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Transmorphers

 
Man, even the credits for Transmorphers is designed to evoke Transformers. But to their credit, they get the action going right away. Techy astroids, and transforming robots that look like they would’ve been cutting edge for Captain Power, but perhaps a little bit cheap for 2007. Still, you gotta give them credit for trying, and points for not easing us in with a long and convoluted origin story but plunging us right into the battle.

The machines are advancing, and preparing for war. It’s time for a strike at the heart of the defenses. It’s time to take the planet back.

They decide on a mission to try and capture one of these… zeta bots. The idea is if they can extract its power source, they can better understand it. We get a crack team in hockey pads and Nerf guns (actually, I’m not sure what these things are made out of… Nerf guns probably would’ve been prefreable! ) ready to go. Admit, the brief room is excellent. They’ve put some real effort into these sets. Far more than what I would see and stuff like Atlantic Rim. To be fair, they rented a few sets from the Firefly movie Serenity… But even the ones that they’ve created themselves out of ceiling tile, air conditioning conduit and fluorescent light bulbs end up looking surprisingly effective. The exteriors are interesting as well. Very Matrix like, underground high-tech cities.

The crack team goes in, but all of a sudden, they discover that there’s a bot waiting to ambush them… disguised as part of the terrain. It transforms into a robot, and then into a large cannon, even as other bots fly through the sky. It’s surprisingly clever and curiously compelling. I’m only 13 minutes in, and I feel like I shouldn’t be this invested!

Things are going horribly wrong, and there’s only one man that can save them… A renegade named Warren Mitchell… A cold calculating person who’s mind the machines can’t read. The general (she seems awfully young and pretty to be a general… Even a two star one)
is not happy about having him, but on the other hand, he’s not happy to be woken up into this cold in life this world either. He makes demands that his old cronies get unfrozen to eat him… The general gives him one.

There’s a fun bit of action as he breaks in his new team. There’s still a mission to try and grab one of those fuel cells… If they can alter it, perhaps they can alter the consciousness of the robots and control their thinking.
The post apocalyptic battle looks very Captain Power… But with better FX. Kind of as if somebody was trying to make a Terminator future drama but only had access to late 90s CGI. It’s always a problem when were using lasers instead of bullets, but they’ve done a good enough job of making me want to like these characters in this world that I’m still pretty well all-in on this slightly cartoonish adventure. (seriously, if I can put up with it in Leprechaun 4, I can put up with it here. ) They’re not skimping on the human versus robot gun battles either. In fact, the heavy sci-fi elements and set pieces have me enjoying this more than the actual Transformers movie. That’s not a high bar, but it’s still impressive to see the Asylum clear it.

They managed to grab a bot and discover that while they had always assumed the machines were created by an alien race… They were wrong. The machines are the alien race. Opening it up, there’s a mixture of technology and organic tissue… Surprisingly well realized. Now it’s a race against time to get the modifications made before the rest of the robot army comes down around them… but even if that fails, there’s a back up… And at twist waiting for us all.

The weird thing here is, this is the one we always make fun of. It’s the most high profile of Asylums mockbusters, trying to pass with a title just similar enough to Transformers that it might confuse your grandmother when she’s out buying you a birthday gift. The thing is, it’s really shouldn’t be compared to Transformers. It’s a completely different kind of movie… With the only similarity being that there happens to be robots. They don’t really transform, they just shift into a weapons mode. It’s such a completely different kind of fun, and such a completely different genre that now, a decade and a half later, it actually stands better on its own. I’m not going and expecting Transformers, and the level of storytelling that we get here is just surprisingly good. Seriously, if I had grabbed this off the shelf at the video rental store with my friends back when we were teenagers, we would’ve worn this thing out. I know, I’m just flabbergasted as you are  at how much I like this. And that’s really the true test. This thing passed the watch test completely, not once did I look at the clock or check the run time on the menu. I was engrossed for the full 86 minutes… And smart of it not to overstay as welcome like that too. Truth is, if One weekend afternoon, you gave me the choice between watching this or the Michael Bay Transformers movie again… Pretty sure I pick this.

Transmorphers
for a surprise recommend! Asylum is happy to pimp out the license for this thing, so you’ll find it on multiple streaming platforms, even on some of the legit movie channels on YouTube. But I’m gonna tell you right now, if I run across this at record exchange your half price books, I’m going to plunk down a couple dollars to get myself a copy of the physical media. I’m that impressed.
 
 

The Apocalypse

Apocalypse starts off with campers watching a shooting star. Well, it’s not just a shooting star, it’s not just a little meteor, it’s the end of the world! Teeny fiery meteors falling from the sky, killing people individually with the smaller ones, and smashing houses with the bigger ones, until finally one large enough to destroy a city vaporizers Monterey.

They’re messing with the radios as well, and disrupting atmosphere.
Because of this pollen meteor, all eyes are in the sky… The one that fell already was as big as a house. And the one that’s following it in four days is as big as the size of Texas… An extinction starter.

We are introduced to A park ranger and his estranged wife, who’re trying to get to their daughter and her college friends down in LA. But right now they have got bigger worry… Toxic ash and a landslide near their home, And a tornado near their daughters. Even stranger, people are vanishing.

I don’t see any real story here. The film just drifts from scene to scene with the disaster as the background rather than being the main thrust.
It’s a very talky movie, with some strange religious overtones. Not specifically Christian… But more, someone who maybe thinks they know what Christianity is from watching Hallmark movies and UP TV? Considering the Asylum makes terrible horror and sci-fi movies, trust them to mess up religious one too huh?

Ultimately, It serves as a good example of how boring a rural disaster movie can be. That’s really more the province of urban films. Buildings collapsing, cars crashing, fire and smoke in… The end of the world! This is just a tornado here and there superimposed on the background. A sinkhole… CG cracks in the street. People huddling in the wreckage, but no real spectacular destruction. Even when L.A. gets flooded by title waves… It’s quick and terrible CGI. Oh, and everyone dies at the end when the big one hits.

I really don’t know who this movie is for. I’m not a disaster movie fan, so OK, maybe that’s part of my problem, but it’s not for the horror fans. And if you were going to make a movie for Christian audience, you’ve got to actually get the theology right. And the theology in this thing is all over the place…(People don’t get raptured here and there just as they die….or suddenly believe.. I know of no beliefe like that. Even the mid-trib folks don’t go there) I don’t really feel like this was made by believers, but rather by somebody who saw the Left Behind films and thought they’d take a crack at it.

Part of me really wants to give Jones a bit of a pass, because it’s his first film. I think you’d be more likely to get that pass from me if it weren’t for these so severely botched theology in here and the pandering attempt at a religious movie when you obviously knew nothing of their beliefs. This thing is just bad. Pass. Skip. Runaway. Avoid at all costs.

Recoil

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Well I’m not a wrestling fan (Though a lot of my friends are) I do know Stone Cold Steve Austin’s name. He’s been around long enough and has high profile enough that even know who he is and there are a bunch of his films available at the dollar tree, usually I’ll pass over them but I grabbed this one for one reason. Danny Trejo.

Recoil is the story of an ex cop turned drifter after the deaths of his wife and daughter. He drifts into a small town and right onto the bad side of the local biker gang, one that just happens to be led by Trejo. In an even more amazing coincidence, Trejo is the one who murdered Steve Austin’s family. Now Steve Austin is all that stands against and destruction of the small town. And maybe he’ll get a little bit of revenge along the way.

imagesIf that sounds like a really generic action movie pitch, it’s because it is. That’s not necessarily a  really bad thing, I happen to enjoy generic, by the numbers horror movies and I think action fans will get right into this sort of generic action movie.

