Halloween Film Review: Halloweentown High (2004, dir. Mark A.Z. Dippé)


This is definitely my favorite of the Halloweentown movies I have watched so far. Yes, it comes across as a failed TV Show pilot, but I still enjoyed it more than the first two. I can’t believe it took me this long to really appreciate him, but the character of Marnie’s brother named Dylan Piper (Joey Zimmerman) is great.


He has a little bit of a subplot in this, but basically his character exists for the sole purpose of being a smartass in these movies. I like that.


The film opens up with Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) acting liked she cured cancer or something by opening up the portal between the human world and Halloweentown. Up till now that was only open on Halloween. Now two way travel is possible all the time so that this film doesn’t have to re-hatch the plot of the first two films, but can continue really being about accepting people who are different from yourself. Since it seems all these movies or TV Shows with witches must have a council that the character is dragged before…


They really only exist so that there is some sort of thing on the line if Marnie’s dream of having some kids from Halloweentown attend a human high school fails. In this case, she loses her magic. And of course the deadline is midnight on Halloween. So there’s your setup.


Then since Debbie Reynolds will be damned before she’ll be upstaged by Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, which actually had Coolio in it, she references one of his most famous music videos. She pulls an endless stream of kids out of a VW Bug. For those of you too young to remember. Here’s Coolio’s cover of Fantastic Voyage.

Reynolds also comes with a living purse.


Yeah, screw you lady from Smart Cookies and your purse big enough to hold a severed head. Reynolds purse doubles as an attack dog. Reynolds not only arranged for the kids from Halloweentown, I mean Canada as there cover story says, to attend the school, but she is going to teach there too. Thankfully, they do next to nothing with that because the one scene where she really does that is embarrassingly bad.


There is a special locker through which the kids from Halloweentown can travel that acts as a lounge where they don’t have to wear their human costumes. This is when a short little part caught my ear. I even had to rewind it to make sure I heard it correctly. It’s not emphasized or anything, but it’s a nice little subtle touch. One of the girls talks about an experience she had with two “cheer leaders”. She says it the same way someone who isn’t from the human world would. Something like this isn’t too unusual in a movie with a plot like this, but it’s done with so little emphasis that you could miss it. It’s like when I notice a Hallmark movie that properly fakes a computer screen. Realistically, most of them don’t show the screen long enough for it to really need to be done with authenticity, but it shows they cared enough to get it right. That’s how this felt.


In this one Marnie has a romantic interest again. Or I should say there’s a guy who likes her, but the poor dude keeps getting screwed over by the plot when all he wants is to ask her out. She likes him and everything. She gets her metaphorical erection the moment he shows up, but the plot just keeps getting in the way.


As you can guess, the rest is mostly about acceptance. However, you need a villain. They come in the form of what are called knights. Just imagine one of those last episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise where Peter Weller tries to stop the creation of the Federation just before it’s formation. They want to keep the human world and Halloweentown separate and close the portal forever. This part takes a bit of a backseat to the whole getting along thing and only really pops up so that we can have a confrontation at the end.


This guy is the main baddy and I love this scene where he manifests himself at a Halloween fair the kids are having. Even before it happens, you know instantly that Debbie Reynolds is not going to have any of this man’s shit (excuse my language). And you’re right because she immediately smacks him down with her magic. I loved that.


Ultimately, it comes down to referencing Charmed by having the three Cromwell witches imprison the bad guy inside of a mirror. Then Marnie finally has nothing to get in her way of getting a little, so she takes the guy who has been trying to ask her out for a ride on her broomstick.


I honestly expected this to be worse than the previous two, but I really did enjoy this more. I still have to see the fourth one, but yeah, if you are going to watch these, then feel free to jump right to this one.

Awards Season Is Here With The 2015 Gotham Award Nominations!

