no sex after the intro where we meet the heroine and her boyfriend. Not that I'm the sort who needs a healthy dose of T&A to enjoy my slashers, but why bother with the spring break backdrop if you're not going to indulge? This could have been anything - even one of their birthdays - for all the point it had to the movie, which exists in a bizarrely empty universe. Even establishing shots are seemingly filmed in a ghost town, a peculiar approach for a slasher that is sort of set up as a whodunit (the killer is rarely seen, and his motive, even though it's meaningless when revealed, is hidden).

But that's nothing compared to the bizarre introduction of the heroine's two little sisters. They're played by actual sisters, making the fact that they look absolutely nothing like the main girl even more distracting. Worse, there's two of them but only one seemingly has any sort of presence, as if there was only one in the script and the other girl just kept stepping into frame, which just makes their inclusion even more distracting and odd. One of them is said to be a "demon seed" but apart from being bitchy there's nothing really "evil" about her, and besides ALL of the characters are kind of insufferable, which is a given since this is a modern slasher film made by people who clearly hate and/or have never seen a good one. The only saving grace from the guys getting killed before showing up at the house is the fact that if they DID arrive, there would almost certainly be some infidelity subplot to make us hate them even more.

And then there's the actual horror element of the movie, more broken than anything else. At times it's almost like witnessing a shared psychosis of some sort, as there's no physical presence for the killer until the final 10 minutes (beyond the opening, pointless kill and the quick bit where he offs the boyfriends), so you're watching a movie about a bunch of girls freaking out at every door creak or car engine outside or whatever. There are no stalking or chase scenes, the killer has no physical presence (you maybe see an arm or something), and the "twist" at who the killer is (or at least, why he's doing it, since again the killer himself is a non-entity) is ridiculous but not crazy ENOUGH. It's also the sort of reveal that would usually come along with flashbacks at how it all worked (like a Saw movie), but instead it just ends right then and there. "Oh, by the way, ____ is the killer." *Credits*

Fear not, the direction is just as bad as the script. My favorite example would have to be what sets off the movie's idea of a plot, which is when our car full of girls gets harassed by a cool muscle car on the road. It's like an early bit from Duel or Joy Ride or whatever; he's on their ass, tries to pass, they shriek "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" or whatever, and then he zooms off. What makes it special is that none of the footage matches at all - the wide shots showing both cars are clearly shot in a different area than the road we see in the closeups, and other cars behind the villain appear and disappear from shot to shot. It's bad enough when this happens with expensive 35mm cameras, but when they're using sub-par digital, there's no real excuse for it - they could have had 3-4 cameras shooting the sequence simultaneously to ensure some continuity when they cut it all together. This stuff almost appears to be from different movies entirely. Ditto for the lengthy scene of a cop walking around, possibly seeing the killer, realizing he's gone, and then driving off. We never see him again, so it doesn't even count as a red herring - it's just a weird way to kill 5-6 minutes in your 82 minute (with lengthy end titles and an admittedly decent opening title sequence) movie that has maybe 2-3 minutes' worth of entertainment in it.

In short, save your money for Glycerine or Little Things.

What say you?


Return To Nuke 'Em High Volume 1 (2013)

MARCH 23, 2014


Overall, my biggest complaint about Return To Nuke 'Em High Volume 1 is hinted at in the title - this is very much a volume 1 in that it just sort of stops at one point, without any real climax to tide us over until volume 2 comes along. Kill Bill definitely works better as one unit (and no, simply watching volume 1 and 2 back to back isn't the same - there's a small but key difference in "The Whole Bloody Affair" that makes the whole thing work so much better), but it had that big showdown at the restaurant, and the inciting action for volume 2. This has a weird sequence with some action, but hardly counts as a showdown, and then the movie just sort of hangs out with itself for another 15 minutes before the titles roll. Maybe if we had a firm release date for Vol. 2 (which is in post) it'd be less of a bummer, but leaving us in limbo is mean-spirited!

