[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] [THE FINAL GIRLS]

Well, we’ve come to the end of another year of 31 Days of Horror, and it pains me to see another year come to an end, but unfortunately, there are 11 more months in the year, and we just have to move on…

But First! We have a little housekeeping to attend to. This is something I’ve wanted to include for some time as an added bonus, my 5 picks out of the last 31 days, my Top 5 from the pack, my Final Girls for 2021!

5. Wolf
Wolf was a first-time watch for me this month. My wife was on a werewolf kick, and we’ve owned it for years, so getting the chance to see it finally was terrific. Jack Nicholson is such a compelling lead because even though he’s a little too smarmy, Nicholson infuses him with enough charisma to make his plight all the more exciting. James Spader was a solid foil to Nicholson, and Michelle Pfeiffer had such great chemistry with Jack that I found myself wishing his Joker had teamed up with her Catwoman in Tim Burton’s Batman movies. It’s a horror film that is very 90s, very slow-burn, and very entertaining.

4. Saw III
While James Wan and Leigh Whannell would stay on as producers for the rest of the Saw sequels, this was very much their swan song as storytellers…at least, for now. And what a finale for the story they began two years prior! Saw III very well could have been the end of the franchise, and it completes this cycle of films quite nicely. Saw III has some of the more impressive traps, but its strengths lie in the character and mythology development at play here. The evolution, not only of John Kramer, but especially of Amanda Young, is quite powerful tragedy, and the way it weaves her throughout the Jigsaw legacy works really well in fixing some questions that I had about previous entries. It’s a Saw movie that does everything that Saw movies do but it does them quite well.

3. Godzilla vs. Kong
Godzilla vs. Kong is the first MonsterVerse that I didn’t get to catch in theaters, and I really wanted to go, but I wasn’t vaccinated yet, so I stayed in and caught the film on HBO Max, and even there, this is a movie that excels, finally, in figuring out what made the Toho kaiju films so entertaining: small human character stories that no when to take a back seat, spectacular action, and a focus on monster mythos over petty human drama that the worst of the American attempts have floundered in. I loved that the film promised a winner, and we got one, but then we got so much more. The entertainment value of this film alone makes it wholly rewatchable, as long as you keep the popcorn flowing.

2. New Nightmare
New Nightmare isn’t one of my most-watched Krueger movies, but its quality is without question. It’s a movie that shouldn’t work, but Wes Craven’s singular vision and his moxie as a director led to a fascinating reality-bending little horror movie, one that expands the mythology of Krueger while simultaneously bringing closure to his story in a satisfying way. Its ambition bests the more highly-regarded Scream, as well.

1. The Frighteners
The best film I talked about this entire month ended up being the first movie of the month, Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. I make no apologies for continually singing the praises of The Frighteners, and I’m not stopping any time soon. I’ve learned recently that a good number of Horror Films in my Top Ten are horror comedies, and The Frighteners handles both genres in equal form. Michael J. Fox was a great lead, and it’s tragic that his health issues forced him into retiring from leading-man roles. He worked quite well with Jackson, and the rest of the cast understood Jackson’s vision and gave their all to their respective roles, creating a fun, creepy, and exciting fantasy/horror/comedy hybrid that checks all the boxes in style.

So there you have it: my Final Girls, the best of 2021’s 31 Days of Horror! What are your favorite films from this year’s list? Let me know, and what films should I cover next year? Don’t forget that this site exists the rest of the year as well, and as 2021 comes to a close, we’ll be talking about the big films from this year. Come along and join me!

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 31 – Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

Director: Rick Rosenthal
Cast: Busta Rhymes, Bianca Kajlich, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Ryan Merriman, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tyra Banks, Jamie Lee Curtis, Brad Loree
Screenplay: Larry Brand, Sean Hood
94 mins. Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality and brief drug use.

