Horror Film Review: The Grudge (dir by Nicolas Pesce)


Eh, who cares?

Released way back in January (and, in fact, I think it may have been the first horror movie released in 2020), The Grudge is the latest film to tell the story of a house where ghosts compel inhabitant after inhabitant to kill themselves and their families.  Look, we all know how it works.  We’ve all seen Ju-on.  We all know that it begins with someone dying while extremely angry or extremely sad and then a curse being passed on from person to person.  The original Japanese films are frightening while the American versions tend to get bogged down in all of the usual horror clichés.  We all know how these things work.

Anyway, this version of The Grudge takes place, for the most part, at 44 Reyburn Drive, where a number of people die over the course of the film.  The Grudge is told in a nonlinear fashion, so we hope back and forth in time.  We meet a lot of different people and sit through a lot of different stories but none of them are particularly interesting.  Two real estate agents discover that their unborn child is going to have a rare genetic disorder.  An elderly couple prepare for an assisted suicide.  A nurse is haunted by the things that she saw while she was working in Japan.  A detective obsesses on all of the murders.  In the present day, another detective (Andrea Riseborough) tries to figure out why so many murders are connected to the house.  It’s difficult to really get caught up in her investigation because we already know the answer.

It’s all pretty dull.  Maybe if I had never seen any of the other Grudge films, I would have found this movie more interesting but The Grudge doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.  All it really does is remind you of how formulaic the American version of franchise has always been.  Of course, everyone’s going to die and, of course, there’s going to be a shock ending.  (Interestingly enough, the international version has a different ending.)  It’s all rather boring and it’s hard not to get annoyed that the film assembled a truly amazing cast and then basically didn’t anything with them.  Consider some of the people in this film: Andrea Riseborough, Demian Bichir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Lin Shaye, Jacki Weaver, William Sadler, Frankie Faison.  Wasting a cast with that much talent really does amount to cinematic malpractice.  It seems like it should be an impossible mistake to make but The Grudge somehow manages to do it.

The film’s nonlinear format doesn’t add much to the story.  I mean, you know everyone’s going to die eventually so having the story told in random chunks and pieces doesn’t really add any sort of suspense.  One could argue that the film does deserve some credit for being as dark as it is.  I mean, it does kill the type of sympathetic characters who, normally, would survive other horror films.  But, even with that in mind, it’s all just kind of boring.  I don’t hold a grudge against anyone for trying to reboot the franchise but this film just doesn’t bring anything new to the table.


Mardi Gras Film Review: Gothic Harvest (dir by Ashley Hamilton)


Are you currently heading to New Orleans for Mardi Gras?  Or are you already in New Orleans, getting drunk and dreaming about how many beads you’ll end up with by the end of Tuesday night?  If that’s the case, have fun but be careful.  New Orleans is a town that’s full of ghosts and voodoo.

At least, that’s what the movies would have you believe.  Whenever you see a horror film that’s set in New Orleans, you know that voodoo is going to somehow play into it.  The other thing that you can usually count on is that there will be at least one scene set during Mardi Gras.  Really, that’s not surprising.  Mardi Gras in New Orleans is not only a great party but it’s also uniquely cinematic in a way that Mardi Gras in Dallas never is.

(Yes, we celebrate Mardi Gras in Dallas.  It’s nothing to get too excited about.)

The 2018 film, Gothic Harvest, is all about Mardi Gras and voodoo.  When four college students head down to New Orleans for the party of the year, they have no idea that they’re about to get sucked into a centuries old curse.  When Hope (Abbie Gayle) meets the handsome and enigmatic Gar (Ashley Hamilton, who also directed the film), she goes off with him without bothering to tell her friends where she’s going.  That turns out to be a mistake because it turns out that Gar is a member of a cursed family.  The family is immortal but that immortality comes with a price.  Every year, they have to find and sacrifice a young woman in order to stay alive.  It’s all because the family, centuries ago, ran afoul the queen of New Orleans voodoo, Marie Laveau (Janee Michelle).

Hope’s friends are concerned about her disappearance but they can’t get anyone to help them out.  After all, it’s Mardi Gras and the entire city is full of people who are probably going to wake up in a strange bed with a hangover on Wednesday morning.  However, Hope’s friends do eventually run into an undercover cop named Detective Hollis (Bill Moseley).  Hollis has an impressive beard and brags about how his favorite band is Pantera.  He seems to be a bit strange but he agrees to help the girls look for Hope.

