[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 28 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] Saw II (2005)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Cast: Donnie Wahlberg, Franky G, Glenn Plummer, Beverley Mitchell, Dina Meyer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Erik Knudsen, Shawnee Smith, Tobin Bell
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell, Darren Lynn Bousman
93 mins. Rated R.

Saw was a horror phenomenon when it released in 2004. It surprised the hell out of me, as I didn’t expect to love it so much, to be rewatching it so regularly, trying to scope out clues and things I had missed before. It wasn’t for everyone, especially those unable to handle gore (even though the first actually didn’t contain as much as the franchise would be known for later on), but for me, there was another element that kept me entranced, and that was the story. I loved the mystery of the film, the clues, the references. I studied that film, and when the sequel came out, it didn’t arrive at my local theater and I was too young to drive to another town to see it, so I waited until the inevitable January DVD release, and I caught it. Now, looking back, let’s see how the first sequel to Saw holds up, and its influence on the direction of the series.

Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg, Ransom, Dreamcatcher) is a bad cop and a worse father. His life isn’t what he thought it was, and now he’s become the target of the villainous Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, Mississippi Burning, The Firm), a killer who likes to play games, set traps, and let his victims kill themselves in their struggle to survive. Eric and his former partner Kerry (Dina Meyer, Starship Troopers, Johnny Mnemonic) have discovered Jigsaw’s hideout, but they soon learn that catching Jigsaw will be tougher than they expected when Eric learns that his son Daniel (Erik Knudsen, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Scream 4) is also a part of Jigsaw’s next game. Now, Eric and Daniel are both playing for survival, and Jigsaw has a few surprises in store for both of them.

Saw II actually started as a completely different movie. Writer/director Darren Lynn Bousman (Repo! The Genetic Opera, Abattoir) had shopped around his script for a film called The Desperate and kept getting turned down, with most telling him that his movie was too similar to Saw. Eventually, the script found its way into the hands of Saw producers, who were looking to get a follow-up to the 2004 smash hit put together. Leigh Whannell, who scripted the original film, came in and adjusted the script into a Saw sequel, and the rest is horror history. In that way, Saw II is a bit of a unique flavor of the Saw films. It has most of Bousman’s writing stamps on it, and it has a look more in line with Bousman’s non-Saw films while still not straying away from the feel of the original. The screenplay, now adjusted to being a Saw sequel, is full of more of those clues and references to the connection with the original, and the way it ends up connecting is bonkers good. In fact, not even the cast was aware of the film’s ending and how it would play into the first film. Although, there are a few times when Jigsaw flat out lies to Eric, something he isn’t known for doing (he stretches the truth and leaves information out, but he never full-on lies to his victims and pawns), and that disappointed me a little.

Donnie Wahlberg is a standout here. His scenes with Tobin Bell as Jigsaw are amazing. The two have such different energies on display, and watching them collide is exhilarating while also highlighting their differences as characters and gives a lot of development to both. Remember, this film does a lot more heavy lifting of the Jigsaw mythos than the first film, in which [SPOILER ALERT!] Jigsaw spends most of the film lying in a bathroom covered in makeup and fake blood. Jigsaw gets to really flex his creed here and the reaction he gets from Eric works so well. Wahlberg’s work as Eric only highlights his own shortcomings as a cop, husband, and father.

Shawnee Smith (The Blob, Believe) also returns from the first film as Amanda, a character with limited but impactful screen time in the original (in fact, her scenes in the original were basically what the short film that inspired Saw were all about). Seeing her as someone who has survived Jigsaw’s game only to find herself back in it is horrifying, and we feel for her, but we also find a level of trust in her as she understands the game better than the others, and we cling to her for support. She also ends up in a fairly uncomfortable trap fighting for survival with the needle pit.

I also want to discuss the house trap, as it’s where most of the action of the film is. It’s a cool house with a lot of history and character to it, and seeing all these people trapped inside with slow-acting poison, looking for antidotes, it creates a larger set piece than the bathroom but doesn’t feel like it betrays the first film. It just has its own flavor, much like the rest of Saw II, probably carried over from Bousman’s earlier script. What I love about the way Bousman directs is that he tries to create a sense that the story never slows down by creating in-camera tricks in filming and editing that make scenes flow from one to the another without actually cutting. Look at the way Eric leaves his apartment early on and ends up at a crime scene. It’s a fascinating shot that emphasizes the best of Bousman’s ability to work low-budget and still create interesting and compelling cinema.

