[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 26 – [Happy 20th Birthday!] Bones (2001)

Director: Ernest Dickerson
Cast: Snoop Dogg, Pam Grier, Khalil Kain, Clifton Powell, Bianca Lawson, Michael T. Weiss
Screenplay: Adam Simon, Tim Metcalfe
96 mins. Rated R for violence/gore, language, sexuality and drugs.

I remember the VHS cover for Bones. I remember seeing it when I’d peruse my local video store. I knew nothing about it, except the guy on the front cover looked like that rapper I didn’t listen to. It was a creepy cover, but I had nothing else drawing me to it. I only recently learned that was directed by Ernest Dickerson (Juice, Blind Faith), someone I’ve been aware of for years. I figured, since the film is celebrating its 20th anniversary today, now would be the right time to check out Bones and see if it was as underrated as I’d heard.

It’s been twenty years since the death of Jimmy Bones (Snoop Dogg, Training Day, Turbo), and the brownstone building that was his home has become a relic and a tomb. Now, four friends, led by Patrick (Khalil Kain, Renaissance Man, Coming to Africa), have purchased the Bones house and update it to open a nightclub inside. This sets off a chain reaction that begins the resurrection of Bones who is out for vengeance against those who betrayed him decades ago.

Dickerson’s biggest strength as a director is his ability to play into the genre and utilize a strong filmic sensibility for practical effects. When he utilizes practical effects in the film, it’s a kickass experience. The practical effects are gorgeous and grim and wholly captivating. The problem is that Bones also uses visual effects which are completely distracting and poorly lit. So many of the visual effects have aged and ineffective.

That’s not the only area of mixed execution in the film. Snoop Dogg is utilized quite well in the film. He hadn’t done much acting as of this time period, and he’s played as more of a presence with a bit of an over-the-top flair. He also plays nicely off of Pam Grier (Jackie Brown, Ghosts of Mars), who plays his romantic interest, Pearl. Snoop and Grier had done music videos in the years leading up to Bones, and that chemistry is here as well, but remember I said that acting was mixed? Well, our group of four friends opening up the nightclub are all pretty lackluster. None of them are written all that well, nor are they performed all that well. Mostly, they are overwritten and overacted to the point of parody, and while Bones isn’t meant to be taken seriously, these four youths are seemingly in a different movie, which is disappointing.

Bones is filled with mixed bits because while certain performances and effects work, others do not. The practical effects work is lit well, but the CG is not. The production design is excellent, but the editing is a bit rough and scattered. It’s a movie of parts that work and parts that do not, though I would still give the film a mild edge because enough of it works to have fun. Bones isn’t a classic by any means, but I had enough fun with the narrative and Dickerson’s direction to enjoy myself.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Ernest Dickerson’s Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 25 – Halloweentown (1998)

Director: Duwayne Dunham
Cast: Debbie Reynolds, Kimberly J. Brown, Judith Hoag, Joey Zimmerman, Emily Roeske
Screenplay: Jon Cooksey, Ali Marie Matheson
84 mins. Rated TV-G.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t watch Halloweentown as a kid. I lived in a part of the country where the Disney Channel was apparently part of some expensive cable package that my family just didn’t have. With that, I just didn’t grow up with Halloweentown. My wife did. Several of my friends did. I didn’t, so when Halloweentown comes up in conversation about best films to watch during this time of year, I don’t really have much to add. Well, I bought the first two films with the intention of watching them with my wife during the Halloween season, so let’s discuss this Disney Channel Original favorite.

Marnie Piper (Kimberly J. Brown, Bringing Down the House, Friendship!) is 13 years old, practically an adult in her own eyes, and yet, she’s never been able to take part in Halloween. Her younger siblings are the same way, and their mother, Gwen (Judith Hoag, Armageddon, Finding You) has never given a reason. It seems this year will be no different, but when Marnie’s grandmother, Aggie Cromwell (Debbie Reynolds, Singin’ in the Rain, In & Out), arrives for her yearly Halloween visit, Marnie learns the truth: she and her sister Sophie (Emily Roeske, 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain, Fell’s Redeemer) are both witches, and this is Marnie’s last year to begin training or her powers will be gone forever. She follows her grandmother home aboard a mystical bus, and they are whisked off to Halloweentown, a magical locale full of witches, warlocks, and humanoid creatures of all varieties. It seems like a wonderful place to Marnie, but there is danger brewing in Halloweentown, and her family is in grave danger.

Watching this film in my early 30s is perhaps not the right time to see it. Halloweentown feels to me like The Goonies: if you missed it when you were the target audience, it may be lost on you. I don’t want to completely hate on the film because in many ways it is similar to shows I grew up on like Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? but without anything actually scary.

