The Monster (2016)

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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!

Suspiria (1977)

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Suspiria: A

After watching Neon Demon (which I loved) the other day, I had a craving to re-watch Suspiria and it was better than I remembered.

I’m not saying anything revolutionary by praising this movie; its look and sound are cited as inspiration for a ton of American horror “originals” (like Halloween) and this movie is probably what comes to mind for a lot of people when they think of “cult” horror that isn’t piece-of-shit grindhouse exploitation. It has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and I would bet my soul that there are film classes with this on the syllabus. I am not the only person who likes this movie for the reasons I do.

The movie is “about” an American named Suzy who enrolls at a prestigious ballet academy in Germany. The director is a witch and the academy is just a front to presumably stock a stable of virgin girls to be sacrificed for Satanic rituals; all the instructors are in on it. In between recitals, the faculty drinks blood and chants and stuff. There are some murders and lightning. That’s pretty much it. The aforementioned plot points happen over and over to the sound of deafening prog-rock while a rotation of primary colors is projected on everything.

The movie is good, but doesn’t have a lot of the things that make a movie “good.”

Like Neon Demon, this movie is more about maintaining a look/feel than about maintaining a plot. There is a saturation of color in this movie that puts Wes Anderson to shame; this is all in the name of atmosphere, not story. The result is a maximizing of emotion/dread while the story, which doesn’t matter at all, hangs in the background. The story doesn’t even make fucking sense. Most of the important exposition comes from a psychologist who wrote a book on the psychology behind being a supernatural entity. Suz tracks him down at a psychology convention, as if this guy who writes about the psychological make-up of witches and demons would be a respected authority somehow! He explains the psychology of witches to Suzy (and the audience) along with everything else that happens in this movie including a detailed history of the until-now hidden/unknown villain, a witch named Helena Markos.

The soundtrack is unique and overpowering. It will remind you of John Carpenter. There are loud synths and scary noises. It absolutely drowns out everything else that’s happening.

I love the characters in this movie. We have The Neo-Nazi Instructor, The Romanian with False Teeth, The Headmistress Who is a Bitch about Everything, The Poor Blind Guy who is Obviously Gonna Die, and many others. However, the acting is pretty awful.Everyone working on the film all spoke different languages, so there are a bunch of scenes where actors literally don’t know what any of their fellow actors are saying, so they just deliver their lines bluntly while trying to look assertive. But they all look great! This is a fitting metaphor for the film.

You gotta see it.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

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In the Mouth of Madness: B

I really enjoy this movie. I have probably seen it ten times and every viewing is a lot of fun.

IMOM is a meta-fictive movie about Sam Neill, who is either a character in a horror novel or a crazy person or both. A worshiped horror author named Sutter Cane (based on Stephen King) writes wildly popular horror fiction filled with terrifying world-eating monsters (based on HP Lovecraft). When Cane goes missing, Neill is enlisted to hunt him down. He somehow travels to a town that exists only in Cane’s books which is populated by a bunch of gross creatures from his body of work.

I like the psychological and reality-questioning elements of the film but they are by no means groundbreaking. The “dream within a dream” jump-scare/misdirection is (probably) overused in this movie and the schizophrenic meta-fictive structure of the film is very Naked Lunch; time and space are messed with a lot and the audience isn’t always clearly notified when this is happening. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining. Neil does a great job of slowly losing his mind and all of the rest of the cast (who may or may not be monsters or fictional characters or other crazy people or all of the above) is extremely creepy. Once the film gets going, you sort of get buried in dream sequences up to the point where the wizard behind the curtain “reveal” is kind of anti-climactic because you’ll be all “let me guess, Neil is going to wake up any second now?”

Say what you will about Sam Neill, but the man knows how to convincingly babble/cry like a crazy person.

The make-up is great and there are total homages to other famous works of horror. There is some awful 90s CGI, but there are some Carpenterian practical effects too. All the monsters are like Cthulhu’s relatives and there is a lady who walks upside-down like the girl in The Exorcist. The grandma from Happy Gilmore is in this and she is fucking hilarious.

People like to hate this movie and there are no shortage of anti-IMOM arguments. The movie is like a poster-child for bargain-basement 90s horror, so if you don’t find that genre scary or charming or at least funny, you’ll probably hate the movie. Also, it was directed by John Carpenter, a director who is extremely hit-or-miss for some because of his music and effects. Give it a try and decide for yourself.

