Every once in a while the inside of my head turns into styrofoam. It’s some kind of merciful curse that insures I remain ambivalent enough not to jump off a bridge. The down side is a cluttered desktop! How is one supposed to finish a movie review when they can’t even a finish a…what are those long snake-like things that swallow words called again?…sentence! Usually I’d just sweep these dead leaves into a pile and light the delete button but today I’m making movie review headcheese! Yummy! It tastes like lethargy!
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2
I can’t believe I almost didn’t see INSIDIOUS 2. What a dope I almost was. It’s just that I had warm fuzzy feelings about JAMES WAN’s last two flicks that I wanted to protect and scuttlebutt on the street was that it was shrug-worthy. Not that I ever read reviews for a film before I see it but it’s hard with the Internet not to glean the general consensus through the fine art of skimming out of the corner of your eye. Luckily I remembered that folks are harsh on horror in general and sequels in particular. Besides, WAN had only months previously ridden a wave of approval thanks to THE CONJURING and critics would likely be itching to rain on that parade as soon as possible. So I went, thinking if it did stink, what the hell, at least I’d get to hang out in a dark theater for a while.
I should thank all the braying naysayers because with my expectations in check I enjoyed every minute of it. INSIDIOUS 2 turned out to be one of the better sequels I’ve ever seen. I say that because instead of diluting the occurrences in the first film, INSIDIOUS 2 only enhances them. Both films compliment each other and yet stand on their own. I think you could even watch them in reverse if you wanted. Also whoever decided to cast HOUSE OF THE DEVIL’s JOCELIN DONAHUE as the younger version of BARBARA HERSHEY’s character deserves a meatball hoagie of some sort. Really if you liked the first film, I have no idea why you wouldn’t like the second unless you just hate the number 2. Most importantly, one scene really took me off guard and scared the crap out of me. As I look over at ROTTEN TOMATOES now, I see that although the critics kept their arms crossed, audiences responded mostly favorably so maybe it’s not just me…or maybe it is….
Again, I didn’t read any reviews for this but I kept seeing high grades in magazines and hearing from folks that it was “real horror” and so original and what a tragedy that it didn’t do better at the box office and horror fans need to support scrappy films like this, etc. Basically I was guilt tripped into seeing this movie but it had to be good if my comrades were so passionate about it…right?
I didn’t get it. Was I tired that day? Was I dreaming of meatball hoagies like I sometimes do? I see there’s no number 2 in the title but how is this movie getting praise for being original? They could have called it THE STRANGERS 2 and I sure wouldn’t have noticed. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but were people receiving fruit baskets for every rube they convinced into seeing this movie? Please be honest if you’ve received a fruit basket and don’t read anymore if you don’t like spoilers…
I’m most confused by why I was repeatedly told by people that they could not explain why this movie was so incredible because that would give away its mindboggling twist… but now that I’ve seen it, I have to ask… what the hell is the twist? That the boyfriend is in on it? That’s the hoariest trick in the book. Was the twist that the female character knew how to fight? Really? Are we all still collectively pretending that is an anomaly in horror films? Ugh. Why does a genre capable of exploring the enormity of existence itself keep getting mesmerized into monotony by a subject as mundane as gender? I’m not saying “move on” I’m just asking can I play Candy Crush while everybody rates a female character’s worth based solely on how well she handles herself when being attacked? People can cry about remakes and sequels all they want but if you ask me, what’s really hobbling the genre is the insistence on stuffing it with action movie tropes and audience pandering power fantasies. A large part of my fear while watching a horror movie is derived from my concern for the character’s safety. When you take that away and make everyone a secret ninja, I’ve got nothing.
It’s possible my experience suffered from the corrosive effects of overpraise. Might I have enjoyed YOU’RE NEXT if I had stumbled across it on cable? One thing’s for sure, presented as horror’s great white hope or a bastion of innovation for me, it just doesn’t fly. Furthermore, I don’t think audiences should feel too guilty about not wanting to trudge out and spend 16 bucks to see what basically amounts to a semi more violent, semi less funny version of CLUE: THE MOVIE.
