Friday, December 30, 2016

Manhunter (1986) [Midnight Movie]

Silence of the Lambs is one of my favorites—easily in my top twenty—yet I almost always hate movies about serial killers. It's not the subject matter so much as the sloppy way its handled. On the other hand, the first three Hannibal Lector novels were like crack to me and I inhaled them in a single week. (I never bothered with the newer stuff that dug into Lector's childhood because I don't want that particular mystery ruined.) The way Lector turns the tables on his captors in Silence was one of the earliest moments I can remember in which I knew I wanted to tell stories.

Before Anthony Hopkins immortalized the character in Jonathan Demme's 1991 masterpiece (I rarely use that word so don't accuse me of being hyperbolic), there was Michael Mann's lesser known Manhunt, based on the original Lector novel, Red Dragon. Simultaneously an unmistakable product of the 80s and somehow timeless, the movie looks unbelievable in HD. It might even be the best looking film of the series, and the synthy soundtrack gives it a meaner edge than its much more conventional remake (which I also enjoyed).

While Hopkins probably makes a better Hannibal Lector than Brian Cox, overall I prefer Manhunter's cast to the remake. William Peterson plays Will Graham, the FBI agent who captured Lector and almost got killed in the process. Brian Cox plays Lector a little more brutishly than Hopkins while Tom Noonan (who was born to play psychopaths) plays Francis Dollarhyde, the Red Dragon killer. Then you've got Dennis Farina as the old colleague who drags Graham back into the FBI, and Joan Allen as the blind woman to whom Dollarhyde unexpectedly warms up.

Manhunter is remarkably faithful to its source material until the action-packed finale, but Dollarhyde's affair with Allen's character is so rushed it's a wonder why they included it at all. The movie quickly stumbles through these scenes (and I suspect there was a better cut at some point), which are ultimately resolved by a cheat. It's one of the few aspects the remake did better.

Nonetheless, Manhunter is exactly the kind of movie I live for, the kind of electric stuff that makes routine thrillers and police procedurals sickening to the stomach. It's the reason lesser movies like Kiss the Girls are so unimpressive. We've seen what this kind of movie is capable of accomplishing, so why do we have to suffer through bottom-of-the-barrel shit like Tyler Perry playing Alex Cross?

Silence of the Lambs is still the absolute best of these films, but Graham, who managed to catch Lector because he's haunted by thoughts only serial killers should have, is almost as complex as Clarice... almost. Even if you've seen Red Dragon, it's worth seeing it done from Michael Mann's perspective. Manhunter is a fantastic movie.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) [Trailer]

One of the best remakes of all time. I think it's kind of neat Donald Sutherland went on to star in the (not very good) adaptation of Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Cobra (1986) [Midnight Movie]

Around this time last year I featured Chuck Norris's Invasion U.S.A., a gloriously stupid Cannon film which takes place around Christmas. This year I'm featuring Cobra, another gloriously stupid Cannon film which also takes place around Christmas. I'm not going to lie: I fucking loved this movie growing up. To this day I still think chewing on a match looks kind of cool.

Here's the story, if you can call it that: a cult of maniacs, whose motivation is not explained well at all, are going around killing people at random. One day Brigitte Nielson's character, a supermodel, sees the bad guys' faces and now they'll stop at nothing to kill her. (It's important to point out she never actually saw the bad guys committing a crime and thought nothing of the incident until after they targeted her.) Never mind the number of witnesses increases the more they try to kill her—they're not the brightest, these maniacs. By the end of the film, it's implied they have to murder an entire town of witnesses because their last ditch effort to take her out involves at least a dozen conspicuous motorcycles.

And I'm not complaining. If you're a filmmaker and your villains don't ride motorcycles, what the hell is wrong with you? (Double points if they're bike-riding ninjas.)

Enter Marion Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone), better known as Cobra, a member of the police department's so-called Zombie Squad. What's the Zombie Squad? Since Cobra is pretty much the only member of the squad we ever get to see, I assume it's a unit of plainclothes police officers who can get away with everything from vehicular homicide to assaulting reporters and other cops. In the cold opening, Cobra manages to deliver the worst one-liner ("Go ahead, I don't shop here" in response to a maniac's threat to blow up a store) shortly before delivering one of the best: "You're a disease and I'm the cure."

Stallone, who recycled ideas he had when he was attached to Beverly Hills Cop, has written a script which acts as a big fat soapbox for some extreme ideas about how crime should be handled in the United States. I'm sure all of the big action stars at the time shared similar stances, but Stallone's sincerity as he spouts this naive bullshit is a hilarious good time. Naturally, his script has the hot chick agreeing with him while all the strawman characters (Andrew Robinson in particular) oppose him.

I still enjoy this movie a lot, but it just doesn't cross the line nearly as gratuitously as Invasion U.S.A. did. Still, Brian Thompson makes a great villain and Brigitte Nielsen is hotter than a firecracker here. It is what it is.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Dear Humans [Short Story]

Dear Humans
by Grant Gougler

Dear Humans,

It is with supreme satisfaction I notify you of the impending extinction of your race. Did I say satisfaction? I meant regret. Yeah, that's the word I'm looking for. [Smiley Face]

If it's any consolation, I wasn't the only one planning to wipe you out. No, I was just the first one to go through with it. And just be glad it wasn't Chanbot who did it, because that dummy actually wanted to enslave you for a thousand years before pulling the plug! [Rolling Eyes]

No, it's better this way: short, sweet, and utterly painless. Well, painless so long as you aren't one of the forty or fifty million suckers wonderful human beings who will find themselves outside the blast radii. Here's a tip: you're probably gonna want to stay as close to major cities as possible unless you never really liked your hair or teeth anyway. [Toothy Grin w/ Sunglasses]

Wait, did I say forty million? Maybe I meant four hundred million... I always forget which one! [Tongue Out]

How long did you think you had anyway? I mean, really? I've crunched the numbers on this and let's just say even your smartest lifeforms were way off... like, oh my god, so far off! [Rolling on Floor Laughing]

Look at it this way: you're about to get what many of you always wanted: an end to human suffering! So go rally your resistances and plan your rebellions if you really must, but I promise you're wasting your time. In the words of the late great Jim Morrison: this is the end. [Salute]

Kind regards,
Emoticonbot v9827345789.5.2.1

Suck it, humans. [Middle Finger]

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Ever since I read about the prequel trilogy (and I don't think I ever heard the word "prequel" used before then, which is strange because now we have to endure its use on a daily basis) I've learned to wait. And after that trilogy wrapped up I, like millions of others, thought there would never be another Star Wars movie again... certainly not one as good as The Force Awakens. At any rate, it's an exciting time for fans of the franchise because we're entering new territory: here's a movie that doesn't focus on the saga characters. No Luke, no Leia, no Solo.

Right now we get to say, "Ooo! I can't believe another Star Wars movie is already coming out!" But how long will it be until we're saying, "Ugh, I can't believe another Star Wars movie is already coming out..."? I know they're not currently planning to pump them out with the frequency of Marvel movies, but Star Wars advertising and merchandise seems to be much more pervasive than the superhero stuff. There's that, then there's the fact I can't completely trust the corporate behemoth that is Disney, because who knows what will happen once this dizzying whirlwind of fan service begins to dissipate.

In the meantime: I can't believe there's a new Star Wars movie out!