Steve Austin basically does what he always does. He’s playing the same role he always did even when he was wrestling.  He doesn’t have a lot of range but let’s face it, nobody’s looking to him for range. Trejo is his usual self here as well, and isn’t really given much to work with. Looking at the cover art, I was indexhoping for a team up instead of a face off, but I’ll take what I can get. This is so much about performances as it is just fast paced fun with familiar faces. If you’re up for some fistfights a few interesting action gags and a little bit of been fighting, recoil will probably do the job.


Black Dragons

boxclassicsindexI can’t remember if I’ve watched Black Dragons before or not. It’s definitely on my radar because of Bella Lugosi, even if it is one of his lesser films. We get an introduction – fifth columnists are lurking in the US! this revelation is overlaid with several disasters happening around the country. We got a cabal of people there just to make trouble. Bela Lugosi infiltrates as one of their number, then one by one, they start to end up dead, each clutching a Japanese dagger…baffling the police.

Black Dragons drinking game : Drink every time somebody slides the double doors in the house closed, and take a shot every time Lugosi creeps up behind someone.

While it’s not bad, it’s really nothing more than pulp fiction. Lugosi could very easily be playing The Shadow of The Spider and the story would be largely the same. It’s definitely a worthwhile pick, if only to see some early Clayton Moore in his pre-Lone Ranger days. It’s got a wild twist at the end, but it’s definitely a B-movie classic, and served well by its short 61 minute running time.


Intro to Justin Jones

Justin Jones is a solid Asylum alum from way back. He was there when they made thier first Mockbuster – 2005’s War of the Worlds as first assistant director.

Since then, he’s racked up north of 70 credits as producer or assistant director or various crew positions over the years. In particular, he’s been a part of several notable projects that I’ve seen over the years, such as ;

2008 Doomsday (Video) (first assistant director)
2007 AVH: Alien vs. Hunter (Video) (first assistant director)
2007 I Am Omega (Video) (first assistant director – as Justin L. Jones)
2007  Universal Soldiers (first assistant director – as Justin L. Jones)
2007 would also be the year he would make his first film as full director – The Apocalypse.
 
What I find even more interesting is that abotu halfway through his career, Jones starts to team up with a directing partner named Chris Freeman. We start to see a shift there, but still a lot that’s distinctly Jones.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, I’d like to look at some of his early stuff where he’d be assistant director (alongside much of the cast that would appear in his first two films) on on of the most company defining films the Asylum would ever put out. Meet me back here in a week or two and we’ll ease our way into Jones’ career with…. Transmorphers.
 
 
 

All Cheerleaders Die

DollarindexAll Cheerleaders Die is a great example of one of those ubiquitous Netflix picks that are ever-present on the platform and constantly getting passed over because you’re looking for something a little bit better. The cover art is clever and gets the message across, but it’s been a tough movie for me to sit down and watch. After I saw the DVD on the shelf at the local dollar store though, it felt like it was finally time. (I’m just saying, physical media is really where it’s at!)

This is the story of cheerleaders versus jocks. A young woman gets teased and disrespected at a party, and vows revenge on the football team that made her feel small. That revenge of course comes through witchcraft, and a spell that goes horribly wrong – leaving two of the girls in swapped bodies and causing them all a ravenous hunger that only murder can sate.

imagesDirected by horror icon Lucky McKee, this early work of his really shows the powerhouse he would become in later years. It doesn’t shy away from blood or violence and it’s both fun and uncomfortable to watch at times (I’d expect no less from the director of Jack Ketchum’s The Woman). Lucky is one of those old-school horror directors that grew up with a lot of us in the 80s and is bringing the splat pack esthetic back to the genre. This is actually a surprisingly good pic (Despite my initial and understandable resistance to a cheerleader edition of The Craft) and one that deserves more attention then just another unwatched entry in your Netflix queue.


The Devil’s Partner

boxclassicsindexIt might be easy to mistake the Devil’s Partner for a redneck, hillbilly film. You got an old mountain man bringing out a sheep in the wilderness, but then we get a good look at the arcane document that he is writing in its blood and see a hand reach over to help him and my faith in the occult thriller is restored.

Our credits go over a bus on the road headed to the flats, and a lone passenger getting off in a rumled suit to pop in to the local café. He’s way out of place in the small town restaurant. And he announces he’s looking for his uncle, the place clears out And the cops show up.

They suspect foul play in his death, he wasn’t very liked in the community.
As our hero Nick inspects the spell written on the floor, the dog mauls the local mechanic Dave, coincidentally opening up a job for Nick so he can stay in town. He takes employment at local garage, catching the eye of the girl who runs the local restaurant. The real horror here though, is that he’s wearing a bowtie in the shop! Also he’s picking up the local drunk for more arcane rituals. He gets trampled by a rabid horse.

It’s really not good to be an animal in this movie.

index2After discovering the body of the dead drunk,the local sheriff pops over to the shack Nick has been staying in, discovers the spell written underneath the rug, while his Yorkie sidekick digs up a goat bone on the side of the building. The sheriff starts to think there’s more going on here than meets the eye, and contrives a way to trick Nick into revealing himself.

Despite being a B feature from 1961, The Devil’s Partner is actually a pretty solid flick. It would be perfect horror host fodder, and I’d be completely content to stick around at a drive-in to watch this after the main feature. It’s flooding around YouTube and has popped up in several collections, it might just be worth your time.


Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2022

I noticed a frustrated exclamation on my Facebook timeline. My friend Angelique was screaming “sally Hardesty did not deserve that!“

Oh that’s right, Netflix released a new Texas Chainsaw Massacre film.

I think before we start I need to get some bona fides out of the way. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not one of my sacred cows. It just isn’t. I knew who Leatherface was growing up, and was aware of the series… Particularly in reference to how it influenced Carl Reiner’s comedy masterpiece Summer School. But I didn’t actually see the film itself until college. My buddy Jason discovered the gap in my horror knowledge and brought me over to his place to watch the movie. Since then I’ve caught a number of the films… I really enjoyed the 2003 remake. There are times when I struggle over whether or not I may actually prefer it to the original. I’ve seen a bit more than half of the various sequel and remake and whatnots, from the bizarre and over the top neon insanity of part two, to the sadly bland part three, to the sort of remake and sort of sequel… Though not sure what… that we got in 2013’s Texas Chainsaw. Heavy on homage and short on story.Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a tough nut to crack. It almost seems to lend itself better to remake them to sequalization. So how does the Netflix version fair? We’re gonna put the negative right out there… That way I can wrap it up with the positives. There’s plenty to be had on both sides of that scale, so stick with me for a bit here.

First and foremost, the return of Sally Hardesty is just a shame. There’s no point (especially since the original actress has passed – this is someone else) other than the series is falling into Sarah Connor Syndrome. Is this whole tactic of bringing back a familiar final girl, now older and changed, is extremely hit or miss. Indeed, it works for Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. It doesn’t work for her in Terminator Genisys. At that point she’s too different of a character. It doesn’t work for Dee Wallace in Critters Attack either. It works better for Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween 2019, far better than it did in H2O, but she then becomes a useless piece of shit dressing in Halloween Kills. It’s just not a great tactic. Not every woman can be Ripley… especially in their 70s. Sally Hardesty for her part, is much like Jamie Lee Curtis’s Halloween Kills version of Lauris Strode. She is there to bring some name recognition, get in the way a little bit, maybe save the day and maybe get killed. But the story is actually about her. We see lots of people talking about her, and don’t spend a whole lot of time actually with her. She feels grafted onto this story, almost like a producers note. I don’t like that. Indeed, if anything, she does this film I just service by shifting focus away from this movie’s final girl(s).

