Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Break Time

Seems like a fitting day to announce I'm taking a break from this blog. 

Things will be back to normal by October, if not a lot sooner. This isn't to say I won't post something here and there in the meantime, but it won't be a weekly thing for a while. 31 Days of Gore III is definitely still happening... if websites like this one still exist. (Look, I'm surprised we managed to get through SOPA and PIPA, to be perfectly honest, so I'm having a little trouble being optimistic this week.)

Here's the project I'm working on right now.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Baby Driver (2017) [Midnight Movie]

You know what Baby Driver reminds me of? A musical version of Layer Cake, which was one of the finest crime movies of the twenty-first century. No, it's not a musical, it's just musical, man. Anyone who saw Edgar Wright's previous movies know what I'm talking about. His stuff doesn't move like your run-of-the-mill genre movie. Music plays a big part, sure, but you don't always have to hear it to feel it... a point the movie makes quite literally.

The kid's name is Baby. He's the getaway driver for Kevin Spacey who plays a business savvy crook. Spacey never uses the same crew twice in a row, but ever since he met Baby he uses him on each and every heist he organizes. Speaking of heists: you never really see them. The movie's not about the heists. It's all about the driver and the orbital role he plays in Spacey's underworld.

Baby wants out because he never really wanted in. It turns out he owes Spacey a lot of money due to an unfortunate coincidence. The details don't matter. What matters is Baby's in love and when things fall apart, as they inevitably do in crime movies, his ruthless associates set their sights on his girlfriend.

The first scene of Baby Driver contains more wit and creativity than most summer movies can muster in two hours. As soon as it's over, Wright treats us to a stunningly choreographed credits sequence, which tracks Baby as he goes out to order coffee. He's not quite dancing, but he's not merely walking, either. He's a character, I think, who's modeled after Han Solo and Gene Kelly. How do I explain it? Just see it.

As he's waiting for his coffee, she walks by the window. And my god, that moment... it's movie magic, plain and simple. Everything else doesn't matter. That tiny moment is what matters and the movie is so effortless at making it clear. Baby and his waitress girlfriend were destined for each other. Their scenes together are so good they hurt.

You know what irritates me? Hearing moviegoers say they're sick of seeing car chases and romance on the screen. But aren't those just about the two most cinematic things you can get at the theater? It's like saying you're sick of seeing tragedies on the stage. If these people really mean to say they're sick of seeing routine car chases and lazy romances, then I wholeheartedly agree. Baby Driver proves it's not the subject matter that's the problem, it's the bloated studios' inability to get this stuff right.

I adore crime movies. Seeing a good one can pump me up like no other genre. Unfortunately, the audience I saw this movie with had no pulse. Go see the weekend showing, with a large group of friends, at one of those theaters that serves beer. This is electric stuff, maybe even Wright's best. I walked out of the movie over two hours ago and I'm still on cloud nine.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pieces (1982) [Trailer]

I can say with almost 100% certainty I'll be featuring Pieces for this year's 31 Days of Gore. As always, there's a countdown to the big day in the right sidebar (unavailable on mobile, unfortunately). I have a feeling this year's is going to be the best yet.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Lobster (2016) [Midnight Movie]

In the opening scene a distressed woman parks her car on the side of a road, in the middle of a rainstorm, and shoots a cow repeatedly. I can't not like a movie that starts out like this.

The Lobster is a lite science fiction tale in so far it's set in a world in which unwed adults are forced, by law, to find mates. If they fail to take lovers, they're sent to a machine which transforms them into an animal. The good news is the losers get turned into the animal of their choice. The main character, played by Colin Farrell, wants to become a lobster should he fail his probation period as a single adult.

Why a lobster? Farrell's character doesn't have a great reason (most of the characters don't), but I wouldn't be surprised if it meant something deeper... or nothing at all. Either way, it's pretty damn funny. The Lobster is a strange movie, not in a look-how-quirky-and-offbeat-I-am! sense, but genuinely strange. It seems to find being strange as natural as breathing. Then again, maybe it's not as strange as the social norms it satirizes.

So in case you're not clear on the setup, let's go over it in detail: if you're single you get sent to a hotel in which you've got forty-five days to find a match before you're sent to the animal transformation room. The management arrange a variety of activities for the, uh, contestants, so to say, encouraging everything from phony meet-cutes to premature marriages. Each morning the men are tortured by sexual stimulation, but anybody caught relieving the tension without a partner are punished severely. The hotel manager (Olivia Colman) seems to have a contingency for any kind of dating crisis: at one point she tells a newlywed couple, "If you encounter any problems you cannot resolve yourselves, you will be assigned children. That usually helps."

The guests talk like they're auditioning for Love Connection. The management sound like those insufferably happy folks who're constantly trying to set up their single friends. I'm not sure how these actors pull it all off with a straight face, but the blooper reel is probably longer than the movie.

Another activity the hotel encourages is hunting. Rather than hunt the animals roaming the wilderness around the hotel (because they used to be humans), the guests are forced to hunt runaway single people with tranquilizer darts. The guests who bag the most are rewarded.

I'm trying to avoid spoilers here, but Rachel Weisz and Léa Seydoux are in this, only they don't come into the movie until it becomes an entirely different movie altogether. (It's the kind of movie which blows up spectacularly early on, rather than meting out its fun until the very end... thankfully, it's got enough fun to spare.) John C. Reilly is right there from the start, playing the kind of dopey character he plays so well. (Can we all just stop and marvel at how he gets in so many different types of movies, even though he often only plays a certain character?)

I've grown to like Colin Farrell in movies like In Bruges and the better than expected (but not great) Fright Night remake. You've got to have massive talent to claw your way up from the likes of 2003's Daredevil, in which his role was nothing short of embarrassing. The Lobster makes me like him even more. It's my favorite dark comedy in years, but heed this warning: things can get very dark at times.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace (1996) [Midnight Movie]

I recently featured The Lawnmower Man, which was so far removed from the short story it was allegedly based on, Stephen King sued to have his name removed. (It turns out the script existed prior to the producers acquiring the rights to King's story, so they amended his name and title to the project in order to sell tickets.) It only makes sense I would check out the sequel this week, right? Well, now that I've seen it I'm not sure anything about this movie makes sense.

Spoilers for the original film follow....

Jobe, whose digitized consciousness escaped the lab explosion in the original film, is inexplicably human again. Even though we saw his abandoned body wither away and catch fire, the corporate characters of this sequel have managed to recover it from the debris and employ him as a super sophisticated hacker in cyberspace. This time Jobe's played by Max Headroom's Matt Frewer, which has gotta be one of the laziest typecasting decisions in the history of film.

Pierce Brosnan is nowhere to be found, either. That's fine. I have no problem with a sequel continuing the story without the original actors. After all, that was par for the course with these genre films back then. What I do have a problem with is the fact the only returning character is Brosnan's kid neighbor, who was so insignificant to the original film I didn't need to mention him when I explained the plot of the previous film two weeks ago.

See, actor Austin O'Brien was a no-name when the original Lawnmower Man came out, but in the following year he co-starred with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Last Action Hero. There's no reason for the kid to be in this movie, but some executive likely thought they could bank on his newfound fame. That might have worked in more capable hands, but the filmmakers obviously wanted to take the story far into the future. Instead of setting the movie a reasonable amount of time into the future, they set it only six years after the first one (because O'Brien's character would have been all grown up otherwise) and ask us to believe the world became a dystopian future practically overnight.

