Wednesday, October 18, 2017

S is for Supermovie Antonio, or Thoughts on The ABCs of Death 2

So here I go again, reviewing the sequel before the original because I live dangerously, but you know how much I love a good anthology series, and The ABCs of Death 2 (2014) continues an intriguing premise; imagine Edward Gorey’s The Gashleycrumb Tines (1963) as a movie with 26 different directors presenting 26 10 minute horror film shorts.  The filmmakers were given no editorial direction other than their assigned letter and the death theme, and the result is a morbid mini film festival including stop motion, animation, and consistently superior movies from across the world.
Personal highlights include Julian Barrett, Howard Moon from The Mighty Boosh in B is for Badger, in which he portrays a documentarian filming radioactive badgers in the English countryside, and Japanese director Hajime Ohata’s O is for Ochlocracy (mob rule), which features a zombie world where the living are put on trial for their crimes against zombies.  Also French directing team Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo from Livide (2011) and Leatherface (2017) with X is for Xylophone (watch out for Beatrice Dalle), and the real reason I watched this movie before the first one, T is for Torture Porn, by my favorite Canadian twin directors, The Soska Sisters.






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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Heavy Metal Demons Rock a Haunted Hospital, or Thoughts on Dark Floors


A perfect movie for the Halloween season (though to be fair, I watch these kinda movies all year long), the Finnish horror movie Dark Floors (2008) begins like an extended Twilight Zone episode with 6 random strangers trapped in an elevator.  I will list them as archetypes because I couldn’t be bothered to look up their names, so we have the Security Guard, the Homeless Guy, the Angry Businessman, the Pretty Nurse, the Handsome Single Dad, and the Psychic Autistic Wheelchair Girl.  Once they get out of the elevator they find themselves stuck in a haunted hospital, where each floor gets progressively worse (or better/scarier, depending on your perspective).
There are CGI ghosts, but I’ve often said that CGI works best in a ghost movie and a group of demonic monsters that look like zombie heavy metal Klingon Orcs that seem to be after Sarah, the aforementioned Psychic Autistic Wheelchair Girl.  This is where the movie gets interesting; those Klingon Orcs are actually Lordi, a Finnish heavy metal band, think Kiss and Rob Zombie with a dash of Rammstein, and Dark Floors is essentially Lordi’s Kiss Meets the Phantom of The Park (1979). 
The movie is a lot of fun, and closer in tone to Silent Hill (2006) than Phantom of the Park, and largely works on the strength of the band’s impressive visual image.  I went down a YouTube rabbit hole doing research for this post; every one of their videos is a three-minute horror movie with a rock n’roll soundtrack.  From what I can tell they always appear in public in costume, and in the movie they’re strutting around in their every day outfits, which I guess is one way to save on production costs.









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Monday, October 16, 2017

Canadian Grindhouse (With No Apologies), or Thoughts on Dead Hooker in a Trunk

The movie debut of the Soska Sisters, also known as Twisted Twins Productions, writing, directing and starring in Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009), is all the more impressive when you consider that it was made for $2500.  And that’s $2500 Canadian, so maybe $2000 in US greenbacks, or another way to look at it is for the price of a crap used car or a couple iPhones you get to immortalize yourself and your sister in film and kickstart your film career by deliberately pushing every transgressive button you can cram into 90 minutes.
Think Canadian Reservoir Dogs (1992) with a dash of El Mariachi (1992), Dead Hooker in a Trunk sets up Jen Soska as Geek, the good twin and Sylvia Soska as Badass the (of course) bad twin, along with Badass’ best friend Junkie and Geek’s Christian friend-zoned Goody Two-Shoes.  The names are from the script, dialogue seems improvised and the cast is all too familiar with each other to actually use names. 
After a drunken rock n’roll night Badass picks up her twin sister Geek and find a dead hooker in the trunk of their supercool vintage 1969 Pontiac Firebird.  The rest of the movie is a grindhouse montage of drug deals gone bad, casual necrophilia, chainsaw fights and a whole lot of killing with a stolen police gun (don’t ask).  With a single camera (and what I assume are single takes), the movie skips around Vancouver with a punk rock soundtrack featuring local indie bands as the twins try to bury the hooker and find out who killed her, or at the very least, who put her in the trunk. 
Jen and Sylvia Soska would go on to make American Mary (2012), in which they had a cameo as a pair of German twins who want their left arms removed.  I mention this because there’s an arm amputation scene in this movie as well, it must be one of their themes.  Also watch out for Carlos Gallardo, the original 1992 El Mariachi, in a cameo as God.  There’s something for everyone in Dead Hooker in a Trunk.