Then there’s the “direct sequel to the original” approach, where we basically ignore everything in between. Halloween has done this twice, but it works for them, with the ever shifting continuity in that series. Still, this one always gives me problems. It stretches my suspension of disbelief… The serial killer got away, and then just went dormant for 40 years? Why? When a killer gets a taste for murder… They generally don’t stop, unless someone makes them stop. A reference to unsolved murders or abductions over the years would go a long way. But the idea that Leatherface committed his atrocities in the late 70s, and then put away his chainsaw and didn’t poke his head out again until 2019 is a little ridiculous. I don’t buy it. All of this bogs down a sequel that has a genuinely interesting premise.

We have a group of young 20 something go-getters – you almost think that these are some of the preppies from the 80s off to take over the world. They bought up an old ghost town in southern Texas and are planning to flip it. They’re going to do some of the work themselves, they’re cleaning out the buildings, and auctioning them off, while keeping some choice locations for themselves. It’s an ambitious idea to rebuild and revitalize this town and turn it into something trendy and new. But lurking in one of these buildings, there’s an old woman still taking care of a anonymous orphan. An orphan who is grown, but mentally challenged. When our developers have her thrown out of her home (and it suggested that she had indeed managed to pay it off, and that her deed was the one missing from their collection, unbeknownst to them) she has a heart attack in the cops car, and the shadowy old orphan goes on a rampage to avenge her. (so Leatherface has been hiding in this orphanage for 40 years? I don’t understand how that works… He wasn’t a child during the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and all this time he has apparently not harmed another person… See what I’m talking about with suspension of disbelief?)

There’s some good suspense, with a couple of our characters exploring the tenement to try and find a deed just as Leatherface is returning home. We get some good kills and some well-done jump scares. We get some CGI blood, but we also get some genuinely well done gore. These guys are not afraid to bring the blood. We get a massacre inside a party bus That gets a little ridiculous… Especially with some of these kids streaming it on social media. That’s one of those things that kind of pulls you out of the film. This is supposed to be Texas Chainsaw Massacre, high tech meeting these kind of backwoods characters just feels incongruent. Nevertheless, it allows Leatherface to build up a huge body count, before facing off with Sally Hardesty and the final girl(s). We even get a heartbreaking final coda and it’s all reasonably well done.

That’s the thing, I want to like this. It’s not groundbreaking, it’s not the triumph that the 2003 remake was, but it’s definitely as good as any of the average sequels. And that’s really what it feels like, a late series sequel that’s gone direct to video. But it also feels so much like there was a lot of script by committee. (I’m not saying it was… I don’t have any inside information) I see touches like streaming the massacre, and the way things are lit, just a lot of elements that feel like they came off at a checklist rather than developed organically. Also, the absence of the rest of the family is just very keenly felt. Texas Chainsaw Massacre has never been about Leatherface… despite the fact that he is the poster boy of the franchise. The real horror in this series has always been city meets the country and doesn’t understand it, as well as the paranoia of never quite being sure who is in the family and who isn’t. Discovering that that kindly old guy at the gas station is actually part of the unspoken conspiracy to murder and devour outsiders. Discovering that the sheriff is in on it too, which means there’s no help coming. Every time you flee for help you just discover another member of the family. That oppressive and alien feeling in the dirt poor areas combined with the fact that even though you feel smarter than these people, they sure all do appear to have the upper hand. Maybe they’re actually the clever ones after all…

All of that is missing from this film. That’s weird. Because for a movie that seems to be building itself on the history and legacy of the franchise, treating the original film as historical fact and then bring in the old final girl… Watching the movie, I feel like these people know nothing about the characters or the lore and could have slapped any generic hillbilly slasher into this and made just as good of a movie.

So when it comes down to whether or not I recommend it… That’s a really hard question. For someone like me who is just in it as a tourist, it’s cool. It’s fine. Plenty of torn flesh to keep me satisfied, a couple of interesting if hollow not to the original. For someone who is a fan of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I could see this making you very angry. Very frustrated… and yet still wanting to see it because there’s not exactly any other new material out there. Proceed with caution I suppose. There’s a good movie in here somewhere, and I wish I could’ve seen that one instead.


Creature Cabin aka Tarnation

A girl, clad in white flees a very Evil Dead-looking cabin, pursued by Brown cloaked monks. She fights them off but then, ademonic unicorn shows up and stabs her with it’s horn.

I’m definitely in the right place.

Band practices are a pretty common feature of Anderson’s films, and we head straight into one where the lead singer is getting fired. Time to get away. Log cabin sounds good right now.

The cabin is in a weird town called Tarnation that has strange ponds and flying unicorns. I think. Things get a little weird here.  Unicorns need to be able to infect people with evil, and turns one of the locals who then gives our crew a lift to the cabin. That allows her to turn the first girl who zombies out while making out with her boyfriend on a big furry rug. That doesn’t go well, but it’s even worse for the new hunky boyfriend of our rock singer. He gets bugs up his pee hole, and the entire thing turns into a really bizarre homage to Evil Dead, ultimately enda up with rocker girl bound, and hung upside down, ready to be sacrificed to the demon flying unicorn and the eldritch powers it serves.

The paintings bleed when Oscar cuts them, and the demons taunt her from outside. The maniacal spider legged demon head that sounds like a gremlin and scrambles down the chimney almost made me plotz.

Rocker girl Oscar is going a little mad at this point? I mean you can’t blame her, she’s in the middle of a mad Australian exploitation picture where is zombie kangaroos in boxing gloves show up out of nowhere.

Still, she is on a quest to destroy the oil painting from the cabin… and when burning doesn’t work, the next best idea is to drop it in the bubbling pool of blood in the middle of the forest. But maybe, just maybe, instead of the painting going into the pool blood, maybe it’s Ozzie’s turn to plunge down the rabbit hole.

Truth is, this film is all over the place. It is a wild and bizarre ride. It’s got the bright colors and aesthetic tones of a full moon film, it’s got the humor and wit of the best horror comedies out there. It wears its Evil Dead influence on its sleeve, the homage is our fast and furious, not the least of which is the fact that the poster is on the wall! They’re not being subtle about anything. Yet despite this heavy influence, Anderson manages to strike a balance between being derivative and being original. It definitely has his stamp on it, and he takes it into places that Evil Dead never dreamt of. It’s funny and gory and bloody and it has an enormous amount of love behind it.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect film. Anderson relies perhaps a bit too much on the rocks score. then there’s the budget. Our demonic unicorn is obviously just a mask, we don’t get the full beast. But they sometimes fail to properly execute or light it and it ends up looking silly and wonky instead of terrifying. The cabin itself and the surrounding woods are obviously all built on a stage. Yet the production embraces it, and ultimately things like this add to the heightened reality. Even though I can tell that’s not a real sky behind the cabin, and those trees surrounding it aren’t real… It’s lit so effectively that I’m willing to suspend my disbelief because the imagery just fits with the world they’ve created.

The movie is sidesplittingly funny. It’s dark humor is usually in bad taste, but it’s not scatological, and it’s not stupid. There are gags like rocker girl pulling out the zombies intestines and the zombie looking alarmed and exclaiming “I’m pretty sure that’s not supposed to be on the outside of me…” it gets gross but it also finds itself so over the top that it doesn’t repel.

I can’t get enough of this. I watched the movie on streaming, but I’m off to Amazon to see if I can locate a physical copy, because something that’s ridiculous just HAS to stay in my collection forever!

