1987s Hellraiser was a movie that I actually sought out, intending to watch it as the final film of my annual Halloween movie night. I have had very little exposure to this prolific horror film series, save via the occasional pop-culture reference to the franchise's poster boy, Pinhead. That marked up, porcupine looking dude always has a tendency to show up whenever icons of horror are gathering, despite the fact that I always thought he was a tad silly looking. I mean c'mon, he looks like that Guinness world record guy who clipped the most clothespins to his face. And I bet THAT hurt more than poking yourself with that many pins. The edgelord demons of this movie aside, I was led to understand that this movie actually had something going for it, and in my urge to continue exploring the initial entries in long-running horror movie franchises, I decided to take up Hellraiser.
This movie, based on the Clive Barker novella The Hell Bound Heart opens with a mysterious man selling a collector's edition rubik's cube to a traveler who looks in desperate need of a manicure. At the very least he could take a cuticle scraper under those nails. He returns home with his strange and mystical item, and his cursed frogurt with choice of topping. I gotta say, this guy goes full-bore with his mysterious cursed object rituals, even so far as lighting a little cube shaped outline of candles while playing with his cube. He dicks around with the puzzle box until something clicks and things get crazy, including a pair of the sketchiest looking shwarma cookers ever coming out of the darkness, the appearance of everybody's favourite edgelord demons and our puzzle enthusiast getting attacked by extreme body mods. Something or other happens and we can assume that he gets ripped apart, leaving a few chunks of face behind that the Pinhead monster rearranges and then disappears with, leaving the attic empty.
Flash forward a year or so and some new couple is moving into the old place, pacing around and cleaning out all the old furniture, moldy food and eerie prevalence of Jesus statues. Why the hell does this guy have so much Christian imagery lying around when he's super into solving hellboxes upstairs? Did he think his plastic Jesus would protect him whether it rains or freezes, or when torture fetish demons spew forth to drag him to bondage hell? It clearly didn't work out.
This couple consists of Larry and Julia, who have seized the property of Larry's brother, Frank, after his mysterious disappearance. They argue about how creepy and musty this old place, just as Julia finds some old photos of Frank in sexual congress with a variety of ladies. Gosh, in some he's even wearing MASKS while he plows his partner. I understand that this is supposed to show that Frank is some sort of experimental sexual deviant, but seriously, at best he's role playing with a kabuki mask while roping some poor shmuck into snapping photos of these relatively vanilla nooky sessions. Seriously, the average furry gets more adventurous than this. Where is the closet full of bondage gear? Where's the mounted sex swing and wide array sex toys? Where are all the collars for his “secret dogs”? Julie actually pocketed the photos, clearly intrigued as the daughter of the family, Kristy comes in.
As she says hello to her father and cordially greets her stepmother, the movers stagger in through the front door with a hefty mattress, eyeballing them both up and commenting on the goods. This is still the 80s, so they aren't fired on the spot for this, and Larry helps the guys shift this hefty thing upstairs. Meanwhile Julia is looking over the pictures of Frank, tearing the other lady out of each one. It seems that back when she first met Larry, she also was intrigued by Frank's rapeyness. This flashback goes into full on wet dream territory as she remembers the day after her own wedding when a sexy, rain-soaked Frank showed up at her door and basically leered her into adultery on the spot. Back in the present, Larry cuts himself on a nail while heading up the stairs and bleeds heavily, staggering into a side room upstairs and spilling his blood all over the floor. Get it? He cut himself on a nail while Julia remembers getting NAILED? Eh? Clever?
Larry heads to the hospital with his family while the blood he spilled seeps into the floor boards and hits a bit of viscous tissue that seems to have been left behind after Frank's little foray into the unknown. With the house still abandoned, the bloodied tissue begins to coalesce and ooze out from between the floorboards, and a human body begins to reconstitute itself. I can't lie, this is probably the best scene in the entire movie. This pre-Terminator 2 scene of a human body pulling itself together from a pile of primordial goo, going from a loosely defined skeleton covered in flailing tubes to growing back a brain and eventually connective tissue is achieved almost entirely with animatronics, reversed footage and stop motion, backed up by the thunderously epic score of the film composed by Christopher Young. The effects are excellent, the scene is skin crawling and the music and lighting gives the whole thing a sweeping, gothic feel that just had me going :D the entire time. The scene is punctuated by the wretched, half-formed man letting out an agonized scream as his lungs form within his chest. No snarky commentary, this is just awesome.
That night, the family is entertaining guests at a dinner party when Julia decides to just get up and leave, throwing down a vague insult and clearly still pining for Frank. Well today's your lucky day lady! She heads up to the vacant attic and runs into gooboy as he sort of flails at her. He's still just bones and connective tissue at this point, though he has enough of a face to beg for her help. Somehow, he manages to convince her that he actually IS Frank and tells her that he needs blood. He figures if a splash of his brother's blood got him this far (which is quite impressive) then more will eventually get him mobile and fully formed. She flees in terror as Frank just sort of continues to flail there, all sad and goopey.
While all this gross crap is going on, Kristie is walking back to her place with her boyfriend, discussing those things that young couples in the 80's discuss while some creepy Alan Moore peeps in on them from the alleyway. Julia and Kristy both have very different dreams that night, with Kristy envisioning a feather coated table that holds her father's corpse, and Julia having a more intimate nighttime encounter with Frank's memory, back when he had skin. She wakes up all flustered and goes back to the KY-Jelly coated skeleton in the corner, promising to help him because she still wants to jump his bones, even though that's all he's got left at this point. Hey-ya! Apparently Julia is a total drama queen and danger-fetishist, or Frank is so good in bed that Julia is ready and willing to betray her husband and gather an indeterminate amount of human blood for him. No kidding, when Clive Barker found that he could not keep the original title of his novella, The Hellbound Heart for the movie, he started shopping around for an alternative and one of the suggestions from a female production member was What A Woman Will Do For A Good Fuck. Meanwhile downstairs, Kristy has called her father at 2 in the morning because of her scary dream, even though I'm pretty sure this is exactly what her parents had her move out to keep from happening.
By the next day, Julia has gone full Black Widow mode, seducing men with her shoulder pads and luring them back to the house. Man, you don't need to automatically resort to murder if you just need blood. All it took was a little splash to get him this far, how much could he possibly need? I, on my own, could probably secure a bag or two of blood from a hospital or something if I really had to. And there's nothing stopping me from donating a little of my own blood to the cause. Seriously, stretch all this over a week or two and with a little bit of patience, you'll be strolling around fully formed in no time. But no, she decides to take the psycho route and seduces this schlub up to the attic, seemingly able to talk him into having sex on the dry, splintery floor. One gross disrobing scene later, she clubs him over the head with a hammer a few times and leaves his body for this gross, slippery vampire to feed on. Jeez, Frank doesn't even help her tidy up after, even after growing back muscles from this last feast. He looks a little better now, and by “better” I mean “Like a Bodyworlds exhibit has climbed off of it's dais and is putting the movies on one of the Heathers”. Frank explains that he needs to get his body back and start running before the demons who imprisoned him in Sex Hell, the Cenobites, realize that he has escaped.
Back in the much less interesting plot of Kristy's day to day, her job at the pet shop is interrupted by the reappearance of Alan Moore, who eats a handful of crickets and “vanishes” after Kristy takes her eyes off of him for a solid 30 seconds to talk to her boyfriend. That dealt with, he cut back to Julia clubbing another guy and Frank draining him dry. Also, the momentum of this restoration is really starting to slow down. The first splash of blood gave him physical form and enough structure to crawl around, but two whole dudes later, and he still looks like he's missing a few chunks. He even comments that his nerves are finally growing back. Frank rewards this latest bout of murder with more information, stating that so long as he has the puzzle box (Which he, by the way, has for some reason. Didn't Pinhead grab that when they were cleaning up after him?) then he is assured that the demons will not be able to cross over and reclaim him. He's still in need of flesh, and probably some new skin, but Julia doesn't feel like offering up Larry just yet. Even when he comes back that night with his dander up and starts to make out with his wife while Frank sneaks around upstairs. Man, Larry seems awfully oblivious to all of this stuff that's going on in his house, including the fact that there is even a third man living UPSTAIRS in a small room that branches directly off from the main hall. The fact that said man is a dripping corpse and looking to nail his wife is just icing on this cake. They get ready to bone, but then Frank appears out of the closet and mutilates a rat right in front of Julia with a switchblade that I guess he conjured out of the ether, which I imagine is enough to put her right out of the moan. Larry mistakes her wife pleading for his life for protests and whines for a bit before deciding to fall asleep downstairs while watching wrestling. The next day he actually calls up his daughter to ask her to check in on his wife and see why she isn't horny. Dang dude. As Julia brings in yet another guy for Frank to suck on, Kristy sees her escorting him inside and naturally assumes adultery. Well, she's HALF right. She storms in to confront them, only to run across a freshly hammered corpse and a skinless man in a suit with the best line in the whole movie:
Shockingly enough, this doesn't calm her down. Frank quickly gets handsy, but Kristy remembers that he is still a mass of exposed muscles and nerves and thus could be fucked up with a good, hard poke. And poke him she does, grabbing the puzzle cube from his hands. She manages to escape by baiting him with it and flees, finally collapsing from trauma on the sidewalk.
Kristy awakens in the hospital, interrogated by some spooky doctor who grill her and then leaves. Left alone, Kristy pulls out the box and seemingly like everyone else, can't help but messing with it for the next hour or so. Honestly, I know where she's coming from. That thing is so damn cool looking and sleek that I probably wouldn't be able to resist playing around with it until I managed to summon the hordes of deviant hell either.
She does end up opening it, which instead of bringing on the chains, spikes and spiky chains, merely opens up a portal into the upside-down that she briefly explores before realizing that this was a terrible idea and getting chased out by another cool-looking monstrosity. Then the rest of the Cenobites show up. Their terms are very simple: She opened the box, they came for her. They explain that they are explorers in a way, but instead of land, they chart the extent of experience and sensation, riding the barrier between agony and ecstasy until it no longer exists. And I gotta say, only Pinhead and the Cat Lady actually talk during all of this (by way of one having his mouth shut and the other not having lips) but man, do these guys know how to hold a scene. Pretty much every line they say is the finest grade of ham, and quotable as hell. Kristy pleads that she had no idea of the implications involved, but Pinhead merely remarks that it's not really his problem: You are in for an eternity of sensation obliterating torture until you learn to love it, just as Frank was. She tries to bargain, saying that Frank escaped their clutches and offering his soul for hers. They say that they'll consider it, leaving her in one piece, with one final warning: Do not attempt to cheat them, or they will “TEEAAARRR YOUR SOOUL APPAAAAAARRRRRT”
Back at home, Julie has seemingly gotten over her whole “Don't wanna murder my husband” thing and innocently invites a still utterly oblivious Larry upstairs. Honestly, if you are that blind to the goings on of your own damn house, then this is your fault for god's sake. Frank descends the steps wearing Larry's skin a few minutes later, and I have to wonder the true extent of this guys parasitic powers. How does he drink people? What, did he perfectly skin Larry with that switchblade of his and then wriggle inside? Is this The Mummy rules where absorbing other people's vitae regenerates his own body, or is this Jeepers Creepers rules where he replaces his own body parts with other peoples? Anyway, Julia finally gets that sweet sweet undead sex that she so craves until Kristy barges in, trying to warn them both of what's going on. “Larry” assures her that everything is fine and that he killed Frank. Poor fool was like a mad dog after all, and had to be put out of his misery. Kristy is a little slow on the uptake here, even pretty solidly ignoring the fact that Frank is obviously wearing her father's scalp like a wig. Kristy inspects the skinned corpse of what she does not know is her father while the murder couple downstairs wonders what to do with her. The Cenobites show up, demanding to know who did this. Kristy doesn't understand, still not clued in until Frank shows up, trying to comfort her/come on to her. Kristy quickly figures it out, clawing his loose skin off and bolting. Julia holds her, but merely succeeds in getting stabbed herself. Frank merely shrugs and stalks after Kristy as she flees upstairs, hiding briefly where she stumbles across the distorted body of one of Frank's victims. What, they were just getting stowed away in the spare room? The other spare room that's across the hall from the bleeding man corpse? Jesus Larry, how did all of this skip your notice? I mean I know you're dead, but unless a bottle rocket went off in your nose as a kid, you'd probably be able to smell SOMEthing.
Kristy escapes her husband's notice long enough to creep outside and just sort of...stand there until Frank grabs her and throws her back into the murder room. She finally calls him a murder and he replies “I'm just your old uncle Frank”.
As soon as the confession leaves his lips, the Cenobites show up again, explaining that they had to hear it from him. He can barely protest before the Criss Angel stunt attacks him again, pulling him every which way until he is completely immobilized by hooks and his flesh stretched to the point of breaking. At the very zenith of agony, he turns to Kristy and his screams terminate into a smirk. He licks his teeath at her in a final lewd gesture and speaks the shortest sentence of The Bible: “Jesus Wept”
And then he is torn apart. It's a pretty powerful scene helped by the phenomenal creature effects and Clive Barker's characterization of Frank. Of COURSE the last thing he did before spending an eternity in torture hell was make a pass at his own niece.
Kristy of course tries to run, but the Cenobites have deiced that they might as well take her along for the ride while they're here. They chase her around the house for a bit until she finds the Puzzle box clutched in the hands of a dissected Julia. In the original book, the Cenobites actually just left Kristy alone after claiming Frank and that was that, but this is a movie and we need or Big Dumb Ending. Kristy fiddles around with the puzzle box, figuring that if solving it summons the demons, then solving and unsolving rapidly in succession will banish them. It's actually kind of a clever idea, with the heroine actually hacking an infernal artifact in order to survive. And she does, kinkshaming the BDSM monsters one by one into oblivion with the power of puzzles.
Her boyfriends bursts in in the last ten minutes to see if he can help, but really only just gets almost eaten by the Uncle Fester looking one before the building falls on him. Kristy has a brief slapfight with the Hallway Monster and then she and Nameless Boyfriend flee, the house collapsing behind them and presumably getting sucked into hell. As they stand amongst the flaming wreckage, Kristy pulls the box out of her pocket and tosses it into the flames. But then Alan Moore shows up! And he grabs the box, then turns into a bone demon and flies away! What? Why did he keep following Kristy even when she didn't have the box? And what was with those prophetic dreams that she kept having? Okay! The whole scene shrinks away into one side of the box as if this is the ending to another episode of Hellraiser:The Series or something, and the movie ends the same way it began: Some mysterious shopkeeper offering the puzzle box to a curious customer while asking him the simple question: What's your pleasure?
I actually ended up quite liking this movie. While what I've seen of the other films in this series do not speak volumes about their quality, Hellraiser ended up being a dark, occasionally unsettling and thoroughly enjoyable exploration into limits of human desire. Clive Barker acted as the writer and director for this adaptation, so it is interesting to see what a writer will do with his own work on screen. Clive Barker certainly proves to be a competent writer as well as director, and I am left interested in what other work he has done. The film asks two very simple question: What are you into? And how far are you willing to go to get it? We see people like the movers ogling people up on their work hours, we meet Julia, who is willing to resort to murder in order to be with the one man who ever made her feel sexually fulfilled, and of course Frank, who considers himself above the rewards of mere human sexual fulfillment, but is clearly unprepared for the sheer extremity of pure sensation, which leaves him flayed and broken. I quite enjoy that the real villain of the narrative is not the demons, but rather Frank himself, a man who has touched the infernal beyond and has come back a literal shell of himself. His own quest to return to humanity from his experience in hell and the corruption he brings with him is the real driving force, and the demons themselves only show up when they are called. They will eagerly re balance the scales when a need to do so is necessary, and only ever lay claim to those that summoned them. They are more of an underlying tone than a genuine threat, and at the very end, they do not put up nearly as much of a threat as Frank did. It's a neat little film, though the wealth of practical effects probably suckered me in more than it should have. I can give this one a solid recommendation.
In a desire to add another werewolf movie to my repertoire, I flipped through the channels and resources available to me and eventually settled on a Canadian film called Skinwalkers. This 2007 film came out in that very special era of paranormal movies when the cool kids were trying to emulate Supernatural, that fresh, new groundbreaking show about sexy men who fight monsters. Remember those days, before that freaking show entered it's twelvth season? And boy howdy, does it's influence show itself off in this film right here. Let's see if we can catch up with Skinwalkers.
The film opens on the productions credits and the first little yellow flag pops up when the Lionsgate logo flashes across the screen. I only say YELLOW flag because hey, Lionsgate distributed Dredd as well. Then again, they also did the entire Saw franchise, so we're on very shaky ground here already. The narration starts up and some young chitlin' tells us that there are all sorts of scary thing out there. This is reenforced by a shot of a dude running through the woods, presumably away from one such scary thing. Alright, I can get into it. Guy fleeing through the woods, the corpses of his friends scattered all about the place, some unseen assailant hunting him through the woods? Okay, I can dig it. He's probably gonna get jumped by some out of focus shaggy creature and mauled to death and we're gonna listen to him getting chewed up while the titles appear. Hey it's a little predictable, but if the filmmakers are smart, they'll stick some kind of twist in there somewhere. You can't argue with the classics.
He finally hides behind a tree, panting heavily. This is horror movie code for “about to die”, so no real tension here. Sure enough he gets jumped by some big hairy monster and-
Wait. No. That's not a werewolf, that's a guy. I mean, yeah, werewolves are people too, but c'mon. We just started this movie and this opening entree just got clubbed over the head by some Woolie with a scar on his face and a really gross beard. You know, the kind of beard you grow when you can't actually grow a beard? My kind of beard?
Dead Meat here comes to, hung upside down and being interrogated by this biker gang that looks like it shops at Harrods. Some some lady Evil Sexys at him for a little bit in that way that I mentioned never convinces me back in Scarehouse. (Fuck this movie for ever making me think of that one again) and he says he ain't saying nothing about no kid. What, there's a kid involved? She says fine, and takes his gun away, noting that it's loaded with silver bullets as she empties it onto the ground. Okay, so they are the werewolves? She says that the silver bullets are cute. So what, do they affect them? What are the rules here? Then the full moon shows up at what is at best, late afternoon and turns red. And they all freak out about this for some reason, saying that the clock is ticking. Evil Girl shoots Dead Meat in the face with the gun she just unloaded and they all bust out of there.
Over by some cabin, a group of people that look like extras from Corner Gas are busy watching a home movie of a kid playing with a train set, all taking great solace in the fact that he is alive, well and hidden. Why? What's up with this kid? What sort of chosen one are we dealing with this time? The group are all happy about his safety and head downstairs for the night...strapping themselves into these big hanging leather-daddy harnesses. Dammit, this is the second movie I've watched that had an overarching theme of gimp suits. I swear this isn't on purpose. They lock eachother up, just as the power goes out upstairs. The guy whom I can only guess is the Dom in this polyamourous bondage relationship (Hey man, whatever floats your boat) heads upstairs to investigate and gets jumped by the Woolie upstairs. I think. The editing in this movie actually cuts back downstairs before the camera focuses on whatever is being revealed.
Then his body comes tumbling down the stairs and all of the bondage friends stat to freak out when this Sam Winchester looking dude strolls in with the rest of the Fashion Wolves. Helpless, the harnessed people won't tell him, and by extension the audience, anything about this magical mystery child, so he guts them all with his knife while accusing them of trying to play martyr. This man is named Varick, and yes, he's the second supernatural ringleader that I've met this month with that name. This guy doesn't even have the excuse of having been born in the 1400s or something. His name is just Varick. Also, it only takes a few lines to make it clear that this man was hired for his cheekbones alone. He just isn't that great of an actor, whispering and rasping his lines in an attempt to sound evil and persuasive, but coming off as a man needing a lozenge.
After slaughtering everyone downstairs, the bad guys manage to get a clue from the video tape of the child, even though the bondage enthusiasts masked hid identity well, even avoiding showing his face. The group heads out, noting that they have four days to find the boy.