Because otherwise, this is actually a pretty delightful romp that lives up to other modern Troma productions and, in my opinion, easily tops the original Nuke 'Em High, which is one of my least favorites. I'm no expert on their stuff, mind you - I've only seen about half of their films (I don't count the ones they picked up; only the ones Lloyd directed himself or at least had a heavy hand in production), but of those this seems to be the most consistently entertaining and on point in quite a while. The benefit of splitting it up is that it would have been 2.5 hours or so, which sounds ridiculous but in reality isn't too farfetched an idea: Terror Firmer is 2 hours, and I feel I walk away from nearly all of their films saying that they were too long. This clocks in at a perfect 85 minutes, enough time to let the story (such as it is) breathe a bit, but without lagging all that much or going off on pointless tangents.

I truly enjoyed how it updated the scenario and more or less stayed in continuity with the original film (which we are given a brief recap of early on, earning a huge laugh by skipping over the sequels), even if it's sort of a remake. The school has been rebuilt and the power plant is gone, with a food conglomerate (Tromorganic) taking its place and offering healthy alternative food that is seemingly just made out of the leftover toxic waste. It doesn't take long for the student body to start turning into mutants; after a few isolated incidents (including a terrific sex scene gone awry, with melting bodies and such) the Glee Club is turned in its entirety into Cretins, and the usual sort of awkwardly paced but gloriously insane Tromatic carnage begins. It's been a long time since Kaufman helmed a feature himself (I believe Poultrygeist was the last one), and as I've said before - the movies he makes for the company are almost always infinitely better than the ones they pick up or that he merely produces (Cannibal: The Musical being a rare exception), so you know you're in good hands.

The humor is also on point; there are some truly tasteless jokes about Sandusky and the Colorado movie shooting, but as with South Park, pulling punches in some areas just make the other jokes more offensive in a way. I was laughing pretty often, particularly at the "so idiotic it's brilliant" bit where a bit of foreshadowing is followed by the shadow of a number 4 on a wall. I also particularly enjoyed the pair of teachers who are inexplicably arguing about Justin Beiber, pause to look at a burning student running down the hall, and then continue their argument. As always, you have to be in the right mood for it, but some of their films don't even work when you ARE in such a state, so when they nail it, it's worth noting.

It's also, I think, Lloyd's first digital film, and I'm happy to say it actually looks better than a few big budget digital films I've seen (Kaufman > Mann), not to mention offers more vivid colors than usual - all the better for any scene involving dismemberment or puke. The plot may be gibberish (and incomplete), but any scene taken on its own has every dollar of its meager budget on screen, qualifying it as a success. The only drawback: I was kind of sad to see that the shitty Troma logo has been retired in favor of a new high def one - why did they splurge when it was part of the charm? But fear not - even if it matches worse than usual, we still get to see the Kabukiman car flip, and everything else about the film lives up to Troma tradition (Lemmy pops up, male nudity is as common as female, Toxie makes an appearance...). It's a fine mix of old and new, and since digital is cheaper/faster (not better!), it proves to be a good fit for the brand.

I say that because as always, the extra features aren't exactly congratulatory - most of them focus on things that went wrong, Lloyd getting annoyed at one crew person or another, etc. There are three such pieces, and while they skip over the film's actual production (presumably being saved for Volume 2), it's almost amazing they got that far considering how many issues arose with figuring out effects, casting (poor Asta Paredes, the star of the film, is seen having to test chemistry with about a dozen actors. Translation: making out with a lot of random dudes), and having to use an old morgue as the film's production office. The two commentaries (one with the cast, the other with Lloyd and select crew) back up these issues with even more stories, thought it's not in an angry or bitter way - everyone seemingly knows what they signed up for and are proud of the finished result. In short, the tracks are fun and useful; there's no better way to learn about filmmaking than being a PA, and these tracks can give a glimpse of what you can expect if you wish to join the Troma team on their next production (if they ever came to Los Angeles, I'd probably do it). A quick teaser for Volume 2, a music video and a highlight reel of Lloyd's other films round things out - it's not as jam-packed as other Troma releases, but again I assume they're saving some of the meatier behind the scenes stuff for Volume 2.

