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John’s Horror Corner: Saw II (2005), more brutal, more death traps, more ominous tapes, more Jigsaw!

September 18, 2017

MY CALL:  Less tactful and more brutal, this was a very different film than part I.  Following very much the trajectory between Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), we shift from a film driven by atmosphere and characters to one of world elaboration and gorier effects.  But honestly, it’s a rather satisfying shift.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Saw:  Well, after Saw (2004) there were six sequels and now part VIII, Jigsaw (2017). Cube (1997) and Se7en (1995) share some of the death trap and methodical villain themes, respectively.  Subsequent torture porn for gory thrill-seekers would include Hostel I-II (2005, 2007; but not part III), Martyrs (2008; not the remake), The Human Centipede films (2009, 2011, 2015), and the I Spit on Your Grave series (1978 original, 2010-2015).  For more fun and innovative kills I’d also recommend the Final Destination films (2000-2011; but skip part 4).

Show me a horror sensation and I’ll show you a swiftly released sequel, and that’s exactly what happened with the Saws (2004) success—not that I’m complaining!  Just one year after the original’s release, James Wan (The Conjuring 1-2, Insidious 1-2) stepped back to the role of executive producer and writer Leigh Whannell (Insidious 1-4, Saw I-III, Cooties) joined director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw III-IV, The Devil’s Carnival, Mother’s Day) for parts II and III.

At the end of Saw (2004), we watched in shock as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell; Boogeyman 2-3, Saw I-VII) stood up and strolled away after playing the unobtrusively limp centerpiece to his last death trap, leaving poor Adam (Leigh Whannell) to die in a filth-smeared bathroom.  But now with his mystique largely revealed, what will this sequel have to offer from our yet more terminally ill John Kramer (Jigsaw)?

Whereas part I was thoughtful and character-driven, this sequel replaces much of its class with crass.  More akin to a teen slasher, our victims awaken in a deadly funhouse of horrors that is more chaotically Cube (1997) than tactfully Se7en (1995). The rules are less clear, the tape player is less eerie, and our villain’s purpose is somewhat obscured. I’m not saying I don’t like it. I’m simply saying that the very elements that drew many fans to part I (its subtlety) has been rather sidelined.  However, that said, we do develop Kramer’s motive and back story.  And while many fans adored the characters of part I, others reveled more in its brutal nature.  And it’s that very brutality that gets turned up quite a bit in this sequel.

As detectives Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg; Dead Silence, Saw III-IV) and Kerry (Dina Meyer; Bats, Saw II-IV, Piranha 3D) race against time to locate Kramer’s murder house, his victims begin to turn on one another.  The aspect of choice deciding his victims’ fate is less of a driving factor, now taking a back seat to their own murderous desperation.  Adding intrigue is that the only survivor (Shawnee Smith; The Blob, Saw I-III/VI, The Grudge 3) from part I has returned to play another deadly game.

Perhaps more mean-spirited, this sequel is more gruesomely cringe-worthy than its predecessor.  There’s much suicidal and self-mutilation imagery, wrist and throat cutting, impalement and skinning.  If anyone has an issue with needles, the “syringe scene” will make you reel.  No one even dies, yet it’s one of the most uncomfortable things one can watch.  Yikes!

Overall, this was a very different film than part I.  Following very much the trajectory between Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), we shift from a film driven by atmosphere and characters to one of world elaboration and gorier effects.  I miss James Wan’s more thoughtful influence, but honestly it remains a rather satisfying shift in style.

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John’s Horror Corner: Saw (2004), James Wan’s progenitor of modern torture porn is all about the characters!

September 16, 2017

MY CALL:  Although unrelentingly gruesome at times, its gore always finds integral purpose.  This film is more about its characters than its death, and never dares to revel in its brutality in lieu of story.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Saw:  Well there are six sequels and now part VIII, Jigsaw (2017). Cube (1997) and Se7en (1995) share some of the death trap and methodical villain themes, respectively.  Subsequent torture porn for gory thrill-seekers would include Hostel I-II (2005, 2007; but not part III), Martyrs (2008; not the remake), The Human Centipede films (2009, 2011, 2015), and the I Spit on Your Grave series (1978 original, 2010-2015).  For more fun and innovative kills I’d also recommend the Final Destination films (2000-2011; but skip part 4).

