October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #31 - Curtains

Holy shit the last review of the third October marathon! The final entry is always both sad and a huge relief. I love October. I love Halloween, watching scary movies in the appropriate season, the way the Internet comes together to celebrate the horror genre, it’s all great and I can’t help but feel a little bummed out that it’s coming to an end and we are now one day away from Christmas taking over everything for the next two months. On the flip side, I don’t have to write a review every day anymore! And my god does that idea ever sound appealing right now.

I’d love to say that we’re ending this year on a big note with something either truly incredible or truly terrible. Sadly those would each be lies and here we are ending with something perfectly middle of the road.

I had never even heard of Curtains until a special edition bluray was released a few months ago. I’m always a sucker for 80’s slasher movies (I seriously can’t believe how many of the damn things there are out there) and I got a good deal on it so I figured I would grab it. I mean they don’t give special editions to just any movie right?

Curtains opens with a famous actress, Samantha Sherwood, going undercover in a mental hospital in order to play an upcoming, and very coveted, role in something called Audra. However, her husband/producer Stryker ends up leaving her there in the asylum and moving on. When Sherwood gets word that Stryker is looking to recast the role, she escapes the asylum to get her revenge. Meanwhile, Stryker has gathered a group of six girls at his house in order to go through an audition process. Stabbings ensue.

Curtains feels very all over the place, which apparently is the result of tons of reshoots and rewrites that took place over the course of several years. Knowing nothing about the movie going in, the opening led me to assume that the action was going to take place entirely within the asylum. Nope. That whole sequence is completely separate from the rest of the movie and almost seems weirdly out of place. Another strange and disconnected bit is that the first couple of kills set up this running motif with a creepy doll, where the victim finds it right before being murdered. I kept waiting for this to be explained but it’s dropped completely after the second murder. It definitely reeks of reshoots all the way. A stylistic choice where “curtains” open to reveal key scenes is quickly lost as well.

Since it’s a slasher movie we should talk about the kills which are largely uninteresting. The one stand-out piece, and apparently one that has become infamous, is a kill that takes place outside in the middle of the day on a pond where the victim is skating. There is definitely something novel about seeing the killer (who dons a creepy old woman/banshee mask) skate after the victim wearing fluffy fur skates. The rest of the kills are quick and mostly dull. They are also stacked far too heavy in the final act. After only getting 2 kills for the first 70 minutes or so, we suddenly get like 4 kills in rapid succession, all occurring within about 3 minutes. I will say that a couple of the deaths surprised me, so good on them for that as usually these things stick to a very strict and predictable formula.

It does help that we get a few interesting characters to follow. Sherwood is sympathetic and Stryker is the perfect detestable asshole. Among the group of girls there was even one I was actively rooting for, though outside of maybe one other exception, this group of people is largely interchangeable. The killer is pretty good as the mask is creepy and even the motivation reveal is pretty ok.

Curtains is a perfectly adequate 1980’s slasher movie. Outside of one exception the kills aren’t great and the characters are hit and miss, which is just enough to make the movie entertaining. Though holy shit the cast and crew are not fans of this thing. I watched the new documentary included in this release and about 80% of the run time is talking about all the many ways this thing is terrible. It was interesting and definitely fun to watch as a result of all the blatant honesty, but there’s still something odd about buying a product and then being repeatedly told by the creators what a pile of garbage the product you just bought is. Eh, whatever, I enjoyed it well enough.

And that’s it for 2014! I fell behind more than once but we made it to the end! 31 reviews! Lots of pleasant surprises, a few disappointments, and loooots of “well, that was fine I guess”. Still enjoyed this for the most part and yeah who am I kidding, I am totally going to do this again next year. See you in 2015! Well I’ll still be writing other stuff between now and then so like, maybe see you tomorrow hopefully!

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #30 - Deliver us from Evil

As both a fan of Eric Bana being badass and the director’s last movie Sinister, I originally was planning to check this one out in theatres. However it only lasted a couple of weeks before disappearing from this area completely, sealing its fate as a Redbox rental. Appropriately, I feel a Redbox rental is about the correct price to pay for this movie.

Deliver us from Evil claims to be inspired by true events but from what I can tell, that just means the character Eric Bana is playing is in fact a real person and the rest of the movie is completely made up. “Inspired by true events” is a pretty bullshit blanket statement anyway. Any movie could bust that claim out and technically be accurate. Guardians of the Galaxy is inspired by true events because space totally exists and people have gone there. Godzilla is inspired by true events because there are, in fact, animals on Earth. And sometimes they can get pretty big too! It’s such an odd marketing gimmick. Was there really a single person out there on the fence about the movie who was pushed over into a viewing by seeing that line?

So anyway the movie itself! Eric Bana is a cop who, along with his partner Joel McCale, spend an evening responding to an increasingly strange set of calls. First they wind up at the apartment of a veteran who suddenly went crazy and started beating his wife and daughter. Then it’s off to a zoo where a woman threw her 2-year-old son into a lion pit and took off into the night, found later furiously scratching at the pavement. Also they find a creepy painter dude who looks like a member of Slipknot and can talk to lions. This all kicks off a tale of hauntings and psychic powers and possession and exorcisms.

Not surprisingly from that last sentence, Deliver us from Evil is kind of all over the place. It starts almost as a cop procedural with some supernatural elements before delving head first into a religion/demon possession story in the latter half. Honestly I was much more into the first half as it felt a lot more unique. At this point these guys don’t know about all the weird shit, they are just two cops dealing with some bizarre situations and it’s interesting to watch. It has an original feel and leads to some genuinely suspenseful and creepy scenes, such as the call at the zoo. The enjoyable first half makes it all the more disappointing when the second half journeys down a path that has been tread by many, many movies in the past.

Bana is of course good though it does take some time to get used to his Bronx accent. It’s strange to see McCale in what is largely a non-comedic role. He handles the material quite well, providing some of the sole laughs in a very dour movie and also doing some pretty convincing knife fighting. We know his character is an adrenaline junkie because the movie tells us straight up that he’s an adrenaline junkie, but he doesn’t really live up to that characterization. Olivia Munn is also here as Bana’s wife but she isn’t given much more to do than worry and be concerned for Bana. Oftentimes the family stuff seems forced in and with a bloated run time of just under two hours, the movie definitely could have used some trimming down.

The primary problem with this movie is that once it starts going down the heavier supernatural path, it becomes familiar and far less interesting. We’ve seen countless films about exorcisms (hell this isn’t even my first one this month) and the exorcism sequence presented here does not do enough differently to stand out from the pack. People move in unnatural ways, prayers are chanted, people are thrown around the room, you’ve seen it in all before. There are also some scenes at Bana’s home where his daughter is experiencing some spookiness in her bedroom at night that are pretty effective but feel like they are from a completely different movie. The initial trailer made it look like this one should join the ranks of titles such as The Conjuring and Insidious but that’s not accurate. It tries to be a lot of things but only really succeeds at a couple of them.

Deliver us from Evil isn’t a bad movie, it’s actually almost a very good one in my opinion. It just doesn’t do enough to stand out, at least once the plot really starts to get going. You’ll get some mild scares out of it and the performances are good, but I still file this one firmly in the disappointment category.

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #29 - V/H/S Viral

The V/H/S movies are certainly not the best in either the world of found footage or the world of horror anthologies, but they have been just entertaining enough to keep me coming back to the franchise each year. For every disappointing story there was usually another that was quite effective and they always had pretty creative ways to invoke the found footage concept.  The latest entry however is the first real sign that this franchise is waning.

V/H/S Viral contains three main stories and a wrap around. It’s the fewest amount of stories in one of these movies so far and the whole thing only runs about 80 minutes. Apparently an additional story was to be featured but was cut for reasons unknown. The extra content certainly would have been welcome in what often feels like a slight movie, though considering the quality of the entries we do have, a longer run time may have simply made things worse.

The wraparound story, Vicious Circles I believe it is called, starts out with a dude filming his girlfriend constantly and then eventually becomes about this car chase involving an ice cream truck that everyone in the area is trying to get footage of on their phones and stuff so they can become YouTube famous. However anybody trying to film the chase often suffers from a violent death, always when within vicinity of the actual truck. There is some potential in the early set-up but the quick cuts and disorienting presentation ruin the viewing experience. It’s also capped off with an ending that as far as I can tell is pure nonsense.

The first main story is Dante the Great and it’s about a struggling magician who finds a cloak that apparently once belonged to Houdini but it scared the shit out of him so he ended up getting rid of the thing. The cloak grants the user real magical powers so Dante ends up becoming a huge sensation. He also becomes a huge dick and starts murdering people and the crux of the story follows one of his female assistants who tries to expose him and what he is up to. It’s all presented as a true crime story and there are definitely some things to like about it. There’s some impressive effects worse and some effective comic moments, though it’s not even remotely scary or suspenseful.

