Back again, ladies and gents.
This week got a little more lively, especially once Artist Ensemble’s production of The 39 Steps got up on its merry feet and started trucking. Not sure what sparked the desire for an 80s ninja fix, but that was a lot of fun. With a couple independent horror efforts (one glossy, one decidedly not) to round things out, it wasn't such a bad little stretch of road.
Click on the links below for the full review (where applicable). As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Detention of the Dead (2012) (1st viewing) d. Mann, Alex Craig (USA)
**CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW**
Swamphead (2011) (1st viewing) d. Drover, Dustin / Propp, Justin (USA)
**CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW**
21 Jump Street (2012) (1st viewing) d. Lord, Phil / Miller, Chris (USA)
Damn Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill for being so damn likable and talented. There’s no way this big screen update of the late 80s TV series about youthful looking cops posing undercover as high school students should have been as much fun as it was. And yet, it was.
Mystery on Monster Island (1981) (1st viewing) d. Simon, Juan Piquer (Spain/UK)
On the other hand, with J.P. Simon (the man who gave us Pieces and Slugs) at the helm, and small but worthy supporting roles from Peter Cushing, Paul Naschy and Terence Stamp, this adaptation of the Jules Verne story should have been a lot more enjoyable. Instead, it's a lazy and cheap yarn about oats-sowing callow youth Ian Sera who finds himself shipwrecked on the titular isle, with monsters that would have been booted from H.R. Pufnstuf. Manservant David Hatton’s shrieking hammy histrionics are the final nails in the coffin and on the chalkboard. Three words: Banana Gatling Gun.
CHEESY 80S MARTIAL ARTS ACTION:
Revenge of the Ninja (1983) (1st viewing) d. Firstenberg, Sam (USA)
This follow-up to Golan-Globus’ wildly successful Enter the Ninja transmogrifies that film’s villain Sho Kosugi into our peace-loving, ass-kicking hero, battling the mob and duplicitous business partners. The baddies’ plan is to smuggle heroin inside Kosugi’s handmade Japanese dolls, and they’re not above murder, kidnapping or extortion to get what they want. Impressive stunts and luscious blonde fashion model Ashely Ferrare’s no-panties-under-her-gi stylings make up for the goofy dialogue and wooden acting. That’s Kosugi’s real-life son Kane playing…his onscreen son Kane.
Ninja III: The Domination (1984) (2nd viewing) d. Firstenberg, Sam (USA)
Aerobics instructor Lucinda Dickey (yes, the star of Breakin’, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and Cheerleader Camp) gets caught up in mystical intrigue when she is possessed by the spirit of slain evil ninja David Chung, and it’s up to shadowy good ninja Sho Kosugi to straighten things out. Loopy as hell third installment jumps the shark in a big, big way, but there’s no denying the cheeseball entertainment factor – the opening golf course scene where Chung (or at least his stuntman) kills off about 800 police officers is a bona-fide classic, as is Dickey’s seduction scene of naïve cop Jordan Bennett by pouring V-8 down her front.
Last Dragon, The (1985) (1st viewing) d. Schultz, Michael (USA)
I don’t know how this escaped me growing up, but I’m glad I waited to see it until my turkey-loving palate was refined enough to receive its full glory. Motown legend Berry Gordy served as executive producer, and the result is a mish-mash of every embarrassing 80s cliché from outrageous wardrobe choices to musical non-talents like Debarge assaulting the eardrums. The mononymic romantic pairing of gentle kung fu soul Taimak and hairspray sponge Vanity creates fewer sparks than two washrags in a wooden basin, but the scenery chewing showdown between arcade king Christopher Murney and “Shogun of Harlem” Julius Carry more than makes up the deficit. The fight scenes as Taimak pursues “the Glow” are passable, and the choice dialogue and cheapie effects sweeten the deal. Sho’ Nuff.
