Saturday, October 31, 2020

Eleventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #12 Bad Hair

 Happy Halloween, everyone!  This was not my most prolific month for watching scary movies - that honor goes to 2018 when I watched twenty-two! - but 2020 has been enough of a horror show anyway.  The final* October movie is Bad Hair, a brand new "horror satire" available for streaming on Hulu.  I'm not entirely sure that it works as satire because it doesn't really go far enough to criticize anything; that is the biggest problem, I think, I just wanted MORE.

The plot is set in 1989, Los Angeles, with our protagonist Anna working for an MTV-esque shownetwork featuring urban (read: black) music.  When a new boss moves in, Anna feels pressure to look the part more, especially since she really wants to host her own show.  Her natural hairstyle is looked down on and so she finagles an appointment at the coolest salon in town to get a weave.  The new hair - sleek, shiny and straight - opens doors both professionally and personally ... until the weave shows that it has a mind of its own, forcing Anna into situations where it can feed on its victim's blood.  Turns out that the hair came from witches from old slave lore and the witches are looking to take over bodies for themselves.

There are absolutely some ick-tastic scenes here.  I had no idea what the process for getting a sewn-in weave was and even if you leave out the piercing needles and possessed hair, it still looks excruciating.  It is horrifying to see what WOC have been forced/encouraged to do to their hair, whether chemical straightening or these painful weaves, to be accepted.

Other than the bits of body horror, however, this is a fairly tame flick.  Because it's POSSESSED HAIR, there's an awful lot of terrible CGI and the killings are pretty meh.  The costumes look like someone did a deep dive into a Goodwill and don't seem to match what the late 80's MTV generation would have been wearing.  Where this movie truly excels is in its casting, though: Laverne Cox, Vanessa Williams, Lena Waithe, Usher, Kelly Rowland, Blair Underwood (and James Vanderbeek)!  That's a heavy hitting roster for a lightweight movie.

*  I do have a DVD of the original The Crazies headed my way, so we'll tack that on as an extra added bonus.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Eleventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #11 Late Phases

 You guys.  I did it.  I found another werewolf movie with practical effects!  As mentioned ad nauseam, I loooooove werewolf movies with practical effects - Dog Soldiers, Ginger Snaps, American Werewolf in London - but good ones are hard to find (Wolf Cop, for example, is NOT a good one).  I wouldn't say that Late Phases a/k/a Night of the Wolf (2014) is a good one but it gets major props for the original-looking/slightly goofy, non-CGI wolf effects.

I'm going to give you a little plot summary, again straight from the Netflix DVD sleeve:

Newly arrived at a remote retirement community, blind war vet Ambrose McKinley learns that it's being plagued by a slew of animal attacks.  When his service dog and his neighbor are savagely killed, Ambrose realizes something sinister is afoot.

First of all, bonus points for using "slew" and "afoot."  Second, while I'm never too keen on dogs getting killed in movies, I am always down for animal attacks.  And Late Phases doesn't make you wait, getting right down to the giant werewolf busting through walls and gutting little old ladies who try to defend themselves with their walkers.  After that, however, there's a whole lot of nothing going on: riding in shuttle buses, Ambrose's training/grave-digging montage, blah blah blah.  I found it to be a long 96 minutes although the last twenty or so do turn up the wolf volume again.  Anyway, this little flick feels like it wants to be much more serious cinema than the B-movie schlock it really is.

Cast members of note: Ethan Embry, as Ambrose's long-suffering son; Tom Noonan (who I guess I recognized from X-Files and/or Hell on Wheels) as the local Catholic priest; and Tina Louise (!).  I didn't recognize Nick Damici who plays Ambrose but I guess I saw him back in 2012 when I watched Stake Land.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Eleventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #10 Terror Train

Because I'm lazy, I'm just going to use the blurb on the Netflix DVD insert as the plot summary:

A fraternity prank goes wrong and lands one student in a mental institution.  [Three] years later, when his fraternity brothers host a costume party on a trail to celebrate graduation, the student sees this as his opportunity to exact revenge.  He sneaks on the train and begins killing the party-goers one at a time, masking himself in the costumes of his victims.  Will anyone make it off the train alive?