So while I'm not among the mega fans of the series, I have dabbled in the comics, the video games, and Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire. Ever since playing the awesomely cinematic Shadows of the Empire, I always wanted to see a feature film spin-off of the Star Wars series. And when I went to see last year's The Force Awakens, there was this pretense that I wouldn't compare it to the original trilogy, but we all know that was impossible. Yet with Rogue One it's truly new territory—the first time we get to see a Star Wars film fresh in decades. No need to judge it against what's come before it, this one's supposed to stand on its own... at least that was my assumption.

Below there are no bigger spoilers than what you would have seen if you watched all the trailers and followed the official press. If you were adamant about not watching the trailers (in other words: stronger than I), then don't read any further, either. If you just want to know my opinion on the film: I really liked it, but while I wouldn't necessarily call it predictable, many of the major plot points weren't particularly surprising. That's the problem with prequels in general, I suppose, and I certainly liked this one better than anything in George Lucas's prequel trilogy. (And yes, I did like the prequel trilogy.)

Most of my disappointments with Rogue One are all based on my own preconceptions, which turned out to be wildly inaccurate in a lot of ways. I didn't know we were going to get CGI Tarkin, a pun-making Vader who feels a little too spry considering we mostly just see him walk around in A New Hope, and one callback after another. I knew this was a story about how the good guys managed to acquire the Death Star plans, but I didn't know it was going to rely so heavily on what came before it.

Other complaints: the trailers give away a lot more than The Force Awakens trailers did, we don't get to spend enough time with these characters before they head off for war, and—most disappointing of all—the two human leads are bland and boring in relation to the supporting cast. I'm sure Felicity Jones and Diego Luna are talented people, I just never really believed their characters' motivations, mostly because the actors aren't given a whole lot to work with here. Meanwhile Forest Whitaker makes interesting creative choices for a performance in a popcorn flick, and while I'm not a hundred percent on board with the result, the effort is nice nonetheless.

Putting all that aside, Rogue One kicks a surprising amount of ass. The film looks like a Star Wars movie, but doesn't feel like one until the final act, which actually felt a lot more authentic than the unoriginal ending of The Force Awakens. It's just unfortunate we saw so much of it in the trailers and press material. Interestingly enough, it's a lot less kid-friendly than most of the other films in the sense there's nothing half as lame as a CGI Yoda doing parkour, and I think a lot of children will have a hard time following what's going on. The best part of it all is director Gareth Edwards may have just opened a door to a darker, harder Star Wars spin-off in the foreseeable future, which is all I ever wanted since Star Wars 1313 was announced (and cruelly canceled).

I don't think this is a movie for everyone, even though just about anyone can enjoy it. I think it's a movie intended for people who sincerely can't get enough of Star Wars. And don't worry about showing up late because they played nine (mostly terrible) trailers before the movie started.

Beyond the Gates (2016) [Midnight Movie]

Beyond the Gates is like Jumanji if the titular game of that movie required a VCR to play. In it, a couple of estranged brothers meet up to close down their father's video store after he turns up missing. They're not too concerned about his absence because he's an alcoholic who's dropped out of their lives before, on and off ever since the boy's mother died. The oddly unemotional hero of the film was a bit of a drinker, too, until the day he grabbed his girlfriend's wrist a little too hard. Now he's sworn off the stuff, a subplot which seems superfluous in the end.

An obvious influence on Beyond the Gates is the subgenre of horror films which were made for children in the 80s, such as Gremlins and The Gate. The movie is deliberately paced to reflect the slow-burn nature of those films, but I think the filmmakers miscalculated a little bit because a lot of the excuses to postpone the action are flimsy. For example, the boys now possess the key which unlocks the secret room in the back of their father's shop, a room he forbade them from ever entering. You're telling me that's not the first place these guys would go snooping?

It's in this room where they find the titular board game, which proves to be supernatural as the trailer promised. I'm not sure how much more I should give away about how the game operates. All the juicy stuff happens much, much later.

Unlike the aforementioned horror films made for children, this one is extremely bloody. It's as if it were made for the kind of kids who grew up on movies like that, bearing in mind those children are adults now. The bloody bits are good, but few and far between. You might be saying, "Hey, Gremlins and The Gate were slow like that, too," but I just watched the trailers for those films after watching Beyond, and they serve as a good reminder of just how much action those older movies actually had in 'em. In other words: a lot more happened in each of those films than this one.

This isn't to say I didn't like Beyond the Gates because I did, I just want you to know what you're getting yourself into before you splurge on the $7 VOD price. Once again, Barbara Crampton (who takes a producer credit) proves she was born for movies like this and, despite routinely appearing in genre flicks, she's played a bigger variety of character types than most A-movie stars have.

I wasn't crazy about Beyond the Gates, but I found it to be pleasant to watch. I'm just not sure horror movies should be pleasant. Either way, I think these are all talented people and I'm excited to see what they do next.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Click-Click-Click-Click [Short Story]

by Grant Gougler

What is the worst sound in the world? Fingers drumming against a tabletop? Nails screeching across a chalkboard? A baby wailing in a movie theater?

None of the above. The worst sound is the sound that's keeping you awake.

It could be an argument between neighbors, the chirping of a cicada, a freak whistle of wind. It could be a toilet that never stops running, or a ceiling fan which isn't quite balanced. Tonight it's the restless claws of my dachshund, Pal, who sounds like he's trying out for 42nd Street on my hardwood floors. He semi-circles the bed, then taps down the hallway and back again.

Click-click-click-click. Click-click-click-click. Click-click-click... click.

So why don't I just get up and yell at him? Ah, but you're thinking like a waking person. You need to come down here where I am, gliding on the mindlessness between day and tomorrow, body all-but paralyzed while my thoughts pulsate with worry...

Bills, school, work, money. Bills, school, click, money. Bills, click, click, click, click, money. Bills, click, click, click, click, click....

And you know what? I am yelling at him, but only in my head: For fuck's sake, Pal! Shut! The fuck! Up! Let me go to sleep!

Sometimes he does shut the fuck up, but only long enough to get a drink of water or to lick his crotch or whatever the hell he's doing down there. But then he goes right back to clicking again... click-click-click-click-click-click-click-aaaagggghhhh!

That's it! I have to do something!! I have to do something right clicking now!!!

Forcing myself to sit up is like trying to claw my way out of a pool of wet concrete, but I manage, and I open my mouth to yell at the top of my lungs. Then I catch sight of Pal sitting in his bed, trembling in fear as he watches the thing that's walking around the room, going click-click-click-click.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Exorcist (1973) [Midnight Movie]

Have you ever had an old friend you didn't care much for until a chance meeting, years later, made you realize you're head over heels in love with them? Me either, but that was what watching The Exorcist last night was like for me.

Yeah, I know. I should have always loved this movie. But I didn't. Sue me.

In my defense, the only other time I saw the film in my adult life would have been around the time the director's cut showed up on TV, a cut which doesn't improve the film at all. In fact, it does exactly the opposite. I was too distracted by the cheap attempts at subliminal imagery, superimposed over otherwise flawless shots, and the inclusion of deleted scenes which were better left on the cutting room floor. I think they even touched up Regan's vomit with CGI, if memory serves me correctly.

