October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #19 - The Pyramid

The Pyramid had an incredibly strange release last December. I remember being interested in the movie based solely on the poster (which is the banner image above, pretty rad right?) but I didn’t see any advertisements for it anywhere. No commercials, no trailers, nothing. Days before release I still hadn’t seen any semblance of promotion for it except for a handful of things online. Then it came out and didn’t play at a single theatre in Canada. I think that’s the first time a horror movie has pulled that nonsense. At first I was upset but then critics and audiences all hated it and it made no money. So I felt better about it. Plus the trailer I did seek out pulled that “here’s people in a theatre being way scared!” nonsense. Then I actually the movie and you guys…The Pyramid is pretty rad.

The Pyramid is technically a found footage movie, but it’s not committed at all to the gimmick. There are times where the found footage angle is completely dropped and it’s just shot like a movie. There is no reason for this to be happening within the fiction of the story. I’ve seen a lot of people complain about this but honestly I didn’t care at all. I’m so done with found footage that I was relieved to find this wasn’t a pure found footage experience. Plus let’s face it, almost none of these movies present a convincing reason why any of this is being filmed, especially past a certain point. I mean I love Cloverfield but Jesus dude, put that shit down and focus on running away! So already The Pyramid gets a point.

The early stages of the movie aren’t particularly interesting really. An archaeological team uncovers a weird pyramid buried under the sand that only has three sides instead of the typical four. They talk about how amazing this is and what a find they have and so on. They eventually send a drone into the pyramid, it gets attacked by some unseen thing. The dialogue and acting are passable but it doesn’t make for a terrifically rip roaring opening act.

Then they open up the pyramid and go inside. Then shit goes offffffff!

It’s going to be hard to talk about this chunk of the movie without spoiling each and every individual moment because this movie is far crazier than I ever could have expected. I remember seeing that Alexandre Aja was involved and was confused because this didn’t seem like a project that the director of The Hills Have Eyes and Pirahna remakes would attach himself too. Those movies are all kinds of bananas and this looked to be a very standard “being hunted in a dark, enclosed space” thriller. It didn’t take long into the second half to discover that nope, this is right up there at the appropriate level of Aja ridiculousness.

The deaths are often completely unexpected, surprisingly gruesome and so over the top you can’t help, or at least I couldn’t help, but laugh. Then they reveal what seems to be the creatures responsible for stalking our heroes and that too is so stupidly crazy I couldn’t help but be way into it. But then the movie decides “fuck this! Take it up another notch!” and the true villain of the piece was revealed. I was in awe that they were willing to go that over the top with it and it’s real dumb but the perfect amount of dumb that I was absolutely on board. I think….I think I have to spoil it. Ok don’t read this next paragraph if you don’t want it ruined for you. SPOILERS INCOMING!

BEGIN SPOILERS - Initially you are led to believe that insane cats who are thousands of years old are the primary antagonist in this piece. That’s pretty stupid and awesome, but then you go on to find out that in fact the main bad guy is the Egyptian god Anubis. The pyramid was built as a prison for Anubis and he spends the last chunk of the movie ripping out hearts and straight murdering fools. It’s…well it’s pretty incredible. – END SPOILERS

I read a few reviews that mentioned the entire movie takes place in pitch black environments where you can’t actually see anything or tell what is going on. I didn’t find that to be the case at all. When the stuff mentioned above goes down, they don’t shy away from putting all of the action right on camera. If anything they probably could have shown less. Actually no because that would make this movie at least 20% less weird and dumb and awesome so I take that back.

I feel I am going to be incredibly alone with my thoughts on The Pyramid. Maybe others will say it was all predicable but I was surprised by some of the routes will go. I’m positive that others will find it stupid instead of “stupidly awesome” like I did. But whatever, I was way into this movie and I own it now and I will watch it again because it’s awesome and stupid and awesome and dumb.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #18 - The Gallows

For reasons I am no longer clear on at all, I wanted to see The Gallows when it was in theatres this Summer. I went back just now and watched the trailer and I have absolutely no clue what I saw in this originally. It looks like a painfully generic found footage movie. Nothing special. Thankfully it was out of theatres so fast I never got the chance to see it. I can’t imagine a scenario where I watched this without the ability to make the Playstation 4 run it at 1.5x speed to get it over with faster.

The Gallows opens effectively enough. We are watching the footage of a filmed high school play. It looks as terrible as you would imagine a high school play would look, when suddenly an actor on stage, whose character is about to be hanged, is killed for real when the play’s gallows prop malfunctions. Is it completely ridiculous that a high school production would have a fully functional gallows set-up? Oh my god yes, but it’s the kind of ridiculous I can get behind. Actually the very end is quite goofy as well. So the movie is bookended by some enjoyable dopiness but everything in between those scenes varies from “excruciating” to “painfully excruciating”.

Naturally after a student dies in front of a huge crowd, the play (also titled “The Gallows”) is no longer being performed at this school. Until now! After…20 years maybe…the play is finally going to be performed again. However the star of the play, whose name I am not looking up because this movie isn’t getting any more of my time than ended, isn’t too into the idea of actually performing. He’s only really there because he has a crush on the leading lady. So he and his friends decide the only logical action is to break into the school the night before the show and destroy the set so the play can’t go on. I think also he plans to comfort the main girl to get closer to her as she is really excited to do the play. Great foundation for a relationship. Anyway once they break into the school magic nooses start killing them. It’s dumb.

A key element to any found footage movie is having a likable character behind the camera. This is the surrogate for the audience who guides us through the action and is a constant presence at all time so they better not be a chore to deal with. I know a lot of people weren’t huge fans of Hud in Cloverfield but I thought that was one of the better examples as most movies fail at this task. The Gallows is definitely the most spectacular failure.

Our man behind the camera is Ryan and he is one of the worst characters ever barfed out by any movie in any genre. He’s documenting the whole thing for reasons that are never clarified, or at least I don’t remember them being clarified. This guy is horrible. The first 40 minutes of this movie is him being the worst human being imaginable. He hates the drama class (it’s a mandatory class) and is constantly belittling his friend for being in it. He harshly mocks everybody around him, always calling everyone “drama nerds” and occasionally throwing footballs and hitting them in the head. Oh also there’s a moment where he films the girls in the class and calls them all ugly. Our lead everyone! He also thinks he’s hilarious so that makes it at least 100 times worse to listen to.

I can’t believe they actually thought this was a likable lead character. I thought maybe the idea was to make him purposely the worst so that you are satisfied when he gets murdered later. I don’t think so though. I tried to watch the gag reel included here (couldn’t even finish) and based on the general atmosphere there, I think they truly believed they were giving us a funny, entertaining dude and it makes me sad that people out there in the world will likely agree with them. I eventually had to fast forward chunks of this opening because I absolutely could not deal with how brutally unfunny this guy was and he never, EVER, stops talking.

The one saving grace (SPOILERS COMING) is that once they break into the school and the supernatural happenings begin, Ryan is the first to go. It isn’t satisfying though. His death is largely off screen and after what he put us through in that first half, that isn’t good enough.

Not that the other characters are a whole lot better. I mean the friend I guess is fine, he’s just bland. Same goes for Ryan’s girlfriend, although I hate her on principle because Ryan should not be allowed a girlfriend or any form of happiness. The one kind of likable character is the lead actress in the play and, of course, she is hated by the rest of them. I’m not sure why. The only thing we really see her do in the early scenes is graciously thank everyone for helping make the play a reality as it has been a dream of hers forever. God, what a bitch huh?

Some of this could be redeemed if the latter half of the movie was at all scary. It is not. The jump scares are predicable, the suspense is largely boring and the villain is lame. The deaths are also all largely the same with almost zero build-up and no shock value whatsoever. It’s certainly a leap in the right direction from the first half but instead of being an intolerable comedy, it becomes boring horror. It’s not a great trade.

The Gallows is terrible. Were it not for this marathon I wouldn’t have made it past that first half. The Ryan character is so grating that it actively depresses me that people could enjoy his antics or worse, that people like him exist in the real world. Nobody surrounding him fares much better and the horror elements are not executed well either. This movie has no real reason to exist, except to make me realize whenever a found footage movie is poor, that it could be worse. It could be The Gallows.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #17 - The Green Inferno

Originally I was going to watch The Green Inferno straight after Knock, Knock so I could really entrench myself in the world of 2015 Eli Roth movies (though apparently this was actually completed in 2013).The trip to see Crimson Peak ended up getting in the way of that and it’s likely for the best as watching these movies back to back would have bummed me out on Roth pretty hard.

