Wednesday, November 1, 2017

What I Watched This October, Part 3: The Final Chapter's Revenge Strikes Back ... Again!

Up to this point, I've largely been talking about movies I'd already seen.  A few exceptions have snuck in -- Gerald's Game, Fender Bender, 1922 -- but mostly, I've been revisiting rather than exploring.

We've now reached the point at which I'm going to try to knock a bunch of things off my list that I've never seen.  Mostly (relatively) new horror films, which I am woefully behind on.

I begin that process by visiting an old friend of the Stephen King film universe, Mark Pavia.
  
  





You may know the name Mark Pavia from the 1997 King adaptation The Night Flier, which is probably my pick for most underrated King movie.

But we're not here to talk about The Night Flier, we're here to talk about Pavia's second film, Fender Bender, which came out in 2016.  Yes, you read that correctly: it was 19 -- 19! -- years between films for Pavia.

It doesn't show from Fender Bender, which I loved.



I feel bad for taking a year and some change to get around to seeing it.  It was on my radar immediately when Chiller aired it last summer, and I was aware of the Scream Factory Blu-ray that followed a few months later.  I just ... never got around to it.

I don't really know why, except I wonder if maybe I was afraid it would suck.  The Night Flier is one of the King films I feel most personally connected to, simply because so few King fans seem to know about it.  So the fact that I do, and the fact that I love it as much as I love it (warts and all), simply makes me more invested in it than I am in certain other King films.  As such, it makes me more invested in Mark Pavia, especially since it seems as if the poor guy just never has been able to catch a goddamn break since then.  Nobody -- me included -- is going to argue that The Night Flier is the fucking Shawshank Redemption or anything like that, but neither is it The Mangler or Children of the Corn.  This is a good, entertaining B-movie (anchored by an A-movie performance by lead actor Miguel Ferrer), and there is simple no scenario in which it should have done anything other than lead to more work for Pavia.  His filmography should be eight or ten films strong by now, and maybe they'd have all been great, or maybe some of them would have been garbage, but the bottom line is that they ought to be.

So maybe I was worried that Fender Bender would serve as an argument to the contrary.

Nope.  It proves my original point, which is that Pavia's is a strong voice that deserves to be nurtured and developed.

I suspect that at some point in the not-too-distant future, I may do a large, Pavia-centric post that digs into both of his films at some length.  So I'm reluctant to get into Fender Bender in much detail here.  What I'll say is that it's a slasher-film setup in which a serial killer chooses his victims by purposefully getting involved in minor accidents with them on the road.  He exchanges insurance information with them rather than getting the police involved, and that turns out to maybe not work out so great for his victims.

Then he meets Hilary, played by Makenzie Vega.

I don't want to say more than that, not right now.

This is a tense, playful film that is a throwback to eighties cinema.  It's got a GREAT score by Nightrunner in the vein of Tangerine Dream; it might also remind you of Drive, which is in no way inappropriate.  The acting is very good; it lacks a Miguel Ferrer type tour de force, perhaps ... but only perhaps, because the more I think about the killer played by Bill Sage, the more impressed I am by it.

The plot has some logic problems, which is not optimal.  However, they help steer the story in the direction Pavia wants and needs it to go, and given how much I like that direction, I can't be bothered to get too upset with logic problems.  I'd rather they weren't there, but do I actually care?  No, not really.

The Blu-ray has a charming special feature: a "VHS" cut of the film, which is the same movie, but in a cropped -- pan and scan, baby! (not sure if that is literally true) -- version designed to look as if it'd been taped off of some late-night cable show in the late eighties.  If you don't love that, then this blog rejects you and all you stand for.  So take that, chump!

I have not yet actually watched the film a second time, but when I do, that's the cut I'm watching.  And here's my bottom line on Fender Bender, at least for now: I wanted to watch that version immediately after I watched the "real" version.  I did check out the first few minutes, and could happily have kept right on going; the only reason I didn't is that it was already five in the morning, and I needed to get to bed.

But I damn near watched the movie twice in one sitting.

In the end, I don't know that anything more than that need be said.

Except for this: it had damn well better not be another 19 years.

By the way, the Blu-ray has a few good features on it: a too-brief (yet good) behind-the-scenes fluff piece; a commentary by Pavia, who sounds thrilled to be doing it, and whose enthusiasm is infectious; a gratingly obnoxious producer's commentary in which several of the film's producers play a drinking game to their own movie and do a lot of lame impersonations; and a 38-minute collection of trailers for slasher movies.
  
  
   
  
We now turn our attentions to Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem, which currently holds a 5.1 on IMDb and a 45% on Rotten Tomatoes.  And indeed, I'd mostly heard negative things about it, except from one close friend who confessed to being rather shook by it when she watched it.

