REVIEW: Dracula Untold (2014)

A moment from the film that was not 100% CGI.

A moment from the film that was not 100% CGI.

Dracula Untold: D

This is an outrageous clusterfuck of superhero origin movie clichés and Transformers 3 levels of CGI nonsense. I seriously couldn’t understand what was happening during the gushers of CGI, and when the camera stopped spinning long enough for me to get it, I was sorry that I did.

There is nothing “Dracula” about this movie. All of the seduction, complexity, and horror is erased completely. What remains is a seriously pathetic Dracula reboot attempt where the character is reimagined as a Batman (pun actually not intended) kind of avenger who, like the protagonist of every kung-fu movie and side scrolling video game, fights bad guys of increasing difficulty until the final battle scene with the “boss”. I suppose if you enjoy vampire movies and want to see a worse PG-13 version of one of those Underworld movies, where vampires do kung-fu, you might like this one. I think this is the only movie I have seen with Dracula in it where Dracula is just not fucking cool at all. He looks/behaves like the lead singer of Creed.

Tywin Lannister plays a cave-dwelling Nosferatu-ish vampire who gives Vlad his CGI abilities. This part is pretty cool. It’s a “deal with the devil” setup where Vlad has to gamble his soul in order to gain vamp-power. Lannisterferatu performs some CGI magic on him and then Vlad is able to do stuff like turn into a CGI swarm of bats, CGI heal from CGI attacks from CGI weapons, and movie at CGI super-speed. He can even create CGI tornados. The only thing he does that is not created by computers is his slow-motion walking/brooding in his trench coat that will make even devout Boondock Saints fans cringe.

There are a lot of “what have I become?” scenes and there is virtually no blood/gore in the battle scenes that interrupt Vlad’s pity party. Like another wretched monster reboot attempt, I, Frankenstein, the fight scenes are CGI-ed into blobs of spinning confusion and virtually all the killing blows are cropped out so that they can score that ever-sought-after PG-13 rating.

If you are someone who is generally unbothered by gratuitous CGI, and you like PG-13 action movies, give this a shot. But I just felt like I was watching a mixture of video games and sadder-than-John-Snow whining woven into what barely passes as a story.

REVIEW: Under the Skin (2013)

"Come with me if you want to not live."

“Come with me if you want to not live.”

Under the Skin: B-

Yes, this is the movie where Scarlett Johansson gets naked. Yes, it is also a pretty good movie that you should watch for reasons other than just the nude scenes. Again, yes, this is the movie where Scarlett Johansson gets naked.

What an extreme “don’t talk to strangers” cautionary tale. Johansson plays a seductive alien who drives around looking for dudes to lure back to her lair where she leads them into a vat of black goo that dissolves everything except their skin. You never see her do anything with their skin, but you know at some point she is going to wear it, or one of her alien homies is going to wear it. Underneath all that Johansson, is a really grotesque alien.

At first glance, the movie is really repetitive; the driving/seducing/goo takes up a good half of the film and the scenes are all really similar: Johansson drives up to whomever looks the loneliest, charms them into her van (and then to her lair), and then the next thing you know, the poor guy has a raging boner and is following naked Johansson (did I mention there are nude scenes?) until he realizes he’s in black goo, sinking like rock in quicksand. His face melts into disappointment; this was NOT covered in sex-ed!

What’s fun about this repetition is the tension. After you see one guy swallowed by the black goo, the rest of her seductions are rife with fucking evil dramatic irony. We know that if she gets a dude in the van, it’s black goo time, but all he can think about is naked Johansson, even though there is something sort of… off about her. All you can think about naked Johansson too, but you know there is also black goo. The music during the black goo parts is eerie and there are some uncomfortable first-person shots. I liked it.

What’s extra fucked up is the fact that a lot of the footage of her failing to convince a guy to hop in the van is actually footage of her asking real pedestrians, in real life, to hop in her van for a ride. A lot of guys turned Johansson down for a weird van ride and their nervous refusals are included in the film. So when you see her hungrily asking a dude to get in her van to hang out, and the guy says, “no Scarlett Johansson, I do not want to hang out with you,” it’s real! Fucking idiots.

Like I said, the drawn out and suspenseful seductions take up a lot of time, but the formula changes when the alien starts to have what appears to be an existential crisis. “Why am I getting naked and luring lonely guys into black goo?!” It doesn’t end well.

The majority of the director’s credits include music videos, which winds up being a good thing. The movie looks fucking awesome (Even scenes that don’t involve naked Johansson. There, I said it.). The shots are all carefully framed, there are those gnarly first-person sequences, and Johansson fluctuates between flawless and grotesque, angelic and demonic through isolating tracking shots and unflattering close-ups.

See it.

REVIEW: 976-EVIL 2 (1991)

“Here is an ancient text that discusses 976-EVIL.”

