Horror Film Review: The Collector (dir by Marcus Dunstan)

There are a few horror films that I dislike as much as I dislike 2009’s The Collector.

I guess that should be considered fair warning about how this review is going to go.

I’ve only watched this movie two times and, both times, it was as a part of a live tweet group.  The first time that I watched it, I absolutely hated it because I found it to be incredibly mean-spirited and lacking in any sort of wit.  It just felt like a rip-off of the Saw movies, with a bit of Hostel tossed in.  I felt that it was the least imaginative torture show that I had ever watched,

The second time I watched, I know what was coming so my reaction was not quite as viscerally negative as the first time.  I still didn’t like the film but I could at least see that there was some craft involved in the making of the film and there were even a few hints of wit at the start of the film.  I could even respect the fact that the film stayed true to its dark worldview.  The Collector was a truly creepy character, even if his motivations and his techniques made absolutely no sense.

That said, I simply cannot get beyond the death of the cat.

A cat is killed in the film and it’s such a gratuitous and mean-spirited scene that I simply cannot look past it.  There was absolutely no reason to kill the cat, beyond wanting to show off that this film was so hardcore that it was even willing to kill cute pets.  The way the cat died was sadistic.  It was unnecessary and the scene went on forever.  Sorry, The Collector.  You lost me.

What’s interesting, though, is that it’s not just the cat that dies in the film.  At least seven or eight people die over the course of this film.  Of the two main, non-villainous characters who are still alive at the end of the film, one only has a future of physical and mental torture to look forward to while the other is going to be psychologically scarred for the rest of their lives.  And yet, none of the human death and suffering bothered me as much as the death of the cat.  I guess some of that is because the humans were played by recognizable actors and I’ve seen enough behind-the-scenes documentaries to know how all of the gore effects are done.  I didn’t particularly enjoy the many scenes of people being tortured but I knew they weren’t really being tortured and that everyone was getting paid.  Of course, it also helped that none of the human characters were particularly likable or interesting.  The cat, meanwhile, was just an innocent house pet who was killed for absolutely no reason.

And yes, I know they didn’t kill a real cat.  Still, it was way too graphic and drawn-out for me.

So, maybe I just don’t like seeing animals suffer in horror movies.  But it really didn’t bother me when an attacking dog was killed towards the end of the film so maybe I just like cats.

Anyway, I didn’t like The Collector.

2017 in Review: The Best of Lifetime

Today, I continue my look back at the previous year with my picks for the best of Lifetime in 2017!  Below, you’ll find my nominations for the best Lifetime films and performances of 2017!  Winners are starred and listed in bold!

(As a guide, I used the credits for the imdb.  If anyone has been miscredited or let out, please feel free to let me know and I’ll fix the error both here and, if I can, on the imdb as well.)

Best Picture

Drink Slay Love, produced by Tina Pehme, Kim Roberts, Sheri Singer, Bella Thorne

From Straight A’s to XXX, produced by Austin Andrews, John Bolton, Anne-Marie Hess, Tina Pehme, Kim Roberts, Sheri Singer

Four Christmases and a Wedding

New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell, produced by Deen Dioria, David Manzanares, Ron Schmidt, Judith Verno, Frank von Zerneck.

The Rachels, produced by Paige Lauren Billot, Margaret H. Huddleston, Maggie McFarren, Hannah Pillemer, Rebecca G. Stone.

Running Away, produced by Dureyshevar, Jeff Faehnle, Jack Nasser, Jacob Nasser, Joseph Nasser, Bri Noble.

Sea Change. Produced by Sharon Bordas, Alec Chorches, Adam Fratto, Steven Gilder, David MacLeod, A.J. Mendez, Shawn Piller, Lloyd Segan, Stephanie Slack, Fernando Szew

Secrets in Suburbia, produced by Kristopher McNeeley, Jacobo Rispa, Damian Romay, Stephanie Slack, Fernando Szew.

The Watcher in the Woods, produced by Simon Barnes, Alexandra Bentley, Andrew Gernhard, Jennifer Handorf, Paula Hart.