My biggest issue though is with the presentation as this isn’t found footage in the slightest. It does a huge cheat by presenting things in the found footage style but filming it as a regular movie. There are shots nobody would have been around to get, angles that would not be possible, and the list goes on. Normally it wouldn’t bother me as much but it seemed to go against what these movies are actually supposed to be.

The second short, Parallel Monsters, is easily the highlight of the movie but I still have mixed thoughts about it. It’s about a guy who invents a machine that will open the doorway to a parallel dimension. There he finds the other version of himself and they agree to switch universes for 15 minutes. At first things look the same but they quickly start to discover some key differences between their universes. This segment does a great job of building up initial suspense as they slowly start to reveal the details of the other universe. However I don’t know if the payoff is creepy or hilarious. Kinda both I guess? It’s certainly original and for that I do feel this is a strong entry in the overall VHS series.

However, the third and final segment, Bonestorm, is probably one of the weakest entries in the overall VHS series. It’s about a group of teenage, skateboarder assholes who go down to Mexico to shoot their skate video. They stumble upon a cult, the cult members (lots of actual skeletons it would seem) attack them, the asshole kids fight back, the short ends. They hint at a huge monster being set free to run loose but there is no payoff there. It’s literally just these fucking unlikable pricks shooting and hitting skeletons without giving the sense that they are a little freaked out by what is happening. I don’t know if we are supposed to think these dudes are awesome but I could barely get through this one. The shaky, disorienting camera work does not help either.

So there you go. One ok entry, one pretty strong one, and one terrible one, all bookended by a pretty weak wraparound story. It’s too bad as I was quite looking forward to this movie but it’s definitely a disappointment. I’ll still check out a fourth V/H/S should it come to pass but after this outing I would be a tad surprised if it kept on going.

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #28 - The House on Haunted Hill

Here we have another case where I have seen the remake of something but never the original. I have seen both the 1999 House on Haunted Hill (which I remember thinking was ok, haven’t gone back it since release but I’m going to guess it doesn’t hold up all too well now) and its awful direct to DVD sequel Return to the House on Haunted Hill or whatever it was actually called. My only memory of the latter is that it did the gimmick where throughout the movie you can choose various different story paths which almost never changed the story in anything resembling a significant way. Oh and that it was terrible. I remember that as well. So even though I indulged in what are considered the lesser versions I had never watched the original 1959 version with Vincent Price until Scream Factory once again saved the day with a new box set containing this movie. So here we go!

Price plays millionaire Frederick Loren, who has invited a group of five strangers to a party he is having for his wife inside of a house that is supposedly haunted. The hook is that each person who survives the night will be given $10,000 when the sun rises. They are locked inside the house by the caretakers and the windows are barred up so it is physically impossible for any of them to leave until they are let out in the morning. Are there actually ghosts in the house? What is the deal with this millionaire guy? What is he up to? Why does the lady caretaker float around and stand behind people posed like a witch in order to frighten them? The last question isn’t answered (seriously what the hell is her deal) but finding out the solutions to the others makes for quite a fun ride.

I’m not all that familiar with Vincent Price’s work even though he is considered to be one of the greats in the history of horror. I have seen a few clips of him but I think this is the first movie of his I have watched in its entirety and it’s not hard to see why the guy made such a name for himself in the genre. He is really damn good. He has such a perfect voice for this; creepy and soothing. He has great presence and does a terrific job making Loren seem both charming and sinister. I look forward to diving into more of the box set and viewing some more of his work.

The film moves along at a good clip. Yes it is only 75 minutes long so it doesn’t have much of a choice but still, after some time introducing the characters it’s only a short while before the spooky stuff starts to go down. I’ve said before that sometimes I go into the older, black and white horror with an unfair bias that because it’s old, as a result it isn’t going to be scary. While House on Haunted Hill certainly isn’t terrifying, it is consistently effective. It contains a few successful jump scares and some genuinely creepy moments. Sure the special effects are quite primitive and obvious but it doesn’t take too much away from the picture, outside of perhaps a particularly rough looking skeleton in the later chunk of the film. Generally though, I was impressed with how spooky the movie could be, making great use of its location and some very well staged sequences.

The story however is what ended up being the most interesting aspect. There is a lot more going on here than simply having a group of people be stuck in a possibly haunted house. You are never quite sure what certain characters are up to. Peoples’ motivations and goals are often kept a mystery which allows for some suspense and a few plot twists as well. It all leads to a perfectly sinister ending to cap everything off.

I enjoyed House on Haunted Hill a lot more than I would have expected. It has a fast pace, some solid spookiness, and a host of interesting characters with Vincent Price often stealing the show. I still am a little interested in revisiting the 1999 remake but I can definitely see why people don’t compare it favourably to this one as this is easily the superior picture.

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #27 - The Exorcist II: The Heretic

This is the only movie in the Exorcist franchise that I had not yet seen. The reputation around it is so toxic (it is considered by many sources to be amongst the top five worst movies of all time) that I never felt it was worthy of the two hours it would take me to watch the thing. However I picked up the Exorcist set and I got this stupid marathon thing going right now so I figured if I was ever going to watch Exorcist II it would be now. Plus I had read a couple reviews saying it was a great “so bad it’s good” movie and that it is completely hilarious. Disagree! Disagree completely!

Exorcist II takes place a few years after the events of the first movie. Regan is now grown up (I believe she is supposed to be 16-years-old here) and is seeing a psychiatrist who possesses this insane machine that can link people’s brains together and have them share the same thoughts or something? And nobody is impressed by this device at all! Everyone just accepts that “yeah of course this is technology that is totally real and not completely insane at all”. Also a priest is looking into the death of Father Merrin from the first movie which leads him to Africa after the demon Pazuzu (who possessed Regan in the first movie) flies him around as a locust in a dream sequence and there he meets James Earl Jones who was also once possessed by the demon and is now either a witch doctor or an esteemed scientist and then a woman sets herself on fire and then some exorcising happens and I don’t know there’s a bunch of other stuff too. It sounds like the makings of an exciting movie are perhaps there but oh man is this movie ever boring.

I do not agree at all that this movie is hilarious in its badness. It’s just bad in its badness. Yes the crazy synchronizing brain machine is pretty funny at first but outside of that the whole affair is just a slog. I will get the two positive points out of the way right now – the acting is solid and the score is quite good. There. I said something nice. This is where that stops.

Though I honestly don’t have a whole lot more to say about this one. The primary sin it commits is being terribly boring. There was a point, it was maybe about halfway through the movie when the priest has made the trip to Africa, where I honestly debated giving up and firing up a different movie for today’s review but I wanted to see it through to the end, if only to ensure I had witnessed the entire Exorcist anthology from beginning to end. I’m having trouble expanding on why it’s boring as that kind of explains itself. The characters are dull, they are never doing anything interesting, the plot is both confusing and uninvolving and nothing even remotely close to horror happens until the very final part of the movie. It’s everything you don’t want in an Exorcist movie.

You know what, as short as this review is, I’m calling it. I have nothing more to say. Exorcist II: The Heretic is as bad as you’ve heard. I tried to go into it with an open mind and of course had crazy, CRAZY, low expectations for it but it didn’t matter at all. I know people say you can’t judge a movie for what it isn’t (ie: like the original Exorcist) but you should always judge it for what it is. Ok well here is what the Exorcist II is; it’s boring, not scary in the slightest and completely ridiculous without actually being any fun to watch. I am officially joining the chorus of the rest of the internet and saying do not watch this movie.

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #26 - Race with the Devil

Finally I get to bust out of the other half of my Peter Fonda double bill disc that started in the May action movie marathon with Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. I wasn’t sure if Race with the Devil technically counted as a horror movie but I knew it had a cult and I knew Kevin Smith was always talking about how scary it is so I figured why not.

Roger (Peter Fonda) and Frank (Warren Oates) are the owners of a successful motorcycle business who, along with their wives, are taking an RV to Aspen for a ski vacation. Along the way they park the RV in a secluded area for the night and while out and about, Roger and Frank witness a sacrifice being performed by a demonic cult. The cult members see that the two of them caught them in their silly devil games and thus begins the chase that permeates the rest of the movie.

Race with the Devil taps into a lot of the same ideas as Rosemary’s Baby as there is an ever growing fear for the protagonists that everyone they encounter is in on this and is a member of the cult. There is never a sense of who they can actually trust and the movie does a great job of ensuring the audience isn’t sure either.