Meanwhile, the boy in question is having some bad dreams, visions of a Michael Myers dude flashing through his head. He wakes up right into an asthma attack as his mother and...step dad (?) come in and help him through it. He notes that the moon is still red before going back to sleep, taking all of his secrets about why he's so important with him. Also, if this Blood Moon is actually going to last four full nights (Which also implies that the moon is going to be full for four full nights) wouldn't every astronomer in the world be absolutely shitting themselves? I know that I would. The colossal tidal and orbital upsets that this would lead to are staggering. Can you imagine a science-man wondering what the hell is going on and some janitor in the back just muttering “eh, probably some stupid werewolf prophecy or something. It'll clear up by Friday”.
The stepfather (?), Will is looking after this young boy. This boy of prophecy, this boy of destiny. There are those that call him...Tim. He dicks around in the shed while the dude who played Grace's awful husband in Stranger Things shows up outside, asking if everything is okay. This is uncle Jonas, and Rachael mentions that she is actually eager to leave this supportive network of friends and family behind and try to stand on her own now that she's a single mom. Seriously? The average single parent WISHES that they could count on so many people as you. Even the damn mailman shows up offering to hang out with Tim, and the Muffin Lady right behind him.
Muffin Lady looks after Tim for a while, noticing that he has started to carry a knife now, using it to fix his train set. He says his mom gave it to him when he found it, claiming that it belonged to his father. This might possibly be an interesting bit of character building or foreshadowing, but Tim BARELY has a presence or personality in this movie, just being passed from one guardian to the next like he's a Macguffin with a handle. That knife does not come up again in any meaningful way. Then some poorly-executed mid-2000's soul patch wanders in with a guy attached to it and starts putting the moves on muffin lady. Tim wanders into town with his Nana as Rachael tends to her job at the store and the bikers show up in town with their bad attitudes and leather jackets and cleavage and start looking for a fight.
Also, I know that Varick here is supposed to be all sexy with a jawline that could cut glass and all, but something about that stubble and the wideness of his face just makes him look like Nick Kroll from The League to me. Especially when he's wearing sunglasses like right now. Nana and Rachael both get a bad vibe, then some badly CGI'd eagel flies past them and Varick confronts Tim. Nana is clearly not having it and just whips a huge ass revolver out of her purse. Dang. Varick counters, and of course he wields a pair of Desert Eagles like the absolute tool that he is. I swear, that freaking gun gets so much coverage in movies and it's all because it just looks gigantic and sorta cool. Even Deadpool, a movie I love, is guilty of this, giving the titular character these two weapons in lieu of anything a trained mercenary would actually use. Hey Wade, I bet you wouldn't have to count out your shots if you carried weapons that could hold more than 7 bullets, 8 if you chamber a round. I suppose it's always just a matter of what looks good on camera, and a pair of huge, chrome plated handguns are certainly fun to look at, though I imagine that the recoil of firing just one of those things one handed would smack you in the face, never mind holding a five-pound hunk of metal at arm's length for an entire shootout.
And shootout they do, with the biker gang firing away at every pane of glass in sight while seemingly everyone in town returns fire, blasting at each other back and forth. Even the postman has a gun in his bag. I mean, I suppose this would be a neat action scene if I cared about any of these people, but I was promised werewolves, dammit. So far the best I've seen is one or two guys in need of a shave.
The thing about writing exposition into a story like this is that some information needs to be presented up front. We need to know who these people are and what they want. We need to know what their values are, why they are doing this and what the stakes are. And in a story with fantasy elements like this one (I'm sure they'll get here eventually), you need to give us the rules or at the very least show that audience what exactly is so special about these people. I'm not saying give us an opening title crawl or dump exposition on the audience from the very start, but you need to bleed a little more info into the film. So far all I've seen are two separate groups of people both centring around this one kid for some reason and then they get into a shooting match. There are no stakes here because we have no idea why this is happening.
Rachael hits the deck as the gunfight fills the street, meeting up with Nana as she reloads and grabbing Tim, being told to run. They do so as the locals clear out, leaving the leather-clad bad guys to walk the streets.
Police? Nowhere to be found.
The good guys all pile into an RV and escape, forced to leave Nana behind as she gets gunned down and blows up a gas station to cover their escape. Rachael clutches Tim when she sees that the back of the RV is filled with the same gimp suits we saw earlier, clearly having no damn clue what's going on. Back in the aftermath, Granny has tanked that bullet and staggers to her feet. Oddly, Varick seems willing to spare her until she shows them a little monster face, at which point he puts a bullet in her head. Back in the RV, I think I'm sort of getting a vague idea of what's going on. Rachael is told to stay in the back by Will, who locks himself in the driver's cabin. They bear witness to the rest of their friends and family securing themselves in their restraint suits, then one by one turn into snarling wolf beasts as the sun sets. It seems that Rachael and her son knew nothing about any of this. Tim actually approaches one of the animals and seems to be able to calm it down for just a second, before it snaps at them and prompts Will to let them into the cabin, explaining that they needed to see it for themselves. As the Bad, Leather-Wearing Wolves go through a similar transformation out in the woods, Will finally rattles off the rules for these werewolves (or rather “skinwalkers”) and Tim's significance:
Oh Jeez, I'm rambling again. Oh and Will is just some guy that helps them out, mentioning that “His people have been guiding them” And now I have even more questions. This is what happens when you wait until half an hour into your movie for someone to tell you what the heck is going on all at once. The gimps in the back all want to be free of their curse and have abstained from human flesh, but the Biker Wolves are totally down for murder and want to kill Tim before he can do whatever in three days time.
This is all interspersed with the Bad Wolves kicking in the door of some out-in-the -middle-of-nowhere bar and running rampant. I can say, the werewolves themselves don't look too bad, going for a Lawrence Talbot look with big hairy bodies and flat, snarling faces that look sufficiently monstrous. I dig the giant eyes they have. The skinwalker feeding frenzy quickly turns into a good ol' blood orgy (Another thing that keeps popping up in my movies) and the bad wolves bone until sunrise.
Back with the Bondage Wolves, Tim has passed out after another vision of the home invasion that haunts his dreams, and wakes up at the hospital. Everybody is on edge, Postman even pulling a gun on a poor nurse, laughing it off as “nerves”. I guess that's something you get used to working out in the country. Her day isn't going great, especially when another nurse finds her dead, just as Jonas spots Liam swinging around outside. Another shootout ensues through the hospital as the Leather Wolves try to reach Tim, but Postman manages to get them outside to safety, at the cost of his own life. Varick strolls out, holding muffin lady hostage. He and Jonas have a debate about the merits of werewolfiness, with Varick pointing out that Jonas is denying his true nature. This metahumanist argument fizzles when Jonas finally reveals the Big Twist of the movie with the line.
“Give me back your niece, for the sake of your son”
For this to work, then that means that this is the first time that Rachael actually got a good look at Varick. Things go south and Will guns the engine, getting everyone back inside as they drive off. Rachael is naturally a little pissed off that in addition to the boatload of werewolf information that she has been denied for so long, the group also never let her know about the leader of the bad guys being her damn husband Caleb, whom she thought was dead. Jonas states that this was done to “Protect her” but I sincerely doubt that. What, you aren't gonna tell her that the man who will one day come and try to kill your son will be wearing the face of his father? That would be a pretty crucial bit of information.
Back with the Biker Wolves, it seems that Varick didn't know about any of this either. I suppose it's just that special selective amnesia that makes people forget plot-relevant, shocking information but doesn't wipe out their toilet training. He's still committed to killing his son. But seriously, how was this a secret to Rachael? Did her husband just disappear once a month to parts unknown along with his entire family and their friends without arousing suspicion? How many times can you use “poker night went on a bit too long” as an excuse? Did Caleb not recognize his son's face? Why would he have a reason to believe Jonas? I suppose the story goes that their house was attacked in the nightmare Tim keeps having, then a wounded Caleb turned somehow and tasted human flesh, which seems to have turned him into a completely different person. And now he's running with these yahoos as their alpha, while they wonder about what to do with muffin lady, other than making her bake them a tray of delicious muffins of course.
There is a debate between Adam, his soul patch, and the rest of the Bondage wolves over what is to be done about Muffin Lady, his girlfriend. Jonas puts the matter to bed, stating that she is bait, but after another night of wolfiness, Soul Patch heads off to find her. I have no idea how he ends up finding her strung up against a cliff face so quickly, as tracking ability was never mentioned within the slate of werewolf powers, but he does indeed find his lady love and brings her back to camp, receiving a slap in the face from Jonas for leading the rest of the pack to their location. As the gang piles into the RV and hits the road, night begins to fall on the final day. Just a few more hours and the moon will strike Termina unless Link can awaken the four giants an-
Sorry, I just wish I was playing Majora's Mask right about now.
Muffin lady is acting a little more violent than usual as the gang straps each other into their harnesses for the night. She finally lashes out, snapping Will's neck in that way that bad movies think is even remotely possible and starts snarling about how good it feels. It seems that some time last night she tasted human flesh and has been turned into an Evil Werewolf. Soul Patch and Jonas are both bound against the wall, so they can only verbally plea with a feral Muffin Lady as she considers eating Will on the spot. Okay, I have to say that this is probably the best scene in the film. We know who all of these people, it has genuine tension and the added horror of seeing someone you love transform into a figurative monster while you are all on the verge of turning into literal monsters. Nick manages to get his gun out and Jonas begs him to shoot his daughter, that she is not the same person anymore and too dangerous to be left alive. Nick cannot and Muffin Lady (Who's name is Kat by the way) shoots him with his own weapon while Jonas struggles to get free, actually wriggling an arm out and making a grab for a weapon. At this point, I know that you need to stretch out tension, but there does not seem to be anything physically worming put of that thing or reaching over and unlatching himself like he is making a great show of being unable to do. Eventually however, Tim investigates from the front seat and tries to fend off Kat with a shotgun, until Jonas finally reaches his gun and shoots his daughter in the head. Harsh deal, man.
Just as soon as that crisis is dealt with, the RV smacks into Liam and flips off road. How was Liam involved in any of this? Was he magic? How do you train an eagle to kamikaze a cars windshield?
The Biker Wolves descend on the wreck, but the Bondage wolves have already holed up in a nearby factory. Jonas locks them both in a storage cage, giving them the key and a shotgun as he begins to turn. He makes them promise to shoot him if he threatens either of them. Jonas wolfs out and the trio of bad wolves stroll in, ready for the final showdown.
The Mark Strong one goes down first, getting swept off his feet by a trap that Jonas set and being dropped on his head. Then Varrick/Caleb comes face to face with Jonas and the two WolfFight, which is actually kinda neat. They toss each other around and try to outmaneuver their opponent, all while the Lady Wolf drops in on the humans. There is a brief scuffle where Tim wings her with the shotgun, then Rachael finishes the job, leaving Varrick and Jonas as the last wolves standing.
For some ungodly reason, Rachael leaves the relatively defensible shelter of the cage and confronts Varrick, begging him not to kill his son. There's a brief moment when it looks like he's considering it, but then just smacks her and looks ready to eat Tim until Jonas charges back in, dragging the fight up to the catwalk. Then Tim runs in, with not much of a plan. He just sort of yells at them both until Varrick looks up and Jonas manages to sucker punch him. Then Jonas looks ready to eat the kid until Rachael pumps him full of lead. So yeah, that kid pretty much got his uncle killed. Tim makes one last appeal to his father as he gets back up, even flashing the knife from the beginning of the movie. It looks like there might be an ounce of recognition in daddy's face, but nope. He just takes a bite out of Tim, just as the clock strikes midnight.
Just as that happens, Varrick is thrown back, tumbling to the floor below and leaving Rachael to tend to her son's massive shoulder bit wound. Or not, as the kid seems fine. They go down to inspect what just occurred and Caleb has transformed back into a human. Whatever happened caused the wolf to leave him and he is himself once more, looking up at his wife and son while flexing hard as he can.
The family checks into a motel with a shellshocked Caleb trailing behind them. Gosh, that must have been an awkward reunioun. “Hey honey, sorry about murdering all of your friends and support network, and it's totally my bad about all of that terror you lived through. Also, I had crazy forest sex with that girl you emptied that 12-gauge into, but you gotta understand, I was REALLY into eating people”.
They get a minor scare when it looks like The Grim Reaper himself is sneaking up on them, but they just end up menacing a trick-or-treater, realizing that it's Halloween. That scare was ungodly cheap, but it's still probably the most frightening part of the movie. The film ends with more narration, Tim explaining that because of some prophecised hocus-pocus, his blood now contains a cure for lycanthropy, which is how his father turned back after getting a mouthful of it. Realizing that goading werewolves into biting him isn't the best battle tactic, the family starts making “cure bullets” out of blood filled hollow point rounds just as the movie ends, with Julian Richings (Oh hey, nice to see that guy again) knocking at the door and asking to be cured, some butt-rock carrying us into the credits.
It bothers me that I have to add this film to the long list of sub-par Canadian Horror that I've already looked at this month. This film was doomed from the beginning with a badly paced script that takes too long to explain itself, then gets bogged down by a host of bad performances that sabotage what good ones there are to be found. I mentioned that this film tries to copy Supernatural a great deal, and that is obvious from the rural setting to the flannel n' denim that everybody is sporting, the guns being waved around and the prevalence of sexy stubble on everyone. The problem is that while this movie certainly copied the aesthetic well enough, it didn't quite nail the narrative tone that made the first few seasons so good. I have said in the past that Supernatural could be seen as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Dukes of Hazzard”. There is a certain gruff, blue collar charm about the show coupled with black comedy and a desire to explore the unknown that made the show so intriguing, before it jumped the rail into dead horse territory. This film does not really nail that, and while the creature effects by Stan Winston are quite good and the third act does manage to pick up a LITTLE slack, it's still nothing special.
Eager for something on the verge of the modern horror era, the film that I decided to watch today is Wes Craven's People Under The Stairs a 1991 horror movie intended to explore the question of what exactly goes on in that creepy house across the street that kids don't like to walk past. It's a novel idea, and one of the films that paints the character of the home invaders as the sort-of good guys. Thanks to a formatting muck up, I managed to lose all of the notes I took on this film and am relying purely on memory for this typed up review. So let's not waste any more time and go meet The People Under The Stairs.
Our film open on a tarot card as a boy is getting his fortune told by his sister, Ruby, on his thirteenth birthday. She discusses the merits of The Fool, the first card in the Tarot and this kid's chosen sigil. The fool is young and reckless, usually unaware of what dangers lie around him and reliant on luck or the help of others. He can either lose himself to his naivete until it leads to disaster, or change his course and travel through adversity, burning away the boy until only the man remains. It's a decent intro to the character that we'll be following around the rest of the movie and some nice foreshadowing, although it brings in a theme of mysticism that we do not see repeated or touched upon again for the rest of the movie.
The film opens for real on Poindexter, but that name is actually more embarrassing than the nickname “Fool”, so everyone calls him that. His family is in rough shape, considering that his mother can't work because she has Movie Cancer, her sister can barely hold down a job in the nonspecific ghetto that they live in, and Ving Rhames is just sort of chilling about the place. They missed their rent payment by a week, which means that the price has tripled and they are going to be evicted pretty soon, so the folks need cash fast.
If you're wondering what kind of sadistic loon would actually institute such ludicrous rent policies, the answer is given in the next scene with a stiffly dressed couple dining in their living room as their daughter ferries dishes to and from the room. The patriarch is actively eating what looks like half a deer while spitting out buckshot, and the mother is stitching a dress while loudly extolling the virtues of their plan to drive up the rent of the local buildings that they own and evict all of the residents, knocking down the place so that they can build condominiums full of “Nice, clean people”. She also scolds her daughter for speaking out of turn.
I'm pretty sure this is what a given left-winger thinks Republicans live like.
These people, who I'm just gonna call the Trumps, are clearly emotionally abusing their daughter. She eats alone in her room until the mother comes upstairs to collect her plate, finding that a fork is missing. The daughter tries to find it, only to have a clawed hand poke out of a vent to give it to her. It's a neat and pretty spooky reveal that this poor girl might have some sort of odd, ghost ally or something. The Mother almost immediately calls her on it, believing that her daughter has been feeding “That thing in the walls”. So they know about it? Jesus, these people seem more and more like distant cousins of The Addams Family that Gomez and Morticia don't like inviting over to family reunions. The Father strolls in, the first words out of his mouth being: “Some n**gers robbed the store”.
Well fine thanks, how are you?
Momma just sort of throws the misbehaving daughter to an irate Father and leaves her to be physically abused, heading off downstairs.
The next day, Fool returns through the ghetto hellscape he calls home and has no answers about what to do for money. Ving Rhames speaks up, and I have no idea what exactly his relation is to this mother and her children. Is he like a stepdad or something? Just a dude who they let hang around because he brings the good weed? In any case, Rhames brings the idea of grand larceny to the table, saying that he has found out where the building's landlords actually live. He tells Fool that he wants him in on the operation, stating that the owners are rumoured to have an antique gold coin collection, offering to pay him a share of the bounty that could cover his mother's medical expenses. He is initially unwilling, but soon says yes, realizing that he doesn't have many other options. Also, Ving's character Leeroy is a borderline abusive, manipulative ass hole that will almost inevitably end up betraying Fool, but I still kinda like him. He's spunky.
Leeroy shows up at the house the following day, dressed as a boy scout and looking to recon the place a little bit. Man, if you're looking to buy your way in with the promise of cookies, then you're in the wrong outfit. Slap on a dress and call yourself Patty, and those two will invite you anywhere. My point is proven when the Mother doesn't so much as let him in the front door, and Fool reports back to the others, noting the heavy metal mesh over all of the windows, which strangely have the padlocks on the OUTside. The third man, Spencer decides that Plan B will be him heading up to the door as a utility man, and if that doesn't work, they have a wide array of fake moustaches to cycle through. This Silent Bob/Kevin Pollok looking dude manages to talk his way inside while posing as a gas man here to check their meter, but it's obvious that Mother has sniffed him out by the skull ring he's wearing. No self respecting civic servant would EVER be cool enough to wear a sickass skeleton ring.
Mother leaves soon after and Leeroy gets nervous, thinking that Spencer might be trying to make off with all of the loot when they don't hear back from him. He grabs Fool and pries his way inside with a crowbar, making their way into a dusty, neglected greenhouse. The doors to the actual house are thick and iron clad, but Leeroy manages to break inside, just as a rottweiler charges out and bowls him over. Quick thinking lets fool trick the doggo into the greenhouse and the two barricade the door behind themselves. Now fully inside, the two scope the creepy looking place out, Fool fitting in a little bit of social commentary as he notes that the living room of this place alone could fit ten families. The kid is naturally cagey about all of this, so Leeroy tells him to stay on lookout while he checks upstairs. Fool remains at his post for about ten seconds before investigating a noise coming from the basement, spotting Spencers clipboard on the stairwell. Wow kid, you mentioned you wanted to be a doctor one day? To his credit, he pauses halfway after seeing a mysterious shadow flitting downstairs and openly declares that he isn't THAT stupid, but then turns back AGAIN when he feels the influence of criminal peer pressure. His adventure into the basement goes as well as you would expect, with odd shadows skulking around just out of sight. He gets spooked by some odd lights that seem to be following him and actually trips over Spencer's corpse. Whatever killed him seemed to have rubbed some flour into his hair as well, unless he looked into the Ark of the Covenant or something, but he is gripping a golden coin in his hand,
confirming the existence of the treasure. Something beyond a boarded-up section of the basement tries to actually EAT Spencer's body and Fool decides it's time to beat it. He gets briefly tackled by some gangly dude with a saw on his back, but shakes him off and sprints upstairs until he accidentally triggers a booby trapped staircase, sliding back down to the bottom...then sprinting right back up that shit, because screw your booby traps, I did that all the time in grade school.