2013 Totals to date: 158 films, 149 1st time views, 83 horror, 48 cinema
Walking Dead, The (1936) d. Curtiz, Michael (USA)
A real disappointment, even for Karloff fans (and especially for those thinking they're picking up source material for the AMC zombie series). Boris stars as an ex-convict framed for murder who is then put to death in the electric chair. But as his innocence becomes apparent, semi-mad doc Edmund Gwenn brings him back to life…with a Lindbergh heart? (There’s a mildly amusing bit with Gwenn uttering, “He’s ALIVE.”) But then Karloff develops some sort of extrasensory ability to recognize those that railroaded him, and begins to show up at their places in the middle of the night.
But does he exact any kind of firsthand revenge? Nope, he just stands there while his victims freak out and fall out of windows or under trains or what have you. It’s like director Michael Curtiz and his quartet of screenwriters didn’t want to sully Karloff's character’s victim status by making him an actual villain. I’m all for suspension of belief, especially when it comes to the older genre flicks, but even a Fool has his limits.
Uninvited, The (1944) d. Allen, Lewis (USA)
While acknowledged as one of the first films to deal with ghosts and hauntings in a “serious” manner (i.e. not turning out to be a trick played upon the living by the living), those expecting to be truly frightened may be slightly disappointed by this tale of a spirit haunting the coastal English residence newly inhabited by siblings Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey. While the picture certainly has some fine moments of suspense and supernatural goings-on, viewers would do well to place it within its historical context to fully appreciate its reputation, especially since Victor Young’s whimsical score and Milland’s light-comic approach often undo any real sense of dread or horror.
That said, the acting is commendable, the characterizations interesting and believable, and the mimosa-scented atmosphere turns appropriately darker as the story deepens. Several haunted house precedents are set here: Ghostly moanings, a terrific séance scene, and a family history that must be unraveled by the living in order to let the dead rest at peace.
Perhaps not a nail-biter for the Poltergeist or Paranormal Activity generations, but still a well-told tale that does the job with good old-fashioned storytelling and character work. Script by Dodie Smith and Frank Partos, based upon Dorothy Macardle's novel Uneasy Freehold.
Vault of Horror, The (1973) d. Baker, Roy Ward (UK)
Like the previous year’s Tales from the Crypt, this Amicus anthology based upon William Gaines' EC horror comics provides a impressively solid quintet of entertaining horror yarns bound together by a laughably weak wraparound story. A building elevator takes five upper class twits to a mysterious marble-floored sitting room, so they decide to sit down and tell each other their dreams?? Puh-lease.
But the ghoulishly comic tales themselves - capably directed by Baker and efficiently scripted by producer Milton Subotsky - are loads of fun, whether it’s Daniel Massey tracking down his (on-and-offscreen) sister Anna in “A Midnight Mess,” gap-toothed obsessive Terry-Thomas driving wife Glynis Johns over the brink in “A Neat Job,” or Curt Jurgens as a magician seeking new illusions in “This Trick’ll Kill You.”
“Bargain in Death” features Michael Craig as a struggling horror writer who plans to bilk his insurance company by faking his demise, but the real showstopper is also the darkest of the bunch, “Drawn and Quartered.” In this final tale, Tom Baker (everyone’s favorite pre-David Tennant Dr. Who) stars as a brooding artist out to revenge himself against the critics and art dealers who have done him wrong.
Long missing on DVD, Vault finally popped up in 2007, paired with (naturally) Tales from the Crypt as part of MGM's Midnight Movies series.
|I know, I know, I'm working on it...|
It has been a very slow summer, movie-wise, for the Doc. If it weren’t for blood brother Doug Lamoreux and my unerring dead-ication to the Kryptic Army, I might not have sat down in front of the magic window at all. Strange days, indeed. However, with my two horror mentors goading me on, I managed to knock out a few “classic” Japanese sci-fi features, as well as a couple undead flicks with a twist. Not to worry, we stepped it up a bit in the weeks that follow, so stay tuned...