The scene where they watch the ritual unfold is great; very effective and chilling. At first they think they are watching an orgy go down and are laughing and joking about it. That is until a woman is stabbed and killed. From there panic sets in and things only escalate when they make too much noise and draw the cult’s attention. That is some freaky shit. I’m sure any one of us can relate to the fear of getting caught where you’re not supposed to be, especially if the person catching you is way into Satan and setting people on fire and stabbing them.

That whole sequence is easily the highlight of the movie as the rest can never quite match that level of fear and intensity. The following chunk of the movie is definitely slower as the wives start to do research into the cult after finding a piece of paper one of them left on the back of their RV. A great sequence involving a pair of rattlesnakes picks things back up and the finale is fantastic. At this point the movie goes full blown action as the group is trying to fend off the cultists from their RV. This involves lots of impressive (and of course, practical) car stunts and explosions and awesome. I enjoyed this one sequence more than the entirety of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.

It’s also worth noting that the abrupt and chilling ending that I quite enjoyed was only there because the filmmakers had no clue how to end the movie so they just cobbled something together. They didn’t seem particularly proud of that on the commentary track but I thought it worked great, keeping things somewhat ambiguous while still providing enough information that you can be quite sure what happened next.

Race with the Devil begins and ends very strongly with a bit of a lag in the middle (seems to be a running theme in this year’s marathon) but it still moves at a quick pace and makes for a very enjoyable watch. The cast is great and you have one very effective horror sequence and another very effective action sequence bookending everything, so the movie delivers on several levels. Recommended.

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #25 - Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort

My god there are six Wrong Turn movies. Six! The Wrong Turn franchise has made it up to its sixth installment! Even crazier is that I have actually seen every one of them. Let me break down my thoughts real quick since I have never actually talked about any of them on the site before. My thoughts on each Wrong Turn movie are as follows: 1 – decent enough, watchable, love me some Eliza Dushku 2 – slightly more enjoyable than the first, 3 – slightly less enjoyable than the first, 4 – I have no memories of this one so that doesn’t bode well for it, 5 – ugly, ugly movie with few redeeming qualities. So there you have it. Outside of the second movie I don’t have a whole lot of love for this franchise. Wrong Turn 6 does not change that although I will say it’s amongst the better entries in the series.

So here we have this guy Danny, emotionally disturbed dude, who is accompanied by his girlfriend and a group of his friends to this old hotel in the woods that may help to explain some of the history of his family. Mostly what this hotel does though is contain a bunch of fucked up rich people and murderous rednecks who are continuing their stabbing and cannibalistic ways. There’s actually a surprising amount of story here, more than I would have expected. It’s not a particularly good story but I will certainly commend them for trying to tell an actual story when most of the Wrong Turn movies amount to nothing more than “Welcome to the woods! Murder!”

It would seem these are indeed the same redneck, mutant murderers as in the previous films so I will say that it’s slightly impressive they are maintaining even some semblance of a continuing plot. The only other horror movie series I can think of that still kept the same characters around for this many entries is SAW, a collection of movies I really need to write about one day.

I think it’s fair to say that the Wrong Turn movies are primarily known for having heaping amounts of gore and from what I can remember of the other movies, this one may have the least amount of it, outside of a couple particularly gruesome sequences. For the most part the deaths are pretty quick and to the point, largely involving arrows or stabs to the head. One kill involving barbed wire and especially another involving a fire hose are easily the two stand-outs, the latter being more darkly amusing than genuinely gross. Overall though if you’re coming to this one to get your gore on, you will likely leave disappointed.

However, if you’re coming to this one to get your sex on then you will leave highly satisfied. My god are there ever a lot of people doin’ it in this movie. It’s crazy. I bet you 15 minutes never goes by in this movie without a scene of people boning. I easily saw more boobs in this one movie than during all of the other movies this month combined. Granted sex does play a huge role in the plot so it’s to be expected but there is still an astoundingly high level of fuckin’ in this film.

The characters and acting are about what you expect – passable to poor. The girl playing one of the hotel owners is particularly bad, everyone else is mostly just ok. I gave the movie credit for trying to tell a story and while it has some potential, the problem is this story is happening with a lot of uninteresting of people at its core. You’re supposed to be invested in the journey and transformation Danny is going through but I just couldn’t be. The dude is kind of a dick I’m afraid and I really wasn’t too invested in anything happening to him. The one character I had some sympathy for was his girlfriend but all of the friends are stock characters who are just here to get killed. Yes that is typical for a slasher movie but when you put the emphasis on story rather than the slasher kills, you need to make sure you have the characters to back it up but Wrong Turn 6 simply does not.

Also while the gore effects were mostly pretty solid, the make-up on the killers seemed especially poor. It looked like one small step above Value Village Halloween masks. It was very plastic-y and fake, especially on the main one of the group. It was distracting and gave everything a pretty low rent feel. Oh and the movie is not scary at all, so there’s that.

I didn’t hate Wrong Turn 6 but there wasn’t enough to pull me in either. The gore is pretty lackluster for the most part, the plentiful sex scenes get repetitive and the story telling attempts suffer due to weak characters and often uninteresting writing. It’s certainly a step in the right direction after Parts 4 and 5, and it’s just enough to peak my interest in watching part 7 when it doubt is released around this time next year.

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #24 - The Thing from Another World

Man you guys, John Carpenter’s The Thing sure is a fantastic movie. You seen it? Man, it’s so good you guys. Love that movie. The prequel from 2011? Eh, I can take it or leave it but the Carpenter version? Goooooooood, so gooood you guys! Though there’s another Thing movie, this one from the 1950’s. Carpenter’s version is a remake and the guy is such a huge fan of the original that you can also see the characters watching it in the first Halloween movie. I found a good deal on the DVD, then proceeded to leave it unwatched on a shelf for about a year. It’s time to correct that and finally get my 3 dollars’ worth out of this DVD!

Similar to the later versions of The Thing, here a group of people (scientists and officers) are in Alaska (or somewhere cold and snowy at least) when they find the remains of a fallen flying saucer. It’s obviously a huge scientific find but they almost immediately ruin everything by blowing it up with dynamite to get it out of the ice. Thankfully right after this happens they also excavate a huge block of ice that seems to contain a tall, frozen body. Eventually the body is accidently thawed because for some strange reason an electric blanket is left sitting on top of it and everyone finds themselves having to fight back against the alien creature who is made of vegetables and wants to drink human blood.

I was surprised by how few of the plot elements I knew from the Carpenter remake are actually featured here. The creature doesn’t take over the bodies of dogs or people and the whole idea of not knowing who could be The Thing at any given time is not present here. The Thing from Another World is much more straight forward in its narrative. The creature never morphs or changes, it’s just one creature who doesn’t appear until near the end of the film.  I haven’t read the original book, Who Goes There, upon which all of these movies are originally based, but I do understand that the idea of the monster changing forms is present there. I understand that this is a different take on the material but I did find a lot of the suspense is taken away by losing this plot point.

What really works well in this movie is the dialogue and the characters. The script is very fast, with people slinging lines back and forth at rapid fire pace. It’s very well written and often quite funny as well. There are a lot of characters in this movie but the spotlight is only given to a handful of them who, while not particularly memorable, are at least fleshed out well enough that you do care what happens to them. It’s the writing, plus the great use of the location, that keeps things interesting during the wait for the creature to actually arrive.

Things definitely do pick up once he makes his first appearance. The first thing I appreciated is that once he thaws and is encountered by one of the characters, everyone else immediately believes this guy when he comes running into the room screaming about how he was attacked by a monster. I’ve said before that I’m always a fan when people are immediately on board with the weirdness that is going on in a horror movie and here is a shining example. The creature doesn’t have a whole ton of screen time but they certainly make good use of what he does have, maintaining a solid level of suspense and employing some great reveal shots.

The absolute show stopper for me though is one hell of a fire stunt that comes right near the end of the movie. The team manages to light the creature on fire, however he still stumbles around the room, trying to attack them and knocking a bunch of stuff over. It’s a seriously impressive stunt that goes on for far longer than I would have anticipated. Perhaps its unfair thinking on my part, assuming these sorts of things weren’t done in the 1950’s, but I was very impressed with what they pulled off here.

While I quite enjoyed The Thing from Another World, it by no means replaces the Carpenter version as my definitive version of The Thing. That to me is still the ultimate practical effects/gore movie and I still revisit it often. The original here is still a very good movie that flies by at a solid pace and remains consistently enjoyable, but at no point does a dog’s head explode or does a man’s stomach bite off another man’s arms, and I’m sorry but for me that puts it in 2nd place. The 2011 remake….well it certainly does exist.