Hopefully the 2nd installment comes sooner than later; not only am I legit excited about seeing it, but I suspect it'd be easier to sell audiences on this one if they knew when they'd get the rest of the story (The Hobbit made more money than it deserved, but I wonder if it'd have done as well if audiences weren't told in advance when parts 2 and 3 would be arriving). It's the first time they've attempted something akin to a serialized narrative (previous Troma sequels, such as Toxic Avenger 2, can't even decide if they're direct followups or parodies), and I'd love to see it pay off - maybe it can get Anchor Bay or someone to back an Avengers-style teamup with all the Troma heroes in one film (instead of quick cameos), offering a true celebration of the past 30+ years of their specific brand of demented horror comedy. With Lloyd pushing 70, I fear he'll retire without ever getting to make a true Troma epic, with a crew of passionate fans that have also had the benefit of 10-15 years' worth of DVD/Blu-ray special editions to prepare them for the less than stellar working conditions that have led to underwhelming productions in the past. I think it'd be glorious.

What say you?


Want to watch me die (twice)?

Since I'm being lazy with my Nuke 'Em High review, enjoy this trailer to tide you over! It was for something called Drexel Dance, which is a fake movie trailer competition that just had its 6th iteration. I was told to wear my most 70s-ish clothing and come to a dark alley in downtown Los Angeles, where I had to mimic a bunch of stuff I didn't quite understand - all I knew is that it would eventually look like I was getting killed by Brea Grant, so I was sold. So now I get it! And it looks pretty badass! It's the work of Jason R. Miller, who also directed/edited/did FX for the "Infected" short film I posted a while back (where I played a monster), and also just released his debut feature film Unidentified, which boasts end titles from yours truly.

Check it out below, and if you like it let him know on Twitter!


Dark House (2014)

MARCH 15, 2014


It's a shame Victor Salva is a deplorable human being, because it will forever overshadow the fact that he's got some strong ideas and is a technically proficient filmmaker. Remove his horrible past, and he's probably one of our "masters of horror" - but that's not ever going to happen. And so Dark House (formerly Haunted, as if that was any better) is the latest of his films to get a nothing release years after it was shot (2011 in this case), and unlike his last (Rosewood Lane) which I saw at a festival, this time I had the entire theater to myself. No one else wanted to take the plunge at 4:10 on Saturday afternoon I guess, and so I had one of my rare "private screenings" - the first one for a movie I actually somewhat enjoyed.

To be clear, it's not a great or even good movie. The plot's a mess, there's a bizarre, Dead Zone-y "if I touch you I will see the future" subplot that spoils nearly every kill (and, possibly inadvertently, the identity of one man's murderer, which should have been a shock), and this being a Salva movie you're often being subjected to young shirtless dudes, which is fine on its own but takes on a skeevy meaning when you consider his past (his victim in Clownhouse is introduced sans shirt). But there are some interesting ideas here, and the scare scenes that AREN'T completely spoiled by the flash-forwards are often suspenseful and exciting - the bulk of the menace stems from a group of shadowy "Axemen", who lumber around dragging their titular weapons and prove to be experts at throwing them into a target from dozens of feet away.

They're led by Tobin Bell, decked out in long brown hair (and a beard!), which gives him a more youthful appearance than horror fans are probably used to since he was always so sickly in the Saw films. Part of the fun is not knowing if he's a hero or a villain, so I won't spoil the answer here, but I will say that it's a shame he's not in the movie more - he disappears for a stretch after his introduction and only pops up intermittently after that. He's a commanding presence that is seemingly more choosy with his scripts than his modern horror icon peers (cough, Tony Todd, cough), as this is the first (released) film he's appeared in since the Saw series wrapped up in 2010. Good to see him again, especially since he's the only one in the movie I recognized besides Zach Ward and a cameo from the psychic lady from Jeepers Creepers, who runs a diner that our heroes stop at early on to get directions and a giant gob of exposition.