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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Scalpels and Stripper Heels, or Thoughts on American Mary

Technically Canadian Mary, American Mary (2012) is a brilliantly subversive erotic medical horror movie and Frankenstein variation that’s grounded in reality, which makes the film all the more horrific and absurd.  Filmed in Vancouver BC, Katherine Isabelle (you know, Ginger the high school werewolf from Ginger Snaps, 2000) is Mary, a troubled med school dropout who starts out doing backroom emergency surgeries to pay her student loans and falls into the body modification community where she becomes a superstar, owing to her surgical expertise and artistic vision.
Oddly compelling and funnier in places than it should be (if you have a high tolerance for medical gore and surgical scenes), the movie is equal parts Audition (1999), David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988) and with a dash of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (the 2009 Swedish original or David Fincher’s 2011 remake, take your pick).  The movie features an uncomfortable rape scene that needs to be endured in order to get to the emotionally satisfying revenge scene.

  Watch out for a cameo by the directors, Jen and Sylvia Soska of Dead Hookers in a Trunk (2009) as a pair of German twins who want their left arms amputated and exchanged.  (They also want elf ears and subdermal demon horns, but I think the selling point was the left arm switcheroo).








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Friday, October 13, 2017

A Demonic Murder House But Hey, The Rent’s Cheap, or Thoughts on Amityville: The Awakening

Although technically a demonic possession wrapped in a haunted house movie, the most interesting feature of the house on 112 Ocean Avenue is that it’s actually there, the house, along with the 1974 murders exist, it’s arguably the most famous haunted house in America.  And yet random people who have never heard of the 1977 best selling novel or the eighteen subsequent movies continue to move in because of the cheap property values and the lakefront view.
The latest family in Amityville: The Awakening (2017) features Jennifer Jason Leigh, wasted as single mom Joan, along with Bella Thorne as Belle, the teen supermodel twin sister of coma paraplegic brother James, as portrayed by Cameron Monaghan, who you may remember as Jerome, the proto-Joker from Gotham.  There’s also a cute little sister and a giant German Shepherd named Larry, and it’s always a bad sign when I’m more worried about the fate of the dog than any of the human characters.  You know what’s next: flies, shotguns, and voices telling you to kill.

From director Franck Khalfoun of the far superior P2 (2007), it’s a nice twist to the horror family dynamic with the introduction of a coma patient to the mix, but it’s hard to accept Bella Thorn as the quirky outcast goth teen, she ain’t no Winona Ryder. 







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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Spree Killer Teens With a Secret, or Thoughts on Leatherface

You would think that PETA and the vegans would work out some kind of cross-sponsorship with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise because the central theme is humans treating other humans as meat, hanging them up on meat hooks and butchering them with the logging equipment.  The origin story for Gunnar Hansen’s iconic character, Leatherface (2017) is set in 1955 and features a chainsaw birthday party amputation and a death by falling engine block in the first ten minutes.  However most of the story takes place ten years later in an asylum where young Jed Sawyer (the birthday boy) has a new identity and is (maybe) being rehabilitated.  There’s a bait and switch as the audience is never sure who will become Leatherface; a group of teens escape, along with a pretty nurse hostage, the rest of the film is a variation on The Devil’s Rejects  (2005) as the group runs from the sheriff.  Watch out for Lilli Taylor from The Conjuring (2013) and I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) as Verna Sawyer, the matriarch of the cannibal clan from the Lone Star State.
I would expect more from directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo of Livide (2011), but I suppose they were held back by the mediocre (but canon) screenplay.  Filmed in Bulgaria (thank you Wikipedia), which I guess looks like Texas, the screenwriters continually refer to people as hillbillies, which if I’m not mistaken (I’m not) is a reference to people from the Appalachian and Ozark mountains which is nowhere near Texas (or Bulgaria).  Making a movie in Eastern Europe is forgivable, what with their cheaper production values and non-union crews, but bad writing takes the audience out of the story quicker than a falling engine block.