976-EVIL 2: D-

976-EVIL 2: Spike, the wise-cracking, barely shaved motorcyclist is back, battling a haunted jerk-off hotline for another 90 minutes. This time, instead of Spike’s cousin getting mixed up with the demonic forces of erotic landlines, it’s a dickhead teacher (played by a guy who looks like he’s a dickhead in real life) who dials 976-EVIL and projects himself onto the astral plane so he can murder people.

Professor Dickhead has a thing for killing blonde co-eds, which he demonstrates in the opening scene where he impales one with a fake stalactite backstage at the school theater. “Welcome to my Hell!” exclaims Professor Dickhead, and then there is an eruption of red corn syrup and an abrupt cut to Spike riding his motorcycle.

Spike has presumably been on a nomadic bender since the end of the first 976-EVIL movie, where ostensibly harmless occult phone sex led to him throwing his cousin through a portal to Hell. Now wherever Spike goes, phones ring ceaselessly, which makes him glare like a badass. At a crusty bar in a small town, he finally picks up the phone, right after befriending… a blonde co-ed…

Spike, the blonde co-ed, and Professor Dickhead are quickly entangled in a deadly triangle of evil jerk-off astral plane warfare.

From here, the movie showcases an array of unoriginal ideas. Just like the last movie, using 976-powers eats away at your physical form, so Professor Dickhead gradually starts to resemble an “after” picture of a decade long meth addiction. The Professor is very Freddy Kruger-ish (a nod to Englund, who directed the first 976-EVIL movie, or just unoriginality?); he likes to make jokes, laugh, and teleport around while he kills people.  From there, the similarities start to resemble borderline plagiarism; nothing that is straight-up theft, but the lack of ideas is clear: there is a scene where a room gets possessed, just like in Evil Dead 2 (talking animal head and all); a scene where someone is zapped into a black & white TV show, just like in Pleasantville; the owner of the Satanic bookstore is a clone of Elvira with bleached hair. I suppose in the first place, you shouldn’t sit down to watch 976-EVIL 2 with very high expectations, but there was literally nothing new to see here.

After some research at the Satanic bookstore, Spike winds up killing himself (they actually blow up a truck for this scene; how they got the budget to do so, I couldn’t tell you) so he can become Ghost Spike and save the co-ed from Professor Dickhead. He (very anti-climactically) succeeds and then explodes into a multi-colored constellation of floating dots which dissipate into the heavens, much to the glee of the unscathed blonde co-ed. Lucifer’s phone sex avatar has been defeated and the main character looks like a fucking Dark Side of the Moon laser light show. I guess that’s a happy ending?

Oh and then the co-ed is arrested for all of Professor Dickhead’s murders because, no blonde co-ed, we don’t believe that some jerk-off phone sex ghost killed everyone until some guy you just met became an anti-jerk-off phone sex ghost and stopped him.

REVIEW: Christmas Evil (1980)

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except Santa in his jack-off dungeon.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except Santa in his jack-off dungeon.

Christmas Evil: B+

Christmas Evil has everything I look for in a good cult classic. It takes itself somewhat seriously, has abysmal acting from people trying as hard as they can to act, and has clichés before they were clichés. This was like a Taxi Driver Christmas Special. And before you get on your Silent Night, Deadly Night high horse, please note that Christmas Evil came out four years before SNDN…

Harry experiences some Christmas-related trauma as a young boy (he sees his father dressed as Santa, going down on his mom RIGHT NEXT TO THE CHRISTMAS TREE) and then grows up with a weird Christmas complex. He learns Santa isn’t a guy who comes down the chimney with a sack of toys, he’s a guy who smells like Pall Malls and does naughty things to your mom just 18 inches away from your stocking.

Harry grows up and gets a job at a toy factory and in his spare time, he spies on little girls and boys, keeping a genuinely creepy naughty/nice list. He also hums Christmas carols non-stop, builds his own custom dolls/action figures, and shuts out the outside world completely, effectively turning his home into his own demented South Pole.

The people at the toy factory start taking advantage of him even though it’s Christmas time. It’s very Dickensian. After an escalating series of minor abuses from coworkers and family members, Henry does the only thing that makes sense: He dresses like Santa and goes on a killing spree. “Naughty” people get attacked with a hatchet, “Nice” people get toys that Henry made after hours at the toy factory and in his South Pole jack-off dungeon.

There are some demented scenes of people getting slashed during midnight mass and another scene where Henry kills a guy in his bed on Christmas morning and then leaves behind toys for the guy’s kids. There are also some hilarious scenes of Harry hiding in bushes and driving around in a sex offender-y van, dressed like Santa, talking to himself.

At one point, some townsfolk form a mob, gather torches and weapons, and run around looking for Harry like some 18th century Carpathian villagers.

