Thursday, October 31, 2019

Tenth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #15 The Golem (2018)

I love The Bloggess.  (You should too.  She's very, very funny, completely weird and heartbreakingly honest.)  So when she says to watch The Golem, I watch The Golem.

It's 1673 Lithuania (note: everyone is awfully clean for 1673) in a small Jewish village.  Hanna chafes at the culture's enforced role: she studies her husband's Kabbalah texts in secret and goes to the local healer to make sure she doesn't get pregnant again, after having lost her only child Josef in a drowning accident seven years ago.  When neighboring plague-ridden Russian Christians start oppressing her village, Hanna uses the secrets of Kabbalah she has learned to create a golem to protect her people.  Rather than the hulking monster of Jewish lore, her golem takes Josef's form - and though child-sized, it still manages to kill a lot of people, both Russian villains and innocent Lithuanian villagers.  There are a LOT of exploding heads and ripped-out hearts.

The Golem has a lot going for it.  It is original, with a fairly deep dive (for a mainstream movie) into Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism.  It is well-acted, although I thought some of Hanna's dialogue seemed a little anachronistic.  There isn't a ton of violence even with the heads and hearts as mentioned above.  I just found it a bit boring and not at all suspenseful or scary.  (For an example of a 1600s-set film that is both suspenseful and scary: The Witch.)  Or maybe I didn't connect with it because I'm not a fan of creepy kid horror movies - and this Josef-golem is creepy. Other reviewers have liked The Golem a lot: see here, and here.  I could appreciate it but it's not a favorite.

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Happy Halloween, y'all!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Tenth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #14 Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

Do you need to have seen the first Prom Night to enjoy Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II? No, you do not!  This flick was exactly what I was hoping for in all its ridiculous, late 1980s glory, right from the beginning with its opening credits synthesizer music.

We start with Prom Night, 1957.  Mary Lou Maloney is a wild child.  She's gorgeous, sassy, knows what she wants and is popular enough to be voted Prom Queen.  She also cheats on her straight-laced boyfriend, Billy, with some other dude, right there back stage at Prom.  Billy decides to get back at her with a stink-bomb prank at her coronation, but something goes wrong and her dress goes up in flames just as she is to be crowned.  She dies, shrieking, right there on stage while no one even tries to put her out!!!

Then it's 1987, with its hair and shoulder pads and high-waisted, pleated, pastel-colored pants.  Vicky's mean mom won't let her buy a new dress for Prom - even though she's in the running for Prom Queen - so she finds something sparkly in the theater department's prop closet.  While she's rummaging around in there, she inadvertently sets free Mary Lou's vengeful spirit, which was somehow trapped in a steam trunk, along with her Prom Queen sash, cloak and crown.  Mary Lou gets right down to it: tormenting and then possessing poor Vicky and then killing all sorts of people.  Her old boyfriend Billy is now the high school principal (played by Michael Ironsides!), and father of Vicky's boyfriend, and the dude Mary Lou hooked up with is now the local priest, so you might imagine the high jinks involved.

Slight spoilers for a 30+ year old movie.  This is how you can die in HML:PNII: strangled with a cape and tossed out a window; stabbed with a crucifix; crunched in a gym locker; electrocuted by personal computer; impaled by a neon light.

This is not at all scary but it is a great example of late '80s campy horror.  It has no shame about cribbing from Carrie, The Exorcist or the Nightmare on Elm Street movies; the lolling tongue could be right out of Nightmare III.  The practical effects (I love practical effects) are superb, particularly the blackboard whirlpool and Mary Lou's resurrection.  There is a bit of a slow stretch between the first death and the second, as the movie is much more entertaining when Mary Lou is causing trouble.  I even had a bit of sympathy for Mary Lou: literally all she wanted was to be Prom Queen.  (Also, why did NO ONE try to put her out when she was on fire?!?)  Any horror film that says, "I've got places to go, people to kill" with a straight face is aces in my book.