 

 


2035 Forbidden Dimensions

Dollarimages2035 has an amazing cover. We have a goggled figure in a long coat, flanked by two bizarre survivors of a dusty wasteland behind them and it promises action and Mad Max-like drama. It’s a genuinely good bit of graphic design that grabs you and immediately gets you invested in the film.

So why you might ask, am I committing so much space and time to my description of this marvelous cover? It’s simple. It’s because the rest of this thing is garbage, and it feels like the part they spend the most time on, was the cover!

2035 describes itself as a time travel epic, we are young man from 1980 discoveries he can project himself into the apocalyptic future of 2035. As a result, he goes back to the year 1998 to destroy an evil device that will lead us into this future. I know this because I read the description on the back of the DVD and I looked it up on IMDb. This is a good thing, because watching the movie you’d never be able to figure any of this out. The movie looks like a student film, and perhaps even that is an elevating term. It looks like a bunch of college-age teenagers set out with a VHS camcorder, some props and some imagesoutfits from the local costume shop and access to the local motorcross decided to shoot a bunch of almost unrelated vignettes, and cobble them together to create a feature. I’m not knocking this particular activity, when I was in college, I did the exact same thing.. what baffles me, is how they got distribution. The low quality video on top of the incomprehensible patchwork narrative is mine boggling at the very best. At the worst, the low production values and sloppy make up effects will put you right off. I’d almost swear I was back in the Donald G Jackson film.If I rented this from a video store, I would’ve asked for my money back. As it is, being a dollar store refugee, it at least looks nice on my shelf. I think that’s probably the best you can ask for this film. Avoid it. Watching Neil Breen film instead, at least when he melts your brain he still tries to tell a complete narrative…


Monstrosity

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indexMonstrosity is trying to pull one over on me. I know this film, but I know it by different name… The Atomic Brain. We have a scientist who is trying to transplant animal brains into humans, indulging in some body snatching, and dooing other mad scientist kind of work while a narrator talks over everything. We’re almost 10 minutes in before we actually get any dialogue that isn’t coming from the narrator! The excessive narration may have something to do with the fact that the film was never entirely shot, with the production company running out of money after 10 days of filming and having to try and fix it up in the editing room. Still, the lab looks very good for the period, and the science FX are impressive. Of course the problem with any brain transfer movie, is as old as Frankenstein… you’ve got to get the tissue fresh, and the old lady who the mad scientist is working for, is definitely going to be picky about what kind of young body he transfers her brain into. To that end, they hire some maids from other countries, to give them new imagesvictims to experiment on.

Even at 64 minutes, the movie feels dragged out. It seems like the sort of thing that would work better as an episode of anthology series like Thriller or the Twilight Zone. I also always have a tough time watching straight versions of films already been done on mystery science theater 3000! And this one is so perfectly suited for it, it almost feels empty without The additional spectacle of the robots mocking it. It’s worth having around for the imagery though, and would make a great background film for a Halloween party.


Exorcist : The Beginning

Dollar95753014_3234720489905685_5357288239319220224_nLooking at this prequel to the Exorcist, I remember shaking my head and literally asking several friends on Facebook, “Doesn’t the Exorcist already have a prequel? That’s the entire point of the second one!” They muddied the water further by telling me not only does this prequel take place before that, but it was remade as an alternate cut “Dominion” a  year later! After the original Director was fired Renny Harlan was put in place of him. The good news is, I like Renny Harlan, and even more so I like Stellan Skarsgård so I fired it up and gave this thing a shot.

It’s supposed to be the story of a younger Father Maren and his first direct contact with the demon Pazuzu. It’s a period piece but, like the Indiana Jones movies, we’re set in a very foreign land in a sort of archaeological context so the period itself kind of fades into the background.

indexThey’ve discovered a church that there’s no record of in any Catholic lore, it’s been sealed and buried and as they excavate and investigate it, they begin to discover it’s dark secrets. It’s low budget of course, with some crummy CGI – particularly in some of the animals. Harlan is trying hard though, he wants this to connect directly to the Exorcist, a tough prospect considering that’s a film that really should never have any sequel or prequels. Harlan crafts the climax to evoke imagery from the original and commissioned a make up very reminiscent of Linda Blair in the third act of the original. I’ve got to say I’m actually surprised how much this does feel like it’s a direct sequel to the original… imagesand that’s something I haven’t really gotten from any of the other Exorcist films. It’s not a bad movie, though it is a little long and drags in places. I did go out of my way to hunt down the alternate cut, Dominion… It’s no better. In fact the more general horror fan and me prefers the Harlan cut to the more cerebral psychological thriller that Dominion prisons.

I’m not sure how much I recommend it, but it wouldn’t hurt to grab it if you spot it on the shelf of the dollar store.


Sheborg

Despite its initial shot on video look, Sheborg actually starts really good, with a couple of British teenage hoodlum girls spray painting graffiti on the wall and, then on a police cruiser. The police car’s already got a bit of a Mad Max look to it, and when the cops discover an anarchy symbol on their hood, they are none too pleased. They chase the girls into the credit sequence where the actual credits are integrated as graffiti on the burnt out ruins they run through. It’s almost a Scooby Doo monster chase, set over some surprisingly good music until the girls are finally taken in the custody.

In the skies, a council of greasepaint aliens (a sort of low budget version of the white aliens from Star Trek Beyond) pronounce judgment over the Sheborg, who escapes in a total Lilo and Stitch move and jumps in escape pod, headed for earth.

She lands at a puppy farm that our anarchist heroes are planning on raiding. But she is being hunted by the greasepaint aliens who also happen to know kung fu. They also have applesauce for blood, and the shborg does love her some gore. Chaos ad infinitum.

By the time our band of merry anarchist’s arrive, Sheborg has been  hard at work, and created other evil cyborgs. Quite a surprise for these kids who were expecting more human resistance. After a skirmish, they decide that freeing the puppyies is really more troble than it’s worth and run off. Only problem is, the guy with the car keys has been captured.

They fight off the cyborgs, who are licking phones and eating puppies (Sadly the puppy props don’t look that great, stuffed animals mixed with fake blood and guts) and along the way find a science nerd girl who has biological samples from the crash site.

After making their escape, they head to City Hall where the lead characters father is the mayor. They tell him the story, but he doesn’t believe them and instead locks up. his delinquent daughter and her friends.

That’s about the time that the Borg invades the joint, and they are pissed.As more and more people get assimilated and stalk our anarchist heroes, it’s a race back to the puppy farm to try and destroy the sheborg before the end of the world!

 

The Sheborg herself looks great. Assimilated victims are hit or miss, in various stages of decay, all having the same eyepiece to show the infection. There’s subplots and surprisingly endearing characters. It’s a fun low budget romp, and exactly teh sort of thing that I expect to find at the Dollar tree, but don’t let that daunt you. It’s trash and treasure rolled into one.

 

 


Moontrap

DollarindexI’d just like to say that I feel very much lied to by the cover of Moontrap. Looking at this I get the vibe of working and fighting on the moon but then encountering some bizarre lost civilization of giant robots… kind of like Transformers. What we actually get is archaeologists finding a strange formation in a remote area and realizing that it’s The tip of a space ship. Sinister Secret Service dispatchs an agent played by the father from the Nanny Charles Shaunessy (And let me tell you, that’s some weird miscasting) out to control the situation, and kill the scientists that may discover the secrets. This all goes sideways, the spaceship reactivates in the end of the second act, spiriting them off to a secret building on the moon. This is where things get a little bit hazy. I know there’s giant robots, Poorly designed and animated, they remind me a lot of the mecha from Robot Jox, but can’t tell if they’re lifeforms or if they were built by the indexlifeforms… Or if this was an ancient civilization of humans… I’m pretty sure they try to explain it but it gets really weird towards the end.
The movie is slow and the lack of budget shows. It’s ultimately trying to be an archaeology paranoia epic but it ultimately fails to keep my interest. This one is a bit of avoid.