I got to thinking at one point, Salva is a lot like Wes Craven in that he has some really cool, fairly original ideas for horror movies but lacks a strong writing partner to get those ideas out clearly, since this movie approaches My Soul To Take-ian levels of "Whaaa?" at times. And like Wes, he has a crippling dependency on something that shows up in his films time and time again; with Wes it's the booby traps - with Salva it's out of nowhere exposition dumps and people who can see the future. The movie hides its true plot for a while and so I won't spoil it here (though I will say it seems Salva has been watching Supernatural), but the hero's ability to see how someone will die never really has much to do with it, far as I can tell. Yet the film stops cold early on to (sort of) explain how it works, with the obligatory "it doesn't always happen" explanation that keeps us from asking too many questions about how he's been able to go through life like this since he goes into near seizures when it happens (he wears fingerless gloves as well - I guess the power is in the palm?). As for the exposition, it happens over and over throughout the movie - someone will just offer up an entire history of a house or a mythological demon out of nowhere, and it's never NOT awkward. Library scenes, Victor! Let us read along with the characters!

Back to Jeepers, I couldn't help but wonder if he was cribbing some ideas from the seemingly never to be made third film. In addition to the future-seeing person (the old lady in the first, the girl in the 2nd), there's a strange obsession with the number 23, akin to that series' silly "Every 23 years for 23 days he feeds" thing. Our hero is 23, the route that they drive along is 23, someone says "23 is magic!", etc. At times it's more invasive than in that Jim Carrey movie, and much like the death visions, I'm not entirely sure what it had to do with the movie's actual plot. More successful is the forming of the group - our hero, his girlfriend, and their roommate are on the way to the house (which he just inherited) when they run into a group of surveyors (including Ward), who join them through thick and thin for the rest of the movie. It's the sort of thing you see in a lot of horror movies, where people tag along with total strangers and often get themselves killed rather than just be like "Hey, this is your problem, and I don't know you - goodbye". But here, there's actually a reason for it all, so I liked that, as it showed Salva actually puts some thought into justifying some seemingly unavoidable horror cliches.

Again, it's a shame he's a scumbag. I try my best to separate the "art" from the man, and it usually works - I know Chevy's an asshole, but I can still laugh at his role on Community even if I know he likely said something awful to a crew person before or after the camera started rolling. But Salva's crimes aren't forgivable (though, it should be noted that he did plead guilty and serve time for his crimes, unlike some others), and he seemingly dares you to be recalled of them with his frequent topless male characters (never/rarely females) and creepy sexual overtones (like in Powder when Goldblum says being touched by Powder was like the best sex he ever had), making it nearly impossible to separate the crimes from his films, which, if nothing else, are never cookie cutter genre filler. They might not be perfect (even the first Jeepers has problems), but they're always memorable, which is more than I can say for any number of other filmmakers in the genre. I wouldn't blame anyone for not wanting to support this or any of his other films (in fact I almost wish they were awful so it'd be easier to write him off entirely), but if you can reconcile your feelings about him and what he's done, you'll find something that's nowhere near as generic as its title suggests. That alone is (quite sadly) enough for some mild appreciation these days.

What say you?


In Fear (2013)

MARCH 9, 2014


It's a good thing In Fear had a making of that explained that the bulk of the movie was improvised, because otherwise this entire review would be based on my belief that this had a lousy script. There are some terrific little set-pieces in the movie, but overall it's a repetitive rehash of a few other films (Dead End, The Hitcher, Ils...) with a dumb reveal I'll get into later. It's a fine technical exercise (the majority of the movie is in the car) and the two leads aren't as obnoxious as some folks tend to get in such things, but is that enough?

For me, no. I mean, I was engaged for the first 40 minutes or so, enjoying the simple but effective tale of a couple (Tom and Lucy) driving to a hotel that is off their GPS, with their map being useless and the signs pointing to the hotel seemingly sending them in circles. But after a while it became clear that there wasn't really much to it beyond what we already saw, and my interest kept dwindling. They also blow their "running low on gas" wad way too soon - the light comes on relatively early, and they keep driving and driving without it ever really being an issue. At one point they pull over because they're supposedly just about out, but then something comes up and they drive more! Later the killer actually puts a can of gas in the car for them (heh), but by then they had already strained credibility far too much for a movie that's borderline documentary.