The Green Inferno is Roth’s tribute to movies like Cannibal Holocaust and other gory-ass cannibal movies of the best. When you hear that the guy behind Cabin Fever and the Hostel movies is making a movie about cannibals, your mind definitely goes to a pretty messed up place. It’s not quite as bad as maybe you would think, but it certainly doesn’t shy away from the blood and unpleasantness.

Justine (Lorenza Izzo, also one of the two main girls in Knock, Knock) joins up with a group of fellow student activists in order to travel to the Amazon and stop a group of construction workers from tearing down the rainforest. They end up in a plane crash, then they end up running into a tribe full of cannibals who think they are part of the group there to destroy their home, then a lot of them end up getting murdered or eaten or sometimes both.

As with Knock, Knock, The Green Inferno is not afraid to take it’s time getting to the core plot and, as with Knock, Knock, I feel the movie suffers for that. While Justine is a likable enough protagonist, nobody surrounding her is all that interesting. With the exception of general asshole Alejandro (the leader of the activist group) nobody is reprehensible enough to want to see them get eaten, and outside of Justine, nobody is really likable enough to want to see them survive. It creates an air of indifference that never fully left.

When they do meet the cannibal tribe (which must be at almost the hour mark of the movie), things jump up a billion notches almost immediately. The goriest bit happens within minutes of this encounter and it’s…it’s a doozy. It just goes and goes and that is the moment that will likely lose some people. For me, who has seen his fair share of the red stuff in movies, it was just nice to have the movie jump into high gear like that. Unfortunately it ends up backfiring a little as from that point forward, the movie can never live up to that sequence, though this back half does manage to largely stay suspenseful and seat-squirmy.

As it tends to go with Roth movies, The Green Inferno is tonally all over the place. Not too long after the moment mentioned above, we have a character furiously pooping inside a cage while apologizing to her fellow captives. There’s several moments of that and while I’m always ok with having moments of levity in even the darkest of horror movies, these ones often fly so far to the other end of the spectrum that’s too jarring.

Actually speaking of being all over the place, I’m not really what message this movie is trying to portray. It seems as though the whole thing is targeted towards “slacktivists”, people who think that sharing a social media post counts as being a true activist. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense because all of the characters here are actual activists. They physically go to where the problem is and take extreme measures to try and prevent it. They are as active as activists get. So I’m not really sure what Roth is getting at here. Although apparently he has been throwing around the term “social justice warrior” so maybe who gives a shit what he has to say.

The Green Inferno isn’t bad. It has some memorable moments and a largely successful final half hour. The journey to that half hour however is a bit of a slog and the movie is very scattered with regards to tone and messaging. Check it out if you’re a fan of Roth’s work but largely this is another one to add to the pile of mediocrity that this year’s marathon continues to contribute to.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #16 - Crimson Peak

I will watch any movie Guillermo Del Toro releases. I’ve enjoyed I believe everything he has directed, to varying degrees. The amount of detail and attention he gives to every single frame of his movies is remarkable. Seriously, watch the bonus features on some of his DVDs and you will be stunned at the amount of effort he puts into his work. His movies never seem to make as much money as I feel they deserve so I always make the effort to get out there and see them. This made Crimson Peak a must see and while I wouldn’t put it amongst his best, it certainly doesn’t ruin his streak in my eyes.

Crimson Peak’s advertising, at least what little I saw, seems to largely be touting this as a ghost movie. Let it be known, and the movie itself even makes this clear up front, it isn’t really that. This isn’t a ghost story, it’s a story that happens to have a ghost in it. To be honest, if you stripped out all of the ghostly elements, the story would still hold together largely the same. But I mean if you can add a ghost to your story you should always do it, so I’m glad the ghosts are here. Also they are incredibly well done, featuring unique designs that doesn’t even attempt to make them look like humans.

Mia Wasikowska is Edith, an aspiring writer who falls in love with Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) a down on his luck guy who oversees a clay mining operation with his weirdo sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). After getting married, he takes Edith back to live with them in their weird old gothic house that may or may not have ghosts running around. Nefarious business ensues.

I will come right out and say that the story is absolutely not the highlight here. There’s an interesting mystery at its core, but even still the whole thing is rather slight. I could summarize all of the major happenings in a sentence or two and afterward you may think to yourself “that’s it?” Crimson Peak is absolutely a shining example of style over substance, but when there is this much style I find it hard to be too upset.

Everything about the look of this movie is top notch. From the costuming to the sound to the look of the period (early 20th century, 1901 I believe) is as detailed and imaginative as I have come to expect from a Del Toro movie. Most impressive is the Sharpe house itself. It captures the gothic aesthetic perfectly and features some truly remarkable set design. The house is largely falling apart, with gaping holes in the ceilings and clay from the mines seeping up out of the ground. It’s a fantastic creation and I really hope these elements are appropriately recognized once the Academy Awards roll around.

I’ve never been huge on Wasikowska in the past but she does remarkably well here, giving you a character to root for that could have come off as bland were it not done properly. The highlights though are definitely Hiddleston and Chastain as the Sharpe siblings. It was a nice change of pace to see Hiddleston (who I will admit I’m mostly familiar with because of Loki) play nice and Chastain play evil and they are both fantastic. It was also nice to see Charlie Hunnam getting to use his proper English accent after his not entirely successful go at an American accident in Pacific Rim.

I could see some people feeling a little misled by the advertising for Crimson Peak as, at least the ads that I’ve seen, they definitely lean harder into the horror and ghost elements. The truth is that many of the “big” ghost moments that the trailers and commercials show happen in the first small chunk of the movie. Personally I didn’t feel that took away from anything as the ghosts are just the icing on top of a great looking movie that perhaps could use a little bit more meat on its story. I would say this is worth checking out before it’s likely, and unfortunate, quick departure from theatres.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #15 - Knock, Knock

I don’t think I realized just how long it has been since Eli Roth directed a movie. He had Hostel 2 in 2007, and then a huge gap before 2015 saw the release of Knock, Knock and The Green Inferno (which was actually completed in I believe 2013). I have mixed feelings on Roth. I saw Cabin Fever and both Hostels and found all of them to be ok. Tonally they are all insane and all over the place, but I found enough to like in each movie that I could give them a passing recommendation. Knock, Knock may not get that same courtesy.

Keanu Reeves plays Evan, a husband and father of two whose family is so over the top happy in the opening scene that you know things are going to go very badly. They do in the form of two young girls who show up at Evan’s door one night. He’s alone that weekend as he stayed behind to work while his family heads off to the beach. He and the girls proceed to spend the next huge chunk of the movie having a shallow conversation as their attempts to seduce him get more and more blatant. Eventually he is unable to resist their advances any further and he engages in adult relations with them. Boy I sure hope they don’t turn out to be crazy people! Spoilers – they do.

Knock, Knock suffers from the same problem a few movies have during this marathon – it’s supposedly a horror comedy that is neither very scary nor very funny. It’s just….there. My main issue is that it’s a very slight movie. From start to finish, not a whole lot happens. Yes the same can be said about many great movies but here, the few things that do happen are pretty dull. The conversation between Evan and the girls that takes up the first act feels unnecessarily drawn out. We get it, they’re hitting on him. Sure it shows the lengths he was willing to go to not give into them, but it doesn’t make their talk any more interesting.

Once we hit the final act and it starts to become more of a thriller, it gets only a notch or two more interesting. There’s some appropriately Eli Roth-y insanity and a few pretty twisted sequences, but it’s still a lot of three people yelling at each other. There are only a couple of effective moments of suspense, but they tend not to lead anything. It all culminates in a climax that peters out and just makes you go “That’s it?”

I also find the girls made for poor villains. They go from normal to full tilt crazy immediately and they are different shades of uninteresting on each end of the spectrum. Once they’ve gone completely cuckoo bananas, they mostly just giggle and shout a lot and it grows tiresome almost immediately. The actors are quite good, they just aren’t good characters.