Revenge of Robert

indexLooking at the cover of the Revenge of Robert, you can see they’re trying to strike a balance between the imagery of the Anabelle films and the newer Child’s Play remake. I don’t know this series, I didn’t see the previous installments, (although we do get a quick recap with a few flashbacks at the beginning of the movie) but for my money, this feels more like a puppet master movie then either of the popular killer doll ones. Perhaps it’s the setting, more and more, the puppet master films are increasingly set in World War II, and the juxtaposition of hard plastic, eccentric scientists and Nazis… Well let’s face it, that’s Charles Bands current formula for puppet master in a nutshell!

We have a toy maker who is in possession of a mystic book… and the Nazis want it. He flees, and the book makes it to a train to try and escape their clutches, but the Nazis are relentless and as they draw closer, a toy maker must resort to the last weapon in his arsenal… He must awaken the killer puppets and their comrade Robert.

The problem with doing killer puppet movies on a budget, is that these things are hard! It takes and a enormous amount of effort to manipulate and photograph a sinister puppet… even more so if you’re trying to do it with a sense of personality. What you index2really need are very charismatic actors who can carry the film while still making it a treat every time the puppet shows up on screen. This is actually a big problem and a lot of the middle series puppet master movies actually. We’d see less and less of the puppet some selves, more reused footage, and blander characters. The same thing happens here. While we get our nice montage of puppet mayhem at the very beginning of the movie, we don’t actually get even a glimpse of Robert again until about 40 minutes in… well into the second act, and it appears to be yet another flashback.

The puppets are finally unleashed on the train and begin killing around the 50 minute mark, which is something, considering this movie is only 80 minutes long. They’re creepy enough, but the fact that I’ve had to wait this long, means the film has already kind of lost me. Indeed, the first half of the films almost seems unrelated… as if they tried to smash to shorts together to create a feature.

My advice is that you started out around the seventh or eighth chapter, just past the halfway point and enjoy it as just that… A nice, robust short film, with a good 35 minutes worth of action. I’d also so lean more on it as a horror edged World War II film, because even in this last half of the movie you’re not gonna see a lot of puppet action… Which is a shame. What little we see ( not even 5% of the film ) is nicely done, but it absolutely leaves you waiting for a lot more.


Decoys

DollarindexProbably the best way to describe decoys is as a Species rip off at a college. We’ve got the same basic premise, alien being comes to earth to seduce men and find a mate, only with lower quality affects and how much smaller budget.

There are some good things about this film, the monster suit, when we see it, is very well done. They keep it lit properly  and for a rubber monster suit, it’s nicely effective. I also have to give them credit for doing a monster movie in 2004 when we were still transitioning from the Scream and I know what you did last summer model into the torture porn model – they were ahead of the curve when it came to reviving monster movies.

The film itself however can be confusing. We have two alien seductresses and the film never quite gets around to explaining which one is the actual billing. We get in a nursing index1him out of screen time with each, but the movie is not set up as an ensemble, and it seems like the director isn’t sure quite how to shoot it.
It’s a lesser problem for our heroes, as one is clearly the good guy and one is clearly the sidekick. However our hero himself, comes off as a bit of a jerk. Rather than rising to the occasion and going through characters arc of a heroes journey, he seems to think further and further in the paranoia and panic, and ultimately comes off as a little bit crazy once we hit the climax. Some of our civilians are afraid of him and with good reason. It’s not the slapstick, lunatic crazy of someone like Bruce Campbell, it’s just a little too over the top psychotic with a flamethrower and it makes it hard to root for him. The viewers put into the decision of quotation marks yeah, I know he’s the hero, but maybe the bad guys have a point…

The real failing here though is in the special effects. The rubber suits, when they show up index4look great but most of the time the aliens revealed themselves with tentacles bursting out of a cavity about 8 inches above where their belly button should be. The east tentacles look bad. They would’ve been difficult enough to accomplish practically, shot dead on and in full light as they were, but the CG just looks like Nintendo 64 video game garbage. It’s poorly antialiased with a obvious wallpaper on it, and pulls me straight out of the movie. At no time do I feel like I’m watching anything but a poorly CGI effect. Even watching this for the first time in 2004, these FX would’ve been pretty dodgy.

Overall it’s garden-variety horror fun, but honestly in a universe where Species already exists, there’s no real reason to watch this freaky little knock off.

 

 

85% of the cast is under 25

Bad CGI (common, afterFX, same old blood packs)

Alien(s)

in love with Monster


Night of the Blood Beast

boxclassicsindexNight of the blood beast is another one of those movies that I recall seeing at some point on mystery science theater 3000, and I know that I’m pretty much just gonna have to strap in and hope for the best. At least it’s a Roger Corman film, and the spaceship shots are pretty well done over the credits, even the shots of the pilot going down in his ship are tense and engaging.

They rush the pilot to the local hospital. “By all medical standards this man is dead!”

Really?

Of course the problem is, the body is not decomposing. He may be dead, but everything seems to be in stasis… everything except for one strange gash on his arm. They even discover normal blood pressure beginning. Strange things are happening on the cellular level in the blood, with an extra cell present, dominating and keeping it active. It’s enough that our dead pilot is up and walking again by the time we hit the halfway point in the film. They discover he’s got a foreign bodies breeding within index1him, and that’s when the giant monster bursts through the door.

The monster escapes into the wilderness just outside of LA – where every 50s sci fi movie seems to be set – and abducts the ingenue. Meanwhile, the undead pilot argues with his fiancé over whether or not they should kill the monster… Him too… He seems to have curious psychic connection with it, and insists it’s not evil.

Is it meantime, the monster learns to talk, and he insists that he brings ultimate salvation imagesfor mankind… But is it salvation or subjugation?

The ending feels ambiguous, it almost seems like the monster is right… And maybe the humans are overreacting? But they’re not portrayed as overreacting. It makes for a genuinely strange conclusion, on the other hand, any conclusion to this film is a good one. Nice looking monster, but I’d still like my 62 minutes back.


Metal Murder and Music Videos

Metal Murder 3-D was an entry on Armstrong’s IMDb that perplexed me. I was able to find an album by an Australian hard-core band that he works with, but not a film. It’s short film to go with it. That short film is sometimes referred to as metal murder 3-D, and other times it’s referred to as Alice in Zombieland.

Alice in Zombieland starts off with a girl in a cage, being pulled out by some men in black, then A film burn under credits. You may recognize Emma Wilson from Some of Armstrong’s other films, and the 70s exploitation style in the credits is charming.

Alice is in a blood stained hospital bed, surrounded by curtains and dark lighting. Zombie action starts immediately, as the undead begin to rise from the other beds.
For such a short feature, they put some real time and effort into making this hard look terrifying, both individually and as a group.

Alice screams and runs, fleeing zombie doctors and undead and corpses in fashionably cute corsets. In what appears to be the cafeteria, entrails line the buffet, and zombies pop out of nowhere.

Alice bludgens one zombie with a phone, and the out of order message is a really nice touch. The next-door leads her to the kitchen… Where a zombie screams at her. She screams back and starts throwing things, ultimately delivering a beat down the fryer. It’s amazingly awesome.