Worse, the adult nature of the original film has been sabotaged by a PG-13 rating and a cast of annoying children. I knew I was in trouble as soon as the kids flew around cyberspace via the magic of green screen. It looks like one of those totally radical 90s commercials for Kool-Aid or sugary cereal.


In the lead role you have Sleeping with the Enemy's Patrick Bergin who more or less looks like Tommy Wiseau. That's not a complaint. He's a lot more interesting to look at than Brosnan was in the previous film. He's also more interesting than Fewer's portrayal of Jobe, which is a major step back from Jeff Fahey's nutty take on the character.

What's amazing about The Lawnmower Man 2 is how far CGI progressed in the four years since the original. I complain about the overuse of CGI quite a bit, but it's perfectly suited for films with this subject matter. I just think it was a mistake to insert the actual actors into the cyberspace sequences rather than digitize them the way the first film did, if only for continuity's sake.

If you enjoy cheese as much as I do, this movie isn't terrible. It's entertaining enough and the production value is much better than expected—perhaps better than the first—but there are some serious flaws contained within. Again, that's par for the course when you're dealing with these kinds of movies.

I honestly don't remember this movie getting a theatrical release. I always assumed it was a cheap, straight-to-video sequel, but it turns out it was actually a theatrical release which was a lot more expensive than its predecessor. Too bad it's nowhere near as good.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Alien Dead (1980) [Trailer]

Another winner from Fred Olen Ray. I haven't seen it. I don't want to see it. I'll probably watch it anyway. This is because A) that's a brilliantly bad title and B) I'm stupid. 

I forgot to do Midnight Movie last Friday. It totally slipped my mind. I'll probably feature Lawnmower Man 2 this week. 

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Best news you'll hear all month: Scream Factory is in the middle of their summer sale. Everything in the catalog is half off until June 19th. I've never featured it here, but The Resurrected is one of the better Lovecraft adaptations so it's nice to see it get the factory's treatment. And if you know what you're getting into, Dark Angel (it was called I Come in Peace when I saw it on HBO or Cinemax many moons ago) is a steal at eight bucks. Dolph Lundgren and Brian Benben is such an intriguing combination, it really doesn't matter if it works or not—just marvel at the fucking thing.

After two unbearably busy weeks, I have an unexpected day off. Time to marathon a bunch of stupid movies. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Lawnmower Man: The Director's Cut (1992) [Midnight Movie]

The Lawnmower Man might just be the first movie which fueled my lifelong obsession with virtual reality (I'm writing this mere minutes after an Elite Dangerous session in a VR headset, an experience I've been dreaming about for decades). The movie's obviously significant to me, but is it any good? I guess it depends on where you're coming from. (I don't think I've ever featured a 90s cyberpunk movie unfavorably on this blog, so if you're looking for an objective review, you're not going to find it here.)

I love this kind of shit. I don't see past the glaring problems so much as I embrace them. The motion-controlled chairs I thought were so awesome when I was a kid? Today it's obvious they're cheap recliners, which the actors are lying on backwards while off-screen stagehands buck them back and forth. What looked so cool in the 90s now looks awkward and impractical; Jeff Fahey is clearly struggling to hang on.

The movie begins in a top secret laboratory where a research team is using a combination of drugs and virtual reality to train chimpanzees for war. Naturally, one of the chimps escapes the lab and goes on a killing spree. When it seeks refuge at a church it bumps into Fahey's character, Jobe, a mentally challenged groundskeeper who mistakes the chimp for a comic book character. Whoever suggested actors shouldn't go full retard was obviously ignorant of Fahey's Jobe, which is probably the most entertaining aspect of the movie. Blue collar actors like Fahey will never win an Oscar, but his performance here is contextually perfect.

Then the police show up and murder the chimp. Jobe is traumatized by the shooting, as is the head researcher on the project, Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan). Angelo decides to take a break from top secret military research and spends most of his downtime chilling in virtual reality while drinking himself silly. It's there he concocts a plan: he'll continue conducting his research, but he'll do it without the government breathing down his neck. And instead of a chimp, he'll use a human test subject this time. Jobe is the perfect candidate because there's no need to have him sign a NDA as he has no idea what's going on anyway. He just thinks he's there to play Angelo's awesome games.

The research, however, has the unintended consequence of improving Jobe's mind well past the boundaries of a typical human. Later in the movie, he'll develop the ability to soak up entire encyclopedias in minutes. Angelo, who seemed to have no real ethics to begin with, is frightened by Jobe's progress, but it's too late to pull the plug now that his subject is developing disturbing thoughts and inhuman powers.

From the beginning, it's absolutely clear where all this is headed. Many characters are unnecessarily mean to Jobe because those characters were born to die. We've seen this formula many times, especially slasher films. This movie just does it better than most. You can't help but like Jobe so you root for him.

I am a little disappointed in Brosnan's performance because, even though he's the biggest name in the movie, he just doesn't get the material as well as his lesser known co-stars (Jenny Wright and Geoffrey Lewis are perfect for a movie like this, and Breaking Bad's Dean Norris understands what he's gotten himself into as well.) I wonder if there was a version of the script which explored Angelo's unethical side rather than completely ignoring it so that he could become the flawless hero who saves the day by the end of the movie.

If you weren't impressed by the theatrical cut of The Lawnmower Man, you're not going to be thrilled by this one, either (Scream Factory is releasing the film on Blu-Ray in June... all versions are currently unavailable on VOD services, unfortunately). It doesn't radically alter the story like The Assembly Cut of Alien 3, it just makes it longer. But considering I was legitimately entertained throughout, I'm going to recommend it to anyone who's a fan of the original.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Friday, May 26, 2017

Murder Party (2007) [Midnight Movie]

So it's Halloween and the main character, Christopher, is a lonely dork who accidentally intercepts an invitation to a murder party. Yes, that's exactly how the party's billed and—surprise!—it's literally a party in which the guest of honor is going to be murdered. (One of the party organizers: "The invitation says murder party. If some asshole is dumb enough to come here, then he deserves to die.")

Christopher does what anyone would do upon receiving such an invitation: he crafts a knight costume out of cardboard and duct tape, bakes a loaf of pumpkin bread, and heads out to a scary part of town to find the address. Maybe someone smarter than Christopher would have at least mentioned to someone where he was going for the night, but that's the thing: Christopher doesn't have anybody to tell. His only friend is a cat who likes to hog the only chair in his apartment.

Christopher's captors, as it turns out, are a collective of insufferable artist types who are vying to wow a twisted benefactor with their execution plans. Christopher himself spends most of the movie tied to an office chair. When he finally breaks free, his escape attempt is so pathetic, the others simply shrug and put him right back into his bindings.

No, this is not a scary horror film, but it's a pretty funny one.

It's unusual for me to work my through a director's filmography backwards, but I'm glad I found my way to this one, which is Jeremy Saulnier's first feature length film. Although I didn't like it nearly as much as the director's next two films, it's an admirable first movie. (To be fair, I don't like 90% of movies in general as much as I like Blue Ruin and Green Room, the latter of which is probably my favorite movie of the last five years or so.) You can tell Saulnier and friends adopted a "No money? No problem" attitude to make it, somehow without skimping on the impressive camera work. 

I feel like I need to stress the following point: Murder Party is cheap... really cheap. If you're the kind of person who's turned off by cheap movies, give it a pass. If, on the other hand, you tend to enjoy the charm of ultra-low budget affairs like Video Violence and Blood Cult... well, you should probably know it's not that cheap. Fortunately, the acting is a whole lot better, though a little uneven at times. Other than a couple of slow sections, which could stand some tighter editing, it's a fun movie with some great energy.

