“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Hell Fest

HELL FEST is a mainstream horror movie released on 2,297 screens by Lionsgate, but I never saw a trailer for it and only heard of it because Brian Collins recommended it on Twitter (he also interviewed the director). So I guess social media can still work for good old fashioned word of mouth, not just Russian disinformation campaigns.

For people who like horror but get bored of formula and cliche, this is probly nothing special. But for horror fans like me who enjoy variations on tradition, it’s a surprise treat: a slick, well-made straight-ahead slasher movie with some cool ideas, production value, a solid cast, even likable characters. I honestly thought they couldn’t make movies like this anymore – it seems straight from the post-SCREAM slasher revival, except without any meta stuff (other than we’re having fun being scared while the characters are having fun being scared). Also, no big names in the cast. The only face I recognized besides cameo-ing Tony Todd was Bex Taylor-Klaus from Scream: The TV Series. (But maybe others would be known to me if I was younger.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Castle Freak

The way Stuart Gordon tells it, CASTLE FREAK was made because he saw Charles Band’s poster for it before it was even really a premise.

“What’s that about?”

“A castle and a freak.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how the majority of Full Moon Pictures come about, but they usually don’t have the brilliant director of RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND as the guy translating the poster into an actual movie, so they don’t turn out this well.

Gordon’s idea of CASTLE FREAK takes inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft. I’m sure you could also say that about what he eats for breakfast every morning. But he credits the short story “The Outsider,” about a man escaping from the castle where he’s lived alone for as long as he can remember. The screenplay is by Gordon’s longtime collaborator Dennis Paoli (RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, DAGON), and its hook is simple: American asshole John Reilly (Jeffrey Combs, THE FRIGHTENERS) inherits a 12th century castle from a Duchess and brings his unhappy wife (Barbara Crampton, FRATERNITY VACATION) and blind daughter (Jessica Dollarhide, 1 episode of Major Dad, 2 episodes of In Living Color, 2 episodes of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) to check it out with him. Little do they know that his dead relative also left behind the feral, mutilated man she’d been torturing in the dungeon for most of his life. Probly should’ve mentioned that. (read the rest of this shit…)

To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story

TO HELL AND BACK: THE KANE HODDER STORY is an above average horror movie doc, partially in filmatistic execution but especially in subject matter. I mean it has its share of generic talking head interviews and convention footage, and a questionable interview choice or two – the brief clips of “hip hop duo Twiztid” praising the man of the hour create a sinking feeling that we horror fans might be on the wrong side of history. And there’s lots of repetition that seems to me like it could’ve been trimmed to strengthen this 104 minute story into a fierce 80. But the movie’s emphasis on the vulnerabilities of a legendary movie slasher, contrasted with his menacing qualities both on and off screen, make for a fascinating story at times.

Hodder is, of course, the guy who portrayed Jason Voorhees in FRIDAY THE 13THs 7, 8, 9 and X. We hear about how being stunt coordinator on Renny Harlin’s PRISON accidentally led to wearing monster makeup (and putting bugs in his mouth) and impressed makeup genius/part 7 director John Carl Buechler enough to get him the role of his life. And they get into what he added to the character, how his suggestions and fearlessness spruced up the movies, what his family thinks about it, how much fans like to be choked by him, how devastating it was to be replaced for FREDDY VS. JASON, even some tidbits about doing stunts on AVENGING FORCE (actually a pivotal moment in his life, you’ll find out, and not because the movie is so cool). (read the rest of this shit…)

The Devil’s Candy

All I knew about THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015) was

1) I think it’s one of those ones with some kind of satan/heavy metal theme and

2) I’ve been meaning to see it because it’s the second movie from Sean Byrne, the Australian writer-director of THE LOVED ONES.

That’s why it took me a bit to figure out that this is taking place in America, and that the big Pruitt Taylor Vince looking dude is in fact the genuine item, and most of all that the muscly, tattooed, long-haired, bushy-bearded Matthew McConaghey looking lead was CAN’T HARDLY WAIT‘s Ethan Embry. I only realized it like 2/3 of the way in when I checked IMDb for somebody else in the cast. And I’ve even seen him in grown up roles like CHEAP THRILLS and LATE PHASES. So this is quite a transformation for him.