Debbie Reynolds is absolute magic as Aggie Cromwell. It seems that, if nothing else, she understood the assignment and infused the role with an enthusiasm rarely given to television movies in the 90s. Her time with bright and shiny Hollywood pictures would have led me to believe her to be “Bigger” than this movie, but she treats it with the same respect she would have given to any role, and that’s part of what makes her so emphatically entertaining in the role.

As for the children in the film, none of these performances are offensive, but all three of the Piper children are played with a We’re-in-a-Disney-Channel-movie-so-we-need-to-enunciate-in-a-way-that-makes-everything-light-and-bubbly-at-all-times-so-the-young-viewers-will-not-get-too-anxious-of-the-danger-we’re-in kind of performance. Perhaps believability was never possible in a film like this, but I was always invested in Harry Potter’s magical world for its characters and the danger they were in was palpable enough to allow me to enter their world.

I liked the aspect of Halloweentown that actually dived into the macabre specifically the flavor of the town and its people. I wish it were portrayed with a semblance of childlike fear, just enough to give a minute amount of spookiness to the finished product, but I liked the town and its various residents, particularly the unnerving skeletal taxi driver, Benny. As I said before, all of these characters within the town would have been even better if the film had any real scares, even as far as mood goes.

And that’s the film’s biggest problem for me. It’s not scary, and I know what you’ll say next. You’ll tell me that this is a kids movie and that it can’t be that scary for children, and you’ll tell me that nothing in it is meant to scare ME, but here’s the thing: this film is fearless. There’s nothing even remotely spooky going on in this movie. Let’s compare it to aforementioned Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark?, as I still watch both of these shows during the Halloween season for nostalgia and a bit of lighthearted amusement. Both shows cease to scare me, but they scared me quite a bit as a child, even someone like me who watched Halloween at age 4, who has grown up watching the Adult Horror from a young age. The scares in Goosebumps and Are You Afraid are mild, to be sure, but they are there, and they worked just enough on me as a child to get some thrills out of them and then wash myself clean of them after 30 minutes. I’m not asking for Halloweentown to be remade into a film like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (but Disney, if that interests you, call me), but it’s extremely obvious that this film was not intended for even slight fear, which is odd because I figured putting a director like Duwayne Dunham (Now You See It…, Tiger Cruise) at the helm would be akin to a little bit of eerieness at the very least, as he had directed a couple episodes of Twin Peaks, a show that consistently delved into eerieness. Again, not asking for a Twin Peaks Halloweentown (but again, Disney, call me), but I want something, anything, to tell me that this wasn’t just a Christmastown movie reskinned with a Halloween aesthetic.

No, I didn’t hate Halloweentown, but I didn’t love it. I thought it was simply okay, a bit of a letdown for a film with such a fervant following (St. Helen’s, Oregon, where the film was made, has a month-long Spirit of Halloweentown festival every year), but I don’t think I’m the target audience for this anymore. Maybe I just missed the boat, but it’s my goal on this site to educate and give my opinion on any film, and I try to see every film through the intended lens. I ask myself, “What is this movie trying to be and is it successful?” It’s one of the first things I think about when I see a movie, and it’s as important to me as entertainment value. For me, Halloweentown is intended for children, and I feel like it works well enough at what it’s trying to be that I won’t hate on it. It’s just a movie that, even were I a young child, seeing it for the first time, I would’ve been “Meh” on it. It’s fine, it’s inoffensive, but you won’t ever see me choosing Halloweentown over the more solid Hocus Pocus in terms of family Halloween fare. That’s all.

2.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 24 – [Happy 35th Birthday!] Trick or Treat (1986)

Director: Charles Martin Smith
Cast: Marc Price, Tony Fields, Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne
Screenplay: Michael S. Murphey, Joel Soisson, Rhet Topham
98 mins. Rated R.

There’s an interesting yet undiscussed part of horror culture, beginning in the 80s, that I would call Rock Horror. It’s a combination of horror elements with a heavy influence on Rock n Roll, and it’s more of a loose sub-genre. Slumber Party Massacre II would likely fall under this umbrella, as would Black Roses or Rocktober Blood, but the one that seems to be earning that cult status more and more recently would be Trick or Treat, the feature directorial debut of actor Charles Martin Smith (Dolphin Tale, A Christmas Gift From Bob). Finding a copy of this film is not easy (musical rights issues have plagued many attempts to get the film on home video), but I was able to hunt one down, so let’s turn up the stereo and get bloody.