There is one thing though that makes this movie almost something  you have to see – Keanu Reeves. I’ve always liked Reeves. Yes the criticism that he is extremely wooden is completely founded but he has a presence that I’ve always enjoyed and in the right role (The Matrix, Bill and Ted, John Wick) he can really shine. But wow…if you’ve ever wanted to see Keanu Reeves go full Nic Cage, then this is something you absolutely have to see. He is his normal low key Reeves-self for the first half, but once things go bad, he becomes a full on scenery chewing, spitting and screaming maniac. It is glorious. I have to believe all of this was done as intentional comedy but even if not, I was having a great time. Then they stick a gag in Reeves’ mouth (literally) and the movie lost me once again.

There’s potential in the premise of Knock, Knock, even if it’s nothing terribly original. While it comes close to meeting it on occasion, it’s largely tedious and tends to fizzle out when instead it should be building to something. Reeves is incredible, going so far into over acting that actually Nic Cage may look at his performance and think “Man he really needs to chill out”. For that reason alone I would say the movie is almost worth watching, but then I’m sure his best moments will be featured in a YouTube compilation before long so you can save yourself the time and just watch that. Unfortunately, this is not the grand return for Eli Roth that I was perhaps hoping for.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #13 - Zombeavers

Originally Zombeavers was going to come right after Cooties but the idea of doing 4 zombie themed movies in a row didn’t sit completely right with me so I had to toss something else into the middle. Now that I got that temporary reprieve, it’s back to the world of zombies. This time we have zombie beavers. Zombeavers. Yep.

This feels like the kind of movie that is brought up in the middle of a drunken conversation with your friends. “Haha! You know what would be real stupid? Like, if a beaver became a zombie. Cuz it’s got those teeth man! Like for biting and shit!” “They would be Zombeavers bro!” “Holy shit dude you should totally make that movie!” The crazy thing here though is that they did actually go on to make that movie. So kudos to them for seeing it through and it’s cool it exists but I don’t know if the world really needed zombeavers.

Do I even need to explain the plot? Three girls go to a cabin. They have a creepy run-in with a redneck dude and eventually their boyfriends show up and scare/surprise them. One of the guys recently cheated on one of the girls, maybe that girl is one of the core group, maybe not, who cares. Eventually zombie beavers attack them. I mean outside of that it’s all one huge cliché and the movie is definitely fully aware of that.

I don’t think it’s going to blow your mind when I saw that Zombeavers is far more focused on comedy than it is on horror. As much as I would like to see the version of this story that is played completely straight, it was never going to happen. My biggest complaint is the same I have for many horror comedies – it’s just not that funny. There’s a few good lines and bits here and there, and I did like the two (almost definitely improvised) scenes that bookend the movie. I also can’t help but respect the lounge styled theme song during the end credits. Largely though the movie hinges on the singular joke that they are dealing with zombie beavers. They do get a surprising amount of mileage out of that one joke, and they were wise enough to keep the movie short, clocking in at a brisk 75 minutes or so. Oh and the beaver puppets themselves are appropriately stupid, so I enjoyed that as well. Ok so maybe it’s a little funnier than I gave it credit for a few sentences ago.

I know it’s a comedy and I know as a result we shouldn’t expect much in the way of characters, but boy every single member of the core group here, with maybe one exception, is just the worst human being. These are not fun people to watch and I suppose that’s partly so you don’t care when they suffer a gruesome death at the hands (paws? feet?) of zombie beavers (you will likely be actively rooting for this to happen as I certainly was), but it doesn’t make for the most pleasurable viewing experience since you still have to spend a decent amount of time with these people. One of them (SPOILERS FOR ZOMBEAVERS!) kills a doggie. That is easily the most upsetting death in the movie.

Zombeavers does deliver on a few fronts. There are copious amounts of nudity (all provided by the same actress but still) and gore. Also the fate of those who are bitten is appropriately gross and silly. I mean it delivers exactly what you would expect it to really. If that sounds cool, I say screw it, give it a shot. At the very least it will be over quickly.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #12 - The Last Man on Earth

Man, usually I’m really good at keeping up with the horror marathons. Stupid life obligations. I’m going to have a lot of catching up to do this weekend it would seem.

Last Man on Earth is both a decent comedy on FOX and a classic Vincent Price movie that is part of my barely touched Vincent Price Collection Volume 2 blu ray set. I think I dove into it briefly last year for the 2014 marathon and now this gave me a reason to go back and feel a smidge better about all of the money I spent on that collection that sits unused on a shelf.

Last Man on Earth is based on the Richard Matheson book I Am Legend, which of course gave birth to the Will Smith movie I Am Legend. I have indeed read the book, though my only memory of it is that I had the read the entire thing and write a book report on it the night before the report was due. So most of my recollection of my time reading it is a blur of coffee and sadness. My only memory of the Will Smith movie is that a guy kept coughing in the theatre and it ruined the entire experience and people were complaining but the employees couldn’t just tell a guy “yo knock that off or get out” so we were stuck with it. I think the movie was pretty good? All that to say that I went into this version very fresh with no expectations that it needed to match any other material.

I’ve gained a huge appreciation for Vincent Price in the last couple of years, largely because of the Scream Factory box sets that were released (I’m actually bummed out that this year will not see the released of a third installment). His reputation as one of horror’s all-time greats is well-earned as he provides a consistently engaging presence who is just at adept at playing comedy as he is horror. This is all highly beneficial here since naturally, outside of an extended flashback, Price is the sole character you’ll be with for the majority of the film.

Here Price plays Dr. Robert Morgan, who is indeed the last man on earth. A virus has wiped out the rest of humanity, turning them into …I don’t think that ever actually say the word “vampire” but they are totally all vampires now. They don’t go out in the daylight, they are killed by wooden stakes through the heart and they aren’t fans of garlic. Those are some vampire-ass vampires. During the day, Morgan hunts down these vampires and tries to take out as many as possible. At night, he throws some garlic up on the door and hunkers down for the night. All the while the vampires are outside trying to break in and continuously calling out that they are going to kill him and that he should come outside (considering they lead with the first thing, they really shouldn’t be surprised that they can’t get him to do the second thing). Then some other stuff happens that I can’t really get into here.

Although my memories are hazy as mentioned, Last Man on Earth seems to adhere far closer to the book than I Am Legend did. There are no big fights or action set pieces. There’re no references to Shrek. There’s a dog in this one too but the point here goes to I Am Legend as that dog was far cuter. Though considering what happens maybe that’s actually not a point in their favour. Also I definitely remember this movie’s ending following closer in line to the book’s. I do think in the end, I Am Legend is probably the more entertaining adaptation, but there is a lot to like here as well.

I’ve already touched on the wonder that is Price so I will also highlight the direction and presentation. The movie does a great job portraying the desolate landscape and there’s something fascinating about watching Morgan’s repetitive daily existence play out. The “vampire” creatures are admittedly a little silly as they are just people in not terrific make-up. However there is something a little unsettling about having them repeatedly call out to Morgan. Yes these call-outs are done with laughably bad dubbing and line delivery, but the core idea is disturbing nonetheless. Spending the evening holed up inside and dealing with the inevitability that vampire men are going to try and break in and murder you is no way to live and that idea is sold well here.

I have to keep this review train moving so let’s wrap it up here! Last Man on Earth is certainly not a happy movie and suffers from some primitive make-up and bad dubbing, but its shot well, has a great lead in Price, and presents a lot of interesting ideas. It’s a completely different experience from the more recent I Am Legend and I’m glad we have 2 movies to represent each side of that coin.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #11 - Cooties

More zombies! I swear I’m not planning this. Cooties just happened to be the rare horror movie that I was able to convince my wife we should watch and when that happens, you don’t delay. You act immediately before minds are changed.

At the very least, Cooties offers an original take on the zombie genre. Here we have Dawn of the Dead inside an elementary school. Contaminated chicken nuggets have caused the children to turn into flesh eating zombies and the teachers have to fight back in order to get out of the school. It’s a very simple premise, but that one that either sells you immediately, or ensures you will never set foot anywhere near this movie. I was all the way in.