Embry (Masters of Horror: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road) plays Jesse Hellman, an edgy painter who is able to move his family from a small apartment to a roomy house thanks to a combination of soul-grinding sell-out commissions and a two-people-died-here discount. But, as I personally have noticed sometimes happens in movies, there seems to be something demonic or haunted or cursed or evil or unlucky or fucked up or at least just super, super uncool about the place. I mean, we already saw in the opening that Ray Smilie (Vince, K-9, CONSTANTINE), the adult and seemingly developmentally disabled son of the previous owners, heard whispers telling him to kill. His method of shutting up the voices is to play his electric guitar loud, but his mom makes him stop. It’s like George Wendt and Macaulay Culkin at the beginning of the “Black or White” video, but with more deadly results. (read the rest of this shit…)

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich

I haven’t watched a PUPPET MASTER picture since the early ’90s, so congratulations to this marketing that got me excited to watch the new PUPPET MASTER presented by the new Fangoria.

PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH is sort of a start-over made with the blessing but not direct participation of Charles Band. I don’t think I can technically call it a reboot, though, because it’s not supposed to end or replace the still ongoing original series. It’s an alternate universe version where the titelistical ruler of evil puppets, Andre Toulon, is a totally different character. Instead of a victim of the Nazis he’s a French-German Nazi sympathizer played by Udo Kier (BLADE, BARB WIRE) in nasty burn makeup. The screenwriter is S. Craig Zahler, and though it does not feel anything like BONE TOMAHAWK or BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 it does continue his tradition of pushing the discomfort buttons and making me wonder “Should I be concerned about these racial themes?”

The main story takes place in the present, when artist and comic book store employee Edgar (Thomas Lennon, MEMENTO, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) has to bite the bullet and go stay with his parents while getting back on his feet after a divorce. Desperate for money, he decides to take his dead brother’s rare hand-made puppet to Dallas to try to sell at a convention for the 30th anniversary of “The Toulon Murders.” But there are a bunch of other people there with their own original Toulon puppets, which all come to life (through goofy hand puppeting, not stop motion) and gorily murder Jewish, gay and black people. Puppetry and bigotry become one. (read the rest of this shit…)

Shot

SHOT is a movie that’s not necessarily thrilling from start to finish, but that is a unique specimen and time capsule that I’m happy we, as a civilization, maintain a record of. Somehow the canister-diggers at Vinegar Syndrome got their dusty fingers on a 16mm crime epic made by film students in Champaign, Illinois circa 1973, and now all the sudden it’s on Blu-Ray with a newly restored 2k transfer. The movie is appealing not only for exhibiting the fashion and music of its era, but for having an impressive amount of production value considering its origins. Reportedly they raised a $15,000 budget with campus film screenings, but I imagine it was more a matter of string-pulling that accounts for some of this. They have an abundance of helicopter footage, a small plane, multiple police cars, many guns, and a couple car crashes. It’s no FRENCH CONNECTION (a cited inspiration), but picture yourself, like, 22 years old trying to figure out how to get access to that stuff.

The key to watchability is a solid cast of non-professional actors. Vinegar Syndrome’s promo materials call the movie “regional filmmaking” (and also “a low-key piece of regional New American Cinema”) which is a good description, but might sound like something more laughable and homemade than this. The natural performances I think graduate it to legit indie film. It’s much more professional than so many regional horror movies that I’ve seen, and that’s kind of an interesting part of it, I think. If it was after HALLOWEEN they’d be making a horror movie. If it was after RESERVOIR DOGS they’d be making a crime movie. I guess after DIRTY HARRY they wanted to make cop movies. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Predator

I didn’t get to see THE PREDATOR until after the world had already estimated its coordinates somewhere in the hostile territory between disappointment and disaster. Maybe that prepared me for the sloppy last stretch (it seems like some connective tissue must’ve been lost in editing or reshoots) and a thudding comedy riff or two involving a character with Tourette’s. And I guess a couple subpar quasi-science discussions, sometimes involving “the spectrum.” Also, is it just me or are these people weirdly unsurprised to see aliens?

But everything else in the movie tears its gear off and covers itself in mud to prove it’s a true warrior of entertainment. This is a funnier Predator movie, one full of joyful, gory mayhem, clever dialogue and inventive action beats. Let me give you an example from the opening. Decorated army sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, JANE GOT A GUN) witnesses the crash of a Predator ship and pulls an extra-terrestrial helmet and gauntlet out of the wreckage before catching a glimpse of the camouflaged alien pilot (6’9 1/2″ parkour artist Brian A. Prince) stringing up another soldier. Panicked, McKenna accidentally fires the wrist weapon, slicing his friend’s corpse in half and dumping intestines and blood onto the cloaked Predator, revealing its location and appearance.

