Retro Movie Review: Death Becomes Her (1992)

death becomes her 2What do you get, when you decide to tell a tale where money is no object, vanity and ego have no limits, and revenge knows no bounds?

You “pretty” much get Robert Zemeckis’s modern Gothic horror-comedy from 1992, DEATH BECOMES HER.

Co-written by Martin Donovan and David Koepp earlier on in their collaborative relationship, Zemeckis was riding high on the crest of a wave of success when he decided to take it on, having already put out ROMANCING THE STONE, BACK TO THE FUTURE and WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT. Visual Effects Supervisor Ken Ralston, one of the leaders at ILM (now LucasArts), had his work cut out for him. CGI effects were still yet in their infancy, and many of the gags that DEATH demanded pushed the envelope, as they were of a brand of cinematic trickery that had never been attempted before.

As it stands today, watching this and thinking of the many advances in the field, (the magnificent dragon effects of GAME OF THRONES for one excellent example), the effects work does look a little dated by today’s standards. But what makes this a standard classic that fans can come back to time and again is the clever, blackly funny script, Zemeckis’s stylish direction, and the game performances of three of film’s most capable and talented actors, all working in tandem together here for the very first time.

You can think of DEATH BECOMES HER as a really well-developed, extended version of TALES OF THE CRYPT, (a series that Zemeckis also helped produce), but with less schtick, less gore and more mordant wit. “Frenemies” from childhood, severely insecure and neurotic film and stage star Madeline Ashton (MERYL STREEP) and equally introverted would-be author Helen Sharp (GOLDIE HAWN) have been bitterly competitive with one another, with Madeline usually coming out the winner, always managing to steal Helen’s beaus from her.

death becomes her 1It all comes to a brutal head, when Helen’s current fiance, the schlubby-but-brilliant plastic surgeon, Dr. Ernest Menville (BRUCE WILLIS, in one of the most atypical roles of his entire career) falls under ‘the Ashton spell’. Literally marrying Ernest right out from under her, Madeline causes her friend to transform into a psychotic, obese cat-lady, whose sole obsession of taking her revenge on her homewrecking BFF sends Helen to the nuthouse. Which is where she finally makes a ‘breakthrough’….

Meanwhile, Ernest and Madeline are living a Beverly Hills married lifestyle straight out of an Albee play. He’s become a henpecked, alcoholic loser whose surgical skills have so deteriorated, he operates mainly on cadavers now, making them look more ‘presentable’. When she’s not doing really bad musicals based on Tennessee Williams plays, (the film’s opening number is hysterically unforgettable), she’s dallying with much younger lovers in a desperate attempt to hold onto some kind of illusion, that her once-radiant looks are not failing her.

After a couple of really bad episodes that remind her of how futile her efforts to hold onto youth are, Madeline encounters the mysterious Mr. Chagall (Ian Ogilvy), who in turn directs her to Lisle Von Rhuman (a radiant and sublimely over-the-top Isabella Rosellini), who has the answers, it seems, to all of her problems. But what Lisle has to offer is much, much more expensive than what Madeline can write a check for. It’s also where the story begins to take its darkly funny EC Comics-style turn.

Here’s where we part company with any potential spoilers. If, like me, you’ve seen this movie about eighteen times, then you know that spoilers aren’t even possible. If you’ve never seen it, then I envy you the joys of being able to discover it for the very first time.

Playfully spanking the Hollywood conventions of beauty and vanity, and poking gleeful fun at all of the people who take both way too seriously, Donovan and Koepp’s sharp script afforded the three leads a rare opportunity to parody their own iconic images and reputations, and they dig into it with gusto. None of their characters are particularly nice people, to themselves and definitely not to each other, and are the complete antithesis of the kind of roles they usually are called upon to portray, to say the very least. Streep as a faded ingenue, Willis as a wimpy milquetoast and Hawn as a psychotic, revenge-driven femme fatale had the time of their lives here, and it shows.

Death-Becomes-HerZemeckis helms the proceedings accordingly, calling back to everything from old Hollywood Technicolor melodramas to ‘hag horror’ pics like WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, and HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE, and does it with the same sure sense of style and twisted humor that made his other like-minded efforts like ROGER RABBIT, a delight to watch, even in repeated viewings. Favorite John Carpenter DP Dean Cundey matches him frame-for-frame, and frequent musical collaborator Alan Silvestri provides a great score that’s kind of a wink/nudge homage to Bernard Herrmann by way of William Lava, (the composer for many of Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes features, appropriately enough.)

Scream Factory has done their usual stellar job of transferring this to Blu-Ray, where – dated opticals aside – the film looks as gorgeous as its stars do…even when for certain reasons, they don’t. And though the extras are kind of sparse by comparison to other releases, it’s still a kick to have Zemeckis, Cundey, Koepp and producer Steve Starkey discussing the making of this now horror-comedy staple.

DEATH BECOMES HER gets a definite four-out-of-five stars from this reviewer, plus a strong recommendation for all readers to add this to your DVD/BR libraries in lieu of just renting it. (You can thank me later.)

TV Review: PREACHER

Preacher posterSo, after having spent the last few months threatening to “give it to us but GOOD”, AMC finally fulfilled that threat a couple of weeks ago by debuting PREACHER, the launch of a freshman series from two minds known more for subversive comedies, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, based on the graphic novel series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. Now before I go any further, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to having never read the series. This may be a good OR a bad thing, depending on how much of a ‘purist’ you are when it comes to these kinds of adaptations. I know there are certain properties I feel pretty strongly about, but this was not one of them. I went in armed only with the intel I have gleaned from some wiki pages, and from my longtime best buddy, who happens to be my comic and graphic novel ‘guru.’

Just based on first impressions alone, AMC hasn’t served us up anything this “batshit-crazynuts” since Sheriff Rick Grimes had to off a not-so-cute little zombie pre-schooler, in the first season of THE WALKING DEAD. And folks, you know that in terms of TV time, that happened EONS ago.

I’m pretty sure Seth and Evan knew that they had to come HARD with some wild shit right out of the gate, and it seems they had no problem doing THAT whatsoever. The opener treats us to a ball of extraterrestrial force hurtling through the Milky Way, towards Earth, where it proceeds to find itself a suitable living host, in the form of several random holy men. Emphasis here on the word “SUITABLE”, because the unlucky ones who aren’t? Well, the resulting rejections are pretty explosive…as in more explosive than you would be after a 12-taco-5-bean-burrito-binge at T-Bell.

preacherframe1Meanwhile, in what seems like completely random fashion, we are introduced to three vividly unique characters, starting with our titular lead, Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper, who plays Tony Stark’s dad in the MCU). Jesse is not very good at this religion business and he knows it, barely hanging on to his congregation, spending more time rearranging the letters that some sterling wit chooses to change up each Sunday, to display some pretty raunchy messages. But with his church being in a place like ‘Annville’, Texas, something like that is pretty much par for the course.

