[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 8 – Popcorn (1991)

Director: Mark Herrier
Cast: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace, Derek Rydall, Malcolm Danare, Ray Walston, Tony Roberts
Screenplay: Alan Ormsby
91 mins. Rated R for strong violence, and some language.

I remember fondly the days of wandering the local video store, seeing the VHS poster art, and wondering what existed on the video tape. One of the videos I desperately wanted to view but couldn’t (as it was always out) was Popcorn. At this point, I’m under the impression that the video was stolen but management never found out.

A group of college student filmmakers are set to hold an all-night horror movie marathon at a rundown movie theater in hopes of raising enough money for their various projects, but a serial killer begins offing viewers as the films play, and he may have supernatural connections to a cult leader filmmaker looking to complete his long-unfinished work.

Popcorn’s title and poster do little to explain the plot of this movie, so I pretty much went in blind, and I may be speaking from a level of emotional connection, but I loved this movie. I grew up admiring the works of William Castle (the famous gimmick king of horror who is heavily-homaged through the various movies playing at the marathon), watching the MonsterVision marathons, and heading out to the classic cinemas that would cater to these types of events, so this film hit all my buttons. I love that it avoids the trappings of slasher films until necessary, seemingly styling itself as an 80s teen comedy. Once lulled into that false sense of security, the film kicks in with silly gags and goofy kills. It became a celebration of the types of films it lampooned.

The cast is full of newcomers and veterans, who do a lot of the heavy lifting. Dee Wallace (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Cujo), Ray Walston (Popeye, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), and Tony Roberts (The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three, Serpico) get essentially glorified cameos in the film, but they help to solidify the material, allowing Jill Schoelen (The Phantom of the Opera, The Stepfather) to lead. Schoelen misses some of the chemistry with her cast mates, which is understandable given she replaced another actress three weeks in (the same is true of Alan Ormsby, who was directing), but she’s capable enough. The real standout is Tom Villard (My Girl, Heartbreak Ridge), who plays the lovable and tender Toby. We should’ve gotten more work from Villard, but sadly he passed away due to AIDS-related illnesses just a few years later.

Mark Herrier had to step in as director after the movies-within-the-movie were shot, and he had a lot on his plate as a first-time director, but he handles the material’s tone quite well, never straying too far into camp or despair. He keeps the film light and fluffy, like its titular snack.

Popcorn may not have anything to do with the movie (apparently it was tied to something more meaningful in a previous draft), but it evokes the kind of movie you’ll be seeing. It’s popcorn entertainment, a film you can watch while you gather around with your friends, some greasy and salty snacks, and enjoy together. Bet on who dies first, and enjoy yourselves. At the time of this review, you can finally find Popcorn streaming on Shudder. You won’t regret it.

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Day 7 – Hellraiser (1987)

Director: Clive Barker
Cast: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Sean Chapman, Doug Bradley
Screenplay: Clive Barker
94 mins. Rated R.

Hey hey, apparently everyone is watching Hellraiser today. I wonder what the deal is.

When Larry Cotton (Andrew Robinson, Dirty Harry, Child’s Play 3) and his wife Julia (Clare Higgins, Ready Player One, The Libertine) move into his childhood home, they unwittingly cause a chain reaction that leads to the resurrection of Larry’s dead brother Frank (Sean Chapman, A Mighty Heart, The Fourth Protocol). Frank died while trying to discover the reaches of pleasure and pain, and now he needs Julia’s help to return to his corporeal form, all the while avoiding the Cenobites, beings from an inter-dimensional hellscape looking for him.

Clive Barker (Nightbreed, Lord of Illusions) grew fed up with some of the films based on his work, so he elected to adapt a generally small work of his, The Hellbound Heart, with minimal sets and characters, to do justice to the material. He went to his local library, discovered that they had two book on directing, both currently checked out, and proceeded to show up to work wondering who was in charge. The fact that this movie turned out good at all is a miracle, but the fact that it turned out so nearly-perfect should give credit to Clive’s ability to trust in his team, in front of and behind the camera. Barker had a solid team of professionals to trust in and learn from, and I maintain that his ability to communicate his vision to those professionals and work alongside them is the reason this movie is the classic of the genre that it is to this day. It seems every time I view the film, I find more to love, and the nitpicks I have don’t even really bother me.