* Web Cam Girls, produced by Tom Berry, Pierre David, Hank Grover, Sheri Reeves, Ken Sanders, Noel Zanitsch* 

Best Director

* Doug Campbell for Web Cam Girls

Michael Civille for The Rachels

Vanessa Parise for From Straight A’s to XXX

Damian Romay for Secrets in Suburbia

Brian Skiba for Running Away

Stephen Tolkin for New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell

Best Actor

James Franco in High School Lover

Zack Gold in Psycho Brother-in-Law

Stephen Graybill in Web Cam Girls

Timothy Granderos in The Twin

Ted McGinley in Fatherly Obsession

* Ryan Patrick Shanahan in Sinister Minister

Best Actress

Barbie Castro in Boyfriend Killer

Holly Deveaux in Running Away

Sedonna Legge in Web Cam Girls

* Penelope Ann Miller in New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell

Heather Morris in Psycho Wedding Crasher

Haley Pullos in From Straight A’s to XXX

Best Supporting Actor

Francois Arnaud in High School Lover

Joe Hackett in Web Cam Girls

William McNamara in Running Away

Patrick Muldoon in Boyfriend Killer

Judd Nelson in From Straight A’s to XXX

* Daniel Roebuck in New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell

Best Supporting Actress

Madison Iseman in The Rachels

Anjelica Huston in The Watcher in the Woods

* Tonya Kay in Web Cam Girls

Paula Trickey in Running Away

Ashley Wood in Wicked Mom’s Club

Lorynn York in Web Cam Girs

Best Screenplay

From Straight A’s to XXX. Anne-Marie Hess.

New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell. Stephen Tolkin.

The Rachels. Ellen Huggins.

* Running Away. Sheri McGuinn.

Secrets in Suburbia. Damian Romay.

Web Cam Girls. Stephen Romano.

Best Cinematography

Drink Slay Love. Vic Sarin.

Four Christmases and a Wedding. Mike Kam.

Off the Rails. Denis Maloney.

Running Away. Patrice Lucien Cochet.

* Sea Change. Jackson Parrell.

Ten: Murder Island. Richard Clabaugh.

Best Costuming

* Drink Slay Love. Liene Dobraja.

From Straight A’s to XXX. Liene Dobraja.

The Lost Wife of Robert Durst. Tina Fiorda.

New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell. Maria Bentfield.

The Rachels. Courtney Stern.

Stage Fright. Monique Hyman.

Best Editing

* From Straight A’s to XXX. Rob Grant.

Four Christmases and a Wedding. Paul Ziller.

New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell. Mark Stevens.

The Rachels. Brett Solem.

Sea Change. Matthew Anas.

Web Cam Girls. Jordan Jensen.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Drink Slay Love. Jessica Green, Catherine Long, Alysha McLoughlin, Sahar Sharelo.

The Lost Wife of Robert Durst. Lorna Bravo, Kelly Grange, Shelly Jensen, Mary Renvall, Melissa Sahlstrom.

* New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell. Claudia Breckenridge, Daniel Casillas, Nicole Gabaldon, Pepper J. Gallegos, Madeline McCue, L. Taylor Roberts

The Rachels. Taylor Bennett, Austin Cuccia.

Secrets in Suburbia. Andrea Ahl, Trevor Thompson

The Watcher in the Woods. Chloe Edwards.

Best Score

Drink Slay Love. Justin R. Durban

Fatherly Obsession. Aiko Fukushima.

Sea Change. Shawn Pierce.

* Story of a Girl. Travis Bacon.

Ten: Murder Island. Ceiri Torjussen.

The Watcher in the Woods. Felix Bird.

Best Production Design

New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell. Will Albarz, Anthony Medina.

Running Away.   Vincent Albo, Rose Beltran

Secrets in Suburbia. Brendan Turrill.

Ten: Murder Island. Eric Whitney, Caley Bisson.

Tiny House of Terror

* Web Cam Girls. Catch Henson, James W. Thompson Jr., Katherine Bulovic, Valerie Munguia

Best Sound

Britney Ever After

Drink Slay Love

From Straight A’s to XXX

Sea Change.

Under the Bed

* The Watcher in the Woods

Best Visual Effects

* Drink Slay Love

Fatherly Obsession

Sea Change

Stalker’s Prey

Ten: Murder Island

The Watcher in the Woods

And there you have it!  Those are my picks for the best of Lifetime in 2017!  Thank you for your indulgence!  On Friday, I’ll be concluding my look back at 2017 with my picks for the 26 best films of the year!

