If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.


The Dark Tower (2017)

AUGUST 3, 2017


If there's one benefit to my depressing lack of free time, it's that it leaves next to zero opportunities to revisit even a movie that I love, let alone a book. And so while I consider Stephen King's series of Dark Tower novels to be among my favorites of the form, I've only read them once, over a span from roughly 2001-2005 (and I still haven't gotten around to the 8th entry, The Wind Through The Keyhole). And - as memorably/ridiculously depicted in King's own Dreamcatcher - the more stuff I take in, the more I have to unwittingly purge from my memory, which means keeping recollections of the stuff I watched last month resulted in my memories of those books (especially the first ones) being reduced to almost nothing. Long story short, if the movie version of The Dark Tower left me cold or angry, it wouldn't be because they changed the name of a supporting character or skipped over a subplot, because I can't remember those things anyway - it'd just be because it wasn't a good movie.

...The Dark Tower isn't a good movie.

Let's get the positives out of the way. Idris Elba has been a magnetic screen presence for quite some time now (I never watched The Wire; my introduction was as Hillary Swank's partner in the OK but largely forgettable The Reaping, and even that thankless role was enough to know he was someone to watch) and he was a fantastic choice to play Roland. I mean he's a fantastic choice to play pretty much anyone (a compliment I rarely bestow on an actor; incidentally one of the few others is Ed Harris, who was my dream choice for the character when I first read the book, but obviously that was nearly 20 years ago and now he's probably "too old" for a studio), but his particular skill at commanding your attention is invaluable here, in a movie that races past things like "character development" or even "introductions". Even someone who had never read the books or even heard of Elba before would likely know he was going to save the world the second he appeared on screen, so his casting paid off in multiple ways.

And... well I guess that's it. I mean I guess I can talk more about Elba, like how gets to show off his rarely utilized comedic chops in a few scenes when his character enters "Keystone" (read: our) Earth, being confused that animals "still" talked (off a commercial featuring talking raccoons) and offering a coin to the ER nurse who rattles off his list of ailments. But honestly, no one beyond racist assholes thought Elba would be to blame if the movie didn't work, and it's a waste of typing breath to point out that he's the main reason the movie has any value at all. I wish I could say the same about Dennis Haysbert, who plays Roland's father Steven, but if you've seen the trailer you've already seen a good chunk of his appearance (he's only in that one scene) and the movie doesn't firmly establish that it's his father until Jake says so later, rendering their scene a total misfire unless you know who the character (never introduced by name; someone said he does indeed say "son" at some point but I didn't catch it) is and what significance he has to the storyline. Given that the actors are only 18 years apart in age (and Haysbert has aged well, so they don't even look that far apart), and the character in the books died when Roland was fairly young, I myself wasn't even sure if it was supposed to be his dad or just some friend of his - can't imagine what a newcomer would think.

In fact, that's largely the entire problem with the movie: it bends over backwards to not be impenetrable to newcomers, and yet it still pretty much is, because nothing is clarified or given any weight. It's only my spotty memories of the books that allowed me to keep up at times; for example at one point Matthew McConaughey (as the Man in Black) picks up one of the fabled colored spheres from the books (collectively known as Maerlyn's Rainbow) and uses it, but at no point are their function explained (let alone his quest to obtain them). He just picks one up and does magic-y shit and Joe Moviegoer is, I guess, expected to just assume he has different colored ones because he likes to mix it up a bit. Now, if they have a different concept for the spheres in this version of the story, that's fine - but tell us what that is! I shouldn't have to be filling in blanks myself, especially when they've established how much different this version is from the novels.

Before I go further I should stress that changing things from the novel is not something that angers me, as long as it's done right. As Quint from AintitCool pointed out, if Spielberg made Jaws exactly like the book it would not be the masterpiece film that it is, and I find a number of adaptations flounder the more they try to cram in every single line/character just to appease fans, rather than do what works for a movie. Even if I knew the book inside and out I wouldn't care that they were "remixing" it; if anything I'd be happy about it because it would allow me to be surprised at its developments. The Walking Dead takes the right approach, I think - they use the comics as a very loose road map ("OK, time for Negan to show up") but the specifics all change, allowing comics readers to be surprised when, say, Andrea dies on the show when she was still alive in the comic that was further ahead.

So, again, my issues with the film are not because they changed things - but that I was never sure if the blanks I was filling in still applied. If this version of Man in Black killed Jake's mom and stepdad (his real father is dead and not a business tycoon, another book change), was he still involved in Roland's mother's demise? Could that be something that Roland and Jake bond about? Well who knows, as Roland's mother isn't mentioned - but that's the kind of thing I kept wrestling with throughout the movie, while also wondering if a non-reader could even understand the Man in Black's importance beyond "Well it's Matthew McConaughey and he dresses in black so he must be the villain." The film offers him no real introduction; we first see him in a quick, wordless shot watching some other unexplained events in an opening scene, and his quest to kidnap gifted children to help destroy the titular tower is hastily explained at best. Jake plays zero role in the final battle since he's tied to a chair, so there's no arc or revenge to the whole "dead parents" subplot, beyond (spoiler) making it OK for Jake to stick with Roland at the end instead of going home to his mother. It's not the worst idea to make Jake the central character and let us see the story from his eyes, but doing so robs both Roland and The Man in Black of the time that should be spent explaining who they are, why they are enemies, etc. When they show up, it's really only our attachment to the actors that gives them the weight they deserve.

Another huge problem is that they fail to establish Mid-World as the strange and vast wonder we've come to know from the books, and to a non-reader audience it will just look like some generic post-apocalyptic desert world. The movie is only 95 minutes with credits (so, really probably under 90) and a big chunk is set in New York, so there's not a lot of time spent in Mid-World anyway, but what we see isn't exactly impressive. A decaying amusement park, a little outpost with huts/tents, and one isolated city that reminded me of New Otherton from Lost is pretty much all we see of it, and no one seems to be taken aback when they travel from their native world to the other. Roland has some brief fish out of water moments when he goes to New York, but the Man in Black seems pretty much right at home when he goes there, and Jake has literally no reaction when he goes from Earth to Mid-World. For an epic fantasy, the movie is totally lacking in anything that inspires awe; Roland looking around New York has more gravitas than anything else, and we've seen Times Square a million times.