 

Hope, meanwhile, has now met the cursed and immortal Boudine family and, not surprisingly, they’re an interesting group of characters.  What distinguished them from other cursed immortals is that they all seem to be hate being stuck with each other but they hate the idea of dying even more.  So, they keep doing what they have to do even though it makes them all miserable.  The family matriarch is Griselda (Lin Shayne) while her daughter, Amelia (Sofia Mattson), is a self-styled dominatrix.  And then there’s Dolly (Ciara Rizzo), who is obsessed with dolls.

Gothic Harvest is a bit of a strange viewing experience.  This was Ashley Hamilton’s directorial debut and the film itself can be confusing upon first viewing.  The timeline jumps back and forth, from the past to the present, and it can often be hard to keep track of just who is doing what or why.  It’s hard not to feel that the film might have worked better if it had dropped the modern storyline and instead just concentrated on telling the story of how the family came to be cursed.  That said, Gothic Harvest does occasionally achieve a dream-like intensity and Hamilton makes good use of New Orleans’s spooky atmosphere.  This is a flawed film that doesn’t really work but I would still be interested in seeing what Hamilton directs next.

The cast is a bit of a mixed bag.  Hope and her friends are not particularly memorable but Bill Moseley and Lin Shaye are both ideally cast.  Moseley, in particular, appears to be having fun and there’s a great scene where he sits in a truck and recites some of the worst pick-up lines ever.  Finally, Janee Michelle goes totally over the top as Marie Laveau but that’s exactly the right approach to take to the character.  The Queen of New Orleans Voodoo isn’t going to be a quiet or a reserved character.

For those of you celebrating, have fun but use your common sense.  If someone says that he needs to sacrifice you so that his family can continue to live forever, don’t go off with him regardless of how many beads he offers.

 

Goin’ South (1978, directed by Jack Nicholson)


Jack Nicholson was not an overnight success.

Nicholson was 17 years old when he first came to Hollywood in 1954.  Looking to become an actor, Nicholson toiled as an office worker at the MGM cartoon studio, took acting classes, and went to auditions.  It would be four years before he even landed his first role, the lead in the Roger Corman-produced The Cry Baby Killer.  When that film failed to become a hit, Nicholson spent the next ten years doing minor roles and occasionally starring in a B-picture.  He auditioned for some big parts, like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, Buck Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde, and Guy Woodhouse in Rosemary’s Baby, but his big break continued to allude him.  By 1969, Nicholson was so disillusioned with acting that he was planning to instead pursue a career as a director.  However, before Nicholson officially retired from the acting game, he received a call from the set of Easy Rider.  Depending on who you ask, Rip Torn, who had previously been cast in the role of alcoholic George Hanson, had either quit or been fired.  Bruce Dern, the first choice to replace Torn, was busy filming They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Nicholson agreed to step into the role and the rest is history.

Easy Rider may have made Jack Nicholson one of the world’s biggest film stars but he never lost his ambition to direct.  In 1971, he made his directorial debut with Drive, He Said, a film about campus unrest.  At the time, the film flopped at both the box office and with critics and quickly sunk into obscurity.  (It has subsequently been rediscovered and, in some cases, positively reevaluated.)  After the failure of Drive, He Said, it would be another seven years before Nicholson again got a chance to direct.

Nicholson’s second film as a director, Goin’ South, is a comedic western.  Nicholson plays Henry Lloyd Moon, an unsuccessful outlaw who used to ride with Quantrill’s Raiders.  When Moon is captured in Longhorn, Texas, he is sentenced to be hanged.  Fortunately, for Moon, Longhorn has a special ordinance.  Any man condemned for any crime other than murder can be saved from the gallows if a local woman agrees to marry him and take responsibility for his good behavior.  As a result of this ordinance, Longhorn is populated almost exclusively by single women and reformed outlaws.

While standing on the gallows, the cocky Moon is stunned to discover that none of the women want to marry him.  Finally, an old woman emerges from the crowd and announces that she’ll become Moon’s wife.  When Moon hops off the gallows and thanks her, the woman drops dead.  Fortunately, another, younger woman, Julia Tate (Mary Steenburgen, making her film debut), steps forward.

Once they’re married, the lecherous Moon discovers that Julia is a virgin and that the only reason she married him was so she could force him to work in the secret gold mine that’s hidden underneath her property.  The railroad will soon be taking over the land and Julia wants to get all of the gold before she leaves town for Philadelphia.  Though Julia, at first, wants nothing to do with Moon, he eventually wears her down through sheer persistence and the two fall in love.

