Guilty Pleasure No. 43: The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (dir by Dallas Jenkins)

Well, we’re halfway through October and the annual Shattered Lens Horrorthon and what better time than now to review a …. faith-based comedy about an irresponsible actor who pretends to be a Christian so that he can star in a megachurch’s Easter play?

Embrace the unexpected!

The 2017 film, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, tells the story of Gavin Stone (Brett Dalton), a former child star who is now better known for his stints in rehab than for his acting.  After a trip to his hometown ends with Gavin getting arrested for public intoxication and apparently firing a catapult off the top of his hotel, Gavin is sentenced to do community service.  He has to live with his estranged father (Neil Flynn) and he can’t leave Ohio until he’s completed his hours.  What about Gavin’s career back in California?  What career?

Anyway, Gavin ends up doing his community service at the local Protestant megachurch.  The well-meaning pastor (D.B. Sweeney) suggests that Gavin just do maintenance work until his hours are up.  Gavin would rather try out for the lead role in the church’s annual Easter play, both because he wants to act and because he has a crush on the play’s director (Anjelah Johnson-Reyes), who just happens to be the pastor’s daughter.

“Well, the play is a part of our ministry,” the pastor explains, “so we do ask that everyone involved be a Christian.”

“I am a Christian!” Gavin announces, even though he’s totally not.

Naturally, Gavin gets cast in the role of Jesus.  Along with learning about his role, Gavin spends rehearsals shaking up the church’s somewhat stodgy play and, slowly but surely, becoming a better human being.  However, when Gavin is suddenly offered a role on a television series, he must decided whether to do what’s best for the play or what’s best for his career.  You can probably already guess what’s going to happen.

Obviously, a lot of people are going to be turned off by the film’s Christian origins but The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is actually a surprisingly sweet movie and, compared to most faith-based films, it’s not particularly heavy-handed.  Unlike a lot of Christian films, Gavin Stone actually has a sense of humor about itself and it’s hard not smile a bit when Gavin, after spending a night with Google, shows up for church on Sunday with a Jesus fish on his bumper and loudly greeting everyone with “Blessings!”  Brett Dalton (who we all know as Grant Ward on Agents of SHIELD) is sincere and likable in the lead role.  Anjelah Johnson-Reyes is stuck with the underwritten stock role of being the preacher’s daughter who loosens up over the course of the movie but she actually does a pretty good job of bringing some spark to the character.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone has its flaws, of course.  There’s a few times that the dialogue gets a bit clunky and you never quite buy the film’s positive conclusion.  But what this film’s does very well is that it captures the excitement of being a part of a production.  The best parts of the film are the ones that just focus on the characters rehearsing.  Anyone who has ever been involved with a community theater will be able to relate and it’s kind of fun to watch everyone progress from stiffly reading from the script to delivering their lines like fully committed amateur thespians.  The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is at its best when it celebrates the joy of performing.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island

Masters of Horror, “Deer Woman”, Dir. John Landis


Happy Horrorthon! There’s a Half-Deer woman (DeerTaur?) on the loose and only Martin Tupper…I mean Detective Dwight Faraday can stop her…maybe. Many of you don’t remember Dream On from the late 80s-early 90s on HBO, but it was awesome.  Benben played this kinda cranky book editor Martin Tupper who always thought in movie clips and seeing him act again was like being a wee kid again who quietly watched Dream On after his parents fell asleep.  Dream On BTW was hilarious and created by John Landis- Check it Out!  Yes, The American Werewolf in London director and he did Thriller.

Well, in the early 2000s Mick Garris got a lot of the greats from the 80s and 90s to do short horror films and Deer Woman was one of them.  In Deer Woman, Drunk dudes are getting trampled to death and Detective Faraday is assigned to the case.

Faraday is a down and out detective who no one respects.  Martin Tupper was a down and editor who no one respected.  Faraday is actually not a terrible detective.  He follows up leads and sees where they go.  He checks with the coroner and sees that the bodies are riddled with hoof prints.  You know what makes hoof prints? Deer-Taurs!!!!

Also, men are really portrayed as dumb and horny.  The Deer-Taur picks her next victim up at a hotel bar without speaking a word, but the dudes don’t seem to mind.  Once the seduction is on, she tramples him with her hooves! Yes, hooves.  I love this show!

What’s not to like?! Deer-Taurs, Detectives, and hooves!  There’s also a great dream sequence when Faraday imagines how the kill went down where a Deer in flannel carries off a victim Creature from Black Lagoon style.  It’s hilarious.  This is what’s great about Landis; his horror is always interspersed with great comic relief.