Frustratingly, the filmmakers skip over all of this stuff, but go out of their way to shoehorn in references to other Stephen King books. For the uninitiated, most of King's books share a universe not unlike the Marvel films, and the Dark Tower series is the backbone of that continuity. So it makes sense that they'd throw in a few nods, but most of them are just completely extraneous and downright insulting when you consider everything from THIS story that got excised. Cujo walking by is a fine little gag, and Jake's sensory powers referred to as "the shine" is acceptable, but why the hell would a 15 year old kid have a toy car (i.e. Christine) in his room? Why would a New York gun shop have a Rita Hayworth poster? I wish I was there when a prop guy was told to make a sign saying "Barlow & Straker's" in a movie that can't bother to include the rose in any meaningful way. Due to studio rights these things aren't going to pop up in sequels (if it gets any, which is doubtful), so I am baffled that they went out of their way to sneak in all of these references instead of focusing on the story they were actually telling.

I realized later that the movie felt like it was on 1.5x speed. It's got all of the elements and beats for a successful story, but it races through them so quickly that nothing really registers. Roland doesn't want Jake around at first, doing the whole "Leave me alone kid, I have a mission and you'll slow me down" kinda thing that we've seen in 80,000 other movies. Watching them bond over the course of the film might not be original, but it would at least be enjoyable... if he wasn't being a father figure like, seven minutes later. He flat out HUGS the kid roughly thirty minutes of screentime after they meet, which might work if those thirty minutes focused only on them and no one else, but in that period we cut to McConaughey a few times (he's in the movie way more than he should be; he actually gets top billing for the crawl), some folks in the town they visit, etc. Ditto for the villainous plan - it's all explained, but in bursts of exposition that fly by so fast you're not sure if they're important or if it's just filler dialogue before the real meat of the conversation begins. At one point I checked my watch not because I was bored, but because I had to verify that the movie really was almost over as it seemed to be based on where the story was headed, because it actually seems to go by faster than the brief runtime already had me prepping for. When it ended my initial feeling was "That's it?", which in some ways is worse than "Jesus what a disaster!" or even "Worst movie ever made!", because at least that would be memorable.

The saddest thing is that I knew it was doomed right from the second it began. Even the most casual fan of the series would probably remember "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed..." as the opening line and sort of rallying cry, and would expect it to be the first line in the movie. Even if they changed everything else, you'd think they'd get that much right. But no, it kicks off with gibberish exposition via text crawl (never a good sign), and the "man in black fled..." line appears later, tossed in at random just to appease fans I guess (I'm not sure if we ever see the Man in Black in the desert at all, let alone fleeing). So I knew right away to drop my fanboy appreciation for the novels and just let the movie take me where it wanted to go for this particular incarnation. Alas, it didn't take me anywhere; it just raced through a bunch of half-assed moments from the books, staged with almost zero energy (you've seen every cool action moment, trust me), and stopped to throw in a King-related Easter Egg every five minutes, most of which are from novels that got turned into far better movies than this. A crushing disappointment no matter how you slice it.

What say you?

P.S. No, it's not horror, but my other site has covered the movie plenty and I hadn't updated for a while, so you get a bonus "non-horror" review. Ironically one of its only decent scenes involves a monster, though.


Wish Upon (2017)

JULY 14, 2017


I know I'm not the target audience for teen horror movies, so all I really ask of them is that they're OK enough timekillers and something I can watch with my son in a few years when I deem him old enough for PG/PG-13 fare. But I'd rather he went out and got laid than stayed home wasting his time and insulting his intelligence with Wish Upon, a hopelessly sloppy "Monkey's Paw" variant that can barely get the basics right, let alone what little it adds to the table - I'd wait until he was old enough to get drunk with me and "appreciate" nonsense like this. And by that I mean also laugh at (not "with") all of its clunky writing, at times abysmal direction, and shockingly horror-lite approach to this sort of thing.

In fact, one of the two nice things I can say about the movie is that it doesn't have any fake scares or even that many BOO! moments at all - everything just kind of happens with a shrug, usually telegraphed (poorly) long before it actually occurs. At times, director John Leonetti (Annabelle) and screenwriter Barbara Marshall (co-writer of the pretty good Blumhouse "Tilt" release Viral) throw in some mild Final Destination-y suspense to the proceedings, but otherwise it's only a horror movie in the technical sense - there is only one or two moments in the movie that might make even the least discerning teenage audience shriek, but even they might just laugh at it instead (like I did, sober and by myself at a 10:30 am screening). I give them credit for not falling prey to the "We need to get them jumping every five minutes!" mentality that has sullied any number of horror films aimed at the younger set, but they went too far in the opposite direction.

And that would be fine if the story and characters were involving enough to not even notice, but the script (or, at least, this representation of it - more on that soon) never gives its solid cast anything to work with, and everyone is a stereotype. Our heroine (Joey King) is a high school outcast with two friends of similar social standing, and since she's brunette her class nemesis is a blonde girl of no other distinction, and pretty much everyone else exists only to serve as a victim to the wish box's hazily explained rules. See, this isn't the usual "Monkey's Paw" kind of thing where the wish comes back ironically (like, you wish for someone to be alive and they come back as a zombie) - she gets her wishes and they work as intended, but later on (there's no rhyme or reason to when) the box will open and play some music, at which time it kills someone who had nothing to do with her wish, and in some cases is so unnecessary to the narrative that no one notices they're dead for a few days. There's no real reason for this other than to ensure it takes her most of the movie to figure out the connection between her wishes and people in her life dying, and Marshall botches what I guess was an inadvertent cause and effect scenario: her wish for a crush's returned affections leads to her uncle being killed, and then she wishes to get everything from his will. It'd be ludicrous, but at least kind of cool, to have the box - an old hand at this by now - continue this sort of chain, so that each death inadvertently inspires the next wish in order to keep things moving along, but that's the only time there's any sort of relation (and again, it's not acknowledged anyway).