Officially, awards season started yesterday when it was announced that Chris Rock would host the Oscars in 2016.  And let me tell you, I was so excited about that prospect that, for the first time since this site began, I actually didn’t even post that a new Oscar host had been officially selected.  But anyway, here’s hoping that Chris does well!  (Personally, I still want them to give James Franco a second chance…)

However, today, we had the first of our annual Oscar precursors when the 2015 Gotham Nominations were announced!  It’s debatable just how much influence that Gothams have on the actual Oscar race.  The Gothams are designed to only honor independent, American-made films, which means that several potential Oscar nominees aren’t even eligible.  A lot of Oscar pundits have pointed out that, last year, Birdman did very well with the Gothams.  But wouldn’t Birdman have been nominated even without the Gothams?

As for this year’s Gotham nominations, Spotlight and The Diary of a Teenage Girl dominated.  Spotlight has regularly been mentioned as an Oscar contender.  Will the Gotham nominations propel Teenage Girl into the hunt?  (Even more importantly, how did I miss seeing Diary of a Teenage Girl when it was first released?)

As well, Carol got some recognition.  That’s probably a good thing since, after being an early front runner, Carol has lately been overshadowed by Spotlight, Steve Jobs, Bridge of Spies, and The Martian.

Here are the 2015 Gotham Nominees!


Best Feature

Todd Haynes, director; Elizabeth Karlsen, Tessa Ross, Christine Vachon, Stephen Woolley, producers (The Weinstein Company)

The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Marielle Heller, director; Anne Carey, Bert Hamelinck, Madeline Samit, Miranda Bailey, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)

Heaven Knows What
Josh and Benny Safdie, directors; Oscar Boyson, Sebastian Bear-McClard, producers (RADiUS)

Tom McCarthy, director; Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, Blye Pagan Faust, producers (Open Road Films)

Sean Baker, director; Darren Dean, Shih-Ching Tsou, Marcus Cox & Karrie Cox, producers (Magnolia Pictures)

Best Documentary

Approaching the Elephant
Amanda Rose Wilder, director; Jay Craven, Robert Greene, Amanda Rose Wilder, producers (Kingdom County Productions)

Cartel Land
Matthew Heineman, director; Matthew Heineman, Tom Yellin, producers (The Orchard and A&E IndieFilms)

Heart of a Dog
Laurie Anderson, director; Dan Janvey, Laurie Anderson, producers (Abramorama and HBO Documentary Films)

Listen to Me Marlon
Stevan Riley, director; John Battsek, RJ Cutler, George Chignell, producers (Showtime Documentary Films)

The Look of Silence
Joshua Oppenheimer, director; Signe Byrge Sørensen, producer (Drafthouse Films)

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award

Desiree Akhavan for Appropriate Behavior (Gravitas Ventures)
Jonas Carpigano for Mediterranea (Sundance Selects)
Marielle Heller for The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Sony Pictures Classics)
John Magary for The Mend (Cinelicious Pics)
Josh Mond for James White (The Film Arcade)

Best Screenplay

Carol, Phyllis Nagy (The Weinstein Company)
The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Marielle Heller (Sony Pictures Classics)
Love & Mercy, Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner (Roadside Attractions, Lionsgate, and River Road Entertainment)
Spotlight, Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Open Road Films)
While We’re Young, Noah Baumbach (A24)

Best Actor

Christopher Abbott in James White (The Film Arcade)
Kevin Corrigan in Results (Magnolia Pictures)
Paul Dano in Love & Mercy (Roadside Attractions, Lionsgate, and River Road Entertainment)
Peter Sarsgaard in Experimenter (Magnolia Pictures)
Michael Shannon in 99 Homes (Broad Green Pictures)

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol (The Weinstein Company)
Blythe Danner in I’ll See You in My Dreams (Bleecker Street)
Brie Larson in Room (A24)
Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Sony Pictures Classics)
Lily Tomlin in Grandma (Sony Pictures Classics)
Kristen Wiig in Welcome to Me (Alchemy)

Breakthrough Actor

Rory Culkin in Gabriel (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Arielle Holmes in Heaven Knows What (RADiUS)
Lola Kirke in Mistress America (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine (Magnolia Pictures)
Mya Taylor in Tangerine (Magnolia Pictures)

Welcome to Oscar season!



Here’s the Official U.S. Trailer For Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!

Here’s the official U.S. Trailer for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!  On the one hand, the trailer looks good.  On the other hand, the film is being released in February and it’s rare that anything good is ever released in February.

