Halloween 2018, Review by Case Wright


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Happy Halloween!!!  I have reviewed A LOT of Halloween movies! They’re pretty… pretty good  This one’s goodThis one’s not bad this one’s probably my best. This Halloween movie was …. well … fine.  There’s a spectrum of Halloween franchise films. Some are amazing, some are epically terrible, and some are fine.  Not terrible, just ok.  This is in the meh category, but like much of life itself- kinda dull and disappointing as you slowly degrade towards the infinite.

Michael in an insane asylum and about to be transferred….again, but to make it different this time annoying podcasters interview him first.  So…. it’s kinda new? But really, this guy escapes custody more than El Chapo, but they keep moving him around movie after movie after movie. I know that this movie is supposed to disregard all the ones after the first one, but that really is just an excuse to recycle the old tropes.  I wish they’d taken another route like they did in H20, which is still amazing and holds up really well.

The big change is that Laurie Strode has been waiting for Michael’s inevitable escape.  She turned her home in a fortress with all kinds of booby traps.  She has an arsenal that my grandma would’ve been proud to see.  Unfortunately, it drove Laurie to raise her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) like a special forces recruit and always afraid and a quasi-prisoner.  Karen, now an adult with a family of her own, wants nothing to do with her gung ho mom, but her Karen’s daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) wants the family to reunite by inviting her to mom to dinner and it goes…yikes.

The unsung character of the movie that provides the only comic relief was Karen’s husband Ray (Toby Huss) who got not a tear from anyone when Michael made short work of him.  Really, no one cared at all about the dad getting killed, not the wife or the daughter; only Michael seemed to care and he murdered the guy.  Poor dads, we’re just cast aside like old meat- no one cares.

The movie have A LOT of bad decisions; if bad boxers lead with their chins, these guys led with their necks.  I guess that’s why it was tough for me to feel sympathetic for the victims because they were so dumb that I figured something else would’ve gotten these walking Darwin Awards: stopping on railroad tracks, taking a selfie in a lion enclosure at a zoo, or getting eaten by a Labrador Retriever…somehow.

In any case, I would get this on netflix; it was …fine.

 

Guilty Pleasure No. 45: Utopia


Utopia ended on a Halloween.

Now, I’m not talking about utopia as a concept.  I imagine that there are still people out there who think that the idea of creating a utopia is a a viable one.  (I’m not one of those people but that’s mostly because I think living in a perfect world would be hella dull.)  Instead, I’m talking about a reality television show that premiered in September of 2014 and which was canceled one month later.

Though it’s pretty much forgotten today, Utopia was a pretty big deal in the months leading up to its first episode.  It’s estimated that Fox spent 50 million dollars to develop and promote the show.  Not only would Utopia air twice a week but, much in the style of Big Brother, audiences would be able to watch the show’s participants interact live online.  The commercials, which were inescapable that summer, explained that 12 people with radically different philosophies would be expected to come together and form a new society on a California farm.  An atheist would live with a minister!  A libertarian would have to work with a socialist!  An attorney would have to find common ground with an ex-con!  A huntress would eat at the same table as a vegetarian!  The show was an experiment that would last an entire year and it would answer the question: Can different people come together to start a brave new world?

I have to admit that I was kind of excited for the show.  Utopia started just as the 16th season of Big Brother came to an end.  That season was one of the worst in the history of Big Brother, largely as the result of the show’s producers putting the insufferable Frankie Grande in the House and then trying to rig the show in his favor.  After a terrible season of Big Brother, I was actually had hope that maybe Utopia would be everything that Big Brother had ceased being.

Of course, I was wrong.  From the first episode of Utopia, it became obvious that we would never learn whether people could come together to start a brave new world because, for the most part, no one on the show was interested in doing that.  There was a lot of drinking, of course.  There was also an entire episode devoted to one of the Utopians, a pastor, worrying that he would lust in his heart for the female Utopians unless they started wearing more clothes.  For two episodes, a redneck named Red announced that he wanted to start his own society in the woods but eventually he changed his mind.  The Utopians lived on a farm but only doomsday prepper Bella seemed to have any farming experience and, as quickly became obvious in her case, having experience doesn’t necessarily mean that you know what you’re doing.

It was a weird show.  I’m assuming that Fox thought that there would be instant conflict if they put a libertarian and a socialist together but, for the most part, no one on the show ever discussed their differing philosophies.  In fact, it was hard to see that any of them had any philosophy as all.  Hex was regularly described as being a “huntress,” despite the fact that we never saw her hunt.  Rob was described as being a libertarian but we never actually saw him discuss what that meant and he acted like just as much of a petty authoritarian as the other members of the cast.  The show tried to create the appearance of conflict but, like most Americans outside of Twitter, the cast dealt with their differences by not really discussing them.  So, as a result, we ended up with entire episodes devoted to doomsday prepper Bella getting upset because veterinary assistant Bri wanted to have some say in how the farm animals were fed.