Well, here we are again. It’s the end of the 31 Days of Horror, and I’m not sure what we can talk about. We finished the Halloween franchise last year with H20, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, True Lies, Freaky Friday) cut Michael Myers’s head off, and everything is fine now, so we have nothing to talk about because the story is over…wait, what? It’s not? Oh God…no.

It’s been three years since H20, and Laurie Strode made an awful mistake when she beheaded her brother, Michael Myers (Brad Loree). Turns out, she killed the wrong man, and now, institutionalized, she awaits his return. Meanwhile, Freddie Harris (Busta Rhymes, Narc, Breaking Point), a reality television creator, has gathered a bunch of attractive young people for a Halloween tour of Michael’s childhood home. He’s recruited Sara Moyer (Bianca Kajlich, Bring It On, 10 Things I Hate About You) and her two college friends for this internet experiment, but Michael is on the way home, and this welcome party is not ready for his rage.

Every franchise will inevitably have a low point, and Halloween: Resurrection is that low point for Michael Myers. Let’s start off with the opening, the reason for this film’s existence: the retcon of H20. I actually don’t hate this idea (thought I wish there were more foreshadowing in the previous film), but it’s the execution of this reveal that didn’t work that well. I don’t hate Michael’s return here, but if you are going to pull this twist off, you need to have a better movie following this opening or it’ll feel like you should’ve let Michael stay dead. In this case, considering the franchise got rebooted again right after Resurrection, they maybe should’ve not made this movie at all.

Let’s talk about the performance of Brad Loree as Michael Myers. This is Loree’s first and only time as Michael, and I just don’t think he had an understanding of Michael Myers. Part of it is the screenplay as well as the directing of Rick Rosenthal (Bad Boys, Drones) in his second Halloween helming, but Loree’s Myers does not work at all. He’s more in line with a portrayal of Jason Voorhees in this film (Kane Hodder was reportedly the stunt double for Loree, so this may not be too far off base, and Loree had reportedly tried out for Jason Voorhees in Freddy vs Jason). He walks into doors like a confused Roomba, eventually crashing through them at 5mph. He doesn’t seem to react to anything the way that this famous killer would. He gets smack-talk from Busta Rhymes and just takes it! He even gets electrocuted in the dick at one point.

Resurrection seems to set up Sara to be the next main girl of the series, but Kajlich is given very little to do in the movie. Not only is she incapable of screaming (a must if you wish to take over as a scream queen). It’s not that she’s unlikable, but she isn’t captivating.

The rest of the cast is given little of value to do, but the most disappointing of the cast is Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks (Coyote Ugly, Tropic Thunder) as Freddie and Nora, the leaders of this expedition into Myers’s home. Busta Rhymes feels so out of place, he’s unlikable, and his performance is more self-parody than anything serious or exciting. You’d be hard-pressed to even remember that Tyra Banks is in the finished film except that she’s on the poster. These two are just heavy reminders that Rosenthal’s production just isn’t taking Halloween seriously. Nothing is scary, nothing is tense, nothing is tonally acceptable.

Something else I wouldn’t mind is this found-footage angle, ahead of its time but ultimately underutilized in the film. Nothing much happens for the first hour and I didn’t much care by the time the ending came around. I was one of the excited people when the discussion of a found-footage Friday the 13th was hotly discussed, and, had it been done right, I would’ve been all for it here, but again, there’s a lack of care.

I won’t dive too much into it, but the ending is also a loss. If you’re going to have the kickass ending of H20, and you decide to retcon it, you better have a DAMN good ending to follow it up, and this movie, like this timeline of the franchise, goes out with, not a BANG, but a whimper.

Jamie Lee Curtis later admitted that she considered this movie to be a joke, and series creator John Carpenter cringed at the thought of it (but he did get paid), but Halloween: Resurrection exists. Thankfully, those that hate this installment can very easily not watch it, as it doesn’t have much bearing on the previous installments, and H20 is an ultimately better ending for everyone involved. As it stands, this is the worst in the franchise and a very disappointing installment, essentially neutering every character arc and sending the franchise into a death spiral. Diehard fans should try it, but all others need not apply. You can skip Resurrection. I sometimes wish I had.