Anywho, bodies keep dropping and they’re so beat up that their arms are found on rooftops! AWESOME!!! Does Detective Faraday stop the Deer-Taur? Who Cares?! It’s got Deer-Taurs and Brian Benben! I would definitely recommend finding this show however you can.  Pretty much all of the Masters of Horror episodes are great. Cheers!


Horror On TV: One Step Beyond Episode 1.4 “The Dark Room” (dir by John Newland)

On tonight’s episode of One Step Beyond, Cloris Leachman plays Rita Wallace, an American photographer in France.  She’s looking for a model whose face will serve as the ultimate symbol of the country.  One day, a haunted-looking man (Marel Dalio) shows up at her apartment.  She thinks he’s a model.  The truth, needless to say, is something quite different….

This episode features good performances from both Leachman and Dalio.  In real life, Dalio was an icon of French cinema and a favorite of Jean Renoir’s.  When the Nazis invaded France, the Jewish Dalio fled Paris and, after a harrowing journey, eventually made it to America.  In America, he played the croupier in Casablanca and appeared in several other films.  Tragically, the rest of his family did not escape and were murdered by the Nazis.  Dalio returned to France after the end of the war and remained an in-demand character actor for several more decades, making his final film appearance in 1980.

The Darkroom originally aired on February 10th, 1959.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Psycho III (dir by Anthony Perkins)

Norman Bates is back!

Released in 1986 and directed by Anthony Perkins himself, Psycho III picks up a few months after Psycho II ended.  Norman (Anthony Perkins, of course) is still free.  He’s still got his motel.  He’s still talking to his dead mother.  Of course, at the end of Psycho II, Norman was told that the woman who Norman thought was his mother actually wasn’t his mother.  Instead, Emma Spool told Norman that she was his mother, which led to Norman promptly hitting her with a shovel and then keeping her preserved body hidden away in the motel.  Got all that?  Great, let’s move on….

In Psycho III, business suddenly starts booming at the Bates Motel!  All sorts of people come by to visit.

For instance, there’s the obnoxious tourists who show up at the motel so they can watch a football game and get drunk.  Future director Katt Shea plays one of the unfortunate tourists, who ends up suffering perhaps the most undignified death in the history of the Psycho franchise.  Shea later ends up being stored in the motel’s ice chest.  At one point, the local sheriff grabs a piece of ice and tosses it in his mouth without noticing that it’s covered in blood.

And then there’s Duane Duke (a young Jeff Fahey!), who is superhot but also super sleazy.  For reasons that are never quite clear, Norman hires Duke to be the assistant manager at the motel.  Duke turns out to be thoroughly untrustworthy but he’s Jeff Fahey so he remains strangely appealing even when he shouldn’t be.

Red (Juliette Cummins) shows up at the motel so that she can have sex with Duke and then get stabbed to death while taking off her top in a phone booth.  That, I guess, is Psycho III‘s equivalent of the first film’s shower scene.  Later, Duke comes across Norman mopping up all the blood in the phone booth but he doesn’t say anything about it.  Duke knows better than to ask why there’s blood in the phone booth.

Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell) is a journalist whose sole purpose in life is to prove that Norman murdered Emma Spool.  Tracy’s main function in this film is to explain just why exactly so many different women have claimed to be Norman’s mother.  It’s a rather complicated story and you’ll get a migraine if you think about it for too long.

And finally, there’s Maureen (Diana Scarwid), the former nun who has lost her faith and her sanity.  She shows up at the motel and stays in Marion Crane’s old room.  She takes a bath instead of a shower and slits her wrists.  When Norman storms into the room to kill her, the barely lucid Maureen mistakes him for the Virgin Mary and sees his knife as being a crucifix.  Maureen survives and Norman is hailed as a hero for rescuing her.  Later, Norman and Maureen fall in love.  You can guess how that goes.

When compared to the first sequel, Psycho III is much more of a standard slasher film and there’s certainly never any doubt over who is doing the killing.  However, Perkins again does a great job in the role of Norman, making him both sympathetic and creepy.  Fahey, Scarwid, Maxwell, and Hugh Gillin (as the hilariously clueless sheriff) all provide good support.  There’s really not a single character in this film who doesn’t have at least one odd or memorable quirk.  Duane Duke, for instance, is one of the most amazingly sleazy characters in the history of American cinema.  Just when you think that the character can’t get any worse, he proves you wrong.

