10/31/2017 – The Essentials: The Old Dark House (1932)
Directed by James Whale
Any list of essential works of art is going to be inherently subjective. No two people will give you the list and it can vary based on personal interests. For example, a list of essential slashers would vary depending on who I was talking to. To a casual movie fan or someone not especially into horror, I’d say there are maybe a half dozen representing the first installments of each of the big franchises (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, and Scream). For a horror fan, especially one into the subgenre, the list of essentials grows to each of the films in those series as well as other titles such as Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine, Sleepaway Camp, April Fool’s Day, Silent Night, Deadly Night, and Candyman.
For someone who watches as many films as I do, there’s almost an expectation by people that I have seen every film they have especially the ones they have mentally considered essential titles. And there have been certain topics, far too many to count, where I’ve been ashamed by how little I’ve seen of them. What I love most about this month though, after of course getting to watch a ton of horror films, is the chance to expose myself to all sorts of new works, young and old, from a variety of countries and subgenres which I may or may not be too familiar with.
I also have my own list of essential films that I’ve sought to knock off (and which I even tried to codify in a smaller list late last year). Broadly, I’ve sought to knock of a few lists such as the Sight and Sound critics (189/250) and directors (85/100) polls as well as all the best picture Oscars winners (four to go) but when it comes to horror, I’ve felt that list shrinking and shrinking. On the one hand it’s really helpful with writing when I can speak with more confidence in my authority on the subject, but on the other hand, it’s depressing to know that I’ve already seen basically every classic horror film.
With The Monster Squad done yesterday and now The Old Dark House, that leaves the list of horror films I’m ashamed to have not seen topped by eXistenZ, In the Realm of the Senses, Q: The Winged Serpent, The Lost Boys, and Zombie (along with as some little regarded sequels such as Halloween II: Rob Zombie Edition, a few Texas Chainsaw Massacre related titles, and the rest of such series as Hellraiser and Leprechaun) which with one exception, isn’t exactly going to make too many lists of classic films. At least there’s always new classics to be made (albeit slowly) and new hidden gems to discover.
It’s not often that I get to end on the centerpiece for my month and the film I’ve been excited to see all month, but it feels so fitting. When I saw The Old Dark House was finally showing up on TCM (well the original and at least since I started watching regularly since they’ve played the lackluster William Castle original before) and all recently restored, I was ecstatic and it was the first thing I penciled into my schedule (and if any of you had been occasionally checking on it at the bottom of my reviews you would see it was the one film I actually planned out watching more than like a day in advance).
The Old Dark House comes to us from James Whale who along with Tod Browning is the definitive early horror director and the two of them created horror as we know it today. He helmed the three best Universal horror films in Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man as well as Show Boat and a handful of solid titles in the 1931 version of Waterloo Bridge, the 1939 version of The Man in the Iron Mask, and The Great Garrick. He was also the subject of the film Gods and Monsters where he is played by Ian McKellen which is truly a great honor.
A trio of people (played by Melvyn Douglas, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart) who are traveling to another town are forced to stop for the night at an old, dark house (you can credit this film for that film trope) as a result of a bad storm and landslides. The door is answered by a bearded, badly scarred butler (played by Boris Karloff) who can only speak in a mumble (for he is mute) but lets them in. The house is owned by an old man and his hard of hearing and ornery, puritanical sister. The old man is rendered afraid by the storm and the upstairs where their 102-year-old father still lives, and they are joined shortly thereafter by Charles Laughton as a drunk knighted widower and his chorus girl girlfriend shows up.
There may be some comedic elements to the film (like The Bride of Frankenstein but the house is incredibly creepy. The storm, the lightning, the shadows, and just the design are enough, but this is only intensified by mysterious laughter coming from upstairs and a voice calling from behind a door which has been locked tight. The storm seems to drive the butler mad as he starts to menace one of the women and later the rest of them. In addition, SPOILERS the voice is revealed to be a man who claims to be knocked up because he knows the hosts killed their sister and that they claim he’s mad to cover it up. It would be a lot more effective of a claim but he’s admittedly not all there anymore and winds up trying to burn down the place in a fit of madness and maniacal giggling. END OF SPOILERS
The movie starts so strong that I didn’t even care that the more traditional horror elements weren’t exactly handled the best. It’s pure Whale and some of his best work in establish scene and tension and characters. I loved having “HE’S ALIVE!” being yelled this time by a woman and the way it feels like a proper nod to Frankenstein instead of anything too forced. It’s a worthy candidate though to stand side by side with his three classics and exceeded even my expectations for the film.