Ultimately, the entire thing is just an action set piece. There’s no dialogue, on your story. It’s Alice fighting her way through zombies, and finding her strength… As well as a really nice gun ultimately shooting her way through to the end credits.

What’s fun about this, is it a great way to introduce yourself to Armstrongs work and style. You can see a lot of what you’re going to get from his feature films in the short, which was designed to accompany kid crushers metal murder 3-D album. Absolutely worth the 10 to 12 minutes that it takes to sit through. While you’re at it, it’s time to go over to the Strongman pictures website to check out some of his music videos. Armstrong has worked with a variety of artists and shows a dramatic range in both concepts and execution. There’s an eerie one room haunted steampunk feel to Karly Jewll’s Dancing with the Devil. But then we get kind of country in Jenna Dwyers dodged a bullet, the feeling of orange filters at early morning in an old hotel room. Jenna would go on to do the theme track for Armstrong’s Fight like a Girl… a much simpler music video in a wrestling ring, but even that’s a vast difference from a video for her song Coma, a much rockier song in a dark Mad Max like warehouse.  Then there’s The Mercy Kills who Armstrong literally puts into a comic book for their song Supersonic.  Nathalie Gelle does in a uninspired cover of Vacation by The Go-Go’s, but Armstrong cleverly keeps you off balance with a blast of cartoon on green screen footage. The scrapbook pop-up feel suits the feel they’re going for. Kid Crusher delivers hardcore nightmares to the girl next-door over a television while a strobe light blazes behind them. As he screams in front of a white background, the woman stares into the screen, hypnotized. On the other hand, in the music video for Tied, they sing Reasons Why over a stop-motion fantasy. Stop-motion is a favorite of Armstrongs, and he has an entire section of his website devoted to it. In Long Way home for Ablaze, Armstrong manages a black and white road trip through the rocking chops. It’s a mixture of happy and melancholy that’s tough to pull off.

This is just scratching the surface, but absolutely a great résumé and reason enough to definitely be checking out the rest of his films.

https://www.strongmanpix.com/musicvideos

 

 


Mirrors 2

DollarindexWhen I bought Mirrors 2, I didn’t even notice the cast! William Katt is in this, so that’s going to make this a worthwhile purchase right off the bat! I also see Emanuelle Vaugier who played Mia, Charlie’s love interest in Two a Half Men and it’s interesting seeing her in this sort of a role.

Still, I was a little wary, once I noticed the director was Victor Garcia. This is the same person who directed Return to House on Haunted Hill, and Hellraiser Revelations. Basically, it’s the dude you get when you want a no budget sequel to an established franchise that doesn’t care about any established history or rules and throws continuity out the window.

Luckily, continuity doesn’t matter to me much with this series, I’m sure I’ve seen the first one of these, but I’m pretty sure it was 10 years ago or more, when the thing originally index1came out and I was renting a lot of movies from the library. I vaguely remember the premise, but for all intents and purposes I’m pretty much coming into this cold. From what I can tell it’s a standalone film, but I always get the impression that I’m missing something – why in particular our hero can see the phenomenon as opposed to anybody else.

The main character, played by Nick Stahl is a night watchman for a large department store/corporate headquarters… I’m never entirely sure if it’s a hybrid or a retail outlet. It’s a beautiful building, all glass and chrome… and mirrors. Stahl starts having visions of bad things happening to the executives, and those visions come true in some variation or another. The gimmick of course is the reflection in the mirror does some thing, and whatever the reflection does happens to you. If the reflection cut its throat, a jagged gash images3slashes across your throat.

They do a good job with the gre in this movie, there’s some beautifully bloody set pieces and the story keeps up at a good pace. We get our reveals later in the story as to why this is happening, and a hint as to why the hero can see things happening. Everything eventually fits together quite nicely, but it occasionally feels just a touch too long. Mirrors 2 feels more like an average Twilight Zone episode with extra blood. It’s a good little horror flick though, but what really makes the stand out happens to be the special features on this desk. You see, the story is actually based on a Koren film, and on the flipside of the desk they actually include that Koren movie! It’s got a longer running time then the original and you can really see the influences. It’s brilliant. All of it absolutely makes me want to go back and watch the original!


Hideaway

DollarindexHideaway is a 90s horror movie based on a novel by Dean Koontz, and it really feels like it. There’s something about a film based on a novel, we see it in a lot of Stephen King adoptions as well, something about the tone, pacing, and style of the film that just feels like it’s an adaption. Indeed, this movie actually reminds me a lot in its construction and tone of the mangler, whether it’s a jumble of recognizable names pasted across a pastiche of 90s horror tropes complete with dodgy CGI that may have looked cool at the time, but never looked realistic.

Hideaway is the story of a man – Jeff Goldblum – who experiences a near-death event, and comes back connected to other psychics. One of them happens to be a sociopath with his eyes on Goldblum’s daughter and it’s up to him index3to stop the psycho killer by any means necessary.

Hideaway also features Alfred Molina and Alicia Silverstone. If you’re expecting much from Silverstone though, you’re going to be in for disappointment. She is a vast with a couple of the story line seems to herself.

It’s weird timing for that too, seeing as this movie came out a year after Jurassic Park, when Goldblum would be at the height of his power, and the same year as Clueless, which would catapult Silverstone to stardom. I suspect it was shot a bit earlier and then somebody suddenly realized they just happen to have a index4film on the shelf starting the hero of last year‘s Blockbuster and this year’s it girl, which would explain why Silverstone is so prominently featured in the poster, but is largely absent from the film.

This is absolutely Goldblum’s movie. The problem with using Jeff Goldblum though, is you have to cast a really strong actors who can hold their own against him. That’s not the case here. The wife, even when she’s complaining about him bringing a gun and indignant about having to leave, feels hollow, and Silverstone really just sleep walks through the film. Instead of feeling dread when watching our villian up to his own machinations, I find myself frequently just a little bored and waiting for index2Goldblum to come back on and continue the story.

At the end of the day, it’s not that this is a terrible movie, it’s just not the sort of them I’m into – it’s too many of the 90s clichés with no monster, Lawnmower Man levels of bad CGI, and a certain indifference to the genre. It was worth the one dollar that I paid for it, but the shelf of the dollar tree store is exactly where this thing belongs.


The Shining Part Two : Doctor Sleep

I think that Doctor Sleep had been out well over two months before I actually got a copy of it. Still, it didn’t take long for me to bang through this book. The better part of the week perhaps? In the years since, I’ve read it probably more times than I’ve actually read The Shining. It’s one Kings best works in a decade at least. Something about it compels me, and it’s not just the connection to The Shining, in a lot of ways, I’m far more fascinated by the AA components of the book. There is a marvelous story here, built on the smoldering ruins of a world King created, ready to accept a new chapter. That’s one of the interesting things to note about the film in the book versions of the shining. The film attempts to build atmosphere. But the book really is creating an entire world around the hotel, it’s history, and the Torrance family. It’s just great in-depth stuff. And absolutely the sort of fertile house soil that will grow some thing when you very least suspect it.

Stephen King’s never been happy with the Kubrick Shining. This is no secret. Indeed, he went as far as to authorize the TV miniseries back in the 90s… And what disaster that was. Steven Weber and Rebecca De Mornay do a good enough job, although the Monet films land. But the miscasting of young Danny is an absolute crime. It’s not just The total lack of charisma, but even the look is just wrong. The perpetual upturn lip, exposing buck teeth that would embarrass a beaver. The toneless whine of this child’s voice, it just ruins the film for me every single time. But then again, we also have the terrible make up on the ghosts and the genuinely small, cramped feeling of what should be an expensive grand hotel. It just doesn’t work.