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Friday the 13th: The Game came out today. If you didn't catch it the first time around, here's my write-up of every Jason movie ever made.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ghost in the Machine (1993) [Trailer]

Despite the generic trailer with Aliens music, Ghost in the Machine is an entertaining ride. See a dog hump a table. See a kid elbow-drop a digital ghost. See director Rachel Talalay put together a sequence in a crash-test facility that's wild and unpredictably hilarious.

Here are my full thoughts on the movie. The trailer above doesn't do it justice.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) [Midnight Movie]

The best part of an alien movie tends to be that build-up at the beginning, in which the terrestrial characters have no idea what's going on. Independence Day more or less stumbled through it while Battle: Los Angeles completely eschewed it. What's great about Close Encounters is Spielberg sustains the build-up for the entire movie—we have no idea what's going on until the very end. Even then, the mystery isn't completely explained, which is perhaps my only complaint.

I'm not saying I wanted every little question answered, but as-is the aliens seem like complete assholes. Kidnapping people from their own time and returning them to the planet several decades later is probably a fate worse than death; all your friends and family are dead or dying and the culture shock would drive you insane. Now, had there been an unintentional reason why the aliens committed these kidnappings, I would have been properly distracted.

On second thought, they're fuckin' aliens. Why the hell should we understand what they're up to?

There are two plots running in tandem until they inevitably cross paths near the end: in one, Francois Truffaut and Bob Balaban play a couple of G-men globetrotting from one mystery to the next. In the other, middle class electrician Richard Dreyfuss is driven mad following a late night UFO sighting. Teri Garr is alienated by her husband's newfound eccentricities, which leads to him losing his job and a mental breakdown for her. Dreyfuss only finds an ally in the form of Melinda Dillon, a single mother whose three year old seems to have a unique connection with the visitors.

So you have two duos racing to reveal the truth from completely different angles. Most movies don't have one interesting duo (Exhibit A: any action-comedy film coming out this season), much less two, and the fact Truffaut and Balaban aren't the emotionless agents seen in almost every other alien movie makes this one all the more special. It's curious the two men have to overcome their language barrier, which they'll do again with the aliens themselves.

My favorite thing about this movie is Truffaut, who feels like an accidental brushstroke in just the right place. How did Spielberg know the guy could act? What made him think Truffaut would work out at all, much less so brilliantly? Why the hell didn't Truffaut act in more movies?

If it isn't clear at this point, Close Encounters is one of my favorite Spielberg movies. I think it's the crowning achievement of his earlier career and the phrase "movie magic" was invented for stuff like this one (I would kill to see it at my local drive-in). It contains absolutely everything summer blockbusters forgot how to do in the twenty-first century.

There are three versions of Close Encounters: the theatrical version, the editing of which Spielberg felt was rushed; the Special Edition, in which the studio pressured Spielberg to add interior shots of the mother ship (bleh); and the Collector's Edition (a.k.a. the Director's Cut), in which Spielberg removes the Special Edition junk and really nails the ending. (Spielberg maintains the end of the film was the most difficult sequence he and Michael Kahn ever edited.)

If you've already seen the theatrical version, I think the Collector's Edition is where it's at. Sometimes it's hard to tell which version you're getting, but if the run-time is listed at 2 hours and 17 minutes, it's most likely the Collector's Edition. And even if you've never seen the movie, I still think the Collector's Edition is a good place to start.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

Get Out (2017) [Midnight Movie]

I had a feeling the trailer for Get Out showed too much, which is part of the reason why I put off seeing it in theaters. I was right. Three months wasn't enough time to entirely forget the trailer, but it helped. I watched the trailer again after finishing the movie and I was shocked by how much it gave away. (This trailer is like the entire movie, minus the unpredictable goodness at the end.)

For those of you who abstain from trailers, I'll describe the setup without any significant spoilers: Get Out is kind of like Meet the Parents, only it's actually funny, and instead of Ben Stiller it's a twenty-something black man named Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya). Instead of a father who automatically distrusts him, it's a father (Bradley Whitford) who's so eager to prove he's not a racist he goes well past the point of self-awareness and wraps right back around to being unintentionally racist.

Then there's Chris's girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), who stands up for Chris when a cop asks to see his ID for no good reason. She would have you believe she gets it, and she honestly thinks she does, but she doesn't really get it, which becomes apparent when she witnesses how the wealthy white citizens of her hometown fawn creepily over Chris. It's shocking for her to see how her liberal friends and family treat a black man in person, but Chris repeatedly shrugs it off because he's used to it. What he can't shrug off is the increasingly sinister vibes he's picking up from Rose's mother (Catherine Keener) and the family's hired help.

And that's about all I can tell you without ruining some of the best bits. No, the best bits themselves weren't spoiled by the trailer, but all the bits surrounding the best ones were.

Director Jordan Peele, who demonstrated his film literacy in various Key & Peele skits and Keanu, understands that indescribable connection between horror and comedy. Shortly after Chris has his first (truly terrifying) horror moment, Peele provides a laugh. It's such a simple laugh, involving an unexpected text message, but it's so much more rewarding than the stuff in most full fledged comedies. Peele knows just how to wind us up before springing the trap.

He also knows how to cast a movie. You know who sucks in this movie? No one. When's the last time you could say that about a cheap little horror movie? (My only complaint is Keener's character could have used a little more backstory.)

I can't remember the last time a movie made me this giddy. This is an incredibly unpredictable plot, undermined by its bullshit trailer. (I have a feeling Peele enjoyed a great deal of creative control over the movie itself, but not the marketing.) And when the movie's over you begin to realize nothing was a throwaway detail—each and every aspect serves a greater purpose. It's the kind of movie I'll have a lot more to say about after I see it again, which I imagine will be sooner than later (I'm glad I bought this one instead of renting).

This is what genre fiction does best. This is the kind of shit I live for. This movie's a downright classic.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Evilspeak (1981) [Trailer]

Evilspeak is a fun little horror movie. I featured Scream Factory's Blu-Ray version for 31 Days of Gore over a year ago. Check it out. 

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I finally saw Get Out. I'll post my thoughts on it this Friday.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Friday the 13th marathon

Now that Friday the 13th: The Game finally has a release date, it's time to marathon the movies. I love movie marathons, but we didn't even attempt to watch them all in one sitting because that would be more than eighteen hours of movie watching, not including bathroom and popcorn breaks. I'm too old for that kind of shit these days.

I used to be Team Freddy all the way. Freddy was funny, Freddy had style, and Freddy would laugh his ass off as he shredded you into a million pieces. Jason just kind of ambled everywhere he went, but managed to catch his victims because A) they had no idea he was after them in the first place or B) they were far behind the curve in Survival 101, which made you wonder: Why would people like that go camping anyway?

Yet I've grown to appreciate Jason the older I get. Yeah, a glorified zombie brandishing a machete isn't as scary than a horde of zombies, but the fact that he's going to get you, no matter what you do, has become an allegory for death itself—whether the filmmakers intended it or not.

A note about the titles: Sometimes they're numbered, sometimes they're not. Sometimes the numbers are roman numerals, sometimes they're not. I referenced the styling on the movie posters, which I feel are a pretty good, if nonuniform, benchmark.

Friday the 13th (1980) 95 minutes

A brutally honest quote from director Sean S. Cunningham: "The movie has no emotional impact on me at all. The characters were thin at best." Ouch.