Saw II is still a step down from the first film, but it continues the story, elevates the characters, and develops the world-building of this franchise quite nicely while feeling like its own contained story. Yes, there are a few screenplay faults, there are more unlikable characters than likable ones, and the film maybe feels a bit too big at times, not allowing us to spend time with the cattle on their way to slaughter, but at least it highlights its most interesting characters like Jigsaw, Eric, Kerry, and Amanda, the ones who are developed enough to interest. I enjoyed the film immensely when I first saw it, and I still do, even if I’ve seen some of its faults on repeat viewings. I would still encourage fans of the original to see this one, and those who haven’t seen it in a while to consider revisiting it.

4/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of James Wan’s Saw, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Repo! The Genetic Opera, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival, click here.
  • For my review of the anthology film Tales of Halloween, click here.
  • For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 27 – [Happy 20th Birthday!] Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)

Director: Joe Berlinger
Cast: Kim Director, Jeffrey Donovan, Erica Leerhsen, Tristine Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner
Screenplay: Dick Beebe, Joe Berlinger
90 mins. Rated R for violence, language, sexuality and drug use.

Following up a cultural phenomenon like The Blair Witch Project would be pretty tough. Just a short time after the found-footage film found an audience, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 came about. The film is a drastically different take on the mythology, taking on a traditional horror movie vibe and losing the found-footage marker, Book of Shadows elected to acknowledge the first film as a film that may or may not be real, and the effect it had on the residents of Burkittsville, Maryland. A lofty goal, one that almost shouldn’t work on principle, and in fact, the film faltered at the box office and critical stage, so let’s visit this sequel as I finally take a stab at Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.

In the short time since the release of the hit “documentary” The Blair Witch Project, the town of Burkittsville has been overrun with tourists and fans of the movie all wanting to be a part of the hype. Jeff (Jeffrey Donovan, Sicario, Hitch), a local fanboy, has started offering “tours” of the locations from the film. Jeff takes four young people on a trip into the woods, but they find that this venture carries some dire consequences, ones with the power to unravel the very fabric of their psyches.

It is ironic that a director who primarily works on documentaries chose to make a straightforward sequel instead of a faux doc, but that’s exactly what Joe Berlinger (Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes) did just that, and his heart is in the right place. He had an ambitious take on the material, choosing to critique the faux documentary style of the original as well as fanaticism concerning death and dread. He’s asking questions about why we follow the darkness, why we find ourselves drawn to real horror, which is interesting considering he’s dealt with real horror as a director in a lot of his projects. The problem is that he wasn’t seemingly on the same page as the studio, and interference from the higher-ups was its downfall, choosing to add more gore, violence, and jump scares to a more thoughtful and mood-based horror film. Whether or not Berlinger’s original cut would be any better remains to be seen, but sure, I’d be all for #ReleaseTheBerlingerCut if the movement so chooses.

That’s not to say that this film is awful like most reviewers upon release. It’s just not very good either. The film is at its strongest when it dives into the mythology of the Blair Witch. I feel like Book of Shadows did a lot of mythology heavy-lifting here, really adding a lot more to the Blair Witch mythos (it’s also very important to point out Thorn Celtic symbol that appears in the film, perhaps as a nod to Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers). The concept works better than it should, and the story has enough meat on it to become interesting if executed properly. That just didn’t really happen.

Even with the studio interference, there’s no excusing some of the choppy and dull dialogue at play here. The characters are pretty stock, not contributing anything of complete value, and the jumping around in the narrative is an interesting frame (one that was done by the studio), but it never really amounts to anything that makes its existence meaningful.

Book of Shadows is actually a pretty admirable effort, but its many problems do outweigh the wins. The movie is not awful, but it is far from good. There are elements of Book of Shadows that work quite well. There are just far more that don’t. In that way, it’s very similar to its predecessor. They both have strengths and flaws, but flaws are stronger. Fans of The Blair Witch Project should really give this one a try, but I’m doubtful that it can sway anyone else.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s The Blair Witch Project, click here.
  • For my review of Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch, 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 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 14 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] The Fog (2005)

Director: Rupert Wainwright

Cast: Tom Welling, Maggie Grace, Rade Serbedzija, Selma Blair

Screenplay: Cooper Layne

100 mins. Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief sexuality.