See, as we learn on the making of, there was no real script, just a basic outline. The film was shot chronologically, and the actors didn't know when they'd be pulled out (sort of like Blair Witch, but thankfully without the POV aspect). Director/story-writer Jeremy Lovering even tells of an incident where they got a flat tire and stayed in character as they made an attempt to fix it, assuming it was something that was set up - but it was an honest, unplanned accident. That's kind of a fascinating way to make a horror movie, and perhaps with a bit more of a structure (or more characters) it would work better. Alas, this scene isn't even in the movie anyway - instead we mostly get the two of them driving in circles as we in the audience wait for the next legit scare scene.

The scares are of the Michael Myers' stalking variety - their tormentor plays tricks on them (setting off the car alarm when they get out for a bit - watching the movie late at night as I did, this one was a good jolt) and sticks to the background. In my favorite bit, Tom (played by Fitz from Agents of SHIELD) goes out to take a leak and the killer starts approaching him, only to turn and recede into the darkness when spotted by Lucy. And he makes an aggressive move much quicker than I expected, so that provided another good scare. Alas, it all falls apart soon after that - skip the next paragraph if you don't want anything about the villain spoiled!

A few minutes later, they hit a guy in the road, and he claims to have been previously attacked by the same guy who is after them. If you've ever seen a movie before (even like, Toy Story or something would suffice) you'll know that he's lying and is in fact the bad guy (a real twist would be that he was telling the truth). No more kind of creepy white mask, no more stalking - just the usual mind games that lack any real weight since there's not much to the movie or the characters he's tormenting anyway. There's some incident at a pub that keeps coming up, and the full explanation isn't worth the wait - though it's still an improvement over the reason that they kept going in circles: the bad guy was swapping the signs around! I'm sorry, but most people have an innate sense of direction that should prevent this kind of thing from happening more than once, so I don't buy it. Plus at one point they give up looking for the hotel and decide to drive back to town and STILL end up returning to the same spot multiple times! All signs point to a supernatural explanation, so this was a letdown (a rare occasion where I wish they were ripping off Carnival of Souls again).

It's a bummer. This is the sort of movie that could have been a classic if the third act had delivered, but it just crumbles at that crucial moment, and what Lucy finds at the hotel seems way too elaborate for anything less than a full team of rich geniuses (which this movie doesn't have). I don't know if their improv skills just weren't up to the task or if Lovering didn't have a good idea for the finale to begin with, but either way it just didn't work for me. The Halloween/Strangers fan in me really dug the idea of a stalker/home invasion type scenario in a car, but I can't walk away satisfied from a movie just because the first 40 minutes were hitting my sweet spot. I'd be open to seeing Lovering (or anyone) taking this approach to another film, however - and again, kudos to them for doing something in a documentary fashion but without resorting to found footage. There's hope yet!

What say you?


LA: Lethal Ladies of Horror fest!

In 2011, I hosted a midnight screening of Drag Me To Hell, because it's an awesome movie that deserves to be seen with a big crowd - and no one showed up. To date I think it was one of the lowest turnouts I've ever had for one of my shows (Dr. Giggles was lower, but it was raining that night which is actually a thing that causes people to stay inside in Los Angeles), which bums me out because it's such a great movie. But, maybe it was just too soon - it was only two years and change after its theatrical release.

Well is five years enough? I hope so, because it's one of the three movies showing at the Lethal Ladies of Horror festival in Los Angeles, which is happening on March 29th at the Crest Theatre in Westwood. Doors open at 5:30, and the first movie starts at 6, providing a full night of retro horror goodness, with a plethora of special guests, giveaways, and other goodies. In addition to Drag Me, you'll get a 35mm screening of Night of the Comet in time for its 30th anniversary (with both of the lovely leading ladies in attendance), and (my favorite), John Carpenter's Christine - with an actual screen-used Plymouth Fury on hand for you to ogle and take a zillion pics of all night! It's a pretty great triple feature: all of the movies are fun and tackle different sub-genres, and in Drag and Christine's case at least, represent under-loved movies from genre titans.