Excellent casting led to success in performance. Robinson and Higgins are both perfectly suited to Larry & Julia. There’s a sense that both of them have kept secrets from each other, and that they are seemingly fine with this arrangement, but the cracks in their marriage are showing, and it’s what drives Julia into the bloody arms of Frank.

Then, you have Ashley Laurence (Warlock III: The End of Innocence, Mikey), who seems to just fall into the narrative, representing the audience for a time. As she peels back the layers, we find our focus shifting from Larry to Kirsty, the daughter (in the book written as a friend of the couple). This shift works so well even as Kirsty’s scenes have a tendency to be the mythology and exposition scenes, giving us most of the character building for the dreaded Cenobites.

Doug Bradley is one of the nicest men I’ve met in the business, and yet he can deliver potentially silly dialogue with all the intensity of a stage performer because, well, he was. In addition to being a friend of Barker’s who had worked with him before, Bradley was able to work with the writer/director to find the perfect balance of over-the-top genre evil and a realistic layered character. Barker had described Pinhead (or the Lead Cenobite) as being a security guard for the prison that is Hell, while the escaped Frank is a convict who broke out, using the puzzle box (key) to get in and out. That simple direction seemed to give Bradley everything he needed to play between the lines to achieve Barker’s vision. It also didn’t hurt that the Cenobites known as Chatterer and Butterball were not able to perform their lines while caked in makeup and prosthetics, so those bits of dialogue were carried over to the Female and Pinhead, which may be another reason that Bradley’s character became so associated with the franchise (it was Barker’s plan to make Julia the BIG BAD villain of the franchise if more films were made). Fun Fact: Doug Bradley almost took the role of one of the moving men, seeing his first feature film role should be without a bunch of makeup.

The music, by Christopher Young, never seems to get brought up, yet his score and themes for the film offer up a warning: DREAD WAITS WITHIN, and yet, he brings a note of tragedy to the music as well, a care that many of our beloved characters will be ripped to shreds by film’s end.

Like I said, I have nitpicks, things like the hand-drawn animation or the lack of information surrounding the homeless man/demonic skeleton creature, but these are just things I wanted more of, and all good films make you want more.

Clive Barker’ directorial debut is a damn masterpiece, a film that gets even better with age and continues to find a fanbase, and perhaps the only reason it isn’t as well regarded as it should be could just be that some of the sequels soured the brand. Whatever the reason, the first Hellraiser movie is a near-perfect piece of filmmaking that should teach us all to trust in our peers when they’ve earned, and cramming right before the test might just work; it did for Director Clive Barker.

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror: Resurrection] Bowery at Midnight (1942)

Director: Wallace Fox
Cast: Bela Lugosi, John Archer, Wanda McKay, Tom Neal
Screenplay: Gerald Schnitzer
61 mins. Approved.

It’s always fun to experience some of our horror icons outside of their generally-recognized roles. Most people only know Bela Lugosi as Dracula (or perhaps Plan 9 From Outer Space), but he was rather prolific among other horror realms. Today, we’ll look at one of them.

Professor Brenner (Lugosi) is a well-respected voice in the psychology department, but he also moonlights, under the name Karl Wagner, at a soup kitchen in the Bowery. While in the kitchen, he lures and recruits criminal into a crime organization under his leadership. When one of his henchman fails him, he kills them and hands over their bodies to his doctor, who performs experiments on them. One of Brenner’s students, Richard Dennison (John Archer, White Heat, Destination Moon), begins to connect Brenner to the sinister Karl Wagner, and once he gets in too deep, it will be difficult for him to uncover the truth and survive.

There’s a tendency (as with Torture Ship) of having a film with a 60-minute run time and just jam it full of plot and exposition. There’s so much going on in the film, and so much of it is so unnecessary to the film. Brenner’s dual life and lie are rather captivating, but we don’t get time to dive into that because we’re jumping over to the misogyny-filled Richard, a man telling his kinda girlfriend how their life will be whether she likes it or not, and then we’re back to this mysterious doctor and his mysterious experiments (a subplot that seems to exist over to satisfy the standards board rules at the time, but it simply doesn’t add much of value) and now we’re back to Brenner for a bit, but just a bit.