Do you know what I find infinitely more interesting than a gal with secret ninja skills? A character with something provocative going on between their ears. Here’s a movie I wouldn’t mind rallying behind, STOKER, CHAN-WOOK PARK’s phantasmagorical spin on HITCHCOCK’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT. It’s so damn beautiful folks are bound to call it pretentious which is a fancy way to say artsy-fartsy. Go ahead and sue me but it’s been a long time since an image on the screen was enough to make my jaw drop and STOKER delivers more than a few. I didn’t make the connection with HITCH’s flick ‘til well towards the end and even then I swear there was never a moment when I felt I knew what was going to happen next. Powerfully ominous and sinisterly swoony, STOKER left me in a weird gothic trance with a sudden urge to read Victorian poetry and befriend spiders. Wrap it up, I’ll take it. It’s glorious to catch a director so obviously at the peak of his powers.
Aw! Do you know who’s not at the peak of his powers? My beloved BRIAN DE PALMA! That’s O.K. Even B.D.’s less successful work is fascinating to me! This one is a doozie and do bring along your sense of humor or be prepared to bang your head against a wall. Essentially I believe this is the story of two non-ninja but still powerful women fighting over who gets to take the credit for inventing “the butt-cam” and of course such a dispute can only end in murder! All of you who have griped about DE PALMA emulating HITHCOCK can stop now- he’s moved on to ZALMAN KING. This movie is supposed to be based on some French flick but I swear it’s an episode of THE RED SHOE DIARIES. Although if you want to talk about the look of the movie, I’d guess 1984’s never ending venetian blind commercial THIEF OF HEARTS might have been a big inspiration.
It sounds like I’m making fun but I am fine with all of the above and God strike me dead if I ever am such a turd as to not appreciate anything that comes down the pike holding hands with a PINO DONAGGIO score. All of the film’s tone-deaf dialogue and slick artifice is okay in my book too. That’s just my buddy DE-DE doing DE-DE. The real problem is the story is bonkers and nearly every set up is a let down. Also I feel I have to implore DE PALMA’s friends and family- You people need to get together and have a “dream sequence” intervention for the guy. He’s obviously out of control and needs help. I’m not in the position to lend aid, otherwise I would.
Still, I say to love cinema is to love DE PALMA. Even when dancing backwards with a lampshade on his head, it’s clear his romance with the medium is true blue. The PASSION experience is sort of like when you go see a band you loved in college and they sound awesome and you’re having a great time and you applaud for an encore and then they come out and say those dreaded words “This is from our new album!” and everyone starts sliding ever so discretely toward the bar or the bathroom. But it’s DE PALMA and so I’m going to give it a few years. If somebody puts a montage on YouTube of every time one of the two brilliantly game leads (RACHEL McADAMS & NOOMI RAPACE) laughs like a deranged maniac within the film, PASSIONS could easily gather some camp/cult traction.
CURSE OF CHUCKY
As long as DON MANCINI is writing and directing you can just keep the CHUCKY movies coming as far as I’m concerned. I say that even while the man has made it abundantly clear he will never accept my friendship on Facebook. He’s like a hero of mine because he’s written every installment and has pushed the series into directions that go against the grain. I’m sure he’s lost a few fans by challenging their expectations and that just makes me respect him more. If you weren’t down with SEED O’ CHUCKY’s meta cartoon take on the material (I was) take heart as instead of inflating things further to the breaking point, MANCINI has done a full U-turn and made CURSE a tighter more intimately grounded affair. The guy does a beautiful job with the atmosphere and rather than the usual carnival tone, half the time I felt I was watching some early eighties Italian psychological thriller like LAMBERTA BAVA’S A BLADE IN THE DARK.