 

For those of you that have read my opinions and discussions for some time, especially in the realm of horror, you’ll know that John Carpenter is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. I’m talking Mount Rushmore of filmmakers, and that’s all-time, not just in horror. One of Carpenter’s best films is The Fog. That film was remade in 2005, and has since been called one of the worst films of all time. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen the 2005 film (I believe I came across a copy when Blockbuster shut down, haphazardly putting it in my hands without stopping to realize that it was not the 1980 John Carpenter film. I’m not sure the last time I actually saw it, but I figured now, with 15 years on it, I should give it another go and see for myself if it’s really that bad. Come along and join me.

Antonio Island is about to celebrate a major town anniversary, and the families of the founders are set to unveil a new statue to celebrate the town’s heritage. What the townspeople do not know, though, is that a fog is about to roll in, and with it, the town’s dreaded past, for there is something vengeful in the fog, and no one on Antonio Island is safe.

The one memory I have of ingrained from previous viewings of The Fog 2005 is the confusion I feel every time I watch it. There’s a number of nonsensical plot points deep within the film’s narrative that I’ve never been able to get past. What anniversary are they celebrating, and why is it so important? It doesn’t seem to be an important date. What does the ending mean (I won’t go into spoilers, but the twist or reveal has never quite made any sense whatsoever)? Why, oh why, are we following such unlikable characters?

To go off that, we spend quite a bit of time with Nick Castle (Tom Welling, The Choice, TV’s Smallville) and his will-they-or-won’t-they girlfriend Elizabeth Williams (Maggie Grace, Taken, TV’s Fear the Walking Dead), but I don’t like Nick very much. Did he cheat on Elizabeth with local radio DJ Stevie Wayne (Selma Blair, Cruel Intentions, After) or were they not steady at the time? I just can’t place any of the character relationships together in this film. There seems to be so much “I Don’t Know” going on in this movie, and the characters suffer, as did any of my caring for their safety, with the possible exception of Stevie Wayne.

I really liked Selma Blair’s portrayal of the character, one played to perfection by Adrienne Barbeau in the original film. Blair would not have been the obvious choice in my mind, but she does the best she can with a somewhat poorly written character who makes a few really dumb choices in the narrative. Blair handles it well, but there are moments when the screenplay by Cooper Layne (The Core) push Stevie into making the emotional choices that diminish the strength that she has had before. It’s a narrative risk that makes the character less likable, saved only by a pretty strong performance.

There’s a fundamental lesson in film that is only now being learned by more and more filmmakers and studios, but The Fog is a great case study for it. The argument that CG is better than practical is a foolish one. Looking back at classic films like Jurassic Park, which still looks great, we can see that CG is only really successful when it helps aid the practical effects and is used only when required. The ghosts and creature effects for The Fog 2005 look cheap and fail to create and suspense or fear. Now, look back on The Fog 1980, where the ghosts were created using a strong costume design and makeup aided by…green lights for the eyes. Comparing the two, I would take the green-lit foggy ghost creatures of the 1980 film any time over the really disappointing effects of the 2005 film. I admire the idea of making the fog more of a character, and I think it could’ve worked, but here, this fog and these creatures are wholly forgettable.

The Fog fails in just about every sense as an updating of the mythos and a reimagining of the horrors of Carpenter’s original. Is it one of the worst films ever made? No, it’s just bad. It’s a bad movie. There isn’t anything scary about it, the plot features a lot of things just happening with no real momentum or sense, and the attempt to try new things with the story resulted in a story that has nothing to say. It isn’t one of the worst films of all time, but I see no reason why anyone should choose this film over the original. I know I certainly won’t.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Bring It On (2000)

Director: Peyton Reed

Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku, Jesse Bradford, Gabrielle Union

Screenplay: Jessica Bendinger

98 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

Can you believe it’s been 20 years since Bring It On came out? Well, I can, because this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. Let’s take a look back at Peyton Reed’s (Ant-Man, Yes Man) cheerleading film.

Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst, Spider-Man, TV’s On Becoming a God in Central Florida) has just been selected to be the new Team Captain for the Toros cheerleading squad. When Torrance tries to add the new girl, Missy (Eliza Dushku, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, The Saint) to the squad, she learns that her team has been using stolen moves and routines from other people for years. Torrance is forced to reinvent the squad in order to win without stealing, but she soon finds that her team is not as willing to adapt to the new way of doing things.