Here’s the Latest Trailer for Joy!

Here’s the latest trailer for David O. Russell’s upcoming Oscar contender, Joy!  The first trailer was pretty much all Jennifer Lawrence.  This trailer gives a few members of the supporting cast a chance to shine.

(That said, we all know that the main selling point of this film will always be Jennifer Lawrence and that shotgun…)

(According to some early rumors that I’ve heard, the film’s best performance might not come from Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, or even Bradley Cooper.  I’m hearing that Isabella Rossellini steals every scene in which she appears.)

Horror on TV: The Twilight Zone 2.18 “The Odyssey of Flight 33”


Remember how this morning’s movie — Robot Monster — featured dinosaurs?

Well so does tonight’s episode of The Twilight Zone!  In The Odyssey of Flight 33, a commercial airline flight somehow flies straight into the past, where they see …. dinosaurs!  Now, I’ll be honest here.  These are not dinosaurs like the dinosaurs in Jurassic World.  But I imagine for 1961, those dinosaurs were pretty impressive!

And this episode holds up as well.  I especially love the ambiguous ending.

The Odyssey of Flight 33 originally aired on February 24th, 1961.

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: The Nun (dir by Luis De La Madrid)

The Nun (2005, directed by Luis De La Madrid)

When talking about the 2005 Spanish horror film The Nun, it’s best to admit one thing from the start.  This film has got an absolutely terrible ending.

It seems to be the unwritten rule of modern horror that every movie has to have a “shocking” twist that’s revealed during the film’s final 10 minutes.  Occasionally, the twist is so well-done and memorable that it will actually redeem an otherwise forgettable film.  Far too often, the twist turns out to be so predictable that most filmgoers will have guessed what it is within the first few minutes of the film.  And then you’ve got a film like the Nun, where the twist will be so bad and so illogical that it’ll actually cause you to hate the entire film regardless of how effective it may have been before the twist was revealed.

I’ve debated with myself whether or not to just say “Spoilers be damned!” and reveal film’s twist in this review.  Seriously, it literally comes from out of nowhere and it’s so ludicrous that I almost feel like I have a responsibility to warn you about what the film has up its sleeve.  However, after a lot of thought, I’ve decided not to give the specifics of the twist.  Instead, I’m just going to tell you that it’s there and it’s really, really stupid.  It’ll probably make you hate the entire film.  If you ever find yourself watching The Nun, maybe you should stop watching around the 90 minute mark, just so you don’t have to deal with “twist.”

Because, seriously, until that twist shows up, The Nun is actually a pretty well-done ghost story.

The movie tells the story of Sister Ursula, an insane nun who terrorizes six of her students until eventually, they end up fighting back and accidentally drowning her.  They hide her body in a nearby pond and go on with their lives.  However, 18 years later, the pond is drained and the former classmates start to die one by one.

Whenever it rains or a bathtub overflows or water drips from a leaky faucet, a murderous apparition of the Sister Ursula is formed from the drops of water.  It may be because I was raised Catholic and I’ve actually experienced Catholic school firsthand but I thought that the apparition of Sister Ursula was one of the most effective cinematic ghosts that I’ve seen in a long time.  Forming from clouds of mist and with a permanently enraged expression on her twisted face, Sister Ursula is a nightmare personified and, as long as she’s lurking about in the shadows, it doesn’t matter that the film itself doesn’t make much sense.  Sister Ursula is scary and the scenes where she takes revenge on her former students are truly frightening.

But the film couldn’t be happy just being the type of simple (but effective) ghost story that would keep you awake at a slumber party.  Instead, the film has to introduce that terrible “twist” during the final ten minutes and, as a result, the entire film collapses.

Sometimes, it’s better just to keep things simple.