Friday the 13th (1980)

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Friday the 13th: B

You already know what this one is all about: Some teens (including young Kevin Bacon) who like to bang each other get together in the woods to spruce up Camp Crystal Lake and they are systematically slaughtered while they try to bang each other. This is (arguably) the father of modern teen cut-em-ups and it’s full of too short cut-off jeans, games of strip-Monopoly, and first-person POV stalking. When people think of corny slashers, the images that come to mind are straight out of this movie, no doubt.

Just because it is one of the originals doesn’t mean it is perfect. I see people going easy on this movie all the time and this has resulted in an inflated collective memory we all have of this not-too-special movie. It’s understandable that this happened; this is a movie that sort of sucks objectively, but has been emulated for 30 years. It is a bad movie that people have used to direct and create good movies. If you don’t consider the “implications” of this movie, you aren’t left with much to praise. It is pretty fun, but not that good. When is the last time you actually watched it?

Mrs. Pam Voorhees is the killer in this one and she is creepy for sure. She’s wearing an adorable sweater that there is a 100% chance your grandma owns as she butchers the shit out of these kids. She isn’t revealed until the end; there’s some misdirection here so you think that, because of all the brutal first-person and the campfire stories, Jason is killing everyone. Nope. It’s Jason’s mom, who is punishing these teens who like to bang each other because some other teens who liked to bang each other were supposed to be watching her son who drowned. She has this split personality tick that makes her talk like her son. “Kill her mommy! Kill her!” It is disturbing.

The murders look alright. Savini was on effects but, again, nothing to stop the presses over. There’s a lot of stabbing here. Stomach stabbing, neck stabbing, chest stabbing. Pam stabs Kevin Bacon with an arrow. It looks slightly better than what other slasher movies were doing around that time, but for the most part, it hasn’t aged well. There is a scene where one of the teens is crucified and impaled with arrows. It looks above average.

There’s a scene at the beginning of the movie where the teens find a snake under a bed and they hack it with a machete (killing the snake IRL, fucking assholes). I took a film class in which the instructor insisted this was an important scene and he offered a cornucopia of take-aways: Maybe this is a clever scene that exists to introduce the violent atmosphere of the film. Maybe this is foreshadowing of Mrs. Voorhees’s death by machete. Maybe this scene is supposed to show that these teens are the type to take action and they will fight back. Or (here’s what I think) maybe it’s supposed to be a cheap jump-scare. I don’t really know. It’s not my job to interpret everything for you. But let me know what to make of that snake scene (fucking assholes).

The acting is terrible, not that anyone could possibly care. The teens who like to bang each other are all pretty and look like they belong in a Levis jeans commercial, but their acting would be at home in any grindhouse midnight-movie garbage. They only exist to look physically perfect while banging/dying.

Alice, the “final girl” chops off Mrs. Voorhees’s head with a machete. Jason famously wields a machete for the rest of the franchise. That’s poetic justice I guess. The movie wraps up with Alice waking up in a canoe and one of the most famous jump-scares of all time.

It is sacrilegious in some horror circles to criticize the “13th” franchise at all, so I’m sure someone is crying right now because I didn’t give this movie an A++. Boo-hoo. I also cannot get past the fact that this movie came out shortly after Halloween (which is a good horror movie and a good movie-movie) and the director admits he just wanted to ride the wave of that movie’s success.

I don’t know. I’m a philistine I guess.

Horsemen (2008)

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Don’t.

Horsemen: D

Back when I worked at the video store, we would always get these awful straight-to-DVD movies that were trying to shamelessly capitalize on whatever the hot new releases were. When Transformers came out, we got Transmorphers. When Alien vs. Predator came out, we got Monster vs. Hunter. There was a never ending trickle of these knock-offs and all of them were the most horrible of horribles. I guess you can always count on people to be desperate or careless or both, because these movies would fly off the fucking shelves. What a business model!

Well, if Alan Quartermain and The Temple of Skulls is a poor man’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, then Horsemen is a poor man’s Se7en.

In Horsemen, the writers played “Anti-Hero Cop Bingo” and created Detective Dennis Quaid, a poor man’s Brad Pitt, who enjoys ignoring his family in favor of work, drinking, not shaving, and hitting his punching bag a little too much because he takes his job a little too personally.

The whole movie is about Detective Dennis Quaid examining meticulously staged murder scenes that all seem to have cryptic links to Bible passages. But not passages about the Seven Deadly Sins; that was Se7en, dummy! The passages in Horsemen are about the Four Horsemen! He doesn’t find his wife’s head in a boooooooooox or anything, but his family does get a little mixed up in this crazy kinda-plagiarized bullshit!   