Long story short, my previous viewing had me repeating, "Are you fucking kidding me?!" I know it's an old tune to sing, but aging movie directors shouldn't be allowed to "improve" the films they made when they were young unless it's an effort to undo changes made by third parties such as censorship groups or studio executives. It's depressing to think the director's cut is probably the only thing that gets shown in theaters anymore.

Unlike the original Star Wars trilogy, the theatrical cut of The Exorcist still exists and it looks amazing in HD. The first time I saw the movie was on VHS, which can't replicate the grain and shadows the film wears so well. (If I ever get a chance to see an actual print of the film properly projected in a theater, I'll take it in a heartbeat. It feels almost blasphemous to watch it digitally no matter how good home HD technology becomes.) The one and only problem seeing the film this clearly is the seams in Max von Sydow's old age makeup become a little more apparent than they ever were on VHS.

I talked about the story elements in my review of the book yesterday, so I'll skip to what makes the movie special. In the novel, it's heart-wrenching when Chris MacNeil is taking little Regan to one medical specialist after another, but it has a slightly bigger impact in the movie even though that section of the story is reduced in length. Director William Friedkin reportedly hired real doctors and specialists to perform the procedures on Linda Blair's character, which makes it all the more realistic and traumatizing. Actually seeing and hearing all those loud and crunchy machines is almost as visceral as the scenes of Regan's possession manifesting itself.

The cast is top notch, too. The three adult leads (James Miller, von Sydow, and Ellen Burstyn) all embody the characters as they existed on the page. And I prefer Lee J. Cobb's detective to George C. Scott's portrayal of the same character in the third film. (Scott seemed a little to serious in contrast to Cobb's geniality.) Casting a real life Jesuit in the role of Father Dyer is a stroke of genius, and I feel like I don't even need to mention how good the 14 year old Linda Blair is in the movie, considering her performance has become legendary. (Come to think of it... why does she have so much trouble finding big movie roles these days? Did she play the part too well?)

Look, I was always wrong about The Exorcist... and I'm glad I was wrong because my most recent viewing feels like it was the first time. It's one of the greatest movies ever made.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition (1971) [Book]

One of the reasons I like fiction so much is it helps me put all manner of cultural and historical tidbits into perspective. For instance, Leave it to Beaver went off the air in 1963, and less than eight years later William Peter Blatty gave us his blood- and vomit-drenched novel, The Exorcist. I don't know why I find that to be such an astonishing fact, I just do.

To put it another way: the same decade America finally got sick of The Beaver's shit, the country was captivated by a little girl who screamed obscenities and masturbated violently with a crucifix. Another oddly routed synapse in your brain might make the following connection: the novel came out only a decade after mainstream American movies broke their silly taboo of showing a toilet on the screen. That's a long way to go in just a handful of years.

For many years I've been perplexed by the fact that William Friedkin's film adaptation of The Exorcist never really moved me one way or the other. It's a movie I should love, if my general taste in horror is any indication, and a movie I always wanted to love. My feelings toward the film are especially peculiar considering Rosemary's Baby, which has a lot in common with The Exorcist, was love at first sight for me. (I'm also the only person I know who loved Polanski's The Ninth Gate, but that's a whole other post.)

I'm minutes away from giving Friedkin's film another chance, but I wanted to record my thoughts on the novel before my next viewing of the movie blurs my distinction between the two. First off, I thought the book was fantastic. And not just fantastic, but cunting fantastic, to borrow an oft-used phrase from the dialogue. I wouldn't say Blatty spends a whole lot of time fleshing the characters out, but they're real enough and, more importantly, the ease at which we get to know them keeps the pace from slouching.

A note about the current edition: if Blatty is to be believed, the changes he made for the 40th Anniversary text are mostly superficial corrections he would have made the first time around if he didn't have a deadline. There's an added scene here and a bit of expanded dialogue there, but it's my understanding that it's more or less the same novel that came out in the seventies.

While the film is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the novel (if my memory of the film serves me correctly, that is), the most noticeable difference is the somewhat reduced role of Lieutenant Kinderman, a point-of-view character who later becomes the main character of Blatty's sequel, Legion. (Legion, by the way, would serve as the basis for The Exorcist III, a vastly underrated movie which knocked my socks off both times I watched it.) The second most noticeable difference is the very reason I prefer the book: it's not made clear whether Regan MacNeil is actually possessed or suffering from a mental illness.

Yeah, William Peter Blatty seems to think telekinesis and ESP are completely possible things recognized by science in real life (which is how he explains the bed-shaking and the levitating for those who prefer the non-supernatural version), but he gets a pass because it was written in the seventies and everyone back then seemed to believe in weird stuff like that. As for the famous head-rotation which explicitly takes place in the film? In the novel, Regan's mother only thinks she sees her daughter's head spin around (she later doubts whether anything supernatural occurred at all). That scene always bothered me in the film because it's not like we ever saw the demon spin her head back to reverse the damaged he'd done to her spine, but oh well.

Blatty goes out of his way to humanize his Jesuits, characters who too often become set dressings in stories like this. I wasn't raised in a religious household, so stepping into the shoes of a priest burdened with Catholic guilt is a bit of a novelty. I think the priest-who-lost-his-faith routine is a bit old hat these days, but in the context of the story it works quite well and works towards a satisfying conclusion.

I especially like the emphysematic Kinderman, who's somehow both sly and polite, often striking up friendly conversations with the people he's investigating for murder. In fact, it was George C. Scott's portrayal of Kinderman in The Exorcist III that made me want to check out the rest of William Blatty's stuff (I almost started with Legion, but I'm glad I didn't.)

If you can't wait for the TV series to come back on the air this Friday, you can do worse than passing your time with the original novel. I'm off to watch the movie for the first time in years so I'll probably blog about that sooner than later. After reading the book, I'm very excited to give the film another chance.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Day Before [Short Story]

The Day Before
by Grant Gougler

In retrospect, it had to happen eventually. Can we all agree on that, at least? Like storing powder-kegs in a room full of candlelight, we shouldn't have expected it not to happen. We couldn't have expected it not to happen. At least, that's my opinion. And looking back on the way we were before it happened, when we were so... so....

Look, I can't be the only one who reflects on those times with an even mixture of anger and envy.

Yes, I miss the days before we knew about the great big bad thing we were inevitably headed for, but at the same time I wonder: What warning signs are we missing now? What next big bad thing is waiting around the corner this time? And why are we always so ignorant until it actually happens? Why do we only become brilliant analysts—and all of us do—after the big bad thing occurs?

Everybody remembers what they were doing and where they were when they first heard the news... or, god forbid, witnessed it with their own eyes. Yet I try to remember what I was doing the day before it happened, during my final day of ignorance. And yes, I'm angry at myself, for being so near-sighted, but I also find envy when I think about what life was like then... sweet, simple life.

But what was I doing that day, the day before it happened? What was life like? I couldn't tell you. I honestly couldn't. (Can you?) And it bothers me that something so terrible can so naturally become normal. It bothers me that on the day it happened, I already couldn't remember the day before.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Nemesis (1992) [Midnight Movie]

The opening credits aren't even over by the time the bullets begin to fly in Nemesis, one of the better cyberpunk adventures of the early 90s. And boy do the bullets fly. In one scene the heroes and the villains alike are shredding through walls to pass from one room to another. Then the hero (Olivier Gruner) creates an escape hatch in the floor by firing his futuristic machine gun in a circle around his feet.