Henry is a likeable slasher who has a Travis Bicklian moral code he tries to stick to, but he is eventually undone by his own need to be a real-life Santa. I’ll leave it at that. This is a good slasher and I recommend you check it out.

REVIEW: Neon Maniacs (1986)

Make-up effects brought to you by the Halloween Spirit Store's 80% off sale.

Make-up effects brought to you by the Halloween Spirit Store’s 80% off sale.

Neon Maniacs: D-

There is a gang of humanoid mutants (or “maniacs”) living inside of the Golden Gate Bridge. At night, they roam the streets of San Francisco, killing random people and harvesting their body parts. The only person who knows this information is a typical Well-Behaved Young Girl who narrowly escapes their clutches. Guess what: no one believes her. Also, guess what: I don’t give a shit, this movie blows.

The maniacs are mostly lame, flirting with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers syndrome; they look sort of like variations of the Toxic Avenger, but they are supposed to be scary. Maybe two of the maniacs look like they have some cool make-up on, but the rest are some dudes with Halloween masks and garbage glued to them. I’m talking Halloween masks you buy at Target. The shit is so random! One guy looks like they threw flour on him and glued pubes all over him. What a shitty mutation.

Get ready to get pissed: The maniacs’ weakness is water. That’s right: The maniacs who live in a tower of the Golden Gate and who wander around San Francisco at night, where the atmosphere is all MOISTURE, are killed by fucking water. This is worse than Signs where the aliens who also have a weakness for water decide to invade Earth, a water planet, and they run around a dewy cornfield.

The maniacs wind up at a high school battle of the bands where everyone is wearing cheap Halloween costumes, so the maniacs fit right in. The Well-Behaved Young Girl convinces her friends to spray the maniacs with squirt guns and while 80’s rock plays and you are expected to just sit there and watch this garbage.

This is the “showdown” scene of the movie. There is a crescendo of low-budget and unamusing violence, limbs getting hacked off and off-screen kills galore, that is abruptly ended when some girl dressed as Dracula gets a hold of the firehose and sprays the maniacs to maniac Kingdom Come.

The movie almost didn’t get made and actually had some interesting people (like the guy who did make-up for Aliens) involved from time to time, and I guess because of all the hoopla that built up to Halloween costumed turds, this is considered a “cult” film. But I don’t buy it. I think it’s sloppy and cheap and fucking agonizing to watch. Maybe at one time, someone cared about Neon Maniacs, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by watching it.

REVIEW: Shakma (1990)

You DO NOT want to see what he is doing with his hands.

You DO NOT want to see what he is doing with his hands.

Shakma: F

Some teenaged nerds all work together in a lab carrying out experiments to genetically modify apes and give them super-intelligence, strength, and agility, which always turns out to be a great idea in every horror movie I have ever seen. The teens are strangely cheery and self-absorbed as they work to decode baboon genomes while acting like they are characters from Saved by the Bell. One ape, Shakma, almost murders a guy, so they put poor Shakma down with (what appears to be) lethal force and wheel his unattended corpse into an empty room with an unlocked door. Another great idea.

The professor who runs this operation is a real piece of shit. He wears a bowtie and corsage and never for one single second ponders the ethics behind his chimp-enhancement experiments; he is always diddling around on his computer, swiveling around in his office chair, and pontificating like a wannabe Bill Nye the Science Guy. More like Bill Jerk the Science Jerk, right? “Making great progress on these homicidal genetically modified apes today! Everything sure is swell! Science is marvelous!”

One day, instead of devoting a single thought to the hubris and absolute stupidity behind heading a program that is essentially a murderous super-ape factory, the professor decides to close shop early and conduct a live-action role playing game with his staff, which he will be overseeing as the Dungeon Master. This involves walkie-talkies, motion sensor technology, and eventually, a bloodthirsty Shakma (nope, he is not dead). What could go wrong?

The teens wander around the building all night as pawns in the professor’s RPG and eventually, recipients of Shakma’s vindictive maulings. Shakma fucks some shit up and it is not pretty. I don’t mean the carnage, I mean it looks lame. There are quick shots of what is basically baboon stock footage edited into longer shots of the teens being molested by a baboon hand puppet (I wish I was making the puppet thing up). There are no shots where Shakma and the actors are in the frame together and the illusion that they are is fucking flimsy at best.

They got an actual baboon for the movie and IMDB claims that the filmmakers were able to capture some great shots of Shakma going apeshit by putting a female baboon in heat nearby. I believe it. Watch the movie; pretty much every time Shakma is banging on a door or window, he has a giant red-rocket boner.

Man, I wonder what was going through that director’s head when he told the crew “Hey, today, I want to get some shots of the baboon getting mad, so we need to work together to give him a boner and get him really frustrated.”

If that sounds appealing to you, teens thinking they are playing a version of Dungeons & Dragons as they get killed by a super-ape that never spears in the same shot as them, then I don’t really know what to say to you.