The Monster (2016)

monster

The Monster: B-

How thou hast come again to find this Keeper – alone and withered as I am in the obsidian catacombs of VHS, in the ever-twisting silver maze of DVDs – I know not. I know only that I continue to watch!

And watch with horror, Dear Reader! I recently watched with mingled horror and amusement at this latest offering: The Monster, a tale of addiction, doom, and desperation only too familiar to your humble servant and Keeper of this tomb of terror!

Like the tale of King’s Cujo, here we have a woman trapped in her isolated and dilapidated vehicle, on a desolate road tucked in the remote and stormy woods, clutching her first-born daughter to her breast in abject terror. She quavers and sobs as a beast, driven by cruel hunger, stalks about the misty exterior, eyeing the isolated condemned with calculating hunger. The audience too is gripped with peril, unable to look away as the few unlucky enough to intervene – a towtruck man, a band of paramedics –  meet their bloody destinies as the Monster’s prey.

And what of this beast, this Monster? It is not man, oh no Dear Reader! Here we have a hulking brute with the frame of an ape and the head of a vicious shark. Its body is covered in the most loathsome scales that shimmer with a sable iridescence in this storm that besieges our poor woman and her babe. Like the terrible and famous Alien, the Monster is a massive chunk of unforgiving shadow and teeth that devours all in its path. 

And this, Dear Reader, is the film: The trapped and horrified mother and daughter, the malevolent stalking Monster. The darkness is its ally, a tent of horrible concealment into which the fiend retreats like a ravenous panther to pace about with vile stealth, emerging only to commit murder and strew the road with carnage. A weakness can be found in the Monster’s eyes which, like pebble-sized chunks of filthy glass, capture and reflect all lights shined directly into thus, inflicting the creature with a shocked instant of blindness and panic, inducing one of its enraged escapes into the surrounding night.  

At its core, this abomination is a symbol, a metaphor for the addiction to alcohol which grips the woman tighter than she grips her only child to her own ferociously beating heart. In a multitude of shadowy flashbacks, we watch (always, we watch, Dear Reader!) as this same woman pickles her sensibilities with destructive excess of drink. Her family bonds erode, her role as a mother diminishes, her daughter’s love vanishes completely. Between tear-choked gasps we learn that she realizes her folly, but can no more stop the rise of her arm to deliver the bottle to her lips than one could stop the rise of the sun which splits the dark horizon each morning. Alas, the bottle itself is a Monster, a Monster unchallenged! Thus is the eventual immolation of the Monster of the woods a cathartic extinguishing of the “Monster” of the bottle which restores the bond of mother and daughter that had nearly suffocated entirely in a tarn of the cheapest rum.

Dear Reader, I would be remiss if I did not concede that I, your cursed and eternal watcher, too have been ensnared by the intoxicating escape offered by strong drink. Many a poor horror film hath inspired my own arm to deliver the stinging kiss of the bottle until my wits fled my body and a Monstrous oblivion swallowed my being! ‘Tis true!

The aesthetic of this film offers no flamboyance of frivolity; the shadowy woods, the sheets of obfuscating rain, and pale headlights which slice the night all act in black congress to produce an atmosphere of stationary dread and isolation in which we can appreciate the stark delivery of this core metaphor for the battle with alcoholism, the battle against rum. The destructive bouts with the beast who comes crashing from the woods parallel the family’s war with our woman’s alcoholic abuse.    

Ultimately, a number of factors led me to bestow this “B-” to The Monster, which is worthy of your eye, Dear Reader: the design of the foe is all too familiar yet the beast is mighty and imposing still; the confined setting is familiar as well, but the atmosphere is one of constant and naked fear; repetition quickly renders the central metaphor of the film obtuse and obvious, yet there is admirable commitment to this thesis; the direction is superb; the acting and makeup are heart wrenching and real.

 

My Monster too, Dear Reader, is large and black and devilish. An abyss of VHS that threaten to swallow my mind and all!

A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

a-christmas-horror-story

World of Warcraft: North Pole  

A Christmas Horror Story: C+

This one is an anthology movie that does a pretty good job of giving you what you want when you sit down to watch a Christmas-themed splatter-fest that had no chance in Hell of making it to theaters.