Director James Wan (The Conjuring 1-2, Insidious 1-2) and writer Leigh Whannell (Insidious 1-4, Saw II-III, Cooties) don’t like to play by the standard horror rules.  This pair leaves all the guilty tropes behind and I love them for it!

Wan spins atmosphere like orb-weavers spin webs; elegantly elaborate, yet walk into it and all you’ll find is panic!  From the very start, things look hopeless as we meet Doctor Gordon (Cary Elwes; The Bride, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and Adam (Leigh Whannell) in a filthy bathroom of a clearly long-condemned building.  The walls are painted in feces, they’re chained to rusty pipes, and the corpse of an apparent suicide lays in its own blood with a tape player in one hand and a gun in the other.  Oh, right.  And they find tapes with ominous instructions regarding their fate.  How’s that for tone?

As these two quibble over who’s to blame for how they got there, flashbacks account detectives Tapp (Danny Glover; Predator 2), Sing (Ken Leung; Lost, Red Dragon) and Kerry (Dina Meyer; Bats, Saw II-IV, Piranha 3D) busy trying to solve the string of deaths linked to the terminally ill Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell; Boogeyman 2-3, Saw II-VII).  Elaborate, mechanized death traps lead to frantic self-mutilation sparing Jigsaw from ever having to perform murders himself.  Among his macabre masterpieces we discover tangled webs of razor wire and the iconic jaw-breaking reverse bear trap.

This film is unrelentingly gruesome at times, yet its gore always finds integral purpose.  People desperately plunge their hands in putrefied stool or bloody tangled intestines literally searching for freedom. They grovel as they realize the horrors they must perform to survive…like sawing off their own foot or killing a fellow victim of Jigsaw’s cruel game.

Despite the occasional brutality, this film is more about its characters than its death.  Our mastermind may kill most who befall his plans, but he wants those who actually live to appreciate their lives differently.  Amanda (Shawnee Smith; The Blob, Saw II-III/VI, The Grudge 3) is our lone survivor, and she gives a tremendous performance as a hysterical victim.  Between her, Zep (Michael Emerson; Lost), an obsessed detective and Gordon’s wife (Monica Potter; The Last House on the Left), we are up to our neck in red herrings that sort themselves out to our satisfaction.

This really set the stage for modern torture porn—although the script seems so thoughtful that the application of this subgenre feels on the verge of derogatory.  This film never dares to revel in its brutality in lieu of story. Cube (1997) and Se7en (1995) clearly colored Wan’s palate, but didn’t overly guide his brush strokes.  All resistance feels futile from the moment the set-ups are revealed, everyone dies, and evil wins with nary a silly nor ill-explained nor eye-rollingly ironic twist to be found.

Anyone who hasn’t yet seen this is in for a treat.

MFF Podcast #105: 2012 Movies, Forgettable Characters and Alien: Covenant

September 16, 2017

You can download the pod on Itunes or LISTEN TO THE POD ON BLOG TALK RADIO.

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

The MFF podcast is back and we are talking about Alien: Covenant, bearded movie characters, and weird movie tropes. Alien: Covenant is a strange little thing that left us with lots of random questions that we attempt to answer in this podcast. Here are some of the questions we have:

  1. Who makes the Engineers cloaks?
  2. Why do people always wander off by themselves?
  3. If a cyborg asked you to stick your head in a gross pod would you do it?
  4. What are the names of the new xenomorphs?

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As always we answer random listener questions and ponder why I love Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets so much.  If you are a fan of the podcast make sure to send in some random listener questions so we can do our best to not answer them correctly. We thank you for listening and hope you enjoy the pod!

You can download the pod on Itunes or LISTEN TO THE POD ON BLOG TALK RADIO.