That being said, Lugosi’s performance makes the film infinitely more watchable as he chews up scenery as two practically different characters. He’s having fun, and that translates to us having more fun with him. While Dracula seemed to pigeonhole Lugosi into horror and suspense for the rest of his career, at least he’s embracing it by going all in.

The narrative is constantly altering and changing with twists and turns that are all surprising, whether or not they lead anywhere of value, and that may be why the film has stayed in the memory of some horror fans, but really exploring every possible avenue. If that sounds appealing, Bowery may be for you.

Bowery at Midnight is super-silly and far from good, but you may enjoy the consistent surprises in store, but don’t hold much stock in them, as the narrative is just as likely to forget or ignore. Come for the bonkers storytelling, stay for the Bela Lugosi of it all. All others need not apply.

-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.

-Kyle A. Goethe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Kyle A. Goethe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Kyle A. Goethe

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

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 11 – Splice (2009)

Director: Vincenzo Natali
Cast: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac
Screenplay: Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Tayor
104 mins. Rated R for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language.

Splice came and went back in 2009, but I remember seeing it for the first time. Back in college, I received Netflix in the mail (see kids, there was this thing called DVD…) and it was one of the early films in my queue. The films in front of it were all claimed so I received the next thing on my list. Splice, not being very popular, moved up the queue quick, and I received it. I didn’t know what to expect. I really dug the trailer but high concept films like Splice never see to go all-in and embrace the concept, especially in studio horror. Studio horror was usually clean and manufactured for the most part, particularly in the 2000s. How would Splice fair?

Clive (Adrien Brody, The Grant Budapest Hotel, Fantastic Mr. Fox) and Elsa (Sarah Polley, Mr. Nobody, Dawn of the Dead) are two gifted genetic engineers trying to push the scientific barrier for DNA splicing, but when take their latest experiment goes too far, they find themselves raising a peculiar new creature unlike any in existence. Now, Clive and Elsa are on a dangerous path that causes them to keep secrets and protect a creature that is growing in ways they cannot expect.

This concept, while not being entirely new, is executed nearly perfectly. The film, from Vincenzo Natali (Cube, In the Tall Grass), asks questions, pushes the concept as far as it goes, and has a sense of style that works very well. Brody and Polley are both believable in their roles, and they have great chemistry together. Each of these two leads go through some pretty grueling circumstances along this uncomfortable narrative, and I followed along for all the unethical and disturbing events to follow.

Perhaps the most surprising performance is from Delphine Chaneac (The Pink Panther, The Brice Man) as Dren, the creation. The character was created with the use of makeup and visual effects over the actress, but her performance is able to shine through because of the choices made from the effects team and Natali to allow Cheaneac to showcase her acting underneath it all. Her eyes are real but widened on her face digitally, she chose to perform in heels and have her legs digitally replaced, and she shaved her head in order to not have more CG work done to her.

Splice is character-driven horror that isn’t for everyone (there are some particularly shocking moments as the film heads to its climax), but I appreciate the ballsy way that Natali tackles the material and just goes there. He’s the kind of director who leaves you wanting more and leaves you asking questions, even if he doesn’t ever give you the answers, and Splice is one of his most daring pictures. Seek this out if you missed it.

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of the anthology film ABCs of Death 2, click here.
  • For my review of Vincenzo Natali’s In the Tall Grass, click here.

[31 days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 10 – Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

Director: Martin Kitrosser
Cast: Jane Higginson, Tracy Fraim, Brian Bremer, William Thorne, Neith Hunter, Mickey Rooney, Van Quattro
Screenplay: Martin Kitrosser, Brian Yuzna
90 mins. Rated R for strong sensuality and violence.

I know it isn’t Christmas yet, but to be completely honest, 2020 is a pretty sucky year, and I’m ready to be done with it. Today, let’s just spend one day believing it’s Christmas, and there’s only one way to celebrate Christmas in October: with a horror movie. Let’s turn to the most famous, or infamous, of the Christmas horror film franchises: Silent Night, Deadly Night. In fact, let’s go all the way to the fifth film. My gift to you.

Young Derek Quinn (William Thorne, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Demonic Toys) is not having a very good holiday after watching his father get horrifically murdered by a Christmas toy that showed up at their door. Two weeks later, Derek is not talking much, and his mother Sarah (The Indian, An American Reunion) is worried about him. She should be concerned as well. Toys keep arriving at their home, and they seem hell-bent on killing Derek and anyone associated with him. Now, Sarah will need all the help she can get in keeping her son safe through the holidays.