Bonus Episode #TV-1 – Television: Santa Clarita Diet (2017)
Created by Victor Fresco
If you were to ask most about historical television horror, the first to come to mind would be The Twilight Zone which began in 1959. It would be for good reason too, as its anthology blend of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy courtesy of Rod Serling was fantastic with some truly amazing half hours of television even beyond the twists it would be known for. The first horror show however was the television adaptation of the radio series Lights Out in 1949 (though it premiered three years prior as a series of specials). The 1950s also produced the short-lived but famous The Vampira Show and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, a longer lasting horror/thriller show hosted by the director which helped cement his fame.
The 1960s saw more anthology shows in the Boris Karloff hosted Thriller, The Roald Dahl hosted Way Out, The Outer Limits, and Rod Serling’s next show Night Gallery. The decade also saw a trio of comedy shows in The Addams Family, the inferior and similar The Munsters, and the goofy terribly fake laugh tracked but so much fun as a kid Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! as well as the soap opera which morphed into horror, Dark Shadows. The 70s produced much less in notable horror, with only the short lived British show Thriller, the even shorter lived but hugely influential Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and the docu-horror of In Search of…. The 80s saw a return of the television anthology with Tales from the Darkside, The Ray Bradbury Theater, Friday the 13th: The Series, Freddy’s Nightmares, and Tales from the Crypt while also seeing revivals or The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
The modern horror show truly began in the 90s. Sure, anthology shows persisted in Are You Afraid of the Dark, Tales from the Cryptkeeper, The Outer Limits and Goosebumps, and there were a few notable titles including The Kingdom and American Gothic but one show set the stage for all to follow. The X-Files (one of the shows I am most ashamed to have never seen) was principally sci-fi but with strong horror elements and helped establish the format for the serialized show which continued with another title, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy remains one of my favorite shows and as uneven as it was, it truly established the modern television trope of the Big Bad which frames each season among countless other things and whose writers went onto be behind so many of the shows to follow.
In the 2000s we had a few notable titles The Dead Zone, Being Human, Dexter (yes, I know it went to shit after season 5), True Blood, and Harper’s Island, but the genre as a whole didn’t take off until the following decade. As shows in general improved and got more prolific, horror as well exploded on TV aided by loosening content restrictions. That being said, this modern era of horror lacks much in the way of scares. The TV format is just not suited to maintaining tension and terror over a whole season (let alone multiple) and there’s a big reason the anthology show proved persistent; it fits the genre better. But still we have gotten such great shows as Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, iZombie, The Returned, Hannibal (the most gorgeous), Bates Motel, Ash vs. the Evil Dead (the best of the horror comedies), Wolf Creek, BrainDead, Wynonna Earp, and Channel Zero (perhaps the most successful of the bunch at pure horror). We also got some solid horror-procedurals in Grimm and Sleepy Hollow, the fine Outcast and The Exorcist and the inexplicably popular The Walking Dead and the camp comedy American Horror Story.
I don’t have time for much in the way of streaming shows. I watch a ton, but I have some limits in the amount I can watch and considering the quantity of them, it makes an easy dividing line. Still, one of my favorite comedies is Better off Ted and my love for Timothy Olyphant’s performance in Justified made Santa Clarita Diet (created by the same man behind Better Off Ted) rise to the top of the list of streaming shows I wanted to get to. Sure, the presence of Drew Barrymore was discouraging, but that didn’t stop my wanting to see it sooner rather than later.
Even beyond Olyphant (who is fantastic and incredibly funny), the supporting/guest cast is a fantastic who’s who of TV actors. We’ve got the waitress from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia One of the Terminators from the Sarah Connor Chronicles, Andy Richter (who starred in the Victor Fresco created Andy Richter Controls the Universe which has been near the top of my queue for years), Patricia Belcher of Bones (the last vestige of quality on that show before it died), Nathan Fillion, Patton Oswalt (making his requisite visit), Fucking Bevers of Broad City, Ryan Hansen, Natalie Morales (and in a role that doesn’t waste Dub Dub!), Derek Waters, the chef from Grandfathered, and Portia de Rossi (who was fantastic in Better off Ted). Not only that, but the entire main cast (including Barrymore who has never been better in her career the kid who plays their neighbor’s son who reminds me of Justin Long for some reason) is top notch in no small part thanks to some great writing.
Santa Clarita Diet is a half hour horror-comedy which tells of a family of three with the parents are both normal, everyday real estate brokers. Normal until the mother (played by Barrymore) hilariously vomits a bright green vomit all over the place and something that looks like an organ or a walnut to death. Death isn’t the impediment it used to be though, and she returns, completely robbed of inhibition and a far more chill and self-assured person.
There’s also the minor facts that she starts oozing some black shit instead of blood, craving raw meat and by the end of the first episode, SPOILERS Nathan Fillion. END OF SPOILERS Now the two of them must struggle to find a cure and to make sure she is kept fed. Olyphant’s character is much more focused on the former as he struggles to keep together his family and adjust to the new demands on him while Barrymore quickly takes to her new life.