Next up is Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), with the smile of a viper and an Irish brogue thicker than an entire bottle of Jagermeister. He appears to be the hosting bartender and life-o’-the-party aboard a private jet seemingly, filled with rich Wall-Street-asshole types, but a marked-up Bible in the men’s room indicates to him that his clients are a lot more than that. Here, we get introduced to one of several intense action sequences that seem to explode out of left field (lots of things exploding in this pilot), and oh, by the way…did I happen to mention that Cassidy is a vampire?

preacherframe2But wait…before you even get a chance to catch your breath, here comes Priscilla Jean Henrietta O’Hare, aka “Tulip” (Ruth Negga), and her introduction is every bit as badass as Michonne’s was on THE WALKING DEAD, if not moreso. Fighting for her life against two men in a speeding muscle car, smack in the middle of a Kansas cornfield, (and the way this sequence is put together is nothing less than amazing), she enlists the help of a couple of local kids to further hamper the efforts of more ‘bad guys’ who try to come for her. The results are not good for THEM, of course, but for Tulip, they are – to quote the two tykes – “AWESOME!”

And that sets the tone and the stage for the rest of this eye-popping pilot, as the dynamics between Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy are established, and not to mention that strange force, which reappears to change the game completely.

And you know me…I love my character actors, and I didn’t think I could get anymore excited about this series, until I spied W. Earl Brown (DEADWOOD, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY) in the cast, as the Sheriff of Annville, Hugo Root, whose son, Eugene (Ian Colletti) is a friend of Jesse’s. Eugene’s nickname is “Arseface” in the books, from what I understand, and when you see him…well, you’ll understand why. He’s another of the many colorful characters that will have an important part to play in this majorly messed-up story.

If you are more than familiar with Ennis and Dillon’s series, none of this will be new to you. But if, like myself, you haven’t seen panel one of the graphic novels, it will definitely occur to you that PREACHER is not your grandad’s style of storytelling. In fact, we’ve been waiting for some time to see what the next level looks like after GAME OF THRONES and THE WALKING DEAD. This, folks, is just one series that is bringing it. Yes, more questions than answers are provided, as with any good show that you’ll want to follow, to obtain those answers.

preacherframe3From what I understand, PREACHER has been on the boards for a couple of decades, and had been turned down by several major cable outlets before AMC snapped it up. Well, the enthusiasm and love that Rogen and Goldberg have for this property shows in every frame, from casting to visuals, and pulling in BREAKING BAD scribe Sam Catlin ensures that even though they can’t just rip the stories off of the book’s pages, and splatter them all over the screen verbatim, there won’t be the kind of sugarcoating or watering-down that most of the books’ fans feared it would be. Looks like AMC invested wisely.

I know that these guys can count ME as being on-board to see where Jesse and his pals are going with this.

Movie Review: Housebound (2014)

HouseboundHousebound poster. Director: Gerard Johnstone. Writer: Gerard Johnstone. Stars: Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru |

How do you solve a problem like Kylie? That is the first question posed by the new and fantastic Kiwi ‘ghost’ chiller, HOUSEBOUND. Sure, Kylie’s not as musical-sounding as “Maria”, but then Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) isn’t much of a perky, happy-go-lucky kind of gal. In fact, she’s actually more the kind of teen who stays in juvenile detention. A lot. So much so, she’s in trouble from the opening frames, when she and a bumbling partner make a really failed attempt at robbing a local ATM.

Kylie’s been in the system so long at this point, and in so many ‘rehab programs’ for wayward girls, that it fazes her not one bit to find herself standing before a judge. Again. The judge’s ruling this time, however, manages to effectively penetrate her wall of sullenness. He sentences her…to eight months’ home detention. With her mother.

For Kylie, that is absolutely the last thing she wants to hear. We soon understand why when we see the creepy old manse she’s about to be confined to, and we meet her mum, Miriam, (the hysterical Rima Te Wiata – a delightful New Zealand cross between Melissa McCarthy and ALL IN THE FAMILY’S Jean Stapleton, as the loveable Edith Bunker). Miriam’s a kind-hearted sort, but a bit scattered, and her constant prattling on about anything and everything is enough to pretty much make anyone want to leave. Which her first husband, Kylie’s father actually did, well before his daughter followed suit. Now Miriam lives in the house with Kylie’s estranged stepdad, Graeme (Ross Harper).

But facing a situation where she has to get reacquainted with her parents is hardly the most of Kylie’s worries, when she finds out accidentally that Miriam has taken to calling into a local paranormal radio show…about her haunted house. Kylie hardly has the time or patience to deal with the living, and she’s certainly not about to invest in nonsense from ‘the great beyond’.

Not until evidence starts to present itself…that all in the house is not what it seems.

With a mystery afoot for solving, Amos, Kylie’s ‘parole officer’ (Glen-Paul Waru in a great performance that matches Te Wiata’s comic timing step-for-step) springs into action and begins checking out the house, plying his other stock in trade: as a “paranormal investigator.” The three of them become a kind of stalwart “Scooby Gang” as they try to put the pieces of the house’s puzzle together, and soon discover that it’s not the house that holds the deadliest secrets…

Housebound Image
Housebound

The feature debut of NZ TV writer/director Gerard Johnstone, HOUSEBOUND wears his obvious love for scary movies, and especially the films of his fellow countryman, Peter Jackson, on its dusty sleeve. However, the difference between HOUSEBOUND and, say, DEAD-ALIVE is that Johnstone has a deft touch for when to incorporate the ‘crazy’ and when to rein it in. He wisely makes it more about the story and the relationships, using some particularly funny/gory ‘splatstick’ moments more as the ‘seasoning’ for the proceedings, and not the entire meal.

There are also a few nice twists to the tried-and-true scenarios you’d usually find in this genre, including the added wrinkle that some primary characters’ pasts not only play an important part in the house’s own distant history, but also in the present as well…and that’s about all I want to say about that. But it is a smart script choice from Johnstone’s writing that I really appreciated.

