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Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood And The Second World War

April 23, 2014

Five Came Back book cover

Five Came Back tells the fantastic story of five directors who offered their services to the United States during World War II. The tremendous amount of research done by Mark Harris and his engaging writing delivers a page turner that is a must read for fans of film history and WWII. Harris navigates a linear timeline from the late 30s till the end of the war and details the evolution of five men and the world they live in. The men chronicled are Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life), William Wyler (Roman Holiday) John Huston (The Maltese Falcon), George Stevens (Shane) and John Ford (The Searchers).

These men  put their lives at risk and careers aside as they traveled the globe chronicling the World War. Their egos combined with their sense of duty provided the United States with countless hours of fantastic footage, training videos and evidence of atrocities. It is thrilling stuff that educates and enlightens us on the pysche of the directors and the issues arising from filming war.

Each man had a unique journey that evolved them as directors and humans. Their lengthy missions brought about post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, moral debates and loss of senses. They all came back to a different Hollywood and had to readjust to life at home. After reading about John Ford’s WWII exploits they give new meaning to his iconic final shot from The Searchers.

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Five Came Back gave me a much needed history of cinema. I’m ashamed to say I knew nothing about the directors contributions and the book has given me a deep respect for them. They weren’t perfect and their exploits were legendary. However, they risked their lives and helped the war effort.

Here are some of their many contributions.

John Ford filming the battle of Midway.

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William Wyler and the Memphis Belle

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Frank Capra and Mel Blanc gave the troops the bawdy Private Snafu

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Five Came Back is a must read for film fans and history buffs. Read it. Love it. Let me know what you think.

 

 

Antichrist (2009), brutal sexuality meets visual splendor in this provocative, disturbing film

April 21, 2014

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MY CALL: A brutally dark, intensely and weirdly and unnervingly erotic, AMAZING art house film brimming with an admixture of visual splendor and vile imagery. This is easily among the most provocatively messed up movies I’ve ever seen. MOVIES LIKE Antichrist: For relentless sexuality go for Nymphomaniac (2013). 127 Hours(2010) for a sensory adventure focusing on a single actor. For general intensity and random “holy shit” factor try A Serbian Film (2010) or Martyrs(2008). SIDEBAR: There are various edits out there. The truly unedited version has a running time of 108 minutes. The unedited 108 minute version is reviewed here.

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Lars von Trier (Nymphomaniac, Melancholia) sets a powerful mood in this visually stunning film straight from the opera-scored opening slow-motion sequence of a sex scene complete with pornographic penetration in the first 60 seconds. I know, I just mentioned penetration. But just trust me right out of the gates that this shot, however controversial or shocking, fits the scene perfectly like an artistic puzzle piece that has a significant story to tell. Whereas there is something ominous to be feared for sure, the scene is more a splendor to the eyes than a 1990s French noir perfume commercial–you know, the commercials that are so “out there” that you never knew what they were advertizing until they told you at the end. Some call this high art, others pornographic and provocative.

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This film strikes me as a challenge. We only ever see three actors, one of which is the child who dies in the opening sequence. As husband (“He”) and wife (“She”), Willem Dafoe (Nymphomaniac) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (Nymphomaniac, Melancholia, 21 Grams) carry every scene as nameless characters enduring the loss of their child, who died while they were having sex. He is an over-involved psychoanalyst (playing more the role of therapist than husband) attempting to guide her through her grief, which she serially transmutes into sexual fixation. In an effort to force her to properly grieve and face her mounting irrational fears he takes her to a secluded cabin in the woods, where the sexuality, tension and violence escalate…often, in fact, TOGETHER!

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Great acting, great film! As past tragedy begets the tragedy of their present, the Biblical symbolism rains down hard on these actors’ positively fearless journey venturing to dark places most actors wouldn’t dare.

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“Chaos reigns!”