The show is fast moving, hilarious, and not afraid to be graphic. In fact, the biggest complaint I had was that the first season kind of abruptly ended but I’ll take that over dragging it out any day. Also, the show moves so fast that it feels like we have already rushed through the first two acts and SPOILERS with her deteriorating more and more, we are rapidly approaching the point where when can’t get worse without losing her as a character. END OF SPOILERS But I have faith in Fresco, Olyphant, and Barrymore to keep things going and I’m excited for next season.
Bonus Episode #22 – Sci-Fi: The Lawnmower Man (1992)
Directed by Brett Leonard
I was gonna put the category as Stephen King but I’m pretty sure King would have tracked me down and sued me. While I can’t speak to its closeness to the source material, but it was apparently so unlike it that King successfully sued to have his name removed from the film and despite having written the book Dreamcatcher was based on, he still is ashamed specifically of this film (well and The Shining so maybe we shouldn’t necessarily trust his taste). It was actually, much like American Psycho II: All American Girl, an unrelated film rewritten slightly to incorporate elements of King’s work.
An intelligence enhanced chimp is put into a military VR training simulator, but it drives it crazy and he escapes before being shot down. He’s part of a project run by Pierce Bronson as an earring wearing scientist who runs the both the intelligence enhancing and VR programs since specializing in one thing is apparently something for scrubs. Put on a temporary leave, he experiments on a mentally challenged man (played by Jeff Fahey doing his imitation of King’s character from Creepshow), raised by a priest and abused even as an adult who mows his lawn. He gives him injections and messes with his brain until he starts getting more intelligent, cleans himself, and romances a woman and eventually learns to be able to speak telepathically and read people’s minds.
But as anyone who’s seen a movie before or read Flowers for Algernon (which this movie certainly isn’t ripping off), no such thing can last. SPOILERS He takes the woman to the facility where they have incredibly silly and pretentious virtual reality sex before transforming into some weird monster and breaking her brain inside the computer. Soon he starts injecting himself with as much of the intelligence drug as he can and begins walking around in his Tron suit, terrorizing people with his telekinetic abilities including making the abusive priest burst into “flames”. He becomes able to turn people into balls and disintegrate them and like all film attempts at a cyberpunk aesthetic, he wants to upload himself into the mainframe. He is destroyed by blowing up the mainstream but at the end, every phone starts ringing implying he escaped into the phone lines. Jokes on him, do you know how king it would take to download something like him in 1992? I hope no one makes a call mid-download and he comes out half the man he used to be. END OF SPOILERS
The Lawnmower Man has neither very positive nor very intelligent things things to say about our VR future, echoing concerns of the era that we will basically never want to experience real life if it existed. This despite the only proof it has is just that a scientist gets really involved in his work. The early computer effects for the VR are hilarious (virtual reality is essentially a Dire Straits video) but the VR set complete with gloves and couches to simulate the movement does feel remarkably modern. Even the full biofeedback suits with full range of movement are things we are actually developing. That can’t save the fact that watching the two crappy CGI humans argue and fight is hilarious or that anyone could release this as a serious film.
The Dreamcatcher comparison is perfect though because this is just a terrible, bonkers movie saved only by the moments of unintentional humor. It’s nowhere near as crazy nor does the cast have nearly the recognition that one did (only Brosnan, Fahey, and a small appearance by Dean Norris) but it’s just as misguided of a film.
Bonus Episode #23 –: Happy Death Day (2017)
Directed by John Irvin
I’m not gonna lie, when I saw the title Happy Death Day, it made me feel all sorts of wonderful inside. It’s just such a wonderful, cheesy title that hearkens back to the 80s-era slasher and I wanted it to be good SOOOO bad. To my surprise and delight, it got some decent reviews and, so I just knew I had to see it. To my even greater surprise and delight, the film turned out to be downright great! But first a musical interlude and a look at the awesome poster.
It’s a simple hook, Groundhog Day as a slasher where each end day ends with the protagonist’s murder, but an effective one. Edge of Tomorrow worked as a take on the premise by structuring it as essentially a video game (and making it the third best video game movie after Street Fighter and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and structuring it as a slasher film is a brilliant decision. It gives a perfect way for each day to end SPOILERS and even adding a ticking clock as the scars linger (Do you have to let it linger? Do you have to, do you have to, do have to let it linger?) END OF SPOILERS It’s even able to smartly make a good PG-13 horror film without feeling cheap by the way that it cuts out right as our protagonist is murdered.
