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.
One day a young up and coming director by the name of Eli Roth went for a trip up to Iceland for a w eek or so and caught a nasty case of trench foot. As he picked at the flaking skin on his soles, an idea struck him. Yes....a plan. What we got from this skin affliction getting filtered through the mind of Mr. Roth was Cabin Fever, an attempt to return to the grisly, gratuitous “roots” of horror from the 1980's. The only part he was missing was good ideas. Let's pick at this festering little flick and see if anything worthwhile spurts out.
To this movie's initial credit, the opening titles are pretty well done. Arguably the scariest part of the movie is watching the white background of the opening credits gradually tint yellow and develop brownish patches, which slowly colour into a rotten, gory dark red. It's an understated and disturbing tone setter that braces you for what is to come.
We delve into some verdant rural landscapes, while some scruffy, Neil Gaiman looking dude wanders around the woods with a rabbit, checking on his sleeping dog. His attempts to wake the animal prove fruitless when it proves to have been reduced to a pile of blood jello with a fur coat on by some unknown force. He gets squirted in the face by a little squidge of gore, and things get nasty.
We cut to our....”protagonists” for the evening, a group of five irresponsible college kids on their way to an old cabin in the woods. Because that always pans out well for these people.
Okay, maybe this is only because I was (and still am) a hideous shut-in and bitter, misanthropic geek during my college years, but I don't really see the appeal of shipping out to some spooky cabin in the middle of nowhere, especially at college age. There's just five of you, what are you going to do up there, get drunk and wander around a bit? I can do that at home, without running the risk of being horrifically killed by backwoods psychopaths/eldritch demons/redneck zombies/incestuous cults. I clearly don't get it.
These five morsels are headed out to their cabin while piled into a jeep, blaring out shitty, early 2000's Nu Metal and generally making me pray for their swift deaths with every line they utter.
The gang stops at a general store for food and beer, while UnshavenDouche chats up a seemingly catatonic kid named Dennis on the front step, who proceeds to bite his hand. Welcome to Missouri. The cascading blonde EuroDouche Jeff threatens lawsuit to the boy's father and follows his girlfriend, Marcy, inside. While buying their things, the aging yokel behind the counter attempts to warn them about something, but gets distracted by their poking around. The gang quickly bails after the old man casually states that the rifle on the wall behind him is “Fer n***ers”. Classy.
They get to the exact same cabin that exists in every horror movie and start poking around, swiftly finding their niches: Jeff and Marcy head off to loudly and obnoxiously pork, while Unshaven Paul heads out to get sweet on Karen, the other lady person on this trip. Our fifth member: Fratdouche, just sort of drunkenly wanders around with a varmint rifle looking for something to shoot. He finally manages, plugging Scruffy Neil Gaiman from earlier, who now looks very sick indeed. God, everyone is so unsavory in this film, including the young lovers Paul and Karen. He is dancing around the whole “do you like me?” question during a raft-borne tanning session while Karen is clearly laying down the landing lights for him, then they kiss and she slips into the water. Dude, this isn't highschool. Do something!
Meanwhile, Fred Durst over here is feeling pretty apologetic over shooting Neil, until the guy actually was the gal to ask for help, at which point the walking beer keg panics, threatens to shoot him and scares him off, not even bothering to tell any of his friends what happened. I cannot wait to see him melt.
That night, Paul's attempt at an out of nowhere creepy story that will not factor into the plot again gets interrupted when....okay.
A dog startles them all, and his owner runs in. A fella by the name of Grimm, who quickly paints himself as an impenetrable tool by unironically using the word “Face!” as a burn. This is Eli Roth cameoing in his own film as some wandering stoner who stumbles into the plot, wearing a soul patch that almost reaches his knees and bearing a huge bag of pot as a piece offering. I swear, this character is so vividly separate from the action and so out of left field, I had to pause the movie and give myself time to recover, if only from getting a sight of that facial hair.
After a brief bit of pointless jibber jabber, Grimm wanders off to whatever ethereal plane spawned him, Burt takes a bet that he will drink nothing but beer the entire time he's up there, and the group heads inside to settle down before going to bed. A knock at the door reveals that Infected Gaiman from earlier has found them, begging for help. The fratboy, who's name is Burt, takes this as a chance to act like an incurable ass once again, slamming the door in his face. He screams that they should not come into contact with the clearly infected and badly ill man, until they all hear him breaking into their jeep. So I get to watch five unpleasant college kids gang up on a sick and desperate man, beating him with sticks in an attempt to force him out of the car he is trying to start without physically touching him, inadvertently shooting up their own vehicle (again, by way of Burt) and finally waving a torch in his face like he's Frankenstein's Monster, all while he violently hemorrhages blood out of his mouth. Marcy's attempt to ward him off with blasts of hairspray intersects with Paul's torch and the two great tastes come together into a makeshift flamethrower, lighting the poor bastard on fire. I suppose they just decide to keep on it, until he's completely immolated and wanders off screaming. Our heroes.
The gang files back inside, troubled by what they saw and sleeping fitfully, figuring that there is nothing they could do for him at this point. By the next morning, Jeff and Marcy's relationship had become badly strained, Paul is trying to comfort a hysterical Karen and Burt is sulking in a corner, burning marshmallows. As Marcy leaves the house to get some air, a pan reveals that the sick man from last night collapsed into the nearby reservoir, which supplies the tap water to the cabin...
I suppose that these people have never heard of filters, fluoridation or any sort of methods for making the drinking water potable.
Paul pours himself a glass of that very same deadly water and heads back to consoling Karen, who has the best line in the film as she sums up events so far:
“That guy asked for our help. We lit him on fire”
She promptly takes the water offered to her by Paul and takes a big, fateful gulp.
Meanwhile, Burt and Jeff have headed out on foot to try and find a mechanic that can look at their car, meeting up with a local woman “slaughtering” what is very clearly a pig corpse with a few overdubbed squeals. C'mon, you couldn't at least get a guy to wiggle it a little?
The lady is in a bad mood, considering that her hog seems to also be infected with whatever is going around and she doesn't seem to keen on helping these two strangers who just showed up. She actually does prove to be amicable, offering to call up a friend, until Jeff notices a picture on the counter coincide with the woman talking about a missing family member. It seems that the guy they burninated the night before was actually the woman's cousin? Or possibly husband? Or possibly both. The boys skedaddle before she figures anything out and run into Marcy, cheap jump-scaring into her line of sight.
Back at the cabin, a cop has checked in to the place about the disturbance last night. This is Deputy Olsen, and awkward, uncomfortable chunk of comic relief in this movie that serves to ask about Paul's tendency to party and promising to help them out with a tow truck by tomorrow. The way he seems to try to make friends with Paul and invite himself to any future shenanigans they get into, or otherwise talk about the history he has in bedding women at parties comes off as more atonally silly and a bit unsuiting to the rest of the film. There is a better place for a character like this, but we'll get into that later. But seriously, this guy really wants to party.
Burt and Jeff start to clean the car of blood, hoping to clear it of contaminants. They get briefly harassed by Grimm's dog, who shows up without his master and looking a lot more aggressive. The work continues until sundown, until we move back inside with these very awkward fades to black that happen at multiple points through the film. Back inside, Paul has been sharing a bed with Karen, who has started to complain of nausea and discomfort. He decides to feel her up a bit, but when his fingers get too far south of the border, they come up very bloody.
I think this is one of those rare times where you find yourself really hoping that your girlfriend is just on her cycle right now. Not the case, as large bloody lesions have started to open on her inner thigh. Paul freaks out, Burt hears and ONCE AGAIN begins to scream at everyone in the room and they decide that they cannot have a sick Karen in the cabin with the rest of them and banish her to the nearby workshed. Because that worked great when you did it to Wilford Brimley in The Thing. At the very least they give her a blanket and mattress, and Marcy leaves her some food.
Paul's attempt to find help fails AGAIN when he peeps in on a woman at a nearby farmhouse, only to be threatened off the property by her irate husband. If only he could try not to be a creepy dick.
Back at the cabin, everyone is yelling at each other all over again as Jeff cusses out his girlfriend, Marcy weeps in a corner and Burt just generally acts like an absolute jackass. We are at least vindicated when he “Loses the bet” and takes a big swig of water, while Marcy sips a cup of tea...
The next morning, Burt has gotten the jeep running, but is starting to feel the effects of the virus, coughing up blood and noticing a growing rash on his stomach. The disease is frequently compared to catching an STD throughout the film, with freshly infected characters noticing the warning signs popping up around their groin. He's on edge when Grimm's dog shows up again, still barking away and seemingly interested in all the that blood that everyone is shedding.
The gang tries to transport Karen to the car, but her legs give out on her and she starts to vomit blood. Jeff yells about not sharing the car with such a violently ill person, Paul yells at Jeff, Burt yells at both of them because he wants to get moving and we're off again. I understand the desire to paint growing levels of hysteria and paranoia between characters as a situation grows more and more dire, but the problem is that everyone escalates to shouting matches so quickly over essentially nothing, and none of the characters ever seemed like really good friends to begin with, so there is no sense of social degeneration. We're just watching dicks being dicks.