I'm a Rob Zombie fan, both as a musician and as a filmmaker.  I present to you now my thoughts on his first few movies:

  • House of 1000 Corpses -- I love it.  It's more like a long music video than a movie in some ways, meaning that it's too stylized for its own good.  Fine by me.
  • The Devil's Rejects -- I love it.  Zombie does Peckinpah, and credibly.
  • Halloween -- I like it.  I'm a big John Carpenter fan, and in some ways this is sacrilege in comparison to the original film.  But I take it as its own thing, and I think it works fairly well that way.
  • Halloween II -- I hated this the first time I saw it, but when I watched it again years later, I kind of appreciated it.  It's incredibly brutal, and you can almost feel Zombie screaming that he doesn't want to be doing a sequel; he's channeled that rage and frustration into the movie, and it's kind of fascinating.

So I wasn't sure what to expect from The Lords of Salem.  And having seen it, I'm not sure what I got.  But I definitely liked it.  I need to let it sit for a while before I commit to anything other than "I liked it."

One thing I'll say is that this isn't much of anything like Zombie's previous films.  It's got some gore, but it's not the bloodsoaked ecstasy that the other films on his list are.  There's no rednecksploitation here, either.  This -- believe it or not -- seems to be Zombie Does Kubrick.  Or perhaps Zombie Does Polanski, or arguably Zombie Does Friedkin.  Probably none of those things, really; all three occurred to me, but I think what I'm trying to say is simply that what Zombie is doing here is intended to be less splattery and more unsettling.  And I was appropriately unsettled on numerous occasions, so mission accomplished, Mr. Zombie.

A few notes about the cast:

  • Sheri Moon Zombie is good.  It annoys some people that Rob Zombie has cast her in all of his movies, but I think she's good enough to have earned that spot.  She's a big part of what I think of when I think "Rob Zombie movie," so you'll get no complaints from me, being as I'm a fan and all.  
  • A trio of neighbors in Zombie's apartment complex is played by Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace Stone, and Patricia Quinn.  I didn't know who Geeson was, and did not recognize Quinn until I saw her name in the credits.  Stone, obviously, I knew immediately.  All three are dynamite, so much so that I wish the movie had somehow managed to just be about them.  That's no slight against Sheri Moon Zombie, either; it's a testament to how good these three ladies are.  
  • The credits claim that Barbara Crampton, Sid Haig, and Michael Berryman are all in the movie, but I'll be damned if I saw them.  Perhaps Zombie's commentary track will shed some light on that.  [UPDATE: it does.  Short version of the story is that the movie was originally intended to be much more epic in scope, but the money simply did not exist to film a great deal of that, so a lot of material was jettisoned and some creative editing was employed.  I thought the end result worked pretty well in that regard.]
  • Bruce Davison is really good as an author whose research brings him into contact with the movie's main plot.
  • Jeff Daniel Phillips plays a friend and co-worker of Zombie's who seems to perhaps be an ex-boyfriend (or, at least, a would-be boyfriend).  He looks a wee bit like Rob Zombie, and that made things a little interesting.  He's good, too.
  • Ken Foree is another co-worker.  Always happy to see Ken Foree.
  • Meg Foster is hardcore unsettling as the leader of a witch coven, seen primarily in flashbacks.  Is that a false-skin nude suit she's wearing?  If not, this is one of the bravest performances I've ever seen.
  • I really dug the score by John 5 and Griffin Boice.
  
This movie probably isn't everyone's cup of tea.  Heh.  Boy, what an understatement!  My parents would disown me if I showed them a movie like this.  What I mean to say is, even for people who are reading this blog, this movie probably wouldn't be universally loved.  Or liked.  Or tolerated.
  
But I dug it.  
  





Having been very impressed by writer/director Mike Flanagan's work on Gerald's Game, I wanted to check out some of his other movies, too.  Oculus seemed like a good one to begin with.

It's quite good.  Better than I expected, probably.  The movie had been described to me as being like Home Alone in that it is about some kids who set traps for the ghosts in the mirror.  I'd be down for that, in theory.  This is not that movie, even slightly.  This is hard-edged horror.  It didn't scare me, but I suspect it is going to stick with me, because I became invested in the characters.

It's not based on Stephen King, but the King influence on Flanagan is evident.  I was reminded of "1408," The Shining, and even Cell at various points, and I'd happily watch Flanagan adapt any of those stories.

The Blu-ray also contains Flanagan's short film from 2006, the awkwardly-titled Oculus: Chapter 3 - The Man with the Plan.  The feature film is either a sequel to the short or a remake of it, depending on how you look at it.  The short is interesting, but, like many shorts made by nascent filmmakers, a little on the amateurish side at times.

As for the feature, it's got terrific performances from Karen Gillan, Katee Sackhoff, and Rory Cochrane.  Oh, and also Annalise Basso, who plays the child version of Karen Gillan's character; she could have made a great Beverly Marsh if It had been filming around this same time.

The film's editing -- courtesy of Flanagan himself -- is perhaps the most impressive element.  It bounces us back and forth from one time period to the next, an aspect of the plot that becomes more pronounced the farther into the film we get, until the past and the present blur together in a manner not dissimilar to the climax of the novel It.  So another King evocation there, intentional or otherwise.  Flanagan is not notably less successful in this than King was; high praise indeed.