I mean, you love that, right? I love that. We all, in my opinion, love that. That’s what movies are for right there. (read the rest of this shit…)

Death Kiss

The success of DEATH WISH launched a million sleazy urban vigilante revenge pictures, but it took 44 years – one for each millimeter in a Magnum – for us to get one starring an uncanny Charles Bronson lookalike. In the tradition of THE MAN WITH HUMPHREY BOGART’S FACE, BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA, THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE, the entire genre of Bruceploitation, Dolly the Sheep and Madame Tussaud’s comes DEATH KISS starring Robert Kovacs, a.k.a. Robert Bronzi. He doesn’t have a death wish, he is the kiss of death, you see. They explain that.

I believe this is a sincere tribute and/or a weird novelty, not a cash grab, because it’s not like there’s gonna be big money in tricking somebody into thinking there’s another old Bronson movie they never heard of, or that Bronson is alive and looking the same age as he was in DEATH WISH four decades ago. There’s no explanation, he just appears there with his messy hair and trademark mustache, wearing his Paul Kersey trenchcoat and tie, a mysterious stranger showing up where he’s not supposed to, putting bullets into child traffickers and their clients, or unsolicited cash into the mailbox of a troubled single mother (Eva Hamilton, OUIJA HOUSE) who has no idea who he is.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Summer of ’98: The Thrilling Conclusion

Usually my idea of a good movie summer is one with a bunch of really high quality big budget action/sci-fi type movies. Popular entertainment that we can get excited about and enjoy together and talk about as a collective cultural experience – summer blockbusters, popcorn movies, the sons of JAWS. For example a famously great movie summer was 1982, which gave us CONAN THE BARBARIAN, ROCKY III, POLTERGEIST, STAR TREK II, E.T., BLADE RUNNER and THE THING, among others. Or what about 1990, which gave us TOTAL RECALL, DICK TRACY, GREMLINS 2, DIE HARD 2, DARKMAN and THE WITCHES. There have been some good ones before.

1998 wasn’t really one of those good ones. Two of the big event movies, GODZILLA and LOST IN SPACE, were widely hated garbage. Another one, ARMAGEDDON, is highly influential garbage. Its rival space debris epic, DEEP IMPACT, is kinda dull. Most people despised THE AVENGERS. Even in the animation category it’s a shitty summer, with Disney’s mediocre MULAN and Warner Brothers’ embarrassingly bad QUEST FOR CAMELOT.

I think the best traditional summer movie of the year is MASK OF ZORRO, a hit at the time that’s not discussed much anymore. In the R-rated world the best and most influential was obviously BLADE, a surprise smash released in the supposed dumping ground of August. I also think LETHAL WEAPON 4 is a pretty impressive if messy and offensive action sequel. But that’s about it for those types of movies. (read the rest of this shit…)

54

I’m a little behind schedule but ladies and gentleman, welcome to the final review in the Summer of ’98 series.

August 28, 1998

54 is the second of summer ’98’s competing disco movies. I’m not sure if it’s the DEEP IMPACT or the ARMAGEDDON, but it’s the not as good and not as well reviewed one. Like LAST DAYS OF DISCO it’s about a particular New York City disco in the later years, and there are conflicts between the management and staff that end with the place being raided by the IRS. But this one is in no way about yuppies, it’s based on the history of a real place, the main characters are all employees of the club, and there’s much more emphasis on the disco as a sanctuary for outcasts and misfits, so it would seem to have the potential to be BEAT STREET to LAST DAYS’s BREAKIN’.

But only the potential. Nobody seemed to take it that way.

Shane (Ryan Phillippe, SETUP) is a macho goon from New Jersey whose dreaming eyes gaze across the water to New York City like Luke Skywalker looking to the stars. He’s drawn to Studio 54 by newspaper columns about the celebrities who go there, so he perms his hair and drags his meathead buddies (including Mark Ruffalo, THE DENTIST) there with visions of Olivia Newton-John dancing in their heads, but only Shane (minus shirt) gets past the openly looks-based velvet rope elimination process.

For a second Shane seems like a Tony Manero, but he doesn’t give a shit about dancing (as in LAST DAYS, dancing is an oddly small part of the disco story). There’s a dramatic closeup of his foot hesitating to take its first step on the dance floor, but then he just goes into the crowd and yahoos for the band like he’s cheering on a football game. The looks he gets cause him to observe his surrounding and copy the other people’s moves. Then he quickly gets a job as a shirtless bus boy and doesn’t have to dance anymore. (read the rest of this shit…)