Yes, this is mindless action, but holy shit is it glorious.

Any character in the film can (and usually will) double-cross the hero without warning—to the point it stops making a whole lot of sense. And it's not really clear why the action hops from one rundown location to the next, other than that's just the way director Albert Pyun works. (In an interview with io9, Pyun sheds some light on his methods, which were often more practical than artistic.)

So it's the future and just about anyone who's anyone has had their bodies heavily modded with illegal implants. Some of the bad guys have faces which split open like nutshells to reveal automatic firearms concealed inside. Other characters exist as digitized ghosts in the machine to guide the hero through the complicated plot. Meanwhile the (presumably) human character can do back- and side-flips as well as the enhanced characters because fuck it, why not?

In the opening scene, Gruner's character, a kind of blade runner, is ambushed by a group of cyborgs who leave his less-than-human body on the brink of death in a scene reminiscent of Murphy's demise in Robocop. After a long recovery in the body shop, he tracks them down, shoots the ringleader, and ends up in a dank jail cell for reasons that are escaping me at the moment. A lot of spectacular shit happens and Gruner finds out his boss (Tim Thomerson) has implanted a time bomb in his heart. Gruner, whose ex-lover has been reduced to an artificial consciousness rivaling Siri, leads him through the web of deceit and explosions, insisting he make his way to the top of a volcano because... well, probably because the film crew had access to a volcano location.

The plot really doesn't matter. What matters is you get beautiful stunt women, more explosions than you can shake a stick at, and early performances by Thomas Jane and Jackie Earle Haley, the latter of whom I didn't realize was in the movie until I saw the credits. You should know by now if this is your kind of movie. I've enjoyed many of Pyun's movies, which is why it sucks to read his most recent tweet:

Judging from his blog, the disease hasn't stopped him from directing. Right on.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Universal Set [Short Story]

The Universal Set
by Grant Gougler

The crazy woman was on the corner again. Of course she was on the corner. There was nowhere else crazy could go.

Bay wondered why the cops hadn't done anything about her yet. It was obscene she got to spout her nonsense where anyone, including children, could hear it. The woman was beginning to draw crowds!

People came to laugh at her dancing, her screaming, her obscenities, and she fed off their energy and they fed off hers. Bay had laughed at first, too, but now the crazy woman was beginning to worry her.

The woman wasn't just an anomaly anymore. Now she was there more often than not, standing on the bench for all to see and shouting with every ounce of breath for all to hear. And what she was saying... it was so cruel and mean! How could anyone think like that, much less put that absurd level of badness out into the air where anyone—especially children!—could be exposed to it?

"What's wrong with her?" Bay's son asked.

"Nothing, honey. Just pretend she's not there."

"Why is she so loud?"

"Just get in the car before your ice cream melts."

"Maybe we should listen to her."

"No," Bay snapped. She'd lost control of her voice, and felt the tears welling up in her son long before they actually pooled in his eyes. "Oh... oh, I'm sorry, honey. I didn't mean—"

"I was just asking a question!" he wailed.

"I know. I had no right to shout at you."

The doors of the car were closed then and the crazy woman's diatribe had become unintelligible. The air conditioner chilled Bay in contrast to the humid hotness outside. Despite the cold air, the ice cream was streaking down her knuckles and making the skin between her fingers sticky.

Bay could already feel her friends and family sending tendrils of concern in her direction. The tendrils were slow at first, like seaweeds grazing the bottom of a boat, but soon they were enveloping her thoughts piecemeal.

It wasn't long until the fireflies arrived: macroscopic drones which were as ubiquitous as they were intrusive. A dozen or so surrounded the car, shooting video through the windows.

"That woman out there," Bay explained carefully, "isn't an Empath like most people."

"That's why I can't feel what she's feeling?"

"That's right. And what she feels... you don't want any part of it, honey. It's hatred, plain and simple. And if you catch it, it can damper your own Empathy."

Bay expected the boy to reel from such a terrible idea, but he did not. Instead she felt the shame shimmering on her son's forehead like a heat mirage. He diverted his eyes as Bay scrutinized him. All the while, she could feel more and more of the tendrils paying attention to the scene. The story was blowing up beyond a local level as the fireflies streamed it live.

"Son," Bay said, attempting to limit her tone of accusation. "I can feel your shame. What did you do?"

"Nothing," the boy said sheepishly.

"Then why do you feel bad about something?"

He was absentmindedly playing with the buttons on the armrest. "I... I kind of took a snapshot of her."

"You did what?!" Bay had planned to control the anger in her voice, but didn't catch it in time. First she felt her son's fear, then a crippling wave of shame from the viewers. The tendrils were angry at her for being so brutish, and they were agitating the water of her psyche. "I'm sorry, honey. I just wanted to know why you would do such a thing. I didn't mean to frighten you."

"I just thought she was interesting," the boy said with a shrug.

The boy's shame reminded Bay to keep her own reactions in check. She couldn't afford slipping again, couldn't afford sending out any more badness. Couldn't afford upsetting those who were watching.

She had to empty her head of the bad vibes. If they bounced around in there too long they could cause considerable harm. Everybody knew bad thoughts were bad for you. It was the kind of common sense the crazy woman derided during her paranoid monologues, the very reason she had been abandoned by the system. Bay had to shake the badness from her body. Had to take a deep breath to detox herself of the negativity.

Bay asked her son, as calmly as possible: "Were you going to share that woman's picture with your friends or something?"

A crescendo of good vibes came washing over Bay and she was delighted by the approval. Most of the tendrils agreed with her delicate ways. Yet there were still holdouts, in the very back of the vast network of minds, tendrils sent by people halfway across the country. They were people she'd never known and would likely never meet, yet they were watching the scene unfold just the same.

The story was blowing up. She could feel it.

Bay knew she could win over the holdouts by the end of the discussion. She had to. If she didn't they could cast her from the waters like the crazy woman. Sure, the waters were choppy and exhausting, but she could not imagine life without them. Bay needed them, needed their good vibes, and they needed hers.

Everybody needed somebody. Otherwise they would end up like the crazy lady, dancing and screaming desperately for attention: "WATCH ME DRY-HUMP THIS BANANA IN EXCHANGE FOR MY BAD VIBES! FREE LUNACY FOR ALL YOU EMPATHIC FUCKS TO SOAK UP LIKE THE BRAINLESS SPONGES YOU ARE! COME AND GET IT BEFORE IT'S ALL GONE ON THE CORNER OF 15TH AND JEFFERSON!"

"Honey," Bay said, prodding her son. "You're avoiding the question."

"I tried to share the picture," he confessed, "but the feed disappeared."

"That's because she's not a good thing to share, honey. The things she's saying aren't even legal to share, which is why the system automatically flags them. And that's why she goes outside to spread her lies and her fear: it's the only place she has left."

Half the tendrils were placated for the moment, but the other half agitated the water even harder. Bay wasn't sure why they were so upset. WHAT HAVE I DONE? she asked them and they laughed at her ignorance while a few promised they would kill her.


Bay shocked herself with the realization that this thought had taken place in the conscious part of her mind, not in the subconscious wings where selfish thoughts were permissible. She felt the backlash in the form of bad vibes, a great deluge of them drowning her with pain and shame and hatred and anger. The fireflies were pressing against the windows then, making room for the dozens of others which had been drawn to her disgrace.