The cast is impressive and nearly everyone is somebody recognizable. Elijah Wood is the lead as an aspiring writer taking a supply teaching job at his hometown school. I continue to respect Elijah Wood’s consistent attempts to take on oddball projects. Rainn Wilson is the asshole gym teacher, Leigh Whannel (also co-writer) is the weirdo science teacher, Nasim Pedrad is…..a teacher of something, and we have also have Jack McBrayer, Jorge Garcia, Alison Pill and probably even a few more that I’m currently forgetting. It’s such a great group of character actors that it’s a shame the movie is just a little better than it is.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. But I still can’t help but feel they don’t fully execute on that terrific initial premise. It’s of course a horror comedy, but neither genre shines through brightly enough. Outside of one sequence set inside the school’s air ducts, the focus isn’t really on the horror elements. There’s a couple of jump scares and an early promise of strong gore that is never fully delivered on. Besides that, the movie definitely leans harder into comedy and while there are certainly some good laughs to be had, it’s not quite as many as you would hope given the insanity taking place here. Wilson definitely has the best lines and there are a handful of good bits from the other characters, but I still couldn’t help but feel like this cast was a little wasted overall.

This is a strange thing to say for a movie about a group of adults facing off against flesh eating children, but I think Cooties plays things a little too safe. It felt like they came up with this extreme idea, then made sure to execute on it in a way that would be shocking, but not TOO shocking. As with Dead Rising, I feel if you’re going to do this, you have to really embrace it. Go as far down the rabbit hole as possible because let’s face it, a movie with this plot is likely never going to be made again.

There’s a lot of promise in Cooties that is only partly lived up to. It’s a fun movie but nothing more. It could have been a unique, horror classic as it presents a truly outrageous plot that could make for a variety of insane set pieces and developments. Instead we have a decent horror comedy that will likely slip through the cracks.

Someone does call Wood’s character a hobbit. So you know it’s probably a pretty good movie right there.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #10 - Dead Rising: Watchtower

I had completely forgotten a Dead Rising movie even existed. I remembered hearing about it before it came out, then I guess at some point it must have actually come out because well, I was able to watch it. I believe it was a free movie offered through Crackle. I have seen another of Crackle’s movie offerings. That would be Joe Dirt 2, and it was one of the worst movies I’ve ever sat through, so their eye for quality didn’t inspire much hope in me for this one.

Dead Rising tells the story of Chase. Chase is a reporter who is not Frank West and has to deal with zombies. He encounters other survivors and they too have to deal with zombies. There’s also the typical threats of needed to get out of an area before the army firebombs the entire place and wipes everything out. It is absolutely nothing you haven’t seen countless times before in most any piece of zombie fiction. It’s almost comforting in a way to get back to the tropes of the zombie world after Maggie took me further away from them.

I will start by saying that Dead Rising: Watchtower (I’m just going to drop Watchtower from the title going forward because it’s largely meaningless) is surprisingly faithful to the video games. Chase uses a variety of stitched together weapons, such as the saw blade crossed with a sledgehammer, to wipe out zombies, which is likely the most iconic element of the video games. Zombrex (the drug that keeps you from becoming a zombie once you’ve been bitten) of course plays a heavy role in the plot. Dialogue is lifted straight from the games (a character yelling “Welcome to the after party” for no real reason other than it’s from the third game) and in a bizarre moment, we actually see a character playing Dead Rising 2 in the third act.

Although Chase may not be a video game protagonist, they do get Frank West in here in a way that feels particularly forced. He’s played by Rob Riggle in a series of scenes that show they clearly got him for one afternoon and tried to make the most of it. He’s being interviewed on a TV news show, and I guess is also being used as a zombie consultant (the events he was involved in for the first game have taken place already in the fiction of this movie) as he seems to hang around the studio for a very long time. His scenes are spliced in throughout the movie and always feel completely out of place.  Riggle has always been hit and miss for me and this felt like a big miss. I think he is a fine choice to portray West, and I respect they wanted the character in the movie, but each one of these scenes is forced and not funny. His schtick is the same every time, repeating the different ways people are fucked because there are zombies. It never truly worked and it just breaks the flow of the movie. He does say “I’ve covered wars you know” because of course he needed to say that and yes, it too feels very shoe horned in.

While I can respect the attempts made to have the movie resemble the games, one area they botched it in my opinion is in tone. Dead Rising is a real silly franchise. That’s what has always made it stand out to me. The movie doesn’t capture that outside of a handful of moments. The majority of the proceedings could fit into just about any zombie movie. Nearly every moment and piece of dialogue is something you have heard or seen countless times. Almost nothing outside of the direct game references feels unique. I feel if you’re going to adapt Dead Rising, you need to fully lean into the crazy. You need to embrace it. Have Chase sticking mascot heads on top of zombies and putting chainsaws on the sides of motorcycles or dressing up like Mega Man and shooting people with a blaster from the future. Make the whole thing a borderline live action cartoon. Maybe at one point that was the plan and they decided people wouldn’t be into it, but at least it would have been something interesting. What we have here may as well have been called Zombie Movie. It needed more of the sense of fun that permeates though the games.

Dead Rising is not a bad movie, just an unremarkable one. I was never bored, even though the movie does run a little too long at about 110 minutes. The references to the game are appreciated, outside of the Frank West stuff which was a one joke idea done at least a dozen times. Oh and there’s a cool set piece in the middle where Chase wipes out a series of zombies in one continuous take. More stuff like that and we may have had a winner but as it stands, we have another satisfactory zombie movie which I would argue isn’t something we were in desperate need for.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #9 - Maggie

Boy, Maggie is just a factory of sad.

I mean I knew going into it this wasn’t the kind of movie you would perhaps expect when you hear that Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to do a zombie movie. I’m sure for most people that paints a pretty delightful picture of Arnold ripping apart hordes of the undead with a non-stop barrage of one-liners to accompany each kill. This is absolutely 100% not that in any way. I knew that, but wow I can’t imagine people who didn’t would have had a very positive reaction.

Maggie provides a different spin on a zombie infested world. This is not the typical apocalypse that you would see in this kind of movie. Society is actually still functioning, just obviously not on the same level it once was. Anyone who is infected with this virus is encouraged to be quarantined once the virus gets them to full zombie status. However, prior to that point, many infected people are still out and about in the world, they are just being closely monitored. Food doesn’t seem horribly scarce and at one point a character even references that school will be starting soon. Hell even encountering and having to fight zombies is an incredibly rare occurrence, with only a couple of these moments happening in the movie.   It was interesting to see a few differences in the way the zombie universe is portrayed.

Schwarzenegger is Wade and is overseeing his daughter Maggie who was recently bitten. She starts the movie in quarantine, but is allowed to go home with Wade until the infection spreads and she has to return to quarantine. From there, the movie is the heart-warming story of a dad spending a few final days with his daughter before she goes full zombie and he is forced to either kill her himself, or bring her to quarantine where my understanding is someone else kills her. Even for a zombie movie, this son of a bitch is real bleak.

Let’s start with performances. Schwarzenegger, who actually isn’t in the movie as much as perhaps you would expect, is very solid in a role that strips him of everything you would come to expect. He fights a couple of times, but in each case he doesn’t want to and he doesn’t do anything fancy. This isn’t action Arnold, this is sad Arnold. And as much as I don’t like Arnold sad, I have to see he is quite good at it. Abigail Breslin is the star of the show as Maggie and she is also impressive. After watching her on Scream Queens and seeing how bland she is there, it’s nice to be reminded that she can definitely still act.

As for the general movie….I don’t even know. I certainly didn’t enjoy watching it in the traditional sense. It’s a nonstop barrage of crushing dreariness that by the end, made me want to immediately reach for the cheeriest piece of nonsense I could get my hands on (which ended up being old episodes of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers) so I could cleanse my palette. It’s well directed and presents some interesting ideas, though the slow pace definitely started to wear on me. This is not a movie that is eager to get places. It is more than happy to take it’s time, with simple activities taking up minutes worth of screen time. I’m all for a deliberately paced movie, but this one occasionally made it hard to resist tapping that fast forward button.