You can get your tickets HERE and read more about the festival over at JoBlo, who is putting this event together (via Arrow In The Head) for all you fine folks. Should be a blast, and a relative steal at a mere 30 bucks (25 if you're SAG or a student!). Hopefully they can make this an annual (or bi-annual?) event with a different lineup every year. The "Lethal Ladies" concept certainly lends itself to plenty of options, and I like the mix of older films with newer ones you might not have caught in theaters during their original run (while Drag did OK, it certainly didn't break any records - nor did it do well enough to convince Raimi to stick around before heading back to blockbusters). Enjoy!


Blu-Ray review: Slumber Party Massacre

MARCH 6, 2014


While everyone focuses on streaming avenues and stripped down, "hit movies only" Redbox type affairs, god bless Scream/Shout! Factory for continuing to deliver top notch special editions of even the junkiest movies, catered to hardcore horror fans and pretty much no one else. Most companies probably wouldn't have even bothered to release Slumber Party Massacre on DVD at all, let alone put together a new retrospective and commentary track (which they did in 2010, along with the two less-good sequels), but they've gone back and put together a new transfer (and a new bonus feature!) for a BLU-RAY release of the movie. That's commitment to the customer.

SPM is definitely a love or hate entry in the slasher boom of the early 80s; the film's confused production history inadvertently created something quite unlike anything else at the time, even if on the surface it seems like one of the most generic offerings in the lot. Depending on who you ask, the movie was either written as a parody of such movies but filmed straight, or was a horribly cliched script that was given a comedic makeover during production - either way it resulted in something that toes the line between parody and straight even better than Scream in many cases. I'm more inclined to believe the former version; screenwriter Rita Mae Brown is renowned for her feminist work and doesn't seem the type to do something like this unless she was actively commenting on it. I suspect director Amy Jones (who lays claim to the 2nd version) just missed the joke and realized it later, rewriting history to save face. Maybe I'm wrong, but it just seems to me that if they were trying to make it funnier during production, it'd be more overtly comic, rather than just occasionally weird.

Ultimately I don't really care - we have a slasher movie where a character puts a pizza box on its dead delivery man to use as a makeshift table while she grabs a slice. Whatever strange combination of "comedy" and "horror" it took to get us there, it was worth the effort (likewise for the hilariously over-the-top shower scene, where the camera lingers on each girls' breasts and rear end for an eternity - again, this is a movie written and directed by women). At 77 minutes with credits, the movie doesn't have much time for a real narrative or deep characterization; in fact it's actually a lot like Halloween in many ways, albeit without the stigma of a real franchise hanging over it (the first sequel is barely related, and the 3rd isn't at all if memory serves). Russ Thorn escapes from an institution and sets his sights on a few girls, kills many of them and their boyfriends, gets killed twice, and the movie ends. There's even a few moments that seem directly swiped from the film, like when the killer partially steps into the right side of the frame as one of the heroines walks off to school on the left - on the commentary Jones claims the script was a Friday the 13th ripoff, but it's plainly clear that Brown was borrowing from Halloween first and foremost.

It's also somewhat overpopulated - there are SIX girls (four at the party, two next door) and three boyfriends, plus the world's most dedicated gym teacher and a goofy neighbor (the pizza boy is dead when we first see him, so we can't really count him as a character). And that's not counting the two ladies Thorn kills at school before the party even begins (our body count is 11, which is pretty excessive for the time as most - including the first Friday - were under 10), which gives the movie a bit of a disconnect. The late Robin Stille is more or less the Laurie Strode character who sits out on all the fun and finally goes next door when things start looking suspicious, but during all the pre-party scenes, it's Michele Michaels (possibly late as well, she disappeared off the face of the earth, it seems) who we follow around, see talking to her parents, etc. Stille's involvement is minimal, and the climax has no choice but to make her AND Michaels the heroine (plus a 3rd character, Courtney - who was the one to appear in SPM2, albeit played by a different actress since this one disappeared as well). Nothing wrong with letting more than one character live for a change, but when she's barely been in the movie or interacted with the other characters, it feels disjointed and sloppy.