The other nice thing I can say is that her wishes are typical teenager nonsense: she wishes to be popular, she wishes her dad (Ryan Philippe!) wasn't such an embarrassment (he's a dumpster diver, even though they own a big house), she wishes her bully would "just rot" (not "die", notice). She doesn't go big (a friend admonishes her for not curing cancer) or even particularly "bad" - she just asks for stuff any selfish 16 year old girl might wish for. Since the deaths have no relation and she doesn't even notice most (even her uncle's barely registers much of a reaction) you could remove them from the first hour of the movie and it wouldn't even really change anything; it'd just be a movie about a girl making her life better thanks to some Chinese box her dad found in a dumpster one day. By the time she actually notices (actually, she doesn't - her would-be boyfriend does the legwork and flat out tells her) that her wishes have deadly consequences, the movie is far past the point of being saved, with only the idiotic death scenes to occasionally give it some unintentionally hilarious life.

Now, we all know that horror movie characters have to occasionally act stupid for the plot to work. It's just how it is, and it's something we just accept, like sound in space or everyone in a musical knowing the words to a seemingly spontaneous song. But the Wish Upon creative team forces its actors to at times even unnaturally contort their bodies to make their not-great (and not even original) death scenes work, in particular Sherilyn Fenn's garbage disposal one. Like all disposal scenes in horror movies, something goes down the drain and we get a bunch of shots of their hand reaching around in the drain cut with shots of the switch that will turn it on - except this switch isn't on the wall like a normal one - it's BY HER WAIST BELOW THE COUNTER! I can't imagine anything more idiotic, or at least I thought I couldn't - because 30 seconds later she goes for a closer look at the drain and starts awkwardly shaking her head around just to get her long hair in there, and then awkwardly moving again in order to bump the switch and send her to her doom. There's also a bit where Philippe is changing his tire and one of the lug-nuts goes under his car - does he use the tire iron to pull it back? Of course not, he climbs completely under his car (it never occurs to him to just go to the other side of the car to get it, since it's clearly closer to it) so that we can get some half-assed suspense about whether or not the car will fall on him. Another character is also encouraged to awkwardly lean far from his ladder while cutting a tree branch, to the extent where I began wondering if these characters were all suicidal.

Speaking of suicide (my transitions are on fucking POINT), the film begins with a woman hanging herself after throwing away something wrapped up so that we can't see it, but the dog is afraid of it and she gives about forty seven worried glances at the trashcan before going inside to start noosin'. If you've never seen a movie (hell, if you're not even sure what a movie IS) you can still know instantly that the thing is the wish box that will soon wreak havoc on our heroine's life (said woman is her mom, by the way), and yet the movie treats this as a big reveal for some reason, and it's never clear what exactly mom wished for. We can assume it has something to do with the aforementioned uncle character, who Philippe doesn't like much and even tells his daughter not to talk to him, but the reason for his excommunication is never explained. The box also gets one tragic backstory too many, as we learn about its origins from a Chinese woman during the bubonic plague in the 14th century, but then our exposition dumper throws in a few seconds' worth of what I'm betting was originally a full prologue scene starring Jerry O'Connell (think Drew Barrymore or, more recently, Billy Burke in Lights Out), a man who used the box to get a car dealership or something but then his life was torn asunder - it was hard to get the details because I was too distracted by Jerry O'Connell (and Rebecca Romijn!) suddenly appearing in a flurry of random wordless shots, 75 minutes into a movie that had already burned through two other "Older star cashing a paycheck" performances (Fenn and Elizabeth Rohm being the others).

There are other sloppy bits as well; there's an establishing shot that looks like they grabbed it off a VHS tape, and for some reason the main house King and Philippe live in changes each time we see it - when they first move in and throughout the film we can see it's a two or three story white mansion, but then at other times the house is established as a single floor extended ranch kind of deal. King freaks out over her friend (Barb from Stranger Things, basically playing Barb here as well) taking the box from her, but it's not until about 30 seconds after her reaction and subsequent tirade that we even see the box to know what she's talking about, because Leonetti didn't bother to include a cutaway to the damn thing. I know the film had its death scenes trimmed for a PG-13 rating (why they'd shoot R rated deaths for a teenager's wish-fulfillment thriller is beyond me), but there is plenty of evidence to suggest they cut more than the gory bits, and I'm curious if the promised extended Blu-ray will make more sense out of some of its subplots.

Long story short, it's another one to add to the pile of this year's "Not even as good as the "eh" I was expecting" efforts like Rings and The Bye Bye Man, though this at least has a slight edge over those thanks to its unintentional hilarity (there's a bit involving someone getting hit by a car that rivals Meet Joe Black for its misguided excess), and again, I appreciated that they weren't trying to make me jump out of my seat at doorbells and dogs barking and things like that. The idea of getting your actual wishes but making something else awful happen is intriguing (it's not dissimilar from The Box in that regard, sans all the alien shit Richard Kelly added to the scenario), but the aforementioned sloppiness and bad-even-by-teen-horror-standards characterization make it impossible to care about anything that's happening any more than King's character does.

What say you?

P.S. Stay for halfway through the credits for the most obvious and eye-rolling sequel setup ever! Or don't bother since you'll know exactly what it is once the movie has its first ending anyway!


The Mummy (2017)

JUNE 25, 2017


Much like DC (which is only now getting it right with Wonder Woman), Universal is going about their idea to create a new shared movie universe based on all of their classic monster characters - Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, etc. I'm all for the gamble - the old ones crossed over anyway, and successful big budget horror (or, "horror") films can only help the greater good. Things were supposed to kick off with Dracula Untold, but pre-release press for The Mummy suggested that one has been retconned out of the grander plan for some reason. Well, I mean, the reason might be that it was not a big success nor was it liked all that much, but same goes for this goddamn movie (in fact it got even worse reviews), and Dracula didn't have one of the most dependable actors in the world starring in it, so in some ways Mummy is an even bigger flop (both films managed to make back their money thanks to overseas grosses, for what it's worth). The next one is Bride of Frankenstein, inexplicably coming before any actual Frankenstein film, so it seems to me they really don't know what the hell they're doing.