Previous entries in the TSL’s Look Back at 2017:

  1. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Single Issues by Ryan C
  2. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Series by Ryan C
  3. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Edition (Contemporary) by Ryan C
  4. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Editions (Vintage) by Ryan C
  5. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Graphic Novels By Ryan C
  6. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I saw in 2017 by Valerie Troutman
  7. My Top 15 Albums of 2017 by Necromoonyeti
  8. 2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Picks For the 16 Worst Films of 2017
  9. 2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Final Post About Twin Peaks: The Return (for now)
  10. 2017 in Review: Lisa Marie’s 14 Favorite Songs of 2017
  11. 2017 in Review: The Best of SyFy by Lisa Marie Bowman
  12. 2017 in Review: 10 Good Things that Lisa Marie Saw On Television in 2017
  13. 2017 in Review: Lisa Marie’s 12 Favorite Novels of 2017
  14. 2017 in Review: Lia Marie’s 10 Favorite Non-Fiction Books of 2017

Film Review: From Straight A’s to XXX (dir by Vanessa Parise)


I just finished watching the latest Lifetime original film, From Straight A’s to XXX.

Like many Lifetime films, it’s based on a true story.  In this case, it tells the story of Miriam Weeks (Haley Pullos), who briefly became notorious for paying her tuition to Duke University by appearing in adult films under the name Belle Knox.  Her story became notorious because it touched on almost every important cultural issue of the past twenty years.  Stuffy pundits acted as if Belle Knox was somehow a sign of the collapse of civilization.  The story was regularly held up as a sign that my generation was spoiled and entitled, which was interesting since Miriam wouldn’t have ever made her first movie if college was actually affordable.  That’s one issue that, interestingly enough, was rarely brought up in all the discussions about the Duke porn star.  If students are having to do pornography to pay for college, shouldn’t the question be why it costs so much to get an education?

As for Belle Knox herself, she became a media celebrity.  She was interviewed by people like Piers Morgan and she proved herself to be quite adroit at putting that windbag in his place.  Rather than asking for sympathy, Belle defended herself and asked a very important question: why was the stigma of porn on her, as opposed to the men who watched her?

From Straight A’s to XXX does a good job telling Belle’s story.  Interestingly enough, it actually goes out of its way to be fair and evenhanded.  While the film is on Belle’s side, it doesn’t dismiss those who had concerns about how she was paying her way through college.  While Belle is shown defending herself to the media and explaining how her career has empowered her, the film also makes a point to show that not every porn actress is Belle Knox.  At one convention, she’s confronted by two veteran porn actresses who point out that they work just as hard as she does but, unlike her, they will never be invited to appear on CNN, suggesting that the only reason anyone cares about her or what she thinks is because of the novelty of her being a student at Duke.  And while this may be the most pro-porn film to ever appear on Lifetime, it doesn’t shy away from the dark side of the industry.  Belle’s first job is a genuinely disturbing nightmare of abuse and serves as a valuable warning.  Make sure you know who you’re working with before you show up for the job.  As a producer later explains to Belle, there are professionals and unprofessionals in every industry and porn is no different.

As for Duke University — well, let’s just say that Duke doesn’t come across as looking all that good by the end of From Straight A’s to XXX.  With a few notable exceptions, all of the students are portrayed as being rich snobs.  When Belle’s secret life is discovered, she finds herself harassed by every man on campus.  In one particularly disturbing scene, she returns to her dorm room just to discover that her door has been defaced.  When she tries to sleep, drunk frat boys try to break into her room.  When she reports that she’s being harassed, she gets little help.  Her roommate remains supportive throughout the entire film but otherwise, Duke does not come across well.

From Straight A’s to XXX is well-directed by Vanessa Parise, who has also directed such Lifetime films as Perfect High and The Unauthorized Beverly Hills 90210 Story.  Much like The Unauthorized Beverly Hills 90210 Story, From Straight A’s to XXX is a tribute to a strong woman who was ultimately punished for being stronger than others were comfortable with.  (That From Straight A’s to XXX was written and directed by women goes a long way to keeping potentially salacious material from becoming sordid.)  Haley Pullos is sympathetic as Miriam/Belle and a bearded Judd Nelson does a good job in the role of a porn producer who shows the difference between professionals and unprofessionals in the industry.

Finally, From Straight A’s to XXX ends with Belle becoming a Libertarian activist and that fact alone makes this one of the best Lifetime films of the year so far!  You can’t go wrong with any film that ends with a Libertarian political rally.