Click on the movie titles to be taken to the full reviews. As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Aaah! Zombies!! (aka Wasting Away) (2007) (1st viewing) d. Kohnen, Matthew (USA)
**CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW**
Habit (1995) (4th viewing) d. Fessenden, Larry (USA)
**CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW**
Menace from Outer Space (1956) (1st viewing) d. Morse, Hollingsworth (USA)
I leave this to Movie Mis-Treatments, because it’s silly and they do it justice.
KRYPTIC ARMY JUNE ASSIGNMENT: FLAG DAY (FOREIGN HORROR)
Gamera: Super Monster (1980) (1st viewing) d. Yuasa, Noriaki (Japan)
**CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW**
Gorath (1962) (1st viewing) d. Honda, Ishiro (Japan)
**CLICK HERE FOR FULL REVIEW**
Warning from Space (1956) (1st viewing) d. Shima, Koji (Japan)
And I'll let the good folks at AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST! tell you about this one because there's no point in trying to improve upon perfection...
2013 Totals to date: 151 films, 143 1st time views, 81 horror, 48 cinema
Habit (1995) d. Fessenden, Larry (USA)
The vampire of legend is eternal, and his cinematic brethren are equally durable and widespread. Even before the post-millennial pop culture phenomena of Twilight and True Blood (among others) but especially in their wake, it’s always been refreshing and rewarding to encounter an undead feature possessing a genuinely grounded and unique interpretation. Sam (played by writer/director Fessenden) is introduced recovering from the sudden death of his archeologist father, but it’s clear that life has not been going well for a long time. His longtime girlfriend Liza (renowned solo artist Heather Woodbury), troubled by his general aimlessness, has recently moved out. He has few interests or friends; those that he does have, like Rae and Nick (Patricia Coleman, Aaron Beall), cluck disapprovingly behind his back.
Into this bleak existence enters Anna (Meredith Snaider, magnetic and sensual in her only screen role), a classy and together mystery gal who sets her unassailable gaze on Sam during a Halloween party. Before long, the two are enjoying public sexual assignations, encounters that end with him alone—bewildered and bleeding—come the morning sun. As their relationship blooms, our hero grows more sickly and wan, leading him to wonder about his paramour’s true nature.
What is Habit really about? Vampires? Alcoholism? Addiction? Urban disconnectedness? The oppressive, nameless fears of metropolitan life? Sex? Disease? Or is it about Mars, Venus and the great chasm between the sexes? The answer is yes to all of these and more.
The script is wildly ambitious, with wolves running loose in Central Park, a shattered fire hydrant showering an auto accident’s aftermath, late night strolls passing racy photography shoots (a restaging of Nelson Bakerman’s Wall Street Nude Project), etc. The film possesses a modern timelessness (excepting the diner scene’s giant mobile phone), more concerned with character than plot. Some might complain about the leisurely pace, about whether we really need to see Sam cleaning out the litter box or pour his two cups of coffee into a saucepan for reheating, but each scene has its rewards, especially upon repeat viewings. If there is a scene that deserves excision, it’s the unnecessary third-act confrontation between Sam and Nick, lousy with on-the-nose discussions of whether or not Anna is a vampire (the only time the word is used) and needless exposition about Sam’s financial status. It’s a rare misstep, but it’s a doozy.
In the nearly two decades since Habit’s release, Fessenden has established himself as a proud independent godfather of sorts, his company Glass Eye Pix fostering such rising talents as Ti West (The Innkeepers), Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead), James Felix McKenney (Satan Hates You) and Jim Mickle (Stake Land). He continues to direct (Wendigo, The Last Winter, Beneath) and act (lending his memorable mug to four to five screen roles each year), and seems content to thrive outside the Tinseltown web of wheeler dealers. Long may his indomitable spirit thrive, trumping high throttle studio machinery with the power of a simple story well told.