I know it sounds silly to make a real critique about this particular movie, but I only do so because I think they were close to hitting a legit home run here. First off, Michael Villella gives a great performance as the murderous Thorn; he had some method actor idea of acting like a peacock, and goofy as it sounds on paper, it works like gangbusters. He creates a memorable character despite not being given a costume or mask - he's just wearing regular guy clothes, with only his drill and peacock-esque head bobbing to set him apart from any other male character. And the girls are all likable and seem to genuinely care about one another, rather than the sort of backstabbing and squabbling that you see too often today. The kills are hit or miss; I loved the guy getting drilled from behind and the shock kill when the girl gets it to the throat when she opens the door. Pointedly, most of the female kills are off-screen, or the impact is below the camera frame - while nearly every male death is shown in all its glory. Maybe it only works subconsciously, but this approach keeps the movie from feeling too sleazy (after all, the drill is quite obviously a phallic symbol), always staying on the side of fun even when they're not actively joking about this sort of thing.

As mentioned earlier, this special edition was released on DVD a few years back, and this Blu debut carries over those bonus features: a commentary with Jones, Villella, and Debra Deliso (she plays Kim, the one in the basketball shirt), moderated by the guy who runs the fan page, and a retrospective featuring the same plus a couple others (again, of the three leads, two of them have vanished and the other is deceased, so don't go looking for too many of the girls). The commentary is fine; the fan page guy could use some tact with regards to Ms. Stille's suicide (he comes off like he's complaining that the details aren't public) and occasionally just butts in with nonsense about someone's hand position or whatever, but otherwise he keeps Jones and the others talking about the usual stuff you'd discuss about a movie you made 25 years ago (meaning, vague memories about where things were shot, things people have said to them about the movie over the years, etc). Jones sometimes gets her facts wrong ("I'm the only female that's ever directed a slasher" she claims, then is reminded that the sequels were directed by women - no one mentions Freddy's Dead) but they're all good sports about the whole thing, with Deliso proudly telling stories about how some of her students (she is a dance teacher) saw the movie where she bares all, while someone else points out that one of the other girls had the film removed from her IMDb at one point. Never got why some folks are so ashamed of their horror past - if George Clooney can laugh about being in shit like Return to Horror High (or Batman & Robin) then there's no reason someone can't admit to being in Slumber Party Massacre when what they're doing now is hardly much better.

The only new feature, besides a top notch transfer (a few Scream releases of late have been a bit disappointing, but this one is glorious - the aforementioned shot of Thorn on the right of the frame watching Michaels walk to school looks like it could have been shot 30 minutes ago instead of that many years), is an interview with Rigg Kennedy, who played the neighbor. I wouldn't dare to spoil what the piece is like; I'll just say it's like nothing I've ever seen on one of these releases, and will likely never be topped. Holy shit. There are also trailers for all three movies (probably carried over too, I can't recall); the first is worth a look to A. appreciate how good the film's transfer is in comparison and B. enjoy a brief appearance from The Cars' "Moving In Stereo", which obviously doesn't appear in a cheap Roger Corman production. Hopefully they'll see fit to do the same for the sequels down the road - if I recall the transfers on those left a lot to be desired, and they've clearly improved their ability to find people they couldn't get last time (even if they're completely fucking nuts), so upgrades would be worth the time if this one proves to be a moneymaker.

What say you?


The Den (2014)

MARCH 1, 2014


As much as I love gizmos and tech stuff, I've never found much use for webcams and the like; my laptop came with one built in and I've never used it, and my work phone has one that I turned off. It's not a privacy thing (though I AM afraid of them turning on when I'm sitting there in my underwear, or talking to my cat in a baby voice), but just a lack of interest really - and movies like The Den sure as hell don't make it any more enticing. The title refers to an online service not unlike Chat Roulette, which our heroine is doing a study on when she starts getting weird messages and people start dying. So it's sort of like Smiley, but with one key difference: it's actually pretty good.