The latest group meeting ends with Karen back in the shed and Burt driving off in a rage, saying that he'll bring back a doctor. Jeff has decided to just bail as well. He grabs two six-packs and fucks off into the woods, yelling one last handful of insults over his shoulder as he leaves to go be a bad guy in Die Hard. Marcy is consumed with despair at this point, saying fatalistic things like “We're all gonna die” or “It's like being on an airplane you know is going to crash” or “Might as well bone”.....
Wait, what?Paul actually takes her up on that last offer, quickly retreating to a bedroom so they can bump uglies.
Okay, this sex scene is completely out of nowhere. The whole “Might as well go out with a bang” thing makes some semblance of sense, but the speed at which these two previously barely in contact characters decide to nail each other is staggering. Because watching your crush vomit up blood while the skin falls off her legs is such a turn on. The sex scene is even interspersed with shots of Karen lying in the shed, struggling to breathe. Also, I feel a need to point out the simple fact these two are breaking the Number #1 Horror Movie Survival Rule: Never have Sex. Did nobody watch Scream? These two fornicators even decide to ride bareback, assuring that Paul gets his fair share of the virus.
While Paul attempts to wash his genitals with Listerine afterwords (That'll help), a very sick Burt heads back to the general store and it's time for everyone's favorite scene.
The Pancakes kid has lived in minor infamy for a number of years, all based on the one scene in this film when Dennis, the loopy kid from earlier, starts screaming “Pancakes!” at Burt, proceeds to do a weird little martial arts kata at him and then bites him on the hand, unintentionally infecting himself as well. What exactly makes this stand out the way it does? Is it the choice of the word pancakes? Is it the frankly ridiculous representation of a mentally impaired child? Is it the confused tone of the scene, that varies between dire and desperate, to surrealistically goofy, back to serious? Is it those little spin kicks?
I'm banking on the spin kicks.
So Burt gets his hand chomped, Dennis's dad freaks out when he thinks that his son is infected and decides that the only recourse is to shoot Burt. I don't think that fluid-borne flesh eating diseases work on vampire rules. Burt gets his wacky “Chased by angry rednecks” scene that is only missing a banjo, and we get back to Paul, who has decided to wander off into the woods because....uh.
He discovers Harry's body in the reservoir and the implications of this hit home. Also, in a scene that is just real enough to be pretty freaky, the ladder he is leaning on gives way and he falls into the water with the corpse. I guess if he wasn't infected before, he sure as hell is now.
Back at the cabin, Marcy is shaving her legs in the tub while the effects of the virus start to become known, opening up lesions on her back. She continues to shave, even when CHUNKS OF HER SKIN start to come off as well. Lady, that's gotta hurt. Please stop. She throws on a bathrobe and heads outside when she hears the dog outside, but doesn't seem to plan more than that. Doggo smells blood and makes for Marcy, knocking her down and eating her alive. I'm sorry, but is that dog infected too? Why does it seem to have gotten a dose of Super rabies? Is it really that appetized by the smell of blood? Maybe it's operating on Resident Evil rules, where the same disease that makes humans slow, rotting husks turns animals super fast and violent.
Paul returns to find bits of Marcy all over the place, her entire body having been reduced to scraps of flesh and the occasional limb. Either the virus had given her entire body the structural cohesion of Plasticine by this point, or that dog was REALLY hungry. He heads to the shed to find the still-voracious dog chowing down on Karen and bolts, managing to kill it with the varmint rifle. Expect Karen is still alive! Except also most of her face has been chewed off, the actress now wearing a pretty fake looking prosthetic.
Paul realizes that there is nothing he can do except put her out of her misery and humanely shoots her with the rifle he's holding- no wait, that would make too much sense. He beats her to death with a shovel. Our hero.
As Paul gears up to leg it back into town, he runs into a half melted Burt on the front steps with the rednecks in pursuit, helping him inside. When the trio of pursuers finally get there, they kick in the door to find Burt with the gun. Fratboy wastes his moment of surprise with a one-liner and gets his head blown off, and Paul manages to take out the gang with his shovel, a screwdriver and an improvised treebranch.
Still hot off his latest killing spree, Paul bolts, hoping to find Jeff. We get a brief, pointless scene where Paul finds Grimm's body, also torn apart by his dog (Seriously, how hungry is this animal?) and finds the local's truck, driving back towards town. On his way back, he hits a deer. More blood gets squirted on him, the truck dies and he's down to legging it, eventually stumbling across another group of partying students, complete with Deputy Wilson in attendance. He begs then for help, clearly very sick and covered in blood, and just when I think this movie is going to make an attempt at narrative symmetry, Wilson gets a call to shoot some contagious mass murderer and Paul attacks the party, knocking out the useless Deputy and causing some harmonica player's instrument to get rammed down his throat in a completely out of nowhere sight gag. Paul collapses on the road and is taken to the hospital by a passing truck, where some doctors finally have a look at the guy. Oh, and a creepy bugs bunny mascot finally gives Dennis his pancakes in a side room. Glad that subplot payed off.
The doctors say that they need to transport Paul to a better facility, and the local Sherrif volunteers to take him, in the sketchiest manner possible. Wilson shows up and takes Paul away, clearly to an unsavoury location. Bye Paul.
The next morning, a hungover Jeff emerges from his hiding place at an abandoned shack, looking more and more like Trey Parker in Baseketball every time I see him. He wanders back to the cabin and looks over the carnage, and I see they did not have the money to spring for an exploded head. Boooo. Jeff loudly and triumphantly exclaims that he made it, cackling like a mad man in one last display of jackassery before he is gunned down by the cops outside, who are looking to cauterize the entire situation. The bodies are stacked and burned, the Cabin is abandoned and their possessions are buried. Deputy Wilson assures his boss that Paul's body was disposed of, when actually he abandoned it right next to a river. Amazing.
Some kids fill up their cooler from the river and start selling lemonade right next to the general store, and the movie ends with most of the town drinking their fair share. There's an admittedly kind if funny moment where it turns out that the old store clerk is actually good friends with a local group of African Americans and gives the gun from the beginning back to them. Turns out he was just fixing it. And then the credits start to roll.
This movie is one of the worst I've seen thus far. The characters are unlikable, the dialogue is stiff, the story makes no sense and the tone is all over the place. It's a lot more entertaining if you see it as a particularly messy year from the world of Cabin in The Woods. Eli Roth claimed to want to bring back the gratuitous horror flicks of the 80's but the problem is that a lot of the movies he wants to pay tribute to were never really that good. There is nothing overly gratuitous in things like the movie's sex scene: It shows minimal nudity, there is really no cause for it and it serves minimal narrative purpose. If you want gratuitous, at the very least give us Burt's head exploding. You could have done it! I believe in you!
The real root inspiration for this film can be traced back to Troma Studios, the company responsible for ridiculous, gratuitous and over-the-top gorey films like Toxic Avenger and Poultrygeist. These films are entertainingly bad and incredibly hokey, but they KNOW that they are. There are no illusions that what they are creating is genuinely scary or meant to be taken seriously. Cabin Fever on the other hand, sort of thinks that it can be a legit horror movie while also keeping stuff like the harmonica gag, the character of Deputy Wilson, out of nowhere sex and the PANCAKES! Kid in the story. It's a confused mess that flops in on itself. Avoid this film like the plague.
The Amityville haunting is one of the most well documented and discussed “real-world” hauntings that has ever occurred. The ordeal that the Lutz family endured and their supposed encounters with the supernatural after moving into 112 Ocean Avenue has been spoken of, disputed, proven and denied. The accounts of what happened during the month that the family stayed there has been adapted into a book, books about that book, news articles, TV specials, miniseries, movies and at least one flash animation concerning an irate squirrel and a haunted toaster.
So let's have a look at the 2005 remake of the 1979 adaptation of the 1977 novel and find out what happened at that one spooky house in AMITYVILLE!
The titles clue us in to November 13th, 1974. Some shaggy looking gent in the living room of the big, bad house scribbles a few insane etchings down in his notebook, then stops watching TV to head upstairs and turn on the house's strobelights. Clearly bugged by all of this flashing, the man decides to empty his rifle into his sleeping family. Man, there are like five people in this house and they must already sleep like the dead, considering that the only one to hear any of this is the youngest daughter. She hides in the closet, until Shaggy Shooter kicks in the door, sheds a tear and blows her brains out. Cause the voices said so.
We then cut to the bedroom of the Lutzes, George Lutz being played by Pre-Crisis Ryan Reynolds. He's doing the whole “Stepfather” thing to the gaggle of kids rampaging in and out of the apartment and also trying to dissuade his wife, Cathy, from her constant house-hunting.