At the center of the film is a stereotypical early slasher victim. Even more so than Buffy was meant to subvert this character, she’s a blond, partying, blonde who sleeps around and is generally a jerk to everyone she meets. She’s a sorority stereotype that slasher love to remorselessly kill with nearly the glee that audiences got from seeing Tom Cruise repeatedly murdered. The film never leaves to focus of its lead and as a result it heavily falls on the back of Jessica Rothe to carry the film and she does just that. She makes the stereotype feel lived in, handles the humor perfectly, and is just a joy to watch as we watch her grow and try to survive. For someone whose most famous roles before this were a small part in La La Land (she’s the blonde below) and the mostly ignored and quickly cancelled MTV sitcom Mary + Jane, I was impressed.
After the requisite realizing she’s in a time loop, we move on to her trying to outwit the killer and when that fails try to figure out who did it. SPOILERS Turns out the two people I quickly picked as the culprits were behind it with the most obvious in the roommate using a serial killer as a backup plan. END OF SPOILERS The films got a strong streak of humor throughout, both dark and more traditional without skimping on the more traditional horror. It’s Scream but without relying too much on meta humor. Me and the three other people in the theater (so close to getting to watch it by myself) sure had a great time watching it and it probably is a film benefitting from watching as a group. Even without a group though, I highly recommend it to basically anyone.
Bonus Episode #24 – Supernatural: Ghost Story (1981)
Directed by Christopher B. Landon
The draw of this film is clearly the cast. Starring Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas (his second appearance today), Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and John Houseman (the final film for each of the first three) as a group of elderly men who tell each other scary stories as part of the Chowder Society, is a heck of a casting coup. Throw in Patricia O’Neal and it’s amazing the film isn’t better known on cast alone. Well that is until you watch the film and realize that the film wastes its entire cast.
The effect of a man (Fairbanks’ one son) falling out the window (having been scared out by his zombie fiancée) is hilarious and I’d never thought I’d see a film with Fred Astaire where you so visibly see a man’s dingus. Fairbanks too bites the dust similarly soon after (by the same visage) which is a shame that he goes out in such a goofy manner. This is merely set up as Fairbanks’ other son tries to join the club by telling his own ghost story which gives way to a lengthy flashback.
He tells about himself as a teacher as he romances a woman (both played by the same people who played the brother and fiancée). The romance becomes more and more intense until she starts acting weird and then mysteriously disappears. She reappears as the fiancée to his brother and once again mysteriously disappears after his death. SPOILERS Turns out she was someone the one of the group accidentally murdered as a youngster in a fit of anger and covered up. So, we get another flashback to them as young adults and watch it lead up to that. When they go to drown her seemingly dead body in a car, she appears to be alive seconds before the car goes under water and as a result, the recent deaths (including another one she gives a heart attack and one she gets an accomplice to kill) are her way of seeking revenge. The ending is complete anticlimax as they raise the car from the water and it ends the curse.END OF SPOILERS
The esteemed cast, which was the main reason I sought to watch the film, was barely in it and the two lengthy flashbacks kill the pacing. I wish they either went full anthology film or focused on the modern scenes, not awkwardly combine the two. The past scenes aren’t even that interesting as we watch people act out what they have already told us.
Bonus Episode #G-1 – Resident Evil: Resident Evil 4 (2005)
Directed by Shinji Mikami
Forgive me for not getting further but working on the site, my writing, and my vacation took away all my free time I hoped to be spending playing games (maybe if I’m feeling generous that can be a new semi-recurring feature). Instead of giving a whole history of horror games (of which I’m woefully inexperienced in unless you count the original, awesome Castlevania), I’m going to stick to the Resident Evil franchise.
While hardly the first horror video game series (Alone in the Dark did much of what the original did a few years earlier), Resident Evil (Biohazard in Japan which is a dumber name for the series at least at the start) is the one that invented the very term “survival horror” when it was released in 1996 for the at then fairly young PlayStation. What was originally to be a remake of the Famicom exclusive Sweet Home, instead became its own thing and the most successful horror series that continues to this day with approximately 8 million games to date (okay its closer to 24 including remakes by my count). The series dealt with a zombie outbreak and started with a confusing fixed camera system that has ensured I will never play one of the early titles. It gave the user limited saves (another deal breaker) and a limited inventory while mixing things up with puzzles and exploration.
Resident Evil 4 was a years in the making reinvention of the series that has come to define it and is generally considered the peak of it and one of the finest games ever made. It ditched the survival horror for an action oriented horror experience (making it more in lines with the films) and it’s over the shoulder third person shooter style has along with the FPS become the dominant force in the games industry so you know who to blame for all that. Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6 followed suit to lessening critical acclaim before it was rebooted again this year with Resident Evil 7 receiving acclaim for returning to its roots in horror but this time as a more modern style first person game in the style of such titles as the Amnesia series.
