The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Wolves at the Door (dir by John Leonetti)

I’m really not sure what to make of Wolves at the Door.

I knew the film was inspired by the crimes of Charles Manson and his family before I watched the film.  Not only was Wolves at the Door specifically advertised as being “Inspired by The Infamous Manson Family Murder Spree” but just check out the plot description that was provided by Warner Bros:

Four friends gather at an elegant home during the Summer of Love, 1969. Unbeknownst to them, deadly visitors are waiting outside. What begins as a simple farewell party turns to a night of primal terror as the intruders stalk and torment the four, who struggle for their lives against what appears to be a senseless attack.

The Manson Family have inspired a countless number of films, so that’s not really an issue.  Almost all of those films either presented Manson and his followers as being the epitome of evil or they told stories that were heavily and obviously fictionalized.

Wolves at the Door, however, is different.  Other than in some news footage that is shown during the end credits, Manson is not seen in the film.  For that matter, the members of the Family don’t get much screen time either.  Mostly, they’re just seen as shadows, creeping down hallways and sometimes materializing in a doorway before vanishing.  There’s no mention of Helter Skelter or the Beatles.  I’d have to rewatch the film to say for sure but I think it’s possible that we only hear them say one or two words over the course of the entire movie.

Instead, Wolves at the Door spends most of its running time with the victims of the Manson Family, following them as they are unknowingly stalked inside of a Los Angeles mansion.  Usually, in a film like this, you would expect the names to be changed but, for some reason, that doesn’t happen in Wolves At The Door.

So, Katie Cassidy plays a pregnant actress who is named Sharon.

Elizabeth Henstridge plays a coffee heiress who is named Abigail.

Adam Campbell plays Abigail’s Polish boyfriend, who is named Wojciech.

Miles Fisher plays a hairdresser who is named Jay and who just happens to be Sharon’s ex-boyfriend.

And, finally, Lucas Adams plays a teenager stereo enthusiast named Steven, who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Speaking as someone who loves horror and who has defended some of the most critically derided films of all time, everything about Wolves at the Door just feels icky, tacky, and wrong.  Many grindhouse horror films have been inspired by actual crimes but most of them at least changed the names of the victims.   You really have to wonder just what exactly the filmmakers were thinking here.

(Then again, just two years ago, NBC greenlit a show called Aquarius, which could have just as easily been called “The Adventures of Young Charlie Manson.”)

It’s not just that Wolves at the Door is offensive.  In fact some of the best movies of all time were specifically designed to be offensive.  The problem with Wolves at the Door is that it’s also just a very shoddy film.  (In fact, if the film had been well-made, it wouldn’t be quite as offensive.)  Though the actors may be talented, they’re let down by a script that’s full of some of the clunkiest dialogue that I’ve ever heard.  Though the soundtrack may feature some good songs, they’re still the same damn songs that show up in every movie set in 1969.  (Judging from the movies, everyone in 1969 just listened to the same five songs over and over again.)  Though the movie itself is only 73 minutes long, it is so abysmally paced that it feels much, much longer.

Sadly, this film was directed by John Leonetti, who did a pretty good job with Annabelle.  Again, I’m not sure what exactly he or anyone else was thinking with Wolves at the Door, which I’m going to go ahead and declare to be the worst film of 2017.  I know that the year isn’t over yet but I just can’t imagine anything as bad as this.

Lisa Marie Is Surprised by Final Destination 5 (dir by Steven Quale)

So, earlier today, I saw Final Destination 5 and guess what isn’t half as bad as you might think?

Now, I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this review, then you probably already know what this film is about.  Seriously, once a film has reached its fifth installment, you have absolutely no excuse for not knowing what’s going on.  Still, just in case you need to be reminded, here’s how this series works. All of the Final Destination films follow the same basic storyline: a group of attractive but generally anonymous people are gathered together for some everyday event like Nascar or a flight to France.  Suddenly, there’s some huge disaster that generally involves a lot of things exploding and people dying.  However, it turns out that the disaster we just saw was instead the main character’s vision of what’s going to happen.  That character freaks out which leads to him and a handful of other people avoiding the disaster.  However, by not dying, they’ve managed to tick off Death and soon, our survivors are dying in a variety of ludicrously convoluted ways, the key being that they’re dying in the order that they died in the original vision.  (Fortunately, Tony Todd shows up in each film and explains how it all works.)  Anyway, in each film, we learn of a different way to cheat death and each film ends with both the final survivors and the audience learning that actually you can’t cheat death.  In many ways, the Final Destination series is the perfect reflection of the 21st Century.  The same crap keeps happening and, in the end, we’re all doomed regardless.

Final Destination 5 sticks to established formula.  This time, the big disaster is a bridge collapse and the twist is that a survivor can fill death’s quota by killing someone else.  That’s kind of a neat idea and the film actually has a little bit of clever fun with that at the end.  Still, I wish the film had taken the whole idea to its logical, grindhouse extreme and just had all the survivors running around desperately looking for innocent people to murder.

There’s a lot of very legitimate criticisms that one can make about Final Destination 5.  Though the supporting cast is well-chosen (especially Miles Fisher — who could be Tom Cruise’s twin brother, seriously, David Koechner and Courtney B. Vance), the main character is played by Nicholas D’Agosto, who gives a performance that is so free of charisma that you have a hard time believing that he was ever alive to begin with.  Emma Bell plays D’Agosto’s girlfriend and it is seriously amazing to see how little chemistry the two of them have together.  (Then again, this also helps to make the film’s final twist entertaining as opposed to traumatic…)  As much as I love to see Tony Todd doing his Tony Todd thing, it’s hard not get impatient with the fact that these characters need to be told that they’re in a Final Destination film.

But let’s be honest — those criticisms may be valid but who cares?  This is a Final Destination film and if you’re not willing to consider it on the basis of what it is, then don’t waste your time watching it and bitching about how it’s not The Help.  Judged solely on that basis, Final Destination 5 is actually a return to form for the series.  The deaths are all nicely done and memorably grotesque and there’s a real nasty twist at the end of the film that basically serves as a reward for all the horror fans who have stuck with the series since the beginning.  I wish I could tell you what that twist was but seriously, it’s way too neat for me to spoil it.  I’ll just say that I squealed in delight when I saw it. 

Finally, this is a 3-D film that was actually made in real 3-D.  The 3-D was not tacked on as an afterthought and, as a result, this is rare film that actually uses the 3-D to make the movie better as opposed to just trendier.  This is a film where guts spill freely, eyeballs literally pop out of the screen, and it’s all just the perfect definition of good, stupid fun.

(That said, I do have to admit that this film was apparently made specifically to freak me out because, oh my God, it’s like they exploited every single fear that I have.  As Arleigh can tell you, I am terrified of two things — heights and drowning.  Which means that if you really want to see me scared, just get me thinking about the prospect of plunging several hundred feet into a large body of water.  Seriously, just typing that freaks me out.  So, of course, what does this film open with?  A freaking bridge collapsing.  And don’t even get me started on the laser eye surgery…agck!  I’ll just stay blind as a bat, thank you very much.)