This movie - Terror Train - is why I pay extra for Netflix DVDs: quality entertainment.  This not-very-well received slasher (seriously: Roger Ebert hated it upon its release) came out after the unexpected success of Halloween (1978) and Black Christmas (1974).  It stars scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, in her THIRD slasher of 1980 (along with The Fog and Prom Night), and her last original slasher movie.  It also, for some reason, features David Copperfield as "the Magician," hired to perform at the party.   Apparently this role was written for him and inserted into the original script; I think it would have improved the flick, or at least tightened it up, if he'd been left out as his magic trick scenes are overlong.

There are a total of seven kills in TT, although every single one is off-screen, only showing the audience the bodies after the fact.  The killer's struggle with Jamie Lee Curtis is quite brutal, however.  And the train's whistle, fading into the credits, sounds like a scream.

I thought Terror Train was way better than it should have been.  Sure, the magic show scenes were weird but the acting was pretty good and the dialogue and characterization were above average for sure.  A decent addition to the 1980s slasher pantheon.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Eleventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #9 Lake Mungo

 I will admit to having a little difficulty finding horror movies I want to watch.  Either they're too long for when I get around to starting them (Midsommar and Suspiria clocking in at over two hours which is too much on a school night when I'm starting at 9:30) or they're just not my preference: I like space horror, monster movies (vampires, zombies, werewolves, slugs, etc.), 1980s slashers, practical effects (a la Evil Dead and old school Peter Jackson) and movies that don't rely on jump scares.  I could use some recommendations, y'all!  I can't possibly have watched ALL of them.  Also, they need to be streaming for free on Netflix, Hulu, Prime or - I'm not paying any more than I already am.

All of that is to say that I settled on Lake Mungo, an Australian movie about which I knew nothing but which was around 90 minutes long so I figured I could get through whatever it turned out to be.  I was hoping for giant mutant Aussie crocodiles but instead I got a slow-burn ghost story.  I've done worse.

Alice Palmer drowns while at a lake with her family.  Nothing strange happened: she drowned, her body was eventually found and her family buried her and grieved.  Some time later, mysterious figures start showing up in photographs and home security footage: Alice's ghost is haunting her family.  But closer perusal of some of the video show a neighbor lurking in the dead girl's bedroom; a search of her room turns up a diary and a sex tape.  Alice had secrets that none of her friends or family knew - her uneasy ghost wants to set things straight.

This is a well-done, believable, documentary-style flick, but it was very, very slow, focusing more on the family's grief than anything truly scary.  I found it to be a creepy-ish ghost story that mostly left me cold but didn't leave me wishing I hadn't watched it.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Eleventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #8 Killer Klowns from Outer Space

I debated L O N G and hard about even including this one in this series.  IT'S SO BAD.  But I took the time and watched the whole thing so now you have to hear about it.  At least a little bit because I can't bring myself to write much more than that.

I mean, what was I expecting?  Killer Klowns from Outer Space.  I knew what I was getting myself in for.  However, in the course of this blog I have watched a lot of movies, many of which were terrible but also many of which I thought were going to be terrible but ended up having their own charms (the recent Critters, for example).  So I was hopeful.

It was badly misplaced, that hope.  KKfOS has very little to redeem itself.  The acting is appalling.  It's late 1980s so while the hair was big, the clothing was mostly sweaters = boring.  The music was bleh.  The dialogue was awful.  There was little to no plot: a spaceship, that looks like a circus tent, lands in Crescent Cove (some small town in the middle of the country) and the aliens, who look like terrifying clowns, start harvesting the local populace, presumably for later consumption.  A local love triangle (girl, new boyfriend and police officer/former boyfriend) battle the aliens. (FYI: that synopsis makes this move sound more interesting than it is.)  I shall quote from my notes: "This is excruciating & I'm falling asleep."

The ONLY good thing about this movie is the klown design and the set design for the interior of the spaceship/funhouse.  But as trippy and rad as that was, it is not nearly enough to make this movie worth watching.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Elventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #7 Vampires Vs the Bronx

 Netflix's brand new Vampires Vs. the Bronx is a new-ish take on an old story: a group of teenagers must do battle with the nefarious vampires who are taking over their neighborhood.  A tale as old as time.  But what's new - and quite refreshing - is that nearly the entire cast are POC, except for the bad guys who are very, very white.