Martin Kitrosser (Living in Fear, Man of Her Dreams) makes his directorial debut from a screenplay co-written by him along with Brian Yuzna. I enjoyed Kitrosser’s writing on some of the Friday the 13th films, and I had faith that he would craft an interesting tale for this fifth go-around of the franchise. I would at least give him credit that it’s a rather interesting idea, but it’s just so poorly-crafted from the bottom up. This kind of story about violent toys coming to life and attacking people can be done well (just look at Stephen King’s Battleground and the terrific Nightmares & Dreamscapes adaptation of the story), but it feels like this script desperately at east one more pass. There’s a weird subplot involving the mysterious stranger, Noah (Tracy Fraim, Fear, Guns Before Butter), who knows the Quinns and may be connected to the killer toys. I think Sarah makes some extremely poor choices concerning the safety of her son.

Mickey Rooney (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Night at the Museum) appears in the film as toy maker Joe Petto. First of all, let’s just realize that the name of the character is really strange (yes I get it sounds like Geppetto but never name your character Petto). Rooney’s character is about as strange, particularly the way he interacts with his son Pino (Brian Bremer, Pumpkinhead, Society). He’s entertaining, I guess, but very unusual and uncomfortable to watch (perhaps this comes from the fact that Rooney was so offended by the original Silent Night, Deadly Night that he wrote protest letter to get the film out of cinemas for its disrespect of Christmas, so seeing him here almost makes this full circle).

The Toy Maker is not a good film, but in terms of the actual film series, it’s probably the best one. Certainly the most well-made, even with the obvious problems with the screenplay and cheap effects. It’s a unusual and creepy story that works well enough for a schlocky little winter night. I had fun with it even though it’s terrible, but you need to know what you are getting into. The story is poorly-plotted, some of the character decisions are completely nonsensical (not to mention several actors return from the fourth film as new characters with the exact same name?), and the toys are not frightening in the slightest. But hey, even Birdemic has an audience, right?

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Charles E. Sellier Jr’s Silent Night, Deadly Night, click here.
  • For my review of Lee Harry’s Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, click here.
  • For my review of Monte Hellman’s Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!, click here.
  • For my review of Brian Yuzna’s Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4, click here.
  • For my review of Steven C. Miller’s Silent Night, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 6 – Darlin’ (2019)

Director: Pollyanna McIntosh
Cast: Lauryn Canny, Bryan Batt, Nora-Jane Noone, Cooper Andrews, Pollyanna McIntosh
Screenplay: Pollyanna McIntosh
100 mins. Not Rated.

A few years back, I saw the film The Woman, not even aware of the fact that it was a sequel. This is the risk sometimes with not including a 2 in the title, but then again The Woman is a rather different film than its predecessor, Offspring. You don’t really have to have seen Offspring to understand The Woman. I recall really not liking The Woman for quite a number of reasons, and when the opportunity finally arrived to catch Offspring, I figured it was worth a try, and hey, it might make me like The Woman more. It did not. Offspring just didn’t work for me either, but I remained vigilant, and when news spread of a third film, this one titled Darlin’, I knew I had to see it, because this is what I do. I’m curious…like a cat, and I needed to see if this third film, written and directed by series star Pollyanna McIntosh (Deathcember), would finally win me over.

Set some time after the events of the previous film, the missing girl Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny) has been found outside of a local hospital and taken to St. Philomena’s, a Catholic boarding school, to be reformed from her feral personality. As Darlin’ begins to see her human traits returning, she tries to put together elements of her past in her search for salvation. But St. Philomena’s isn’t a safe place, as Darlin’ soon realizes. The Bishop (Bryan Batt, Easy Does It, TV’s Mad Men) is a child molester who has set his sights on Darlin’, and the Woman (McIntosh) is searching for her as well.

I’m sad to report that Darlin’ is a bad movie. I was really hoping this time around to get something from this film and franchise, but it just hasn’t won me over. It seems that each film tries to ask some interesting questions and mine the story for something fascinating and unique in the unusual characters and events, but they never really go anywhere. Of course the Bishop is a pedophile. Of course Darlin’ finds a rebellious new friend at St. Philomena’s. Of course, the ending it exactly what I expected. It’s a frustratingly simple narrative that always feels like it’s going somewhere only to abandon the journey along the way.