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Strikingly sublime imagery stimulates us as we endure often unsettling profound emotions. The raw visceral nature of their surroundings parallels her ravaged, desperate psyche. The more he tries to deconstruct her mental torment, the more she in turn tries to disarticulate their sexuality.

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Gorgeous cinematography.

This is easily among the most provocatively messed up movies I’ve ever seen. Full frontal nudity, masturbation, sexual penetration, animal birth, violent sex scenes, violence against animals, violence against women, torture and genital mutilation are sprinkled about in this controversial (but far from conventionally exploitative) artistic endeavor. So, while I encourage adventurous cinephiles to accept the challenge of seeing this film to its end, let’s just not make a family night of it and DEFINITELY don’t watch it on a first date.

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John’s Horror Corner: Blood Gnome (2004), a failed movie about BDSM-loving flesh-eating fairy monsters

April 20, 2014

  blood_gnome_1MY CALL: This movie teaches us to Just say “gno” to drugs…and movies with Blood Gnome in the title! MOVIES LIKE Blood Gnome: I think Ghoulies (1985) is what you really wanted when you thought to yourself “how bad could this Blood Gnome movie be?”

Writer/director/editor John Lechago (Bio Slime, Killjoy 3, Killjoy Goes to Hell) has put together a real stinker! This movie has low film quality akin to a WikiLeaked sex video, lousy writing and even worse acting. This comes off as a poor student-made film. Given the present filmmaker’s skills, it should come as no surprise that nudity abounds (including a Julie Strain cameo) to cover up its shortcomings with juvenile entertainment. Lloyd Kaufman’s raunchy, exploitative Tromaville films are more attentively crafted than this crap.

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From the start we learn that a drug distributor has some little monsters in a crate. As horrible as this movie clearly is, this actually raised a brow in interest for me at first.

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A naked couple engaged in BDSM activities are killed by an invisible force.  Spoiler alert! Blood gnomes did it! A crime scene photographer (Vinnie Bilancio; Witchcraft XI, Bio Slime) is on to something strange when he sees a tiny bloody hand print and starts seeing invisible monstrous gnomes eating victims with his infrared camera setting.

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What’s preposterously stupid here is that he sees the gnomes eating the victims right in front of the CSI team! As if they’re being invisible meant that no one would see the masticated flesh or hear the slopping sounds of flesh-eating two feet away from them.

As if it was his job to solve the case, our photographer becomes involved with a dominatrix and his “research” takes the form of BDSM sessions. How this will help a photographer solve a string of evil gnome homicides, I have no idea! As a result, far more than telling a story about carnivorous fairies this movie succeeds at teaching the ABCs of BDSM to anyone completely ignorant to the subject. In fact, that may be the only thing this movie does successfully.

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The budget is bare bones low. It’s as if the special effects were paid for with whatever they had in their pockets at the time, which wasn’t much. The blood work is weak and the blood gnomes are less impressive than Muppets. In one scene we see a blood gnome birth and find out the source behind the drug…blood gnome afterbirth from some tentacled abomination. It’s never made clear what these monsters are or where they came from before some drug-dealing dominatrix got a hold of them. But I guess I’m glad I was spared having to endure any more screen time fumbling through a poorly rendered explanation.

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The effects are weak, but later in the movie the blood gnome attacks become marginally entertaining and much more frequent.

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I’d have to recommend that you skip this one.

John’s Horror Corner: Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell (2001), worse than the previous two evil genie movies, but still stretching a low gory budget for the fans

April 19, 2014

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MY CALL: All the gore and dumb plot but not of the Divoff’s canny evil cheeky charm of the previous release. A noticeable drop in quality for the franchise, but at least the effects are still fun and cheesy. MOVIES LIKE Wishmaster 3: Wishmaster (1997) and Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999) are both much better, largely for Andrew Divoff’s ability to appear credibly pleased with his Djinn’s evil. OTHER TITLES: This movie has two other subtitles. Most commonly listed as Beyond the Gates of Hell, this movie was also released as Sword of Justice and Devil Stone.