Eddie Weinbauer (Marc Price, Hell’s Bells, TV’s Family Ties) is an unpopular loner who has only ever felt a connection to his hard-rocking idol, Sammi Curr (Tony Fields, Dance Academy, Across the Moon). When Sammi Curr perishes in a mysterious hotel fire, Eddie is utterly shattered, but when he receives a copy of Curr’s unreleased final album, he becomes enamored with hearing the final new works of the late musician, but somethings not quite right with this record, and Eddie soon discovers that Sammi Curr is speaking to him from beyond the grave, and he’s not quite ready to move onto the afterlife.

Perhaps the greatest asset of this film is the special effects work of Kevin Yagher. Most of what’s on display is pretty cheaply done, and not all of it works, but this being a very early work by Yagher on a more minuscule budget, he stretches a lot of impressive effects work out of his pocketbook.

Sadly, Trick or Treat takes far too long to get going, and I was floundering searching for its magic. The film takes too much time setting up Eddie’s fascination with the musician and then immediately dispatches the rocker. Then, we spend so much time with searching for a plot until he acquires the record. I think the beginning of this film would’ve been better served had we been introduced to Sammi himself as a living, breathing character before his death in order to perhaps better understand his character when he returns from the dead. I’m not really sure what Sammi wants in his return. He lacks character in favor of style. Eddie is the other way, character with no style. Marc Price’s performance is lacking in anything memorable that I struggled to be interested in him as a protagonist. There’s just very little to cling to.

I really wanted to like Trick or Treat, but the finished product left me rather mixed. There’s some really cool stuff here, and I cannot fight anyone for loving this movie. I just found too many detractors, but it’s a film I still feel like revisiting next year, and, had they followed it up with a franchise, I think there’s enough here to enjoy, even if I was left wanting more.

2.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Charles Martin Smith’s A Dog’s Way Home, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 23 – [Happy 40th Birthday!] Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Director: Bruce D. Clark
Cast: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Taafe O’Connell, Robert Englund
Screenplay: Marc Siegler, Bruce D. Clark
81 mins. Rated R.

Okay, so I didn’t intend to cover two different Alien ripoffs this month, but here we are. Unlike Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination, the film we’re talking about today was actually quite important to the legacy of the Alien franchise. Galaxy of Terror had an up-and-coming filmmaker, James Cameron, as its Art Director. Not only that, Cameron hired his pal, Bill Paxton, to work as set dresser for the film. Cameron saw an opportunity for himself on the film and wiggled his way into being second-unit director, and it was his work on this film that got him his first directing gig on Piranha II: The Spawning. A few years later, Cameron would be directing the sequel to Alien, Aliens, with his pal Bill Paxton performing in it. Sometimes ripoffs can be very important, see?

Galaxy of Terror is the story of the spaceship Quest and its crew as they arrive at the planet Morganthus. Their mission is to discover the whereabouts of another ship that disappeared on the surface of the planet some time ago. They quickly discover that Morganthus is not without life, and something horrible is stalking them as they search for answers, picking them off one-by-one.

Galaxy of Terror is the kind of movie that could work. As I mentioned, for a low-budget endeavor, the art direction from Cameron is quite good. There’s an influence from Alien, for certain, but there’s a more colorful and vibrant feeling to this movie that serves its campy tone quite well. The costume design and set work is admirable, and they stretch that thin budget as far as they can.

A few select performances work quite well here. I liked Edward Albert (Butterflies Are Free, Midway) as our main protagonist Cabren, a veteran of space travel who keeps a cool head amidst the teror of the ission. I’m also a fan of Ray Walston (Popeye, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), especially when he appears in genre work, and he’s great as Kore, who carries a very similar arc to an Alien character but comes at it in a different way. Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nightworld: Door of Hell) also outperformed my expectations, as I was expecting him to not have much to do, but he is enthusiastically enjoyably throughout.

The problem with thos performances is that, even with the cast and crew trying hard, this script is flimsy at the best of times and director Bruce D. Clark (Naked Angels, Hammer) doesn’t do much to spice up the narrative with his uninspired direction. Even at 81 minutes, Galaxy of Terror feels overly long because, trying as hard as they are, these performers can’t do much with this weak material. Albert’s Cabren would’ve worked if he had anything to do as a lead. Walston is putting everything into his performance, but it seems that Kore, as one of the most interesting characters, is forgotten for large swaths of the narrative, and Englund’s Ranger could’ve really excelled if given better than a paper-thin character dynamic to work with. There’s a lot of people raising the material, but the script and direction doom this movie.