As mentioned above, Perkins directed this film.  It was one of two movies that Perkins would direct before his death.  As a director, Perkins had a good visual sense, even if he did allow the narrative to meander a bit.  There’s nothing particularly subtle about Perkins’s direction and several of the scenes — like the sex scene between Duke and Red — are so over the top that they become rather fascinating to watch.  That said, there was really no longer any need to be subtle when it came to Norman Bates and his story.

With the exception of the weird Gus Van Sant remake with Vince Vaughn, Psycho III would be the last Psycho film to be released into theaters.  It would also be Perkins’s second-to-last time to play Norman.  (The last time would be in a 1990 made-for-TV sequel, Psycho IV: The Beginning.  Despite it’s title, Psycho IV pretty much ignored everything that happened in the previous two sequels.)  Perkins passed away in 1992, at the age of 60 but the character of Norman Bates would live on, both in his own performances and in the later work of Freddie Highmore in Bates Motel.

Missed Opportunities: Alien Nation (1988, directed by Graham Baker)

Alien Nation starts out with an intriguing premise but sadly doesn’t do enough with it.

In 1988, a spaceship lands in Mojave Desert.  Inside are 300,000 humanoid aliens, known as the Newcomers.  Intended to serve as intergalactic slaves, the Newcomers are now stuck on Earth.  (Of course, in the view of many humans, it’s Earth that’s stuck with them.)  Three years later, the Newcomers have settled in Los Angeles and they have adopted human names.  Some of them, like businessman William Harcourt (Terrence Stamp), have become successful and have been accepted by the human establishment.  The majority remain second-class citizens, facing discrimination and feeling alone in a world that doesn’t seem to want them.

Detective Matthew Sykes (James Caan) does not like the Newcomers but, after his partner is killed by one of the aliens, he ends up working with one.  Sam Francisco (Mandy Patinkin) is the first Newcomer to have been promoted to the rank of detective and is eager to prove himself.  Sykes renames him George and enlists him to investigate a series of recent Newcomer deaths.  Sykes’s real goal is to use Francisco’s Newcomer connections to investigate the death of his partner.  What the two of them discover is that the deaths are linked to a drug called Jabroka, which has no effect on human but was previously used to keep the Newcomers enslaved.

Alien Nation starts out with an intriguing premise.  I love the early scenes of Sykes driving down the streets of Los Angeles and seeing Newcomer prostitutes, Newcomer families, and even a Newcomer dance studio.  There is a lot promise in those scenes and they capture the feeling of a familiar world that has been irrevocably changed.  Both Caan and Patinkin give good performances and the alien makeup is still impressive.  Unfortunately, once Sykes and George start their investigation, the movie becomes a standard-issue police movie with a plot that could easily have been lifted from a Lethal Weapon rip-off.  So many interesting ideas are left unexplored, making Alien Nation an intriguing missed opportunity.  (There was later a television series based on the movie, which explored the Newcomer culture in greater detail.)

Alien Nation still has a strong cult following and I wouldn’t be surprised if it influenced District 9.  In 2016, it was announced that Jeff Nichols would be writing and directing a remake.  Nichols seems like the ideal director for a film like this and this is the rare case of a remake that I’m actually looking forward to.

Retro Game Review: Destroy All Humans! (2005, THQ)

I’m looking forward to 2020 for one reason and one reason only and it’s not the presidential election.

No, I’m looking forward to 2020 because that’s when I’ll finally be able to play Destroy All Humans! again!  The classic alien invasion game will be getting a full remake in 2020 and, once again, players will be able to help Crypto steal Furon DNA and conquer the planet.  It probably won’t be a minute too soon, either.  If 2019 is any indication, 2020 is a year that’s probably going to inspire a lot of people to wish they could beam up to their spaceship and blow things up.  With the remake of Destroy All Humans!, they should have the opportunity to do just that without causing any real world damage!

Back in the day (the 2005 day), Destroy All Humans! was the best reason to have either an Xbox or Playstation 2.  Crypto was a little grey man who sounded suspiciously similar to Jack Nicholson.  He came to Earth in 1959, on a quest to harvest brain stems, blow up cows, disrupt pool parties, and battle a mysterious government agency known as Majestic.  Though the game had a storyline and missions, it was also a sandbox game.  Once a location was unlocked, you could revisit and blow it up whenever you wanted to.  I lost track of how many times I took out Turnipseed Farm.  Being an industrious race, the humans always rebuilt as soon as you flew away.  It never seemed to occur to them to add any extra security precautions, no matter how many times you returned.