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

The Blackcoat’s Daughter: A Patient Horror Film That Builds to Something Truly Memorable

September 12, 2017

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The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a slow burning horror film that builds to something pretty great. I feel like the entire film is based upon one line and as the film progresses it all begins to make sense. It is very simple and effective in its violence, plotting and shock value. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised at the mayhem that had just unfolded in front of me. First-time director/writer Oz Perkins should be applauded for creating a lot with little.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter revolves around two students stuck at their boarding school during the winter break. Rose (Lucy Boynton) is the cooler older student who just might be pregnant (older boyfriend) and Kat (Kiernan Shipka) is the freshmen creeper who might or might not be possessed by something terrible. Also, we are thrown into another story featuring a distraught woman named Joan (Emma Roberts) who is hitchhiking her way to an undisclosed location with a nice married couple. Eventually, the two stories collide but not before we get some insane violence, demon worship and lots of blood.

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The performances are all solid and the true standout is Kiernan Shipka. She plays the character with the right amount of unhinged creepiness and earnestness. You feel for her and whatever inhabits her is truly mean and has no intention of playing games or not hurting people. I also respect that there are zero twists that occur during the 95-minute runtime. The film unfolds at its own leisure and gives you exactly what you need to know and not much more.

If you like slow burn horror that features solid performances and a great payoff I totally recommend you check out The Blackcoat’s Daughter.

 

John’s Horror Corner: Hellraiser VIII: Hellworld (2005), the only movie in the franchise I didn’t like (so far).

September 9, 2017

MY CALL:  I enjoyed parts I-VII only to utterly despise this sequel.  Very bad, both as a Hellraiser sequel and as a random horror flick.  Just bad.  MORE MOVIES LIKE HellworldBe sure to see Hellraiser (1987) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) first, of course. Then maybe Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth (1992) and Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996).  Hellraiser: Inferno (2000), Hellseeker (2002) and Hellraiser: Deader (2005) are more standalone films, along with this part VIII.

Directed by Rick Bota (Haven, Hellraiser VI-VIII), this eighth installment to the Hellraiser franchise follows Inferno (2000), Hellseeker (2002) and Deader (2005) by presenting another stand-alone story.  But unlike Bota’s other sequels (VI and VII), I can comfortably say this is the only Hellraiser film I was completely unable to enjoy…although I haven’t seen part IX yet.

This direct-to-video movie feels like just that, with lousy acting, deplorable special effects and a script that doesn’t even try.  In fact, the only thing this flick delivers effectively is nudity.  Honestly, I’m a bit confused.  How and why were Bota’s other Hellraiser sequels so superior to this?

In this uninspired franchise installment, Hellworld is a popular interactive videogame and such notions as Cenobites and opening the Puzzle Box are common objectives of the game.  A group of savvy gamers (including Katheryn Winnick; The Dark Tower, Vikings and Henry Cavill; The Immortals, Red Riding Hood, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice) find themselves invited by a mysterious host (Lance Henriksen; Pumpkinhead, Harbinger Down,The Pit and the Pendulum) to the Leviathan House for a Hellworld-themed carnal sex party.

To say this sequel was phoned in would be polite.  Nothing about this felt like a Hellraiser movie.  Pinhead (Doug Bradley; Hellraiser I-VII) was just forced into the script, the Box’s mythology isn’t developed, the Cenobites didn’t matter at all, and the kills could have been from any stupid Saw knock-off.  We didn’t even get the hooked chains!  And when someone did get killed the effects were awful (maybe “basic” would be a more fair term here).  Even the depictions of the game were aggravatingly lazy.

Despite all the dialogue about the game, it never really felt important.  Nothing did.  This film serves as an example of the complete and utter failure to contemporize a long-running horror series.  I wonder if this film’s quality had to do with it being filmed almost immediately after part VII.  Sigh…

This film is bad, both as a Hellraiser story and as a DTV horror flick.  I wouldn’t even recommend it for Hellraiser film completists.  There’s no reason to watch this except for self-abuse.

John’s Horror Corner: Stephen King’s It (2017), a worthy re-adaptation and R-rated remake of 1990’s TV-PG Pennywise.

September 8, 2017

MY CALL:  A worthy, scarier approach to Stephen King’s book delivered with a Pennywise worthy of Curry’s original performance.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Stephen King’s ItFor more movie adaptations based on Stephen King’s books and other work, try the original TV mini-series of Stephen King’s It (1990), Creepshow (1982), Cujo (1983), Needful Things (1993), The Night Flier (1997) or Pet Sematary (1989), to name a few. If it’s evil clowns you desire then there is only one absolute: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988). If you simply enjoyed the band of young misfits facing evil, try the Netflix Original series Stranger Things. And, for those who like creepy hauntings of our inner demons, try the very dark Flatliners (1990; which also has a 2017 remake).