(For more evidence: they've also cast Johnny Depp in one of the proposed films.)

Anyway, I can't say I would be opposed to the idea of Tom Cruise going against the other monsters down the road, because he's Tom Cruise and I will watch him do anything, but this film does not inspire much confidence for their franchise or even a straightforward sequel. There's a great video online of Trey Parker and Matt Stone talking to a film class about how they hate big budget movies that can be broken down with "And then this happens, and then this happens" (as opposed to "This happens, which causes this to happen, which results in this happening", etc), and even though it's a few years old they might as well be talking about this movie, which is never boring as far as "stuff is happening!" goes, but I couldn't tell you much about WHY any of it was happening, and I certainly never cared about a goddamn person in it. The movie was so weightless that at one point I woke up without realizing I had ever fallen asleep, and couldn't tell if I had missed 30 seconds or 30 minutes based on how little engagement the film had provided until that point anyway.

Sadly, per the Wiki synopsis it turns out that what I missed (it turned out to be about five minutes, maybe) was a scene with Russell Crowe, who is the only good thing about the movie as he's clearly having fun and using a goofy accent on occasion for good measure, so I was at least charmed by his scenery chewing silliness. He's playing Dr. Henry Jekyll, a character that has been inexplicably refashioned into a sort of ringleader for a secret society of folks who take down supernatural entities. So he's a good guy in theory, but since he wants to kill Cruise (which will allow the film's female villain mummy, Ahmanet, to complete a ritual that will allow Jekyll to kill HER in turn) and also turns into Mr. Hyde for a few minutes the movie treats him as a secondary antagonist, which was a boneheaded call. Worse, we in the audience have to try to figure out how much of the actual Jekyll - i.e. the one moviegoers are familiar with - is still part of this character's story, since he's basically playing the exact same role as Colin Farrell in last year's Fantastic Beasts (he's even introduced the same way, waltzing into an area where workers are trying to clean up and throwing his weight around) instead of the usual scientist, and thus his split personality has no bearing on anything. You could cut his Hyde freakout entirely and it wouldn't make a lick of difference.

In fact you could cut any chunk out and it wouldn't matter. The editors (three of them credited) certainly did, as Annabelle Wallis' character has an awkward introduction that seems recreated with looping in order to hide what was an actual intro that got lost along the way. I also doubt Courtney B. Vance was hired to play such a thankless role as Cruise's superior (one of many things that suggest Cruise's role was written for someone younger; Vance is only like 3 years older than him but he treats Cruise like a rookie he'd like to kick in the ass) who has less than five minutes of screentime, and several other scenes seemingly come out of nowhere, as if there was more connective tissue (read: slower dialogue scenes) that got excised in order to ensure the audience never had to go more than 16 seconds without seeing another CGI effect. Once Cruise is "killed" (as seen in the trailer) and revived, the movie is little more than an endless chase scene where Cruise and Wallis dodge CGI (they even outrun a flood at one point) while trying to... well, I have no idea. They don't have any particular goal, no "We must return the stone to the tomb" or any kind of silly ticking clock scenario to deal with - they're just basically trying to not die, and run until the movie has reached a runtime that is acceptable for a film that cost $125m (at least).

One thing I can give it some credit for, however: it's closer to horror movie than the Brendan Fraser version. Ahmanet is constantly sucking the life out of dudes (it's very Lifeforce) and conjuring zombie minions and the like to do her bidding, and director Alex Kurtzman keeps things fairly dark unlike the more sun-drenched Stephen Sommers films. It's still more of an action-adventure film than horror, but the balance is better than I expected, so for that I can give them some credit. I'm not sure why Universal is hellbent on creating a "monster" universe that downplays the monstrous side of things, but at least they're not totally dropping the genre angle. There's a bit where Cruise gets swarmed by bugs that's genuinely unnerving, and the scenes with Jake Johnson (as Cruise's best bud) are mostly lifted straight out of American Werewolf in London, as Johnson is a zombie/ghost thing that shows up to tell his still-living friend what's going on. I can't see how Bride of Frankenstein (from Bill Condon, no less) will be anything but a gothic romance/horror, but hopefully if this series goes forward it they embrace the horror elements as much as possible - I get that they can't go full R with these big budgets (and future installments being planned), but there's no need to turn all the monsters into superheroes. We have those in the other cinematic universe movies - make this stand out!

I also hope future films have zero involvement from Alex Kurtzman, who has proven time and time again that he is a simply awful storyteller. I can't imagine anyone trying to make sense out of this film if they had no previous knowledge of (and, more importantly, affection for) these characters, and more than once I was reminded of the Transformers films that he co-wrote. Everything is a big climax, everything is spectacle, and there's nothing holding it all together - the "slow moments" exist for no other reason than to provide the characters with an excuse to change locations before all the chaos starts again. He's one of the many filmmakers of modern times who seem to have never learned that action can't continue to be exciting when there's never any break from it. Even a movie like Speed, which is literally "non-stop" (since, you know, the bus can't stop) takes time to just let the bus be driving along without obstacles so the characters can talk, or cut back to Jeff Daniels (or even Dennis Hopper) doing non-action stuff, before they get back to the next impending disaster. Kurtzman's version of Speed would be an endless series of "Oh no the bridge isn't finished!" moments with zero dialogue beyond "Oh no!" and "Get down!" type of shit, and we'd be rooting for the bus to explode after 20 minutes.