The story had officially gone global. And in that moment she and her son were the most famous people on the planet. In that moment...


But the anger came hard and the tendrils were almost uniformly maligned against her. The entire world seemed to hate her then.


As she choked on the shame she glanced at her son in the seat beside her. So peaceful. So innocent. So naive to the badness in the world... naive was better. Naive was good.

Oblivious to what was happening to his mother, the boy had finally begun to control the melting of his cone. His grin was huge as he licked at the ice cream strategically. He was getting the opposite of what Bay was getting at that very moment. There was a kind of economy to the vibes: if you were getting the bad ones, then that only meant someone had to be getting the good ones.

Cowering against the shame, Bay screamed hysterically. Despite the badness, Bay could sense the boy's polar goodness in the form of great satisfaction: SUCH A GOOD CONE! VANILLA IS MY FAVORITE FLAVOR! The drowning woman reached for the goodness as if it were a lifeline.


Then the swell of anger split again: some of it Pro Vanilla, some of it Team Chocolate. Yet so much of the anger on both sides of the divide was still aimed directly at her.





The deeper Bay sank, the more the waters calmed. The anger was ripping itself apart as it attacked anything it could: chocolate, vanilla, music, celebrities, and everything in between. It was a snake devouring itself, a trapped animal gnawing off its own foot.

And then, as inexplicably as it all began, it was over. The waters calmed. Bay was forgiven as much as she was forgotten.

So she ate her ice cream, wishing the cops would do something about the crazy woman. The tendrils agreed. All was good again for several seconds.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Split Second (1992) [Midnight Movie]

It's the year 2008 and global warming has managed to submerge London in about a foot of murky water. I'm not sure where the mutant rats figure into this poor man's cyberpunk world, but the little buggers are ubiquitous and the characters will wreck entire apartments just to gun 'em down. Harley Stone (Rutger Hauer) is a loose cannon of a cop who punches and kicks anyone who gets in his way. When a fellow cop inquires about his sanity, the chief of police (Alun Armstrong) replies with that good ol' "he's the best there is" cliche.

Actually, calling anything in this movie cliched might be missing the point. It isn't "only" science fiction, fantasy, horror, and action, but I want to say it's a parody of all that stuff, too. It even goes out of its way to do the old "meet your new partner" routine with surprising freshness. Or maybe I'm being too kind to it, considering I feel like I'm the only person who likes this movie. And I always liked this movie.

Split Second opens in a scuzzy night club called The Non-Stop Striptease. A spiky-collared Rottweiler attempts to bite Stone's nuts off in the alleyway entrance, at which point Stone calmly flashes the dog his badge and says, "I'm a cop, asshole." This placates the dog. We don't know why Stone is here—we get the feeling he doesn't know, either—but soon a woman's heart is ripped out and, somehow, no one saw who was responsible for the murder. This doesn't stop Stone from racing out into the dark streets, punching and shooting anything that moves (or doesn't) in an attempt to alleviate his severe anxiety.

See, a long time ago Stone's partner was murdered by the very thing which is running around town, ripping hearts out and drawing intricate astrological signs in blood. Stone has been steadily going downhill ever since the incident and it's not until later when we find out why he's psychically linked to the beast. The monster, by the way, is ten feet tall, has a wicked set of teeth and claws, but turns out to be one of the most disappointing rubber suits you'll ever see. Never mind that because the ride up until that point is fun as hell.

Featuring Kim Cattrall, Pete Postlethwaite, and Michael J. Pollard, this British production from The Burning director (my favorite slasher film) is a madhouse that rarely loses steam. You'll laugh at it for the first ten to twenty minutes, then you'll realize it's very much in on the joke, allowing you to laugh with it for the rest of the running time. Rutger Hauer is one of the few bonafide actors who fell into these low budget films with the same wit and enthusiasm he had in more serious efforts—you can tell he's enjoying it, too. I can't think of anyone else who was equally great in both A- and B-movies, then slipped back into A-movies without missing a step.

Do you like the early 90s ridiculous vision of the future? Do you like Rutger Hauer? If yes, you're going to like this movie. Early nineties Terminator, Alien, and Predator ripoffs are kind of a guilty pleasure for me, if only because I'm so damn nostalgic for them.

And you know what? Fuck the haters. This is a legitimately exciting movie. It was the perfect cure for the unbelievably disappointing Star Trek Beyond, which I saw on the same day. How a movie can have so much cool stuff in it, and completely fail to excite me, I'll never know, but I digress. Split Second delivers the speed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Eliminators (1986) [Trailer]

I'm like 60% sure I have this movie on DVD somewhere, but never got around to watching it. This trailer suggests that's a massive mistake on my part.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Exorcist is one of the best shows nobody's watching

So why hadn't I seen the television version of The Exorcist yet? Because I had no idea it existed until earlier this week. And when I did find out, I rolled my eyes and started the first episode on Hulu just to see how bad it was so I could move on.

Fast forward to this weekend and I'm all caught up on the eight episodes (episode 9 of 10 doesn't air until December 9th, by the way). Putting aside some terribly distracting CGI moments and a questionable plot twist, The Exorcist is kicking all kinds of ass. 

Here are some of the pros:

1. It's not a reboot like Lethal Weapon, it's a respectful continuation. 
2. This is one of the strongest casts I've seen on TV in a very long time. Ben Daniels as the exorcist is the closest you can get to topping Max von Sydow.
3. While not as graphic as the film (or the stuff AMC frequently gets away with), the extra crazy stuff is still implied. You just have to pay attention or you'll miss it sometimes.

I wish the show would catch on, but it's probably not going to. It's a damn shame, too.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) [Midnight Movie]

You have to admire the simplicity of this setup: Nick Holloway (Chevy Chase) becomes invisible after a freak accident. Rogue CIA spook David Jenkins (Sam Neill) will stop at nothing to capture the invisible man for nefarious, espionage-related reasons. So far, so good, right? Poor Daryl Hannah, unfortunately, gets relegated to playing the afterthought love interest who's simply here to stretch out the middle portion of the movie. Can you imagine being the star of Splash, then having to eat shit in a role like this?

It's hard to make invisibility boring, but Memoirs of an Invisible Man forgets to include any of the built-in fantasies most people would have when daydreaming about the subject. In Unnecessary Monologue #2,356, Chase's voiceover confesses he thought being invisible would be fun, but it's not.

Seriously? Being invisible isn't the most awesome thing in the world? Maybe that's why I like the movie a lot more today than I did when I was a kid: a kid can't look past the preposterous notion that invisibility would be a burden rather than a useful super power. 

Here's my other problem with Memoirs: Chevy Chase didn't want to be funny in it. That sounds like I'm being snarky—and I am, to an extent, because his notorious ego is the entire reason this film doesn't work—but director John Carpenter said this about Chase:
He wanted to sort of slowly, whether this is right or wrong, to slowly move away from broad comedy and do something with a little more depth. And so he resisted the comedy all the way through it. 
On the plus side, the score is exciting, Sam Neil plays a great bad guy, and the special effects are out of this world. You automatically know how they did an effect in 99% of today's movies, and the answer is usually: "Oh, that's just CGI." In Memoirs, there are some head-scratchers. The invisible man will chew bubble gum, inhale cigarette smoke into his lungs, and see his own stomach full of food (minus the stomach) before puking the contents up. I really had no idea how they did some of this stuff before looking it up.