Complicating matters is Deputy Towfield (Christopher Lloyd), who is upset because he feels that Julia was meant to be his wife.  Also, the members of Moon’s former gang (including Danny DeVito and Veronica Cartwright) show up at Julia’s house and discover the truth about the mine.

Goin’ South gets off to a good start.  The scene on the gallows, where Moon waits for someone to marry him and save his life, is genuinely funny and Nicholson and Steenburgen have a playful chemistry for the first hour of the movie.  Nicholson leers even more than usual in this film but the script is written so that the joke is always on Moon.  Much of the film’s humor comes from Moon always overestimating both his charm and his cleverness.  However, once Moon and Julia finally consummate their marriage, the movie loses whatever narrative momentum it may have had and gets bogged down with the subplots about Towfield and Moon’s gang.  There are funny moments throughout but the story gets away from Nicholson and the film is reduced to a series of set pieces, none of which build up to much.

Not surprisingly, Nicholson gets good performances from his cast, which is largely made up by the members of his 1970s entourage.  Along with Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd, longtime Nicholson associates like Tracey Walter, Ed Begley Jr., Richard Bradford, Jeff Morris, and Luana Anders all appear in small roles.  John Belushi plays the tiny role of Deputy Hector.  (Goin’ South was actually the first film in which Belushi was cast, though production didn’t actually begin until after Belushi had finished working on National Lampoon’s Animal House.)  Unfortunately, despite all of the good performances, the script doesn’t do much to develop any of the characters.  Belushi especially feels underused.  (Because Belushi had moved on to Animal House by the time the film went into post-production, Nicholson ended up dubbing several of Belushi’s lines himself.)

Drive, He Said was largely considered to have failed at the box office because Nicholson remained behind the camera so he took the opposite approach with Goin’ South.  Nicholson is in nearly every scene and he gives one of his broadest performances.  It works for the first half of the film, when Moon is constantly trying to get laid and failing every time.  But, during the second half of the movie, Nicholson’s failure to reign in his performance works to the film’s detriment.  When the movie needs Nicholson to be romantic, he’s still behaving like a horny cartoon. Whenever he looks at Mary Steenburgen, it seems as if his eyes should be popping out of his head, Tex Avery-style.  He’s an entertaining cartoon, but a cartoon nonetheless.  As a result, Goin’ South is often funny but it still feels very inconsequential.

Like Drive, He Said, Goin’ South was both a critical and a box office flop and it temporarily turned Nicholson off of directing.  It would be another 12 years before he would once again step behind the camera.  In 1990, Nicholson directed The Two Jakes, the sequel to one of his best films, Chinatown That would be Nicholson’s last film as a director.  Nicholson acted for another 20 years, following the release of The Two Jakes.  To date, he made his final screen appearance in 2010, with a supporting role in James L. Brooks’s How Do You Know.  Nicholson has disputed claims that he’s officially retired, saying that he’s instead just being more selective about his roles.  Even though it’s been ten years since we last saw him on screen, Jack Nicholson remains an American icon and a living legend.

Horror Movie Review: A Nightmare On Elm Street (dir by Wes Craven)


Damn, this is a scary movie.

That may seem like an obvious point to make when talking about the original A Nightmare On Elm Street but it’s still one that needs to be made.  I always seem to forget just how scary the original is.  I mean, there’s been so many sequels.  And there was that kind of silly movie where Freddy Krueger fought Jason Vooerhees.  And then there was the fairly forgettable reboot.  Freddy Krueger is something of a cultural icon.  Even people who have never watched any of the movies knows who Freddy Krueger is.  Freddy has become so well-known for his quips and his puns and his bad jokes that it’s easy to forget that the reason he put razors on his gloves was so he could kill children.

Despite the fact that Jackie Earle Haley took over the role in the reboot, Freddy Krueger will always be associated with the actor who first played him, Robert Englund.  What’s interesting is that, whenever you watch or read an interview with Englund, he comes across as being literally the nicest guy in the world.  (His autobiography is one of the most cheerful Hollywood memoirs that I’ve ever read.)  Before he was cast as Freddy, Englund was a fairly busy character actor.  It’s always a little odd when he pops up in some old movie on TCM because, inevitably, he’s always seems to be playing a nice and often kinda shy guy.  Supposedly, when Englund auditioned for the role of Freddy, he darkened his lower eyelids with cigarette ash and he purposefully said very little while meeting with director Wes Craven.  Craven, who based Freddy Krueger on a childhood bully, was impressed enough to cast this very likable actor as one of the most evil killers in the history of horror cinema.