Maggie is a movie I think I respect more than I actually like. I like the world it presents and a handful of individual scenes, but the movie as a whole didn’t quite do it for me. It’s great to see Arnold branch out in a very different role, and he handles the task admirably, I just hope the next time he does it, it’s in a better movie.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #8 - X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes

I own a lot of movies. Like, a lot. This is never more apparent than in situations like what happened with this movie. I was looking through my movies to see if there was a horror movie I happened to own, but hadn’t yet watched. There were a couple of candidates but nothing that stood out as demanding immediate attention. Then I found X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. And I could not for the life of me remember where it came from. Obviously at some point I exchanged cash for this product, and I think it was pretty recently, but I didn’t have a clear memory of this transaction taking place. But it’s here and I watched it and it ain’t bad so I’m not too upset with my decision making.

At first I thought this mystery disc was defective because the movie starts with a static image of an eye that goes on for about 90 seconds. There’s no music or sounds or narration, just an eye, lookin’ at ya. Eventually a movie did happen but for an already short movie, that’s certainly a unique way to fill some of that time.

So the movie doesn’t waste any time getting going as we meet a doctor whose name is not X, but….I wanna say James? Let’s see…yep! James! James is testing these eye drops that open up what the eyes are capable of seeing and there’s some talk about only seeing 10% of its potential or something I don’t know. Science. He tests it on a monkey and the monkey dies but that doesn’t bother him in the slightest and in almost the very next scene he is testing the serum on himself. Sure enough the serum works and his eyes allow him to see through stuff. He has x-ray eyes. He is the man with the x-ray eyes.

At first he has fun with his new found abilities. He naturally does what all of us would do in this situation – look at naked people – and is generally enjoying his weird new super power. Of course it doesn’t take long for things to start to go real bad and perhaps his new gift isn’t a gift at all………….but a curse!

What I liked about James is that he’s ambitious, but he’s not an asshole. Making your scienece fiction doctor with lofty goals and a penchant for reckless behavior a complete prick seems to be the go to, so it’s nice to have a central character who is a likable person whose plight you can sympathize with. It’s also not a tale of how his power goes to his head and he comes an egomaniacal crazy murderer person. The core focus is how he simply gets by with these powers that he is no longer capable of fully controlling/getting rid of. It makes for a smaller and more intimate story that I felt lent itself well to the premise.

Ray Millad is very good as James, and this is largely his show. However my favourite chunk of the movie is when he gets a gig as a sideshow performer, with Don Rickles as his boss. I’m not at all familiar with the early works of Rickles, but it was interesting to see him play a mostly dramatic role, only getting to do his trademark insults in his first scene. He plays a real good sleaze and is really the only thing this movie offers in the form of an antagonist.

Of course one area that dates the move, and since it was released in 1968 this can’t really be helped, is the special effects. In the early stages of the movie when James is merely looking through items they do the trick, but once the movie starts to get more ambitious and target loftier goals, the effects are pretty primitive and silly. It’s one of the few times where a feel a remake could actually make a lot of sense. Although the small scale take on the story was one of the things I liked best about the movie and I doubt a modern day remake would be able to restrain itself in that department. So perhaps I take that idea back.

The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is a quick watch that tells an interesting story that does end on a predictable, and far too foreshadowed, note but provides a good deal of entertainment along the way. If you happen to also have this one lurking in your collection without any memory of how it got there, give it a shot!

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #7 - Honeymoon

Well…that was unexpected.

I saw Honeymoon while browsing through Netflix and thought I remembered hearing positive things about it around this time last year. Plus again, it was short and I needed a movie and since that seems to be the #1 criteria a movie needs to meet to make it into this marathon, I fired it up. What a strange piece of business this movie turned out to be.

The set-up is certainly nothing original. A newlywed couple (the opening sequence is their wedding video and I started to become very afraid this was another found footage movie, thankfully that is not the case) heads out to an isolated cabin on the lake in order to celebrate their honeymoon. I should look up their names actually. Bea and Paul! Boom! Researched! So Bea and Paul are having a grand ole time, riding around in a boat and having sex and stuff, when all of a sudden one night Bea heads off into the woods alone. Paul goes searching for her and eventually finds her naked and disoriented. So that’s never good and things only get worse from there as Bea begins to exhibit stranger and stranger behavior. Obviously I’m not going to give away the resolution but its…its quite something.

This is almost entirely a two character piece, with only a couple of other characters receiving any amount of screen time outside of Bea and Paul. That’s a tough gig but the actors are up for it and deliver very engaging performances, particularly Rose Leslie as Bea. She gets to run the full spectrum of emotions in this thing and she is very impressive. Harry Treadaway (I still have the IMDB page open so I may as well get as much information from possible from it while it’s there) as Paul largely plays confused or angry but he does a damn fine job of both.

Honeymoon is a movie that people will find either an effective slow burn, or a complete bore. Except I will immediately kill that theory by saying that I found it to fall somewhere in the middle. The couple is likable but I didn’t find them engaging enough to want to spend that initial half hour with them as they simply enjoy their honeymoon. The middle chunk of the movie definitely was the stand-out for me. The mystery surrounding Rose’s behavior is an intriguing one and it’s executed well. She doesn’t go full crazy, but instead her bizarre actions are out there enough to be concerned, but still within reason that you think maybe there actually isn’t something wrong.

I mean there is. There really fucking is. But again, I can’t say it. The final act is a mixed bag. A bunch of real insane stuff happens that I certainly didn’t see coming, so I can appreciate that. It’s not predicable, I’ll absolutely give it that. The problem is a large portion of this section is Paul yelling at Bea to tell him what’s wrong and what is happening, and her not doing so. It’s an extended interrogation that goes on a little long. Thankfully some bananas stuff is right around the corner, so that helps.

Honeymoon is certainly worth a watch, assuming you are ready to stomach some….happenings. Two strong central performances help make up for some slow patches and the generic story takes some unexpected paths. It’s a good watch that I doubt will blow anyone’s mind. Except this dude on IMDB who said it blew his mind. The rest of your minds should remain in tact.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #6 - Poltergeist (2015)

It feels like a Poltergeist remake was being talked about for years and any time the idea was brought up, it was met with ridiculous amounts of contempt. People seemed to feel that Poltergeist was one of those untouchable movies that could not be touched by the filthy hands of the remake machine. Of course the same thing was said about movies like The Karate Kid and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and in both of those cases the remake machine proved it listens to no one and does what it pleases.

Then the Poltergeist remake actually came out. And nobody gave a shit.

I’ve always enjoyed the Tobe Hooper’s original movie but I never really got upset at the idea of a remake. I felt confused why they needed to remake it as it doesn’t feel particularly dated or in need of an update. Yes again that has never stopped anyone before but in this case it feels even more befuddling than usual.

Plot synopsis feels a little unnecessary. A family moves into a house. Ghosts happen. You know the drill. If you’ve seen the original, this takes almost zero detours from the main story. The one key exception is  the revelation of the poltergeists’ origin, which does differ slightly from the original movie. What bothered me here though is that they take an unnecessary stab at the plot device from that movie. Remakes poking fun at the original is a tricky balance as it can work when done right, but when done poorly, especially when done poorly in a mediocre remake, it can be particularly insulting. “Hey fans of the original movie! Remember that dumb shit that happened in that movie you like? That was real dumb huh? That thing you like? It’s dumb. This is the new hotness here. Thank you for coming to our movie dummies! Ya big dummies!”

If you’re going to remake a movie, you better have some new ideas or tweaks or something to bring to the table. Something to show why this update needed to happen. Poltergeist has none of that. It goes through the exact motions you would expect it to. There’s creepy stuff happening in TV static, a clown doll, a crazy ass tree, all the major beats from the Hooper movie are present and accounted for. The problem is all of it isn’t done as effectively as before. There’s no build-up with any of it, it just happens. Granted I haven’t seen the original in a while but didn’t the tree tapping on the window and the creepy clown doll all get some screen time prior to their attack? Here some clown dolls just literally happen to be in the house when they move in. They didn’t even attempt to justify it. “Ok so wait….why is there a crazy clown doll? It doesn’t make sense.” “Because fuck you that’s why! Action!” It all feels like they are ticking boxes off a checklist. Perhaps the worst is having Jared Harris play a TV host/ghost hunter dude whose slogan is of course, “This house is clean”, complete with hashtag and everything. Ugh.