He makes it upstairs just as the couple pulls into the driveway. Fool sprints upstairs, calling for Leeroy. They find each other just as the couple (who are entering through the back door for some reason) realize that the way in has been barricaded. An attempt to flee out the front door turns out to be fruitless when the handle to the front door is electrified, leaving Fool and Leeroy trapped. They manage to force a hole open for their dog, and Leeroy actually tries to use Fool as bait to lure the animal out into the open. This doesn't pan out and Leeroy ends up getting jumped again. Funnily, that dog always seems eager to latch on to the same arm, but I never see an ounce of blood on his jacket. Fool grabs a hold of Leeroy and the door handle, conducting electricity through both of them and zapping the pooch (Um, yeah, no) and they flee upstairs. By now Daddy has kicked open the door downstairs and hit the security switches, plunging the house into darkness and throwing down shutters on all the doors and windows. Being big and loud, it doesn't take long for Ving to be sniffed out by a gun-wielding Daddy and shot full of holes. He even almost gives away the fact that there was a third man involved by screaming at Fool to run, but fortunately, Daddy just thinks he was calling him names. Thinking that there is someone else in the walls, Daddy charges out and-
HOLY HELL, did he get his hunting gear on. It looks like The Gimp is back for revenge, or Daddy is taking his name very seriously.
This single change of clothing really cements the fact that Fool clearly has NO idea who he was fucking with and is deeply in over his head. Now alone in a locked down house full of fervent 2nd Amendment supporters and a basement full of ghouls, Fool is running out of options. The dog, Prince, comes back and pursues Fool again, forcing him to hole up in a bathroom where he meets the daughter. Her name is Alice and she explains a few things. Namely about how this kid is basically toast, and what exactly the people in the basement are. It seems that these two have been kidnapping children from the local neighbourhoods for quite some time, looking for a boy child that they can raise as their own. One by one, each kid has failed their standards in some way, causing Daddy to “Cut out the bad bits” and lock them in the basement, implying mutilation and possible lobotomy. Occasionally they find food or flashlights to keep themselves entertained, but it's clear that whatever is downstairs is not the primary evil here. Alice mentions Roach, the one that got away and has been living in the walls ever since. Oh, so that's her friend.
Meanwhile outside, the cops drop by investigating the abandoned van that Mother and Father claim to know nothing about, Daddy having squeezed out of his playsuit. The police officer wanders off, but the couple finds Fool's boyscout uniform in the back of the van, realizing that he's a part of this and probably still in the house. Daddy doesn't waste any time sicking Prince on the intruder, who corners Fool in the bathroom. Despite putting up a decent fight, the kid is clearly outmatched and in serious trouble until Roach yanks him into the walls through a secret door. I frankly love the idea that this kid has been hiding in here for months, stealing supplies and fucking with the two psychopaths who live in the main house.
“Oh, that's Roach, he escaped into the walls and has been there ever since.” grabs broom
Roach manages to get rid of Prince via a Super Happy Fun Slide of his very own. (Did he build it? Or maybe the couple did in order to catch him. I'd just pump the crawlspace full of gas, like pesticide or something.) After getting a few holes blown in the walls behind them, the duo finally gets into Alice's room. She explains that Roach was another one of the kids that the Trumps grabbed, this one getting his tongue cut out for speaking out of turn. This exposition gets quickly interrupted when Daddy bursts in. Roach gets away, but Fool is caught.
The scenes of Alice being abused and tortured by her family are arguably the most disturbing scenes in the film, such as when she in thrown downstairs to clean Leeroy's blood off the floor, berated for getting blood on her dress and forced to bath in scalding hot water. It's pretty rough stuff and hard to watch, especially with the verbal abuse being screamed at her the whole time by Mommy. Meanwhile down in the basement, a chained up Fool is forced to watch Leeroy's corpse being butchered by Daddy, his meat being thrown to the cellar boys. Daddy decides to toss Fool in with them and leaves.
Fool wards off the flashlight wielding mob of quasi-morlocks in a way reminiscent of the average person stumbling in on a Role Playing Game group, until Roach gets there, scaring off the others by puppeting Leeroy's bloody corpse and freeing Fool, escaping into the furnace with him.
Dang, can't this guy be the main character? Roach opens a way for Fool, but in the process reveals that he was badly wounded by Daddy's shotgun. As he bleeds out, Roach gives his friend a small packet of gold coins that he managed to make off with and draws Alice's name on the wall in soot, making him promise to save the girl before he dies. Fool wriggles up to Alice's room and nabs her, punching Daddy right in the dick along the way, then it's back into the crawlspace. Their only advantage on these two gun-toting loons is their small stature allowing them to slip through the vents and in-between the walls, making for some tense, claustrophobic moments. They dodge an honest-to-god sliding spike wall and Prince gets loosed after them again, but Fool finally says that he's DONE running. Which is a nice sentiment to hold, but hard to put into practice when you are a 75-pound prepubescent teenager being chased by a bloodthirsty Rottweiler. He is immediately knocked over, but purposefully makes as much noise as possible to goad Daddy into stabbing the wall with his bayonet, impaling the dog. Gotta say, there was a lot of room for error in this plan. Also, I'm one of those people who consider the death of ANY dog to be tragic in a movie, but even I thought Daddy's excited juvenile dancing when he thought he had tagged the boy, followed by his soft “Aw, fuck” when he finds his dog's body was pretty funny.Fool and Alice get up into the attic, and Fool finally gets to an open window, planning to slide down the roof and into the pond he saw on his way in. Alice hesitates, having never been outside, and they run out of time as Daddy barges in. Fool makes the jump and escapes, mounting the fence and disappearing into the night.
Back home and recovering from the ideal, Fool brings the coins back to his Wise Black Man, who imparts that their age and rarity will more than pay for their rent for the next decade, as well as fund their mothers medical bills. Damn, those are some good coins right there. They even cure cancer, as there doesn't seem to be any doubt that Fool's mom will be a-okay once they send her to the hospital. Wise Black Man explains what's up with the Trumps: They aren't husband and wife, but actually brother and sister, the latest in a long, incestuous line of robber barons that started out in the funeral home trade but moved into real estate, having grown, richer, greedier and crazier over the generations while holed up in their trap-laden mansion. I already pulled the trigger on my Trump joke, but given the time period this movie came from, I think it's obvious that these two were a knock against the Reagans. I imagine that once you get your fourth generation of inbred offspring, anything you try to make with your own genitals will end up looking like a failed teleporter experiment, so Mommy and Daddy have taken to kidnapping kids, including Alice. I gotta say, for a girl that was raised by these two, she is remarkably well adjusted if only a little shy. Fool realizes that something needs to be done about these two, and proceeds to head out and heroically...call the cops on them. That's actually pretty well thought out.
The police and two social workers pop into the place, responding to a report of child abuse. I may not have mentioned it before, but the Trumps absolutely make this movie with their incredibly over the top acting and hammy performances, especially on the part of Daddy. The way they both roar garbled bible quotes at their pray or awkwardly dance around after killing someone is darkly hilarious and over the top to be simultaneously disturbing and captivating. Here though, both of them actually have to act normal as the police poke around, Mommy even serving them cookies and Daddy going so far as to smoke a pipe and wear a hat to hide his head wound from where Fool nailed him with a toilet lid earlier in the film. They manage to convince the social worker that they DID have a daughter, but that she died years ago and that they haven't gotten around to redecorating her old room. I have to say, I'm not all that familiar with social worker protocol, but these two don't seem to be doing a very good job of backing all of this up in any way. Maybe it's just another nudge from Craven that as a pair of rich, white people, the Trumps are clearly above any immediate suspicion. The cops leave and we are treated to another bit of black comedy as the two swing back the false wall they were hiding the staircase to the basement behind, bemoan the absolute fiasco that the day has been and trudge off to bed casually mentioning that they'll have to clear the bodies out of the cellar, get a new dog and maybe even kill their daughter while they're at it.
It turns out that the cop call was all a ruse for Fool to slip in through the back, as he grabs a fire poker and sneaks upstairs to the Trump's room while they are conducting their nightly prayers. He tries to get the drop on them, but it turns out to be a trap as Daddy lunges out at him, back in his Gimp Suit. Now I'm not speaking from experience (Honest) but Daddy is really wriggling in and out of this thing very quickly, and I'm sure as hell that all of that buckled up leather is pretty damn hard to get on or off in a hurry. He grabs Fool, who quickly gouges at his eyes and kneecaps an irate Mommy, breaking the fire poker over Daddy's back. He escapes back into the walls, climbing up the chimney to find Alice chained up in the attic. He manages to knock her free and avoid a questing Daddy, both of them meeting up on the roof. The pond is no longer a viable escape route, having been drained and filled with broken glass, so the two still need a way out. Alice still expresses misgivings about rebelling against her parents, having lived under their thumb for so long and only surviving by complying to their every demand. As soon as Fool tells her that she was a stolen child, you can see the darkness enter her eyes and steel cross her face. Now she's pissed off.
They make enough noise to get Daddy to stick his face into the chimney, where they promptly drop a brick on his head and barrel into Mommy, causing them to drop the shotgun. The cat and mouse games continue, with Alice trying to find a way out through the furnace vents and Fool confronting Daddy in the basement, who gets the drop on him via Super Happy Fun Slide and nearly blows his head off before being interrupted by a knock at the door. Fearing the cops, Daddy avoids pulling the trigger just yet, but Mommy opens the door to find Ruby, dressed in professional wear and claiming to be there seeking legal action again the Trumps for their unscrupulous real estate policies. Fool manages to use this distraction to seek refuge inside the holding pen with the Cellar People, who are now unequivocally on his side now.
Ruby comes back minute later with an angry mob of the entire ghetto community that the Trumps have screwed over. Mommy looks like she's about to open fire on the lot of them until Alice drops out of the ceiling vent like freaking Batman and knocks her unconscious, tripping the security system and sending all of the doors flying open. Their victory is short lived when Mommy comes to and somehow disappears out from under the nose of an entire crowd, sealing off the house and overriding the console in the front hall. Daddy hunts Fool downstairs, just as he is directed past a security system and into the building's old embalming room by one of the cellar people. The place has been converted into a vault of Scrooge McDuck proportions, with piles of paper money and gold coins lying about the place. Fool even nails the satire of this home by remarking “No wonder there's no money in the ghetto”. I have to ponder the practicality of keeping the door to your vault inside the holding pen for all of the roving cannibals that you have crippled and driven insane, who just maybe carry a grudge against you for all of that. Even if they don't try to eat you, then any one of them might just wander inside and start a fire or something, security system or no. The hits of this poorly thought out repository just keep on coming as Fool finds a bunch of dynamite there, underneath a stack of deeds. The noise attracts Daddy, who charges inside, shotgun at the ready.
Meanwhile upstairs, Alice confronts Mommy in the kitchen, telling her to her face that she is not her mother. Just as she is about to get knifed, one of the freed Cellar Boys takes the title of this movie to it's logical extreme, bursting out of the staircase and defending Alice. More and more of her mutilated “brothers” burst out of the walls and grates like the friendliest zombies of all, and I gotta say, it's just plain cool. Finally Alice stabs her captor, who is briefly menaced by what look like a few of Slipknot's back up dancers before she is mobbed and torn apart.
Downstairs, Fool manages to distract Daddy with a frankly ingenious time-release noise maker created by sticking coins into a slowly melted candle, and gets behind him, telling him point blank that he will detonate the dynamite in the vault by completing the security alarm's circuit unless Daddy drops his gun.
Daddy does not comply, so Fool acts on his threat. The resulting explosion carries through the house, somehow harming nobody but Daddy himself. I guess it was pretty old. Even the money is fine, getting blown throughout the house and up the chimney, raining down on the assembled ghetto townsfolk outside.
Alice and Fool sit down in the basement, the ordeal finally over as the Cellar people venture outside. Oh good, I don't see anything bad coming from a bunch of mentally and physically crippled morlocks venturing out into world they know next to nothing about after being forced to eat nothing but human flesh for their entire adult lives.
The People Under The Stairs is definitely an odd film, playing out in many ways like a reverse-Home Alone, with the home invader being a kid stuck in a trap-laden house by two criminals, except everyone in this house is playing for keeps. You also might have noticed a couple of sizable similarities between this film and another one that I reviewed earlier in the month: Locked inside of a killers house, a robbery gone wrong, sympathetic protagonists brought into crime due to crappy living conditions, a horrible secret in the basement, being pursued between the walls by a dog....
Yeah, I'm not sure if it's homage, a rip off or just coincidence, but Don't Breathe has a hell of a lot in common with this movie that came out over twenty years earlier. Between the two films, I have to say that Don't Breathe had an overall better execution, being more exhilarating, scary and with better performances, especially on the part of Lang as The Blind Man. But this film clearly wasn't trying to be as freaky, with the actions of the main antagonists being incredibly fun to watch, save the abuse of their daughter, and a much lighter overall tone, interlaced with some pretty clever Boys in Da Hood-style social commentary on real estate and ghetto life that gives the film a decade relevant tone, which can be said of a lot of Wes Craven's work. I still think that Scream is one of those perfect little time capsules of the 90's. I would say that both films have their strengths and are good for a watch, so I can definitely recommend The People Under The Stairs if you feel like venturing there.
Over the course of the month, I've discussed unoriginal films, unconventional films, horror movie cliches and clever subversion of them. We all know the basic tenants of surviving horror films: Don't have sex, don't drink or do drugs and never, ever say “I'll be right back”. But where did these rules come from in the first place? What are our codifiers? Our Ur-examples, if you will? Tonight we'll take a look at one of the original modern horror films, the movie that both set the tropes that we know today in stone, and also launched a franchise with the highest body count in horror-movie history. Let's slice into the 1980 slasher -classic, Friday the 13th.
Already the film sets it's quiet, unassuming atmosphere with a shot of the infamous Camp Crystal Lake, circa 1958. In the dead of night, a lone camera perspective creeps into one of cabins and passes over sleeping bodies of the young campers. Meanwhile, our yellow-shirted camp councilors are sitting together alone, strumming out a tune on the guitar and flashing each other do-me eyes over campfire songs. Okay, I've never been in the position to dispute or confirm this, but I sincerely doubt that any summer camp supervisor acts with the same mindlessly cheery, sing-along outlook that they do when they are around kids. I do however buy it when two of said supervisors sneak off for a little bit of dusty, splintery attic nookie. As they paw at each other, the Camera sneaks upstairs, surprising them both. The guy tries to explain what's going on, but the camera just lunges at him, with what I guess is a particularly sharp extended microphone and stabs him. As he falls back, the girl screams, the image freezing as the scream continues into the opening credits.
I'm going to take a second to talk about music again, specifically from the perspective of one of horror films. As we've seen with films like You're Next or It Follows, movies that attempt to pay tribute to the 80's slasher genre (A genre that actually started in 1978 with John Carpenter's Halloween) will often call upon the pulsing, buzzing synth music of the decade in order to complete the visual and narrative themes, sometimes more cohesively, sometimes a little more abruptly. You only need to hear the heart-racing beat from It Follows or the low, building tinkle of Stranger Things to go “oh yeah, that's the 80's alright”. But some of the very first slasher films of the decade, and even a majority of the films that people often think of when they hear the words “80's Horror” actually ducked a synthetic score in favour of a more timeless, orchestral theme. The original tension strings being sawed back and forth during moments of suspense or murder in Friday the 13th are a very memorable staple of the earlier films, and don't see a lot of repetition in this day and age, being both corny as hell and undeniable fun. Synth music was usually used less in the classic films (The occasional exception like the first Nightmare on Elm Street) and a lot more prevalent in the shlockier “slumber-party massacre” flicks that ripped off the more famous works like Halloween or 13th. It's an odd phenomenon when an homage to a style or genre actually pays a good deal of tribute to what people associate with the subject matter, rather than the subject matter itself. I am not saying that this is a bad thing, as I quite like the music in all of these movies, this is just a brief study of cultural perception.
The credits cut back to Friday, June 13th: The present day.
Damn, if that's the case then that original killer must be in their 70s by now, if not much older.
Okay, kidding., it's 1980's present day. Some backpacking ragamuffin is loping around the small town of Hope, New Jersey, starting conversations with dogs, asking awkward questions about the camp up in the woods that has a sordid history and basically doing whatever she can to make the locals seem uneasy. The residents of the diner all share a look when she asks about Camp Crystal Lake, even going so far as to call it “Camp Blood”. Subtle. Despite their misgivings, a particularly hefty trucker agrees to take the girl up close to the camp. She wanders back outside, the town's aging performance artist struts up to her like a drunken fop and rambles about how everybody is doomed and that she she should leave while she can. The trucker swats him off and Rufus smugly gets onto his bicycle with a bandy-legged flourish and cycles off with one long, drawn out “doooooooooooomed”.
That man is amazing. I wish I could bike off in any direction with that much gravitas.
This girl, Annie, says that she has been hired as a cook for Camp Crystal Lake and the trucker kind of goes back on his whole “Don't listen to that Crazy Old Codger” stance and recommends that she quit, citing the long list of nasty occurrences as cause to believe that the place might be jinxed: The murders of two councillors, a boy that drowned in the lake, some fires that occurred a few years after that, a previous attempt at reopening the camp that was cancelled due to bad water, and the fact that the former owner of the camp is now some burned out alcoholic. Annie responds by staring off vacantly and giggling at all of this. The clues all start to pile up and I realize that this girl's behavior is a lot more understandable if you imagine that she's whacked out on a shit load of ecstasy.
Back up at the camp, our menu for the night lines up, clearing the park and helping out. Oh, hey there young Kevin Bacon. Things are supervised by the new owner of the place, who looks exactly a 70's incarnation of Tobias Funke with those little cut-offs he's toting, and he's assisting Alice as she cleans the gutters. He mentions that she is a remarkable artist while also creeping up on her a little bit, and that's enough characterization for now. Steve sadly straps on some actual clothes and jets off in his jeep, promising to be back with supplies and making the kids pledge not to be picked off one by one by some shadowy threat hiding among the trees. Don't make promises you can't keep.
One of the girls, Brenda, is setting up the archery range when she gets a pretty effective little understated jumpscare by way of an arrow slamming into the target she's standing next to, fired by this chuckling shitstack, Ned. Oh Ned.
Annie gets dropped off another half-mile from the camp (Yeah, thanks for nothing, asshole) and manages to hitchhike onto another car, this one driven by the Camera. Oh no lady! That camera's dangerous! He conducts an entirely one-sided conversation wherein she fleshes out her backstory, only realizing that somethings up when the jeep speeds right past the camps entrance. The car begins to speed up and she bails, leaping out into a ditch and running through the woods, pursued by a mysterious flannel-clad figure. She somehow gets cornered by her pursuer, and her throat is slashed open, gushing (Or rather, trickling) blood as she falls to the ground.
Gotta admit, I actually didn't see that one coming so soon. Annie is easily one of the cuter characters, and the film did a decent job of setting her up as the protagonist with all the exposition being dumped on her. It's very Psycho and if not a direct rip-off, then at least a cunning use of the same trope. Always steal from the best.
Annie's killer lopes off towards the shore line to spy in on the rest of the kids as they go for a swim. We get to see most of the cast in swimsuits, Kevin Bacon in a distractingly tiny speedo and Kevin Bacon's distractingly large bulge. There is a brief note of tension as Ned seems to be having trouble in the water, but it turns out to be the old “Pretend to drown and play the 50-50 odds that the person to give you CPR is a girl so that you can molest her” trick that The Sandlot made so famous. Goddamnit Ned.
Meanwhile out in her cabin, Alice is fixing her hair hair when she is surprised by the presence of a sizable snake slithering around. She freaks out and calls in Bill, who just happens to be carrying a very unintentionally familiar machete, and asks him to kill it. Deciding that this requires their input as well, the entire cast piles into the same small room and absolutely trashes the place in an attempt to get to this lone animal. Lord, I'd feel better just keeping the snake as a roommate. Bill manages to chop it's head off, and the minor, relatively pointless crisis is averted. I suppose we were just setting up that machete.
Back outside the councilors are-
Jesus Ned, what the hell is wrong with you?
I'll bet the Cleveland Indians find all that whooping and hollering very offensive to the proud history of their sports team. His revelry is interrupted by a cop who bikes up to the place and starts pressing the kids about their purpose and if any of them have been smoking anything. He rattles off different names for weed so fast, I honestly expect him to actually hit them up for a joint at any second. He offers them a simple warning about crazy old Ralph before driving off to where he came from, leaving the group alone with Ned. That's never good.