What’s even more frustrating is how close they come to workable, but then Clark and producer Roger Corman elect to force unneeded schlock back into it. The infamous “worm rape” scene is a prime example of this. There’s a way to have a schlocky bit of excitement terror and still use your tools to create suspense and mood. Instead, Corman directed this scene in a neanderthalic way, choosing “boob boob alien sex make fun fun money.” Perhaps I’m being harsh, but when you compare this sequence to another infamous horror scene, the “tree rape” scene from The Evil Dead, you can see a clear separation in purpose. Raimi’s film uses the scene to build upon the horror and tone and mood and also to disturb. Corman, stepping in to direct the scene in Galaxy of Terror, uses it like a kid who discovered his dad’s porno mags and wants to show them to you. I love Roger Corman but this just didn’t work.

Galaxy of Terror has perhaps more promise than one would expect, but it still comes up short. There are bits and pieces of this film that show a better work beneath the surface, but much like the spaceship Quest at the start of this film, Galaxy of Terror comes in for a crash landing.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 22 – Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005)

Director: Mary Lambert
Cast: Kate Mara, Robert Vito, Tina Lifford, Ed Marinaro, Lillith Fields
Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris
93 mins. Rated R for strong violence and gore, drug use and some language.

It’s interesting to note that there are a few different fledgling horror franchises that took the supernatural route for their third installment, ultimately sending them direct-to-video in the process. One of them was I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, and another more well-known one is Urban Legends: Bloody Mary. The latter is much less egregious of a turn for the franchise, choosing a more anthological route for the series. Let’s see if it helped.

Back in 1969, a horrible act on prom night causes the death of Mary Banner (Lillith Fields, Tracker, Treasure State). Thirty-five years later, the story of Mary Banner has been passed around into urban legend as the fabled Bloody Mary. Samantha Owens (Kate Mara, Fantastic 4, TV’s A Teacher) and her friends tell their version of the story at a sleepover, but when the morning comes, the girls have gone missing. When they find their way home, they discover that the bullies they believe responsible for the “prank” are being picked off, one by one. Or is there a larger reason for the deaths?

The first two Urban Legend films are heavily influenced by the slashers of the 90s, but this third installment goes in a completely different direction, aiming toward ripping off the J-horror remakes like The Ring and The Grudge. This is the most obvious and notably lazy element of the film, but it is not the only aspect to be completely stolen from better films. I saw a lot of Prom Night II here along with bits and pieces of Final Destination (the influence of music and Rube Goldberg-style deaths) along with A Nightmare on Elm Street (the back-from-death killer searching out the children of those who wronged her). Add in that, some poor writing, acting, directing and a heavy dose of lazy CGI, and you have Bloody Mary. It’s frustrating to see a film without any new ideas being placed in a once-innovative series of horror films.

I’m actually completely fine with the shift into supernatural horror, but this film just didn’t accomplish the task. I would’ve loved to see them turn the series into standalone anthology-like films covering each of the urban legends that influenced the killers in the first two films. It would’ve been a pretty cool cinematic universe a few years before it became the IT thing to do in Hollywood. If they had done something interesting with the legend of Bloody Mary by taking their favorite elements of the story and setting it within the framework of the first two films, tying it into the locations and characters that we know from the previous films, you maybe could see something fascinating come out of this series, but we never get that, and the film is rather forgettable. I’ve seen it three times since 2005, and I struggle to remember any of it after more than a few days.

Kate Mara underwhelms as Sam. Unfortunately, she isn’t written all that well, and her character is dull and dumb, so I’m not even sure if she could’ve improved the material. I like her in most everything else, but I can’t see anything good in her performance or the character in general.

Director Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary, Presumed Dead in Paradise) was disappointed in the decision to move this release to direct-to-video, but I don’t see anyway this film would’ve ended up in theaters. The CGI is atrocious, and her direction is abysmal. It’s weird to see the director of Pet Sematary make such a lackluster and lazy effort. She wanted to deal with the date-rape elements of the narrative in an interesting way, but she doesn’t do that. She has these strange sequences like three teenage girls having a pillow fight at a sleepover and then telling the legend of Bloody Mary and seeing her in the mirror, and then they don’t actually use a mirror when they conjure her. In fact, does anyone actually utilize the actual legend of Bloody Mary in the finished project? I don’t think so.

Urban Legends: Bloody Mary is a supremely dull movie experience. I had convinced myself that it wasn’t that bad as I was watching it, and I even initially thought about what I would score a film that is bad but not offensively so. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that there isn’t anything good in this movie, so I will give it the most deserving score of a indefensible movie. I’m just happy that I never have to watch it again.

1/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Jamie Blanks’s Urban Legend, click here.
  • For my review of John Ottman’s Urban Legends: Final Cut, click here.

[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

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