As another semi-spoiler for those in-the-know, Johnstone may also be displaying a love for vintage American ‘70’s thrillers here, as there are more than a few nods to a very old but popular made-for-TV movie from that era, called BAD RONALD. If you’re someone who is deeply familiar with the genre, my apologies for having dropped such a huge hint. For everyone else, ignore that last sentence and just keep ‘going with the flow.’

Housebound image twoOverall, I really enjoyed HOUSEBOUND, and particularly the chemistry between all of the lead actors. I have no idea if a sequel is planned, but I wouldn’t mind seeing this group together again for an encore, or in some other Gerard Johnstone project. They could even become for him, the same kind of dependable ensemble of players used by filmmakers like Richard Curtis, Edgar Wright or Sam Raimi.

 

 

Check out the Housebound Trailer;

Movie Review: Avenged (2013)

AvengedAvenged Poster. Director: Michael S. Ojeda. Writers: Michael S. Ojeda, Deon van Rooyen (additional dialogue). Stars: Amanda Adrienne, Tom Ardavany, Ronnie Gene Blevins. production Companies: Cart Before The Horse Productions, Green Dog Films, Raven Banner Entertainment.

Just when you’re starting to think the horror films you’re coming across are all going to be just ‘okay’ and ‘so-so’, along comes one that really shakes things up! AVENGED is definitely that movie – one that squarely fits into the ‘vengeance is mine’ category, but in a new way that you probably haven’t seen before.

Relative newcomer Amanda Adrienne plays Zoe, a gorgeous, deaf-mute free-spirit who is determined to take a solo trek across the Southwest, in her late father’s ‘68 GTO coupe. She’s pretty fearless, but the trip certainly worries her sister, Hannah, (Sara J. Stuckey) and her hunky fiancee, Dane, (Marc Anthony Samuel), the person she’s taking the trip to get to.

Her loved ones’ worst fears are realized all too soon, when Zoe interrupts the brutal assault and murder of two young Native Americans, by a group of the nastiest good-ole-cowboy rednecks this side of Central Casting (and even worse than the crew in that other great supernatural revenge-thriller, THE CROW, if that’s possible), lead by the especially rabid Trey West. Played to the fare-thee-well hilt by Rodney Rowland, with a panache that all his villainous screen predecessors will be beaming with pride for, Rowland does more than just make Trey hissable; you know you are going to enjoy seeing him and his cronies get theirs.

And you don’t have to wait too long. After the brutal assault, rape and near-murder of Zoe, she’s found by a nearby shaman, Grey Wolf, (RAVENOUS’ Joseph Runningfox), who tries to help bring her back. He does indeed succeed, but in the best tradition of this thriller sub-genre, she doesn’t come back alone….

Avenged still threeWriter, director and editor Michael S. Ojeda is known mostly for documentary and behind-the-camera work, but in the surefootedness he displays with this freshman feature film, you wouldn’t know it. The photography of the landscape (good old California standing in for New Mexico) is as harsh and bleak as the horrific events that unfold within it; age-old hatreds, prejudices and feuds still wreaking havoc and destruction with both the innocent and the wicked, as it always has and always will, so long as it’s allowed to proliferate…and to escalate. That might be the most important message that the movie imparts, but you won’t have time to reflect on it until afterward, as you’ll probably be too busy drinking in the well-choreographed fight scenes, and the practical effects beautifully handled on a limited budget by Hugo Villasenor and his crew. You certainly get a lot of bang for your buck out of this tale of violence begetting violence.

Avenged still oneTrey’s noxious crew and the ways in which they meet their fates will stick with you for some time, as will the performances of the actors portraying them, but besides that of Rowland’s, a couple of others definitely stand out. Tom Ardavany definitely makes a bold impression as Trey’s “red right hand”, deadly brother West, who could be a formidable force if he used his powers for good, (which he definitely doesn’t here,) making him an even more menacing bad guy. Not to be outdone in the rabid redneck department is Ronnie Gene Blevins as Jed, the dyed-in-the-wool bigot who isn’t blood kin to Trey, West or their other brothers Cody (Brionne Morris) or Skeeter (Kyle Morris), but is an integral part of the close-knit crew of cretins nevertheless. He’s one of the first to realize, way too late (as is traditional), that karma is about to deal them all a nasty taste of their own medicine…and THEN some.

Comparisons are going to be made – and aptly so – to movies like THE CROW, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and even in some respects, (but not in the more campy sense), THE MANITOU. I just can’t say that I’ve ever seen the disparate elements from those kinds of films ever combined in quite this way before.

Avenged still twoAlso, not nearly enough good things can be said about the balance of CG visuals with Villasenor’s wonderfully gooey, gory effects work. This reviewer is appreciating how filmmakers like Ojeda are striking this great balance of these visual and practical tools more and more, which only enhances the performances of the actors; rather than sticking them in front of a blue or green screen, wrapping them in fabric of the same color and asking them to ‘imagine’ scenery and physical effects. Not that this group of actors couldn’t have been talented enough to handle the task, but it’s certainly nice to surmise from the performances they gave, that they didn’t have to.

Best of all is how the doomed interracial romance between Adrienne’s Zoe and Samuel’s Dane adds a poignant note to what could have simply been a free-for-all of comic-book quality violence bordering on the cartoonish. And just as tragic in its own way is the ugly legacy of virulent racism passed down to the West brothers, save the near-catatonic Skeeter. They lived what they knew, and that was a hundred-plus years of choking on the xenophobic bile running deep in their veins, which galvanized them to assault, rape and murder those different from them, until one day the universe decided it had gone far enough…

Not to over-analyze it, however, just on the face of watching it as filmed entertainment, this reviewer is pleased to give AVENGED four out of five stars; as a lover of supernatural revengers, I’m just happy to recommend it as a damn fine satisfying ninety-plus minutes you’ll be more than happy to spend.

 

Check out the Avenged trailer:

Movie Review: Digging up the Marrow (2015)

Digging up the Marrow. Director: Adam Green. Writer: Adam Green. Stars: Ray Wise, Adam Green, Will Barratt. ArieScope Pictures

Digging up the Marrow posterLike his contemporaries, Adam Green is very much a fan of old-school, classic horror. Much of his work tends to reflect this, to the delight of more than a few of his fans. For this reviewer, however, his finished products are erratic in the effort to evoke the same kind of spooky, truly unnerving quality, as some of the iconic touchstones he tends to refer back to. Now, he’s put his hand to the found-footage genre, in an attempt to bring some freshness and maybe some of the same kind of hip irreverence reflected in his HOLLISTON TV series to the mix. With his latest effort, DIGGING UP THE MARROW. the result is a mixed bag, at best. While very entertaining, this film leaves you curiously as unsatisfied as the Big Mac meal you settled for, when what you wanted – and maybe expected – was a New York Strip steak with all the trimmings.