Halloween Havoc!: Christopher Lee in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (Hammer/Warner Brothers 1968)

cracked rear viewer


“You just can’t keep a good man down” states the  poster’s tagline for 1968’s DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, and how right they were! This fourth entry in Hammer’s Dracula series (and third with Christopher Lee as the Count…1960’s BRIDES OF DRACULA had Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing battling a different bloodsucker) takes up where DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS left off. Dracula’s still buried under the ice, but the villagers are still fearful of living in “the shadow of evil” cast by Castle Dracula. Monsignor Muller (Rupert Davies) rides into town, berating the citizens for not attending church, and their priest (Ewan Hooper) for letting them. The Monsignor and the reluctant priest trek up to Castle Dracula to perform an exorcism of the evil, but the cowardly priest won’t go all the way up. While Monsignor performs the Latin rites, bolting the castle door with a golden cross, the priest (who remains nameless…

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Horror Film Review: Exorcist II: The Heretic (dir by John Boorman)


The Exorcist is one of the greatest horror films of all time and a personal favorite of mine.  But what about Exorcist II: The Heretic?  Well, it would be a bit of an understatement to say that The Heretic has not quite received the amount of critical acclaim as the first film.  Since it was first released in 1977, The Heretic has been widely considered to be one of the worst sequels of all time.  It’s a film that is often cited as evidence as to why not all successful films need a follow-up.

Myself, I have sat through The Heretic twice.  And yes, it is a pretty bad film but I have to admit that I enjoyed it each time that I saw it.  It’s not a scary film at all.  It’s not a successful horror film.  But, as an unintentional comedy, it’s hilarious.

The Heretic opens four years after the end of The Exorcist.  Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is dead, having had a heart attack during the first film while performing an exorcism on Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair).  In the years since, some in the Vatican have cast doubt on whether or not Merrin actually performed exorcisms.  It turns out that, contrary to everything that we saw in the first film, Father Merrin was actually something of a rebel.  His teachings are controversial.  For instance, he was convinced that everyone has latent psychic powers and that the demon Pazuzu possesses those who have the potential to be the strongest psychics.  Why?  Because those people have the ability to lead humanity into a shared global consciousness and…

Well, it gets a little bit complicated.  That’s one of the big differences between The Exorcist and Heretic.  The Exorcist kept things relatively simple.  The Heretic drags in a lot of metaphysical argle bargle.

The deceased Father Merrin has been brought up on charges of heresy.  The Cardinal (Paul Henreid, many, many years after Casablanca), assigns Father Lamont (Richard Burton) to investigate the circumstances surrounding Father Merrin’s final exorcism.

The presence of Richard Burton is what elevates Heretic from merely being bad to being so bad that it’s good.  As written, Father Lamont is supposed to be something of a naive idealist, someone who never met Father Merrin but who has been intrigued by his writings.  Reportedly, several youthful actors turned down the role and eventually, production decided to make Lamont an older man and they ended up casting Richard Burton.  Speaking in a shaky rasp and staring at the camera with bloodshot eyes, Burton appears to be at the height of his famous self-loathing in this film.  Burton is so miscast as an idealistic priest that the film becomes fascinating to watch.  Occasionally, the film tries to make us suspect that Lamont himself may be possessed but with Burton snarling his way through the role, how could anyone tell the difference?

Lamont tracks Regan down in New York.  Regan doesn’t remember a thing about the exorcism and appears to be an overly happy teenage actress.  (A good deal of the movie is devoted to her rehearsing a big dance number.)  She is under the care of psychiatrist Gene Tuskin (Louise Fletcher).  Tuskin has a device called the Synchronizer.  When two people are hooked up to it, they can literally see into each other’s minds.  They can share the same memories.  They can … wait a minute.  What the Hell?  The Synchronizer essentially appears to be little more than a blinking light but it can actually allow you to enter into someone else’s mind?  Doesn’t that seem like that should be a big deal?

Well, it’s not.  Everyone pretty much just shrugs and accepts it…

Through the use of the Synchronizer, Reagan, Lamont, and Tuskin get to watch a lot of scenes from the first Exoricst.  It also allows Father Lamont to have visions of Africa and another exorcism, this one involving a young boy named Kokumo.

This leads to one of my favorite parts of the film; Richard Burton wandering around a dusty African market and randomly telling people, “I am looking for Kokumo.”  It turns out that Kukomo has grown up to be a doctor and he’s now played by James Earl Jones, who appears to be amused by his dialogue.  Also showing up in the film’s Africa scenes is Ned Beatty.  Beatty plays a pilot who flies Lamont to Kokumo’s village.  “Have you come here before?” Beatty asks.  “Once … on the wings of a demon,” Lamont replies.