It’s no Creepshow, but CHS has four tales that are interesting enough. Let’s break them down with some micro-reviews:

  1. Story #1: A-. Santa’s elves become evil zombie elves, so he has to kill them all. This is completely self-aware splatstick that is basically an Evil Dead Christmas special. There is no shortage (get it? Elves are short) of puns in this one. There is a fun “twist” at the end of this story.
  2. Story #2: F. Some melding teens break into a haunted basement and have a good ol’ time getting slaughtered/seduced by a poltergeist who wants to get pregnant with the Anti-Christ. There are some cheap jump-scares and a cast of milquetoast teens doing things that teens do in horror movies. This one is beyond played out.
  3. Story #3: B-. A family chops down a Christmas tree and they bring it home. Instead of bringing their son home, they accidentally bring home a “changling,” who causes mischief like the kind from the Child’s Play movies. You know, sneaking around like a little asshole. A mostly comical game of cat-and-mouse ensues with the changling and the dad and I lost my shit when I first saw the makeup job they did on the changling. It looks like Mac and Me.
  4. Story #4: C. Krampus shows up and he is a fucking yoked World of Warcraft looking thing who wields a chain. Crazy Old Aunt Edda had this sick Krampus statue that looks like a piece from Todd McFarlane’s toy line, but her little shit grandson takes a break from guzzling energy drinks in his skinny jeans to smash it. Then Krampus, the albino orc from The Hobbit but with goat horns, murders the whole family.

Shatner shows up as the proverbial Cryptkeeper, a DJ spinning Christmas jams while he improvs awful jokes and ties the stories together. I wonder how much it costs these days to get Shatner to sit in a chair and babble complete nonsense for like 20 minutes.

The movie is alright, but one thing that bugged me a little was the lack of a unified tone. There were three directors working on this and the stories in the anthology each feel like they belong in different movies.

If you are in the mood to ask “Are you fucking kidding me?!” out loud multiple times while watching an anthology flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously, check this one out.

REVIEW: The Thing (1982)

Hello, comrade!

Hello, comrade!

The Thing: A+

This movie is about an Arctic research scientist and flamethrower enthusiast named Kurt Russell fighting a homicidal alien. It’s also about the Cold War. It’s also one of my favorite movies ever, so I’m not fucking around here.

The Thing came out in 1982, before I was born, and was one of the first rated-R horror movies I ever saw. It was made a few years after Alien and the two share the same dark atmosphere of isolation and paranoia although I would argue The Thing is scarier because the monster’s infiltration is much more intimate than in Alien. Imagine that radar scene from Alien, but now it is 80 minutes long!

Scientists dug too deep in the ice and they found the Thing. The Thing murders the shit out of all the scientists (as imagined in the forgettable CGI orgy that is the 2011 Thing reboot/prequel) and flees to a nearby research station run by Kurt Russell and friends.

The biology of the Thing is sort of confusing; it can mimic other organisms, but it can also “absorb” them, assimilating living things cell-by-cell until the organism has become a part of the Thing. The Thing is one sentient creature, but each cell has an independent survival instinct and is able to exist independently from the central Thing. It’s a hive-mind alien with self-replicating abilities. I don’t know if I’m making any sense; Wilford Brimley does a better job explaining it in the movie with Atari-esque computer models that represent the alien microbiology.

Since the Thing can shapeshift and absorb its prey, it decides that the best thing to do is enter the base disguised as a stray dog (in Antarctica?) and assimilate the crew one-by-one. All it has to do is get a guy alone in a room, and then it can Thing-ify him.

The Thing is also a communist; it is a foreign power posing as your neighbor. The 1950’s Cold War paranoia that barbeque owners Bill and Natalie next door might secretly be KGB operatives Boris and Natalia is ballooned to intergalactic proportions. And while the Thing personifies American fears of communism (like forced “equality,” total homogenous conformity, and just being foreign), Kurt Russell’s handsome ass represents the rugged individualism of blue blooded Americans. He looks more like Wild Bill Hickok than a fucking Arctic research scientist (he even wears a cowboy hat for much of the movie).

The Cold War undertones are pretty consistent, even to the point where, in the final act, K-Train is ready for some Mutually Assured Destruction. This part is foreshadowed brilliantly at the beginning of the movie when Russell loses at computer chess and responds by dumping a glass of scotch on the motherboard. The Thing is content executing a methodical takedown of the base, calculating its moves and taking people (pieces) one at a time, but Russell decides that the best move might be to torch the entire base; if he can’t get the Thing in checkmate, he wants an incendiary stalemate. Take that, you fucking pinko!