So this one was another winner for me.  So far, my new-film explorations are going swimmingly!  Let's hope that luck holds up.




I was knocked out by Andy Muschietti's It, and ever since have been wanting to check out his previous film, Mama.

Having now done so, I'd say that It is a logical progression for Muschietti.  Both films have been criticized for not being particularly scary, and while I think it's a valid criticism, it's one that I personally am not much bothered by.  I mean, sure, I guess if It HAD been scarier, that wouldn't have been a bad thing ... although I suspect that if one somehow owned a box-office stake in that film, one would shush such an impulse and say, "Damn THAT, I'd change NOTHING!"  Hard to blame such a shareholder.

And anyways, "scary" (or "horrific," even) is in the eye of the beholder, isn't?  I thought It was designed at least partially to be a movie for children (specifically, for the type of children who are drawn to stories about monsters and the people who fight them), and on that level, it's probably pretty damn scary.

I think the same likely holds true of Mama, which is less a horror film than it is a dark fairy tale.  No surprise there, given the involvement of producer Guillermo del Toro, who has made a career specializing in such things.

The story here is very straightforward if you're watching the movie; less so if you're a blogger trying to type a one-sentence description.  I'll give it a shot, though: a set of foster parents have to cope with not merely their disturbed wards, but the ghostly "mother" who was their previous caretaker.  There's much more to it than that, but that's not too shabby as encapsulations go.

The big draw here for many people (when the movie was released, as well as now) is the presence of Jessica Chastain in what I suppose you'd call the lead role.  You don't always find a star of her magnitude in a relatively low-budget horror flick, so you've got to figure something must have attracted her to the role.  Here, I think it's likely that she responded to the ability to play a punk-rock chick who has no interest in having kids who is then thrust entirely against her wishes into the role of foster mother.  It's plain as day right up front that the movie is going to be at least partially about her road from disdainful of children to loving quasi-mother.  The journey is a satisfying one, thanks in large part of Chastain's considerable ability as an actor.

This is by no means a classic, and if I were grading it, I'd probably only give it a B- or so.  It shares with It an over-reliance on CGI that somebody really needs to talk Muschietti out of; it serves the story in Mama, and does admittedly create a few excellent moments, but it also proves to be kind of a drag at times.  I'd like to see more of Muschietti's imagination, and less of his effects team's.

But ultimately, I'd say I did like the movie.  If nothing else, it presents me with a tattooed Jessica Chastain who frequently wears tight Misfits t-shirts.  I'm an easy mark when it comes to that sort of thing.  There's plenty more than that to enjoy, though.

Let's take a step sideways real quick:




Nothing about this series fits the mood of Halloween season, but why not mention it anyways?  I had been a few weeks behind on this, and had not seen the final three episodes of the series.  I watch this one with my parents, so I went over tonight and we plowed through 'em all.

This was the show's fourth season, and the fact that it got a second is a minor miracle.  AMC had hoped it would be another solid ratings performer (and awards juggernaut) in the vein of Mad Men, but that absolutely did not happen.  In fact, the first season wasn't particularly well-liked critically, and it garnered miserable ratings.  My dad used to joke that if missed a week of watching with him and Mom, the ratings dropped by a third.

Regardless, AMC had faith in the series, and just kept making the damned thing.  Clearly, they simply loved their own show and could not bear for it to die an unnatural death.  So this fourth season is something of a rarity: an incredibly underviewed series that nevertheless managed to be able to wrap up organically.

The results were pretty great.  I loved the entire series, even the somewhat maligned first season, but I think the fourth was probably its best.  The series finale probably isn't one of the all-time great series finales or anything like that, but it did put a nice bow on this series about talented but awkward misfits fucking their own lives up and failing to make the most of their enormous potential.  The moral of the series ends up being that sometimes, it's okay to actually enjoy the good work you've done.  If you're always thinking about the next thing, then what's the point of it all?

And yet ... the pull of the "next thing" is always there for some of us.

Me?  I look forward to whatever the next thing is from the people who made this very, very fine show.

I sure do hope they take a while to be proud of this one, though, because they've earned it.




I am in no way a believer in binge-watching when it comes to series television.  I find it to be unnatural and counterproductive, and most of the shows I've watched on Netflix and other streaming services were viewed in traditional one-episode-per-week fashion.  You might or might not think that's weird; I'm good either way.

Stranger Things was no exception to that personal preference.  I watched it one episode per week for ... well, okay, for seven weeks; when I got to the seventh episode, I let it end and then let it roll right into the eighth.  So I cheated a little.

Cut to October 2017, when I watched two episodes more or less as soon as they dropped, and then mainlined the remaining seven in the dead of the following night.  I guess I just wanted to see what this binge-watching the kids are all talking about is like.  (Hint: I already knew, thanks to marathon DVD sessions of Buffy, Angel, 24, and the like back in the day.)  Plus, it fit into the mood of the season.  Double plus, I can cancel Netflix now and not get charged for next month, since I don't intend to watch anything on it during November.