Instead of one bald wack-o with a room full of composition books, the villains in this movie are a cult of death-worshipers. One of them gets captured and you have to watch multiple scenes with her and Detective Dennis Quaid in the police interrogation room where he utilizes an arsenal of psychological interrogation techniques like asking obvious direct questions, losing his temper, and getting bullied by the suspect. If you give a shit about intricacies of the story, watch these scenes because the interrogation room is really the exposition room.    

The dead bodies are the best actors. Some of them are dissected and impaled and hanging off of sex-swing/meathook contraptions and they are all more believable than any of the dialogue/scenarios that involve living people in this film. I will give the movie props for using some practical effects and creativity in their presentation of human charcuterie. Detective Dennis Quiad’s looks of disgust during these scenes are especially relatable, because that’s how my face looked for most of the movie.  

That’s where the props end. Overall, this movie is a bog of unoriginality that is a natural byproduct of the hype surrounding those Biblical conspiracy movies like The Da Vinci Code.

Boston Strangler: The Untold Story (2008)

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The Bundy Curse is real. 

Boston Strangler: The Untold Story: F

“What’s Bud Bundy up to?” someone probably asked one time. Well, in 2008 he was in this waste of time movie that was so awful it made me want to go on my own strangling spree.

Bud plays Albert, a guy who reminds me of Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, but only in that one scene where Jake complains about his dinner and throws plates around, not any scenes where he is tough/interesting/emotional. Just imagine the scene where Jake LaMotta doesn’t like his steak, but it’s Bud Bundy and he’s totally unbelievable/unintimidating and the other actors are probably unpaid interns and all you can think about doing is choking the life out of a string of innocent victims.

Albert has that look on his face that Bud would get on Married With Children when he would trick one of Kelly Bundy’s friends into bending over or something (JUST DRIVING THE STUDIO AUDIENCE WILD!) for pretty much the entire movie. You know, the smirk that comes with rubbing his palms together. God, I just wanna strangle when I see that look now.

This movie is based on a true story: There was a Boston Strangler IRL and this guy Albert claimed to be him. However, there is a lot of speculation surrounding the legitimacy of his confession. And so someone decided to dramatize these events and rely on the acting of Bud Bundy to bring it all home. Way to go, everyone involved.

I can think of a bunch of other true crime / washed up actor combos that would have been way better, even if shot on a shoestring budget (which this most certainly was):

  • “Jeffery Dahmer: The Untold Story” starring Chandler Bing
  • “Zodiac Killer: The Untold Story” starring Cousin Balkie
  • “Nightstalker: The Untold Story” starring Dean Cain
  • “BTK Killer: The Untold Story” starring Kurtwood Smith

You could make any of the above movies with like $20,000 and it would have been better than “Bud Bundy Smirks in a Tanktop Featuring Strangling.”

The film also focuses on the passionate police shenanigans of a paint-by-numbers hardass detective who tries to figure out if Bud Bundy is really a killer. Guess what? It’s boring and there is nothing anyone can do to convince me that this actor cared about this movie at all. Plus, he is smirking the whole time too! If you thought Bud Bundy made you want lock eyes with someone while you lethally squeeze their neck, how do you think you’re going to feel if the fucking subplot to that is this other smirking guy (played by the guy who was the original Wishmaster) getting annoyed with due process and police work?

I’m really trying to think of something nice to put in this paragraph, but the movie is just the worst. The only reason it doesn’t get a UV is because of the morbid curiosity factor regarding Bud Bundy and what he is up to.

REVIEW: The Hidden 2 (1993)

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“Woof-woof! I want to die!” – The people involved in the making of this film.

The Hidden 2: F

I thought I wanted more from The Hidden, but I have changed my mind. It was stupid of me to want such a thing. It was fine the way it was and I don’t want any more Hidden. I should have been satisfied with a berserk alien movie that celebrates its own shamelessness as a ripoff of other science fiction horror movies. But I greedily wanted more and look what happened: The (fucking terrible) Hidden 2.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but the alien from the first film left behind some eggs. The eggs hatch in this one and they do pretty much the same thing their dad did: they possess a bunch of people and go on visceral crime-sprees with all the ambition of a cracked-out Jeff Goldblum-style Death Wish goon.

The cover of the VHS says “They live for lust. They live for power. They live forever.” I assume they are talking about the newly-hatched parasites, but that makes zero fucking sense because a) they are not sexual at all, b) they just want to do stuff like eat cheeseburgers and steal cars, and c) there is no mention of any sort of immortality, and their lives are actually very easily ended with the stupid ray gun that the stupid Good Alien has.