Some people think that there is no Cold War allegory and this is just a movie about an alien and Kurt Russell and glasses of scotch and flamethrowers. Pay no attention to these people. They will go away if you ignore them. I am so all-in with this allegory, that I think you could make the argument that it has a timeless quality; to the original audience of the film, the Thing is a communist. Or maybe it is an AIDS patient. Now, he’s a terrorist cell. “Snake Plissken Fights a Monster, The End” isn’t good enough. There’s more here.

Critics of the movie will also pick apart Kurt Russell’s ham-handed Thing-hunting and, yeah okay, he is pretty Kurt Russelly the whole time, I’ll give you that. But who did you want in there instead? This is The All-American Computer who Wore Tennis Shoes! Sorry stool admonisher Clint fucking Eastwood wasn’t available to squint at the Thing for 90 minutes and instead you are stuck with a guy who has done a pretty good job making a career out of running around yelling like a lunatic.

The film has legitimately revolting special effects, probably the most impressive horror/sci-fi makeup ever. If you read some other reviews for the movie, they will likely spend more time on it than I did, which is the right thing to do. For instance, you know that scene with the arms? They got a guy who has no arms for that scene. And it’s fucking gross. There is dismemberment, reanimation, people getting sprayed with parasitic Thing goo, and all sorts of other horrifying shit.

I cannot recommend this movie enough. See it right away.

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: It Follows (2014)

It-Follows-car

It Follows: A+

This is the scariest movie I have seen in a long time. Even if you have little problems with the bold styling of the film, you have to give it credit for keeping you in a constant state of dread from beginning to end. I am trying to remember the last time a film had me searching every detail in the frame as intensely as I did with this one.

Everyone wants to talk about is the soundtrack, so let’s do it: The soundtrack is killer. It’s virtually all synths that will immediately endear the movie to John Carpenter fans and any viewer with a soft spot for 70s-80s horror films. It’s a meticulous refurbishing of the same beloved sounds that were the backdrop for decades of horror movies. I still have the end credits’ song stuck in my head.

Strangely, the best moments in the soundtrack are the monotonous arpeggiating Carpenterian ones because they parallel the film’s monster, who can only walk very, very slowly in a straight line. It’s a shapeshifting ghost that is always walking in your direction. There is no origin story; if it catches you, it kills you in the worst way and no one knows why. The movie opens with a graphic demonstration of this and then shifts to a group of lazy suburban teens who get tangled up in the following. The only way to lose the curse is to “pay it forward” through sexual intercourse. Then the ghost follows whomever you banged. The ever-problematic horror movie teenage sex drive is now actually a relevant plot device instead of a thoughtlessly inserted slasher trope.

You can walk, run, or drive away, but the ghost will just steadily walk to wherever you are, disguised as a friend or family member, hungry to fuck you up. This is what had me searching every shot. Is that guy in the background walking slowly toward the protagonist? What about her? Is she acting weird? What was that little shadow in the back corner? I was so involved in the terror of the movie I completely forgot I was in the theater.

There are nods to 70’s and 80’s horror in ways I have never seen. The soundtrack is one thing, but the movie takes other horror totems and cleverly repackages them. The time period is ambiguous; maybe it’s in the 80’s, maybe not. There are some new cars, but no cell phones. It feels like the same era as Monster Squad and Lost Boys, but you know it isn’t. I mention these two movies because the terrorized teens in It Follows form a sort of fellowship where they try to analyze and defeat the ghost. There are boobietraps and everything.

The idea that teen sex is tied to horrific death is a tired convention of slasher flicks at this point. We all know that Jason is going to come eviscerate whichever teens are bragging the loudest about boning. But in It Follows, sex can literally be used to assign certain death to other characters and the protagonist is not a chaste bookworm who gets an advantage through abstinence. Now, she has an incentive to have the same thoughtless sex that was taboo for 50 years of horror movies. The thing we have been taught to dread takes on a new dimension.

I can’t say much more without giving up certain scenes/twists, but this is one you have to see…

REVIEW: Leprechaun: Origins (2014)

lep_origins

Leprechaun: Origins: UV – WORST MOVIE I SAW IN 2014

This is not a Leprechaun movie. It just isn’t; I don’t care what anyone says.