Well, okay then…

The first Exorcist worked largely because William Friedkin directed it as if he was making a documentary.  John Boorman takes the exact opposite approach here, trying to turn a cheap sequel into a metaphysical meditation on good, evil, and nature.  It’s amazingly pretentious and it would actually be rather annoying if not for the fact that Burton doesn’t make the slightest bit of effort to come across as being in any way emotionally or intellectually invested in his over-the-top dialogue.  When you combine Burton’s overwhelming cynicism with Linda Blair’s nearly insane perkiness, Louise Fletcher’s genial confusion, and James Earl Jones’s cheerful humor, the end result is something that simply has to be seen to be believed.

So, yes, The Heretic is as bad as you’ve heard.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it.

Hallmark Review: Stranded In Paradise (2014, dir. Bert Kish)


Based on the title you can basically guess where this film starts. It begins at a big company called Connor.com where after a little foreshadowing, Tess Nelson (Vanessa Marcil) is going to end up with James Denton’s character Carter McConnell who clearly lost his thumb in paradise and obviously needs someone to help him track it down. Actually she has been fired because the new boss wants to do some restructuring and she’s going to get the boot. This was shortly before she was going to go to Puerto Rico to a human resources convention since that was her job at Connor.com. Well screw getting fired, she’s going to go anyways. There might be a job there!


As soon as she gets on the plane is where this movie starts to do things the way I like it. Sure, the plot ultimately nudges these two in a certain direction so that they will end up together, but it never really feels forced, shoved down our throats, or just flat of place. The two of them have a mix up on their plane seating. They both happen to have the bad luck of losing their luggage. They stay at the same hotel. Plot convenient coincidences sure, but nothing feels forced, for lack of a better word. We just spend some time with these characters, and they spend some time together.


He used to have a job that kept him in one place, but now he does the lecture circuit as kind of a life coach/motivational speaker. She is finding that word has gotten out about her job loss so she is a bit of a pariah. Because the hotel they were both staying at isn’t the brightest when it comes to the construction work being done on it, an electrical fire starts in the middle of the night. Then something happens you’d never imagine. No, not that they both go to a friend’s home who spouts platitudes while a hurricane approaches. No, no, no. She finds a working pay phone in 2014.


They then both go to Carter’s friend’s home. She used to be a Hollywood starlet, but when that dried up, she moved to Puerto Rico. She would be quite likable if they had dialed her back a little. She is so at peace, so I couldn’t care less about the hurricane, that you’d think she actually wants to die. It really is that bad. I can understand having been through many of them and understand that going into a complete panic is unnecessary, but it’s really like she’s totally oblivious to it. I’m sure you know where this leads.


That’s right! After the hurricane seems to reverse direction like it’s a car in a different gear, a faked computer screen that uses a local URL shows up. During the hurricane the new boss at Connor.com was trying to get ahold of her. He figured out that with her gone things were kind of thrown into turmoil. Not only was she good at what she was supposed to be doing, but there were things that she was doing that didn’t show up in any paperwork.


Of course they end up together. She is not only offered her position back at Connor.com, but a promotion to Vice President of Corporate Affairs since she really was doing more than her previous position. This is where I have a little problem with the story. I can understand that Carter would decide that he swung from the extreme of being only in one place all time to traveling all the time, but I’m not sure why she couldn’t find a way to strike a balance between the two. Instead, she goes back to Puerto Rico to catch him at the airport. However, I can kind of still get it because she did hold her previous position for 15 years. That’s a lot of time, and even if it doesn’t make complete sense, I can still buy her making that choice anyways.

This one is worth seeing.

Horror on the Lens: Robot Monster (dir by Phil Tucker)

Robot Monster

I realize I shared this last year as well, but hey, it’s Robot Monster!  It’s a movie about what happens when Earth is invaded by a gorilla wearing a diving helmet.  (For some reason, it also causes the dinosaurs to come back to life.)  It’s one of the most compulsively watchable bad movies ever made so how could I be expected to resist the opportunity to share it again?

Seriously, it’s Robot Monster!