JUNE 22, 2013
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)
I normally don't read a book that's due to be a movie until I've seen the latter (I've explained why dozens of times; to sum up - I know the book will be better, so why ruin the enjoyment of a new movie by noticing what's "missing"?), but as it turns out, the only thing World War Z takes from Max Brooks' (terrific) novel is the title and the basic premise of a realistic, global account of a zombie epidemic. 99% of all zombie films focus on a small area and leave a few radio/TV broadcasts to fill in the details of how it's spreading (via "Just heard... New York is gone!" type dialogue), but WWZ takes place in the US, Israel, South Korea, and Canada (replacing the original Russian location; more on that soon), and features more airborne sequences than movies about pilots. It is truly an epic adventure that shares just as much DNA with a James Bond movie as a typical zombie flick.
So it's kind of ironic that it's best moments are the ones that are straight out of any Romero wannabe. I particularly enjoyed a bit where hero Brad Pitt and his family stop at a grocery store to find inhalers for one of the daughters (if there was no such thing as asthma or diabetes, a lot of movies would have trouble creating an easy obstacle for their heroes). It's a scene filled with little surprises; when Pitt goes to find the inhalers and a man steps from the shadows with a gun, he doesn't rob/loot Pitt, but helps him find what he's looking for, and when a cop arrives after a scary situation, we see that he's there not as an officer of the law, but as a man desperate to find baby food and supplies for his own family. The best parts of the book were the smaller, personal stories set against the larger backdrop, so while the movie fails to adapt anything specific from it, they at least got the general tone mostly right.
Same goes for the (rare) focused zombie scenes. Those swarms of anonymous (and 99% digital) zombies scaling walls or whatever may look impressive and provide the trailer with its needed money shots, but in the film itself they're nothing more than empty spectacle. I much preferred the scaled down bits, like when Pitt and co. are racing up some stairs to get to a rooftop rescue with a few undead in pursuit, or when he and the other passengers on a plane work together to quietly block their section of the plane off from the tail section, where the zombies have begun biting their way through the other passengers. The larger scenes, such as the siege on Israel (as massive as it gets, really) are fine on their own, but with Pitt being the only character around that we know or care about (and the movie not close to ending), they lack any sense of terror. The PG-13 rating keeps things from getting too violent or gory, and that's fine - but there's not much excuse for being just plain ol' unscary.
Unfortunately, the "Pitt and a bunch of randoms" is a problem that continues throughout the movie. His family is safely kept on a battleship by the end of the first act, and from then on he's always on the go, meeting folks (many of whom don't even have names; David Morse is merely "Ex-CIA Agent") who either die or stay behind as he moves on yet again. The entire third act involves an attempt to locate an important sample from a lab at an overrun CDC type place called the World Health Organization, and the four people on staff who are there are collectively billed as "WHO Doctors" - they are the main focus for a 30-35 minute chunk of the movie and don't even get identifying traits to credit them properly! And poor Matthew Fox ("Parajumper" - a funny name anyway, even funnier when you consider we never see him do that) saw nearly all of his role left on the cutting room floor when the movie was reshot - he was originally a sort of human antagonist but is now only briefly glimpsed in a few shots.
Ah yes, the 3rd act. You can look around for details on what it originally was, but suffice to say (with minor spoilers ahead, but keep in mind this IS a PG-13 summer blockbuster released by a major studio) it's now much different, and less sequel oriented. Not that everything is tied up by the end, but the other "ending" stopped short of ANYTHING that could be considered a proper climax; Pitt was basically still out there looking for his family AND the cure, where at least the new ending resolves one of those things. I can't say which is BETTER since I haven't seen it (it SOUNDS pretty interesting, at least), but I will say that we lost even MORE of the film's already loose ties to the novel as a result, and that the new ending, while enjoyable as its own mini-movie, definitely doesn't jive with the rest of the narrative. For over an hour we're watching this global, epic-scale adventure, and then suddenly we spend the final two reels focused on a few rooms and a basic fetch mission (it's also easy to see that they didn't want to blow much MORE money on their new ending; replace Pitt with some guy from the Syfy channel and you have any Saturday night movie with regards to how expensive it looks).