In a real way, King’s best chance at rewriting, and reinventing the shining to put emphasis back on the book, was to do a sequel. Dan grown-up, and what really is the aftermath of the horrors he experienced in the overlook hotel. Maybe I’m just talking for myself. But that’s exactly how it felt for me. Like legitimize in the book as the “real“ version.

It’s hard to describe my trepidation when I heard they were adapting it for the screen (and that may have something to do with why it’s taken a few years for me to actually watch the film!).

Look, this is a task I absolutely do not envy director Mike Flanagan. Because he’s faced with a unique problem. How to adapt a book that is a sequel to another book that was made into one of the most beloved horror movies of all time… but done so in a way that it still adapts the normal book that’s a sequel to the different book that you’re adapting into a film… Oh, my head hurts.

I never felt like I needed elements of The Shining in Doctor Sleep while I was reading the book. But it’s a fair argument that more people have seen the film than have read the book… It might be a more even split among baby boomers and Gen Xers of a certain age who saw the book sitting on their parents shelves, but overall the Kubrick film is far more visually iconic.

Flanagan himself wasn’t new to King’s work. He’s a lifelong fan, but more importantly he had some credibility to his name. This is the person who did the adoption of Geralds Game, a book that was largely considered unfilmable. He found the right balance, what things to alter to be able to make the movie without compromising The story or key elements. He kept true to the core story and knew where the cosmetics mattered and where they didn’t. It was this sort of credential that was enough to get him in front of King to ask about adapting Doctor Sleep for film. It’s a tricky proposition. King’s attitude towards the Kubrick film had not softened at all over the years, but it’s an unparalleled understanding of the core story and all of the material that allowed Flanagan the inside to present his idea. A scene at the bar, something that would truly examine, explore and progress the Torrance family story arc… something that King felt never happened before… And an intriguing enough idea that it moved King from a firm quote “No.“, To “Keep talking, I’m listening.“

Doctor Sleep is the story of Daniel Torrance (played perfectly by Ewan McGregor – seriously, his performance can not be underplayed here), in the years after his experiences at the Overlook hotel. We find him, a washed up alcoholic pretty well hitting rock-bottom. On the other side is Abra, a teenage girl who is coming into her full power in The Shining. And in the darkness, The True Knot. A group of psychic vampires led by Rose the Hat (played by Rebecca Ferguson – who manages to feel immediately familiar – even though I’ve never seen her before in ANYTHING. Hmmmm. Perhaps she really IS a vampire!), all intent on drinking Abra‘s Shining right out of her, and purifying it through pain.

The film follows the book fairly closely for the first two acts actually, although it does nod its head towards the film here and there. A flash once in a while, rare and scattered. We discover early on that Dick Halloran is in fact dead in the story. That immediately signals to this being more of a sequel to the film than the book, though you could probably wrap your head around a rationalization if you need it to. The actor is a brilliant re-creation of Scatman Crothers though. It’s an almost dead on impersonation and really well realized. Carl Lumbly has been made up to be the spitting image and a perfect Dick. They re-create Danny as a young child as well, but it’s again, used sparingly so the fact that he looks just attach off in the face… You’re not given enough time to really think about it. Shelley Duvall‘s doppelgänger Alex Essoe fares a little worse. Duvall is a much more recognizable actress, but one might argue that the events of the shining changed her… Aged her. Jack Torrance however, is shocking when we see him. He’s perhaps the epitomie of watching Flanagan is done with this movie. That face is not Jack Nicholson‘s, but everything about him is Jack Torrance. The hair and the mannerisms, the color and the movement. Henry Thomas (yes, THAT Henry Thomas) absolutely nails it and I buy it immediately, never questioning the entire time he’s on screen… And he’s on screen for a while.

Why? Because it’s that third act where things really start to diverge from the book. In the book, the final showdown between Danny, Abra, and rose the hat… It takes place at the site of the overlook… But of course in the book, the Overlook was reduced to a burning, smoldering rubble when the furnace exploded. Today it’s just an overlook point, a scant campsite with a few picnic benches and a plaque that might mention the grand old hotel. Rose meets her end in those outbuildings.

The problem is, for this film to really appeal broadly, we need more than that. We need the hotel itself, we need… The Overlook.

We’re never given a proper explanation as to how the building is still standing, why the electric still works or why it’s so pristine inside. Who knows, perhaps it doesn’t even exist anymore… But it’s held together by the sheer force of will stemming from Dan’s imagination? Or perhaps it’s just a cursed old haunted house, the sort of place that can’t ever really die. Whatever it is, 30 years later, it looks exactly the same… And I mean exactly the same. Kubrick’s estate handed over photos and documents, even the original plans for the Overlook so it could be built and replicated down to the last detail. And when I say the last detail, I mean last detail. Photos, props, even sheets of paper with the inscription “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.“ typed immaculately dozens of times across the crisp white sheets. The directors sets his third act there, with Rose the Hat meeting much the same end and she does in the book, perhaps in a more visual way, perhaps more ghosts eating at her life force than what the book might describe (along with some that a visually more recognizable), but the essence is still there. However, Flanagan then pushes the climax even further enveloping us in the terror that is a return to the Overlook. It’s ending is ultimately a satisfying climax, especially in this format… where you’re limited by the 2 1/2 hours to tell a story and tie the strings together. In a lot of ways he’s done the impossible. He’s merged the book and the film together, and created something that reconciles both. Just as importantly, he’s created a film adaptation that I once again enjoy just as much as the book.

Well, almost.

Doctor Sleep is derivative. It is an adaption. It is a piece of art with a foot in both the literary and cinematic world. But it’s not The Shining. It’s not necessarily it’s own entity the way that the book and film versions of The Shining are. here. No, this is definitely the Earth 2 version of the book, and as such will never be quite as satisfying. But as far as party tricks go, pulling this off is a pretty spectacular one. It’s available on streaming now, it’s on DVD now, go find it.

 


The Shining : Part One

Yeah, I know. You’re thinking “He’s doing a review on The Shining???“ I mean, is that really necessary? No. But this isn’t really going to be a proper review anyhow. It’s more of an examination… a set up.

It was a couple of years ago at Cinema Wasteland when the thought really occurred to me. I was in the bar, sitting at a table with a group of friends. I’ve been discussing my difficulties with the Dark Tower… I really only enjoy the middle couple of books, which then get interrupted by a flashback which I’m not into at all… It’s a mess for me. Nevertheless, because in a lot of ways, it’s the binding material that connects the Stephen King universe, I felt like I had to get through it. This led to a brief discussion on the movie, and my friend Shrew, a massive King fan, was adamant that the books are always better than the films. We went through and talked about favorite books, and then favorite movies. Then I pose the question; which do you like better? The film or the book of The Shining? That stopped him dead in his tracks. You could see the cogs turning in his brain as a smile started to curl at the corner of his mouth. It’s an unfair question I realized, because unlike any of kings other work, The Shining is a unique example of filmmaking That transcends but doesn’t eclipse its source material. Indeed, I think you could regard each has their own separate entity. Not merely a multi-verse divergence or a medium translation, but fully formed individual entities, separate from each other yet bearing the same name.

To be fair, they share a lot of the same names. Jack Torrance. Danny. Wendy Torrance. But are they the same characters?