Because the game was set in 1959, it featured a full-on barrage of pop cultural references.  Crypto could read minds and it turned out that people all over America were thinking about Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and whether or not they really liked Ike.  Crypto could also temporarily disguise himself as a human but, after a certain amount of time, he always reverted back to his original form.  If he reverted back while surrounded by humans, panic would ensue as the humans shouted that they were being invaded by “space commies!”

Of course, Earth was a dangerous place in the 1950s and it was common for Crypto to get killed.  Luckily, every time he died, a new Crypto clone took over and was even more eager to destroy all humans!

This was my favorite game on the Xbox and it’s one of the few that I really miss playing.  (I still have the game and the Xbox.  While the Xbox works, the controller’s seen better days and, whenever I do play one my old Xbox games, it seems like I spend the majority of the game trying to keep characters like Crypto and Tommy Vercetti from running over to the left side of the screen.)  I’m looking forward to once again taking control of Crypto and invading this lousy planet!

Is it 2020 yet?

(By the way, Case Wright once reviewed Tom Abernathy, the writer of Destroy All Humans!  Read that interview here.)

Scenes That I Love: Norman and Arborgast Talk In Psycho

When it comes to Psycho, everyone always talk about the first half of the film, in which Marion Crane steals the money, gets interrogated by the highway patrolman, meets Norman Bates, and eventually takes that fateful shower.

Those are all great scenes that are wonderfully acted and directed.  But they’re also the scenes that always get shared whenever anyone shares something about Psycho.  So, for today’s scene that I love, I’m sharing a scene from the 2nd half of the film.  In this scene, Milton Arborgast (Martin Balsam) attempts to question Norman (Anthony Perkins, of course!) about whether or not Marion came by the motel.  Detective Arborgast thinks that Norman is hiding something.  Norman thinks that he can out talk the detective.

This scene is a master class in great acting.  Balsam and Perkins are like two tennis players, just knocking the ball back and forth without missing a beat.  What I love is that both men are pretending as if they’re having a friendly conversation, whereas they both know that they’re not.  Of course, when audience saw this movie for the first time (before the famous ending became common knowledge), they probably thought that Norman was trying to protect Arborgast from his mother.

Anyway, here’s the scene.  It’s Arborgast vs. Bates, Balsam vs. Perkins, and it’s rather brilliant:

Horror Book Review: Psycho II by Robert Bloch

So, first things first.

This 1982 novel by Robert Bloch is indeed a sequel to the novel that inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary horror film.  Yes, Norman Bates does return.  For that matter, so do Lila and Sam Loomis.  However, this novel should not be mistaken for Richard Franklin’s film, Psycho II, which came out a year later.  In fact, according to a later interview with Robert Bloch, Universal actually pressured him not to release this novel because they disliked the story Bloch had come up with and they also felt it would harm the financial prospects of their sequel.  Bloch, of course, did what he wanted to and was subsequently not invited to any screenings of Franklin’s film.

As for Bloch’s novel, it’s easy to see why Universal wasn’t enthusiastic about it.  It’s perhaps one of the most anti-Hollywood books ever written.  When Norman Bates escapes from a mental asylum and goes on another rampage, his doctor, Adam Claiborne, is convinced that Norman is heading to Hollywood to try to stop production of a movie called Crazy Lady, a movie that’s based on Norman’s crimes.  Even though everyone else is convinced that Norman’s been killed, Claiborne remains convinced that Norman faked his own death and is still out there.

Needless to say, the book’s Norman is considerably different from the vulnerable manchild that Anthony Perkins played in the films.  However, Norman is off-stage for the majority of Bloch’s sequel, the better to keep you wondering whether or not he actually is dead.  The majority of the book is dedicated to Claiborne getting to know the cast and crew of Crazy Lady, the majority of whom turn out to be sleazy Hollywood stereotypes.  Reading the book, it’s easy to see why Universal didn’t care much for it but, at times, Bloch occasionally comes across as if he think he’s the first person to ever be critical of Hollywood.

Another reason why Universal may have balked at adapting Bloch’s novel was because of a surreal chapter in which Paul Morgan, the actor who has been cast to play Norman, goes undercover at a brothel where all of the escorts look like then-Hollywood stars.  Since each escort is referred to by his star’s name, the entire chapter is basically Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, and John Travolta making bitchy comments about Hollywood and religion.  It’s an odd chapter that doesn’t advance the story but, at the same time, it’s also Bloch at his most subversive.

Though the book’s take on Hollywood was hardly revolutionary, Bloch was a born storyteller and the story moves at a good pace.  It all ends with an effective twist, one that provides a proper ending to Bloch’s version of the Norman Bates story.  For Psycho and Bloch fans, it’s a must read.