The tone is another misfire here, but it was a problem for The Woman as well. This is a horror story. If it was told with less of a satirical viewpoint, I think it would have been stronger. Lean into the horror. This whole trilogy deals with some fucked up characters and plot points. Treat it like a horror story and it might actually feel like one. Instead, there are these little flashes of attempts at humor that took me out of the film and lost my focus.

Sadly, Darlin’ just another film in this franchise that does nothing for me. It squanders an initially interesting setup by falling into cliche and not taking the material seriously. It sits at the edge of fascination but never leaps into compelling storytelling, and I just didn’t enjoy any of it. It’s a downright bad movie in a franchise that has gone on longer than necessary.

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Andrew van den Houten’s Offspring, click here.
  • For my review of Lucky McKee’s The Woman, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 5 – Society (1989)

Director: Brian Yuzna
Cast: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Ben Meyerson, Concetta D’Agnese, Ben Slack
Screenplay: Rick Fry, Woody Keith
99 mins. Rated R.

Well…that was strange.

Today, we are going to talk about the horrors of Society. No, not the actual horrors of actual society, but…well, the film is a biting satire, so I guess we will discuss some of the actual horrors of actual society while discussing the horrors of the film Society. Are you all still with me? Okay, close enough…

Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock, Halloween II, Lovely But Deadly) is kind of the odd one of the family. His mother, father, and sister are all socialites looking to maintain a status in the upper class of Beverly Hills life. Billy, while being relatively popular, isn’t all that interested in status. He feels out of place in his family, in his relationship, in his home. Worse, he’s suffering from a bad case of paranoia. He can’t shake this feeling that there’s something horribly wrong with everyone around him. It isn’t until his sister’s ex-boyfriend approaches him with evidence that he begins to see the truth about his family, school, and world. Billy’s in for a rude awakening.

It’s hard to dance around the story of Society without flat-out ruining the reveal, which is the best part of the film, and it’s also the reason for it’s popularity as a cult classic. When Brian Yuzna (Bride of Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead 3) released the film, he expected it to do better than it did. Society ended up having a pretty solid release in the UK, but here in the US, it was shelved for three years before being dismissed almost entirely in 1992. It has since developed a cult following as an underground classic. Still, with all that, the film has its problems.

Billy Warlock was rather uneven as Bill Whitney. I liked him initially, but he takes some directions with his performance as the film hits its third act before recovering as the film reaches its climax. There are times he handles himself well, and others where I wasn’t sure what he was trying to convey.

Thankfully, his supporting cast seems to aid in creating the tone that Yuzna is going for. Evan Richards (Altered States, Twilight Zone: The Movie) is perfectly silly as best friend Milo. Ben Meyerson (Funny People, Speed 2: Cruise Control) is the embodiment of every jock 80s asshole as Ferguson, the popular party-boy. Devin DeVasquez (House II: The Second Story, Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV) is steamy to the max as the sensual and clever Clarissa, who begins to take a fascination in Bill. They all add to an aura of satire as Yuzna drives his message home.

As far as Yuzna’s intention, I’m not big on when he goes for comedy when his strengths lie in horror. This is true of Society as well. There’s some truly gruesome imagery on display here, and Yuzna elected to focus on that imagery over a compelling story, all of it leading to an ending that is bonkers and a film that oftentimes feels like a dream or perhaps a nightmare. When the comedy comes fluidly from the horror, it works, but sometimes Yuzna elects for some comedic moments that feel forced.

Society is a film with a heavy theme, one that, at times, feels like it is trying to beat you over the head with it. Rarely do I ever see a film with a theme taken so literally as the one that appears in Society, where the focus is on the differences in class. I can’t deep dive too much because I want you to see it. For all its faults, Society is just so much fun. It’s weird, gross, shocking, and very enjoyable. It also swings for the fences, which is commendable. The creature effects are great, the imagery is dreamlike, and the gore is on high alert. Society is quite good.

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Brian Yuzna’s Silent Night Deadly Night 4: Initiation, click here.
  • For my review of Brian Yuzna’s Bride of Re-Animator, click here.
  • For my review of Brian Yuzna’s The Dentist, click here.

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