REVIEW: Unfriended (2015)

"LOL bro you are like totally dying right now! OMG!"

“LOL bro you are like totally dying right now! OMG!”

Unfriended: C-

As a business model, this is the best horror movie I have ever seen. It apparently cost nothing to produce and in fact, it seems like the conception itself made money before the film even hit theaters. In an MTV Production where every kill is off-screened or shaky-cammed, where virtually 100% of the movie is framed in big-name product placement, where the actors are all unknown teens with very undemanding roles, I imagine the cash flow pre-ticket sales to be somewhere between epic and unimaginable.

The plot is a cross between I Know What You Did Last Summer and Fear.com, featuring a handful of morally dubious teens who collectively LOLed at the gruesome suicide of a cyber-bullied classmate all coming together to Skype and talk shit on the anniversary of her death. Their chat session becomes “haunted” by a paranormal chatroom presence and then the teens are systematically killed while the #poltergeist ROFLs.

I’ll pay the movie another compliment by acknowledging that it the most original flavor of “found footage” that I have seen probably ever. Since The Blair Witch Project, pretty much all FF movies (sex tapes not included) took the same approach with the only innovations being that they were tied to various genres. Monster movie? Cloverfield. Superhero movie? Chronicle. And so forth. Same story frame: Footage is found and played back with all of the grain, shake, and terror. Unfriended is different. The grit and immediacy of FF is there but it is rebooted for the Cell Phone Video Age; you’re not watching video footage found in a dead teenager’s handy-cam, you are watching a Skype session unfold in real time on a teenager’s laptop, with each of the chatters dying off one by one. It was as clever and fresh as a gimmicky twist on a now gimmicky genre can be.

The fun stops there. For all the novelty in the setup, I felt incredibly unentertained for all 88 minutes. I suspect this was because every character was sitting at a desk or laying on a bed for the entire movie. There is a kind of sedentary feel to the whole thing. I never feel like the haunting is “pursuing” the characters, if that makes sense. The deaths are all abrupt with little or no buildup, all off-screen implied kills. The shaky-cam cop out is updated to buffering. It gets fucking old.

I also don’t think the movie is going to age well. Imagine someone made a mediocre (that is being kind) Myspace-based slasher flick ten years ago. It would probably be a joke now. The “skin” that this movie wears is Skype and a bookmarks bar full of Millennial-friendly brand partners. I just see people ironically laughing at this movie a few years from now, un-ironically laughing years after that, and finally sighing dismissively until the end of time.

Ultimately, I’ll give this movie props for trying something inventive with found footage, but when you get past the shtick-ish shell, it is an incredibly cheap and uneventful slasher drone with nothing to offer other than the continued implication that you should download Spotify.

REVIEW: It Follows (2014)

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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)

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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: Split Second (1992)

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Split Second: C+

London, 2008: Welcome to a future where Rutger Hauer is a motorcycle-riding, candy bar inhaling, chain smoking cop who plays by his own rules. He wasn’t always like this. Years ago, his partner was murdered and it pushed him over the edge to Lethal Weapon levels of maverick badass-ery. He chugs liters of coffee and the police chief gets pissed at him a lot. Yes, he wears sunglasses indoors and cracks one-liners while using gratuitous violence to subdue criminals. No, he doesn’t use the department-issue firearm; those things are for pussies.

The film has been criticized for it unoriginality since it blatantly tries to capitalize off of the popularity of other action/sci-fi movies of its time, most notably Blade Runner, Predator, and Lethal Weapon. The aforementioned maverick-cop clichés from Lethal Weapon are pretty clear. The movie looks just like Blade Runner; it’s set in London where rising sea levels and perpetual rain makes it look exactly like the grey, wet dystopia in which Harrison Ford hunted androids. The villain in Split Second is a hulking Predator-looking monster who obsesses over confronting Hauer in hand-to-hand combat, almost as if it adheres to the same code of honor as the Predators.

You could rename the movie “Lethal Predator Runner” and it would work.  

The movie is fun because it plagiarizes from other successful films and then turns the things it steals up to 11 all while (I think) being comically NOT self-aware of how transparent the theft is. Hauer has cartoonish levels of defiance and self-destruction. The weather is an unending monsoon that creates urban lakes and acres of obfuscating fog. The monster is a superhuman killing machine who looks like Venom and does shit like creep up and tap people on the shoulder before eviscerating them.

The carnage isn’t spectacular, but it’s there. The monster rips some dudes up and absorbs anything useful from their DNA. Gore-hounds, this is no splatter-fest. The monster (“ONE UGLY MOTHERFUCKER!”) almost suffers from a case of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers syndrome as there are a few shots of him lumbering around like an alcoholic in a rubber suit. He doesn’t look terrible but he doesn’t look scary.