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First off, bad news guys. Andrew Divoff (Wishmaster, Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies) will not be returning to play the Monkey paw, wish-twisting Djinn. If you loved his performance in parts one and two, then maybe this movie isn’t for you.

After an opening montage of museum relics including something akin to Pinhead’s Hellraiser puzzlebox, the camera settles on a nightmare-plagued, semi-attractive college girl (A.J. Cook; Final Destination 2, Wer, Mother’s Day). Diana, having agreed to help her classics/mythology professor with some Iranian exhibit at a museum, snoops around and discovers the foreboding puzzlebox-looking artifact. I’ll give you all one guess at what’s inside? BINGO! A giant blood ruby! As if it made perfect sense to do this, she immediately rubs this ruby (which was already clean and sparkling) with a rag. Aaaaaaaaand GENIE! But just like the previous two movies, the genie never seems to arrive until after the ruby-rubber departs, leaving the genie with the need to find them.

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Instead the genie first encounters Diana’s professor, who wishes for a co-ed threesome, sees some boobs, and is killed for some reason.

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Then, with no Andrew Divoff lookalike to be found, the Djinn settles for him and takes his face.

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So now the Djinn looks like this…

Instead of this.

This box and ruby was shipped to her mythology professor who says the Iranian trinket is inscribed in Aramaic. So he teaches classic mythology, studies Iranian relics and reads Aramaic? Smart guy. I get that some academics have weird combinations of interests, but this is up there with Christopher Lloyd in Piranha 3D (2010) being a fish store owner who is an expert in piranha biology (so he’s into ichthyology), extinct piranhas and their fossils (a dash of paleontology; not too farfetched yet though), and the local subterranean bodies of water (yup, cave lakes) in a region with no piranha species (and now it’s ridiculous that he has a fish store there). Oh, and he owns a piranha fossil. Doesn’t that thing belong in a museum, bro?

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Anyway, the genie arrives and two things are very different about this movie compared to its predecessors. One, there is no highly memorable, uber-gory opening in which the genie must eat a soul to become fully constituted into the tentacle-headed monster we’ve come to love. And two, Andrew Divoff’s iconic evil voice has been replaced with some synthesizer-enhanced voice. It’s not good. Worse yet, the franchise’s budget clearly took yet another hit, leaving the Djinn’s skin looking as rubbery as ever.  And what’s with the goofy over-sized ears?

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Amazon’s editorial review claims this is “the goriest installment of the hit franchise yet.” That’s a blatant lie to sell DVDs, people! You’ll find more truth in the Djinn’s granted wishes! This is no more gory than previous installments…which is sufficiently, playfully gory. I’d say it’s the least gory, but not by a lot. The gore seems to drop with each subsequent sequel (and budget cut).

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It’s far beyond the stabs and blood in a typical slasher movie. Gross, gory scenes include “forced” magical liposuction-to-death and gutsy limb regeneration. Overall, the gore is a little less than part 2 (and way less than part 1) but the effects team made a decent effort with what they had. The classic Wishmaster “face peel” looks a bit lame in this movie and his genie magic is still depicted as cheaply-CGI’d blue electricity.

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The real downfall in this third installment–other than an actor who couldn’t fill Divoff’s shoes–was the Djinn’s appearance. If you think I’m being critical take another look at the Djinn’s make-up and prosthetics paint job. Like so many other lower budget horror movies, this sequel relies on nudity to fill the void…not that it needed it to be entertaining. I guess starving actress’ breasts are cheaper than rubber guts these days.

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The most totally random thing that happens is when, by Diana’s wish, her boyfriend Greg (Tobias Mehler; Disturbing Behavior, Carrie [2002]) gets transformed into an archangel (i.e., Greg now has blue eyes and a sword) for a painfully bad fight complete with Djinn-flipping, pew-throwing nonsense. This fight is about as bad as the story (which was admittedly about as bad in part 2) and the genie’s attempt at evil humor (which was actually loads of fun in part 2–did I mention how much I miss Andrew Divoff?).