1.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.
  • For my review of Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, click here.
  • For my review of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, click here.
  • For my review of Dwight H. Little’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, click here.
  • For my review of Dominique Othenin-Girard’s Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, click here.
  • For my review of Joe Chappelle’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, click here.
  • For my review of Steve Miner’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 28 – Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza Gonzalez, Julian Dennison, Lance Reddick, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir
Screenplay: Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein
113 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of creature violence/destruction and brief language.

Well, here we are, at the culmination of everything in the MonsterVerse to this point. Sure, it didn’t take 22 films like Marvel did to get to this point, but this is still a major milestone for the universe thus far. It’s time for Godzilla vs. Kong. Place your bets.

It’s been five years since the epic battle between Godzilla and Ghidorah, and the world has tried to adjust to the world of the Titans. Godzilla hasn’t been seen since that battle, and when he re-emergences to attack an Apex Cybernetics facility in Pensacola, the world turns on the King on the Monsters. Meanwhile, a much-older Kong is living in a domed environment on Skull Island, being overseen by Kong expert Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Town). Ilene teams up with former Monarch scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard, The Legend of Tarzan, TV’s True Blood) to get Kong to his homeworld in Hollow Earth, a pocket near the center of the planet, the mystery of Godzilla’s attacks intensify, leading toward a forced confrontation between the two titans and battle over who is the real King has begun.

Godzilla vs. Kong fully realizes what this franchise and these monsters are all about. The humans in this film are the most well-defined and likable of the franchise, and they also take a step back for the creatures and the mythology in a way that previous installments have failed to understand. I’ve spent the last several months discovering old kaiju films from Toho’s past, and I’ve learned that the mythology and style makes the movie along with the big monster bashing battles. These movies need to embrace the fantasy elements of their narrative, no matter how ludicrous. I loved the Hollow Earth journey for Kong, even though I recognize it as complete bullshit. That’s because no one is coming to these movies for their realism, which I think is one of the reasons my enjoyment has lessened over the years concerning the 2014 Godzilla film.

Godzilla vs. Kong makes great use of several exciting set pieces, while also staying on target to bring its two combatants together in an exciting way, and director Adam Wingard (V/H/S, You’re Next) gives us a neon-colored selection of fights that feel reminiscent of Pacific Rim while also exploring the two monsters in more depth than we’ve had before. Again, this is the movie in this world that has ultimately understood that the stars are Godzilla and Kong, not the humans. The role of the humans is to set the story in motion and then be more reactionary to the monsters than much else.

Most of the primary cast works well within the film, even though a few characters feel needlessly silly, most notably Brian Tyree Henry (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, If Beale Street Could Talk) as Bernie Hayes, a conspiracy theorist who uncovers a dangerous plot of Apex Cybernetics along with the returning Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown, Enola Holmes, TV’s Stranger Things).

I also wasn’t a fan of the characterization of Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri, No Longer Human, Weathering With You), the son of the Ishiro Serizawa from the first two Godzilla films. First of all, I barely registered that this was supposed to be the son of Serizawa, and I wasn’t understanding why they made the connection to play out his character in the way he was written.

The other major flaw of this film kind of sits with the resolution of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. If you’ve forgotten, that film ends with Godzilla as the Alpha surrounded by all his subordinate Titans, and then there’s no mention of any of it in this film. We know that it follows King of the Monsters because of some of the reveals in this film and returning characters, but where did all the Titans go and why aren’t any of them really integral to any of this plot. Looking back at King of the Monsters, it’s easy to see that most of those plot threads are captured in the incredibly lazy way of using news footage in that film’s closing credits, but it just kind of feels like King of the Monsters had a Resident Evil movie’s finale, where all of it is seemingly undone within moments of the next installment, and it frustrated the hell out of me as a viewer.