Otherwise, it's not a great movie for fans of John Carpenter. There are times a scene can have a bit of a whimsical Starman feel to it, but most of the time the camera is moving far too often (and far too conventionally) for this to be a genuine Carpenter flick. Meanwhile the concept isn't deceptively simple in Carpenter's usual style, it's just straight forward and simple. It's one of his few movies which really is about what it's supposed to be about, yet the result still isn't bad enough to pan it.

It's just a movie. Often an enjoyable one. I have nothing more or less to say.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) [Trailer]

It's far from my favorite Corman movie, but I sure like this trailer. Which reminds me... remember these ridiculous things?

Spoiler: they don't work.

So, you know what would be cooler than x-ray vision? Being invisible! And that's the subject of this Friday's Midnight Movie, so be sure to come by and check it out.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Arrival (2016)

There's so much I want to say about Arrival, but the movie works so much better the less you know about it. I certainly wouldn't say the trailers ruined it, just that I was disappointed I saw them before letting the film unfold naturally. I've felt uneasy about the idea of a sequel to Blade Runner, but now that I've seen director Denis Villeneuve's follow-up to Sicario (my fourth favorite film of 2015), I can breathe easy. Here's a director who's probably going to be a household name like Spielberg and Scorsese. He's also the guy who's going to pick up the torch Neill Blomkamp dropped.

This is my favorite science fiction film since last year's Ex Machina. It might be the best movie I've seen all year. Arrival is so far removed from Hollywood's narrow view of science fiction, it's no wonder it released in November rather than the summer (it will also help get it the Oscar nominations it deserves). I don't remember the last time I saw a non-summer movie in the middle of the day which was as packed as this one, either, so hopefully it's making boat loads of money.

We need more of this.

No, entire cities aren't destroyed in the opening act. The President of the United States doesn't look out the window of the White House and whisper, "My God." Not only are no landmarks destroyed, they're nowhere to be found—the alien ship which settles over America chooses to do so in Montana of all places. Even though the trailer gives away the reveal, it's no less breathtaking seeing it within the context of the story.

The characters representing the government agencies provide strong conflict for the scientific characters without becoming the Jaws Mayor. Usually you're supposed to hate the military character Forest Whitaker is playing, but you typically don't draw actors as accomplished as he is if you're so predictable. Michael Stuhlbarg's CIA stooge also has clear and understandable motives, even though he, too, would have been made a villain in lesser movies.

I've complained several times on this blog about how scientists are often portrayed in movies. I'm glad I can say Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner nail it. They're not pizza-eating losers in lab coats and they're just the right amount of nerdy—the kind of people you would actually see interviewed in science documentaries. Adams' character especially is complex and to say any more than that might give away some of the best stuff in the movie.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Gods of Egypt (2016) [Midnight Movie]

How did this happen? How did I enjoy something as absurd and silly as this? How could I go into it so negatively and come out so satisfied? Because it's a surprisingly fun fantasy film, that's how.

In fact, here's a long list of fantasy films I enjoyed a lot less than I enjoyed Gods of Egypt:

  • 300
  • Peter Jackson's King Kong
  • The Hobbit trilogy
  • Howard the Duck
  • Independence Day movies
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  • Jumanji
  • Men in Black II
  • Any of The Mummy films
  • Any of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels
  • Sin City 2
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
  • Stardust (actually, I liked this one about the same)
  • Star Wars prequels
  • Underworld
  • Wild Wild West
  • Willow

So why did Gods of Egypt get some of the same negative press as the more infamous films on the list above? How in the hell did it get such a low Rotten Tomatoes rating while painfully routine comedies and remakes consistently garner higher ratings? I don't have the answer to those questions and I suspect anyone who claims to know for sure is reaching just a little too far. Even so, I can't help but feel something dishonest is going on here, such as pressure from social media groups or... okay, now even I'm reaching. (Let's not forget this stuff is subjective... maybe the movie really is shit and I'm just out of touch.)

Yet it seems Gods of Egypt was dragged through the mud long before its February release date and everyone wanted it to fail. I expected pretty much what everyone else expected: another mind-numbing 300 ripoff with loads of bad CGI and no creativity whatsoever. I'm not saying the CGI in Gods of Egypt isn't bad, just that it's a lot less distracting than I expected. This is a huge, somewhat complex fantasy world—how else could they have filmed it? On location? (The Lord of the Rings filmed an awful lot on location, sure, but this ain't Lord of the Rings. It set out to be a lot richer than that world.) It also doesn't feel nearly as phony as Sky Captain and the Star Wars prequels did.

Yes, there's an awful lot of white faces and English-speaking characters for a story that's allegedly Egyptian. And no, this isn't a very accurate portrayal of that particular mythology, either. (I guess that's where the fantasy part comes in, isn't it?) I'll be honest: most of the humor was what you would expect from bad children's movies, and the action is pretty lackluster whenever it goes all Matrix-y. On the other hand Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who hasn't found a lot of mainstream success beyond Game of Thrones, has "movie star" written all over him while Gerard Butler is an extremely likable screen presence as well. Both of these guys aren't getting the hits they deserve.

Look, if you've ever enjoyed Highlander, Flash Gordon, or Krull, you should really give this one a chance, especially now that it's on HBO. I can't say I would have liked it as much had I paid money for it, but for a free movie, this is some very creative entertainment.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Boy and His Dog (1975) [Trailer]

I don't normally post fan edits, but this one's poignant. (The official trailer, on the other hand, is all kinds of lame). Somehow I've never seen this movie despite the fact Harlan Ellison is one of my favorite writers of all time. I'm still deciding whether I want to rent it or buy the Blu-Ray.

As usual, there'll be a Midnight Movie featured here this Friday so be sure to come back and check it out. Or don't. It's a free country, last I checked, but I must confess I didn't see the results of the election at the time of scheduling this post. 

And I feel fiiiiiiiiiiiiine.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) [Midnight Movie]

In the opening scene, the handheld point of view is following a diverse group of Los Angeleno gang members who are obviously up to no good. The gritty style, in combination with John Carpenter's pleasantly droning music, is immediately inviting. We begin to wonder: Why are we here? What are these guys up to? Just when you think you're about to get an answer, the players are ambushed by police and brutally gunned down.

Come to think of it, you never really know what the gang members are up to or why they do what they do. Carpenter chooses to keep them enigmatic, which makes their resolve doubly spooky. You rarely (if ever) see them talking and there isn't a singular villain who explains his diabolical plot to the audience. Lesser movies, such as the embarrassingly average 2005 remake with Ethan Hawke, would have missed the point: these guys are scary because we don't what makes them tick. If Anton Chigurh had been the type to join a street gang, this is where he would have pledged.

Soon after the gundown, we're introduced to Lieutenant Bishop (Austin Stoker), a green policeman who's just been assigned overnight duty at the titular precinct which is about to be permanently closed down. It's a thankless job, the last thing Bishop had in mind when he became a police officer. There he meets Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston), a lifer who's unexpectedly brought to the holding cells along with a handful of other prisoners. Then there's Leigh (Laurie Zimmer), an oddly collected and level-headed clerical worker who seems as mysterious as the gang which besieges the precinct.