During one of said hunting trips, they spot the notorious House from afar and meet up with the real estate agent. That seller is probably my favourite part of the movie, as she escorts them around the place, it's very clear that she knows that shit's haunted. She's constantly distracting them away from creeping shadows or politely lingering upstairs while they inspect the basement or preventing them from opening the fridge and seeing Zuul. Hey, when it comes to real estate, you're either a seller or a loser. Ryan is a contractor in this film and knows for a fact that house this big doesn't come this cheap, but the agent only comes clean after they agree to buy the place. She tells tham about the murders that happened there a year ago, but then quickly yells “no take-backs” and runs off, so I guess they have to buy the place.
I think I've seen this episode of The Simpsons.
Ryan is pretty cool with it, quoting the old National Contractor's Association excuse that “Houses don't kill people, people kill people”
The title card for Day 1 flashes up and the Shining rip offs start to pile together. The Lutz family moves in, with Ryan shooting home movies for the whole thing on a video camera that has to be the size of a sofa. I have to say, we're well into this movie and the only thing that seems even vaguely 70's at this point is the massive collar that Reynolds was sporting a scene ago. Even with the beard, these people just aren't hairy enough. That night, Cathy creeps into bed and these two start to bone, though it doesn't last very long. Reynolds sees the image of a hanging little girl behind his wife, which is probably enough to make him physically retract out of his wife and spoil the mood. Ain't it always the case when kids wander in?
The next day, Cathy checks in on her kids and holy hell, there's actually a daughter too? Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but I was completely blind sided by the existence of this third child. And also, she's played by a baby Chloe Moretz. Hey there kid! Can't wait to think you're cool in Kick-Ass and then think you're hot in Neighbours 2. Man, they grow up so fast.
It turns out the Chloe, or rather, Chelsea, has been talking with the waterlogged ghost girl from last night. Her name is Jodie and she seems friendly enough, though Cathy just writes this off as an imaginary friend. Meanwhile, Reynolds is cutting wood outside and gets a little snippy with one of the kids when he finds a weird metal thingy in the basement.
Things start to get spooky when Chelsea wanders out to the boathouse at Jodie's behest, and the youngest kid has a nocturnal visitor when taking a leak, realizing he's sharing the sink with some guy who looks like he spent way too long in a tanning bed. Ryan wanders the house, shirtless and flexing as hallucinations of himself killing his family stick to his brain. The house actually starts to bleed and Ryan sees Jodie in Chelsea's room. A quick investigation reveals that she's gone, but only because she's getting felt up on the ceiling by some strong, lovin' ghost arms. Okay, shot in the head, drowned and hung? Rasputin wishes he had this girl's resume.
I know that I'm just listing off events as they happen, but really, that's exactly what this movie is, a greatest hits album of various haunted house tropes. Bleeding walls? Check. Creepy ghost girls? Check. Patriarch being driven steadily crazy by extranormal forces until he inevitably tries to murder them all with that woodcutting axe he's so fond of?
Oh, and spoilers.
By Day 15, things are getting tense in the ol' Amityville household. Cathy notices the fridge magnets (oh, check for spooky fridge magnets) spelling out the arc words “Katch 'em Kill em” that the trigger happy murderer from the beginning was fond of writing in his notebook, until Ryan storms in and just pisses all over everyone's pillows. Some rotting six year old was keeping him up all night, the fountains keep spewing blood whenever he tries to shave and he has to work tomorrow DAMMIT. Cathy gets fed up with all this and manages to wrangle him out of the house for a date in his best turtleneck, thinking a change in scenery would do him good. They bring in Lisa, the midriff bearing babysitter and quickly skedaddle. Lisa does as any good babysitter would, inspiring thoughts of prepubescent lust in the older brother, taking a massive bong rip in the bathroom and then telling the kids all about how some other kids that looked JUST LIKE them died in the exact same room as them. Amazing.
It's very easy to avoid pitying her when she gets locked in the closet with the Jodie ghost. Turns out Lisa was the babysitter for the last family as well, and Jodie has some issues with her. She spooks Lisa and then, ew, oh, don't make her finger your brain hole, dude!
The Lutzs return home, and poor Ryan was actually having a pretty nice time before he saw the teenager they paid to look after their kids getting carted off in an ambulance, rambling about brain holes. I suppose the authorities just chalk it all up to the reefer. The kids are justifiably pissed that their parents didn't tell them about all the stabbings that went on in here and Ryan just shouts everybody down. From now on he is flatly terrorizing the rest of the family, having a dream about a hidden room in the basement that contains rows of sacrificial slabs and a bloodletting channel in the floor. He decides to just wash away all the bad feelings and we get to check off another box when something tries to drown him in the tub.
A trip to the doctor states that there is nothing physically wrong with Ryan, so it looks like he's just crazy. They get home to find little baby Moretz hanging out on the roof and barely manage to save her.
It seems that Jodie wanted to keep her on as a permanent playmate. Everybody starts yelling at each other like it's a particularly dark episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and again, there isn't really much of an actual STORY to provide commentary on. It's all just Stuff, Happening: The movie.
Ryan is completely screwed loose at this point, either freaking out his stepchildren or sitting in the basement and gigglecrying at the home movies from earlier, occasionally seeing demon faces leap out at him from the screen. That night, Ryan sees another figure scootching around the boathouse and heads down there, getting scared by some creepman who lunges out at him and ends up chopping the family dog to death, thinking it's one of the tanning ghosts that keep popping up.
Oh, boo. If I can't talk about a story just because this movie doesn't have one, I can at least talk about the various utterly disposable cliches that are on display. Much like the Black Guy never surviving, it seems to be written word of law that the family dog never survives moving to a haunted house. In the end of the first or second act, some unseen force or beastie or deranged Van Wilder will quickly kill the lovable pooch in order to ramp up tension and the threat of danger without actually harming any of the characters. It goes hand in hand with the trope that dogs can sense evil or paranormal forces, so it makes sense that such an asset would have to be removed from the occasion in order to keep the audience guessing. It makes sense from a strictly technical point, but such a trope has become predictable and cliched for decades. God forbid someone try to write something original for once. For heaven's sake, the Lutz family dog actually survived unharmed in real life and the book.
Ryan hides the dogs body and then starts yelling at everyone again until the local priest shows up and tries his hand at a good old fashioned exorcism. Cathy had called him earlier and shared the story with him, and the Padre informs her that the spooky cat doll Chelsea has been playing with the whole time once belonged to Jodie. He knew the DeFayo's quite well, and assures her that the little girl was buried with that doll.
Padre tries his hand at sanctifying the creepy old house with his bag of sacred knick knacks. Holy water hits the walls and floor like paint thinner and not much forward progress is made, until a swarm of flies zitzes the priest in the face and the house actually vocally tells him to piss off. He does so without a word spoken to a yelling Cathy, hightailing it out of there in his station wagon. You're a real dick, you know that preacher?
We get another pointless scene of Ryan Reynolds getting messed with until he is reduced to a fetal position and we zip ahead to:
Deciding to finally fill in this is dirth of plot, Cathy heads to the public library and does the 1970's equivalent of googling herself to investigate the house and the DeFayo family. The following tactless infodump reveals that the oldest sibling snapped 28 days after moving in to the rickety old place and killed his parents and all three of his siblings. Wait a minute, today is 28 days! She continues to belch backstory into our lungs by looking into the history of the old place. At the same time, Ryan finally physically busts down the wall over the hidden room in the basement and wanders into some ghostly fetish dungeon under the house. Get this, Cathy reads that the house was originally built by a crazy preacher called Reverend Ketcham, who's desire to katch 'em all compelled him to round up and torture Native Americans in his murder basement, dumping their bodies in the lake. Ryan wanders around said murder basement, getting freaked out by Gollum's brother who is really in to body modifications and a surprisingly pouty Iroquois Kris Angel dangling around on fishhooks. He walks into the final room, where the ghost of Ketcham sort of winks at him and slits his throat all over Ryan.
Cathy runs home, determined to get her family out of the house. She finds Ryan in the boathouse and they have some minor hijinks with a boat propeller that go absolutely nowhere, then tries to head inside, finding that her husband has become fatalistic enough to build coffins for the entire family. This might have been scary in an “All Work And No Play” kind of way, but receives absolutely build up or foreshadowing. But hey, coffins are scary! Ryan pulls a shotgun out of nowhere and starts chasing them around the house, eventually up the stairs and up to the roof, occasionally summoning or banishing his shotgun to and from the ether depending on whether he needs to use both hands in a fight scene.
Billy gives him a solid booting and Reynolds goes toppling off the roof and into the mud as the wife and kids climb down to safety. But Ryan's back and full on Jack Torrance at this point, swinging away at them with the axe. He's about to axe Billy a question, seeing his entire family as monsters at this point, until Cathy grabs the shotgun. But she just can't bear to shoot that pretty face. Could you?
Instead she rifle butts him in the face, which knocks a couple happy memories of balloons into his head long enough for him to come to his senses. We get a brief fake out scene where he envisions murdering Cathy with his axe one more time for the sake of a cheap scare before the family packages him up and gets in the speedboat, driving off. Oh yeah, leave the murder house and drive off into Corpse Lake. That place is probably much better.