And make no mistake about it.  In the first film, Freddy Krueger is terrifying.  He’s not the joker that he would become in later installments of the franchise. When he does laugh, it’s because he’s taunting his latest victim.  This Freddy isn’t quite as quick-witted as the Freddy who showed up in Dream Warriors and other films.  This Freddy keeps things simple, popping up in your nightmares, chasing you, and, once he catches you, killing you.  It’s not just his glove and his burned faced that makes Freddy terrifying in this film.  It’s how determined and relentless he is.  He’s not going to stop until he catches you and, seeing as how he’s already dead, there’s really not much you can do to slow him down.  Englund plays Freddy as being the ultimate bully.  The only joy he gets is from tormenting the rest of us.  It’s a testament to the strength of Englund’s performance that memories of Freddy dominate our thoughts when it comes to A Nightmare of Elm Street, despite the fact that Freddy is only onscreen for seven minutes.

It’s an effective film, not just because of the nightmare scenes but also because of the scenes that take place in the waking world.  The majority of the film follows Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), Glen (Johnny Depp), Tina (Amanda Wyss), and Rod (Jsu Garcia, who is credited as Nick Corri in this film) as they try not to die.  And let’s be honest.  None of these characters are particularly deep.  Rod’s the bad boy.  Tina’s the rebellious Catholic.  Glen’s the nice guy.  Nancy’s the good girl.  They’re archetypes that should be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a slasher film.  And yet, you really do care about them, especially Nancy and Glen.  (Admittedly, everyone that I’ve ever talked to about this film seems to care about Rod the least.)  Langenkamp, Depp, and Wyss all give such likable performances that you really do find yourself worrying about what will happen to them when and if they fall asleep.

I rewatched A Nightmare on Elm Street last night and I was shocked to discover that, even though I knew what was coming, the movie still scared me.  The sight of Freddy straining against the wall over Nancy’s head was still unbelievably creepy.  The gory scene where Freddy attacks Tina still frightened me, as did the famous geyser of blood scene.  Even the much-parodied scene where Freddy’s glove rises up between Nancy’s legs while she sleeps in the bathtub still made me shudder.

It’s easy to take for granted just how good and scary the original Nightmare on Elm Street actually is.  For horror fans, it’s a film that deserves to be watched this October season.  Just don’t fall asleep afterwards.

Film Review: Insidious: The Last Key (dir by Adam Robitel)


Traditionally, good films are not released in January.

With most filmgoers more interested in catching up with the probable Oscar nominees and no one wanting to spend too much money after Christmas, January has become the month when the studios release all of the low-budget films that they’re hoping they can make a few bucks off before everyone forgets about them.  January is the month that sees sequels to the franchises that have a small but loyal fan base.  Just as last January saw the release of a new Underworld and a new Resident Evil, this January sees the release of Insidious: The Last Key.

Though it would subsequently be overshadowed by The Conjuring and its sequel, the Insidious franchise got off to a good start with the first film in the series.  Released in 2010, the first Insidious was a genuinely scary movie, one that can still give your nightmares if you watch it on a stormy night.  There are so many moments from that film that have stuck with me: the dancing ghost, the red demon suddenly appearing over Patrick Wilson’s shoulder, and the franchise’s first trip to the Further.  Of course, the thing that really elevated Insidious was the performance of Lin Shaye, in the role of demonologist Elise Rainier.  Lin Shaye played Elise with a combination of eccentricity and quiet authority and, from the minute she first showed up, you wanted to know more about Elise’s paranormal career.  Elise was the most popular character in the movie, which made it unfortunate that she was dead by the end of it.

Despite Elise’s death, she’s continued to be at the center of the Insidious franchise.  The first sequel dealt with her death by having her appear as a spirit, leading the hero through the Further.  The third film in the franchise was actually a prequel, dealing with one of Elise’s earlier investigations and showing how she first met her two comedy relief assistants, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell).  The Last Key is another prequel, revealing the details of Elise’s childhood and following her all the way through 2010.  The Last Key ends with a call back to the first Insidious movie, suggesting that the franchise has now come full circle.