You sit down to watch a Leprechaun movie with certain expectations which are not to be radically fucked with. You definitely expect a wisecracking leprechaun, you expect some cartoonish kills, and you expect overly-obvious commentary on human greed. Leprechaun Origins ignores all of this. The movie doesn’t even make fun of the Irish. Disgusting. And I don’t want to watch the same movie over and over. I appreciate some innovation. But this is an insult.

Let’s start with the “leprechaun.” Instead of a charming troll-like psychopath, the “leprechaun” in this movie (who, according to the credits, is played by WWE’s Hornswaggle, but there is no way to be certain) is a feral animal incapable of human speech. He doesn’t wear any clothing and he doesn’t do any fucking magic. He sees in infrared like the Predator and he looks like a mixture of a goblin from Lord of the Rings and a baby gorilla. About 95% of the shots of him are shaky-cam jump-scares with some messed-up filter so you don’t even get to really see how fucking worthless he looks.

This drove me fucking berserk. I kept waiting for him to morph into the leprechaun, or for there to be some big reveal that he was the leprechaun’s pet or something. Never happens. You have to wait 38 minutes for him to even show up and then it’s just him chasing four vacationing teens, occasionally snagging one and mauling them.

How about the kills? Say what you want about the Leprechaun movies, but their kills are the epitome of creative splat-stick. Warrick Davis pogo-sticks a guy to death, magically inflates a woman’s breasts until she explodes, launches someone into outer space, impales someone with a bong, and does a bunch of other evil shit that seems dreamed up by a brain-damaged eight year-old. This “leprechaun” just bites and claws people.

What about gold? Remember, the Leprechaun’s murderous lust for gold is the MacGuffin in the old films. There are maybe a combined 20 seconds of gold in this movie. The leprechaun wants it. He sees in infrared, but the gold pops out.

I seriously think WWE was making a monster movie and they just bought the rights to the Leprechaun movies and slapped the Leprechaun name on this crap at the last minute, editing in some bullshit about gold after securing the rights.

To make you feel better, click here for a one minute clip of all the kills from the original Leprechaun movies.

REVIEW: Absentia (2011)

absentia

 

Absentia:  C+

Low budget flicks like this are hard to gauge.  Should you give it credit for overcoming a shoestring budget?  Or should you note that its limitations don’t quite allow for a fully-formed film?

In this case, I went with the latter, but if you talked to me on a different day, I could be convinced to bump it up into the “B” range.  Ultimately, it falls in the category of “nice little film” that could’ve been a helluva lot better with a cash infusion.   It’s the kind of movie where you find yourself muttering, “Was this shit funded by Kickstarter?” and then you go and look it up, and sure enough, this shit was funded by Kickstarter.

What works: An intriguing plot about a woman living in the L.A. valley whose husband has gone missing.  No note, no body, no clues as to where he fucked off to.  Just…gone.  It’s been  seven years, so she’s having him declared legally dead “in absentia.”  This lady’s much hotter younger sister comes to stay with her to help her through the transition, but maybe she’s just there because she’s a druggie with no options.  Some good sister drama there.

The malevolence revolves around this pedestrian tunnel near their house.  Hot Younger Sister goes jogging through it an encounters an apparent homeless man in rough shape.  She stops to check on him, and he’s amazed that she can see him.  He cries “It must be asleep!” as she retreats the fuck  out of there.  Nice hook.  This, of course, makes Thing in the Tunnel suspect #1 in the whole “What happened to my husband?” mystery.  Complicating matters, the detective who’s been investigating the dude’s disappearance has impregnated the wife.  He’s also a woefully shitty actor.

Which brings us to what doesn’t work.  I can’t see any of these actors making a living doing this, with the possible exception of Hot Younger Sister.   It has one of those let’s-cast-our-friends-who’ll-work-for-snacks vibes.  Then there’s the problem of Thing in the Tunnel.  It’s apparently not confined to the tunnel, as there’s some creepy happenings inside the nearby house.  But you never really get a sense of what the thing is.  It’s always in the shadows, and the director employs all those quick cuts that you have to use when you don’t have the special effects budget to build something scary on camera.

You could do worse than checking this out on Netflix streaming, but you’ll probably be left with the same decent-but-not-great feeling I had at the end.   I was left wondering what the director (Mike Flanagan) could do with a bigger budget, but Bloodcrypt Keeper has your answer.  Maybe the bargain bin is where Flanagan should stay.