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #23 - Rosemary's Baby

Sooooo yeah despite claiming to be way into horror, I have never actually seen Rosemary’s Baby. What makes that even worse is that I have owned it for quite a while now. I’ve owned it long enough that originally it was supposed to be a part of last year’s marathon but got bumped to this year where it once again almost didn’t make it. I blame the length. I’m not used to horror movies being 135 minutes long and I think that scared me. Finally it was time to sit down and check this one and god damn I am an idiot for not watching this one sooner.

Mia Farrow is Rosemary and John Cassavetes (holy shit I just made the connection that the lead couple in Annabelle were named Mia and John, I think that makes me like that movie a little bit less) is her husband Guy. They move to a new apartment where they quickly befriend the elderly couple who live in the same building. It quickly becomes apparent that there is something off about these two. They are too friendly and far too pushy, even for an elderly couple. Things take an even stranger turn when a woman in the building commits suicide with depression blamed as the cause, despite Rosemary having met her and being told how happy she was. Shit ain’t right and that’s all I will say about it from here.

I am largely unfamiliar with the works of Mia Farrow but holy hell is she ever fantastic here. It’s a tremendous performance and requires a full transformation, both physically and mentally. Rosemary starts out as a sweet and optimistic woman who we then watch become increasingly more paranoid and frazzled until eventually she is a complete wreck, a shell of her former self. Farrow makes the transition seamlessly and never goes over the top, always remaining entirely sympathetic. You even believe this woman would love Guy, who for all intents and purposes seems to be a huge, neglectful, borderline rapist asshole.

Rosemary’s Baby is a master class in suspense. The majority of thrillers aren’t able to sustain a solid level of suspense for a full scene; this one manages to keep it up for over two hours. Even simple dinner conversations have an underlying tone of malice and every character, no matter how outwardly friendly they may appear, feels like they may be up to something. Along with Rosemary, you’re never quite sure who you can trust and what people’s true motivations are and it makes for some truly effective terror. It’s not about jump scares or gore, just good old fashioned suspense. The final third of the movie then ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable level. It’s a movie that’s not afraid to take it’s time but you’ll be far, FAR, from bored.

In general the movie holds up remarkably well but there are a few things that date it. There’s small touches like Rosemary’s make-up in the latter half of the movie being far too blatant but that’s less the fault of the movie and more the amazing transfer job of the Criterion blu ray. They didn’t count on us watching the movie with this much clarity (it’s the same reason you can now see naked boobs in many of the James Bond openings) so that’s fine. The main thing that stuck out, especially for my wife, is that Rosemary is an overly complacent wife. Perhaps it’s the character, maybe it is indeed the time period, but it can be a tad jarring. Yes for a lot of it we are supposed to think he is in fact being a dick but there is one particularly heinous thing he does that is treated as more of a sitcom style husband screw-up than the truly fucked up act it really is. It’s nothing that takes away from the movie but it certainly stands-out all these years later.

I do feel the movie could also use a touch more ambiguity in the end. You think perhaps they are going to leave a few things open ended and have some room for interpretation but noooope. Everything is completely and thoroughly explained so that by the end there is absolutely no doubt as to exactly what is taking place. I still loved the ending, but at times the amount of exposition was a bit much, though I’m glad they still left at least a few specific details up to the viewer’s imagination.

I don’t think I’ll be blowing anybody’s minds when I saw that Rosemary’s Baby is a fantastic movie. You all already knew that, it’s me who is finally playing catch up on this one. Don’t make the same mistake I did, you watch this movie immediately. Immediately!

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #22 - See No Evil 2

It’s so strange that this movie exists. The first See No Evil came out 8 years ago and as far as I could tell was dreadfully unpopular. Critics and audiences were not fans and I know it couldn’t have made a whole lot of money because I, needing to kill some time, saw this movie at a large cinema on its opening night. I was the only person in the entire theatre. This wasn’t when the movie was on its way out. This was 7 PM on the Friday it opened in one of the most popular theatres in a large city. It was strange and made me feel bad about myself and everything around me. I haven’t thought about the movie since that night and yet here we are with a sequel. I had to watch it because I needed to get some sense of why it exists. Yeah I still have no idea.

See No Evil 2 takes place immediately following the events of the first movie (which they show a condescended version of so you aren’t lost in all this plot) and has Jacob Goodnight (Kane) taken to a hospital morgue after he, along with all of his victims, are found dead at what I think was an abandoned hotel. At this very hospital, Amy (Danielle Harris) is being given a surprise birthday party by all of her friends. I can’t help but have a sneaking suspicion that Goodnight is going to wake up and slaughter all these people. Spoilers he does. Further spoilers, it’s not exciting at all to watch this go down.

This movie is directed by the Soska Sisters who wrote and directed American Mary which I wrote a review for during last year’s marathon. I thought they might be able to breathe a little life and creativity into this movie and at first it looked like maybe I was right as their directing credit is overlaid on an image of the two of them side by side and dead on slabs. This gave me hope. That hope did not last once we started meeting the human characters and they started saying words.

One of the worst sins a slasher movie can commit is having absolutely no interesting characters and See No Evil 2is a shining example. The core group is actually quite small so you would think this meant they would give you some reasons to care about these people. Nope, not really. I mean sure Amy is a likable enough person but she is also a painfully generic character who falls victim to a shoehorned in love story that creeps in suddenly around the halfway point of the movie. The one interesting character is Tamara (Katherine Isabelle), a girl who is turned on by death and the macabre. One of her first scenes has her straddling the dead carcass of Jacob Goodnight and talking dirty/kissing him. She was at least unique and Isabelle has fun with the part but I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler to say that she isn’t around nearly as much as you would like.

Jacob Goodnight does not make for an interesting killer either. All of his back story was already revealed in the first movie and there is no further expansion on that here, just a quick reminder of what we already know. I don’t remember him talking as much in the first movie but it doesn’t amount to much more than “I see your sins!” and some grunts and groans. Kane is certainly an intimidating physical presence and the makings of a solid killer are there but as of now he just falls amongst the generic slasher villain crowd.

A lot of this could be made up for if the movie at least had some interesting kills but it does not deliver in that department either. They make sure to show us that Goodnight is acquiring a whole slew of weapons to use but then he fails to do anything with them. Absolutely none of the deaths here have a shred of originality and the gore is surprisingly light as well. There are a few moments of suspense and a couple of ok scares but for the most part everything happening is dull.

I can at least say one positive thing; the movie looks really good. It’s exceptionally well shot and they make a very stale location (oooo a hospital basement, what a new and original place to have a slasher movie take place) look quite impressive, especially considering how the majority of scenes take place in total darkness.

See No Evil 2 is such a strange entity. Who wanted this? Why does this exist? I may not remember much about the first movie but I’m sure that it had more going for it than this one does. Danielle Harris and Katherine Isabelle are enjoyable and the movie looks quite good but it’s a largely boring movie that feels indistinguishable from tons and tons of other low grade slasher movies. Don’t bother.

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #21 - Evilspeak

Evilspeak is Carrie but with a dude. I mean yes there are certainly unique touches such as the presence of computers and evil books and carnivorous pigs (something Carrie absolutely could have used more of) but for the most part this is Carrie but with Clint Howard instead of Sissy Spacek. That’s not a knock against the movie by any means. If anything Carrie but with a dude and pigs who eat people should be the most ringing endorsement I could ever give this movie.

Clint Howard is Stanley Coopersmith and get ready to hear that last name a lot because I swear it makes up at least 25% of the dialogue in this movie. He’s a social outcast at a military academy who is mercilessly picked on by a group of four bullies. He eventually stumbles upon this old evil book while cleaning a church basement and using a computer that is far too technologically advanced for the time, he summons some dark forces to get revenge. At least eventually he does, it takes until the last 10 minutes before you really see this unfold.

It’s kind of strange to see Clint Howard play a regular guy. I mean sure Coopersmith is socially awkward but he is not your typical Clint Howard weirdo character. He is a genuinely nice guy who doesn’t deserve any of the shit coming his way. Howard is good in the role, easily earning the audience’s sympathy. Though the movie does spend about an hour having him be bullied relentlessly so that even if he were a jerk you would still be ready for him to enact some vengeance.