The Last Key is another haunted house movie.  This time, the house in question is the one where Elise and her brother (played, as an adult, by Bruce Davison) grew up with their horribly abusive (and possibly demon-possessed) father.  In 2010, the house has been purchased by Ted (Kirk Acevedo).  No sooner has Ted bought the place then it becomes obvious that it’s haunted.  However, Ted can’t just abandon the place because he’s sunk all of his money into this house, which he was hoping to be able to then sell to someone else.  Apparently, you can’t get much money for a haunted house.

(Well, whatever.  I’d pay good money to buy a haunted house and then I would open it to the paying public every October.  I would make a fortune, assuming everyone didn’t get killed.)

Anyway, it all pretty much leads to everything you would expect to happen in an Insidious movie.  Doors open and close.  Malevolent beings appear in the shadows.  Everyone goes to the Further.  Lin Shaye gives another entertaining and fully committed performance, obviously enjoying the chance to be the star of the film.  Nothing about the film is particularly surprising but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t often effective.  Watching this film is a lot like listening to a skilled storyteller tell the story about the girl, her boyfriend, and the escaped mental patient who has a hook for a hand.  You know exactly what’s going to happen.  You know that it none of it really happened.  You know the story is borderline ludicrous.  But you still find yourself jumping at every unexpected sound.  You still find yourself staring into the shadows, wondering if you really saw something moving or if it was just your imagination.

Needless to say, The Last Key is never as effective or as scary as the first Insidious or either of The Conjuring films.  There were a few moments — mostly dealing with Elise’s childhood — where The Last Key showed the potential to be something a little deeper than what I was expecting but those moments were rarely followed up on.  In the end The Last Key is a rather modest and workmanlike horror film, the type that makes you jump while you’re watching it but which you will also probably end up forgetting about a day or two after seeing it. However, for a January horror film, it’s good enough.

Insomnia File #9: Born Killers (dir by Morgan J. Freeman)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Born Killers 2

If you were suffering insomnia at around 2:30 this morning, you could have turned over to ActionMax and watched the 2005 film Born Killers.

Now, probably the first thing that you noticed about this film is that the director is named Morgan J. Freeman.  That J is there for a reason.  In no way is Morgan J. Freeman the director related to Morgan Freeman the actor.  Instead, Morgan J. Freeman is a director who has done a few indie films and who will probably never live down the fact that he directed American Psycho II: All-American Girl.  According to the imdb, Freeman is also an executive producer on Teen Mom.

In other words, Morgan J. Freeman has been involved with a lot of crap.

However, Born Killers is actually a fairly good film.  It’s certainly far better than anything you would expect to see from the director of American Psycho II.

Born Killers tells the story of two brothers, John (Jake Muxworthy) and Michael (Gabriel Mann).  John and Michael are both killers.  They call other human beings “piggy banks” and they spend all of their time murdering innocent people and then robbing them.  For the wild and unpredictable Michael, it’s fun.  For the coolly calculating John, it’s strictly business.  They’re both sociopaths but, as quickly becomes apparent, Michael is the only one who is having any fun.

Through flashbacks, we discover that Michael and John never really had a chance to be anything other than what they eventually became.  From an early age, their father (Tom Sizemore, who is absolutely chilling) taught them how to kill and steal.  After their father’s violent death, John and Michael go on their own killing spree.

And everything seems to be going well for them, until John ends up shooting Michael.  Why did John kill him?  Even though John is narrating the story, he doesn’t seem to be sure.  He admits that his memory may be fooling him.  He thinks that it might have something to do with a woman named Archer (Kelli Garner), who the brothers reluctantly murdered.

With his brother now dead, John tracks down his half-sister, Gertle (Lauren German).  John hasn’t seen Gertle in years and, when he first approaches her, he pretends to be a Mormon missionary.  Gertle responds by leading him into her house and, after they have sex, she tells him that she knows that he is her half-brother.

Though John was originally planning on murdering her, he instead finds himself falling in love with her and even feeling that maybe his love for her would redeem him for all of his past crimes.  When she tries to warn him that she has issues of her own, John replies that he knows they are meant to be together.  He begs her to take a chance on him.

But Gertle, as you’ve probably guessed, has secrets of her own…

At first, I wasn’t expecting much from Born Killers.  And, for the first 30 minutes or so, it plays out like your typical serial killer road film.  I kept watching because of the performances but I didn’t think much of the story.  However, as soon as John tracks down his sister, the entire movie changes direction and it actually starts to catch you off guard.  Suddenly, you’re no longer sure just what exactly is going to happen or how it’s going to end.  During the final half of the film, Lauren German and Jake Muxworthy give such good and compelling performances that you forget about the shaky first half.  Even if the film’s ending is a little bit too twisted for its own good, it’s still an interesting journey.