Unfortunately he's set to produce them all, so unless they drop him like they did Dracula Untold, there's little reason to be hopeful. I mean, separate from all this shit I can't think of a better potential director for a Bride of Frankenstein remake than Bill Condon, but I also don't know how much influence Kurtzman will have over it and if Condon will have to acquiesce to including any of this film's characters and/or shoehorning in some introductory roles for ones from the next films (Depp's Invisible Man and, presumably, a new Dracula, since it'd be weird to leave him out). After some missteps in the middle there (Iron Man 2 being the worst offender), Marvel finally figured out how to keep their films from feeling like extended previews for the upcoming ones, and it seems DC has gotten it under control as well since Wonder Woman saves such crap for its bookending scenes (basically just a reference to an unseen Bruce Wayne), so there's hope Universal can follow suit. They'd be best to just let Condon be and figure out how to tie them together later, i.e. once they've gotten to a point where they've made a movie or two that people actually like. You know, like they did in the 1930s and 40s anyway.

What say you?


Here Alone (2016)

JUNE 21, 2017


Since I'm a lazy asshole, over the years I've seen a number of films that were more or less exactly like ideas I had and never got around to fleshing out. But I'm never too annoyed by their existence; good for them for being more productive than I am! Especially when they turn out good, as is the case with Here Alone, which is about 75% similar to an idea I had for a zombie movie that focused more on the survival elements than zombie action. Whenever we see a survivor type in a zombie world, he/she has already gotten their shelter secured, their routine down to a science, etc - I'm more interested in how they established those things, i.e. the part that usually gets skipped over.

(It's similar to how annoyed I was with Cast Away skipping four years - I want to see the whole process of him learning how to chuck a spear and kill a fish!)

Needless to say, Here Alone focuses on some of that, depicting a lone survivor (Ann, played by Lucy Walters) who lost her family somewhere along the way and is now scavenging for food, trying to stay out of danger, etc. It's a slow-paced movie that keeps zombie stuff to a minimum, but that's fine - I was legit more entertained by scenes like the one where she inspects some berries and ruffles through a little survival guide trying to figure out if they were safe to eat than I was with any of the rather generic undead action. Eventually she meets a pair of fellow survivors, a man named Chris and his stepdaughter Olivia, and things take on a more traditional "band of survivors argue about what to do next" zombie movie motif, but the focus is still on the humans and the empty world, instead of run n' gun zombie stuff that we can see anywhere.

Comparisons to the likes of The Road and Stake Land are fair; it's a bummer movie with lots of outdoor scenery accompanied by pretty music (I watched with captions and "somber orchestral music" appeared every 2-3 minutes), but if anything there's even less action than in those (well, Stake Land for sure had more - not sure about The Road, as I barely remember it and don't ever want to revisit). We got pretty burned out on the more Romero-y wannabe stuff in the past decade, so I'm fine with these more moody takes on the zombie apocalypse, but I do wish someone could find a way to do one in a suburban area, as I'm tired of looking at endless miles of trees in these things. I get that it's easier to secure a patch of woods on a low budget than it is, so I don't begrudge the indie filmmakers for going that route (this film was at least partially crowd-funded, in fact); it's more of a wish that the studios would try something in this vein. One of my favorite non-horror movies in recent memory was All Is Lost, which was nothing more than Robert Redford on a sinking boat - the zombie movie equivalent with a marquee draw like Kurt Russell or someone who isn't adverse to taking on unusual projects would be fascinating, I think.

Keeping things a little more compelling is the film's flashback heavy structure, cutting between Ann and her new friends in the present day and older scenes with her family, when the outbreak was just starting. Her husband (Shane West) teaches her a few survival skills and how to shoot, but really the main thrust of this stuff is "How did the baby die?", which is naturally kept secret until the film has almost concluded. I'm thankfully not as easily shaken by this stuff as I was in the first year or two of being a father, so this stuff, while sad, didn't leave me curled up in fetal position like it would have back then - my main personal sadness came from the little baby's cute pajamas, the kind my kid is now too big for. I miss those things! So snuggly. Anyway, nothing about this stuff will surprise you, but it makes sense why they try to sync it up with the present day events, offering something that feels like a particularly grim episode of Lost.

As for the zombie action, like I said it's nothing special, though I liked that the characters were far more concerned with simply staying out of their way than with killing them all. Ann locks herself in an ice chest at one point just to avoid ONE, even though she was in a kitchen that presumably had some knives or a rolling pin or something to ward it off. And they're often covering themselves with mud (or poop? The IMDb said poop) to hide their scent so they can get around without triggering any nearby walkers - it's an impressively inexpensive way to bypass the pricier action, and it actually makes things more suspenseful, as watching them mow down dozens of anonymous zombies would get tiresome, especially with such a limited cast. It's one thing for The Walking Dead to offer that sort of thing since people get killed off all the time, but with only three people there's only so much they could get away with before it became ridiculous that no one had been hurt/killed.

So if you like these slower kind of zombie films, it's worth seeing for sure; nothing about it is particularly unique, but it tells its simple story well, and I always, ALWAYS champion a zombie film that doesn't shoehorn in a bunch of evil humans in the third act (there is a minor human conflict, but it's far more interesting than the umpteenth "We can take the world for ourselves" kind of asshole). The score is good and Walters handles the two sides of her character (scared mom and weary loner) well, allowing the film to hold my attention where so many others have failed. I should note I had to watch it for work, and it's the first one in a while that I felt like writing about after (I see at least 2-3 every week for this job), as so many of them just leave no impression. Good to know there are these minor gems still coming my way; if I was still doing the site daily I'm sure I would have seen it, but with such a massive drop in my "intake" I always wonder how many films like this will forever pass me by. Being paid to discover one is such a win-win!

What say you?


47 Meters Down (2017)

JUNE 18, 2017


If it were up to me (and nothing ever is, for the record), Universal would re-release Jaws every other summer, in honor of it not only being the original summer blockbuster that paved the way for everything else currently playing at the multiplex but also of it being JAWS, goddammit. On the other summers, some studio would release a new sharksploitation movie like 47 Meters Down, which of course owes some of its existence to Spielberg's classic, but also provides some thrills on its own accord and, unlike the comic book/franchise wannabe films clogging the other screens, is refreshingly simple for a summer movie. When even the low-budget horror films can't help but be bogged down in world building (Annabelle 2 has a clunky setup for the upcoming Nun spinoff), there's something kind of novel about the idea that I'll never need to remember plot points or characters from this movie ever again, as there won't be a "48" Meters Down.