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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Steampunk American Narnia With a Dash of Marvel’s Nine Realms, or Thoughts on The Dark Tower

Full disclosure: while Stephen King was a favorite middle/high school author for me (I remember reading Salem’s Lot when I was Mark Petrie’s age), I could never get into and/or even finish The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (1982). I just couldn’t accept the author in the fantasy genre; I craved haunted hotels and New England monsters.  Even long dystopian walks were sketchy; I didn’t see him as a sci-fi writer, I wanted him to stay in the horror lane.  What did I know, I was a kid.
But this puts me in a unique perspective as far as the movie adaptation goes; I can view it as a Stephen King fan who is unfamiliar with the source work.  I understand that many readers consider this series his magnum opus, and even having no emotional attachments and only the vaguest idea as to what’s going on I feel I’m missing layers of nuance and plot in The Dark Tower (2017).  This is the bullet-points edit, call it Dark Tower Lite, and I was disappointed in how fast the movie moved, especially after the success of the It (2017) reboot.
British kid actor Tom Taylor, basically this decade’s Freddie Highmore, is Jake Chambers, a troubled New York tween with the Shining, just like Danny Torrance, who dreams of an endless battle between a Gunslinger, a Man in Black and of course, a Dark Tower.  He also has a promising career as a graphic novelist when he grows up, but that’s another movie.  This being a Stephen King movie, Jake has a tense home life, a strong bond with his mother, and an absent father.
But no worries, Jake gets chased by some ferret people with human skin, finds a portal to Mid-World and meets Idris Elba as Roland, the Last Gunslinger and Matthew McConaughey (alright alright alright) as The Man in Black.  I have known since high school that The Man in Black is also Randall Flagg in another novel, and honestly, that thought just made me want to see Matthew McConaughey in the as yet to be made The Stand movie adaptation.
Watch out for Fran Kranz as Pimil, one of the ferret bad guys, Dennis Haysbert as Roland’s father and Katheryn Winnick, who you may know better as the Viking shield-maiden Lagertha as Jake’s mom.  And wait for the director’s edit, this version currently has a rating of 16% on Rotten Tomatoes.









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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Do Green Screens Dream of Electric Sheep, or Thoughts on Blade Runner 2049



Ridley Scott wasn’t setting out to make an iconic dystopian sci-fi cyberpunk classic with his original Blade Runner (1982), he was just telling an updated film noir in a cool world related at least in terms of aesthetics and visual style to his previous film Alien (1979).  That’s what makes the movie special; it was just another Harrison Ford vehicle between Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Return of the Jedi (1983), and somehow, the casting, writing, art direction, music all coalesced into something unique that had never been seen before.  Fast forward to Blade Runner 2049 (2017), a very expensive production with the director from Arrival (2016) and Ryan Gosling, the 21st Century Harrison Ford, and watch the filmmakers as they attempt to recreate lightning in a bottle.

Ryan Gosling is K, a Blade Runner who is self-aware, that is, he knows he’s a replicant, that his memories are manufactured and he’s somehow less than human.  Except you know, this being Blade Runner, he also knows he’s more human than the actual humans.  He investigates the death of an old Nexus 6 model who seems to have given birth and on the way he runs into Jared Leto as Niander Wallace, the loopy cybernetic CEO who bought out the Tyrell Corporation and wants to create a new race of slaves (he gets the fiery the angels fell moment), a whole lotta killer replicants, and ultimately, Rick Deckard himself.  Watch out for cameos from Edward James Olmos and Sean Young as well.
The movie is very much a sequel to the original; it fills in the blanks after Deckard and Rachel leave L.A. while expanding the universe and retaining the aesthetics of and themes of the first film.  And therein lies the problem; movies have caught up with Blade Runner, every cityscape looks like this movie now, and the themes of artificial intelligence and the singularity have been explored in greater detail in movies like Her (2013), Ex-Machina (2014) and especially the 2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot (also starring, you will recall, Edward James Olmos).  It’s an interesting movie that will get lost in the glut of Ghost in the Shell (2017) future porn because we live in this world now.  But then again, who does?








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Monday, October 9, 2017

A Disco Firebug With Mommy Issues, or Thoughts on Don’t Go in The House

Don’t Go in The House (1979), a 70’s Argento clone, that is to say, a Hitchcock plot updated with nudity and gore (and disco!) features a killer with a homemade flamethrower and steel lined murder room.  He also lives in a creepy house that you…  Shouldn’t go in, hence the title.  Dan Grimaldi, who would go on to portray Patsy Parisi on The Sopranos portrays Donny in an early role.  An industrial accident involving fire and the untimely death of his abusive mother sparks (see what I did there) voices that command Donny to kill attractive women and, I guess, purify them in the flames. 
Don’t Go in The House can be difficult to enjoy with the juxtaposition between awkward flashbacks of child abuse and analog, actually dangerous fire stunts; it’s hard to watch kids in jeopardy, even if it was the 70’s.  Imagine an extended, not intentionally funny SNL sketch of a guy with a flamethrower chasing women to canned disco, and you’ll have a general idea what you’re in for.