All in all, Born Killers is not at all bad for a low-budget serial killer film airing on Cinemax at two in the morning!

born killers

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip

Horror Film Review: Alone in the Dark (dir by Jack Sholder)


Alone_in_the_dark_ver1

“There are no crazy people, doctor.  We’re all just on vacation.”

— Frank Hawkes in Alone In The Dark (1982)

What is the difference between being crazy and being sane?  Why are some forms of delusion considered to be socially acceptable while others are condemned?  Who is the ultimate authority on what is normal and what is abnormal?  These are just some of the issues that are raised by the gleefully subversive 1982 horror film, Alone In The Dark.

We know that there’s something off about Dr. Leo Bain (Donald Pleasence) from the minute we meet him.  His smile is a little too nervous and his constant patter of positive words sound a little bit too rehearsed and convenient.  When he greets another doctor, he insists on hugging him but it’s an awkward hug.  Dr. Bain seems to be trying just a little bit too hard.  (In many ways, Pleasence seems to be poking fun at his best-known role, Halloween‘s intense and dramatic Dr. Loomis.)

Dr. Bain is in charge of a psychiatric hospital.  He doesn’t believe in conventional therapy.  Instead, his hospital is perhaps the most oppressively positive place in the world, a place where every delusion is treated as being perfectly normal and where the patients are treated very leniently.

In fact, security is only present on the third floor of the hospital.  That’s because the third floor is home to four inmates who are criminally insane.  Frank Hawkes (Jack Palance) is a former POW who suffers from paranoia and gets mad whenever he hears anyone curse.  Bryon “Preacher” Sutcliffe (Martin Landau) is a pyromaniac.  Ronald Estler (Erland van Lidth) is a gigantic child molester.  And finally, there’s The Bleeder, who always hides his face.  The Bleeder is a serial killer who is called the Bleeder because, whenever he kills, his nose starts to bleed.

Dr. Bain scoffs at the idea that these four even need security but, as he explains it, the state requires it.  However, one night, the power goes out and the four of them manage to escape.  As they make their way into the nearby town, they rather easily blend into the mob of “normal” people who are using the blackout as an excuse to go looting.

However, these four patients are on a very specific mission.  They had all grown to trust their psychiatrist, Dr. Merton.  However, Dr. Merton was eventually hired away by another hospital.  Frank is convinced — and has convinced the others — that Dr. Merton was murdered by their new psychiatrist, Dr. Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz).  They’re goal now is to track down Dr. Potter and kill him and his family.

Meanwhile, Dr. Potter has issues of his own to deal with.  He’s a nice guy but he’s also a bit too uptight and rational for his own good.  (Early on in the film, he gets upset when his wife tries to get him to go see a band called the Sic Fucks.)  His younger sister, Toni (Lee Taylor-Allan), is visiting while she recovers from a nervous breakdown of her own.  She manages to get arrested while protesting a nuclear power plant and, when she gets out of jail, she insists on bringing another protester, Tom (Phillip Clark), home with her.

It all leads to one long night, during which the inmates lay siege to Dan’s house.  And, all the while, Dr. Bain worries about whether or not they’re all mad at him…

Alone in the Dark may come disguised as a slasher movie but actually, it’s a pitch black comedy, with a lot of the humor coming from the contrast between Dan’s rationality, Bain’s nonstop optimism, and the fact that every one else in the film is literally batshit insane.  The final siege is a masterpiece of suspense and Palance, van Lidth, and especially Martin Landau are memorably frightening in their menacing roles.  The film’s final scene deserves to be iconic.

Alone in the Dark is one of those horror films that definitely deserves to be better known.  Do NOT mistake it for the Uwe Boll film.

Shattered Politics #90: FDR: American Badass! (dir by Garrett Brawith)


FDR-American-Badass-movie-poster

So, as I was thinking about Hyde Park On Hudson, I started to ask myself: what would have made that movie better?  Obviously, the script could have been improved.  Bill Murray could have had some better lines.  Laura Linney could have been a bit less bland.  The direction could have been a bit more dynamic…

And of course, the film could have used a few more werewolves.  Maybe not a huge amount of werewolves because, after all, you do want to keep things plausible.  But, at the same time, a werewolf or two would have livened things up.