Alice actually runs into Ralph first, finding him just crouching inside of the pantry like a pantry goblin. They exist. A lot of the jump scares in this movie are quiet, understated little things that are actually very effective, not in forcing that gut “HUAGH” reaction out the audience, but rather creating a sense of lingering unease with the knowledge that even the simplest thing can frighten you. Ralph peacocks around a little bit and lets them know that they're all doomed one more time before awkwardly cycling away. I really hope I can be like this man when I'm his age.
Bill switches on the power generator as the sun starts to hang low in the sky, and Bacon trots off with Marcie to feel each other up by the lake. Ned (For fuck's sake Ned) watches all of this, before he notices someone in a poncho sneaking around a nearby cabin. He goes to investigate and disappears from sight and the film.
Bacon and Marcie actually go in the same direction, conversing about their time at the camp and Marcie going off on a pretty random tangent about how she had dreams about the rain that turned into blood. Yeah, that'll get him in the mood for a little horizontal action. But fortunately Bacon is tuned out, clearly just nodding and smiling until it's time to bone down. They head inside the same cabin and start to strip down. Bacon discards his tanktop, and we're off to the races.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group is taking refuge from a coming storm inside of the rec hall and Brenda suggests some sexy shenanigans of their own, pulling out a board game and playing Strip Monopoly, which sounds ungodly tedious. Sure, it's all fun and games when you break out the board and titter the first time you land on a square someone owns and they have to take off a boot, but pretty soon it's three hours later, your feet are getting cold, your friend makes it around the board AGAIN without hitting any of your property, nobody wants to do the math on what the property tax means when it pertains to 20% of your clothing, a half-dressed opponent is napping while your girlfriend is mortgaging half of what she owns to buy back her shirt and you're considering getting naked right then and there if it will end this nonsense. That's when you remember why that painful boardgame was stuffed away in the attic to begin with and decide that you really have to talk your friends into playing Strippers of Catan next time. That game is way better. Just take an article of clothing every time a resource card is stolen.
Bacon and Marcie start laying into each other, and for an exploitational slasher movie, there is very little nudity in this sex scene. We just get a flash of an ass, that by the logic of their positioning, I can only deduce is Kevin Bacon' ass. How's that for a side of pork? Somehow in all of their wanderthrusting, these two doomed fornicators completely miss Ned's bleeding corpse on the top bunk, his throat also slit open. Oh Ned.
Spent and sweaty, Marcie wanders off in nothing but a rainjacket while Bacon reclines in bed, pulling on his shirt and putting a final nail in his coffin by lighting up a spleef. In a pretty well-timed moment, Bacon just notices a drop of blood fall on him as an arm darts out from under the bed and an arrow pierces through his neck, one of the more impressive and memorable deaths of the film, brought to us by Tom Savini himself. Also, was the killer just lying flat under the bed while those two were nailing each other right above them? It's amazing they didn't get a face full of sagging mattress.
Marcie doesn't fair much better, scrubbing up at the bathroom before investigating an odd noise and taking an axe to the face, all while she sort of stands there and weakly screams. Meanwhile back at the riveting Monopoly game, they call it just as it starts to get interesting and Alice seems to cement her status as our chaste, boring heroine by managing to not so much as flash her bra. None of the women in this movie seem all that interested in wearing clothes as Brenda pulls a raincoat on over her underwear and streaks off into the night. She has a brief encounter in the bathroom, narrowly avoiding the discovery of the killer and heads to her cabin, none the wiser. Back at the diner in town, Steve's record breaking 9 hour lunch finally comes to a close as he expresses his intentions to head back to camp despite the storm. He runs into engine troubles halfway there, but it seems whatever jinx or death curse everybody is talking about seems determined to get him up to the camp as a passing police officer gives him a lift. Man, these locals sure are eager to drive people up to a cursed campground that they are just as eager to warn people away from.
Not to be thwarted by her initial escape, the Flannel-clad Camera stalks up to Brenda's place, peering in on her. Brenda hears a noise and heads out to investigate in not much but her night gown, following what sounds like a crying child out to the archery range where she lets out a scream and...
Well that's it. I suppose she suffers some sort of shockingly visceral death off screen. We don't see her again for the rest of the film. Back at the Rec hall, Bill notes that he has no idea where Brenda actually went and they set off in search for her, not really aware of the fact that they are really the last two standing in all of this. They check her room, but only find a sizable wood axe in her bed. What the hell is that supposed to mean, is it some kind of ominous message? You could leave someones severed head lying around if you wanted to, but you just give your murder victims an axe that they could potentially use to defend themselves with. If I was a crazed serial killer (Again, there is no proof that I am) I would sweep the camp ahead of time and try to nab all the potential deadly weapons that I could. I'd have plenty of variety to choose from and it would encourage my victims to get creative with their self defence. Remember when Laurie Strode fought off Michael Myers with a coathanger? That was awesome.
Alice and Bill try to use the phone in the office, with Alice resorting to busting down a window almost immediately, only to find that the lines have been cut and all of the trucks have been ripped apart. See now, I'd be incredibly worried at all of this, but these two actually calm down, deciding that all of this shoudl be fixed by morning. Um, yeah. No. You're gonna die. A lot.
Steve gets dropped off at the entrance to the campground by the cop who gets called away on a report. He trudges up to the sign, before getting blinded by a bright light and offering a brief “Oh, it's you” to the Flannel Camera before it...gets him? I dunno, by the expression he's got, it looks as though he's getting sack-tapped.
Then the power goes out.
At this point, I would be halfway into my dead sprint for civilization, but Alice and Bill still seem to think that everything's okay
Bill heads outside now that the rain has stopped, thinking that this is all just an issue with the generator, leaving Alice all on her own. We are treated to what seems to be a three minute-scene of her making coffee, and it's arguably the best scene in the movie. It's almost silent, and there is something deeply unsettling about the way the camera pans back and forth to follow her movements from the pantry to the stove. We've already seen someone jump out of that exact pantry at her, and we as an audience know that the movie isn't going to pull the same trick twice, but the seed has been planted in our heads. Alice has no idea that she's probably the only person left alive at this point, and we're expecting SOMEthing to happen. But nothing does. And it's brilliant. Once the power comes back on, Alice heads back out to the shed and shit starts to get real when she finds Bill's body, throat slashed open and nailed to a very sturdily-hinged door by arrows. What, did the killer actually stick the arrows straight through his body and into the door, hoping that they would support his dead weight? Or maybe they just hung him up and then got a little target practice in. I really want to get into the head space of this killer. Alice naturally freaks out and hides in the common room, barricading herself inside and having the wherewithal to grab a baseball bat and lantern.
But the windows remain untouched, which the killer takes advantage of by throwing Brenda's brutalized corpse through a window. Oh, that's what happened to her. She just got kinda...roughed up? Maybe got a little strangled by all that rope she's wrapped in? Okay then. Alice freaks out about this for about twenty seconds before fleeing outside, where she sees headlights approaching the cabin. The driver gets out...and it's a middle aged woman in a big sweater. She smiles, offering to comfort Alice and investigate the problem. This is Mrs. Pamela Voorhees, a friend of Steve's.
Once she sees the body inside, she sighs a bit too melodramatically and bemoans the nature of Camp Crystal Lake, especially the death of the young boy back in '57. He drowned in the lake while the inattentive camp councillors were busy having sex. She becomes more and more unstable as she goes on, revealing that the boy was never a very good swimmer. She should know after all, being his mother.
His name was Jason, and today is his birthday.
Admittedly this plot twist comes a little out of left field. Any suspense of “Who's the murderer?” turns out not to really have a payoff when it turns out to be a character that is introduced five minutes before the big reveal. And yes, Pamela Voorhees is the killer in Friday the 13th. It's one of those fun little facts that horror movie buffs love to flaunt in front of people who naturally associate her hulking, goalie-mask wearing son as the face of the franchise. I actually love the idea of this nonthreatening, matronly woman as the cunning killer that has been slicing through the entire cast. The big reveal is done quite well and gives her character a hell of a motivation. She certainly doesn't want this place opened AGAIN. I'm not entirely sure why she revealed herself to Alice like this, but what the hell, we had to bring her in somehow.
Alice manages to outmaneuver Pamela and flees, running past an obstacle course of corpses (an obstacle corpse?) while Pamela mutters to herself, clearly off the deep end and hallucinating her son's voice goading her on to continued murder. Alice again uses her head and grabs a hunting rifle from the office, but doesn't have any ammunition, which is locked away. Damn these responsible gun owners! Pamela catches up and waylays brutally efficient murder in favour of slapping her around a bit. Alice beats her back again and flails off into the night. This cat and mouse game continues for the rest of the third act, with Pamela occasionally hacking through a door or grabbing Alice. It kinda undercuts the menace of your already subversive killer when they keep getting brained in the face with frying pans and rifle butts. That said, Betsy Palmer has one hell of a creepy smile
The fight finally makes it's way to shore, where Alice counters Pamela's large machete with a swiftly diminishing oar until it's down to bare knuckles and GOSH this is undignified. As Pamela struggles to her feet, Alice grabs her machete, and in one almighty swing, lops Mrs. Voorhees's head right off.
DAAAAAMN Alice, you hardcore.
Clearly exhausted and done with all of this, Alice pushes herself off shore in a canoe onto the dark lake, taking refuge in the middle of open water. She awakens the next day, the much less intimidating Saturday the 14th and waves down a squad car that has come to investigate all this talk of teen murderin'. It seems like the danger has passed, but we've got one more freakout for you folks:
Alice wakes up screaming in the hospital as doctors assure her that the zombie boy leaping out of the lake at her was all just a bad dream. Cool, can we write off all of the other films starring Jason as an extended hallucination as well? All eleven of them? Oh well. Alice asks about Jason, the boy in the lake, and the doctors reply that they know nothing about any boy. She hazily remarks that means he's still down there, as the scene fades to the smooth surface of Crystal Lake, which ripples ever so slightly...
It's a little slow for a horror film, and some of the camera effects have not aged well, but I think that overall, Friday the 13th has held up remarkably well. It has a solid plot and while the characters aren't exactly likeable, they have enough quirks to stand out. One of the major selling points is for the relatively unpredictable plot structure and the exquisite visual effects courtesy of Mr. Tom Savini. That arrow through the neck still looks great. Friday the 13th is an interesting beast, considering the franchise that followed it from such simple beginnings. It can be even downright chilling to people who know about the rest of the series when a character mentions things like Jason's birthday or when Mrs. Voorhees picks up that machete....
While later movies revolved around Jason, the focus of this one isn't really about the killer, or any specific character, but rather the site of Camp Crystal Lake itself. Many characters and even Mrs. Voorhees herself all note that the place is just where bad things happen. It's unlucky. The idea of the location itself being a major threat in the series is a neat concept that was never really explored once Jason slapped on his hockey mask and started knifing up fornicators. Pamela's dear son would go on to spawn a sequel-ridden franchise that would see Jason head into Manhattan:
To being pitted against other horror-movie icons:
To being shot into space and turned into a cyborg:
But I don't think his mother gets enough respect. The idea of a vengeful mother's grief turning into madness for her dead son is a very cool idea for a slasher, and Betsy Palmer really sells it. I also appreciate the almost entirely visual storytelling concerning Jason himself, in the brief flashes he is seen where there is clearly something...off about him. His deformed face speaks to some possible disability and makes his death all the more tragic, and Pamela's vengeance even somewhat justified. It's an interesting bit of character work that seems downright subtle for a horror movie. This film actually uses it's understated tone quite well, generating more unease and paranoia that straight up scares, and is still worth a look if you're feeling lucky
It was late, I wanted to get ahead of schedule with one more movie for the day, and an interesting film flashed across my Netflix library: The Pyramid. Continuing the trend of nothing but modern horror being available to me via streaming services, 2014's The Pyramid seemed to be worth my time. After all, Ancient Egypt hasn't been really represented in the horror movie circles very much since 1999's The Mummy shifted the tone of the standard mummy movie away from horror and more towards Indiana Jones-ey action/adventure. An attempt at bringing back the scary side of archeology seemed like a solid plan for a movie, the trick lying in it's execution. Let's enter The Pyramid.
As our story begins with a helpful title crawl letting us know that this is an account of a few putzes who wandered into an ancient archeological dig, a cold pit of fear is welling up in my stomach. Shots from the perspective of a camera man as the standard unrestful mob of Egyptians beats against the windows continue to make me break out into a cold sweat. There's a shot of a documentary film maker, Sunni, checking her levels and smiling as her camera man adjusts the focus, and sheer terror enters my heart.
I've been tricked into watching a found footage movie.
This....documentary, is chronicling the works of the Holdens, a father-daughter archaeological team that are overseeing a dig site outside of Cairo. The group has found a pyramid buried beneath the sand, which is unique in that it has only threes sides. Holden Sr. is convinced that the pyramid may contain the body of an ancient pharaoh, Khinoktinokten (I am attempting to spell that phonetically by the way), while his daughter Nora is skeptical, claiming that the level of sand build up that buried the structure is too deep. The pyramid potentially predates pharaoh Knock-Knock Tenactin, and possibly even his tough actin', as well as Ancient Egypt itself.The format of this movie actually gets a little confusing as we continue, when we start to cut to obviously non-diagetic shots such as a depiction of an imaging satellite orbiting over Africa. Back from the cameraman's perspective, the family is having a minor dispute over the uses of satellite imaging in the archeological process, with Holden thinking that it is too disruptive and that it interferes with a scholars ability physically explore a location, while Nora thinks that the technology provides a much needed edge in the field and that her father is just finding modern innovation hard to grasp. There is next to no point to this whole scene, beyond showing us the image of the entire pyramid to confirm that, yup, it has three sides. There really isn't a wedge in the relationship between these two and no real tension to absolve before the film is over. Holden is just being obstinate and Nora is just being a shit to her father for no real reason, even throwing in the occasional cutting remark as he struggles with the computer and accidentally reveals a photo of herself getting close with one of the dig technicians. This is probably supposed to be our main protagonist. Also, that's a very lovely glamour photo. Who took it? One of the diggers?
That night, the aforementioned frisky technician pilots a spybot into Nora's tent, fulfilling our sideboob quota for the film and introducing Shorty; an ungodly expensive-looking drone intended to plumb the depths of the pyramid and record everything. The next day, they finally unearth an entrance to the pyramids upper level, by way of a sealed off tunnel. While breaking the seal on the entrance, one of the labourers who has clearly never seen The Mummy leans in a bit too close and gets a face full of crazy gas, which appears to melt his face a little and make him lose his mind, falling to the ground in a spasming fit. Back under a tent, the group discusses the possibility of some kind of toxic air that has been brewing inside the pyramid, a mixture of dust, carbon monoxide and fungus that erupted outwards when the pressure equalized. Maybe that was something you could have mentioned before one of your workers got his brain melted by a face full of Egyptian curse dust, jackass.
Any further chances to off any more nameless, disposable Egyptians is quickly put to bed when Holden gets a call from Professor Buzzkill at what I can only pray is Miskatonic University. He explains that the civil unrest in Cairo is reaching critical levels and that they have been commanded by the government to leave, for their own protection. The guy on the other side of the Skype call in this scene might actually BE a university professor of some sort, considering how poorly he reads his lines. They protest and the argument continues into the next morning as it seems the entire campground packed up and bailed when nobody was looking. Nora tries to find a compromise, eager to explore the tomb while they still have a chance and suggesting that they send in Shorty. Holden eventually agrees while Nazir, Shorty's operator and Nora's almost completely unacknowledged boyfriend, pilots that little bot down the passageway and into the tomb. They get a few hazy pictures of hieroglyph-covered walls and some carvings of Osiris, which Nora claims that the Egyptians worshipped as lord of the afterlife and the first pharaoh....I suppose that's, SORT OF correct. It might have just been due to an exploitation of my curiosity around the tomb, but the initial jump scare of something streaking past the camera actually got me. A few more things scurry around, which might have been scary if they all didn't look exactly like rats, and then Shorty gets eaten by something big. They argue about what to do next, with Nazir mentioning that the robot is indeed astronomically expensive and that they are going to have to go get it. He manages to negotiate with the soldier who had been brought there to escort them to the airport and buys the group two hours to venture inside the pyramid. Nazir is headed in alongside Holden and Nora, Sunni the documentary-maker is following them as per their contract, and her British cameraman Fitzy, who has been recording all of this, is following her. So our assembled group of putzes gears up and heads inside, Holden grabbing a few flares to scare away the dogs that he assumed turned over the camera-bot.
They head inside with enough foresight to strap on dust masks that do not serve to muffle their voices in the slightest. The inside of the pyramid is dark and carries a geometric, winding feel that just reaches out for possible mind-bending construction, but falls short as I can't really tell where the hell anything is. I keep on trying to project something eldritch or lovecraftian on to what is just an all-too bog-standard Creepy Ruins set, and manage to keep disappointing myself.
The gang finds the severed 'Head” of Shorty and Zahir freaks out, all while Fitzy comments that there is something seriously wrong with all this. Also, with the gas mask on, he really sounds like Rhys Darby from Flight of the Conchords. The group reaches a central crossroads of thoroughfares directly underneath the apex of the pyramid, which Nora is eager explore. Zahir boosts her up, while fitting in a quick butt grope, until the entire group has gathered in the tip. I wonder who had to support Fitzy's butt.
They poke around, discovering that the room contains a small arsenal of ceremonial weapons and armaments, some of which have apparently seen use. Nora pockets a small Ancient Egyptian hatchet, which to it's credit does not immediately crumble to dust after laying on the floor of a tomb for several thousand years, and they head back down into the main chamber, Holden noticing that his safety wire has snapped.They are well and truly lost now. An attempt to navigate their way back, led by Nora, just leads them in a full circle (Way to go) and so they follow a different branch down into a sizable antechamber. And I have to say, there is a LOT of ambient light in this room for a place that, until now, could be navigated solely by torchlight. They find a few more chunks of Shorty and Zahir solemnly notes that “NASA is gonna kill me” right before the floor beneath them starts to give way. Any attempt at tiptoeing out of there fails when the floor collapses and the group tumbles into the antechamber below. The fact that they all were miraculously unharmed is averted a second later, when a rock the size of a humvee's engine block lands squarely on Nazir, pinning his leg.
By this point, almost everyone has taken off their dust masks for some godforsaken reason, and never really mention them again. I can understand not wanting to have half of your actors faces obscured for the duration of the movie, but introducing the need for dust masks, and then immediately having the characters discard them ten minutes later just makes them all look like incompetent dinguses. Nazir clearly isn't going anywhere, and Sunni notices a shaft leading out of the otherwise closed off room, figuring that this might be their ticket out. She mentions a background in rock climbing that never came up before, and gets to shimmying. She makes it about twenty or so feet up before noticing what seems to be a completely pointless alcove and the creature that it contains. I have no idea why this film is so eager to keep us in suspense as to what this mystery monster is, showing it only from the back and all, when it is very obviously a cat. It's a cat, people. We have our monster, it's an ordinary sized house cat with mange.
It gives her face a little scratch and she goes tumbling back down the chute, landing ass-first on Fitzy's face. She mentions not getting a good look at what attacked her, even though it, again, was very obviously a cat. She isn't too eager to go crawling up the cat pipe again, which leads to the group finally turning to the large, blocked off door that they seemingly completely ignored up until now. Holden is actually reluctant to start bashing down walls inside of the archeological find of the century, but Fitzy rather handily points out that their only other option is to die underground. They bust a hole open in the braced door and head through, leaving Zahir behind with a flashlight and a promise to return.
As the slightly smaller group continues to just sort of wander, I'm starting to notice that this movie is abandoning any attempt at a cohesive found-footage aesthetic. The camera keeps jumping away from the viewpoints of Fitzy, Nora or Sunny, who all have some sort of recording device attached to them. Look, I hate found footage films as much as the next guy, I think that they're an excuse not to write compelling dialogue and scene structure when all you need to do to build some semblance of tension is whip the camera around and have your actors spew out 50 different variations of “What the hell was that?” But even worse than sloppy, this movie comes off as ungodly lazy, gradually forgetting the point of a found-footage film and just switching to an omniscient camera angle watching these putzes in their pyramid. And so far, this movie has a single trick: having something run by the camera really fast and going VWOOSH.
The group hears a voice calling out in Arabic, and believe that it is the soldier from before, Shadique. They deduce that he must have found a way down to get them and try to ascertain where exactly the voice is coming from, but also hear Zahir's screams from back the way they came. There is a brief burst of music out of nowhere as the group heroically and idiotically decides to split up. Holden and Nora run back to the antechamber to find that something or other took Zahir, but left his leg. Nora has a minor breakdown and Holden comforts her, while back on the staircase, Sunni and Fitzy just sort of stand there until the archaeologists come back. Tensions mount as Fitzy speaks my favourite line of the film:
“The robot guy just got devoured by something!”
and Sunni starts to go off the rail, blaming the two for trapping her down there and eventually just loudly grunting at them. Okay, easy lady. Fitzy is actually the one to calm her down, noticing that the scratch on her face is starting to look badly infected. Initially I started to believe that her infected scratch was starting to make her hostile and maybe even turn her crazy, but no. A lot of people get infected by whatever is wafting around the tomb over the course of the film, and Sunni is the only one who starts to act off kilter and nuts. I guess she's just an abrasive bitch.
The gang heads into yet another pointless room and crawls into a tight tunnel, making it about halfway through before something starts to chase them. They scramble the rest of the distance and Shadique appears on the other side, pulling them all out and firing his rifle into the hole. Any kind of point to all this kind of leaves us when what was chasing them finally pours out of the hole: Cats. It's still just cats. Slightly bald cats, but cats nonetheless. Then someone even goes so far as to ask what the hell that was. IT'S CATS. IT'S JUST CATS! Have you never seen a cat before? Then something bigger pops out of the hole, grabbing Shadique and dragging him away. Okay, that came out of nowhere, and not in a good way, much more Looney Tunesey than any meaningful scare..Holden and Nora seem to forget that whole “Something just folded our military escort's spine on itself like a salon magazine” thing and start to explore the increasingly well lit pyramid, giving everybody a crash course in mythology that is roughly 40% accurate. They discuss the study of embalming, of the Egyptian afterlife and the judging that every soul must face before entering possible immortality, presided over by Anubis. I'm not even gonna try to correct all of this as there's a lot to go over. Just read Stick Gods on Tumblr. http://inonibird.tumblr.com/stick-gods
Fitz expresses his confusion as to what any of this has to do with finding an escape route, understandably antsy, considering that with both Egyptians dead, he's the closest thing this group has to a minority now. They keep going, and nobody even attempts to grab the abandoned assault rifle in one corner of the room. Dude, even if it's out of ammo, it's still an AK-47. Those things are built for bludgeoning.
They enter a side hallway, and Holden almost immediately triggers some sort of weighted trap that starts to fill the room with sand. The group breaks out into a run as the falling sand starts to cloud their vision, and Nora actually manages to get lost in a straight hallway, getting stuck and buried up to her waist in sand. Sunni makes it out, stopping just short of tumbling into a pit on the other side. Then Fitzy cements himself as my favorite character by blundering in to her and knocking Sunni down into an honest to god pit of spikes. What a fiendish trap for people sprinting through this pyramid with their eyes closed.
Holden manages to dig his daughter out, and Fitzy screams for help as a few more cats start to chew on their skewered dinner. Somehow, Sunni is still alive through all of this, despite having three spikes through her the size of soda cans. If not blood loss, you'd think hypotonic shock would have killed her by now. Holden scares away the cats with a flare and they actually attempt to yank Sunni off of the spikes, only succeeding in wiggling her around a little bit before she dies. Terrific. They head through another passageway, and end up back in the afterlife room from before, the labyrinthine paths of the tomb baffling them.
It's around here that the characters shoot a few more ideas back and forth, such as the fact that Holden has become infected by the bacterial disease that's floating around down here from the wound on the back of his neck, that these cats (Which Nora has started to call sphinxes. Have you even seen what a sphinx is supposed to look like?) probably survived down here for thousands of years by eating each other (Yeah, no) and finally the discovery of a few more bits of Shorty, one of them being it's still functional antenna. Fitzy manages to wire it up to his camera and they record a brief message to broadcast up to the surface calling for help. No real point or payoff comes from any of this, and that little monologue that Holden gives in front of the camera serves no purpose other than looking cool in a hypothetical trailer for this film. Holden's infection doesn't really do anything other than make him look a little shitty, and nothing ever responds to their cry for help.
While planning out their next move, the Nora feels a slight draft coming from behind a statue of Osiris, flicking a switch and opening up a secret door. They figure one door is as good as another, plunging deeper past a creepy wall of stone faces and into a more natural-looking cavern. In spite of myself, I actually found myself wondering if this film was going to bring anything interesting to the table. Maybe these natural caves led somewhere deeper, down to the remains of what REALLY built this pyramid. Maybe I would get my cosmic horror after all!
But no. They follow the cave into the burial chamber at the very bottom of the pyramid, and I dammit, I WILL point out that every major pyramid had it's burial chamber in the dead centre, surrounded by stone on all sides to ward off graverobbers. They poke around this still-very-well-lit burial room and find the decayed corpse of what turns out to be a freemason. These guys were supposedly master grave diggers, and if he never made it out....
Holden apologizes for nothing in particular as he wanders into the center of the shot, and I can already see it coming when some clawed hand punches right through his rib cage, nabbing his heart. The last two run for it, finding the way back locked off. Fitz actually displays a surprising amount of balls and decides he might as well go and see what this thing is, completely exhausted from all this running around. As he sneaks in, we finally get a good look at our beastie. It straps a somehow still alive Holden to a giant set of scales and weighs his heart, finds it wanting and then devours it, causing Holden's corpse to rapidly decompose (?). It turns around and...
Anubis. It's some kind of Anubis monster that is never really explained or elaborated on. Well that came right the hell out of nowhere. Is it a god? A cursed monster? An alien? Hell if I know. Why does Anubis always get such a bad rap in modern pop culture? He was never a bad guy, he was just the guardian of the dead. He's a doggo! So yeah, this Anubis monster somehow kept Holden alive after punching out his heart like it's Temple of Doom rules and then ate it, wandering off right after. He completely bypasses a cowering Nora (For a dog monster, he isn't very perceptive) and Fitz reunites with her. They return to the burial chamber and gear up again, Nora grabbing the remaining flare from her father's corpse and Fitz finding the soldier's body, nabbing his pistol. Bet you wish you kept that rifle now.
Nora finds a bunch of carvings on the side of a seemingly pointless sarcophagus that explains what is going on. This pyramid was built as a prison for Anubis. I suppose they trapped him by propping it up with a stick and putting a steak underneath. Anubis in the meantime is trying to find a way of ascending into the afterlife by finding a pure heart that will open up the way to return to his father, Osiris. I'm not sure if this means actually transcending the physical world, or just opening the pyramid, but come on. This guy has been down here for thousands and thousands of year and he hasn't tried to jimmy anything open in all that time? It doesn't really matter, because like every other plot point in the whole film, absolutely nothing comes of it. They figure that Sadique must have gotten in somehow, and the inscriptions reveal that one of the five shafts in the room leads to freedom. They do some astrological mumbo-jumbo while Fitz asks what the hell all of this has to do with finding an escape route, and Nora deduces the proper shaft to climb.
Well, yeah, it's the one with the very visible rope ladder poking out of it. Jesus christ Nora, you are completely useless. You probably could have saved time if you ran around checking each shaft. They climb, but leave all of their lights on and make as much noise as possible, leaving it very obvious to an irate Anubis where all of his potential sacrifices have wandered off to. He scuttles up the shaft after them, with Fitz unloading his pistol at the thing with seemingly no effect before he gets grabbed. Nora briefly stuns the monster with a flare and climbs to safety, until Anubis just silently pops up “Oh no you don't” style and nabs her. This movie could have ended right here and I would have been fine with it.
Nora wakes up tied to the scales and i swear this movie isn't even trying with the lighting. The whole room is just bathed in red and white light for no reason. She manages to briefly inquire to an unconscious Fitz's well being before he gets his skull stomped. Goddamit, I actually liked that character. He was easily the best actor in the movie, and unlike our utterly worthless main character, he actually had a likeable personality and positively contributed to the plot and escape plan. This whole “Final Girl” horror movie trope really has to end, it's 2016 for god's sake. Always making the last person standing of any given horror movie the attractive, personality-less young woman is predictable and stale. The audience isn't shocked by the deaths of the other characters, they see them coming a mile off because we have to do everything we can to save our pretty, nonoffensive white girl for the final minutes. Fun fact about killing off all of the interesting people: It leaves the audience bored with how the movie will end because they don't care about the surviving characters.
So Anubis shows up and I have to at least the practical effects team for some pretty solid animatronics on that big dog head. He looks ready to go all Mola Ram on her heart too (What, you didn't even try with Fitzy? I guarantee you that his heart is purer than Nora's) and our plucky heroine manages to saw her way out of the ropes and attack the monster with the ancient hatchet at the beginning of the film. Oh good, that thing came back. How amazing would it be if that thing finally crumbled as soon as it was put under an ounce of duress? How the hell is the blade so sharp? And don't talk to me about the Preservative Power of Pyramids. This bitch only has three sides, and you need four for that to work. The cats show up and attack Anubis for some reason, and Nora flees, back up the ladder and out of the pyramid, collapsing in the tunnel mere feet from daylight.
She comes to a little while later to see that some kid has found her, completely ignoring the prone, injured woman begging for help in lieu of playing with her camera. She rolls over to reveal that, oh no! She's been infected with the random Crypt disease that was never really explained! Plot twist? What is up with that infection besides making your face a little gross? Why did it turn that one guy crazy and nobody else? Anyways, the kid dicks with the camera, Anubis lunges out of the shadows and movie over. Thank Ra.
The Pyramid strikes me as the kind of movie that I would think up while I was 12: A bunch of guys explore an ancient temple and are one by one picked off by booby traps and maybe a monster. There is no other purpose or greater meaning for this film to exist. It just sort of does. We don't get any exploration into Ancient Egyptian mythology or culture, there is no grand revelation about the nature of the pyramid beyond “This pyramid is a bad pyramid” and the movie just sort of fizzles out on us. Nothing was gained. Nothing was accomplished. Nothing was watched.
In an effort to find something a little more, well, let's just say “Trusted” for today's review, I sought out a Stephen King. Namely, Pet Semetary, a 1989 movie that hopefully carried a bit more promise in it's execution. Films based off of Stephen King's stories operate on a very unique gradient going from excellent examples of horror to ridiculous but entertaining shlock. At the very least, all of his movies have proven to be watchable by some stretch of the imagination. I understand that Pet Sematary is one of the more well regarded King films but one of the less culturally influential. Granted, I've never seen the film, but you don't need to see The Shining to know that we owe creepy twins and REDRUM to that film, just as we know that IT can attribute to the local rash of costumed jackasses wandering around these days. Let's unearth Pet Sematary.
The camera opens with panning shots of the titular graveyard, showing off concentric circles of improvised grave markers, most of them bearing discarded collars or the occasional fish bowl.
God, this is depressing.
Some creepy atonal childrens choir sings over the whole scene and the camera leaves all that behind, pushing forward to a family moving into their new home in Ludlow, Maine. Good god, why is it always Maine? What did Maine do to you Stephen King?
These folks, their sixish daughter and infant son, Gage have moved here from Chicago and are eager to start a new life out in the country for some reason. As they explore, the daughter Ellie decides to play around on a tire swing, which immediately collapses around the same time that Gage wanders into traffic.
Holy hell, this family is doomed.
Gage is saved from being rendered into road pizza by a passing truck by Judd Crandall, an old man who lives on his own across the street from them, with the most adorable accent I've ever heard. He chats up the new neighbours, with the father Louis explaining that he's planning to join the local hospital. He heads into the backyard and notes the simple pathway leading off his property and through the trees, wondering where it leads. The family cat, Churchill introduces himself by being an asshole and prancing off and the folks settle down for the night.
That evening, Jud shares a beer with Louis and explains the presence of the Pet Cemetary in the woods behind his house. I can tell you that the way that the main road is shot, the trucks that barrel by the house are quite terrifying. Jud comments that the graveyard primarily exists because of that road, as it “Has eaten up a lot of dogs and cats in it's time”.
The next day, the family decides to take a hike out to the woods, guided by Jud. Oh boy, what a great idea to picnic up at an animal graveyard. The kids'll love it!
As a matter of fact, Ellie does kind of love it, skipping between the markers and exploring while Jud merely comments that kids have to learn about death some time. Children created the cemetery, it's unique name stemming from a misspelled sign hung over the entrance. Rachael, the mother, is less enthused, eager to protect her kids from such heavy thoughts. That night, Ellie even talks to her father about the thought of losing a pet, worried about the longevity of her cat. The discussion inspires the parents to take Churchill to the vet within the week, hoping that getting him fixed will reduce his wandering tendencies and keep him away from the road. Again, Rachael is very quick to make promises to her kids that she can't keep when she tells them that everything will be fine, which Louis confronts her on.
As he heads out to the car, some hobbling lady that I haven't seen before mumbles something about her refusal to stop swearing in front of the children and limps inside with a basket of laundry. A woman after my own heart.
The idyllic family life is quickly interposed with a shot of the visceral duties of a doctor once Louis gets to work, busily patching up patients and tending to one man with a particularly garish head wound. Despite his efforts, the man with the open skull dies, gripping onto Louis and mumbling about the soil in men's hearts. Okay...
That night as the family slumbers, an incredibly vocal mob of crickets descends on the house until Louis is startled into wakefulness by Head Wound, who's chilling by his bed and asking him to come outside. Wow, we're barely twenty minutes into the film and we've already decided to jump had-first into fully manifested ghosts and elaborate hauntings. For all his chilling appearance, Head Wound seems friendly enough, offering to help Louis the same way that Louis tried to help him. For his part, Louis seems to take all of this quite well, though he may just think that he's dreaming. The two wander outside to the pet cemetery, where Head Wound points to a wall of fallen trees and warns his doctor not to go any further before disappearing.
Such is the problem with any horror film when it comes to the lessons a phantom may try to impart: When you tell someone to stay out of the forbidden closet of mystery and don't tell them why, you really only have yourself to blame when they decide to peek inside and get eaten by something. The next morning, Louis wakes up in his bed, thinking that it was all just a dream until he sees his dirty feet...
After a quick bit of research reveals Head Wound's name to be Victor Pascow, Louis decides to banish his family to his in-laws for thanksgiving, sticking around considering that he can barely stand Rachael's father. He gets a call from Judd and finds that the road has claimed Church after all. Judd offers his condolences as Louis peels Church off of his front lawn, with his bare hands no less. That's real hygenic there, Doctor Creed. He considers hanging on to the news of the cat until after his family returns, But Judd suggests that there might be a better way...
He and Louis head out, down to the Sematary with cat in hand. They cross the barrier of trees and venture into the woods, Judd toting a pick and shovel on his back. At around this point I would start to wonder why I agreed to follow my shovel-toting neighbour out into the back woods and well out of sight of civilization with my dead cat, but I suppose Louis is really just up for anything, be it proposed by the living or the dead. If some vampire drove up to his place and was all “Yo, wanna see a dead body?” I have no doubt that this doctor would hope right in back. Dr. Ben Carson shows better judgment than this guy.
After what seems like an hour long hike and a climb up a steep escarpment, they finally arrive at The Burial Ground, a ritual site seemingly built by Native Americans.
I have to commend the design of the place; a few well placed sticks an rocks really make the place seem menacing and ancient. There is something eldritch about the burial ground, and very tangible. Judd promptly drops his pick and shovel and instructs Louis to dig, noting that “It's gotta be you that puts it in the ground”. Okay, I am smelling a gangland execution coming up.
So, Louis buries his cat and the two head back home, Judd encouraging his neighbour to keep what occurred up there confidential, repeating the words that Pascow said to Louis. “The soil in men's hearts is rocky”. I hope that if they keep repeating those words, eventually they'll mean something.
The next day, Louis gets a call from Chicago. It seems that Ellie is upset about something, claiming to have had a dream about Churchill dying and her father burying him with Judd's help.
Okay, we need to pump the breaks for a minute. This premonition that Ellie Creed had has introduced the third, unrelated supernatural event that the Creed family has experienced since they moved here. That's what you get when you go to Stephen King's Maine: Before you know it, your car is haunted, an alien is psychicaly communicating with your goldfish, your dead neighbour is yelling at you in your dreams and your daughter is talking to a sewer-dwelling clown. This combination of a foreshadowing ghost, a Cursed Indian Burial Ground and now the daughter's manifesting psychic powers represent a common issue I have with Stephen King's work. This cluster of loosely connected paranormal occurences is bogging down the story with a few too many ideas. King has a habit of mounding one idea for a spooky story on top of another with little connective tissue between them, leaving the story feel bloated and a little confusing. More often than not, this needless complication takes the form of a child or adult with utterly unexplained psychic powers, which you might remember in works such as The Langoliers, Dreamcatcher, Children of the Corn and so on. I feel like there are better ways to explain the plot or add complications than some kid rolling their eyes back head and muttering out a quick synopsis. I understand that King has written a HELL of a lot of books, and on occasion things can overlap, but maybe he could lay off a few tropes for a while.
The next day, Church pops up, alive and well, though clearly looking like he dragged himself out of the grave. He gives Louis a scratch, seemingly irate at being left to dig HIMSELF up and wanders off. That night, he and Judd share another drink, and Judd explains the nature of the burial ground: Things put in the ground come back to life, but what you get isn't exactly what you put in. He explains that he used the burial ground on his dog, Spot, when he was a boy. The dog was never the same, more like a hungry piece of meat than his canine companion. At this point, he openly acknowledges that creating an evil cat revenant to keep a child happy was probably a bad idea, but he says that he intended to help protect her from adult concepts like death.
Wait, aren't you the same guy who brought that girl to the graveyard in the first place so that she could learn about death? And also, you know that the Burial Ground doesn't work exactly as advertised, yet you introduced Loius to it in the first place. ALSO, you know that animals buried there come back as hostile and dangerous and you decided to give one to an unaware six year old? The ball-dropping that Judd commits in this scene is staggering for a character that, up until now, seemed to be an intelligent and capable voice of reason. I can see where that parody of his character from South Park came from. He dismisses Louis with a reminder that the ground should not be taken lightly, and the doctor heads home. The resurrected Churchill continues to act slightly more evil than an average cat, and the wife and kids finally return.
The plot takes a minor detour when Mumbles the Maid rather unexpectedly hangs herself in her basement due to cancer. This scene kind of comes right the hell out of nowhere, and doesn't seem to strike much initial purpose beyond getting the obligatory Stephen King cameo out of the way as the priest at her funeral. The purpose of all this becomes a LITTLE clearer when the characters all start to talk about their experiences with death and loss. It seems that Rachael had an older sister while she was growing up that died of Spinal Meningitis when she was young. The flashbacks depict her sister as a woman with a very...odd bone structure and visible spine, and these scenes might have been a little more disturbing if Rachael's “Sister” wasn't clearly played by a male contortionist in a wig. She mentions that she ended up hoping her sister dead close to the end of her life, if only to spare the rest of the family the suffering of having to look after her, and that the pain she endured made her spiteful and bitter. I suppose this scene exists to remind us all of the important lesson that the terminally ill are cruel, hideous monsters that we should only wish death upon.
Some time later, the family and Judd are enjoying an idyllic picnic in the sunlight-kissed field next to their house in a scene that carries all the warmth and familial innocence of Bruce Wayne leaving the movie theatre with his parents. The scene cuts back and forth between the Creeds and a shipping truck piloted by some Jonah Hill-looking dude as it becomes very obvious that things are going to get nasty. Gage flies a kite a little too far out and runs off to retrieve it, while the entire group is distracted by the proud moment of Ellie uttering her first profanity. How many times can you take your eyes off of that damn kid? By the time that Louis notices that his son has wandered out into the road and started sprinting out to him, it's a bit too late to get to him before that oncoming truck does. The panicking father even trips a few feet away for good measure and...welp.
The scene depicting the death of Gage is pretty well shot and the camera resorts to that ol' Mad Max style “Cut to flying bloodied personal possesion” shot to save us from the visual of a 2 year old being flattened by a semi. On Louis's part, I can imagine that being able to properly display the mind-obliterating anguish of being a father who has just lost his youngest child is difficult even for a skilled actor, but even in a scene like this, I have to question the authenticity of a man sinking to his knees and letting out a big, loud “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!”
So yeah, that kid got wrecked. To add insult to injury, Louis's father-in-law actually picks a fight at the funeral, punching the father in the face, knocking the child's coffin over and screaming that he is a murderer. Holy hell, that is rough. This story has started piling on the trauma with a shovel to the point of being almost unrealistic. If I were one of Louis's friends at that funeral, I probably would let the poor guy get one or two swings in before pulling him off of his wife's dad. Back at home, Ellie ponders the idea that a merciful God would bring a families loved ones back to them. And Churchill continues to be a shit.
Finally, Judd comes over that night and puts the cards on the table: Of course Louis is thinking of burying his son up at the Burial Ground. He reminds him what a shitty idea this is, stating the citing that somebody actually tried this before with their own son, a KIA soldier. He came back alright, but it didn't exactly pan out.
Judd was there the night they burned that house to the ground to stop the abomination within, even as he was eating his own father, and offers a simple, chilling warning: Sometimes, dead is better.
Rachael heads back to the in-laws with Ellie, and her father makes at least an attempt to apologize for his behavior at the funeral, though by this point, Louis is mentally shattered. Maybe think about that before you vocally and physically assault a man inches away from his son's casket. As soon as they get to Chicago, Ellie immediately has more psychic visions out of nowhere about the dangerous path that her father is taking, mentioning Pascow by name. Rachael...somehow recognizes this name, even though I never saw her even be made aware of his existence up until now, and makes a run for it, determined to get back to Maine and prevent her husband from doing something terrible, all with Pascow hanging out nearby.
Louis heads up to his son's grave with a shovel, ignoring the advice of Judd, the experience that he had with Churchill's reanimation, the story of the initial attempt at human reanimation that resulted in the deaths of everyone involved, his own common sense and even Pascow's ghost visibly standing there and yelling at him that this is a really shitty plan. Louis is the five year old that you spend five minutes explaining the dangers of touching a hot stove, only to have him touch it as soon as you turn your back. I am beginning to see why his son kept wandering into traffic. He digs up Gage's corpse and books it, all while Rachael has more dreams of her sister trying to haunt her. She wakes up on the airplane back to Maine, with my absolute favourite shot of the movie: The distraught mother willing the plane to land faster while the mutilated phantom of Bascomb watched her while looking really damned pleased with himself.
She lands and sprints onto her connecting flight with Bascomb helping her along, back in 1989 when you could just bolt through a departure gate while offering the flight attendant a rushed IOU.
As Lous makes the trek to the Burial Ground, more and more forces attempt to dissuade him, including an unexplained screaming face that lunges out of some rocks and then disappears. Where the hell did that come from? Who was that? What the hell?
Rachael gets a flat tire on the last leg of her journey and is forced to hitch hike back home, arriving too late to prevent Louis from burying his son's body and trudging back home. As he sleeps, something small and smelling of the grave enters his room and steals a scalpel from his doctor's bag. Across the street, Judd wakes up and notices a trail of small, muddy footprints leading inside. He quickly puts two and two together and begins searching his house, something about his expression and movements making him look a lot like Leslie Nielsen. Pulling out his switchblade, Judd looks fully ready to knife this kid as soon as he sees him, but the giggling Gage gets the drop on him, slicing his achilles tendon and giving him a nasty Glasgow Grin with his knife before finally coming in to view.
And it isss...just...a baby. It's just the actor who played Gage wearing a little funeral suit with some minor scarification on his forehead. Gotta say, that coroner did a bang up job on the body if that's what he looks like after getting mowed down by an over turned 16-wheeler. Is that really the best you could do when it came to making a hellish abomination child? Get that kid to sit still long enough to at least put on a little eyeshadow? Come on, I paid for the movie, I wanna see you corpse up that toddler! He proceeds to be very unintimidating at a gaping Judd and then chomps on his neck like the littlest zombie of all. For so much build up, this is very disappointing.
Rachael enters the house soon after and it's the same old song and dance as Judd. We get one more flash of her transvestite sister (Hey, if she wants to be referred to as she, I'll call her she) and then Gage shows up again. In a little...top hat and cane. And a dress. This kid does not know how to put on the Ritz. I get the feeling that maybe Bascomb's ghost could have braced her a bit more for what she was gonna see, or at least warned her that this film was taking a hard turn for the unintentionally hilarious. She gets knifed up offscreen and we cut to Louis waking up with a pratfall. Great.
He notices that things are askew and gets a call from Gage, summoning him over to Judd's place. He loads up with a few syringes and gets ready for his showdown with a toddler, testing out the poison on Churchill and finally putting that damn cat down. At this point, Louis is pretty unhinged, which is horror movie acting code for “Just stop trying”. This isn't helped when he enters Judd's messed up place and hears Gage taunting him from upstairs. He finds Judd's mauled body, then quickly afterwords, Rachael's hanging corpse.
Dammit, they killed off Tasha Yar AGAIN! And it's still unsatisfying! So much for any character arc she might have been having with her sister and everything. That is gonna lead to some awkward dinners with the in-laws. A cackling Gage appears from above, and I have to wonder exactly how this two year old managed to carry these corpses around, much less drag them upstairs. It is not a matter of strength or capability, but rather of physical dimensions. I do not care bout how inhumanely strong this kids is, a child barely clearing the knees of an average person cannot carry their limp body up a ladder. We're talking about leverage here. Then, in a very bizarre trend in the Stephen King films I've been watching, a grown ass man wrestles with a much smaller opponent, this time a scalpel wielding baby. He finally manages to inject the kid, who stumbles off to collapse in the most adorable death scene ever, and Louis leaves the house with his wife's corpse, torching it behind him.
Bascomb's ghost makes one last chance trying to warn Louis against doing exactly what he's thinking of doing, but Doc is completely checked out at this point, rambling about how he'll make it right. His wife died very recently after all, so the process will have a different effect on her. Damn, now Louis is proving himself to be the five year old that burns himself on a stove after you explain why he shouldn't, then proceeds to keep touching the stove, determined to figure out what it tastes like. The last scene of the film is a completely broken Louis playing solitaire on the kitchen until a sullied Rachael wanders in. She shows off a little bit of the gross skull face she got and they kiss. We fade to black as she grabs a kitchen knife behind his back, and Louis actually sounds surprised as the credits roll.
Pet Sematary is a movie all about how we deal with death and loss. Some believe it must be confronted and discussed, like Judd, while others try to shelter themselves and others from it, such as Racheal. These ideals can change in the face of genuine loss, such as the death of a pet or loved one. Some people are haunted by their past experiences with death, such as Rachael's sister, and other deal with it every day like Louis at his job. And sometimes psychic's come back as ghosts or something. As much of a fizzle as the last quarter of this film is, it still has excellent pacing and set up through most of the storyline, fueled by solid characters. The repeated lapses in judgment of the main characters can be somewhat explained by the influence of the Ground itself. Judd mentions that it gets inside peoples heads, wanting to be used. The film raises some troubling questions about the nature of ethics and connection. How far would you be willing to go to bring back a loved one? Is untimely death ever fair, and if you had the chance to re balance the cosmic scales , no matter the cost, would you? It isn't hard to imagine a parent ignoring every warning or possible disastrous outcome if it meant seeing his dead child again.
I can suggest this film for a spooky, sometimes disturbing film with the occasional bout of ridiculousness. I also recommend the original story, which King actually avoided publishing for numerous years after writing it, as it haunted even him. Plus, that book also has a wendigo. And wendigos are rad.
This film represents my first recommendation, a movie brought to my attention by a work colleague that had experience and interest in Canadian cinema, and suggested I look at something more local for my month of seasonal reviews. The Scarehouse is a 2014 horror film that was filmed in my own academic backyard of Windsor, Ontario. My interest was of course, piqued. A movie like this might be something that I could be capable of, given hard work and time, and it seems that many of the actresses and artists involved went on to further and impressive work. With no other urging needed, I decided to enter The Scarehouse.
A frame and time stamp pop up on a black screen as the film begins, and I am initially afraid that I'm watching another found footage movie. The Gallows did a number on me. No? It's a little hard to follow with somewhat erratic editing, but the opening of the film seems to be clips of a home video interspersed with shots of two girls pulling together some kind of sorority-funded haunted house. This film has such a jumbled timeline and muddled dialogue that information is very sparingly provided. This movie is a puzzle from start to end, and someone's been hiding pieces. Initially, I believed that the narrative was following a gaggle of sorority girls as they prepared for a night on the town, interspersed with a few of their friends preparing the haunted house that they would be visiting. It's hard to gather any information from these early scenes, given that my brain just sort of tunes out into white noise whenever I'm watching a movie scene feaeturing numerous “gals” nattering meaninglessly at each other in that way that I'm pretty sure only exists on screen. Granted, I have never been privy to many sexy sorority shenanigans, so my sample pool for this sort of thing is very small.
We get our titles, and cut to two of the girls from the aforementioned shenanigans prepping the last details of their haunted house, complete with automated pop up scares, strobe lights and spooky mirror halls. These two are Corey and Elania, two girls I remember from the home movie shots. They take shots from a hip flask and mess with the initial guests that wander through, before retiring to the command center of their haunt.
While the standard line up of guests wander through the main entrance, there is also a secondary, exclusive door for VIP guests, under a monitor marked “Slut Cam”. Cute. The first of said sluts arrive, a girl named Emily wearing a sweater she looks like she borrowed from Chris Christie. Corey and Elania flash each other a mischievous grin and let her in. Emily has only a few seconds to wander into a strobe lit hallway before one of the girls throws a bag over her head.
By the time the bag comes off, Emily is tied up by the wrists and the duo of pranksters are standing before her wearing hoods and long cloaks. They begin to strip and beat her and good lord, this movie took a turn. At first I thought this was some sort of hazing ritual, but this seems like actual revenge as Elania mentions letters that she sent to Emily and Corey just sort of vamps in the background while swishing her cloak. They strip the rest of her top off and wriggle her into a corset, all while deriding her desire to be thin. Are they getting revenge on her for fat shaming them?
I know that this review isn't being very up front with plot relevant information or over arching themes, but that's mainly because the pacing and storyline is such a mess, I feel the need to pull you into my perspective; trying to figure out what the heck is going on and who the hell all these characters are on a blow for blow basis. Anyways, the girls decide to play truth or dare with a tearful Emily, tightening the corset more and more every time she refuses. And also every time she says “dare”. And also any time she says “Truth”. I get the feeling you just really wanted to girdle-torture this girl. Eventually they actually hook the strings of her corset up to an industrial winch and just squeeze her until something pops. Elainia is clearly horrified by all this and vomits right on top of congealing pool of bile seeping out from Emily's ruptures organs and oh god.....I am so sorry I wrote that.
Corey continues to be sort of “Meh” about the whole thing in that 'Bitchy Evil Girl” way that is always off puttingly artificial every time I see it. Corey finishes her off with a knife and they drag the body off.
Why did this happen? Why are we here? I sure as hell don't know. The scene in question is shocking, to be sure. Emily's confusion and the lack of sympathy from her uninformative tormentors threw me off balance, but there is so little information going into such a drawn out scene, that I don't know where to put all of this shock and revulsion. What was the point of all this? What did it show to the audience or add to the story? When you open a movie with someone being killed, it should introduce a character in a memorable way, or affect the story in some manner. This whole thing is just a scene of a woman being tortured to death. That's it.
Another girl comes in on the “Slut Cam” and the two murdering ladies bag her up too, leaving this one tied up in a room with Emily's corpse. Between the two, Elania seems to be the more hesitant to carry out what I'm assuming is a grisly night of nonspecific vengeance, but as always, Corey is entirely unsympathetic and continues to egg her on. Judging by the home movie clips that I am beginning to depressingly realize will be frequently interspersed throughout the film, these two girls are targeting their former sorority sisters. The next girl to come in is the tightly-dressed Katherine, which they jump and choke out while dressed as opera birds.
We're back in the murder room for this one, and a little more story is revealed by Kat when she wakes up chained to a board marked “Slut” and stripped to her panties. She wonders how these two girls “Got out”, revealing that they both have spent the last two years in prison. The following dialogue mainly consists of three girls all being unpleasant to each other as they hurl accusations concerning ruined lives and moral compromises at each other. It seems that there was some big crisis concerning the death of a kid named Brandon, and the rest of the sorority threw these two under the bus to save themselves.
Hey! We finally have a motivation half an hour in!
Then it's party time. Corey and Elania both accuse Katherine of being “Fake” and proceed to tear out her various enhancements, including her hair extensions, nails and false eyelashes. Again, there isn't really any greater point to all of this, it's just a roughly acted and edited scene of two women tearing bits off of a third, nearly nude woman who is strapped to an upright board...
Holy crap, I'm watching torture porn, aren't I?
A secondary wave of revulsion swept across me as I watched Corey pull out a scalpel with plans to remove Katherine's breast implants. It was not due to the fact that I was about to bear witness to a screaming girl's vivisection, but the realization that I was supposed to garner some kind of thrill out of watching it. Not necessarily the same kind of thrill one would get from watching actual porn, but the kind of adrenaline rush from watching a woman desperately reach for a screwdriver to stab the hand of the man trying to pull her through a window, or the visceral shock of watching a larval alien burst out of a man's rib cage. This was supposed to be, on some level, entertaining.
I had to pause the film and pour myself a drink. Tequila this time. It seemed appropriate.
A mutilated Katherine mocks them, stating that she happily slept with Elaina's boyfriend after she went to jail, in response to which Elania stuffs one of her own breast implants down Kat's throat, suffocating her.
Hey, you know why that torture scene is Casino Royale is so good? Because it isn't about the torture. Even though actual impact or injury is ever shown, the situation is obvious and I don't think that you need to have a pair of testicles to wince when you hear the sound of that knotted rope slapping against flesh, but the tension in the scene isn't drawn from the torture itself, that's just window dressing. The scene is about the power play between James Bond and Le Chiffre. Who will give out first? What can our hero do? There is more to the scene than just a bunch of balls hitting against a nutsack. It is a pivotal moment in the film where Bond is at his lowest, in the hands of an enemy and stripped of everything, even his clothes. All he has left is his soul, and that he refuses to give up, but it is clear that he is going to die here. But if conclusion is so forgone, why doesn't the audience loose interest? Because he's James Bond! The story so far has shown him survive countless obstacles and deadly circumstances, and we KNOW that there has to be something that he can do. That tension is what draws an audience in and makes even the darkest and most simplistic of scenes thrilling.
When I see some lady getting her tits cut off by a pair of vengeful former friends and then forced to choke on them, I don't feel anything other than slightly nauseous because I know how this is going to end. She'll die in some disgusting manner just like the girl before her and the story will move on like checking boxes on a list. There is no expectation of anything else. It's just a drawn out torture scene for it's own sake and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
There is a brief attempt at witty dialogue by way of a gay joke, and the two girls quickly dispose of a drunken frat guy who wandered in on their pity party, locking him in a closet. There is some debate over the logistics of their little murder house, and I have a few questions of my own. How did two presumably escaped convicts, or at least paroled ex-cons, get the money and resources to rent out an entire building and create this elaborate fun house? How did they get into contact with their former sorority mates? Why would they invite a stream of people into the scare house when that seems to be BGGING for someone to wotness what you are doing? How did two people manage all of this? Why would a series of attractive women agree to come one at a time to this dingy, back alley “party” without anyone they know inviting them? That sounds incredibly risky to me. In any case, the two prepare for the next girl, with Corey showing off what seems to be some kind of electrified dildo filled with broken glass and-no. I don't want to go on.
Elaina comments that “I don't think I can watch this one” and I couldn't agree more.
So I stopped. 36 minutes into this 80 minute film I just stopped and went off to do something else. I had no reason to continue subjecting myself to this. The acting was stiff, the characters were either barely fleshed out paper dolls to be shredded up or two dimensional “Yarr, I done been spurned” vengeful psychos, the story was linear and unremarkable and I had no desire to continue watching torture scene after torture scene. I wasn't grossed out or sensibly indignant. I was just bored. I had no reason to keep watching, there was no tension to keep me hooked. No uncertainty as to what would happen next. I knew I was just going to keep watching a series of unsavory, poorly paced murders and bad line reads of a worse script until the movie ended, probably with the death of one or both of our “Protagonists”.
Do you know why I love John Carpenter's The Thing so much? Because it keeps you guessing. There is of course, the big mystery in that movie of who is human and who isn't, but even smaller moments, like where a given character's loyalties lie or what new plan the humans will think up to route out the traitor in their midst. Even when the monster shows up, it wears uncertainty like a skin. The Thing has no form of it's own, so whatever that shifting mass of flesh is going to turn into, it's going to be something you've never seen before. The disgust you feel at seeing that flashy, pulsating head sprout thin spider legs and scurry off is also fired by a desire to see what it's going to do next.
There are also a billion OTHER reasons why The Thing is my favorite horror movie, but you get the point.
The Scarehouse has no tension. It is utterly joyless and It has no point. It was not worth finishing and not worth anyone's time. In a bout of curiosity, I looked up the people responsible for this film, the director, actors and other associated artists. I am happy to say that almost all of them have gone on to do better things, working and starring in some pretty high-profile work.
For those of you who feel cheated out of a full review, I hope witnessing my slow descent into depression and surrender was enough for you. I assure you that this film has not broken me. Tomorrow's review will come, no matter what.
You're Next was a film created by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barret that first premiered in 2011 at the Toronto International Film Festival. After it's initial showing, the film had trouble finding distribution, various studios passing the buck and giving up rights, which delayed the films release by two full years. In 2013, Lionsgate picked it up, then proceeded to avoid releasing it after a poor test screening. Finally, they released the film in August of 2013 to a very successful box office, given it only had a $1 million budget. Hmm. A film festival horror movie that lingered in release hell for years before being distributed by Lionsgate, a bastion of horror movie quality if I ever heard of one.
Don't see how watching this could possibly be a bad idea.
Our film opens with a remarkably mismatched couple having loud, obnoxious sex in their room in a forested abode. Let's see; opening minutes of a slasher film, an activity between two people already in progress with little information, annoyed by their sex grunts enough to be unsympathetic and a secluded house in what I'm guessing in somewhere in New England?
It doesn't take a genius to tell you that these two are chowder.
Sure enough, one of them heads out to crank up the tuneskies, and his ladyfriend disappears with her open shirt to parts unknown, clearly watched from afar by some buzzing presence.
That might just be the soundtrack, but it's so audible and jarring, it might as well be a character in the movie on it's own right.The man wanders around in a towel and sees a hastily scrawled message on the outside window, which is backwards from his perspective. This guy spends so long trying to decode it, he almost completely misses his girlfriend's bloody corpse lying on the ground just past the backwards text. Then he's grabbed by a man in a fox mask and swiftly macheted.
We cut (hah) to the next afternoon, as a couple drives through same woods towards a sizable mansion. These two are Crispin, an english professor at a local college, and his girlfriend Erin. They are headed up to Crispin's parents for their 35th anniversary and on the way, they trade backstory info such as his father's recent retirement, his sizable severance package from a defence company and that one neighbour that lives nearby who recently left his wife for a college student. Gosh, I hope they're okay.