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Saturday, October 7, 2017

How About Don’t Watch, or Thoughts on Don’t Sleep

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of all these movies ordering me around with titles like Don’t Say a Word (2001, Don’t Blink (2014), Don’t Go in The House (1979), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark  (2010), Don’t Breathe (2016) or Don’t Look Now (1973), the gold standard of these Don’t Movies.  The latest of this series, Don’t Sleep (2017) is a slow-paced psychological thriller with some supernatural edges featuring (and, some may sat wasting) a first-rate cast. 
British actor Dominic Sherwood portrays Zach, a law student suffering from demonic nightmares/maybe flashbacks (I told you, psychological thriller) while South African actor Charlbi Dean Kriek is Shawn, his art teacher girlfriend.  There’s a series of grisly murders around the neighborhood, along with Zach’s blackouts and a twist ending that makes sense, in a loopy, tacked-on kinda way.  The film plays like an extended X-Files episode, that is to say it would have benefited from some tight editing and a couple FBI investigators with a good on-screen rapport.
Watch out for Drea de Matteo as Jo, a neighbor and technically Shawn and Zach’s landlord, Jill Hennessy as Cindy, Zach’s mom, and Cary Elwes as Dr. Sommers, Zach’s therapist, not sawing off his foot in this movie.  It might have helped.








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Friday, October 6, 2017

Putting The Devil on Trial (With Apologies to Daniel Webster), or Thoughts on The Exorcism of Emily Rose


The inherent proposition of The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) seems mercenary or money grabby; is there an audience crossover between courtroom dramas and the relatively exclusive genre of faith based demonic possession movies?  If you’ve ever watched an episode of Law and Order and thought what this needs is a supernatural twist, then boy do I have the movie for you.
Jennifer Carpenter, who would go on to portray Dexter’s sister Deb, is the titular character and unlucky coed who speaks in tongues and is able, thanks to the actor’s background in yoga and gymnastics to twist into seemingly painful contortions.  After her death from a botched exorcism, Father Moore, as played by the affable Tom Wilkinson is put on trial and defended by Laura Linney as Erin Bruner.  The story is told from the witness stand and in flashbacks, just like your typical murder mystery, but with scary exorcist-y stuff thrown in.
Interestingly, the movie is based on the actual case of Anneliese Michel, who died from malnutrition and dehydration after an exorcism in 1975.  Call it a satanic Miracle on 34th Street with Santa (1947) or a reverse Oh God! (1977, with John Denver and George Burns as God), but nobody goes to a demonic possession movie because they’re skeptical, on some level we want to believe, that’s the whole point of making movies like these.  A debate on the supernatural and an actual medical diagnosis takes the fun out of demonic possession (a sentence I never thought I’d write). 










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Thursday, October 5, 2017

So I Guess The Point is Never Move In With Anton Chigurh, or Thoughts on Mother!

 Mother! (2017) can be interpreted as an arty home invasion movie, or an intellectual horror movie loaded with heavy-handed biblical metaphors that seem obvious and almost pedantic in retrospect.  Equal parts Dogville (2003), The Strangers (2008) and The Purge (2013), with liberal doses of Straw Dogs (1971), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Wicker Man (1973), the movie works largely on the strength of Jennifer Lawrence’s onscreen charisma and the fact that everybody loves Jennifer Lawrence.
America’s current sweetheart (nobody remembers Jennifer Anniston, Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Ali McGraw or Ally Sheedy) portrays the title character, referred to as Mother, perfectly happy restoring an isolated country house while catering to her famous author husband, known only as Him, played with suitable charming menace by Javier Bardem.  Their tranquil life is turned upside down with the arrival of Ed Harris as man and Michelle Pfeiffer as woman (note the lower case, it’s in the script).  Are you seeing the religious allegories yet?  I’ll give you a hint; Adam, rhymes with Steve, gardens…  And here’s another hint, how scary did the Old Testament get, and do you want to see a movie that goes Old Testament on Jennifer Lawrence?
I’ve never seen a Darren Aronofsky film that didn’t take itself so seriously; he has an undeniably visionary and surreal filmmaking style and enjoys these polarizing movies where there’s no middle ground, only love and hate.  There’s something to be admired in that attitude, but I don’t watch movies to be lectured by the director, and I couldn’t help feeling a little cheated by the whole experience, and you’re talking to a fella who’s seen all three Human Centipedes. 









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