Resident Evil 4 was to be the centerpiece of the Capcom 5 for the GameCube which could have saved it, but instead it was shortly thereafter ported to the PS2 and helped doom that system. Still, the GameCube version is still considered the definitive version (save maybe the Wii version but fuck dealing with the motion controls) so that’s what one I chose (also I quite like my GameCube and it’s quite a lovely console). The game comes on two discs and in a prescient, comment I made upon discovering this “2 fucking discs, this game better not last forever, I got other shit to play”. Well forgive me for I am really not a games reviewer, nor did I get nearly as far as I’d like. I have only ever played Resident Evil 5 back when it came out and beat it a few times too (near 100% it), liking it quite a bit despite some of its reputation. I’ve also seen all the movies (well I started playing this before watching the final one) but more on that in a bit.
Just so you know, I’m watched the cutscenes for you folks since I value cutscenes by how quick I can skip through them. In fact, Assassin’s Creed turned me off because I had to sit through that awful dialogue forever. This may or may not have lessened how far I could get. The game’s story is stupid even by video game story standards. Some stupid looking, floppy haired guy named Leon is searching for the president’s daughter in Europe. Of course, along the way you come across zombies as Leon tries to figure out what is going on and save her life (including escorting her). Leon also has to deal with being injected with the same stuff as all the infected (the zombies are somewhere between the slow and the fast zombies at first though they get more advanced later). There’s some religious cult nonsense
There are some weird controls as you have to go into some shooting mode, then attack with A for some damn reason and the camera is awful. There are also a number of quick time events, the scourge of modern gaming. The game felt downright unplayable even once I figured out the buttons and when I got to the damn chainsaw guy, I nearly quit after getting stuck trying to beat that part. Even with the limited inventory, you have to really unlearn the urge not to just save all your good weapons for the big fights. There’s also the annoying tendency for headshotted zombies to frequently just get back up and it gets tedious to have to shoot each of them multiple times as they slowly stand back up or knife them as they lay on the ground.
I did eventually start to get a better handle on it, but I can’t say I get the hype just yet. Maybe I’ll play some more when I have more time, but I just wasn’t grabbed the way I was with the sequel. The fact that so many games have come and refined what the game did in the years since certainly hurts it and I’m not sure it holds up as well as people say. I will credit the film though for its innovations and the way it does jump scares as part of gameplay without making them just feel cheap.
Bonus Episode #25 – Resident Evil: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016)
Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson
Speaking of the movies, here is the final entry in the film adaptations which are very loosely based on the games. The first film premiered in 2002 from the director of Mortal Kombat and Event Horizon, Paul W. S. Anderson. Resident Evil was nowhere near the quality of either of those films being a stupid action-horror title starring bad pop singer (though I like her later singing on “The Mission” and the remix of “Underneath the Stars”), model, and The Fifth Element star Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez (coming off her best performance in Girlfight) telling of an attempt by a bunch of commandos to infiltrate an underground base for the Umbrella Corporation that has been taken over by zombies. Each sequel expanded the scope, but I’ll give the series points for consistency. Granted that is being consistently bad but that’s hardly important.
Each entry got increasingly big and silly as Jovovich’s Alice became more and more of an overpowered superhero. Along with the Underworld series, it practically defined the curious 00s defined that modern genre of action film built off the skeleton of horror that continues with Universals bizarre reboot of their classic monsters. Alexander Witt took over for the second installment and Highlander director Russell Mulcahy took over the third before Anderson returned to direct his wife for the rest of the films.
Now, after seven films, the series that I have stuck with for no particular reason (I can’t even blame it on one ill-advised binge) comes to a final, conclusive end (until the inevitable reboot which reportedly will actually turn the series into a proper survival horror franchise). The Final Chapter actually shows the early events that led to this whole situation. The T-Virus was developed to treat various diseases but instead created the zombies of the series which have by this point basically won thanks to the efforts of the world’s most needlessly and stupidly evil company, the Umbrella Corporation. The creepy little girl AI (The Red Queen) wants to help Alice to save the last of humanity from herself with the help of an Umbrella developed way to destroy the T-virus. There’s a 48-hour ticking clock (though the film rushes through the first 36 hours in less than an hour/minute and most of the next 12 hours in not much longer) as they must venture into the center of Umbrella to find it.
This installment returns the series to its roots in Raccoon City as well as the return of Ali Larter as Claire Redfield. The effects certainly have improved with time, but they are still supremely CGI heavy and there are a ton of quick cuts that rob the action of any enjoyment. That’s not even getting into the fact that all the clones kind of robs the series of tension even if this time it is “no really these are the originals, seriously we promise”. There’s also tank with a huge mass of zombies behind it which is an effective image at first, but it gets reused to the point of meaninglessness.