The verdict is in: it's not so bad.  But I'd still rather swallow it one piece at a time, and when Stranger Things 3 rolls around, I'll probably go back to doing it that way.

As for Stranger Things 2, I'm a little torn.  I think I'd probably have to characterize it as a mild letdown in comparison to the first season, which I loved.  But I loved this season, too, so if it IS a letdown, it's ... a mild one.  It lacks some of the fist-pump-type awesome scenes of the first season -- there is nothing AT ALL here as great as Steve Harrington turning up to save the day with a nail-studded baseball bat -- but probably has superior depth in the character work.  All the holdover characters from season one get good material, though some of them are comparatively shortchanged; not necessarily the same ones who were shortchanged during the first season, either.

Additionally, there are some major new characters, and the good news about that is that most of them worked for me extremely well.  Not all of them, perhaps; but even the less-good ones are okay.

I'm not going to talk about the episodes in any depth for the benefit of those of you who may still watch it.  Maybe I'll post something about it down the line a ways.  We'll see.

For now, let it suffice to say that I dug it.




Around these parts, we'd be obligated to love Hush if only because it's the movie that got Gerald's Game made.  It's directed by Mike Flanagan, who made the movie for Blumhouse Productions on a minuscule $1 million budget.  Blumhouse opted not to go theatrical with it but to instead sell it to Netflix, for whom it was evidently such a success that they decided to go into the Mike flanagan business directly.

So they asked him, "Hey, what would you like to do?"  He answered Gerald's Game.  So thanks for that, Hush!

But Hush is plenty fine on its own.  It's nice that it opened some doors, but it would be a mistake not to think of it as its own reward.

The story is very simple: a deaf-mute woman lives in a secluded area so she can focus on her writing, and then one night a home invader shows up.  He figures out she is unable to hear him, so he decides to play with his victim rather than kill her outright.

Will this prove to be a mistake?  You'll have to see it to find out.

This is a showcase for Flanagan, who demonstrates a near-complete mastery of the camera and of the space in which the film takes place.  It's also a showcase for co-writer and lead actor Kate Siegel, who is terrific.  She had previously appeared in Oculus in a small role, and would later appear in Gerald's Game in a small role.  This is a big role, and she deserves more of those.  Fuck these tiny roles, man, get her some big roles!




This 2015 movie was written and directed by Robert Eggers, who subtitled it A New-England Folktale.  That's important.  Don't fall into the trap of believing this is a mere horror film; it isn't really that at all.  It's more like what a horror movie directed by Terence Malick might be like; probably not quite in that league, but on the other hand, I wouldn't rule it out.  Let's see where Eggers goes from here.

The setup is this: a family of colonists in seventeenth-century New England decide plantation life is too ungodly for them, so they make exiles of themselves and go into the wilderness to live purer, more fulfilling lives.  Doesn't really go their way.

You'll find out quite early on that there's meant to be no suspense in what's going on here: there is a witch in this story, and there is a Satan, and theoretically that ought to be comforting, right?  As Stanley Kubrick might ask, doesn't that also mean there is a God?  He once asked Stephen King such a question as related to The Shining.  King answered, yes, but what about Hell?

And I think I'd say that King's answer indirectly helps to inform where this movie is coming from.  It's intended to unsettle the viewer, to make one feel as if the world we are living in is indeed a dark and a scary place.  It's not trying to jump out at you and say ooga-booga; this is not a haunted-hayride type of thing.  This wants to be the voice in the back of your head on the car ride home from the haunted hayride, the one that says, yes, but WHAT IF...

Each viewer will feel about that differently, I suppose.  A postscript at the top of the end credits specifies that the movie is an amalgam based on true -- "true" -- accounts of early-American witch reports.  Much of the dialogue is apparently based on records from the era.  Add all that up, and you've got a good piece of evidence you can use if you are ever prosecuting a case designed to find Olden Times guilty of sucking ass.  I don't think that's accidental; I could be wrong, but I think part of what makes The Witch tick is the idea that our culture is seemingly on the verge of sliding back into a new Dark Age.  Eggers is asking, hey, are you sure you want to do that?

Speaking for me, no, sure the hell don't.  No pun intended.

I'm curious to see how this movie sits with me.  I enjoyed watching it; it wasn't what I expected, but that's not inherently a bad thing.




I've been watching The Walking Dead since the beginning.  It was the Frank Darabont connection that brought me to it initially, but even after he got booted from the series I stuck with it.  It's -- to say the least -- a hit or miss type of thing, but I've found that it's had enough hits to keep me engaged.

We may be reaching the end of my interest in the series, though.  I watched the first two episodes of season eight tonight, and thought both were abysmal.