The one thing that kept all of this from being unbearable dull was that the show’s perpetually optimistic host, Dan Piraro, described every minor event in breathless detail.  When one of the Utopians got too drunk and acted like an ass, he was put on a trial.  The end result of the trial?  Everyone asked him to please not get drunk and act like an ass again.  “And so the Utopians have created a legal system!” Piraro exclaimed.

As the show progressed, the Utopians started to get bored.  Some of them voluntarily left Utopia, largely because they just wanted to find something better to do with their time.  After the show’s producers tried to turn attorney Mike Quinn into the star of the show and centered a few episodes around his relationship with “polyamorous Dedeker,” he abruptly left.  (“And so Mike leaves Utopia….”)  Whenever an old Utopian left, two prospective new ones would be brought in and would explain why they should be selected to live in Utopia but the new Utopians soon proved themselves to be just as boring as the old ones.  The Utopians attempted to raise money for food by opening up their farm to the general public.  Huntress Hex gave hunting lessons and revealed that she wasn’t really sure how to use a bow and arrow.  One of the new arrivals attempted to create a website for the farm, just to have the site besieged by online trolls.  Ratings crashed and the show soon went from airing twice a week to only airing on Fridays.

And yet, the worse the show got, the more fascinating it became.  Utopia offered audiences the opportunity to watch a month-long train wreck as it unfolded.  It was so bad that you couldn’t look away and each attempt by Fox to somehow spice up the show only made it more of a disaster.  I would watch each episode just to see how much more pointless the show could become.

The final episode aired on Halloween and it featured the host wearing a cape and, if I remember correctly, plastic fangs at one point.  By this point, Fox had changed the show’s concept.  Now, the viewers would vote each week on who they wanted to banish from Utopia.  (“But I’m an atheist!” Hex wailed, “America’s going to hate me!”)  Or, at least, that’s what the show’s producers said was going to happen.  Instead, Utopia was canceled before America ever got a chance to vote.

Interestingly, the only people shocked by Utopia‘s cancellation were the people living on the farm.  Apparently, the day after Halloween started out normally for them and for whoever might have been watching them on the live feeds.  Sometime in the afternoon, the feeds abruptly went down and never came back up.  From what I’ve read, the Utopians were called into a meeting and told that they were going home immediately.

Utopia has never been tried again but I fondly remember watching it.  The Utopians failed to create a brave new world but they kept me amused for 12 episodes.

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
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State

Guilty Pleasure No. 44: Paranormal State


“We are students…..we are seekers…..and sometimes we are warriors. And each time we help someone, I feel like I’m one step closer to finding the truth…”

The words opened up all 86 episodes of Paranormal State, a “reality” show that ran on A&E from 2007 to 2011.  They were delivered by Ryan Buell, who was the head of the Pennsylvania State University Paranormal Research Society.  Buell also narrated every episode of Paranormal State and perhaps the most memorable thing about the show was the strangely robotic sound of his narration.  Buell delivered his lines in a memorably flat monotone, one that rarely betrayed a hint of emotion while talking about the spirits that the Team supposedly dealt with in each and every episode.  Even when Buell talked about the demon that had supposedly been stalking him since childhood, he did so with all the emotion of Alexa confirming a grocery list.

Paranormal State was one of those shows where people would around in a dark house with an infrared camera while randomly saying stuff like, “Did you feel that?  I felt a suddenly cold wind in this room.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.”  Occasionally, a light would get knocked over or a door would close on its own.  Along with asking each other if they had felt anything, the members of the Paranormal Research Society were also fond of asking, “Did you hear that?” and “Oh my God, did you just see that?”  I always liked it when they would review the film in slow-motion and point at a barely visible smudge on the image and say, “There it is.  There’s the spirit.”  Ultimately, it would usually lead to a medium being called in and wandering around the house and going, “It’s time for you to move on, spirit.  Whisper something if you’re here.  Oh my God, did you hear that?”

It was all pretty obviously staged and kind of dumb but I still enjoyed the show because I liked the idea of a bunch of college students skipping class so that they could spend the night in a deserted barn while waiting for the ghost of a angry farmer to push over a pitchfork or something.  I mean, if my college had given credit for ghost hunting, I totally would have done it!  The show may have been fake but it was fun to pretend that it was real.

After the show ended, Ryan Buell had his personal difficulties, which I’m not going to dwell on.  As for the show, it actually lives on.  I recently came across reruns on the FYI network and I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve met who, like me, can recite that opening narration by heart.  Seriously, it just gets in your head.

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
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

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

Guilty Pleasure No. 42: Harper’s Island


Oh my God, do you remember Harper’s Island!?

Way before The Walking Dead and American Horror Story made death and gore safe for mass consumption, Harper’s Island was the scariest show on television.  I have to admit that, when I first heard about the show, I wasn’t expecting it to be.  Way back in 2009, whenever the commercials for the show would air and that little girl would go, “One by one,” I would roll my eyes so hard that I once nearly gave myself a concussion.

“Really?” I would say, “A slasher television show where at least one person dies every week?  And it’s going to be on network TV?  There’s no way this is going to be bloody or scary enough to be worth watching.”