Through its faults, and the film indeed has them, I was entertained as hell by Godzilla vs. Kong, and I hope this isn’t the last of the MonsterVerse, now that it has accomplished its main goal of getting these two to duke it out (and there is a winner, don’t let anyone fool you), and now I want to see where it goes from here. This was loads of fun even on a second viewing, and I’m already looking forward to a third watch.

4/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Kong: Skull Island, click here.
  • For my review of Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, click here.
  • For my review of Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, click here.
  • For my review of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, click here.
  • For my review of Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch, click here.
  • For my review of the anthology film The ABCs of Death, click here.

[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 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 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 8 – Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

Director: Russell Mulcahy
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Oded Fehr, Ali Larter, Iain Glen, Ashanti, Mike Epps, Christopher Egan, Spencer Locke, Jason O’Mara
Screenplay: Paul W.S. Anderson
94 mins. Rated R for strong horror violence throughout and some nudity.

There are a lot of elements in the third Resident Evil film that convinced 17-year-old me this one was going to absolutely rule. It was directed by Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, In Like Flynn), its trailer appeared to have similarities with my favorite Romero Living Dead film, Day of the Dead, and with the new character introductions, it seemed like it might be honing in on more of what the fans of the games wanted. Sure, what we got wasn’t really like what I had gleaned from the trailers, but let’s be clear: this movie is entertaining as hell through all of its many faults.

It’s been five years since the events at Raccoon City left most of the world devastated by the T-Virus. Alice (Milla Jovovich, The Fifth Element, Monster Hunter), on her own for some time, finds herself taken in by a convoy including some old friends: Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr, The Mummy Returns, Lair) and L.J. (Mike Epps, Friday After Next, The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2). The convoy is in search of shelter, and Alice shows them a book she discovered, claiming to have safe haven in Alaska, but they lack the gasoline to get them there. The convoy heads to Las Vegas to get supplies and gas, all the while Umbrella Corporation and the sinister Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, TV’s Reyka) plot to retrieve Project Alice and continue their research.

First of all, I have to be the one that says it: screen your movie. Resident Evil: Extinction was not screened for critics, but here’s the thing, we all were pretty confident critics would hate the movie anyway, and most of the time, critical reviews can really only influence about 10% of the box office take. When Malignant came out recently, and we were all discussing the lack of reviews, no Thursday night opening, and the assumption was that the studio didn’t believe in their product. The same is true here. Screen your movie.

As far as Resident Evil: Extinction goes, the entertainment value is a definite win. Sure, the movie itself has flaws in and out, but I was thoroughly entertained. I think that Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Extinction are the absolute best that this franchise will have to give, so if you aren’t won over at this point, this just may not be the movie series for you. Where it wins most is in the action. This is probably the best action of the series, and that is due to Russell Mulcahy’s handling of the set pieces. It’s obvious that he’s the most capable of the directors in this franchise because he has the best looking action, and it’s the most tense that the series gets. His choice to film in sunlight more often as opposed the coldness of the first film and the darkness of the second really give a more stunning visual flair that’s in line with the film’s comparisons to Day of the Dead and Mad Max. In particular, the crow scene is a new element taken from the mythology of the games that feels quite fresh and is handled well.

The returning actors, Jovovich, Fehr, and Epps are all putting forth some solid work, even if it feels odd that Jill Valentine and Angela Ashford are just gone from the narrative (with Sienna Guillory primed to return in the next installment). Their absense gives the film an Alien 3 vibe (something the franchise would probably want to avoid). All the same, I like their general chemistry and performances, but Paul W.S. Anderson’s script just doesn’t give them much to do. The big Alice moments of the film are either “She’s too powerful” or “She does nothing.” She can firebend at some points, and also, Umbrella can completely control her movements, but they’ve elected not to for the past five years. Carlos is mostly reactionary in the film, and L.J. goes from street-smart in Apocalypse to completely foolish in this installment, ultimately becoming a fairly stereotypical stock zombie movie character that we all hate now.

