[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 24 – Poltergeist III (1988)

Director: Gary Sherman
Cast: Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein
Screenplay: Gary Sherman, Brian Taggert
98 mins. Rated PG-13.

The Poltergeist franchise is one of the most iconic and recognizable franchises in horror history, which is interesting as it only spanned three films. Most of the heavy-hitters of the horror realm come from lengthy franchises like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, or even Saw and Paranormal Activity. Poltergeist has a lot of history, though, for three films, and the impact it had on cinema cannot be overlooked. Poltergeist is also of a select group of horror franchises that have just as much discussion of what happened behind the camera as they did in front of the camera. The Poltergeist franchise is considered a cursed group of films. We’re going to break down the final film of the Poltergeist franchise, the one that holds the most heartbreak, today as we continue with the 31 Days of Horror, so let’s not waste any time.

Some time after the events of the previous film, Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O’Rourke, Surviving, Believe You Can…And You Can!) has been sent to live her with Uncle Bruce (Tom Skerritt, Alien, Ted) and Aunt Patricia (Nancy Allen, Carrie, RoboCop) in the big city, where she’s able to go to a special center for gifted children. Tensions are high because Patricia doesn’t want Carol Anne living with them. Carol Anne is being tested by Dr. Seaton, who believes her stories of ghosts and the paranormal are a fabrication, and when he pushes her to her limits, her location is discovered by Reverend Kane, who was trapped on the other side. Now, Kane’s found Carol Anne, and he’s determined to have her by any means necessary.

The screenplay for Poltergeist III bolsters a lot of great ideas and concepts, but it is a little rocky in its execution of those ideas. There’s this amazing Mirror theme running through the film, but it kind of comes out of nowhere and it seems to be the only thing Kane has at his disposal. Did he use mirrors in such a way before, and why does he only use them throughout this attempt? Then, there’s the repeat offense of everyone shouting everyone else’s name constantly. In fact, “Carol Anne” is spoken in dialogue 121 times in the movie, so don’t plan on any drinking games for that one. I also liked the idea of Dr. Seaton, a rare human antagonist in this series, but in no way do I believe that this man should or would have a job at this center for gifted children. He’s quite an asshat, but that’s the way he’s written.

Then, there’s the mixture of the new characters and lack of returning players. As it stands, O’Rourke and Zelda Rubinstein (Sixteen Candles, Southland Tales) are the only returning performers this time around. I guess you could also count Kane, who is returning with a new actor due to the death of the previous performer after the second film, but that’s all we have for our known characters, and we miss the rest of the Freelings. There’s a notable absence for this family, and their replacements are a little hit-and-miss. Skerritt is fine for Uncle Bruce, but Nancy Allen’s Patricia is insufferable for a good amount of screen time. Not the actress’s performance, but again due to the poor screenwriting choices, she is almost too unlikable to root for when the film demands it later on.

As a director, I found Gary Sherman (Dead & Buried, Death Line) to be rather exciting and ambitious. He wanted to shoot in the real John Hancock Center where the film was set, and he was allowed to on the agreement that he not disturb any of the tenants, so he went into full planning mode and took two months to schedule and figure how to accomplish this feat (it was later heard that most tenants never even knew a movie was filming at all in the building). The effect is rather spectacular, as the new set does have a lot to play with, and Sherman’s concepts, however clunkily written, worked pretty well in the new location.

Sherman also elected to focus entirely on in-camera special effects work. Poltergeist III was coming up in the time of great strides for CGI, and Sherman felt it necessary to meticulously plot out his sequences so that they could be done live. There’s an element of magician how-did-they-do-that to the finished product, and I found myself really enticed and drawn in by the set pieces.

As I mentioned earlier, a number of horrible incidents are tied to the cast and crew of the Poltergeist series. The most notable stain on Poltergeist III is the loss of Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne. It was during post-production (just a month after her 12th birthday) that O’Rourke passed due to a misdiagnosis. Her loss was very difficult on the cast and crew, and Sherman had grown rather close to the young actress. He wanted to shelve the project for a little while, but the studio stepped in and forced him to finish work on the film. There were some planned reshoots to heighten a few scenes and aim for a PG-13 (the film had already gone through the MPAA process and received a PG), so Sherman had to work around his franchise star. If you’d like to know more, check out the incredible documentary series Cursed Films (Poltergeist had a Season 1 episode).

The reshoots added a lot of fluff to the ending, which ultimately dragged it on too long and lost me a bit. I’d be more interested to see Sherman’s original plan for the ending, as he was pretty ambitious with his ideas, and I’m sure they would look better. This makes me wonder because it seems that O’Rourke had shot the original ending, so where is it? #releasetheshermancut

Poltergeist III was a tough film, damaged by true life tragedy in a way that forever ties it to these sorrows. As a film itself, it suffers from a rough screenplay with great ideas that just didn’t execute as well as they could. Sherman tried his best, an ambitious undertaking that may have been stronger than his skillset at that time, but overall, this final entry in the saga is still rather intriguing, completely imperfect, and suffering from a lack of warmth that the entire Freeling family of the first two films contained. There are some pieces that work, some that don’t, and the film is a hodgepodge of these elements. I enjoyed it, but it’s probably the weakest entry, I’m sorry to say.

2.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.
For my review of Brian Gibson’s Poltergeist II: The Other Side, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 23 – Marebito (2004)

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Cast: Shinya Tsukamoto, Tomami Miyashita
Screenplay: Chiaki Konaka
92 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence and some nudity.

J-horror is a bit of a blind spot in my horror fandom. I’ve seen a few films, really the big ones that have gotten American remakes or a few films from Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge, Flight 7500). Shimizu really is a master of J-horror, and I felt that this year I should dig a bit further into the world of J-horror, starting with more Shimizu, and I was recommended Marebito by a friend, so let’s dig right in.

Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto, Silence, Shin Godzilla) is a cameraman with a particular interest in fear after seeing and recording a man commit suicide right in front of him. This interest evolves into an obsession that leads Masuoka throughout the city before finding his search leading beneath the city itself into a series of catacombs, a labyrinth of tunnels and passages that will show him all the fear he can handle.

The original concept of Marebito is rather intriguing. Fear is an interesting topic, fear that drives people to do terrible things, and Masuoka’s obsession is believable, especially his use of a camera to document his curiosities. I really enjoyed the time spent underneath the city in the catacombs and tunnels of this unusual underworld. For me, the film became a bit flatter when he discovers the naked woman (Tomami Miyashita, Strawberry Shortcakes, Samurai Chicks) and brings her home. From there, the narrative feels a bit like something we’ve seen before, and I just lost interest in the back half of the film. It felt like a serious J-horror remake of Little Shop of Horrors.

What I really respect about Shimizu is his visionary curiosity. He asks a lot of questions and presents a lot of viewpoints, but he doesn’t always give his audience the answers. There are a lot of ways to view the events of Marebito as they play out on-screen, and I don’t think any of them are wrong. Shimizu asks us to look at Masuoka’s journey and see if what’s happening to him is real or a fabrication of his mentally fractured mind.

Marebito is a fascinating at the beginning before taking a less interesting route about halfway through. I would have liked to see the narrative focused more on exploring these catacombs and asking questions about life and death, humanity and inhumanity, using the catacombs as a narrative exploration rather than this mysterious woman. It’s just what my mind connected to while watching, and I was less impressed when the film took a more classical route, but Shimizu has a knack for disturbing imagery and a fascination with discomfort that suits the film nicely enough for a watch.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 22 – [Happy 10th Birthday!] Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

Director: Tod Williams

Cast: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

Screenplay: Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon, Tom Pabst

91 mins. Rated R for some language and brief violent material.

 

The gimmick of found footage horror films discovered quite a resurgence in the late 2000s with the original Paranormal Activity, a film made on a shoestring budget sold as real footage, using unknown actors and a simple shooting style that gave the film an interesting visual aesthetic. That film was so incredibly successful (and how could it not, with a miniscule budget; almost any win is a huge win) that of course Paramount would push forward on a sequel. The studio, which hated its association with the Friday the 13th films back in the 80s, found a new franchise to add to its struggling catalogue, and a small time later, Paranormal Activity 2 was released. I liked Paranormal Activity, but I had no interest in a repeat of the events of the original with a new group of unsuspecting characters facing a new haunting. I was finally pushed into it by a friend and colleague who, while not a huge fan of horror, was blown away by it. It’s been ten years since I first saw Paranormal Activity 2, and its about time I shared my thoughts on it.

Paranormal Activity 2 is the story of the Rey family. The mother, Kristi (Sprague Grayden, Samir, TV’s Jericho) is actually the sister of Katie (Katie Featherston, Psychic Experiment, TV’s Solace for the Undead) from the first film, and we also learn that a bulk of the events from this sequel are actually set before the events of Paranormal Activity. After a suspected burglary at the home of Kristi and husband Daniel (Brian Boland, The Unborn, Surprise Me!), security cameras are set up to protect from future issues. What is captured on those cameras over a series of nights showcase a far different problem: strange and unexplained events are occurring at the Rey home. As the family struggles to understand what is happening to them, a localized presence within the home has set its sights on infant Hunter, and it is determined to have him.

Prequels are a tough nut to crack in storytelling. You have to find a way to make events interesting even when the audience knows all or part of what is going to happen. Paranormal Activity 2, being a prequel/sequel hybrid that focused more on the events before the original film, succeeds quite well at expanding the mythology, focusing on areas that we don’t have a lot of understanding, and driving the narrative ever-so-slightly forward (my biggest criticism of the story is that we don’t really learn much more about what happened after the original film ended). In bulking up the original film’s somewhat weak mythology with a lot of detail and interesting revelations, PA2 becomes a much better story in the process.

The acting of the main cast is neither memorable nor is it poor enough to drag one out of the film. The strongest performance comes from Molly Ephraim (The Front Runner, TV’s Last Man Standing) as Daniel’s daughter Ali, a character who I found to be quite annoying at the film’s beginning until she becomes a more accessible conduit for the emotional core of the audience. As the evil presence makes itself more known in the film, we begin to see her putting the pieces together and search for answers and try to save her family. Even the work of Featherston and Micah Sloat are a little less wooden this time around.

There’s also the effects work to consider. While the first film was done on a shoestring budget, this sequel gets a bit of a bump that goes to making the haunting a little bigger without forcing it. The idea that bigger is better in sequels or follow-ups is foolish and leads to a place where spectacle trumps story and character, but in this film I found that it was not overly bigger. There’s some great scares in the film that ride that line of jump scare aided by mood and tone, and it mostly works. I found myself jumping far more often this time around.

Paranormal Activity 2 does not reinvent the found footage wheel in the way that the first film did. It’s a similar film, but its also a better film, with a stronger story, more interesting characters, higher stakes, and a more captivating mythology. If you didn’t at least like the original film, I can’t see this pre-sequel doing much to sway you, but this one is a follow-up that makes the original better, improving on it in every possible way. It certainly won me over.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity, click here.

For my review of Christopher Landon’s Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 21 – The Funhouse (1981)

Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, William Finley, Kevin Conway
Screenplay: Lawrence J. Block
96 mins. Rated R.

I really enjoy the inversion of simple American life in horror films. There’s something truly unnerving about the simple elements of our culture being flipped on their heads. Tonight, we’ll discuss a simple enough piece of our culture doing just that in The Funhouse, from director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist). I’ve been critical of Hooper as a director, so let’s see how this early work from the filmmaker looks after almost 40 years.

Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge, Amadeus, Hidalgo) is a rebellious teen just looking to have some fun at the traveling carnival coming through town. She promised her parents that she wouldn’t go, but he goes against her word, heading to the carnival with a date, Buzz (Cooper Huckabee, Django Unchained, Space Cowboys) and two other friends. The night is full of fun and laughs until they decide to hide out in “The Funhouse” and stay the night there. Once the carnival lights go low, the horrors switch on, and it’s now on Amy and friends to escape the carnival and make it through the night.

The Funhouse is essentially a film of two halves. The first half is a lengthy drag of weirdness and goofiness, and the second half is a successful horror story. Where the final 45 minutes works is that it really ratchets up the shock value of the reveals and plot development, but that first 45 minutes is a lot of fluff that doesn’t really matter much in the grand narrative. The subplot involving Amy’s younger brother is strange and, ultimately, meaningless (but really, we need to ask what kind of brother plays a prank like that on his sister…in the shower?). I’m under the assumption that we are intended to get all of our character development in that first chunk of movie, but the characters aren’t defined enough in that time to make it worth it.

When Hooper finally decides to hit us with the real horror and thrills of the story, he is very successful. Once our characters are trapped, the film is classic Hooper, utilizing his best skills as a director of the macabre and unusual tales he has become known for. There are definitely some backwoods vibes similar to Hooper’s previous fare Eaten Alive, but he is more successful this time around. Not everything works in the finale, but most of it does, creating a disturbing and , at times, nauseating horror story that stayed with me.

The Funhouse is flawed in several pieces of its execution, but overall, it was a nice and short horror film that ends on a high note. It’s a bit of a slow start, but if you can get through that, this horror tale packs a punch worth seeing. It’s a little non-PC and a whole lotta Hooper, and I enjoyed myself quite a bit.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter’s Body Bags, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s The Mangler, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 20 – [Happy 20th Birthday!] Bedazzled (2000)

Director: Harold Ramis
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O’Connor
Screenplay: Larry Gelbart, Harold Ramis, Peter Tolan
93 mins. Rated PG-13 for sex-related humor, language and some drug content.

Bedazzled was one of the first DVDs I ever owned. I remember getting a DVD player (for the family) for Christmas and, after hearing my dad swearing at the DVD player for an hour when he couldn’t get it plugged in, I was able to start my collection of DVDs, one that has exploded into a dangerously large amount over the last twenty years. I added Bedazzled to my collection because I was regularly checking it out from the video store anyway, so I might as well save the rental money and just own it. Now, it’s been at least a decade since I saw it, and I was very excited to revisit it for the 20th anniversary, but I was very nervous that it could have aged terribly.

Elliot Richards (Brendan Fraser, The Mummy, Crash) is a bit of a loser. He’s an unpopular geek who desperately wants to be accepted by his co-workers. At the very least, he’d love to just be noticed by his beautiful colleague Alison Gardner (Frances O’Connor, The Conjuring 2, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence), who doesn’t even seem to know he exists. When his latest attempt to speak to Alison fails, he is approached by a beautiful woman in a red dress, who introduces herself to Elliot as The Devil (Elizabeth Hurley, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, EDtv). The Devil offers Elliot a deal: to grant him seven wishes for his soul. Now, Elliot has seven wishes to woo Alison; now if he can only get the wording right.

To be clear: I haven’t seen the original 1967 film. Not that it matters, as we should be able to view a remake on its own ground. All that being said, Bedazzled is a very enjoyable film from director Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, Caddyshack). I actually really liked Brendan Fraser’s lead performance as Elliot. There’s a level of charisma in the way he related to me as a viewer. I think a lot of us have been in similar places to Elliot, feeling out of place in our day-to-day, wanting something or someone he can’t have, and it’s admirable that he would try to sell his soul to get her. I think Fraser gives a likability to the unlikable Elliot, making him someone to root for even as he bungles each attempt to win Alison’s affection.

I also really enjoyed Hurley’s take on the Devil. It only makes sense that the Devil would appear to a hopeless romantic as a stunningly gorgeous woman who can make him bend to her will. More than that, Hurley has fun with the role. She creates someone that the audience can enjoy, almost making us forget that she’s kind of an antagonist to Elliot’s search. We know the Devil doesn’t really want Elliot to succeed. She wants him to make his mistakes quickly so she can search out the next lost soul on the planet to work on, but Hurley works the expectations well. It’s not an Oscar-worthy performance, but she does add to the film with her presence.

Bedazzled isn’t a top-tier film for Harold Ramis. It doesn’t contain the level of zaniness that we’ve seen from him, but it gives another rare glimpse of the heart and thoughtfulness that he was able to get from films like Groundhog Day, a more contemplative work. Bedazzled isn’t as subtle, but it does have a lot of charm that makes it watchable. The film has aged a little rough in terms of the way it portrays certain stereotypes, but outside of that, it’s an enjoyable enough romp. Looking back on it, perhaps it’s because it was a repeat watch of mine as a child, but I do still revere it, and I was so glad to have revisited it.

3.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 19 – Christine (1983)

Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton
Screenplay: Bill Phillips
110 mins. Rated R.

I’m not sure how many times I can say it, but here I go again. I love John Carpenter (The Thing, Halloween). He’s my favorite horror director. Also, I love Stephen King. He’s my favorite writer. Naturally, when I realized at a young age that John Carpenter had directed an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, I lost my fragile little mind. Then, I rode my bike to the video store to rent a copy. Let’s talk about this incredibly strange movie about a killer car and its love of a human.

Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon, All That Jazz, Dressed to Kill) is a loser. It’s his senior year, and his best friend, jock Dennis (John Stockwell, Top Gun, Eddie and the Cruisers) is doing his best to protect him from bullies like Buddy Repperton. Arnie needs something to give his life meaning, and when he comes across a 1958 Plymouth Fury that seems to call out to him. Arnie buys the beat-up bucket of bolts and begins fixing it up, seeing it as the first thing in his life that is uglier than he us, but at least he can do something about the car, which he names Christine. With Christine, Arnie finds a newfound confidence, but something isn’t right with the Plymouth, or Arnie. Dennis begins to see his friend change before him, and Arnie’s enemies are being picked off one-by-one. Christine loves her owner, perhaps a little too much.

The film adaptation was being prepped before the book was officially published. Producers had given a copy of the novel to Bill Phillips (Physical Evidence, Fire With Fire), who found himself taken by the “killer car” story and began working on the script. Carpenter had been working on a possible adaptation of another King novel, Firestarter, and when that didn’t work out, he took on Christine. Later in his career, Carpenter admitted that he didn’t really want to make Christine at the time, but it was good for his career, and I think that showcases how great of a filmmaker Carpenter is. If he doesn’t love the idea of making this movie but still churns out a top quality product like Christine, it’s a testament to his abilities.

Christine is amazing. I identified with Arnie’s struggles (I was never really as unpopular as he was, but I think a lot of us deal with confidence issues in high school). He’s obviously suffering with his place in the world. He doesn’t have a particularly strong relationship with his parents, he’s lonely, he needs direction, and Christine offers him some. His transformation is very much like possession or drug addiction in that the power he gains from his interactions with the car make him vengeful against all those that have wronged him in life. In fact, you can see that Arnie’s clothing choices regress to an older time period as his entanglement with Christine intensifies. It’s a great transformative performance that doesn’t get the love it deserves.

Without the chemistry between Gordon’s Arnie and Stockwell’s Dennis, though, the film wouldn’t work. These are two characters who have been lifelong friends now getting to a place where they are going in different directions in life, one a geek and the other a jock. Their commonalities are dwindling, and it’s a tough thing to accurately portray. These two do a tremendous job of reaching across that divide. Stockwell doesn’t get a ton to do early on in the film but watch and take note of Arnie’s changes, but he’s effective when he needs to be, and elements of his strain with Arnie broke my damn heart.

The other important character in the film is, of course, Christine herself. Now, the car doesn’t talk, and it doesn’t send out evil brain waves or mind control or anything that silly, but it’s still a killer car movie, so care needs to be given to make the car seem frightening. I think the screenplay in the very capable hands of an auteur like Carpenter works very well here. Through the use of older music and a very physically restrained performance where the Fury is given screen time to actually exist without just being a mindless murder device is why Christine is probably the best killer car movie, even compared to other King adaptations like Maximum Overdrive or Trucks. The car is convincing and scary. There, I said it.

Lastly, when you get a Carpenter direction, you almost always get a Carpenter score. Now, this time around the director worked with Alan Howarth on crafting the haunting bells of Christine, but I still vividly remember the score staying with me after each viewing (I’ve also seen this score performed live and it is breathtaking). The music has moments of sadness and longing on the part of Arnie, and a haunting synth predatory flavor when Christine is on the prowl. It’s a terrific score, one of Carpenter’s best.

Christine gets overlooked a lot in the oeuvre of Carpenter’s best films, and it’s too bad. It’s an effective horror movie that translates King’s lengthy novel quite well, saving the meat and cutting the fat where needed. Christine is aided by two standout leading performances and a creepy car prop that pops onscreen (seriously, who is Christine’s agent?). It’s tough to pick favorites for Carpenter when he’s done so many single films that many go to Halloween, The Thing, or Escape from New York, but Christine deserves to be in the conversation, if only for the tremendous feat of making a murder car work so damn well, and conveying that murder car’s emotion. Bravo.

4.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.
  • For my review of John Carpenter’s The Fog, click here.
  • For my review of John Carpenter’s The Thing, click here.
  • For my review of John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper’s Body Bags, click here.
  • For my review of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, click here.
  • For my review of John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 18 – [Happy 40th Birthday!] Motel Hell (1980)

Director: Kevin Connor
Cast: Rory Calhoun, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons, Nina Axelrod, Wolfman Jack
Screenplay: Robert Jaffe, Steven-Charles Jaffe
101 mins. Rated R.

I didn’t know what to expect with Motel Hell, a film celebrating its 40th anniversary today. It was my first viewing this morning and I knew little about it. I’d seen the cover, which depicted a lot of screaming heads, a man with a pig head, and a lot of backwoods flavor, but who could guess the movie I saw based on those clues. What I did see was a strange and wild movie very different than I anticipated. I’m still not sure of it.

Rory Calhoun in Motel Hell (1980)

Motel Hell is the odd and supposedly “true” story of Vincent Smith (Rory Calhoun, How to Marry a Millionaire, Hell Comes to Frogtown), a man who runs the small Motel Hello with his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons, Sudden Impact, Porky’s). Vincent is also known around the area for his famous smoked meats, but he and his sister have a terrible secret: they’ve been setting traps, kidnapping people, and harvested to make the smoked meats. When Vincent takes out a couple on a motorcycle, he decides to keep the female, Terry (Nina Axelrod, Cobra, Brainstorm) for himself, bringing her back to the motel and convincing her to stay with his charms. As Terry gets closer and closer to the truth, she also gets closer and closer to Vincent and a realization she isn’t ready for.

Apparently, Motel Hell has been seen as a horror/comedy with a heavy dose of satire. I didn’t see it that way. There were no moments when I found myself laughing along or catching the joke of it all. To me, the film seemed like a stupid and somewhat dull film. You’d think that a film featuring a chainsaw duel and pig heads being worn by masks, humans being imprisoned in a garden and having their vocal cords destroyed, and a slimy almost incestuous-looking relationship between siblings Vincent and Ida would be at least entertaining. I have to admit I was rather bored. This movie is way too long, the bits that were interesting (I’ve noted them above) are smashed together with boring exposition, scenes that sputter, and character arcs being completely thrown out the window. I was frustrated with Motel Hell.

There were elements I liked in the film, but they were merely individual sequences that worked in a narrative that simply didn’t. I liked the finale, I enjoyed the macabre horror elements (nothing worked for comedy, but certain scenes meant for comedy served the horror better), specifically the garden, though I would have liked a little more time spent on these elements to build up this odd mythology. I also enjoyed the sinister side of Vincent. He’s not a bad villain, and Rory Calhoun flips between over-the-top and subtle treachery. As I said, pieces of the puzzle work, but the overall picture is sloppy.

Perhaps a rewatch will allow me to enjoy Motel Hell’s zany nature more. As it stands, I was waiting for this movie to end, even with the stronger ending. Perhaps it all boils down to an unintended disdain for most backwoods horror films (with the exception of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Wrong Turn films, I’ve loathed entries like Eaten Alive and Frogs), but I just didn’t buy into this one. I’m saddened because I’ve been very excited to see this one, and I wanted to like it, but I found it significantly lacking, like a piece of jerky made from bad meat.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 17 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] Doom (2005)

Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Cast: Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike, Razaaq Adoti, Dwayne Johnson
Screenplay: Dave Callaham, Wesley Strick
105 mins. Rated R for strong violence/gore and language.

Sometimes I wonder why studios and filmmakers keep trying to make video game movies. Sure, there’s a chance for profitability, but it seems to be a risky proposition. For each success, there are quite a few failures (and that’s even if you ignore Uwe Boll). For whatever reason, these adaptations keep coming (and I’m always hoping for this genre to finally break out the way superheroes finally did), and the mid-2000s were full of them. Today, let’s talk about one that has been mostly forgotten: Doom.

In 2026, a wormhole is discovered in Nevada that leads to Mars. This wormhole is named the Ark. Twenty years later, a research facility on Mars is attacked, and a squad of Marines is sent through the Ark to rescue any survivors and eliminate any hostiles. This squad is led by Sarge (Dwayne Johnson, Moana, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), a no-bullshit commander who believes his team can handle anything. Now, he has to team up with Dr. Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl, The World’s End), the twin sister of his own marine John “Reaper” Grimm (Karl Urban, Thor: Ragnarok, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), who works at the Martian research site. When they come across large aggressive creatures at the location of the carnage, they find that they may be in over their heads, but where did these creatures come from?

Let me get this out of the way by seeing this is not a terrible movie as some reviews would have you believe. I don’t think it’s a bad movie. It’s also not a good movie. It’s merely okay. Doom’s biggest problem is that it’s pretty much a remake of Resident Evil set on Mars. So many of the plot points and characters are similar enough that you might assume it was a complete ripoff. Doom isn’t a bad movie, and with a few tweaks, it could have been a much better film.

First of all, I think Karl Urban is a great lead. I was hearing that the original casting choice for Reaper was Dwayne Johnson himself, but Johnson felt that Sarge was a lot more interesting. This was a good call as The Rock was just starting to get involved in acting for films, and he wasn’t all that good. He shouldn’t have been leading films as he wasn’t strong enough. He’s since gotten quite a lot better at playing characters that suited him, much like Channing Tatum later did. Urban had been a more capable lead for the film, and he works quite well leading the film, and he has good chemistry with Pike (although I do not believe that their characters are twins). They are also aided by a few capable supporting actors including Richard Brake and Dexter Fletcher. Overall, there isn’t anything Oscar-worthy from these actors, but they fit well enough given a pretty underwhelming screenplay.

The creature effects would be pretty damn great to see if the lighting wasn’t so horrendous. It reminded me of Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem, which had some cool creature effects but was even darker. You can see enough in this film to know you want to see more, but it’s just too damn dark. The decision by director Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die, Cradle 2 the Grave) to focus on practical effects as much as possible, and he even utilized Stan Winston Studios to help create the monsters, and I would have loved for them to be on full display, but the lighting kills it.

The gimmick of Doom is, of course, the FPS sequence which takes up a bulk of the climax of the film. It actually worked quite well for me as an action setpiece and gimmick (one that was later utilized in films like Hardcore Henry), and I would have liked it to be more utilized through the whole film. I don’t think it needed to be the whole film, but it worked pretty well and, for an action film, it was quite exciting.

Doom is a mixed bag. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. The problem is that the elements that work well are usually overshadows by the elements that don’t. Karl Urban is a strong lead, and I liked The Rock more on this rewatch, but the script is a bit muddled. The creature effects are cool, but the lighting makes them too hard to see. The gimmick is solid, but the film sold us a lot more FPS than we really got. It’s just a derivative but fine film. Doom can just be so much better.

2.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 16 – Monsters: Dark Continent (2014)

Director: Tom Green
Cast: Johnny Harris, Sam Keeley, Joe Dempsie, Nicholas Pinnock, Kyle Soller, Parker Sawyers
Screenplay: Jay Basu, Tom Green
119 mins. Rated R for graphic war violence, pervasive language, some strong sexual content/nudity and drug use.

I remember the excitement around the original Monsters film, at least around film fans and cinephiles. A big Lovecraftian monster film made on a shoestring budget? So shoestring that the director pretty did most of the visual effects work by himself as well as a number of other duties on the film? This was madness, and it also felt like a passion project rarely seen in major film. It was exciting, and the finished film has its problems, and it’s a mixed bag, but there was a lot of potential, and when I heard that a sequel was coming about, I was intrigued. There was that potential, about to be realized, and for some reason, the sequel came and went without a lot of fanfare. I finally caught up to it this year, and we’re going to break down this disappointment.

Several years after the first film, the alien creatures have also begun appearing in a new Infected Zone in the Middle East. We follow our heroes, a group of friends deployed to the IF for their first tour of duty. As the crew set out on a search and rescue mission, they find themselves engaged against new enemies, both human and otherworldly.

Monsters: Dark Continent is trying to be a monster movie and a war movie. The problem is that its monsters are few and far between, and the war elements are so chock-full of cliché and boring storytelling that it doesn’t really succeed at either. It’s trying to get at social commentary, much like the first film, but it fails in its critique of our involvement in the Middle East, the themes are shoved down our throats, and the plot is full of soulless exposition and a lack of narrative fluidity. We don’t get enough time to know our core group of characters so when they get picked off, one by one, I found myself not caring. Dark Continent struggles with the same issues as most American Kaiju films in that they cannot mine an interesting human story to play off the supernatural one going on all around them. These humans are boring.

The acting isn’t all that particularly strong. Out of the core group of leads, Joe Dempsie (Game of Thrones: The Last Watch, The Damned United) is easily the most engaging, but he has nothing to do. The rest of the cast is rounded out by actors that just seem bored in the movie, or perhaps they don’t know what to do.

The monster sequences are the only element of the film that really works (I would argue that the creature work is as good or better than the original), but there just isn’t any purpose to them. Remove the monster elements of the movie called Monsters: Dark Continent, and the film doesn’t change. It’s still a bore (a way too long bore, coming in just under 2 hours).

Monsters: Dark Continent is a disappointing failure. It’s faults take a potential franchise with a lot of potential value and crash it into the ground. Very little actually works here, which is a shame, as the initial concept is interesting enough for the attempt. There’s just little in terms of entertainment value, and the film’s limited successes can all be found in similar, better movies.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Gareth Edwards’s Monsters, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 15 – The Tripper (2006)

Director: David Arquette
Cast: Jamie King, Thomas Jane, Lukas Haas
Screenplay: David Arquette, Joe Harris
93 mins. Rated R.

I’m not sure when it was that I became aware of The Tripper. Some time around its release, I must have seen a trailer for it, most likely around the time that the 8 Films to Die For series began (The Tripper was originally a part of that branding before parting ways). The idea of Ronald Reagan (the actor!) being the main serial killer of a movie directed by David Arquette was a rather odd thing, but hey, I was open to the idea. I just never got around to seeing it. Flash forward to the closing of either Hollywood Video or Blockbuster, and I ended up with a copy of this movie, and still the years ticked by before I actually sat down this morning to see it. Wow. Just wow.


A group of hippie-ish friends are all riding down to the American Free Love Festival, a rock-and-roll music event held in the woods. There, the attendees are killed off one at a time by a killer who seems to be…Ronald Reagan. Deputy Buzz Hall (Thomas Jane, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Magnolia) is willing to do anything to protect these people, even if he doesn’t fully align with them. As the Reagan-obsessed killer chops his victims down with his trusty axe, it’s clear that Ronnie is here for vengeance!


It’s interesting to note that director/writer/co-star David Arquette intended to make a “fun” movie and didn’t want to force a political agenda with the film because it feels like that’s exactly what he is doing. The film is stuffed full of Reagan-era propaganda that makes it feel like he very much did have an opinion and a statement. Oftentimes, critics especially will see themes in a film or story that simply weren’t intended to be there, but this is a situation where it’s hard not to see it. Arquette’s film fills its opening and closing titles with a lot of flavor that seemingly critiques the animosity between political rivals, something that has made the film more relevant now than back in 2006 when it dropped. Perhaps he’s just asking questions, as some filmmakers are wont to do, but it feels more like he’s pushing in a direction.


All that aside, the film is meh. It’s not all that great, most of the characters are neither likable nor interesting with the exceptions of the always likable Jason Mewes, Paul Reubens, and Thomas Jane. Outside of that, I’d be hard-pressed to remember any actual details about the onslaught of uninteresting victims-to-be. It’s not so much that the film is poorly directed (it’s not great, but there’s potential), but perhaps that the concept could have used a few more drafts in the screenwriting stage to fine-tune some of the more captivating elements. As it stands, it’s just very messy. I don’t hate it. In fact, I could see it developing that midnight movie feel that I have to assume Arquette was going for. All the same, it’s a messy and flawed movie.


The Tripper is admirable for the attempt, and I do feel like I’d like to see Arquette take another crack at directing a feature, though perhaps one with a better screenplay. The cast does the best they can with the material, but this movie just needed more than it got. That being said, it mostly worked for the first hour before ultimately falling apart near the climax. File this one under midnight movie and you may just have something here. Just not in the light in day.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

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