Ryan awakens in the boat, and tells Cathy to keep going. The entire Lutz family survived their ordeal, never returned the house and went on to sue pretty much everyone who tried to adapt their story, including the makers of this film.
This film is pure shlock, the equivalent of walking through a haunted house attraction and getting spooks jumping out at you. Any attempt at cultivating a sense of dread or atmosphere is ruined by the visuals, which cannot resist pulling the trigger on a ghost popping up every ten minutes. The story is that there is no story. Actually no, the story is The Shining. Just go watch The Shining. Many people have lived in the 121 house with no talk of supernatural troubles, and I'm pretty sure that George Lutz never tried to murder his family with a 12 gauge.
I could say that the only real saving grace of the movie is Ryan Reynolds himself, if only because it's just terrible to watch so many scary things happen to someone so handsome. This movie is a wreck. Skip it.
This was one of the films that I picked out of a hat, feeling like it was time for another vampire flick. I knew a tad about this one, something about immortality and the cost of eternal life, but I think the deciding factor was the year of it's production, 1983. I had grown tired of modern horror movies and was looking for something a little more classical. Let's bite into The Hunger.
Things open up with a tribal beat that grows into a song as Peter Murphy from Bauhaus vogues through a cage, singing Bela Lugosi's Dead. Cute. The club scene awkwardly interfaces with shots of two partygoers leading their respective dates out and into a limo, driving home. The two couples lounge about, staring at each other while they smoke and prance around, showing off how much leather they're wearing before they strut into separate rooms and start feeling each other up. Things get sexy for just a second, until both the man in the kitchen and the woman on the sofa pull out little ankh necklaces containing hidden blades and slash the throats of their conquests. Mood established.
These two neck slitters are our vampires for the evening, The imposing Miriam Blaylock, played by Catherine Deneuve, and oh damn, A very conservatively dressed Pierrot himself, David Bowie, seemingly delving deep into his Scary Monsters phase and playing Miriam's husband, the equally bloodthirsty John Blaylock. These two are vampires in everything but name, surviving by feasting on the blood of mortals and maintaining their eternal good looks in return. Hell, if you had to commit homicide on a weekly basis to look like Catherine Deneuve or David Bowie forever, I wonder how long your resolve would last.
While these two sex vampires bone in the shower, we cut to Susan Sarandon playing Doctor Sarah Roberts. She is testing and examining sleep deprivation on monkeys alongside her own husband and fellow lab techs with the same passive curiosity that Miriam and Bowie display as they dump the corpses of the previous nights feeding into their handy-dandy basement incinerator. These two separate stories are tied together with common themes, such as the suffering of others to further the subjects own goals. Dr. Roberts is trying to study and cure the phenomenon of premature aging, and is currently testing a hormonal compound that may or may not be the cause on a baboon. I think. It's a little unclear, but we just watch Susan Sarandon yelling at a monkey for a little while until cutting back to the palatial estate of the Blaylock's.
Back in VampireLand, Bowie has started to develop insomnia for the first time in centuries. He harkens back to the day he was turned by Miriam during the Restoration. The two looked at each other through the powdered shrubberies that they used for wigs back then and promised, “Forever and Ever”. He is snapped out of his reverie by a knock at the door. It's Alice, a spunky local teen with a camera who is actually part of their strings trio. The Blaylocks seem to like her and they do make lovely music together, with Miriam on piano, Bowie on cello and Alice on the violin, but Bowie still isn't feeling it. He wanders off to the mirror, and forbodingly starts to notice bags under his eyes, while Alice offers Miriam some queludes. Get 'em while you can Miriam, not everything lasts forever.
Bowie begins to fear that he has started to age again and does what any man feeling his youth slip away from him would: Watches some cartoons while pulling out strings of his hair. Worried about her husband, Miriam heads to the clinic/facility/hospital that Roberts is working at and talks one funky looking Hematologist about the nature of premature aging and what can be done about it. Getting nowhere, Miriam returns and informs Bowie that there is nothing she can do. Except it turns out Bowie knew that this was coming. He asks his wife how long her last companion took to age to death, and she tells him a week. He then starts to become irate, demanding to know who is next, which mortal she will next choose to sire and spend the next few centuries with. He wonders if that is exactly what Alice was being groomed for.
I have to say, if you knew that something like this was bound to happen, why the heck would you dawdle so much when it came to finding an answer? Bowie heads down to the aging clinic for some answers of his own the next day while dressed as Christopher Walken, but it's a little late by this point. I guess the hours really fall off the clock when you're immortal.
I should note at this point that visually, there is a lot of Bladerunner in his movie, from the long perspective shots, to the chiaroscuro lighting to even the layout of some of the sets. This movie was made one year after Bladerunner, by Ridley Scott's brother no less, Tony Scott, who would go on to direct action films such as Top Gun and The Last Boyscout. Hey, if you're gonna steal, steal from the best.
Bowie shows Dr. Roberts the liver spots on his hands, claiming to be thirty years old (Give or take a few hundred years). Roberts is intrigued, but she's got monkeys to look at dang it, and she asks him to wait for her in the lobby, figuring that eventually he'll grow bored and leave. The sequence of shots where Bowie rapidly ages into infirmity while waiting for Roberts, who is busy watching a monkey rot, is quite well done, at least from a make-up standpoint. His growing wrinkles and eventual full face prosthesis looks relatively convincing, enough for him to get Roberts's attention again and make her regret ignoring him as he angrily storms off. To be fair, we've all felt ourselves going through this in any given waiting room. On his way home, Bowie feels the hunger multiple times, checking out a man in the bathroom, ogling nurses cleavage in the elevator and generally just being a creepy old man until he attempts to ankh-stab an innocent roller dancer. He's so feeble that he can't actually manage it and the roller-dancer skates off, surviving his tussle with a pensioner.
That evening, Alice turns up for her daily lesson, and Bowie welcomes her inside, sticking to the shadows as he now looks like his own grandpa. It sounds funny, I know. But it really is so. He simply watches Alice from afar as she plays, until his own compulsions finally consume him. He wraps his arm over her mouth and kills Alice, drinking her blood. It's a shocking moment and intensely sad, a depressed old man preying on a young girl in an attempt to regain a spark of his former youth. By the time Miriam comes home, the mess is cleaned up and Bowie looks like the cryptkeeper by now. She attempts to comfort him, but clearly is too squicked out by his old person skin, bursting in to tears about how difficult her life is now that her husband is gross. She notices a discarded photograph that Alice's camera took when it hit the floor and puts two and two together, dashing downstairs to the incinerator. Bowie appears at the top of stairs and begs her to kill him before tumbling down and face planting hard, too weak to stand. A tearful Miriam carries hims upstairs, through doors and into side chambers of this frankly massive New York apartment....penthouse....mansion? She finally brings her old-man baby husband up to the attic, which is filled with birds, because birds symbolize...stuff. She lays him in a coffin as he implores her with his eyes, then just shuts it and bails on him.
Okay, so it seems that the rules of these vampires have finally come to light. Let's count them down:
The second half of the story kicks off when Dr. Roberts shows up at the Blaylock estate asking about John. Miriam simply ushers her out, explaining that John is in Switzerland, but even from their brief meeting, Roberts is clearly gobsmacked by Miriam. As she wanders off and gets the fear of death put in her by a near miss with a semi, Inspector Elliot Gould shows up at the Blaylock's and starts asking about Alice's disappearance. He doesn't seem very good at his job, passively stating that these “Missing kid” things rarely pan out and not grilling the person who owns the house she was last seen at too harshly. Thanks for the cameo, Elliot.
Meanwhile, Sarah Roberts feels haunted by Miriam. She has visions of her at home and returns to her place the next day, asking about her inquiries into the science of longevity. They discuss the various artifacts in her home, including a Grecian bust that bears a remarkable resemblance to Miriam herself (Albeit with a nose that looks like it belongs on a falcon. I suppose immortality doesn't prevent you from getting rhinoplasty) They continue to dance around what we all know is coming as Sarah starts to become more and more entranced by Miriam's charm and intelligence. She really starts sending out vibes when she starts to play “Flower Duet” by Mozart, which is a famous love duet, but almost always sung by two women...
Sarah spills a little sherry on her shirt and that just perks her nipples right up. Listen, when you head to some vampire queens house and don't even bother to wear a bra, things are going to go exactly the way you were expecting them to. The two finally touch-a touch-a touch each other and we get our big, sexy lesbian vampire sex scene, complete with the moment where Miriam bites and sucks her blood, then has her return the favour.
Reportedly, Susan Sarandon was a very vocal member of this production, often recommending or protesting ideas during filming. Initially, the plan was to have Miriam slip something into Dr. Roberts's drink, which Sarandon was against. She didn't like the “date rape” angle for starters and stated simply that no one, male or female, would need to be drugged to have sex with Catherine Deneuve. She also later admitted to having a brief affair with David Bowie on set, because of course she would. When you have that opportunity, you go for it.
Susan Sarandon is amazing.
That night, a slightly dazed Sarah is having dinner with her husband, defending the fact that she spent three and a half hours at a virtual stranger's house and received a familiar piece of jewellery from her.
“She's just one of those kinds of people.....European”
Her husband pushes the matter, but Sarah has clearly caught The Gayness from Miriam, distracted by fantasies of two nearby female swimmers. Does bisexuality just come part and parcel with vampirism? I can understand someone who has been alive for hundreds of years no longer getting the same thrill from just a single gender, but it seems as soon as the Bloode of Thy Vampyr touches your veins, you start to get mighty interested in that girl in yoga pants over there.
That night she's sick and agrees to a blood test, where Doc Funk finds a new strain of “Stronger” blood mixed with her own that is swiftly asserting dominance. She finally decides to show off her big vampire hickey, because I'm sure that will assuage her husband's paranoia.
After a brief confrontation with Miriam during which she gets tossed around after getting angry with vampire lady, Sarah tries to contact her husband, feeling chills racing through her as her body changes. She gets briefly startled by a wanders Willem DaFoe and flees back to Miriam's place, just as she leaves to go find a gentleman caller. Sarah finally gets a call through to her husband, who answers the phone in his apartment which is bathed in red neon light. Gosh, I wonder what that's trying to symbolize or foreshadow. Downstairs, Miriam toys with her food before quickly slashing up and eating him, which a terrified Sarah bears witness to, now fully aware of what she is becoming.
Sarah's husband shows up, and Miriam obviously cleans up good, having removed the fountains of blood from her floor and face in under an hour. How much furniture do you think such messy vampires go through? No wonder there aren't any carpets in this place. And she must be awfully handy with a mop by now. It's not as if you can call in the maid.
A sweating, tormented Sarah greets her husband with violent passion, quickly realizing that simple human indulgences are no longer going to cut it. She wants a lot more than his flesh. The steady switch from lust to inhuman thirst is quite well done here, as she finally crosses the line and lunges for her husband's neck.
Miriam hears the scuffle and seems to have a flashback to her first time in ancient Egypt, when she was just as Caucasian and blonde as she is now. I suppose she's from the same universe as that Gods of Egypt movie. She greets Sarah as she stumbles downstairs, bloodstained but refreshed, and gives her the pitch: She will live forever, be with her always and one day, learn to love her as deeply as she loves Sarah. Technically nothing she said was a lie, but it is clear that Miriam is simply planning to add Sarah to her endless cycle of lovers until the day she disposes of her like all the rest. Sarah nods, kisses her sire once, and then immediately stabs herself in the neck with Miriams ankh-knife. She bleeds out in Miriam's arms, stating that she just cannot live like that. She took the high road and would rather die than live with what she had done.
Oh, and I guess these vampires can die from wounds? Damn Miriam, maybe you could grow a pair and actually put some members of your ex- collection upstairs out of their misery. You really aren't doing them ANY favours at this point.
An inconsolable Miriam brings Sarah upstairs to the coffin room, but there's change in the air. I guess after seeing it happen to Bowie, all the other ex lovers decided that enough was enough and decide to finally get up, dragging their decaying bodies out of their caskets with new strength and harassing Miriam with centuries of neglect and rage at their state. Pursued by the world's grossest harem, Miriam flees the room and goes right over the banister, plummeting several stories to the unforgiving floor. It seems that this is enough to affect her as well. She thrashes and screams, starting to age as all her lovers did. I guess when you suffer some sort of fatal injury, all that immortality jazz goes out the window. Upstairs, the army of rotting lovers all crumble to dust as Miriam is reduced to a shrieking husk, the spell seemingly broken.
A week or so later, Detective Gould is back, greeted by a real estate agent who says that the whole matter has been wrapped up after the disappearance of the Blaylocks: The house is to be donated to a local foundation and all the possessions are packed up into storage. It seems as though their estate has vanished along with them. As Gould picks through the dust and debris left behind, he finds a photo of Miriam. A simple snapshot which is just that frozen moment in time. Never changing or adapting, just frozen as what it is, forever. Then he ponders again what happened to the Blaylock fortune...
Cut to some distant city. Sarah wanders into frame, greeted by a young lover of her very own. She vacantly kisses her and returns to staring out the balcony, solemnly pondering her future. Somewhere deep below her new home, the occasional scream can be heard from a well secured box in the basement...
The titular hunger in this movie is not the thirst for blood that the main characters exhibit, or the lust that they experience. The vampires in this movie are creatures of unquenchable desire, compelled to indulge in the face of reason of decency. Miriam's loneliness and boundless need for someone to share her life with causes her to take lovers throughout millenia and condemn them to the same horrific fate. She claims to love them, but love would not allow her to do what she does. Miriam goes through the motions of passion, saying all the words and playing the part, but has long ago forgotten what it means to be human and to share a life with another. The nature and cost of eternal life is a heavy theme in this movie, and repeatedly asks the question of whether or not such a thing is even worth it. Who wants to live forever?
About the ending, it certainly raises a few questions concerning how hardy the average vampire is and what exactly happened. Miriam seemed pretty convinced that Sarah had killed herself, but she shows up at the end of the movie alive and well, no worse for wear and seemingly having taken Miriam's place. What, after Miriam took a tumble and got all of her youth juice sucked out, did it just default to Sarah as the last vamp standing? Why did suffering a fatal injury cause that to happen? You're telling me that in several thousand years of life, she never got shot or stabbed or kicked by a horse? Damn. A whole bunch of this goes pretty unexplained.
I do kind of like the ambiguity of what is to happen next and the cyclical nature of Sarah inheriting Miriam's station. It hammers that whole “forever” thing right into the ground. The studio apparently pushed for this ending, hoping for possible sequels, but a middling box office put out that spark.
I quite liked this film, and could recommend it for anyone who'd like to delve into the concept of eternal life and it's cost.
I felt like easing off the clutch a bit for tonight's film, so let's all take a big breath before we start the review and reassure ourselves that this horror movie is from 1999 and thus, cannot hurt us. Amidst the rocky fringes of this cultural wasteland of a decade, a film arises, a remake of the 1959 haunted house flick, The House on Haunted Hill. And before we begin, has anyone seen a film called The Haunting? It is a horror classic from the same era that ALSO got a 1999 remake, where the subtleties of paranoia and fear were discarded in favour of a bad actress yelling at the CGI monster from Boogeyman while Owen Wilson got his head eaten by a gargoyle. So we have nothing but high hopes going into this one. Though frankly, I doubt the remake can top this:
We get some twitchy stop motion effects for the opening credits, which start out a little eerie but just dip into “Shock rocker music video” as they go on. Some screaming bald man silently thrashes while somebody pounds their head against an organ, and the movie finally gets started. We get what looks like a pretty nice matte painting of a frankly gigantic insane asylum, populated by wandering lunatics and one orderly who likes to keep his pencils reeeeeeal sharp.
He seems relatively unperturbed by the rest of the staff downstairs as they silently tape themselves vivisecting a patient, at least until the patients bust free under unexplained circumstances and start to riot. The doctors are quickly overwhelmed by a tide of violent, non-specifically ill madmen and things take a dive into a good ol' fashioned blood orgy as patients start ripping open every nurses blouse they see in a level of sexual violence that makes the average episode of Game of Thrones look...well, still pretty rough. Orderly Chekov's pencils get shoved right through his neck and I guess someone drops a match as the whole place goes up.
We cut to Peter Graves telling us all about the craziness of that night and how only five people ever made it out of the conflagration alive. I wonder if that will ever come back into the narrative.
Famke Jannsen is watching all of this from a very sensibly bubbled up bubble bath and calls up Geoffery Rush. Rush is playing theme park mogul Steven Price in a rough American accent and an even rougher pencil mustache as he dicks around with a news team on his new roller coaster, which is clearly The Incredible Hulk Ride at Islands of Adventure. Oh hey, James Mardsen! So, Spike's in this movie for five minutes.
The phone call between Famke and Price (I feel like this movie would be way better if Geoffrey Rush was actually attempting a Vincent Price imitation throughout it) concerns the attendance of her birthday party. Price assures her that he is taking care of the guest list as he feeds it into a shredder and just invites a bunch of random putzes. Classy. But as he leaves his office and the movie just drops all pretenses with a Marilyn Manson song, some unseen force accesses the computer and invites a completely different bunch of random putzes. It's haunted broadband.
The buffet for the evening lines up as they are shuttled up to the party destination, the cliffside asylum from the beginning of the film, which looks pretty modern for a place that was built in the 30's. At the gates, we get to see a fidgety Chris Cattan playing Pritchard, the owner of the house that Price is renting it from. He shakily welcomes them and escorts them inside. He explains how the place was built by his grandfather just as our resident Black Man for the evening helpfully comments that this place is spooky, yo. Pritchard is barely finished talking about the big stained glass skylight before it shatters and gives Black Man a chance to look cool by saving Jannsen.
Finally Price sashays in and refreshes everyone on the rules: You have to spend the entire night within the walls of the house, and come morning, you get 1 million dollars. If you leave or...DIE....your share is divvied up between the remaining people.
Jannsen (I think her name is Evelyn) escorts Price upstairs and they bicker over the guests, both claiming that they have no idea who the assorted mooks downstairs actually are. It seems that the Prices throw a variation of these murder parties every year, frequently taking them as a chance to off one another. It's clearly a strained relationship. Back downstairs, the cast of Clue start to talk each other up and introduce themselves. There's Proffesor Plu- I mean, Donald Blackburn, MD. Eddie is a former baseball player, having quit for some reason that isn't looked into. Melissa is the lady with the camera, eager to videotape something and get famous, because this actress is terrible. The last girl is Jennifer, Executive VP of such and such and really needs someone to touch up those bangs.
Pritchard is very eager to get his rent money and leave, but as soon as the paycheque touches his fingers, some clockwork machinery lurches to life and metal shutters all slam shut over all of the doors and windows, sealing them in. Pritchard is almost fanatically determined to bust out of there, and one has to wonder; if he was so unwilling to even set foot in the old place for fear of exactly this happening, why would he even let all of this happen at all? The dude owns a massive chunk of cliff property. He can't be hurting for cash that badly. As they are all locked up tight, Pritchard pours himself a drink and states rather flatly that everyone is going to die. The shutters were built as a safegurad in case the patients got out, and he mentions that fixing the mechanism was on his fathers “To do list, until the house did him first”.
At this point, Evelyn is convinced that this is all just a big work, asking Price what the hook is. He responds by shrugging and pointing to a series of boxes all containing loaded guns, one for each person. It doesn't make a lot of sense why these are even here beyond the Chekov principle and a possible reference to the initial film. One or two guests arm themselves and head into the basement, determined to figure out a way to trip the 12 hour lock down and get out. In the meantime, Price checks in on a techie he has holed up in a control room filled with cameras, who reveals that he also had nothing to do with the lockdown.
The guests run across a few rooms that I'm sure we'll get back to later, such as an electroshock ward, a partially walled off door that's leaking black stuff and some hyperbolic-looking room called the “Saturation Chamber.
It's apparently a room full of crazy that the head psychiatrist, Dr. Vannacut (Oh, and Dr. Vannacut was serial killer as well? In case we needed any more horror backstory sprinkles on this spooky sundae) thought could shock crazy people back to sanity, or something. Okay.
Everybody inevitably gets split up, Eddie gets some time alone with Jennifer and he deduces that she isn't who she claims she is, stating that no executive is as competent as she is. Jennifer wanders off and comes clean that she is actually Sarah, the assistant to the actual Jennifer and just there to try and collect the prize money. She gets a minor haunting when a bald man stares at her and a vision of Eddie tries to drag her into a smokestack or something full of blood, and everyone retreats back upstairs.
Well, almost everyone. Melissa has wandered off in search of something to videotape and has the first genuinely scary scene of the film when she stumbles into an old operating room. The room seems empty, but her camera is recording another vivisection.
Then the doctor and nurses all silently turn towards her....
The subtlety goes out the window a second later when some eyeless ghost charges in and blows in her face, and everyone heads back downstairs to investigate the shriek.
The gang finds a trail of blood that leads right into the wall, and theories abound that the house just ate her. Evelyn decides enough is enough and heads upstairs to bed, promising that she will empty her gun (Which is actually loaded with live rounds, despite Price claiming that they were all blanks) into anyone who disturbs her.
A wacky Scooby-Doo montage begins as everyone starts to scope around the house for a way out, Melissa, or just another drink. Price checks in on his techie and whoops, somebody took an ice cream scoop to his face.
Then everyone gets called back downstairs by power fluctuations to find Evelynn strapped in to the electroshock table and getting her nards zapped off. Despite their best efforts, Evelynn dies and Price starts to lose it. Now everybody thinks that someone else is trying to murder them, Price thinks that at least one of them is a plant sent to incriminate him and oh yeah, everyone has loaded guns! Before things reach their logical conclusions, Eddie punches out Price and somebody gets the bright idea to lock him up in the insano-chamber. Dr. Blackburn offers to keep an eye on him, but then just decides to turn the crazytron 5000 on and leave him there.
Inside the Psychofrakulator, Price puts on a pair of goggles in the middle of a huge zoetrope as it fries his brain. John Cleese laughs at him for a bit, then the hallucinations get worse as some people in blurry clown make up lock him up in a fetish asylum while naked ladies judge him. I am running out of ways to avoid saying “Marilyn Manson music video” again.
Eddie and Sarah discover an old staff photo and figure out that everyone in the house is descended from the original five survivors of the big Flaming Blood Orgy of '31. I also have to commend the incredibly progressive insane asylum that would hire a black surgeon in the 30s. Then they notice that Blackburn's name isn't on the photo. Cut to the good doctor feeling up Evelyn's corpse before injecting her with a shot that brings her out of her “death”. Turns out that she and the doctor had a plan inside of Price's plan to fake her death and make everyone think that he did it. Now they are just waiting for someone to wig out and kill Price, leaving her to collect his fortune.
Okay, so Evelyn's plan was to drum up paranoia, substitute the blanks in everyone's guns with live rounds, pretend to be murdered by ghosts in a rigged up electric chair and try to get the hysterical guests to shoot Price. And she did it in cahoots with a doctor who ended up getting an invitation to the event, despite the fact that Price shredded her guest list in favour of another one, which was in turn rewritten AGAIN by an evil house in order to lure the heirs of the survivors there. With what, haunted dial up? Or maybe the house sprung for a haunted modem. What the heck is Dr. Blackburn doing there? Evelyn wonders the same thing, and just decides to stab him, figuring that another body will crank up the hysteria to a boiling point.
Back upstairs, the dwindling few ponder how Blackburn is doing, and the ever-lovable Pritchard drunkenly states that he dead by now. At this point, any smart person would opt to just stand back to back in the middle of the well lit lounge area with their guns drawn and wait until morning, but these losers decide to see if Blackburn is dead. And he sure is, decapitated body left on display and all. Damn, Evelyn really committed to that murder scene.
Sarah runs across Price, and frankly, he looks a lot more scared and disoriented than murderously insane. I guess that trip through the nightmare machine served no other purpose than to jam a bad acid trip into our eyeballs. He begs Sarah for help, and Sarah responds by shooting him full of holes. I think this lying murderer is supposed to be our heroine? I should also mention that every time someone dies in this movie, this ominous latin chorus mutters or hums in the background, and boy, it raises to a climax here. Eddie and Prichard escort Sarah upstairs and Evelynn gloats over her husbands corpse. But it turns out he was wearing a bulletproof vest! He's alive and he's mad.
Okay. So Evelynn had a plan for a birthday, but then Price planned to interfere that plan, but Evelynn planned around that plan with her plan, which involved double crossing the doctor's plan and killing him, which in turn was planned against by Price's plan. And all of these plans were planned around by the evil house, which of course, has a plan of it's own. Holy good goddamn, I've seen less convoluted episodes of The Wire. Price harasses her for a bit and finally tosses her through the big walled off door and into The Black Room. The most evil room of all.
This place seems to be lined with the charred corpses of everyone who took refuge in there during the initial fire. It's kind of like someone wall papered a bathroom with the entirety of Pompeii. Whatever was residing in there awakens and the blackness just...eats Evelynn as Price flees. It kind of looks like a kaleidoscope of ink injected into water, which initially looks pretty cool until it just...stays on screen for the rest of the film. The Ghostcloud leaks out of the hole that someone really should have put some plywood over and Price stumbles into Melissa's dissected body. So that's where that got to. He runs upstairs and Pritchard of all people decides to open the door for him and is immediately eaten for his troubles. Aw, I liked him.
Eddie and Sarah flee upstairs while the entire asylum just starts exploding at them and the Big Black Ghostcloud chases after them, taunting them with the faces of people it has killed and absorbed. Man, for a moment I kind of thought that some vague, shadowy nightmare cloud of oblivion would be a decent final threat, but that is one DOOFY looking vague, shadowy nightmare cloud of oblivion. The faces really ruin it. Meanwhile Price has actually found a way upstairs ahead of them and is working on an exit. They converge in the attic with the Ghostcloud hot on their heels just as Price manages to Jimmy a window open. Turns out the controls weren't even in the scary death basement at all! Ha! All the needless deaths...
The Ghostcloud lunges at Sarah, but Price shows a surprising amount of bravado and shoves her aside. He seems very eager to sacrifice himself for somebody who tried to shoot him in cold blood a few minutes ago. He gets flash fried or sucked away into ash by the cloud and Sarah manages to escape outdoors, just as the shutter slams shut behind her. Eddie looks as though he's going to get eaten by a screensaver before he blurts out possibly one of the greatest lines in a horror movie.
“I've got nothing to do with this shit! I was adopted!”
This actually earns him a Mandatory Black Man Horror Movie Death Exemption Card and the Good Ghost of Chris Cattan appears to open the shutter for him. I guess not even an all-devouring swarm of damned souls can have-a the Mango.
The two greet the rising sun from the top of the precarious ledge and breath a sigh of relief, spared by the fact that neither of them were even supposed to be there to begin with. Sarah even notices that the envelop full of blank, million dollar cheques made it out with them. They laugh and wonder how the hell they are going to get down, and I'm guessing that at least one of them is thinking that they could double that 2.5 million dollar windfall with one well-timed shove...
Okay. I appreciate that this movie tried to be more than what it was. There was a lot of, if not good, then at least creative shots in this movie, and the needlessly convoluted plot did keep me guessing as to what was going on. Most of the scares were pretty predictable and the problem with the horror imagery is that this film was made in 1999. We as a collective audience had seen a lot worse at this point in the average...*sigh*...Marilyn Manson Music Video, which is exactly what this movie feels like an extended version of, with a shoehorned in “And then there were none” dinner party plot. The best it could do was throw a few boobies at us and hope that would raise the shock value enough to be worth our time. I'd rather watch Clue on one television and 90's MTV on the other and just shake my head really fast.
I also have to note that I did not see a scrap of food at this party. If I was invited over and did not see so much as a plate of hors d'ouvers, I would be rightfully pissed. This movie is a mess, but too ridiculous to be terrible. Watch it if you want to see a black guy actually survive to the end.
I think I've had more than my fill of modern horror movies after last night's little debacle, so I decided to head back into the 80's and watch a Wes Craven film called The Serpent and The Rainbow. It's a “zombie” film starring Bill Pullman as some uppity anthropologist who gets more than he bargained for when delving for local secrets, but more importantly, the zombies in question are Pre-Romero proper voodoo zombies, which is where the word came from. There is no apocalyptic hoard in this movie, only a handful of actual zombies show up. This film is more about the exploration of voodoo culture and the deep gulf between modern science and old world mysticism. Sounds good to me!
We get a little bit of Voodoo knowledge as the film begins it's opening crawl, telling us what the title actually means. The Serpent is the Voodoo (or Vodoun, if you know what you're talking about) symbol for the earth, and The Rainbow is the symbol for heaven. But since man can travel between the two as a soul, that also means his soul can be trapped, leaving his flesh to be used by others... Another title card tells us that this film is one of those horror flicks that claims to be “Based on a true story”. Yeah, we'll see how that pans out.
The movie begins in Haiti, 1978, as a man is declared dead at the local hospital while riots pass through the streets, led by a man dressed as Baron Samedi, the voodoo god of the dead. The doctor performs some quick tests on him that are clinical but a tad disturbing, and we cut to his funeral. But as the body is buried, what little light is available shows a single tear rolling down his face....
We cut to 1985 in the Congo, where slim, sexy 1980's Bill Pullman wanders in like Indiana Jones with several pounds of charisma and balls siphoned away. He's exploring the area and meeting with locals in an attempt to bring back unique medicines and plants to America. At the behest of the tribe shaman, he drinks a bowl of fluid while his pilot translates and passes out pretty quickly. When he awakes, it is clear he's on some kind of vision quest when a jaguar chases him for a little bit but then just playfully cuddles up to him. Daawwww. Then a strange wind blows through and the Shaman morphs into some random scary due as the ground opens up under Bill, a bunch of hands dragging him underground dick-first as he screams into the blackness.
That took a turn. When he awakens, the village looks as though it has been trashed and his helicopter pilot is very dead. Seemingly the only man left standing and not knowing how to fly a helicopter, Pullman just kind of wanders off into the rain forest like a dumbass. His narration starts to fill in, telling us that he feels whatever killed the pilot and seemingly evacuated the village is something beyond local influence. This is never REALLY explained, as either some violent premonition of what is to come, or maybe just the natives dicking around with him. This sequence ends with a wandering Pullman following his jaguar animal spirit to a road and salvation.
Back in Boston, Pullman indulges a little bit via more narration, that appears in snatches throughout the film to mostly fill in the blanks. He is Dr. Dennis Allan, an anthropologist that has just gotten another job offer to head to Haiti and investigate the mysterious Voodoo process of zombification. He is shown photos of the man who died at the beginning of the film, Christophe, and then another photo taken a month ago, a little haggard but still clearly still vertical. They theorize that whatever compound or force that can simulate death so completely before returning the subject to life would prove to be invaluable as an anesthetic.
He heads in, noting that the cold presence from the Congo has followed him here to Haiti. It is not mentioned again, so yeah: Pointless. Allen's first lead is Dr. Marielle Duchampe, the psychiatrist at an insane asylum that Christophe was kept at before he wandered off. A mental asylum is not a place I want to hear having retention problems. He meets briefly with another so-called zombie, a haggard woman who just sort of stares at him before Marielle tells him that Christophe is a special case; he can still speak and answer questions. Some zombie he turned out to be. Next thing you know, they'll be sprinting everywhere instead of shambling.
That night, Allen meets with Lucien, a local political figure and trusted Voodoo priest. He tells Allen that what he seeks is very real, turning his attentions towards the dancers. These performers were actual Haitian ceremonial dancers, and supposedly, the possession dance that they performed was real, complete with scenes of them eating glass and hot coals, and sticking pins through their cheeks. The dance is interrupted by another man in the crowd, who finds a way to break the performers trance and cause him to go berserk until Lucien tranquilizes him. He is told that the menacing man is called Captain Peytraud, a powerful Voodoo practitioner and the man who runs the city's secret police, the Tonton Macoute, a very real organization that existed in Haiti even at the time of filming. Peytraud himself is a clear reference to Luckner “Papa Doc” Cambronne, second in command to the recently-ousted at the time of filming Haitian President Jean-Claude Lavallier. The fact that his supporters still existed within Haiti and the generally unstable sociopolitical climate eventually caused production to pick up and move to the relatively safer Dominican Republic.
That night, Allen and Mariele are exploring local graveyards in the search of their runaway zombie, and just as Allen starts to think is all a waste of time after running into some grave robbers, we meet the zombie of the day, Christophe, who used to be a politically outspoken schoolteacher before all this went down. He's awfully cooperative for the walking dead, mumbling out that he had been poisoned by a unique powder and buried alive. He states that the "bokur" has stolen his soul and that he belongs in the cemeteries with the dead before wandering off. It's vague, but helpful information.
The next morning, Allen heads back to his hotel, but is scared off by Voodoo symbols covering his walls and the sight of a man with a machete sneaking up on him. Another talk with Lucien directs him to Mozart, a local bartender and witch doctor that claims to know how to make the powder that induces zombification. Allen manages to barter with Mozart over the powder and wants to see it's effects, which Mozart complies to by feeding it to a goat. Allen promises to return the next day to see if the goat can indeed be brought back to life.
The next bit of the film puts all the talk of black magic and zombification on hold for a bit when Marielle and Allen slip out of the city among a pilgrimage into the forest. She explains that while Catholicism exists in Haiti, it has been blended in with Voodoo, the local devout worshipping the Virgin Mary as they would Erzulie, the Voodoo loa of love and birth. It's an interesting look into Haitian culture and I actually wish a little more of this movie would follow this tract. But we cut back into horror that night when Allen has a nightmare about Christophe staring him down with some dirty looking corpse bride. She vomits a snake into his face and it's enough to wake him up.
The next day, what feels like a pretty shoehorned romance side plot kicks in when they reach the healing springs at the end of the pilgrimage and Allan starts making his moves on Marielle. They bone in a sacred cave, which feels a tad heretical, and we get some slow motion O faces from the two of them. This sex scene really comes out of nowhere and disappears there just as quick with nothing really lost from the story. It is clear that Allan respects and cares for Marielle without this romance that barely matters from here on out.
Back in the plot, the secret police are cracking down on civil unrest and Allan actually gets detained, brought before Captain Peytraud himself. The Captain briefly intimidates Allan, all while the sound of a man being tortured audibly wafts through the room, but it's clear he doesn't plan to do anything to a US citizen just yet and lets him go with a warning.
Not heeding Peytraud, Allan returns to Mozart looking for the goat. An animal is produced, but it does not have the same mark that Allan confidentially made on it's hoof. Allan calls Mozart's bluff and seemingly drinks the voodoo powder mixed in with his beer, claiming that it is ineffectual. He storms out, revealing that he secretly pocketed the actual vial of what he believes to be simple rat poison. The boast inside was simply a way to psych out Mozart, which works. The witch doctor approaches the anthropologist and offers to show him the actual process of making the powder.
That night, they head to a cemetery and dig up a body, stating that it is integral for the process. On their way back to Marielle's house, the two are jumped by the secret police AGAIN and Allan wakes up naked, tied to a chair. Whuh-oh. It seems that Peytraud is done playing around and this time, demands to hear Allan scream before pulling out a hammer and a big ass nail, driving it down between his legs.