Well, I mean, there probably would be if the movie was a giant smash, but like last year's The Shallows and several others before it (including Jaws, but no one was smart enough to prevent three sequels), it's an open and shut story, and a very simple one. Our heroines (sisters played by Claire Holt and Mandy Moore, who couldn't look less like sisters if they tried and honestly wasn't a necessary plot point - they could have just been besties) are on a cage-diving jaunt, where they don scuba gear and are lowered into the water to see some sharks up close, when the line breaks and their cage sinks... you guessed it, 47 meters down, to the bottom of the ocean floor (for you non-metric folk, that's about 150 feet). From then on it's a more or less real-time account of them trying to figure out how to survive when their oxygen tanks are running out and communication with their boat requires dangerous trips outside the relative safety of their cage, as the sharks continue circling the area.

So basically it's in the vein of Frozen or Thirst, as our heroes try to survive the elements as well as a natural predator doing its thing (as opposed to a human murderer and/or a "monster" like Deep Blue Sea's super-intelligent sharks), inviting the audience to play along with "Why don't they try ______?" questions that are usually answered by the film itself. For example, you might wonder why they don't just swim for the surface, as 150 feet isn't THAT far and the sharks can be warded off with flares and the like. Well, since they dropped so far, they're now at risk of getting nitrogen bubbles in their brain (known as "the bends") if they don't depressurize properly, which requires them to ascend a bit and then wait five minutes for their body to adjust before ascending again (and then stopping again). By keeping the situation simple and also unquestionably dangerous (as anyone can be afraid of sharks and also running out of air), it also restricts the amount of armchair quarterbacking the audience can reasonably bother with, unlike say Frozen, where everyone was pretty sure THEY could survive jumping off the chair and snowboarding away from the wolves. OK, maybe you could do that, somehow - but can you stop nitrogen bubbles from invading your brain, genius?

At its best, the movie offers terrific thrills that you don't often see in these shark movies. Folks tend to be on boats or some other structures (such as the rock in The Shallows), i.e. above the water, but our heroes are submerged for the bulk of the film, and director Johannes Roberts ties one hand behind his back by refusing to cut to the boat on the surface. Even when the girls make contact with their boat (captained by Matthew Modine in a role that amounts to a cameo) Roberts keeps his cameras underwater as well, allowing us to wonder if Modine and his mates are truly trying to save them or if they're leaving them behind on purpose for one reason or another. It's a fun little trick; the film takes place in Mexico and our protagonists are vacationing Americans, so decades of horror-watching has us trained to believe that the "locals" are out to rob and/or rape and/or kill them since no one can travel in a horror movie without running afoul of scary foreigners. It's really not until the last few minutes of the film that we know if they're villains or not, making a solid way to add tension to the proceedings without really doing much of anything.

It's a shame, then, that the horrendous dialogue keeps sinking the movie's chances of being a classic example of the sub-genre. When everyone shuts up and tries to carry out some life-saving action that requires considerable risk (like when Holt gets out of the cage by sliding between the bars - which requires her to take her oxygen tank/mask off first), the movie works like gangbusters, and I kept cackling at every new setback (personal favorite: when Moore's character pulls on a lodged speargun and manages to shoot herself with it - not only causing an injury but giving the sharks fresh blood to smell). But whenever things settle down and the girls chat, it's borderline painful to listen to their generic, half-realized backstories. Apparently Moore's boyfriend just left her before the trip began (he was supposed to join, if I'm understanding correctly) because she's pretty boring, so part of the reason she's taking the trip at all is because she wants to post pictures that proves she can be fun and take risks. Since we never met the guy I don't know why we should care much if she manages to win him back with her new Facebook profile photo, and the dialogue itself is cringeworthy, doing it no favors. Somehow Blake Lively talking to a seagull was more natural than anything these two alleged sisters manage to say to each other. There is also a poorly implemented bit of foreshadowing that spoils a minor twist about the finale (which recalls the original ending of another movie featuring women who are trapped below the surface), though there is some fun in trying to figure out when that particular plot point came into play.

It also felt strangely held back at times, as if it was originally an R rating and someone cut it back to PG-13 at the 11th hour. There are two attack scenes that are borderline incoherent, as if they were trying to avoid showing shark-munch action, and a later very serious injury is noticeably cut around as much as possible. There is also a lone F-bomb relatively early in the movie; I know you're always allowed one in a PG-13 but having it come so early seems to suggest there could have been more at some point (because in a movie where you're trapped with sharks, you're likely to say OH FUCK! or WE'RE FUCKED!, but they don't - Moore just says it casually in one of the first scenes, saying "I fucked up" re: her relationship). I poked around and couldn't find any evidence of this being the case, so perhaps it was designed for PG-13 and they were being overly cautious? Either way, it felt like the movie was trying to avoid the B-movie carnage were showed up to see. Roberts' other films (including the HMAD book-worthy The Expelled) were all rated R, and I honestly didn't realize this one wasn't following suit until I checked real quick during a bathroom trip (it was like 90+ on Sunday so I was chugging water), so now I can't help but wonder if it'd be a better film if he was in a position to indulge.

But look: there's Jaws, and then there are the other shark movies, and among them, this ends up somewhere in the middle of the pack. It lacks the maniacal flourishes Jaume Collet-Serra brought to The Shallows, but it's a lot better than your average Syfy thing (and, not that it's a high bar, but it's better than two of the actual Jaws sequels), and I'm glad it got a big-screen release after it was nearly sent direct to DVD/VOD last summer. It's not a movie you'd probably want to watch over and over, but for the one time you DO watch, the big screen is the place to do it, and honestly if it went VOD I probably never would have seen it unless I had to for work. The sharks look good (for the record, this is likely the lowest budgeted movie you'll see in a multiplex all year) and the pacing is nearly breakneck at times, as they're pretty much screwed within minutes of going into the water (itself a scene that occurs before the 20 minute mark). It might feel a bit handicapped at times, but it got the job done and scratched my shark movie itch until I have time for Chief Brody and his pals again.