However, I did watch the first episode because I figured that I could at least be snarky about it on twitter.  (I had joined just a few months before the show premiered.  Harper’s Island was the first show that I ever live tweeted, even though I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as “live tweeting” way back then.)  The episode opened with a man tied to the propeller of a boat, screaming as the engine started.  The episode ended with Uncle Marty (played by special guest star Harry Hamlin) getting chopped in half by an unseen assailant.

“AGCK!” I said.

I was hooked from that episode on.

 

Believe it or not, Harper’s Island wasn’t just killings.  It actually did tell a story, about a young woman named Abby (played by Elaine Cassidy) who returns to her childhood home, on Harper’s Island, for her best friend’s wedding.  Many years ago, Abby’s mother was among those who was killed by a serial killer named John Wakefield.  From the minute that Abby arrives, she feels that something bad is going to happen and it turns out that she’s right.

Of course, Abby’s not the only one on the island.  There’s the other members of the wedding party.  There’s the island’s inhabitants, the fishermen and the deputies and the cafe owner and the local reverend whose destined to lose his head in the woods.  They’ve all got their quirks and subplots.  Boisterous Malcolm (Chris Gauthier) is in desperate need of money.  Local fisherman Jimmy (C.J. Thomason) is still in love with Abby.  The groom, Henry (Christopher Gorham), has issues from his past that he needs to deal with.  Some of them are likable.  Some of them are annoying.  Some of them, like spoiled Chloe (Cameron Richardson), are meant to be annoying but become likable as the series progresses.

And, in the end, none of their hopes and dreams really mattered because, by the end of the show, everyone was pretty much dead.  The ads for Harper’s Island promised a bloodbath and that’s what the show delivered.  It wasn’t just that at least one person died per week.  It was also that they usually died in the most macabre and disturbing ways possible.  This was the type of the show where the most likable groomsman ended up getting chopped into pieces and then tossed into an incinerator.  Another wedding guest chose to drown herself rather than be attacked by the killer.  Sometimes, the killers didn’t even have to be around for someone to get killed.  Who can forget poor Booth (played by Sean Rogerson), accidentally shooting himself in the leg and bleeding out while America watched?

And yes, you did watch every week because you wanted to see who would be the next to die.  (That’s where the guilty part of the pleasure comes in.)  But you also watched because the show was produced and directed so well.  The island was a wonderfully atmospheric location and the cast really committed themselves to bringing the show’s morbid reality to life.  At the time, it was the darkest show on television and it could have been even darker because, originally, the plan was for the killer to get away with it.  In the end, karma caught up with the killer but not before we were all traumatized upon discovering just who was responsible.  Harper’s Island‘s mystery was as intriguing as its deaths were bloody.

Being ahead of its time, Harper’s Island struggled in the ratings and it was never a big hit with critics.  But, with the help of Netflix and the the occasional marathon on SyFy, Harper’s Island‘s reputation has improved and grown over the years.  Looking back, it’s easy to see that Harper’s Island was not only the forerunner to American Horror Story but it was also a far better series.  American Horror Story tends to condescend to the horror, keeping the genre at arm’s length through misdirected pretension.  It’s a show for people who think that they’re too good for horror.  Harper’s Island, on the other hand, fully embraced both the horror and the melodrama and it did so without apology.

Seriously, what Halloween is complete without a trip to Harper’s Island?

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

Familiar Faces #11: When Candy Johnson Got Us All Shook Up!


cracked rear viewer

Candy Johnson, dubbed “The Perpetual Motion Machine” by American-International publicists, shaked, rattled, and rolled her way across the Silver Screen in the first four AIP/Beach Party flicks, then just as quickly disappeared from the scene. But just who was this undulating beach bunny with the amazing ability to send Eric Von Zipper flying through the air with her hip-quaking booty shaking?

‘Candy’ was the childhood nickname of Vicki Jane Husted, born in San Gabriel, California on Feb. 8, 1944. She was the niece of race car driver Jim Rathmann, who won the Indy 500 in 1960. Candy loved dancing (obviously!) and her energetic go-go shimmying landed her a two-year gig as the featured attraction at Palm Springs’ Safari Lounge, backed by The Exciters Band, where she drew sold-out crowds on a nightly basis. The California Girl and her band next hit glittering Las Vegas, where the local press first coined…

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RIP Larry Cohen: Maniacal Movie Maverick


cracked rear viewer

While everyone on TV and social media are babbling about The Mueller Report, I came across some bigger news: Larry Cohen has passed away at age 77. You can debate politics all you want, but you can’t debate the fact that Cohen was a true artist, despite working within Exploitation genres and dealing with budgetary limitations throughout most of his career. Cohen’s unique vision was his own, and he made some truly great films – some turkeys too, granted, but his overall batting average was high indeed.

I’ve written extensively on this blog about Cohen’s film and television work because I love his style. Like a cinematic Rumpelstiltskin, he frequently turned straw into gold. Born in Manhattan in 1941, Larry Cohen was obsessed with B-movies and hard-boiled fiction, and after graduating from CCNY with a degree in film studies, he got a job as a page at NBC. Cohen worked…

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