Yikes. This scene definitely succeeded in making me physically uncomfortable as only a good gnad-nailing can achieve. Zakes Mokae plays a very chilling villain in this story, and his smug sadism shines through in scenes such as these.
Allan gets dumped on the side of the road with a bleeding crotch, where he is found and nursed back to health by Marielle. A bit of narration reassures us that Peytraud just nailed down Allan's scrotum. Oh well, thank goodness for that. He is, to quote the film “Still intact”. It seems that Peytraud was still just trying to scare the guy.
Despite his near-castration, Allan is STILL unperturbed by getting his nutsack nailed to a chair and wants to keep going, documenting the powder making process in some hopefully very loose pants and noting the alchemical and botanical expertise that goes into it's formulation. As the process comes down to it's final steps, he eventually comes clean with Mozart, admitting that the powder is not for an enemy, but for study and Mozart actually likes the idea that people will know him as a contributor to medical knowledge.
That night, Pullman is plagued with ANOTHER nightmare. Dang, that roofie that those Congo guys slipped him is taking an awful long time to wear off. Is this just life for him now? Every night another visit to the Terrordome? He has a vision of the same corpse bride from earlier trying to harass him before his spirit animal jaguar scares it off. But then he has another freaky and well shot nightmare of the room closing in around him into a coffin, while Peytraud buries him alive in a casket filled with blood.
He catapults out of the nightmare, only realizing that the person next to him is not Marielle, but the decapitated corpse of Christophe's sister. And then the TonTon bust in again. Dang, these guys are more persistent that the Spanish Inquisition.
Allan and Marielle are brought to Peytraud's house yet again, where he shows off shelves of jars that he claims contain the souls of people he has slain, which give him power. He is indeed the bokur who keeps locals in sway with his personal army and black magic and even states that he knew he was in Allan's dreams the night before, threatening to haunt him. He offers the two a simple ultimatum: Allan will be immediately escorted to the airport or else the incriminating photos of him in bed with a corpse will be released. He shakily agrees as Marielle is taken away and he is put on a plane at gunpoint. All seems to have been for naught until Mozart sneaks on board and reveals that he has a completed sample of the powder. He offers it to Allan and disappears, but not before grabbing the American's watch in lieu of payment. Hey, a guy's gotta eat.
Back in America, Allan finally gets the powder into the hands of the company that hired him and analysis begins. The real secret behind zombification is finally revealed: The powder is a neurological paralytic, bringing the subject's heart rate, motor control and respiration down to almost deathlike states, but leaving them completely aware of their surroundings. I suppose that embalming isn't much of a thing in Haiti, so the subject is quickly buried and awakens underground. The bokur that did the poisoning digs him up in a day or so, after oxygen deprivation has led to extreme brain damage. That, coupled with the after effects of the poison and the power of suggestion render the subject sluggish, vacant and open to commands from their “master”. This is actually taken right from the documentation of the actual book that the film is based off of, and the fact that this process is actually real is the scariest thing of all. Allen figures that Christophe was dug up a little too soon and didn't have the necessary brain damage to render him completely hollowed out.
At this point, the film hits a shift. As Allen has dinner with his sponsors and tries to recover from his ordeal in the Caribbean, I quite enjoyed the diametric opposition between the sterile, scientific world of Boston and the wild, paranormal events in Haitian voodoo culture. I would have been happy if the more outlandish events of the movie could be rationalized as hallucinations or just simple trickery, leaving it up in the air about whether or not there was any real black magic at play. But things take a turn for Hollywood hyperbole when the wide-awake visions of corpse bride start to claw at Allen through his soup, Beetlejuice-style and his hostess takes a big bite out of her wine glass before lunging at him, screaming in Peytraud's voice.
Not having heard from Marielle in three days and now knowing without a doubt that whatever Voodoo magic Peytraud has is real enough to pursue him all the way into America now that he has stolen the powder, Allen returns to Haiti. To...kill Peytraud? Try to get Marielle away from Peytraud? What is your plan dude?
Mozart is executed by the Captain just as Allen touches down and gets grabbed by the secret police AGAIN. I would start carrying a gun at this point, seriously. Fortunately, this happens so often that Lucien anticipated it and drives off with Allen in the back seat, hoodwinking him out from under the local goons. He gives Allen a few warding charms with painted blood and tells him that they will protect him “as much as your scientific rationalization will”. He tells Allen that what Pytraud practices is not true Voodoo, but twisted black magic and that he and Lavallier are mad dogs that need to be stopped. Then Peytraud, who I guess is just clearing house at his point, kills him with that same bad Voodoo. He could just do that all along? Dude filled his mouth with scorpions! This movie has really dropped any “Maybe it's magic, maybe it's mundane” coyness and just straight up made the bad guy an evil wizard.
As Allen tries to find help, another of Peytraud's goons blows a handful of Zombie Powder into his face, and Allen knows that he is well and truly screwed as he stumbles through the market before collapsing, his last words being a desperate “Don't let them bury me...
Allen can only watch as Peytraud interrupts his autopsy, preventing the US embassy from finding out about his death and carts him off to his own shallow grave. He claims to have grabbed Lucien's soul and will take Allen's too, then pops a spider on his face for funsies and buries him.
I have to say, the most terrifying scene in this whole film is the pitch black screen depicting the inside of the coffin as Allen comes too. The audience sees nothing and can only hear his panicked screams as he gasps for air. The sheer, thought-annihilating dread of being buried alive comes through here. We are saved from one hell of a downer ending when your friendly neighbourhood zombie Christophe comes around and fervently digs Allen out of his conveniently shallow grave. He sort of wanders off again and a partially zombiefied Allen shambles back into town just as Marielle is brought to Peytraud, who plans to execute her as well.
Her decapitation is interrupted by a massive ensuing riot upstairs. It seems that the events of the film tie in with the actual ousting of President Lavallier and the public are filling the streets in an uproar. Allen staggers in with the angry mob and wanders downstairs into the torture chamber and cells he saw earlier. Things go on a really bad acid trip when Lucien's zombie shows up and tosses his head at Allen, then all sorts of rotting corpses claw at him, the whole room turns sideways and a chair chases the poor guy around.
He stumbles into Peytraud's soul room, and this guy is all juiced up on dark magic I guess as he just starts bouncing around on springboards and tossing Allen around like he's Luke Cage or something. Then Marielle, who I think everybody forgot at this point, gets up and shatters Lucien's soul jar, freeing his ghost to fuck up Peytraud. Holy crap, this movie has completely jumped the rails at this point.
It really showed a lot of promise before all of this sheer fantasy stuff. Dennis breaks his own soul jar then powers back up, even fueled with a corona of Jaguar Power. He figures that Peytraud functions like a video game boss and starts shattering all of his soul jars in the room, robbing the Evil Wizard of his power and causing him to get attacked by the ghosts until he bursts into flame thanks to rainbows.
Christ, this ending is dumb.They flee upstairs and it turns out the scorched up Peytraud has one more springboard as he leaps back into the shot. I guess Allen has gone full on Pumaman at this point as he just...telekinetically straps Peytraud to his own torture chair and hammers a nail into his junk. Then Peytraud sinks into hell.
Marielle assures Allen that the nightmare is over and leads him out, and it's implied that at least some of what just happened occurred in this guy's head. They wander back out into the street with the other rioters as the final titles tell us that the voodoo drug is under study, though how it exactly works is unknown to this day.
Holy damn, what the hell happened? I really enjoyed the majority of this movie, with the exploration of Voodoo culture from an outside perspective being a neat hook for a story and Bill Pullman's dogged character pursuing the superstitions and folklore of Voodoo down to it's concrete roots a very compelling journey. But the subtle mysticism and blend between science and the unknown goes right the hell out the window in the third act when Peytraud is very clearly magically controlling people a country away and murdering his political rivals with mouth scorpions, all until he just straight up explodes in the climax thanks to a bunch of rainbow ghosts. Seriously, this last act shrieks of rewrites, probably by a studio looking for a more action packed ending. There was a better way to do this, and it would have involved keeping the audience guessing as to whether or not the Voodoo magic was real or not right up until the end, leaving a shell shocked Dennis Allan having come out the other side of his experience with the supernatural, doubting his beliefs and shaken by what he has seen. But somebody obviously thought that the viewers were idiots, so we got rainbow ghosts instead. Reportedly Dr. Wade Davis, the botanist that wrote the book, was pretty pissed at the outlandish liberties taken with his source material and the pretty disrespectful depiction of “Hollywood sensationalised Voodoo” that he saw demonized in the film. I thought that the Voodoun religion was shown pretty well in this movie up until the end, when I see exactly what he was talking about.
There is still a lot in this film to like, though if you are like me, the ending will kind of spoil it. Still, I can recommend it, if only for a zombie film with a bit of a different flavour to it.