The four bullies in this movie go far beyond your average movie bullies. These guys are full on psychopaths. They are pure evil. Their motivation is also a bit muddled. I guess they hate Coopersmith (or as they so cleverly call him, Cooperdick) because he isn’t very good at soccer? That seems to be the primary reason they set up in the opening scene. It’s not as though they are a professional team or anything but these guys fucking haaaaaaaate that Coopersmith is not very good at the sport. I already was against them after all the bullying but I guess the movie wasn’t confident enough you would support their murder as they go as far as to have them (SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!) kill Coopersmith’s dog. And not just any dog – the most adorable puppy you have ever seen in your life. It’s not like it’s an accident. They are extremely into the idea of killing this dog. It’s a very strange scene as up until that point they are huge assholes but this puts them in super-villain territory. It’s a cheap way of ensuring you absolutely want these guys dead.

It’s also worth mentioning that the guys they picked to play the bullies seem they could easily be the characters being picked on in a different movie. One guy is a scrawny looking nerd guy with curly hair, one is a big sweaty, dirty fat guy, and the leader of the gang is a young Don Stark, aka Donna’s Dad on That 70’s Show. I often couldn’t buy into the fact that these were the dudes who are the bullies of the school.

Coopersmith does have one friend – a token black character named ….I don’t even remember. That’s how little his presence adds to the movie. He gets so little screen time I often forgot the character even existed. You never actually see him and Coopersmith hanging out or doing anything friends might do together so I think this guy simply feels sorry for him. This relationship could have used a bit more fleshing out but I think the goal was to make sure you are on board with Coopersmith’s (holy shit his last name is taking up just as much room in this review as it does in the actual movie) revenge so giving him friends would have been counterproductive to this.

Also my god is this movie ever over-ambitious about what computers in 1981 were capable of. I wasn’t born at the time but I can’t imagine those computers were good for much more than “make text appear on the screen by hitting these buttons” but here we have machines that are capable of translating ancient evil text as well as any number of other impressive feats. Of course this is only one of many movies from the 80’s that featured huge leaps in technological achievement (never forgot that at one point, Rocky Balboa owned a fucking robot) but it does feel particularly silly here.

That seems like a lot of negative so let me turn this around and say that I did enjoy Evilspeak. Yes it takes a little while to get going but Coopersmith is a sympathetic character that is easy to spend time with and it does make the final act all the more satisfying. Oh and also there’s this whole thing where the evil book summons pigs to eat people with almost no explanation. You see there’s a secretary character who steals the book because she seemingly wants the jewel that’s on the front but every time she tampers with it we see these pigs getting riled up. Eventually she goes too far and the pigs burst into her bathroom while she is showering and proceed to tear open her stomach and eat her intestines. It was at that point I knew this must be a pretty good movie.

The movie is indeed quite gory and was apparently once included in the group of “Video Nasties”, a list of films that were completely banned in the UK. Of course it’s pretty tame by today’s standards but no less enjoyable. You got pigs eating people, heads getting cut off left and right, organs being ripped out of people’s bodies, it’s really good stuff and makes for a terrific finish to the film. A lot of the effects are very primitive (they didn’t even attempt to remove the strings during a scene where Coopersmith is floating through the air) but with the low budget they had to work with a lot of the practical stuff still proves impressive too.

Evilspeak is a weird one but I enjoyed it. It’s a solid revenge tale with a good performance from Clint Howard that makes up for the cartoonishly over the top bullies. Throw in a lot of strange random events and some man eating pigs and a bunch of beheadings and you have yourself a pretty enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes. Oh and yes this is another from the Scream Factory line. I think this is the fourth one so far this month and it ain’t gonna be the last either!

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #20 - Haunter

Haunter once again reminds me how fun it can be to go into a movie knowing literally nothing about it. I remember hearing positive things about the movie last year and it had a very, very brief run at my local cheap theatre but I had largely forgotten about it until I saw it while browsing Netflix. Having just watched The Pact I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into another ghost story this quickly but figured I would start watching it and then decide whether I wanted to keep going. Haunter then proceeded to grab me by the throat and ensure that I would be sticking with it until the very end.

It’s going to be tricky to talk about this one without giving away too much because I really feel a large part of the appeal comes from going into it 100% ignorant of the plot. Let’s just say that there are indeed ghosts and a house that contains said ghosts, and the rest I will leave as a complete mystery. I will say that I thought I was all smart and had guessed the end twist only a few minutes in, only to then have that theory immediately debunked when said twist was not even a twist, but an early plot point that is revealed right away. That is when I knew this was a movie worth watching.

Abigail Breslin is the lead and this is totally her show as I don’t recall almost any scenes that did not prominently feature her. Thankfully she is completely up to the task and is great here, running the gamut from typical sarcastic teenager to absolutely terrified, often within the same scene. The supporting actors around her (of which there are only a handful) are good as well but this is the Breslin show and she truly shines here.

As with The Pact, the action here is largely contained within a single location and they absolutely make the most of it. From creepy attics to secret corridors the entire house is given an ominous feel; hell they even make the washer and dryer seem unsettling. There’s great use of perpetual fog and the movie knows exactly how to use sound to make for some truly creepy moments. However, as with The Pact, the middle stretch of the movie is a bit slow and also a bit repetitive. We get numerous sequences of Breslin exploring the house and encountering strange phenomenon and while they get a lot of mileage out of this the first few times, it starts to get a tad tedious around the halfway mark and I was more than ready for the plot to progress further. Yes it’s true that a certain plot point requires repetition but I found this idea expanded into the general scares as well.

While things definitely pick up in the home stretch, I will say I was a touch disappointed by the overall resolution of things. What begins as a very intriguing mystery eventually finds itself treading in some familiar territory and while it is still well executed, it can’t match what came before it and causes the movie to peter out slightly, not quite living up to the potential it showed in the first act.

My god these reviews are getting short but I suppose I am writing one a day and likely running out of original thoughts. Plus there’s not a whole lot more to say than that. Great opening that sets up a very intriguing premise that is not paid off as satisfying as I would hope but still makes for an entertaining ride.

Oh they also lose points for showing the little brother playing what is clearly Atari 2600 Pac-Man and laying over the arcade noises. Shame on you Haunter, you’re better than that!

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #19 - Leviathan

The pull quote for this movie on the blu ray case reads “Alien underwater!” That quote did not instill me with a whole lot of confidence in this movie. Is that seriously the best thing they could find to put on the cover? That’s not even praise for the movie technically; it’s just a very concise summary of it. It would be like if Edge of Tomorrow (or I’m sorry, Live Die Repeat, fucking idiots…) had “Sci-Fi Groundhog Day!” as its choice cover quote. That isn’t anything! This could be grim.

Leviathan is a fairly typical monster movie, this one taking place in an undersea mining operation. The crew end up stumbling upon a ship wreck and inside find a safe that they bring back on board their own station. Inside they find all manner of things, including a note from the ship’s captain about how everyone is dying and shit is all fucked up, and a bottle of alcohol, which a few of them promptly drink because hey, free booze. From there they start to feel sick, monsters start bursting out of them, they start turning into monsters themselves, and generally all hell breaks loose so Robocop and Winston need to get a flamethrower and take care of matters.

What really stands out about Leviathan is the cast. I recognized damn near everybody here. You got Peter Weller (aka OG Robocop) in the lead role, Richard Crenna (aka Rambo’s boss) is here as the Doc, Daniel Stern (aka one of the victims of Kevin McCallister) is here as the comic relief who not surprisingly isn’t all that funny, and Ernie Hudson (aka Winston) is on board as the badass who uses a flamethrower in the final act of the movie. I also recognized the girl with the icy eyes from They Live as well. It’s a great cast and they help elevate what are fairly stock characters simply by being so awesome.

Leviathan has a pretty slow build before anything sinister starts to happen. I think this time is meant to get you attached to all of the characters but as I said, there isn’t much dimension to them and the only reason I cared about them in any way was because I liked the actors. There is very little to distinguish one character from another outside of their profession on the ship and perhaps one identifiable character trait (this girl likes to run, this guy is a goof, etc). The dialogue is ok, lots of banter that mostly works but at a certain point I was certainly ready for things to move forward.

Once they do though things get pretty good. Since this is a 1980’s joint we of course get practical monster effects and we also get a toooon of them. The creature in Leviathan seems to be completely different from one scene to the next. You see it fused with people, coming out of people, in small form, in huge form, in huger form, and all sorts of stages in between. The effects are mostly hit but there is definitely the occasional miss as well. The creature looks pretty goofy at times, especially during some of the final sequences, and you can tell at times they make an effort not to give you a terrific look at it. Also some of the close-up makeup effects don’t hold up but considering the sheer amount of effects and creature iterations on display here, what we get is damn impressive and also keeps things interesting as you never know what sort of monstrosity is going to show up next. I wouldn’t say the movie is at any point scary, perhaps outside of one or two effective jump scares, but I’m never not going to enjoy practical monster effects from the 80’s.