So it's not a perfect film by any means, and bears more than a couple telltale signs of a reworked production, but it's nowhere near the disaster some folks had feared. Despite the involvement of Damon Lindelof, the plot is refreshingly straightforward - no "vague for the sake of vague" plotting or twist shenanigans. I would have liked them to do a better job explaining why Pitt's character is roped back into the UN (he has retired to be a stay at home dad) when he doesn't seem to possess any special skills beyond the ability to listen while people explain their situation to him, but I guess it's just shorthand - he's Brad Pitt, so naturally we want him to save us all (George Clooney was presumably quickly located and brought to safety). And again, we've never really seen anything quite like this for a zombie movie, so we can forgive a few missteps; if the whole movie was set in an isolated farmhouse or underground bunker, then its low points would be much harder to swallow. Not sure if Paramount wants to pursue it as a franchise as they originally intended after all the problems they had getting this one together (reports say there are, but I can show you a few articles about when Brandon Routh will be suiting up for a Superman Returns sequel too), but at least it paid off - the movie secured a HUGE opening weekend gross (Pitt's highest ever, in fact) and will be the all time highest grossing zombie film by the end of the week. Not too shabby for a movie everyone wrote off as a disaster a couple months ago. And as a bonus, it's a pretty enjoyable blend of typical summer action movie and zombie flick.
What say you?
Diary of a Madman (1963) d. Le Borg, Reginald (USA)
Vincent Price takes a brief respite in his parade of Roger Corman-directed Edgar Allan Poe adaptations to strut his stuff as a French attorney advised to take up sculpting to relieve his tension. He begins to come under attacks from the “Horla,” a disembodied malevolent parasitic force that renders its human host helpless, forcing him to perform unspeakable acts of violence and immorality.
As Price begins his art therapy (turns out the Horla was also responsible for his last client’s murders and suicide), he falls for beautiful – and married – model Nancy Kovack, who decides to leave her pauper husband for greener pastures. But the Horla has other plans.
While Diary benefits immeasurably from Price’s and Kovack’s presence, as well as some truly unexpected shock moments (naked flesh beneath a clay bust, violent stabbings), it also overstays its welcome by at least 10 minutes. Additionally , the "green glowing eyes" gambit as the Horla takes over its victim falls firmly in the “hokey but fun” category. Still, enjoyable overall. Scripted by Robert E. Kent, based on stories by Guy de Maupassant.
Black Sheep (2006) d. King, Jonathan (New Zealand)
As surely as Peter Jackson drew inspiration from childhood idols Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen, writer/director King’s admiration for his fellow Kiwi filmmaker’s early madcap horror/comedies is apparent in nearly every scene. Much like Bad Taste and Braindead (aka Dead-Alive), the characters are drawn large and loud, then inhabited by appealing, offbeat actors.
Nathan Meister plays Henry, a New Zealand sheep baron’s younger offspring waylaid by a chronic fear of the woolly ones due to childhood trauma at the hands of his sadistic, bullying elder brother. Now grown, Angus (Peter Feeney) has moved into genetically engineering his ovine, the fallout of said experiments resulting in the most ill-tempered baa-baa’s ever to graze a hillside.
Of course, the joke of turning the proverbial docile lamb of the field into a homicidal carnivorous beastie is the basis for King’s black comedy, but thanks to Jackson’s Weta Workshop, audiences are also treated to several half man/half sheep monstrosities and a trough-full of off-color intimations that Angus’ contributions to his work may extend beyond just his brainpower.
Directed with verve and performed with shear abandon, this may not be a classic for the ages, but it’s undeniably delightful summery fun.