What say you?


It Comes At Night (2017)

JUNE 9, 2017


I kept hearing how It Comes At Night's trailer was misleading and that it wasn't really a horror movie, so I rushed to see it on opening day (instead of The Mummy!) before I knew much else, as I had managed to not see a trailer yet and didn't want to press my luck. All I really knew was that it wasn't a full blown traditional horror movie, and that a lot of my friends liked it, so that was enough to be excited but also not have any specific expectations of what it might be. I point all of that out because I was still disappointed with the film as a whole; it had some really good ideas and performances, and I was on board for about 40 minutes or so, but as it went on, and again when it was over, I couldn't escape a certain "That's IT?" feeling.

And as I got further away from it (i.e. thought about it) I liked it even less, so this might have been a more positive review had I written it that afternoon instead of five days later. I wouldn't say it was a "bad" movie in the traditional sense, but more a frustrating one because it kept introducing these ideas that could have paid off beautifully - or at least, made the film more engaging - but then writer/director Trey Edward Shults would drop them without fanfare. For those who were as blind to the film's narrative as I was, the plot concerns a family of three living in their boarded up home to protect themselves against a deadly virus and also the types of evil humans that show up in 99% of post-apoc/zombie movies. One day a man named Will tries to break in and they capture him, but eventually believe him that he's just like them, trying to protect his family. After some hesitation, the dad (Joel Edgerton) decides to help Will pick up his family (and their supply stash), figuring a group of six is better than a group of three.

Well his son is a teenager who presumably hasn't seen a lot of women since hitting the point in a man's life where seeing women would be a very pleasant experience, and Will's wife is Riley Keough, who any man would justifiably be smitten with. The young man takes an instant liking to her and starts staring at her as she works a well pump, shifting his glance downwards when he should be looking at her face during conversation, etc. So when tensions eventually boil between the two families over a lack of trust, you start wondering if he'll turn on his own family out of desire to be on this woman's good side. But nothing even remotely like that happens! Keough barely even registers in the movie after she notices his attraction, turning the whole subplot into little more than padding. Yes, it helps get across the idea that he's lonely and growing up in a world that won't afford him a normal life (and, presumably, won't ever actually fall in love properly, given the seeming lack of options), but when they zero in on this particular thing for ten straight minutes of the film only to drop it and never mention it again, it's counterproductive.

I could list one or two similar examples, but given that the film seems to be polarizing (the D Cinemascore sure seems odd next to its 86% "fresh" rating Rotten Tomatoes) I don't want to risk spoiling, since half of you will likely love the film. Without spoiling anything else I will say that the script seemed like it was a draft or two away from really hitting it out of the park, which is part of what made it so frustrating - I'd almost rather watch a movie that was just a bust from the start. Oddly it's the 3rd film from A24 in a row that I've seen that left me feeling the same way - one was Blackcoat's Daughter (formerly February) and the other was the non-horror Free Fire. All three films had very direct, uncomplicated plots (though Blackcoat at least offers two such tales, with their connection being a very clumsy twist) that gave far too many talented people almost nothing to do. I mentioned Keough is largely wasted here, but so is Carmen Ejogo (Keough's co-star from The Girlfriend Experience) as Edgerton's wife, who I don't think gets a single scene to herself or even says much of anything when she's around.

But Edgerton gets plenty to do, and gives a fine performance that had me wishing that he directed it as well, since he did such a terrific job with The Gift. I mean I haven't seen Shults' other film (Krisha), but I know it ain't anything that would wind up in a "horror" category, unlike The Gift which does (even though, like this, it seems to fall on the other side of that tight line between horror and thriller), and Edgerton has proven he can handle that kind of situation and make a memorable film - not to mention one audiences had a better response to. It's funny though, he was in the 2011 Thing prequel and here, when the film's at its best, it's actually a better successor to Carpenter's film than that junk. Edgerton's paranoia about whether or not he can trust Will works like gangbusters, and Shults is smart enough to never inform us of Will's true intentions and/or if he's lying about one or all aspects of his story. There's one point where Edgerton seemingly catches Will in a lie about the existence of a (now dead) brother, but Will explains it away - was it the truth, or a lie to cover the lie? And was he only lying in the first place not out of some nefarious motive, but merely to protect himself?

We don't get those answers, and that's fine - because we're with Edgerton and his POV and if he doesn't know, neither should we. The problem is, we're not ALWAYS in his POV, as we shift to the son's perspective for several key scenes and stretches, and even Will's for a brief scene with his family. So that throws off the whole thing, because now that Shults has shown us he's NOT bounding himself to just Edgerton's perspective on things, it makes the unanswered questions all the more exasperating, because it's like he's randomizing what he chooses to reveal and what he leaves up to our imagination. He also blunders a bit by (vague spoiler ahead) proving Edgerton was right about one thing, which renders his earlier actions defensible when it seems like we're supposed to wonder if what he did was the right call. The ending is not a happy one, I assure you - but a few tweaks could have put it into The Mist territory in terms of ballsiness. Instead it's just... well, kind of a practical one.

Shults also plays with the film's aspect ratio, starting off in the traditional 2.40:1 range but going to 3:1 by the end. It's a techie gimmick that most won't notice (including myself, partially because the theater didn't have it framed correctly in the first place), and rubbed me the wrong way when I read about it later. Like he cares about this but can't be bothered to give either of his actresses anything of note to do, or resolve two subplots, or explain why they're so afraid of the virus that they sometimes use gas masks inside, but at one point Edgerton just takes his off for no reason when he's outside in an unfamiliar area. It reminds me of those obnoxious gamers who care more about whether or not the game will have a high FPS rate than they do if the game itself is actually any good. I mean if that's his deal, fine - but it will make me very hesitant the next time he's got a film out there, because it seems we care about very different things when it comes to movies. Nice cinematography though.

What say you?