Oh you know what, actually there is one moment I need to mention that is actually a cool character beat. One character is starting to make the transformation into a creature and when they look down at their body and see what they are becoming, tears start to stream from their eyes. That was a cool touch, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen before. A few more character moments like that and this could be an under looked classic.

Leviathan is by no means great but it’s a fun watch for sure. Cool creature effects and a slew of great actors make up for the occasional slow pace and the whole thing is an enjoyable enough effort that I could see revisiting it somewhere down the line. 

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #18 - Enemy

The final five seconds of this movie is currently blowing my mind in about a thousand different ways. Just….what?! I jumped, I laughed, I got ridiculously confused. That….what….I don’t even know how to talk about this movie. I am certainly glad that I watched it but in this moment I honestly can’t even say if I liked it or not.

How in the hell to summarize this thing….ok. So Jake Gyllenhaal is a teacher who one day is watching a movie that was recommended to him and he sees that one of the background characters looks completely identical to him. He becomes obsessed and eventually tracks the guy down. Then a whole bunch of other stuff happens that I don’t want to talk about but at the same time I’m not even sure that I could talk about it as it’s all completely fucking crazy but at the same time it’s a very low key movie that many I’m sure would call boring. I would certainly not call it that.

Man, when the hell did Jake Gyllenhaal get so damn good? There was Prisoners and now this one and I’ve heard even better things about his performance in the upcoming Nightcrawler. I mean he was always solid but my god this guy is slowly becoming unstoppable. So yes he is very good in this movie, handling the two different versions of this guy perfectly as while they look the same it’s important they are given enough of a difference in their behavior and mannerisms that they are distinct and Jake does so perfectly. He is surrounded by a bunch of other great actors including Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon and Isabella Rossellini but this is largely the Gyllenhaal hour and he really does shine.

While Enemy is by no means a straight up horror movie, the last minute or so of the film notwithstanding, it is certainly unsettling. The tone is set perfectly in the opening sequence which features one of the Jakes watching a strange and exclusive sex show that concludes with a woman in high heels about to squash a giant spider underneath her foot. Everything about the movie just feels uncomfortable, but in a good way. I realize that makes zero sense but it’s really the best description I can come up with right now. Everything moves at a very methodical pace but it never fails to remain interesting.

Also how cool is it to have a movie this Canadian? Not only was it filmed in Toronto but it actually takes place in Toronto as well! Those Toronto landmarks in the backgrounds and establishing shots aren’t fuck ups like in most movies! They really are supposed to be there! Sorry but as a Canadian it is very exciting to see our country get some proper love as I don’t believe such a thing has happened since probably Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Not to mention an iconic Ottawa statue plays a prominent role so we got Canada representing all over this shit!

I already mentioned this but I feel it’s worth repeating – Enemy does not provide you with easy answers. Personally it didn’t even provide me with slightly difficult answers. I was completely baffled when this thing ended and actually started scouring through the movie a second time to desperately try and connect all of the pieces (second time I’ve done that this month after Kill List). Thankfully I discovered that seemingly you can indeed sort out what is happening as I was able to piece together a theory I was pleased with and after some Internet searching, discovered it is amongst the most popular theories. I still had to look up a few things to fill in the gaps but I got there and damn if it didn’t feel pretty rewarding in the end.

Enemy is absolutely 100% not going to be for everyone and I can see how someone could walk away absolutely seething with hate for this movie. I dug it though. It has great atmosphere, terrific performances and a twisting plot that makes you work for the solutions. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s certainly a worthwhile one.

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #17 - The Pact

I always see the poster for The Pact while browsing Netflix and always have a moment’s pause where I think I should fire it up but inevitably I always end up passing it up for Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Man vs Food or Kitten Party or whatever other nonsense I tend to watch on Netflix. Not this time though! This time I saw the poster and I clicked the damn button and I watched the whole damn thing! Turns out, it was pretty worth my time!

The Pact is a pretty low key ghost story, largely taking place in one location and with one central character. Our main character is Annie, played very well by Caity Lotz, who is back in her hometown in order to both attend the funeral of her mother and find out why her sister has gone missing. It’s a really big bummer of a trip. She stays at her mom’s place while in town and it doesn’t take long before ghosts start to be assholes and mess around with her. Or is there more going on?! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

As with a lot of haunted house stories, The Pact doesn’t do anything particularly original but with horror it’s often less about the originality and more about the actual execution and The Pact knows what the hell it is doing in that department. Right from the very beginning we are given numerous sequences that are loaded with suspense and get a ton of mileage out of this creepy ass house. It’s not a jump scare factory like the recent Annabelle, instead allowing the scares to brew. It can be remarkably effective and this really grabs you and drags you in during the early stages.

Unfortunately things do start to drag in the middle as we are given a side character, a cop played by Casper Van Dien, who feels largely unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. He is here to play the standard “I don’t believe these things you say about ghosts” character as I guess we don’t have the usual skeptical asshole husband to fill that role. It’s so unneeded here that every scene with him, including an extended scene of him searching around the empty house that comes to a pretty meh conclusion, could easily be excised from the film and it would not be affected in the slightest. It feels like padding and yes dropping that stuff would make for a very short movie, but damn would it ever be a tight and awesome experience. I feel bad as Van Dien is solid enough in the role, but I’m sorry sir we don’t really need you for this one.

Thankfully this middle section is made up for in the end as once all the pieces of the puzzle are put together, we are treated to a long and very tense sequence to close out the film. I don’t want to give away anything but I was quite happy with the course the story goes and the end payoff is very effective.

…This is easily my shortest review yet but I don’t what else there is to say. Great beginning, great end, blah middle. Apparently this movie was originally a short and now it makes a lot more sense as this definitely does feel like a movie trying to expand itself out to be full length, it just doesn’t always succeed. The good outweighs the bad by a wide margin though so I think you should definitely check this one out. I see now that a sequel is coming up and while the poster is quite terrible I will absolutely check that one as they have earned my trust after this first one.

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #16 - Grabbers

After putting this movie aside in order to watch Day 6’s Kill List, I was finally ready to return to the world of giant mutant octopus things attacking Ireland, which it turns out is indeed exactly what Grabbers is all about. It’s a very intriguing premise and I’m happy to report that the movie itself makes good on this initial promise.

Normally I would do a little bit of a plot summary here but I really just did it above. The residents of a small island off the coast of Ireland find themselves dealing with a giant weird octopus type creature and have to band together to survive and fight back. The primary hook is that they all gather at a pub which at first felt like a Shaun of the Dead rip-off but it turns out the creature can’t handle drinking any blood that has been tainted with alcohol so it is decided that the best combat strategy is for the whole town to be completely drunk off their asses. It’s a pretty great way to logically have all your characters be wasted and allows the movie to be more than just “drunk Irish people fight a huge monster.”

I recently watched the first Tremors movie (a series I really need to get back to soon actually) and with it fresh in my mind I can see a lot of similarities between that one and Grabbers. The tone is very similar, with a heavy lean towards comedy rather than horror, the monsters are similar in some ways (primarily in name, Grabbers and Graboids) and you have a bunch of colorful and quirky characters as your leads. Not to mention they are both a hell of a lot of fun.

Two big reasons why Grabbers works as well as it does are the characters and the performances. Much of the first third of the movie (outside of the occasional attack sequence) is spent getting to know the residents of this island and I have to say I was surprised by how attached I got to a good number of them. They are surprisingly well fleshed out and the dialogue is smart and funny. Once you get to the more action/horror heavy final act they have done a great job ensuring that this is a group of people that are easy to root for. They’re much more fleshed out than you would expect (for the most part anyway) and the movie benefits greatly from this. Plus it would be very easy to have made a far more irritating movie out of the concept of a bunch of drunks fighting a monster so it helps that they are not obnoxious, asshole drunks, but fun and lovable drunks.

The stand-out performance is hands down Ruth Bradley as Lisa Nolan, the officer from out of town. I had never heard of her before but her work here is so damn good that she has firmly found herself in the sparsely attended category of actors who can get me to watch something solely because they are a part of it. She is god damn adorable and hilarious. She puts in one of the best drunk performances I have ever seen in any form of media. You don’t have to have done any acting to know that portraying a drunk person is immensely difficult as it’s incredibly easy to come off as forced or far too ridiculous. Bradley fucking nails it though and is an absolute joy to watch. Everyone around her is also pretty great but she is the definite stand-out here. Her performance makes it far easier to forgive the love story that largely feels shoe-horned in.