God Told Me To (1976) d. Cohen, Larry (USA)
Less manic and tongue in cheek than his other horror efforts, writer/director Larry Cohen’s gritty modern fable focuses on NYC cop Tony LoBianco investigating a spree of murders – each one committed by an individual who confides “God told me to” as justification for their acts. A deeply spiritual man, LoBianco finds his faith buffeted by these irrational yet undeniably linked incidents, and as he digs deeper, he discovers that he himself could very well be an integral piece of the mystery.
Cohen’s story ultimately raises more questions than it answers – not always a bad thing – and when extraterrestrial abductions are introduced along with a cult of religious zealots, things start to come off the rails a bit. But if you’re looking for a challenging piece of low-budget horror, you could do a lot worse.
Comedian/performance artist Andy Kaufman has a small role as a police officer, and fans will also recognize genre regular Richard Lynch beneath his glowing robes.
While widely available on many “public domain” box sets, Blue Underground’s release provides the most complete version of the film, along with an engaging Cohen commentary.
Aaah! Zombies!! (aka Wasting Away) (2007) d. Kohnen, Matthew (USA)
When a batch of super-secret-super-soldier-super-serum takes a tumble off a military truck, coming to rest next to a bowling alley’s tastee freeze mix, the delicious soft serve becomes a brain mush mainline for a young quartet of friends. A novel bit of apocalyptic stage setting, but director/co-writer Kohnen’s clever little zombie comedy earns big points for hitting upon an original take in an increasingly tiresome subgenre by taking us behind the eyes of the shamblers themselves.
Do zombies know they’re zombies? Our infected heroes look at their surroundings – which are now moving very, very fast – and see a world gone mad. Everyone they encounter either runs away in terror or tries to savagely kill them, not to mention the fact that human flesh and gray matter have now become irresistible. They discuss the puzzling situation calmly and rationally amongst themselves ... conversations that amount to so many moans and groans to the living inhabitants they encounter. Viewers are given both sides of the equation, as Kohnen flips back and forth between the “real” world shot in black and white with the infected viewpoint in vivid color. It’s an enjoyable conceit, one that carries the day through what turns out to be a fairly routine undead teen horror/comedy.
The foursome is played with great enthusiasm by studly meathead Matthew Davis (The Vampire Diaries), his brainy lady friend Julianna Robinson, shy nice guy Michael Grant Terry and cute blonde Betsy Beutler. While all have their moments, Terry and Beutler’s unconventional courtship stumbles off with the movie thanks to the pair’s hilarious lack of vanity and equal degrees of likability on both sides of the undead fence. If you’ve ever wondered what a passionate zombie makeout session would look like, look no further.
I would have preferred the Kohnen screenwriters (Matt and Sean) had resisted the comic antics of a third act bowling competition between drunken league players and Davis and Terry’s decomposing duo – a plot device that makes no sense and only elicits a few cheap laughs – but overall this is a refreshing and sadly unsung independent effort with brains and heart in all the right places.
Look past the terminally lame distributor title (seriously, whoever came up with that one needs to be punched in the throat right now) and enjoy.
JUNE 19, 2013
I thought I had written at least a capsule review of You're Next when I saw at Fantastic Fest back in 2011, but apart from an article I wrote for BadassDigest bemoaning the fact that Lionsgate was sitting on it for too long (as it turns out, I was being optimistic!), I guess I never did. I assume it's for the same reason I'm about to put in words here as a full disclosure - I am friendly with a couple folks from the cast and crew, including the writer and director - but now that I've seen the trailer and marketing for the film, I thought I'd at least offer up my two cents as well as "spoil" a certain thing about the movie (not about its plot, don't worry!) that the advertising ignores. Also keep in mind this is the same team that made my least favorite segment of V/H/S/2, so if you want to claim I'm biased, there's some precedent to the contrary.