This movie is the love-child of shitty action movies and shitty horror movies. If you like those two things, then see this movie. It combines the best parts of the two and executes them with an impressive air of shamelessness.

 

REVIEW: Hannibal Rising (2007)

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Hannibal Rising: D-

This movie will totally scare the shit out of you if you think that a killer who looks like Geroge McFly (from Back to the Future) wearing too much hair mousse is scary.

The film is rotten with ineffective storytelling (I hope you like flashbacks), ineffective characters (flat characters galore), and ineffective scares (unless you are scared by ominous smirking). However, it does one thing effectively: it sucks the life out of the Hannibal Lecter series [grotesque sucking sound, fava beans]. No surprise that Hopkins stayed away from this one.

Once upon a time, Hannibal was an ordinary un-demented 8 year old, and he was subjected to all this gruesome trauma: his loving parents are killed, his adorable sister is killed, he is terrorized by Nazis. There is cannibalism. There are even explosions!

He is a sad orphan who gets pushed around a lot and you have to watch about 30 minutes worth of it. Just start the movie like half way in; you won’t miss a thing.

40 minutes later (yes, 40), Hannibal is a McFly-ish looking 20-something and he finally kills someone! It’s not even cool either. He cuts a guy’s head off with a sword. There is no harrowing psychoanalysis or cannibalism involved. Sorry.

The rest of the movie is him hunting down the Nazis who killed his family. The end.

I don’t really get the “Rising” part of the title. What is he, a fucking soufflé? The character doesn’t “transcend” in any way. He doesn’t “rise above” any obstacles. I do have some suggestions for alternate titles based on what he does do:

  • “Hannibal Crying”
  • “Hannibal Leering”
  • “Hannibal Whining”
  • “Hannibal Using Too Much Hair Gel”

What a mess. The cover art for the film is a close-up of Hannibal wearing his famous muzzle. I think this was partially to hide the identity of the actor playing Hannibal in the movie; it’s a pretty big let-down when you realize Hopkins isn’t showing up and you are stuck with some George McFly looking asshole.

 

REVIEW: Jack the Reaper (2011)

jackthereaper

 

Jack the Reaper: F

This film is insoluble excrement and the most snore-inducing thing I’ve watched in a while.

A group of about ten kids (who, just like the Breakfast Club, each represent a different sub-population of the school) go on a History class field trip only to wind up at an abandoned carnival in the desert. Well, almost abandoned…

There’s a guy named Railroad Jack at the carnival. He looks like Sloth from Goonies, has a pick-axe, and likes to kill teenagers. He wears, I don’t know… pajamas? Yawn. I’m trying to think of a more uncharismatic villain. Jason Voorhees with a sack over his head has more personality. Leatherface has more depth. Paul Bunyan even has a better back-story.  

The “teenagers” are pushing it too. A couple of them look like they could be thirty. With real drug habits.

You know how this goes: the kids are all uncomfortable and then they get picked off one by one. “But wait,” you may think to yourself. “They’re at a carnival! That opens the door for all sorts of low-budget, entertaining, carnival-themed kills! Maybe a witch in the haunted house shoots acid at the snooty rich girl, ironically disfiguring her prissy face! Or maybe the roller-coaster swings around and knocks the arrogant jock’s head off while he’s trying to show off! It could be like a 90 minute Insane Clown Posse song!” Nope. You’ll actually be BEGGING for the lyrical genius of Shaggy 2Dope. Every kill is just Railroad Jack with his fucking pick-axe.

Also, pretty much every kill is an off-screen implied one. Real fucking cheap. I can understand doing one of these in a movie, sometimes even two. But this movie does it like ten times. Ten times! Ten fucking times! Ten times there’s a close-up of his stupid grin followed by a splatter noise. You see the corpses later, which he has arranged on the carrousel. It spins around in slow motion so you can see their “head wounds,” which look like your standard 99-cent Spirit Halloween Store make-up.

Maybe the lack of on-screen murder was because they blew their budget hiring Tony Todd AKA Candyman to give the Wise Elder speech that foreshadows the teens’ doom. Candyman is an employee at a nearby train museum and he somehow knows all about Railroad Jack. Goddamn what has Tony Todd been up to? He likes to wear leopard-print scarves and other articles of clothing one might expect to see at a cabaret. He looks like a homeless pimp.

Also, there is an “ominous” female voice that delivers limericks in between several scenes. Not creepy at all. She sounds like the voice-over on a Life Alert commercial.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the goddamn unresolved sub-plots. One kid has a grandma who behaves like a serial killer, another kid finds out he got his girlfriend pregnant, another kid is being chased by two mysterious thugs whom he ditches at the school bus, and one girl is obviously being molested by her dad. Literally no explanation/resolution for any of this bullshit!