I guess the one big change is that they made the ghosts themselves less scary? So that’s something? Here they make the crucial mistake of believing that less isn’t more, way more is more! As a result, the ghosts are not only shown, but shown quite frequently. I mean I think they were glimpsed in the original, but not for long periods of time. It doesn’t help that they are the most generic, CG looking creature things you have ever seen. CGI existing isn’t a reason to remake a movie people!

I should note that I was watching the Extended Cut which proclaims to have “more scares”. I counted two scares so that doesn’t bode well for the regular cut.

That’s a lot of negative so I should say that I didn’t hate the movie. It does have a couple of creepy moments and Sam Rockwell is great as always. It’s just that it’s so thoroughly ok that it has no real reason to exist. It’s a perfectly serviceable horror movie that will provide you with a decent but forgettable time. Just watch the original.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #5 - Shocker

It’s impossible to talk about Shocker without mentioning the recent passing of writer/director Wes Craven. For those of you who saw my top 30 movies that took about a year and a half to actually complete, you know that the original Nightmare on Elm Street was amongst those elite picks and if I were to do a top 50, you may find Nightmare 3 in there as well, with Scream maybe even getting a shot too. So obviously I’m a fan. Even when his movies aren’t particularly great (such is the case with the one I’m about to write about), they are always at least unique with a handful of memorable sequences. Wes Craven was often a unique voice and it’s really too bad we won’t get to see what else he may have done.

Shocker is a strange one that I think I may have seen a long time ago but don’t remember so I’m still counting this as a new review! The police are in search of a serial killer who has been breaking into homes and murdering families, racking up dozens of kills without them getting any closer to catching him. It turns out the man they are looking for is Horace Pinker, played by Mitch Pileggi in a gloriously over the top performance. He’s found by high school student who looks 28, Jonathan, who can see what Horace is up to while he is dreaming. Though the dream is actually taking place in real life and he travels to where Horace is and can see what he’s doing and Horace can actually see him even though technically he isn’t actually there because he’s somewhere else sleeping. Yeah.

This first part of the movie carries on for a surprisingly long time. Outside of the weird dream stuff, this first 45 minute chunk plays it pretty straight as a serial killer thriller. Once Pinker is caught and sent to the electric chair, it’s then the movie reveals it’s actually completely out of its mind. The execution doesn’t go as planned, in that they planned for Pinker to die, but instead he becomes an electricity man and starts hopping around from body to body so that he can keep on murdering people but also he can travel through TV’s and stuff because he’s made of electricity. And he says a ton of Freddy Krueger-esque one liners. The second half of this movie is definitely a lot weirder, and as a result more entertaining, than the first half.

Shocker is a goofy ass movie. That’s both to its benefit and its detriment. This is overall a pretty grim story as Pinker murders nearly everyone close to John right in the opening. It could make for a very intense horror movie, but we all know there’s an electric guy around the corner so it’s hard to take it too seriously. It doesn’t help that Pinker is spouting more one liners than a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel. It makes for a not so scary horror movie by any stretch.

At the same time, Pileggi is easily the best part of this movie as he just goes for it and chews the hell out of all the scenery he can get a hold of. He’s clearly having a blast and as a result, the movie suffers whenever he’s not on screen. Pileggi dominates the role so intensely that when we’re dealing with the body jumping it’s just not the same. Sure the actors who portray being possessed by Pinker do a solid job (a little girl probably being the most effective) but they simply ain’t no Pileggi.

Without spoiling it, the last 15 minutes of this movie is….well, it’s pretty astounding. Here’s a movie that begins with a serial killer murdering children, and by the end has become a live action cartoon. It contributes largely to what makes Shocker so watchable – you are never ever going to be able to guess what’s going to happen next.

Shocker ranks somewhere in the middle for me in Craven’s filmography. It is so tonally all over the map that it almost feels like two different movies stitched together. The initial half is a decent serial killer story, while the second is a bananas piece of nonsense that is pretty fun to watch, with the whole thing held together by a very game Pileggi. It may not be a great movie, but it’s certainly not a boring one.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #4 - Creep

Creep is also a found footage movie. That now makes three found footage movies in three days. I swear I’m not planning this. All I knew about Creep is that people seemed to like it as I remembered reading some positive reviews for it a few months back. When I booted it up and saw that it was indeed going to be another found footage entry, I almost stopped and found something else for day 4. But this one was only 77 minutes long and I really needed a movie I could burn through quickly so I decided to stick it out.

Out of the last three movies, Creep is not only the best movie but makes the best use of the found footage format (alliteration!). The premise is incredibly simply. Aaron is a videographer (who doesn’t appear to be all that good based on this movie but whatever) who is offered $1,000 by a man named Josef to drive out to his house and spend the day shooting a video. He has no idea what the video is going to be but he needs the cash so why not. Josef at first appears to be a genuinely affable dude, but it doesn’t take long for Aaron to notice something may be up with this guy.

I’ll stop there as the biggest appeal of this movie is never being quite certain where it’s going. While there are definitely some predicable reveals, Creep goes some directions I was not expecting. Hell right when I thought the movie had reached its inevitable conclusion, it spends the following 20 minutes completely defying how I expected things to play out. It was a great “wait….how are they going to keep this movie going after that?” moment. It all leads to a seemingly divisive conclusion that I personally was 100% on board with.

Mark Duplass plays Josef and this movie belongs to him in every single way. Since the core premise is him wanting to be documented, 80% of this movie is simply him on screen and he remains a thoroughly engaging presence from start to finish. Seeing what weird bit of business he is going to bust out next is both entertaining and nerve-wracking, with a sense of tension always lurking even in scenes of levity. Patrick Brice as Aaron (also the director and co-writer of the film) is good, but next to Duplass it’s hard to match up.

I’ve seen a lot of talk online about how this should hardly be considered a horror movie, but I don’t really get where that is coming from. Yes there is a lot of dark comedy here, but as I mentioned there is always an air of dread surrounding everything. There’s also a steady supply of usually well executed jump scares which, unlike in many found footage movies, don’t feel forced and are actually a logical fit in the plot. There are undeniably the cheapest of cheap jump scares, but it works in the provided context.

Creep is certainly not going to be for everyone as even at a brisk 77 minutes it isn’t always in a rush to get where it wants to go. I was way into it though. Duplass gives a tremendously watchable core performance and the story, while nothing ground-breaking, managed to take enough unexpected turns to hold my interest. So I say give it a shot!

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #3 - Area 51

I’ve gone on the record numerous times about my dislike of Paranormal Activity. The series as a whole has had at least one high point (the third movie) but that first movie did not, and continues to not, do it for me at all. I find it to be a largely uneventful slog with unlikable leads. So what if I told you that the director’s follow-up, only now being released after being filmed in 2009, provides an experience that is even less eventful with even less likeable leads? I’m sure you would wisely avoid it. Me on the other hand, well I spent 90 minutes watching it simply because it was the first entry I hadn’t seen in the Netflix horror selection. Lucky me.

Area 51 is the second found footage movie in a row in this October marathon. It shows the story of three friends who have gone missing as of the start of the movie. One of the friends, Reid, has become obsessed with aliens and Area 51 after suffering a bizarre episode at a party where he was found standing out in the middle of nowhere with no recollection of how he’d gotten there. The three meet with a variety of people, including the daughter of an Area 51 scientist who was fired after threatening to expose their secrets, and form a plan to break into Area 51 and find out just what’s up.

There’s some potential to that premise, but the biggest issue is that the actual Area 51 break-in doesn’t happen until about an hour into the film. At least Paranormal Activity made attempts at suspense until the big finale, this one seems to have no interest in providing you with even the slightest hint of tension. The closest it comes is an extended sequence where the trio breaks into the home of an Area 51 employee so they can steal his access card. The whole thing takes place in night vision and aside from one cheap jump scare, only manages to pad out the running time to an acceptable length. How am I supposed to feel afraid for these characters when they spend the entire time talking in a volume that would definitely get them caught immediately?

Earlier I called the characters unlikeable but to be fair, they’re more just bland than anything. There’s absolutely no reason to give a shit about anything that happens to any of them. Their banter is stiff, their actions often baffling and there’s no real reason for them to be doing what they are doing other than Reid feels he has to.