Anyway, I quite like the movie, and was happy to see it held up to my initial reaction from that long ago screening. Yes, it's unfortunate that LG sat on it for too long and now idiots will claim it's a ripoff of The Purge since both films deal with a family being terrorized in their own giant home by people with creepy masks, but trust me when I say that this is the superior film. Unlike the other film, it's always clear where the characters are in relation to another, and while the exterior of the house suggests potential for more chase/hide n' seek style scenes than we actually get, the location is utilized wonderfully. It's big enough to understand how something can happen (i.e. a murder) without the others hearing, but not so big that you feel "lost" and disoriented - because it's THEIR home and thus they should know every nook and cranny even if the lights are out (an ability the heroes in The Purge didn't seem to have). And speaking of locations, even though it's an isolated home in a remote area, there's an in-movie reason that the cell phones don't work (a jammer) instead of the usual "there's no service out here!" crap, which I appreciate.
Also, it's scary. Granted it's been a while, but I jumped TWICE, which is pretty rare anyway let alone for one I have already seen. And the crowd (men and women alike) were getting jolted much more often, of course (also if you're not familiar with the site, please don't take this as "I'm too tough to be scared" - it's just something that rarely happens that I chalk up to desensitization due to watching horror at a very young age). I've mentioned this before, but there's something that's more depressing/upsetting about seeing a family wiped out as opposed to the usual gang of teenagers, and even though they're dysfunctional and obviously don't get together too often, the movie is still able to take advantage of that inherent "Oh the boyfriend and the bitchy wife will die, sure, but the family unit will be safe" feeling we have sort of built into our subconscious after seeing so many other horror films that DON'T have the balls to say, let a daughter die right in front of her parents.
But while it works on that typical survival level, it's not without crowd-pleasing moments. A few of the kills are frustratingly off-screen or edited around (so we see a weapon swing in closeup and cut to said weapon already embedded into a person's head), but they often have a Friday the 13th sensibility - I particularly enjoyed the upside down blender attack. Even a couple of the good guy deaths carry that perverse sense of humor you see in the Final Destinations or whatever, like when someone makes a run for it in a big hero moment only to be killed almost instantly. The body count is pretty high by the end, and the movie effectively balances our need to care about the people being killed and our desire to see some splatter and cheer for it - it's a tough act to pull off, and kudos to director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett for getting it pretty close to exactly right.
And that leads me to what I mentioned earlier - the movie is a lot funnier than the ads would have you believe. Yes, it's scary and dark and thus not a "horror comedy", but there's definitely a sense of humor to the proceedings. The dinner scene is damned hilarious, with the brothers (AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg) sniping at each other, the daughter's filmmaker new boyfriend (Ti West) trying to explain what an "underground" film festival is, etc. And their fights continue even when the killers start attacking; Swanberg can't help but say Bowen's character is too fat (he's not fat) to be of any use to run for help, leading to another fight that you can barely hear because the crowd is laughing so hard. And without spoiling the particulars, the main bad guy's final dialogue moment had this audience laughing just as hard as they were in Austin, where I could hear the reaction from the bathroom because I couldn't hold my bladder any longer and (stupidly) assumed I wasn't going to miss much for the next 60 seconds. I guess in a way it's a smart approach, as it can be a surprise bonus to intelligent viewers, but sadly any horror film will attract some folks that simply aren't that bright, and thus they'll mistakenly assume the movie is just being "retarded" (as the idiot behind me described a moment that was, yes, SUPPOSED to be funny). So I figure if I can just let a few people know that the humor is intentional so that they can appreciate it all the more when they see the movie in August, it's worth the "spoiler".