SPOILERS The big reveal is that our lead is not the original clone and is only 10 years old. She’s cloned from one of the founders (as is the Red Queen). While I know the reboot is going to come soon, I appreciate them pretty definitively ending this series. I do love that the big bad of the movie is felled by his clone who insists he is the real one and the baddie haunting the series by the start is killed by the old RoboCop “fire the person which allows the AI to kill them” gag. Also, all the zombies are dead, Umbrella is obliterated, the originals of all the villains are all dead, and our hero is no longer a superhero. I mean there’s still giant winged creatures flying around but… okay this series never made one lick of sense so let’s not let it die pretending I knew what the hell they are doing still around or how Alice plans to fight them now that she’s robbed of the T-Virus assisted powers. END OF SPOILERS
The series still sucks but The Final Chapter may be the best and most refined to date or at the very least since the first installment. The satisfaction of seeing it end was probably the highlight but it is probably the most focused and coherent which is impressive for something trying to tie up as many loose ends. It has a simple mission (find anti-virus for the good guys, kill Alice for the bad guys) of which everything in the plot builds to directly. It also stands well on its own even with all the convoluted backstory as the film helpfully reminds us of why we are supposed to care about everything. Now let’s just kill the Underworld which is barely even trying anymore, let the New Universal Monsters thing die, and maybe we can be done with this silly trend in horror.
Bonus Episode #G-2 – Games: Dr. Chaos (1988)
Developed by Marionette
If you thought my last game review was brief, well here’s Dr. Chaos. One of the earliest “horror” games, it was released for the Famicom in 1987, and for the Nintendo Entertainment System the following year. After an awesome title screen complete with title that drips blood and a mansion where you can witness a murder in silhouette, the game goes quickly downhill.
You get to fight some endlessly silly and generic respawning enemies in the mansion with some crappy combat with mice and bats that are way harder to hit than they should be. The controls are confusing at the beginning and annoying after you figure it out just to even switch weapons. The main part of the game is side scrolling, while the rooms are a more entertaining point and click style with occasional pop out enemies that had me fumbling to get a weapon to defeat them. I quickly hit a brick wall in progression and had to look up an FAQ where I found out the hit command that I hadn’t found a use for is for finding secrets such as more passage ways. I hate secret filled games, so I almost switched this off then and there, but I was determined. Well determined until I hit another brick wall later as I seemingly looked everywhere but couldn’t figure out what to do.
After looking back at the needlessly confusing FAQ I realized two things. One, I was going to basically be playing this game with my computer walking me through it. Two, I do not have the patience for this, even less so now. You might think based on these two reviews that I’m shit at games. You’d be mostly right but I’d go so far to say I’ve risen to mediocre, it’s just that I’ve learned to tell very quickly if something isn’t my thing and this game is certainly not. I don’t even know how to judge it as it’s clearly a crappy side scroller, but the only point and click games I’m familiar with are PC based ones in the 90s made for kids, and I’ve never been a guy for puzzle solving games (now puzzle games, that’s my jam).
Bonus Episode #26 – Sci-Fi: Life (2017)
Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Coming to us from the director of mediocre Safe House and the widely hated Child 44 is a claustrophobic riff on Alien. Really though, anyone claiming a film of being a rip off of Alien is pretty silly considering Alien itself is often dogged with that same accusation. Set on the ISS on the first day of a mission to retrieve a Mars probe, a probe they are barely able to recover at that, a small crew examines the samples the probe has collected. In one of the samples they discover a small cell which is filled with proof of life on Mars. It is named by a small girl as Calvin as they announce it to the world.
But this cell starts growing quickly, with each tiny component of it capable of being a muscle or a brain cell or whatever. SPOILERS It grabs the scientist by the hand and breaks it before escaping and murdering a mouse very graphically. It moves almost octopus like and I really like the monster design. It feels truly alien and looks like a cross between a tapeworm, an octopus, and an orchid if that makes any sense. When Reynolds goes into kill it, he fails, and it swims inside him by the mouth and kills him, growing so much bigger and escaping into the oxygen system. It’s a shame that the trailer basically indicated he was gonna likely die early because having your biggest star (in a movie advertised as being led by its two big names) offed is a great twist.
The alien moves about growing and murdering and getting smarter and smarter as it is clearly a thinking being. Not even the Russians who come in and try to push the entire space station into deep space works as the creature kills them all and severs the link, keeping them floating above Earth. As a last ditch move, Jake Gyllenhaal launches himself and Calvin into an escape pod and into deep space. Or rather not since as is incredibly predictable (and the film tries too long to play this coy), his escape pod is instead the one that gets to Earth, which when opened up presumably means the end of human life. END OF SPOILERS
The film kind of slips in the back half but the first half is excellent in the way it builds tension and in the gruesome ways it kills. The more powerful it gets, the sillier the film is though especially in how the film keeps thinking it has outwitted the audience and yet fails every time. Still, it’s overall a fun title that’s worth seeing a the very least for the monster at the center of it.