I do have to say that the actual creatures, or at the very least the main creature, are a bit disappointing which is unfortunate. The large central octopus thing is CG which was almost definitely unavoidable here but it does give the picture a cheaper feel as the effects themselves are not the greatest. They’re certainly a step above something you would see on SyFy but still far too computer-y to take this creature as much of a threat. Not to mention the actual design of the creature(s) is pretty underwhelming, looking similar to many other movie monsters that you’ve seen in the past. It’s too bad as if this movie had a better looking creature at its core, I would be ready to call it an instant classic.

There is nowhere really to go after that last sentence as my thoughts on this movie had been made pretty damn clear. It’s a very fun movie with great characters, very well written and natural dialogue and a bunch of really good performances highlighted by one amazing one. In my eyes it simply needed a better creature in order to take it that extra few steps. It’s still 100% recommended however.

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #15 - Dracula Prince of Darkness

Yeah I already know that I’m not going to have a whole lot to say about this one. The Hammer monster movies are an area of horror I’ve always meant to dive into further. I believe I saw one of their Frankenstein movies (can’t recall which one now) a few years back and thought it was pretty decent so I’m surprised I didn’t keep going. Anyway I picked this movie up on bluray earlier this year based solely on reading how amazing it was that this film was actually getting a solid bluray release.

I’m not sure I get why people were so excited for this one.

The plot of Dracula: Prince of Darkness is quite simple. Four tourists go up to Dracula’s castle even though they’re told not to. Dracula happens. That about sums it up. I was a little concerned going into this since it isn’t the first Hammer Dracula movie in the series so I assumed I would be a little lost but thanks to a brief sequence at the start of this movie which shows the ending of the last one it was easy to catch up. There was Dracula, then he was killed, so there was no more Dracula. But now Dracula is happening again! Kind of. It turns out there is actually very little Dracula to be had in this movie. ….Dracula.

Yeah so Dracula doesn’t actually show up until about the 50 minute mark which wasn’t really upsetting but certainly surprising. On top of that, even once he shows up he seems to have a minimal presence. Oh and he has absolutely no dialogue. Not a single spoken line outside of some hisses, which works because Christopher Lee is clearly a master hisser. The reason for this seemingly depends on whoever you ask. Lee claims that originally there was dialogue written but it was so terrible he refused to speak any of it. The writer however claims that the script did not contain any dialogue for Dracula from the very beginning. Who knows which one of them is correct but the lack of lines doesn’t hurt the movie/role. It just makes Dracula feel like more of a monster this way, which I am ok with.

Much of the early part of the movie, which definitely has a slow build, is enjoyable because of the characters and performances, not to mention some smartly written dialogue. I particularly enjoyed a quick interaction after one of the women wakes up after hearing some noises. In so many words, the husband tells her straight up “No you didn’t. Shut up. Go back to sleep. Shut up.” There are actually several moments where the dialogue snaps like this and it makes the proceedings enjoyable even when the centric monster is not kicking around.

The look of the movie certainly helps as well as they are able to wrangle a decent amount of effective atmosphere out of their elaborate castle set. It’s not hard to see why the Hammer monster movies have become renowned for their gothic scenery as it’s largely on display here. Though I did feel that a lot of the movie felt a tad…bright I guess would be the word I’m after. For what is meant to be a gothic castle it does often feel quite well lit and chipper. It does take away some of the suspense in a few sequences I found. At no point was the movie all that scary, though in all fairness that’s a pretty common problem with a lot of older films of this genre as it’s very hard not to have become a little hardened over the years.

It’s a bit of a strange thing to call out but I want to mention how much I love the blood in these Hammer movies as I remember it looking the same in the Frankenstein movie I watched as well. It’s so bright and strange looking that I almost prefer it to the blood looking hyper realistic. I can’t even explain why, it just fits the overall tone of these movies and I love it. That being said there isn’t a whole lot of this strange looking blood shed in this movie, outside of the Dracula resurrection scene which proves to still be quite effective and gruesome even today.

While I definitely enjoyed individual moments in the movie and certainly didn’t dislike it as a whole, it did feel strangely uneventful, at least until near the end. The majority of the first act is watching our four leads roam around a vacant castle and then once Dracula does appear, things do pick up but not quite as much as I would have hoped. Lee’s wide eyed, hissy performance is effective and there are some creepy moments but I was never all that invested in what largely amounts to typical vampire behavior. “Hey I cut open my chest, you should get in on some of this kick ass chest blood. Seduction!” You know, it probably doesn’t help that in general I don’t find vampires all that interesting. Huh. This was a weird pick for me to watch….

Let’s get in some spoiler territory for a moment here so be warned. Perhaps I missed the completely rational explanation but…was Dracula really afraid of running water? I mean I know he was because it played a huge part in his demise at the end but…why in the hell was he afraid of running water? Don’t vampires already have an insane list of things they need to be terrified of? Crosses, garlic, the sun, stakes, sometimes silver, holy water and now just regular ass water as well? These guys have it rough. It’s a lame death man, fucking water…

Dracula: Prince of Darkness is ok. Good cast, good dialogue, good hissing, good castle set, but it all didn’t add up to make for a terrific movie in my eyes. I liked it just enough to seek out more from the Hammer series but I’ve often read this is amongst the top of the pile so that doesn’t instill me with a lot of hope that these movies are for me. Huh, that review turned out way longer than I was expecting it to. Good for me!

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #14 - X-Ray

I don’t cover nearly enough 80’s slasher movies during these marathons so let’s correct that right now with this oddity from another one of my Scream Factory discs. I find with the slasher genre it’s going to go one of two ways; surprisingly watchable or the worst thing you have ever seen. I tend to mostly end up with the latter so imagine my surprise when X-Ray (or Hospital Massacre as it’s apparently more commonly referred to as) plops itself in the former category, though perhaps with a foot or a leg still lingering in the latter one.

The movie opens with a surprisingly grisly sequence where this young girl Susan and her male friend are hanging out and playing with model trains, as young people are known to do. This kid Harold is jealously watching from a window (how in the hell do they not see him there?! He’s like 2 feet away from them and not being subtle at all!) and has left a valentine for Susan. She and her friend open it up, relentlessly mock Harold, then crumple up the card and toss it aside. Harold, still watching from the window, looks none too pleased. When Susan goes to the kitchen to get herself come cake (a scene that is for some inexplicable reason given the suspense treatment as she slowly walks across the room with a knife, we know she’s gonna cut cake, not a human being, she already made her intentions clear! This is way too much to put in a bracket but it’s too late to turn back now) she returns to find her friend dead, hanging from the neck on a coat rack. Harold looks psyched about what has happened here and runs off.

Cut to the present when Susan is grown up and has a daughter and an ex-husband and a new boyfriend. She goes to the hospital to grab some test results but a man in a surgical mask fakes a bunch of documents so that it appears she is horribly ill, forcing her to be confined to the hospital. All the while the dude in the surgical mask is roaming the most sparsely employed hospital on the planet and murdering a bunch of people whose absences are somehow never noticed by any other member of the staff. Gee, I wonder if this ties into that unconnected opening murder that we just saw….

So yes it’s all the same slasher shit we’ve seen a hundred times but it’s all about the execution and thankfully this one is mostly done well, though that thinking could also be due to my basement low expectations for this one. There is some well-done suspense and the body count is quite high, a pretty crucial factor of a successful slasher movie. The violence involved in those kills however is merely ok. Outside of a face being shoved in acid (complete with grisly after shot), the murders are largely stabbings that are quite bloody but still happen off camera. Though there is one scene involving a white sheet and a needle that is appropriately unsettling. This movie also has the most blood fake-outs in history. “Oh shit there’s blood dripping on my shoe! Ooooo wait no it’s ketchup from a hamburger.” That sort of thing happens a few times. People really need to take in their immediate surroundings before they start freaking out over nothing.

The killer himself is not all that interesting and while they try and create a sense of mystery around who he is, we saw that opening scene so we damn well know who the killer is. I mean come on movie, who do you think you’re kidding with this one? He does however get his own ridiculous theme music. It’s a wee bit insane. Every time he appears a bunch of voices on the soundtrack start screaming “he sees you he sees you he sees you” or least that’s what it sounds like they are saying. I guess it’s supposed to be scary but the first time it made me burst out laughing and eventually it becomes tiresome as it gets busted out a loooot. Still though, can’t say I’ve seen such a thing in a horror movie before so they get credit for doing something original at least.