Really, there are only two things about it I'm not completely on board with, and the first is minor though SOMEWHAT spoiler-y (I'll be as vague as possible) - at the end we discover a certain character was not meant to be harmed, but someone was very definitely trying to kill her/him at one point only to be thwarted at the last second by an outside element. It's one of those things that no one will notice on a first view, but on a second it stuck out as a bit of a cheat, making a scene out of something that logically made no sense (its akin to all those bits on 24 where someone will save Jack Bauer from certain death by anonymous goons in an isolated firefight, only to be revealed as one of the terrorists 3 episodes later). The other, more problematic one is Wingard's obsession with shaki-cam, which is thankfully much improved since A Horrible Way To Die, but in a way just makes it more jarring when he does it. It's particularly obnoxious during the dining room attack, with the camera bobbing and swishing around at random to give a sense of the chaos, but they go way overboard with it. Thankfully most of the big scenes keep it in check, but it's almost like he was saving his strength to jerk it around even more during those other moments.
But those are both dwarfed by what the movie gets right, and again, I'm happy to say it holds up on a second view, something I worry about when I like a movie as much as I did this the first time (where I was also a bit inebriated, hence the bladder problem). Not sure if that's quote-worthy ("I enjoyed it even when I was sober!" - Brian Collins, Horror Movie A Day would look nice on a poster, no?), but it's worth noting all the same. August 23rd, folks - don't let the long delay trick you into thinking this was something they were trying to hide. I truly believe they wanted to make sure that they had time to market this one properly and build up a buzz (no one could have predicted The Purge; hell it wasn't even SHOT until after You're Next showed at those festivals that got it picked up by the Gate in the first place), so let's reward them by packing those theaters in two months.
What say you?
P.S. The film was preceded by the short "The Apocalypse", which I had seen before but only online - was great to see with a crowd. It was also great to see post-This Is The End, as Martin Starr (who stars in the short) was reduced to a background extra in that film, so this sort of makes up for it. "I made a puddle!". Highly recommended, I believe it's online as well.
Detention of the Dead (2012) d. Mann, Alex Craig (USA)
From the title alone, you know if this is your particular flavor of undead gutmuncher. Working alongside director Mann, Rob Rinow adapts his stage play for the screen and earns deserved kudos for opening it up beyond its primary library confines. But where the film is lacking is in its lack of ambition – the elevator pitch of “The Breakfast Club meets Shaun of the Dead” is all good and fine, and the two adapters meet the mashup requirements with gusto, but it never achieves the heart of either of its inspirations, content with spoofing without innovating. (The lackluster tagline of "When there is no more room in Hell, the Dead go to Detention" is indicative of the no-net play in store.)
The good news is that Mann has peopled his cast with capable performers who lend some welcome personality to the (intentionally?) thinly drawn stereotypes. Jacob Zachar plays our unlikely nerd hero, ably matched by cool goth girl Alexa Nikolas. Preening screaming cheerleader Christa B. Allen wants her ROTC candidate boyfriend Jayson Blair to defend her, while stoner Justin Chon and jock Max Adler just want to board and bash another day. Predictably, these disparate characters with their inherent share of conflicts ultimately band together against the common enemy shambling the hallways, but there’s plenty of time taken for each character to reveal they are more than meets the eye. In some cases this works, but we hear more quip-heavy jabbering than is necessary or desired whilst waiting for the next undead insurgence.
My biggest problems with the film are twofold. For starters, it has a terminal case of the insider cutes. All the students are named after horror characters (Ash, Brad, Janet, Eddie, Willow, etc.) and they hole up in – wait for it – the Savini Library. Wah-Wah. Zachar and Nikolas, being the “weirdo outsiders,” are of course the resident zombie geeks well versed in the genre tropes. (Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to have the jock or the cheerleader know a few things?) But more importantly, in spite of special effects designers Daniel Aaron Phillips and Troy Holbrook’s best sanguinary efforts (and there are some ghastly grinners in the mix), the film is toothless, lacking any lasting impact.
Detention is fun in a very generic way, and for that it serves as a more-than-competent time-waster, but sitcom humor and paper-thin machinations are all Mann really seems capable and/or willing to offer. In an overcrowded field like the zombie subgenre, this horror fan is hungry for more than just efficiently polished filmmaking and half-hearted homage.