Maddie and I are still talking about Spider-Man No Way Home. She is in an MCU phase right now, and before going to see the most recent Spider-Man movie, we went back and we watched homecoming and far from home as well. These new MCU films have a lot of characters with the same names as characters in the Spider-Man comics. But Zendaya is Michelle is not Mary Jane Watson. The producers them selves even made this clear. While we’re calling her MJ, this is not the same character. Nor is Peter‘s friend Ned, or his nemesis flash. Indeed, it’s my one big beef with the Tom Holland Spider-Man films. I wish they had just given all of these characters original names… Because they’re original characters. Seriously, I still bristle every time Peter calls Michelle “M.J.“.  Ned’s derivative, but the cast itself is pretty interesting, and have they been given original names, you might see them eventually translate into the comics. That’s never going to happen now.

But just like these characters in Spider-Man share the names with those in the comics, but not their faces of the personality… The same is true in The Shining. Stephen King described Jack Torrance as a pretty normal guy, going through a bad time he goes crazy. He’s description of Jack Nicholson‘s Torrance though, he’s a guy who’s already unbalanced and a little crazy who goes completely around the Bend. Likewise, Wendy Torrance in Kings mind was a sort of athletic cheerleader type. Pretty and outgoing, but sheltered. Naïve. The kind of woman who has never really had to face any kind of adversity. While I didn’t necessarily read that same sort of trophy wife status in the book, Wendy did strike me as strong and intellectual. Likely someone with higher education, someone who is not easily spooked, but rather a very rational kind of girl. Either way whichever us you listen to you’ll find it a stark contrast to the neurotic, chain-smoking twig we see in the film. Shelley Duvall is a mess already, and there’s no bravery in her. She is a flighty Hufflepuff, not a Gryffindor. Even the hotel itself is different. While the Overlook is absolutely a grand old hotel in both incarnations, the Overlook in the book is darker. The pipes rattle, and that boiler is ready to blow at any time, just waiting to give us a traditional Stephen King ending where he writes himself into a corner and then just blows everything up.
The outside is different as well. That iconic hedge maze that everybody knows from the movie, isn’t present in the book. Instead, it’s replaced by a roque Court, something like an oversize croquet game. Indeed, it’s a roque mallet that Jack carries through the house, ready to bludgeon Wendy, but not so much to chop her up as in the movie. It again underscores the fact that the book house itself may well be more dangerous than Jack. There are also hedge animals. Amazing topiaries, littering the front yard. And these are sinister things, moving only were not observed, like the weeping angels from Doctor Who.

So when I look at these foundational underpinnings being so different between the book and the film it’s only natural that it’ll progress in a different way. There are different hauntings, different survivors and different threats. For instance, while the lady in the bath is pretty shocking, even after grabbing Danny a bit, I’m never entirely convinced that the ghosts in the hotel can really hurt you. That’s why they need Jack, stocking the halls with an axe. In the book however, I am absolutely convinced that these things will kill you dead. I am convinced that Jack will be torn apart by the topiaries in the yard if he doesn’t escape. I am positive that while it’s a double entendre, the dog man threatening Danny, will indeed eat him up as a bloody snack if Danny dares to trespass down the wrong hall. The snake that the fire hose turns into… It’s full of venom and those teeth are needle sharp. There’s more monsters in the hotel in the book, whereas the film leans far more heavily on specters. And why not? Film is a visual medium, whereas pros is the theater of the mind.

At the end of the day, the end result is two entities so distinct that their night and day. And in a fascinating turn of events, the film is not better than the book. But the book is also not better than the film. They are each their own distinct pleasures, holding within them their own unique delights in tears. I can read the book or watch the movie and still come always satisfied but in different ways. Which one I reach for on any given day depends greatly on exactly what sort of itch I’m attempting to scratch.

That’s a fascinating thing to me about The Shining. I can think of no other film that is so divergent from its source material while being absolutely as valid and effective. But it then poses its own unique dilemma when it comes time for the next movie. What do you make the sequel to? The book? Or the film?

We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

 


Introduction to Tropes

We’re going to try a little something new out this year. Along with some of our dollar tree movie selections and even some of our box set movie reviews, you’re going to notice this banner down at the bottom.

The more of these kind of movies that I watch, the more I see the same common tropes repeated again and again. There’s obvious ones, like how young the casts tend to be. If you’re trying to get an indie movie off the ground, maybe you shoot with your friends when you’re all young. Younger actors cost less and are looking for a break, or at least some footage to put on their reel. But it’s more than just that, it’s things like the same colors and composition on DVDs, the same characters showing up in movies, sometimes even the same plot… And once you start to see them. They’re impossible to ignore. So instead, let’s highlight them!


Mind you, just because we do a trope count at the end of a movie doesn’t mean it was a bad movie. The lack of a trope count doesn’t mean it was a good movie. Usually just means they’re worth enough to make it worthwhile hunting them down. Nevertheless, I think it’s going to be a fun experiment to see how many recurring themes we see, and from time to time, will check in here and talk a little bit about trucks and where I’m getting them from, as well as how I watch for them.

 

 


New Years Evil

The Capitol couldn’t manage to  put on thier 12 hours of terror marathon this year, but did pull together a smaller one; a four film night called Season’s Bleedings. Of the movies in that lineup, the one I was most looking forward too was New Years Evil. Not only have I never seen it before, I’d never even heard of it.

New Years evil is a straightforward slasher. We have Diane (Roz Kelly – if you ever watched Happy Days, you may remember her as Pinky Tuscadareo) basically a pre MTV VeeJay, hosting a Nu Wave countdown for New Years. The special is spread across all time zones, with diffrent countdowns in each one. But she caught the attention of a serial killer who also has plans for each time zone – a murder each for each one! Now it’s up to the hapless ’80s cops to track down and capture the killer before he gets to his last victem; Diane herself.

It’s an interesting enough setup, but the film itself is LOADED with problems. Setting aside my own preferance for a monster or a masked killer (This one just has an interesting assortment of costumes, false glasses and moustaches – though he does don a strange Stan Laurel mask at the very end) I’m genuinely not sure who to root for here. Obviously we’re ment to side with Diane, but honestly, she’s so unlikeable. She’s a disinterested mom, and really dosen’t even care that her emasculated and drunken husband is either shacked up or on a bender (I actually though he was he Ex from the way she talked about him), just got to get on with the show! And can we be real for a moment? Roz Kelly, at this point in her career, was not passing for a punk princess. Even if she were trying, the fact that she’s got a 20 year old son (and even he’s just…yuck) just makes her too old to be a pop idol. Heavy makeup over bad skin just drive home the slightly karen-esque characterization.

On the other hand, I’m not rooting for the killer either. We don’t get an explination for his motivation until well into the third act, and even then, he feels like a loser. He also never really ingratiates us with cool kills like a Jason or Michael. It’sjust stabby stabby with the switchblade and no set pieces until the final bit at the end.

The cops are basically cardboard cutouts. And this movie could have REALLY benifited from a charasmatic investigator. A Thomas Harris type like Will Graham or Clarice Starling (for that matter, a more charismatic villian would have been equally helpful). These guys aren’t even there to be stereotypes for kills. they’re just…there.

The one notabel thing abotu this film thoguh is the soundtrack. While our rocker crowd and VeeJay are really more….hollywood’s IDEA of what rockers should be like, the two bands featured in the film are the real deal. Made in Japan and Shadow are both good bands cranking out music that is authentic for the era. The real problem is, they’re good, but not GREAT – and on the Sunset strip….good dosen’t really get you anywhere. Still, the soundtrack is actually my favorite thing about this movie.

Despite my issues, this is worth a watch. It’s not a keeper, and I think that smack dab in the middle of a marathon like this is the perfect way to watch it. If it hits streaming like Pluto or Tubi, it’s worth 90 minuets, just for the curiosity alone.