So why did it take me so long to marathon the movies in chronological order? Quite simply, the first one used to bore me to death, so I wasn't exactly looking forward to it. Sure, there were Tom Savini effects and the novelty of seeing a young Kevin Bacon die was a lot of fun, but already knowing the big reveal at the end made the rest of the movie seem like a chore. I also get frustrated not seeing the killer in movies like this. I know there's a decent excuse for it, as there was in Sleepaway Camp (a movie I liked much better than this one), but all those shots of shambling feet get mighty tedious.

Having said that, I probably enjoyed the movie more than I ever have before. It was the first time I saw it in HD so it looks way better than my previous viewings. I was always under the impression it was just another slasher movie—and most of it is—but despite everything they ripped off from other horror movies, they did an awful lot right.

The pacing doesn't drag as much as I remembered and the gore effects are legit. So I'm giving this one a passing grade, even though I probably won't watch it again for a very long time, if ever.

Girlfriend's review: "Why did you start this when I said I didn't want to watch a movie right now?"

Friday the 13th Part II (1981) 87 minutes

(Spoilers for the first film follow.)

Now it's time for Pillow Case Jason. Cunningham steps down as director and defers to Steve Miner, who made some good horror movies (House, Warlock) and some questionable ones (Lake Placid, Halloween H2O) in between shooting episodes of Wonder Years and, uh, Dawson's Creek. He also made the Mel Gibson melodrama Forever Young, which is a bizarre career trajectory if you ask me.

Part 2 takes place five years after the events of the first one. Jason is all grown up—far more than five years worth of aging—which suggests the little boy we saw at the Carrie-like ending of the original film was only a nightmare. The movie also implies Jason saw his mother decapitated, which only creates more confusion: Jason's mother was killing camp counselors to avenge her son's death, but if Jason was dead, how did he witness his mother's decapitation? Was she mistaken about his death? Was he actually a runaway who was only presumed dead? (Keep in mind the supernatural elements hadn't been introduced yet. He's very much human in this one... probably... maybe... I don't know at this point.)

This version of Jason makes phone calls and stalks his prey to the city where he murders the previous film's heroine with an ice pick. He's not yet the Jason we all know and love, not only because he hasn't picked up his trademark mask. Still, I find this one much more entertaining than the previous entry. Miner ups the kill count, picks up the pace, and piles on plenty of sex and thrills if you're into that kinda thing. It's not a great slasher film, but a solid one.

Girlfriend's review: "Jason running is stupid. I don't like the ending. Why did the cops and paramedics show up out of nowhere again? I liked the first one better."

Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982) 95 minutes

Steve Miner returns as director and Jason inherits his trademark hockey mask. It's a landmark moment in the franchise, born out of the filmmakers's desire to save time and money on makeup effects. While I still think Part 3 is a better movie than the original, it's not as good as the previous entry. Miner seems obsessed with increasing the body count, made evident by the trio of bikers who have no purpose being in this movie, and the cold opening in which Jason murders a couple of store owners.

The prologue is a flashback to the last movie's finale. It goes on for far too long and it's really not that important to the plot considering Jason is the only returning character. Then the credits come soaring at your face and you remember the movie was originally released in 3-D, as third franchise entries were wont to do. The rest of the story is pretty much rinse and repeat: a handful of teens head out to the woods for dope-smoking shenanigans. Speaking of dope-smoking, the hippy couple in the movie have apparently never smoked pot in their lives; the constant joint-puffing becomes one of the most distracting crutches in the history of acting.

The film is desperate to take advantage of its 3-D, which frequently results in dumb, in-your-face gimmicks involving makeshift weapons, juggling balls, and yo-yos. Despite these distractions, I actually like that the camerawork is a little more creative and layered this time around, and it's at its best in the early scene filmed among clothes lines. My biggest complaint about the movie is all the fake scares and cop-outs. Tricking the audience so frequently doesn't build suspense, it only builds annoyance, particularly on additional viewings.

There are two memorable gore gags: one for how awesome it looks (the partial bisection of a young man doing a handstand) and one for how shitty it looks (a head-crushing in which the eyeball shoots out of the head on what appears to be a rigid optic nerve). And you would assume a lot of bare breasts would feature in a 3-D Jason movie, but the film never really goes there.

Girlfriend's review: "ZZZzzzz."

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) 91 minutes

Something tells me this isn't going to be the final chapter... call it a hunch.

The third film in the franchise was originally intended to be the final chapter, which might be why there wasn't an entry in '83 (the first time Jason skipped a year), but when your two million dollar movie makes over thirty million at the box office, a sequel is a no-brainer. This one is directed by Joseph Zito, whose hyper-violent entertainments are typically elevated by a sense of gleeful fun. (He also directed The Prowler, another essential slasher film.)

Maybe that year off helped because The Final Chapter is much richer than the movies preceding it. Tom Savini is back and the gore gags are as thrilling as they are plentiful. The fake scares and cop-outs are pulled back dramatically, which benefits the pace, and Zito doesn't shy away from the premarital sex nearly as much as Miner did in the last film.

Crispin Glover's bizarre delivery and Corey Feldman's Tommy Jarvis help make The Final Chapter one of the best movies in the franchise.

Girlfriend's review: "Best one yet."

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985) 92 minutes

Little Tommy Jarvis is all grown up now and, inexplicably, his hair has turned blonde. (I like that the filmmakers thought this guy is what Corey Feldman might look like in the future, while in reality Feldman still looks the same as he did back then.) Jarvis is so pointless to the plot, you'll wonder why they bothered to squeeze him in at all, much less make him older. In fact, the Jason timeline is so screwed up by these nonsensical time jumps, a YouTuber struggled to figure it all out and estimated this one takes place in 1990.

The premise is different than the previous movies: Jarvis goes to a halfway house for troubled kids. Jason starts killing people. No, wait... this is just the same old shit.

The kills aren't as good, the pacing stinks, and I would say this one's worse than any Jason movie which came before it. The reveal at the end is so lame, I actually forgot about it since my last viewing. Still, there's a little bit of fun to be had by Jason fans.

Girlfriend's review: "No more Jason movies tonight."

Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986) 87 minutes

I was a little nervous about starting Jason Lives because I remember disliking it the last time I saw it. Fortunately, I'm either getting softer on movies like this or it's better than I remember. Compared to A New Beginning, it's Oscar-worthy. On the downside, there's an awful lot of stupid humor shoved into it. It's as if the producers wanted a Meatballs sequel with Jason in it.

Come to think of it, maybe the humor is a little better than some of the other movies, if only because it's so bizarre. At one point, Jason slams a man's face against a tree, which leaves a perfect smiley face imprint behind. This level of spoof-humor feels entirely out of place for a Jason movie, but whatever. The effort is appreciated, I guess.

Tommy Jarvis is back and this time he's played by Return of the Living Dead's Thom Mathews. The movie opens with Tommy digging Jason's body up so he can burn it down to ashes. Why he decided to bring Jason's mask along for the task can't be explained in-universe, but the real world answer is obvious: you can't have Jason without his hockey mask and he can't exactly walk into Academy to buy another one. After Tommy drives a metal rod through Jason's body, a bolt of lightning conveniently strikes the rod, bringing Jason back Frankenstein-style.

Damn it, Tommy. You damned fool.

Meanwhile, Camp Crystal's trying to do some PR repair, and even goes so far as renaming itself Forest Green. When Jason's latest killing spree begins, the cops of Forest Green decide to blame it all on Tommy, even though he spends the first half of the movie in a jail cell. Luckily, the sheriff's teenage daughter has a crush on Tommy and helps bust him out.