This horror mockumentary features Green, his DP, Will Barratt, genre fave Kane Hodder, and several other associates, friends and colleagues all playing themselves more or less, as he takes on the task of investigating the story of one William Dekker – superbly played by another genre vet and TWIN PEAKS alum, Ray Wise. Dekker claims to have found evidence of an underground city of ‘monsters’, who move between our world and theirs, which he calls “the marrow”, via a series of entrances located in different parts of the country. They are usually found in graveyards and other isolated locations. Dekker wants the world to know his story, but is understandably reluctant to completely trust Green and his friends for his own not-quite-divulged reasons.

Since found-footage has been done to death, back from the days when BLAIR WITCH caused the entire field to ‘blow up’, savvy audiences know how to spot all the tricks and tropes from a mile off. So Green is wise to cannily overstock his film with faces and places familiar to even the more casual fans; bringing in leading lights Mick Garris and Tom Holland to augment Kane’s appearance, and using locales like famous horror mecca Dark Delicacies, and the irreplaceable Porto’s restaurant a block down from it.

The two particular attributes of MARROW that keep the entertainment factor high, are Wise’s beautifully modulated performance as the possibly psychotic Dekker, and some quick glimpses at the effects work, based on the artistic renderings of fan favorite Alex Pardee, who also appears at the film’s beginning.

Ray WiseAn imaginative and fascinating scenario, filled with possibilities, the ‘what-if?’ of whether humans can co-exist with creatures inhabiting the darker realms of our world – and psyches – couldn’t have been mined more effectively than was done by Clive Barker in his own peerless ‘monster movie’, NIGHTBREED, and MARROW’S shortcomings reflect this.

Though we see much of Pardee’s/”Dekker’s” artistic renderings of the creatures he claims to have encountered over the years, not enough backstory of his relationship with the “marrow’s” denizens is provided to make the audience even give a damn about what’s going on.

Everything is fuzzily implied for the most part – does his wife live in the “marrow”? Does his son? Are they actually living down there as humans, or are they monsters as well? And how did that come to pass? What WAS it that Dekker was keeping in chains, in the locked room of a house that everyone else in the neighborhood assumed had been unoccupied for over a year?

I get it – not every single detail of a particular story has to be spoon-fed to you while you’re watching, and sometimes a film is all the better for leaving certain details ambiguous. Unfortunately, aside from the marvelous Wise, Green, Barratt and their friends and family are not skilled enough as ‘actors’ to help us suspend our own sense of disbelief, bring us further into the mingling of these two disparate worlds and help drive the story forward, the way that Barker’s wholly fictional construct was able to.
digging-up-the-marrowAnd also, the film’s main asset – Wise’s own presence – manages to take the viewer way out of the ability to suspend disbelief as well. Where BLAIR WITCH’s now-basic found-footage trope of using completely unknown actors added to the jittery ambivalence that first surrounded that movie (“Is this for real or not?”), even the most casual of horror fans would’ve had to have been living in a cave in Afghanistan for a few decades, in order to be unaware of Wise’s stature as a fan favorite – from his role as Leland Palmer in the iconic TWIN PEAKS, if for nothing else.

So my final verdict for DIGGING UP THE MARROW is to hold onto your ‘shovel’, and look for other prime excavation opportunities elsewhere…unless you are a staunch fan of Green’s, who needs to see everything he puts out, regardless, or if you are a Ray Wise fan, for pretty much the same reason.

 

 

Check out the trailer for Digging up the Marrow:

Movie Review: The Voices (2015)

The Voices poster
The Voices poster

If Ed Gein and Henry Lee Lucas created a sitcom together, and David Lynch produced it, exactly what would that look like? Marjane Satrapi, the writer/director of the award-nominated PERSEPOLIS knows, and gives it to us in spades with THE VOICES, which is quite possibly one of the most disturbing first-person views of psychosis since David Cronenberg’s underrated SPIDER.

The entire movie is a vehicle for its star, Ryan Reynolds, but if you’re expecting him to reel in his target audience with his six-pack, sculpted pecs and insolent VAN WILDER-esque grin, be prepared for a considerable shock to your system. As normal, good-looking (but not GQ Magazine-ready), and somewhat reticent Jerry, he’s the ‘good guy’ who seems happier just going with the flow, but is almost pathetically desperate to please everyone and do well, whenever thrust into the spotlight.

Really, just an all-around ‘good guy,’ that Jerry. When he stays on his medication.

Which, for the most part, he doesn’t. And that’s where THE VOICES begin…literally.

Not to be remotely confused with any piddling reality shows that may KIND of bear a similar title, this one is all about drawing the audience into Jerry’s World; where pretty girls aren’t just pretty, but beauteous ‘angels from heaven’; where Jerry’s life of drudgery takes place in a bathtub-and-sink factory in the fictional town of Milton, (get it?), but everything is washed in beautifully soft pastels – even the uniforms. And he can talk to the animals.

Yeah, not a typo. Jerry talks to the animals, and as the title implies, they talk back. Said animals being his dog, Bosco and his cat, Mr. Whiskers. Oh, and they don’t just talk. They are the yin-and-yang components of Jerry’s conscience; Bosco, the gregarious, kind-hearted soul who tries to reassure Jerry that he’s always being a “good boy”, while Mr. Whiskers is an amoral, devious, cynical sociopath, with a Scottish brogue to make his insults even more stinging – think Billy Connolly with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a machete in the other. After taking a good hit on a crack pipe. AND with a tail to complete the portrait.

Jerry’s real troubles begin (or so we are led to believe), when the girls “up in Accounting” at the factory start taking a shine to him, especially Brit transplant, the curvaceous Fiona (Gemma Arterton). It’s with their first ‘date’, that she begins to suspect that her sweetly goofy co-worker may be something more of a nutbar, and not in a GOOD way. She manages to stand him up for what he would have considered an official “DATE-date”, which sucks for her. “Unmedicated” Jerry just isn’t someone who takes to being intentionally snubbed kindly.

the Voices img oneAnd it should be noted here: this is where Reynolds really excels in this film, by underplaying the matinee idol looks, and giving us just enough crazy that we know he’s out to lunch, and yet find ourselves empathizing with him in a way that doesn’t compute with the principled side of ourselves – the conscience screaming at us that we are siding with a cold-blooded killer. And this dichotomy will not be easily reconciled, either. Ryan’s performance, Satrapi’s sure-handed direction and the script by Michael R. Perry have ensured it. Like the aforementioned SPIDER, this is a deeply immersive experience that ratchets up the unease factor that will stick with you, long after the jaw-dropping end credits have rolled. Even the revelation of the source of Jerry’s mental dysfunction doesn’t alleviate the discomfort, and if anything, makes it worse.