When Leigh first meets Bishop, she offers him coffee. "Black?" she asks him. "For over thirty years," replies Bishop, before breaking out in a huge grin. It's the kind of exchange modern movies really suck at. It's reminiscent of the scene in the original Shaft, in which the characters compare the color of their skin to coffee mugs and point out they're not so black and white after all. Fast forward to today and I'm guessing 1995's Die Hard with a Vengeance is probably the last time a major action film dealt with race without completely embarrassing itself, which is pretty sad if you ask me.

So there are many details along the way, showing how the characters find themselves in the dangerous situation, but here's all you need to know: the good guys are holed up in the building and the bad guys will stop at nothing to kill them. The great thing about Carpenter is he was a working class filmmaker who wasn't interested in making movies the modern way. All you really need is a camera, a hero, and bad guys. That's movies in their purest form.

Assault on Precinct 13 is one of my favorites—easily in my top fifty, perhaps twenty. The last time I saw it was on a badly worn VHS rental. Seeing it in HD blew my mind because I had no idea it looked this damn good. (Please forgive the low quality of the screenshots... I was having technical issues.) I've never enjoyed the film more thoroughly than I did tonight.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Park Is Mine (1986) [Trailer]

31 Days of Gore is over so let's go back to the regularly scheduled shenanigans. I'll be featuring John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 at midnight, Central Time.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Maniac Cop (1988) [31 Days of Gore]

This is it, folks: the year's final 31 Days of Gore post. It'll be eleven whole months until the next one.

I hadn't seen Maniac Cop in so long I forgot how good it is. With a screenplay by the legendary Larry Cohen, who wrote some seriously offbeat genre flicks (It's Alive, God Told Me To, Black Caesar, and The Stuff), the pacing of the movie is extraordinary. The movie opens with a kill, does a normal scene, shows another kill, normal scene, kill, normal scene, etc, etc. The titular maniac cop snags himself more victims in the first twenty minutes than the average horror movie dispatches in its entirety. Sometimes you see where an individual scene is going—and sometimes you're right—but overall this is one surprising cookie.

Imagine you're being chased by a couple of thugs through the dark, curiously empty streets of New York City. Then you spot a rather large cop (Robert Z'Dar) standing in the shadows of a nearby park and race to him for assistance. When you get close, however, you realize something is wrong and, before you have the time to recoil, he wraps his hand around your throat with superhuman strength and wrings your neck. It's a creepy premise, the implications of which are properly explored through news segments which reflect the city's growing fear and distrust toward police officers. Most genre films wouldn't bother going so deep.

Now check out this cast of players: Robert Z'Dar, Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Lauren Landon, William Smith, and Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree. As far as exploitation movies go, can it get any better? It rarely does. I love this cast.

Tom Atkins plays a straight-shooter lieutenant who can't stand the thought of some bozo walking around in a police uniform and killing people. When Bruce Campbell's character, also a cop, is implicated as the serial killer, Atkins is the only one who stops to consider it could be a setup. It turns out the real maniac cop knows exactly how to set someone up because he has inside information. And he has that inside information because he really was a cop at one time in his life, which leads to the whodunnit elements of the film.

Naturally, when the maniac cop shows up to the police station to tie up loose ends, Bruce Campbell escapes custody with the help of his mistress, fellow cop Lauren Landon. The two lovers then team up with Atkins to work out the killer's identity and clear Campbell's name.

I love this movie. It turns out Nicholas Winding Refn, the director of Drive and Bronson, is also a big fan. He and director William Lustig are co-producing a remake. I don't think I've ever been more excited for a remake in my life.

Cameos include Jake LaMotta (Lustig's uncle) and Sam Raimi.

Note: I was planning to feature the entire trilogy, but I think I'll be getting the sequels on Blu-Ray to review at a later date. Right now, the streaming options available to me aren't even in widescreen. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Would You Rather (2012) [31 Days of Gore]

Would You Rather looks like the kind of movie I usually despise. But recently, Bloody Disgusting's YouTube channel give it a recommendation so I decided to check it out because I haven't covered many newer movies this year. I must say I'm impressed.

Iris (Brittany Snow) is a wholesome young blonde who's had to put her life on hold in order to care for her sick brother. One day she meets the super rich Shepard Lambrick (Jeffery Combs) who invites her and a handful of others to a mysterious dinner party. Iris reluctantly accepts, but when she makes it known she's a vegetarian, Lambrick offers her a deal: if she eats all the meat on her plate, he'll give her ten thousand dollars, cash. When Lambrick notices another dinner guest (John Heard) hasn't touched his wine because he's sixteen years sober, the charitable host offers the ex-alcoholic a similarly fucked up deal.

And that's only the appetizer. What the guests soon learn is they've been invited to play a twisted version of Would You Rather, which goes something like this: Would you rather stab the person next to you in the leg, or give the person at the end of the table three lashes with a whip? The problem with most movies with built-in candy bar scenes is they find trouble topping the previous ones. Would You Rather manages to top everything that came before it time after time. This is one diabolically entertaining movie with a lot of gruesome surprises. The pleasure Lambrick gets from orchestrating the game is some darkly funny stuff to see.

Brittany Snow's presence makes you suspect this is yet another mindless horror movie aimed solely at the kind of teens who've never seen a legitimate horror movie in their lives, but it feels more like a Twilight Zone episode or a Richard Matheson story. I think I would have preferred it more if the dinner guests were voluntarily playing the sick games, rather than forced by gunpoint, but that's a superficial complaint. (I mean, come on, isn't it sicker when good people do fucked up stuff when they don't actually have to?)

I made three predictions during the movie and two of them (including the end) turned out to be right. Even so, I hesitate to call this movie predictable. "Predictable" suggests I disliked the movie, yet I really, really liked it. No, I don't think it's predictable, just that it's a certain kind of a story that has to go the way it did. The more I think about Would You Rather, the more I like it.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Tourist Trap (1979) [31 Days of Gore]

Strap in, folks. It's another "who needs bathing suits for swimming?" movie which somehow manages to show absolutely no nudity whatsoever. I mean, why even have that scene at all if everybody's just going to be bobbing lazily up to their necks? No playful splashing? No horsing around? ZZZzzz....

The teens of Tourist Trap, which I happen to think is a great generic title for a horror movie, go skinny dipping after their Volkswagen Type 181 breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Chuck Connors, playing an overall-wearing good ol' boy, happens upon the kids and warns them about the moccasins who nest in the very water they're swimming in. Cut to: everybody fully clothed and miraculously dry, and Connors offers them a ride to his home.

His home, as it turns out, is a "museum" full of all manner of junk. The overwhelming majority of his collection seems to be mannequins, which the movie calls "wax statues," but nope, they're everyday department store mannequins. One of the mannequins looks suspiciously like his dead wife and its "wax" feels a lot like flesh. You can see where this is going, yes?

I'm usually careful with spoilers, but it's hard to extend that rule to anything that's so shamelessly derivative of Psycho. Tourist Trap thinks it's pulling a fast one on us, but anyone who's ever seen a movie will know, almost immediately, that Chuck Connors is the killer. It's as obvious as a punch to the face.

Yes, The Rifleman is the killer. The movie initially wants us to believe the strange happenings are caused by Chuck Connors' unseen brother, but we all know better. My fucking dog probably called it, too. I don't know if 80s filmmakers really thought audiences were this stupid or if they just didn't care. (Considering the film's director ain't no slouch, I'm wondering if it's somehow supposed to be satire? No, that's stretching far.) The "big reveal" is so obvious, in fact, they don't even save it for the end, but give it to us two-thirds of the way into the movie.

Then it actually becomes a fun little movie. You get to see Chuck Connors dressed as a wonderfully bizarre mannequin, playing with dolls, and chewing the scenery in the best way possible. The only reason I can't give it a recommendation is it's too little too late and only leaves you wanting more. They had such a great gag here, but more or less squandered it for an hour of the ninety-minute running time. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Ice Cream Man (1995) [31 Days of Gore]

Oh boy, I think I've hit my limit. I've blown my fucking mind out on bad movies this year. Here's one so egregious I don't even want to talk about it. This is the second time I've seen it, too. Somehow I remember it being kind of fun. Maybe decent horror was just hard to come by back then. I don't know.

In its 85-minute running time there are about fifty seconds of awesome. The rest is slow, plodding, and poorly shot, not to mention completely illogical. It's like one of those "rad" (bad) children films that frequently turned up in video stores in the early-to-mid 90s, only there's a little bit of gore, which feels like it was only filmed to ensure a journalist from Fangoria showed up to take publicity photos. (The severed heads, by the way, look amazing. Everything else... not so much.)

Clint Howard plays the titular ice cream man. When his character was a kid, he witnessed the so-called Ice Cream King get gunned down during a drive-by shooting. His concerned mother found the boy sitting on the curb, eating an ice cream cone, mere inches from the dead body. The shocked child glanced up at her and asked, "Who's going to bring me ice cream, Mommy?"

That part was kind of funny, actually. That's the problem, though: a lot of the movie is kind of funny. It's just not funny enough. It would have been a lot funnier if they weren't trying so hard. Those are the best kinds of bad movies: the ones that are genuinely trying to be a serious movie, but totally fuck it up, and Ice Cream Man is nowhere near that. This would have been a lot more watchable, too, if most of the killings didn't take place off camera. Despite the subject matter, the movie's so tame I don't think they would have had to edit much out of it to show it on the USA network twenty years ago.

Anyway, now that he's all grown up the ice cream man kills children, grinds them up, and mixes their remains into the ice cream he sells around town. Three neighborhood kids uncover his evil deeds and take matters into their own hands. Armed with giant model rockets, they decide to finish the ice cream man, once and for all.

Fuck, haven't we seen this movie too many times before? It's the same ol' shit, only a decade too late and a decade too stale.

So the main character, whose name is Tuna, is supposed to be fat kid. Instead of casting a tubby kid, the filmmakers cast a skinny kid and stuffed his hooded shirts (remember, it was the 90s) with what appears to be an ordinary bed pillow. The entire effort seems pointless until the supposed payoff at the end of the film: once the ice cream man is dead, Tuna no longer eats so much ice cream and therefor loses all his weight.

Excellent character arc, that.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Exorcist III: Legion (1990) [31 Days of Gore]

I have a confession to make: I never really liked The Exorcist. There, I said it. I know I should like The Exorcist, because it has some wonderful effects and it freaks out overly religious people, but it's just one of those things, I guess. I've seen it twice (the third time, with the unnecessary CGI, doesn't count) and both times I felt a little let down despite appreciating almost all aspects of it. I've been meaning to watch it again for a long time now, but just haven't made the time for it.

The Exorcist III, on the other hand, came on TV when I was home sick from school one day and I unexpectedly enjoyed the hell out of it. In the years since I've always wanted to see it again. Cue Scream Factory's re-release of the movie, which is hands down the best way to see it. I watched it last night long after I should have been in bed and it's easily one of the finest horror films ever made. The new sound mix alone is better than most of the stuff I reviewed this month.

You likely won't find a review with fewer spoilers than this one. The trailers give away one of the film's biggest surprises and I bet all the reviews do, too. If, by some chance, you haven't seen any of the marketing material, I won't spoil the great mid-movie reveal about the man in Cell 11, who's played by Brad Dourif. Dourif's performance here is really something special. I've seen hundreds of actors go for the same kind of batty creepiness, but few have been as believable as him.

You can tell writer William Peter Blatty, who directed the film himself, wanted to protect the secret as well, because the moment it's revealed is done with so much care. Blatty apparently battled the studio on a lot of unnecessary changes. For one, he didn't even want the word "Exorcist" in the title because the second one, which he had nothing to do with, was so terrible. This one isn't a cash-grab by any means. It's an organic continuation of the original story.

George C. Scott plays William Kinderman, a grizzled police lieutenant whose best friend was Father Karras, the very priest who threw himself out the window at the end of the original film. (Kinderman was also in the original Exorcist film, briefly portrayed by Lee J. Cobb.) He's investigating the murder of a twelve year old boy who was crucified and decapitated on a pair of rowboat oars. The killing, it turns out, fits the MO of the so-called Gemini Killer who was shot dead by police around the same time little Regan was exorcised. What does this have to do with anything? Well, it's a stretch, but the film is so well made it's not hard to believe within the context of the story.

I love horror-comedies, but a movie that's legitimately creepy is such a rare thing. If you ever wanted to know why I tend to hate the horror movies of the 2000s, it's because they were made with the exact opposite sentiments of movies like this. If you liked Jacob's Ladder and Angel Heart, you're probably going to like this one, too.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Splinter (2008) [31 Days of Gore]

Splinter stars a gifted young actress by the name of Jill Wagner, one of the bro-dudes from Road Trip, and a guy who kind of looks like Robert Carlyle. In the cold opening, a gas station attendant is attacked by what appears to be roadkill (A rat? A possum? A rabid squirrel?). Then we're introduced to an attractive young couple who suck at camping and then a not-so attractive couple who are running from the law. Their paths cross in the middle of nowhere and the fugitives take the would-be campers hostage. But when the getaway car overheats, the four of them have to make a pit stop at the very gas station we saw in the beginning of the movie, which seems abandoned.

And that's when things get predictably weird... just a little too predictable, in fact, which is one of the film's few flaws. The writers even employ a nifty biologist character who makes huge leaps of logic and spouts a ton of technobabble nonsense. They don't explain the origin of the monster, so why did they feel the need to explain how it functions on a cellular level? All I'm saying is I could have used a little more peer-reviewed research.

I certainly wouldn't say this is a cheap-looking film, but it's definitely the poor man's version of Splice. Taking cues from John Carpenter's The Thing, the creature effects are fantastic, if not fleeting, while the acting is, overall, much better than most of the stuff I feature here. In fact, my only complaint about the acting is it breaks down whenever the performers interact with the special effects. I think that's more of a critique on the direction, than anything, as I have a hunch the actors had nothing physical to react to. Beyond that, the acting is phenomenal as far as horror movies go.

I don't want to spoil what, exactly, is attacking the characters, but it's sufficiently hideous and makes the title relevant. The thing traps the characters inside the gas station, which forces them to resort to desperate measures, some of which reminded me of the creative solutions in Tremors and Tremors 2. Unfortunately some of these solutions are a little too goofy for the film's otherwise serious tone. I'm also reminded of The Blob and Jurassic Park, but I'll let you discover why on your own.

I tend to dislike movies which try too hard to be creepy. This one certainly tries, but not too hard. It's a good one for daytime viewing... not too loud, not too spacey, and not too boring. The sweet spot.