Barbi Benton is solid as Susan, doing a good job portraying both her fear and general frustration at her situation. Seriously, all the doctors and nurses in this hospital are huge assholes. It’s one thing not to believe Susan that there is a killer roaming the halls but they get so mad at her for mentioning it. The nurses look like they are ready to start smashing her against a wall whenever they have to interact with her and at one point I recall one of them flat out slapping her across the face when she won’t completely cooperate. Though I have to say that I liked the moment when one nurse informs Susan’s boyfriend that Susan is under observation. He replies “What do you mean she’s under observation?” and her response is a blunt and sarcastic “It means she’s under observation.” As someone who despises the “what do you mean…” question more than just about anything on the planet, I quite enjoyed that little exchange. Outside of that though the dialogue is pretty blah, mostly consisting of Susan screaming that people need to believe her and that they are all assholes. They are certainly assholes don’t get me wrong, but it grows wearisome.

X-Ray is a decent enough slasher movie that at least doesn’t commit the usual slasher sin of being painfully boring. There’s enough weird shit going on here to keep things interesting and it moves along at a good clip. Also if you like your nudity presented in long, unsettling examination sequences then this might be your only chance to get a good fix of that so jump on in!

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #13 - Annabelle

I reviewed The Conjuring on here last year and as I’m positive you read that review you know how fond I was of that movie. James Wan, at least until he moved over to the Fast and Furious world, was killing it in the horror genre. I loved both The Conjuring and Insidious (its sequel was merely good) and maintain that Dead Silence is severely underrated (as is Death Sentence which isn’t exactly horror). Sadly Wan is only a producer on this one. Add that to how quickly they pumped this movie out in an effort to keep The Conjuring brand alive and well as they work on the sequel and I didn’t have a lot of hope for this one.

Annabelle opens with the same scene used to introduce her in The Conjuring which felt a tad unnecessary and served as a reminder that god damn that movie was good and this one no doubt won’t measure up to it. From there we are introduced to our protagonists Mia and John, a couple so wholesome and bland they feel as though they came straight out of a classic 1960’s sitcom. Seriously they could have added a studio audience reacting to all of their dialogue and it would feel perfectly at home. I kept expecting all of their sentences to begin or end with “Golly gee”. So yeah our two lead characters are quite bland, as are the performances behind them but my god they did not have a lot to work with here. Actually that’s not entirely fair, Annabelle Wallis is quite good as Mia and I don’t normally highlight things like this but that is a very attractive woman right there. She has a Naomi Watts vibe going on and damn can she ever pull off the period clothing well.

So John and Mia are perfectly happy so you know shit is going to go real bad for them. John buys Mia the Annabelle doll and she is super psyched about it because she collects dolls and apparently this is a rare one that she has been searching for. I don’t get why on Earth anyone would want to be in the same town as that thing let alone the same room but she is real excited. The excitement wears off when that night they are almost murdered by a couple of cultists who sneak into their home after murdering their neighbors. A fight ensues and the cultists are killed, causing the blood of the girl cultist to drip down onto Annabelle. Then demons and all sorts of other shit happen.

I was surprised that for a movie marketed around a killer doll; the doll doesn’t really factor that much into the story at all. It’s actually mostly about demons and possession, the doll often relegated to the background or being the source of one of the film’s many jump scares. At no point does it come to life or move around or anything of the sort which I guess isn’t a huge disappointment as my god would that ever have looked silly. Though at least it would have made the movie unique as we’ve seen this possession stuff countless times and Annabelle does not make much of an attempt to spin the material in a fresh way.

Annabelle is largely what you would call a “jump scare factory” movie, often much more interested in providing loud sudden noises rather than genuine suspense. It always feels manipulative as within the fiction there obviously was not a loud “BWOMG!” noise when most of these moments happened but I also can’t say it doesn’t often prove effective. At least they don’t lean too heavily on the fake jump scare. You know, “oh shit a hand reached out and grabbed me! Oh it’s just my friend Steve.” That nonsense.

There are though a few stand-out sequences that make Annabelle worth the watch. The opening where the cult attacks is very well shot and staged, often continuing the same unbroken shot for an extended period of time. Yes almost the entire scene was featured in the trailer but presented in its full form it proves to be largely effective. The absolute highlight though is a sequence featuring a dark storage room hallway, an old timey stroller, and an elevator. This whole part got me good and unfortunately nothing that follows this is able to even match it let alone top it. The finale is largely underwhelming and features a conclusion ripped straight out of The Conjuring which feels particularly lazy.

Hey why are husbands in horror movies always the worst? Why won’t you believe your wife about this shit dude? Do you really think she would lie about all of this? It always makes it hard to root for the husband character when he is so immediately dismissive of his wife’s claims. “Oh I’m sure you’re just stressed.” Fuck you dude! Ghosts are happening! Stop being a prick and help out! One of my favourite things about The Conjuring was how quickly the husband jumped on board with everything that was happening so it’s disappointing to see the same tired cliché play out here.

Annabelle is a perfectly adequate horror movie that has the misfortune of being attached to one of the better horror movies of the last few years. It has a few well done sequences but bland characters, poor dialogue and a number of familiar tropes, not to mention a lack of focus on the doll itself, keep it from exceling. It’s worth a cheap matinee at most.

October's Daily Horror Dose 3: Reckoning - Day #12 - King Kong Escapes

King Kong Escapes is the sort of movie that almost makes me feel like a dick for enjoying it because I know it’s not due to it being a legitimately good movie. Exactly the opposite in fact. I’m mostly enjoying it because of how little of the movie holds up. I’m enjoying the primitive effects and goofy costumes. I’m enjoying the obvious miniatures and dolls that make up much of the practical effects. I suppose the fact that I’m enjoying it at all is what’s important but I still can’t help but feel like a jerk that most of that enjoyment derives from “ha! Look at that cheap effect!”

King Kong Escapes opens very promisingly as we are immediately introduced to robot King Kong. Mecha Kong? Robo Kong? According to Wikipedia it’s actually Mechni-Kong. Fair enough, Mechni-Kong it is. So Mechni-Kong is super goofy looking and has been created to dig inside this cave in order to uncover a bunch of radioactive material that humans aren’t able to get near. However the radiation shuts him down and the new plan is to get the actual King Kong to come and finish the job. Mechni-Kong remains largely absent from the rest of the movie until the very end which is a disappointment. To me this movie was sold on “a big ape fights a big robot ape” but not only do you get very little of that fight, you also get very little of the robot ape in general. More robot ape is always the way to go in any film and this movie does not deliver.

The stuff on Skull Island when the team goes to retrieve King Kong is my personal highlight of the movie, even if it plays out in a very familiar way. Kong fights a bunch of other monsters on the island and eventually falls in love with the girl who has come along on the expedition. The love stuff, whatever, but man it is never not going to be fun to watch dudes in costumes fight each other. Here the main brawl is between Kong and a dinosaur and its good stuff. The Kong costume though is quite terrible. He looks so fucking doofy all the time. Don’t get me wrong I think it’s great and no doubt the budget for the picture was quite low but you can’t take anything too seriously when Kong has a perpetual daft look on his face. He does throw a rock at the water in order to strike a huge serpent in the head though, and that’s pretty amazing.

I already mentioned the primitive effects and while they are indeed funny they are also infinitely charming as well. Outside of the goofy costumes, you get toy submarines and helicopters, obvious dolls representing characters in some shots, and all manners of other similar things. Again they clearly didn’t have a lot of money to work with here so it’s interesting to see the methods they used to pull off what should be a large scale movie on a very small scale. It’s the same way Ed Wood movies are both hilarious and kinda genuinely great. Yeah they are so low rent it’s hilarious but god damn if you can’t help but respect the guy for doing what he needed to do to get the shots.

The problem is that there simply isn’t enough of that. Much of the movie is spent with regular King Kong stuck in captivity or Mechni-Kong entirely absent so we instead are forced to spend time with the human characters and who wants to do that? Sure the over the top bad guy can be fun but for the most part I wasn’t too invested in what was happening. It’s certainly possible for these monster movies to have solid human characters as I can think of a few of the Godzilla pictures where you don’t mind the time spent away from the monsters, but here that does not apply.

I also couldn’t help but be disappointed in the final fight between Kong and Mechni-Kong. You know the movie is building towards their confrontation and then when it finally happens, it’s mostly just them hanging off the side of a tower and batting at each other. This is an ape fighting a robot ape, it should be the most incredible thing ever but instead it’s quick and largely uninteresting.

King Kong Escapes certainly has its fun moments but I would rank it in the lower tier of the classic “man in rubber suit” monster movies that I have watched. A fun first half leads into a surprisingly slow second half that all caps off in a disappointing brawl. Not bad, but not something I can hugely recommend either.

Oh and I think this might be the first blu ray I’ve ever watched where once the movie ended, it immediately fired up again from the beginning without me doing a thing. The movie was THAT confident I would want to dive right back in immediately. That’s very arrogant and incorrect of you King Kong Escapes.