Here are my complaints:

  • Dear Grego Nicotero: you are not Terence Malick.  You are not Vince Gilligan, either.  So why is it that nearly every time you direct an episode, you try to be one or both of them?  You're making a George Romero movie, guy; BE GEORGE ROMERO.  It works!  Your audience is not interested in your artsy-fartsy editing, your oblique time-jumps, your existential philosophy.  Why do you persist in thinking your show is the deepest and most resonant thing ever to be put on television?  Even if it was, most of your viewers -- who are fleeing the show in droves at this point -- are uninterested in that aspect.  But it isn't, so they're hella uninterested in a fakery of it.
  • Let's all admit it: Jeffery Dean Morgan sucks as Negan.  He speaks ... every ... line the same way.  It was old before his first scene in his first episode was over.  By this point, it's a parody of itself.
  • I don't like Rick.  I don't like Michonne.  I don't like Carl.  I don't like Daryl.  I don't like Morgan.  I like Carol, but am getting tired of even her.  I don't like Maggie.  I don't like Reverend The Wire.  I don't like King Ezekiel.  Give me a fucking break.  I like Yo Yo from Halt and Catch Fire, but he's too fat to live.  
  • I didn't understand anything that was happening in the second episode.  I think maybe the plot involved getting a bunch of guns that the Saviors would need, and that if the Ricksters captured those, the war would basically be over.  But I'm not sure of it, and at no point was I clear on what each individual group's role in the plan was.  Then Rick gets inside and finds a baby, which he immediately abandons.  Then the episode ends with him encountering Some Guy.  The internet informs me that this was a character who was in Rick's group in season one.  Okay, fair enough, but I saw all of those episodes, and not only did this guy not seem familiar, he didn't seem even a LITTLE familiar.  Maybe if I'd watched the series two or three times, he'd have run a bell.  But I haven't, and presumably most people haven't.  So you're pinning the climax of this episode on some rando from seven seasons ago?  Bad move, show; bad move.

I will probably keep watching, but I'm not happy about it.

The reason I'll likely keep watching is that I watch with my parents.  Assuming I'm not at work, I go over on Sundays, have dinner, and then watch this show.  That's what happened this week.  Mom had also DVRed this:




So while we were waiting for The Walking Dead to begin, we watched this, a new Michael Jackson themed animated Halloween special.

Well ... we watched about half of it.  Eventually, we decided it was too awful to keep watching, so we gave up on it.

The animation was dreadful, the story purely for kids, the voice acting grating, and the music...

Look, if you mount a Michael Jackson themed Halloween special and can't get the music right, you've really fucked a goat.  Through the half hour or so that I saw, there was a handful of scenes with Jackson's music, but the songs were presented in heavily-condensed format, and were buried so low in the sound mix that none of their charm was present.  It's the aural equivalent of going to the Louvre but leaving your glasses in the hotel room, plus somebody then won't allow you to stop in front of the paintings.  You just keep on walking, able to see only hazily, resentful of the entire experience.

So yeah, this sucked.  I assume an animated Michael Jackson shows up by the end of it, but I didn't make there to find out for sure.
 




Here's one I've seen pop up on a few people's best-ever lists.  I can't say it got even close to impressing me on that level, but it's definitely good.

Here's the setup: a group of spelunkers goes out on an expedition.  One of them foolishly takes them not to their intended destination but to an uncharted series of caves; her hope is for them to trailblaze the site and thus make a sort of name for themselves.  What they find is immediate disorientation and peril, which is greatly compunded by the race of chuds they find.  Although really it's the chuds who find them...

What makes this movie is the setting.  If you have a fear of enclosed spaces, stay the fuck away from this movie; it's give you a panic attack or six before the chuds show up.  It was all filmed on a studio stage, but it's impeccable work; I suspect most viewers simply assume that it was filmed inside a cave and think no more of it.  That would have been impressive and insane; this is impressive and sane.

The cast is also good.  Six spunky ladies, one of whom I swear to God has GOT to be related to Sheena Easton.  I responded to the actors moreso than to the characters, though.  The characters are fine, but I couldn't get myself over the hump of accepting that people would go into caves like this.  They do, I know that; I get that.  I just don't care.  My sympathies lie with people who decide NOT to go into the dark and cramped places inside the Earth; that's the logical and natural order of things, so asking me to feel sorry for people who decide to do it anyways is a big ask, and I'm not capable of fully delivering.  I tried, but I'd be a liar if I said that I only got to where I got because the women in the movie are really hot.  But hot or not, this is all their fault for not assuming there'd be chuds inside those caves.

Anyways, solid movie.  Not a new favorite, though.




I took a wee break tonight from new-movie explorations so as to watch a perennial favorite: Psycho.

What is there to be said about this movie by so humble a fellow as myself?  Give me 20,000 words and I'll use 'em all; give me a few dozen and I kind of seize up, because really, what's the point in delivering a slightly more wordy version of "this movie fucking rules"?

This movie does fucking rule, though.  Have no doubts about that.

We'll leave it there, but if anyone wishes to discuss it in further depth, I'd be happy to do so in the comments.




It's not always to a movie's benefit for blurbs about it to say things like "the best horror movie in over a decade."  Hyperbole can kill, or at the very least wound.