We zoom ahead to the house and the parents in question. It seems to have been a while since they were in the old place and the mother starts to clean up the house. She gets uneasy when she hears something shifting upstairs and asks her husband to investigate. Dad creeps around upstairs and holy hell, this music. Look, I appreciate an impressive, thematic soundtrack as much as the next guy and I love some solid synth work, but this is really over the top. Even when Dad is casually walking through the house and checking on that mysterious sound he heard, the soundtrack is trying to convince me that this is all TERRIFYING. It is so powerful and in your face about the tone it is trying to convey that it overpowers the visuals of the film at certain points, which do not entirely sync up. Another big issue is that the score of this film does not quite fit the rest of it. Beating, 80's style synth music can be very impressive when used effectively, but it is such a distinct genre in itself that the music has to match the tone and visuals. This movie is trying to get away with what Drive and Stranger Things did so well with their similar scores. Drive's visuals match up with what is seen on screen, specifically the neon ultracolours and beating pace of the film itself. Stranger Things on the other hand is steeped in the 80's up to it's eyeballs, from tone, to visuals, to cinematography. You're Next is trying to pay tribute to the slasher films of that decade via narrative, but it is visually closer to modern horror, with a tinge of gothic. As such, a more orchestral score would fit this movie better.
For the record, I know nothing about music. This is just my opinion.
Crispin pops up and gives his dad the ol' sneak and grab you might remember from every horror movie ever. He got to the house along with Erin and...shimmied up the drainpipe in order to surprise his dad, I suppose. They share a laugh and head downstairs, not witnessing a nearby closet sloooowly creak open. This moment might have been understated and creepy, if not for the aforementioned blaring music to accompany it.
That evening, The Mother is fixing things up in preparation for the arrival of the rest of her kids while Erin and Crispin mumble at each other upstairs about family and parenting. Mother is fidgeting about the place downstairs, clearly not noticing the very clear Halloween allusion going on just outside her window as a masked figure observes her from afar, his white animal mask reflecting against the glass. I have to say, this scene is quite well shot. It makes the action of turning on a light into a small and enjoyable jump scare.
The siblings start to trickle in with the arrival of Drake and his girlfriend Kelsey, and all he has to do is open his mouth and start ragging on Crispin for me to quickly develop a dislike for this self-absorbed ass. We're getting into the “awkward family reunion” phase of the film where a dickish gradient of family members pop up and introduce themselves before getting fed into the meat grinder. The whitest New England family of all continues to arrive and converse inside while Crispin talk to his father and faces the most terrifying thing this movie has presented us with thus far: Parental guilt!
While Drake attempts to feel up his girlfriend, the last two couples arrive. The lone sister Aimee and her artsy boyfriend Tyrique show up alongside Felix, the young burn-out and his Opinionated Alt Chick, Zii.
If she tries to talk any of the other girls into a threesome, I'm leaving.
Actually, I probably won't.
The dinner party kicks off and almost immediately, things melt down into passive-aggressive insults, aggressive-aggressive confrontation and more than one non-family member burying their face in their hands. Tyrique is an underground filmmaker, it turns out Erin used to be one of Crispin's TA and Drake continues to keep his head firmly lodged up his own ass as he is almost single handedly responsible for the erupting strife at the dinner table. I start to glaze over and check the clock as Tyrique gets up from the table and walks over to the window, inspecting something outside. He barely gets halfway through a muttered “What the hell is that?” Before receiving a crossbow bolt in his forehead.
Let's get this party started.
The family dives for cover as two more bolts shatter the windows, one imbedding itself in Drake's shoulder as he shoves his mother out of the way. Crispin tries to call the police but can't get a signal, which Felix deduces is most likely the work of a cheap phone jammer. Amazingly, Drake actually takes time away from having a crossbow bolt embedded in his lung to call out his brother on knowing something so sketchy. Trapped in the dining room, Erin gets the bright idea to use chairs as shields as they make a run for the main hall.
Now having taken cover in the main hall with an unknown number of assailants outside, Drake pops into his Vicodin stash that someone like him would obviously have, and the group weighs their options while still managing to pettily argue with each other. Okay, I'm starting to like this bickering now. It's actually used for humourous effect as opposed to manufacturing dramatic tension and helps keep the tone firmly rooted in Black Comedy alongside Horror. Aimee says that she is the fastest now that Drake is out of commission and they formulate a plan to have her sprint straight through the front door and far enough out of range to call the police. It's a decent enough plan, but it turns out that in addition to having crossbows, these guys have some sort of future sight. It is the only explanation I have for the taught piano wire mounted across the front door's threshold that would only be effective if someone were to run full tilt directly into it, and mounted at a height that would strike most people on chest but is just the right level to slash Aimee's throat. Which is exactly what happens.
hat an amazing series of coincidences necessary to provide such a creative kill. The family tries to save Aimee, but there's not much to be done and she bleeds out in seconds. The hysterical mother retreats upstairs, seemingly the only one who is really choked up about the situation while the rest of the family tries to mentally regroup. Again, Erin provides the voice of reason, reminding people to stay low and avoid windows. I'm starting to like this girl.
Mom lies down in her bed, clearly emotionally destroyed by witnessing the horrible death of her daughter. But she doesn't have to worry about in for very long as that sneaky Mr. Fox creeps out from underneath her bed with his machete at the ready.
Erin heads to the kitchen to gear up, grabbing a knife and putting pots of boiling water on the stove. She's pretty damn cavalier around such large windows for someone who knows that there is a man with a crossbow out there, but as it turns out, that isn't what she has to worry about. A man in a Kitty mask punches through one of the windows to grab her.
She then proceeds to stab him in the arm so hard the blade sinks into the windowsill, pinning him in place. It's only when she searches for another knife to finish her assault that he manages to escape.
Did I mention that Erin is Australian?
Kelsey heads up stairs to check on Mom, discovering what is left of her with a machete lodged in her face and the movie's title hastily scrawled on the wall. Damn, that's one hell of a cold open.
The father is naturally horrified and the kids try to take him back downstairs. Okay, I know that this isn't the best time, but you know that there is a murderer loose in the house, and there is a perfectly serviceable machete RIGHT THERE. For a movie with characters that have so far displayed a high level of intelligence in this situation, it's odd that nobody nutted up and tried to King Arthur that viable weapon out of Mom' skull.
Also, did one of these killers bring a paintbrush or something? Is that blood or did they bring red paint? Why would you go to such lengths to paint your scary message right next to the much more vocal image of a mutilated victim? I think that Mr. Fox took way too much time on that, considering that a lone Kelsey finds him hiding under the bed, which is enough to scare her downstairs and out the front door. Drake tries to pursue and yanks out the bolt in his shoulder, immediately fainting.
Kelsey sprints into the woods, finding the neighbours house to be full of some very unhelpful corpses. A man in a Lamb mask shows up in another reflection shot which these people are really milking, and takes out Kelsey with a punch and proceeds to practice his golf swing with a fire axe as the club and her head as the ball. He takes a moment to sit down, leaving the axe lodged in the body's head. Guys, it you just keep leaving your weapons jammed inside of your victims, eventually you're gonna run out of weapons.
Back at the mansion, Crispin still thinks that the “Run for safety” plan is still the best one, cutting the piano wire and promising Erin that everything is going to be okay. He flees into the night.
Bye Crispin, can't wait for you to show up in act three in an unexpected manner, as either a corpse to trip over or one of the murderers!
The dwindling gang hides Drake behind a curtain and Erin runs to grab more kitchen utensils as weapons. Bet you're starting to miss that machete now, especially when Kitty bursts through the window with Kelsey's body and winds up to take down Erin. Erin is having none of it, taking advantage of his wide stance to throw a kick at his groin. She then proceeds to take him out at the knee with a meat tenderizer, get to her feet and unhesitatingly BASH his skull to pieces. Oh hell yeah, it's gonna be THAT kind of movie.
This woman is amazing. I will be very upset when she dies.
At this point, I am wondering why these killers haven't cut the power to the place, just as they proceed to do so. Felix, like an idiot, suggests that they split up and check on their father while Erin heads downstairs on her own to flip the breakers. Even more amazingly, Erin agrees. Meanwhile, Dad has found out that the man who killed his wife is potentially still in the house and goes a snooping, finding a small nest in an unused closet, complete with sleeping bag and pee bottle. He confronts Felix and Zii, having realized that they have been under observation for days and that this is no random killing spree. The words have barely left his throat before it is opened up by Mr. Fox and his reclaimed machete. As Dad bleeds out, Felix watches him die...and Mr. Fox awkwardly sidles into frame.
Whelp, turns out Felix and Zii are in on this. I'm guessing that this is an inheritance thing. He chews out Mr. Fox for killing his father right in front of him while an unaware Erin manages to restore power. Also, I'm noticing again that she avoided picking up that hefty looking fire axe in favour of hanging on to her meat tenderizer. Why would you leave it there? And don't tell me that she's too weak to use something like that. This woman turned a man's head into a nacho platter with a cooking implement. While she's downstairs, Lamb sneaks in and finds Kitty's body, clearly choked up about his death. He hears Erin and attempts to kill her with that oh-so pesky axe until Drake gets back on his feet long enough for Erin to stab a distracted Lamb with a screwdriver. He flees and the group re congregates.
Drake, whom I now care about purely through process of elimination heads downstairs with Felix while Zii helps Erin with putting nails through boards as another layer of defense. Erin explains that she's such a bad ass because she was raised on a survivalist compound by her father, whom I will only accept was Burt Gummer from Tremors, while Zii shoots her murderous looks and contemplates beaning her to death with a 2x4 every time she turns around. Now that she has elaborated on her back story, I start to feel as though there is a ticking clock over this woman's head.
Down in the basement, Felix grows impatient enough to stab Drake to death, who is so loaded up with painkillers that it amusingly takes almost half a workroom's worth of tools lodged in his rib cage before he drops, all while his brother whines about how hard this is for him.
Erin heads upstairs to check on Dad, finding his corpse and Mr. Fox waiting for her. She bails straight out of the second floor window in a move that may not have been her best and limps off into the night, a shard of glass stuck in her thigh. As she hides among the trees, she spots a bloody screwdriver and quickly deduces that Lamb is nearby, ducking past him and running back inside. At least lock the door behind you! She hides in the same alcove they stuck Drake in as Lamb comes in through the window, landing right on the nail boards that she set up. Nice. It is notable in this movie and especially the following scene where they argue with Felix (Within range of an eavesdropping Erin) that the killers are very human. They are in this purely for the money and are all ex-soldiers. They bleed and yell in pain as much as the protagonists do, and Lamb is furious about the death of Kitty, who was his brother. If you tickle them, do they not laugh?
Felix decides that their job is almost done and turns off the cell phone jammer that he himself mentioned earlier. This allows a text that Erin sent to 911 to actually go through and her phone buzzes, alerting everyone to her position. Erin swiftly pulls the glass shard out of her leg, which I sincerely doubt you should do and tags Mr. Fox in the neck (With her bare hands, not the large shard of glass that I can add to the list of carelessly discarded weapons). She limbs outside, then doubles back into the house as the quartet of murderers all try to track her down. Lamb heads back towards the house and almost immediately receives another kitchen knife through the eye socket because seriously, those masks very clearly offer TERRIBLE visibility. Erin FINALLY grabs his fire axe and things look like they're gearing up for the climax.
Erin then decides that instead of using the axe as a weapon, she'll keep up with this Home Alone shtick and rig up a complex looking pendulum-trap designed to deliver the gift of axe face first to whomever opens the door. This fails to pan out within seconds, as Mr. Fox just comes back in through the same window that he's been using this whole time and chases Erin into the basement. She grabs a hunk of firewood and starts shattering lights, luring Mr. Fox into the darkness with a digital camera set on auto flash. This trained soldier decides to walk directly towards this obvious diversion and Erin manages to get the drop on him, knocking Fox down and caving in his head with her firewood.
She heads back upstairs, still adamant about not picking up that damn machete, and manages to disarm a crossbow-wielding Zii. They fight in the kitchen until Felix barges in and enters the messy melee. The two on one fight is very chaotic and fun, taking a turn for the ridiculous when Erin manages to come out on top, stabbing both of them through the top of the head. Zii gets a knife in her skull and Felix gets the bottom of a blender jammed into his head, which Erin then proceeds to turn on.
Erin takes a load off after all that, yanking out the knife that Zii buried in her shoulder when she gets a call on Felix's phone. It's Crispin. He wants to know if everyone is dead yet.
The mastermind of the whole operation strolls back inside, again through the window, and finds no one alive but a very bloody and VERY pissed off Erin giving him a death glare and probably already mentally sizing up his coffin. Crispin actually attempts to mansplain his way out of trouble, elaborating that yes, he and his brother Felix hired a trio of mercenaries to kill his entire family and their friends in order to collect on their fathers inheritance, but ERIN was never in any danger! Honest! She was just supposed to be a passive witness that could confirm their story. He just didn't know about that whole “Raised by Austrailian Doomsday Preppers” thing. He tries to bribe her with the payout coming their way, mentioning that ever present beast known as student loans. Erin stays quiet during all of this, but it's clear that she's just waiting for him to get into stabbing distance.
And a-stabbing she will go, quickly driving her little knife into a sufficient number of vital areas, until a gunshot to the shoulder takes her off of her feet.
Ohhh, BOOOOO! Seems as though the cops have finally arrived and completely misread the situation, Night of the Living Dead style. The lone officer wiener calls for back up and a paramedic before heading inside, and that fire axe finally pays off while a wounded Erin tries to warn him. One splatter of blood later, the credits start to roll.
Eh, no loss there. And Erin'll be fine. Ambulance is on it's way and it won't be hard to convince the cops that those two less-than-provoked killings weren't the work of one of the murderers.
I ended up really enjoying this movie. It has a deliberately slow start which switches gears seemingly halfway through the first act into the bloody fun that the rest of the movie excels at. In many ways, this film is a spiritual successor to Scream. Scream was made for people who grew up on old school slasher movies, while You're Next was made for people who grew up on Scream. It displays a remarkable understanding of horror movie tropes and how to cleverly defy them while still maintaining a tense , scary “Who's next?” atmosphere. Sure there are a few remarkable coincidences , such as that thing with the piano wire and the fact that the killers didn't booby trap any other exits, but more often the complaints you would have as an audience member are a completely different set of complaints than you would have from your average slasher films. Erin has become one of my absolute favourite horror movie protagonists, and deserves a spot right alongside Ashley J. Williams. It's not perfect, but I can highly recommend You're Next to anyone who wants a thinking man's slasher film.
Once you see enough horror movies, they do start to run together somewhat. Common tropes start to stand out and the structure of your average fright fest starts to become very apparent. Some people like to examine and deconstruct these tropes and cliches in an effort to make something new. They introduce a level of genre savvyness into their characters, or make a villain that defies traditional cliches. Sometimes a talented person applies this philosophy to their work and we get an iconic movie like Scream. Sometimes we also get a movie like Jeepers Creepers: A 2001 movie that claimed to be the next generation of horror, standing alongside the likes of Friday the 13th and Halloween. Does it come close?
No. No it does not.
But we can still make fun of it.
Our movie begins with two siblings on a lengthy road as they head back from spring break. The high, whining voice of Justin Long pierces my ears and clues me in to what kind of movie this is going to be right away as he curses his sister, the route they are taking and the world in general. This is Darry, one half of the main protagonists alongside his sister Trish and boy oh boy do these two foster an instant dislike from me. Their back and forth as they drive along open country roads and play a game of spotting vanity plates is interspersed with school yard-level insults and name calling, which do not do much to endear me to either of them. Why must they be so unpleasant? I understand that siblings bicker, but there is a way to write brother-sister relationships that doesn't make me want to reach through the screen and strangle both characters until their voiceboxes are crushed.
Finally their ceaseless nattering is put on hold when a beat up old truck lunges in from behind them and starts honking, swerving back and forth like it's trying to run them off of the road. For a moment I get excited and think I've put in Duel by mistake, but after a solid minute of panicked yelling and honks, the truck drives past them with another blast of it's horn and Dairy yells after him. Then they duck back into the car and get back to their chatter, highlighted by a juvenile game of “Nu-uh, Uh-hu” when they try to name the license plate of the truck; BEATINGU.
We get an entire visual representation of this movie with Justin Long peeing in a field and a little bit of set up: Trish needed a ride home from spring break and wanted to take the lengthy back roads for...some reason. I don't know, maybe she likes country music and radio preachers. They talk about an old urban legend back at their school about two high school sweethearts who disappeared on a country road like this and I think we might be getting somewhere until they jump back into name calling and I start to bounce my head off of the coffee table.
As they drive past an old church, they spot the truck from before parked nearby and the owner, some dude dressed like a cowboy, carrying hefty bundled shapes out of the car and tossing them into a large sewage pipe. He spots the siblings watching him and hops back in his truck, trying to run them over again. This time he does a number on their back bumper and runs them off of the road. And then he just...keeps going, leaving them there. Okay, jerk. You don't wanna eat us right now? Do you have somewhere to be? Fine! We'll just keep arguing with each other!
The issue with characters in most horror movies is that they are by and large disposable. When the credits fade and the protagonists gather on screen, you know that someone is going to die. Maybe halfway through the movie to raise the stakes, maybe at the very end during the climax, but the point is, someone's gonna get it. The job of a horror film is to make us not want that to happen. They have to give us something to like about a character, to make them funny or sympathetic, give them a goal to work towards so that when they die, the audience feels a genuine sense of loss, which is where the stakes come from. Threat of death is the baseline fear in almost ever horror film, and if you don't give us a reason to like or root for our main characters beyond “They're the main characters” then the audience just starts rooting for the bad guy to kill all of these irritating people. And that's not horror anymore. That's just gorey slapstick.
Back at the plot, Dairy has decided he wants to go back to the church and investigate the pipe. This is an astonishingly bad idea considering that they both know that the things being thrown down there were clearly bodies, and nothing good will come of their little fact finding mission. Trish flatly refuses, but Dairy wins her over with the possibility that someone might be alive down there. They head back and Dairy actually has his sister hold him by his feet as he stretches down into the pipe, calling down as Trish explains that this is exactly what gets people killed in bad horror movies. Both siblings get freaked out by a few rats and Darry thrashes around like an idiot until his sister lets him go and he slides down into the blackness.
Darry comes to and tells his sister that he's alright while poking around and telling himself how much he sucks. No arguments here. As his eyes get accustomed to the light, he sees the bagged up bodies nearby and goes to investigate, finding that one of them is still alive. This survivor is either way too into body mods or had a pretty sketchy back alley appendectomy judging by the way his torso has been mesiily sewn up, and quickly dies while gasping out an attempt at a warning. Dairy gets his flashlight back and starts to poke around the basement, finding a table of bizarre implements covered in cobwebs (Which don't make a lot of sense if the Kowboy Killer comes down here often) and a few bottles of goo on a table depicting some kind of demon. While tying his shoes, a little bit of goo drips on his foot and Dairy realizes that the ceiling is covered in mounted dead bodies.
I can imagine that this is supposed to be a big, scary moment, but I can only think about the logistics of such a thing. First of all, I don't care how well preserved your corpses are, something here is going to stink. And I don't mean a noxious odour, I mean Dairy here would be gagging as soon as he went down the pipe. And secondly, unless this murderous cowboy has somehow gained access to the plastinization procedure that Bodyworlds uses, no way are even the most well embalmed corpses going to look like a bunch of actors hired to pose nude after at least 20 years of being mounted. This point even gets hammered in when he sees a pair of bodies wearing a “Class of 75” ring. It is so unrealistic to think that these bodies would be in such good shape after so long that I am completely pulled out of the moment. He finds a way out of the basement, and Trish gets a minor spook from a conveniently out-of-focus truck that barrels past her, then another predictable jump scare when Darry slams against the window like a psycho.
These two shouty kids shout at each other some more, then take their car to a local diner and then shout at the customers until the phone rings. Some odd sounding lady has called them, babbling about cats and how something is hunting them. She claims to know them, pointing out their physical characteristics such as the colour of their car and Dairy's ill-conceived rose tattoo he has on his navel. Okay, I've been looking at that thing since he conveniently tore his shirt in that exact pot in the pipe and I really have to ponder the head space of a guy who voluntarily gets that image emblazoned on their body in that spot. I know for a fact that Dairy Queen here does not have any sort of emotional depth that might grant the tat special meaning, and if you're looking for a way to impress the ladies, I doubt what is barely a step above a tramp stamp will be very alluring.