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The twisted wishes are as lame as ever, there gore well doesn’t flow as abundantly, and Andrew Divoff’s replacement offers none of the fun personality that fueled the success of the first two installments. So, why watch this one? Honestly, despite the stupid story it’s not bad for a “fun” 2001 horror and it’s rather decent considering its budgetary constraints. The effects are largely biased towards the second half, but once you arrive there they make for an entertaining ride.

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John’s Horror Corner: Byzantium (2012), bringing a fresh, intelligent perspective to the secret lives of vampires

April 16, 2014

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MY CALL: An intelligent, superbly acted vampire story, serenely-scored and with a more realistic, fresh perspective. MOVIES LIKE Byzantium: Interview with a Vampire (1994) provides a more classical, romantic approach whereas We Are the Night (2010) keeps things totally modern and Euro-sleek.  For gorgeously lethal movies, the beauty of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006) and Hanna (2011) actually by far eclipse this film and are both highly recommended for the unique sensory-driven style.

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This finely shot film opens with an elegantly underspoken narration by Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan; Hanna, The Host), a young woman who reveals that her fate is bound to Clara (Gemma Arterton; Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Clash of the Titans). As we are cautiously introduced to these strong characters our eyes traverse one scene to the next, and with each we swiftly approach an understanding of their desperate lifestyle spent drifting and suppressing secrets.

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The acting is superb. Like Anne Rice’s Lestat, Clara portrays the ruthless, manipulative, survivalist parent whereas Eleanor (much as the resistant Louis) resents her mother’s actions. Director Neil Jordan (The Borgias, In Dreams, The Crying Game, Interview with a Vampire , The Company of Wolves) has an impressive résumé including period piece drama, sexual thriller, classical vampirism and gory non-mainstream fairy tale horror, so we I read he was directing this film let’s just say “you have my attention.” This film moves at a generally slow pace, punctuated with occasionally eventful blood flow. It is far from exciting; more “interesting” really. For even the slow seasons curry my curiosity of what fate will befall Eleanor, Clara, their relationship, their lives.

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Through a series of flashbacks we discover a more mysterious vampire origin; one that neither matches folklore nor is completely explained .

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Blood waterfalls on mysterious islands.

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These vampires walk in daylight, cast reflections and have no fangs, but live forever, crave blood and require invitation. The vampirism is not exactly presented subtly, but the focus is placed on Clara and Eleanor’s struggle to survive and the growing strain on their relationship. To protect this secret Clara would do anything. But it seems Eleanor yearns to share her secret. When she meets a brooding love interest (Caleb Landry Jones; The Last Exorcism, Antiviral) her willingness to suppress her secret wanes.

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The score is serene, able to lull a beast to calm before putting it down. It complements the thought-provoking, moody atmosphere so well as we estimate the dubious future of these vampires. The gore is abundant in brevity, but not distasteful, and occasional scenes are brutal, but appropriate. One shot of bloodletting was actually quite beautiful.

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I was never swept away by an Anne Rice-esque violent vampiric passion. But I remained engrossed in this story, beautifully told by characters with depth.

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Bad Movie Tuesday: Paranormal Activity: The Cut and Paste Antics of The Marked Ones

April 15, 2014

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Same story different setting. The Marked Ones tells the story of several friends who have to battle that dang Paranormal Activity coven. The jerky witches are at it again and their never ending quest of standing around looking menacing has become boring. The world of white bread witches blending with Mexican mysticism could have added a new wrinkle to the battle of good vs. evil vs. static camera. However, it can’t avoid all of the same traps and returns to the well once again.