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Monday, October 28, 2019

Tenth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #13 Grabbers

In the waters off the coast of Erin Island (fictional, actually filmed on location in Donegal), a UFO crashes and the inhabitants (the titular "grabbers") proceed to munch on the small crew of a fishing boat who is foolhardy enough to investigate.  As pods of dead pilot whales wash ashore, and lobstermen pull weird, tentacle-y things out of their traps, the local Garda outpost - currently manned by cynical alcoholic O'Shea and new recruit Nolan - begins their investigation.  It becomes clear that the aliens are, well, alien.  It also SPOILERS becomes evident that the aliens, who tend to drain humans of their blood via a leech-like protrusion, are deathly allergic to alcohol: when one tries to drain O'Shea (who is well above the legal limit), it vomits up his blood and collapses.  Since a storm is coming in and there's to be no help had from the mainland, O'Shea and Nolan convince the island's entire population to come to the local pub to get drunk.  To save their lives, of course!

Although the scenery is stunning and the actors charming, Grabbers is a slight, pleasant enough film that will be forgotten as soon as the credits roll.  It's billed as a horror/thriller-comedy: it's funny enough but it isn't scary at all, and when you're a horror-comedy, you need both halves of the equation.  I give it further points off for CGI monsters.  I know this was low budget, and I realize that the size of the big alien would have made it nigh impossible for practical effects.  But low budget practical monsters are wonderful; low budget CGI not so much.

I do give it some credit for an Aliens shout-out towards the end, however.

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Friday, October 25, 2019

Tenth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #12 Apollo 18

How in the world did I manage twenty-two movies last October?!!?  We're almost at the end of October 2019 and I'm only up to twelve...

Apollo 18 purports to be a found-footage film of the real final Apollo moon mission, recently leaked after being highly classified for decades.  The Apollo program ran from 1963 to 1972 and was designed to land humans on the moon (and then bring them back).  Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 were successful.  The movie is about the top secret mission that went out at the end of December 1974, sponsored by the Department of Defense, to set up early warning systems in case of Soviet missiles.  Apollo 18 was a three-astronaut mission: two landed on the moon while the third remained in low orbit, to reconnect with the lunar module after the mission and return to Earth.

Nearly immediately after landing on the moon's surface, near its south pole, the crew starts picking up communications interference and the overnight motion capture cameras (this is 1970s tech) seem to catch something moving out in the rocks.  The astronauts find footprints and other tracks that are not theirs; they find an abandoned Soviet lunar module and a dead cosmonaut; and inside their own lunar module, the collected rock samples seem to be moving.  By themselves.  As you might imagine, this causes some concern for our astronauts.

Look, this was an okay movie.  The story is compelling but it barely qualifies as "horror," with just a little suspense/paranoia, only a few jump scares and a little blood.  Because of the found-footage set-up, supposedly being from 1970s film, a lot of the visuals are difficult to make out and yes, I get that this is on purpose and is the point of found-footage.  But when there isn't a lot of plot, it helps if you can actually see what you're supposed to be seeing.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Tenth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #11 Southbound

I do enjoy horror anthologies - I like the short film nature of the individual segments - and after reading the more-than-lukewarm review of Southbound (2015) on Final Girl, I thought I should check it out.  This one doesn't have a strong, overarching framework, just the voice of a radio DJ fading in and out, and characters from the various segments passing each other by.  I'm okay with that.  Sometimes the framework gets pushed too hard.  Here, the segments are only loosely connected.  Of course, everyone in the movie seems to be stuck in Hell, so that's a tie that binds.

The first segment has a couple of blood-spattered dudes just trying to get home after a rough night.  They stop by a diner/gas station and then get caught in a loop, unable to get away.  They are being stalked by some flying/floating/skeleton/tentacle/bug things and let me tell you, the creature design on those ... things is GREAT.  Really, really creepy off in the distance and fantastic up close.  Best part of the whole dang movie.

The second segment has a girl band stranded with a flat tire in the middle of the desert.  They are picked up by an extremely dorky couple who are straight out of mid-century.  Things go from weird to worse, however, and the girls find themselves in the clutches of a cult.  This segment is also pretty good.

One of the band members escapes and whilst running away, gets hit by a distracted driver in segment #3.  When he calls 911, they say they can't locate him and advise him to move the mangled girl to the next town he gets to.  He finds a small, seemingly deserted town with a hospital; the hospital is also completely deserted.  The 911 operators tell him he'll have to try to save the wounded girl himself and walk him through some gory body horror.  Pretty gross.

Then there's a completely WTF bit about an old dude that shoots up the sketchiest bar on the planet, looking for his sister.  Things get super weird and hard to follow there.  And then there's a nasty, violent home invasion segment that ties to the first segment, although it's not clear how or why, and then there are more tentacles and my notes at that point are just: WTF? WTF?? WTF is going on???

Like most anthologies, Southbound is hit or miss, with probably more misses than hits.  But while it may have been incoherent at times, it was never boring, so that's a big point in its favor.  Add that amazing creature design and you've got a low budget, indie omnibus flick that isn't a waste of its running time.

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P.S. Stacie Ponder is doing an ENTIRE month of posts on the new Suspiria.  It's on my list to get to for this month.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Tenth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #10 Event Horizon

Woohoo - space horror!  I mean, mediocre space horror, but still ...

It is 2047.  Seven years ago, deep space research vessel Event Horizon completely disappeared out around Neptune.  Official word was that it exploded, all lives lost, nothing left of the ship.  But then: it came back.  It didn't explode - its experimental [nonsensical movie science] drive bent space/time, delivering it across the universe in an instant.  And now it's back, from wherever it has been.

The search and rescue ship Lewis and Clark was sent to salvage it.  The small crew of Captain Laurence Fishburne, First Officer Joely Richardson, pilot Sean Pertwee, medical officer Kathleen Quinlan, mechanic (?) Richard T. Jones, loose cannon Jason Isaacs and some young redshirt are joined by the Event Horizon's designer, Sam Neill, who is, it must be said, rather weird.  The crew doesn't much like him and, as they board the derelict ship and progressively stranger things keep happening, they like him much, much less.  The crew suffers from hallucinations (maybe); the final ship's log is a garbled mess of shrieks and Latin; there are fluids and secretions exuding from the ship's walls.  As it turns out, the Event Horizon did not travel across the universe to [scientific star name] - it broke through space/time and went to a hell dimension.  Ooooooooo!

Despite its stacked cast, Event Horizon (1997) is a hot mess, with a confusing through-line, overacting and terrible dialogue.  It obviously steals from much better movies - Alien and Hellraiser spring immediately to mind.  The ship design is cool (see above re: Alien) but the story is pretty incoherent in places and when it switches over from what looked to be malevolent alien life to hell/evil (sans religion), it just got messy.

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Saturday, October 19, 2019

Tenth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #9 My Bloody Valentine (1981)

After having tried for this in 2013, I've finally gotten around to watch the original My Bloody Valentine.  A classic 1980s slasher, starting right up with sex and death, the 1981 flick is vastly superior to the remake.


Twenty years ago (i.e., 1960), on the eve of the annual Valentine's Day dance in the little town Valentine Bluff, two supervisors left their posts and a bunch of miners were trapped in a cave-in.  When they finally dug them out six weeks later, only one was still alive: Harry Warden, stark raving mad after having eaten his compatriots to stay alive.  Harry eventually got checked into the local insane asylum after killing those two supervisors and a bunch of other people on subsequent Valentine's Days.  He swore that as long as the Valentine's Day dance was held, he would murder people.  The powers that be wisely shut down all Valentine-related festivities ... until now (1980), when they decide that it's been long enough and gosh darn it, they WILL have a Valentine's Day dance again. 

But the murders start up almost immediately so the mayor and sheriff cancel it all, since they lived through Harry Warden's terrorizing the first time around.  The town's young folks, however, don't remember those days and decide to have their own party out at the mining offices.  A few of them sneak off down into the mine and so when the murders start at the party, they are unaware.  And then the killer follows them down into the earth.

Look, this is a low budget slasher (I counted eleven kills btw, including one kid getting drowned in hot dog water lol) and follows the slasher conventions pretty faithfully; I even guessed the killer with about fifteen minutes to go.  I really liked this one, though.  The young people are not blank stereotypes: they have jobs, conflicts, names and distinguishable personalities.  The mine itself is a fantastic location - I believe they shot on location, in an actual mine, in Nova Scotia - very ominous, scary and confusing.  The killer fades in and out of the darkness, there are strange noises echoing through the  and it really feels as though one might get lost in there forever.  Well done, My Bloody Valentine, very well done.

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Tenth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #8 Mom and Dad

 2018's Mom and Dad, from the Crank director, is a very dark horror-comedy.  It's of the thriller variety, however, garnering its genre from the bloody violence; there is no suspense or dread - and only one brief, throwaway scene is at all creepy.  It does have a positively unhinged Nicolas Cage, however.

It seems like your typical day in typical suburban America: middle-aged parents bemoaning what has become of their lives, snarky teenagers and little kids who should be in school but who are home for some reason (seriously: why wasn't young Josh at school? Was he home sick?  Did I miss that?).  Until a mysterious and unexplained broadcast turns all the parents into homicidal maniacs - but only with respect to their own children.  They don't turn into rage-zombies or hulk out; they retain their personalities and revert back to normal, albeit with no remorse about murdering their children. 

Teenaged Carly escapes the frenzy at her school and runs home to get her brother (the aforementioned Josh) out of the house before their parents - played by a puffy Nic Cage and seemingly much-younger Selma Blair (who is actually 47 to Cage's 55) - get home.  Trapped in the house, it's a cat and mouse game played with knives, meat-tenderizers, wire hangers, a Sawzall and a redirected gas line.

Mom and Dad is ridiculous and very bad in a batshit, kind of awesome midnight movie way.  Did I mention a cameo by Lance Henriksen as Cage's dad?  It's violent and rather dark (see: parents murdering their children on-screen) but not scary in any way.  The only creepy scene takes place in the hospital as a row of dads stare intently through the nursery window at their newborn babies.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Tenth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #7 Little Monsters (2019)

After watching Hulu Original Little Monsters, an Australian horror comedy, I have two songs stuck in my head, Shake It Off by Taylor Swift and Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline.  And now so do you.  You're welcome!

Man-child Dave - crashing at his older sister's house after harrowing fights with his girlfriend result in their break-up - volunteers to chaperone nephew Felix's field trip to Pleasant Valley Farm.  Dave has a crush on Felix's kindergarten teacher, Audrey Caroline (Lupita Nyong'o).  Everyone should have a crush on Miss Caroline: she is bright, cheerful, clever, compassionate and full of songs.  Her kids love her.  And when the field trip rapidly devolves into a localized zombie apocalypse (the farm is located right next to a U.S. Army testing facility and their "Project Regeneration" goes horribly and predictably wrong), Miss Caroline is also ferociously protective of her young charges, not only trying to keep them alive but also shield them from being emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives.

The situation is complicated by Josh Gad's character, "Teddy McGiggles," a children's television show host.  His character is completely reprehensible.  Two minutes after his introduction, I wrote in my notes that he was so awful that I guessed he would die saving a child and redeem himself.  SPOILER The movie goes the other way: Teddy McGiggles dies as horribly as he behaved.  I was okay with that.

The zombie makeup is good; there's a shot of a zombie with a faceful of quills after eating the petting zoo's captive echidna that made me laugh out loud.  But the comedy is a little pale and the horror is too.  Little Monsters is good enough for the casual zom-com fan but by far fails to reach the heights of benchmark Shaun of the Dead.

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Friday, October 11, 2019

Tenth Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #6 Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings

For some reason I have a soft spot for the original Lance Henriksen vehicle, Pumpkinhead.  I watched it online, on my desktop computer, in 2008 (twenty years after its release) and I just loved it.  The practical monster effects were terrific, the good guys and bad guys were amazingly not one dimensional.  It was way better than it should have been.

I am sorry to report that the sequel, Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings, does not meet the standard set by its predecessor.

We start with a black and white flashback to 1958 where in the tiny town of Ferron Woods, a group of hot-rodding townies beat, stab and hang a disfigured hillbilly boy, Tommy.  Some thirty years later, a group of teenagers - assholes who act out a bit but who aren't really all that bad, just obnoxious - steal a spellbook from the local witchy woman and do the ritual that raises Pumpkinhead II.  This iteration of the demon - smaller than the original and kind of looking like the mutant alien in Joss Whedon's Alien movie - was brought out of Tommy's remains and thus begins rampaging to avenge his death.  SPOILERS FOR A 1994 MOVIE.  The body count is relatively high: PHII gets the six original hot-rodders, now doughy middle-aged men, plus four of the teenagers who raised him, for no good reason I could tell.  The sheriff saves his daughter but the posse takes out ol' PHII (in theory - there are two more direct-to-video sequels after this one).

Look, this one isn't scary.  I'm not sure it was even scary back in 1994.  There is no sense of atmosphere or tension and the characters are wooden.  Even the creature effects are only middling - and I am a huge fan and proponent of practical monster effects.  This is a lightweight and fairly stupid movie, not even trying for camp or any touches of humor.  Except that one character is named "Mayor Bubba."  That's kind of funny.

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