As far as new additions, I feel like Ali Larter (Final Destination, The Last Victim) was miscast as Claire Redfield and Ashanti (Coach Carter, A Christmas Winter Song) is just kind of bland as medic Betty. Spencer Locke (Insidious: The Last Key, Walk. Ride. Rodeo.) is given a nickname as character development, and Jason O’Mara (Batman: Hush, TV’s The Man in the High Castle) is just given very little to do as the first appearance of franchise villain Albert Wesker is concerned.

As mentioned above, you get some pretty iconic characters from the game series here, like Claire Redfield and Albert Wesker, and there’s also a newly-named scientist seemingly modeled after William Birkin with Dr. Isaacs. I guess, at this point, I wonder why they’re even introducing iconic characters if they aren’t going to use them. I’m all for creative license in adapting, especially where the video game to film adaptation is concerned, but Claire Redfield has nothing in common with her video game persona at all, and Albert Wesker ends up being very underutilized in the franchise starting here. As far as Dr. Isaacs is concerned, Iain Glen chews up the scenery quite well and has fun with the role, and because he isn’t named after William Birkin, it feels like game fans were willing to give him a pass as a character. Why didn’t they do that with everyone? It’s become obvious that we’ve strayed heavily from the video game franchise at this point, so why continue to under-deliver on legacy characters? I guess it’s worth noting that Anderson (who scripted every installment of this franchise) did care about fan reaction, but he didn’t do a great job of taking that criticism.

Alongside that, it needs to be stated that this film is the one you can look back on and realize that there was no plan for this movie series. Why is the Red Queen replaced in this film with the White Queen, and then why do we never see the White Queen again? Why does the finale of this film have a trilogy-ending set piece meant to take us “back to the beginning” of the series? I remember the idea going in was that this movie was likely to be the ending of the movies, and this film gives us that sense that we are going back to where it started to finish it, but then it ends on another cliffhanger (something that becomes more frustrating from this point on) and, looking back, this feels like an ending that was retconned into not ending, and even the final installment of the series, titled The Last Chapter, hits the same kind of story beats as this one, going back to the very beginning all over again.

Resident Evil: Extinction looks great, and the action is tense and exciting, but this is a hodgepodge of Resident Evil mythology, a Greatest Hits in some ways, hobbled together and retrofitted to kind of showcase a general knowledge of the video games. It’s full of ideas, but it’s also full of frustrating characters doing stupid things and being punished for it, and while the movie still has a solid amount of entertainment, it’s unlikely that this film will win over video game fans, and the franchise should be moving forward with its own thing and stop trying to be the games.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil, click here.
  • For my review of Alexander Witt’s Resident Evil: Apocalypse, click here.
  • For my review of Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 6 – [Happy 15th Birthday!] The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Cast: Jordana Brewster, Matt Bomer, Diora Baird, Taylor Handley, Lee Tergesen, R. Lee Ermey
Screenplay: Sheldon Turner
91 mins. Rated R for strong horror violence/gore, language, and some sexual content.

It seems like so many people are out to criticize graphic violence in movies, but they don’t even know that the movie we are going to talk about today, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, is so much more than that. This movie is a love story. Well, not really, but lead actress Jordana Brewster (Furious 7, Hooking Up) met her future husband, producer Andrew Form, on the set, and they fell in love amidst all the gore and blood. So that’s pretty close right? We’re just one sequel away from Leatherface in a romantic comedy, and I’d pay to see that.

The Beginning tells the story of the Hewitt family in 1969 and the start of the most heinous crime in American history. When Thomas Hewitt loses his job at the slaughterhouse, he cannot control the rage within him. As he returns home, chainsaw in hand, the family is forced to make a stand to protect one of their own. After, Charlie Hewitt (R. Lee Ermey, Full Metal Jacket, Se7en) assumes the role of Sheriff and begins his own brand of justice, starting with a group of teens on the road attempting to enjoy one last bit of fun before shipping out to Vietnam.