Great Moments In Comic Book History: “Even in Death…”

The Uncanny X-Men #144 finds Scott Summers (better known as Cyclops, the occasional leader of the X-Men) working on a fishing boat in the Florida Everglades.  Scott’s new boss, Lee Forrester, is obviously interested in him but Scott is still mourning Jean Grey.  It’s been months since Jean, consumed by the Dark Phoenix, chose to protect the universe by destroying herself.  Scott has taken a leave of absence from the X-Men to grieve and, as they used to say back in the day, find himself.

When the fear-inducing demon D’Spayre shows up, it not only drives Lee’s father to suicide but it also forces Scott to deal with his deepest fears.  Scott hallucinates the plane crash that led to him and his brother being separated from their parents.  He visualizes the X-Men dead, having been killed by Sentinels.  And finally, in the issue’s most famous scene, he finds himself walking down a church aisle with Jean.

As they walk down the aisle, Jean’s costume changes to reflect all of the different roles that she played as member of the X-Men.  She goes from being in her underwear to being in her green Ms. Marvel costume to being the Phoenix to being the Hellfire Club’s Black Queen to finally being the Dark Phoenix.  When they reach the minister, Jean is dressed as a bride.  When the minister tells Scott that he may kiss the bride, Jean suddenly reaches up and lifts Scott’s visor.  A blast a red energy brings the wedding to an abrupt end.

Eventually, Scott teams up with the Man-Thing (who is Marvel’s version of Swamp Thing) and is able to easily defeat D’Spayre.  Since all you have to do to make D’Spayre go away is refuse to believe what he’s showing you, he is not one of Marvel’s most intimidating villains.  Still, Scott’s church hallucination provides not only a perfect coda for the Dark Phoenix saga but it also shows a comic book character dealing with depression.  That’s an emotion that, until Chris Claremont started writing the X-Men, super heroes rarely had to deal with for more than an issue or two.  Even Spider-Man, with all of his problems and guilt, always kept his sense of humor.  This issue of the X-Men finds Scott deeply mired in his grief.  Even after Scott defeats D’Spayre, the sadness remains but he swears to himself that will not surrender to it.

Of course, the impact of this issue is lessened by the fact that Marvel would later reveal that the Dark Phoenix who sacrificed herself was just an energy force that took on Jean’s memories and personality while the real Jean remained in suspended animation at the bottom of Jamaica Bay.  X-Men #144 is still a good issue and a good example of Chris Claremont’s ability to bring out the humanity in even those with super powers.

Plus, we learn how Cyclops plays pool

The Uncanny X-Men #144 (April, 1981)

“Even in Death”

  • Writer: Chris Claremont
  • Guest Penciler: Brent Anderson
  • Inker: Josef Rubenstein
  • Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
  • Colorist: Glynis Wein
  • Editor: Louise Jones
  • Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus

A Blast From The Past: The Griper (dir by Herk Harvey)

Oh my God, it’s a ghost!

No, actually, that’s not a ghost.  That’s George’s conscience, who apparently leaves George’s body while George is asleep and tells strangers all of the sordid details of George’s home life.  Hmmm …. actually, that sounds scarier than a ghost.

Anyway, George is the anti-hero of the 1954 educational short film, The Griper.  George’s problem can be found right in the title.  He’s a teenager who complains about everything and he’s ruining high school for not only his classmates but for his teachers as well!  George isn’t happy during the basketball game.  George isn’t happy about his class assignment.  Even when his only friend, Betty, tries to show him a cute cartoon, George snaps at her.

George’s problem, of course, is that he was born 60 years too early.  If he had been born several decades later, he could have just joined twitter and then he could spend all day cancelling people and getting all of the likes and retweets that come along with being a judgmental jackass.  But sadly, George is a teenager in the 50s and he’s expected to be a lot more positive.

Personally, I think everyone in the film’s being a bit too judgmental of George.  I mean — yes, he’s a jerk.  And yes, I would probably avoid him because I love snark but I hate negativity.  But if George is always in a bad mood, that’s his right!  He can always make new friends or pursue a career as a film critic.

George is going to be alright.

This short film was directed by Herk Harvey.  Harvey made a career out of doing short films like this but horror fans will always know him as being the director of the incredibly influential Carnival of Souls.  We’ll be watching that movie later this month but for now, enjoy watching George isolate himself while destroying everyone else’s happiness and be sure to ask yourself,

“What would you do?”