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Welcome!
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 The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story).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.
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The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)
MAY 18, 2016GENRE: GIALLOSOURCE: BLU-RAY (SCREENER)
My biggest regret about the HMAD book (besides, of course, the fact that not every man woman and child on this earth has a copy... YET) is that I had so few giallo titles that were eligible for inclusion within it. After I took out the ones I didn't like much and the ones that were famous (no big titles per my rule - though I quickly realized that my definition of obscure didn't quite match up to everyone else's - I could have been more lenient), I only had a couple left, when I originally planned to have a full chapter devoted to Italian movies (with gialli making up a good chunk of them). So when Arrow announced they were releasing a double-disc set of The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave (which was one of those few exceptions - it's on page 242!) and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (Italian: La dama rossa uccide sette volte), which I had never seen at all, I was quite delighted.
There are a couple reasons for my elation. One is that Evelyn is a fine film that has been mangled and distributed on budget packs for years, so to see it restored and uncut was a relief (even if it means my book entry no longer applies since half of it concerns making sure you are watching a proper version as there are several cuts floating around). Another reason is an obvious one - Red Queen offered a new proper giallo for me to watch, something that I'm always happy about but rarely get a chance to experience. Thirdly, as a lover of trivia and connections, I quickly realized that the films' pairing wasn't random - they were both from director Emilio P. Miraglia (not hard to find out, but a fact I was unaware of until now), and both combine standard giallo silliness with something a little more traditionally horror. In Evelyn there's a supernatural element that (spoiler) while ultimately explained away as a ruse, still gives it a ghost movie feel that its peers often lack, and Red Queen offers up some full blown Universal/Hammer horror moments (people creeping around in old crypts, being besieged by bats, etc.) alongside the black gloved killer and beautiful women who are frequently disrobing for their sleazy male co-stars.
Hilariously, they're also about women named Evelyn who may not be as dead as previously believed, and once again an inheritance is at stake (has an inheritance dispersal ever gone smoothly in a horror movie?), though they are otherwise dissimilar enough that watching them back to back wouldn't really inspire too much deja vu - the things they share in common are kind of surface level. The setting, the characters, etc. are all very different, and honestly I might even like this one a tiny bit more. The plot almost feels more like a straight up slasher than the usual gialli I see, as there is much less police involvement than normal, keeping the focus on the victims (and their various romantic entanglements) instead of the cops who are trying to figure out who is killing everyone. I mean, of course there IS a cop character, but he's only in a few scenes, minimized to the point where I considered that he was the killer and they were sidelining him to keep him a viable suspect (if he was frequently seen investigating himself it'd be pretty dumb even by giallo standards).
It's also got one of the dopiest setups ever, with a grandfather explaining a family curse that's represented by a giant painting in his bedroom that he despises (after he tells the story to his two granddaughters, he orders the painting removed - I guess he was just waiting for the right moment?). The curse explains the title as well - the family has a curse where every hundred years, one sister (the "red queen") will murder seven people including her sister. As luck would have it, the hundred year mark occurs 14 years later, when the girls have become beautiful women and the grandfather has passed away, with his inheritance being withheld until the year is over and the curse is "broken". I mean, all of these movies are ridiculous when all is said and done, but that's gotta be the nuttiest one yet - can't someone just witness a murder or try to cover up an affair or something like usual?
Naturally, after the will is read people who are poised to get money (or at least are involved with someone who is) start getting killed off, by a pretty stab-happy murderer who appears to be a woman, with long hair and a red cloak (and a creepy-ass mask we don't get to see nearly enough). Our heroine, Kitty (Barbara Bouchet), one of the grown-up granddaughters, has killed her sister Evelyn over an unrelated matter (and covered it up by claiming she had gone to America), so naturally she starts believing that Evelyn has, er, returned from the grave - but we know it won't be that simple. We know because not only can it just not be that simple, but also because she has stashed the body in the dungeon-like cellar, and checks to make sure it's still there when the murders start happening. So who is it? Her OTHER sister, inexplicably left out of the prologue? Her boyfriend? His wife? His other mistress (Sybil Danning!) The sleazy guy who blackmails her for money (and later rapes her seemingly for the hell of it - it's not graphic or anything but it's almost certainly the most extraneous example of such things I can recall)?
The answer splits the difference between satisfying and obvious, thanks to a baffling revelation that more or less suggests two killers, both of whom over-explain themselves and, in true giallo fashion, make things more confusing. The climax is also kind of strange in that Kitty - our heroine - isn't even present for some of the bigger reveals, as she is trapped in the cellar which is flooding with both water and a bunch of rats (another of the film's old-school horror homages - it's very Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man). As usual, vital pieces of information are only given to us in the final few moments, but that's all part of the fun, and again with a limited police presence it means the runtime is spent on the main characters, giving them a chance to get fleshed out enough that really any one of them could have been the killer and it'd be a satisfying denouement. The WHYs are kind of incidental anyway, so the fact that it barely makes a lick of sense doesn't really bother me. At least, not as much as the fact that Bouchet never even gets to hear from her tormentor why he/she had been doing such things. Hopefully one of the other survivors clues her in later.
Arrow has put together a pretty extensive disc here, starting with a really good commentary by Alan Jones and Kim Newman, who thankfully do NOT just recite the IMDb entries for everyone on-screen and instead talk about the film's narrative, offer background info (particularly on the wardrobe), giggle about some of its sillier plot points, and make note of its context within the giallo canon - such as pointing out that one kill may have inspired one in Deep Red (same thing I thought of when I watched it). This is the perfect kind of critical (meaning, the participant(s) had no involvement with the film) commentary, offering insight and analysis but without being all stuffy and dry about it; it's a bummer they couldn't reunite for Evelyn. Then there are a pair of new interviews; one with Danning who is a delight as she talks about her pre-movie career, this particular job, and what she's done since, all without the slightest bit of pretension about any of it (her only regret is that someone else dubbed her voice in the movie). The other is with Stephen Thrower, a writer who more or less just runs down the plot and gives some general info on the participants, with a few jabs thrown in for good measure (like how the movie manages to confuse us from the first scene), though he oddly claims no one knows what happened to Miraglia, when all of the other people who mention him say that he died a few years after making this final film in his brief career.