The best parts of the film are the naturalistic performances, change of scenery and usage of GoPros. Gone are the big houses and we are welcome into the world of apartment living in Oxnard, California. Our three heroes are recent high school grads who get entangled in witches, blood eggs, obligatory basements and mysticism.

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The kids have potential and are likable but the script fails them as the stock scares add up to laughable heights. You know the creators have stopped trying when there is a ten minute segment involving a scantily clad woman and a predictable scare. The scene does nothing to further the film and instead plays off every horror cliché in the history of the planet.

You hope naively that the freshness of the first film will return and a new menace will appear. Will the two forces battle? Will Toby the pesky demon meet his match? Nope. You get the same stuff with a different cast. People are marked, the camera goes everywhere and it ends exactly like the third and fourth film. Cut, paste and make millions in box office off of a tiny budget.

The insult to horror lovers is the director/writer had a chance to bring back the innovation and make tons of money. However, unlike Final Destination 5 which felt fresh you get dumb villains and recycled plots points. The original Paranormal Activty featured a bad guy who was mysterious, dangerous and brutal. I remember the simple shot of footprints put me on edge because it was so minimal. Less is more in horror.

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The static camera and aura of evil scared the crap out of audiences and the movie made tons of money. However, nothing gold can stay and the series has been strip mined of everything that made it good (Read horror czars review of the series here). The evil has been explained and good villains have been replaced by stereotypical witches whom offer nothing in the way of excitement. The finale of Marked Ones is a groan fest that becomes unintentionally funny. I never thought I’d see a screaming witch get blown away by a shotgun toting gang member. The way in which the women sneak around in the beginning is betrayed in the finale as they scream and run while holding knives over their heads. All their mysterious work culminates in twenty feet of running and yelling? The whole thing felt lazy and it made me think of this scene from Austin Powers.

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You get to a point in your life when you tire of jerky witches and the evil things they do to people. You also grow tired of the same stock ending of creepy women surrounding a house whilst our heroes questionably lock themselves inside it. What brought me back to the dying series was the change of scenery and hope for something new. New = Money. The same = diminishing returns. The creators have ignored the newness and the box office has dropped. The films are profitable but imagine how much money they’d make if they were better.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is a simple cash grab that could have expanded upon its world via Mexican mysticism. However, it brings back those dang witches and the pesky Toby. Don’t watch it. Rent the original. Or check out Troll Hunter. It has nothing to do with witches but it is original and fun.

John’s Horror Corner: Under the Bed (2012), an utterly senseless yet fun slimy monster movie

April 14, 2014

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MY CALL: This monster movie makes no sense, is terribly inconsistent and felt like a scareless PG-13 movie for over 60 minutes. But it’s ending is so senselessly bonkers, gore-slathered and creature-tastic that it was all worth the end. MOVIES LIKE Under the Bed: I’ve got nothing. But staying in general theme I’d suggest Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark(2011) and The Boogeyman (2005). OTHER REVIEWS: Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #170.

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Novice director Steven C. Miller (Silent Night) takes a stab at an R-rated contemporized approach to the classic “monster under my bed” story. I was generally pleased with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark(2011) and The Boogeyman (2005), so why not give this a shot?

After years apart following the death of his mother, disheveled and angsty teen Neal (Jonny Weston; John Dies at the End, Taken 3) returns home to live with his father (Peter Holden; Alien Abduction) and younger brother Paulie. He had been sent away two years ago to “get well” after he burned the house down with his mother in it, defending himself from the monster residing under his bed. Now that he has returned, he learns his little brother has been tormented by the same demon every night.

The notion that an otherworldly monster can magically cross into our dimension through the floor under one specific kid’s bed is pretty silly. Terrifying, in fact. That it only does so in the dark while you’re asleep…even scarier. There was so much potential for dark figures and painfully drawn-out tension. But for some reason I never saw or felt either. And what about the story…actually, what exactly is the story? What drives this monster and how did it get in their house? Why did it want these boys? Are there more of these monsters? Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark(2011) and The Boogeyman (2005) made at least some effort to explain their monsters, their motivations, their origins and their behavior. But here, it just seems that this monster came with the house and its abilities and weaknesses seem to change without explanation as the movie persists. That’s really all we get.