One of the more peculiar aspects of the movie is the fact the adults have convinced the local kids Jason is just an urban legend. This made sense in A Nightmare on Elm Street because Freddy's crimes had been committed long before the children were ever born. This doesn't make sense in Jason Lives because it takes place a year after the previous film. Or do all of the kids suffer from amnesia?

None of that matters. What justifies this one (compared to the previous film especially) is the fact Jason is officially undead, which means his growing pains as a horror icon are pretty much over. That and the Alice Cooper music is downright fun.

Girlfriend's review: "That was fucking lame. We weren't even laughing at the stupid parts as much as we usually do." (I disagree... we laughed at the stupid parts plenty.)

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) 88 minutes

Sometimes, what's popular is popular because people are stupid. Sometimes, what's popular is popular for good reason, which is the case with Kane Hodder's portrayal of Jason. He makes his first appearance as Jason in The New Blood and proves he was great at it from the get-go. My only complaint is he doesn't throw bodies through windows with the same gusto as The Final Chapter's Jason, but I think that's more of a director issue.

So Jason's been chained to the bottom of Crystal Lake ever since Tommy Jarvis put him there several years ago... I think. (Here's a fantastic comic which suggests Jason has had some adventures in between movie appearances.) The movie implies it's been something like ten years since its predecessor, but the teenage characters still follow the fashion trends of the film's production year. Whatever. That's an awfully minor issue to point out in a franchise full of issues.

Forest Green is calling itself Camp Crystal again and no explanation is given for it. No explanation is given as to where Tommy Jarvis has gone either, which hurts more than it should considering he's a paper-thin character who's been played by a different actor each time. The new protagonist is Tina Shepard, who we first see as a telekinetic child, played by a little girl who's a shoe-in for Poltergeist's Carol Anne. She gets into an argument with her father, wishes him dead, and accidentally kills him with her unexplained abilities. (It's not the first time the franchise has ripped off Carrie.)

When you see these movies as a kid, and they abruptly introduce Jedi mind tricks, you barely bat an eye. So I was surprised when my girlfriend said "What the fuck?" during the scene in which Tina's superpowers are introduced. In retrospect it is kind of jarring, even though a supernatural context has already been established in the franchise. Doesn't matter, I'm used to this kind of shit by now.

Tina grows up under the psychiatric care of a psychiatric doctor (Weekend at Bernie's Terry Kiser) who's an asshole for the sole purpose of giving us a character whose inevitable death we can all root for; at one point he even uses Tina's mother as a human shield against one of Jason's attacks. (Great scene, by the way.) The first three-quarters of the movie are decent if not routine... and then the magic happens. After killing kids and adults alike, Jason comes after Tina for a knock-down, drag-out fight.

Here's the problem with making your bad guy indestructible: he's fuckin' indestructible. This means it's not very believable when average folk go mano a mano with him unless you're willing to look past several layers of plot armor. Tina, however, can use her telekinetic powers to wrap vines and power lines around the killer, and the two square off in what has to be the most satisfying battle thus far. Kane Hodder is a fantastic stuntman and he's eager to prove it, too. (It's a shame about the rest of the movie.) We can only hope the upcoming video game makes Tina Shepard a playable character.

Girlfriend's review: "Was all that telekinetic stuff really necessary?" (I thought so, if only because it led to the best fight of the series.)

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) 100 minutes

When all my friends were going apeshit for Batman in 1989, I was stoked to see Jason take on Manhattan. (I remember the trailer for the movie was one of the most exciting things I'd ever seen.) Other than a detour to the city in Part 2, Jason has been a homebody for far too much of his killing career. The Camp Crystal setting was getting stale. Now, almost thirty years later, Jason Takes Manhattan is the movie I wanted to re-watch most.

Unfortunately, I'm utterly disappointed.

I like how the franchise ran out of ideas for how to resurrect Jason long before it ever had a good one. This time, a boat anchor snags an electric cable which just happens to be making contact with Jason's body. This brings Jason back because electricity... yeah. Luckily, there's a hockey mask on board the boat because... oh fuck it, who cares? Logic has been tossed out the window like one of Jason's victims.

The next time we see Jason he's climbing onto a small cruise ship, which has been chartered by a handful of high school seniors. This is where most of the movie takes place. In fact, here's a better title: Jason Goes on a Cruise. Like real life cruises, it's an excruciatingly boring trip which serves no purpose other than reducing the amount of time you get to spend at the ultimate destination. (Apparently the movie was supposed to spend a lot more time in Manhattan, but the script had to be rewritten due to budgetary issues... can't fault them for that.)

The teenagers are duller than they've ever been before, the heroine is so plain she'll make you miss Tina Shepard, and the obligatory evil adult looks like a cross between Ricardo Montalbán and Bill Nye. Characters die in exactly the order you expect them to and Jason is so inexplicably focused on killing the main characters, he steps around several potential victims who are just kind of standing around for no reason (sometimes they look less like extras and more like people who were actually just standing around on the street when the filming began). And it all culminates in what could very well be the dumbest villain death in movie history.

No, it is the dumbest villain death in movie history because it asks you to believe that a deluge of toxic waste fills the tunnels beneath Manhattan so regularly, you can set your watch to it. The ending couldn't have been more of a cheat if a colony of toilet-flushed alligators suddenly showed up and ripped Jason apart limb by limb. Having aliens abduct him would have been less insulting to the intelligence.

Not only is Jason Takes Manhattan longer than any Jason movie before it, it's the slowest one, too. The actors' dialogue is oddly paced, several scenes and shots could have easily been trimmed, and most of the kills just aren't worth the long wait times in between. I love the image of childlike Jason roaming The Big Apple, but there's way too little of it. Outside of a minute spent in Times Square, the belated payoff is almost entirely filmed in generic alleys and rooftops. Then the film goes to a diner of all places, which is a location we've seen already seen in previous movies. (The guy Jason throws into the diner mirror, by the way, is the stuntman who plays Jason in Freddy vs. Jason.)

The movie made back its budget and then some, but Paramount decided it was a financial disappointment, which led to the rights going to New Line Cinema. And considering New Line already had Freddy in its stable, you'd think the long-awaited Freddy vs. Jason movie would be a no-brainer, right? Nope. Because fuck the fans.

Girlfriend's review: "Dull. Could've used a lot more blood."

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) 88 minutes

So how is it that New Line Cinema gets Jason and decides to make a movie—supposedly the last one—with very little Jason in it? Beats me. It's a risky move and whether or not it paid off is a topic of debate among many fans.

I happen to think Jason Goes to Hell is the best one since The Final Chapter. Yeah, it's weird that Jason's hardly in it, but it's not nearly as mind-boggling as Halloween 3's decision to dispense of their horror icon entirely. Jason himself is the pay-off in this one, which I thought was an interesting creative decision. It's just a shame Jason is dispatched mere minutes after his glorious return.

Whereas Jason is usually killed at the end of the movies, this time he's killed right up front in explosive fashion. A morgue worker who autopsies the smithereens is somehow hypnotized by Jason's disembodied heart and becomes a surrogate for Jason's essence... or something. Now a black man, Jason wanders the countryside killing anyone who gets in his path.

Q: Why doesn't Jason bring along his trademark mask? A: So he can rip off some of the T-1000's tricks from Terminator 2.