Let me start by saying I’m pretty uninterested in most prequels, and I’ve criticized the hell out of movies that forcibly tell you how EVERYTHING happened with the original film or the original character. In fact, that was the worst aspect of Solo: A Star Wars Story (here’s how he got his name!), but most of this film worked for me. I’m not even sure I can qualify why, but let me make the distinction like this: the MASSACRE in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre seems to always be described as a singular event instead of a series of them, but when you consider the original series of films has 6 entries with each having their own massacre, it seems like you would stop describing it as such because it’s become another thing entirely. This duology of the 2003 TCM and this prequel seem to treat the MASSACRE like an actual singularly disturbing event “in the annals of American history” as the narrator puts it. Since this film is only tied to the 2003 remake, it seems that there can be a lot of checklisting without going too far. Whereas Solo tried to explain in 2 hours how Han Solo’s entire character was crafted and summed up, this film is really only aiming at adding to and setting up the 2003 film, so it feels like less of a stretch to explain the origin’s of Leatherface, Sheriff Hoyt, and the events of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a piece of “historical” context. It has to set up a single event, and in that way, I buy it a whole lot more than most other explain-y prequels. As the story goes, Platinum Dunes was not really interested in doing a sequel, but fans kept clamoring, asking questions about the Hewitt family, and they eventually tried to take a crack at a prequel. Not sure if that’s true at all, but I feel like the set-ups in this film have payoffs in the 2003 TCM, so they work very well as a double feature.

This group of teenage chainsaw fodder is really not much different from the ones in the 2003 film, which gives the real shining star to the Hewitts, particularly R. Lee Ermey’s Charlie. Ermey stole the show in the 2003 film, and he does so again here, and that’s not an easy thing to do given that Leatherface is a horror icon. To have someone of Ermey’s caliber in this film and really chewing on his dialogue and downright having fun in the role is very helpful to the movie’s entertainment value. Outside of his role in Full Metal Jacket, I’m not sure if there’s a better performance on his resume than Charlie Hewitt/Sheriff Hoyt.

Outside of all that, I can genuinely say that the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a better made film than The Beginning, but I enjoy watching The Beginning more. It’s that classic Karate Kid Part II argument. For me, entertainment goes a long way, and I can look over most of the faults of this film without issue.

All that being said, The Beginning definitely has faults. The group of potential victims are written a little more blandly than the 2003 film (particularly when you realize that the only one actually doing anything in the narrative is Jordana Brewster’s Chrissie), and the mystery elements of the 2003 film get undone by having them spoiled in this film (something that is always hard to avoid in any prequel) and it would be better to see this film after the 2003 for the first time. I also find a number of logic gaps, particularly in how the film wraps up (though I’m thankful it doesn’t force itself to lead right into the 2003 film, allowing us time to question what else happened between installments. All of these problems are lessened by a break-neck pace run time that just races to the conclusion, keeping the excitement level pretty high.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is not a film for everyone, but there’s a solid entertainment factor if you can handle the more gruesome and bloody beats of the plot. The technical display is quite high, and if you don’t get hung up on some of the more obvious logic gaps of the story, and especially if you liked the 2003 film, this is definitely something worth checking out, and perhaps even seeing in a double feature with the remake.

3.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Marcus Nispel’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, click here.
  • For my review of Jonathan Liebesman’s Darkness Falls, click here.
  • For my review of Jonathan Liebesman’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 5 – [Happy 20th Birthday!] Joy Ride (2001)

Director: John Dahl
Cast: Steve Zahn, Paul Walker, Leelee Sobieski
Screenplay: Clay Turner, J.J. Abrams
97 mins. Rated R for violence/terror and language.