Thus I reveal to you that I am utterly unconvinced It Follows is "the best horror film in over a decade."  We'd have to go all the way back to a pre-2005 era in order to validate Boing Boing's claim on that score, and I just don't buy it.

I also shouldn't have to ponder things like that when thinking about a single film.  This liking-movies thing doesn't always have to be a goddamn race to canonize a thing, you know?  Sit the fuck back and just the movie be.  Ten years from now, fifteen, twenty, that's when you'll know a movie's place in the canon.  People will either still be praising it or they won't; you can't determine such a thing during a movie's initial release, and if you try to do so, you mostly look like a gormless tool who is more interested in being a psychic than in being a movie reviewer.

Anyways.

I'm pretty sure I think It Follows is nowhere close to being the best horror movie 2005-2015, but is it good?  You bet it is.  I've never seen a movie quite like it, and yet, it evoked any number of other movies, not all of them horror films.  Writer/director David Robert Mitchell seems like he might be a guy to keep an eye on, and maybe at some point he'll make another movie so we can begin the process of finding out.

The setup for It Follows sounds ridiculous: a young woman has sex with a guy she is dating, and he chloroforms her into unconsciousness and ties her up in a parking garage.  When she regains consciousness, he tells her that he's passed something on to her; she'll see it soon, and she must not let it touch her.  If it does, it will kill her, and then it will pass right back to him.  The only thing she can do is pass it on to someone else by fucking them.  Pretty soon, she sees it: a person, walking toward her in a straight line, slowly but with purpose (like Michael Myers or a friggin' Terminator).  Nobody else can see it; just her.

Handled incorrectly, this might stand a shot at being unwatchably bad.  You can almost see the Saturday Night Live parody writing itself, badly.  Luckily, Mitchell is more interested in tone than in jump scares, and via his insistence upon keeping things relatively grounded, the movie eventually takes on a rather haunting demeanor.  Set against the backdrop of modern-day Detroit (which looks like a haunted and desolate place), what drives It Follows is a sense of utter futility.  The ghost or monster or whatever you'd call the titular "it" is kind of lame and silly, until you realize that it will never stop coming after you.  You can't stop it; you can't slow it down; you can't reason with it; you can run, but unless you're living in a very different world than these people are living in, you can't keep running forever.  Eventually you'll have to pass it on, and if that person then succumbs to it -- which seems quite likely, in the long run -- then it's coming right back to you.  All your hopes, all your dreams: they will all come to ruin in the end.

This is a movie in which optimism may as well not exist.

Now there's a fucking horror movie for you.

Still not convinced it's the best in recent memory, but I'm also not convinced I won't still be haunted by it this time in 2027.

Assuming I make it that far.




I always said that I didn't want to see any of the sequels to Psycho.  It's not the only movie I say that about: I've got similar feelings about the follow-ups to Jaws, The Exorcist, and The Blair Witch Project.

So how come we're talking about Psycho II?

Well, here's how it happened.  On the Fender Bender Blu-ray, there's a fun bonus feature consisting of about forthy minutes' worth of slasher-movie trailers.  I watched that after watching the movie, and among the trailers was (you guessed it) Psycho II.  I thought it looked okay, so I was kind of intrigued.

That was not enough on its own to get the job done, though.  A few weeks later, I decided I ought to get myself a copy of the original Psycho on Blu-ray, and when I went looking for one, I found a relatively inexpensive set of all four films.  I figured hey, why not?  If only for archival purposes, why not?

So then, having bought them, I figured hey, why not watch Psycho II?

That's how that particular cookie ended up crumbling.

The verdict on the movie: it's ... okay.  Director Richard Franklin is no Alfred Hitchcock, but he did a decent enough job to get a passing grade from me.  Similarly, screenwriter Tom Holland (who would go on to make movies like Fright Night and Child's Play, plus King adaptations like The Langoliers and Thinner) is no Robert Bloch, but he has some tricks up his sleeve.  The screenplay goes in some very interesting directions, and while I'm forced to blow a raspberry at a few of them, I'd have to say that Holland does his best to make this movie its own thing.  He doesn't go as far as Bloch himself did in his loony-sounding sequel novel (upon which this movie is not based), but a great deal of the movie is devoted to turning Norman Bates into a sympathetic hero.  That's an ambitious goal, and the extent to which the movie is successful is kind of amazing; it's arguably in very bad taste, too, but you've got to give everyone credit for trying.  Nobody here phones it in.

That's true of Anthony Perkins, too, who plays exactly what he's asked to play: a man who was very ill for a long while but then got better.  This older Norman still has the zip of youth about him; Perkins puts it into his eyes, his smile, his step.  It's not the all-time-classic performance that his first outing as Norman is, but it's closer than it probably ought to have been able to be.

Also impressive: Meg Tilly, playing a wayward young woman Norman befriends; Vera Miles, reprising her role as Lila Crane (now Lila Loomis), who has 100% NOT gotten onboard with the Norman-is-cured court decision; and composer Jerry Goldsmith, who wisely spends most of his time avoiding Bernard Herrmann's original themes.