And then I thought about Sunrise at Campobello and I realized that film was also missing something.  Once again, the film could have used some werewolves.

“My God,” I thought, “aren’t there any filmmakers out there willing to combine Franklin Roosevelt with werewolves!?”

And then, I realized that there was!

The 2012 film FDR: American Badass! features Barry Bostwick in the role of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  At the start of the film, Roosevelt is the dynamic and athletic governor of New York.  However, while out jogging one day, Frank is attacked by a werewolf and ends up contracting polio as a result.  Recovering in the hospital, Roosevelt decides to run for President and kill werewolves.

Over the course of the film, he does just that.  And, when it turns out that the leaders of the Axis Powers are all werewolves as well, FDR single-handedly wins World War II.  Fortunately, with the help of Albert Einstein, FDR gets his wheelchair equipped with all the latest weaponry.

And did I mention that, as President, FDR smokes weed with Abraham Lincoln (Kevin Sorbo)?  Because he so totally does…

So, at this point, you’re probably already getting the feeling that FDR: American Badass! is kind of a weird film.  And it is.  But what makes the film better than you might think is the fact that it totally commits itself to making no sense.  FDR: American Badass! is full of scenes that are alternatively hilarious, disgusting, and offensive but it works because, unlike something like A Million Ways To Die In The West, FDR: American Badass! is at least creative in its stupidity.  Say what you will about the idea of FDR killing werewolves, the fact of the matter is that there’s only one film where you can actually see that happen.

So, should you see FDR: American Badass?

Go back and read the film’s title.

Did it make you roll your eyes and say, “Oh my God, that is so stupid?”  If so, you’ll probably have a similar reaction to the film itself.

On the other hand, did the title make you smile?  If so, you’ll probably find something to enjoy in this movie.

At the very least, FDR: American Badass! is better than Hyde Park on Hudson.

Horror Trailer: Insidious: Chapter Three


An Insidious film without Patrick Wilson!? What’s next — a Paranormal Activity film that doesn’t feature Katie killing Micah?

Then again, it makes sense.  As an actor, Patrick Wilson projects a good deal of intelligence.  That’s one reason why Wilson makes for a compelling lead in films like The Conjuring and Insidious.  But, at the same time, his characters usually come across like they would be too smart to keep getting stuck in the exact same situation.

However, that Micah …. I don’t think people will ever get tired of watching as Katie tosses his limp body around.

But anyway, here’s the trailer for Insidious 3, which appears to be a prequel and does feature Lin Shaye.  I loved the first Insidious and I thought the second one was okay.  Judging from the trailer, I really don’t have high hopes for the third one but I’ll be there on opening right regardless.

It’s insidious how that works, no?

Film Review: Insidious (dir. by James Wan)


I wasn’t expecting much from Insidious, the new horror film that’s recieved a surprising amount of critical acclaim over the past month.  After all, the film is the product of a collaboration between the makers of Saw and Parnormal Activity, two of the most overrated horror films ever.  Add to that, the movie is rated PG-13 and the lesson I took away from seeing The Roommate earlier this year was that PG-13 dooms horror.  Insidious might be the proverbial exception that proves the rule.

As with all good horror films, Insidious starts with a deceptively simple premise.  Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play a married couple whose marriage is thrown into choas when their oldest son slips into what appears to be a coma.  After three months of being in the hosptial, their son is moved back into their house where he spends his days lying in bed, hooked up to ominous medical equipment. 

(Speaking for myself, there is no more disturbing sound than the sound of heart monitor, because for every beep, there’s that moment of deafening silence between beeps.  The film’s director James Wan knows this too because he makes brilliant use of sound in this film.)

While Wilson deals with things by finding excuses to stay late at work, Byrne is soon seeing shadowy figures running through the house and hearing voices coming from empty rooms.  Even as Wilson continues to insist that its just her imagination (that’s something all men seem to have in common — they never ask for direction and they always refuse to accept that the house is haunted), Byrne becomes more and more convinced that its not.  Eventually, with a help of an eccentric psychic (well-played by Lin Shaye), Wilson and Byrne are forced to confront the evil forces that have taken control of their lives.

Let’s get the most important thing out of the way first.

Insidious is one scary movie.  It’s scarier than any movie rated PG-13 has any right to be.  It scared me when I was sitting in the theater watching it and, even more importantly, it’s still scary a day later.