Miguel/"Lil' Mayor", with the help of his BFFs Bobby and Luis, is putting together a block party fundraiser to save the neighborhood bodega that was their second home.  All throughout the neighborhood, real estate developers are coming in and paying cash money to the local people.  Most of the adults see this as easy money and a chance to get out of the Bronx.  What the kids see is the loss of their beloved neighborhood as gentrifying forces replace bodegas and nail salons with coffee bars and hipster shops.  What's worse: the gentrifying forces are actually vampires who know that the city police won't look too hard for all the missing gangbangers, etc., who have become midnight snacks.   Truly, what is scarier: gentrification or suckheads?

There's not a ton of plot.  Lil' Mayor wants to save the bodega, flirt with older girls and not get so embarrassed by his mom.  Luis ("the Puerto Rican Harry Potter") is just glad to be back in the Bronx with his friends, after being shipped off to Tampa to stay with relatives.  Bobby has the most compelling side-story as he navigates being recruited by a local gangbanger.  And they have to learn how to kill vampires.

Vampire-wise, there is no new ground being broken.  This is a lightweight horror-comedy.  There are specific references to Blade, Buffy and 'Salem's Lot.  This is a PG-13 offering and nothing is scarier than your average BtVS episode.  But the cast is fantastic and charming as hell.  Representation matters and I for one welcome more diversity into the horror genre. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Eleventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #6 Hellbound: Hellraiser II

 I watched the first Hellraiser movie way back in June of 2009.  I hadn't really gotten into watching horror movies at that point and I didn't really know what to say about it.  I liked it?  I thought it was really something.  Let's just say that 1988's Hellbound: Hellraiser II is even more ... something.

In case any viewers had forgotten what transpired in the first flick (like, ahem, me), this sequel shows a lot of flashbacks/scenes from the original and features much of the same cast.  The storyline - like the first one - is both meager and confusing as the Hellraiser movies seem to be much more concerned about presenting striking images than a coherent plot.  Like the first movie, Hellraiser II is very, very gory, full of nasty body horror.  It's pretty amazing.

The sequel appears to be about: Kirsty, the first film's Final Girl, is in a psychiatric hospital, seeming momentarily after the events of the first film, despite having much better hair.  Unfortunately, the doctor she is assigned to is obsessed with Hell and the puzzle boxes and once he manages to obtain the bloody mattress on which evil stepmother Julia died (first movie), he is able to (1) resurrect a flayed Julia, and bring her lots of crazy patient victims from whom she can take their skin and (2) get another patient, mute Tiffany, to solve one of the puzzle boxes to raise Hell.  Julia shows Hell to the doctor and some obelisk-y evil sticks a giant hose into his head, turning him into a monster.  Meanwhile, the Cenobites FINALLY show up as Kirsty and Tiffany run around Hell, trying to find Kirsty's poor father.  In a very strange twist, the doctor-monster KILLS THE CENOBITES, which turns them back into the humans they'd forgotten they were.  But the two Final Girls put the puzzle back together, killing Julia and the doctor-monster and escaping back to the real world.

Now, the above synopsis is rather more coherent than the movie actually is - there is a lot of running around and jumping from scene to scene, from flayed body to flayed body, bouncing around with very little sense of time, space or sense.  If you like your movies to have understandable storylines, this is not that movie.  But if you're in it for nightmarish scenes and disgusting, old fashioned practical effects, go for it.  But seriously - the Cenobites become sort-of good guys and then get killed off?  That seems all kinds of wrong.  They are incredible monster designs, truly unforgettable, and in each of these Hellraiser movies I find myself wishing they had more screen time.  Even if they don't do much to advance the plot.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Eleventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #5 Critters

 I must confess that, after being pleasantly surprised for the most part by my movie selections thus far, I was looking forward to 1986's Critters.  I didn't know anything about it, other than it looked to be a monster-y movie with round, furry, toothy ... critters.

I didn't realize that it starts out in space, on Prison Asteroid Sector 17/Maximum Security.  After some especially low budget alien stuff, the eight Critters (technically, "Crites" in alien-speak) escape from super-max and land on Earth, in a small Kansas town.  Once there, they're hungry.  What do they eat?  Pretty much anything that's meat.  That includes cows, sheriff's deputies and the unlucky boyfriend of the farm girl who lives near the spaceship's landing site.  Said boyfriend is played by Billy Zane, who had hair in 1986.