The other extras (beyond the new transfer, of course - it looks terrific though I haven't seen the movie before so I can't speak on any improvements) are all carried over from a 2006 release from another company, putting Arrow in my cool book as I hate having to keep multiple releases of a film in order to have all of its bonus material - if I HAD that older one I could safely get rid of it, in other words. They include a few more interviews (including one with Bouchet), a curious alternate opening title sequence that shows the years passing by (though they only offer the even numbered years, for whatever reason), and an intro to the film by the production designer. They're all fine, though pale to in quality to the newer ones (both in a technical and entertainment value sense), so only mega-fans of the film need apply.
It's a shame Miraglia only directed these two films in the genre, and an even bigger one that this turned out to be his swan song. A lot of gialli tend to blend together, but his stand out by mixing Gothic elements into the usual murder plots, and it would have been fun to see what he'd do as the likes of Argento came into prominence - would he double down? Just make full blown supernatural horror films and leave the black gloved killers to his rival? We'll never know, though at least Arrow has saw fit to give his painfully brief horror career its due with this lavish set (which includes a 60 page booklet and just as many extras for Evelyn). And unlike a number of their cooler releases, this will be available in region A as well as B (their home base), so us Americans can enjoy what they put together without worrying about region locking or import shipping costs. Hurrah!
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Bite (2015)
MAY 12, 2016GENRE: MONSTERSOURCE: DVD (SCREENER)
Maybe I should have added a "Body Horror" tag to my list? It'd feel weird to add one NOW, but Bite is one of a small but growing wave of new films that are inspired by old-school Cronenberg, joining Thanatomorphose, Strange Blood, and the Contracted films with a story about our protagonist gradually turning into a disgusting monster. I guess it kind of fits in the monster movie vein (hence that's why I tagged it as one), but monster also (read: usually) means an inhuman giant beast of some sort, not a normal 20-something who does something dumb on vacation and ends up turning into an insect/fish hybrid thing. It's... well, it's pretty goddamn gross, really.
You'd think a horror (or any) movie would want to suck its audience in right off the bat for maximum effectiveness, but part of what makes Bite ultimately work is that it kind of sucks at first. We're seeing everything through a video camera, our trio of heroine Casey and her two pals are kind of obnoxious, and it's even got the dreaded/stupid cliche of a friend pretending to be grabbed in the water to scare her friend, only to come back to the surface laughing at her horrible and overused joke. It's like the movie is going out of its way to be as generic as possible, which is smart - even if you don't realize or appreciate it at the time. The back half more than makes up for its earlier lapses, and I have to wonder if it was intentional, making the audience let their guard down so that they're even more blown away by what happens later.
Of course, this is a risky gamble in today's film watching landscape, as 99% of the people who see this movie will be doing so on Netflix or some other streaming service, where it's a lot easier to jump ship and watch something else or, at the very least, grab your cell phone and give the movie (at most) half of your attention. Granted, the plot doesn't get very complicated, especially if you've seen the aforementioned movies (especially Thanatomorphose) as it follows their familiar pattern - the infected person starts feeling sick, then weird bumps/sores appear, then weirder shit happens, and finally they're barely recognizable as human beings. Along the way, accidental (and then intentional) deaths occur as the condition worsens, and a happy ending is not even close to a possibility. But you'll likely miss the little subtle bits that keep it a little more engaging, like the reveal of what happened to Casey's engagement ring, or her horrible would-be mother-in-law (the wedding is in a week, because of course it is) fingering the packaging for a pregnancy test as she wanders around the apartment. The characters aren't exactly multi-layered, but you gotta give the movie your full attention to get what the screenwriters DO offer (which is still more than the average modern gross out horror flick can be bothered with).
What makes this one stand out is how icky it gets. I have mentioned my fear of fish more than once on this site, so longtime readers don't need to be told that a woman turning into a fish monster is gonna gross me out. The key moment is about halfway through, when Casey walks into a surprise party and reacts by dumping thousands of fish eggs on the floor - which her guests proceed to applaud and then stomp on as she desperately tries to stop them from destroying her babies. By now we know we're watching a nightmare scene, but here's the kicker - she wakes up and stumbles around her apartment, which really IS covered with thousands of freshly dumped fish eggs! And while The Fly is a clear influence, she doesn't get Brundle's super strength - she gets his acid puke ability, plus a sort of bluish gummy substance that she secretes from her hand and makes her victim look like she was just shunting with Smurfs.
The apartment itself is (don't say a character, don't say a character...) kind of its own character (goddammit, Collins!), mirroring her own degeneration as it turns into a sort of cocoon/hive/nest thing. It's a marvel of production design that must have been torture for all involved, as it is barely even recognizable as a domicile by the time the climax rolls around - thick layers of what looks like a shed snakeskin cover the walls, tendrils of gooey tar like substances protrude everywhere, more eggs come flopping out of giant sores in the wall... imagine the cocoons from Gremlins mixed with that thing in Possession and you kind of get an idea, except across the entire apartment instead of being confined to one spot. Every shot has things just like dripping or pulsing in the background, and it really helps provide a contrast for the (one too many) scenes of someone knocking at the door asking Casey to let them in, only to finally barge their way inside and get disgusted at what they see. Casey looks right in that environment, these normal looking people are the aliens. It's a pretty neat visual, really.