When we finally get into the bowels of Area 51, things do pick up at least a little. You get a few glimmers of suspense between a smattering of bad CGI and quick flashes of something potentially interesting before the camera turns away from the action. It may not be much, but compared to what came before it’s a nice change of pace. I’ll take “kinda boring” over “excruciatingly boring” any day. The problem is that you get a lot of set-up with no pay-off. They hint at the goings-on (going-ons? Both sound wrong) within the facility but you never actually get any sense of closure on any of it. Whether it was deliberately obtuse or that was planned for a sequel that will never come to fruition, it’s all pretty meaningless and adds up to a whole lot of nothing as it stands.

I’m not sure if this movie just sat in this form for six years or if it was being tweaked during that time frame, but no matter which way you look at it it’s not hard to see why nobody was terribly eager to send this out into the world. Maybe in 2009 it would have worked better, but as of 2015 the found footage genre has been so beaten into the ground that this blends in with the rest of the unremarkable lot.

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #2 - The Visit

I hold the seemingly common opinion of not having fully enjoyed any of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies since Signs about 13 years ago. The Village had its positives and The Happening is certainly hilarious, but after a string of movies where each one seemed determined to sink lower than the previous, I think most people, myself included, figured the director’s days were numbered. Who would trust him with a big budget at this point?

It turns out perhaps nobody because here we have The Visit, a low budget horror comedy that was reportedly made for only five million dollars. But what do you know it has made a good pile of cash and it has received generally positive reviews! Could Shyamalan still have it in him to make a good movie? This is too much build-up. Yes. He does. It’s The Visit. The Visit is a good movie.

This is a very simple story that I think is exactly what Shyamalan needed to do at this point. Brother and sister Tyler and Becca (I think they are 11-13ish) are taken to their grandparent’s home to stay for a week. They have never met them before and their mom doesn’t talk much about them, having left home at a young age for undisclosed reasons. As the week unfolds, grandma and grandpa exhibit stranger and stranger behaviour. While at first it’s easy enough to explain away their actions with “well, they’re old”, eventually it gets to be too much and people are climbing into ovens and being chased around under a house and all sorts of odd shit you don’t want any part of.

The Visit does start out worrisome when we are introduced to our two young leads, Tyler and Becca. Becca is the one filming (oh this is indeed a found footage movie) the documentary and is immediately set-up as a pretentious film snob. Tyler is a wannabe thug rapper. I was immediately concerned that the following 90 minutes spent with these two would be excruciating, but actually those character traits steer far from grating and end up creating some of the best moments of the movie. Becca’s overly artistic approach to her documentary is meant to be ridiculous (such as telling her brother to stand solemnly by a swing but to let it swing naturally instead of pushing it) and Tyler’s rap persona is largely restricted to some admittedly solid freestyle sequences. Plus I respect that the two siblings actually get along. It’s too easy to fall back on needless bickering so I enjoyed that they just straight up are friendly to one another.

I will say that if you’re venturing out to The Visit in search of horror, you may come away disappointed. Although the trailers hint that there are laughs to be found (“would you mind getting into the oven to clean it?”), they don’t accurately depict just how much of a comedy this really is. Thankfully, unlike many of Shyamalan’s recent output, you are laughing with the movie and not directly at it. There are jolts to be had, but they are sporadic and the movie often suffers a bit from Paranormal Activity syndrome. This is when you know you are largely safe from scares during the day, so when night falls you start to get that feeling of “oooo here’s where shit gets real!” Then, just like in Paranormal Activity, shit only kind of gets real. It gets real for a minute or so and then it’s daytime again. The crucial difference between this and Paranormal Activity is that the stuff happening here during the day is often entertaining and doesn’t make you want to slap the movie and tell it to do something! That’s not to say there is no horror at all as the last act proves to be a tense endeavor, while still providing some of the best laughs of the film.

The performances are very strong, particularly by Becca and Tyler (I know their fictional names but am now too lazy to look up the names of the actors) who are both natural and don’t fall into the precocious child trap. They are able to sell both the humour and the horror. The grandparents are also strong, finding a good balance between fun kooky and threateningly kooky. Since this is largely a four character show, it’s nice not to have a weak link in the bunch.

The Visit is a strong return for Shyamalan. It’s not going to hit people anywhere near the same way his earlier efforts did (Unbreakable will always be his high point for me), but it tells a simple story effectively and reminded me of what I liked about his work in the first place. Fun, funny, with the occasional scare, this is one movie you’ll want to VISIT your theatre for. BAM! Poster quoted!

October's Daily Horror Dose 4: Retaliation- Day #1 - Unfriended

Unfriended lost me around the time I discovered the movie was titled Unfriended. So immediately. It lost me immediately. The idea of a teen focused horror movie that centered on nefarious social media doings did not appeal to me in the slightest. It certainly didn’t help when the advertising took the clichéd route of forgoing actual footage of the movie to instead show preview audiences jumping and screaming while watching the movie. Why do I care that a bunch of people I don’t know found a movie scary? Especially teenagers. You know what’s ridiculously easy to do? Frighten teenagers. When I worked at a theatre we once had to talk a teen girl down because she refused to go back in the theatre and finish watching the Prom Night remake. The Prom Night….remake. It’s almost difficult to make a movie that doesn’t scare teenagers. So this kind of thing means nothing to me.

Then people started telling me positive things about it. Rational people whose opinions I trusted. That and the incredibly brief 80 minute running time made me decide to give it a go. It turns out that those people saying the nice things? Those people know what’s up.

Unfriended uses a similar approach as that Open Windows movie I think I reviewed for this thing last year but apparently it was not memorable enough to remember for sure. Though I remember that one breaking away from the “everything is happening on a laptop” motif whereas Unfriended fully commits by never once having the action break from this single screen. It doesn’t sound great but the execution is shockingly well done.

So our lead characters are all online chatting one night when the ghost of the school bully, who killed herself a year ago that night after a humiliating video of her went viral, starts to interrupt their conversation. I could put names but then I would have to look them up and I have 31 movies to get through so come on give me a break! Anyway the bully girl is only represented by a default Skype icon and can largely only type to the group as a means of terrorizing them, which doesn’t sound like a compelling villain but they really make it work.

Unfriended does get off to a slow start. None of our core group are particularly likable and I was not too invested in watching their nightly bullshit Skype exchange. The lead couple is bland, the “funny fat friend” is dreadfully unfunny, the bitch is cartoonishly bitchy, etc. As the pieces start to come together, it really felt as though the movie intentionally made them despicable as by the end, this became a darkly satisfying take down of a bunch of smug asshole teenagers. I was pretty on board with this approach.

Once the bully comes into play, the sense of escalation is shockingly well executed. Unfriended gets a ton of mileage out of its “one screen” concept. Nearly all of the exposition and backstory is not provided by characters spitting out forced dialogue, but by watching what our lead character (I’m starting to feel bad about not taking the six seconds needed to find out their names…) is searching for on her computer. Chunks of story points are revealed by watching what she almost types, or what she is searching for on Google/Facebook. It’s a really clever way to get around what could have been heaps of clunky back and forth between the leads.

Oh and murders happen! Gruesome ones! R rated ones! R rated horror everyone! You have to support it on general principle alone!

I think that about sums it all up right? Unfriended is way better than a movie called Unfriended has any right to be. Using its central concept effectively and moving along at a quick pace (after an admittedly slow opening), this is a quick and fun watch that kicks this fourth installment off well!

Flippin' Through Franchises: Leprechaun 2

This was an entry in the series I was positive I had never seen before. The others I had at least seen clips but this first sequel was a complete mystery to me. I can’t say I was all that excited to watch it since many people consider it inferior to the first movie, and I already didn’t care for that one too much. But maybe the low expectations would help right? No, no not really. This is indeed a poor sequel to an already pretty poor movie.

I will say the opening at least had me slightly intrigued. We are taken back to the past where the Leprechaun has himself a slave dude. He promises the slave freedom in exchange for him helping the Leprechaun land a girl as his wife. The deal turns shitty when it’s revealed the girl that Leprechaun is after is actually the slave’s daughter. So he has to decide between having his own freedom, or giving away his daughter to a Leprechaun to be his bride. It’s a decision every father has to make at one time or another.