Perhaps the most successful element, though, is the production design.  You spend most of the movie inside the Bates home, including rooms Hitchcock never visited.  It all seems like the ame place, though, which qualifies as a bit of a triumph.  It looks pretty good in color, too.

So, then, all things considered I would have to say that I kind of enjoyed this movie.  It was better than I'd have expected it to be, and it's different enough to Hitchcock's that I don't feel it's a stain upon his intentions.




I bought a box set of all the Halloween movies on Blu-ray a couple of years ago, and determined that I'd make my way through all of them.  I've seen them all before, but not on Blu-ray.  Progress has been slow since then, although last year I watched Halloween II.  It was better than I remembered; I frickin' HATED that movie the first time I saw it, but in all honesty, it's not that bad.
  
Many, many people would agree with me, I bet.  I'd also bet that a substantial number of them would not extend the same courtesy to a discussion of Halloween III, which remains one of the most notoriously misguided sequels in Hollywood history.  A Halloween movie with no Michael Myers in it?!?  Nuts.
  
And it IS nuts, guys.  This movie is completely fucking insane, from beginning to end.  It's about an Irish novelties company that attempts to sow chaos and disorder by contaminating the nationa's children with Halloween masks that, when triggered by a television signal, will cause their brains to turn into insects and serpents, killing not only the children but presumably whoever is in the vicinity.
  
No shit.  That's what this movie is about.  Oh, and there are also lots of robots.  Killer robots in business attire.  Oh, and also, the company stole one of the stones of Stonehenge.  "You wouldn't believe how we did it!" confides the bad guy delightedly.
  
Viewers in 2017 may have less trouble believing that than they do the extent to which this movie wishes us to believe that Tom Atkins is a master cocksman.  And hey, I don't necessarily doubt that he was.  It's just ... man, in this movie he's divorced from one of the babysitters in the original Halloween, has had a fling of some sort with a hot lab technician, and is soon having hot breast-focused motel-room sex with a woman young enough to be his daughter.  Tom Atkins was something like 47 when this movie came out; his love interest, Stacey Nelkin, was something like 23 (although, to be fair, she looks 18).
  
Hey, it was the eighties.  
  
The movie's subtext is about a divorced man who is supposed to pick his kids up for the weekend, but instead goes out and gets drunk and ends up running off on an adventure with a fucked-up woman half his age.  Yep, sure is.
  
Like I said, this movie is nuts.
  
I kind of dig it.  That's not a popular opinion in some circles, but I think the movie is just crazy enough to be fun.  Plus, it's honestly pretty well made.  Writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace had It in his future, but I suspect that if this film had been a hit, it might have helped turn him into a higher-profile guy.  He does pretty good work here.  A lot of the credit for that may actually need to go to cinematographer Dean Cundey, who provides a gorgeous look to the proceedings; he'd already done The Thing that year (1982), and had Psycho II on the way the following year.  Better things by far lay in his future, but whatever you think of Season of the Witch, I think you'd have to be awfully churlish to not love Cundey's contributions to it.
  
I also quite enjoy Tom Atkins.  He's the 47-year-old I'd kind of like to be: seasoned, manly but not ostentatious about it, and still pulling top-shelf romantic entanglements.  Speaking of which, Nelkin herself is pretty good.  So is Dan O'Herlihy as the bad guy; he's never better than in the scene when he explains to Atkins that this whole scheme is a practical joke on the modern world for appropriating and degrading the ancient Celtic tradition of Samhain.  
  
In other news, John Carpenter and Alan Howarth provide a terrific score (including the "Silver Shamrock" theme song, which will haunt your waking moments and perhaps your dreaming ones as well).  Plus, this sequel takes place in a universe in which Halloween is a movie; so any dreams of continuity with the first two films go flying right out the window, although I believe one of the later films in the series may actually try to connect the Samhain-cult thing to Michael Myers.  (6?  Is it 6?)
  
The movie ends with a cool homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and who's not a sucker for that sort of thing?
  
I give everyone involved a tip of the cap for trying something different.  How many times -- even today -- do you hear people whinging about how sequels never try anything different?  They're just more of the same.  Well, doggone it, in 1982 John Carpenter and Debra Hill tried something REAL fucking different, and it kind of blew up in their faces.  But I applaud their efforts, and I kind of dig the results.  In fact...
  
I'm calling it: this is the best of the Halloween sequels.
  
That's right.  I said it.


 

Well, guys, I thought this movie was scary as fuck.  But I'm a little bit up in the air as to whether I actually liked it or not.

I'll say this for a certainty: I'm glad I didn't watch this in a theatre.  It's got too many loud-jump-scare moments.  Shit like that gets on my nerves, and I mean that in a literal fashion.  I can cope with them sometimes.  For example, if they aren't actually scary.  A recent case in point: It, which contains numerous such jump scares, none of which cared me or made me jump.