Maybe the tagline is talking about the new Good Alien and his human love interest. They hook up, but they have about as much on-screen sexual chemistry as a pile of wet rags. And I’m not talking about those sexy rags. I mean unsexy rags. It’s Alien Seed all over again, and this is a movie that you do not want to be compared to on any level.

The guy from Carnosaur is in it. So it’s got that going for it… I guess.

I am not even exaggerating when I say that about twenty minutes of this movie are totally unaltered scenes from the first Hidden movie. They seriously edit in a LONG clip from the first movie and pass it off as an “intro” to the sequel. Then they throw in another generous clip as a “flashback.” Then (I’m not joking) they have the audacity add ANOTHER clip in the form of our heroes reviewing VHS security camera footage from the climax of the first movie. It is pretty lame. All in all, The Hidden 2 is maybe 60 minutes of original content.

And the content sucks ass.

The same brainless “homages” to Terminator and The Thing are there and they are somehow worse. There is even a scene where a dog gets possessed and there is a gross dog transformation scene like the gross dog transformation scene from The Thing. There are also some terminator-esque “files” that the Good Aliens accesses. I’m surprised there wasn’t “alien-vision” that ripped off all the first person Terminator shots. The parasites carry out some attacks outside of their hosts (like the face-huggers from Alien! Holy shit, am I just now noticing another case of plagiarism?), but they look like cheap puppets that someone threw at the actors.

The layers of meaninglessness to the movie have basically made me a level-10 nihilist. It is a shamelessly unoriginal sequel to a shamelessly unoriginal movie. The hatchlings have all the same abilities/criminal inclinations as before and there is a Good Alien with a Special Gun hunting them with the help of an “I don’t believe it!” human sidekick.

“F” City, population: The Hidden 2.

 

REVIEW: The Hidden (1987)

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Take me to your leader… of this strip club.

The Hidden: B-

The Hidden is a weirdly charming mash-up of plagiarism and cheap 80’s tricks: It has the “Good Guy vs. Bad Guy from Another Word” thing from The Terminator and the “Who’s the Monster in the Room?” thing from The Thing. These setups are re-packaged with Chuck Norris-movie quality and come together to form 90 entertaining and brainless minutes of cassette deck boom-boxes and rocket-launcher carnage.

What’s interesting is that the movie is (pretty much) unanimously respected as a solid film (everyone from Roger Ebert to Amazon.com reviewers write glowingly about it) despite the fact that it consciously replicates other movies while stripping the thought from them. The movie is based on the plots/tropes from The Terminator and The Thing, but there are no deeper allegorical/philosophical messages about mankind’s fear of technology or Cold War paranoia. Now, you could argue that these things were only superficial backdrops in the films I mentioned, but they were at least there. The Hidden revels in the pointlessness of its own monotonous violence.

A parasitic alien criminal who can possess human hosts goes on a wild crime spree on Earth. The alien behaves with Id-like impulsivity; whatever looks good, he steals it. The host he possesses for a lot of the movie looks like the dad from The Wonder Years if there was an episode called “Kevin’s Dad Tries Meth.” Imagine that guy in a sweat-soaked beige business suit committing grand theft auto, armed robbery, and assault with a deadly weapon while looking like he’s having a stroke / overdosing on ecstasy.

The alien parasite causes all sorts of entertaining/hedonistic destruction – slaying characters who are basically all 1980’s stereotypes, eating steaks, stealing boom-boxes – until some fresh-faced FBI motherfucker (played by the fresh-faced FBI motherfucker from Twin Peaks) comes to town with an uncanny ability to predict the alien’s criminal activity. Surprise! He’s a Kyle Reece-style “good” alien who is trying to stop the “bad” alien. He’s got a ray gun and no sense of humor, which goes great with his wisecracking city cop partner who “can’t freaking believe” everything that happens in every scene.

The Hidden starts off as an action/sci-fi and evolves into an insane buddy-cop movie that celebrates all the things you expect from bargain-bin 1980s VHS flicks: automatic weapons, mullets, cocaine, minorities using weird slang created by white people (This is Danny Trejo’s second movie and although I didn’t watch the credits, I bet his character was named “Mexican Guy who says ‘fuck!’” or something), and strippers with big hair.

Is it original at all, like even for one minute? No. But it’s pretty fun. All of the make-up was detailed enough and the alien itself (a three-foot phallic slug) is super-gross when it forces its way down the throats of its hosts. Before watching, lower your expectations accordingly and I think you’ll have a good time.