Equally great in their performances are Anna Kendrick (UP IN THE AIR) and Ella Smith, as Lisa and Alison, respectively, two of Fiona’s co-workers who are also sweet on Jerry, much to their future dismay. On the opposite end of things is the wonderful Jacki Weaver (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and Fox’s GRACEPOINT), playing the ineffectual Dr. Warren, Jerry’s court-appointed shrink, who always looks like she’s pretty sure that Jerry is going to pull out a running chainsaw at any given moment, and that SHE should be prepared to run, too! (Smart cookie, this one.)

Unlike your typical Tim Burton-esque confectionary fantasy, or the droll storytelling of Wes Anderson, there is nothing that Satrapi provides here to soothe your rapidly fraying nerves. On the contrary, enough reminders are dropped in at strategic moments to remind you that because you are stuck with a completely unreliable hero/’narrator’, that what you are seeing is an absolute lie: we know that dogs and cats don’t talk, serial murder is not justifiable to put people out of what might be perceived as “their misery”, and the relatively pristine apartment-cum-abandoned bowling alley where Jerry lives is nothing more than an abbatoir, revealing that he is not only insane, but has been for a very long time, with this devastating reality hidden only by his happily, pharmaceutical-free, psychotic haze.

THE VOICESTwo surprises that help catapult this into a great position to find ‘cult movie’ status with the audience that it’s meant for: how this film takes The O’Jays underrated classic, “Sing A Happy Song”, and hopefully gives it the same notoriety that Stealer’s Wheel’s one-hit wonder, “Stuck In The Middle With You” did with Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS. And the ‘reveal’ of the voice actor(s) who provide the distinctive personalities of Bosco, the malevolent Mr. Whiskers and a doomed deer.

Here’s hoping that THE VOICES does find its mark with horror fans seeking out bracing originality, and that this marks a real turning point for Reynolds, breaking out of the ‘funny, pretty-boy’ casting straitjacket once and for all.

 

 

Check out the trailer:

Movie Review: The Houses October Built

The Houses October Built poster
The Houses October Built poster

Bottom line here: what you see is mostly what you get.  If you happen to be into the ‘found-footage’ genre, and you also like to explore the best and the scariest of the local haunted houses wherever you are, THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT is going to feel to you like a two-check payday.  If you happen to dislike one or the other, or even worse – you have an aversion to both things, this movie is going to be one hell of a slog for you. And that’s if you have the patience to wade through to the ending.

Personally, I didn’t find it a problem.  I loved that they documented actual Texas haunts throughout the movie, including Haunt House, Moxley Manor, Phobia and several others.  The found-footage angle becomes totally believable due to this, even when things begin to take a turn for the worse and the creepiest, as you would expect.

In the now almost-required BLAIR WITCH tradition, the five actors play versions of themselves, as five friends, (director/co-writer Bobby Roe, co-writer Zack Andrews, Mikey Roe, Brandy Schaefer and Jeff Larson), who decide to rent an RV, equip it with several cameras besides the ones they’re carrying, and do a freestyle documentary about their statewide jaunt to explore haunts of all different kinds, with the ultimate goal of trying to discover THE most ‘extreme haunt’ of them all.  Although the film’s trailer, in stereotypical fashion, spoils several of the movie’s most hair-raising moments, it never reveals whether or not they achieve their goal.  I will only say that the old saying “be careful what you wish for’ most aptly applies here.

For a found-footage entry, it is pretty well put together and fairly well-acted, considering.  My guess is that the familiarity of the ‘characters’, in terms of the kind of people you know in your own daily experiences, will determine how much you like or dislike Bobby, Mikey, Zack, Brandy and Jeff, and whether you give a damn about what happens to them.

The Houses October Built still oneOne of the things that took me out of the movie at first, were the typical idiotic “horror movie victim” decisions that they made as they got closer to their “unholy grail.”  There are several key points throughout the journey, where I – as the viewer putting myself in their shoes, could not see myself making the kind of boneheaded calls they do, when the time comes to choose a sense of personal safety over the opportunity for experiencing not-so-cheap thrills.  And that is aside from the fact that there are subtle, chilling, background hints of foreshadowing that we, the audience are given, that these doofuses could hardly be expected to pick up on, in between the necessary scenes of ‘buddy-bonding’, (and yes, that does include pot and the munchies that follow it.)

Besides the nicely grim, doom-laden portents – which, by the way, if you have a fear of clowns, won’t help your phobia one little bit – the inside ‘tours’ of each haunt the ‘Fearless Five’ go through, give you an excellent idea of what the different attractions are like, and how varied they are; from the conventional ‘jump-scare’ palace, to one that features a more unique aspect – “zombie paintball”, and yes, even zombie strippers.  (No, it’s not just a B-movie concept anymore – if the strip bars didn’t start it first.)

The Houses October Built still twoFinally, in the conclusion, which is oddly satisfying, (if reminiscent of a gazillion other horror flicks, both in and outside of the found-footage genre), it’s worth contemplating how the ending actually tweaks the audiences’ noses a bit about the state of horror these days, and the way people perceive it.  In the quest for a good scare, for the rush of terror that you used to feel at the movies you saw when you were a kid, or felt at the scare attractions at the theme parks…how much IS it really worth to get that feeling again? When it comes to the extremes of “extreme”, how much is too much?  And do we really want to find what’s on the other side, if we dare to cross that boundary?

For my own experience, I would give THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT about three-and-a-half out of five stars.  Your chills and thrills may vary.

Check out The Houses October Built trailer:

Movie Review: V/H/S: Viral (2014)

VHS VIRAL POSTER
VHS VIRAL POSTER

V/H/S: VIRAL (2014) A Co-Production of Magnet Releasing, The Collective and Bloody Disgusting.

“Vicious Circles”: Directed by Marcel Sarmiento; Written by Marcel Sarmiento, T.J. Cimfel, David White and Ed Dougherty; “Dante The Great”: Directed and Written by Gregg Bishop; “Parallel Monsters”: Directed and Written by Nacho Vigalando; “Bonestorm”: Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead; Written by Justin Benson.