Anyways, Ms. Cleo tells them over the phone that whatever is hunting them is some sort of devil or demon or hungry thing. She asks the two to think about the song, “Jeepers Creepers” and asks them and the audience to think hard about the license plate that they saw on the truck. “BEATINGU”? “B EATING U”?. Get it? Man, it sure is easy to get the point of all this ingenious narrative symmetry when the film throws it right in our faces and tells us to think about how clever it is. They respond to this helpful info with nothing but wrath, yelling at this lady and generally being terrible. They contact the police and continue to be shouty dicks to the cops that answer their call, until the waitress tells them that there is some creeper outside sniffing their collective panties. I guess that previously mentioned load of dirty laundry in the back of the car payed off. And just watch, soon the monster will be sneaking peeks up Justin Long's skirt and getting nosebleeds. The cops dust for prints and Trish wonders how this weirdo got in and out of there so quickly....
The siblings head back onto the road, with the cops tailing behind them. The police car gets a call that the church they were told about had gone up in flames and meanwhile in the Impala, the worst brother and sister I've ever seen gets into ANOTHER shouting match when Darry hears a disco remix of “Jeepers Creepers” and starts to freak about it, screaming at nothing while Trish screams at him. The Pines Twins, these two aren't. I suppose playing the song summons him or something, because the Jeepers Creeper decides to drop down and start messing with the cop car, which our two heroes are clearly too self absorbed to notice.
One cop gets nabbed and the other gets decapitated with a previously unseen battle axe that we will never see again. The prescence of a severed head bouncing off of their roff finally prompts the duo to stop the car, and they decide to sit there and watch as Jeepers gets out of the cop car and casually starts to make out with the police officer's severed head, until he takes “no tounge” to new levels of enforcement, chewing it out of the head's mouth. The car is stricken with the standard horror movie affliction of not being able to start until it is dramatically convenient and they bail.
Trish is clearly upset about all of this and stops the car at a random house, seemingly out of spite. She plans to call “Someone” for “Some Reason” and calls out the houses resident, some filthy cat lady. She rambles creepily at them and I am worried that I am about to see yet another bitch fest until Cat Lady notices that someone is pretending to be her scarecrow.
She pulls out her double barrel and takes a shot at the Jeeper, managing to completely obliterate half her cornfield but missing the cowboy. Once again I have to wonder what kind of ammo a gun in a horror movie is packing to do something like that with a single shot. The old lady runs into the house to save her cats and is swiftly disposed of. We finally get a good look at our Creeper and he is one jowly man-eating demon. I think he needs to invest in a little botox.
The horrid siblings pile back into their car and attempt to run over their pursuer, but he's fast enough to do some sick backflips and run over their moving car in a way which I suppose in intended to make him look frighteningly competent but ends up being goofy as hell.
Finally Trish manages to nail Jeeper and in a remarkable moment of intelligence, waives getting out of the car to check if he's dead in favour of backing up and running over his body several times. Atta girl. A demonic wing sprouts from his otherwise still body, and the kids hightail it out of there.
They finally make it to the police station and run into the lady who called them earlier. She's a psychic with unexplained precognitive powers straight out of a Steven King story that offers the kids some exposition. I seriously have no idea why this woman is here, beyond acting as a means to elaborate on the monster. Apparently, this creature awakens every 23 years to eat for 23 days. During this time, it devours body parts to replace those that it has damaged or lost, so there seems to be no way to permanently kill it so long as it has a fresh supply of body parts. It chooses it's prey by scaring them, then smelling something in their fear to tell it whether or not they have something it wants. That's why it freaks people out on the road. It can't just turn up the heat a little bit, it has to be TERROR sweat.
Reeling from this info dump brought to them by a ladies very informative dreams, the kids proceed to act like jackasses and angrily grill this poor woman who is just trying to help them for more information. I receive a calming reassurance that one or both of them is going to die very soon when the power goes out at the station and one of the police officers finds a naked Jeeper downstairs, dining on the guys in lockup. Miss Cleo tries to get the kids out of there, and they seem to take every inconvenience to yell at her again. You just found out that precognition is a thing that seems to be totally unrelated to the monster that's chasing you, and you're upset that her incredible future sight doesn't tell you EXACTLY what to do? Entitled pricks, the Precrime guys in Minority Report at least knew that they had to some sleuthing and leg work in addition to the whole “seeing the future” thing.
The cops swarm the staircase and one of them gets a hole punched through his rib cage as the Jeeper descends on them. The kids are pushed upstairs by Miss Cleo, who gets sniffed up by the Creeper, but abandoned. I suppose he doesn't have any interest in a brain that can see the future and is just as confused by her presence in this story as I am. Upstairs, the kids make a half assed attempt at hiding in a room they were specifically told to avoid and get one last, mercifully silent, bickering match in before the Jeeper bursts in, clearly as fed up with this nonsense as I am and eager to put it to rest. He sniffs both of them, and the big narriative twist come crashing home. He was after DARRY THE WHOLE TIME! Yes, that is the big climactic reveal: The monster that has been chasing our main characters the entire movie intended to eat one of them. Shocking, I know.
He grabs the brother and puts on a show for the riot cops who burst in, flaring his wings and flexing his face webbing. The armoured, assault weapon-wielding police officers respond by doing absolutely nothing. Trish comes forward and begs Jeeper to take her instead, sparing her brother. Hey, I have an idea, why not take both of them! This is yet another pointless scene when the Creeper goes “nah” and flies off. The police officers continue to stand there.
The next morning, Trish takes one last chance to yell at the incredibly helpful psychic for not being more helpful after doing exactly what she told them not to do and heads home, looking at a bird for some reason. Meanwhile in some distant, cobwebbed factory, we are treated to the melodious sounds of a screaming Darry and a shot of his mangled body. It turns out that Jeeper was after his eyeballs and hole punched them right out his skull. Get it? Jeepers Creepers, where's you get those peepers? Oh god so dumb, Okay, I'm no doctor, but I'm pretty damn skippy that in order to get those massive visible holes in someone's head, you'd have to hollow out their entire skull. We are essentially looking at the convex side of a spoon. Man, the Creeper put a lot of effort into that last shot.
What to say about this movie? It's biggest weakness is easily the protagonists, a pair of unlikable, immature, inflammatory dickbags that I take no pleasure in watching. This move can really only serve as a creature feature, and they show off the monster so much that it either looks like a dopey cowboy or just plan dopey looking. It's design is pretty cool with those little headwings, but then again, so was the Xenomorph in Alien. And the alien was scary because it stuck to the shadows and didn't hobble around like a naked man who has locked himself out of his house. This movie makes an attempt at being clever with Trish's occasional bout of genre-savvyness, but still falls into the same horror movies cliches that it seems desperate to avoid. It isn't all that scary, not fun to watch and has probably ruined that song for me now. Pass this one up.
30 Days of Night was originally developed and published as a comic book miniseries that was created by Stephen Niles and Ben Templesmith. The series was only three issues long, but told a harrowing tale of vampires laying siege to a small town. The adaptation into a film came later in 2007, Starring Josh Hartnett. How many vampire movies is too many vampire movies for me? Do the life sucking Cat Monsters from Sleepwalkers count as vampires? How does one define vampires?
Meh. I don't know. Let's watch Fargo vs. Dracula.
The story begins in Barrow, Alaska, a refinery town that is far north enough to endure a month of uninterrupted polar night every year. It is isolated, has no roads in or out beyond what a snowplow makes, and the closest thing they have to a cell phone tower is three welded-together bed-frames. So yeah, who wouldn't want to live here.
We get some impressive looking wide shots of a man in a very snug looking parka looking at a frozen over ship out in the tundra before hiking over to the town.
On the outskirts of Barrow, Sheriff Ebon Olsen (Yes, that's a name that someone gave to their child) is investigating the charred remains of a pile of satellite phones. It seems that someone has been busy. Ebon is worried by the theft and destruction, though arguably not nearly as much for someone who just lost his connection to the outside world. He says that it's no prank, considering that's there's no note. Ah yes, the absence of a prank note opens this case up to investigation. Like that time I toiletpapered a neighbors house after nailing my theses on why they were a dick to their door. Also, Ebon is asthmatic, though this will barely come up again in the story.
On the way back into town, Deputy Billy alters the signpost to reflect the reduced population of the town during the darkened month: 152. As the sun sets, Parka man goes to work, breaking into local kennels and killing sled dogs. I suppose he's just knocking them out of the game early so we don't have to see their horrid deaths later in the film. Meanwhile a federal Fire Marshall named Stella has just finished her inspection of the refinery and is eager to head back out of town to the airport for a few reasons, chiefly being that she doesn't feel like chatting up with Ebon, who is her estranged husband. A man driving a terrifying-looking chainsaw tractor accidentally runs her off of the road, causing her to miss her flight, so now she's stuck in town.
Ebon checks in the skeleton crew working at the refinery and we get introduced to a few more set pieces like Carter and Wilson, a foreman and helicopter pilot respectively, as well as a huge grinding machine called “The Muffin Monster”. And you just KNOW that somebody's going into that thing. Wilson is pissed off because somebody's trashed his chopper, and warning lights start to go off in Ebon's head.
Seriously, Ebon. That's his name. It's like he chose that himself during his goth phase and never got rid of it.
The sun has set, and a local meterologist on the edge of town is having issues with his internet connection, and heads out to thump on the router, where he is quickly surrounded and slashed up by a group of hissing strangers.
Back in town, Parka is causing trouble at the diner when they won't serve him raw hamburger and is enough of a nuisance to get arrested by Ebon with help from Stella, who also has a gun for some reason. Do most Alaskan fire marshals pack heat? Does she just have a sidearm for those particularly belligerent fires?
Meanwhile, a trio of workers are heading home and I'm pretty sure one of them is Sean William Scott. One of them gets yanked into the shadows, then thrown back a second later with a huge gash in his neck and gagging for breath. At least drink him, you wasteful jerk!
Back at the police station, The internet and phone lines start to fail, while Parka plays the pronoun game, talking about “them” and how “They” are coming. The power to the town goes out and Ebon heads to the weather station, which doubles as the town radio tower, leaving Stella with his grandmother and younger brother, Jake.
Ebon heads out and finds nothing of Meterologist Doug except for his severed head. In the meantime, things have started to pop off when a man's wife gets dragged out of the house by a shadowy baldy. He puts up a fight, but she is quickly abducted and eaten. Also, their house still had power. I suppose that it's not uncommon to have a generator up there.
Back at the Station, Parka manages to grab Jake the Wiener through the bars of his cell before getting winged by Ebon. Holy hell, that was an impressive shot. Ebon's impressive marksmanship is not explored further as he cuffs up Parka and demands to know what is going on. After getting nothing but another gibbering stream of crazy in response, Ebon heads back out with Starla to warn the residents that something big is coming. Hartnett plays the character well during the segment, becoming increasingly ragged and prone to fits of rage when faced with people or things that defy his strong moral convictions, like how close he comes to emptying a round of buckshot into Parka's head when he comes back to a bloodstained station, vacant save for a despondent Parka who weeps over the fact that they “Left him”. I seriously cannot see someone this unstable sneaking through town and pickpocketing everyone's cellphones.
Having survived an attack by someone who mounted their moving vehicle and shrugged off gunshots, Ebon knows that “they” are not something that he has ever seen before.
We finally get introduced to “Them”.
This assortment of pale, toothy socipaths are our vampires for the evening. While a little too monstrous for my own personal tastes, I do kind of like their visual design. These vampires are clearly sharks, with large black eyes slanted slightly downwards to give them a predatory look, grey skin and an entire mouth of sharp teeth. Their leader speaks to his clan in a language that tries to be composed of a combination of East-European dialects and animalistic snarls, but ends up sounding like Klingon. P'Tach.
He says that this is all just a great idea, taking advantage of a solid month of darkness to kill with impunity, and gives his followers a simple order: Insure that they separate the heads of all their victims to avoid propagation. Do not turn anyone. He then tells a guy that he is about to eat something similar: There is no escape, only hunger and pain.
The bloodbath begins, with a very cool overhead shot of the citizens of Barrow trying to ward off the enroaching vampires, dying as they are dragged fromt heir homes and fed upon or taken down while attempting to fight back. It's a well done shot and sells the hopelessness of confrontation.
Ebon and Starla make it to the diner and meet up with a clutch of survivors, including Jake, who escaped while they were eating his grandmother. They cook up a plan to head to a nearby house with a very well-hidden attic and Ebon acts as advance guard, scouting the place out and planning to grab some defensive supplies. He and Starla run into trouble when their car gets overturned by a swarm of bloodsuckers, but they are fortunately saved by the local snowplow driver. They escape and manage to get everyone into the attic, huddling down for the long haul. Meanwhile, Vampire King comes to the police station and thanks Parka for doing everything that he was told, insuring that the people of Barrow have no outside communication, helicopter or sled dogs. Parka nods, eager to accept his share in the bargain, but The Count just snaps his neck, musing on the gullibility of mortals.
Wait, you didn't want to recruit him? Why? He seems sociopathic enough to fit with your little coven, and you don't exactly seem like you're over stocked, you even lost a few guys during that snowplow incident. How long have you been using this guy? Did you just pick up a random lunatic? What are you going to do next time? Renfields don't grow on trees you know.
7 days later, tensions are starting to boil. Jake has started to openly use the V-word to describe the out of towners and the doctor is getting ready to leave alongside the senile father of Wilson the chopper pilot. Ebon shuts down potential mutiny, but admits that very soon, they will need to make a run for food. Their opportunity comes when they see a wounded woman wandering the streets, yelling for help. Ebon accurately defines it as bait and does not pursue the woman, letting her return to the vampires and get slashed up for her failure after Head Vamp mumbles a bit of nihilistic mumbo junbo at her through his big teeth. Ebon uses this advantage to make a break for the general store. While skulking between houses, he runs across John, the man who got his wife snatched from him earlier. He numbly explains that he can't remember how long he has been hiding and quickly turns out to be another vampire, having turned sometime during his fight. He is overcome by thirst and attacks Ebon, who is unwilling to use his gun because of the noise and ends up decapitating John with a fire axe, which he wisely hangs on to. He gets back to the house and is dragged back upstairs in the midst of an asthma attack while Head Vampire finds the decapitated corpse.
Wilson's dad decides enough is enough and storms out using his Old Man strength, eventually slipping out of a window with the old, “I have to use the bathroom” line. Wilson follows his father and both are quickly devoured while the baldy vamp pokes around the house he tracked them out of. Realizing that their current location is no longer secure, the gang moves under the cover of a white out to the general store, which is conveniently empty save for a lone vampiric little girl that eats one of them. You'd think that these vampires would stake out locations like this where potential stragglers are liable to hole up or at least take refuge in. I appreciate that the little girl vampire vampire is actually dealt with quite quickly, which is rare for movies featuring killer children or dolls: the entire group pins her to the wall and Jake decapitates her with a fire axe. Surrounded with provisions, they settle in again.
On Day 18, Ebon decides it's time to move again. For some reason. Maybe this place has too many windows or something. At this point I have to wonder what exactly all these vampires are doing for weeks on end. By my math, you have at most, 660 hours of absolute free reign over this town, provided that you don't sleep and give or take a few hours for the initial sunrise/sunset. That is more than enough time to kick in and scour each individual structure for potential survivors. And if you aren't duly concerned about that, then what exactly are you doing? I think this movie is missing scenes of vampires chilling out at the bar or blasting around in cars. There can't be THAT many people to eat. You could be trashing the place or otherwise just partying. My point is, this movie doesn't have enough vampire orgies. I mean, they must be doing SOMETHING when they aren't eating people. Oh, and let's run down the rules for these vamps while the survivors theorize on what they are:
This dude is great. He eventually tries to blow himself up to take as many of them out as he can, but in ad odd subversion, actually survives the attempted suicide bombing long enough to get his head squished by Head Vampire as he preaches more weird philosophy about humanities ability to destroy itself.
Once they get to relative safety, Carter decides not to be the dick that hides his infection and tells the group that he has been turning into a vampire since he was wounded during the fight with a little girl. It took him a full week to realize he was turning and tell everyone? I feel like this is something you could have brought up sooner. Carter has a pretty good monologue about not wanting to face the prospect of eternal life if it means never seeing his dead wife and child again, and Ebon takes him into the other room, humanely chopping his head off with a damn wood axe. The guy doesn't seem like a huge danger to the group, why not use him? I feel like having a vampire on your side would come in handy. Oh well.
On Day 27, the group notices a signal light from another house and Ebon goes to investigate alongside Starla. It turns out Deputy Billy is still alive and hiding at his house. A poke around reveals that he executed his wife and child, not wanting to submit them to the same grisly fate as the others. Ebon is again almost driven to homicidal rage at this, but spares Billy and decides to make another run for it. While waiting for an opening, they notice a little girl being used as the exact same kind of bait as before, only this time, Stella decides to fall for it, getting separated for her trouble while the vamps call out to each other.
At some point that I wasn't paying attention during, I suppose that the gang agreed to meet up at the refinery, which is still running at full power despite an entire February without a single person at the controls, unless someone was stupid enough to turn everything on when they got there. Ebon meets up with them and Billy trails after him, unwittingly leading the Baldy Vampire to the rest of the group. Wait, wasn't Sean William Scott in this movie for like, twenty seconds? What happened to him? That's a poor use of your Stiffler.
Meanwhile outside, The Head Vampire is smearing himself with blood and declaring the need for confidentiality.
“It took us centuries to convince them that we were just bad dreams” he says, and notes that even a single survivor will undo much of their work. Back at the refinery, Baldy jumps at the rest of the group, badly wounding Billy before finally acting as the pay off to what everyone's been waiting for and getting knocked into the grinder. Billy won't stop screaming from his severed hand and gradual change into a vampire, so Ebon finally just cuts his head off with a few solid swings of his trusty axe. As if you could hear that guy over all the machinery.
Stella finally radios in on a walkie talkie, revealing that she is stuck under a car in the middle of vamp central. Ebon tries to think of something until the streets start to fill with oil. The vampires have ruptured the pipeline and plan to burn down the entire town, masking the whole thing as a terrible accident. This will leave them free to move on to the next town next year, and so on. If Stella runs with the girl, she'll be killed in seconds, and if she stays put, she'll burn to death. Ebon decides that he needs to save them and declares that the vampires cannot be fought “The way we are now”.
The sheriff then proceeds to charge his brother with protecting the last two survivors and injects himself with Billy's blood, voluntarily turning himself into a vampire. He strolls out, fighting off the nausea and faces down with Head Vampire, mano a mano. It's showtime.
They tussle amidst the burning town, tossing each other around. I do have to ponder the swiftness of Ebon's change as Boss Vampire slaps him around. It seemed to take Carter and John at least a few days to turn, while Ebon at least has the evil eyes and vampiric strength mere minutes after getting his blood transfusion. Boss Vamp tries that dumb pouncing lunge that never works for any vampire ever, and Ebon agrees, punching out his brain with one hand. The other vamps just sort of wander off without their leader, I guess they were only in it for his cool speeches. Ebon admits that there is a downside to this plan as the sun comes up. Ebon has no plans to continue living as a bloodsucking monster and sits down to watch the sunrise with Stella as the daylight turns him into charcoal.
This movie had a very solid premise based off of the original graphic novel, though it's execution varied a bit. There is nothing directly wrong with the film. It is well made, the performances are solid and the set pieces are very thrilling. I'm a sucker for a good survival movie and winter horror is an odd sub genre that I can never get enough of, so this movie hit a lot of my buttons. The problem is that the plot is incredibly straightforward and frequently slows to a crawl, which is a product of being stretched over such a lengthy time span. Beyond the creative and gory fights, there isn't much to the plot beyond “Let's make a plan, the the plan works, let's hide somewhere else for a week”. I know that this film was actually trying to stick to the source material very closely, but the stakes of a film demand a bit of variance. A plan by the survivors could actually go tits up at one point and force them to think on the fly while things collapse around them. The ending fight is cool, but plays fast and loose with the vampire rules that this movie sets up. Oh, and Ebon was named that because originally, he was Inuit in the book. But then the studio hired Hartnett, changed his last name to Olsen and there you go: a protagonist with a ridiculous name. I can recommended this film for a fun watch, as there is plenty to enjoy, though it's nothing iconic.