Evil Ed (1995)

JUNE 7, 2017


I remember reading about Evil Ed in Fangoria back in the 90s at some point, making a note to see it as soon as possible because it sounded so much in my wheelhouse. Alas, the VHS version that was released in the US was cut, and I was too snobby to settle for such a thing, so I opted to wait until I found an uncut one. And then I just forgot about it, apparently, because I'm sure I could have found one by now thanks to having money and the know-how to import discs and such. Well, 22 years later, I've finally seen the movie thanks to Arrow's new Blu-ray, which is more uncut than ever, featuring a few extra minutes of (non-gory) footage and, of course, given a high-def/widescreen transfer to boot - it's as if I was meant to wait more than half my life to get around to seeing the damn thing.

Ironically, if I had to distill my thoughts on the film down to one word, it would be "dated", and so even with all the gore chopped out I probably would have enjoyed the movie more had I seen it in the 90s. The plot, for those uninitiated, concerns a mild-mannered editor who is used to working on art-house dramas tasked with censoring a series of slasher movies titled Loose Limbs, bringing them up to the standards required by the local ratings board. At first he wearily works on the films as "just another job", but then overexposure to all of the violent imagery starts warping his mind, resulting in a series of hallucinations and then murders as he goes more and more insane. Lots of old-school Peter Jackson-y splatter ensues. The filmmakers were taking shots at Sweden's censorship board, which was at the time one of the most strict in the world; interestingly enough the practice of cutting films was relaxed the following year, though I doubt Evil Ed was a factor in the decision.

But that just adds to the feeling that it's a bit past its time - censorship now isn't as big of a problem for horror and its fans. With more and more films going out unrated entirely (and the MPAA being more lenient in general), it feels like the time to take a stand against slicing the gory bits out of a slasher movie has long since expired (correct me if I'm wrong, but the last time they made a big stink about a horror movie was Hatchet II, seven years ago). This isn't a critique on the film's existence; just more of an observation, that I almost wish I was seeing the film now in "revisit" mode, as opposed to seeing it for the first time. There are some great gags that haven't dated at all - such as when Ed smiles proudly at a cut he made that renders a gore scene completely incoherent - but overall it felt like kicking a dead horse as opposed to standing up against some ongoing injustice.

(Note - if you are a filmmaker who has recently battled with the MPAA or any other ratings board, feel free to counterpoint, but please note I'm speaking in general terms. I do not doubt that there is still a problem with filmmakers being forced to hack up their films to appease a bunch of people who wouldn't see it anyway - it's just not something that makes the news as often as it did in the 80s and 90s when they were targeting Wes Craven and the Friday the 13th sequels seemingly out of spite. And, again, going out without a rating isn't as crippling as it used to be since newspaper ads aren't how these films get promoted.)

So without that niche appeal, it's just another "guy goes crazy and starts killing people around him" movie, albeit one with a more humorous and whacked-out slant than the average Shining wannabe. Ed's hallucinations aren't just of his friends/loved ones saying things that are only in his head - no, he sees possessed nurses, devils, and even a thing that I could best describe as a goblin version of one of the characters from ABC's 90's show Dinosaurs. His hallucinations START normally - he sees an old lady neighbor as a hot lady coming on to him early on - but they go full blown gonzo by the midpoint, which was a fine surprise. Not only is it obviously more interesting to look at, but it also showcases more of this next-to-no-budget film's surprisingly strong FX and makeup work, which more than makes up for the time capsule-y feeling. Let's not forget that by this point in the 90s, CGI was already starting to take over even in lower-budgeted horror films (1995 was the year of Hideaway and Lord of Illusions, among others), so it was already time to start appreciating the films that were still doing it the right way.

But it also feels like they didn't have quite enough for a feature with their initial concept, so the film takes an odd detour for its climax, as Ed rampages around a hospital while a bunch of SWAT type guys try to take him out. This allows for a lot of bonus gore, but also feels like you're suddenly watching a sequel to the movie you watched for the first hour or so. And not just any sequel, but one made by a new creative team, as the whole "horror movies drove him crazy" focus feels like it's no longer even relevant. It's entertaining in its own right, no doubt about it, but as a whole the movie feels a bit cobbled together from a bunch of ideas as opposed to something more cohesive. As a result I felt kind of exhausted and ready to move on, which is a bummer when being presented with top notch prosthetic work (and a very game performance from Johan Rudebeck as the title character, who reminded me of an older Toby from The Office).

Arrow's blu-ray is, naturally, aimed more at folks who already loved the movie (and were likely aware of its narrative shortcomings), and I can't imagine a scenario where they will be disappointed. In addition to two cuts of the film, there are two extensive documentaries (one running over three hours) and lots of new interviews with director Anders Jacobsson and the simply named Doc, who edited the film. Apparently they've been working on putting together this special edition for over six years now, so it's clearly a labor of love and it shows - I particularly liked the footage of them hunting around for deleted scenes (and a quick bit where Doc almost accidentally cuts up the film's negative!). I actually learned how to use a flatbed editor back in college and it gave me a world of appreciation for those who cut full films on it since doing a 5 minute short was hard enough, so seeing it in action (both here in the bonus features and in the film) gave me pleasant memories of the simpler days of being in college. Some additional deleted scenes and other outtake type material is also present, though as it was all in Swedish (with subtitles) and extensive I didn't get through it all, since I would have to keep my eyes glued to the screen instead of just listening to the interviews while I worked as I normally would. Multitasking is the only way I survive, really.

I'm happy I finally saw the film, and would happily keep it in my collection if I had a regular copy of it (I only got a screener disc in a blank plastic sleeve, i.e. nothing I would put on my shelf), as it'd be a fun one to throw on at parties given the extensive makeup and gore highlights. Arrow's set does it a justice it's never been afforded for over 20 years, and I'm happy for Jacobsson (who has only directed one film since, sadly) and his crew as they clearly worked hard to get it out there both in the '90s when it was made, and now where it can be properly seen for the first time. I wish I liked it a bit more, but not as much as I wish I was finally owning a proper copy of an old favorite that would have blown my mind when I was 15. Oh well.

What say you?


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