With some above-average character building, we meet the farm family (mom played by icon Dee Wallace, she of Cujo, The Howling, E.T., The Hills Have Eyes, etc.) and some of the townspeople (sheriff played by icon M. Emmett Walsh), and also the two alien bounty hunters sent from the space prison to retrieve the Critters without causing too much damage.  SPOILER: there's a lot of damage as the bounty hunters like to blow things up.  Also, they're shape-shifters and one of them takes the form of some 80s rock singer, complete with AMAZING 80s hair.  The farm family is tough and resourceful and even though the father gets munched on quite a bit, and the daughter gets dragged back to the spaceship, they - with help from the bounty hunters - put down the Critters.  Even the cat survives the movie!

Now, I didn't love it.  Critters clearly wants to be Gremlins but despite the actors' best efforts, the movie never really clicked for me.  The Critter design is good: furry, roly-poly and VERY toothy, with the ability to shoot venomous spines that paralyze their prey.  I very much appreciated the practical effects but this movie is not at all scary and not even very bloody either.  I am obviously in the minority here, however, as there are a total of five Critters movies: this one, and subsequent films in 1988, 1991, 1992 and 2019!  More power to 'em, I guess.

I've been on a roll recently but now must pause our regularly scheduled programming for a couple days.  We'll pick this back up soon, hopefully with something better for #6.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Eleventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #4 Slugs: the Movie

So, Slugs: the Movie.  The very first thing I wrote down when I started watching was: I do not have high hopes for this one.  Little did I realize that this B movie is SO BAD that it became a cult favorite - best watched in a group with party-type substances, I suspect.  Also, it's based on a novel (!) and there was supposed to be a sequel (!!) based on the book's sequel (!!!), but that has sadly never materialized.

Here's your plot in a nutshell: a small midwestern town becomes infested with carnivorous - but small and slow-moving -  slugs that mutated from being exposed to a toxic waste dump.  Yes, this is a 1980s toxic waste movie.  The county health inspector (how often do guys like that get to be the heroes, amirite?) is in a fight for his life, trying to save the town.  Too bad the mayor, the water district manager, the sheriff and the sleazy real estate developers don't believe him.

You will notice that the acting is terrible and the dialogue is worse ("I liked them.  They were nice people.") - and much of it is dubbed because this is a Spanish/American joint, filmed both in Lyons, New York, and Madrid.  Most of the actors are Spanish, playing Americans.  The music is relentlessly generic.  The hero's name is "Mike Brady" but he isn't the father of a blended family of six.  There is a LOL closeup of a slug with teeth.

What is absolutely AMAZING is how it turns into a schlock- and gore-fest.  From some random gardener chopping off his hand to dislodge a slug (and then it all escalates very quickly, with both him and his wife dying as the greenhouse explodes), to the horny teenagers getting eaten alive by thousands of [small and slow-moving] slugs, to the exploding eyeballs filled with baby sluglettes, there are literally gallons of fake blood splashed across this flick.  And you can't not appreciate that.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Eleventh Annual FMS Scarelicious October Movie Series: #3 Deathdream

 1974's Deathdream (also known as Dead of Night) is loosely based on the short horror story, "The Monkey's Paw."  It's a classic, be-careful-what-you-wish-for tale, kind of like Pet Sematary but without the Maine accents.

A Florida couple's son is killed in Vietnam - or so they're told, when a family friend delivers the notification telegram.  But for some reason (either his mother's prayers or the dead soldier's own will), Andy shows up at home.  He's changed, but at first it seems that it may just be his 'Nam experience that has left psychological scars; he refuses to talk about the war and he resists seeing friends or doctors.  Then bodies start turning up (as they always do), drained of blood.  It turns out that Andy has been killing people and injecting himself with their blood to try to stave off his own body's deterioration.  It only works for so long, and after a killing spree, he flees to the local graveyard, with his mother following him, wailing loudly, and finally dies, again.

I dug a lot of this movie, a tense little creeper that sucked me in in spite of myself.  It was shot on location in Florida and the house is amazing, with sleeping porches and gorgeous trim work.  The sound design is very eerie and effective.  The 70s outfits are ROCKIN.  And the body count is impressive for a PG flick SPOILERS: trucker, Butchie, Doc, Joanne (very pretty), Bob, random dude who had the misfortune of being at the drive-in movie, dad, cop (maybe).

I had no idea what to expect going in but Deathdream ended up being a decent movie: slow in parts but fairly well-acted, plenty creepy and the last 15-20 minutes were excellent.