It’s odd that a film like Joy Ride took four years from start to finish. Directed by John Dahl (The Last Seduction, TV’s Dexter), Joy Ride went through so many permutations that you could essentially put together a different movie from just the deleted scenes and alternate endings. This little B-movie slice of Americana thriller is one that doesn’t get talked about too much anymore, and while it had two sequels, it’s just not discussed as a short little piece of tense genre enjoyment. I probably haven’t watched Joy Ride since just after it came out, so I figured now is the best time to look back on this film, give it a rewatch, and see if there’s something worth remembering.

Lewis (Paul Walker, The Fast and the Furious, Running Scared) is a college freshman who has just discovered that his childhood crush Venna (Leelee Sobieski, Never Been Kissed, Amerikali Kiz) is newly single, and he’s embarking on a cross-country trip to pick her up during summer break on the hope to get a little closer. On the way, he’s been tasked with retrieving his deadbeat brother Fuller (Steve Zahn, War for the Planet of the Apes, TV’s The White Lotus), who’s just been released from prison. Fuller and Lewis don’t have the best relationship, and the two find themselves bonding over a silly prank played over the car’s CB radio to a voice known as Rusty Nail, but Rusty Nail doesn’t like being pranked, and he’s out to get vengeance as the two brothers and Venna try to evade him on the open roads.

Rarely is the standout performance of a film just a disembodied voice on a CB radio, but Ted Levine, in an uncredited role, is a nasty and tense and incredible as Rusty Nail. The entire film hinges on his ability to do more with less, and it’s clear that he’s the right choice for role, having been brought aboard the production rather late. We don’t get much to go on with him, as a character, but that’s maybe the best thing for someone like Rusty Nail. Because we, and also our cast of youths, are unable to discern just who this villainous voice is, we have a small-but-impactful bit of whodunnit that ties in nicely with this riff on Duel and The Hitcher.

As far as our group of youths, they are serviceable enough. While Lewis doesn’t have a lot of character development outside of “somewhat horny college kid who makes bad mistake,” Walker infuses him with charisma, which is part of what made him such a special performer. He was always able to add a likability. On the other side of things, Steve Zahn’s Fuller is just kind of an asshole. Zahn is putting everything he can into his performance, but the writing just makes him so unlikable. As the film goes on, you kind of want him to suffer for his actions, making it hard to empathize with his being put into danger. Again, Zahn is capable of adding some likability, but the character is just written too poorly. As for Sobieski, I couldn’t honestly tell you anything interesting about her character, as she’s mostly stock characterized and not all that interesting a character.

The film’s greatest strength has to come from the tension. It’s a flawed movie but it does have a high amount of engagement where I was geniunely concerned about how Lewis was going to thwart Rusty Nail. Again, a lot of tension comes from Levine, but it should be noted that director John Dahl does a solid job of ratcheting up the tension often enough to keep the whole movie entertaining, which makes up for a number of its faults.

And the film does indeed have faults. As with the characterization of both Fuller and Venna being underwhelming, there’s also a significant amount of logic gaps and inconsistencies revolving around Rusty Nail. There are a number of plot points that require Rusty Nail to have a far better understanding of things he should know nothing about. At times, he seems all-powerful and omniscient, and it makes one question the realism that we as audience members have been asked to accept. It also feels like the film ties up a little quickly. There are a number of plot threads that I would’ve liked to see fully resolved instead of just assumed. I’m well aware of the number of alternate scenes and endings that led to Joy Ride’s four-year production, and that’s likely where a lot of this is resolved. Hey, at least they changed the name from Squelch to Joy Ride, right?

Joy Ride is thankfully quite an entertaining little B-movie that has some early 2000s grindhouse-y flavor. I found myself quite enjoying this little action thriller and I’ll probably revisit the film again, not it likely won’t take another twenty years. Hopefully, by then, they’ll have released a special edition of the film that randomizes the ending we got with one of several that were filmed and left unused, a la Clue. If not, I’m content enough with the film we got. It’s a fun little time-killer.

3.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

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