As I stated earlier, this was the first time I watched this film, and when I spoke with other people who had seen this film back in 2000, I learned that I seem to be in the minority. This is a bad movie. I did not find much to like about it. The opening of this film was awful. I didn’t care much for Peyton Reed’s directing. I wasn’t impressed with the acting. I loathe the screenplay. I’m sorry, but I have to speak my thoughts. This was a bad movie.

The level of cheese that 20 years will add to some pop cultural films will help, and I will say, the cheesiness did help with that. I’m a big fan of Eliza Dushku, specifically from the work she did back in the early aughts, and I enjoyed the character of Missy and what she brings to the team. I feel like the film would be more enjoyable from her perspective primarily with Torrance as a secondary supporting lead.

From a purely technical perspective, the film is technically sound, but it lacks any technical flair. The cinematography is fine, but not flashy. The editing is fine, but the pacing is poor. The music was fine, but it isn’t memorable, even for an older film. There just isn’t anything that I loved about this film.

What it boils down to here is that I really enjoyed Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku as the leads, but the film would work much better with the narrative focused on Dushku’s Missy. I like the way the narrative played out near the end. Outside of that, the film just doesn’t work for me. I’m very glad that many people love this movie, and it’s true. A lot of people love it. I am not one of those people. If you are, I’m happy for you, but it didn’t work for me. Bring It On, for me, simply doesn’t work.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

900 Posts is the Best Way to End the Year!

Hello everyone!

Yesterday, I published my 900th post on the site, and I just wanted to take a moment to thank you all for the amazing support over the past several years. When I started this site, I just wanted to get my love of film out of my head and onto the page. It was a hobby that’s become a pretty big part of my life and I’ve been able to share it with lots of people in the space. Thank you so much.

As per usual, I thought I’d look back on my Ten Most Popular pieces and share that list with you.

  1. London Has Fallen (2016)
  2. Turbo Charged Prelude (2003)
  3. Poltergeist (1982)
  4. Bad Boys (1995)
  5. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
  6. Frankenstein (1994)
  7. Leprechaun (1993)
  8. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
  9. The Thing (1982)
  10. Zootopia (2016)

So there you have it. Quite a spread of popular pieces.

Now, let’s get to the pleading of it all. If you’ve enjoyed any of these reviews or really anything at all, help me out by liking my reviews, commenting with your thoughts, and sharing the reviews when you read them. It’s the easiest way to support independent content creators.

Thanks again, and we’ll see you at 1000.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 29 – [Happy 20th Birthday!] House on Haunted Hill (1999)

Director: William Malone

Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Bridgette Wilson, Peter Gallagher, Chris Kattan

Screenplay: Dick Beebe

93 mins. Rated R for horror violence and gore, sexual images and language.

 

I heard that House on Haunted Hill is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and I absolutely had to rewatch this film. The last time I interacted with this property was when I watched the sequel, Return to House on Haunted Hill, many years ago, so this was a perfect opportunity to revisit this 90s horror film.

Stephen Price (Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech, Final Portrait) is throwing his wife a hell of a birthday party by inviting some guests to the Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane, a now-closed former asylum where the patients revolted and murdered most of the staff sixty years earlier. The invites have gone out, and guests have started to arrive. There’s only one problem. All of the guests who arrive are people that neither Stephen nor his wife Evelyn (Famke Janssen, X-Men: The Last Stand, Asher) had invited. Stephen and Evelyn each suspect each other of a murder plot, but Stephen’s not going to let his plan go south, and he offers each of the guests a million dollars for staying the night in the house. Evelyn has plans of her own for the night, but the House on Haunted Hill has plans for all of them tonight.

Let me preface everything I’m about to say here. This is not a good movie. In fact, it’s a bad movie. Like many of Dark Castle’s films from the late 90s/early 00s, House on Haunted Hill is super-cheesy and super-silly and super-dumb. There’s a whole lot of bad surrounding this film including an upping-the-ante from the original film’s over-the-top premise. The Stephen-Evelyn dynamic is so excessive throughout. House on Haunted Hill is batshit.