Well, I’d had really high hopes for the third installment in this found-footage franchise, especially after one of the beautifully-crafted nightmares in the previous sequel managed to raise the bar considerably for any future efforts that would become part of the series.  Although I can certainly applaud the latest crop of filmmakers for trying to make things fresh and different, overall, the level of quality falls back down to about where it was with the freshman entry in the series, even if it’s not completely lacking.

Marcel Sarmiento’s “Vicious Circles” is the wraparound story this time around, and once again, kudos for the different take on the overarching theme, even if at times the entire piece seems to suffer from a case of terminal incoherence.  A typical L.A. cop chase scene unfolds in the story opening, as patrol cars pursue a vehicle that’s anything but typical: a beaten-up ice cream truck.  Gawkers and cell phone junkies everywhere are almost compelled to get as close as they can, to get footage of the chase and get themselves in it as well on-scene.  But Kev (Patrick Lawrie), in hot pursuit of the truck on a ‘borrowed’ girls’ BMX bike, has more at stake in the chase than anyone else.  The truck has something to do with the disappearance of his girlfriend, Eva (Stephanie Silver), following an argument they had about his obsession with getting everything they do on digital recording devices.  A nice tie-in to V/H/S’s whole “raison d’etre” about commenting on and satirizing our selfie/sound-bite/YouTube clip saturated culture, though we have to assume later on how it is we are given access, through the wraparound tale, to the stories that follow.

“Dante The Great” is first on-deck, as Dante, a magician wanna-be trailer park denizen from Georgia, (well-played by Justin Welborn), somehow gets his mitts on a cloak allegedly once owned by Harry Houdini himself, but so terrified the master illusionist that he ‘got rid of it.’ The murder and mayhem that occur at the hands of the stalwart magician makes why all too apparent.  To be blunt, nothing happens in this part-mockumentary, part-supernatural thriller, that wasn’t already explored in the films THE PRESTIGE and THE ILLUSIONIST, and to a much fuller and more effective extent in the Clive Barker blowout, LORD OF ILLUSIONS.  The thing that earns writer/director Gregg Bishop more than a small measure of respect, is the way he adapts this more-than-twice-told-tale in a thrilling and engaging way…and in about thirty minutes. Emmy Argo, who plays Scarlett, the ‘magician’s assistant’ who is more than a match for him, in more ways than one – is also a standout.  It just did the story no favors that the ‘shock’ ending is completely predictable – and clearly given away in the movie’s spoiler-heavy preview trailer.

VHS ViralAfter a re-visitation to the wraparound, showing that there’s more going on with the chase scene than meets the eye, we get “Parallel Monsters” from writer/director Nacho Vigalando (TIME CRIMES, THE ABC’S OF DEATH).  Vigalondo’s favorite, often-visited theme is how he is inspired by anomalies in time – loops, pockets, quantum physics.  In this tale, he takes on alternate dimensions, accessed by a homemade machine crafted by scientist Alfonso (Gustavo Salmeron).  Not only does it work, but it opens up a portal to a ‘reverse world’, in which he meets an alternate version of…himself.  Rather than having the usually-implied catastrophe of what happens when we share the same space with our Doppelgangers, the two Alfonsos strike up a tentative deal – to ‘switch’ places with each other, in their opposite sides of the portal for fifteen minutes.

What occurs next brings to mind that old adage about “the grass being greener on the other side.”  It may not be greener, but it can certainly be frighteningly different in ways your imagination can’t possibly begin to dream up.  Nice “TWILIGHT ZONE” twist to this tale, with a flourish at the end worthy of the old TALES FROM THE CRYPT series.  I have no idea if Vigalando was shooting for “Safe Haven” territory here intentionally, after the impact that short made with its inclusion in the second sequel, but as close as he comes with this, it’s more of a “bunt” than a clear home-run.  Having said that, “Monsters” is still the best of the shorts here.

Though we know that the ice cream truck is somehow affecting everyone’s behavior as it continues to make widening circles throughout the city, we continue to know as much about how, as we did from the first two films…meaning next to no information is telegraphed, before the final story.

VHS ViralThat would be “Bonestorm”, which was obviously made for the ‘skaterpunk’ and gamer contingents of the fanboy audience.  While supposedly shooting a video with a snarky, shady “videographer” they’ve hired to showcase their talents, two skater friends, Danny (Nick Blanco) and Jason (Chase Newton) learn from the shooter of a legendary spot in Tijuana, that’s a perfect spot for filming and “thrashin’”.

Thanks to a little help (very little) from a friend of the cameraman’s who gets nicknamed “Gas Money”, they make the trip to T.J., and true to the shooter’s word, the spot is indeed ideal for completing their skating video.  In spite of all the strange symbols and Satanic totems placed about the empty basin.  And the appearance of a strange woman doing an eerie chant.  And in spite of a bunch of other wraiths popping up seemingly from out of nowhere, who look like extras from TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD…I guess you can sense where this is going.

The numerous, quick jump-cuts and the other edits that switch back and forth from what I will call “GoPro-Vision” just left me feeling slightly nauseated and frustrated…probably in the same way it affected people who ultimately wrote off THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.  I guess this is what I get for never having been a skateboard nut or a hardcore gamer. I have a feeling that both groups will love this segment, and completely disagree with me about my dislike for it. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  I would have probably preferred to see the one segment I have heard was cut from the film at the eleventh hour.  But what’s done is done, so no use spending a lot of time on THAT subject.

VHS ViralWhich brings us to the ending.  “Circles” does finally complete the larger “circle” of the franchise in its own way, but how it achieves this goal is wide open for interpretation, which I guess is what Sarmiento intended.  Normally, I can appreciate movies that don’t beat you over the head with obvious answers, or spoon-feed you every detail of what you need to know, to understand the point the film is trying to make.  However, after sticking with this series through the two previous installments, I would have appreciated a bit more clarity about exactly WHAT the ending was trying to convey…Is the evil powering the antique recording and playing devices a metaphor for society’s raging appetite for more stimulation, more violence, more outrageous hi-jinks, more everything? And how the satiation point will never be reached, even though the madness has finally ‘gone viral’?

I don’t feel like we, the viewers, were ever really provided with the answer.  You will have to decide, dear reader, if you agree, or have your own take on it.  For me, V/H/S: VIRAL unfortunately takes the franchise three steps back.  And yet, I still hope there will be one last installment that will rectify that problem once and for all.