Oddly, heroine Melanie Papalia also appeared in Smiley (as the main girl's roommate, if the memory I try to block is correct), so it makes the comparison even more fun. Part of what makes it work (and this will sound ironic coming from me) is that it takes on the guise of a POV/found footage movie, in that just about everything we see is from a web-cam or a cell phone - you'll be looking at a desktop for hefty chunks of the movie, with Papalia chatting over the video thing while also IMing or sending emails. This made the movie a delight to watch on my computer (via screener link - no one will send you a DVD anymore, sadly), as I often had trouble telling her desktop apart from my own (as I was also multitasking on occasion), which was probably part of the point. I wouldn't be surprised if a few of the random video chats she stumbles on (and quickly exits from) were legit strangers, or at least, recreated encounters with people who signed a release form. It's even how plot points get introduced - when she needs a gun, she looks up a Youtube video on how to load it, which plays in one corner of the screen while we watch her try to do it in her chat window.

If you haven't used Chat Roulette, it's kind of fun - you basically sign on and get connected to any random person also using the service. Some folks are there to chat, but most play pranks (guys love to jerk off or dance around in drag, for some reason), which feeds into the narrative of the film. Papalia's character, Liz, gets connected to a girl who mysteriously doesn't have a video but just a photo for her chat sessions, and the encounter is a bit strange. Later, the account shows her what appears to be someone's murder, but given all the pranks she's not sure whether to believe it or not. Of course, when she DOES start believing she's in danger, no one believes her for the same reasons she initially had, so you get a pretty typical paranoia-driven horror thriller, and anyone who saw Smiley will of course be dreading the fact that it IS all a sham. Luckily (inverse spoiler?) it's not - and the body count is pretty impressive by the end, driven up by a couple of effectively unnerving slasher scenes where we can see behind people, or THINK we saw a person in the corner as the camera/phone is waved around by the person holding it.

Having seen some eleven million slasher movies in my life, I'm always impressed when someone tries a way of doing them that essentially paints them into a corner. A traditional slasher sequence will have cutaways, POV from the killer, long shots... this doesn't usually have those luxuries. One in particular is from a woman who is awkwardly holding up a cell camera to her face as she walks around the house, and part of what makes it so scary is that you CAN'T SEE ANYTHING. So instead of the usual "Don't go in there!" type things you want to yell at the screen, you might find yourself shouting "Zoom the camera out!". Plus, and this was something Smiley failed miserably at, the "Den" plot device has a built in way of relieving tension - after a death, whenever Liz signs back on to her computer, there's always another prank or goofy image (a penis puppet makes several well placed "cameos") to lighten the mood a bit.

I just wish it didn't get all torture-y near the end. Even though the MO has been to kill people in their home or whatever, for some reason the villain opts to tie up Liz and another character and bring them to a dungeon. I've seen a found footage torture movie (The Butcher), and I'm not saying it can't work - but it seems out of place here, as if they didn't know quite how to end it but had blown their wad with slasher scenarios in the first hour (it's a pretty short movie, by the way). Another grip is the occasional moment that feels like a supernatural element is in play - I swear a camera just floats itself around the room at one point since the only other accounted for character is in the frame. They also should have introduced the idea of remote desktop control in a normal way, since when the villain does it it just seems like he must be in the room (if you're unfamiliar, it's possible for someone to take full control of your machine from another location - even typing out an email in real time). She has a web-savvy friend that pops up a few times - maybe if he had used the RDC for something legit (it's for IT services) it'd be a smoother transition for when the villain uses it.

Otherwise, I found it to be a pretty effective little movie. Papalia is a lovely presence and easy to sympathize with, and again the base similarities to such a bad movie made this one look all the better. I also loved the epilogue, which does away with the POV stuff entirely in favor of a pretty chilling little stinger that hammers the point home (may be a bit on the nose, but it's nowhere near as much overkill as Serbian Film's final dialogue exchange, which treads the same water). As with Smiley, I don't think Chat Roulette type things are really popular anymore, which dates the film a bit, but with so much anonymous connecting still happening via Facebook, Twitter, and everything else, the general idea is still quite relevant, and unlike say, Chain Letter, none of the tech on display is noticeably dated at the time of release. In five years, The Den might be a relic, but for now - it's a pretty inventive way to worm into the "found footage" craze while actually having something to say.

What say you?


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