It’s also so-bad-it’s-good in a lot of ways. It’s a bad movie that is so much fun to watch for some of its elements. Let’s talk about the bad stuff that surprisingly works. I love Stephen and Evelyn upon a rewatch. Seeing them both suspect each other of murder while also plotting the very same thing is a lot of fun. I believe that Geoffrey Rush knows exactly what kind of movie he’s in and he plays to it well. This is the strength of getting an actor like Rush to do horror. He gets the movie.

Chris Kattan (A Night at the Roxbury, TV’s Bunnicula) also kills it as Pritchard, the guy that is an exposition-machine/comic-relief for the film. He mixes his unhinged performance into the exposition and comedy and it’s just so crazy. He is perfectly cast in this film and becomes an equal to Rush’s Stephen Price.

I also like the idea of an all-consuming evil inhabiting the house is really cool. Some of the CG near the end of the film hasn’t aged well enough to work, but as a plot element, it’s still very fun. Many of the effects in the film still look pretty cool, especially how Dr. Vannacutt’s ghost doing that shaky-shaky effect, but the darkness effect is pretty bad.

So what doesn’t work in the film? Most of the remaining cast. Outside of Rush, Kattan, and Peter Gallagher (American Beauty, TV’s Grace and Frankie), no one in the film really know what film they’re in. We spend just as much time as possible with many of the other party guests, and the scenes they appear in go absolutely nowhere.

House on Haunted Hill is a movie that works despite all the bad things in the movie. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a good movie, but it’s bad works pretty well if you see it from a certain point of view. I would suggest it as a solid 90s B-horror film.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 27 – [Happy 30th Birthday!] Shocker (1989)

Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Michael Murphy, Peter Berg, Cami Cooper, Mitch Pileggi

Screenplay: Wes Craven

109 mins. Rated R.

 

From 1987 to 1989, four horror films were released featuring killers who come back after dying in the electric chair. This was the last.

Brutal serial killer Horace Pinker (Basic Instinct, TV’s The X-Files) has been apprehended and is sentenced to death via electrocution, but on the fateful day, electrical issues and strange rituals combine to produce a hell of an accident, though Pinker still fries. Now, Jonathan Parker (Peter Berg, Very Bad Things, Mile 22), a young man who was able to assist in the capture of Pinker, discovers the murderer to be very much still active, living on as an electrical current able to inhabit other humans and use their bodies for vengeance. The only skill Jonathan has is in the form of strange visions accompanied by the ghostly visage of his dead girlfriend. Now, Jonathan will have to man up and stop Pinker from continuing his murderous rampage, or it’s lights out for him…

I’ve spoken about this before, but I firmly believe that Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream) was a great director. That’s not exactly a hot take or anything, so here’s one: I don’t think he was a very good writer. Sure, he wrote some amazing work. He was great with ideas in the same way that George Lucas is. I just don’t think he really was able to get those ideas to work on the page. That’s not a slight or anything, but look at a film like Shocker, which has some really cool ideas but the story is a bit of a mess. There’s all these random things happening in the screenplay that are never followed up on. Why does Jonathan have visions of Horace? How exactly do they work? Why do all of his friends and his coach immediately believe his batshit theory? Why does his dead girlfriend keep coming back to help him? What exactly did Horace do to come back from the dead? He’s seen performing some sort of ritual, but we never hear about it afterward.

Beyond all that, the film is far too similar to A Nightmare on Elm Street. There are elements of dreaming and nightmares and dreamscapes in the film that feel a little too familiar. For the most part, these elements just made me wish I was watching Nightmare instead. Both Nightmare and Shocker have similar opening titles, disbelieving fathers, and power through dreams.

Mitch Pileggi is batshit as Horace Pinker. He’s all the parts of Freddy Krueger that became more prominent in the later sequels, especially the attempts at humor. I like how visceral he is, how brutish, but he just didn’t work in the way I hoped he would.

Speaking of batshit crazy, let’s talk about the television scene. It’s near to the end of the film, where Jonathan and Horace end up in a television set and are fighting across the different channels. It sounds cooler than the finished product, but it kind of fails where the fight sequence in They Live succeeds.

So there you have it. There are better Wes Craven films, but I have the feeling that some people will love how terrible this movie is. It just didn’t work for me. There’s too much all-over-the-place in this movie and I couldn’t connect with any of it. Just didn’t work for me, dog.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.

For my review of Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn, click here.

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