The way this is all set up however is quite strange. First off, the reason that the Leprechaun is able to choose any woman he wishes to be his bride, is because it is his 1000th birthday. …k? Not really sure how that works but these movies seem to make up the rules as they go along so whatever. Also, once he chooses his woman, she doesn’t have to become his bride unless she sneezes three times. If someone intervenes at any point during the sneezes and says, “God bless you”, then the Leprechaun is screwed. It’s such a bizarre, arbitrary set of rules that have to be followed. Perhaps it’s based in actual lore, I’m not sure. Either way, it comes off as dopey here. Anyway the dad does indeed say the words so the Leprechaun’s immediate plan is ruined, though he vows that in 1,000 years he’ll be back to claim one of the family descendants as his bride.

Flash forward to modern day and we meet our lead guy Cody. Cody, along with his uncle Morty, run a limo tour that takes people on a lame tour of what are supposed to be famous murder sites. They are lucky these are the pre-internet days and nobody can hop online and spread the word about what a shitty tour it is they have going. Even without the Internet though, I’m surprised they can make any money off of this at all. Anyway, none of that is important, or at least it shouldn’t be, but the movie spends a lot of its opening act focused on it. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but as with the first movie, most attempts at comedy fall completely flat.

We then meet Cody’s girlfriend Bridget who, not surprisingly, is a descendant of the girl we saw in the opening sequence. The actress playing Bridget is...well…let’s say that it’s surprising she was given the lead role in a motion picture. It’s especially noticeable coming hot off the heels of Jennifer Aniston, who even then was clearly talented and was easily one of the highlights in that movie. Even taking Aniston out of the equation though, this girl would still be noticeably bad. Her line readings are stiff and it sounds as though she is trying unsuccessfully to bury some sort of accent. None of the performances in this movie are particularly good, but hers definitely stands out as a weak link. Also the character of Cody is irritating. So is Morty actually. I think he’s supposed to be funny but I don’t like him. I don’t really like any of them. So that’s no good.

A pleasant surprise is that the movie, once it gets past the whole limo tour business, jumps right into the shit. The Leprechaun shows up and kidnaps Bridget at around the half hour mark, an act you would assume is being reserved for the final sequence. It’s nice to see them come charging out of the gate, but unfortunately they don’t have anywhere interesting to go once they’ve done so. A lot of it is simply treading the same ground that the first movie already covered. Cody ends up with one of the Leprechaun’s gold coins, the Leprechaun gets pissed about this and wants it back, and a few people get killed along the way.

I will say the kills are definitely better in this movie. They are more gruesome and far more imaginative. If I recall, there are only three deaths in the movie but each one of them is better than anything in the first movie. As with the first movie, there is a death about halfway through the movie that only seems to exist to up the gore quotient, but it fits into the overall tone of the movie better.

Speaking of tone, I would say the sequel definitely leans heavier towards comedy than even the first one did, but it’s still not very successful at it. The Leprechaun’s quips almost always land with a thud and the more ridiculous moments, such as a scene when the Leprechaun chases Cody around in a go-kart, aren’t nearly wacky enough to make the whole thing work. There is almost zero attempt at making this a horror movie. The lead characters don’t even seem frightened of the situation, often making quips and jokes when really, they should probably be at least a little concerned. Cody man, your girlfriend was kidnapped by a Leprechaun who wants to murder you and then marry her? Doesn’t that at least give you a moment’s pause?

Leprechaun 2 is watchable and not considerably worse than the first movie. Neither of these assessments rank as much of a compliment but I’m afraid it’s going to have to do. Most of the same problems I had with Leprechaun apply to its sequel as well. The balance of horror and comedy doesn’t work as it’s neither funny nor scary. The acting is quite bad across the board, with the lead actress being particularly terrible. I did like the characters better in the first movie, but the kill scenes work better here so it’s probably an even trade. So there you have it. Both movies are equally as tolerable in their badness.

Flippin' Through Franchises: Leprechaun

Every now and then in life, you have moments where you act blindly without clearly thinking things through, and then you immediately regret your actions. I’m sure it has happened to all of us. You snap at someone and say something you don’t mean. Maybe you turn down a job offer and then only a few seconds later, you start to wonder if you actually made the right decision. Or in my case, you spend 45 dollars on the Leprechaun box set and then open it right away, thus removing any possibility of returning it later when you’ve come to your senses.

I’m familiar enough with the Leprechaun series to be genuinely surprised with myself that I spent money on it, let alone 45 dollars. I knew I had seen at least the first four movies many years ago, and I don’t recall being a fan of any of them. In fact, I remember turning the fourth movie off before we made it half way through it. Now I’m stuck with a set containing the whole lot of them, so at the very least I can get some more writing content out of them.

Leprechaun is about a Leprechaun played by Warwick Davis whose sole purpose in life seems to be murdering people who steal his gold. It’s strange as all of the movies are predicated on this concept and he always seems so angry when his gold is missing, yet he never seems to actually do anything with his gold. He just counts it. I guess it’s the principle of the thing. At the same time, what does he do during the times where nobody has stolen any of his gold? We never get to see his down time. Would he not be bored stiff? Seeking out his gold seems to be his one and only past time but there must be times where it’s all safe and accounted for. One of the sequels really needs to explore these questions. I want to see sad and lonely Leprechaun who questions his very existence and purpose in life. That is a reboot I would gladly help Kickstart.

The first Leprechaun’s big claim is that it stars Jennifer Aniston in her first big role. She does well. She doesn’t phone it in and you can certainly see why she went on to become the big name that she did. She has some of the funnier line readings and of course looks fantastic. Her character does start out annoying as she is the typical whiny, entitled LA brat, but thankfully they drop that angle pretty quickly and she becomes far easier to root for.

The cast around Aniston is fine but she definitely outshines them all. Her love interest is a fairly typical bland, male lead. His two business partners (the three of them have a painting business called Three Guys Who Paint, a name I admit I like), a young boy (Alex) and a dude who is not all there mentally (Ozzie), fare better. Though it becomes tiresome watching Ozzie try and convince everyone that there is a leprechaun. I think I am largely done with stories where half the run time is spent watching one character try and convince everyone else about something supernatural, even though we the audience already know they are telling the truth. At least here it can be explained away by the man having the mental capacity of a child, so it makes a little more sense that nobody would believe him about the fictional creature he encountered in the basement.

Davis is of course good as the Leprechaun. He takes a character that easily could have been grating (though I guess that’s still an issue in the eyes of many people) and makes him fairly entertaining. Though as mentioned above, the actual character of the leprechaun is quite thin. With the more famous movie killers such as Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers, there may not be a whole lot to them overall but we do know their backstories and at least some idea of why they are doing what they’re doing. All we know about Leprechaun is that he doesn’t like it when people steal his gold and that he is, in fact, a leprechaun.

I remembered the Leprechaun character as starting out more serious, and then becoming sillier and sillier as the series progressed. The same thing that happened with Freddy Krueger. It turns out that he has been a fucking goofball right from the very beginning. Even here in the first movie he is delivering bad one-liners, using ridiculous items such as pogo sticks to commit his murders and riding around on a tricycle. At one point he even crashes through a fence, leaving a Leprechaun shaped hole behind ala The Looney Tunes. I don’t know if this approach fully works here as tonally the movie is a bit all over the place. Apparently this was filmed as a fairly silly PG-13 movie and reshoots were done in order to bring it up to a darker, R-rated movie. You can tell. The movie shifts from straight-faced to cartoonish from scene to scene, which can certainly be jarring. There’s also a long chase/kill sequence in the middle of the movie that is so disconnected to everything around it, that it is very obviously a reshoot that was done to up the murder quotient of the film. It’s a surprisingly serious sequence in the midst of a bunch of silly shit.

This is the major problem with the film. It’s trying to be a lot of things at once and because of this lack of focus, it doesn’t really excel at any one individual thing. It doesn’t really commit to the horror so it isn’t scary. It doesn’t really commit to the comedy so it isn’t very funny (though Alex’s final one-liner, though obvious, is quite good). There isn’t enough gore for it to be appreciated on that level as the kill count is low and only one of them, which involves a pogo stick, is even slightly memorable.

It certainly does not bode well for the series when its initial offering, and the entry that is largely considered to be the “only decent one”, is this mediocre. It’s not as bad as perhaps its reputation often suggests, but it’s certainly not a good movie. Watchable is about the best compliment that I can pay it I think. And there are still 5 more of these things to go! Weeee!