Not willing to tell their parents this ridiculous story (as they haven’t in years past), the two brothers unite to fight this monster. They arm themselves with flashlights, tape, wire, a power drill and duct tape. But is this monster really a threat? Neal was once psychologically tortured and sleep-deprived by this creature. But that creature had 365 opportunities a year to get the upper hand on a sleeping child and somehow never won! After Neal left, his younger brother made it 730 consecutive nights unscathed. If this monster was really in the business of eating children to survive, it clearly would have starved to death by now. It doesn’t seem that menacing. A clawed hand reaching out from under the bed is scary, YES! But if it never does anything else…what’s the big deal?

I think the filmmakers really thought this movie was scary…..it wasn’t. Despite their addition of loud music prefacing “SOMETHING SCARY” every time the camera zooms in on something (like, for example, the edge of a menacing bed skirt), I never felt convinced that anyone old enough to buy their own ticket for this movie could possibly be frightened by it. Sophomoric scare attempts include a shaking washing machine and load noises, loud noises by themselves for no apparent reason, and close-ups of Neal looking at the bed with loud noises. Noticing a trend here?

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LOUD NOISES!

THEN ALL THE SUDDEN EVERYTHING CHANGED!

For over an hour we sit back and wonder why this movie isn’t rated PG-13 or even just PG. Then, after years of going hungry under the bed, the monster suddenly decides to show Neal’s family and the audience that it is, in fact, not at all bound to the bed!

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Neal and Paulie are next door when the creature arrives and twists off the neighbor kid’s head in a gloriously gory display. There’s that R-rating we came for! When they run back home it follows them and tears their dad’s head apart like a food processor. You hear that? It just followed them! Why the Hell did it just stay under the bed all these years? We went from a lame movie starring a rubber claw under a bed with loud music and no scares to a gore-slathered, slimy creature romp.

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The monster itself is actually pretty damned cool looking and the special effects are up to snuff as well. It looks like an inbred, disfigured Moorlock covered in snot.

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Why on Earth the director waited so long to reveal this creature, the action and the gore is beyond me because all of the exposition leading up to this was completely empty and the other characters–the parents, the neighbors, some random love interest that never goes anywhere–really never offered anything to the story, which never made any sense to begin with beyond the simple fact that inexplicably there is a child-hungry monster under Paulie’s bed.

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Earlier in the movie it is established that the monster only comes out in the darkness and is bound to beds…yet here it is in this well-lit living room and no where near a bed.

If things weren’t random enough yet, the monster actually fashions a hunter’s rope snare, traps Paulie like an animal and drags him into the under-the-bed slimy Netherworld! So, just like in Poltergeist II(1986), Neal ties a rope around his waist and goes after him armed with a flashlight trident.

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Someone should tell this kid that the monster forgot that light was its weakness.

I can’t even believe what I’m writing right now! WTF is going on in this movie? Were the writers all high? When they come back to–ummmm…reality I guess–the monster now literally has the ability to teleport before our eyes like Nightcrawler in X-Men. H ooray consistency! Then Neal is about to lose a fight against our under-the-bed teleporting Netherworld snot monster when he discovers that his dead mother’s ashes are its one weakness. Yeah! He throws his mother’s ashes on the monster and that’s what kills it!

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After a slow, confusing start this film eventually catapults its audience into a tumultuous spin cycle of bonkers gore, creature effects and action which–despite making no sense whatsoever–make the whole experience worth the price of admission. In fact, the last 20 minutes were so off-the-wall entertaining that I don’t regret buying this at all. Yes it’s very dumb. But it’s the kind of dumb I want to share with friends with an improvised drinking game.

Enjoy the madness.

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