Let me set the scene for you.  As I sit here writing this, it is nearly 3 in the morning.  I live in a two-story house that is full of random cold spot and which, for some reason, never seems to be totally lit even with all the lights on.  My friends are with their families for Easter.  My sister Erin is currently in Arlington, visiting with our other sister, Melissa.  I’m in this house alone with only my overactive imagination keeping me company.  Oh, did I mention that, because of some foundation issues, this house tends to randomly creak?

About two hours ago, I had just taken a shower and I was sitting, wrapped in a towel and a blow dryer, on the edge of my bed.  I have this antique floor  mirror that sits a few feet in front of my bed and I was about to start drying my hair when it suddenly occured to me — what if I looked at the mirror and I suddenly saw a dark shadow — like the ones in Insidious — sitting on the bed directly behind me?

And yes, I knew that was a silly thought just like I know, despite what the Insidious might tell us, there’s no such thing as ghosts and demons.  I knew that if I rasied my head, I would not see anything but isolated, vulnerable little me reflected in the mirror.

But, God help me, I could not bring myself to look.  Because, even though I knew that there was 99.9% chance that nothing would be sitting behind me, I knew that there was 0.1.% chance that something would be.  I sat there, almost paralyzed with my heart pounding so hard I could almost hear it.  I realized I was starting to breathe faster, knowing that if there was something there, it was there with me at that exact moment, siting behind me, waiting to strike…

Finally, realizing that I was on the verge of giving myself a very real panic attack over a very unreal possibility, I forced myself to look up at the reflection in the mirror.

A dark shadow was sitting directly behind me.

And I screamed and jumped off that bed so quickly that I’m amazed I actually managed to stay on my feet.  I swung around, cluthing that blow dryer like a weapon, prepared to do whatever…

Nobody was sitting on the bed. 

Slowly, I creeped across the room.  Cautiously, I stuck a foot underneath my bed to feel if anything was hiding underneath it.  I opened the closests and pushed my clothes to the side to confirm that nobody was hiding behind them. 

Finally, after I somehow found the courage to sit back down on the bed, I realized that there had indeed been a shadow behind me and that shadow, because of the angle of the lights in my room, had been mine.

That’s the type of film Insidious is.  It’s the type of film that uses the simple things that scare us — the unexplainable noises, the things that you sometimes think you see out of the corner of your eye — to creates a truly macabre experience that sicks with you.  At its best, its a truly creepy film that works its way into your imagination through a perfect combination of atmosphere and paranoia.  One reason why the haunted house genre has remained such a dependable horror set up is because it perfectly reflects one of our most basic fears — the fear of having no control, of knowing that there is no place to hide, that the forces of chaos and evil can even get to us in the sanctuary of our own homes.  Especially during its first half, Insidious exploits this fear perfectly.  James Wan’s camera prowls through the otherwise unremarkable suburban home like a creature possessed and you find yourself spotting shadowy figures and sudden movements in every frame that flickers before your eyes.  Wan makes remarkably good use of sound here.  I realize that sound of silence may be an oxymoron but if silence can make a sound, then director Wan manages to capture it in Insidious.

A lot of critics and filmgoers have been rather critical of the film’s second half and it is true that the second half if remarkably different from the first.  If the first half finds Wan concentrating on atmopshere then the second half concentrates on shock and, as a result, it feels a lot more conventional. During the 2nd half of them, we learn just what exactly is happening and why and unfortunately, no possible solution could hope to compete with the sense of dread that the first part of the movie generated.  That doesn’t mean that the second half of the movie isn’t well-executed.  It is.  It’s just not as surprising as the first half.

(However, there is one scene in that 2nd half — a red-skinned demon cheerfully sharpening his finger nails — that is just so bizarre and disturbing that it borders on genius.)

Now, I will admit (POSSIBLE SPOILER COMING UP DEPENDING ON HOW ANAL YOU ARE) that I was not a huge fan of the film’s ending.  It’s not that the ending didn’t work or that it wasn’t well-exectued.  It’s just that it’s the same type of ending that we’ve come to expect from all horror films, the type of thing that used to be considered a twist but now is just a cliche.

Still, ending aside, Insidious is an effective, little horror film.  While it is true that the film rather liberally borrows from a lot of previous horror films (most blatantly from Poltergiest, Mario Bava’s Shock, an Australian film called Patrick, and an excellent Canadian shocker called The Changeling), Wan still takes all of those familiar elements and molds them into a genuinely scary experience.