There's an awful lot going on in this movie. Although there's a character who explains the rules (Jason can only be killed by another Voorhees, etc.), it's never explained how he knows the rules or why things got to be the way they are. Is Jason a demon now? A vengeful spirit? How did he come back after drowning in age-reversing toxic waste in the previous film? More importantly, how does Jason himself know all the new rules?

What separates Jason Goes to Hell from everything which came before it is the fact it feels like a completely different movie, partly because of New Line Cinema and partly because of the 90s. There's only a handful of minutes spent in the boring ol' woods and it's obvious the director is more passionate about his subject than most. The camerawork is a lot more creative, there's a lot less fat between the killings, and there are even a handful of fun (though kind of forced) easter eggs for horror fans. There's also great gore gags from the KNB EFX Group, indicating the MPAA finally cut the franchise some slack.

My only problem is sending Jason to hell seems kind of cruel. Maybe I'm alone here, but Jason doesn't seem all that evil to me. He seems more like a force of nature that just happens to kill people, like tornadoes or earthquakes. It also doesn't help that I think of him as a child, so eternal pain and suffering is a little extreme in my opinion.

Girlfriend review: "I think it had the best gore so far. It was the most entertaining of the sequels."

Jason X (2001) 92 minutes

2001 was the year I graduated high school so I temporarily didn't give a shit about Jason movies anymore. The trailer, complete with hilariously awful music, seemed to suggest the franchise was turning its back on its 80s horror roots, so you can forgive me for initially giving it a pass. I know I just gave Jason Goes to Hell a recommendation for trying something different, but I didn't mean tonally different. Moving the series to space was only a radical idea for a Jason movie, not so much for horror franchises in general. Critters, Leprechaun, and Hellraiser had already done it, none with great results.

Oh, who am I kidding? I actually enjoyed those stupid space sequels.

This isn't the first time I've seen Jason X, but it's probably the first time I paid attention. There's a pleasant surprise in the beginning with a David Cronenberg cameo, but there's a big disappointment right up front, too: this is my least favorite Jason design of the Kane Hodder era. Come to think of it, this movie manages to include my two least favorite designs for the actor, as later in the movie Jason is inexplicably updated by nanotechnology and... well, he simply looks stupid.

Here's the paper-thin plot: there's a top secret research facility in Camp Crystal now. There, military scientists cryogenically freeze Jason since they can't kill him. Four hundred years later, Earth is a wasteland and humans have moved to greener pastures elsewhere in the galaxy. A team of futuristic high school students are on a field trip to Earth when they discover the cryogenic capsule containing Jason and bring him aboard their shuttle. Things get disappointingly predictable from there on out, but I will say this entry has some of the best kills in the entire series.

I've heard people go easy on this movie because "It's just trying to be fun," and I'm no stranger to fun horror movies, but when I think about the ones that worked for me the most, they weren't just trying to be fun and they were all a lot more creative than this. The jokes in this movie are often way too forced, which doesn't help when delivered by actors who aren't even cut out for supporting roles in television commercials. "It's okay, he just wanted his machete back!" is the kind of joke a child could come up with and the punchline is far too predictable. There's more laughter to be had laughing at it than with it.

Jason X isn't a boring movie, it's just a severely misguided one. It's like the cinematic equivalent of frosted tips and JNCO jeans. I've got a better title: Jason Resurrected... because it reminds me of the shittiest Alien movie.

Girlfriend's review: "This one's the worst of them all."

Freddy vs. Jason (2003) 97 minutes

I think Freddy vs. Jason came out way too late for the original fans to give a shit, myself included. As I've stated far too many times on this blog, I just disliked American horror movies of the 2000s and spent most of the decade catching up on foreign and older titles. Judging from the trailer, it looked like the whole thing was contaminated by the same disingenuous trends which produced Resident Evil movies and Urban Legends. News that the arrogant director had replaced Kane Hodder for bullshit reasons was the final straw for me, which was a shame because had this movie come out in the 80s or 90s, I would have been there opening night.

I caught the movie on Starz several years ago and was left absolutely disappointed. This time I went into it with an extremely open mind (my cynical 'tude softens the older I get) and I'm happy to say I enjoyed it this time. The acting is a lot better than it's been in previous flicks and the Asian-style, over-the-top blood sprays are actually awesome when the effects aren't cheated with CGI. (At one point Freddy turns into a hookah-smoking caterpillar and the visual's not even good enough to pass on a television production, much less a multi-million dollar movie.)

In the intro, Freddy explains to the audience that he's lost all his power because nobody remembers him anymore. So he appears as Jason's mother in a dream and tells the slasher to go kill teenagers on and around Elm Street. Jason, always the mama's boy, does as he's told. And with every kill, Freddy becomes a little more powerful.

This is less of a Jason movie and more of a Freddy movie which just happens to have Jason in it. Freddy's moves are pretty logical in this far-fetched context while Jason, as always, becomes inexplicably attracted to the idea of killing the lead characters, showing up when the script demands it, but never really having a reason. It feels very much like Jason Takes Manhattan in that regard. Fortunately, I didn't call bullshit nearly as much, but I did in the scene where Jason gets his machete stuck in a table which looks like a sheet of balsa wood.

Anyway, the people of Springwood have figured out that the idea of Freddy is a kind of contagion among children who live there. As a result, any teen who has ever uttered his name is institutionalized and placed on an experimental drug which keeps them from dreaming. I actually thought this was an interesting idea which could have stood alone in a movie that wasn't about Freddy or Jason, but the filmmakers manage to explore the idea sufficiently.

At one point Jason and Freddy battle each other in the dream world, where Freddy discovers Jason is terrified of water. Thematically, it makes sense to introduce the idea that one is terrified of water while the other is terrified of fire, but when did Jason develop this fear? The water is where he spends most of his downtime, not to mention he had zero problems with it in Jason Takes Manhattan (at one point in that movie, it's suggested he walks to Manhattan on the ocean floor, Godzilla style).

There's a scene in which Jason is set ablaze, and he pursues his victims through a cornfield, setting everything he touches on fire. It's a great visual, like nothing we've ever seen in a Jason movie, and I admit the final fight is both satisfying and appropriately brutal. The more I try to find things I disliked about this movie, the more I remember all the stuff I loved. Hell, I enjoyed the movie about as much as I enjoyed The Final Chapter... maybe more in some ways.

To those who maintain Jason X gets a pass because it was fun: Isn't this one a lot more fun? Not only that, it's a lot nicer to look at, too.

Girlfriend's review: "It was better than the last one."

Friday the 13th (2009) 97 minutes

This is it: the only Jason movie I hadn't seen prior to this marathon. Considering I was the one person who actually kind of liked Texas Chainsaw 3D, I wasn't dreading this reboot nearly as much as I probably should have been. It does seem like a step back, considering we've already had the Freddy/Jason fight we've been dreaming about for decades, but fuck it: I'm eleven movies deep at this point, might as well finish up.

So a group of friends go camping at Camp Crystal. Jason kills them all. Cue opening credits.

Six weeks later, another group of friends are heading to a remote cabin in the woods. Along the way, they meet the brother of one of Jason's victims, who's posting MISSING photos of his sister all over town. He's the dreamy haircut who's going to step up as the reluctant hero when the heroine's stereotypically douchey boyfriend nails her stereotypically promiscuous friend.

Speaking of haircuts, these teens are sweating their asses off in the middle of the summer heat, yet their hair always looks like they're ready for prom. These are not real people. These are supermodels. I don't like supermodels in my horror movies.