REMAKE SIDEBAR: Other quality horror remakes include Friday the 13th (2009), Carrie (2013), Evil Dead (2013), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), The Fly (1986), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Thing (1982; yes, this was a remake) and The Mummy (1999; adventure genre). Those to avoid include Poltergeist (2015), The Thing (2011; a prequel/remake), Cabin Fever (2016), A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Night of the Demons (2009), Body Snatchers (1993; the second remake), The Invasion (2007; the third remake), War of the Worlds (2005) and The Mummy (2017; total adventure-style reboot-imagining). I’m on the fence about An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Halloween (2007) and Fright Night (2011), bad remakes but decently entertaining movies.

Attempting to step out of Tim Curry’s impassive shadow, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård; Hemlock Grove) delivers a new level of terror.  His white-powdered menace palpably penetrates our sensibilities with every glare and smile.  The film may be littered with loud noise-based jump scares and quick-cuts, but the horror definitely doesn’t rely on such practice. Instead, these tactics only augment the twitchy malevolence of film’s best known demon clown.

For his second feature length film (and second atmospheric jumpy horror film), director Andy Muschietti brings some familiar stylings from his first film Mama (2013), while carefully sampling Alvarez’ Evil Dead (2013) remake (i.e., Bev’s bloody bathroom scene) along with some subtle echoes from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).  Numerous scenes steer us differently from the 1990 adaptation, whereas others follow along a very familiar trajectory—both in ways I enjoyed.  And while several iconic scenes were recreated (e.g., Georgie meeting Pennywise at the sewer), they all bite harder than their television predecessor.  You’ll know what I mean when you see it.

Contemporized from the book, we follow a group of late ‘80s kids as they experience shocking loss, ensuing “hauntings”, and learn the origin of this evil.  With seasoned skill beyond their years to capture fear, dire urgency, panic, insecurity and youthful drive, this young cast outstandingly depicted Bill (Jaeden Lieberher; Midnight Special), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor; Ant-Man)Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard; Stranger Things), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer; Tales of Halloween), Stan (Wyatt Oleff; Guardians of the Galaxy Vols. 1-2) and…oh, poor Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott).

Taking a break from the accolades, I felt (at times) the pacing was way off.  And while no individual scene was bad, sometimes they didn’t find the right synthesis when pasted together into this feature (the “well house” scene comes to mind).  I could dwell on this, but I’d rather celebrate the film.  There: that’s my negative section.

As a fan of the book (terrorizing my youth when I read It in the early 90s) and the now-unwowing TV mini-series (likewise scarier back when it was released, when I was 9), I estimate this to be a worthy adaptation of King’s work.  It’s scary, really scary—the visuals are jaunting!  I jumped a lot. It’s creepy, really creepy—they nailed the dire atmosphere!  I was often waiting, dreading the next visual.  It’s gory, gorier than you’d expect—we finally have the right budget and the right mind behind the camera to give justice to an entity that literally feeds on fear rather than flesh.

The special effects were on point for me.  The bathroom scene—wow.  Pennywise’s twisted toothy maw—poor Georgie, and double wow!  The slide projector scene—whoa!  The final confrontation with Pennywise was odd, but neat.  There’s a lot to enjoy here, and it’ll all make you jump and wince and reel.

Because this “Part I” took a different chronology than the book or mini-series, you may feel a bit disoriented by things that these kids are doing which (in 1990) their adult counterparts did…or, sort of did.  Some liberties are taken.  Just go with it.

Back in 1990, I was thrilled to see It on-screen.  Now I’m not only thrilled to see it receiving a greater reimagining, but also that this film satisfies in more ways than just Pennywise as Curry’s performance drove the first film.  We now have the cast, the budget, the medium, the filmmaking prowess and a great Pennywise to bring this experience together!

John’s Horror Corner: Fright Night 2 (2013), a non-sequel filled with bloody boobs paying no proper homage to the 1985 original or the 2011 remake.