Not only is this box office bypassing sequel visually dark and broody, gone for the most part our Chucky’s trademark winky quips and in their place are uncomfortable existential bon mots like “There is no God” and “Life’s a bitch and then you die bleeding like a stuck pig.” FIONA DOURIF (daughter of the series’ spine BRAD DOURIF) is a natural and a welcome breath of fresh air as Nica, a heroine with a (SCREAM OF FEAR inspired?) physical hurdle (she requires a wheelchair) but more than enough mental determination to become one of Chuck’s most formidable adversaries. I must admit I wasn’t fully satisfied with every revelation uncovered, but for the most part, it’s obvious that an effort was made to reward those who have been loyal to the series total (i.e. stay through the closing credits). I think this release is a hopeful sign of the future for straight-to-home releases. If bypassing box office approval and some advertising costs means directors can have more control over the finished product then that can only be a good thing in my book.
WHITE NOISE 2
Speaking of straight-to-video sequels, has anyone seen this one? I barely remember the first film it’s barely based on, but I found it for $1.50 in a used bin and took a chance because it had (sci-fi dream couple) NATHAN FILLION and KATEE SACKHOFF in it and was directed by MY BLOODY VALENTINE (2009)’s PATRICK LUSSIER. It could have just as easily have been released as a (far less bloody) FINAL DESTINATION installment and even though I’m convinced my mom would have liked it even more than me, I must say I enjoyed it. In fact, I’m know I’m going to watch it again. I definitely liked it better than the first flick and those charismatic leads should be cast together more often.
KISS OF THE DAMNED
Hey, check it out! Apparently there is no end to JOHN CASSAVETES & GENA ROWLAND’s contribution to film. Who knew they also kindly gifted us with talented daughter XAN CASSAVETES and she’s just getting started! KISS is XAN’s first feature film and yay, it is chuck full of vampires! XAN doesn’t seem too interested in taking the undead down the bigger, louder, faster road to nowhere. This lyrical flick pays homage to a time when people had attention spans and vampire movies didn’t…(you know it’s going to happen)…suck. Are you a fan of DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971)? Where you noticeably the only person not bored by VAMPYRES (1974) when you watched it at a group sleepover? Would you push your grandmother into traffic for saying an unkind word about THE HUNGER (1983)? This movie is for you (and me)! It’s got lovely cinematography and a gets-under-your-skin score and if there’s absolutely nothing warm beneath its polished surface, welcome to the world of vampires. Sure I’m sad that if it cunningly builds up to what might be a magnificent showdown only to peter out with a whimper! Then again, what better way to salute the artsy fartsy European fang flicks of yesterday?
GHOULIES 3 and 4
I watched and was entertained by GHOULIES 3 and 4 recently so take that into consideration when reading anything I might say. These movies are of course terrible and I have no excuse except that I can’t resist the enjoyable VHS flavored bubble they are able to trap me in (even though I watched them on cheap DVD compilations). I have nothing much to say about either except, the cast for part 3 is astounding (JASON SCOTT LEE, MATHEW LILLARD, DOLLS‘ STEPHEN LEE, SUMMER SCHOOL’s PATRICK LABYORTEAUX, APRIL FOOL’S DAY’s GRIFFIN O’NEAL, KEVIN McCARTHY, MARCIA (R.I.P.) WALLACE!!!) and that notably in part 4 the Ghoulies cease being puppets and start being costumed dwarves (TONY COX!!). Also part 4 was directed by the guy who did CHOPPING MALL and both films have the power to change lives. Hey, Judgey Mcjudgeystein, I can’t always find something agreeable on Netflix Streaming…
Thank God I didn’t break down and rent MANIAC on demand because lo and behold it finally did appear on Netflix! I almost passed it by because the image they are using to represent it looks surprisingly bland compared to all of the cool poster art I’ve seen floating around. As I expressed HERE I’ve had a long and varied history with WILLIAM LUSTIG’s original. My first viewing left me shell-shocked and that feeling over the years somehow transformed into the type of adoring affection usually reserved for kittens. I’m also on record HERE for supporting remakes and their potential to be worthwhile every now and then. While this particular effort is never going to push the original off the throne in my heart, it did at least capture’s the original’s sense of impending dread. For all its questionable moves, I did find myself properly agitated and worried about how far into the abyss it might go.