Check out the V/H/S: Viral Red Band trailer (intended for adults):

Movie Review: The Upper Footage (2013)

The Upper Footage poster
The Upper Footage poster

THE UPPER FOOTAGE works out to be a horror film, but more in the psychological and moral sense.  A dark, unrelenting look into the world of the young and the privileged, and how their personalities are reflected through a morass of the illness of “affluenza” and today’s pervasive, twisted obsession with social media notoriety.  One thing is absolutely certain: the acting, shooting and direction is unsettlingly well-done.  There is never one minute’s doubt that what you are seeing is actual footage of the documented fateful evening’s events, or the crime that is ultimately perpetrated.

Another sure thing: there will be no middle-of-the-road reaction to the dead-on depiction of spoiled little rich kids, getting themselves deeper and deeper into what becomes an abyss from which they cannot escape…not without everyone’s lives being changed forever, not for better, as the old song goes.

And characterization is one of several points to consider, when examining this film as the latest effort to try and capture the mantle of “the ‘BLAIR WITCH PROJECT’ for millennials.”

Love it or hate it, ‘WITCH’ was the film that popularized the “found-footage” horror genre, and became the ‘apex’ by which all films in this category have since been measured.

The Upper Footage still oneOne predominant point to look at with UPPER is the cinematography.  With similar films, like CLOVERFIELD, one flaw in the aspect of the camerawork is that a “found-footage” film can’t look too ‘cinematic.’  It distracts too much from the “you-are-there” urgency, if you have to wonder if a shot you’re seeing was done somehow with a Steadicam…which some guy with a camcorder wouldn’t have access to, while running for his life.  Another pitfall: shots that are too erratic, either with the extreme variables in lighting, or the deadly “shaky-cam” effect that so many people complained about with both BLAIR WITCH and CLOVERFIELD.  Completely realistic and expected when the camera person, once again, is running for their lives with the equipment.  Watching it back, however, is a totally different experience, and one that certain viewers can find annoying, nauseating, or both.  Yet another to mention: static shots – scenes where the camera is set down or dropped in one place, so that the audience has a very realistic POV as to what that looks like.  Not necessarily engaging or entertaining, however, if the camera’s pointing toward a wall, the ground, or one fixed object for what seems like an intolerable amount of time.

UPPER tries hard to walk the tightrope between these different aspects, and though it achieves a measure of success, the filmmakers at some point made the choice between maintaining a sense of realism, versus keeping the audience engaged, and though I commend them on choosing the the former instead of the latter, it definitely is going to hurt them with a considerable part of the audience demographic.  Establishing realistic parameters is where this movie excels – but in the process, it turns off those viewers who are not just experienced, but have even been somewhat jaded by everyday examples of what raw, real “found-footage” looks like. Watching evil, rich celebutards doing bad things is still shocking, but pales by comparison to being able to access clips of real beheadings and hangings on YouTube.

Which brings us back to characterization once again.  Johnny Depp, in his film, THE LIBERTINE, introduces his character by including a line that is an unforgettable caveat: “You will not like me.”  UPPER kind of does the same thing with its opening, showing stills and text describing the parties involved.  You already get a sense that depending on what you bring to this film, in terms of your own everyday experiences and philosophies, you will either love or love to hate the people you are about to spend about ninety minutes of your time with.  And if you’re anything like me, the second truly applies.

The Upper Footage still twoAnd unless you can view the film and what it depicts with a certain level of detachment – kind of like a sociologist observing a strange, newly-discovered native tribe for a filmed study, THE UPPER FOOTAGE is going to be a far-from-pleasant experience for you, and one that many may not be able to stay with.  Granted – the subject matter the film presents is NOT supposed to be pleasant or even entertaining.  It SHOULD be unsettling to watch.  But a film that offers no one to really root for or empathize with, had damn well better have something else going for it – smashing performances, dazzling effects, a story arc for at least one character that brings them over – even a little – from the dark side to the light, or vice versa.  UPPER, unfortunately, has few to none of these things to offer a horror movie fan in search of what they would consider to be a “good horror film.”

Which is not to say that the performances aren’t effective.  I can’t emphasize enough that if you didn’t know this was a film in advance, you would swear that this was actual, raw footage of the kind that media tabloids like TMZ and EXTRA are notorious for uncovering in their many celebrity “exposes”, (in fact, several of the infotainment shows are given shout-outs at the very beginning, to give it that additional touch of realism.)

Even those who aren’t students of pop culture and electronic journalism, won’t have to be psychic to know that the combination of these progeny of the 1%, mixing with an evening of unchecked drugs and booze will not lead to a happy ending. Though the climax has been described as ‘heart-stopping’ and ‘terrifying’, sadly, those with sharper deductive skills will have sussed out the ending well before it even arrives.

Overall, THE UPPER FOOTAGE gets four stars for effort, but only about two for actual execution.  A curio that will attract lookie-loos and those completists who are obsessed with seeing everything “found-footage” related.  But there have been better, and there will be better entries into the field.

Check out the trailer for THE UPPER FOOTAGE:

Movie Review: V/H/S/2 (2013)

V/H/S/2 Poster
V/H/S/2 Poster

[Editor’s note: The third installment of the popular found footage anthology series, V/H/S VIRAL, will be premiering on 11-21-14. Contributor Samuel Glass, Jr. continues his review coverage of the series with his thoughts on V/H/S/2!]

V/H/S/2 (2013)

Directed by: Simon Barrett (“Tape 49”); Adam Wingard (“Phase One: Clinical Trials”); Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale (“A Ride In The Park”); Gareth “HUW” Evans and Timo Tjahjanto (“Safe Haven”) and Jason Eisener (“Slumber Party Alien Abduction”).

The primary rule of any sequel is to attempt to surpass and improve upon the film that preceded it, even if only in some small way.  Happy to report to lovers of the first V/H/S, that the producers apparently took the praise and criticisms they received from both fans and columnists alike regarding their freshman effort, and used it to affect some profound changes in the creation of its successor.

First of all, there are less stories in this one, and the wraparound tale,(“Tape 49”), though duplicated in some aspects to keep the ongoing theme intact, is more well-developed this time around.  Where V/H/S presented us with a bunch of skeevy slackers who had nothing better to do than ‘break shit up’, and make a lackadaisical effort to locate what they thought was a ‘valuable’ video tape in the prerequisite ‘old dark house,’ here we have two private investigators looking into the disappearance of a college student, at the behest of his mother. Needless to say, the search of any home harboring that signature, creepy, altar-like stack of buzzing blank monitors, flashing VTR machines and haphazard piles of aging video tapes, will never wind up being that simple.  Once again, the tales unfold as one of the P.I.’s begins to review the tapes, searching for clues to help them locate the missing student.