Also, the hybrid nature of what she's turning into is pretty cool. I mean, her eggs are definitely of the aquatic variety, but she gets a stinger and the fly-like puke thing, giving her more of an insect quality (plus the final shot features the eggs hatching little flying things). Maybe there's some fish that matches up with all of these descriptions, but I prefer my hybrid theory, in the end (yes, that was an intentional dumb joke). We don't see what bit her, but it's something in the water - but then again her friend gets bitten too and she's OK except for a rash. So maybe it was an STD she got from the guy she bangs? Or a mixture? The movie doesn't really spell it out, which is fine...
... but leads into my other concern, which is that I wish there was a little more to the basic structure. Like I said, too much of it just involves people being worried about her and coming by to check up, only to usually get killed for their trouble. There's a go-nowhere subplot with a neighbor whose dog she walks - not that I want to see a dog get turned into a puddle of goo but it's weird how it's just dropped after a scene where the dog is afraid to go near her (at this stage she just looks like she has a bad cold or something). A random subplot about one of her friends trying to steal away her fiancee comes along too late in the narrative to mean much (by the time she makes her move it's not like the wedding is gonna happen anyway), and the cast is too compact to mix things up enough. I assume the budget was small and (rightfully) all went toward the makeup and production design, but it doesn't make it any less cyclical and thus somewhat flat - eventually you're just kinda waiting to see the next gross-out effect. Maybe the dog shoulda came back as a hero? Basically if Casey is a Seth Brundle type, the movie needed a Stathis Borans substitute to throw a wrench in the works. Explaining everything isn't exactly what I'd want, but maybe bringing the guy she banged back into the picture wouldn't have hurt. Look, I'm not the screenwriter, dammit! Just needed SOMETHING to keep it from having that "short film stretched to 90 minutes" feeling.
So a little thin and rough going at first, but if you're a fan of this niche but effective sub-genre, it's definitely worth checking out. And it's another minor win for Chad Archibald, who also gave us the enjoyable (but also padded) slasher The Drownsman and the pretty cool sci-fi flick Ejecta. All of his films have good intentions and are worth watching, but I really hope he can knock it out of the park next time (perhaps with a committed screenwriting partner that can really nail his intriguing concepts), as that's three in a row that I recommend with reservations. Sure, that's better than just making a bad movie, but it's kind of frustrating too - all three could be classics based on their concepts, but they always fall a little short for one reason or another. He's so close!
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Monster
Hush (2016)
MAY 11, 2016GENRE: SURVIVAL, THRILLERSOURCE: STREAMING (NETFLIX)
No, it makes no sense that Hush has been available for weeks and I'm just getting to it now. I mean, I HAVE an excuse - I was told it should be watched in the dark with the sound cranked, a situation that no longer presents itself since dark means my kid is asleep and thus there will be no cranking of sounds (especially with his bedroom directly above the TV room). But I feel I shoulda figured something out (a hotel?) just because it was a new film from a filmmaker I really like (writer/director Mike Flanagan of Absentia fame), that had drawn comparisons to Halloween, and was a merciful 75 minutes long without credits - I fear I am just getting out of habit. I think I mentioned this before, but the lack of discipline of "having" to watch/write every day has made it that much easier to let things pass me by, which sucks when it means I could be late to the party - or missing entirely* - quality films like this.
Now, with all due respect to Stephen King (who MAY have been a bit swayed by the appearance of a couple of his books on the heroine's shelf), I don't think it's up to Halloween standards - but let's not forget I don't think any film is, being that it's my favorite one ever. However, it definitely shares a very important trait with that film: it's basically plotless, devoting its runtime to little more than wanting to spook its audience and jolt them out of their seats when necessary. It's also a bit like The Strangers (another one I quite like), but even more stripped down - it's just the one woman (Maddie, played by co-writer Kate Siegel) and the one killer, who makes his presence known to her at like the 15 minute mark or so (Liv Tyler didn't know about that guy in her house for about double that, if memory serves). If anything Flanagan could have dragged out the "toying with her" part of the movie a bit, as that sort of stuff is always good for a scare - prowling in the background as she remains completely unaware, but I have to admire that he kind of made things harder for himself by letting her know about the killer so soon (and setting it more or less in real time after).
It's even more impressive/ballsy when you consider he had the license to let her go an entire movie without knowing that a guy was in her house, because she is deaf - he doesn't even have to worry about footsteps or anything alerting her as he makes his way around behind her. Her impairment forms the basis for one of the movie's most chilling moments, which starts out as a seeming direct homage to Halloween, with the heroine making her way back and forth in a kitchen that has a big glass door behind her. Just as Annie never noticed Michael appear (and disappear) as she talked to Paul, we astute horror fans keep expecting the killer (who hasn't made an appearance yet, but I and you probably know what the movie is about) to pull a similar move - but instead it's her neighbor who shows up, frantic and screaming (and eventually - spoiler - being murdered) as Maddie remains completely oblivious. It's the film's first real scare scene and also remains its best; a perfect blend of genuine terror and maximum utilization of one of the character's defining traits.
I should mention that the killer learns in this moment about her predicament, letting us know that it's not someone with a particular vendetta against her - the fact that she can't hear him was a surprise bonus, it seems. Flanagan just posted a few days ago a response to the people who have complained that the killer's motives and origins are left unknown (he doesn't even have a name), name-checking The Strangers' "Because you were home" as a more chilling "explanation" than anything he could cook up (he also amusingly reminds people that Silence of the Lambs didn't tell us much about Lecter, and that when they did in Hannibal Rising - everyone hated it). And he's 100% right; the movie gives us a few glimpses into his personality in order to make him a real character (as opposed to say, the nameless "Killer" in Final Exam), but where he came from, why he does this, etc. are all left unknown, and that's how it should be for this kind of film. Scream can't end without Ghostface taking off his mask and giving Sidney/us a reason for his behavior, but this is a terror exercise, and thus is exempt from that requirement.
Plus, you know, it worked just fine for Michael Myers. While I like my Halloween sequels just fine, I will be first to admit that they tainted the original's power forever, as it's nearly impossible to forget what the sequels told us about Myers and why he's doing these things. And I think people forget that when they make these complaints - since it all blends together (the TV version of Halloween makes it even worse, hinting at the sister thing in the newly shot scenes) they forget that there was a time (1978 until October of 1981) where we had no idea why Laurie Strode was being targeted by this guy, and it didn't stop people from loving it. There are other examples, of course, but it's best/easiest to use Halloween when it's hard to argue with - is there anyone out there who really thought it needed more explanation and thank the sequels for providing it? I mean, maybe, but they're probably also voting for Trump. As Flanagan says in his piece, the moment you start explaining things is the moment they get silly, and I laud him for sticking to his guns and avoiding such nonsense. Knowing this guy's name wouldn't have made that aforementioned scene or any of the other solid scare scenes any more effective. It's just not the point of this particular film.
Back to the actual movie, another thing Flanagan does that I liked a lot was that he kept the cops out of it entirely. Again, she can't exactly call them for help anyway (he cuts the power, making internet pleas impossible), but if he wanted that usual kind of scene I'm sure he would have figured out a way to include one. But such scenes always play out the same way - the cop shows up, can't find anything, and gets killed just before he leaves (or he DOES find something and is killed before he can do anything about it). Instead, he just gives us the neighbors - the aforementioned victim and her boyfriend, who comes looking for her and encounters the killer - who poses as a cop! It's such a great inversion of a home invasion movie trope (getting rid of the cops who show up), and it plays into the film's other strength, which is that you're not sure how it will end up. Maddie is a novelist, and during the film's brief "let's get to know this person" sequence at the top we learn that she has multiple endings for her stories and never knows which she'll go with. That, along with Flanagan's not exactly super happy endings in his other films (and this being a movie Blumhouse didn't think could be a hit, i.e. potentially dark) had me never quite sure if anyone would survive, which aided the proceedings greatly.
See, with such a stripped down premise and cast (there are only five people seen in the film, one just briefly over a Skype call), you'd think the movie might be kind of boring, but he manages to make it work for the most part. Again, he might have let the killer fuck around for a bit longer instead of going out of his way to make her see him so soon, and there's one too many "she tries to go outside, fails, and runs back inside just in time to lock the door before he gets her" bits, but you know what this movie is with the heroine not knowing anything is wrong until the end? The goddamn When A Stranger Calls remake. I'll take a bit of repetition over "realistic" tedium any day of the week (and since she's deaf, the icemaker can't scare our heroine anyway!). If I had one legit complaint about the movie, it's that Flanagan doesn't explain that the glass on the doors is (inexplicably) just shy of shatter proof, as the killer has considerable trouble busting through it when he finally decides to do that - near the film's conclusion. Until then, even though he says he's in no rush to kill her, he clearly wants to get inside, but is seemingly incapable of just grabbing a rock or branch and smashing any of the doors or windows to do that. When he finally does we see that it's not that easy, but after 50 minutes or whatever it's been, it's a bit late to answer a simple question most audience members will probably have. There should have been a bit early on where he tries that and finds it to be too much trouble (especially with her being deaf - it's not like he'd have to worry about alerting her if he used a window she wasn't currently looking at).
The other "flaw" (note the quotes) is that it's not a movie you'll want to return to again and again; this is a one-timer if there ever was one. Maybe in 20 years I'd like to look at it again, or perhaps go to a revival screening to watch it with a crowd, but it serves its lean and effective purpose with just the one view. I say this to make sure I am clear that this is not a horror masterpiece that we need to induct in the hall of fame along with The Exorcist or whatever. It's what I like to call "blue collar" horror - it gets the job done, striving for no more and achieving no less. People will see these raves and touts from Stephen King and get their expectations inflated to an unreasonable degree, and that's a disservice to the film. I can almost see why Blumhouse opted to send it DTV; it's not worse than any of this year's releases (it's better than most, in fact) but it's so stripped down (and short) that I think people would be angry to pay the same ticket price they paid for the latest Marvel flick. No, it's perfect for Netflix or (eventual) VOD viewing, as it keeps your investment tiny and this allows for maximum rewards.
What say you?
P.S. As for why I finally watched it today - it was super cloudy and not a landscaper day for my apartment complex, so with almost no light coming through the cracks in the blinds and everything besides my surround sound being relatively quiet, I was able to get my living room as close to that ideal setup as I'll ever get.
*I was at the used DVD store the other day and was legitimately sad about all the stuff I hadn't seen. Sure, it was probably mostly crap, but I literally wrote a book on the movies I wouldn't have seen if I wasn't doing this, and thus it's possible some of them could have been included had I seen them. It really bummed me out.
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Fix,
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Thriller
Lake Placid vs Anaconda (2015)
APRIL 29, 2016GENRE: MONSTER, PREDATORSOURCE: STREAMING (ONLINE SCREENER)
"Unless [another entry] is somehow conceived, produced, and released in the next 5 months (when HMAD ends), I'll never see it. For me, this truly is the Final Chapter. Adieu, mostly lousy series!"
That's from my review of Lake Placid: The Final Chapter, posted a few months before the daily part of HMAD ended in March of 2013. The thinking was, while I still planned to update the site a couple times a week (I know, it's usually more like once at best), I wouldn't be bothering much with sequels to movies I never liked much to begin with. Alas, I was "forced" to watch Lake Placid vs. Anaconda for one of my freelance jobs, and when I was surprised to discover that it actually had some continuity with both of the series, I looked up my own reviews and realized that I had reviewed all eight previous movies - I figured I kind of had to post a review.
And yes, EIGHT - four Lake Placids, and four Anacondas. In terms of vs. movies, it's rather squarely matched - Jason had more movies than Freddy, Alien had more movies than Predator, but these guys are on even ground - except when it comes to money and theatrical success. The first two Anaconda films were released theatrically and were successful (especially the first - outgrossing the likes of Starship Troopers, LA Confidential, Jackie Brown, and The Game, among far too many others), but only the first Lake Placid was given such treatment - and it was technically a dud, grossing a mere 31m on a 35m budget. In fact, I'm kind of confused Lake Placid went first in the title, as not only is Anaconda a bigger brand name but it also comes first in the alphabet, giving it better placement in VOD menus (whereas L is pretty much right in the middle). But either way I think it's a pretty stupid title, since Lake Placid isn't the name of the crocodile. I mean it'd be cool if the snakes all decided to just fight a large body of water, but that's obviously not what happens - it'd be like if the 2003 film was called Freddy vs Friday the 13th.
Anyway, back to the continuity - I wouldn't say you HAD to watch the other movies, but I was surprised to discover that the writers clearly had, bringing back elements from the Lake Placid series (like the giant fence that encircles the area, letting these animals live peacefully) and the Anaconda series (like the Blood Orchid) in equal measure. The two characters that return are both Lake Placid vets (Yancy Butler and Robert Englund, who survived being eaten in the last film), but the main evil business lady is the daughter of John Rhys-Davies' character from Anaconda 3, so they reward people that have memorized those movies (or, like I did, took a second to look at a Wikipedia entry to understand the connection after she kept referring to unseen father, which is sequel shorthand for a dead character). Again, it's not like you'll be confused if you go in blind, but it tickled me that the movie actually seemed to care more about the two franchise's history than Freddy vs. Jason or Alien vs. Predator did about their respective series.
I was also tickled that the movie's production company was Destination Films, which I thought had went belly-up years ago. For horror fans they're probably best (?) remembered for Bats, the Syfy-level movie that somehow got a theatrical release in 1999 (a not entirely unsuccessful one! It outgrossed Idle Hands and Teaching Mrs. Tingle, for what it's worth), but to me they're the gods who gave us Drowning Mona, one of my favorite random comedies of all time ("Demoted mother"). Alas, my enthusiasm quickly vanished, as the very first shot of the croc was hideous - not even PS2-level, more like PS1 cut-scene, made additionally sad/hilarious by the fact that the shot was behind the VFX supervisor's credit. Supervising what, exactly? A Windows 95 computer running After Effects 2.5? FX are cheaper these days and more people know how to do them - it shouldn't be this hard to get an at least halfway decent shot of your title monster(s), especially in the first few scenes.
However, some of that hope returned a few seconds later, when an unexpected bit of wit intruded on an otherwise cliche and dumb scene. Early on, Englund (sporting a hook hand, metal foot, and eye-patch to explain his survival) has been hired by the shady scientist types to get them past the fence so they could steal eggs or whatever the hell, and he's trying to back out, so one of them has a gun on him. And they're going through the motions, muttering "Not so fast..." "I won't say anything, let me go!" sort of dialogue that no one actually listens to. Meanwhile, the non-gun-toting scientists are still going about their work nearby (everyone's in one of those mobile labs, like the one in The Lost World), and one of them needs to get to a microscope next to the guy holding a gun on Englund, so he just totally ignores their own personal problems and sighs "Watch the gun..." as he casually strolls between them so he can get on with his work. Like, I love the idea that the real scientists are so used to their employers pulling guns on each other that it doesn't even faze them anymore.
As for the "vs" aspect, as expected they don't spend a lot of time on it. They meet up around the halfway point and the croc gets destroyed pretty quickly, and then near the end another croc (there are several of each monster) flings a snake into the blades of a helicopter hovering above, killing the snake (duh) and sending the chopper into an off-screen crash. No, as usual, they spend most of the movie just going after random humans, following Lake Placid sequel traditions and pitting a group of Bulgarian-as-American teens against the beasts as one of their parents tries to rescue them. This time it's a bunch of sorority sisters/pledges, naturally led by a horribly bitchy girl who, just as naturally, will be one of the last to die (after pushing one of her friends into the monster's path to save herself, of course). But director A.B. Stone bungles the moment we've all been waiting for, opting to cut to the other girls' reactions before we see the croc actually chomp on her. He cuts back to at least show her (already dead) in his jaws, but still: personal foul, movie - ten yard penalty. The only reason to keep these awful kind of characters around for the majority of the runtime is to give them a really satisfying death (even with the MPAA cuts, the bitchy girl in New Blood is a fine example - axe to the head AND he throws her across the room!), so to not actually do that is kind of a huge betrayal of our trust.
But, you know, it's fine. I got paid to watch it so that might factor into my "excitement", but they've paid me to watch others that I wished I could pay them back to STOP watching, so I guarantee it's at least tolerable. Englund seems to be having a little more fun than he did in the previous film, and I like how Yancy Butler has a different job in every movie - she was a poacher in Lake Placid 3, then an EPA Agent in Final Chapter, and now she's the sheriff (Corin Nemec plays the obligatory EPA rep). The end of the movie sets up another sequel of course, so I hope if she returns she's the mayor or something. It also offers plenty of carnage (and an impressive amount of blood being tossed on our heroes during the climax as giant monsters explode around them), and even if they're brief the titular battles are at least funny to watch, bad CGI and all. I also loved (ironically) the bit where Butler comes across some wrecked vehicles and says "What the hell happened here?" as if she hadn't already seen this sort of aftermath in two other movies - maybe she has her memory wiped every time she takes on a new job?
The crocs get more human victims than the snakes, for the record. They're the ones who kill most of the sorority girls (only one dies by snake I think - he/she crushes the car the girl's hiding in), so between that and the two characters it seems that the producers favored Lake Placid over Anaconda a tiny bit. I think the problem with all of the modern vs. movies is that they're born out of two different studios (Jason was Paramount for majority of his run, so it made sense that "The House That Freddy Built" would prefer Krueger for FvJ), unlike the old Universal ones like Frankenstein meets The Wolfman that were all under Universal's umbrella from inception. They had the characters, the sets, the history... the team-ups were more satisfying, at least on that level, than these newer ones ever manage. I think we'll be seeing a shift toward more shared universes (like Marvel) as opposed to straight one on one matches. Take Civil War - a movie that was just Captain America vs. Iron Man would have been fine on its own, but it's the fact that it's part of this ongoing series that makes it truly exciting for everyone, because it's Cap 3, Iron Man 4, Ant-Man 1.5, plus a prequel to Black Panther (and Spider-Man). Marvel is the franchise, not any one character, giving them license to do whatever but also keeps favoritism at bay - you can guarantee if Fox agreed to temporarily lend them the X-Men characters for one "AvX" film that fans of the X-films wouldn't walk away as satisfied as Avengers fans. That said, there are enough junk franchises on Syfy (including Bats, now that I think about it) that they could probably build up some sort of half-assed universe going forward. Maybe Anaconda and Lake Placid can fight Sharknado. A man can dream.
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Got A Few More Signed HMAD Books!
Hey folks! The signing for the HMAD book was over the weekend and went very well, as we sold nearly all of the copies we had on hand! That means I have a few left for anyone who wants a signed copy - anyone interested? Since the signing copies were bought in bulk at a slight discount I'll be selling them for the list price of $25 with shipping/packaging included - not a bad deal especially if you aren't an Amazon prime member (my autograph isn't worth anything, but free shipping? PRICELESS!). If you're interested just Paypal $25 and email your shipping address to my gmail (FrightReviews) and, if it's for a gift, who I should make it out to. And if you're just looking to sell it on Ebay, I don't care - just make sure you tell me not to personalize it! And, apologies, but this is for US residents only. It's first come first served so don't wait too long as I won't be ordering any more copies for the foreseeable future - they're too damn big to keep at the house! And I'm sick of looking at it!
Thanks again for all your support thus far. Between the e-book and this physical one it's sold fairly well, and you guys have done a great job tweeting out links and leaving Amazon reviews - it means a lot to me. But it's about time to let this one spread its wings on its own while I start working on the next one!
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Superstition (1982)
APRIL 25, 2016GENRE: SUPERNATURALSOURCE: STREAMING (HBO GO)
Like all good Americans, I have a friend's HBO Go password so I can watch Game of Thrones on his dime, but I feel guilty about it, so I don't usually use it for much else (Silicon Valley is about the only exception). But it's not just guilt, I don't have time to add any more shows on my plate, and their movie selection is usually pretty much just stuff I already saw in theaters (or avoided for a reason, like Divergent 2). But some mild insomnia the other night (yes, after Thrones) made me decide to look through their horror section just out of curiosity, and I wasn't surprised to see a rather unexciting group of options - until I happened to notice Superstition tossed in there between Spaceballs (?) and Thirteen Ghosts. HBO's own writeup noted the film's obscurity, and I myself only vaguely recalled the title from somewhere, so I naturally hit play to see what I'd been missing.
As it turns out, what I was missing was a film that almost 100% HAD to be an influence on Witchery and Ghosthouse, the Italian "Evil Dead" sequels that I just saw last year for the first time. It's got an almost identical witch-driven backstory to the former and a present day plot that unfolds much like the latter, complete with the red herring handyman who probably knows the secrets the house holds. Now, neither of these are particularly rare plots, but the film even FEELS like an Italian production more often than not - even the score takes on a Goblin-y flair in the more exciting moments near the end. I mean, it's not like Italian producers were shy about copying American horror films, so the odds are at least pretty good that someone involved with those productions (which shared a number of producers and even a minor character) saw the film and found it ripe for "re-imagining". Indeed, per the IMDb it was actually released in Italy long before it bowed in its native US, for reasons I couldn't discover.
And like those movies, it's an enjoyable flick that you probably will have good memories of *overall* but find it difficult to remember too many specifics down the road. The structure is kind of the culprit for that - the movie falls into that Shocker/It's A Wonderful Life thing where it's easiest to describe something that's really just the third act. In this case it's the family that moves into the house - we don't even really meet them until like the 40 minute mark or something, and for a while we're still spending time with the film's hero (a priest who lives elsewhere) and the cop who is working with him to solve the murders that occurred in the film's (far too drawn out) opening sequence. So when the angry witch starts offing them, it's hard to get really worked up about it as we don't identify with them as our main characters, since the script kind of treated them as afterthoughts.
Then again, if this was some sort of Amityville/Poltergeist kinda deal where you were with the hero family from the start and really got to know them, the movie would be a lot less fun, because (spoiler) they all die! Mom, dad, the older teen sisters, and even the younger son, played by Billy Jayne from Bloody Birthday (my boy Curtis!). Even with their half-assed introduction into the narrative, I was still pretty shocked to see them all go - I figured maybe one sister would get offed and the others would be scared away, but nope! Even the one who seemingly does get away turns up dead later, and pretty much everyone else in the movie dies too. It's even got an inverse Hammer ending; whereas those films ended the second the bad guy was vanquished, this one fades to black after the hero is dragged to his death. It never really feels too grim or anything, but it's still rather surprising to see how bloodthirsty the screenwriter was. Also surprising, in a funnier kind of way, was that more than once I had flashbacks to the 1978 movie The Evil with Andrew Prine, only to discover that both films were written by the same guy (Galen Thompson). Alas, his career of writing horror movies about people going into dilapidated houses and getting killed was short-lived - after taking the rest of the '80s off he came back as what seems like Chuck Norris' go-to writer, penning Sidekicks, The Hitman, and some of the Walker, Texas Ranger stuff. I THINK Scream Factory technically has the rights to The Evil as it was a Shout! Factory release back in 2010 (before Scream Factory existed) and it's still in print, so maybe they can upgrade it to Blu and pair it with this.
It was during this look at the film's Wiki to find out more about its release that I discovered the reason I knew the title in the back of my mind somewhere: it's on the infamous Video Nasty list, though it wasn't one of the more notorious 72 "Section 2" films. No, it belonged to a longer list comprised of 80 films that were deemed "less obscene" and thus subsequent to lesser charges. It's in good company; due to the British censors' rather insane selection process it's considered on the same level as Dawn of the Dead and Mark of the Devil, films also deemed "less obscene" than the likes of The Burning and The Funhouse. Insane, right? Anyway, at least it earns some of its notoriety in terms of its gore FX - there's a pretty gnarly bandsaw kill early on, and one of the daughters gets her head spiked to the floor. Not every kill is gory (and some are off-screen), but they make it count on those and a few others, so while I don't see why it was singled out when other movies like Halloween II and Slumber Party Massacre were ignored, it's not as insane of an inclusion as say, Final Exam, which was often criticized for its LACK of blood and the like (nudity-free, too). Oh you wacky Brits!
Another odd thing is that the movie gives us a lengthy flashback to the witch (and her persecutor, who looked kind of like Willem Dafoe) at a rather late stage in the film, time when we should be getting fully invested in the present day action instead of what happened 300 years ago. I mean, it's not like they withheld the information to hide a twist or anything, and the backstory had already been more or less explained away, so why we need to see it all go down just feels like padding more than anything else - it could/should have been the prologue instead of the random, slasher-esque sequence where the two random guys get killed. Someone else dies not long after the family moves in, so if that stuff happened earlier there would still be a reason to get the police involved from the start - it's like the screenwriter wasn't sure what kind of movie he was writing at first and once he figured it out, never went back and made everything flush. Granted, it makes the movie a little harder to pin down (the slasher-y feel was certainly a perk to me), but also harder to really invest yourself in the way you do with Amityville or even a regular slasher.
The movie is also known as The Witch, a title that now belongs to another, even if it's more fitting (there's not a lot of superstition going on here - that should be the name of a movie with a lot of black cats, broken mirrors, and spilled salt). I don't know if it ever really got a theatrical release in the US (IMDB just says "January" - not any specific date, and unsurprisingly BoxOfficeMojo had no listing for it), but I assume it just didn't really "fit" anywhere (too supernatural to play with the slashers that were popular when it was made, and not showy enough to compete with the likes of Nightmare on Elm Street when it was finally released here) and died quickly after a regional release. Luckily, some of the film's producers bounced back - among them are Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna, who'd go on to form Carolco and produce things like T2 and a lot of Stallone's movies. I can only assume that their involvement is the reason the film is now out of print, as it was released by Anchor Bay a while back but the rest of the Carolco library seems to be at Lionsgate now - it might be in some weird limbo with no one really caring. And the Gate barely seems interested in their big horror properties these days (that Saw boxed set - ugh!) so even if they got it in the package I can't see them bothering to dig it out of their virtual mothballs to give it a nice release. Then again, HBO certainly didn't beg to have it, so there's gotta be someone out there making sure it's being seen by modern audiences, so perhaps a new disc isn't a total pipe dream. Not that I'd rush out and buy it, but it's such an odd little movie to come out of that time period that I think more folks should give it a look, if only out of curiosity. Here's hoping!
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Zoombies (2016)
APRIL 21, 2016GENRE: PREDATOR, ZOMBIESOURCE: STREAMING (ONLINE SCREENER)
I'm not sure *when* it happened exactly, as it was probably a gradual thing, but somewhere along the line The Asylum actually figured out how to make their movies enjoyable. Sure, every now and then they would luck into a movie that didn't make me wish I was dead, like Mega Piranha and the (legitimately fun) Zombie Apocalypse, but everything I've seen of late has been at least watchable, often rather amusing. And I can't believe that it's just coincidence and I just HAPPEN to be seeing the "best" of the lot - I truly think movies like Zoombies are what they're often producing; the rule, not the exception (I saw another called Night of the Wild that was a killer dog flick - also pretty fun for what it was). I'm sure they still churn out some stinkers, but it seems the days of Monster and Paranormal Entity are behind them, thankfully.
They've also shied away from straight up mockbusters, opting for something inspired by a big budget movie but not copying it right down to the title. So while this movie is clearly taking cues from Jurassic World (our business-savvy heroine is trying to keep her zoo fresh, she has a kid with her, etc, etc.) and the original Park (it's not open yet), it's not about dinosaurs - it's a traditional zoo with standard animals, except that they've all turned into zombie like predators due to some experiment gone awry. So instead of getting variety via dinosaur types (a T-Rex attack, then a raptor chase, etc.) we get setpieces with different animals entirely - monkeys, giraffes, an ape, birds, even elephants get in on the action, usually with one big sequence of their own. This actually creates a pretty fun smorgasbord of dangers and tasks - the bigger animals are of course dangerous anyway (zombie or not, watch out for a stampeding elephant), and the otherwise harmless birds pose the biggest threat of all as they can fly to populated areas and infect the rest of the world.
It's also got a better script than Jurassic World, though that bar isn't exactly a high one. The characters are all cliches, but at least they behave consistently from scene to scene and never really act like they're brain-damaged in order to advance the plot, like the JW ones did (i.e. walking into a pen with a monster dinosaur to look for it, rather than check the tracker it supposedly has). Things pay off, such as the tough animal control lady who berates an intern for not knowing how to shoot, and later he's able to fire the same comeback (something like "then you better learn quick!") to her when she confesses a weakness, a far cry from World's baffling decision to spend a giant chunk of its first act on the older brother's obsession with girls when it in no way influences anything on what happens to them later. And the interior logic more or less works - it's B-movie nonsense, of course, but I can't recall an instance where I literally yelled "WHAT?" at the screen as I did during what would become the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time (for a few months anyway, Star Wars knocked it down a peg. It's still about 9000 spots too high).
Of course, a better script probably means little to people who just want to see carnage, and on that front it delivers - as long as you accept that the FX are gonna be bad. I mean, I've seen worse, and in movies with far less of them to boot, but they're still a long way from looking good ("decent" would even be stretching it for a few). But there's an energy to the scenes themselves and the movie as a whole that makes them easier to deal with - sure, two giraffes tearing a guy apart isn't going to win the animators any awards, but consider the fact that it's TWO GIRAFFES TEARING A GUY APART! Bad FX tend to really sting when you can think of all the times you've seen it done right, but it's not like I've ever seen a photo-real shot of two giraffes tearing a guy apart, so it's fine. I mean, the movie is called Zoombies and the Asylum likes to put their name in big block letters at the top of the film - I was not expecting Oscar-level work here, and if anything incredible FX would almost be a detriment - it might be less fun in a way.
That said, it actually DOES offer one creepy/kinda scary bit, which I wasn't expecting. First there's a parrot who keeps repeating his victim's final words over and over, and then we see an eagle (I think? Some bird like that) who has made a nest out of a victim's intestines - and she's still alive to relay this information ("it's nesting in meeeeee!"). It was almost kind of disturbing, and certainly not what I was expecting to see at any point in this movie. I'd even go so far as to say that it didn't really belong in this particular movie, but I think part of the reason it played like that is because the bird FX, for whatever reason, were better than those of the larger animals. Strangely, the absolute worst FX shot in the entire movie was animal-free - it was a sequence where some characters finally use the zipline that had been foreshadowed twice already, shot by clearly just putting the actors on a harness and not even actually dangling them in front of the green-screen. If you look at their arms they're not even being stretched, so the director didn't even bother having them hang and just let them stand on something while they said their lines in front of the green backdrop that would be (poorly) added in later. I almost had to laugh that they somehow managed to take the only part of the movie that they could have possibly shot for real and make it look faker than any of the fantastical nonsense around it (you can also hilariously see through actress Kim Nielsen's striking light blue eyes during a commercial for the zoo, as they got filtered out along with the colored screen behind her).
Another thing I enjoyed is that the main building for the zoo was the same shooting location from Dead Heat and Brain Dead (and other movies), which prompted me to finally look into its actual location as I knew it had to be Los Angeles somewhere. And by look into I mean emailed my friend Jared, who did the legwork while I just tweeted nonsense or whatever it was I did until he got back to me. Oddly enough, while I figured it was in one of the more isolated areas of the county (like Santa Clarita, where they shoot almost every low budget horror movie), it was actually in Van Nuys - and I had driven past it on my way to work that morning! I mean it's far enough off the road that I probably wouldn't be able to see it from my car window anyway, but I don't usually drive that way in the morning, it just happened that the traffic patterns elsewhere had Waze send me on that road (which happens maybe 1 in 20 morning commutes). And I had no idea I'd be watching Zoombies today either, so it was just the lamest and least consequential form of fate in human history.
Oh, and the guy who ignores his friends' pleas and puts himself in grave danger to save an endangered animals gets killed by said endangered animal, which is the kind of mean-spirited outcome I really like. But if mean-spiritedness ain't your thing, it's also worth noting that the movie offers two heroines; Nielsen's Bryce Dallas Howard stand-in plus the head guard (the Chris Pratt, I guess?), and neither of them have heels on as far as I know.
Look, I'm not saying you need to track this down or put it on your must-watch list or anything, but all things considered, I found it to be a pretty harmless and enjoyable little slice of B-movie nirvana. Everyone involved (well, maybe not all of the actors) knew exactly what kind of movie they were making and were smart enough to know that simply offering amazing shots for a trailer isn't going to win anyone over (looking at you, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus). The characters were largely likable (even the obligatory bitchy girl had an appealing moment or two) and despite their probably very limited budget, they delivered - in their own way - exactly what I wanted from the concept of "zoo animals turn into zombies" (indeed, even my half-jokey tweet demanded zombie elephants and monkeys - and they offered both!), as opposed to their many, many films that barely live up to the title let alone the concept. You don't even need to "turn your brain off" to enjoy the movie - you just have to meet it on its own terms.
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Genres:
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Last Day For HMAD Physical Book Discount!
Hey folks, a few of you have cashed in my limited time offer and should have gotten your books by now (if you haven't, please email me ASAP!). Just a heads up for everyone else - today is the last day the offer will be available, so if you'd like to take advantage act fast! To recap, if you bought the ebook before the physical version became available (which was March 31st, so anytime up to and including March 30th), you can get that 4.95 plus another buck off the cost of a physical copy - and free shipping! Just Paypal the 19.00 balance to my gmail address (FrightReviews) and email me (same address) with some proof of your ebook purchase and your shipping address and I'll have it sent out right away. Amazon's had it on sale for a couple bucks off pretty much since day 1 but this is an even better offer (especially if you're not a Prime member and thus getting free shipping anyway), so if you'd like to christen your toilet with my rambling at a discount, now's the time to do so!
Thanks again to everyone who has supported it so far!!!
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