My first takeaway is the idea that it’s too bad that ELIJAH WOOD was not old enough to play Norman Bates in the PSYCHO remake as it would have certainly have been less of a disaster. He’s very good in this, even while some of his performance is buried beneath the movie’s too gimmicky POV stance. The POV thing works fine enough and I understand the detached coldness that results was probably what the director was going for but I would have rather it had been used more sparingly as it got in the way of me connecting with the characters. Ultimately this is a no foul, no harm tribute that has a few worthwhile ideas of its own. Plus I have to give points for the retro synth score, hipster baiting though it may be at times. On the other hand, the use of SILENCE OF THE LAMB’s “Goodbye Horses” was just a little too obvious and heavy handed for my taste. Which brings me to…
I laughed at the trailer for this one when I first saw it but when I learned it was directed by SESSION 9’s BRAD ANDERSON I had to give a shot. Guess who had the last laugh? HALLE BERRY of course! THE CALL is a mostly straightforward, surprisingly suspenseful throw back to seventies-era woman in peril thrillers. Its tone and barebones structure make it feel like a TV movie and yeah, that’s a compliment. I think what may have ruined the film for some is that it goes ridiculously off the rails in the third act, BUT I embraced the lunacy and let it flow.
BERRY plays a 911 operator with a history of screwing things up who gets a chance to redeem herself when she gets a call from a girl trapped in the trunk of a car. Eventually, due to the police being incompetent, she must go to the crazy killer’s underground lair(!) to rescue the poor girl herself. Yeah, it’s a little over the top. But I’ll give it this; when the scalping killer begins to go about his torturous business in this movie, he doesn’t play the obvious “Goodbye Horses” instead his tuneage of choice is CULTURE CLUB’s KARMA CHAMELEON. I decree this is a stroke of genius.
I can’t stop thinking about it. On one level, it’s simply funny in an ironic way as the song is about as happy, toe-tappy and benign as they come. Underneath that candy coating though the frightening truth is that KARMA CHAMELEON is also maddeningly nonsensical and ruthlessly repetitive. It is a trickster anthem sung by a Pan-possessed rag doll! Look behind its false mirth camouflage and you will find a chilling condemnation and a call for moral anarchy! Its catchy earworm powers are so evil that they register at levels usually reserved for commercial jingles. Folks of a certain age have had this chant that mocks all that is sane engrained into the deepest level of their psyches where only sleeper agent instructions are meant to be stored. As soon as you hear the first familiar beat from that song it becomes all too hideously clear that all matter of hell is about to break loose!
So now I have a final question for you guys. I babbled on so much today that there’s no way I’m preparing a funhouse so instead, I’ll introduce a new interactive feature entitle The KINDERTRAUMA QUESTIONNAIRE!!!! (Trumpets)
KINDERTRAUMA QUESTIONNAIRE QUESTION #1: What 3 songs would you least like to hear a murderer play while he or she is killing you?
My Answers are…
3. Ce’st La Vie” by Robbie Nevil- because that’s just rude to play that. I wouldn’t want somebody so insensitive to my feelings taking my life.
2. “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Break My Stride” by Mathew Wilder. I wouldn’t like to hear this song while I was being murdered because I think I’d read the killer’s selection of it as a reflection of his or her alarming determination to accomplish their goals.
1. “Somebody’s Knockin’” by Terri Gibbs. Holy shit, if somebody played this insanely scary song right before they murdered me I would never forgive them. I would damn them to hell forever for making my last moments on Earth such a miserable and harrowing experience! Who would do that? What kind of sick in the head monster plays Terri fucking Gibbs before they kill somebody? It’s like some twisted record executive said, “Can someone please make a song that’s scarier than WING’s “Let ‘em In?” and Terri was all like “Sure, I’ll do it!” and the record guy was like, “Wait, what are you a man or a woman? I can’t even tell.” And Terri was like “What?! What are you blind? I’m a woman you moron! Just for that I’m going to make the song ten times scarier!”