Not so with Insidious, which absolutely made me jump, partially due to the incredibly loud volume of the more intense scenes.  I had my sound bar set at what seemed like a normal level -- the same level I watched Halloween III on -- and eventually had to turn it down because when the jumps hit, they were just too much.

So on the one hand, VERY effective.

But on the other, I wonder whether anything in this movie will stick with me.

Time will tell, I guess.


 

*shrug*

This one didn't do much for me at all.  It didn't even scare me, particularly.  As far as unnecessary sequels go, I've certainly seen worse; but this was pretty mediocre stuff.  It's kind of like The Shining lite, in some respects; and Patrick Wilson would probably make a good Jack Torrance, based on his work here.
   
But really, this is just booga-booga haunted-house stuff, occasionally inventive but rarely much more than shallow.  I assume the composer got paid a bonus for every time he wrote a huge piano-hit sting into the score; if so, he got a fine payday.
  
  
   
  
About fifteen minutes into this, it felt as if I'd been watching this thing for three hours.  That's not a good sign.

This is essentially like a filthier Adult Swim program, one in which a movie star -- El Superbeasto -- of questionable origin tries to save a stripper with really big tits from a forced marriage to Satan.  Doctor Satan, to be specific.

At least I think that's what was going on.  Not gonna lie: I stopped paying attention.

I will say, though, that some of the voice acting is solid.  Sheri Moon Zombie makes for a surprisingly good cartoon character, and Rosario Dawson and Paul Giamatti have some funny moments.  But I don't much care for Tom Papa, whoever he is; and the less said about the shitty songs by Hard 'n Phirm, the better.  (Although, for the record, one of them -- possibly titled "Why'd You Have to Rip Off Carrie?" -- namechecks Stephen King himself.)

I don't know, maybe I just didn't give this one enough of a chance.  But I didn't like it much at all.

*****

And with that, we bring this series of posts -- as well as October 2017 -- to an end.  I had a few other titles I wanted to check off my list, but the fact is that these last few movies drained me of my enthusiasm.  So those other movies -- Sinister, Get Out, The Babadook, 31, The Conjuring, and The Conjuring 2 -- are getting back-burnered.

After all, there's always another October.

Right?

6 comments:

  1. Wow, that's a lot of flicks recently, hope you go for a walk soon to clear ya mind, haha.
    I loved The Witch. If we are going the analytical route I would say it's more about women empowerment etc. but I enjoy your point of view. I actually thought it was pretty scary, I felt like I was right there with that kid in the beginning. I love those deep woods shots though. Man that girl was so good in it!
    I liked It Follows a lot as well, I'm not sure about it being the best in the last decade but what was though?
    Resolution was my favorite horror movie in recent memory. Probably one of my favorites in general in that long.
    Starry Eyes, Blackcoat's Daughter, Trick R Treat, the first half of The Conjuring 2, House of the Devil would be mixed in there somewhere.
    Get Out was just ok to me, I didn't think the "horror movie logic" was quite there. I thought it was a really good Twilight Zone movie.
    Good stuff as usual dude.
    -mikeC

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    1. You're the first person I've heard mention "Starry Eyes" in a positive manner. (Or at all, really.) Those directors just got signed to direct the remake of "Pet Sematary," so your recommendation just got me a little more hyped about that than I was.

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    2. I echo the comments from Anonymous regarding The Witch and It Follows, I loved both of those movies. One question I have about It Follows... it isn't super-clear to me what time period it is actually set in. The TV is old, and some of the sets and clothing look like they could be from 20+ years ago (but maybe that is just because it is set in Detroit). But then you've got that crazy calm-shell smartphone or e-reader or whatever that the one character is using. If we are not meant to really be able to place the movie in a particular time period I definitely felt that, and I guess I liked the uncertainty... kinda made the movie even more effective because it added to the surrealism.

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    3. You know, I took that clamshell e-reader/phone/whatsis to just be a sort of novelty device I was unfamiliar with. So I assumed it was modern-day, but not even in a conscious manner; I just went with it. You're right, though; it does add a surrealistic element to the movie.

      Good stuff! I think the Blu-ray has a commentary track, so whenever I listen to that, if there's anything worth reporting, I'll report on it.

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  2. You watched a proverbial crapton of movies in October, well done!

    Dawn swears we watched Insidious and Insidious 2, but I can't remember jack-diddledy about them. They all kind of blend together. Ethan Hawke was in one, Patrick Wilson in another, Daniel Craig in something different, but they're all the same movie in my head.

    We watched "Halloween II" as our Halloween-season Halloween-franchise viewing this year. I agree completely on the wonderful absurdity of Halloween III, though.

    I really should see "Psycho II" one of these days. And probably "IV," since King said it was better than the first or whatever crazy thing he said.

    And I look forward to that extended-Pavia post!

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    1. I believe King did indeed say he liked Psycho IV more than the first one. Ay-yi-yi. It was directed by Mick Garris, so I'm sure it's fantastic...

      I'll check it out eventually, though.

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