What makes this reboot less painful than most is the brief time spent examining Jason's origin. Literally everyone who wants to see a Jason movie knows how Jason came to be. There's no reason to explore his origin story anymore, ever. (The recently planned sequel was going to reopen that can of worms... I can't say I feel disappointed that it got canceled.)

There's a lot I disliked about this movie (the dialogue suggests the filmmakers have never been teenagers in their lives) and a lot I liked (plenty of stupid, gratuitous sex). I talk a lot about my dislike for CGI, but the CGI here is pretty tasteful... instead of using it to cheat gags which would have looked better with practical effects, it's used to show us things that literally couldn't have been accomplished without actually killing the talent. In fact, I can't think of any effects which made me laugh for the wrong reasons.

Though I'm glad it doesn't take place in space, I'm a little disappointed we're back in the woods. Not only has nearly every Jason movie taken place in the setting, nearly every slasher movie in general takes place there, too. The movie lags a little in spots, but overall I'm impressed. I kind of wish I saw it sooner.

This newer, quicker version of Jason is played by Derek Mears, who you might remember from Hatchet III. Mears, like Kane Hodder, seems to prove there's more to playing a slasher effectively than wearing a mask. (Come to think of it, the previous Jason actor was pretty good, too.)

Girlfriend's review: "Jason is quick, movie is slow." (I guess you can't please everybody.)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Friday the 13th: The Game comes out May 26th

I hereby declare this is Jason Week. Be sure to check back this Friday for a special treat... it's going to be the biggest Midnight Movie feature yet.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Void (2017) [Midnight Movie]

A man and a woman come racing out of a farmhouse, running for their lives. The woman is disabled by a shot to the back and the man disappears into the treeline. The shooters can finish the woman off with a clean blow to the head. Instead, they dig a can of gasoline out of the trunk of their car and set the woman on fire. The reason for their cruelty will become apparent later in the movie... sort of.

Sometime later, the deputy spots the man stumbling out of the woods. After getting the man to the local hospital, the building is surrounded, Assault on Precinct 13 style, by masked cultists, each brandishing a giant hunting knife. The shooters from the beginning of the movie show up, further complicating matters, though not as much as the Thing-like monsters lurking in the shadows.

Lord of Illusions, one of my favorite horror movies of the 90s, has this fantastic scene in which the villain grabs another character's head and sinks his fingers into his brain with supernatural ease. That's kinda what the cosmic entities in The Void do: they don't just deal in body horror, of which you'll see plenty, but they also get into your head and rattle around in there, seriously fucking up your day. This is a dizzying, disorienting, and not fully coherent movie about people going truly insane.

The reason it works is because these characters start out entirely sane, sincerely likable, and down-to-earth. Too many horror movies concoct stupid excuses for their characters doing stupid things. I've seen other fans of the genre reason that people do stupid things in stressful situations. Maybe. But it gets boring... hell, it's been boring for decades.

The Void thinks so, too. The main character doesn't want to use his gun, but he's not afraid to use it, either. Other characters have a tendency to keep their cool, that is until the living nightmare escalates to epic levels of mind-fuckery. The vaguely explained plot, which turns out to hinge on some pretty major coincidences, makes less and less sense the more you poke at it, but the ride is too thrilling to notice the holes until it's over.

I really liked this movie. However, whereas I think I might appreciate Split more on additional viewings, I think I might like this one a little less in the future. I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong and an additional viewing will actually answer a lot of the questions I have.

The first viewing, however, is a great ride any which way you slice it. These characters aren't stupid, the acting is good, and you'll see some seriously messed up shit.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

House II: The Second Story (1987) [Trailer]

I rented this movie so often when I was a kid, I should have just bought the damn thing. I plan on rewatching the entire House series for this year's 31 Days of Gore (only six months away), but I'm not looking forward to seeing House IV again.

So if you're wondering why I haven't seen The Void yet, it's because I'm an idiot. Expect me to feature it this Friday.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Split (2017) [Midnight Movie]

Three teenagers are kidnapped by a man with split personalities. That's it. That's all you need to know. Either you want to see that or you don't.

It turns out I didn't. I feel like I might enjoy Split more if I ever see it again, a few years down the road, but right now I just don't take to PG-13 horror movies, even ones as technically impressive as this. Sure, I can think of a few exceptions, but horror shouldn't be this safe and wholesome. (Don't get me wrong... there's definitely a subplot that's going to disturb a lot of people.) 

It's a shame, too, because I really thought M. Night Shyamalan might be gravitating to the dark side after pulling off that disgusting stunt in The Visit. (If you've seen it, you know exactly which scene I'm talking about. If you haven't seen it, watch it while you're waiting for a delivery or when you're folding the laundry or something... it's okay at best.)

Horror should be like getting into a car with a stranger who turns out to be a madman. Yet Shyamalan is proving to be more like that goofy uncle who pulls the "uh-oh, the headlights went out!" gag on a dark but relatively safe stretch of country road. There's a madman in Split, who's exactly like the madmen in countless horror movies, only this madman's portrayed by a capable actor who really doesn't go as far overboard as a B-movie star would.

Give me a Shatner or a Jeffrey Combs. Give me a Joe Spinell or a John Lithgow. When I pay to see madmen, I want them to bounce off the fuckin' walls. And don't tell me, "But this is realistic!" We departed reality way back when that second trailer dropped. (That trailer, by the way, was the sole reason I decided against seeing Split in theaters.)

When I take issue with the rating, my problem isn't that the movie's not filled with wall-to-wall violence and profanity. My problem is that the rating assures us everything's going to be okay. We'll see some disturbing stuff for sure, but we won't lose any sleep over it. 

Technically speaking, it's a good movie, but it just didn't work for me. Half the time I couldn't believe it was made by the same guy who made Unbreakable, one of my favorite movies of the 2000s. The rest of the time, I realized I'd rather be watching Green Room again, which was a lot less predictable and anything but comforting. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Guillermo del Toro on Fulci's Zombie

I haven't seen Zombie in years, yet the "shark versus zombie" scene is still one of the most memorable things I've ever seen on film. I always thought del Toro was a cool guy, but this video just made him seem a helluva lot cooler. I have the movie on Anchor Bay's widescreen VHS (I think it was one of the last new tapes I bought), but this is one I'd love to get on Blu-Ray.

So I think Split is available to rent now. I'm probably going to post my thoughts on it this Friday.

* * *

The Black Pyramid pinball machine is mostly operational and it has been since Saturday morning. I bought a ton of stuff for it, but only needed around four dollars of resistors and diodes to get it playable. I did some flipper work and changed out the playfield rubbers, but haven't gotten around to replacing bulbs yet. The rest is routine maintenance (I already did these ground modifications on the solenoid driver board) while keeping an eye out for leads on replacement pieces. Hopefully I'll be getting back to my Pac-Man restoration soon, but I really hate painting and woodwork, which makes the pinball project a pretty satisfactory change of pace.

Last weekend my friend and I did around four hours of driving to get to Oklahoma City and back. The arcade there was a lot more impressive than I expected. I finally got to play a real-life version of Whoa Nellie, which I knew I would like, but it's somehow one of my favorite pins ever. The biggest surprise was Jersey Jack's Wizard of Oz. I had absolutely no desire to play it, but it turns out the game's a blast (Stern's AC/DC was like that for me, too). I was initially turned off by the theme. Not that I have a problem with Wizard of Oz, but I didn't expect it to lend itself so well to pinball. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Silent Rage (1982) [Midnight Movie]

Since I featured two new movies in a row, I'm happy to get back to older movies this week. Forgive any typos because I almost forgot to do the Midnight Movie this week. (I'm preparing to go on a trip to Cactus Jack's tomorrow and I've been repairing my first pinball game ever since I got off work today.)