September 8, 2017

MY CALL:  Not at all a sequel, rather this reimagining relies on our love of the original Fright Night (1985) while offering a new perspective to our vamp’s origins.  Not very good, but moderately entertaining.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Fright Night 2Well, you should really see Fright Night (1985) and Fright Night II (1988). Maybe even the Fright Night (2011) remake, which offers a lot in the way of cast performance but little in the way of satisfying effects.

Director Eduardo Rodriguez (Stash House, El Gringo) does not get off to a promising start.  After a very “direct-to-video” opening vampire sequence, we meet a class of college students studying abroad in Romania.  Among them are Charley Brewster (Will Payne), his ex-girlfriend Amy (Sacha Parkinson), and his rude friend Evil Ed (Chris Waller; The Sleeping Room, Inbred).

If, at this point, you feel a glimmer of hope that this will continue the story of 2011’s Fright Night, you’d be wrong.  This is not Charley’s continued story after surviving 2011’s undead events in Las Vegas.  These are totally unrelated characters of the same names or, in alternate perspective, they are the same characters in a different universe reliving a “similar” chain of events as our much better casts did in 1985, 1988 and 2011.  In other words, this is really in no way a sequel.  More a reimagining.  And, as such, a most unwowing Peter Vincent (Sean Power) now hosts a reality Monster Hunters TV show and Gerri Dandridge (Jaime Murray; Dexter, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena) is a female Romanian professor of European Art History who engages in lesbian vampire sex scenes that feel more gratuitous than in the sexual spirit of vampirism.

This movie echoes some of the iconic scenes of the original Fright Night (1985)—e.g., Charley’s neighborly voyeurism and Ed’s encounters with the main characters. Our Gerri, much as 1985’s Chris Sarandon, also takes every opportunity to let Charley live…although I can’t surmise why until it is blatantly explained to Amy (and the audience) in the form of some needlessly elaborate “vampire blood prophecy malarkey” shoehorned through the characters’ mouths.  And speaking of malarkey, blood and boobs is the name of the game here. There are silly over-dramatizations, drippy baths of blood, a heavy dose of gratuitous nudity, some messy blood spurts, nonsensically long strip club scenes, a montage of Charley freaking out, and a vampire battle royale as our “prophecy” unfolds before our lobotomized eyes.

We learn that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a mix of Elizabeth Bathory and Vlad the Impaler.  Gerri’s play on Bathory was obviously nothing to the historic The Countess (2009)—which was much classier than the blood-soaked boobs of this non-sequel—but Gerri (and Jaime Murray’s performance) remains the best aspect of this movie.  The coolest parts involved her abilities to shadow walk (as in Subspecies and Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and using her bat affinity for sonar (which I don’t even think I’ve seen in a vampire movie before).  She looked sleek and sexy and, not that it’s a bad thing, but her vamp style reminded of 30 Days of Night (2007) or Blade (1998). The most redeeming scene (in its entirety) of the film was actually its comic-style animation flashback explaining her origins.

Most other critical elements failed.  All dialogue in Evil Ed’s scenes were bad, the action largely sucked (and I don’t know why there were so many “fight scenes”), the CGI was obvious (an intestinal explosion and a gooey melting scene), Ed’s fake fangs were so bulky it muffled his speech, and the gore make-up (an eye gauge and Evil Ed’s melted pizza face) was really just so-so most of the time.  I guess they tried…it just wasn’t really enough for me.

Although Gerri’s final transformation was moderately entertaining…and, for some reason, the latex monster had demon boobs!  Like an alien demon beast (that could have been from any random movie)… with no clothes…and boobs!  What’s with this movie and boobs?  LOL.

Yes…like it or not, you see this thing’s boobs.

This movie had so much nudity (for a sequel to a mainstream movie, anyway), it’s trailer should have just been blood-speckled boobs and Gerri being a sleek badass.  This “non-sequel” is dumb. The premise was wasted on this reimagining and should have been used for a more serious standalone vampire film rather than a direct-to-video sequel (that really isn’t a sequel) of a remake.  And while a few scenes and depictions actually had some heart, they were surrounded by so much drivel they were easily forgotten in the wake of eye-rolling stupidity.

But, hey. Loads of boobs, blood and badness mean that you could make a solid Bad Movie Tuesday evening with your friends. To be fair, knowing this movie is awful is the best way to enjoy it.

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