Insufficient gore, cardboard acting, a vacuum of suspense, and an insistence on taking itself seriously are what really hurt this movie, the latter of which was the most insulting for me as a viewer. Seriously had to exert a lot of effort to not dump D-con in my beer.

 

REVIEW: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

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All the Boys Love Mandy Lane: D

 

This movie is so fucking boring and unlikable, I can only write about it in short sentences, so let’s get this over with: It’s a slasher movie. There are teenagers who go to a secluded cabin that exists for them to abuse drugs and fornicate in. They are systematically killed. There are red herrings and an obvious conclusion.

Let’s talk aesthetics. The film comes off as wannabe 90s slasher flick meets wannabe grindhouse. It’s I Know What You Did Last Summer run through all your girlfriend’s gritty Instagram filters. There are long, agonizing montages of teens frolicking in meadows that remind me of Levis commercials. People who think the Texas Chainsaw reboots are the only horror movies ever made will call these scenes “stylish,” but they seemed like disjointed filler to me.

I seriously felt like an elderly curmudgeon wishing swift deaths on every character. Sometimes, horror movies will make the expendable teenagers especially unlikable/obnoxious so that you cheer when they get butchered. This movie went the other way with that strategy and it was infuriating: they tried to make the teens stylish and rebellious at the same time and they just came off as contrived advertisements.

Here’s what the film has going for it: The kills are sort of a mystery. I don’t mean in a “who done it” kind of way (I think my dog figured out the “twists” by the second act). I mean I couldn’t tell if the kills were satirizing horror movies or paying homage to them. I went back and forth trying to determine artistic intent, so I’ll give the movie props for some consistent ambiguity.

This is not really a compliment when you think about it. How do you think the director would feel if I told him that his movie’s greatest achievement is the detective work it put me through to understand what exactly he was fucking up? The kill scenes weren’t silly enough to be satire and too shitty to be actual tributes to other slasher flicks.

That was my experience with this film: trying to deduce the meaning/intent of every instance of violence with riotous teens frolicking in a pestilent Coca-cola commercial sepia lens-flare back-drop. No one wants to watch 90 minutes of Mandy and her friends Snapchatting each other in a rye field at dusk. GET A JOB.

The gore was alright. There is some crunchy skull mashing and some spraying wounds that were entertaining enough.

REVIEW: Nurse 3D (2012)

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Nurse 3D: D

When a man sits down to watch a rated-R horror movie, he does so with the understanding that breasts and/or full-frontal nudity may be part of the deal. About 90% of the scenes in Nurse 3D feature the full frontal nudity of physically flawless people, many of whom are medical professionals. The 10% of the movie that wasn’t that was a cliche grab bag.

A hot nurse, Abby (played by Paz de la Huerta from Boardwalk Empire), hates guys who cheat on their wives so she entraps married guys by seducing them and then later, she kills them, usually while wearing only a bra or nothing. There’s a real Dexter vibe to this formula because she’s killing “bad” guys and we are treated to her witty voice-overs as she does it.

There are other characters whose function is to be oblivious or sexy, or oblivious and sexy. Katrina Bowden from 30 Rock plays another sexy nurse. Kathleen Turner is in it. I can’t even describe the ruckus that occurred when my roomful of friends saw that Judd Nelson was in the movie. He gets his arm cut off with a bone saw. The world is an imperfect place.

I fucking hate CGI blood and this movie was CGI drowning in it. Not just CGI blood either; there are CGI weapons that make CGI wounds that make the CGI blood. I watched it in 2D so maybe I missed out on some really life-changing moments where a CGI scalpel “jumps out” at me but – maybe I’m being cynical here – I doubt it.

There’s a really bizarre and consuming subplot that sort of evolves into the main plot. Abby develops a crush on Katrina Bowden, so she date rapes her and takes a billion blackmail pics. This is an excuse for gratuitous/mesmerizing boobs, ass, side-boob, side-ass, and vagina footage. We have the date rape scene, dramatic crying in the shower scene, looking at the date rape pictures scene, arguing in bra and panties the morning after the date rape scene, etc. If you wanted to watch that sort of thing, you certainly don’t need to go to Nurse 3D, a movie that simultaneously tortures you with predictable CGI carnage.

If you want someone to argue with you in their underwear, let me know. I don’t have much going on these days.

The movie reminded me more of one of those softcore semi-porn movies that Cinemax shows at midnight than a horror movie. There is a really violent scene where Abby snaps and kills a bunch of people in the ICU but, again, it’s a CGI-fest that really takes you out of the movie.

If you are really lonely, watch this film.