As far as I know, Silent Rage is the only 80s slasher movie which stars Chuck Norris. It's not a great slasher movie, but it's a pretty good Chuck Norris movie. In a nutshell, a mad science experiment goes wrong, which makes a serial killer impervious to bullets. That's right: guns can't stop him, but you know what can? Chuck Norris's fists.

The movie opens with an impressive long-take of the killer's residence. The camera follows him from the moment he wakes up to the second he picks up an ax and murders his housemates. There's some surprisingly complicated choreography going on here and it involves several performers, three of which are children who manage to hit their marks as well as the adults. In fact, the entire movie looks better than your typical slasher movie, though not as gory as a lot of the other stuff that came out around the same time.

After the murdering spree, Chuck Norris and his police partner Stephen Furst (yes, Flounder from Animal House) arrive on the scene. Flounder acts like a complete dope while Norris, brave as ever, knowingly enters the home of the crazed killer without so much as removing his pistol from its holster. When Norris fails to placate the man, the other police blast him to kingdom come. The serial killer is then taken to the hospital under the care of Ron Silver, who's probably the best actor in the movie. There, mad scientists spout a bunch of technobabble, talk about revolutionizing medicine, and inject their experimental healing serum into the bad guy's bloodstream.

You can see where this is going, yes? Like most slasher movies, there's a kill or two in the beginning of the movie, but we don't see the killer in action again until the movie's halfway through. Unlike most slasher movies, it doesn't bore the ever-lovin' shit out of you in the meantime. This stuff isn't high art—nor is it trying to be—and it's about as cheesy as it can get. But you know what? At least it ain't boring. Even when Flounder's jokes fall spectacularly flat, you smile at how genuine it all is.

So it turns out Ron Silver's sister (Toni Kalem) is Chuck's old flame from six years prior. They rekindle their relationship (this is where the cheese comes into play) and decide to run off to Chuck's cabin in the mountains. The killer has other plans: targeting Kalem's family.

At first it's hard to put your finger on what makes this admittedly dumb movie work, but then there's a scene in which Flounder expresses doubts about his ability to handle stressful situations. Whereas the star of other tough guy movies would have treated him like an absolute baby, Chuck comforts the character, assuring him he's gonna do just fine. You'd expect the "rookie gets killed immediately" cliche, but the movie doesn't go there, either. 

Chuck isn't a particularly great actor and his fight moves aren't all that legendary. I can see why some people have trouble understanding the appeal. Sometimes even I have trouble understanding why I like his movies so much. Silent Rage is a good reminder. It's just a fun little movie.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Logan (2017) [Midnight Movie]

I generally like MCU movies (more than X-Men movies, in fact), but the stylistic continuity is limiting to what the filmmakers can do. Each movie is different, to an extent, but directors aren't allowed a whole lot of breathing room, which is a shame because the franchise attracts such big names. I want to see Kenneth Branagh make a Kenneth Branagh movie starring Thor, not a run-of-the-mill MCU movie. Meanwhile, Edgar Wright's removal from Ant-Man still feels like we missed out on something great.

X-Men's stylistic continuity, on the other hand, has been thoroughly torched, tossed out the window, and struck by a large truck. The varying tone has made the franchise a little spotty (to put it nicely), but it's apparently given director James Mangold a whole lot of breathing room—the same kind of breathing room Christopher Nolan had when he rebooted the Batman franchise. 

This isn't a Wolverine film. It's a James Mangold film. And it's probably my favorite mainstream comic book movie since Richard Donner's Superman. I've merely liked X-Men movies up until now. Here's the first one I loved.

It's notable something this different got made with such a huge IP. It just doesn't move like a carefully plotted action movie. It moves like a deliberate drama and feels like a classic western. Usually when I see these movies, I'm reminded of all the other comic book movies. This one reminded me of Clint Eastwood's A Perfect World and Unforgiven.

The first time we see Logan, he's sleeping off a hangover in the back of the limo he drives for a living. He's awakened by the sound of thugs trying to steal his wheels. He tells them exactly what you'd expect Wolverine to say: "You don't want to do this." Yet you get the feeling Logan's talking to himself this time. He's old, he's limping, and when the thugs shoot him, the wounds remain for the remainder of the movie. He's also experiencing a bit of blade-extension dysfunction.

It turns out Logan's healing factor gets weaker the older he gets and, as a result, he's experiencing the effects of adamantium poisoning. (He's something like two hundred years old at this point... it's especially amusing to see the world famous hero require reading glasses.) Logan lives with Professor X and the mutant albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant, who's great in the role) in the middle of nowhere. It's likely they're the last mutants alive. Charles is worse for the wear than Logan; the first time we see the professor he's zooming about jerkily in his wheelchair, mumbling like a madman. Sometimes he has seizures, which puts everybody within a large radius at risk of death by telepathic shock.

And Charles cusses now... a lot. He's gotten quite curmudgeonly in his old age, earning some of the best laughs in the movie. Patrick Stewart manages to play him with equal amounts of realism and dignity. 

One day Logan is hired to drive a woman and her daughter across the country. It turns out the little girl is more than what she appears to be: she has mutant abilities which are suspiciously like Wolverine's. Naturally, the secret lab responsible for her existence sends their highly militarized security team to get her back. The leader of the team is the film's villain, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Pierce doesn't like "muties" and refers to his band of cyber-enhanced killers as "the good guys." This is probably the best movie villain since Fury Road's Immortan Joe.

There's a bit of a surprise about midway through the movie. I'm amazed the trailers haven't spoiled it. Lately, there have been a lot of surprises in movies like this, but when the surprises are, "Oh, look, another crossover cameo," they kind of lose their effectiveness, don't they? The surprise in Logan isn't like that at all. It's jarring, yes, but far from distracting.

What's special about Logan is it sticks with you like a real fucking movie. I'm still piecing together some of the backstory and it occurred to me, a day later, that a lot of this stuff had deeper meaning than I initially thought. The balls-to-the-wall action at the end almost feels at odds with the rest of the movie, but maybe the movie earned it.

I saw the trailer for Justice League after watching Logan and I've gotta be honest: I pretty much couldn't care less. I have a feeling a lot of superhero movies are going to feel old hat compared to this one. There are certain ways these movies comfort us, even when we're sick of being comforted, so I'm not convinced this is the right time for the DCU to adopt a Saturday morning cartoon vibe. Meanwhile, Logan has more in common with The Road than its own franchise. And man, it feels so damn fresh.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

America 3000 (1986) [Trailer]

I have an irresistible attraction to movies with four-digit numbers in the title. Love is the only thing worth nuking for! Great trailer, but I suspect it's a shit movie. 

Come back this Friday, midnight CT to read my thoughts on Logan.

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Monday I bought a pinball machine and a Blitz '99 conversion in a TMNT cab. I fixed the monitor (Looks brand new with no burn-in whatsoever!), but I haven't even touched the Blitz PCB or hard drive yet. The pinball machine is a little overwhelming, to be honest. I haven't done much other than poking it with a multi-meter and checking fuses, but I have read about fifty-million pinball-related webpages in about two days.

As for my Pac-Man restoration project, the cab is sanded and primed, but a tube rejuvenator verified a heater-cathode short in the monitor. Looks like I'm doing my first tube-swap very soon, but I'm still exploring options.

As always, you can see pictures of my games on my Instagram