Bonus Episode #26 – Sci-Fi: Chopping Mall (1986)
Directed by Jim Wynorski
For our second entry in the wonderful title theme today (cause Life sure as heck wasn’t going to be part of it), we have Chopping Mall. The film opens up on an industrial movie depicting a new mall security robot who will patrol the mall at night with over the top violence. While critics are quickly assured that they are completely safe, quickly one of the robots stabs a guard through the throat and it becomes clear that they do not work the way they are supposed to. They look like a cross between the ED-109 and Johnny Five with tank tread legs and I’m thoroughly impressed that this film came out a year before RoboCop because of the similarities between them. I really like the robots too. They seem to have personality if not emotion, following their kills up with a cheerful “Thank you, have a nice day”. The cheesy laser effects are perfect for the era and it’s adorable watching the robots ride the escalators.
As far as human characters, the employees of a store at the mall host a small party with one of them played by Barbara Crampton of so many 80s horror movies. We also get Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov together again as a couple (both from Eating Raoul) in a small role which warmed my cold, dead heart and the always welcome Dick Miller(!) as a hilarious janitor who gets electrocuted to death in quite the entertaining fashion.
Plot wise, SPOILERS some prick gets shocked and his throat slit up real good and a robot lasers a woman in the face and her head explodes in a Scanners-worthy moment. The remaining guys battle the robots with guns to allow the women to escape, apparently destroying one but it is able to restart itself. The women escape but one of them forces the group to return from them because clearly, they need a whiny one like her but at least they are smart enough to arm themselves with homemade gas bombs and road flares. In a move shocking none, she gets set on fire by the robot which kills her.
I do love that the untrained people are all shitty shots even if the people are improbably skilled as a bunch of necessary tasks. They kill one by trapping it in an elevator and dropping it down until it explodes. The next goes when they create a bunch of distractions by dressing up a bunch of mannequins and using a mirror to get one of the robots to shoot itself. It still manages to shoot one of the girls and is only destroyed when another dude suicidally rams it with an adorable little mall cart. The actually capable with a gun girl defeats the final robot single handedly with a combination of paint and paint thinner to help explode it. END OF SPOILERS
I had such a great time watching it. It was so completely 80s from the music, to the effects, to the title, to really the whole mall. The kills are great, the cheese is a natural charm, and the humor isn’t forced. It’s quick moving and short (there’s no excess here) but still able to make everyone into quickly recognizable and mostly likable characters.
Bonus Episode #27 – Zombies: Zombeavers (1986)
Directed by Jim Wynorski
Zombies have been pretty well driven into the ground and so we have basically reached the point where we will mash them up with anything or throw them into any setting (or even classic literature in the case of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) in a desperate attempt to keep things fresh. One might thing that Zombeavers would fall into the growing theme for today of awesome horror titles films but I don’t know. It’s on the border between awesomely silly and far too cute for its own good and on the level of an Asylum production. In fact, I almost saw this in the theaters, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask for one ticket for Zombeavers. Thankfully I saved my money.
The film opens with Bill Burr (who despite being the primary advertised actor he’s barely in it) driving a truck that hits a deer (splattering it) and releasing one of the barrels in the back. The barrel is filled with some biohazard and it spurts open exposing some terrible looking beavers to the contents. The rabid beavers look like something out of a 90s music video and move unnaturally as if pulled on strings. I get the bad effects are supposed to be part of the charm, but it just doesn’t work here, and I think it is because of intent. You can just tell the movie laughs at its own joke
The other big reason probably originates in the characters. Three women whose thick Southern accents that seem to fade in and out (which they got from the southern state of Indiana) who I just can’t wait until they die visit a remote lake house, later to be joined by their three asshole boyfriends. I genuinely hate every single person in this movie with the blonde achieving the rare ability to be the least awful. The film keeps cutting to a pet dog thinking that is enough to be funny. These awful people survive way too long in the movie.
When the beavers show up they first pull END OF SPOILERS a Jaws and attack from underneath, biting off one of the dude’s feet in one of the way too many movie references. They surround the people on a diving platform and they attempt to use that annoying ugly dog as a distraction which thankfully the beavers devour it. The infected (bear or human) grow beaver teeth, claws, and tail and turn into zombies too with the power to chew really fast through wood and be hard to kill. And that’s about it as we wait for the movie to end and everyone to die. Thank god, at least everybody dies. I was so happy the movie ended that I didn’t both to look for the post credits scene (not that I usually do) which hints at the next movie being about zombie bees and good fucking luck to that (thankfully that film remains unmade). END OF SPOILERS
There are so many damn beaver jokes and they are even less witty than my use of damn earlier this sentence. There’s nothing approaching even the beaver Joke in The Naked Gun it’s just matter-of-factly pointing out that beaver is a slang term for vagina. It tries so hard to be funny but fails at basically every step. It fails at all the visual gage, it fails at the jokes it tells, it fails at the very simple task of making an inherently humorous concept (zombie beavers) actually funny, and it also fails by including a blooper reel credits scene which makes any movie instantly worse. It also fails at the whole horror thing too by putting its eggs all in the comedic basket with the gore unsatisfying because of how intentionally fake everything looks. But hey, the owner of JJ’s Diner is in it (RIP Brent Briscoe) so it’s not all bad.
Bonus Episode #28 – Body Horror: The Fly II (1989)
Directed by Chris Walas
For our final film of the month I figured I pick a truly special movie. Lacking any on my DVR, I went with the sequel to remake of The Fly. David Cronenberg remake is one of the better remakes and a big improvement on the original. It’s also one of the defining works of body horror with some truly gruesome effects. It only makes sense then if someone was to replace him for this unnecessary sequel to hire the man responsible for the makeup and animatronics on the first film.
The film opens with the delivery of the child of Jeff Goldblum’s character from the first film and despite giving birth to a bloody sac filled with a white substance, the child within looks perfectly normal. The child grows at an accelerated pace though, has a photographic memory, and doesn’t sleep allowing him to become a boy genius. Eventually he grows into Eric Stoltz and takes a job at the company that raised him and goes to work on his father’s teleporter which they had continued to work on with no success including an experiment on a dog which fails miserably (but is kept alive in agony in secret until Stoltz puts it down). Daphne Zuniga of Spaceballs acts as his love interest and only real friend throughout.
SPOILERS Stoltz starts the transformation process his father went through which he finds out from viewing tapes of his father. He seems to actually be growing stronger at a certain point in his transformation into male Mystique and then into a cocoon of some sort. He emerges as some hulking human/fly hybrid (well he’s closer to Pumpkinhead than a fly) and kills one of the scientists and starts wreaking havoc on the base. Somehow though, merging himself with the evil boss/father figure is able to separate him from the fly monster and we get an unearned happy ending. END OF SPOILERS
The body horror is toned down this time but it’s still present and that’s the clear highlight of the film. Otherwise, it is just a forgettable 80s horror with some iffy acting and nowhere near the quality of plot or acting to the first.
The Wrap Up
Well it’s time to total up the scores. Sadly, I don’t have totals for pages and words (thankfully considering last year it was 122 pages and 68066 words) but I do have movie totals. I was down to 59 films, 2 shorts, 1 TV show, 2 games, a novel, and a novella from 78 films, 12 shorts, 1 TV episode, and a miniseries in 2016 and 62 films, 3 shorts, and 1 TV episode in 2015 which is heartening but it sure didn’t feel any less time consuming. What was up was 12 nations represented (from 8 the year before though it was 38 in 2015) of which 6 were new to the feature for a total of 45 nations represented which is still short of my goal of hitting 50 films by the end of this month. Once again, there were a few films I missed out on (the 1979 version of Dracula and The Harvest are sitting on my DVR while Werewolf of London and the 1943 version of Phantom of the Opera are on my DVD shelf, while I really wanted to get ahold of eXistenZ.
So, thank you to all those who read and commented and maybe I’ll see you all next year (because seriously this shit is exhausting). Below I have included links to all the posts on channel (or feel free to check them out on the new site where they are archived under Movies) and also my top five and bottom five films of this year’s runs.
Next up: Sleep, lots of sleep
10/1 – TV Movies: The Plumber
10/2 – James Wan: Dead Silence
10/3 – Stephen King: It
10/4 – Remakes: The Phantom of the Opera
10/5 – Chucky: Curse of Chucky
10/6 – Female Directors: Raw (Grave)
10/7 – Sub-R Horror: Ouija
10/8 – China: Song at Midnight
10/9 – Modernized: The Return of Dracula
10/10 – Schlock: Vicious Lips
10/11 – Exploitation: I Spit on Your Grave
10/12 – DTV Sequels: American Psycho II: All American Girl
10/13 – Song Kang-ho: The Quiet Family (Choyonghan kajok)
10/14 – Hannibal Lecter: Hannibal Rising
10/15 – Platinum Dunes: The Amityville Horror
10/16 – Horror Titles: 976-EVIL
10/17 – Youths: Eden Lake
10/18 – Terence Fisher: The Brides of Dracula
10/19 – Movie Posters: The Creature Walks Among Us
10/20 – Propaganda: Invisible Agent
10/21 – Movie Length: A Cure for Wellness
10/22 – Switzerland: Sennentuntschi
10/23 – Literature: This Book Is Full of Spiders
10/24 – Female Villains: She-Wolf of London
10/25 – Documentary: Universal Horror
10/26 – George A. Romero: Survival of the Dead
10/27 – Greece: Island of Death (Ta pediá tou Diavólou)
10/28 – Laos: Dearest Sister (Nong hak)
10/29 – M. Night Shyamalan: Split
10/30 – South Africa: House on Willow Street
10/31 – The Essentials: The Old Dark House