Phase One: Clinical Trials
Phase One: Clinical Trials

Story One (“Phase One: Clinical Trials”), gives us a short that was most definitely influenced by the Asian cult thriller, THE EYE. A car accident victim is given an experimental ocular implant as part of the initial human clinical trials for an unnamed lab.  The new ‘eye’ works…a bit too well, since it enables its owner to “see dead people” SIXTH SENSE-style, who in turn know that he can see them…and they aren’t at all happy about it. A mysterious young woman who appears on the scene seems to have some answers, but those in turn pose some even more harrowing questions – like, how will they manage to survive the night? (And if you saw the first film, you can probably guess the answer to THAT one.)

“Trials” features some solid acting, and provides evidence of how the visual and special effects have been amped up from what came before.  The main weak point here is that you’re constantly reminded that you’ve seen this story done before, via the Asian version – and better.

A Ride in the Park
A Ride in the Park

Which brings us to the Second Tale, “A Ride In The Park”.  An off-road biking enthusiast trying out his new ‘helmet-cam’ for the first time, happens upon a female attack victim….attacked by WHAT, he has no idea.  But by the time he does, it’s already too late, as he discovers the devastating price for playing “the good Samaritan”…becoming a walking flesh-eater.  If you’re a big fan or Romero, Fulci or THE WALKING DEAD series, and you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to get a close-up, “dead-eye” view of the world as a zombie, this sequence was made just for you.  And by no less than Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, two of the masterminds behind the film that mutated the ‘found-footage” sub-genre into a hot commodity, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

Sanchez and Hale have created a clever, funny, appropriately disgusting – and at its climax, even poignant – ode to walking corpses and the people who love them…or would love to get away from them as far and as fast as possible!  The short’s ending, however, will provide zombie film lovers some fodder for a pretty spirited debate, as the filmmakers choose to break a fundamental rule of “zombie mythology”.  Whether or not “Park’s” fade-out succeeds, depends on how liberal (or not) you are with your consideration of said rule.

Safe Haven
Safe Haven

The third tale, “Safe Haven” is the strongest and most nightmare-inducing, and rightfully so.  It is the singular tale in this anthology that picks up much of the squandered potential from the first film, and uses it as ‘jet fuel’ to propel the audience into a horrific waking dream of the Apocalypse, in a way that hasn’t been effectively realized since the Lovecraftian adaptations of director Stuart Gordon, (especially DAGON, which in some ways this mirrors in tone and atmosphere.)

Co-directed by Gareth Evans, (the man behind the taut, Carpenter-esque cop-thriller THE RAID: REDEMPTION) and Timo Tjahjanto, “Haven” starts out in fairly mundane fashion.  A Malaysian news crew arrives in a remote rural location, to produce a “SIXTY MINUTES”-styled expose about a guarded, religious “doomsday” cult.  Naturally, tensions abound as the three-man/one-woman group is admitted into the cult’s compound, shown around the children’s school, adjacent rooms and then introduced to “Father”, the group’s charismatic, allegedly benevolent leader.

But through the various lenses and microphones of the crew’s equipment – as well as different security cameras placed throughout the compound – the audience becomes privy to a sense of constantly increasing dread; the aforementioned tensions of something not quite right with “Father” and his disciples dove-tailing with rapidly surfacing conflicts that divide loyalties and friendships within the news team.

It all culminates in a literal explosion of truths and lies unearthed, and the real purpose ot the cult, which ultimately realizes its goal of unleashing “hell on Earth” in a way that will haunt many viewers dreams (this one in particular) for a very long time to come.

With a mix of Malay with English subtitles and English dialogue, one would surmise that it would be difficult for most American audiences to follow along.  But “Safe Haven” is one of those great examples that proves beyond doubt, that a good story needs very little to no translation.  Considering its micro-budget, the practical and visual effects here are nothing less than impressive.  And if nothing else about this segment makes a lasting impression on you, the last frame most definitely will color your darkest dreams – if not become their foundation – for a good little while.

Slumber Party Alien Abduction
Slumber Party Alien Abduction

With “Haven” being such a tough act to follow, even the best and brightest upcoming talents in the indie horror world might find it a pretty daunting task.  So, writer/director Jason Eisener (HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN), doesn’t even try – presenting his piece, the last ‘tape’ viewed by the P.I.’s in the house – in a manner that allows it to stand out on its own merits.  A throwback to the Eighties films of Spielberg and Hooper (in particular, their collaboration on POLTERGEIST), even the title: “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”, is unapologetically retro.

Two brothers and a couple of their closest buddies, making bad home movies via a camera mounted on the head of the family dog, use the remainder of their ‘parent-free’ weekend doing what they do best: spend the time antagonizing their older sister and her boyfriend in as many ways as possible, while the offended parties in turn plot an appropriate payback. That’s the “Slumber Party” part of the story. The juvenile hijinks are brutally interrupted by – what else? – the “Alien Abduction”, which is when this final short truly kicks into high gear.

The same complaints regarding the ’shaky-cam’ nausea and disorientation that plagued THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, will most likely be leveled at “Abduction” as well, but take a moment of consideration.  All of the action is being doubly reflected through the POV’s of the “family dog cam” and that of the terrified, traumatized kids. One would have to assume that when experiencing a kidnapping by E.T.’s not-so-friendly relatives,  you’d be feeling plenty of both…and that would be the least of your worries.  In this respect, for once, Eisener enlists said “shaky-cam” to advance and set the pace and tone of the story to great effect.

Animal lovers and sensitive, squeamish souls should be forewarned: unlike the teen-centric 80’s films it imitates and salutes, where ‘dweebs’, nerds and other assorted outcasts ultimately prevailed, conquered all enemies and saved the day, this has far from one of those triumphantly happy endings…and I will leave it at that.

Tape 49
Tape 49

Which brings us full-circle to the “wrap-up” of the wraparound story.  Though as I mentioned before, it’s tighter and greatly improved from the original, you are still provided with infuriatingly little information about what the hell is going on with VTR/monitor altars, allegedly dead people walking around the house, some kind of demonic possession having to do with watching the tapes, (shades of THE RING?) and how it all relates to the overall mythos the series is trying to establish.  One can only hope and assume that, like the outstanding [REC] franchise, (to which this bears quite a few similarities), more answers will be forthcoming with the third installment coming 11-21-14.

And as long as the quality of the stories that comprise the anthologies continue to improve and surprise in both content and quality, they can count on this reviewer to be there.

Check out the V/H/S/2 trailer: