[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 21 – Into the Dark: The Body (2018)

Director: Paul Davis
Cast: Tom Bateman, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Aurora Perrineau, David Hull, Ray Santiago, Harvey Guillen, Max Adler
Screenplay: Paul Fischer, Paul Davis
83 mins. Rated TV-MA.

You can never count out Blumhouse for trying new things. Back in 2018, the genre studio tried an interesting film experiment. They began a series on Hulu of horror films, released on a monthly basis, timed for a specific holiday or event during that month, and with a wide array of filmmakers behind the lens. I missed a good chunk of them as they released (due to just too many other film reviews that required my attention), and the two that I did see were a little on the underwhelming side of things, but I’m going to change that by jumping in now that the series of films, 24 in total, has come to an end. Let’s jump into that first film, promptly set on Halloween, called The Body.

It’s Halloween night, and cynical hitman Wilkes (Tom Bateman, Murder on the Orient Express, Cold Pursuit) has just taken out another target. Now, he has to transport the plastic-wrapped body, but Halloween is the perfect time to do so, as everyone around Wilkes believes it to be part of his costume. As Wilkes avoids catching the eye of police, he runs into a group of youths looking to make an entrance at their Halloween party, and things seem to be coming together…until they figure out that the body is real.

The opening to this film promises a rather morbid and jaded little genre thriller featuring a pessimistic killer trying to remain out the spotlight. It’s a great concept and a killer of an opening sequence that calls back to the classic Universal horror movies while pushing forward with its interesting tone. I liked the idea that we were following Wilkes as an unlikable but interesting protagonist as he tries to remain unseen but gets caught up in everyone else’s night.

The problem is that we spend too little with Wilkes as he gets involved with the partygoers. Once the film switches gears into Wilkes being an antagonist and us rooting for them, I lost it. The concept of following the hitman had a strange interest to it, like the classic episode of Nightmares & Dreamscapes, Battleground, following a hitman as he deals with little toy soldiers that have come to life intent on killing him. When you do a movie about a hitman, you can have a little fun with the silliness that comes with the concept. The idea of this guy dragging a body around all night was initially quite exciting, but the movie doesn’t spend time there, immediately choosing to involve some annoying party people that are nothing more than fodder. We should’ve followed Wilkes from moment one as he maneuvered through the bustling city streets with a plastic-wrapped corpse in tow.

Once I learned that this was the direction of the movie, I buckled in, and it was mostly entertaining even though it passed up some great territory for something a little more akin to a mixture of The Purge and any classic slasher film. It was enjoyable, but most of the characters outside of Wilkes were rather one-note (classic slasher, am I right?) and just there for extra gore-padding. I was initially interested in Maggie (Rebecca Rittenhouse, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Unfriended: Dark Web), a young woman who teams up with Wilkes, interested in his killing ways, but she became very predictable, and I knew exactly where her character would end up (and I was right).

All in all, if you temper your expectations, The Body is an interesting and somewhat entertaining start to Into the Dark. It’s got a great idea that gets a little more generic as the film goes on, but it’s not the worst way to spend 80 minutes, though get prepared for predictability as you go on.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 20 – Contamination (1980)

Director: Luigi Cozzi
Cast: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Masé, Siegfried Rauch, Gisela Hahn
Screenplay: Luigi Cozzi, Erich Tomek
95 mins. Rated R.

I just saw my first Luigi Cozzi (Hercules, La battaglia di Roma 1849) film today. It’s always interesting to see a movie by a director you have not yet watched. I actually wasn’t even aware that I owned any movies from Cozzi, as my copy of today’s movie is listed as Alien Contamination, one of the many titles that this film got upon release. Today, let’s take a stroll down schlock lane with Luigi Cozzi’s famous ripoff of Alien…with Contamination.

When a mysterious ship arrives at the New York Harbor with no souls on board, the police discover that the ship is packed with unusual green eggs larger than footballs. As a research team attempts to discover the origin of the eggs, they learn that these dangerous biohazards are linked to an expedition to Mars.

It’s clear from early on that Contamination is a blatant ripoff of Alien in a number of different ways. After completing Starcrash, Cozzi wanted to stay in the science fiction realm, and he was tasked with making a film similar to Ridley Scott’s recent success in America. Sadly, studio interference happens around the world, and Cozzi was forced to sacrifice a number of elements pertaining to his vision for the film, including adding a bunch of secret agent elements to give the film a “James Bond” feeling. He also had to use animatronic effects instead of his planned stop motion effects. Producer Claudio Mancini had a hand in forcing Cozzi’s hand on a number of these issues, and unfortunately, these are the areas where the film suffers most.

The opening of this film is incredible and shocking and (apart from being unable to hear what the characters are saying in their hazmat suits) total exploitation carnage. When the film sticks to its alien story, it’s phenomenally entertaining, albeit quite silly and cheesy. When the film enters into its obvious 007 secret mission subplots, it loses a lot of its forward momentum.

Along with that, in classic low-budget Italian horror fashion, the acting isn’t all that good, and the writing is pretty cheesy, and the plot is sheer lunacy (seriously, does an NYPD Lieutenant have jurisdiction in South America?), but no one can discount the score from Goblin. This isn’t part of the upper-tier Goblin work, but even their worst is still better than most other scores. Goblin are the composers of a lost time period, and we need that time back. Their rock score keeps the excitement level higher during even its worst sequences.

Outside of the score, there isn’t much anything of actual value in the movie, but this is also the type of film you go into knowing what you are getting. Cozzi was never going to be the type to have an Oscar-winning Best Picture, but he schlocks with the best of them. Cozzi’s films are most seen through the lens of Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Rifftrax, and you just have to figure out if they work for you.

The acting is poor, the writing is silly, and the direction is uninspired, but I enjoyed Contamination. Among all of its problems (and it has a lot of problems), Cozzi infuses a lot of heart into his movie, and you can see it all over the finished product. This is a bad movie, but it is oh-so-much fun to watch, for a certain sect of viewers, at least. I had fun with this Video Nasty, and I think there’s a chance you could to.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 19 – Parents (1989)

Director: Bob Balaban
Cast: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Sandy Dennis
Screenplay: Christopher Hawthorne
81 mins. Rated R.

Can any of us really trust our parents? Especially if Randy Quaid (Brokeback Mountain, All You Can Eat?) is one of them?

Set in the 1950s, this satire looks at the Laemle family. On the outside, they look like the picture perfect family, with father Nick (Quaid) in line for a new promotion housewife Lilly (Mary Beth Hurt, Lady in the Water, Change in the Air) the perfect little cook. The Laemle parents have a secret that even son Michael is unaware of, though, and he is soon to discover that his family’s taste is a little more bloodthirsty than most.

I really wanted to love Parents. I remember seeing the poster and thinking that this was right down my alley, but unfortunately, even with the gifted talents of director Bob Balaban (Fishkill, Georgia O’Keefe) is a bit of a dud. Don’t get me wrong, the film has its strong points, but it wrestles over tone and intention throughout.

First off, I really enjoyed the unhinged performances by both parents, particularly Quaid. It seems like this film, Vacation, and Independence Day all perfectly captured the complicated actor’s skills. He’s unusual, funny, and unnerving throughout. Mary Beth Hurt has more of a switch to her performance, where she is able to shift from loving and caring to psychotic and calculating.

I also really enjoyed the dreamlike quality to the film, as if Balaban watched a few David Lynch films and said, “I can do that.” Some of the film evokes Lynch’s Blue Velvet with the shine of Americana covering up a dark and seedy underbelly, and that’s where the film’s strength is.

But sadly, Parents just doesn’t work because it can’t figure out what kind of movie it wants to be, and this struggle with identity caused confusion for this audience member. At first, I thought it would be satire, but it’s not that. It’s not really a horror movie either, and I can’t in good conscience call it a comedy, because it just isn’t funny. Without the horror and without the comedy, the satire has nothing to feed off, and it ends up starving the film of any real entertainment.

Ugh, I really wanted to like Parents. The concept and logline are both fitting, it has a strong poster presence and it starts out relatively strong, but it becomes apparent all too quickly that this is movie simply does not work. The script isn’t very strong (rough draft, anyone?) and it doesn’t have a unified vision. Those two failures stop the movie dead in its tracks, and it never recovers.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 18 – We Summon the Darkness (2019)

Director: Marc Meyers
Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Keean Johnson, Maddie Hasson, Logan Miller, Amy Forsyth, Austin Swift, Johnny Knoxville
Screenplay: Alan Trezza
91 mins. Rated R for bloody violence, pervasive language, some drug use and sexual references.

Satanic Panic in horror has been a slow-moving trend in horror for a few years now. Not satanic panic in the traditional sense, but the type of horror that commits to a satirical view of the insanity faced by the public in the 80s. We Summon the Darkness is one of those films, and it looked like a lot of fun. Yeah, it sure LOOKED that way.

Alexis (Alexandra Daddario, Baywatch, TV’s The White Lotus) and her two friends are road-tripping to see a favorite heavy metal band, fully aware that there’s been a string of satanic killings going around the area recently, and bodies are piling up. Once they arrive, they make friends with another group of three, led by Ivan (Austin Swift, Cover Versions, Breaking the Whales), and Alexis invites them to hang out at her dad’s house. What starts as a fun night evolves quickly into a dangerous and unpredictable night that will test each of their survival skills.

We Summon the Darkness is a movie of wants and missed opportunities. It wants so desperately to enter into that canon of stylistic, sassy, and conceptual single-location horror movies like Ready or Not and You’re Next. It aims for this realm and completely misses it. There are a number of reasons why this happens, but let’s start with what works.

Alexandra Daddario is a solid and effective lead in the film. This is an actress that has some serious talent, but she’s consistently overlooked because people are so focused on her looks, but I’ve continued to see an steady climb in her acting abilities, and she’s fun and engaging as Alexis. While she may not be written in the best way, Daddario puts her all into it.

Most of the other performances work well enough for what the film is, but I’d like to focus on Logan Miller (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Escape Room: Tournament of Champions) as Kovacks, a member of the group of guys that Alexis meets at the concert. Miller is seemingly placed in unlikable roles throughout his young career, and he’s really good at them, but he works pretty well in most of his performances. I remember being swayed by him in Escape Room, and he adds layers to a character that maybe should be more forgettable.

The reveals that come up in this movie are so overwrought and easily guessable that it takes a lot of the excitement out of the movie. Five minutes in and you could guess just about every major plot point. I did, and I was pretty much right about all of it. That’s the problem that plagues We Summon the Darkness: the predictability kills it. That’s a tough thing to work around, and it looks like director Marc Meyers (My Friend Dahmer, All My Life) and screenwriter Alan Trezza (Burying the Ex) were unable to overcome that issue. With that issue comes the cardinal sin of horror: boredom. This movie just kind of bored me, and while it isn’t an experience-killing boredom, I don’t ever see myself watching this movie again.

There are also a few production goofs that, on their own, wouldn’t have mattered, but with the amount of issues in the film, they really took me out. Issues like a movie set in 1988 using newer paper money designs or the Bluetooth light in the girls’ car. These seem like small issues but each time they came up, I was pushed back out of the limited focus that the movie had on me. Everyone has an amount of investment they can afford to lose before they lose focus on the movie, and this one pummeled me just enough to lose me often.

We Summon the Darkness could work for some people, but I’m convinced that many of them have not seen better movies that do what this film can do but better. It wants to be subversive, and it’s mildly entertaining purely for its performances, but it could’ve been so much more. It should’ve been so much more.

2.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 17 – Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989)

Director: Anthony Hickox
Cast: David Carradine, Morgan Brittany, Bruce Campbell, Jim Metzler, Deborah Foreman
Screenplay: John Burgess, Anthony Hickox
104 mins. Rated R.

Fun fact: I buy a lot of movies. Oftentimes, I’ll buy movies I haven’t even seen. Cheap multipacks can be the bane of my existence. While hunting down a copy of Ghoulies III (yeah, that’s right), I finally found it in a 6-pack of movies on DVD. In the same pile, I found another 6-pack and recognized Blood Diner, so I nabbed that 6-pack (I mean, c’mon, it was five bucks), and I just recently opened it to investigate and watch them. I knew nothing about Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, but the little poster on the front cover of the movie pack looked awful. I expected to like this movie the least, so now that I’ve seen it, is it the worst?

There’s a little town called Purgatory that you won’t find on a map. In fact, many do not even know it exists, and that’s just the way the residents want it. The town is packed to the brim with vampires. These creatures of the night have worked very hard to avoid the need for blood to the point that they’ve synthesized a blood alternative, and they utilize other tactics like heavy sunblock and large sombreros to keep out of the sun’s harmful rays. Under the direction of their leader, Count Mardulak (David Carradine, Kill Bill vol. 2, Death Race 2000), the town seems, on the surface, rather peaceful and sleepy, but there’s trouble brewing in Purgatory, and some of the residents don’t want a blood substitute. As tensions rise in town, the descendant of a legendary vampire hunter has arrived, stake in hand.

The concept for Sundown is rather awesome. It may not be the most original idea, but turning a classic vampire tale on its head with elements of science fiction (before that was popular) and the modern western seems to work to its benefit. I love the wide cast of characters, which make a town like Purgatory feel lived in. Director Anthony Hickox (Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, Knife Edge) infuses his town and characters with enough style and flair to make them stand on their own and be entertaining in the soap-opera-y narrative, and his storytelling has a bit of a bite (pun not intended, but do as you will) to create a unique vampire tale in the time of so many others like The Lost Boys and Near Dark, and while the finished film won’t hold a candle to either, enough of it works.

The cast holds a lot of this together, led by the consitently scenery-chewing David Carradine. For being the lead actor in the film, we don’t get a lot of Carradine in this, but when he’s onscreen, he’s a delight to watch. Bruce Campbell (Bubba Ho-tep, TV’s Ash vs Evil Dead) matches his intensity quite well as the latest in a long line of Van Helsings. Campbell has a way about him that he works in just about every film he’s in by essentially playing a variation of the same character, and yet, directors that hire him know what they’re getting. Campbell even plays very nicely with Deborah Foreman (Real Genius, Grizzly II: Revenge) as Sandy, a local server in Purgatory who takes nicely to Campbell’s Van Helsing.

The film’s biggest problem is not the insane amount of subplots bouncing around, nor is it the hammy dialogue and acting (in fact, these elements work well in this specific film). No, the biggest problem is that it seems like, as the film finds itself working to the finale, it loses some steam, as if Hickox and co-screenwriter John Burgess ran out of ideas as the vampire portion of the film almost completely disappears in favor of the western elements. The story and climax that we get at the end felt like a production that ran out of money, and that could very well be the case, as this was the last film produced by Vestron Video as the company struggled in the landscape of late 80s cinema. The ending we get isn’t bad, but it’s an obvious loss of steam in an otherwise very entertaining and odd movie.

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is goofy and glorious fun. Anthony Hickox understood his vision and put it forth rather than giving viewers something they’d seen before, and even though the narrative sputters a bit as it comes to a close, there’s something rather special here, and a self-awareness that drives most of the thrills. Like a more satirical precursor to True Blood, Sundown is a vampire movie working toward the future of the subgenre, and we’re all the better for it. Seek this out if you can find it.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 16 – Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965)

Director: Noriaki Yuasa
Cast: Eiji Funakoshi, Michiko Sugata, Harumi Kiritachi, Junichiro Yamashita
Screenplay: Nilsan Takahashi
81 mins. Not Rated.

Every year I end up picking a few movies for 31 Days of Horror that make some viewers cry out, “But Kyle, this isn’t horror!” Two answers to that:

1) This is my site, deal with it.
2) Horror is an all-encompassing theme of horrific ideas in film. To me, a giant kaiju destroying major cities is a horrifying concept. Whether the ultimate product is horrific or not, I’m lenient toward monster movies especially.

Today, we take the OTHER major kaiju franchise (sorry Godzilla, maybe next time), Gamera!

A nuclear explosion in the arctic has unleashed an all-new terror upon Tokyo in the form of a giant fire-breathing, flying turtle. As he searches for sustenance, destroying all in his path, it comes down to a group of scientists and a special boy with a love for all turtles to put a stop to him before it’s too late, but how can they stop a creature like Gamera?

A common complaint of the Gamera franchise is that it chooses the path of the more easily consumable, kid-friendly realm of the kaiju film. It’s also been considered a lesser monster film compared to Godzilla because it doesn’t have as heavy a theme (even though it deals in nuclear damage in this first film at least), but that doesn’t have to be a complaint. Movies can just be popcorn and butter and candy and joy, and Gamera: The Giant Monster is definitely a film of fun and excitement. Whereas Godzilla’s franchise began with dread, Gamera takes on a bit more camp and with that comes an added accessibility. I readily ate up the cheese and had a lot of fun with the problem-solving scientists trying to work around such a unique creature.

And on the subject of the unique creature, Gamera is just an interesting kaiju because it is essentially the antagonist of this first film (much like Godzilla), but it’s one that, as an audience member, I was less aware of, so I was shocked when Gamera started breathing fire and flying. The character is just a bit sillier and wackier than Godzilla. I would compare the light and fluffy tone of this city-smashing character moreso to Mothra from the Godzilla universe in that it has more of a human component than Godzilla, and the silliness works to the film’s betterment.

Much like the Toho films, this one struggles a bit in building characters. I recognized and understood the stock characters, but I had no fear for them when in danger, outside of maybe the young boy Toshiro and his fascination with Gamera as a mystery instead of a villain. I liked the story of the scientists, watching them fail and guess-and-test, but I didn’t really know who they were at all outside of their appearances. They just didn’t breathe the way I’d hoped.

The action of the film is more in line with classic kaiju, but I liked that we get some more aftermath every time Gamera touches down, and I appreciate that the film moves at a fresh pace with a strong visual flair. This feels like a worldwide danger that is without understanding. While the action is really nothing new, the movie allows to breath long enough to learn alongside our leads.

Gamera: The Giant Monster is certainly not as strong as its Toho counterpart, but the film is pure fun and excitement, and it introduces a monster that should be more iconic around the world, one that has a unique set of powers and background. I liked it, and if you get the chance to be acquainted with this magic turtle, I definitely recommend the journey.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 15 – Underwater (2020)

Director: William Eubank
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr., Mamoudou Athie, T.J. Miller
Screenplay: Brian Duffield, Adam Cozad
95 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and terror, and brief strong language.

Underwater is a movie that just couldn’t get the timing right to be successful. Shot in 2017, when T.J. Miller (Cloverfield, TV’s Silicon Valley) was less problematic, the film’s footage sat on a shelf while the team at 20th Century Fox tried to work through their potential upcoming sale to Disney. Once owned by Disney, the decision had to be made about whether the film should be finished and release, whether or not the investment would be worth the box office take, and if the finished film would be workable through any release window. This choice happened to a lot of 20th Century Fox films during that time, and Underwater was thankfully finished, but then it was unceremoniously dropped in January before completely disappearing due to the impact of COVID-19 on the box office and theatrical exhibition. Through all that, we must ask whether the film is worth searching out.

When a mysterious earthquake destroys much of a large and dangerous deep sea rig, the team of researchers and drillers that remain onboard have to make a trek across damaged vessel and open ocean floor in order to find the last remaining safe escape, but they are not alone in the water, and the odds are stacked against them.

When I saw Underwater early in 2020 (it was the first new release I saw that year), I was perhaps unfairly harsh to the film. Rewatching it tonight made me realize everything that works in the movie. For one, Kristen Stewart (Snow White and the Huntsman, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) can carry a genre picture. There are issues with her performance (and we’ll get to them), but she carries large swaths of this movie quite naturally.

I also enjoyed much of the core cast. Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, La Haine) positively shines as Captain Lucien, the broken leader of survivors who offloads a tremendous amount of heart. Jessica Henwick (Love and Monsters, On the Rocks) also does a lot with a little as Research Assistant Emily, and I also quite liked Mamoudou Athie (The Circle, Black Box) works nicely as Rodrigo, the newby to drilling life who locks up in dangerous situations.

On the flipside, I felt that T.J. Miller bogged down a lot of his screen time with terribly-underwhelming comedic relief that fell flat regularly, and John Gallagher Jr. (Short Term 12, Hush) is given almost nothing to do, to the point where I had forgotten he was even in the film.

Where Kristen Stewart faults in the film is that I just didn’t see her fitting the character. She was either miscast or given dialogue that didn’t fit her as a performer, and some of the script didn’t work through her. That’s maybe the largest issue. Whether through choppy editing or bad writing, Underwater is bubbling with logic gaps and confusing character choices. There are moments, most notably near the end of the film, where characters completely flip on their arcs and go in the opposite direction, and no one is serviced well with the conclusion. Hastily put together narration from Stewart and newspaper clippings to fill in plotholes pop up here and there and never work the way they’re supposed to.

It’s too bad, because if this film could’ve fixed the writing, a lot of lesser elements at play here would be almost instantly improved, and given the places where the narrative ends up, I would’ve loved to see them really execute the ending because Act III is so bonkers and interesting that a better script could’ve really floated this film into another level of deep sea horror.

Underwater is a messy movie, one that floats and flounders in equal measure. There’s a lot to like here, and it’s a great display for director William Eubank (The Signal, Love) as a bigger budget up-and-coming director. The film has flaws, but they showcase a talent rising through the ranks. Had Underwater better handled their casting and screenwriting, I feel this concept would’ve been able to enter that upper echelon on modern horror classics. As it stands, the film is messy but worth checking out for yourself nonetheless.

2.5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 14 – [Happy 10th Birthday!] Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Cast: Lauren Bittner, Chris Smith, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown
Screenplay: Christopher Landon
83 mins. Rated R for some violence, language, brief sexuality and drug use.

I’ve spoken before about my initial reluctance to watch the Paranormal Activity franchise, and how I was won over by the incredible concept and storytelling put together for the second film in the franchise, with its clever use of flashback and still finding a way to move the plot forward. So I went into Paranormal Activity 3 with high hopes for when the story was going. The third film ending up being the best-reviewed of the entire series, with many critics seeing the film in a favorable light. Was I one of them?

Paranormal Activity 3 begins by showing us that Katie and Kristi have amassed a large quantity of home videos from their childhood, and then flashing back to the contents of those tapes, in 1988. We are presented with the earliest footage of this paranormal activity, showing exactly how the sisters first became involved with the entities that have followed them for decades.

There’s a lot of love for Paranormal Activity 3, but as a critique purely of the story, I was ultimately let down. The issues of the Paranormal Activity franchise have something in common with the Resident Evil films in that they sometimes seem like a setup for the next film instead of driving forward the narrative. Paranormal Activity 3 is the franchise at its most wheel-spinning. There is a lot of entertainment value and visually impressive technical display in the movie, but whereas the second film was mostly prequel, it still drove the story forward. PA3 seems like the movie that, were it removed from the narrative, would ultimately change nothing. As a complete franchise, it works better, but looking at it on its own, it struggles to find purpose.

I mentioned the films technical display, and I like how we get an explanation for why everyone keeps going to filming the unusual happenings by introducing Dennis (Chris Smith, Enough Said, Little Children). With that, we get some ingenuity in camera placement and technique, specifically when Dennis attaches a camera to a spinning fan in order to provide some really exciting moments. This franchise has always been a feature-length horror version of I Spy, with viewers scouring frames of the static camera, looking for ghosts and creeps and crawlies, subconsciously working themselves up for the scare in advance.

I also really like what we’re given in the 1980s, as a mythology builder. This is the first time in the series that I feel an overarching narrative is being built (yes, even though I’m criticizing the lack of forward momentum, I like the info we’re being delivered). I was also intrigued with the kind of narrative back-stepping being done. I had not guessed the directions this film would take us as viewers, and again, had the film moved the narrative forward while simultaneously stepping backward, I think it would have worked better, especially given where the previous film had ended. Give us something to go with.

Paranormal Activity 3 is a fine enough sequel to the franchise, and it introduces a lot of elements that the franchise would continue to use going forward. I just wish the film actually worked the narrative because it feels meaningless, like a side quest film, and that shouldn’t be the case in building a world and franchise, especially following the excellent second installment. This one is a well-made film that sputters for too much of its run time, but it should offer sufficient scares for fans of the series.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity, click here.
  • For my review of Tod Williams’s Paranormal Activity 2, click here.
  • For my review of Christopher Landon’s Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 13 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] The Grudge 2 (2006)

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Cast: Amber Tamblyn, Arielle Kebbel, Jennifer Beals, Edison Chen, Sarah Roemer, Sarah Michelle Gellar
Screenplay: Stephen Susco
102 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, disturbing images/terror/violence, and some sensuality.

It only took three days after the release of the American version of The Grudge for this film to be greenlit. Then, it spent close to a year in development hell before finally gracing screens on a Friday the 13th in 2006. Now, 15 years later, this notorious reviewer known for his distaste of J-horror remakes tackles The Grudge 2!

Immediately following the events of the first film, The Grudge 2 continues the tale of the spreading curse of evil that has attached itself to Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Cruel Intentions, TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Now, Karen’s sister, Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Nostalgia) is headed to Tokyo in search of her sister…and answers, but the Grudge is a continually spreading curse which has also attached itself to a group of schoolgirls and a family living in an apartment complex in America, but how do all these pieces fit together?

This seems like a hot take, so stay with me while I explain myself: I think this is my favorite of the American Grudge films. It’s not amazing by any means but this film feels closest to what the original Ju-On films were. It seems, to me at least, to improve on many of the faults of the first film. Again, I don’t really think these movies are scary at all, but this is at least the most engaging story and overall viewing experience of the four American films.

Let’s address my faults with the first film. First of all, as I mentioned, the first American Grudge is just not scary. The sequel isn’t either, but I did have one moment that worked for me in the later portion of the movie. I also think that the atmosphere and structure of the sequel work to deliver some decent unnerving quality that affected me. The ASMR ghost thing still mostly fails to deliver on frights, but this is a much moodier picture.

The nonlinear style of storytelling here is the film’s best asset. It caused me to really invest in the narrative as I tried to wrap my head around connecting the various pieces of the film. I’m not sure if any of these narrative threads would work on their own, and by the time the film was at an end, I was losing a bit of drive in answering my questions, but it kept my focus more than any other American Grudge film. The first film’s focus on Karen was its downfall.

You can also tell that director Takashi Shimizu (Homunculus, Suicide Forest Village) is having more fun in his playground this time around. As opposed to the first film, which is a fairly close remake of the original, this sequel allows him to tries some new things and tell an original story again. The Grudge 2 isn’t a remake of the second Ju-On film as some would believe, but it actually takes more from the Jurassic Park sequels in picking and choosing elements from the source material to include (the JP films played a lot with unused material from Crichton’s books, but you get what I mean). Shimizu pulls elements from Ju-On: The Curse and the more well-known Ju-On: The Grudge, and even grabbed some elements from the Japanese short films that preceded the Ju-On series. With that, there’s a more interesting sandbox feeling to this film, which Shimizu himself admitted to enjoying more than the first film. For someone who directed every single installment of the franchise up to this point (up until 2009 for the direct-to-DVD sequel The Grudge 3), he really knows his world and has an interesting tale to give us.

This sequel still struggles to give us worthy performances from any of its cast, and I know many of them are capable of more than we’re getting. It’s helpful that the nonlinear storyline doesn’t give us any one lead so we aren’t stuck with anyone for too long and it allowed me to invest in the story more instead (not a win, but at least an ever-so-slight improvement).

The Grudge 2 is not the holy grail of horror films, but there is a renewed excitement for what’s to come next (at least until you see what came next), and the film is engaging and interesting with a moody texture and some surprising narrative choices. Sadly, it underperformed so hard that Sony cancelled the Blu-Ray release of the film. In fact, the film still, to this day, does not have a Blu-Ray release because of its performance at the box office. You might say that Sony knows how to hold a…Grudge? All joking aside, the film is a mess but that’s kind of the point, and it understands its messiness better than the previous entry and way better than the latter American installments. It may not win you over, but if you liked the previous installment, give this one a try…on DVD.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

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

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 12 – Tales from the Crypt presents Ritual (2002)

Director: Avi Nesher
Cast: Jennifer Grey, Craig Sheffer, Daniel Lapaine, Tim Curry
Screenplay: Rob Cohen, Avi Nesher
99 mins. Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality.

I bet there are quite a few people out there, even among fans of Tales from the Crypt, who were unaware that there was a third feature film in the series. Were you one of them? We’ll get into all that and more today as we discuss Ritual!

Dr. Alice Dodgson (Jennifer Grey, Dirty Dancing, Bittersweet Symphony) has just had her medical license revoked following the death of one of her patients. Unable to get work anywhere in the United States, she instead packs up and moves to Jamaica to take on caring for a young man the locals believe to be cursed. As Alice begins to peel back the layers of the situation, she discovers a sinister plot to use voodoo to kill the man, and she must find out why quickly in order to save him.

Originally, Universal Pictures planned on a trilogy of Tales from the Crypt films, starting with Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood. After the financial failure of the latter, Universal scrapped these plans, and some years later, Ritual, which wasn’t initially planned to be a Tales from the Crypt feature, became one. Bookends featuring the Cryptkeeper (voiced once again by John Kassir) was shot and added to the finished film, and voila! You have yourself another Tales from the Crypt film.

Sadly, the film doesn’t bolster a whole lot of confidence in the viewer almost immediately after beginning. This is some of the most lackluster shoehorning of a franchise I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve watched most of the Hellraiser sequels. The bookends with Cryptkeeper are so disappointing. He’s surrounded by scantily-clad women, perhaps in the hopes that we wouldn’t notice how terrible the puppetry is (we noticed). This is clearly not the same Cryptkeeper seen in the HBO series. That version was a full animatronic puppet that looked incredible and really gave a flavor to every appearance. This one is a hard plastic puppet with “deadlocks” that just sits there. It’s almost like you can hear a dispirited John Kassir from the soundbooth being forced at gunpoint to do the terrible line readings he’s been given. I know, I know, you are probably wondering why I’m going off about a bookend that really has no bearing on the finished film. Well, there are two reasons for that:

  • I spend money on this thing thinking it was going to be a classic Tales from the Crypt movie, complete with iconic Cryptkeeper!
  • This is the same bullshit that dropped Cats significantly in my scoring, because the filmmakers knew they were creating a subpar product and didn’t care.

Now, onto Ritual itself. The biggest problem with forcing this into being a third Tales from the Crypt film is that you expect that same kind of Crypt flavor in the storytelling. You expect something from this brand to be fun, goofy, perhaps a little mean-spirited in the name of satire, and overall, entertaining. That’s the way Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood were. Even The Frighteners, which almost ended up being retrofitted into a Tales from the Crypt film, had that flavor and style. Ritual is just a little paint-by-the-numbers (it is a very loose remake of the classic I Walked with a Zombie), and it does nothing interesting with the material. Perhaps its biggest sin is that it is…boring. I’ve seen Ritual a few times, and I struggle to get through it with each viewing. Not, each viewing does get a little less bad, but at the end of watching it, I struggle to even remember anything of value about the movie-watching experience. It’s a deeply forgettable and boring movie, something that no Tales from the Crypt film should have in its DNA.

The cast is fine with what they have. You can see Jennifer Grey and Tim Curry (Congo, The Rocky Horror Picture Show) in particularly really committing to the material. It’s just that they have nothing to do. Even Craig Sheffer (A River Runs Through It, Palmer) can usually give a memorable genre performance (on a side note, Craig Sheffer also appeared in Hellraiser: Inferno, a movie that was retrofitted into being a Hellraiser movie, and you have to wonder if he ever knows what the movie he is in will end up being).

Ritual is forgettable, boring, and a disservice to fans of this franchise, who should be able to have trust in something bearing the name of Tales from the Crypt. The movie is not the worst thing to have to sit through, but fans deserve much better, and a boring movie is oftentimes worse than a flat-out bad one. Shame. Shame indeed.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Ernest R. Dickerson’s Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight, click here.
For my review of Gilbert Adler’s Tales from the Crypt presents Bordello of Blood, click here.

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